Nestled comfortably in the middle of a lush valley, the colony of Horizon was seen by the people as the perfect place to call home. Free from outside control the people lived their lives in peace. The small community was close; people would always take topi me to give a smile and a greeting to anyone they met as they prepared for a new day. Children young and old played in the streets as the adults went about their duties. Everywhere you went you'd find a citizen with a smile on their face. Truly this was paradise.
But there was one among them who knew full well that even a paradise could burn. They'd watched it happen just two years ago, when a land even more beautiful than this was scarred by the fires of war. They did not intend to let it happen again. The lone alliance soldier stood apart from the rest of the colonists, resting under a lone tree in a rare moment of downtime.
The resting soldier's eyes opened at the sound of approaching footsteps. Old reflexes flared up putting them on the alert, but quickly dying down upon seeing the dark-haired woman approaching him.
"Staff Commander Alenko, sleeping on the job I see." The woman observed.
The man picked himself off and dusted off his armor, "Just taking a break, Lilith. Been fixing those defense towers so long I'm starting to think in calculus."
"Still having trouble calibrating the targeting matrix?" She asked, crossing her arms.
"Yes, I need those technicians you took to work on the comm systems to figure it out."
Lilith frowned, shaking her head. "Sorry Commander, but getting communications back online takes priority."
"Of course," Alenko sighed as he rubbed his forehead. "There's always something, isn't there? I suppose the colonists'll try to pin that one on me, too."
"The people here don't trust the alliance, Commander. It's nothing personal." Lilith reassured him.
Alenko gave a stiff nod before turning away. "I know, but it sure isn't helping any..." He trailed off as he noticed a low thundering sound coming from the sky. He looked up at the sky to see what could be causing it. Those weren't storm clouds, what could be making that kind of noise?
Lilith noticed the noise as it slowly grew louder, looking at the Commander with concern. "Kaidan, what's going on."
"I dunno. Stay back, just in case." Kaidan said as he reached for his rifle. He kept his unwavering gaze fixed at the sky as the thundering grew louder and louder until the very air was shaking. Colonists began coming out of their homes wondering what was going on. Kaidan raised his rifle to the sky, using its scope to magnify his vision. And then he saw it.
A massive object descended through the clouds, a spaceship unlike anything he'd ever seen. It looked more organic than metal, as if someone had lifted a mountain out of the very earth and attached an enormous engine to make it fly. The metal buried beneath its mountainous exterior glowed blue in several sections with powerful eezo energy.
Kaidan didn't know what it was or why it was here, but he doubted it was for anything good. He turned to the colonist beside him, "Lilith, gather your people and get to the bunker."
The woman stood frozen in fear, barely able to respond, "Wh...what?"
Kaidan looked back at the sky and raised his rifle. It looked like a dark cloud Was just released from the ship, heading right for them. An audible buzzing filled his ears as they got closer and closer.
"Go!" Kaidan ordered as he fired his rifle into the oncoming swarm, "Get everyone to safety! I'll cover you as best I can!"
Lilith snapped out of her stupor at the sound of gunfire. She didn't hear Kaidan's words. She only saw the incoming infestation. Fear gripped her heart, and she ran. She ran for her life.
The Cerberus kodiat shuttle broke through the dark clouds above the garden world as it soared towards the colony. The pilot wasted no time in heading right for the safest drop zone for fear of being detected. The craft came to a stop above a small stretch of flora-covered terrain on the outskirts of the colony and slowly descended. As it gently placed down on a small patch of grass the pilot killed the engines and opened the door. Commander Shepard stepped out of the shuttle with his Avenger in hand, his eyes locking onto the gigantic ship off in the distance.
The rest of the ground team quickly followed him out of the shuttle. Grunt leaped out first, eager to experience his first real battle. Naruto followed, shaking his head at the krogan's eagerness which had put even his own to shame. He was followed by Garrus, Mordin, Jacob, Zaeed and finally Miranda after she locked down the shuttle.
"Everyone ready?" The Commander asked once everyone's feet were on solid ground.
Jacob nodded, "Definitely. Good to be back in the field, Shepard."
Grunt huffed. "I was born ready. Where are my promised enemies?"
"Over there." Garrus called out, spotting a swarm of seekers circling off in the distance. "Let's hope your countermeasure works, Mordin."
"Will be fine. Well...most likely. Countermeasure works in theory. Need actual test against live seeker swarms to confirm. Have to test it in person, should be exciting." Mordin said as his lips split into a happy grin.
"We'll, at least someone's happy." Miranda said sarcastically. "I hope your reputation's as good as I've heard."
"If it's not this'll be a hell of a short mission." Zaeed finished.
"It won't come to that." The Commander said at he turned to Naruto, "Can you sense anyone with sage mode?"
"Just a sec." Naruto said as he brought his fists together and closed his eyes to focus. He reached out with his natural energy, trying to feel for any potential element zero signatures in the area. After nearly a minute of standing absolutely still he stopped, "Aside from us, I'm only sensing one eezo life form on the colony. If there's anything else it's too small for me to detect, and I can't sense any bodies that aren't biotics."
Miranda sighed, "Then we can't get a count of how many are on the ground with us."
"Well at least we know they aren't biotics. I'll take what I can get." Garrus said, "And that one biotic you sensed must be Kaidan. He's still alive."
"We'll take whatever good news we can get." Shepard said. " We'll move up in three rows, three up front for close combat, three behind them for support, and two in the rear for sniper fire. Garrus, Zaeed, you're sniping from the rear. Miranda, Mordin and Jacob will support us in the middle. Grunt, Naruto, you're up front with me. No one fires without my command. Lets move."
The team quickly got into position with Shepard at the front center flanked by Grunt to his left and Naruto to his right. Shepard led his team into the beginning of the colony, cautions for any enemy activity. The outskirts of the colony had been lightly populated and were more open than its interior, giving the eight-man team space to spread out. As they walked they found no humans or collectors, no signs of life whatsoever. It was as if every living soul just got up and left, just like on Freedom's Progress.
Naruto cradled his carnifex as the team continued through the buildings. He was back in his usual attire, sage cloak over ANBU armor. Aside from standard ninja tools and his sword he'd only brought his two hand weapons, as he didn't feel comfortable enough with his mantis to use it in the field. The entire area was silent save for their group's footsteps as they moved up. The blonde idly brought his free hand up to his sword, letting his fingers run across the cloth strap reassuringly. This was the fight he'd been waiting for; he could feel his heart pounding in his chest as his body prepared for the inevitable encounter.
The squad continued through the colony until they arrived at what looked to be a small park. Potted plants lined the dining structure, and would have given the spot a warm feeling if not for the shroud of emptiness that blanketed the entire colony. The Commander lowered his rifle as he surveyed the scene. Giving the all clear he signaled for his squad to approach.
Garrus kept his eye down the scope of his mantis as they continued their advance, scanning their vector on the lookout for enemies. His efforts were handsomely rewarded when he spotted something approaching. Something far bigger than a seeker.
"I've got something. Looks like a swarm of giant flying cockroaches." He announced to the team.
Zaeed brought his rifle up and confirmed it. "Bloody bastards are on their way."
"Everyone get ready!" Shepard called as he steadied his avenger.
Grunt pounded his fists together in his excitement. "Finally! A real enemy to test my strength."
Shepard watched the skies carefully, watching as the flying swarm of incoming collectors split, one heading straight for them while the other flew around. "They're splitting off to attack from behind! Grunt, Naruto, cover the front. Mordin and Garrus will cover you. Jacob, Miranda, Zaeed, you're with me covering the rear!"
"Roger, Commander." Garrus called as he and everyone stepped into their assigned team, one human and one alien. Naruto and Mordin took cover behind a barrier beside the dining structure where Garrus set up a sniper nest. And Grunt...
"Heh heh heh..." Grunt flashed his teeth as if he planned to devour the incoming collectors. He balled his fingers into tight fists, making no movement to reach for his eviscerator shotgun.
"Grunt! Get to cover!" Garrus called as he laid his rifle on the steel railing.
But Grunt just kept staring hungrily at the collectors as they began their descent. "No. My first kill will not be credited to a tool. It will be all my own!"
The first collector touched down a mere five meters away from the team. Garrus called for Grunt to stop, but if the krogan heard him he did not listen. Grunt rushed across the battlefield as fast as his legs would carry him and was upon the hapless drone in moments, tackling it to the ground. Grunt stood again with the collector drone in hand, one hand gripping its collar and another near its waist. He lifted the dazed creature above him and pulled with all his might. The drone flailed in a desperate attempt to break free, but it did little good. Grunt gave a mighty roar as strength tore the creature in two, spilling blood all over his body.
Grunt stood there for a moment, feeling the blood dribble down his unformed crown as he dropped the bisected corpse. In that moment, everything in the world just felt so right! Here was where he belonged, in the heart of the battlefield. Grunt reared his head back and let out a roar that echoed throughout the colony, as if to challenge the gods that he was wrong.
Just hours after his birth, the Super Soldier had found his place in the galaxy, and taken his first life in the most gruesome way his young mind could imagine. He promised himself many more would follow. Looking at the rest of the collectors as they landed Grunt grinned to himself and charged.
Naruto cursed to himself as he surveyed the scene. Grunt rushed head first into a swarm of enemies with only his armor for protection. "Dammit, the brute is gonna die before he's even one day old!" He shouted.
Mordin nodded, firing his machine pistol at a distant collector. From this distance he couldn't even drop their barriers without emptying an entire clip. "Most likely. Very problematic. Grunt has pushed collectors too far back. Must advance to less secure position if to assist." Mordin looked back over their cover, nodding to himself. "Assist Grunt. I will cover you."
"You sure? You're not a soldier like the rest of us." Naruto said as he peeked around the corner. Grunt just bashed another collector into a wall and Garrus took one out to with a shot to one of its four eyes.
"I have done my share of killing. I will cover you." Mordin reaffirmed as he replaced the thermal clip.
Naruto nodded and gripped his sword. "If you say so. Let's go!"
The pair leapt over the barrier and split off, Mordin going for closer cover while Naruto made a beeline to the nearest collector. He flipped his sword around so he was holding the blade and threw it as hard as he could at the collector. The sword flipped through the air before embedding itself right in the collector's armored chest. It didn't sink in and only staggered the collector, but Naruto leaped through the air and slammed his foot into the end of the blade, burying it all the way up to the hilt. Naruto grabbed the blade and withdrew it as the collector crumpled to the ground.
Naruto rolled to cover behind a pillar when a few rounds collided with his shields. The two collectors paused and began approaching the pillar to force him out from cover. Naruto quickly shoved the tip of his blade into the ground and pulled out his two handguns. In his left hand he held his shuriken machine pistol and in his right his carnifex hand cannon.
Naruto pushed chakra into his feet and ran up the pillar as high as he could go. When he reached the top five meters off the ground he leaped off straight for the approaching collectors. The two weren't expecting him to come from above and barely got their rifles up in time to fire a few rounds, but they didn't have enough time to drop his shields before Naruto landed on them, sending them both to the ground. Now standing over the two Naruto fired both his weapons into his downed enemies, the point blank fire tearing right through them.
Having finished the two off Naruto ran back to grab his sword, only to be smacked with the butt of a rifle as he turned the corner. He staggered back in a daze as the attacking collector raised his rifle to fire, but just before it could it was hit by an orange ball. The ball burst on impact covering the collector with flames. Mordin rose from cover again and fired a few well aimed pistol shots at the collector, who crumpled in a dying blaze.
Naruto regained his senses in time to watch Grunt stomp his last victim into the ground as Garrus dropped the last straggler with a final shot from his mantis. Garrus stored his rifle and made his way onto the battlefield as Mordin did the same. They joined Naruto and together the three made their way over to Grunt. The krogan looked to be in a calm trance. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing deeply.
"Grunt, you...alright?" Garrus asked as he approached, unsure if he was asking the right question."
Grunt's eyes parted as he turned to his squad mates. "I feel...I don't have the words to describe it." His gaze hardened, "But I want more."
"And you'll get it." The group turned as Shepard and the rest approached, looking a little worse for wear. Shepard surveyed the scene, taking note of the more gruesome kills. "Any trouble?"
"Not from our enemies," Garrus said. "You?"
"Nothing we couldn't handle. The collectors aren't as well armed as we thought."
Jacob nodded, " They probably weren't expecting resistance. The seeker swarms were supposed to handle anything that might be a threat."
"Collector tactics resemble to hit-and-run, likely unequipped for large-scale combat." Mordin paused while taking a sharp breath. "Collectors likely to retreat if a high-level threat is presented."
"Bloody cowards." Zaeed said.
"So let's have the Normandy hit it." Naruto chimed in, "The ship isn't moving, just tell Joker to fire away.
Miranda shook her head, "We don't know what kind of defenses the collector ship has. We may be putting the Normandy in danger if we have it enter atmosphere."
Shepard took a moment to think over the situation. If they could force the collectors back now it would save whoever they had yet to collect. But they couldn't risk losing the Normandy, they still needed it for when they went through the Omega 4 relay.
Shepard nodded when he made his decision. They just couldn't risk it. "We keep the Normandy on standby. This colony's equipped with GARDIAN laser defense towers. If we can activate them they'll take care of the ship."
His XO nodded in agreement, "Alright, how do you want us to approach?"
"We split into two teams. We'll approach the defense array from two points to keep them from gathering all their forces at one point. If you see any surviving colonists, try and get them to safety. Miranda will lead the second squad of Jacob, Naruto and Zaeed. Garrus, Grunt and Mordin are with me. We keep in contact for the entire approach."
Miranda nodded and pulled out her machine pistol. "Roger, Commander. We'll meet you there."
"Good luck everyone." Shepard said as he and Miranda led their teams in separate directions.
Naruto peeked around the corner of a building, searching for any sign of movement. The street was lifeless, just like all the others. He turned and gave Miranda a nod to tell her the coast was clear. Miranda turned to Zaeed and Jacob and signaled for the group to move on.
The four of them moved out into the grassy street and made their way through the buildings. The group was once again surrounded by silence as they continued through the empty colony.
With every vacant building they passed, the sense of dread swelling in his chest continued to grow. Homes that should be filled with families trying to build lives for themselves were desperately bare. Some of the homes still had fresh cooked meals on the table that were half eaten. The whole place was left as if everyone just got up and left in the middle of their daily routine.
Jacob raised his new scimitar shotgun as he scanned one of the buildings on their right.
"Wait..." Jacob said as he came to a halt.
"Spot something?" Miranda asked as she readied her machine pistol.
"In there. Someone's still inside."
Miranda quickly surveyed the scene to make sure no enemies were in sight before continuing. "Move in. If there are bodies here the collectors will return for them."
The four-man squad filed into the building with Jacob at the front to clear the building. At the other end of the hallway there was an elderly couple huddled in the corner, frozen in a shimmering light. Miranda walked over to them and examined the pair, checking for any movement.
"Their eyes, they're still moving..." Miranda trailed off as she stepped back, "They're trapped in stasis fields, but they're still aware."
"Just waiting to be picked up." Jacob said. "So this is how the collectors never leave a trace, the seeker swarms trap them before they have a chance to leave a warning."
Zaeed strolled over to the window and took a look outside. Still no sign of collectors. Good. He turned back around to find Miranda and Jacob still talking about the stasis fields. Naruto was walking near the living area, where the television was playing and a bowl of half-eaten chips rested on the table. His eyes were glazed over, lost to whatever thoughts were running through his head.
"Oi, something's wrong with the kid." He asked to no one in particular.
Jacob and Miranda turned back to Naruto, who was still staring at the living room. Jacob walked over and out a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, you okay?" He asked, giving his shoulder a light shake.
The feeling brought Naruto back to reality. He looked Jacob in the eye before turning back to the scene before him. When his voice came out, it was barely above a whisper.
What're you talking about?" He asked.
Naruto cast a sideways glance at him before walking into the center of the room. He hesitated for a moment, but he could feel their gaze on his back expecting him to answer. Taking a small breath he began to share his story.
"It was back in the war. With all five great villages and the samurai against him, Madara managed to form alliances with most of the minor villages. Grass, Waterfall, Star, even remnants of the Sound and Rain villages all joined him. We didn't always know why. Maybe Madara was controlling their leaders, or they resented the larger villages enough to side with him if it meant defeating us. Or maybe they really did want a fake peace. We never bothered to find out.
"I was a part of one mission near the end of the war, a silent assault on Grass. Their guerrilla tactics were hindering supply lines, so the Raikage wanted them dealt with. Over a thousand ANBU from all five villages took part in it. I was backing up Gaara, the Kazekage, who was taking out their head ninja. We infiltrated their village at night and headed to their underground bunker. We were barely inside before Gaara filled the entire bunker with his sand. He killed everyone inside without a fight."
Naruto paused for a moment, gathering himself before he spoke again. "The sun had risen when we came back up. The ANBU were gone, and so were the people."
He gently balled his fists at his sides, trying to keep his voice calm. "The village was so quiet, like the night had never ended. Just like this." Naruto gestured to the room. "No bodies, no struggle, nothing. Whatever the ANBU did, it made them just disappear." Naruto went quiet, not wanting to share anymore.*
In the seven years since the war, that mission stayed with him no matter how hard he had wanted to bury it. Walking through that ghost town had been the most haunting experience of his life. Gaara had warned him not to look, telling him that he shouldn't have to see this. But he hadn't allowed himself to remain ignorant. So he saw everything he could. The empty homes, the half-finished meals, the empty playgrounds with toys scattered about, waiting for owners who would never return. He left that village scarred, but he returned to his people with a smile, just like he always did. He hid his pain behind his mask, hoping it would never fester again.
But it did, and it felt worse than ever. He never asked how they did it, or what happened to all of the people. Not even after joining the ANBU. He never wanted to know. But now he was seeing it happen right before his eyes. His mind wasn't going to let him bury this. Not like the rest.
This...this was evil. His people, his fellow shinobi had done something so evil! And he had done nothing but sit back and let them!
'Not this time.' He thought to himself, feeling his agony slowly igniting into a fierce rage inside him.
Zaeed heard something down the road. A low shallow chirping and the sound of many footsteps. It was getting louder. "Company." He said quietly.
Miranda and Jacob reacted immediately, taking cover behind the opening with Zaeed. Naruto hesitated for a moment, but followed soon after.
"They must be here for them." Jacob said, motioning to the frozen couple at the far corner.
Miranda nodded and cautiously peeked her head over the railing, spotting the incoming collectors before ducking down quickly. "There's four of them guiding a pair of pods. We'll each take one out. Zaeed, far left. Jacob, near left. Naruto, near right. Clear?" Naruto gave her a stiff nod, still not entirely recovered from his earlier musings. The rest nodded as well. "Good, wait for my signal."
The four went dead silent as they listened to the collectors' approach. The footsteps grew closer and closer until they were right in front of the opening.
"Now!" Miranda called. The four rose from their cover to meet four collectors caught by surprise. The squad open fired n their target, taking the group down with a single burst of weapon fire. They didn't even have time to be surprised.
Miranda led her squad back onto the street to examine the pods, which fell to the ground upon the deaths of their guides. "They must've rounded up most of the colony by now. We don't have much time."
"What about the people in the home?" Jacob asked. "We can't just leave them."
"Those stasis fields don't have a power source. Once they're exhausted the people will be free. Don't worry about them." She replied.
Zaeed interrupted as he raised his sniper rifle. "We got more buggers coming, eleven coming straight ahead."
Jacob looked up as he readied his shotgun. "Even more, twelve at least."
"Count 'em again." Zaeed said as he ejected the clip.
"Jacob, Naruto, take the lead. We'll cover you from the rear." Miranda instructed as the collectors closed in on them. Jacob ran behind a barrier attached to a building while Naruto took cover in a doorway a little further ahead. Miranda and Zaeed knelt behind the fallen collector pods as the drones arrived.
Naruto fired wildly with his machine pistol at the oncoming collectors, forcing them to take cover and delay their advance. He cursed as his thermal clip forcibly ejected and scoured his belt for a replacement.
He was angry, angrier than he'd been in a long time. He wasn't even sure what he was supposed to be angry at. With no time to sort through his rage he focused it all on the collectors, feeling dark satisfaction with every round he fired.
Another collector fell at the cost of a full thermal clip. Naruto got back behind cover after a barrage of rounds hit his shield, dropping it dangerously low. He was ejecting the thermal clip as he waited for his shields to recharge when he heard a strange noise from inside the home. He whipped around just in time to see a glowing blue arm swipe at him, knocking him back off his feet.
Naruto lost his grip on his weapon as he skidded to the ground out in the open. He caught himself as he fell and rolled onto his back to see his attacker. Just as he did a rotting human form with glowing blue tubes spread along its body. Another approached from the background as the first crouched over him, readying its powerful arms for another strike.
Before the blonde could react he suddenly felt something jolt him, picking him up and pulling him into the air. The creature reared back from the sudden burst of energy as Naruto turned to see Jacob, whose body was glowing in the after-effects of biotic use. Jacob tossed the floating blonde his unused pistol as he readied his shotgun. Naruto caught it mid-flight and fired at his attacker while Jacob took out the other, slamming round after round into the deformed bodies before they finally crumpled over.
Naruto felt the energy around him dissipate once he was near Jacob, letting him land right beside him. "Thanks for that." He said, handing the man back his pistol.
"Anytime." Jacob smirked as he took it.
Miranda finished off the last collector by detonating her warped target with a throw, sending the creature rearing back before slamming into a wall. She gave the all clear before she approached the downed creatures that had attacked Naruto. She knelt down to examine them, and after a minute brought her hand to her ear to contact the Commander. "Shepard, we've encountered husks like the ones you found on Eden Prime."
After a moment he responded, "Copy. Have you seen any dragons teeth where you are? There's been none on our path."
"Negative. The collectors must have arrived with them."
"Then it's confirmed: the collectors are working with the Reapers. Keep heading to the tower, my team's nearly there."
"Roger, we'll join up with you shortly."
Naruto knelt beside Miranda and looked at the husks, from the strange blue tubes running through their skin to their strange glowing eyes. "They look so human." He pondered aloud.
"They were." Miranda explained, catching him off guard. "Synthetic reaper slaves created from the bodies of human dead."
Naruto felt something grip his heart as he continued to look at the abominations. "So these were...people?"
"Once." She said as she stood. "Time to go, Shepard's almost at the defense array."
"...Right." Naruto said as he followed the rest of them through the colony. He cast one last glance at the fallen husks, and clenched his fists as his rage continued to boil.
Shepard and his team finished off the last collector guarding the GARDIAN command console and made their way up. He ascended the platform and activated the console, contacting the Normandy while he did.
"EDI, I've got access. I'm opening an uplink, work on calibrating the firing matrix."
"Commander, the collector ship is jamming my outgoing signal. I am unable to communicate with the uplink."
"Damn." Shepard turned to Garrus, who was looking at him expectantly. "You think you can calibrate these things?"
Garrus just shot him an amused smirk, "Did you forget who you're talking to?" Garrus stepped forward and looked over the data on the display. "It's tricky, but nothing I can't handle. I'll have the towers power up while I'm correcting this. You'll need to cover me."
Shepard nodded and opened up a line to the Normandy, "Joker, get the Normandy into attack position. Once those turrets are active I want strafing runs to assist. Hit it before its defenses have time to hit you back."
"Aye aye, Commander." Came Joker's reply.
"Grunt, Mordin, set up a defensive perimeter around the console." Shepard commanded. The console was in the middle of an open area surrounded by crates, completely exposed to enemy fire. They had to keep their focus off Garrus while he worked.
Luckily they had Grunt, who like any newborn took all the attention he could get. The krogan loved battle more than anyone Shepard had ever met, including Urdnot Wrex himself. It was all Grunt knew, and it made him a deadly, if single-minded warrior.
Mordin Solus had been a surprise. He hadn't expected a doctor to prove himself on the battlefield, but it seemed there was little the Professor could not excel at. The salarian was a perfect foil for Grunt; what he lacked in brute force he made up for with his technology and tactics, striking a target at its weakest point to maximize his efforts.
The team waited for several minutes before a new wave of collectors arrived. Grunt and Mordin worked on the larger group that landed near the entrance while he faced a trio that landed on a walkway to the right.
Bringing up his avenger he managed to take the first out before it hit the ground, while the other two touched down and crouched behind cover. Shepard replaced his rifle with his katana shotgun and rushed onto the walkway, catching them by surprise and firing into the nearest one before they had a chance to react. With only one left Shepard ducked behind the railing and ejected the spent clip. He was just about to finish the last one off when he heard a deep, powerful voice.
"Assuming direct control."
Shepard looked up to see the remaining drone hovering above the ground, dropping its rifle as it began to squirm in midair. It's shell began to break with golden light emerging from the cracks, giving the impression of an erupting volcano. The drone dropped back to earth and got to its feet, stepping forward without reaching for its weapon.
Without warning the collector's arm lashed forward, releasing a sphere of black energy soaring towards the Commander's position. Shepard sprinted off the walkway back behind a set of crates. The warped sphere impacted the railing with a deafening force, blasting the metal apart.
The collector calmly walked down the ramp as Shepard brought out his avenger and open fired. His aim was perfect, with every round finding its mark. But the collector appeared unfazed.
"Your attacks are primitive, Shepard."
Shepard cursed as he pulled out a set of grenades from his belt. He looked over and judged the distance, preparing to pull the pins. But then Naruto came flying over the side barrier. He planted his feet on the wall and launched himself at Shepard's attacker, tackling the possessed drone sending them both toppling into a pile of crates.
Shepard looked from the grenades in his hand to the pile of scattered crates, then back to his grenades. "Am I ever going to use these?"
Naruto picked himself among the pile of crates as the collector slowly did the same. Looking back he saw the rest of his team fighting a new wave of collectors. Turning back to the glowing drone he stored his pistol and pulled out his sword. If Shepard's assault rifle hadn't scratched this thing, he wasn't going to bother with his sidearms. This thing looked like it could take a beating. Good. He really needed something to hit!
The War Hero grabbed onto a nearby crate and flung it with all the strength he could gather in sage mode. The crate hurled at the possessed drone, who simply raised its arm and trapped the crate in a biotic field, flinging it to the side. The collector turned to face the blonde and calmly advanced on the ninja.
Naruto drew his ANBU blade and rushed at the drone, extending his wind chakra down the metal and bringing the blade down on its head. The collector raised an arm to block, its powerful barrier and natural armor stopping the blade from reaching flesh. The swordsman kept up his rapid barrage. Slashing, stabbing, but the collector parried every blow with ease.
Mindless hacking was getting him nowhere, Naruto knew he had to make an opening. Fortunately as he planned his next attack the GARDIAN lasers came online. The towers began firing at the immobile collector ship as the Normandy broke atmosphere to deliver a pair of Javelin missiles, after which it soared off to plan a second strafe. The attack diverted the drone's attention long enough for him to strike. Naruto lashed out and grabbed the collector's left arm and yanked it down. Flipping his sword into an underhand grip he then stabbed it straight into the drone's body, right into the glowing cracks between the plates, driving it all the way to the hilt.
The possessed drone paused as the blade pierced his shell. For a moment the shinobi thought he'd finally won. But then he felt a hand pressed against his gut.
"These attacks are pointless."
A black biotic energy burst from the hand at his stomach, blasting him clear across the field. He slammed into a wall and tumbled to the ground. He clenched his teeth as he felt every nerve in his body flare with pain, hindering him from getting to his feet.
The metal of the blade grew white hot from the raw power coursing through the drone's body, turning the ANBU blade to liquid metal. The handle of the blade melted off from the rest and fell to to the ground.
A sudden burst of shotgun fire slammed against his barriers. The collector turned to meet Shepard, who was looking down the barrel of his weapon. "Just what the hell are you?" He asked lowly.
"We are the Harbinger of your perfection. We are your genetic destiny."
The being called Harbinger began making his way towards Shepard, who began backing up as he fired into Harbinger's seemingly impenetrable barriers.
"If I must tear you apart, Shepard, I will."
As another biotic detonation went off signaling the duel between Harbinger and Shepard, the fallen shinobi finally felt his senses returning. Naruto growled as he shakily stood, holding his stomach as he did. That blast had blown away his shields and taken a large chunk of his armor. He could feel blood seeping into the black cloth that remained intact. It seemed injury on missions was unavoidable for him.
He looked back at Harbinger, who continued to fire an array of deadly biotic missiles at Shepard. The Commander had abandoned holding his ground and had resorted to running and gunning. The towers continued their assault on the ship as the Normandy continued to perform strafing runs to assist.
Naruto turned his attention back to Harbinger, who continued to press towards Shepard. All his other squad mates were still engaging the other collector drones and husks. If anyone was going to help Shepard, it had to be him.
But how? Guns wouldn't work, at least not anything he carried. He'd funneled wind chakra into his blade, and that just slid off its plated skin. And even when stabbed all the way through it did no good, so normal ninja tools were out too. Ninjutsu? He wasn't sure what kind of jutsu he'd need to breach those barriers, and he didn't have time to experiment. This had to end fast, before Harbinger hit them with any more of those biotics. That left just one thing to do.
Naruto crossed his fingers and created to clones. The three went to work forming and molding the wind and shape chakra into a raging whirlwind in the palm of the original's hand. The miniature storm began to take shape, taking the shape of a giant shimmering white shuriken. He funneled the last of his sage chakra into the technique before it was fully formed, but it would be worth it.
The clones dispersed as Naruto leaped onto the crate, looking to get a clear shot at Harbinger. He saw him still advancing on Shepard noticeably faster than before. "Shepard, get clear!" He called, catching the man's attention. Shepard picked himself up from cover and put distance between himself and Harbinger, giving Naruto his chance.
Naruto held his arm high as he called, "Rasenshuriken!" He threw the jutsu at the lone collector, sending the wind shuriken roaring towards its target. Harbinger felt the powerful energy heading his way. The vessel's arms flew up and focused his barrier to shield his form from the attack. But after shielding the vessel for so long its barrier was growing weak, and the rasenshuriken sliced it in two before smashing into the collector. The shuriken burst as it hit the flesh, sending microscopic blades of wind chakra throughout the impact zone. The blades tore through the vessel, tearing it apart molecule by molecule.
Amid the dome of spiraling white chakra left by the technique a flash of fiery red signaled the disintegration of Harbinger's vessel. Naruto and Shepard stepped up to the remains once the chakra had dispersed, only to find a small crater with nothing remaining.
"You don't do anything with subtlety, do you." Shepard observed.
"I'll surprise you, Shepard. I always do." Naruto said confidently as he looked at the crater with a sense of twisted pride.
"We are not finished."
Before the pair could react another Harbinger-possessed drone descended from the sky, knocking Naruto to the ground and bashing Shepard in the chest, sending him soaring back out of sight. Harbinger walked up to the downed Naruto before he could pick himself up and stomped on his head, smashing it further into the ground.
"This vessel is merely a tool of your unmaking. Its destruction is irrelevant."
Naruto felt the weight press harder as he struggled to remove it. His efforts were in vain; without sage mode he had no chance of removing his attacker. Despite this he he pressed on, grunting into the dirt as he tried to get free. He would not die, he would fight, he would find a way to crush this pathetic insect! He let his rage take over as he struggled, letting it fuel his drive to fight. Harbinger stood above him with his hand outstretched, forming another black biotic sphere.
'You are still weak. A vessel unworthy of my generosity. But I will take pity on you once more.'
Naruto's blood ran cold as the vacuum of space as he heard a familiar voice inside his head. One he had thought he buried long ago.
'Let me out. I will destroy your enemies. I will show this galaxy my might!'
'No!' He screamed inside his head. 'You won't stop with this collector, you'll kill everyone!'
'I feel your rage, your fear. You will surrender to me. You cannot win this without my power.'
If you will not take my power willingly, then I will make you!'
Deep in his body he could feel the foul chakra being forced through his seal. He tried to suppress it, but couldn't gather his focus to do so.
'Never!' He nearly screamed.
He would have lost that fight then and there, and the fox would have rampaged for the first time in seven years. But Horizon was spared thanks to the timely arrival of the last being Naruto would have expected to save him.
"I. Am. Krogan!" Grunt roared as he bashed Harbinger with all his might, sending the hapless vessel hurling into the wall. With the threat temporarily gone Naruto found the strength to focus on his seal and suppress the insidious chakra. He gasped as he felt the demonic chakra flow finally halt.
Naruto cautiously picked himself up from the ground as the rest of the squad formed around him and Grunt. Harbinger picked itself up from the ground and stared at the eight-man squad.
"Everyone, weapons at the ready!" Shepard ordered. Everyone picked up their favored weapon: shotgun, assault rifle, pistol, sniper rifle, and took aim at the last enemy on the field. "All at once, fire!"
The eight weapons sang in unison as they fired down range, their rounds tearing apart the barrier and smashing into the collector's plating. Harbinger staggered back against their unrelenting fire as its armor began to chip away. Finally the vessel could take no more and it disintegrated in a flash of golden light. The squad stopped firing as they watched the vessel begin to burn away.
"This is not the conclusion. You have only delayed the inevitable."
The collector ship's engine roared to life as it prepared for takeoff. The ship scarred the earth as it made its escape attempt as quickly as possible.
"Commander, they're bugging out. Nearly half the colony is on board. You want us to pursue?" Joker asked through the comm.
"Negative, let them go. We've done all we can for now." Shepard said. If the ship was active they'd have their defenses online. It was too dangerous to pursue it now.
"No!" Mordin's shout caught his attention. He turned to see the scattered collector and husk corpses vaporizing just like Harbinger, much to Mordin's disappointment. "Curses! Unable to collect samples! Highly disappointing."
Naruto walked over to the hilt of his blade. It was all that remained of his favorite ninja tool. Naruto sighed as he stored the hilt on his belt while looking down at his battered armor. The chest plate was warped and torn, and needed replacing. Some of the cloth was torn and soaked in blood. The energy the fox forced into his body must have healed him. He took a deep calming breath as he tried to steady his emotions, just like he'd been taught.
Shepard walked over to Garrus, "Nice work with the towers."
"You expected anything less?"
"Of course not. You haven't lost your touch."
Garrus nodded, shifting his gaze past Shepard. He motioned for Shepard to do the same, "Well well, small galaxy."
Shepard turned to see Kaidan Alenko walking through the entryway, looking like he'd had an even tougher fight than they had. "Kaidan?" He asked as he made his way to meet his former squad mate.
Kaidan kept his gaze on the Commander, struggling to find the words. "Shepard? It that...really you?"
Shepard gave the man a small smile as he walked right up to the man and gave him a firm hug. "Kaidan, its been too long. Looks like you had as rough a fight as we did."
They broke apart after Kaidan returned the gesture, still trying to believe his eyes. "Yeah. But how? I saw you die on the Normandy. No one could've survived that, not even you, sir."
Shepard smirked, eying the insignia on the side of Kaidan's armor, "I don't think you should be calling me that anymore, Staff Commander. And it's a long story, too long for a quick reunion."
"I've heard." Kaidan said as he looked past Shepard at Miranda and Jacob, eying the symbol on their uniforms. "So it's true. There were rumors, you know, that you were alive and working with Cerberus. I never thought I'd see the day, Commander." He turns to look at the turian just behind Shepard. "You're with them too, Garrus?"
"Not them. Shepard. Don't you dare pair me with Cerberus." Garrus reprimanded him.
The Commander stiffened at his old friend's tone. "It's a complicated situation."
"I'm sure, or did you forget what they did. You remember those experiments on Binthu? Or your own squad they had slaughtered on Akuze?"
"I haven't forgotten anything, Kaidan. But look at the situation here. I wouldn't be working with Cerberus if I had another choice. You know me!"
Kaidan looked apprehensive, but nodded. "Yeah, I do. But what about Councilor Anderson, or Admiral Hackett the Alliance? Why haven't you contacted anyone?"
Shepard let a bit of frustration out as he spoke, "I've tried, but all of my communications are flagged as Cerberus. None of my messages got through."
"So that's the reason you haven't come back? You couldn't contact anyone?" Shepard's nod made Kaidan pause for a moment to think. After a long silence Kaidan looked back up, "What if I set up a meeting with the Council for you, so you could explain yourself? I'm still in contact with Anderson; as a Councilor he can grant your ship access into Citadel Space."
Shepard was looking slightly relieved when he reached out to shake Kaidan's hand. "I'd appreciate it. Thank you, Kaidan."
Kaidan took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Don't worry about it. I owe you for everything, and for Ash's sake."
The name of the late Gunnery Chief sent daggers through the Commander's heart. He tried, but was unable to keep a straight face as he let go of Kaidan's hand. His former squad mate picked up on this and said no more of it.
"I've got to get things settled here with the survivors, but I'll message Councilor Anderson as soon as I can. Meet me at the Citadel in seven days time unless I contact you otherwise. I'm sure Anderson won't want you there any later."
Shepard nodded. "Thanks Kaidan."
Kaidan just shook his head, giving a small smile, "It's nothing Shepard." He turned to leave, but turned back after taking a few steps. He looked hesitant, but said, "It's good to know you're alive, Commander. Despite the, well...situation. You too, Garrus."
"You too, Kaidan. Take care." Shepard said in parting. Garrus gave a small grunt in response, nodding as he did. Kaidan cast one last appreciative look at his former Commander before making his way out of the facility.
As Kaidan left Miranda made her way beside the Commander. "Meeting with the Council could be dangerous. Cerberus agents are wanted by Citadel forces."
Shepard sighed, looking slightly annoyed. "Well I'm not Cerberus, and you and Jacob can stay aboard the Normandy during our stay."
"The Illusive Man is wary of the Council. They hindered more than helped you on the hunt for Saren."
"Anderson's on the Council now, and I'm not turning away any help they can give. I still don't trust Cerberus. I need support that I know I can rely on."
Miranda hid her crossed expression well when Shepard spoke ill of her organization. But she said nothing more. This was a risky move, taking the Normandy to the Citadel. The Council may have it locked down, or even take it as their own. Shepard must know the risks, but apparently thought they were worth taking. And as she'd already agreed, he was the one in charge of the mission.
Shepard opened a comm channel to the Normandy. "Joker, we're heading back to the shuttle. Prepare for pickup. We've seen enough of this colony."
The rest of the squad formed up on the Commander and slowly began the long walk back through the colony.
Since the beginning of the Fourth Shinobi World War, the Village Hidden in the Grass was one of Madara's most loyal supporters. The leader of Grass was revered by her people with an almost religious zeal; her word was absolute in her village. She claimed to his people that the Moon's Eye Plan was an everlasting heaven, free of suffering and death. Her villagers ate up his belief and fought for that future with all their hearts. Grass ninja became feared among coalition shinobi due to their tenacity, silent killing and willingness to fight til their last breath. For every Grass ninja killed, two of the coalition would fall. It became a priority to end Grass's resistance at any cost.
The Raikage knew that even if they took down their leader, Grass's guerrilla warfare would never end until every villager was silenced. He summoned all stealth and hunter-nin teams from the five great village's ANBU departments and gave them a single order: wipe out all traces of that village's population.
They struck as soon as night had set, eliminating the village sentries in a massive coordinated silent attack and making their way into the village. While Naruto and Gaara went after the leadership, ANBU teams went block to block, sweeping through the village and silently killing everyone they met, ninja or civilian, adult or child. They flash burned the bodies and spread their ashes across the grass fields. They were out before the sun rose, and the village was silent.
When word reached the Grass ninjas in the field, their will to fight was broken. They fought for a future for their families, their children, all of whom were now gone. Many committed suicide, either alone or by rushing the enemy in a glorious last stand. Soon none remained, and Grass Village became a ghost village of memories haunted by the innocent dead. But the Raikage had succeeded, the Grass shinobi were no longer a threat, allowing the coalition to focus their resources on the major players in the war without concern of the guerrilla threat. Many in top leadership would distance themselves from this decision after the war, but no one can question its effectiveness.
Ni'Rala: HA! Stole the Admiral's environmental suit while he was in his bath. This thing is comfy! Oh, disease? You're worried about contamination from exposure? No worries, I never get sick.
Tali: *whisper* Idiots don't catch colds.
Ni'Rala: Hi Tali! You say something?
Tali: I said I need to catch some moles.
Ni'Rala: Huh. That's wierd. You're weird. Your boyfriend's a Ninja. He's weird too. You're all weird.
Tali: You two seem to get along just fine. Unfortunately...*sigh*
Ni'Rala: I know! Well, back to the helm of the Qwib-Qwib! I'm gonna go impersonate the Admiral for a while! All power to the Qwib Qwib! All hands to battle stations! We gots Reapers ta kill! *trots away*
Tali: I rest my case. *look around* How'd I get on the Qwib Qwib anyways?
I got a lot of comments on me making chakra an isotope of element zero, some positive and others not. For a story like this it's necessary to explain how chakra can exist in Mass Effect.
Here's my reasoning: from what I see, there are two types of crossovers that work. There are comedies, which can ignore the rules of both universes for laughs, and then there are more serious stories where the rules of both universes have to mix, otherwise it makes no sense. This is especially true for Mass Effect, which relies so heavily on its own established rules. To simply say "They have chakra, NINJA STUFF!" invalidates all that work.
One of the fun parts of Mass Effect has always been understanding the consistency of its own rules and how those rules work into the story. Being a part of this new larger universe, the Narutoverse has to somehow mesh with these laws, and this is the explanation I came up with for the sake of the story. As a writer, this challenge has been one of the most exciting parts of this story. It bends the rules of both universes to make them work together, but it doesn't break them. There, now it's there for everyone to see. I hope everyone can understand.