Chapter 65 - No Greater Love
Tali'Zorah: One of the events that stand out to me as a shining beacon of hope during the war was what happened on Lesuss.
Unna'Koris: Lesuss? That was an asari colony, wasn't it? It's nothing but a barren wasteland virus bombed into oblivion because it was overrun by reaped. What happy memories could come out of that?
Tali: The kind that remind you why we fight.
Tali awoke with a start. Something was thrashing madly in the bed like a possessed beast of some kind. Turning, she grabbed hold of her sweat slick lover.
"John, John wake up, it's just a dream!"
It took several moments of shaking, but finally John woke up, panting as if he'd just run a mile on a high gravity planet.
"More bad dreams?" Tali asked, rubbing John's shoulder.
He nodded, eyes distant and haunted. "Earth."
He didn't have to say anything more. Tali had seen as many of the vids and reports as she could stomach, as part of her ambassadorial duties. There wasn't much left of the human homeworld. People were being rounded up and put into concentration camps by the Reapers, manufactured into reaped foot soldiers. Unlike Palaven, the other Reaper occupied homeworld, Earth wasn't a fortress world of military retirees. There was still resistance, still hope that humanity could make it out intact, but the casualties were in the billions already.
"Well find a way to save them. You haven't abandoned your people," Tali comforted.
John couldn't meet her eyes. "That's what I keep telling myself."
They tried to get back to sleep, but neither Tali nor John had much success. Even knowing that the vorcha had been mobilized and that John had accomplished far more good rallying support among the galaxy's races then fighting a losing battle on Earth, that didn't change how things felt. Sometimes Tali felt guilty knowing that so far, her own people had been mostly spared the brunt of the fighting. That wasn't to say that quarians and geth were not a part of the war, only that except for the single Reaper Destroyer that had been created from the geth, Rannoch had yet to feel the worst effects of the war.
"How can you forgive this?" John asked, holding Tali close. He didn't have to mention what he meant.
"I don't know. How could I forgive the geth? It wasn't something I would have had the strength to do on my own. When I was faced with that decision, I thought about what you would do. About what you did with that scientist when we found Toombs."
"Somehow, that was different. At least Cerberus is human. Mostly. At least I can understand their logic, understand why they are doing what they are. I don't agree with their methods, but sometimes even I want to bang a few heads together to get people to focus on just how much of a threat the Reapers are. But the Reapers? What's to understand? They're just out to kill everything, force everyone to be like them."
Tali stayed silent, unable to come up with anything even approaching a decent answer to that question. It was one Shepard had been asking more and more frequently. Tali felt like she should have an answer, that her experience with forgiving the race that had once been her mortal enemy should help, but it didn't.
The comm light silently blinked on the bedside, and Shepard hit the acceptance key. "Go ahead."
"Commander, I've just received notice from the asari government that one of our worlds has come under Reaper assault," Liara's voice said over the speaker.
"Can't they take care of this themselves?" John demanded.
"They've tried, Commander. Several commando squads have been dispatched, but none of them have returned. They've all lost communication. And, Commander… The world in question is Lesuss."
John frowned, sitting up straight on the bed. "Lesuss? Where have I heard that name before?"
"It's the world ser Krioss departed for in his quest for Justicar Samara," Liara answered.
John grunted. "Thane and Samara are valuable assets in the war. If something on Lesuss has drawn their attention and that of the Reapers, it's worth investigating. Have Joker set a course for the planet."
"Yes, Commander. If we make for it with all speed, we should be there in just over three hours."
"Do it. Get the ground team ready. I want you, Kelly and Tali with me on this one. Have Garrus prep team two for standby in case things get hot down there." John cut the connection and stood, pulling on his clothes and armor. "Wasn't going to get much sleep anyway."
Sighing, Tali stood and helped John get everything on. "You're going to have to rest sometime, you know."
Once John had his armor on, Tali slipped in to her own suit. The geth programs on board had bolstered her immune system enough that she was able to disrobe in the cabin, so long as EDI thoroughly disinfected it before she did so.
With a few hours to spare, and with John busy working on mission briefs, Tali headed down to engineering to tinker for a bit. She passed the time with routine maintenance and repairs, ensuring that the Normandy's stealth systems were fully operational.
"And everyone makes fun of me for my constant calibrations," a turian voice observed from behind Tali.
"That's because if a man spends that much time fiddling with a big gun they figure he's compensating for something," Tali shot back, turning to wink at Garrus.
Garrus spread his mandibles in a grin, shaking his head. "You just wait. This war may be fought on more levels than I can understand, but I am sure when it all comes down to it, we're still going to need some really big guns."
"I think that's a safe bet. The question is; are we going to have enough?"
Tali's response hit a bit too close to home for either of them, and they lapsed into temporary silence. "Have the vorcha helped on Palaven?" Tali asked, trying to think of a happier topic.
"Some," Garrus nodded. "They've only just begun to arrive, but from the reports I'm getting back they are fierce fighters. They don't seem to fear death at all, and apparently their suicidal tactics are producing results, even if they cost a great many lives."
"Is there anything in this war that hasn't?" Tali muttered, thinking back on everyone she'd lost. "Sometimes I miss being that innocent girl on her pilgrimage."
"Yeah, sometimes those days back as a C-Sec detective look pretty good," Garrus admitted. "But then I think about what would have happened if I'd stayed that innocent. For one thing, I'd never have met friends like you or Shepard, and for another we'd all have probably died when Saren and Sovereign attacked the Citadel. "
"Things were simpler back then, and I guess it's easy to forget all those nights I spent hungry and afraid on the run by myself. I suppose that's a consequence of growing up."
Tali and Garrus stood in silence for a few moments, mourning innocence lost.
"Well, back to work. Those guns won't calibrate themselves," Garrus finally stated. "Maybe we can get some of our own back on this mission to Lesuss."
About an hour later, Tali found herself seated in the assault shuttle as the ground team moved out. "Not much is known about this monastery," Liara explained. "It's classified by the government, and even with my contacts I couldn't get much about it other than that an awful lot of Justicars visit here frequently. That makes a certain degree of sense, they are a religious order after all and Lesuss is firmly in asari space, but just what interest they have in this monastery that the Reapers have is unknown."
"What sort of forces can we expect to face?" Kelly asked, her pink armor at odds with the grim expression on her face.
"Again, unknown," John explained. "The Reapers have blockaded the planet and bombarded a few of the settlements, but they haven't actually done much beyond that. They've concentrated their forces on this monastery for reasons unknown."
"So then it's safe to assume that whatever is down there is likely valuable, dangerous, and in Reaper hands," Tali summed up.
"Exactly. We need to get in, figure out what's going on, and stop the Reapers. If we can find Thane or Samara, getting them out is a priority," John ordered.
"Thane is here," Kelly murmured. "I can tell. What exactly he's up to or how he's doing I couldn't say, but he is alive, for now at least."
"Good to know," Liara nodded. "If we can find him I'm sure he could provide us with valuable intel."
The shuttle landed, and Tali stepped out into a picturesque mountain scene. She could see the blue and white capped peaks above the monastery, and over the edge of the cliff below them stretched a rocky valley with white covered trees growing. The air was cool enough that Tali had to kick on her suit's internal heaters, and she could see the others' breath puffing out in the chill air.
Impressions of beauty didn't last long though. Tali could see the forms of Reaper destroyers stalking distant peaks, and in the valley below, a small town burned. Small black shapes move d in the distance, and a quick zoom showed Tali that they were cannibals and marauders, the foot soldiers of the Reaper forces. Seeing them for the first time in the flesh sent a chill down Tali's spine, and she double checked that she had plenty of thermal clips. Things could get nasty, fast.
The shuttle took off to retrieve the second team from the waiting Normandy, and Tali and the rest of the squad were alone on the mountain side. They hurried for the shelter of the monastery, keeping a close eye out for any movement. Tali didn't see anything, but that didn't mean much. Husks could lie in wait for days on end, waiting for prey to get close enough that they could strike. Cold didn't bother reaped; they were already dead, so what was a little misery?
Once they were inside, Tali switched on her suit's low light filter. "Lots of bodies, no signs of life," she reported.
The floor was littered with the bodies of asari commandos and acolytes, who'd been out long enough that a sheen of frost covered their corpses. There were stains where Reaped bodies had fallen, though their self-destruct nanites had removed any evidence of just what form they had taken. Some of the stains were big; large enough to have been made by the monstrous brutes. Tali sincerely hoped there weren't any of those around; they had been nasty enough in the sims.
"Keep moving, keep an eye out for any useful intel," John ordered, and the team moved forward, stooping periodically to check the bodies.
"Shepard, you need to take a look at this," Liara called, holding up a data pad she'd retrieved from a fallen commando.
Tali kept watch as John hurried over. After a moment's glance, he swore softly. "They tried to blow this place sky high? That's a lot of ordinance they've brought in. If whatever is here is that dangerous, we need to find it, and fast."
The squad hurried forward, stepping into a large, dimly lit chamber with a wide stair case leading down to the depths of the monastery. John held up a fist, and the team paused as the faint hum of someone using a biotic field was heard. Tali readied her shotgun, hoping that whatever they were about to meet, it would be able to handle it.
When Tali caught site of the person rising up from below to meet them, she relaxed. "Shepard," Samara greeting, lightly stepping onto the floor. "I did not expect to meet you here."
"Funny how things like that happen," John said, stepping forward and offering a hand to Samara. She glanced at the hand, then gently brushed her fingers across it, as if she were uncertain what to do with it.
"Why are you here, Shepard? This monastery is doomed. Most of the staff and those it held are already dead or worse."
"Thessia requested our presence," Liara explained. "When the commando teams went dark, they were concerned. Though exactly why this monastery is so valuable we have yet to learn."
"You know why," Samara answered, her eyes fixed upon Liara's own. "This is where we send the Ardat-Yakshi."
Liara gasped, her eyes widening in shock, then darting around as if expecting a demon to leap from the shadows.
"You mean like what Morinth was?" Tali asked, remembering Samara's powerful and lethal offspring.
"Yes. This is one of the monasteries where we keep the Ardat-Yakshi. It was once one of the largest, with twenty Ardat-Yakshi among its numbers. Among them were my two remaining children."
Kelly gasped in horror, her hands going reflexively to her mouth. "Oh my gods, Samara, I'm so sorry."
"Do not be," Samara answered, shaking her head. "They yet live. They are with Ser Krios now. He sensed your presence, and I was sent to warn you away. There is nothing for you here now, Shepard. I will detonate the bomb, and with it destroy the Reapers chance."
"What do you mean?" Tali demanded. "Why are the Reapers so interested in a bunch of mutant asari?"
No sooner than Tali had spoken that a long, wailing scream rent the air. Samara grimaced, the first time Tali had seen her actually show visible distaste about anything. Even when she had executed her own daughter, Samara had remained composed and distant. "Because, Ardat-Yakshi are the strongest of the asari. And when corrupted, they make the most powerful servitors."
"How powerful are we talking?" Kelly asked, her body suddenly glowing with green, shimmering force.
"Powerful enough that I myself have had difficulty in defeating them, even with ser Krios' aid," Samara answered. "Come, we must move quickly. They must have finished with their latest victims."
Samara led the squad through the monastery, past once peaceful fountain's whose water had been stained light blue with asari blood. "There," Samara pointed. "That is what the Reapers seek to turn my people into."
On a walkway above the party stood a reaped that had obviously once been asari. But where an asari was sleek beauty and grace, this creature was a twisted monstrosity with a budging belly, wickedly curved head tentacles and a skull like grimace of hatred. It glowed with dark power, and even as Tali watched it hurled a sphere of destructive energy towards the squad, shrieking in rage and hatred. Tali recognized it; Banshee.
Tali dived for cover, drawing her pistol as she did so. She came up ready to shoot, but the asari reaped had vanished. There was nowhere for it to have gone, the walkway bare of any cover for it to have ducked behind.
"Be wary!" Samara called. "They can move faster than the eye can see with their dark biotics!"
Tali heard the snap of displaced air behind her and she dove forward over the low railing she'd taken cover behind, spinning around to see the hideous creature materialize behind her. She fired her pistol three times, but the rounds were absorbed by a powerful barrier.
From out of the corner of her eye, Tali saw a flash of green power and a roar of rage.
This scum shall not stand before us!
A blur of pink and green energy leaped into the fray, slamming into the reaped with a crash. Kelly's eyes were glowing as she raised a fist and let lose a bolt of power straight into the creature head. It screamed in anger and a wave of dark power shot out of it, slamming into Tali and draining her shields. Kelly staggered, but she wasn't out of the fight yet. Drawing her arm back, she punched the creature square in its bloated belly. Ichor spewed from the wound and the creature shrieked, reaching out with a claw like hand to grab for Kelly's head. She batted the hand aside and shot out another bolt of green power, reducing the reaped's head to molten slag.
Tali stared in amazement at Kelly. She knew her friend was powerful now, but she hadn't had any idea just HOW dangerous Kelly had become. She was beginning to wonder just why John hadn't brought Kelly on every mission when her friend let out a snarl of rage and charged forward. Tali whirled to see several cannibals rushing out of side passages, their arm cannon's blazing. Heedless of the danger, Kelly closed with them, using blasts of power and her own two hands to rip her foes to shreds. It was reckless, and though Tali and the others provided covering fire to suppress the canables, it was obvious that Kelly wasn't being a team player. Or that Kelly was even home at all. Just like when she had attacked Javik, something else, something that wasn't Kelly, had taken over. It was frightening to watch, though the results were all too obvious.
When Kelly was finished disemboweling the last of the reaped, Tali ran forward to check on her friend. "Kelly, are you alright?"
Kelly slumped, the glow about her fading. She rested a gauntleted hand on the wall, sagging up against it. "Yeah, I'm fine, just get a little worn out when I channel. Mortal bodies weren't mean to handle the power of the gods."
"That was insanely reckless of you," Samara declared, striding forward and shaking her head. "You have power like what ser Krios wields, but unlike him, you let it control you. You must learn to control your power, to wield it instead of allowing it to wield you. You are like a child given gift she does not have the wisdom to appropriately use."
Kelly glared at the Justicar, standing up stiff and straight. "The gods chose me for a reason, Justicar. Keep your opinion and your Goddess to yourself."
"Stand down Chambers," John order, striding up. "We've talked about this. I thought you said you were ready. In the sims you were doing better, but you broke formation and just took off. I know you can soak up a lot more damage than any of the rest of us, but even you can get taken down. All the power in the world won't save you if get shot in the head."
"Yes sir," Kelly said, looking down her boots in obvious contrition. "I'm sorry sir. They just get so angry when they see a reaped. I lost control, and the gods don't know how to play nice."
"Well they better learn, or I'm benching them," John snapped. "For no more reason than a loose cannon is more dangerous to her allies than to the enemy. Understood Ms. Chambers?"
"Understood, Commander," Kelly nodded.
"Good, let's keep moving. Samara, any estimates on how many more of those things there are?"
"While Ardat-Yakshi make the most potent servants for the Reapers, they are not the only ones that can succumb to their designs. With the entire colony to recruit from, their numbers are essentially limitless," Samara answered.
John snarled, his face distorted in feral anger. "Fantastic. We'll just add that to the list of their crimes. For now, keep moving, people!"
They stalked forward, and before long Tali heard the sounds of fierce fighting in the distance as mass accelerators discharged and biotic explosions detonated. "Sounds like Thane's in trouble!" Tali called, breaking into a sprint.
"Garrus, things are getting pretty hot in here, how are things topside?" John yelled into his comm.
"The Reapers are assaulting the monastery in force. We're holding them off for now, but a few are slipping past us. They've got this new kind of Banshee, a lot stronger than your normal one, and those are bad enough. No casualties so far, but Vega's got a nasty biotic burn that's going to need treatment before too long," the turian shouted, the sounds of battle easily discernible in the background.
After a few moments of sprinting, Tali spied a large group of reaped assaulting two asari and a drell defending what had to be an enormous bomb of some kind. One of the asari was laying still on the ground, and the other was projecting a large barrier, trying to hold off the reaped from her fallen companion. The drell was mobile, teleporting across the battle field in flares of green power like Kelly had been using. Unlike Kelly though, Thane was in obvious control, his motions deliberate and efficient. He attacked the reaped's flanks, striking at ones that were exposed then vanishing to strike at another area when they tried to retaliate. He was also using his pistol nearly as much as his hands or blasts, and before long the ranks of the cannibals and husks he was facing were decimated. However, cannibals and husks were not the only things he faced.
With their ear splitting battle howl, three banshee's teleported into the fray. Thane attempted to back off and strike from range, but wherever he tried to flee to, a banshee was already in range. Seeing her lover in danger, Samara sprinted forward, blurring with biotic fueled speed. Her own attack disrupted the banshee's formation, and the rest of Shepard's squad piled in behind her. Liara hurried toward the two asari by the bomb, using her own biotics to fend off the last of the cannibals and husks. She struck with a blue wave of fury, sending the remaining reaped foot soldiers flying. John unlimbered his massive Revenant machine gun and let loose a fiery hail of mass accelerator rounds into one of the banshees. Tali used her tech drain to disrupt the banshee's barrier, and it howled in rage as its armor was melted by the barrage of John's fire. With shot right to its head with her pistol, Tali downed the creature.
The other two were being engaged by Thane and Samara. To Tali's shock, Kelly was hanging back and launching blasts of energy from afar, as well as sniping with her pistol. Thane was circling his banshee, jabbing at its weak points and fading back out of reach when the creature's deadly claws slashed out at him. Samara was keeping the range open against her foe, using her pistol and biotics to steadily wear down its barriers and armor. Liara joined the assault with Samara, and together the two asaris' biotics exploded, causing the banshee to stagger. Tali saw her own opening and detonated a drone right on top of the vulnerable Reaped, killing it. Thane and Kelly had finally worn away at their own banshee, which was dispatched by a steady burst of fire from John.
With their enemies dispatched, Samara turned, concern flashing across her face for a brief instant before she schooled it back into her usual placid mask. With uncharacteristic hurry, Samara strode over to the downed asari's side, kneeling beside her. "Rila, what happened?"
"One of the banshee's grabbed her!" the conscious asari babbled. "I couldn't stop it, it just teleported and ripped right through her barrier. It took her by the head and... and it did something to her. Kissed her, was what it looked like. Then it dropped her. Thane killed it, but she's been like that ever since."
"It is alright Falere," Thane said, bowing his head and folding his hands over his prayer beads. "There was nothing we could have done. Our enemy is powerful and cunning."
"Ugh, mother?" the stricken asari groaned, struggling to sit up. "I can feel it inside me. It's not like the voices... I think they did to me what they did to the others when they took them away."
Samara closed her eyes, but before she did Tali thought she saw the Justicar's eyes moisten. Reaching into her belt pouch, Samara pulled out a small metal rod. "Very well. I have the detonator. I will stay with you while the others evacuate. When the time comes, we shall both be cleansed with fire."
"No, we won't," Rila growled, snatching the detonator away. "You're ALL getting out of here. I'm staying. I can hold it off for a few minutes at least. You and Falere go mother. I love you, both of you."
"Rila, NO!" Falere cried, trying to take the detonator away from her sister.
Smiling faintly, Rila shook her head, closing her hands about the detonator. "No sis. This is the way it has to be. I'm sorry, I won't be able to watch out for you anymore."
Samara opened her eyes, and a slow trickle of tears fell down her face. She stepped forward and embraced her daughter. "I am so proud of you. I wish that we could have had more time together, more than just these past few weeks."
Her own face damp with tears, Rila nodded. "I know mom. I understand though. Thanks for everything again. I'll see you again, right?"
"Of course." Samara reached up, wiping her daughters tear's away and smiling. "Find peace in the embrace of the Goddess, my child." Then she turned away. "We must leave, quickly. They will be back soon."
Glancing at Rila, Tali looked at John who shook his head. "We've got to go. Sorry Tali. Rila is right."
"I know. That doesn't make things any easier," Tali sighed.
The party was fortunate, and no further Reapers accosted them. They found Garrus and the rest of the team waiting for them at the entrance, and Shepard motioned for them to run. "This whole place is going to blow!" John shouted.
Garrus, Vega and Reegar nodded, falling in behind Shepard's squad. They raced to a rocky outcropping, the whole party scrambling over the other side. Just as Vega hopped down, there was a blinding flash, and Tali shut off her suits audio processors as the deafening krump of the explosion rocked her. The party climbed back over the rocks, watching as the remains of the monastery blazed.
Samara stepped forward, her face glowing with red and orange as she watched the flames. Then she turned to her daughter. "Falere, I want you to know that I love you, and that I am proud of you. You are the very image of a daughter of the Goddess, and you have fought bravely and well these past few days. Better than most of the Justicars I know would have in the same circumstances." Then Samara turned to Thane, her face inscrutable in the light of the fires. "Thane Krios. Our time together has been brief. Would that I had met you when I was younger. Alas, these are dark days. As a fellow parent, you know what she means to me."
Samara drew her gun. "But the code is clear. The monastery is no more. The others are already destroyed, the Justicar order fragmented and ruined. And an Ardat-Yakshi cannot live outside a monastery. "
"But she's your daughter!" Tali burst, stepping between Falere and Samara. "You can't kill her! You love her!"
Samara shook her head. "Someday, Tali, you will understand what a parents love is like. How the Goddess loves us, gave herself for us against our foes."
Tali opened her mouth to protest, but no words came out. Samara had put the gun to her own head. "Goodbye, my daughter. I cannot violate the code, and my path is clear."
"Siha, there must be another way!" Thane pleaded, reaching a hand towards Samara.
She shook her head. "I am sorry, my love. This is the only way."
"Well, fuck that." Shepard had moved, faster than a man really ought to be able to. He had taken Samara's pistol in his own hand, and pointed it up towards the sky.
"Shepard! This is how it MUST be!" Samara protested. "I cannot allow you to take her to safety while I yet live, the code demands that. But I love my daughter more than my own life! Let me do this!"
"What does the code say?" Tali demanded. "Does it really demand that an Ardat-Yakshi cannot live outside a monastery? Surely there is another way!"
"No," Liara said slowly, her brow furrowed in thought. "The code is very clear that an Ardat-Yakshi must live in a monastery and that she must be under the care of the Justicars. But the code does not define what form a monastery must take."
"What is your point, child?" Samara asked, slowing drawing the gun back towards her head with biotic might, despite Shepard's best efforts.
"Well, you are one of the last Justicars, are you not? And am I not also a fellow daughter of the Goddess? Could we not consecrate our own monastery, under the provisions of the code?"
Samara had the gun level with her head again, but she hesitated. Tali held her breath, willing Samara to listen to Liara's words. For a moment, Tali thought that Samara would pull the trigger. Then she cocked her head to once side. "That is true. What do you have in mind, child?"
"Concatenate the Normandy in the name of the Goddess," Liara answered. "Make it a temporary monastery. Until the Order is rebuilt, at least. Let Falere live there, with you as her keeper."
Samara frowned, deep in thought. Then she nodded, and allowed John to releave her of her gun. "Yes. I think that would satisfy the Code. Thank you, child. I owe you my life. And that of my daughter. That means more to me than anything you could know."
Unna: How could she contemplate suicide! Why couldn't Samara think of another solution?
Tali: Because she loved her daughter too much. The other end she saw was one of death for her daughter. It's something you'll understand when you have your own children, Unna. Sometimes, love let's you contemplate things that would have been unthinkable otherwise.
Holy freaking crap, I'm not dead! Well, I guess if you've been following my other story, you'd know that. But this fic isn't dead either! I'm going to be working much harder on Keelah Se'lai than I have been, I can't promise the same crazy fast updates as before, but updates WILL keep coming until this story is finished.