Age of Mass Effect
Disclaimer: Alas, I don't own Mass Effect.
This was just a thought I had and I decided to write a story about it. It's AU, of course; what if Mass Effect had fantasy themes rather than sci-fi.
1148 CE: Humans in the kingdom of Gaiaden discover relics from an ancient civilisation, uncovering advanced sorcery and arcane magicks that cause the kingdom to boom. The resulting prosperity is called the Age of Magic.
1152 CE: The kingdom of Gaiaden, and its allies, initiates a large seafaring and expansion movement across the Attican Ocean, establishing colonies on a new continent. New lands and territories are eagerly claimed by the recently-founded Royal Navy Alliance.
1157 CE: The Alliance encounters hostilities from the natives in the new continent. The continent, formed of many different kingdoms and territories, is dominated mainly by a republic of different species, united as the Citadel Council. This results in war between the Citadel Council and the Navy Alliance.
1158 CE: The Colonisation War ends in uneasy diplomacy. All parties agree to a ceasefire. Although further war is avoided, tensions remain high as the kingdom refuses to abandon any of its new colonies.
1165 CE: The Citadel Council finally acknowledges the new human colonies and lands, and in an act of diplomacy Gaiaden establishes an embassy on the Citadel, the heart of the republic. Trade and political relations proof successful, increasing Alliance interest in further expansion. Many in the Citadel grow in uneasy at the growing rise of the human Alliance.
1181 CE: Both the Citadel Council and the Navy Alliance are under threat by bandits, rogue nations, and pirates. In the interest of creating a united military force, the Citadel Council offers a human soldier a chance to join the prestigious Order of the Spectre, their elite military division…
1183 CE: One of the original Alliance colonies, Eden, is assaulted by an undead army, shortly after unearthing an ancient magical artefact. The military rushes to the colony's aid…
Commander John Shepard's hands were steady as he slowly sharpened his blade with slow strokes. The sword was high-quality, turian-forged steel with enchantments woven across the blade that could cleave through even the hardest armour. The sword had been a promotion gift, but it was a sharp as the day it had been first wielded in combat.
Sharpening his sword was a coping technique. Otherwise, the wait might well be unbearable. The Normandy was the fastest ship in the Navy; a one of a kind, three-mast corvette, the latest the Alliance had to offer. The Normandy was built out of sleek, dark oak and lined with the latest in arcane enchantments, runes and wards to give speed, stealth and resilience. The Normandy was a reconnaissance designed for fast deployment – in the time it would take a battleship to leave the docks, the Normandy could already be sailing away and approaching its destination.
The Normandy was designed specifically for situations like this one. Approximately three days ago, unidentified cruisers were spotted approaching Eden colony, on the island of Utopia. Shortly after that, nearby fishermen saw the distress beacon go up, but then everything went dead. The Normandy was already on on-route.
Still, the ship could only go as fast as the waves and magic could carry it. They had spent nearly two days in cramped cockpit, impatiently waiting to meet whatever was happening on the colony. Between the rhythmic rocking as the ship cut through the waves and the tension in the hull, it was enough to drive a man insane.
So instead John Shepard just sharpened his sword, over and over again until the blade was sharp enough to cleave through plate armour and bone.
"We'll be approaching Eden in about four hours, commander," Joker announced finally, peering from his maps. Joker was the Normandy's navigator; the man was frail and helpless in battle, but no one could read the maps and sea currents like he could.
Shepard nodded, sheathing his sword as he stood up. Shepard wore dark grey, steel plate armour, with greaves, gauntlets and full helmet, Alliance issue, as he glanced around the cabin. His armour was starting to chafe after being on standby for so long. "I'll get the marines ready, then," Shepard muttered, standing up and stretching his limbs out.
Four hours. In four hours he may well have to fight for his life. Or, of course, it could just be a false alarm, but Shepard was far too experienced to expect that.
Eden was an island colony – a small outpost about five miles off the mainland. It had about three hundred inhabitants, mostly fishermen or farmers, but there was a Navy base as well. Unfortunately, like so many of the colonies, their location made them prime pickings for pirates and the like. They had no idea what they might face in Eden – it could be anything from raiders to batarian ogres – yet it was their duty to go in first and find out.
Shepard staggered out onto the deck of the Normandy, feeling the salt air hit him. She was a smooth ship but she still rocked slightly. The island was approaching quickly, and Shepard could already hear the sound of gulls chirping around him. Otherwise, everything was calm. Perhaps too calm; Shepard couldn't see any movement on what should have been a bustling island colony. He stared for a moment, before heading below deck to where his men were awaiting.
The marines were cramped around a small table, playing cards in the dusky air. They jumped as they saw Shepard approach, the fastest among them moving to salute. "At ease," Shepard said quickly. It was no time to insist on formalities. "We're approaching Eden. Everyone armour up."
The mood was tense. The general feel around the crew was that they were dealing with pirates. Shepard paused for a moment. "Alright, before we know what we're up against, the Normandy is going to stay back," Shepard said finally. He wasn't going risk leading the whole crew into a trap. "I'll take the dinghy and a small squad, scout out the town, and then report back. Everyone else, be on guard and stay sharp."
There were a few grunts. Shepard eyed his men. They were all tough soldiers. "Jenkins, Alenko, you're with me," Shepard ordered finally. Both men nodded; Jenkins grinned excitedly, but Alenko was far too composed.
Corporal Richard Jenkins was a fairly new seaman; tall, lean, a bit reckless, but he knew the colonies well and he was a natural with a sword. Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko was the opposite; calm, composed, and an old school mage. Jenkins was the melee support, while Alenko could bring the magical firepower, Shepard decided. Keep the group small so they could run fast.
"Commander." A voice called from behind; firm but quiet. An officer's voice. "A word, please."
Shepard turned to see Captain Anderson looking at him strictly. This time the crew did salute – everyone always saluted for the captain. Shepard nodded, walking out of earshot of the others.
"Was there are a problem with what I said, captain?" Shepard asked politely. Anderson was an old officer but highly respected. Anderson had handpicked the crew himself.
The captain shook his head. "No, it's your operation. Do as you wish," he said simply. "But our… ahem… guest would like to have a word."
Shepard paused, peering down the corridor past Anderson, where a distinctly inhuman figure stood at the doorway of the captain's quarters. Shepard's eyes flickered slightly. "I see," he muttered, before he and captain headed into the captain's quarters.
The room was bare and practical; Anderson had never been an extravagant captain. It consisted simply of a desk with neatly organised documents and a large bookshelf across one wall. Still, Shepard's attention was focused firmly on the man standing, waiting for them in the room. Their guest had, quite sensibly, stared out of sight for most of the journey, but in a ship this small the crew had still be disturbed by his presence.
"Nihlus," Shepard greeted formally.
The turian nodded. Turians were always so strict and formal. "Shepard."
Nobody had really been happy with the way Nihlus had invited himself on-board. They had been docked at the Citadel, coordinating with Council, when the alert came through and Nihlus had insisted on joining the Normandy.
Nihlus belonged to the Order of Spectre, the elite unit answering solely to the Council itself, but he was currently on loan, acting as a sort of liaison to the Alliance too. His position had never really been… comfortable.
Mind, Nihlus was undoubtedly a good soldier. All turians were stoic, pragmatic and honourable, but Nihlus was firm even by his race's standards. He was tall, slender shouldered, clad in black, hardened leather armour of the finest quality, and he kept his crossbow close to hand at all times. The crossbow, a favoured weapon among turians, was made out of tendered bone, and every bolt he had was made out of yew and tipped in mithril. Expensive ammunition, but Shepard doubted Nihlus ever missed.
"Is there a problem?" Shepard asked coolly.
"Possibly," Nihlus replied. "I understand that, shortly before you lost contact, the mayor of your colony said word to the Alliance. Apparently they had fished up a Prothean artefact."
At the time, the report had been met with scepticism. It was a fishing colony, after all, and they could hardly be expected to recognise a millennium old, precious artefact. Just about all modern magic, from runes to wards to crystals, were based on discoveries of ancient Prothean sorcery. Enchantments were written in the arcane language the Protheans invented. Artefacts like that were rare, and powerful.
"You think there's a connection?" Shepard asked, although he too had been having similar thoughts.
"The timing seems suspicious," Nihlus replied, voice as calm as ever. "If the artefact is genuine, then its recovery is the most important objective here. More important than the rescue of the civilians, you understand."
Shepard's eyes narrowed. He was not used to leaving men behind. "Don't get your feathers in a ruff," Shepard said simply. "This is an Alliance matter, we'll handle it."
Nihlus' black bird eyes flickered, his short beak clicking slightly. Turians could be slightly sensitive when humans compared them to birds, despite their resemblance, at least from a human perspective, to cockatoos. Turians had dark grey skin with a curved bill, and large, feathery crests pointing backwards from their foreheads. Their plumage was usually bland colours, but many of their mannerism were distinctly avian-like. Turians were generally tall, as strong as a human, but slender with curved backwards legs and three, clawed fingers like talons.
Still, turians were very social creatures; they lived and died in well-defined social castes, each had an instinctive respect for authority, which made them, by nature, exceptional soldiers. The turian hierarchy was set in stone; they originated from a country in the east called Palaven, centred on a city commonly referred to as the aviary. The turian military was the most formidable in the continent and they formed the bulk of Citadel's fleet, which meant that they had been key enemies faced in the Colonisation War.
Even if they had formed peace with humans, the old hostility still lingered. Nihlus' eyes narrowed.
"Ah," he muttered after a pause. "The famous human candour. Very well, commander; you lead, and I will follow your command."
Shepard nodded. Anderson stayed quiet by the doorway; he was not one to interject when he had nothing to contribute. "However," Nihlus continued. "You should know the other reason that I'm here right now. You must be aware that you have been nominated to become the first human to join the Order of the Spectre."
"I'm aware," Shepard replied coolly. He knew about the nomination, though he had tried to keep out of it. The whole think stunk of politics.
"Then you should know what a privilege the opportunity is," Nihlus muttered, a very slight edge in his voice. "The Order of the Spectre has long upheld up the highest standard of professionalism and honour. The Order is the highest level of justice, the elite peacekeeping force."
Shepard stayed quiet, folding his arms. "It is not a rank that is afforded to just anyone," the turian continued, dark eyes glinting slightly in the faint light. "Make no mistake, only the bravest and the most worthy are invited to join our ranks."
"So that's it, then?" Shepard said in a low voice. "You're not here for the colony at all; you just want to keep an eye on me. To make sure that I'm suitable for your Order."
"The Order of the Spectre requested that I evaluate your worthiness," Nihlus replied, his voice steady. "There are requirements to uphold. Make no mistake, for so long as we're on the ship together, I will be your shadow."
Shepard glanced at Anderson briefly. The captain just nodded slightly. Shepard paused. "Fine," the commander said, already turning around towards the door. "I guess you're coming in the dinghy with us."
The Spectre nodded without a hint of emotion. Turians were natural soldiers, after all. Nihlus had a job to do and he would do it. That was one thing that Shepard could respect about him.
As Shepard exited into the mess hall, there was a rustle of activity out on deck. He could hear frantic murmuring. At once, Shepard had his hand on his sword as he rushed up the ladders leading to the deck.
The crew was gathered around the prow, staring out over the waves towards the island. Even Joker, limping uncertainly as he was away from his desk, stared in shock out over the sea.
"…Alright," Joker said dryly, with a gulp. "…This mission just got a lot more complicated."
The colony was in view now, a small fishing town consisting of low, white buildings, but the crew's attention was fixated completely on the huge ship docked just off the coast, out of the harbour. It was the largest ship that Shepard had ever seen. A dreadnought.
The huge vessel was so big it couldn't even fit in the docks. The fishing ships looked like ants next to it. Shepard had never seen a ship like it; it was made out of old, black wood that seemed to squat in the ocean, with a figurehead showing some sort of tentacle monster with blood red eyes. The dreadnought had sixteen masts, a long and thin hull, and even from here Shepard could feel the magic pulsing off it. It was old magic, and powerful.
Definitely not batarians, Shepard decided instantly, eyes widening as he stared ship. He had no idea what that ship was.
A shiver of fear ran through the crew. The Normandy was nothing compared to a warship like that. The air murmured with quiet, panicked whispers.
"This changes nothing," Anderson announced firmly, walking onto the deck. The whole crew turned to stare. "We still have a job to do. There are colonists there that need our help."
Next to him, Nihlus was carefully loading his crossbow as he stared unblinkingly at the dreadnought. "The Normandy can't take a ship like that," Anderson continued. "But a ship that size would never be able to catch the Normandy either. We'll keep our distance, run reconnaissance, and watch who they are and what they're doing."
Anderson glanced at Shepard. "Commander," the captain ordered. "Continue with your squad. Go in quietly, small team, run recon and find out what the hell is happening in that colony."
"Understood." Shepard nodded. Years of experience allowed him to keep his voice steady, but the sight of that dreadnought still caused him to shiver. In a lower voice, he glanced at Anderson and muttered, "Have you ever seen a ship like that before, captain?"
Anderson eyes flickered. "No," he admitted. "Be careful, Shepard, this is going to be worse than we thought."
They approached the colony quietly, coming in from the far side of the town. The small dinghy was cramped, but the four men were deathly quiet as the wind pushed them gently towards the rocky shore. Rowing would have made too much noise. No one knew what to expect, but they were all alert as the bottom of boat scraped softly against the ground.
Shepard took point, clad in heavy armour, long sword in hand as he splashed slowly out of the water. Nihlus was behind him, moving gracefully, crossbow drawn while he walked up the beach, keen eyes flickering.
"I will scout out ahead and seek information," Nihlus announced, his voice low as he worked up the beach, towards the hills surrounding Eden. "I work better alone."
Shepard didn't argue. Nihlus wasn't his responsibility, and, besides, the Spectre could handle himself.
Behind him, Alenko beached the boat onto the coast, while Jenkins glanced around hesitantly. Jenkins was fidgeting, clearly nervous as he scratched at the handle of his short sword hesitantly.
Alenko, on the other hand, moved with practiced expertise. The mage wore sturdy dark grey robes, made from reinforced fabric, and clutched his staff, a long, heft piece of birch wood with metal supports. A staff like that could be used for channelling magic as well as being a pretty good club. Alenko was young, but he was an old school mage and a damn powerful one too.
"Let's move," Shepard ordered, glancing around the empty coast. They could approach the town on foot, and hopefully get in quietly.
The town was just over the horizon. The island was green and idyllic, filled with rocky coasts and streams, but no one had time to appreciate it as they marched towards the town. It was a typical colony; formed of rectangular, widely-spaced, white stone buildings around the docks, and fields of crops amongst the surrounding hills.
Everything was deathly quiet as they approached. "No livestock," Alenko muttered quietly, staring at the empty cattle pens. They were on the main road, walking past the town borders.
"And no damage to buildings," Shepard commented. With a groan, an old sign of a nearby inn creaked in the gentle wind. Everything was deserted – no sign of a raid. It was definitely odd.
"Maybe the colonists ran away quickly?" Jenkins muttered hopefully. His hands were trembling, Shepard noticed.
Neither Shepard nor Alenko replied. Maybe Jenkins didn't have the sensitivity to feel it, but they could. There was magic in the air; strong, dark and wild magic, creeping and pulsating around them…
The sudden crash sent their hearts racing. There were footsteps racing towards them. At once, the marines turned, just as a figure charged towards them, armour rattling. Something was chasing after her.
"Take cover!" A woman's voice, though it was hard to tell with the sharp tone of panic and fear. She wore Navy armour, clutching a sword and shield as she ran. She was missing her helmet, and her armour was stained with blood.
Shepard had his sword held tightly as he saw the shapes leap off a nearby house. He glimpsed shambling, misshapen bodies and rotting flesh. Shepard felt his blood run cold as he recognised what they were.
"We've got geth!" Alenko shouted, swinging his staff forward. The magic pulsed through the air and suddenly a gush of flames roared towards the undead attackers. Each one of them was small, barely the size of a child, but with bloated, almost circular bodies, stubby limbs, and gaping mouths. They leapt off the nearby building, charging towards the marines with a shambling gait, dropping to four legs and hissing madly.
There were dozens of them. Geth always attacked in numbers.
Shepard's sword sliced upwards, cutting through a geth's body easily, slicing the undead creature in half as rotten blood splashed everywhere. Another two tried to launch themselves at him, but Shepard slammed at a gauntleted fist through one of their skulls, while the other was skewered by his blade. The magical enchantments on Shepard's sword fizzed slightly as the magic burned through the creature's body.
Alenko held his own, lashing out with consistent strokes of his staff and firing devastating bolts of magic that hissed through the air. The magic was nothing but pulsing purple strikes and then the geth were flying backwards and up into the air. One enchantment sent the three geth levitating upwards, arms flapping uselessly as they were left immobilised in mid-air. There was sweat on Alenko's brow as he struggled to channel the magic through his body, but his breathing was steady and his aim was consistent.
The other marine, the women, she handled herself well too. A geth launched at her from behind, but she caught the creature on her shield and slammed it into the ground, before cutting through the swarm with fast, powerful strokes.
The three of them retreated backwards, back against a wall, while Shepard and the female marine fought them back with swords, and Alenko launched a salvo of magical support. Each geth might be fairly weak individually, but they couldn't let them surround them.
There was a strangled scream from nearby. Shepard looked up in shock. Jenkins was panicking, sword slashing madly as he tried to charge forward. The geth were charging at him from all sides, snapping at his heels with sharp teeth until Jenkins stumbled.
"Jenkins!" Shepard bellowed, but it was too late. As soon as Jenkins lost his footing, the geth were all on him. The undead creatures leapt at him from all sides, dozens of teeth biting into his body as the marine was forced to the ground from the weight of all their bodies. Jenkins tried to scream, but it was hardly audible under the sound of all the biting, hissing and chewing.
"Damn it!" Alenko cursed, before launching a powerful fire bolt at Jenkins corpse. There was no time for hesitation, and at least that was a quicker death. The ball of fire exploded, causing dozens of geth to scream as their bodies caught light. Shepard was there to cut them down as they burned, while Jenkin's corpse had been incinerated into smoking crust.
The stench of burning and rotting flesh was overpowering. Bloody geth, Shepard cursed.
The geth were undead creatures of necromancy; reanimated flesh given artificial life through magic. They had been created three hundred years ago as servants by the quarians, a race of shrouded men and women specialising in necromancy, but the quarians made a mistake. Or perhaps they had done their job too well.
The geth had become too powerful, too intelligent. The geth developed their own brand of necromancy, and became capable of animating themselves without the quarians. The original creators had been rendered moot. The undead turned revenant, driving the quarians out of their own homeland. In the centuries that followed, the quarians fought a losing battle against their creations, and the geth had more or less retreated and claimed the former homeland as their own.
"Dammit, Jenkins," Shepard growled, glancing at the smouldering corpse. The boy hadn't been ready. I've got to job to do, Shepard thought determinedly, glancing away from the body. Mourn later, get the job done first.
"Geth!" Alenko panted, supporting his limp body using his staff. Magic was exhausting. "What the hell are geth doing here, this far from the Perseus Ocean?"
"I don't know," the woman muttered, wiping blood off her face. "They came out of nowhere." She glanced at Shepard, gulping. "Squad Chief Ashley Williams, sir, thank you so much for the assist."
She was one of the Alliance troops that had been with the colony's garrison, Shepard realised. Williams had black, long hair, fairly young, and she even might have been pretty if it wasn't for the layers of grime, exhaustion and sweat. She was fairly short, but her body was stocky and distinctly unfeminine in her heavy armour. Clearly strong.
"Commander Shepard, with the Normandy," Shepard introduced quickly. "What happened here? Where are the rest of the garrison, and the colonists?"
Her face was pale. "All dead… or worse…" Williams muttered, her voice remaining steady through pure force of will. "That dreadnought came, and we were just overwhelmed. Too many geth. My squad tried to take cover and hold out, but… but they…"
Shepard nodded. "I understand," he said simply, looking around the town. "Did they take any prisoners?"
Williams shook her head. "No… they set up all of these spikes in the town plaza, though."
"Dragon's teeth," Alenko muttered coldly. He had done enough tours of duty around the Perseus Ocean to know what that meant. "This situation is bad, sir. Those geth were just little ones, drones. The big guys will know that we're here soon enough."
Shepards brow furrowed. "Why are the geth here?" Shepard demanded. "Did you really uncover a Prothean relic?"
"Yes," Williams explained. "Fisherman drenched it up four days ago. It was a big obelisk thingy. No one was sure about it, but the town mage said he felt old magic buried inside of it. The geth, well, I'm not certain but I think they were after it too."
Shepard paused to think. "Where is it now?"
"It was in the dock warehouse, I think," Williams said. "Things got a little… hectic, I'm not sure."
Alenko glanced at Shepard. "Sir?" He asked uncertainly.
"We've got a job to do, Lieutenant," Shepard said firmly, clutching his sword. Prothean relics were powerful. "If the geth are willing to come so far for this artefact, then I want to know why and I don't want them to have it. We're going to scout out this relic and see if we can figure out why."
"This town is swarming with geth," Williams warned, clutching her sword and shield tightly.
"The geth will be focused at the harbour, with the dreadnought," Shepard replied, sword ready. "We move fast, we get in before they can react, and we get out with whatever we can grab. That's our job."
There was a brief hesitation. They all shaking from adrenaline, but it was Shepard's job to do the mission. Any Geth this far east was very bad news and he had to discover why. Alenko nodded grimly. "Alright," the mage muttered, taking deep breaths to replenish his magic.
William's hands tightened around her sword. "I'll lead to the plaza," she muttered. She had courage, Shepard noted approvingly.
"Ok, everyone stay close and stay quiet," Shepard ordered, before they set out from the winding roads of the town. They moved quickly, half jogging while keeping their weapons ready. It took every ounce of experience Shepard had to push forward.
It was moments like this were what made him the commander. He was the one that had to go into a bad situation and push forward nevertheless.
The geth they had encountered had just been a patrol squad. Williams lead them through backstreets and alleyways, cutting through houses as they stuck off the main road. Around them, the signs of colonists being dragged away became more and more obvious. The mood was painfully grim and tense as they walked towards the centre of town, and saw the dozens, if not hundreds, of eight foot high metal spikes littered across the plaza.
William's face was deathly pale as she looked out across the plaza. Each one of the metal spikes had a body skewered on top of it.
We've found out what happened to the colonists, then, Shepard thought grimly. Not even scavengers, birds or insects would approach these corpses.
There was thick magic in the air. Death magic – necromancy. "We've got to move fast," Alenko warned, staring at the bodies. "Quickly, before they start to–"
"Too late," Williams muttered quietly, eyes wide. On top of the metal spike, one of the corpses trembled slightly. Grey, rotting flesh that was almost sagging off the bone started to tremble.
Shepard cursed. "Move!" he hissed, running across the plaza as suddenly the corpses all started to shift. He glanced at one of the villager's dead, empty eyes, just as their pupils started to shine with blue, unnatural magic. A husk groaned gutturally as the necromancy from the dragon's teeth reanimated its body, its limbs thrashing, just as Alenko set the corpse alight with a bolt of magic.
At once, all of the husks started to move, dragging themselves off the spikes. Husks weren't geth, instead they were just their minions; mindless, empty necromantic servants powered by a singular desire to consume. Everyone that had fought against geth lived in fear of the husks; they were the frontlines of the geth nightmarish war machine.
Each husk was slow and shambling, fairly weak and very dumb, but they were also unnaturally persistent and completely merciless. Even before the marines reached the other side of plaza, there were dozens of husks lumbering after them, and more coming after them, scratching and clawing as the marines ran.
"Get inside!" Shepard bellowed, sprinting towards heavy wooden doors of the town hall. Alenko grunted as he sent a wave of magic to push the husks backwards, while William heaved the doors shut. A husk charged forward, its arm getting caught between the closing doors. Shepard sliced through its head and upper torso quickly with his sword, before the doors slammed closed and Williams bolted them closed quickly. There was no blood as the husk's severed arm hit the ground, still flailing weakly.
The doors groaned as dozens of undead bodies slammed against him. There was a shatter of glass in the town hall. The husks were crawling up the walls and breaking in through the windows.
"Back door?!" Shepard demanded urgently. Williams nodded frantically, turning to run through the town hall.
The husks were pouring in, crawling through windows with undead ferocity. Each one of them was shrieking through shrivelling throats, like a symphony of tortured bodies. The whole building seemed to be shuddering as the husks scratched at the walls.
The undead were charging at them, and the corridor was too narrow. Shepard had to cut, kick and barge his way through the scratching, biting and flailing bodies towards the back of building.
"Commander!" Alenko bellowed, motioning at the main door. The wood was buckling and cracking from the force of so many bodies. They all ran a bit faster as Williams led them through the building, towards the kitchen at the back.
Williams hesitated momentarily, pointing at an intersection in the corridor. The kitchen was right in front of them, but the husks were charging in fast.
"We keep town's wine supply in the cellar below," Williams said simply, pointing her sword at the stairs leading downwards.
Shepard paused. The meaning hung in the air. The husks were funnelling through the building. The stone and wooden building. Alenko and Shepard glanced at each other. Shepard made the decision quickly.
"You two go!" He ordered. "I'll handle this!"
They nodded and sprinted off. Shepard turned and sliced through two husks, before toppling over a bookshelf to block the path and racing towards the cellar. Shepard had to run backwards, fighting off the dead bodies chasing him down, sword slashing frantically. More husks were charging towards him, tripping over each other in frantic hunger.
Shepard barged through the door, emerging into a room filled with rows and rows of bottles of wine. A big wine cellar. He had barely a second to come up with a plan as the undead shambled at him.
One husk leapt at him from the stairs, biting and clawing at him. Shepard caught the creature with one hand, and twisted it around, throwing it into the wine cases with all his might. The husks crashed through the shelves, spilling wine across the floor.
Shepard dived backwards as the husks flooded in. His sword slashed out, breaking through bottles of wine as the alcohol splashed everywhere. Between his sword and the husks crashing towards him, within seconds the cellar was flooded in wine.
The colonies imported wine by the shipload every season and stored it all year. Strong wine, too, the kind that could survive months at sea in hot, humid environment. Between the warmth and the potency, it would quickly ferment and stink. Thick, hot, flammable wine.
Shepard dived into a nearby closet, closing the door behind him. The wooden doors were thin and wouldn't last for long, but he needed the time to drop his sword and dig for matches in his pouch.
A hand broke through the door, clawing at him. The husks pushed the doors off its hinges. Shepard dropped to the ground, amongst piles of brooms and bushes. There was barely an inch of wood separating him from the undead horde.
"…Matches, matches, matches!" Shepard growled, rummaging furiously for something to start a fire. Wine would burn, but it wasn't so easy to ignite. He needed a good fire, but his hands found nothing.
The husks were shambling at him, so many that they were like a tidal wave of bodies clawing madly. Shepard hesitated for a brief second, before grunting and placing hand firmly against what remained of the wooden door.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and he felt the magic inside of him. His whole body was trembling, but he still managed to somehow focus all the energy he could gather.
Shepard muttered an incantation under his breath, and suddenly there was fire was gushing from his fingertips.
The wooden door burst into flames. Sparks and cinders flew everywhere. Shepard's heart nearly stopped. Everything seemed to slow down.
Move. The thought was overpowering.
At once, before the sparks hit the ground, Shepard was racing forward, shoulder barging his way through the husks with unstoppable force. They clawed and scratched him, but Shepard had the element of surprise as he slammed his shoulder plates through the horde.
He charged straight through the fire, but there was no time to feel pain. Behind him, the nearby husks hissed as they caught light and thrashed. Shepard focused firmly on the other exit to the wine cellar, the doors leading to the courtyard at the other side of the cellar. Fifteen feet away.
The husks were left shambling madly, slipping over the wine and bottles as Shepard barged past. His heavy boots crunched over shards of glass.
Behind him, there was a dull boom, like a huge dog inhaling. He felt the wave of heat hit him as the fire flared. Wine-soaked wood caught light and hissed into a blaze. Shepard didn't even dare to breathe as the inferno came to life and raged.
In less than a second, the cellar was consumed by fire.
Shepard dived straight through cellar doors, smashing through wooden doors, as the air filled with thick smoke, the sound of scorching flesh and the hissing of burning husks. There were three husks clinging to him and biting his armour as he crashed to the grass, but suddenly Williams was there, kicking and cutting the bodies off him.
More burning husks were scrambling out of the burning cellar. Maybe the undead couldn't feel pain or fear, but it was still chaos. They tried to crawl out, their skin alight, but then Alenko was there, standing in front of the exit and muttering an incantation frantically. The air seemed to shimmer blue as the barrier took effect, trapping the husks in the burning cellar.
"Commander!" Williams panted. There was respect in her eyes. "You survived."
"Apparently," Shepard gulped. His body was screaming in pain, but he staggered upwards. The husks were burning (technically not to death) in the torched town hall. The fire kept on growing, raging out of control.
"We need to move!" Alenko shouted urgently. There was thick, black smoke rising up over the town. The geth would know where they were pretty soon. "Now!"
"Obelisk!" Shepard demanded to Ashley, struggling to breathe through the exhaustion and smoke. "Where is it?"
"Towards the docks!" Ashley replied, pointing at a nearby warehouse. It wasn't far. Without a word, the marines all turned and ran.
The town erupted into panic. There were the remaining husks chasing from behind but there geth converging now from all directions. Shepard glimpsed geth soldiers, misshapen humanoid bodies of bloated flesh with a single, red, bulbous eye, carrying swords and spears as they lumbered towards them.
A spear whizzed just over the Shepard's head. There were three geth soldiers straight in front of them, clutching swords as they rushed to incept the marines. One of them was sent flying by a magic bolt from Alenko, but the other two were quickly cut down by Shepard.
There were more geth. They were all undead, they didn't have a fixed form. The 'geth' was actually the magic that powered them, rather than their bodies. Humanoid shaped geth were more common, but they could come in any shape.
The earth trembled slightly from large lumbering footsteps approaching from the street. Next to him, Alenko cursed.
"We've got a colossus and juggernauts coming in fast!" Alenko shouted, turning around to run. All three of them ran.
The approaching geth horde was a head by an monstrosity – an undead colossus with three lumbering legs, a bloated mass of flesh and a gaping mouth of sharp teeth. Smaller, humanoid geth flanked around the colossus, but among the crowd there were larger, hulking, vaguely humanoid figures; as large as giants and clutching huge war hammers. The undead abominations came in every shape and size.
Too many to fight. Shepard grit his teeth as he turned to run, arrows shooting around him. The geth were chasing them from the streets as well as across the rooftops. An arrow bounced off Shepard's armour, but he barely stumbled. The dock warehouse was in front of them, and Williams barged through the doors. Alenko tried to close the door behind them again, but then five seconds later a huge geth juggernaut crashed straight through the wall.
"This way!" Williams shouted, racing across the warehouse towards the ship docks at the other side, leading to the harbour. There were more geth guarding the warehouse, but the marines quickly cut through them as they kept on running. "There's a ship in the harbour! We can lock ourselves in there!"
Shepard saw it. It was a fisherman's boat that had been hastily repurposed by the geth. The geth didn't care for comfort or luxury; geth boats were typically salvaged vessels that had been stripped of food and living space, windows reinforced, and completely repurposed for practicality. Still, a ship gave them a chance of getting a way.
The juggernauts were on their tail. They were huge, hulking titans that charged madly at them, storming through the warehouse. Shepard managed to leap over the gangway, just as Williams kicked the plank into the ocean. The juggernauts roared as they were faced with a sudden chasm, and the front juggernaut came to a stop too late and ended up falling downwards into the ocean between the ship and the dock.
A geth arrow snapped into the wood next to them. More geth were coming in, with the huge colossus in the centre. "Cut the anchor and get us out of here!" Shepard ordered, glancing around the barren ship.
Hopefully the sails are still intact, he thought with a gulp. The lack of the gangway wouldn't stop the geth for long. The geth would crawl up the hull from the ocean if they had to.
"On it!" Williams shouted, while Alenko sent bolts of magic at the crowd of geth to cover their movement. His magic was running out, and Alenko growled and rushed below deck to secure the hull.
There was no time to unfurl the masts properly, instead Shepard just cut the ropes. Williams was busy hacking off the ropes tying the ship to the dock. The geth hissed and howled as the ship started to creep forward, with some of them trying to leap across the gap. Arrows were flying at him. The fighting was chaotic and fierce.
But the ship was starting to creep forward. They had a good wind. If they could get out harbour before that dreadnought turned around, then they would be out before any could stop them. The Normandy would be able to pick them up. The geth were left hissing uselessly from the docks firing arrows, while Williams darted around the deck, cutting down geth as they tried to shamble up from the water.
The geth juggernaut managed to crawl its way out of the ocean, clutching onto the back of the boat as it climbed upwards unsteadily. As soon it lifted its head over the side, Shepard plunged his sword straight through the top of its skull. He grunted in satisfaction as the geth toppled backwards and splashed into the water.
Shepard's breathing was strained, but slowly they were moving further away. There was a shout from below deck. "Commander!" Alenko shouted urgently. "Come look at this!"
Shepard hesitated, before rushing down the ladders just to see Alenko standing over a body. Shepard's eyes widened in shock. The corpse of Nihlus had been left sprawled, facedown, over the wooden floor, his beak open as his blood poured out. The Spectre had gone ahead; he must have snuck aboard this ship earlier. Nihlus' crossbow was still loaded, littered at his side from where he had collapsed.
Nihlus never even had had time to defend himself, Shepard realised. He had never thought that Nihlus was the type to die so easily. The scene seemed so strange.
Alenko must have been having similar thoughts. "He was shot in the back," Alenko reported, looking at the fatal wound, right between the turian's shoulders. The crossbow bolt was embedded deep. "Short range, I'm guessing."
The death of the Spectre was bad news. The Council wouldn't be happy about losing one of their agents. Still, after only just escaping a geth army, that concern seemed so distant. Shepard frowned. "Then he turned his back on his enemy," the commander muttered, confusedly. "He must have known whoever killed him…"
"I don't think this was geth," Alenko muttered coldly. Shepard hesitated. Then, he leant over the corpse and slowly dug into the wound on his back. The blood was still warm as Shepard forced his fingers into the hard flesh, carefully digging out the crossbow bolt. As he pulled the bolt out and rubbed the bolt off it, Shepard realised how high quality the ammo was. There was a faint killing enchantment woven into the bolt, and the bolt itself was yew and tipped in a mithril head.
It was the type of ammunition that a turian Spectre would use, Shepard realised slowly. He glanced down at Nihlus' crossbow; it was unfired.
There was a pool of turian blood across the floor. Shepard glanced upwards, and saw faint footsteps of blood leading into the ship. They were faded, but the footprints of a three-toed turian were unmistakable. There was a moment of silence as Shepard digested the scene silently.
"We've made it out of the harbour!" Williams shouted, rushing down the ladders. "We should be…"
Her voice trailed off as she stared at the dead turian and the two men crouched over it. "There's something else too," Alenko said finally, walking towards the door. "I think there was a reason that Nihlus was on this ship."
He opened the door, leading to the cargo hold of the ship. Shepard gasped as he felt the air tingle with magic, staring at the huge object in the cargo hold. "The geth must have loaded it on to this ship," Alenko explained. "They must have been planning on moving it over to the dreadnought using this boat."
The Prothean obelisk was a tower of solid stone, about nine foot tall and just four foot thick at the base. It was dull grey, worn and almost shapeless, and still covered in lichen and seaweed, but the presence of it still made Shepard's skin tingle. The obelisk was filled with so much magic that the air around it seemed to shimmer, pulsating with purple energy.
It was such raw magic that Shepard could barely even focus on it; the magic was old, potent and rich.
"That's the obelisk…" Williams muttered breathlessly. "…but it's glowing. It wasn't glowing when we pulled it up…"
Alenko stared at the relic in wonder. "The geth must have done something to activate it…" The mage mused, slowly inching forward. "I wonder, how could they have–"
He lifted out his hand slowly to touch it. The obelisk pulsed with pure white magic. They all felt the magic churn, gathering energy. Lots of energy. It was filling up with magic like a container ready to overflow. Shepard's eyes widened in shock.
"Alenko!" Shepard shouted, rushing forward to pull the mage backwards. "Get back –!"
The magic unleashed like a tidal wave exploding around him. Alenko was only just thrown out of the way, but Shepard was hit by the full force. The commander staggered, feeling the energy being absorbed through his skin.
"Shepard!" Ashley shouted in panic, but the commander was left paralysed, swelling with pure magic as his body slowly began to levitate off the ground.
Shepard choked, struggling to breath, his eyes glowing brilliant white as the light consumed him…
… He saw a war, battle, destruction… cities burning and people screaming….
…Vaguely humanoid shapes shielding each other from scorching beams of fire…
… Bodies scrambling out of the ground… mutated undead swarming through cities…
… In the sky, black wings blocked out the sun…
… And then everything disappeared.
The turian Saren sat at the helm of his dreadnought, scratching his beak with an armour talon as he glared out over the smoking colony of Eden. For a long time, he didn't react. He sat completely still in his armchair as he heard footsteps approach from behind.
"What happened?" Saren muttered, not glancing around. Arms behind her back, the asari matriarch slowly took her place behind his chair.
"The geth forces were taken by surprise. A small Alliance team infiltrated the town and hijacked the ship transporting the obelisk," Matriarch Benezia replied quietly. "They have stolen the relic."
Saren's hands clenched, his gauntlets biting into the armrests. "Who?"
"The Normandy, apparently," she replied. "Captain Anderson's crew."
Even worse news. Saren's face twitched in anger.
"And there is more," Benezia continued, emotionlessly. "I sensed the presence of the Prothean magic. One of the humans must have activated the obelisk."
Saren snapped. His hands tore off the armrests of his chair in rage, as he screamed shrilly and stormed up. He glared at the asari matriarch furiously, raising his hand to strike her violently.
Benezia didn't even flinch. At the last moment, Saren restrained himself his hand halting just before he hit her.
He took a deep breath, meeting the asari's eyes. He paused.
All asari were beautiful, Saren mused. Asari were also known as 'Sapphire Elves'; they were defined by their beauty, their grace and their talent with magic.
Benezia was a matriarch, and she was old even by asari standards, but still she looked beautiful, with perfect pale sapphire skin, exquisitely toned body. Asari were practically immortal, they could easily live to thousands of years old, but even Saren, a turian, considered Benezia to be attractive.
Asari were all fine featured, slender; comparatively weaker, but more flexible and with an incomparably better affinity for the arcane. Asari magic was among the strongest in the world. And, of course, all of the asari were female.
Five thousand years ago, apparently, there had used to male asari At one time, the asari had been a very patriarchal and ruthless society. In ancient times, the females had been left to raise children while male asari warriors and leaders wielded powerful magic that they used to form an empire and then subjugate and enslave other races. The city of Thessia had once been the centre of brutal empire. However, the asari had proved too dangerous, and every other race united against them. What followed next had been a systematic slaughter of the entire asari empire that had lasted centuries.
However, in a gesture of mercy, although every single asari male was put to death, all surviving females were spared. With no males left, it was thought that the asari race was unable to ever reproduce and effectively over, yet the long-lived asari women would be still able to live out the rest of the lives in what remained of their society.
Centuries later, and it turned out that the asari never went extinct as they were expected to. Instead, the magically-gifted race managed to develop a ritual based on blood magic that allowed to females to mate and reproduce with each other. Of course, the asari Y-chromosome was extinct, so the offspring would always be female. A curious side-effect of the ritual was that it also allowed asari to mate with any member of just about any magic-using race, regardless of shape or size. Nevertheless, the asari managed to survive, ingraining the blood magic ritual so deeply into their culture that they became perhaps the only single-gendered species in the world.
In more recent history, the asari had completely reformed. They had developed an advanced culture based around negotiation rather than domination, and the asari were perhaps the most sophisticated species around. They founded the Council and were at the centre of the Citadel and the republic, while Thessia was renowned as one of the greatest cities that had ever been.
The story of the asari had always fascinated Saren. There were many different morals that could be taken from the asari past, but the one that Saren extracted from the story was one more practical:
If you were going to commit genocide, make sure you do a damn good job. People had an annoying habit of surviving if you did anything less.
There could be room for error now, Saren thought viciously. Most certainly not by a human. Even when he was thinking it, still Saren mentally spat that last word.
"Shall we pursuit the Alliance vessel?" Benezia asked finally.
Saren turned to glare out over the colony. He had killed Nihlus with almost reluctance, yet he longed passionately to rip the humans' hearts out. Still caution overruled him. Even if he could catch up to the Normandy, there would be Alliance reinforcements shortly and they were not ready for that level of confrontation. Not yet.
"…No." Saren said reluctantly. "We will retreat for now. We are done here."
He paused. "The obelisk has served its purpose," Saren muttered finally. "It would be rendered inert now. There is no danger there."
Benezia nodded quietly. "But the human…" Saren continued, angrily clenching his fists. "…If that human manages to survive the vision… hmm… that is unacceptable. That human must be eliminated."
"Very well," Benezia replied coolly. She paused. "Shall I report the development to our lord?"
Saren hesitated for a long time, twitching visibly. "No," he murmured slowly, turning to leave the room. "…I'll do it myself."
Slowly, Saren left the room, walking down the stairs heading directly down to the hull of the dreadnought. The belly of the beast, Saren thought grimly. As he walked, he could feel the air turn cold.
No one, most certainly not the geth, were allowed down here. Saren was the only one who had access this place.
He kept on walking down the stairs. He could feel the magic around him building up steadily the deeper he went. The hull had been built to keep this magic hidden, but some of it still leaked out. It was enough to cause Saren to shudder. The magic was dark red, slow and oozing, and so powerful it put every feather on edge. The magic was strong enough it could be felt even outside the ship, but here… in the heart of the dreadnought… the power was so immense it nearly made Saren fall to his knees.
I can resist it, Saren thought determinedly, as he approached the door at the end of the long descend. I'm the only one who can resist it…
Still, Saren was breathing deeply as he reached out to open the door. His hands were trembling. Being so close was like being in the presence of a god. It was a presence that commanded everyone to serve.
It was a type of royalty beyond anything mortals could hope to compare to…
Truly, it was… Sovereign…
Saren sighed, feeling the power flood through his body like a tidal wave. In its presence, the magic, the darkness and the death seemed to merge into one. Saren gulped slowly raising his head to stare at the being he served…
"…My lord…" Saren whispered in a choked voice. The cavernous room was so pitch black that light itself seemed to have no purpose here.
There was a long pause. Every heartbeat seemed like it would be Saren's last.
Then, it opened its eyes. Saren was left staring directly into blood red pupils that had witnessed the end of the world a thousand times over. It was a gaze that pierced directly into Saren's soul.
The black dragon Sovereign roared.
Well, this story is the result of what happens when you read fantasy novels while playing through a Mass Effect marathon of all the games in a row :)
It is also the reason why I've been haven't been able to update any of my other stories for a while. Mass Effect takes up a lot of free time, people, and there's only so many hours for writing fanfiction in a day.
Really, this story is mostly just a concept story. It was an idea I was musing over, so I wrote a chapter about it. I don't really have any intention of turning it into an on-going story.
I might be willing to write more; I do have ideas for it, but, well, I'll wait and see what the reception is like. There are only so many on-going stories I can support at any one time.
Thanks for reading, feedback is always much appreciated!
Edit 9/7/15: Originally, I had called the commander 'Shepherd' to distinguish him from the canon counterpart and give the name a bit more of an old timey feel. On retrospect, I decided the change was pretty pointless so I edited it back to 'Shepard'.