"There are only really a few stories to tell in the end, and betrayal and the failure of love is one of those good stories to tell."
"If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
-William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)
The cramped box rumbled and vibrated heavily, jostling around the truck that was travelling at a fair clip. The metal hinges rattled annoyingly against one another, creating an appalling racket that kept the air filled with noise. The box itself was unsecured within the interior of the vehicle, save for a few other large and nondescript items that pinned it between the walls, preventing it from sliding and banging about. The box itself was a perfect cube, eight feet long on all three dimensions. Thickened steel, with a dull sheen that appeared midnight black in the darkness of the truck's interior to the point where it would not be visible upon first glance.
If it could be imagined, it was even darker inside that box.
Inside it was a quarian.
The quarian, a young fellow by the name of Ahrun, groaned as the truck hit a bump, sending him momentarily in the air as a weightless feeling lifted his stomach briefly. His head spun, created from the motion of the vehicle in addition to the fact that he had not had anything to drink for hours. It could have been days since he had even a sip of water even, for all Ahrun knew. He was exhausted, the dehydration simply making matters worse. For the entire length of the trip, he had been hedging imaginary bets against himself as to when this torturous and abusive ride would end. Ahrun had been inhabiting containers like this for what seemed like weeks, constantly shuttled from one location to the next, even though he knew the actual length of time was most likely only a couple of days.
He prayed to his Ancestors that this would be the last stop at the end of this journey.
Frantically, he rubbed his parched tongue against the roof of his mouth to dredge up some saliva. An exercise in futility – there was nothing to be gleaned. Angrily, Ahrun's stomach rumbled, seeking sustenance. Between his encroaching hunger and the constant yawing motions of the truck, it was a wonder that Ahrun had not thrown up yet, not that he could conjure anything to throw up at all. Perhaps it was for the best, Ahrun had heard that dry heaves were more unpleasant anyway.
Ahrun knew that he had been kidnapped. No question about it. What he had yet to learn exactly was why. Why him? Why a lowly quarian like himself? As far as he knew, he had done nothing wrong, nothing that would justify being snatched up like a sack of grain. Was it for a ransom? As much as he hated to demean himself and his race, Ahrun knew he wouldn't be worth much. Besides, who would pay for the release of someone like him?
Despite a long and thoughtful process of consideration, Ahrun figured that no one in their right mind would pay for his release.
The day of his capture, Ahrun had spent the entirety of it hollering to his captors on the other side of his thick, metal prison. A useless effort - he was ignored every time. He must have spent hours banging on the sides of the crate until his hands were colored black and blue underneath his enviro-suit, unable to pinpoint a structural weakness in its integrity. His voice had gone hoarse from his repeated shoutings, the pleads he had uttered to quell the raging maelstrom of confusion storming in his brain.
Days later, the storm had only grown, the isolation merely serving to add fuel to the fire.
Ahrun tried to remember back to his Pilgrimage days, which seemed so long ago in his mind. Five years, once a barrier seemingly insurmountable, now amounted to a singular blip in his existence. How ironic. He tried to place himself back into his teachings, his preparations for going out in the big, scary galaxy all by himself.
"Place your trust in your people… and yourself," he recalled Ra'vaa'Dhoza, his sponsor, lecturing him. "You will find in others your dependence wanting."
The young man frowned. That was certainly an unhelpful quote. Not only was it not pertinent to his situation, but it was a mindset that had been completely overturned in the last few years, what with the war and all. His people had resorted to looking outside their insular society for help and it had proven to provide them with a wondrous future. But that was certainly not relevant to the here and the now. Ahrun had to begrudgingly concede that nothing in his Pilgrimage training had helped him prepare for the possibility of a kidnapping.
Like him, his sponsors probably believed that no one would be so stupid as to kidnap a quarian. Ahrun bit back a snort. Shows what they knew.
Ahrun had long ceased in begging for answers from his captors. They had not shared even a word from him since he had been bagged from the wayward colony he had been living on in the Horsehead Nebula. It had been instantaneous, as far as Ahrun was concerned. Completely unaware of the danger that awaited him. One moment, he was just going to grab some rest in his trusty sleep pod within the habitation bay, the next he had woken to find himself cracked out of the pod and now trapped within a darkened crate, the exact same one he was inhabiting now.
Despite the futility of snatching a quarian, Ahrun knew that this sort of thing was not uncommon as of late. A rather recent development had been brewing over the past few months, apparently. He had heard reports of abductions of individuals occurring across the Terminus systems in intermittent intervals, much like what those Collector-things had done to the humans years ago. But these new instances were completely different than that operation carried out by those enthralled Protheans – these new abductions had all been completely focused on specific individuals in each case, instead of entire colonies. Many singular people, picked off from one world after another.
And all those individuals had been quarian.
Ahrun had seen the news regarding these patterns, but he had been cocky enough to think that he would never be part of the v'rahk – the departed ones. He had figured that the abducted quarians had done something to deserve their disappearance. It had never occurred to him to imagine that the extreme randomness of the process would have put him in the crosshairs of his captors. Some humility might have benefited him, but hindsight was not going to be of much use right now.
He shuffled into a new position inside the box, trying to get more comfortable, but that was useless as well. His limbs were just not adjusting to the constant annoyances in this place. No comfort, no rest, Ahrun could not even tell if he had slept within the past solar cycle. His eyes tried to focus, but despite his natural ability to see somewhat well in the dark, the blackness of the box revealed nothing. It was hard to tell if this was all a hallucination brought on by myopia or not – he couldn't see a damn thing.
And then… the vibrations of the truck abruptly stopped.
All background sound evaporated in moments, creating a vacuum in Ahrun's ears. He yawed his jaw around in the newfound quiet, a high-pitched ringing starting to crop up in his eardrums. The pain of relief. At least there was something for him to focus on.
But such a respite was short lived when a series of heavy, metal thuds resounded throughout the container. Ahrun jerked up immediately at the noises and sensations, his glowing eyes growing wider behind his visor. His breath started to quicken uncontrollably, his legs trembled, and sweat began to bead upon the back of his neck. Ahrun muttered a quick prayer lowly, just begging that whatever waited for him on the other side would not be his death.
It would be a shame to die without having achieved understanding.
With a tortured scraping sound of metal against metal, the covering to the box opened up, allowing a wall of light to slam right into Ahrun's eyes. His darkened visor was useless against the illumination – he had been trapped in darkness for too long for any sort of night-vision capabilities to assist him. He was blind. Ahrun cried out in pain and quickly curled up into a ball upon the floor of the cage, quivering in agony as the light raked through his shut eyelids, tearing through his sensitive sclera to burn deep into his brain. A vibrant pinprick, bloodlessly impaling through flesh and bone. His panicked shouts turned to gasps as his lungs quickly emptied themselves of air, clamoring for fresh breath as he threw up his hands, trying to block out the light that was drowning him.
Rough hands then grabbed at his body, hoisting him upright before suddenly letting go. Ahrun fell, but just for a second, to crash pathetically on the cold floor. The quarian grunted, not seriously injured from the fall, but pained nonetheless. He reached out, smearing his palms across the floor, but it was hard to find purchase. The floor itself was smooth tile – not metal or stone. Bravely, he cracked an eyelid open as far as he dared, but he regretted doing so immediately.
White, the purest color of white that Ahrun had ever seen, assaulted his senses. He shut his eyes again with a whimper, but after a few moment of writhing around on the ground, he made another attempt to see. He took quick looks, trying to get a sense of where he was without permanently damaging his eyesight. Eventually, the outline of the six-wheeled truck that brought him here became apparent, as did the blurry forms of his captors, and the smudged silver accents of his own enviro-suit, but apart from seeing these dimly colored blobs, that was about as much detail that his strained eyes could manage at this point.
With a cough, Ahrun deliberately blinked hard. Nope, he was still seeing double. His three-fingered hands groped at the floor, desperate to touch something tangible while he slowly recovered on the ground.
Something hit him in the back firmly and Ahrun curled up instinctively.
"Get up," a harsh voice commanded.
That accent… Ahrun realized. It was… Khelish? His captors were quarian?
Another blow came, this time at his thigh. Apparently hesitation was not tolerated here.
"Now," another said, confirming Ahrun's suspicions.
Ahrun didn't need to be told again. Ignoring the strained feeling from his tortured muscle fibers as he shakily got to his feet, he tenderly poked and prodded the areas of his silver and gray enviro-suit that were most susceptible to tearing. His brief examination did not indicate that he was in any sort of mortal danger and at least he was able to see a little better now that some time had passed.
The room he was in was large, practically a hangar. The floor was a spotless white tile and the four walls surrounding the empty plain were of the same color. The ceiling was an ugly maze of support beams and rafters, with a few gangways bolted on to allow people to walk overhead. Aside from the roof over his head, the room itself was practically featureless. Ahrun turned on the spot, looking to and fro, his confusion ever mounting.
The click of a thermal clip being slotted into a chamber drew his attention. Between him and the truck stood four well-armed quarians. They did not look at all like regular marines – these individuals were heavily armored and taller than him by about half a head. Their suits were not bequeathed with the usual accoutrements, either – they bore no crest, no family pattern on their hoods. Blank slates, much like the very room that they were standing in.
One of his captors stepped forward, a large handgun clenched in a fist. Fear rooting him to the spot, Ahrun could only stare as the large quarian lifted the weapon, the barrel aimed squarely at Ahrun's head. But before a panicked cry could tear its way through the frightened man's throat, the larger quarian gave a flick of his wrist, the one holding the gun, indicating for Ahrun to look in that direction.
The tendons in his neck squealed in protest, but the tightness in Ahrun's body began to relax as he beheld a simple door upon the nearest wall.
"Inside," he heard the quarian growl behind him.
Ahrun dredged up whatever shambles of courage that were floating around in the pit of his stomach, eliciting a weary sigh of acceptance. He moved forward, away from the truck, away from the men, eager to put some distance between everything, even if he did not fully understand the big picture.
The door slid shut quietly behind him, the lock silently cycling into place. Ahrun continued to blink as he trudged forward into yet another luminescent room about the same size as the last one, only to find out that he was far from alone in this place.
Dozens upon dozens of quarians, not armored ones like the ones outside but normally clad ones like himself, milled about the area, congregating in timid groups or trying to savor time all by their lonesome selves. A sea of muted color, all chattering away in the familiar language that his people spoke: Khelish.
The missing quarians, Ahrun realized. That was one piece of the puzzle in place at least, but the context was far from being revealed. Why was everyone here to begin with? Why were quarians kidnapping their own kind?
There were long tables set up in one corner of the gigantic room, to be utilized for whatever purpose that was deemed of importance, whether it be eating, conversing, or what not. Upon the far wall stood an assortment of various metal objects – bits and pieces of heavy rubbish that Ahrun recognized as weight equipment. Evidentially their tormentors were idiots, providing their captives with items that could be utilized against them or they were offered simply as a way to exercise their captives' minds from boredom.
High above, about ten meters over the ground, a thin metal gangway circled around the central area. Ahrun could see a couple more of the armored quarians slowly pace around the circuit, taking a few uninterested glances down below at him. Their attentions were not rapt, distant. For good reason, Ahrun supposed. There were no clear avenues of escape that he could spot right off the bat. Aside from the door behind him (which had been locked securely using a dedicated circuit) there was no way out of this place at first glance, unless he found a way to scale the featureless walls without getting shot in the process.
Ahrun simply had to bite his lip, conceding himself to the notion that he could very well be here for a long while.
Sets of glowing eyes belonging to his brethren were now gradually being drawn towards his direction. Curiosity for the new guy. It was hard for a quarian to radiate embarrassment, but Ahrun knew that any small change in his body language would definitely not go unnoticed around these people. Hesitation, fear, the slightest change would not go amiss. Even if these were all people abducted without reason Ahrun in no way felt safe. This technically was a prison, after all, and prisons never exactly held a good track record in the back of his mind, as it was for most species in this sorry galaxy.
But what to do? How to hold up a flag to signal his intent? He couldn't just go barging into a group uninvited in the hopes that he would gain some support. No, he needed to weigh his options, keep himself at a distance to observe and report silently. Determinations for where he would best fit in would be made in due time, but he needed to figure that out soon.
Although, if his hunger for answers kept on gnawing at his gut, irrationality just might prioritize itself over his need for self-preservation.
Ahrun swallowed, tasting bile. Keenly aware that dozens of sets of eyes were examining his every movement under a microscopic stare, he focused intently on how his body was acting as he deliberately began to step over to the wall nearest to his left – where the least amount of quarians were grouped. Enough space for him to collect his thoughts and plan his next moves.
Others apparently had other plans for him as a trio of quarians quickly moved from where they were standing on an intercept course for Ahrun. Their suits were a motley collection of gray, black, and orange hues, and their stiff postures worried Ahrun. Somehow, he didn't believe that this was going to be a friendly courtesy call. He braced himself for trouble.
The gray quarian stepped in front of him, blocking his route, while the black and orange quarians swiftly moved on either side of Ahrun. No one spoke for a moment, leaving Ahrun to glance from side to side wearily, spying no methods of a clean escape.
"Let me guess," Ahrun sighed, his shoulders drooping in resignation while he tilted his head. He was not so stupid that he had no idea how this was going to pan out. "Establishing the pecking order?"
The gray quarian nodded, his fists beginning to clench. "We need to know where you stand among us."
"I'm still trying to find out."
"Don't worry. You'll learn quickly. Men your age, you always learn quickly. As such, I hope you won't take this personally."
Already it resonated with Ahrun that he would not be walking away with any more answers or clarifications after this little encounter. It was also safe to assume that he would be sporting a few bruises too. He was about to make a biting comment, one concerning that the upcoming fisticuffs was in no way relevant to the looming context, of which he still lacked understanding, but it seemed the time to bring that up had passed by without him having time to react.
Ahrun's arms were suddenly grabbed and held still in place by the black and orange suited quarians while the gray one readied his arm. His attacker gently placed a hand on Ahrun's collar to steady himself.
"It will all become clear in time. Just let it happen, qi'lan."
Now Ahrun started to struggle uselessly, too panicked to even think clearly. He was certainly not willing to "let this happen," let alone give these bosh'tets the satisfaction from submission.
His inner armor shattered, as did what little pretense of bravery remained, when the first blow sank into his stomach. It was not as hard as Ahrun thought it was going to be, but it still hurt nonetheless. Ahrun folded in half with a yelp, coughing as his battered stomach throbbed. His lungs shivered as they strived to bring in more air and his legs began to tremble. He would have collapsed on the floor if he was not being held aloft by these two goons. This was not even honorable, three against one! Where had the sanity of these men fled to? These were his people, damn it! Why assault their own?
Honor, as Ahrun would come to learn, had been cast out the door the moment every person had been thrown in here. What good were morals and codes in a lawless vacuum? Why waste time on being civil, anyway? There was still much that Ahrun had to find out in this place, this purgatory.
Another fist smashed itself into Ahrun's rib cage. Now Ahrun yelled even louder. Despite his cries, he could clearly see that all the quarians, once appraising him rapturously upon his entrance, now had turned away dispassionately. His yells were certainly carrying to the end of the gigantic room – it was just that everyone was deliberately ignoring them. Confusion kept rising higher and higher. What was happening here?
The gray suited quarian now grabbed Ahrun's helmet where his chin was, intent on delivering a strike to the side of his head. Ahrun was just about to shut his eyes fearfully when a shadow suddenly fell over the group and Ahrun's attacker was yanked back abruptly, a strong fist now clenching upon the multitude of tubes that ran from the back of his helmet. The quarian screamed in panic before he devolved into a fit of coughing as the shadow's fist quickly slammed into his back, right atop the kidney.
"I told you what would happen last time, Roril!" the towering figure growled at the gagging quarian he now held in his clutches. The new arrival shifted his grip to wrap around the quarian's neck, his eyes leering and dangerous. "You were very stupid to think that I was bluffing."
The quarian being choked, whose name was apparently Roril, tried to breathe a reply. Not so easy with a hand clenched around his windpipe. The figure then smashed a fist so hard into Roril's gut that even Ahrun had to shut his eyes out of reflex. This guy was not joking around as Roril was now allowed to flop to the ground, temporarily incapacitated as he was now the one who struggled for air.
The pressure at Ahrun's arms ceased and he was finally allowed to slide to the ground, his legs having ceased working minutes ago. The orange suited quarian, the one that had been holding Ahrun's left arm, adopted an aggressive stance at the new combatant.
"L-Look," the quarian stammered, clearly unnerved, "we were only going to go easy on the guy. It wasn't-,"
He had no more time to explain further because the quarian staggered as he was clocked firmly on the side of the head, knees wobbling and unsteady. The man that had come to Ahrun's aid did not appear to be pained from punching a quarian's helmet in a full-on hit. He instead strode forward to lift the man up off the ground by the straps that enveloped his suit, the quarian becoming more unintelligible by the second.
"Did you think that I would go easy on you?" the shadow whispered in a menacing taunt.
The man did not wait for an answer from the stammering quarian. Instead, he lurched forward in a gigantic step, hurling the orange-suited quarian out of his grip in a massive toss. His opponent sailed through the air, almost appearing weightless, to land with a tremendous thud a few meters away.
He didn't bother getting up.
There was just the black-suited quarian to deal with now, and he was completely frozen in place. For good reason – he had just seen two of his cohorts handedly dispatched in no time flat by this man, this… demon. Continuing the fight seemed like a poor choice to make, considering the evidence around him.
The man straightened, peering at the quarian that was still standing. "I trust that you won't make the same mistake again, Janath? No more beating up your own people, understand?"
"W-We… we w-won't," the black suited quarian affirmed as he slowly began to back away. "Whatever you s-say… Ahto Da'var."
Ahrun blinked at the mention of the name, but the towering man scowled instead. His savior gave a brusque motion with his head, an indication to leave, which the assailant took immediately.
With the threats now unceremoniously departed, the man reached down toward Ahrun, offering a hand. Ahrun was about to take it gratefully when he noticed, for the first time, that the appendage was not wreathed in an enviro-suit like everyone else. No, the man's hand was larger than a quarian's, ungloved, with five fingers instead of three, and… pink skin.
A… human? This day was getting crazier by the second.
Now Ahrun was extremely confused, but he finally took the hand that had been offered regardless, appreciating the help. Of course he was inquisitive of the fact that a human had been his guardian in this place, but he was considering that he should be thankful of the fact that salvation had been offered in some form.
"Suit's intact?" the human asked, concern momentarily wrinkling his brow.
"I… uh…" Ahrun mumbled as he quickly gave himself a once-over, finding nothing of concern. "Seems fine, actually. Just having trouble breathing a bit from where I was hit."
"Hmm," the human considered, frowning.
Now that Ahrun was allowed a moment to relax, he could behold this human a little more closely. He was taller than Ahrun by about half a head, with slightly ruffled brown hair no more than two inches in length. A thick beard encased the man's face, closely cropped to his skin – a feature that Ahrun associated with age, with his limited knowledge of humans. His eyes were steel blue, but Ahrun was able to see faint lines of circuitry glowing underneath the sclera – implants. The human was broad-shouldered with a defined muscle structure. Upon the man's left forearm, Ahrun could spy the faded circular mark of a tattoo - some weird pattern that meant absolutely nothing to the quarian, but had to have some significance to the human. There were multiple scars running across the flesh of his arms, overshadowing his colored markings, and one horrific scar that ran along the left side of his neck like a white bolt of lightning - a jagged reminder of what had to be a terrible wound. Ahrun had seen humans in better shape before but it was obvious that this one was quite fit in any case. The clothing the human wore was simple: black tank-top and pants. Nothing that would normally make him stand out of the crowd, but seeing as everyone in this place was quarian, he stuck out naturally like a sore thumb.
The human gazed wistfully across the room. "Take away their freedom by putting them in a place like this and all concepts of community crumble with it," he murmured to no one in particular. "Thought I had fixed it. Stamped out their aggression this time…"
"Excuse me?" Ahrun piped up, causing the stone-faced human to turn.
The man just shook his head. "Talking to myself. It's been the first time in a long time that I've had to beat some sense into these fools, is all." He then waved Ahrun on. "You can go. No one will probably bother you any longer, unless you wish to deliberately start trouble."
"I… I can't leave," Ahrun said indignantly. "I need answers!"
"Don't we all," the human rasped with a sad smile. He put his hands into his pockets and casually shrugged.
"I need to know what's going on here! What do they want with me?! And… not to sound rude, but who are you?"
"What's going on here? This is the gateway to hell and you've just been reserved a spot in the line to go in. Unless you have a few minutes it's not exactly something I can condense down into a blurb."
"Something tells me that I have enough time," Ahrun growled, his voice echoing consciously inside the chamber. "Why was I kidnapped and put into this… place?!"
"Same reason why everyone else is here," the human gestured. "Except me, obviously. No, I'm here because of something different. Completely unrelated to your plight. You, on the other hand, are here because you're just what the lunatic in charge of this place is looking for: young, quarian men. You're to be… conscripted into his unit because, well… he prefers to be surrounded by his own kind. He has a certain hatred for other species."
"So this prison… is run by a quarian? Why is he doing this to me? To his own kind?"
The human glanced up at the ceiling, as if he was wondering the same thing himself. "You're at an impressionable stage. Young, malleable. Your captor, for lack of a better term, wants to build himself an army made up of people like you to do nothing but follow his will."
Ahrun frowned, the concept ringing a bell. "Like what Admiral Xen was doing back on Rannoch a while back. The civil war. I'm to be a part of that?!"
"Exactly like that," the human nodded grimly. "But there were some individuals who took cues from Xen's tactics, who were in support of the rogue admiral, that they've been putting them to use even after her trial. The guards you see roaming the perimeter up there? On the catwalks? They used to be down here with us in the beginning. They're the perfect example of how one's will can be imparted onto another."
"That… that can't be true," Ahrun swayed as he followed the path traced by the human's index finger. It was almost too much to take, the horrendous idea of letting this happen to his fellow quarians. "How could they stand by and be in support of this? Enforce our imprisonment?"
"You'd be surprised at how effective torture can break a man, especially one who's gone their whole life without knowing what true pain really feels like. It's inelegant, but it apparently works. Eventually all of you will be up among the rafters, staring down at a fresh batch of unwilling participants to make sure that they don't try to escape. Any resistance, and the man in charge unleashes his men on you. Happens all the time."
Ahrun took a few steps back, examining the guards and the human in a rapidly alternating fashion. "That won't happen to me. I won't let them take my mind."
The human sadly shrugged again, his expression worryingly placid. "That might not be a choice you get to make. People have said the same thing before you. They're looking down on us right now. It's not a future that I'll get to experience, though. No, I've been left in here to rot, taken from my life, my friends… my family. Whatever I had left of a family, at least. I'm not going to get a way out like you. I've spent four months in this place already - I don't think one will ever be afforded to me, after what I've done."
"But what did you do?" Ahrun urged. "You're one human out of dozens of quarians. What made you different? What reason do you have for being here?"
There was an uncomfortable scraping sound as the human gritted his teeth together, deep in contemplation. For a moment, Ahrun swore he saw a cold fire alight in the depths of the human's eyes, the kind of raw fury that encapsulates a man with so much to lose. The human's body seemed to thrum with a dark energy, muscles squirming beneath the flesh as intangible pain came to bear. And then it all vanished as the human focused himself again, taking a deep breath from a constrained throat.
"I guess you could say that I wronged our captor a while back, depending on your point of view. Around the time of the civil war, in fact. In my eyes, I am guiltless of this wrongdoing, but I would be remiss if I said that my being here has no ulterior purpose. The only reason that I'm here is because the two of us, our captor and I, lived out our lives differently. We were born in different places, made different choices. It was only natural for us to clash upon our first meeting, as two opposing forces can only meet with violence. He once said to me a year ago that he would find a way to hurt me eventually. Suffice to say, he succeeded."
The human then shifted his eyes around suspiciously. "This way," he ordered as he crept into a slow gait, his long legs striking out an even rhythm. Ahrun had to trot just to keep up. "In time you will be offered an opportunity from our 'benefactor' shortly to join his little group. Not right away, he likes to let his new catches… stew."
"The… benefactor?" Ahrun repeated in disbelief. "You mean he'll torture me if I refuse?"
"Oh, he'll torture you if you agree to join him right away. He doesn't want someone who's so quick to change sides on his team. But if you resist, you'll be tortured regardless. Rest assured, quarian, your first meeting will not be a pleasant one."
"What is he like? The man in charge?"
"A very disagreeable sort," the human managed a tight, pained grin. "Although I do gain some enjoyment trying to piss him off whenever we have a conversation together. I guess you could say I'm a slow learner, though. Each time I anger him, he leaves me with a token of his displeasure."
Ahrun's eyes were drawn to the scar at the human's neck. It looked rather fresh… not to mention painful. He wondered if he should ask if that was one of the 'tokens' the human had mentioned, but decided against it, fearing that it may seem impolite.
"So what do I call you?" Ahrun asked as they headed into an archway, into an offshoot of the larger hangar, this one only occupied by a few lowly benches. "You were called 'Ahto Da'var' back there, and that's probably not your real name. I've never heard of a human having a Khelish name before."
The human laughed, a horrid, rasping sound as he found the nearest bench to sit down upon it. "Very astute of you," he said quite sarcastically after letting out a groan. "No, you don't need to know my name, quarian. Not yet. Bad things happen to the people who get to know me. The ones who resided here gave me that name you just uttered probably to mock. I sincerely doubt that they call me 'Da'var' out of respect."
"Still, it's odd that they called you 'Ahto.' I would assume that they would use the word 'Ide' to precede your moniker instead. Why call you "Our" instead of "The P-?"
"I know what the name means," the human named Da'var sternly interrupted with a cutting motion of his hand. "And I don't need to hear it repeated to me every time, quarian. I've hung around you lot a good enough while to add a fair bit to my Khelish vocabulary. The name itself most likely stemmed from my tendency to… pacify any conflicts that might arise here."
Ahrun felt his face flush. "Stop calling me 'quarian.' You can call me Ahrun'Uniel vas Rannoch, but don't call me 'quarian!'"
Da'var waggled a finger with a sly grin. "Not anymore. You're not 'vas Rannoch' in this place. In here, like everyone else, you're 'vas Nedas.' Crew of nowhere. But I will call you Ahrun, if you wish."
"Fine," Ahrun scowled. "Do you want me to keep calling you Da'var, despite the fact you hate the name?"
"I never said I hated the name. It is what it is. A reminder of someone I used to be a long time ago. It is a fitting title, a fitting punishment. It may have been bestowed upon me, but I firmly embrace it. If I make armor from the weapons of those against me, I'm invincible."
Ahrun shook his head blithely. "So you always make a show of keeping some semblance of order around here? Is that why you beat up the men attacking me?"
"Would you believe me if I said that I did it out of the naïve goodness of my heart?" Da'var made an exaggerated show of placing his hand upon the spot where the mentioned organ was before he shook his head with a smirk. "Nah, things aren't that black and white. I've found that, being the only human in this place, I have a natural advantage at being able to overpower pretty much most quarians. You guys lack the maximum muscle strength that humans possess. The drama, the cliques, they only do more harm than good in a prison. For a while, before you were here, things were chaos. Fights were breaking out every day, people were getting seriously hurt in an effort to keep their heads up above the waves. Someone had to step in and nip the aggression in the bud. No one else would do it, so I figured that I might as well be the one. Call it foolhardy or just plain dumb, but it gave me purpose. I needed something to keep me sane."
"You look pretty sane to me," Ahrun offered.
Da'var jerked in a silent laugh, his cold eyes turning distant again. Something more locked behind that gaze. Sadness, definitely. This human was pained.
"Just barely holding on," came the hoarse whisper, and Ahrun swore that he saw the makings of a tear begin to pool in the corner of one of the human's eyes before it was unknowingly blinked away.
Da'var, looking to distract himself, began to examine the hand that had struck the helmet of one of Ahrun's attackers just minutes ago, finding that it had been cut open from impacting the sharp metal. He flexed the limb, causing weathered joints to creak and pop, tenderly rubbing at the wound with a thumb. All the while, Ahrun could not take his eyes off the older, scarred man.
Before he could turn away, Da'var suddenly locked eyes with him.
"You haven't talked to many humans before, have you?" he said, his tone indicating that he knew the answer anyway.
"Not really," Ahrun admitted. "But you've met many quarians."
"You… you could say that. I've encountered a few from time to time."
"Including the one who holds our lives in his hand."
"Will you… at least, tell me how you came to be here?"
The human smirked as he reclined on the bench, his eyes momentarily lifting upwards towards the corrugated and dim roof before fixating back on Ahrun. Despite his inexperience in dealing with the species, Ahrun realized that this human had to be different than most. He really did lack the sort of standoffishness that many species had when talking to his people. Asari, turian, salarian, no matter the race, it was all in their body language – most individuals had no idea what kind of reference point to look at when speaking to a quarian, and humans were no different. It was probably the masks. The lack of facial expressions had a hand in unnerving most people they conversed with because it was such a departure from their norm. Take away the ability to discern a simple facial gesture, a wrinkle of the brow, even a smile, and things become quite anxious for one side. Many would never figure out how to properly speak with a quarian in their life.
This was not the case with this man. He knew exactly where to stare, his gaze never wavering. There was no hesitation in his voice, no visible unease in speaking to someone with a face-obscuring mask. This human… there was definitely more going on behind the scenes.
"You really want to hear the story?" Da'var asked, his gaze hurling spears in Ahrun's direction. "I warn you, it's not going to be a nice one."
"If it leads me to the answers I want, then I want to hear it," Ahrun gritted.
Through clenched teeth, the human slowly breathed out as he indicated the seat next to him upon the bench. A calloused invitation from a five-fingered individual.
"You might want to sit down."
A/N: Hello there.
So, welcome back to what is the final chapter of the Quantum Error trilogy: Patriarch! After taking a short break and revamping my outline several times (because the first draft of this outline was, quite frankly, atrocious), I'm back to finish this story. Please let me know if I'm doing anything you particularly like or dislike with this story. I'm always open to feedback.
As this chapter might have hinted, this really is not going to be a sunshine-and-butterflies kind of story. If you are familiar with the kind of content that I've produced in my previous works, then I should point out that the upcoming chapters will contain scenes that make any of my past stories seem like kids novels. This will have all of my literary tendencies turned up to 11, no holds barred. Time will tell if this will pay off, but for now, you have been warned... because the angst will begin with the next chapter release! Heh, heh.
I have to point out that a lot of things have changed in my personal life between this story and my last. Therefore, chapters will be released on a much slower schedule than usual, because I will have even less time to write over the weeks. I don't foresee any chapters taking up to a month to complete, but you'll just have to pardon my slow pace for the time being.
And since no one objected to my inclusion of a personal handpicked playlist for the last story, I'm bringing it back! Recommend you try to read some of these scenes with the indicated music - I try to make sure that each one fits the chapter.
I hope you enjoy Patriarch!
Ahrun Wakes: "Ultimatum" by Johann Johannsson from the film Arrival.
The Quarian Meets the Human: "The Execution" by Jed Kurzel from the film Assassin's Creed
Sam McLeod's Theme: "V Has Come To" by Ludvig Forssell from the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain