This story is part of the Under-serving Character Challenge on the Afterlife forum (if you're a Mass Effect fan go and check it out, it's at the top of the list!).
A note on Falere's age in this chapter: The codex says nothing on it, except that she's the youngest of her sisters. So I gave her the age of twenty-eight, which would make her a pre-teen (10-12 y. o. or so) in human terms (I guess, given the asari life-span).
Chapter 1: Monsters
The house was always scary at night. Even though Falere turned twenty-eight this year and knew well there weren't any monsters lurking in the shadows, the quiet darkness in the hallway leading to the bathroom still unsettled her. Everything was same… yet different.
Taking a deep breath, she continued down the hallway. She was a big girl now and could go pee in the middle of the night without help from her big sisters or mom and dad.
Speaking of mom and dad, Falere noticed that something was wrong as she passed by the door of their bedroom. There was light seeping through the crack under it and she could hear their agitated voices arguing.
That was strange. Mom and dad loved each other and went along just fine. Falere pressed her ear against the door, listening in. As she did so, she felt a pang of guilt, but the temptation was stronger.
"… still have a normal life. Not all is lost."
"Wake up, Samara. It's active. She won't be allowed to exit the monastery. Ever."
What were they talking about? Falere had no clue. Her father continued.
"We need to get the younger girls tested, too. If it's active they'll be able to see it, despite their age."
"I know, Polina. It is just so wrong. They are young… they shouldn't be…"
"You wanted pureblood chil—"
Falere suddenly felt chilly. Backing away from the door, she went to the bathroom and did her business not really aware of what she was doing. Pureblood. That nasty word some kids in school called her because her mom and dad were both asari. Were they talking about her sisters… and her?
Shaking her head, Falere returned to the room she shared with Rila as quietly as possible. Mirala was older and had a room for herself. Not fair, but their house wasn't big enough to have a room for everyone. At least, that's what mom and dad kept repeating every time Falere complained.
The door opened without a sound. Good. It was wrong to spy on mom and dad like this, she knew that, and the last thing she needed was Rila waking up and asking what she'd been up to. Knowing her sister, their parents would know about this before the dawn broke.
Falere slipped into her bed, but couldn't sleep. A million questions hopped around her head. What was wrong with them? What was a monastery? What test? The same one that Mirala had to go to a hospital for last week? Again something to do with being pureb—with having asari mom and dad. Why did Rila and her need to take it? They weren't old enough.
There were no answers to be found to any of these questions and Falere hated it. By the goddess, she was twenty-eight! Old enough to know everything that's going on in the family! Especially if it was about her and her sisters.
She sighed and rolled to the side. There was no point to this. School would start in the morning like it did every day, and she didn't like the idea of falling asleep in the middle of the class. It wouldn't do any good to her already shaky reputation.
Clutching the blanked in her hand, Falere closed her eyes and drifted into uneasy sleep.
The teacher's voice droned on and on in the large classroom. Falere leaned her elbows on the desk and rested her head on her palms. Her head was heavy and not only because the lecture on Athame and other old legends was boring.
It had been over two weeks since she overheard the conversation between her parents, and nothing had happened. Absolutely nothing. Mirala went to high school, spent a lot of time seeing her friends (well, mostly Ilona these days, Falere corrected herself) and behaved like her usual cheerful self. No signs of any horrible sickness (why would she need a test in a hospital if she's not sick?), or anything out of the ordinary. No one came and told Rila or her to get examined. Falere had to really hold her tongue in whenever she was near her parents to ask what was going on, but something stopped her every time. Something very close to fear.
Falere lifted her chin and looked around the classroom. She wasn't afraid of anything. It was just… difficult to admit you've been listening in to your parents in the middle of the night. Especially when your mom was as strict as Samara was.
Tanika's purple scalp suddenly caught her attention. Her head was bowed over a datapad, so Falere could see the tentacles curving, the longest one nearly reaching the back of her neck. They looked very pretty, Falere realized. Tanika was the only purple-skinned girl in their class, and she already had… boobies starting to grow.
Falere shook her head slightly. What was going on? She couldn't look away from the two small lumps on Tanika's chest. At the same time, she felt something she had never experienced before. Her… azure (was that the word used by Mirala for her… lower region?) felt warm and prickly… or was that tingly?
"Falere!" the teacher's voice echoed, stopping her hand that was sliding on its own across her thigh and upwards. "I'm calling you for the third time!"
"What can you tell me about Athame's shield?"
"I… uh, I…"
"Haven't you been listening to anything I said today?"
Falere replied nothing, but just stared at her desk instead. The scribbling on its surface suddenly became very interesting. They were definitely better than seeing her classmates give her the weird pureblood girl looks she knew she's been getting by now.
"You'll be doing extra homework today," the teacher scolded, and thankfully let the matter drop. Falere breathed a sigh of relief, but at the same time felt… regret. That warm feeling was gone, and she missed it, but it also felt... wrong. She wasn't quite sure what that feeling was, but a voice inside told her it had something to do with… melding. Embracing eternity, as Mirala called it. And she was too young, far too young for it. What was happening to her?
The rest of the school day was as boring and predictable as she knew it would be, but Falere did her best to follow the class. She didn't need another scold from the teacher, or worse, getting her parents alerted. Still, she couldn't wait until it was over. The salvation came in the form of the signal announcing the end of the final class.
Grabbing her things and tossing them in her bag, Falere slung it on her shoulders and hurried out of the classroom. The day was finally over.
Little did she know how wrong she was.
Her jog towards the exit was stopped by her name being called over the school's announcement system, telling her to go see the school's counselor, immediately. Falere stood frozen for several moments, trying to figure it out. It couldn't… it couldn't be just for tuning out in class, right? She didn't do it that often.
Shrugging, she turned and started tracing her steps back. The thought of ignoring the announcement did cross her mind, but she decided against it. The sooner she was over with this, the better.
She was surprised to see Rila waiting in front of the counselor's office. She looked puzzled more than worried. Falere was glad. Maybe… maybe this won't be that bad.
If only that weird feeling in her gut would go away.
The counselor ushered them in a moment and offered them a seat. The look on her face was… strange. She had displayed a big smile over it, but even Falere in her young years could see that it was forced. A glance shot in the way of her sister confirmed her suspicions. Rila now looked more worried than puzzled, and it made her worry, too. Falere shifted uncomfortably on her chair.
"I need to tell you something bad," the counselor began. "About your sister."
That feeling of something is wrong that she had been trying to push away ever since she had eavesdropped on her parents struck Falere with full force. Whatever that conversation was about caught up with them right now.
The counselor hesitated, increasing Falere's nervousness. "Do you know what an Ardat-Yakshi is?" she finally asked.
Falere worked her brain in search for an answer. It was something related to the old legends they were currently studying, she was sure, but couldn't think up anything else.
"Demon of the night winds," Rila muttered. Her face turned one shade of blue lighter and her lips were pressed in a tight line. Yes, that's what the textbook said, Falere remembered; they were monsters and a disgrace but they couldn't… couldn't be real. It was an old legend, a story, nothing else.
The counselor nodded. "It has a fancy sounding name, but it is more of a medical condition than anything else." Falere took a sharp breath. So Mirala was sick. "With deadly consequences, unfortunately," she continued.
"Deadly?" Falere echoed. "Mirala will die?"
"No, Falere." The councilor reduced her voice to nearly a whisper. "Mirala is deadly to those she melds with."
Falere looked at her sister, hoping to find help in processing this information and saw sadness, or something worse in her eyes.
"I knew she went through testing, like all purebloods have to," Rila said. "Our parents told us nothing about the outcome… so I assumed everything went alright."
"They told Mirala about her condition, but she refused to go into isolation." The counselor made another pause.
Falere remembered another thing she had read in the textbook. The demons were asked to live far away from other asari, in a safe place. Was that the monastery she heard her parents talking about?
"… And?" Rila asked, sounding and looking like she was expecting the worst.
"And they were looking for the best way to persuade her… when today Mirala… Mirala tried…" The counselor trailed off.
"What?!" Rila jumped to her feet. "She tried what?!"
"She skipped school with Ilona and…"
"No!" Rila collapsed back on the chair, with a tear running down her face. "I knew she was… she was dating Ilona but she begged me not to tell anyone! Don't tell me she… she and Ilona…"
The counselor bowed her head. "I'm afraid they did, Rila. Mirala attempted to meld with her… and her condition took over."
Silence followed her words, interrupted only by Rila's sobs.
"Ilona's dead?" Falere asked, hoping to hear the opposite. Something inside closed shut at the thought, preventing her from crying. It couldn't be true. Mirala knew she could kill Ilona and still tried to meld with her? She wasn't like that. She wasn't.
"I'm afraid she is," the councilor said grimly. Rila wailed loudly at these words. "It's not your fault, Rila. Your parents knew they were more than friends, but thought it was just a romantic, silly phase. And they told Mirala to stop seeing Ilona after finding out about her condition. No one expected this."
Rila nodded, but still continued to sob.
"Your sister… has a more powerful version of her condition than most. It made her drawn to Ilona and seek melding earlier than it is usual. A case like this hasn't been recorded in a long, long time."
"What's going to happen to Mirala?" Rila asked, but Falere barely heard her. She suddenly remembered Tanika and how she felt while looking at her. She's been drawn to her, just like… No. Was she… like Mirala?
"We have to find her first." The counselor avoided the question. "She ran away. The police are looking for her and we can expect she'll be brought home soon."
The counselor suddenly brought two fingers to her ear. "Uh-huh. I'll tell them." She smiled at them again, the same forced smile Falere saw a little while ago. "Your parents are here. They are going to take you to a hospital. I'm sorry, girls, but you need to be checked, too."
Falere nodded and took the still-sobbing Rila under her arm and led her out of the office. It was strange to act older than her sister, and under any other circumstances she'd feel proud. Right now, though, the only thing she felt was that weird feeling of being closed on the inside. It prevented her from feeling any other emotions.
Samara, their mom, waited for them outside the school. Polina, their dad, was nowhere to be seen. That was strange. Didn't the counselor say their parents were here?
"Where's Dad?" Rila asked the obvious.
"She will be joining us at the hospital," their mom replied. She was calm, like nothing in the world was happening. "Come. We must hurry."
Falere moved to enter the skycar, but suddenly found herself falling into her mother's arms. The tears finally spilled out of her eyes. "I'm a monster for looking at Tanika!" she shouted through sobs. "I don't want to be a monster! I don't want to live in a monastery! I—"
"Shhhh…" Samara gently ran her hand across her scalp. "It has not been confirmed yet, and even if it has been it would not make you a monster. You can still make your choice."
"But that means—"
"There is no point in talking about that now," Samara said firmly. "Come."
Falere nodded and wiped her eyes. Rila had already entered the skycar and stared in front of herself, expressionless. "Sis," she clapped Rila's shoulder, "we're going to be alright. You'll see."
They had to be.