Now this is where my story diverts somewhat. Because I had become a vampire.
It's okay, though. Garrus was with me.
We moved with slow, cautious steps down one of the Citadel's old maintenance ducts, our eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness. The duct was quiet. The air was cold and still. But we kept our rifles raised nonetheless. The Zakera Ward maintenance shafts were Acosta territory, and you could never be too careful with Acostas.
Or so we'd been told, anyway. A few nights ago, Garrus and I had been turned by a Mouth of Clan Rheingold, one of the four civilized clans operating on the Citadel. Now, to prove we were worth the skin on our flesh, we had been assigned to steal some ship codes from Rheingold's enemy, Clan Acosta. The Acostas were notorious for two things. One was money -- they were an old human clan, and they had massive accounts full of old Spanish wealth. The second was their ability to persuade, hypnotize, and enthrall.
That was enough to have me nervous.
It took us about a minute to reach the end of the duct. We stopped at an old grated door, around which I carefully wrapped my fingers. My hand was tense. I could feel Garrus's soft breathing beside me.
"Sink check," I said, trying to stall the inevitable.
"Loaded, Shepard. We're fine. We can do this."
I frowned. "At the other side of this grate is an Acosta stronghold crawling with hypnotized thralls, and probably a few vampire guards as well. We should turn around, get some help and come back with a better plan."
"Seriously, Shepard?" Garrus groaned.
"Seriously. Something feels very wrong with this. I don't know what to expect on the other side of this door, and whatever it is, I don't know if we can handle it."
He shook his head. "Come on, Shepard. We've fought geth, Collectors, mercenaries, and worse together. We can handle a little supernatural skirmish. It'll be easy."
"Easy?" I scoffed. "Remember what that strange asari vampire back at the docking bay said? August Rheingold doesn't do anything without an ulterior motive." I shook my head, remembering the elfin grin on the face of Clan Rheingold's Citadel prince as he gave us our mission. "No, I have a bad feeling about this. It's not going to be easy."
Garrus ran a hand down the shaft of his rifle, onyx eyes sparkling even in the darkness. It was remarkable how little the Change had affected him. His skin had already been pale grey, his teeth already fang-sharp. That's how it was with turian vampires. The Change left them looking much the same as they had before, and they had very little trouble blending in.
He was also just as confident as he'd ever been. "Don't be scared, Erin," he said softly, running a cold finger down the pale flesh of my arm. My skin had become ghost-white ever since my Change, so much so that it was almost sparkling in the darkness. His touch was cold, but it still felt so warm against my arm.
"Don't worry," he said. "Just remember what I told you. Gun down the thugs, shotgun between the eyes for any Acosta vamps. If things get out of control, just find some cover and let the blood heal you." He exhaled, a long, cold breath. "I've got your back."
"Like always," I said with a smile.
He nodded. "Like always."
With a surge of steely determination, I ripped the door off its hinges. We leapt headfirst into the War of the Bloodlines.
It seemed vampire society had adapted readily to modern technology. A century ago, Garrus and I could have torn into the room and blasted through every one of the possessed thralls before they even had a chance to raise their guns. But as it stood, the half-dozen hypnotized mortals guarding this abandoned-maintenance-station-turned-stronghold were equipped with the best kinetic shielding money could buy. Garrus and I dropped down from the maintenance duct guns blazing, plastering the grey room with automatic rounds. Our goal was to ambush. We sprayed our fire wildly. We tried to hit every target we could see within the span of a couple seconds, finish this fight before it could begin.
But the thralls were saved by their shields. After a few moments of confusion, they ran for cover. Outcroppings, empty crates, open doors -- whatever could protect them from our guns.
Garrus crouched on one knee and loaded a fresh heat sink. "Cover me," he said. "Switch to sniper. I'm going to smoke them out."
It still felt a bit strange, taking orders from Garrus now. But he was better at this than I. "Careful," I said, putting away my assault rifle and switching to sniper. Garrus and I had both fallen into cover behind a thick, old metal pipe. I peered out over the surface as he crept forward, keeping his head low. One of the thralls picked that moment to pop out of cover and try to pin Garrus down. Big mistake. I trained my scope over his face and fired. Bang, dead. Shield can't save you from that.
Garrus gave me a nod. Then he continued. After a few chillingly quiet seconds, he got to his feet and fired a concussive blast into the center of the room.
Then we went into action.
There was a wild roar as the Acosta thugs opened fire en-masse, painting Garrus with bullets. His shield glowed ghostly blue as it repelled them. But he didn't duck. He returned fire, and I heard a feminine voice yell in pain somewhere in front of me. Two down. I grabbed a pistol with my left hand and leapt out of cover, guns blazing, pouring supercooled rounds every which way. With my rifle, I blind-fired a dark-skinned salarian to my right. With my pistol, I killed a thuggish batarian to my left. Garrus joined behind me and we turned the dark room into a chamber of blazing light and roaring sound, tearing through the witless vampire thralls. I felt a rumble as my shields drained, but they held steady, and Garrus held my right flank. For a second I thought it really was going to be that easy.
Then something socked me in the face, and I fell with a thud. For a few seconds my vision was hazy. Garrus yelled, "Human next to you is a vamp!"
I sat up. A pale, dark-haired human man glared down at me with jet-black eyes, a sly smile cut across his face. "Look at this," he said, opening his mouth to give me a full view of his fangs. "Rheingold's newest little recruit. My Sire will be pleased indeed with this tribute."
"I've got you, Shepard!" Garrus started running, but the vampire raised his arm and fired a pulse of dark energy at him. I watched the pulse grab him and propel him back against the wall. He hit the metal floor hard. He didn't get up.
Shit, I thought.
The vampire grinned darkly and cooed, "Too bad you don't get to live long enough to learn your lesson. Clan Acosta is not trifled with lightly." His eyes lit up, and his body took on an otherworldly glow as he prepared to unleash his Blood Curse on me…
A whole hell of a lot happened at that moment.
There was a gust of wind, a bright flash of light that left me blinded. I felt a streak of cold in front of me, then heat. There was an explosion, a loud, rumbling lion's roar the source of which I couldn't see. It hit… something, then crashed against the far wall, colliding like a bomb. The impact left my ears ringing. I fell back against the floor, feeling nothing but fuzzy whiteness and pain. I couldn't see. Couldn't hear. I threw my arms around me, trying to get my bearings.
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…"
My eyes opened slowly. I could see very little, but I quickly noticed that the Acosta vamp was gone. I turned to the left, and saw what remained of his body, gored to a pulp and smeared against the charred far wall. It didn't look like it could be real.
"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still water…"
I turned my head to the right, looking for the source of the voice. I couldn't see anything beyond the darkness.
"He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake…"
I crawled to my feet. "Garrus? Garrus, what the hell's going on?"
"Oh, shit," hissed the turian.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me." That was when I saw him. The man appeared out of the darkness and stood in front of me, his body straight and rigid, his grey eyes steely. He was an older man, with leathery skin and graying hair, but I could see the lines of muscle under his black robe. He spoke in a loud, rumbling baritone, with hints of an Irish accent in his words. He had a silver Celtic crucifix around his neck, shimmering in the low light.
Oh. And he was also holding a rocket launcher.
"Damn it, Shepard!" Garrus yelled from across the room. "It's Father McCreary!"
The man took a step forward, cutting me apart with his steel-grey eyes. "Fear me, children of blood, spawn of the Devil, for I am the right hand of the Lord, instrument of his righteous fury." Father McCreary lifted the rocket launcher and aimed it at Garrus. I lunged for him, but it was too late. Another blinding flash, another rumbling explosion… and Garrus was gone.
"Crap," the turian cursed.
I fumbled to raise my weapon. "Garrus, what the hell is this? Help me!"
"I can't help you. I'm dead."
A smile flashed across the steeled face of Father McCreary. "Your Bloodline War weakens you from within, children of blood. The righteous fear no such treachery. We are one, united against the forces of the Devil. You cannot hope to resist us."
Then he aimed the rocket launcher at me.
"Run, Shepard!" Garrus yelled. I did. I dove to the left just as he fired, narrowly avoiding the missile. I grabbed my pistol and shot off a few rounds from the floor. They hit him, but he just shrugged them off like mosquito bites.
"Cast a Blood Heal," Garrus said. "Then Curse of Blood… wait, no, he'll just resist that. Damn it!"
"Blood Heal…" I muttered as I ran, crouching down behind a set of crates at the corner of the room. "Wait… how do I do that again? Oh, right." I cast the spell and felt it course through my body, restoring my wounds. Then, fumbling, I switched out for my shotgun and aimed it at the empty space in front of me. I could hear Father McCreary's footsteps approaching. Slow, rhythmatic, and deliberate. Scary as hell. "What do I do, Garrus?"
"You…" Garrus hesitated, his voice trailing off. "Hell, I don't know."
Father McCreary appeared in front of me, eyes stoic, silver crucifix gleaming, rocket launcher raised and ready. My shotgun went off, though whether it was due to impulse or just heart-racing fear I couldn't be sure. He took the blow to the chest. What looked like a solid liter of blood poured out, but he didn't stop. He didn't react in the slightest. I'm not even sure he noticed.
"For thine is the Kingdom," he whispered, "and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen." Click. Boom. There was a flash of light, and I was dead.
I sighed and tossed away the controller. "What the hell was that?"
"Father Ewan McCreary," Garrus said with a hint of a smile. "Agent of the Eleventh Crusade. Demon hunter extraordinaire. He was one of the main enemies in the first game… though I didn't expect him to show up so soon."
I stared at my video screen in silent frustration, watching red gothic letters scroll across in slow progression. Game Over. Continue. Load. Quit. "Great. So how are we supposed to beat him?"
Garrus shrugged. "That stupid Acosta vamp immobilized me. If it hadn't been for that, I could have helped you."
"What do you suggest we do?"
"Hmm… mortals like him have zero spirit resistance. We could Soul Drain him. You put points into thaumaturgy, right?"
I shook my head. "Sorry. Just combat and blood magic. I said I wanted to play a straight shooter class, and you told me to pick Gunslinger."
"Right…" His eyes dropped down to his controller, and he stared at the buttons, thoughtful. "I can cast it, then. Just keep me covered. And make sure to kill that Acosta asshole before he can ensnare us."
"I'll try. But remember, I still suck at this game."
He chuckled. "I don't know. You were doing pretty well back there until McCreary showed up."
I rolled my eyes, though the gesture was wasted, because he was staring back at the screen. "Good at running and gunning, sure. But I still have no idea what to do with all these spells. Thaumaturgy, blood magic, evocation… too damn complicated. This is why I never play spellcasters in any game. Especially not when the alternative is guns."
It had been a day since we'd taken out Sidonis. I still wasn't sure how I felt about it. But I hadn't forgotten what the hunt had done to Garrus. After seeing him get so cold and detached yesterday, I wanted to do something to help him forget. So I'd told him: today was his day. He was in control. We'd do whatever he wanted, no questions asked, so long as it was fun. I had expected reluctance, or maybe a bit of playful flirtation that involved raising the inflection and stretching out the syllables of the word "anything." At the very best, I'd expected him to want to go to a bar somewhere and get drunk.
What I had not expected was for him to run out to the Citadel games merchant, buy a fantasy-shooter RPG called Blood Legacies 2: War of the Bloodlines, plug the console into the video screen in my room, and hand me a controller. No… a million guesses and I never would have come up with that. But Garrus Vakarian was full of surprises. I'd turned on the game with a bit of reluctance, but had quickly found myself enthralled with it. I'm a stickler for a good storyline. And hey, let's face it: I love making big baddies go boom as well. Stupid Garrus knew me too well. I was quckly becoming a fan of the Blood Legacies franchise.
The screen went black for a moment, then gave way to a static loading screen. There was an artistic image of a beautiful light-skinned asari, tussed up in black formalwear with long, dark leather gloves. Her eyes were black as night, and her full lips were curved into a devious smile, just wide enough for the tips of her fangs to poke out. I'd seen her before. It was the same mysterious asari vampire from the docking platform, the one who had warned us about August Rheingold. "I have a feeling we'll be seeing her again."
"Of course," said Garrus. "The art department wouldn't have spent so much time making her look so damn beautiful if she wasn't a major character."
I grinned and elbowed his rib. "So now you have an eye for the asari, huh, turian?"
He shrugged. "I said beautiful. There's a difference between beautiful and sexy. I can admire that she looks good without being attracted to her, right?"
"Bah. Yeah right. In all my years, I've never met a man who didn't like himself a nice curvy asari. You all are exactly the same."
His mandibles flared. "Hey! I resent that," he said playfully.
The loading bar was filling out agonizingly slow. I leaned back on the couch and sighed. "You know August Rheingold is going to betray us, right?"
"Very possible," he said. "You didn't play the first game, so you don't know all the mythology yet. But Clan Rheingold is the clan of deception. They manipulate people, use them, play to their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. Then discard them when it becomes convenient."
I chuckled. "So they're Cerberus?"
"Only if Father McCreary is the Council," he said with a grin. The game finally loaded, and we were back to the same maintenance shaft from the beginning of the mission. "Alright, let's try actually coming up with a plan this time. As soon as we get down there, run out and kill that goddamn Acosta vamp. Ignore the thralls. They're no threat. When Father McCreary comes out, I'll Soul Drain him to drop his resistances, then paralyze him with Cage of Despair. Then you can blast his face in with your shotgun a few times. Hopefully you'll get him down to below fifty percent before he recovers. After that… just try to avoid his rocket launcher. We can reload if we fail."
That felt nice. Just start over if we made a mistake. Now that was a luxury I wish I had in reality. But then again, that's what entertainment is, right? An escape, distraction from the hardships of reality. And I had to admit, running around the Citadel flinging blood magic at people was damn fun.
Garrus was happy too. I could see it in his eyes. They always get bright and sparkly when he's happy, like perfectly polished gemstones. He was back. This was the Garrus I loved, the fun, playful, passionate Garrus, my Garrus. My best friend. It reminded me of something Jack had said when I was on too many pain-reducing drugs to really think about it, about Garrus and I being… together. I'd thought it a horrible idea then. I still kind of did. But someone look at two fully grown adults, two hardened soldiers who'd had more bloodshed and hardship and tragedy in their lives than most people could ever handle, sitting on a couch playing a video game about vampires on the Citadel and having the time of their lives, and tell me they aren't meant for each other.
Hell, I didn't know. I didn't know if it was a good idea for me and Garrus to try something more intimate. I had no idea how to proceed even if it was. I didn't know what he thought about it, or how it would affect us. I didn't know if it could work. No, I really had no idea what the hell to do.
I did know one thing, though. I was having fun today, and so was he. It was nice to pretend to be Arrin Sapphire, Gunslinger of Clan Rheingold for a day, killing Acosta thralls, getting blown up by maniacal priests of the Eleventh Crusade, and forgetting about all the Reapers. Garrus hadn't mentioned Sidonis once today. I was happy to help him forget.
After all, it's those forgetful days that make life worth the trouble.