MASS EFFECT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. WARHAMMER DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. I THINK I FOUND THE LIMIT TO HOW MANY WARDS I CAN SET UP TO KEEP OUT TZEENTCH. AS LONG AS IT DOESN'T GO INTO YOUR NEIGHBOR'S YARD, YOU'RE GOOD.

Fair warning, writing this chapter made me very sad.

Star-Bound

Chapter 39

Memories

"Shit! Ow, that really hurts. Okay, gotta get this down before I pass out again. Probably don't have enough painkillers to keep me going, and I don't know what'll happen when I run out. Right, um, what happened?

"Okay, so the last thing that happened was on Virmire. I was holding off some Geth, doing a damn good job, if I say so myself. I knew it was a one-way trip. Told Shepard to get Kaidan and those Salarians out of there. One life for many, that kind of thing. Besides, Kaidan needs to man up and tell the Commander how he feels, and he can't do that if he's dead. Lieutenant, if you somehow get this, I'm not sorry.

"Anyway, I'm standing by the bomb, killing so many of those stupid flashlight-heads, and looking good while doing it. Tali would be happy to know I definitely killed at least twenty-eight of the bastards, and I used a lot of her advice for takin' down synthetics. Good kid, Tali; reminds me of my youngest sister. Ugh, these painkillers are messing with my head.

"So, the bomb goes off, and I see a bright light. I expect to meet my maker, maybe see some long-dead relatives, that kind of stuff. Only, it doesn't happen. No Pearly Gates, no crying family, no God. My first thought was that I was actually in Hell, and that maybe I'd been sent there because I should have been nicer to the aliens—not the Batarians, because they suck. Except there's nothing I'd expect from Hell, either; no demons, no fire, no torment for my sins. Instead, I'm sitting on some chunk of rock in some weird… I don't even know how to describe it. Gravity seems to be working, unless something actually leaves my rock. I picked up a tiny piece of my armor that broke off, and it only floated away when I dropped it. So I don't think I'll leave my little island.

"Wherever I am, it's kind of beautiful. My island is drifting along on what looks like a bridge of starlight. Hard to imagine, I know, but I'm recording everything on my omni-tool as proof. I can see other little islands, with some alien ruins on 'em. Man, Liara would be so jealous. Part of me wants to check 'em out, but even if I was at my best, they're too far away.

"Oh, right, I should mention that I'm pretty messed up. Serious burns on my whole left side. Can't actually feel most of it, which isn't a good sign. My left leg is gone, and I've got a chunk of Geth lodged pretty good in my side; getting a little hard to breathe, so I think it's in my lung. Can't see out of my left eye, pretty sure that's gone, and I've got more burns on a good part of my face. At least my mouth wasn't damaged, or my last report would sound like I'm drunk.

"I've been taking scans with my omni-tool since I got my brain working again. I have no idea why Shepard gave me such a tech-heavy 'tool, but I'm glad I have it. She's great, you know? Anything she didn't buy for us, she built or upgraded herself. She even took measurements for Wrex and Tali and Garrus, because she'd never made anything for aliens before, and wanted to get it right. That woman has no appreciation for personal space; when she put that measuring tape around Tali's hips, I swear I could see her blush through the tint in her helmet. Oh, man, Liara was so jealous.

"Ow, dammit! Painkillers are wearing off already? No, wait, I think I tore open one of my injuries. I'll finish this later."

Shepard paused the recording to futilely wipe her eyes. She had known Ashley had been dead, but it was another thing to listen to her friend slowly bleed to death, alone and without anyone to give her any kind of comfort in her final moments.

After a few seconds, Shepard had steeled herself, and played the final entry.

"Not sure how much longer I've got. Can't—ugh—can't stop the bleeding. Used up the last of my medical supplies. Blacked out a few times, I think, but I was able to come back.

"I think the blood loss is getting to me. Saw ships flying by, earlier. Didn't recognize them. Bigger than anything I've ever seen. Beautiful, though; lots of curves, and weird panels, made 'em look like boats from Earth. Don't know how there are big ships flying around, but I can still breathe here. Nothing makes sense.

"I set… I set my omni-tool to keep scanning, even after I'm dead. Maybe, if someone finds me, they'll learn something important. Or I'm losing my mind, and I'm just rambling. Ah, well, at least it's pretty.

"Hey, Skipper? If you somehow find this… don't blame yourself. I know you're gonna, but it wasn't your fault. You made a judgment call… and you couldn't have known I would end up here.

"'m gonna lie down for a minute. Hard to sit up. Lots of blood. This is Gunnery Sergeant Ashley Williams, signing off."

Shepard wasn't seen by the rest of the Crusade for almost five days after the death of Magnus the Red. Some wondered if she was praying for the souls of all those lost at his hands—both during the battle of Sortiarius, and across the wider Imperium. Others thought she was communing with the Emperor, already planning her next mission. A small group voiced concerns that she had been badly injured during her battle, and required more time than usual to heal.

In her absence, the rest of the Crusade's leaders were a hurricane of activity. Supplies needed to be replenished, wounds needed to be tended, and damage needed to be repaired. Casualties among those who had attacked Sortiarius were mercifully light, but the forces trying to keep the Thousand Sons at bay in other systems had suffered terribly. Even many veterans had been unable to comprehend the eldritch horrors of Tzeentch, and no small number had to be mercy-killed.

Upon seeing how disturbed the Militarum regiments had become, the Order of the Iron Tears and many Ministorum priests threw themselves into reinforcing their faith. Mass prayers were held, blessings were given, and doubts were assuaged. Those who could not be bolstered were quietly taken away by Commissars.

Brol, Zandtus and Phoros held their own council; they privately believed that a Primarch's presence would have helped, but shortly after the battle, Guilliman and Russ had taken their fleets and gone their separate ways. Despite the importance of such a victory over Magnus, the Imperium had no shortage of enemies, and the many Astartes Chapters were needed elsewhere.

"Until we are needed, I suggest we return to Vigilus for rest and resupply," Phoros said during a meeting with the Crusade's leadership. "As useful as our Crusade is, we cannot blindly flail about at our enemies."

"I agree," Helmin said, his tone subdued; he had lost many soldiers recently, and his humors remained unbalanced. "I'm sure there are many regiments eager to sign on with us."

"And ships to add to our fleet," Dartan added. "We lost nearly a score of escort vessels during the fighting. We were able to tow all but one back with us, but it would take far less time simply getting new ships; those we lost will simply have to wait for repairs."

"How long would these matters take?" Rex asked. "Should the God-Emperor call us to battle once again, we cannot be caught unprepared."

"Vigilus is a staging ground for many campaigns," Vils said. "They've become quite good at getting fleets and armies back on their feet, so to speak. I wager a month, at most."

"That's fine by me."

The Astartes and Custodes in the room had heard Shepard's approach, but even Xem-Beta seemed surprised when she spoke up. According to the post-humans, she had been there for almost a minute, leaning against the open door with her arms crossed.

"Sorry, guys, didn't want to interrupt." Shepard smiled as she walked over. She reached up to pat Zandtus on the shoulder as she passed, and gave both Blaise and Helmin a brief hug; anyone she didn't walk close to got a warm smile.

"Your Holiness, are you well?" Blaise asked. "You had us worried."

"Sorry about that." Shepard took her seat and leaned back. "I suppose I needed some time to myself, after what I saw."

"I am sure a daemon Primarch would unsettle anyone," Rex said, even as he made warding gestures.

"Huh? Oh, no, not that." Shepard held up the deactivated omni-tool. "I finally got around to seeing what was on this. The first part was… well, I watched an old friend of mine die. It wasn't pleasant."

"You mentioned her when you spoke about your past," Helmin said. "Ashley Williams, was it not?"

Shepard nodded. "Yeah, she was a good soldier; loyal, honest, and willing to crack jokes. She held off our enemies while guarding a bomb to take out a vital facility."

"A good death," Vils said.

"Except she didn't die from the blast," Shepard revealed. "Not right away, at least. Somehow, she ended up in the Webway. She was dying, but she managed to program her omni-tool to scan everything, even after she was gone." Shepard chuckled, but there was no humor in it. "One of the last things she said was that I shouldn't blame myself. I'm still trying to follow her advice."

"We all grieve in our own way," Blaise said quietly.

"True, but that wasn't the whole reason why I've been locked in my room." Shepard held up the omni-tool again. "I was going over the data Ash collected. Some of it… well, a lot of it, actually, doesn't make much sense. Partly because I don't have context for what it was scanning. Xem, could you take a look? Your databanks might be able to figure this out, or at least give us somewhere to start."

Xem-Beta nearly ripped the omni-tool out of Shepard's hand, but barely stopped in time to gingerly take it with a mechadendrite. "I will do my utmost, Saint Shepard. However, I fear I must admit that knowledge of the Webway is… difficult to acquire."

"Do what you can," Shepard said. "If you get stuck, see if you can get in touch with Belisarius Cawl. He's been around for over ten thousand years, so he might know a thing or two."

Xem-Beta nodded with obvious reluctance—not necessarily because it wounded his pride to admit that he might be incapable, but because the priesthood of one forge world were often unwilling to share information with those of another.

"If there's nothing else on our agenda, I think we should make best speed for Vigilus," Shepard said. "Hadrian was right about being ready if and when the Emperor needs us, and I don't intend on disappointing Him."

Josephine drew on all her willpower to keep still. All she wanted to do was pace or, failing that, rub her new scar. She had thought she had lost her eye on Sortiarius, but it turned out to just be a bad cut going down her face, from her hairline across her eye, and ending just past the corner of her mouth.

It was sore and itched terribly, but it was nothing compared to the pain her sister was going through. Katarin's new arm had been installed only a few hours ago, and she'd been warned that it would be days, even weeks, before her body accepted the augmetic. She'd accepted the news with good grace, unlike Josephine, who had not stopped fretting since the battle had ended.

At least the new arm was aesthetically pleasing; it was a gleaming silver, decorated with the symbol of their Order at every joint. Katarin had even asked if she could have her favorite prayers etched into the outer casing; she had been told that she could, but she would need to find a Tech-Priest with the time to spare, to make sure she didn't offend the arm's machine spirit.

Fortunately, Katarin knew just such a Tech-Priest.

"Announcement: The task is complete, Sister Katarin," Tia said as she stepped back. "All inscriptions are set."

"Many thanks," Katarin said, and leaned back to rest.

Josephine pulled Tia aside to speak with her privately; that was more difficult than it seemed, since Tia's bionics made her much heavier than she looked. Had Josephine not been so worried, she would have laughed at the adorable squeak of surprise from Tia.

"How is she?" Josephine demanded. "Is her arm going to affect her abilities?"

Tia blinked once, twice, and then shrugged. "Regretful: I do not have enough data for any assumptions. The machine spirit of the arm is steady and strong, a good match for the soul of Sister Katarin. Consoling: I foresee no complications, so long as she treats her machine-parts with due respect."

"I… I see." Josephine let out a relieved sigh and let Tia go. "Thank you. Katarin is my oldest friend, and I didn't want to lose her like this."

"Confusion: If you are so concerned about her dying in battle, why risk it at all?"

Josephine smiled. "It is not death we fear; death in service to the God-Emperor is expected. I was just afraid that she might not be able to keep fighting. Without both arms, she would likely be sent back to one of our chapels, and I might not ever see her again."

Tia hesitated, and then awkwardly gave her a hug; Josephine laughed when Tia's servo-arm also reached around to pat her on the back. "Statement: Your friend will recover."

"I appreciate the words, Tia." Josephine hugged her back. "I think I needed to hear them."

"If you two are going to kiss, could you do so outside?" Josephine and Tia turned to see Katarin staring at them with one open eye. "I'm trying to sleep, and if you keep bothering me, I'm going to figure out how to get my arm working just so that I can hit you with it."

Tia's bionic eye made an interesting series of clicks and whirs, and her face went as red as her armor. Josephine, on the other hand, just laughed.

"I forgot how grumpy she gets when she's tired." Josephine guided Tia to the door. "Come on, let's give her some space."

"Embarrassment: Um, yes."

Shepard watched as rank upon rank of soldiers marched onto their transports. Another regiment had finished mustering, and was being transferred to her Crusade.

"How many of them have actual experience?" she asked quietly.

Helmin looked up from his dataslate. "From this regiment? Perhaps some of the officers, but I doubt many of the troopers have ever fired a weapon in anger."

"Have the veterans give them a crash-course in real war. I really don't want a bunch of inexperienced kids getting slaughtered on my watch."

"Of course, Lady Shepard." After revealing her true past, some of the Crusade's leadership had started calling Shepard 'Lady' instead of her more religious title. They still believed her to be a Saint, but in informal settings, they tried to treat her more like a normal human. "Still, I imagine that these new recruits will be eager for the same kind of accolades the rest of the Crusade has gathered."

A month had passed since the Crusade had arrived at Vigilus. Messages had been sent ahead of time, informing the world of what was needed, and every effort had been made to accommodate them. Newly-raised regiments were diverted, including vehicles, and all necessary supplies.

The Shepard Crusade had been welcomed back as conquering heroes, and the Astra Militarum elements were taking full advantage of that. Parties had been thrown, and the alcohol had flowed like rivers for several days. Shepard had personally apologized to the Arbites when they'd been forced to subdue several companies that had gotten too rowdy.

In contrast, the Space Marines were largely keeping to themselves. Losses had been light for them, but the death of a Primarch had been cause for introspection, even if the Primarch had been a traitor. For the Lamenters, they reflected on a Primarch they never knew, while the Necropolis Hawks swore silent oaths to never let the sons of Corvus Corax feel the same kind of grief if they could help it. The Reapers, however, were morbidly fascinated with the idea of killing their own forsaken Primarch; some even looked forward to any kind of effect his death would have on them.

Like the Astartes, the Order of the Iron Tears were more stoic in their victory. They either remained in their ships, or spent time in the many temples that had been given to them on Vigilus. Blaise did host a solemn ceremony, welcoming a messenger from the Ecclesiarch himself; due to the necessity of keeping Magnus' existence a secret, the thanks for eliminating the Daemon Primarch would remain enshrined in a secret vault. However, a special mural of thanks 'for acts of extreme service to the God-Emperor' was already being built for the Order on Terra itself.

"Yeah." Shepard leaned against a railing and continued to watch her new forces assemble. "I have a feeling they're gonna get their chance soon enough."

Xem-Beta stared at the data before him with a level of intensity surprising even for a Magos of his station. The Adeptus Mechanicus placed great importance on the discovery of new knowledge, and Xem-Beta was well aware that he was the very first of the Cult Mechanicus to interact with this technology, and the secrets it contained. A tiny part of him that was still human reveled in the glory this would bring him, but the rest was simply fascinated with what he was learning.

"To think, almost everyone in Shepard's galaxy has such an item," he mused aloud, a habit he'd picked up from his years among the Shepard Crusade.

The idea of technology freely used and understood by those outside the Mechanicus troubled him—even worse was the news that there was no such organization in Shepard's home galaxy. The closest her galaxy had were people called engineers or—and Xem-Beta would have shuddered if he'd had the correct parts—scientists. They went against all holy doctrine and created new technology; they invented, and innovated, and…

Xem-Beta's optics froze in place, and then began spinning at an alarming speed. Rather than stored data being dredged up, he knew that a truly different idea had entered his mind. He pulled up every piece of information Stygies VIII had on the Webway, and overlaid it with what the omni-tool had scanned. At first, the incomplete maps he possessed shared no points of commonality with the omni-tool, until he rotated the hologram of the new data, and found that one edge of it matched perfectly with the border of the original map. It revealed a previously-unknown section of the Webway! What that meant, or how it affected Shepard's mission, he didn't know, but it was new knowledge, and that was worth sharing.

After carefully cataloguing the new data, of course.

Shepard walked through the door to bridge, and smiled at the officers who saluted or made the sign of the Aquila before returning to their duties.

"Sirruk, how's the fleet holding up?"

Dartan looked up from a stack of reports, held by a servitor that somehow managed to look bored out of its mind. "Repairs are still underway, but I'm confident that we'll be back to fighting strength within the next month."

"Any new additions worth mentioning?"

"Actually, there was one ship that requested permission to accompany our patrols around the Nachmund Gauntlet." Dartan looked through the stack of dataslates until he found what he was looking for, and handed it to her. "It just arrived in-system a few hours ago. I saw no harm in allowing it, even if they made no offer to join the Crusade."

Shepard looked over the files, and raised an eyebrow. The Unbroken Oath was an Astartes strike cruiser belonging to the Minotaurs, a Chapter with a dark reputation, especially among the Lamenters. Maybe she was being paranoid, but she didn't think the arrival of Astartes who had done so much damage to her boys was a coincidence.

"Does Malakim know about that ship?" she asked.

"I… didn't think he needed to be informed," Dartan said, with the face of someone who realized they had made a mistake. "Should I do so now?"

"No, I'll do it." Shepard put the report back on the servitor's tray. "Keep an eye on that ship, Sirruk; if they do anything remotely suspicious, let me know."

Phoros had been in the middle of a discussion with Brol and Zandtus when Shepard practically burst into the Star of Grief's strategium. If it weren't for the fact that she wasn't armed or armored, the three Chapter Masters might have thought she was attacking them.

"Malakim, we might have a situation," Shepard said, and Phoros realized that if she was only addressing him, then whatever was happening had to do with the Lamenters.

"What is it?" he asked.

"The Minotaurs are here."

A tired rage filled Phoros' heart; even now, the High Lords' dogs were hounding his Chapter. "Are you certain they are here for us?"

Shepard shrugged. "They keep angling their ship to keep your fleet in their crosshairs, but they're not making any aggressive moves. They're also deflecting any questions Sirruk sends their way."

Zandtus narrowed his eyes. "Have the Minotaurs done this since Badab?"

Phoros laughed, but it was bitter. "They haven't needed to. They took what they wanted from us—our ships, and our relics, and left us with barely enough to carry out our penance."

"If they try that kind of bullshit again, they'll have to go through us," Shepard declared. "The entire fleet has orders to defend your men, if it comes to that."

"You… do not have to do that, Lady Shepard," Phoros said.

Shepard reached up and put her hand on his arm. "You're one of mine, Malakim; nobody messes with my boys."

"You paid for your mistakes, brother," Zandtus added. "If the Minotaurs are here to start something, it is out of pettiness and spite, and I will stand with you."

Brol grunted. "If they have only one ship here, then they are either reminding you that they are here, or they are scouting ahead of a much larger fleet."

Shepard gave him a dry look. "Why'd you have to go and say that? The universe is always waiting for us to say stuff like that."

As if to confirm her words, a Lamenter rushed in to inform them that the entire Minotaurs fleet had arrived, and that their Chapter Master wanted to speak with Phoros.

"See?" Shepard called out over her shoulder as she rushed off. "This is why you don't tempt the universe!"

The 'invitation' might have been for Phoros, but Shepard had no intention of playing the Minotaurs' game. Even with her forces still recovering, she could outmatch a single Chapter, and she made damn sure the Minotaurs knew it.

First, she ensure that the meeting took place on the surface of Vigilus—specifically, on the hill she'd purified of Chaos all those years ago. Ostensibly, this was so that the meeting didn't disrupt the Vigilus Senate with a simple reunion, but in reality, it was to prevent collateral damage in the event that things became violent.

Shepard was fairly certain that things would become violent. As such, she'd brought Darius and five Custodes; other than the Shield-Captain, all of them wore Allarus Terminator armor, and held castellan axes at the ready. The Alexian Guard had wanted to come along, but Shepard decided that, other than her, this was a matter for the post-humans.

Zandtus and Brol had also wanted to attend the meeting, but Phoros had persuaded them to remain on their ships; the last thing he wanted was to trigger another war with the Minotaurs. Of course, that didn't stop the Necropolis Hawks and Reapers from each readying their most elite squads for rapid reinforcement.

Phoros himself had a minimal guard—a squad of five Sanguinary Guards, and the Chapter's Head Chaplain, who only ever referred to himself as the Chronicler. He was only of the only Lamenters who still had a suit of Terminator armor; he cradled a crozius, meticulously micro-etched with the names of every Lamenter whose death he had witnessed.

The Minotaurs had a much larger entourage; ten Terminators in brass-colored armor took up a defensive formation around the biggest Space Marine Shepard had ever seen. To her eye, Asterion Moloc could only have fit into his own Terminator armor if it had been modified, and even without it, he would have rivaled the Custodes in size. He carried a massive shield on one arm, and a power spear of incredible quality in the other.

"I have heard of him," Darius said softly. "My brothers have him near the top of Astartes-grade threats."

Shepard didn't think she could pitch her own voice so quietly, so she just nodded, and made a mental note to take Moloc down if things went sideways. Considering the rage simmering in Phoros' expression, Shepard fully expected things to go sideways.

"Lord Phoros," Moloc said, his voice full of condescension.

"Lord Moloc," Phoros replied. "I cannot say that I was expecting your presence. Why have you come to Vigilus?"

"To ensure that the Lamenters have remained true to their oaths," Moloc said. "As part of such a critical operation as the Shepard Crusade, the High Lords asked that I inspect your Chapter for any misdeeds. In such times as these, we cannot afford for a shining light to be tarnished."

Phoros' only sign of fury was a slightly harder grip on his glaive. "And what would this inspection entail?"

Moloc shrugged. "Tours of your ships, testing your wargear, interviews on all levels of your warriors. Should anything amiss be discovered, we will remove it, and let you be on your way."

"And this is the will of all the High Lords?"

"Enough of them."

"Enough of this." Shepard's eyes blazed with indignation as she stormed over. "Did you seriously come halfway across the galaxy just to steal from my boys? Because let me tell you, if that's the case, the only thing you'll be getting is my foot up your ass."

Moloc had not paid Shepard any attention, dismissing her as some Vigilus functionary, or perhaps a Sororitas. Now, his spear was starting to drift in her direction.

"And who are you, mortal?"

Shepard's grin had plenty of teeth, but no humor. "Saint Alexia Shepard. You might have heard of me. And I can say with full confidence that the Lamenters are as loyal as they come."

Moloc loomed over her. "You cannot be sure of that."

"Yeah, I fuckin' can, and if you want more proof, you can talk to Roboute Guilliman, Leman Russ, Corvus Corax, and Lion El'Jonson, because they've all given the Lamenters commendations." Shepard reached up and jabbed a finger into Moloc's chest. "The Lamenters were instrumental in the attack on Commorragh, the retrieval of Jaghatai Khan, and the eradication of a Tyranid splinter fleet. They helped defeat the Thousand Sons, Khârn the Betrayer, and Ghazghkull Thraka. I would trust each and every one of them with my life, but you? I don't even know you, and frankly, I don't care. The Lamenters have more than made up for their mistakes, and their honor outshines yours a thousand times over. What the fuck have you even been doing all this time, other than being Terra's bitch?"

At that point, Moloc was speechless, mostly because no mortal had ever taken him to task like this. Frankly, nobody present had ever seen someone lecture an Astartes like a disobedient teenager, and none of them knew how to handle it.

"If you want some shiny new toys, call up the Mechanicus and politely ask them for some stuff. If you can't manage that, then it's no wonder you have to bully other Chapters for their shit." Shepard spun on her heel and marched off. "You come near my boys again, and you'll find my crosshairs are big enough for all of you."

With her back turned, Shepard didn't see Moloc aim his spear at her, but the Lamenters and Custodes did. Darius blocked the strike on his shield, and Phoros rammed his glaive clean through the elbow of the arm that held the spear. In an instant, all hell broke loose.

Shepard whirled and threw Liberator into Moloc's shield, driving him back a step. The Sanguinary Guard traded fire with the Terminators, while the Custodes and Chronicler charged; a Terminator died when a castellan axe split his skull, and another was hacked apart by power weapons. The Chronicler smashed the storm bolter out of a Terminator's hand, and then crushed his skull with a well-placed swing.

By then, flashes of light heralded the arrival of reinforcements; Brol and a squad of Deathwarders teleported in and attacked the Minotaurs from behind. Above them, a pair of Overlords loaded with Necropolis Hawks screamed down to deposit a demi-company nearby. Outnumbered more than seven to one, the Minotaurs quickly realized that they had no chance of winning this fight.

With only one good arm, Moloc dropped his weapons and stepped back. "Enough!"

Shepard, however, wasn't done; she flew into the air and kicked out with both feet, slamming into Moloc's head and bowling him over. Moloc struggled, until a sentinel blade and the Glaive Encarmine rested against his head.

"First and only warning," Shepard snarled. "You fuck with my boys, you give 'em a dirty look—shit, you so much as bump into them on accident, and I will make sure that nothing goes right for you. Every Astartes Chapter will refuse to assist you, every regiment will stop giving you fire support, and every Sororitas who so much as thinks you're in her general vicinity will do her best to set you on fire. I will make your life a living hell, and if the High Lords want to bitch about it, I'll ask them: do they want to stay friends with five Primarchs, or one of you?"

Rather than answer, Moloc and the surviving Minotaurs gathered their dead and retreated to their gunship.

Shepard waved over Brol. "Make sure the fleet stays on high alert. If those assholes aren't gone by this time tomorrow, tell Dartan he has permission to open fire."

Phoros stared down at his glaive, still splattered with Moloc's blood. "I cannot claim that it did not feel good to do that."

Shepard smiled, but it was tinged with bitterness. "Oh, I've been there."

"Ah, yes, you said as much before." Phoros activated his glaive's power field, vaporizing the blood. "It will be good to have this matter of honor settled."

Shepard glanced at the handful of wounded Space Marines, now getting treated by an Apothecary. "And nobody on our side died to get it done. I call that a win."

Far away from Vigilus, an ancient figure sat, hunched over a cogitator. He stroked his beard as he contemplated the mystery before him. There was nothing different about the data uploaded, yet there was now a tension in the floor, the walls, and the very air. He had asked if there was something wrong, and now awaited the answer.

"SHEPARD."

The Grimnyr's single organic eye went wide as his Votann's voice boomed through every speaker.

"Honored one?"

"SHEPARD. SHE LIVES. IMPOSSIBLE… YET, IF ANY COULD SURVIVE AND MAKE IT TO THIS WRETCHED PLACE, IT WOULD BE HER. FIND HER. BRING HER TO ME."

The Grimnyr realized what it was that the Ancestor Core was commanding. "You wish for us to bring a human here?"

A holographic face briefly appeared on the screen; it barely managed to convey the thunderous expression, and the Grimnyr was suitably cowed.

"INVITE HER. BE POLITE, BUT FIRM. AND TAKE AN ARMY WITH YOU. KNOWING SHEPARD, SHE WILL PROBABLY BE IN THE MIDDLE OF A WAR WHEN YOU FIND HER."

So, not a whole lot going on in this chapter, just wrapping up from the last one. Sorry about taking so long to update (again), but I was focused on major events in My Alien Academia. But, to recap:

We see Ashley's final moments, which made me sad. I don't even like Ash that much, and I was still sad.

A section of the Webway is mapped out, but we still don't know why it's important.

Katarin gets a shiny new arm, and teases Josephine and Tia. This amuses me.

The spoiled brats of Space Marines show up to bully the Lamenters, and get bodied for their trouble. Short of avenging the Celestial Lions, this was one of the most cathartic things I could have written in this story.

And my favorite non-Imperium/Chaos faction is getting introduced! Not gonna lie, as soon as the Leagues of Votann were announced, I knew I wanted to include them in this story. I love my space dwarves, and they're coming to say hello to Shepard!

As always, please consider buying my book, Alpha Sanction, by Josh Gottlieb. You can find it on my website (link in my profile), or on Amazon, as both eBook and physical copy. I'm getting close to finishing the sequel, and I'm hoping to have it done soon!

If you want to support me in other ways, donations via P-atreon would be appreciated. I'm working 6 days a week right now, and if everyone who reads this story donates at even the lowest tier, I could afford to cut back on my hours a little. And maybe sleep.

I'd like to thank the following patrons for helping keep me afloat:

Serious Muffins: : Nimrod009, Aaron Meek, Matthias Matanovic, Red Bard, Lokthar, Hakuryuken, Anders Lyngbye, Kristen Tyler, Patryk kawalec

Incredible Muffins: RaptorusMaximus, Crazyman844, CherryGoesBoom, michaelb958

Ultra Muffins: RangersRoll

Next Chapter: Shepard gets a mission, and runs into unexpected company.

Rock and Muffins!