Chapter 118

Twilight

XXXXX

Wrex had learned that his gut was his most trusted advisor a long time ago. His gut had told him that his father was up to something just before he had tried to kill him. He had gotten similar feelings that something was wrong when they had learned about the Genophage cure, with those only leaving him after Jane had promised to put him in command of the tribes of Tuchanka. They were screaming out to him right now that absolutely everything was wrong with what they were doing, that they needed to head back and drag Jane down with them to the engines. And yet he ignored them.

Saren had killed John. That had stung more than when Wrex had lost his brother, and he could only imagine what it was doing to Jane. She was heading to confront him, leaving no doubt in Wrex's mind that she wanted revenge. Well, he wasn't going to deny it to her. No matter how wrong it felt, he respected Jane Shepard too much to take something that she was owed away from her. And if anyone had the right to snuff Saren's life out, it was her.

He could only pray that his gut was wrong for once.

He and Miranda were following EDI's every command to navigate through Saren's capital ship. Stop here, move forward there, take a ladder down two levels here (things had gotten momentarily awkward when he had gotten stuck in a ladder chute that had been a little too small for him. Thankfully his biotics had allowed him to force himself through it) all to avoid the patrols that were ever-present throughout the twisting corridors of the ship. Though not as ever-present as Wrex had assumed they would have been.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I would've expected every last intersection on this ship to be packed with Geth, Collectors, and those things Saren keeps making," Wrex said, keeping his voice low. "He's too paranoid to let something like that slip under him. He's got his own private army of mindless servants. He would pack this ship to the brim. So. If they're not here...they're all on the Citadel, aren't they? This is a lowered guard created from an all-out attack."

Miranda nodded stiffly. "I can't fault your logic." She didn't say anything else after that. Wrex had never been the type for pointless small talk, so he felt no strong urge to try and keep the conversation going after that. But the implication lay heavy in the air about what exactly the location of Saren's ground forces meant. All of it was horrifically bad news, particularly when the majority of the Normandy crew was still on it. He wished EDI would give them directions a little more quickly, but kept his mouth shut. There was no point in rushing this, that would only make things worse.

"Take a right up here," the A.I. said as they reaching a five-way intersection, all of the turns splintering off unevenly. "Your first right. You're almost there." Wrex and Miranda took the right in question, moving down yet another winding corridor. The design of the Reaper felt off. Exposed wiring was everywhere, far more than it felt like the ship would need, all of it glowing with the same pale blue light that was in the cybernetic corpses. That, combined with the unnatural layout of the ship, the winding, non-linear corridors, gave Wrex the uncomfortable feeling that they were rooting around in the guts of a living thing.

Wrex would never admit it to anyone, but there was one point in his life when he had felt true horror. It had been during his rite of passage when a Thresher Maw had appeared. That happening was rare but hardly unheard of, and it was considered a worthy rite if the Krogan being tested could simply survive the arrival of a Maw. He had decided he would settle for killing it. And he had, even though his method had involved climbing into the beast's mouth and blasting its internal organs apart with a shotgun.

The thrill of victory had given way when the thing had died and left Wrex trapped inside the thing with his way out cut off. Fear had gripped him then and driven him to a desperate rage, clawing his way out until he finally found the mouth again. No one had realized what had happened in there, and he had felt no urge to correct that. Now that he was over a thousand years older and a thousand year more experienced, he had never encountered a fear like that again. But the inside of this Reaper was slowly starting to remind him of the time he had been trapped inside the gut of a dead giant.

"Two Geth up ahead," Miranda said. Wrex nodded. A pair of run of the mill troopers were passing through a junction up ahead. The two came to a momentary halt to let them pass before beginning to move again. Wrex took a quick look down the path they had gone to make sure that they weren't doubling back before moving forward.

"You should be coming up on the door to the engines in 500 meters," EDI said. "400 meters. You should have a direct line of sight."

"We see it," Miranda said. Sure enough, an utterly massive blast door was at the end of the hallway they were currently in. A looming black door that was wide and tall enough for two columns of Yahg to walk through comfortably. "Can you get it open?"

"I will try. However, I must warn you that the room beyond will contain a high number of hostiles, in addition to whatever personnel Saren has dedicated to operating the engines. If they raise an alarm to summon reinforcements, I will not be able to do anything to stop them. You will have to return to the nearest airlock and use your EVA packs to escape. You may be adrift for some time if the Normandy cannot reach you safely." EDI paused. "I am sorry."

"A zero-G trip, eh, what's the big deal?" Wrex asked, gripping his assault rifle and Claymore shotgun tightly. "Hurry up and let us get to the interesting part." Miranda nodded.

"Very well. I understand." There was a brief pause. "Don't leave any standing," EDI said, her voice surprisingly vicious. Wrex grinned. She understood it so well. "Doors opening." Both Wrex and Miranda tensed as the door slid open, prepared to face the horde of enemies on the other side. Two things hit Wrex in rapid succession. The first was confusion, wondering why, in the second most vital position on his flagship, Saren had only left a single guard. The second was realization. Because the single guard was a massive, hulking behemoth.

Easily twelve feet tall, six feet wide, the thing easily dwarfed Wrex as it turned to look at him. Eight pale blue eyes looked at him, veins of the same color pulsing in the thing's muscles, all of which just as thick as Wrex's head. Despite this, the abomination seemed to have what looked a pot belly, except the pot belly was a see-through material with a coil of glowing blue cybernetics cluttered inside. The monster raised both of its hands, one of them a series of sharpened claws, while the other a heavy cannon.

Raising the cannon to aim, its jaw opened in a three-way split, revealing countless shows of tiny sharp teeth as it let out a horrific roar. Miranda and Wrex both split off, running forward in different directions as a blue blob lurched out of the cannon, ungracefully arcing through the air until it landed where they had just been, exploding. Wrex recalled hearing that the Reaper's weapons had been some sort of superheated metal fired in a stream, and unless he was mistaken, this looked like a massively downsized version of it. He could feel the heat even from this distance.

As he moved, he scanned the room. The core of the Reaper was an utterly giant sphere on the upper far wall, several layers of rings rotating around a very recognizable center of Element Zero. It was easily the biggest core that Wrex had ever seen in his life, even dreadnaught cores looked puny next to it. It was only logical, a ship as massive as this Reaper would need a power source to match it, but even Wrex had to admit he was impressed. And feats of engineering were not something he was easily impressed by.

"Wonder how smart this thing is!" Wrex said, reaching the far wall, just beneath the core, and firing a few shots at what had once been a Yahg. He only chipped the thing's shields, but it got it looking in his directions, raising its cannon. Wrex's biotic aura flared around him and he jumped. He had never been the dexterous type, but he was able to get up high enough that he was directly between the disfigured Yahg and the core. However, instead of firing mindlessly, it hesitated, the glowing hue around its cannon stalling and then fading as it lowered its cannon. Instead, it charged forward, its claw opening wide.

"And the mindless monster is smarter than the one calling the shots," Wrex grumbled. Landing firmly on the ground, he raised his shotgun and fired twice. He was able to get the Yahg to jerk its head back, but that did nothing to slow down its charge. Wrex ducked to the side just in time, spewing assault rifle rounds as he went. Even as the thing slammed into the wall, noticeably not leaving a dent despite its massive frame, its clawed arm went wide, swiping at Wrex.

Wrex's barriers folded like wet paper before the vicious swing, and he could feel it tearing through his armor. He was half sure that the tips of its claws had managed to graze his skin, but his Krogan biology was working overtime and he barely felt it if it had. He let his assault rifle continue to spray while also firing off another shotgun blast, checking the heat gauge on the side to ensure he didn't accidentally overload the thing. His fire earned another jerk of the head, but the shields on the cybernetic colossus were practically tank grade and held firm.

With Wrex no longer near the core, the Yahg raised its cannon again, charging up another shot, ignoring the assault rifle rounds that were pinging off of it. Wrex was about to make a snap judgment about which way to dodge when a bolt of biotic energy shot from the side and hit it straight in its cannon. It only jerked to the side by a few inches, but that was enough for the shot to go very wide, far to Wrex's side and into the wall.

Miranda strafed the Yahg cyborg from the back, an SMG blazing in one hand while another orb of biotic energy was thrown from the other. Wrex moved in tune with her from the other end, keeping a stream of fire coming from his own end. Their best bet with something this big was to keep chipping away at it until they could do more lasting damage. The one upside to it was that it seemed to have been designed to deal with large crowds and anti-tank operations. It didn't seem like it had been designed with one or two commandos in mind. Doubtless, it would've normally been deployed with other infantry to balance this out, but it was being ordered by Saren.

The Yahg ignored Miranda ever, continuing to focus on Wrex, apparently having decided that he was the larger priority. Again it lunged forward, claw bared, and this time Wrex wasn't fast enough to dodge. He managed to squeeze off another shotgun blast as the abomination barreled into him, for all the good it did. The viciously sharp and long claws tore his shotgun in half before ripping into his sides, bright orange blood spilling out and onto the floor.

Fairly certain that one or two of his organs had just been split open, Wrex summoned up all the biotic strength he could manage and shoulder checked the Yahg with all of his strength. The pain in his side was only a minor ache, but those claws cut so deep that if it got another swing it, there was a very good chance that even his redundant organ system would collapse under the strain. It wouldn't matter how much it did or didn't feel it then.

His physical counter-attack on the cyborg produced some results, if not quite as much as he would've hoped. It stumbled back a few steps, enough to at least get some distance between the two of them. Another blast from the shotgun came dangerously close to causing his weapon to overheat, but with the Yahg had already been off balance, and tumbled over.

Deciding that he might not get a better chance than this, Wrex let out a roar and charged forward, biotic energy flaring around him. Miranda was still darting back and forth with impressive skill, pelting the Yahg with a mixture of bullets and biotic energy, finally shattering the thing's kinetic barrier, but Wrex took a different approach. Climbing on top of the thing, he flipped his shotgun over in his hands, raised it up, and began to viciously drive the stock into the creature's mouth.

Finally, mercifully, he heard the very satisfying sound of bone and teeth breaking. A few of the tiny teeth he had seen before went flying off to the side, with one side of the three split mouth dangling loosely from the alien's jaw. A few more biotically enhanced strikes earned Wrex a very cloud crack that didn't seem visibly related to the creature's jaw at all, giving Wrex a very good feeling that he had just cracked the thing's skull. Though to what degree he had no idea.

Wrex wanted very badly to stay on top and continue whacking away until he managed to burst the thing's head wide open, but he knew when he was pushing his luck. With one last blow for good measure, he threw himself off. He had had the right idea, but he had done so just a moment too late. The Yahg cyborg's claw flashed in the air as he dove, catching his free hand. There was an unpleasant jolt as he felt one of the talon's catch on his bone and then snap cleanly through it. Wrex failed to land properly and was went sprawling a few feet before he was able to recover and force himself back into a standing position.

He could feel something hard scraping against the inside of his armor, and glancing at his arm, he saw a bloody mess that was leaking through his armor, hanging weakly at his side. He growled. Even with limited pain, he was barely going to be getting anything out of that arm now. Two more shots from his shotgun echoed out, blowing away large portions of the Yahg's head, taking off the upper third of it.

At any other point, this would be where the poor sap that Wrex had just scalped would fall over dead. There was no such luck with the goliath of a thing that was standing before them. In fact, it barely seemed to have been slowed down. Again, the thing lunged forward, claws bared. A desperate idea popped into Wrex's head, there was no way he was going to be able to properly dodge in time, so he tried something else. Standing his ground, he leveled his shotgun and fired a third time.

Bright red warnings flashed to life on the display of his weapon, informing him that he had overheated his gun, but his aim had been true. The claws of the creature shattered under the force of the blast, splintering at the base and exploding outward, only leaving blunt bases. When the shattered talons bore into him, it was less of a piercing blow and more of a blunt one, and it spared him from another opening being torn into him, but it was still hardly a light blow. The chest plate of his armor bent under the strain of the blow and he was sent flying back against the wall, several loud cracks echoing as he went.

He grunted as he forced himself back up. There was enough pain in his body now that he was feeling an undeniable ache of pain all over now, even if it was more of an irritation than anything else. He could feel the front of his armor embedded in his chest now, and a couple of his ribs felt like they had been broken and embedded on something inside his body. Most likely an organ, but for the life of him, Wrex couldn't remember which ones. Maybe a heart.

The Claymore hadn't cooled down yet and was still locked up, so Wrex took the only other opportunity he had right now. Dropping his shotgun, he forced both of his arms up. Even if he couldn't get any strength out of his mangled one, all he needed to do was get it to perform the needed motions. Biotic energy flared around him and he shot a stream of it directly at the Yahg, though not with the intention to cause damage. Not yet anyway.

It hit dead on and purple light enveloped the beast. Normally Wrex would be able to idly fling anyone hit by this into the air, where they would be easy targets. However, he had never attempted it on anything that weighed this much, and the Yahg had to weigh several tons with all of its cybernetics. The thing attempted to move forward, only to awkwardly float up a few inches before landing clumsily, its legs sliding apart and almost falling over.

Wrex's entire body strained as the Yahg looked down, blinking in confusion at its legs. It took another tentative step forward, its effective decreased mass causing it to hop forward as if it was in low G. The Yahg's limbs flailed wildly in the air, all of them attempting to correct itself, arcing downward and skidding across the ground. Pointed talons on the thing's fit screeched against the ground, sparks flying up as it did. But, even though the Yahg was now moving with the grace and agility of a drunk Varren, it was very much moving in Wrex's direction still, and decreased mass wouldn't stop it from firing its cannon.

Then, without warning, there was a flash of purple behind it. Miranda arced into the air, landing firmly with one leg on each of the Yahg's shoulders. Her SMG flared in her hand, firing a burst at point blank into one of the cyborg's eyes. With lightning precision, she switched from eye to eye, the barrel leaving one eye and moving into the next the second the flash had disappeared. Within mere seconds, all of the Yahg's remaining eyes had been burst wide open, dribbling down the side of its face like rotten fruit.

Letting out a deafening roar, both of the Yahg's arms reached up, broken claws and cannon both. The cannon fired randomly, missing Miranda and impacting on the ceiling instead. Miranda dove off of the Yahg, sliding on the ground and coming to a stop right next to Wrex. In a single, fluid motion, she rose to one knee and extended her hands, her biotic energy joining Wrex's. "That. Was beautiful," Wrex said simply.

Miranda didn't respond, focusing all of her attention on the Yahg. Through her helmet, Wrex could see her face tense with concentrations, a vein in her temple noticeably pulsing. Wrex by himself had not been enough, but with the added strength of Miranda, it was enough. Slowly, the monster was lifted off of its feet, gravity no longer applying to it. Arms and legs swung wildly through the air, causing the whole body to spin. The cannon fired, again and again, never hitting the Krogan or the Cerberus operative, but coming rather close.

"Now, I had a bit of a plan for this thing, I wonder if you were thinking along the same lines," Wrex said. He turned his arms to the side, angeling the floating Yahg. Miranda followed suit. After a few more adjustments, the Yahg was aiming face first at the Reaper core. Wrex shot Miranda a quick glance. She nodded. Wrex let out a deep laugh. "You Coalition types, I love the way you think."

He was fairly certain that some muscles in his arm were starting to tear. Combined with all the other injuries that he had sustained, he was now in an overall state of discomfort, but he ignored it. "On three. One. Two. Three!" The Yahg, a struggling ball of cybernetics and muscle, was hurled directly into the glowing core. The protective field around it shattered, the behemoth was sucked into the interior and was ripped apart into pieces so tiny that Wrex was certain it had been vaporized on the atomic level.

With that, the Element Zero core began to react violently. Bolts of blue and purple energy sparked out of it, nearby plates buckled, a few even being ripped off and sucked into the depths of the core, and the entire room shook. "We just triggered a critical core failure!" Miranda said sharply. "We have five minutes at the very most until it reaches its pinnacle! Moving to Wrex's side, she produced a vial of pale yellow gel and began liberally applying it to Wrex's side where he had been injured. For a second, Wrex thought it was medi-gel until the gel started to stretch over the gaps in his armor, sealing it tight. He gave it an experimental knock. It held firm.

"Ah, right, don't want the organs I have left being sucked out into the vacuum when we make the jump for it," Wrex said. He wondered if all non-Krogan always had to be this careful about their organs. It would be a very paranoid way to live, but it couldn't be helped. Nearly every other species in the galaxy only had the one set.

"Exactly," Miranda said, standing up and pressing her hand to her helmet. "EDI, we achieved our objective, the core is damaged beyond repair. We need the nearest airlock and an EVA pickup, stat!" At once, the A.I. responded in the affirmative, relaying directions for them that they began to follow at once. The two of them ran out of the engine room, following EDI's direction as fast as they could.

"Just for the record, the two of us just destroyed an eon old starship that killed the Protheans and was the flagship for the biggest war criminal in living memory," Wrex said. "You and I have both earned a couple of life sized-oh what am I saying, bigger than life-sized statues. I'll put them together myself if no one else wants to. Run any specifics you want in yours by me, if you have a preferred outfit or pose." He looked at her. "I may ask you to hold a second SMG, it strikes a more impressive look."

"With my line of work, I prefer not to have my face on anything that is seen by the public," Miranda said. She sounded tired, but her reply was good natured. "Thank you for the offer, but I'll have to pass."

"Ah, that's no problem. We just put a helmet on you and have the plinth say "unnamed Coalition soldier." We maybe even make some changes to body type." He grinned. This was happening, one way or another.

Miranda didn't reply but put her hand to her helmet again. "Shepard, Lawson, the ship's core is going critical. Saren will die in the blast, abort your current objective and get to the nearest airlock." There was a pause. "Shepard? Respond! Shepard!" All of Wrex's pride at their recent victory died away. The horrible feeling in his gut was back in force.

XXXXX

The Presidium was a cacophony of noise. The bangs of weapons, the inhuman roars of Saren's forces crawling up from the elevator shafts, bellows of defiance from the defenders, and heavy thunks from bodies hitting the ground. Jessica Cain struggled to not let it overwhelm her as danced in and out of the ranks of the enemy forces, her power armor and tactical cloak being the only reasons that she wasn't instantly cut to shreds. The sheer volume of fire from the Geth, Collectors, and cyborgs meant that, even without her being directly targeted, shots would still hit her as she darted in, stabbed two or three of the approaching soldiers in vital areas, and dashed out.

It was a tricky game that she was playing, but not one without its rewards. She was slowly building up a steady pile of kills, aided by the fact that her blades were slow enough to slip through kinetic barriers. Within minutes of the breach into the Presidium, she had managed to get her kill count well into the dozens, the massing horde not willing to dedicate enough attention away from her frontal assault to focus to a single hunter-killer. But even then, there was only so much that she could do.

The flow of Saren's forces that were pouring out of the breach where the elevators had once been was nothing short of overwhelming. Advanced weapons fired in a disorganized chorus, crashing down like a tidal wave on the defenses that had been erected by the allied defenders. A string of dead defenders already lay along the first line of barricades that had been set up, to the point where much of the front line had been abandoned. With the exception of a few stranded, everyone else had fallen back to the second layer of defenses, the enemy mob slowly advancing as a result.

Jessica slipped forward, her body practically doubled over in an attempt to minimize her frame and thus giving her enemies a smaller target. The HUD within her cybernetic eyes sent up warnings as she took shots, thin red lines tracing them to their origin, but she ignored it. This program was excellent for urban combat but rather redundant in a cramped environment like this. Taking massive strides, she jutted her legs out in front of her and let herself slide on the ground, well below the torrent of fire above of her. Swinging both of her knives, she sliced outward with both hands.

She caught the leg of a Collector with each knife, her power armor and augmentations ensuring full penetration. Silently, with the exception of a few insect-like chirps, the Collectors fell to the ground, each of them missing a leg from the shin down. Rising to one knee, Jessica flipped her knives into a reverse grip position and stabbed down. Each knife was driven into a Collector throat, followed up by a quick and vicious swipe. Both throats were torn wide open, so much so that both of them hung off to the side, barely attached to the rest of their body. She had earned two more kills.

But her window had closed now. Even if the hostiles around her couldn't see her directly, they could see that two Collectors had suffered near full decapitations, as well as the yellow blood that coated her knives. Sheathing her knives, Jessica retreated back to the relative safety of the barricades, drawing her SMGs and blind firing behind her as she went. There was a strangled gurgle behind her, and she was fairly certain she had gotten at least one, but she had no time to check. Too many shots to count were pinging the back of her shields, the percentage counter that marked their strength rapidly spinning downwards as her tactical cloak collapsed under the strain. It was at thirty percent when she reached the barricades, vaulting over and ducking down behind them. She was safe for the moment. The second her shields charged, though, she was heading straight back out there.

"Adam, got any more power cells?" Jessica craned her neck. The frontline defenders were mainly those with power armor, Coalition, Enclave, and Salarian, and a fair few Meta-Humans and Geth Primes. They were blasting away at the incoming hostiles with the heaviest weapons that their armies could field, rocket launchers, laser and plasma rifles (even the Salarian prototypes were putting up an impressive showing) Theta energy weapons for the Coalition, Fatmen for both the Coalition and Enclave, and the Salarians were utilizing some sort of pistol shaped grenade launcher. Among the behemoths of steel and muscle, however, she spotted Cornelia and Adam crouched right next to her, the ground around them littered with spent power cells.

"Two," the elderly man said sadly. "One for each of us." He tossed her a small, glowing cube at her, the Reman Skirmisher catching it and sliding it into her rigid, silver rifle. Adam did the same with his much thicker weapon. "Stay safe," he said. He grimaced. "I'm starting to wish we had hung onto our old weapons. Keep an eye out for any fallen rifles, we'll need to switch when these ones run dry."

"I'll get you a couple," Jessica said. Both heads jerked back in her direction, but she was already gone. Her shields had recovered, her cloak reactivated, and she was back up over the barricade. She darted to the abandoned first line and grabbed a pair of Turian made rifles from an area where C-Sec had made a valiant stand before being overwhelmed. The pile of bodies was mainly Turian, but other aliens were mixed in with the mess, along with a few Humans, Necro and Meta, along with Standard. For half a second, she was reminded of New Washington Stadium and the slaughter that Admiral Crawford had ordered. Both felt equally pointless.

A trio of the smaller cyborgs, the thin, unarmed ones, suddenly clambered over the abandoned barricade of the first line. Shifting her salvaged rifles to one hand, she drew a knife and made quick work of the lightly armored abominations. Quick slashes to the throat were all that was needed. All three of them fell to the ground, two lifeless while the third make weak, groaning noises, ineffectually reaching up at Jessica.

Once again, she was no longer incognito, this time not helped by the floating rifles. There was a deafening roar that somehow broke through the maelstrom of noise, and Jessica's heart dropped. One of the cyborgs, one with a Turian head planted on a massive body with viciously long claws, was charging directly at her. Still, despite her inner terror, her years of conditioning carried her body forward to the point where it was almost like it was on autopilot.

She ducked a swipe that would've taken her head off, swinging up with her knife as she did and catching the giant in the wrist. Unlike with the Collectors, the mass here was too thick for a clean cut, and she only got halfway through before the knife hit something hard, lodging itself there. Before she could attempt to pull it out, the beast roared and shifted its whole body, swinging at her with the other claw. Her body shifted to dodge and only mostly succeeded. Two claws tore into the back of her power armor as she ran back to the safety of cover, skimming her back and drawing blood. She hissed. It was a light injury, but it had only been a glancing blow. A direct hit would produce who knew how much damage.

Her body went into full fight or flight mode, her legs stretching to lengths that she hadn't even known were possible, each bound taking her closer to cover. The part Turian behemoth was right behind her, its heavy footfalls causing the ground to quake, and Jessica had a very nasty feeling that it was keeping up with her without any issue. Her prospects weren't looking very good. If she stopped to fight it, she could potentially beat it, but she would be exposing herself to fire from the main enemy force, while if she didn't stop to fight it, it would eventually catch her and rip her to shreds.

Once again, she drew and blind fired her SMG behind her, the loud thumps making it nearly impossible to miss the giant thing, but there was no indication that she was even slowing it down. As she neared the second line, both Adam and Cornelia popped up, their weapons aimed directly at the thing behind her. "DUCK!" At once, Jessica dropped into a slide once more, skidding along the floor as blurs of pure white energy arched overhead. There was a deafening explosion and a flash of white right behind her, and she heard a loud thud from something heavy hitting the floor.

Coming to a stop right in front of the barricade, she hoisted herself up over, passing her looted rifles to the Coalition soldiers. "Much appreciated, but eyes up front! We got incoming!" Cornelia said, taking both rifles and handing one to Adam. She was right. Saren's forces were surging together as a whole, heading straight for the second line. Drawing her second SMG, Jessica didn't attempt to make another surgical strike, she just opened fire. Adam and Cornelia joined her and the rest of the defenders by emptying the last power cells of their Theta energy weapons, before switching to their new rifles.

Between the countless arcs of energy, the occasional heavy explosion, and standard gunfire from mounted machine-guns, the enemy offensive was faltered for a moment. At that moment in time, it looked like they may stall out and break under the pressure. But then the fire from the defenders faltered. Munitions among the frontline defenders were being strained to the breaking point, not helped by how little notice they had all had when setting up these defenses, and the fire from energy weapons was starting to lessen. The need to stop and reload, combined with the slowly diminishing supply of power cells, was catching up with the defenders. And it gave the Geth, Collectors, and cyborgs just enough space to push forward and finally reach the barricade.

They smashed into the barricades, literally in the case of the larger cyborgs and Heretic Geth Primes. Panicked yells echoed from all across the second line, firing their weapons at point blank range, even as they were swarmed from all sides. And the bodies began to fall. At this range, with many of the lighter hostile forces leaping over the barricades, the defenders had lost their cover. Dozens of them died within minutes. The powerful and advanced weapons of the attackers were tearing through shields and armor with ease. Already, the second line was starting to collapse.

"No, no!" Cornelia shouted. Firing her rifle with one hand, she drew her sword with another and swung at a Geth that had tried to clear the barricade, taking its head clear off. "We're running out space! Adam, we gotta move!" Fiddling with her belt, she awkwardly fingered the grenades at her side before chucking them over the barricade, not taking any heed of where they went before she turned and ran, Adam right behind her after he tossed his own grenades. Jessica was right beside them.

Thankfully, the trick with the grenades seemed to have bought them a precious few seconds, as the resulting explosion, nearly swallowed up by the sounds of battle, ensured there were no pursuers hot on their heels. The three of them were able to reach the third line of defense without harassment. Sliding over the top, Cornelia and Adam instantly took cover behind the barricades and began to fire their new rifles, twin flares of automatic fire doing what they could. But that was only so much. With two lines of defense abandoned, as the last remnants of the second line were being engulfed, the enemy mass was only growing larger. No defender fire was reaching the breach the invaders had made, allowing more and more soldiers to pour out of it. They were in danger of being overwhelmed through pure numbers.

"Major, light them up!" A cannon thundered to Jessica's left and a blinding green explosion tore through the front of the enemy throng. It blew a good chunk in the enemy formation, sending scorched body parts flying, but the gap was filled in within seconds. Jessica took a quick look to her left. Two soldiers in Enclave power armor were to her left, and she recognized both of them. Cadence Moore had her Super Sledge at the ready with one hand and was firing a shotgun with her other. Directly to her left was another Enclave Special Forces operative, one with the Xi symbol and a white number 1 on her arm. Jessica had never met her but she had been briefed on all Enclave Special Forces squads when she had been part of it. Major Makoto.

The Major was heavily armed, with a recoilless rifle on one shoulder, a heavy plasma cannon on the other, a gatling gun on each forearm and an underslung shotgun directly opposite them. A claw from Major Makoto's backpack produced another shell and loaded it into her cannon, whereupon it thundered again. For the smallest of moments, Jessica wanted to attack the two of them, to take her knife to their throats. The two of them, Cadence, in particular, were pawns of Woods. They had stood by while Goeth had played his games with her and her sisters, doing nothing. Cadence had been right there when Warren Black, mad dog that he was, had picked fights with Grace.

As soon as the anger had started, she strangled it. She would figure all of that out later. If she would bury the hatchet or slit Cadence's jugular while she slept, she would figure it out after the battle was over. At the moment, Major Makoto was one of the heaviest concentrations of firepower that they had left. It had taken her a moment to realize, but quite a few of their heavy hitters had been in the second line. She didn't see that many who had made it to the third line.

Some had, she could see that the Salarian STG in power armor had made it almost fully intact, but there were notably less Coalition and Enclave power armored forces. Likewise, there were only a handful of Geth Primes left. Their frames no doubt were ill-suited for retreating. And now they were gone, even though they were running out of room. There was only one line of defense left after this, the very top of the stairs leading up to the Presidium. If that one broke, half of the major leaders of the galaxy would be left defenseless. Saren would get his way. Again.

Once again, Jessica's SMGs roared to life. "You two, help me please!" she said, looking at Cornelia and Adam. That earned her a couple of confused looks, until she gestured her head at Major Makoto, shifting in her direction. Thankfully, they understood what she had been communicating. They needed to keep the Major alive and her heavy kit firing. The pair of them bunched up near her, their rifles firing every step of the way. Cadance's head jerked at them as they neared, but if she recognized them or had any words for them, she kept it to herself. The next second, her attention was back to the front, her scavenged shotgun blaring.

"How many damn lackeys does Saren have!?" Cornelia shouted in frustration, throwing up one hand and conjuring up a biotic barrier for the five of them. At once, a barrage of projectiles began to hit it, but it gave them a small opening. Enough for Major Makoto to fire a plasma-shell into the midst of a dozen Collectors, sending all of them flying in much smaller bits. "Those ships can only carry so many troopers, right!? Shouldn't he be running out!?"

"His fleet has largest ships we've ever seen in numbers large enough to launch the start of a planetary invasion," Adam replied his rifle firing to the point where it overheated, forcing him to drop it and draw a pistol that he started to fire. "This isn't a strike force, we're fighting an entire army right here!" Jessica was starting to feel that he was right. The numbers that had been pouring into the Presidium had never faltered, not even for a second. It didn't matter how many of them died in a suicidal charge against the well-entrenched allied forces, more would just come to replace them. Meanwhile, the defenders were faltering against the ever-increasing volume of firepower, a soldier dying here and there with increasing frequency. They were losing this fight.

"I am not dying here!" Cadence roared definitely. A Heretic Geth Prime had chosen to simply press through Cornelia's already faltering batter and was now aiming its machine-gun at Makoto. As a response, Cadence swung her Super Sledge right into the synthetic's gut. The impact was so strong that it nearly fully inverted the Geth's torso, it was so thoroughly crumpled. It tumbled to the ground, half hanging over the barricade, still trying to raise its weapons with the painless determination that only a synth could manage. A second swing from Cadence crushed its head flat.

"Give me that!" Cornelia shouted, dropping her Turian rifle and grabbing the Prime's weapon. With some difficulty, she heaved it up, propped it up on the barricade, a gap and let out a furious volley of automatic fire. A handful of Geth troopers were gunned down within a matter of seconds, their bodies clattering to the floor. But the gap made by this, like so many other gaps that had been opened, was filled in by the constantly surging lines of Saren's forces. There was no end to them.

Again, Major Makoto's cannon flashed, and a swarm of body parts was sent flying into the air. This time though, it took longer for the gaps to be filled. Jessica blinked, unsure what had changed. Then it hit her. Hundreds, maybe even a thousand, of Saren's forces had died in this reckless charge towards the Presidium. Their bodies hadn't gone anywhere. They lay strewn on the ground, clogging the floor of the Presidium, piling up on each other and quickly starting to form walls of dead. There was no tactical element to the enemy advance, just a blind rush, which added further to the dead. And now, there were so many dead, that the ones who had come after were being forced to wade knee-deep through them.

Saren's reckless assault was choking on its own weight.

The other defenders were starting to realize this too. The sheer volume of enemies coming out of the breach hadn't lessened, but its speed had. It had slowed considerably. The front line of Saren's forces being forced to clamber over piles of their own fallen, to move, which slowed down those behind them and those who were still coming up. The hail of fire coming from the mob had lessened, due to the congested battlefields and limited movements robbing many of them of clear lines of sight.

"They're stalling out!" a voice roared over the COM lines. "They're about to break! Hit them hard, scatter them!" That was not at all what was happening, more than likely not a single aspect of Saren's force was capable of breaking formation without orders, but Jessica didn't complain. A roar of triumph went up around the surviving defenders, the faltering assault was giving them hope.

"Major, focus on their heavy hitters!" Cadence barked swinging her hammer and taking the head off of a Collector. "Towards the back! Suffocate them with their own dead!" Instead of responding, Makoto arced her cannon upward, firing towards the very back of the horde, catching a pack of Primes. Jessica couldn't see the damage that was being done towards the back, but she did notice quite a few tracer rounds being fired in that direction. Taking the briefest of moments after putting a round through the head of a Turian cyborg, she glanced at the battlefield behind her.

Roger, Sheryl, and Nora were on the opposite side of their defenses, their weapons noticeably aiming towards the rear of the enemy mob, Roger having switched to his palm-mounted plasma cannon. Near the middle, Fawkes was firing his gatling laser non-stop and had his mouth open in a roar that was inaudible over the noise, Charon and Ashley on either side of him, Ashley firing a strange blue rifle while Charon chucked grenades that produced blinding explosions that surpassed even the force of plasma-shells.

Up in the final line of defense, Liara was maintaining a biotic barrier, alternating between shifting it to keep up with heavier pockets of fire and firing off the occasional orb of biotic energy. Garrus was alongside her, taking advantage of the protection the barrier provided. His sniper rifle was firing once a second, constantly shifting to adjust for new targets and to avoid incoming fire. There was a faint shimmer in the air behind them, and Jessica was fairly certain that Kasumi was doing some behind the scenes sabotage that she wouldn't appreciate until the battle was over.

She turned her attention back. There was no denying it now, the number of enemy fighters had been drastically reduced. Near the breach, Jessica spotted a thicket of them attempting to press through the ocean of bodies that had piled up, only to make barely any progress. They had turned their own entrance into a choke point with their suicidal tactics, and it was only getting tighter.

Struck by a daring inspiration, Jessica activated her cloak, switched to her knives, and dashed out into the open. The battlefield was nowhere near as thick with gunfire as it had once been. The reduced number of defenders, as well as the decreased reinforcement stream, meant that only a fraction as many weapons were being fired, and it helped her immensely. She was able to dart through enemy territory, not wading through the bodies but carefully leaping from one of the larger ones to another, without her cloak being dropped. Eventually, she was able to circle around to behind the breach, where a handful of Collectors and Geth were attempting to force their way through while standing on one of the few patches that wasn't strangled with bodies.

Jumping into the thick of it from behind, her knives swung through the air, striking at necks and whatever other vital areas that she could reach. Within seconds, half a dozen bodies had joined the ever-growing mass all around her, but she didn't stop there. Driving her knives into two of the Collectors, she dragged them towards the breach, just as more cyborgs were clambering out of it. With a heave, she forced the Collectors into the hole and ripped her knives out, sending them flying. Smacking right into the cyborgs, they were knocked loose and all of them tumbled back the way they had come, many thuds and clangs from down below promising that they had hit quite a few attackers on the way up.

With that down, she slipped out and started to head back towards the defenses. Things were in a better situation now, but they weren't perfect. The battlefield was now so clogged that Saren's forces could only get a handful through at a time, but their reserves were showing no sign of becoming depleted. The defenders would be able to hold out for now, but they would slowly be chipped away at until the assault finally stopped. It would take time, they were in a position where they could hold out, but someone would have to cut off Saren's army at its core before it was too late.

XXXXX

Jane felt like she was on auto-pilot as she followed EDI's directions through the winding warship towards the bridge. Even with the heavy footfalls of her power armor and the winding passage that she was being forced to take, she was only encountering the occasional patrol. Similar circumstances were being encountered by Wrex and Miranda, Saren had deployed or was in the process of deploying all of his ground forces onto the Citadel. Like so much up until now, Jane was aware of this, was processing it the way she would any information, but it was only surface level. The core of her mind was dedicated to one thought and one thought alone. She had to kill Saren.

She was silent for the majority of her journey, only breaking it with brief confirmations of EDI's commands, a right here, a left there, a ladder in one place, but the A.I. was speaking far more than she was. It went on like this for some time, minutes ticking by with nothing breaking it up aside from the moments where Jane had to stay still to lead one of the few patrols that were present pass by.

And then, after a good long while, she found herself in front of a blast door that was particularly thick. She stopped in front of it, checking her plasma rifle one last time. "EDI, open the door."

"Opening," EDI said. There was a moment of hesitation. "I appear to have encountered a problem. The security on this door is far more advanced than the rest of the ship. It appears that Saren added many personal upgrades to it. I am attempting to bypass, but it may take some time." Jane didn't respond, she merely rooted herself to the spot and waited for EDI to do her job. The synthetic spoke again. "Captain, progress here is slow. Wrex and Miranda have already reached the engine room and will have sabotaged it within minutes. I advise that you abandon your attempt to assassinate Saren and locate the nearest airlock. The odds of him escaping in such a small window are astronomically low."

"Those are odds I'm not willing to play with EDI," Jane said simply, her voice stony. It was odd. When she had been in the Presidium during the talks of all of the major powers, she had barely processed it. Everything she had heard back then had been filtered through a fog, only the bare essentials making its way to her brain. And in many ways, that fog had not lifted. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't bring herself to think about the complex nuances of galactic politics and the fragile balance the galaxy was maintaining right now.

But when it came to Saren, the fog had left an opening. She was already considering every possible situation that she might be walking into. Saren being caught totally unawares was unlikely, the same went for him being alone. Odds are there would be some form of security in there with him, guards or turrets. There was a better than average chance that whatever it was would try and flank her when she entered, she would have to check the corners. There was also the possibility that Saren was mad enough to rig his bridge up with bombs in order to be kept from being taken alive. Not the most probable outcome, but with Saren, it was hard to tell, his actions had not been predictable for some time now.

Her line of thought was broken when a voice echoed around her. "So. After all this time, you and I finally meet. It's a bit ironic, you've been chasing me ever since Eden Prime, and this is the first time we've actually ever talked." She knew this voice, Saren's voice.

"EDI, can you trace where this is coming from?" Jane whispered. There was the possibility that Saren was talking to keep her in one place while he made an escape attempt. She wasn't going to have a repeat of Dr. Goeth, Saren was dying today, and within the hour at that.

"I can, it's coming from the bridge," EDI said. "It isn't being relayed through the bridge either, there are no other signals coming in or out of that room. He's in there. Captain, I strongly urge that you locate the nearest air-lock. If he is on the bridge, his escape options are highly limited. He will not survive the destruction of this ship, and even if he did he would not be able to escape the fleet outside."

Shepard ignored her. She focused instead on Saren. Something had broken through the blanket that had been smothering her for the better part of a month. Red, boiling anger. She was talking to Saren. The man who had been responsible for the deaths of millions of people across the galaxy, and had planned to kill countless more. He had arranged the massacres of Eden Prime, had hired mercenaries to glass a planet for a single hostage, had attempted to use both the Rachni and the Krogan as pawns, had attempted to empower President Woods into using the Geth as a slave army against the Coalition, had killed millions on the Citadel, and had plunged the Council and the Coalition into the first fully galactic war since the Krogan Rebellions.

"That plan of yours didn't exactly pan out, did it?" Jane asked scathingly. "No matter how many plans you threw at the wall, my crew and I were one step behind you every step of the way, stopping you. You didn't get Liara, you didn't get your Rachni army, you didn't get your Geth army, and you didn't get your Krogan army. And then we brought the war that you started to a grinding halt because we managed to get the galaxy to hate you more than it hated us. For someone who's dedicated their entire life to limiting the growth of my species, you're not particularly good at it."

"The problem was simple, I was relying on others too much, others who lacked my drive," Saren responded hotly. Jane's fingers twitched in anger. The door needed to open, it needed to open now. "Things have been working far better ever since I took matters into my own hands. When I was passive, all of my plans ended in disastrous failures. Greedy, incompetent, and insane third parties tore down everything that I had been working towards, not understanding the greater picture. They were only interested in themselves. Even the supposed leaders of the galaxy failed to truly commit. Still, they did do something of worth. I thought the problem plaguing the galaxy was your kind, but the Council's inability to react was the true disease. You were a symptom. It all needs to be wiped away, we need a clean slate."

"Shut up," Shepard hissed. "You're not some grand visionary. Your brother got killed in the First Contact War and you want revenge, that's all there is to you. And now that you're not going to get your revenge on the Coalition, you're taking out your frustration on everyone else who refused to play along with you. This whole mess has been nothing short of the galaxy's biggest temper tantrum."

"Because let me tell you something," she continued. "I know exactly what it feels like to lose a brother. Mine died on Tuchanka, saving everyone else from the Reaper you sent. I'm pretty sure our mother blames me for letting him die, and I've accepted that. I know how much it burns you up inside and how you just need to do something to make it go away." She was stretching the truth there, but not lying. There was indeed a fire in her chest, one that had started the moment she had heard Saren's voice. It pushed away the fog that had been clouding her, and anger as she had never felt before coursed through her. The door needed to be open right now, every second Saren drew breath was a second too much.

"But you've probably noticed that I haven't started a terrorist campaign against the Turian Hierarchy, haven't you? Because my brain is wired properly and I don't associate what you did with Turians or the Council. I actually know how to process grief. I'm not going to take out my frustrations on the galaxy as a whole. Just you." She wanted to slam her fist on the door, even though she knew that Reaper alloy would doubtlessly be unscratched by her power armor. Why was Saren still alive after all this time? Why was he still talking?

"The difference between you and I is that you and your kind are pathetically short-sighted, you always have been," Saren said. "Even if by some miracle you managed to succeed in killing me, I will have already accomplished my goals. The full extent of your carelessness has been exposed to the galaxy as a whole, enough for the member species of the Council to bypass the Council itself and declare war on you directly. That will not just go away, particularly when those who called for a ceasefire are gone. Your kind is exposed for the galaxy to see, once-" but before he could finish, the door opened.

At once, Jane's plasma rifle snapped up and fired, arcs of green energy streaking through the doorway and into the bridge. Saren, to her surprise, had been standing at the far end with his back to her, bending over a series of consoles, none of them Reaper in nature. The moment the door opened however, he threw himself over the terminals and out of Jane's sight, the plasma bolts tearing into the computers he had abandoned. Sparks flew as screens cracked and melted, half of Saren's computer array being destroyed by the barrage, but there was no cry of pain from Saren.

Jane stopped to eject her spent microfusion cell and Saren took the opportunity to rise up and return fire, assault rifle rounds pinging off of her shields. Growing, Jane ducked out of the bridge and to the side, loading a fresh power cell into her weapon. "Ashley Williams, Fawkes, and Charon!" Saren roared from within the bridge. "They're the ones I'm going to kill after I'm done with you!" He didn't say why those people in particular where the ones he was going to kill, but Jane didn't have to imagine very hard. Saren had only proven her right, whether he could appreciate that or not.

Waiting until her shields had fully recharged, Jane abandoned caution. Turning the corner, she stormed into the bridge, rifle in front of her, firing non-stop as she made a beeline to where Saren was taking cover. A warning on her helmet's HUD warned her that her shields were being rapidly depleted, but she ignored it. She would reach Saren's cover long before that would happen, and the armor beneath was too thick for instantaneous penetration anyway. Saren seemed to realize this, as when she was halfway to him, quite a few of her plasma bolts coming quite close to his head, he abandoned his cover.

Leaping up over the line of ruined terminals, bright purple energy glowed around him and his entire body shot forward. Jane realized a moment too late what was happening. The Turian's armor was much lighter than hers, and under normal circumstances, he would not have been enough to move her more than an inch. With biotic energy coursing around him however, he was able to slam directly into her chest and send her wheeling over backward, falling down with her.

The world was flipped as Jane fell, her plasma rifle spinning out of her hand, and there was a loud clang as she hit the ground. The next thing she saw was Saren's face, his eyes glowing with Reaper cybernetics, mere inches away from her own. Both of his arms dived, talons bared and aiming directly for her throat. Instinctively, she rolled to the side, grabbing Saren by the waist as she did. With a single, utterly graceless movement, she was able to roll the alien along with her, interrupting him and pinning him beneath the bulk of her armor.

The hatred in her reaching a boiling point, she drew Volker's Theta energy pistol from her side and aimed it at Saren, her finger tightening around the trigger. Saren's synthetic hand darted up, still pulsing with biotic energy, and snapped shut around the weapon, crushing its barrel with ease. Shepard was taken aback at the ease with which the Exulan weapon had been destroyed, but only a small part of her. Saren released the weapon, baring his talon's again, only to have the ruined husk of a weapon throw at him. Normally, such a thing would be a mere annoyance against a soldier in modern armor, but when thrown by someone in power armor at point blank range, there was much more kinetic energy than normal.

There was a loud snap and Saren howled in anger as one of his mandibles dangled off to the side, his body momentarily slack. Clasping her hands together, Jane raised them above her head and brought them smashing down onto Saren's chest. There was a deeply satisfying sound as the front of his armor caved in and another snap echoed across the bridge. Smiling in satisfaction, Jane lifted her hands up to repeat what she had done, only for Saren to let out a roar of rage.

Flailing wildly, a biotically augmented fist caught her in the head from the side. The firmness of her helmet kept any major damage from happening, but her head was still swimming from the force of the impact. What was more, it had had just enough force behind it to lift her off the ground for a second, with her crashing back down to the floor and skidding for a second. Dizziness and nausea building up inside of her in equal measure, Jane stood up.

Saren was already on top of her, his rifle having been dropped long ago, his talon diving right for her neck. She lunged to the side, but not enough for him to completely miss her. His cybernetic arm tore into her throat from the side, his slow-moving arm passing through her kinetic barriers and catching her in one of the few weak points of her armor. Blinding pain erupted from the wound, bright red blood pouring down her side and something unpleasantly loose scraping against her lower throat.

Again, Saren darted forward with his talons, looking to end the fight. Deciding to not bother to try and dodge him again, Jane let him make his strike, standing firm. It made his movements much easier to anticipate, as well as gave her a clear look at which angle he was coming from. This turned out to be from the front. As he extended his arm, her armored hand darted out and seized it by the wrist. Robbing it of all momentum, she pulled it forward, dragging Saren towards her, and slamming her free fist into his gut.

The Turian doubled over in pain, his free hand covering where Jane had just punched him, which wasn't that far from the dent she had made earlier. At that moment, the anger that had been burning inside of Jane became too much to bear and something inside of her snapped. She let go of Saren's hand, only to shift upward and grab him by the head. Letting out a roar of anger from deep within her gut, she heaved and swung down into the row of half melted computers.

Saren's face was forced into whatever few screens hadn't been damaged, all of them splintering as Jane brought Saren's face down over and over again. Blue blood poured down Saren's face from all the massive cuts that were opening on his face, his face twisted into a combination of pain and fury. As Jane pulled back again for another swing, biotic energy enveloped them both. When Jane moved to swing Saren down again, she lost her footing and began to float upward, completely weightlessly, Saren with her.

"I assume the Coalition never trained you for zero-g combat," Saren said scathingly. As he did, he gripped the hand holding him and dove his talons into the gaps in the armor yet again. Roaring in pain, Jane's grip slackened, and Saren broke free of her grasp. He spun in the air, pushing off of her body to do so, and moved to again go for her throat, only for a gasp of pain to escape his mouth and his entire body to recoil. Whatever was torturing him inside, it was enough to cause the biotic energy that was keeping them both up to vanish, causing both of them to tumble to the ground.

Saren struggled to get back to his feet, but let out another gasp of pain and hesitated. Jane did not. She was on him within seconds, both hands clasping firmly around his throat, even as her injured arm throbbed with pain. For a moment, their eyes locked. Even with his eyes replaced by artificial replacements, Jane could see nothing but hatred and loathing looking back at her.

Then she squeezed.

Saren's throat collapsed under her grip, crumbling with little resistance as her augmented strength proved to be too much for it. The anger in Saren vanished to be replaced with frantic desperation. He thrashed against Jane's ironclad grip, scratching fruitlessly against her armored knuckles, trying to get her off in a desperate last-ditch effort. There was a horrific gurgling as he struggled, and Jane could feel something wet leaking onto her hands. Then, he went very still.

After keeping her hands locked around him for another minute, Jane took a step back. There was no mistaking it. Saren was dead. "I did it," she said breathlessly, putting her hand to her COM unit.

"Excellent," EDI said, faster than usual. "Miranda and Wrex have initiated an overload in the core. I will direct you to your escape route, but you must move quickly, there isn't much time." Jane nodded, more out of habit than anything, and took a step towards the door. Then she stopped, looking back at Saren. The hatred in his eyes had been the same hatred that had coursed through the citizens of the Citadel as they had lashed out at any Coalition citizens that they could find. The same hatred that would rise up again the second the galaxy recovered from the trauma of an attack on the Citadel. A hatred that she would be at the center of.

Everything that had happened since Tuchanka came crashing down on her as she stood there and pondered it all. The deaths of Jenkins and Sam, the attacks on Sheryl and Volker, with Sheryl nearly being raped and abducted, the assassination of Falo, Adek being turned into a puppet state and all the atrocities that had been committed there, countless innocents being killed on Tialiv, the Yahg being weaponized, and the Citadel shattered. And John dying. And it would all get worse when they came for her.

But then Jane did something that surprised herself. She smiled. It was curious that she hadn't seen it before, the solution to all of this was rather obvious, wasn't it? She didn't know what she hadn't considered it before, but now it was as plain as day. "I'm going to make this better, I'm going to make this better," she whispered to herself. Slowly, she sat down.

"Captain, I need you to move, now!" EDI said over her COM line, clearly starting to panic. "The Reaper core is reaching critical levels, we can't cut this any closer."

"I'm sorry, I can't make it," Jane said simply. "I can't move, he got me worse than I thought. I've got a bum leg." It was almost beautiful in its simplicity.

"I-Shepard, I'm not reading any major spikes in your life signs," EDI said. "Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to be major. Please, you need to start moving now." The A.I.'s voice was becoming louder and more desperate. Jane smiled. EDI was smart, she would understand in the long run.

"I'm sorry EDI, I can't make it," she said. It hurt. This hurt a lot. But at the same time, it was relieving. She could breathe freely again. "Tell the crew that I'm proud of them. They did everything that was expected of them and more. Tell them to live long, healthy, happy lives." A tear rolled down her face. It was all going to be better after this.

"No, no, no, no!" EDI said, her voice desperate. It hurt Jane to hear EDI upset like this, but she had made up her mind. She had to do this. "Jeff! Talk to her! Please!" Another voice crackled to life over the COM lines.

"Shepard," Joker said. He sounded as if he was going to start crying at any second. "Please don't do this."

Jane didn't respond. "I'm going to make this better. I'm going to make this better." She closed her eyes. She was fairly certain she could hear the thump of the core overloading beneath her.

She felt happy and free for the first time in a long time.

XXXXX

"Ok Hurst, that was the last slug," Rig said somberly from his side of the controls on Sarah. "That was my dying wish, we contributed as much as we could, what's the plan now?" Hurst took a moment before he replied. Both sides were down to a fraction of their former fighting strength, with a dozen Reapers being all that was left of the attacking fleet, while 150 odd defenders fired everything they had left at them. It could still go either way. "Hurst? We need to either do something or get out of the way."

"Yeah, I've got something for them. We ram them," he said. "Get the ship as fast as we can without jumping to lightspeed, and smash it into one of the Reapers while overloading the core. We drag one of them down with us." He looked over at his robot companion. Normally, this would be the time that Rig would start to cuss him out. This time though, he merely lowered his optics. "Ok, I'll see if I can pull that off."

"I'll pilot the ship, you get to the escape pods the second the core is set to overload," Hurst said.

"Oh fuck you. If we're dying, we're dying together," Rig said. Hurst felt something tug in his heart. He loved that bucket of bolts like a brother. "This is going to take some jury-rigging but...wait, hold up! Hurst, look!" His attention snapped back to the display. A massive explosion had just torn through the center of the Reaper fleet, fire engulfing one of the largest ships before spreading outward, engulfing several nearby ships. When it clear, half of the remaining Reapers had been destroyed, and quite a few of the survivors had been badly damaged.

"All combat capable craft!" a female voice barked over the COM lines. "Full speed ahead, close to knife fight range! End this before any of them could escape!" Hurst let out a whoop of laughter, one in which Rig quickly joined.

"Yes, yes, YES!" he roared. "Take that Saren! You lose!" Feeling nothing short of ecstatic, he pushed the engines to full power, sending Sarah speeding towards the Citadel.

"Wait, what are you doing?" Rig asked. "They said combat capable, we don't have anything left that can hurt them!"

"Oh, we're not heading to the Reapers," Hurst said, adjusting the ship's course to take it well around the battle, which was quickly wrapping up as the disorganized and damaged Reapers were bombarded by a hundred different ships. "But there's still plenty of hostile forces on the Citadel. And GARDIAN lasers may not do that much against dropships, but against ground forces, they'll do quite a bit."

"That actually makes a lot of sense," Rig said, clearly surprised. "We contribute in a meaningful well. Well, ok. Carry on."

Hurst nodded as Sarah sped past the dwindling Reaper forces, heading through the gap in the Citadel and coming to a stop. "This is Franklin Hurst, Captain of the privateer ship Sarah," he said, pressing a button so that his voice was broadcast on local channels. "We are here to lend fire support, where is it needed?"

"We lost control of the entrance to the Presidium!" an unknown voice said. "We have forces up top that are holding on, but they're cut off! We need bombardments on the forces advancing upward!"

"Copy that, moving into position," Hurst said, his fingers flying across Sarah's controls and managing thrusters that were adjusting Sarah into a more ideal position. The ship was now facing the Presidium. Magnifying the view on his holographic display, Hurst focused on the base of the tower that acted as the seat of the Council. Sure enough, countless heat signatures were climbing upward, none of the identifying as friendly on his IFF. "Rig, light them up!" Rig was already acting.

Lasers arched out at the base of the Presidium tower. Massive splotches of heat signatures would overwhelm the tiny dots that Hurst was reading, and then nothing would be left when it faded. For a few minutes, Rig lay down arrays of lasers onto Saren's ground forces, easily killing dozens with each shot. Eventually, the heat signatures simply stopped popping up near the Presidium. "Ok, keep an eye out for any more, they could be massing nearby!" Hurst ordered.

"Hold on, a ship just popped out of nowhere, it's moving into the Citadel with us," Rig said. He looked up from the controls. "It's the Normandy! Looks like they're moving in to help us out."

"Oh, are they?" Hurst said slyly. He remembered his time with the Normandy above Feros, as well as their pilot. Pressing a few command keys, he opened a channel to the Normandy. "Hey there junior, you kicked my hind fair and square last time, I'll give you that. Wanna have a turkey shoot and see if you can make it two for-" but he broke off. There was a strangled sob on the other end. "Son?" he said uncertainly. "Is everything ok over there?" The joy that had been rushing through him died a quick death. Something was wrong here.

"Our-our captain," Joker said, his voice stiff.

"What happened?" Hurst asked.

He already knew before he heard the reply.

It still tore him apart.

XXXXX

Author's Note: Fun fact. Months of me thinking about how I wanted to write this chapter, and I only came up with the idea of a Yahg Husk when I sat down and started writing it in early February. It was interesting to write a scene from Wrex's perspective, he strikes me as the type of guy who would fight something twice his size and only be barely put out when his ribs were broken and embedded in his organs. "Which ones just got punctured? Ah, not important." Also, it probably showed a wee bit, but I had been on a Warframe kick when I wrote Jessica's scene. Didn't want to make her into a full Tenno, but a little touch here and there I thought would be fun.

Two chapters left. But...well...it kind of goes without saying. This was the climax of From the Ashes. Everything after this will be falling action. Tying up loose ends and the like.

As for Jane killing herself...this is something I've been planning for literally years. A bittersweet end to this story, the repercussions to which will be explored in the remaining two chapters. I don't know how I feel now that I finally got it on paper, but I stand by it. I'm deeply interested to what you think about it.

Christ, my life has gone through so much ever since I started writing this story. I started writing it the year I graduated from high-school, the year my friend left Massachusetts to go to college in Maryland. The day he left, he introduced me to a bunch of friends from the next town over so I wouldn't be lonely without him (he was my only friend at the time) and while I fell out of contact with some of those friends (a couple turned out to be utter cock holes) I'm still very close friends with the rest. Heck, one of them came over a week or so after my best friend had left and introduced me to Persona 4, which helped me a lot during my uncertain freshman years of college.

I spent four years in college working on a degree in technical writing and journalism, graduated, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, had an epiphany, got a job at my local high-school, went back to school for my masters in education. Now I'm student teaching, and god willing I'll graduate and get my teaching license in the spring. And this whole time From the Ashes was a project I was working on, sometimes very sparsely, but it was always something I planned to see through to the end. It's kind of ironic that it's nearing its end as I plan to make a leap into the career I hope to spend the rest of my life on, one that will hopefully be able to support me.

I don't know what point I'm trying to make, I just wanted to share this with all of you. Thank you for sticking with me through the ups and downs of my life and thank you for being so patient. This story has two chapters left in it, I don't know how fast I'll get it up, but it WILL be finished. This story is a sloppy mess in a lot of ways, riddled with typos (more than I'll ever be able to get out without setting months of my life aside) and can basically be used as a graph to chart my growth as a writer, complete with a lot of my experimental phases. But I'm still fond of it, I'm glad I wrote it, and I want to see it through to the end.

We're almost there guys. Two more chapters

I would like to thank my Patrons, SuperFeatherYoshi, xXNanamiXx, RaptorusMaximus, Davis Swinney, Mackenzie Buckle, Josue Garcia, Jonathan Eason, Ryan Van Schaack, ChaosSpartan575, and Calidon Victus for their amazing support. .