Title: Chapter I – Running the Gauntlet
Universe: Mass Effect (Alternative ending. Takes place just after the destruction of the Reaper Destroyer on Earth)
Major Characters: Kaelis Terrilian Shepard, Liara T'soni
Other Characters: Garrus Vakarian, EDI, Javik, David Anderson, Major Coats, Harbinger
Author: Akernis

"From here on in it's a straight shot to the beam"

Anderson's tone of voice almost made it sound like a casual objective, though Kaelis doubted that it would be that easy, a belief apparently shared by Major Coats as his following words highlighted the problem.

"A straight shot with Reapers trying to crush us along the way"

The admiral's determination remained undaunted however.

"We just need to get a handful of troops through" Only the faintest trace of distaste lingering in his tone of the ugly truth those words implied.

"That's all? Nothing to worry about then" Garrus responded, his voice, while as casually optimistic as always, was dripping with sarcasm, before he returned to checking on his sniper rifle for the third time.

After Legion's death Garrus had taken the Geth's Widow anti-material rifle and had used it ever since. Through long hours and hard work he had affectionately re-crafted the over-powerful weapon into a more turian-friendly Black Widow; partly out of necessity for wielding it and partly because of the symbolic way of mourning his friend's passing. Kaelis had never gotten the impression that Legion and Garrus had been particularly close, but it seemed that his death had hit Garrus harder than most and Kaelis believed that Legion would have approved of his fellow sniper's way of honouring him.

A muted explosion rocked the Mako they were travelling in considerably, snapping Kaelis out of his reverie.

Having narrowly avoided hitting her head on the vehicle's interior plating Liara glanced around before looking over at Kaelis, her eyes shimmering with anxiety.

"We'll be lucky to get a handful" she said, putting everyone's thoughts into words.

"We knew this was going to be a gamble at best" Anderson replied pragmatically, not that it did anything to ease the mind of anyone present.

The passengers fell silent as the driver reported the ETA as two minutes.

Donning his black helmet Kaelis stood up, grapping hold of a handle to steady himself. The rest of the team followed suit a moment later.

Taking a look at his companions Kaelis' eyes moved from Coats to Anderson before travelling on to Garrus and finally coming to rest on Liara.

"I can't think of anyone I would rather do this with" he said sincerely. The rest of his team would join up with them at the hill before the transport beam and he knew that he could count on each and every one of them with his life but at the sight of his mentor, his best friend and his lover a curiously optimistic spark of hope and determination settled in his chest even in the face of the trials ahead.

Garrus visibly stood a little straighter and inclined his head towards Kaelis in a turian gesture of respect.

Despite her silent anxiety Liara gave a warm smile and her eyes lit up in quiet appreciation.

"I am honoured to be part of your team" She said, her voice rich with emotion.

Kaelis briefly closed his eyes and nodded his silent thanks in return to both.

Major Coats turned his attention away to listen to a message in his com-beat for a moment. His expression became hard.

"We are in sight of the target" he announced crisply.

"Okay everyone, this is it" Anderson said as he picked up his assault rifle.

As if on cue, not five seconds had passed after that statement before something extremely powerful struck the Mako; Kaelis felt the otherwise sturdy vehicle being violently tossed about like a rag doll, spinning at least twice in the air before crashing heavily back to the ground where it rolled around several of times before coming to rest upside down.

Everyone was thrown brutally around inside the cramped interior, colliding with plating and each other. Kaelis winced in pain as his helmeted head struck the exit ramp with considerable force.

As the Mako finally stopped rolling he took a few moments to get his bearings before calling out to the others.

"Is everyone okay?"

A series of relived if disgruntled voices assured him that no one had suffered more than a mild bruising despite the brutal treatment of their vehicle.

He hit the release for the exit hatch but nothing happened. Realising it was stuck after hitting it twice with no more success than before he took a deep breath and build up a biotic discharge. Flinging his arm forward the biotic shockwave blasted the hatch off the vehicle with a squeal of twisted metal.

Drawing his carnifex he moved outside and made sure there were no enemies around the immediate area before giving the all-clear for the rest.

As the team moved out of the wrecked vehicle Kaelis took a few seconds to survey the surroundings.

The mako had crashed just before the top of the hill leading to the transport beam.

He could see six to eight squads of human and turian marines were steadily making their way up the hill after them on foot along with about a dozen makos and krogan transports and scattered amongst them were pockets of salarian soldiers, asari huntresses and Geth platforms, while a couple of asari gunships were providing arial support.

It was not a lot of troops that had made it to the final push.

He could see that his vehicle had apparently not been the only casualty; the wreckages of three other tanks as well as two crashed gunships lay scattered about, the crews of most of which lay dead around them. A few survivors were using the wrecks of their former transports as cover. Seeing the devastation of the other tanks he realised that he and his team had been lucky.

Going to cover behind their own wreckage Kaelis spotted EDI and Javik along with a pair of turian marines behind the closest ruined rover.

"EDI. What's our status?"

"Detrimental" EDI's voice was reasonably clear over the Commander's com-beat, only slightly affected by the interference of the Reaper transport beam.

"We have sustained 83 percent casualties and lost 78 and 62 percent of our armoured and airborne support respectably" Kaelis thought he detected a hint of what sounded like sadness or even anger at the words, surprisingly he had come to think of her so much as one of his people that coming from an AI it didn't even strike him as odd.

"Beyond that, less than five percent of Hammer's remaining forces have managed to reach the objective. The rest are becoming bogged down or pushed back by secondary waves and Reaper counter attacks"

Kaelis felt a horribly empty knot in his stomach, he knew they would lose people, a lot of people, but the reality of it still struck him like a blow to the face. Despite his military training graining it into him for a decade Kaelis had long ago made it a point not to let emotional detachment reduce lives to simple mathematics, but hearing how bad the situation really was he was actually glad that the simple numbers did not allow him to truly appreciate what that really meant.

"And the rest of the Spear-Tip?" Kaelis asked worried. All squad members of the Normandy's ground crew had taken part in the attack on the transporter beam, codified as the "Tip of the Spear", though only he, Liara and Garrus had been directly part of the attack on the Reaper Destroyer. Even the former Normandy ground crew were counted as honorary members of the team, even if they fought their own battles, and responded directly to high command.

"The transport carrying Ashley, James and Tali has been destroyed on route. No casualties. They are attempting to reach the objective on foot; ETA twenty-two minutes. The vehicle carrying Javik and myself was destroyed by Reaper fire approximately one minute and thirty-four seconds ago. Wrex, Grunt, Jack and Zaeed are all fighting a losing battle along their respective units. Miranda, Jacob, Kasumi and Samara are all reported MIA"

Kaelis felt the tightening sensation in his stomach increase as he took a moment to take all this in and hoped for the best before he moved from cover and turned towards their objective.

"Shit" Anderson exclaimed when he too emerged and saw what had almost destroyed their vehicle with a glancing hit, Kaelis followed his gaze and when he saw it too his heart skipped a beat.

As if in slow motion he saw a Reaper descend just beyond the three kilometres tall beam spires. And not even another of the exceedingly deadly but still comparatively small Destroyers but the massive over two kilometres long hull of a fully-fledged Sovereign-class capital-ship Reaper.

And to make matters worse it wasn't just any Reaper either but one that Kaelis was unpleasantly familiar with; the most ancient, powerful, and dreadfully dangerous Reaper of them all.

"Harbinger..."

Speaking to the holographic interface of Sovereign on Virmire and Harbinger itself near the Alpha Relay had been intimidating experiences in themselves but to see the gigantic sentient starship in its physical form was something else entirely.

Momentarily stunned with trepidation he watched as the eldritch abomination descended to the ground with almost melodramatic slowness, wreathed in red lightning while the ghostly luminance of the transport beam's blue-white glow shone off its all but impregnable armoured hull; arms uncoiled beneath it like the talons of a bird of prey while its yellow eye-like orbs glowed with incomprehensible malice.

Even despite the inconceivable power of the mass effect fields carrying it aloft, as it landed the ground shook and trembled with the force of an earthquake.

Kaelis fought down a sense of apprehension at looking up at the closest thing to a face for all the death, destruction and tragedy he and much of the galaxy had endured for what felt like an eternity.

Before anyone could react a shriek cut through air, a sound anyone who had come close to a Reaper now instantly recognised, but this one was far more potent. It carried a power and malevolence he had never experienced before, not even when he had encountered Sovereign on the citadel.

It felt like his skull was being split apart and he fought to remain standing against waves of overwhelming mental pressure that threatened to tear his mind asunder. Several of his fellow soldiers fell to their knees in agony or despair and a few even lost consciousnesses outright.

And then a thousand voices spoken with a single purpose and will rang out as one, echoing with a terrible clarity and power of forgotten aeons.

+I am the harbinger of your destruction; you cannot escape your doom+

Kaelis shook his head to clear it, though the effect was negligible, Harbinger's words seemed to echo from all around, cutting into the very core of his being. With an effort of will he shut his mind off to the rising tides of despair that accompanied the voice. Trembling slightly he looked up and over at the admiral as the echoes slowly faded into nothing.

Anderson shakily straightened and met his gaze.

"We gotta move!" Anderson shouted, gesturing towards the beam with his tightly gripped assault rifle.

Kaelis was already running "Go, go, go!" he yelled through the com-link to every member of Hammer in vicinity before jumping over the edge of the hill and started sprinting to the beam.

People was moving all around, some squads and vehicles had a head start that put them in front of him, several was sprinting along on either side and he could hear numerous more following him down.

The tanks drove on at full throttle, soldiers running in their wake to provide themselves with a modicum of cover, while gunships swooped forward overhead.

Kaelis cast a quick look over his shoulder; he had already lost sight of Edi, Javik and Anderson. But Liara and Garrus were not far behind; keeping as close as possible they followed their leader into the fray.

The first vehicle had reached nearly halfway down the hill when Harbinger opened fire.

Twin beams of ruby light lanced out from the hellish machine, one striking a tank, the other a small squad of soldiers. The vehicle was disintegrated under the beam, its powerful kinetic barriers immediately breached, its heavy armour plating flash-evaporating and everyone inside killed in an instant; a secondary explosion from the vehicle's mass effect core sprayed shards of metallic shrapnel the size of a hand in all directions with lethal force. The few soldiers struck directly by the other beam simple ceased to exist; everything but their memory instantaneously obliterated. The soldiers unfortunate enough to be caught in the periphery of the blast died more slowly; the shockwave shattered bones as well as rupturing veins and internal organs while the intense heat coursed fourth or higher degree burns while fusing flesh and armour in a horrendous fashion. Their death from either horrific burns or internal injury would last several agonising seconds.

This close Harbinger was only using its lesser defensive weaponry but that was of little comfort; even if the beams were far less potent than its dreadnought killing main weapons they were still easily as powerful as the primary weapon of a Reaper Destroyer, and possessing of a vastly superior rate of fire.

At that point any semblance of order was lost. This was no disciplined movement, no planned manoeuvre or tactical attack pattern; it was simply a wild, desperate rush towards the beam in the hope of someone, anyone, making it.

A beam struck a dozen metres to Kaelis' right; incinerating a krant of krogan soldiers. The shockwave threw him violently to the ground where he turned the fall into a roll to rob the impact of force.

As they saw his fall Garrus hesitated and Liara halted completely. She moved to assist him but he waved both of them onward with a sharp gesture, there was no time to waste. Liara hesitated for a second, uncertainty written over her face, the same uncertainty that had been there the last time he had ordered her to leave his side: just before he died. An emotion that seemed uncomfortably close to regret surfaced on her face before she finally nodded and ran on. He felt a stab of guilt in the pit of his stomach.

I am not putting her through that again!

He quickly got back up and followed his team in, however he made sure to keep some distance so as not to present a tempting target. As he saw another closely moving group be decimated with a direct beam he called the collective force over his com-beat.

"Spread out!"

Naturally Harbinger seemed to primarily target larger groups and vehicles, but there was no time to disembark, any vehicle that stopped would be blasted to pieces. Those still inside their tanks would simply have to hold on and hope for the best.

The troops dispersed to minimise casualties, but it was not enough, not nearly enough. The delay between each Reaper beam was seconds at best; at this speed Harbinger would wipe them all out before anyone made it to the transport beam.

As he changed direction to avoid a ruined tank he glanced up at the massive towers looming ahead just in time to see an asari gunship be short down and crash into a Krogan transport before both blew up spectacularly, shattering people and debris around.

Just a couple hundred metres to go.

He jumped over the unidentifiable corpse of a fallen soldier, and then cursed as the Reaper equivalent of a tracer round passed less than half a metre from his head.

Of course the beam would be defended, as if a Reaper wasn't enough.

The area around the beam was crawling with Reaper troops, primarily husks and marauders but also a good deal of cannibals and several ravagers as well.

Luckily the remaining tanks and gunships had recognised the danger and opened op with mass accelerators and missiles to help clear the way for the ground troops.

Harbinger however had other plans; with unprecedented accuracy a pair of blood red beams speared out from the Reaper to turn the remaining two makos into a duo of blindingly bright fireballs.

The closest tank was nearly fifty metres in front to Kaelis' left, no more than a dozen from Liara. The blue-violet shimmering flare that suddenly enveloped her signified that her barrier had shielded her from the shrapnel sent flying towards her at lethal velocity. But the shockwave from the exploding mass effect core that followed a second later threw her violently to the ground with merciless force.

Time seemed to slow down as Kaelis watched Liara fall, every second stretching out to minutes, every centimetre of her motions crystallising on his retinas; every other sight, sound or thought fading away to insignificance in the background, their meaning inconsequential. A conflict of loyalties tore at his mind, his military mind with focus on the objective vying for control with his feelings for the one he held dearest. In a few split seconds the part of him that was Commander of the Alliance, the Council Spectre performed what Garrus had referred to as "Ruthless Calculus", weighing one life against many, ordering him to carry on with his mission no matter the cost, showing him flash images of the atrocities the Reapers had already committed and vivid imaginations of what would happen if they were not stopped here, now. The part of him that was Kaelis Shepard of the Normandy however asked him to do not what was necessary but what felt right and showed him one image, just one, clear as crystal of Liara, head tipped down before she looked up at him, happiness in her sapphire eyes and a sweet smile caressing her face, the reason why he fought, who he fought for.

The internal battle did not last long, despite his own thoughts earlier his feelings won out over his logical mind before he could even make a conscious decision.

Time snapped back to its normal pace as he changed course.

As Liara was slowly getting up to her knees he ran over, gripping hold of her upper arm as he moved past her and pulled her up with him. They had barely moved a few steps before Kaelis felt as much as heard the impact of something powerful striking or detonating just behind them and he breathed a silent thanks of relief. He did not let go of Liara's arm until he could feel that she had regained her balance and was running well along behind him. Glancing back at her he was rewarded with a quick nod of thanks.

No way am I going to leave you behind. Kaelis thought as he sprinted towards the beam with Liara at his side while firing a few warp-encased shots towards the husks at the beam base that went uselessly wide.

Nearly there...

Another Reaper shriek cut through the air like a razor. The proximity to its source made Kaelis feel like his mind was being pierced by hundreds of alternatively ice-frozen and white-hot needles. His internal voice screaming at him to continue was drowned out in the sheer deafening cacophony of the hellishly agonising tones. The urge to simply roll over and try to shut everything out was overwhelming, as if each individual dissonant note in this lethal symphony was trying to slay each and every last iota of resistance within him.

Whether it was strength of will or sheer stubbornness that allowed him place one foot in front of the other and continue despite the splintering agony in his mind he did not know nor had the presence of mind to care about. But despite the considerable anguish he somehow managed to continue, though he was forced to slow his pace to barely above a brisk walking. The physical echo of the sound grew gradually fainter but its spectral resonance refused to fade from his mind.

"Shepard!"

He heard the lyrical tones of Liara's voice cutting cleanly through the menacing echoes in his head and looked back at her. First then realising that he had gripped her hand tightly for support, but that was not what had coursed her to call his name in alarm; an expression of dread was etched upon her features and she was looking at something above and beyond him. With rapidly rising apprehension he turned his head to follow her gaze.

As if in the climax of a terrible nightmare Kaelis looked up at the vast malevolent shape of Harbinger looming over him. From just beyond the beam spires each of its unfathomably malicious yellow orbs seemed to be focused squarely on the two of them, regarding them with an utterly cold vicious disregard while one of the recharging Reaper beam weapons zeroed in on their precise position.

Acting on instincts honed throughout the war and a decade of military service before that Kaelis arrested his movement and turned towards Liara in one fluid motion; before she could react his left arm flew out towards her, cocooning her in the protective sheath of a biotic field and flung her hard away from him, clear of the line of fire. Still barely having formed a conscious thought he amplified the barrier generated by his phantom armour to its strongest potential while throwing himself aside as far and fast as he could.

Then the night lit up in a hellish ruby light, the world exploded around him, and everything went black...


Everything was black. He couldn't see, hear or feel anything. There was just an all-encompassing void of presence. Even his memory seemed like empty space. He had an indistinct idea of who he was but not where he was or what he was doing, though he had a vague recollection that it was something important, if only he could put a finger on what that was.

Am I dead?

It didn't feel like it, he remembered being dead before and this didn't feel like it, it was less painful for once.

"Shepard!"

Something appeared before him; at first he thought it was a light of some kind. A star perhaps? It was spherical and glowing with a vivid yet soothing blue colour. No, not glowing... shining, reflecting light that came from elsewhere, that distinction seemed important for some reason. As it became clearer he realised that there was not one but actually two of these celestial orbs.

"Shepard? Can you hear me?"

As he stared into those ethereal twin sapphire orbs he felt an overwhelming urge to simply be with them, to leave everything else behind and just get lost in those beautiful blue spheres. He dimly became aware of other sensations. There was a jolt of pain, but it didn't hurt, it was just sort of there, like an electrical impulse in the background before disappearing again. There was a taste, sweet and familiar. Then there was a sound, a tone... or a voice. Was it calling to him?

"Come on Shepard, please..."

He knew that voice, he had heard it before, its sweet melodious tones caressing his ears like its bearer did his body and he hers. There was less black. The glow from the divinely sapphire orbs casting a blue sheen around themselves, forming a shape that was almost reminiscent of something... someone he knew and valued beyond everything else...

"KAELIS!"

Suddenly everything snapped into focus, every shard of memory returning with the force of a tidal wave. He was lying on his back on the ground, in a crater-like hollow somewhat shielded behind rubble, his body felt somewhat painful and exceedingly sore everywhere but little more than that. The sound of gunfire was echoing from all around. He was staring up into the exquisite blue eyes of Liara who was leaning in over him with a near-terrified expression on her sweet face that changed into one of intense relief as she saw he was breathing again.

With Liara's support he sat up painfully. He looked down at himself in fear and, though he certainly didn't feel it, was amazed at seeing that he was more or less unharmed. His phantom armour was intact and he could neither see nor feel any breaches in its protective aegis. He realised that he was no longer wearing his helmet, looking around he saw it on the ground beside Liara where she had discarded it after removing it from his head. Then the sensations he had experienced before regaining full consciousness returned to his memory. His lips were slightly more moist than normal and there was a sweet familiar taste in his mouth. Looking down at Liara's hands he saw that they were still glowing faintly with dark energy from after Liara had performed biotically charged CPR and defibrillation through his armour to kick-start his enhanced physiology. He did not know whether asari physiology was sufficiently comparable with that of humans that they trained and performed it themselves or if Liara had personally researched it after she started working with humans aboard the Normandy, but right now he was just glad she had saved his life.

Remembering why he had needed it in the first place however his head snapped around, expecting a beam of ruby light to end his existence in any second. It never came. He looked up and over at the beam spires but there were no sign of the nightmarish Reaper that had nearly killed him.

"Will he live?" An unmistakably turian voice called out with just enough levity in his tone to suggest that he was already aware of the answer.

"Sorry Garrus, but the bar was closed, I had to come back later. I'll get you a drink next time" despite the situation Kaelis could not suppress a smile at the look of confusion that crossed Liara's face.

"Nah, it's okay, I wasn't that thirsty anyway" Garrus jumped down besides Kaelis and Liara, his phaeston assault rifle in hand. After a quick look at Kaelis to make sure he really was alright he took position in cover and began firing down towards the base of the transport beam. As Garrus briefly turned away from him Kaelis fought he saw the shape of something large and bulky on Garrus' back besides his black widow but it was quickly obscured is he turned back again.

Kaelis groaned slightly in response to the protests from his sore body as Liara helped him stand up, though he could feel that his enhanced bio-chemistry was already doing its best to heal the light damage, assisted by the miniaturized dispensers of the medicae systems in his armour that distributed micro-patches of medi-gel to wounded or traumatised areas.

"What happened?" He asked, unconsciousness had a tendency to leave one somewhat out of the loop.

"Harbinger's beam missed you by a couple of metres at most but the proximity fried your barrier and the force of the blast sent you flying with an unpleasantly great amount of force" Garrus explained "After you threw Liara out of harm's way I pulled her to relative safety inside the cover of a flyer since she clearly wasn't willing to continue without you, and when we saw you weren't moving I made sure that she didn't get herself killed trying to help you" he rubbed his arm as if to indicate Liara had not been entirely cooperate with that plan. Liara seemed as if she couldn't quite decide whether to be embarrassed or annoyed at the episode.

Liara took up the story as Garrus returned to fire at the husks at the beam spire base.

"After Harbinger... finished, it left, returning to the battle in space I assume. With Command believing the strike-force to having been destroyed a full retreat was ordered for all forces, and we were too close to the transport beam to get a signal through to inform Command otherwise. Without Harbinger present Garrus covered me while I ran to check on you, but you weren't breathing..."

Liara's voice was trembling now but before she could continue Kaelis gently took her hand "Thank you" he said sincerely. Had they not been in the middle of a warzone with the fate of the galaxy hanging in the balance he would have kissed her. Reluctantly releasing Liara's hand he turned slightly so he faced both of his squadmates. "Did anyone make it to the beam?" He doubted it judging from the number of husks still there but he wanted to be sure nonetheless.

"I think so" Garrus said to Kaelis' manifest surprise "I saw the beam fluctuate mere seconds before Harbinger finished scything down our people."

"Then we need to help whoever made it up, let's see if there are any other survivors" Kaelis replied before activating his comm-beat "This is Commander Shepard. Can anyone read me, over?" While long range communication was being interfered by the beam he hoped the short range was still operational.

"Yes Commander, I hear you, even if your inferior communications technology is as primitive as any other construction of your kind and leaves much to be desired"

Shepard couldn't recall the last time he had been so happy to be insulted.

"Is anyone else with you Javik?"

"Yes. I am in company of the still-functioning machine you insist on claiming to be trustworthy"

"EDI, are you there?"

"Affirmative Shepard, we are currently making our way to your location"

Kaelis breathed a sigh of relief for the fact that if nothing else at the very least he hadn't lost any more of his people.

"Are there any more survivors than the two of you?"

"Negative Commander, there is no one but us here, and beyond the three of you I detect no life-signs that is not tainted by Reaper influence and transformation" EDI replied.

Kaelis had suspected as much but that didn't make it any easier to hear.

He spotted the pair moving down the hill from the top, zigzagging from cover to cover to reach them. While waiting for their arrival Liara and he joined Garrus in firing at the husks defending the beam, luckily it seemed that the airstrike and the tanks had taken a heavy toll upon their numbers.

When Javik and EDI joined them Kaelis moved down behind cover so he could talk without having to worry too much about a shot to the back. Both of them looked considerably worse for wear than Kaelis imagined even he did. The alloy of EDI's body was covered in scratches, a few deep enough that he could occasionally see sparks from the inside; she also bore several impact marks from what he assumed to be marauder weapons. Javik if anything looked even worse, he was bleeding from several dozen shallow cuts and at least a couple of wounds that Kaelis was sure would be significantly painful; his armour was scorched and dented and at his right side was a hole cleanly through the carapace-like plating within where a cauterised wound were visible, one of his eyes were closed as greenish blood were constantly running down in it. However both the AI and stoic Prothean simply stood as if they could not possibly be in better condition.

"What happened to the two of you and what were you doing all the way back at the top of the hill?" Kaelis' question wasn't an accusation; he simply wanted to understand.

He reached for a dose of medi-gel to pass to Javik but seeing his intention the prothean waved it away with an irritated gesture.

It was EDI who answered "As the rest of you attempted to reach the transport beam I realised that our strike-force had been followed by a considerable group of husks and marauders, so Javik made the decision to engage-"

Javik interrupted her mid-flow "It was a sound tactical move Commander, if the Reaper forces had outflanked our forces they would have caused considerable damage" Kaelis could feel the sting of the cruel irony that had seen practically their entire strike-force disintegrated anyway by Harbinger in less than two minutes.

"The machine and I fought until every last of the Reaper slaves had been eliminated" Even if Kaelis had barely even begun to understand prothean social cues the acid that dripped from Javik's every word was unmistakable. He was angry... even more than usual. And Kaelis had a suspicion it might have more than a little to do with the fact that he had lost the change to strike at the embodiment of the Reaper threat itself in favour of helping his new allies.

"I appreciate what you did Javik, it was the right call" At Kaelis words Javik simply stared at him with three eyes in what could have been anything from reluctant acceptance to murderous intent.

Now were neither the time nor place to settle this however and the Commander turned towards the beam to survey the forces arrayed against them.

There was about two dozen husks and about a third of that in marauders as well as a single ravager. The ranged troops were standing guard around the beam itself while the husks prowled around somewhat further out. They seemed unwilling to venture beyond the proximity of the inner ring of beam spires.

Kaelis knew this had to be done quickly and cleanly, they couldn't be allowed to be drawn into an extended fire fight, every second now was precious. He thought a couple of moments before deciding.

"Javik, you and EDI lay down suppression fire while Liara and I move in. Garrus I want those marauders dealt with, I am counting on you for that"

Garrus attached his phaeston to its magnetic lock on the back of his armour before pulling out his heavy sniper rifle. "Aye aye, Commander"

Not even wasting time on acknowledging the order Javik stepped up from the hollow with a vindictive expression, his particle rifle spitting a continuous stream of green destruction down at the base of the spires, scything into the husks like a lesser mimicry of their creators' own terrible weapons. EDI stepped up to join him, hurricane in one hand and talon heavy pistol in the other, the former spraying a relentless hail of projectiles at the Reaper soldiers while the powerful slugs from the later struck them with the force of a shotgun blast. Despite the fearsome recoil and erratic accuracy of either weapon EDI barely flinched thanks to the strength of her mechanical frame while ambidextrously wielding the weapons with the same calculated precision as she did everything else.

Husks did not know fear or to keep their heads down in self preservation, but the attack did provide a distraction for Kaelis and Liara to make their move. Darting from cover to cover they closed in on their prey. A marauder turned its weapon upon them only to collapse to the ground when a disruption charged sniper round from Garrus' black widow took it between the eyes.

Seeing the ravager following its fellow Reaper thrall's intent the two biotics halted and each threw up a spherical barrier that merged to a single biotic shell around them that was strong enough to withstand the punishing barrage of the ravager cannons. As the eighth blast left its heavy weapons the former rachni caught fire from an incineration blast to its thorax before being shredded by a combined salvo of mass accelerated slugs and particle fire. Dropping their shield Kaelis and Liara leapt over a piece of rubble and sprinted on.

As soon as they were close enough Liara's arm flew out with the sinuous movement of a serpent uncoiling to strike. No less than five rapidly approaching husks were lifted from the ground as a singularity appeared in their midst; not wasting a second Kaelis detonated the gravitational sphere with a warp blast, tearing the Reaper soldiers apart in an explosion of dark energy.

Despite the collective time they had fought together barely accounted for a year the two lovers complemented each other like veterans of decades. There was a natural synergy between Liara and Kaelis that he had not shared with anyone else he had ever fought alongside. The two of them moved amongst their enemies like a pair of dancers dancing their deadly duet. And this was one dance in which Kaelis was in his element.

With a sweeping gesture Kaelis scattered a trio of husks like leaves for the wind. He did not finish them off, Javik and EDI were moving into assisting them and would take care of that. A marauder preparing to fire on him became as immobile as stone when Liara froze it with a stasis field. Taking advantage of the situation Kaelis killed it with a biotic shockwave that crushed it against the nearest beam spire. As a husk charged Liara she flash-stepped aside, making it run strait at Kaelis who skewered it through the torso on the cascading warp field of the biotically fluctuating warp blade that appeared from his wrist like an omni-blade. Dissipating the monomolecular-sharp blade of dark energy he turned to send a husk hurling repeatedly into the closest spire with a telekinetic mass effect field until he heard something snap. Taking a second to orientate himself he saw Liara killing a pair of levitating husks with warp encased shots from her pistol.

The last few husks were eliminated as EDI and Javik opened fire from their new position.

The last three marauders stepped forward from the beam that had been shielding them from view. Though one quickly fell to sniper fire Kaelis dived rapidly to the side as tracer fire from the remaining two ripped into his barrier. He rolled into cover behind a piece of rubble while subconsciously strengthening his barrier. After taking a second to catch his breath he leapt out of cover and brought his hands up to unleash a charged up biotic blast only to see the marauders being felled by a cascade of what looked suspiciously like Reaper-soldier weapon fire coming from the opposite direction.

Perplexed Kaelis jumped over the mangled ruin of the corpses from the two turian husks hoping to catch a glimpse of their attacker.

Looking into the smoke beyond the beam he thought he saw a silhouette that brought back memories of the rogue spectre whose actions had been the start of all this. He blinked and the silhouette was gone. He stood and starred a few seconds into smog, as if somehow believing he could simply will it to give up its secrets.

Not feeling any particularly overpowering urge to investigate and recalling that time was of the essence he turned around and headed back to his team that was gathering between two of the beam spires.

As Garrus made his way to join them Kaelis turned to EDI; knowing that her tight-beam transmissions to the Normandy would be able to penetrate the beam's interference.

"EDI, get Joker to send a message to Admiral Hackett that we are entering the beam to the Citadel"

"Acknowledged Commander" She responded as crisply as a trained soldier.

With his squad at his back Kaelis turned and moved to the stand no more than a metre from the white-blue glow of their way to the Citadel.

Knowing that his team would be right behind him he took a deep breath and without further delay stepped into the beam.