• 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 22: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Applejack stared in confusion. “Are y'all sure this is right, Twi?”

“Positive,” answered Twilight, clearly puzzled herself. With little to do all day, she had been hanging out at Sweet Apple Acres with the rest of her council when they all noticed their Cutie Marks flashing. They dashed back to the castle, but were perplexed when the Cutie Map kept on pulsating and wouldn't show them where they were needed. Anxious to find out why, Twilight used her magic to override the Map and make it show them anyway. “I've never known the Map to summon us to two places simultaneously, but there it is.”

“Yeah, but I still don't get it,” protested Rainbow Dash incredulously. “Why summon us to our own home town? Any friendship problem around here, we'd be onto it in a shot, Map or no Map.”

“Never mind that,” interjected Rarity, “have you seen where else it's calling us to?”

Twilight's brow furrowed. Sure enough, there was a duplicate of each Cutie Mark hologram right on the far south of the Map, in one of the most dangerous and dreaded places known to ponykind. “I sure have, Rarity,” she answered grimly. “The one place I hoped I'd never have to visit...something tells me this friendship mission is way more than even we can handle.”

“Not just us, Twilight,” announced Pinkie Pie, eyeing the two additional holograms in the same area. “If I didn't know better, I'd say it wants Loco out there as well – and someone else.” She pulled back a little, arching an eyebrow. Sure enough, one of the images was clearly Locomotion's wheel and chimney Cutie Mark; but the other, a blue peace sign inside a red heart, seemed a bit harder to place. “Big question is, who?”

Rarity shrugged. “Not the foggiest, Pinkie. I must confess, I've never seen a Cutie Mark like that before.”

“An' why would the Map send Loco out there?” put in Applejack. “He wouldn't last five seconds in the Badlands; it's way too dangerous.”

Fluttershy, who had remained silent throughout the discussion, looked thoughtfully at the mysterious hologram. “Could it be to do with Hornette?” she suggested. “I mean...it is changeling territory, after all.”

“Ah, don't go on, Fluttershy,” retorted Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes. “You said Hornette was done with the Badlands.”

“I know...but maybe the Map knows how we can help.”

“Well, we're not gonna find the answer just sitting here,” decided Twilight. “First things first, we'd better see what's going on in Ponyville.” She stood up from her throne and was just turning towards the doorway when Flash entered with a worried look on his face, followed closely by an equally grim Firelli Brazen.

“Firelli needs to speak to you, Twily – very urgent,” he said.

“Go on.”

“Hornette's in trouble,” explained Firelli tersely. “Something really unsettling has happened in Market Square; some of the locals think she's responsible and have been trying to make her own up to it.”

Twilight paused, furrowing her brow again. “Market Square, you say? Around what time?”

“Something like...half-four or thereabouts.”

“Right...” Twilight looked back at the Map for a brief moment. Maybe this was one of the friendship problems it wanted them to resolve. “...you'd better tell me about it on the way. Flash,” she instructed, “order a full unicorn mobilisation – tell them we need a riot control team out there immediately.”

“Yes, Twily!” Flash saluted smartly and galloped off to the barracks, while Twilight and her councillors followed Firelli to the scene of the fiasco. As they went, the scarlet mare hurriedly told them all she knew, from the cart accident and the angry mob to Diesel's taunting and Hornette's exile.

When they arrived, they found the hecklers still gathered around the cocooned stallion, noisily debating how to set him free again. Diesel lurked nearby, still smirking. He felt invincible, and even the unicorn guards didn't intimidate him – with Hornette's reputation in ruins, he could make anyone believe him without question, regardless of whether he was telling the truth or not. Once he had done the same with this lot, his vendetta would be complete. As Twilight, her councillors and Firelli pushed their way through the crowd, he stepped forward; “Good evening to you, Your Highness,” he said in his most ingratiating tone. “I'm most grieved that this changeling should have betrayed...”

But Twilight knew better. She cut the black Pegasus off with a warning glare and murmured to him through clenched teeth, “I'll deal with you later, Diesel,” before turning her attention back to the matter at hoof.

Diesel's innocent smile faded. He hadn't forgotten Locomotion's earlier threat, but neither had he expected Twilight to fob him off in such a cold and wary manner; and deep down, he was starting to worry at the potentially fatal flaw in his plans. “But...Your Highness,” he objected, quickly forgetting himself as the lavender alicorn breezed past him, “surely this is proof of a changeling attack? No pony could ever spin such a tough cocoon in so short a time.”

Firelli shot him a stern glance of her own. “Maybe – but I'd leave Twilight to decide that if I were you,” she pointed out coolly. “From what she tells me, Mr Diesel, you're under suspicion yourself.”

“And who are you to boss your elders about?” retorted Diesel with a smarmy leer. “Might I suggest you...”

“No you might not, Gasoline. You're on thin enough ice as it is.”

Diesel turned and scowled at the orange Pegasus who had just touched down next to him. “Excuse me?!” he blustered indignantly. “That's Electro Diesel to you!”

“Your name can be mud for all I care,” continued Flash, glowering at him analytically. “And I happen to be the Captain of Twilight's Guards, Petrol, so don't even think of talking back to me like that.”

But Diesel had no intention of heeding Flash's orders. He was determined that Hornette would be the scapegoat no matter the cost, and watched through narrow, calculating eyes as Twilight examined the cocoon.

“So you say it was just after four when he was found like this?” she asked Firelli.

“From what I heard, yeah.”

Twilight cupped a thoughtful hoof around her chin. “And you've no idea who could've done this to him – or why?”

“Ask the changeling!” accused the group's ringleader. “She's the one who did this! She crept into this alleyway and sucked the love out of this guy!”

“Did she?” asked Twilight rhetorically

“Well, who else could it have been, Lord Tirek?! This is a changeling cocoon, there's only one changeling here – she is responsible, she means us malice!” insisted the ringleader.

Twilight's eyebrows straightened. “That's not the impression I got from last night's memory scan,” she remarked.

“Well, obviously it doesn't work on changelings then, does it?” jeered Diesel.

“And another thing,” went on Twilight, ignoring him completely, “this is the same changeling who risked her life to save one of our own – who held her own queen in contempt because of the way she and the other changelings treated us ponies. So why would a creature with such strong morals suddenly turn traitor? It just seems so out of character.”

Applejack turned to Firelli. “Did y'all say somethin' about a cart accident at the time o' the attack?” she asked curiously.

“Yes – a wheel had broken on a timber cart. I had to go and give first aid to the carter and five other ponies,” explained Firelli. “Funny thing is,” she added suspiciously, “when I checked the broken wheel, some of the spokes looked like they had been sawn through.”

Twilight paused. “You think it might have been sabotaged?”

“More than that – I've got a feeling that accident had been staged to get me out of the way.”

“I see...” Twilight pondered for a moment. “...yeah, I'm beginning to see your point, Elli – this does seem a little too...convenient to be a coincidence,” she remarked.

By now, Diesel was really losing his patience. “Why are you even listening to her?!” he burst out aggressively. “She's the one who's supposed to be guarding this monster – oh, you know the three of them were guarding her day and night, don't you, because she's so 'harmless'! And then she turns her back on that pet changeling of yours – how do you know she isn't complicit in all this?!”

“I've been scanning Hornette's memory for well over a month,” replied Twilight stolidly. “If she was up to anything, I'd know about it already; but you obviously know everything there is to know about her and Loco – a lot more than some innocent bystander.” Her eyes narrowed. “Maybe we're right to suspect you, Diesel – maybe you have been stalking them.”

“And what difference does that make?!” snarled Diesel. “It's the changeling you should...”

“Save your breath, Diesel!” snapped Rainbow Dash. She was still struggling to decide whether Hornette was really to blame or not, but she wasn't about to let this pushy black punk speak to one of her best friends like that. “We're not moving until we know for certain who did this – now shut up and let Twilight do her thing.”

Realising that any further argument would be futile, Diesel slunk back into the crowd, muttering under his breath. “Stupid ponies! They defend the indefensible, but they refuse to defend their own! Why can't they just accept she was responsible?!”

Flash overheard his grumbling, and was quick to retort; “Not until we've gathered all the evidence, Kerosene,” he cut in smartly. “I don't know how you do things in...wherever you came from, but here in a civilised society, we have a policy known as 'innocent until proven guilty'.”

Twilight turned her attention back to the cocoon, tapping it lightly as she considered the evidence. “Well, there's only one way to find out who the real culprit is,” she decided. “Stand back, everypony; I'm gonna see if I can break this open.” Setting her horn aglow, she screwed up her eyes in concentration as her aura surrounded the translucent green shell. A small crack began to form around one end, which gradually grew larger and larger until at last the cocoon split open – much to the bewilderment of the watching crowd. Firelli eventually broke the stunned silence with a whistle of amazement.

“Whoa!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash, awed. “How the hay did you do that, Twilight?!”

“Picked it up from Hornette while I was scanning her memory,” answered Twilight plainly as the stallion crawled out of the remains of the cocoon, gasping heavily as if he were short of breath. “Elli, Fluttershy, go check him over.”

Before Fluttershy and Firelli could oblige, they heard a shout from somewhere behind them. Hearing her name being called, Twilight turned around to find Steamer galloping towards her. “Twilight,” he panted, trying to catch his breath, “I need your help. Loco's gone after...”

“Sorry, Steamer,” interrupted Twilight, “I'm busy trying to sort things out here. Would you mind waiting a moment?”

“But Twilight, this can't wait!” insisted Steamer frantically.

“I'm afraid you'll have to,” said Twilight firmly. She could sense Steamer's concern, but she also knew she couldn't leave this current crisis to spiral out of control. “This dispute has to take priority – the sooner we resolve it, the sooner you can tell me what's going on.”

Steamer cringed with fear, but he knew it was no use arguing with a princess. Reluctantly, he stood to one side while Firelli and Fluttershy lay the stallion down in a recovery position and examined him for any injuries As they did so, Firelli, still a little dubious about the stallion, decided to try and get him to open up about what had happened. “How did you get this way?” she asked tentatively.

“I...I dunno,” said the stallion in a shaky voice. “I was just wandering down this alley, minding my own business, and all of a sudden, this changeling comes and beats me up, sucks up all my love and bundles me up in a cocoon.”

“What did the changeling look like?”

The stallion furrowed his brow. “What's the point?” he protested pathetically. “They all look the same apart from their queen; all I know is that it was muttering to itself about someone named Loco.”

“Hmm...I see,” mused Firelli. Secretly, she was growing more and more suspicious by the second; for someone who had just been attacked so brutally, this pony didn't seem to have so much as a scuff on his hide, let alone any cuts or bruises. What was more, she thought she could see something poking out of the leather jacket he was wearing – and whatever it was, it didn't look like a Pegasus wing. “Well, I'm not seeing any injury so far. Could I take a look at your back, please?”

But the stallion jerked back abruptly. “No! You can't!”

“Eh? Why not?” wondered Fluttershy, perplexed.

“That thing gashed me right between my shoulders. I'll bleed to death if I take this off!”

Fluttershy frowned anxiously. She didn't dare risk opening up such a serious wound again, but she still couldn't believe Hornette would do such a thing. Firelli quickly decided to take the initiative; “Right, I'll go ask Flash to send for an ambulance,” she said, and quickly trotted across to him with a grim frown of her own. Diesel, sensing trouble, scowled threateningly as she passed, but Firelli took no notice. “Flash?” she spoke up, tapping the orange Pegasus lightly on the shoulder.

Flash turned around to face her. “Yes, Elli?”

“Can I have a word with you in private?”

“Uh...yeah, sure. How come?”

But Firelli simply shook her head, raised a hoof to her lips and cocked her head towards another alleyway further down the street. Taking the hint, Flash nodded in understanding and followed her away from the crowd and into the alley. Once there, the scarlet mare quickly checked over her shoulder before whispering into his ear.

Flash's eyes widened in alarm. “Are you sure?!” he spluttered, struggling to keep his voice down.

“Certain,” answered Firelli quietly.

“Right! Thanks for telling me, Elli,” hissed Flash grimly. “I'll go set my guards on...no, wait – he'll be expecting that. We've gotta sneak up on him somehow.” He paused for a moment as the outline of a plan began to form in his head. “You'd better keep him talking, Elli,” he instructed at last. “I'll do the rest.”

“What are you gonna do?”

Flash only winked in reply; “Just play along,” he whispered.

Firelli shrugged and followed him back to the crime scene, hoping to goodness that whatever scheme Flash had in mind would work. The stallion still appeared to be in a state of shock when they returned. “It's alright, sir,” the scarlet Pegasus told him calmly. “I've spoken to Flash; he says the ambulance should be on its way shortly.”

“I sure hope so,” murmured the stallion. “I dunno how much longer...”

“Hang on a minute, mister,” interrupted Flash, raising an eyebrow, “did those two check you over properly?”

Fluttershy paused. “Yes, but we can't check under his jacket,” she answered defensively. “We'll have to wait for the ambulance for that.”

That was when Firelli suddenly realised what Flash was up to. Locomotion had seen the same thing in a movie once, and must have told him about it – perhaps this was his plan. She looked on, poising herself for action as he shook his head. “I don't think we will, Fluttershy,” he said calmly. “You might wanna keep still a minute, mister.” Slowly, deliberately, he shuffled forwards and reached out towards him. “I think...there's something...wrong...with your...FACE!!” and he gave the stallion a sharp tap on the horn.

The stallion flinched, startled, and promptly vanished in a cloud of green flame. When it cleared, the whole crowd gasped in shock – for in his place lay a furious changeling, snarling viciously as he prepared to escape. But Flash was already several strides ahead; “SEIZE HIM!!!” he yelled at the top of his voice, and grabbed him in a stranglehold while the unicorn soldiers charged towards them, pinning the militant changeling down.

The changeling struggled and squirmed as manacles were clamped onto his hooves. “Let go of me, you vile horses!!” he bellowed.

“Nothing doing, pal!” Before the changeling could fight back, Flash slipped a magic inhibitor onto his horn. “In the name of Princess Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville, and with Miss Firelli Brazen as my witness, I'm placing you under arrest for perverting the course of justice, conspiracy to defamation of character – and, needless to add, violation of the Anti-Changeling Protection Act of 2009.”

Rainbow Dash gazed at Firelli, still reeling in shock. “You...you knew he was a fake!” she managed to choke out.

“I suspected it,” affirmed Firelli grimly.

“How?”

“Well, for starters, he told me one changeling looked very much like another – except that changelings can look like anything they want. Hornette obviously can't; but if it'd been her, the difference in eye shape to other changelings, as shared only by Queen Chrysalis, would've easily given her away,” said Firelli pointedly. “Secondly, he said she had assaulted him, and yet somehow he seemed completely unharmed – except for the supposed 'back injury'.” She turned to face the crowd. “Finally, did anypony else notice a pair of insect wings under that leather jacket of his?” she finished.

A series of mutters drifted through the crowd, some praising Firelli's observance while others were in absolute disbelief. Only Diesel failed to pass comment; “I have a plane to catch,” he murmured hastily, and leaped into the air before anypony could catch him out.

“Well spotted, Firelli,” said Twilight, and turned to her consort; “Right, take him away, Flash – I'd quite like to have some serious words with him tonight.”

“That you shall, Twily!” assured Flash.

The changeling hissed fiercely at him. “You won't get anything out of me, equine scum!” he snarled defiantly. “I'll never tell you anything!”

Flash smirked at him through narrow eyes. “We'll see about that,” he murmured as he and his soldiers dragged him back to the castle. The crowd respectfully stood back, still flabbergasted by what they had just seen.

“So...this attack...Hornette feeding on Loco's love...the shared bed...” Steamer stared at Twilight, still barely able to comprehend the situation. “...that was all a lie?” he asked breathlessly.

Twilight shook her head gravely. “Not quite, Steamer. She and Loco did share a bed a couple of nights ago, but there was nothing untoward between them – he just came to her for comfort after a nightmare,” she elaborated. “And yes, he has been feeling love for her, but I can assure you it's completely genuine; and more to the point, mutual between the two of them. You can take my word for it.”

Only then did Steamer realise the full gravity of his actions – why Locomotion had been so torn apart when Hornette had fled Ponyville, and why he had disowned him in such a harsh and unforgiving manner. He had broken his nephew's heart, and all because he had fallen for Diesel's greasy ploy. He collapsed onto his haunches, trembling with guilt. “What have I done?” he faltered.

Instead of trying to answer him, Twilight turned sharply on the crowd of erstwhile hecklers; “As for all the rest of you,” she bellowed furiously, “I don't need to tell you how appalled I am at your behaviour! All the effort I'd gone through to verify and authenticate Hornette's character, and you go behind my back, take justice into your own hooves, and then you hang her out to dry! You lot have seriously disgraced yourselves...” She glared at the ringleader, “...and that goes double for you, Crafty Crate!! Your treatment of Hornette has been appalling!”

“What?! But Twilight, how was I to know...”

“But nothing!!” thundered Twilight. “You had no business passing judgement on her without consulting me first! As Princess of Friendship, I'm charging all of you with physical assault, verbal intimidation, gross insubordination, contempt of court, and incitement to racial hatred – and don't count on the Anti-Changeling Protection Act protecting you this time!”

Crafty Crate's defensive stance melted away, and he bowed his head with shame and disbelief. He genuinely believed he had been in the right, but as much as he distrusted Hornette, he couldn't hope to contest the damning truth, let alone Twilight's firm sense of justice. The silence that befell him and his lackeys was almost tangible.

At last, one of the other ponies tentatively spoke up; “Twilight,” she said meekly, “we're really sorry we treated Hornette so contemptuously.”

“I should think so too!” huffed Twilight severely. “I was hoping you lot could set an example for her just like the rest of us; but you have seriously let me down.”

“We were led astray, Your Highness,” added another stallion apologetically. “That guy...what's his name...Diesel – he claimed to have seen her out there.”

Twilight's eyes narrowed. “Well, I can tell you now,” she answered darkly, “Diesel had no more right to interfere than any of the rest of you. In fact, I have another question, if I may – who here would be willing to defend his actions were you to find that he too harboured a dark secret? That there were other changelings currently lurking nearby – with him as their informer?!”

The gasps and murmurs among the crowd told her all she needed to know. “That slimy skunk!!” yelled an angry voice. “Where is he?! I'll give him what-for, making such fools out of us!!!”

Twilight hastily scanned the crowd; and sure enough, Diesel was nowhere to be seen. “Shoot!” she cursed under her breath. “And just when we had him in our sights too!”

“What now?” asked Rarity anxiously.

“First things first, we've got to find Hornette before anything happens to her,” replied Twilight tersely. “As soon as she's safe, I'll issue an APB on Diesel. Any idea where she went, Steamer?”

The buff-coated stallion's brow furrowed with dread as he suddenly remembered. “That's what I came to tell you!” he burst out. “She's headed for the Everfree Forest – Loco too!”

“He's gone where?!” exclaimed Firelli in alarm.

But Twilight didn't stop for an explanation. “Right – come on, girls!” she said to the rest of her council. “There's not a moment to lose!” And with that, she galloped away towards the forest, the other five mares hot on her tail. Aware that they too hadn't heard the last of their actions, the guilt-ridden crowd wisely decided to make themselves scarce for the time being, and respectfully slunk away; but Steamer and Firelli could only watch anxiously as the Friendship Council raced to the rescue.

Steamer looked down at his hooves, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “This is all my fault,” he mourned. “I never should've believed that Diesel.”

“He's fooled all of us, Uncle Steamer,” said Firelli gravely, nuzzling him in a bid to soothe his rattled feelings. Truth be told, she was just as terrified for Hornette and Locomotion as her uncle, but knew in her heart that she had to stay strong. “But there's nothing more we can do – except pray.”

Steamer nodded stiffly in reply. Locomotion was right, he thought sadly – he had grown attached to Hornette, and only now had he begun to realise just how much she meant to him. It almost felt as if he had forsaken one of his own children, and the extent of his nephew's feelings for her only worsened the feeling of shame and disgust at his own actions. Now, it seemed, his worst fears were about to come true – he was on his way to losing not one, but effectively two of his family, and he was powerless to do anything about it.

“If Diesel catches up to Hornette first, I'll never forgive myself,” he murmured tremulously.

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