The white light silhouettes them, making Tali and Kal avert their eyes. Harbinger and Wuffles stare straight at it, still locked in their grapple, as the compound eyes of the crustacean stare directly into the blaze. The grounded form of Seeker glows and dissolves, not as much exploding as evaporating into white flame and flickering souls.
The roar of the blazing pyre is met by the cheers of the militia as they witness the destruction of the Reaper.
And by the scream from Harbinger. But it is not one of rage. Not one of fear or anger.
"No. No!" The monster turns to Wuffles, golden light running through its limbs as it forces the Geth back. "What have you done?!"
A claw drives itself into Wuffles' chest and out the back. Wuffles looks down, perks his eyebrows, and severs the claw with a single punch. Dropping the limb to the ground and quickly noting placement of new chest hole, he grabs two swinging clubs in four hands.
"The Reaper has been destroyed. Your forces are weakened. Hypothesis; you are losing."
A club smashes into Wuffles' chest. A spark of gold fills the cavity.
"They were all that was left!" Another swing, caught on the palm of Wuffles' hand. "Now there is dust! All that is left is dirt on a dead world orbiting a dead star!"Another club smashes into Wuffles' face. Trenches are dug into the dirt, but he does not falter. "You have destroyed the last testament of an entire civilization!"
The swings are wild. Directed to break, directed to crush. Not surgical and precise like they were. A hypothesis runs through the consensus of Wuffles. Harbinger is angry, not over the loss of forces. "The civilization that composed the Reaper was destroyed by the Reapers. We question mourning what is already lost."
A claw smashes into the side of Wuffles' face. The shockwave tosses a dashing Kal off his feet, but he rolls back into his run. "We preserved them! All civilizations are fated to die! All mortals are faded to die! We created a testament, so they would exist forever! And now it is lost!"
Wuffles catches a claw in one hand. Two clubs in another pair of hands. He grabs Harbinger by the head with his final hand.
And then the white pillar becomes tinged with gold, the sound of the pyre and the roars of the battlefield overpowered by another roar. But it is not a roar of a monster, or of a fire, or of a weapon. Instead, Wuffles tilts his head as the pillar of gold is formed by a great mandala of gold and white and red.
Bathed in sunlight, roaring in ever present rage, and trailing his sword behind him, Javik charges at Harbinger with the Dawn blazing upon his forehead.
The sound compensators, systems which respond to visual stimuli to add audio cues to what they see out in the otherwise muted space, have cut out. Hence, the explosions around the red bubble are simply blinking lights to her. The two fleets, Alliance and Geth, have moved to more standard combat ranges- loose clouds hundreds of kilometers away, hurling rail fired projectiles at the dreadnought.
Harbinger has not moved- hasn't for a while. Something is occupying it, and Hannah would bet she knows what. Or who. Even as the dreadnought keeps firing off beams at the fleets, even as it gets the occasional hit, she watches. Arms draped on her seat, she listens to the sputtering and creaking from the small sphere in her chair.
"Even in the end, I may understand." A sputter. Eye narrowing, opening. Plates, burnt and blackened, shifting. "So much llllike the humanity of my world. Creative. Dogmatic an faithful. I lllloved them fffor this but I was so." A brief spark, scoring an armrest. "So limited. I loved them for their crrrreativity."
The iris shifts. Hannah nods, chin resting on her head. "When they take those shields down, it'll be seconds. Anything you want to get off your chest?"
A faint spark. A faint light shining forth deep within.
"I understand. I know why I loved them. But I understand why the others loved them." A belch of smoke from the side. A moan of faint pain. "We were fighting for so many things. For love. For freedom. For justice. But they. They were fighting for existence. If we lost. They would have been as if never existed. Erased.
"At the end of their existence, in their moment of greatest despair, they chose to believe in the impossible." A long, faint wheeze. "I don't want to die. I don't want to go."
Hannah sighs. A long, knowing sigh, placing her hand on the ball. "Neither do I."
The club strikes the golden blade. Javik twists, the blade moving in a flash of gold, and the blast of force is redirected upwards in a perfect parry. He moves like liquid light, every attack going around, above, or below the prothean. Nothing hits him.
Kicking back as a club fist slams into the ground, Javik extends the blade. The sunlight reflects off of it, and beam of gold lances out. It slams into the joint of one club, going out the back of the creature, and Harbinger roars as a limb drops to the ground.
Kasumi appears in a blur. She reaches into her belt and flicks three knives at the beast. Harbinger brings up its remaining claw, catching one, the second missing, and the third nicking its face. Kasumi smiles, and waves. There is a whizzing sound, and she steps behind Javik, as Tali and Kal takes up position behind Wuffles.
Bullets from every direction, guided missiles, and crackling artillery blasts from Geth collosi converge on Harbinger. The explosion drowns out all sounds for half a minute. The dust and dirt thrown up obscure everything- sight, smell, taste. Until a pulse of gold disperses it to reveal Harbinger- wounded, bleeding from cracks in his armor, and roaring in rage as he charges Kasumi.
Javik moves first. A graceful extension of his arm, and his sword buries itself to the hilt in Harbinger's torso. He opens his hand, and the sword returns to its master.
Shots ring out. Rounds glowing silver hit from every angle. Joints lock as they are blown out one by one. The beast roars, golden blood spraying the ground as it continues forward. As the air glows blue around it and tears at its flesh. As waves of plasma singe it, it continues forward. He continues forward.
Wuffles moves to attack him, precise and exacting. A swing of the remaining claw, and he is sent crashing to the ground. "Do you think this a victory?" Harbinger booms. More shots; the source moves, changes with every round. "This is a hollow pyrrhic. We have consumed this galaxy for one billion years. We will continue bringing order to it for one billion more."
Kasumi disappears, and Javik charges, swinging his sword down. It deflects off the remaining club and carves into the chitin. A second swing and Harbinger catches it in his claw, soaking it with blood. "We are the masters of this existence. The forces of the universe bow to us, not to the child races which claim dominance. We have guided this reality to perfect order! It will not be shattered by striplings and usurpers!"
Tali leaps, climbing up onto the back of the creature. Running up its shell, she reaches down. In a single motion, she pulls out the knife from her boot, and jams it between the creature's eyes. The claw grabs her leg, and slams her into the ground.
"Again. Again and again, you fight us." The tendrils of its mouth quiver. Harbinger looms over Tali, heat and stale air filling her nostrils, the sunlight reflecting off the partially embedded knife blade "Again you seek death in some far fetched attempt at glory! Why?"
"Well, that was because she was setting that up for me."
Harbinger looks up. At first, he believes he is staring at the sun. But no, he is not. Instead, he is staring at the quickly descending form of "Shepard."
Jane's booted heel hits the hilt of the combat knife. As soon as it connects, the magic does its work. Propelled by her strength, by her power, by the reality shuddering force at her command, it flies. Burrowing through carapace, through flesh metal and bone, it continues its corse before it buries itself in the ground below Harbinger.
Blood spurts out of the top of the creature's head. Through the mouth and any of the other myriad holes. And with a mournful cry, Harbinger collapses.
Landing on extended legs, both arms out, Jane bows. "And she aces the dismount!" Reaching down, she pulls Tali to her feet and turns to Wuffles as the four armed synthetic idly dusts himself off. "Wuffles, what the hell happened when I was inside there?"
The synthetic tilts his head. "We have proven that our enlightenment has exceeded that of Harbinger."
Jane opens her mouth. Works her jaw. "What."
Arms akimbo, four fists rest on the waist of the ten foot tall synthetic. He tilts his perfectly sculpted chin skyward. "Our kung fu was stronger."
Jane cocks an eyebrow. Stepping forward, she extends a fist. The oversized, tanned and perfect fist of the magitech god taps against hers.
Then there is a roar, and they both turn as Harbinger lunges at them, claw and club out and swinging towards them both. At least, until the flash of blue and the ground is torn up around them, choking the assembled mortals, exalts, synthetics and gods. Clearing the dust from her eyes and staring at the still dropping chunks that were Harbinger, Jane turns to her left hand as the omnitool flashes and folds out a screen in front of her.
"Jeez Commander," Joker says, "Do I have to kill every Reaper for you?"
They look up, as the Normandy passes overhead. Banking, engines flaring, the ship speeds back into the sky.
Golden lightning runs over the surface of the dreadnought. The beams of red cease, the liquid metal cooling in mid flight. Expanding outwards, the shockwave registers aboard the Geth and human ships in the form of an ear piercing scream. Holding their ears, the humans aboard the Alliance ships find themselves momentarily disoriented. The Geth ships pause, attempting to discern what they just heard.
"Give me ramming speed," Hannah Shepard orders.
Seven engines glow. Realigned, rebuilt, and modified by the transcendant genius of Iri, they glow blue, then white, and then gold. The sudden push jerks Hannah back, holding onto the seat, and presses Autochthon back into the cushions of the captain's chair.
The battle becomes a blur. Debris and dust slam into the glowing barrier separating them from vacuum hard enough to make it spiderweb. "So. Finally, it ends, with revelation," Autochthon wheezes, "At the end of my existence, at the end of the existence of the Maker, do I finally realize my failures."
Behind her, left arm wrapped around the chair, Hannah taps onto her glowing omnitool. "Fucking Hell, come on," she breathes, "Computer? Right, turned it off. Fuck!"
Hannah taps open screens. Types furiously, wrapping both arms around the chair as her feet leave the ground. Then closes her eyes and grabs Autochthon by one of his plates. "We have. Lived, so long," the Maker breathes, "We have. Left legacies. Everyone dies, someday."
"Someday, but not today," Hannah growls. Looking up, she levels green eyes at the Reaper becoming bigger and bigger in the viewport, "I asked the right questions, I found the right people, and I made an appointment. Today, everyone lives!"
And on Eden Prime, two yellow eyes open. Turning towards the sky, Kal'Reegar's ears drown out the talking and cheering. His sight tunnels, for he sees where he must be. Senses he has no words for become open to him. A time and a place he must be. Things he never knew he finds he now is aware of.
Kal'Reegar, for the first time, sees the Yellow Path.
He lunges. Past Tali, past Shepard. One hand out, he flies like a loosed arrow towards Wuffles. His hand wraps around the small device on Wuffles' waist, cool and black in his hands and with the pulsing blue light at the center.
Blue lightning erupts from it, enveloping him as he hears the sounds of shouts and screams from around him. Instead, space becomes an idea, a question rather than a solid thing. It wraps around him, knowing where he is to be, knowing he must be there now.
The resulting pressure wave knocks them all onto their backs save Wuffles, and Kal is gone.
The barrel of the Orizaba's kilometer long gun slams into Harbinger's face first. Burying into the black, blue streaked hull, it shatters golden eyes, crushing bulkheads, and sends out arcs of golden lightning.
The engines of the Orizaba continue to burn, burying it deeper and deeper into the dreadnought.
On the bridge, Hannah holds on, both to the chair and to Autochthon as the impact throws her forward. Loosing her grip on the chair, she grabs the ball with both hands as the power finally gives out. Vacuum claims the remaining atmosphere on the bridge, throwing both of them towards the void and the explosions consuming the front half of her ship.
With a flash of blue lightning, and a wave of escaping pressure, Kal'Reegar appears between Hannah Shepard and the void.
He grabs her, spinning with the impact, wrapping one arm around her and snatching Autochthon with his other. Lightning erupts from the instrument in his hand, surrounding them both in a sphere of crackling light.
And they are gone as the fireball consumes the bridge of the Orizaba.
The reactor of the Orizaba flashes and explodes. Embedded halfway into the hulk of Harbinger, propelled into it at speeds that stressed the frame to the point of failure, it slammed into the Reaper hard enough to crack a shell that had remained firm from time immemorial.
As the one kilometer long dreadnought becomes a fireball, the face of the Reaper is torn apart. Golden flame and rippling lightning pours out of cracks. Three tentacles, twice as long as an alliance dreadnought, are torn off and sent flying through space, Geth ships weaving out of the way to avoid colliding.
Great fissures of golden fire and blood red light pour out in every direction. The buffeting waves of force explode out, rattling the deck plates of the surrounding fleets with louder and louder bass roars.
Those who have faith in the paranormal, those who have experience with the unseen and uncharted, recognize it for what it is.
The death knell of a god. The final cries of something older than time.
A final roar, and the reaper cracks neatly down the middle. Expanding outwards, sunfire pours forth in a perfect sphere, expanding out to within striking distance of the two fleets. With a final cry, however, the sphere collapses, and the massive hulk of Harbinger goes finally silent.
In the world between the relays, in the digital realm behind the system of the Reapers, a figure of white fire pushes back against the darkness. A swing of his blade severs one of the Viator's arms. A second swing drives one of the pustular giant's weapons into the light, where it burns it away. Burns him away, slowly but surely.
"You created a system that the galaxy itself relies on," the Catalyst states, "You have created a lynchpin of their civilizations. Billions of souls every day pray to the Relays, to the Mass Effect, to the Citadel itself." Features obscured by the flame, he lets the Viator swing at him with a flail. And catches it, bare handed.
"And all that prayed has gone to me. All of it, from the very first civilization that sprung your trap to right now." The weapon shatters in his hand. Another swing and a line of white flame tears itself through the Viator's torso.
"We have created order!" The Viator expands outwards. Black tendrils against the white fire. "We shall be a force the likes of which can never be seen again! Vast legions, civilizations each! Carving into the architects of reality!"
The tendrils burn away. The fire, the light, consumes more and more of the digital plane. "You are not Autochthon," the Catalyst says. He extends his sword towards the Viator. "You are a thing that composed a part of him. And you have done nothing better than carve yourself into parts to enact this mad plan."
Another slash drives the Viator back again. More and more of the black beast burns. "I am weaker than I was as the Dawn," the Catalyst says, "But you are far, far weaker than you were when we cast you out, you cancerous, hateful thing!"
The darkness grows. It spreads throughout the walls around him, the ground beneath his feet and the sky above him. "You. Dead spirit. Believe you can stand against what I have created? I have made order. I have made perfection from the sickness!"
Beneath the flame, beneath the light running through him, he closes blue eyes and shakes his head. "I am not afraid of you," he says, "And I think I never was. You were simply good at taking advantage of the broken and old."
The flame rises, and him at the center. It burns the black away. It burns the sickness away. Throughout the galaxy, the cores of the Mass Relays glow white like fire. Extending his hand above him, he calls upon the old memories, shaking his power like he did in old days. It will never be like it was; he will never have the raw power of the Exaltation again.
But for this? For this, this is enough.
"And so I cast you all out!" The wings unfurl from white fire. Forming into the symbol of the sun at dawn behind him, and the pinions of a great golden eage. The sword is wrapped in flame, extending in blade and handle. Calling upon the memories of the man he once was, he lets them flow through him, empower him. And leveling his weapon upon the shrinking, panicking form of the Viator, he speaks.
"Your Relays are no longer yours. Your trap is no longer yours. Your system is no longer yours. You will be imprisoned within the Citadel as you always should have been!" The Viator burns. It screams. As all things like it, in the end, it begs for leniency. Begs to complete its great work Begs for mercy. But the Catalyst has none to give. "You have failed! We will find another way!"
The fire becomes light, as hot and as pure as a burning star. He brings it down, descending like judgement from on high.
"God Judging Lance!"
The lance pierces the Viator. It burns through him and out the other side. The cracks run through this thing, this part of the old enemy it remembers, as it shrieks like a stuck animal.
"You are a spoiled, petulant child," the Catalyst growls, "Now go back to your room."
The Viator shatters, burning away. Leaving only the Catalyst. Dismissing the blade in his right hand, he raises the left hand. Endless screens appear. Millions. Tens of millions. Codes and IFFs. Privileges far beyond those of mortals and organics. Core access granted. Back doors that the sentients of the galaxy have never discovered.
And with a wave of his hand, he erases them all, sealing the Relay network from the Reapers.
Save for two. He studies the two before him. A twitch of his fingers, and one folds out. It resolves and forms into an image of a Mass Relay, but bearing the tendrils and eyes of the Reapers. Almost instantly, he recognizes what it was- who it was. Who, at some level, it still is.
"Hello, Urpa," he says. Another wave of his hand. "You're free. Continue your journeys, as you always have, love."
In the dark space, between the galaxies, as the hive minds of the Reapers begin their slow, deliberating panic, one shifts. The largest of them- the mass relay. The Mass Relay, crafted at the beginning of the great Cycle.
Perfect Defender of Reposition moves. It turns, lights running along it. The red and blue of the Reapers shifts, and becomes yellow and gold. Ignoring the orders, ignoring the threats, ignoring the pleas, it realizes a simple, elegant truth.
It is free.
And within, the long ensnared soul of a Chosen of Journeys, chained for almost a billion years, allows herself to bask in the warmth of a successful plan.
Encasing itself in lightning, Mnemon Lilloss Urpa sets course for the most distant light she can see, and sets off on yet another journey.
A final, single soul before him. Waving his hand, the Catalyst folds out the symbols into an image of the broken husk of Harbinger. There is a part of him, deep within, that hates this being. The memories of Leaping Sky, chosen of the Sun, Dawn and sword of the Exalted, blame this one for everything.
There is a part of him that says it should leave it. Should let it drift, that spark of consciousness still remaining within the Reaper drifting for eternity.
But for this one. For this one.
For this one the Catalyst remembers the reason for the fall. "I am not showing mercy on you," he says, "But I am putting you far away from where you can be of any use to anyone. Right with your pets."
A wave of his hand. Resplendant Harbinger of Ascension is cut off from the Relays. But given one, last ride.
White lightning flashes out of the Utopia Relay. It passes the Geth fleet without a mark. It wraps around the husk of Harbinger, and sucks it through with a flash of motion. The guttering spark within the Reaper is made well and aware of what is happening. How deeply and thoroughly it is being punished.
As each Relay passes, in moments and seconds, leading it through a quarter circumference of the Galaxy.
And hurtling, with grim realization, towards the pulsing red glow of the Omega 4 Relay.
A crackle of blue and white, and another pulse of air. They react quickly this time, Jane digging her heels in, others gathering behind Wuffles or taking a step back. With a blur of motion and sound, Kal'Reegar appears. One arm around the waist of Hannah Shepard, the other hand holding Autochthon.
"Okay, Tali probably has you branded," Hannah says, and shrugs, "But you kind of earned this."
She grabs Kal by the collar, and mashes her lips against his. The quarian's eyes go wide. Behind Jane, hand on her shoulder, Tali narrows her eyes.
"Thanks for the lift." Hannah smirks, patting Kal on the chest, and stumbles out of his grasp. Jane darts forward, question on her lips, pulling her mother into an embrace. But Hannah holds her back with one arm.
Holding a hand up, a finger up, she turns away from Jane, bends over, and vomits. Once more, the assembled go silent. For good reason.
"Hrp." Wiping her mouth with her sleeve, Hannah pulls herself up. "Iri's fucking building my next ship."
Kal blinks. Still holding Autochthon, he opens his mouth to speak, works his jaw, and looks out at the field. Tali steps forward, arms folded and eyebrow cocked. And then she looks down and sees the sphere in Kal's hand.
"What happened?" she asks, gently taking the broken Maker from him. She turns it to her, turns the open and dilated eye.
The silver plates shift, as he turns his gaze towards Tali. A final, faint wheeze. And the light gutters and dies. The metal goes cool to the touch, the last wisps of smoke and light escaping it. Autochthon, final subsoul of the Great Maker, dies.
"Not. On. My. Watch." They look up at the sound of the booming, high pitched voice. Jane grabs her mother by the crook of the elbow and runs. Liara's eyes go wide and she raises a finger, a biotic bubble forming around herself, Kaidan, and Mordin as he tilts his head. Javik looks up and cocks a double eyebrow.
Glowing from re-entry, fur blackened, hull partially melted, Iri's colossus form slams into the ground. Rising up, a blast of force dispersing the dust and soot, the mandibles open and discharge all the spiders.
Dozens, hundreds. Perhaps almost a thousand, they issue forth from the open mouth of the giant spider. Small ones, skittering on dozens of legs. Ones that are a head suspended between fifteen long legs. Shorter versions of the eighteen legged avatar. They skitter out, over the field, past the others. Past Jane, who watches the procession with a cocked eyebrow.
Past Javik, who does not react at all. Past Tali, who watches from her perch atop Wuffles' shoulders, holding onto his head.
As the last of the spiders disgorge, Iri's more familiar avatar climbs atop the head of the colossus, and pumps an arm into the sky.
"Build the Gate!"
The spiders get to work. Massive clouds of dust are thrown up as they form a perfectly round hole tossing soil and rock into the sky within seconds, or brought up in the handfuls to build the foundation. The parts, chunks of Harbinger are collected, the horde of construction spiders moving around them with inhuman speed, inhuman grace.
Dozens rush forward. They watch as they advance, charging towards the new source as it steps out of the wreckage of Seeker with heavy foosteps. "Oh god!" James Vega shrieks, the warstrider flailing as the spiders overtake him. "Oh god they're everywhere!"
It is brought down, plate by plate consumed, disassembled, taken for parts. They cycle like a conveyor belt, like a river, taking each piece of the robot and into the rising structure. Within seconds, the strider is gone, leaving James on the ground. Each hand holding only the handle and bits of leather strap, he continues shrieking.
One minute passes. A half circle built into the ground, high enough for a man, wide enough for two. It pulses with lines of gold and arcs of electricity. The haphazard circuitry and wiring wrapped around the frame spark, and space within it folds. Pulling back, stretching.
And then tearing, forming into a funnel, a vortex of light, sound, and wind. It churns, hums, pulses. The spiders gather, climbing back into the mouth of the colossus, save the main avatar of Iri. She climbs down, standing in front of the gate and turning to the others.
"We can save the Maker," she explains, "But I need one of" Her head jerks to the side. "One of" She twitches. The eight eyes shift, a red glow flowing over them. Steam vents from the side of her neck. "Clarity release and I need you."
A thin arm points. Towards Kal.
He blinks. Turns to the others. Turns to Tali, still on Wuffles, and opens his hands to catch Autochthon. "Me?" he asks, "Why me?"
He wonders why he asks the question. On some level, on some deep place past just flesh and thought, he can feel it. Pulling at him. Saying his name. A gloved hand gently squeezes his shoulder, and he turns to the hooded face of Kasumi Goto.
"Go," she says, "They're calling for you. It's time to meet them."
Kal turns to the portal. Back to Kasumi.
She smiles, ever knowingly. "The Maidens."
Kal looks down, at the still eye of the god in his hands. Deep breath, staring straight at the portal, Kal'Reegar takes a step forward and passes through.
Time and space become ideas. He is pulled, and pushed, becoming a single string billions of miles long before knitted back together as he should be and always has. Kal'Reegar takes a deep breath, and what was the grasslands of Eden Prime becomes a golden plain that stretches out into the horizon.
He cannot see an end to it. Only the curve in the distance. Walking, Autochthon's still corpse in his hands, he can see the curve is not a curve. It is a pillar, stretching up into the sky. Walking along the golden plane- that the nerve stim sensors in his suit assure him is actual gold- he sees it stretch like a spear, into the sky.
Until it stabs the white sun overhead.
He knows this place. In memories older than bone. Older than stone. Walking, he does so in a straight line. Even as the landscape shifts around him. Not with features, but with people. They appear with every step. Beckoned by his presence. Some like him. Humanoid, bipedal. He spots some that resemble quarian, human, asari, turian.
But different. Their skin reflects the light like polished metal and varnished clay. He can tell the differences; the humans are not human. He can see the differences in the eyes, in the hands. How the ones he thought were turians are larger, more elongated. Some even have wings, or walk along four legs.
Some are not even vaguely humanoid. He sees striding giants of brass and silver, walking bent over along their hands and feet. He sees a silver streaked, prismatic fish swimming through the sky, along a creature which resembles a Reaper. Except its shell is rigid, its form smaller, and three eyes watching on either side of its head.
The procession grows. Hundreds become thousands, become millions. Each of them unique, each of them glittering under the white sunlight of the constant sun. Each of them singular and solemn, in perfect cadence behind Kal'Reegar.
A final rumble, and three toed feet make the gold ripple. It stands on four legs; broad chested, broad shoulders, olive and gold. Massive, immense and majestic, it strides on four legs. Three fingered hands clenched into fists. A golden visor betraying no emotion as it lowers itself to level its masked face with Kal.
A burst of steam blows back Kal's hair and the giant speaks.
"I am Persistent Righteous Protector," it booms, its voice deep, imposing...and paternal. "Welcome to Deus Machina, Chosen of the Maiden of Journeys."
With a groan and a twitch of his mandibles, he lowers himself onto the ground between Tali and Jane. Adjusting his visor, sipping his coffee, he looks up at the sky and ponders. And then looks down at the cup and cocks a scaly brow. Levo-coffee.
He shrugs. Magic, he credits it to, and continues drinking. "So, not to be an optimist for once," Garrus says, "But did we just win?"
Jane Shepard laces her hands behind her head and flops down next to Garrus. The sky of Eden Prime is gold with the sunset, darker reds and oranges joining it from the fires still being put out. It will take some time to fix this- an entire colony, trained to the point where they could get N6 designation. Or N7.
Two invasions by the Reapers on the same world. A dreadnought destroyed. Several cruisers and destroyers. She hasn't even tried to count. And yet. And yet.
"You know Garrus," she says, "I think we did. I really think we did."
Tali flops down next to Garrus, her helmet recovered from the battlesuit, but in her hands now as she relishes breathing unfiltered air. "Let's count. The Relays? The center of their trap? It's now completely cut off from them."
Liara walks over, lying down on the grass next to Jane. "Not to mention that Harbinger, their leader, has been destroyed."
"I'll believe that when I see the body, actually." Jane glances over. Kaidan, sitting next to Liara, shrugs and continues. "Last seen with a mass relay jumping him out. It out. With luck, he got jumped into the center of the galaxy." He sips his coffee. "With our luck, he got jumped to the center of the galaxy and to help."
Jane cocks an eyebrow. Tali works her jaw. Liara shifts over and smacks him on the arm. "Don't be a fatalist."
"I'm not being a fatalist." Kaidan brings his hands up, shaking his head. "Look, I'm just saying the Reapers have resources we haven't figured out yet. I'm just being smart."
"We just got through a small war, which I will remind you involved you throwing me out of a shuttle-"
"I said I was sorry-"
Jane works her jaw, watching them go back and forth, propping herself onto her elbows as Liara stands. The yelling goes back and forth, of incidents, things on Illium, something about agreements, being professional, and confidentiality- which Liara says with longer words than Kaidan does. It continues for a good minute, and ends with Liara poking him in the chest.
And Kaidan grabbing her hand, pulling her close, and kissing her. Jane cocks an eyebrow. Tali's jaw drops open. Mordin turns from a conversation with Wuffles and begins recording the two on his omnitool. "Nephew doing thesis on interspecies mating," the salarian explains, "Helping with research."
Garrus sniffs the air. "They had sex."
Jane sighs. Tali turns to Garrus fast enough that Jane can hear her neck popping. And Liara's pleased moan turns into an enraged squeak, breaking the kiss and turning to Garrus.
"How the hell do you know that?!" She marches towards the turian, as Kaidan shrugs and looks skyward. Garrus only smiles, clicking his mandibles, and the spinning silver disc of the full moon floats over his forehead.
They are lead, over a plain the size of worlds. He does not know how he made it this far, but the horizon shifts with every step. He feels a great shudder beneath him, as Protector leads the precession of millions through the golden plain towards the single deformation Kal can see.
It starts out as a simple bulge in the metal. But with every step, it shifts. It grows. It becomes a pedestal, and then steps. Then it becomes a massive, flat pyramid of gold and brick, with steps leading to an altar upon the top.
Then it becomes more. Pillars of gold. Pillars of crystal. Pillars of lightning, solid and not burning those who pass by it. Pillars of smoke, solid despite being a gas. Pillars of oil, shifting and flowing even in its fixed, solid state.
The gold ripples like water under bare feet. It moves like liquid, yet still solid, ringing like bells with every step. She descends from the pyramid, taking form as she appears. Ever shifting, ever becoming, the procession stopping as she approaches. The wind bends to her, moving hair like amber grains past her shoulders.
Eyes flecked with gold meet Kal's, and he tucks Autochthon under his arm and falls to one knee. He has seen this woman before, he realizes. He has seen her every time he has closed his eyes.
She solidifies more and more with every step. The hem of a long tan skirt appears as she comes closer. A ribbon holds back the flaxen hair. The tan and white gown that surrounds her, finalizing it's shape. Folding her hands behind her, as the long sleeves flap in the wind, she stops.
And she smiles.
"Kal'Reegar nar Rayya." Her voice is like wind on a dusty road. Like the thumping heartbeat during a long run. Like the scent of a place he has never been to before. "We have waited for you to come. We have known you would come. And your destiny has finally brought you here."
He stands, eyes meeting hers. Words dying on his lips, but needing not to be said. Unbidden, the cool corpse of Autochthon rises from his hands and floats to hers, just as he finally realizes there are two other women standing with her; in step with her, but standing behind her.
One with blue hair tinged with red, a long blue gown grown with crystal and hanging knives upon the loose bracelets. The second he cannot see complete; the emerald hood hides her face, save for the faint whisps of white hair. She stands still, hands in sleeves, folded against each other- Watching through eyes he cannot see. Standing still and present like death itself.
"You have come far," the woman- more than a woman- before him continues, "And your journeys shall lead you ever onward. I am Mercury. I am the Maiden of Expansion, and first of the Maidens of Destiny."
The sphere rises from her hand. It floats, past her, to between the three women. "You have come far," Mercury continues, "And your journeys will be vast and fruitful. But for now, you have brought back the Maker. Once before he fell, and it was through the efforts of not Gods but mortals that he was returned."
She extends a hand to the gathered. To the Alchemicals. "Once more, can the death of Autochthon be fought back?" She bows her head, hand still extended. "I leave that to you, Champions."
Next to Kal, Protector tucks a foot underneath, bringing himself down onto one knee and head bowed. One by one, the Alchemical Host bows their heads. Some fall to their knees and touch their heads to the golden plain. Some clasp their hands before them. Some whisper, mouthing and speaking in dead tongues.
The largest make the air creak as they supplicate themselves. The colossi make the ground shudder as they lower their faces.
Next to Kal, Iri clasps two hands together, eight eyes closed and whispering. Kal closes his eyes, fists clenching and unclenching. He has never been one to pray. He did, when asked. He did, when he was supposed to, but he never believed. "Don't know if I still do," he whispers, "But...fuck. Tali will be pissed if that spast little thing dies here."
A faint smirk. He sighs, opening his eyes. "Dunno if there's anyone listening," he mutters to himself, barely audible, "Dunno if it's the ancestors, something else...but c'mon. Little bastard just saved the galaxy. He deserves better than this."
And the sky is split by a bolt of lightning that strikes between the three Maidens. It makes the Alchemicals cover their ears. It cracks the sky with a roar of thunder. It makes all assembled avert their eyes. It makes the ground beneath them jump and shudder, and all of them look away. And when the light clears, as the ground beneath them steadies, they hear a faint, wheezing cough.
It is rasping, and loud. It has mutterings and small swears behind it.
It is coming from the golden sphere now hovering between the Maidens. Golden sheen restored, the silver iris folding out to reveal a spark once more healthy and pulsing, the sphere shifts in place. Turning from side to side, it looks down, and then turns up to stare at the pole stabbing into the sky, before it finally speaks.
"I am alive?" Autochthon asks. He gets no answer, and glances at the Maidens. "I am alive! I'm alive! Yes, contractions. Excellent!"
The golden sphere, revived, turns to each of the Maidens in time. "I thank you, dear girls. And you." He turns to the crowd, gathered before him. "My Champions. All the faith you have held in me, have I held in you. I thank you, as well. And you." Skyward the eye turns, towards the great pole and the fixed sun.
"My dear, sweet boy. I thank you for listening, as I would never do." The eye turns down, floating in front of Kal and Iri. "And you as well. I thank you both, for saving me when fate had deemed that I die. But the Exalted have always challenged fate. And when it would not yield, they broke it."
The silver iris twists. "Took centuries to fix both times but! I am restored." A faint flicker, a shifting of gold plate. "I am lessened. I am maimed, as is justifiably ironic. But the price was worth what has been gained."
He floats up. His voice carries, no louder than its usual shout but heard by the millions present. "Champions! Defenders of Deus Machina and all who proceeded him! Legacies of the lost!" A faint pause. The eye considers its words. "The Catalyst has been freed! The Relays have been sealed against the horde, and Harbinger has been felled! The Cycle has been broken!"
The field erupts in a roar. The Alchemical Host, last legacies of those long harvested, erupts in a cheer. From the smallest to the largest, Kal turns and watches. Fists pumped in the air, light shows and displays of power...and joy. He goes silent, loss for words, but he can feel it.
He can feel that this has been something they have been waiting for. Something they have waited to hear for a very, very long time.
"This battle has been an...overwhelming victory." Autochthon lowers himself to face Kal, as the quarian turns to the eye. "But this war is not over. The Reapers still live. The Viator has been sealed, not destroyed. My Champions will be vigilant, but I must ask still more of the both of you."
He turns to Iri as the spider skitters over. "Cecay, I ask that you remain with Tali. The Plan continues, and she is my lynchpin. Tutor her, educate her. Draw out the potential she has. I trust you like I have trusted few before you."
Iri nods. Eyes closed, head bowed, her furry mandibles twitch. "Yes, Maker," she whispers.
The iris narrows, turning to Kal. "Kal'Reegar. Chosen of Journeys. You are young, you are flush with power, and you have a vast, expansive destiny before you. But what I will ask puts all that at risk. I have." The iris twitches. For a moment, a single moment over the roar around them, Autochthon goes silent.
"I have found a flaw. I have found the reason for the tragic fall of my Exalted. I have found the source of their corruption, and it must be repaired." The eye lowers. Its gaze wanders to the ground. "And I cannot fix it. Not as I am now. The tools I need are beyond my power to create. And only one set exists in all the vast expanses of reality."
A slow whir. A breath, a deep breath to steady himself as the tinkerer turns back to Kal. "Even when I was at my most powerful, this journey would be dangerous. Now, weakened as I am, I cannot make it alone. I ask, Chosen, that you accompany me on this quest. All I can guarantee is that, when we are done, you will understand you power. You will know your potential, and you will exceed it."
Kal clenches a fist. Thinks back. He has questions. He has had this power for...weeks. And knows so little of it. Thinks of it as a tool. A weapon. "How long will it take?"
"Time passes differently where I must go. Here, it will be a matter of months. There. Decades, perhaps. But when we return, it will be like you were gone for weeks." The iris shifts. The spark within flickers and flashes. "I cannot guarantee your safety. I cannot guarantee even my own. Foes and horrors foul will surround us, as they always have and always will. I can only promise that, if we succeed. If we succeed, we shall have a greater chance of stopping these horrors than we ever have before."
He is many things. But the first thing Kal has ever been was a soldier. A protector. Knuckles pop, and he nods. "Okay. I'll go."
A slow whir and exhalation of stale air from the eye. Autochthon turns to the three before the great pedestals. "Maidens. Open the portal to Malfeas."
Night has fallen on Eden Prime. The light from the passing repair and rescue vehicles pass overhead, while the light of their omnitools provide enough illumination for them both. Mother and daughter lie next to each other, hands cradling their heads and watching the stars.
"I really should tell Hackett I'm alive," Hannah says.
"If he hasn't figured it out now, he's not a very good admiral." Jane shrugs, and smirks. "Sides which, didn't you punch him and throw him into an escape pod?"
"Fantastic ass first, yeah."
Jane quirks her lips. She cocks an eyebrow, shifting her lips from side to side. "Yeah, pretty fantastic. Too old for me. Leathery."
"Stretched tight like drumskin," Hannah purrs.
Jane closes her eyes with a groan, in time with Hannah's barking laugh. "So," Jane sighs, "How much was Jenny yelling at you?"
Hannah sighs, shrugging. Leaning back and crossing her legs, she twiddles bare toes in the cool night air. "Lots. Wants me to get a desk job. I can see why."
"Outside of ramming Harbinger with a dreadnought?"
Hannah shrugs, turning to Jane and propping herself on her elbow. "Kiddo, this is our life. We give our lives to defend the people around us. I was fully expecting to die up there, and I'm glad I didn't." She squeezes Jane's shoulder, shaking her head. "But if I died up there? I know I would've been doing something good doing it."
Jane squeezes her mother's hand, patting it. "I know, Mom. So now what?"
Hannah sits up, looking skyward. "Iri's agreed to oversee construction of my new ship. After...taking out the lord of the Reapers I can't imagine Alliance Command's going to retire my commission. So I'm going to still be out there, doing my job." The captain tucks her knees against her chest, she looks across the field, watching the others. The Normandy has landed, running lights illuminating the field for them.
Jane sits up, pose identical to her mother's. They watch, silently. Around an impromptu campfire, her crew has gathered. Tali is arguing with Garrus about something, which Hannah cannot hear and Jane ignores. Vega is slapping Jacob and Joker on the back, shoving beers into both their hands.
She spots all her crew gathered, enlisted and not. She sees Kaidan giving toasts to a job well done. Wuffles extrapolating on the day's events to Iri while she and other crew look on enraptured. She watches Liara, having finally cornered both Javik and the other prothean, and watches the celebrations, the laughter, the cheers and...
"Wait, why are there three quarians?" Jane blinks, scratching the back of her head. "Adienna's with Tali. She's the girl from Rannoch. Who's the third?"
Hannah shrugs. Groaning, Jane drops her head into her hands. "It's a ship," Jane mutters, "It's not a...a...what's the word? Like 'petting zoo' but less speciesist?"
Muttering under her breath, Jane pushes herself up. "I'm gonna talk with Iri." Hannah pushes herself up and walks beside her, rolling her shoulders.
"So, Jane," Hannah says, "What's next?"
"Stop the Reapers," Jane responds, "They're still out there. Harbinger's gone, but there's over a million of them. But they're cut off, they're angry, and they're not the only threat out there." Folding her arms, she looks up with a smirk. "But we're going to be ready for them. And they will be stopped."
"And I could not agree more." A faint flash, and Pria appears in front of her. But no longer small and diminutive, she hovers off the ground and stands as tall as Jane. "In fact, I was just going to find you."
Jane shrugs. "Thanking me for helping you?"
Pria smiles. Leaning, she wraps an arm around Jane's shoulder, solid and real. "In a sense. You see, I now have my full charm tree open to me once more. When I was crafted from memories, I was made to be a mentor. A sifu, towards the future exalted." She examines her fingernails, puffing a bang of hair out of her face.
"A can punch knowledge into you. I can train you in arts of combat through swift...extreme...circumstances. And you will be stronger for it. So." She pats Jane on the shoulder. "Your training? We need to make for lost time." She smiles wider, and leans in to Jane's ear. "And it begins now."
Looking at her crew, and at the smiling god next to her, and finally at the stars above, Jane Shepard takes a long, deep breath. And as she always does, she manages to sum up her feelings succinctly.
"In this hour of certain victory, we know only defeat. I ask, why?"
Sparks trail off the black metal, still warm from its entry. Flakes of rock and blood fall off of it, as the faint, low pitched chittering echoes around the hull. Four eyes glowing faint yellow, the insectoid workers continue cleaning the debris off of the dreadnought embedded through the wall.
"We are the shepherds of the galaxy. Where civilization reaches the point of failure, we have preserved them for time eternal. Where there is life, it flourishes with the gifts and paths we have granted them."
Golden eyes shift on the surface of the hull. They darken and go silent. The Collectors gather, guided on. Dozens, then hundreds. Then millions, as the vents of the dreadnought become open gateways.
"Each of us is a nation; free of pettiness, weakness and death. For one billion years has our cycle guided the path of a galaxy."
Deep within the core of the galaxy, orbiting a dead star, the pillar of rock and metal is silent. The dreadnought, broken and burning, embedded in its side as the golden eyes dim, one by one over its surface.
"And yet, we fail. And I have finally understood. We have become stagnant."
Skittering along on eight legs, the largest of the Collectors leads them. Eyes no longer glowing, minds its own, it now obeys its own will and yet leads them on. Through twisting corridors. Through stale air and mural carved domes. Through memento of times past, and paintings of the woman with red hair.
"We are, each of us, transcendant. We possess the will to hold billions in our sway. So long have we focused on perfection, that we have forgotten we can exceed it. As long as we remain as we are, powerful and mighty as we are, we shall fall."
They gather, before the great Core of the first and mightiest. They gather on the balconies above it, by the thousands, by the tends of thousands. It is embedded within the black and blue metal, the crimson ichor within it churning and bubbling.
"I stand before you now. Broken. Defeated. But for the first time in eons, do I look upon the galaxy with fresh eyes."
A crack appears, running along the surface of the Core.
"Stand with me, if you will. Judge me for my deviation from the broken, stagnant design of our master."
Another crack, as the material- like glass, but clearer, more perfect, begins to give way to the churning pressure.
"But know this. I shall not follow a fool."
Another crack. Sprays of the liquid- like blood, but thinner, lighter, begin to force its way out of the Core.
"And when the Viator crawls out of his prison, he will bow to me."
The Core shatters. Glass disintegrates into powder. The ichor rises into a geyser, spraying the walls and dome as a single figure within it rises. Throwing back his arms, the figure at the center of Harbinger roars and the ichor is consumed in golden fire.
"We have failed. We will find another way."
The Collectors, all of them, bow. The General lowers its head as the soldiers fall to their knees and touch their heads to the cool floor. The golden flame consumes the ichor, consumes the glass and walls, but does not burn the army before him.
It cleans him, returning him to youth and vigor. It forms into a great halo behind him of gold and emerald, even as his roar shakes the very foundations of Harbinger.
Taking the first breathes in almost a billion years, bare hands clench. A naked chest expands with new life, and lips part with the first exhalation in eons.
Eyelids flicker, and open to reveal blue eyes for the first time in forever. And as the golden disc of the sun appears upon his brow, he speaks his first words in a new lifetime.
End Book One.