• 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 24: The Tragedy of Nymphia

Upon arrival back at the castle, Fluttershy wasted no time in tending to the changelings' wounds, while Twilight ordered a maximum security cordon around the palace just in case there were others still lurking nearby. Mercifully, despite his concussion, Pharynx wasn't too seriously injured, but it took a long time to patch him up.

At last, Fluttershy finished bandaging his head. “There you go, Pharynx,” she said softly. “How do you feel?”

“A little better, I guess,” murmured Pharynx groggily. “Thanks, Fluttershy.”

The yellow Pegasus mare smiled modestly in reply; and over on the next cot, Thorax gave a weak, thankful smile of his own. He had insisted on staying by his brother's side the whole time, and was most relieved to see he was on the road to recovery.

“Are you alright, Thorax?” asked Hornette tentatively.

“I'll survive,” Thorax reassured her. “Just a bit shaken and bruised, that's all. How's your shoulder?”

Hornette looked back at the gauze wrapped around her shoulder where she had been struck by the magic blast. “Still a little sore...but I think I'll be okay.” She fell silent again, staring down at her hooves as she struggled with her emotions. To say she was pleased to see Thorax again after all those long and lonely years would have had to be the understatement of the year; it almost seemed too good to be true. “I still can't believe this is happening,” she murmured after a while. “It's...it's almost like you're back from the dead.”

Thorax chuckled wryly under his breath. “I suppose I might as well be, under the circumstances,” he observed. “I know what you mean, though, '305...” He paused awkwardly. “...or whatever you wanna be called now.”

The younger changeling gave him a small half-smile. “I rather prefer Hornette,” she confessed simply.

Her elder nodded understandingly. After sixteen years of having little more than lowly identification numbers, he could only imagine how uplifting it was to have a proper name at long last. “But yeah, I have to admit, I'm just as staggered to find you all the way out here,” he went on. “How you managed to escape unnoticed...I just...how?”

“Just blind luck, I guess. Then again, I suppose my cloaking spell might have had something to do with it.” As impressed as Thorax was, he could see from the troubled frown on Hornette's face that being reminded of her past was the last thing she needed right now. A small tear trickled from her eye as she added, “There wasn't a single day where I didn't think about you, though. I really missed you, Thorax.”

“I missed you too...Hornette,” answered Thorax wistfully, drawing her into a fond, brotherly hug.

At that moment, Twilight arrived. “How are the casualties, Fluttershy?” she asked.

“They should be alright by now – even Pharynx isn't as far gone as I thought he might be, thank goodness. If anything, I'm more worried about Hornette and Loco,” confided Fluttershy, glancing anxiously across the room to where Locomotion was sitting.

Physically, Locomotion was none the worse for the attack; but in terms of emotional stress, it was a different story. He was hunched over on the edge of his seat, staring down at the floor with a look of deep, baffled shame. “Did you see the way she...looked at me?” he faltered under his breath, burying his face in his hooves.

Twilight frowned. “Maybe I'd better have a quiet chat with him later,” she decided quietly. “Anyway,” she continued, “I think we'd better head on down to the Map room and get down to business...if that's okay with you, Thorax?”

Without a moment's hesitation, Thorax stood up from his cot. “That's fine,” he conceded.

“You too, Hornette and Loco.”

Locomotion, still in a state of self-pity, looked up in confusion. “Eh? Why me?!” he protested.

“As Hornette's official caretaker, you have as much right to know what's going on as the rest of us,” answered Twilight firmly. “Come along now, we've a lot to discuss.”

With a weary sigh, Locomotion plodded slowly and reluctantly after the others, too upset to even think of looking at Hornette. He didn't even notice Thorax gazing at him as they walked down the hallway, a look of concern and dismay etched on his face.

They arrived at the Map room to find Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash already waiting for them. As Twilight and Fluttershy took their respective thrones, the lavender alicorn pulled over an extra three chairs with her magic and invited Locomotion and the two changelings to sit down. “Now then, Thorax,” she began, “first off, you mentioned something about a brainwashing spell. What exactly did you mean by that?”

Thorax remained silent for what felt like an age. “Well...it's kinda complicated, Twilight,” he said gravely, “but to cut a long story short...our species is under threat from its own ruler.” His grim frown gave way to a bitter scowl of resentment. “Or at least she would be if she'd played it fair.”

Pinkie Pie's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “Wait just a minute!” she exclaimed loudly. “Are you telling us that that lean, mean, unclean bean machine Queen Chrysalis is not an actual queen?!”

“Correct,” affirmed Thorax darkly. “She never behaved like one, never had a proper coronation – she wasn't even the first in line for the throne! She lied and cheated her way to the top, and now she's abusing her ill gotten power to exploit the rest of our kind!”

“Oh, gosh...” Twilight gazed in shock, the colour draining from her face as she began to realise the full gravity of the situation. “...Thorax, tell us everything you know,” she begged.

After another brief silence, Thorax nodded his consent. “Very well – but I'm going to give you the whole story from start to finish, the better for you to understand our plight. You see...in the beginning, we changelings were nothing like the monsters of myth and legend for which you no doubt remember us. We were actually a gentle and peace-loving race; but also very timid and sheltered, and for good reason...”

“Why do I find that hard to believe?” muttered Rainbow Dash cynically.

I don't!” snapped Locomotion.

“Nor do I, since meeting Hornette,” added Fluttershy reasonably.

“Unfortunately, a lot of other creatures did,” went on Thorax unhappily. “Few of us ventured beyond our borders, but those of us who did were met with antagonism from all sides. Apart from our...alien appearance,” shuffling lightly as if he was having difficulty with his own, “there were many folk tales about us – tales of us terrorising other nations, stealing love from under their very noses...tales which I suspect might have stemmed from Zenobia's misfortune.”

All the ponies in the room exchanged puzzled glances – except for Twilight, who rubbed her chin as she gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling. “Yeah, I remember reading about it in a fairy tale at Magic Kindergarten,” she mused. “Zenobia was the changeling who stole all the love from a sick newborn filly, killed her and then took her place to try and steal the love of the filly's parents.” She turned to Thorax, frowning; “I suppose your version of the story is different?”

Very different – in fact, your Equestrian version of the story is all wrong. The fact is, Twilight, the poor filly's illness was beyond treatment. She died only a few seconds after Zenobia first laid eye on her,” explained Thorax. “Yes, Zenobia was seriously malnourished after straying so far from home, but she just felt so sorry for the dead filly and her parents. That's why she took her place; if she could give them someone to love, she could be fed, they could be happy – everyone would win.” He sighed heavily. “Sadly, that wasn't how it worked out. The parents misinterpreted her actions, and she was lucky to escape with her life.”

“What happened after that?”

“Well, Zenobia fled back to our homeland; but she was close to death by the time she returned, and it was a miracle we managed to revive her. She was too scared to leave the hive for almost a whole year after that, and certainly never ventured beyond our borders again.”

Twilight grimaced. In days gone by, she had never stopped to consider the story from Zenobia's point of view; but now, after hearing Thorax's retelling, she couldn't help feeling sorry for her.

“She got off quite lightly compared to many of our kind,” continued Thorax sombrely. “Most creatures only avoided us outright, but others would attack us mercilessly – and some of them even made a sport out of it.”

“You mean...trophy hunters?” gasped Rarity, her face turning green with repulse.

“I'm afraid so. We usually managed to evade them with ease, but there were still an unlucky few whose heads ended up on someone's wall somewhere.”

Applejack took off her hat and held it to her chest in sympathy. “An' we thought y'all were the savages,” she murmured.

“Was that why you started posing as other species?” ventured Locomotion quietly. “To avoid being attacked?”

“Oh yes,” affirmed Thorax sagely. “By changing our appearances, we could blend seamlessly into society and not have to worry about being brutalised.”

“Okay, now ya got me confused,” interjected Rainbow Dash, genuinely puzzled. “You get your love from other creatures – apparently – but how are you supposed...”

Thorax shook his head. “No, Rainbow Dash, that's a common misconception. Love for us is a good source of protein and vitamins, and an even better immune booster; something we normally consume by absorbing it into our horns, and sometimes even by...well, 'mouth to mouth', if you take my meaning. But we don't necessarily have to rob other races for it,” he elaborated. “The thing about us changelings is that we can actually produce love as well as feed on it – just not for personal consumption. Even if we can't get any, we can still get those nutrients from other sources.”

“Wow,” remarked Pinkie Pie, even as Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped open in disbelief. “So narcissism has no meaning with you guys, huh?”

In a lighter moment, Thorax could have chuckled at Pinkie Pie's observation; but instead, he just frowned and furrowed his brow. “If only that were true,” he sighed ruefully. “Unfortunately, even we changelings are susceptible to the poison of greed, corruption and malice. We've had our fair share of tyrants over the years; but none worse than...her.”

“Chrysalis?”

“Yes, Twilight. She was the younger of two daughters born to King Pupalis and Queen Vespa; her older sister – the true heir – was Crown Princess Nymphia.” A small, wistful tear crept into Thorax's eye. “She was everything we looked for in a future queen – wise, fair, patient, gentle, always thinking of her subjects...just a natural born leader in every way, just like her father. Her ambition was to make peaceful, diplomatic contact with the outside world; to forge new pacts with other species, and broaden our horizons for a brighter, more prosperous future. To many, it seemed like a dream too far; but Nymphia never let it slip away, and by the time she came of age, she had managed to win even the most hardened sceptic over.”

“Wow,” murmured Twilight. “She sounds a lot like our own Princess Celestia.”

Thorax smiled sadly. “Wouldn't surprise me. Our people practically showered her with love and respect, and were looking forward to when she ascended the throne – not that we thought any less of Pupalis, of course.” His smile faded, and his eyebrows straightened. “Chrysalis was pretty ambitious in her own right, but that was just about all she and Nymphia had in common, apart from their lineage,” he continued icily. “Beyond that, she was nothing more than a baleful, spiteful tearaway, always in trouble with her parents, never caring a jot for the proletariat, and notoriously jealous of her older sister. Unlike Nymphia, she was more for invading other nations by force, and there was one time she went behind her father's back and tried to infiltrate Equestria alone – just to prove she wasn't afraid of you ponies!

“As you can imagine, Chrysalis quickly became the proverbial 'black sheep' of the Royal Family. Nymphia herself tried time and again to reason with her, but to no avail – Chrysalis' envy gradually devolved into bitter resentment, and over time, she began studying dark magic in a covert plot against her older sister.”

Locomotion blinked in dismay. “How do you know all this?” he asked breathlessly.

“Because my father, Count Kano, was Chrysalis and Nymphia's cousin,” confided Thorax. “We all lived in the same hive, and Nymphia used to foalsit me a lot, so I was often there to witness Chrysalis' slow descent to insanity.”

“An' y'all never thought ta tell 'er father?!” exclaimed Applejack.

“I was scared for what Chrysalis might do to me if I did, never mind whether he believed me or not, so I...against my better judgement, I kept my silence.” Thorax hung his head guiltily. “Rather an unfortunate decision on my part, given what it led to. Only two months after Nymphia's twenty-seventh birthday, King Pupalis was taken away from us, and Queen Vespa, very much in love with him and heartbroken by his passing, followed suit the following March. The whole nation mourned for them, but began to rejoice with Nymphia's coronation a few months later. As was customary for all new monarchs, the ceremony was followed by a royal tour of all the hives in our nation, with Chrysalis, Kano, Pharynx and myself accompanying them.” He stared into space, shuddering at what he was about to reveal. “We barely made it through the first day, though, before it all went tragically wrong.”

“What happened?” whispered Fluttershy.

“No-one knows for sure – but I've got a hunch. See, shortly before the tour was about to begin, Chrysalis seemed weirdly calm and patient; and when we got to the first hive, I noticed that one of the soldiers lining our route was looking kinda vacant, almost as if he were in a trance,” answered Thorax. “My guess is that, while we were all asleep, Chrysalis crept out of the main hive, sneaked into the barracks and hypnotised him. We'll probably never know the answer. All we do know is that, up till then, he was one of the finest soldiers in the unit, and one of seven chosen to give a ceremonial 21-bolt salute.”

Locomotion cringed. He had a nasty feeling where this was going. Even Hornette, who herself had never heard the story before, could only stare anxiously as she awaited the inevitable outcome.

“The first two rounds went without a hitch; but on the third and final volley, the soldier suddenly turned and fired a lethal bolt of energy straight into Nymphia's chest. He then enveloped himself in his own magic, killing himself in an instant. Medics were called, but Nymphia was already dead by the time they reached her.” The terrible memory of Nymphia's murder nearly overwhelmed Thorax at this point, and he had to pause for a moment to compose himself. “It was a dreadful blow to us all, and once again, we went into deep mourning. Her funeral took place on the longest day of the year, and our militia planned to open up an official inquiry into her death the following week – but it never happened.

“Chrysalis officiated at the funeral, and as Nymphia's coffin was lowered into the ground, she began what seemed like a reverential speech regarding her sister's passing. But as she spoke, so her horn began to glow,” he said, raising his voice a little as the memories came flooding back with a vengeance, “and after announcing herself as the new queen, she unleashed a powerful spell, ensnaring the minds of all changelings above the age of sixteen. She then travelled from hive to hive, casting the same spell again and again, until eventually she had the whole nation firmly under her hoof!”

“The...the Brainwashing spell?”

Thorax nodded. “Not only that, but she stripped most of us of our rights. She restricted our freedom of movement, introduced curfews, and only allowed her closest supporters to keep their names, whilst the rest of us had to put up with identification numbers; but for some reason, her Brainwashing doesn't seem to have any effect on those of us under sixteen. Therefore, to make sure no-one can properly oppose her, she forces all changelings above that age to attend a yearly speech at the main hive on the longest day of the year. That's when she renews the spell on those already under its influence, and casts it fresh on whoever comes of age,” he said grimly. “We still retain our old personalities, even after the spell takes effect; but though we remain conscious of our actions, we have no control over them. Instead, we are forced to look on helplessly, trapped within our own bodies, as they carry out Chrysalis' bidding all by themselves. It's almost like having...what I believe you ponies call Multiple Personality Disorder.”

“How awful,” breathed Rarity solemnly; and Fluttershy nodded in silent agreement.

Locomotion shuddered. “To think...only a few days older, and Hornette could have been Brainwashed too! But if she wasn't...how come she still resembles how you guys looked back there?” he asked.

“Because she was born that way,” explained Thorax simply. “There are many subspecies among our kind; but Hornette, Chrysalis and Nymphia belong to what we call the Desert Scarab breed. For whatever reason, Chrysalis has got it into her head – vain, delusional psychopath she is...” He sneered briefly before continuing. “...that Desert Scarab changelings constitute a so-called 'master race'; and so she insists on total genetic conformity among our kind. Every changeling that comes of age, even if she doesn't Brainwash them, she still alters their physical forms accordingly.”

“Well...not all of us.”

All turned towards the doorway, startled. “Pharynx?!” exclaimed Thorax, his anxiety piqued as his brother hobbled over to him with a troubled frown. “Fluttershy ordered you to rest!”

Pharynx shook his head ruefully. “How can I, knowing my younger brother is under interrogation?” he countered, sitting down next to him. “Besides, I have a few confessions of my own to make.”

“Yes, but Pharynx...”

“Look, there's no way I'm letting this go, not for all the love in the world!” insisted Pharynx. “I sold you out once too often, and anything I can do to make up for it...” He said no more, but gave his brother a stern look that left little room for argument. Thorax looked across to Fluttershy for support; but the yellow Pegasus only shrugged gravely as if to say “It's up to you”.

“Let him stay, Thorax,” nudged Twilight gently. “He probably knows something you don't – if so, I'd like to find out what.”

At last, Thorax gave in. “Alright then,” he said to Pharynx. “But try not to strain yourself, okay?”

Pharynx nodded, and turned to the rest of the group. “It's true, what Thorax says about Chrysalis,” he affirmed. “I was one of the few real supporters of her regime, so she never bothered to Brainwash me...not at first, anyway. Even after her sister's murder, I saw no reason to believe Chrysalis could've been responsible. The rest of them...well, with so many dissidents, she had to be sure they couldn't harm her.”

“And you just stood by and let her mess around with their minds?” asked Rarity, visibly appalled.

Pharynx frowned guiltily. “I was foolish. Our kind had been treated like savages for the longest time, and it rather preyed on my mind – so much so that I felt just as bitter about the outside world as Chrysalis towards Nymphia. Both had promised to bring us the love and respect we deserved, but I felt Chrysalis' approach would be more effective,” he explained. “I guess I should've realised the truth when mine and Thorax's father lost his status.”

“Chrysalis never liked him,” put in Thorax sourly. “He was really devoted to Nymphia, so as soon as that worm of a sister of hers rose to power, she made him a lowly private soldier and sent him to Equestria to take part in our first campaign. He was killed in action only a few days into battle.”

“And by us ponies too,” murmured Locomotion sombrely.

“Well...that's okay. You were only trying to protect yourselves,” observed Thorax. “To tell you the truth, I blame Chrysalis for his death more than anything else. That's why I and a few others started up this secret resistance movement. Sadly, many of our comrades fell victim to the Brainwashing in due course, even me – but I was lucky,” he went on. “Having seen what Chrysalis had done to my friends, I tried to resist it; and to a degree, I succeeded. While I lost a lot of my confidence, I still retained my conscience, and after the Canterlot invasion...well, you already know that part of the story.”

Twilight nodded patiently. “And I'm guessing that tale you told Spike about your past...?”

“...was largely false,” Thorax confirmed. “I was different, yes, but not necessarily a target for bullying – nor was I the only one with a conscience, as Hornette has already proven. That was just what little influence Chrysalis had over me. Anyway, after I'd been away from the Crystal Empire for a couple of months or so, that influence wore off, and I reverted to my natural form. My first thought was to go and tell Princess Celestia what Chrysalis had been doing to us...but I never even got close to Canterlot before they caught up to me.”

“Correction – I did.” Again, all attention turned to Pharynx. “I was in charge of the Covert Retrieval Forces, and had been sent out after Thorax after he had been reported missing. We caught him in some woodlands north of Canterlot, but as soon as we got back to what you ponies aptly call the Badlands, I told Chrysalis a little white lie and said we found him not too far from the border, trying to make his way home,” he said.

“Wait – you lied? To yo' own queen?” Applejack raised an eyebrow. “But y'all said ya had faith in her.”

“I'm not saying I didn't. It's just that...” Pharynx sighed. “...Chrysalis had passed a law that any changeling who befriended another species so strongly as Thorax or Hornette was to be branded a Crawler – a high traitor to our kind – and sentenced to death with no chance of being pardoned or paroled. I couldn't let her do that to Thorax,” he protested emphatically. “He may have been a right goody four-hooves at times, but he's still my brother.”

“Hang on,” interrupted a mortified Locomotion, “you're not saying Chrysalis has declared a fatwa on Hornette?!”

“That's exactly what I'm saying. But there's more – Chrysalis more than bought my story, but then she immediately betrayed me,” finished Pharynx grimly. “She told me she knew how close Thorax and I were, and that she couldn't afford to take any further chances. Both of us were Brainwashed on the spot and assigned to the same CRF platoon – and even Thorax wasn't able to resist it this time.”

“So that's why Thorax was behaving so differently,” said Twilight. “Only question left is...how did you manage to break out of it?”

Up to this point, Hornette had been very quiet. Only now, as the rest of them exchanged puzzled glances, did she speak up in a barely subdued tone of realisation; “I...I think that might have been me,” she murmured. “You all froze as soon as I began yelling at you; and when I looked up, I noticed my horn was glowing.”

“Of course!” exclaimed Twilight. “Your magic must have cancelled out the Brainwashing and changed the other changelings back to normal!” She looked down at the Cutie Map as the cogs began turning in her head. “It's all beginning to fall into place – Hornette's arrival in Ponyville, Celestia's prophecy, the unidentified Cutie Mark on the Map...and now this. Girls,” she announced, “pack your bags. It's time we put a stop to this once and for all!”

“You bet, Twilight!” answered Rainbow Dash gamely.

“I'm coming with you!” blurted out Locomotion without thinking.

Applejack turned on him, appalled. “No, Loco!” she snapped. “This ain't no trip fo' you!”

“Just a minute, Applejack,” interrupted Twilight, “I think he should.”

“Twi, it's way too dangerous!” insisted Applejack. “Them other changelings would eat 'im alive if...”

“Applejack, listen – when I was delivering my first probation report to Princess Celestia last month, she told me about a premonition she'd had some time before Hornette arrived,” explained Twilight reasonably. “She believed the key to resolving all this, and I quote, 'would lie in the hooves of two creatures – one pony, one changeling'. Hornette's already shown she can break the spell, and Loco's Cutie Mark was registering on the Map, therefore it must be them!” She turned to Pharynx and Thorax; “You two had better come as well – if we're to infiltrate the Badlands and restore order to the changelings, we'll need every bit of help we can get.”

Thorax didn't need to be asked twice. “I'm with you all the way, Twilight,” he promised.

But Pharynx was aghast. “The Badlands?!” he burst out in horror. “But...we can't go back there! They'll slay us!”

Twilight's eyes narrowed with righteous determination. “We can,” she said grimly, “and we must!”

Author's Note:

As you can tell, I've made Thorax a good deal more badass in this than he was in "To Where and Back Again" and for a good few episodes thereafter. That's because I initially intended for his and Pharynx's parts to be played by an OC who by pure coincidence was named Electro Diesel; but as the story developed, so Pharynx gradually took over the role, and thus I decided to add Thorax into the story as a proverbial Simba to Chrysalis' Scar. I also took the opportunity to develop their backstories and those of the changelings in general - hopefully in a plausible manner, but if there are any plot-holes, feel free to comment.

Count Kano is intended as a tribute to Kuno, the changeling heroine of the "An Affliction of the Heart" series by Anonymous Pegasus.

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