Hey, I'm back! Here's where things take a bit of a turn.

Cycles Upon Cycles

Chapter 37


Welcome back to UNN, this is Kate Lockwell. Breaking news this evening, as we have been informed that Raynor's Raiders have been mobilized for a major assault on the aliens known simply as the Collectors. These aliens have been contained so far by blockading their only known entry point into the wider galaxy, but military analysts have suggested that a permanent blockade is completely unfeasible. Therefore, it makes sense that a decisive strike be carried out, but—hold on, we're getting something else.

It, uh… it appears that the Zerg have dispatched forces of their own, and have just arrived at the Omega-4 Relay. We have not received any updates from the Dominion, but we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops. Until then, this has been Kate Lockwell, for UNN.


"Kind of a rough ride, Matt," Raynor commented as his ship finished its warp-jump.

"Considering where we are, consider yourself fortunate it didn't turn out much worse," Matt countered. "We're dangerously close to the galactic core. I'd rather never come back here, if I can help it."

Raynor didn't disagree. The area outside the Collector base was littered with the remains of starships. Many of them looked ancient, but more than a few had probably come here within the last few years. Thankfully, the Raiders' warp-technology allowed them to sidestep the trap the Collectors had placed on their front door. Unfortunately, it was immediately obvious that the base had too much mass to destroy with surface strikes, so the Raiders' backup plan would be used—strike forces would land and plant nukes at key locations, and then, once the Terrans had evacuated, they would sit back and watch the fireworks.

"All right, let's get our boys out there," Raynor ordered. "Matt, have the fleet blockade the base, and be ready to send in reinforcements. We won't have time or space to set up a base."

"Agreed, sir. If we create multiple landing zones simultaneously, we can divide the Collectors' attention, while your strike force delivers a nuke directly to the center of the station."

"Thanks for the reminder that I'll have a nuke ten feet away from me in the middle of a combat zone," Raynor muttered, and then gently—because he was in armor—patted Matt on the shoulder. "Good luck, Matt. Make sure nothin' happens to my ship."

Just before he was about to board his personal dropship, Raynor was greeted by the temporary member of his crew.

"What can I do for you, Professor?"

Mordin was old, for a Salarian, but he moved quickly. "Ah, Commander. Wanted to update you on Collector countermeasure."

"You said it was ready, right?" Raynor peered down at the alien suspiciously. "That was why Swann had it produced for the troops."

"Am nearly certain that countermeasure will be effective," Mordin said. "One-hundred-percent certainty impossible in science. However, rapid pace of countermeasure deployment has revealed a small flaw, easily rectified with ship-board production facilities."

"What kind of flaw?"

Mordin bobbed his head in a rapid nod as he began to pace. "Yes, quality of countermeasure degrades as production speed increases. Will only provide protection for one hour, and must then be replaced."

Raynor scowled. "Of course it wouldn't be easy. We'll have to either make this mission fast, or risk sending troops back over and over to get replacements."

"Understand increase in logistical difficulties, but this is the best way to ensure survival against Seeker Swarms."

"Thanks for the warning," Raynor said tiredly, and walked up the ramp of his dropship. "I'll let my boys know they can only be in the fight for an hour at a time." He chuckled. "My pilots are gonna be charging overtime for this one."

As the first wave of ships flew out of the hangar, Mordin shook his head. "Hope they live long enough to enjoy extra pay."

"Hold on, boys!" Raynor's pilot shouted. "We're getting some flak! Looks like the Banshees missed a few of those hardpoints!"

Raynor didn't say anything, but he mentally swore. The Banshees had flown ahead of the transports to neutralize any anti-air emplacements or waiting ground forces, and had signaled that it was safe for the Raiders to approach. Raynor was going to have words with those pilots about making sure that they hit all of their targets.

"We're making our final approach!" the pilot continued. "Get ready, boys, the LZ is hot!"

The dropship shuddered violently as a Collector particle cannon carved a furrow through its hull. Raynor heard tearing metal as he and his team were exposed to the vacuum of space; thankfully, the passengers' suits were all sealed, and the cockpit had done likewise as soon as a hull breach was detected.

"That's it, we're here, and we're inside the kinetic barrier!" The dropship shuddered once more as it landed. "Everyone, go, go, go!"

"Move it, Raiders!" Raynor charged down the ramp, and fired his gauss rifle at the first thing he saw. That happened to be a cluster of Husks, which had been charging straight at him. Several Marines joined their commander and mowed down the fragile monsters.

"Ugh, I hate those things," one Marine commented. "It's like fighting infested Terrans."

The Marine next to him, elbowed him, and a woman's voice came from the speakers of her armor. "Did you have to say that? Now I'm gonna have nightmares about that shit."

"Can it, you two," Raynor barked. "We need to set up that beachhead!"

Raynor's team consisted mostly of Marines and a pair of Medics, but a Firebat had also squeezed into the dropship; with his gauntlets already sparking, the Firebat stomped forward as another wave of Husks charged. Raynor was glad his armor filtered out the smell; he'd heard that burnings Husks smelled almost as bad as burning Zerg.

"Friendlies inbound!" Another Marine pointed up as Medivacs came in hot—one quite literally, as one of its engines was trailing smoke and chunks of metal.

The rest of Raynor's strike force landed, mostly Marines and Firebats, but also a few Marauders and, to his surprise, Tosh.

"What the—" Raynor blinked. "Tosh, I didn't even know you were on the ship! You could'a warned me you were comin'!"

Tosh chuckled. "Sorry, brother, but me and my Spectres hitched a ride just before you shipped out. Don't worry, we'll be helpin' you clear out these ugly bugs, just like old times."

Raynor shook his head in exasperated fondness. Tosh could be strange, and his penchant for showing up whenever he wanted was going to give him a heart attack one day, but there were few others he'd rather have supporting his boys.

"I appreciate the compliment, brother," Tosh said with a wide grin.

Raynor scowled. "Damn telepaths." A particle beam whipped by his head. "Okay, boys, time to get these freaks!"

An hour later, Matt looked over the tactical display and nodded thoughtfully. The outer defenses of the Collector base were down, and the Raiders had been making good progress. Shipments of replacement countermeasures were transported as quickly as they were assembled, and Swann had sent a team of engineers to supervise the process. Reinforcements were also sent to keep the pressure on the Collectors while the first wave got sorted out.

"Sir, we're detecting an incoming signature," an officer reported. "Oh, hell!"

"What is it?" Matt asked. Please don't be Mira, I can't deal with her right now.

"It's registering as Zerg, sir!"

I take it back, Mira would be completely fine. He knew that Kerrigan wouldn't attack the Raiders, but the Queen of Blades could be unpredictable.

"Try hailing them," he ordered, just as the image of a Leviathan appeared on the viewscreen. I hope Kerrigan is in a talking mood.

A moment later, Kerrigan appeared on the screen. "Matt. It's been a while."

"That it has, Kerrigan," Matt said as he walked closer to the screen. "What are you doing here? We have the situation in hand."

"I'm sure you do," Kerrigan said, though Matt detected a hint of condescension in her tone. "But I'm not here because I think you need rescuing again."

"Then why are you here?"

Kerrigan smirked. "I'm here to remind everyone what the Swarm is capable of. Think of this as me keeping you all on your toes. Besides, I heard about these Seeker swarms the Collectors use, and I thought I'd try out Abathur's newest creation. Just keep your troops far away from it, and you'll be fine."

Matt couldn't keep the dryness out of his voice. "Far be it from me to get in the way of royalty."

Now, Kerrigan's smirk was a full grin. "I can see why Jim keeps you around. You're smart."

As soon as Kerrigan ended the transmission, Matt sighed. "Get me Jim. He needs to know about this."

With the Collectors so busy trying to hold back the Raiders, they were caught flatfooted by the Zerg. Dozens, then hundreds of drop pods crashed into the base; the first wave carried hordes of Banelings that blasted a way inside the base, and the next wave detonated a webbing of creep that prevented the Zerg from being sucked into space.

Kerrigan emerged in the second wave; the slime hadn't even finished dripping from her carapace when she spotted a group of Collectors. The Queen of Blades lived up to her title, slashing the Collectors apart with her claws and wing-talons. When her Zerg caught up to her, slime and blood dripped to the floor.

"All forces, push forward," Kerrigan ordered aloud, though the Zerg received their orders from her thoughts. "Kill any Collector that gets in your way. Abathur, where are the new Swarm Hosts?"

{Arriving now, my Queen,} Abathur reported through the hive mind, just as several drop pods connected to the outer webbing.

The Swarm Hosts that emerged looked far different than the Carrion and Creeper strains. Veins of bright blue energy coursed up their trunk-like limbs and into the eggs on their backs; their eyes also glowed blue, and tiny bolts of electricity crackled between their mandibles.

{Shocker strain,} Abathur said, almost proudly. {Spawns shorter-lived Locusts; explode with bio-electricity in midair. Effective deterrent against Seeker swarm.}

"I hope it works, Abathur, because I seem them now!"

The buzzing of the Seekers grew to an almost deafening level. Kerrigan prepared to make a psionic barrier, just in case, but she needn't have bothered. The Swarm Hosts stomped forward, burrowed themselves up to their backs, and began to spawn. The Locusts that flew out of the eggs lasted only a few seconds, but the pulse of electricity they created upon death created a field of destruction. In less than a minute, the entire Seeker swarm that had attacked the Zerg had been reduced to a smoking, crunchy carpet on the floor.

Kerrigan nudged one charred insect with her foot. "I'd say this made for a successful test, Abathur."

{Indeed.} It could have been Kerrigan's imagination, but she thought Abathur sounded impressed. {Shocker Locusts not powerful enough to kill opponents larger than themselves. Potential use against mechanized units. Strain will compete against existing strains, however.}

Kerrigan nodded to herself. {Izsha, make a note that I need to create a new Brood, one that specializes in fighting machines. They can be a testbed for anti-Harvester strains of Zerg.}

Rather than a true response, Kerrigan got the psychic impression of a nod. "Now, then, let's go crush these freaks… and I suppose I should check in on Jim, while I'm at it."

"I'm sorry, Matt, could you repeat that?"

"Pretty sure you heard me the first time, sir."

"Okay, but why is Kerrigan here!?"

"I think because she likes it when people are nervous around her, and she hasn't gotten that lately."

"She gets that by walking into a room!"

A sudden explosion cut the conversation short; scores of Collectors were rushing through a breach that a squad of Raiders had created, and that same squad was massacred in seconds. Raynor immediately ducked behind a pile of debris and waved over more of his troops.

"Keep 'em pinned!" he ordered, and then popped up from cover to fire a burst from his gauss rifle. "I need Marauders and Firebats, now!"

Two squads of each type of lumbering CMC-variant trooper stomped forward, while squads of Marines did their best to stem the tide. The Marauders unleashed a storm of explosives, blunting the enemy counterattack and giving the Firebats time to advance; waves of fire turned the aliens into cooked insects. Raynor was just glad his armor was sealed, because he didn't want to relive the scent of burning Zerg.

"Movement behind us!" a Marauder shouted. "Lots of 'em, coming in fast!"

At first, Raynor thought they were caught in a pincer; his alarm turned to relief when it turned out that what he thought were more Collectors were actually hundreds of Zerglings. The small Zerg screeched as they leaped at the Collectors, overwhelming them in a tide of fangs and claws.

Once the sound of combat faded, Raynor reflected on how strange it felt to be relieved to see Zerg.

"Having fun, Jim?"

Raynor grinned as he turned to the familiar voice. "It always gets more fun when you're around, darlin'."

Kerrigan grinned back at him, arms folded over her chest. "Glad to hear it. I hope you don't mind that I brought some friends."

Raynor glanced at the Zerglings, several of whom were playing a macabre game of tug-of-war with some Collector bodies. "I just hope they don't want to cut in on our dance."

"They know better, I promise." Kerrigan patted a Zergling as it stalked past, and the small creature let out a hiss. "None of that, you. Go play."

As the Zergling jumped onto a dying Collector, Raynor raised an eyebrow. "That's 'playing'?"

"It's about as close to playing as Zerglings get, Jim." Kerrigan reached out with one of her wings and gently tapped Raynor on the shoulder. "Come on, we've got work to do after this."

"We do?"

Kerrigan nodded, and the smile fell from her face. "I'm in contact with my Zerg on Tartarus. Things have gotten pretty bad."


"Run!" Shepard ducked under another beam from the Harvester. "Keep going! Don't stop!"

Things had rapidly spiraled out of control. Cerberus was all but destroyed, but the Harvester had landed right in the middle of the Alliance forces, and everything gone crazy. The Protoss were falling back in good order—or so Shepard had managed to detect before focusing on just staying alive—but the Zerg were facing some kind of psionic attack on their hive mind that was making their movements more erratic.

The worst part was the Terran element. The surviving human Strikers were already tired, and the Harvester's attack had sent them panicking. If there was a silver lining, it was that the Harvester in question was much smaller than Sovereign had been, at barely two hundred meters tall. That was a small comfort, though, especially when its impact on the ground had kicked up a huge cloud of dust. Normally, Shepard's helmet would have helped cut through it, but his helmet was damaged, and no longer functioning correctly. He could barely see Kasumi, and she was right next to him.

"All Strikers, fall back to the Protoss base!" he ordered into his comms. "We need to get some distance from this thing! Kaidan, if you can hear me, do what you can to keep this son of a bitch occupied!"

"Roger that, Commander, I've got a couple squadrons left." Overhead, Shepard could faintly pick up the sound of Viking engines. "All wings, time to earn your pay; let this bastard have it!"

Explosions rang out as missiles slammed into the Harvester, but they did little more than distract it. That was enough for the ground forces, who ran or rode out of the dust cloud. Shepard waved over Miranda as soon as he spotted her.

"Miranda! Miranda, I need—" he broke off in a fit of coughing as dust snuck its way into his lungs. "Dammit! Miranda, get me a headcount, and help me rally the survivors."

"Understood, Commander." Miranda held a finger to her temple as she and Shepard sent out telepathic orders to squad leaders.

It took some time, and it had to be done on the move, but Shepard was able to gather up his soldiers. All told, there were barely three hundred Terrans and Quarians left in the Strikers, and almost all of them were wounded.

"Well… this could have gone better," Kasumi said, trying to sound cheerful.

"Is that your way of saying that things have gone to shit?" Jack sneered, but it lacked her usual fire. "Because you could have just said that."

"Enough," Shepard said tiredly. "Right now, we've got other things to worry about."

"Yeah, like that Harvester." James pointed one of his launchers at said Harvester, as if he was tempted to fire on it, even though it was out of range, and would have been pointless. "Does this mean that they're here? Is their invasion starting?"

"I… I don't think so," Shepard said. He did his best to scan the Harvester's thoughts without being overwhelmed. "I think this one is just a scout, or a sentry. All the fighting here must have woken it up."

Zaeed scoffed. "Great, can we un-wake it?"

"Do you have a nuke on you?"

"Fresh out."

Shepard tried to laugh, but he was too drained. He'd spent hours fighting, his ship was destroyed, Anderson and most of his Terran crew were dead, and just when it looked like the mission was over, that damned Harvester had shown up. Even with the powers of Amon, he was just so tired.

He opened his mouth to speak, but he forgot what he was going to say in the wake of a horrible spike of pain in his mind. He immediately knew that it was a psionic power—he could also tell that it wasn't an attack, but it was so powerful that his human brain couldn't handle the amount of power it was exposed to. Shepard fell to his knees, unaware of Kasumi, who held him upright.


Before Shepard could try to respond to the simple, if powerful, message, his mind was flooded with images. Some of them were crystal-clear, like an image of a Protoss that he swore he knew, while others he could barely make out; one of them almost looked like a Collector, but he couldn't get the details. There were others, so many others, but they were jumbled together and blurry.

When it was finally over, Shepard ripped off his helmet and took a deep, shuddering breath. He scrubbed at his face, and his hand came away red; he'd been bleeding from his nose and the corners of his eyes.

"Well, shit."

"Shep, can you hear me?" Kasumi's face filled his view as she leaned over him.

Wait, why is she leaning over me?

"How long was I out?" he asked, his voice raspy.

"About five minutes." Kasumi leaned back and let remove his head from her lap. "How are you feeling?"

"Like there was a party in my head, and everyone brought fireworks." Shepard noticed that both Kasumi and Miranda looked pained. "What happened to you two?"

"We both detected a foreign presence in your mind," Miranda said. "We tried to probe that… entity."

"It didn't work," Kasumi added. "I think we just got a warning, but I've got a hell of a headache right now. Apparently, it's still small potatoes compared to what's going on with you."

"If you were a normal human, I suspect you'd be dead several times over," Miranda noted.

"The benefits of being a fragment of a dead god," Shepard joked, and then heaved himself to his feet. "We need to move."

"Move where?" Now that the psionic episode was over, Ashley felt brave enough to approach. "The Protoss base?"

"Yes, but I need one of their warp gates." Shepard frowned as some of the message in his mind began to come into focus. "There's somewhere I have to go, and if I don't go there now… actually, I'm not sure, but I think it'll be bad."

"What about the Harvester?" Jenkins pointed at the machine that was still rampaging through what remained of the Cerberus base. "We still have to deal with that."

Shepard closed his eyes for a moment. "Honestly, I think we have to leave that to the Protoss and the Zerg. This is… I can tell that it's too important. I have to do this; whether you'll come with me or not, you're all going to the Protoss base." He gave them a stern glare. "That's an order."

Most of the Strikers were too tired to argue. Wordlessly, they marched in the direction of the Protoss base, though Kasumi stuck close to Shepard.

{You know I'm going with you,} she said telepathically. Her expression was concealed by her hood, but Shepard knew that she was just daring him to say no.

{You're my first pick,} he replied, and he spotted a grin that flashed across her face.

When they arrived at the Protoss base, Miranda had those still at the Terran base bring over as many supplies as possible. Chakwas, now wearing battered Medic armor, fussed over those with the worst injuries, while Ken and Gabby moved ammunition and spare parts with their SCVs.

{Commander Shepard,} Zeratul greeted as he emerged from the shadows. {I am glad that you still live, my friend.}

"Likewise, Zeratul." Shepard glanced back at the Harvester in the distance. "What are you going to do about that?"

{Our Immortals will endure its attacks and distract it. The Zerg will send Banelings to disable its legs. Once it is down, we will attack it with everything we have.} Zeratul gave him a piercing look. {You are not joining us, are you?}

"No, I'm not." Shepard sighed. "Something contacted me, and now I have to go. I don't know where I'm going, or why, but I know it's important. And that's why I need a warp gate."

Zeratul glanced at the nearest gateway. {Our warp gates are connected only to others. You would be taken to Aiur or Shakuras.}

Shepard smiled, but there was no humor in it. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Well, the Amon part of me does, anyway." He stepped closer. "Zeratul, you trusted me before. I need you to trust me now."

For a moment, Zeratul said nothing, only staring into Shepard's eyes, and his mind; whatever he saw was enough to satisfy him, and he held out his hand. {You have earned my trust, Aaron Shepard. More than that, I will go with you.}

Shepard shook his hand. "Glad to hear it." He turned to the other Terran and Quarian Strikers. "So, who else is in?"

Everyone still standing took a step forward.

Shepard grinned.

In the end, almost a hundred of the volunteers were too wounded to join Shepard's mission. Chakwas decided that she would stay behind with them, to keep them alive until they could be brought to a hospital. Everyone else, along with a few of Zeratul's Dark Templar, rested while they could, while Shepard interacted with the warp gate.

"So, how do you know how to use that thing?" Tali asked. To her, it just looked like Shepard was running his hand over the side of the structure.

"I'm telling it where to send us," Shepard said absently. "Ground-based Protoss structures are linked into a network, like the Mass Relays. I'm disconnecting this one, and aiming it at where I need to go." He shrugged. "Of course, if there's nothing to connect to at the other end, it'll probably warp us somewhere that'll instantly kill us—inside solid rock, a star, the vacuum of space, that kind of thing."

Tali swallowed nervously. "Oh. That sounds… terrifying. Why are we doing this again?"

Kasumi decloaked and hopped onto Tali's back, ignoring her yelp. "We're doing this because we trust Shepard. Right?"

"Yes, but I'd like to not die of a heart attack before I step through the gate that could potentially kill me!" Tali shook her head. "Keelah, your Terran insanity is rubbing off on me."

Kasumi jumped back to the ground and hugged the Quarian, made all the funnier because Tali was still in her armor. "Look at you, taking after us humans! That's adorable!"

"Do I want to know what's happening?" Miranda asked as she joined them.

"Probably not," Shepard said, not looking up from his work. "What's our supply situation?"

"We have enough food for the troops and fuel for our vehicles for another two days, at most," Miranda reported. "Spare parts are running low; our engineers are going to have to get creative when we run out. Our ammunition is critical, even with the weapons we liberated from Cerberus; it will last through one major engagement, maybe two, but after that, we'll be down to fists and harsh language."

"Well, we've got Jack, so we have plenty of harsh language," Kasumi pointed out.

Miranda ignored her. "The point I'm trying to make is that this venture has to succeed, or we are going to die very quickly."

"We'll succeed," Shepard said confidently. "I don't know how, but… we will. We have to."

"Yeah, show a little optimism, Miranda!" Kasumi threw an arm over the other woman's shoulders. "We don't know where we're going, we don't know what we're doing, and we have no idea if we'll survive. Sounds like Tuesday to me!"

"Remove your arm from me, or I will break it." Despite her threat, Miranda continued to look at Shepard. "Commander, how can you trust whoever sent you these… instructions?"

Shepard chuckled. "Because I could tell that whoever sent it had power damn close to Amon's. This isn't something we can ignore." He gave her a warning look. "We're also not telling the Alliance. Not yet. Some of them don't completely trust me, and I'm being vague enough about this that they'll delay, or even try to stop me."

"Is that why we're not taking any of the Khalai, or the Zerg?"

"Zeratul and his crew aren't part of the Khala, so we can trust them." It wasn't that Shepard didn't trust the Khalai or Grunt, but something told him that letting the rest of the Alliance know what was about to happen wouldn't end well. "I asked one of the Nerazim staying behind to tell everyone after we're gone. And I asked him to apologize to the Protoss and Zerg Strikers for not bringing them along. I hope Grunt doesn't kill me when we get back."

The warp gate hummed as it came to life, and Shepard stepped back. "There we go! Miranda, get everyone ready to go."

Miranda shoved Kasumi off of her and, to Shepard's surprise, saluted. "Yes, sir."

Kasumi stared at the other Ghost as she dashed off. "Now I know it's the end of the universe. She respects you now."

Shepard laughed. "I should have brought her on a suicide mission with me years ago!"

It didn't take long for the Strikers to gather at the warp gate. Shepard looked at the assemblage of battered and bloody armor, at the sparking and hastily-repaired vehicles, and couldn't be prouder.

"Come on, people." Shepard turned and faced the warp gate. "Let's see what's waiting for us."

Unknown Location

When the Strikers emerged from the warp conduit, it was clear that they were very far off the beaten path. Instead of stars or a regular sky overhead, they saw only a void; in the distance, they saw a tiny pinprick of twinkling light. The planet that they stood on, if it was a planet at all, was covered in red sand; the only things that stood out from the desert were a few tall mesas, and the silver platform that they'd arrived on. There was no sound, save for the soft howl of wind as it blew through the sand.

"Well, this is… creepy," James commented.

"Yeah, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this," Shepard admitted. Something brushed against his mind, and he turned to the nearest mesa. "That's where we're going. Get ready for anything."

Though the Strikers were tense the whole trip, nothing attacked them. By the time they arrived at the mesa, some of them were almost disappointed.

"Gotta say, boss, I was expecting an evil robot or some ugly alien piece of shit to try and kill us by now," Jack said.

"You're preaching to the choir," Shepard said as they reached the mesa. "Did anyone see anything around here?" When all he got were negatives, he sighed. "Okay, let's see if we didn't make this trip for nothing."

After a few minutes of searching, Shepard discovered a triangular door, built into the side of the mesa. "Hey, check this out!"

Kasumi, who had been following close behind him, looked at Shepard, and then the mesa. "Uh, Shep, I'm not seeing anything."

"What are you talking about? It's right in front of us!"

Zeratul placed his hand directly onto the door. {Commander, if there is something there, it is beyond our ability to see or feel.}

"Obviously." Shepard reached out to touch the door himself, but as soon as he did, the door slid open, and he felt himself get pulled inside. "Whoa!"

"Aaron!" Kasumi tried to grab him, but her fingers just barely missed. "No!"

Inside the mesa, Shepard was surrounded by shadow. He activated his psi-blade as a makeshift torch and tried to find his way out, but the chamber he was in seemed to stretch out for miles. Much to his surprise, the door he'd just come through had also vanished.

"Nothing's ever easy, is it?" he asked.

{There is much to be said for rising to face adversity,} a deep voice said in his mind.

Shepard spun around, psi-blade raised, to face a Protoss floating in the air. His armor looked like the kind worn by the Khalai, but he was surrounded by a blue aura of psychic power that went far beyond what a Protoss was capable of.

{Greetings,} the Protoss said calmly, almost mildly. It was then that Shepard recognized it as the one from Tartarus. More than that, he'd met this Protoss before, and knew that he wasn't what he appeared to be.

"Um, hi?" Shepard didn't get a sense of danger from the Protoss, but he didn't lower his blade. "Look, I've had a really long day, so I'm sorry if I sound rude, but why did you bring me here?"

Tassadar loomed over him. {You are here to fulfill your destiny.}

Codex Entry: Protoss Templar

While all Alliance races have done their best to keep knowledge of themselves away from the wider galaxy, some things have become apparent. One of those is the societal divide within the Protoss.

Of the two major factions within the Protoss Empire, the Khalai are the most numerous. They can be identified by their gold armor, and long hair-like structures coming from the top of their heads. They display a kind of social unity unheard of outside the hive mind of the Zerg, or the Geth Consensus. They are genuinely more open about their actions, even going so far as to announce that they will attack someone well in advance.

In contrast, the Nerazim are much more secretive, and it is suggested that they are fewer in number. Their head-tendrils appear to have been amputated, though whether this affects their biology or is some kind of statement is unclear. Their outfits are all of darker colors, and their tactics almost always involve more subtle methods.

Regardless of where they fit in society, all Protoss possess technology that less-enlightened minds might call magic. There is a standing bounty on any intact Protoss technology, though none have returned alive from attempting to claim it.

And that's that for this chapter! Sorry it's been so long since my last update. I have no idea if I'll update sooner for the next chapter, but you can rest assured that this story is not dead! However, you should know that there are probably only ten chapters or so left. That's right, we're getting into the endgame, now!

So, yeah. Raynor and Kerrigan are kicking Collector ass, the Strikers have kinda disbanded, and Shepard just met Tassadar. Fun times.

Also, some good news for you all! For those of you who prefer reading physical copies instead of eBooks, my novel is now available in printed format! Just look up Alpha Sanction, by Josh Gottlieb, on Amazon, you'll see both options.

Anyway, one of the reasons why I haven't been updating like I used to is because I'm putting most of my energy into advertising for my book, and trying to get a job, because the clock is ticking on me getting kicked out onto the street. You can help by buying my book, or supporting me on P-atreon (link in my profile). Every little bit helps, so please, um... help.

Thanks to the following awesome patrons!

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Ultra Muffins: Jeffrey Perigo, Matthew Bunting, RangersRoll

Next Chapter: Shepard discovers his destiny, and the Harvesters begin to move!

We are who we choose to be.

When you figure it out, let the Muffins know. They're waiting on you.