Breaking ones fast in the halls of the krogan felt much like supping in a turian barracks. Unlike the quarians who predominately subsisted upon plants, a turian was a predator and vastly preferred to dine upon meat. This was a sentiment shared by the krogan, and Hart was happily feasting upon a varren steak for his first meal of the day, tankard in hand. It was just now dawn, and the hall was lit by braziers and filled with smoke and the smell of roasting meat; a good beginning to a day.
Spying Shali entering into the hall, Hart waved her over. "See, these krogan know how to properly feed a soldier! We shall have to see if they have something properly ladylike for one of the blood though."
"I am no stranger to hearty meals, you know that Hart," Shali answered, her eyes glowing with amusement behind her veil. She was dressed for travel, with a sturdy robe embroidered with the sigels of House Zorah and a silk traveling veil to cover her head.
"Ah, then you will share my haunch with me? It is good; the krogan cooks know their business."
"Hmm, I think not, it would sit well with me considering our journey ahead. Perhaps some broth and a bit of bread for me."
Standing, Hart motioned to one of the krogan warriors. "Broth and bread with a cup of wine for the lady."
The krogan bowed and stomped off, returning a moment later with a steaming bowl and a crusty loaf a moment later, balancing a clay cup in the other hand. "For the Shepard's companions, only the best while in the house of the Emperor."
Shali murmured her thanks and blew on the broth, lifting aside her veil to sip from it. She was careful only to expose a minimum of skin, as was proper for one of the blood in the house of another, even a king. "Did you hear the rumors?" Hart asked conversationally, waiting until Shali lowered her bowl.
"No, what do you speak of?" Shali asked, her tone puzzled.
"Hey, what's up kiddos? I hear you're with captain divine, we're gonna be pals!" A human woman with short cropped blonde hair and blue eyes that reminded Hart of a mischievous pyjak with a valuable slid onto the bench next to heart. "So, what are we off to do today? I hear you already trashed a dragon. That's something new anyway. Get any good loot? Besides the god-in-a-box anyway."
The woman leaned closer to the two companions, putting her hand next to her mouth and dropping her voice low. "Seriously, you guys need to come up with a better cover story. That one's just silly. In the next town, I say we tell everyone we found grumpypants locked in eternal battle with a dark god and had to free him by the princess here chanting a spell backwards or something. The yokels will eat it up and we'll clean house!"
"Who is the charlatan, Lieutenant?" Shali sniffed, falling back into her role as a scion of a great house.
"I believe she is the rumor I was speaking of," Hart answered, keeping a wary eye on the newcomer. "Apparently, she spent the night abed with the Shepard."
"WHAT?!" Shali's reddening face was clearly visible behind her veil, as was the look of shock and outrage she was directing at the new woman.
"Oh yeah, snuck in to steal his jewels and got his jewels instead, if you know what I mean," the woman replied, sipping from Shali's wine glass. "My, this really is fine vintage."
Shali seemed to be reduced to making noises that reminded Hart of two cats in a bag. "And what would your name be, stranger?" Hart asked, trying to maintain a modicum of decency.
"I don't' know, we'll have to think of a suitable stage one. Call me Gwen for now, since I just know we're going to be best pals."
For several moments, the only sounds from the group were Gwen's noisy guzzling of the wine and Shali's sputtering sounds. When it became painfully obvious the woman truly had no manners, Hart cleared his throat, putting just a bit of a buzz of annoyance into his timber. "I am Lieutenant Hart Mortin, of the Long Watch. This is Shali'Zorah, scion of the most ancient and noble House Zorah."
"Sure you are," Gwen agreed amiably. "So what's your job? Muscle? Who's the princess, she doesn't look like a skirt, maybe the bait?"
"We are the allies of the Shepard, whose fate it to save the world once more from the dark gods!" Shali spat. "And some of us do not feel the need to stoop to the level of a…a skirt as you put it to gain his trust!"
Gwen looked first at Hart, then at Shali. "Oh gods, this is too rich. You seriously BELIEVE he's actually the Shepard? Listen, I don't know if you heard, but we were pretty close last night, and let me tell you, he's definitely-"
"I will have nothing to do with an unveiled woman!" Shali snarled, and stormed off, her broth and bread forgotten. Hart glared at Gwen, the hurried after her. Technically they were equals on this journey, but he still felt a duty towards her. He found Shali out in the stables, staring blanking out at the rising sun.
"A good omen, the sun rises free and clear," Hart remarked. "It will guide us to the lands of the Republic."
Shali remained silently, though behind the veil Hart thought he saw a glimmer of moisture. He sighed and shook his head. "It is not strange for the gods to take lovers, Mistress. And what is the Shepard if not a god? He has needs that must be met, seed that must be sown. It is no affront to you or your blood."
She sniffed, shaking her head and smiling behind the silk. "What makes you think my eyes are upon the Shepard?"
"Well, if I didn't know any better, I would say it's all those stories you listened to from your Uncle when you were a girl about the Princess finding favor with some god or other, or a mighty prince, and they living happily to the end of their days together. I believe the story of the god Garrus and Princess Mononoke was the favored one."
"You do your service a great honor, Hart," Shali whispered. Then she shook her head, stealing herself for the day ahead. "Well, the stories do tell us that the Shepard had the most unlikely of allies. Think of the time he disposed of the Holy Grail in the Mountains of Fire and was led their by the creature Gollum. In the end Gollum proved evil, but he did help defeat the Dark Lord Vader."
"True enough," Hart agreed calmly. "Shall we prepare?"
"Yes. We have a duty to uphold."
Some days were just not worth it getting out of bed. This was proving to be one such day for Commander Shepard. When he ran across someone who apparently heard form Miranda, he was ecstatic. After all, if he could see Wrex, Grunt and Bakara and hear from Kasumi, why not Miranda? Sure it could be all just a dream, but dammit, he would take a dream of Miranda over any other woman any day of the week.
Except that woman was proving to be like having a busted ventilation fan. Tol'riah didn't like her because she was a thief. Gargo didn't like her because she was disrespectful of anything and everything. Shali appeared to think Gwen had actually slept with him and taken personal offense to it. Hart didn't like what Shali didn't like. Polinna was the one exception. She thought the newcomer was funny, and at her age that was good enough. At least until she noticed her mother's disapproving eye. Then everyone had hated Gwen.
If the thief had given even the slightest hint that she was remorseful or that she realized that no one seemed to like her, Shepard would have done something. He still needed her, but he could have tied her up and strapped her to a kakliosaur. Instead, Gwen was completely oblivious that anyone did not think she was their best and greatest pal. Either she was an excellent actor, or she was dumber than a vorcha.
"Shali, that veil is so pretty! I wonder if I should wear a veil. Then I could be all mysterious and romantic like you! Of course it's also terribly practical, how could a guard identify you after you swipe something if you have a veil on! Pure genius I tell you."
"My Tol'riah, that is a very big sword. Tell me, how much do you think it's worth? Just wondering, I like to keep a list of apparent value of my companions good in case I need to ransom them or something."
"Hey Polinna, what to learn a new word? It starts with –"
"Enough!" Gargo growled, spurring his kakliosaur forward and glaring at Gwen. "If this wench does not learn to put a civil tongue in her head, I shall remove it until we can find her a better one and spare us from her inane drivel!"
"Oh, save me my lord! I offer my body in payment. You like, no?"
Grinding his teeth, Shepard stared doggedly forward as Gwen lolled about in her saddle, acting like she was going to faint. "Gargo, why don't we try a gag first? I'd hate to not be able to question her later."
"Oh! The nerve! Threatening an innocent girl like me? Surely this is not the words of the great god Shepard!"
Because he turned to glare at Gwen, Shepard caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Normally he wouldn't be worried about that, they were only a few hours ride from Tuchanka and passing through the rocky hills on a well worn trail. However, something about the movement pricked the back of Shepard's mind.
"Vorcha!" he called, and rolled out of his saddle just as a crude javelin passed through the space he'd been occupying.
"Puny god! Dark masters say kill! We bring you head for warchief! Many rewards for us!" a vorcha voice called.
Activating his omnitool, Shepard drew the sword he'd been issued. Hopefully he could remember the few lessons he'd had, though it couldn't be all that different from N7 training.
He glanced around at the party, and noticed that Gwen had vanished. He swore softly, he'd have to track her down later. He had to get some answers, and he HAD to find Miranda. Gargo had kicked his kakliosaur forward and was charging the vorcha lines, battle axe raised to the sky as he bellowed a warcry. Their foes were dressed in dirty leather and rusted chainmail, and the snarls on their faces were just like those of Blood Pack vorcha that Shepard had faced before. They had spears, hooks and crude bows, though most of their foes were armed with spiked clubs and pointed sticks. Still, there were a lot of them.
Tol'riah had Pollina between herself and Shali, biotics and that weird orange techno-stuff crackling around the two women. Shali had raised her staff towards the vorcha chief, and a line of electricity cracked out, knocking the creature off the rock it was perched on. Tol'riah was deflecting arrows with her biotics and hurling balls of energy back at her foes, her sword held easily in one hand despite the fact that it was taller than she was. Hart was crouched low behind the kakliosaurs, firing his bow into the enemy.
Shepard unleashed an incinerate into a group of vorcha that were charging his position, causing them to shriek in pain and drop to the ground. Running forward, he dispatched the group before they could rise, stabbing each of the vorcha in vital organs. An arrow seemed to grow out of Shepard's leg, and he gasped in pain and dropped to one knee. He spied a group of vorcha archers taking aim, and tried to raise his omnitool to fight back. Before he could, a shadow seemed to coalesce behind the archers, and a dagger flashed into their backs. One spun to try and fight the shadow, but his arrow passed through empty air. The dagger flashed again, and blood spurted from the vorcha's throat. He gurgled and fell, then Gwen's grinning face appeared above the shadow.
"Man, you guys have the worst luck. These vorcha don't have anything good on them at all," the thief complained, then vanished back into the shadows.
Glancing around, Shepard saw that all the vorcha were now dead or dying. A quick count told Shepard that there had been at least thirty of them. He was impressed; his little party of six warriors had each taken on at least five foes. Shepard was the most injured, with the others coming off with minor wounds. Tol'riah came over with Polinna, taking the arrow in Shepard's calf in her hands.
"Do it," he growled, gritting his teeth. He grunted as the asari jerked the shaft out with her biotic fueled strength, and blood flowed freely from the wound. Then Tol'riah placed her hand on the injury and murmured what sounded like a prayer. The flow was immediately staunched, and the pain fled.
Flexing the leg experimentally, Shepard noticed that it had healed even better than if they had been in possession of medigel. It was a little stiff and sore, but the wound felt like it was days old with treatment, not something he'd received in the last five minutes. "Thank you."
"It was my duty," Tol'riah answered, then glanced behind Shepard. "It seems the thief is not as useless as we feared."
"I am full of useful and interesting abilities!" Gwen cheerfully stated as she sauntered by, twirling her dagger so that it's blade caught the sunlight. "I already checked the bodies on this side, nothing good. Better go see if there's any loot on the other side."
Shepard shook his head; she was far too much like Kasumi for his liking. At least in the end Kasumi had proven reliable enough, but Gwen seemed even less interesting in the bigger picture.
"Shepard, this is an ill omen," Hart whispered, stepping up next to him and holding up a vorcha knife. "They are five hundred miles from the Wall. There should be no vorcha in krogan territory. Not this many. And what they said..."
Nodding grimly, Tol'riah looked over at her bondmate, who was stomping back down the hill, his armor covered in blood and grim. "Never in my long life have I seen vorcha in krogan lands. If they have come this far, serving the master they claim, it does not bode well for my own homeland. The Republic is not a place of mighty warriors. The justicars are few in number, and the salarian spies are not fit for open battle."
"Sounds like that puts us on a timer." Shepard sighed, glancing up at the sun. It was yet high in the sky, they had plenty of miles they could cover before dark. "Mount up. We've got to keep moving. Perhaps we can find shelter at the next town."
"Hey, I found something!" Gwen called, stepping out from behind the pile of dead vorcha Gargo had left behind and holding something up.
"Probably gold," Hart sneered, his mandibles raised in distaste.
Gwen hurried over, wrapping whatever it was in a cloth and giving it to Shepard. "Take a look, but not a long one. Those things are bad news."
Carefully, Shepard unwrapped the cloth, revealing a shard of obsidian that seemed to dim the afternoon light. It seemed to pulse in his hands, a primal throb he recognized from the Bahak system long ago. "Reaper tech."
"A shard of the dark gods, dispose of it!" Tol'riah hissed, jerking the cloth back over the shard.
"Vorcha with a shard?" Shali demanded, hurrying over. "We must prepare a protective ward and bury the thing!"
"No!" Gargo interjected. "That will poison the land in only a few short years, wards never last unless maintained."
Soon everyone was shouting and gesturing, Pollina clinging to her mother's skirts with a worried expression on her face, staring up at Shepard through tear filled eyes. Only Gwen was silentl, carefully studying everyone's expressions, till her gaze settled on Shepard. He held the shard up, and felt anger surge within him. After all this time, still the Reapers tormented the lands.
They must be destroyed, removed, no longer tolerated! Shepard inwardly raged. He felt his omnitool activate, and he grasped the shard in both hands, squeezing as if to destroy it. Burn you hellish thing!
With a roar of thunder, the cloth in Shepard's hands erupted into flames hot enough that the others drew back in shock. Shepard just stared into the flames, willing them brighter, to cleanse the evil in his hands. With a rush of wind, the flames vanished. To Shepard's shock, the cloth was unharmed, but there was nothing but ash within. He held the rag open, and the wind picked up the ashes and scattered them.
"Good riddance," Shepard growled, tossing the cloth back to Gwen. "Come on, let's move."
Guiding his kakliosaur with his knees, Gargo held is daughter close to him. She was sleeping, exhausted after the trauma of the attack. That was fine, she was yet young and not a warrior. Battle was wearying even to and old fighter such as himself, and Gargo did not begrudge his beloved daughter her rest.
What he did envy was her peace. For the first time in his life, Gargo had truly looked into the face of a god. The Shepard's holy wrath had been awesome to behold. Never before had anyone, not the most holy of shamans or the most blessed of sorcerers been able to destroy a Reaper artifact so completely without great pains and trials. Yet the Shepard had done so with a simple flame. There had been no trace of evil left, Tol'riah and Shali both had confirmed it.
Gargo nodded to himself. A god was fearsome and terrible, but the Shepard seemed a good one. Even in these dark times where enemies abounded, Gargo had found a spark of hope. He caressed his daughters head tentacles gently. Where hope yet remained, the future endured.