• 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 1: Changeling in the Everfree Forest

How unpredictable life could be sometimes. No matter where you looked, nor how hard you tried, fate never seemed to make up its mind as to whether it wanted you to be happy or miserable, weak or powerful, useless or helpful, popular or obscure. It could give you everything you ever wanted, and then just when you started to enjoy your quality of life, it could take it all away and leave you in ruins. Even when you made friends, Lady Luck never seemed care how close you were or how much you had in common – if she decided to end that friendship, no matter how brutally, there was no way anything could dissuade her. But how was this fair? How could she simply kill someone off just because she felt like it?

Those were the thoughts that flowed through the mind of a red-furred unicorn teenager as he made his way home. It had been over three years since the accident, and it still pained his heart just thinking about it – indeed, it had been a terrible blow to the whole family. Particularly hard hit by the news were his father, his paternal uncle Steamer, and his aunt's husband Maestro with whom he had just been spending the weekend. But why, he asked himself – why was it that so many ponies had to resort to carnage in order to get their way?! Why was it that vice and violence was so heartily embraced by so many living beings?

All those thoughts were swiftly swept aside as Locomotion began the most treacherous stage of his journey. His uncle Maestro lived in a remote cottage in the Buckskin Mountains, the only access to which was up a long and twisty path that ran along one side of a deep valley, and this took him through one of the wildest, darkest and most dangerous places in all Equestria – the dreaded Everfree Forest. Few ponies ever liked venturing into these woodlands; indeed, only a brave and blasé few ever dared to set hoof here after dark, for they harboured some of the most fearsome creatures in the nation from scorpions to manticores. Judging by the sun, he noted, he would have to pick up the pace lest he spend a whole night wandering among those tall, menacing shadows that seemed to tower above him.

Cautiously, he picked his way through the forest, keeping a sharp lookout not just for carnivorous beasts, but for any flora that might pose a threat. It wouldn't be quite so bad if it were just poison joke – that kind of ailment was easily cured, but mandrakes, triffids and cyanide creepers could be fatal. He couldn't see any of those, but he could just make out a foul smell like a heap of rotting compost combined with skunk fumes. He recoiled in disgust as the stench burned his nostrils; but almost at once, his eyes widened as he realised where it might be coming from.

“Timberwolves!” he gasped. Sure enough, as he looked through a cluster of trees immediately to his right, he could just make out six of the huge wooden predators prowling nearby, their leaf-like ears erect as they sniffed the ground intently. “Oh, grief, they're gonna pick up my scent! I gotta get out of here!”

Locomotion hurriedly scanned his surroundings for a stealthy escape route, but found none – the only suitable paths he could take were either back the way he came, or onwards towards the timberwolves. As he looked back at the sentient heaps of twigs, driftwood and branches, he saw that one of them had turned its attention to the clearing in which he was currently standing. It didn't seem to have noticed him, but the red-furred unicorn was taking no chances; in desperation, he ran towards a large hollow beneath a nearby tree and, not caring what sort of creatures might be living there, dived straight in and braced himself for the end.

The minutes ticked slowly by, but still there was neither sound nor smell of the giant wooden canines lurking outside. Silently wondering why they didn't just pounce on him and get it over with, Locomotion cautiously shifted himself round and peered out of the hollow, hardly daring to breathe. He couldn't see the timberwolves, but he could just make out a low growl as if they were ready to make an attack.

“Weird,” he thought aloud. “What's got them all worked up?”

He got his answer sooner than he thought. Without warning, a loud rustling registered in his ears as the timberwolves lunged at their prey. The red-furred teenager hastily ducked back into the hollow again – but all fears for his own safety suddenly vanished when he heard a distant scream of terrified agony. He couldn't quite work out where it was coming from, but it sounded like a small filly had been caught by these deadly creatures and was being torn to shreds.

Without a moment's hesitation, Locomotion leaped out of the hollow and sprang into action. Running hard at the timberwolves, he fired a rapid succession of energy bolts at them, striking the legs of the wooden monsters and smashing all but one of them to matchwood. The final timberwolf, probably the leader of the pack judging by his size, turned around to face him with a gruesome snarl; but Locomotion bravely stood his ground.

“Come on at me, you great rotten mutt!” he taunted, his horn glowing brightly. “You want pony for dinner? You've got your pony!”

The timberwolf growled aggressively as he advanced towards him, poising himself ready to pounce on the little lump of flesh that dared to strike his pack down. But Locomotion was too quick for him; the moment the furious wooden hound made his leap, a powerful ball of magical energy burst forward from the unicorn's horn and hit the timberwolf squarely in the face, causing him to explode in mid-air and sending a deluge of splintered wood flying in all directions. Casting a barrier around himself to avoid being hit by the debris, the red-furred teenager trotted forth to see how badly their victim had been hurt.

There was no sign of an injured filly, but he could just about make out the scent of fresh blood coming from under a nearby bush, and a tuft of baby blue fur was just poking out from underneath. Stooping down to get a closer look, he carefully lifted the branches out of the way – but almost immediately he wished he hadn't, for there, lying unconscious before his very eyes, was a badly beaten changeling of roughly the same age as him.

Locomotion froze over in shock, unsure whether to speak, yell out for help or run for all his worth. He had never met a changeling before, but he knew all too well about their attempted invasion of Canterlot; and deep down, he couldn't help but fear for his life. If this one should awaken, he thought, then goodness only knew what it might do to him. Slowly, carefully, he backed away from the injured creature, hoping to get away before it spotted him – but after only a single step, he heard a weak groan which stopped him in his tracks.

“Oh, D-rat!”

The changeling's eyes flickered, and it slowly turned its head, wearily mumbling something to itself in a voice that didn't sound too far off Fluttershy; except slightly higher pitched and more delicate, almost like the buzzing of a juvenile bluebottle. Clearly, then, this had to be a female. As her eyelids parted, Locomotion further realised that there was something different about her. From what he had heard, most changelings had vacant blue orbs for eyes; but these were more reptilian in appearance, with slit-like black pupils and green irises, and the only blue parts were the scleras...

Suddenly, the changeling let out a loud shriek, causing the red-furred unicorn to yelp himself and jump back a few hooves. He watched in shock as she backed herself up and cowered against the trunk of the bush. “No...don't come near me!” she whimpered in terror. “Please don't hurt me!”

But Locomotion didn't move. He didn't know what frightened him more – the mere fact that there was a changeling in the middle of the Everfree Forest, or the revelation that she was more afraid of him than he of her. He just stood and stared upon the injured changeling, unsure what to make of the situation – but as he did so, his fears began to recede in favour of a deep sorrow and dismay for the unfortunate creature. What she was doing in his neck of the woods, he couldn't quite comprehend, but he could tell just from looking into her eyes that she was genuinely terrified. No creature alive could ever fake something like that. Without a word, he reached a hoof out and slowly edged forward.

“NO! STOP!” screamed the changeling, her eyes brimming with frightened tears. “GET AWAY FROM ME! PLEASE, LEAVE ME ALONE!!”

Locomotion took no notice, and simply shuffled closer. The changeling curled into a ball and prepared for the worst – but rather than grabbing her and making off, or inflicting further injury upon her, the red-furred pony began running his hoof along her shoulder in a gentle, reassuring manner. Daring to open her eyes, the changeling looked up and was greeted with a soft, sympathetic smile.

“Hey,” he soothed, “take it easy. I'm not gonna hurt you.”

“You're...not?” The changeling gazed up at the unicorn teenager, still understandably scared even when he shook his head in affirmation. “But...why not? Don't you even know what I am?”

“In a bad way, that's what,” replied Locomotion gravely. “You're lucky I happened to be nearby, otherwise you might have been mauled to death by those timberwolves.”

The changeling could hardly believe her ears. Not only did this pony not seem to care what she was – he was actually showing concern for her as if she was an equal! Surely this couldn't be happening, not after how her race had terrorised this beautiful land. “But...but I'm a changeling!” she faltered.

“Yeah – a weak and injured changeling in need of medical attention,” insisted Locomotion calmly. “I know the rest of my kind...well, take a dim view of yours, but there's no way I'm going to just stand by and let a helpless creature die.”

“You...you don't even care that my species tried to enslave yours?”

Locomotion smiled knowingly. “Have you ever done anything to harm me and my friends?”

“Oh, gosh, no!” blustered the changeling. “I've never wanted to hurt anyone in all my life! I don't even know who you are!”

“And did you have any part in the attempted invasion?”

“No, of course not!”

“Well, there you go – I've no reason to hold a grudge against you,” said Locomotion kindly. “Come on, now, I'm gonna take you to Zecora's hut and see if she can patch you up.” He crouched down low and motioned for the changeling to climb onto his back, but she was still too afraid to move.

“What's...Zecora's hut?” she asked nervously.

“Zecora's a zebra who lives in this very forest,” the red-furred unicorn explained. “She works as an apothecary, making all sorts of weird and wonderful potions. Hopefully she might have something in her hut that'll mend your wounds.”

“Um...a zebra?”

“Yeah, sort of like a pony except striped black and white, and their tails have more in common with donkeys,” clarified Locomotion.

The changeling looked away, her face awash with fear and unease. “You don't think she'll have me locked away if she sees me?”

Locomotion cringed inwardly. As much as he hated to admit it, the changeling had a valid point. “Oh...I don't think so,” he replied, trying to hide the uncertainty in his voice. “She's never been the sort to judge others before she gets to know them – heck, many ponies used to call her a witch just because she was different, so she knows how that feels. I think you'll be okay.”

But the changeling didn't seem convinced. A smallish hint of regret crept into her expression as she averted her gaze. “Um...if it's all the same to you, Mr Pony,” she stammered, “I'd rather stay out here.”

“What, and just bleed to death?!” exclaimed Locomotion, visibly horrified.

“I...I don't want to cause you ponies any trouble,” replied the changeling pathetically.

“Don't be so daft,” retorted Locomotion. “No offence, but I doubt you'll be able to do anything in your weakened state. And don't worry about those other ponies – no matter what happens, I'll try my level best to bring them round.”

This took the changeling completely by surprise. Had she heard this pony right, she asked herself? Was he really willing to go out of his way just so that she wouldn't have to suffer? Cautiously, she looked into his eyes again and was met with an expression of utmost sincerity, prompting hers to turn less timid and more hopeful.

Locomotion greeted this with a reassuring smile. “I promise,” he added softly.

At last, the changeling relented. “Well......alright,” she murmured.

“That's the spirit,” encouraged Locomotion kindly, reaching out with his magic and carefully helping the wounded changeling onto his back. “Come on then, miss, let's get you healed up.”

“Um...okay, Mr Pony,” conceded the changeling, gently clinging onto her saviour's back as they made their way through the forest. It was rather strange, but deep down, even though she was still scared, she couldn't help feeling safe and secure in the presence of this red-furred stranger. But how could this be, she wondered? Why did she feel so grateful towards a creature who should have been her enemy, who should have put an end to her like the huge wooden monsters had tried to do? Why didn't he just stand by and let nature finish her off? And more importantly, why was he being so kind and gentle after all the harm her species had tried to inflict on his?

A small tear trickled down her cheek and dropped onto the unicorn teenager's shoulder, the soft red fur soaking it up as she buried her face in his long, flowing mane. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you so much.”

Zecora's home was located in a clearing only ten minutes away from the edge of the forest. It wasn't so much a hut as a broad, hollowed out beech tree, much like the former Golden Oak Library except that it was furnished in a more exotic Zebrican style. Bottles of potions hung from the branches, and a tribal mask was attached just above the doorway which, along with the windows, was arranged to resemble the face of a zebra keeping a sharp lookout for any intruders. The interior was similarly furnished, with an open hearth over which a large black cauldron resided, two beds made of bamboo and chimera wool, further masks hanging from the walls, and shelf after shelf of potions and ingredients. All told, it was rather Spartan compared with Ponyville; but it had a quaint and cosy charm all to itself.

The only downside to the hut was that it could appear intimidating to the unwary. Locomotion had seen it many times before, particularly on Nightmare Night, so the craggy appearance of the tree and the spooky expressions of the masks didn't scare him in the slightest. By stark contrast, the changeling couldn't help but recoil in terror at the sight of the zebra's abode.

“Oh dear,” she whimpered, trembling with fear. “Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.”

Locomotion chuckled wryly. “Yeah, I can see where you're coming from,” he sympathised. “There's nothing to be afraid of, though. This may bear the hallmarks of a witch-doctor's lair, but Zecora's nothing like...well, actually, she is...kind of a witch-doctor, in a way,” he hastily corrected himself, “but not the sort who would use black magic. She's like...really friendly and wise.”

“To you ponies, maybe,” replied the changeling uneasily. “I'll be lucky if she takes any kind of pity on me.”

Secretly, Locomotion had his doubts, but thought better of saying so. Instead, he trotted over to the hut and gently levitated the changeling off his back, setting her down on one of the tree's roots. “Right, you wait here while I go speak to her,” he instructed. “I'll be right back.”

“You won't let her do anything horrible to me, will you?” asked the changeling.

“No way, no how,” promised Locomotion, and made his way over to the front door. The changeling watched anxiously, wondering what this Zecora creature would actually be like. As the red-furred unicorn knocked on the door, both pony and changeling heard voices on the other side. One of them spoke with a thick, deep-toned Zebrican accent, but the other one was so familiar to Locomotion that it sent an ominous chill down his spine.

“Hullo. Sounds like you've got another visitor, Zecora.”

Locomotion's face blanched to a hot-pink in alarm. “Oh no!” he burst out. “Not Princess Twilight Sparkle! Aw, heck, now what am I gonna do?!”

“What in the world is with all this commotion?” In that moment, Locomotion could hear hoofsteps approaching the door. He looked back towards the changeling in a blind panic, wondering whether he should pick her up and run for home, but the door was already being opened before he could come to a firm decision. All he could do now was dither in place as the zebra greeted him with a warm smile. “Why, if it isn't young Locomotion!”

“Oh, hullo, Loco. Not often we see you in these parts.” The lavender-coated Princess of Friendship stood just behind Zecora, directing a small smile of her own upon the teenaged unicorn stallion.

Locomotion grinned nervously. “Uh...hi there, Twilight,” he stuttered. “Um...yeah, this is a pleasant surprise...I think?”

“So what brings you round to my neck of the woods?” asked Zecora politely. “Did you require some of my goods?”

“Uh...no,” said Locomotion uneasily. “It's just...oh, bonker, how am I gonna say this in front of...'ere, Twilight, would it be okay if me and Zecora discussed this in private? I'm not sure you'd take this very well.”

“Take what?” Twilight raised a concerned eyebrow. “Loco...what's the matter? You're acting really strange – and what's with all that blood on your fur?”

The red-furred teenager bit his lip anxiously. Perhaps the changeling was right, he thought – perhaps taking her to see Zecora wasn't such a good idea after all. But what choice did he have? He couldn't simply leave the poor soul to slip away, and crazy though his logic might have been, the zebra was the only one he could think of who might know how to treat wounded changelings. If only he didn't have to confront Twilight about it right now; he knew he'd have to come clean about the injured young creature sooner or later, but now definitely wasn't a good time.

Seeing the inner turmoil he was going through, Zecora tentatively stepped in. “Unless I'm mistaken, you're in a real bind. Tell us, young friend, what's on your mind?”

Locomotion heaved a deep sigh. He had been dreading this moment, but clearly there was no easy way out. “Alright,” he conceded gravely. “I'll tell you – but you've gotta promise me the following terms...”

“I'm listening,” answered Twilight attentively.

“...one: you let me tell you the whole story and get to the point in my own time – two: you won't jump to conclusions, no matter what – three: you won't breathe a word about this to a single living soul without my say-so – and four: you won't do anything horrible to the creature in question.”

“Creature, you say? What kind, if I may?” inquired Zecora.

“And what makes you think we'll go so hard on...whoever it is you're talking about?” added Twilight, confused.

“Because you've had a bad rap with them in the past.”

“Them?” repeated Twilight, taken aback.

“Do you promise or don't you?!” asked Locomotion, more sharply than he intended.

Twilight paused, raising a thoughtful hoof to her chin. “Um...I don't know about this, Loco,” she admitted doubtfully. “Until I have further information on...whoever it is you're talking about, I'm not sure I can promise.”

“Twilight, you have to!” insisted Locomotion. “This creature needs seeing to, and if we don't hurry up, she could die!”

Twilight and Zecora's eyes widened. They still didn't pretend to understand what Locomotion was talking about, but from the tone of his voice, it was clear to both that they had a very dire situation on their hooves. There was a long, tense silence as both zebra and alicorn mulled over the red-furred unicorn's plight.

“Alright, Loco,” conceded Twilight at last, “I promise.”

“I do too, fair and true,” chimed in Zecora.

“Pinkie Promise?”

“Pinkie Promise.”

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

Thus, Locomotion took a deep breath and began to tell them what had happened earlier that day, how he had avoided being hunted down by timberwolves and later struck the whole pack down in order to save the “mystery” creature they were trying to make a meal out of. To one side of the hut, the creature in question listened anxiously, unable to make head or tail of what was going on.

But even when Locomotion finished his story, Twilight still couldn't fathom why he was being so urgent and secretive at the same time. “That's all very well, Loco, but what exactly is this creature you rescued and won't tell me about?”

“Well, this is where I'm scared you might freak out,” explained Locomotion. “You see, Twilight...well...that is...” He paused pathetically. “...let's just say all you know of them is that their leader posed as your sister-in-law prior to her wedding.”

“Their lead...” Twilight promptly broke off as she realised what the red-furred teenager was implying. “Wait just a minute – are you trying to tell me there's a changeling here?!”

“It's not like you think it is, Twilight!” blustered Locomotion, trying his best to drive his point across. “That girl...nymph...mare...whatever you call the females – not only was she badly injured, but she was blooming well scared to death! You should have seen the look of terror on her face when she saw me!”

Twilight paused for a moment to take in his words. This hadn't been the first time a changeling had been found in Equestria, but out of all those that she herself had encountered, only one had ever shown any degree of compassion towards ponykind, and that was years ago – apart from him, all the others seemed almost as ruthless and power-mad as Queen Chrysalis herself, and if she had managed to take over the mind of her brother Shining Armour, why shouldn't a lesser changeling be able to do the same to an ordinary unicorn like Locomotion? And yet there was something about the tone of his voice that sounded so...genuine, like he actually meant what he said straight from the heart. “I...see,” she said gravely. “Well, in that case, I probably ought to run a memory scan, just to make sure.”

Locomotion was appalled at such a suggestion. “What do you mean, 'just to make sure?!” he burst out defensively. “She was cowering against the trunk of the bush! There were tears in her eyes! She was pleading with me not to hurt her, poor thing! I ask you, how do you fake that? Eh?!”

“Loco, please, calm down,” ordered Twilight sternly. “I'm not saying I don't believe you – I just want to be absolutely certain that this changeling doesn't intend any harm on the likes of us ponies.”

“So in other words, you're just gonna go ahead and victimise her anyway!” accused Locomotion, raising his voice.

“No, Loco, I'm not victimising anyone. I know this is a sensitive issue for you, but as Princess of Friendship, I have a duty to the welfare of our subjects; and as much as I want to believe in your story, I can ill afford to take any risks.” Twilight paused for a few seconds so that the red-furred teen could take it all in. “I'm sorry, Loco, but I'm afraid that's how it has to be.”

Locomotion frowned unhappily. He was clearly on the road to saving this changeling's life, he realised; but at a price he was loathed to pay. Now she would probably be locked up for the rest of her days. “Alright then,” he mumbled, not even daring to look at the lavender-coated alicorn.

“Good. Now where is she?”

“Round one side of the hut.” Locomotion led them over to where the changeling lay awaiting her sentence. She bore an expression of deep despair, but also awe as she gazed upon the red-furred unicorn, for even though her future had been all but decided, she could hardly believe the lengths to which he had gone just to try and talk his princess into giving her the benefit of the doubt. But the look of defeat on his face spoke for itself. “I'm sorry,” he apologised gloomily. “I tried my best.”

The changeling didn't reply. She simply closed her eyes and accepted her fate as Twilight's horn began to glow, encasing her head in a pink aura. All Locomotion could do was direct a sad stare towards Zecora, who frowned sympathetically in response.

This went on for about a minute or so before Twilight finally let go of the spell, a look of bewilderment crossing her face as her horn stopped glowing. “O...kay, this is interesting,” she mused, raising an eyebrow. “I can't detect any malicious intent in her whatsoever.”

“You...huh?” The changeling stared in confusion at Twilight, and then in stunned realisation at an equally flabbergasted Locomotion.

“So...you mean to say she's...” The only reply he received from Twilight was a perplexed nod of affirmation. Almost at once, the red-furred unicorn felt his spirits leap up again. “Ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “Innocent – just like I said she was! Now do you believe me?!”

“Yeah, but...this is uncanny,” remarked Twilight. “I was expecting to find...”

“You thought she would be making evil plans against you just because of what she was?” retorted Locomotion smugly. “Really, Twilight, I'm surprised at you – and just when I thought you'd learned a thing or two from when you took Zecora for a witch!”

“And would I be mistaken, Princess Twilight, in assuming your memory scan is always right?” added Zecora, ignoring the red-furred youth's cheek.

Twilight opened her mouth to reply, but quickly realised the point the zebra was trying to make. She had only learned the spell two years ago, but it turned out to have been so well-written that, out of all the times she had used it, she had never once had a false reading. “Hmm...now you come to mention it, Zecora...yes, it is always right,” she conceded thoughtfully. With an awkward grin, she turned her attention back to the changeling; “Yeah, sorry if I came across as mistrusting.”

“Apology accepted,” chuckled Locomotion.

“Oh, please don't,” faltered the changeling. “You and your kind have every right to fear mine. We've been nothing but trouble to this kingdom of yours; I don't deserve an apology.”

“Well, I say you do,” insisted Twilight soothingly. “I will admit that I'd seen what you changelings could be like first-hoof, but I've dealt with equally hostile creatures in the past and still managed to make some new allies among them; and if my memory scan is as accurate as it appears to be, then I'd say you qualify.”

The changeling looked down at her front hooves, now completely lost in her emotions. She couldn't believe that these ponies were being so kind and gentle towards a forbidden creature like her – the red-furred one she could kind of understand, for there was something about that unicorn that made him seem like he had never held it against her species at all, but how that princess had gone from apprehensive to apologetic in a single heartbeat was beyond her. Did she really mean it? Or was it just a trick? Any fears that the latter might be true were suddenly washed away as she felt her vitality slowly beginning to improve, and for the very first time since she had met these three equines, she smiled softly upon them. It was only a small, timid smile, but it brimmed with warm, humble gratitude. “Well...if you say so,” she murmured.

“Good – now let's get you inside. Zecora, could you fix up your spare bed and make up a healing potion?”

“Your wish is my command, dear Twilight,” said Zecora dutifully. She then directed a friendly smile of her own upon her young patient; “Fear not, young friend, we'll soon put you right. Come, Locomotion, let's bring her into the hut; she'll need a lot of care for each bruise and cut.”

“Right with you, Zecora.” Locomotion carefully lifted the changeling onto his back again and trotted inside after the two mares.

Author's Note:

Just for information's sake, the way Locomotion pronounces D-rat is literally "dee-rat".

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