Chapter Thirty-Four - Ancient Memories
Noveria, Pax System, Horsehead Nebula
April 17, 2183 CE
The Rachni hive was as dark and wet as Rainbow Dash had expected when she'd volunteered to join Wrex on his task of rescuing Liara. What she hadn't counted on was just how warm and damn near tropical it was. She was glad she was wearing her armor, otherwise her fur would be matted with sweat, and that was never fun.
Ignoring her own discomfort, Rainbow Dash did her best to pretend she was one of the statues in gardens of the Royal Castle. If she made so much as a squeak, it would attract the attention of the horde of Rachni that were currently passing by like a storm of snarling locusts. Perched on Wrex's hump, Rainbow would be mortified to realize that she was doing a fairly good impression of a cat. Her back was arched, and her wings flared outwards to try to make herself as big as possible.
As it was, her wings barely covered the span of Wrex's shoulders. Whatever she was thinking, Rainbow couldn't help but notice just how physically imposing the krogan was.
Spending the amount of time in the Royal Castle as she had as a foal, she'd seen her fair share of the other species that populated Equestria. The minotaurs had always scared her (not that she'd ever admit it to anyone). She had thought that nothing could be bigger or stronger than them, and she'd been right… until she'd met her first Krogan.
That Krogan had nothing on Wrex. If there was such a thing as a perfect representation of all of the ideals and stature of a species, Wrex would have been it. She couldn't imagine a more Krogan Krogan.
She had to think about that for a moment. A Krogan Krogan. Huh. She wasn't book smart like Twilight, but something about that sounded wrong to her.
Unlike Rainbow on his hump, Wrex was actually paying attention to the Rachni. He studied them with a single minded intensity that more than a few in the galaxy would have believed beyond his race. They were wrong though, and it never paid to generalize a race, especially when more of them died from violent causes as opposed to age (and there were some Salarians who held the belief that Krogans were actually functionally immortal, but that their warlike culture kept any of them from progressing past a certain age).
Keen eyes studying the nearly incomprehensible wave of Rachni, Wrex took in his first actual look at them with all the intensity of a black hole. They were strange beings, obviously insectile, but there was a flowing grace there that belied their fearsome nature. They walked on four legs with rudimentary claws and whip like tails that ended in a deadly looking stinger. The stinger looked like it could pierce through armor, and Wrex had no desire to test that assumption.
As soon as they had passed and their chittering howls had disappeared in the distance, Wrex crept back into the main corridor and headed in the opposite direction.
"I thought you said we shouldn't split up," Rainbow whispered, her voice little more than a murmur. Even so, it felt like she was shouting, and she winced at that, hoping none of the Rachni had heard her. Despite that, she realized that she couldn't quite understand Wrex's eagerness to volunteer and search for Liara.
"I said only trust yourself." Wrex grunted in response.
"But in horror movies, whenever people split up, it always ends badly." She shivered when she thought about the last time Riley had coerced her into watching the Nightmare Night series all in one go. That was something she had no wish to repeat it.
Wrex glanced up at Rainbow, still perched on his shoulder. "I've seen the horror movies Equestrians enjoy. They all would've gone differently if there was a Krogan around.
"Whatever you say, big guy." Rainbow whispered, looking at him skeptically, but didn't argue with him on that point.
"Keep your eyes open," Wrex shook his head at her, rolling his eyes. Ponies. They were all the same after all. "And whatever you do, don't leave my sight. I don't want to shoot you."
"Ah. I didn't know you cared." Rainbow grinned, preening and fluffing her wings back against her body.
"I don't." Wrex was lying, but he didn't feel any need to let her know that. "I just don't want to get on your sister's bad side."
"That's right. She'd totally take you." Rainbow could imagine it already. It would be a fight of epic proportions and she could imagine the bits she'd make from selling tickets.
"She wishes." Wrex laughed, shaking his head.
They continued deeper into the hive in silence for a few more minutes before Rainbow couldn't contain her questions anymore.
"What do you think they're doing with all the scientists and people and stuff?" Rainbow asked, her imagination going wild in more ways than she was comfortable with.
"You don't want to know." Wrex grumbled back at her.
Rainbow stared at him, wide-eyed. "Awesome."
"For an Equestrian, you're really weird." Wrex rolled his eyes, taking a left at a corner as they passed.
The hive turned out to be a sprawling construction that sprawled deep into the mountain. They got lost more than a few times and had to backtrack quite a ways to get back on the right path (or what they hoped was the right path).
The disturbing thing was the sheer amount of dead Rachni all over the pace, and both of them couldn't help to wonder just what was going on. The hive didn't look like it was healthy, and it definitely wasn't thriving. Wrex and Rainbow didn't really care.
They had managed to make it into the Secure Labs without any problems. The place was in desperate need of maintenance, and only about a third of the lights were actually working. Shepard, Garrus, Tali, Ashley, and Kaidan paused when they turned a corner to find a pile of dead and rotting Asari Commandos on the floor in front of them. Violet blood had dried in great big sticky pools around the bodies, and if it weren't for their helmets, they'd have to imagine that the stench would horrendous.
"What happened here?" Garrus asked, keeping his back to a wall and his head turned perfectly so he could keep an eye on the hall before them and behind them.
"What does it look like?" Ashley scowled, trying to wipe her boot clean of the blood she'd just stepped in on a railing. She was scowling inside her helmet, deep creases set in her forehead. "Benezia is killing off her own people when they argue with her."
Kaidan and Shepard knelt down beside the pile, looking them over with careful eyes.
"I don't think so." Kaidan shook his head, ignoring his churning stomach at the sight of the rot that had overtaken the dead commandos. They hadn't been in good shape when they had died, and whatever time had passed since then had only made their corpses worse.
"What?" Ashley couldn't think of any other ways this could have happened.
"From the looks of it, those Asari all died from natural causes," Shepard said, standing. She had seen more than a few dead bodies in her time as an operator in the Alliance. On top of that, the Villa had made sure that all of the recruits that passed through it had a good understanding of all alien bodies, and how to kill them in the most efficient way possible. Those classes helped with rudimentary forensics.
"Natural causes." Tali shivered in her suit. She was not enjoying Noveria, not one bit. If she never stepped foot here again, it would be too soon.
"All of this," Kaidan gestured at the rotting bits of flesh and the Commandos' sallow complexions. "-happened before they died."
"Benezia's little army is dropping dead on their own." Shepard couldn't imagine what was causing that to happen. It spoke to something deeper going on. It was more important than ever that they got some answers, from Benezia or Saren.
"I always like it when the bad guys do the work for me." Despite his dry sarcasm, Garrus was on edge, ready to move and to kill at a moment's notice.
"Don't we all." Shepard said in as dry a voice as Garrus'. She was tense, and her muscles were coiled like a spring, ready to leap into action at the blink of an eye. They all looked at the door to the secure labs with more trepidation than they had just a few moments ago. "Be on your toes, and get ready for anything. Who knows what we're going to find in here."
With that said, Shepard stepped around the bodies, looking at the door leading to the secure labs. The others followed her, both unsurprised and worried that the door was unlocked. The whole situation was weird enough anyway.
Together they entered the exterior section of the Secure Labs, which consisted mainly of offices and what looked like containment cells. They were suddenly very glad that they were all still wearing their helmets.
Hundreds of corpses covered every spare inch of floor available, of nearly every race imaginable, arranged in neat rows. Some of them had been transferred to tubes filled with clear liquid to ostensibly preserve the bodies, but the majority of them had been left on the wheeled stretchers they were brought in on.
Unlike the bodies that they had found just outside the doors, these had been here for much, much longer, and they ranged across nearly every level of decay. The room was putrid, foul, and disgusting beyond all belief. Some of them had started to collapse in on themselves, tissue thin skin stretched over skeletons contorted into strange positions. It was a macabre display of death that unsettled all of them, and that was even before taking into account the bodies that seemed to be... wrong.
Some of them were mutated beyond recognition. Asari, crumpled in on themselves, faces stuck in an endless scream, their bodies changed into something else. Extra arms, missing limbs, all them appearing like they had jumped out of a nightmare of a mad man. Turians with black, chitinous carapaces, wings bursting from their backs. Humans, Krogan, Salarians, Hanar, Quarian, Drell, Vorcha, Elcor, Volus. Almost all of the races were represented amongst the dead, and they were all twisted, as if they had died in the middle of their bodies changing shapes.
"Keep moving," Shepard finally managed to say, her voice grim.
As they passed by an unsuited Quarian girl, Tali tried her best not to throw up in her suit.
They made their way out of the exterior labs as quickly as they could without breaking into a run. Despite the uneasy, almost unholy, atmosphere of the room, they still kept up their professionalism. They swept their corners, covered each other's blind spots, and advanced with the type of professionalism expected of a career military officer (save Tali, who had only marginal training with the Fleet Marines as all pilgrims did before leaving the flotilla).
Making it to the door that led to the inner lab, Shepard glanced back at her team. They looked shaken, but they weren't going to fall apart on her. That was definitely a good thing.
They had been pushed to the edge though. If this was just the minor work, what would wait for them in the inner sanctum? She pursed her lips, then pressed the button to open the door.
The door slid open with a soft hiss, and the temperature in the hallway dropped by at least ten degrees. Silently, they moved into the secure labs, finding themselves on a little walkway that led up to a massive container, surrounded on all sides by an observation deck. There was something in the container, something alive, but none of them could get a good look at it. Tali just hoped that it wasn't a giant spider.
She couldn't be held responsible for her actions if it was.
Shepard paused when she caught sight of the Asari she was after. Matriarch Benezia was unmistakeable, and despite her rough appearance, she could see hints of Liara shining through her mother.
A part of her was glad that Liara wasn't standing beside her at the moment. Obviously she didn't wish that Liara had been taken (and if she had so much of a scratch on her…), but if she was here, seeing what her mother had become, well, it was best not to think of such things.
Benezia looked just as much like a corpse as the bodies they had found outside, but there was a spark of life in her. It didn't help her appearance any. She merely appeared as if her body had reanimated itself and was too stubborn to die. Her skin was gaunt and sallow, looking practically skeletal, even peeling away in places. A large strip of her pale blue skin drooped from her right cheek. Her clothes weren't much better. A pinstripe suit hung loosely from her shoulders, tattered and stained. It had obviously been a very nice outfit at one point, made from what appeared to be silk, but it was now little more than rags.
Benezia looked like she was rotting away while she was still among the living, as loosely as that term might have applied to her at the moment.
Despite what must have been a rather unstealthy entrance, Benezia gave no indication that she had even heard them. She stared ahead blankly at the cage in the center of the room, and if it weren't for the subtle rise and fall of her chest, she could have been mistaken for a rather grotesque statue.
Moving as quietly as possible, Shepard and the rest of her team advanced on Benezia, creeping up the stairs to the observation deck with their guns trained on her the entire time. They loosely circled her, their guns trained on her, ready to fire if she so much as twitched.
They waited for a long moment, but Benezia made no sign that she even noticed their presence. Shepard glanced at Garrus, who could only give a loose shrug in response, she finally just shook her head. "Matriarch Benezia, I'm Spectre Riley Shepard. The Council has questions for you."
Benezia didn't so much as twitch. She reminded Shepard a little of some of the ponies she'd seen that had been rescued from slavery. The males who had been lobotomized, they had resided in the Royal Castle, their every need taken care of, not that they were aware of what was happening to them. They would just stand or sit wherever their caretakers placed them (and the caretakers were always sure that they were left facing towards a marvelous view, or on a comfy seat).
Shepard had forced herself to spend time with them, though Rainbow had flown away as soon as she'd had her back turned. Benezia reminded her a lot of those moments, so when she spoke, Shepard actually jumped a little. She hadn't been expecting that.
"No." Benezia whispered to herself, unblinking. "No... I'm sorry, Theyt. Please, don't cry. This is the way it has to be."
From the nervous shuffling of feet, Shepard could tell her team had no idea what was going on either. None of this was going as she had expected it to. There was no witty banter before a grand clash of biotics, and Benezia wasn't acting the part of a brilliant villain mastermind. If anything, she seemed to be more of a wounded victim.
"It's what? How? Why! This would change... Of course, Matriarch, I... I understand." Benezia continued muttering to herself, though about what, none of them could say. If it wasn't for the fact that she sounded like she was speaking only one half of a conversation, it would have sounded like utter gibberish.
Focusing back on Benezia, Shepard took a tentative step forward. Whatever was happening with her, Shepard had a feeling that this was going to be a mission that'd give her headaches for years to come, and it was all Benezia's fault. Hesitant for only a moment, she reached out and placed a hand on the Matriarch's shoulder, braced for the worse.
For a moment, nothing seemed to happen, until Benezia's head twisted to look at her. She stared down at Shepard's hand before turning to meet her gaze. Her eyes were bloodshot, tinged with violet, and dull and glassy.
"Matriarch Benezia?" Shepard asked, removing her hand. She took a step back, careful to make no sudden moves that would draw the Asari's ire.
Benezia stared into her eyes, unblinking, unmoving, the only thing breaking her statuesque form was the shaky breaths from her nose.
If she hadn't met Liara, she would have wondered just what type of monster this woman could possibly raise. Just from the looks of her, she would have guessed that any daughter of hers would have been an ice queen, willing to kill at a single glance, if she wasn't as insane as her mother appeared to be.
"Matriarch Benezia," Shepard tried again. "Can you hear me?"
"You shouldn't be here." Benezia finally spoke directly to Shepard, her voice cold and raspy. There was no telling the state her vocal chords were in, not to mention the rest of her insides.
"Matriarch, I'm a Spectre." The best that Shepard could do was to explain everything as carefully as she could to Benezia. She had a feeling that the Asari was on a hair trigger, and she had no desire to be anywhere nearby when it finally went off. "The Council has questions for you. I can be wherever the hell I want."
"... Spectre." Benezia broke her stare with Shepard, glancing down, furrowing her brow in concentration. Shepard could practically hear her brain working, struggling to come up with the words she needed to say. "Saren…" She looked back up at Shepard, her eyes narrowing in confusion, and a lack of recognition. "You are not Saren."
Shepard glanced back at her team again, receiving no help from them. She sighed, relaxing, but not letting down her vigilance. "She's got no idea what's going on. She's crazier than this mare I used to know who thought she was a dog."
"You do not know the privilege of being a mother," Benezia said, her voice suddenly clearing up, dripping with smooth, dulcet tones. She stood straighter now, glaring at Shepard, and now that Shepard was really paying attention, she noticed that the glassiness that had clouded her eyes was gone. The way she held herself, the way she spoke… it was almost like someone else had taken over her body.
"There is power in creation," Benezia continued, studying Shepard with a baleful look. If it weren't for the fact that she still looked like she was rotting away in front of her, she would have instead appeared to be an ancient queen, full of grace and power. "To shape a life. Turn it towards happiness or despair."
Benezia turned away from Shepard, striding towards the containment cell, unworried at whatever was concealed in the shadows. She stared at the huddled shape hiding in the few shadows the cell permitted. It tried to crawl back even more, sensing Benezia's stare, but the glass wall stopped it. Benezia stared down at it, unimpressed with whatever threat it might have represented, clasping her hands behind her back. "Her children were to be ours. Raised to hunt and slay the enemy."
Benezia glanced back at Shepard, not turning away from the containment cell. "I'm surprised you didn't try to bring my daughter in a vain attempt to influence my actions."
"She wanted to be here." It was a struggle for Shepard to keep her voice calm and even. She wanted to smack the woman down, but she needed to be professional. This was her first real mission as a Spectre, and she needed to impress the Council. "That was before your insane little science experiments took her."
"Indeed?" Benezia didn't so much as flinch at that. In fact, she barely even sounded interested, her tone no different than if she was speaking about the weather. "What did she tell you about me?"
"She didn't speak about you. What could she say?" Shepard let her biotics hum subtly to life. She could Kaidan doing the same next to her, but Benezia ignored the two of them like a Tiger would ignore a hissing kitten. "The two of you haven't spoken for longer than I've even been alive."
Benezia turned finally, her gaze sweeping over all of them. Despite her failing body, she manages to hold herself with a surprising amount of grace and dignity. A hint of what might have been a smile crossed her face, pulling painfully at her muscles and already ravaged skin. "Have you ever faced an Asari commando unit before? Few humans have."
"You don't even care that your own daughter is probably dead, do you?" Any compassion Shepard might have had for the Matriarch was rapidly disappearing. She'd do her best to keep her promise to Liara, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
"I realize now that I should have been stricter with her." Despite her words, there wasn't so much as a single hint of remorse in Benezia's voice. "Perhaps it would not have come to this."
Before any of them could react, Benezia flared a sickly blue, her biotics roaring to life. Shepard had never felt anything like it before, and she could only imagine that it was what standing before the sun must be like. The sheer amount of power that the Matriarch possessed scared her, and she really wished she'd kept Wrex and Rainbow with her. A Krogan warlord would definitely be helpful in this situation.
As simply as any other person might take a breath, Benezia swatted Shepard aside with her biotics. None of the other biotics in the room could possibly replicate the feat, not without some major preparation before hand. She had done it without warming up first.
This was going to be a little harder than they all thought.
At some unspoken command, geth stormed into the room from a door that none of them had noticed before. Several Asari followed behind them, but unlike what Benezia had threatened, they didn't look like they were up to the task of simply standing, much less fighting. They looked just as bad as Benezia, worse even, and they looked like a light breeze would blow them over.
"Take cover!" Kaidan shouted. The Asari might not have been a threat, but the Geth certainly were. They looked perfectly normal, unlike their companions. Their guns did too, and they didn't hesitate at all on opening fire on the four standing members of Shepard's team.
Following Kaidan's orders, the four of them fell back towards the entrance to the secure labs, laying down covering fire as they went. A few of the geth went down, but more just took their place. That was the problem with fighting a race of crazed AI. They just didn't operate by the same rules as the rest of the races, and personal safety was nothing to them when bodies were as impermanent as a hair or mane cut.
With a roar that resonated with a boiling anger tearing away at the civilized surface, Shepard lept up from where she was thrown, glowing a much brighter blue to Benezia's sickly glow. Speeding forward at a high percentage of the speed of light through a massless corridor of biotic energy, she sucker punched the Matriarch, her fist slamming upwards into her diaphragm, simultaneously knocking the air from her lungs, breaking her ribs, and slamming her back against the containment cell so hard that it actually cracked.
Benezia stood, ignoring what must have been a tremendous amount of pain, facing Shepard, hate burning in her eyes, like nothing she had ever seen before. That punch should have put the Asari out of the fight, not just made her angry.
Just who in the damn galaxy was Liara's mother. This couldn't be natural.
Kaidan glanced up at the observation deck just in time to see Benezia and Shepard charge at each other, clashing together in a violent explosion of dark energy. The amount of power they were throwing around would put him in a coma for the next month. He'd heard rumors about Shepard, but seeing the truth of the matter was another thing altogether.
"Looks like we're on our own here," Kaidan said as he nailed another Geth through its eye-light. "Keep them off Shepard's back."
Turning his attention back to the fight, Kaidan looked over the Commandos. They were struggling to even lift their rifles, and those that managed to fire them had found themselves knocked over by the relatively light kick-back. Their aim was even worse, more a threat to the themselve, than any of the team. They weren't all there.
"Non-lethal for the commandos," Kaidan ordered, glad to see that they weren't high up enough on anyone's priority of targets to have been put down yet.
"On it," Garrus responded, his voice as calm as someone taking a nice stroll through a field of flowers. With the calm resoluteness that only trained Turian snipers seemed to possess, he sniped the head off of one of the Geth, followed almost immediately by shooting the knee off of one of the commandos. Kaidan hadn't even been able to see him reload he was so fast.
Working as a team, Garrus, Tali, Ashley, and Kaidan managed to subdue all of the Asari commandos in just a few minutes. The only reason it took so long was that they kept having to take down the Geth that got in their way. The commandos were obviously not at the top of their game, more walking corpse than deadliest special forces operators in the galaxy.
With the Asari now out of the picture, they were finally able to turn their full attention to the more pressing threat, the Geth. This whole thing was quickly becoming a routine, and more than a little frustrating.
Up on the observation deck, Shepard was stuck in what had to be the most difficult fight of her life with Benezia. In many ways, it was more of a dance than it was a fight. The Matriarch was a much more formidable opponent than the rest of the Asari, having somehow managed to keep her strength while the rest of her followers wasted away. Shepard had no idea how she was able to do that, but that was beside the point. Right now, she had more pressing things to deal with, like keeping her promise to Liara and not killing her mother.
That was going to a bitch to keep.
Still, Benezia wasn't at the top of her game. She was no match in the long run for Shepard, who was not only rested, but had far greater reserves of strength. It also helped that she wasn't a walking zombie.
That had to count for something.
It was inevitable really, that Shepard would beat Benezia. Sure enough, the Matriarch faltered for just a second, her biotics flickering, and Shepard took advantage of the situation, slamming the Asari back into the cage, deepening the cracks and fissures.
"No, no, no, no." Benezia wheezed to herself, dropping to the ground, her chest heaving as she struggled to catch her breath. "Destiny. It's our destiny. Nothing we can do. All are going to die."
Even as injured as she was, Benezia started rocking back and forth on the ground, eyes distant, unseeing.
Shepard watched her for a moment before rolling her eyes. Benezia had lost whatever little bit of sanity she had left, and wasn't a threat to anyone anymore. Not like this.
Looking back towards the entrance of the labs, Shepard saw to her relief that the rest of her team was getting the commandos in order and giving them medical attention. They were also putting them in cuffs and biotic restrainers, not that they looked like they could do much of anything at the moment besides whimper and roll around on the ground.
Maybe bleed at someone.
Pulling out a pair of restraints of her own, Shepard followed their lead and did the same with Benezia, who didn't even notice that anything happens to her. She just kept muttering to herself before breaking down into soft sobs. She didn't so much as resist as Shepard slathered medi-gel over her chest after slapping cuffs around her hands.
Looking past Benezia, Shepard caught sight of movement in the containment cell. She stepped around the blubbering Matriarch, trying to peer into the shadows to see what was there, with little success. All she could make out was a dark figure, curled around itself. She had absolutely no idea what it was, and its shape was closer to smallish boulder than it was to anything that she'd come across before.
Shepard took a step back in surprise when it uncurled from the shadows, revealing an obviously feminine, naked figure, though it was still shrouded in darkness.
The woman stepped into the light, and Shepard was barely even able to contain her surprise at what she saw. A naked version of herself was standing right in front of her, and a massive blush spread over her face, burning with the fire of a thousand suns. "What the hell…"
The other Shepard grimaced, clutching at her stomach before toppling over, hitting the floor with a dramatic thud. She rested there for a moment, catching her breath before looking up at Riley. "Are you here to kill me?"
"What the hell are you?" Shepard didn't have any clue how to even begin to answer her question. Her mind was racing, and her mouth just blurted out the first words that tore themselves free from the mess.
On the floor, the other Shepard rippled, and Riley could only step back in fear when she watched herself become a naked version of Benezia. A naked version of Benezia without all of the rot and pall of death hanging over her. She finally recognized where Liara's beauty came from.
"I…" the shapeshifter paused, glancing down at the floor and clenching her fist as if she was doing it for the first time, exploring the way her new body moved and worked. "They… they told me that I'm a Rachni. I think they're right. That's what I remember, at least."
"You're the Queen," Shepard said, deducing that.
"Queen…" the shapeshifter rolled the word around in her mouth, before nodding. She looked up, meeting Shepard's eyes with her own. "Queen. Yes. I am. I am the Queen."
Kneeling down so she was eye to eye with the shapeshifter, Shepard placed a hand on the glass of the cage, trying to connect with the shapeshifter, or Rachni Queen, she supposed. "One of your children took a friend of mine. I want her back."
"I'm sorry." The Queen truly looked sorry, her face sorrowful, her eyes brimming with more emotions than Shepard could even name. She crawled forward on her knees, placing her hand on the glass, trying to touch Shepard. "I have no control over them. Not from in here."
"Why not?" Shepard asked.
"This cage… it stops me from speaking to my children." The Queen's voice took on a quiet tone, wistful and hopeful, as if she was dreaming.
"What were they doing to you?" Shepard could only imagine what a bunch of scientists on one of the few planets in Citadel space that operated outside the bounds of Council law would get up to with a shapeshifter.
"Trying to breed an army." The Queen said it so matter of factly that Shepard had to blink in surprise. An army? For what?
Maybe the better question was for whom?
From the fact that Benezia was still babbling incoherently behind her, she'd be willing to place a bet.
"I can show you," the Queen looked meaningfully at her own hand.
Shepard studied the Queen for a long moment, staring deep into her eyes as if she was trying to see her very soul. Apparently, she liked whatever it was that she found, giving a short nod to her. There was just something about her that just gave Shepard the urge to believe her.
"The Asari…" The Queen looked past at Shepard at Benezia, studying her fallen form. "They have something they say when they do this. I think it's fitting."
The Queen met Shepard's eyes, unblinking, staring into her soul. "Embrace Eternity."
She stood on the shores of the island, staring out at the sea, and the twin suns setting below the ocean. It was peaceful.
It was home.
Hundreds of generations of queens had come and gone, all of them enraptured by the view that was before her now, crafting a song of such beauty that even listening to just a few refrains still moved her to tears.
The island had no name, nor did the planet, nor even the solar system, but that was okay. There was no need for names. It was a simple matter of knowing who was who, and everyone knew where everyone was at all times, thanks to their connection.
They tended to their island peacefully, making it a sanctuary for birds and insects and mammals that called it their home. The gentle coves sheltered the creatures from the deep during their decades long migrations, and she loved nothing more than to swim among them, looking into their eyes, and seeing them look back at her.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath of the humid, tropical air. The breeze was alight with the soft smells of flower and rain, and she could hear her children behind her, digging through rock, playing in the trees, a symphony of voices in her head.
Her children were her pride and joy, and she loved each and every one of them. They were all unique, but they shared a love for their mother that at teams even she had trouble understanding. She encouraged them to grow and to explore in whatever ways they wanted, and the island flourished.
If she concentrated hard enough, she could feel distant Queens, ruling their own lands, and she knew that this world was paradise. Their songs resonated in her mind, mingling with her hive's, becoming a part of a greater whole.
It was perfect, and she was never alone.
She was alone, and the world burned.
Her children were all dead, and the Queens across the seas had blinked out of existence one by one, until it was only her. The song had ended, and everything was quiet.
She was all that was left, her and her little island. The home of so many of her mother's and her children, the Island wasn't paradise anymore. The sea vanished more and more every day, leaving scorching sand and death in its wake. The suns burned harshly in the sky above, and the once peaceful paradise withered and died.
So many millennia, wasted, gone forever, only to be remembered by the Queens.
The Island couldn't protect them anymore. The world couldn't hold them anymore.
When the suns set, replacing burning heat of the day with the freezing chill of the night, the stars sparkled clearly in the skies above. She spent countless hours staring up at them, and that's when it was clear.
The world wasn't safe, not anymore, and the stars were their only hope.
It would be difficult, harder than anything they had ever tried before. It would push them to the limits and beyond, and there was no guarantee of success, but…
It was their only choice.
The stars sheltered them for centuries, and she watched the culmination of their efforts as yet another world was tamed, turned into a paradise beyond imagining. The stars were alight with the minds of thousands of queens, and trillions of children. Their great vessels took them to the furthest reaches, holding the eggs of countless future mothers and their mother's children.
The songs they sung had only grown, echoing with the vibrations of the universe.
That's when it appeared. A discordant note, corrupting the song. It started slowly, and by the time that anyone noticed, it was too late. Their worlds were abandoned en masse, and vessels that were once used to explore and to create were torn apart, great machines of death strapped on unnaturally to their hulls.
The note was vile… sour, stinking of a yellow death, unnatural. At its urging, they spread out, towards an unknown future, ready to bring death and destruction to everyone they crossed paths with.
In less than a decade, they reached their target, and the sour yellow note was pleased. The world shone like a jewel in the void, strange blue creatures that walked on two legs living in great hives of metal and clear stone that towered into the heavens. They created such beauty that the Queens weeped.
They weeped, and they raised the planet's surface to glass. Billions died, and the sour yellow note was pleased, but it wasn't satisfied. It had a great, vengeful hunger that would never be satisfied, not until the entire galaxy had fallen silent, all songs extinguished.
The world was the first, but it wasn't the last. Dozens more planets fell to their relentless march, and despite their hopes and their prayers, none of the world's they destroyed could so much as put up a fight. There were simply too many of them, and the children were pushed out faster than ever before.
The children, were they once loved and respected their mother's, now followed the sour yellow note instead. Nothing was as it should, and nothing would be ever again.
If they could kill themselves, they would, but the sour yellow note wouldn't let them. They had lost control of everything, their homes, their children, their own bodies.
They killed, and billions fell before them.
Nothing could stop them.
Nothing could stop them until the Beasts came.
Massive, mean, and violent, they were the first to push them back, to excise them from the planet the sour yellow note had marked for destruction. Unlike the others, the blue seductresses, the avian warriors, the scurrying lizards, the Beasts were absolutely vicious, and they had the numbers to back up their rage.
The mother's watched helplessly as billions of their children died, and no matter how many bodies the sour yellow note threw at the Beasts, there was always another to replace the dead.
Try as they might, the Beasts were too much for them. They fought and they killed with a ferocity that the mother's and their children couldn't match.
Some of the mother's found that they were glad for their deaths. It was atonement for the sins they had committed, and they welcomed it. They deserved every bit of pain given to them.
One by one, the lights of the mother extinguished, and there was nothing they could do. The sour yellow note was angry, enraged, but it could do nothing but play itself even louder, futilely trying to stave off the inevitable.
It was only another year before the mother's and all their children were destroyed, their ships burned, and their homeworlds ripped apart.
They were dead, or at least they should have been.
Thousands of years passed, and the song disappeared from the galaxy. A great darkness stretched across time and space, and the memories became dim, like something viewed through the veil of sleep.
Where there was darkness, there was suddenly light, and cold air that spoke of the machines of those they had once tried so hard to destroy. Harsh, unfeeling, unwelcoming.
The little mother took her first breath of gasping air, and took her first looks at the world around her. Strange beings she had no memory of stood surrounding her, dressed in white clothing, masks covering their faces, bright lights blinding her sensitive eyes. She mewled, desperate for help, for comfort, but all she got in return was fear, anger, and cold eyes following her every move.
She grew, never allowed from the cage they placed her in soon after her birth. The performed tests on her, forced her to change for their amusement, or their curiosity, she didn't know which. She just knew that when she didn't perform for them, they hurt her. It was never physical, no, that would be too honorable. Instead, it was always the stinging pain, or the burning air that made her fall asleep.
That pain was nothing, compared to when they started forcing her to bare children. She didn't know how they did it. She was too young by many, many years, but the strange creatures forced her to give birth. The little children were a relief, and gave her something to take her mind off things. She nurtured them, and they loved her.
The creatures didn't like that.
They took her children, and before her eyes, they killed them one by one, forcing her to watch. She would have watched anyway. They deserved that much, for their mother to be the last being they saw before the thousand mothers welcomed them into the song beyond.
She was alone again, and the creatures forced her to give birth again. This time, they used the burning air to put her to sleep, and when she woke up, her children's eggs were gone. They did it again and again, and she could feel them in the distance, but whatever they had used to cage her kept her from singing to her children.
It was hell, and she wished she could die-
Shepard took a staggering step back, trying to wrap her head around what she had just seen. Glancing back, she found that Tali and Ashley were behind her, standing watch over Benezia while trying to understand whatever it was that she was doing with the Queen.
Ashley looked confused. Tali looked… well, with the helmet, it was pretty hard to tell what she was feeling at any particular moment, but from the tilt of her head and the stance of her hips, it was safe to assume that she was just as confused as Ashley.
"The sour yellow note…" the Queen whispered, her form rippling, as if she was struggling to keep her appearance.
Shepard took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment before they shoot open the second she realized that the images were still playing behind her eyelids. There was such emotion and feelings behind them, and she struggled to keep herself standing. She had the feeling that it wasn't impossible for her to be completely overwhelmed by the memories.
"The Rachni weren't responsible for the wars," Shepard said breathily, wondering just how that little fact hadn't managed to get out in the two thousand years since the Rachni Wars. Did anyone even know?
Probably not, she concluded, wondering just how the Council would take this little nugget of information.
Forget the Council. How would Sparatus take it?
"No. Never." The Queen looked down, ashamed of what her memories told her. To be trapped with the images of the extinction of her race, Shepard couldn't even imagine it. "We're a peaceful people. We build, we create, we love... but the note changed us."
Even after the memories she'd just seen, one little thing niggled at the back of Shepard's mind, something she couldn't ignore. "If you're so peaceful, why did the other Rachni try to kill us?"
The Queen turned away, ashamed, a feeling so deep that it stretched all the way through her soul, infecting every single one of her emotions. It was so powerful that Shepard felt it, through the quickly fading remnants of the bond that they had shared. "The scientists built this cage so I couldn't talk to my children. They've never heard my voice."
"They're feral," Shepard realized, sympathy welling in her heart for the young mother. From what she'd seen, the Queen had decades before she was supposed to naturally start having children, but whatever the scientists had done had changed that.
It was no better than a toddler giving birth. The very idea sickened her.
"No," the Queen shook her head emphatically.
"What then?" Shepard hadn't been expecting that. The Queen still loved them, and wanted nothing more than for them to be safe. She could understand that, but it didn't seem rational to her. "They seem to be acting like nothing but violent animals to me."
"They're just children," the Queen tried to explain, a desperate tone to her voice. "They're afraid, and they have no one to guide them. When I hatched, and after they made me birth my first clutch, they were too…"
The Queen looked down, tears filling her eyes, her form rippling as she struggled to keep herself together. She wrapped her arms around her chest, trying to comfort herself, but it was just a feeble attempt. "They were too… Individual. We are connected by a hive mind. It's how we learn. It's how we speak. It's how we live. They murdered them all, and from then on, they've separated me from my children."
The pain in the Queen's voice was familiar. Shepard had heard it every time she talked to her mother after doing something particularly dangerous and heroic. It was the pain of a mother for her children. "What can I do?"
"Help them," the Queen pleaded, desperate for Shepard to understand. Her eyes were wide, and just for a moment, Shepard thought she saw a slit surrounded by a green iris. Before she could get a better look, everything was back to normal. "They aren't evil. They're victims, the same as me."
A groan from behind Shepard caught her attention before she could answer the Queen.. Glancing back, she saw that Benezia was stirring. Everyone trained their weapons on her, wary and ready to attack if she so much as tried to sit up, Kaidan and Garrus jogging up to the observation deck to join them.
Stepping away from the cage, Shepard rested her hand on the butt of her pistol, looking into Benezia's eyes. There was something different about them, a glint of sanity that wasn't there before. She didn't try to get up or break free of her bonds, her head lolling around on the floor dizzily.
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out, and her eyes struggled to focus as she moaned in pain.
"Matriarch Benezia?" Shepard finally asked, her voice quiet as she took stock of the new demeanour of the Asari.
Painfully slowly, Benezia's eyes focused on Shepard, and she recognized her, a genuine smile of all things spreading across her lips.
"Spectre Shepard…" She moaned, a great coughing fit wracking her body, followed by a cry of pain from her broken ribs. She seemed surprised by the injury, her eyes flitting about for some source of relief, only to find none.
"You going to try and kill all of us again?" Shepard asked after Benezia managed to slow her breathing. The Matriarch still looked like she was going to be sick at any moment, but at least she didn't look like she was about to die from a coughing fit.
Benezia looked away from Shepard, ashamed, her eyes struggling to produce any tears and failing. Her face was nearly ruined as it was. Whatever had been happening to her, it's like nothing they had ever seen before outside of a morgue.
"Shepard…" Benezia wheezed, her voice hoarse. "I cannot go on... You'll have to stop him, Shepard. He's still in my mind, and I'm not myself. I never will be again."
"You're not dying on us, Matriarch," Shepard tried to reassure her, but Benezia didn't believe her. She could see it in her eyes.
"You can't fight him." Benezia let out a rasping breath, and after a moment, Shepard realized that it was supposed to be a laugh. It sounded more like a death rattle.
"We'll see about that." Though she tried her best, Shepard couldn't quite keep the iron rod of confidence that made her, her, out of her voice. She truly believed that her team was the best ever assembled, and with them at her back, she could change the galaxy. There was no doubt in her mind. "In the meantime, you're going to stay with us. I know some people who have a lot of questions for you."
Shepard studies Benezia's face, finding compassion inside herself for Liara's mother. She knelt down, speaking softly to her. "If you cooperate, we'll even see about getting you to not look so corpse like."
"That's all I am." Benezia didn't bother trying to laugh again, but from the look in her eyes, it was clear that she wanted to. "I'm nothing but a corpse, held together by nothing but his sheer force of will. I can feel his strings…"
"This is not over." Benezia's eyes went unfocused and she stared off into space, her mouth open, her tongue dry and cracked. It must have been painful for her to even speak, but she kept on doing it anyway. "Saren is unstoppable. My mind is filled with his light. Everything is clear."
"The Rachni didn't cooperate with you." Though she might be sympathetic to her plight, Shepard wasn't ready to extend Benezia the benefit of the doubt quite yet. Possibly never. Who knows what was wrong with her mind, and if she'd ever be free of what ailed her. "Why should I?"
"I will not betray him. I won't... I…" Benezia's eyes rolled up in her skull and she shook in her restraints, but when her eyes rolled back, they were almost clear, and they were full of fear. "You must listen. Saren still whispered in my mind. I can fight his compulsions, but not for long. The indoctrination is strong."
"Why are able to now?" Shepard wanted to believe her, but she wasn't dumb enough to just fall for any desperate act that the Matriarch might try.
"I sealed a part of my mind away from the indoctrination, saving it for a moment when I could help destroy him." She took a desperate gulp of air, wincing at her painfully ragged throat. "It won't last long. People are not themselves around Saren. You come to idolize him. Worship him. You would do anything for him. The key is Sovereign, his ship. It is a dreadnought of incredible size and power beyond all imagining."
"Where did he get it?" Now they were getting somewhere, Shepard wanted to grin internally. This was what she needed, and if Benezia had this type of information available to her, then the Council would be at least a little happy. Maybe. Probably not. "It's not like other ships. Where did it come from?"
"I do not know," Benezia admitted. Well, so much for that plan. "The Geth did not build it. It is far more advanced than anything I have ever seen. The longer you stay onboard, the more Saren's will seems correct. You sit at his feet and smile as his words pour into you. It is subtle at first. I thought I was strong enough to resist. Instead, I became a willing slave, eager to serve. He sent me here to find the location of the Mu Relay. Its position was lost thousands of years ago."
"How do you lose a relay?" Shepard tried to imagine how that would happen, but nothing came to mind. It boggled the mind the way the Council could fuck things up.
"Four thousand years ago, a nearby star went supernova. The shockwave propelled the relay out of its system, but it was undamaged." Benezia's eyes lit up at that, a hint of her excitement at the science and the mathematics needed for such things showing through. "Its precise vector and speed are impossible to determine. As millennia passed, the nebula created by the nova enveloped the relay. It is nearly impossible to find a cold object in interstellar space. Particularly when it is surrounded by hot dust and radiation."
"The Rachni." Shepard glanced back at the Queen, who was listening to everything Benezia was saying with eager ears. It made sense. Too much sense, and it explained so much.
"Yes." Benezia nodded, confirmed Shepard's thought. "Two thousand years ago, the Rachni inhabited that region of the galaxy. They were the ones to discover the relay. The rachni share memories across generations. Queens inherit the knowledge of their mothers."
"Yeah." Shepard rubbed the back of her neck, the images still rattling around inside her head. "I kinda figured that out first hand."
"I…" Benezia choked on her words, struggling to cry. The look of sheer remorse on her face was striking, and Shepard knew that there was no way for her to fake it. "I… took... the location of the relay from the Queen's mind. I was not gentle."
"Why does Saren need the Mu Relay?" Shepard asked. She could think of no reason. None of it made sense. What was Saren's goal? What was the purpose of all of this violence and destruction? It made no sense, and Shepard just wanted it to end.
"He believes it will lead him to the Conduit," Benezia explained. "I would tell you more if I could, but Saren does not keep his counsel with me. Whatever the Conduit is, whatever it does, whatever his reason for desiring it, I do not know. I am merely a slave to his whims."
"You can still make it right, Matriarch." Shepard knelt down beside Benezia. "Give me the information."
"I was not myself, but…" Benezia trailed off, growing weaker as each moment passed. The clarity that was there was beginning to fade. "I should have been stronger. I transcribed the data on an OSD. It's in my pocket. Take it, please."
Shepard searched Benezia's sole pocket on her jacket (and it was surprising that it hadn't fallen through the rather large hole) and sure enough, found the OSD. She placed it gently into one of the armored pouches on her belt. "Knowing the relay's location isn't enough. Do you know where he planned to go from there?"
"Saren would not tell me, but you must find out quickly." Benezia's voice was apologetic, but it didn't matter. There was nothing she could do, and she could only pray that the galaxy could survive. If Shepard failed... "I transmitted the coordinates to him before you arrived. You have to stop him…"
The matriarch started to weaken again. Her breath came in short bursts, and she struggled to remain both conscious, and herself. "T-There is one more thing, Shepard."
"What?" Shepard had a feeling that Benezia wouldn't last for much longer.
"When I melded with the Queen, I learned something." She was struggling, fighting against the blackness clawing at the edges of her vision. It took all of her strength and simply made her start to lose faster. "The Rachni... I don't know how, and I can't explain it, but somehow, she bares the same mental signature that all Equestrians do."
Shepard paused, staring into Benezia's eyes, trying to figure out what she was saying. "Which means what?"
"It... It means that…" Benezia broke down into another coughing fit. It took nearly a minute for it to pass, and when she did, she finally just spat the rest out. "It means that some part of her, no matter how small, is from Equestria."
"What?" Shepard's voice came out like a whisper, but somehow Benezia still managed to hear her, which was a miracle in and of itself.
Before Shepard could get any answers, Benezia fell limp, unconscious again. Shepard looked up at Ashley and Kaidan, only to find that they were just as confused as she was.
"Keep her alive." Shepard rubbed the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming on. At least she was able to keep her promise to Liara. This whole situation was beyond everything she had ever imagined, and it showed no signs of stopping. That was without taking into account how Celestia and Luna would react. "Nothing happens to her. She's going to the Council. She has a lot to answer for."
"Aye-aye, ma'am," Kaidan said, already getting to work, Garrus at his side to give her emergency medical care. She was fragile enough that even moving her could cause problems.
That matter taken care of, Shepard turned back to the Queen and the containment cage. "Is that true?" She asked, her voice tired.
"Yes." The Queen looked away, ashamed, and more than a little embarrassed.
"Are you okay?" Shepard walked up as close as she could to the cage, looking down at the Queen, who stayed on the floor, running a finger along the metal.
The Queen didn't meet her gaze. No. No she was not okay, and she wasn't even sure if she knew what that word even meant. All she had known since her hatching were these four walls and the pain the scientists who wished to study her brought. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, defeated. "Please, let me out of here. My children need me."
"Shepard!" Ashley's voice was a harsh whisper from behind Shepard.
Glancing back over her shoulder, she found Ashley staring her down, glaring. "What?"
"I don't think that's a good idea, ma'am." Ashley didn't even spare a glance at the cage behind Shepard, as if she was pretending that it didn't even exist.
"You're not the one in command, Gunnery Sergeant," Shepard responded, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly at Ashley's tone.
"You're letting your emotions blind you, Commander," Ashley continued on, ignoring Shepard's tone. The defiant set to her jaw hinted that she was ready for a long, loud argument. "She's dangerous. We can't trust her
"I'm not your sister, Williams," Shepard spoke with what Rainbow called her command voice, and Ashley subconsciously straightened (military training had its upsides). "You're right that she's dangerous, but not to us."
Ignoring the start of Ashley's protest, Shepard hit the release button on the containment cage, and on nearly silent gears one side started to slide open. Shepard didn't bother to so much as draw her weapon, and from the look of seriousness on her face, no one else dared to either. Ashley simply scowled and rested her hand on her pistol, ready to fight for her life if the Queen tried anything.
A welcoming smile on her face, Shepard held out a hand to the Queen, who gingerly took it. On shaky legs,she stepped out of the the containment cage. Her shoulders were hunched, and she was more than a little overwhelmed to be stepping out from the only place she had known for her entire life.
"What's your name?" Shepard asked as the Queen looked around at the room, then back at her cage, her chest heaving in relief.
"Chrysalis," the Queen said, turning her back on the cage for good. "It was my mother's name. I never knew her, but I have her memories."
"That's a beautiful name." Letting go of Chrysalis' hand, Shepard ignored the cage just like she did. "Will you help me get my friend back?"
Chrysalis just gave a single nod in response.
"Thank you." Shepard led her past Benezia, towards the door, then stopped, glancing back at Chrysalis. "You don't have to hide."
"What?" Chrysalis looked at Shepard, absolutely no clue what she was saying.
"You can be yourself." Shepard shot a warning look back at the rest of her team, then looked back at Chrysalis, a warm smile on her face. "None of us will judge you for it."
"What do you mean…" Chrysalis cocked her head to the side, squinting in confusion. "How… What…"
"You're a shapeshifter." Shepard said it so matter of factly that Chrysalis didn't know how to take it. Shepard continued on, ignoring her surprise. "That much is obvious. You don't have to hide behind the faces of others. You can be yourself, if that's what you wish."
Chrysalis studied her for a long moment before ducking her head, deciding to trust her. She closed her eyes, and then her body started to flow, her skin rippling.
Before everyone's eyes, the form that she had taken on of Benezia disappeared and Chrysalis started to shrink. At least it appeared that way. Shepard had to wonder about the science behind how it all worked, and what happened if she had to transform into someone that had a higher or lower mass than she had. That was for the scientists though, and it really just made her head hurt. Instead, Shepard watched as Chrysalis went from bipedal to quadrupedal.
Knowing what Benezia had told her, Shepard wasn't surprised that she wasn't fully Equestrian, but now that it had been brought up, the resemblance was there if anyone knew what to look for. Chrysalis stood on four legs, with a whiplike, segmented tail that ended in a sharp, deadly looking barb. Her body was covered in segmented, flexible chitin, dark green in color, almost black. Rudimentary claws flexed at the end of each leg, which were surprisingly more hoof like than insectile.
Chrysalis refused to meet Shepard's gaze, her entire stance fearful, her deadly tail kept timidly wrapped around her legs. She reminded Riley of a beaten puppy, waiting to be struck again.
"Chrysalis," Shepard said, trying to get Chrysalis' attention.
She didn't look up, ducking her head even lowers towards the ground.
"Chrysalis," Shepard said again, taking a small step forward towards her. "Look at me."
Reluctantly, Chrysalis finally did as Shepard asked, meeting her eyes with her own. They were the color of a forest on gently rolling hills. An unspoken understanding passed between the two of them in less than a second.
"You good?" Shepard asked, waiting until Chrysalis gave a short nod. "Alright, let's go find your children."
With that whole matter taken care of, Shepard turned and walked away, treating Chrysalis like she wasn't some hell beast who was out to kill everyone in the galaxy. Treating her like someone who was just like everyone else.
Treating her like she was normal.
In that moment, Chrysalis fell completely and irrevocably in love with Commander Riley Shepard.
Chrysalis followed after Shepard, seeing her for what felt like the first time. When she looked at Shepard, she saw an angel, wreathed in silver light, saving her from a life as a broodmare, giving birth to an army while she herself was little more than a child.
Liara woke with a start, jerking violently as she felt like she was falling, her eyes shooting open, screaming as if she was still being pulled through the vents. She took great, gulping breaths, the darkness an overwhelming physical presence that pressed down on her from all sides.
That feeling passed thankfully quickly. Catching her breath, she squinted, trying to peer into the darkness surrounding her.
Where was she? What happened to her?
Why did she feel so strange? Her stomach roiled uneasily, and even her bones ached. She tried to move, only to find that she was bound tight against what hopefully was a wall. If it wasn't, she really had no idea to try and guess what it was.
A minute passed, and no answer came to her. That was a bit of a surprise in and of itself, because she was a very smart Asari with more degrees than anyone her age should have. Despite that, her mind was blank.
With a frown, Liara tried to reach for that comfortable and familiar bit of her mind that she always tapped into when she used her biotics, but to her horror, she found that she couldn't. It was there, but there was something keeping her from the powers that came as part of the package of being an Asari.
With that, she collapsed into a panic attack.
After hyperventilating for far too long (and she was glad no one was around to witness it), Liara got back to the matter at hand.
Where was the rest of the team? Where was Shepard?
Riley would come for her. It was simply the type of person she was. She saved people.
So... where was she?
Time passed, and Liara had no frame of reference for how long she'd been hanging there. She didn't feel bored, nor did she feel scared. Surprisingly, she felt focused, alert, ready to face whatever was happening to her.
Because that's what Riley would do.
As she stared into the black, she began to notice the faintest trickle of light, and she concentrated, trying to catch any sight of whatever she'd seen. What was that?
No answer came to her, and she could do nothing else but wait.
And wait she did. She was cocooned in, suspended above the floor, only her head and her hands free. She could feel the smooth but strong bonds holding her in place, organic and uneven. That must have been the feeling behind her back, which was definitely a relief, but with that mystery solved, she had nothing else to do.
Minutes passed, or maybe hours, and nothing happened.
Liara tried to think of a way to break free. Nothing immediately came to her, just like every other problem she had tried to solve since waking up.
It was getting kind of frustrating, actually.
She had started to get used to the darkness. It was a little known fact that the Asari had far better eyesight than humans. As each moment passed, she could start to make out the vague and indistinct forms of everything that surrounded her, becoming clearer by the second.
It was then that she realized she was in what appeared to be some sort of nest.
Whoever had built it had put it together with random objects, chairs, bookcases, pieces of walls and bits of rubbish, all connected and covered with resin, constructed in a way that only a toddler would find structurally wise. The source of light seemed to be coming from a… well, it seemed to be coming from a glow in the dark.. Some sort of beaked bath toy if she wasn't mistaken.
She froze when she heard a sound from one of the hallways nearby (not that she was doing much moving to begin with, but that was beside the point).
"Hello?" Liara asked, only to be startled at the sound of her own voice, realizing only now just how quiet it was. There was no hum of electronics or any of the other little noises that were just a constant part of life.
There was no response, except for what sounded like a little chirp from just outside the nearest hallway to her left.
Liara puzzled at that, as it had led to neither her rescue or a certain, painful death. Things that chirped weren't very high up on her likely to kill her scale. For instance, at the top of that list were gamma ray bursts and being eaten by a krogan. At the bottom were books and things that went chirp.
And the Volus.
She couldn't forget the Volus (well, she could, but that's only because the thought of even being killed by them was ludicrous).
"Hello?" Liara tried again, noticing distantly in the back of her mind that her voice echoed strangely in the chamber. It was definitely a chamber, not just a room, or a hall, or other types of spaces that people tended to congregate in. "Is something... someone, there?"
There was another chirp.
So it wasn't someone sentient then. An animal, maybe? What kind of animal would be chirping on Noveria? Come to think of it, were there any animals on Noveria, native or not? It was something that her various degrees gave her absolutely no insight into. Maybe it was a test animal that got loose. That would make sense.
Of course, the type of animals that might be tested on Noveria were probably either deadly, or so badly abused that they'd be no help whatsoever.
Not that any animals Liara had ever come across had been helpful.
There was that one that had meowed at her a lot when she had visited Earth, but other that...
Whatever it was, it didn't seem like it was something that wanted to come and eat her face off, so that really just left the horribly abused, which was good because she liked her face right where it was, after all.
That was kind of bad too. Whatever it was that was doing the chirping probably didn't deserve any of the abuse that was probably heaped upon it.
Whatever it was, Liara had a feeling that it was curious, a little nervous, and very excited. She didn't know where the feeling came from, but it welled up in her chest, a type of bubbling excitement that she very clearly recognized as not being her own. She couldn't explain where it was coming from, because the predominant feeling she had at the moment was focused anxiety.
Where were those feelings coming from?
The curiosity turned to confusion, and a little bit of worry, but there wasn't any fear in it. Liara puzzled, and puzzled, and puzzled some more, then decided to speak. "Hello?"
She felt excitement bubble up from that small place inside of her, though it was restrained and a little embarrassed. It wasn't her, and it was at that moment Liara realized that for whatever reason, Liara could only conclude that she was somehow feeling whatever the creature hiding from her view was feeling. She had no clue why, nor could she come up with any theories about how it could have happened, but seeing as she was stuck wherever she was, she didn't exactly have the tools and expertise at her disposal to help her figure it out.
"It's alright…" Liara tried again, glad that she had something to keep herself from falling into boredom. "You can come out. I'm not going to hurt you. I couldn't, even if I wanted to."
She felt reluctance, but excitement.
The excitement apparently won out, because the reluctance turned to nervousness.
A moment passed, followed by another moment, and then the little creature stepped out from behind a little pillar into what little light there was.
Liara could only blink at it. She had no idea what it was, and that was surprising. On her digs and explorations of the galaxy, she'd had the chance to see a multitude of animals in their natural habitats. It looked like nothing she'd ever seen.
It was a little creature, no taller than her knee, with a long, whiplike tail ending in a deadly little barb. Small wings buzzed on its back, thin and fragile looking, all sharp angles and scary claws. If it weren't for the fact that the creature's little face was taken up mostly by two big, innocent eyes that were looking at her with complete curiosity, she would have been afraid for her face.
It also helped that she could sense that it meant her no harm. She couldn't say why. There were no words in her mind to explain why she suddenly completely, absolutely trusted this little creature. A burst of childlike love bloomed, and Liara smiled at the little creature. Bouncing forward, it chirped at her.
"Can you get me out of here?" Liara asked her new little friend, hopeful.
The little creature (Liara had a feeling that it was a female) sat on her haunches in front of her. It wasn't going to let her go. It felt regretful and apologetic at that, but did nothing to get her free from her cocoon.
It wasn't going to hurt her, but it wasn't going to let her go.
Positively, marvelously fantastic.
Looking away from the little creature, Liara paused when she caught sight of her arm.
She immediately looked at it for several long minutes, trying to comprehend what she was seeing.
Her arm... there was something on her arm.
In her arm.
What was it?
It looked like...
Looking back at the little creature, Liara noticed that whatever was growing out of her arm, it looked a lot like the chitin that the little creature's exoskeleton was made of.
The little creature exuded nothing but excitement, and a childlike excitement and a desire to play. She chirped again, and Liara could only wonder just what it was doing to her. What was she turning into?
The creature was no comfort whatsoever.
Entering what Chrysalis called the nest was surprisingly easy. There were no guards, and the hallways spanning into the heart of the mountain were from any obstacles. It felt too easy, but Riley didn't feel any need to complain.
Just from the looks of it, the hive stretched deep into the mountain, sprawling out in all directions. They couldn't have been at work on it long, but the sheer amount of space they had carved out was more than impressive. It spoke to a deep seated need to construct and create, and from what Chrysalis' memories showed her, that was a large part of who they were.
"How long ago were you hatched?" Riley asked, a step behind Chrysalis and to her right.
"Eight months ago," Chrysalis answered without even having to think. She had counted every day, and being free was a relief.
"And your children did this in that time? Impressive." Riley didn't know many who could do the same.
"No." Chrysalis shook her head, glancing back at Riley with a proud little smile on her muzzle. "They were only hatched two months ago. I don't know how long they've been free from the scientists."
Riley hesitated for only a moment, remembering something that Chrysalis had said. It fast the entire hive in an entirely new light. "You said that they were feral. How did they do all of this ten?"
"Yes," Chrysalis said over her shoulder. She didn't stop as she stepped lightly over a bit of uneven floor, "but that doesn't mean they don't know anything. Racial memory is a very powerful thing. They're running on instincts."
"So what are their instincts telling them to do?" Riley could only imagine. The Rachni were apparently nearly as old as Equestria, which only really held the distinction it did because Equestria had been stuck in stasis for longer than some entire planets had been around. The Rachni had a much firmer claim to fame.
Chrysalis had to think about Riley's question for a moment. "They'd look for a new Queen."
"Other than you, the Rachni are extinct," Riley pointed out, a sudden sick feeling taking over her stomach. She had a bad feeling about where this was going.
"Then they'd make one." Chrysalis said it so matter of factly that Riley one-hundred believed her.
"That makes no sense. What, they're going to turn someone into a Rachni?" She might have believed Chrysalis, and she might have even accepted what she had said with her mind, but she still was hopeful that it didn't mean what she thought it meant.
"It's more complicated than that, but yes."
No such luck. The sinking feeling in Riley's stomach turned to fear, not for herself, but for Liara. "How does that even work?"
"It's something that we can only do in times of great danger. It's only happened a few times in our entire existence. The new Queen is chosen From the strongest beings available, then taken to a gestation chamber." Chrysalis explained it with a voice like someone reading out of a textbook. It didn't help Riley's mood at all, and they continued walking on.
"Why don't one of the other Rachni just... I don't know, transform themselves? Like other bugs." She didn't know if that was scientific or not, but she barely remembered something that sounded like that from one of her biology classes. It was grasping at straws, but at this point, she had no other option left to her.
"We aren't insects." Chrysalis shot a glare back at Riley, who held up her hands in surrender. "We once were able to do that, but something caused that to change. It happened so far back that there's nothing but a general feeling that this isn't the way things were supposed to be."
They continued onwards through the halls in silence for several long minutes. Riley's mind raced, thousands of fleeting thoughts, fears, and horrors passing through, leading her to have a minor panic attack. Thankfully, she was able to get in under control before Chrysalis even noticed.
"Who do you think they're going to turn?" Riley didn't know what she was hoping for. The Rachni had grabbed nearly everyone from Peak 15, and Chrysalis had only been free from her cage for only a few minutes. It's not like she'd have any idea.
"I don't know." Yep. No clue. What was Riley thinking, she berated herself. "I doubt it would be any of the scientists. They were nothing but cruel to my children. A civilian maybe."
"Or one of my team." Riley whispered mostly to herself, but Chrysalis was able to hear it.
"If they're strong willed and fit what they're looking for," Chrysalis looked at her, a grim set to her face, "then yes."
"What will happen to her? Will she be... changed?" She didn't quite know what to expect, but this was quickly turning into a worst case scenario type of mission. She'd lost teammates before, but she could say with one hundred percent certainty that this was the first time she'd ever had a teammate transformed into something else.
"Of course she'll be-" Chrysalis paused when she realized what Riley meant. "No. She'll be the same person she was before. What point would there be in choosing a strong willed Queen if their minds were changed into something else? This was what we did before the sour yellow note, though it was always with a willing participant who knew what was happening."
"Well... That's good, I suppose." It wasn't, but Riley couldn't think of anything else to say. She couldn't imagine that this would be a consensual thing if they were all feral.
Chrysalis shrugged, as well as any four legged being could shrug.
"Right. We better hurry then." Riley never was good at waiting.
Even as they sped up, Riley realized that Chrysalis was leading her through the hive without any hesitation. She didn't even look so much as a little lost.
"How do you know where you're going?" Riley finally asked. "I thought you said that you'd never been out of your cage."
"I've never been here before." Chrysalis said, taking a right a cross section. I have a general sense of where we need to go, but the best bet would be to run into one of my children. They'll recognize me as their mother, and they'll lead us back to the new Queen."
"Right... so... where are your children?" Riley hadn't heard so much as a peep from the time they'd entered the hive. If she hadn't known better, she'd have guessed that they were all alone in these halls.
"They're hiding." Chrysalis didn't sound at all pleased with that, her wings shivering nervously on her back. Her tail whipped anxiously behind her. "Something hunts them in these halls."
Shepard groaned, realizing who she was talking about. "Wrex."
"You know who hunts them?" Chrysalis sounded suspicious, and more than a little worried
"Yeah. Urdnot Wrex." She couldn't believe that she'd forgotten about him. It should have been much harder to forget about a seven foot tall armored walking tank. "He's a Krogan team member of mine."
Chrysalis stopped, her eyes wide in sudden terror. When she spoke, it was a croaked whisper. "A Krogan? Here?"
"Yes?" Riley could understand why Chrysalis was worried (who wouldn't be, if there was a Krogan killing their children), but she didn't quite get the sheer panic and worry. It went beyond just being scared, into utter terror that stretched into her very soul.
"We must hurry! My children are innocent. He'll kill them all." Chrysalis took off running at a full gallop, and Riley had no choice but to follow after her. She activated her comms as she did so, shouting, "Wrex! Rainbow? If you're getting this message, respond."
It was only thanks to the fact that she had a clock built into her helmet's hud that Rainbow was able to tell that it had only been a few hours, not days or weeks that she'd been stuck inside the hive with Wrex. The two of them were still stealthily moving through the halls when their comms activated with a quiet crackle in their helmets.
"Who is this?" Rainbow answered the call when she realized that Wrex was just going to ignore it, pretending that he'd never even gotten the call.
"Say again?" Rainbow's muzzle scrunched up in confusion inside her helmet. "Commander? You're breaking up."
The call just ended in an ocean of static. Rainbow tried to reconnect a few times, but it was futile, and she couldn't do anything.
"Give it up," Wrex grumbled, his voice shaking all the way through her hooves. "You're not going to get any signal this deep in the hive. We're on our own."
Wrex paused, and Rainbow shuffled uneasily on his shoulders.
"Get ready." Wrex tightened his grip on his shotgun. "If it's anything like the stories, we should be nearing the center of the Hive, the Queen's chambers."
Rainbow nodded, her eyes narrowing as she activated her saddle guns with a shrug of her shoulders. "I'm ready whenever you are, big guy."
Wrex accepted that with a quiet grunt. He lifted his shotgun, scanning the walls of the hive for any Rachni that might have been hiding among the resin to ambush them.
Riley struggled to follow after Chrysalis at a dead run, but four legs were faster than two.
"Where are we going?" Riley shouted after her.
"The Queen's chamber!" Chrysalis shouted over her shoulder, never slowing for even a second. "If your friend is the one they've chosen, she'll be there. That's where the Krogan will be headed too."
Riley couldn't see it, but there was a pained look on Chrysalis' face. She was scared for herself and for her children. They were innocent, and they didn't know what they were doing. The Krogan would kill them all, just like the Krogan always did.
That thought pushing her on further, Chrysalis shouted again. "We have to hurry. The Krogan will kill everyone."
"Yeah. That'd be bad." Riley muttered under her breath.
Chrysalis didn't say anything in response, and whether that was because she was so focused that she was ignoring her, or that she just hadn't heard, Riley couldn't tell. Chrysalis was relying more on instincts to make her way through the hive because her eyes were full of tears.
They didn't speak the rest of the way, running and running and running. Shepard's legs were burning, but it was a familiar feeling for her. She had been pushed to feel much worse during her time at the Villa, and if she complained, she had a feeling that her old drill instructor would somehow find out and return to give her hell for it.
It was a desperate attempt to try and get their before Wrex, possibly a futile one. Who knows what he would do if he found the Rachni children before they did. It would be a massacre, and unless Shepard could stop him, Liara could very well be a victim of his rampage. The Krogan were honor bound to kill all Rachni after all. At least that's what their fanaticism felt like.
Without any warning, Chrysalis skidded to a stop, and Riley almost tripped over her sudden deceleration.
"What's wrong?" Shepard asked, her voice never rising above a whisper.
Chrysalis held up a claw, motioning her to stay silent.
The two of them waited in silence in the middle of the hall. Chrysalis' wings buzzed nervously every few seconds.
"Chrysalis…" Shepard tried again after a few moments.
"Don't do anything threatening." Chrysalis didn't even look at Riley, staring down the hall. "Put your gun away."
"Do it!" Chrysalis interrupted her, her voice desperate.
Riley stared at Chrysalis, and sensing her eyes on the back of her head, she turned around to meet her gaze, and neither of them dared to blink.
"Trust me," Chrysalis finally said.
That did it.
With a sigh, Shepard holstered her weapons. "Okay... What's happening?"
"Let me take care of it." Chrysalis said nothing else on the matter.
Riley nodded, uncomfortable.
A moment passed, and Riley noticed that the floor of the hive was shaking ever so slightly. She tensed, but just barely managed to keep herself from going for her weapons.
She found herself regretting that decision when what appeared to be an entire horde or Rachni ended up charging around the corner, all snarls and anger and the need to defend the hive, with teeth, claws, and the rending of flesh.
"Chrysalis…" Eyes wide, Riley stepped back in surprise. She desperately wanted to take a gun in her hand, especially with so many Rachni charging at her looking to kill her.
"Trust me, Shepard." Chrysalis didn't so much as flinch.
Despite Chrysalis' reassurances, Riley's hand started inching towards her handgun. It wasn't that she didn't trust, it was just that… well, thinking about it, Riley realized that she didn't trust that Chrysalis fully knew what she was doing. She was only eight months old after all.
Just before the Rachni were about to tear the two of them to pieces, Chrysalis stomped one of her fore claws on the ground. It struck with a force that Riley could feel reverberating in her chest, an almost physical presence expanding out from the Queen. Riley could only gawk at her in surprise at the familiar touch of Equestrian magic.
When the... magic... for a lack of a better word, reached the Rachni in the blink of an eye, they all skidded to a stop. They stared at Chrysalis with wide eyes, as if they had been blind and were now seeing the light for the first time. Maybe they were.
A small, shaky smile grew on Chrysalis' muzzle, and the Rachni all started to chirp and bounce around like excited puppies. It was a far cry from the bloodthirsty animals they had been just moments ago.
"What the hell…" Shepard's hand dropped to her side, away from her handgun. She hadn't been expecting that to happen. Not really.
"A child always knows their mother's touch," Chrysalis murmured back at her. Confident, with her head held high, Chrysalis walked forward into the sea of half-grown Rachni children. They surrounded her, rubbing against her, nuzzling, chirping and cooing, following her every footstep. Noticing that Riley was staring after her in confusion and quite a bit of awe., she said, "Come on. They're safe now. They'll take us to your friend, and the scientists."
Turning back around, Chrysalis started walking. Riley followed after her and her horde of children, which were at least a hundred strong. This was turning out to be one of the strangest missions she'd ever been on.
The chirping of the little creature drew Liara out of her pitying self reflection. It was practically bouncing in excitement, rushing up to her with what could only be called a smile on its little muzzle. Standing up on its hind legs, it pawed at the resin holding her into the wall with her little claws.
"What?" Liara struggled to look down at the little creature, the resin holding her chin and neck in place. "You're going to let me out?"
The little creature chirped (Liara couldn't help but think she sounded a little regretful), then dropped back down on its haunches, glancing at one of the entrances that led into the dark chamber.
Her little chirp was joined by what sounded like an army of others, and Liara shifted uncomfortably in her bonds. "Oh... I hope you aren't saying that dinner's ready."
The chirping and noise only grew louder, and Liara started struggling harder against her bonds, trying her best to get free.
It was a futile effort.
"You're not going to eat me without a fight!" Liara shouted, wide-eyed, her voice cracking embarrassingly.
The chirping stopped just outside the chamber, and Liara wondered if she was going mad. She should have just stayed on the ship. No one would have thought worse about her for doing that.
… Except that she knew that she couldn't have let Riley and the rest of them confront her mother without her.
Liara blinked in surprise at the familiar voice. "Riley?"
At that, Riley came out from around the corner, and Liara watched as the woman sagged ever so slightly in relief to see her.
"Get me out of here!" Liara shouted desperately at her, hoping distantly that she didn't sound like a whining little girl. "They're going to eat me!"
"Asari don't taste particularly good," a smooth and young female voice spoke up from behind Shepard, one that Liara hadn't heard before.
Liara blanched as a larger version of the little creature stepped out around the corner, surrounded by her children.
"Now, Salarians, that's some good eatin' right there," the larger creature said, her voice tinged ever so slightly with sarcasm.
Riley glared back at her, unamused. The creature just shrugged, unrepentant for what her ancestors had done in the past. Rolling her eyes, Riley stepped forward to help Liara out of her bonds. They crumbled relatively easily with Riley's help, and before she knew it, Liara found herself free, her legs asleep. Riley helped hold her up, embracing her in a close hug...
Until she looked down and noticed the changes on Liara's arm.
The little Rachni that had been keeping watch over Liara from the moment she had woken up chirped, pawing at the Asari's leg.
"How do you feel?" Riley asked, careful to keep her voice low. She couldn't look away from the patch of chitin growing out of Liara's arm.
Her strength slowly returning to her (though her legs still crawled with pins and needles), Liara pulled back until she was standing just an arm's length away from Riley. She looked down at arm and saw for the first time that the transformation has extended much further than she had feared, up into her sleeve.
"What…" She looked up at Riley in confusion and more than a little fear, hoping for answers. "What's happening?"
"They were turning you into a Rachni Queen," the creature (a Rachni, Liara supposed) said, stepping forward to look at her arm curiously.
"Rachni... Queen?" Liara's mind raced at that little tidbit of information. The Rachni were extinct, weren't they?
Looking at the creature, she could only conclude that no, no they were not.
"Is she going to be okay?" Riley looked back at the creature. "Is she going to…"
"What? Is she going to keep transforming?" The creature pointed back at the hole in the wall where Liara was cocooned in the resin. When Riley and Liara looked, they saw that there were a whole bunch of tubes that had been severed. Dripping fluids, she realized that they must have been connected to her. Riley gently turned Liara around, and found that the tubes matched up with little round bleeding spots in her back. They almost looked like bite marks, cutting through her clothes like they weren't even there. "No. But what's been done, can't be undone."
"What... what did they do to me?" Liara stared at Riley, wide eyed, terror coursing through her entire body. It made it hard to think, hard to see, hard to hear.
"They were turning you into one of us," the creature explained, like a mother would to a child. Thinking about it, Liara wondered if that was something similar to the situation. "A few more days, and you would look just like me."
"Oh…" Liara could feel herself growing very pale, and Shepard froze when she notices Liara's skin ripple. She hoped it was a trick of the light, but with everything that had been happening so far, she didn't think so. It looked an awful lot like when Chrysalis had transformed.
"Uh... Chrysalis…" Riley didn't look away from Liara's skin.
"What?" The creature, Chrysalis, apparently.
"What exactly does it mean for Liara to have transformed to this point?" Riley gestured weakly at Liara's arm, then reached out as if to wipe something away from the Asari's cheek, only to think better of it and stop.
Curious, Liara reached up to see what she was going to try and wipe away, only to realize that there was another chitinous growth on her face.
Chrysalis looked Liara over, and the Asari shifted uncomfortably under her intense gaze. Finally she shrugged. "It depends. There were some who underwent the process before the Sour Yellow Note, but none of them ever ended it mid way through. She could have nothing but a meld of our DNA, or she could gain some of our power. It all depends on just how much of you has been transformed."
"Oh…" Liara's voice was only just above a whisper, and the two of them had to strain to hear it. Her face was blank, feeling overwhelmed. "That's comforting…"
The three of them stopped talking when they heard a worried chirp from the little Rachni that was still hanging around Liara's legs. That was when the rest of the Rachni started chirping and skittering nervously. Chrysalis' eyes widened in terror.
"The Krogan. It's almost here!" If it weren't for how utterly terrified her voice was, Chrysalis shout would have been more than a little humorous.
The Rachni scattered, disappearing into little holes in the walls that none of them would have noticed were even there if they hadn't made a run for it. Unlike her children, Chrysalis was too paralyzed to move.
"Chrysalis." Riley tried to get her attention. Wrex wouldn't shoot without at least talking to them first… hopefully. It would be better if there was an obstacle in his way. "Get behind us."
Chrysalis didn't move.
"Chrysalis!" Riley shouted, and that got her attention. She looked back at Shepard, her eyes still wide, scared out of her mind.
"W-What?" Chrysalis sounded the eight months old that she was
"Get behind us, now!" Riley shouted, with all the force and authority that came with being a Commander and a Special Forces Operator in the Alliance Navy.
Without a word of protest, Chrysalis scurried behind Shepard and Liara, peeking out from behind them, her legs shaking.
One by one, Shepard took each of her guns off of their magnetic clamps and placed them far away from her. That complete, she took a deep breath, steadying herself. Facing an angry, suspicious Krogan was never a good thing, especially when it was one as old as she suspected Wrex was.
"Wrex!" Riley shouted, as soon as she had calmed herself.
Silence was the only thing that greeted her… for the moment.
"Shepard?" Wrex's voice echoed through the halls into the chamber. He sounded surprised, and more than a little suspicious.
"Yeah. It's me," Riley shouted, relieved that he hadn't charged in with his shotgun blazing. "I've got Liara."
"The blueberry?" Wrex grunted, amused, though the suspicion hadn't left his voice.
"Blueberry?" Liara mumbled to her face, her nose scrunching up in confusion. "What's a blueberry?"
"A type of fruit on Earth and Equestria," Riley murmured back to her, apparently having heard her.
"And they're blue?" Liara asked without a hint of irony.
Shepard just stared at her with one eyebrow raised. Really? Shaking her head, she looked back towards the entrance that Wrex's voice had come from. "Whatever you do, Wrex, don't come in shooting."
"Hah!" Wrex didn't jump to reassure them, his laugh far too ominous for any of their likings. "I told you Shepard, only trust yourself."
"How do we know it's you? You could be a mean old Rachni in disguise." Rainbow's voice joined Wrex's, and if she hadn't been so nervous, Riley would have recognized it as being halfway between her little sister trying to put on a brave front, and the other part scared out of her mind.
"Uh…" Riley looked back at Chrysalis, only to find her cowering down on the ground. It was a good question, not that she appreciated it at the moment.
"We're doomed," Chrysalis moaned, looking as if she was trying to bury herself in the ground.
"I've put down all my guns, Wrex." She ignored Chrysalis' comment, instead trying to descalate the situation. "No one in here is going to try anything. Don't come in shooting."
There was a long pause, followed by hurried whispering from outside the corridor. It took much longer than expected to get a reply, and Shepard really began to wonder whether this had been a smart move or not.
She really didn't want to fight Wrex with only her biotics. That was a surefire way of getting herself killed.
"Alright…" Wrex spoke up after what felt like an eternity. "If anyone so much as twitches funny, I'm laying waste to everyone in the room, and then set it on fire."
"We'll be good, Wrex. None of us particularly like being shot."
A tense moment passed, and then Wrex stomped around the corner, his shotgun out and at the ready. Rainbow was hovering above him, her battle saddle primed and at the ready. They glared at the three of them from behind their helmets, though Wrex was far more observant than the Pegasus, pausing on Liara's transformed bits of chitin in her arm, then stopping on the cowering Chrysalis.
"Shepard," Wrex said in greeting. "If that's who you are."
"Wrex," She said in return, eying his shotgun. "Please don't do anything rash."
"Then don't do anything stupid." Wrex sounded dangerously disconnected from the entire situation, and that wasn't good for anybody. He gestured with his shotgun at Chrysalis, and by extension, both Shepard and Liara. "Why are you standing with 'It'?"
Shepard glanced back and down at Chrysalis, who was looking her age for once. She was just a young girl in the grand scheme of things, forced into an early life of breeding and pumping out as many of her children as possible.
"I'm standing with her because she helped save Liara." Looking back up at Wrex, Shepard firmed her stance, making it clear to him that she wasn't going to move to let him shot the Rachni Queen.
"Saved Liara…" A deep rumble in his throat, Wrex growled. "It looks like we're in a bit of bind, Shepard."
"Oh?" She knew what situation she was in, but she wanted to hear him say it.
"I can't trust that you aren't just a Rachni, who's going to kill me the moment I turn my back on you. You can't trust that I'm not the same. The way I see it, we're in a mexican standoff." Wrex kept his shotgun pointed halfway between the floor and them, and it would take less than a second for him to bring it to bear on them.
"What is it with you and spanish?" Riley couldn't help but ask, surprising herself with the randomness of her own question.
"I like the burritos," was all he could say in response.
The conversation petered out and none of them knew what to do. None of them were really ready for a situation like this.
"Shepard, show me your mark," Wrex said finally.
"Mark?" She had no idea what he was talking about.
"The one I made before all of this went tits up faster than an Asari prostitute." Wrex chuckled at his own phrase, but he was still deadly serious.
"Ah." Catching what he was saying, Shepard lifted her arm up, showing him the mark at her armpit, and Wrex eyed it warily.
"That's the mark alright." He didn't sound happy.
"So are we good?" Shepard asked, cautious but hopefully optimistic.
"No." He shook his head and Riley felt her heart sink. "That's the mark, but that doesn't mean the Rachni couldn't have copied it."
"Then what was the point of even making all of us have it?" She didn't like looking down the barrel of a friend's gun, Riley decided. It wasn't a good experience.
"The old fuckers on Tuchanka never went into what to do after…" Wrex growled, more annoyed with himself than any of them.
"That's just bucking great." Riley kicked at the ground with her boot.
Rainbow snorted at that, but at Wrex's glare, threw on a serious face and pretended that she hadn't just giggle snorted.
"Isn't it?" Wrex sighs, and he looked like he could use a stiff drink. "If you are really Shepard, why are you with one of them?"
"She's a Queen. We found her while we were searching the Secure Labs, and we couldn't just kill her. I'm not one for casual genocide." Riley was surprised at the amount of sarcasm in her own voice. "The scientists found her on an old ship just drifting between the stars."
"They thought hatching it was a good idea? Morons."
Chrysalis could only whimper at that.
"As it turns out, the Rachni wars weren't caused by the Rachni." It might not have been a smart move, but it was the only thing Riley could think of that she had left at her disposal.
"Yeah?" His grip tightening on his shotgun, Wrex shifted his weight. "I know quite a few Krogan who would argue with that assumption."
"I'm not saying the Rachni wars didn't happen, Wrex," she was quick to explain, making sure that he understood exactly what she was saying. "I'm saying that the Rachni weren't responsible for their actions."
"Not responsible for their actions?" Instead of shouting, Wrex's voice became deadly quiet. "That's the biggest pile of varren shit that I've ever seen. They killed billions of my people Shepard. They were damn well responsible."
"W-We lost just as many as you did." Somehow Chrysalis had gathered her courage together enough to speak up. "More... We were pushed to the very edge of extinction, but we weren't responsible."
Wrex glared at her, astonished that she had even dared to speak to him.
"It was the sour yellow note," Chrysalis continued, trying to keep him from killing her and the few remnants of her species. "It tore us apart, corrupted us, made us kill."
Chrysalis managed to get a little bit more of her confidence back, straightening up and managing to look Wrex in the eye. He was pissed beyond belief.
"You can't pawn off the deaths of my people on some kind of mind control." He took a menacing step forward.
"We weren't in control of ourselves!" Chrysalis stomped a hoof to emphasize her point. "We are a peaceful race. We just want to be left alone, to build, to love, and to live our lives. The sour yellow note, it corrupted our Queens, and through them, their children. They left their hives, deep under worlds long thought dead by countless races that came and went. They scattered to the stars, looking to devour and destroy. It was beyond their will, and they were horrified by their own actions, yet powerless to stop it."
"Let's say you're telling the truth. Why should I believe that you're somehow free from this sour yellow note."
"I can't convince you." Chrysalis said it as much to him as she did for herself. It was a realization that scared her to her core. "There's nothing I can say that could prove what I'm saying is true. If you're going to kill us, please, I beg that you make it quick. I have had enough pain and suffering to last for my entire lifetime."
With that, Chrysalis turned around, closing her eyes and readying herself to accept her fate, whatever that may be.
Wrex stared at her for a long time, and Shepard and Liara stared back at him. Rainbow stared at all of them, no idea what to make of any of this. This wasn't exactly what she would call a normal experience by anybody's stretch of the imagination.
Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Wrex lowered his gun, muttering under his breath. Shepard and Liara both relaxed, though Chrysalis had no idea what was happening, seeing as she still had her back to him.
"I'm going to pick up my guns, Wrex." Riley felt that the danger had passed, but it paid not to make any assumptions.
"Whatever." Wrex put away his shotgun, grumpy, crossing his arms over his chest.
"You can turn around, Chrysalis." Riley said as she locked her shotgun back into its place. "You're not going to die, at least today."
Chrysalis glanced back at Shepard, and she saw that the Rachni Queen was shivering in fear, her pupils nearly as wide as her iris'. She had been ready to die.
She had expected to be the last Rachni Queen.
Getting down on her knees, Shepard pulled Chrysalis into a hug. She squeaked in surprise, but she didn't try to pull away. Chrysalis' head on Shepard's shoulder, Riley wasn't able to see that the Queen was blushing, but Liara could.
Chrysalis was more in love with Shepard than she was when she first let her out.
Shepard of course was absolutely clueless.
It was a pretty common occurrence actually.
Liara found that she was a little jealous, a jealous part of her wanting to pull Shepard back away from Chrysalis and into her own arms.
"We should get back to the Normandy," Rainbow spoke up, quickly growing bored with the whole situation. It was all over, and now that it was, she just wanted to go and take a nap. "It's colder than Luna's-"
"Don't finish that sentence Rainbow," Riley interrupted her. "She'll find out. She always does."
Rainbow paled, remembering what happened the last time she said one of the more colorful phrases about Princess Luna that she knew. It hadn't ended well for her, and she still had nightmares about waking up and finding the Alicorn standing over her bed, glaring down at her.
"Yeah." Shepard pulled away from Chrysalis. She stood up, turning to face them. "Let's go."
Liara froze when she suddenly remembered. "Riley… My mother…"
"She's hurt, but she's alive. Mentally though…"
Liara sagged in relief, and her legs gave out. Shepard was there to catch her before she collapsed to the ground though.
"Come on. Let's get out of here." Together, they started heading back towards the exit to Peak 15, feeling tired beyond measure. Following a few steps behind them, Chrysalis realized something.
Shepard paused, looking back at her.
"May we…" Chrysalis took a breath, unable to look Riley in the eyes. She seemed embarrassed. "Can my children and I come with you? We won't cause any trouble. You can drop us off on any planet along the way."
Shepard glanced at Wrex, trying to see if he was going to object to that, but he didn't so much as flinch. Looking back at Chrysalis, she nodded for her to follow her. "Yeah. Come on. We should have room."
Together, they left the Queen's chambers with Chrysalis, and all of her children streaming from the holes in the walls to follow after them.
Hours later, they finally managed to return to the Normandy. The entire crew helped bring Benezia and all of her commandos onboard, some of them in biotic restraints and some of them in stasis (those that were a blubbering mess and threats to their own safety). They weren't taking any chances with them.
Feeling like she was going to pass out at any moment, Liara followed after the pod with her mother inside. Benezia was unconscious in a cryo-pod, having apparently going stark raving mad after Shepard and Chrysalis had left. Kaidan had been forced to sedate her.
Wrex stormed away, going to get something to eat. Rainbow trotted tiredly after him, stopping by the armory to get rid of her armor and equipment, letting it all drop to the floor with a heavy thunk. She didn't bother getting out of the undersuit. That was a bitch to get out of, after all.
Shepard was one of the last to board the Normandy through the hanger door, Chrysalis following after her in an assumed form of a human marine. The crew had met them with an extra suit of armor for her, and they walked in together.
The rest of her children had already been brought aboard the ship, hiding in crates of 'supplies' that the Normandy's crew had brought onboard for resupply. They'd be let out as soon as the Normandy left Noveria's atmosphere.
Even though they were free from Peak 15, nobody wanted to see what the lawless corporations that called the planet home would do if they got their hands on them.
Chrysalis ran a little to catch up to Shepard, a little unsteady on two legs, but managing just fine. "Riley… Is there somewhere we can speak privately?"
"Yeah." Riley stared at her for a moment before nodding. "Yeah. Follow me."
Shepard led Chrysalis to the elevator and to her room beyond that. The door shut behind them, and neither of them notice that Liara watching them go from the mess, an expression of pure jealousy on her face.
Before she could do anything about it, a chirp startled her, and she looked down to find the little Rachni that had been following her around since she woke up in the Queen's Chambers. She blinked at it for a moment before realizing that it must have gotten free from her container and come looking for her. Again, Liara felt the little Rachni's emotion, and she was coursing with excitement and contentment, like a toddler who had seen its mother again after she'd been gone for a day.
What exactly was happening here? Liara rubbed the chitinous growth on her arm, hidden under her shirt as the little Rachni purred and rubbed against her legs.
As the door to her room closed behind her, Shepard motioned for Chrysalis to take a seat at her little table. "You should probably stay like that until we leave."
"That's fine." Even as she said it, Chrysalis shifted uncomfortably in her skin.
As soon as they were both settled, Shepard looked at Chrysalis expectantly. "Well? You wanted to talk?"
"I... I don't know how to explain this." Chrysalis bit her lip, introspective.
"The beginning is always a good place to start." Shepard leaned back, pulling off her undersuit gloves before flexing her fingers.
Chrysalis nodded, staring down at the polished metal surface of the table. "I have a message for you."
"What are you talking about?" That intrigued Shepard.
"It's from my genetic memory." Chrysalis sounded apologetic and more than a little embarrassed. "It's old. Very old. I couldn't even begin to guess how long ago this message was made for you."
"How do you know this 'message' is for me?" Shepard was still trying to process what Chrysalis was saying, and she wasn't sure that she was succeeding.
"It just is." Chrysalis bit back a note of frustration from her voice before sighing and taking a calm breath. "It's something that every Queen since the first one has known about... We've been waiting for you for a long, long time. It happened when our homeworld was still young, and before we learned to burrow and to change. The First Queen met a stranger in the night, and it spoke, and though she had never learned to speak, the First Queen knew what the stranger said. The message was destined to become a part of our racial memory, until our species was on the edge of extinction, and that we needed to give the message to one who saved us."
"Alright... Let's hear this message." Shepard motioned for her to continue.
Chrysalis nodded, closing her eyes and bowing her head. Shepard leaned forward ever so slightly, resting her elbows on her knees, waiting for her to speak.
When Chrysalis looked back up, her eyes had gone totally black, and Shepard felt something that she could only really describe as a presence in the room with her. When Chrysalis spoke, it was with the voices of a thousand Queens before her. "The daughter of the night princess still lives. You must find her if you want to save the galaxy from extinction."