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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife[]

Chapter 24 - Battle in the Blizzard[]

Part 1[]

The Road from the ruins of the Peak 15
World of Noveria
Outside Citadel Space, Deep Periphery

The Cicada's sensors were powerful and sensitive, Shepard had quickly discovered, able to give him more information than the Bloody Igor. Given it was intended to act as a fast scout Mech for Noveria's garrison, that made sense. It also meant he could notice the incoming problem even on passive.

Cicada Mech (In a City - Farseer Animation version)

Cicada Medium 'Mech

One eye still looking for the best route onwards, Shepard warned the cargo transport, "This is Shepard, picking up readings from behind us, we're being chased."

"Takamori here, understood. We only need to reach the caves before them, is that possible?"

"They're catching up, definitely following us." The Mechwarrior contemplated switching to active scanning, but held off. "Multiple signatures, can't tell size yet, but going by their speed, they'll overtake us well before the caves."

The cargo transport was too slow, and both it and the Cicada were leaving behind a clear trail of compacted and disturbed snow, even with the intense blizzard covering everything in fresh snow. Disembarking wouldn't work, the pursuers would catch up to them struggling on foot, only the Elementals capable of escaping. Shepard doubted the Elementals would agree to abandon the others, if only out of pride, and, deep inside, didn't want to consider sacrificing himself to cover their escape either.

He decided on the only course of action. "I'm pulling back to harass them and gain Intel. Keep making for the caves. And tell Williams we might need to break cover and contact the spies."

"Roger that, Commander. You're in charge."

Right, he was nominally in command of the entire operation, for the sake of flimsy plausible deniability. Shepard didn't reply to Captain Takamori, turning the Cicada to begin sprinting back towards Peak 15, sensors going active.

Four unidentified hostiles, and they began reacting to his approach, two slowing down, two continuing at their original speed. With the mountainous terrain and the blizzard, neither side would be getting a good view of the other until they got close. Hopping onto and off a rocky outcropping, the Cicada's sensors finally got a good idea of what was chasing them. Two hovercraft, judging by their motion. Some sort of ground vehicle, likely similar to the cargo transport they'd hijacked. And a small Mech.

Shepard closed in, angling for a pass at long range. The unidentified Mech moved to engage, while the three vehicles maintained their course. It was moving quickly, though not as fast as his Cicada. Then the flurry of snow and sensor noise briefly parted, and Shepard got a first look at his opponent.

An asari BattleMech. Judicator.

Only bothering with one burst from his lasers, Shepard immediately turned away and ran. Damage sensors beeped loudly as the Judicator's own laser raked his flank, while the brief barrage from the enemy's mass accelerator plunged kinetic barriers to dangerously low levels. Behind him, the Judicator followed suit, bypassing pieces of difficult terrain that had slowed Shepard down with long leaps.Bold

Asari IndustrialMechs were common enough, identical or similar to human IndustrialMechs. His former client Matron Helena on the Citadel had owned one. But asari BattleMechs were rare, highly dangerous, and there was only one possible Matriarch piloting this one.

"This is Shepard," he called on his radio. "Matriarch Benezia is pursuing us, with vehicles and her BattleMech." Behind the Cicada, the Judicator gave up the pursuit and moved back to follow the cargo transport again. Shepard changed course, drawing closer towards the Judicator and encouraging it to respond to him. "Will delay for as long as I can, but we're in trouble."Bold

Benezia. The Matriarch had been on Feros, one of Saren's close allies. Her commandos had helped butcher his people. No doubt this rachni research was another of Saren's schemes that she was overseeing on his behalf, while Saren was destroying the Aurigan Coalition with his Geth. Why the Spectre was doing that when he must already know the Pied Piper wasn't on Coromodir, Shepard didn't know. But he was done with letting Saren have his way.

"Get the assets out of here. Don't wait for me."

He sidestepped the kinetic barrage from the Judicator, took the laser hit to an expendable torso section, and fired at the asari BattleMech again.

Part 2[]

In Orbit of Noveria
Outsider Citadel Space, Deep Periphery

Midway through Precentor Kamea Shepard's teleconference with the rest of Normandy Relay Command on Elysium, Adept Ereth disrupted proceedings with great haste. "Precentor," she panted, "we received an urgent top-priority message."

Precentor Kamea Shepard immediately terminated the call, grabbed the datapad and looked down. The FedCom operative on Noveria had received a transmission from the strike force, a series of numbers that he'd decoded using a codebook to:


"The raid succeeded, but Matriarch Benezia is on Noveria, and about to engage the strike force," she concluded. An unpleasant revelation, but that was the norm lately. "Noveria was more important than expected. If they could somehow eliminate Benezia, good, but we need to retrieve the strike force."

"None of our assets will be able to reach Noveria in time, and Noveria's defenses won't let them through. The Great House operatives are apparently unable to assist either, other than passing on information."

"There is one option," Shepard muttered. "Can we establish communications with Adept Williams?"

"Difficult, Precentor. The transmission was detected, and Noveria's gone into lockdown. We need to pay a high fee to gain access, and our communications will be under surveillance. Doing so will almost certainly directly implicate us with the attack on Peak 15, and the intelligence operatives will be exposing themselves with the return transmission."

"Do it, bribe the Noveria Development Corporation as much money as they want or whatever else is necessary, but we need a realtime connection to the strike force," Shepard commanded, pulling off her sidearm holster and dropping it onto the table. "Mobilize all Normandy Initiative forces on Omega, warn them a breakout attempt of T'Soni is likely. Seal all exits out of the Trading Company facilities, and tell the prison guards to get ready."

"Should I order them to take out the asari commandos?"

"Not yet. It'll take too long to neutralise them, and we may lose the hostage in the process. I'll deal with this personally. Send this message back to the strike force first: stay alive, inform queen daughter threatened."

She didn't sprint for T'Soni's quarters, keeping herself to a brisk walk. It wouldn't do to alarm the guests too much too soon.

Part 3[]

Road from Peak 15
World of Noveria
Outsider of Citadel Space, Deep Periphery

Point Commander Alenko waited, concealed on a rocky ledge above the route the cargo transport had taken. Beside him, Borta was perfectly still, nigh invisible under the snow. Neither spoke, but they both knew their roles, as did Dumon and Erin, in position on another overhang.

Below, the enemy vehicles plowed through the valley, following the path cleared by the strike force's cargo transport. The Judicator was not with them, drawn away by the mercenary Shepard. Alenko observed the nearest one, a hovercraft fighting its way through the blizzard. Normally, such vehicles benefited from skimming over the thick snow, but the strong winds of the blizzard meant the engines were battling against severe drift as well, limiting their speed. It made timing easier.

Rising to his knees, Alenko dove off the ledge towards the hovercraft below. He fired his jump jets midway through the fall, reducing his velocity to survivable levels. The vehicle's kinetic barriers, tuned to ignore things moving below the speed of the wind, ignored him, and the Elemental crashed onto the hovercraft's front, gripping on with his battle claw. On the rear of the hovercraft, Borta did the same, holding onto and disabling the turret with a point-blank laser beam.

Alenko tore away at the hovercraft's armor, even as it lurched back and forth. One of the doors opened up, and an asari commando leaned out, taking aim at him. Borta shot at the alien, but her armor and kinetic barriers held, and she ducked back into the vehicle, another commando taking her place.

Grimacing as a laser rifle bit deeply into his armour, Alenko reached out with his biotics again, wrenching off a piece of the hovercraft's armor in his way and levitating it as a makeshift shield. Peering into the wound, he identified the most complicated looking internal components, and ripped them out.

The hovercraft immediately dropped, slamming hard into the snow. The impact knocked Alenko loose, and he tumbled flailing around in midair for a brief moment before crashing down. He crawled to his feet in time to see the bright glow of Borta's jump jets as the other Elemental shot away from the crippled vehicle. Seeing movement in the hovercraft, Alenko followed suit, the burning wreckage disappearing into the white of the blizzard.

"This is Point Commander Alenko. Hovercraft disabled. Dumon, Erin, report," he broadcast, continuing towards where their cargo transport was supposed to be.

Dumon answered, voice strained, "We disabled our target, but took some damage. Stravag, my jump jets are malfunctioning again. The field repair failed."

"I will assist Dumon," Erin reported.

"Neg," Dumon told her, "I can manage. Do not slow down for me, follow the Point Commander."

"Aff, Erin, leave Dumon," Alenko told her. "Commander Shepard cannot win his duel against the Matriarch, you will be needed against her."

His Elemental battle armor was providing updates from the Cicada, which had broken off from the Judicator again. The distance between Matriarch Benezia and the cargo transport was steadily decreasing. Commander Shepard was not delaying her sufficiently. Alenko's remaining Point would be fortunate if they could reach the rest of the strike force before the asari Matriarch.

"A trueborn warrior would have triumphed against the Judicator," Borta grumbled. "Instead we must rely on a mercenary, and pretend he is in charge."

"Focus on your duty," Alenko admonished. "Matriarch Benezia will be a formidable foe. We cannot underestimate her." He pushed his jump jets to their limit, racing on forwards.

Part 4[]

Peak 15 Mountain Base Road
The World of Noveria
Outsider of Citadel Space, Deep Periphery

Tali should never have joined the Normandy Initiative. At this rate, she was going to die on her Pilgrimage. Either to an asari Matriarch, or geth, or angry corporate tycoons or something.

The cargo transport made a hard turn, flinging unsecured items around the crew compartment and distracting Tali from her terrified thoughts.

She heard the driver report, "There's a ravine in the way."

"That wasn't on our maps, typical Lyran incompetence," Captain Takamori spat. "Can we get across?"

"I'm not driving this off a cliff, sir. Following the edge down slope."

The transport was environmentally sealed, a necessity due to the climate, giving Tali only a small porthole to look through. She could barely make out the edge of the ravine hurtling by, with the opposite edge obscured by dense snowfall. Her suit helpfully displayed the map and satellite scans Agent Brown had given them, lacking the ravine but featuring a major problem.

"We're going the wrong way." she blurted out. "There's a cliff ahead. The ravine must lead into it."

"No choice, the others are hot on our tail." Captain Takamori replied. "Zorah, you're an engineer, can you do something?"

"Maybe." With a sufficiently strong mass effect field, the transport could reduce its mass sufficiently to survive a plummet off the cliff. Or an artificial gravity for traction to drive down the deep slope. Except the transport's small civilian eezo core wasn't rated for that sort of extreme output. "I can modify the transport's mass effect systems, so we can go down the cliff. But I'll be overriding a lot of safe limits, and I need the eezo core idle to make the modifications."

"Better than nothing. If there's no way down, we'll have to take that risk. Wait, picking up a signal, coming our way. It's the last vehicle. Slipped past Shepard and the Elementals."

Adept Williams, busy with the ECM equipment they'd brought on board, asked, "Can we outrun it?"

"Negative, it's moving too fast, and the cliff's right ahead." <<"Shepard, this is Captain Takamori. We need assistance.">>

Tali heard Shepard answer, <<"This is Shepard, on the way, but you need to keep moving, Benezia's right on my tail.">>

<<"Working on it.">> the commando captain snapped. Leaning towards the driver, he ordered, "Stop the transport there, behind those rocks. Men, we're going up against asari commandos. The transport must be defended." He turned his head towards Tali. "You, get started on our descent."

The transport made a sharp turn before coming to a sudden halt. The commandos disembarked rapidly, while Tali sat in the driver's seat, the driver having gone with his comrades. She accessed the eezo core systems first, bypassing safeguards on the core to force it beyond maximum advisable output, before beginning to reconfigure the mass effect field emitters. Adept Williams remained in her seat, cursing to her god under her breath as she continued fiddling with her equipment.

Through the microphones embedded on the transport's hull, Tali heard the explosions from anti-vehicle weaponry, followed by a racket of gunfire. She caught glimpses of the commandos through the transport's cameras and windshield, weapons flashing across the snow before vanishing again.

Putting the distractions aside, she hastily continued her work. Tweaking the emitters for a sudden burst of power was easy enough, the issue was ensuring they'd work long enough. The software fought against her every step of the way, the safety features annoyingly thorough and well-implemented. At this rate, it would be faster to modify the equipment directly.

The systems froze up, as Tali's last hack tore its way through, then hit yet another wall. Giving up, she got up and dashed for exit, clambering through the hatch. She stumbled briefly when her feet sank deep into the snow, before regaining her balance and making her way to a maintenance hatch on the transport's side. She wrenched it open, and begin fiddling within.

Stray shots pinged off the hull and her suit's kinetic barriers, and she looked back to see the human commandos falling back towards her, still exchanging fire with the approaching asari commandos, who had dismounted and were using their own half-wrecked vehicle as mobile cover. With the sheer cliff behind and the ravine to one side, the strike team was cornered. Tali hunched down, throwing brief glances towards the fight as she made the final adjustments.

Then a laser beam impacted the enemy vehicle, vaporizing snowflakes in its path with a brief flash. A Mech, Commander Shepard's Mech, all tall legs and squat body, came into view, raking the asari attackers with its lasers. Steam billowed up where he missed, freezing instantly into thick walls of fog. The Mech's upper part was visible above, shooting down into the rising mists as it strafed where the vehicle had been.

Tali's Omni-tool chimed pleasantly, and she slammed the hatch shut. "It's ready!" She shouted, already clambering towards entry hatch again. "Get in!"

There was only the briefest warning of a mass effect field surrounding the Mech. Then it was flung into empty air, plummeting over the lip of the ravine. A massive pulse of biotics repelled the fog, and Tali saw an asari emerge. Briefly, she tried to comprehend how the asari had gotten so close, before realising she was staring at another Mech. Matriarch Benezia's.

Her suit picked up an unencrypted comm channel, and automatically opened it. The asari Matriarch's voice was cold and murderous. "You should not have run. I would have been gentler."

Tali dove through the hatch, spotting Adept Williams already at the controls and starting the transport up. In the next moment, she was tumbling through the crew compartment as the world spun, before crashing against one wall. Snow drifted onto her hands. Looking up, Tali could see the cliff edge just a short distance away through the torn open roof of the transport. Adept Williams stirred slowly, groaning.

Slowly, Tali crawled towards the human. Her suit picked up movement through the roof, and Tali fell onto her side, pointing her shotgun at the figure. It was one of the human commandos. She sighed in relief before wincing once she noticed the injuries. The commando's armour was broken all over, blood clearly leaking through as they staggered in.

"Keelah," she gasped, "you need help." Except she had no idea how. For trauma, the same principles usually applied to most species, and as far as Tali knew, humans and quarians were fairly similar in most regards. But any first aid kit in the transport was trashed, and her suit's medical functions were restricted to herself, which was when she dully noted the alerts of a suit breach. That explained why her suit's internal temperature had dropped.

"This one does not need aid." the commando groaned, coming to a stop beside her. Tali remembered Smithon's stories about the fanaticism of the Draconis humans, when their next words cut that thought short. "This one is dead, but it sings for the mother. Its voice carries our song. You must listen."

"I… no, that's bosh'tet." Tali got slowly onto her knees, one hand instinctively reaching for her suit's container of emergency sealant. "Just let me seal my armor, before I die to an infection or something, and then I'll take care of you."

~"Hear us, if you will not listen. We are the rachni, singing through this body. We see and hear through this body. You took us from our old captors, yet you cannot escape from them."~

Alright, Tali decided. Either she was hallucinating, or this was really happening. She could still hear the sounds of combat and clipped updates from the other human commandos, but she was in no state to go help them right now. She finished applying the sealant, which left her with all the foreign particles already in her suit and entering her body. The human remained standing next to her, so she asked, "What do you want?"

~"We have a proposal, so we and you can compose new melodies."~ There was a muffled series of thuds from the direction of the cargo pod containing the rachni queen. ~"Release us from this narrow shell, and we will aid you."~

Tali stared at the commando, remembering the scientist they'd found in the labs.

Shepard's voice spoke over her comms. <<"Miss Zorah, can you hear me?">>

"Commander Shepard," Tali exclaimed, "you're alive!"

<<"Drop wasn't so bad, especially when I'm rolling down a short slope. Listen, the others are fighting, and the Elementals are on their way. Stay down, check if Williams is alive.">>

~"There is little time,"~ the commando spoke. ~"You must act quickly, before we are all silenced. We have a common threat, and I will bear gratitude."~

"Uh yeah, about that," Tali weakly informed him, "I think the rachni queen is trying to talk to me. It, she, wants us to release it, let her help fight Benezia."

"What? Zorah, Tali, are you all right? Your suit should tell you if you're injured."

Alternating looks at the commando, still slouching beside her, and applying additional emergency repairs to her suit, Tali protested, "I'm fine, just some suit breaches," which might be lethal, "but I think she's really talking to me. Using a corpse."

~"There is little time. Despite your rough treatment of us, we bear you no malice. We will not be trapped in this cocoon to be captured or silenced. You must release us."~

"This is Adept Williams," Tali heard the adept rasp. The woman was staring blankly at the commando. "I'm seeing the same thing. I think. But there's not enough time." Something beeped near the adept, and she rushed to press a button.

A female human voice spoke, audible on an unencrypted wideband channel, "Matriarch Benezia, I have your daughter here. If you value her life, surrender."

Part 5[]

In Orbit
Outsider of Citedal Space, Deep Periphery

Being a Prothean archaeologist in the Terminus Systems was a dangerous and unpredictable profession. Liara had known that, but this was utterly different to anything she'd encountered before. For starters, as far as she was aware, there weren't even any Prothean artefacts involved.

"You don't have to do this," Liara cautiously protested to the human currently holding a knife to her throat.

The day had been almost normal beforehand, with Liara alone in her cell with the latest archaeological papers. Her asari wardens had passed them along to her, something to occupy herself with. Distracting herself with the most recent rebuttals against the Final War Theory, it had almost been possible for Liara to forget her current status as technically not a prisoner of the human anti-geth task force.

That was when Liara had been warned that Precentor Shepard wished to speak to her in person. She'd agreed, wary of provoking her human 'hosts', and so she'd been in the interrogation room again, with only asari guarding her and the C-Sec observer Officer Vakarian chatting with her. Then the Precentor had entered the room, and things had gone wrong.

"I'm afraid that's not true, Dr T'Soni," Precentor Shepard calmly told her, continuing to hold her tightly as a living shield with her free hand. "No sudden movements, please. I might get twitchy. Believe me, we both prefer you to live."

The asari commandos, slowly recovering, began aiming their guns at the kinetic barrier between them and the two. "Drop the weapon, Precentor," Captain Athelya hissed. "You're outnumbered, and outgunned. Release Dr T'Soni, deactivate the barrier, or we'll force our way in."

"I'd advise against that, Captain Athelya," Precentor Shepard answered. "I have failsafes. Kill me, or force my hand, and everyone in this room dies."

"You're bluffing," a turian spoke. Officer Vakarian sat up, forehead still bleeding. Leaning against a chair, he grunted, "the asari commandos scanned you before you entered the room." His eyes darted to the knife at Liara's throat, while he carefully pulled out his sidearm. "It's just me, you and Dr T'Soni, and you're out of surprises. If you do not stand down, there's only one outcome." The turian raised his pistol.

"You're welcome to test that." the Precentor calmly replied. "In any case, if Matriarch Benezia is the wise asari matriarch she claims to be, no harm will come to her daughter. I only need a few minutes."

"Matriarch Benezia?" Liara repeated.

"The Asari Republics and Citadel will be informed of this," Captain Athelya threatened. "You're not the only one with backup plans. Let her go, before this escalates further." She shifted sideways, seeking a better angle on the human.

"Patience, Captain, patience. A moment. Yes, on speakers, now." Precentor Shepard paused, then spoke, as though to an invisible audience. "Matriarch Benezia, I have your daughter here. If you value her life, surrender."

For a moment, nobody spoke. Then Liara heard her mother's voice, coming through the room's speakers. "You expect me to believe you? A voice on the wind? My daughter is on Omega, and well guarded."

"I am Precentor Shepard," the Precentor replied before Liara could, knife pressing tightly against her throat. The asari tensed, feeling her anti-biotic shackles inhibiting her instinctive response, as the human continued on. "You know who I am, Benezia. Go on, Doctor. Talk to your mother, let her how you're doing." The knife eased off fractionally.

"Mother, it's me, your daughter," Liara gasped. "The Precentor is telling the truth."

"Almost miraculous, isn't it," Precentor Shepard drawled, "what you aliens have achieved with your communications. Back in my youth, I had to send my holiday messages days in advance. Now listen closely, Matriarch. You will permit the Normandy strike force to depart, or your daughter dies."

"You would not dare." Liara had never heard her mother so quietly furious before. "The wrath of the asari and Citadel will drown your Sphere in blood."

"I dare. You know what I was doing on Feros, that was hardly my first black-ops. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty, and I trust Precentor-Citadel Udina to cover for the Initiative. I might be reassigned, but she will still be dead. Cease fire, Benezia, last warning. Your little girl's worth more than Saren. Hmm, good. You can follow orders."

"You do not know what it means to be a mother." Matriarch Benezia flatly declared.

"Spare me the theatrics," Precentor Shepard interrupted. "Power down your Mech."

"Liara has nothing to do with this, she is innocent. If you have any shred of decency, let her go. Your Primus, your founder would not have wanted this."

"We tend to the shadows, that the light may burn bright." Liara heard the Precentor quietly mutter behind her, before warning, "Officer, don't try anything you'll regret." Officer Vakarian, who'd been edging closer and around the Precentor, froze.

"Mother, please," Liara called out, "there must be a peaceful solution. You always act for the good of the galaxy, I know that. The humans think you're working with the geth, but that's impossible. Just explain what you're doing, and clear this misunderstanding."

Captain Atheyla added, from behind the kinetic barrier, "Matriarch Benezia, I'm Captain Atheyla, here on behalf of Thessia. The Citadel Council and others have been trying to locate you. If you have knowledge of Spectre Arterius' activities, it is vital the Asari Republic and Citadel Council are informed. You are the key to averting a major diplomatic incident."

"I… no, I can't explain, it's too…," her mother stammered. "My Little Wing, I… I'm sorry. You shouldn't have been involved. I was doing this for you, for your future, I think. I should have been stronger, tried, but…" The voice hardened, regaining its familiar and once comforting strength. "I will not negotiate with you. Your people won't be able to escape. Their transports are disabled. They will perish here."

"Noveria's defense forces can retrieve them if they're stuck." Precentor Shepard snarled, pressing the knife tightly against Liara's throat again. "Your daughter's life is still at stake here."

"Then kill her and be done with it."

Liara felt something, perhaps disbelief. Officer Vakarian was the first to respond. "Matriarch, that's not really what you should say."

"She is irrelevant," Liara's mother coldly stated. "Go and kill her, I care not. I still have centuries to live, I can bear another daughter, one who's not weak. Precentor Shepard, I will kill every last one of your people on Noveria. And your nephew will die knowing you were responsible, while you listen." Howling sounds blanketed the room, interspersed with unidentifiable cracks and whines.

"Matriarch Benezia," Precentor Shepard shouted. "I'm warning you."

The only reply was a scream, drawn out and horrible. "One of your soldiers," Liara's mother calmly explained after it died out. "Slowly compacting a living body in high gravity is a truly painful way to end."

Precentor Shepard released Liara, and she stumbled away quickly. "Well, that's unexpected," the human commented, her bewildered confusion clearly audible. Officer Vakarian grabbed Liara and pulled her behind him, pistol trained on the Precentor, who ignored them and began snapping out orders into her communicator.

"Let us test how formidable these beasts are." Alenko boasted to his Point. He opened fire with his arm-mounted weapons, then raised his battle claw to engage the leading foe in melee.

Part 6[]

In a mountain ravine
The World of Noveria

Alenko quickly shut off the open channel with Matriarch Benezia and Omega once the asari broke the cease-fire. "Engage," he ordered Borta and Erin, firing his jump jets to soar above the wrecked enemy hovercraft.

Captain Takamori preserved his dignity in death, his suit failing and ceasing transmission of his final moments. In retribution, Alenko aimed downwards towards where the last asari commandos were taking cover besides their vehicle, raking the exposed infantry with his machine gun. Borta and Erin followed his arc downwards, and by the time the three Elementals touched down, the only hostile present was Benezia's Mech.

She turned to face them, ignoring the scattered ineffectual shots from the surviving DEST commandos. His suit registering a sudden change in gravity, Alenko skidded sideways before the snow erupted into complicated whirls, while kinetic slugs threw up geysers of white and superheated snowflakes scattered laser light with sudden flashes. Both his own biotics and the suits sensors tracked the blasts of biotic energy demolishing the battlefield, as Alenko took cover under the swirling fog blanketing the ground.

Matriarch Benezia's voice boomed out, "You pathetic humans, so proud of your short history and bloody violence. I was alive long before your Star League fell, well before your legendary golden age had ever begun. And I will outlast your miserable excuse of a species, beginning with you."

Elemental Battle Armor x2 (Farseer Animation)

Elemental Battle Armor on the move.

Guided by their training since birth, the three Elementals encircled the asari Mech, armour-mounted weapons aiming for its exposed rear. But Matriarch Benezia leapt up, her Mech twirling with unnatural grace over Borta before crouching on its feet again, one arm sweeping low and casually slapping him aside. The trueborn broke comm discipline and cursed as his damaged armour crashed uncontrolled.

"Anything your Mechs can do, we asari can do better," the asari boasted. "How does it feel, vat-grown, knowing you have been surpassed by those more ancient than you, when you believed yourselves the pinnacle of civilization? You will be forgotten, extinct like the Protheans and all those that came before them, nothing but scraps breaking down to the decay of time."

The sellsword Shepard spoke with a strained voice, "I'm almost back up there, just a little more time."

"Point Commander, moving in for melee," Erin announced. Her jump jets lit up, and she flew towards the asari Mech low and fast.

"Neg, neg!" Alenko shouted, too late to restrain his subordinate.

The young warrior slammed into the Mech's waist, using her remaining momentum to slide to the side, clinging under the arm joint. With trueborn skill, she swung away from the arm that smashed against the torso, tearing handholds point blank with her weapons and climbing into the blind spot on the rear.

Matriarch Benezia's Mech twisted, arms reaching behind for Erin. They missed the first grab, then seized and pulled Erin off before she could evade again. Gripping the struggling Elemental in one hand, the other arm aimed its wrist mounted barrels up close. Erin glowed bright hot, armor plating vaporizing under intense heat. Matriarch Benezia dropped the molten remains to the ground without fanfare.

"She's too powerful, stravag," Borta groaned. "The two of us are well beneath cutdown for her."

"Aff, we die with honor," Alenko decided. None of the strike force had the speed to escape anymore, but Adept Williams was still transmitting what data she could to Normandy Command, and the quarian was working to deny the rachni queen to Matriarch Benezia. For a warrior of Clan Hell's Horses, there was no choice.

"Seyla," Borta agreed, and the two Elementals fired upon the asari Mech again.

With his armour badly damaged and jump jets broken, Borta did not last long. He availed himself well, but the asari Mech soon crushed his still moving body underneath one foot, grinding the leg back and forth. Only Alenko was left, desperately keeping one move ahead of destruction with his biotics.

"Give in to the inevitable," Matriarch Benezia taunted, her Mech damaged but fully-functional. "Why struggle against that you cannot stop, which you cannot truly comprehend?"

"For Kerensky the Great Father!" Alenko whispered under his breath, feeling the strain on his body as he threw up a barrier of dirty snow in the path of the laser, the intense radiation breaking through and slagging his left chest armour. He felt Matriarch Benezia flare her power and his body momentarily grew heavier, as the fog and mist thrown up by the heat and passage of combat sank down, giving him a clear view of the Mech lining up a killing blow.

And of a gigantic bug-like creature emerging from the thinning fog, hurtling towards Matriarch Benezia.

The asari Mech spun around, even as the rachni queen reared up. It's gauntlets turned aside the lunge of the massive forelimbs, but were unable to deflect the thick tentacles that slammed into metal. With a deafening yet harmonic screech, the two collapsed together onto the ground, sliding under the queen's momentum.

MMass accelerator fire and laser beams flew haphazardly, as the queen grappled with the asari Mech. The rachni spat a foul-looking liquid onto the Mech's armour, which sizzled and crumpled to a blow from it. With a surge of mass effect fields, Matriarch Benezia shoved the rachni queen off, an arm pulling briefly free and aiming. Alenko could almost feel the ground shake from the roar as chitin was incinerated by laser, as the queen reeled away from the laser, then lashed out again at the Mech, disrupting a nascent biotic field.

Jogging closer, Alenko struggled to target the rapidly moving Mech, tangled in close combat with the queen. Spotting an opening when the asari Mech kicked the queen in the underside, he fired upon an arm, deforming one of the gun barrels and cracking open a coolant line.

"No, I will not be defeated by you!" Matriarch Benezia screamed. "The krogan destroyed your kind, down to the last one, and I am greater than they are!" The rachni queen screeched in retort, a bite at the Mech's head thwarted at the last moment.

Dumon's voice spoke on Alenko's comms. "Point Commander, should we just stand aside and eliminate the winner?" He turned, seeing the other Elemental approaching in the distance at a hard sprint.

The quarian answered, "She's on our side, you can't do that."

"Aff, the queen is our ally for now, and she is unable to defeat Matriarch Benezia alone." Alenko could see the injuries inflicted on the rachni wearing her down, as she screeched melodiously to a momentary burst of slugs cracking armoured carapace. The two giants spun, cutting off Alenko's aim, and he jumped forwards, trying to get another shot.

The asari Mech punched the massive bug's head hard, then again and again. It raised the fist for another crushing blow, when intense heat from a laser melted through the armour, the strike swinging off course to glance off the queen's side. The mercenary's stolen Cicada crested the lip of the ravine and limped closer, loosing another volley at the asari Mech.

Part 7[]

Snowy Ravine

There were times, Mercenary Commander Shepard resolutely reflected, when giving up was not an option.

Finally on flatter terrain, Shepard's Mech lumbered forwards, damaged actuators and joints fighting him at every step. It was fortunate the rachni queen was keeping Matriarch Benezia busy. The Cicada's armour had not weathered the fall down the ravine's slope well, to say nothing of damaged internal systems. One good shot from the Judicator, and he would be lucky to remain standing.

"Zorah, Williams, tell the queen she needs to turn back. I can't get an angle on Benezia."

"Shepard, Williams here. Her, uh, puppet fell over. No idea how to reestablish communications."

With a dexterous twist of its joints, the Mech managed to fire its arm-mounted weapons into one of the queen's legs. The gigantic creature sagged down as ichor gushed out from fresh wounds, staining the snow. If they didn't take the asari down soon, Matriarch Benezia would be able to recover, and single-handedly vanquish them. Shepard's eyes darted around, looking for an edge against the Judicator.
There was a cliff, and the Judicator didn't have jump jets.

With no better options coming to mind, Shepard pushed his Cicada into a lopsided sprint. Leaping around the rachni, he bounded sideways, neurohelmet directing the Mech to follow his intent, crashing the Cicada's torso with a bone-rattling collision against the Judicator. The three of them, Shepard, Benezia and the rachni queen, stumbled towards the cliff in a tangle of limbs.

Benezia, external speakers still broadcasting, hissed wordlessly, then spat, "You'll regret that, Shepard." Her arm attempted to batter his cockpit, breaking off to block a vicious-looking leg of the queen.

"Reckon I will." Shepard mumbled, inputting new commands to the mass effect systems, while struggling to keep the Cicada under his control for a few moments more, feet sliding and digging for purchase in the snow, as Matriarch Benezia braked against him. The rachni queen screeched and forcefully slammed against the Judicator, staggering it back, now at the very edge.

One more time, Shepard swung the Cicada's torso forwards, ramming against the Judicator. Alerts and klaxons nearly deafened him, overlaying with the painful groaning of stressed metal. The two Mechs teetered together for one long moment, the asari Mech clawing deep rents into the human one. Then Shepard felt the centre of balance shift, and he leaned in to the fall, resisting the instinct to regain his footing.

In the last few seconds before the plummet, he hooked one of the Cicada's legs around the those of Judicator, myomer clenching tight in a death grip. Then he tucked in his arms and legs, reached for the emergency eject handle, and yanked hard.

The cockpit canopy burst open, and suddenly Shepard was rocketing up and away from the Cicada, pinned tightly against his seat by the harsh acceleration. Soon the pressure fell away, and he soared through the blizzard, still strapped to the ejection seat. With familiar sounds, the chute deployed, and Shepard was left to the mercy of the winds. The cliff-face loomed large beside him, hard rock and sharp stone, but the gales thankfully did not hurl him against them. He could hear nothing but the howling of the wind.

<<"This is Shepard, is anyone there?">> he tried on his comms.

<<"Commander Shepard, this is Adept Williams,">> the woman answered, to Shepard's relief. <<"I read you. What's your status?">>

<<"Ejection successful, should be touching down soon," he informed her. "I upped the Cicada's mass as high as I could, and to interfere with Benezia's mass effect fields. Hopefully, that killed her. Do you have confirmation?">>

<<"Not yet. Point Commander Alenko is descending the cliff right now to confirm. Commander, the rachni queen went down with you. We think Matriarch Benezia dragged her along, or maybe the ground gave way.">>

<<"Well, if she survived, I hope she's still friendly. What's the status of everyone else?"

<<"Two Elementals survived.">> Adept Williams wearily told him. <<"A few of the commandos, various degrees of wounded. I've got some injuries from the crash, and Miss Zorah had a suit breach.">>

<<"I'm fine for now,">> the quarian joined the conversation. <<"My suit has safeguards in case of a breach, I'm not going to die right now. But uh, yeah, I'm beginning to feel not so well.">>

<<"Stay calm, you'll get medical attention soon. Just – oof, sorry. Hit the ground.">>

As far as landings went, descending onto thick freshly fallen snow was quite good. Shepard unstrapped himself quickly, climbing to his feet. The cold bit at exposed skin, but his cooling suit was well-insulated, and retaining his body warmth effectively. The still-raging blizzard kept visibility low, and all he could see was featureless snow, save for the cliff-face.

<<"Just stay somewhere safe and sheltered, and let Williams and the others handle things.">> he continued. Squatting next to the ejection seat, he found the arctic survival kit and pulled it free.

<<"This is Point Commander Alenko. I found the Mechs. The Matriarch is dead.">>

<<"Blake be praised. Are you sure?">>

<<"Aff, visual confirmation. Cockpit broke open, I have eyes on her body. I also located where the rachni queen landed, but there is no sign of her.">>

Well, that wasn't their problem for now. Frankly, Shepard hadn't known what to do if they had found her. They were in no state to recapture her in any case. There were other concerns to handle. He exhaled slowly, thinking. <<"Right. Point Commander, can your Elemental armor still move quickly?">>

<<"Aff, armor is fully functional.">>

<<"Good. Get proof of Benezia's death. Blood sample, head, I don't care,">> Shepard spoke rapidly. <<"And your suit's camera should have taken some good shots of her Mech. Then get back to Williams, grab what data cores you can carry, and head for the rendezvous point. Await extraction by Agent Brown and Zhou.">>

<<"Neg, I refuse to comply.">> Alenko refluted

<<"Listen here, Clanner, you're the only one who can still make it. The Normandy Initiative, your comrades fought and died to secure that data. And if we stay here, Noveria will be the only ones getting them. Williams can't transmit more than a fraction through that link to Omega.">>

<<"The connection's cut," Adept Williams added. <<"Noveria must have terminated it.">>

<<"Yes, thanks Williams. Point Commander Alenko, you have a duty to fulfil this mission. There's no time to argue this. Noveria's security forces are heading here as we speak. Bring word of what happened to the Normandy Initiative. Forget about us.">>

<<"Aff.">> Point Commander Alenko reluctantly answered.

Shepard checked his position and that of the wrecked Mechs, and slowly began slogging his way through the snow, listening over his comms as the Clanner obeyed his command. He hadn't drifted too far, and by the time Point Commander Alenko announced his departure, Shepard could see the pile of twisted metal that had once been two Mechs, already coated with a thin layer of snow.

A loud sound from above drew his attention, and he looked up to see the Elemental descend, thumping heavily to a stop near the wreckage, digging into it and pulling something out. The armored figure turned to face Shepard as he approached. Shepard nodded to him, and the Elemental saluted in return, before firing jump jets again and vanishing into the blizzard.

<<"So, what do we do now?">> Adept Williams asked him. <<"A last stand?">>

<<"We wait. A rapid response force must be on its way. When it finds us, we surrender. No point dying, and the Normandy Initiative can negotiate for our release. Besides, Miss Zorah needs medical attention.">>

He climbed up the wreckage, coming to a stop once he reached the Cicada's cockpit. The BattleROM with the recording of the op had been removed. From there, Shepard could see the Justicar's torso, broken open by the fall. The asari was still in the cockpit, a blank expression on her face. Climbing down again, he found a spot sheltered from the wind, and sat down to wait.

There were times, Mercenary Commander Monty Shepard wearily reflected, when giving up was the only option.

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