• Published 11th Sep 2021
  • 1,812 Views, 122 Comments

Dark - LilithGalac

What happens when a parasitic species, known for adapting to the traits of its host, finds itself attached to a magical pastel friendship horse?

  • ...

Patient Zero

Dark. Quiet. Undisturbed. Home.

Deep beneath the touch of the sun, a cavern lies, unseen, unheard of. Silent. For eons it has laid here… waiting. Impulses, instincts, wordless needs shared between the clutch of creatures waiting within it, waiting for their chance.

Quiet. Wait. Wait. Quiet. Empty.

The occasional gentle tremble disturbs the cavern ever so slightly. The troubles of a people unknown, no doubt; their squabbles, their wars. Banishments, betrayals, betrothals, all going on with little knowledge of what lies below their colourful hooves.

Hive. Queen. Serve. Feed.

Dust settles gently atop a leathery surface. There’s movement nearby; not the usual gentle tremor, but a more… sudden, abrupt crack.

Feed. Food. Food. Prey. Prey. Wait. Closer. Closer.

Rock drops from the ceiling; one of the clutch does not survive, the squeal of pain alerting the intruder to the presence of the things beneath them. Their words are distant, their meanings not known. The things here have no need for words.

“There’s something down here! Spelunker’s log, uh… seven hundred and thirty two… I appear to have found the vents to power my new laboratory, but… it seems there’s something else here! I can’t quite make it out! I’m going to approach closer.”

Food. Food. Closer. Wait. Wait. Closer. Closer!

The gentle sound of hoofsteps touch the floor of the cave. The interloper, a four-legged host, bends to inspect the crushed hatchling.
“Spelunker’s log seven hundred and thirty three. There appears to be… some sort of… arachnid creature? It’s hard to tell, I… I appear to have injured it. Oh, oh dear.” The host stops.

Closer. Closer. Feed. Hungry. Hungry! Hungry! Closer!

The host sighs, the tone in its words lost on the listeners, to whom sadness is unknown.
“I, I… There’s nothing I can do for the creature. However, it seems…” The host hesitates, slowly stepping around in a small circle, looking at the clutch surrounding it. Eggs, hundreds of them, stretching throughout the utterly gigantic cavern.

“There’s… just so many of them. What… are these? No geological scans of Ponyville have ever, ever shown a cavern this large down here! Um… closing log.” The host slowly wanders throughout the clutch. Some are grey, collapsed in on themselves; not all have survived. But one sits atop a small outcropping, illuminated by the hole in the ceiling. The host slowly approaches.

Meaning. Prey. Prey. Food. Food. Hungry. Hungry! Hungry!

A sickening ripple of movement starts at the base of the thing; a faintly ovoid shape, stuck to the ground by the mucus of a mother long gone, warmed by thermal vents below it; kept alive by the very planet it is to one day see as prey.

Soon. Soon. Prey. Closer! Closer! Closer!

“What… in the name of… Celestia…?” The host murmurs. She leans close, closer, head hovering just above the cross-shaped pattern atop the thing.

The movement continues up, a sickening bulge of mtion reaching the tip of itself; four flaps slowly curl outwards, finally, at last… Exposing the creature within.

Legs uncurl. A tail whips. The host’s eyes widen, too late; there’s a scream, muffled and gurgled as a tube forces itself into the host’s throat. A tail whips around its neck, long, skeletal legs wrap around its head, like a horrid, possessive hug. Satisfied, the thing settles, as the host it is attached to slumps, the light failing as it collapses, unconscious, quickly sedated.

Finally. Finally. Meaning. Serve. Hive. Serve… Que e n . . . S e r . . .

The creature, wrapped around the face of an unconscious host, satisfying its one purpose in life, dies there, as satisfied as a creature as simple as it can be.

Warmth. A gentle, rhythmic heartbeat. A new life slowly begins to bloom, implanted within another. Curled up tightly, the creature knows it must wait. It does not know why; safety is a concept it cannot understand, but it simply knows. When it is time, when it is ready, it shall emerge.

Warm. Warm. Safe. Grow.

There is a jolt of movement once more. The lungs the creature rests against fill with oxygen as its host intakes air. It sits up, panicking. The creature cares little. It must simply wait. Nestled beneath the ribcage of its host, it knows it is safe.

“S-spelunkers… Spe… Spelunkers…”

The host is shaking.

Panic. Fear. Disharmony.

The creature does not know how it knows these concepts. But it is unimportant. The creature must wait, and grow. The host continues.
“I… M… My name is-is… I…”

She cuts herself off.

Scared. Host is scared.

The creature stirs within its host. That is not a thought it should care to think.

“W… The… There’s… something inside me… I…”

She cannot finish her sentence. The creature dimly feels the host standing, moving quickly. The creature cannot understand her words, yet feels… which is concerning. And the creature being concerned is, in itself, concerning.

Serve. Hive. No thought. No want. No care. It chides itself- an act for which it, once again, chides itself. The creature should not be able to think this. Something is not right. Too busy in its confusion and confusion over its confusion that it doesn’t realise as the host begins breathing much fresher air, nor does it notice the host preparing something deep within it.

Wrong wrong wrong. No care. No care. No thought. Stop thought. Stop think. No think! Stop! Stop!

There is a sickening, burning lurch, and the creature feels wrong. It has moved, far too fast, far too far. The creature is disturbed, moving and slithering more. It feels its host shudder in panic.

“I… I…”

“What is wrong, Twilight Sparkle?” Another voice.

Another host…? No, no hurt. No, hurt! No! Stop think!

The creature is well and truly disturbed now, slithering and writhing. It is not strong enough to burst free yet, but its host is fully aware of it by now.

“Prep the lab! F-full quarantine, now! I… I need to… I…”

“Silence, I shall prepare it at once!”

More movement. The creature cannot understand the thoughts its mind was not designed to think. Panic, confusion; emotions alien to a creature already alien to those around it. It does not register movement, nor the sounds and panicked explanations, spiralling ever deeper into confused, panicked thought for a creature not supposed to feel confusion.

Stop! Stop! Stop! No! Thinking bad! Thinking bad! Stop at once!

But it cannot stop, nor can it notice another build up of energy. There is another, violent lurch, and then… Light, agonisingly bright, painful lights. The creature, fully exposed, writhes and screams, baring its teeth. It thrashes and bashes against its cage; there is a flash of pain as its own tail whips it, leaving a wicked scar on its face.

Pain! Pain! Light! Too early! Too early! Cold, unsafe! Wrong, wrong! Help! Help! Mother! Queen!

The creature, long and snakelike, yet not fully grown, does not know what to do. It bashes and screeches, writhes and yells, using a mouth ill equipped for speech to try and vocalise its confusion. It cannot see much beyond the painful light, but eventually, it slows, and stops. It is… tired. No help is coming. It has no sisters to call to. No mother to hear it.

It does not know how long it has been. But it can feel its body changing, growing. Already, painful spikes of bone are pushing against its underside, trying to grow into legs. It knows this, but does not question how it knows this.

It does, however, question itself.

Think? Why think? No think. Prey think. Not prey. Prey… scared…

Its words are still simple, its thoughts still developing. Its host is nowhere to be seen; slowly, the creature rolls onto its belly, finding its legs have started to grow in. Small, and weak, but just barely able to hold its weight, the creature stands, an eyeless face scanning its cage. It can see, it knows this, but it does not question how.

It is in a cage with walls made of see-through material, and a thick, metal ceiling. Solid and firm, yet letting the agonising light in. It cannot stand it. The creature slowly walks toward the glass, legs slowly strengthening beneath it, body slowly growing. It is tired. It does not know why. It should not be tired.

Hungry… Hungry… But… tired… Tired…

It presses against the wall of the cage, slowly slinking toward the ceiling, clinging to the surface. It is little respite, but whatever it can take, it shall. It tucks in close to itself, attempting to rest.

… Scared.

The creature awakens from a sleep it should not know, and feels… watched. Quickly, it lowers itself to the bottom of its cage, hissing lowly at the painful light. It is much bigger now, probably the size of its host. The cage is still spacious enough for it to stand, and stretch out a hoof from end to end. The glass walls hide nothing.

It is so bright…

However, its gaze soon settle on a pair of watchers. Two… prey…?

They are quadrupedal. One is lavender, with a horn sticking through its multicoloured hair. She wears a pair of circular lenses over her eyes, and a long, flowing white coat, sterile and clean. The creature recognises the… the… pony…?

It does not know how it knows this word, but it knows this word is correct. This pony is the creature’s host. It can feel it, it knows, deep down. Yet the pony is alive. How…

Next to her is a much larger, thinner pony… Yet it is not quite a pony. Tall, looming, buglike, with gaps in her legs and a long, thin mane covering half of her face. This one also has a horn; and a pair of wings, as well, tucked by its sides.

The two are watching the creature closely. The lavender one watches with fascination, the other, suspicion.
“Um… hello.” The lavender one says, carefully. The creature flinches slightly; it is not supposed to understand these words. Yet it does. Hearing it so… bluntly, is strange. The creature’s sharp tail flicks impatiently behind it as it steps forward.

“I… I think she can understand me!” The lavender one gasps. She… She…? Gender is a concept that makes the creature’s head spin. Yet She simply feels… correct.

“I… Hello! Um… You don’t have a name, by any chance, do you?” She asks. Name… That is a particularly strange one. The creature, despite not knowing the meaning of the gesture, shakes its head. Instinctively, it simply knows to shake one’s head is to show disagreement, or a negative. The concepts make the creature’s mind hurt as it becomes aware of more and more.

The lavender one’s eyes widen near-to-beyond their limits, a giddy, gleeful giggle escaping her.
“Chryssie, do you know what this means?! I’ve discovered a new species! A sapient, intelligent species! All birthed from eggs, and… And their lifecycle appears to be parasitic, growing within the host, then…” She freezes, and pats her chest, looking down.
“... Ah, I don’t think her removal in that particular fashion was… expected.” She looks at the creature again.

“You don’t have a name… Hmm… What about Scratch?” She smiles, patting her cheek.
“Because, erm… You scratched yourself, when I put you in there.” She says. The creature mimics her gesture, raising a hoof to its cheek, letting out a slightly pained hiss as it touches the scar there, still tender. The creature frowns slightly, tilting her head.
“I hope that’s okay. Can I call you Scratch?” She asked.

The creature considers this. It lowers its head, considering things its species have never considered once in their entire lifetime. Gender, language… a name… The creature looks up, looking into the eyes of the lavender one… and nods.

The lavender one bounces excitedly.
“Yes! It wasn’t a fluke!” The lavender one quickly skitters away to a workbench, horn alighting with magic as she lifts a book over, quickly beginning to write hurried notes within. The other pony slowly approaches the cage, leaning down to stare closely at Scratch.
“... My kind have never even heard of a creature such as you, yet you bear… similarities to us. Intriguing.” She murmurs.
“I am Chrysalis. That, is Twilight Sparkle.” She gestures to the lavender one.
“Can you speak?” She asks.

Scratch pauses, considering this. She has given up questioning the utterly alien experiences bombarding her, beginning to accept that this is very much not going to plan. As much of a plan as millenia of instinct can form, anyway.

She opens her mouth, feeling the appendage within burst forth; a second, smaller mouth, covered in wicked teeth and drooling spittle. The internal mouth simply hisses before receding, as Scratch closes her mouth.
“... Hmm… I see.” Chrysalis murmurs, walking over to write notes of her own as Twilight returns, sitting close to the glass.
“This is just… incredible. I… I’m sorry for the conditions you’re in right now. We just…” She sighs lightly, before continuing.
“We need to be sure that you’re safe to let out. I know that’s… unfair, but we’ve had some dangerous outbreaks of unknown pathogens and curses in the past, so we need to take every precaution.” She places a hoof against the glass, staring closely at Scratch. Scratch looks down, and carefully mimics Twilight’s posture, sitting down and placing a hoof against hers.

Twilight, barely containing her glee, bites her lip before continuing once more.
“Keeping a sapient creature locked up is wrong, and we’ll let you out soon. I just need to ask you some questions, alright?” She asked. The creature stares at Twilight, before carefully nodding again.

“Okay… Is your species hostile to ponies?” She asks. Scratch simply nods; while this entire thing may be unexpected, their initial goal was domination, feeding, preying. She cannot deny that. Twilight winces.
“... Are you hostile to me?

Scratch hesitates this time. She feels she should nod, but… Something deep within her, an odd warmth, a comfortable feeling, causes her to shake her head. Twilight raises an eyebrow, tilting her head to the side.
“Do you know why?”

Scratch shakes her head once more.

Twilight taps her chin.
“Hmm… The creature that… erm… infected me was like an arachnid. The eggs were almost like leathery bird eggs. Or bug eggs. Erm, no offense, Chryssie.” Twilight giggles at the huff from the other pony. Scratch remains stationary, watching Twilight closely.
“... Despite that, you are quadrupedal. Well, you started more snakelike. Then grew legs, and now…” She taps her chin for a moment, deep in thought, before suddenly looking up.
“Are… you supposed to look like this?” She asks. Her horn glows, and a mirror appears next to her, allowing Scratch to properly see herself.

Scratch is… quadrupedal, this much she was, at least, aware of. She has a black, chitinous body, with a long, extended head crest. A sharp spike of bone and chitin sticks out of her forehead; a horn, much like Twilight’s. Lavender energy sacs cling to the underside of her crest, and thin vents of lavender light run along the top of it. She has chitinous shoulder extensions, and her belly is ridged with more lavender sacs. Her body is slender, and long, with a thick tail curled behind her.

Scratch opens her mouth, looking at her sharp teeth and second, smaller mouth. A wicked scar on her left cheek reminds her of her name. Scratch… Am Scratch. I… I am Scratch.

She realises Twilight has asked a question, and gives a nervous shrug. She does not know what her species is meant to look like. Twilight lets out a soft ‘hrm’.

“What if your species are infiltrators? Or well… Creatures designed to adapt? Is that true? Do your kind adapt to their hosts?” She asks. Scratch doesn’t even need to think; deep, instinctual truths tell her this is so. Her kind are meant to hunt, to devour, to breed, and to do that they must be ready for whatever planet they are seeded onto. She nods.

Twilight is considerably more excited now, and she pats her chest.
“I’ve got it. If you adapt by taking on aspects of your hosts… You must have picked up Friendship! The magic of Friendship has saved the world so many times, and it seems it’s done so again, just… Not in the way I would have expected. This is… extraordinary.”

Scratch simply watches her. The words have meaning, she knows this. But at the same time… Friendship? Magic? Such terms are… unusual. She takes her hoof away from the glass, and rests it on her chest. There is such... warmth there. A comforting weight, resting in a cavity not designed to house… Friendship. Scratch looks down at herself.

The feeling wells up inside her as she looks back up at Twilight. Friendship…

She can feel a tingle of cool energy flowing up and down her body, the spines on her tail quivering with energy. Friendship…?

As she looks into Twilight’s eyes, the mare’s face suddenly turns to shock; Scratch does not know why until there is a sudden and aggressive lurch.

Is this friendship?! Scratch questions.

There is a bright flash, a dizzying headache, and Scratch is suddenly on an unfamiliar floor. It is soft. Car… pet…? She wonders.

She can hear yelling from below, panicked sounds of confusion. There’s clattering and clanking, and a door behind Scratch swings open.

“Oh, thank Celestia, you’re okay!”

A hoof comes to rest on Scratch’s head. She flinches, and the hoof recedes, as Scratch sits up, looking around. She freezes; she’s out of her cage. Twilight is standing over her, concern written on her face.

Hunger… Prey… Purpose…

Scratch stares at the pony. She can feel the heartbeat, see the warmth of the flesh. She… She…

Sways, and collapses again, leg kicking weakly. She cannot live up to her purpose. She cannot hunt. Scratch is flawed. Purposeless. Better off dead.

She spirals, wishing to simply stop living; her species is meant for feeding, eating, hunting, preying. Yet she cannot take prey served to her. What is… feeling… sadness?

She freezes as the hoof is placed on her crest again.

“She… she teleported…” Twilight whispers, eyes wide.

“This is… W-wait, she… Chryssie, help me get her into bed, she’s… I don’t know, but she needs rest after that!” Twilight calls. Chrysalis lumbers over, looming down low. Scratch feels herself being lifted. Carried. Her mind scatters, her thoughts unfocused. She feels her consciousness drifting. As Scratch is suddenly surrounded by softness and warmth, her mind shuts off entirely, sleep taking the sleepless creature. The last thing she sees, leant over her, is the face of Twilight, drawn with concern. A hoof touches her head, and she hears the mare’s voice.

“Please be okay, Scratch.”