April 8, 2010
Revised: July 24, 2011
By RahXephon 
Author's Notes: I am a massive BioWare fan. I've played all their computer games from Neverwinter Nights on. Having recently finished Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, the desire to write a fic in either world appealed greatly to me. Ideally, I would want write a crossover featuring both elements. After some weeks of stewing plot ideas, I finally came up with this. Despite the unusual premise, this is a serious non-crack fic that will not follow the canon events of Dragon Age to the letter. I really want to illustrate the sides to life in Ferelden and Thedas away from the epic adventure of the remaining two Grey Wardens. There are hundreds of other fics that are already like that, so I have no desire to duplicate a beaten down path, but present some actual added value that will enrich your collective reading experience.
Summary: Jack ended up in Thedas after the suicide mission. Andraste, dragons or darkspawn, Jack didn't give an f-word. All she cared was getting her due and getting back to Citadel space, and she would not let anyone get in her way. Dragon Age/Mass Effect crossover.
Disclaimer: I do not own or am in any way affiliated with BioWare, Electronic Arts, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Awakening, Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. I do not earn any commercial income from this work of fiction.
Dragon Age: Jack Effect
What the fuck?
The ornate double doors slammed shut with a crack.
"Do not return until you have dealt with the Ashes!" Someone shouted from the other side.
Jack picked herself up from the dusty floor and shook the snow and dirt from her borrowed robes. The garments were too tacky and clingy. Her thin leather straps were much more liberating. It was always fun to see others squirming at her unusual taste in clothing, though this habit had bit her in the ass eventually.
She couldn't really remember how she ended up in this dirty, smelly, cold – and most of all – primitive world. Those damned nut jobs waiting outside had never heard of mass effect, eezo or even decent lighting. She had seen enough holovids to know there were fanatics out there who purposely lived in backward medieval conditions. Maybe the locals didn't even know they could have hot showers and unlimited porn. There were plenty of twisted billionaires in the universe with too much time on their hands who could have orchestrated this sick playground. Perhaps this was all just a planet-wide reality program, mere fantasy entertainment for some eager rich boys craving to see some authentic combat.
Or not. Perhaps this was different. Perhaps this was actually real, and the stars in the sky wasn't the Milky Way, or even her reality for that matter.
She didn't crave an explanation for every stupid little phenomenon like Mordin. Better to be like Grunt and simply blast your way out of any trouble. Not that it had gone very well against Kolgrim and those crazy cultists.
Jack remembered the ordeal clearly. They had just set the overload in motion, and as she attempted to flee the Collector Base with Shepard, they encountered some weird alien tech blocking their path back to the ship. Instead of finding a way around the obstruction, Jack offered to blast a biotic hole clean through the ancient device. Bad idea. The moment her biotic fist impacted the strange, rust-colored device, the thing set into motion as ancient whirring components flared to life. The bald biotic barely had any time to contemplate the reaction before she felt the familiar sickening crunch of a mass effect jump envelop her shape.
Jumping right out of the frying pan and straight into the fire.
Well, more like ice for that matter. Howling cold winds buffeted her almost naked attire, shocking her entire system before she was even able to process her new environment. By the time she snapped out of her daze, she was almost well on her way to becoming a frozen doll. With nothing but mountains and snow around her, she desperately sought for shelter. Fortunately, only five minutes of frantic searching was enough to find the entrance of a small cozy-looking cave. To be honest, it looked a bit creepy and the stench it emanated was worse than a Batarian dump. What choice did she have though?
She should have known it wasn't an ordinary cave. She was barely ten minutes inside, creeping around in case any mercenaries were hiding out. It was kind of eerie that she didn't need to generate a glow in order to navigate the craggy tunnel. Cracks through the ceiling washed an ever-present glow of blue, which unfortunately brought in more cold as well. While her biotic barrier couldn't block out the cold, the exercise at least generated kept her muscles warm and busy.
When she finally reached into a larger cavern, she grew relieved as steam from some nearby geysers blanketed her bare frame. She couldn't help but sigh in relief.
What a big fucking mistake. Scores of people sitting at what looked like an extremely bloody feast were gaping their mouths at her entrance. She barely had any time to become surprised at their ancient gothic-looking armor and robes before some red-armored guy who badly needed a shave began to shout an alarm.
The heavily-armored warriors instantly brought out wicked-looking axes and swords, while the gay robed people whipped out big sticks and began to glow ominously. Thinking they were calling out biotic powers, Jack didn't hesitate and whipped out her Tempest Submachine Gun to rain hell on them. She was surprised as her bullets tore right through them, unhindered by any biotic barrier of any sort. She had culled about half of the robed men before they finally called up a barrier, though to Jack's senses it didn't seem to involve any biotic powers at all. What strange tech were they wielding?
There was no time to ponder, for the armored men were almost upon her. While they looked almost pathetic with their dress-up weapons, those slow-moving chunks of metal would be able to pass right through her biotic barrier.
Jack grinned. No matter what weird shit she ended up in, she lived to fight. It was time to show these fuckers her might.
Pouring all her rage in her arm, she unleashed with a vengeance towards the armored warriors. "Shockwave!"
Seeing all those heavy men tossed aside like ragdolls from her biotic eruptions caused her to howl in vicious laughter. An eager grin settled on her mouth as she turned back to the frantic casters. One grey-haired priestly figure with an impressive beard was snarling right back at her as he formed a yellow ball in his hands.
"Eat this you heretic! Fireball!"
And his fiery projectile travelled straight towards her like a homing missile despite her attempts to dodge. Her eyes widened only a fraction of a second before throwing a singularity in front of her, just in time for it to suck away the fire and leaving it floating in front of her. She manipulated her flaming singularity to home right into the priest, who managed to throw up his own barrier in time.
By then, some of the warriors who evaded her shockwave had reached her and began to swing their ugly blades at her small unarmed form. She threw a hasty biotic throw to push the reavers out range before whipping out her trusty Eviscerator Shotgun.
The heavy pellets – meant tear through even the hardiest Krogan Battlemaster armor – made short work of chainmail and scale. She riddled the unending sea of opposition with metal, killing some outright, but leaving most agonizing on the ground with crippling wounds. She threw in a couple of biotic powers for good measure, though the mages seemed somewhat resistant to her efforts. Well, if they thought they could stop ol' Jack, they were in for a surprise. She paused briefly to concentrate her efforts on one of her more difficult abilities. Her senses reached out into her submachine gun, carefully avoiding the mass effect field generator, and began to generate tiny warp fields around her ammo. Grinning viciously, she stowed away her shotgun and used both her hands to steady her other weapon.
"Let's see how you fare with this!"
She unleashed a single burst of six yellowish projectiles at a confident shielded mage. The smugness on his face disappeared as the first three bullets destabilized his shield, leaving the way for the rest of her burst to punch through his face. Blood exploded from his head like a fountain, frightening the other skirt-wearing men to dive behind some obstacles, frustrating Jack's aim. Spitting in disgust, she turned away and fought through a dozen more brave soldiers, their screams only marginally satisfying her battle lust.
"Is this all you've got! Give me more! Come on you pussies!"
More did come, but not in the shape she expected. Her almost pre-natural instincts were shouting danger. Not one to ignore her own gut, she dove aside just in time to avoid a crashing beast. The dust and rubble disoriented her slightly, but she came away with nothing but a few scrapes and bruises. She rolled back up and trained her gun on the thing that attempted to squish her like a bug.
The serpentine shape that emerged from the crater sent chills through her bare spine. The creature, some cow-sized lizard, bared menacingly at Jack with its razor teeth. Two other lizards and a host of smaller dog-sized critters appeared at its side, ready to strike. Their ugly, spiky exterior and short stubby wing-like protrusions reminded her of a dragon, as ridiculous as it sounded. Nevertheless, they were in her way, and as long as they lived, they needed to die.
Making the first move, she fired her entire clip, expecting to kill the beast quickly. Surprisingly, her warp ammo barely penetrated the drake's tough exterior, and what bullets did manage to go through only did superficial damage. The lead drake howled more in anger than pain, and all three dragons pounced right at her. Feeling fear for the first time since she came onto the sight of the unfinished Reaper, Jack clenched her fist and burst out her full biotic potential, blasting everything around her with a biotic shock.
The runty dragonlings were tossed aside like nothing, but the drakes were barely buffeted by her strength. Widening her eyes, she unconsciously stepped back as the beasts fanned out to surround her before pouncing in for the kill. Acting quickly, she dropped her useless submachine gun and whipped out her shotgun to blast one creature right in the face, earning a delicious howl as its eyes were punctured through. She threw aside the dragon on her left as her biotic fist punched aside its chest, cracking several bones and spurting buckets of blood.
Then, the remaining drake crunched her to the ground, pressing down their weight on her defenseless frame. Plenty of bones and ribs had cracked right on impact, leaving her unable to resist. Her weak biotic barrier was useless against the vicious swipes. Scores of other tiny dragons scampered over to tear at her flesh or claw in her skin, eliciting a desperate hoarse cry from her failing voice. After being experimented on by Cerberus, becoming a pirate and cultist, crashing a space station into the moon and participating in the most important suicide mission in the galaxy, she couldn't believe she would die from a horde of mindless beasts.
"Stop! In the name of Andraste the Risen, stop!"
Jack barely felt the retreat. Her flesh was still burning from the multitude of cuts and bruises. Her open wounds leaked out a voracious amount of blood which soaked the cool stone floor. The wounded biotic twitched her head aside as she tried to blink away the blood engulfing her eyes.
A pair of footsteps approached.
The defeated woman vaguely observed the approaching pair of greaves. They were red, like the rest of the armored warrior's attire. The bearded man knelt gently before the pathetic sight she must have been. His eyes, previously full of flaming fervor, were now tinged with a touch of pity. How pathetic.
"Hnghh.." She coughed, wishing to spit in his face but failing miserably. "Fuck.. you.. Hc.h.. to hell.."
The bearded man shook his head. "What a strange heretic you are to have come here alone. Are you another one of those foolish knights sent to retrieve the Ashes? Or a rival intent on sabotage?"
Then she blacked out.
Frankly, she didn't expect to wake up. Jack was sure those primitive bastards would take revenge on her for all their fallen comrades. By all rights, she should have been dead already. That she was not was a sign of some hope. She stealthily opened her eyes, absorbing her surroundings. She was lying on a decrepit cot that stank of sweat and manure. Her hands and feet were bound by manacles, which were themselves attached to the large metal rings fixed to the walls. The room was dark, dank and utterly void of modern technology. Strange gothic architecture lined the walls and crevices, and the only source of lighting were a pair of odd-looking wooden torches. Torches! Ha! What kind of sick nightmare did she end up in?
Jack squirmed her way out of the thin woolen blanket to see she was clad in nondescript white clothing. Her straps and skirt were gone. Looking back at all the devastation she went through her lack of straps wasn't so surprising. She explored some more as best she could in her bound state to find out all her bones and flesh were healed. In fact, the only scars she had were her old ones. That confirmed her suspicion that despite these crazy people's equipment, they must have had a secret stash of medi-gel on hand to patch her up. Some modern comforts were too valuable to surrender.
But why waste the valuable material on her body?
'Gosh I'm stupid. To interrogate me of course.'
And perhaps rape her a few times before throwing her out for food to their pet dragons. Well, if that was how they were going to play, then they'd sorely underestimated her strength. Bringing her back to life on the brink of oblivion would be the last mistake these weird people would make.
Her biotic warp shredded the manacles that held her chained. She spent only seconds rubbing her raw wrists before turning to the door. The strange metallic construction glowed with some unknown technology. Was it holographic? There were certainly no mass effect fields involved, or she would have detected the familiar sensation long ago. Now that she thought about it, she had never detected the presence of any mass effect fields or even element zero for that matter even as the robed people displayed their biotic powers. Were their power actually biotic in nature, or just a technological substitute? Certainly, the priestly figure's fireball was nothing like she could achieve with her own powers, but easily copied if you were handy with some gadgets.
"Arghh, who cares."
She generated a small ball of intense warp. It wasn't as big as she would have liked, but she hadn't eaten anything since her arrival in this backward world. Her stomach was growling and her body was straining with accomplishing even this feat. When the ball of warp looked to be sufficient, she threw it at the glowing door, expecting it to overload and fizzle out the field generator.
What she didn't expect was a runaway chain reaction that led to a massive explosion that crushed her back into the wall. Feet-sized chunks of rocks smashed against her body, though fortunately her hastily erected barrier absorbed most of the lethal impacts. Her body collapsed onto the floor as frantic shouts erupted beyond the massive hole she made. With some effort she managed to shrug off her daze and pick herself off the ground.
As she exited her cell, she realized she wasn't in some cave but rather some underground structure. She didn't have time to contemplate anything else as guards poured into the room. Spotting none of her guns, she readied her biotics for another go. Her fist clenched in bright blue as she readied another shockwave. The men's eyes widened as they recognized what she was about to do, and hastened their charge in an attempt to stop her before she was ready.
The shout, emanating from the corridor, instantly froze the unruly warriors in their steps. Jack was half-tempted to unleash her shockwave anyway, but seeing as she was low on energy, decided to stay her hand to see what was going on. She had no desire to face those lizards again without her weapons and after a good meal.
Unsurprisingly, the same red-clad bearded fellow reappeared, though this time he held up his gauntleted palms in a placating gesture. Jack wasn't stupid enough to let down her guard amongst these vipers. Instead, she surrounded herself in glowing blue as she brought her biotic barrier to the front. No surprises this time.
"Stand down, milady. We mean you no harm."
The statement pissed her off. "No harm? Yeah right, that's why you ganged up on me the instant I show up. You guys didn't even let me ask what the hell is going on. Is this how you treat all your guests?"
The man frowned only briefly before assuming a diplomatic stance. "We have had many intruders in the past. We were not certain you were one of the many heretics searching for the Sacred Ashes. We still aren't."
"Look," She pointed out, getting more pissed by the minute. "I don't know what the fuck the Ashes are, or what you crazy nut jobs are doing. I just ended up in this god-forsaken dump of a planet after a miniature Mass Relay accident. I'm not interested in you guys or your cosplay. Just point me to the nearest space station. If not, I'll just find it over your dead bodies."
Some of the gathered men looked tense. They flexed their limbs and tightened their grips on their weapons, but the bearded leader stayed motionless.
"Mass Relay? Cosplay? Space Station? I know not these terms."
"Oh c'mon, whatever sick roleplay you guys are about, I know you guys have some hidden technology. How else did you heal my wounds besides with medi-gel?"
The man refused to budge, though his frown deepened. "Medi-gel? I know not what it is you are speaking of, but we have used health poultices and healing spells to mend your rather severe injuries."
Great. Medieval fantasy. Jack rolled her eyes.
"Whatever. Just let me go, or I'll make you."
After a brief pause, the man shook his head. As she began to snarl, the man hastily began to explain himself. "Wait wait wait! We are sincere in our desire to see no further bloodshed. The least you can do after having taken care of you is to listen to our offer."
"Why would you want to talk to me after I killed some of your men?" She frowned. What would make these nut jobs want to keep her alive despite the toll she had wrecked upon their cozy club?
Another man entered the room. It was the priestly figure this time. His fur-clad shoulders were instantly recognizable. The older man stroked his beard in some fascination at the sight of her biotic glow.
"By Andraste, so it is true. The taint of the Fade is absent in your being. What manner of witch are you?"
"Don't call me a bitch you homo!"
"Oh, and such a fierce temper as well, marvelous." The man turned to the black-bearded man and nodded briefly. The younger leader whistled a signal which made the other soldiers clear out of the room, some more reluctant than others.
Jack supposed it was a gesture of goodwill, though she didn't seriously entertain she could get away from this madhouse without a fight. Most mercenary outfits treated their goons like shit, but if any of them were killed, they'd rise up to avenge their comrades. Not that she was sure these were mercenaries instead of roleplay hobbyists, but she didn't believe for a moment that they treated their friends' deaths so casually.
"Very well. You leave me no choice. Do as we say or we will sic a horde of wyverns on you so great, there will be nothing left but scraps of skin by the time they are done with you."
At least they revealed their true nature now. "Fine. I'll play along for now."
The two men led her out the door and through the corridors of the huge structure. A squad of menacing warriors surrounded Jack. Their fear was palpable, but it also made them twitchy. She spared only a fleeting amount of attention towards the admittedly amazing sights. The central hall especially looked to be a cathedral drenched in snow. They wandered deeper into the structure, passing many armored or robed figures, all throwing mildly curious glances at the procession. They eventually lowered into some stairs and went past few more corridors before they ended up in the same cave complex she had stumbled in before. Curious juvenile dragons were skittering along the walls, their serpentine eyes gazing openly at Jack's unfamiliar presence. Though they were nothing but beasts, the dragonlings seemed oddly cunning in their gazes. She shuddered a little as she passed their predatory gazes.
They ended up in a large cavern filled with stalagmites and bubbling springs. The smell of sulfur and shit was stronger here. Jack couldn't help but crumple her nose at the sight of half-eaten bones. Several of the larger drakes were resting lazily about, their casualness a contrast to their earlier vicious nature. The creatures loomed over her like a dangling sword, ready to chop off her head at the instant she would do something wrong.
"Okay, enough with the silent tour. Tell me what you want already."
Annoyed, the younger leader stopped in his tracks and turned around to face his prisoner. "As you wish. Explanations are probably in order now. Let me introduce myself. I am Father Kolgrim. I lead the Disciples of Andraste, a body of faithful people who dedicate themselves in Her worship." He gestured at the older man besides him. "And he is Reverent Father Eirik, who preaches the will of Andraste to our flock. Together we preserve the ancient order of Andraste and keep its existence secret from the voracious, narrow-minded public."
In other words, a cult. Jack had first-hand experience with religious bullshit. She kept her hairdo bald as a memento.
"Jack. Pleasure to meet you." She spoke in a dismissive tone. "So what the hell do you want with me? I doubt you spared my life simply to convert me to your cause."
"You have a suspicious mind, young lady, but you are correct in that we require a service from you."
Kolgrim clasped his hands behind his back and sent a steely glare through Jack's eyes. Though she knew it held no power over her, she nevertheless felt a tiny prickle just out of the range of her biotic senses. What the hell was this guy up to? The man nodded in apparent satisfaction. "Not a mage, yet you wield powers beyond what is possible. You are suitable."
"Suitable? For what?" Hopefully not as a stew for the lizards lurking around the cavern. "And who the fuck is this Andraste you guys keep worshipping about?"
The leader walked around the giant cavern, reining in his temper at Jack's insults and taking measured steps as he explained himself. "Our order has guarded the ancient ashes of the prophetess Andraste for eons, keeping her remains safe from both the mighty Tevinter Imperium and the ignorant Ferelden Kingdom. Through our utmost dedication, Andraste has overcome death itself and has returned to her faithful in a form more radiant than even you can imagine!"
Jack was not impressed. "And you need me why?"
Kolgrim looked with savage interest at her face. "Tell me truthfully why it is you have desecrated our temple and slaughtered our young."
"I told you already! I just looked for a cave to get away from the snow! I'm not interested in your little crazy band or your Andraste."
"Hmmm.. very well.." The man actually seemed to believe her as he looked into her eyes with genuine interest. "And what is it that you desire? You spoke of a 'station' of some sort."
"Space station. You know, some place where I can find a shuttle out of this fucked up planet."
"I know not what you speak of with this 'space station'. Do you, Father Eirik?"
"I can wager a guess." The older and smoother man replied. "She seeks to leave this plane of existence. Perhaps she is referring to the Fade, the empty existence beyond the sky where naught but spirits and demons reside."
"Yes! That's it! Beyond the skies above us! Space!" Finally these dimwits got it. The mention of spirits and demons was slightly disconcerting, but she dismissed the talk as part of their cult mythos. "Whatever you need doing, I'll do it, as long as I get a way out of this planet."
"Very well." Kolgrim nodded. "So you agree to whatever task we issue to you, in exchange for a passage out of this plane? Perhaps through Andraste's mercy, her greatest enemy will become her greatest champion. The deaths that you have ensued will not be for naught, their sacrifice a trifle compared to the boon you may be able to provide."
The self-serving smirk on Kolgrim's face made Jack suspicious. "Wait a minute.. tell me first what you guys are saddling me up with. I'm not going to agree to something impossible."
"That is… a reasonable request." The man stepped closer to Jack, his stench making her cringe even more. "This temple used to guard the Urn of Sacred Ashes before Andraste has risen from mortality and revealed herself before us. But however great her glory, she is shackled to her past by the continued existence by those very same ashes. They are a remnant of her past reincarnation, and she cannot move to a new form as long as they exist in this plane. The relic is guarded by an immortal Guardian who refuses to accept the truth of the risen lady. The holy Andraste wishes us to reclaim her Ashes for her, but the Guardian has always stopped us."
"So you need an outsider to do your dirty work?" Jack interjected, already bored from the mindless praises to this Andraste figure.
The leader nodded firmly. "That is where you come in. The task is simple: I will provide you a vial of the holy Andraste's blood. Take it into the Inner Sanctum empty the contents of the vial into the urn which holds the Ashes."
His voice picked up in excitement and fervor. "Whatever magic was held in the ashes will be undone, and our great lady will be freed from the shackles of her past life! Once that is done, you will have earned your place as our honored sister and be allowed to partake in the lifeblood of Andraste reborn."
"Whatevs." She muttered, not impressed at all. "I don't want to be your 'honored sister', and I sure as hell don't want to drink anyone's blood. I just want a ticket out of this terrible planet."
"It can be yours in exchange for a trivial task: a vial of blood emptied into the urn, followed by a single swallow of our Lady's blood. That is all I ask."
Trivial her ass. If hundreds of cultists couldn't do it, then it was anything but trivial. Still, she did not relish being eaten alive by those menacing drakes, and Kolgrim looked a little too much like the sort to lie in her face. Cult leaders were always devious sorts of fellows who promised everything but delivered nothing. She had to play it smart, find out some kind of weakness to ensure her safe passage out of this stupid temple, and preferably, this entire planet altogether.
"Right, I'll do it."
Kolgrim reached around a pouch and put it into Jack's hand. "Take this then, the blood of our Lady the Dragon. You know what you must do."
Dragon blood? Andraste? Jack's head whipped around the drakes surrounding this room. These nut jobs were worshipping an actual dragon? Man, these guys must have spent a fortune genetically engineering such a species! What an utter waste of time!
"Good. Now I shall beseech the holy Andraste to let you pass safely into the Inner Sanctum."
And without another word, the cult leader turned and left for an exit to the side of the cave. The menacing band of soldiers prodded her to move, which she did reluctantly. The only care she received was a woolen cloak handed by the Reverent Father. She needed it badly as they all stepped outside where the shivering cold reigned supreme. Kolgrim led them through an almost collapsed bridge and onto a small plateau high up at the top of the mountain. The breathtaking view of the outside world seemed more gentle now that the storm was over. Snow-capped mountaintops lined every direction, and there was even a bird in the sky.
Wait, birds weren't that large.
The giant eldritch shape of a gigantic flying dragon descended from the mists. Its terrible form glided almost majestically downwards with the spread of its wings. The creature was inhuman in every sense. Its pale purple coloring, horned neck and elongated snout all fit into its role as a pure apex predator. The creature swung around once before reducing its speed to land with incredible force on a cliff, the very impact causing ripples beneath the earth.
Then it noticed the puny mortals standing beneath her. The creature seemed to stare right at Jack as it leaned open its fearsome jaw to cry out a wordless challenge. Only after its breath had been exhausted had the dragon settled in on its cozy perch.
The guards prodded Jack forward yet again as the group approached a narrow path between two cliffs. She could just see a great church-like front at the end that must have been the entrance of the Inner Sanctum. As they neared the cliffs, the guards began to peel away, leaving only Kolgrim and herself to walk through the crevice. She took only a few steps forward before she was startled by the dragon, which suddenly landing in front of them to block their path. The great beast roared aggressively and breathed orange flame from its jaw.
Kolgrim stepped forward and spread his arms protectively over Jack. "Holy Andraste! Great Andraste! I pray you, stay your wrath!"
As her escort continued to plea at the dragon, Jack could only watched in dumbfound awe as the man prostated himself before his Goddess, lowering himself to his knees and raising his hands in devotion. "I bring you your champion, who will fall upon your enemies as a cleansing flame, paving the way for your glory!"
The dragon extended its neck towards the crazed cultist, almost touching him, and growled menacingly at him. "O, beloved Andraste! O, holy Andraste! We praise your name!"
The creature did not even indicate that it even comprehended human speech, but after it spurted another bout of flame in the sky, it retreated back up. Jack's legs wobbled at every tremor the dragon caused as it jumped between the cliff faces to reach the top. Her heart pumped vigorously as she felt she had just staved off certain death. She might have been able to smash up YMIR mechs and tear apart the insides of a prison ship, but to face such a monstrous being alone was too much even for a single biotic.
Don't misunderstand her. She loved to fight. She reveled in battle and enjoyed being at the edge of death. But that dragon, that creature, it was too frightening to even consider fighting. If even those immature drakes proved to be resistant to her biotics, how useless would they be against a mature dragon?
Kolgrim turned around and faced Jack with a look of determination. "I have spoken to the beloved Andraste. She will let you pass."
"Err right." She couldn't do anything else but shut her gaping mouth. "Can I have my guns?"
"Guns?" The man echoed, as if he was utterly unfamiliar with the concept of firearms. Jack rolled her eyes. Either these dumbasses believed in the fantasy world they were probably transplanted on by cruel aliens looking for a good holo show, or they were simply taking this acting and roleplay to a fanatic level.
"My weapons. You know, the metal things I used to shoot darts in your ugly faces."
"Oh, you mean your odd Qunari contraptions." The man ruffled something out of a bag strapped to his back and produced her firearms, which she snapped up instantly. "Remember, pour the vial into the Ashes. Andraste will know when you have succeeded. Now go forth, champion."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll get it done, but be sure to hold to your end of the bargain."
With that, she stomped off in the direction of the Inner Sanctum with Kolgrim right at her heels. She clipped her submachine gun on her belt but kept her shotgun ready and loaded. There was not much heat capacity left, but if that big dragon decided to swoop down on her, she'd at least make a good attempt. As they reached the front, she noticed that the double doors were barred from the front by a thick wooden log. The crudeness of its supports marked it as a recent addition.
The man lifted up the heavy bar like it was a toothpick and pulled open the doors. He gestured for Jack to enter, which she worthlessly did. The double doors then slammed shut even before she was past, slamming her to the floor in an undignified heap. She could hear the thump of the log settling in its position, locking her into the room.
"Don't come back until you've taken care of the Ashes!"
After picking herself up, she looked around to find out what she had to do. The ancient, dusty corridor was dry and dirty. At least there was enough lighting from the ancient stone torches. Did the cultists light those torches or was there someone else in the Sanctum who took care of that? There were stairs in front of her, and a lot more light at the end. Seeing nothing else, she braved the ancient steps, keeping her shotgun ready in case there were giant bats or other dangers about.
At the end of the stairway the room extended to the right. Just in front of the oval door was an armored figure who looked distinctively different from the rest of the cultists. She whipped her shotgun instantly at the man, unsure whether he was a threat or not. Was this the supposed 'immortal Guardian'?
An ethereal voice drifted in her mind. "Step closer, young lady. I mean you no harm."
If there was one thing Jack hated, it was someone messing with her mind.
"DON'T FUCK WITH MY HEAD!" She let her shotgun rip, blasting pellets straight at the man. The projectiles sailed straight past his shimmering form and impacted harmlessly against the door behind him. Her second volley achieved little more than chipping away some more fragments of stone. "What the fuck are you?"
Seeing her bullets having no effect, she readied a warp ball, but the figure hastily held up his hands. "Wait! It is a mistake!" He shouted, his voice still ethereal, but at least it came from outside.
Though she wanted to blast apart this man for the heck of it, she wasn't sure what he was capable of. The helmeted figure had a nasty looking warhammer strapped on his back and could be hiding much more. Jack wasn't about to risk fighting against a devious hologram. Reluctantly, she drew down her warp and pointed her shotgun to the floor. She stepped closer towards the figure, slightly uneasy with coming closer into his range. She halted two steps away from the man.
The image spoke. "I bid you welcome, pilgrim. I apologize for my intrusion. It is.. necessary for what you are about to face."
Frowning, Jack looked around, seeing nothing but a cracked floor and corners filled with cobwebs. "So it's you I have to face?"
The hologram – probably a sophisticated Virtual Intelligence – chuckled with some amusement. "No no, behind the door. And no, I am not this odd construction you refer to as a 'VI'."
"Stop reading my mind you fucker!"
The smile left the man's face. "I forgot. My apologies. Most pilgrims do not have such a strong aversion to Andraste's glory. Let me introduce myself to you, 'Jack'. I am the Guardian, the protector of the Urn of Sacred Ashes."
"Again with the Andraste. I don't even know who the hell she is." She muttered, but then looked deviously at the VI. "So you can read my mind, right? You must know what the hell is going on with those crazed worshippers outside."
The man sighed heavily and wearily spoke, "It has been my duty, my life, to protect the Urn and prepare the way for the faithful who come to revere Andraste. For years beyond counting I have guarded these empty halls. For many years more I shall remain until my task is done and the Tevinter Imperium has crumbled into the sea."
"Yada yada yada. Spare me the boring history lesson."
"Let me continue. You must understand our story." The Guardian seemed to glare slightly at Jack before continuing. "Now, when my brethren and I carried Andraste from Tevinter to this sanctuary, we vowed to forever revere Her memory, and guard Her. I have watched generations of my brethren take up the mantle of their fathers. For centuries they did this, unwavering, joyful, in their appointed task."
"Is there a point?"
He didn't attempt to hide his annoyance this time. "Ahem. As I was saying, now my brethren have lost their way. They have forgotten Andraste, and their promise."
"Hmmm…" Jack still didn't know who this Andraste was, but she sounded a lot like a certain Jesus dude her previous cult had worshipped. "So that huge dragon outside, that's not your fucking Andraste?"
She received the same look from the Guardian that she received from others whenever she cursed. She smirked. This was the first time she had gotten a rise from a VI.
"The high dragon is not what the Disciples claim she is. Our real Andraste has gone to the Maker's side. She will not return. The dragon is a fearsome creature, and they must have seen her as an alternative to the absent Maker and His silent Andraste."
His next remark spoke of his damning opinion of the cultists. "A true believer would not require audacious displays of power. The dragon does not truly care for her human subjects. It does not understand their devotion, but only uses Kolgrim and the others for convenience. The ancient beast is like a demon, ensnaring her victims with promises of glory and bliss. It forces the disciples to partake in her powerful blood. They become reavers, gaining enhanced strength and endurance, as well as the latent memories of the dragon and a host of unnatural powers."
"That doesn't sound so bad." Jack remarked. While she had little trouble killing any of them, she did notice some of them were as tough as Krogans in their ability to absorb punishment. One particularly huge bear of a fellow required three shotgun bursts to put down.
"You misunderstand." The Guardian admonished. "The powers bestowed by the dragon's blood do not come without a price. They do not understand, as their forefathers did not understand, that what they gain in strength of the body, they lose in strength of the mind. Their very will and perception of the world has been insidiously warped to revolve only around the dragon. The Disciples of Andraste have therefore become but mere hollow shells."
"O-kay. Dragon is not Andraste. Blood is bad. Got it." She slipped a single around the vial of dragon blood that she carried. "What about the Ashes?"
"You have come to honor Andraste, and you shall be given an opportunity to see it, if you prove yourself worthy. Many pilgrims have sought the burned remains of Andraste for its holy healing properties. No affliction is incurable in her light."
Her eyebrows – practically the only hair she had left unshaved – shot up. "Wait a minute. I'm not here to honor your stupid prophet, and I don't intend to prove myself worthy to any of you. Surely you know what Kolgrim had set aside for me if you've read my mind." She withdrew the heavy vial of blood from her pocket. "I'm supposed to pour this into your holy ashes. Is that going to honor your dead prophet?"
The Guardian only chuckled again. "Such honesty. This only proves your suitability. Nevertheless, the protocol is clear. It is not my place to decide your worthiness. I have gleaned enough from your heart that you truly do not wish Andraste any harm. That you are not even interested in the Ashes in the slightest measure despite their power further confirms you are not a threat."
"So if it's not you who's going to 'decide my worthiness', who is?"
"The Gauntlet. If you are found worthy, you will see the Urn and be allowed to take a small pinch of the Ashes for yourself. If not…"
"I already told you, you fucktard, that I'm not interested in the Ashes."
But the Guardian continued in his explanation like he was programmed to. Stupid VIs. "The Gauntlet tells the true pilgrims from the false. You will undergo four tests of faith, and we shall see how your soul fares."
Jack gave up trying to explain she wasn't a pilgrim. "Let's just get this over with."
"Before you go, there is something I must ask. I see the path that led you here was not easy."
"There has been much suffering in your past, the suffering of your own and the suffering of many others. Your Commander Shepard had slowly earned your trust with his genuine interest in your past. He had charmed his way into your life and your affection, and even persuaded you to share his bed for one night. How did it feel to be tossed aside like sloppy seconds when you confronted him over his dalliance with Miranda? Are you forever a victim of betrayal, who swore to kill everyone who stabbed you in the back? This Shepard is a great hero, is he not? Will slaying the only person most likely to save you all from this 'Reaper' threat be worth it in comparison to the suffering you will inevitably cause? Or will you let your vengeance blind you above all else, and in doing so damn everyone else in your path to damnation?"
Her fists clenched tight, shaking in pure agony and anger as the Guardian had the gall to drench up her latest failure. Jack wanted nothing more than to pound this insolent VI into dust, but realized the futility of it all. She let out a deep breath, and faced the Guardian with a pained and guarded expression.
"Listen you fuckwit. You have no business parading over my fucking life. Yeah, I had a bad life. Boo hoo. I'm not going to cry over shoulders and sniff like a little girl, because I never was a little girl. As for what I intend to do to Shepard and his little perfect genetically engineered bitch, that is of NO business of you. So yeah, judge me all you want up in your little ivory tower, I'm not going deny I'm a killer. As for the Reapers, I'm long past caring. All of humanity and those stuck-up aliens can burn for all I care."
"Your vengeance grows deep, and your wrath against those who violated your body or trust is terrible indeed. I suppose I can draw at least some comfort in the fact that the people you have slain have mostly brought their ill-gained fate on themselves." The man looked in sympathy at Jack. "The way is open. Good luck, and may you find what you seek."
The VI then flared into brightness, blinding her for a moment. By the time she regained her vision, the damn Guardian was gone. The door ahead was open, however.
"Let's see what this shit is all about."
The next room was also empty and crumbling. It seemed to be some sort of reception hall with four stubby arches on each side. Jack almost shot a full burst when eight ghost-like figures began to appear, all lined up and beckoning her to come over to talk.
'Great. More fucking VI's.'
Figuring this was part of the test, she warily approached the nearest one, a dark-haired lady. The VI looked to be dumber than most as she immediately began to recite a pre-programmed package.
"Echoes from a shadow realm, whispers of things yet to come. Thought's strange sister dwells in night, is swept away by dawning light. Of what do I speak?"
Jeez, of all the things to throw at her, riddles was certainly not one of her strengths. She had neither the methodical mind of Mordin, the silver tongue of Shepard nor the smug bitchiness of Miranda.
She was completely at a loss here.
"Fuck it." And she pressed the trigger of her shotgun. She supposed it was a stupid thing to do, as she wasted a perfectly good slip of ammo and an eight of her heat capacity.
"That is not of what I speak." The shady figure replied obliviously to the attack.
The VI winked out, but before Jack could wonder whether she had failed something, a cloud of choking ash spurted out of the spot the VI had stood. Her surprise caused her to fire her shotgun again, and though most pellets seemed to go right through its insubstantial body, a few managed to impact something solid. The horrendous ashy creature shrieked in agony and lifted an ominous claw over Jack. She wouldn't let the damn thing finish the move and fired another burst straight at its ugly toothy face. The ash monster exploded in a cloud of dark dust that stained her borrowed cloak.
Coughing, she spat the dust from her mouth as she looked in distaste at the remaining seven VI's. "This is going to be a long day."
By the time she got through with her pathetic attempts to answer the riddles, she was sure she could pass off as one of the ash monsters herself. Jack had no idea why she had to fight through so many ash monsters, but the most important fact was that the door was open now. She stalked towards the corridor and noticed another shape at the end before it branched out. As she crept closer, her grip suddenly tightened on her weapon, almost crunching it with her enhanced strength.
"Shepard." She spat acidly. "What are you doing here?"
The N-7 suited figure turned around, smiling charmingly like he always did in her presence. His amused tone was tinged in the same ethereal voice as the other VI's. "Had fun with the riddle games?"
"Fun..? Fun? What kind of trick is this pulling his image from my mind?"
"Oh, you have such strong feelings for this particular individual, even stronger than your desire to leave this reality."
"What do you mean, 'this reality'?" Jack asked, suspicious why the VI chose to emphasize those words. She might not be a genius, but no one thought she was slow. "Are you suggesting—"
"—That this is not some sort of rich boy's resort? That you are not only in another planet, but also in an entirely different plane of existence?"
Jack's entire composure shook.
"So.." She tried to stammer out her next words, almost unbelieving. "B-But you're a VI, and those cultists back outside, how could they heal my broken bones so quickly without medi-gel?"
"While we may glimpse parts of your soul, much of what we have seen are indecipherable." The ghostly Shepard explained, mimicking the real Shepard's smooth even voice. "I am not a product of technology. I, and the rest of the Gauntlet are empowered by the Fade, which is not the darkness above the clouds as you presume. The Fade is the realm of the Maker, the spirits and demons, and the dead. It bears no relation to any dimension in your own reality."
"Then.. that means.. Kolgrim's promise to send me back to space.. back to Citadel space.. is impossible?"
"I am afraid so. Even the most powerful mages of the Tevinter Imperium cannot hope to acquire the knowledge and power necessary for such a reality-tearing spell. For all accounts and purposes, you are trapped in our domain."
"No.." She gasped and collapsed, her weapon clattering to the ground, forgotten in her despair.
The ghostly Shepard winked away, leaving her alone. Alone in this temple. Alone in this world. Alone in this reality. She could never go back to try to make a life in the Terminus system as she had planned. She could never take her vengeance on Cerberus and its illusive leader. She could never… never squeeze the life out of Shepard's neck for betraying her heart.
"That's right." Her voice stated, but it didn't came from her own mouth!
Jack grabbed her shottie and jumped to her feet. There was someone just over the corner further into the room. Steadily she leaned at the edge of the corner, careful in keeping enough cover. She dared a peek.
And saw herself, clad in the same borrowed medieval clothing and cloak, wielding the same weaponry she carried.
"You gotta be kidding me. Another VI? In my own fucking image?"
"That's right. I'm the second test. Now come and FACE ME!"
A blast not unlike a shotgun burst followed instantly, blasting away a small chunk of the stone she was leaning behind in. Jack didn't know how the hell the VI was capable of such things. The Guardian and all the other VIs so far seemed insubstantial, yet this one was as real as her.
Well, if the VI could damage her, she could damage it as well.
"Eat this you piece of crap!" And she fired a ball of warp. The highly concentrated field of rapidly shifting shreds of gravity sailed smoothly over towards the VI, but her facsimile just grinned and dodged, all the while firing shotgun pellets at her cover. Then it did something surprising. The VI curled its fist in glowing blue, then punched upward as if in an uppercut. She recognized that move anywhere. Blue flares of explosions were making a path right over her location, and she knew that her cover would offer her little protection. Yet… she couldn't feel anything on her senses that would indicate the manipulation of mass effects. This VI.. was merely simulating biotic abilities without actually using any eezo-derived powers. Was it magic?
Experimentally she threw a singularity in the path of the shockwave. As if confirming her suspicions, the shockwave abruptly ceased the moment got into the reach of the mass-dampening field. And by the very distinct outline contrasting over the blue ball, she guessed that the shockwave was actually caused by an invisible summoned creature.
"Touching, but sad." She taunted. "Seems like you can't do any biotics. I bet that parody of a shotgun you're holding is also fake."
Her pathetic copy only smirked and dropped her weapon to the floor, which vanished not soon after. The VI kept its eyes on her own and crossed its arms in smug superiority. "You may have won this battle, but there is a much greater struggle ahead of you. Good luck carving out a life in this dump without modern technology and comfort. Bitch."
The entire VI then faded into nothing, leaving Jack behind in a stupor.
No space travel. No credit chits. No mass effect. No toilets. No mercenaries. No guns.
She couldn't stop giggling at the absurdity of her collapse. What the fuck was she doing? She didn't lose an arm or a leg. She didn't lose her biotics. She wasn't raped yet again. She was just stranded in another motherfucking planet! Sure, those crazy dragons were formidable, but from what she had encountered so far, those freaky cultists couldn't lay a hand on her alone. And the Guardian said that they were strong and enhanced due to dragon blood. That meant there was a whole world out there filled with weak pathetic sheep.
There might be more dragons out there in the world. And that non-biotic biotics or 'magic' that the robed people performed might present a serious danger if you could do more than erect a basic shield and throw fireballs. Still, she was sure her power wasn't trivial to the vast majority of fighters. Her biotics never ran out, and creating makeshift ammo for her weapons was something she had done plenty of times before. They might break down eventually; didn't Zaeed kept an old shitty gun that had him going for 15 years or so? If she was careful, she was sure she could extend her guns' lifespan.
What was she even thinking? Here she was, with her ass on a dusty cracked floor, just realizing she was stuck in a pseudo-fantasy planet filled with dungeons and dragons, and she's thinking about her weapons first?
'Well.. it does look like this world is as fucked up as the shit I went through.'
Cultists, dragons, immortal VI-like guardians who had nothing better to do than to sneak through her memories… man, how bad would it be in real civilization?
Two things came to her mind.
One: She didn't know anything about this world.
Two: What the fuck is she supposed to do?
She couldn't decide what to do until she had a good idea on what the state of this world was in. How many dragons and magic users were there in this world? Were there any other threats? Could she mingle in with the rest of the natives?
And even if she managed to learn something more about this world, what the heck would she do? Become a farmer? Hah! A soldier. Nah. A mercenary? Hmm, close but not quite there yet. What did she really want to do?
'Castrate Shepard, cut off Miranda's oversized boobs, and blow up Jacob and the rest of Cerberus for good measure.'
But she could do none of those here.
"AArgghh! Fucking mass relay!"
Everything she ever wanted to do was completely out of her reach. Without her drive for vengeance, she was left without any purpose. What was a fucked up kid like her suppose to do? She certainly wasn't looking forward to integrating herself in some backwards society, following all these antiquated rules and being forced to grow her hair back together. No, she would definitely refuse to comply with any sort of rules besides her own.
She might not know how to proceed, but she sure as hell knew what she didn't want to do. Die in this Gauntlet, for once. Getting stabbed in the back by Kolgrim, for another. Being torn apart by that big-ass dragon, for third. She had to find a way to get out of this mad hellhole and find some refuge to plan her next step.
First though, she had to finish the next test. The cavern up ahead contained a bottomless hole. Obviously, you had to find a way to get to the other side of the room where a doorway led to a larger hall. She looked around for any clue on what she was supposed to do. There were strange square tiles on along both sides of the hole. Was she supposed to step on one?
She did, and lo and behold, some holographic bridge appeared. When she stepped on another tile, two other sets of bridge pieces appeared. She walked on all eight tiles that each one corresponded to a different set of two bridge pieces. There seemed to be no way for the bridge to stay solid besides having at least two others with her. Even then, another person was needed to actually go over the bridge. For all intents and purposes, she would never walk past without help.
'Well, if you can't solve the problem, find a different problem that you can solve.'
If she couldn't play along, she'd do it her own way. She extended her senses and spread her palms, concentrating on her telekinesis. With great effort, she created a huge horizontal biotic barrier that stretched from one end to the other end of the hole. When she was confident that it wasn't about collapse, she quickly ran over the distance until she reached solid ground. Her barrier fell away instantly. She hadn't created a barrier that big since..
Well, that was another story.
The final test was just up the corridor. And what a surprise, a wall of fire. There was an altar in front of the wall, and she bent down to make out the faded letters.
Cast of the trappings of worldly life and cloak yourself in the goodness of spirit. King and slave, lord and beggar, be born anew in the Maker's sight.
In other words, strip naked and walk past the hot flames like you're strolling on the beach. Yeah right. Jack carefully approached the flames, stretching out a hand to feel the heat. It was real alright. But how real? She looked around critically. There didn't seem to be any fuel nor a funnel where the flames originated from. It just.. existed. While the heat felt real enough, was it real enough to scorch her alive?
What a pathetic test. The flaming wall was nothing but another VI trick like the rest. She supposed she had to take some uncertain leap of fate, but she was pretty sure the fires wouldn't harm her if she complied with its programmed parameters. She stripped out of her rags as naked as she usually was. It wasn't as if she was ashamed of her body. Taking a deep breath, she calmly walked forward.
And felt nothing as she passed the holographic illusion of the flames. The fires winked out as she passed, allowing her to take back her clothes and cover herself up. She didn't. When the Guardian appeared, he showed no signs of shock or embarrassment, or even lust.
'He's a VI, duh.'
The man stood rigid as he delivered a pre-canned speech. "You have been through the trials of the Gauntlet; you have walked the path of Andraste, and like Her, you have been cleansed. You have proven yourself worthy, pilgrim. Approach the Sacred Ashes. You are allowed to take a single pinch and use it for whatever purpose you desire."
He then winked out before she could say anything else. "Wait a minute! What am I supposed to do with these stupid ashes? Aren't you afraid I might do as Kolgrim wants?"
Her pleas were only answered by her own echoes. The hall was empty and silent in its majestic reverence. There was a huge red carpet before a raised platform of some sorts. At the top was a statue of a nondescript robed woman holding out one hand that acted as a torch. Not that it was needed, for there were large openings which let in a flood of daylight. Curious of what the big deal was about with these Ashes, she stomped up to the top to gaze dubiously at the large yellow pot. Urn. Whatever.
As she lifted up the lid, she expected to see some sort of glowing golden sand-like material. All she saw was the same dusty black ash that stained her own clothes. Was this supposed to be some super duper important relic? It was nothing but junk!
She retrieved the vial of dragon blood. Her task was simple. Dump the contents in the Urn, then come out victorious and be forced to swallow some more dragon gunk. Yuck.
Wait a minute. Didn't the Guardian say that drinking dragon blood made you strong, but make you retarded as well?
'I knew it! I knew they were going to betray me!'
Her fists thumped hard against her thigh as she vented her frustration. She was hurting herself, but grasped onto the pain to avoid the pain in her mind. Though she hardly cared for Kolgrim and his gang, she felt hurt that she was betrayed yet again in this unfamiliar world. What was it that made her such as gullible sucker? Why couldn't she escape double-crossers no matter where she went? It was absurd to think that even ending up in a completely different world, nothing ever changed. She was still Subject Zero, the most powerful human biotic, but also a fucking tool to be used and abused, in more ways than one. Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK.
"I'm NOT Subject Zero!" She raged against Andraste's statue. "I'm NOT your little girl, and I'm NOT your little slave! Fuck YOU!"
After having let out all her steam, she collapsed against the altar that held the urn. She leaned her back against its surface and stared contemptuously at the vial Kolgrim had given to her. The dragon's blood was thick and oozy and weighed heavier than she thought, not unlike raw oil. The substance was opaque, but pure. As her eyes stayed focused on the vial, she felt more and more drawn into the swirls and depth. It was if.. it was luring her. Singing to her. It eased her mind. Though she would never admit it, she often wished she had a mother. A parent who loved her unconditionally and didn't seek to profit from her. One of her deepest, innermost fantasies was to be tucked into bed and sung to sleep. A tiny smile began to creep up her face.
She wiped it off her face. What was she doing, thinking about fantasies that had never and would never come true. She had to focus on her next step. What was she to do?
If she poured the blood into the Ashes, she doubted that the Guardian and his army of VIs would be glad. Jack wasn't sure if she could fight whatever forces the Guardian kept in reserve, let alone any other defense mechanism this temple had up its sleeve. On the other hand, if she exited the temple with nothing to show for, she was sure she'd get swamped by that big dragon and be torn to pieces before she could do much damage. She was in a shitty position either way, with no apparent escape. The only way in or out was the front door, and while she might punch a hole through the temple's walls, she doubted that the Guardian would appreciate her vandalism. Besides, without any tunnels, she would have to trek on open ground down the mountain. She'd be an open target to that dragon. No, it was better to take her luck with the Guardian.
Her hands hovered over the stopper, but paused midway. Was she just going to take the easy way out? Let herself be bullied by Kolgrim and his mad schemes? Be forced to drink another vial of this thick stinking blood? If she did what he wanted, she'd practically surrendered herself to a life of mindless devotion to some overgrown garden lizard. Was that what she wanted to do for the rest of her life?
There was no way she was going to dance to Kolgrim's tunes. But there was no way she could fight a dragon and win; she couldn't even fly! She needed power. She needed strength.
The vial of blood rolled lazily over her palm as she considered the sticky liquid oozing inside. If she drank the blood, she might be able to gain enough strength to go toe-to-toe with the dragon!
"Heck that will do if my mind will be fried."
If she drank the blood, she'd become a mindless devotee. Maybe not immediately, but her mind would certainly erode until she craved for nothing but to worship the new Andraste. If only she could obtain the advantages while leaving out the weaknesses.
'Think, Jack, what would Mordin come up with? Cult, Kolgrim, Dragon, forcing me to do things, temple, Gauntlet, VI's, dragon blood, makes you strong but stupid, Ashes of some dead woman, supposed to cure anything, walls have no exits, might be able to punch—'
What did she just thought? The Ashes were supposed to cure anything…
A veritable light bulb appeared over her head as she scrambled on her feet and lifted up the lid to view the plain ashes yet again. They didn't seem anything special, but if the Guardian was to be believed, it could cure anything. Jack doubted people would build this temple and make pilgrims go through the Gauntlet just to see some useless dust. It had to contain some special ability. While she couldn't quite accept that magic existed, there was no other explanation on how these primitive people could create magical VIs. It was a gamble, she admitted, but one that she felt reasonably certain about. Besides, there didn't seem to be any other way out of her predicament.
She held the vial of blood close, considering whether she should go ahead or not. In order to fight her way through the cultists, she needed power. What she didn't need was the added baggage of a deteriorating mind. But if she swallowed the dragon blood first, then swallowed up a pinch of Andraste's ashes, she might be able to stop her mental degradation while keeping her enhanced strength!
'Damn I'm cunning!'
Sure, the ashes might negate the full effect of the blood, or the entire process might go horribly wrong, but she wasn't exactly one for being cautious. So before she could change her mind, she opened the stopper of the vial. With her other hand she carefully scooped up a tiny pinch of ash from the Urn.
The plan was simple. Drink the blood, then follow immediately with the ashes.
Jack took a full swig of the blood, shaking out the remaining drops into her mouth. She then closed her mouth and swallowed the thick bile-like substance down her throat. Her mouth opened again to receive the pinch of ashes, but before she could dump it in her mouth, her stomach convulsed in horrendous agony.
Blinding shock paralyzed her body, making her fall over against the altar and lose her grip on the ashes. Her entire neural system turned aflame as the vile blood ran its unnatural course through her body. Her brain sizzled as countless images went past her mind. The alien and incomprehensible knowledge seemed to press on her head like the garbage compactor in Zaeed's bunk.
A violent birth-A huge red mother-A burning ancient city-The submission of the human cattle-The sacrifice of a thousand babies-Millions of peasants kneeling in worship-A throne carved on the mountainside-An ocean of gold and jewels-The dominion of all the races of the world-
"..too much… ng.."
The destruction of an entire brood-Agony amongst the Old Gods-The near death of the prime-The great betrayal-Eternal sleep-Underground shadow-
Chaos trampled her consciousness. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth and her eyes rolled upwards as she could feel her biotic control begin to unravel. Motes of dust on her cloak began to float as local gravity ceased to exist. Her entire body started to glow in blue as her biotic barrier went in overload. Still her limbs were on fire. Jack couldn't take it much more and she knew it. She had to take the ashes now or risk shredding herself apart by her out-of-control biotics. Already she could feel her left hand forming an unstable warp field that shredded at the skin of her palm. Blood began to seep through those cuts, which splattered all over her by the unstable warp field.
" Where. The. Fuck. Are.. the GHAhg.. ASHES!"
Her eyes focused long enough to sight the yellowish shape of the large urn. She blindingly reached at it with her undamaged hand, managing to catch the open lid. Her hand desperately grasped inside for another pinch, but her fingers started to spike in pain and she lost control over her entire arm. Her body suddenly dragged downwards, taking the Urn down with her. She could see almost in slow motion as the holy relic tipped over. Her addled mind, full of dragon speak and memories of flight, was nonetheless able to direct her head over the falling relic. Slowly she managed dive her head underneath the path of the falling Urn. Her mouth opened eagerly to receive the spray of Ashes that was sure to end up over her head.
The lip of the Urn collided neatly against Jack's bald head. The Urn managed to land upside-down on her entire face, drenching her forehead, eyes, nose cheeks and mouth into piles of ash. Having forgotten about taking just a pinch, Jack eagerly inhaled the cough-inducing dust, even snorting in her nose to make sure she got as much as she got. Most of the Ashes fell went past her face and clothes to pool on the floor, but she managed to get at least three full swallows of ash. Plenty of it also stuck to her eyes, stinging it painfully.
The Ashes were having an effect. Instantly the oppressive presence in her mind had vanished. The fire in her nerves had ceased. The wounds on her palm had healed and even the bump on her forehead had stopped throbbing.
It was over, she thought as she coughed up some of the remaining ash in order to breathe. The ashes worked. Carefully she lifted the Urn off her face and set it upright on the altar. She wobbled to her feet, unsteady as unfamiliar sensations tingled throughout her body. Whether it was primarily due to the blood or the ashes, she didn't know. All she knew was that her limbs felt like being massaged and stomped on at the same time. Her stomach was roiling with whatever mess was mixing in her stomach. Her thumping heart was pounding like she had run a marathon.
"No, the Ashes!" A distant voice exclaimed. "You were just supposed to take a pinch! A single pinch!"
Red. Her vision was red. She could see nothing but intermittent shades of the darkest red to the brightest yellow. Her neck obeyed long enough for her to tilt over her head. Down at the entrance of the hall was a hazy-looking shape that looked much like the Guardian. From his posture, she could tell he wasn't exactly relaxed.
"What have you done? You have taken too much power onto yourself. No single person was meant to partake so much of Andraste's essence. Such.. such sacrilege must be avenged!"
The sense of danger smacked Jack out of her paralysis. Every unusual feeling on her body receded as her thoughts focused on one pure thought: fight. Her instincts, all honed in battle, made her stand up to her feet and aim her shotgun at the imminent threat. The red haze over her eyes faded away, leaking color in her vision. She could see the Guardian's astonished and enraged face now. His hands were gripping the shaft of his huge warhammer that looked capable enough to shrug off anything she could throw at him. Sure, he was just a magical VI, but her experiences in the Gauntlet suggested that they could do a few mighty tricks. Her suspicions was confirmed. The head of the hammer glowed in pure white flame as righteous as the Guardian's cause.
The man then raised up the hammer over his head and shouted, "Brethren of the Ashes, arise!"
A halo stretched out of his hammer, first expanding slowly, then rapidly accelerating to engulf the entire room. Circular shadows appeared all over the sides of the hall, and Jack could sense a tickle just out of the edge of her consciousness as the ash wraiths burst from the floor with a shattering birth cry. Jack's ears were ringing as they became overloaded with layers upon layers of sensory input. It was as if the blood had unlocked a dormant part of her potential. From the highest of vibrations to the lowest of rumblings, she could hear it all. She could hear the wind shearing through the creaks of the wall, the footsteps outside as impatient cultists were strutting around, the hungry breath of Andraste as she eagerly awaited the outcome of the latest sacrifice. Jack could hear the dormant flow of lava churning beneath the mountain, following an endless cycle as it did for billions of years.
Throughout her transformation, millions of other changes took place in her body. The blood and the ashes both struggled for dominance over her body. The blood was relentless in its purpose, malevolent in its desire to impose its mistress' will over any human cattle. Her body was nothing but a mere toy, a vessel of curiosity and amusement to the high dragon's whims. Opposing the dragon's blood invasion was the benevolent will of the ashes of Andraste. The remnants, pale in comparison to her living flesh, contained the echoes of the essence of the Maker's wife herself. This pure source of divine power, available in abundance due to Jack's unfortunate accident, rolled through her soul in waves. Marks of abuse and imperfections that Jack had carried since her birth were mended and healed in an instant. Unused potential due to chronic abuse and uncertain experimentation had unlocked itself from deep within her body, feeding massive reserves of biotic energy throughout her muscles.
The two sources of change fought over two different battlefields. The blood sought to improve but also corrupt her flesh. The ashes, seeing no harm in the improvement had let that slide, but the corruption was paramount in their priority to stop. Over Jack's soul, the two different influences sought to corrupt and purify her very existence and will. They were equally matched in this field and no matter what they tried, a stalemate emerged.
In the middle of these two foreign influences was Jack herself. She agonized over the battle within herself, wishing for the turbulence to stop. Already she could observe the ashes floating towards her, their rending claws ready to gouge out her eyes. How could she fight when she couldn't even stand up straight? The shadowy shapes were coming closer now, having already crossed half the distance. With the battle over her body still unresolved, desperation crept up within her as she found she could barely control her body, let alone her biotics. Her skin was randomly glowing blue and purple as her biotic barrier behaved erratically. It wouldn't be able to take much punishment before it would shatter apart.
Fuck it all.
Her hands grasped over the familiar shape of her shotgun. As soon as the weapon was firmly gripped, Jack aimed for the approaching shapes and fired away. The first shot passed through her enemies' insubstantial bodies harmlessly. Her second shot hit something critical of one creature, making it flame out into oblivion. The rest of her shots was erratic and random, hitting nothing and everything in between. No matter how much she tried to focus on her efforts, she simply couldn't aim straight.
Damn it! Her heat sink was at its limit! She disengaged the overheated chunk of metal easily enough. Now… clip-clip-clip where was her clip! One of her hand scrambled for her pouch-then realized those damned cultists didn't gave her one! She was all out of heat sinks and there were at least 3 wraiths coming at her now!
Abandoning her shotgun, she unclipped her SMG and sprayed without abandon. Aiming was hopeless in her disoriented state, but the gun spat out a good number of bullets until one by one, each wraith had faded into indistinguishable dust of ash. Her sink was glowing red, not quite at its limit, but enough for a few more bursts. Now, where was that bastard Guardian?
Her question was answered immediately as the square hammer whooshed from the ash cloud and snapped at the hand holding her gun, knocking the weapon far off the side and breaking a lot of bones. She cried out in pain, but had the sense to roll over to the side to evade another blow aimed for her head. The enraged Guardian continued to limber up the stairs to hover right over her. He lashed out with his feet, knocking Jack's side and propelling her enough to fall painfully off the raised platform.
Her landing was graceless, and with the distracting war raging in her mind, Jack couldn't pick herself up in time to avoid the armored boot landing on top of her. If her barrier hadn't stayed solid at that moment, she was sure her ribs would have collapsed in her lungs and heart. Still, with her hand smashed to pieces, her back slammed to the ground and her brain still in a jumble, she was practically helpless as a lamb as the Guardian was swinging his hammer against her head.
The blocky shape travelled rapidly up her nose. Jack's eyes flared as she recognized how closely death was hanging over her. Jumbles of her past fights cycled in her mind. The savage arena fights in the Cerberus facility. The violence of her escape. The years of abuse and misplaced trust amongst the pirates. Her freelance brawling. The mess with her cult. Then, Shepard. Shepard on Purgatory. Shepard on Ilium. Shepard on the dead Reaper. Shepard on the Collector Base.
All those fights. All those kills. All those victories.
She was stronger than any of them. She had slain countless mercenaries, hundreds of Ceberus elite, scores of Collector scum and aided in the destruction of a human Reaper. What was a mere magical VI in comparison to the most powerful human biotic of her time?
Her sheer force of will directly imposed her dominion on her body. Bright blue biotic energy flared out into pulses, rocking the Guardian off his feet before his hammer could connect. The unceasing war between the influences of the dragon's blood and Andraste's ashes had ended as the battlefield itself had captured and converted their power for Jack's own benefit. The latent sentient wills over both influences were nearly wiped out as the powerful biotic crowded them out. The Guardian merely gaped at the spectacle in front of her as dark energies warped around the human's body, which began to float as local gravity ceased to exist.
Jack opened her eyes, blinding the room in blue as her orbs shone like bright blue giants. Her broken and bloody hand rapidly mended into whole as she called upon the ashes' healing potential.
"Wh-what in the name of Andraste?"
The sound of the Guardian's baffled voice made the newly reinvigorated Jack focus on her opponent. Her enhanced eyes could pick out the lack of warmth, the lack of a heartbeat, the lack of blood circulation. She could recognize what he actually was now with her jumbled dragon memory. The Guardian wasn't just a magical VI; he was a soul, once living, but now forcibly anchored to the living world by powerful magic. There was a faint line of energy trailing from the center of his navel. Her gaze followed the line up the stairs to the alter that held the urn until it ended on the flame held out by Andraste's open palm.
A smirk touched on her face as she stretched one hand towards the statue. "I know your secret now, shitface."
"No! Wait! Andraste's legacy must—"
A pure spike of warp lanced out against the statue, destroying it entirely. The flame winked out immediately, snapping the Guardian's only remaining connection to the world. The anchor-less soul continued to wail as the Fade clawed his soul back to where he belonged. Jack floated in fascination as she saw the extra-dimensional portal came into existence, offering her a glimpse into the world beyond. Demons, spirits and misshapen terrain dominated the new dimension. Eager demons noticed her appearance and hungered already for her sheer personality. Her new memories showed her many savage scenes where demons were concerned. The dragon kind had dealt with them often enough. She knew what each demon craved for, and recognized how much of it was in abundance in herself. She must have been the most juiciest catch that has ever shown itself to them. If any demon controlled her mind and her incredible biotic reserves, there would be no telling what destruction she could unleash on this ignorant world.
As soon as the portal appeared however, it dissipated into nothing. The Guardian was gone, and so were any remaining dangers.
Jack's eyes rolled over her sockets as her biotics abruptly ceased. Gravity resumed its course, causing Jack's unconscious body to fall into a heap. The war between the blood and the ashes picked up where they had left up, though muted in their intensity as much of their free will was sapped away.
All the while, sleep graced over the biotic's mind as it processed the millennia of pictures and memories. Her resting body took advantage of its unconscious state and began to rearrange vital organs and tissue. Overnight, Jack would become something other than human. Not quite a biotic, not quite a reaver and not quite a prophetess. Whatever the result of her transformation, she was never going to be just Jack anymore.
Not that she was aware of any of the implications. Her almost blissful dreams avoided any of those topics and settled on only one single person. Shepard.
End Notes: As you may have deduced from what you have read so far, I have little to no intention of wasting my time with the Mass Effect universe. Oh, plenty of things might happen there, but like my other fic The Songs of the Fox, the origin of the protagonist is of little current importance and frankly, really boring and should be written in another fic. This fic really focuses more on what kind of life Jack will make in the Dragon Age world. If I chose any other character, such as Shepard or Garrus, then they'd inevitably be some goody two-shoes and join the Grey Wardens in their quest. I want an alternate plot which would not center around the Blight but more on mortal geopolitics. I have something else in mind for the darkspawn as well. Whether any of you will get to read it is uncertain, however, since my interest or motivation in this fic might wane. I make no promises.