Hello all! General status update: I'm in the process of completely rewriting Chapter 1, as the way it currently sits is unacceptable. So that's at least partially to blame for how long this chapter took to come out.
Feel free to send me feedback- I answer most PMs and reviews. Specifically for this chapter, I'd like to get some opinions. Did I jump any sharks? Nuke suspension of disbelief?
Ah, well. Here you go. Enjoy!
P.S. There is some use of BOLD-ALL-CAPS speech from one or more individuals in this chapter. The difference between the two is the italics. (They're not talking to each other, and aren't in the same scenes. Still, I figure I should warn you.) Their identities will be immediately obvious, as well. I made extra sure of that.
"Bloody fucking hell." Harry swore, coming to a halt. "They've fucking done it. Opened the portal."
Someone gasped."We're too late."
"Not yet we aren't." the wizard's voice turned grim. "Our goal is still to rescue the abductees. This just means we'll be coming home with a few less than were taken. The Collectors must've had to kill a few hundred people to open the portal, for the activation-energy alone. But callous as it seems, that's still only a single-digit percentage of the total number of colonists they took. Now they've got to keep it open until the Leviathan pours through, which means constant sacrifices to keep the portal topped up. It will close if it runs out of energy. So if we can keep killing the collectors that are sacrificing people, it'll be over. Eventually… I hope." He set a quick pace, heading for the portal. "Let's move. People are dying."
That was all that needed saying.
The team charged through the curtains of yellowing dust, towards the far end of the room. Surprisingly, they found no resistance. The walkways on both sides of the chamber were almost eerie. There were no husks, no Collectors here.
"They must have pulled everything back to surround the portal, and the abductees." Jane surmised.
"We're already outnumbered." Tali said. "With all their forces concentrated in one place…" The portal at the far end of the room flickered, changing color and shape wildly. Another scream tore through the air.
Garrus replied, calling his answer from the back of the group. "Quality over quantity." The ground team's footfalls clanged against the floors as the chitin receded. Ancient metal covered the floors, pitted and dusty from disuse.
"Quantity has a quality of it's own." said Harry. "Don't underestimate them. We've got plenty of guns, but they've got plenty more." Far above the group, a series of tubes extended from the ceiling, running along the roof of the chamber. They ran towards the end of the room, where they met a series of empty glass chambers. Below all that, supported by some sort of gantry, hung a massive human skull and a bare-bones framework of a human torso. Both were made of a familiar black material, and appeared to be in very early stages of construction. Liara could see all the way through some parts of the skull, and the chest only had a single rib, held up by a few vertebrae.
"Why were the Collectors trying to build a human out of reaper-metal?" she said. Liara almost stumbled, as she'd stopped looking at the floor in favor of the skull.
"Don't know. But we're blowing it all up after this, so they'll never get to complete it." said Harry.
"Good." Miranda murmured.
The pathway the ground team had been running down shifted slightly, moving towards a set of stairs, as well as a series of raised platforms with a few consoles and cargo spaces aboard. Jane almost froze as she reached the top of the stairway, as the pathway suddenly ended. It dropped off into thin air, down to the bottom level of the chamber. "Well shit." she said, barely audible. "EDI, what can you give me?"
"Those platforms are equipped with hover-modules." EDI's voice played through Shepard's helmet. "I should be able to take control and bring you to the portal area."
"Alright. Everyone on board!" Shepard called, as she stepped onto the platforms, soon followed by the rest of the ground team. The platforms detached from the walkway with a heavy *clunk* and moved -slowly at first, then picking up speed- towards the end of the chamber.
"Damn. Well, at least this is faster than moving on foot." Jacob said. "But if these get shot up, we could lose our only avenue of escapeif things turn sour."
"I could...Hm." Harry cut himself off, surprised. He cast a few spells at some rubble left on the platform. The rocks glowed blue, and vanished. The wizard paused, as if waiting for something. His frown deepened over the next few moments. "Just a word of warning- I don't think I can portkey anyone out." Harry finally said. "Maybe it's proximity to the black hole that's messing things up, or something else, but I'm not sure. I'm fairly certain that portkeys here will send the user straight into the black hole, rather than their destination. Let's just be more careful here, as I'm not sure whether or not apparation will do the same, and I'm not willing to test."
In the distance, the glowing form of the portal grew brighter. As the hovering platforms approached, it got larger and larger, as the team got a sense of scale. Flashes of light and scenes straight out of an acid trip flickered by. A blast of lightning shot from the portal, accompanied by a scene reminiscent of the storms of Hagalaz. It grounded against the ceiling, after passing through a small cloud of airborne dots.
"Collector mistake." Mordin was happy, at least. "Energy discharge seems to have destroyed main seeker swarm. Perhaps conductive metallic creatures should not be placed around possible energy sources."
"Don't have to worry about the bugs anymore. Sweet." Kasumi murmured. The group got a better view of the portal a moment later, as the yellow dust dispersed in this area of the chamber.
The portal was situated atop a staircase running from the bottom edge of the tube-shaped chamber to somewhere around the midsection. Surrounding it, Collector drones and husks milled wildly about. On either side, cages held humans- hundreds of them. Stasis pods hovered past each cage, dropping their contents into the pen below. Then each stasis pod had it's eezo core ripped out, and was tossed haphazardly down the stairway, piling up at the bottom. Some bounced oddly, smashing inches deep into the metalwork and sticking, like strange chitinous obelisks. The rest simply crashed down the stairs, shattering and rolling end-over end into the ever-growing pile of stasis-pods.
"Why would the Collectors do that?" Tali, more so than the rest of the team, was shocked. "Those things must be filled with useful components. Why are they just taking the eezo?"
"Well…huh." Harry frowned. "Leviathans need Element Zero in order to move without being in constant pain. Or in order to travel between systems, or for faster-than-light travel. But why would they be providing for an enemy's needs? Unless-hm. If I recall correctly, the leviathan said 'The pawns who hold this station try to summon me from beyond the plane of the living. They will succeed, given time. I seek a servant to carry my conduit to safety.' I assumed 'safety' meant away from the Collectors, and offered to shoot the anchor- the big blue ball. Then it attacked. I don't suppose it wanted to be in the hands of the Collectors? That… They'd bring it back to life. It wants that, and It can probably indoctrinate all of them with ease." The wizard's head drooped. "Bloody hell. I guess we'll just have to hope that the Leviathan's dimension takes its sweet time linking up with the portal, or that we can shut it down soon. Bloody creatures won't be underestimating me again, so we'll have one hell of a fight on our hands if it gets through."
"We'll have one hell of a fight on our hands no matter what." Shepard said, glancing over the edge of the platform again and surveying the portal and the soon-to-be battleground. The portal itself was massive. Large enough to pull a Leviathan through, and those were almost one-hundred-fifty meters tall, according to Harry. It looked to be a perfect circle cut in space. Jane wondered what would happen if someone touched the very edge.
Things poured from the portal constantly, as it changed. The image warped and spun, twisting and shaking. One moment, the image seemed to be dirt and stone, as if it had appeared underground. Rocks poured through, some of them massive. The largest was cut cleanly in half when it was caught in the portal as the scene shifted. The portal showed only blackness then, before a screech went up, echoed by a thousand throats. Arachnid forms far larger than spiders had any right to be started to launch themselves through, immediately attacking the Collector forces arrayed around the portal's edge. Only a few made it past the portal's aperture before it changed, and those that did were slaughtered by massed gunfire.
Gunshots pattered against the floating platform. "Find cover!" Harry called out. Praetorians rose from the ranks of the Collectors, closing the distance rapidly.
"Abrasive maneuvers!" Liara called out.
"It's evasive, not abrasive, dumbfuck!" Jack yelled in reply, head turning to face Liara. The asari blushed. Jack ducked her head, reddening with a blush of her own. Liara pulled out a pistol and took aim at the approaching Praetorian, even as her cheeks took on a purple tone. The platform lurched, as EDI attempted to put the team down somewhere safe. Everyone aboard the platforms held on for dear life, as EDI tilted and shook them first one way, then the other to dodge the Praetorian's energy blasts.
Finally, she managed to land the platforms halfway up the grand staircase. Rapid footfalls and sighs of relief accompanied the team as they leapt off the platforms, glad to be further from the deathtrap. Then, accelerating much faster, EDI took the platforms, and rammed the two Praetorians into the ceiling. There was an audible *squish*. Dust, slime, and strange particulate matter fell from the cracked ceiling far above. Then, engines failing, the AI dropped the sputtering platforms onto the collector forces at the top of the stairway. She must have deactivated the platform's eezo modules at some point, as they hit with a thunderous screech of rending metal and shattering stone.
The group took a moment to reload and rearm, as they were still hidden from the top of the stairs by the wreckage of the platforms they'd flown in on, as well as fallen stasis-pods. Hundreds of empty pods had accumulated across the stairway, some broken, some covered in blood. All of them had been pushed down from above by the collectors once the human in the pod had been killed. Luckily, they seemed fairly solid.
"Here's some mobile cover." Harry announced, hovering a few stasis pods. "These'll should be able to take some bullets."
"Wonderful." Jane murmured. Then, louder, "We're about to walk into hell." She announced. "And we're gonna walk out intact. Hear that? No heroics. Keep yourselves safe out there, and watch your backs." She received nods and affirmatives from all quarters, and started up the stairway at a jog. Her weapons practically gleamed, and wisps of biotic energy materialized around her hands in anticipation. Harry, running right beside her, floated a number of stasis-pods a fair distance in front, serving as some form of cover.
The ground team followed shortly afterwards, with a mix of eagerness and trepidation.
Jane's reached the top of the stairs, and instantly noticed the abductees. Hundreds, even thousands of pods hung in rows, hovering in thin air along the side of the platform. Up on a raised dais at either end of the room, Collector drones in ceremonial garb pulled pods down, and ripped their occupants from the needles and the spikes inside. Then, as she watched, one of the drones brought its captive to a nearby table -an altar of some kind?- and stabbed the colonist through the chest with a strange vibrating blade. An aura of malice pulsed outward, laughing -deep, and heavy like a drumbeat. Blood and viscera fountained into the air. The abductee let out a gurgling shriek, clutching at his midsection, before the drone shoved him off the table, and out of sight. There was a pit behind the altars, one at either end of the room, Jane realized with a start. A pit where the Collectors were dumping the abductees' bodies.
Shepard had more than a sneaking suspicion that she knew what the dark liquid pooling on the floor around the altars was.
A split second later, the team was spotted. A chilling screech rose up, as legions of husks charged towards them. Strangely, it seemed as if the Collectors were unwilling to shoot into their cannon fodder in order to hit the ground team. "Grenades!" Shepard yelled, priming and tossing a pair of grey cylinders from her utility-belt. They bounced, lost in the sea of screaming husks, before erupting in thunderous biotic explosions. Collector drones took to the sky, or found cover. A pair of battered praetorians -still sparking! Perhaps they were also hit by the lightning-bolt- buzzed into the air, twitching spastically. Further off, a small group of Scions groaned, lumbering awkwardly into the fray.
A volley of grenades, unintentionally synchronized, arced over the first few ranks of collectors before exploding into furious light and sound. The flame of Zaeed's inferno grenades mingled freely with biotic detonations, high explosives, tear gas, and flash-bangs.
Harry's eyes flickered, first one way, then the other. So many husks were dead already. The bodies were piling up, but still more surrounded him and the rest of the ground crew. Gunfire could only do so much against a force of suicidal robot-zombies whose only goal was to bury you under sheer numbers and eat your brain. And, despite their makeshift cover, a few husks were able to get past the stasis pods hovering a few inches from the ground. They'd been put down handily by Tali with her shotgun, but still. Something had to be done, before the swarming drones managed to pull themselves together and do something strategically useful. Looking around, the wizard noted that more stasis-pods had been piled up near the top of the stairs. Perhaps…
With a simple wave of his hand, the pile of stasis-pods exploded towards the massed collector forces. Creaking and rending metal grated against the floor, loud enough that Harry was glad to be wearing a helmet. Then the pods struck. Scions and drones splattered under the weight and crashing force of the impact, spraying the goo that ran through their veins across the floor. Husks were flattened, or sent flying. Sparking nanomachines mixed haphazardly with human blood and fluids across the floor.
Behind the army, the portal changed, shifting and shuddering. One moment, it was a lush forest, looking up at a foggy sky occupied by a great blue gas giant, with swirls and eddies in the planet's atmosphere visible even from the ground. Pale fog poured through the portal, almost clinging to the floor. A few horse-like creatures shied away from the portal, startled at its sudden appearance. More inquisitive animals padded forwards. A small herd of six-legged dog-creatures sniffed briefly, before parading through the hole in space.
But more sinister aspects of the planet soon revealed themselves as the atmospheres mingled. Even more mist spilled into the ritual chamber, sinking quickly towards the ground. The closest human -the next sacrifice- soon began choking. The abductee's hands went to his throat, as he tried to inhale. Until one of the decorated Collectors plunged its blade into his chest, he gasped helplessly for breath that wouldn't come. Even some of the collectors started collapsing within the cloud of fog.
"Get down!" Garrus called out, as he lobbed an incendiary grenade into the mist. The explosive bounced across the floor, noise drowned out by gunshots and screeching collectors.
Then it went off, and it seemed as if the entire platform erupted in fire. Garrus started at the conflagration in shock. The cracks of bullets pattering across his shields brought him out of his stupor. "My Omni-tool said that mist was flammable, but I didn't expect…" he trailed off.
"Helmets stay on." Jane murmured through the squad's radio-channel, though she wasn't sure she'd be heard over the sound of screaming, burning collectors and gunshots. "That was a poisonous atmosphere. There's no way to know what inhaling the smoke could do." True to her words, collectors even outside the flames quivered, then fell to the ground. "Get the colonists out of here!" She called, eyes flicking to the cages of bleeding abductees, unprotected from the toxic smoke, and worryingly close.
Harry nodded quickly, and levitated both cages towards the edge of the platform. A few flicks of his wand created an archway, transfigured from the metal in the wall at the far end of the room. Something shimmered, and a familiar portal ripped open. Jane had been through that portal before- the arch the wizard had created led to the pocket dimension he'd opened when revealing the existence of magic to EDI, Miranda and Jacob. The two cages came to rest just inside the archway, before Harry vanished them into nothing. Terrified colonists scattered, running deeper into the pocket dimension. Medical supplies materialized around them, as trees and flowers bloomed, and bore fruit.
The wizard waved his arm again, and the thousands upon thousands of filled stasis pods began to fly, one after the other, through the archway.
The Collector's portal shimmered again, revealing a hard landscape of jagged crevasses, and canyons, all sandstone and crags. Jane caught a glimpse of a pyramid carved from the rock, with an enormous stone head on top. Water cascaded from an obelisk carved out of the top of the statue's head, falling down into the obscuring mists at the bottom of one ravine. With a jarring sense of surreality, Shepard caught a glimpse of more pyramids, more obelisks- and above all of them, vast spires of rock, seemingly anchored in the clouds above, like mile-long stalactites. Some loomed low, almost scraping the ground with city-sized edges.
The portal flickered. A skull a thousand feet long sat mouldering, halfway submerged in a swamp of brown and grey. A few torches gleamed in the mist. Hundreds of small rectangular objects poked up from the ground. Gravestones, Shepard noticed. A massive sucking noise filled the air, and Jane would later swear she'd seen the skull lifting from the muck. Then, mercifully, the portal changed once more. "Harry," Shepard called over the radio, "Can you tell me anything about the places we're seeing?"
"I'm not a tour guide." The wizard said, busy shooting down collector drones in flight.
"What is it, though?" Shepard wondered.
"Other planes of existence." Harry paused for a moment, focusing solely upon an especially durable scion. "Some of them don't really agree with our edition of physics, and some of them are a hell of a lot older than ours, or just coming into existence. Some planes are just an endless sucking void. It's best not to learn too much about places too far beyond our own reality."
"What's the portal, though? What's it made of, how can we disrupt it?" Shepard asked trying to find some advantage, some way to swing the fight in her favor.
"The portal's a jagged hole in reality, poking holes into other realities." Harry tried to explain. "It's unstable, too. That's why everything caught in it gets cut in half when it changes."
"And how do we shut it down?" Shepard said, as she put a biotic warp through an approaching scion.
"We wait." Harry said. "I've already stopped the sacrifices. It should close on its own."
Jane thought for a moment. "Won't the Leviathan slice itself in half as the portal changes destinations?"
"Don't think so." The wizard replied, as he unloaded a rifle into a battered praetorian. "I think a Leviathan has enough force of will to keep the portal open." The praetorian started to dissolve, as its carapace cracked and fragmented under automatic-weapons-fire.
The Collector's portal flickered once more, displaying nothing but a blackened hellscape.
Shapes loomed out of the darkness, blending in with the shadows cast by a massive blazing sun just slipping over the horizon. Vaguely reminiscent of pictures from the second world war, trenches and barbed-wire covered the landscape, interspersed with craters. Some were simply holes large enough to twist an ankle in, while others were massive. Giant pockmarks in the ground from artillery fire broke up the scenery. Not a shred of grass could be seen. Limbs poked out of the ground, all in various stages of putrefaction. Some still twitched. Skulls and bones were strewn haphazardly, and what little wood or fuel there was had flames dancing upon it. In the distance, vast plumes of smoke and ash rose into a blazing crimson sky. Tali caught a whiff of brimstone, strong enough to still have a distinct smell even through her enviro-suit's rebreather. Malice and pain were to be etched eternally upon the landscape visible through the aperture.
And the portal hadn't changed.
The last couple times the portal had flickered and jerked to the next dimension, it had taken barely thirty seconds for it to change once more. But moments passed. Injuries rose across the ground crew- A bullet had grazed Jack's leg, Kasumi had gotten too close to a husk, been detected, and was forced to kill it with her monomolecular blade. In the process, she'd acquired a gash down one arm, and a bite mark. She was chipper enough to continue, despite her injuries. She was already joking that she'd gotten a 'hickey from hell' and lived to tell the tale.
Liara had lost the very tip of one pinky finger to a blade. She'd promptly eviscerated the offending collector, and -for a long, embarrassing moment- started to worry about how uncultured she'd look at high-society asari parties without a raised pinky finger. Jack snapped her out of her miniature panic-moment, and the two shared some sort of an understanding before they turned into a whirling blur of biotic blasts and devastation.
Jacob and Miranda had both been caught in the same Scion's blast, barely escaping intact. Blood seeped from Miranda's left arm, though she didn't seem to notice the crimson stain slowly growing on her sleeve. Jacob was the worse for wear, with a spider-web crack in the center of his breastplate and a deep dent that almost impeded his breathing.
Surprisingly, Draco Malfoy and Tali-Zorah were the only untouched members of the ground crew. Harry's armor had taken a beating, as sniper-fire had focused on him first. That had ended when he'd fired off ten or fifteen guided incinerate modules in quick succession. Jane herself had run afoul of one of the last living praetorians, and sported a long scar of blackened, melted metal down the upper-section of her chestplate.
Even EDI's plates had been dented and pitted by the constant gunfire and explosives. Her mechanical form had taken a beating as she'd been mowing down husks in melee range.
Time froze, as a massive clawed fist took hold of the portal's edge.
"Oh, hell." Harry murmured. "Looks like leviathans aren't the only things strong enough to hold the portal open."
Whatever creature was attached to the giant hand soon became visible, as it stepped into view. Slowly, almost ponderously, it ducked its head in order to fit through the portal. First one cloven hoof, then the other stepped through, crushing any collectors caught beneath them. Batlike wings extended from the thing's back, giving it a wingspan as long as an aircraft carrier. Leathery red skin covered the creature, cracked and scarred and oozing. Flames wrapped around the creature's armored wrist, resolving into a whip. Along one arm, black armor covered red skin all the way up to a massive shoulder-guard. And horns the size of telephone poles extended from the thing's head.
"Ahh… FINALLY." Said the devil. It raised both arms in triumph, brandishing clenched fists. "I HAVE RETURNED!" Four blazing eyes burned brightly, giving off a sinister glare. "AND ALL THE WORLDS SHALL TREMBLE!"
Almost as one, the collector forces opened fire. Bullets sparked off the creature, while heavier weapons blackened and scarred it. A few scions blasted biotic shockwaves at the thing, burning away at its feet. With a few lurching steps, the creature stomped on them. All that remained were dark smears across the floor, and crumpled cybernetics still sparking and spattering hissing electric current into the floor.
"YOU TOYED WITH POWERS FAR BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING." The devil said, laughing. "AND THIS REALITY WILL FALL BECAUSE OF IT."
"Whoa." Shepard whispered.
"God fucking damnit!" Harry spat. "This is why portals are dangerous. Idiots open them without the proper precautions and wind up punching a hole into hell. Then all sorts of nasty things come through, and it falls to people like me to clean up after them."
"That's hell?" Jacob looked nervous.
"One of them." the wizard waved a hand. "How do we plan to kill it?"
"You're the wizard. How do these things die?" Jane felt a little out-of-her-depth.
"That depends on whether it's a devil or a demon." The wizard said, explaining hurriedly. "Demons you can just pound until they start to fall apart, but then you've got to run away when the body starts exploding. With devil like this one, you've got to be more careful. They die just the same, but you've got to finish them off with something holy, or they regenerate. A patronus might work but I've got concentrated holy water as a last resort."
"You just carry holy water around with you?" Draco was almost amused. "what the hell for? It's not as if killing unholy abominations is a regular Tuesday."
"It's left over from the last time someone tried summoning things like this." Harry's voice turned sheepish. "It's been in the trunk since the early two-thousands."
"Are you sure that'll finish it?" Jane asked. "I'd hate to put it down just to watch the thing stand back up."
"If the holy water doesn't work, I can try nukes." Harry said, almost gleeful. "I've got an old one from the American arsenal, before the nuclear disarmament initiatives happened. It's a bit less than two-point-five megatons. If it won't do the trick, I'm pretty sure nothing will."
"Would prefer live specimens." Mordin said. "Perhaps use less… destructive methods?"
"Nukes are a last resort, as always." The wizard said, reassuring the salarian scientist.
"I love how you've actually got to reassure us about that." Garrus muttered. "I think it says something about your mental state.. "
"Right." Harry said, disregarding Garrus. "This thing isn't gonna be easy to kill. I suggest you all run like hell, and watch from a distance."
"Uhm. No?" Shepard replied.
"There's nothing you can do here." Harry said. "Look. It's shrugging off enough gunfire to strip a frigate's shields!"
"It's not shrugging off biotics." Shepard noted. "Jack and I could help."
"Neither of you are immortal. If it kills you, you're dead." Harry said, emphasizing the last word. Draco's eyes shot open. "Look," Harry said. "If you want to help, wait until it's focused on me. Then Charge in, do some damage, and get out."
"How will we know if you decide to use the nuke?" Tali said, wringing her hands.
"You'll know." Harry said, assuring the group. "I won't just set it off with all you still in the blast radius."
"I'm not leaving you here." Shepard said.
"Jane-" Harry stopped her. "I need you to take this with you." he held out a bag of marbles. Jane looked at it blankly for a few moments, before she recognized it with a flash of worry. "All of those are transfigured colonists?"
"Yeah." Harry marshalled his thoughts. "I want you to keep them safe. So they won't be destroyed if I set off the bomb."
Shepard scowled. She could see the necessity of the action, but that didn't mean she had to like it. "Stay safe." she said, turning away. The rest of the ground team followed, clearly reluctant.
Shepard spotted a long gantry running along the wall, similar to what she and her team had been travelling across up until EDI had discovered the motorized platforms. Although, Jane mused, having one or more of those on standby wouldn't be bad. "EDI?" she said. "Do you-"
"There aren't any mechanized platforms close enough for me to immediately access." EDI replied. "Although I am able to pull one from another part of the station. Would you like me me to do so?"
"Definitely, EDI." Shepard thought for a second. "...Can you read my mind?" she said, voice a mix of confusion and curiosity. She hadn't even voiced her request, and EDI had already answered it.
"I'm an incredibly advanced artificial intelligence. I could predict your question with reasonable certainty." the AI replied.
"Oh." Shepard said, mollified.
EDI spoke up, this time with thinly-veiled humor. "But yes, I can tell what you're thinking through your biotic implant. It interfaces directly with your brain, after all."
"O...kay?" Shepard said, bemused. "Just… don't fiddle around with anything too important in there, alright?"
"Alright, big guy." Harry said, too quietly to be heard by anyone but himself. "It's you or me." He pulled an extra layer of dragonhide over his armor, and cast a whole assortment of charms on it and himself.
Then he reached into a pocket, and pulled out an old-fashioned rocket-propelled grenade launcher. With a grin, the wizard flipped a small switch on the weapon's handle from 'Single Shot' to 'Fully-Automatic.' "I love replenishing charms." The wizard said. The last few words in his sentence dissolved into an eager laugh. "Oh, I'd almost forgotten about this."
"We'll just try to get a little further away, then." Jane said. Harry probably hadn't meant to key his microphone, but still. If he was excited about using something, then there was probably going to be a lot more fire in his general vicinity, and a lot less stable ground.
The devil, in the meantime, was under fire from hundreds of collectors, and busy stomping them into dust. Strangely, the only injuries that lingered for long were those caused by direct biotic attacks. "KNOW THIS." Said the devil to the collectors. "WHEN THIS REALITY BURNS, WHEN EVERY WORLD ORBITING EVERY STAR IN EVERY GALAXY LIES BARREN, BLACKENED AND DESTROYED, IT WAS YOUR CHOICE THAT BURNED THIS ETERNITY TO ASH. THAT YOUR HAND DOOMED EVERY UNCOUNTABLE SOUL TO EVER BE BORN IN THE FUTURE OF THIS PLANE OF REALITY."
As if his words struck a chord, the collector forces redoubled their assault. The floor shook and shivered, as a new set to engines came online.
"Shepard!" EDI said, in a tone close to panic for the unflappable AI. "Chemical boosters and mass effect fields have engaged across the station! Within ten minutes, this station will enter the black hole's event horizon!"
"God FUCKING damnit!" Jane said, voice a growl. "My life is a fucking action movie, I swear." She thought for a moment. "EDI, will we be able to escape in time on those floating platforms?"
"I believe so, Shepard." the AI responded.
Still backing away, Jane and the rest of the ground team (minus Harry) watched as a rapid stream of pinpricks of light and fire rose from Harry's position towards the towering creature. A column of smoke followed, growing larger and larger still. The first few rockets impacted the demonic figure, detonating with a series of brilliant flashes.
There was a vast rush of air, as the devil's wings beat. The yellow dust that seemed to hover listlessly across the chamber swirled, disturbed by the wind. A low roar sounded, echoing from the far end of the chamber. Despite its clear inhumanity, Jane was almost certain she could hear a note of surprise. The devil turned, lowering its head towards Harry. As it moved, the impact scars of Harry's rockets came into view. Jane's eyes widened.
"DEATH'S MASTER." Said the devil, staring balefully in Harry's direction. "IN ALL THE WORLDS I'VE CONQUERED, I'VE NEVER MET A MORE TROUBLESOME CREATURE. ALL OF DEATH'S CHOSEN PUT UP A DECENT FIGHT. PERHAPS YOU'LL FARE BETTER THAN THE REST. BUT AS FOR ALL THEM-" The devil laughed, with a rasping hiss of a voice. "ALL THEIR SOULS BELONG TO ME."
Wherever one of the rockets had hit the devil, a crater pockmarked the crimson flesh. Blue-white fire flickered around the edges of each crater, consuming the flesh around them. "What the hell did you do?" Shepard said, keying her microphone, putting aside the notion that Harry could have somehow mastered death. Draco, expression unseen, did not. At this point, he wasn't dismissing anything Harry said out of hand. "What type of weapon is that?"
Harry's voice returned, quiet and calculating. "It's a muggle rocket launcher I stole from a small tribe of ivory-traffickers sometime in the late nineteen-nineties. One of them was a wizard with an incredible talent for rune-work. He modified it to conjure a new rocket whenever the old one was fired, and managed to dispense with recoil. Then he added a fully-automatic fire mode."
"Come again?" Jane wasn't sure she'd heard correctly.
"I'm using a fully-automatic, ammo-unlimited, anti-tank rocket launcher with cold iron pellets, rock salt, depleted uranium, and silver filings dipped in garlic mixed into the payload." Harry's voice seemed oddly calm. "This thing can kill anything, but it tends to leave a bit of a mark. It's fueled by ambient magic, and takes on a bit of the characteristics of the magic it's using. That means I've got to continuously cleanse the violent, tainted magic trying to disrupt it, while keeping my head in a crowded battlefield."
"By all means, keep fighting. You don't have to explain everything to me in the middle of all this." Jane said. Then she sighed, and looked back at the monstrous figure towering over the battlefield. "Be careful, Harry."
"Always am." the wizard said. He sounded distracted, and rightfully so- he had a hundred-fifty meter devil bearing down on him. As he spoke, the devil beat its wings once more, and swung the blazing whip around its wrist. It seemed to lengthen midair, and sent up a blast of flames when it struck the ground.
Jane winced, fearing the worst. Then another barrage of rockets rose into the air, and she relaxed.
"What do we do?" Garrus said, fondling the butt of his rifle. He didn't want to leave Harry to fight that… abomination any more than she did.
"There's not too much we can do." She thought for a moment. "We'll try to hit it from somewhere safe. We've got to be careful, since that thing could kill all of us without really trying if it gets close." Jane's eyes lit up as her face alighted on Garrus's gun. "Garrus, try and hit the creature's weak points. Kneecaps, eyes, anything." Jane mentally congratulated herself for buying the turian a Widow Anti-Materiel Rifle. "Jack, Jacob, Miranda, we're going to provide biotic support. Fire off anything we can detonate, and we'll do some serious damage."
The group arrayed themselves across their position, finding cover wherever possible. On Jane's command, they opened fire.
Shepard's singularity led the opening salvo, flying ponderously towards the devil. It struck the creature's outstretched arm, and expanded into a glowing sphere of blue energy, sweeping towards the iconic black point in the center of the biotic field, the 'singularity'. White-gold light shot through the sphere like through Jane's normal biotic attacks, but this time it anchored itself to the devil. The creature let out a strange yelp of pain and surprise, and stared at its forearm, eyes opening wide.
Garrus took the opportunity to put a bullet through one of the devil's four eyes, as the rest of the button barrage impacted.
A widow Anti-Materiel Rifle is less of a sniper rifle, and more of an undersized main cannon for ground-assault heavy armored vehicles. Common doctrine for the weapon states that the weapon is -under no circumstances- to be fired at any point within a meter of a VIP. The shockwave-explosion caused by the shot's impact, -capable of pulverizing organs and causing life-threatening damage- could endanger a VIP even more than possible capture or melee combat. Known across the galaxy as one of the most effective anti-tank weapons in existence, The M-98 Widow is heavily regulated. Production is illegal outside of the most advanced and scrupulous weapons-companies in Council Space. Private ownership of the weapon is forbidden by a number of arms treaties, and heavy tariffs and taxes are levied against any military whose snipers are permitted to use such a weapon.
To say the devil's eye was liquified was an understatement. In fact, a small portion of the back of the creature's skull was blasted apart, as the shot distributed its energy throughout the interior of the creature's cranium. Black liquid dribbled down the creature's back, as it reeled in shock.
Then it roared. Not a shocked grunt, or a yelp of surprise, but a true shuddering expression of fury. The entire chamber shook. Dust and rock crumbled from the ceiling as the devil's wings ignited. Flame streamed from the creature's batlike wings, licking against the chamber's chitinous vaulted roof. Cloven hooves crashed into the floor, hundreds of feet apart as the creature took long, loping steps towards Garrus and the ground team.
"Ah, hell. It's moving too much. I can't get another shot." Garrus said, as he watched the devil eat the distance between them. "And I think we pissed it off."
"No shit!" Jane said, launching another wave of biotic artillery. The devil let out an ear-piercing screech, and picked up its pace.
"What the fuck!" Harry's voice called out. "What did you-!" The source of the rocket barrage rose from the floor, as Harry flew around the devil, damaging and harassing it as much as he could. The devil almost stumbled, as Harry's rockets crashed into the small of its back.
"Garrus put a shot from his Widow rifle through its eye." Shepard said, barely hiding a note of pride. She watched the thing take another step. Jane stared upward, finally understanding how incredibly massive the devil was. "You're one ugly motherfucker, aren't you…" she said. Then it took another step, and fixed its eyes on her.
"Jane!" Harry's voice said over the radio. A tangible note of fear played through his words. "I've lost the devil's attention. It's coming after you!"
The devil roared again, and beat its wings, gliding clumsily from the top of the massive staircase.
"Go, go!" Shepard grabbed the two lightest members of her team- Mordin and Tali- and biotic charged into thin air. She traveled across the chamber in a matter of moments, landing half a mile away in just a few seconds.
When she arrived, she found Draco waiting for her, though he'd changed, since she'd last seen him. His clothing was disheveled. Smoke curled off his shoulders. "Apparating here is a very bad idea." He announced, eyes wide, as EDI's infiltration platform clambered from one of his expanded pockets. An absent wave of his wand conjured a small chair, which Draco collapsed into with an exhausted sigh.
Shepard didn't feel the need to tell Draco that his chair was patchy, threadbare, and twitching, all signs of a hurried conjuration, or one done while under too much stress.
Jack, watching in surprise, charged as well a moment later, grabbing Garrus by the back of his armor, and Liara around her waist. The asari blushed, but held on tight. Miranda blinked in surprise, before she followed, slinging Jacob over a shoulder. Shepard dropped her passengers on the other side, and turned around. She watched as the devil reached her former position, and stepped down into the chamber's base from the gantry they'd sheltered on. Rapid-fire pinpricks of light impacted all across the creature's hide, blackening and burning wherever they hit. Shepard charged back across the chamber, fearing the worst. In a burst of blue, she thundered into the wall she'd hunkered down behind, just a moment or two ago. Just a few feet away, a basketball-court sized hoofprint had crushed most of the surrounding area flat.
"Jane!" Kasumi said, decloaking as she arrived. "Thought you'd leave me alone over here for a second."
"Never." Shepard replied, a little out of breath. She held out a hand. Kasumi took it, and held on for dear life as Jane charged across the room once more.
"Harry?" said Jane, keying her microphone. Cautiously, as she knew he was focusing on the rolling tumult of combat. "What's the status on that…thing?"
"It's dying." Harry said. Jane watched as the devil backhanded a small glowing figure buzzing about its head hard enough to embed the figure into the side of the chamber. Cracks spread across the wall upon his impact. There was a flash of blue, as Harry used a biotic charge to escape the devil's next attack. Clouds of flame and choking brimstone smoke poured from every slice and crater in the creature's skin. The vast cloud of yellowed, ancient dust billowed through the room like a mushroom cloud in a wind-tunnel.
"You alright?" Jane said, alarmed. Human bodies weren't meant to take that sorry of punishment.
"Peachy." Said the wizard, with a low growl and a pained grunt. "The devil's dead. It just doesn't know it yet."
"it's banged up, but it looks pretty alive to me." Said Jane, watching the devil swat at Harry, trying to knock him from the air again. "And it looks pissed off."
"That way it won't notice the transfiguration wearing off on the nuke inside its stomach." Harry grunted, taking a glancing blow from the devil's forearm. "But the spell won't wear off for another three minutes. That's how long you've got to get out of here."
"I'm not leaving you to fight this alone." Jane said, clenching her fists.
"It's the only way." Harry said. "I've got to keep it distracted, or it'll notice the magic unraveling in its gut. I'll try to get out before the bomb goes off, but if I can't, I'll be back as soon as I can."
Jane took one last glance towards Harry, the glowing speck fighting a creature taller than most skyscrapers. "Be careful." she said, voice almost a mumble.
"Always, Jane." the wizard said. "Now go! You've got less than two-and-a-half minutes."
Jane ran, followed by the rest of her team. "Shepard, I've commandeered a floating platform. I'm placing a waypoint on your HUD. Get there." Said EDI. The AI sounded tense, worried and full of anxiety. A blinking timer counting down appeared by Jane's vitals, projected onto the inside of her helmet.
Jack hit the next door with a massive blast of biotic energy, punching it clean off with a biotic charge. In the very next room, surrounding a glowing blue sphere, the red-robed Auror team sat or lay down, nearly insensate. One or two rocked back and forth, hands at their temples and groaning in pain. "That's just like the sphere in the Auditorium." Said Jack, immediately suspicious.
"The 'focus' thing that Harry was talking about?" Jane was still skeptical, to some degree. She'd been so inured to the wonders of modern technology that even Harry's magic had her looking for the mass effect fields sometimes, and trying to puzzle out how a new iteration of omni-tools could be so advanced.
"Harry' called that a focus? For a ritual?" Draco searched his memory, staring suddenly at the orb as if it were much more than a glowing sphere. He raised his wand, and cast a reducto hex. The sphere shattered, blasting strange dust around the room that evaporated into thin air as soon as it hit the ground. "Ectoplasm." Dracu murmured. His eyes widened almost unnoticeably. The four Aurors were blasted backwards a few feet, away from where the sphere had sat. "Get up!" the wizard yelled. "This whole station will be vaporized in minutes!"
The Aurors stood, groggily staring at their surroundings. "Where are we?" one asked, stumbling over her own feet.
"Damnit! We've got no time for this!" Draco cursed. "Stupefy, stupefy, stupefy, stupefy." the wizard cast. Red light struck each Auror in the forehead, and they slumped, one-after-the-other, to the ground in a boneless heap. "Accio!" Draco added, and one of the Auror's brooms shot into his palm. He dropped it to the ground, as his hand went to his waist. Grasping a bag from off of his belt, Draco stuck his wand inside, and muttered, "Capacious Extremis." The ground team looked on, confused. "Get in, all of you." the wizard held out the bag, as its mouth expanded large enough to fit a small car. "I'll fly us out." he pointed to the broom. "That's an Auriel Mark three. Top speed two-fifty miles per hour. Much faster than whatever floating platform thing you were planning to use." Then "Accio!" again, and the unconscious Aurors flew into the pouch.
Tali led the group into the expanded mokeskin bag, accustomed all her life to climbing into tight spaces. On Shepard's HUD, the timer ticked downwards. "Not you." Draco said, stopping Shepard from entering the bag. "I need you to navigate. Make sure your ship doesn't shoot me down."
"Got it." Shepard said, thankful for EDI's exit route overlaid on her visor. Draco kicked off, and Shepard experienced flight without the influence of biotic fields once more.
"forty seconds, Shepard." Harry said. His eyes flickered once more to the timer superimposed over his visor, steadily ticking down. With a twist, he launched himself in upwards, just barely avoiding a blow from the devil's massive forearm. All he had to do was survive, Harry told himself. As soon as the nuke went off, everything would be engulfed in a flash of heat and light, and he'd wake up a day later.
"Harry!" Jane called. In the back of his mind, the wizard knew that she'd said his name more than once before he'd acknowledged her. "The station's got all sorts of engines attached to it that we couldn't see from the outside. It's on a full burn towards the black hole. EDI estimates ten minutes until it hits the event horizon, so get as far as you can once the nuke goes off."
"Got it." Harry said. His eyes widened, as he watched the devil freeze. Its three remaining eyes widened, and the creature turned, running back towards the portal.
Flickering ominously, the hellscape the devil had come from slowly darkened and disappeared. Black mist poured from the portal, as it was pulled violently through the space between dimensions. The devil ran forwards, furious. Harry unloaded into it. "Get back here!" he called out, voice amplified by a sonorous charm. "You're not escaping that easily."
"A GREATER POWER COMES, AND I AM WEAKENED. HOLD YOUR FIRE- THE OLD ONE COMES. LEVIATHAN WAKES." said the devil. A note of worry entered its tone. The creature's voice echoed from the chamber's distant walls, like the rumbling of malicious thunder.
Wordlessly, Harry shot a Confringo at the floor beneath one of the devil's legs, blasting away its footing mid-run. The creature stumbled, sliding hundreds of feet along the floor. House-sized chunks of shattered stone, chitin, and steel were torn from the floor as the creature scrambled for purchase. "Glisseo." Harry cast. For almost a kilometer in all directions, the floor writhed and transfigured itself into a smooth, glassy surface. Another spell blasted specks of grease into the air, and all across the now smooth floors. The devil slipped and slid, finding no purchase. Even with its wings, flapping uselessly, it could make no headway. The thin membranes had burnt away easily under Harry's barrage of rockets, and gaping holes marred each expanse of stretched skin. One of the devil's legs seemed to hang limp. A deep crater marred what could have been some strange sort of tendon as wide as a subway tunnel running down its leg.
At the far end of the chamber, something flickered. A plane of infinite grey revealed itself through the shrinking borders of the massive gleaming portal. The foremost tentacles of a Leviathan emerged- almost identical to those of the Leviathans Harry had slain on 2181 Despoina.
"JOIN ME! YOU ARE POWERFUL, AND I FIGHT THOSE THAT TOOK YOUR MORTAL FROM YOU!" Said the devil to Harry, cloven hooves skittering across the floor. "THE CELESTIALS INTERFERED TO END HER. THEY DO NOT DESERVE YOUR SUPPORT! WITH THEIR BETRAYAL, THEY HAVE SHOWN THEIR TRUE COLORS. YOUR ENEMIES SEEK EVEN NOW TO DESTROY YOU, AND ALL YOU HOLD DEAR. SWEAR YOURSELF TO ME, AND TOGETHER WE WILL DRIVE THEM BACK. TOGETHER, WE SHALL RULE THE STARS!" Harry was surprised at how quickly a world-conquering horror from another dimension could be reduced to megalomania, especially when at a disadvantage.
Wordlessly, the wizard redoubled his attack. Meter-thick layers of mottled red skin sloughed off under the onslaught of rockets and curses, revealing dripping black tissue beneath the all-consuming blue flames. One shattered wing fell to the ground, attached only by a tendon to the devil's shoulders. Half the fingers on one of the devil's hands had burnt off at some point, hit by lucky rockets aimed at knuckles and joints. A spike of shattered bone as thick as a small shuttle poked out from the creature's mutilated hand.
Harry glanced back towards the portal at the far end of the room, and panicked. The Leviathan, much faster than anticipated, had emerged from the portal and come flying full-speed towards the crippled titan on the chamber's floor. It shook, writhing as if in pain. It didn't have any eezo coursing through its system, Harry recalled. So it was in pain -terrible, all-consuming agony.
Then, from the corner of his vision, the demon moved. Its limp disappeared -it must have been faking- as it struck lightning-fast with its intact hand. Even forewarned and flying, Harry knew he couldn't avoid the attack- he tried to apparate, crashing violently into some eldritch approximation of anti-apparation wards that dumped him right where he'd started. Just barely mastering his instinct to take a portkey, he looked up, and watched the devil's house-sized hand coming towards him at an entirely uncomfortable speed. As if in slow motion, the hand struck him with all the force of an oncoming dreadnought. For a half-second, everything went black, and Harry found himself almost entirely embedded in a wall. Spiderweb cracks from his impact reached as far up as the ceiling, two hundred feet above. Thankfully, his head poked out of the rubble, giving him a view of the devil smashing its hooves into the smooth, slippery floor, and making its own hand and footholds. The Leviathan screamed forwards, blasting psychic agony across every spectrum of magic Harry could feel. He spasmed, as his vision greyed out. He came to a moment later, missing only a few seconds according to his mission clock. Blood dribbled down his chin.
In the corner of his HUD, the timer on the nuke's transfiguration ticked from one to zero. Harry let out a strangled laugh, as the taste of copper filled his mouth. He waved his wand, feeling the transfiguration reverse. One hand gripped an expanded bottle of holy water, holding thousands of gallons of the liquid. A good banishing charm stuck it in the back of the creature's throat. The devil, now standing, froze. Its eyes widened.
Harry hit the detonator, and everything went white.
Jane watched, teary-eyed, as the Collector Base exploded into a fine mist. Then, as what remained of the base followed its trajectory through the accretion disk and into the black hole.