Author's Note: I have had this story in my head for several months already and decided to finally post it here on FF. This is my first experience as a fanfiction author so all criticism would be appreciated. Both constructive and not so much. I'll warn you that English is actually not my native language and every advice about my writing style would be also appreciated.

I will make some deviations from Mass Effect dialogs. Not that I think the dialogs in the ME are bad they are great. However, sometimes I just wished I could say something else.

Also for those Warhammer 40k fans that are looking for grimdark story I want to warn you: you will not find here one. This story is set in ME universe that is not grimdark. Also I want to apologize to all Space Marines fans: sorry, no Astartes here. I'm a fan of Imperial Guard particularly Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts. I'm also a vivid fan of the Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novels. Therefore, I'll try to add a little humor to the story. If it will be bad, don't be afraid to tell me!

I also want to thank Colonel_Mustard1990 for his crossovers Hammerhand ad Angels of Storm. Those two were the source of inspiration for this story.

And before we begin… DISCLAIMER!

Mass Effect belongs to BioWare. Warhammer 40k belongs to Game Workshop. In case of possible references to WH40k novels: those novels belong to Black Library and/or their respective authors. In case of possible references to WH40k Dawn of War series: the games belong to THQ.

Phew, I hope I didn't miss anyone. I case I did – your stuff belongs to you.

Alright let's do it.

Chapter 1: Uncertain future.

Location: Serpent Nebula, Citadel, Humanity's Councilor office (former Humanity's embassy). Year 2185

Commander Shepard should have seen this coming.

When she mentioned to the Illusive Man that she intended to ask the Council and the System Alliance for help against the Collectors and the Reapers, he did not look overly concerned about the fact that she might decline his help and resources in favor of those of the Council. She already knew that Council and Alliance tried to sweep the info of the Reapers under the rug to avoid panic of the general population. She even privately agreed with that. Panic breeds chaos and chaos was the last thing they needed in their preparations to repel the Reaper invasion.

Only now she knew there were no preparations at all. Two priceless years gone. Just like that.

"So I'm on my own. Again," Shepard sighed heavily.

"We are in a difficult position here Shepard. You are working for Cerberus – the avowed enemy of the Council. This is treason, a capital offense…" Councilor Tevos stated.

Great, Shepard thought. First I am called a lunatic by a Turian councilor, then a traitor by the Asari. This just keeps getting better and better.

"That's too far! I'm on this Council and I would not let this whitewash continue!" Councilor Anderson interrupted the Asari. "Shepard is a hero and she deserves to be treated as such!"

"She also deserved her remnants to be recovered and given a proper burial, although we know how that turned out," Shepard snapped at Anderson. Anderson turned to look at her, his impression that of hurt with a tiny bit of guilt. "Don't give me that look Councilor. If the Alliance followed its mottos properly, particularly the 'leave no man behind' one, we all would not be in this mess."

She was not angry at Anderson in particular, though she wanted through him to give the Alliance a message on how she felt about being left in the ices of Alchera. She was a Hero of Elysium, a Hero of the Citadel, the First Human Spectre for god's sake! The rescue ships were right there in the high orbit collecting escape pods from the downed Normandy, was it so much trouble to send a couple of shuttles to look for her body? Not that she minded being alive, actually quite the contrary. However, it was a little depressing to know that the reward for doing so much for the Galaxy was to be left rotting on some forgotten planet.

Shepard raised her hand before Anderson could come up with some sort of excuse, effectively telling him that no excuse would be good enough. She then turned to the Council and placed her hands on her hips before asking.

"As for your accusation of the high treason, Councilor Tevos, I would like to know what exactly I did in the last seven days of my new lifetime that painted me as a formal employee of Cerberus because I sure as hell didn't sign a legal contract." Shepard started to count with her fingers. "Let's see. I spent four days in transit, one day investigating the colony of Freedom's Progress, and two days on Omega. I helped a Turian vigilante against half of Omega's mercs, and assisted a former STG member in stopping the plague that targeted only aliens and was engineered by the Collectors. Those last two aren't exactly your average Cerberus ops."

"We were getting reports of your work with Cerberus for almost four months now," Councilor Valern countered, probably referring to his race's famous STG operatives.

"Clearly disinformation. Most probably on Cerberus' behalf, the Illusive Man will be the only one to benefit from this," intervened Professor Mordin Solus, who up to that moment stood quietly behind Shepard. "Shepard's surgical scars still have not healed. Should have spent more time recuperating. If she was active for four months, would have healed naturally. Who checked the intel for credibility?"

To emphasize Mordin's point Shepard moved her dark brown hair to reveal glowing scars on both sides of her face. Both Turian and Asari holograms along with Anderson turned to give the Salarian Councilor questioning looks. The Councilor in question turned his head left as if listening to some invisible speaker and then hung his head, suddenly fascinated with the folds of his formal robe.

Shepard smiled inwardly. She knew it would be a good idea to bring a decorated STG veteran to support her claims of the Collectors attacking the colonies. Once he was on board, she asked him to check if the video feed from Freedom's Progress was genuine and not some clever Cerberus trick to ensure her cooperation with them. Mordin confirmed that there was no tampering with the video. He also asked to be able to forward this information to his old STG contacts. Shepard agreed.

Seeing the effect Professor's words had on Valern she quickly started to think of where she can get some respected members of other races so that the Council would take her seriously. Shepard entertained the idea of bringing Garrus with her to this meeting, but Garrus declined, stating that he would do more harm than good because his people viewed him as something of a renegade. Then again, Councilor Sparatus probably respected only himself.

As for the Asari, Shepard thought that she would need to find some respected Matriarch or an Asari Spectre. The thought of matriarchs brought up memories of the late Matriarch Benezia and automatically led to her daughter Liara… Shepard quickly pushed those thoughts aside. She would deal with this later although she still had no idea how. How to tell your beloved who, if Garrus is to be believed, spent two years mourning you, that you are not dead?

"We will investigate this information further," the Turian Councilor began, and Shepard was glad to be brought out of her reverie about Liara. "In the meantime…"

"Alright, stop. See this is where I think we need to part ways," Shepard interrupted him quickly. "I don't have time to sit and wait for you to 'investigate'. I already have a crewmember that lost a brother on the recently abducted colony of Ferris Fields. Another one has a daughter on New Canton. He works for Cerberus because they promised him they would transport his family back to Earth. Those two and hundreds of thousands missing colonists are the people I actually work for, not Cerberus. They are just paying the bill."

The Turian was about to retort but she cut him short. "Before you ask why would they do this I'll tell you that I have not figured it out, yet. Although I can safely bet my shoe collection that they know that once The Great Commander Shepard goes on the crusade against some of the advanced races of the galaxy, there will be expensive loot left in the wake of her rampage. Hell, last time I left a destroyed Reap- Sorry 'Advanced Geth Dreadnought'," Shepard made air quotes, much to the Sparatus' annoyance "I'm sure half of it ended up in Cerberus labs".

"Most logical assumption," Mordin stated beside her. "The technology to neutralize an entire colony without firing a single shot would alone cover all expenses made to bring Commander back. Also genetically engineered plague, like the one used on Omega, if gets to the wrong people…" He inhaled deeply. "Implications troubling."

"And I can tell that the majority of Cerberus perfectly fits into the definition of a 'wrong people'. I don't intend to let them get their hands any kind of such technology, but my main objective is to stop the Collectors and get our people back," Shepard said and then she sighed and continued. "Look, I'm not your enemy, although you are really trying to make one of me. I guess my return from the realm of the dead is not a welcome sight I thought it would be," She paused and then stood ramrod straight like an officer reporting of her actions, "I will be operating mostly in Terminus systems, though I will make several detours into Council space to pick up resources, upgrades and personnel. That will minimize the political blowback to Council and the Alliance."

Shepard slightly nodded and said. "Good day to you Councilors," She then turned and started to leave, nodding to Mordin indicating that they were done here.

"Commander, wait!" Anderson tried to attract her attention. "Commander!"

Shepard ignored him, knowing that more talking would not give her anything useful, and life was too short to be wasted on arguing. She would not be able to convince the Council of the Reaper threat unless she brings a live Reaper. Or two.

Exiting Anderson's office, she found Garrus leaning against the wall. "How did it go?" the scarred Turian asked moving to follow her determined stride. He was still wearing his broken armor from his fight with the mercs.

"They didn't believe me, so, you know, no changes there," Shepard replied with a hint of sarcasm.

"Showed remarkable self-restraint," Mordin noted. "May wish to consider a political career after you deal with the Reaper threat."

Councilor Victoria Shepard. Hero of Elysium. Hero of the Citadel. Scourge of the Collectors. Bane of the Reapers. Her election's motto would be "It's 'cause I'm just that awesome". She would probably win in the first round.

Shepard smiled and shook her head. Then she heard Anderson leaving his office and shouting. "Commander, would you please stop for a minute?" Several nearby diplomats turned their heads at the commotion

Victoria turned around but continued moving backwards. "I'm done talking Councilor. Too many things to do," She then remembered something and added. "If you see Williams send her my regards and congratulations on her promotion. And a big hug." She then turned once again and continued striding towards the Wards.

Several minutes later

"Have you bought a new armor like I told you?" Victoria asked Garrus as she was walking through Zakera Ward of the Citadel. With her flying on Cerberus' vessel, Alliance military docks were closed to her. They had to use one of the commercial moorings on the Wards of the Citadel.

"Yes Shepard, it will be delivered to the Normandy," Garrus replied and added, "I also took the liberty of buying several upgrades for weapons. If Cerberus pays for this mission we might as well shake their pockets."

"Good, we will need all the edges we can have against the Collectors," Victoria said and then turned to Mordin. "Tell me Professor, what happened back there with Valern? He looked like someone gave him a verbal beating."

"His Dalatrass, Hameya. Had dealings with her for some time in the past. Appears she still values my expertise," Mordin replied casually. "Whatever she told him must have been unpleasant."

"She must be very respected to be able to talk to a Councilor like that," Shepard noted, surprised byt this piece of information.

"He defers to her because that's what Salarian males do. Such is the structure of our society," Mordin said. "Essentially she is a Salarian Councilor. Valern is just spokesperson."

"Why she is not a Councilor in the first place?" Victoria asked with a frown.

"Being a Councilor implies being a public person. Dalatrasses are not very public," Mordin said and seeing the puzzled look on Shepard's face quickly added. "It's a cultural thing."

Before she could ask him to elaborate, Victoria's omni-tool beeped signaling the arrival of a new mail. She activated it and saw that there was a message from Councilor Anderson.


In light of your previous actions and additional information you provided about your possible involvement with Cerberus, the Council voted to reinstate your Spectre status. Only partially: you won't be able to use the Spectre's resources but as before you are free to act outside of Council's laws and regulations. You don't have to file reports as before, though any information concerning Council's space security would be appreciated.

I also wanted to inform you that I just spoke with Admiral Hackett. The System Alliance reinstated you fully. You probably know that upon your 'death' you were posthumously promoted to Staff Commander. As a Spectre, you are still outside of the Alliance command structure.

On a personal note: I know Shepard everything is not as you expected it to be. I swear to you Shepard upon my life that I tried to make the Council take your warnings seriously, but it's like beating your head against the wall. Guess I'm just not cut for this line if work. You recommended me as humanity's Councilor and I failed you spectacularly.

Good luck on your mission Shepard. I'd tell you not to trust Cerberus, but I think you already know that.


"Well, that's something at least," Victoria murmured closing her omni-tool.

"Who was that?" Garrus asked.

"I was partially reinstated as Spectre," Shepard told him. "No access to Council recourses, but I can break the law and get away with it."

"That means that they gave you something completely useless," Garrus smirked. "You couldn't break the law even if your life depended on it."

"Sure I can!" Shepard retorted lightly.

"No, you can't," Garrus replied teasingly.

"You want to bet that I'm going to break the law in the next half an hour," Shepard offered.

"This clanless is a thief! I demand her to be arrested!" Shepard heard some Volus shouting frantically nearby. She turned her head at the commotion and saw a clearly agitated Volus, a Quarian woman and a C-sec officer who was taking the testimony.

Victoria sniffed the air. "I smell a racist…" she murmured and moved to interfere.

Several minutes later…

"You left your credit chit at the Saronis Applications. Speak with the owner if want to get it back," Shepard told the Volus, barely holding her anger. The stupid ball was just clumsy but instead of simply looking for his chit, he had to accuse the Quarian girl of stealing it just because of the 'Quarian s are thieves' stereotype.

"Oh, well she could have stolen it," the Volus replied and turned to leave.

"I'll close this report for now but I'll be watching you," C-sec officer addressed the Quarian , still glaring at her suspiciously. "Get a permanent residence or I'll arrest you for vagrancy."

That did it for Shepard. She decided to give those two a good lesson on tolerance towards different races.

"Are you two serious?" Victoria asked angrily, taking a step towards them.

"What…" the Volus managed before turning back and finding himself looking at a very angry Shepard's face.

Victoria lowered herself to his level. "You falsely accuse the girl of stealing from you, and instead of an apology you say that 'she could have stolen it'?" She then pushed him for good measure.

"Now wait a minute…" The Volus was about to retort, but Shepard already stood up, turned to the C-Sec officer and grabbed him by the collar.

"And you! She gets harassed by this guy and you threaten to run her in for vagrancy?" Shepard asked the C-Sec, her voice already that of pure malice.

"How about I run you in for striking a security officer and obstruction of justice?" The man replied, trying to look tough.

Shepard smiled evilly. "You can't run in a Spectre, son," she said and saw the officer's eyes start to widen in recognition. "Boy, you are so going to get it!"

Several minutes later, outside of Zakera Ward's C-sec office…

"Seriously Shepard, was that really necessary?" Captain Bailey asked Victoria while rubbing his temples.

Victoria grinned. "I'm currently being viewed as radical xenophobe because of my ties with Cerberus. I used that situation as an opportunity to prove that I'm completely impartial to any species in the galaxy, including my own."

Bailey snorted. "Yeah, and you proved it by protecting a homeless Quarian girl from a biased Volus and overeager human C-Sec officer. You kicked the officer in the nuts and rolled the Volus down the street and into the staircase."

"They had it coming," Shepard said defensively.

"I'm not saying that they didn't. What I'm saying is that you do not fully understand the ramifications of your actions," Bailey said wearily.

"I'm not sure I follow," Shepard said, puzzled by the C-sec officer's statement.

"You're Spectre, a first human Spectre no less. When you do stunts like those you set up a trend," Bailey rubbed his eyes. "My guts tell me I'm gonna see a lot of rolling Voluses by the end of the week."

Shepard stifled a chuckle and was about to reply when she saw two people she, Mordin and Garrus were waiting for. "Later, Captain," she said to Bailey and turned to leave.

"Just do me a favor and don't blow up my Ward!" Bailey shouted from his desk.

The two people Shepard was waiting for were her "Cerberus watchdogs" as she called them now: her current Chief Armory officer Jacob Taylor and Normandy Executive Officer Miranda Lawson. They were both wearing their Cerberus jumpsuits (though Miranda's case the tern catsuit was more appropriate) because Citadel was not a war zone. The suits were devoid of Cerberus markings. The first order Victoria gave when she entered the new Normandy was, to put it simply 'No logos or GTFO'. In two days all uniforms, bulkheads, crates and terminals were cleaned of any indication that rhey were a Cerberus property.

Jacob Taylor was a former Alliance marine officer, who, like most of the current Normandy's crew, quit the Alliance when brass tried to downplay Shepard's achievements. At least that was what Taylor told Victoria. If he was telling the truth, then Shepard would have no trouble working with him, he seemed to be a good guy. On the other hand, he could be an extremely good liar and she should keep an eye on him. Time would tell.

Miranda was… more complicated. Shepard already knew that her father engineered the woman for perfection as a part of his dynasty. She run away from him and joined Cerberus for protection against her father, who is said to be a very powerful businessman. Shepard had an inkling that there was something else, beside Miranda's own safety, that Cerberus offered to the woman to ensure her loyalty. Miranda was smart and calculating woman, so the idea of her joining Cerberus to "ensure human dominance" was out of the question. No, there had to be something else. Shepard just had to figure it out, because Miranda could be a very powerful ally. Hell, in some other universe where Miranda was not working for Cerberus, she and Victoria would have quickly become friends.

"Commander," Jacob nodded as a greeting. "How did the meeting with the Council go?"

"Ask XO Lawson here for her best guess and it wouldn't completely off the mark. Illusive Man made sure of that," Shepard said and turned to look at Miranda's reaction. Miranda crossed her arms and held Victoria's gaze. No guilt in her eyes. Her posture and expression spoke: Not my actions – not my responsibility. Good. Shepard did not expect anything less from her.

Victoria quickly filled them in on her reinstatements into the Spectres and the Alliance. Miranda noted that this would only benefit their mission. Shepard then asked for both operatives to report on their assignments.

"We have secured the provisions Mess Sergeant Gardner asked you to get," Miranda reported briskly. "We also secured several latest armor and tech upgrades. Since your meeting with the Council is concluded, we should contact Katsumi Goto and continue our mission."

"Right, she said to use the advertising terminal near customs office," Shepard said, remembering the dossier of the famous master thief. "I'll deal with it. Lawson, Taylor, report to the Normandy and double check all deliveries, including weapon mods and armor Garrus obtained."

"Will do Commander," Jacob told and turned to leave.

"There was something else, Commander," Miranda told quickly "The Illusive Man sent me the information about one of our cells dropping off the grid recently. Project Overlord. I don't know the details but it looks like we're dealing with a VI breakout. Since we are still waiting for a lead on the Collectors, we can investigate. I'll forward all the details to you once I'm on board the Normandy."

"Alright, carry on," Shepard nodded. Something told her that with Cerberus involved it is not going to be an average VI breakout, but something far more sinister.

She was about to go to the customs office when something caught her eye.

"Ooh, fish!" Shepard exclaimed and trotted to a shop named Citadel Souvenirs.

Several minutes of happy shopping later…

Shepard exited the Citadel Souvenirs carrying three boxes with model ships. Garrus was walking beside her with a plastic reservoir that contained both blue Illium Skald fishes and golden Thessian sunfishes. Garrus had one of his eyes plastered to the reservoir studying the fish movements.

"I really don't understand the humans' fascination with fish tanks. How does this help you relax?" Garrus said, clearly puzzled. "If I look at them for another half hour, I'll probably want to catch and then eat them."

"Humans are hunters by necessity, not by nature. React differently to harmonic movements of the fish," Mordin offered his opinion as a xenobiologist. "It's a good antidepressant for them. Stabilizes the blood pressure. Similar to the Asari in this regard."

The mentioning of the Asari once again brought Shepard's thoughts to Liara. The Illusive Man said that she was working on Illium for the Shadow Broker, and therefore 'should not be trusted'. Right now, Shepard was certain that this was an elaborate lie to try to make Victoria think she could not trust even her lover. She would have to contact Liara and… Shepard was not so sure if she should contact her now. What if Liara moved on? What if she… found someone else?

"Having trouble with the collectors? Try Kasumi credit services!" The ginger voice announced from the nearby terminal. Once again, Shepard was glad to be brought back to reality. She then caught a familiar name and approached the terminal.

"Commander Shepard! Please enter a password and receive a free gift," The same voice announced. The image of a hooded woman was shown on the advertisement.

"Um, silence is golden," Shepard replied.

"Good to finally meet you Commander Shepard. Kasumi Goto. I'm a fan," The hooded woman announced happily.

Shepard was already warming up to this woman's cheerful demeanor. "I assume Cerberus briefed you on our mission?" She asked.

Kasumi's eyes glittered under her hood. "We're off to save the Galaxy! Not my usual line of work, but Cerberus had made quite an offer. They said I would get the help of famous Commander Shepard with a certain personal business of mine. A heist, to be precise."

"And of course they forgot to ask me about that," Victoria sighed. Just like with Zaeed Massani.

"Well, you know how mega corporations work: you should always read between the lines of a contract," Kasumi noted.

"Pffsh, my mother likes saying: There is always a catch. Life is a catch, so I suggest you catch it while you can," Shepard replied and then mentally facepalmed herself. Damn it. Mother. Victoria was awake for seven days and still hadn't called her mom.

"She sounds like a wise woman. We should throw a tea ceremony sometime in the future!" Kasumi giggled.

"Tea ceremony sounds nice," Victoria said. "Anyway, about the heist. I take it we're not going to simply rob someone for the sake of credits?"

"I'm looking for my old partner's graybox. A man named Donovan Hock took it and I'm planning to get it back," Kasumi replied. "We're going to infiltrate his mansion during a party and break into his personal vault."

"A party, hm? Do I get to wear a slinky dress, high heels and makeup?" Shepard asked the master thief.

"Of course you do," Kasumi replied with a grin. "It will be fun! And if we are lucky you would not need to use a gun."

"Deal!" Shepard announced. "Do you need help getting your things on the Normandy?"

"I have already smuggled my stuff on board," Kasumi winked. "See you on the ship Shepard."

Half an hour later, Victoria was looking at the already inhabited fish tank in her quarters. Kasumi was already on board, where she took residence in one of portside personal cabins. Since the new Normandy was almost twice as big as the original, several design changes were made. It was no longer a cramped Alliance warship with sleeping pods for everyone. The SR-2 had several of those, though they were to be used as a last resort if no free sleeping places remained. For the ship crew there was the common room and there were also twelve personal cabins: six on the port side and six on the starboard side. Four of them were already taken by Jacob, Mordin, Garrus and Kasumi respectively. Zaeed grumbled something about 'not liking the crowded places' and set up shop in the port side cargo hold on the lower deck. Miranda as an XO was entitled to her own quarters; they were located where Shepard's cabin should have been by design. Victoria's cabin was located above the CIC in the 'loft'.

Shepard set up the feeding cycle of the fish tank and moved to her work place. She sat down, took a deep breath and started establishing a connection with her mother. Her ship models stand darkened and turned into a huge display. There was a flashing message "Establishing real-time FTL connection to SSV Orizaba" on screen. Then the message disappeared and was replaced by what was essentially a much older version of Victoria Shepard wearing Alliance blues with captain stripes.

"This is Captain Hannah Shepard. Who am I talking to?" The woman asked sternly, and Victoria nearly jumped to stand at attention.

"Um, hi Mom…" was all Victoria could manage.

Hannah's expression turned into a scowl. "When you were six, we were moving to another station. What were you carrying?" Shepard's mother asked in a tone that sounded almost like an interrogation.

"Uh… sorry, what?" Victoria asked, caught off guard by her mother's question.

"Answer the question or I'll cut the line!" Captain Shepard threatened.

Victoria racked her brains. "It was a plant. You know, the one with big leaves that somehow manages to survive without natural light," she answered quickly, briefly wondering if her mother still had it.

"The name of the plant!" Hannah demanded.

"I don't know!" Victoria answered nervously because she truthfully did not. She then thought for a moment and added. "You know, I actually think that you don't know either."

The older Shepard's face was still for several seconds and then softened. A warm smile appeared on her face. "Well, I never thought it mattered. Took you long enough to contact your mother."

"Sorry Mom, it was a crazy week," Shepard answered.

"'Crazy week' that lasted for four months?" Hannah asked quirking her eyebrow.

"Oh, so you too have heard. Listen…" Victoria then spent several minutes retelling her recent activities. She told of her body's recovery by Cerberus and reason why they did it. She told of her reinstatements and her current mission of hunting the Collectors.

Hannah Shepard was silent for a moment. Then she spoke. "And to think I have written all those petitions for an expedition to look for your remains." Hannah snorted. "If I had succeeded you would be… Never mind that. Tell me sunshine, how are you feeling? I mean really feeling."

"I'm… good," Victoria replied honestly.

"Don't lie to your mother, young lady," Her mother told her seriously. "You're back from dead! You can't feel good by definition."

"Honestly, Mom, I am! Sure, some of the scars still itch. Waking up in the hands of a terrorist organization sucks. The Council's denial sucks. One of my friends, Garrus - you remember him? - nearly died from the explosion and it sucks too. He is better now," Shepard stopped, and then smiled slightly. "Yet dying is far worse. The feeling of being alive once again… It is difficult to describe with words. All colors are brighter, the food tastier. Even touching cold metal surfaces with bare hands and feet is an intoxicating experience. No matter how much shit the universe is willing to throw my way, I am simply too happy to breathe once again."

"I would say that I understand but that would be a lie," Hannah replied, her eyes glistening. "You were given a second chance, and yet you once again throw yourself in danger to protect the galaxy. There never was and never will be a more proud mother than me, honey."

Victoria's eyes were watering. "Thank you mother, I… thank you."

The older Shepard wiped her tears and smiled. "You said Vakarian was with you. Is there anyone else from your former crew?"

Victoria also wiped her eyes and was glad to change the topic. She told her mother about her current crew. Shepard also mentioned Tali'Zorah, whom Victoria met during her investigation of Freedom's Progress. Although the young Quarian wasn't able to join Shepard's crew at that moment, she promised to help once she deals with some business for the Flotilla.

"Have you contacted your girl, Liara?" Victoria's mother asked.

Shepard rubbed her neck. "My girl? You mean you know about us?" she asked nervously. She never told her mother about Liara. Hell, she never told her mother that she was into women.

"Well I had an inkling that you were in the 'girls only club' for some time," Hannah said and smiled at her daughter's discomfort. "Please sunshine, we're not in the Middle Ages, I won't judge you. As to young Dr. T'Soni, well, you two were subtle, but not much."

"Oh, and what gave us away?" Victoria asked curiously.

"The way she supported you when you were limping out of the Presidium Tower. The way you two held hands during the victory celebrations," Hannah remarked. "And the way Liara cried when you… you know. That pretty summed it up."

Victoria wanted mentally to beat herself senseless for putting Liara through this. She remembered how inconsolable Liara was after her mother's death. And several months later Liara lost the second closest person in the universe. Shepard was not sure if she should wander into Liara's life once again.

"I don't know, Mom. It's been two years for her. And I'm not sure if I'll see the same Liara I knew. She saw me suffocating in space. Those moments change you," Shepard mumbled.

"Tell her, my daughter. Trust me, no matter how painful your reunion can be, the life in doubt is far worse."

"Yeah, I guess I will. Thanks Mom. I have to go. Hugs and kisses," Shepard told her mother their traditional goodbye phrase.

"Hugs and kisses. Stay safe out there my girl," Hannah smiled and ended the communication.

Shepard sighed and started to think how to contact Liara. She was not ready to talk via FTL connection. She needed to meet Liara in person. Therefore, she decided to simply write a message and see how it goes. She entered Liara's personal Extranet account by memory and started to type. She spent nearly an hour constantly rewriting the message and then stopped on a simple letter.

Hey, Angel Eyes.

It's me, Vic. You probably heard that I'm not dead. People say you're an information broker so you probably did. You probably also heard about Cerberus. It's complicated but I'll explain everything. Later. I need to deal with some stuff here in Terminus, it's about missing colonies. I can say that Collectors are involved. As soon as I get a break, I'll try to reach you. You're on Illium right? So, until then I guess.

Miss you so much.

Love, Shepard.

Victoria quickly hit the send button before doubts overwhelmed her. She just had to wait and see how it goes. Then Shepard searched the extranet for some of Liara's photos. Her personal collection was destroyed with the first Normandy. She found several decent ones, downloaded them to a small holographic screen, and placed it on her desk.

Shepard decided to return to the business of saving the galaxy. She still had two dossiers to check. Moreover, there was the Project Overlord. Shepard skimmed through the intel Miranda sent her. Usage of the Geth technology. A lot of automatic defenses. A real paradise for a rogue VI. Illusive Man's pet mad scientists have fucked up once again and he needed Shepard to clean up the mess.

Shepard entertained the idea of telling the Illusive Man to do his dirty work himself. Then the images from Lazarus cell flashed through her mind. Images of Cerberus personnel banging on the bulletproof glass and pleading for help before the mechs gunned them down. Victoria knew that not all Cerberus were bad guys. She had her ship crew that proved that point. If there was someone still alive in the Overlord cell, Shepard would go there and save him or her.

She pondered if she should first get the last two operatives, but decided against it. Neither the convict nor the krogan warlord seemed to be in any immediate danger. Jack, a powerful human biotic was in the cryo-stasis on the prison ship, and krogan was working for the Blue Suns. Or most likely they were working for him.

Shepard raised her head and addressed EDI, the Normandy's Artificial Intelligence.

"EDI, tell Joker to set course for Phoenix Massing, Typhon System."

"Acknowledged Shepard," EDI replied in her almost monotonous voice. "Anything else?"

"No, thank you, EDI."

"Logging you out Shepard," EDI replied before her holographic avatar winked out.

Suddenly, a strange feeling almost overwhelmed Shepard. A feeling that something big is about to happen. The last time she had such a feeling when she found out about the true nature of the Sovereign. Victoria shook her head and hoped that this time 'something big' was going to be a good thing.

Location: Orbit of Hive world Carmalia, Frigate of the Imperium of Man's Most Holy Inquisition Unwavering Watcher. Year circa M42.

Captain August Gallardi suddenly understood that he was 35 years old.

At least that was what the official Imperial date on his reports was telling him. He made many warp travels during his service to the Emperor and because of that it was nearly impossible to tell his actual age. He could be five years younger or ten years older. The latter was more probable because he sure felt as one.

It also meant that it was roughly 25 years since he entered the Emperor's service as a storm trooper recruit in the Schola Progenium of his homeworld Harakon. Schola Progenium was the military academy for the orphans of Imperial officers and other distinguished servants of the Emperor. August was one of such orphans. His mother, Arcadia Livingston, was Imperial Navy captain, commander of Dauntless-class light cruiser 'Wings of Harakon', and part of Livingston dynasty – one of the few proud Harakoni naval dynasties.

August's father, Leonard Gallardi, was senior armsman on 'Wings of Harakon'. He knew very little of him. Only that his mother spoke highly of him and that he was killed repelling heretic boarders when August was 3 years old.

August knew he was an unexpected result of his parents' relationship, though not an unloved one. His mother made it certain in each and every message she was able to send him. She explained that due to her dynasty policies about the offspring of its members he could not bear her last name. Nevertheless, she said that she will always be his mother and he will always be her beloved 'little sparrowhawk'.

Emperor's blood, how he hated when his mother called him that. And Emperor alone knew how August missed it when she was gone.

The news of her death arrived two weeks after his tenth birthday. The 'Wings of Harakon' was part of the fleet controlling the space around Cadia. When heretics' fleet once again tried to break through the Imperial blockade to assist the heretics' forces on the surface of Cadia, her ship was badly crippled by a glancing shot from a Chaos battleship's main lance batteries. She managed to maneuver her ship on a collision course with the enormous heretic's troopship. The troopship captain was so determined to deliver his troops to Cadia that he was moving too fast to avoid the light cruiser. The resulting explosion took out both 'Wings of Harakon' and the troopship with its 300 000 contingent of heretic troops. The shockwave damaged another three Chaos escort vessels.

It was a death worthy of the most legendary heroes. August knew that. His only wish was that he could have met his mother in person when she was still alive.

The next day after receiving news of his mother, August found himself standing before the Schola Progenium clerk who had to decide the young man's fate. At that time, the Schola seriously lacked in commissars and storm trooper recruits as well as the Sororitas novices. August could not join the Sororitas for obvious reasons, and he was not talkative enough to be a commissar. That is how he became a storm trooper cadet.

When eight years later his training at the Schola was complete, he and another 1500 storm troopers were assigned to the various newly mustered Imperial Guard regiments or as a replacement to those units that suffered casualties. August was assigned to his homeworld's famous grav-chute troopers - the Harakoni Warhawks, particularly to a newly mustered 511th Harakoni drop trooper regiment.

Sixteen years passed. Sixteen grueling years of head spinning rapid deployments and low orbit drops on a dozens of worlds across the Imperium. He steadily rose through the ranks of his storm trooper detail, mostly because his superiors tended to die while he survived despite many injuries. He nearly died during his participation in the cleansing of Cadia, which was still infested with heretics' forces, sixteen years after Augusts' mother valiant sacrifice in the orbit of the same planet. Imperial command promoted him to captain but seeing that he and his unit, already reduced from regiment to 511th drop trooper battalion, needed some time recovering decided that that they can recover while transferring to another front on Imperium's southern borders. There the tyranids' new Hive Fleet Leviathan was rapidly pushing towards the heart of the Imperium.

It was on the agriworld Sataria Captain Gallardi finally met his current master - inquisitor Sarebas. His battalion was ordered to deploy deep within tyranid-infested territory to extract the inquisitor and his retinue with "valuable intelligence". Gallardi lost half of his unit trying to get to the objective. Not because he was incompetent, far from it. There were simply too many tyranids. He lost another half of his unit trying to cover inquisitor's team extraction. The last thing he remembered was a bioplasma explosion ten meters from his position. His oldest friend, Sergeant Sorenson, shielded him from the blast but Gallardi was still knocked unconscious. He did not expect to wake up because the tyranids were getting very close to his position.

Except that he did wake up, already in the medical ward of 'Unwavering Watcher', inquisitor Sarebas' personal ship, where the inquisitor thanked August for his assistance and then offered him the dubious honor of joining his retinue. Gallardi was smart enough to know that Inquisition's "offers" were nothing short of direct orders from the Emperor Himself. He asked why the inquisitor would be interested in simple guard officer like him, but the answer was simple: Sarebas lost some of his retinue to the tyranids and needed to replenish his hired muscle…

August shook himself from recollection of his past. He scooped up the dataslates with reports, stood up from his desk and set off to the inquisitor's chambers to give Sarebas his summary. The reports he was carrying were from the local law enforcements and Adeptus Arbites and were stating pretty much the same thing that they were stating a week ago: possible presence of xenos on the planet, particularly the eldar, and a possibility of a xenos worshipping cult. It was only because they were xenos that the Arbites had not already purged the possible cult locations. The information was forwarded to the Inquisition and because inquisitor Sarebas was the closest member of the Ordo Xenos, the branch of the Inquisition that dealt with aliens, he was tasked to investigate.

Eldar. The only time Gallardi fought against this particular breed of xenos was 5 years ago when eldar raiders tried to board their troop carrier, somehow thinking it was an easy prey. The xenos were killed to the last men, paying dearly for their insolence (or stupidity, it was hard to tell with aliens). Now, working for the Ordo Xenos for several months, August knew those were not exactly eldar but their sinister kin. Imperium called them dark eldar, the eldar called them druchii. The difference was pretty much the same as the one between human heretical Chaos worshipers and loyal servants of the Imperium.

Inquisitor Sarebas almost immediately stated that here on Carmalia they were not dealing with dark eldar. It was not their style. They would raid, pillage and enslave the civilian population rather than sneak around in the shadows, as their current adversaries were. That didn't improve the situation by a great margin. Where the eldar were concerned, trouble was sure to follow.

Lost in his thoughts about eldar, August nearly collided with Magos Wasserman, the Mechanicus adept from the inquisitor's retinue.

"Ah, captain. Off to report to the inquisitor, I guess," Wasserman asked, his voice synthetic because a breathing and vox apparatus replaced his lungs and mouth. Like most members of his order, he had replaced many parts of his body with implants and augmentics. All to be closer to the image of the Machine God he worshiped.

"Greetings Magos, and yes, I will deliver my summary to him shortly," August replied curtly.

"Then you can spare my time by also giving him his weapon," Wasserman produced a plasma pistol from the fold of his robe. "Tell him I finished all repairs and even implemented some technology from tau plasma weaponry. Should be less prone to overheating now"

Gallardi carefully took the potent weapon and examined it. The weapon looked no different from when he had last seen it, before so whatever improvements were made by the magos they had to be inside the weapon.

"You improved the pistol using xenotech?" August asked curiously.

"No, I reverse engineered the xenotech and then used it to improve the weapon," Wasserman replied almost happily (or so Gallardi thought, you could never be sure with Mechanicus adepts)

"And the difference is?" August asked his expression puzzled.

"The difference is that I used brains that were given to me by the Machine God, broke down both xenos' weapon and the inquisitor's gun and looked for differences. Found out that tau weapons use more effective heat venting systems, and then created similar systems in the inquisitors gun," Magos eagerly explained while furiously gesticulating with his arms and mechadentrites "Essentially there is nothing alien in the gun, used the idea and not the actual parts from tau weapon."

Gallardi was sure there was some technoheresy in there, but that was Wasserman for you: never the one to follow the religious dogmas of his order and to appease the machine spirits by constantly muttering incantations. He always told August that proper maintenance and cleaning would make the machine spirits far happier than useless babbling. That was probably why he was part of the inquisitor's retinue. They tended to attract eccentric individuals.

"Also repaired the outer casing on your hotshot lasgun, already put it in the armory," Magos continued, "Try not to bend it on some genestealer's skull in the future, will you? That's a ranged weapon for a reason."

"And that was exactly the reason I used it as a club: ranged weapons tend to run out of ammo in the most inconvenient moments," August replied jokingly.

"Already have a solution for that, have picked up new drum shaped powerpacks for you on Carmalia's Inquisition equipment stores. They are rarely used because they make the weapon a little too heavy but you shouldn't have much trouble," Wasserman has informed him, already turning to leave.

"Thank you Magos, I will put them to good use," Gallardi bowed slightly and turning to inquisitor's chambers smiling slightly. He had wanted to get his hands on the drum shaped powerpacks for some time. Working for the Inquisition had its privileges.

August finally approached the door to the inquisitor's room and pressed the button near the door to announce his presence to Sarebas. When he heard a muffled reply from the room, he opened the room and entered.

Sarebas was sitting at his desk looking intently at some sort of ancient tome. Gallardi could see that the script was alien, although he could not tell whose exactly the language was.

"The latest batch of reports, my lord," Gallardi told the inquisitor showing him the pack of dataslates.

"Will I see something new in them?" Sarebas asked without lifting his gaze from the book.

"They confirm all early information about the xenos presence," Gallardi told him and then added. "They also narrowed down the location of possible cult gatherings to one of the locations mentioned previously. The one in the Lower Hive near the waste dump tubes."

"Yes, my own sources tell me the same," the inquisitor stated. The "sources" he was referring to were probably his psychic abilities. Gallardi had seen the inquisitor use them in battle and could say that Sarebas was a potent psyker if a little too impatient. His strategy was to hit the enemy so hard that he would not recover from the blow. It had worked well so far, but only the Emperor knew for how long it would continue to do so.

"It is settled then," Sarebas continued. "We will move immediately. I feel slight disturbances in the warp. It is possible that the xenos will try to carry out some sort of ritual. Whatever they are planning must not be finished."

"I will inform the team and the Arbites. We can also order the PDF to mobilize and provide support…" Gallardi began.

"No!" The inquisitor lifted his eyes from the tome and stared at the captain. "If we move in force the eldar will escape and we might never find out what they were up to. No, this operation requires discretion. Only the team will go."

"My lord, I must object. We have no idea of the enemy's exact numbers," Gallardi replied hastily. "Also, they are eldar. There is a high probability they will have psykers with them."

"Do not concern yourself about the enemy's psykers, I'm more than capable of dealing with them." Sarebas replied nonchalantly. "You place too much faith in the bunch of xenos. My decision stands: only me and my retinue."

"Yes, my lord I will spread the orders immediately," Gallardi replied, giving up. He then placed the plasma pistol on the inquisitor's desk. "Magos Wasserman asked me to deliver you this with his regards."

"Ah, yes. And did he finish the… 'upgrades'?" Sarebas asked as he gingerly picked up the weapon. Gallardi nodded. "Good. You are dismissed, Captain."

Gallardi left the inquisitor's room and moved to order his teammates to prepare. The closest room led to Sahi, the death cult assassin. Sahi was actually the sole reason August survived the Sataria. When he was knocked out the diminutive assassin managed to drag him to the last Valkyrie transport, which was no small feat. The Harakon is a low gravity world so all its inhabitants are naturally tall, Gallardi himself being a little over two meters tall. When he asked Sahi why she risked her life to save him, she answered: "The Emperor told me to" and refused to elaborate further.

Sahi was sitting cross-legged with her back to the door, holding her slightly curved two-handed blade horizontally before her. "Is it time?" The assassin asked in her rasping whisper.

"Yes. Gear up and meet everyone in the shuttle bay," Gallardi replied.

"I will be there" Sahi replied but did not move. August left her room knowing that she would be the first one in the hangar.

He then moved to the room that belonged to Bruno Dotman, a mercenary from the feral world of Birmingham. There he found Bruno in his typical makeshift armor, his chainaxe resting against the table. He also found there another member of the inquisitor's retinue - Zeck Urengoy. Zeck was Sarebas' main interrogator. He was also a former criminal whose specialty was chemical terrorism. As a way of repentance, he was offered a chance to use his skills in service to the Inquisition, which meant he could continue doing what he did best on a legal basis.

"Oi! Capn' come 'ere and 'have a drink with us" Bruno boomed in his thickly accented Low Gothic.

"Later Bruno, the inquisitor needs everyone geared up in shuttle bay as soon as possible." Gallardi told to both agents.

"That be a good reason to drink, just to keep the blood pumping 'efore battle!" Bruno replied taking another swing from the bottle of amasec.

"Come now Bruno, you know our glorious Captain will not lower himself to drink with the likes of us," Zeck said acidly from his seat.

"You don't speak 'bout the capn' like that! He is good with that 'atchet of his. Saved my bacon like what, three times already?" Bruno retorted.

"Now that you mention it, let us drink for the glorious captain Gallardi, The Mighty Chopper of xenos!" Zeck replied, his voice full of sarcasm.

"Oi, I'll drink to that!" Bruno boomed once again but Gallardi was already leaving the room. He knew Zeck didn't like him and the feeling was mutual. Although, August disliked the man because he considered Zeck extremely unreliable. Zeck would most likely jump ship if something bad happened to the inquisitor. As to why Zeck hated Gallardi, well, the reason became obvious only recently.

The same reason was walking down the corridor carrying a box of grenades. Jocasta Angelidis was a former Arbites enforcer, now working for inquisitor as his main investigator. Zeck was trying to get in her good graces (which meant into her panties) for some time without success. Jocasta, of course, was not interested, because she was Arbitrator and had nothing but deep contempt for criminal scum like Zeck. Yet when Gallardi became part of the team, he and Jocasta quickly became friends. They both where former Schola Progenium cadets and shared the love of guns, big guns, blowing stuff up and both had a long history of Schola pranks.

This rattled Zeck pretty strongly. He even tried to get back at them by voicing his concerns to the inquisitor of possible "romantic liaison" between the two. Sarebas, being the psyker, quickly dismissed that, although he told Gallardi that if he was thinking of having such a relationship, he should throw the idea out of his head because it would somehow "decrease the team's efficiency".

Gallardi told him that this should not become an issue. Of course, Jocasta was an attractive woman despite several scars on her face and optical implant she was sporting after losing an eye, but they were both professional enough to hold whatever feelings there might be in check.

"What's the word, August? Are we back in business?" Jocasta asked cheerfully, moving into team's armory with her box.

"Yup, get everything you need and then get a little more," Gallardi replied entering the armory and moving to check his hotshot lasgun.

"Let me guess. We are doing it alone without backup," she placed the grenade box on the workbench and started to don her armor. "Again. Damn it."

"Tell me about it. ' This operation calls for discretion '." August mocked the inquisitor's voice. He started checking the new powerpacks. Each had the capacity of five powerclips, and he could carry one in the gun and three spare. It would roughly quadruple his usual overall ammo capacity.

"I see Wasserman gave you new toys," Jocasta glanced at him while attaching grenades to her belt.

"Something tells me I am really going to need them," August said as he moved to put on his storm trooper carapace armor.

"Don't worry, it's not like we can do much against the inquisitor's wishes," She told him, picking up her combat shotgun and heavy caliber solid slug pistol. "You know, if we are lucky, the xenos will take care of Zeck," she added with a grin.

"Ha! Hell no," August snorted. "You know the Emperor loves us very much but not that much."

At the mentioning of His name, Jocasta made the sign of Aquila. "Trust Him, August. He will guide us through the darkness," she added reverently

Gallardi nodded. "The Emperor protects, Jocasta."

Location: Hive world Carmalia, Hive Secundus, Lower Hive, abandoned Munitorum warehouse.

Farseer Maeteris was tired.

She was tired of constantly supporting the illusion spell she was using to hide her kin's movements on this cursed mon-keigh planet. Not that it did her any good. She was aware that she made several slip-ups and mon-keigh agents had detected their presence in this 'hive city'. She knew it was her fault because she was not very experienced with wide area incantations. This was natural because she attained the title of Farseer only recently. At least in eldar terms. On mon-keigh terms it was almost thirty years.

Maeteris of Craftworld Ulthwe was an oddity to many eldar. Born on the Craftworld that was almost constantly battling the forces of Chaos, her first choice of Path was that of the Artist. No one openly berated her for this choice, but she saw the disapproval in others' eyes. She loved to dance and play on the wraithbone horn but she understood that she could not protect her home like many other young eldar did. Then one day she got caught in the middle of another raid launched by mon-keigh Chaos worshippers. She was saved by the warriors of the Howling Banshees Aspect. While Maeteris cowered in the rubble, the lithe warriors quickly dispatched the clumsy mon-keigh. Maeteris was mesmerized by the movements of the Banshees who didn't fight but danced the dance of death. That day Maeteris decided to step on the Path of the Warrior.

Many cycles later when Maeteris became a renowned warrior of the Howling Banshees Aspect, most of her kin was sure she would become a powerful Exarch of her aspect. It came as a great surprise when one day she came into Howling Banshees' Temple and surrendered her armor and helmet declaring that she would abandon the Path of the Warrior. When she was asked why, she answered that her usually meager psychic abilities started to develop rapidly. Therefore she felt she could play a greater role in the protection of Craftworld as a seer than as a warrior. Thus Maeteris stepped on her final Path. The Path of the Seer.

Though at first she acted as a Warlock, leading her kin into battle and assisting them with her psychic abilities, her skill in manipulating the Warp started to rise exponentially. She started to receive her first glimpses in the complex web of future events. Several cycles later she became part of the Seer Council of Farseer Idranel. She helped Idranel on many occasions and as time passed she became her trusted advisor. Maeteris admired the strength and determination of the vaunted Farseer. The only thing she did not understand was her complete distrust of the mon-keigh. True, most of them were fickle and weak willed but some like Space Marines could be a useful tool in the hand of a skillful manipulator. During the Aurelian Campaign Maeteris advised to use the Space Marines instead of orks as a weapon against the tyranids. But Idranel was not swayed from the path that ultimately led her to her death at the hands of Space Marines.

Maeteris was spared from sharing her mistress' fate some time before Idranel decided to lead the assault on the mon-keigh world of Meridian. Maeteris was sent back to the Craftworld. Maeteris pleaded Idranel to let her stay and help, but Idranel stated that Maeteris had a different destiny and that it was a high time for her to become a Farseer in her own right. Back on the Craftworld the Farseers' council debated for some time on whether to declare Maeteris a Farseer or not. The purpose of the debate eluded Maeteris because the choice was pretty obvious: she was already lost on the Path of the Seer and delaying her induction into Farseers would not change that.

Maybe the old hags were just jealous of your ample breasts…

My breasts are not 'ample'! Sure, they are a little bigger than the average but it's nothing unnatural… Exarch Sezem's are even bigger… And it's not like eldar place great value in body curves like the mon-keigh…

Maeteris slapped herself mentally. Those were not her thoughts, she was not some druchii to think of such things. No, these were whispers from outside of her mind. Her mental fatigue has started to manifest itself. It also meant another thing: the mon-keigh cultists she was hunting started to prepare for their ritual. A ritual to bring forth a daemon from the Warp. Maeteris was sent to this world to prevent the coming of said daemon. She knew only one name of this entity: The Crossroads Keeper. The Farseers predicted his return to this world, and it was her responsibility to banish the daemon back to the Warp where it would take him some time to find another way into the material realm. The best way to do this was to strike him down when he was most vulnerable: during the summoning ritual.

Maeteris reinforced her mental barriers and stood up from where she was kneeling in meditation. She put on her helmet and checked the wards on her armor. Then she took her witchblade, a long blade slightly curved at the end. Using a combination of her martial training, dance moves and psychic abilities Maeteris could be a deadly opponent in close combat. She didn't use any ranged weaponry because she trusted her psychic skills to do what was needed. She moved to exit the room she was using as a meditation chamber.

Exarch Ulathar of the Dire Avengers was waiting outside as usual. In the past he and Maeteris were close and she even considered taking him as permanent bondmate. But then he became an Exarch and his life now was fixed on martial prowess and protection of the Craftworld. There was no space for Maeteris.

"Exalted Farseer, the host is-" Ulathar began.

"Assemble whatever forces we have now, Ulathar, we move immediately," Maeteris cut him off with the wave of a hand.

"But Farseer! This is but a small portion of the forces you requested," The Exarch protested. "It would be folly to underestimate our enemies."

"If I wanted to underestimate our current enemies I would have come alone," Maeteris told the him. "It was never a question 'if' but 'how' we achieve victory. I requested those forces so that we could strike decisively and without losses. We will still win with our current numbers, but our losses would be great."

"Then we should have stricken earlier! You know everyone here is ready to do his or her duty and die to protect the Craftworld!" Ulathar exclaimed.

"Yes, I know. But it is my duty as a Farseer to help you do your duty and lead you safely back to the Craftworld," Maeteris patiently replied and added. "Assemble the forces."

Exarch bowed slightly and moved to issue orders. Maeteris knew he would make it through the coming battle. She looked at several of her warriors who were preparing for the battle and she knew that some of them would not survive. It was the burden of being a Farseer to know the possible future and to know that it was rarely bright.

She also knew that it would be Ulathar who would lead the remaining eldar back to Ulthwe. Her own future was uncertain after the battle. It worried her greatly. She always saw the possibilities of different future but not now. Now it was pure uncertainty. It was neither a cold promise of death nor the promise of her soul to be devoured by She Who Thirsts. Now future looked as if it was something yet to be shaped.

There was only one permanent feature in her vision of her future. She was always accompanied by the same creature. It was a bird of prey. On the right wing it had three runes. No, not runes but the mon-keigh digits: 511.

Maeteris sighed. She will not allow the uncertainty to affect her skills and judgment now when so much was at stake. Once again she and her enemies would dance and she would be the better dancer.