AN -- Thanks to Reikson and Drakpendragon
As Harbinger’s hand burst into flame, Shepard began to scream.
Shepard started as she opened her eyes.
She was sitting before a roaring bonfire.
As she looked across the flames, she saw HER.
The First Slayer.
Her painted face, a mask that seemed so different… so feral…
More primitive… and yet, it was all so familiar.
She felt a burning pain and looked down at her hands and arms, where strange silvery tattoos were slowly working their way up to her fingers.
The tattoos looked strange… almost like… circuitry.
She panicked, flailing her arms about and trying to stop the creeping spread of the odd tattoos.
“What’s happening to me?!?” she demanded.
“Strong will, this Ancient Scourge…” the First Slayer growled. “Yours must be stronger.”
The primitive reached a hand through the flames, seemingly feeling no pain.
The demand was obvious.
Shepard didn’t want to, unwilling to be burned by the bonfire.
“Soul-eater… sharing pain…” the painted face seemed amused at her reticence. What’s so funny?
“It’ll be… reborn,” the figure observes. “A slave.”
“The soul eater?” Joan whispered. “Morinth… she’s being indoctrinated, converted.”
The First Slayer nodded and gestured again, waiting for Joan’s hands.
“I’ll be burned… it’ll hurt,” Joan whispered, vaguely feeling like a little girl again.
“The heart and soul of your enemy’s power is their ability to control,” the young woman observes, her lips peeling into a sneer. “To resist this corruption, you must be stronger.”
“Will I be safe from them?”
She frowns somewhat, as a bespectacled bald man in a shabby and outdated suit suddenly thrust a plate of cheese slices into her field of vision. Shepard barely kept herself from killing him, somehow knowing it wouldn’t work.
Finally, Sineya said, “In time.”
Any relief that Shepard might have felt was derailed quickly. “But understand; once they learn that you cannot hear their call, they will come. No mercy will be the rule.”
“What about Morinth?” Joan asked. “Is there a way to save her?”
“You truly wish to save it?” the primitive seemed incredulous as the cheese-man bit into a grilled-cheese sandwich right in front of her.
Great; now she was hungry and confused. “Of course I do, she’s… she my crew.”
“It is like the undying,” the First Slayer was angry now. Why? “It consumes life as they do. Not worth saving.”
“She’s helping me fight,” Joan said quietly. “That’s more than I can say about a lot of my so-called allies.”
Sineya scowled at Shepard, unhappy with her. “If you would save the soul eater, then you must guide it to that which it seeks.”
“What’s she looking for?”
“Do you not know?” When she shook her head, the primitive scoffed in irritation. “Ask yourself, if it means so much to you. Help it find what it’s looking for, and it will help you find the victory you seek.”
Then the First Slayer turned towards a cave that Joan hadn’t noticed until that moment.
Its inky depths held a pair of glowing orbs that seemed to burn with a cold fire.
“What’s in there?” Joan asked.
“A gift that you placed there,” the primitive noted blithely.
Still eating his sandwich, the cheese-man added, “The cheese won’t look for you. You will look for it.”
Shepard drew away from the cave. “No… I don’t want that… not anymore.”
“Unimportant,” another voice interjected, in a language that she didn’t know but could still somehow understand. Quickly turning about, she found herself staring at three African men wearing desert garb in various colors; red, tan, and dark-blue.
She had no idea who they were supposed to be, but something about them sparked an instinctive hatred in her.
“As long as it is a part of you,” the tan-garbed man said, in the language that she didn’t have a hope in Hell of identifying but could still understand as though it was English, “…you will always seek it out eventually.”
The blue-cloaked man added, “We cannot offer you knowledge; only power. Beasts we are, lest beasts we become.”
Shepard looked down at her arms and saw the tattoos were now creeping past her elbows.
“The mark of this scourge will soon cover you entirely,” the red-garbed man noted.
“If you do not act,” the tan-cloaked man added, “…you will be lost to their corruption.”
Shepard reached out and felt the First Slayer sliding a hand into hers, as she felt the sizzling of her flesh.
“Their will is strong,” the blue-cloaked man observed. “But yours MUST be stronger.”
With that, the First Slayer’s grip on Joan’s hand suddenly became a vise, and she pulled.
She screamed, suddenly IN the flames as it burned away her clothes and hard suit.
Fire licked at her body, searing into her flesh as she belatedly noticed that the circuit-like tattoos had covered her completely and were now reaching for her head. But the flame halted them, forcing it into retreat.
“Their will is strong, my child,” the First Slayer said finally. Her voice was… soft, almost maternal. “…but yours MUST be stronger.”
As the inferno burned her alive, driving the Reaper’s corruption from her body, Joan Lisbon Shepard screamed as the pain threatened to destroy her.
Shepard woke and found herself still in the grip of Harbinger, who was still holding Shepard aloft. “Your strength has grown. But we should not be at odds, Life-Ender
“You think that stealing humans in the night makes us alike? Are you delusional or just insane?”
“You do not yet comprehend our place in the greater design
,” the possessed Collector sneered. At her blank expression of confusion, its eyes narrowed in an apparent scowl as it added, “Nor your own, it would seem.
“You want our people, for reasons that I have yet to discover and honestly couldn’t care less about,” the Spectre snarled, barely able to keep her anger in check. “I’m going to stop you, no matter what the cost. That seems simple enough for me.”
Harbinger pulled her closer, as if examining her. “Your resistance is typical of those tainted by the Great Abominations. Your corruption is proof enough that the cycles and the harvest MUST continue
Grabbing the Collector’s wrist with a free hand, Shepard raised her fist and made to stab it with an omni-blade again. But Harbinger reached out and grabbed her arm, holding the weapon at bay quite effortlessly.
“…and now you stand alone, Shepard
.” It seemed smug. “How can you hope to defeat us?
Another blade rammed itself into the Collector’s chest, as Xander’s face appeared over its shoulder. “Maybe something us humans like to call cheating!” the immortal Scooby hissed.
“This form is redundant
.” Harbinger growled, letting its Collector form disintegrate.
Shepard dropped to the ground, coughing a few times.
“Took your sweet time with the rest of those Collectors, Harris,” she croaked. “Losing a step in your old age?”
“Could be,” he said snidely, no bite to his words. “I suddenly can’t remember whose ass I just saved.”
“Fine, fine,” she shrugged. “I’ll just add it to your tab. That’s only… what, three you owe me now? No, four.”
“Oh, I see; keeping track now, are we?” he growled lightly. “In that case, pulling your girlfriend’s ass out of the fire should be counted a few times over.”
“Liara?” she snorted. “She’s quite capable of saving her own ass, thank you very much.”
Mordin chuckled with delight as he poked and prodded at something behind them, scanning it with his omnitool.
“Whatcha got over there, Doc?” Shepard asked.
“Live specimen. Not quite dead yet.”
Xander and Shepard turned to look at each other, realization dawning on them even as the injured Collector suddenly burst into flame.
“I am infinite; you are bacteria. Salarian; your fragile genetic structure and insufficient lifespan are unimportant to me.
” Harbinger thundered as it batted the old Salarian aside.
Harbinger charged at Shepard, who dropped to the ground in a roll to the right and came up with her Mattock firing slugs stamped with Bose-Einstein condensate.
Xander rolled left, slapping a thermal clip into his Revenant and blasting high-explosive death at Harbinger. It barely blinked as shot after shot climbed inexorably up its fiery form.
“Your attacks are as primitive as they are useless
,” it thundered, firing a fiery Warp at the immortal Scooby and hurling his body back by the force of the explosive impact.
Greenish-gold fire exploded as Xander’s body hit a fusion-power cell and the scorching heat of the blast arced over his armor and flesh.
He screamed in helpless pain.
Grunt snarled and charged Harbinger, actually crashing into the creature’s fiery form and throwing it to the ground. Seizing the opportunity, he jammed his Claymore up against its body and fired at point-blank range.
The weapon’s distinctive clanking roar clapped as Harbinger’s proxy body was torn in half at the waist. It rasped, “I will find you again
,” as it disintegrated. But Shepard was already up and moving, gathering Xander up and carrying him in her arms.
“Garrus, we need a safe zone!”
“I saw what looked like a bunker nearby, but they were on us before I could check it out.”
“Get us in there!” Shepard snapped
Zaeed moved in beside her and fumbled with a medi-gel injector from his field pack.
Without waiting to be asked, he jabbed it into Xander’s body.
“It’ll kill the pain,” the old man grated. “Just ‘cuz he’s a goner don’t mean he’d want to spend his last Goddamn minutes screamin’ his arse off.”
The squad ran for the dubious safety of the bunker, which turned out to have its door jammed shut somehow. Mordin, Thane, and Morinth had beaten them there, with Thane standing watch as Mordin continued to examine Morinth’s unconscious form.
Garrus fiddled with the door’s lock for a minute before Shepard’s frustration peaked and she pushed Xander into Zaeed’s arms for a moment.
“Door’s problem isn’t just cyber, it’s also physical.” Garrus reported.
Shepard nodded, grabbing the door’s crevices and pulling hard. A loud groan of warping metal could be heard amidst her muffled roar of effort before she seized all of her mystic strength and wrenched the door open, feeling the power of her predecessors flowing easily though her body.
The door groaned in protest, but eventually gave into her power and slid open.
She reached back to Zaeed, taking the burden of Xander’s body from him and carrying him into the shelter.
“What the Hell’s going on, Shepard?!?” Jack finally exploded. “What was that all about?!?”
“That was the Collectors, Jack,” the Spectre-Slayer snapped. “You knew that the job was dangerous when you signed on. You really think that the Illusive Man sank a few billion creds into this mission just so you could talk smack to mercs and thugs? No, this is what we’re really supposed be fighting. They’re the real enemy.”
Mordin was kneeling down to try and treat Xander, when Shepard caught sight of what he was doing.
“Doctor, Morinth’s in greater need,” she said quietly. “If you could attend to her, Mister Harris will either be fine or he won’t; either way, Morinth needs your expertise.”
“Sorry; thought you’d want me to-”
“Xander’s a friend, but he’s also a friend who understands that we’re on a mission,” she interrupted him quietly. “That mission needs your genius deployed for an entirely different purpose right this second. I need to know what Harbinger did to Morinth.”
“Of course; will begin examination,” the old scientist nodded.
“Shepard, are you all right?” Miranda asked, noticing the Spectre running her fingers through her dreadlocks.
“I’ll be fine, I’m just…” Shepard groped for an explanation. “I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea of what we’re dealing with.”
you’re concerned? I know that you’ve been pissed with him since Haestrom, God only knows why. He saved your life, after all.”
“How, though? How did he save my life? How did Rosenberg wipe out a room filled with enemies with a wave of her hand? These people have secrets, Shepard. On a mission like this, secrets are dangerous.”
Xander groaned on the floor and Shepard looked down at his prone, sweating form.
“He’s on fire right now.” Shepard changed the subject. “Not just on the outside, but inside as well. The fusion gas and that weird biotic energy are burning him up both ways. He’ll spend the rest of a very short life burning to crisp and feel every second of it.”
“I know.” Miranda fretted. “Maybe there’s something we can do?”
“I know what I can do, but the consequences… there are always consequences.”
“Look, if it bothers you, I can take care of it. I’ll make it quick.” Zaeed offered gruffly.
“Haven’t you heard, Massani?” Shepard replied grimly, “I’m the Butcher of Torfan; I don’t have a problem doing what has to be done. For the good of the mission, I have to do this…”
She dropped to the floor, kneeling by his gasping form. “Xander, listen to me. You’re hurt badly, but the Collectors are moving. Every minute we sit here, they take someone else, so you know what I have to do, right?”
Xander looked up at her before nodded quickly. Shepard took her M-6 Carnifex in hand and jammed its muzzle tightly against his chest.
“I’ll see you in a little while,” she whispered.
Jack couldn’t help it, she flinched and looked away as the gun went off and Xander’s form slacked in death.
Shepard shook her head and stood up. “Everyone, you’re about to see something extraordinary. I shouldn’t have to mention that this is not to be discussed with anyone outside the ground team.”
“Discuss what?” Zaeed grumped. “Kid was dying, you did the right thing.”
“Indeed. Harsh but true.” Thane agreed.
“Wait for it,” Garrus muttered, drawing curious glances.
Shepard saw it first. The odd effect of Xander’s wounds closing at visible speeds, his flesh knitting itself back together, the bruises fading…
“What the fuck?” Jack whispered.
“Extraordinary,” Mordin observed aloud. “Some form of acute healing factor? No, would not function postmortem. Genetic anomaly? No, would be attendant physiological markers-”
Xander suddenly jackknifed into the air, green smoke and fire spilling from his mouth amidst a roaring gasp as he began coughing violently.
“You shot me?” he asked her. As she quirked an eyebrow at him, he absently rubbed his chest. “In the chest?”
“You always complain about how much you hate waking up with a headache,” she shrugged blithely. “If not the head, then it had to be the heart.”
Xander shook his head, slowly staggering to his feet before he noticed the amazed looks from those members of the squad who’d never seen him resurrect himself before.
“Weren’t you dead a minute ago?” Jack asked.
“That happens to me from time to time, you’ll get used to it,” he shrugged.
“Question,” Mordin began, always the scientist. “How have you managed to avoid mutagenic side effects-”
“Excuse me?” Xander interrupted wryly.
“Body naturally evolves, damage to body causes evolution to account for damage and thus be able to eventually counteract,” the aging savant-scientist explained, his omnitool already active. “Damage skin when working with hands, so skin toughens. Damage eyes when operating in bright light or in shadow; eyes will adjust to environment to compensate. Your reaction indicates that you’ve died of burns before; why is your body still not resistant to radiation or thermal extremes?”
“Short answer; I don’t know,” the immortal Scooby shrugged. “Long answer; my body resets itself to a specific point every time I get hurt or killed, but it’s not complete.”
Even Shepard and Garrus turned to stare at him. “I lost my eye a couple of years before I found myself able to resurrect. I grew it back when I got this ability, but a lot of the scars that I picked up in my life beforehand are still there.”
Jack slowly approached him, prodding at him with a finger. “That’s fucked up, Harris. You can do that and you’re running around playing boyscout to the Queen Bitch of the galaxy?”
“I’m touched.” Shepard snorted.
Xander just shrugged. “I like what I do.”
“But I’ve seen you take hits before.”
“It still hurts, I just heal quickly,” he shrugged. “I mean, just because you hit like a girl-”
Whatever profundity Xander might have offered was lost as Jack snapped her knee up between Xander’s legs, making him crumple to the ground with a choked-off groan.
Jack looked down at his huddled form and nodded with satisfaction. “Human enough for me. I’m cool with it.”
Zaeed only snorted. “Had that one coming.”
Shepard stood over her wincing friend, shaking her head. “Come on, soldier. At least tell me she used some biotics there. Let me at least have a little sympathy for you,” she razzed him gently.
“Nope,” Xander wheezed. “No, that was just a simple nutshot, just the way God made it.”
“Well, Hell hath no fury and all that,” she chuckled. “You of all people should know that.”
It fell to Garrus to help Xander back to his feet, and he didn’t bother trying to hide his snickering,
“So that’s how he survived all this time,” Simone whispered. “Immortality.”
didn’t steal a body,” a strangely-familiar voice said snidely. “He’s earned the power that he was given.” Twitching, she spun around but saw no one behind her.
There. In the corner, in the shadows…
Was that… her cousin? Yes… and she was glaring at her.
“Hey, farm girl, what the fuck are you looking at?” Jack called out to her.
“I… I thought I saw someone in the shadows.” Simone said vaguely. When she looked again, the young girl was gone.
Jack peered into the shadows and then rolled her eyes. “Great. Miss Mouthy Farm-Girl’s cracking up.”
“I’m not cracking up!” Simone snarled instinctively.
Shepard looked at her speculatively.
“I’m telling you, I’m fine.” Simone insisted, trying to ignore her cousin’s accusing glare. It was clear nobody but Simone could see the displaced spirit.
The Spectre finally shrugged and turned to the rest of her ground team. “All right, people, show’s over. Mordin, how’s Morinth?”
“Ardat-Yakshi physiology experiencing odd mutations of some kind,” the old Salarian reported, his omnitool displaying an image of an Asari body that was flashing red in various areas. “Detecting presence of nanites using her adrenal response to travel through her bloodstream with great speeds. Intended effects of Reaper nanites unknown thus far.”
“They’re trying to make her into an Asari version of a Husk.” Shepard speculated.
A few more scans, and Mordin nodded. “Supposition supported by available evidence.”
“Can Xander help her?” Miranda asked carefully.
“Who, me?” Xander snorted, having recovered from Jack’s nutshot. “I’m no expert in Asari physiology. Hell, I barely understand how human beings work and I’ve been one for over two-hundred years now.”
“But… you did something to me on Haestrom,” she pointed out, unwilling to reveal that he’d somehow cured her sterility.
“Haestrom?” he rasped. “All I did was slather a little medigel on your insides. Why?”
The genetically-engineered woman frowned ever-so slightly as she gave Xander another assessing glare, making him shift uneasily. Finally, she saw the truth; he didn’t know what he’d done for her, and barely understand what had been done TO
Giving up, she said finally, “It’s nothing.”
“No, it’s not, Miranda.” Shepard interjected. “If something’s happened to you that might affect the mission, then we need to know about it post-haste.”
“Assuming we live long enough to get out of this room?” Miranda asked dryly. “You can be damn sure that I’ll explain everything back on the Normandy. But right now, we need to focus on the Collectors.”
The Spectre nodded. “Fair enough. Simone, does this colony have any defenses?”
“I’d settle for a way to call the damn cavalry,” Xander groaned, popping his neck.
“Well, there are
the colony defense towers…”
“Yeah, we’ve got a full GARDIAN suite scattered throughout the colony, plus a few defensive mass-accelerator cannon turrets,” the farm-girl Slayer shrugged. “Some Alliance rep named Ashley Williams has been here for a while, trying to install them successfully. I heard her say something about the calibration systems being screwed up, plus there’s supposedly some nonsense with the power generators.”
“Garrus? Up to calibrating a giant gun?” Shepard smirked.
The renegade Turian chuckled. “Please, Shepard, I’m insulted that you think you’d have to ask.”
“But I’m guessing that the Collectors won’t sit around while you do your regular thing.”
“Yeah, but static defenses are a snap compared to calibrating a weapon for the Normandy,” he shrugged. “Just get me to that control panel and I should be able to fix the targeting systems.”
“What about the power systems?” Xander asked.
“Simone, how are they powering the guns anyway?”
“We built this massive underground generator just to make it work.”
“How massive?” Xander groaned, already dreading her answer.
“Huge. When the thing’s powered up, the noise can be heard all over the colony.”
Garrus sighed. “…and I’m hearing a decided lack of engine noise.”
“Great,” Xander muttered. “So we’ll have to do a cold restart, and that means hanging around until the guns have enough power to actually start shooting.”
“Our objectives are clear, then,” Shepard nodded. “Garrus, Zaeed, Jack, Miranda, Xander, you’re with me. The rest of you, hold this position until we signal for help. Mordin, do what you can for Morinth.”
They all nodded as Shepard turned back to Simone. “Lead the way.”
The farm-girl Slayer nodded eagerly, expanding her stolen Collector weapon. “Awesome.”