Title: Chapter X – Old Foes
Universe: Mass Effect (Alternative ending)
Major Characters: Kaelis Terrilian Shepard, Harbinger
Other Characters: Liara T'soni, Garrus Vakarian, EDI, Javik
Author: Akernis

After the encounter they walked some time in silence, all winded and shaken by the experience.

Glancing around Kaelis saw that each of his people looked like they had just walked through a living nightmare. Individuals who had faced down threshers on foot and gone toe to toe who some of the worst horrors the galaxy could throw at them unscathed, but now they looked like green recruits experiencing war in all its terror for the first time. None of the other Destroyers that they had faced until that point had unsettled him or any of the others in that way before.

"So this is the effect of being within a living Reaper" Garrus said visibly shaking "no wonder Saren went crazy, he was within one for months"

"I assume that Harbinger's effect is more potent and immediate than Sovereign's was" EDI said.

"That does not matter" Javik said brusquely "we need to get moving"

Thought he might have been more tactful about it Kaelis agreed, he was in no mood to let his mind run rampant for Reaper horror scenarios right now.

The rest of the team nodded their assent and fell in behind their Commander as they moved.

They all fell silent as quickly as they had done before. There was none of the banter or comment that they usually indulged in even on their more hazardous missions or even a jibe or joke from one to another. It was as if the very atmosphere here cast an ominous shroud over them that made each retreat to within themselves. They moved closer than was tactically advisable, Kaelis and Liara in particular was nearly shoulder to shoulder.

Though the construction was different and even more baleful Kaelis was reminded of the collector base when he walked these sinisterly illuminated shadowy passageways that each was wide enough that two makos could have driven abreast and equally tall. The atmosphere was completely different from when he and his team had boarded the derelict Reaper corpse. Here it was pregnant with an alien malice that filled the air and sent cold shivers down the spine. Harbinger almost seemed to exude evil that saturated the ambience and made Kaelis and the others constantly cast glances over the shoulder in nervousness. It seemed that the air itself was alive with unintelligible whispers just beyond the edge of awareness. It was undoubtedly the most disturbing experience Kaelis had ever felt.

EDI continued to steer them towards the heart of the infernal machine. As they moved through the nightmarish construct Kaelis began to feel a growing sense of being watched and followed.

"Garrus, have you felt anything?" he asked his marksman whose senses were even more keen than his own.

"Yes, I think we are being stalked, or hunted" Garrus returned, casting a discreet look about him.

"My sensors are not picking up anything" EDI said perplexed but did not outright deny the possibility.

"Reapers can mask the lifesigns of husks within their proximity" Javik said, he sounded disdainful or even angry at what Kaelis assumed to be a bitter memory.

"Remember how the husk swarm managed to flank us as we prepared to attack the Reaper when it guarded the beam transmitter"

EDI nodded, no doubt recalling the experience that had temporarily separated her and Javik from the main force.

"That means that we will have to be even more careful in here" Liara said, her voice shaking slightly.

The others nodded though no one liked the implications that they might be delayed even further in stopping the Reapers and that time was not exactly on their side.

It was not long before they arrived at rather more noteworthy area than the meandering corridors that they had thus far traversed.

Though not as vast as the chamber that had housed the destroyer this one was still colossal. Most of it consisted of a deep fall down into the dark depths at the bottom. A series of platforms led along the right wall from one side to the other, not unlike the chamber in the Collector base where Kaelis' team had to shut down the heat valves to allow the specialist to move through without burning up. The difference here was simply scale and that it was constructed from the dark Reaper metal rather than the brown-yellow organic stone of the Prothean husks. The way that the ceiling curved inward gave it the resemblance of crossing a gaping chasm within a deep cavern.

The team did not hesitate as they made to cross the chamber though they did keep their eyes and ears open for a potential attack.

It was not long in coming.

A little way across the first of the platforms Kaelis heard an all too familiar sound; the low seething crackle of stasis-shifted barriers combined with the vibrating buzz of insectile wings.

"Get to cover!" Kaelis immediately ordered; his voice resumed its natural commanding tone with no conscious effort. Fortunately the squad's caution had been warranted and all were within easy reach of cover as a bright yellow energy beam stabbed down between them like a malicious ray of burning sunlight.

Collectors... of course there would be Collectors.

Kaelis cursed, Harbinger must have had a complement of them aboard since the last Cycle, possibly frozen in stasis until needed.

"Javik-"

But just what Javik was supposed to do never became an order as in that moment all the rage and vengeful fury that the last Prothean harboured for the fallen remnants of his race and stroked by the fell Reaper influence was released in one cataclysmic moment. Biotically charging forward he slammed into the central Collector of the first group and immediately released a nova of pale green energy of such ferocity that even Jack would have been hard pressed to match it. The six drones were practically vaporised where they stood.

Without even breaking stride Javik's rifle was in his hands and unleashing an unrelenting barrage of particle fire that scythed through even more of his targets in a nearly unnerving display of wrathful retribution.

By now Kaelis was well aware that Prothean warfare was highly aggressive to the point of being reckless but the fury which now seemed to saturate Javik was something else entirely. He fought with careless abandon as if possessed, seemingly without a thought for his own self-preservation. It was a far-cry from the aggressive but disciplined behaviour that Kaelis had only ever seen him utilise.

"EDI, support him! Liara, keep the Collectors off them! Garrus, take out the drones on the far side of the chasm!"

Though each of his team members moved to carry out his commands they did so hesitantly, as if plagued by doubt or uncertainty.

As his squadmembers joined him Javik seemed realise what he was doing. Liara blocked a volley of retaliation particle beams with a barrier from paying him back in kind for his former assault and Javik acknowledged the gesture and began retreating back to the fire line that EDI, Liara and Kaelis now had formed behind a barricade-like entrenchment.

Though they had hesitated at the initiation of the combat Kaelis noted however that now as the battle was joined in earnest his companions' coordination and combat synergy returned with a vengeance. It seemed that their bonds forged through fire and battle was stronger than the fell influence at play around them.

Though the Collectors outnumbered them several times over it was not long before the squad had gained enough of an advantage that they could go on the offensive.

With Garrus providing covering fire Kaelis ordered EDI and Javik to move around to the right in a curved arch to flush the Collectors out into the open where they were easy prey for Liara and him. And they did so with all the expertise that he had expected. Though Garrus and he each had extensive experience against these fallen Protheans and both EDI and Liara were fast learners it was clear to see that none of them could outdo Javik here, and Kaelis was not surprised; the Prothean had been fighting Collectors his entire life.

It did not take long to clear the second platform of the remaining foes, the few monsters that escaped the vengeful fire of the ranged members of his squad was rapidly killed by warp blasts or telekinetically crushed.

With the first wave of Collectors dealt with the team moved onwards towards the second of the four platforms. This one though was more heavily fortified. The Collectors were taking up defensive positions and Kaelis saw that several were armed with the heavier particle beams. They were also sending in normal husks.

The first husk that neared dropped dead as Garrus placed an armour penetration round between its eyes. The next three were destroyed as Kaelis detonated the singularity that Liara had spawned in their midst with a well-placed throw.

"EDI, I want you to lay down a suppressive fire against the husks to hold them at bay for as long as possible"

"Acknowledged" She responded.

"Javik" he said, turning to the Prothean "can you keep the Collector drones on the right flank occupied?"

"Of course Commander" he said as if the answered had been self-evident.

"Garrus, if you would do what you do best against those Collector Assassins I would appreciate it"

"My pleasure Shepard" the turian grinned, he was clearly enjoying this combat in contrast to the sinister experience of moving through the Reaper unopposed.

"Liara, with me"

She nodded once before setting off after him as he turned towards their foe. The two of them moved close enough for their barriers to interlace and strengthen one another. The two biotic warriors rippled with shimmering cerulean and indigo energy as they dodged and darted towards the enemy lines. The few shots aimed at them that managed to land were deflected by the symbiotically enhanced barrier.

Reaching the centre of the enemy formation under cover of the suppressive fire from their friends Kaelis vaulted in between the Collectors with Liara flash-stepping in after him and appeared just besides him a second later.

Immediately Kaelis draw his limbs in close and build up a biotic discharge. The drones turned to the intruders in their midst but before they could attack Liara yanked them off their feet and in towards her and Kaelis with a wide pull field. As the drones were drawn in close Kaelis rapidly rose and spread his arms wide, releasing the build-up biotic energy in a devastating nova blast. The blast-wave and the biotic detonated it caused on the pull field burned straight through the collectors' barriers and near instantly incinerated the entire near squad-sized group.

Before retaliatory fire could be brought to bear the pair of biotics jumped into cover behind a cable-like piece of terrain.

"The last ones are yours" Kaelis called back to the rest of the team and true to the order they all three immediately let loose with a concentrated barrage of fire.

Javik's particle beams rapidly collapsed the barriers of each Collector before moving on to the next and let EDI's hurricane and talon finish them off. As his companions cut into their foes Garrus dropped any enemy that managed to take up a firing position before it could strike at his team members, often with a well-placed shredder round to the head.

It was not long before the second platform was cleared of foes but the danger was not over yet. As Kaelis regarded the last of the platform-like structures that they had to cross his heart sank. The area was filled with large structure-like emplacements that while they would provide excellent cover positions would also hide their foes and allow potential husks and other Reapers-created nightmares to get close to them. More worryingly the platform was split in two connected by a bridge or sorts only just wide enough for two-three individuals to move across at one time. The open space just on either side of the bridge was a natural kill zone from both sides as fire-lanes had easy view across the whole area.

Furthermore despite the sinisterly illuminating effects of the ambient pulsing light that Reapers seemed to generate within them a heavy shroud of semi-darkness seemed to cast the platform in perpetual shadow, making it hard to discern the number and nature of their foes; but from the movements within it seemed that the hardest was yet to come.

"Move up" Kaelis ordered and the rest of the team joined him at near the edge of the third and final platform.

"We need to be careful, the Collectors have the advantage of both numbers and position" Kaelis said "And at close quarters husks are sure to be waiting"

"You have a plan?" Garrus asked his tone strictly serious.

"Perhaps" Kaelis replied thoughtfully "judging from the structures the Collectors and any potential husks are going to be waiting in ambush positions. The two parts of the platform is each large enough to allow them to prepare kill zones and crossfire sections. It would be a gruelling slow task of clearing such a position but we do not have the time from such a protracted battle, never mind getting across the bridge spanning the gab"

"Collectors will send drones to hold valued positions while assassins will be waiting in sniper nests and elevated points with a good view of the battlefield" Javik said lending his lifetime of expertise to the matter.

"Any husks present will wait in gathering numbers until when we enter firing ranges before swarming out to flush us into the open" Liara, now familiar with the usual behaviour of those foul creatures, chimed in.

"Right" Kaelis nodded "we will have to break their firing lines before they manage to pin us down and surround us with husks"

He looked over at the Prothean.

"Javik, seeing as you are the most experienced with fighting Collectors you will spearhead the central strike alongside Garrus and EDI"

The three members nodded their assent. He then turned to Liara.

"You and I will flank the Collectors and support the main attack until an opportunity to engage aggressively presents itself. You will move right along the cavern wall and I will take the left flank along the platform's edge"

She too nodded as she received her orders and the two of them sprang into action immediately as the spear-head attack led by Javik commenced.

Kaelis ran along the right flank; darting back and forth between cover, always careful not to come too close to the dark abyss that awaited him beyond the edge of the platform. Glancing over his shoulder at the sound of gunfire he saw that his team was well underway with their attack.

As three husks rounded a corner in front of him he flung two off the edge and telekinetically crushed the last back into a wall with enough force to crack its spine in half. However he was forced to duck back into cover as a bright yellow beam scythed across the open ground where the husk interruption had momentarily left him exposed.

Peering around the small spire-like piece of cover he saw the collector that had fired at him fall as it was picked off by a precisely concentrated volley of disrupter rounds from Garrus' phaeston assault rifle.

Taking his chance he sprinted across the open field ahead and as he rounded the corner where the husks had appeared he fell upon the Collector ambush nest he found there with deadly force.

Six collectors had been waiting in ambush for the main force. The first two died without a chance to retaliate as Kaelis near instantly created and detonated a shimmering purple-black singularity in their midst. This also stripped the barrier from the next three, two of which Kaelis dropped with point-blank shots from his carnifex.

Overcoming their initial shock with the ease of the near-mindless drones they were the last pair attacked. Though he managed to duck beneath the deadly particle beam of the first weapon the second beam strafed his right leg. The beam was partially dispersed by the barrier but was still strong enough to burn through the armour and sear across the surface of his thigh. He winced in pain at the shallow wound but could feel that the enhanced medical exoskeleton in his phantom armour was already assisting his unique physiology in protecting and healing the wound by applying micro-patches of medigel to the injured area.

Dashing forward before the drones struck again he decapitated one with the warp-blade manifesting from his wrist. The last one died as he grabbed hold of it telekinetically and crashing it mercilessly into the ground before stabbing the blade down through its chest-cavity.

Careful not to overextend himself and enter the kill-zone before the bridge he duck back down in cover to await the rest of his team catching up while his biotic energy recharged itself.

The bright blue-indigo glow of dark energy off to his right told him that Liara too was securing their other flank while Garrus, Javik and EDI moved down the middle against the main collector and husk force.

"Garrus, Liara; report" he called through his comm-beat.

"I have eliminated the husks guarding the right flank" Liara stated "there were not many Collectors present but more are holding up in the cover in the tower-like structure on the other side, I can't cross the killing field without getting caught in a cross-fire"

"We are being hit hard but giving as good as we get" Garrus chimed in "there are two groups up ahead but with the flank-guards taken care off we should be able to move forward without getting cut to ribbons"

After a short while Garrus report in that they had eliminated all troops on this side of the bridge. Kaelis and Liara joined their companions and all five began firing at the troops on the other side.

Kaelis pictured the layout in his mind from what he could see from his own position. They had reached the bridge but there was no chance of getting safely across without eliminating all the range troops first, a task that would take far too long.

Unless we are shielded he thought.

"Liara, help me create a moveable barrier dome around the spear head assault" he called to her.

"Acknowledged" she answered.

The two of them swiftly formed a biotic barrier around the rest of the team which immediate moved under the protective blue radiance across the killing ground and over the bridge. Yellow particle fire lazed across the shield as the three companions ran but the barrier held strong.

Reaching the other side the three companions continued across the kill-zone and into the cover of the structures while beginning to secure a bridgehead.

Under the covering fire of their companions Kaelis and Liara hurried to join up with them in support.

It did not take long to expand the bridgehead into a lodgement but Kaelis wondered why the Collectors did not put up more of a fight. They were being driven back by the ferocious attack of the team but Reaper troops never showed fear of being killed or defeated in combat.

"Careful" Kaelis said, gesturing for the others to slow down "it might be a trap"

Garrus and Javik nodded and judging from Liara and EDI's expressions they too had seen the oddity of their foes behaviour.

The second half of the platform was more open than it had appeared and beyond the fairly low-teeth-like plates and large dragon teeth shaped tower-structures was devoid of cover. There was free space out to the edge and the cavern wall, and only a few structures blocked the way to the other side of the large chasm the platforms were spanning.

Though cautious the companion pursued the retreating Collectors towards the centre of the platform.

Then Harbinger sprung the trap.

Kaelis saw a Collector Commander fly from the retreating swarm to land at one of the taller spires, its antennae-horned head seeming to regard them with undying malicious. Then as one all the retreating drones turned on their heels to engage the intruders. Equally dangerous where the hitherto unseen husks that now crawled down the cavern walls and up over the edges of the platform like some hideously altered spiders closing in on flies in their web.

None of his companions needed orders. They each took up a position in what little cover they could and nearly back-to-back attacked the engaged foes. Vastly outnumbered they each did their best to fight off the approaching foes.

Collector particle beams criss-crossed mass-effect accelerated slugs in the air as the two groups exchanged fire while mass effect fields sent husks flying or killed them in lethal blasts.

It quickly became apparent that not only where there far more enemies than even they had expected but that their escape route was cut off. Husks closed in their dozens while the Collectors made sure that the team could not retreat to better positions for fear of being caught in the crossfire.

It was not long before the squad had more than doubled their kill-tally since entering the Reaper, but the enemy was closing in fast and it was only their superlative skills and the protective barriers created by the three biotics that narrowly managed to keep them alive. Despite the team's best efforts the husks still numbered in their dozens and was now reaching close enough to attack.

"Close quarter" Kaelis called before drawing the sword he had kept from the killed Reaper-phantom. His proficiency with swordsmanship was markedly less than with knife or warpblade but the extended reach came in very helpful as he sliced through the advancing husks with the monomolecular weapon and keeping them away from him and the others.

"Close contact" he heard Garrus call out as the turian was also caught in melee fighting, and soon after Liara too called that she had been engaged in close combat.

The advantage the sword gave him did not last long and he resheathed the weapon in favour of his long talon combat-knife in one hand and the other free to perform biotic attacks. Practically dancing back and forth while dodging and parrying nimbly he kept several husks busy at once while cutting, stabbing, slicing and blasting any that came too close.

As he felled the twelfth husk though a collector beam graced his arm and his blade fell from numb fingers temporarily paralysed as pain shot through his arm. A heavy blow from the closest husk sent him sprawling to the ground close to EDI who stood beside him.

As the pack of husks charged Kaelis spawned a singularity in their midst to give himself a few precious seconds.

Then suddenly a fiercely bright sphere of blue-violet light zoomed lightning quick through the combat to impact the singularity, before an iridescent shockwave of rippling cerulean energy lashed from the impact out through the combat with devastating force; blasting the husks and Collectors to smithereens where they stood in an inferno of dark energy but leaving the companions untouched, protected by a newly risen barrier shell.

Kaelis looked over at Liara in gratitude. She smiled at him with some difficulty, her chest rising and falling heavily but rhythmically with the effort of unleashing the cataclysmic biotic flare and sustaining the barrier. But he could see that she would be fine. Already her breathing was returning to normal, and in a few moments she would be able to join in again.

Kaelis picked up and sheathed his combat knife before drawing his shuriken pistol. The pain in his arm was already fading and he could see that the damage to his leg-armour from earlier in the combat was already self-repairing. The team formed up as they made ready to move before potential reinforcements caught up.

"I WILL DIRECT THIS PERSONALLY; ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROLL"

Everyone's gaze turned to the Collector Commander that flew atop the tower-spire and now became crisscrossed by glowing yellow-orange lines that shone like fire. As its baleful flaming quartet of eyes regarded them Kaelis ordered the team to open fire.

The collective barrage of mass accelerator slugs and particle fire was deflected harmlessly as a blazing orange barrier sprang into existence around the Reaper-avatar.

In response the Harbinger-drone sent a yellow-and-black blast down towards them. They all managed to dodge aside but the sheer power of the blast shook the platform similarly to the impact of a heavy weapon.

"That thing is much stronger than the possessed drones we have encountered before" Garrus observed as he got back up.

"It makes sense" Liara said breathlessly "we are inside Harbinger, its power would likely be amplified this close to its source"

"Commander" Javik said stoically while pointing up into the air "we have enemies incoming"

As Kaelis glanced up his heart sank.

Praetorians.

And just one or two but three of the vile monstrosities were descending from the air.

"EDI, fire the hydra" Kaelis said as he and the rest of his team backed away to prepare to face this new threat.

Drawing the heavy weapon the AI charged the missile cluster and released the deadly payload as soon as it was primed. The flurry of missiles screamed towards their target with deadly accuracy. A few of the missiles veered off to target the praetorian on the right but most struck the centre one and blew it apart in fearsome display of explosive force. The few missiles that went for the second praetorian was not enough to kill it; but they did seem to wound it significantly.

The two surviving praetorians slammed down on the platform in front of the squad. As the first landed it unleashed its dreaded death choir attack, a dark energy shock wave that basted the companions back, scattering them like leaves for the wind.

"EDI, fire it again!" Kaelis yelled as he scrambled up again but before she could comply Edi was slammed back against one of the metal plates and lost hold of the weapon by a blast of orange energy as the Harbinger-drone jumped down from its position to command its two hulking monsters in battle.

Kaelis saw the weakened of the praetorians jumping forward to attack EDI, but before reaching her it was knocked aside as Javik biotically charged it in the side. At blank-point range he blasted the hardened bio-cybernetic carapace with particle fire. The attack did little more than annoy the creature though and it turned to face its new attacker.

However Javik had brought the team the time they needed. Liara grabbed hold of the fallen hydra telekinetically and threw it to Garrus who caught it deftly in midair. Wasting no time he charged the weapon to fire.

The other praetorian had realised the danger and prepared to pounce across the field to eviscerate the turian. Kaelis charged his biotics and let loose with a concentrated warp blast that took the monster on the side of its huge head-analogue.

The praetorian seemed to change its mind and jumped him instead. The hulking husk-esque monster just barely missed him as he dodged aside beneath one of its vicious claws.

As he rolled back to his feet before the praetorian turned to engage him again he had just enough time to see the second hydra missile salvo streaking through the air towards the wounded monster and killing it in a fiery explosion.

With that foe slain only the last praetorian and the Harbinger-drone remained. They were however by the far the most deadly foes. Kaelis saw Liara and Garrus take up the fight against the possessed Collector-Commander while EDI and Javik ran to help him against the praetorian.

Once again dodging beneath of the outstretched claws Kaelis backed away from the monstrosity. It turned to follow him but stopped as mass accelerator and particle fired wrecked into its barrier from behind. Barrier shimmering with the attack the praetorian swung around to face its new attackers. EDI and Javik had just enough time to spring aside as its twin particle cannon beams swept across the ground towards them.

Kaelis fired a warp blast at its barrier before letting loose with a warp-round charged torrent from his shuriken. The Praetorian staggered under the flurry of attacks as his two squadmates each lend their fire in assistance and EDI finally brought down the barrier with a flash-fabricated overloading tech-mine.

The trio was quick to press their advantage. Taking his carnifex in hand instead of his shuriken Kaelis fired round after round into the hardened carapace, blowing holes in the armour with every shot. EDI's talon followed suit while Javik too fired his phaeston at the monster. Wounded the praetorian lashed out with a claw and caught Javik on the shoulder, the fierce blow sent the Prothean sprawling to the ground where he rolled several metres before coming to a stop against one of the metal plates. Seeing an opportunity EDI fired an inferno at the husk-creation that melted cleanly through its side carapace and exposing the vulnerable semi-organic components beneath. Hissing in what Kaelis assumed to be anger or agony the Praetorian turned around and fired its twin particle cannons directly at the AI. One of the beams went wide but the other caught her straight in the torso. Even with fully charged kinetic barriers and her defensive matrix engaged the beam burned through her defences and sent her flying back in a shower of sparks as the beam struck her chassis. The damage was severe but Kaelis could see that it was not fatal. Taking his chance he fired a quintet of warp rounds from his carnifex into the wound EDI's attack had exposed. The first two shoots caused the Praetorian to release a keening wail of pain or rage. The third round missed the wound and caused little more than a new small crater in the armoured shell. The fourth round struck something vital within the thing's nightmarish anatomy. The Praetorian rose momentarily on its hind legs before coming crashing down on all four and started glowing a bright purple-white as its build up a charge in its death-keel.

Kaelis had just enough time to jump away before it released the energy in a death choir blast before it died and disintegrated. Though he managed to jump beyond the lethal blast radius the shockwave caught him. Kaelis was throw several metres back and landed heavily on the ground only a few metres from the edge of the platform facing the deep chasm beyond it. Shaking his head to clear it he raised himself to move over and help Liara and Garrus in their fight.

"KAELIS!"

He head Liara scream his name in warning, but it was too late.

He had just enough time to turn and see the bright orange-black blast of dark energy scream towards him from the wounded Harbinger-drone before it struck him in the chest with undeniably irresistible force, blasted his barrier to pieces and flinging him backwards far over the edge of the platform.

The last thing he saw as he fell was the blackness of the chasm seemingly rising rapidly to meet him. Then darkness claimed him and everything went black.


A/N: I am going to try something special with the next two chapter, like I did with the latest chapter of "Blue Eyes & Black Eyes" for those reading that one as well. I have no idea whether it will work or not but it means that I will probably have to write both chapters before posting either. I hope you will bear with me about that.