• Published 16th Jun 2020
  • 485 Views, 11 Comments

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...

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter 3: The Benefit of the Doubt

Locomotion yawned. It had been a long trek from Uncle Maestro's cottage, and what with the fiasco with Hornette and the timberwolves, he hadn't even had the chance to find himself some food, let alone sit down and rest. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“A bit better, I guess...but I'm hungry,” answered Hornette, frowning wearily at the emptiness in her stomach.

“Yeah, me too,” sympathised Locomotion. “What's on the menu tonight, Zecora?”

The zebra paused midway through laying down a fresh blanket of wool. “Well...there's eucalyptus salad and apple pie – and there's baobab soup if you're willing to try.”

“Thanks, but I think I'd rather just go for the salad and the pie,” the red-furred unicorn decided. “How about you, Hornette? You want some, or are you content with whatever love we have to offer?”

“What?! Oh, gosh, no!” cried Hornette, visibly horrified. “I could never bring myself to feed on someone else's love against their will! That's just...barbaric!”

“But......but I thought that was the main part of a changeling's diet,” objected Locomotion, confused.

“Well...our queen keeps telling us that, but I'm not exactly sure it's true myself,” admitted Hornette, trying to calm herself down. “I've hardly ever tasted love in all my life, and I don't think too many of the others have either – and yet I'm still here after all this time. But even if we do need love to survive, I'd rather starve to death than drain other creatures of it,” she finished emphatically.

Locomotion stared in bewilderment. Like many other ponies, he had always assumed that changelings practically thrived on love, and yet the first one he had ever met was telling him completely different. Not only was she openly refusing it, but apparently only a precious few of her kind had ever had what he thought of as a healthy intake of love – and on top of that, she had seemingly gone for years on end without it and still managed to stay alive. Could it really be that love wasn't such a vital commodity after all? Or had she been feeding off other creatures' love before now and not realised it? After a while, he decided that the former must be true, and promptly resumed their original conversation; “So...what kinds of food do you changelings feed on other than love?”

“Um...insects, mostly,” replied Hornette. “We sometimes have acacia berries and chopped cactuses and other plants as well – just...anything we can lay our hooves on.”

“So what kind of insects do you like best?” asked Locomotion curiously.

Hornette paused. “Um......do you have any cockroaches?”

The red-furred teenager looked thoughtfully across to the zebra. “How about it, Zecora? You know where you can find some?”

“Hmm...cockroaches – now let me see...” Zecora pondered for a moment. “There might be some in a nearby tree. You stay here and recuperate while I go and investigate – and do help yourself to what you want, Loco. It wouldn't do for you to starve, you know.” Placing an intimidating looking mask over her face for protection, she picked up a small wicker basket and went outside.

Hornette and Locomotion were now all alone, with nothing to do but sit around and enjoy the calm silence and the gentle crackle of dying flames from within the hearth. Fighting off another yawn, Locomotion stood up and plodded over to the table to dish out some of the salad. It wasn't much – just eucalyptus leaves, cashew nuts, sliced zap apples and a dressing of olive oil – but throw in the apple pie, and that was probably more than enough to keep him going till morning. Indeed, there was just about enough, he noted, for him to give some to Hornette and still have enough left for Zecora when she returned; and judging by her current condition, she could certainly do with it. With that in mind, he scooped a small helping of the salad into an empty gourd and levitated it across to the young changeling. “Here,” he offered softly. “I know it's not insects, but you might like it.”

He certainly hoped she would at any rate. Being a changeling, it stood to reason that Hornette might not be overly fond of the sort of food that ponies were used to. If Twilight's account of her brother's wedding was anything to go by, Queen Chrysalis certainly wasn't – according to the lavender-coated alicorn, she had been disrespectful enough to spit out the free sample of Applejack's culinary when she thought nopony was looking! Whether this was because changelings couldn't safely digest ordinary pony food or just out of spite towards ponies in general remained a mystery, but personally Locomotion assumed that the latter had to be true.

He watched anxiously as Hornette took an experimental bite of her salad, almost expecting her to grimace in disgust the moment she started chewing – but much to his surprise and relief, the nervous look of apprehension on her face gave way to a small smile as the sweetness of the zap apples and the bland yet pleasant flavour of the leaves filled her mouth. She leaned in for another mouthful, prompting Locomotion to give a warm smile of his own.

“You like?” he asked.

Hornette nodded and tried to reply; but because her mouth was still full of salad, her speech came out all slurred and muffled. Locomotion rolled his eyes in subtle mirth as she hastily swallowed her food and tried again; “It's certainly a lot better than I expected.”

“That's good to know. Just a friendly tip for next time, though – it's not really considered polite among us ponies to speak with your mouth full,” advised Locomotion tactfully.

“Oh...” The young changeling looked down at her front hooves, mildly embarrassed. “Sorry about that.”

“Nah, it's okay, you weren't to know,” soothed Locomotion; but anything else he had to say was promptly interrupted as the door opened. “Ah, Zecora. You managed to find that cockroach nest?”

“It took some doing, but I did indeed,” affirmed Zecora thankfully. She reached into her basket and pulled out a jar containing the insects in question, which she emptied out into Hornette's bowl. “That should be enough on which for you to feed,” she added as the young changeling leaned in for a mouthful, “but if there's not enough in store, I can always go out and find you some more.”

“I wouldn't worry about that, Zecora,” chuckled Locomotion. “We can always dish out some of your eucalyptus salad if she's still hungry. I've already let her have a taste of that stuff, and I think she likes it.”

Zecora looked surprised, but pleased. “Very well, Loco – if you say so.”

Hornette looked up from her bowl again, a grateful smile adorning her face as she licked some of the cockroach blood from her lips. “Thank you, Miss Zecora,” she said softly. “These insects are delicious.”

“You're very welcome, my young friend. Hopefully now you should be on the mend,” replied Zecora, patting her on the back. She then made her way over to the table to dish out her own supper – but her attention was promptly diverted by a knock at the door, which opened to reveal Twilight and an orange Pegasus pony in gold-plated armour.

Hornette shied away in terror when she saw the guardspony. She had been dreading this moment all the while, and now it was coming true – but in her panic, she failed to notice that the orange-coated pony was by no means as surly as stunned by her reaction. This changeling really was scared of their kind, he realised.

“Flash Sentry?!” exclaimed Locomotion, visibly shocked. “What in the hay are you doing here?!”

Flash quickly snapped out of his stupor and turned his attention to the red-furred teenager. “Oh...Twilight said there was a changeling out here in the Everfree Forest,” he replied hastily. “I asked if I could come along for added protection.”

Locomotion glared angrily at the lavender-coated alicorn. “Twilight!” he burst out indignantly. “I thought you promised to keep this a secret!”

“Yes, yes, I know that, Loco!” interrupted Twilight. She took a deep sigh before continuing; “Look, I'm sorry I broke my promise, I really am – but you know how Flash can get when he doesn't know where I am or what I'm doing with myself. I only let him in on this because he was worried for me; and I can assure you, I've done everything in my power to persuade him that Hornette doesn't wish us any harm.”

“So...he's not going to harm her back?” asked Locomotion, his anger beginning to fade in spite of his apprehension.

“Not at all,” affirmed Flash softly. “I mean, yeah, I'm still having a tough time trying to wrap my head around all this, but if she really does want to make friends with us ponies, then who am I to object?”

Locomotion suddenly felt a little ashamed of himself. Twilight was clearly trying to help him by letting Flash in on Hornette, and his only response had been to berate her for being dishonest with him. “Sorry, Twilight,” he apologised unhappily. “I'm just so...”

“You don't need to apologise for anything, Loco,” soothed Twilight. “You were just doing your bit to protect Hornette – I can't fault you for that. Anyway, good news...”

Locomotion and Hornette perked up.

“...Celestia's agreed to give you the benefit of the doubt, Hornette, and grant you a parole. If you can prove your true worth within the space of two months, you'll be allowed to stay here in Equestria for as long as you like; but there are a few provisos. Firstly, when you feel ready, she wants you to make acquaintance with the remainder of the Friendship Council – that's the body of ponies that governs this part of Equestria...”

“More ponies?” asked Hornette, a little uneasily.

“Yes, more ponies,” affirmed Twilight. “You won't have to meet them all at once – just one member at a time, and I'll make sure they know about you first. Secondly, I've been instructed that you're to stay within the general area of Ponyville unless you have me or a Royal Guard as an escort. Finally, she's advised that I cast a suppression spell on you and renew it every 24 hours.”

Locomotion groaned and slapped a hoof to his face. “Just as I thought,” he grumbled. “Never trust changelings, they say. Block all their magic and render them vulnerable, they say.”

Hornette gave Twilight a wry half-smile. “Well...I think I'd feel a lot happier if you could cast that spell on me,” she admitted.

“You what?” Locomotion shot her a bewildered double-take, clearly taken aback. “But suppose you find...”

“It's only meant to stop her from hypnotising other creatures, Loco,” interrupted Twilight reasonably. “She'll still be able to use magic, and she'll still be able to feed on love – if anypony has any to spare, at least – but she won't be able to force anypony to love her against their will.” She rested a reassuring hoof on his shoulder. “I'd never wish to drain anyone of their magic, Loco, let alone a changeling – that's the sort of thing Tirek would have done. Besides, it'd be a shame to let all that potential go to waste.”

“What potential?” asked Locomotion, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, I didn't say anything earlier because we were so focussed on patching her up, but when I was running that memory scan on Hornette earlier, I happened to detect a magical ability which, given time and practice, could become almost as good as mine was at her age. I'd be happy to teach her if she wants.”

Hornette hesitated. “Um...hmm...I'm going to have to think about that,” she replied doubtfully.

Twilight chuckled and patted her shoulder. “You take it at whatever pace you want, Hornette – I won't rush you into it before you're ready. But as I said, you've got a lot of magic in that frame of yours, and it'd be great if you could develop it further.”

“Well...probably,” agreed Hornette thoughtfully. “Maybe when I'm feeling a little more...at home, perhaps?”

“Maybe,” conceded Twilight with a hearty grin as she closed her eyes and began focussing her magic. Her horn glowed brightly, its pinkish aura softly curling around the young changeling before seeping into her head.

Locomotion could only gaze unhappily, a deep sense of sorrow and injustice apparent in his eyes. He and Twilight had done a great deal to help the poor young creature thus far, and the red-furred unicorn was glad to know that it had paid off – but it still didn't soften the sting he felt from having to see Hornette's magic suppressed. To him, it felt more like a violation than a precaution.

Nearly a minute passed before Twilight let go of her magic and gave the young changeling and her rescuer her full attention. “Sorry to have had to do this to you, Hornette,” she apologised. “No hard feelings?”

Hornette shook her head no in reply. “I'd rather the rest of you were safe than be able to steal anyone's love, even if I wanted to.”

“Can't exactly say I'm happy about it myself,” sighed Locomotion unhappily, “but I'm not gonna start an argument.”

Sensing the hurt in his voice, Twilight sidled up to the red-furred unicorn and wrapped an arm around his withers. “Try to cheer up,” she soothed. “At least Hornette's getting a fair trial – and on top of that, you get to look after her yourself.”

This threw Locomotion for a loop. With a look of surprise and anticipation on his face, he slowly lifted his head to meet the lavender-coated alicorn's gaze. “M...me?” he stammered.

Twilight nodded. “She does seem to like you better than the rest of us. Besides, you were the one who saved her and brought her back here – I think it's only right that you're allowed to put her up and teach her our ways. What do you say to that?” she asked kindly.

“Well...I'm honoured, Twilight, I really am, but why me?” objected Locomotion, barely able to believe what he was hearing. “Surely one of your guards would...” but he quickly broke off as he remembered what sort of creature they were dealing with. If it had been one of the guards, they probably would have made the young changeling's life a living Tartarus – and that was the last thing he wanted her to go through.

“You'll do fine, Loco,” encouraged Twilight. “You're already doing her a world of good, and I wouldn't ask you to carry on if I didn't believe in you.”

“Yeah, but what about the rest of Ponyville?” interjected Flash, his brow furrowing with concern. “Sure, we're all willing to give her a chance, but unless Hornette poses as another pony or...or something, I can't see anypony else going so easy on her.”

“Oh, gosh, I hadn't thought of that.” Twilight pondered the problem for a moment before turning back to Hornette. “How long do you think it'll be before you can start changing your form again?” she asked anxiously.

“Again? But I've never used that kind of magic,” protested Hornette. “The closest I ever got was an invisibility spell, and then only to help me escape from home.”

Flash's eyes widened in disbelief. “But...but I thought all changelings could...”

Twilight frowned anxiously. By the looks of it, Hornette was in for a pretty rocky start. “Right!” she decided firmly. “In that case, we'd better try and nip any potential discrimination in the bud. As soon as I get the chance, I'm going to let the whole town know that you're on parole and are to be treated as an equal – and don't you worry about a thing, Loco,” she added quickly, before the unicorn teenager could object, “I'll see to it that the mayor, the Royal Guards and the local police department give us their full cooperation.”

Locomotion looked back over his shoulder towards the young changeling. He hated to admit it, but the way things were going right now, this seemed to be the only way of ensuring fair treatment towards her. “You alright with that, Hornette?”

“Um...I don't know,” faltered Hornette, visibly scared. “I'm not sure I'd feel safe with a whole town knowing about a creature like me. I mean...what's to stop them from harming me?”

“Nopony's gonna hurt you on my watch,” Locomotion assured her resolutely. “I know it's a bit much too soon, and I can see you're scared, but you won't have to go it alone. I promise I'll be right by your side the whole time – and if anypony has anything horrible to say about you or wants to start beating you up, they'll have to go through me first.”

Hornette was so deeply touched that she didn't know what to say. For far too long, she had been expected to look out for herself just like the rest of her species; and now a creature from the very nation that they had been targeting all these years was willingly standing up for her. Never in all her life had she been shown such loyalty, especially by a pony. “Really?” she stammered.

“Definitely,” stated Locomotion simply.

The young changeling smiled faintly. “Well...in that case.”

“Good – that's settled then,” declared Twilight. “I'll go and let Steamer know he's going to be taking in an extra resident. You'd better head back to the castle, Flash, and check on the night guard.”

“Will do, Twily. Any idea what time you'll be back?”

“Um...within the hour at the latest, I should imagine.”

“Right, I'll see you later then.” But before Flash took his leave, he gave the injured changeling a friendly smile and said, “Best of luck with your parole, Hornette.”

Twilight smiled faintly as the orange-coated Pegasus left the hut and made his way back to the castle. “Will you be okay to put Loco and Hornette up for the night, Zecora?”

Up until this point, Zecora had tactfully excused herself from the conversation and allowed Hornette and the three ponies to do the talking. “There may be only one spare bed,” she observed, “but I can always sleep on the floor instead.”

“You don't need to do that, Zecora,” said Locomotion hastily. “I'll take the floor.”

Zecora shook her head. “A kind offer, but I must protest – no host should do such a thing to a guest.”

“You can both take the beds,” began Hornette, trying to stand up. “I wouldn't want...” but she inhaled sharply and collapsed onto her barrel again as a sharp pain coursed its way through her injured leg. Locomotion flinched in alarm, but quickly composed himself.

“No, Hornette, you stay where you are,” he insisted gently. “I don't want you hurting yourself.” He looked back to Zecora; “Look, I appreciate your offer, but I'd much rather be on hoof in case Hornette needs anything.”

“He's got a point, Zecora,” put in Twilight sagely. Inwardly, she was taken aback by Locomotion's decision to sleep on the floor (normally he preferred a nice, warm bed), but she kept her opinions to herself. “Hornette could benefit from having somepony by her side for the night, especially somepony with whom she feels safe.”

“Hmm...a reasonable assessment, I suppose,” conceded Zecora. “Very well, Locomotion, I won't impose – whatever you think is the right thing to do, I'm perfectly happy to side with you.”

“Thanks, Zecora.” Locomotion returned his attention to Twilight; “I take it we'll see you in the morning?”

Twilight nodded. “I'll be back here around 9:00am. You take good care of Hornette in the meantime.”

“No sweat, Twilight,” asserted Locomotion as he went to help Zecora lay out a few sheets next to Hornette's bed. “If I have anything to do with it, she'll be right as rain by the time you get back.”

“That's a good colt,” cajoled Twilight. “I'll leave you to it then. See you tomorrow, you two, and take it easy.”

“Goodnight, Twilight.”

Twilight glided serenely through the night sky, just a few hooves above the town that had come to mean so much to her since she had first moved in from Canterlot. In the distance, she could see light coming from a greyish house not too far from the station, where she knew Locomotion's uncle would be waiting for him. Sure enough, as she descended towards the ground, she noticed the buff-coated stallion pacing anxiously back and forth in the front room with an agitated look on his face.

“Sorry to have to dump this on you so abruptly, Steamer,” she thought aloud as she knocked at the door. She barely had to wait three seconds before it opened.

Steamer was most surprised to see the lavender-coated alicorn standing outside his house. “Princess Twilight?” he exclaimed, bowing out of respect. “Good grief, this is...unexpected.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Alright, Steamer, stand up. There's no need for all the formalities.”

“Ah...er, beg your pardon,” apologised Steamer. “What can I do for you?”

“I've got some important news about your nephew Locomotion,” explained Twilight. “Less than two hours...”
“What about Loco? Did something happen to him?”

“No, he's fine – he just has to spend the night at Zecora's hut with a refugee he's rescued.”

Steamer looked confused. “I don't understand.”

“Two hours ago – or thereabouts – he narrowly managed to avoid being ravaged by timberwolves, but had to go on the attack because they were trying to make mincemeat out of what he assumed was another pony,” continued Twilight. “The creature was in pretty bad shape, so he brought her back to Zecora's place for first aid. I happened to be visiting at the time, and after scanning her memory, I can confirm that she intends no harm on our kind whatsoever, even if the rest of her species do; all she wants is to find somewhere she can feel safe and loved and wanted without having to force it on anypony.”

The buff-coated Earth pony sighed heavily. “Look, Twilight, could you please cut to the chase?” he asked wearily. “I'm struggling to see what you're talking about here.”

“Very well – but I warn you, this might be a bit of a shock.” Twilight paused for a few seconds to allow Steamer to prepare himself. “Her name is Hornette, and...to put it bluntly, she's a changeling.”

“WHAT?!” Steamer's eyes widened, and his face took on a pale magnolia shade as he began to splutter like a damp squib. “My nephew......you mean to...there's...but how...I can't believe......are you serious?!” he blurted out, his voice almost loud enough to wake up the neighbours.

“Oh, I'm dead serious,” replied Twilight patiently. “About...seventy times I've been using that spell so far, and it's never failed me yet – okay, so perhaps I'd never used it on changelings before, but Hornette looked and sounded as scared and as guilt-ridden as the spell made her out to be...”

“But...how do you know she hadn't been hypnotising Loco into this?!” objected Steamer defensively.

“Steamer, she has not hypnotised Loco into doing anything!” stated Twilight firmly. “He saved her life of his own accord; she was too badly injured to use any form of magic on him, and in any case, I've already blocked her from performing anything malign once she gets her strength back.”

Steamer frowned and gritted his teeth. “I'm gonna have to have some serious words with that colt when he gets back. Imagine breaking the anti-changeling law like this...”

“Actually, Steamer, I've already written to Princess Celestia, and she's agreed to let Hornette off on parole as long as she's kept under supervision,” went on Twilight. “After some careful consideration, I've decided that your nephew shall be the one to accompany her wherever she goes, and you will be her tenant for the next two months at least.”

If Steamer was shocked earlier, he now looked as if he had just been asked to stop the tide. “Me, lend my home out as asylum for a changeling?!”

“Yes, you lend your home out as asylum for a changeling,” repeated Twilight bluntly.

“But...this is too much!” argued Steamer. “Some things I'd be willing to do for you – for the whole country, even – but I'd rather be trapped in a wrecked passenger carriage than have to risk my life to a changeling! I mean, supposing she suddenly turns against us? And you know how naïve Loco can be...”

“Yes, but I promised him I'd give Hornette a fair chance,” interrupted Twilight. “She's led a rough life under Queen Chrysalis, and it's only fair that we try to include her in our own society.”

“Well, yeah, that's all very well, but why can't you keep her at the castle?” protested Steamer. “Surely you'll be able to contain her better there if she...”

“Look, I appreciate your feelings, and I can see you're kinda wary about Hornette, but she already feels alienated here as it is – keeping her in the castle is just going to make her feel trapped, even if it's in one of the bed chambers. I'm sorry, Steamer, but a promise is a promise,” finished Twilight sternly. “Hornette is staying here by Royal Command and that's the end of it.”

Steamer sighed again, this time with exasperation. He still wasn't happy about accepting a changeling as a lodger, but even he knew better than to argue with a princess about it. “Alright then,” he conceded grudgingly, “but I'm not accepting any responsibility if this turns out to have been a trick on her part.”

“Very well, Steamer. I'll bring her along with Loco tomorrow morning.” With a powerful flap of her wings, Twilight took off again and flew away back to the castle for the night.

Steamer turned and made his way upstairs, grumbling to himself about the turn of events. It was bad enough to know there was a changeling in Equestria, but having to provide her with food and shelter?! How in Tartarus could Twilight be fool enough to think that would work out?

The lonely hooting of a distant owl and the chirping of crickets were the only sounds to be heard for miles around. The moon was high up in the dark blue sky, the stars were twinkling like diamonds, and there wasn't a cloud in sight. But a small cloud of doubt still hung over Hornette as she tossed and turned in her bed, trying in vain to make herself comfortable. How long had it been since Twilight had left? How long since the lights had been extinguished? How long would it be before daybreak? Might as well be forever, she thought, for although the soreness of her injuries had left her feeling drowsy, there were so many questions flowing through her mind that she couldn't sleep.

An uncanny feeling of guilt washed over her as she gazed upon the slumbering form of Locomotion at the foot of the bed. This was the sort of creature who should have hated her species with an unbridled passion, who should have torn her to shreds or left her trapped in solitary confinement for the rest of her days – and yet, against all the odds, he had not only taken pity on her, but also single-hoofedly saved her from a whole pack of timberwolves, stood up for her with Twilight and Zecora and managed to persuade them both to side with him – and gained the approval of this country's own ruler to boot. But why? Why was he doing this for her?

“Um...Locomotion...” she ventured at last.

Locomotion stirred and cracked an eye open. “What? Something need overhaul?” he muttered sleepily.

“Sorry to disturb you, Locomotion,” apologised Hornette meekly. “I just...”

A light chuckle escaped Locomotion's lips as he reoriented himself. “It's okay, Hornette – and just Loco is fine,” he replied, gingerly sitting up so that he could make eye contact. “What's on your mind?”

“...I still don't understand. Why are you doing so much for some worthless changeling like me?” went on Hornette. “I should be locked up in a dungeon somewhere, not resting up in an ordinary pony's home.” She paused pathetically. “Why are you being so...kind and...helpful to me?”

“Because you're hurt, of course,” retorted Locomotion, a hint of amusement in his voice. “What kind of a friend would I be if I wasn't?”

Friend......friend......never in all her life had any other word meant so much to the troubled changeling. Others of her kind she could...sort of understand, even though the few friends she had had back in her homeland all seemed to turn savage at some point – but to hear that from a pony? A creature that should have loathed and despised her kind to the point where they wanted rid of them completely?

“I never believed in that 'all changelings are evil' nonsense,” went on Locomotion, his expression turning solemn again. “I liked to think that there were at least a few who might have a heart and conscience, who would want to make peace with this nation instead of waging war with it. Granted, I've only known you for like......a few hours, but you're already proving my point, strengthening my beliefs.” He smiled softly and wrapped a kindly hoof around hers. “Other creatures could learn a great deal from the likes of you – even Princess Celestia.”

This brought the smile back to Hornette's face. No changeling, nor any other creature for that matter, had ever done so much for her. It was almost too good to be true; but at the same time, it warmed her hitherto empty heart so much that she nearly began to shed tears again.

“Loco...” she stammered.

“Yes, Hornette?”

The young changeling paused for another few seconds. She almost felt too unworthy for what she wanted to say, but at last she managed to pluck up her courage again. “Thank you,” she murmured softly, “for everything.”

Locomotion said no more, but smiled warmly in reply before settling himself down again. Hornette was clearly no ordinary changeling, he thought to himself as he slowly drifted off back to sleep...

PreviousChapters Next