• 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 27: The Infiltration

It was almost noon by the time the group were within striking distance of the Badlands. There wasn't a single enemy changeling to be seen, and the only landmark that separated them from the vast, sandy wastes ahead was a tall wire fence, behind which stood what looked like a perforated black rock formation.

Twilight furtively scanned their surroundings as they descended the final slope. “So far, so good,” she whispered. “No sign of the opposition as yet.”

“Yeah, but for how long?” wondered Locomotion.

“Well, we'll soon know,” replied Rainbow Dash, taking wing without a second thought. “I'm gonna go scout the area.”

“No!” Pharynx reached out with his magic and only just grabbed Rainbow Dash by the tail before she could fly away. “You'll only kill yourself if you just charge in like that!” he hissed. “That border is surrounded by a really potent forcefield, maintained twenty-four hours a day from the main hive. It only goes down as far as the fence, but it's powerful enough to repel anything that comes into contact with it at phenomenal speeds.”

“What, even if I break the sound barrier?!”

“Even a Sonic Rainboom won't be enough to penetrate that forcefield.”

“Oh yeah?! We'll see about that!” Pinkie Pie stepped forward, brandishing one of the coconuts she had brought along. The others wisely ducked down and shielded themselves as she flung it into the forcefield like a cricket googly – only for it to rocket straight back towards them at a breakneck speed, smashing itself to pieces as it hit the cliff face.

Applejack's jaw dropped open. “Whoa, Nelly!” she gasped.

“That could've been one of us!” remarked Locomotion, his face ashen with shock as he stared at the off-white stain that the coconut had created.

Pinkie Pie didn't seem half as shaken, but still bowed her head as if in solemn reverence. “A moment of silence for the Unknown Coconut, which gave its very...”

“Get serious, Pinkie!” growled Pharynx, agitated. “We're here to infiltrate the Badlands, not to waste our time with some pointless funeral for a fruit!” He glared at the forcefield, ignoring Pinkie Pie's awkward grin of apology. “Now let's just stop and think about it – obviously we can't fly over; and I doubt we'll be able to tunnel under the wire, even if Thorax and I change ourselves into moles...”

“Hang on a minute,” interjected Hornette. “I remember this very spot from when I ran away – there was a gap under that fence, just big enough for me to wriggle through.”

“Where?”

“About...” Hornette paused, trying to find the breach. “...there,” she finished awkwardly; for although the distortion of the fence showed where she had managed to slip out (though only very roughly at best), the hole in the ground that had aided in her escape had since been filled in with rocks.

“Oh...well that's no good,” sighed Pharynx, disappointed. “That was one of the few weak points under the fence – and goodness alone knows where we'll find another.”

“Why don't we just cut through it then?” suggested Pinkie Pie simply.

“Hmm...” Thorax pondered, trying to ignore the scolding tone in the back of his head for overlooking such a blindingly obvious plan. “...I suppose we could. The only problem there is how we do it without attracting unwanted attention.”

“You think there might be enemy changelings in that...thing over there?” asked Rarity, secretly cringing at its hideous shape.

“What, in that blockhouse? Yes, there's two of them in there – one for the day shift, and one for the night,” affirmed Thorax. “I'd say the night guard is probably fast asleep by now; but we'll still need to take out his colleague if we're to get by safely.” He pondered again; “The big question is...how?”

Twilight narrowed her eyes as the outline of a plan began to form in her mind – “Live bait!” she whispered grimly.

“Yeah, good idea...WHAT?!” burst out Pharynx, only just managing to keep his voice down. “You mean sacrifice one of our own, just so that...”

“I'm not sacrificing anyone, Pharynx!” interrupted Twilight firmly. “All we need is a decoy to lure him into the open – then Hornette can work her magic on him.”

“But what if it doesn't work this time round? She's only cast the spell once.”

“All the more reason to test it on a lone enemy. If we just wait until we reach the main hive and find she can't cast it of her own accord, we'll be as good as done for anyway. Now what do you say to that?”

Pharynx and Thorax gazed anxiously at each other. If anyone was best suited to playing the decoy, they thought, it was probably one of them in disguise...or was it...?

“I'll go.”

Thorax shot Locomotion a baffled double take. “...say what now?”

“Loco, no!” pleaded Hornette. “They'll torture you!”

“Look, I've gotta risk it, Hornette,” argued Locomotion calmly. “Thorax and Pharynx may be able to change their forms, but they're still royals by the end of the day – if neither of them are around to take the throne, who will? And I'm not about to let you take that chance either, not after what happened three nights ago.”

“Then maybe you should leave it to one of us...”

“No, Rarity,” insisted Locomotion. “I don't know what part the Map expects me to play, but I'm not about to sit on my laurels like a dead weight until I find the answer.”

There was a long silence before Twilight finally offered her opinion. “Yes...you make a pretty good case there,” she conceded gravely. “I shouldn't be encouraging you to take such risks, Loco...but if you really feel you have to, then I can respect that. Hornette, be ready to cast the spell as soon as I say.”

Hornette paused, her mouth half-open as she struggled to formulate a reply. She wanted to protest, but as much as she hated to admit it, Locomotion had a point – they couldn't afford to risk losing Thorax or Pharynx, and even if they only lost one of the Bearers of Harmony, their quest would almost certainly be a dead loss. “Alright,” she answered tremulously. “But do be careful, Loco.”

“I'll do my best,” promised Locomotion bravely.

“That's settled then,” declared Twilight. “Brace yourself, Loco – I'm gonna teleport you in. The rest is up to you.”

Locomotion barely had time to nod in reply before, with a bright flash, his surroundings suddenly changed, and he found himself standing on the opposite side of the fence. Having shaken the inevitable dizziness and regained his senses, he paused for a moment to consider his next move. The others watched him closely, Twilight and Hornette poised for their surprise attack.

Eventually, he settled on the first thing that came into his head, and yelled out at the top of his lungs; “GOOOOOOOD MORNING, BADLANDS!!!”

“That ought to do it,” murmured Pinkie Pie under her breath.

Sure enough, they heard a muffled thumping sound within the blockhouse, followed by the clomping of hooves as a lone changeling came charging out. As planned, Locomotion bolted towards the fence, stopping just a few inches short and turning slowly towards his assailant as if in terror.

“You!” yelled the changeling fiercely. “How did you get in...HEY!!” Suddenly, he was caught in a vice-like grip and thrown onto his back, writhing and struggling as Twilight teleported to stand with all four hooves pinning his legs down. “Get off of me, you disgusting pony!”

But Twilight wouldn't listen. Quickly, she teleported Hornette in after her before using her magic to block that of the changeling she had at her mercy. “Right, Hornette, now!” she ordered.

“Here goes,” murmured Hornette, lighting up her horn and surrounding the guard in her aura. But to her dismay, it didn't seem to have the desired effect; no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't erase the Brainwashing spell, and the older changeling continued to put up a fight.

Hornette looked to Twilight in a state of panic. “It's not working!”

“Try saying something!” barked Locomotion desperately.

“Well...what should I say?” asked Hornette.

Anything!”

Her horn still glowing, Hornette frantically cast her mind back to the first time she had broken the spell, trying to work out what she was doing wrong. Her anguished outburst echoed in her head, and that was when she hit upon a possible answer – all she needed to complete her own spell was to preach her views of conflict and vice. With that in mind, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves, and said, as much to herself as the changeling, “Calm yourself.”

Almost at once, the changeling stopped moving.

“The mare wishes no harm on you,” soothed Hornette, breathing a mental sigh of relief. “Our queen has been exploiting our entire species to satisfy her greed, and these ponies have come to help us regain our freedom. They want to help us restore order and peace to our kingdom – not just for themselves, but for all of us.” As she spoke, she noticed the anger in the older changeling's eyes fading rapidly. “But you must understand that trying to fight us will help no-one. Violence isn't the answer, no matter how big the problem. If we're to flourish, our only chance is to work together, even if it means working with an old enemy.”

She waited a few seconds more for good measure, until finally she allowed her magic to dissipate. As her aura faded, the changeling guard let out a groggy moan and gazed all around, wondering what had hit him. Instead of the same black and blue as Hornette, he was now a light brown in colour with silver eyes; and although he retained the holes in his legs, he no longer sported wings on his back. He flinched a little at the sight of Twilight standing over him, but was even more surprised when she smiled apologetically and backed away to let him stand up.

Locomotion came forward and eased the changeling into a sitting position. “You okay, mister?”

“Yeah...I think so,” muttered the changeling uneasily. “Who are you, anyway? What do you want with me?”

“We know the truth about you changelings,” explained Twilight gently. “Thorax told us everything – how peaceful your race was, how we were the real enemy...even how your queen has been Brainwashing you into doing her bidding.”

“Thorax?” The changeling blinked. “You know him?”

“Yes, Anton, they do.” Thorax had phased through the fence, and was now standing by Twilight's side. “They've been helping me organise a coup d'etat against Chrysalis; and Hornette here is our secret weapon,” he said, nodding towards the younger insectoid.

“You mean...”

“Yep – she was the one who brought you back to your old self. But if you want my advice,” finished Thorax gravely, “you'd best make yourself scarce for the time being – head across the border and pose as a pony until it's safe to return. If Chrysalis knows you helped us, she'll slay you.”

Anton nodded grimly in agreement. “How will I know when it's safe to come home?”

“We'll come and find you.”

“Alright, Thorax,” conceded Anton. “Good luck – and thanks.” Gingerly, he stood up and made his way to the fence, which he promptly cut through with his magic like a hot wire through butter. He said nothing to Pharynx and the remaining ponies, but simply smiled and nodded gratefully before galloping away up the mountain. With an appreciative nod of his own, Pharynx led the rest of the group through the breach.

Locomotion allowed himself a small smile as he watched Anton leave. “Wow,” he murmured, finally letting his awe bubble to the surface. “I can't believe that actually worked.” He turned to congratulate Hornette – but before he could say anything, the young changeling suddenly lunged at him, knocking him onto his side. “Whoa, hey...what the flabberwocky was that for?!” he spluttered. “I know I was being kinda reckless, but...”

Before he could finish, Hornette stood up again and interrupted in a frantic, muffled tone with something that sounded like, “Dirge a show-bin on yo' bag!”

“Um...come again?” Locomotion cocked his head, perplexed.

“There was a scorpion on your back,” Thorax clarified grimly. “It was about to sting you.”

“What?! Where's it gone now?” asked Locomotion, mildly spooked. Only then, as he looked to Hornette for an answer, did the realisation strike him... “YOU'VE EATEN IT?!” he shrieked in horror, trying to scramble to his hooves – only to let out another shriek as a shooting pain coursed through his left shoulder.

Hornette immediately swallowed her mouthful and scurried over to steady him. “Oh my gosh, Loco, you're hurt!” she cried as Twilight dashed over to see what was wrong.

“Never mind me, Hornette!” groaned Locomotion, clutching his shoulder. “Gag reflex – now!”

“What?”

“You've just eaten a scorpion! They're poisonous!”

“Loco, for heaven's sakes, calm down!” interrupted Thorax. “We're immune to scorpion venom – it doesn't have any effect on us.”

“It...doesn't?” Locomotion stared in disbelief.

Thorax shrugged calmly. “Why do you think Hornette went straight ahead and gobbled it up? Sure, they're kinda sour, but that's all they are to us changelings – food.”

Locomotion rolled his eyes, relieved that Hornette was in no danger, but still a little annoyed. “Now he tells me,” he muttered, wincing in discomfort as he withdrew his hoof from his shoulder.

Twilight frowned anxiously as she examined his injury. “MEDIC! MEDIC!” she shouted to Fluttershy, who hastily glided over and began unpacking the first-aid kit she had brought along.

“How bad...” began Hornette, but promptly broke off when she saw the wound for herself. Locomotion was bleeding from a gash in his shoulder; it wasn't very deep, but judging by the amount of blood that had just come off on his hoof, it was still a nasty cut. Overcome with guilt and shock, the young changeling sat down and gripped her temples. “Oh, no! I can't believe I just did that!” she wailed hysterically.

“What's the matter, darling?” asked Rarity gently.

“This is my fault!” faltered Hornette. “I only meant to eat that scorpion before it stung Loco, and now look what's happened!”

Rarity wrapped an arm around Hornette's withers. “There, there, darling,” she counselled. “It's alright. You didn't mean any harm. Loco will live.”

“Yeah, look at it this way, Hornette,” added Locomotion wryly, grunting in pain as he lay himself down prone for Fluttershy to begin treating him, “if you hadn't gone and scratched me with your fangs, I might've been killed. Besides...at least now I won't need any punishment for my assault on Pharynx.”

“Alright, Loco, that'll do,” chided Fluttershy with a small smile. “We've already told you, you don't need to beat yourself up about it – any more than you, Hornette, need to beat yourself up about hurting his shoulder.” She reached into her saddlebag and pulled out an antiseptic wipe. “Now you hold still, Loco – this might sting a little.”

Hornette only frowned self-consciously. “I'm really sorry, Loco.”

“Don't be,” soothed Locomotion. “Just be glad I'm still...ow...alive.” He winced again as Fluttershy began wiping his wound clean. “Aw, that smarts...”


It didn't take very long for Fluttershy to clean and dress the cut on Locomotion's shoulder, but the journey across the desert seemed to take ages; and because it was so hot, they had to stop several times to refresh themselves. By the time they were within reach of the main hive, darkness had begun to fall, and their water supplies were just over half-empty; but mercifully – and perhaps a little worryingly – they hadn't encountered a single enemy changeling since breaking through the border fence. Better still, the heat of the day was slowly subsiding with the setting of the sun.

From behind a nearby rock, Pharynx stared grimly at the jagged palace ahead. “Well, everyone,” he murmured, “this is it – the one place least known about, and yet most feared, by ponykind.”

“Yeah, and the one place I hoped I'd never see again,” added Hornette quietly.

Locomotion, his brow furrowed, nodded in agreement. “Well, you got out of there okay; but now we've gotta work out how we're gonna get in.”

“Well, what are their defences like?” said Rainbow Dash to Thorax. “If I could just storm the place and take out the guards...”

“...then you'd be caught in an instant,” interrupted Thorax firmly. “That place is absolutely swarming with changelings – even those not enlisted as soldiers won't let you run free. Our only chance is to give them the element of surprise.”

“Um...hate to burst your bubble, Thorax,” put in Pinkie Pie, “but the only Elements we have are Laughter, Kindness, Honesty...”

“Yes, funny!” grunted Pharynx sarcastically. “Getting back on topic...”

“Though, now you come to mention it, Dashie knows a mare named Surprise in the Wonderbolts!”

Pharynx sighed with exasperation. “Anything useful to contribute?!”

Twilight nudged his shoulder and whispered into his ear; “Pharynx, it's Pinkie. Just pretend you understand, and move on.”

Pharynx muttered something incoherent before resuming his train of thought. “Right, getting back on topic – obviously, Thorax, Hornette and myself are all changelings, so we'll be able to disguise ourselves...”

“I can't.”

“What do you mean you can't?” objected Pharynx, looking incredulously at Hornette.

“I never took it on myself to learn the art of metamorphosis,” confessed Hornette ruefully. “I can turn invisible, but I can't impersonate other species.”

“And you tell us now?!” exclaimed Pharynx in dismay.

“Well...hold on, Pharynx,” cut in Fluttershy, “maybe Twilight can do the transformation for her. She turned us all into breezies once to help some of them back to their home – maybe she can use the same spell to disguise us as changelings ourselves.”

Twilight frowned and shook her head. “Sorry, Fluttershy – I'm afraid the spell didn't include a formula for changelings.”

“Well...maybe you could just teleport us into there,” suggested Pinkie Pie helpfully.

“Again, no good. I can't teleport more than five ponies with me at a time; and I'm not sure I can make two trips without something bad happening while I'm gone.”

“Yeah, and I'm no good at teleportation either,” added Thorax gravely.

“Nor am I.” Pharynx sighed heavily, kicking a small mound of sand in his frustration. “So now we're back to square one. Anyone else got any ideas?” he asked wearily.

There was a long, tense silence as the group tried to think.

“No sensible ones,” admitted Rarity after a while.

“Well...what about stupid ones?” persisted Thorax. “We might be able to work something out from there – you never know.”

At last, Locomotion spoke up; “Well...I think I might have one. It's kinda primitive – crazy, even – but carefully orchestrated, it might just work.”

Thorax's ears perked up. “Go on.”

“First off, Thorax,” asked Locomotion, “how well do you and Pharynx know the hive?”

“I should think we'd be able to navigate every single corridor with our eyes closed,” replied Pharynx with a light shrug.

“Good – so can you map it out for me?”

“Sure.” Thorax turned around and started sketching out a diagram of the area with his hoof, while all the others gathered round. “So we're here, right – the hive is to the south of us, and the mountain range we just crossed encircles the whole of our territory.”

“Entrances?”

“We've got one each situated north, south, east, west and twelve other points of the compass around the hive.”

“And where would we be most likely to find Chrysalis at this hour?”

“Easy – throne room, right smack in the middle of the hive.” Thorax drew a cross in the middle of the circle he had drawn.
Locomotion nodded, his lips curling into a small smile as his plan began to take shape. “And the dungeons?”

“What?!” Pharynx shot him a horrified double-take. “Loco, you're not seriously...”

“Just hear me out!” insisted Locomotion firmly.

“Dungeons...hmm...” Thorax paused. “...I'd say about five to ten minutes east of the throne room.”

“Great! Okay, guys, now here's the plan – Twilight, if you can use a tracking spell on me, Thorax, Pharynx and Hornette, then you and the other Bearers of Harmony can keep tabs on us from back here, while we form a fifth column to take out the opposition,” explained Locomotion hurriedly. “As soon as we're within spitting distance of the throne room, or in the...quite likely event that we hit trouble, that's when we need you to teleport into the hive and back us up; but only when we've entered the throne room shall Hornette work her magic. It's not exactly foolproof, but I reckon it's our best bet.”

“So do I,” agreed Thorax.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” chipped in Rainbow Dash gamely.

Locomotion looked across to Twilight expectantly. “Well, Twilight? What do you reckon?”

Twilight paused for a while to mull over his plan. Eventually, she nodded gravely and said, “Yes...you could be right there, Loco. I just hope you know what you're doing.”

“Don't worry, Twilight,” said Locomotion bravely. “As long as we've got Thorax and Pharynx as our allies, hopefully – emphasis on 'hopefully' – we should be able to bluff our way in with ease...”

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