BOOK FOUR: TRANSCENDANT
VOLUME ONE: RESUSCITATION (I)

15th of the Fifth Umbral Moon, Year 1157 of the Twenty-Sixth Age
(October 15th, 2657 Galactic Standard)

Pain.

All Saren knew was pain as he opened his eyes; blinding light scorched his vision, and breathing was like sucking in lungfuls of acid.

He lay there - for how long, he was unsure - merely existing, letting the endless pain wash through him until, some time later, a sense of reality began to return to his conscious mind.

The room, it turned out, was not bright at all; though he couldn't turn his head, the ceiling and the walls within his field of view were a sterile silver steel, dimly illuminated by a faint, glowing lantern suspended above him.

"Ah. You return to the land of the living." The voice, deep and rich, came from somewhere just out of sight. "Welcome back, Saren."

"W-what…where?" Speaking took nigh-unbearable effort, and yet he forced his mouth to move all the same. "How long? Ben? Katherine?"

"You have been asleep for a week," the man replied. "And you are in a guarded place. Inquisitor Hislop and Probationary Inquisitor Shepard are in good health."

"Jack?" Saren choked out the words, fighting through the pain.

"Yes, it is I," the Patriarch responded, his tone both soft and steel at once. "Unseal the chamber," he continued, speaking to someone unseen. "I will speak with him face-to-face."

Moments later, Saren watched through blurry eyes as Jack Harper, dressed in his usual blue robes, walked into view, hands clasped behind his back.

He's armed, Saren realised, noticing that, for the first time since they'd met, Jack was openly carrying weapons: dozens of small scabbards, each with enough room for something like a throwing knife, were strapped all over his belts tied around his waist, chest and legs.

"We have much to discuss, Saren," Jack said, shaking his head. "You have a great deal to explain."

"I don't remember," Saren admitted, crawling through the fragmented memories of the previous battle. "Don't remember much."

Jack shrugged. "Walk me through your recollection of events, then."

Saren groaned as another wave of fatigue threatened to drag him back into sleep; he tried to ease himself upright, and nearly let out a yelp of surprise as he found that something was restraining him in a supine position.

The Patriarch of the Inquisition fixed him with a gaze of flat, blank steel. "I asked you to relay your memory to me. I did not ask you to move."

Despite the lack of visible restraints, whatever was pinning him to the bed did so with the force of a mountain range; by instinct, Saren thrashed for a moment against the unseen bindings-

-and then froze, as one of the daggers from Jack's belt floated out of its sheath and flew in front of his face, its gleaming needlepoint tip hanging in perfect stillness.

"You will not escape these chains, Saren. I have made certain of that," Jack growled, his tone growing low. "Now do as I have ordered."

"You're threatening me." It was less a question than an attempt to buy time, and perhaps ascertain why he was being held at knifepoint by the ageing man.

Two more knives floated out from Jack's belt, beginning to circle lazily around the Patriarch's head. "Delay once more, and there will not be another chance extended to you. I will tear the truth from your mind if you will not speak it aloud, Saren," Jack noted with cold blandness, "and I will tell you now that the process will ruin you utterly."

"I…I swear, I barely know what happened," Saren replied, his will crumbling beneath Jack's piercing eyes. "There was - we assaulted the building, fought off an ambush by demons hiding in the warehouse tunnels."

"Yes, and you, with the assistance of Inquisitor Hislop and Acolyte Shepard - both of whom, I will point out, will be happy to hear you have survived this ordeal - you cleansed several gore nests which seemed to suffer some sort of malady. I know this, and do not care to know more at this time." Jack leaned in closer, his blue-on-blue eyes glaring down at him. "The Tyrant, Saren. It attempted to corrupt you."

"I, ah, yes," Saren answered, dimly recalling a sensation of being wrapped in bloodstained rags. "And then…uh…I don't know. It's blank. I just woke up and found myself here."

"Oh? Indeed? How very convenient, Saren. Higher-ranking demons attempting to corrupt and subvert those who would fight them - such things are, while not common, certainly a known quantity," Jack explained, beginning to pace back and forth. "The victim either is saved, or fights off the spiritual assault. If not, the Rites of Cleansing are performed. Death. And yet here you sit, and so we did not kill you out of mercy. That, in and of itself, is acceptable. Were circumstances different, I would, in fact, be congratulating you."

"What exactly did I do," Saren asked, indignant, "to warrant being tied up and threatened like this? I don't remember, so I'd prefer you dispense with the theatrics and just tell me."

"Your comrades," Jack began, "protected you. Shielded you with barriers as they enacted ritual magics to clear the corruption before it could devour your mind and soul. Heavy weapons teams were en-route, and indeed had things proceeded apace an Atlan war-walker would have arrived and slain the Tyrant in open combat. And yet, when the noble bearer of the war-walker arrived, what should they find but that Tyrant gone?"

Saren frowned. "Did I kill it?"

"Not precisely. There was no corpse, you see," Jack replied. "But there was a turian Inquisitor, screaming at the top of his lungs, wielding vile, deeply forbidden magics and brandishing a blade which consumed the very light around it. And that Inquisitor, Saren, did not slay the Tyrant."

Jack wheeled around, eyes boring into Saren's own.

"That Inquisitor devoured the Tyrant."

Saren blinked.

What?

"Oh, yes. You, Saren, were displaying excellent form, carrying that sword of the Void's aspect. Indeed, empowered by whatever great surge of power had overtaken you, it would have been trivial to slay the Tyrant. But you did not. You chose not to. You leapt atop that great, unholy thing, tore its soul from its body, and devoured it like a man at the edge of starvation." Jack sighed, and shook his head. "I had heard that you were delving into the kinds of sorcery best left untouched. That was acceptable - I did, after all, see something of my young self in you. Even so. I had not though even you would be desperate - and stupid - enough to try to gorge yourself on the power of the Great Enemy."

In between the shooting pains, a wave of nausea threatened to force its way up; Saren breathed painful breaths as best he could, shoving it back down into his core. "Am I - am I tainted now? Shouldn't you have me killed?"

"No. It was a textbook example of a clean, well-executed soul-reaping. Such practice was honed and perfected in that horrid time when decency and sense gave way to bloodlust and madness. During the Age of Sin, Inquisitors would often do just as you did. Steal the still-unliving souls of the demonic hordes to fuel their endless quest for power. Balance light and dark. Stand on the very precipice of corruption, and in doing so, exceed the limits afforded to mortal souls. Of course, for every prodigy capable of doing so without failing, a hundred more Inquisitors would fall, and be consigned to His mercy by way of a quick death."

The knife floating before his face inched closer.

"Your noetic pattern is free of taint," Jack continued. "You are not corrupted. Your soul remembers what it means to be human - well, turian, in this case. And yet you are not unchanged, either. See for yourself. Draw on your magic circuits."

Saren reached for his magic channels.

There was the dam, and the endless wellspring of the aetheric realm above-

-but also something else.

Yawning, hungry, starving - a void, an emptiness which spread throughout his body, whispering silent cravings for more - more - more.

"What is this?" Saren whispered, looking down at his shaking hands. "What's wrong with me?"

"I have spoken with the finest minds from the Church of the Seraph, and even they are confounded by your status," Jack admitted with visible frustration. "Sorcery and hermetics draw on the aetheric plane's ocean of power. Theurgy taps into the Source from which that ocean flows. Beyond that? There is nothing, Saren. The Void. The Great Emptiness. In the Age of Sin, mages tapped into that horror to fuel suicidal charges into the demonic host, shattering their souls and allowing miniscule fractions of that ravenous darkness to consign everything around them into nothingness. And yet, even as we speak, that same nothingness, that starving dimension - it pumps through your veins."

Silence.

A long, painful silence descended upon the room.

Jack rubbed at weary eyes, and without words the knives which threatened Saren floated back into their sheaths.

"Now what?" Saren shook his head, staring forlornly at his own body. "What happens next?"

"You have not lied to me, as far as I can tell. Your soul, while certainly not…normal, is uncorrupted by demonic taint. And, while your failure to defend Gaia is a grave one, in the grand scheme of things the deaths attributable to your actions are, speaking relatively, quite low. Acceptable, even, considering that we now know of the Zentholic Church and its plot - or that plotting of some of its members - to bring ruin to the Exitium." Jack paused, and stroked his chin for a moment. "Lesser Inquisitors have been ordained after making errors worse than yours. And, most of all," Jack said matter-of-factly, "you are a useful tool both to the Inquisition and your Council."

"You're letting me go."

"I have conditions," Jack answered, tone sombre.

Saren felt some of his old fire spark back to life. "You'd keep me chained to this bed if I take issue with them?"
Jack barked out a noise vaguely resembling a laugh. "No. I would see you dead by my own hands, instead."

Some of the pain began to recede, and Saren glowered at the Patriarch. "You'd threaten a Spectre - threaten me? Over what, exactly?"

"One. You find yourself once more. Even a child could hear in your voice, Saren, that you are afraid. Adrift. This is unacceptable conduct unbecoming of an Inquisitor, let alone a Spectre, from my understanding. Two. You return to your home for a while. For months you have lived amongst our people and learned the way of our suffering. It has taken its toll on you. Rest. Recover. Seek shelter in your own abode. Three. Prepare yourself. At this moment, the finest minds in the Church of the Wretch are working," Jack spat, "to discover the nature of our so-called allies in the Zentholic Church. Instinct tells me there is a reckoning coming soon and I can think of no finer way to atone for your sins than to be present when the unseen minds who concocted this plot are punished for their heresy."

"Nothing about that," Saren grumbled, "warrants you threatening to kill me, Patriarch."

"I disagree. An Inquisitor-turned heretic is dangerous in the same way any other heretic is. They simply have more tools at their disposal. An Inquisitor who believes themselves an agent of righteousness, even as they doom those around them? An Inquisitor who does not what must be done, but what can be done, for its own sake? Treachery is an insidious thing, Spectre, and doubt is its most steadfast ally."

The two men stared at one another.

The Patriarch twisted his hands through a series of signs, and with a barely-audible whirring sound Saren felt the unseen restraints lift; he sat up in the bed, never breaking eye contact.

Jack fished a small, circular disk the size of a coin out from within his robes and tossed it over to Saren. "Your badge of office. When you are ready, bond it to your aetheric signature, and yours will be the full title of Inquisitor and Spectre alike. I will inform you when the Inquisition might call upon your services again." The ageing man strode over to the exit of the medbay, pausing in the doorway; he spoke, his tone a little lighter now, without looking back. "Oh, and if I were you, I would review the footage of your reaping of the Tyrant, Saren. Prepare yourself. It has made the rounds. I hear that the people of Indomitable sing praise in the ale-halls and taverns for the great 'Saint of Sinners' who is yet unbroken."