Distant peals of thunder echoed over towers of Nos Astra, heralding the oncoming of rain. Like an ocean wave the curtain of falling rain rushed in to shroud the great metropolis in a sea of mist and storm. Even as the rain fell harder, a lone quarian made her through the city's tangled streets. Her boots splashed out a rapid beat on the wet pavement as she hurried along, their music a counterpoint to the drumbeat of the water. Coming to a stop at the top of a long stairway, she spared an upward glance into the sky, droplets of water splashing against her mask as stared into the dark clouds swirling above.
Dark, stormy and wet. If I were superstitious I'd say that's ominous. Ria'Shepard shook her head grimly, continuing down the labyrinthine walkways between the skyscrapers towering above her. Her route descended into the city's lower levels where the deep shadows cast by the buildings made it feel as though she delved into a subterranean lair far removed from the light and warmth of day.
Over the past few weeks, fear had become her constant companion, its claws sinking into the base of her spine. Now those claws dug in deeper with every step as she felt unfriendly eye watching from every shadowed alley and darkened corner.
Ria glanced back over her shoulder, almost expecting to see a silhouetted figure trailing her through the freezing downpour. However the few living souls she encountered took no notice of her, hurrying past seeking refuge from the storm. Get a hold of yourself, Ria, the stern voice of the more rational part of her warned. Even, if there's something out there, you can handle it. You can handle it. She told herself those words over and over, hoping that by repetition they would come true.
Rounding a corner, Ria at last came within sight of her destination, a small bar by the name of The Weeping Matriarch. Stepping forward into the flickering light of its broken down neon sign, Ria gazed up at the hologram that depicted the eery white silhouette of an angelic figure with hands covering its face. Well isn't that cheerful.
Council intel had sent her and her contact the name and location just over an hour ago, having chosen the spot for their meeting at random, to avoid the chance of prying eyes. Still, she wished they'd picked a less ominous location.
Taking a deep breath, Ria stepped through the bar's sliding doors into a room populated by a dozen or so down trodden faces sitting at shabby tables. The pale blue glow of the few overhanging lamps cast a depressing palor that only served to highlight the gloomy atmosphere. A few of the patrons turned, regard her with suspicious glares.
Ria silently cursed, noting not for the first time just how much the full armor she'd worn made her stand out from those around her. She'd known, of course, that the decision to do so would make it harder to stay inconspicuous. The alternative though, frightened her far more than some unwanted attention.
Ria took a seat at an empty table, maneuvering her chair to face the door. Minutes passed into an hour or more as she waited for the other spectre to appear. During this time there were a handful new arrivals, though each time the ragged men and women who entered seemed to take no notice of her.
The bar's gloomy atmosphere soon began to grate at the acute sense of unease gnawing at her gut. It was all to quiet, most conversations between the bar's patrons carried out in hushed tones. Through the soft murmurings the clinking of glasses and creaking of chairs sounding unnaturally loud to her ears, lingering in the air longer than they ought. As if in response to her thoughts, the bartender set some music to play through the overhead speakers. The forgettable, non-offensive club music dispelled some of Ria's unease along with the silence.
It was then that the bar's doors opened again with a hiss, Ria glanced up as she half expected to see yet another of disheveled face step through the door. Instead she was met with the sight of a tall, broad shouldered man wearing a dark gray coat. She recognized the man in an instant, after all, it was someone she'd known her entire life.
"Dad?" Ria whispered, her eyes meeting his as he took notice of her for the first time.
"Ria?" her father said, a wide smile spreading across his face.
Every ounce of fear that had been so strong before vanished in an instant as Ria stood, a smile of her own forming behind her mask.
His smile seeming to widen with each step, her father met her with a warm embrace that Ria quickly returned in kind. "Ria!" Shepard exhaled a surprised laugh over her shoulder, "Oh I've missed you, sweetheart."
"It's good to see you too, Dad." Ria smiled at ease for the first time in days.
"So, is this the part where you ask why I'm here?" Her father chuckled, pulling away to regard her at arm's length.
"I think I can guess on that one." Ria replied with a laugh of her own. "Still, I had no idea you'd be the one the Council would send. If I'd known …."
"Ha, I'd just been thinking the same thing," her father replied, at last loosening his embrace. "If I'd known, I would've worn something nicer." He continued, tugging at the hem of his coat to punctuate his point.
"I'd wondered what was up with the coat. Taking the whole secret agent thing to heart, or you tired of the old N7 armor?" Ria asked. She returned to her seat, her father sitting down next to her.
"Figured it would be a good idea to blend in a bit." Her father said, his mouth twisting into a lopsided smirks. "Besides, it does makes me look like an action vid hero. How could I pass that up?"
"Dad, knowing the kind of ridiculous action vids you like, the next thing you'll be doing is trying to jump a Mako over an exploding Dreadnaught. Then I'll have no choice but to pretend I don't know who you are," Ria countered.
"Damn, and I already had the dreadnaught picked out and everything," her father said, grinning back at her. "So, how have you been? We haven't had much of a chance to talk since your Spectre Induction ceremony last month."
"I've been worse." She answered, smiling. "Its just nice to finally be done with my training the and being back on the Invisible."
"So the council did decide to give you command back. I thought they might." Her father nodded.
"They seem to be under the impression that they'll be getting 'another Normandy' if they put me in charge again." Ria answered, shrugging again. "I'll try my best, but all I really did last time was stumble blindly into success."
"You're selling yourself short; you are a Shepard after all," her father assured her, giving her a warm smile.
Smiling at her father's confidence in her, Ria returned to answering his original question. "Anyways, its been nice to see the crew again: Tarran, Laura, and everyone else. Would you believe they actually threw me a 'welcome back' party?"
"Tarran's idea?" Shepard asked in a tone that was more a statement than anything else.
"Tarran's idea." Ria replied with mock seriousness. "The party went as well as you could have expected: things getting out of hand faster than you could say 'what's the worst that can happen?'. Tarran's fault, again."
"Hah, you'll have to tell me all about it when you have a chance." Her father nodded, his smile slowly fading into more serious expression. "So, business. What's going on?"
Her joy and relief at seeing her father drew back, leaving her all anxiety and paranoia surrounding her mission. Ria tapped finger against the table, silent as she pondered where to begin. "How much were you told?"
"Council wouldn't say much," her father replied, leaning forward as he spoke now in a undertone. "I thought it was a bit odd, honestly. I still don't know why-"
"I asked them too. Same reason I insisted they set up a separate meeting point; I had to be sure first," Ria answered quickly, keeping her voice low. "If I'd known it was going to be you, I would have just had us meet on the Invisible. Things probably would've been better that way."
"You didn't think you could trust another spectre?" her father asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically at this.
"I don't know who I can trust right now," Ria answered, shaking her head. "Over the past two weeks I've been lied to, stalked by spies, and attacked. After what I've been through. I can't trust anyone but my team."
Her father nodded slowly, gazing at her with evident concern. "What happened?"
"Well, it all really started two weeks ago when the council assigned me to-" Ria started, falling silent as she caught sight of movement from the corner of her eye.
A dozen ragged-looking men stood up from their table and headed her way. While it could be nothing, something about them set off her inner alarm, her skin tingling with tense anticipation. They seemed too purposeful in their movements, carrying with them a sense of oncoming dread.
As her father began to turn in his seat to see what had caught her attention, the leader of the group reached into his coat and drew a pistol. Ria's spectre training kicked in as the gun homed on her father's back. Already facing the man's direction, Ria reacted first, leaping out of her chair.
"Dad, get down!" Ria shouted. Darting forward, she threw her full weight into her father, shoving him aside.
The gun fired with a deafening bang, Ria crying out as her world erupted into a haze of obliterating agony.
Author's Note: Well guys, I'm finally back with a new story. I hope I didn't keep you guys waiting too long, as I needed some time to relax and plan before jumping into this one.
The next chapter should be out in a week, with the rest returning to my every-other week schedule from before. I will be trying to see if I can get chapters out quicker than that if I can, but I can't make any promises. Anyhow, that's all I have to say for now. Cheers everyone!