• 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 7: Changelings and Pesticides Don't Mix!

Hornette yawned and stretched the stiffness out of her limbs, a small smile adorning her lips as she gently arose from her slumber. That sure was kind of Locomotion to tell her such a deep and beautiful story, she thought blissfully – it hadn't exactly been a fairy tale, but the way a fellow changeling would have told it, she wouldn't have been able to sleep a wink for fear of another nightmare. Instead, the red-furred stallion had chased it away completely and made her feel safe and secure, something that she had never truly experienced back in her former homeland. Even in her dreams had he come to her aid, with her as a rusty old tank engine awaiting scrapping, and him in the form of a handsome young goods engine. Upon seeing her lying cold and frightened on a lonely siding, he had sneaked her onto his train and towed her all the way back to the Promised Land, where she was to be mended and put to work on her own little branch line. If only there was a way in which she could repay him...

But her train of thought was promptly disturbed by a soft knock as Locomotion quietly opened the door and peeked into her room. “Morning, Hornette,” he whispered. “You sleep okay last night?”

Hornette gave the red-furred unicorn a drowsy smile. “Like a log,” she murmured.

“Oh, good,” said Locomotion, sitting himself down next to her bed with a thankful smile of his own. He paused for a few moments, trying to work out what to say next; but Hornette beat him to it.

“Loco,” she ventured softly, “thank you for being there for me last night – and for the story. I don't think I'd ever slept so well in all my life.” She glanced bashfully down at the mattress, a mild blush registering on her cheeks. “You're a lot kinder than I deserve.”

“I only wish I could do more,” chuckled Locomotion modestly. At that moment, an unintelligible mumble caught his attention, and he looked over his shoulder to see his uncle entering the room with a tray of food in his mouth. Taking the hint, the young railway enthusiast took hold of the tray with his magic and levitated it to the bedside table.

Hornette raised an eyebrow and stared at the tray, clearly taken aback. “What's this?”

“Oh...me and Uncle Steamer felt you needed a bit of pampering to cheer you up after last night,” explained Locomotion, “so we decided to give you breakfast in bed.”

“But...I thought you always had breakfast in the dining room.”

“Well...mostly, yeah – except for if one of us is feeling ill or depressed or there's a special occasion. Besides, I believe Uncle Steamer has something he wants to say to you.”

Steamer nodded in agreement as he sat down next to them. The young changeling fell silent again and looked away, almost expecting him to start chewing her out for whatever had upset him; but for some reason, the buff-coated stallion seemed to be taking forever to tell her what was on his mind. Daring to look back at him, she was even more bewildered to notice a look of shame on his face as he gazed at the carpet. Locomotion rolled his eyes and waved his hoof around in small circles, trying to snap him out of it.

At last, with a deep sigh, Steamer spoke up; “Listen, Hornette,” he said in a soft, meek, apologetic tone, “I'm really sorry for the way I've been treating you.”

Hornette's jaw dropped. “What?” she managed to stammer.

“I didn't mean to hurt you like this,” Steamer went on unhappily. “It's just...you must understand, Loco means about as much to me as he does to his own parents, if not more. He's very much a kindred spirit, and I'd hate for anything to happen to him.” He closed his eyes and took another sigh before continuing; “That's why I'd been so edgy since I first heard about you. I didn't know what to expect out of you changelings, and feared you might...take advantage of him.”

“So...you disliked me because you were scared?”

Steamer frowned wryly. “I wouldn't say I disliked you,” he replied. “I'm actually quite agreed with Loco that every species has to have a little bit of good in them somewhere. The trouble is, all I'd ever heard about yours was anything but good, and...to tell you the truth, Loco does have a bit of a naïve streak...”

Locomotion snorted indignantly.

“...so I was a little afraid he might be seeing things in you that...just weren't there.”

“Then why are you being so forgiving now?” asked Hornette, visibly unnerved.

“Because I happened to overhear you talking to Loco last night,” explained Steamer. “You were obviously pretty shaken up; I could tell from the sound of your voice, and it's...in a way, it rather helped me put things into perspective. I can see now why you were so desperate to leave your own clan behind.” He smiled kindly and held out a hoof. “What say you, Hornette? You wanna start afresh?”

Hornette stared into space, completely lost in her emotions. She was truly touched by Steamer's forgiveness and anxiety to make amends for his behaviour, but this was all happening so quickly. In the space of a single night, he had gone from wary to sympathetic – and all towards the kind of creature that he should have viewed as a threat, especially to his beloved nephew. Where was the apprehensive Steamer with so little patience for her every misdeed, however unintentional? Why was he owning up to the error of his own ways so soon? Did she really deserve his kindness after how much of a danger the rest of her kind had been towards Equestria? And more to the point, could she truly bring herself to accept it? Looking back at the buff-coated stallion, she detected a look of genuine sympathy in his eyes, and felt a gentle tug at her heart as if she were being offered a dose of fatherly love. In that very instant, she realised that there was only one answer...

“Yes,” she replied simply, smiling once again and gently shaking Steamer's hoof as her eyes began to water. “I'd be truly honoured, sir.”

“So...no hard feelings?”

“Oh, gosh, no,” said Hornette. “I could never fault somepony just for looking out for their own family and friends.”

Steamer's smile broadened as the young changeling let go of his hoof again and sat up to allow Locomotion to levitate the tray onto her lap. “Well...what can I say? And no need to call me 'sir',” he added modestly. “Just plain Steamer will do.”

Hornette's only response was an apologetic grin as she made a start on her breakfast.

“You see?” piped up Locomotion cheerfully. “That wasn't so hard, was it now, Uncle Steamer?”

“Easy for you to say, Loco!” the buff-coated stallion teased, ruffling his nephew's mane.

Both Locomotion and Steamer had already had their breakfast, so they chose to stay with Hornette and keep her company while she ate. As time went by, the buff-coated stallion and the young changeling gradually opened up to one another, and by the time she had finished, it was almost as if Steamer had never held anything against her in the first place.

Hornette licked the last few crumbs of toast from her lips with a contented smile. “That sure was good,” she mused. “Thank you both for doing this for me.”

“Not at all,” said Locomotion. “Besides, it was Steamer who did all the hard work, not me.”

“What are you talking about?” chuckled Steamer heartily. “I wasn't the one who fried those eggs so well.”

“Oh yeah? Well whose idea was it to serve her breakfast in bed in the first place?”


Locomotion's smart comeback was quickly halted as he burst into laughter at his own faux-pas and the casual manner in which his uncle had just spoken. “Did I ever mention how much I hate it when you do that?” he joked.

“Well...serves you right for not thinking it through, Loco,” chortled Steamer. “Trouble with you is you're too modest.”

“I think you've both done a wonderful job,” observed Hornette. “I don't know what it was you put on my toast, but I really liked how sweet it tasted.”

“Yeah, I thought you'd like it,” put in Locomotion sagely. “I know I don't have toast that often, but you're quite right – there's nothing like a bit of honey to sweeten it up.”

Steamer chuckled again and nodded in agreement; but Hornette looked rather puzzled. “What's honey?” she quizzed.

“It's the stuff that bees make from nectar. They gather it from flowers, fly it back to their hives and...how shall I put it......inject it with enzymes that break its structure down until it becomes all thick and sticky,” explained Locomotion, choosing his words carefully so as to avoid disturbing her. “We ponies use it for making cakes and candy and other things, and there are one or two who actually keep a few bee colonies so they can extract their honey and sell it on.”

Hornette gazed at him, awestruck. “Wow,” she remarked. “I never knew insects could be so useful.”

“Well...all creatures have their uses if you put your mind to it. Cows are good for providing milk, sheep's wool is brilliant for clothing – even predatory creatures like cats and dogs can be tamed to the point where they can be an asset to us ponies rather than a danger.”

“Had you really never tasted honey before?” asked Steamer curiously.

“I...did get a taste of bees once,” said Hornette. “I think it must have been about...four days after I crossed the border; I was having trouble finding food, so I tried to make a meal out of some that were nesting in a nearby tree. I have to admit, though, they tasted a bit too sour and waxy for my liking,” she finished, wrinkling her snout.

“They didn't try to sting you, did they?!” exclaimed Locomotion, visibly perturbed.

“I'm afraid they did, Loco. It didn't exactly hurt, and I managed to shake them off in the end; but I felt so itchy afterwards that it kept me awake for a whole night.” Hornette shuddered delicately as she remembered the discomfort she had had to endure. “It's a good thing I've learned to tame them by now. There's no way I want to go through all that again.”

Locomotion winced uncomfortably. “Neither would I,” he remarked; but his attention was promptly averted by a frantic knock on the front door. Perplexed, he left Steamer and Hornette to talk amongst each other and headed downstairs to answer. When at last he opened the door, he was surprised to see one of his fellow railway workers standing outside with an anxious look on his face. “Oh, hullo, Selkirk. What's up?”

“We've got an emergency over at Windy Vale,” said Selkirk. “The No. 429 Mixed Freight has suffered a blowback in the Buckskin Mountains and burned the smoke agent. Max needs you to go and relieve him.”

The red-furred unicorn frowned hesitantly. “Isn't there anypony else available?”

“With all this extra summertime traffic? You'd be lucky!” replied Selkirk gravely. “You're the only one Max can rely on at short notice.”

“Hmm...” Locomotion looked back up the stairs, weighing up his options. He knew he had a duty to the smooth running of the railways, but he wasn't sure he wanted to leave Hornette alone, even with his uncle around. Then again, Steamer did seem a lot more accepting towards the young changeling...maybe he could trust him...

“What's up, Loco?” Steamer came trotting down the stairs, somewhat perplexed to see Selkirk standing outside.

“Blowback on the No. 429 goods,” explained Locomotion tersely. “They need me to go fill in for an injured firepony. Can I count on you to look after Hornette while I'm gone?”

Steamer smiled and nodded. “I'll do my best, Loco, for your sake,” he conceded.

“You promise you won't do anything to hurt her?”

“I swear on my life that she'll be in safe hooves,” Steamer assured him. “You go and take care of that freight – I'll see that Hornette knows what's going on.”

“Thanks, Uncle Steamer. See you when I get back.” With that, Locomotion darted out of the house and galloped towards the depot...

“...so I'm afraid it's just you and me for the time being.”

An inexplicable feeling of emptiness seemed to manifest in Hornette's heart as she gazed out of the window. “But...he will be back...won't he?” she stammered anxiously.

“What makes you think he won't?” objected Steamer. “It's only going to take a couple of hours at the longest.” He smiled kindly and gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Cheer up, Hornette. Loco may be dedicated to the railways, but there's no way he'd abandon his friends without a good reason.”

Hornette heaved a deep sigh. “I know. It's just...no-one's ever been so loyal and protective towards me before.”

“Well, I promise you won't come to any harm on my watch,” soothed Steamer. “Loco would never let me hear the end of it otherwise. Tell you what,” he went on, “why don't I teach you a bit of gardening? That might help pass the time.”

“Um...sure, I guess,” said Hornette uncertainly. “But don't you have your own trains to run?”

Steamer chuckled. “Nope – today's my rest day, so I can do whatever I want. But yeah, the rose bush needs pruning, and I could do with planting some more daffodils, so I wouldn't mind a bit of help.”

Hornette looked out of the window again – and then back to Steamer with a small smile. “Sure,” she conceded.

“Good. I'll just go get some secateurs, and then we can get started.”

“Okay, sir...I-I-I mean, uh...Mr Steamer,” replied Hornette as she turned to make her way into the front garden. But just as she was about to open the door, she remembered what Locomotion had been telling her earlier about how bees worked, and raised a thoughtful hoof to her chin. “Hmm...I wonder...”

It was almost lunchtime when Locomotion returned home. In spite of his uncle's promise, he couldn't stop brooding over Hornette, and was most relieved to find that the buff-coated older stallion had been as good as his word. The first thing he noticed as he walked through the front gate was Steamer watering one of the window boxes, while Hornette was doing something with the daffodils that the red-furred unicorn couldn't quite place his hoof on.

“Hey again, Hornette,” he called.

Hornette looked up with a smile. “Hello, Loco,” she chirped. “Welcome back.”

“Hey, Loco, how did it go?” asked Steamer.

Locomotion shrugged indifferently. “More or less okay,” he replied. “The backhead was pretty scorched, so Max has had to take the 985 out of service for closer inspection; but at least we managed to nurse her home okay. Good thing it's all down hill from Windy Vale to Trotley Ferrers Junction. How about Hornette – you been taking care of her like you said you would?”

Steamer chortled. “Loco, I'm a stallion of word – surely my own nephew would know that by now. And yes, I've been looking after her well.”

“Am I ever glad to hear that,” sighed Locomotion thankfully, turning his attention back to the young changeling. That was when he noticed a small collection of jars sitting on the edge of the lawn, most of them filled with a familiar yellow substance. “Hmm...something smells pretty sweet around here,” he mused. “What have you been up to?”

“I'm making honey,” replied Hornette brightly.

Locomotion blinked in astonishment. “Doing what?”

“I've worked out a spell that allows me to gather the nectar and break it down before putting it in the jars. Watch...” Hornette leaned in towards the flowerbed, her horn glowing a gentle green colour as she inserted it into one of the flowers, pausing for around half a minute before pulling back and repeating the process with the next one. Each time, the sheen it left on her horn grew shinier and shinier until it became a dull yellow colour, at which point she stopped gathering the nectar and began casting the next part of her spell. Locomotion watched with interest, and was even more astounded to see the nectar slowly becoming thicker, more yellow and less transparent.

“Blow my stack!” he remarked, intrigued. “How in Equestria do you do it, Hornette?”

“You know what you were saying earlier about how bees used...what do you call them...enzymes, to make this stuff? Well, I thought maybe I could use my magic to generate them,” explained Hornette simply. “The only catch is that I can't inject them into the nectar from a distance, which is why I have to attract it to my horn; but I can easily get it off again once it's done.” To prove her point, she lowered her head so that her horn was pointing into a half-full jar and set it aglow once more, whereupon the honey slid off into the jar in a single glob, leaving her horn as clean as a whistle.

Locomotion was most impressed. “Cor, blimey,” he quipped. “Seems we've got the makings of a bee-free apiary right there! Might I get a taste of it, perhaps?”

“Oh, sure,” said Hornette. “Your uncle had a sample earlier, but I'd be glad to let you do the same.”

“Thanks.” Locomotion levitated a small blob of honey out of the jar, assuming a focussed expression as he let it dissolve in his mouth. His eyes instantly widened as its sweetness brushed against his tongue; “Cripes, that properly does taste like honey and all! Brilliant job, Hornette!”

The young changeling blushed with a deep sense of pride and achievement like nothing she had ever felt before. “Well, gosh, it's......it's nothing really,” she stammered modestly. “I mean...surely there must be others who can...”

“None that I know of,” chuckled Steamer, who was now toting a spray gun and a small tank. “I mean, sure, we do have a few local bee keepers around here – but even they can't play their bees at their own game, unlike you.”

“Yeah, obviously,” retorted Locomotion cheekily, “because most of them are Earth ponies anyway.”

“Most of them, yes,” Steamer pointed out, “but not old Goldsboro. He's a unicorn, lest you forget; and he's never even managed to imitate his own insects, not even at flying.”

Locomotion chortled. “Yeah, good point. But yeah, that's impressive what you managed to do, Hornette, so don't let anypony tell you different.”

“Well...what can I say?” smiled Hornette.

“By the way,” went on Steamer tactfully, “you might want to move to one side for a moment; I need to start spraying the greenfly. Don't let that stop you from what you're doing, though.”

Hornette arched an eyebrow. “Spraying greenfly? Why, do they need to be washed?”

Locomotion smirked in amusement. “No, no, no, that wasn't what Uncle Steamer meant. He's just spraying those flowers with pesticide so that they don't get ravaged by slugs or insects,” he clarified. “If they do try to eat them, they'll only make themselves sick.”

“So...will it do the same to us?” asked Hornette warily.

“Nah, it washes off pretty easily, that stuff. A quick rinse in the sink, and it's safe as a plush toy.”

“Oh, okay.” With a light shrug, Hornette went straight back to gathering nectar while Steamer began spraying the pesticide onto the flowers.

But what none of them realised was that the nozzle hadn't been fixed on properly, so that when Steamer activated the spray gun, some of the pesticide escaped through one side. The buff-coated stallion was so focussed on his spraying that he didn't even notice what was going on – until he was startled by a blood-curdling scream of pain and alarm from Hornette.

“STOP! STOP!” yelled Locomotion in horror. Steamer quickly turned off the gun and spun round to see what had happened. The young changeling's face was contorted with agony, and her front left leg was riddled with nasty-looking marks that resembled acid burns.

“Good grief!” he exclaimed loudly. “Hornette, are you okay?!”

But Hornette was in such a state that she could barely hear him. “Ow...leg...hurts...” she wailed in a strained voice.

Steamer desperately looked to Locomotion for help, but the red-furred railway enthusiast didn't seem to know what was going on any more than his uncle did. “Go get Twilight and Zecora!” he ordered urgently. “Tell 'em we need their help post-haste!”

“Right, I'm on my way!” Without a second thought, Steamer flung the pesticide tank off his back and sprinted out onto the street.

As luck would have it, Twilight was just passing by on her way back from holding an audience with the mayor, so it wasn't long before Steamer caught up to her and told her all about the inexplicable wound that Hornette had sustained. The lavender-coated alicorn was equally shocked when she heard the news. “How is she?!” she asked tersely.

“In distress, as far as I can tell,” said Steamer anxiously. “Loco's keeping an eye on her, but until we know what's caused this, we daren't leave it untreated.”

“Right, you go to Zecora's hut and bring her back here as fast as you can!” instructed Twilight. “I'll see to Hornette!”

Steamer nodded and galloped off towards the Everfree Forest, while Twilight dashed back down the street and into his front garden. She found Hornette hunched over and crying in pain as she clung onto her injured leg, while Locomotion frantically tried to calm her down; but as soon as he saw the lavender-coated princess, his desperation quickly turned to relief.

“Twilight!” he exclaimed thankfully. “Blimey, am I ever glad you turned up! Steamer told you about...”

“About Hornette's leg? Yeah, he told me,” affirmed Twilight, stooping down to her eye level. “How are you holding out, Hornette?”

“Not good,” whimpered Hornette, barely able to speak. “It hurts...it hurts so bad...”

Twilight hissed through her teeth as she inspected the damage. “Ooh, yes, it sure looks like it. Come on, Loco, let's get her inside,” she said, gently picking Hornette up with her magic and carrying her into the house.

“Any idea what it could be?” quizzed Locomotion worriedly.

“I'm not sure, to be honest,” admitted Twilight. “We'll probably just have to hope Zecora can answer that for us.” A thoughtful expression crossed her face as she lowered Hornette onto the sofa in the living room; “But I have a theory...”

“Yeah, what?” asked Locomotion after a long pause.

“...that this might have had something to do with the pesticide Steamer was using.”

Locomotion's eyes widened. “You...think...”

“It's plausible,” mused Twilight. “He did say himself that she seemed perfectly fine until he started spraying the greenfly. It could be that pesticide has a similar effect on changelings to vitriol on ponies.”

Locomotion winced uncomfortably. “Sweet Celestia on a skateboard! No wonder the poor thing reacted the way she did,” he murmured. “I sure hope Zecora can fix this.”

Over a quarter of an hour had elapsed by the time Steamer returned with Zecora. Twilight had managed to dull the pain in Hornette's leg, but the young changeling was still in distress. The zebra apothecary wasted no time in tending to her wound, gently rubbing an ointment into her burnt flesh that smelt like lavender with a hint of rose water, and then carefully wrapping a gauze bandage around the affected area. All the while, Locomotion stood by and offered moral support.

At last, Zecora stood up. “There you go, young Hornette,” she said soothingly. “Now you've no more need to fret – you may have taken a nasty chemical burn, but hopefully now it should be on the turn.”

“Mm...thank you, Miss Zecora,” murmured Hornette wearily. Even though the pain in her leg had all but ebbed away into a barely noticeable throbbing sensation, her wound and Twilight's pain blocking spell had left her visibly disoriented.

Steamer hung his head with shame. “I'm really sorry about the pesticide, Hornette...”

“Not your fault, Uncle Steamer,” cut in Locomotion ruefully. “None of us were to know this'd happen. If we did, I would have been a bit more careful about where we worked.”

“Well, we've all got a lot to learn about changelings,” observed Twilight philosophically. “At least now we know the damage pesticides can do to them. In fact, if we ever do make peace with the Badlands, we ought to pass restrictions on that stuff to prevent possible hate crime.”

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me,” remarked Locomotion, suddenly remembering the events of the previous afternoon, “there's something I forgot to tell you last night when you were scanning Hornette's memory.”

“Yeah? What sort of something?”

“When me and Hornette were on our way home from Fluttershy's place yesterday, we were stopped in the street by some shady Pegasus pony who calls himself Electro Diesel. He says he's from Whinneapolis and is trying to find a job in Ponyville, but I've got a hunch that there's an ulterior reason for him being here,” the red-furred stallion explained grimly.

Twilight gazed into space, visibly perplexed. “Why would he be coming all the way to a backwater like Ponyville for a job? Whinneapolis is a much bigger place than here.”

“Yeah, and his accent hardly matches that city either – heck, it doesn't even sound Equestrian,” continued Locomotion. “What really gives me the creeps is that he seemed pretty interested in Hornette; and as if that wasn't enough, he spoke about her as if she was just a pet!”

“Hmm...” Twilight paused for a moment while she took in the red-furred unicorn's troubled words. “...well, thanks for telling me about it, Loco. I'll have to check the records and see if I can find out a bit more about this Diesel pony; but if he does anything untoward to you or Hornette – anything whatsoever – then you let me know at once, understand?”

“Will do,” conceded Locomotion.

“Good. Now you make sure you get plenty of rest, Hornette. Your leg should be fit for walking by tomorrow morning, but knowing Applejack, you'll need all your strength for when we take you to meet her.”

Hornette gave a weak nod in reply.

“By the way, just out of curiosity, what exactly were you doing at the time?” inquired Twilight. “I could have sworn there was the smell of honey in your front garden.”

In spite of his guilt for what he had unintentionally done to Hornette, Steamer managed a small smile. “Well, as a matter of fact, Twilight, that's exactly what it was. See, Loco had been telling Hornette how bees work earlier today, and she wanted to give it a go herself, so I let her borrow a few empty jars and use my daffodils as a...sort of a test-bed, so to speak.”

“Oh, really?” Twilight was most interested. “How did it go?”

“Like a treat – literally!” stated Locomotion, quickly forgetting his anxiety and motioning towards the five full jars that were now sitting on the coffee table. “You should try it sometime, Twilight. It's got a wonderful rich flavour to it.”

Twilight gazed thoughtfully at the jars. “Well, no time like the present, I suppose,” she decided, and levitated a smallish blob from the one Hornette had been in the process of filling. Hovering it just in front of her mouth, she licked tentatively at it. “Gosh, you're right, Loco! It's almost like manuka honey with a hint of cinnamon. Mind if I take a jarful and run a few lab tests on it, Steamer?” she requested.

“Be my guest,” said Steamer wholeheartedly.

“Thanks,” smiled Twilight, picking one at random and placing it in her saddlebag. “Right, well, I'd best be off to the castle – I've still got my report to send off to Princess Celestia. See you this evening, Loco.”

“Okay, see you, Twilight,” replied Locomotion as Twilight took her leave. “And thanks again.”

“Same to you, Zecora,” put in Steamer. “I don't know what we would have done without you – or your knowledge of foreign creatures.”
Zecora nodded modestly. “Think nothing of it, Steamer, the pleasure is mine,” she assured him. “Besides, I could hardly let Hornette's health decline. Now I must get back and sort out my shelves; those potions won't rearrange themselves.”

Steamer chuckled and led the zebra to the front door, leaving Locomotion and Hornette alone in the living room. Relieved that their little episode was over, the red-furred railway enthusiast sighed wearily and sat down next to the sofa. “Blimey, what a morning,” he thought aloud. “First that incapacitated firepony, then me having to go cover for him, and now we've gone and hurt you without even realising it.”

“Yeah, that wasn't the most pleasant experience,” mumbled Hornette groggily. A faint smile crossed her face as she gazed back at Locomotion through half-open eyes. “You really were scared for me, weren't you?”

“Scared? I was flaming terrified for you!” exclaimed Locomotion emphatically. “Even more so because I didn't know what was wrong at the time – could have been voodoo for all I knew!” He took a few deep breaths to calm himself down. “Sorry if I overreacted.”

Hornette made a sound like she was trying to laugh, but couldn't quite manage it. “Please don't be sorry, Loco,” she soothed. “It wasn't your fault. If I'd known what pesticide could do to us changelings, I would have stood well back.”

“Yeah, but...” Locomotion broke off when he realised just how right Hornette was. Tactfully deciding that there was no point in arguing any further about the whole débâcle, he swiftly changed the subject; “So...do you want to watch a movie or something? Better that than just lying around until your leg gets better.”

“Hmm...yeah, why not?” agreed Hornette, perking up a little. “What shall we watch?”

Locomotion stood up and trotted across to the shelf on which the video tapes were kept. “Right, let's have a look......'Battle of the Griffins'? Nah, too violent......that's a bit racy......ugh, no way am I having anything to do with that lot! What about......again, too violent. Daren't take Hornette out of her comfort zone......perhaps......yes! That'd probably fit the bill!” he decided, pulling out a video seemingly at random.

“So what are we going for?” asked Hornette.

“One of the first films ever directed by Technicolour Tarquin,” proclaimed Locomotion, holding up the case for her to see.

“'Bridleway Limited'? Isn't that one of the trains you and your uncle travel on?”

“Oh, yeah,” affirmed Locomotion, puffing out his chest. “It was the pride of the Pennsylhaynia Railroad back in the day, which is why Tarquin chose to set this film on that very express. It's quite a comical film; I think you'll like it.”

Hornette smiled again. “Well...I suppose it can't hurt to try.”

At that moment, Steamer poked his head through the doorway. “Loco? Could you come in the kitchen for a minute, please?”

“What for?” asked Locomotion.

“There's something I want to discuss with you.”

The red-furred young stallion frowned at the tone of concern in Steamer's voice. “Be with you in a tick,” he said, inserting the cassette into the VCR and pressing the pause button before it had a chance to start playing. That done, he left Hornette in peace and trotted anxiously into the kitchen. “So what's the problem? Still upset about the pesticide accident?”

“Well...kinda. But that's not...”

“Uncle, I already told you, there's no need to start blaming yourself for it,” insisted Locomotion. “Neither of us knew it would...”
“I know – I know,” interrupted Steamer calmly. “I was actually more worried about this Diesel you said had been following you around yesterday. What exactly did he look like?”

“Well...he was a Pegasus pony, somewhat slender in build with a pretty shifty look about him – same colours as me, just about, but in reverse. Why, had you met that pony before?”

“No, but I thought I saw the occasional flash of black and red lurking in the shadows at Ponyville MPD when I booked on for the Appleloosan. I don't know if it's the same pony, but I have a tantalising feeling you could be right about him trying to stir up trouble.” Steamer rested a shaky hoof on Locomotion's shoulder and gave him a pleading look; “Listen, Loco – if you ever run into that pony ever again, I want you to promise that you'll tell me all about it, okay?”

Locomotion nodded gravely. “I promise.”

“Good lad,” smiled Steamer, patting his nephew's withers.

“By the way, Uncle Steamer,” put in Locomotion with a small, grateful smile of his own, “thanks for looking after Hornette – and for getting help after that pesticide burn. Guess she really is starting to grow on you after all, huh?”

Steamer chuckled wryly. “I suppose you could say that. Anyway, I'm gonna make a start on lunch. You want me to bring it through to the living room for you?”

“Probably for the best in Hornette's condition,” decided Locomotion. “She's still feeling a bit woozy from all the pain.”

“Okay, well you run along and keep an eye on her. I'll take care of the food.” But inwardly, even though his nephew had promised not to hide anything from him about Diesel, the buff-coated stallion couldn't stop worrying – and not just for Locomotion either. For the first time in his life, he was genuinely concerned for Hornette's safety, and there was a niggling feeling in the back of his mind that the young changeling might be the reason for him being here; why, he didn't know, but it all seemed far too convenient to be a coincidence. With a heavy sigh, he set to work preparing a wild clover salad with some of the honey she had made.

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