The room was lit by only the faintest lavender glow trickling in from the house's expansive windows and the air was still crisp with the night's chill. Tali'Zorah wrapped a robe around her and grasped the warm mug in her hands, moving to the door and sliding it open to step outside.
Five years. It felt odd to think that it had been half a decade since that day. Even now she was still thrilled by the sensations of life outside of her suit. She let a hand rest on the balcony railing, fingertips brushing along the length of smooth sandstone. Five years since the war ended. Over two since she had left her suit behind entirely while on the homeworld. But it still felt new, each sensation to be relished, from the feeling of the stone to the goosebumps across her skin from the cold air.
Tali looked out taking in the view. Rannoch's red-gold plains and ancient stone formations were just now reflecting the pre-dawn light casting them in deep purples and blues. The only other light came from the distant capital some thirty kilometers away, it's angular towers reaching skyward and the glow of the city's ambient light acting like a small sun that never quite set.
Balen'iztal, Knight's Promise. Home to over ten million quarians, nearly half of their current population and thousands more geth, turians, and even minorities of almost every other species in Alliance space. When the war had ended the quarians had decided that the only way to truly begin anew on their homeworld was to establish a new capital. They chose the very plains where the Reaper had been defeated to secure the future of their two species, quarian and geth.
The name had been Quin'Sala's suggestion. Tali smiled and took a sip of the hot, spiced liquid and let it burn away some of the chill. Once an indentured servant the young quarian, aged by experience and loss, had returned to the homeworld and quickly become a fiery addition to the quarian community. Her outside knowledge and experience had made her popular with the younger generation and before long the woman had found herself appointed to a position in the newly formed Rannoch parliament. Giving the capital it's official name had been the very first proposal she had brought to the conclave.
From there they city had grown quickly. Once the terror of every child's nightmares the geth had been instrumental in the city's construction and even today were heavily involved in maintaining its infrastructure. While the majority of the Consensus' runtimes still resided within the massive orbiting space stations the geth had constructed many had chosen to occupy platforms and integrate with quarian society.
Everything had not been smooth, of course. Ancient fears and prejudices ran too deep for that, but the same could be said for every species. The surviving batarians had been given a small world to colonize despite the protest of some, while hundreds of thousands of turian refugees had come to Rannoch after the devastation wrought on Palaven made it impossible for them all to return to their homeworld. Tensions had run high in those first months, but voices of reason had prevailed in the end.
A faint rumble carried across the open plains and Tali looked skyward. In the upper atmosphere she watched as the massive warship slowly moved overhead. Five years to the day. Today was Remembrance Day. Every world would have celebrations, parades, and fly overs. The one she watched making its pass across the sky was particularly special.
The NSSV David Anderson was still on her shakedown tour having left the drydock only a year ago. She was one of three of a new class of dreadnought carrier using the most cutting edge technology and designed not around a single species' doctrines but instead combining the strengths of every member of the Alliance.
Crewed by members of all species each ship represented the same spirit of unity that had been their salvation in the face of the Reaper's destruction. She had heard that they had offered Vega the command but he'd turned it down. It had seemed the marine had another legacy that he had wanted to follow more. The thought brought a small smile to her lips.
Now it had returned to Rannoch where it had been constructed. It would orbit the planet for all of Remembrance Day, hovering in the sky above Balen'iztal like a watchful guardian. A reminder that the galaxy stood united against any threat that would threaten their hard fought peace. As much as some wished to quickly put war behind them, the galaxy was rarely so forgiving.
The Battle of the Crucible had marked the end of the Reaper War. But even though the Reapers had destroyed themselves in an all consuming fury it did not mean that there was no longer a danger. A few of their ships had survived, lone vessels that had been disrupted by the Crucible's signal but far away from others of their kind or the simple survivors of their violent internecine conflict. Now possessing a will of their own many of those ships had disappeared in the darkest corners of the galaxy. Such survivors represented a danger, one that the New Systems Alliance stood vigilant against.
The glow on the horizon grew a little brighter and Tali was able to see glints of light on opalescent carapaces that scurried around below her in the yard. A navek that was nibbling on herbs in the garden found itself quickly chased away by half a dozen tiny, chittering forms all waving feelers in agitation. Tali couldn't quite stifle a small giggle and shook her head.
"Be nice, it's just hungry," she said quietly to the tiny forms.
Below the feelers quirked upwards and the small rachni workers seemed to wave at her before returning to their duties. Just another example of how things changed. Once they had terrified her… now she wasn't certain how she would live without them.
Hope-Singer's final sacrifice had saved them all when she rammed Harbinger. In the continuing battle two more of the hiveships had been lost, selling themselves dearly to protect their allies. When the war had ended the rachni had made a request of the species they had fought alongside: they did not wish to disappear once more to leave a galaxy to fear them. Instead they had asked to be allowed to establish a hive on the homeworlds of each of the capital worlds of the Alliance.
In exchange they had lent their unique technology and massive labor force to the recovery efforts. In the mountains to the north Tali could just make out the beautiful opalescent spires that Dawn-Singer had built around the entrance of their new hive on Rannoch. Not long after the hive had been established Tali had found herself with a workforce of tiny assistants. At first she had tried to shoo them away, but the small creatures were insistently helpful. Now they were just another part of life.
A faint chittering near her feet made the quarian jump and she looked down to find a rachni worker a few feet away. The creature oddly seemed to have a package roughly the size of her palm on its back. Tali leaned over and took the item, the worker scurrying away moments later, its tiny claws making little clicking sounds on the smooth stone floor.
Curious she quickly undid the tiny red ribbon holding the box closed and opened it to find an equally tiny statuette in the form of a bird. It was made from some kind of dark stone and had been carved with exquisite care, though it was odd in that it had three legs which the quarian was fairly certain was not normal for Earth animals. She already knew who it was from before she even removed it from the box and saw the single Japanese character on the bottom. On its base was a small data chip. Tali activated it, the letter springing to holographic life.
Sorry we couldn't be there this time. Apparently for turians five year increments are a big thing and as much as Scars likes to talk about how bad of a turian he is somehow he always ends up doing the 'right thing'. It's fun to tease him about though so I guess I'll let him off the hook.
Victus really wanted him there. Something about embodying the new turian spirit. Mostly just means I get to spend the entire time with my hood up and lots of sunscreen. At least it feels like the family is warming up to me. I even taught Solana and her little one a couple words of Japanese last time we were there, though I don't think old man Vakarian is ever going to let go of that torch he's holding for Garebear to settle down with a good turian woman.
I promise we'll swing by soon and you can give the Normandy a good inspection. Garrus always loves to tease Gabby that he gets so many quarians applying to be the Chief Engineer and you know I can't resist playing along.
Hope you enjoy the gift. Its called Yatagarasu, in old mythology a guide to the future and a symbol of rebirth. I saw it and thought it was fitting all things considered.
PS Did you get message about the dresses for Miri's wedding? I think she's getting revenge for all the pranks I pulled.
Tali smiled and closed the letter, turning the statue over in her hands, yet another sensation she couldn't ever have enjoyed within the suit as she felt the smooth surface and hard edges against her fingers. A guide? Maybe she should have given it to Garrus instead. Despite the turian's claim of wanting to retire to a beach he had instead taken up the mantle as the Spectre Primus of the New Systems Alliance.
Which seemed to suit Kasumi just fine. The leader of the Spectres and one of the only beings in the entire universe that knew the identity and location of every active Spectre had a constant shadow in the form of the former thief turned Spectre herself. Together they made a perfect and deadly team with all of Garrus' direct and aggressive nature tempered by Kasumi's subtlety and guile.
All of them had been forced to adapt to new lives. Liara had used what remaining resources were available from her time as the Shadow Broker to create a new organization dedicated to assisting the greatly weakened asari people. And while it spent the majority of its time assisting refugees and helping repair the losses of the war, it also touched every part of the Republic's new government. Never again would ancient matriarchs' political power conceal vital information out of greed and lust for power. Not with a silent watcher hovering over their shoulders. Much like the information broker she had been, however, no one knew that the former archaeologist was the power behind the Starrise Foundation.
She sat the statuette down on the stone railing. Five years since the end of the war. Eight years since her life had changed in a dingy alleyway, alone and afraid. She had been an admiral's daughter struggling to prove herself to her people, uncertain of her place in the galaxy. How quickly her life had turned into something she'd never have dreamed. Fear and exhilaration. Happiness and disappointment. Love… and so much loss.
The quarian looked behind her at the recessed wall opposite bay window. Carved directly into the sandstone and draped with Clan Zorah's traditional colors was something between an altar and a shrine. Six small flames flickered in the pre-dawn shadows, a single larger flame between them. Reminders that the spirits of those left behind still burned in the hearts and minds of those they had loved.
Today was always a day that those memories came back the strongest and she turned away, once again looking out at the plains and feeling a tear sting her cheek. It was selfish, she knew, that her own losses should strike so deeply when the entire galaxy had seen loss on a scale that defied comprehension.
Twenty billion dead. One out of every four sapient beings in the galaxy gone forever in the destruction wrought by the Reapers and their creations. The batarians as a species had been reduced to numbers even less than those of the quarians that had fled in the wake of the Morning War. The homeworlds of virtually every species save the salarians devastated by brutal assaults.
That was why it was called Remembrance Day. It was a celebration of the victory against an implacable foe… but it was also a moment of somber acknowledgement of the cost of that victory. She knew that in the years and decades to come its meaning would change. Future generations would look up it as a part of history. A cultural celebration that only the most long-lived species would truly understand the meaning of.
But for now it was still a day juxtaposed by joy and sorrow. The loss of so many was still fresh, like a barely healed scar still tender to the touch. Victims of the initial attacks, soldiers that had fought for months to protect survivors on their ravaged homeworlds, and the tens of thousands that had lost their lives in the Battle of the Crucible. Brave souls that had given their lives not out of ambition, greed, or even survival.
Heroes that had died to give a future to children they would never see, for lovers they would never hold, for families that they would never gather around a table with again in celebration. Lives given freely in the pursuit of that single unifying essence of every sapient being: hope for a future for those they left behind. No matter what changed with time that would be the ultimate meaning of Remembrance Day.
A sudden bump to her hip snapped Tali into the moment and she shifted instantly to keep her footing. There at her side was nearly a hundred kilos of varren, his large eyes staring up with interest and pressing against her. She smiled and wiped a hand across her eyes, reaching the other down to give the beast a scratch.
"It's not time for breakfast yet, Urz."
"Wharp?" the varren rumbled out something between a yawn and a whine.
"Mhm… I really should ask Wrex to bring you a friend," she mused quietly. "Not a female, though, I don't think I could deal with baby varren."
Urz paced around her, brushing against both legs before finally settling down at her feet. The animal gave another yawn, fanged maw opened wide, and then seemed to doze off again. She considered shooing him away but the weight and warmth against her feet was calming. Just another item on a long list of things she'd never expected in her life.
For all the family that she had lost she had gained so many more. When her father had died she had thought that she was alone in the universe save for Auntie Raan. But she had never been alone. She had a thousand year old krogan battlemaster that treated her like a favorite niece. A human thief turned government agent that was as close to her as any sister could have been. A turian that was a legend in his own time but acted like the brother she'd never had, equal parts protective and infuriating.
She looked down and ran a foot down the varren's back, causing the plump animal to give a pleased warble. A family that she had never thought possible. Even a pet that should have been a dangerous killing machine but instead followed her around dotingly and whose greatest crime was occasionally chewing up a throw pillow... which was far less destruction than had ensued when Wrex and Bakara had brought only a few of their children to visit. Or Grunt for that matter.
But that chaos is what they had fought so hard for. The laughter and tears. Frustration and joy. They had fought for the chance to simply exist and after a million years of endless death… the Cycle had ended. The galaxy was taking it first steps into a new age of prosperity. Families grew, the first children born that would grow up without the looming spectre of annihilation hanging over them and with a future brighter than anyone could ever have imagined.
Even as they stood vigilant against the danger of the lingering Reapers they were preparing to explore, colonize, and reclaim lost worlds. Technology had leapt forward decades, if not centuries, in the aftermath of the war. Mordin Solus' final gift had included secrets to stasis technology, genetic cures for diseases that had baffled others, and dozens of other ideas that were only now coming to fruition. The geth, free for the first time to interact with the greater galaxy drove research and experimentation in directions their organic allies hadn't even considered.
Tali picked up her drink from where it rested next to the tiny statue and took another sip, looking at the little bird's image. Rebirth and guidance. They had guides, both those mourned and celebrated. EDI and Joker had quickly become the face of the movement for the acceptance of synthetics in organic society. Stories of Thane Krios' sacrifice during the Battle of the Citadel had inspired a renaissance of Drell culture. Miranda Lawson, once a wanted terrorist, now served as the director of the Alliance's most bleeding edge research and development station. Legion had become the first geth 'individual' to inspire something akin to her people's ancestor worship in their creations.
She closed her eyes for a long moment, just holding the warm mug in her hands and listening the sounds of the world beginning to awaken. A world alive and growing more so by the day. This was the gift they had been given. Then she opened her eyes, shaking her head. No, not given. Earned. Tali's eyes stung slightly again as memories rushed to the fore… promises unfulfilled and those kept.
"I wish… you could have seen this."
The dreadnought above made a course correction in the upper atmosphere, briefly glowing brightly as the friction and heat scattered against its barriers; for a moment it was like a star of its own. Pinpoints of light scattered from its long, graceful hull as fighters launched in preparation for dawn flyovers.
She didn't jump, instead simply turning slightly with the varren still laying against her feet and smiling.
"Rannoch. What it's become."
John Shepard stepped onto the balcony with her and she felt her smile deepen. Not Commander Shepard. Or Admiral. Or Praetor. Those days had passed. Just John Shepard. Her friend, lover, and finally husband.
"My father would have never believed we could have come this far," she continued. "He always had dreams but this… this is so much more. He would have been amazed at all we've built in so short a time. And mother would have loved to see the beauty here."
Shepard's first step over the threshold was a careful one and Tali immediately saw the grimace cross his face, but didn't move to help. She knew he needed to do it on his own. Wearing just a pair of shorts the network of scars was easy to see against his lightly tanned skin… a painful reminder that made the smile on her face falter for a moment.
"They would have been proud of you," John said and took another careful step, wrapping an arm around her waist. "Why the frown?"
"Just this day. It always brings back… memories."
Memories of the Normandy's medical bay, Chakwas patching her up, the helpless feeling as she had listened to the battle reports in a pained haze. That moment of elation when the comms had suddenly roared to life with yells of excitement and triumph. The word spreading through every part of the fleet as the Reapers began to tear into each other.
And then the panic as she tried her comms again and again, receiving no answer. And when she finally got a response… it was from Garrus, sounding dead on his feet. The Reapers were broken. But Shepard and Anderson had gone silent after his final transmission. Minutes that had felt like days of agonized waiting.
A pained call from Garrus. They had found them. Anderson was gone. Shepard was… any other soldier would have been declared dead. They had gotten him to a medical facility aboard one of the command dreadnoughts, but the only thing anyone would tell them was that chances were slim. Tali felt a shiver pass through her.
Shepard squeezed her tighter.
"I'm still here."
"I know," she replied quietly, leaning into him.
In truth Commander Shepard had died on the Citadel. The man that had survived was just her John. The massive system of cybernetics that had been the key to his miraculous resurrection the first time was the double edged sword that had saved his life one last time… but also meant he would never again be quite the same man he had been.
The face that looked down at her was the same Tali had fallen in love with, save for a few more lines and a simple black patch covering one eye. A hundred times she had told him he didn't have to wear it around her, but he always shook his head and pulled it on anyways. The damage done couldn't be fixed even with all their advancements. Cybernetics forever tainted by Reaper technology meant that even attempts to regrow and clone tissue inevitably failed. New cybernetics were rejected.
Which meant the wounds he had suffered had to heal as best they could. Three months had passed before he had even awoken from the coma. It had taken nearly the rest of the year in therapy just for him to walk with the aid of crutches and a leg brace. Even now if they left the house Shepard always wore specialized brace that had been created for him by the geth and carried his cane just so he could walk any distance without significant pain.
She trailed her fingers across the horizontal scars that crossed half his midsection. Hopefully the final additions to an all too through map of hardship and pain. A physical representation of the cost of their salvation. The most painful truth was that neither of them knew how long John really had. Chakwas had told them that should the remaining cybernetics continue to function his lifespan should be as long or longer than any other human save maybe Miranda Lawson.
But unspoken was the other possibility. The human body, even one as strong as Shepard's, could only endure so much stress without consequences. And no human had ever endured quite so much. All it would take is something to begin to fail… and they both knew there was little that could be done to change the outcome. John Shepard had already cheated death twice.
"I know what you're thinking," he said quietly, kissing her forehead.
Tali blinked away tears.
"I said I wanted more time. I never said how much..."
"Every moment I have is yours. We all have time now. Whatever happens, it was worth the cost and I know each of them would say the same," Shepard replied, brushing her cheek with his free hand before leaning down to kiss her properly.
Tali leaned into the kiss, arms tightening around him. Long moments passed until they parted, her breath coming faster and lips tingling with that same feeling of exhilaration that never seemed to fade. Of all the sensations the quarian most savored of life outside her suit… these moments were the most perfect.
"This is the future they fought for. That we all fought for. Every day we live is a day of remembrance," Shepard said. "No matter how it finally ends we will always have this. A life well lived. Together."
"Always," she said and touched one scarred cheek with her fingertips.
Shepard was right. They had lost so many friends and loved ones, but this was their requiem for the lost. Living the life they had earned through all the blood and tears. Some had given all so that they could stand where they now stood, looking out at the galaxy not with trepidation but with hope. Holding one another close not out of fear and desperation, but of love. That was the greatest legacy.
They looked into each other's eyes and Tali felt the first rays of sunlight touch her face as Urz stirred at her feet. With a shared smile they turned towards the mountains and the glow that was cresting their peaks. Warmth and light spread across the plains as the dawn finally came to Rannoch, pushing back the chill of the long night.
Together they stood in silence and watched the sunrise.
All things end and this is the end for Razor's Edge and Requiem. Thank you to everyone that has read, enjoyed, messaged, and reviewed over the years. Thank you to those of you that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to beta read this work and try to make it a little better. You gave the gift of your time and that is by far the most valuable resource we have. And a final nod to AMX for sticking around all this time and doing the amazing cover art. You can find his deviant art page under animemagix.
Six years is a long time. I started this story out of an enjoyment of an amazing game and a desire to practice a neglected skill but it truly grew into something more thanks to those of you that have enjoyed it so. Now I look back and see thousands of words, thousands of reviews, and even its very own TVTropes page. In all that time I know I've had my own losses, successes, and more. I hope this story gave some of you same enjoyment in those moments that I took in creating it.
Many of you have asked about Andromeda. As much as I love the universe created by Mass Effect, I also know that the best stories end when it is their time. And this is that time. But that doesn't mean your story can't begin. If you have a story you want to tell... do it, be it in words, art, song, or any other medium.
For me its time to work on original ideas, new worlds to explore and stories that hopefully will come from them. Maybe we'll cross paths again, but either way... enjoy the journey. We only get one. Don't waste it.