Vanguard of Vengeance: Chapter 2
The world was in motion as Shepard regained consciousness. She awoke to find herself surrounded by rapidly moving darkness, her body tumbling down into what had to be some great fissure. She tried her best to tuck her arms tight to her chest and keep her head away from the rocky floor she was currently sliding down, but cruel gravity had other ideas. Shepard cried out as a snag in the rock face caught her viciously just above the knee, wrenching her leg and flipping her into a head over heels roll that she could do little to escape. Fortunately it wasn't long before the slope evened out, dumping Shepard unceremoniously into a heap on the ground.
Shepard stared up into the inky blackness dizzily as the unseen roof of whatever cavern she had found herself in spun just outside of her vision. Her breathing raced, ragged and deep. Somewhere in her mind a voice screamed at her to get up, get herself together, Think! The voice wore the face of her old drill instructor. He stood before her now in his blue uniform, a whistle hanging from his lips as he somehow managed to bellow past it.
Get up Marine! You think a batarian is going to wait for you to catch your breath? Get Up!
"Yes, Drill…" Evangeline Shepard jerked up into a seated pose, the ghosts of her old teachers gone. She looked around and still found herself alone in the dark. She shook her head, inviting only a dull ache. Slowly, she forced herself to take deep breaths. Her heart still raced from the descent. My mind raced with it as she stared off into the dark. She reached around herself, groping for a light, a weapon, anything to shed some light on the pit she had fallen into. Her fingers grasped something, her fallen helmet. She clutched it to herself and tried to feel for the head lamp. The bulb popped and died, accomplishing nothing but erasing what little dark vision she had cultivated. She threw the headgear away with a disgusted snarl. By now she was taking regular breaths, slow enough to start breathing through her nose. She instantly regretted throwing away her helmet. Something foul drifted through the air.
"Think, Shepard, think." She swept the darkness again. Above and behind her, the faintest of lights drifted down from the end of a narrow crack in the earth. "The surface." She had to get back and report in. there'd be hell to pay for allowing the beacon destroyed, but the Alliance had to know. She tried to crawl back towards the light, but it was soon obvious that she wasn't climbing out that way. And by the look of the increasingly diffuse light, the tunnel she was in would soon be choked in radioactive dust. The only choice was to push deeper into the cave. She crawled to the side, looking for the wall. Her hands alighted on something smooth, too smooth to be a natural formation. She wished again for a light.
The next step was to actually take some. Shepard braced herself against the too-smooth wall and readied herself to put some weight on her wounded leg. She had to bite deep into the knuckle of her free hand to keep from screaming aloud. The echoes of her whimper died in the tunnel around her as she forced herself to slow her breathing again. Her free hand went to her medigel injectors. The soothing feeling of painkillers washed over her as medication surged through her system. She closed her eyes, for all the difference it made, and tried again. The pain in her leg was deadened, though it was still stiff. At her bidding, the servos in her leg armour kicked in, allowing her to slide, inch by inch, up the wall. Eventually she was standing, though unstably. She looked to her back and saw the haze of poisonous air was closer now. Steeling herself, Shepard forced her body to move one step at a time down the tunnel. She stopped, hearing something move further ahead of her. She stood with held breath, caught between trying to melt into the wall and declaring herself. Finally one side won out.
"Lieutenant Commander Eva Shepard, Alliance Marines. Show yourself." The darkness held its silence. Shepard drew a short blade from the small of her back and hobbled up the tunnel. She was nearing a fork in the path, one side illuminated by a dim orange glow.
"Hello?" Shepard said more strongly. All of this crawling around in the dark was seriously starting to piss her off.
In the pale light of the end of the tunnel, her eyes were able to start making sense of the darkness. The walls were a deep and oily black, smooth almost in their entirety except for were deep lines seemed to have been etched in, sketching strange patterns. It almost looked like the surface of the Prothean ruins of Mars, but lacked all of their inner green light. The surface seemed almost to absorb any light which fell on it, leaving strange and contorted shadows that danced as if cast by a candle. Shepard strained to pick out more detail as she struggled onwards.
There it was again, the scrape of something moving on the hard packed floor. Shepard spun around as fast as she dared, not sure which direction the sound had come from. The hall was silent again. Shepard swallowed and turned back to the dim light. She shuffled ahead, her walk becoming a single minded drive to get back into the light. The scrape came again, definitely from ahead of her, but she pressed on regardless. She was almost on top of the junction when a piercing cry drove itself though her like an ice pick. It was a haunted, mechanical wail, like that of the colonist husks but giving way to a mad chittering. The sound evoked images of maddened insects, and coincided with more of the sinister scraping noises.
Shepard prepared to launch herself around the corner to face whatever nightmare monster was moving through the tunnel ahead, but before she could so much as move a muscle, the creature shambled into view. In the dim glow of the side tunnel, its form could barely be made out, but what could be seen spoke of a wide, spoon shaped head, set with four baleful eyes. Scales ran down its back and wrapped around its chest. The body of the creature itself was a fresh horror, bearing deep gashes that could have been ripped by some clawed beast. The monster hissed as it came upon her. Shepard roared her own battle cry, injuries forgotten. The two collided and rolled into the dark spaces, scrabbling and fighting to gain leverage against the other. Shepard's short blade flashed down. The monster wailed piteously, curling up, almost shriveling. It lay still, an even fouler smell wafting from the fresh wound. Shepard wiped ichor from her chin and leaned heavily on her arm, dropping the blade.
The alien had gone down surprisingly easily. Pushing herself once again shakily to her feet, she grabbed the thing my one of its multi-jointed arms and dragged it into the dim orange glow. She held back waves of nausea as she looked down at the remains of the monstrous creature. The thick insectoid plates were slick with the aliens ruined insides, grey and peeling at the ragged edges. Some of the rents in the organic armour looked ages old, years, at least, older than the twisted puncture her knife had made. And so wide. Shepard looked around for a weapon that could have caused such wounds before her eyes fell on the thing's out stretched arm. She tentatively reached down and grasped the arm, bending it inwards until it rested against the beginning of the jagged rip. It fit almost perfectly. Shepard dropped the arm in a hurry. Whatever this thing was, it had done this to itself, or at least one like it had. Shepard took up her knife again and shambled forward into the light.
Shepard moved hurriedly now, hobbling on her wounded leg. The chittering that had pursued her through the barely lit tunnels rose to a fever pitch, circling ever closer. Close to her chest, she clutched at the strange and angular weapon she had scooped from the ground.
The return of light to her painful little corner of the universe had done little to improve it. The dull orange glow had revealed a tall and narrow avenue with a stony ceiling that disappeared out of sight. The walls of the chamber were made of the same oily black material, lined by narrow ovals that rose in neat stacks up to the roof. Shepard had taken them for decoration until she had come upon some that had been pulled from the wall and broken open. They were tall, almost eight feet in length. The ones that had been opened revealed a deeper horror, and explained the miasmal odor that clung to every inch of the room. The pods had been coffins, or else meat lockers. Strange leaf headed aliens had hung, leaned, and oozed from the broken pods. Some were little more than skeletons, skeletons that showed signs of many pointed teeth. Shepard had tried to push the implications from her mind. The dim orange glow had been emitted from a root like growth that pushed out of the floor and some of the displaced pods. Wrapped in these roots were more of the aliens from the tunnel. All of them had been dead, contorted, and decaying. Shepard had held her knife before her like a long sword, her eyes frantically sweeping the avenue. From high up in the galleries, an oily sound had trickled down in thick tendrils.
Shepard turned another corner. One of the creatures hissed at her from its hole high in the wall. Shepard pointed her weapon at it, pulling hard on the activation stud. The weapon emitted a deep rolling thrum and a bright lance of verdant green that pierced the darkness. It punched a hole deep into the monster's chest, throwing it back into its hole. The voices and whisperings returned, working at the frayed edges of her mind. They told her to lay down her weapon, lay down her body, lay down her life. Shepard swore at the voices and pushed on. Another corner.
Shepard ducked around and pressed her back against the wall. The scraping crawl of the beasts moved in closer. Shepard slowed her breathing, waiting, ready. The curved head of the alien loomed into view. Shepard yelled and smashed her weapon down on the head of the alien. She pressed the weapon hard into a gap in the plates and mashed the stud. Vibrant light blinded her again, tearing the creature apart from the inside. The two smoking halves fell with a wet slap to the dirty floor. Shepard spat on the pile of burnt organs and sucked in another shuddering breath. She brushed her sweat plastered hair out of her eyes and leaned heavily against the wall. The rush of combat had wiped away the voices, at least for a while. It did nothing to wipe away the steady scraping of oncoming feet though.
Shepard heaved herself fully upright and dragged herself back into a slow lope. Her own limp drew scraping noises from the ground as she pushed on. Somewhere, something had heard her, because the halls were filled with a much stronger whirr of motion, a sound that reminded Shepard of the flapping of insect wings. Something heavy fell close behind. Shepard threw herself back into the shadows. Whatever had landed dragged itself close. From the sound it was big, though the regular beats of its footfalls didn't speak of any major wounds. Shepard hazarded a glanced and instantly wished she hadn't.
It was another monster, similar in form but larger in size. The wide brim of its head's crest had to be three feet wide. Its body, held up by crablike legs, was corpulent in the extreme, bloated and wrinkled but unscarred. Its eyes burned with a baleful inner light. It chittered noisily, raising a threatening claw. Shepard burst into as fast a run as her busted leg could move her. The monster pursued, heaving itself heavily across the trash littered floor. Something caught Shepard's boot, driving her to the floor. Her head cracked against the side of something hard. She tried to wrench her boot away, but another one of the aliens had closed a two-fingered claw around her uncle. She kicked at it, loosening its grip but unable to get free. Her knee wrenched painfully, loosing a scream. The monster at the end of the hall moved closer, looming.
Something landed flatly next to her head. Turning her eyes, Shepard saw a foot, armoured and possessing two toes. Her eyes followed it up the leg, her eyes eventually falling on an alien face, pale green in the dull light. Four eyes locked onto her own two. The alien shouted something, a warbling buzz that rang in her ears.
"I don't understand." Shepard managed between breaths. The alien dismissed her and reached down to pluck the weapon from her hands. He raised it to his shoulder and loosed jade lightning on the approaching beast. The thing gave a squeal that rose to a roaring howl. The alien lashed out again and again until the monster was slain. Having destroyed the lumbering enemy, the alien turned the weapon on the monster that clutched Shepard's leg. The lightning came again, this time peeling back the layers of organic armour. Seemingly satisfied, the alien folded the weapon into a tight rectangle and slung it over his shoulder. He stretched out his hand towards Shepard. She extended her own hand, expecting a help up. Instead the alien clasped her about the elbow and dragged her to her feet. His other hand came down, two fingers gripping at her face. There was a rush of strange images and emotions as the alien's double pupiled eyes bore into hers. He released her with a jolt, and with his next breath spoke in deep voice.
"Why have you woken me, hu-man?"
I've been really happy with the level of response from you guys. Especially those who have already reviewed. So, I'm happy to announce that I will continue to work on this piece, hopefully maintaining the quality set in the opening.
AdamMc66: I'm glad you're enjoying the story, I can tell you that the Council is not going to enjoy Shepard getting the Prothean beacon blown up. Who's to say what they'll think about her bringing a friend home with her.
Seven: I'm afraid not everyone might make it to the end of this story, but rest assured that all of the canon squadmates will have a part to play before it's over.
NonSolus: This is in fact all in Canon, (for now) no OCs or Self Inserts here.