• Published 27th Sep 2013
  • 14,443 Views, 753 Comments

Chaotic Neutral - C-Puff

When magic starts failing, chaos threatens to consume Equestria. Good thing the ponies have Discord on their side to help fix things.

  • ...

Monsters in the Dark

Chapter 8

Almost as one unit the group of ponies got to their hooves, all staring into the darkness where the noise had come from. The echoes bounced around the tunnels like it was coming from multiple places at once. The slow footsteps were joined every few moments by a drawn-out, dry hiss. Whatever it was, it knew they were there.

“I thought you said the things in this horrible place were gone!” Rarity whimpered as she hid herself behind the stalwart figure of Rainbow Dash.

“I don't think it's an Antlion, Rarity. But whatever it is, let's hope there's only one of them.” Twilight repeated herself.

“It don't seem like it's too sure where we are. I say we keep it that way and get goin'.” Applejack whispered back.

“Not with those clouds!” Rainbow argued, struggling to keep her voice down. “It's crazy out there! And there's no way I can clear that mess up by myself! If we go out there with those things clogging up the sky, we might as well throw ourselves in a pool of electric eels!”

“Wait,” Fluttershy spoke up, “We don't even know what it is. Maybe it's just some poor, scared animal that got lost in the rain, like us.”

“She's got a point,” Twilight said, pursing her lips “At least, she's right about finding out what it is. We can't really make any decisions without knowing what we're dealing with.”

“So what's the plan, O Exalted One?” Discord asked, watching the conversation with amusement. “Walk up to it and kindly ask it its name?”

“Not exactly.” She said, ignoring his tone. “If we could get somepony to sneak up and find out what it is without being seen, then we can decide if we should be worried or not.”

“D'you want me ta go, Twilight?” Applejack offered.

“Ooh! Ooh! Me! Pick me!” Pinkie Pie jumped up and down somewhere in the background.

“I know you could do it Applejack, but would you know what it is if you saw it? I think Fluttershy'd be better for the job. She knows more about animals than the rest of us. Our best bet would be for you to go with her.” Twilight said, ignoring Pinkie.

“What?!” Fluttershy paled, backing away. “Oh no no no. I can't go into that dark, cramped tunnel!”

“You said yourself the antlions or whatever dug this place are gone. We just have one, unknown creature to deal with,” Twilight reasoned with her, “and I'm not gonna send you out there alone. Besides, like you said, what if it's just some animal that got lost in the rain?”

“It's not the animal in the cave I'm afraid of.” Fluttershy mumbled, trying her best to disappear behind her hair.

“Show a little backbone, my dear.” Discord said in what was probably his scolding voice, although he was grinning widely. “I'm sure we can handle any water-logged squirrel or stray cat or whatever else.”

“Oh, you're going with them, are you?” Twilight cocked an eyebrow at him as she tried to suppress a smile.

Discord rolled his eyes so hard it hurt to watch him. “I thought I'd save you the trouble of giving any more royal orders.” Twilight's smile faded at this as his perked. “Besides, as your chaperone and babysitter, I don't want Celestia thinking I've been napping on the job. She'd take any excuse you could give her to replace me on her lawn. I believe the Grand Galloping Gala organisers are beside themselves trying to plan the decorations without my handsome visage in its usual place.”

“Ok, ok. Whatever.” Twilight waved a hoof impatiently before setting him with a serious look. “But just get a look and come back here to tell us what it is. And do it quietly.”

“And you'd better watch Fluttershy's back or I'm gonna whup you so hard you'll be wishing you were made of stone again!” Rainbow Dash threatened, glaring at him.

“Yes, of course.” Discord said, giving her the bare minimum of attention. “Let's go and say hello to the neighbours then, shall we?”

“Ok.” Fluttershy squeaked, although she needed him to prod her in the back before she started walking. Discord trotted behind her with a bounce, completely unconcerned by present events. Applejack gave Twilight a nod before she fell in step with them.

“Do you really think sending Discord with the two of them is a good idea, Twilight?” Rarity whispered.

“No. But he is right. Princess Celestia sent him with us because she said he knows about Equestria's wilderness. At least I don't think he'd do something stupid enough to get Fluttershy in trouble.” Twilight turned and headed back for her blanket. “Let's get our stuff together in case we need to make a break for it, storm or no storm. I don't want to take any chances.”

“Swell,” Rainbow Dash growled to herself, “I always wanted to run headfirst into an uncontrolled storm.”

“I haven't!” Pinkie hopped after her. “It doesn't look like it'd be much fun, Dashie.”

“Yeah yeah....”

Applejack's gaze flittered back and forth as they made their way through the dark. The sound of patrolling footsteps still echoed from somewhere unseen ahead of them. They passed several arched entrances to other parts of the hive, some of them leading to round, hall-like rooms. Others merely spiraled off deeper into the mountain. The sounds of the intruder were growing louder with every step they took and Fluttershy was starting to wonder if she'd still be able to identify whatever it was when she saw it. She was shaking all over and it was getting harder to keep going with every step she took. The tunnel around her felt like a never-ending, giant mouth that was constantly on the verge of snapping shut on top of her.

“Sounds like he's around this corner.” Applejack whispered to them over her shoulder, sinking down to peer around what seemed like the hundredth side-tunnel.

Fluttershy tried to nod, but it came out as a collection of spastic twitches. Behind her, Discord sounded like he was trying to stifle a laugh. It didn't do much to ease her nerves.

“That... ain't no lost squirrel.” Applejack muttered.

Fluttershy swallowed, but her tongue felt like it had been replaced with sandpaper. Somehow, she managed to scrape together what courage she still had and moved forward to lean over Applejack and take a look.

The thing that was patrolling the tunnels may have been bigger than a squirrel, but it was still smaller than its footsteps and reptilian hisses had made it sound. In reality it looked about the same size as a cow. Bigger than any of the ponies there, but smaller than Discord. However, that was probably the only reassuring thing about it.

It had a broad, square torso, on each side of which grew something resembling wings. They'd never be able to keep anything in flight, though. Rather than elegant beaters of the air they were large, awkwardly shaped fins that jutted out and upwards. A muscular neck curved into a small, triangular head that looked too small for the rest of it. A whip-like tail dragged behind it as it marched in the direction away from them, it's two, thick legs ending in dark, curved claws. It didn't look like it knew they were there, as it slunk away into the darkness, hissing to itself as it went.

“Oh my...” Fluttershy said softly, blinking to herself. “That's a really strange looking animal.”

“Ya mean a weird lookin' animal.” Applejack pulled a face in disgust. “Ya wouldn't happen to know what it is, would ya?”

“I don't think so.” Fluttershy looked down at her friend. “I've never seen anything like that in the Everfree Forest. Maybe it's a young dragon?”

“An ugly young dragon.” Applejack mumbled.

“Close, but not quite.” Discord snorted above them.

“Oh, so you know what it's suppose to be then, huh?” Applejack scrunched her muzzle at him.

“As it so happens yes, I do.” He answered with a proud smile. “It's a Basilisk. Not the best creature to invite to a dinner party, by the way. However, they can be fun to have around if you have the right occasion.”

“I think I might have heard of them.” Fluttershy nodded, turning back to try and find the Basilisk's disappearing form again. “Aren't they a kind of Cockatrice?”

“Not really, but they get mixed up from time to time by ponies who don't know better.” Discord patted her on the head, but she didn't seem to take offence.

“So cut to the chase; is it dangerous?” Applejack interrupted, pulling back from the tunnel's mouth.

“Only if you're too slow or stupid to get away.” Discord said brightly. “Or you challenge them to a staring contest. They have a habit of turning things into stone by looking at them.” His ears flattened as he mumbled to himself. “Sounds like somepony else we're all acquainted with, come to think of it.”

“So it's probably not a good idea ta be stuck in a tunnel with it.” Applejack nodded as she turned to walk back the way they'd come. “We better go tell the others. I don't like the idea of that thing stumblin' in on us by accident.”

“It probably did come in to avoid the storm though.” Fluttershy said as she followed, her earlier fear forgotten for the moment.

“Oh yes! The storm.” Discord added gleefully. “Now, I wonder how Rainbow Dash is going to react at hearing we'll be running through the rain again.”

“Between that or turnin' to stone, I think she'll understand.”

“Are you nuts?!” Rainbow snapped when Applejack had finished. “Go out there?! Didn't you hear me the last fifty times I told you it's a really bad idea?!”

“Bravo with the reaction Rainbow Dash. Well done.” Discord said somewhere in the background with mild applause.

“Look Rainbow Dash; I know it's bad out there-”

Really bad out there.” Rainbow emphasised.

“Ok, really bad out there, but if we wait for it ta clear up and have that Basiliwhatsit find us, we ain't gonna be in any better a situation.” Applejack argued.

“And what if it doesn't find us?” Rainbow argued back, “What if it just keeps walking and gets lost somewhere?”

“I'm pretty sure it knows we're in here with it.” Fluttershy answered her nervously. “I don't think it knows where we are, but it looked like it was trying to find us.”

“And the three of you were standing around right behind it and it didn't!” Rainbow Dash turned to her instead. “It doesn't sound like it's that smart if you ask me. And even if it is smarter than it sounds, I'd still take my chances with it than try and travel in that storm!”

“What do you think, Twilight?” Applejack said, turning to her.

Twilight looked back and forth between the group as they turned to hear her answer. She frowned to herself for a moment, weighing the options.

“Rainbow Dash, how long do you think that storm's gonna last?” She asked eventually.

“I'm not really sure,” Rainbow said, pawing restlessly at a rock, “Normally the weather team and I would set aside a whole night for a big project like this, or even into the next morning if it's been dry enough. I can't really tell with a wild storm, but I don't think it's gonna clear up before tomorrow, at least.”

“Which is still a few hours away.” Twilight finished, mostly to herself.

“If it could hear us while we were sleeping, I don't think it will take that thing long to find us if it has a few hours to look.” Rarity said, looking considerably paranoid.

“It'll probably turn around and start looking this way when it can't find us the way it was going.” Fluttershy agreed.

“And I'm telling you if we go in that storm we'd be making the biggest mistake of our lives!” Rainbow stomped a hoof.

Twilight bit her lip as she tried to think. “No going outside... and we can't stay here....”

“Ooh! Hey! I just had an idea!” Pinkie interrupted, putting herself at the center of attention. “Why don't we put the monster outside?”

“Come again?” Applejack gave her a flat look.

“Aw, come on! It's not that hard!” Pinkie waved her forelegs at her. “We need to stay in here, but we can't do that if the monster's in here with us! So we need to get him out of here!”

“How're we suppose to do that?” Rainbow Frowned.

“Hey, I can't come up with everything!” Pinkie shrugged. “Although if I could I probably wouldn't get as many surprises and that's no fun.”

“Would that be possible?” Rarity asked, eager for any solution that got her away from the Basilisk. “How are we suppose to get it outside?”

“With bait.” Applejack said, a grin forming on her face.

Rainbow Dash gave a dry laugh but was ignored.

“When Big Mac and I are havin' trouble with the pigs, we use bait to get 'em out of the pen. Then when we get 'em out, we close the gate behind 'em.” Applejack said, turning to Twilight for support.

“And how do we 'close the pen' exactly?” Rarity asked. “I've only seen one entrance to this place and we can't close that or we'd trap ourselves.”

“We can trap it in one of the round rooms.” Applejack said without missing a beat. “We passed a bunch of 'em when we tailed that thing. If we can get it inside one and cave in its entrance we'll have it trapped!”

“Cave its entrance? And bury ourselves?!” Rarity yelped.

“Nah, we'll find a way to keep it under control.... somehow.” Applejack said finally losing her strain of confidence.

“If we crack the room's entranceway beforehand we should be able to keep the cave-in controlled enough.” Twilight said.

“And you have to have something that can crack stone.” Rarity pointed out. “I'm afraid my horn is still being uncooperative, Twilight.”

“I was thinking we'd ask our babysitter for help.” Twilight said, nodding her head in Discord's direction.

“And what makes you think I'd have any better luck?” Discord said, curiosity all over his face.

“You're probably the strongest one here,” Twilight answered, “Both in magic and in brawn. If we work together with your help, we might just pull this off.”

“I'm guessing this is one of your 'Power of Friendship' gambles then?” He gave a shrug. “Fine. Whatever gets me back to sleep fastest I suppose.”

“Twilight...” Fluttershy said with clear hesitation. “Not that I don't think this is a good plan but... uhm... how... what are we going to use as bait... if you don't mind me asking?”

“C'mon Fluttershy, that's the obvious part!” Rainbow Dash said, already stretching her wings.

“Oh.” Fluttershy said sheepishly.

It took longer than expected, but once Discord got his powers to crack the stones Twilight had mapped out, they were ready to put the plan into action. Applejack and Discord were given 'stone smashing duty' and hid themselves close to the crippled entrance. The idea was that a first pony would catch the Basilisk's attention and get it to chase them. They'd keep running until they reached the next pony who would then take over as bait. That way they could avoid running out of breath and getting caught or making eye-contact.

“Remember, don't look back once it's chasing you,” Twilight warned them yet again. “If it looks you in the eye it'll turn you to stone, and I don't have enough magic to help if that happens. And in this darkness I don't think Fluttershy staring it down's gonna have much of an effect.”

They all nodded before taking their positions. Rainbow Dash volunteered to be up first, saying she could go the longest distance before getting tired. The last pony would be Rarity. She had the shortest distance to run but she was the one who'd have to lead the basilisk into the trap. If everything went according to plan, Rainbow Dash would've caught up to the front by then and be able to grab her and fly them both out before Applejack and Discord collapsed the entrance.

With everypony in place, Rainbow Dash marched down the tunnel Applejack and the others had seen the basilisk go. She could still hear it thumping in the near distance. She didn't know what a basilisk looked like, but she was betting it was ugly. It didn't matter though. She'd rather face something that could turn her into a statue than a wild storm. A storm that wasn't suppose to exist. One that should've been impossible to form if Canterlot's weather team had been keeping things in check. She didn't doubt them or their word, but that didn't change the fact that outside the hive it was pouring down. Violent and uncontrolled. She'd faced stray storms from the Everfree forest before, but none this big, and never on her own. But monsters? Monsters she could handle. Flying and speed she could handle. Everypony staying inside and out of the storm she could handle. Even if there was something hunting them in the dark.

The footsteps grew louder and she slowed her march, getting ready to react to whatever was waiting for her. As she got closer to the sound, she could figure out the silhouette of the basilisk from the rest of the shadows. It was blocking the tunnel in front of her, its triangular head turned upwards at the ceiling as it listened. Presumably for her. Its profile was as ugly as she expected. Small, black eyes scanned the roof of the passage, its beaked mouth twisted in a snarl. Rainbow gave her wings a warm-up flap before taking a deep breath and yelling at it as loud as she could.

“Hey you mangy lizard! You looking for me?! 'Cause you sure are LOUSY at it!”

As soon as the words left her mouth she spun around and took wing, rocketing back the way she'd come. Behind her she heard the animal let out a sound like a tortured violin before thundering after her. She willed herself to keep her eyes to the front, scanning the floor ahead of her for the splash of colour that was Pinkie Pie. She strained her ears, making sure she wasn't outflying the monster who continued to scream angrily at her.

“Over here! Over here!” Pinkie's voice echoed from somewhere before Rainbow Dash noticed the pink pony waving at her energetically.

Taking her cue, Rainbow dive-bombed the spot where Pinkie was waiting and flattened herself behind a rock. Pinkie shot her a grin before turning back to the monster and bouncing in place, waving as many of her legs, forelegs and tail as she could to make sure she had its attention.

“Hey you big meanie! Bet you can't catch me!” She called at it, jumping in place before turning and running down the tunnel.

The basilisk didn't seem concerned about whether the pony in front of him was still the same one he'd been chasing or not and crashed onward past Rainbow's hiding place. As its echoes bounced back to her, Rainbow looked up to make sure it'd kept going before she jumped to her hooves and ran after it.

Pinkie led the monster up the tunnel, coaxing and calling at it. When she passed Twilight she half buried herself in the ground as the alicorn took over. Fluttershy took the lead next, relying on her hooves more than her wings. Finally, they reached the last change-over point where Rarity was waiting.

Fluttershy didn't even need to worry about hiding as Rarity let out an eardrum bursting shriek as soon as she saw the dark mass of horror stampeding down the tunnel towards her. She galloped at full speed towards the trapped room, screaming bloody murder the entire way. The basilisk's own yells of fury almost matched her pitch. Its gait had become sloppy as its stamina was running out. Rarity could hear the haggard panting in between its enraged hisses and scream-like roars that felt like it made the walls shake. Rarity was convinced that she had never in her life wished harder for her magic to work so she could wink herself into the deepest, darkest hiding spot she could imagine.

Her fear had propelled her faster than any concious effort could, so that within minutes the trapped room appeared ahead of her. Doubling her efforts she shot towards it, sprinting through the archway and skidding to a stop in the middle of it. She turned, her gaze scanning the entrance's roof, looking for the cyan figure of Rainbow Dash. The basilisk stumbled clumsily through the arch before it started closing in on her. Its beaked mouth unhinged as it let out another violin screech.

Rarity's eyes dropped to focus on the monster as it barreled down on her for only an instant before she squeezed them shut, frozen in place with no idea what she should do.

“Rainbow Dash where are you?!” She screamed.

“Rainbow's late!” Applejack said from her spot at the room's mouth. “We gotta get her outta there!”

“No!” Fluttershy called as she galloped towards them. “I've got wings! You knock down the door!”

Before either Applejack or Discord could get a single word out she'd already ran past them. The basilisk flattened itself, ready to lunge as Fluttershy leapt over it with and grabbed Rarity around the middle. The unicorn let out a panicked cry as Fluttershy dragged them both into the air. The monster threw itself forward mere inches underneath them.

“You're too heavy Rarity! You have to run!” Fluttershy said as she dropped her to the ground behind the basilisk which was trying to relocate its prey.

Rarity stumbled but only for a second before she went back into her run, her expression choked with fear. Fluttershy flapped furiously above her as the monster screamed, storming after them.

“C'mon ponies! Move it!” Applejack yelled, her haunches shivering with tension as she stood ready to buck the damaged wall with everything she had.

Fluttershy baulked at the sight of Rarity putting more and more distance between the two of them. She buzzed her wings, trying to regain her own speed as the monster's breath felt close against her flank. She shuddered, willing her wings to beat faster. But she'd never been a strong flier. She pushed harder, giving a small cry of exertion, refusing to let her weak wings be the end of her.

The small noise from the pegasus seemed to triggered something in the air. Applejack watched in horror as her partner on the other side of the entrance left his post and leapt into the room, leaving her alone to cause the cave-in with strength she didn't have.

Discord torpedoed forward, paw and claw outstretched, wings plastered on his back for speed. He threw both arms around Fluttershy as she literally crashed into him. The basilisk slammed its beak shut a hair's breadth above them as Discord coiled himself and sprang back in the opposite direction for the entrance. Leaping clear over Rarity in the process.

Confusion rocked the unicorn as she watched them, unsure if Discord needed her to do something so he could grab her too. Further confusion hit her when he kept going and didn't even look back. Her hooves knotted themselves and she slammed into the ground, hitting it so hard her flank tipped her over and left her flat on her back. She threw her forelegs over her head in pain before snapping her attention back to the present. She lifted her head to gather her bearings and found her muzzle pressed against the snarling, beaked mouth. Her gaze travelled up along it before locking on the small, black, pebbles-for-eyes boring into her.

Author's Note:

Sorry for the delay guys. Some family stuff happened.

In case anyone's curious, I based the basilisk's look on the Jenny Haniver illustration by Aldrovandi from 1613. Many Jenny Hanivers of that time period were sold to museums as 'Basilisks'. Picture is here; Jenny Haniver

I also recently drew a picture of it as it would look with the ponies and closer to the show's style... kind of...
C-Puff's Basilisk Drawing

They are different from Cockatrices (who are also sometimes called basilisks) because a cockatrice is specifically a basilisk that is part chicken and part snake. Both turn living things to stone though. Also, I'm a nerd.

I will try and get the next chapter up sooner this time, but if I don't see you until January, Happy Life day!!

Please let me know of any typos, grammar or punctuation errors. I'm not very good at that kind of thing and have no BETA. Also, feedback and (gentle) crits are welcome.