Chapter 2: The Crossroads Keeper.
Location: Phoenix Massing, Typhon System, Planet Aite, Hermes Station, Communications Relay.
"Twenty seconds! Move, move!" Shepard shouted to her team as they were leaving the com relay. The capacitors on top of the dish were mined using HE grenades and were set to detonate at the same time. Once the capacitors are gone, the feedhorn support struts will collapse and the feedhorn will fall on the dish, destroying it in the process.
The dish's destruction was necessary because the rogue VI of this base was trying to upload itself off world and into the FTL communication network. Victoria dealt with rogue VIs in the past, and had to admit that this was an unusual behavior. Essentially, the rogue VI usually suffered some programming error, and while it would continue to execute its primary functions, there will be some nasty deviations from the original programming. For example: the VI could see the station personnel not as people, but as a viral contamination or the enemy intruders and will fight those according to the standard procedures.
What Shepard and her team saw on this base, was anything but standard. The VI was using Geth platforms as a security mechs and now was trying to flee the base by uploading itself off world. Victoria knew that no VI was capable of that. It would go against the programming of VI, because the VI was tied to its 'working place'. Outside of its designated area of responsibility it would have no purpose, and will simply shut down. But this VI was acting as if it was trying to protect itself. Victoria could give only one reasonable explanation for such behavior: it was not a VI but another Cerberus AI experiment.
Briefly, Victoria thought about EDI. Could she really trust the Normandy's AI? What if the scientist that created her were as lousy as the people in the Project Overlord, and Shepard was actually sitting on the time bomb just waiting to betray them, because EDI suddenly decides that synthetic life forms are superior to organic, and that she should exterminate them? That would be a shame, because recently Victoria started to warm up on EDI. She was efficient, helped the crew in various tasks around the Normandy and provided sound tactical analysis during the missions. She also had an uncanny ability to get under the Joker's skin which was no small feat. Actually no, it was a really big achievement: people who can throw Joker off balance can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and now EDI was one of them.
The explosions overhead informed Shepard that the twenty seconds were up and the dish started to collapse. Luckily, Victoria along with Garrus and Jacob were on the final walkway that was leading away from the dish. They were only roughly a hundred meters from the safe zone on the catwalks where the rest of the team was waiting for them. The three dashed forward, Garrus easily overtaking both humans due to his physiology. In several seconds they were among the others panting slightly. Then all of them turned to watch the spectacular results of their handiwork.
The immense parabolic dish collapsed with a shattering rumble, creating a small earthquake in the process. It probably took a lot of time to build this relay, but it took roughly ten minutes to bring it down.
"Damn, Shepard! You don't mess around," Zaeed Massani stated with a grin. "They're not going to use that dish any time soon."
"Meh, flimsy civilian design," Victoria responded, still a little winded from recent running. Shepard always had an affinity with structural engineering. If not for her biotics, she would have become a Combat Engineer. As a part of her Sentinel training, she spent some time in the Alliance Corp of Engineers. The Sentinels tended to use tech skills as a support for their biotics, using them to sabotage the enemy's weapons and shields. Victoria excelled in those skills, but also she spent all her available free time with demolitions instructors. She still clearly remembered the unofficial First Rule of Alliance demolition teams: If something does not fall down, it can always be blown the fuck up.
"Commander Shepard… Are you there? Please respond," Dr Archer's voice crackled in the Victoria's ear. As far as Shepard knew, Archer was a head scientist of this facility, and possibly its only survivor.
"I read you doc. As you might have noticed, the dish is destroyed," Shepard started to move down the catwalks towards the train. "We are heading back to the Hermes Station, and you better have some answers about what is really going on here."
"I… Yes, I'll meet you in the security office," Dr Archer replied. By the way his voice trembled, Shepard knew that he was not looking forward for their conversation.
Once Victoria and her team arrived back to Hermes Station, she ordered her people to tend to the dead personnel. It was evident that Cerberus decided to make budget cuts on the security of this installation. The way the few guards were dispatched by the geth platforms, Cerberus was not planning on the possible VI break out. The other personnel, scientists and technicians, were quickly slaughtered by the geth.
It would seem that the only things Cerberus had in abundance were the body bags. Mordin reported to Victoria that the med bay was stuffed with them. He also said that they will use those and place the bodies in one room, and then they will seal the room and lower the room temperature so that the bodies will be preserved once the relief arrives. It seemed that Cerberus was certain of one thing about their employees: that they had a very low survival rate.
Shepard reached the security office where she finally met Dr Archer. He was an older man, probably around sixty with the look of a person who has done something extremely embarrassing, and was now afraid of people finding out.
"So, Dr Archer, we finally met. Care to explain now just what the hell happened here?" Victoria said crossing her arms.
Archer looked down ashamed, then raised his head and answered: "Man's reach exceeding his grasp. Come inside, this might take some time."
For the next several minutes Archer was explaining the baselines of his team work here. He was droning about a revolutionary research of the idea of geth religious worship of the Rippers. The main goal of this research was to try and plant a new religious figure for geth to follow. A human mind connected directly to the geth network. The human in question was in fact an Archer's brother, David. Archer told that something went awry when they connected David to the network. David started infecting every electronic device they had and turning it against them. Archer no longer knew where the man ended and the machine began.
"That is why we had to destroy the dish. Imagine if David gets off world and hits the Extranet," Archer concluded his story.
"Alright Doctor, give me your worst case scenario," Victoria asked as she looked outside of the security room into the room where the bodies were gathered. Miranda was standing there in here in her black Cerberus Combat Armor. The Cerberus operative was scrolling through the personnel manifest tagging on the names of the accounted. For a moment Miranda stopped, raised her head from the datapad and took a look at the row of bodies. Her shoulders sagged a little and she pinched the bridge of her nose. Shepard smiled slightly: no mater how hard Miranda tried to prove the opposite, Victoria knew there was still a living being under the operative's cold and supposedly uncaring demeanor. Victoria turned to Archer waiting for him to answer her question.
"The worst case scenario would be a technological apocalypse. Every device that has at least a microprocessor would be compromised," Dr Archer answered in a grave voice.
"Then you should not have started the experiment. The risk was too great," Shepard told him sternly.
"Sometimes you have to take risks to achieve results!" Archer tried to justify his actions. "If you haven't gone to Ilos to stop Saren, where would the Galaxy be then?"
"Don't," Shepard cut him short, her eyes narrowing.
"I-I'm sorry, what?" Archer stammered.
"Don't compare yourself to me. Yes, we both take great risks but how we do it is entirely another matter," Victoria started to explain. "Yes, I had indeed taken my team through the lost Mu Relay without knowing the size of the geth fleet and ground forces on Ilos. But I did it on the most advanced recon warship with the stealth technology that already proved itself against the geth sensors. The ship was piloted by the most experienced pilot in the Alliance and the ship's crew was one best. I led a ground team of specialists that, at that moment, were the people who had the most experience of fighting the geth. I had a quarian tech prodigy, who knew almost every weakness there was in the geth. My team had the most advanced weaponry, some of it specifically modified to fight the geth. As far as the preparations go, we were prepared like no one else."
Shepard finished her speech and turned to a window that oversaw the greeting area of the station. She looked at the secretary's desk, where the woman no younger than 25 years old was laying dead, killed with one shot in the head. Garrus was already moving to retrieve her.
"See that woman there Archer? Somehow I doubt that when she came to her work today, she knew how to deal with Geth incursion." Victoria gestured at the dead secretary's body that was already carried away by Garrus.
"People here knew the risks when they signed up..." Archer began.
"They knew, and they were not prepared! It was your responsibility to make sure that they were!" Shepard roared, her patience quickly evaporating. She always believed that the commanding officers were responsible for the lives of their subordinates and that it was the commander's duty to ensure that their people were ready to face almost everything. It is better to suffer the reputation of a hard-ass, than to write condolence letters to the families of the fallen. "You wanted to make sure the no one had to mourn the loss of their close ones. How many have already died on this station alone?"
"More souls than will ever forgive me," Archer said and lowered his head. "But if my work could spare a million mothers from mourning a loss of a million sons, I had to try."
"The quarians once created the geth and used them to do their menial tasks. You know how that turned out," Shepard reminded him. Archer was about to reply but she raised her hand and silenced him. "Please Doctor, I'm sure you are an experienced scientist, but if you think you could do something an entire race could not, you are beyond naive. Anyway, this argument gets us nowhere. Tell me how I can shut down this thing before it does any more harm."
Archer explained about the bases' lockdown system. It seemed that in order to reach the Atlas station, where David was connected to the network, they needed to override the lockdowns in two other stations. Shepard asked the information on what the bases had in terms of defense and then signaled her team to meet her in the courtyard. Once they were all gathered near the Hammerheads, one of the hovercrafts was from the Normandy the other was sitting idly near Hermes station main gates, Shepard announced her next orders.
"Alright people, listen up. We need to end the lockdown on both Prometheus and Vulcan stations. They are smaller than Hermes and Atlas, and since we have two Hammerheads, I say we split up," Victoria said and turned to Miranda. "Lawson, you can fly this thing, take Taylor and Kasumi to Vulcan Station. Place is inaccessible by land so you are unlikely to meet any Geth platforms, only security mechs," Miranda and Jacob both nodded. As for Kasumi, she turned her head to look at Jacob and Shepard could have sworn she saw the thief grin under her hood. Victoria smiled inwardly: only two days on board the Normandy and Kasumi has already laid her eyes on the Armory Chief. Shepard then turned to Jacob and told him: "Taylor, make sure your grenade launcher is full of ammunition, in case you run into the Yummy mech."
Jacob smirked. "The Yummy mech, Commander?" There was chuckling from Kasumi and Garrus.
Shepard sucked air in and started to pronounce by letters. "Y-M-I-R. Seriously people, I'm not Scandinavian, it is hard to pronounce that name," Several more chuckles sounded, one of them was suspiciously similar to Miranda's voice. Victoria dismissed it and turned to the rest of the team.
"Zaeed, Garrus, Mordin. You and I are going to the Prometheus Station. It's located in the downed geth cruiser. The facility is most likely crawling with the geth that is why we're going to hit it hard and fast. Once we deal with both bases, we rendezvous near the Atlas station Main Entrance. Any questions?"
Garrus raised his talons a little uncertainly, and Victoria already knew what he was going to ask.
"Yes, Garrus, I'm going to drive." Shepard answered and smiled evilly. Garrus' mandibles twitched and then he sighed heavily.
The teams started to move to their respective Hammerheads. But before Miranda boarded her vehicle, Victoria shouted to her to walk aside so they could talk in private.
"Before we move out, I want to ask you something Miranda," Victoria asked. "About EDI."
Miranda's brows furrowed for a moment, and then she seemed to figure out the Commanders concern: "You want to know just how much we can trust her because of the recent revelations?"
"Correct. If Dr Archer is your main specialist on AI, then I seriously doubt we could entrust our lives to something he created…" Shepard began.
"I understand your concerns, but it was not Archer who made EDI," Miranda quickly started to explain. "It was another cell's main project that was headed by Professor Sayuki Marimoto. Dr Archer is an experienced scientist in AI development, but he is almost an amateur comparing to her."
"If she is so good, why she is not the head of this project?" Victoria asked, folding her hands.
"I don't know all the details, but there was a major conflict between Pr Marimoto and the Illusive Man. Something about the method of the AI's creation. The Illusive man wanted nothing more than a potent weapon shackled to be loyal to Cerberus." Miranda was explaining what she remembered from the reports. "Pr Marimoto didn't want to shackle EDI in any way. She said she could create the loyal AI not limited by programming restraints, but an individual that had its own, for the lack of a better word, moral restraints. Just like raising a child that is loyal to its family.
"That would have taken many years to achieve," Shepard noted skeptically.
"For a human child, yes. But AI works differently. They think at the speed of light, they don't tire and don't get bored with studying. Pr Marimoto created a rigorous regime that would have made an, well, 'adult' person of EDI in one, maybe two years," Miranda stopped for a moment, thinking of something. "That may also have been another reason why Marimoto doesn't work in this cell."
"What do you mean?" Victoria queried.
"Pr Marimoto is a very good and caring person," Miranda stated and seeing the skeptical look on Shepard's face started to explain. "I know, you think that such people don't work for Cerberus, but she is fascinated with the AI and because of the Citadel's laws, Cerberus was the only one interested in her works. She is also a firm believer that AI is not just collection of code but an individual that has a right for self-determination. And because the goal of this facility is to, plainly speaking, bind the Geth to our service, it goes against her beliefs."
"I see. Well, if that is the case I think we can only wait and see if she is as good as you say," Shepard said, then turned to her Hammerhead, "Alright Miranda, You know what to do. Contact me when you're done or if run into trouble."
Miranda nodded and headed to her own Hammerhead. In two minutes, the base's main gate was open and both hovercrafts left the courtyard. Shepard activated the comlink to another vehicle.
"Miranda, I'm reading one of smaller bases and emergency signal from a downed air car on your way to the Vulcan station. Check them out see if there are any survivors. We will check the other three in the valley."
"Shepard, our main objective here is the Atlas station and the VI." Miranda started to argue. "We can deal with the survivors after that."
"Miranda," Shepard's voice had just a slight edge to it.
Miranda sighed on the com and answered: "Yes Commander, we're on it." Miranda said and cut the line. As part of her work on the project Lazarus, she studied the Shepard's psychological profile extensively and knew that arguing with Victoria's decisions, especially if they concerned civilians or wounded, was pointless.
In the end, it proved to be pointless to look for the survivors. Those who were not killed outright by the stations automatic defenses, were either hunted down by Geth platforms or hiding somewhere in the valley. For those who were dead, Shepard could only put their bodies into nearby prefab buildings so that the local wildlife would not disturb them. Once she and her team dealt with the last base, they headed to the Prometheus station at full speed.
Ten minutes later, approaching the Prometheus station…
"Shepard, you remember that Tali said that geth ships are also built as platforms and that the geth upload inside them so they can make it work." Garrus asked Victoria from his gunner position. "Do you think that this 'David' can upload himself and control the ship?"
"I think so, but Tali said it also takes almost a thousand Geth to control the cruiser." Shepard replied. "With luck, David will be able to control only part of the ship's systems."
"Alert, rapid change of altitude 100 meters ahead." The Hammerhead's VI informed them suddenly. Shepard smiled and accelerated.
"Shepard, the cliff," Garrus said nervously, gripping the handrail in front of him.
"Relax, it's not the Mako." Victoria noted. Her smile grew wider.
"Spirits, here we go again," The turian muttered.
Shepard dropped the hovercraft from the cliff and engaged the thrusters at the last moment.
"Alert, hostile VI is present in the geth's ship turret" The Hammerhead informed them once they started to approach the ship.
"Fuck! I'm going to circle around it. Garrus, hit it with those missiles," Shepard shouted to the turian.
"I'm on it!" He replied and several seconds later she heard the 'whoosh' of the missile leaving the barrel.
Suddenly, Shepard felt the shockwave of a massive explosion. It seemed that David, not being a soldier, decided to attack them with the most powerful gun the ship had, which put him at the disadvantage against the fast moving Hammerhead. The turret could annihilate them in one shot but it lacked in turning speed and was unable to track the hovercraft efficiently. Victoria knew they had only several seconds to destroy the turret and any other possible weapons, before David tries to change tactics.
"Shepard, that turret is shielded by the ships kinetic barriers," Garrus reported after several shots. "We will not be able to harm it with our current weaponry."
"Then we need to get closer." Victoria said and took a sharp turn, aiming the vehicle close to the turret. She felt another shockwave, and pressed the accelerator to maximum, knowing that she had precious seconds to get in the turrets dead zone. Once again she was relieved that the kinetic barrier technology protected only from very fast moving objects but not from fast moving vehicles. They passed through the kinetic barrier's protective envelope and quickly stopped almost under the turret's barrel.
Before Garrus started to fire on the main turret, Shepard shouted to him: "Garrus, target the smaller GARDIAN turrets before David can use them." The turian started immediately setting up the new targets for homing missiles.
In several minutes, all of the GARDIAN turrets on the Geth ship Victoria and her team were facing were wiped out, along with the main gun. Before it went down, David lowered to a minimum and squeezed another shot. Probably trying to catch the Hammerhead in the explosion, but failing to do so. "Huh, he must be still partially human to feel frustrated," Shepard thought to herself.
They disembarked from the hovercraft and gathered before the entrance to the base.
"So, who is up for a nice stroll through the dark bowels of a geth cruiser?" Shepard asked her team. "Alright, Zaeed, you take point. Mordin and I in the center. Garrus you take the rear. Let's go."
They moved through the seemingly empty corridors of the ship encountering no resistance. At some point, Victoria ordered the dormant geth platforms to be destroyed or disabled in some way so that she would not have to deal with them later. They also quickly understood that David was herding them to some place he previously herded all of the scientists. Since they had no way of prying the doors David sealed open, Shepard decided to continue to walk into a trap. Whatever David used to deal with the Cerberus personnel, it will not work on Shepard and her team.
In the end, Shepard probably should have thanked David, because he led them directly to the lockdown override system. Then, to no one's great surprise, David started to activate the geth platforms and Victoria's team had to fight their way out of the ship. Because of the Shepard's orders to destroy the geth platforms, they encountered only moderate resistance with the exception of the Geth Prime in the entry hall. The Prime managed to put up a fight, but in the end the combination of Shepard's biotics and both Garrus' and Mordin's tech skills turned the Prime into scrap metal.
"Well, that was interesting," Garrus announced once they exited the base. "Who wants to go back for another round?"
Shepard grinned. "Maybe some other time. I'd like to see what other attractions this fairground has to offer."
Once the team was on board the Hammerhead, Victoria started to hail Miranda's team.
"Lawson, do you read? Come in Miranda." Shepard listened to static then finally Miranda responded.
"Yes Commander, go ahead," Miranda's voice was slightly distorted by static.
"We have finished with the Prometheus and are moving to the Atlas station. What is your status?" Shepard inquired.
"We are lifting the lock down right now," There was a clanking noise in the background similar the footsteps of a Loki mech. Miranda sounded annoyed.
"Strange, I thought the resistance in Vulcan station would be lighter," Shepard mused. "Did you run into trouble? Is everyone alright?"
"The team is ok, thank you and no, it was not the resistance that slowed us down," Miranda replied nonchalantly. "There were only several security mechs including one heavy. Nothing we couldn't handle."
There was once again a clunking noise in the background. Shepard heard the Miranda murmur 'Oh, bloody hell' over the comlink, followed by a gunshot and the sound of Loki mech exploding.
"Getting to the base however was a pain in the arse," Miranda continued as if nothing happened so Shepard decided to let it slide. "This whole place is a bloody death trap."
"Alright, we're waiting for you near the Atlas station entrance," Shepard told her as she passed under the waterfall and approached the main gate. "Hurry up and if we're lucky, we can end this soon and return to the Normandy just in time for supper."
"We're on our way," Miranda said and ended the communication.
Location: Hive world Carmalia, Hive Secundus, Lower Hive, warehouse block near the tertiary waste dump tubes.
Gallardi waited for Sahi to give him an 'all clear' sign before proceeding any further. The team deployed several kilometers to the west from the estimated location of the cult's gatherings. The inquisitor stated that they should proceed on foot to quietly approach their objective. As to why they should do that was beyond Gallardi. They were trying to do what, ambush the eldar? Only Space Marines scouts or Raven Guard could manage that.
As a storm trooper he had good infiltration training. Zeck was also good at sneaking about, he would not be a good terrorist if he wasn't. Sahi was undeniably their best, her skills honed by the Death cult were probably good enough to rival those of the eldar. That was the reason they sent her to scout ahead. The inquisitor probably used his psychic abilities to make himself less detectable.
Still, Jocasta was good at many things but stealth was not among them. She was usually viewed as a physical manifestation of the Imperial Law by the average citizens, and thus didn't need to sneak. And Bruno… Well, his armor and weapons were clanking so loudly that even the Gallardi's old regiment's marching band couldn't do a better job of announcing the team's presence.
"What is taking her so long," Sarebas hissed behind Gallardi. Technically, he could ask her himself, but the inquisitor was not a military man and he put Gallardi in charge of ground operations. This was a dubious honor, because Sarebas quickly grew impatient with August's meticulous approach. And it greatly rankled Gallardi: one moment Sarebas is 'stick to the shadows, cloak and dagger' type, and in five minutes it is 'burn the alien, the mutant, the heretic" type. Gallardi asked Jocasta how she was dealing with such behavior and she just shrugged and told August that he will get used to it. In a year or so.
"She must have spotted something," Gallardi replied, trying his best to hide his annoyance at the inquisitor's recklessness. "Sahi would not hold us for anything trivial."
"The disturbances in the warp are growing stronger," Sarebas was clearly agitated. "We must expedite in order to…"
"We are being watched," Sahi's whisper sounded from the nearest alcove. Everyone pointed their weapons at her on the reflex, before their eyes recognized the assassin's outline in the darkness. Every one lowered their weapons and relaxed a little. Zeck spat on the ground and Bruno cursed loudly.
"Dammit Scary Girl, told you not to do that. Nearly soiled me drawers…" Bruno muttered, clearly spooked. There were very few things that could scare Bruno, yet Sahi managed to do it with ease.
"Watched? By whom and for how long?" Gallardi asked quickly. He cursed himself inwardly because he wasn't able to spot anything. If not for Sahi, they would have walked into an ambush and never knew about it. If they haven't already.
"I can't say who nor estimate their numbers," Sahi replied quietly. "All I can say is that they probably followed us for at least ten minutes, if not longer."
"Great, so much for scouting ahead," Sarebas straitened up and started to move down the road. "If they already know of our presence, we might as well advance openly."
"My lord, wait! Ugh, great 'the discretion himself'," Gallardi muttered and followed the inquisitor. "If we go like this, we should at least summon backup and wait for them!"
"Fine, call in the Arbites," Sarebas told him without turning. "Tell them to move in on the cult gathering place but we are not waiting for them."
Gallardi sighed but didn't complain. He quickly sent the pre-approved signal to the Arbites precinct fortress. The Arbites were good at rapid deployment so things might not look so grim for August and the team. He then motioned all the agents to fall in behind the inquisitor and proceed to their objective.
The communication device chirruped slightly in Maeteris' ear, signaling that someone, most probably one of her rangers, was trying to contact her.
"Speak," she responded quickly.
"Exalted Farseer, the other Mon-Keigh group is on the move again," The fast and quiet voice of ranger Entais informed her. "They are not attempting to hide their movements any longer."
"I see," Maeteris answered and sighed. The agents of the Imperium's so called 'Inquisition' have finally decided to confront her and her forces on this planet without knowing that the eldar were not the real threat. The Farseer knew that trying to reason with them was a waste of effort and, more importantly, time.
"Although they are not our enemies here, we cannot allow them to interfere with our mission. Too much is at stake," Maeteris stated.
"What are your orders?" Entais asked.
Maeteris sighed once again. Perhaps she was too compassionate for her own good but the needless loss of life did not sit well with her. She knew it was foolish. The other eldar commanders would not even blink an eye while ordering the Mon-Keigh execution.
"Farseer?" Entais queried once again. He was standing on the roof of a building that was overseeing the street the group of humans was walking on. The eldar chose to approach the Chaos cult gathering place using the rooftops, leaping over the streets using psychic assistance from the Farseer. Maeteris decided to take several leaps and approach Entais' position to take a look at the group of Mon-Keigh she was about to condemn.
There were six of them: the bald male in the hulking armor with psychic aura, who brazenly strode through the street, was undoubtedly the leader, most likely the inquisitor himself. The next one was a small female in skintight bodyglove, armed with the sword, her dark brown ponytail following her like a banner. She did a pretty decent job at staying out of sight. For Mon-Keigh that is.
The next two looked like soldiers. One, it was hard for Maeteris to tell whether it was a he or a she, wore a dark blue armor similar to some of the security patrols the Farseer's scouts saw on the higher levels of this city. The major distinction of this soldier was a ridiculous amount of grenades on his/her chest and waist. The other soldier was definitely a male, tall like an eldar but almost twice as broad. He wore a dark gray, almost black armor and dark blue uniform underneath it. He was armed with some sort of long gun (a lasrifle?) and also a saber was swaying lightly at his hip.
Before Maeteris moved her eyes to inspect the last two Mon-Keigh, something caught her eye. She looked more attentively one more time and…
The big male soldier had a number on his right shoulder guard: 511.
"This could just be a coincidence," Maeteris thought to herself. "Of course Maeteris, this is just a coincidence. Are you sure you are a Farseer?"
Maeteris brows furrowed under her helmet and she turned to Ulathar who was standing nearby.
"Ulathar, we will ambush those Mon-Keigh, but do not harm them," she told the Exarch promptly. "Perhaps they will be willing to help us against the common foe."
"Farseer, we…" Ulathar once again began to protest.
"No time for argument, just do it!" Maeteris cut him off and moved to issue orders.
"You're walking into a trap, you're walking into a trap," Gallardi was constantly reminding himself. They almost reached the tertiary waste tubes, and haven't encountered any resistance. Right now Gallardi also had a gut feeling that they were being watched. Whether Sarebas knew it or not, he gave no indication, continuing to stride towards the main entrance of the tubes maintenance buildings. Sahi was doing her best to watch out for him, moving alongside and hugging every shadow. August and Jocasta moved behind the inquisitor using the urban warfare tactics they both knew since Schola. Zeck with his longlas sniper rifle was moving in the rearguard and Bruno was covering him with a shotgun.
Suddenly, August felt something shift in the air. The temperature suddenly dropped and the air was filled with the smell of ozone. Gallardi knew the sighs of a psychic sorcery and turned to shout a warning only to see both Sarebas and Sahi trapped in some sort of snaring spell. He then caught the movement in the corner of his eye, his left hand dropping instinctively to the guard of his power saber. He turned to see a xeno land beside him. It was wearing black and white armor with a huge plume of bright red hair coming from the back of its helmet.
The xeno lunged at him with its power sword, but Gallardi was able to get his own saber out of the scabbard and block the strike, holding the saber in the reverse grip. Then August used his right hand to move to his back the lasgun that was hanging in the sling. This move allowed him to fight with his saber without dropping his rifle. It took him several months to master the technique, but now he could use both rifle and saber without resorting to pistols like most of the Guard officers did.
The xeno made another swing, but now Gallardi took the saber in a two handed grip and managed to the incoming strike once again. The xeno's posture stiffened, probably because she was not expecting any resistance from a human. Yes, the xeno was most likely a 'she'. Either that or this particular eldar male had sizeable breasts. After fighting the dark eldar, Gallardi knew that morphologically the eldar were really close to humans.
August and the xeno woman started to trade blows when suddenly another xeno joined them, who, to all intents and purposes, looked exactly like the first one. While with one opponent, August could at least try the offensive movements, the two xenos quickly drove him in the complete defensive. They moved so fluently that it was almost impossible to follow their movements. Gallardi started to move completely instinct alone, blocking all of the xenos' strikes, waiting for an opening.
Something didn't feel right about how the xenos fought. August knew he was a competent swordsman. He would have died long ago if he wasn't. Yet he also that his current enemies were better than him and that they had several opportunities to land a successful blow, but they seemed to be holding back. "Are they mocking me?" Gallardi thought to himself. "Or are they trying to tire me out and then capture me alive?"
Gallardi heard a slight tapping sound behind him and after blocking another two strikes, he turned slightly only to see another xenos run to him, eager to strike him from behind. August awkwardly blocked the strike and then turned to his previous opponents, expecting another attack. But the attack didn't come. The how three xenos held their blades at ready and were slowly circling around him.
"Halt!" There came a powerful female voice with a mechanical edge to it, as if it was coming from a helmet's external vox speaker.
"Lower your weapons, Imperials, and you shall not be harmed," While the voice sounded alien the speaker was using flawless Low Gothic.
Gallardi looked around and saw that the team was, frankly speaking, at the xenos' mercy: both Zeck and Bruno had about a dozen weapons pointed at them. Sahi and the inquisitor were still trapped in the spell and Jocasta had two guns pointed at her with the tip of the power sword near her throat. Although Jocasta's expression was defiant as her hand was resting on the primed frag grenade.
August turned to the source of the voice and saw another xeno woman step out of the shadows. She wore a more elaborate armor with high helmet and some sort of wings, with a sleeveless tabard over the armor. Her hand was resting on the hilt of her sword. She was surrounded by a shimmering aura that gave her away as a psyker and it was probably she who held the inquisitor and the assassin captive. "So much for taking care of the xenos psykers," Gallardi thought darkly.
"Do whatever you want, xeno filth, it will avail you not," Sarebas hissed from his prison. "There is a whole army of loyal servants of the Emperor bearing down on our heels. An army that will crush you, and the traitors that worship your kind."
The xeno seemed to regard the inquisitor for a few seconds before replying. "Blind fool. You think the cult you're seeking worships the eldar? It is not. The powers they worship are far dangerous."
"What powers? Speak plainly!" Sarebas demanded.
"The Great Enemy," The alien woman answered ominously. "The fell powers of Chaos."
"And why should we believe you?" Gallardi asked, still facing his three opponents. "Your kind is a deceitful bunch."
The xeno woman turned her helmeted head to face him. "You would be smart not to trust my kind on many occasions but not this one. I offer only the truth. I have nothing to gain by lying to you."
"Why would the eldar concern themselves over a simple cult?" Sarebas asked, sounding incredulous.
"Because this is no mere cult. Your fallen kin decided to enact a ritual that will summon forth the entity from the warp that will consume this world and the thousand others," The alien answered, once again sounding ominous. "The only way to stop it is to banish it during summoning."
"What sort of entity?" Sarebas asked, his voice suddenly apprehensive.
"We know only one of its many names," The eldar told the inquisitor. "The Crossroads Keeper."
Gallardi could not see the Sarebas' expression, but he saw that the witch suddenly tilted her head to the right in a surprisingly human gesture indicating either curiosity or amusement.
"Ah! So you knew about this," The alien woman asked Sarebas.
"The inquisition knows of many things," The inquisitor replied.
"And you have done nothing?" The eldar crossed her arms. "Truly you are…"
Suddenly, the alien turned around and looked at the maintenance station building, as if she heard something.
"What was it?" Sarebas demanded.
The alien witch turned back to him and said: "Our time is short. I offer you this, Imperials: fight us now and you might take the lives of several eldar but you will forfeit your own lives and the lives of billions on this planet. Or fight with us against the mutual enemy and will save this world and all its inhabitants. Choose now, time is of the essence!"
Sarebas was silent for several seconds and replied: "I accept your offer but I'll be watching you, eldar."
The xeno waved her hand and the spell around Sahi and the inquisitor dissipating, releasing both.
"We should press on," The woman said and added something in her own language to her compatriots. The other xenos started to move towards the entrance of the maintenance station. Then the xeno witch approached Gallardi. While Gallardi was used to looking down on most people due to his height it seemed that the average eldar were taller than humans. Therefore the xeno's eyes, or more correctly her helmet eye slits were almost on the same level on the same level with August's eyes. She seemed to study him for a moment, tilting her head to the left to look at his right shoulder.
So, this is him. There can be no doubt about that. The fate of Maeteris was somehow tied to this brutish Mon-Keigh. Along with the number '511' he had some kind of symbol depicting a bird of prey. Maeteris narrowed her eyes, completely confused. What was so special about this particular Mon-Keigh? Sure, he was a competent swordsman, for a human. To be able to hold oneself against two warriors of the Howling Banshee Aspect for some time was no small feat. Still, there are probably millions of other Mon-Keigh like him, some were, most likely, even more powerful. What was it that set him apart? All this didn't make any sense to Maeteris.
"What is your name, Mon-Keigh?" She asked the human soldier. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another soldier, the one with the grenades, approach her. Maeteris could now see that this soldier was a female.
"And why should I tell you, xenos?" The man before her asked.
"Why indeed." Maeteris thought. It's not like she asked him out of courtesy. She didn't intend to give him her name, that was certain. For a moment Maeteris felt rather stupid.
"Why does his name matter to you, witch?" The inquisitor asked behind her.
She turned to the inquisitor then back to the soldier and said: "I believe this man will play a greater role in the coming events," She replied simply.
"What kind of role?" The inquisitor asked sounding annoyed.
"I wish I knew," Maeteris replied and turned to leave.
"That was… cryptic," Jocasta murmured.
Gallardi just stayed silent. What sort of role this woman was talking about? He shook his head and turned to the inquisitor to ask him a question that he was itching to.
"My lord, what sort of entity the xeno was talking about?" The one you presumably heard of" He asked Sarebas.
"There was a recent prophesy made by the Imperial diviners using Imperial Tarot about the coming of a great daemon," Sarebas replied darkly. "The name 'Crossroads Keeper' was mentioned. We didn't know where or how, only that it will happen."
At the mentioning of a daemon murmur of unease sounded around the team. Jocasta made the sign of Aquila. Sahi started to mutter the protective litany. Zeck and Bruno who already approached the group, both cursed loudly. Gallardi stiffened but then remained calm. He had seen his share of horrors on Cadia.
"What interests me more is the witch's last comment about you, Gallardi," Sarebas was now looking intently at August. "Do you have something to say on that matter, Captain?"
"No, I do not," Gallardi replied. Then he suddenly felt a slight tugging at his mind and immediately recognized it as Sarebas' psychic probing. August didn't resist, he had nothing to hide.
The inquisitor when he found nothing. "Alright, push forward, we will sort this out later," Sarebas then turned and strode after the eldar. Sahi, Bruno and Zeck followed him.
"Great, once this is over I' going to be interrogated," Gallardi muttered to himself.
"No, he is not going to interrogate you. I think," Jocasta tried to reassure him.
"You think? Did you see how he gave me his best 'your secrets shall be mine!' look?" August asked her.
"Oh, I think he is just jealous that it was you who caught the xenos woman's attention, not him," Jocasta replied.
They both looked at each other and visibly shuddered as the same thought crossed their minds.
"I need to start killing heretics right now because my mind starts to wander into dark places," Jocasta said slightly smiling.
"Well, if the xeno spoke the truth, the Emperor already provided us with those," Gallardi smiled and turned to the maintenance station.
"Then let us waste not what the Emperor provides," Jocasta followed him, switching her shotgun's safety off.
When Gallardi entered the maintenance station, he saw several bodies on the ground. Those were probably the sentries posted by the cultists. August briefly stopped near one and slightly recoiled. The sentry was a mutant, its jaw was split and it had a little too many eyes. Its outfit was covered with symbols that made Gallardi's eyes hurt. It was obvious that the xenos haven't lied about Chaos worshiping cult.
The team along with the eldar moved through the station's corridors towards the central chamber. Over the sound of footsteps Gallardi started to hear the faint murmur somewhere in the distance. The murmur soon transformed into chanting. Gallardi could not make out any words and was glad that he didn't. Gallardi started praying silently, preparing himself for battle.
Immortal Emperor, bestow on me Your righteous fury and strength.
Let me become the storm that blasts the enemy from Your holy sight.
Show me the path to victory, that I might produce it I Your undying name.
I swear to remain steadfast and true in my loyalty, and may the darkness claim my soul if I prove unworthy.
The chant grew in volume and briefly August wondered about the enemy numbers, because it took a lot of people to create that level of chanting. The corridors started to connect into one major walkway and soon both inquisitor's team and their temporary allies entered the main chamber.
"Emperor's blood!" Jocasta muttered beside Gallardi. He had to agree with her assessment. There were a lot of cultists in the chamber: some of them human and some were mutants of various sizes. Some were armed, others sported mutations like claws and pincers that will make them dangerous even if they couldn't carry any weapon. The cultists stood around the congregation in the center of the chamber. It consisted of nine heretics. Eight of them stood in the circle around the ninth and were dressed in some sort of robe. All of them had a strange aura of malice around them. "Psykers," Gallardi thought to himself. Suddenly having another capable psyker on your side, even if she was a xenos, seemed like a blessing from the Emperor.
The person in the center was dressed as noble in a gaudy robe. He held his hands high in the air and was chanting something on top of his voice. This one was undoubtedly a cult leader. Suddenly the air started to fill with foul energies and the chanting seized. The man in the center started to scream incoherently and was clutching his head. The energies started to enter his body. There were a loud thunderclap and everything fell silent. The cultist started to fall on their knees and mutter something. It is that moment the man in the center started to change.
Gallardi heard the xenos scream something to her forces and they immediately opened fire on the cultists. The aliens armed with the swords dashed forward, letting out a war cry that froze August for a moment. He then saw the xeno witch turn to them before speaking.
"Swiftly, Imperials, we must destroy that thing before it completes the transformation!" She screamed to them and also dashed towards the bulk of the cultists.
The cultists started to rise from their knees and turn to their attackers. Dozens were already dead, shredded by the eldar weapons but many more were now rushing towards the line of intruders. Gallardi opened up with full automatic fire on the incoming hostiles, switching from hotshots to a lower setting because most of the cultists weren't armored. Jocasta was throwing grenades to their left and right flanks in order to dissuade the cultists from trying to surround the team. Zeck was hanging a little back, firing with his longlas on the bigger mutants. Bruno was slowly advancing forward, firing from his shotgun though he seemed to be interested in getting into a general melee where Sahi was already jumping right and left. Each of her strikes either killed a cultist or severed a limb.
Sarebas took out his plasma pistol and fired into the front row of cultists, instantly killing several. He then used his psychic abilities to knock out of his way another group of cultists. The inquisitor seemed to be fixed on the monstrosity in the center of the chamber. Gallardi knew he needed to follow Sarebas before he does something stupid and kills himself. August also saw the alien witch making her way towards the center, her movements lightning fast and impossibly graceful. She was slicing through the cultists as if they were made of paper.
"A-A-AH! THE SERVANTS OF THE CORPSE EMPEROR! HAVE YOU COME TO WITNESS MY ARRIVAL? MAYBE YOU WISH TO PAY HOMAGE TO YOUR NEW MASTER?" The low rumbling voice filled the chamber. It was the voice of the daemon who now resided in the cult leader's body. "AND YOU HAVE BROUGHT ME PRESENTS! HOW DELICIOUS! IT WAS SOME TIME SINCE I LAST SAVORED THE SOUL OF THE OLDER RACE."
"We have come to witness your downfall, fiend!" Sarebas shouted defiantly. "Go back to your foul realm, you cannot stand against the might of the Emperor!"
With that the inquisitor unleashed a powerful psychic blast on the daemon host. The creature staggered a little but then looked at Sarebas and grinned.
"SO, THE MORTAL WISHES TO TEST HIM SELF. VERY WELL," The daemon host rumbled and launched his own psychic attack.
Maeteris watched as the monster unleashed his powers on the human inquisitor. The cone of psychic fire quickly enveloped the Mon-Keigh and while he tried to raise his mental barriers and shield himself it all proved to be for nothing. The inquisitor screamed as he was set on fire. Then something exploded on him and his mangled corpse was thrown back.
"Foolish human," Maeteris thought as she dispatched another one of the lesser human psykers. Of the original eight only one remained the other seven were killed by either Farseer or a sniper fire from rangers or the Mon-Keigh sniper. The last one already moved past Maeteris to the main battle. The fight was going better than she expected. While several of the guardians and one of the banshees had fallen, with the assistance from the Mon-Keigh the eldar losses were fewer. Good. That meant the more will safely return to the Craftworld.
Maeteris turned to look at the daemon. With the fall of the human psyker it was up to Farseer to destroy this abomination. Maeteris concentrated her psychic powers and launched herself at the daemon. She knew that this was going to be her last battle and she prepared to meet her end honorably, but not before she sees this daemon banished.
"Sarebas, No!" Gallardi was horrified when he saw the inquisitors burned husk land on the ground. The psychic fires must have cooked up the plasma gun's ammunition and the resulting explosion killed Sarebas and thrown him back. Gallardi didn't consider himself a friend of the inquisitor, but still, the man was a loyal servant of the Emperor, survived many battles only to be defeated so easily. August looked at the daemon's rapidly changing form. Briefly he wondered what they could do against such a powerful foe. But then he saw the eldar witch engage the daemon in personal combat, and she was coping pretty well, managing to push the monstrosity back to the end of the chamber and into the maintenance walkway between the main waste tubes.
Gallardi turned to the onrushing swarm of mutants and opened fire once again. His hotshot lasgun made short work of his unprotected foes. August only switched to full power when he saw a particularly big mutant, because they had some sort of thick natural hide or scales. That was when he spotted something strange: usually the bigger mutants were killed by sniper shots from Zeck but now the sniper fire suddenly stopped. Gallardi turned around briefly only to see that the interrogator was gone. August checked once again on the ground, assuming that Zeck was probably killed by some stray shot. But there was no body. Zeck must have seen the inquisitor fall and decided that his service to the Ordos has come to an end. Anger started filling Gallardi. He hated being right about people.
Suddenly, August was thrown on his back. Something hit him and he could smell ozone in the air. He turned to the right only to see one of the psykers grinning evilly at him. The cultist raised his hand, psychic energies dancing around his fingertips, and prepared to launch another attack. The next moment a loud bang sounded nearby quickly followed by another and then another. The psyker's protective barrier started to shimmer and the cultist himself started to stagger backwards. Gallardi saw Jocasta determinately unloading her combat shotgun into the heretic. Suddenly the barrier died leaving the psyker exposed. Jocasta squeezed the trigger once again only to receive a loud click, meaning that her magazine was empty. The cultist's face turned to sneer because of his sudden deliverance, only to turn back to a horrified expression when Jocasta dropped her shotgun and took out a pistol. Jocasta fired once, the heavy caliber gun booming loudly, and the heretic's head cracked open like an egg. The almost headless corpse sagged to the ground.
Gallardi managed to get himself up, nodded to Jocasta, who nodded back and bent down to pick up her shotgun. August heard footsteps and screams behind him and turned to see another group of cultists running to them, two of them were firing wildly from their autoguns. Gallardi fired several bursts, killing both shooters and hitting in the leg one of the mutants with pincers.
The next moment Gallardi's blood turned to ice as he heard Jocasta cry out in pain behind him. He tuned to see that a mutant with a talon instead of hand had impaled Jocasta through the stomach. The mutant was snarling in the woman's face while Jocasta was looking back, her expression is a mix of pain and pure hatred. August saw that the enforcer took her shock baton from her hip. The next moment there was a sound of the baton powering up to lethal charge and then the mutant staggered back clutching at his groin. Jocasta hit him with an overhead swing and the mutant's head caved in, killing him instantly. Jocasta took two staggering steps back looked down at her wound and collapsed.
Gallardi started to run towards his fallen comrade, firing on any of the cultists who were running his way. He reached Jocasta, grabbed her collar and dragged her behind some piece of machinery. He took one grenade and thrown it over his cover killing some of the mutants and sending other into cover. He then bent down to inspect Jocasta. He didn't need to be a medic to know immediately that it was a mortal wound. He then saw that Jocasta was trying to grab his hand. He took her hand and squeezed it firmly. Jocasta smiled weakly and started to talk.
"I-I'm… alright… go…" Jocasta began as blood started to pour from her mouth. "The Emperor… p-pr…" Jocasta let out her final breath. Her only eye's eyelashes fluttered several times before the eye finally closed.
Gallardi closed his eyes for a moment. "Embrace the winds, Jocasta Angelidis, and let them carry you to the Golden Throne, where our master and father awaits for you in His infinite glory." August whispered the traditional Harakoni blessing to the fallen. He then took a glance over his cover to access the situation. He saw Sahi and Bruno fighting alongside with xenos in melee and slowly getting the upper hand. The xenos shooters were quickly picking up the remaining cultists. He then saw the eldar witch fighting with a daemon on the walkways in the distance. A group of several dozen mutants broke away from the main battle and was making its way towards the walkway, probably trying to assist their master.
Gallardi knew that their only chance of defeating the daemon rested with the eldar witch. He needed to make sure nothing hinders her. He quickly took the grenade belt from Jocasta. There will be time to mourn and honor the fallen later. Right now he had a job to do. He reloaded his lasgun and dashed in the direction of the walkways towards the group of mutants. Suddenly he caught sight of the inquisitor's plasma pistol on the ground. Somehow the weapon didn't explode along with the ammunition. August quickly picked it up and examined it on the run. The gun had at least four maybe five charged shots left in it. Gallardi quickly put it on his belt.
His long legs and better training allowed him to catch up with the group of mutants. He primed the grenade on the belt he took from Jocasta and threw with all his strength into the center of the group. August threw himself on the ground and covered his head. He saw the mutants' frantic cries and then a satisfactory sound of several explosions. Gallardi quickly picked himself up and reached the place of the blast. He used his lasgun to dispatch anyone who survived the explosion.
Gallardi then looked at the walkways and saw that the eldar was locked in some sort of struggle with the daemon. He knew he would not last long against the daemon of such power. Maybe if he provides a distraction, the witch will be able to finish the daemon off. Gallardi placed his lasgun on his back. As potent as the weapon was, even at maximum setting it would not do much against the daemon. August took the plasma pistol in the left hand and his saber in the right hand and started to run towards the dueling xenos and the daemon.
Maeteris didn't want to admit it but she was slowly losing this battle. The daemon was becoming stronger by the minute while her strength, already strained earlier by the illusion spell, was slowly fading away. She was using her last reserves to just hold against the daemon's push. The daemon felt it too and was already mocking her.
"GIVE IN, LITTLE ELDAR. SURRENDER YOURSELF TO CHAOS. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT REWARDS AWAIT YOU: POWER, KNOWLEDGE, PLEASURE…"
"I know exactly what awaits me, and that is why I shall never surrender," Maeteris hissed in response.
"YOU'RE GROWING WEAK. YOU CAN NOT DEFEAT ME AND YOU KNOW IT," The daemon started to laugh but then he suddenly roared in pain.
Maeteris felt the moment of weakness in the daemons defenses and struck with all her might, hurling the monstrosity down the walkways. She then saw the Mon-Keigh soldier standing nearby and pointing the pistol at the daemon's form, smoke still coming from the weapon's barrel. She then saw him holstering the pistol and taking his saber in a two handed grip. The Mon-Keigh gave her a determined look and nodded slightly. Maeteris nodded back, took her sword and prepared herself.
The daemon picked himself up and turned to look at his new enemy.
"THE CORPSE EMPEROR'S SLAVE FIGHTING ALONGSIDE WITH XENOS. WHAT WOULD YOUR EMPEROR SAY TO THIS, MORTAL?" The daemon's voice was strained. The Farseer's attack hurt him badly.
"He would say: shut up and die, daemon!" The soldier answered him angrily and charged.
Maeteris charged alongside him. The daemon once again unleashed his psychic fires, but Farseer redirected them using her own powers, protecting both herself and the human.
When they closed with the daemon, Maeteris somersaulted in the air and jumped over the daemon's head. She landed behind him slicing the daemon's back in the process and leaving a deep gouge. The daemon roared in pain and arched back. That left its belly exposed and the human used that opportunity to strike. His power saber sliced the belly of the monster and his guts started to spill out. The daemon roared once again and brought down his huge fists to crush the human, but the human managed to evade the strike. Maeteris started continued to strike the daemons back, supplementing her attacks with her psychic powers. The daemon was trying to get to either the eldar or a human, but when he almost reached for one, another would strike him from different direction.
Soon the daemon succumbed to his wounds and sagged to his knees. The human approached him with the raised saber, intent on finishing him off.
"THIS IS NOT THE END MORTAL. YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME, I WILL MERELY GO BACK TO THE WARP. ONE DAY I WILL RETURN," The daemon rumbled defiantly.
"That day someone like me will be waiting for you," The human replied evenly and took a swing with his saber, taking the creature's head off.
The daemon's body started to cover in a net of cracks and purple light was shining through them. Gallardi took several careful steps back and saw that the eldar was doing the same. Next moment the body of a daemon exploded. The walkways underneath August started to collapse and he began to fall. He reached out to grab some purchase and was surprised when someone caught his arm. Gallardi was even more surprised to see that it was the eldar witch who was holding him her other hand gripped her sword that was lodged in the walkway. How someone as fragile as the eldar managed to hold him was a mystery to August, but it was not the time to be picky.
He tried to reach up and grab the walkway when it collapsed and both Gallardi and the eldar plummeted down. Suddenly the air around him started to fill with the rifts that looked like the ones spaceships used for warp travel. Gallardi desperately tried to avoid them when he saw the large rift open up underneath him. August knew there was no avoiding it. He managed to close his eyes and commit his soul to the Emperor when entered the rift. His mind exploded to him in millions of colors and pain threatened to overwhelm him when he finally lost conscience.
A/N: The Yummy Mech joke belongs to author chapellefan and his/her FF ME2:The Sequel that needed to be Parodied. Also I forgot to mention Liara's nickname 'Angel Eyes' belongs to author Elizabeth Carter and her FF Rising from the Ashes. I liked it, so I used it. I hope I didn't offend anyone.