WARHAMMER DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. MASS EFFECT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. SOMEONE GET ME MY SPACESHIP, IMMA GO SHOOT SOME HERETICS.
*peeks around corner*
*ducks under flying chainsword*
So… yeah. I thought I wouldn't have any free time after finishing Honor-Bound. I was wrong. I've got the first chapter of its sequel, so… yeah. For those of you reading this who haven't read Honor-Bound first, do that. Right now. Seriously, you won't understand anything about the Shepard of this story if you don't.
Not gonna waste any more time, let's jump right in!
2885, Imperial Calendar
Stone chipped and collapsed, and the cave opened up to sunlight for the first time in centuries. The first to enter the cave was a human; he was tall, with handsome features that were obscured by a bandana around his face. Despite the cloth over his mouth, he coughed as dust flew everywhere.
"I told you to wait," said a long-suffering voice from behind him. "You didn't listen, Shepard."
Gregor Shepard IV, younger brother to the current Emperor and distant descendent of the legendary Alexia Shepard, just shrugged.
"After all this time searching, I couldn't help myself."
Thokk Stonehand, Gregor's closest friend, stomped into the cave and took a look around. "How can you be sure that this is the spot? You were wrong about the last six."
Gregor pulled down the bandana to show his grin, and pointed to the far side of the cave. Leaning against the wall was an ornate Dwarf-forged chest. Thokk's eyes, partially concealed by his bushy eyebrows, widened considerably.
"Definitely made by my people," the Dwarf said, and hurried over to the chest. "It's not locked. Why isn't it locked?"
Gregor raised an eyebrow. "Either there's nothing in it, or there is, and we're supposed to open it."
Thokk accepted that logic with a philosophical shrug, and gently pried open the chest. Inside, perfectly preserved, was an ancient book.
"I thought as much," Gregor said, and reverently lifted the book out of the chest. "I knew Saint Shepard wouldn't leave without a final message!"
"Yes, yes, you were right," Thokk grumbled, though his beard couldn't quite hide his smile—after all, they had just discovered something belonging to the most famous Dwarf Friend since Sigmar Himself. "Is there anything in the book, or did we come all this way for an empty journal?"
"Let me open it and see." Gregor pulled a flashlight from his belt, turned it on, and opened the book. "'Property of Alexia Shepard, former Countess of Wissenland, Seneschal of Nuln…' it goes on with her titles. It's mentioned in the records that she found listing off her titles very funny." He fell silent as he read the first few pages. "It's definitely her last journal. The date starts a few months before she left; she mentions helping Empress Eleanor with a new satellite design."
"What about why she left, or where she was going?" Thokk asked. "In fact, why did she leave the journal here?"
"I'm getting to that." Gregor carefully flipped the pages to the last entry. "All right, it says that she discovered a minor Chaos rift in the pass."
"We didn't see anything," Thokk said, though the mention of Chaos had both of them instinctively reaching for holstered weapons.
"It was almost three hundred years ago," Gregor reminded him. "Those things last for only few minutes at the best of times. Hold on, the journal says that this one was particularly stable, and Alexia was going to spend time studying it."
"Why would she do that?" Thokk spat off to the side. "She should have destroyed it."
"With what weapons?" Gregor asked back. "She was old, and she didn't have long to live."
Thokk grumbled, but didn't argue.
"Here, let me read the last entry." Gregor cleared his throat. "'To the one who finds this, I leave my journal here, contained in the chest that once carried the pieces of the most important item in the world. I'm about to attempt an experiment with the rift, and if it kills me, I would like whoever finds my journal to bring it back to my family. They deserve to know what happened after I left.'" Gregor blinked back tears as he realized he was reading her last words. "'And now, I'm about to begin the most important of scientific procedures…'"
Alexia Shepard laughed as she wrote the final lines in her journal. "There, whoever reads this will think I know what I'm doing." She gently put the journal into the chest and walked out of the cave; she tossed one of the handful of grenades she'd brought with her at the pile of rocks above the entrance, and sealed the mouth. "There. Now, back to that rift."
Shepard was old, by Imperial standards, at ninety-five years of age. If she was back in the Alliance, the modern medicine would have let her do cartwheels at that age, but here, she wasn't so lucky. She walked with a slight stoop, and she required a cane to support her aching back and legs. The single stripe of red in her otherwise silver hair had faded, and deep lines mixed with scars across her face. Still, she walked with purpose; after all, she had found something new, and her curiosity was getting the better of her.
There, waiting just in front of her car, was the source of her newfound curiosity. It looked like a waving ribbon of darkness, but Shepard didn't get the sense of wrongness she would have felt from sources of Chaos. It wasn't comforting, but neither was it threatening; instead, it just felt strange.
"All right, time for that 'scientific procedure'." Shepard raised her cane. "Poke it with a stick!"
She looked at the cane fondly; the steel top of the cane, shaped to look like the head of a Griffon, had been forged from the melted-down remains of the war-pick that was once wielded by her late husband, Gregor Helschlitt. She felt closer to him by having the cane, especially when she felt her life reaching its end. Perhaps this would be the day she was finally reunited with him.
"Let's do this," Shepard muttered, and thrust the bottom half of the cane into the rift. When nothing happened, she pulled the cane out. "Well… that's disappointing."
As if responding to her words, the rift thrashed like a living thing, and then widened to allow two snarling Bloodletters access to the material world. Thanks to Shepard's efforts in the Final War, the forces of Chaos could only rarely influence the world, and even then, only briefly before being banished once again. Of course, the few minutes the Daemons had were more than enough time to kill her.
Shepard was old, but she still had honed reflexes; she snatched up the pistol from its holster and put three bullets into one Daemon's skull before it truly noticed her. The other one shrieked and lunged at her; Shepard rolled under its blade—far slower than she would have even a few years ago—and let the Daemon stab into the engine of her car.
David helped me build that, she thought sourly as she whirled around to fire at the Bloodletter.
Unfortunately, her old body chose that moment to betray her. Her left leg gave out, her pistol slipped out of her hand, and she fell backwards… into the rift. The Bloodletter howled, enraged at its kill being stolen, and took a final swipe with its sword; rather than cut into her flesh, the blade only sliced off most of her cane.
The last thing Shepard saw was the screaming Daemon, and then everything went dark.
At first, Shepard thought she'd died. She couldn't feel anything—not cold, nor heat, but also none of the aches and pains she'd accumulated over the last few decades. Actually, other than the fact that she appeared to falling forever, she hadn't felt so good since before she became a soldier.
She wished she could see what was happening, but there was nothing but the empty void. It reminded her too much of the time she'd been tortured by Mazdamundi, only there was no pain this time.
If this is the afterlife, I'm a little disappointed, she thought. Maybe this is the way there? I hope Gregor will be waiting for me.
NOT YOUR TIME.
Shepard felt her momentum abruptly cease, and she was left floating in the void, stunned by the sheer presence of the voice in her head.
MUCH TO DO.
"What? I don't understand…" Shepard's voice was soft and weak, overwhelmed by whoever, or whatever, was speaking. She felt like a pebble standing before a mountain.
YOU POSSESS POTENTIAL. TAKE THIS POWER. FIGHT THE DARKNESS. FIGHT!
Shepard felt like she'd been electrocuted; there was a sharp spike of pain, but it quickly faded, replaced by an energy she hadn't felt in decades. She felt young and strong; more than that, she could feel something deep within her that could only be described as divine power. It was a light, a fire, a core of energy that could never be extinguished. However, it also felt like there was a thin wall that prevented Shepard from truly grasping that power. Something was blocking her, but she didn't know what.
GO NOW. YOU MUST BEGIN.
Before Shepard could ask anything, something jerked her forward. A light shined in the distance, which grew in size and intensity until it was almost blinding. Shepard closed her eyes just before she impacted the source, but there was no pain; when she opened her eyes, she found that she was no longer in the void. Instead, she found herself staring up at a cloudy sky.
She was also about fifty feet in the air, and falling fast.
"Oh, shit!" Shepard instinctively braced herself before hitting the ground with the force of a slow meteor. There was a crack of shattering stone, and dust exploded outward; Shepard coughed and waved the dust out of her face. "Fuck me, that… really didn't hurt all that much. Huh."
Wait a minute. Shepard frowned. Why didn't that hurt? Even in my prime, that would have done some damage.
It was then that Shepard noticed her own hand. Earlier that day, it had been withered and dotted with scars. Now, the skin was smooth and flawless; Shepard reached up and pulled a strand of hair up to her eyes, and saw that it was the fiery red she'd once had. A quick look down at herself revealed that her entire body was indeed younger. If she had to guess, she was back to her early twenties.
With shaking hands, Shepard touched her face. The jagged scar that had so defined her features still remained, but it was thinner, and though she had no mirror, she was sure it was less noticeable.
"Whoever Big Voice Guy was made me younger," Shepard said aloud, as if confirming it to herself. "Wow."
Putting aside the fact that I'm younger than my own grandson now, the first step is to find out where I am. She looked around, but saw no familiar landmarks. She had traveled all over the Empire, and had made occasional diplomatic visits to other lands, but she didn't recognize the fields of jagged stone surrounding her. Even if she was somewhere familiar, she doubted anyone would recognize her. Besides being younger, her clothes weren't that of a noble; her fall from the sky had left her clothing tattered and covered in dirt.
Also, as if to confirm that she wasn't home, when the clouds parted for a moment, she noticed an unnatural scar across the sky, and the few constellations she could see were all wrong.
In the distance, Shepard could hear the sound of cannons and gunfire. It was at the very edge of her sight, but she spotted a city, larger than any she'd ever seen before, and the tell-tale flashes of weapons being fired.
Okay, so I'm not on my own planet anymore, and I ended up near a war. Shepard paused, and then sank to her knees, overwhelmed by sudden regret. I left them behind again. I left my family behind!
"Why would you do this to me!?" she shouted to the heavens. "All I wanted was to be with Gregor again! You took that away, and then you made me live longer!" Tears fell down her face. "What more do I have to do before I get some fucking peace!? Why won't you let me die!?"
A loud crunching sound from behind her made her turn. At first, all she saw was an armored midsection; she tilted her head back, looking up and up… until she saw the biggest man—if it could be called that—she'd ever seen.
Easily eight feet tall, the figure wore impossibly thick armor; the drab steel plates were trimmed with black and yellow hazard stripes, while the left shoulder guard had a stylized metal skull painted on it. In one gauntlet, the warrior carried a rifle that looked big enough to count as a turret in the Systems Alliance, but he hefted it like Shepard would a small pistol. In his other hand, the warrior held a blade that would have counted as a small sword for a normal human, but for him, it looked like a large knife. On his back was some kind of generator that ended in two extended vents at the top.
Shepard took in the armor at a glance—and rapidly came to the conclusion that there was no way in hell she could scratch it—but it was the other features that had her worried.
First, the warrior's helmet had horns. This wasn't necessarily worrying, since she'd known Dwarfs with horned helms, but these horns were impossibly fused with the metal, as if they'd grown through it. There were other unnatural features—one eye-lens looked organic, and the knife was oozing orange blood—but the biggest sign was on his right shoulder. Shepard hadn't seen that mark in decades, but she'd recognize that eight-pointed star anywhere.
This person, this thing, was an agent of Chaos.
With a hate-filled snarl, Shepard grabbed the first weapon she had on hand—her broken cane—and jumped at the monster. It didn't matter that he was far outside her league, or that he was armed and she wasn't; Shepard needed something to vent her anger on.
The warrior made a noise that might have been a chuckle, but the grille on his helmet distorted it into something ugly. Shepard had barely left the ground when he grabbed her by the throat and lifted her up to meet his gaze.
"You have spirit, little one," the warrior said, his baritone voice colored by an accent that Shepard couldn't place. "The slaves of this world have no shortage of that, though you can still be made to work. I'll bring you back and make sure you—"
Shepard interrupted his speech by stabbing her broken cane into his helmet's organic eye. Corrupted blood spurted out, and the warrior roared in pain, but rather than simply drop her like she'd hoped, he slammed her into the hard ground. Whatever had brought her here must have only been able to cushion her landing once, because this time, it hurt. All the breath left her lungs at once, and she was left gasping on the ground.
The warrior stood over her, and she guessed that the rise and fall of his shoulders had more to do with rage than pain.
"You wounded me," he snarled. "You will pay for that, little slave…"
Shepard's eyes widened as he drew back one fist. She tried to move, but she was still stunned; the massive fist filled her vision, there was an explosion of pain, and then everything went black.
When Shepard came to, she was being dragged across a metal floor. An armored hand was wrapped around her head, and she suspected that even with her augmentations strengthening her bones, that hand had more than enough power to crush her skull.
Unable to turn her head to look around, Shepard only caught brief glimpses of wherever she was. She saw dark hallways, dimly lit by flickering lights, and tall archways guarded by men and women wearing patchwork armor whose colors bore a passing similarity to the warrior dragging her. Shepard couldn't be sure in the half-second she saw them, but she thought a few of them had mutations.
Rather than be worried, all Shepard felt was anger. She hated Chaos, and all the horror and pain it brought. More than Chaos itself, she hated the people who willingly gave up their souls to the Dark Gods. People like that were why Archaon had risen to power, and why Gregor had died. The thought made her snarl and punch at the hand that held her.
"Awake again, and still full of spirit," the warrior growled. This time, there was no amusement in his voice. "When you are broken, your pain will be all the greater."
"I don't break, asshole," Shepard promised. "I just get pissed off. When that happens, people die."
Unlike before, the warrior didn't laugh at her defiance. Instead, when they reached their destination, she was hurled to the ground. As she got to her feet and spat out blood, Shepard liked to think that she'd proven she would back up her threat.
"What is this?" a voice hissed. Shepard looked up and saw a figure that might have been human, but was far too tall, and far too thin. Its body was concealed by a dark cloak that brushed the floor, though Shepard saw three glowing red eyes beneath its hood, and metal arms poked out of the sleeves and clicked its fingers together. "You have brought me a new servant, Atranix." It tilted its head. "One that has bloodied you."
The warrior, Atranix, snarled. "She will serve in the mines, Kivyin. If she shows any signs of resistance, you will break her. Slowly. And I want to be there when she does."
Kivyin bowed. "As you command." Footsteps echoed loudly, and both Chaos-worshippers stiffened. "Warsmith Kharrack comes."
With a title like 'Warsmith', Shepard expected some kind of warrior-engineer, and she wasn't disappointed. The warrior that stepped into view was taller than even Atranix. His armor swirled like smoke behind glass, and two pipes that curled around his helmet's grille vented fire every few seconds. He carried a massive hammer that crackled with purple lightning, and a mass of metal tendrils framed around him like snakes poised to strike.
"Atranix," Kharrack said with a voice like grinding stone, "you were expected back from your patrol fifteen-point-six minutes ago. Why did you delay?"
Atranix's right fist crashed against the left side of his breastplate. "My apologies, Lord Kharrack, I was delivering a new slave to Kivyin."
Kharrack glanced down at Shepard, who glared right back. She wasn't so arrogant that she didn't feel fear, but she refused to let it defeat her.
"That one has spirit." Kharrack turned to Atranix. "Did it wound you?"
"A lucky strike," Atranix growled.
Shepard coughed, but it sounded suspiciously like 'bullshit'. Atranix moved to strike her, but he was sent crashing to the ground by Kharrack's fist.
"Fool!" he shouted, his voice echoing painfully in Shepard's ears. "We are entering the final phase of our operations on Vigilus, and you waste your time on a single slave!" He turned to Kivyin. "Take her to the mines and get it over with. Atranix, if you are not in position in one hour, I will feed your wretched soul to the daemon-engines myself!"
Shepard felt a perverse satisfaction at seeing Atranix get laid out like that, but that quickly faded to fury when the warrior got back up. She saw a familiar top of a cane sticking out of a pouch on his belt—her cane, the last thing she had to remind her of Gregor. She reached out to grab it, but Kivyin was faster, and attached a thick collar around her neck.
"No more defiance," he whispered, and then all Shepard felt was pain.
Shepard groaned and tried to bat away whoever was shaking her. Despite her mighty attempt at fending off her attacker, that person continued to shake her shoulder.
"Wake up, fool!" the person hissed. "If you don't move soon, you'll wish you were already dead!"
"I already do," Shepard growled, and forced her eyes open. Standing in front of her was an old man in rags even filthier than her own; in one hand, he held a pickaxe that sparked curiously. "Who are you, and where are we?"
The old man handed her another pickaxe. "The name is Grem. We'll talk while we work, but keep your voice down. Trust me, you don't want the overseers' attention."
For a moment, Shepard almost gave into despair. After everything she'd been through, all the pain and heartache, she'd thought she'd finally earned a peaceful end. Instead, she was on another planet, another reality, far from her family and captured by a force she had thought was destroyed decades ago.
No, she thought viciously, and shoved the despair into the deepest part of her heart. I won't break. I will never break!
Shepard's need for answers overruled her immediate desire to find these overseers, whoever they were, and show them just where she could put a pickaxe.
While she didn't know much about where she was, Shepard was able to figure out some information about her immediate predicament just by looking around. She was underground, in a large mine that was lit up by bright lights every few meters. All around her, men and women swung tools at stone; all of them looked malnourished and wore collars much like the one she now wore. The interesting thing was that, rather than look defeated, most of the miners had a defiant fire in their eyes—eyes that glared hatefully at the giant warriors who patrolled the entrance to the mine.
Grem guided her to one such mine shaft and began swinging at a slab of rock, seemingly at random.
"They just want us to work," Grem muttered. "They want to use our suffering to bolster their own power." He smirked. "It's not working as much. Our people are too devout to give in to these Chaos dogs."
Shepard nodded and swung at the spot next to Grem's. Unlike the old man's blow, her pickaxe barely scratched the wall.
"Turn on the power field," Grem chided, and pointed to a stud near the head of the pick. Despite her situation, Shepard actually felt embarrassed as she turned it on. The pick hummed in her hands, and the head glowed ever so slightly.
"So, this is going to sound weird," Shepard began, "but I'm not from this planet."
To her surprise, Grem nodded in understanding. "Ah. Brought in from off-world, were you?"
"Something like that," Shepard admitted. She really didn't want to go into the topic of coming from another universe—she'd already gone through it before.
"Well, we're on Vigilus, and by the God-Emperor, we've held out against the darkness for years." Grem's voice shook with devotion, even as he chipped away at the rock. "These heathens won't break us now, not after all we've been through."
So, there's a God-Emperor? Shepard frowned as another thought crossed her mind. Well, gods exist, I believe that much. Could this 'God-Emperor' be that voice from before? What does he want with me?
"How many people are down here with us?" Shepard asked.
"I'd say about two thousand, give or take," Grem said.
"And how many of the big guys?" Shepard pretended to stumble, but only so that she could point at the nearest giant.
"The Iron Warriors? They have better things to do than guard slaves. There can't be more than ten or so, plus maybe a hundred of their slave-soldiers." Grem side-eyed her, then shook his head. "Leading a revolt won't work. It's been tried, but the collars inflict horrible pain. We can't fight, but we won't break."
Shepard smirked. "Victory isn't impossible. I've escaped capture before, and that was when I was alone. You said there were two thousand people trapped here? That's a small army, and I've done more with less."
Grem's eyebrows rose. "You're serious."
"Of course I am."
Grem chuckled, though dust turned it into a cough. "What's your name?"
"Shepard." She looked at the pick in her hands, her mind already burning with ideas. "My name is Alexia Shepard, and I'm going to get us out of here."
And we're off to the races!
So, a lot of people who read Honor-Bound thought that the story would focus on Shepard's descendants. You guys were… partly right. I mean, I had her distant descendant start the story out, but that's it. Shepard has left the Warhammer Fantasy universe, and is now in 40K. For those of you who are up to date with the current storyline, Shepard has arrived on the planet Vigilus, during the second half of the campaign, 'Vigilus Ablaze'. Warsmith Kharrack is actually canon, though Atranix and Kivyin are my own creations. There's no actual description of Kharrack, so I made up what he looks like.
Now, I will try to update as often as I can, but I'm very low on funds right now. In fact, I'm trying everything I can to not be homeless. Fortunately, there are ways that you—yes, you, person reading this on your device—can help me! First off, you can buy my book, Alpha Sanction. You can find a link to my site on my profile where you can buy it, or you can just look up my book on Amazon. You can also be really awesome and donate on P-atreon (link on my profile). If I get enough patrons, I'll be able to afford an apartment. And food. And insurance. But you don't care about that; what you do care about is that I will be able to update at least once a week!
Speaking of patrons, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them here:
Serious Muffins: CrazySith87, jafr86, Barrett Pittman, Nimrod009, CowardlyBravette, Krisjanis Jansons, Parker Maisterra, Matthias Matanovic, ChaosSpartan575, Alexis Troy, John Collins, Alexander James Baber, Carl Bjorkhall
Incredible Muffins: Christian Howard, RaptorusMaximus, michaelb958, Jaeger456, killroy225
Ultra Muffins: Jeffrey Perigo, RangersRoll
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the start to the continuation of Shepard's suffering!
Next Chapter: Shepard starts a revolution!
For the God-Muffin!