The Empress and her followers had done her duty for the Empire's citizens, though not without great cost.
The soldiers, who had served her faithfully; of those that have died, there were many. Of those that lived, their grief for the fallen knew no bounds. Aetherius – and Shor's Hall – welcomes all who have perished bravely in battle, never surrendering until their dying breath. And yet that is scarcely any comfort for the weeping widows. For the sons that would never see their fathers, the daughters that would never see their mothers. For fathers who had the misfortune of surviving their gallant heirs, and mothers who had survived their cherished heiresses. Of these, the Empire had paid a great deal in blood and flesh.
The spirits of those who had passed on, and yet continued to serve the Empire in death. Providing their guidance and strength to those still living, without rest. Their souls encased in glittering gems of most advanced artifice, their bodies crafted hulls of darkest ebony and brightest dwemeri handiwork. They knew that if their new bodies were to be destroyed, they would be cast into the Dreamsleeve. Their memories forgotten. Their souls destroyed. Only their collective deeds would be remembered by their legion, and by no others. This was their fate, and they accepted it; and to the end they did fight, valiantly protecting their still-living brethren until they were destroyed in the cold darkness of the Void, scattering their existence into nothingness. Of these, the Empire had paid a great deal in spirit and in memory.
The craftsmen, without whose aid the vast undertaking of warfare would not be possible. Their sweat and tears fuelled the flames of war, their tireless efforts and countless of hours toiling in thankless jobs the foundation of every success. The endless works of their hands provided blade and shield, rifle and cuirass, cannon and helmet, and a myriad more, ensuring that their more martial-minded cousins would not enter battle unprepared. The victories of the Legion could hardly be attributed merely to their prowess in battle, but also to the aid of their superior equipment. Of these, the Empire had paid a great deal in toil and in time.
And the last, often forgotten; the citizens, the masses from which every person in Empire belongs to. Those who had not joined the soldiers did not shed their blood, and did not pay in wounded flesh. Those that had not passed on and opted to remain behind did not risk their existence to protect the living. Those that had not crafted the implements of war did not sacrifice their toil and their time to further the war efforts. And yet they were instrumental in the pursuit of success. For their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, their wishes; these were the very things that every soldier, every spirit, every craftsman sought to protect and preserve. Without those to protect, what would warfare achieve? Of these, the Empire owes a great deal for the desire to achieve something more. A goal, a noble aim. A vision, worth protecting.
"Empress Septim. The...disturbing footage that our military observer has forwarded to us..." Councillor Tevos said slowly, shaking in mingled fear and disgust, "Orbital bombardment against a garden world is outlawed by the Citadel Conventions-"
"Of which neither I nor the Empire are signatory to," replied the Empress dryly, "You are well aware of this, Councillor Tevos. The actions that I have ordered have not violated any of the items that I have signed on our treaty. Your demand that the Empire disarms has not a valid cause. The destruction of an enemy world was well within our rights, as is agreed by the subsection regarding our existing war with the Hegemony,"
"Regardless, we find such developments rather...disturbing. The razing of all surface installations is one matter, but the complete annihilation of an entire planet? What could drive you to perform such an act of madness?" Councillor Sparatus spoke, slamming his fist on his podium and drawing the glare of Valeria, "This is disproportionate use of force! No matter what those slavers have done against your people, I hardly think that the destruction of the Hegemony's home planet – and several others, if the reports of the few survivors still creeping in are to be believed – is justified,"
"Hm. Then what do you call the Genophage?" the Empress spoke, her eyes coldly boring into Sparatus' own, "The slow death of a species. Torturous, as they must witness the death of nearly every last newborn,"
"That was a necessity! They would have conquered the rest of the galaxy, if they had their way,"
"As I recall from my conversation with the leader of the Krogan clans, you were quite willing to elevate them to the stars before they were capable of controlling their own primal urges. You brought them into the galactic community, and yet when they had proven to be too much for you to handle, you cast them aside like unwanted tools," growled Valeria, flicking her fingers across a datapad, "And rather than destroy them in one swift stroke, you chose to prolong their suffering as they slowly died out over centuries,"
"It was them, or the Rachni. And those insects – you've never seen them-"
"And neither have you, Councillors. I have read the reports on the Rachni Wars. And do not think that I would be so foolish as to speak to Clan Urdnot's leader and not hear of their part in those battles. They were an enemy that could be defeated, if you had but more willingness to fight for your own lives, instead of relying on others to fight for you,"
"Enough. Empress Septim, with all due respect – this is not what we have requested your presence here for today. We are here to discuss the weapons of mass destruction that you have deployed on Khar'shan," Councillor Valern interjected, holding up a hand to silence his colleagues, "The Salarian Union believes that usage of such destructive devices is a threat to galactic peace. We request that you cease and desist from the construction and use of such terrible weapons,"
"How intriguing. And what would you offer in return, hm?" she said in a dangerously sweet voice, flashing her fangs in a predatory grin, "Credits? Trade? Empty promises of benefits? Or maybe...spies, and spy drones, and infiltrators, attempting to make their way to Imperial space?"
"W-What? These are...baseless accusations! Where is your proof?"
"Your proof..." she murmured, closing her eyes. A glowing purple sphere burst out of thin air in the centre of the Council Chambers, vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared. In its place, at least four dozen salarians lay piled unceremoniously on top of each other, each bound and gagged by what appeared to be wads of sticky purple goo, "...is now in front of you. These men of yours had been intercepted in Imperial space, and they have testified to the complicity of your Union in attempting to acquire Imperial secrets,"
Silence fell upon the hall, only broken by the pained whimpering of the salarian spies in the hall. Valern stood still, his jaw slack and wide open in shock, while Tevos and Sparatus exchanged fearful looks.
"Under ordinary circumstances, I would consider this an act of war," Valeria spoke smoothly, stroking her chin, "But it would be counterproductive to demand blood where none had been spilled. Still, they have trespassed upon Imperial territory, and I cannot allow a transgression to go unanswered. The charges are clear; espionage, by your agents no less. How do you plead, Councillor Valern?"
"Let us not be hasty. I'm sure there was a misunderstanding-"
"A misunderstanding? These men that are bound before you have testified to being agents of the Salarian Union. By all rights, as the Salarian Union is one of the core members of the Citadel Council, the Council has broken the treaty of neutrality that exists between our states. There is no misunderstanding about what is already written and signed by all parties present,"
Silence was the only answer by the Salarian, who could only mutter incoherently under his breath. Tevos, for her part, simply cradled her face in her hand, unable to fathom the foolishness of the salarians in potentially provoking a galaxy-wide war.
"If you will not answer, then perhaps I should make my demands clear. I do not demand material reparations for this slight. Nor do I demand blood, for none has been spilled. I do, however, demand that the Citadel respect the Imperial borders. Failure to adhere to the agreed borders will result in immediate termination of all agreements between the Empire and the Citadel, and when that happens, I will not extend this mercy another time. Do I make myself clear, Councillor Valern?"
The salarian councillor gritted his teeth in fury, but otherwise nodded his approval. The forced gesture was not lost upon the Empress, however, and she shook the room with a brief taste of her thu'um.
"Do I make myself clear, Councillor Valern?" she repeated herself, letting the thu'um reveberate throughout the room.
"Crystal, Empress Septim. The Salarian Union will refrain from further excursions into your territory, as described in the treaty,"
"Excellent. Now then, your concern regarding my fleet, Councilor Sparatus. My Ambassador, Kradus Tharn, has informed me of your misgivings regarding my military strength, and that you disapprove of us holding so many vessels at our disposal. I will have you know that I do not – and will not – disarm any vessel under my banner. It is my prerogative as the sovereign of an independent nation to maintain any number of vessels that I deem necessary to protect my vassals, my retainers and my lesser subjects,"
"Surely there are more civilised ways of resolving our differences than warfare or threats," Tevos said, raising her hands to placate the Empress. She flinched, however, as the khajiit turned a blazing golden eye to meet hers.
"I know not what you seek to insinuate, Councillor Tevos. All this time, all of you have merely mentioned the Empire's capacity to make war and to destroy lives. Know that the Empire cares little about what occurrences happen inside Citadel space; and that we, in turn, desire the same. It is your fellows that continue to pester myself and my representatives, to try and gain an advantage for your own governments,"
"The Empire destroyed the Batarian Hegemony, and left the Batarian race shattered and on the verge of extinction. This contradicts your statement that your Empire cares little about things outside," Valern said, finally finding his voice once more, "Or am I mistaken?"
"The Empire desires peace with all, if that were possible. However, sometimes, it is not possible to do so. The batarians' love of slave-taking is a facet of their culture that they have apparently maintained, despite all the pressure that your governments have exerted upon them. As such, they represent a threat to the liberty of Imperial citizens, whom they see as little more than chattels to be captured. And threats...threats must be eliminated, at any cost,"
"Imperial citizens are not the only ones threatened by the slave trade, Empress Septim. This is insufficient justification for the destruction of an entire planet. The Citadel was at least patient – and civilised enough – to begin dialogue with the Hegemony, requesting the return of our citizens, instead of simply destroying their worlds in retaliation!"
An uncomfortable silence fell over the room. Sparatus and Valeria glared at each other angrily; both were headstrong and unwilling to yield. Only when Tevos cleared her throat did they break their stare, glancing around at the other tense Councillors.
"Need I remind you, Councillor Sparatus, that I take the safety of my children seriously?" Valeria hissed, her staff clicking harshly on the floor as she turned to face him, "And that you have yourself signed that you would not interfere in the war between my Empire and the Hegemony? What methods I choose to destroy threats to my Empire or its citizens are not yours to decide upon. Your suggestion that my Empire's methods are barbaric are noted; and to show that we are not barbarians as you seem to believe, I am willing to allow this slight to go unanswered,"
She turned to face the enormous window that formed one wall of the Council Chambers. The Destiny Ascension drifted past, along with the largest complement of the Citadel Defense Fleet that she had seen so far, no doubt present in an attempt to cow the Empress into submission. A futile attempt, considering that the Wrath of Talos was present in the Widow Nebula, quietly waiting for the Empress to conclude her meeting with the Council.
"I see, however, that your nations are unable to coexist with my own empire," murmured Valeria. Tevos raised an eyebrow, unable to understand her train of thought, "You have long been in a position of power on the galactic stage. You expect everyone to bow down before you, and offer you their wealth and sovereignty on a silver platter. Has it been so long that your power has been challenged, that you have forgotten that the only thing that retains power, is power itself?"
Rounding on the Councillors, she snarled her next response. "I have held my throne for hundreds of years, and many times have I been challenged for my throne. Either by distant bastards of my own father's kin, or by noble upstarts that believe that their self-serving ways would benefit all within the Empire. Not once have they succeeded, for my own strength of arms had always surpassed theirs,"
"What are you saying, Empress Septim?" Tevos asked, confused.
"I do not know if you have read humanity's literature, Councillors. But there are many apt sayings among the writings of their ancients. 'Si vis pacem, para bellum', I believe it was. If you wish for peace, prepare for war. It is one that I feel is most appropriate, given our...less than cordial relations,"
Sparatus huffed indignantly, before growling, "The gall of your statements! After concluding a war, you would start another so soon? Are you suggesting that you would dare to invade Council space?"
"I have no reason to do so, Sparatus," she hissed. The omission of his title was not lost on the turian, whose mandibles tightened in fury, "Do not give me a reason to do so, for it will benefit none. I am merely stating facts. You would dare presume command over the galaxy, without the power to exercise that privilege. On our first meeting, you would dare to demand that I disarm, despite the fleets under my command dwarfing your – and your allies' – own-"
"Please, Empress Septim. We are here to discuss things peacefully-"
"Peacefully? I could do so, if it were not for the second part of what I must discuss. With the accession of Admiral Tali'Zorah to the Admiralty Board of the Quarian Migrant Fleet, their request for Imperial citizenship has been withdrawn. They have resumed their wandering course throughout the stars,"
"As they always have. But this has nothing to do with the Empire," spoke Valern, stroking his chin, "Nor do they concern us,"
"Ah, but there is where you are wrong. There were strict laws against artificial intelligences within your law codices, if I am not mistaken. The very same which caused you to think that it would be justified to destroy my naval vessels, as you believed them to possess such creations,"
Comprehension dawned on the Councillors' faces, and they all shifted uneasily. Only Councillor Anderson remained still in his seat, his expression unreadable. The Empress, on the other hand, grinned broadly at their unease. Her mission would be successful after all.
"The Geth have petitioned the Empire for protection, and I have chosen to grant it. They are, for all intents and purposes, sapient lifeforms, though without the capacity of biological reproduction. As their masters disowned them, they sought a new people to serve. Quite charming, truly, how they now refer to my craftsmen as their new creators,"
"This will bring disaster on us all! Don't you see? The Geth are machines. We are organic. The two cannot coexist peacefully!" roared Sparatus, unable to hold his rage back any further. The way in which Valeria smiled at his rage merely fanned his anger further, causing him to slam a fist on his podium, "I have heard enough. Letting your ships be was a terrible mistake. I see that clearly now. and allowing you to join the Geth can only bring disaster upon the Citadel. I call a vote for war,"
"Please, remain calm!" Tevos exclaimed, holding up her hands. For someone that advocated calm, she was thoroughly flustered indeed, "Councillor Sparatus, Empress Septim, please. This is not necessary,"
"Indeed, hostilities are not necessary. I know when and where I am unwanted, Councillors, and I will not waste any more of your time. I, Empress Valeria Septim, the first of her name, sovereign ruler of Nirn and its dependencies, hereby deem our previous agreements null and void, as per appendix three of our agreement, subsection nineteen, clause one,"
"W-wait, you can't just-"
"Oh, but I can, and I will," said the Empress, flashing Tevos a predatory grin, "I shall recite to you the contents of that clause, if you are unable to recall its contents. 'In the event that the Empire and the Citadel Council finds themselves unable to resolve issues in an amicable and timely manner, or is incapable of acquiring sufficient satisfaction from a transgressor in an international grievance, either the Empire or the Citadel Council may opt to dissolve the treaty and agree to sever any and all diplomatic, economic and military contact.' You see, I am well within my rights to do so,"
Tevos paled as the Empress continued to recite the words of the treaty with a smug smile on her face. She had planned to do this, all along! The treaty was merely to keep the Citadel from intervening in their war against the Hegemony!
"Now, I believe our business is concluded, and by the terms of the dissolution subsection, I and my staff have exactly twelve hours to vacate the Citadel. I bid you good day, Councillors, and I hope that we will not have to come to blows,"
Valeria immediately turned and marched to the exit, her personal guards following closely behind. As the grand double doors to the Council Chambers, each of the councillors looked at the enormous black ship in the distance, which was coming ever close to the Citadel to pick up the Imperial delegation. Its overwhelming size and firepower apparent as it passed by the Destiny Ascension, easily dwarfing the dreadnought, and reminding them of the weight of the Empress' words.
"If you wish for peace, prepare for war," murmured Sparatus, "Councillor Tevos. I believe we must convene a war council meeting, once the Imperials have left this station. Our fleets must be able to hold against theirs, and our armies as well,"
"As much as I hate to say it, I believe we are all in accord," replied Tevos, who looked at Valern and Anderson for their responses. Seeing that both nodded their agreement, she sighed loudly, "Why can't we just all talk about this in a civilised manner,"
Inside the Wrath of Talos' royal suites, Valeria sat comfortably in a plush velvet couch, sipping a glass of Argonian Bloodwine as she read a datapad intently. A small communicator-orb had been brought before her, in which the face of a familiar human – and his livid protege – appeared.
"Councillor Anderson. I must thank you for kindly lending me this book. It is a fine read; your ancestors truly had some remarkable individuals," she purred, putting down her wine glass on a nearby desk, "I trust that matters of state are to your liking?"
"Well, with the Reaper threat on the horizon, getting the Citadel's war apparatus started up again is definitely a plus. Spectre Shepard is very unhappy about the way that you've achieved this, though, and I'm myself unsettled with the way that Khar'shan has been destroyed,"
"The destruction of a billion people in one rogue state is a small price to pay to ensure that countless trillions elsewhere may survive, Councillor Anderson. If it had taken the destruction of a planet – and an entire nation, no less – to finally encourage the Citadel races to protect itself, then it would be worth that sacrifice,"
"One life killed is one life too many. The price is too great," Shepard growled, her fists clenched, "There are always other ways to make the existence of the Reapers known,"
"I have lived long enough to know that mortals are often lazy and ungrateful, preferring to live in comfort, commander. You would be foolish and naive to believe that mere words may spur them to action. A crisis is often the most expedient way to spur them to action, and this is what you have seen today. Furthermore..."
She fixed a critical glare on the redhead in the sphere. To her credit, Shepard did not flinch as she did so, or even when a claw was pointed directly at her throat; a fact that amused the Empress to no end.
"Meridia is well aware of the theft of her precious Sunshard fragment. Your...employers...may expect a visit from her agents soon. And do not think that she would be forgiving, for although her domain is the preservation of all living creatures, she is a vengeful one, and does not take the theft of her property lightly. You would do well to distance yourself, before her wrath arrives,"
"Noted," Shepard said tersely.
"In any case. It was a pleasure working together with you, Councillor Anderson. I do hope that in the future, we will not have to face each other in battle. If we do, however, I ask that you do not hold back, so that neither you nor I will have any regrets. Farewell, Councillor Anderson,"
And with that, the communicator-orb faded to its usual milky whiteness, and the room fell silent once more. Standing up, she walked to the door, slipping on a black-and-red robe before setting out for the command deck. There was much to be done to prepare for the Great Enemy, that lay beyond the circles of the Void. Countless of her men would perish, of that she had no doubt; and perhaps even herself, if it was required. But what was war, if not a constant sacrifice to allow others to live on?
"War," she whispered to herself, feeling the large ruby-like soul gem in her hand. It pulsed with the reassuring warmth of those that she had failed to save, reminding her of others that she may yet save, "War never changes,"
And that concludes the story. To those who have read all of it, I hope you enjoyed it.
Two and a half years of writing, and it has finally come to an end.
Now, a number of common questions had appeared in both PMs and in reviews, and so I will answer these here, so that no more questions will be asked of these.
1) Q: Will there be a sequel?
A: Short answer, no. Long answer, no. I'm burned out with writing this story as it is, to be honest. It's taxing enough to blend two universes with extremely rich lore into a story; almost like forging together two enormous bars of steel with only a tiny little pin hammer to work with. No matter how much I try to blend it, there will always be dissatisfaction with regards to how much 'screen time' each section of lore receives. One fandom will always demand their side to be dominant, and it is never possible to please everyone.
2) Q: Will the Empress die? I really want her to die.
A: The many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics apply here. -inserts Valeria Septim into a sealed box travelling at relativistic speeds- Is the cat alive, or is it dead?