Author's Note: A special thanks to those who review especially when you tell me just what you do or don't like about the way I write the story/characters. It really helps inform how I write them :) Cookies to ClaireDuhBear for beta-ing for me ^.^

Chapter 31: Contests and Contention

It was great seeing Wrex again, Shepard thought as she, Mordin, and Grunt climbed into the Tuchankan truck and prepared to set off on their mission. It had been a little rocky securing an audience with the still relatively new leader of the clans and some of the other krogan had been nothing short of hostile, but once she had made it within ear shot of her friend he had taken care of the rest.

Barreling through the guards that separated them and clasping her hand, he had pulled her into a fraternal embrace complete with a jovial pat on the back that would have broken another humans bones. Thank god for shock-resistant armor, she thought as tried to reach back to run the sore spot between her shoulder blades.

Even after meeting up with Wrex things hadn't been easy though. Wrex explained to us that Grunt was going through the krogan process of becoming an adult, what for humans might be called puberty. In krogan culture, the way they became adults was to take a rite of passage and in order to do that we needed to see the shaman. That all would have been fine if there hadn't been another krogan, Gatatog Uvenk, spiritedly contesting Grunt's right to become a member of the clan.

Thankfully when they talked to the shaman he had informed them that since clan Urdnot was currently in power, Wrex's permission would stand. He had even suspected the rite would work just fine on Grunt despite being tank bred as he smelled right and natural (at which Shepard had had to suppress a chuckle).

Even then Uvenk, who had followed us to see the shaman, stood against Grunt and tried to convince the shaman not to let Grunt take the rite. He said Grunt had no krant, no group to whom he was loyal and who were loyal to him, to fight alongside him during the rite. As Grunt's commander she of course hadn't let that stand even for a second before declaring that she and her crew would fight along side him.

Still Uvenk protested, and finally when she could take no more she had simply braced herself and given him the hardest headbutt she could manage right to the forehead plate. She laughed quietly remembering the stunned look on his face as he stumbled back before his roar of indignation but the shaman had just laughed so he had withdrawn his denial and skittered off with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

Sure he would probably resurface later but Shepard was confident she and her team could handle whatever he brought against them in time.

This "tournament" of Jack's had actually turned out to barely warrant the term. It had been decided that only crew that were certified for ground missions would take part and once Miranda had opted out, there were only 4 of them left. Thane's first opponent, Jack, he had already gone up against in the med bay a few months previous so he had known her weaknesses.

True, in this more open setting, her powerful shockwaves had presented an added challenge, but in the end her emotional and impetuous style of combat proved ineffective once he was able to change it from a mid range fight to a close up and personal battle.

In the end, both combatants had made it out, neither of them too much the worse for wear. Thane did feel guilty for having to knock her out, but she had repeatedly refused to yield (which he suspected was probably fairly typical behavior for her).

As for himself, Thane sported some newly bruised ribs (one or two of which may have been fractured, he'd have to check later) from a biotic powered punch that he hadn't quite been able to avoid, and a fair myriad of cuts and nasty bruises from those troublesome shockwaves he had been forced to weave in and out of. She had been a much more formidable opponent out there in the open, he thought to himself as he picked some of the dirt and shrapnel littering the krogan arena out some of the nastier lacerations and applied medi-gel to them.

As he carefully observed Garrus and Jacob's battle, Thane knew he would face Garrus next . Anything the much smaller (and not terribly flexible) human male did was merely stalling for time and they all knew it, but he seemed determined to try nonetheless.

"I may be the underdog but I'll be damned if I go out without a fight," he had told a disapproving and stressed out Miranda.

All good things must come to an end, however, and despite a great effort on Jacob's part, eventually he could no longer fight. As Garrus helped him to his feet and up toward the med bay to get some help with his newly broken leg, Thane couldn't help but feel some respect for the human's tenacity.

He certainly had given it his all but both Jacob's limited experience in the Alliance and beyond were no match for the lifelong military upbringing Garrus had received courtesy of his overbearing father, not to mention the long limbs and natural armor all turians sported. Thankfully Thane was not new to fighting hand to hand with turians and for his part, he was already working on formulating a strategy that would lead him to victory. Hopefully, at least.

Shepard stood at the foot of the keystone at what she had been told had been the heart of the most recent city to fall during the last of the krogan rebellions. "Centuries old it endures like the krogan!" a voice had boomed as the first waves of enemies, a couple dozen wild varren, was triggered the first time they had activated it.

Grunt had been told to"contemplate the keystone and its trials, to adapt and thrive no matter the situation, like any true krogan would" and still the voice on the loud speaker thundered on as wave after waves of menial creatures presented themselves for slaughter. It talked of the history of Tuchanka, the way the krogan had conquered the planet, and how the krogan had been uplifted to fight the rachni, "an enemy only they could defeat." During that speech rachni-like fire creatures called klixen had begun attacking, but they too had been crushed by Shepard and her team.

Now Shepard, Mordin and Grunt stood, the latter grinning widely at the satisfying slaughter, as they activated the keystone a final time. "Now we must fight against the genophage," the voice boomed as the ground started to tremble... "a fight where the only goal is survival!" And to Shepard's great surprise and dismay, out of the ground a few hundred feet away popped the biggest thresher maw Shepard had ever seen...

An almost electric sense of excitement and anticipation hung in the air as Garrus and Thane made their way to the center of the sparring arena where Miranda, the self appointed judge stood waiting. Both men, though a bit tired from their last fight, had been patched up and were once again battle-ready; and both men were determined to win.

"Alright you two, last chance to call this off," Miranda quipped, her disapproval apparent in her tone. They shook their heads, leaving her to sigh in exasperation. "Fine, since you both insist on going on with this farce let's go over the rules shall we?"

"No guns," Garrus quipped.

"No grenades," Thane added.

"And no leaving the arena," the two men said in unison.

"Everything else goes." Miranda recited, resignedly. "Combatants ready! On your marks, get set, FIGHT!"