The hand of the golden giant extends, and a spiderweb of prismatic strands shoots out. They wrap around Lytek's wrists and ankles, pinning him to his throne-like chair. Heavy footsteps shake the desk, shake the golden plates lining the wall behind the god, shake the floor. The brass giant rolls the chair to the side and holds his hand over the desk.
"Ah, yes. Let's see, let's make an inventory..."
Things pop out of the desk. Tools of varied shapes, sizes. Bearing resemblance to tools as Kal knows them, but only in idea, for they are used for things far beyond his ken.
"You-you can't just barge in here!" Lytek bellows, "You can't just tie me to this chair- my chair- and ransack my desk! Those are important!" One by one, the tools enter a white cavity on the brass giant's hand. "Those are the tools of my office! I am God of Exaltation and those are my purview! Put those back at once or I will report-"
The brass giant turns to Lytek. The facet eyes shift in their sockets and glow solid red. "Where is the Auraclast?!"
The protests die on Lytek's lips. He works his jaw, eyes wide and solid white. Staring down the metal giant, his rage is pushed down and becomes something else. Something much more basic. His response is less a shout, and more a loud squeak. "Autochthon."
He then begins to scream as loud, and as long, as he possibly can.
He is subsequently joined by every voice in the hallway, every voice in the building. Kal's eyes go wide and his ears perk, turning to the sounds of shouts and cries and bellows of disbelieving horror. "Oh Ancestors Auto what did you do?"
The response of the brass giant is to grab Lytek, yanking him out of the chair and holding him in one hand and turn to Kal. "Something unprecedented! Which means it will work!" He extends his other hand, and the roar of the essence cannon drowns out even Lytek's screams. The doors Kal came in through explode into splinters and melted glass. "Now follow me!"
Autochthon races down the hallway, not unlike a bull rampaging through a spider's web. Through hallways, through offices, he takes the straight path through the building, passing through offices and washrooms with Kal in pursuit. "What did you do?!" Kal screams, magics still disguising him, keeping him unnoticed.
Not that they would notice him compared to the five meter tall brass giant with the screaming god in his hand.
"What did you do?" They charge through a lobby, a crowd of gawking gods, through the double doors. And Kal skids to a stop, looking up. "What did you do?!"
He looks up, at the sky. At the Skydome. But instead of the night sky, instead of the Sun at noon, instead of the Moon, Kal sees the expanse of brass and shadow, curving upwards and into the infinite. A massive sphere, hanging above them. A dyson sphere, hanging above them, shifting plates and lightning.
Lytek only screams louder.
"Oh, this?" Autochthon gestures with his free hand, over the crowds of gods standing before the expanse of immaculate gardens and shrieking in terror. "Yes! I used my job as God of Machines to gain access to backdoors build into the Skydome! After that, it was a simple matter of loading my own sigil!"
Lytek squirms, clawing at a finger as thick and long as his arm. "You madman! You diseased, insane madman!"
The head of the giant turns. "You! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!"
Kal walks past them. Looking up, at the sheer weight of the hovering dyson sphere that dominates the sky. He turns, mouth open, to the sound of the argument which dies down. Just as Autochthon finishes stuffing the still screaming Lytek into his mouth.
Behind Kal, a long limbed white stick figure points at the brass giant. "Autochthon's back!" he screams, "And he's killed Lytek!"
Autochthon charges past Kal, towards the canal and the boats which gods are already leaping off of. Kal turns and sprints after, whispering over and over a single phrase.
"Ancestors damn it Autochthon!"
Dropped into the Food Court
It was innocent enough. The madman grabbed him and deposited him in some...mansion stashed away in Elsewhere. Before long, he was greeted by spiders. Small, happy spiders, like the Pattern Spiders, but with cat ears and singing. It was an innocent question. He wished to know where that cancerous, thoughtless madman had dropped him.
The spiders responded. With blowtorches, saws and drills, declaring that the unbeliever must burn.
Naturally, he ran. Ran as far and as fast as his legs would carry him, through shifting hallways and mad architecture, towards what should have by all signs been an exit.
Which was instead something else.
That was five days ago, over shifting silver sands and through hot emptiness, through sounds and light and a membrane of some sort.
And now the God of Exaltation finds himself in a new place. A massive, open...cafe...of some sort, glass high above and letting in the light of vermillion and emerald clouds, humans and demons of all types milling about. Blinking, working his jaw, the god cranes his neck to take in the layers of metal and artifice surrounding him.
"What?" He watches a cube of some sort fly past. He shifts his sight and can see no Essence radiating at all. "What." He watches a pair of blue skinned Neomah walk past. But tasting the wind, he cannot sense any Essence at all. "What!"
A hand grabs his sleeve and yanks him along, through crowds of aliens, underneath the arms of what appears to be a Blood Ape with a tentacled face, and into an alleyway. Lytek turns and stares into the face of James Vega. Vega looks back, eyes narrowed, looking the god up and down.
"Lytek, the fuck you doing here?"
Lytek works his jaw. He glances out the alleyway and back to Vega.
"Little Beam, I am asking myself the same question."
The boat's stern has the face of a dragon- not merely shaped like one, but apparently is one. Weeks ago, Kal would be taken aback by this. Now, he simply directs it onward, hands on the jade steering wheel and urging it on the liquid silver lane.
Behind him, Autochthon sits, slouched backwards and arms draped over seats. Not a care in the world, Kal thinks. Which, he is reminded as the boat passes panicking gods and screaming residents, is probably because he is completely insane.
"Auto! I can't help but feel that I have been denied pertinent and need to know information!"
The brass giant turns to Kal, then angles his head upwards. A wind blows past them and there is a thunk. Kal tuns and finds Kamilla sitting on her uncle's lap. "Oh, this will work out marvelously!" Autochthon shrugs and pats Kamilla on the head. "Relax, Exalted! What is the worst that can happen?"
Kal mutters under his breath and urges the boat along. Easing it along into a dock, Kal look over the horizon to the massive dome that stretches higher than any mountain.
Stepping up smooth stone steps, he looks up and his eyes refuse to blink. Walking along the massive street, large enough that he could park a cruiser here and not interrupt traffic, Kal lets his eyes wander over the ancient inscriptions along the sky piercing pillars and the gates large enough to admit worlds.
At some level, Kal knows. Knows this is the reason this power was made.
The sky flashes and turns blue. The golden world above disappears. Glancing up, Autochthon strides alongside Kal. Kamilla sits on his shoulder and they walk along the street. Calming gods and monsters part for them, giving the brass giant a wide berth.
Save for one who walks alongside Kal. "Wondering where you were," Kal mutters.
"We have been busy," Wuffles explains, "It appears that Autochthon has been, as well." The petals extend, and the Geth's shoulders slump. "Our hypothesis remains viable."
Kal nods and pats Wuffles on the back.
They approach the dome, gods lining the streets and watching them. With each step, they approach from in front of them and behind them- lions made out of gold- gold more gold than gold, as far as Kal can tell. Dozens at first. Hundreds, soon after, lining the streets around them and giving off the air not of menace, but of certainty.
"Yeah," Kal breathes, "This is the worst that can happen."
He clenches his fists and lets his knuckle dusters spark to life. Wuffles sprouts four extra arms. Autochthon, on the other hand, only stares at the dome. Whether because of memory or for some other reason, they do not know. But the answer comes in the form of the sun shining forth.
But not from the sky, which still remains placid and blue.
Instead, the sunlight comes from the dome itself. From the gate immediately before them. Kal sees the figure emerging from the light and immediately he falls to a knee. For he recognizes the sun walking before him.
It is not a sun. It is not a star, it is not one of the many stars that he has seen, both up close and afar in his travels. It is not the sun of distant, fabled Rannoch. The keter soul within him knows, this is the Sun.
The lions part, bowing. The terror and fear of the gods cut off into silence. Wuffles merely tilts their head and extends their petals, before going to one knee out of decorum. Autochthon continues standing tall, a blast of steam escaping his grill.
"Hello, old ally. You've come a long way to get my attention." Even though Kal recognizes the form as similar to the body Wuffles wore at that final battle at Eden Prime, he knows the voice is different. No artifice can capture it. The voice of childhood heroes. Of idealized fathers. "And now you have it."
He stands half Autochthon's height. He towers over Kal and Wuffles, and folds two arms across his chest, one hand pressed against his hip, and the fourth folded against his back. Golden eyes pour forth sunlight, perfect and immaculate armor casting no shadow. The entire courtyard, filled enough to fill a dreadnought, has gone silent. Not a single being stands.
Autochthon looks down. With the sound of creaking joints, the giant sits on his knees to meet the god's gaze. "It has been a long time, Ignis. But I have not come without urgency."
A hand extends to Kal. "Rise, Exalted. You will fear no harm from I while you walk in Heaven. You are guests to my ally, and therefore guests to myself, as well."
Kal rises, hesitantly at fist. He does not meet the gaze of the giant before him. He cannot bring himself to look upon perfection. "Thank you," he says, voice hoarse, "And he speaks the truth. We're from...elsewhere. I'm Kal'Reegar. Migrant Fleet Marines. Chosen of Journeys."
Wuffles rises, extending their petals and turning their optic to stare directly into the light. "And we are Wuffles. Emissary of the Geth."
Golden eyes blink. "Wuffles." The Unconquered Sun works his jaw, bringing up a hand and stroking his chin. "What."
The two walk though the crowds alongside full wall windows of the Serpent Nebula. A hanar passes, briefly getting Lytek's attention, but James pulls him along by his arm. "Okay, so if anyone asks, my name's James Vega. My name is not Little Beam. I went through a lotta work to make sure my disguise's air tight, even used some tricks to give me an origin."
Lytek cocks an eyebrow. He tilts his head, walking through a set of self opening doors. Glancing, he still sees no Essence at work and he slows his pace. "Which is?"
"Addict dad, raised by my uncle, got involved with some shady guys who said they were all good and shit but were really manipulative assholes 'til I decided to go out on my own." James balls a hand and coughs, pulling at the collar of his white shirt.
Lytek blinks. "How is that different from your actual history?" Vega shrugs and offers a noncommittal grunt. Lytek sighs and continues walking, speeding up his pace. "Right. We still haven't answered my original question of where I am."
"You're in the Design."
Lytek's face drops, eyes going wide and hair drooping. The floating paldroons rotate to point at Vega. "Oh dear I'm in that maniac's universe-body."
"Not exactly," Vega continues, passing under a balcony and weaving between a group of chatting turians, "I gotta get you to Shepard." He raises a finger, not turning to Lytek. "She's a Solar. She's a Zenith. She's in charge."
They enter a large elevator cab. Light shines down from a lamp on the ceiling, but once more Lytek senses no Essence. Vega taps a display, selecting a number. "Wait," Lytek says, "If she's a Zenith, she received a vision of the Most High upon taking her second breath." He works his jaw. "And she doesn't know you are the son of the Most High?"
Vega, again, shrugs. Lytek sighs and holds his face in his hands. "Oh gods she's one of those." And the elevator doors close.
Operation: Solar Husbandry was not off to an auspicious start. Despite advertising the fact that she had no social life outside of her crew, Jane did have a life outside of the Normandy. Conveniently, it also involved the Citadel, as the Normandy's magitech refit entered its third month.
The apartment is set inside the Burke-Avalon Residential Complex inside the Presidium, and is a one room apartment with a kitchenette, couch, and bed. Standing at the threshold of the doorway, Liara's eyes fixate on a pair of socks lying on the floor midway between the door and the bed.
"Hey." Blue bunny slippers flipping off her feet and dressed in a paint-stained pair of grey sweatpants and a buttoned shirt two sizes too big, Jane exits the bathroom and spits the remaining toothpaste into a coffee mug. "What'd you need, Liara?"
Tearing her eyes away from the thoughtlessly discarded clothing- the only thing out of place in this home as far as she can tell- she turns to Jane. "I was surprised to find you here and not in the Loft."
Walking past Liara, Jane runs the sink over the cup, fill it with water. Then gargles and spits. "Had to get off the Normandy. Turns out Pria's made my closet the entrance to her 'Sanctum,'" she airquotes, "And that means I have to listen to her all the damn time."
Liara tilts her head. She steps in, glancing down briefly at the landing and making sure that there are no other discarded things. Throwing caution to the wind, she walks over and picks up the socks. "So how do you get into your closet?"
Jane shrugs and gestures to herself. "I don't." Placing the cup on the metal drying rack, she paces over to the couch. "Sides which, I had to get out for a bit. Let Kaidan be the big guy. And maybe not have to deal with the blazing sexual tension I have with him-"
Liara bristles. Whether it is due to her own uncertain, exploratory, and enlightening relationship with Commander Alenko, or her own subtle and understated interest in Shepard, she is-
"And you," Jane continues. Liara smirks. "And Tali," Jane says, back to Liara so she can't see the shade of dark blue Liara's cheeks have turned, "And Garrus, and Pria, and Joker, and Kelly, and Jacob, and Kasumi." She turns, still counting off her fingers. Liara freezes, socks still in her hands. And he cheeks turn even darker when Jane almost doubles over laughing.
"I hate you," Liara breathes, "So much." Jane continues laughing, collapsing onto the couch. "You do this to see how much of it I believe, don't you?"
Jane nods, wiping a tear from her eye. "Yeah-up." Sitting up, she then pivots on one hand and drapes her legs over the end of the couch. "So, really? What brings you here?"
What does, Liara asks herself. Well, part of it was that she had a long and most-likely successful plan to introduce Shepard to Asari Culture, allowing her to know the aspects of her society that are not drugs, dancers, and mercenaries.
"I wanted to take you out to dinner," Liara says, "There's a nice Asari restaurant that opened on the Presidium." She smiles, hands folded in front of her. "Very high class. Excellent food and service, and also a varied menu. It even offers bi-chilarity menus."
Jane nods. "Cool." She taps her left wrist, and her omnitool folds out. "Hey, Tali! Girls night out!"
Once more, Liara T'Soni curses fate.
The brass giant steps forward. Before him, eight seats rise- of stone and gold, of silver for one that stands apart, and of all five colors of jade for the last. In each seat, there sits a being which looks human at a glance, but is not. The face of humanity is one they wear in emulation and respect, but they are much, much more.
Kal stands next to Autochthon, standing at rigid attention, hands at his side and heels together. Wuffles emulates his actions. Kamilla floats next to them, hands folded behind her.
"My friends," the inventor states, "Incarnae, Lords and Ladies of Heaven. It has come to my attention that there is a great and mighty problem with the cosmos that has not been addressed." The back of his fist slams into his open palm. "I have witnessed the corruption! Endemic in this city! Rampant, advantageous! Trading favors and jockeying for position!" Fist raised, pacing around his companions, Autochthon continues. "The horror! The horror stories I have heard from my assistant! The deprivations and-"
Kal's hand darts out and grabs Autochthon's wrist. Eyes narrow and meet the giant's own. "Auto, what does this have to do with the Great Curse?"
Facet eyes rotate. "The whaaaaaat?" A brass fist curls, rises up to the grill, and Autochthon coughs. "Oh! Yes!"
Brass hands extend. The Unconquered Sun raises a hand. The stadium seats empty, leaving but the Incarnae and their guests. "The actions of the Exalted," Autochthon booms, full volume, "From the moment!" Lightning crackles. "Of our victory!" Thunder booms. "And onwards!" Brass hands held out, spread aloft, facet eyes glow. "Were guided by a death curse!"
High above, in the rafters, a single potted plant turns a leaf towards the sunlight.
"Laid upon them by the Neverborn!"
A teacup drops and shatters. Green eyes go wide, and a face defying age becomes very, very old.
"Wait what," Chejop Kejak breathes.
"A great curse." The Sun massages his jaw. "That influenced the actions of my chosen." He glances at the others present. Luna nods, not looking the least bit guilty. He looks past her, towards the woman in the green hood, and she nods. The Sun whirls towards Autochthon. To his credit, Autochthon only takes a step back.
"How have we not known about this?"
Auto turns. He looks at Kal, then at Kamilla. Balling a hand and coughing, he tuns back to the Sun. "In fairness, none of us wee equipped to deal with it at the time. I had fled Creation, you had turned your back upon the Chosen. Only one person knew about the Curse."
Silence reigns, the seven Incarnae and the single Jouten musing upon it. Even though they know, they wait for the Sun. "Lytek."
Autochthon nods. "Bring him forth," the Sun declares, standing and hand extended, "Bring him forth now!"
Autochthon nods again. Facet eyes rotate, a hand on his chest. He waits, silently. Murmuring of something, directions and locations. "Oh dammit he's not in the mansion." He turns, whirling on Kal, then on the Incarnae. "I put him right there! RIGHT THERE! And now he's gone and wait let me check the rooms and " Facet eyes rotate and flash a single color. "Oh fuck all kinds of duck he went through the portal into the Design!"
The doors grind open. Kal and Auto turn, watching the solid wall of orichalcum lions enter, lead by a massive lion of white and gold, filling the room with light and majesty. It strides forward, hair billowing in an ever present breeze, its main majestic, flowing and forming a halo in passing. "Our apologies, Most High," the largest of the lions booms, "But these are threats that cannot stand!"
The Sun tuns to the lions. "Shining Barrator, explain the charges."
Kamilla floats behind Autochthon, hands on his shoulders and peaking out.
"The laws of Heaven have been broken, severely and at length," the lion states, circling the sidereal, the geth, and the Maker, "Tampering with the Skydome. Mass panic among lesser and greater gods." The lion bares teeth. "Bringing an Adorjan Behemoth into Yu Shan."
The facet eyes narrow. Steam escapes the grill, and the voice issues forth from the brass giant with nothing but chill and certainty. "Touch my niece and you die."
The lions take a careful step back. Shining Barrator does not. "Threatening the life of a Celestial Lion," he continues, "We have come to arrest these criminals and bring them to trial. Will you allow this, Most High?"
Hands folded over her mouth, Gaia cocks a careful eyebrow. The Unconquered Sun narrows his eyes. Luna smirks. And Mercury smiles, almost ear to ear, and that is all the cue that Kal needs. "Fuck this," he says, "Sorry for the language, sir. Ma'ams."
And then he pulls something from his suit. A small device, fitting into his palm. Dark blue, angular, and with a pulsing core of blue. Kal grabs Wuffles by the arm, and places his other hand on Autochthon as Kamilla wraps her arms around her uncle's neck. Blue lightning wraps around them, crackling into a crescendo, and they are gone.
Air pulses outwards and releases them. Autochthon floats, feet pulsing with golden light. Wuffles floats, forming a pair of wings from their back. Kamilla floats, hugging her uncle's arm. And Kal falls. But then was never falling at all, appearing on the shore of the golden river.
"Well, you are learning," Autochthon booms, lowering himself to the ground, "Training's going well?"
Kal groans, shaking his head. "Okay, now what? Heaven wants our asses."
"And yet what I need cannot be done in Heaven at current." Autochthon stomps past, the head of the body splitting and releasing the sphere. The war form drops backwards, disappearing in a crack of white, and Kamilla sits on the seat that forms out of the ball. "With Lytek in the Design, we can only hope that Shepard can return him here. Without Lytek, we have no long-term observations of the Great Curse. However, this gives us a chance to succeed in an alternate goal."
Kal shrugs. "Which is?"
The eye turns. An empty dragon boat passes them, the dragon head spotting the eye and the boat picking up speed. "I need my tools, but I cannot make them. Not as I am now." Kal nods, motioning him to continue. "However, if there is one thing that I am certain of, it is that my capabilities and the capabilities of the Unconquered Sun are hard limits which cannot be surpassed!"
Kal nods again, walking alongside Auto towards a wooden gateway. "Okay. So we ask..." Kal shrugs. "We ask the Sun to make new ones?"
The eye rotates back and forth. "No. We ask someone who can exceed even the capabilites of the Unconquered Sun." The gate bursts into life, golden light and old, dead script forming a gateway to Creation. "We find ourselves a Solar Craftsman."
The Kulani Lounge was the name of an upperclass restaurant in the Presidium. The name, taken from an old Asari dialect that meant Maturity was different than most Asari hangouts Jane had been to. There was no obnoxious techno music, no cheap alcohol, and all the Asari were wearing clothes. Including clothes which covered their ass.
Indeed, the drinks were high class and low alcohol, she muses while sipping a long stemmed glass with a drink that was a metaphor. The tables had cloths over them, and there was not a pole in sight. She wonders- this is not just a bar, is it?
"It's the sort of restaurant that Asari Matrons frequent," Liara says, sitting across from her, clad in a white, blue lined suit like she normally wears, "Now that my maturity is recognized, I have been given an official invite."
Jane purses her lips, rolling her shoulders and glancing side to side. Tali and Chakwas stare at Liara. Tali's mouthpiece glows as if to ask a question. "The main form of discrimination in Asari culture is age-based," Karin answers, "Don't...just don't go into it." She nurses her glass of brandy, shaking her head. "Please-"
The asari sitting on Jane's right shakes her head and sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "It's relatively well known," she says with Garrus' voice, "If it's a secret, it's a badly kept one."
"I'd just like to once again repeat," Jane starts, "Garrus, that is really fucking creepy."
Garrus shrugs and adjusts the collar of his sailor fuku. "Look, if I ran into any female turians," she raises a finger, "Who were in gangs on Omega I'd be wearing their face, but I didn't." Chakwas rubs the bridge of her nose again. "But the fact of the matter is, this face and this outfit came together. Eclipse is..." Garrus shudders. "Eclipse is troubling."
Karin downs the brandy with a single pull, grabs the bottle in front of her, and pours another glass. Next to Tali, Iri languidly keeps humming a tune, while thrusting the phallic proboscis out of her mouth and into the enormous mug full of chocolate irish liquor.
"I don't want to know what happens when she gets drunk," Tali observes, and turns back to Jane, "Well, Shepard. This is...awkward. Garrus, if this is a girl's night out, why are you here?" Tali taps her fingers, staring at the quite frankly attractive Asari who happens to also be Garrus.
Garrus, in response, shrugs and sips his appletini.
"This is the most awkward thing ever," Tali says, "Can anyone suggest something? Anything? More awkward?"
"Being trapped spread eagle in a prothean security device," Liara responds.
"Having to ask the Commander to refill my liquor stock," Chakwas drones.
"Running into my ex-husband while I'm on shore leave," Jane groans, sipping her drink. Then lowering it and finding several eyes on her. Liara stares, cup still raised. Tali tilts her head. Chakwas says nothing, lips a straight line. Iri runs her long tongue along the bottom of her glass and raises it.
"Another!" she roars, and smashes it on the ground.
Jane purses her lips, glancing from Liara to a waitress walking by, seeing her scoff. Then to the entrance to the restaurant, to the commotion from the lobby and the tux-wearing asari maitre'd. Months of training have both put away and reinforced Shepard's belief that she is a superhero, and with a mental click she activates super-hearing.
"-Benezia's daughter and a human woman, I swear the purebloods have no taste-"
"-no idea what happened on Tuchanka but apparently the tribes are-"
"-igrant Fleet made a stink about those shoe ads-"
"-close to me and let me introduce you to Shepard."
James Vega crosses the restaurant, steady in his gait but his gaze flickering from side to side to well dressed Asari. Behind him, a person made entirely of light shuffles, his gaze following Vega's. The two come up to the table, Vega standing next to his guest. Jane blinks, a warm feeling pressing against her skin- not from blush or anything like that, but from the Essence this man is radiating off of him.
"Autochthon?" Garrus asks.
"Autochthon," the man-of-light answers.
Jane sighs and rubs the bridge of her nose. "God dammit Autochthon," she groans, "Okay, who're you?"
The man straightens up, cocking his head imperiously. "I am Lytek. God of Exaltation."
The table falls into silence. Tali holds head head in her hands. Chakwas pours another drink. Liara works her jaw. Iri warbles. The asari in the sailor fuku blinks and becomes Garrus Vakarian. "I thought Auto was the god of exaltations," Jane says, "He made them, right?"
Lytek's hands tighten around the edges of his sleeve with the sounds of cracking knuckles. "No," he breathes, "No, he is not."
There is a secret, in the East. Before the great and warped forests that lead to the Pole of Wood, south of the Kingdom of Halta, which plays the most ill-advised game of The Floor is Lava that there ever was. It is the secret of a great working, a great kingdom kept from the prying eyes of the Realm, of Heaven, and of Hell. Well, mostly of Heaven and the Realm, as Hell would know about them, what with the demon summoning.
The secret centers around a small little town built around a gold mine, and the great honeycomb of facilities built into the mine itself.
In one of the deeper layers of the mine, bare hands work gold- distilled, and purified into Orichalcum. Bare hands press against plates on the shoulder of the massive robot, near the open jaw of its head and the swept back pylons formed into its shoulders.
Shifting tool in one hand, he flicks his wrist. The hammer becomes a long, thin wire which channels Essence into the plates- welding together some, cutting others, his other hand glowing and requiring no tools at all. He is tall- his work smock and heavy clothes masking the thin and lanky frame, his hair cropped close and goggles hiding eyes which have seen far more than his apparent youth suggests.
He blinks, pulling the tool back. A snap of his fingers and the platform he is standing on rotates and floats over to a scaffolding, where a young woman with blonde hair and in a work smock is standing. The floats over to meet him halfway, gently redirecting the platform towards the other end of the cavern and over the dozen or so other robots currently in their booths.
"What happened?" he asks.
"You told us to tell you if anything strange was heading near Goldwell," the girl says, "Well, we found something strange!"
A periscope lowers from the rocky ceiling, and folds out into a screen. It blurs and statics into an unassuming stone street, right at the horseshoe-shaped gates embedded with prayers to the local gods who are on board with them. More in particular, to the thee-fingered man, the floating blonde girl, the dark haired woman dressed in what he recognizes as Yu Shan fashion, and the floating, brass and silver eye.
"Yeah," Brighter Tomorrow Path says, "That's strange." He grins. "Contact the history buff. He'll like this."
A quarian, a god, a behemoth and the Great Maker walk into a city in the Hundred Kingdoms. This may be a punchline, somewhere in Creation. It may also be a ribald one, depending on what a quarian is.
Kal once more glances at his right, and the black-haired woman walking alongside the eye. Short, perky and young, her blue, white lined robe swaying around her like it had a fan built in, ball bearings hang around her wrist like prayer beads.
"So," he says, "You're a god."
Noedumari nods, smiling.
"I'm terribly sorry for whatever Autochthon did to you that ended you up here," Kal adds.
Noedumari glares at him. Auto turns to the two, cycling his eye open and closed. He floats back to Noedumari, extending a skeletal arm from his side. Smiling, she takes his hand and they walk into the town, both politely ignoring Kal.
Shrugging, Kal walks behind them. Glancing side to side, he silently admires the city- stone lined, brick streets masterfully constructed, brick and wood houses that, while made of the same materials of the towns and villages they saw in the South are still of a better quality than anything he's seen on this world before.
More than that- he can feel the eyes on him. Glancing side to side, watching the people- still silently marveling that they're humans- as they mill about. No obvious signs of them reporting them, but still. Still. Stroking the bottom of his helmet, Kal taps his foot. What is he missing? What is about to happen?
Prior warning rings between his ears. A danger sense- not just of bad danger, but of interesting danger, which is worse. He looks up just in time to see a cloud speed overhead and something drop off of it.
"Hey Auto?" Kal considers his words, considers his approach. "I think this was a bad idea."
The ball and the god turn a split second before the object impacts, sending a plume of dust and debris out to envelop them. Noedumari coughs, Autochthon projecting a light from his eye to pierce the cloud. It washes over the now-empty noodle stands and tea houses, over the locked doors of homes, and over the tall figure that landed, on one knee and fist driven into the ground and-
"Oh dear," Autochthon warbles. A blast of air from the vents in the eye's side clears the street, and the kneeling figure rises. His coat hangs over his tall frame like a cloak, the hood of the gold-lined, white jacket falling back to reveal a young face with a corded beard, cropped black hair, and a golden disc upon his brow.
"Welcome to Goldwell," he says with a grin, voice booming, "I'm-"
"Ah! Solar!" Autochthon's battle body appears around him with a burst of white, and slams a massive brass fist into the Solar's face. A flash of gold and the bearded man is launched into and through the mountain before them.
Kal takes a step forward and taps Auto on the arm. "Auto? Did...you just kill the guy we came all this way to find?"
Auto turns to the mountain, then to Kal. Then back to the mountain, then back to Kal. Then back to the bearded man who has just appeared in front of him, a faint blur still surrounding him from the impossible speed at which he traveled.
There is a flash of sunlight, and Kal sees the golden gauntlet surrounding the man's right fist a split second before it's driven upward and into the underside of Autochthon's chin. There is a blast of force, a shockwave which knocks Noedumari onto her ass, Kal a foot back, and Kamilla flipping end-over-end in the air.
Autochthon's feet lift off the street. His warble becomes a high pitched scream.
Celestial Martial Art:
Solar Hero Style
Dome Shattering Smite
And Autochthon is launched into the sky.
The upswing of the punch carries him off his feet, hanging in the air for a brief second while the brass giant is sent into the sky. Landing on one foot, other foot tucked against his knee, he taps his fingers to his temple and lets his vision shift.
"Celestial god," he says, and turns to Kamilla, "Behemoth," and then to Kal, "Sidereal. Well, this is new." He stamps his other foot down, opening two gold-clad fists. "So, welcome to Goldwell. Are any of you going to attack me, too?"
Kal blinks, eyes darting between the bearded man and the shrinking dot in the sky that is Autochthon. Noedumari takes several steps back and ducks behind Kal. Kamilla stares at him, screams, and promptly becomes a building sized mass of angry red wind.
"'Kay," the solar says, "That's a 'yes.'"
Three miles away, on one of the mountains overlooking Goldwell, Brighter Tomorrow Path steps out of the cave and walks towards the edge of the cliff. He places a hand on the ground, and channels his magic- a small extra bit to mute it to the rest of the world. A platform emerges, flat and perfectly level, and he places on it first the tripod, then rests the barrel of his crossbow atop that.
Gleaming gold underneath the mid-day sun, a bolt of sunlight appears and notches itself, the string wrapping itself in magic.
"Hey, Telion?" he asks, "Think you can handle this one on your own or do you need help?" He unfolds the sight, and stares through it to stare at the massive wind behemoth. "Or should I just, you know, assume a 'yes'?"
The fist, while comprised entirely of wind, is still bigger than him. Telion Light Bringer considers this for a moment, and then leaps, twisting head over heels and letting the wind-monster sheer a cone-shaped hole in the ground. Thrusting down his heel, he launches himself into the air, off the creature, and folds his arms with a quirked lip.
"Let's see," he whispers, "Wind, small girl, Kamilla." He snaps his fingers. "Okay, I know what you are, and let's see if this works."
Cupping his hands at his chest, he takes a deep breath and hangs in the air. Golden light blasts around him, forming into a pillar stretching miles high. The sun blazed upon his brow and white light stretches between his fingers. "I invoke the Mudra of Victory and the Signs of Separation, and open the walls between our worlds-"
It wraps into a pinprick, crackling with light. "I invoke the true history, and remind those who believe themselves to be beyond failure of the their history of failure-"
The light blazes into a sphere. It shines bright enough to darken the sky and the sun. "I invoke the Surrender Oaths! Hear me Yozi! Your souls walk this world by our pleasure alone! I invoke the Silent Wind!" His hand thrusts up, holding the sphere. "Call your daughter home! I invoke-"
Releasing the sphere, he grabs it in mid fall and hurls it at the behemoth. "Adamant Circle Banishment!"
The sphere blasts into the behemoth. It shines forth with crystal light and a roar of sound and power. It shines bright enough to briefly blind all those present. And when it clears, they see it has done...
Absolutely nothing, save for the light masking her arm almost reaching him. "Whoops," Telion gets out, before Kamilla's massive wind-fist wraps around him and begins repeatedly slamming him into the ground.
Whistling, the young man with the ridiculously large sniper ballista crossbow aims at the massive giant slamming his circle-brother into the ground. A normal man would be worried about this, but Path knows Telion Light Bringer. He also knows that, as their circle's Zenith caste, he quickly learned varied ways to become completely invincible.
"There is no wind," Path whispers. Pulling back the trigger, four bolts of sunlight fly out, crossing the three miles in a heartbeat. One bolt slices into the giant's arm, going though and out the other side. The giant roars on the upswing and sends Telion flying into the air.
The second bolt goes through the giant's knee, freezing it- her- into place. The third bolt slams into the giant's head, going flat and bashing her in the side of the head. His fingers spin and wrap around a golden chain, and the fourth bolt swerves down and into the ground.
Sunlight flashes, and the hole Kamilla made using Telion is repaired.
"Yeah this is how not seriously I take you," he says with a grin, "I beat you and repaired my floor at the same time!"
The wind giant shifts, shrinks, and becomes the small girl again, unconscious and dropping towards the ground, limp and head first. Telion dives down, grabbing her, cradling her, and landing in a crouch. Laying her down gently, he stands.
Then he reaches up.
And the shrieking from on high becomes louder and louder, before Telion catches the falling Autochthon with one hand.
"So," he says, "How about we sit down and talk?"
The thermal clip bobs up and down, buoyed by the water and the jets built into the tub. It floats alongside its siblings, and blue eyes cross with a goofy smile. Hair pooling around her ears while she floats lazily, Pria considers the few moments of not having to think about anything, even in her piddling excuse for a sanctum.
Leaning back, she uncurls her arms from around her knees and stretches out, angling her feet up out of the water and wiggling three toes above the water. She dips down, submerging completely, holding her breath, then realizing she doesn't have to breathe, but then figuring she still might wrinkle.
Hence, she lightly kicks off the wall of the hot tub, swimming the length of the circular pool and towards the stairs, once more muttering to herself about the size and low quality. It can barely hold forty people, after all.
Pria climbs out, water sloughing off her curves, hair wet and sticking mid-way down her back. Swaying in her step, she stretches her arms above her head with a sigh and moan, walking to the crystal dinner table she had to move into her bathing suite- after all, she hasn't actually shaped a sitting room yet.
The towel finds its way into her hand and she runs it over her hair, sliding it over her shoulders and rubbing it side to side, regular motions down her back, over her seat, and pulling up a chair to prop her foot up on. Humming to herself- some sort of asari popular song she heard when roaming the citadel- she continues drying herself, looks up, and meets the eyes of a human male made out of light that walks into her bathroom.
Lytek pauses, eyes locked on Pria. His eyes wander down, pausing for a tangible moment on her chest, then stopping completely at her legs. Pria's eyes go wide, staring at the stranger, and she reacts in the most sensible manner possible. By hefting up the chair and throwing it at him.
Tying the towel around her, she strides over the moment the chair pauses in the air in front of him. He opens his mouth. Whether to apologize, to state his intentions, or to comment on, as Goto would put it, 'her fine, fine ass,' he doesn't get it out before she punches him in the face.
Shepard walks in, pausing in the arch that serves as a doorway. She extends both arms out and confirms that, yes, the arch is ridiculously big. She enters and stares at the hot tub. She looks up at the chandelier. She then turns to Pria, who has proceeded to kick Lytek as the god writhes on the ground. "Pria!"
"He broke into my sanctum and saw me naked!" the god-tutor screams, kicking Lytek again for emphasis.
Jane works her jaw. "Okay! One more kick, then we need to-" Jane cocks an eyebrow. "Is that my towel?"
Pria kicks Lytek one more time, hearing the god groan, and nods. "Yes. Yes it is," she says, and then turns back to Jane, eyes wide open saucers of blue, "How did you get into my Sanctum?!"
Kasumi leans in and waves, giggling and walking over, skipping over Lytek and wrapping Pria in a hug. "Me! I learned a new spell," she sing-songs, "It's like I got a key and-" She blinks, looking past Pria. "Holy shit that's a big hot tub. Can I bring Jacob over? I'm bringing Jacob over."
Pria makes a sound, less a word and more of a "FFFFFFFF," hands tightening into balled fists and face turning orange, and then red. Which is only helped in the most sarcastic fashion by Lytek climbing to his feet and giving Pria another appreciable glance, turning first to Jane, and then to Kasumi, and then to Iri when the girl spider cat skitters in and immediately submerges herself in the pool. More bubbles rise to the surface, but not from the jets, followed by dozens of tiny spiders crawling out and heading for the exit.
"Right," he says, and turns to Pria with his eyes locked squarely on the cleavage created by her towel, "A pleasure to meet you. I am Lytek."
Pria reaches out, and Lytek takes a step back. Jane grabs him by the back of the head and forces his eyes up to Pria's face.
"Who?" Pria asks, "Who are you? Why are you here? And why did you teach her,"she points to Goto, "Opening the Spirit Door?"
Nostrils flare on the energy-man's face. "I am the God of Exaltation."
Pria stares at him. "Right." She purses her lips. "Yes. You clean and maintain the shards. You make sure that the Exalted are chosen with the memories they need to be competent, right?"
Lytek nods. Pria brings her arms out, face blank, and begins to slowly, and loudly, clap. Kasumi takes a step back and lets her continue, the proto-quarian goddess clapping as loudly a she possibly can.
"You don't need to do that," Lytek says with a sigh.
Pria ignores him and continues clapping.
"I don't have to stand for this," Lytek seethes, "I am a God of the Fourth Grade, and I have been assaulted, belittled, chased by servants of that insane, diseased madman and I am now being belittled by an upstart and incompetent god in-"
Jane holds up a finger and presses it against Lytek's lips. "Pria, please stop slow clapping and help us out here." She cocks her head to a door. "Better yet, go get dressed. Meet us in my cabin."
Pria nods, arms dropping to her side, and she floats out towards the door. "Of all the condescending, asinine situations," Lytek growls, pacing back and forth, "A god made from pieces of a ghost! This is what you call an advisor? This is your sifu?"
Jane narrows her eyes and folds her arms. "Keep going, please do," she rumbles, "Because next time you piss her off enough to kick your ass I might be helping."
Lytek harrumphs, smoothing out his coat. "You are a solar exalted, and I am disappointed to find you bowing to the advice of a god of that low a rank-"
Jane extends a single finger. The meaning behind it is clear, and it is enough to make the god in front of her go silent. "That 'god of that low a rank,' is part of my crew. She is obtuse, needy, demanding, and shuttered. But she is my crew, and if you even think of either insulting her or perving on her-" She leans in and bares teeth. "Then I will hand you over to Iri and then let her hand you over to Autochthon."
Lytek nods, quickly and hurriedly, the golden light of his face turning lighter and lighter. Jane tuns and walks towards the front entrance, grabbing Lytek by the elbow and pulling him out with her. Kasumi skips after them, Iri skittering out of the pool to follow, followed by hundreds of smaller drones.
In the doorway of the bedroom, holding onto a handful of robes and underclothes, Pria smiles with her back against the doorway and feels her cheeks blush.
The hand drives into the bowl of milk, does something, and turns it into a block of aged cheddar. Straightening his hand into a knife, he carves it into slices, then into shredded ribbons that hang in the air like confetti.
Hands grab one, two, three eggs. His fingers dart like snake strikes, shattering the shells and then heating the yolks from the inside out. Claw strikes shred the cooked eggs and they fall, with the cheese, into the large bowl of uncooked rice.
He then drives his hand up to the wrist into the bowl, pulls it out, and presents them with the bowl of fried rice. Kamilla leans forward, sniffs it, and smiles. Noedumari takes a pair of chopsticks and a bowl. Kal'Reegar stares. "That's just bullshit," he states.
"Magical bullshit," Path responds with a smile. He slides the bowl onto the table, and turns to the brass giant. Propping his elbows up on the table, he folds his hands over his mouth. "So," he says, Telion walking up behind Path and his high backed, perfect chair, "Who are you?"
The brass giant perks up, overshadowing the long table, the two Solars, and banging his head into the low ceiling. "Ah! Yes! Excellent timing, as I have just finished the first item of my panoply!" A flash and crack of white, and a white mantle and cloak appears around him. Hood drawn back, craftsmanship immaculate, it parts and his arms spread out. Somehow, he is even backlit.
"I!" Thunder booms, despite being several floors beneath the mountain. "Am Autochthon!"
Path cocks an eyebrow. Telion tilts his head. Both solars open their mouths to respond, and whatever serious declaration they had is ruined by the sounds of hundreds of blonde haired, blue eyed tool gods appearing from absolutely nowhere and rushing the brass giant.
It starts with a whisper, high up above the Presidium. A faint crack of white that cracks like thunder. A light issues forth from a fissure, not in the glass but in something far, far more basic, light which catches the eye of Councillor Anderson as he walks onto his balcony with a cup of coffee, that makes Shepard and Lytek stop an argument and look up.
It widens and strains. More and more people gather at balconies, more and more onlookers whispering and pointing at the odd light.
"What is that?" Shepard asks. Lytek shakes his head in confusion. Iri skitters onto the walkway next to them, tapping together arms, eighteen eyes wide open.
"It's a tear," she says, "It's a tear in the Design!"
Lytek turns to her, eyes wide open and blank. Shepard turns from them and begins walking towards the tear, a crack of white calling forth the disk to her back and folding it out into her armor. "Yeah, that's can't be good-" she starts, but is cut off by the sound of a roar of space erupting and a pillar of acid erupting.
Jane shields her eyes. There are screams and cries, both from the blinding light and the smell of metal dissolving under the brief but torrential torrent. "Acid sea," Lytek whispers, "Oh that's not good. That's not good at all."
In the center of the torrent, a figure forms. Taller than simply tall, she stands high enough that all are forced to look up to gaze upon her face. More than simply strong, she radiates power. Majesty, and will. More than simply imposing, everyone present feels the need to take a step back.
Save for Shepard, who stares upon the blue skinned woman- skin chilled like frost, wearing furs of creatures she has never seen, and a hundred arms burst from her shoulders, each bearing weapons of black ice. In that brief moment, Shepard allow the essence to flow and quicken her knowledge, and a name booms through her head like thunder.
That Which Wears Down the Mountains.
The demon levels a sword, past Shepard, and speaks. "Kill Lytek!" And hundreds of warriors of ice burst forth from nothing to charge.
Warriors made of ice, flesh of black stone, charge through the walkways of the presidium. Flashes of light, thunder of gunshots, and they drop by the dozens, but respawn by the hundreds. Through the gunfire and conflagration, Shepard strides. Using fists and firepower, she holds the line- for as long as she can against the stream.
Which, she realizes, is minutes at most. Despite being fragile, despite being nothing but cannon fodder, the army rushes past her, towards her crew, towards the annoying god she's riding herd on.
Or at least, until someone drops down from on high. Clad in a typical combat hardsuit, he slams down on one knee, fist driven into the ground. The ground explodes around him, the soldiers flying up around him. His armor is painted red, white lines running along it, and in one hand he holds a long, stone staff.
In his other hand he holds a pistol.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he says, standing up, "I'm Mnemon Davani, and I'll be tonight's entertainment!"
And a dozen other armored, armed Dragonblooded drop down from the rafters.
Credit is given where credit is due. They keep the horde contained- Madelrada is known for irregular, guerrilla tactics, and the mortals keep her from establishing a foothold. Instead, they just have to keep up with an endless, unyielding horde.
The dozen that she's gathered wade in- sharing skills, sharing powers, blasting open holes in the front lines of the demons. Which gives her a distraction. The masked, hooded woman grins beneath the wraps over her face.
Pillars of flame and freezing wind buffet the forces of the demon. She takes a deep breath and smiles. The most experienced and trained of them enfolding the battlefield in their animas. "My daughter runs a tight shift on her House," she says, "Good girl."
Green eyes narrow and center on the Solar. The Anathema, a term which she rolls around her tongue with no small bit of amusement. Watching her dance across the battlefield, having roped Davani into her current dance partner. Physically identical to Mnemon, save for the lack of marble skin, but in every other way an opposite.
"So, the Catalyst, is it?" She smiles, and feels the divine essence. Crouching down, letting her sackcloth robes and wrappings fall around her. "We need a time out. Me and Shepard."
An ice-soldier bears down on him, swinging back an enormous weapon which these unfortunate, uneducated souls would call a big sword, but he knows better as a daiklave. It swings, aiming for his neck. Lytek sighs, balls a fist, and breaks the blade with then absently delivered punch.
The demon stares at his broken sword, the tusk-mouthed ice creature making a questioning grunt and turning back to Lytek, only to find the god gone. Immaterial, invisible, the Right Hand of Power walks through the melee, past Shepard, giving the dragonblooded wide berths, weaving through mortals with their fascinating 'guns.'
He walks up stairs, ignoring the din and roar of the pitched battle. The demon- the legendary General of Hell- is off to a bad footing. He knows that. But he needs to find Little Beam and get a better grip on this situation, and that means... "Gods damn it and that diseased dying maniac," he mutters, "Imbecilic, no regard for consequences and just happy to see nothing changes."
He walks along a walkway, weaving between and through running mortals of all kinds- watching a jellyfish float by with a bit of fascination- and finally to the bird-reptile-man named Garrus, crouched down and firing on Madelrada's soldiers through his rifle.
Lytek appears, manifesting in front of Garrus. Garrus' eyes go wide and he spins, pulling out his pistol and aimed at Lytek's head.
The god grabs Garrus by the wrist, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. He looks deep- deep past the body and soul, and into the eternal, supernal thing deep within. He sees- memories, forms. A litany of magics. Trees expanding out in his minds eyes and he traces the paths laid upon them.
A billion years of history writes itself before him- and save for maybe one other, this would be gibberish.
"Excellent," Lytek says, "One of your past lives mastered this power. Garrus Vakarian, I need to escape this battle in order to find someone who can help me end it, and in return, I will grant you the power to fight entire armies single handedly."
Garrus blinks. His mandibles twitch. "Nice. Do it."
Lytek takes a breath and he grips the silver Essence running through the Lunar. He connects the currents. He finds the empty, unexplored places and he sheds light upon them. He brings forth an enlightenment to Garrus which only makes him seize up and giggle.
Job done, Lytek turns and runs, turning invisible once more. And folding up his rifle, Garrus turns, takes a deep breath, and a name echoes through his mind. A forgotten word, a secret name. Emperor Ox Expansion. Smiling, he grips the balcony and leaps over it.
Followed by a boom that shakes the presidium. Rising to full height, the towering, kaiju-sized kakliosaur raises its head and roars.
Holding the pistol sideways, Jane fires off three shots and hits three charging ice-soldiers in the face. She ducks and Davani leaps over her, driving a foot through a charging soldier, twisting in mid air, and shoots another one twice in the chest with his own pistol.
"Remarkably vibrant universe you have here!" he yells.
"Surprised you're not shouting Anathema at me and trying to kill me!" Shepard yells back, grabbing a swung club in one hand, severing the offending arm with a punch, and sending the ice-warrior flying. "Care to explain that?"
As the massive shadow comes over the presidium, a single Elcor looks up, buffeting the waves of running, screaming civilians.
"With reverent and melodious awe: Up from the depths, thirty stories high-"
Davani ducks under one swing, catching the second swing of the sword on the barrel of his pistol and parrying it. The ice warrior stumbles past him, and the dragonblooded jams his pistol against the thing's temple and fires. "Nothing complicated! Just, in the scheme of things, the Legendary General of Hell is a bigger threat!"
Jane grunts and sends another demon flying with a backhand, sweeping another's legs out, grabbing its ankles and throwing it into a charging wall of ice. "Great! Awesome!" She glances around, a quick rotation and clicking on the cooldown on her pistol giving her the time to confirm. "Back to the topic at hand, we're surrounded!"
Davani only smiles, swinging his staff off his back. He drops it, kicks it and it sails over Shepard's head. She ducks and the staff clotheslines two ice soldiers. Jane grabs his arm and pulls him to the side, bringing up her rifle one handed and spraying, Davani grabbing the returning staff and swinging it in an arc.
"Yakoto! Harati!" Davani yells, "Vortex!"
The battlefield erupts in wind, fire, and water, tearing through the ranks of the surrounding ice zombie things. "Besides which," Davani adds, yelling over the roar, "You look exactly like Grandmother, but act entirely differently!"
Grabbing Jane by the wrist, he makes a simple motion and twirls her outwards, Jane tucking a fist against her chest and swinging out at full extension. The fist goes through an ice demon's face, Davani pulling her back and close. She grabs his pistol from his belt, snap aiming and blasting charging soldiers while he twirls them around, dipping her so she can shoot out knees.
"Hold on," Jane says, "Are you making a pass at me?"
Davani grins. "Am I being too subtle?"
She cocks an eyebrow. "I thought you said I look like your grandmother."
He waggles his eyebrows. Jane purses her lips, before twisting out, twirling him out and standing with arm fully extended. She pulls him back, cocking her head and letting him grab the pistol from her belt, and the two spin along the battlefield, blasts and bullets cutting down charging demons. Blasts from her armor's cannons, flame from his fingertips and a mix of sunlight and fire draws more and more demons into the shooting gallery.
"I want to know," Jane shouts over the din and booms, half-noticing the half dozen friends of her dance partner leaping between crowds of demons, "How you don't blow up your god damned armor with this bullshit!"
Danavi dips Shepard, hand on her back, his other hand on her pistol and shooting a charging demon in the sword arm, then the head. "Oh, that's simple. Anima flux doesn't destroy the armor. Also, Great Grandmother did some simple elemental enhancement magic."
Jane cocks an eyebrow. "Great Grandmother?"
A blue flash of light sends several of the bipedal, armed, but most definitely not recognizable things flying, gunshots disabling or killing others. "I know that we're probably going to die," Tevos yells, letting fly another ball of biotic force, "But this is bringing me back! Kind of like when Aleena and I were partners!"
"Indeed." The salarian adjusts the waldo coming from his back, the pulse cannon opening fire. "Feels like last month!" A hum, and his jet boots move him out of the way of a charging ice soldier. "No, wait. Closer to three months ago, before becoming Councillor!"
David Anderson rolls his eyes and grabs aims his rifle, spraying into a mob of the...things. Which he is sure he will have to ask Shepard about, as this is most likely related to her. "Udina! Any word on evacuation!"
An ice demon vaults over the divider between the Councillors and the rest of the battle. It receives a shotgun blast to the face for its trouble. Donnel Udina, Ambassador, checks the heat sink. "C-Sec is still on it's way," he mutters, voice uncaring gravel, "We must have a long talk with the," he airquotes, "God of the Citadel about this incident."
Something booms, shaking the ground beneath them. Anderson glances through his rifle's sight. His other eye goes wide, and he drops the rifle, turns, and tackles both Tevos and the Salarian Councillor. Through the divider, through the wall, one hundred fists carrying one hundred weapons reduce metal to scrap and concrete to powder.
David Anderson was given a brief, all-too-brief education by Shepard's brass-sphere-mentor about what may be out there. He was told of the Demons. He was given a list of possible names, and shapes. But one thing was made explicitly clear about the ones referred to as Demons of the Third Circle.
In a less advanced age, these beings would be worshipped as Gods.
The giant points a single spear at them. "You are the rulers of this world," She says, Her voice cracking like thunder. A single command and the ice soldiers cease for a moment. "Call your forces. Find Lytek. And I will consider this enough to spare you."
Her answer comes in Udina blasting her in the face with his shotgun. She staggers, momentarily. Turning to him, she snarls, as Udina sees the writing on the wall. He extends his left arm fully, firing blast after blast, explosive shells scarring and burning the stone like face.
Until the ice blade comes down and Udina's arm disappears, the shotgun spinning in its final release towards the demon. A blink, a high pitched tone, and it explodes with enough force to send the wounded ambassador flying back and the make Madelrada roar.
The smoke clears and the last of the caked silver sand and black ice falls off Madelrada's unmarred face. The first thing they notice is that her shade of blue is very similar to the Asari. The second thing they notice is that she is completely unharmed.
Holding the stump where his left arm was, Udina bites back a grunt and licks the flecked blood off his teeth. "Well that was a waste."
The ground beneath them shifts. The remains of several ice warriors fly past. Madelrada turns, looking up, as do the councillors. "I'm going to need to increase the liquor budget," Tevos whispers.
"Ah!" Danavi says, "You have a Moon Anathema, too!"
Jane looks up, eyes wide. "Oh god dammit Garrus when did you kill that?"
Brushing the top of its head against one of the high arches of the Presidium, the kakliosaur reaches up and adjusts the blue outline surrounding its left eye. A swing of its tail slams against the sides of tall buildings, breaking windows and dragging metal.
Garrus Vakarian roars. The force of it sends ice soldiers flying, shatters glass throughout the Presidium, and makes the demon standing in front of the Councillors blink. Then, Madelrada grins, and strides forward. One hundred arms fold back and become two large and muscular arms, and That Which Wears Down the Mountains cracks her knuckles.
Standing knee deep in the remains of ice soldiers, dead aliens, and wrecked vehicles, Lytek leans against the flaming remains of the shuttle and holds his face in his other hand. "So...the Dawn? The Dawn isn't here? I went looking for you- I showed the Lunar the path to power- and the sole being who can stop that demon is not here?"
James Vega sighs, sitting on a torn off turret. "Maaaan I wouldn't even do that even if he were here." He shakes his head, rolling his shoulders. "I can push his Essence further, but he's gonna use it to just hit shit until it stops moving. I keep telling you, Shepard's the best bet-"
James blinks. He looks up, arching his neck. "You feel that?"
Lytek says nothing, but looks up, following James' gaze, and spots Pria just as the goddess flies past overhead.
Jane Shepard watches the battle- watches the demon launch herself at Garrus, watches Garrus' surprise, watches the ensuing carnage- just as the white fire consumes the world, pulls her not down or up but sideways into something else. "The Catalyst understands the Mandate of Heaven. All spirits must obey the Princes of the Earth."
Jane turns to the source of the voice. She stands on a platform of white fire, floating above a flaring sun beneath her. One other person is present- a woman standing on another platform, hands folded on the hilt of an embedded sword, clad in a red robe of breathtaking magnificence. "Mom?" Jane asks.
The woman cocks an eyebrow. "That's a warmer greeting than Mnemon ever gave me," she says with an amused chuckle.
Jane narrows her eyes. "Great Grandmother," she says, circling the woman, her platform moving with her.
"Observant." The woman checks her fingernails. "You resemble my eldest surviving daughter. Therefor, I resemble your mother." She smiles. "I am the eternal ruler of my universe, as I shall be of yours. I wield the Sword of Creation as if it were the sword that sits as a symbol before me. I am the Mother of a Dynasty of eight hundred years."
She spreads her arms. Jane can feel the power wafting off of her. Fire and stability, chill and lightning and life. "I am the Scarlet Empress," the woman declares, "Anathema, I offer you victory. In return, all you need to offer me is your obedience."
One hand forward, watching the flows of Essence like liquid, she tastes it- bile and tragedy, shadow and pain. But she draws herself ever closer, ever forward. "All like I was destined for," she whispers, "Just like it was meant to be."
Flying over the battle, sidelong glances at the massive Lunar in single combat with the demon, Pria wishes Arima were here. She would know what to do. She would know a way to grasp victory from this clusterfuck.
But she has a plan. She has help. Closing blue eyes, she lets her senses shift- measuring the Essence on the wind. Feeling the raw power not just from how it flows but from how it tears everything down around it. "It will let me save them?" she asks.
She feels it slither in her ears, assuring her. Telling her that the price is simple. It will just cost her everything. "Good enough," she whispers, "Just like it was meant to be."
Jane blinks. Stares at the woman. Considers, for a few moments, the offer. "Go fuck yourself," she responds, "Catalyst, don't know where we are, but get me back to the damn Citadel."
The world erupts in white, and Jane stumbles back. She looks up, the same angle, the same direction she was in the...worldly illusion, she somehow knows, and sees the woman in ragged robes and wrappings around her face. Knows it's her, the tyrant with her mother's face.
She sees the sword of white stone and flame hovering against the woman's hand, and ever so subtly, ever so softly, her other hand hovers by a pouch next to her opposite hip. Hovering over something there that Jane can taste, even from hundreds of feet away, even from floors down.
Two pairs of green eyes lock. Jane clenches her fists, lines of white and gold running up her armor. The battle around them dims, the only focus, only sounds each other. So intent, so total their attention, that it takes both of them a split second too long to hear the wind.
Or see Pria, before she appears out of nowhere and snatches the pouch from the Empress.
Tearing the pouch open, the object within hangs in the air in front of her. There is a demon below- as powerful a sorcerer as she is, as powerful as she has and had become both as a mortal, an Exalt, and as a god, she has limits she cannot surpass. The object in front of her spins, but it is not power that tempts her. Not that.
It is certainty. Endings. A careful serenity of her fate. "It was always my destiny to be sacrificed." Her right hand reaches out, and clasps the black and red ring between her thumb and index finger.
The voices become louder- the syllabic and whispering voice of the ring. The scream of the owner, already rising in the air towards her, propelled by white stone and flame. The demon standing over the wounded and bloodied Lunar, who knows what is in her hand, and what it is she slides on her left middle finger.
The ring expands, spiraling outwards. The moment it touches flesh, white and cream skin erupts with black veins. It tightens around her finger and directs her hand, sliding it on while the markings run over her. Her loose robes become thick and black. Her aura begins to shift, from the faint white and blue surrounding her to an inky darkness.
The ring locks and she grinds her teeth, biting back the pain. Black pitch pours down her cheeks from her eyes, and the air around her, the aura around her, turns heavy and liquid. For a single moment, time stops. Time stands. All they can hear, all anyone can hear, is a single voice, a single phrase, that slithers down deep into their souls.
Ah, at last. Welcome. My Scarlet Bride.
It appears first as angry black slashes against the Serpent Nebula.
It appears in torrents and rings, something pressing against reality, something pressing against space and time.
"What the Hell is happening," Jane yells, feeling the Citadel list- which it shouldn't, she reminds herself. Nothing can just affect gravity on something this big.
The ice soldiers wander about, dropping weapons, looking up towards the glass ceilings. Madelrada turns from the battle and stares upwards. Lights shift in and out, and the Empress stands transfixed, appearing in a blink of an eye next to Jane.
"What's happened is that the spirit just doomed us all," she says, "She's initiated the ritual with my band. She's summoned his mythos into this universe."
Something presses against the Citadel- great shadows of something. Shadows of talons, shadows of coils. Blotting out the stars above and casting shadows upon them all.
"I don't know what that is," Jane says, glancing down at her omnitool, "But according to my ship it's bigger than the Citadel."
The shadows collect, coalesce. The light pours forth- yellow and blighted, the color of glowing puss and endless melancholy, flowing from the cat-slit eye that fills the skies above the Presidium. Bathed in its light, Pria folds her hands out. Black ink flows from her, around her. Coiling around her soul and her spirit.
But this is sacrifice. She is no stranger to death. All this will be to save the future- let memories be her immortality. "I invoke the Mudra of Victory and the Sign of Separation," she declares, "And open the walls between our worlds!"
Ice warriors begin floating up. White lightning flashes between her extended hands. "I invoke the true history! And remind those who are beyond failure of their history of failure!" The lightning coalesces and folds into a sphere. Grasping it, she raises it up high, and the soldiers of the demon shatter and wrap around into a great storm of ice.
"I invoke the Laws of Cecelyne! Hear me Yozi! I speak with the authority of the Ultimate Darkness!"
The storm ignites and becomes a great globe of white. Flowing into her hands and into her palm, she sees not the demon charging at her. "I invoke the Sea that Marches Against the Flame! Return your soul to its depths! The pact you have sworn shall be obeyed! I invoke-"
She throws out her hand. It collects, flows, and shapes into a point of light. "Adamant Circle Banishment."
And it blasts out into white. It crosses the Presidium in a heartbeat and strikes Madelrada. Those of her soldiers that remain ignite into white flame. Her frost and her vitriol blaze into nothingness. Screaming, in pain and in will, Pria lets the power flow out, blasting away at the demon, until the cursed, unholy thing fades into nothingness, and,
"Please," Pria breathes.
And Tali'Zorah says a muted prayer, presses the barrel of her shotgun against Pria's shoulder, and blasts her arm clean off.
The arm spins through the air, erupting into white flame and black vitriol. The ring flies free, shrinking, undulating while the yellow eye goes wide and shatters. Shadows latch onto the windows and pull, yanking glass and steel with them into the void- not just space but desolation.
Pria screams, black tendrils yanking her towards the sky, Tali briefly standing still, watching the goddess as something pulls at her to take her with it. "Oh hell with that," she yells, and tackles Pria, grabbing her with both arms and digging her heels in, "Shepard! I don't know what's got her, but get over here and help me keep her-"
And then Pria- and Tali- are yanked into the sky and disappear.
The din and boom settles. Blue fields crackle over the gaping holes in the Presidium roof, faint wisps of the Serpent Nebular settling into heavy clouds. Through it all, Jane Shepard doesn't hear the cries of the dying and wounded, the roar of passing emergency vehicles, or the cheers of victorious soldiers. Her vision narrows like a tunnel, focused on one realization.
"Where did they go," she hisses.
She turns with clenched teeth, hearing the sounds of fine shoes striding towards her with neither care nor concern for the carnage around them. She takes a guess, narrows her eyes, and sees Lytek a moment before he sees her.
"Answers, now," she growls, less walking towards the god and more stalking towards him, "Right now! Where did that thing take them!"
Lytek flares his nostrils and blinks. Walking up behind him, Vega stops short and takes several steps back, an arm up and holding back Liara from entering the scene. "Look, I'm sorry about the mortal and the sifu," the god says, "But this is hardly your most pressing concern-"
His patronizing statement is cut off by Jane's fist. It catches him across the cheek, hits hard enough to make Vega step back with wide eyes, but Lytek merely stumbles to the side. "Well," he says, "I deserved that. If I may finish?"
The floating bits of armor around him hover and shift into a halo behind his head. Standing straight, calming himself with a breath, the god folds his hands at his waist. "Most likely, your follower and the spirit were sent to Malfeas. Hell, by your reckoning." He raises a finger and catches Shepard's fist. "Stop. Reacting." He narrows his eyes. "Listen. This coincidentally meets both our needs. You need your...allies back and I need to return to my office."
"And in return?" she asks. Green eyes narrow, her fist held back by his finger. He twists his wrist and lets her take a single step forward. She has good form, he things. Strong instincts. Loyalty.
"In return, I will teach you what I can," he says, "And we will start now, because I already see what your problem is. I see what your weakness is."
He circles her- not stepping but moving, shifting and flowing. A crowd slowly gathers- people, aliens, diplomats, soldiers. "You see yourself as a soldier. Well, that's fine, for now," he says with a sigh, "But still just a soldier. You don't realize the exact limits you have. You don't realize the mechanisms."
She rolls her eyes. Caked blood and ice falls off her clenching fist. "That's a god damned riddle, isn't it?" She rolls her shoulders, eyes locked on him. "What mechanisms?"
He folds his hands and shakes his head. "Shepard, what are you going to do when you're not saving this universe?" She works her jaw and he continues. "You will live for eons. Your life's work can be accomplished in a lifetime. In fact, it has." He raises a finger. "What was the thing you wanted to accomplish?"
It takes a second, but her reply is plain, to the point. "To stop the Cycle."
He nods. "To wrest control of the Relays from the Reapers, if I understand correctly." He raises a finger with a smile. "You are a Solar Exalted. What you set out to do was impossible. And you have done it."
He reaches out and touches a finger against her forehead. "You have fulfilled what would have been your life's work as a mortal. You have motivated a thousand thousand stars, beaten back your enemy at their own game, and saved the galaxy for the first of many times." Underneath his finger, Jane's caste mark flares to life. "And now you must take the next step. Open the floodgates of Essence, Shepard. Embrace your accomplishment. And now strive for greater."
It starts with golden lightning crackling between her outstretched fingers. The caste mark glows, an omnidirectional light flowing out gently from her- like liquid gold, like amber against the green of the Presidium.
"What's happening?" Liara asks, looking over Vega's shoulder. Vega turns to the display. Watching the light gathering- not from around her, but from within her.
"Oh I don't know," Vega quickly says, "But I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that we should probably cover our eyes."
"There are two beings in existence that understand the Exaltations better than I," Lytek says, stepping back, arms out, bowing, "One by dint of having created them, and the other by dint of automatically being better at everything than anyone else." He turns and grins. "Everyone! If you would kindly do so? Look away. Now."
And as if on cue, Jane Shepard erupts into a pillar of sunlight.
It blasts into the sky- through the holes in the Presidium roof, through the windows of the remaining buildings. From the Wards of the Citadel arms, everyone who looks up sees the pillar that blasts out and overwhelms the emerald and vermillion of the Serpent Nebula.
Atop a hanging piece of scrap, hand clenched over her recovered wedding band, the Desert Empress stares into the pillar. Another pulse of gold and she is gone.
Those who stare at the display are momentarily blinded- their sight not burnt out, but overwhelmed by the glory. Those who can stare at it watch the gold mixing with green, the two rings folding out into existence behind her, shadows extending her arms into infinity- shadows of different forms, different people- marked existences before hers.
The sunlight flows out, flowing upward and around them. It is a soundless roar that can be seen across the Citadel- on every floor, every level. Forty four million sentient beings look up and see the sunrise. Several fall to their knees and find themselves praying.
And then it is gone. Jane still stands, opening her eyes. Looking out at the field of white- the white faces, white buildings, white vegetation, and briefly wonder if she's just gone colorblind. Then realizes, no. She just bleached the Presidium. "Crap."
"That is one thing I can teach you," Lytek says, "Escort me to my office in Yu Shan, and on the way I will give what training you need. In return, I will help you find your allies."
Jane cracks her knuckles. "That's your price for teaching me?"
He shakes his head. "My price cannot be wrung from you, Shepard. Your power was designed to crush beings far greater than I, but I understand it far better than you." He smiles. "Consider it a...compensation for bad introductions. Others have faith in you."
She works her jaw. "Fine." Snapping out her left hand, the omnitool folds out. Walking past Lytek, past startled and bleached onlookers, she brings it up to her mouth. "Joker! Power up the Normandy. We're going to Eden Prime!"
A groan and Tali rubs her eyes, two thick fingers seizing opposite sides of her nose and squeezing. She moans, reaching out, stretching sore muscles with the sound of popping joints. She rolls onto her side, wrapping her arm around something soft and burying her face in something softer- like a pillow but less fuzzy and fabric-y if such a word exists, and for some reason reminding her of her mother. Or Aunty Raan.
Maybe of Shepard, too, because they are large, and soft, and there is a pointy thing at the top, and when she presses her cheek against it, Tali can hear a faintly familiar muttering. "Oooo Maker, is that a tool or are you just excited~"
One eye opens. Tali glances up, and down, and realizes that her very soft, very big pillow is not a pillow at all. She props herself up on her elbow, looking up and out the window, and stares at the endless city of brass spires folded out before her. She looks up, expecting a sky, and just sees another layer of brass city rolling past.
She looks down. She realizes that she is, in fact, completely naked and in a large, ornate and breathtakingly beautiful bed which is large enough to accommodate the entire staff of the Normandy. She looks down, and realizes her 'pillow' was the chest of an equally naked Pria, who still has her left arm- composed of moving shadow- wrapped around Tali's waist.
Tali extends a finger and pokes. She cocks an eyebrow, and then moves her finger up to poke Pria in the cheek. "Pria. Wake up." The goddess says nothing, rolling to her side and hugging herself up against Tali's other arm. This is her life, Tali thinks.
Waking up naked in a bed in a foreign city with her people's god. And she thought her pilgrimage was messed up.
"Pria. Get up." She lightly slaps her on the cheek. This may be a form of blasphemy, Tali thinks. But seriously, from what she can tell slapping The Ancestor is probably the least offensive thing she did last night. Sighing, Tali closes her eyes and mutters a prayer.
Pria's eyes snap open. "That's disgusting-" She looks down. Looks at Tali. Looks out the window. Emits a shriek and pulls the covers up over her chest, sitting up and darting off the bed. Then promptly tripping over the sheets that drag behind her and faceplanting on the masterworked marble floor.
At the foot of the bed, there is a carpet made of flower petals, the veins of each leaf sewn together to lead to a pair of brass and gold doors running with veins of black. "So," Tali says, "Assuming you and I had sex last night, will I become pregnant?"
Pria sits up, floating up and tightening the covers around herself. "I...wha?" She run a finger along the ends of the sheets, severing it and then cutting another section of it. "Pregnant? Why?"
"When I was on pilgrimage I tended to run out of money," Tali says, taking the offered roll of covers and wrapping it around her, "So I'd get meals and a warm place to sleep in whatever temples I could find, and most of those religions had gods that liked to make people pregnant."
Pria scowls, rolling her shoulders up. "Maybe sicko pervert gods."
The doors swing open. Massive creatures, like Elcor with human faces march in, standing at the sides of the woven flower carpet and bowing their heads. Long limbed women with long and thin fingers slide in, playing harp in alien melody while fresh flower petals drop behind them.
A platform enters, on the back of massive, brass and diamond spiders, shifting in time with their legs and spreading out like an unfolding mandala. Atop it, at the center of it, is a man of absolute and supreme beauty, bare chested and clad in a long emerald coat. Amber hair like honeyed wheat falls past his shoulders, and he spreads out four well muscled, well oiled arms.
"My guests," he says, voice booming, brass and endearing, beatific and noble and making Tali and Pria both press their knees together, "That you are awake pleases me, and well rested pleases me even more! I apologize that you had both passed out before anything could happen, but I do appreciate your insistence that I take your clothes!"
Tali blinks, turns to Pria. She shrugs. "Already, I have dissected them- a most fascinating construction, milady," he says, stepping off the platform, taking Tali's hand in two of his, and Pria's right hand in his other two, "As well as your fascinating weapon! All of our subjects will be overjoyed by these tools!"
Tali works her jaw, half dragged towards the window that folds out of the brass wall, stretching from ceiling to floor. "I'm...sorry but I seem to have made extensive use of my emergency induction port last night," she says, "But...who are you, where are we, and what happened?"
The man- the four armed, very pretty, very sexy man- brings them to the window. Emerald light floods overhead, and Tali can see the cheering masses of aliens, looking up upon them and throwing confetti, gold, bottles and musical instruments.
"But of course," he says, and bows before them, spreading out two arms in the perfect, seamless motion, his other hands still on their knuckles and making them both blush, "You are the guests of LIGIER SHIN MALFEAS-" Thunder seems to crack overhead, "Especially you, Scarlet Bride of the Ultimate Darkness! And Queen of Hell!"
The two women fall into contemplative silence for several seconds. They blink, they look at each other, and Pria answers for both of them.
"Ahahahaha," she laughs, "Oh what the fuck."