Originally this started as a combined fic between Pax Humana and myself, but it didn't remain that way. Heh. :D Still, Pax Humana has been involved with the plot and the writing so it's still in part his.
Summary: During the Battle of the Citadel, decisions were made. The Destiny Ascension and the Council were sacrificed to kill the Sovereign Nazara. It was a hard decision. It was a military decision, a necessary decision. It was the decision that turned the galaxy against the Systems Alliance, triggering the Betrayal War. The Humans fought but against the entire Galaxy, they couldn't fight forever. And at the same time they knew what the Council denied. the Reapers were coming. When they came, as they inevitably would, the Humans called to them. The Reapers came to Earth and a deal was made. 40 years later, the Council had best be wary, because it was time for the Harvest, and the Humans would lead the way.
Note: There are character deaths in this fic. It's kind of hard not to have some of them die, because the fic will cover several Reaper cycles and given that they are 50,000 years apart... well, I'm sure you get the point.
Cover Image: Is by keel keel and used with permission!
The Catalyst for Revenge
Prologue - The Deal
Date: January 26th, 2186
Shepard looked up at the sky. It was black with ships and a grim smile was on his features.
They had come. Just as Saren had promised they would. The Reapers. They were around Earth. And the only people on Earth these days were humans.
"Harbinger!" He screamed, baring his teeth. He'd learned a few things from Sovereign and Saren before they died and the name of the Reaper leader was one. "Harbinger!"
He had no idea how they heard him but the black ships paused. He waited, watching the sky as they moved. It was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen and he grinned when one ship descended from their mass. The ship was large and four glowing lights lit its front. It was indistinguishable from the others but Shepard knew this was Harbinger.
"Harbinger," Shepard greeted the huge vessel as it descended through the atmosphere. It grew bigger and bigger in his vision and he resisted the urge to take a step back. He knew how large ships were but somehow this Reaper was larger than it should be.
"What do you want mortal?" The Reaper leader asked as the black form came to a rest in front of Shepard.
"I want to make a deal."
"And why should I deal with you?" Harbinger asked, and Shepard watched as the Reaper Leader's weapons tracked on to him.
For a moment Shepard was silent. The Reapers had no real reason to deal with him, with humanity but if Harbinger, either in arrogance or out of some sense of superiority, was willing to talk, then he was willing to try. Shepard fixed his eyes on Harbinger, ignoring the weapons that could no doubt vaporise him instantly. "Because I destroyed your Vanguard and I can give you this cycle."
The Reaper was silent for a moment before it replied. "This cycle is already mine. The species are split."
"No," Shepard disagreed. "They're not."
"Yet here you are, human, all alone on your planet," Harbinger taunted.
Shepard closed his eyes, briefly looking to the ground, memories streaming through his mind. He knew Harbinger was humoring him with this conversation but Shepard would make that enough. The Reapers would deal with them. "Of course we are," he agreed because the taunt was nothing but the truth. The only alien ships in the Sol System were the Reapers. "Because they don't consider us one of them. They never did."
They'd fought so hard. Against Saren, against Sovereign. They couldn't save the Council. He'd wanted to but they had to destroy Nazara. He'd explained. He'd been patient. But they wouldn't see it. Quentius understood it was a military decision and Shepard thought he believed in the Reapers but Esheel and Irissa heard nothing. They were somewhat grateful for their promotion but they were quick to blame him for Saren's death, and the wreck on the Citadel, diverting attention from their own rise to power. And in blaming him, they'd blamed the whole of humanity. Any chance they'd had was gone. Two to one, the Council had turned on him, on them all. He would have taken whatever punishment they wanted to inflict alone but they had turned on all humans, and no matter how Quentius understood, the rest of the turians had only been waiting for the opportunity to restart the First Contact War and the other galactic races...
That had been the hardest to bear. That so many races had turned against them. The Alliance had expected the Quarians to accept the Council offer of a dextro-amino world. Instead, the Migrant Fleet had ran. They had abandoned their Pilgrims, and Tali, in favour of saving their entire race. After three centuries living in space, denied colonisation rights, their leaders had no faith in the Council and they'd seen what they were already doing to the Alliance. Better to vanish than to be trapped when the Council turned on them, too.
As for the Krogan, well, Wrex had come out publicly in favour of the Alliance. In response, the Council had blockaded Tuchanka, even leaving a dreadnought on guard above the new crater that had been Clan Urdnot's home. As pointed messages go, this was one of the more direct on record. Krogans living off Tuchanka were strongly encouraged to return 'home', often at gunpoint.
Although they were alone and only for a time, Humanity had held out. In the years before, the Council had taken humans seriously and it wasn't because of their charming dispositions but the fleet they had and the hope that humans would police the Traverse for them. Of course that plan had gone out the airlock. Humanity had fought back but where they had been able to hold out against the turian fleets, fighting the entire Council, and the Batarian Hegemony, with no support from any other race, that was a reach too far for humanity but that didn't stop them from making every incursion by invaders as expensive as possible. They'd lost colony worlds but every inch of space that the aliens took, they'd bled for, but it could not continue forever. And they had known the Reapers were coming.
Alliance Command knew they could not win against both but Alliance Command and the Government had decided that if they could not win, then they would at least have blood which is how he came to be standing here, looking up at Harbinger.
"We had noticed. While the Vanguard failed, it appears Nazara was skilled enough to turn the lesser races against the one most dangerous to our cause."
So humans were the ones the Reapers didn't want to fight? Well, it was not as if they could fight them. Not and win. Besides, Nazara had already been destroyed when the new Council, replacing those lost with the Destiny Ascension, had blamed the humans for Saren's and the previous Council members' deaths and ignored Shepard's warnings. He knew who was to blame.
"So why not treat with me then? Because every minute you spend fighting us, gives them that much time to grow stronger."
"Not that strong but I will listen," Harbinger said. "Amuse me, human. What do you want?"
He'd learned a lot from Saren and Sovereign and what he'd learned from them had helped him make sense of the mass of information the Prothean beacon had crammed into his head. Thankfully he hadn't shared much of that with the Council and equally thankfully while Alliance Command had been skeptical they had listened and unknown to him they'd planned. The instant the Reapers had appeared, those plans had been put into action.
"Two questions first, if I may?" It was not hard to be polite to the extra-terrestrial ship with its weapons trained on him.
"How many does it take to create one of you?"
Harbinger almost seemed to draw back at the question. It was obvious the Reaper had not been expecting it. "Millions," the answer came after a moment.
"And how long?"
Again the question surprised Harbinger but the ship answered. "Assuming the harvest is fast, about four to six months for the organics and two years, as you reckon them, for the rest."
Shepard nodded at the information before he swallowed hard. He didn't like this bit. He saw the logic but he didn't like it. The cycle was already lost and humanity could not fight the Council and win, especially not with the Reapers here, on Earth but humanity would not allow the Council to think they had won. The last thing they would do was take them down, one way or another. "We offer ourselves," he said, swallowing again. "We will not fight you Harbinger. Instead, we will organise ourselves to be processed, so that we may be ascended."
"And in exchange?" Harbinger was wise enough to know that there was more to this deal than just that. The organics would want something in return.
"In exchange," Shepard said, "You will not indoctrinate us until this cycle is over and the Reaper we become will give you the rest of this cycle's species. We will take on the galaxy for you."
Harbinger was silent and just as Shepard was beginning to worry, he heard something he never thought he'd hear. The reaper laughed. "Human," the ship said finally. Shepard's lip twitched. He'd moved up from 'organic.' "You would walk yourselves into what organics consider oblivion?"
"If you agree, I will walk into you, if that's what it takes," Shepard hissed.
Again Harbinger was silent. Shepard stood watching. It seemed to him that the Reaper ships were moving more slowly now.
"No race has ever asked for ascension, human," Harbinger spoke finally.
Shepard shrugged, unsure if the gesture translated. "There's a first time for everything," he said looking up at the ship. Silence reigned between them for long minutes as the Reaper thought.
"Come closer," Harbinger finally ordered.
He blinked but stepped forward, walking towards the Reaper that loomed in his vision. Gravel crunched beneath his boots but Shepard didn't look down as he continued. Eventually he stepped into the shadow Harbinger cast and the instant the cold surrounded him, the Reaper struck. Something grabbed him and Shepard couldn't even scream as it squeezed. His breath left him instantly and he shook hard enough to feel things breaking inside. Then there was something within him. It was in his mind and it was huge. He couldn't fight it as agony travelled through him and the taste of blood filled his mouth. It dripped from his nose and from his ears and he cried tears that smeared over his face. Odd memories came to him.
The way Tali had looked when she smiled at him. The way the bones of the drell assassin felt under his hands. The pain of watching the krogan die and the agony of the Council dismissing him at gunpoint. The war, the battle to drive back the fleets of slavers that attacked and the more organised raids from the turians. The fear of the Reapers and the knowledge that they could not win. Then one feeling dominated them. Desire. The will to see the Council bow to him. It didn't matter how it happened but before he died, somehow, he would see them bow. If that meant he had to deal with the devil, then pull out a contract, dip a pen in his blood and point out where to sign.
The next thing he knew he was lying on the ground, the searing pain gone leaving in its wake a host of smaller pains. His ears rang, his head throbbed and every muscle in his body ached as if he'd just run 50 miles. Shepard coughed before he spat out blood and he reached one hand to wipe at the fluid he knew covered his face as he slowly dragged himself up. Harbinger watched, the Reaper unfeeling and silent but interested in his reaction. He struggled to his feet, weaving unsteadily for a moment before forcing himself to stand tall and look back towards the Reaper leader.
Again minutes passed and the wind tugged at him. He was about to turn away, uncaring that the Reaper would probably vaporise him when Harbinger spoke. "Very well human. We will ascend you, so that you may pursue the lesser races. You will not betray us human but should that happen, I will personally ensure that you live long enough to see the extinction of your species and the death of your world."
Shepard nodded, tasting blood as he swallowed but before he could talk, Harbinger continued.
"Come here, human."
He didn't want to. The memory of pain flashed before him but Shepard forced himself to step forward, walking until he was under the Reaper. A light blinked above him and a hatch was open.
"As the one who destroyed my Vanguard, you will be the first Shepard," Harbinger said, his voice reverberating through Shepard's mind. "I will see to it."
Without hesitation Shepard walked to the hatch. Harbinger's acceptance had already been sent to Alliance Command and he knew they'd do what was necessary. He didn't look back as he stepped inside, into the darkness.
When I was responding to reviews for Mass Effect: Synthesis, I mentioned to some people that I was working on a new fic. This is it and I hope people enjoy it.