A/N: Hey everyone! Huge thanks to Katkiller-V for beta-ing my story and letting me use his version of the mass effect-verse.
Act I: Trouble in Paradise
Chapter 11: Sphere of Influence
We made our way through the building slowly, the stimulants that were pumping their way around my body were the only things keeping me moving forward, and the underlying fatigue was still enough to make me feel slightly sluggish.
The interior of the complex was plain, grey-white walls were the prevailing theme that we saw as we slowly moved through the corridors. Said hallways were somewhat large and open, but twisted and turned in the same way that trenches were built so as to prevent someone from simply firing down the length of the building and killing everyone in one go.
In other words, wide enough to move cargo, while still being defensible.
There were doors placed sporadically that were locked, with no visible control panels or power sources… meaning there was no way into those rooms and no way to check what was inside. A part of me hoped that we weren't walking past where our friends were being kept, while another simply hoped that we weren't too late to save them.
The whole building seemed entirely too empty now after that first squad that we'd fought, but I put it down to nerves and paranoia.
We moved with barely practised precision, our weapons trained on all angles as we moved in formation down the corridor. Clank stomped ahead of us with James close behind, Ben and Sel'ama flanking him while Valeia and I held the rear echelon.
The lack of resistance we found as we moved increasingly set us on edge, my paranoia overcoming what little optimism I'd mustered. That couldn't have been all the security for one of The Matriarch's bases? Even if they were keeping this place low profile, two squads wouldn't be all of the defenses that were put in place.
"Where is everyone?" I whispered into the comm channel as my mounting edginess saw me searching every crevice for signs of another squad.
"This place is too empty." Clank rumbled in agreement, his heavy footfalls echoing in the corridor.
"One squad entering the building behind you. We'll slow them down for you." Berrilius growled into the comms before anyone else could chime in, and I could picture the crosshairs of his sniper rifle lining up on a target as he spoke.
"Go ahead, just don't give away your position." James' commanded. "Ben, set some traps for our friends, just don't block our exit."
"Understood." We picked up the pace at that, covering Ben as he got to work setting up proximity mines on the corners as we took them. They weren't particularly well hidden, but if you weren't looking for them they'd be easy to miss. Which basically meant that we might kill one of the squad chasing us, and slow the rest down as they made to avoid any further mines but that would be the extent of it.
"Clank, let's move. Down here." James pointed out a stairwell sat at the end of the corridor that had been burrowed out of the mountainside.
Clank and James disappeared out of sight for a few moments before the latter returned and began waving the rest of us down. Ben finished placing the last of his mines and was just turning around when a low whoompf reached our ears.
"They've hit the first mine already. We've got to go." Our pace quickened before Ben had even finished speaking, taking the steps down two or three at a time. A second and third detonation could be heard almost simultaneously.
Had the locked rooms contained more of The Matriarch's people? Or had they figured out a way to set them off in sequence?
We all paused, our covered eyes looking at each other in unspoken uncertainty. Our pause lasted barely a second as we heard a groaning wail that came from above us, the sound knocking us back into motion as we ran in a flurry of movement.
Out front, Clank charged towards the end of the tunnel that we'd entered, and it wasn't too long before he reached the end - a solid vault door that lead further into the mountain.
Was this where our friends were being kept?
"Get that door open!" James cried out as he caught up to the speeding Krogan. Valeia performed what I could only assume was a flash-step to catch up, which left me at the rear of the group as the sound of two more explosions reached our ears over a new, growing rumble that must have been the trampling of feet.
"Go, go!" I pushed Sel'ama and Ben who had stopped and turned as the trample became audible. The three of us caught up to the others as they got the door open - barely, but it was enough for us to get through.
I felt a tremor shoot its way through my body as my alter reared his head once again. There would be bloodshed soon enough and he knew it… and was eager for it.
The other side of the door was dark - so dark that it was almost pitch black when compared to the dim lighting of the corridor we were inhabiting. That changed the moment we stepped through, flood lights springing to life in the corners of what we could now see was an enormous cavern. It looked like a dead-end and it was mostly barren. At least I thought it was until one final light switched on to reveal a pedestal with something spherical placed atop near the back.
We packed into the room as the final detonation was heard and Clank heaved the door shut again. That done, we quickly moved away from the door as we heard the sound of the mob approaching and into the cavern proper.
People had been kept here, that much was obvious if the smell of refuse was anything to go by. There were other clues too, though. Uneaten food was scattered around the cavern and fragments of discarded clothing lay haphazardly on the cavern rocks.
Our examination of the cavern was interrupted as a grim laugh came over a loudspeaker system.
"It was a bad idea to go in there, you know." A smug Asari voice echoed through the cavern. "But I suppose we didn't leave you with much choice. That said, if you had arrived a few days earlier you might have had someone to save. Unfortunately for you, that is no longer the case. And you'll be the perfect additions to my Mistress' army."
We all turned to face the cavern door… and then shared nervous glances amongst each other when nothing happened. The confusion lasted until the sound of something shifting came from behind us. I turned to see the pedestal rising further out of the ground, the object perching atop revealing itself to be an orb of some sort, covered by a loose cloth that slid off with the upwards movement.
The perfect orb had a swirling black light emanating from inside of it, a strange… graceful... iridescent blue glow wisping through the darkness. It took me a moment to recognise what it was, and raw terror welled up somewhere in the back of my mind
"Destroy that thing!" I wanted to yell out, intent on aiming my rifle as I spoke, but no words left my mouth and no motion swept through my arms. The swirling colors became more pronounced… and I knew that they held a respite from everything that had happened recently. I didn't want to destroy that… I couldn't. I wanted to go into it, to be a part of the harmony that I could see inside it.
I felt… so tired, and simply staring at the majesty of the orb felt like the most important task in the world to me.
I wondered if the friends that I'd come here to rescue were being protected by it too. That wouldn't be so bad. We could be together again, all of us...
"What's happening?" I heard somebody say, although their voice was distant, as if I was hearing them through a layer of water. Someone else, Valeia maybe, put a hand on my shoulder and tried to shake me, but there was no strength to it.
A new voice seemed to cut through the cavern and it stole my focus, everything else became muted and fuzzy. The orb was the only thing that was clear.
"The Eldritch has returned." It greeted me in a myriad of voices that reverberated around my skull, amplifying the effect as deep baritone roars mingled with rasping whispers in a way that defied all logic. "Interesting… You are the third of our prophet's chosen with the ability to control dark matter."
I had returned? What did that mean?
"What happened to the other two?" I asked the orb… or tried to ask. The words never left my lips, but I swore that I could feel the voice's owner become amused. Like seeing someone smirk when they heard a stupid question
And… it was stupid to ask, wasn't it? I could feel the majesty of the presence behind the orb. It was something unbelievable and it promised everything. Perhaps it would return me to my old life. Perhaps it would let me escape my nightmare. Perhaps, I wouldn't be alone again.
Was I alone? I had my team now, I wasn't alone surely. Why couldn't they be with me? Why was I alone now?
I wasn't… I wasn't supposed to be alone. I was supposed to… supposed to be with...
A crack appeared in the orb where what looked like a bullet had struck its side. The crack held for a second before it split further around the orb, another round cracking open the orb as it shattered with an explosive scream that bounced around inside my skull. My shields shattered at the orb's detonation, and shards of thick glass embedded themselves into my plating, some of them pushing their way through to cut into my flesh.
The sudden pain tore me fully from the trance that I'd fallen into as that furious scream continued to assault my mind.
Streets I didn't recognise stretched out forever, as though I were being held in place while everything else tried to move onward. A mere heartbeat passed until I stood next to a woman - her raven hair was cropped short in a way that complimented her features, and her pale skin seemed almost luminous as purple eyes shone dangerously.
Ships fell from the sky as angry meteors of fire and smoke, crashing into the ground as they went.
People trying to flee in terror as shuttles descended and cages were filled.
Metal screeching as I pushed against warping bars.
Following Asari clad in black armour as they led me through the war-torn corridors of a ship, bodies strewn carelessly about.
Combat flashed before my eyes,an explosion detonated in front of me, and then an ocean of pain roared through my body.
Lying down on a cold table, unheard reassurances that everything was going to be alright as another dark orb was lowered from the ceiling.
I was returned unceremoniously into the cavern as the last image vanished, my balance failing as the scream subsided, and the air rushed out of me as I fell to the side. There was something warm oozing down my face and neck, and the fatigue that I had felt after the fight outside had returned full force.
Gunfire cracked and echoed around the cavern. I wanted to get up and move, but I was too exhausted… Hell, I couldn't even feel my alter trying to take control. I'm sure it would be alright if I just closed my eyes for a bit…
My world spun as I felt a needle puncture my neck, the cold rush of something being administered into my system being followed by a yanking pain as the shards were ripped out of my chest. I snapped my eyes open in time to see small spurts of blood accompanying them before the cool touch of medigel was applied. The calm that the orb had projected was a lie and now something was trying desperately to flood into the cavern through the opening vault door.
"Greg you've got to get up! Come on now." I heard a voice, but I wasn't lucid enough to distinguish who's it was…. Not that it mattered, they had a point. I stumbled up to my feet, steadying myself against the wall of the cavern and breathing too heavily from the effort.
"Are you alright?" Concern coated the voice as the words reached my ears. My throat felt like it had been closed and was dryer than the sahara desert so all I could manage was a croak followed by a nod.
The stims began working properly after twenty or thirty seconds, and I supported my own weight once again as Valeia handed me the rifle that I had dropped at some point. Probably during the trance that I'd been put into.
"Let's get ready." I managed to get out of my mouth, the dryness vanishing as the wet taste of iron reached my tongue.
The wails that we'd heard approaching were more audible now as the door eased slowly open. They were coming from something that looked awfully like a whole lot of Turians, Humans and the occasional Asari. Something that looked like my friends.
Anger raged through me as I recognised one of the faces trying to get through the doorway. Lily's features were barely recognisable now, and her face was contorted in a scream that tore through air to be joined by two others.
Lily's biotics hadn't been particularly strong, not by Asari standards anyway. I'd probably had more raw power than her even, but whatever had been done to her had changed that. Her biotics now billowed around her in a localised storm that seemed to latch onto anything around her and began to eat away at it - even those in front of her.
The Matriarch was making banshees?
She wasn't a true banshee though, not like from the games at least - although the base form was still there; the claws, the distention of the belly and the terrible scream. There was something different though. A smaller version of the orb that had been on the pedestal - a pebble in comparison - was entrenched in her chest cavity, though thankfully it didn't seem to be calling to me like the larger one
James and Ben had already begun to unload at the opening gap in the doorway, and as Lily began to step through a nullification grenade arced towards her.
"That was the last one!" James roared over the din as his rifle tore into Lily, accompanied by others. Lily's barrier had failed against the nullification grenade, but came back less than a second later. Several shots had punctured her body, but none had brought her down.
Clank, Valeia, and Sel'ama quickly joined the desperate defense… but I was frozen in place, my rifle was raised but… I was unable to pull the trigger as I realised that they had all been husked. They weren't simply indoctrinated - we'd come too late to save them from that fate. Now they were all gone, they suffered far worse than simply dying at the compound.
And now we were either going to kill them or be killed by them.
Lily screamed as her weaker barrier was brought down and more rounds plugged holes into her body, one of her arms wrenching out of place as one of Clank's shotgun blasts tore half the limb away in a display of gore and violence.
My alter made itself known then, a giddy shiver making its way through me as the pseudo banshee turned to face Clank. I knew I was about to go under again - even with two doses of stims I didn't have the capacity to hold out after all that had happened, so I took stock of the situation as he seized control.
Valeia and Sel'ama were working in concert to keep the horde at bay, using their biotics to create violent detonations that threw bodies in all directions. They were the only reason we hadn't already been buried in bodies, we had until their strength ran out to even the odds.
James, Ben and Clank were all focusing their fire on the corpse of Lily - because that it was now, it was no longer her.
"James, Ben, focus help with the entrance. Clank! Let's take this thing down." I roared over the comms before another tremor shook through me... then a cackle erupted from my lips as I took a mental backseat.
Thankfully, James and Ben listened to me as my alter took over, and immediately launched my body into a biotic charge that smacked into the banshee with enough force to crunch it against the cavern wall, rocks spewing in all directions as she collided with the stone wall.
I was pretty sure that would have killed Lily by itself, but it just pissed her corpse off.
Bones crunched as they twisted around from their contorted positions into something more normal as Clank's shotgun roared from beside me, his hulking from continuing on as he charged the undead Asari. He reared a leg back, clearly about to curbstomp her to oblivion, then Lily's good arm came up in a literal flash, preventing the gargantuan foot from pulping her as the Asari's barriers recharged.
My alter began to draw my own shotgun as Lily impossibly threw Clank off of her, then snapped her attention to me as we locked eyes. She screamed in rage as my own biotic storm began to swirl around my body. He prepared to fire my shotgun, the close range blast should at least do something to her barriers when she disappeared and I heard more than felt the rush of wind as something moving very fast stopped very quickly behind me.
My body span and dropped to one knee as one of her claws went through the space where my head had been. The movement wasn't quite quick enough, although instead of having my head swiped off my shoulders I was knocked to the floor as the trigger was pulled, the blast of my shotgun being absorbed by her barriers but knocking her back as Clank's shotgun roared once more and the protective blue aura surrounding her subsided once again.
Spinning into a handstand, my body leapt back onto its feet and opted to sprint towards the recovering Asari, leaping into the air with a biotically assisted jump before switching the mass to greatly increase the force behind the drop-kick that connected with the side of her head, knocking the banshee to the floor with its head bent at an odd angle.
Once again the sound of cracking bones was heard in my immediate vicinity as the desecrated corpse of my friend rose once again, most of the jaw missing, as well as large chunks of skin that had been torn away by the cavern rocks revealing the muscle below.
"Why. Won't. You. D-Die!" My alter yelled in a guttural curse that echoed around the room as my body got to its feet and began to pummel the Asari. Its claws were as sharp as knives and he had to duck under a sudden swipe from the Asari, the dodge giving her the opening to give me a sharp kick that sent me tumbling backwards, all the air rushing out of my body.
My alter's rage was somehow still building, the pain and injuries causing a red haze to color around my vision. I knew that this couldn't have been a part of my mind. I was never this filled with hate.
It simply wasn't me.
But I wasn't in control of my body right now, and as such, it wasn't me who threw what had once been Lily to the ground. It wasn't me who grabbed her by the crest and biotically slammed her head into the ground. Once, twice, then again... and again, and again. I couldn't stop my body from killing my friend - what was left of her, anyway.
Clank's hand on my shoulder stopped my alter in his tracks, just as he was about to slam what was left of her head onto the floor once more.
I couldn't help but take in the scene. The pseudo banshee was dead.
Lily, was dead.
Bone fragments were covered in grey matter and gore in an ever expanding puddle with her head at the epicenter. It's quite possible I would have thrown up then and there if I wasn't so tired, as it was I was just… exhausted. Not physically - my body had gotten up and began to help out with the stemming flow of our indoctrinated friends. Rather, I was mentally exhausted, and I was too disgusted with myself to really take in the gratuitous violence that my alter was thoroughly enjoying.
The cavern had become chaos.
Unable to keep the horde at bay, Valeia and Sel'ama were back-to-back as they fought tooth and nail to keep the indoctrinated at bay with their pistols, biotics, hands, feet, and occasionally even their heads. Clank had already turned to help them, his shotgun booming as it tore through two targets at a time, their unprotected flesh offering little resistance to the blast.
I tried to find James, Tom and Ben. Something must have scattered them since they weren't where I saw them last. I spotted James as he darted around the cavern, shooting, slicing and beating his way through the enemy - our friends. And then I saw Ben.
Another broken pseudo banshee held him in its claws. I didn't recognise this one, and I knew it wasn't quite as fully formed as Lily had been, but it would still be deadly enough.
A roar left my mouth that caught the attention of the banshee and as my body performed a biotic charge we locked eyes. Her - Its eyes were pitch black, and as I came out of the charge I found its arm already outstretched and waiting to pick me up.
There was nothing my alter could do to avoid charging into its grip, my shotgun flying aside as momentum tore it from my hand. Its grip tightened around my throat and I could feel the mesh undersuit digging into my skin, just barely stopping its claws from tearing into my flesh.
That didn't particularly matter though, spots started to cloud my vision. I was struggling to get loose, to get air into my lungs. Just before I passed out, my body lit up like a bright blue flare, and I could feel the heat radiating from the warp field immolating the immediate area around me, the banshee's muscles melting from the destructive energy.
My armour was charred and molten in places, the paint bubbling up to reveal the plating below that was now scorched black and my body was going through a hacking cough as I suddenly had airflow once again.
That seemed to annoy my alter, I could practically feel his desire to howl right back at the Banshee in fury for having dared hurt him.
The banshee's scream in my ear alerted me that it had recovered, its good arm coming around in a wild swipe that required me to leap backwards and out of the way, my armour caught the claws, and their supranatural sharpness cleaved through the plates to reach my chest.
My alter had been too slow, too predictable, and paid the price for it.
Medigel automatically dispensed around the wound, but the pain was still enough to elicit a gargled scream from my throat.
Biotic light surrounded me once again as both my arms were brought crashing into the Asari that shunted her slightly off balance. An elbow followed, striking under the chin as my alter struck a third time with the other elbow that brought the banshee to the ground with a thud. I quickly collected my shotgun and fired non-stop into its chest cavity until the shotgun's VI began to vent heat.
Two banshees were dead.
The fight was winding down now. There were clear signs of biotic exhaustion from the two Asari, Sel'ama had even collapsed and was being looked at by Tom while Valeia and Clank held the attention of the remaining indoctrinated. They'd secured themselves in one partial-corner of the room, while James was… fighting his way towards me.
"Jesus Greg… What happ- Ben!" I turned to see where the Asari had thrown Ben and there was a quickly growing pool of blood surrounding him.
"Tom! Tom!" James' fearful cries spurred me into action as I made my way towards the small group, grabbing my shotgun from the ground and storing on my back. My alter elected to go with my heavy pistol after that, the Batarian made weapon ripping through targets with each shot.
"T-T-Tom. Help Ben. Hurt." My alter said as I grabbed him by wrist and pulled him away from Sel'ama and towards Ben and James, dropping his wrist to launch a heavy throw at an indoctrinated Turian that I doubt I would have been able to properly recognise before all this.
It was a couple of moments before Tom managed to reach Ben, escorted by me, and it really didn't look good.
His helmet had been removed and blood trickled out of his mouth before he erupted in a coughing fit that sprayed yet more blood over his chin and Tom. The final roar of a shotgun erupted from the other side of the cavern, and then the only noise that could be heard was Ben's hollow breath.
My body was breathing angrily, and with nothing left to kill my alter seemed to shrink away, forcing me to take control... causing me to all but collapse to the ground as the unnatural stamina he seemed to have left with him
Valeia hurried to my side and helped me back on my feet, letting me really take in the aftermath of the fighting. Blood and bodies littered the floor leading up to the doorway, where a pile of the indoctrinated spilled from one side of the frame where they had scrambled over one another to get into the room.
We'd been lucky, in a way. It looked like the banshee's had killed a good score of their own, and something had jammed the doorway half shut, letting us hold the small chokepoint. Even better, none of them had been armed or really armored… but those little breaks didn't make me feel any better.
I could still see the twisted reflections of who these people had been on their faces. They had all come from the compound. They were my friends. One body in particular held my attention longer than the others.
Two horns had been stretched and twisted unnaturally forwards on the Salarian's head, his jaw elongated like a snake's. He would have been just another casualty in the fighting. A product of our failure to save our friends. Jistok's dead eyes seemed to stare at me, and I found I couldn't look away. I had failed him. I wasn't quick enough to save the first friend I had made in this universe. His unblinking eyes asked me one simple question.
Why hadn't I been able to save them. To save anyone? There was nothing else left of the compound now, just us.
"Come on Ben, stay with me!" Tom practically yelled. The note of distress managed to break me away from Ratchet's unwavering gaze, and I noticed Clank had been looking intently at the same corpse, while Valeia was eyeing me with concern.
Ben was a wreck. Empty medigel packs and gauze were strewn about him as Tom desperately tried to stabilise him, but it didn't seem like it was working. We had surrounded him now, unable to truly help despite our want to.
"Tell… tell my brother what happened…" Ben's voice was weak and as he spoke he was interrupted by bouts of coughing as blood left his body. "You've got to… Got to punish her… for what she's done… Kill The Matriarch…"
There was a certain sort of grace in the way that Ben died. The last of his life left his body in a trickle of blood that slipped from his mouth. His skin had become grey and pallid, his eyes dull and glazed over. Blood coated his armour and pooled around him, the dark red liquid coagulating with the medigel and soaked gauze to create a grim sight.
"You put up quite a fight in there." The Asari voice from before broke through the sombre air that had settled around us, enforcing a new mood upon the air. "I'm afraid I can't let you leave however. You've meddled with my mistress' plans enough."
With those words the door to the cavern began to close, the heavy door screeching slightly as it moved in fits and jerks. We broke from our places on reflex, Clank picked up Ben as he gained speed, Sel'ama panting as she made it to the door clutching her head. No doubt she was experiencing a migraine brought on from biotic overuse, and my own skull gave a throb to remind me I wasn't in much better shape
The pile of bodies worked in our favour as they slowed the door down long enough for us to get out of the cavern, the heavy slam dulled by the squish of flesh and the crunching of bones.
"We need to leave, come on, let's get out of here." Tom breathed. The mission had taken its toll on him - on everyone, but Ben had just died under his care and despite being in full armour he was easy to read.
I opened my mouth to agree, then felt a surge of anger as my alter came from nowhere to seize control. He did it so quickly I didn't even have the chance to resist, assuming my battered body even could have.
"N-n-no!" My alter raged. He had started to pace my body back and forth as everyone collected their wits. "Need to d-destroy this place. Orb-orbital cannon will k-k-kill us."
As much as I didn't want to stay here any longer, he did have a point. If the ship that had brought us here wasn't already destroyed, it wouldn't be much longer before it would be targeted by the weapon.
"He's right." James agreed. "As much as I want to leave, we need to disable that weapon before we can leave."
"...vac...st...me now…...e...gone..." Static burst over the comms and dread filled us. Jun and Berrilius should have been hidden well enough to avoid being targeted as they took out anyone trying to get into the building.
"Let's move." James issued and we resurfaced into the building, surging our way towards the exit.
We slowed as we realised that the locked rooms that we hadn't been able to open were all open now, the doors wide open. Each room would have held four or five people in pens, completely isolated from the others.
The Matriarch had treated our friends like animals. She had mutated them into something grotesque and she had forced us to kill them. I would lay their deaths at her feet because this - all of this, was her fault.
"Jun! Berrilius! Can you hear us?" Valeia called over the comm when we could see the building's entrance again.
"I'm here." Berrilius' coughing came over the radio. "Jun's unconscious. He's lost a lot of blood but he's stable. We cleared a small squad of vanguards but they hit us hard. I don't know how many more of them there are."
"That's alright B. Tom, take Sel'ama and get back to the shuttle and get it prepped for a pickup. Clank, get to Berrilius and get him and Jun back as well." James' commanding voice offering no chance to argue.
"What are you doing?" Sel'ama asked.
"Valeia, Greg and I will take the comms building and tear this place down." James' voice was confident, and I felt a wave of excitement rush through my own body, but I wasn't anticipating the upcoming fight. Sure, a large portion of the people stationed here were hopefully dead, but that still didn't mean I wanted to continue fighting after what we'd just been through.
I hurt, everywhere, and not just physically. My armor was shredded, particularly over my chest, and medigel and stims were the only things keeping me even mostly upright. I didn't want to continue fighting. I didn't know if I could.
The sight of Ben's limp corpse convinced me otherwise.
A/N: So, here we are guys, this chapter marks the end of the first act of the story and things have not gone well for our protagonist. Here's hoping that his situation will improve some before he goes into psychosis!
I made some minor edits to previous chapters with corrections pointed out by Menschenblut, so f you do see any discrepancies, let me know. That said, if you enjoyed the story so far, please leave a quick review - it doesn't take 2 minutes and it really encourages me to find the time to keep writing in an increasingly hectic schedule.
Stay tuned for more!