She should have known better. She should never have brought a fourteen-year-old kid into a Sith tomb, no matter how good that kid was at picking locks.
Asha – Revan, she reminded herself bitterly – watched Mission out of the corner of her eye, unable to move. Jorak Uln had them all imprisoned in stasis fields, and damn, they were strong ones, stronger than Malak's had been. She supposed Jorak Uln had a good few years of undeath on Malak.
Revan took another deep breath and reached for calm, serenity, and the Force. She pushed against the field holding her, strained with all her might to crack it as she had Malak's, but it didn't even waver.
"Are you done, Jedi?" Uln mocked her. "You can't possibly hope to escape if that's all you've got. Weak. So weak." He giggled. "Are you sure you're Darth Revan?"
"Just… Revan," she responded through gritted teeth. The name… she couldn't wrap her head around it. "I am a Jedi." She almost winced at how wrong that sounded. She was trying, trying so hard to live up to that title, but it was so much more difficult now she knew who she really was. How powerful she had once been. How easy it would be to end this, end all of it – Jorak Uln, Uthar Wynn, all the depraved Sith Masters on Korriban, Malak, the Star Forge, all of it – if she only let herself tap into the power Revan had wielded.
Those thoughts chilled her to her bone. Bastila's words came back to her… "We couldn't take the chance you would remember who you were. That could have been… catastrophic."
Revan swallowed, but she let none of her inner turmoil show on her face. She'd be damned if she'd show Jorak Uln any form of weakness.
The mad old Sith Master giggled again. "See that, Mekel? She's in denial," he told the young Sith hopeful conspiratorially. The boy couldn't have been older than sixteen, and he, too, was trapped in a stasis field. His presence in the Force was weak, dazed. It felt like he had been there a lot longer than Mission, Juhani and herself.
Revan pushed down her frustration and disgust and strove for calm. She kept fighting the stasis, to no avail. "At least I'm not torturing children as a game," she shot back, and instantly regretted it.
"Ah yes, our game!" Uln crowed. "And such a good idea that is, Lord Revan. You were always so full of them. I'm glad to see you haven't changed, at least in that respect. Torturing adults is so much fun, but children are just… delightful. Their little shrieks…" he shivered in delight, and Revan had to pause her struggle against the stasis field to force down a wave of pure hatred. The power that hatred could give her prickled along her spine, but she stubbornly pushed it away. There is no emotion, there is peace.
"Right, let's get back to it," Uln continued. "I'll ask you a question, and if you get it right… I'll punish you." The insane Sith Master smiled, a slow, evil smile, and held up one ghostly finger. "But! If you get the wrong answer, I'll punish… hmm, let's see… young Mekel here has been through a lot recently, and I don't want to kill him just yet." He scratched his chin theatrically, and Asha – Revan – diverted all her willpower toward not looking at Mission. Beside Mission, Juhani was quiet, eyes wide and panicked. She was watching Revan as though beseeching her to save them all. Revan grimaced inwardly and renewed her efforts against the stasis field, feeling guilty for wanting him to pick Juhani instead of Mission.
"I think I'll punish the little blue one!" Uln finally announced gleefully.
Revan clenched her teeth, but Mission glowered at him defiantly. "Do your worst, slimeball!"
She was a big fan of that Twi'lek. "Are you that much of a coward?" Revan demanded loudly, trying to draw his attention and his anger. "Are you so weak you can only attack a defenceless child? You have the former Dark Lord of the Sith right here, Uln. I'm helpless. Do whatever you have to do to me."
All levity fled from Jorak Uln's face like a snuffed-out flame. "You know nothing of the dark side anymore, do you, Lord Revan? You are like a child yourself, falling victim to your fear instead of using the strength it gives you." He shook his head sadly. "Whomever I decide to punish, it is quite clear I will also be punishing you." In a flash, the flame was reignited. He smiled. "Two for one! Very efficient. Let's begin."
He asked question after question, all requiring inane and obscure interpretations of the Sith Code. Even if Revan had been able to remember more than bits and pieces of her time as a Sith Lord, she doubted she would have been able to answer them to his exact specifications. Every time she got a question wrong, he shocked Mission with a stream of Force lightning.
The Twi'lek girl was tough, and stubborn as hell, but after the fifth shock her eyes rolled up in her head and she passed out.
Revan's ears were still ringing with the kid's screams. "Mission!" she called, panic beginning to rise. She had to get them out of this! Could she get them out of this…? What if she couldn't?
"Uh oh," Uln sang. "Looks like she's all tuckered out, poor kid. Lucky we have a backup!" He turned his predatory gaze on the bruised and burned Mekel. The kid looked like he was only managing to keep his feet thanks to the stasis field.
Something within her snapped. Revan screamed, and all the fear and fury she had been trying to suppress boiled up and over. She seized the river of power it gave her and ripped through the tight threads of the Force that were holding her pinned.
Jorak Uln's head snapped around in surprise. He raised his hands, clawed and already crackling with Force-lightning, but Revan drew the power of the Force tightly in around him, squeezing… suffocating. The lightning sputtered out, and invisible tendrils of dark energy writhed around his body, burning wherever they touched. Uln shied away from them, shrieking whenever he wasn't quick enough. He fought back, but his efforts were like grains of sand blown away in a windstorm.
Revan reached out and squeezed her fist closed.
A thousand tendrils billowed into a solid sheet of living, tangible dark side power, an invisible wave of heat and pressure. It enveloped Jorak Uln, swirling around him and hugging his body like a vise. His shrieks turned into blood-curdling screams. Revan watched as they reached a crescendo before guttering out into nothing. She opened her fist, and the sheet crumpled to the floor. It dissipated as though it had never existed, leaving nothing but smoking ashes and the remnants of bones.
Revan felt nothing.
Later, back aboard the Ebon Hawk, she sat in the tiny alcove Jolee usually called home with her knees drawn up to her chest, idly running her fingers over the light scar that ran from her right shoulder to her elbow. It was all that remained of the gash Malak's lightsaber had made, thanks to Jolee's prowess as a healer. Jolee was tending to Mission and Juhani, now. The others were… she didn't know where the others were.
She blinked, slowly, frozen in place. She had been frozen for hours, ever since returning from the temple of Tulak Hord. She couldn't bring herself to move.
She didn't even notice when Carth stepped into the room and slid the door shut behind him. He sat down across from her and stared, elbows resting on his thighs.
Finally she blinked again. "What?" she bit out.
"I was a little afraid to come in here, you know," he told her reproachfully.
"Maybe you should be." It wasn't intended as a threat. Asha—Revan—truly wasn't sure.
He studied her for a moment, and she could see the wariness in his eyes. "Maybe," he finally agreed. "Juhani told me what you did." He opened his mouth a couple of times as if he was going to say something, then realised it wasn't enough. "Why?" he finally asked.
"He was going to kill Mission and Mekel. They're just kids," she told him shortly.
He frowned. "No. I don't think that's why."
She broke eye contact, looking down at the deck below. The man was damn perceptive. It was one of the reasons she liked him so much. "Why are you here?" she asked, instead of replying.
It was his turn to look away. "Because I care about you," he said.
She could sense the truth in his words… but only the technical truth. The attraction she had once been able to feel like a warmth whenever he was close by was missing, and its absence hurt. She didn't reply.
"Why did you kill that insane Sith Master so… so brutally?" he asked again.
"Because I had to," she told him angrily, looking up and meeting his eyes again. The slight flinch pleased her more than she wanted to admit. "I couldn't find the strength in the light. I couldn't get free in time. So… I used the tools I had. I was angry and afraid, and I used it. I saved our lives."
"But… you can't do that," Carth protested, voice filled with worry. "You know you can't. You know who you are—who you used to be. You can't ever… become that. Again."
She knew that. She knew it probably a lot better than he did. But if she couldn't defeat an old, decrepit, dead Sith Master like Jorak Uln without the dark side's power, how was she supposed to defeat Malak? He had already almost beaten her once. Bastila's intervention had probably saved her life. "I don't think it's that simple," she argued, picking at the ridge of a wall plating. "We're on a time limit now. Any fool can wave a lightsaber around and spout philosophy, but it takes decades to master the Jedi way. We can't just sit around and wait for me to figure it out while Malak kills or turns Bastila and keeps burning his way through the galaxy. I… I don't remember most of my time as Darth Revan, but when I draw on the dark side, I have access to more power than I ever thought possible."
Catastrophic… She shied away from Bastila's voice in her head.
"So what?" Carth exploded, jumping up and starting to pace. "What good does that do us, if you kill Malak then just turn around and take his place?"
She shook her head vehemently. "I would never do that."
His gaze was both accusatory and incredulous. "You mean, you would never do that again?"
"Yes," she told him with just as much fervour. "I would never do that again. I know what comes of giving your soul to the dark side and I won't ever be tempted to go there again."
"I thought you didn't remember being the Dark Lord of the Sith."
"I don't." She wrapped her arms around her knees to ward off a sudden chill. "But I get flashes of… feelings, of hints, vague memories. Sometimes I… I dream. It's enough to…" she trailed off and shook her head vehemently. "Never again."
Carth frowned and sat down again, this time close enough to reach out and take her hand. "Then why risk it?"
She looked at their hands sadly. Hers fit so comfortably in his. But he had been very clear when he told her he wasn't sure he could continue their… flirtation, now that he knew who she was. His wife had died, his whole world had been near-destroyed, because of her. "Because I can control it until… until it's finished. Until Malak is defeated. And after that, if it looks like I might…" she swallowed, "fall, I know you'll do what needs to be done."
Shepard trudged down the stairs leading to the comms room, staring ahead without really seeing anything. She stopped at the threshold and let herself lean against it with one shoulder, brand new armour creaking in protest.
Brand new armour, brand new body.
She swallowed. She, Miranda and Jacob had just returned from Freedom's Progress, a tiny human colony on the edge of the Terminus Systems. All of its people had been abducted. Every single one. She couldn't wipe the images of empty cradles and discarded toys from her brain.
She rubbed her forehead and took a deep breath, trying to pull herself together. She couldn't show weakness. She knew she was being watched all the time. If she appeared too… affected by anything, maybe the Illusive Man would decide to send her back to the operating table for tweaking. Or maybe he would overrule Miranda and have a control chip implanted in her brain after all.
She straightened and entered the room, stepping into the holocomm's pickup circle. When the room faded, replaced by a holo-image of the Illusive Man lounging against a backdrop of a fiery star, he was smiling. It was a flat, surface-level only smile: the kind of smile that made her certain he was going to tell her a bunch of lies.
He took a drag on his cigarette. "Shepard. Welcome back. You did good work on Freedom's Progress. How did you find the new… enhancements we gave you?"
With an effort Shepard kept her face blank. She wasn't just stronger or fitter than she had been before Cerberus brought her back; her reactions were faster, her aim was better, and her biotics were stronger. In addition, she now seemed to heal a lot faster than a human should, which explained how she had been able to get up off that operating table and start fighting straight away.
It felt… wrong. But at the same time, she had found it exhilarating. She didn't know what to do with that.
The Freedom's Progress security mechs had been reprogrammed to kill anyone who set foot there, and as a consequence the three of them had needed to fight their way through. Thanks in part to those upgrades, it had been a slaughter.
"They were useful," she replied shortly.
He ignored her reticence. "I'm glad to hear that." He took a draw from his cigarette, the smoke wafting languidly over his head. "The quarians sent us the data from Veetor's debriefing. There was nothing new, but I was surprised to hear from them, given our history. I take it Tali'Zorah vas'Neema had something to do with that?"
Hearing Tali's name hurt. Tali had been there, with a team of quarian marines, gathering data of her own. Shepard had been so happy to see a friendly face that she hadn't stopped to really think about things from her friend's perspective. It had been a painful shock to find out that Tali couldn't – or perhaps didn't want to – join her aboard the Normandy.
But of course she couldn't. Shepard had been gone for two years, and Tali had moved on. She had her own mission, one she couldn't just toss aside to help Shepard. She had said as much, and Shepard understood, she really did. She couldn't help but notice the undercurrent of distrust in her friend's words, however. On one level she couldn't blame her for that either, but on another, it still hurt.
"Tali'Zorah and I compromised," Shepard told him. "I let her take Veetor, and she agreed to send us any information they got from him."
"It would have been more expedient to take him yourself, but your methods got us what we needed in the end." He took another deep draw from his cigarette. "We now have confirmation the Collectors are behind these abductions."
Shepard narrowed her eyes. "You don't sound surprised."
"I suspected, but I needed proof." He eyed her. "I also needed proof you were… back in working order. It seems you passed with flying colours."
"You told me you didn't know what we would be walking into," she growled. "You withheld valuable information from me."
"I gave you all the information you required," he replied calmly.
She didn't like it, but she got it. Freedom's Progress had been a physical test, but also a tactical one. Bastard. She grit her teeth. "Fine. So now we know. The Collectors are kidnapping human colonies for the Reapers – but we don't know why. We need to find out, and we need to stop them. I can't do all of that with just Jacob and Miranda."
"Of course not." He keyed a few things into his haptic display and her omnitool chirped. "I've compiled a dossier of the best soldiers, scientists and mercenaries in the galaxy. It'll be up to you to recruit them."
She frowned, and folded her arms over her chest. "Keep your list. I want a crew I can trust – Liara T'soni, Garrus Vakarian, Urdnot Wrex. Ashley Williams." Tali. Kaidan. With an effort she kept her sorrow from showing.
"It's been two years, Shepard. All your former teammates have moved on." She wanted to wipe the amused little smile off his face. "Take a look at that list, I think you'll find some exemplary talent there. People you can work with."
People he wants me to work with. "If I do this, Illusive Man, I'm in command. This is my mission. I make the decisions. Understood?" she practically blurted out, then winced inwardly. The last thing she wanted to do was give him any insight into her real feelings, and blurting them out would do just that. He would only use them against her.
One single eyebrow raised. "Of course," he agreed smoothly. "I highly recommend you listen to my suggestions, however. Cerberus has an extensive intelligence network and substantial military assets. I could be a great help to you. If you'll let me."
It wasn't a suggestion at all, and Shepard could read between the lines well enough to know the rest of it was just a polite fiction. A subtle reminder that without him, without Cerberus, she would have nothing. She would be dead. She had a choice: do what she was told, or she would be left to fight the Reapers on her own.
She was trapped.