Chapter 1: It Begins with the End
Risa lay in a hospital bed, her heart ticking out on a hollow display at the edge of the room. An oxygen mask was fitted over her face, giving her the ability to breathe more easily. Gray hair was tied into a loose bun that sat comfortably at the base of her skull. The woman once known as Commander Shepard and Spectre Krios was dying. She’d reached the end of a rather long human life, one-hundred and fifteen years. Her daughter, Rina Irikah Krios, nicknamed Rika, sat to her left in a blue chair, while her son with Thane, Myrn sat to her right on the edge of the mattress. Kolyat had died almost one decade ago, but his widow and son were there, looking on in despair as this woman—no this symbol of strength died before their eyes. Liara sat in one corner of the room, flitting through files on a datapad that detailed what Risa wanted done at her memorial. People didn’t normally have two funerals and Risa wanted to plan this one out. She knew Liara would more than get the job done.
“Rika?” Her voice was raspy and muffled by the plastic of the mask.
The older Drell woman looked up, the blue and maroon hues of her scales appearing dull. She’d be shedding soon. “Yeah, Mumma?”
Risa smiled. “Can you tell me about the memory you have where you found out I was pregnant with Myrn?”
Rika bit back tears and smiled despite herself, looking to her younger brother before replying with a slight nod. “Of course, Mumma.” Her eyes flit out of focus and begin moving erratically. “Daddy opens the door and carries me inside over his shoulder, laughing the entire time. School was good today and Daddy took me out for sherbet after he picked me up. I love walking with Daddy. He sets me down and I start looking for Mumma. Where is she? Daddy calls out to her, ‘Siha?’ he says gently. We hear a small crash and Daddy looks at me. ‘Oh, uh, yeah! Gimme a minute, guys!’ Mumma is occupied and nervous, her voice is shaking and it sounds like she broke a datapad. Daddy chuckles and takes me into the dining room. I sit in a tall chair and wait for a glass of water. I’m proud that I can sit in the big chairs; I didn’t used to be able to. Someone knocks at the door and I heard Kolyat’s voice from the other side. He calls out, ‘hello?’ Daddy hands me a glass of icy water and steps into the main room, ‘we’re in here, Kolyat.’ Kolyat comes in and shakes Daddy’s hand, then comes to me and rubs his hands over my head. ‘You’re not out with Lorah today?’ Kolyat looks at Daddy. ‘No, she went swimming. Besides, Risa called me earlier and asked me to come over.’ Daddy looks at him curiously and I can hear Mumma coming down the stairs. She sighs and fiddles nervously and waves Daddy over. Kolyat sits next to me and smiles. ‘Okay, now I need you to be quiet, Little One. Okay?’ I nod to him, not quite sure what’s happening. Mumma and Daddy are in a different room now. ‘Your Mom is going to have a baby.’ I gasp and I wanna scream but I listen to Kol and stay quiet, but I start flailing my arms. Mumma’s gonna have a baby! I get a brother or sister!”
Myrn smiled and clasped his mother’s hand. Risa smiled back at him in return. Garrus walked in with his son close behind. “Garrus! Look at you! You too, Tarek. You’re both looking so good.”
Garrus stepped up very close to Risa, she could see the sadness in his eyes. He’d lived with her death once, but she knew it wouldn’t be any easier for him a second time. “I wish I could say the same to you, Risa. How’re you feeling?”
Her voice wasn’t what is used to be when she was younger. When she was young it bellowed it was deep but still decidedly feminine. Now it was like a small breeze, it was frail and made you wish you could have its full strength hitting you. “I’m alright, Garrus. I have everyone I care about right here with me. What could be better?” She could see Garrus’ face shifting, like he wanted nothing more than to break down and cry. Even his son seemed utterly depressed.
A familiar pair of enviro-suits came through the door. “Tali! Kal! Hey, guys!”
“Oh, Keelah, Risa.” Tali ran up to the edge of the bed as Garrus backed away. There were soft sobs coming from the other side of her breathing mask. “Why do you have go now, Risa?”
Kal stepped up behind Tali and put a hand on her shoulder. They’d married shortly after Rannoch was retaken with the Geth. Their children were probably still on Rannoch, which was okay. Her hospital room was very large, but she knew Grunt and one of Wrex’s daughters was coming, so the room would fill up fast.
“Thank you for coming along with her, Kal.”
Kal’s helmet nodded to her, his eyes glinting from behind the visor. “Of course, Ma’am.”
Risa chuckled, and then began coughing hoarsely. “Oh come on, Kal, you have to call me Risa at least once in my life.” Her volume quieted slightly, but the tone was still the same. It was peaceful and happy despite her impending death. “There isn’t much more time left, anyway.”
“Don’t say that, Risa, you don’t know that!” Kal stepped forward quickly, almost defensive.
“It’s all right, Kal. I’ve had a longer life than I ever thought I would! I mean, look what I did! You have a home that I helped get back! And the Reapers won’t be more than a retold story in two more human generations. Eventually the only ones remembering first hand will be the Asari.” Risa saw Liara look up with a sad smile and made eye contact with her for a few seconds before looking back at the aging Quarian. “And I am more than okay with that being my legacy, Kal.”
“That’s not all your legacy is, Risa. Hell, Wrex has three daughters because of you and Grunt has three sons and two daughters.” Garrus was strange looking in his old age, you could tell he wasn’t as young as he used to be, but unless you spent time with Turians consistently, it would be hard to pinpoint what made him older. But the fine details were there, the softer skin between his plating had become softer still and wrinkled a bit and his plates weren’t as dark gray as they used to be.
“You have a son, too, Garrus.” She looked over to the nearly middle-aged Turian in question who was starting his own family. “How have you been, Tarek?”
Tarek’s mandibles flared in a Turian smile. “You’ll never stop being concerned for other people, will you?”
Risa chuckled and coughed hoarsely. “If you want the answer to that, ask your father.” Garrus gave his familiar soft laugh in response.
“I’ve been well, Risa. The Primarch is actually asking me for his thoughts. Never thought I’d see the day I got to be in a similar position to my father.” The two men shared a quick glance and then both looked back to their friend.
The floor shook softly and immediately everyone knew what was happening. Kal and Tali moved to the far side of the room with Liara and sat down near the windows. Garrus and Tarek even moved in that direction. Kolyat’s family sat on the right side of the room, finding a small table to accommodate themselves as a biological earthquake neared. Just then familiar blue eyes and a large gray crest bent through the door.
“Shepard!” Even after she retired from the Alliance and married Thane, Grunt continued to call her Shepard. Not that she truly minded, in her mind it was mildly cute. The large Krogan walked up to the side of her bed, standing behind her son and smiled to her widely. For Grunt, this was not a time to mourn. He was celebrating her life and if she was honest with herself, Risa preferred his approach.
“Hey, Grunt!” She raised one hand for him to take gently, which he did. As large as he was she’d always be surprised with the gentleness he could have when he wanted. The shaking in the floor continued for a few seconds as a ceremonial dress and hood came through the door, Wrex’s oldest daughter. “Tagira! I am so glad you made it! How’s Tuchanka?”
“We’re still rebuilding, but it’s going very well. We’ve managed to get small forest areas planted and we’re working on cities block by block. We even have two colonies. My father did well with the gift you gave us. When you die, we’ll build a large stature in your honor, Risa!” There were tears and smiles all around the room as Wrex’s daughter spoke. She was a lot like her mother, Bakara and far more like her father than anyone would tell her to her face.
“Thank you, Tagira. If you build it next to Mordin’s, can you maybe have a few smaller ones where he’s singing and dancing and I’m smacking my palm to my face? That’s typically what it was like.” Her old crew mates burst out laughing at the fond memories of their Salarian friend. They could all still remember the talent show on the Normandy.
Grunt laughed the loudest. “You know, Shepard, it’s good to see you in cheerful spirits! This is a time for celebration; you lived a full life and fought the greatest battle I’ve ever seen. I would have died for you at any time. I’m glad I got to be here now.”
“You’ve grown up well, Grunt. I’m glad I didn’t have to shoot you when I woke you, I think it may have put a damper on our friendship!” Risa coughed again and a nurse came in to check her vitals, she didn’t have long.
“Bullshit! You know it would have just made it better, Shepard!” Grunt smirked and continued to chuckle before finding a spot to stand against one wall.
“Myrn, what do you remember about your high school graduation?” Her son smiled, the oranges and dark greens of his scales reflecting in an eerie glow in the waning sunlight coming from the window of the hospital room. He and his sister’s families weren’t there. They decided to stay back and help with any last minute funeral arrangements. They also had the duty of rummaging through photos to find the perfect ones for the memorial.
His eye-lids blinked rapidly as his memory took over. “A crowd of humans stares at me, I try to ignore them. There is a fountain in the distance that has fish in it. I’ll go draw later if mother doesn’t throw me a party. I see father coming down the aisle to find a seat. The other parents glare at him. I am valedictorian. They think my memory is his fault. There’s mother, they don’t glare at her. Gods help them if she catches them glaring at Dad. Ceremony begins; I begin losing myself in memories and thoughts. My name is called and I walk up to get a small slip of paper from an elderly human man. He is a good man. Mother is proud and recording on her omni-tool. No doubt the video will be distributed across half the galaxy. Father claps with a soft smile. They are proud and I am proud, too.” Myrn looks at his mother and tries not to cry as she smiles at him.
“Your voice is so much like your father’s, Myrn.” One frail hand raises and touches a ridged cheek.
Soft sobbing littered the air from more than one source. Liara tried to hide it as best she could, she could mourn later. Right now she needed to make sure everything at the funeral went smoothly. They’d build a monument to Risa on Thessia, even if Liara had to pay for it on her own. Garrus wouldn’t cry now, but he would later. He’d cry to his son and his wife in a stupidly drunken state as his best friend died for the second and final time.
For a while after she fell in love with Thane, Garrus was almost jealous of him. He’d just arrived and somehow swept her off of her feet. But he got over it and he and Thane became friends. When Thane died in Risa’s arms of old age Garrus thought he’d break down right there. But Turians were made of steel and if they broke, they broke later when they didn’t need to support anyone else. There was already a monument on Palaven and Manae; both of them were rooted into the bedrock of their sites. It was the best way to honor her. A giant hunk of metal carved into her likeness that wouldn’t move unless the land beneath it did.
Tali would have to go home and tell her children and her friends that the greatest friend to Quarian race had gone. They would all mourn over it, too. For the longest time the Quarians kept Risa’s contact details in all emergency preparation kits. If there was a planet-wide or even a ship-wide emergency then they had a way to find her and tell her. It was strange that out of everyone in the galaxy, it was a human who would save everyone, including the Quarians.
Rika stood and sat at the edge of her mother’s mattress. She could still remember when her mother and father found her in an orphanage full of Drell children. Her biological parents had died and she’d not spoken to anyone since being found a year prior. Then the face all over the extranet showed up with a big Drell man and she trusted her. She wanted that to be her mother and that big Drell man to be her father. They were good people and in her very young mind she’d accept no one else. So she painted with her mother and cried when she had to leave. But three short months later they came back and gave her a home. For the first time in her life she had her own bedroom and her own toys and she even got pets. She was disciplined like any other child and went to school and had friends. That woman from the extranet and that big, strong Drell man became her mother and father and saved her life that day. It was something she was grateful for, she’d always remember how her mother and father looked that day. She’d always remember the smiles and painting with them. She’d remember everything and for as long as she lived she’d tell the stories to anyone who wanted to know.
“Mumma, do you want another memory before you see father again?” Rika tried to hold back the tears; she needed to speak clearly for her mother. But dammit all this just hurt too much. Her mother, this larger than life figure who saved the galaxy more than once and couldn’t cook even if was starving was now leaving her body behind. She was going into the arms of Kalahira to find her father. She knew the blessings of Arashu and Amonkira await her as well.
“You tell me anything you want to, then you, too Myrn. Give me something to tell your father, hm?” Risa could see in their eyes that even her smile broke their hearts. But she was ready. After so many decades without him, she’d finally be able to see Thane again. The galaxy had been safe for so long and it was no longer her job to save it anymore. On her deathbed she could look back at her life and smile, she was at peace. Myrn stood and lit candles on a nearby table, he was preparing a departing prayer.
“I’ll just let Myrn give you the prayer, Mumma. Just tell Daddy we love him?” Rika smiled bitterly and tried not to squeeze her mother’s hand too hard.
“Of course, Rika.” Risa turned her face to see her son clasping his hands together.
“Kalahira, mistress of inscrutable depths, she asks forgiveness. Kalahira, whose waves wear down stone and sand, wash away the sins of this blessed of Arashu and set her on the distant shore of the infinite spirit. Kalahira, her heart is pure and has overcome wickedness and pain. Kalahira, she has saved the lives of many and has raised children who love her. Kalahira, she awaits her soulmate across the sea. Guide her to where the traveler never tires, the lover never leaves, the hungry never starve. Guide her, Kalahira, and she will be a friend and companion to you as she has been to us.” Myrn finished the prayer and wiped tears from his eyes, Rika already softly sobbing over her mother’s body. At the mention of awaiting Thane her heart had stopped and the doctors stepped in to record the time of death.
The indomitable Commander Shepard, the first human Spectre, had passed away from old age in a hospital surrounded by those who loved her most. Well, all but one.
Risa woke up under water too deep to see in. How far down am I? Kalahira!? Can you hear me, Mistress? Where do I go? She waited patiently, treading water for an indiscernible amount of time before finally she could feel herself floating up and shafts of light pierced the water. Her eyes opened wider and she began actively swimming, with her hand occasionally brushing a fish or other marine life. She could hear singing and in the water around her she could see her entire life. From her birth to being dropped off in Denver by her mother, she could see her sister dying in a huge explosion. Her life played out in the currents around her, every detail was there. She saw Saren’s death, the Reaper’s defeat as well as Rika’s adoption and Myrn’s birth, the way Thane cried as he held the small wailing child. It was warm, not cold as she’d thought it would be. Myrn’s prayer echoed around her, the last word finishing as she breached the surface of the ocean. The waves weren’t violent, everything was calm. Suddenly something warm and smooth came up under her feet and lifted her from the water. She stood clumsily and tried not to lose her balance.
It was a large slab of rock; dark gray like shale and warm like it had been in the sun since dawn. The water around her was being disturbed and slowly more rocky platforms lifted to breach the surface. They were far enough apart that she’d have to jump from one to the next, but that was no problem. She looked down into the water and saw her reflection, she looked the same as the day she met Thane. Her hair was dark and long, but in a braid instead of a bun. A powder blue dress hugged her midsection and flowed around her legs in the light ocean breeze. If she was correct in her recollection then she’d say this was her favorite dress from her childhood before being tossed into Denver’s slums. Instead of shoes she was barefoot and just like when she was a child her feet were lightly dirty like she’d been playing in mud. Oddly enough, they were also dirty a lot of time after the Reaper war. After the war she and Thane bought a house and she and Rika would play in the yards all the time. The playing only got more rowdy after Myrn was born. Those memories made her smile and the sun seemed to rise a bit higher in the sky.
The jump was easy, her feet landing firmly on the next platform. As she looked forward she could see them all leading to a distant landmass. Thane would be there, waiting for her. A small flash of light caught her eye as she stood and she looked into the surface of the ocean. It was the world of the living; she could see the beginnings of her body being readied for her funeral. With the next jump came the next flash, Myrn and Rika spoke at her funeral as well as Liara and many others. She could see her casket; it was beautiful and made of cherry wood. The image faded and she moved on to the next stone. The ocean’s surface once again lit up with images. She could see her funeral procession and the large public memorial gathering. Then the casket was transported to a private hearse and a small entourage followed as the images faded once more. With the next step she could see her house, which was now Rika’s, and the private plots where Thane had been buried before and now she was being laid to rest.
In their back yard was a large oak tree that was centuries old. After the war no one knew how that tree out of everything else managed to stay standing, but it was what made Risa want a house on that plot of land. Her grand-children and Kolyat’s family, Wrex’s children, Tali and Kal’s family, Liara’s family and even Aria were all there. They were joined by Garrus’ family, Grunt and his kids, the family Jack had found for herself and also EDI and Legion. They all stood in her backyard and watched as her body was laid into the ground in a sturdy wooden box. She kept moving, the next step showing her those same people sitting in the large living room, drinking and sharing stories. Amid all the sadness there was still so much happiness. They were all saying they were grateful to know her. Come on, guys, don’t forget that without all of you I wouldn’t have a life to begin with.
With a large smile she continued on and now she could see the shore-line clearly. There was a large beach and behind it a forest grew on a mountain. It was an odd and beautiful combination of the Yellowstone area she’d known and loved and a tropical island. She felt like if she got closer she’d see a desert off in another direction. Each step continued to show her bits of the world she’d passed away from. She could see statues and memorials in her honor and she could see all the lives that would have been lost to the Reaper war if she hadn’t helped end it.
Finally, she was on the last platform and she could see Thane sitting many yards back, meditating. She knew they wouldn’t find Irikah here. She was in her own paradise with the Thane she’d known, the same Thane that died with her. The man sitting with his palms full of sand in his lap was hers and hers alone. He was the father of her children and the same man that carried her off of a battlefield when she would have died otherwise. He stood up and she could see the way his face lit up to see her again. She jumped onto shore and ran toward him, the sun directly above them now as they both kicked up sand in their wakes.
They crashed into each other and Thane squeezed her tightly to his body, those old and familiar fingers tangling in her hair for the first time decades. His scales were just as she remembered, smooth at the first touch but with a faint texture upon further inspection. The feeling of his strong body clung so close in her memory but didn’t do him nearly enough justice.
Risa pulled her face back to look into Thane’s eyes, his black sclera and green irises more vibrant than she could ever recall. “You waited, just like you said.” Her eyes filled with tears and her throat felt like something was stuck in it.
“And you came, just as you promised.” His smile seemed to match hers, his eyes scanning her face to take everything in. His fingers traced her jaw and eventually her lips. His Siha was with him once again.
“Yeah, well now I’ll never have to make you wait again, Thane. I’m here. I found my way across the sea to you.” Risa blinked and tears fell down her cheeks.
“For the rest of time I can thank the Gods for you, just as I have always done. From here we can watch our children grow and their children and everyone after. This is our time to rest, Siha. In the arms of Kalahira I can hold you with me and love you forever. You are my wife and I will never depart from your side again.” Thane picked Risa up from the ground and carried her into the forest, to a house he’d prepared just for her arrival.
In their Goddess’ arms they’d spend an immeasurable time resting and enjoying the peace their lives never had.