Gestallan - (particularly in reference to the wind or other force of nature) Of encompassing change. A change of fate or fortune. In turian mythology, it was believed that Praelas rode such winds as their steeds, charging into battle to change the fates of individuals, tribes, and whole planets.
Praela(s) - The name for ancient warrior spirits who were believed to ride great beasts (or forces of nature) into war at the head of their tribe's legions. Spirits of great bravery, tenacity, and a fearsome beauty.
Buratrum - The realm of the spirits of dishonourable association.
Torin - Torini plural. Male turian of the age of majority (15)
Tarin - Tarini plural. Female turian of the age of majority (15)
Quiritus - Applies to both genders equally. Equivalent to people or ladies and gentlemen.
Tarc - Vulgar expletive equivalent to shit.
Drellak - Tall, relatively slender four legged herd animals weighing approximately 300 kilos. They have a thick, plated skin covered in thick, shaggy, very coarse hair that provides them with protection from the elements. They once wandered the entire planet in vast herds. They have formed the staple of the turian diet since hunters brought them down with stone hunting implements. In modern times, they run in free-range, managed herds.
Tapiris Fern - An enormous fern indigenous to Palaven's southern climates. It can grow to three or four metres tall and up to ten metres in diameter. At night the fronds curl themselves up into neat rolls that then line up into a cylindrical mass. When the sun hits them, they unfurl again.
Menae's thin atmosphere bites at the inside of General Adrien Victus's nostrils, cold and metallic, bearing thin layers of smoke, spent heat sinks, and death. He draws in a deep breath, pulling that scent all the way down into his soul. The smell of battle, a stink he both hates and loves. Hates … . He doesn't have to look far to see why he hates it. Less than a metre away, too many bodybags wait to be burned.
He turns toward the call, but doesn't speak. After so many days of shouting orders, his voice … well, flat and hoarse can't begin to describe it. Instead, he raises his brow plates and nods, encouraging the young officer, Ralayis, to speak.
"Our scouts report three soldiers fighting their way down the valley," she said, stiffening to attention. "Looks like two humans and Vakarian, sir."
Relief in the form of three soldiers? High command's idea of a joke, surely. Hiding his disappointment and the growing weight of disaster, he nods to dismiss her. Despite his dismissal, she remains, trembling and eager, the very picture of why he loves war as much as he hates it. Spirits, they make his heart ache behind his keel … so beautiful in their eager courage, in the purity of life distilled to its barest essence.
"I think it's Commander Shepard, sir." Ralayis grins, her mandibles flicking so hard it must hurt. He opens his mouth to question her, but before he speaks, she spins on her talons and bolts back to the gate, no doubt wanting to witness the famous human's arrival.
The deep, pulsing beat of battle rolls out of the canyon to the east, the music growing clearer as it pushes through the smashed gates of the camp. Shepard? Maybe command hasn't abandoned them after all. If Vakarian is with her—and all his wild stories can be believed—the tide can turn to their favour at a moment's notice. Hope sparks, a low candle flame warming the back of his neck.
Anticipation murmurs through the ranks like a wind storm, gathering strength as his people strain, leaning over barricades and climbing up onto roofs of shelters to see. Victus merely watches despite their infectious enthusiasm. Behind his keel, his heart pounds just as quick and fierce as theirs, but he holds himself separate, aloof and unflappable, as is proper. Regardless of this rare breath of hope, the battle rages around them, and someone needs to keep their head in the fight while the rest snap holos and ask for autographs.
Shadows, black against the eternal grey, announce Harvesters soaring in from the west. He chuffs softly to himself at the Reapers' timing—he didn't need them to help emphasize the point—then bulwarks his spine, dropping his shoulders. Units drop, covering the ground in a thick layer of opposition to crush the newcomers and the hope that races in on their heels.
"Eyes and minds on the battle, quiritus!" he hollers. "Let's show these bastards what we're made of." Not that the Reapers care; the units that come for them are dispassionate corpses kept moving by tech and Reaper commands. He dispatches five of the batarian cannibals, taking down one, then tossing a grenade to finish off the four that cluster around it to feast. But no sooner do those fall than three of the turian units and a brute replace them.
He finds it both telling and ironic that the Reapers should so fear the arrival of a few, or maybe just the one, new soldier. They show their hand, and their level of fear, in their dedication to halting Shepard. Still, that's a contemplation for a time with fewer bullets whistling past his head. Within moments, his rifle grows hot in his hands, barking out the familiar, almost cherished, rhythm of war.
His old bones complain and muscles tremble as the Reaper units drop faster than his beleaguered people can kill them. It appears that the enemy intends to leave no one for Shepard to save if they can't stop her advance. Young, promising turians crumple, dragged to medics or placed in lines and covered, and still the Harvesters come. But then he hears the incoming fight closing on the camp. Part of him reels out, straining to pull the three extra guns in to help weather the storm. If only they can hold out for a few more seconds.
"Come on, quiritus! Let's drive these bastards straight to buratrum!"
A Marauder holds his attention when a gestellan wind roars through camp, announced by rockets detonating amidst the enemy ranks. As the C&C unit reaches over the wall, dagger-like talons grappling at Victus's armour, a volley of rockets blow it to buratrum. Searing shrapnel slices into his exposed head and neck, pulling a hoarse bellow from raw vocal chords. The explosion leaves his head ringing and his senses dazed.
A strong, feminine voice breaks through the tinnitus.
"Garrus, push that brute back on the right." Spirits, she's tiny compared to her turian and human companion. At least she seems so through the blurry fog. He squints at the figure in jet-black armour races through the middle of camp, leaps over a shipping container, and springs onto the high ground on the south side of camp. Amazing him, she barely pauses as she runs over the uneven ground tapping at her omnitool to send a heavy blast of energy arcing along another C&C unit. It drops, cursing in garbled machine language as her rifle pounds two keenly aimed rounds through its head.
Victus pushes himself up off the shed floor as the soldier stops behind a half-wall of hastily piled rock, but doesn't take cover. Despite his still-ringing head, he lifts his rifle as she hollers, "James, burn down that second brute's armour." Surely, he can manage to hit a target as large as a brute. He doesn't fire, though, his attention on her. Fingers dance over her omnitool again, sending a searing incendiary blast to assist with that goal. "Don't let them get up to the sheds. Keep them off the turians."
"Does that include me?" Vakarian hollers back. A warm chortle rolls up Victus's throat.
A brilliant, almost manic, smile flashes across her face. "Of course not, stop being a big baby, and get your ass up here."
For long, dragging seconds, heart thundering and hands numb, Victus stares at the praela who fights toward his position, blowing in on a wind of fire and ash like the warrior goddesses of myth. Energy and purpose pour through flagging muscles and straining lungs. He clenches his rifle tight, his head finally clearing. They can't lose, not with the spirit of war on their side.
"This is our chance to drive these bastards to their knees!" he hollers over the furious din. A wide smile sets his mandibles fluttering as his people take up the cry, their hope bolstered by the same whirlwind of bullets and death that has his heart hammering against his keel. The galaxy seems to still around her as she strides through battle, never taking cover, casually rolling out of the path of a brute to come up shooting fire and bullets into the construct.
The last enemy falls. Shepard steps over its corpse, hanging her Mattock from her back in one smooth motion. The easy swing of her gait ... her sharp, almost predatory stare ... her confidence: that of someone so in their element that they exude ownership ... her presence snatches the air from his lungs.
Even her voice doesn't disappoint—husky and rich—and a heated flush burns beneath his plates. He's reacting like a sheltered teenager, and he needs to get it under control. Sweet spirits, he's a general in the middle of buratrum. He takes a deep breath. It's gratitude. Shepard saved his people. It's just gratitude.
He cracks his neck, polices his idiocy, and hangs up his Phaeston before he hits the gate control. "Yes?" He winces as some of his awe escapes through his subvocals. His men are too far back to hear, but he slides an embarrassed glance toward Vakarian, who stands at Shepard's eight. The other torin's mandible twitch and nod communicate nothing but understanding. Victus supposes Garrus would understand, he certainly hasn't been miserly with praise while he regales the troops with wild stories of Shepard's exploits.
She gives him a tight smile. "I'm Commander Jane Shepard of the Normandy."
"Commander," he says, carefully modulating his voice, "I know who you are. I can't wait to see what brought you all the way out here." He forces his eyes from Shepard's freckles to look over at Garrus. Shepard arriving on the moon explains why Vakarian hadn't come after him earlier. Clasping his hands behind his back, he takes parade rest, trying to cover his reaction to the human. "Vakarian, where did you go?"
A soft chuff answers his question as Vakarian leans back on one hip, arms hanging loose and relaxed. Victus envies him his ease as he replies, "I believe your exact words were, 'get that giant Reaper bastard off my men?'"
Sliding a layer of gratitude and humour through his words, he nods. "Appreciate it."
"General," Shepard says, stepping to within arm's reach, "you're needed off planet. I'm here to evacuate you to the Normandy."
Her words send slivers of ice sliding down his spine, and he looks away. Why? What good could he possibly be out there? Suddenly, he can think again, denial and confusion throwing up a very effective buffer against his emotions. "It will take something beyond important for me to leave my men, or my turian brothers and sisters in their fight."
"Fedorian's been killed," Vakarian supplied, his subvocals ringing with no small amount of 'better you than me'. "You're the new primarch."
Shepard's voice on the other hand, while still strong and professional, carries a tone of empathy. "You're needed immediately to chair a summit," she says, closing another half step, "and represent your people in the fight against the Reapers."
Victus blinks into the expectant green of her gaze. Primarch? Dear spirits. How many of his tier must be dead if he's the next option? He tears his eyes away, his stare moving to the burning, black nightmare on the horizon. Palaven burns. She burns, and now she rests squarely on his shoulders. Her fate … her salvation … is his responsibility. He steps past Shepard, walking to the edge of the short drop off. As he stares up at his world, no one standing in his eyeline, he feels as though he's the last turian left in the galaxy.
And then he feels her eyes on the back of his neck, and reaches up to rub at the plates. "I'm primarch of Palaven, negotiating on behalf of the hierarchy?"
"Yes," she replies, her frankness almost drawing a bitter chuckle from him.
He turns to face her. "I've spent my entire life in the military." He's not sure if he means to explain his reluctance or to convince her to tell the hierarchy she found his corpse. Maybe he's trying to talk himself into taking up the impossible mantle, or maybe he's hoping she'll say something to convince him. Spirits, it's all so insane. "I'm no diplomat. I hate diplomats."
Her chuckle eases his awkwardness a little. "Sold!" Letting out a long breath, she leans on one hip. "We're in the middle of the most brutal war this galaxy has faced in fifty thousand years, General. We don't need leaders to stand on pedestals and spit rhetoric at us." As she speaks, the passion in her words builds until even the men standing back in the sheds are leaning toward her, drawn into that fire. "We need men and women who know the trenches … who know what we're facing and aren't afraid to do what needs to be done."
Taking his first full breath since Vakarian's announcement, he steps toward her, legs still shaky but stronger, beginning to accept the weight. "You're right." And she is. He feels it in his bones. Fedorian, as good a leader as he was in peace, would have floundered. He would have tried to negotiate, and words would have been all the former primarch threw at the Reapers. As primarch, Victus could make sure those fighting on the front lines—those trying to keep his people alive—got what they needed.
"And to be honest, sir … I'm going to need someone there strong enough to pull me off the actual diplomats before I can strangle them." A sly grin tugs back one corner of her mouth, and she winks. "I think you just might be the torin for the job."
Vakarian chuffs again and nods. "I won't do it, not after the last council meeting. Took three months for the black eye to fade." He stabs a thumb at Shepard. "She doesn't look it, but she's vicious."
Shepard buries an elbow in his side, but her smile speaks to the strength and depth of their friendship. It fades as her gaze moves past him to the fires burning across Palaven's surface. "See this destruction, Primarch?" She leans heavily on the title. "Double that for Earth. I need alliances; I need your fleet. Not today, but one day we're going to have to stop fighting holding actions and go after them. The Reapers nailed us all to the wall, Primarch: saving the Third and Fifth Alliance Fleets cost us the Second."
Shepard turns back to meet his stare, her eyes and jaw steely. "With the losses we're all taking, we're going to have to stand together to have a shot of taking them down."
He turns back to his people's homeworld. She's right, of course. The evidence of that burns before him.
Outside war's embrace, he doubts that he knows who Adrien Victus is anymore. His mate died two decades before, leaving him two pahirs to raise. Both Terion and Tarquin now command units of their own, both of them independent young torins who never fail to inspire his awe. So yes, war forms the entirety of his galaxy, as weary of it as he's become.
And now, he's leaving it behind for a different war altogether.
"Let me say good bye to my men, make sure command sends another senior officer to take my place." When she nods, he turns and strides back to the shed and the radio. Despite his fears, each step comes easier. The burden Fedorian's death has dumped on his cowl is a heavy one, but he's learned over the cycles, sometimes the most difficult missions reap the sweetest rewards. If he can activate his people—and help bring the galaxy together—they might just save themselves.
Primarch of Palaven. Dear spirits.
The Normandy feels surgical-suite sterile after the blood and filth of Menae's surface. He's given private quarters in Life Support and time to shower. A shower! The hot water pours over him like bliss. He's forgotten what it felt like to move without grit grinding between his plates. Dressed in a casual suit—the only one in his kit—he heads up to the war room. The young women standing guard outside Normandy's classified sections salute as he passes through the scanner. He nods, hoping it's an appropriate response within the Alliance military.
Hesitating just inside the door, Victus looks around the Normandy's war room. It's the equivalent, if not superior, of anything installed in the fleet. Impressive, to say the least.
On the opposite side of a large holoprojector, Shepard stands hunched over a terminal, her hands braced against the console as she reads. A hand lifts to rake through her hair and scrub the back of her neck, a familiar enough gesture for him to know that whatever she's reading isn't good news. Looking up, she smiles and waves to beckon him further in.
"Primarch. Welcome to the Normandy. I trust the crew showed you around, helped you get settled in?" She meets him partway around the central installation and holds out a hand to clasp his wrist.
Her grip is strong and warm enough to heat his hide through his gloves; her wrist feels frail and so slender his talons can wrap around it almost twice. "Yes, thank you, Commander," he says. His talons respond, stiff and reluctant as he releases her. "You command quite the vessel. I've yet to see her equivalent."
Shepard clears her throat and spins on her heel, leading him deeper into the room. "I wish we were all seeing about a thousand more of her, sir." A long sigh drags along the floor between them before she throws her shoulders back and cracks her neck, all trace of anything not 'Commander Shepard' disappearing.
"This is the comm room," she says, climbing the stairs. As he follows, he tries to keep his gaze on the equipment rather than on her. She seems so much smaller out of armour, a fact that either his brain or eyes find endlessly fascinating. "We have a primary and secondary QEC if you need to conference in calls. All of my calls tend to be scheduled, and I log them all here." He watches over her shoulder as she enters commands, calling up her log, then another screen. "These are all the personal comm codes for the crew and team members, if you need to contact anyone. Their rank and department/duties are right on the list. If you have any doubt, Specialist Traynor is the woman to talk to."
His mental notes become mental shorthand as she whips through the systems. Luckily, the tech isn't all that different between human and turian. After all, most advanced tech in the entire galaxy stems from the same source: the damned Reapers. He scrambles to keep up, filing away the information at a speed that leaves him slightly dizzy.
Shepard spins away from the console so quickly that she startles him, returning to the war room at a quick march. "This is my console here, any of the others are yours to use as you see fit. Normal comms can be routed through any of them. Once you've got a feel for the room," she said, a slight smirk twitching one corner of her mouth, "and chosen a console that appeals to your sense of feng shui and decorating aesthetics, I'll have Traynor come to lock it down for you. It can be as pass code and biometric protected as you desire."
Watching her, Victus marvels at the sheer speed of thought and speech. His translator stumbles over feng shui, but the teasing animation in her face and gestures lend enough context for him to follow. He chooses a terminal two over from hers. He tells himself that it's so they can work in relative privacy without having to talk through the projector. But as she turns away, a reflex action, to call the comm specialist to secure his terminal, he allows himself at least an inkling of the real reason.
Thirty minutes later, he's set up with everything he could possibly need to track the war and do a job he doesn't have the faintest idea how to even start doing. That is, until he sees the ground reports from Palaven. The capital Reapers and destroyers are bad enough, but the ground units are committing the true devastation, and the turian ground forces are outnumbered and overwhelmed. Where did all the ground troops come from? The war has only been underway a week, and already hundreds of thousands of batarian, human, and turian husks swarm through the cities.
He must say something to that nature under his breath, because he feels Shepard's eyes on him, and she says, "The why and the how don't matter much now, do they?"
Shaking his head, he leans on the console, his posture mirroring hers when he entered the room. "No, what matters now is stemming the tide. The Reapers are building camps outside every city, and they've brought in specialized Reapers to process the people either into more husks or … something. They're simply disappearing." He sighs. "We're being out-fought on every front. At least in space we can feint and use guerilla attacks."
After finishing her work, Shepard closes her terminal, moving to the comm room stairs, where she sits and rests her elbows on her knees. Fingers steepled at her lips, she asks, "So what do we do about it, Primarch Victus?"
He doesn't know if he's ever felt such a weight of expectant scrutiny, but he's the primarch and knows it will be the first of many. For three horrible seconds, his brain goes numb—not just quiet, absolutely void, every synapse dissolving into drellak fat. Dear spirits, high command can't even comprehend what a massive mistake they've made.
Then his mouth opens. "The krogan," is what comes out.
Shepard presses her lips together, an expression he believes is one of approval. "So, invite the krogan to the summit, see if we can convince Wrex to round up a million or so krogan boots?"
"As long as there are krogan inside the boots, yes." It's all he can do to avoid slapping himself in the side of the head, but then a wide smiles unfurls across her face, a tapiris fern opening to catch the sun.
"It's probably going to cost us," she says, a sigh chasing the words out. Her hands drop to hang between her knees. "But, I think you're right. We need the krogan, and hell, if we can organize them, the vorcha. As mercenary as it sounds, any fighting force that isn't crippled by healing time is worth its weight in platinum." Her eyes leave his for the first time, staring into the distance. Still, he can see the wheels turning, and within twenty seconds, she meets his gaze again.
"Okay, I'll call Urdnot Wrex, and the council … get representatives from the other races here as well." Her eyebrows lower, the skin between them wrinkling a little, and for a second, he has to wrestle down his hand's traitorous desire to reach up and smooth the knot away. "Can you take care of getting someone here from the volus? I'll have Udina contact the hanar and elcor."
Brow plates rising, he arches his neck a little. "You want all the races here?"
Her thoughtful frown deepens into something approaching annoyed. "They feel marginalized when it comes to galactic politics and decision making. We need everyone pulling together." She shrugs, but her eyes flash. "Will leaving them out of this summit, the most important meeting in the last fifty thousand years, make them eager to throw in as partners?"
Shaking his head, the misunderstanding burning, he says, "Apologies, my reaction was surprise, not disapproval. You're right, of course."
Shepard pushes up. "All right. We have a plan." She turns and strides up the few steps to the comm room, but hesitates at the top, turning back. "So, how's the first day as Primarch treating you?"
Victus shakes his head. "It's nothing like I imagined. My people are fighting for their lives against an enemy so terrifying we couldn't have even imagined it, and I'm here, light years away, reading casualty reports." Holding her stare, he lets out a long breath. "I can't stop feeling as though I need to go back."
She smiles, a kind light shining in her gaze. "I know how you feel, Primarch. Leaving Earth to come out here and try to pull all these bickering politicians together … " Care and worry eclipse her smile, a cloud blocking the sun, and he wishes he could push it back. "... well, I don't think I've done anything harder."
Nodding, he steps closer. "We find ourselves in very similar positions, Commander. You never asked to lead, but if you don't, your people—" Breaking off, he sighs. "If we don't perform miracles, all our people will die. May the spirits grant us the strength to see it through."
"From your mouth to God's ears, Primarch." Turning on her heel, she strides into the comm room, and a moment later he hears her arguing with the asari councillor. Nothing is ever easy or runs smoothly. He knows this from years of planning and executing operations, but as he listens to Councillor Tevos tell Shepard that her efforts are doomed to failure, he wishes for Shepard's sake that it wasn't the case.
(A-N: I have fallen so in love with these two crazy kids and their awkward, adoring friendship. I hope you love them just as much as I do. *hugs*
Thanks to all the friends who supported me through the process. I love yah! Yeah, you know who you are: theherocomplex, Orangeflavour Yawp, thedandiestoflions, KirikaClyne, I_write_tragedies_not_sins, and the gang from the Mass Effect fan fiction writers group on FB.)