• 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 25: The Terrible Secret

Author's Note:

Warning: this chapter contains elements of self-harm and suicide references. As a sufferer of clinical depression, I myself have had more than one instance of wanting to take my own life, and to any of my readers who feel that way, I cannot urge you enough not to do this to yourselves. Remember that there are always people out there who care for you, and if you really feel you can't cope, there are any number of helplines out there that you can talk to, including the Samaritans in the UK, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US.

Arrangements took time, but by the following evening, Thorax, Pharynx, Locomotion, Hornette and the Friendship Council were all set for their dangerous mission. Twilight had already written to Princess Celestia, explaining in characteristically thorough detail about Thorax's story and requesting full cooperation; and it came as a relief when Celestia not only consented, but also agreed to reserve an entire sleeping car for them on the Friendship Express.

Steamer, on the other hoof, was horrified when Twilight insisted on Locomotion coming with them. He tried hard to talk them out of it, but to no avail; Twilight was adamant, and Locomotion was still too angry to listen to him. All the buff-coated stallion could do was pray for his nephew's safety as the raiding party set off for the station, and hope he could find it in his heart to forgive him when he returned – if indeed he did.

As the train set off, Locomotion sat on his bed and gazed out of his compartment window, looking upon his home town for what could very well be the last time. He had been through some serious risks in his time as a railway worker, but this, his first friendship mission, had to be the most perilous thing he had ever had to face.

“You're quite sure you want to do this, Loco?”

The red-furred stallion looked over to Thorax, who was sitting next to him. “I've got to,” he said gravely. “The Map specifically called for me and Hornette. Besides, it's in Celestia's prophecy – 'one pony, one changeling'. I can't ignore the possibility of it being us two, no matter what the dangers.”

Thorax smiled appreciatively. He could sense Locomotion's unease, but thought better of dwelling on it. “Thanks,” he said softly. “That's really brave of you.”

But to his dismay, it seemed to touch a sensitive nerve with Locomotion. His ears drooped as he looked down at his front hooves, muttering to himself in a quiet, hurt voice, “Try getting that from Hornette.”

“What's wrong?” asked Thorax anxiously.

“She hasn't been speaking to me since yesterday evening,” explained Locomotion gloomily. “And no wonder, after seeing me go ballistic back there.”

“Go...what now?” Thorax cocked his head, looking as if he had never heard such a word before.

“Thorax, I attacked your brother,” faltered Locomotion, raising his voice. “He was about to tear her to pieces, and I just...lost it – slammed him against a tree, yelled in his face...thrashed him within an inch of his life – and all because I wanted to see him suffer for his actions!”

Thorax fell silent for a moment. There was no doubt in his mind just how traumatised Locomotion was, but he could never have imagined the red-furred teen attacking Pharynx so viciously – heck, he still had trouble believing it even now! Either way, he couldn't be angry with him. “Hey, it's alright...” he began.

Alright?!” burst out Locomotion, appalled. “How the flabberwocky can you call it 'alright'?! I could've killed him!!”

“So?!” Thorax looked back towards the doorway, startled. Standing just outside was Rainbow Dash, a dismissive scowl on her face. “It was his own fault,” she retorted. “That guy got what he deserved, and so did the others.”

“Rainbow Dash! Such rudeness!” exclaimed Rarity's voice from further down the corridor.

“Well, what were we supposed to do, hold peace talks with them?!” shouted Rainbow Dash defensively. “They were trying to murder her, you know that!”

“She's got a good point, Loco,” agreed Thorax gravely. “If you hadn't fought back, '305 would...sorry – Hornette would be dead by now. You just did what you had to in order to protect her.”

Rainbow Dash crossed her arms in stubborn pride. “See, I'm right!”

But this didn't have quite the effect she was aiming for. Instead of conceding her point, Locomotion just looked down at his hooves again, gritting his teeth as his self-pity gave way to angry resentment. “Why?” he muttered sourly.

“Well, duh! She was in...”

But before Rainbow Dash could finish, Locomotion suddenly swung his head round to glare at her. “WHY?!?” he snapped fiercely. “WHY DID YOU TRY TO HELP ME AND HORNETTE?! SHE'S A CHANGELING! YOU HATE CHANGELINGS!!”

“I do not!” protested Rainbow Dash, taken aback.



That took Locomotion completely by surprise. Rarely did Rainbow Dash ever admit to being scared of something – but changelings?! Surely she had to be bluffing!

“Look, I'm sorry for being so mean to her,” continued Rainbow Dash, frowning with embarrassment. “Don't get me wrong, Loco, I wanted to believe she was on our side; but...it just seemed way too good to be true. Even when I saw her save you, I...”

“You what?!” spluttered Locomotion.

“I was out for a night flight with Soarin, and saw you two hanging out on that bridge. I meant to dive in and save you myself, but Hornette got there before I could – and that's when I really began to see the light.” Rainbow Dash paused dramatically. “More than that – I actually saw who broke that...”

“You don't need to elaborate, Rainbow Dash.” Pharynx sidled meekly into the compartment. “I admit it – I was the one...or rather, 'Electro Diesel' was the one who damaged that bridge. I did try to resist him,” he confessed, “but the best I could do was influence his plan against Hornette. If it'd been up to him, he probably would've gone ahead and taken her life without warning.” He bowed his head with shame. “Either way, Locomotion, you've every right to be mad at me.”

Locomotion glowered hatefully at him; but neither changeling could help noticing something different in his expression. “Pharynx, I'm not gonna lie – ever since you first showed up, you've been nothing short of a thorn in mine and Hornette's sides!” he railed. “If I had my way, I'd have gladly kicked the daylights out of you and made you apologise in public...!” He broke off in mid-sentence as tears threatened to leak out of his eyes.

Pharynx waited anxiously. “...But?” he prompted after a while.

That did it for poor Locomotion. His eyes flooded, and he had to bury his face in his hooves in order to hide his distress. “I just can't!” he sobbed. “All those creatures who go on about you guys being monsters...they're wrong! They always have been wrong – and even more so right now!” Again, he broke off, trying to regain at least a modicum of composure. “I'm the monster,” he murmured.

The two brothers exchanged dismayed glances, and Rainbow Dash blinked incredulously.

“No, Loco,” objected Thorax softly, “anything but. You just weren't yourself back there – none of us were. If it hadn't...”

“Look, don't try and cheer me up,” interrupted Locomotion bitterly. “Just get out and leave me alone.”

“Loco, please...”


Thorax, Pharynx and Rainbow Dash flinched a little at Locomotion's distressed outburst. Rainbow Dash in particular looked like she had a lot more to say; but it was Thorax who finally broke the awkward silence. “Come on, you two,” he said quietly, “best give him some space,” and he gently ushered them out of the compartment without another word. As he did so, he glanced briefly back towards Locomotion, trying to reassure him; but the red-furred colt just sobbed again and turned away. With a weary sigh, Thorax shook his head solemnly and closed the door. “Poor guy,” he sympathised. “He's taking it way harder than I thought.”

Rainbow Dash only nodded in agreement before trotting away down the corridor, trying to preserve what remained of her wounded pride. At the same time, Applejack was just returning from further down the train. “Bit fo' yo' thoughts, Thorax?” she asked tentatively as she approached.

“Just a bit worried about Loco,” replied Thorax. “He's in a bit of a state right now because Hornette's been avoiding him.”

“Hmm...Ah see,” murmured Applejack, cupping a thoughtful hoof around her chin.

“I blame myself for all this,” lamented Pharynx. “I never should've trusted in that damned Chrysalis and her regime – hell, maybe Loco should have killed me.”

“Well, fair play, Pharynx,” countered Thorax reasonably. “Neither of us had any real control over the Brainwashing – and none at all over the traumas our new allies have been through in the past. Besides,” he added, “our clan was never in Chrysalis' good books to begin with. No matter how loyal you might have been to her, you were nothing more than a pawn in her chess game by the end of the day. Just count your blessings she didn't order us executed as well.”

“She might do that yet, given what we're about to do,” quipped Pharynx dryly.

“But all that aside, I've got a hunch there's something Loco's not telling us. Your strike against Hornette was...well, kinda traumatic in its own right,” mused Thorax gravely, “but supposing it reminded him of something...something really tragic...”

Pharynx arched an eyebrow. “What are you driving at?”

“You and I, we lost our father to circumstances well beyond our control. My guess is that he's been through something similar himself.”

“An' you'd be right,” affirmed Applejack, her expression equally grave as she gazed towards Hornette's compartment at the far end of the coach. “We'd better go look in on her. There's a few things Ah need ta tell her – things that Loco should have told her ages ago.” She said no more, but ambled away down the corridor, the two brothers following closely.

Hornette was lying prone and listless on her bed, almost completely closed off to the outside world as she stared into space. She heard a tentative knock as Applejack entered, but didn't acknowledge her presence; instead, she just heaved a deep, troubled sigh and looked down at her mattress.

“Howdy, Hornette,” whispered Applejack as she sidled up to her. “You okay?”

“Fine,” murmured Hornette; but straight away, the orange farm pony could tell that wasn't true. “Just...thinking about Loco, I guess.”

Applejack sat down next to her, resting a hoof on her shoulder with a sympathetic half-smile. “Yo' scared of 'im, ain't ya?” she asked softly.

Hornette sighed again. “I don't know what to think of him anymore,” she admitted plaintively. “I just can't believe he could be so...vicious – such a gentle and altruistic being as himself? I mean, I'm grateful for you and him and the others trying to save me, but in such a brutal manner...it's like he was a completely different pony.”

“Can you really blame him, though?” observed Thorax as he sidestepped Applejack and sat down next to the younger changeling. “I know how you feel about violence, Hornette, and believe me, I'm sorry we drove him to it; but try to see it from Loco's point of view. Supposing someone were about to take his life before your very eyes, and you didn't have much time to react – would you really have stopped to consider your actions?” He paused impressively. “I don't think you would, would you?”

Hornette considered for a few seconds, and eventually shook her head. “No, I...I guess not,” she admitted. “I did have to save him myself once, when he fell through a bridge at Ghastly Gorge; but then I never imagined I might be punished for it.”

“Exactly,” said Thorax wisely. “Both of you were doing what you had to – not out of aggression, nor merely for the sake of heroism; but out of fear.” He gave her hoof a gentle squeeze as he added, “It's not all black and white, Hornette. Loco knows he did the wrong thing, but what both of you need to understand is that he was doing it for all the right reasons.”

“Yeah, but...I'm not sure I can understand that,” replied Hornette uncertainly.

“Well, Ah can,” put in Applejack. “Ah've known Loco fo' a long, long time – ever since he an' his folks first rolled into Ponyville, in fact. He an' Apple Bloom were in the same playschool group, an' she was the first real friend he ever made.” She smiled faintly at the memory, and a little more as Hornette finally gave her undivided attention. “Ah take it he's told y'all about 'is, uh...'condition'?”

“You mean his autism?”

Applejack nodded and continued; “He was a sweet colt most o' the time, but he used ta be pretty wild when rubbed up the wrong way. Mind you, he kinda mellowed out as he aged, an' as far as Ah know, he was never so rough back then as he was yesterday.” Her smile faded as a much darker memory flowed through her mind. “Ah probably shouldn't be sayin' this,” she confided sombrely, “but when he was only twelve, he lost his favourite aunt in a plane crash.”

Hornette choked back a startled gasp. “Wha...what happened?” she asked breathlessly.

Thorax turned to stare in dismay at Applejack, unconsciously slackening his grip on Hornette's hoof. Even Pharynx fell silent as the orange mare's words settled in.

“Well...her name was Carnation Petal. She was Steamer an' Optic Strand's younger sister, an' worked as a preacher fo' the Celestial Faith,” explained Applejack. “It didn't stop 'er makin' time fo' family, though – she often rolled into Ponyville ta catch up with 'er brothers, an' was real sweet with Loco despite 'is disability. He was real fond of her too, an' kinda sorry when she began workin' as a missionary after his eleventh birthday. The job took her a' the way out to Saddle Arabia, so until such times as the Hearth's Warmin' season an' so on, she could only talk with them by letter. It was while returnin' from one such vacation, only two years into the job, that her plane was sabotaged.

“The plane was one o' the new Constellation airliners – the biggest passenger jets ever built. Twilight's consort Flash Sentry was on the same flight; but a rival company was out to destroy the planes, an' the roof had been weakened shortly before take-off. About half an hour into the journey, just off of the Bermuleda Islands...,” heaving a deep, mournful sigh and closing her eyes, “...the roof tore off, an' the whole plane just...blew itself to pieces.”

Thorax and Pharynx goggled in shock, and Hornette stifled another gasp as she felt her heart skip a beat.

“Flash was thrown clear by the explosion, an' a fisherpony caught 'im moments before he hit the water,” went on Applejack, “but Carnation Petal wasn't so lucky. From what Ah read, there were 829 passengers an' crew aboard that jet, an' apart from Flash, none o' them survived. Strand an' Steamer were real torn apart when they learned about the crash, but Loco took it way harder than they did. He'd never had ta deal with the death of a friend or relative afore, an' to 'ave lost Carnation Petal of all ponies...it just made it a' the worse.”

“Just like me and Father,” murmured Thorax sympathetically. “That must've really crushed the poor guy.”

Applejack nodded again, the faintest hint of dread creeping into her expression. “Mo' than even 'is folks realised. That bridge over Ghastly Gorge where Hornette had ta save 'im a week or two ago...”

“...because of Electro Diesel,” put in Pharynx, pointing ruefully to himself.

“...yeah, granted,” conceded Applejack. “But it wasn't the firs' time this'd happened to him; an' even that was no accident. Only difference is...there weren't no sabotage involved.”

Hornette's blood ran cold. “You're not saying...he...” she stammered.

“Ah wish Ah could say he didn't. It was just a good thing Elli happened ta be nearby at the time, or Carnation Petal might've ended up sharin' a funeral with 'er nephew.” Applejack paused, a pained expression of sorrow printed firmly on her face. “It took him a lot o' therapy ta get 'is old spark back, but he's still kinda scarred by the whole tragedy,” she finished. “Seein' y'all nearly get burned alive must've brought back ol' memories – of pain, sadness, grief...of losin' someone really precious to 'im, an' never gettin' ta say goodbye.”

The silence that followed was deafening. Hornette, overwhelmed with shock, guilt and sadness, seemed to phase out completely as various memories of her own replayed in her head. Many times since she had first met him, Locomotion had been somewhat cagey and withdrawn when it came to discussing extended family – and now she knew why. Her chest ached intensely with sorrow, and she almost found it impossible to move a muscle, let alone speak. It seemed like an eternity before she eventually replied, in a quiet, tremulous voice, “...well...thank you.”

Thorax frowned anxiously. “Are you alright, Hornette?” he ventured.

“I...I'm fine,” stammered Hornette, clearly trying to suppress her emotions. “I just...I just need time to think.”

“You sure?”

Hornette nodded wordlessly.

“Well...if you feel you need any company later, you know where I am.” Privately, Thorax wasn't convinced, but thought better of pressing the matter any further. All the same, he secretly kept an anxious eye on Hornette as he and Applejack left the compartment.

Pharynx cocked his head, equally worried, but also a little puzzled. “Is it me,” he wondered, “or does she seem to be taking it a bit too well?”

“Not as well as you might think, Pharynx,” sighed Thorax morosely. “If I know the old '305, she'll be absolutely devastated.”

Cautiously, he pressed his ear to the door, only for his face to fall at the heart-wrenching sound of Hornette crying her eyes out. “See what I mean?” he whispered, his own eyes glossing over with sadness.

“She had ta know the truth sooner or later,” observed Applejack gravely. “Ah'm just sorry she had ta learn it from me an' not Loco. He's gonna be even mo' upset when Ah tell...” But before she could finish, they were startled by loud thumping and frustrated yelling from further down the coach. All three of them turned around just in time to see Twilight bolting into Locomotion's compartment.

“Loco! Loco, stop it!!” she barked severely.

The two brothers exchanged perplexed glances before gazing quizzically at Applejack, who only cringed in discomfort. “As if Ah din' have enough ta worry about,” she murmured. Peering into the room, the first thing she saw was Locomotion struggling to escape Twilight's magical grip, baying in distress as he did so; but the lavender alicorn refused to let him go.

“Loco, listen to me!” scolded Twilight. “I know you're upset, but banging your head against the wall isn't going to help anyone, least of all yourself!”

“What do I care?!” sobbed Locomotion bitterly. “I should've been given a life sentence for what I did – but no, you just brush it aside like it doesn't matter! No jail, no community service, no public shaming, no...NOTHING!”

“That still doesn't give you the right to hurt yourself!”

“Then what is my punishment?!” screamed Locomotion. “How am I meant to make up for nearly killing a guy?!”

“By forgiving yourself for a start.” Thorax, unable to take any more, stepped sternly into the compartment. “I know you asked us to leave you alone, Loco, but that's not going to happen until you stop beating yourself up about it.” And quite literally too, by the sound of things. “Like I already told you, the Brainwashing was more to blame for what happened than your red mist. You know that, I know that, Pharynx knows that, Hornette knows that – and yet you insist on self-harm just for trying to save her. Now,” he said, softening his tone, “is the time to stop – to talk – to try to understand each other.”

Locomotion grimaced. “What is there to understand? Hornette hates me – and so should you!”

“No she doesn't. She just failed to understand the motives, and the emotions, behind your actions – all she could see was an act of madness and rage, and not the pain, fear and loss you'd been bottling up since...the crash,” went on Thorax quietly. “I'm really sorry about your aunt, by the way.”

Locomotion went pale with dread. “Applejack...you didn't...” he stammered; but before he could finish, the orange mare responded with an apologetic frown, removing her hat and bowing her head with mild guilt. Tears began to well up in his eyes again, this time with grief and betrayal. “How...how could you? You promised you wouldn't talk...”

“Ah know – ah know,” interrupted Applejack unhappily. “But if Ah din' tell Hornette the truth, who would? Y'all 'ave been keepin' it in way too long, Loco; it's startin' ta hurt her just as much as it's been hurtin' y'all. She had every right ta know about yo' past an' how it's affected y'all.”

“Even my suicide attempt in Ghastly Gorge?”

Applejack nodded gravely. “Ever' last detail.”

Locomotion choked back another sob. He felt violated, but he couldn't ignore the truth in Applejack's words – had he been more honest with Hornette about his family history, he wouldn't have traumatised her so. What really stung him was that without that emotional trauma, Pharynx and Thorax would still be Brainwashed.

“You know,” murmured Thorax gently, “until Applejack told us about your aunt, I never realised just how much you and I had in common. Both of us victims of our own guilt, of tragedies we could do nothing to mitigate, let alone prevent..and both driven to extreme behaviour by forces beyond our control; me by Chrysalis' machinations, and you by overwhelming negative emotions.” He settled down next to Locomotion, wrapping a comforting arm around his withers.

“Doesn't exactly justify my actions, though,” muttered Locomotion bitterly.

“Doesn't it?” put in Twilight reasonably. “We all had to fight back, or else...”

“Yeah, but you didn't have to cope with suddenly losing a loved one forever!” interrupted Locomotion angrily. “Flash came out alive – Carnation Petal didn't! You might have had your hubby back after a good few months of heartbreak, but I have to carry that same burden for the rest of my life! And what about the Horse Junction accident?! Were you even there?! Did you get to see for yourself what carnage had been wrought?! No – I was there, I had to sift through the wreckage for helpless passengers, and more importantly, I came out with PTSD while you were in bed, fast asleep – completely unaware that anything had happened! The only thing missing from that experience was the sight of a bloodstained, mutilated corpse!!”

Twilight's face fell in dismay. She could remember reading about the crash the following morning, but had completely forgotten about Locomotion's involvement – his attempt to warn the Bridleway Limited of the danger ahead, his gruesome task of helping injured passengers out of the wrecked front coaches, and most of all, the impact it had had on his morale. True, the death of his aunt had been far worse, but had it not been for Steamer, Max Pressure and his newfound friendship with Octavia, he might well have followed a similar path. She paused awkwardly, feeling as if anything she had to say would only dishearten him further.

“Twilight,” ventured Thorax at last, “would it be okay to leave me and Loco to ourselves for a bit? We've been lecturing him a bit too much; what he really needs now is comfort.”

“From someone he ain't familiar with?”

“Spike was none too familiar with me when I first met him; but he still found a good friend in me. Just trust me, Applejack.”

Twilight and Applejack exchanged doubtful glances; but eventually nodded to each other in consent. “Alright, Thorax,” replied Twilight, “but if you do need any input, we'll be right outside.”

“Thanks, Twilight.” Thorax watched until the two mares had closed the door, and turned back to Locomotion. “She was so precious to you, wasn't she?” he whispered sympathetically.

Locomotion nodded tearfully. He wasn't sure whether Thorax was referring to Hornette or Carnation Petal, let alone why he was even bothering with him after such a violent outburst; but by now, he was beyond caring. “More than you could ever imagine,” he sobbed.

Thorax smiled sadly. “I miss my father too. He was such a good role model – the very reason, in fact, why I was so in touch with the 'common' changeling, so to speak. Chrysalis saw them as inferior; but my father was never afraid to fraternise with them on a daily basis, and encouraged me to do the same. But more than that, he was the loving, caring parent that any creature would've wanted, and it staggers me that Pharynx didn't follow his example as closely as I did.” He allowed himself a quiet chuckle; “Mind you, he was always an independent sort.”

“He ought to be grateful,” murmured Locomotion unhappily. “Your parents genuinely cared for you as kids – Hornette never had that kind of love.”

“No...but she did at least have me and the resistance group,” put in Thorax. “It was for timid, hurt souls like her that we strove to make our kingdom a better place – and we can still do it, Loco. With your help, we can still overthrow Chrysalis and restore harmony to the Badlands.”

For a split second, he could almost make out the faintest hint of a smile on Locomotion's face. But that vanished just as quickly as it appeared, and the red-furred stallion gloomily went back to gazing out of the window. “Maybe,” he conceded half-heartedly. “It's just so hard to feel positive about something when you've got so many negatives weighing on your mind.”

Thorax said no more. He just sat and listened, his arm still draped over Locomotion's shoulders, as the young stallion drifted into a soft lament;

“Back in my early years before I came to Ponyville,
My disability made my life a struggle up the hill;
But Uncle Steamer saw in me some engine driving skill,
And helped me live the dream I'd always wanted to fulfil.

He stood by my side with every rise and fall,
Yet I don't feel I deserve his acts of kindness after all...

'Cause I'm nopony's hero!
Stops the speeding train;
Rescues helpless passengers...

Lands the crippled aeroplane,
Foils the massacre...

Not the famous actor
Who plays the hero's role...

Not the handsome colt
Who wins the filly's heart and soul.

Nopony's own salvation,
Nopony's hero!

For sixteen years Hornette had herself been through the mill,
Hence why I was compelled to help her settle into Ponyville;
But still I feel the guilt for letting my fears break my will,
And just to rub it in, it's nearly driven me to kill.

She stood by my side with every rise and fall,
Yet I don't feel that I deserve her affections after all...

'Cause I'm nopony's hero!
Saves the refugee,
Defends her in her time of need...

Sets the changelings free
From all their lust and greed...

Not the well-known face
Of genuine pacifist fame...

I'm truly a disgrace,
With only myself to blame!

Nopony's own salvation.
Nopony's hero!

They stood by my side with every rise and fall,
Yet I don't feel I deserve their love and friendship after all...

'Cause I'm nopony's hero!
Stops the speeding train;
Rescues helpless passengers...

Lands the crippled aeroplane,
Foils the massacre...

Not the famous actor
Who plays the hero's role...

Not the handsome colt
Who wins the filly's heart and soul.

Nopony's own salvation,
Nopony's hero!”

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