Ria cried out as searing hot agony erupted from her shoulder. Her vision blurred as she fell to one side, the pain threatening to blot out all other sensation.
Through the crimson haze Ria caught a blur of motion. An omni-blade lit up like a flare as her father whirled on the attacker. In a single fluid motion the blade fell: the would-be-assassin's head tumbling to the floor a moment before his body.
All at once the bar erupted into chaos. Shouts drowned out the music as bar's handful of patrons bolted for the door.
The five other men drew sub-machine guns or heavy pistols and moved to flank the Spectre facing them.
Only once before had Ria seen her father fight first hand, and that had been against a trained Cerberus agent with cybernetics much like his own. The sight of the unbridled fury he unleashed now was almost frightening to behold.
Her father darted to one side, the closest man unloading his clip into the space the Spectre had occupied an instant before. In a blinding arc Shepard's omni-blade removed assassin's hand and weapon. He barely had time to scream before Shepard leapt upon him, blood splattering the floor as two lighting-quick attacks carved an 'X' through the man's torso.
Turning, her father ducked under a slash aimed by a knife-wielding turian. Throwing his left shoulder into the attacker, Shepard sent him stumbling. Drawing a pistol from within his coat, her father gunned down a man flanking from the left before putting a round between the staggering turian's eyes.
Kicking the turian's body away, her father faced last two men. A round caught one dead center of the chest while another shot pierced the other's leg. His gun clicked empty an instant later, the sound accompanied by two solid thuds of his foes hitting the floor.
The doors of the bar burst open, Ria turning just in time to see two figures stepping inside. Unlike the other men who'd attacked them, these were clad in pitch black armor and held readied assault rifles.
"Dad, catch!" Ria shouted, tossing her vindicator to her father.
Snatching the weapon out of mid air, Shepard rolled to one side, avoiding the hail of gunfire from the two assassins. Coming out of the roll, he unloaded burst after burst into the closer of the two enemies. His target dropped with a warped cry; disruptor rounds tearing through shields and armor alike as if they were made of tissue paper.
The last assailant charged, throwing himself at the Spectre before Shepard could get his weapon to bear. The impact knocked the vindicator from his grasp, the weapon clattering against the floor as the two men struggled. The sheer ferocity of her father's foe startled Ria, the human clawing like a rabid animal as the Spectre struggled to throw him off.
Transfixed as she was, Ria almost missed the sudden movement as one the men she'd thought dead moved. He seized hold of the edge of a nearby table, hoisting himself up onto his one good leg and aimed his gun at Shepard's back..
Without thinking Ria drew her pistol and and fired. An echoing bang moments filled the room, followed by a wet crunch as the would be assailant fell face first onto the floor, this time to never rise again.
Ria winced an instant later as a wet snap sounded, turning her head just in time to see her father let his foe's limp form drop to the ground: the man's head lolling on a boneless neck.
Picking up the vindicator, Shepard's eyes fell on her. "Ria, are you alright?" Her father asked, practically sprinting over to her.
"I'm okay, I'm okay," Ria answered, struggling to rise from the floor. Before she could a hand pressed against her good shoulder, forcing her back down.
"Hold still, we need to stop the bleeding," her father started to say, digging out a med kit from a coat pocket.
"It can wait." Ria said, cutting him off. "There's bound to be more of them, we need to get out of here first."
Nodding, her father flipped the vindicator around, handing it back to her. Turning, he retrieved his own weapon.
Collapsing the rifle, Ria stowed it onto the back of her armor. Picking up her phalanx, she managed to will her left arm to obey her commands long enough for her to clumsily load a fresh clip.
Her father hooked an arm around her to support her weight as he carefully hoisted her up to her feet. Leaning against him, Ria spared a look around the bar for the first time since the fighting had begun. She was revealed to see that all of the bar's patrons had fled successfully fled.
Good, no one was hurt.
"We need to make for the Invisible, I can lead the way." Ria instructed, readying her pistol.
"No yet, I need my armor and weapons first. They're at a Spectre cache, about half a mile away," her father said, mirroring her action with the paladin grasped in his left hand. "Ready?"
"Ready." Ria nodded. They hurried into the drenching gloom beyond the bar's doors.
"That was a stupid risk, taking that shot for me," he said after some time. "Besides, stupid self-sacrifice is my job, not yours," he added with a forced laugh, one that failed to hide the naked concern in his voice.
"I'm wearing armor, I had a better chance of surviving it," Ria countered.
"Just because I came incognito, doesn't mean I didn't consider things could go south," he replied, tugged the collar of his coat down just enough for Ria to see the light armored vest underneath. "Give me some credit."
"Well, my armor's heavier than that padding," Ria countered, wincing as each step sent a jolt of fresh pain through her arm and back.
"Ria . . .." her father said, his tone serious.
"There's no point arguing about it, I can't change what I did now." Ria frowned.
For a moment it looked like her father was going to continue arguing, but then he nodded slowly in acceptance of her point. They continued on in silence for several more minutes before they arrived at an entrance to an unassuming building. Stepping up the the doorway, her father pressed a hand against the scanner to one side. There was a soft beep followed by a click.
Pushing the door open, Ria entered the small, featureless room. Boxes containing rations, medical supplies and ammunition sat on shelves or stacked in piles on the floor.
Carefully her father lowered her onto a crate, Ria wincing as she settled her weight on it.
"On a scale from one to ten, how much does it hurt?" Shepard asked, taking a med-kit from a shelf before stooping down next to her.
"Purple," Ria replied dryly.
"Yeah, that's real helpful," he muttered, sounding so very much like he had whenever she'd misbehaved as a child. After examining the wound, he dug out a medi-gel injector from a med-kit "The shot might've hit a bone, can't be sure till I have a chance to examine it more closely. Hold still a moment while I-"
Ria snatched the syringe from his hands, her father flinching at the sudden movement. "I can take care of myself, Dad. I don't need you babying me," Ria said impatiently, stabbing the needle into a small port in her suit.
Her father nodded in apology, taking a step back to give her some space. Seeing the hurt in her father's eyes, Ria regretted the harshness of her tone. Of course he'd be worried about her, and she bit his head off for just for wanting to help.
Averting her gaze, Ria unbuckled her armor's ruined left shoulder pad, letting it drop to the ground. Blood still oozed from the hole in the armor's underlayer, accompanying the throbs of pain that now dulled with each beat as the medi-gel's effects slowly set in. Digging through her own med-kit, she squeezed two small globs of condensed medi-gel onto her finger tips, wincing as she smeared the salve into the open wound. Finishing she filled the gap in her armor with omni-gel, hardening it into a tight seal with a wave of her omni-tool.
"You good?" her father asked when she finished, extending a hand to her,
"Yeah." Ria answered, her voice already feeling less hoarse than it had been. Taking his hand, she was hoisted up to her feet. She wavered for a moment before she managed to steady herself, shaking her head to clear sudden bout of lightheadedness.
Her father shouldered duffel bag laying off in one corner; its contents rattling as it settled into place. "Docks are about a mile away. If we hurry we can reach it before anymore trouble."
"You sound optimistic." Ria noted, readying her rifle.
"One day I'll have to be right," he replied with a grim smile, bringing his paladin up as he stepped to one side of the door.
Stepping to the other side, Ria gave a wordless nod before they stepping back out into the mists.
Flashes of lightning illuminated the path before them as they wound their way through Nos Astra's twisting streets. Other than the faint light of skycars darting far above their heads, no sign of life could be seen.
A barely perceptible splash was the only warning as a dark figured materialized out of the darkness, lunging at them with almost supernatural speed. A blade rung as it cleared its sheath, a foot and a half long steel shard appearing in the man's hands. Its edge burned white hot, hissing in the cool rain.
In a blur of motion her father sidestepped the attack, his omni-blade burning like an ember as it formed around his wrist. Locking blades, the Spectre managed to throw his opponent back, the attacker stumbling as his footing slipped on the slick ground. However, before her father could press his advantage, he was forced to whirl to face yet another assassin who'd appeared to join the first.
Ria wasn't able to catch what happened next as a third figure materialized from the mists, his naked blade bearing down on her. Darting out of reach, Ria opened fire: rounds deflecting harmlessly off her foe's kinetic barriers. In the brief flashes produced by her weapon, Ria caught a glimpse of strange, midnight blue armor; its edges clinging to the darkness around it as if shaped from solid shadow. A helmet hid the assassin's face, its shape seeming almost skeletal with sunken eyes hopes and deep groved on both side that gave the appearance of a gaunt face.
The next attack fell an instant later, Ria barely managing to avoid being cloven in two. While she moved quickly enough to avoid serious harm, the blade's tip drew a stinging line across the back of her hand. Hissing in pain, Ria slung her rife across her back and activated her omni-blade. Falling into a defensive stance, she barely had time to parry the avalanche of incoming blows.
While the speed of her foes attacks wasn't at the same level of most cybernetically augmented fighters; Ria was left without a shadow of a doubt that her opponent's abilities were not wholly natural. Each blow was far too quick and precise, but yet seemed to lack the elegance of a truly experienced combatant. It was as if she was facing an average fighter granted capabilities beyond what he'd earned on his own
With sudden inspiration, Ria realized she could use that to her advantage. Falling back as the attacker pressed his assault, Ria let him believe he had her on ropes. With another step Ria backed herself against a wall. The assassin lunged, blade darting in for what seemed like the finishing blow.
Ria smirked. In his confidence, her opponent overextend himself, leaving him unprepared when Ria stepped out to the left while knocking his sword to her right. The blade stuck the wall, carving a deep gouge into the solid stonework. Spinning in a full arc, Ria drew her combat knife in her left hand, burying it into the assassin's forearm
His blade falling from his slackening grip, the assassin could do little more than yell in pain as Ria drove her omni-blade through his chest. The man fell lifelessly a moment later, red blood spilling onto the street to mix with the churning rain.
Turning back in her father's direction, Ria saw that he was sorely pressed. Even with his enhanced speed, he was barely keeping up with the two attacking foes. Drawing her rifle, Ria took careful aim; catching one of the assassins in the shoulder. While the attack did little harm, it did managed to catch the man off guard for split second.
This was all the opening Shepard needed, the Ria's father turning his back to flinching man as he dodged an attack launched by the other. Grabbing the assassin's wrist, he guided the attack forward; impaling the recovering assassin on his comrade's blade. Letting go, he drove his knee into his final foe's gut, the man doubling over in pain moments before the spectre's omni-blade ended his life.
"Thanks." Shepard nodded to Ria, deactivating his omni-blade.
"It was nothing." Ria panted, suddenly finding herself out of breath. "Come on, there might . . . might be more of them."
Without another word they started down the deserted streets, leaving the carnage far behind them.
After a several minutes the docks came into sight, the duo redoubled their pace, practically sprinting now. As they ran, Ria opened her comms, accessing her ship's encrypted channels. "Core, come in. This is Ria. You there?"
"Affirmative," replied the synthesized voice of the geth. "What is your status?"
"There's been a bit of trouble, but we're on route to the docks now. I'll need you to disengage lock down once we arrive."
"Understood, we take it you successfully made contact with the other Spectre?"
"I did, and you couldn't guess who it is."
"Judging by your reaction, we can summarize that it is someone you know. With this narrowing down the range of possibilities; our best guess would be that your father is the Spectre in question." Core replied in what could only be described as a self-satisfied tone.
"Rhetorical question, Core. Rhetorical!" Ria sighed. "Just get ready, we'll be there soon."
Closing her comms, Ria saw the docks ahead illuminated in a flash of lighting, the tangled scaffolding casting jagged lines against briefly back lit sky.
For what felt like an eternity they climbed, until at last they came out onto a wide landing pad near the very top of the docks. Though the veil of rain Ria could barely make out the sleek, black form of the Invisible; appearing as a shadow amongst the mists.
"Core, we're here."
No sooner had she finished speaking, Ria heard a faint grinding noise as a sliver of gold appeared in the darkness as the Invisible's cargo doors opened before them; its warmth and light promising refuge from the dark danger outside.
Without pausing Ria acceded to ramp, her father following a step behind, and passed into the ship's cargo hold.
For a moment the bright lights stung Ria's eyes, so sharp was the contrast to the dark overcast outside. Blinking, her vision resolved in time to see the unmistakable forms of Tarran Vakarian and Laura Alenko approaching from the other side of the bay. Both were fully armored and carried weapon; seeming to Ria as though they'd expected for her to return with an entire army at her back.
"Ria. 'Uncle' Shepard," Tarran greeted, turning to each of them in turn. "Core just told us you'd arrived."
"Tarran, Laura. Good to see you both," her father answered.
"I take it things didn't go as planned," Laura said, noting the splotches of blood staining Ria's suit.
"If you count getting attacked by members of that same group as before, then yes, you could say that." Ria frowned, brushing past without waiting for an response. "Talena, how soon can we be in the air?"
"About ten, maybe twenty minutes. I began preflight checks as soon as Core said you were on your way. Just need to finish those and get clearance, then we'll be on our way," the ship's pilot replied over the comms.
"Good. Ask Core for the coordinates of our next destination. He'll know the ones I'm talking about."
"Gotcha, Talena out."
"Tarran," Ria said, looking back over her shoulder as both her friends and her father followed after her. "I need you to go run inventory on our weapons, and make sure we're stocked up on thermals."
"On it," the turian nodded, quickening his pace to sprint on ahead.
"Laura, I need you to run a diagnostic on our weapon's systems and bring them online," Ria continued, turning to the marine.
"We expecting trouble?" Laura asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically.
"No, but considering the day I've had, I'd rather we erred on the side of excessive paranoia." Ria shook her head. Considering what she'd said for a moment, she quickly added, "Probably should wait to bring the weapons up until after we're off world. Don't want to give anyone the wrong impression."
"Consider it done," Laura replied, breaking off towards the elevator.
Veering off to the side, Ria made her way through the doorway that led to the ship's engineering bay. Passing by the workstations, she quickly came upon the spot where a hammock had been stretchered between two coolant pipes in one of the corners.
"Kel, quit sleeping on the job. Its time to get to work!" Ria hollered to the blue-clad quarian curled up in the center of the hammock.
"I'm awake, I'm awake!" Kel said, bolting upright as he frantically tried to extricate himself from his hammock, tumbling out of it to hit the floor with a solid thump.
"I'm okay." The diminutive quarian called out before Ria could move to help; hastily picking himself up. Flustered, Kel began rambling quickly as he dusted himself."S-sorry about that, I d-didn't know we'd be leaving so soon."
"Don't worry about it, I just need that drive core needs to be running at full capacity by the time we hit the relay. I'd rather not wait until after our next firefight to iron out the kinks introduced by that last software update," Ria instructed. As she continued past, Ria turned so that she still faced in roughly the quarian sentinel's direction. "Besides, we have a guest here: so I'd just prefer it if we gave the impression of being at least somewhat professional."
"Oh, um, r-right," Kel answered, noticing Ria's father for the first time; who simply nodded back with at him with a warm smile. Shepard's presence seemed to have an noticeable effect on the sentinel, his widening in evident awe. "I-I'll just get to work t-then... o-over there." Kel stuttered nervously, practically darting away as he retreated into the back of the engine room.
"He normally like that?" Shepard asked, looking to Ria once Kel had gone.
"Kel is a bit... awkward around people," she answered with a shrug, stepping back out into the hallway outside engineering. "Probably doesn't help when that person he's around is as famous as Commander Shepard."
"Right. That." He sighed, conceding her point.
Stepping into the elevator, Ria pressed the button that would take them up to the crew's deck. With a chime, the elevator opened, Ria leading her father toward the armoury.
"Ria," a low voice called out before she'd taken more than a few steps. Stopping, she turned to see Daron walking towards her. The mercenary glanced Shepard's way as he came to a stop before them, though if he was surprised by Ria's father's presence he didn't show it.
"You should have taken someone with you, going alone wasn't the smartest decision you've made," Daron said bluntly as he turned his attention back to her.
"Yes, because I needed you to play babysitter, right?" Ria countered, turning away from the man to continue towards the armory.
"Because getting killed would have been so much better?" Daron asked, his footsteps joining theirs as he followed after.
"Its funny that you and everyone else decide to act like you're my dad when he's actually here," Ria replied sharply, trying to end the argument as quickly. "I can handle myself perfectly fine."
"Whether you can handle yourself or not had nothing to do with it. Your insistence on trying to get yourself killed is."
"I'm flattered by your concern, but I'm not in the mood right now," Ria said, her tone growing more forceful with each word..
With an annoyed growl Daron's footsteps ceased, the mercenary finally giving up on following her through the Invisible's tight corridors.
Entering the armory, Ria found Tarran already at work inside; the turian pouring over their equipment while keeping a tally on a data pad held in a taloned hand.
"You can keep your equipment here." Ria turned back to her father as she spoke. "Tarran will take care of finding space for everything."
"Gotcha," he said with a smirk, hefting his duffel bag up into both hand and turned in Tarran's direction. "Catch!" He shouted with a laugh, flinging the bag in the turian's direction
Tarran barely managed to catch it in time, its weight forcing him back a step. "Oh joy, yet more work. Slave driver," he muttered, just loud enough to be sure Ria heard.
"Hey, that's high overload slave driver to you. Now get back to work," Ria replied, a smile tugging at her lips as she heading back out of the armory.
"So where to now?" her father asked as he stepped out into the hallway.
"Its probably best if we speak in my quarters before we speak. Less chance of someone listening in. This way" Ria answered, waving in the room's direction.
Leading the way, Ria entered her living quarters. The relatively barren room befit a military vessel; furnished with a bed with two side tables, a wardrobe, and a simple desk pushed against one side of the room. On the desk sat a small holographic emitter displaying an approximation of Rannoch's solar system.
"Huh, reminds me of my old quarters on the first Normandy," her father noted as he began looking around the room. "I'm impressed though, you've managed keep it cleaner than your room back home."
"Hah hah." Ria said dryly, digging through a desk drawer for a bottle of antibiotics. Its contents rattled as she worked at its lid, finally managing to pour two pills onto an open hand. Feeding them through a port at the bottom of her helmet, she forced them down in single gulp. Bit late now, but hopefully it'll still help lessen the infection, Ria thought, cursing herself for not having been carrying antibiotics with her..
"Core, disable the room's monitoring equipment. I don't want there to be a recording of anything I say here," Ria instructed. She plopped herself down on the edge of her bed and let out a drawn-out sigh.
"Are you concerned about us observing your conversation?" the geth asked, his hesitant tone broadcasting his dislike for the order.
"No. But I'm worried about someone else managing to. Humor me," Ria replied, wincing as she rubbed her aching shoulder.
"You should be in the medbay getting that checked out," her father frowned as he took his seat in a chair across from her, folding his hands across his lap.
"The medi-gel's done its job; a little lingering pain won't kill me." Ria said, pulling her hand away with another wince. "It's not like you have room to talk, from everything mom's told me."
"No, I suppose I don't." Shepard sighed. He tapped a finger against his leg for several moments, seeming to be lost in thought. "You mentioned to Laura that those men who attacked us were part of some group you've 'faced before'. Do you know who they are?"
"No, I don't," Ria answered wearily, dropping the facade of confidence and control she'd worn for the sake of her crew. "Honestly? I can't even say for sure they even were the same people who tried to kill me before tonight. It could be a coincidence, but that attack was too similar to be unconnected. All I know this is the second time someone's tried to kill me since I got here . . .."
Ria closed her eyes as the darkness all around her seems to be closing in; hands of clawing shadow promising to drag her into oblivion.
"Ria? Are you okay?" her father asked, his voice seeming to be coming from far off. A hand suddenly gripped her shoulder, snapping her back to the present. Ria noticed she was shivering, the room suddenly feeling very cold.
"I'm fine." Ria assured him, hoping that she sounded stronger than she felt. "It's just . . . It's just that at least with Cerberus I knew what I was up against. I had a goal, a clear enemy to face. Now . . . now I feel like I stumbling blindly in the dark . . . helpless."
Ria trailed off, shivering again as the cold around her seemed to intensify. "This whole thing has been a disaster from the beginning. I should have guessed early on . . . all the warning signs were there."
"You'll have to start at the beginning Ria. How did this all begin?" her father asked, speaking softly as he urged her to continue
"Two weeks ago I was contacted by the council for my first real mission: to investigate the activities of ExoGeni's branch here on Ilium," Ria answered, her voice dropping to a whisper.
"All the council told me was that they had contracted ExoGeni to perform some high security research. Over the past few months, Council Intelligence began noticing project members making a number of strange communications and financial transactions."
"They didn't give you any details about what this project was about?" Shepard asked, a raised eyebrow the only indication of his concern."
"I tried to use my Spectre access to find out, but came up empty. Whatever it is, the council's keeping it hushed up; even from the Spectres," Ria answered with a shake of her head. "I should have know then, but stupidly I let the matter drop. I figured this would be an just a simple mission. Turns out I couldn't have been further from the truth."
Author's Note: Okay guys, hope this makes up for last one being a bit short. . . and having a cliffhanger. As for now I plan to be sticking to a chapter every other week, though will put them out earlier whenever I happen to get them done quicker. Anyhow, thats all I needed to say. See you guys in the next one!
EDIT 4/5/2014 Fixed strange correuption of filed when I uploaded it that releted lettered and replaced others with strange characters.