Interlude One - Dancing in a Hurricane

Presidium, Citadel, Serpent Nebula

April 12, 2183

Nihlus had died four days ago.

That hadn't really been a surprise. Spectres didn't die peaceful deaths, and Nihlus had not been an exception. C-Sec was still cleaning the blood stains from his apartment when Tela had visited yesterday to see to his belongings. She had taken the things he had loved and taken them to her ship, with… the rest of the remainders of her past loves.

She had her ship, and she had nothing else. She took her home with her wherever she went. It was easier that way.

But…

Nihlus had died four days ago.

She had thought he was like all the rest. Not in a bad way or anything, but she had had many lovers before. All of them were special, but even after they left her (or died), she found that it was easy to move on.

Not the same with Nihlus. There was something about him, in the way that he looked at her, the way he held her, the way… simply the way he was. There was something with him that none of her other lovers had possessed. Maybe his soul was richer, or something equally intangible like that, because he was singularly amazing.

Or at least, he had been, before one of the Shadow Broker's assassins blew his brains out in front of her.

Nihlus had died four days ago, and she wasn't sure she would ever be okay again.

Tela stalked her way through the crowds of the Presidium, and she felt a slight grin tug at her lips as everyone leapt out of her way. No one was going to be crazy enough to deal with a Spectre on a mission, especially not when her biotics roiled around her, as if searching for someone to strike dead.

The fact that she was wearing her full body armor certainly didn't help matters. Nor did the weapons attached to the hard points on armor.

She was going to speak with Barla Von, and it wasn't going to be a friendly chat.

She would never be friendly with an agent of the Shadow Broker again. The only reason she wasn't going to break down the door was her past friendship the volus. He would get a chance to explain himself before she just blew his head off.

She tapped her fingers against the grip of her custom made handgun, making a young turian couple practically fall over themselves at the sight of her scowl.

The funeral for Nihlus had been a quiet affair, and Tela hadn't shed a single tear. She was an Asari, and even though she knew that she would never find another like him, that wasn't her way. She would mourn him in her own way. As long as she was alive, he would live on within her.

It was the best that she could do… she wasn't the perfect asari. Her mother had never liked her, and the feeling was mutual. She hated that despite the love she felt for him, there was nothing she could to show the galaxy what a beautiful, wonderful soul he was.

Aside from getting justice for his killer.

Stopping in front of Barla Von's office, Tela took a breath, making sure she was just out of the range of the security cameras that covered every angle of the door.

The moment she was calm, Tela stepped into the cameras' sight. Looking up at the obvious one hanging down from just above the doorway, Tela scowled at it.

"Let me in, Von," Tela urged, the venom clear in her voice.

Nothing happened for a long moment, and Tela wondered whether she'd have to break down the door on her own. She didn't particularly wish to do that, but it wasn't something she was adverse to.

Before she could ignite her biotics for real and kick down the door, Von's office unlocked with a quiet ding, and the doors slid open. Tela looked back up at the camera, nodding. "Thank you."

Tela just stepped inside into Barla Von's financial advisor office. It was a psuedo front for his real job, even if it just so happened to be something that he was extraordinarily good at. He could make vast amounts of money disappear into what seemed like thin air, and then make that money quadruple in size, all without ever letting C-Sec or the Citadel tax services get a whiff of any true amount he was dealing with.

His office was surprisingly small, and that was the way it was meant to be. It had been designed down to the last centimeter to make people ignore everything strange about Barla Von. A volus banker. What could have been more regular than a volus banker.

A volus banker who just so happened to be a billionaire, thanks to his multitude of investments and clients (not to mention his… side business).

Despite his wealth, the office was simply four walls, a desk, and a row of secure computers behind him that he used to manage his network of assets.

Tela ignored all of that, focusing instead on Barla Von. She stopped just inches away from the desk, staring down at the volus with a harsh expression.

"Agent Vasir, you have my condolences on-" Barla Von paused as he took a shuddering breath, so common among his species. They had to wear the suit for a reason after all, and it wasn't because of weak immune systems. Being the only ammonia breathing species among the Citadel races was… inconvenient. The volus made do. Everyone else had just learned to make do with their strange speaking pattern. "-Agent Kryik's death. I know the two of you were… close."

"Barla Von." Tela pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. She had known him for quite some time, and had even taken advantage of his services in her duties as a Spectre. It wasn't pleasant having to confront him now, but it was necessary. "I can't tell you how much I didn't want to have this meeting."

"I can-" Barla Von took another shuddering breath, "-imagine."

The volus were always so hard to read. They used their suits to their advantage, and unlike the quarians, they had never turned to using gestures to project their feelings. It was a plus, especially for the real job that Barla Von held. You couldn't tell what someone else was thinking when they were stiffly hidden behind a pressure suit and you couldn't even see their eyes.

Tela just stared at him for a long moment before elegantly lowering herself down onto one of the two seats placed before the desk. She ignored how they were meant to make their occupant feel small and uncomfortable and instead crossed one leg primly over the other, getting comfortable in a way only predators could.

"Yes," was all she simply said. She didn't elaborate any further, just continuing to stare at him.

Unsurprisingly, Barla Von was the first to break. He shifted uncomfortably in his suit, a nearly unseen movement, but one that Tela picked up easily. It was his only tell, and it had taken her nearly ten years to even recognize it.

"I have some questions," Tela said, pursing her lips.

"I wouldn't expect anything less." Barla Von placed his hands on his desk, waiting for her to reveal her reason for being there. His time was money, but for Tela, he'd make an exception.

"No. You wouldn't." She leaned forward ever so slightly, and met his gaze as best she could. It was hard to tell with the thick glass covering the eyes of his suit. She knew he got the message though. "Answer me truthfully. Do not lie to me. Do not twist the truth to fit your needs. I want to know everything."

"Of course."

"Did you have anything to do with Nihlus' death?" Straight to the point. There was no reason to dance around what she needed to ask. If he had been at all responsible…

"No." Despite the voice codifier in his suit, Barla Von spoke simply and clearly, leaving no doubt in Tela's mind that he was telling the truth. "I would have warned you if the order came through my network."

As well as being an investment banker, Barla Von held down a much more lucrative position as an agent of the Shadow Broker. It was how he had made most of his wealth.

There was really only one explanation for the situation then. It was not what she wanted to hear, either. "The Shadow Broker has another agent on the Citadel."

"So it would seem," Barla Von confirmed. "I have been unable to find them. My own guess would be that they were here only temporarily." He paused as he took another breath, before continuing. "Whatever traces they might have left behind, they are long gone by now."

"That would be too convenient, wouldn't it?" Tela sighed, frustration building inside her.

"Convenience is what I am here for." Barla Von took another breath. "Alas. In this matter, I find myself unable to help you."

Tela had already figured that. She moved on to the next important question she had. "Why Nihlus?"

"I have been unable to gather any answers on that." If a volus could look confused, Barla Von certainly did. "It is too… sloppy. He had already given his testimony to the Council, so killing him to silence him was pointless."

"I already figured that out on my own." While it was good to hear that Barla Von didn't have anything to do with Nihlus' death, he was been frustratingly unhelpful. It wasn't his fault, but still. "Tell me something that I don't know."

"Saren and the Shadow Broker are working together."

That made Tela pause. She hadn't been expecting that. "What makes you say that?"

"There is nothing… concrete... in the data." Another breath. "But the signs are there if you know where to look." He shook his head. "Despite what the Council may believe, Saren isn't the leader they believe him to be."

"Someone else is pulling his strings." Tela concluded, frowning. This had just gone from complicated to Spectre levels of confusing. Deep shit was the name of the game, and it was where Tela thrived.

"Indeed."

"Who?" That was really the only question that she could ask.

"That is the worrisome part," Barla Von admitted. "There is nothing out there to even suggest where to begin to look. Whoever is controlling this little play..." He took a breath. "They are buried so far in the dark that there isn't even a hint of their existence."

Tela found herself frowning at that. That was not what she liked to hear. A creature of the darkness herself, she hated the idea that there might be something bigger than her lurking where she couldn't see them. "Thank you. I am… relieved that it wasn't you."

"Friends are a valuable commodity in my business." He spoke the truth there. Information brokers were by necessity lonesome beings, and those they could interact with where usually deadly on a different level than the rest of the galaxy. Trust was… hard to come by. "I do not waste them."

Tela thought for a moment, before deciding on a different avenue of attack. "Why is the Shadow Broker working with Saren?"

"That is the question of the hour, isn't it?" Barla Von laughed as he took a breath. "The Broker has managed to keep this alliance in the dark, and that isn't an easy thing to do. Unlike other matters though, I have proof of their partnership."

"Tell me."

"It began nearly twelve years ago." Barla Von's words had a weight to them that made Tela sit up and take notice. She leaned forward, intrigued.

"Are you saying…"

"If you are think of the Equestrian raid, you would be correct."

"The Shadow Broker was behind that?" Tela didn't like the sound of that. It was outside of the Broker's usual operations, and it was something that could end his organization if it ever got it. Information was all well and good, but when a goddess that could fling stars about like marbles was after you…

"Surprising, I know, but all the signs point back to there. The raid happened a week after they cemented their partnership. The only conclusion is that the two events were connected." Barla Von laughed, a dark sound that reflected his mood. Events were spiralling out of his control at a speed he could barely even keep up with. It… wasn't good for business.

"I see." Opening her omni-tool, Tela flipped through the secure Spectre files. She stopped when she found what she was looking for and flipped the image around so that Barla Von could get a clear view of it; a picture of one of the brands found on the rescued Equestrian slaves.

"Who is this?" She asked. She wasn't talking about the pony, either.

"Ah. That is something I can help with." Opening his computer, Barla Von started his search through his vast network, his computers starting to whine behind him as they processed billions of pieces of information a second.

It didn't take long for him to make the connection. There wasn't much that happened on the Citadel that he didn't know about. "That particular brand belongs to a Batarian warlord by the name of Icobius Dhargerk. He has extensive dealings with the Turian underworld here on the Citadel."

"I find myself in the need to have a conversation with him." When Tela had a conversation with someone, it usually ended with someone dead, and a whole of property damage.

"That would take a miracle!" Barla Von actually laughed at that. "He hasn't left Khar'shan in nearly thirty years. All of his business is conducted through third-parties."

Khar'shan, homeworld of the Batarians. Ever since they had closed their embassy on the Citadel, their worlds had been under a self imposed exile. It was impossible to get anywhere near their systems unless you were a newly captured slave.

"Where can I find one of these… third parties?"

"You should be able to guess."

Tela sighed in understanding, a headache starting to grow between her eyes. Wonderful. "Omega."

"Yes." With several quick taps on his keyboard, Barla Von forwarded the information Tela needed to her omni-tool. She needed to speak with a turian by the name of Rupia Sabers on Omega, a low ranking member in the Blue Suns.

"Thank you." Tela nodded, standing.

"It was my pleasure, Agent Vasir."

Tela turned to leave, but hesitated just before she reached the door. She looked back over her shoulder at him. "I am… glad that it wasn't you."

"Stay safe, Tela," Barla Von called after her.

"You too."

Without any more formality, Tela left Barla Von alone.

###

When you were one of the leaders of the galaxy, you had to take your comfort where you could get it. For Tevos, that often involved coming home from her work at an absurdly late hour and taking a bubble bath for as long as she could bear to keep herself awake. This particular night (morning… whatever. Time really held no meaning on the Citadel) she chose to relax in her tub with a particularly wonderful vintage of Serrice Ice Brandy.

Even as she relaxed, she couldn't help but read over reports that had been sent to her from Asari intelligence agencies. She had put it off for most of the day, and now it was encroaching on her own personal time.

Still, the music playing softly in the background made it all seem… okay. Nevermind the fact that she didn't recognize any of the songs, or that she hadn't for the past two-centuries. It was still relaxing.

A quiet chime cut the music off, and Tevos scowled. She sat there for a moment before deciding that whoever was at her door wasn't going to go away.

With a groan, she set down her reports and rose out of her bath, wrapping a terry cloth robe around herself and stepping into a pair of fuzzy slippers. Striding out of her bathroom, she went to see who was at her door.

Checking her security monitors, Tevos had to roll her eyes when she saw who it was. Her C-Sec detail knew that Tela was always welcome, and had let her through.

With a sigh, she let the door open and Tela stormed in without any preamble.

"Saren Arterius has sunk to further depths than any of us had imagined." Tela turned to look at Tevos from inside the apartment.

"Yes, please, come in Agent Vasir," Tevos said with a sigh.

Tela ignored Tevos' annoyance, turning to face the Councilor. "Arterius and the Shadow Broker are working together, and they have been for a long time. Longer than is good for any of us."

"Truly?" Tela's statement made Tevos freeze, and the Councilor studied the Spectre.

"I wouldn't joke about this."

"That is… troublesome." Tevos frowned, plans already starting to form in her mind. This was something that needed to be dealt with immediately.

"Shepard is hunting down Arterius." Tela had already thought this through. "I will strike from the other side and investigate the Broker."

"Spectres aren't given their authority to get vengeance," Tevos said warningly.

"This isn't about vengeance." Tela snorted, shaking her head. "The Shadow Broker is a far more dangerous threat than a rogue Spectre."

"It is about vengeance."

Tela sighed, looking away from Tevos and refusing to meet her gaze.

"Maybe so," she admitted, "But it is still something that needs to be done."

"What is your plan?" Tevos asked with a sigh.

"The Shadow Broker has ties with the slave trade. I feel that the answer to why is heavily tied to why he is working with Arterius."

"Very well." Ignoring the fact that she was standing before one of her best Spectres in a neon green bathrobe with smiling froggy faces stitched into it, Tevos straightened and gathered her Councilor persona around herself. "Agent Vasir, you are to track down the Shadow Broker and remove him from the galaxy. He is too big a threat to galactic security to live and let lie."

"Thank you, Councilor." Giving a quick bow of her head, Tela turned and left.

Alone in her apartment once again, Tevos sighed, then shed her froggy robe. She strode back to her bathtub, wondering if it had gotten cold enough that she'd need to drain some water to add more heat.

Whatever. She simply submerged herself in the tub and wished the galaxy away.