To think I've been brooding and procrastinating over this story for months, hopefully, I've done Benezia's character some justice. Damn you to the Nine Hells, Bioware, for not fleshing out your protagonists more! Ahem. All content belongs to Bioware, save for the creation of Nyari and the gift.
A major thank you to Freesourceful for proofreading and her feedback.
The oppressive atmosphere does little to placate the creeping unease which is taunting my inner calm. Emanating from the ship's heart, the enticing siren song threatens to stifle my last reserve of free will. A soft, persistent murmur, it sings of devout obeisance and a place of unseen joy engulfed by beautiful white light. Flowing beneath the surface of the synchronized melody is his voice, guiding my actions and my thoughts.
This place feels like my ancestral home on Thessia, bequeathed by my foremothers. I never need to leave, for it feels right.
But despite this feeling of having profound knowledge and serenity, there is something wrong here. The whisper in my mind is seductive in its intimacy, but heartless with its demands. The stench of oil lingers faintly in the air, and the rumbling of engines gnaws incessantly at my ears.
Thick ribbed coils of blue-black steel hug the corridors, their forms intertwined like serpents deep in slumber, seeming to shift in the flickering blue lights which pulsate steadily in the darkness. As the steel appears to undulate beneath the dim light, a strange male-female voice speaks gently to me, echoing the instructions constantly circling in my mind. I force myself to focus on old memories, even the most absurd, trivial ones, to preserve my true self.
A shiver claws up my spine as a soulless blue eye focuses on me. They do not trust us completely, but know we too serve their deity. For them, that is enough.
I halt my anxious pacing in mid-step and clasp my hands behind my back, concealing a gift long treasured. To be amongst creatures of flesh-and-blood would be welcome, if not for idle banter then to have some amiable company in this unnerving, desolate void.
A wiry geth gracefully stalks into the open, clambering down from one of the meandering ledges above, its supple form highlighted by the eerie blue lighting. How strange that for a race which is the very antithesis of organics, their limbs contract and expand like living tissue.
It sways slightly as it calls to me, a harsh static protest, and places itself before a passageway leading to a room a short distance away.
Like the corridors and living quarters, thick ridged coils drape around the room's interior, soft forms making the angles and corners indistinct with their chaotic positioning. Glowing softly in the room's centre is a luminous globe of white light, flanked by curved pincer-like beams which burst out from the ceiling like a strange vine growth. Before this strange altar, the sleek heads of many geth bob down in reverence, perfectly synchronized in their homage.
The geth's call is more insistent this time, and the voices become firm, warning me not to advance.
Ah, they do not tolerate organics setting foot on their "temple" grounds. The geth perceive this to be sacrilege, and they attack those who trespass with a cold ferocity. Such petty intolerance is an act which falls in upon itself. Unlike organics, they cannot be encouraged to think another way.
"Very well. I will venture no further."
Satisfied at my cooperation, the geth eyes me with curiosity and unfathomable hatred. Leaving in a single bound, the mindless abomination emits an almost musical reply, its three-fingered hands and feet grapple the smooth metal walls with relative ease as it joins its fellows.
Though I am relieved at the geth's reluctant warning, our strange truce with its kind does not give me comfort, for I fear when our usefulness will come to an end.
Nor does the company of my dutiful entourage generate peace of mind, for when we endure, others will perish in what is our civilization's future.
Accepting your own mortality is unsettling, for I have seen many deaths over the centuries, mostly natural, but this Reaper and its kin are different. To witness the calculated wanton slaughter of trillions is a horror beyond comprehension. To helplessly watch as unfeeling machines meticulously slice into soft pliant flesh with fearsomely hooked claws. To watch as sentients wail in agony as blazing heat is channelled through the heavens, searing and rupturing flesh in a shower of gore.
The geth prophet has cursed me with this revelation and my hands are now tainted with innocent blood. I have tortured, murdered, and all in the name of proving organics' worth to the Reapers, all the while encouraged by these maddening voices which haunt my thoughts.
To think of myself and the others as being strong enough to resist Saren's influence was naïve, befitting that of a 50 year old asari child. The unpleasant truth of my folly was made clear after a few months in service.
Despite this, the warping of the turian's core values and how truly foolish he is not to see it galls me the most. The whispering becomes harsh and the siren song starts to grate, its harmonious tone slowly becoming higher-pitched, the overseer displeased with my mutinous thoughts. His whispered directives harden with conviction, and painful pin-pricks of what feels like hot oil suddenly flare inside my skull.
No. I will not be cowed into mindless obedience like the others… but this boldness of mine feels like an act, for it becomes harder each time to resist his lure, harder to suppress this darkness inside me.
At first, Saren was mesmerising with his determined, unflappable demeanour and as inventive as some of the most influential asari leaders of times past. How he achieved the position of highest-ranking defender of galactic stability, favoured of the Citadel Council, soon became apparent.
Though wary of him, my fellow Matriarchs advised that a lawful spirit ran deep beneath that deceptively reckless exterior.
Hoping to guide him away from the cold logic deeply ingrained from years of often brutal duty and what he planned after leaning all species fate, I tried to show him another way untainted by foolishness in helping this Reaper. But the altruistic tenets of our main faith under sacred Athame, nor siari philosophy, did not shake his steely resolve.
Such stubbornness is typical of the short-lived species, and is frustratingly difficult to change.
Since coming aboard the ship, we noticed with growing unease how small cracks between us, our small sisterhood, tore into gaping fissures. Our minds became alien to us. We function without thinking, taking us further away from recognising our consciousness. In time, we have become breathing automatons, overseen by an uncaring creature which punishes independent thought with agonising lances of pain.
And that is what I despise about him the most, his callousness… and that intoxicating charisma of his.
This last reserve of free will, my own individuality, cannot remain intact for long, for I am drawn to Saren, can feel his embrace smothering me, and hear his deceiver's tongue whispering words of appeasement and solace to quell my unspoken indignation. Can feel his hands guiding mine as I hurt others, and am helpless to stop myself as sentients beg for their lives to be spared, agonised screams turning into liquid gurgles as their lives are torn from their broken bodies.
Worse still, is how this monster in me takes a sickening pleasure in enforcing Saren's will, yearning for his approval, desperately hoping that he recognizes my fervent dedication to him. I berate myself for not merging with the single-minded unity of my entourage, dedicating myself solely to Saren, and through him, Sovereign. The way Saren's gaze settles upon you, how he speaks, he makes you feel elevated; a goddess among mere mortals. You would do anything; sacrifice anyone, to fulfil his wants.
It is simultaneously captivating and terrifying, to slowly lose yourself to a force which is unrelenting in its pursuit for your loyalty, awake or in slumber, it never stops… but I will not weaken before the others, for they need me, as children need a mother. Even if we are no longer close to each other's hearts, I will be strong for them, and for those left behind.
Death, untainted by these strange feelings of longing and mindless servitude, is a tantalizing dream which lies beyond our reach, but perhaps this will change in time. So I hope.
Nevertheless, I take pride in knowing that unlike him, a remnant of my true self remains, I have not sacrificed everything, and that is what gives me strength, for I intend to turn on Saren when the timing is right. Though his skill at biotics begs some respect, it is easily drained by the unnatural implants which stem from inside him. This is one of the few advantages I have, and use it I will… but not here, not in this festering place of shadows and where the maddening whispers are strongest.
Quick steps, echoing softly, resound behind me, interrupting my thoughts, and my gaze shifts from a twisted corridor of yawning darkness to a maiden huntress. Harsh shadows dance on her sombre face as she speaks.
Though her company is welcome, a sharp blade of guilt twists in my gut; it is a mockingly painful reminder, an ugly testimony to my blindness.
My hands remain behind my back, fingers concealing Nyari's parting gift to me before our paths abruptly split just over a century ago. A beautiful violet disc depicting a spiral pattern in a pearlescent sheen, it represents life returning to its foundation; a simplified metaphor for what we promised each other, that no matter what we encountered, we would persevere and be united once more. Its sensuously cool surface presses against my skin, evoking pleasant and bittersweet memories of what seems another matriarch's life. I do not know where Nyari hunts now, but it feels as though she is with me in flesh as well as in spirit.
My attention returns to the huntress, and keeping my face impassive, I nod for her to speak.
Zealous devotion burns fiercely in her cold eyes, the same compulsion which has ensnared me, and it makes me despair, for I feel alone once more.
If joining my entourage completely in both mind and body would banish this loneliness and this pain, I would submit and join them… but I have a duty to fulfil, to Nyari, my daughter and the welfare of all life.
The girl's report is terse, brief, and does not forebode well. She tells me that humanity's most prominent fleet ship was spotted touching down on the unseen planet we landed on, that a small crew of humans used the damaged beacon, and have likely seen the vision given to Saren. But what has transpired and what the humans plan to do will do naught to hinder the vanguard's chosen.
I take a deep breath, dismissing her, for my next duty is likely to be unpleasant.
Reluctantly, I ascend cold glossy steps, approaching the wretched prophet's inner sanctum, a place he frequents in silence. I hold Nyari's amulet tightly in one hand, my sole source of comfort, the one thing that has soothed me during these troubled times, and hope that Saren is fair of temperament.
A large chair, shaped like a deep sea-creature's shell, dominates the room, shrouded in impenetrable shadow. Gleaming with unnatural shine are claw-like pillars, their mounted dim blue lights flicker perpetually, illuminating the room with a faint silver-blue glow.
Observing with curious revulsion, a geth's single blazing red eye scans the ground below from its inaccessible perch. They share few likenesses with their flesh-and-blood counterparts, save for the capacity to hate with fanatical loathing and worship in single-minded piety.
Rugged head spikes thrusting out from beneath a glossy black hood, Saren's neck is lined with deep scars and punctured with crude ringed pipes, linking brain impulses to his vile, grafted arm. Brilliant blue pinpricks of light flash within the plating of his gleaming armour, forcefully embedded between metal and flesh.
There are few differences between Reaper and the solitary turian; cold, merciless and precise. They have no need for comfort or compassion.
Despite his apparently relaxed demeanour, he exudes an aura of tightly restrained frustration. Saren resents being caged, controlled, though like most of us, he now lacks the will to fight it. There is something heavy, almost melancholic, which lingers in the musty air around him. He appears to be deep in thought, for he does not turn at the sound of my footsteps. A heavy pistol rests on a pedestal beside him, its handle dulled slightly. It is strange, considering he usually has it on his person.
Even with my disgust at his unnatural enhancements, his very presence, that strange yearning becomes almost overpowering. The pleasure at basking in his company, the need to ask him what he wants, and attend his whims, no matter how vicious or brutal, is trying to sweep me away in its firm embrace.
To gently announce my presence, I cough politely. He does not meet my gaze, for we are naught but tools and have no other significant value to him; his lack of emotional attachments does not chain him to fellow beings of flesh-and-blood.
That despicable part of me which is constantly aching for his approval wilts in melancholy at his disregard, and though it is not my true self's accord, I feel my brow crease in consternation.
With these chiding voices inside me quietened for a moment, there is an unusual feeling of rejuvenation… I feel stronger.
Vowing not to show fear, I prepare my voice to resonate clear and strong, a rapidly dwindling reminder in my memories of the authority and prestige displayed to the curious masses on Thessia.
Vocal placation and misdirection are conveniently intertwined, so my façade is critical. Saren is acute to emotional displays and views such things as weakness; an irrational deterrent to fulfilling his duty. But this little game focuses my will, my true mind, makes me feel in-control in an out-of-balance universe. It reminds me I'm still flesh-and-blood. It reminds me that I have a separate consciousness, that I have something well worth fighting for.
"We identified the ship that touched down on Eden Prime. The Normandy, a human Alliance vessel. It was under the command of Captain Anderson." I note dryly that the human male is one of the few to be intensely disliked on a personal level by the turian. "They managed to save the colony."
Though my concern for humanity is dwarfed by my fear for the whole of civilization, I feel a small flicker of satisfaction at the senseless waste of life critically averted. Nonetheless, it will not matter in the days to come.
After a long moment, his formidable claws move slightly in rising agitation, though his posture remains painfully rigid.
My own fingers anxiously trace the amulet's soothing pattern in quick movements.
"And the beacon?" A low snarl replaces his usual commanding guttural purr.
The turian has never spoken in praise of humanity; for what personal reasons, I dare not ask… rumours speculate he lost someone when the turians and humanity first battled over Shanxi.
Agitated thoughts dropping away into a bubbling, ugly pit of apprehension; my facial muscles quickly slip into a façade of impassiveness, skilfully honed by centuries of successful bartering and sealing critical political arrangements between colonies.
Though it is a losing battle I fight, perhaps there is a way of achieving a victory of sorts, one to keep this monster inside suppressed for a little longer. Though naught remains to humour me these days, there is a minute pleasure in subtly making the obstinate turian aware of his emotional outbursts. In that, I am the master.
My voice does not fail as I speak further, though a parching tautness settles in my throat and I slide Nyari's gift into my side-pocket. "One of the humans may have used it."
He abruptly straightens, defiled head swaying low, and as a fierce growl erupts from within his solid physique, crimson light flares savagely in the darkness from above.
My quietude remains unbroken as he thrashes in foolish rage, though I battle the overwhelming urge to flee in panic.
His head tosses violently as he roars; a monstrous howl of unleashed fury. Curling his sharp formidable talons into a ball, he smashes aside a few of the odd slender protuberances which are embedded into the floor, and leaps to his feet.
The Reaper does not care. If anything, it is its justification that organic life is unnecessary with its instability, its disorderliness. And that which is flawed must be eradicated.
The rogue Spectre's snarling does not diminish as he spins suddenly, thudding footsteps reverberating like an old turian ceremonial war-drum. Glacial blue optics blazing, his ravaged mandibles flare grotesquely as he charges towards me, brutal swift reprisal in his unnatural eyes. He looks so fierce, even magnificent. This is one of the few times I have seen emotion from him, have witnessed something other than cold logic.
My heart quickens in pace, excited yet terrified. The whispering around me becomes agitated, fearful. Is this my death? Part of me yearns to have him release free from this perverse existence, the other-
Clawed hands of flesh and alien steel roughly seize my face. With minimal effort, he could extinguish my life here and now. Please. But then I'd never see Liara or Nyari again. How selfish.
Half-heartedly, I replace my stony countenance with haughty imperiousness, my unblinking gaze hardens in icy forbidding as our lips almost meet; the same gaze which has unnerved the most insolent state leader to silencing the most reckless asari.
Sensing my unspoken contempt at his tantrum, the weathered turian's snarling subsides, scarred nose shifting in appraisal, and reluctantly, his viciously curved talons, mere inches from my eyes, slide down my cheek in silent admission of defeat.
I have bettered him. This is a game, he knows, for I am far too valuable to dispose of.
Though he commands an emotionless army of vile automatons, bloodthirsty krogan on a path to self-destruction and wronged turians, it is naught but an insignificant prestige to real power. Knowledge and understanding the universe and its many denizens and resolution through tolerance and unity.
His temper reined in, the prophet's hard eyes dim in unexpected calmness, a lie as to what rages beneath.
Saren knows of my distaste for him. His intimidating unruffled manner regained, he deliberately releases his freezing grip in a slow motion to display control.
"This human must be eliminated," he states at last, his voice resuming its throaty intonation.
He studies my face intently for a moment, before spinning off sharply into the snaking bowels of the ship, his robust form quickly swallowed by shadow.
A thousand asari curses form on my tongue, but I resist the urge to lose face. Such things would be wasted on a lesser creature like him.
Still, something happens which has not happened in an age.
It feels strangely alien at first, but it makes me feel warm, as my lips slowly contort into a faint smile.
And with relief, I notice those scolding voices, rebuking me for my defiance to join them, rebuking me for my reluctance to embrace the feeling of machine-like unity that comes with indoctrination, fall silent.
Perhaps there is hope for this foolish old matriarch after all, for I feel deliciously… organic.