Chapter 1: Ring (Stargate: Atlantis)
The presence of the Wraith in the Pegasus Galaxy had made natural death a rare and sacred thing. Teyla didn’t know if other cultures honoured or celebrated it, but among her people they revered it almost as much as they revered the Ancestors. So when Charin had called Teyla to her side to proclaim that she was nearing the end of her life, Teyla was surprised at the outrage that burned within her. Charin had been like a mother to her, and the elder woman’s mentor-ship held a special place in the young Athosian’s heart. There was no way that Teyla could let her simply die. Carson, too, was insistent that he could extend the matriarch’s life by several years at the very least, and part of Teyla wanted very much for Charin to accept the offer. In the end, however, Charin’s wisdom had prevailed against Teyla’s brashness. The customs of the Athosians needed to be upheld, not just to preserve them, but to reassure her people that chance and circumstance could not erase their deeply held beliefs.
The arrival of the Atlantis Expedition in Pegasus had shifted the status quo, and Teyla knew many who saw their coming as a harbinger of the end, rather than as the hope and possibility of freedom from the tyranny of the Wraith. Ever since the Athosians had thrown their lot in with Dr. Weir and the others, Teyla had felt torn between two worlds; she struggled to balance the duties and responsibilities of being a member of Shepard’s team, with the duties she held as the leader of her people. And while some of the Athosians may have questioned her loyalties in the past, she had never let them down. And so it had to be in this matter of Charin’s death.
So while the city was torn into chaos, and the impending threat of catastrophe loomed over them, Teyla gathered her people, and together they prepared for the ceremony that would usher Charin into the next life, even as they honoured the legacy she was leaving behind. As Teyla’s voice lifted in song, and the urgency of the city’s possible evacuation melted away upon the lyrics, she felt the words resonate deep within her. Beyond the danger of the present day, a new dawn awaited. One day they would all be free of uncertainty and fear. One day, natural death would become the norm rather than the exception. One day, they would come full circle to what they had been before the Wraith. They would face the new journey together, and they would be stronger for it.
Chapter 2: Mindless (Mystic Messenger)
Keys clack and lights flash; screens blink and text scrolls. Over, and over, and over, and over…on it goes, day in and day out. Into this portal, kick down that firewall, navigate those circuits, rip open those files, follow the data to its source. Over, and over, and over, without end. He knows the routine more intimately than he knows his lover. Not that he has a lover, of course. All that exists for him is the cold machinery that helps him to pay the bills. Even Vanderwood is part of the system. The nagging, the dirty looks, the long-suffering sighs, the under-breath grumbling, the tidying…it all blends together in a blur, until he can no longer distinguish the individual components. Can’t see the trees for the forest.
When he emerges to participate in the chat rooms he keeps one foot firmly planted in the digital prison. Always during a break when the numbers need to run. Always when the moment can be spared to breathe and touch humanity. Even through a screen he feels them, knows their presence. He is with them, but he is not a part of them. Not completely. They are simply one more circuit, one more algorithm in the equation.
IF numbers crunch THEN
PRETEND to be human.
Routine is what keeps him going with no need to think or feel. Day-in, day-out, same, same, same. Rika and V have secrets. Saeran is out there, somewhere, waiting for him. Jumin and Zen argue. Yoosung is distracted by games. Jahee is falling over-exhausted and exasperated, too professional to complain. Vanderwood is Vanderwood.
And then…She arrives.
A monkey-wrench tossed into the perfectly established system. It’s like waking from a long slumber. The cobwebs fall, and the pressure that has been building ebbs so it can be safely released. He’s giddy and trembling, a new-born babe entering a fresh world. It all begins to crumble. Slowly, so slowly. He doesn’t notice it at first because it’s so gradual. He keeps trying to integrate her into the machine but she refuses to cooperate. She’s here (so beautiful), she’s there, she’s poking (so sweet), prying, questioning (is this love?). Suddenly he’s the system and she’s the hacker, and she’s bombarding the firewalls he’s programmed around his life so very intricately. He begins to believe that he can start untangling the mess, one algorithm at a time. Give her the key to unravelling him.
Chapter 3: Bait (Mass Effect)
I played fast and loose with the dialogue to make the narrative work.
Afterlife’s VIP Lounge was slightly classier than the main bar down below, but only just. The clientele was cleaner, but Nathan Shepard still wouldn’t trust anyone further than he could throw them. Trust was a foolish thing to give away lightly on Omega. He knew that Samara was somewhere, watching, and the silent presence of the Justicar was comforting.
The music pounded into his brain as he scanned the crowd; Samara had told him that her daughter, Morinth, would find him, so he didn’t bother trying to catch a glimpse of her in the crowd. Instead, he stepped carefully around patrons, eyes and ears straining to see some avenue that could be used to make him stand out for the Ardat-Yakshi.
“I guess they’ll let anyone in here these days…they used to have standards…” an old krogan grouched as he neared the bar. Shepard sized the old man up. If he’d been anything but krogan, Nathan would’ve questioned the morality of picking a fight. Memories of Tuchanka were still fresh in his mind, however, so he sidled up next to the alien.
“Care to back that up?” he replied, leaning on his arm. “Me, you, the alley…only one of us comes back in.”
The krogan turned and fixed Shepard with whatever passed for a steely gaze among his kind. Shepard stared right back. So many years with Wrex, and now Grunt, had given him all the courage he needed to try and call this one’s bluff. After several seconds, the krogan pushed away from the bar in a huff, mumbling something about simply wanting a drink and damn humans. After downing a quick shot of something green and human-friendly, Shepard continued his circuit of the room.
“Hey, baby, don’t be like that…” the saucy whining wafted over the bass-line and pulled the Commander’s attention the the dance floor, where a turian was harrassing an asari. She shoved him away as Shepard approached. As the turian attempted to close the distance, Shepard intervened.
“I believe the lady told you to back off,” he said, pulling their attention toward him.
“This is none of your business,” the turian replied with a frown. He moved in with his fists raised, and Shepard made short work of him.
“Thanks, security’s been slacking these days,” the asari said as she strode past him.
“Don’t mention it.” As he watched her progress, someone grabbed his arm and pulled him further onto the dance floor.
“Dance with me?” another asari asked as she began swaying in time to the music.
“Sure,” he replied. Why the hell not? He started to move, grateful that none of his crew were here to see this. He would never live it down. At one point, she reached out for him, and without thinking he grabbed her hands and led her in a slightly uncoordinated quick-step. When the song shifted into the next, he spun her away from him as she laughed in delight.
He kissed Waera’s knuckles before drawing back, flashing her a grin as he turned away. He stopped dead in his tracks as he suddenly found himself face to face with an asari whose resemblance to Samara was unmistakable. All the horrors of Akuze, the showdown with Saren at the Battle of the Citadel, even death itself couldn’t have prepared him for this moment; it took every ounce of self control and skills honed by decades of bald-face lying to dying men to keep his composure in the face of this deadly woman. Her beauty and poise almost belied the danger she posed; if Samara hadn’t warned him beforehand, he would've had a hard time beliving that this woman was a serial killer.
“My name’s Morinth. I’ve been watching you…”
He followed her to a table and sat down across from her, and began to play the game. The bait had been chosen; all that remained was to be captured....
Chapter 4: Freeze (Dragon Age)
Etain Trevelyan looked over the disbanding camp in the early morning gloom. The only light came from torches that sputtered in the intermittent wind that found its way into the protective pocket they’d occupied for the last two days. The storm that had followed her through the snowy passes of the Frostback Mountains had abated, but the scent of snow on the air promised a renewal at some point in the near future.
Mother Giselle had impressed upon the young aristocrat that she had the power to hold this ragtag group together. All she needed was a little faith, in the Maker or otherwise. While the Chantry Mother offered naught but hymns to inspire the soul, Solas had been the one to actually offer a course of action. A legendary fortress was a more tangible goal than prayers to an absent god, and so she’d gathered her advisors and they’d made plans. Not all of them were happy with it, but at least it was a direction, and they could all agree on it.
The march would be bitter, and cold, the weather unrelenting, but they would continue on. The breach, Corypheus, the rifts… the problem had grown larger than Ferelden and Orlais. It had grown beyond the strife between the mages and the templars. All of Thedas needed them, now, and so they would always continue on.
Etain had no idea whether she truly believed in the divine intervention of her survival at the Conclave. All she knew was that if the people needed her to be Andraste’s Herald, then that is who she would be. Skyhold would change everything. They would have to declare a formal Inquisition. They would declare her Inquisitor, she knew. They would have to. But how she would address the formation of the Inquisition, she still didn’t know.
Let’s survive the journey first. Etain though, as she moved to the front of the growing column of people. And if Andraste is gracious, and leads us safely through the storms, then the Inquisition will be hers.
Chapter 5: Build (Star Wars)
They kneel facing each other in a perfect square, four identical faces - one marred by a scar from ear to mouth - focused on the man across from him. Hands resting on knees, bodies poised, but relaxed; each man's DC-17 on the floor before him, waiting. A tone sounds and, as one, they reach for their weapons and begin to strip them down. Each move methodical, precise, and a perfect copy of the man next to him. Niner frowns slightly in the heartbeat between break-down and reassembly, as he notices a minute lag in the execution of the drill out of the corner of his eye. His mind files the information away behind a partition in his mind and goes down the check-list of possible reasons for the deviation.
Is his brother still not completely recovered from the last mission? (He spent a week in bacta and only decanted a few days ago.)
Could he still not be completely in sync with the squad after this much time together? (Mongrel squads were a new thing, a side-effect of the horrific mis-management of forces at the Battle of Geonosis, at the outset of the the war.)
Was he bothered by something else that he hadn't mentioned yet? (Clones respected each other's privacy, but if it was something that would affect performance, it was generally shared with someone to ease the burden, and find correction.)
"Time," he calls, as each man finishes the task and rests his hands on his knees. He waits for the computer to log the exercise before turning his attention. "At'ika?"
"You were a nano-second off from the group. Everything okay?"
Atin makes a face. "Bacta after-taste. Keeps making me gag."
"Ignore it better, will you? It's making you sloppy."
"Will do, Sarge."
Niner nods. "Let's do it again. Atin clearly needs the practice."
He ignores the quite snorts of laughter from Fi and Darman, and the tiny curve of a smile from Atin. They settle once more, and once more the tone prompts them into action.
This time they're perfect.
This time, they're one.
Chapter 6: Husky (Mass Effect)
Star Wars has Bamfa. Mass Effect shall now have Husky.
I'm not too happy with that last paragraph, but it is what it is.
The Normandy's cargo hold was a mess, with boxes still partially scattered about. Ashley Williams stood on the threshold of the elevator, hands on her hips as she surveyed the semi-destruction. At least three boxes were still butting up against the Kodiak, and several more almost blocked access to James Vega's work area. Straps were torn and hanging from the bulkheads. Both Vega and Steve Cortez stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by the last remnants of the contents that presumably belonged to the open container between them.
"Hey, Lieutenant," Vega called, catching sight of her. "You come down to see the carnage?"
"Something like that," she replied as she closed the distance between them. a glance inside the container confirmed that it was one of the few that stored personal items for the crew. "Report?"
"This was the only container to break open during the encounter," Cortez obliged. "The rest came loose and knocked around a bit, but no serious damage otherwise."
Ashley sighed. "We'll have to get these items to the crew as soon-"
"Hey, hey, what's this?" Vega interrupted her. He held up a small, stuffed varren plushie. He grinned wickedly. "Aw, who brought the stuffie?" He teased, clearly amused and dying to know who it belonged to.
Ashley held out a hand. "I'll take that, thanks."
Vega's smile widened as she snatched it out of his hand and turned on her heel. "You're welcome!" He called out to her retreating form, and she scowled.
"Whatever," she snapped. "Just get this place cleaned up before the Commander comes down here."
She stepped into the elevator and jammed the button to take her up. She didn't turn around until the door closed behind her and the lift started moving. Once the lift cleared the hanger deck, she sagged against the wall in relief. That had been close. It was a good thing that she'd been the one to make the rounds while Shepard reviewed the damage reports.
She stepped out of the elevator as the doors opened, and crossed the small landing. She knocked once before the door opened to admit her, and she stepped into the Commander's quarters. Nathan Shepard was on the couch, hunched over the datapads strewn on the table. He glanced over at her as she flopped unceremoniously next to him.
"How is it?" She asked, nodding at the reports.
"Average," he relied with a shrug. "Felt worse than it was."
Ashley snorted. "Tell that to the cargo bay. Everything got knocked loose down there."
"Vega and Cortez?"
"Alive. Cleaning up." She held out the plushie. "Found this while I was down there."
Nathan sat up and took the stuffed varren. "Husky? How did...? I left this..."
"With me," Ashley finished quietly, eyes playing over his face. "Before we left for Alchera almost three years ago. I brought it as one of my personal affects." He regarded the toy for a long moment before meeting her gaze and smiling. He handed Husky back to her, but she shook her head and pushed it away. "It's yours."
She gasped as he grabbed her hand and pressed the stuffed toy into it. "What's mine is yours, Ash. You should know that by now. You've taken good care of him all these years. I see no reason for that to change."
"Fine, but on one condition." She waited for his eyes to narrow sightly before she continued, "He gets to live up here with the hamster. They can keep each other company."
Shepard laughed. "Deal."
They reached for each other at the same time, and she buried her face in his shoulder, still smiling. She'd let Vega harbour whatever illusions he now held about her, knowing that the varren toy was hers. He didn't need to know that it was actually Shepard's. And he didn't need to know - no one needed to know - what it now meant to them both.
An eerie hush descended upon the moon-drenched forest clearing as the dust settled, and the aftershocks caused by the body of the enormous yeti hitting the ground abated. Many of the group stood staring at the carcass, sweating profusely and absently wiping brows and weapons. Some were sitting apart from the group, drinking from canteens and breathing hard. Still other were helping the wounded to the tree-line, where the healers could tend to them. They were forty adventurers in all, all hired from the Heroes Anonymous Academy for this one hunting trip to bring down the wayward yeti. It had taken them several days to track the beast to this region of Azeroth, several hours to set up the traps, and then another day and a half of waiting for it to show up. In the end, a paladin and a warrior had to go and poke it to draw it out to the waiting group.
A silvery cat near the still—warm corpse finished licking a paw and sighed. In less than a heartbeat, a willowy Night Elf woman stood in the cat's place, her shimmering robes glinting in the moonlight. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and closed her eyes. With her next deep breath, she bellowed, "HUNTER!"
The word echoed off the trees, and the soft shuffle of a dozen people pulling out skinning knives stopped abruptly. The Night Elf could feel everyone's eyes on her as she turned to face the group. Almost as one, every non-hunter still standing took two rapid steps back to expose the group of ranged adventurers that weren't among the wounded. The hunters all exchanged glances and shrugs, not sure what it was that one of them was supposed to have done this time. The Night Elf sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Not you," she spat, waving a dismissive hand. "Him." Everyone looked heartily confused at this proclamation, and exchanged glances again. The sound of someone softly clearing his throat had them parting to allow a human, dressed in dark red robes, to make his way to the forefront of the group.
"She means me," he explained helplessly. "My name is Hunter. What's wrong, Nereid? I had promised to keep myself in-check..."
"That," Nereid said, pointing in the general direction of the mini triage-camp. Against one tree was a holy priest, smiling beatifically with his head laying in the lap of a succubus. The demon was twirling her fingers through the priest's hair as he giggled softly. Nereid added, "Your succubus took out our most powerful healer. We almost died."
Hunter's shoulders slumped in a sigh. "I warned him not to feed her mana buns. She's addicted to them."
"I don't care. Fix it."
Hunter snapped his fingers and the succubus dissolved into a puff of smoke. Nereid grunted in approval and stalked off, purposefully bumping into Hunter roughly, and giving him one last glare. "Stick with the felguard from now on. Idiot."
Hunter watched her go before turning back to the crowd. After several seconds, everyone went back to whatever he or she had been doing prior to Nereid's outburst, leaving Hunter to his own devices.
"Your name is Hunter?" one of the hunters still standing nearby asked.
Hunter shrugged. "What can I say? My parents loved the idea of a hunter named...Hunter. They thought that I would end up being one, when I was old enough. Clearly I didn't."
"And here I thought I had it bad. Suppose I'd turn to fel magics, too, with a name like that."
"Yeah, my parents were kinda shocked."
The hunter snorted in amusement. "Anyway. See you around."
"Likewise." The warlock watched as the hunter went to help the skinners with their task, and then turned to follow Nereid. He had a lot of grovelling to do to make it up to her.
1) I really need to roll a druid named Nereid now.
2) ...Likewise a warlock named Hunter. XD
Chapter 8: Frail (Dragon Age)
I went with the default name for Miss Cousland, for simplicity's sake.
It was the eve before the battle, and Alistair was sure he was the only one still awake. The fire's embers pulsed softly in the ashes, and the chill air puckered his skin in gooseflesh, even as it calmed him. The flagstones beneath him were just a frigid, and the cloth separating skin from stone did nothing to keep the cold at bay. He reclined, his bare shoulders against the wall, his eyes closed. The last several hours had been momentous, for various and sundry reasons, the least of which was his impending marriage to the woman who lay in the bed before him. On top of his upcoming coronation, the rest of it seemed like a terrible nightmare.
We still need to survive tomorrow, for all that to happen, he silently mused. He wondered again - and for the final time, I promise, my love - if his trust in his beloved's plan was misplaced. No, not her plan. Morrigan's plan. Alistair sighed softly. He knew Elissa would never have approached him about Morrigan's insane ritual, if she believed for one instant that they could trust in Riordan to be there when it mattered. But hope was at its breaking point, and the odds seemed stacked against them. With only three Wardens available to deliver the killing blow, and no way to ensure that any of them would survive to confront the Archdemon, they would need all the help they could get.
Maker help me, I really do want to live beyond tomorrow. The sentiment didn't change the fact that the whole thing with Morrigan felt like coercion and utter betrayal. He wasn't sure who'd betrayed whom at this point, but it hardly mattered. Morrigan had been given what she'd wanted, and they'd secured her services in battle for one more day. A king had to do what was necessary for his kingdom's survival. He'd done that, hadn't he?
Alistair scrubbed his hands over his face and rolled his shoulders. His muscles were starting to stiffen from sitting so long. He pushed himself to his feet with some effort, as if the shackles of his destiny, and every decision he'd ever made, weighed him down. Continuing with his shoulders and working his way down, he stretched all the kinks out. He crossed to the bed, climbed in next to Elissa, and pulled the covers up over him. He wrapped his arms around Elissa as she turned with a sigh and snuggled into him. Alistair closed his eyes as he breathed in the scent of her hair and held her close. He let her deep, even breaths draw him closer to sleep.
Hope was, indeed, fragile in these hours before the end. But he would trust in his love's judgement; from Ostagar to this moment, she had yet to steer him wrong. They'd stood beside each other through hell and back. They'd saved each other when all had seemed lost. They had found beauty and love in the midst of chaos and destruction. She was precious to him.
"If it is your fate to strike down the Archdemon, and you fall in the slaying," he whispered softly, "Morrigan had better make good on her promise to disappear from Thedas, or she will pay for her treachery." And with that final vow, Alistair Theirin, King and Grey Warden of Ferelden, found enough peace to join his lady in blissful unconsciousness of sleep.
Chapter 9: Swing (Stargate: Atlantis)
This takes place at some point in Season 1, after Hide & Seek.
"It's a swing and a miss, and that's the end of the inning."
Teyla frowned at the screen as she sat down on the couch and grabbed a handful of popcorn. Shepard watched her for a moment as he absently tossed a few kernels into his mouth. She watched the players curiously, brow furrowed, head tilted to one side.
"Problem?" Shepard asked.
"This is not football, correct?" she answered tentatively. "Hockey?"
"Baseball," he corrected with a wince. "Hockey's a winter sport."
They sat in silence, his Athosian companion seemingly lost in thought, and him watching the current pitch. Teyla shifted slightly, as if uncomfortable. She opened her mouth and drew breath to speak, but apparently thought better of it.
"Not as exciting as football, I know," Shepard admitted. "But it kills time between the seasons."
"I see. And the purpose of this game is?"
"Same as any: score more points than the other guy."
"How many sports are there on your planet?"
Shepard sat up slightly, and cleared his throat. "Quite a few, actually. And it really depends on your definition of a sport."
"There's some things that people call a sport that other's don't. Like figure skating. I mean, in the strictest sense and definition of the word, it is, but…" he cleared his throat again as Teyla stared at him blankly. "Sports in the same vein as football are baseball, hockey, lacrosse, rugby, and soccer. They all have teams, they all have balls - a puck, in hockey's case - they all have points," he ticked off his fingers. "They all take place on fields." A shrug. "Rink, for hockey. But same concept."
"And do they all vary in entertainment?"
Shepard laughed. "This is actually entertaining, believe it or not," he said, gesturing at the television. "It's just different. It's more of a game of chance and strategy."
"Aren't they all, though?"
"They are, but more so with baseball. Anyone can throw and catch a ball. But it takes exceptional reflexes to hit a small, rapidly moving target."
"I see." Teyla settled back on the couch, and Shepard did the same. He offered her the popcorn bowl, and she gladly grabbed more. "Tell me more about this…baseball."
"Gladly." Shepard grinned and grabbed the controller. "We'll rewind it and start from the beginning."
Chapter 10: Pattern (Mystic Messenger)
It was amazing how some things transcended social classes. While growing up, Jaehee had seen kids in her classes that came from broken homes go through the endless cycle. Something would happen within the family, and the kid would descend into whatever coping mechanism he had developed. Some were violent, others destructive. Some were quiet, and some disappeared for several days. When Jaehee had become one of those kids, she had been one of the quiet ones. She kept her head down and worked hard, always looking to put some sort of order back into her life. When she finally graduated and started working for C&R, a company with an incredible international reputation, she thought she’d seen the last of it.
And then she’d met Jumin Han. That Jumin had flourished in a broken family had surprised her, but in a sense, so had she. They had both emerged as hard-working, detail-oriented individuals, who prided a job well-done. At first it seemed that he had escaped The Cycle, but the longer than Jaehee worked for him, the more she began to see it. It was subtle at first. At its most basic, it manifested as a manic dedication to his cat. At its most complex, it turned into a burning desire to monetize some aspect of cat-ownerships. From kitty litter to cat food, she’d watched him run the gamut of possible new ventures that involved cats, and cat-branded products and services. The amount of money he spent on these projects was staggering. The fact that he got away with it, even more so.
In the midst of it all, Jaehee had found some odd strength within herself. As she watched portions of Jumin’s life crumble here and there, she became an exasperated guiding force. He drover her absolutely crazy, and he worked her to the bone. But she could tell that Jumin desperately needed someone to hold it all together, because otherwise, he would be unable to. Andif she needed to be that anchor until someone else more suited for the job was found, the she’d do it. If she couldn’t pull her life together, then she would do her utmost to hold together his.
Both of their lives depended on it.
Chapter 11: Snow (Star Wars)
No one was sure when it had started, really. Everyone on Echo Base was so intent on simply ensuring that they survived, that anything would've been able to slip through the cracks. But it did start and no one knew who was behind it. Wedge had an idea, but as he couldn't prove it, he kept his mouth shut.
The first incident was the snowman sentinels in one of the corridors. At some point during the night, they had appeared, flanking one of the doorways. They'd been a little difficult to spot, since they were just three clumps of snow stack atop one another, with no other discernible markings. But once they'd been found, they were hard to miss.
The next had been the mess hall. Someone had erected snowmen all over the room. There was one serving snow-food. Several were in the mess line. Some were seated, in the middle of meals and conversation. One table boasted a Sabbacc game, complete with dejected losers and exultant winners. Half of them had various pieces of scraps to stand in for facial features.
But the real feat was the current discovery. The entire control room was awash in snowmen. It was clear that they had been fashioned in a manner so as to resemble their real-world counterparts, from Dodonna, right down to General Solo, and the Princess. The room looked exactly as it would during the day shift, with nearly all the stations manned by snow people, save for the two that had flesh-and-blood officers sitting at them. The night shift that monitored the sensors and security cams wore headsets that blocked out all sound, and they had no reason to leave their posting. They hadn't seen or heard anything.
It was rumoured that they'd been in on the scheme, since the security cam monitor would've seen something. By this point Wedge knew they'd been bought off.
"So...how did you do it?" He asked Wes and Hobbie, as they headed down to the hanger.
"How did we do what?" Wes asked, a picture of innocence.
"You know what I'm talking about."
"You wound us," Hobbie groused. "We would never!"
Wedge snorted. "You totally would. So how?"
"Mmmmcan't tell you," Wes allowed.
"Or you'd have to kill me?"
Wes shook his head. "To maintain plausible deniability. One of us has to be the respectable one. May as well be you. You're Skywalker's favourite, anyway."
"Just remember this kindness when you come into power," Hobbie added. "We want points for this."
"I promise nothing," Wedge replied. They continued in silence for several dozen meters. As soon as Wedge noticed Wes and Hobbie relax into the movements of men who had finally realized they'd gotten away with it, he smiled. He waited until they were starting to feel at ease, before:
"...Seriously though. How'd you do it?"
The duo halted abruptly, and gave Wedge a wary look. He raised a questioning brow and crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn't moving until they talked. Suddenly, each began babbling excuses and beat a hasty retreat. Wedge watched them go with a chuckle. He sorely wished he could be present when General Solo or Luke got a hold of them; if they couldn't stand up to his interrogation, the one they'd experience at the hands of a miffed smuggler and bemused CO would be priceless.
Chapter 12: Dragon (World of Warcraft)
Spoilers for Legion plotlines, for those who haven't been through it yet, I suppose. (Are there actually people who still haven't done Legion, these days?)
The Temple of Elune was an interesting mix of chaos and destruction, and relative calm and safety. The outer courtyards beyond the temple-proper were under relentless attack by the Legion. Infernals and corrupted elementals tried to overtake the local flora and fauna, while Sentinels and the randomly passing Adventurers valiantly fought back. Sometimes, an Adventurer would be given a random task by one of the Sentinels, mini incursions into the Legion's lines meant to disrupt the flow, for however briefly. Nereid had been one such Adventurer, in the course of her greater quest of aiding in the search for Malfurion. Of course, it couldn't simply end with her and the others finding Malfurion and being back in the Dreamgrove in time for tea. No, it had to end with the corruption of Ysera, and her subsequent destruction. The lamentable aftermath of that sorry encounter lay before her in the ruined temple's courtyard, a stones throw removed from the continuing Legion assault behind her.
She sat cross-legged near the edge of the verdant grass that grew in the middle of the area. The pedestal where the Tears of Elune had manifested was empty now; Nereid has just returned from securing the artifact within Dalaran. The stars of the newest constellation shone brightly in the sky above, Ysera forever at rest in eternal glory. A final gift from Elune to a faithful servant. It was a heavy moment for the Night Elves, indeed, for the whole of Azeroth. It was a peaceful moment, despite the deep import of the events that had recently taken place here.
"Look what I found!" accompanied the rustle of robes and the mild tremor of a human sitting down heavily next to her. Nereid closed her eyes and counted to ten, begging Elune to grant her grace to deal with this ridiculous man.
"I can't even begin to imagine," she replied, not daring to look. It was the softest of brushes against her bare arm that had her blinking down at the creature her companion held in his hand. "A fey dragon?! You kidnapped a fey dragon??? Hunter..."
"I didn't kidnap it, it followed me." Hunter gazed at the multi-coloured creature lovingly.
"You can't keep it!"
"Why not? I see people riding them all the time. I can raise this one, and then-" he trailed off as she held up her hand to halt him.
"There is a specific breed of fey dragon that is cultivated for riding. This...this is not it."
"How do you know, though?" Hunter frowned at the dragon sitting contentedly in his lap.
"H-how do I know?" she sputtered. "Oh sweet and blessed Elune, grant me strength. Hunter, I'm a druid. I know animals."
"Oh," he intoned, looking at her. "Yeah, I guess you would." He looked back down at the small dragon, shoulder sagging. "Do I really need to give it up?"
Nereid sighed deeply. "No, Hunter, you don't. If it was, indeed, following you, and you didn't take it from its nest against its will-"
"I didn't I swear!"
"-then you can keep it. It's chosen you as a companion. Elune knows why." It took every ounce of effort not to roll her eyes. It helped that Hunter's smile was almost as radiant as the stars she'd been admiring before his intrusion. "What are you going to name it? And please don't say dragon."
Hunter stroked the fey dragon's head gently, his expression softening a little as it cooed happily. "I don't know. Is it a boy dragon, or a girl dragon?"
"I don't think it matters. This particular breed is capable of changing depending on the needs of the clan."
"How about Elun'drac? Drac for short?"
"Drac means dragon!"
"Elune's Dragon. Dragon for short."
"You're an idiot."
Hunter grinned. "I knew you'd like it."
Nereid sighed the sigh of one long-suffering. Why she still put up with Hunter, she would never know. "Fine. But if it turns into a girl we start calling it Elune."
"Deal!" He gazed lovingly at the fey dragon for several moments before looking around. "So...what happened while I was gone?"
Nereid glared at him before pinching the bridge of her nose with another sigh. "It's a long story..."
Chapter 13: Ash (Mass Effect)
I really have to stop setting stories at the end of ME3. My Shepard tends to have A LOT to say on the matter.
The ruins of London spread out like a desolate graveyard. Smoke, dust, and debris kicked up by the wind reduced visibility at times, and the overcast sky threatened to mire it all in a deluge of tears. Large, inert bodies of Reaper forces still lay where they’d fallen almost five months ago, their bulk creating as much of a hazard as the mountains of rubble from downed buildings. It had taken almost two weeks for Earthbound crews to extrapolate the trajectory of the Crucible’s components as they fell from the sky. It took three days more for combat engineers to find the body of Commander Shepard.
With the help of Miranda Lawson’s notes from the Lazarus Project, they were able to reactivate much of the nano-tech that had brought Nathan back from the dead the first time. Three months had passed before he’d regained consciousness, and two months of therapy to become mobile once more. He still needed tech to help him stand straight, with a back, leg, and waste brace that incorporated mass effect fields to help remove some of the weight while he moved. His face still looked like he’d gone fifty rounds with a Krogan and no helmet, and it still hurt to breath deeply. But at least he could breath.
Nathan watched as a lone shuttle drifted across the sky as it scanned the area for structural integrity and debris composition. He knew the data would be relayed to headquarters, where it would be analyzed and used for the safe reclamation of the zone. The Alliance had been saving this zone for last, as it was ground zero for the conduit and Harbinger’s final assault on the strike force that had raced to board the Crucible. More men and women had died in the area on that day than in any other, and High Command wanted to be sure that whatever remained had been properly located and accounted for. The devastation was almost complete here.
As he watched the shuttle disappear from sight, Nathan wondered if he’d chosen the right course of action. At the time, it seemed to be no choice at all. He’d spent the better part of four years trying to warn people, and when the invasion finally happened, it was even worse than he’d imagined. But was destroying them the right thing to do?
The Crucible debris had landed not much further away from where Shepard now stood. The majority of the Citadel had thankfully remained intact, and had been pulled into a more stable orbit around the planet. The restoration of the Citadel was a middling concern for all the people of the galaxy, as each race had returned to their home planets to assess the damage and bury the dead.
Nathan had no idea where the Normandy had landed after the battle; she’d been out of communications range since the firing of the weapon. He only hoped they’d landed some place hospitable, and in one piece. Whatever force had reverberated through the relay network to destroy the Reapers had miraculously left many of the major relays usable, with minimal damage. The smaller relays, the ones used in the more remote areas of the galaxy...well, no one had been able to report back on their status, which meant they were probably destroyed.
Every last Reaper had been shattered, and from the hushed reports he heard in the hospital corridors, all synthetic life had perished with them. No one had heard from the Quarians, or the Geth. Had the blast from the Crucible doomed Tali and her people? Had he indirectly committed genocide once more? Had he silenced the emergent voice of the Geth as a new species before it had a chance to grow and take its part in the universe? Were those deaths now stacked upon the Batarians that had died with the explosion of the Alpha Relay? Or had the work the Geth contributed helped them to see what was coming? Had their redemption and inclusion in society given them the means to survive?
Stand amongst the ashes of a trillion dead souls, and ask the ghosts if honour matters. The silence is your answer. Javik’s words from a million years ago echoed to him across the barren landscape that surrounded him. In the days following that conversation, Nathan had tried to imagine a moment like this. Only now did he appreciate the comment. Only now did he get to ask that question for real.
Did honour matter?
Nathan closed his eyes. He imagined this area as it had been. Before the war. During the war. Now. What did the ghosts say to him about honour, in this place? Did it matter?
A gentle breeze flitted across the area. It brushed Nathan’s cheek as it picked up into a more substantial gust of wind. The debris it carried stung his flesh, caused the cuts and bruises to ache. The breath of the dead wrapped around him and a shiver ran down his spine, which spiked into a mild pain in the base of his skull. The discomfort sharpened his senses, and he realized that he had just received his answer.
Yes. Yes, Honour matters. It is what separates us from them. The Reapers may have been acting on their preprogrammed directive, but it was their interpretation of that directive that had led to the endless cycles, and they had the means and the ability to change, to choose differently, to find a better way. But they didn’t. They forced every civilization to capitulate. In the end, civilization had found a way to fight back.
Those that had come before had continued research on the Crucible. Each cycle had seen another piece finished, and the rest perfected. On and on, until it would culminate in with the firing of the weapon, and the final end to all the cycles of needless destruction. It had inspired a galaxy to pull together time and again; it had helped to quell feuds and bring about reconciliation. It had saved more than had been ultimately been lost. And now, the future was open to every possibility.
Nathan had asked the ghosts if honour mattered, and they had answered yes. Honour defined them. Honour upheld them. Honour avenged them. He hoped that with the Reapers gone, the souls of the past could now rest easy, and find the peace they had long sought after. Their message of hope had been heard, and the baton had been passed. Nathan Shepard, Alliance N7 and Council Spectre, had given them the only thing they had ever demanded from those that followed in their footsteps: Honour. Honour for their lives. Honour for their sacrifice.
They would be honoured, and remembered, forever.