AN: 500 word song challenge, posed to me by dr. evil99. Song was "The Heart Collector" by Nevermore. Please review, if you feel so inclined.

Weeks ago, she would have thought it impossible to even contemplate sleep amidst the screaming of banshees. Now, their horrific lamentations had faded into innocuous white noise, and it was the uninspired blaring of her omni-tool's alarm function that ripped her gracelessly from unconsciousness.

She jerked in her cot, pain flooding her body, exhaustion churning her gut and turning every limb to lead. Her bones ached, her mouth was sandy and foul-tasting, and her temples throbbed painfully with each pulse of her heart. Shepard forced herself into a sitting position, body hunched miserably like some shriveled, dried up huskthing and buried her head in her hands.

The ground shook - Reapers, or heavy artillery, or the ruined Earth finally rending itself in two to end its own suffering. Shepard sat in the dark, alone, taking deep gulps of air thick with dust and smoke to force badly needed energy into her battered body.

Not long, now.

Just a bit farther.

She pushed herself off the cot and made her way through the base. Shoulders squared, jaw set, back straight - all traces of pain stripped carefully from her face. She felt the weight of the soldiers' gazes on her face, tracing the deep red scars, faintly glowing in the dim light of day. The reverence they held, the weight of their blind, idiotic hope was nearly enough to buckle her already weakened knees.

She met their stares, nodded solemnly, curled her cracked lips into a smile.

They saluted, and they nodded, and she knew she had them.

Each of them would follow her to their deaths.

She found herself in the middle of the compound surrounded by soldiers carefully trying to appear busy despite the perverse hush that pervaded.

She'd played this game enough to know what they were waiting for.

Shepard trudged to a downed Mako in the center of the clearing, hoisted herself atop it with as much grace as her wrecked limbs would allow her. It was hard to invest in the theatrics any longer, standing on the edge of the abyss. She looked out at the crowd, feeling a tepid swell of resentment in her breast for the song and dance they forced her into. This whole idiotic mess of placing herself above them, literally, figuratively, of sacrificing her humanity to become the beacon they needed, the symbol they desired. But even that long-standing bitterness had dulled now into an exhausted numbness.

She was tired.

Her body hurt.

She knew the role she had to play.

"This war has brought you here today. It will define each of you."

She took a deep breath, struggled to stir some kind of reciprocal emotion in her hollowed chest. When that failed, she stared out into their waiting faces, trying to tease out what exactly they needed to hear from her to keep going.

She knew her role.

They'd made a god of her, but standing before them on the eve of destruction she'd never felt more human.