• Published 26th Jun 2016
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Shellstrings - shortskirtsandexplosions

After freakish happenstance turns Lyra Heartstrings and Queen Chrysalis into a symbiotic being, they find themselves putting their superpowers to heroic use in an ever-changing Equestria.

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Serve and Protect

Canterlot – Downtown Courtyard – Twenty Minutes of Mindless Carnage Later

"Yeah! So... uhhhhhh..." Sharp Quill grimaced, backing into Agents Horizons and Haze as a cyclone of changelings swarmed in, shrieking louder and louder. There was no more glimpses of the surrounding palace structures through the swirling carapaces. "...anypony else regretting this half as friggin' much as I am?!"

"Hah!" Betsy impaled two changelings on her horn and bucked her armored weight into the attacking swarm. "What's to regret?! Raaaaaaugh!" She charged ahead, tossing exoskeletons left and right. "Come on in, friends! The water's fine! Hahaha!"

Haze grimaced. "What in the Hell does she drink every morning?" He fired his rifle into the swarm. ZAAP! Z-ZAAAP!

"Just keep fighting back!" Special Agents Horizons shouted, her back to an enormous fountain, a last resort. "We're doing well, Agents! Maintain the defense!"

"Rrrrrgh!" Sharp Quill viciously pecked a changeling, spilling green mist into the air. "If Horizons is feeling optimistic..." She wiped her metal beak clean before parrying another attack. "Mrmmmf... then it must be the end of the world!"

"Listen to your superiors!" Sugar Cane hollered, firing dual blasts of mana into the rampaging onslaught. "We've got the swarm's attention!" He panted, sweat dribbling off his wrinkled brow. "At this rate... I wouldn't be surprised if we summoned Chrysalis herself!"

"We'd be so lucky if the Treacherous One gave a damn for her 'children' after all these centuries of roasting in Tartarus," Sharp Quill spat. "Haze! To your right!"

The sarosian took aim. ZAP! "Got 'em." He tossed the empty gun away and reached for another fully loaded rifle from his pack. "Aaaaaaand..." ZAAAAP! "Got 'em."

"Do I have to spot every bug for you?!" Sharp Quill spat, warding off another drone.

"Nope." Haze managed a fanged smirk. "Only the easy ones."

"Grnnnngh..." Sharp Quill frowned—but was soon distracted by a distant scream.

Horizons heard it too. "Something's happening..." She craned her neck between firing blasts of magic from her horn. "...across the street."

"I see it!" Sweetie Drops gasped. Her eyes twitched to the sight of a dozen citizens being carted off. "Chief! Several families! They're being abducted! Just like the ones I saw before!"

"Stay in position!" Sugar Cane grumbled.

"But... but s-sir!" Sweetie Drops gnashed her teeth, firing in the direction of the foalnapping changelings. "They'll make off with the ponies if we don't—"

"If we break formation now, we'll be overrun!" Sugar Cane hollered as he slammed a lunging changeling's skull in with his rifle-butt. "Grnnngh... for the sake of all Canterlot—Equestria, even—we must keep the main Hive distracted!"

"You can't expect me to just let those families be torn apart!" Sweetie Drops yelped. "It's our chief function to protect the citizens of—"

Sugar Cane shouted: "Stay put! That's an order!" His nostrils flared. "I do not want you leaving my side, Sweetie Drops!"

The young mare flashed him a surprised look. "Chief... I-I—"

"Look!" Sharp Quill suddenly exclaimed, her voice strangely jubilant. "To the northwest!"

"Huh?" Horizons squinted through the buzzing bodies. "What exactly am I looking for, agent?"

"Rnnngh!" Sharp Quill smacked two offending changelings and flung a twitching body through the swarm, forcing a visible gap in the living cyclone. "There! See?! Above the palace rooftops!"

As the agents of S.M.I.L.E. Gazed northwest, they spotted a cluster of six colorful equine figures rushing across the ramparts of Canterlot. Soon, the black shells closed in, and they could see the figures no more.

"The Element Bearers..." Horizons murmured.

Haze bore a fanged smile. "Celestia's apprentice and her friends!" His leafy ears twitched. "They're off to wield the Elements of Harmony!"

Sweetie Drops' squeaked: "Chrysalis' swarm will be banished! I just know it!"

"Focus on the moment, agents!" Sugar Cane instructed in a gravelly voice. He fired more shots into the attacking onslaught. "If they're truly going to flank the enemy, then we must keep them occupied until—"

Just then, a horrendously loud roar tore its way through the changelings. Several minions flew skyward, making room for a battered rhinoceros' body to slide across the floor and tumble to a stop against the base of a fountain.

"Betsy!" Sweetie Drops gasped. She aimed her rifle skyward, firing pot-shots while side-strafing towards the collapsed agent. "Speak to us! Are you okay?!"

"Mrmmmff..." The rhino winced. Her vest hung on her bruised body in tatters. "Felt like an avalanche just gave birth to me inside a minefield... goddess damn..."

"Who did this to you?!" Sweetie Drops exclaimed. Her jaw clenched. "Was it Chrysalis?! Did we draw her out of hiding?!"

"I... only wish..." Betsy tried to sit up, only to collapse with shuddering muscles. "I... I'm so sorry, guys..." Her tiny eyes fluttered shut. "It... c-came out of nowhere. Tried... tried to stop it..."

"Tried to stop what, agent?" Sugar Cane asked.

In answer, the growling breath redoubled. The cyclone of changelings parted ways with panicked shrieks before scurrying into higher altitudes.

The members of the League collectively glanced towards the east edge of the courtyard. A bulbous shadow crossed their pale, gaping expressions.

Hovering several stories up, a three-ton behemoth on buzzing wings blocked out a swath of sunlight. As the agents' vision refocused, they made out striped bee-fur covering a thick thorax the size of a stagecoach. The stripes melded into black-and-white fuzz, like a panda's patchwork coat. Flexing massive biceps, the top half of a Tartarusian beast loomed ravenously above them, connected with an insectoid bottom half. The bear's compound eyes blurred red upon spotting the rest of the League, and drool dribbled from its razor sharp maw as—Schinnnng!—its abdomen brandished a serrated four-foot long stinger coated with venom.

Haze gulped. "Exactly how many rocket strikes did it take to bring this bucker down in Stalliongrad, again?"

Sweetie Drops trembled. "Don't make me remind you..."

"Uhm..." Sharp Quill gulped. "Chief?" She murmured aside. "What d-do we do now?"

Sugar Cane fearlessly glared up at the hovering monster. "So... I see that you remember us. You know..." He cocked his double-barreled manarifle and stepped forward, standing before Sweetie Drops. "...my old friends had many a curse to give you before they died. Would you like to hear them?" He frowned. "Come closer, and I'll be glad to share."

Sweetie Drops' eyes twitched.

"Grnghhhhh—HRAAAAAAAAUCKTT!" The Bugbear roared at the top of its lungs.

Sharp Quill sighed. "I was afraid he'd say something like that—"

SWOOOOOOOOOOOSH! The escaped convict of Tartarus sailed down into the courtyard, mercilessly knocking aside errant changelings in its attack.

Chief Agent Sugar Cane met the beast head-on, firing point-blank into its furry thorax. The Bugbear took the brunt of the blow and swept up the old stallion, smashing through the nearby fountain as the two went barreling across the Courtyard.

"Chief!" Sweetie Drops shrieked.

"Agents!" Horizons hollered, sweeping up loose debris and stone shards with her telekinesis. She galloped towards the Bugbear's flank. "Attack with me!"

"Go time!" Agent Haze sailed in on leather wings, firing his rifle at full burst. Z-Z-Z-Zap!

The combined assault of Haze's manabursts and Horizons' projectiles only angered the bear. With a roar, it lifted off of Sugar Cane, swiping at the rest of the League with an angry paw.

Sugar Cane took the opportunity to fire a shot that ricocheted off the Bug Bear's skull.

"RAAAAUGHHHCKKT!" Infuriated, the Bug Bear lifted up, stabbing downward with its massive stinger.

Sugar Cane gasped—only to be lifted up by Sharp Quill's talon as the griffon swept by. Cl-Clank! The Bug Bear's stinger struck pure granite, splashing sparks across the rubble.

"A million thanks, Agent Sharp Quill," Sugar Cane wheezed.

"Less thanking and more living!" Sharp Quill batted a few errant changelings aside as she took to the air. "Look out, Leaguers! He's doubling back—!"

"We see it!" Horizons hollered, erecting a crimson shield around herself and Haze as the beast lifted a massive granite bench and flung the thing. "Heads up!"

Fl-Flash! The bench bounced off the top of the shield and shattered into a cloud of stone shrapnel. The projectiles flew in the direction of Sweetie Drops.

"Hey sexiness!" Haze yelled. "It's coming your way!"

Sweetie Drops wasted no time with a reply. She turned tail, galloped up a wall, and backflipped just as the stone shards sailed into the building face behind her. Th-Th-Thud! In mid-air, she spun about and fired a grappling hook at the beast's head. Pow!

The Bugbear was too busy growling to notice the incoming tool. Thw-Thw-Thwpp! It wrapped three times around its neck, choking the beast.

Swoooosh! Sweetie Drops flew along the length of her cord until she perched on the Bugbear's chest. "Here..." She unclipped two grenades and shoved it into the bear's maw. "...try pooping these out, big fella." With a grunt, she backflipped in time to avoid—


—a tremendously fiery explosion. Sweetie Drops landed in a slide. "Hah!" She stood up in the rubble-strewn courtyard, panting. "And that, my friends, is how you skin a—" She grimaced as the smoke cleared. "Awwww shit it's still alive."

"RAAAAAAAUGH!" Bleeding from the gums, the hovering beast lumbered forward.

"And pissed!" Special Agent Haze flipped his backpack upside down, emptied it of all remaining manarifles, and then tossed them into the air above Agent Horizons. "Special Agent! The Orange Maneuver!"

"Everypony stand back!" Horizons gnashed her teeth, summoning a translucent field of red telekinesis above herself. She caught all six rifles in a hovering grip, cocked them, and fired every barrel simultaneously at the airborne abomination. ZAP!-ZAP!-ZAP!-ZAP!-ZAP!-ZAP!

"Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" The Bug Bear lifted its many arms, absorbing the multitudinous manablasts. Bloody welts and burn marks formed viciously across its hairy limbs, chest, and neck.

"That's it! That's it!" Haze hollered over the bedlam of unloading manashells. "Turn the bastard into the dumb sponge that he is!"

"Mrnnnghhh!" Horizons sweated with concentration, firing shot after shot while spent manacrystals littered the cobblestone around her. ZAP!-ZAP!-ZAP!-ZAP!

However, despite her best efforts, the burnt and bloodied beast kept lurching forward.

"It's n-not working!" Sweetie Drops gasped aside. "Special Agent Horizons! Move!"

"I... almost... g-got it dead!" Horizons sneered.

Soaring overhead with Sugar Cane, Sharp Quill sputtered, "The kid is right! Horizons, move your flank!"

"Stand back!" Sugar Cane hollered. "That's an order!"

"But it's actually bleeding!" Horizons spat. "Sir, when was the last time you recorded it—" Her eyes widened, reflecting the lunging fangs of an angry bear. "Ohhhhh buck me."

"Raaaaaaaaaauchkttt!" With a single paw-swipe, the Bug Bear knocked Special Agent Horizons to the floor and pinned her down. Haze tried pouncing on it from behind, but the beast knocked the sarosian away with a single flap of its wing. It then sank its jaws down into Horizons' left forelimb... dismembering the pony with a sickening, meaty POP!

"Aaaaaaaaa-haaaaaaaaaugh!" Horizons shrieked at the top of her lungs. Blood pooled beneath her quivering figure. "Celestiaaaaaa!"

"Horizons!" Sweetie Drops grimaced. She picked up a chunk of stone and rushed forward to flank the monster.

Sugar Cane saw it. He gasped. "No! Sweetie Drops, don't—"

Just then, something big, hulking, and gray rushed in and stabbed the Bug Bear from behind.

RAAAAUCHKTT!" The bloodied bear reared its fangs to the sky, howling in pain.

Sweetie Drops stumbled to a stop, panting in surprise.

"Grnnngh..." Secret Agenty Betsy stood with her horn embedded ten inches into the backside of the monster. "All of y'all bastards... on me!"

Sharp Quill dropped Sugar Cane. Together—along with Haze and Betsy—the three pushed the Bug Bear off of Horizons' twitching figure and shoved its thick weight the rest of the length across the courtyard—SMASSSH!—and into the fragile entrance to a flower shop.

"Grnnkkkt... Sweetie Drops..." Horizons sputtered, aiming her horn at the remnants of her limb and cauterizing the wound. "...your... r-remaining ordinancccce..."

Sweetie Drops was already pulling the pins off her last three grenades. "Everypony...!" She flung the explosives at full force through the shop window. "...get back!"

P-P-POWWWWW! The floral shop exploded in a burning plume of flame. The changelings—now distant—shrieked from high above where they circled the carnage.

Sharp Quill and Haze helped a dizzy Betsy up to her hooves. The three gazed into the smoldering remains of the shop while Sugar Cane squinted, getting a survey of the kill. At last, the elder gulped, shuffling about. "Well done, team. Quick... let's get Special Agent Horizons to an infirmary—"

SMASSSSSH! Soot-stained and growling, the burnt figure of the Bugbear emerged, paws swinging.

WHAMMM! One single punch sent Sharp Quill and Haze sailing violently across the courtyard. Betsy tried charging the creature, but the Bugbear effortlessly lifted the rhino's entire body and tossed her—shrieking—through a news stand across the street. Dripping with blood and ashes, the Bugbear pivoted about until its compound eyes reflected dozens of frightened Sweetie Drops.

"Oh Goddess..." the young agent whimpered. In a blink, she rushed over to Agent Horizons' side and picked up one of the many rifles. She found a half-charged manacrystal and crammed the thing into the weapon's chamber. Taking a defensive stance, she spun about, aiming the weapon high—


"Snrkkkk!" Sweetie Drops hissed as one of the Bug Bear's many claws grasped around her neck. She found herself lifted up—dangling in the monster's grip.

"Grrrrrrrrrrr..." Drooling, the beast raised another set of claws... aiming them squarely between Sweetie Drops' eyes.

A single tear trickled down the mare's cheek as her vision went blank...

...and her ears heard a growling voice, rising in tonality.

"Youuuuuuuuu—let go of her right now!" Chief Agent Sugar Cane leapt high, mounting the beast's backside. He then proceeded to hammer the butt of his rifle repeatedly into the back of the beast's skull.

Angered, the Bug Bear dropped Sweetie Drops to the floor besides Horizons. She winced, sitting up and gaping at the scene.

The Bug Bear took a swipe at the League's leader. But the elder stallion was too adrenalized. Sugar Cane easily jumped the monster's attack. He landed back on the bear's fuzzy chest—which was precisely when he chose to aim the manarifle's double-barrels into the beast's sternum and unload. BLAM! BLAM! BL-BLAM!

"Graaaaaaaaaulkkktt!" The Bug Bear let loose a blood-curdling shriek. Its wings flapped awkwardly while its limbs flailed. The insectoid freak flew back—with Sugar Cane in tow—ultimately smashing through a stagecoach full of packing supplies. Crasssh! A plume of dust and debris flew sky-high, obscuring half of the courtyard.

Sweetie Drops stood up and winced, covering her muzzle as she squinted into the fray. The dull thuds of continued combat echoed from ground zero, followed by more and more of the Bug Beast's pained shrieks.

And then...

...there was silence.

Horizons panted, clutching her heat-seared stub.

With a quivering lip, Sweetie Drops trotted nervously towards the debris cloud. "Chief...?" She gulped. "Chief Agent Sugar Cane?"

At last... as the dust begin to settle... a dark shadow lurched out from the mess.

Sweetie Drops' heart stopped.

"Mrmmmff..." Sugar Cane, bruised and battered, stumbled into the light. His eyelids were heavy, his gray mane disheveled, and he stepped with a limp... but he was alive. His gaze lifted up—ultimately meeting Sweetie Drops.

With a relaxed sigh, Sweetie Drops smiled.

A twinkle sparked across Sugar Cane's eyes. He smiled back. SCHLUNNNK! A four-foot stinger protruded from his chest, causing his body to jolt.

Sweetie Drops' muzzle dropped. "NO!"

Sugar Cane's figure lifted—as did the Bug Bear, bleeding and blistered from the heart of the wreckage. With a lethargic grunt, it gripped Sugar Cane's body and hoisted him off the length of its envenomed barb—dropping the elder like a sack of meat to the cobblestone floor.

Sweetie Drops' breaths had fragmented into hysterics. She galloped straight for her chief's body. Behind her, Horizons sat up, shaking her head. "Agent! Don't—!"

Sweetie Drops didn't listen. She rushed to the elder's side, cradling him in her grasp. "Chief! Chief... hold on! I'm going to get you somewhere safe..."

"Snrkkkt... not..." Eyes rolling, the stallion gargled blood, raising a jittery hoof. "...not me... Horizons... the City... p-ponies..."

"Shhhhh!" Sweetie Drops gripped the stallion's fetlock, wincing. "Just... don't move!" She gulped. "Don't talk! I'm going to—" She froze the moment she saw a bear-shaped shadow looming over her. The mare blinked... and her grimace melted into a furious snarl. Reaching over, she hoisted Sugar Cane's weapon off the ground and spun around to face the monstrosity.

"Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr..." The ravenous creature hovered above her on bent wings. Several mana-wounds splotched its black-and-white coat with red, but it fought through the pain to stare the tiny agent down.

Sweetie Drops trembled. She pumped the manarifle—but realized that its crystal casing was completely spent. So—gulping—she spun the weapon around until she wielded it like a club. "Well? What are you waiting for?!" She gulped again, her brow furrowing. "You want to finish me? Then do it!"

"Hraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaulllktt!" The Bug Bear howled down at her.

"Bring it onnn!" she hollered, standing between it and the bleeding Chief.

Just as the beast was rearing its paw—

FLASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSH! A rosy pink burst of light emanated from the central Palace of Canterlot.

Horizons gasped, glancing over.

High above, every changeling chirped in sudden dismay.

The Bug Bear blinked stupidly, then spun to face the Palace.

Breathless, Sweetie Drops looked in the same direction.

Outward from the heart of the capital, an enormous sphere of pink energy expanded rapidly. It phased through every building, tree, and platform of the mountain maretropolis.

"Captain Shining Armor's spell..." Horizons wheezed. "...I've never seen it so br-bright—"

Just as she said that, the barrier reached the ruined courtyard. Hundreds and thousands of changelings yelped in fright as they were propelled away from the center of the force field. The Bug Bear was no luckier. It flinched at the last second, clutching its bloody, battered body, until—POWWW! Its meaty frame was forced skyward, sailing towards the southern end of Equestria.

Sweetie Drops gasped. Her mane rose and settled as the force-field rippled harmlessly over her equine form... and that of Sugar Cane and Horizons. Spinning about, she gazed south... watching—dumbfounded—as the entire black cloud of changelings was swept towards the distant horizon. Among the scattering swarm, she spotted a single toppling figure. At first, she thought it was the Bugbear, until she heard a siren wail of high-pitched screams, followed by a microscopic flash of corrupted green light...

And then every monster that had plagued Canterlot that day was banished.

Silence reigned... eventually punctuated by the worried breaths of pony citizens coming out of hiding. The voices soon turned to sobs as many of them struggled to find their loved ones amidst the carnage.

As the numbness of the moment set in, Sweetie Drops panted for breath. She dropped down beside Chief Agent Sugar Cane, gaping at his bloodied figure. After a gulp, she scooted over and held his haggard body in her forelimbs. "Chief... can you hear me?"

"Tell... tell Horizons..." Sugar Cane sputtered, the brightness in his eyes fading. Blood seeped fresh and hot out of his punctured chest. "...she... m-must disassemble the League." He winced. "Too... t-too many threats now... and not enough members." Blood and bile dribbled out his chin. "Get her to work with Celestia. With the Princess' p-permission—"

"Horizons knows what to do." Sweetie Drops sniffled. "You taught us well. Please, Chief, you have to stay me—"

"It's... n-not a retreat," he wheezed, his pupils scraping the sky. "Just... advancing backwards..." His eyelids grew heavier. "...must... be anonymous... f-for the safety of Equestria..."

"Chief..." Sweetie Drops choked on a sob. She leaned in, whispering now. "Dad... for once in your life... will you talk to me... and n-not just instruct me...?"

He blinked... then blinked again. His hoof reached blindly out.

She caught it... bringing it to her cheek to nuzzle his fetlock. She sniffled, staring tearfully at the stallion.

"I... f-failed in my order..." He murmured. "Always... pledged t-to protect the citizenry... when in fact..." His voice shook, gargling. "...I only ever wanted t-to protect you... Sweetie Drops... after your m-mother—grmmff... after sh-she..."

"It's not like with Mom. Don't you see, Dad?" She kissed his hoof and bore a fragile smile. "I'm alive and well. You did it. You protected me."

His breath squeaked through his nostrils. His weak eyes darted towards her... lingering.

"You're n-not a failure," she exhaled.

He stared. He blinked. "May you too... find a life that will br-bring you joy... mmmm... pr-protecting..." And then he blinked no more.

Sweetie Drops gazed at him. Her muzzle hung open... and then she clenched her jaw shut. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she leaned forward, burying her face in the nape of his neck. Her sobs were quiet, tender things... muted out by the hoofsteps of Betsy, Sharp Quill, and Haze as they limped towards the scene along with gaggles of anxious, wandering ponies... filling the gaps of Canterlot that had previously been filled with so much pain and loss.

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