THRESHER MAW TONGUE
Urdnot Grunt's Story
When Shepard requires a tattoo artist for multiple sessions, Jack finds herself stitching together the commander's unspoken history. Pre Omega Relay - End
Fingertips traced the hot sand stone, black paint pigments flaking under her nails. An ancient painting decorated the wasted palace walls, disjointed shapes washed out by sand storms and wear over time. Green rays circled the illustrated beast's head, claws extended and piercing through the heads of smaller krogan silhouettes. The tail lashed and turned in circular directions, violently framing the old mural with interconnecting knots.
"Kalros, mother of all thresher maw," A deep voice murmured beside her.
Jack turned to regard the company that flanked her. The krogan peered at her with one dark eye, black fabric weaved with red canvas bracing the colossal back hump shadowing his shoulders. Thin fabric buckled around his body instead of armor, leaving the alien exposed to the elements and back stabs of his peers. The convict raised a brow, biting a lip as she regarded the stranger.
"Our ancestors admired and respected thresher maw," the stranger continued, scaled, parched lips pressed tight against black molars. "In ancient years before the nuclear winter, our capitol flanked Kalros's nest. She was the kingdom's defense. When rival states tried to breach those walls, the hammers fell and Kalros came, feasting. The ancestors staved her hunger and she protected them."
The alien hummed, his voice throaty as he vocalized his contemplation. "The Urdnot clan are thresher maw hunters. Our traditions, songs, stories, and rites descend from the males and females who slaughtered Kalros's offspring so none could rival her territory. The Urdnot know how to call upon the maws, direct them to feast upon our enemies. There are stories of ancient warriors who could tame Kalros's babes, and rode on their backs across the sand sea. Have you seen one before, human? A thresher maw?"
The convict narrowed her eyes, shaking her head no. The krogan blinked, a soft growl hissing from his throat, "I do not understand your language, human. Do you not speak?"
"I speak just fine," Jack grumbled. "I meant to say no, I've never seen a thresher maw. But I've heard they are fucking nasty and can kill whole colonies off just by spitting at them."
The krogan guffawed, teeth snapping together as the air rolled out of him in amusement. "Human colonies are weak. Those who cannot stave back a thresher maw deserve to die. We are meat, human. The universe is meat. We feast or we die. So it was written."
Jack perked her brow, really looking at this krogan, really taking in the information. She accepted this survivalist's philosophy. Jack felt welcomed in this carved out world of bloody destruction and violent realities. She belonged here.
"Why aren't you dressed in armor like your other buddies?" The convict asked, one finger lifting up and down, pointing out the krogan's ensemble of vulnerable fabrics.
He sniffed once, "Because I have already proven my strength by sacrificing my identity and self to the ancient ways. No warrior dares to stab a shaman of the Urdnot clan. It evokes evil spirits, not to mention my brothers and sisters would sacrifice him to the thresher maw. I am well protected."
Protected? Why? Because the guy can recite a few songs, dances, and history? How useful was that in a universe of meat-eating meat, do or be dead? Jack shook her head. The shaman's existence seemed contradictory among those carved from violence and brutality. The concepts of loyalty, trust, and love eluded Jack. She was betrayed, fucked over, and hurt too long to know such things, though the woman knew such things did exist, though never for her.
A loud shrill broke the stagnate air outside. Jack could hear a human woman cry out, a loud trilling with the tongue that pierced the air in a continuous, high-pitched tone. The ecstatic sound lent to excitement. The shaman next to her hissed, a low rattling noise whistling between thick molars. Slowly, Jack could hear a tide of combined pitches, the deep hissing echoing the trail of ululation.
"The krantt as returned," the shaman announced in rich tones, walking down the beaten stone towards a window peeking outside. "A prophecy is fulfilled."
Jack blinked, trailing behind the krogan as the sound of trilling shattered outside, "What prophecy?"
"In the end of times, when sons are born dead and plants wither starved, a warrior molded by the ancestors shall rise," the shaman voiced, emphasizing his D's and S's with a clack, teeth snapping between lips, sauntering towards a window that poured bright, blinding light. "Born from the belly of the stars and mothered by one who shall rip out the tongue of a thresher maw... A high trill will rise from the dead air, krogan shall reclaim glor-"
The shaman stopped and his eyes widened. He hissed low before speaking, words garbled in a rich, alien tongue that did not translate on Jack's chip. The convict blinked, stepping around the krogan as she peered out the window, investigating the outside hub. Krogan warriors bobbed up and down. It gave the appearance of an ocean with plated armor and snapping jaws for tides. Hissing boiled in the air as the warriors moved. Urdnot Wrex stood from his throne. Jack couldn't read the old krogan's expression. It was either serious or grave, no flashing teeth or grinning.
A loud trill trumpeted and the crowd parted. Behind a veil of yellow dust, Jack could see Shepard's outline. Her arms raised, a soft light enclosed her body under an umbrella of neon blues. The commander trilled again, a cacophony of hisses answering in bated reply, the faint cry of other trills echoing behind the sea of warriors - lower pitched, velvet and growled, sounding from the female camps that circled the neutral zone.
Jack narrowed her eyes, deciphering the shapes under the alien light that painted the yellow decay sickening blue. Shepard climbed the beaten path, krogan pushing backwards as she raised a moving, writhing, glowing snake above her head. The massive, organic muscle twitched in unpredictable sequences. Grunt stood behind, hoisting the creature's speckled white tail. They restrained the muscle, presenting it as a gift to the clan leader. Urdnot Wrex watched them seriously. A blanket of mucus and blood covered Shepard's body. Parts of her armor was missing and the shields flickered static, sputtering pathetically. Grunt was no worse for wear, bloodied, bleeding, with chunks of flesh torn out, plates ripped back near the crown of his head.
"My krantt and I present glory to Clan Urdnot," Grunt rolled, shoulders tense as he raised the alien creature higher. "We are strong, may we lend our strength to our people,"
The ochre giant stared, deep red eyes fixed on the creature's length as it moved, subdued only under Grunt's powerful clasp. Its purple tipped head lashed into Shepard's face, forcing the commander to spit out a nasty curse. Jack couldn't tell where the creature started or ended, but noticed the thicker end oozed a sickly red-yellow color.
"Jane... I've seen a lot of shit in my life..." Wrex started, the deep roll of his voice barreling over the hisses and shouts. "... I've been betrayed by my father on hollowed ground... I've watched a monster overtake the Citadel... Hell, I've even seen an asari willingly undergo the Rite of Passage and become shaman for Urdnot's female clan. Fulfilled prophecies happened many times in the past... but not one so literally."
"You know me," the human strained. "Trying to unite the galaxy... and all that."
Wrex's tongue clucked thick against the top of his mouth, sharp sound hissing from his throat. "This takes a lot of quad, Jane."
"Maybe it's time, Wrex. We are only meat, you and I. Take this young one as yours, and take me as your warrior."
"That is a lot to ask, Jane... Many of the more conservative clans won't like this."
"And yet... here I am," the commander shouted. "The mother who ripped out the tongue of a thresher maw and presents her son who is descended from the warrior ancestors." She snapped back at the warriors behind her, daring them. "Here I am!"
Shepard and Grunt dropped the glowing, writhing thing at the foot of Wrex's throne. Jack recognized it. It was no snake, no living creature... but a convulsing tongue, twisting and moving under the dying current of cells exploding with electricity inside the veins. It was a thresher maw's tongue. The convict's jaw dropped, eyes widened, nostrils flared, muscles tense, studying Shepard as she turned to meet the ocean of warriors who continued to hiss aggressively, echoed by the background of females trilling from the protected camps nearby.
"Jane. You put me in a bad... bad spot..." Wrex hissed.
"Wrex, sometimes being a leader means making hard decisions," the commander whistled. "You know that."
The krogan hushed. "I did not think you would go so far..."
"Clearly," Shepard replied. "Clearly you do not know me at all then."
Urdnot Wrex hushed, a thick tongue rolling across his molars as deep crimson eyes drifted from flinching thresher maw tongue to Grunt who thrust his chest out proudly.
"She is worthy of our ancestors," Grunt affirmed. "Shepard is a warrior worthy of the dead. Her body maybe weak and fleshy, but her mind is sharp and her teeth tears flesh as easily as any proud krogan. If you do not accept her, then I do not wish to join a clan stupid enough to refuse her."
The leader sighs, his serious expression lending itself to a more human-like impression. One plated brow raised, features morphed into a strange impression of sadness and confusion communicated to Shepard privately. Shaking his head, the ochre giant pounded his chest with one fist, ferocity and aggression whistling over his body, reaffirming krogan realities.
"Clan Urdnot welcomes you... Urdnot Grunt. Urdnot Shepard..." Wrex shouted.
Immediately, a fight broke out. Heads lashed into heads, the thick skulls of krogan beating into each other as blood ran high, anger and frustration pent into one another. The varren caught onto the blood lust, thrashing into the violence, teeth lashing and blood spilling into deep pools. Wrex said nothing and fell back into this throne, watching the vast plains of blood rage take over his people in a sickening stroke. Shepard pushed Grunt back when the juvenile tried to dive into the blood bath. She knocked her head into his chest once with one quick whip, reminding the young krogan where his place was.
"... Are they all really that pissed they'll just knock each other's brains out until they're all dead?" Jack inquired dumbly, the smell of destruction painting the land a repulsive red.
The shaman shook his head, "This is a prophecy to end all prophecies. Our astrologers have only outlined death as the next course. We shall reclaim glory under the shadow of he who shall ride Kalros, and challenge the void. It has been written. But... his mother is a human. This... is considered an insult to many who interpret the ways for their own personal gain."
Jack loved violence. The smell of it, the sound, the screams, the cry, the life. Someone's death was a good reminder how alive she was, one less person to kill her. But this culture of acknowledged murder sickened her. Brown eyes drifted from beast to beast, watching certain warriors fall as the roar of fighting persisted, armor crunching as muscle and flesh collided into each other. They beat into each other, the pulp of red, smell of death, and steaming bodies writhing under the throne carved of stone, Shepard, Grunt, and Wrex watched on stoically.
A wail pierced the clear sky, and the warriors stopped tackling into one another. Another wail brokered from the camp's edge, a sobbing cry that languished with a slow swoop. Soft cries beckoned around the camp. The krogan dropped their weapons and stopped the violent compulsion, falling to their knees as their bodies heaved. The wails continued distantly, the curdling cries falling over the crowd and silencing the pit of destruction. Jack swallowed slowly, brown gaze drifting from the silenced warriors to Wrex whose head drew low, eyes closed and teeth snapped shut. Grunt blinked confused, muscles tense and blue marble eyes following the cries that echoed off the canyon walls in an orchestra of sorrow.
Shepard had launched herself from podium, shoving and pushing against the bodies, kicking them aside and knocking back krogan colored with self-inflicted wounds, trailing towards the beacon of mourning.
"What is happening..?" Jack hushed.
"The song of tragedy," the shaman answered, his voice an eerie disconnect. "The females have birthed another stillborn."
Jack watched as Shepard continued forward. When a male attempted to cross paths with her, she shoved him aside her headbutted him, knocking each aside pathetically as she disappeared behind the ocean of bodies swaying with heartbreak.
"... Where is she going?"
The shaman hummed gently, "Shepard is clan Urdnot now and must uphold our traditions. As a female, Shepard must join her sisters in mourning. We are not allowed to interfere, the rites of the females are deeply respected, sacred, and unknown to males."
The old krogan shook his head, "I must go and speak to the father, to help him prepare the fires if the dead child was a son."
Jack watched with uncertainty as the shaman removed himself from the room. The sound of hundreds crying filled the day and later the night, seizing the warriors into a numb silence.
The convict could not sleep as the mourning cries continued, an orchestra of heartbreak, hiking into the darkness. Sometimes she peeked out the guest room's window, watching the males as they remained - swaying and chanting gently to one another.
The warriors remained stationary until the songs ended, the last cry sounding the next day forward, throaty and cracked.
"So why did you do it?" Jack asked, pulling out her tattoo gun from that blue chipped case, piecing together the tool.
Shepard looked and smelled like shit. The armor was gone, assuming the dented piece of fused metal and reinforced materials were so badly damaged that repairs would've been a waste of money. Soft fabric folded around her figure, deep mahogany mixed with blue satin that effectively hid the curves of her body. They were loose with inexperienced adjustments made. The robe was better outfitted for a krogan, repurposed for a human's use.
When the commander untied the obi around her waist, the fabrics fell to the floor, revealing a beaten, bruised, badly damaged body that weakened Jack's heart. The perfect canvas looked disgusting, and required extensive repairs before meeting Jack's satisfaction.
"Why did I do what?" Shepard challenged, collecting a rag and dipping it into a hot water basin, wringing excess water from white cotton.
Jack rolled her eyes, "Oh, I don't know... Kill a thresher maw. Rip out its tongue. Fulfill krogan prophecies. Join mysterious krogan females in their song of death."
The commander frowned, "I killed a thresher maw because its fun. I ripped out its tongue because why not. I fulfilled a krogan prophecy because I needed to prove a point."
Connecting the tubes to the supplies, Jack snapped on those latex gloves and studied Shepard carefully. The woman merely glared back, pressing the hot towel over her chest and rubbing off the blood, sweat, dirt, and bruises that clung to pale skin - hot cloth washing over her breasts and around her torso, revealing the canvas of her flesh.
"Yeah?" Jack challenged. "What about the females then? Why did you join them?"
The commander narrowed her eyes, throwing the dirty wash rag back into the basin and collapsing onto the bed, arms raised above her head. "I want you to ink a thresher maw across my belly, twined around my breasts, with the head right under my collar-bone."
Jack rolled her eyes, "Not until you tell me why the fuck you joined the females."
Shepard snarled, "Are you so stupid you need people to constantly answer your own dumb questions? Isn't it obvious, Jack? Isn't it fucking obvious why?" She then closed her eyes. "Just ink the fucking thresher maw."
"Not until you tell me why."
The commander frowned, grinding her teeth and arms stretched over her head, hands cradling the back of her neck. She hissed between the gap that decorated her front teeth, aggressive sound adding tension. Jack snarled right back, jutting a finger in the air right between Shepard's eyes, "Fuck you, 'Foucault'. Fuck. You. You sit here and act like a tough bitch, but you and I both know that between the two of us, we all want a little something. There's always something that's gotta give. You want ink, and I want fucking answers."
"Why the fuck do you care," Shepard snapped.
Jack paused, "Because I want to know if you really are worth this one way suicide march."
Silenced whistled the space between them. Jack bit her lower lip, and Shepard breathed evenly through her nostrils, eyes shut and lips tights. Her face painted an ugly blank, stomach muscles flex, jaw tense, nostrils flared. Slowly, the commander opened her eyes, grey gaze picking at Jack's even stare, red pinpoints of cybernetic enhancements an eerie glow behind black pupils. "I had a daughter that I lost. And now..." Shepard's eyes widened, teeth flashing, face stiff as the words fell from her lips, deep, rich, hopeful. "Now I am a mother once again."
That was it. Shepard closed her eyes and said nothing else, stretching out across the bed sculpted from hard, sandy rock. Jack said nothing, choosing not to venture further. This confession was more than an even trade, this information more than what Jack actually bargained for. The convict swallowed slowly and pressed her foot against the pedal, the whirr of the gun bringing life into silence.
The commander's lips parted and she started to gently trill, the song of life thrilling from her throat and coating the room jubilantly. Jack pricked taut skin bright reds and browns, glowing blues and spotted whites decorating the monster's tongue across Shepard's rib cage and belly. Still, the woman whispered the songs of happiness and life, breathing into the pain until the cry turned blank and the skin numb.
Author's Note ::
Thank you so much for all of the follows, favs, and reviews. They are incredibly encouraging.
Also... uh... I did a quick check on how many chapters this story will cover. There will be a lot. A LOT. I'm barely a fourth done.
If you like this fic, then you will love:
The Lioness and the Bull by ElectricZ - A little Grunt & Jack fun.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Beasts of Southern Wild
Beasts of Southern Wild Soundtrack (Which has become this story's soundtrack in my head)