Story image by AndrewRyanArt on deviant art, who gave me the inspiration for this story with his excellent Dragon Age/Mass Effect series.
MASS EFECT: AGE OF IRON
THE WORLD YOU KNOW IS NOT THE SAME
In ages past, mighty gods fought in the skies to determine the fate of the universe, raining down death and terror as the people pled to the heavens for aid. From the human tribes arose a mighty warrior, in whom the blood of the gods ran. He was... THE SHEPARD. He assembled a group of legendary heroes and destroyed the gods of death, freeing the peoples; but victory came at a price. The nations of the world were destroyed, and cast to the four winds. Now, only their shadows remain.
To the south, the mighty Urdnot Empire stands as a bulwark against the dark lands, where dead gods sleep and the Cult of the Reaper yet lies, waiting in the shadows. The great krogan warriors stand as a shield against the shadow, their might unmatched and their valor legendary. But their numbers ever dwindle despite their virility, and soon they will no longer be able to hold back the tide of the dark gods servants.
To the east, the Order of Dextros stands firm against the vorcha menace. The might of the turians soldiers and the skill of the quarians maintain their wall against the vorcha hordes. They will not yield so long as swords stay sharp and their eyes keen. But whispers arise, of a vorcha chief blessed by the dark gods who stands ready to overrun the Order.
To the west, the spires of the Great Republic ascend to the heavens as brilliant salarian scholars delve deep mysteries and asari mystics ponder the secrets of the universe. But rumor spreads of a dark secret hidden within the glimmering palaces and marbal halls. An ancient, evil secret that could spell the ruin of all.
In the north, the hardy men of the Dominion yet cling to their land, holding off the batarian slavers that raid from the seas. They are explores and traders, men of great valor in the tradition of The Shepard, who led aid to the beleaguered Order and Empire. But the batarians grow in ferocity. Some fel horror stalks the northern waters, bending the batarians to its will. How long before it turns its attention to the men of the north?
THIS IS A LAND BESET BY CONFLICT AND DARKNESS. ALL THE PEOPLES CRY OUT TO THE GODS. WHERE IS THE SAVIOR. WHERE IS SHEPARD.
And the gods... Listen.
The sun shone over head, blasting the withered land of the dead. A great mountain cast it's long shadow over the land, but it was not the shadow that made Urdnot Gargo shiver. Within the mountain lay a dead god. And dead gods dream darkly. From the slain god spread the sickness, the rot and filth that had ruined the land.
"Ugly, isn't it." He remarked as he cleaned his great war axe on the tattered robes of the slain cult leader. His armor gleamed in the shadow of the mountain, engraved with purity symbols to ward off the evil of the dead gods tomb. He prayed to the gods that they would be enough.
He stood, flexing his muscles beneath his armor, it's heavy metal plate chafing slightly against his own rocky hide. He shrugged, settling it upon his skin and wiped gore from the brow of his red head crest. Killing cultists was dirty work.
"What, the cultists, the rot, the tomb or you?" Joked his companion. Her own robe was travel stained, but her blade was sharp and her chain mail armor made with all the arcane science of the salarians of her homeland. The diadem of an asari justicar of the Order of Saint Liara shown upon her brow. She was a paladin, a biotic sorceress who wore thick armor and feared no evil, for the Goddess was with her. Tol'riah cleaned her own two handed blade by plunging it into the cracked earth, easily forcing all six and a half feet of the sword into the soil with biotic might.
Gargo grunted."All of it."
"To true my love." Tol'riah agreed, yanking her blade free as she glowed with arcane power. "You always pick the most wonderful places to take me."
"There is a dragon." Gargo stated, "And I have sworn to kill it for slaying my father, Urdnot Galgo, Chief of the Iron Warriors clan."
"And I have sworn to accompany you." Tol'riah grinned, "So let us find this fel beast."
They continued their journey toward the mountain as shadows lengthened and the sky darkened. In the land of dead gods, stars did not shine at night, and the sky was as black as a vorcha's heart. This did not unduely bother the two warriors as they trotted forward. Gargo could smell his way forward, his eyes adjusting to the dim light easily. With her arcane witchery, Tol'riah could find her way in utter darkness as the Goddess showed her the way forward. Though they ran to almost certain death, the warriors did so with a smile on their faces. To slay minions of the dark gods was good. To face a dragon was a deed worthy of legend.
The dead miles vanished under their pounding feet, and the warriors soon found a ritual site dedicated to the dead god that lay within the tomb. Minions of flesh and blood along with abominations of witchcraft and metal danced before an effigy of a many armed horror; around which the skulls of krogan lay piled.
"They despoil the bones of my ancestors!" Gargo rumbled, "Shall we destroy them?"
"Wait. We are not alone." Tol'riah cautioned, "I sense the presence of another on the ridge to the east."
"Are they corrupted?" Gargo asked.
"No my love," Tol'riah assured him, "Here, a moment."
Tol'riah closed her eyes and sent her mind questing for the uncorrupted presence.
Sorcery! Witchcraft! I am betrayed!
A strange mind raged. Tol'riah could sense no taint upon the individual, and she sent soothing messages of peace.
I am a paladin of the Goddess. Who are you? She asked.
By the spirits, are you real? I am First Lieutenant Hart Mortin of the Long Watch.
A turian? So far from home? Tol'riah asked.
They took one of my soldiers, Shali'Zorah, a quarian. She is the subject of the ritual below. I am sworn to save her, or die trying.
Tol'riah checked the ritual site for uncorrupted flesh, and found the still beating heart of a frightened quarian girl.
I have found her. We will aid you in rescuing your lost soldier.
How do I know this isn't a trap? Hart demanded.
"Our friend is a turian. He seeks to save one of his soldiers, a quarian girl down below. He asks us to prove we are not of the dark gods." Tol'riah informed Gargo, already knowing his response.
"THEN BY THE SHEPARD, LET HIM SEE! FOR URDNOT!" Gargo bellowed, rising and charging head first down the slop, his shield before him and his axe raised. In his charge, he struck down a metal monstrosity, cleaving it in twain with a single sweep of his axe.
As fast as Gargo was, he was not as fast as the arcane fueled limbs of Tol'riah. She swept down the mountain like a landslide, carving a gory path through the cultists to the captive girl.
"FOR THE GODDESS AND FOR MY LADY!" She shrieked as she decapitated a cult leader of flesh and bone, his head flying through air like an overripe melon.
She heard a dull thump behind her, and turned to see a metal husk with it's head transfixed by a bolt from a turian crossbow.
"BY THE SPIRITS I GUESS THAT WORKS!" A turian voice called over the din of battle.
Together, the three champions of the light laid waste to the compound. Gargo with his mighty axe, Tol'riah with her elegant blade, and Hart with his deadly aim. Once site was empty of the enemy, Hart emerged from hiding and ran to the side of the quarian. Her face was bare to the world, and the turian carried a head wrap and veil so that her ancestors would not be shamed.
"Shali, I am here!" Hart panted, removing his pointed coif and uncorking his water skin.
"Lieutenant? Is that you?" The quarian groaned.
"I am here, soldier. I was not going to let you die on me. Not when the blood of the Shepard's boon companion flowed in your veins."
"She is of the house of Zorah true?" Gargo asked.
"My mother's mother's mother's mother back to the breaking of the world was the Lady Zorah." Shali rasped, "Though I did not do my Ancestor's proud these past days."
"Did they violate you? Are you stained?" Hart asked, drawing out the mercy knife all soldiers carried. Above death, warriors of the free races feared corruption. Loss of heart and soul, body and mind turned to the will of the dark gods.
"No, the Ancestors smile on me yet I think." Shali said, taking the face wrap and veil and hiding her features.
"She is clean." Tol'riah affirmed, "Let me heal her."
"I would be honored lady justicar." Shali agreed.
"Then by the Goddess, be whole." The asari murmured, laying her hands upon Shali. The quarian was surrounded by a soft blue glow, and gasped in shock as her wounds kit and closed.
"Thank you. I don't know how far we would have gotten with out your aid. We are both in your debt." Hart stated, bowing his head.
"By my Ancestors, my life is yours and my service at your feet." Shali whispered, kneeling before Tol'riah, "By my life or death if I may serve you, I shall."
"And I as well." Hart agreed, kneeling himself.
"Then I bond you both to the service of the Empire of Urdnot, as my debt is your debt." Tol'riah intoned, raising the two to their feet.
"Bad move. We're here to slay a dragon." Gargo chuckled.
"Always wanted to die a hero." Hart said wistfully.
Shali giggled. "If we succeed, my Ancestors will be most please.
The companions turned to the mountain and headed toward the gaping maw the cultists alter had lain before.
"Feh, you can smell the beasts stench from here." Hart muttered as they neared the portal.
Shuddering, Shali drew her head wrap close around her shoulders. "It is evil, a shadow of the dead god."
"An evil that will not see the sunrise, or we shall not." Gargo vowed, and led the party inside.
Hart and Shali could not see in the dark as Gargo and Tol'riah could, so the justicar lit their path with a witch orb. The halls of the dead god were carved with ancient and evil runes and signs, depicting the perverse prophesies of the Cult of the Reaper.
"What is this?" Shali said, pausing to stare at an image of a bound and chained man. "That is their rune for Starblinder, their name for the Shepard."
Tol'riah paused and held her light over the markings. "It speaks of the Starblinder bound, never to see the light of day. The runes say he is guarded by a chosen of the gods."
"The dragon." Gargo stated.
Shali nodded. "Agreed. But the idea that anyone could imprison the Shepard..."
"A fools thought. The Shepard has long returned to the gods." Hart snorted, "Come on. Let us slay the abomination and be gone. I have no desire to stay in the halls of dark dreams."
Before long, the passage began to grow hot, and an orange glow could be seen ahead.
"Spirits protect us." Hart breathed, fingering his crossbow, "Ahead is the beasts lair."
"Perhaps we have caught him napping." Gargo mused, "His glow was fiery red when he raided our outpost."
They continued on, and before long labored metal rasping could be heard.
"The beast is wounded! Galgo's death throws struck true!" Tol'riah exclaimed, "Come, we must slay it before it can recover!"
The party surged forward, and beheldthe dragon before them. It was a mighty and ancient beast, one that had plagued the Empire for centuries, if not millennia It's dark metal frame was lit with a wicked orange light, the twisted metal plates of its body heaving with the beasts every breath. It's face was a bare, pointed metal slag, and many horns like the arms of the damned adorned its head. Its tail was long with a iron maul the size of a house at it's tip, and it's wings were wide metal plates that crackled with fel power.
PATHETIC CREATURES OF FLESH AND BONE. YOU ARE IN THE PRESENCE OF A GOD. KNEEL. YOUR WILLS ARE MINE! The metallic tones of the beast rumbled.
"NO! By my Ancestor Lady Zorah, we will not yield!" Shali roared.
THEN YOU SHALL FALL IN BATTLE. I AM WOUNDED, BUT THE LIKES OF YOU MAY NOT SLAY ONE SUCH AS I. The dragon roared and it's great maw opened, a stream of molten metal reaching out for the small band of heroes.
"MY FAITH IS A SHIELD PROOF AGAINST YOUR BLANDISHMENTS, BEAST!" Tol'riah shouted, and the light of her blue witchcraft surrounded her, diverting the deadly flow.
"Oh! Oh Ancestors!" Shali groaned, "I- I can feel my blood! Feel the power in my bones! Ancestors, grant me strength!"
"Her blood sings at the sight of her ancient enemy!" Hart crowed, "Strike true, Daughter of Lady Zorah!"
Shali's arm glowed a warm orange, and a shot of pure energy as large as a krogan's head lept from her outstretched palm into the maw of the dragon. The bolt struck true, and the beast roared in pain and agony.
Hart drew his cross bow and fired at the beasts blazing left eye. The spirits guided his aim, and the bolt struck true, shattering the bests eye and blinding it.
"FOR MY FATHER AND CLAN!" Gargo bellowed, "THROW ME MY HEART!"
Tol'riah rose in the air, and blue lightning flashed from her eyes. With a mighty heave, she threw Gargo through the air at the dragon.
With a strike that would have done the krogan of old proud, Gargo struck where his dying father had. The already stressed metal shattered, and Gargo had to spring out of the way as the molten life of the beast leaked out.
"Now! Together!" Tol'riah ordered, and as one she and Shali unleashed twin barrages of blue and orange lightning into the belly of the dragon.
NO! I CANNOT DIE! I HAVE DARKENED THE STARS! I HAVE EATEN YOUR CHILDREN AND TURNED THE MINDS OF YOUR FATHERS! I! CAN! NOT! BE! SLAIN!
"Could have fooled me." Hart quipped, and fired a special bolt into the already churning belly of the beast. It was an arcane bolt, blessed by the priests of the quarians and turians and coated with holy eezo.
There was a flash, and the dragon twisted and bent in upon itself and it writhed in its death throws. Then it's metal chard and blackened, then dissolved into ash.
"I cannot believe it!" Shali gasped, "We have done it!"
"I count your debt full filled." Tol'riah dryly remarked, "I have never slain a dragon before."
"Few have and lived." Gargo said, examining his axe, "But I fear my axe was destroyed by the beast."
"Then we shall morn it's loss and sing of it in the halls of the living!" Hart laughed.
Suddenly, the turian paused and peered into the dimness. "What is that, upon the beasts horde?"
"I do not know." Tol'riah replied, "But let us examine it. Perhaps it contains some vile relic that must be destroyed."
The party drew near to the still smoldering heap, and climbed atop the heap of twisted metal and bones that the dragon had lain upon. At the heart, an oblong metal shape lay, about the height and width of a man.
"What is it?" Shali asked, placing her hands upon the box. The relic suddenly glowed with orange light, responding to her touch.
"You seem to have activated it." Tol'riah observed, "Prepare yourselves, we know not what manner of beasts lies within."
The box hissed, and suddenly slid open. Inside lay a human man in broken armor. Upon his breast, the sacred symbol of the Shepard was imprinted. A white N7 on a red field.
"By the spirits," Hart whispered, "Is it...?"
"Let us find out." Tol'riah said, laying hands upon the sleeping man. She glowed blue with power, and the man sat up and coughed.
"Miranda!" He choked, phlegm coming from his mouth.
"Who are you?" Gargo demanded, "Are you The Shepard?"
"Same to you pal. Can I have some water?" The man pleaded.
Wordlessly, Hart uncorked his water skin and held it to the humans lips. The man drank greedily then sighed. "Thanks."
"I am Tol'riah of the Order of Saint Liara." The justicar stated.
Gargo answered next. "I am Urdnot Gargo, son of Clan Chief Urdnot Galgo, whose death I have avenged by slaying the dragon that guarded you."
"I am Shali'Zorah vas Ylima." The quarian stated.
"First Lieutenant Hart Mortin of the Long Watch, Sword of House Zorah." The turian stated with a salute.
The human groaned and shakily got to his feet. "Commander David Shepard, Alliance Navy. By the fact were all alive, I take it the Reapers are defeated?"
Gargo roared with laughter and shook his head. "If only. The Cult of the Reapers persists, as always. But the krogan still fight. And the shadow stays at bay."
"But how are we still alive then? The last thing I remember, I shot that bastard Catalyst. I don't remember anything after that." John persisted.
"Hmph. I'm not convinced he is The Shepard." Gargo muttered.
"We must take him to the Matriarchs. They will know." Tol'riah assured her mate.
Shali drew herself up. "Then I stand with you. We will see if this is The Shepard, if my people are truly saved."
"I go where you go my lady." Hart stated.
Shepard gave them all a hard stare, then shook his head. "Well then, I guess I'm going with you guys. Beats staying in a box."
Yeah, so, I wrote this because the awesome folks at Aria's Afterlife told me I should. If you think I should write more, drop me a review or a PM. Until then,
MAY YOUR DREAMS BE FREE OF THE DARKNESS.