• 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 32: Heroes' Welcome

Steamer gazed wistfully out of a nearby window, almost oblivious to the pep talk his superintendent was giving. It had been a long and lonely two and a half months since the incident that had driven him and his nephew apart, and the memory of Locomotion's angry outburst still weighed heavily on his mind, along with the crushing news that he had nearly died alongside Chrysalis. That day, he decided, was by far and away the worst day of his life – losing Carnation Petal to a plane crash had been bad enough, but for Locomotion to suffer a similar fate...it would have been the finish of him!

Even the weather outside seemed to reflect the depression he was going through at that moment. The bright, warm colours of summer had long given way to the dullness of autumn, the Running of the Leaves had come and gone, and in its wake lay a gaunt, gloomy environment that seemed all too fitting for his state of sorrow...

“Don't make it hard on yourself, Steamer.” The sympathetic tone of Max's gravelly voice invaded his thoughts, and only then did he notice the gentle hoof on his shoulder. “You'll get your nephew back soon.”

“I know,” sighed Steamer wearily. “I just feel so responsible. Loco had every reason to defend Hornette the way he did – he knew she was innocent, and I just stood by and let that blackguard Electro Diesel string her out to dry!” He looked down at the floor, blinking a few tears away. “It's all my fault, Max. I should've been more understanding about the whole scam.”

“We're all to blame for it,” observed Max. “Heck, if Elli hadn't exposed the guy, we might never have learned the truth. But Steamer,” he went on firmly, “you mustn't blame yourself for circumstances beyond your control. That Map specifically called for Loco and Hornette to go out there and put things right with the changelings – like it or not, it was all preordained. Our interference would only have delayed the inevitable...or worse...”

“Yeah, but Loco's accident...”

“...was nopony's fault but that of the cruel hoof of fate; and even that took pity on him in the end,” interrupted Max calmly. “You should do the same to yourself, Steamer – whether or not Loco lets you off the hook is up to him, but if I know the guy, he'll be feeling just as bad about the whole thing as you are.”

Steamer sighed again, his eyes taking on a distant look. “He always was something special,” he murmured solemnly. “Life just wouldn't be the same without him – ever since Carnation Petal died and the wife walked out on me, I...he was all I had to preserve my sanity.”

Max smiled reassuringly and patted his shoulder. “You and he always had a great rapport,” he counselled. “I'm sure you'll make it up eventually.”

Only then did Steamer manage a small, weak smile. For a fleeting moment, he couldn't care less whether Locomotion forgave him – all that mattered, he told himself, was that his nephew was alive and well and would soon be home. His reverie, however, was short-lived, as the signal bell in the canteen rang once, and then in three rounds of four chimes.

Almost at once, Max seemed to take on an air of excitement as he jumped out of his seat. “That's him!” he cried jubilantly. “Places, everypony – he's nearly here!”

All the drivers and fireponies sprang into action with a will. They poured out of the canteen and scrambled eagerly into their engine's cabs, the shed forestallion barking out orders as they began shuffling their charges into place...

A few miles west, Locomotion and Hornette were snuggled up to each other in the parlour of their private coach, watching lazily as the scenery flashed by. It had been a long journey, but neither changeling nor unicorn would have wanted it any other way; to be on a train all to themselves, cuddling and nuzzling and trading kisses with no-one to disturb them (apart from the guard and attendant, but they could live with that), was everything they needed after a much longer and far more stressful hospital stay. All the same, they were looking forward to getting home.

As they passed through a station, a small, nostalgic smile crept onto Locomotion's face. “Ah, Portpaddock,” he sighed. “Boy, does this bring back memories.”

“Oh right?” said Hornette, interested. “How come?”

“That's where the old Ffilystiniog Railway begins,” explained Locomotion. “It brings slate down here from the mountains, to be taken on by rail or river barge. Uncle Steamer used to take me on that line a lot when I was a foal.”

Hornette smiled warmly. “Happy days, eh?”

“Yeah – happy days indeed.” A tinge of sadness registered in Locomotion's eyes at that point, and he seemed to take an interest in the carpet. “I just hope I haven't put an end to them for good.”

“Still feeling bad about your outburst?”

Locomotion shrugged. “Anypony would, after speaking to such a close relative like that.”

“I'm sure he understands,” soothed Hornette. “I mean, he did put on a special train for us, after all – and goodness knows how many favours he had to call in for all that.”

“Yeah, true,” smiled Locomotion wryly. “I just feel kinda stupid for how I chewed him off back then. It's not like he even knew the guy was faking...” but before he could finish, Hornette cut him off with a gentle peck on the snout.

“Hey,” she whispered, “what did I tell you about putting yourself down earlier? And so what if you gave him such a hard time – you were only trying to do what you thought was right – what you knew to be right. You stood up for me, even when all the signs pointed towards me being a traitor. You followed me, even though nopony else would. You tried to protect me despite being outnumbered nineteen to one!” She kissed him again, this time on the lips. “You're anything but stupid, Loco. I'm sure your uncle is still really proud to have a nephew as loyal and righteous as you.”

Locomotion's smile changed to a more touched one. “You always seem to know the right things to say to me...honeybee,” he murmured fondly.

His lover gave him a perplexed yet slightly amused look. “I thought you said you wanted to call me Hornette,” she remarked with a slight giggle.

“I still do,” said Locomotion, mildly embarrassed at his faux-pas. “It's just a...kind of a pet name I'd just thought up – you know, like how Applejack uses the word 'sugarcube', or Rarity calling every other pony 'darling' or whatever...” He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “...you don't mind, do you?”

“Mind?” chuckled Hornette. “I think that's kinda cute. Just be sure to use my real name every once in a while,” she added cheekily; “I don't want to end up with an identity crisis any time soon...tender-heart.”

“I'll bear that in mind,” smirked Locomotion heartily. That nickname Hornette had just coined for him had to be one of the corniest he had ever heard...so corny, in fact, that he actually liked it! There was something about it, he felt, that seemed to suit him down to the ground – even the unintentional pun behind the word “tender” seemed more endearing than terrible.

Presently, the train rumbled through a tunnel and emerged into a familiar rolling landscape. In the distance, Locomotion could just make out the vast groves of Sweet Apple Acres, now denuded and waiting for winter to pass by; along with the treelike crystalline structure of the Castle of Friendship, standing proud and tall over the many other buildings that surrounded it, even the cloud mansion towards the edge of town. His heart leaped for joy – only a few more minutes...

Suddenly, Hornette's ears perked up. “Say,” she wondered out loud, “what's that noise?”

Locomotion listened. Far away, but getting closer and closer, he could make out a chorus of toots and shrieks, ranging from deep and booming to shrill and strident. “Whistles!” he exclaimed, and bolted out onto the balcony, almost in excitement. When he reached it, the first thing he noticed was a crowd of onlookers cheering and waving from the lineside, while engines large and small stood outside the sheds, all saluting with their whistles as the train passed them by. “Hornette, you've gotta come see this!” he crowed.

Puzzled, Hornette joined him – only to stare in amazement when she saw what was going on outside. To her further astonishment, the cheering and whistling seemed to grow louder as soon as she emerged. “Wha...what is all this?” she asked breathlessly.

“It's us, Hornette,” stammered Locomotion, moved to tears by the spectacle. “They're whistling for us. They're welcoming us home.”

“Even me?”

Especially you. They must think you a real hero now.”

As if to prove his point, the off-white blanket of clouds parted, allowing a shaft of light to beam down onto the young couple. Hornette's heart fluttered as Locomotion leaned in to nuzzle her, tears of her own glistening in her eyes. She had longed to be accepted as an equal, but to be worshipped as a hero was far more than she could ever have dreamed of. Her thoughts drifted to the other members of Locomotion's family, and how they must be yearning for his return – and then, as her gaze also drifted towards the station looming up ahead, she spotted some familiar faces among the waiting crowd. “Loco, look!” she squeaked. “Look who's on the platform!”

Locomotion peered around the side of the coach, and sure enough, he saw his whole family waiting expectantly for them – even Steamer and Firelli Brazen were present. Overwhelmed with emotion, he waved ecstatically and called out at the top of his voice; “MUM! DAD! UNCLE STEAMER! I'M HOME!!!”

His parents, sisters and uncle all waved back as the train drew alongside the platform, barely slowing to walking pace before Locomotion all but lunged out of the coach and into his parents' arms. Surfie, Steamer and Firelli all enclosed him in a loving group hug as he cried feverishly into his mother's chest, yet still managed to maintain an emotional smile. Hornette followed more slowly, watching on with deep joy until Firelli and Surfie invited her into the embrace.

It was Fair Isle who spoke first. “Welcome home, Loco,” she whispered through fond tears as her son pulled back for air.

“We're so glad to have you back again,” chimed in Firelli softly.

Locomotion beamed warmly and gave her an affectionate nuzzle. “It's great to be back,” he stammered. “All those long weeks stuck in a hospital bed...I've really missed you guys.”

“We've missed you too, Loco,” murmured Surfie. “Things just haven't been the same without you around.”

“We're only sorry we couldn't come and visit you in El Pinto,” added Optic Strand sympathetically. “Must have been really hard for you.” He directed a gentle smile of appreciation at Hornette; “Good thing you were around to keep him company.”

Hornette, deeply touched by Optic Strand's gratitude, could only return the smile in kind as she brushed a small tear away. Only then did Steamer, who up to that point had remained understandably quiet, allow himself to speak up. “Hornette...I'm sorry about my misunderstanding,” he ventured sheepishly. “I had no idea Diesel was a changeling himself – or that he'd brought allies with him...” He paused, looking down at his front hooves with shame.

“No, Uncle Steamer,” interjected Locomotion with a deep, rueful sigh. “I'm the one who should be apologising for how I treated you after that. You were the one who made me who I am today, and I just chewed your head right off and gave you the cold shoulder.”

“And you were right to do so.” Steamer, mildly taken aback by Locomotion's response, gently placed his front hooves on his nephew's withers and gazed into his eyes. “I never meant to hurt either of you the way I did,” he confessed sadly. “If I'd only known it was a hoax, I'd have stood up for Hornette in a heartbeat, just like you did. But no – I let that scoundrel pull the wool over my eyes, and it nearly cost me a new friend and a faithful nephew in one go.” He let loose a soft sigh of his own, wiping away a tear before adding, “We all owe you two a great debt of gratitude – and especially you, Hornette. I never should have questioned my trust in you.”

“And I shouldn't have left you alone at your most vulnerable,” put in Firelli gravely. “If there's any way we can make up for it...?”

But Hornette only smiled again and shook her head. “You don't need to, Elli. Twilight told me and Loco how you figured out the truth and cleared my name,” she observed, “and I can't thank you enough for it. Things might've been a great deal worse if you hadn't.”

“I'll say,” murmured Locomotion under his breath.

“Does that mean you forgive us?” asked Steamer tentatively.

The young changeling nodded. “I had no more idea Diesel and that unicorn were changelings than you did, Mr Steamer. Either way, and I can't believe I'm saying this...that whole ruse and your misunderstanding was a blessing in disguise,” she observed. “If those changelings hadn't tricked you into running me out of town, we would never have learned the truth about Chrysalis – or that magic I used to break her spell.” She wrapped an arm around Steamer's withers, taking him by surprise as she hugged him affectionately. “Of course I can forgive you.”

“So do I, Uncle Steamer,” added Locomotion softly. “After all you've done for me...I'd be really ungrateful to hold a grudge over that whole fiasco.”

That did it for Steamer. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so emotional, but to hear those words from his favourite nephew, and after he had almost ruined their friendship for good, touched him so deeply that he could hardly contain himself. With a barely audible sob of joy, he flung his arms around Locomotion and hugged him like he never wanted to let him go, tears pouring from his eyes as he felt the red-furred stallion return the embrace.

“Finally made up, I see?” Max walked up to them, smiling warmly.

With a mild twinge of reluctance, Steamer and Locomotion pulled away from each other and turned to face their superintendent. “So it would appear – and am I ever glad we have,” said Steamer wryly.

Max chuckled heartily. “Never doubted it for one moment,” he mused, and turned to Locomotion. “I don't think your uncle and I could ever be prouder of you than we are right now, Loco. Sanding up to that phoney queen Chrysalis, setting a whole kingdom free from her clutches...that has to be the bravest and most daring thing you've ever done. As for you, Hornette,” he added kindly, “I dunno if I can speak for all the rest of my staff, but I for one feel you've more than earned our respect.”

The two teenagers blushed with pride. “Aw, well...it was nothing really,” stammered Locomotion. “I couldn't exactly leave Hornette to the wolves...in a manner of speaking.”

“Nor could I let Chrysalis enslave my old comrades,” put in Hornette modestly.

“And a good thing you didn't, otherwise...well, heck, I'd hate to think what the consequences might've been,” remarked Max. “Anyway,” he went on, swiftly and unexpectedly changing the subject, “I believe we're all wanted at the Town Hall.”

Locomotion arched an eyebrow. “Eh? What for?”

But Max only tapped the side of his nose and said, “All in good time, kiddo,” before leading the way out of the station.

“Come on, Loco,” said Optic Strand. “They're waiting for you.”

They?” Locomotion gazed dubiously at his father. “Dad...do you know something I don't?”

“Yes, and we're not telling you yet. It's a surprise.”

Hornette frowned anxiously. “Nothing nasty, I hope,” she murmured. “I've had enough unpleasant surprises to last me a lifetime.”

“Believe you me, Hornette,” soothed Steamer, winking discretely at his older brother as they crossed the station forecourt, “this'll be the surprise of your life – and for all the right reasons, I can assure you.”

Seeing the questioning look on Locomotion's face, Surfie seized a chance to distract his attention; “Speaking of surprises, Loco,” she spoke up, “did Elli tell you her good news?”

“Eh? No,” replied Locomotion, perplexed, “I've only just got back.”

“Not even in her letters?”

Locomotion paused. “Um...not that I know of. Just the usual 'get well soon' and such.”

“Ah, well,” said Surfie with a broad smile, “she's got herself a boyfriend now. His name's Mistral; he's studying at CADE for an Atmospheric Chemistry degree,” and she cocked her head towards Firelli. Only now did Hornette and Locomotion see the young golden hippogriff walking next to her, his aqua blue eyes glistening with unmistakeable affection. The feathering around his black claws and hooves were of a silvery grey, along with his beak and wing-tips; he wore an obsidian arrowhead pendant on a simple black necklace, and his messy two-tone brown mane and tail displayed a definite energetic streak. “When Elli heard you were coming home, she invited him over to meet the rest of the family.”

“Wow,” remarked Locomotion under his breath. “Me with a changeling, Elli with a hippogriff...quite the coincidence, eh?”

“He sure seems a nice guy,” mused Hornette. “I'm rather looking forward to meeting him.”

Surfie smiled in agreement. “He was a bit taken aback when we told him about you, Hornette, but I'm sure he'll be pleased to meet you too,” she observed.

They continued to gossip all the way to the Town Hall, with Steamer, Firelli, Surfie, Fair Isle and Optic Strand filling in the young couple on what had been going on in their absence. Locomotion was relieved to learn that, as punishment for how they had treated Hornette, Crafty Crate and some of his cronies had been put on community service for the next few months; but his mood was dampened slightly by the news that Derpy had had to postpone her wedding, in part due to their friendship mission and his subsequent hospitalisation. But his disappointment was soon brought to a sudden halt as they arrived at the Town Hall and found a huge crowd awaiting them. All six Bearers of Harmony were present, and so, to Locomotion and Hornette's amazement, were Thorax and Pharynx. They all stood on either side of a wooden dais that had been set up in front of the building – and there, standing right between them, was none other than...

“Princess Celestia?!” gasped Locomotion, stunned.

Hornette, on the other hoof, didn't say anything. She just gazed in awe, feeling a mixture of fear, honour, intrigue and unworthiness all at the same time. So that's the ruler of Equestria...the one who gave me my parole...oh dear, she thought anxiously, I hope I've not done anything wrong. But she barely had any time to dwell on it before the crowd parted and Celestia beckoned them forward. Both changeling and unicorn hesitated for a moment, wondering what the alabaster alicorn had in store for them.

“Go on, you two,” coaxed Max at last. “You've earned it.”

Earned what? Locomotion still didn't understand what Max was talking about, but thought better of objecting. Instead, he and Hornette advanced tentatively down the aisle that had been cleared for them and climbed up onto the dais, stopping just short of Celestia and bowing respectfully. Celestia greeted them with a warm smile, and addressed the crowd;

“My little ponies,” she began, “when Luna and I first ascended the Equestrian throne several thousand years ago, we made it our prime objective to unite a divided world; to spread our message of friendship and harmony throughout our nation and amongst our neighbours. While some of them accepted without question, others were more hostile, and one civilisation in particular remained virtually undiscovered until around fifteen years ago...” A hint of regret crept into her expression. “...largely, and rather ironically, as a result of our own fear and ignorance.”

Locomotion frowned gravely, thinking back to Thorax's grim story.

“These creatures had frequently and very wrongfully been demonised as monsters of myth and legend, long before my time and Luna's,” continued Celestia. “Even our own kind feared them, and the many invasions attempted over the past fifteen years only served to reinforce their stereotype – and yet, behind the cloak of vice and aggression lay a race of timid, peace-loving beings. The only true menace among their number, as it turned out, was the one who wrested the crown from her older sister, magically indoctrinated her subjects, and went on to terrorise the world beyond – in one instance nearly conquering Equestria on my niece's wedding day.”

That was when Locomotion and Hornette notice a further four ponies standing just behind her. Three were alicorns, of whom they both immediately recognised the dark blue one as Princess Luna; but it took a while for Hornette to realise who the pink one was with the white unicorn stallion by her side. When at last she did, she initially felt a deep sense of shame; but the two ponies simply smiled kindly and gave her a friendly wink, while a smaller alicorn filly sitting on the stallion's back waved a genial greeting of her own.

“But whilst Chrysalis was able to control the minds of her minions, she was ultimately unable to control their morals. Two of her subjects in particular held dear to those morals, and proved to the world that not all of their kind were as malevolent as their self-proclaimed ruler; but it was only through the intervention of one Locomotion, and the events that followed, that we finally learned the truth about the changeling race. By showing mercy upon a previously unnamed changeling, who shall be known now and forever as Hornette, he provided Equestria with an invaluable ally in the struggle against Chrysalis and her regime. Together, and against all the odds, they, along with Thorax and the Elements of Harmony, freed an entire race from the clutches of their potentate, and put an end to the threat of attack that loomed over our nation for a full sixteen years.” Celestia nodded to Flash Sentry, who stepped forth bearing a cushion with four medals. Locomotion goggled at them in awe, barely able to believe what he was seeing – so that was what Max was referring to! His eyes almost watered as he turned his attention back to the alabaster mare, who smiled appreciatively as she levitated the medals over to him and Hornette. “Therefore,” she announced, “it is with deep gratitude and greatest pleasure that I award you the Celestial Peace Medal and the Star of Rockhoof for your gallantry.”

Overwhelmed with pride, Locomotion and Hornette bowed again as the ribbons were lowered around their necks to much applause from the watching crowd. In the background, Fair Isle was so choked up with joy that she could hardly hold back tears, and Optic Strand had to pass her a handkerchief so that she could wipe them away.

“In honour of the occasion,” Celestia went on, raising a hoof for silence, “and as a further token of our appreciation, the Bearers of Harmony, Princess Luna and I have another, more unique decoration we would like to bestow upon our newest citizen.”

“Oh, my,” stammered Hornette, blushing self-consciously. “Y-you needn't do that, Your Excellency...I mean...it's not like I...”

Celestia chuckled lightly, cutting her off. “You've no need to be quite so formal with me, Hornette. And as I understand it from Princess Twilight Sparkle, it was a lifelong dream of yours, was it not, to live as a true equal among other races; therefore, after all you've done for us, it would be most imprudent for us not to grant your wish...with a very special gift.” With that, she and Luna set their horns aglow, while Twilight, Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity summoned the Elements of Harmony from their tree.

Hornette watched on, transfixed, wondering what sort of gift they had in mind. As she did so, the Bearers of Harmony beamed their powers in her direction, along with the two Royal Sisters' magic, lifting her into the air and surrounding her with a glow so bright that Locomotion had to shield his eyes. The rest of his family, however, saw what was happening to the young changeling, and could only gape in delight at an even brighter flash radiating from her flanks...

Eventually, the glow died down, and a dazed Hornette was gently lowered back to her hooves. At first, she could only stare questioningly at Twilight, wondering what they had just done to her; but the only response she got was a look of intrigue, as if she had only just realised something.

“Well, I'll be...!” Locomotion's delighted voice promptly snapped her back to reality. “Hornette, take a look at that!!”

“At what?” The young insectoid looked herself all over, and was beside herself with amazement at what she saw. Superficially, she was still the same Desert Scarab Changeling as before; but standing proud on each flank was an image of a red heart with a blue peace sign in the middle. “Oh my...is that what I think it is?” she gasped.

At last, Twilight found her voice. “I knew it! That mystery Cutie Mark on the Map was Hornette's all along!”

“You mean...”

“Yes, Loco. We'd planned to give her a Cutie Mark as a reward, but it seems the Elements of Harmony already had this one earmarked for her the whole time.”

“My...my very own Cutie Mark...” Hornette looked back to Celestia, her eyes growing misty with awe. It was almost too good to be true.

Celestia nodded, beaming from ear to ear with a maternal warmth. “Welcome to Equestria, Hornette,” she whispered kindly.

Those words, coming from the most regal pony in all Equestria, touched Hornette's heart so deeply that she could no longer hold herself back. Overcome with emotion, she flung her arms around Celestia and hugged her tightly as tears of happiness spilled out of her eyes. Celestia, briefly taken aback, gently wrapped an arm around the changeling's barrel, while Locomotion choked back a small sob of his own. Hornette really had come a long way, he thought – from a timid and elusive nopony who didn't even have a name, this once wilted flower had blossomed to become a Heroine of the Realm, a peacemaker between two nations, and the very first changeling ever to gain a Cutie Mark. To the young stallion, it felt like a fairytale ending come true; and especially so for Hornette, who could only think of one thing as she basked in Celestia's embrace;

At last, I've found the Promised Land.

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