• Published 11th Dec 2019
  • 9,085 Views, 645 Comments

The Bug in The Cave - Skijarama



After being left behind in the badlands after her expedition is attacked by a dangerous monster, Twilight Sparkle must survive a hostile, alien environment. Lucky for her, she has some help from one of the natives: A curious changeling named Thorax.

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The Weakling

The badlands was many different things. It was treacherous, it was lethal to the unprepared, it was wild, it was difficult to navigate from the ground, and the local wildlife was almost all exceedingly alien in nature when compared to the regions that surrounded it. It was a blazing, desolate place, hostile and borderline uninhabitable for many creatures.

It was made even worse by the torrential downpour that now soaked the land, and the occasional rumble or blast of thunder that rocked the heavens was a most uncommon sight in this nearly rainless corner of the world. Many of the smaller creatures that dwelled among the crags had long ago skittered into crevices and cracks to hide themselves away, not eager to be caught in the storm. Truly, it was a lonely place...

But for Thorax, who was looking down on it all from his place high in the sky, it was home. A very bleak, very depressing home, but nevertheless… home.

Thorax was a changeling, a vaguely pony-shaped creature. However, instead of colorful fur, there was a hard shell of black chitin. In place of a mane, there was merely a fin that ran down the back of the neck. Perfectly round, smooth holes were formed in his forelegs, giving him a broken, almost hollow appearance. Insect wings buzzed from an ocean-blue shell on his back, while a sharp-pointed horn poked up of his forehead. Glowing blue eyes that one might be forgiven for thinking were compound, looked down on the barren wilderness below, a solemn frown decorating his fanged muzzle.

Three more changelings accompanied this one, all of them flying ahead of him in a roughly arrow-shaped formation. The leader had a different coloration to his companions: Purple eyes instead of blue, a crimson shell instead of blue, and his chitin was a shade or so darker than the others.

The other two were identical to the runt in the back, save for their sturdier physique, larger bodies, and severe expressions as their eyes scoured the land below. They had a job to do out here, and they were going to do it.

The one on the left slowly began to drift back, drawing Thorax’s attention. A pit of unease formed in his gut, and he was already beginning to instinctively shrink away from the larger drone. After a few seconds, they were flying side by side, the larger drone glaring down at Thorax from the corner of his eye with contempt.

“Hey, Pharynx!” he suddenly shouted out to the leader. Pharynx’s ear twitched in response, but he otherwise made no indication that he had heard the call. Taking this as permission to continue, the drone turned his eyes fully to Thorax and scowled. “Wanna tell me again why we brought along this pathetic runt?”

Thorax, despite his best efforts, was not able to contain his whimpers. He cowered under the larger drone’s spite-filled eyes, unable to meet his gaze. “I… I didn’t ask to come, Scorpion,” he was eventually able to mumble out under his breath.

Scorpion scoffed and jabbed a hoof at Thorax as if his point had been proven. “For crying out loud, look at him! This whelp isn’t even able to stand up for himself against a drone with the same rank as him! He’s a sniveling coward, and he’s just holding us back-”

“Another word, Scorpion, and I’ll bite out your tongue and gift it to the queen as a tribute,” Pharynx suddenly barked, a sharp edge in his raspy voice that immediately made Scorpion shut up. Pharynx didn’t turn to look at them, his eyes focused on the badlands below. “Thorax is pathetic, yes. But he is my brother, and I plan to see him pull his weight. Now shut up and do your job.”

Scorpion winced, his ears folding back. He mumbled out a wordless apology before drifting forward to join his fellow drone a ways ahead of Thorax. He shot the runt a sneer as he went, making Thorax quiver and look away.

“Speaking of our job,” Mandible, the other drone, suddenly piped up. “Remind me: why are we out here in a rain and lightning storm? Strikes me this would be the perfect time to settle down and take a nap in the Hive.”

“Oh? And how do you figure that?” Pharynx asked in a flat tone, his eyes briefly darting back to Mandible impatiently.

Mandible shrugged. “Well, with all them Tatzlwurms breaking out from the ground, they practically handle everything we need to do for patrol for us, don’t they? When it rains, they come up and attack anything that moves. No intruders, that way.”

“No intruders,” Pharynx agreed with a slow nod before scowling. “And no food.”

“Eh?”

“Tatzlwurms are predators, Mandible,” Pharynx explained as if to a freshly-hatched grub. “And when it rains, they leave their burrows and are sent into a wild frenzy. They will kill anything they can get their tongues on, regardless of whether or not it’s their natural prey. And that means that a lot of the animals we prey on for love out here are being hunted en masse. So, until the rain clears and the Tatzlwurms return to their underground homes, we are out here to cull their numbers and protect our food. Make sense yet?”

Mandible opened his mouth to offer up some form of counter or rebuttal, but a short, quiet hiss from Pharynx was all it took to make it clear that he wasn’t expecting an answer. Mandible sighed and fell back a short distance with a nod. “Yes, sir.”

Thorax didn’t let it show on his face, but he couldn’t help but feel a small amount of satisfaction at seeing these two getting shot down like that. This kind of treatment was nothing new, of course, and it filled him with shame to know that, in a way, they were right. As far as changelings went, he was small, scrawny, weak, and above all, cowardly. Most drones were eager to do their jobs to help the Hive grow and flourish, but Thorax’s knees went weak at the mere thought of engaging in combat, or of lying to other types of creatures so he could harvest love for food.

And yet despite this, Pharynx dragged him along, forcing him to partake in these regular patrols. No matter how much he slowed them down, Pharynx insisted that he be a part of the process.

Thorax’s eyes tilted back down to the ground, his thoughts consuming him. He traced the crags and stones with a solemn frown, hoping that their patrol would get lucky and that they wouldn’t have to deal with any Tatzlwurms. Those things were big, nasty, and they made him feel more than a little uncomfortable. Tentacles in the mouth, there was just something wrong about that.

“Alright, we’re getting close to our next turn,” Pharynx suddenly called back to be heard over the downpour. He spun in the air so he was flying backward, allowing his piercing purple eyes to survey his team. “We turn west at that spike up ahead, then keep moving for another five miles. After that, we cut back hard to the south and return to the Hive. Any questions?”

Mandible and Scorpion gave quick statements of “No, Sir!” Thorax, on the other hoof, merely shook his head.

Pharynx’s eyes narrowed at the puny drone. “What was that, Thorax? I can’t hear you over this rain, and that fact that you didn’t say a word!”

Thorax let out a small, high-pitched yelp of alarm and quickly straightened his posture. “S-sorry, sir! No questions!” he replied, raising his voice to be heard.

“Pay attention next time,” Pharynx snarled before rotating back around and picking up the speed. “Let’s move in.”

Thorax sighed heavily, his morale plummeting from the treatment, but he was quick to shrug it off and carry on. This was nothing new for him. In fact, all things considered, this was a pretty tame day compared to what he often dealt with back within the ever-churning walls of the Hive.

“Tough love… that’s just how things work in my family, I guess,” he thought to himself, his eyes drifting down again. He was silent for a moment, his mind beginning to lose itself in thought when movement caught his attention. Curious, he turned to look, and his eyes widened when he spotted a Tatzlwurm slithering angrily over a collection of low-walled trenches, having just emerged from a practical forest of stone spikes.

Thorax lifted several feet in the air to put some distance between him and the enraged worm before he shouted over to Pharynx. “T-T-Tatzlwurm spotted!” He pointed to it when the rest of the team stopped and looked back at him. “Down there, in the trenches! It looks like it’s looking for something!”

All eyes followed his hoof, and a serious frown marred Pharynx’s face. “Alright. Good spot, brother,” he called before his horn ignited with acid-green flames. “Let’s go do our jobs! Put that worm back in the dirt!”

Mandible and Scorpion called out their agreement with the order, their own horns flaring with magic. With a collective war cry, the trio of changelings dive-bombed for the Tatzlwurm, eager to go into battle.

It was then that Thorax realized he had to join them, and any excitement he felt at having contributed was summarily executed. He stared down, slack-jawed, at the Tatzlwurm, unable to make himself move. “Oh, boy…”

The first blasts of magic exploded across the back of the Tatzlwurm’s head, eliciting a furious roar from its mouth. It reared up, its face splitting open and its tongues lashing out erratically amid a combined splash of saliva and rainwater. Thorax felt a small churn of disgust in his stomach when he saw that a small part of the Tatzlwurm’s inner mouth was missing as if blown away by a small, controlled explosion. “Has another group already fought this one?”

Thorax didn’t get a chance to get a better look before the hole fell out of sight. The Tatzlwurm reached out with its tentacles as Pharynx was making an arcing pass to fire at it from the side. With an otherworldly shriek, it lunged and coiled its tongues around Pharynx in a tight grip, drawing an alarmed gasp out of him.

Thorax’s eyes widened, adrenaline pumping through his veins. “Brother!” he shouted, all previous reservations about going into battle overwhelmed by a surge of protective instincts. Igniting his own horn with magic, he flew down as fast as he could, trying to decide on a course of action. He had the weakest magic out of all of the drones on this team, so rescuing Pharynx by blasting the tongues wasn’t very likely to work. He was physically weak, so prying him away by hoof was sure to end in both of them getting chomped.

But there was one thing Thorax could do with at least a degree of competence, one skill he had managed to get some experience with.

Grunting with effort, Thorax’s entire body was consumed in a rush of green flames. They expanded out rapidly before parting like a curtain, revealing a praying mantis easily ten feet tall free falling through the air. It lifted one of its blades and brought it down on the tongues with all of its might, biting into the slippery, pliant flesh with a sickening squelch.

He didn’t cut through the tongues, but he was at least able to cause enough damage to make the Tatzlwurm release Pharynx and flail back with a howl of pain. It was soon distracted by the continued bombardment from Mandible and Scorpion, giving Thorax the window he needed to fly to his brother.

Switching back to his base form, Thorax reached out and grabbed his elder brother by the shoulders to keep him steady in the air. “Pharynx!” he said, his eyes wandering over the other drone’s body and searching for any signs of damage. “You’re not hurt, are you?!”

“I’m fine,” Pharynx dismissed while shrugging off his hooves. “Focus on the- LOOK OUT!”

Thorax shouted in surprise when Pharynx suddenly shoved him away. The reason why became clear when the maw of the Tatzlwurm snapped shut where they had both been mere seconds earlier. Thorax barely had time to shiver at the realization of how close he had been to getting eaten when the worm’s head lurched to one side and slammed into him hard enough to drive the breath from his lungs.

“THORAX!” Pharynx’s voice was just audible through the rain and the wind as Thorax was sent spiraling to the ground below, having lost all control of his flight. Dazed and confused by the world spinning wildly around him, he was only just able to spread his wings and slow down his fall enough to not be seriously damaging.

It still hurt like crazy, though.

He hit the ground hard, tumbling into a series of painful rolls before falling around ten feet down to land at the bottom of the trench. Groaning, he rolled slowly onto his belly and pushed himself back into a standing position.

A sudden crash right over his head made Thorax scream and bolt into a mad sprint down the length of the trench, his eyes screwing shut. He could still feel the tremors in the earth from the struggle and hear the roars of the Tatzlwurm as it withstood the continued assault of the rest of the team.


Around fifteen minutes later, Thorax staggered out of the trench. He collapsed to the ground in a gasping, shaking heap. Slowly, very slowly, his breath began to calm down, and he was able to wrestle his breathing under control. “That,” he thought as he took in a deep breath. “Was terrifying.”

After a minute or so of catching his breath, he opened his eyes and looked around. The rain had let up a couple of minutes ago, and the first red glows of the sunset were peaking through the clouds and lending an eerily-crimson glow to the world. He was on the side of a slope that gradually ascended to hug the base of a large, red mesa. A small cave was in the side of it, drawing his attention.

Grunting with strain, Thorax figured he could take shelter in there until his squad came to find him. He was already in enough trouble as it was for running away like that, he realized with some dread, he didn’t want to add to it by being out in the open.

Dragging his hooves, Thorax pulled himself to the mouth of the cave when his eyes noticed something odd in the sand. Looking down, he realized that prints were leading up from another side of the slope, and disappearing into the cave he was now walking into. Hoofprints. Fresh ones, at that.

Moving more carefully, Thorax slipped into the cave and opened his mouth to call out to whatever changeling was already in here. However, his words died in his throat when he rounded the corner at the back and came face-to-face with something he had never seen before.

It was a changeling - or, well, it had the general shape of one. A female, to be precise. But instead of chitin, there was mud-caked lavender fur. There were no holes in her legs, there was a distinct lack of wings buzzing at her sides, and her eyes were not glowing like Thorax’s were. Instead, they simply stared back at him in confused shock.

“...Uh,” Thorax began uselessly.

The mystery creature in front of him screamed.