Pain was the first thing that I awoke to. The light that trickled through my cracked eyelids sent daggers of pain into my skull. I groaned and put my palms over my eyes, trying hard to block out the sunlight.

If only I could block the memories of last night so easily.

I remembered seeing Elam'Koris vas Qwib Qwib, lying in a blue pool of his own blood. But after that…

After, I could remember only the screams of the dying and the silence of the dead.

"You're awake." The words came as a statement of fact, rather than a question.

"Lady T'Ravt." Wincing, I opened my eyes to see that the Lady Warlord was now dressed in a light suit of utility armor; the twin short swords she had wielded to deadly effect last night now openly sported on her hips. She walked over and handed me a cup of something that I assumed was the Xenthan equivalent of coffee.

"What happened?" I asked, sitting up stiffly in my suit of armor.

"Apologies for leaving you in your armor," T'Ravt said, ignoring the question. "It seems none of your people nor my engineers could remove it from you last night."

I smiled and winced again as I reached a hand back to type in the code at the small of my back. The armor collapsed, folding layer upon layer as it curled up my legs and retreated over my shoulders, leaving me once again in the tuxedo I had been wearing last night.

"So that's how you got in armor so quickly," T'Ravt commented, with a hint of admiration in her voice. "In the dim moonlight last night, it was difficult to see exactly how that worked."

"My cadre?" I left the question open as I arched an eyebrow at my hostess, taking a small sip from my drink as I did. It was hot, but oddly bland.

"They have taken Koris' body back to your ship," T'Ravt said, her eyes and voice falling. "Mr. Krios and the Sergeant Major are still here, awaiting your awakening."

The spark of suspicion was still in her eyes, and in her stance. Which meant I would have to answer myriad unspoken questions, none of which I truly wanted to answer. Least of all to a Warlord, however polite and congenial she might be.

"You have questions that only I have answers to," I said quietly.

"I observed many things last night that no one has answered to my satisfaction," she answered. Again, it was a statement rather than a question.

Deep breath.

"You speak now to the Seneschal of the Prothean Empire. Last night you beheld the slave weapon that the Protheans constructed, bit by bloody bit, in their laboratories and cold operating tables." It wasn't a detailed explanation, but that was all she was getting. Her stance relaxed, slightly.

Her navy lips pursed slightly. "You did not know Commander Kean or I last night. You did not even recognize young Mr. Krios' face when you met us on the field…"

"The closest thing it might be compared to is a Krogan Blood-Rage. Twice as deadly, except not quite so…uncontrolled." I met her inquisitive gaze, a mirthless smile on my lips. "Your people were in no danger from me, Lady. But of course you had no way to know that. And…the other guy…is not the most talkative of sorts."

T'Ravt turned and filled up a glass of water from a pitcher on the side-table. She strode to the window, looking out over the wreck and carnage of the field in front of us. Her aura was… calmed slightly, but there was enough suspicion to tell me that she knew I wasn't saying everything. After a long sip from her drink, she offered a single word. "Dangerous."

"Now you know why I prefer to use words to accomplish my means," I said, sipping the coffee as I rose, tiredly striding to her side.

"Have you considered…a mind healer, perhaps?" T'Ravt said gently, genuine sincerity and concern in her voice and her expression. "These things are often buried, and buried deep…"

I set the coffee cup down, pointedly not looking at her. "Do you have any intelligence on who paid the pirates to attack us last night?"

T'Ravt, thankfully, took the hint, her voice resuming its usual tones of regal formality. "The records we salvaged from their ship and their Omni-Tools was inconclusive."

"Aria would not have bothered with a straightforward assault," I thought aloud. "She would have simply placed a nuke on the freighter and detonated it once your GUARDIANs had brought it down."

"She is not one for…a fair fight if she can help it," T'Ravt agreed. "She also does not have the allegiance of so many krogan mercenaries…after what she has done to the Patriarch."

"The Blood Pack, then," I concluded. "Ganar or Zaen?"

T'Ravt smiled, mirthlessly. "Ganar has not returned from his attempts to rebuild the Blood Pack's support base on Tuchanka," she stated simply. "He also distains assassination attempts, as well as asari commandos."

Which left just one possible culprit. "Zaen."

She nodded in agreement. "A bold move. Intelligent, even, if it had been successful. Of course, a good deal less so, now that it has failed."

That was an understatement if ever I'd heard one. My fists slowly clenched as I breathed, staring out at the cratered grounds with their shattered walls before making a snap decision. "My battle fleets are gathering in preparation for a full invasion of Heshtok. I will be cutting the Blood Pack off from their source of cannon fodder."

T'Ravt looked at me with a note of surprise at my free volunteering of such information, though she concealed it quickly enough. After a few moments, she smiled slyly and offered me information in turn: "My network has heard multiple rumors of Zaen recently broaching an agreement with the Warrior. I do not intend on allowing them to formally ally."

I gave her a sideways glance. "A mission for Commander Kean, perhaps?"

Her eyes narrowed, but the coy smile remained on her lips. "Perhaps."

I focused, forcing my fists to relax and unclench. "There are already many moving against the both of us, my Lady, so I will waste no time with pretty words or empty promises. Fight with me, warrior with warrior. My fleets are amassing in the Terminus Systems We will make the Blood Pack bleed. If you do the same, we will make no move against your territory or any territory of the Blood Pack that your forces may seize. Your ships may refit and refuel at Conclave Depot Stations, if my ships may do the same at your ports."

Turning back to her, I shook my head slightly before she could speak. "And no, Yan, this is not a formal alliance and does not in any way bind you to Conclave rule, law, or command. This is our two forces simply not fighting each other, while I exact a payment of full measure and with terrible interest for the life of my friend."

When she only regarded me silently, her smile gone in favor of a calculating poker face, I reached out a hand. "I make this promise by my authority as Imperator of the Conclave, which shall not be questioned by the Circle. Do we have an accord, Warlord?"

T'Ravt looked down at my hand, then back up at me. "I am a being of my word, Imperator. Elam'Koris died while under my oath of safe conduct. I owe the Zaen and his Blood Pack pain for that."

Bringing her own arm up, she clasped my hand, wrist to wrist, in the time-honored turian warrior's salute. "My strength to yours…Ko'le."

Our biotics flared and mingled with her words, blue-white and green-black.

"So mote it be," I spoke the words quielty in High Thessian, then released her arm, taking a few deep breaths. "And now I must bear my friend's body back to his people. And to his father."

T'Ravt nodded, her hands folding behind her in a classic turian military stance. "With your permission, I will compose a message to Zaal'Koris, expressing my personal condolences in the death of his son. His duty on my world may have been difficult," Impossible, she meant, "But he did not shirk from it."

I bowed my gratitude. "A gesture that I know will be deeply appreciated."

Reaching out, I took hand in mine again, pulsing comradery and vengeance. She returned with solidarity and satisfaction.

"Athame guard and guide you, Lady T'Ravt."

She took her free hand clasped it over my own, squeezing once. "And with you…my friend."

Nodding once, I turned and strode through the door. Outside, I found Kolyat and Pyke whirling to face me, while Kean and Kaste also rose to their feet. A bit slowly in the old general's case, thanks to the leg stuck in a medical cast.

"Imperator, are you -?" Kolyat began.

"I am fine," I replied, cutting him off. "Sergeant Major, report."

Pyke clicked his heels together. "Sah! Estimated thirty-seven hostiles remaining on the field upon the 85th Battalion's arrival. They attempted to engage in a rearguard action to cover their retreat, but the Lady Warlord's reinforcements," he nodded to the general, "cut them off, surrounding the mansion entirely. They did not elect to attempt to surrender, sah."

"A modicum of sense, at least," I scoffed, picturing their options of dying quickly in the field versus a slow, agonizing end at the hand of one of the Lady's interrogators. "Casualties?"

"Sah, one wounded: Imperator, Ko'le Seneschal: Treated for mild concussion and laid to rest in separate chamber. One KIA: Qwib Qwib, Lieutenant Elam'Koris vas, SAH." Pyke's expression was the epitome of professionalism, his voice and expression not betraying the grief only I could sense in his aura.

"Imperator," Kaste said, stepping forward. "I deeply regret the loss of Lt. Koris. He was… a brave soldier. I swear to you, we will have our vengeance upon the orchestrators of this cowardly action."

I nodded, noticing the assassin behind him twitching a little at the word 'cowardly'. "Thank you, General. I am glad to see your own wounds are healing well."

A curt nod dismissed my concern. "A mere scratch, sir."

Nodding in return, I turned to the human as he moved around the Turian. "Kean."

"Imperator." He replied flatly. He didn't radiate open distrust and suspicion, but it had merely been replaced with the kind of wariness you showed dangerous animals.

"I owe you…much. For last night." I let the open statement sink in with the Commander, who simply drew his shoulders back and pursed his lips slightly. In his business… favors were the most valuable currency, and his surprise was practically audible.

Several seconds passed before he shook his head, then offered me the first genuinely polite Batarian nod he'd given me. "Another time."

"Another time. Corporal Krios, Sergeant Major, fall in," I said, striding towards the door, with my two companions following close behind.

A short shuttle-ride later, and the reassuring of each and every one of my team that I was in fact fine, save for a slight headache (Kelly then running off to get me pain medications and treatments for a concussion), I strode into the Communications Room.

"Dad?" A quiet voice greeted me.

I turned to see EDI seated at the table. Sighing, I changed directions to sit down beside her. "Hey, kiddo."

"I'm…sorry about Elam. I should've… I should've…when the jamming started…"

"This is no one's fault," I said, firmly, in a tone that did not brook or invite argument. "He knew the risks when he took this mission. There was no way we could have anticipated this attack. He acted bravely and without hesitation. We must not cheapen his bravery with our own self-doubt and guilt."

When she said nothing, I reached out and put an arm around her shoulders. "Do you understand?"

EDI looked up from the floor and nodded wordlessly.

Nodding back, I let go and fought the urge to clench my fists again. "But what we can do, is to make sure that his death means something. How long until the Holo-Summit?"

EDI drew her shoulders back. "They are ready whenever you are. All of them answered your call."

"All seventeen of them?" I asked, my eyebrows rising in unfeigned surprise.

"This is not a kind of invitation they could afford to turn down." She pointed out with a tiny smile. "The majority of their Communicators that they have used to login to the broadcast contain triple-encrypted quantum entanglers: impossible to trace."

So they weren't idiots then. Shame.

I reached to the small of my back again, engaging my armor to deploy around me once again. If I was going to meet them, they would meet the Imperator of the Conclave, not a soft-spoken diplomat.

"Go ahead and connect them, EDI."

EDI's holographic form disappeared, and her blue orb appeared on the wall.

"Connecting you now, Imperator," her 'official Shipboard A.I.' voice boomed out over the ship's speaker system.

As the final folds of my helmet deployed around my dreadlocks, the room darkened and I was in the holographic presence of multiple other figures: some sitting, some standing. Each of them was broadcasting from their various ships or base locations across the Terminus and the Dark Rim systems.

Before I had departed for the banquet hall, I had sent out an offer to each of the smaller pirate holdouts who had not declared for Aria, T'Ravt, Sederis, or Zaen, the four warlords who were fast emerging as the principle powers in the wake of the Conclave's aggressive expansion through the Terminus System. A few of the figures I recognized:

Cessa Reshawk, commonly known as Cessa 'the Blade': an Asari huntress. She was one of the few warlords who still held territory within the Traverse, though most of her holdings were in the wild space of the Dark Rim.

Ashak ul Tirravan, the self-proclaimed 'Pirate King', and a thorn in the side of the both the Alliance and the Salarian Union.

A black-armored figure that I could only assume was the infamous batarian raider known only as The Warrior.

As for the rest, there were various humans, turians, and batarians as the predominate species. Of the rest, the most impressive was the single krogan who sat in dim lighting with his arms crossed, regarding me darkly with his one remaining eye.

I strode forward to make sure the various cameras presented my armored frame, not bothering with a polite nod or the other courtly courtesies. These were dregs of the Terminus social barrel: They were only here because they respected or feared my strength. They were not here for my pretty words or promises.

A batarian stood, his head bobbing so deeply to the left in an indication of groveling flattery that it left me disgusted. "Imperator, thank you for…" he began, but I cut him off with a raise of my right hand and a withering glare, to which he sat down immediately, to the annoyed stares of his fellow pirates.

"Captains," I said, using the one rank that I could recognize they all held in common, my helmet synthesizing and amplifying my voice. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.

Before we continue, I feel it is necessary to clear up a few misconceptions some of you may have: You are here because you have survived. Because you have proven yourselves resourceful leaders, capable of acting for what is best for you and your men. I acknowledge this, and respect this talent you each of demonstrated."

One of the Turians shifted, opening his mouth to speak only for me to cut him off with a growl.

"You are NOT here, however, to negotiate with me, or because you hold any kind of bargaining chips that I desire. Simply put, you NEED ME, and frankly put, I do not need you….

I make this offer to you, not because I cannot defeat each of you, or indeed, all of you combined, but because my time is precious, and I do not think any of you are WORTH the effort. But if you insist to me that you are, by your continued raiding and resistance to my expeditionary forces, then I will grant you that wish. If you demand death at the end of my blade, then I will grant you that honor."

All of the Batarians, save Tirravan and the groveler, shifted their postures to indignation. My focus shifted to the Pirate King, who simply tapped a single finger on his chair's armrest. Curling my lip slightly, I continued on.

"There will be those among you who will suggest that your salvation is to be found in unity. 'If we join together we can fight him,' they will say. To which I respond: 'Well and good.' Combining your fleets will make it harder for you to hide, and consequently, easier for my patrol fleets to find you…And then you will die."

"There will be others among you who will suggest running. 'Let's flee to the Dark Rim,' they'll say, or the more insane ones may even be so bold or stupid as to suggest the Perseus Veil. To these, I also say, 'Well and good.' The Geth have not allowed anyone in their territory for three centuries, but if you believe so strongly that you can succeed where the Migrant Fleet, the largest fleet in the galaxy, failed…gentlemen, go right ahead."

More than a few of them shifted uncomfortably, clearly intelligent enough to recognize a suicidal idea when they heard it.

"Or you can try the Dark Rim, along with every other pirate who's managed to escape either my, or Aria's, or T'Ravt's clutches. You will find yourselves holed up in an asteroid somewhere in the Dark Rim, living off nutrient pastes for months on end, watching your weapon reserves deplete rapidly, and your fuel only slightly less so. Space is a cold and unforgiving mistress, my friends. Before long, you will find yourselves outmaneuvered, outgunned, and outnumbered by your rivals and former friends, turned rabid by desperation and hunger…and then you will die."

Several glanced at Cessa, who visibly glared down any who did so. Excepting the Conclave, she was the only being who knew where life-bearing worlds could be found out in the rim, and had made it violently clear over the last century that she wouldn't tolerate anyone else trying to breach her territory.

"Or…" I continued, my voice losing none of its hard edge. "You can pledge your ships and your strongholds to me, here and now. I offer to you the command of your ships, and the control of your territories. But make no mistake: you will submit to Conclave rule and therefore Conclave laws. This may mean some of you will lose your previous sources of revenue. But have no fear: Valiant soldiers will never want for pay in the Conclave. Fight for me, prove your worth, and you will be rewarded handsomely with additional authority, larger territory, and eternal glory."

Then I turned away, waving a hand behind me dismissively, not bothering to look at their initial reactions. "You each have 24 standard Omega hours to make your reply. After that, gentlemen: your fates are in your own hands. Join me, or die: The first is the easiest for you. The second is the easiest for me."

Stopping at the door, I turn back and glared around the room. Making eye contact with each and every one of them in turn, noting which offered defiance, which offered thoughtfulness. Then I turned and waved an arm dismissively.

"EDI, end transmission."


The Imperator and his two companions had scarcely left the room when the door opened again and T'Ravt appeared with a thoughtful expression on her face.

"My Lady," Kaste said, approaching alongside me, "I beg of you to allow me to take full responsibil –"

"Oh, spirits, Kaste," The Lady responded, looking almost annoyed as she waved a hand dismissively. "If you had not fortified this stronghold so capably, we would most certainly be having this conversation in the Undead Halls of Cincinnatus. There will be no more mention of such foolishness, by anyone, in my presence. Is that understood?"

The Turian general, evidently mollified by T'Ravt's dismissal of any blame on his part, saluted her gravely. I simply twitched my head into something like a nod, less concerned with laying blame and more focused on what we were learning in the aftermath.

"Understood," Kaste rumbled solemnly.

"Well then," The Warlord took a breath in slowly through her nose, and then let it out in a tight exhalation as she collected her thoughts. "To business: How in Athame's sacred name did this happen? How did Zaen hire a crew of pirates and thugs under our very noses to attack us in my city?"

"The pirates were already on-planet," Kaste answered, "in the nominal employ of Quintus Lillenfal. We believe they were contracted by Zaen via the Communications center in Lilenfal's palace on the southern continent."

"And Lillenfal?" the Lady asked, her voice hard.

"He is awaiting you at your residence, to give his personal assurance that this was done without his knowledge, and certainly without his involvement," The Turian replied, his mandibles flaring.

She gave him a hard look. "And you believe him?"

Kaste took a deep breath, choosing his words very carefully before answering. "He is young enough, and perhaps stupid enough, for this to happen under his command, but he is Xenthan by birth, Lady: I find it truly hard to believe he would turn traitor."

T'Ravt was silent for several long moments before she turned to me. "And the krogan? The commandos?"

"A private group that entered the city almost six weeks ago," I reported. "They called themselves 'Maw's Wrath.' They held a bounty-hunting certification on Omega in proxy from the Blood Pack, but as far as we've been able to determine, they are not full members. It was their trawler that they employed on their little suicide run."

T'Ravt nodded, processing and analyzing the information we had given her so far. It didn't take her long before she began slowly pacing, her words coming out smoothly as she outlined our initial maneuvers. "Order the new Redcliffe regiments onto their transports, and double the weapons orders from Shaaryak on Illium. I want the dreadnoughts the Imperator brought us transferred to Antiva's shipyards at once for fitting out. Recruitment quotas is to be doubled, I will dictate that during the upcoming summit."

"It is war then, my Lady?" Kaste asked, his mandibles twitching once. "With the Conclave's fleets so close…"

"The Imperator and I have entered into an agreement," T'Ravt informed us brusquely. "They will steer clear of our waters, and we will steer clear of theirs. Our vessels will have safe haven and refit privileges at Conclave ports, the favor to be reciprocated to their ships."

I raised my eyebrows, surprised by the Imperator for the second time that morning. "That's fucking generous of him. We'll have to make sure his people stay on their ships though."

The Lady's lips twitched, no doubt as she imagined the kind of incident that could occur if a Conclave ship tried to give their crew leave on one of her worlds. "Quite. An additional factor to the agreement was a promise that I will keep all of the territory seized from Zaen and Ganar."

Kaste let out a choked gasp of surprise. "He claims not to be a dictator; will the Circle approve such an agreement?"

T'Ravt nodded slowly. "I believe they will. Zaal'Koris will be out for blood for his son's death, Petrovsky will see the advantages to be gained, and the hanar will agree with anything their Herald declares."

I resisted the urge to snort. She wasn't even on the Circle and she already was working out how to ensure that she had a majority vote on her side. "What does he want in return?"

"Apparently nothing more than the satisfaction of seeing the Blood Pack bleed. His fleets are already in position to invade Heshtok directly, cutting Zaen off from his supply of vorcha troops."

I blinked at the news, then brought a hand up to stroke my goatee as I mulled both facts over. "I suppose I can see that motivation, given what we saw of him here. And the move on Heshtok… hm. That will put a lot of pressure on the Blood Pack, especially Zaen. Without a way to replenish his regiments, he won't dare leave his fortress on Zada Ban unless he's desperate, or very confident."

"Once we set up a blockade around the planet, he won't be able to do so anyway," Kaste shook his head, "His fleet is well run but limited, we should be able to brush it aside if the capital ships are free to engage. From there we can land the reserve units from Anderfels on Zada Ban's moon to take out his facilities there and prep a staging zone for a full attack."

My head tilted left, but I waved a hand as I voiced my concern. "This will all be dependent on Ganar not pulling his troops from Tuchanka and coming to Zaen's aid, and if none of the lesser Warlords try to jump in."

"He won't leave the homeworld." T'Ravt shook her head once, "He's sentimental, in his own way. And with the Conclave supporting Clan Urdnot, he will be tied down there for the foreseeable future. Ganar will not allow himself to suffer the dishonor of losing his clan's ancestral hunting grounds."

I grunted. "Do you think that Aria will keep Garm's forces tied up on Omega? If he can't levy the rabble from the station's lowers, it would at least keep them from raiding us."

"I will work with her to ensure they won't be able to leave the station." T'Ravt flicked her eyes back to Kaste. "Inform my Admirals that the fleets will be deploying. The Sash of Fireis already above Redcliffe, but I want her joined by the Dark Tideto escort the new regiments to Lusarn."

"The crescent Nebula?" The older turian's mandibles worked for a moment in thought, then a look of understanding crossed his face. "The weapons factories at Tarith."

"Unless Zaen has rerouted the local Pack leaders since Ganar's departure, Jorgal Salamul will still be in command there," T'Ravt continued, nodding in confirmation. "Once Zaen's forces are locked down in Zada Ban, and with Garm occupied on Omega…"

"He'll an idiot who will be badly outnumbered." I mused, a small smirk on my face. "And without any reinforcements on the way."

"A useful combination that I intend to take full advantage of," the Lady smiled knowingly. "Then there remains but one factor necessary for our plans..."

I tilted my head left to indicate my understanding. "If we want to cycle fresh regiments from Anderfels with any kind of efficiency, you'll need Cessa's relays."

T'Ravt nodded her approval. "And she has already stated the price of her joining her strength to our own."

The Warrior, dead. She wasn't picky about how it happened, so long as her long-time rival was no longer around to cause her grief.

"I will make preparations to leave immediately, Lady T'Ravt," I said, giving her a slight bow. "But I'd like to have a few extra guns on this hunt if it's to be both quick and successful."

The Lady tilted her head in thought. "Take the Kithans with you. Additionally, Reyja'krem Ullayis indicated that she had accepted my invitation to join us last night. She and her cadre will join your company in support. General, walk with me and tell me what we know of the Blood Pack's fleet…"

Taking the Lady's unspoken dismissal, I took three paces backwards before leaving her and Kaste to continue their plans.

Most of which would be either dead in the water or made unnecessarily complicated if we didn't have access to the Blade's relays.

So, no pressure then.

I cracked the bones of my neck as I strode out of Kaste's mansion, now littered with craters, debris, and bloodstains. It had been a long night, even after our direct role in the conflict had ended. The fuckers hadn't gone down easy, taking a fair number of our own troops down with them in their impressive, but ultimately futile blaze of glory. They'd known that the only thing waiting for them was a slow death as prisoners if they didn't choose to die in battle.

Pursing my lips a little, I shook my head and decided to mark this situation as a reminder for myself. Any plan that ended in that kind of situation was, by definition, a bad one.

Two figures leaned against a broken pylon on the edge of the courtyard as I approached, both Rane and Voya looking about as tired as I felt. When the last of the Maw's Wrath had been sent to the Paragon's Judgement, the three of us had managed to stumble home, where Voya and Rane had collapsed in their armor to steal a few hours of sleep. I, on the other hand, had had to stay up and process the intel that our people were collecting on our would-be assassins. At some point in the early morning I apparently dozed off, because I had been awakened by the Lady's summons a few hours later.

In short, we were all fucking exhausted.

"Cieran. You look like shit." Voya's voice was harsh and sleep-deprived.

"What news?" My ever-practical lover inquired, ignoring the Quarian entirely.

I elected to follow her example. "We leave for the Haskins System by tomorrow at the latest."

Voya perked up at the news, her hands going instinctively to her blades. "The Warrior?"

I nodded. "The Lady has ordered his death, like a Justicar of old. And we are her silver blades of judgement."

Voya scoffed. "That's a terrible name for a team of assassins. And where did the Asari crap come from? "

"Tired, spending too much time around T'Ravt, take your pick." I shrugged before letting out a long yawn. Closing my mouth, I saw Rane looking pensive. "What's wrong?"

"It won't be easy," Her eyes split between Voya and I. "With just the three of us."

"Reyja'krem Kithan and her husband will be joining us," I answered. "Along with Ayle and her cadre. We need to track them down… or send someone else to do it."

Rane tensed. I could tell she was uneasy at the addition of so many members of the highest caste of Batarian society. Her head going instinctively left as she asked the questions on her mind. "Will they be willing to take orders from one such as you, Commander? Not all Reyja'krem are as gregarious as ul Massa…"

I shrugged. "They may be Reyja'krem, but I speak with Lady's authority and hold my rank directly from her. They'll understand that. And if they don't, Voya can skin them in their sleep."

Rane reached out and punched me in the shoulder. "Pillars, you shouldn't encourage her."

Voya grinned wickedly, fingers playing with her newest krogan crest-shard on her necklace. "That is the reason I find him slightly more tolerable than the rest of his species."

My lover sighed and gave me an annoyed little look. "Will we be taking anyone else on?"

"Dietrich maybe, if Weshan lets him and if he wants to." Which he might... or might not. There was every chance this run was going to be more than a little dangerous despite my base plans all relying on us being as far away as possible. "Come on, let's get moving."

"The Warrior..." Our Quarian friend mused as we started walking. "Well, he's no Imperator, but at least it will be some kind of challenge."

"Thank the Pillars for their small kindnesses," Rane breathed. "I saw him tear one of the pirate's helmet off his body, with his head still inside it."

I nodded my agreement. I hadn't seen such an impressive display of biotics since…since…

Pillars, I had never seen such an impressive display of biotics.

"Any plan to bring him down will need a shit-ton more null-grenades involved," I said in answer. "Either that or a small-yield nuke...Even then, I'd want to see the body. He did indicate that he owed me a favor, though."

Rane shot me an impressed look.

"Such a favor might be highly valuable," she said thoughtfully. "Especially if, Paragons forbid, a struggle should erupt between the Conclave and T'Ravt's forces."

I considered sharing the news on the Conclave and the Lady's forces working in tandem to take down the Blood Pack, but held my tongue for the moment. We were still in the open air, and there were always listening ears about. The same went for the Imperator's out of control personality that I'd gotten to see up and close and personal. It had been beyond dangerous, and it had seemed capable of learning... but it had also been bestial, uncoordinated, and entirely reliant on its biotics.

If, the Pillars forbid, we ever had to engage him in an actual fight... there was an idea there. A cruel one, but if kept us alive and him dead, well... that was all that really mattered in the end. Of course, we now had a potential alternative in the favor owed. If T'Ravt was obviously on the losing side of any such conflict, using it to get out of any such war was a possibility. But even in such a circumstance, where would we go after?

I shook my head a little, hardly listening to Voya scoffing as we approached our battered old shuttle, parked carefully on the far edge of Kaste's compound. The three of us had put countless hours into the machine, and we were, I confess, quite proud of it, and all the extras we'd installed. Two of which, Pillars-be-thanked, was an autopilot and a mini-bar. Both of which I engaged upon stepping into the vehicle.

"We'll burn that bridge when we come to it," Voya was saying to Rane. "We had a great fight, a great light-show, Kean got to punch the Imperator, and I got another shard for my necklace. I call it a win…"

"I normally would be afraid of Voya getting a big head, but for once I agree with her," I replied. "We'll let tomorrow's winds bring their sand to us in time."

I sighed, looking out the window at the charred remains of last night's battle.

"For now," I said, reaching over and pulling out a bottle of Illium Red, "We win."

I proceeded to pour each of us what I planned to be the first of many drinks as our shuttle took off, taking us back to the grungy little downtown workshop we called home.

Author's Note:

And that concludes this little short story, everyone!
I'm thrilled beyond words at the opportunity to collaborate with an author of Katkiller-V's caliber, and, as I said before, I can hope you guys have had as much fun reading as we've had writing.

Please let us know what you think, either in a review or a PM! It means a lot to me to hear from awesome people such as yourselves! :D

Thanks everyone! ROCK ON!


Reviewer Reponses: (Reviews are back! YAY! *Happy DANCE*

griezz – Yeah, Ko'le could have played this a lot smarter, that's to be sure. But that's the main theme of the story, I think: Foreknowledge of future events does not always guarantee you'll have ALL the answers. Thanks for the awesome thoughts!

Jackli10345, BJ Hanssen – Glad you've liked them! We have no plans to continue the story beyond our original 7-chapter outline, but who knows? If enough people like it, anything is possible, I suppose.

Toothless is best – LOL

Hei-Uchiha – Don't apologize, my friend! That's the beauty of FanFiction! There's something here for everybody! :D Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

Lord Mortem, Guest – Glad you guys liked it! :D