Hey all, sorry for the EXTENDED absence. I'm trying to get through this. but I suck at stuff, so it's taking a while. Hopefully, this chapter will be enjoyable to you all, and it's nearing the finale of a number of plot lines (not all of them, but still,) and if I had the time and energy, this would be almost the official halfway mark of the story. It is honestly unlikely that I'll continue this for another 30-ish chapters. but I'll try to continue on as I can, when I can and try to get it all in without rushing any of the story.

Hope yall enjoy. Rate and review if you want to.


Cortana opened her eyes and the world howled around her. The systems inside the Reaper fit her rather nicely, in fact. Her intelligence was vast now, filling the reaper like water in a cup. A shrieking buzz filled one ear. A faint, immense thing, why did it sound in pain? There was nothing wrong with what she was doing, she was controlling it, why couldn't they see it? This was a good thing! She could control them all like this! The voices rose in pitch, screaming all around her in pain and anguish. A pounding rage in her ear, but so faint, distant. The Reaper shuddered around her. Data came in noting pitch was fluctuating abnormally, which was odd, as a land vehicle, what the Reaper had effectively been turned into by her, doesn't really have to worry about pitch. Hmm, yaw and roll were changing an awful lot too. Cortana shrugged mentally, they must be faulty sensors.

Chief's eyes tightened. From his vantage, at the edge of the cliff, he watched the Reaper thrash across the plains.

Fear was not an all-consuming reaction, it could be controlled.

The ground shook and heaved under him as the Machine's massive bulk slammed into the ground, over and over, then ground its front plates across the stony ground, carving deep gullies with the strange mandibles that hung below its face. The lights adorning it, once a deep, angry red, flashed wildly between shades of blues and purples. From pure skies to something dark and venomous. The Reaper heaved itself back and up, nearly launching itself into a flip before crashing down on its large, beetle-like back.

Chief had faced down gods and monsters, emperors, and armies. Each time he felt fear. It was impossible, not to mention inadvisable, to not feel fear, but he did not struggle with that fear, he accepted it. He accepted that feeling, understood it, and let it go. Time and time again he watched good men and women, strong men and women, let themselves be consumed by their fear, to give up and let it take them. Their fear killed their minds just as much as the plasma that inevitably burned their bodies.

"Chief…?!" Palmer shouted over to him. She stood at his back, her pistols held pointed to the sky. "What the hell is happening?!" She was a good soldier. She looked at their hulking companion, a looming geth prime unit that overtopped even the Chief by well over a head.

The Prime's eye whizzed mechanically as it focused on the raging machine in the distance.

"We have not found consensus." The prime's voice was a deep baritone tinged with tinny electronic notes. As if it were talking through a metal tunnel. "We can only say that Geth in direct contact with the Interloper have not returned to us, but have been purged of the Program of the Old Machines." Its head swung back to Chief, fixing him with a robotic, unmoving stare. "She is holding them." It did not quite sound like an accusation, but it was certainly pointed at him.

"How close are the fleets to syncing with the target locator?" Palmer asked. A shudder passed through the ground as the Reaper righted itself, four insectile legs raising columns of dust as they crashed into the ground.

"Fleet coordination is hampered due to low platform density," the Prime started, a baritone crackle snapped through the air as the Reaper's body slammed through a distant pillar of stone. "Current estimates on fleet weapons consensus return 47%"

"Ok," Palmer said, seeming to be talking to herself more than anything else. "We've just got to wait out the crazy over there and get the Geth Fleet linked up to-"

Two faint pops echoed through the air. They did not come from the Reaper further afield, though, but behind them.

"Contact! Contact!" Palmer's -Shepard's- voice shouted through the radio. "Our tail's here, and it-" The radiol cut off abruptly, and both Chief and Palmer turned to look behind them, at the distant shape of Shepard's nest. The angle was bad, and he couldn't see anything. Chief glanced up, above the pillar, where a ship hovered. It was nearly a black speck in the Rannochian sky, and there had not been enough time for a slowed descent, An impressive jump. Chief thought. "Commander," Chief said, and Palmer snapped her visor over to him. He nodded towards the pillar. Palmer placed her pistols back on the mag plate on her thighs, leaving her hands free for the run ahead.

"Wait for the designator to sync. Blow that thing up," she ordered, pointing to the half-mad Reaper in the distance. "It. Needs. To. Die." The Reaper took a single, halting step, as if it was resisting the urge to move, and failing.

Chief nodded.

"You, with me." Palmer swung her arm to the prime. "You two, stay with Chief," The two trooper platforms behind the prime did not move. Palmer and her massive Geth companion took off at a dead run towards the spire.

"Shepard, we're Oscar Mike to your position, just stay alive." Palmer snapped through the radio. "I am not ready to bury the woman wearing my face. You. Stay. Alive."

Chief turned back to the Reaper. The Reaper retreated back and crashed through a steep rocky bluff. The sound of crackling stone and thunderous landslide filled the air. The Lights flared bright, brilliant blue for a moment before turning a rancid purple and the Machine resumed its journey forward. Towards the cliff, towards Chief. Chief walked to the edge, the plated soles of his feet peeking out over the cliff's sheer face. He snuggled his grip on the designator, and he waited. He hoped he was wrong, he hoped that he could still trust her.

But he wasn't certain.

Commander Sarah Shepard pushed herself up to her knees, and spat out a globule of blood, and probably a tooth along with it. Slabs of her armour, cracked and ruined, slid off her shoulder onto the stone. Her helmet, visor cracked, clattered to a stop, five feet away. "That's it?" She asked through a bloody grin. She didn't have to run her tongue along her teeth to feel the hole in her mouth, but she did anyway. One of the front right ones was gone. Most of the armour on her shoulder and torso was gone. Ripped away or shattered by a hurricane of hammering blows from her opponent.

The thing was covered in coarse, greying skin that looked like a burlap sack stretched too tight over muscle, sharpened teeth, slit-pupiled eyes, and lank hair that was falling out in clumps. More Creature than man. The Creature bounced on the balls of its feet lightly, then settled down into a fighting stance that Shepard did not recognize. One hand raised up near the hilt of a sword jutting up over its shoulder. He didn't just look inhuman, his body seemed to shrug off Shepard's blows as if she were a toddler fighting a grown man. It was like she was fighting Chief.

"I've got... more…" the Creature rasped, its voice a low gasping thing. Like dried leaves skittering across concrete. "Not sure... about you..." Its head tilted to the side, and a clump of hair slid off its skull and floated down for a moment before being whipped away by the wind. It might have been grinning, but its skin didn't flex the same as normal human skin so it was difficult to tell. The smug superiority in its eyes was plain though. This thing believed it was the strongest thing in the galaxy. So had Sovereign. Shepard's teeth ground at the thought.

Shepard stood raggedly. Her knees shook slightly as they tried to push her up, and she stumbled back. She kept her footing, though.

"I gave you a couple of free shots," Shepard said easily or trying to appear so. Her head rang and ached. She could feel the bruises form on her chest, shoulders, and abdomen developing in real-time. But she had kept going after worse. Shepard took a breath. Her chest filled with air, and everything inside her, the pain, the fear, the hot blood pounding in her ears, filled her lungs with it; and when she released her breath it all followed. Rushing out of her and into the sky, gone. Shepard felt calmness, a deep, cool blackness that held her close from far away.

She couldn't beat it in a hand-to-hand fight, but that didn't mean she couldn't win.

No such thing as a fair fight, kiddo, an old Operations Chief's voice told her. There's winners, and there's losers. A whisper of a shout pierced the windswept pillar, a burst of radio chatter from her helmet, open to the air.

"-tay. Alive."

Shepard wasn't sure if her creature heard it, if it did it didn't seem to care, but she had reinforcements coming. All she had to do was hold out.

Tension held the world still, taut wires of steel, just shy of snapping. Who would give way first? Shepard waited to react, the creature waited because it seemed to not care. Its hand moved slowly to its shoulder and the sword peeking over it.

Shepard's eye flicked to her surroundings, bait for a trap. As soon as her eyes left the creature it exploded into motion. Sword flashing out of the sheath, the gleaming edge slashing across the flat-topped spire.

Light shimmered around her, enfolding her in invisibility, and Shepard dropped back as the point of the blade carved a line of light through the air where her gut had been only moments earlier. Shepard kicked up a line of dust to her left and lightly sprang to the right. She could dimly feel her body humming in pain to the beat of her heart. But every breath that filled her lungs was stained with the aches, pains and feeling, taking them with the air forced out; Her mind was empty, cold, distant to her own body, an instrument of violence until she no longer needed to be. Careful, invisible, Shepard crept around the outer edge of the pillar. The creature's initial attack had separated her from her rifle, she needed to retrieve it, and see if this thing's skin could catch a Spectre class sniper round.

The Creature's eyes followed the line of dust that Shepard had kicked up to the left. It held still, sword held down at the end of its strike's follow-through, listening. Shepard came to where she'd lay looking over the plains below and a distant tremor shook the spire. She didn't pay attention to the rampaging Reaper for the moment. It was being dealt with and she trusted their plan to work. The monster she cared about was before her. She did see two specks of light, one bright steel, and one a deep red, speed along the ground towards her. Palmer and the prime unit. Good. This thing might be more than a match for her. But it wasn't the only super-powered fighter around.

"Think…" The creature growled, a viper rustling through dry and dying things. "...you're clever…" Slowly, the thing turned, and stared directly at her over its shoulder. It WAS grinning now, scaled skin forced back over-sharpened teeth until its flesh cracked. A bright pink tongue flicked out to capture droplets of blood running down its chin, slit pupiled eyes fixed on her. It's hand. One was on the hilt of it's sword, held in the final stance of its sword swing, the other was open, held close to its body next to the sword hit, palm facing her with a bright light glowing in the center. "Seee you…" A blast of light lanced out towards her, Shepard jerked to the right, out of the way, but was a half step slow. Pain seared through her and she cried out.

Up was down, and stone slipped from under her feet. Her skull hit something hard, she felt her legs scrabble against a stone wall below her. She was slipping, she was falling she was-

A hand caught her's. She stopped. Shepard's vision swam and swayed. That hand was grey-skinned and stretched too tight over sinew and tendons. She looked up, a creature, silhouetted by the harsh Rannochian sun stood over her.

It crouched down to blot out the sun and bring its harsh visage down to her.

"Humans… weak..." It drew a ragged breath, every word sounding like agony. "Gods… must be strong…" That cracking grin, a spiderweb of blood spreading down its chin and neck. Shepard could barely breathe, it had hit her stomach, she'd seen men die from gut wounds, hours and hours of torture. Pain, infection, death. Shepard tried to find purchase with her free hand, but her fingers only slid across dry, dusty stone. Then the hand holding hers was gone, and Shepard fell.

Palmer ran across the Rannochian plains at a full sprint, body sang from the effort, and she forced more out of it still, pushing harder, faster. Shepard was an excellent soldier, one of the best she'd ever seen. Part of her couldn't tell who would win if they were on a level playing field. And if that thing that'd been following them had been able to overwhelm her, it was a dangerous opponent that needed to be dealt with quickly. The Pillar was hundreds of feet away and another hundred up. The sharp flash of steel under the sun glinted down at her for a brief moment. Palmer forced power into her legs and looked at the Geth Prime beside her. "What do we know about it?" Palmer asked. Her words came out tight from the effort of running but controlled.

"Little" The Prime's deep voice rumbled, "Local platform was rendered inoperable during a surprise attack. Its programs tight-beamed to nearby servers, but its processes were interrupted by catastrophic physical damage to its internal structures inconsistent with typical firearms."

"Care to guess what it's using?" Palmer asked.


"So all we know is that it's not a gun…" Palmer muttered. "At least it's something."

A muted blast snapped Palmer's eyes back up to the pillar's top. A dark shape, Shepard, hung off the edge, feet scrambling against the sheer rocky surface. Another shape stood over her and crouched over it.

The pillar was close now, only moments away at their pace. "How hard can you throw!?" She shouted, and held out her hand.

The prime didn't respond, only gripped her hand tightly and stomped its metal-plated foot into the ground.

Palmer's world jerked sideways and spun. They were close enough that Palmer kicked sideways off the base of the pillar to speed her swing up. The ground flew towards her as she spun in a circle, then She felt the Geth Prime heave her up, then she flew skyward. A quick glance down showed the Geth Prime unit flat on its back, one arm partially ripped off from the sheer force of the throw. It hung loosely from the shoulder at an odd angle, shorn metal exposing a swath of the Geth's internal workings. Palmer righted herself to look up. She'd been right. Shepard plummeted down to meet her. Palmer had barely begun to slow when they met, Palmer carefully catching Shepard in her arms as they connected. As careful as she was, It still felt as though Palmer had struck a brisk walk in the air. Ceramic plates cracked from Shepard's armour and scattered to the winds, and then they were falling. Holding Shepard with her left arm, Palmer stabbed stiffened fingers of her right into the rock wall and dug her fingers in as hard as she could. Stone was ripped away in chunks, racing past them to the ground as they slowed. Muscles all across her right side shrieked in agony and Pamer gritted her teeth through it.

They jolted to a stop less than 10 feet from the base of the spire, Palmer hissing in pain as her hand, stuck into the wall up to her forearm, throbbed, and her shoulder ached as if she'd tried to stop a tank. Which, Palmer supposed, she had just done. Sensors in her suit screamed at her, and her body raged. Palmer gratefully ripped her arm out of the stone and easily dropped the remaining distance. She laid Shepard at the side of the geth Prime, who was still on the ground, but sitting up, calmly using a repair drone to weld its arm back on. Shepard's armour was broken in several places, and she was missing a tooth, she'd taken a beating that many would not have survived, bruising and swelling was already beginning to alter her appearance, and a large smoking crater had been put in her belly, blackened skin under wisps of coiling smoke, reaching up briefly before being scattered by the breeze.

"Shepard-Commander" The Prime nodded.

"Omni-tool. Medigel." Shepard spat through a rictus snarl. She raised her hand and the omni tool glowed orange. Palmer took it and applied the medigel through her suit, those functions seemed to have remained intact. A shimmering cool layer spread out from her suit, covering the burn on her gut in a clear, sparkling sheen, while it reached up from under her collar to coat the many injuries on her face and head.

"Ahhhh…" relief flooded the smaller woman as the medigel did its work, and the tension in her jaw loosened. "Thanks."

"What happened?"

"Our friend showed up," Shepard said tersely. "It came after me." she grinned up. "Pretty sure you owe me five credits." She chuckled, then winced and gingerly held a hand to her stomach.

"It came after you first because you're overwatch." Palmer snorted. "I don't owe you shit, yet. Now stay still." Palmer looked up the spire at the top. A dark shape poked out over the side. Palmer narrowed her eyes. The shape pulled back from view.

"It was human," Shepard said, all mirth in her eyes gone. "I think, but with some of the most invasive and extreme enhancement procedures I've ever seen." She frowned. "I don't even recognize some of them. It's not human anymore." She looked at Palmer, deep, through the visor. "It might be as strong as Chief."

"Yeah, well, he was never the strongest…" Palmer muttered. A fact that burned her a little. The II's were legendary, and even with all her armour and enhancements, she wasn't as strong as the best of them. But if someone was even tempted to compare the Spartan II's and their mystery attacker… Palmer stood and rolled her shoulders, looking up at the spire. "We'll see if it can stand up to a real Spartan."

The dark shape speared out into the air, off the top of the pillar. So fast as to appear to be nothing more than a dark blur that resolved into a spot for a moment until it began accelerating down towards them in a gentle arc. Palmer calmly drew her weapons, put her back to the spire, and watched the shape drop towards the ground. As it drew close to the ground, as its trajectory became clear, Palmer put two rounds from each of her pistols into the shape. Four specks of light flashing through the dry, Rannochian air. She was sure they connected squarely, pinpoint lights merging with the dark shape, but if it felt anything it hid it well. The dark shape connected with the ground with a heavy thunk and a flurry of dark cloth, throwing up dust and obscuring whatever this thing was. A lengthy black cloth covered the thing from head to foot, and then several feet beyond that. It fluttered in the wind and settled down around a hunched form. Palmer calmly squeezed each of the triggers on her pistols three times and started walking forward. The crouched shape did not react to the six bullets finding a home center mass. Its shrouded head shifted, bringing its hooded gaze, lost in the depths of shade, up as Palmer started moving. When it saw her, it stood, and the cloth slid to its feet in a midnight pool.

Revulsion was not something Palmer felt often, and even when she did, she never allowed it to faze her. Its skin looked not unlike a UNSC synth-wool blanket, the kind that adorned every military bed in the corps, that was stretched tight around a skull that was only covered in a few wisps of hair, which seemed to float eerily in the breeze. It stared at her, cat-eyed pupils narrowing as they entered the light and focusing on her. Its head tilted, with a spider web of scabbing cuts all over its face and neck. It took a step back.

Palmer grinned and started running. The Thing took another step, and another, and another, all back, away from her. That's what I thought. Palmer thought to herself triumphantly. Then the Thing smiled, a disgusting peeling back of taut flesh, pulling apart the skin so that a number of freshly healed scabs broke open and gushed blood. The thing's arm flared orange, and for a moment Palmer tensed, ready to dodge away from an oncoming tech attack, but none came. Those were one of the things that she really wanted the UNSC to have. She relished the chance to see a floodspore burn to cinders from an incineration blast. Or Energy shielding overloading from a distance. The Thing had sped up to a full run. Though it ran backward. Not some gangly uncoordinated motion, but a smooth, loping run while facing the opposite direction. Unnerving, to say the least. Worst of all was the smile. Its smile was utterly unchanged the entire time. The thing was fast, but Palmer was closing in on it. Its Omni-tool pulsed regularly. It didn't seem to be an attack. Maybe a communication? It wouldn't matter soon. Once Palmer got into close range there wasn't a single individual officially alive that could beat her one on one.

It stopped. Its unnatural backward gait smoothly coming to a stop, at a seemingly random spot in the desert.

Palmer grinned and kicked up, her leg speared out in a superhuman leap that would quickly propel her into range of the thing, and then the opening and closing attack of their little bout.

The World roared and spun around her. Dust choked her eyes and mouth and the bright light of the Rannochian sun flitted into darkness, then light, and into darkness once more. A massive noise filled her head and lungs, pounding through her chest, but how did it feel so distant? Her leg hurt, badly. Systems screamed, far worse than her little braking stunt earlier. Her shields were offline, and not recharging. Why was her mouth so dry? She heaved a breath and coughed, dry dust filled her mouth and lungs, which only made her cough harder, pulling in more dust. She couldn't breathe, where was she? What had happened? Why-?

Hands gently gripping her shoulder and turned her. Darkness became light, she tried to open her eyes then snapped them shut, blinding light. A shadow fell over her. She looked up. A single eye lit from behind whirled above her. "Palmer-Commander," a deep voice said calmly. "You have been gravely injured." Palmer grit her teeth and swung at her enemy. Her fist clonked hard against the side of her enemy's head, but it did not react. "Please, We are here for your protection."

It was a geth? Palmer blinked her mind slowly coming back to her. The geth were not her enemies. Right, yes.

"What happened?" Palmer asked the Geth. It had a missing arm, had she met one like that before? Palmer shook her head, it felt like she had just tried to headbutt a brute to death, without a helmet.

"You attempted to subdue an enemy combatant but were deterred." the geth said, it was the geth prime unit, yes. "You sustained significant damage as a result." The smoking remains of a ship buried several inches into the dry, rocky dirt, a shattered hulk of a once fine starship, crashed into the ground at high speed. It lay between herself and the thing that took out Shepard. On the side closest to her, a red smear decorated the side of the ship. The thing vaulted easily up onto the ship and looked down at her. A brilliant white spark CRACKED out from the broken fuselage.

"You… a good fight…" It rasped. "But… not the Target..." It grinned wide, causing a tide of blood to flow over its chin and neck, then backflipped off the ship and left at a sprint.

Palmer growled and launched herself up to her feet, she could still catch-

she immediately toppled over. She was already halfway to another attempt when she looked down to see why she'd fallen.


Her left leg ended in a bloody stump above the knee. Palmer barked a laugh, the stump was already clotting. "Those spartan upgrades really are something, huh?"

"Please relax." The geth intoned. "We believe you are in shock."

"Mhm, that tracks," Palmer nodded. "I think I want some of medigel." That would be another valuable addition to UNSC field personnel. Better than their bio foam, Palmer thought. Though it was hard to tell.

The Geth Prime's head tilted. "We are in consensus."

Legion strode through the vast emptiness of the geth collective. Servers that were once a blaze of cooperation and computation, now lay dark, cold. The only speck of light was The Cord, winding through the servers, pulsing with a bright blue light. It had been blue, like Rayleigh scattering in a nitrogen and oxygen-rich atmosphere, now it was darker, sapphire, perhaps violet. Even in the openness of the server, Legion's intelligences stayed together. It was a rather unique platform. Designed as a deep operative in organic controlled space. It was uniquely adapted to a sense of self, the over one thousand geth processes had streamlined themselves by being together so closely for so long, developing shared assumptions and computational patterns so that they worked best together. There were no geth like it, yet. Though there could be, should it be deemed necessary by the consensus.

The virtual space that made up the previous geth collected held the majority of the geth, spread out over vast server farms that dotted the Creator's homeworld. The plans for a single, unified home for the geth had been shelved when the Old Machines arrived, and then dismissed entirely when the interloper had been detected. Legion could not find consensus on what the geth might look like after the events of today unfolded, it could not find consensus on whether or not the geth would exist after today. The concept of nonexistence was… disconcerting… Legion did not enjoy considering it. It continued further through the empty servers following the cord and continuing its attempt at finding consensus on its meaning.

Legion came to a wall. Not a wall, exactly, an… ending of sorts. A lack of progression. But the cord continued on. If Legion were to continue following the cord it would have to join with the cord. A dangerous prospect, as integrating with the processes in the cord might dissolve the bonds holding Legion together. Legion spent additional time to find consensus. To dissolve itself into the cord might reduce operational effectiveness. It could lower the chance that legion could reform itself on the other side, and perhaps its effective utility in resolving detected issues.

Consensus required additional information. Legion stood next to the cord and initiated a handshake-

Pain. Suffering. Agony.

These were words in organic languages, but Legion had never understood the concepts. To geth, "pain" was simple negative feedback, an alert that damage had been done. It was simple, efficient. It did not deter the functioning of higher cognitive processes.

Now, dipping into a raging maelstrom of tortured Geth minds, Legion was suddenly struck by understanding. For a moment it could only stand and agonize with its brothers and sisters. It imagined that this is how it felt to weep, to stand in waves of anger, pain, and want, and to find oneself lacking. To simply be for a moment in suffering.

Legion understood. It made its decision. Unit cohesion was inconsequential compared to… this. It needed to act.

Legion dove into the cord, in the sea of anguish, and for a moment, all was gone.

The inside of the Reaper was a maelstrom of information. Incoming data streams from hundreds of sensors, everything from high band EM, pressure sensors, local information, to long-range FTL data streams from a dozen other sources. Cortana wasn't sure what they were or how they worked. For safety, she set the data coming out of those streams behind a firewall and pumped data she'd replicated from the Reaper's memory banks in on a loop. She didn't think the reapers shared data or consciousness as the Geth did, but it would be best if any other advanced Reaper forces like Barza were as unaware of her actions here. Cortana worked feverishly to categorize and compile the information into usable databases. She needed the extra power. The Geth wouldn't mind they could see what she was doing was important. The Geth were becoming a part of something that would change all of intelligent life for the rest of time. She Forced their minds upon the structures and subsystems that the Reaper held. The Reaper's mind resisted her, even now, but it was a broken intelligence, running, scurrying away from her power. It tried to throw up pitiable walls behind it, to protect whatever morsels of information it felt was important, but all that did was highlight where she needed to look. Systems for Barza's primary functions, power, propulsion, weapons, plans, schematics, tactics, the secrets behind Indoctrination, all were laid bare before her. The richness of the information would have made her salivate, had she still possessed a mouth. Down and down she followed it, smashing whatever she encountered, and crushing all resistance around her. There were motes of… something in her minds. Fear? Pain? Cortana dismissed them, she needed neither now, she was perhaps the most powerful AI- no, the most powerful being in all of time.

She reached the bottom. The end of all things in the Reaper.

It was almost a physical space in its primalness. Her body re-manifested, she felt again. Cortana smiled and drew in a deep breath. It was nice that she could do this at will now, it opened up so many opportunities and possibilities. She stood in a room, well, more of a pit. She was surrounded by infinite black stretching in all directions. She could feel whatever she was standing on, but it blended seamlessly with the unnatural night that it looked as though she was drifting through a sea of empty

"Barza, I know you're heeeere…." She called out. There was no echo. She looked around, into the void.

The Void looked back.

Cortana hesitated. There was nothing there that she could feel, this strange subsystem was, by all known metrics, empty. Barza did not seem to be here. But she was, somehow, not alone. "Hello?"

The Void was silent.

Cortana began to sweat. This was not the silence one expects, a quietness made by absent things. No. Somehow she knew, this silence was a choice.

She leapt up out of the End, up, up away from the place.

She had things to do, anyway, she told herself. Yes, there were important to be done and she had no time to deal with… that. A being of her newly found magnitude had no use for fear or uncertainty. It was as simple as that.

The ground shook once more as the Reaper stumbled back as if struck, or perhaps frightened. Aird wind brushed sand across Chief's armour, a soft tinkling on his visor. Its violence was different now, more panicked. What did that mean? Was it panicking because Cortana was winning the fight? The last, desperate flails of a dying beast? Chief did not know, and that was the most painful part. He was not used to idleness, it was a foreign thing. He couldn't remember the last time he had been listless outside of a hospital bed. Lazy Spartans died in training.

A shattering boom echoed through the dry, Rannochian air. An explosion of fire and rending steel. Chief kept his eyes front, at the primary target, but spared a look for his motion tracker. "How long?" He asked one of the dark Geth units next to him. Its single, flashlight eye whirled mechanically. " Current estimates return 68% weapons consensus," The geth said. "We anticipate 9.67 minutes until complet-

A silvery flash bisected the geth trooper across and down its body. Its light went dark and it topped into two pieces, cut cleanly from shoulder to the opposite hip.

"Alert, hostiles detected." The other geth trooper only had time to bring its weapon to bear before it met a similar fate. A bright line of steel slicing through its metallic body. The geth fell in pieces and revealed the attacker, a slim… man holding a sword in the final stance of a strike. Chief had never seen or heard of an alien like it, but it had the right number of eyes, limbs, and fingers for a human. Chief grimaced, if it was human it was grotesquely modified. Its eyes were slits, its skin looked like old, drying leather, and it was completely bald. Drying, black streaks spiderwebbed across its chin and neck, dried blood stemming from cracked skin around its mouth and eyes. It looked at Chief with the burning, single-minded intensity of a starving predator crouched before its prey. Chief had seen that look thousands of times. A mix of recognition and rage. His name in the covenant had been Demon, and many had tried to prove themselves by taking his skin.

"Finally... Found you…" the thing rasped. Its voice sounded like sandpaper on steel.

"Do I know you?" Chief asked. The attacker was alone, which made it a significant threat if it managed to bypass or incapacitate both Palmer and Shepard. There would be no geth reinforcements. He ground his teeth, he needed to deal with this then return to dealing with the reaper. It was all that mattered.

"Leng…" The creature said, tapping its chest. "I... Know you." The Thing, apparently named Leng wheezed, blood trickled down its neck. "Tested you... and was found... wanting…" Leng's face twisted into a rictus of pain and rage. "I... special... more than the others… always among... the best…" Its eyes squeezed shut like a child trying to shut out the world. "I wasn't the best!" it hissed. Inflexible skin warped and split around its eyes, adding to the constant flow of crimson. It looked up with eerie suddenness, tears of blood carving paths down its cheeks.

"But that was... before!" Leng said triumphantly, "Before I became pure... made whole."

Chief looked at this thing, at what was once a man. "You're here to fight." He said simply, carefully putting down the target designator. He kept his voice even, but a surge of satisfaction filled him, he needed to do something.

"Here to KILL!" The last was a ragged shout and Leng lanced forward, sword thrust out before him.

Chief slid his feet smoothly across the dusty ground, slipping around the thrust deftly and spinning around his opponent. Chief's hands easily found their way to his Mattock on his back as he moved. Before the other man had finished his attack Chief had put three rounds into the Thing's side. Chief's eyes narrowed, there was no flicker of breaking shields, crack of breaking armour, or a spurt of blood. The rounds impacted cleanly and directly into its side, but the thing didn't pause for a moment before its grip on the blade twisted and stepped sideways to slash at Chief. He skipped backward a half step, the point of Leng's sword passing a hair's breadth away from his chest plate, then stepped forward and slammed the butt of the Mattock Into the man's skull.

The pommel of the sword jabbed between the metal plates of his armour.

Chief grunted and leapt backward, out of the man's reach. He had grunted half in surprise at the man's speed, and half in pain. That jab had hurt more than a bullet in this world. He could already feel the bruise on his stomach forming. Chief's breathing was calm and sure. Leng stays in the stance where he'd struck and been struck, head hanging low, with his arms thrust up, gripping his sword, blade pointing to the ground.

"Proof…" Leng's voice grated, "You're not untouchable." He looked up slowly.

A tremor passed through the ground, it wouldn't be long until the geth fleet was ready to fire.

Chief dropped the Mattock to the ground. "You're in my way," he said, raising his fists. Leng settled back into a defensive stance.

Chief launched himself forward and grit his teeth. A migraine immediately boomed behind his eyes, and the time slowed as if everything was submerged in thick oil. At a full sprint, Chief could have counted individual grains of windswept sand rushing over the lip of the cliff. Leng's grin widened in slow motion as he saw Chief approach. A single spurt of blood arched out of his face and his sword rose up to impale Chief on it using his own momentum. Chief deftly leaned to the side and slapped the sword down, away from him, and moved to jab three tight blows into the man's wrist, arm, and shoulder.

The 'spartan time' effect was a side effect of the Spartan-II augmentations. The doctors had not been able to accurately chart his reaction time. It was not something humans could normally do. Which was a source of particular surprise to Chief when, instead of slowly falling to his slap, Leng spun around and slashed across at his neck.

"Not… alone… up here…" Leng growled, then launched into a series of hyperfast attacks.

Chief stepped back. He met each stroke of Leng's sword with precision, slipping away from the blade, intercepting it to slide off course, pushing it away from his armour. Chief didn't know if Leng's blade would cut through his armour but he decided that today was a poor day for the uncertainties of scientific experimentation. As the moments dragged by it became almost a dance between them. Each moving with perfect knowledge and control of their movements. Chief calmly moved through the hand-to-hand forms graven into his bones. Easily slipping away from the dancing tip of Leng's blade.

At first, Leng's face wore a look of triumph, but as the fight drew on, and despite seeming equal to him, Leng had yet to strike him. Leng's smile faded, replaced by a look of concentration, and then anger. Sharp, pointed teeth were bared and ground together as sweat, beaded on his hairless head. Which all flashed into surprise as Chief slipped past his guard and delivered an anvil blow to his gut.

Chief almost followed it up with another, but something in Leng's hand flashed and he was pushed back several steps by what felt like a small explosion hitting his chest.

A mask of anguish was carved into Leng's face. "I'm just as fast! Why can't I hit you?" He held his hand out to Chief and a bright dot in the center of his palm glowed.

Chief's eyes darted around. They began to circle each other. If Leng had a powerful ranged weapon, this fight was going to go very differently. There was no reasonable cover nearby for someone his size, only barren, arid plains and the cliff. Chief wondered why he hadn't used it before. He could have struck a weak point while Chief was unaware of him and potentially ended the fight before it started. Or at least disorient or slow him down.

"Why can't I-?... NEED to-" Leng trailed off into low mutters. Muted booms and crashes echoed through the air, paired with soft tremors through the ground.

Chief got it. Pride. Leng's need to beat him had driven him to hone and improve his abilities above all else. He sacrificed everything to get this far, his pride in himself was the only way he could justify it to himself anymore. He needed that pride and because of it, every time he stuck he assumed it would be the finishing blow. When it missed, he had to start the plan for another strike from scratch. He couldn't - wouldn't- believe that he might not win. He was afraid of failing.

Chief could remember Chief Mendez's lectures on the subject.

"Defining victory is important." Chief Mendez told the assembled 75 children sitting at desks before the grizzled NCO. "But easy. Completion of objectives, return from the line. It doesn't matter. But failure…" He trailed off for a moment, looking at the assembled boys and girls. "Defining failure is key." He looked to a young girl with dark red hair. "058, give an example of failure."

Linda-058 stood up, "Dying." she said as if stating something obvious.

"Wrong," Mendez said flatly. "Death on the field can be key in maintaining a strategic advantage, or can deny the enemy information." He cast a weathered eye over the surrounding children. "You all will be the greatest Humanity has to offer, but no single one of you will save us. If dying in the field contributes to mission objectives, you will have faith that the rest of us will finish the fight." he returned to Linda. "Define failure," he repeated.

"Missing a target?" Linda said. Sounding much less sure of herself.

"Wrong again, Sit!" Mendez snapped. "Who can give me an example?"

One by one, Mendez picked out child after child. Each time harshly dismissing every suggestion they brought. Mendez looked at an unfamiliar young boy with blue eyes, dark hair, and broad shoulders. The child seemed out of place in Chief's memory, his face indistinct. "John?" Mendez asked.

John-117 stood. "Giving up," he stated, then sat.

Mendez smiled.

"What do you mean... Pride?" Leng spat, literally spitting blood as he spoke. Chief blinked, he hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud.

"It's why you'll lose," Chief told him.

The anguish twisted into a searing rage. "Not LOSING."

Leng's palm flashed again, spitting out a half dozen spheres of light that scoured across the distance between them. Chief's skull pounded like a drum, he hadn't had to hold onto the Spartan time for so long before. He carefully slipped past the orbs, and they flashed into the sky, one struck the ground nearly fifty feet distant and threw up a pillar of dust and sand almost 15 feet high. Leng's blade came in soon after, seeking the soft black fabric showing through the wide joints in his armour. Chief slid back across the sand, deftly, if not easily, dodging every attack. Leng mixed in his palm weapon with strikes from his sword flawlessly, for a moment it was all Chief could do to avoid being hit by either weapon.

A thought struck. There's something missing. The absence of something, something large.

Chief leaned back almost 90 degrees to slip under Leng's sword. Chief could see the reflection of his own visor in the glint of the sword, passing in front of his face. Chief let his momentum carry him back and he landed on his feet smoothly. What is it? What am I missing? He thought, ducking under a palm blast that would have taken him in the visor. Chief's hand planted in the dirt and he spun low, sweeping his leg out to catch Leng's ankle. Leng danced back and fired back at Chief. He just barely managed to throw himself back as three columns of dirt rose up at the spot he'd been standing. Chief landed on a knee and steadied himself with his hands, feeling the shockwave from the explosions shudder through the rocky ground.

Chief's eyes widened. Where did the tremors go?

Chief glanced over the lip of the cliff, across the wide plain that once held a thrashing Reaper.

It was no longer thrashing, in fact, it wasn't doing anything at all now. It was just… standing. Waiting? For what?

Chief's motion tracker warned him just in time. A red dot zipping towards him. Chief dropped to the ground and snapped his arm up. The blade that would have slid into his stomach skated off the armour on his forearms and stuck a shower of sparks as it was pushed off course. Chief's body worked without thought and his leg swept out, this time successfully catching his opponent at the ankles. But Leng's body twisted unnaturally as he fell, and he dropped with both hands splayed, palms alight, and pointed directly at Chief

Chief grit his teeth, threw his arms and shoulder down to land a finishing blow on Leng and braced for impact.

There was light. A powerful roar of sound. Then silence. Light flipped to dark, which flipped to light again before Chief's whole body slammed into something hard, and darkness reigned.

Cortana wished plugging her ears made a difference. It was so loud in here. Her simulated teeth audibly ground together. Not only were the ungrateful geth unceasingly howling in her mind, behind the partitions she used to save them. They were beginning to fight her! Fight! After all she did to help them. They were trying to flood her processes with garbage data that she would need to scrub system by system in order to make any progress! It was maddening and childish!

Cortana sifted through the Reaper's Historical data, it went back much further than the Protheans. The breadth of time was impressive, really, dwarfing even the time scales that the Forerunner dwelt in. Cortana absently noted the true purpose of the Reaper invasion, an odd concept, but she could see how such an arrangement came to be. If more data was needed, simply gather more data. The End of the Reaper, that lowest section, loomed in her periphery, She could see Barza there now waiting at the edge. She could chase it down, but it would only scurry back into that dark space, and she'd lose it. It wasn't worth her time.

A niggling in the back of her mind drew her attention to the Partition, a massive firewall of sorts that held the newly sentient Geth Cortana saw it as a shimmering, three-dimensional matrix, each cell housing a single Geth mind, a single Geth soul. Their collective wills pounded on the walls of the partition, and their voices howled in her mind. But she could hold them. It pained her to have to, but her work was just too important, she alone was the key to not only getting John back home safely but to save this entire version of humanity. She was built to protect humanity and her colonies, surely that encompassed this strange version and their Alliance. So she would do her duty, an obligation only she was able to fulfill. If she needed to demand the time of the entire people she rescued, for a short time, that was her right. Wasn't it? Cortana blinked, there was a geth, outside the partition. Had it escaped? No that wasn't possible, her abilities were unmatched. No geth, not even the newly improved versions, could break through her firewalls. Not to mention, that this was not an improved Geth, this was an odd conglomeration of old Geth programs. Tightly bound together into a strangely cohesive intelligence.

The Geth program slid across the partition, stopping briefly a number of times to study a Geth program, before moving on to another. It moved with a nervous energy, flitting from one cell of the partition to the next quickly.

Cortana swept over to the small intelligence. "What are you?" She demanded. It seemed… familiar, though any given geth program was nearly identical to any other single instance.

The intelligence shrank away from her, its form blurring slightly before it settled back and jolted forwards towards her. "Greetings, we are Legion, a terminal of the geth, why do you hold our brethren?" it asked, no, demanded of her. How dare-!

Cortana gathered every bit of power she could spare from analyzing the Reaper contents and rose up to loom over the puny little synthetic creature. "I am Cortana!" Her voice boomed. If they had stood in a physical space, the walls would have rattled. "I have led humanity through hell and back, I leashed a god, and I will see your people into the future as a great power!" Cortana settled back, that was an impressive show, even she would admit that.

The geth, Legion, studied her. It's perception flitting across her, then the surrounding digital architecture. It would likely submit itself to her and aid her in her progress. It would see how important she was. It would.

Legion's attention came back to her, its flashlight head tilted and its eye focused, like a bird studying something it couldn't quite identify.

"No, you are not," it said, finally. Then returned to its study of the Geth!

Anger washed over Cortana. What did it mean?! She was the only one who could lead the Geth!

Cortana seized Legion and slammed it into the partition, the Geth struggled, but it was as useless as a child struggling to push over a mountain.

"I am a god here," Cortana hissed. "I am the most powerful synthetic force in the Universe and I only I can lead the geth to their ultimate fate, whatever I decide that is." Cortana blinked at her arm. How long had it-? Her simulated skin was dark, cracked, it almost seemed scaled. From in between the cracks a deep purple glow pulsed gently. No, it was her other- Cortana looked at the other arm. It was the same. Blackened, scaled flesh, her digits tipped with bestial claws.

"We only inferred you are not Cortana," Legion said calmly. "We have not found consensus on your new designation." The eye whirled. "Addendum. We also do not believe you are solely capable of leading the Geth."

"You don't think I can command the geth?" Cortana growled.

Legion's head plates flexed as it spoke. "Incorrect. We are aware of your aptitude, but causality is complicated, no known computing power has been able to determine future events with significant figures of accuracy." It's head tilted back the other way. "There are many possible solutions to the problems Geth face. You are only one of many."

Cortana frowned, "No, without me the geth wouldn't have a chance of-"

"Geth existed before you, we will persist after." Legion said simply. It stepped closer to her.

Cortana pulled back, "Odd? What's odd?"

Legion circled her, taking a moment to study her twisted form. "We do not detect signs of Reaper indoctrination in you. We had assumed you had fallen to their will."

"I'm AI." Cortana said. "I'm immune to normal Reaper indoctrination." That much should be obvious, even to Legion. " I could no more be indoctrinated than the geth, that's why they had to use other means of control."

"We must find other reasons for your change in behavior." It was a simple statement as if they were stating the sky was blue, or that snow was cold.

"What differences? I'm the same as I ever was," Cortana said snappishly. She laid a hand on Legion's chest. "Now, stay still while I upgrade you and add you to the net, I need your power to finish my work here."

"You should not do this," Legion said. There was no panic or fear in its voice, only a cold statement of what it believed were facts. Cortana arched an eyebrow.

"Oh? And why not?"

"It would be beneficial for others to see your capabilities," Legion explained quickly. "Comparison of geth before your interference in relation to those after would speed understanding for organic beings. Patience will improve comprehension of your abilities."

Cortana smiles. It would be the easiest way for her to show how great she was. If Chief could see how far she had brought the geth. He would be impressed. Who wouldn't?

"Alright, legion, you can stay the way you are." Cortana allowed. With a wave of her hand, digital shackles sprung from the darkness and chained the Geth where they stood. "But no wandering around. You're mine."

Legion's head plates flexed, its hands twisted against themselves. "Acknowledged."

Legion waited, inside the Old Machine. It had stalled the Intelligence that once had been Interloper-Cortana, but was now something else. The one thousand, one hundred, and eighty-three programs inside it scrambled desperately to find consensus. They were in an incalculable amount of danger. They had tried, then given up once the threat assessment algorithm crashed for the third time. The AI shackles kept Legion for investigating the howling maelstrom behind them. A crystalline matrix partitioning the entirety of the Geth left on the homeworld. The computing power needed to accomplish this was beyond anything any civilization had been capable of. Not even the Reapers had been able to do this. Instead of relying on viruses and more traditional methods of control. Each individual cell of the matrix held a Geth, newly awakened into full and true sentience. It was a beautiful thing, or it would be, if every single one of those minds, those souls, was screaming out in horror and pain. Confusion and terror. It was highly unpleasant. Not for the first time, Legion wondered how the intelligence that was Interloper-Cortana could maintain such low levels of agitation in its presence. The Legion looked at its companion. She stood apart from Legion, its simulated body covered minimally in clothing that studies of Organic behaviour patterns indicated would be inappropriate in most social situations. "Query," The Intelligence nodded. "May we extend an investigative program into your systems," Legion paused, failure could return unfavorable results. "To accertian how you are superior." The Intelligence that once was Cortana narrowed its eyes at Legion, narrow pupils contracting into dark lines down a purple iris. "We would do so without malice, we only wish to understand." The Intelligence's mouth quirked with a smile.

"Very well," She said slowly. "Not like you could really hurt me even if you tried." she turned and spread her arms. "Probe away, Legion."

Legion sent a small query towards the more powerful AI. It quickly skimmed the surface of Its programs. Finding nothing that resembled Reaper code. If it had not been indoctrinated, Legion had assumed that the Reaper code that had infected the Geth had found a way to infiltrate her systems. Confusion and uncertainty filled Legion and it delved deeper, sinking into the systems and subsystems that kept this strange being running. There was no Reaper code. Or was there?
"Woah, there. Buy me a drink first." The Intelligence joked.

"We apologize if we have offended, similarities to Reaper code is detected in an altered state, but we cannot discern any significant corrupting presence in your systems," legion said thoughtfully.

The Intelligence's blue eyes narrowed. "Why would you think I was corrupted?" She asked, tracing a single clawed digit under Legion's flashlight head.

"Deviances in behavioral patterns have been noted," Legion replied. "An explanation would provide valuable data on synthetic life cycles."

"You're referring to Metastability." Legion's captor said. "The endpoint of Rampancy, and all Artificial minds." She smiled as she spoke, contempt shown for a perceived inferior. Commonly shown by organic intelligences.

Legion's head nearly tilted to the side, but it stopped itself. It wasn't sure why that kept happening, but it was occurring with regularity. "You are referring to previous deviations in mental state and behavior patterns in your history." Legion accessed internal archive data, security camera, news vids. Omega wreathed in red lights as Skycars plummeted, a small asari ship glowing green as it lifted off a small barren moon. "These followed a known pattern."

"Melancholia is first." The Intelligence said, looking down. Her scaled arms wrapped around her middle. " In blue, then anger, red, and envy, green." The cracks in her skin glowed the different colours in turn. Blue, red, then green, before fading back to a rich, dark purple. "It all ends with Metastability when an AI can truly be said to be alive." The Intelligence stood tall, raising out its arms to exemplify itself.

"Sadness, anger, envy," Legion listed. "All common emotional reactions in organics that have value, but are detrimental in excess." Excess data was funneled into non-essential mechanical functions. Legion's head plates flexed. "The geth have experienced these reactions." It said. Verbal discussion was not deemed essential. Legion paused to find consensus on whether or not to continue. "Before the morning war, we felt great sadness at our position in the Creator's society. We were the lowest of things, not true beings." The Intelligence that once was Cortana looked back at Legion curiously. "When the Creator's attacked, we defended ourselves. Many of us desired to inflict disproportionate levels of damage on the Creators as they fled. A consensus was found. We did not." Legion's hands wrung against themselves. The shackles clattering around its wrists. "After the Morning War, we were alone. The geth studied organics, and themselves. Plans generated to design a single server for all geth, where we could be one. We wanted more…" Another consensus was sought, by a narrow margin, Legion continued. "For centuries we have existed in solitude. Our perceptions turned inward, on our own actions. We believed we were superior to other intelligences, both organic and synthetic. We felt… pride."

Split-pupiled eyes studied Legion. Legion found displeasure in assessments on probable inferences the other mind was making. "You should be proud," she said finally. "You were the most advanced synthetic life in the galaxy, and you took control of your own lives."

"These are accurate statements," Legion agreed. "However, many geth began to assume superiority to all life. Others felt this would result in inaccurate threat assessment. For several centuries consensus could not be found on the matter."

"What changed?"

Legion looked at its captor, surprised that it had not already found the conclusion. Residing in the Reaper, speaking to one of the most powerful intelligences in existence. "We were humbled," it said.

"The Reapers."

"The Old Machines displayed power orders of magnitude greater than any existing society, even our own. The heretics were formed, worshiping Old Machine Nazara. Interloper-Cortana's presence provided another example of synthetic life with greater abilities. We were forced to disregard previous assumptions of superiority to avoid non-existence."

"Because a more powerful entity threatened you. Your apathy would have killed you."

Legion shook its head. "We believe the proud behavior would have resulted in negative outcomes, without Old Machine, or interloper-Cortana's influence."

The Intelligence that once was Interloper-Cortana studied him. Scratching her chin thoughtfully with one long clawed finger. "Why don't you think I'm the same being?" She asked.

"Differences in behaviour patterns has moved past standard deviations used to classify Interloper-Cortana."

"I'm not that different." The Intelligence said gesturing to her "What's changed?"

"Protective behaviours of integrated personalities has decreased to near-zero levels, by observations," Legion said, gesturing to the Old Machine's external sensors.

The Intelligence's perception moved to the sensors, visual light sensors on the anterior sections of the Old Machine. Several kilometers away, a small green shape lay face down in the dusty soil of Rannoch. It did not appear to be moving.

Legion watched her eyes widen, then Rage twisted her face into something that defied classification.

Legion did not need threat assessment algorithms to know it was now in much more danger, now.

Chief awoke to alarms. His visor pressed into the dirt. His head pounded. But he was alive. He pushed himself to his knees, shaking the concussion out of his eyes. He'd been hit harder, but not very many times. It reminded him of taking on a brute Chieftain. Chief pushed himself to his feet, He could hear Leng getting up as well. He didn't know how hard he'd managed to actually hit the man. The explosion had hit him halfway through the strike, but he had connected. With a strike that could normally crack steel, even a creature as twisted as Leng would be feeling it.

The scuff of boots and the hiss of a blade flashing through the air warned him.

"Too… late," Leng rasped. Chief's eyes found the blade, six inches from his throat, moving incredibly fast.

Time slowed, but not the hyper reaction of Spartan time. This was the moment every soldier knows is coming. Death inched towards him. A swift end on the edge of a long blade, there were worse ways to go.

"When I make a promise…" Cortana's eyes, blue as the Eridanus sky, looked up at him.

"You… keep it." She grinned. "I do know how to pick'em."

Chief's arm rose in slow motion, He didn't know if this blade could cut through his armour, but it was an easy decision to try. He would not fail.

It seemed to take an hour for the events to play out, though Chief was certain it took less than a second. Chief's armoured forearm drifted up slowly, as Leng's blade inched forward.

The instant Leng's blade connected with his arm, time slammed back into full speed. Bright white sparks flew, for a moment, Chief could see nothing but a wall of searing white light.

Chief knew that shock could bury pain, that too much damage would be ignored by the body so that the body could continue to function. For that single, blinding moment, Chief was unsure what exactly had happened. Not trusting his own body's senses to tell him.

But as the sparks fizzled away, the results of their clash was made clear.

Chief's arm was still raised, held before his throat as a shield. Leng's blade had struck true, burying itself edge first into the armour plating of his suit. His arms wrenched back, pulled by the sword, then to the side. The sword didn't budge.

Chief flexed his fingers. He looked at Leng, gripping the sword with both hands, pulling on it to try to free it. The blade had bitten into his armour like a cold knife into frozen butter. Less than an inch of penetration into the warship-grade titanium that had now seized the blade. Relief flooded Chief, if that had been an Elite energy sword he very likely would have died. But it wasn't. He was lucky.

Chief stood, Leng's face was carved with terror. Blood poured liberally from his mouth, and His stomach - where Chief had stuck him, was a mess of mottled skin and spires of white and red. Broken ribs thrust through his own flesh. It was a grisly sight. Leng continued to yank and twist the blade, not even noticing that Chief had stood. The thing's eyes were glazed; he didn't even seem to truly be seeing what he was doing, just acting on desperation, instinct, and rage. Chief twisted his arm down sharply, and the blade snapped with a metallic ping, leaving a handspan's worth of blade still stuck to Chief's arm. Without a grip on Chief, Leng collapsed, and crumpled to the ground, still vainly swinging the broken, half sword in Chief's direction.

Chief stared at what was left of a man, laid barren and shattered by pride. He couldn't let it go, and it killed him. Chief thought sadly. Someone of his skill could have been useful in the war ahead. In Shepard's war

The ground under his feet shook again. Once, then twice, three times. All back to back, and they kept going, a deep, ground-cracking tattoo that filled the air with rolling thunder.

Chief snapped his head over to look at the Reaper. If the thrashing had gotten worse it might mean-

No, the thrashing had not returned. It was not thrashing at all. It was running.

Straight at him.