• 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 21: Betrayed!

Hornette was snoozing in the living room. Scootaloo, Surfie, Apple Bloom and Firelli had taken good care of her for most of the day, but half an hour before Locomotion was due home, an accident at the bottom of the road had led to Firelli being called away. With little else to do, the young changeling had grown bored and lonely again, and hoped a good doze would pass the time until one of them came back.

At last, the click of the front door latch caught her attention, and she could hear Locomotion's voice calling out, “Hornette? I'm home.”

“In here, Loco,” answered Hornette, stirring herself awake. Already, she was beginning to feel a pang of dread, relief and anticipation rolled into one; now, she would finally find out how her crush felt about her, and offload her own feelings into the bargain.

Locomotion peeked into the living room with a warm smile. “Hullo, Hornette,” he greeted. “Where's Elli then?”

Hornette smiled back, almost apologetically. “Someone came round earlier and said that a timber cart had fallen over,” she explained. “Elli had to go and help patch up the haulier and a few passers-by.”

“Oh well – can't be helped, I guess,” mused Locomotion. He knew Firelli was a trained first-aid pony, so as irritated as he was by the turn of events, he couldn't fault her for leaving Hornette alone in such an emergency. “Apart from that, how was your day?”

“Not brilliant, if I'm honest,” admitted Hornette, her smile fading as she shifted to one side to clear some space on the sofa for him. “Your sisters and the Crusaders were good company, but...well, it just felt kinda lonely without you around.”

Locomotion frowned sympathetically and sat down next to her with a weary sigh. “Yeah, mine hasn't been much better. I had a bit of a rough shunt this morning, and nearly derailed a few trucks. Turns out Max was kinda worried about me when he found out – he called me up to his office before I signed off and...”

“You haven't lost your job, have you?” interrupted Hornette anxiously.

“Nah, he just wanted to have a bit of a heart-to-heart with me is all.” Locomotion paused, trying to work out what to say next. He could see that Hornette was pondering over something herself – something that she seemed almost desperate to share with him, that had been plaguing her for ages now.

“Actually, there's something I...” she began timidly.

“Actually, there's another re...” began Locomotion at the same time.

Both pony and changeling abruptly fell silent, neither wanting to interrupt the other. After a few seconds, Locomotion tried again.

“I know this is gonna...”

“What I mean to...” Hornette broke off again, but Locomotion patiently gestured for her to continue. “I'd actually been talking with Sweetie-Belle about...a few things, and...well...I'm still struggling to get my head round all this, but...I...” She blushed profusely as words failed her, plunging them both into a silence so awkward that it seemed to smother them.

“Well...it's like this, Hornette,” ventured Locomotion at last, taking her front hooves in his own; “I'd actually been...kinda distracted today, hence why my shunting was so sloppy. I...couldn't really understand why, but...well, after a bit of a chat with Spike and Octavia...I think...I might...” His own voice trailed away as he became lost in her gaze. Blue eyes stared into green, fear and unease slowly giving way to a deep desire far stronger than mere magic, their breathing slackening as they slowly leaned in towards each other. Even with barely an inch between them, he could almost feel her lips brushing lightly against his own. Any second now...

Suddenly, the spell was broken by a thunderous rap at the front door. The two teenagers sprang apart, startled.

“Who in the world could that be?” exclaimed Hornette.

Locomotion's eyes narrowed. “Dunno – but it sounds a bit too rough for Elli,” he answered grimly. “You sit tight, Hornette, while I go check it out.” Secretly, he couldn't help scowling as he stood up and made for the hallway. Whoever it was on his doorstep sure had some nerve, he thought crossly, intruding on him and Hornette at such an inconvenient time – and just when things were starting to warm up too! To irritate him still further, the knocking seemed to persist even as he approached the door. “Alright, alright, I'm coming!!” he shouted, slipping the chain across in case the intruder turned out to be less than friendly.

He turned out to be right on the money. As soon as he opened the door, the first thing he saw was a brown Pegasus stallion staring him down belligerently. The red-furred unicorn recalled seeing him once or twice on construction sites; but what really disturbed him was the mob of ponies gathered outside the front garden, all staring upon the house with equal measures of sullen anger.

“Um...can I help you?” inquired Locomotion, trying to sound polite.

But the brown Pegasus, whom he reckoned must be the ringleader of the group, was clearly in no mood for idle chat. “Alright, buddy, where's that changeling of yours?!” he demanded, trying to force the door open.

Locomotion instinctively pushed back, knowing the chain wouldn't be enough to bar his entrance. “Hey, hey, hey,” he burst out indignantly, “what do you mean by barging into my house like this?!”

“Don't start preaching sermons with us, kid!” snapped the stallion. “We're not letting that bug-eyed creep double-cross us and get away with it!”

“What the flabberwocky are you talking about?!”

“You wouldn't understand even if we told you!” growled the stallion rudely. “Now where is she?!”

Locomotion's glare hardened. “Well, you'd better tell me – unless you want me to tell the police!” he threatened.

“Oh, sure, and be charged as a quisling – I don't think so. Now step aside and let us in!”

“Not until one of you takes out a search warrant!”

The brown stallion bared his teeth and scraped a hoof against the ground. “STEP ASIDE!!” he bellowed.

“Loco? Is everything alright?”

Locomotion's blood ran cold. He didn't even need to look over his shoulder to see that Hornette, disturbed by the shouting match, had followed him into the hallway and was looking on from what she thought to be a safe distance.

“AHA! SO THERE YOU ARE!!” Without any further warning, a deep purple unicorn bolted forward, magically grabbed Hornette by the back of her neck and dragged her towards the door. “Okay, changeling,” he snarled, “what's your game?!”

If it weren't for the magical grip around her shoulders, Hornette would have dropped to the floor and curled up into a ball she was so terrified. “I...I didn't do anything!” she whimpered.

The brown stallion shot her a death-glare. “You're a liar!” he accused; only to reel in pain and shock as two bolts of magical energy hit him and the unicorn squarely in the forehead. He looked up again to see Locomotion's horn still glowing.

“Keep your hooves off of my changeling!” growled Locomotion, trembling with adrenaline and hyperventilating with rage. “I dunno who you guys think you are, but if you think you can hurt Hornette in front of me, then I'd like to see you try!”

“What in the hay is going on around here?!”

Everypony looked towards the source of the voice. Almost at once, Locomotion's breathing began to slow down; for there, pushing his way through the crowd and looking very surprised and annoyed, was Steamer. “I go away for a few days, leave the house in Loco and Hornette's capable hooves, come back, and this is what I find!” he ranted. “What's the meaning of all this?!”

A huge hubbub of voices erupted all around him, each shouting as loudly as they could to make themselves heard. Locomotion tried to interrupt, but his own voice was drowned out by the incessant hollering.

“ONE AT A TIME!!!” yelled Steamer, covering his ears. He trotted up to the front door, which Locomotion unchained without question. “You first, Loco; what's this all about?”

Locomotion shrugged. “I wish I knew, Uncle Steamer,” he confessed gravely. “Me and Hornette were just minding our own business, then somepony comes round and starts demanding answers from us. They wouldn't even tell me what their questions were.”

“Ask her!” spat the brown Pegasus, pointing at Hornette. “She was the one who did it!”

Steamer looked to Hornette, perplexed; but she didn't seem to know any more than he did. If anything, she seemed even more unnerved than before. She shook her head in utter confusion.

“Look, you're not making any sense here,” protested Steamer to the Pegasus stallion. “What exactly is it you think she did?”

Before the brown stallion could argue any further, they heard a familiar sly chuckle. Hornette gasped in horror, and Steamer and Locomotion's expressions soured – looking back towards the angry mob, they could see none other than Diesel making his way up the path. “So much for trusting a changeling, eh, Steamer?” he gloated. “I did try to warn you, you know.”

Steamer grimaced. “I might have known you'd be behind this, Diesel!” he snarled. “Did I not tell you to stay out of Loco and Hornette's lives?!”

Diesel only laughed derisively. “Oh, Steamer,” he taunted. “You and your nephew, you're both as bad as each other – standing up for some deceitful oversized insect, treating her like the ally she never was – or ever will be...”

“Listen, Diesel,” snapped Steamer, “if you're still trying to dispute Hornette's integrity, you're wasting your time! I don't know how you've fooled all these other ponies into believing all the trash you've been spouting...”

“And still you continue to make me the scapegoat,” interrupted Diesel smugly. “When will you ever learn?”

Steamer edged closer, his eyes burning ominously. “Get off my property!” he ordered ominously.

“Now then, Steamer...”

“Get moving before I set Twilight on you!!”

But to Locomotion's dismay, Steamer's threat didn't have the same effect on Diesel as last time. The black stallion simply rolled his eyes smugly and said, “I wouldn't bank on that, Steamer – not while she's out of town.”

“Since when?!” demanded Locomotion.

“Well...you know what that map's like – always summoning your worthy Princess Twilight and her Friendship Council at strange times. From what I saw, she and her entourage had to leave in a tearing hurry; and goodness knows when they'll be back.”

Locomotion cursed inwardly and gritted his teeth. As much as he suspected this to be a mere ruse, he knew Diesel was right about the Cutie Map. Whichever way he looked at it, that greasy Pegasus had him, Steamer and Hornette licked. “Alright,” he said grimly, “what do you want with us?”

Diesel's sly grin morphed into a parody of sympathetic innocence. “Deary me, Locomotion, I wish I could spare you this,” he said, taking on a sombre tone. “Something...truly disagreeable has happened in the town square – something which I fear will...rock your world.”

“What are you implying?”

“Perhaps it's best that you come with us and take a look for yourselves – and that includes your precious changeling.”

Locomotion turned to Steamer. “Well, Uncle?” he whispered. “What do we do?”

“Well, whatever it is he's plotting, he obviously means business,” answered Steamer gravely, cocking his head towards the crowd still glaring at them. “We'd better do as he says – and hope we run into Twilight on the way. If we do, he's finished.”

His nephew frowned and nodded in reluctant agreement. “Alright then – but don't try anything clever,” he said sternly to Diesel.

Hornette gazed fearfully at Locomotion. Whatever Diesel had in store for her, she had a bad feeling she wasn't going to like it. “Loco...you don't think...” she whispered; but Locomotion wrapped a reassuring hoof around hers.

“Take it easy, Hornette,” he soothed. “I'm not letting that living barrel of crude oil turn me against you – or anypony else for that matter.” He certainly hoped so, at least...

Firelli watched with relief as the ambulance was rushed away back to Ponyville Hospital. Not only had the carter sprained his back and twisted his right hind fetlock, but five other ponies had been caught in an avalanche of timber as his cart toppled over, so she had had a lot of broken bones to deal with. At least Blossomforth had managed to avoid any such injury herself – good job she was so flexible and agile!

Her work done, the scarlet Pegasus made her way back to Steamer's house to see how Hornette was doing; but deep down, she couldn't shake an unsettling hunch about the accident. She had discovered a broken wheel to be the cause, possibly an overload fracture in the spokes – except that on closer inspection, she found that some of them had sheared far too cleanly. It was as if someone had purposely cut through them...but who, she wondered, would do such a thing? And why? Perhaps she ought to report this to the police...

At that moment, she heard a commotion further up the road. A large crowd had gathered outside Steamer and Locomotion's house, and both stallions were being directly confronted by two Pegasi while Hornette stood close behind, visibly frightened. Firelli's brow furrowed as she took in the tense scene, and even more so when she realised that the black one resembled the Electro Diesel pony her brother and uncle had described to her a while back. To irk her still further, he seemed to be grinning with evil satisfaction as he and the rest of the crowd marched Hornette, Steamer and Locomotion towards the town centre.

Fearing the worst, Firelli quickly took to the air and glided surreptitiously after them. As if the sly gloating from Diesel wasn't enough, she could see one or two of the mobsters pushing and shoving Hornette rudely; and whenever Locomotion tried to intervene, they just sneered contemptuously at him. She was abhorred by this, but reluctantly held back all the same – it wouldn't do to give the game away too soon, she told herself grimly, in case someone tried to silence her.

Unaware they were being shadowed, and with no way of knowing what they were in for, Hornette and Locomotion could only hope that, by some miracle, the Friendship Council would suddenly appear and send these hecklers on their way with their tails between their legs. After what felt like the tensest and most agonising ten minutes of their lives, they turned a corner and came to the entrance of an empty alleyway only a block or two away from Sugarcube Corner. The two teenagers braced themselves as Diesel stepped to one side, but nothing could prepare them for what they saw...

Hornette gasped in horror, and Locomotion's jaw dropped open with outrage. “Is this some kind of sick joke?!” he exclaimed.

On a nearby rooftop, well out of sight, Firelli choked back her own gasp of shock – for there, right before their very eyes, was a changeling cocoon with a unicorn stallion trapped inside it. He appeared to be thumping frantically against the walls of his glassy green prison, trying in vain to smash it open.

“It's no hoax,” asserted Diesel, his tone more sinister and malevolent than ever. “This stallion was found here nearly half an hour ago, and a changeling spotted flying away from the same area...” His eyes narrowed maliciously. “...sound familiar – Hornette?”

The young changeling went pale as all eyes turned on her.

“There is only one changeling here, after all,” continued Diesel, “and not a single pony knows how to spin one of their cocoons. Can anyone else think of a viable explanation for this?”

“But...but I never touched him!” wailed Hornette in protest. “I was back at Loco and Steamer's house the whole time! I don't even know who this pony is!”

“And I suppose you have witnesses to prove it?!”

Firelli winced. That brown stallion whom she assumed must be their ringleader was quite right; the one time Hornette needed someone with her, and she couldn't even be there, all because of some horrible cart accident. But surely Hornette couldn't have been responsible – not someone as sweet and altruistic as her. Why, if it hadn't been for the baying hecklers and Diesel's taunting, the young changeling would gladly have set the stallion free without a second thought.

And that was when it hit her – the broken cart, the first-aid emergency, the cocooned stallion...it must all be connected somehow! The whole accident must have been planned from the very beginning, as a means of getting her out of the way and leaving Hornette unguarded. That way, there would be nopony around to provide the vital alibi to clear her name. There was no question about it, she realised; both she and Hornette had been set up.

“No, really,” insisted Hornette, “I'd never do something like this! I swear I wouldn't!” She looked desperately at Locomotion. “Y-y-you believe me, don't you?”

“Well, of course I believe you,” affirmed Locomotion. Though his mind was still battling with his conscience, neither were prepared to let the young changeling suffer for a crime she couldn't have committed. “And so does Uncle Steamer, for that matter – right?”

But to their mutual dismay, Steamer seemed even more baffled than Locomotion had been a moment ago. “I...I dunno what to believe,” he admitted. “I just...how? How could you do this to us?”

Hornette felt a cold, heavy lump of dread forming in the pit of her stomach, and could only stare in dismay, feeling as if her legs would suddenly give out. Even Steamer seemed to be against her now – and so soon after she had proven her heroics!

At last, Locomotion lost his temper. “What the flabberwocky is wrong with you all?!” he burst out, exasperated. “Am I the ONLY one who loves this girl enough to...” But before he could finish, he was interrupted by a collective gasp of shock and disgust. Too late, he realised what he had just said, and threw both his front hooves over his mouth in alarm.

“AHA!!” barked Diesel menacingly. “So you admit it – she's been stealing your love just like she did with this one!”

“What?! No...!” cried Locomotion in a blind panic; but his words fell on deaf ears.

“Just as I thought!” went on Diesel, drowning out the red-furred unicorn's protests. “First some little savage comes and fools Princess Twilight Sparkle into letting her stay where she doesn't belong; then she pulls the wool over our eyes and acts like the hero she clearly isn't; and now she betrays our trust by suckering the love from not one, but two unsuspecting ponies!” His eyes narrowed as he directed a calculating stare at Hornette; “Would I be right as well in presuming that you shared a bed with one of them?!”

The lump in Hornette's stomach instantly migrated to her throat, her entire frame locking up as she felt the dozens of eyes glowering at her. Far from being overjoyed at Locomotion's admittedly accidental confession, all she felt was a deep, crippling despair – stalker or not, there was no way she could dispute what Diesel had just revealed. It was all too much for the young changeling; with a stifled sob of anguish, she bolted off down the alley as fast as her legs could carry her. Even the sound of Locomotion's voice as he gave chase was lost to her as she ran further and further away from Ponyville – away from Steamer, away from Diesel and the hecklers, and away from the red-furred unicorn she had grown to love so dearly.

From her rooftop perch, Firelli could only look on grimly until her uncle trotted after them at a slower pace. She frowned at the jeering and shouting of the angry mob below. “I've seen enough!” she declared under her breath, and flew away in the direction of the castle, while Diesel smirked with triumph in the darkness.

Locomotion ran as hard and as fast as he could, frantically calling Hornette's name and pleading with her to come back – but gallop and shout as he might, the young changeling refused to heed him. She just kept on running, convinced that she was no longer welcome in Equestria, and by the time he was beyond the edge of town, she was almost out of sight.

An intense pain began to register in the young stallion's heart as he watched her disappear over a hillock. Caught in the cruel and excruciating grip in despair, his pace began to slacken involuntarily until at last he couldn't move a muscle, and he came to a halt at the bottom of the slope, yelling out her name one last time. Already, he could feel the tears starting to sting his eyes, the unsteady trembling in his legs...the familiar ominous ache in his chest that he had hoped he would never have to feel again. He collapsed onto his rump, unable to hold back his distress any longer, and sobbed bitterly as his body seemed to shut down altogether. The one creature he had ever truly loved above all else, and she was gone forever – all because he couldn't keep his mouth shut about how he felt about her. Right now, he could feel nothing but guilt and sorrow. He had failed her...failed to defend her honour…

“I'm sorry, Loco.”

The sound of Steamer's voice gently broke into Locomotion's train of thought as he placed a comforting hoof on his nephew's shoulder. The red-furred unicorn continued to stare at the ground, unwilling to acknowledge his presence.

“She was such a good girl too,” went on Steamer softly. “Believe you me, I'm just as shocked as you are...”

Unfortunately, his words failed to reassure Locomotion in any way. Instead, he just grimaced as all the negative words against Hornette echoed in his mind – the surly, sneering contempt from Rainbow Dash...the sly, obnoxious remarks from Diesel...the insensitive cheek from Pound Cake and Shady Daze...even his own uncle's apprehension during the first week of Hornette's probation. This was the very same stallion who had vowed to trust her with his life, and now he was going back on his word! All his guilt, sorrow and self-pity gave way to a growing feeling of betrayal, until it became the voice of anger. “The hell you are!” he snarled.

Steamer froze. This was the first time Locomotion had spoken so aggressively to him. “What...”

“You never liked Hornette! You never even wanted to like her!!” thundered Locomotion, turning to face the older stallion with a poisonous look of rage. “You just wanted rid of her like everypony else! Didn't know what to believe, my hind hoof – all you wanted to believe was that she was a savage just like the rest of them!”

“No, I never said anything of the sort!” protested Steamer, still trying to get over the shock.

“Didn't you?! Then why did you just stand by and let her take the rap for a cocooned stallion?! Why didn't you stand up for her like I did?! You said you trusted her!!”

“Well...I...” Steamer looked away, trying to find the right words.

“You were right all along, Uncle!” spat Locomotion, cutting him off once again. “Maybe I should have asked Twilight to let her live at the castle – then neither she nor I would have to put up with some heartless, unfeeling, uncaring racist who never even gave a flying flabberwocky for his own nephew's feelings!”

“Now just a minute!!” burst out Steamer indignantly. “That's going too far!”

But so had he. Unwilling to put up with his uncle any longer, Locomotion sprang to his hooves and galloped furiously away, intent on getting as far away from him as he could.

“Hey! Where are you going?!” shouted Steamer, bolting after him. “Loco, get back here! I'm not finished yet! Loco, stop!”

Locomotion only gathered his pace still further. He had had enough of Steamer and his so-called 'friends' in Ponyville – they had hurt Hornette once too often, and he had no intention of seeing them ever again. All he wanted was to track her down and join her quest for the Promised Land, no matter how hopeless nor how far away it might be. In his anger, he failed to notice his Cutie Marks flashing repeatedly, until a holographic likeness inexplicably materialised above him and zoomed away towards Twilight's castle...

Finally, after much yelling and hollering, Steamer was forced to stop for a breather. Huffing and puffing, he looked to where Locomotion was headed, and shuddered – of all the dreaded places he could have gone, it just had to be this one...and there was nothing he could do.

“How am I going to tell Fair Isle and Optic Strand about this?” he muttered anxiously.

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