After Vashlani had returned to the Arch-Mage's room and told him what happened to the tome, he sat on the chair and listened to the head of the College explain that the symbols and location would only vanish if the sigils were damaged or destroyed.
Savos Aren patted him on the shoulder. "There's one more thing you can try Vashlani. Do you have something that belongs to one of the people we found with you? An article of clothing or piece of jewelry?"
The khajiit thought about everything he had acquired while he was with Shepard, yet nothing he had belonged to her or any of the others. He had only items that were gifts, or he purchased himself. His shoulders and head sagged even more before he told the Arch-Mage that he had nothing.
Several days later Vashlani knocked on the Arch-Mage's door and said he would be leaving the College for awhile. He wanted to travel, to have adventures and to make vids and holos of his world for her to see, just in case they ever found each other again.
The Arch-Mage wasn't sure what he meant but agreed. He gave him a scroll to give to the attendant of the supply rooms so Vashlani could have whatever he needed to outfit himself for his journey, then reached into a drawer and removed a map. "Here. Normally these are only given to the more learned mages that are ready to leave and go their own way, but you will need this. This map has the outlying villages, a few caves and small ruins already marked on it. New locations will be added to the map as you find them. The map has a spell called Fast Travel enchanted on it; the spell is ancient, and only a few know of its existence. When you are ready to travel to another location and do not wish to use the carriages, just activate the map. The phrase is on the back and written in ink made from an invisibility potion; use a pinch of glow dust to reveal it. Just remember, you can't fast travel to a location you do not have completely marked on the map. Just hearing a rumor will mark the location but not set it to activate fast travel. Seeing a distant ruin will do neither." He gave Vashlani a small grin. "Also, traveling and seeing the land is part of the adventure. Don't forget that."
He walked with the khajiit back to his chamber door. "Know you will always be welcome here, Vashlani. Come back once in a while and tell me of your adventures. If you ever have need of me just come to see me, I will do what I can to assist." Vashlani smiled at the dark elf then left, softly closing the door behind him. He didn't see the sad smile the Arch-Mage gave him in return.
He packed up his travel cloak then added the sacks and pouches of alchemical and enchanting supplies to his travel bag. He cleared the storehouse of every size soul gem they had, along with all the supplies needed for him to seal the phials. The orc grumbled that at least he wasn't clearing him out of those. Vashlani shrugged, he had about ten times as many of the crystal phials in his storage area that Makmar had. He had become rather familiar with the workings of the Normandy's fabrication machine and had stuffed his storage boxes full of the bottles.
His next stop was the enchanter where he had the attendant recharge all of his equipment. He stopped to speak to a few of his friends before leaving. Several caves were nearby, and also several rather large Dwemer ruins that his Master had listed in one of his journals he wanted to see. He took one last look at the giant statue in the courtyard before heading for the ramp that led down into the ruined town of Winterhold.
~ Two years passed ~
Vashlani started to give up hope that they would use their talismans to call for him. Every day he would enter his bag and fill the chests near the portal with goods to sell and restock his supplies. Then he would sit and transfer the holos and vids he had taken while exploring the area. He wondered what the others would say when they saw the ruins, the wildlife and those damn disgusting looking Falmer that infested the Dwemer ruins and extensive cave systems.
He decided to head to Windhelm to sell all of the items he had and to check for rumors of new locations to explore. He spent the last two months exploring Dwemer ruins. He found quite a few lovely gems and antique pieces of armor that he could sell on the black market, but his major find was a schematic. He used his smelter to melt the scrap metal that he discovered in several ruins into the number of ingots listed. Thankfully on the back had been diagrams and a map of the location where they kept the molds for their metal items. Scavenging the parts from the defeated or broken units would only yield so much.
His magic grew stronger every day, the harder spells that he would never have attempted before, started to come easier with greater success as he practiced. The surrounding areas yielded plenty of opportunities to fill the soul gems.
He yawned and went to bed. Tomorrow he'd catch the carriage to Windhelm; it would be a great opportunity for more holos.
He sold what he could to the caravan that was camped well outside of the city walls. He heard the rumors of the war heating up and also of someone called the Dragonborn, a hero that ran around and killed the dragons that were still plaguing the land. After he had finished with his trades, he entered the town, and as usual, the guards made rude comments because of him not being a Nord but a beast. How he wished he could zap them with lightning.
He worked his way down to the Grey Quarter and sold the rest of his goods to the shop there. On the way back a small child stopped him outside the entrance to the docks and asked if he wanted to buy the flowers she had for sale. When he asked where her parents were, she told him she was all alone in the city as her parents were dead. He purchased every flower in her basket and handed her a small sack that contained his mid-morning meal, minus the bottle of ale, and pretended to dig through his pack. He pulled out one of the blankets he had found when he cleared out a cave full of bandits. It had looked new and most likely stolen from someone. She thanked him for his generosity and wrapped the blanket around her thin, shaking body. Windhelm was not kind to those without the thick furs that provided protection from the bitter cold.
He kept his eyes open for out of the way places he could hide in to take his holos and vids without raising the suspicion of the nord guards before he left the large city. He stopped halfway across the bridge to take a few more of the view, several times zooming in towards the dock to take holos of the workers and boats there. Once he was satisfied with the holos, he headed toward the stables and caught a ride back up toward Winterhold. He wanted to stock up on some items, and only the College would have a decent supply since for the most part magic was viewed with disdain and suspicion by the nords.
They were almost there when the driver heard the roar. The driver screamed, as did the horse when the dragon flew overhead going toward the mountains. Vashlani was barely able to get his pad out and get a vid of it as the carriage rumbled as fast as it could down the rough road; he almost fell out of the carriage several times.
They made it to Winterhold in record time. The carriage driver jumped down and ran inside the structure, leaving the young stable hand to unhitch and take care of the lathered horse. Vashlani made his way up the long ramp and past the elf that was still there to stop most people from entering the College.
Several of the mages greeted him when he entered the College. Students that were there when he attended the school stopped their practice to say hello. He saw several more that were strangers to him and nodded as he passed. He waved to some of the instructors, who stopped what they were doing to call out greetings before he made it down to the storage rooms.
He handed Makmar his list and had to stand and wait as the orc complained about him once again clearing out his stores. When he had the items packed into several large barrels and sealed crates, it was taken to the guest quarters and put into the corner. Vashlani made sure no one was around then promptly jammed it all into the pocket bag, crates, barrels, and all. After he had shoved the last one inside, he went up to see the Arch-Mage.
Vashlani told him all about his adventures then pulled out the datapad and showed him the vids and holos. The Arch-Mage was more interested in the device than he was the images on it. Vashlani put the datapad back in his travel bag then yawned. He told the Arch-Mage goodnight and headed to the guest room to get some sleep. While he was at the College, he wouldn't enter his bag.
Shepard was in shock. She died. She knew she died and yet here she stood with a woman yelling at her over a comm line to put on the armor that was in the cabinet and hurry because the facility was under attack. The woman told Shepard about the new weapons that needed something called a heat sink to work. She moved by muscle memory, a familiar dance; duck, aim and shoot. Her body felt a bit off compared to what it used to. She wondered where she was, who the person was that yelled at her, and where her crew was. Just what the hell happened when the ship blew up, and she got spaced?
She glanced in a mirror and saw her face crisscrossed with scars. The deep crevices were glowing orange. Her eyes were not her own, they were the same color and shape, but she could see the way the iris would rotate and the way they had a dim illumination from internal lights. She snapped out of it when the woman yelled at her again before losing the comm channel.
Shepard kept going down the only hallway accessible to her. She dodged the mechs and hacked into anything that looked like a safe. She did stop and listen to several data log files. It seemed that she cost whatever group brought her back quite a bit of credits if those files were believable.
She ran across a man who was a biotic. She asked who he was and a few other questions, unable to look away from the bushy eyebrows the man sported. She heard his answers, really she did, but all she could think of was he should get those suckers waxed.
After they had defeated the mechs that were attacking them, he answered a few more questions before they were interrupted by another man on the comm channel. He sounded panicked and scared. He said he had been trying to stop them and was in one of the labs. He yelled at them to hurry then a few minutes later they heard him again telling them that someone shot him.
When they arrived he kept whining about his leg, to her it looked like the shot barely grazed him. Hell, Vashlani was shot worse than that, and all he said was 'oof', then healed himself. Her mouth drew down into a frown as she emptied the medigel container. She wondered what had happened to Vashlani or if anyone was able to talk to him. The messages always bounced back as not deliverable, so they probably hadn't.
When the dark-skinned male, who told her his name was Jacob, said the people they worked for and had brought her back was Cerberus, she let out a growl. She told them that she would never work with terrorists. He shrugged and said to tell it to the boss once they got off the station.
There had been some debate about finding this Miranda person, who apparently was the one that had woke her up. In the end, they decided to make their way toward the shuttle bay, if she was alive, that was where she would head.
When they made it, the woman had been waiting and shot the guy that whined about his leg without so much as a hello. Shepard argued that there could be more people on board and Miranda told them they didn't matter. Shepard thought the woman was a pure, cold-hearted bitch. After they boarded the last shuttle and left the station, Miranda wanted to ask her questions. She answered them and turned her head away, lost in thought.
She met the man behind Cerberus, in a sense. The holographic image of "The Illusive Man" as they called him. She wondered if the members of Cerberus knew that word was an ancient one, meaning to trick one, mislead. Or it could be he wanted to be associated with illusions. She snickered, from what they said and how they acted about the man it was more like delusions, ones of grandeur.
She sighed and walked to the locker area, removed her armor and placed it into the machine to colorized it the way she liked it. She frowned as she thought about how they had gotten their hands on N7 designated armor, and that set was the real thing, not a knockoff.
She contemplated this assignment and if she would stick around. If the man told the truth, those entire colonies were disappearing without a trace, and the Alliance wasn't doing anything. Did she have a choice? She hated the fact that she had none of her old trusted crew with her.
After she had put her armor back on and talked to the two people that were with her, she knew hardly anything about them still. Well, other than the woman was a super bitch with an attitude and the man couldn't decide if he was Alliance or Cerberus. He didn't seem to understand that no matter how he wanted to phrase it he was a gun for hire.
They boarded the shuttle and went to a colony that had gone dark to see if they could find a clue about what happened there.
When they arrived, the whole area was eerily quiet as if there was no one there. The area looked like the colonists just got up and left all at once, leaving everything behind. The crew made their way into a different section and encountered mechs that attacked them, which according to Miranda, they shouldn't have. Those mechs were there to guard the colony and should have recognized them as human. They figured they weren't alone in the colony because someone must have reprogrammed them after the colonists disappeared.
Shepard was completely surprised when they opened one of the doors into a building and saw several quarians standing there.
"Shepard?" one of the females asked, and Shepard took a closer look at her, giving the hand signal for the others to lower their weapons.
"Tali'Zorah?" She stood straighter when the quarian said it was her. After a few minutes, they found out why she was there. A male quarian with slight instability issues decided to come to that small colony for his pilgrimage. He must have gotten caught up in this mess, and they assumed he was the one that reprogrammed the mechs. They decided to work together to get past the mechs and find the young male. Maybe he would have some intel to share with Shepard to tell her what had happened here.
Shepard asked if Tali wanted to come along with her on the Normandy and Tali told her she couldn't because she had an important mission of her own. Shepard frowned, she had been hoping to have at least one of her old crew onboard so she would have someone she could trust at her side but nodded her understanding. After beating the drones and working their way down into the colony further, Tali told them they needed to hurry. Apparently, the other quarians with her didn't follow her orders and had rushed ahead to get to the young male and get him back to their ship before Shepard's group could find him. Only they didn't count on the reprogrammed heavy mech as well. Bullets tore through the quarians enviro-suits like they were tissue paper.
Shepard's group rushed into the warehouse area and took on the mech. Shepard hoped that Tali had gotten out of there and had hidden before that mech found her. After a quick check on Tali, and stopping to gather up anything useful, they hurried into the building.
They saw the male sitting in front of a bank of terminals and muttering to himself. When Shepard tried to talk to him, he didn't answer just kept typing away, so she shut down the screens. That got his attention, and he focused on them long enough to get a bit of information before Miranda told her to grab the quarian and get him to the Illusive Man.
"He needs medical attention, not an interrogation. Tali will take him back to the Fleet where his people will be able to help him. She'll give us the data from his omni tool." Shepard would brook no argument and let the woman know it. She had a feeling the woman would be trouble if she continued to act like that. The first time her orders were countermanded or not followed, Shepard would put boot to ass and kick her off, she could care less if Miranda was 'second in command,' that would change as soon as Shepard could find someone more trustworthy and suitable for the position.
Shepard stared at the view screens longer; the image stopped on the culprits responsible for the colonist's disappearance. Large humanoid, bug-like aliens known as the Collectors.
When they arrived back at the Cerberus base, Shepard spoke to "TIM" and agreed but told him she wanted her old crew. When he told her that none were available or they weren't able to locate them, she gave a grunt and said she would need one hell of a team. He let her know dossiers were waiting on the best the galaxy had to offer; it was up to her to find and recruit them. She rolled her eyes and abruptly turned as Joker came through the door. He was the pilot that TIM had told her she could trust.
She almost cried at the sight of him. He seemed able to walk a bit better, and she frowned wondering what they did to him. They spoke, and he told her they offered to have the highest grade bone weaves installed on his legs if he took the job; Joker had told them no until he found out it was her they were bringing back and then he agreed.
"I would have told them hell no if Vash was still around. The stuff he made me didn't leave me hurting like these weaves do."
She stood close to him as they looked out into a darkened docking bay, she lowered her voice while covering her mouth. "Have you tried using your medallion?'
"After you got spaced and we got rescued the Alliance took everything from us. Doc and I had to sit through weeks of interrogation. Damn glad for that binding spell he put on us. They split us all up, took everything from us except for our civvies and toothbrushes. The only one that may still have a medallion is Garrus, and no one has seen or heard from him. I spoke to him at your funeral. He wasn't his usual self then all of a sudden he dropped out of Spectre training and disappeared."
She closed her eyes and let out a sigh. Joker nudged her. "Well, they didn't find this, though." He pulled her small bird from his pocket and placed it back into her palm with a smile before he pointed to the docking bay. "There is one more thing; they didn't tell me about this until last night. Take a look."
When the lights came up, there was a new, much larger frigate waiting for them. The only obvious flaws Shepard could see was the Cerberus colors the ship flew, and it needed a name. "Guess we should name her?"
Joker grinned at her. "Good to be home again, huh, Commander."
After making sure the two new people knew just who was in charge and that she wouldn't put up with either of them trying to countermand a direct order, she turned hearing another voice. "Who're you?"
"The crew refer to me as EDI."
Shepard crossed her arms and looked at the blue image that resembled a chess pawn. It hovered over a part of the bank of terminals in the CIC deck. "You're an AI? I'm not so sure how I feel about having one of those onboard and Joker won't like anyone trying to take the ship away from him."
"That is not within the scope of my duties. I handle the electronic and cyberwarfare suites and several other functions but do not, in any way, control the ship."
Shepard let out a hum and turned back to the others. "Dismissed. I'll be touring the ship before I go over the rest of the dossiers on the way to Omega." She waited until the others left then hurried up to the bridge.
Joker complained about the AI who seemed to have taken up a spot right next to the pilot just to annoy him. After making sure he had everything he needed she made her way deck by deck around the ship asking EDI what each room was. She received an even bigger surprise when she walked into the med bay. Doctor Chakwas sat in the chair; the flower Vashlani had made for her, so very long ago, was next to her terminal. Her smile grew larger as the two embraced and sat on some chairs to catch up. Chakwas wanted to run a scan just to see what Cerberus had done to her.
After the scan had finished, the Doc frowned. "You have many cybernetic implants and synthetic replacement organs, Shepard. I don't know how this will affect you in the long run, nor how they were able to bring you back. I've never seen such extensive use of cybernetics."
"Can it be undone? You know I don't like all this stuff inside of me. I kept it to three implants, and those were necessary ones when I entered, hair growth, optimal weight mod and the birth control one. I don't want all this crap inside of me. It doesn't feel right."
Chakwas put the datapad aside. "Maybe some of it, Shepard. Although your eyes we can't. There's nothing left there to clone, they are entirely cybernetic, as are a good portion of the organs. A few we may be able to replicate, given enough time, but I don't have the expertise to do it with the few organic cells that remain intact."
Shepard closed her eyes and grimaced. "Do what you can to figure out what they did. We're going to Omega, one of the new 'crew' members is a doctor too. STG trained, maybe he can give you some insight. That is if we can find and recruit him."