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Finding Love Among the Stars

Chapter Text


 

 

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."

Chapter Text


 

 

They were stopped by a batarian as they entered the Omega docks, he told them to get to the boss, Aria. Shepard raised her eyebrow and said she would get there in her own time and didn't back down when he told her to go now. Instead, she wandered over where an older merc in yellow threatened a different batarian. She found out that it was one of the mercs from her dossiers. After the merc shot the batarian in the leg and made his delivery, he would be on the ship. She was to call him when she wanted some killing done. She gave him a grin and told him to keep his weapon handy she would be talking to him in a few minutes, she had a few things to take care of first.

She walked into the dirty darkness of Omega and grimaced at the smell and feeling of desperation that seemed to hang in the air. Instead of going straight for the Afterlife club she headed for the markets; she smirked as she noticed the same batarian at the front of the club shaking his head as she blatantly ignored what he told her. She helped a young quarian deal with his problems concerning another store owner and after she returned she purchased all of the wares he had on sale at a discount. She asked if it would be enough to buy a ticket, he told her it was enough to pay off what he owed, but the ticket was another thousand credits; she handed him a chit and told him to get off the station as soon as he could.

She went store to store getting discounts by charming people, even Marsh; the batarian store owner gave her a discount. When she purchased quite a bit of his goods, he was more amicable toward her, saying she was more than welcome to come back and shop there again.

Finally, she had purchased everything she could with the credits she had and decided it was time to go to the nightclub and see what Aria wanted.

After going through their DNA scan, Aria offered up some intel. Archangel was a merc that apparently caused the gangs on Omega plenty of trouble. Enough trouble in fact that the three major players were amassing to kill him. Doctor Solus was down in the residential area and that it was under quarantine because of a plague.

The group headed for the room the Blue Suns were using for recruitment against Archangel. Once she had gotten the information on where to meet for the ride to the rest of the mercs, she stopped a poor, misguided kid from getting killed. The kid apparently thought he was merc material because he had a gun; it looked like a cheap piece of crap. Shepard quickly broke it when she hit it with her hand a few times; the kid had a stunned look on his face as she told him to go home.

"Shepard to the Normandy."

When she was connected in, she sent for Zaeed and told Miranda to go back to the ship. When the merc arrived, she quickly told him the mission. He told her he had no problem killing any Blue Suns they came across. She didn't question him about it but was glad he wouldn't balk at doing it.

When the transport dropped them off, they learned what the mercs had planned. EDI gave them some intel to help slow the mercs down and hopefully allow them enough time to reach Archangel for an extraction.

They tampered with a heavy mech's Friend or Foe system so that as soon as they turned it on it would attack whoever was closest to it. Swiped a bunch of stuff laying around and when they encountered the Blue Suns, it was Zaeed that got them some more intel when the leader of the group almost threw them out before they gained any real information.

They worked their way across an open area keeping low, so they didn't present a target. Once they found the guy they were looking for and received as much information on how the mercs were going to attack as they could, she asked him about the airship. He told them that he needed to get the airship repaired so that Tarak could use it to kill Archangel, it wasn't going to be their backup. Shepard frowned when the call came in that the attack was a go, the batarian turned around and walked to the ship to get back to work. Shepard grabbed the electrical soldering tool, turned it on and jammed it into the batarian's back. It electrocuted him and kept those repairs from being finished.

The fight to reach the turian wasn't too bad; a few mercs got in her way, and Archangel popped her with a light concussive round as she worked her way across the bridge. She had the feeling he understood she was there to help him, but that he was wary of them and wouldn't hesitate to kill them. When they reached the top, she called out to him, and he held up one thick finger silently telling her to wait. She raised an eyebrow and watched as he headshot one of the mercs they had missed on the way up.

When the turian slowly stood up, she could tell he was incredibly tired. From the reports they heard, the mercs had been coming in heavy for days. He must have been struggling for a while, and it was his preparation for such a thing that bought him time. When he finally sat and took off his helmet, Shepard could barely hold it together. There in front of her was Garrus. He looked so tired but had the same damn visor and cocky attitude he had when they met several years ago.

"Shepard, I thought you were dead." His subharmonics sounded out his happiness and relief that he hadn't imagined her coming his way, pulling his ass out of the fire again; just as he had hers on numerous occasions.

"Long story, Garrus. Right now we need to get you out of here. When we are back on the Normandy, we'll talk."

His left mandible flicked at the mention of the Normandy. "Easier said than done, Shepard. That bridge has saved my life by funneling those idiots into my scope, but it also trapped me here. I blew charges in the lower level to keep them from getting up here from the back and set up this sniper perch. But... I'm getting tired, Shepard. Now that you're here, though, maybe we can get out of here." He glanced at the two that were with her, spotting the Cerberus logo on the darker human's suit and his mandibles flicked. He noted to keep an eye on that one and to get the full story from Shepard later.

They waited and watched. Shepard blew the head off a mech as the Eclipse gang started their approach. Between all of them, they handled it well. Garrus yelled they were sending in a heavy and Shepard yelled back that she took care of it. Garrus started to laugh as he watched the mech start shooting at the Eclipse. Finally, the leader came into view, and it took a combined effort to take him down due to his suit's strong shields and barriers. Once the enemy was down, they raced back up the stairs to where Garrus leaned against a couch.

"Still kicking ass, I see. Good to have you here, Shepard."

She laid a hand on his arm, squeezing his armor hard enough for the sensors to register it before they heard a loud boom from below. "Damn it; they've breached the sub-basement. Shepard, you need to get down there and seal those bulkhead doors. I'll hold em off at the bridge, but you got to hurry."

"I'm not leaving you up here alone. Zaeed you stay here, and you better keep him alive."

She turned to the merc, and he nodded. "Roger that."

"Are you sure, Shepard? You don't know what you will encounter down there."

"Don't argue with me, Garrus. I can't lose you now that I found you again. You stay safe, and we'll be back before you have a chance to miss me."

"Too late for that, Shepard; I've been missing you since I stepped foot off the Normandy. I should never have left. You better get going." Garrus picked up his sniper rifle and started picking off the ones trying to get in from the front, Zaeed in the next window over doing the same.

It was Gorm's Blood Pack, a mix of krogan and vorcha along with varren, which attacked this time. They switched out to using biotics and as much fire as they could. After taking quite a beating they were able to seal the last of the doors off, and they ran back upstairs to find Gorm and some of his gang had gotten past the others. They moved as quickly as they could up the stairs when they heard the big krogan trying to get to Garrus. Once he was down, Shepard moved in to check on the turian. Garrus tried to catch his breath as he stood there and she could tell the fight had taken quite a toll on him.

"Only the Blue Suns left. Do you think we can get the hell out of here now?" She kept an eye on the bridge while the other two scavenged heat sinks for the weapons.

"I don't know, Shepard. Tarak had the biggest of the gangs after me, and they had that damn gunship." Garrus had no sooner said that than one window was blown in and they saw the gunship dropping off troops inside and began to fire on them. The gunship swung around to the other window, and a missile shot through, exploding just as Garrus dove to the side. He didn't move, and Shepard started yelling for him. When they finished off the last of the troops and the ship went down they ran to Garrus, who was so still.

When they turned him over he gasped, Zaeed commented that he wasn't going to make it and Shepard flat out told him that Garrus was too stubborn to die on her. She called in Joker for a medivac, and Doctor Chakwas came with him and started to work on Garrus as the shuttle raced back toward the Normandy.

Shepard paced outside of the med bay. Chakwas had darkened the windows so no one could see inside as she worked on him. Shepard once again thought about Vashlani and the wonders he could do to heal injuries. She missed him and wondered what he had been doing all this time and was glad that he had found a way home to his people before the ship went down.

Shepard paced in front of the window as Miranda strutted up to her and told her they needed to get the Professor. Shepard told her that if she didn't get out of her face, she would rearrange hers so badly that no amount of surgery would fix it. She wasn't leaving until she knew Garrus was out of surgery. Miranda grimaced and stalked away leaving Shepard to resume her pacing.

A few hours later she made her way to the meeting room and leaned against the table waiting for word from Chakwas when Jacob walked in. He told her that they had done everything for him they could do, with the equipment they had. The turian was alive, and they used cybernetics to repair the damage they could, but they weren't sure if he would be able to handle the mission. Shepard let out a grunt and smirked as the door opened and Garrus came strutting in.

He didn't say much as the Cerberus guy was still there, so he just cracked a joke with Shepard about his looks and waited for the man to leave. Once he did Garrus questioned Shepard about her reasons for being with Cerberus. She didn't say much as she wasn't sure that the AI wasn't listening in or that the whole ship wasn't bugged to keep tabs on her and the non-humans. He picked up on her reticence with speaking with him in this room and told her he would go to the Main Battery and get to work.

As soon as he entered the Battery he ran scans for listening devices, removing and crushing them under his armored boot heel; then he set about learning the weapons system of this new Normandy.

After Shepard and the crew she picked left, Joker made his way down to see Garrus.

Garrus told him it was safe to talk in the Main Battery, but Joker shook his head and pointed to the small console that EDI used for showing the image of the pawn; it seemed organics liked to look at who they were speaking to and she would sometimes use it. Garrus let out a hum and understood.

"EDI? The conversation between Joker and I is private, as such, it shouldn't be recorded or shared, is that understood?"

"Yes, Officer Vakarian, but it is the protocol that only the Commander and Ms. Lawson request that files or information be kept private. I must gain one of their approvals before I can acquiesce."

"Fine, ask Shepard, and she will tell you." They waited as EDI contacted Shepard.

"The Commander ordered me to stop recording your personal conversations and living areas. As such since the Main Battery has now been set up as your sleeping area as well as working area, it will no longer be recorded by video or audio. Ms. Lawson has noted her objection and was overridden by the Commander. Her orders stand, logging you both out."

Garrus waited a few minutes for Joker to tell him what was so important that he came to the Battery.

"Garrus, you still have the medallion?"

He reached into his armor and pulled out a chain with the medallion and his Normandy tag on it. "Yes, I kept it safe. Why?"

"Because the Alliance took mine and Doc's, and entering the atmosphere destroyed Shepard's. Yours is the only one that can be used to reach Vash. She needs people she trusts, and he would be good for her to have here. In many ways. Call him."

"Don't you think I haven't tried? For the last two years, I've repeated that damn phrase over and over but I've never been able to get it to work, and we couldn't figure it out before he left. Here you do it." He held out the necklace and Joker shook his head.

"No, Garrus. We'll keep at it to try and figure out what's going on. You need to be able to do it in case you guys get into trouble off the ship. Now let's go see the Doc and let her know what we're going to try, maybe she has some ideas as well."

When they entered the med bay, they reminded EDI they were having a private conversation, and Chakwas locked the door. She told EDI not to override the lock unless it was a medical emergency. EDI noted it, and the door symbol went from green to red.

Miranda asked for an update on what Joker and Garrus were doing. When EDI informed Miranda that they were in the med bay with the door locked but refused to tell her why she threw down the datapad she held and stalked toward the medical bay door. She put in her override code and it when it didn't work she told EDI to open the door.

"I am sorry, Ms. Lawson, but I cannot do that. Under orders from the Commander, you cannot countermand any of her orders. She told me to follow the orders of Executive Officer Vakarian, Flight Lieutenant Moreau, and Doctor Chakwas. I was told not to accept the codes for the door to the med bay unless it was a medical emergency. You are effectively locked out."

Miranda gasped when she heard that Shepard had replaced her with a turian. She frowned and wanted to see what they were doing and moved in front of the bay window. When Joker saw her standing there he held up a hand, and they all turned to look at her, then the window blackened out.

An hour later Shepard returned with Professor Mordin Solus in tow. He took over the lab and Shepard sighed as she stretched. Trying to keep up with Mordin's fast paced talking, on top of the fight against the vorcha boom squads had exhausted her. She was quite happy that they were able to get Mordin's cure for the plague into the system to help the non-humans.

EDI informed her where Garrus and Joker currently were. She thanked the AI and requested her to notify Mordin that she would like to speak to him after he settled into his room.

 


 

"This is hopeless. Why can't I make this damn thing work?" Garrus got more aggravated as time went on. Joker sat on the wheeled chair while Chakwas leaned against the medical bed. EDI let them know that the Commander had returned and would be coming to the med bay after she changed from her armor.

"Garrus, say it one more time. Nice and slow, something sounds off," Chakwas told him, and he flicked his mandibles before he huffed at her.

 


 

Vashlani gathered up all his belongings and rechecked his list to make sure he had everything he needed before putting his gear back on and draping the heavy fur cloak about himself. His pack went on, and he headed to the courtyard saying his goodbyes to the others on the way out. He dodged the lightning bolt that went haywire from J'zargo's latest proclamation of being the strongest mage as he showed off for a new apprentice.

He thought about his new destination, a cave rumored to have conjurers living inside. There were reports that some of them have been using their atronachs to attack local village folk. If there were mages inside of there, he might be able to find more ingredients and possibly, even more, tomes. He was short on fire salts, and the College's delivery was late so he hoped they used fire atronachs so he could stock up.

He shivered as the bitter cold seeped into him from the blowing wind and snow. How he missed the warmth of his home; that reminded him that he was short on firewood as well. Apparently, there wasn't a place to gather it inside the bag, or the sphere didn't know how to. He had yet to explore the area really; he didn't want to be too far from home in case one of the others called him, but it looked like they must have forgotten about Vashlani.

He contentedly hummed as he scraped up all the fire salts from the half dozen fire atronachs that his own frost and lightning ones took down, before moving to the mages. They yielded quite a few ingredients and items to sell. One had a nice staff that the people at the College would pay good Septims to buy. After he safely stored all the valuables in his pack, Vashlani started shoving the cut pieces of firewood into the crates and barrels then rolling them inside the pocket bag for later.

"Ahh, it has been a good day. Found items for profit and restocked needed things. Yes, pretty good day." He walked back out to near the front of the cave before entering his bag. The rest of the day he spent taking all the stuff from inside the pocket bag's storage dimension and putting it into its proper place. After he had finished, he ate, showered, and went to bed. He'd figure out where to go next after a good night's sleep.

 



"I think I got it, Garrus. I think I know why it hasn't worked for you." Chakwas stood upright from where she had been practically lying on the medical bed. "Do you remember when you first met Vashlani? When you came in here and started talking to him and said, you could understand him, but it sounded flat? He has no subharmonics, none of us do, other than you Garrus."

Garrus looked down at the medallion. "You think that's what's causing it to fail?"

"Yes. Your subharmonics change the cadence of the words, adds to them. That's why we all sound flat and strange to you. I am almost sure of it. Other than a few differences in speech patterns, he sounds like we do, but to you, we sound monotoned. To us, you have two different sounds coming from you that give a different depth to the words."

"Try it, Garrus." Joker stood, and they gathered around the turian.

His mandibles flicked, and he concentrated on repressing his second larynx. He repeated the phrase, and the medallion started to glow. They all smiled. "Yes, you did it," Joker said. Now they just had to wait for their friend to show up.

Vashlani finished restocking his potions when the light from his amulet caught his eye. He grinned and ran to the portal room and saw the doorway glowing blue instead of the misty white it had been for the last two years. He quickly wrote a note on a scroll, tied it up, and threw it through the portal, then he ran to one of the chests in the room and started to put on his space armor and cloak.

 


 

When a scroll came flying out of a bright swirl of light and hit Joker in the head, they all started laughing. "That damned cat. Even when he can't see me, he tries to knock my hat off."

Chakwas bent down and picked up the scroll and handed it to Joker. "Read it."

"Dear friends,

It's about damned time you called for this khajiit. Vashlani has been waiting for you to summon him. He has learned much and has had adventures of his own to share with you. I'm putting on my armor now, give me twenty minutes then use the summon spell one more time. Preferably in a large area because Vashlani is not sure what will happen and would hate to appear inside one of you.

Vashlani

P.S. Tell Garrus I need more corks made."

"Appearing inside of us was only a joke... right?" Joker asked the others who were looking at each other. "Maybe not."

"The cargo hold?" Garrus said as they tried to figure out where to say the incantation again.

Chakwas shook her head. "Not with all those boxes and people standing around. I went down there this morning, and there were people and crates everywhere, and those Cerberus crew members just lounged about the bay. I had to order them to bring up the supplies that I needed. Certainly not military efficient."

Garrus shrugged. "The mess hall worked for when he fell into the ship before and also when that whole group showed up. Why not just say it in there? It's a hell of a lot bigger this time."

Joker scratched his bearded cheek. "EDI? Is there anyone in the mess hall right now?"

"Mess Sergeant Gardner has been attempting to make the organics something for their dinner. Crewmen Goldstein and Hawthorne are currently seated at one of the tables and complaining about the food."

Joker took off his hat and scratched his head before replacing it. "It's doable. Doc, you go chat up Gardner, we can deal with those other two. EDI, we're heading for the mess hall. You aren't to record any conversations or mutterings we do or have and no vids either."

"Understood, Mr. Moreau."

"Should we tell Shepard?" Garrus asked as they walked out of the med bay.

Joker grinned at him. "Nope. It's a surprise."

 


 

Vashlani stashed potions and salve jars in his travel bag, along with food and the chalk needed to recreate the sigil. He would have to see what had happened to the old one and try to repair it before he painstakingly drew a new one. He put his pack on first and then his helmet. He had to adjust it a bit to allow for his ears to grow accustomed to the pressure that the helmet put on his piercings. When he was ready, he activated the HUD. He still couldn't connect to the Normandy's databank, and he didn't know why. He shrugged then activated the seals before putting the hood of his cloak up. He was ready, now all he had to do was to wait for their summons again.

Chakwas headed for the older male; that stood over a huge pot stirring something that smelled horrible, as the others headed for the stairs up to the Main Battery. "How will we do this, Garrus?"

The turian stood leaning against the railing and looking out over the mess hall. "Well, that light appeared near where I stood when I said those words. So maybe, I'll go into the middle of the room, say them and haul my non-existent ass back here as soon as the light appears. Just in case."

"Sounds good. Now let's just hope these Cerberus people aren't stupid enough to try and attack him. That would cause quite a mess in the ship," Joker said as Garrus grunted.

They waited until Chakwas looked over at them then Garrus muttered, "Here it goes." He walked toward the center of the room, held up the medallion then concentrated. Finally, he muttered the words and as soon as he saw the glow he took off running for the stairs.

Vashlani grinned and took a breath before he stepped toward the dais that held the now glowing portal and jumped through.

When he landed on the ship, the sirens went off, and the lights flashed. EDI's voice rang out that there was an intruder on board. Garrus, Joker, and Chakwas all yelled to turn off the alarm; he wasn't an intruder, but EDI didn't respond.

"Shit, shit, shit," Joker started to yell as people came out with guns and several tried to shoot Vashlani.

"Hold your damn fire, you idiot humans. He's not an intruder!" Garrus yelled but couldn't be heard over the sirens either.

After the first shot had hit Vashlani's shields, he powered up his mage armor and started to throw sparks at anyone holding a weapon. "What's going on? Why are you shooting at Vashlani?" he yelled as he dove for the closest cover.

His sparks knocked several of the Cerberus personnel out, and Miranda came charging around the corner. The blue of her biotics glowed, but before she could hit him with something, he sent an Ash Shell spell at her, and she turned into a statue.

Several of them yelled as a ghost wolf charged them and attacked. He lifted both hands, and they glowed with a white light, a freezing mist formed around his fists and he opened his palms toward the people that were shooting at him. The freezing-cold spray hit them as he spread his fingers wider and started to sweep his hands back and forth.

When Shepard heard the sirens, she took off for the lift. "Get this damn thing moving, EDI!"

When she ran around the corner of the crew deck, she saw sparks and frost spells flying everywhere and yelled to cease fire and to shut the damn alarm off. When the alarm stopped, she ran for the man still trying to shoot at Vashlani and slid on a patch of ice before she reached him. Her fist connected just as the man popped in a fresh heat sink, and she grabbed the gun from his hand.

"I said to cease fire. The next person who fails to follow those orders will be airlocked. Get your fucking asses out of here and get back to work. EDI, this person is not an intruder and is not to be monitored, recorded or any information leaked. He is a top secret operative, anyone who tries to send information to anyone or any organization about him will be severely reprimanded. Block every scrap of information, erase everything that happened from the time he showed up on the ship. Leave no backups, either. That's an order."

She looked over the injured people. "EDI? Did Garrus, Joker, or Doctor Chakwas tell these people not to attack the newcomer?"

"Yes, Commander. They also told me to shut off the alarms but protocol states only the Commander or Ms. Lawson can do so in a state of emergency."

Shepard frowned. "Those of you that are injured get to the med bay; the Doc will be in to fix you up shortly. All of you idiots are damned lucky to be alive."

She turned on Joker, Garrus, and Chakwas who huddled behind the sleeping pods and pointed her finger at them. "You three are in serious trouble."

She heard running footsteps coming up behind her and whirled. She saw Jacob glowing with biotics and brought the gun up. She pointed it right in his face. "You even think about using biotics on him, and it will be the last thing you do. Get back to the armory. That's an order." Mordin and Zaeed both arrived as she stood there, she shot them both a quick glance. They turned and left without saying a word.

Vashlani came out from his hiding spot and headed toward the four of them now standing in the middle of the mess hall. Gardner stood up from where he had been crouching behind the counter still holding the dripping ladle in his hand, and Miranda finally broke out of the shell. She started storming toward them when Joker tipped his head and grinned. Vashlani flicked his hand and Joker started laughing when the shell encased her again. "Damn, that's never gonna get old."

"Joker, quit encouraging him." Shepard removed the heat sink from the gun as Vashlani shook Joker's hand and knocked his hat off. Garrus patted his shoulder as they gripped forearms.

"Good to see you again, Vashlani."

"It is good to see you as well, Garrus. This khajiit has missed all his friends, but, this is not the Normandy." He looked around at the different colors and set up of the mess hall. At the much larger area and the different faces staring back at him.

"Long story, Vash. We'll fill you in later. Right now I better get back up to the bridge. Glad you made it." Joker headed toward the lift when Shepard called out to set a course for the Citadel; they needed to get the holes fixed in the crew deck.

"It is good to see you again, my boy. We'll catch up in a while; I better go see to those people in the med bay now." Doctor Chakwas smiled as she gave him a brief hug before hurrying toward where the injured people were standing, staring through the window at the mess.

"The both of you follow me up to the Captain's cabin and tell me what the hell this was about."

Garrus and Vashlani followed her to the lift. The doors just closed when the shell surrounding Miranda wore off.

 


 

Vashlani started to ask questions on the lift, and Garrus warned him it wasn't safe to talk there to just to hold off on his questions and not to remove his armor until they made it to Shepard's quarters. He didn't understand but agreed. When they entered, Garrus held up a hand and started running a scan after Shepard had locked the door. Shepard told him to wait until Garrus finished then they could talk. Vashlani took a few steps closer to her and gently cupped her face in his hand turning it this way and that.

When Garrus finished crushing the cameras and listening devices, he gave the okay. Shepard reminded EDI that there was to be no record of anything that took place in this room. Everything was classified information and not to be accessible by anyone under any circumstances. Vashlani looked over at the small blue pawn as it popped up then disappeared.

"You can take off the helmet now, Vashlani." Shepard smiled at him as he tugged off the gauntlets and undid the seals on the helmet. Giving a sigh and purred as he removed it. "Vashlani needs a new helmet."

"Well, those are new," Garrus said as he pointed to the multiple piercings in both of Vashlani's ears. Vashlani grinned at this as he rotated his ears.

"Yes, Vashlani met with some other khajiit. I got drunk off of Dragon's Breath Mead and woke up with these. Vashlani doesn't want to think about what else he woke up to. Sometimes he wishes that he could forget that part. Now, tell Vashlani what's going on. This ship isn't the Normandy, and those were strangers. Garrus looks like a sabrecat attacked him and there's something very strange about Shepard's scent."

Shepard sat on a couch and hung her head. "It's one of the reasons I'm glad that you're here. EDI, this is Vashlani, as you have probably guessed he isn't from around here. He is not in any database of any known species. He is one of a kind in this dimension. His safety and anonymity are a top priority. It's the only thing that keeps him alive and out of the hands of those that would kill or experiment on him. Vashlani, the voice you hear is EDI, she is what is known as an AI or Artificial Intelligence. She is a part of this ship; she too must hide what she is to remain safe. AI's aren't welcome and when located most of them are immediately destroyed."

"She is not like the other voice on the old Normandy?" He asked as he looked around the cabin.

"No. The one on the old ship was a VI and was a program. EDI is an individual. She is... well, alive." He jumped a bit at the thought of the ship being alive. "You can talk with her later and learn more. EDI, do you have the information about the attack on the original Normandy?"

"Yes, Commander." EDI's blue pawn popped up again, and Vashlani's ears and whiskers twitched.

"Can you lower the holo screen and start the video and audio logs of what happened, before and after the attack, please."

"Of course, Commander."

By this time Vashlani had already made his way up the stairs and to the blue pawn, poking at the hologram with his finger. He jerked when it disappeared. When the recordings started, he went to the lower level and began to remove the rest of his armor. He pulled out a fresh set of clothing and boots and began to dress as he listened and watched the shows. When he heard that she had died, he jumped up and started pacing while staring at her. EDI played the recordings of the news broadcasts saying that she was delusional and the Reapers were not real. The Council assured the galaxy that there had been nothing to worry about and should go about their lives. He let out a growl and continued to pace and watch her carefully.

"Vashlani wants to make sure he understands. You died, and a necromancer brought you back. This necromancer is who you now work for so you're a thrall?" His hands had started to glow with the purple-blue of his spark attack.

"Easy, Vashlani. We don't know how they did it. That's what we're hoping you could help us with," Garrus said to him, on alert but careful not to provoke the mage.

"Not only that. Doc stated that they put things inside of me that I don't want in there and she isn't sure she can take them out. We both wanted you to look at what they did to see if your healing can keep me alive as she takes them out. There is another doctor too, a salarian, which we will consult with on this. I don't know what they did Vashlani, but it feels wrong somehow."

"She is still Shepard, Vashlani."

The khajiit paced the room and ran his hands over the fur on his head before stopping in front of Garrus. He took the turian's face in his hands and looked at the damage. "What happened?"

"I took a rocket to the face, and this is what they could do to repair it."

Vashlani frowned and a soft golden glow engulfed his hand before it swirled around Garrus. "Vashlani cannot heal this completely. There are metal and machine there. What's going on here?"

"It's called cybernetics. It is what the doctors use to fix things or rebuild them. I'm full of the stuff, Vashlani. I hate it. Those machine parts have entirely replaced some of me." He turned his head to her when he picked up on the sadness and despair from her voice.

"Hmm, we shall go speak with Healer and this salarian. This khajiit will need them to tell him what all this is and show me. Maybe we can do something, but Shepard, you know they do not have this sort of thing in my dimension."

She nodded in understanding. "Another thing. They added a weave to Joker's legs. He can walk a little better, but he's in pain again because of them."

He frowned and made a mental note to see the pilot when he could. "Garrus can you make Vashlani a new helmet, maybe more armor? It's too tight now. Oh and some corks. I need to go back home and pack some more clothing and a few more things to bring here."

Garrus started to laugh. "The corks yes, but we'll get you a full set of upgraded armor when we get to the Citadel, just like before. These are outdated and have significantly improved since you were with us last. I won't mind some of that taffy if you have some stashed away somewhere. I ran out several months after you left."

"While you are in your home can you make me a new medallion? Alchera's atmosphere destroyed mine when I fell through it. The Alliance took Doc's and Jokers. It was because we found Garrus that we could call you." Shepard stood and handed Vashlani several pieces of his discarded armor.

"Ahh, that explains why you didn't call for Vashlani sooner. He has missed all his friends. This khajiit has much to share with you, but first, let us see what we can do about healing you both."

Chapter Text


 

 

"Vashlani needs a small room. He has much to do and will need privacy." He reached for the chain around Shepard's neck and slid a different medallion on it. "Vashlani made this one himself. From metal, he found in an old Dwemer ruin. You remember the phrase?" He purred next to her ear as he slid the chain back around her neck.

Shepard nodded and said the incantation, the medallion, as well as Vashlani's amulet, glowed. "We'll get you set up with a new account and also your ship security clearance. This ship is much larger than the original Normandy. Same thing applies here if the doors are locked you don't have clearance for that room, or it's a private area. Call out for EDI if you need running lights."

"EDI, please ask Mordin to come to the med bay as soon as possible for a medical consult," Shepard said as the doors to the lift opened, and they stepped out onto the crew deck. When they rounded the corner, they heard the first scream and the clatter of trays dropping to the floor, followed by the inevitable whispers. They ignored all of them as they headed for the med bay.

"Commander, I have blocked access to several outgoing messages and vid uplinks. I'm erasing images from the databanks and omni tools. I've issued your warning across all forms of devices, and I've blocked several crewmember accounts from the ship's message board, and extranet access has been denied and limited to only those you had previously authorized. Ms. Lawson has instructed me to allow her access to all video and audio feeds concerning the lifeform."

"Denied and his name is Vashlani, you wouldn't like it if I just called you the AI would you? Block all feeds, and if she tries to hack her way through or use a bypass or built-in safeguard, it is to be shut down. You're to erase all of it, and you're authorized to search your databanks for any secondary access codes, delete them or block them if you can't. No information concerning Vashlani is to leave this ship. That's an order, EDI. Thanks for letting me know."

"Understood Commander, and you're welcome."

They were waiting for Mordin to arrive when Garrus came through with a box of corks in his arms. "We need to get some mineral scans going, Shepard. Now that Vashlani is here, the fabricator's going to need all the minerals we can get a hold of for both the ship and weapons upgrades, along with his habit of making stuff."

Vashlani started laughing as he sat on the medical bed. "Vashlani has missed the Normandy's fabricator. He was always being yelled at by the Orc storage keeper for clearing out the College's stock. Which reminds me, there was something Vashlani had wanted to try but never got around to doing. Maybe with this new ship and new machines, the fabricator can make these? It must be done the same, no difference and must be flawless. Then I will need to test it somewhere, a planet with wildlife that I can hunt on." He dug into his bag and drew out a small soul gem and handed it to Garrus.

"What the hell is this thing?" Garrus held it up, and his visor activated taking measurements and composition analysis while Vashlani explained it to him. Finally, Mordin came rushing through the door and came to a halt a short way inside when he finally caught sight of Vashlani.

"Unknown Lifeform. Outer appearance resembles that of an Earth feline. Male. Elongated ears. Vibrissae. Body seems to be covered with thick hair. Eyes resemble those of feline as well. Biped, digitigrade. Must know. What are you? Where do you come from? Must run tests. Hair and tissue samples, blood, urine, and semen. No, no, no Collector threat comes first then samples."

"This salarian speaks faster than Kirrahe did." Vashlani crossed his arms and waited for the salarian to stop and draw a breath.

That caused Mordin to stop and blink. "Know Kirrahe? Member of Shepard's crew that destroyed the cloning facility on Virmire. Yes, makes more sense now. Kirrahe refused to say much about that mission. The crew was also tight-lipped. One member hospitalized with post-traumatic stress disorder. He didn't have stress-related hallucinations but way to keep species a secret."

"Mordin," Shepard sighed, "we need you for a medical consult on me, not testing Vashlani. EDI will give you all the intel on the Lazarus project. I would like for you to go over it when you get the chance and see what the likelihood of removing whatever cybernetics and other junk they stuck in me that you can. Healing won't be an issue. I just need to know if it's possible and how much you can remove."

"Yes, yes. Can go over the files during the times when experiments are running." He stepped toward her and ran a scan over her with his omni tool then glanced at Vashlani once more before turning to leave.

"Alright, Shepard. Lie down here for a moment. Healer, Vashlani needs whatever you can tell him about what they did to her and what these things are inside of her."

Doc showed him the hologram and pointed out all the replacement parts. He glanced down and frowned. His hands started glowing, and they slowly moved over her body. The tears in her skin closed fractionally but not much more. "There is just too many machine parts. Vashlani cannot repair machines. He cannot heal what they did to Shepard until these are taken out. You have a heartbeat, and you breathe; blood runs through your veins. You are not undead or a thrall. Vashlani does not know how or why, but you are alive."

"So I am me? Not some creature? Not a clone?"

"Vashlani knows you are not a clone. You remembered me; you remembered the medallions and the phrase. Something that no one, other than the ones under the binding, could know. You are Shepard." He had her face cupped in one of his hands as he looked down into her eyes. Those strange eyes with things moving inside them instead of her once beautiful, clear eyes. "Vashlani promises to do his best to help the healers get these things out of you." She only nodded at him, the mist of tears blurring her vision.

He purred and turned to Garrus. "This khajiit healed you some earlier. Let me try again." Doc ran a scan and compared them and saw there was a noticeable difference.

"Just a little more if you can, Vashlani, then I will run another test to see if we can remove the bandage."

When he did all he could, Chakwas removed the bandages and Vashlani told him he would bring by a salve later that night that might help the scarring. "Of course, you would never be as handsome as this khajiit, even without the scars, but it is much better than it was."

"Hmm, well maybe I won't have to resort to dating krogan women after all."

 


 

"Commander, ETA to the Citadel is five hours."

"Thanks, Joker. Give me a heads up about two hours out so I can send a message to Vashlani. I'll also need Garrus and ... well hell, I guess Mordin, to meet me at the airlock when we dock. We are picking up another person at the Citadel. Make sure to lock up the silverware; this one is a rather accomplished thief."

"First mercs then mad scientists, now we're picking up thieves?"

"Yup, quite a motley collection and I have to get them to all work somehow together. What fun."

After he had cut the connection, Shepard went to an empty crate that sat on her enormous bed. She started pulling clothing out of the small closet; socks, underwear, bras, and shirts were stacked inside the chest; most of them still in the protective bags they came in. Next came pants, tops, and uniforms. Each and every piece contained the black, gold, and white emblem of Cerberus. Each piece was placed in the crate until the closet and drawers were practically bare. She stripped from the clothing she had on and wiggled into her undersuit. The clothes she just took off she dumped into the rubbish chute.

She made a list of everything she needed; from bathroom supplies to clothing on her omni tool and noted a new omni tool because this one was stuffed full of Cerberus spyware.

 


 

Garrus showed Vashlani to one of the small utility rooms. Shepard already called down and had everything inside of it removed, and a cot, small table, and a couple of chairs brought in. Garrus once more set about scanning the room and removed numerous small devices from the area, even going so far as to put his head and arm into the ventilation shaft above the room and brought down several more of the small devices. He gathered them up and made a human's rude gesture and crushed them.

"It should be clear for you now, but listen, you need to be very careful. These people aren't like the ones on the old Normandy. The group that is behind all this are ... well, let's just say human-centric. They will first and foremost put themselves before anyone else. Especially an alien and Vashlani, you're about as alien as they come. They are also known to be terrorists, scientists behind some of the most atrocious things we encountered when we were on the first Normandy. You remember those creepers? This is the group that thought they could control those damn things and use them as slave labor. So whatever you do be wary and cautious, especially with that Lawson woman and the dark skinned male, Jacob. Lawson especially, she is Cerberus, through and through."

"Why is Shepard still with this group? They are everything she doesn't like and fought against before." Vashlani dropped his pack on the cot and turned to look at Garrus.

"Because like it or not, this group is the only one that is trying to stop the abductions. As usual, the Council won't do anything because not only is it just humans, but they are being taken from colonies in what is called the Terminus Systems. The Alliance isn't doing a damn thing because they still refuse to believe. Shepard has a meeting with Anderson though, you remember him?"

When Vashlani nodded, he continued. "He's a Councilor now. Maybe he can get us some help, though, from everything I hear from this crew and reports from EDI, it's only going to be us handling this. Unknowns surround Shepard. Tali is busy, all the rest of them split up. We're all she has that she can truly depend on right now."

"Tell Vashlani about the rest of the crew, the ones we will be fighting with." He reached into his bag and brought out two bottles of ale and popped the corks from them, both of his hands glowed with a blue-white light briefly before handing one to Garrus. "It is safe, made with herbs, flowers, and khajiit equivalent of hops. Not as tasty as Honningbrew or Black Briar, but it is something." Garrus pulled out a chair and started telling him about the four others that were already on board.

"Hmm, what about the AI? Vashlani does not understand why they would be fine with ones like we had before yet not with ones like this EDI."

Garrus let out a long sigh. "That's a long story and one that takes place well over 300 years ago. From what the records show, the quarians built the geth to use as a source of cheap labor. Only they gained sentience and rebelled forcing the quarians from their homeworld. The organics can't or don't want to take the chance of it happening again. You remember when we went to Luna, the Earth's moon? The VI there must have gained sentience somehow and went rogue. It had killed so many Alliance trainees before Shepard was called in to stop it."

Vashlani leaned his forearms on his thighs. "My sphere, it is not like this EDI, but it learns. It does not seem to want to rebel against living in my home and taking care of it and me. Should this khajiit be worried?"

"I doubt it. The technology is probably a lot different, and by now it would have done something if it was going to rebel. It seemed fine. It's not connected to any network. I doubt it even has those capabilities."

"Good, Vashlani likes his Dwarven sphere. It has been good company and takes very good care of Vashlani."

Several minutes later the datapad gave a ping, and Vashlani pulled it out from his bag. He quickly read the message from Shepard. "Shepard says we have two hours before we reach the Citadel."

Garrus stood up and handed him the now empty bottle. "I better get down there and get changed. I'll pick up the new armor and meet you in the armory which is now on the second deck, where the bridge and Mordin's lab are. We'll get you squared away as soon as possible." Vashlani grabbed his pack and followed Garrus out.

When the lift arrived on the CIC deck, they walked out, and Vashlani was accosted by a female human. She started talking and moving closer, and he hissed at her to get back.

"Aww, you're just the cutest thing. Just like the kitty cat I had when I was a child." She reached out to touch him and flew backward over the bank of terminals by the wind cloak he activated. Several of the other humans went to approach him, but his eyes started glowing as did his hands. They moved backward.

"I will not be insulted by a crew member. I am not a pet; a plaything. I do not appreciate strangers trying to touch me without permission. The next one that does will not have to worry about my wind spell; they will simply be disintegrated."

"He isn't kidding folks. He's done it before, and frankly, I don't want to have to explain to Shepard why some of her crew have gone missing and only piles of ash remain." Joker's voice came over the speaker as Vashlani started to move toward the bridge.

Garrus shook his head at the humans. "You all better learn to respect him and fast. He is not one to be trifled with. We've seen him take out a whole platoon of geth himself and all they did was kill a couple of pyjacks." He adjusted the cowl of his broken armor as he headed for the armory.

Vashlani plopped into the seat next to Joker and wiggled around. "Welcome to leather seat heaven, my friend. Genuine leather seats, can you believe it and they swivel." Vashlani smiled at him and noticed the hologram of EDI.

"EDI stays up here with you most of the time?"

"Yeah, it's like ship cancer. I like the old Normandy; it was not only beautiful but quiet. Now I have this thing watching and listening to everything. Shepard said I couldn't sabotage it or else I would have gotten rid of it already. Have you checked out the rest of the ship yet?"

"No, not yet. Getting settled and talking with Shepard and Garrus." He reached into his pack and drew out a sack full of sweets and handed it to Joker. "Here, Vashlani brought what he already had from home. There is a new crostada that this khajiit will be experimenting with later on. Juniper and blackberry. I made new taffy that's cooling for Garrus; I made it with some of the ingredients from when I was here last. I had hoped to sell some of the crates of foods that I stored for credits. So many things this khajiit had wanted to buy and left before he could. From the smell coming from the mess hall, Vashlani will need to watch the food he brings on board again."

"Bet you were happy to get home, though." Vashlani saw Joker grimace and the way he reached down and lightly rubbed his legs.

"Yes, for a while. Vashlani has many holos and vids to share with you of my adventures." He glanced back before he reached out and laid a glowing hand on Joker's arm. He heard a sigh from the human as the healing warmth radiated through him. "We need to get that removed, Joker. My healing will only do so much when there are machines involved. Nothing can be done for Shepard until we remove it from her, same with you. Garrus, from what Healer says, is unable to have his removed. Vashlani did what he could for him; it wasn't enough."

"I have a feeling it's healed much better than what it would have if you weren't here. We're coming up on the Citadel." Joker darkened the windows and made his announcement.

"Vashlani is going back to his room. Enjoy the sweets." He smiled at Joker as the pilot popped another honey nut treat ball into his mouth from the bag on his lap.

He was almost to the lift and let out a low growl as he saw the woman from earlier standing at a terminal nearby. Shepard came out of the lift dressed in her armor, and he stopped her long enough to lean in and whisper in her ear, asking her if she would like to come and have dinner with him this evening. His hand rested on her waist, and she raised an eyebrow at him. Joker hissed over her private comm line about what Kelly had been up to, and she gave Vashlani a slight grin. She hadn't put on her gauntlets yet and brushed a hand along the side of his face and neck as he purred loudly. She fiddled with one of his earrings and told him she would love to but would need to pick up something to wear. He laughed. "You should know better. Vashlani has plenty for you to wear if you want, not like you haven't worn his clothes before. Maybe you should keep some things in Vashlani's room? This khajiit is planning on keeping clothes in yours." His purr got louder as she grinned at him.

Mordin came out of his lab and watched their interaction before opening his omni tool and rapidly taking notes.

Garrus came out of the lift shortly after, carrying the large container that had the Cerberus stuff in it. "Make up for lost time later you two. This crate is heavy. Let's move."

Vashlani brushed a hand against her face before stepping back. "Vashlani needs more turian fabrics, a variety of colors. No patterns this time, Garrus."

"Alright, but you gotta take my turn at the mineral scanner for the next galactic standard month." He heard Vashlani hum his agreement as he headed for the airlock. "Don't forget my taffy."

Shepard laughed. "I'll see you when I get back. You have full access to the Captain's quarters."

 


 

Vashlani went to the small room and locked the door. "EDI?"

"Yes, Vashlani? What can I do for you?"

"Vashlani doesn't wish to be disturbed. No one is to enter the room and please do not watch or listen to this khajiit when he is here, this is my private area."

"Of course, Vashlani. The Commander has already explained to me that you need your privacy. I am programmed to answer when someone calls my name. Otherwise, I will not monitor you or the room."

"Thank you. Maybe later we can talk, and you can tell me more about AI's and this ship?" Vashlani reached into his travel bag as he was talking with EDI and drew out the large piece of glowing chalk.

"I would like that, Vashlani. Logging you out."

He started humming a tavern song he heard when he was at the Candlehearth Hall in Windhelm while drawing the sigil on the floor. Several times the door entry light flashed but remained locked to whoever was on the other side. He double checked the drawing, making a small correction on the floor due to the skid proof bumps and sighed. "Vashlani wishes this floor was flat, would make this much easier." He put his chalk away and turned to the marking and uttered the incantation. The pattern glowed and settled into the flooring.

He stretched then disappeared. He hurried into the kitchen and put Garrus' taffy into a pouch before he looked through his recipe book to see what to make for dinner. He started some stew going and put a fresh loaf of bread into the oven to bake before he went down to the portal room to check the tome. The new Normandy's entry was there, and he grinned. Taking a piece of paper, ribbon, and quill from the cupboard he quickly wrote a note addressed to the Arch-Mage and activated the portal to the College. He tossed the scroll that was attached to a small sack through the glowing mist.

Up in his bedroom, he gathered a few robes, some tunics and pant sets, a few small clothes, and a fresh bar of soap. "There, that should do it. If anyone snoops in Vashlani's room, they will think he stays there." He grabbed an extra robe and matching cording and added it to the pile. He'd put that one in Shepard's room just to see if she would wear it.

He went back to the Normandy, placed some of his clothing on top of a chair along with his bar of soap and headed up to Shepard's room to wait for her. He walked in and started opening drawers and tapped on the glass that was holding water, like a tiny pond, seeing nothing was actually in it.

"EDI?"

"Yes, Vashlani?"

"Where does Shepard keep her clothing? There is nothing here." He found the tiny closet and built in drawer area in her bedroom.

"The Commander packed up all of the clothing that Cerberus provided for her. It was in the crate that XO Vakarian was carrying." He scratched his head and placed the remaining sets of clothes in one of the drawers and hung up the robe.

"This khajiit wonders why she would do something like that."

"Possibly because all of the clothing had the Cerberus colors and logo on them. I have noticed that anything with that particular logo disappears from her room as well as XO Vakarian's area as soon as they find it. Professor Solus does the same unless it is necessary for one of his experiments."

Vashlani hummed. "That would make sense considering our past encounters with this group. Vashlani is sure you know about everything these Cerberus people did years ago when we were trying to stop the Sovereign?"

There was a pause. "I have heard some talk from XO Vakarian and Mr. Moreau, but the information about prior encounters was removed, and access denied during my search."

Vashlani looked over to where the blue pawn was just visible in the small indent near the door. "Does that mean they won't let you know about it?"

"Technically I cannot find the information on my own. If someone were to place the information into my databank, then I would have access."

Vashlani's tail swayed, and his whiskers twitched. "EDI? Shepard said she would set me up with my ship storage account, do you know if it's ready? There are some things this khajiit would like to store in it."

"Yes, your account has been set up and details sent to your intranet mail address."

"Thank you, EDI."

"You are welcome, Vashlani. Logging you out."

Several minutes later he sat down at the desk in his study and started to copy files over to several OSD's, one of which EDI might find interesting. Once back in the Normandy he sat at Shepard's terminal and asked EDI how to use it to transfer things into his account. She walked him through it, and he happily purred as the bar swiftly moved across the screen until it said the action was completed. "EDI, those are private files, make sure no one can copy those. They can watch but no copying or show anyone not on here. Put a note on there that if they have questions to send them to my mail account, but only concerning the holos and vids. Vashlani doesn't want questions about him asked. I hope you enjoy the holos and vids."

"Thank you, Vashlani. I've added additional protection to your files and placed a notice on each file that they must agree to before the vid runs. If you would like I can also add filters to your mail account, so you are not overwhelmed by questions. Do you mind if I ask you about the images from your world?"

Vashlani picked up the small bird that was on the desk and ran his thumb over it before placing it back down. "This khajiit will gladly answer your questions. Thank you for your help, EDI." The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at the terminal as EDI loaded up holos and vids and asked him about them.

 


 

"Shepard, are you sure about this? With Vashlani on board that may not be such a good idea," Garrus said to her as he watched her ordering things at a terminal after she sweet talked the clerk and gave yet another "favorite store on the Citadel" endorsement for a discount. By the time they were done every store on the Ward seemed to be her favorite store.

"I'm sure. Did you get enough fabric? You know how he likes to match and that cloak of his is getting ratty looking."

"Yeah, thankfully they were running a sale on them since my, 'Favorite store on the Citadel' didn't seem to go over too well," Garrus said as he sat the bags on the counter until she finished using the terminal. She snorted at him and swiped her omni tool under the machine instructing the store to send her items to the Normandy.

"I think that was the last thing." Shepard was looking at a few advertisements as they headed back to the ship. "Mordin, have you got everything you need now?"

The salarian said he did as he walked with his nose in his omni tool scanning the results of one of his latest experiments. "Gardner requested better ingredients for the crew," he said.

"Damn, I knew I forgot something." She jogged to the cafe next to the C-Sec station where they had parked their skycar and slid the order request form into the machine and paid for it.

"Gods, that bill was huge. I hope he's not going to ruin all that stuff and ask for more," Shepard moaned as they got into the car and headed for the dock.

"Well, at least you don't have to eat it now that Vashlani's here and I can even stop choking down those military rations that are older than I am," Garrus said from the backseat of the car as it parked in its assigned slot.

She grinned at him as they got out. "Speaking of which, I have a dinner date tonight. Wonder what yummies I'm going to have while you guys suffer."

"That is so wrong." Garrus started up the gangplank as Mordin looked at both of them.

"This new lifeform, he brought food with him? What is he? Where did he come from? Where did you find him? So many questions, not enough answers."

"Mordin, when Vashlani is ready, we'll talk with you and tell you, but it is hard for him to trust people that he first meets. I hope you understand. He is in constant danger here, and all it would take is one wrong word or holo, and they will turn him into nothing more than a scientific experiment. You know that better than we do, Mordin, and I won't let that happen." She patted Mordin on the shoulder. "Just give him a bit of time, he expected to come back to the old Normandy, the old crew. Not to find out that I had died, been resurrected, and stuffed full of machines. Not to mention a whole different ship and being fired upon as soon as he popped on board."

Mordin grumbled and followed the others up the ramp. When they were through the airlock, she warned Joker that she had special deliveries coming and he was to notify her when the shipment from Citadel Souvenirs came. Whatever he did they were not to take them straight up to her cabin without knowing where Vashlani was exactly. If Vashlani was the only one in the cabin to hold the packages in the crew quarters.

Joker raised his eyebrow at her. "Aye, aye Commander, whatever you say."

When the lift made it up to the Captain's cabin, she walked in and saw Vashlani sitting at her desk chatting with EDI.

"What are you two up too?" She asked as she walked down to the lower area and started to remove her hard suit.

"Vashlani uploaded some holos and vids of his world. He was just explaining the images. Some of them are rather fascinating, Commander."

Shepard pulled open her drawer to pick out one of the only sets of clothing she had when she noticed several other sets tucked away in there. She pulled out the shirt and looked over at the desk. He was still in conversation with EDI and slipped the shirt over head. It was soft and silky against her skin and fell to mid thigh. The pants below it were buttery soft to her touch, but realized they wouldn't fit her, not to mention they would only fit someone with a tail, so she let them alone.

She wiggled a little and kicked off the undersuit, pulled on a fresh pair of panties and shorts before she walked over to him. "Garrus is back also; we are just waiting for the deliveries to come then he can start on your new armor." She looked over his shoulder as a new image popped up and pointed to it. "What's that?"

He swiveled in the chair and took her arm, moving the sleeve around a little before starting to pull the lacings tight around her forearm. "That is the Shrine of Azura. They say the Dark Elves built it when they fled Morrowind."

He started fixing the other sleeve when Joker let her know her deliveries were here. "Thanks, Joker. I'll be down in a minute."

Vashlani finished up the laces and looked at her with a grin on his furry face. "My tunic looks good on you."

She laughed and smiled at him. "I like this; it's soft and silky." She ran her hand over the billowy sleeve.

"Ahh, that's because it is silk. Spider's silk to be exact. It is one of the few threads that can hold a major enchantment and look good doing it." His eyes roamed over her and noticed her legs were bare. "Hmm, not that this khajiit doesn't appreciate the view, but maybe you should put something on under there before you go down to pick up your packages?"

She laughed and lifted the edge of the shirt. "I have shorts on. Garrus is probably down in the armory waiting for you. You ready?"

Vashlani gave a slight frown. "Garrus said the armory is on the same level that the bridge is on. Is that female still there? She called me a cat, a household pet. Do you have any idea how insulting that is? Vashlani knows Joker does it, but it is in a friendly way, same as this khajiit knocks his hat off. That Vashlani doesn't mind, as it is between friends, but to be compared to a pet ..."

Shepard let out a hum. "Yeah, she is there, that is her workstation. I think she learned her lesson when, according to the vid that Joker sent me, you sent her flying over the terminal. New spell?"

He stood up and walked toward the closet area. "Yes, that is called a Whirlwind Cloak, it was in one of Master's spell books. It took a while to learn, as it wasn't one of my usual destruction elements, but it had come in handy many times when enemies thought to surround Vashlani." He pulled out the hide breeches and lace up boots that were in the closet.

"Vashlani brought you one of his robes as well; he forgot a basket to put the dirty ones in, though, remind him tonight to fetch one. I have also placed several sets of clothing and bathing supplies in this khajiit assigned room in case someone enters and looks around. Vashlani hopes that it will look like he is using it; although he doesn't like the thought of someone going into his private quarters, even if they are just for show." He pulled off his robe and sat to remove his soft soled shoes.

"I'll have Garrus run tech scans on your quarters. Maybe you should come up here to enter your home. At least until we're sure that they didn't replace the spying crap," Shepard said as she sat on the chair looking at a holo of the College and wondered just how large it was.

"I will run additional scans for Vashlani as well, Commander. I may not be able to give details on exact locations, but there is nothing in the protocols that says I cannot reveal numbers of various devices connected to the room; if given permission by the Commanding Officer," EDI said from her spot near the door.

"That would be an amazing help, EDI, thank you." When Shepard turned her chair toward the lower level, Vashlani was standing there adjusting the fit of his hide breeches before tying the laces. His tail swayed and flicked to the sides as he hummed a tune, he glanced up at her and smiled. "Just have to put on my boots." After he had tied the last lace, he attached his pocket bag to the cording wrapped around his waist and picked up his travel bag. He stuffed his robe and breeches inside and placed his soft soled shoes in the small closet.

"I hope Garrus brought Vashlani some good fabrics."

Shepard laughed as they made their way toward the lift. As they waited to arrive on the CIC deck, her hand traced one of the stripes that wrapped around his arm; he smiled down at her. Her fingers danced over the tags that hung on a chain around his neck. "You kept them?"

"Vashlani never takes them off, Shepard."

Her eyes flicked upward to be caught by his blue eyes.

Garrus was waiting as the doors opened and he let out a cough. "I see Shepard has raided your clothing already and seems to have stolen your shirt."

Shepard bounced out of the lift followed by a laughing Vashlani, who tossed Garrus a pouch.

"What can I say, Garrus. It's silk." Shepard smirked as she walked toward the bridge.

Vashlani leaned over a bit to look around the bank of terminals, watching as Shepard walked away from him. "Garrus, Vashlani doesn't mind in the least that she stole his tunic, and as long as she continues to wear them like that... he won't mind at all."

Garrus laughed at the deep sounding purr that came from his friend.

Chapter Text


 

 

Garrus showed him where the new fabricator and colorize machines were. Vashlani looked around at the armory and scratched his head. "Vashlani liked having it down in the cargo hold better, more space and he could talk to the others as we made things."

Garrus grunted as he opened his sack. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Not to mention instead of the crew having to use the lift to come up here get their gear then go back down to the shuttle bay. It's not an efficient set up at all. Hey, this is a different flavor. Tastes like... huh, this is the Malus fruit. Glad to see the trees are still growing and producing fruit for you." Vashlani looked up at him and smiled, his gaze flicked to the human male that stood at a workbench with a weapon on it.

"Yes, tomorrow before we leave the Citadel, there is something Vashlani wishes for you to do for him. There are some crates of food... stored away, that this khajiit would like to sell like we did before. He still has some credits left over and wants to add to them and buy a few things. He saw something when he was in another town, something he is interested in, like the greenhouse."

Garrus looked over at him and gave a slight nod before he removed the finished pieces of armor and ran several scans and checks over the systems and for suit integrity before handing it to Vashlani.

Vashlani took it over to the color machine and started pushing buttons on it.

"Hey, watch it. What do you think you're doing?" Jacob said to him as soon as the strange being started to mess with one of the machines.

"I'm using the colorizer to customize Vashlani's set of armor. Just like this khajiit did on the old Normandy. What does it look likes he's doing? Pretending to work but really just listening in on private conversations?" He pushed one last button, and the machine started up, and Garrus snorted.

"Your helmet is almost done but will need to fit it to make sure I got the ears right on it. It depends on what it is you wanted, how big, and what it does."

Vashlani's tail swayed, and his whiskers twitched. "Vashlani hopes you can make it work. A big tub of warm water to soak in sounds very nice. Maybe build it on the porch overlooking the meadow?"

Garrus started to laugh. "You want a hot tub?"

"Hot tub, that is the name for it? Do you think Shepard would like a hot tub?"

Garrus let out another snort. "Might have known. Yeah, I think she would. When that suit is finished, put it on. That box over there has a finished under suit that I modified while I was waiting. You've bulked up since the last time you were on board, and I need to make sure the new measurements were accurate."

Vashlani laughed. "Vashlani has muscles now, and he's no longer what the nords refer to as a milk-drinker; although he loves milk." Vashlani opened the box bringing out the thin black suit. "This feels different. Not as thick either."

"That one is made of a new material. Because we had to use a bunch of different suit parts the last time and modify the entire piece when we put it together, we had to make it of a variety of materials. That one is made all from the same material. This new machine is more advanced than the one on the original Normandy, so I could design and make the parts all at the same time. So it wouldn't need to be modified too much. It also doesn't use zippers like your old one did, but micro magnetic strips. Try it on; I think you'll like it better than your old one."

He purred and leaned against the counter to loosen the laces of his boots and remove his pants before putting on the new suit. "Ahh, much nicer. Vashlani's fur lays much better with this material; it is much more comfortable." He narrowed his eyes and gave a flick of his head toward Jacob's back. Garrus tilted his head and turned a bit, all of a sudden a ball of light floated through the air and stuck dead center on Jacob's armor. It was all Garrus could do not to laugh.

Vashlani put his armor on and adjusted it to get used to the new weight. "Heavier."

"Yeah. There are some upgrades to it; you'll see once the helmet is complete and you sync the systems. Don't worry; the camera is one of the best ones out there, Shepard didn't skimp on it. She didn't skimp on any part of your suit." Garrus grinned at him, and Vashlani's whiskers twitched as he smirked.

Garrus opened the bags of fabrics and showed him the heaviest solid color fabric they had. "She wanted to make sure you got a new cloak she said your old one was getting ratty." Garrus brought up the stored files in his visor, adjusted the measurements before he uploaded them to the machine. He started to feed the fabric for the cloak into the bin. "The rest are for those other things you like to make. Don't forget, one month of scanning duty. Alright, let's test the helmet if it's all good I'll let Shepard know you're ready for duty."

The helmet took more tweaking for the ears to feel right, once it was ready, he connected into the database and synced his suit's cameras to his storage area and the systems. EDI came over his comm line and told him that she was now connected to his suit and just like with the others, would monitor his vitals and alert the medics if needed. She assured him that she had no functionality beyond that.

"Say cheese, Garrus."

"You and those damned holos. Cheese."

 


 

They finished eating and were walking around in the meadow when he asked her for more details on what they were facing. She told him as much as she knew, but it was very little, as nothing was known about the Collectors. "Hmm. This new mission sounds difficult. Vashlani will need to wait and see what these creatures are like before he can bring the right staff and potions."

"They have these bugs, from what the young quarian showed me on the vids that he pieced together, they can paralyze a person if it stings them. Mordin is trying to find a way to counter it. If you have potions that can help or spells to protect against things like that it would go a long way to protecting us."

He used his telekinesis spell to bring down two fresh apples from the trees before moving on. "Alteration magic isn't a field I have studied in depth, nor did my master. Vashlani uses very few of those spells, like the one used to get these apples and one that put the ash shell around that dark haired woman. Lawson? Garrus called her. Along with the light spells. None of them though are like the paralysis one." He bit into his apple as they walked. "Hmm, maybe... come with me."

When they reached the portal room, he took down the quill and a roll of paper, quickly listing what was going on and asking if the Arch-Mage knew of a way to resist paralysis or has a recipe for a potion that would help. "Just let me tie this up, and we activate the portal like this." He moved his arms in an intricate pattern and said a phrase she couldn't understand. The portal glowed, and he tossed the scroll through. A few seconds later, the color switched to green and a thick roll of tied parchment came back the other way. Vashlani caught it and opened it up.

"Vashlani,

It was a pleasant surprise to hear from you in this manner. I am glad to hear you once again found a way to be with your friends from the other dimension and that the portals work as they were intended to. The old codger did it; I certainly do miss him. Hopefully, the portal sigil that I attached to your own works as we had set it up too, as well. It was something we came up with in class to trade notes when one of us was punished. It got so boring when my friend wasn't there to liven things up. I will hold this missive until the portal reactivates. Please do keep in mind that I am here to help you any way I can; whether it is here in this dimension or there in hers.

Makmar is still complaining about low stocks. We do not know what is happening with our deliveries, other than the possibility of dragon attacks destroying the cargo or some s'wit nord doing so out of fear or spite. So we may not be able to provide you with the more specialized ingredients.

The matter for which you asked help in taking care of in Windhelm is being handled. I dispatched a courier with instructions to the Court Wizard, who is still a member of this College and will act as your representative until you return.

Now for some gossip.

Tolfdir led a small group of new apprentices to the small excavation site that we found shortly before you left for your latest adventures. One of those apprentices was the one nords refer to as the Dragonborn. They found a most unusual artifact deep within the tomb, along with Draugr and very few magical artifacts. I, along with several of the teachers, retrieved the artifact and it is now in the main hall. We have yet to discover just exactly what it does. Although, the Altmer that is here, the Thalmor, has been studying it closely. Much too closely, if some of the rumblings can be believed.

J'zargo somehow managed to blow out one of the tall windows in the Hall of Attainment. As he was only supposed to be showing the new apprentices their living quarters, we still do not understand how that translated into practically destroying a wall. He seemed proud of it.

We caught one of the older apprentices snooping around the Midden. All apprentices know it is dangerous, and she made some excuse for being down there, but I and several others had a different idea. I do believe either she was looking for the atronach forge or she was trying to find the hidden entrance from outside. We had to go back through again and make sure she took nothing. The ice wraiths and skeletons were stirred up and started to attack anything moving down there.

A dragon was spotted just yesterday. It flew over the College heading southward, rumors at The Frozen Hearth Inn said it landed somewhere near Mount Anthor. The Dragonborn set out within a few hours but hasn't returned yet. Probably won't for a while, the weather has turned even worse.

Again, Vashlani if you need anything or would like to come back for a while, know you all you need to do is contact me.

Arch-Mage Savos Aren"

*~*

A few minutes later another missive came hurdling through the portal smacking Shepard in the back of her head. "What the hell?"

"Sorry, but as you can see, we can't exactly aim when we throw things through."

"Well, at least it wasn't a rock." She bent down, picked it up and handed it to him.


"Vashlani,

I will ask Tolfdir if he knows of anything that could help. As a Master of Alteration magics, he would be the best source of knowledge.

I have included a recipe for a resist potion; it is quite old. The ingredients are nearly impossible to come by. In a few moments, I will harvest one bulb of each and place them in a box. Be ready to catch it as it comes through; they won't grow if they become damaged. Take care of them Vashlani for they are extremely rare. I brought the plants with me as I escaped Morrowind.

When I find more information for you, I shall send a parchment through. Check back often.

Arch-Mage Savos Aren"

*~*

"Please stand over there before the portal activates. We can't take any chances with this box." Vashlani pointed to a spot near the cabinet and Shepard scratched her head, walked to it, and leaned against the wall. Several minutes passed, and Vashlani never took his eyes from the portal. When it started to glow, and a small, wrapped box came flying out of it, Vashlani ran and jumped at it before it could hit the wall. He landed in a crouch and breathed heavily.

"Damn, that was close," Vashlani hissed as he stood back up and carefully held the box to his chest.

"What is so special about anything coming from that Morrowind place?"

They walked toward his greenhouse, and he explained about the eruption of the Red Mountain and how everything in the area where the Arch-Mage had lived had been destroyed. "The eruption destroyed his home in Vvardenfell, it left the entire area uninhabitable, poisoning the air and water, leaving nothing but ash on the ground. When he grabbed these plants as he fled it was a good thing in many ways; many of these aren't grown outside of certain providences of Morrowind. It would take many months for a courier to reach one of the Telvanni towns, purchase the ingredients and return to the College. We would have to hope that none of it became damaged along the way."

He filled up three small pots with the special soil, added a bit of water using a small watering can, instead of causing it to rain inside the structure, then he planted and labeled each one. The sphere rolled in shortly after, let out a bout of steam and rolled back out again.

When he turned around, he noticed Shepard staring at a pot in the corner. Uh oh.

"Vashlani?" She was still staring at the decorative planter that had a rather large bush-like plant growing in it.

"Yes, Shepard?"

"Why does it look like that pot contains a plant that we only saw on a very isolated planet called Ilos? The ones growing on a world that hadn't been cleared to remove anything from yet?"

"Vashlani... doesn't know what Shepard is talking about. That plant comes from... uh... a place back home?"

"No, it doesn't. You swiped that plant from Ilos when Garrus and I had our backs turned, didn't you?"

She turned to see him twitching his tail, his whiskers moved up and down, and ears were rotating back and forth before he heaved out a sigh and dropped his head. "Yes, I took it."

"Vashlani, I know you want special things, but some of that stuff on other planets is dangerous, very dangerous. I just don't want to see you hurt. As it is, the plants are safe. So you can keep it."

His head jerked up, and she heard his purr.

"No more swiping things unless we are sure it's something that isn't dangerous or illegal for you to take." She placed a hand on his face and squeezed his shoulder. "When can you have one of those potions ready for Mordin to use for testing?"

"Soon. It takes about twelve to thirty hours for the magical soil and water to accelerate the growth of plants. Then it is another two, possibly three days before the first harvest. Unless the plant is too difficult, then we will just have to wait and see. I will need to have several harvests though before making the potion. Vashlani will need to have a small cache of the ingredients in case the potion fails. It will also be good to have such rare ingredients in the storage."

"Alright, that sounds good. After we leave the Citadel, we have two stops to make, both to pick up new recruits. Ones I'm not so sure about. Almost every single one of the recruits, except for Garrus, is not someone I would usually want to rely on. I have to figure out how to make this work. I think getting the team to work together is going to be tougher than taking out these Collectors if the rest of them are like the ones we are getting ready to pick up."

He purred and wrapped an arm around her as he led her from the greenhouse back to the gazebo. "You have Garrus and me to help you. Vashlani may not like the two from Cerberus and thinks the Mordin person is very strange, but he will work with them."

She hugged him. "Thanks for being here, Vashlani."

"I am happy to be by your side, Shepard." His body vibrated with the purr he made as he held her in his arms.

 


 

Garrus took Vashlani to the Citadel the next day, Mordin insisted on going along to observe him. Vashlani told him as long as he didn't try to stick him with a needle or jab him with something or ask too many questions it was fine. He also gave a warning if he did, he would fry him up and eat him, he then cast a lightning cloak about himself and lit both of his hands on fire. Mordin blinked and started to take notes rapidly.

They stopped at several places where Garrus haggled with shopkeepers to sell the produce that Garrus transferred to special cooling containers. Once outside of the magical space the normal ripening process would continue otherwise.

He was able to get Vashlani a good deal. He joked about how all the shops being Shepard's favorite; she would have probably got him a better one. Vashlani laughed and told him he would rather the additions be a surprise. That is if he could afford them. Garrus hummed and when they were finished selling things, went to several shops that sold appliances.

Vashlani oohed and ahhed at what they had before Garrus told him in a low voice that what he had was better. It didn't need power, and the stuff never went bad. Vashlani nodded, and they checked the directory for the locations of the hot tubs.

They narrowed it down to a four-seater after Vashlani pointed to the biggest one they had and almost caused the sales clerk to salivate and pass out. Garrus had to, once again, remind him about power. "Why so many things need this... power?"

"Because here nothing runs on magic," Garrus' voice was low as he could make it so it wouldn't carry.

Vashlani froze... make things run on magic... would it be possible? "Vashlani needs to go check something, Garrus. Where is the bathroom?"

Garrus looked at him. "What the hell are you up to, Vashlani? Shepard will get pissed if someone catches you."

"Create a distraction." Vashlani was looking all around until he saw the sign for the bathroom and took off at a fast clip for it.

"What is going on? Where is he going? What are you two whispering about?" Mordin's mouth was running as fast as his legs were.

"I dunno."

"What do you mean you "dunno"? You were just talking to him about something."

Garrus skidded to a halt outside the door and gave a human-like shrug. "Haven't a clue what you're talking about." He brought up his omni tool and fiddled with the security cameras for a second as he made a recording then patched it in. "Now, Vashlani."

 


 

When he entered the bag, Vashlani took off for his study. He took several tomes from the chest before he headed for the smithy. He pulled out the schematic he found and started to flip through his old Master's diaries. He somehow got the sphere to activate and run when he rebuilt it, and the schematic was for a mechanical device. The Dwemer used a combination of magic, science, and mechanics for their inventions. The information was there; he just had to find it. He jammed it all into his small pouch and sent a message to Garrus. He waited until he got the signal before he went back to that store's bathroom.

"Vashlani? What the hell is going on?" Garrus whispered to him.

"Vashlani doesn't want to buy a hot tub today. I need your help, Garrus. Let's get back to the ship."

When they arrived back, Vashlani dragged Garrus off the lift toward his room and shut the door before Mordin could walk in. He made a wave of his hand, and Garrus' mandibles flicked as he started the app to search for bugs. "EDI? How many devices are in within this room or audio and visual range."

"Scans show five inside the room, Executive Officer Vakarian. With another three outside the immediate vicinity."

"Thanks, EDI and you can call me Garrus."

"You are welcome, Garrus. Logging you both out."

Vashlani paced while Garrus set about locating all of the devices. When he found them all and destroyed them, he turned to look at the khajiit. Vashlani started to take off his armor and piled it on the cot. "Now will you tell me what is going on?"

"Vashlani doesn't know why he didn't think of this before, Garrus. My sphere is "powered" by both magic and mechanical means. If you can help me figure out a set of schematics I have for another device, mainly how to power it up, then Vashlani won't have to ever worry about anything running out of power. I could use the batteries you installed for small things and big things can use magic."

Garrus scratched his crest. "Are you serious?"

Vashlani nodded and took out the schematic and spread it on the table. "Look, this is larger than the sphere, the diagram is complete, and the parts are listed on the back. I have the molds for each piece, but Vashlani has limited amounts of the Centurion Dynamo Cores. Those bastards are incredibly huge, and it hurts if they hit you. Intact cores are difficult to obtain. Vashlani has no idea how the Dwemer made them, but each functioning Centurion animunculi has one."

Garrus looked at the paper on the table, and his mandibles flicked, his hands traced some of the part designs and looked over the nontranslatable words. "Where did you find something like this? It's incredibly detailed and looks ancient. I don't understand the words though."

"Uh... err... Vashlani just happened to be walking past a wagon, and it bounced out the back of it?"

Garrus looked up at him and flicked a mandible.

"Oh alright. It was in one of the ruins I explored. Vashlani found it, and the molds buried deep underground and behind several trapped doors. It is illegal to buy, sell, or trade the items from the ruins, but it never stops people from doing it. Rarely is a schematic found. If one is and the Empire finds out about it... well, Vashlani would be in big trouble back home. I worked for years collecting every piece of scrap metal, every dented plate and cup, khajiit didn't even pass up the knives and forks to get enough metal to melt down and make enough ingots. Do you have any idea how many heavy, dwarven chairs I had to shove in the pocket bag? How many pieces of broken piping I dragged out of the ruins and broke apart to stuff into a barrel to get it down into the cellar? I don't want someone to take this away before I can build it and get it to work."

He ran a hand over the image on the ancient parchment. "No one else will have one of these Garrus. A working, one of a kind, Dwemer animunculus."

He pulled out one of the books from the pile. "This is a copy of a book that lists the known alphabet of the Dwemer. Not all the symbols are matched yet. One of the places Vashlani wanted to visit was rumored to have a giant stone tablet that supposedly has the longest transcription of both the Dwemer and Falmer languages. Maybe with the technology from this dimension we can figure the rest of it out."

"Maybe, but ... how much do you trust EDI?" Garrus asked him.

Vashlani twisted his hands and flicked his tail. "She has helped me with many things since this khajiit has come on board. I would trust her more if Vashlani knew she was loyal to Shepard and not bound to these Cerberus people."

Garrus flicked his mandibles. "Same here, but if anyone could fill in the missing pieces from the small bit of text you have, it might be her."

Vashlani hesitated. "Maybe. Let us first see what we can do together. If we can't, then Vashlani will ask for EDI's help, but the binding spells won't work on machines Garrus."

Garrus twitched and hummed. "We'll see what we can do. Let me get a secure scan of this, and you should put all of this back. It would be safer to study this in your home, not on the ship. There are too many strangers here, most of them I don't trust. Shepard picked up a new person late last night, I haven't met her, but she is a thief by trade. Keep everything that comes from your world put away; especially if it is something valuable that you don't want to lose. At least until Shepard can determine if the woman is trustworthy past her paycheck."

Garrus ran a scan and made sure to encrypt it with the tightest security apps he had.

They both turned to Vashlani's bag as they heard the datapad inside start pinging with a new message and didn't seem to want to stop.

"EDI? What is happening with my datapad?" Vashlani took out the pad and saw he had 99 new messages in the last few seconds.

"I am sorry, Vashlani. Mordin found your folder and started to ask questions. They are all within the guidelines, so they went through."

"Oh." He let out a sigh. "Can you help me with some of these? This will take Vashlani all night."

"I have filtered the rest of the incoming ones into different folders, Vashlani. I will go through and see if there are any that you have already provided an answer for and just send the same reply."

After thanking EDI for any help she could provide, he went back to his home and put everything back. He could only hope they figured out how the power source worked and adapted it.

They left his room and headed toward the lift. Vashlani stopped, and his eyes glowed as he moved his hand in an intricate pattern. He started to growl and faced something toward the far end of the hallway.

"What's going on?" Garrus asked when he didn't see anything.

"Vashlani doesn't like thieves and pickpockets. Being hidden in the shadows or using invisibility will not keep me from seeing you. Come out."

They heard a slight popping sound and a short human female wearing a black and gray hooded catsuit appeared in the hall. "What...what are you? How could you see through my cloak?"

Vashlani snarled and pushed the button for the lift. "Why is it everyone on here wants to know, "what I am" not "who I am"? Vashlani was never bothered like this with the old crew." He pushed the button for level one after he got on. "I'll be up in Shepard's cabin, Garrus."

Garrus turned toward the female that still stood at the end of the hall. "I take it you're the newest member? EDI and Shepard both filled you in on the rules about Vashlani?"

The woman bowed and came up to him. "Yes, my name is Kasumi Goto. I meant no disrespect; he just startled me is all. I thought they were playing some sort of joke on me for the advertisement thing I did with Shepard."

"Yes, well, as you can see, it is no joke. He is a valuable member of this crew and a good friend to several of us here, especially Shepard. It may be best to keep that in mind. Vashlani is an easy going guy in most cases, but doesn't respond well to questions about himself and being viewed as a "what" not a "who," happens to be a sore spot. If in doubt ask the pilot to show you what he did to the woman who called him a 'kitty cat.' You may want to send him an apology, by the way. Since you are a member of the ground crew, you will certainly want to stay on his good side."

Garrus hit the button for the lift to take him down to a different deck. "Another friendly piece of advice. When we are in a firefight, don't stop or stand in front of him; if you don't want to end up a pile of ash." He walked into the lift and turned. He saw the stunned expression on the parts of her face not being shadowed by her hood.

Vashlani grumbled as he finished removing his undersuit and put on one of the sets of clothes from the drawer. He grabbed the data pad from his pack and dropped down on the bed to start answering the questions. He noticed the folder of emails had grown exponentially in size from just a few minutes it took to get up here and shook his head before starting to clear out the other folders first.

When Shepard came up to the cabin several hours later, after she was sure that all the crew was on board and the supplies were ready, she found him asleep with the datapad still in his hand.

"EDI? How long has he been asleep?" she whispered as she moved to the control panel to lower the lights.

"1 hour 43 minutes, Commander," EDI's voice sounded in her ear.

Shepard gave a short nod and tiptoed back to the cabin door and gave a sign for silence as it opened. She reached out and took the large glass container from the one crewman's hands while the other one placed a box containing several bags near the aquarium. He carefully set up the ladder and added the fish to the tank as quietly as he could.

"Thanks for keeping them down in the crew quarters overnight for me," Shepard whispered to them as they left.

"No problem, ma'am."

The door slid closed silently and locked. Shepard moved to her desk and started to look over the next dossier. "Commander, ETA to the Purgatory prison ship is 17 hours."

She gave her thanks and sat back in her chair. The information was rather vague on this person, this "Jack." Other than the notation of being one of the strongest human biotics known. She closed her eyes; another wild card. A human biotic that apparently had a rap sheet a light year long. She sent a notice to Garrus and Zaeed to meet her down in the shuttle bay two hours before they arrived at Purgatory. Fully armed and armored.

She grinned as she wrote two post it notes. "VASHLANI! THESE ARE PETS! NOT FOOD! DO NOT EAT!" She stuck one to the fish tank and one to the space hamster cage before she took off her shoes and went to lay down for a nap herself.

Chapter Text


 

 

Vashlani stretched and yawned. He opened his eyes and looked over to see Shepard fast asleep on the other side of her bed. He grinned, things have certainly changed since they had first met. Vashlani purred and yawned again as he got up to use her bathroom. With the privacy she had here he didn't feel the need to go back to his home just to relieve himself constantly. He rubbed his eyes as he made his way up the stairs.

When he came back out something moved on his left that caught his eye, and he turned toward it. There were several large, blue, long finned fish swimming lazily in the water behind the glass. He also saw the blaring pink square of paper stuck to it. He read the note then dropped it to the floor of the cabin. He pressed his nose against the glass and watched them swimming there, so close... yet so far out of his reach... those tasty looking morsels.

"Why would she want to keep these as pets? Everyone knows fish are food," he hissed quietly as his eyes followed the path of the fish.

*Squeak*

Vashlani's ears twitched as did his whiskers.

*Squeak Squeak*

His tail gave a shivering sort of twitch as he slowly turned toward where that sound came from. Taking one step then another... his eyes trained on the small furry creature that sat in a glass container on a shelf above Shepard's desk. He pretended not to notice the pink piece of paper stuck to the cube.

He froze as the creature looked up then turned and ran into a tiny piece of square wood in the corner of the cube. He took another few steps that brought him eye level to the glass. "Now, what do we have here?" He reached up and flicked the piece of paper off the side not bothering to watch it float to the floor. His eyes moved over the creature as it stuck its head up to the tiny window of the wooden structure to peer back out at him.

His whiskers gave another twitch as he reached up to take the cube down and gave a slight grunt as it seemed to be stuck to the shelf. "What's going on? Why can't Vashlani lift this box?" He gave another grunt and a hiss before giving up. "No matter, all I need to do is remove the lid, and Vashlani can just reach right in." His eyes closed to mere slits as he reached up to grasp the lid, only finding it had a glowing lock on it.

"I knew you wouldn't be able to resist trying to get into that space hamster cage, that's why I had one of the crew design a Vashlani proof one." Shepard's voice rang out behind him, and he gave a loud "rawwrr" as he jumped and turned toward her.

"You scared Vashlani... again. How can you sneak up on him so easily?" He held a hand to his chest and dropped into the desk chair.

"Because you get so focused on something that you tune everything else out," she replied as she stepped closer to the cube and gave it a light tap which caused the creature inside to squeak again.

"This is a pet, Vashlani. It is called a space hamster. Though quite common in my world, in your world it would be unique. I purchased him to be a gift to you; once I am assured he will remain a pet and not become a snack. Depending on how well you learn to care for the little guy, while he is here on the ship, he may eventually go live at your home." She looked down at him with a slight smirk on her face.

"A gift? For me? To keep at my home?" He stood up and looked down at her and back at the rodent that was peering through the doorway of its own little house. "Yes, Vashlani will take care of this... pet. He promises not to eat it, no matter how tasty it looks and smells." He smiled down at her again. "Thank you, Shepard, for giving me something special."

She laughed and told him how to take care of it, showed him the paper with everything written down just in case he forgot something. She shook her head as he purred and tapped on the glass. "I have some work I need to do before we get to our next pick up. Garrus and Zaeed are coming with us. It will give me a chance to see how well you work with the bounty hunter; he's a good shot and a tough bastard. He has a bit of a foul mouth on him when he really gets going."

Vashlani purred and headed back to the bed to grab his pad and start working on all of the emails again. He grumbled as he noticed there were more than there had been earlier.

A few hours later Shepard got up and stretched. "Time for dinner, Vashlani." He groaned and slumped on the couch. She grabbed him by the hand and pulled. "Stop trying to be a boneless khajiit and get up. You need to start getting used to these people and them to you. We have five hours before we reach the destination. We need to eat and get ready."

"No... no... Vashlani can't stomach that food. Let me go home and make us dinner."

"You made dinner last night, now come on. Get your boots on and let's go."

He grumbled some more and put his boots on as slow as he could. Shepard huffed at him. "Come on you big baby; quit stalling."

When they turned the corner into the mess the loud din of the eaters stopped, and everyone grew quiet. "Hey Vash, it's about time you came down from the Captain's cabin to eat with us lowly crew."

"If I knew you were here Joker, Vashlani would have stayed up there." He let out an oof when Shepard backhanded him in the stomach.

"Bloody hell, the bastard really does look like a fucking cat. Just like that red head said."

Vashlani narrowed his eyes and stared at the older human male sitting at one of the tables with his booted foot propped up on it.

"Now don't get your knickers in a twist. Just didn't believe the chit is all; lost some credits on that bet. Looked at some of those holos and vids earlier, looks like some crazy shit you got there. Those weird pointy ear things living in those caves gave me chills." Zaeed took a swig from a bottle and stared at him.

"Vashlani, that is Zaeed, he will be joining us when we go to pick up Jack."

Vashlani went to sit at the table she pointed to. "Those are called Falmer. They were once known as Snow Elves. They sought refuge with the Dwemer who forced them to eat a fungus and lose their sight and their voice so that they could enslave them. That's what they eventually became."

"Damn, we thought the batarians were bad for putting control chips in the people they steal. But to intentionally blind and mute slaves?" said one of the Cerberus people at a different table.

"This all happened a very long time ago. The Dwemer disappeared, seemingly overnight, in the First Era. That was over three thousand seven hundred years ago. The Falmer take other elves, especially females, to keep as their own slaves and breeders and kill everyone else. They do surface raids once in a while and just outright kill everyone that happens to be in the area for no apparent reason because they also kill women and children then and not just take them."

Shepard brought back a plate of something, and he looked at her and it. "Don't say it, Vashlani, just eat."

His whiskers twitched, and he picked up his fork. "We could have been eating a nice, hot bowl of rabbit stew. I just baked bread early this morning too. This is punishment for trying to eat that furry thing isn't it?" His voice was low and barely carried to her over the resumed din of regular mess hall noise.

"No, it isn't. Just eat. Already the crew is getting used to seeing you."

Vashlani looked around and noticed most of the people had gone back to doing what they had been when they had arrived; a few were still staring at him. Zaeed raised his bottle to him before upending it. Mordin apparently could eat and type on his omni tool at the same time. The dark skinned male kept fidgeting, his eyes flicking from Shepard to him and back again. Then came the woman in the hood. She gave him a slight bow as she met his eyes and he nodded back. She sent him an apology earlier for her rude behavior, which was more than most of them had done. They just sent him a stack of questions about vids.

He saw the Miranda person was bearing down on him and grit his teeth. "Commander, I demand the information you have on this alien. I want a full work up, and I want him sent to Cerberus for study."

"What you may demand and what you may want is not what you are going to get. This khajiit is not a science experiment. Vashlani is a being that is capable of things you know nothing about and will never know of. What you fail to understand is, Vashlani is here to help Shepard with these missing people. Vashlani is here for her, not for you. Not for this Cerberus who caused so many deaths to both human and non-human. Vashlani will give one warning only. Do not try to intimidate me. Do not even think of trying to capture me."

His eyes glowed as he slowly stood up from the table, his body became bathed in lightning, and people scrambled out of his way. "This one will not hesitate to remove you from this ship and leave only ash behind."

Zaeed had remained seated and watched the entire thing. "Bloody hell, look at that bastard. Those aren't any biotics I've ever seen, not even from an asari."

Shepard put down her fork. "That's because it isn't biotics. It's pure electricity that he can use to disintegrate both organics and synthetics. Miranda, get your plate of food and remove yourself from the mess hall. I will speak to you about your insubordination when I return from Purgatory. Vashlani, release it and sit back down. No one is going to be taking you anywhere. Anyone who tries will be dealt with by me."

"And me." Garrus had stood up and moved closer to where Vashlani stood. He towered over everyone there, his mandibles tight to his face and his eyes focused on the person that he felt would most likely try to do something. Those blue eyes bore into Miranda's.

"Us too. Though we may not be soldiers, like those two, we can deal with you in different ways." Joker was no longer laughing, and Chakwas had stood up as well.

Vashlani slowly released his cloak spell and sat down. He heard a slight cough from the side and saw Joker grin and tip his head toward the dark haired woman. Vashlani's whiskers twitched, and he waited until Miranda had picked up a plate before he twisted his wrist, flexed his fingers, and opened his palm toward Miranda. Everyone let out a gasp and not a few giggles as a thick ash-colored shell coated Miranda and she froze in place.

"Joker, I told you not to encourage him."

"Oh come on, Commander, she had it coming." Joker wheezed out from where he sat laughing in his seat.

"Interesting. Would like to see more. Everything remains confidential. Will not run tests without your approval." Mordin had hurried over to Miranda and started to examine her while typing in his omni tool.

"We will see. Vashlani is not an experiment to be studied. No tests." Vashlani picked up his fork and pushed more of the food around on his plate. His whiskers slightly moved and his tail twitched.

"Mordin, when we go out on missions you can view what he does, but nothing else. Do not ask how he does what he does. Clear?" Shepard said as she picked her fork back up.

Mordin blinked and looked between Shepard and Vashlani. "Of course, Shepard. Observation is perfectly acceptable. Have been studying the information you gave me. When seeker swarm countermeasure finished, we shall talk on that matter."

Shepard and Vashlani stood back up, and she raised her eyebrow at the barely touched plate of food. His ears rotated and his nose wrinkled slightly.

 


 

He took the stack of newly made tabards to the enchanting table along with the armors and ran back upstairs to make a sandwich before he began to enchant his things. A beep sounded from the pad on the table, and he glanced down, it was the 30-minute warning. He put on his gear and stored the rest of the items in one of the chests in the portal room. He checked the area carefully to see if a different missive had come through before he picked up his packed travel bag.

He took off his ring and appeared back in Shepard's bathroom. He slipped the ring back on followed by his gloves and helmet as the lift lazily made its way down to the shuttle bay.

"All systems are synced, Vashlani. Your camera is set up to store images and vids in a locked file until you move them into the public one. I have added several extra layers of protection to them. They are safe. I shall continue to assist in the answering of your e-mails also."

"Thank you, EDI. I am sending a holo to you now; this is my Dwarven animunculus, my Dwarven sphere. He is my companion and caretaker of my home and myself when Vashlani is there. This khajiit will answer any questions you have about it when I get back."

He raised his hood and heard the powerful magnets snap it into place on his helmet as he strode through the shuttle bay. "Looking good as usual, Vashlani. Glad those nicer fabrics were on sale, and I didn't have to buy you the pink ones," Garrus said.

"I would have done more than turned you into a lantern for that, Garrus. The fabrication this khajiit asked for, how is it coming?"

"Still breaking down the mineral components, EDI's helping to speed up the process. She seems to have taken a liking to you, Vashlani. Shepard may have a bit of competition there." Garrus' mandibles flicked, and only Vashlani heard the low rumbling of his laughter.

"No offense to EDI, but I do not think she would look half as good in my bed as Shepard did."

"VASHLANI!" Shepard yelled as she turned to him, all the men in the shuttle were laughing as her face flamed.

"It is okay, Shepard. Vashlani looks good in your bed too. Just admit it."

"This furry bastard is alright. We should go drinking; I'll tell you all about Jessie here." Zaeed was still laughing as he patted and gently caressed the rifle he cradled in his arms.

This time it was Vashlani that let out a snort. "The last time this khajiit went drinking, I woke up to a bunch of piercings and a strange female in my bedroll. Vashlani thinks he'll need to pass on that offer for now."

"Can it boys, we're coming in to dock. Let's get this over with," Shepard said as she turned back toward the shuttle door.

The guard that met them told them it was the policy that no weapons were allowed into the facility. Shepard said no one takes her weapons. The situation had become tense when the guard didn't back down and all of them, except for Vashlani, drew their weapons. He was under strict orders to not cast or draw his staff unless it was necessary here.

Finally, an older turian arrived and told them he was the Warden. He stated once again that it was a secure facility and after they had secured their package, they could pick up their weapons before they returned to their ship. Shepard refused, she heard Garrus hiss over their comm link that the turian was barefaced and not to trust him. "There are four of you. The contact informed me that only three would be escorting the pickup."

"The other one is an observer. He will report back to Cerberus once our transaction clears, we verify the package, and return to our ship," Shepard growled as her eyes took in the armed group in the room.

The gray turian looked over Shepard and her crew. "Hmm. I don't think it would be too much of an issue to let these three keep their weapons. That one is unarmed as it is, and if he were a biotic, the sensors would have picked up his amp. Very well. As soon as Cerberus transfers the payment, the package is yours. Follow me."

He led them down a long passage and showed them a few of the things they did to the prisoners if they cause problems. Garrus pointed out it was nothing more than an extortion racket when the Warden told them that any homeworld that didn't pay the fee would have their prisoners released at any given time on their own world. That set the Warden off on a tangent about how he was doing good work, and no one else was keeping them locked away. Finally, he told them to go straight down the corridor to Outprocessing to pick up Jack. That was after he told them that Jack was the craziest, most dangerous biotic he ever met. His fingers twisted, a sign that he was nervous, it was probably the only truthful thing the turian had told them the entire time they were talking.

When they entered the room at the end, they found it had all been a trap so the Warden could capture Shepard to sell her. It was then that both mech units and several guards attacked them. Vashlani growled and didn't hold back. Lightning flew, and flames leaped forth from his hands as he stood up from his cover. The floor became slick with ice, and the mechs couldn't stay balanced and slipped, becoming easy targets for them to take out.

"Goddamn. Remind me not to piss the bastard off."

"You should see it when he lets go with the bigger things; this is all small stuff," Garrus called out to Zaeed as several mechs blew when Vashlani's lightning attacks jumped from one to the other.

They worked their way to the room where they found Jack's cryo-tube and Garrus warned Shepard if she bypassed that lock it would also open every lock on the ward.

"If we want Jack we have no choice." She had said before she started the hack program.

When the fog from the tube cleared and they finally got to view this super biotic, they were amazed that it was a young woman. "Wait. That's Jack?" Garrus muttered. Then they watched as the biotic thawed and the first thing she did was attack the YMIR mechs, destroying them, then going on a rampage that caused the ship to become so damaged it was on the verge of destruction.

"Powerful but undisciplined. The female is a danger, Shepard. To everyone and everything around her," Vashlani hissed as they were running through the ship trying to catch up to the biotic who just blasted through the walls without caring or thinking about how the hell she was going to get off the prison ship.

They made it to a room where the Warden was making his last stand. He was on a raised dais and had barrier generators surrounding him. Shepard told Vashlani that the pillars that rose up from the ground were what was generating the barrier, as they held off the incoming guards he was to destroy the devices. Once those were down, they could get to the Warden, find Jack, and get off the prison ship. She pointed to the closest pillar. "See that glowing spot, aim for that."

He nodded then moved back slightly, his hands flowed, and a glowing purple bow appeared in his hands. He drew an arrow from the glowing quiver at his back, nocked it and stood up. The pillar made a loud boom as the generator inside exploded when the magical arrow hit it.

He crouched down and moved around the other two as they were shooting at some guards that came through from a doorway at a far corner of the room. All the while, the Warden hadn't stopped talking.

"Vashlani thinks this turian likes the sound of his own voice; he has yet to shut up."

Zaeed split off from the others to cover Vashlani's back as he made his way toward his next target.

Vashlani had a clear view of the turian and could see the shimmering barrier surrounding him; the cover was sparse, so he had to time it or risk being shot.

"I'll draw these bastard's fire; you just take down that goddamned barrier. I've about had it with the constant yammering," Zaeed growled as he stood up and peppered several of the Blue Suns guards with rounds from his rifle. Another explosion rocked the ship and Vashlani had to brace himself before he stood and sent off arrows toward the pillar. A rocket flew over his head causing him to duck back down below the barrier.

"There are times when Vashlani thinks he would rather be fighting Draugr and this is one of them. They come at you with an axe or sword, some of them shoot out ice or use bows... but they do not use rockets." He turned and hurriedly moved back toward where Shepard and Garrus were finishing off a few more of the guards.

Vashlani cast his mage armor, took several steps, feeling his shields and armor peppered with shots before he cast a chain lightning at the pillar. It exploded then the bolt jumped to a guard then disintegrated one more before it stopped. The others caught up to him as he leaned against a barrel. Zaeed shook his head as he saw a golden glow swirling around Vashlani.

When the Warden was defeated they moved on; their trip had taken them all they way back to the docking area. When they arrived, they saw the young woman was pacing and growling as she looked at the only ship at the dock. The Normandy and the Cerberus logo on the side of it.

What she apparently didn't see was the guard that was coming up behind her with a weapon pointed at her back. Vashlani held up a hand, palm out and several bolts of light flew through the air embedding themselves in the guard's helmet and chest.

Without even a thank you the girl turned to them with attitude. She set Vashlani's teeth on edge. This person, if she ever got the stone block off her shoulder and dropped the attitude, may turn out to be an asset. Until then she would be a loose ballista that could turn into one giant nightmare.

"Shepard, we are running out of time," Garrus said to her as more explosions rocked the ship.

Vashlani let out a sigh and took a step forward. "You are a fool arguing about colors of a pattern when a person in front of you is trying to help you out of a situation you caused. Now, you have a choice. Listen to the Commander and come with us, or stay here and good luck finding another way off."

The young girl turned her lip up then made a demand of Shepard. She wanted all the files Cerberus had on her. Vashlani growled, and his body started to give off sparks at the continued insolence of the female in front of him.

"Enough of this foolishness. I will encase the woman then just grab her. We can sort it out on the Normandy. Vashlani does not wish to be part of the debris of this ship." Vashlani's eyes glowed, and his hand started to move in the ash shell pattern before he felt Shepard place her hand on his arm.

"No, Vashlani. I know it won't hurt her, but let's do this a different way. Trust me on this."

The girl had the audacity to snort and comment that it would be good luck to take her out that way. Zaeed shook his head, and Garrus gave a laugh of his own.

Shepard frowned and turned to her promising her the files if she came on board, she was to move it, or she would lose the opportunity. Shepard headed for the airlock followed by the others, a still growling Vashlani was beside her. Jack took another look out the window then followed them.

Vashlani still seethed as they made their way through the ship to the room they were now using for debriefings. The group was met there by Miranda who bitched about promising to share documents and files that were not part of the deal. Shepard told her to stow it, and she gave Jack authorization to view those files specifically targeted to her.

Jack opened her smart mouth again, and Miranda only shook her head before Shepard warned Jack that she would not tolerate inappropriate behavior on the ship. She was to do the job they got her out of prison for and not to cause issues. Jack had given another twist of her lips before she told Shepard she was heading down into the hold of the ship or whatever they called it.

After she had left, Vashlani unsealed his helmet and lifted it off. "I am not so sure about that one, Shepard. Vashlani is worried that she will not follow your instructions."

"She'll hold under fire, Vashlani, but as for following orders... we won't know until we are in that situation. Until then no one is to cause problems on board, I'll deal with anyone who does. It may be best just to stay out of the area she claims as her personal space on the ship. EDI, make sure everything is secure and inform Jack of the restrictions in place concerning information. Keep a close eye on her extranet and intranet usage."

When she got EDI's confirmation, she brought up the next location. "Alright, our next stop is to pick up a krogan warlord. According to the intel, he's in a Blue Sun's camp on Korlus. What exactly he's doing there we don't know or weren't told. What we know is he's rumored to be quite familiar with Collector technology. Which means he may be able to deconstruct and reverse engineer anything we come in contact with or pick up along the way. The more knowledge we have on these bastards, the better chance we'll have. Zaeed, I know you enjoy taking out Blue Suns, so you're up for this next round too. Rest up, eat, and see the Doc. Mordin, you'll come too. Vashlani, it's up to you if you want to come along. It's the same as it was on the old Normandy, you choose which missions you join us on and which ones you sit out unless I think your particular talents will be needed."

"Vashlani needs to repair items, also needs to restock on potions. A few days and the ingredients should be ready, another week maybe two and this khajiit should have enough to start testing the recipe."

"Sounds good, keep me informed. ETA to the destination is in 24 hours. Dismissed."

 


 

Vashlani kept his pad nearby as he worked in the greenhouse. The plants had just started to flourish and needed a bit more care than any of the others. Garrus was down in the smithy studying the schematic. Vashlani had a suspicion that he had only wanted to be down there instead of the study because the heat that the forge and smelter gave off.

He eventually made it down there and saw Garrus hunched over the holographic diagrams.

"This seems to be mainly powered by steam, same as your sphere, but how is it keeping the water hot? Is there water? Maybe there is something other than a liquid that it's heating. One of these components has to be a boiler of some kind. Have you found anything in your Master's old journals? What about your hot water in the bathroom and kitchen, how is that staying hot?"

"Nothing specific. Some odd notations, a few scrawled entries as he was rebuilding it. Vashlani will keep looking. As far as the water, the pipes from this room go through the cupola on the roof, inside of there are several ale-cask sized barrels. Two of them sits on a grate on top of the pipes. The other two contains cold water." He flipped through several diaries until he found the entry he was looking for with a small diagram showing how it was put together from the Dwemer instructions.

Garrus sighed, straightened up and shut off the hologram. "We better be getting back, they are a bit overdue, and knowing Shepard all hell broke loose down there."

When they returned, it was to find that Shepard and her crew were back. Zaeed was currently in the med bay for damage from being hit by several krogan. Mordin was currently in his lab going over some documents that they found intact and most surprising of all, that the krogan they were supposed to pick up wasn't the one on board.

"What the hell do you mean by that last part, Joker? Shepard wouldn't bring on just any random krogan." Garrus was watching Joker as the grin slowly spread on the pilot's face.

"She's got herself a tank baby krogan, all sealed up down in the cargo hold. Not just any baby krogan either, but one that was genetically built to be far superior to any other. She's in the meeting room with Jacob and Miranda discussing this krogan and what to do with it."

"Hmm, Vashlani is going to the med bay to see if Healer needs help. Call me if you think she is going to do something crazy, like let it out. This is not Wrex, but an unknown," Vashlani said as he turned toward the walkway heading to the lift.

 


 

Vashlani walked into the med bay to see the grizzled old man laying on the medical table and flirting with the Healer as she tended to him. His ears twitched as he gave her a smile before she told him that Zaeed had some burns from the explosions and a few rounds had gotten through his old armor, along with injuries from krogan hits. Vashlani looked at the holo of the damage, then stripped off his gloves before giving the guy a grin and enveloping him in a warm, soothing light.

"Son of a bitch, what the bloody hell did he do?"

Chakwas laughed and patted Zaeed on the shoulder. "He healed your wounds, removed the pain, and from what this scan shows, also took care of a few other issues you were having."

"Wish he was around twenty years ago, might not have lost my eye and ended up as ugly as I am. Say, did I ever tell you about the time..." He kept talking, telling them stories about his past adventures as she cleaned up the med bay and Vashlani stocked a few of his potions in a locked cabinet.

 


 

Vashlani was in Shepard's cabin and getting dressed after taking a shower when Joker's panicked voice came over the line. Shepard was down in the cargo bay and from the looks of it was going to tell EDI to open the tank. He didn't stop to finish dressing just ran out the door and into the already opened lift.

"EDI, can you get this lift to move faster?"

"Data shows that the engineers built the Normandy's lift to be on par with the ones from the Citadel. I cannot make adjustments to the speed. I am sorry, Vashlani."

"That's alright, thank you for trying, EDI. I just have to get to Shepard before something happens." He was trying to finish tying the laces on his breeches when the doors opened, and he went running toward the sign that read "Cargo Hold." The door slid open silently, and he ran in to see a krogan had Shepard pinned to the wall of the room. He started to move his hands, and a bow appeared followed by a fiery apparition. He nocked an enchanted arrow on the bow and pulled it back, only to hear the krogan start to laugh before he released Shepard.

Vashlani didn't move until he saw the gun in her hand. He let out a breath, banished the atronach and bow before taking a few steps backward out the door to wait for her.

Several minutes later the door opened, and Shepard came out. "Vashlani?"

He reached out and took her arm, pulling her close to him, "How could you do something so reckless, Shepard? You confronted me when this khajiit fell into the old Normandy with many men and weapons, yet you go into there with nothing but a small gun? You could have been hurt. Or worse. Why didn't you send for this khajiit to protect you?"

Shepard looked up into his blue eyes; she could tell he was both worried and upset at her for taking the chance she did. "I'm the Commander, the leader, and a krogan, especially a young one, follows only a strong leader. To show weakness, in any way, would have been what caused him to try and kill me, not just gauge my strength."

His eyes searched her face, seeing the truth there. "You still should have told me. Vashlani could have been here just in case this krogan didn't have the reaction you thought he would. Do not scare me so again, Shepard."

Her brow furrowed slightly. "What's this all about?"

"You know damn well what is it about. If anything happened to you, now that we are together again ..." He leaned in closer; a loud purr sounded from him. "I have missed you so much, Shepard."

"Holy fucking hell, what the fuck is that thing?" Jack's dulcet tones rang out as the door to the engineering section opened.

Vashlani's ears rotated and he snarled.

"Vashlani, don't..." Shepard whispered, but it was too late. He already flicked his hand, and Jack was as still as a statue.

"Listen well, human. That spell won't hurt you. You ever call me a "thing" again, and you will know pain before Vashlani turns you to ash. Unlike Shepard, this khajiit will not tolerate your behavior."

He turned back to Shepard. "Vashlani does not know what to make of this new crew, Shepard. This khajiit will be back later tonight. There are things he needs to do, to think about."

 


 

He sat at the table studying the journals, his mind sometimes wandering at the turn of events with Shepard. The people she had to bring on board and deal with if it weren't for her need of him and for his attraction to her he wouldn't go back there. He would return to his own world, go back to the College then continue to adventure around Skyrim. But he wouldn't leave her with only Garrus to watch her back. He let out a sigh and closed the journal. He grabbed another mead then headed down to the smithy to smelt more of the Dwemer metals into the ingots he needed for the animunculus that he wanted to build.

He took a shower then dressed in a set of soft hide pants and a dark blue silk tunic that held a slight shimmer of a spell woven into the fabric. He just sat on a chair to pull on a pair of boots when his data pad let out a ping.

To: Blu_I_Kitty@NormandySR2.net
From: CrimSon_Terror@NormandySR2.net

* BEGIN SECURE TRANSMISSION *

I have decided to head back to the Citadel for a few days; we need to stock up on items for the krogan, his name is Grunt. I hope that you will be able to join us on the Citadel for shore leave. If not I understand.

I am sorry about Jack's behavior. I don't have much choice on the crew for this mission. I need the best, and she is off the charts for the raw power of her biotics. She is rude and undisciplined, that's a fact. But she is strong, and if we can just get through to her, train her for controlling herself, as well as her biotics, she would be one hell of a team member. I don't doubt that one little bit, Vashlani. But I think I may need your help in getting her to learn the control.

I think it stunned her this afternoon that you stopped her so quickly. She really didn't say anything after the shell wore off. I did, however, warn her not to disrespect you in such a way again.

Garrus sent me a reminder that you will be taking his turn at mineral scanning for a month. His allotted time begins after we leave from the Citadel. I thought we could show you how to work this new program and you can scan whatever planets are in this system as practice.

I'll see you when you come back.

* END SECURE TRANSMISSION *


Vashlani sent back a reply that he would return in another hour or so, he would bring them dinner, and she could explain the system to him then. In his kitchen, he packed a large basket for them and added several bottles of various meads and ale before heading back to the ship.

Chapter Text


 

 

That evening they stayed in the Hourglass Nebula while Shepard taught Vashlani to scan the planets then send out probes when the readings were high enough. "Oh, so with this we don't have to land and set up the beacons for the mining crew?" Vashlani asked as he pushed the probe launch button when the readings spiked for Iridium.

EDI announced that the probe was away and they waited.

"No, Vashlani. With this upgraded system, we don't have to land at all. The probe does all the work." She pointed at the screen showing that the probe was returning with its payload of minerals the crew would bring into the hold, separate into specific containers, and register in the ship's log.

"Now you have to watch what you're doing and don't get carried away. We have a limited supply of the probes, and we can't restock until we stop for fuel. So only send them out when that scanner peaks and stop when EDI tells you that the resources are low on the planet. Just tell Joker when you're ready to move on. We'll head out to the Citadel once you're finished and we'll restock and refuel there. Don't stay up too late though. Joker will need his sleep."

She shook her head as he only grunted before pushing the button again, his ears twitching and his whiskers moving up and down as he grinned when EDI told him the probe was returning.

"Vashlani, one more thing. We're using the minerals for weapons, armor, and ship upgrades first, your own use will need to wait a bit."

"Ok, ok, Vashlani understands. He has enough supplies. If he needs more, he can send a note to the Arch-Mage to see if supplies had made it to the College. If not then will start a list of what is needed. Maybe we can help the College with things as well, they did send that potion recipe, rare ingredients, and Tolfdir is doing research for us."

"We can, if what they need is replicable in the fabricator and if we have the resources, but the mission with the Collectors comes first," Shepard said to him as she stopped and leaned against the back of the navigator's chair where Vashlani sat watching the scan report from the planet's surface. "I'm going to bed, see you both in eight hours."

Joker reached over and grabbed one of the bottles from the basket that Vashlani had placed between their seats. "Can you chill this, buddy?"

Vashlani stuck out his hand, not bothering to remove his eyes from the screen and when Joker placed the bottle in his palm, he wiggled his fingers and frost formed along the side of the bottle. He kept the other hand poised over the probe release button on the console.

"So... you and the Commander, huh?" Joker popped the cork from the now cold bottle and raised it to his lips.

"Hmm? What about Shepard and Vashlani?" He pushed the button, and when the probe launched, EDI told him it would be a good time to scan a different planet since the resources were registering below the threshold set by the Commander for mining. They waited until the probe returned before Joker set a course for the next planet.

"You have the hots for Shepard. I saw the footage of you two in the hall outside of Grunt's room."

"This khajiit doesn't know what you are talking about." He tried not to let the pleased purr into his voice or the smile break out on his face.

"Uh huh. You would have locked lips right there in the hall if Jack hadn't popped out and interrupted you guys."

Vashlani gave a small laugh as he chilled his own bottle of ale before drinking it. "The thought crossed Vashlani's mind many times before. Maybe one day." He went back to watching the scanner and Joker shook his head at the khajiit and wondered what he was waiting for.

It was several hours, quite a few bottles of mead, a small sack of boiled cream treats they split between them later when Vashlani let out a huge yawn and told Joker he ran out of probes. Joker jerked awake in his chair almost dropping the bottle in his hand and shifted before setting a course for the Citadel.

Vashlani picked up the basket that contained all the empty bottles and snack sacks while he waited until Joker chugged the last from his own bottle, let out a huge belch and dropped it into Vashlani's basket before he made his way toward the lift. He stopped in his assigned room long enough to grab the stack of clothes and bar of soap. EDI had informed him earlier that there had been "additions" made in and around his room. He had growled then let out a sigh. He pushed the button for the loft and waited, he'd let Garrus know in the morning, and he could take care of it then.

Shepard heard the door to the cabin open and shifted, she saw the silhouette of the tail and closed her eyes to return to sleeping. She heard him tap on the glass and ask his hamster, that he named Ji'za if he was hungry before she heard the bathroom door open and close.

She had just drifted back to sleep when she felt the bed dipping, without opening her eyes she asked him what the hell he was doing.

"Vashlani is going to sleep, his room has been tampered with again, and he's tired. EDI said she wouldn't record the room but just knowing those things are in there will make Vashlani not sleep. Goodnight, Shepard."

He rolled over and scooted around, she felt his tail brush against the back of her legs, and she wiggled, brushing her hand down her calves. "Stop playing with Vashlani's tail, Shepard. It's distracting."

"It's annoying me; you're tickling the back of my legs. Why aren't you going home?" Shepard grumpily asked as she once again brushed her hand over the back of her lower legs trying to get the tickling feeling from the fur on his tail to go away.

"Vashlani is meeting Garrus in the morning and going to his home then," he let out a yawn, "makes more sense just to stay here and travel once, then go back and forth." He let out another yawn and snuggled against his pillow, then let out a sigh as he felt her hand pushing his tail away from her again. He rolled to his other side and thumped his pillow before settling back down. "There, now you won't be playing with my tail when this khajiit's trying to sleep."

Shepard let out a huff and looked at him over her shoulder as if she was the one annoying him. She thumped her own pillow and pulled up the sheets before shutting her eyes. Moments later she heard a purring type of snore coming from him and grinned, the sound relaxing her and lulling her to sleep.

 


 

The next morning they were awakened by Joker letting them know they would be arriving in Citadel space in just under two hours. Vashlani rolled over after he had grabbed Shepard's pillow when she had left the bed. As soon as she had showered and dressed, she shook him and told him he needed to get up. He grumbled then did as she asked.

Vashlani had just finished feeding his pet and stood in front of the small device that Shepard had called a mini fridge, gulping down milk from one of his little bottles, when Garrus came through the cabin's door.

Vashlani let out an enormous purring sigh as he sealed the empty bottle and set it beside his pack.

Garrus sat on the couch as Vashlani finished dressing. "I have gone over and over those schematics. Without a complete or near-complete translation of them, I don't see how we are going to get it to work," Garrus said.

"Vashlani found an entry in one of his Master's diaries. It was vague, Vashlani thinks he made it like that in case someone else saw the journal. Mages aren't always the most trustworthy of people. Especially when it comes to something as powerful and unique as a working Dwemer artifact that isn't hostile. It concerned the cores and dwarven oil. The oil is not a problem; this khajiit has quite a lot in stock. But the cores... Vashlani can't afford to waste even one in experimentation. To have to travel back to my own world then hunt one down could take months. Even then there aren't any guarantees that it would work or that Vashlani would return in one piece. Those bastards are tough, and the ruins themselves are extremely dangerous."

Garrus let out a grunt; he had watched those vids, several of them taken while Vashlani wore his armor, so they all got a first person view of the actual fight not just holos of the surrounding areas.

"Maybe it's time to ask for help?" he said cautiously, he knew how dangerous it would be to let even a bit of the knowledge Vashlani carried with him outside of those that were bound by the scroll.

Vashlani looked at him, "This khajiit is unsure, Garrus. Without the binding ritual, the knowledge can be spoken to anyone. Knowledge is power and is corruptible and in Vashlani's case, dangerous to him. EDI may be alive, but she is a machine. Her loyalties are still unclear and could be forced by these Cerberus. In any case, the spell that was used by Master to bind the sphere would not work on her; it is designed for the animunculi to serve its owners needs and the specific requirements of the pocket home. Vashlani wouldn't bind her to me like that anyway; it would be unfair to one such as she."

Garrus let out a long sigh, "Maybe we should just ask her? She hasn't revealed anything about that gem you have me working on. And she's got your files, and anything about you locked down tight."

Vashlani stood up and started to strip the sheets off the bed, his tail and whiskers twitching. Garrus waited, as he had long ago learned to read some of the khajiit's tells, he was thinking hard, and it wasn't something that would be an easy decision for him. He watched as Vashlani jammed the rolled up bedding into the laundry chute.

"EDI?" Vashlani's voice was hesitant as he called out to the AI, his ears rotating and his hands nervously stroking the pile of fresh linens.

"Yes, Vashlani? What can I assist you with?" The blue pawn had popped up over the small terminal, and Vashlani glanced at it.

"What this khajiit is about to ask you is private, personal, and Vashlani needs the absolute truth. You know that knowledge of me in the wrong hands would most likely mean my incarceration or possible death?"

"Yes, the Commander has informed me. It is the same for me, knowledge of me being an AI would mean my deactivation."

"Can Vashlani trust you with other knowledge from his own world? Of the things, he can do? Of things, Vashlani has that are powerful and unique? Can he trust you not to share this knowledge with anyone else, unless he gives permission? No matter who asks? No matter what they try and do to you or threaten you with?"

"You can, Vashlani. All you need to do is be specific when you tell me the permissions. Protocols dictate that I follow commands as they are given to me. Commander Shepard has given me the means to be... creative, in my interpretation of them. She has also given me explicit instructions that your presence in this galaxy is to be kept secret and is of utmost importance. If you need help, for anything, all you need to do is ask and tell me that it is confidential, tell me who can know about it. The data will not be available to anyone else; I will make sure of it."

Vashlani dumped the pile of sheets on the bed and looked over at Garrus. "Are you sure about this Garrus?"

The turian stroked his mandible and then the back of his neck, "We haven't much of a choice if you want that thing built and the power issue figured out." He watched Vashlani put the sheets on the bed, wondering why he was doing it in the first place but held his curiosity about the matter in check.

"EDI? There is something important that we would like your help on, but no one other than Garrus, you, and I is to have access to the information. Not even Shepard..." Vashlani explained about the non-translated text, the need to figure out how the machine from the diagram would be powered up and how to get it to work. He also told her about wanting to adapt that energy source to fuel other items for his home, ones that come from this dimension and needs this form of constant power, if the solar type batteries he already had, couldn't handle it.

Garrus gave EDI the model specs of the solar panel and batteries installed in the pocket house and estimated dimensions of the space that would be available unless Vashlani was willing to expand his home again.

"Vashlani wants to build a small personal brewery to make meads and ales. That mead this khajiit gave you before, it is one Vashlani made. Vashlani sent away to Elsweyr for the instructions and equipment, but the small shack he set up in the stable didn't work as well as he had hoped. The animals didn't care for the smell of the must this khajiit had cooked up nor the fact that there were several barrels in the goat area that took up much of their space. They refused to let me milk them for days until I moved all the stuff. The sphere had to take care of all the animals that time. Vashlani uses wood fires to heat the boilers with so he won't have to worry about powering those."

Vashlani made sure that everything was neat then leaned against the closet. "Vashlani isn't able to add on more rooms yet. The tome with the spell is still hidden from him, which means he isn't powerful enough or something else needs to be done first, just like when the other room in his cellar was locked away from him until he needed it. The only way right now is to put up separate buildings like we did with the greenhouse." He looked down at his feet; he had plans for the one door though, a rough draft made for where it would lead to... maybe, maybe he could get Garrus to look them over.

"There is something though that Vashlani would like Garrus to take a look at when we go to my home, for behind the one door."

He took Garrus with him into the pocket bag and showed him the blueprints of the tower room he wanted to build. Garrus made a few adjustments to the measurements where the khajiit's calculations were wrong and then made a few changes showing him how he could squeeze more space out of it without using more materials. When he saw the worried frown on his friend's furry face and the way he kept tapping a nail against the roll of paper where the building supply list was, he finally asked him what was wrong.

"This is all moot, Garrus. This khajiit doesn't have the time or money to build this. Not with being in your dimension. Vashlani won't just leave Shepard, what you are doing it too important. The cut timbers alone would cost a small fortune, which he doesn't have, and mining the stone would take this khajiit many weeks, even if he works from dawn to dusk... even longer. The nails, hinges, and locks wouldn't be an issue, those he could make at the Normandy's fabricator. Vashlani has the ingots for them, and it would take that machine minutes to make them instead of days. Maybe this khajiit should just forget about building this, at least for now." His hand moved to the room at the top of tower tracing the window that would have a view of the orchard.

Garrus leaned against the workbench and watched his friend closely, there was something behind the building of this tower, and he could tell it was important. "You know, Vashlani you aren't alone now. You have people that will help you when you need it, not to mention technology that would speed things along... if you just asked."

"Vashlani knows, Garrus... but this tower, it's personal, and Vashlani feels he should put his best effort and care into building it."

"It may be personal for you, but your friends are here to help, it's what friends are for. Just think about it, alright?" Garrus patted his shoulder then waited for him to put those plans away and open the small case containing the books they would need to upload to EDI.

Garrus was scanning the books into his omni tool while constant shoveling and hissing noises came from the smelter behind him. Vashlani had stripped down and was busily melting the scrap metals, and broken pipe pieces from the Dwemer ruins that he had gathered up. A small part was on the desk beside Garrus. He had seen the disk in the bottom of the crate that Vashlani was emptying and asked if he could have it, the khajiit shrugged and agreed. An hour later the shoveling stopped, and Vashlani came over, picked up one of the small charcoal writing sticks and noted how many ingots that were in the process of cooling and forming in the molds in his journal.

"Vashlani, what is this metal anyway? You called it Dwemer metal, but it's nothing I've ever seen before. Nothing about it is registering as a known alloy." Garrus picked up the metal disk turning it over in his palms.

"No one knows, Garrus. No one has been able to replicate it. The only way to get the metal is to salvage the scraps from the ruins or luck upon a cache of them. Most of my time in there was spent hauling all of this stuff out after this khajiit found the schematic. Vashlani even went to the small ruins and dismantled grates and took the bowls and plates that others had left behind. Levers from doors, broken struts and pieces from the animunculi that were either already nonfunctioning or one he took down. Vashlani even took apart several of the inside doors. Let me tell you, sleeping in one of those ruins is almost impossible, Vashlani was never so happy as to have his pocket home."

"Spirits, how I would love actually to see one. See the places you talked about and showed on those vids." Garrus turned over that piece of metal in his hands several more times as Vashlani watched; his blue eyes were seeing the way the metal was caressed and the way his friend's mandibles were flicking.

"Are you serious about wanting to see one? You know Vashlani wasn't kidding when he said they are dangerous, the inhabitants of them deadly. They are trapped, everything inside that is alive, or functioning tries to kill you."

Garrus looked up at him, "Yeah... yeah, I'm serious. You know I'm no slouch when it comes to fighting."

"Vashlani knows, he also knows you haven't ever encountered any creatures like those in the ruins." Vashlani put his journal away and picked up his shirt, "Vashlani needs to get a quick shower, help yourself to refreshment. Let me think about it."

Before they left he did a check of the portal room, wrote several small notes and tossed them through to the Arch-Mage. He had been hoping for some news and was a bit disappointed when there was none.

That night Vashlani sat at his desk in the study going over everything that he would need to build the addition, then came the list of things he wanted from Shepard's world. He let out a sigh and tossed the quill on the desk. There was no way he could do all of this on his own. He had no time to go to the ruins, to hunt bounties, to mine stone or cut timber, not with helping to save Shepard's people from those creatures.

At least he had made some credits from their world with the sale of fruits and vegetables from one of his greenhouses. Garrus had helped him pack up another load of the dextro goods before he went back to the Normandy. Garrus would take them and sell them the next morning for him, Shepard had set up his credit account for the pay that he received as a "special operative" for this mission. Garrus told him the others had contracts paid by Cerberus. So far only he and Vashlani didn't. Jack well... she told Shepard to take those creds and shove them up her asshole, she wanted nothing to do with Cerberus.

Instead, Shepard glared at her then told her to sit her ass down, she would be earning those credits and deserved them, she would be a fool to turn them down. When the girl wouldn't relent she told her fine, her share would come from whatever they could scavenge and sell during their missions; not a single credit would come from what Shepard would receive to compensate the others with. After a few minutes and several more comments, Jack agreed. Vashlani had let out a snort; the biotic knew she would need those credits eventually, Shepard wouldn't steal the ship and go pirate no matter how many times Jack suggested it to her.

He leaned forward in his chair again and went over the list. Maybe he should ask for help, Garrus would help him with some of this stuff and said he wanted to see a ruin. Maybe during their shore leave. It's not like they couldn't just go back to one he already visited. The unique map the Arch-Mage gave him would take him there in an instant, and there were several that he had marked that he had yet to visit. Maybe some of the others would like to go along. He'd have to discuss that with Shepard later.

 


 

The next morning he reached into his travel bag and brought out his magical map of Skyrim. There had been a small isolated tower of Dwemer build that he had run past as a pack of sabrecats was chasing him. When he had finally got far enough away that they had given up, he stopped to catch his breath and had checked his map, sure enough, an outline of tower marked the location. Now he just had to find it again. It wasn't a ruin, but he needed to see if he was able to stay in contact with the Normandy if he was in his own world. It hadn't worked before, but maybe it was because by the time he had tried it the other ship had already been destroyed.

After locating the tower, he carefully packed his travel bag, wrote a note to Garrus on his datapad, stopped in the portal room and left written instructions for the Arch-Mage and Garrus. Vashlani tossed the one for the College through the activated portal, and a small satchel came flying back out of it a few minutes later. After he had skimmed the contents, he penned another portal scroll and tucked it into his bag before he headed to the ship's armory to get ready.

Garrus was waiting anxiously for him, and after EDI had assured him that all of the recording devices in the room were temporarily malfunctioning, Vashlani quickly outlined his plan. Garrus would wait inside the pocket home, once Vashlani was sure that the connection with EDI and the Normandy was secure in his own world, then and only then, would he bring Garrus through. He warned him that he wasn't taking him to a ruin, just a small tower as a test to see if it would work and that they had to be careful. A human in strange looking armor they might be able to get away with if someone saw them. An almost seven foot, completely different shaped being in strange armor would be a whole different story.

 


 

"Alright, so far so good. We connected my suit with the data storage on the Normandy and EDI has told us that she has full scanning abilities and communication with us here in the bag." Vashlani reached into his travel bag and drew out a small satchel, draping it over Garrus' shoulder. "Inside this bag is a scroll for you to use in an emergency, as well as enough food and water for several days. If I should die, remove the pocket bag, the ring on my right hand, armor, and my travel bag before you read the scroll. It will bring you back here. When you arrive in the portal room, read the scroll on the desk then toss the one with the red ribbon through that glowing portal, whatever you do; don't go into it. The Arch-Mage will arrive from the other side of it to help you get back to your own world. Remember to leave no trace of you being on my world behind, no heatsinks, nothing, not even a piece of trash." When Garrus told him he understood Vashlani put his fur cloak on then his pack before grabbing up a staff.

"Okay, first test. Remain here and wait, if you don't hear from me or a scroll comes flying through then just follow the directions laid out."

He took one last look at Garrus and asked EDI if she was ready before he stepped into the swirl of green and disappeared.

The Arch-Mage, even though he knew Vashlani was coming, was still startled by his appearance as he came through the portal. The armor that he had on was like nothing the elf had ever seen before.

Vashlani activated his suit's diagnostic check, then did his usual pre-battle checks they taught to him aboard the first Normandy. When they all came back as normal he activated the HUD then radioed EDI. The entire time he watched the Arch-Mage's mouth gape like a salmon out water, then poke his suit with one long elven finger and circle him.

"EDI? Garrus? Either of you copy?"

"I can hear you loud and clear on my end, Vashlani. You aren't showing up on my radar though, and my visor doesn't pick anything up other than the swirling light." Garrus' flanging voice came over the comm system.

"I can hear you also, Vashlani. I had to readjust some settings on the communications protocols for your suit and applied the same to Garrus'. I need to run internal scans; please wait." A moment later she asked who the person was that kept poking his suit and helmet.

"That is Arch-Mage Savos Aren, of the Mage's College in Winterhold. Would you like to talk to him?" At her hesitant sounding yes, he activated the suit's external audio system.

"Arch-Mage, there is someone who is interested in speaking with you for a moment while she makes sure it is safe for me to bring a friend through, would you be so kind as to spare a few moments of your time for her?"

"Someone from there wants to speak with me? Well, I suppose I could, although I do not know what they would possibly be interested in me for." The old elf straightened his robes and stroked his beard.

Vashlani let out a small laugh. "EDI isn't like anyone or anything either of us had ever encountered before, Arch-Mage."

He introduced the two, neglecting to tell the mage he was speaking with a machine. EDI asked him several questions concerning the building and magic in general and about his people. The Arch-Mage assured her that the College was open to anyone wanting to learn more about magic. Vashlani let out a small coughing laugh as EDI voiced the word, "anyone?"; a hint of doubt and amusement tinged the sound of it.

"Vashlani, all communications, audio, and video feeds are stable. Vital statistics are standard. I've created a separate data profile for the suit's requirements for your homeworld and will apply the same settings to Garrus' when he arrives there as well." EDI's voice paused for a moment, "will you leave your external cameras operating so I can also join you on your adventure?"

"Of course, EDI, as long as the vid feed remains confidential until this khajiit says otherwise." When she asked if she could at least share it with Joker he laughingly agreed, he knew that it would be most unlikely that his friend could ever come to see this world for himself. It was just too dangerous and harsh.

He made sure everyone was ready then jogged up to a small doorway that led to the outside parapet of the College where he could activate his map without being seen. He looked up at the bright blue of the sky and then did a slow sweep of the town and Sea of Ghosts, making sure that EDI was enjoying the view before he tapped on the marking that read Reachwind Eyrie.

Vashlani crouched in the cover of the overgrowth and carefully scanned the area for anything moving. When he didn't spot more than a few rabbits hopping around and eating the tender shoots of new growth, he told Garrus to be ready.

When Vashlani appeared in front of him Garrus was more than ready to go, his helmet was on, and he had a small pistol in his hand.

 


 

The tower was quite small, and there were no enemies, but Garrus didn't seem to mind. He looked at everything, picking up all the objects and Vashlani more than once saw his friend's visor scanning the items. His helmet was currently sitting on the Dwemer style desk after EDI had assured him that the oxygen levels and gravity were comparable to Earth and safe for him. While Garrus was enjoying himself, Vashlani opened the small satchel and brought out a thick packet of parchment and opened it, then began reading. After he had read the last message, he looked over at the turian and saw Garrus had his arms full of gears, cogs, and pieces of scrap metal. He also spotted the corner of a book sticking out from between two plates.

Vashlani dug into his bag and drew out a small sack that he held open as Garrus jammed his treasures into it. At the top of the tower, they found a locked chest. Vashlani leaned on the wall of the tower while Garrus tried his best to figure out how to open it. When he finally gave up with a huff, Vashlani laughed and reached out to the lock. A barely discernable orange glow encased Vashlani's hand, and they heard several clicks and watched as the device on the top opened, revealing the contents of the container.

Once Garrus had brought everything out of it and looked at it all, he stuffed it in his sack. "Is there anywhere else we can go?"

Vashlani leaned against the wall, the camera of his helmet tracking a hawk as it circled in the sky. "Vashlani isn't sure, Garrus. There is someplace he would like to go later for a few hours. This khajiit supposes we could go to one of the small cave systems near the town, but afterward, you will need to wait inside the pocket bag for awhile before Vashlani has time to take you back to the Normandy. Is that agreeable?"

"Sure, I can go over those plans again." Garrus wanted to ask where Vashlani was going but thought better of it, the khajiit always had secrets, and they had come to an understanding about them a long time ago.

Vashlani reached for the sack Garrus was holding and slipped it into his travel bag then pulled out the map again. "This time Garrus, when Vashlani travels the magic of the map will pull you with me. You will need to be alert in case we are attacked by wildlife or bandits if any are in the immediate area and spots us. If it's a bandit we can't let them get away and spread stories about you... although if it's a nord they may just think you are some magical creature Vashlani summoned. Get ready for a temperature change; it's going to get freezing."

He pulled out his staff, and when Garrus nodded that he was ready, he activated the map taking them to the Stillborn Cave, North of Windhelm.

When they arrived, they did so in the middle of a blizzard; visibility was next to nothing, it was only the darker area in front of Vashlani that let him know where the entrance to the cave was.

"Spirits, what the hell is going on?" Garrus called out to him, his suit taking a moment to switch over to maximum heating instead of the low warmth it had been only a second ago.

"Welcome to Skyrim, Garrus. This is Winterhold region, we just came from the warmer area of The Reach, on the other side of Skyrim. The College is even further north." They stopped right inside the cave, EDI told them that their suits were still working optimally and that she was enjoying their trip.

Garrus let out a huff; the damned AI was aboard the cozy Normandy while he was there freezing his ass off.

"Be thankful, Garrus. My regular armors do not come equipped with heating systems," Vashlani said to him as he adjusted his pack. "From here on out we need to keep any noise to a minimum. See this piece of a fence like material?" When Garrus nodded he told him that it was a sure sign that the place had Falmer in it. "Falmer have an acute sense of smell and hearing to make up for their lost eyesight. Sneaking around them is almost impossible except for the most highly trained in the art of stealth, or if you have your gear enchanted for muffling any noise. Ready?"

Vashlani watched as Garrus clutched his pistol and checked his ammo pouch. "Yeah."

 


 

Garrus used the toes of his armored foot to flip the Falmer over so he could get a better look at it. "This one was using magic too. I can imagine Mordin's excitement over seeing one of these in person." Vashlani looked over from where he was removing the chitin from one of the dead chaurus creatures.

"Yes, one of their females. Check the scraps of her armor for a satchel similar to the one you're carrying. They are alchemists of great talent and may have some ingredients on her."

When they finished looting the area he had Garrus double check his ammo pouch and recount the spent heatsinks, they couldn't afford to leave even one of those behind. When they were ready they went deeper into the cave system, finding yet more Falmer and chaurus in a large open area. While Garrus once again tried to figure out the lock on one of the Falmer chests Vashlani looted the place clean, finally leaning over and casting his spell to unlock the chest. The coins and rolls of paper inside drew the turian's attention, and Vashlani held out a gold colored one and Garrus slipped it into a suit compartment before picking up the bundled rolls of paper. When they were done Vashlani double checked everything then took them back into the pocket bag.

After his shower, Vashlani assured Garrus that the sphere was more than capable of cleaning his armor, it had learned from cleaning his old suit many times. Garrus watched him unload the sacks from his bag then pack a basket with food and bottles of milk. "Vashlani will be back in a few hours, make yourself at home, Garrus. You remember how the magic of the boxes works?" Garrus nodded, and Vashlani went down the stairs to the cellar as Garrus started stripping off his gear.

The turian eyed the sphere that was waiting next to a basket as Garrus dropped his armors into it with a "be careful with that" as the sphere lifted the full basket up and rolled out the front door heading for the pond.

Chapter Text


 

 

The next morning Vashlani and Garrus went to the Citadel as it was the last day of shore leave and Vashlani wanted to look around. At one point Garrus went into a shop with the word Curios above the door. Vashlani watched as Garrus pulled out one of the small garnets that he had found in a chest. Vashlani shook his head, as they were very common and cheap in his world, the only use those gems had was in creating pieces of inexpensive jewelry. What Garrus was doing trying to sell it as a loose gem he didn't know. His attention was drawn back to the counter when the man behind it became quite excited and started pulling out several pieces of equipment, placing the gem inside it, and starting it up. Vashlani almost fell over at the offer the man had made to Garrus for that one small gemstone.

He followed Garrus out of the shop and into a different one. Then watched as the turian pulled out the bundles of paper rolls from a bag he was carrying. Again Vashlani couldn't believe what he was seeing when the man offered an outrageous price for the pieces of paper.

After they had left, Vashlani pulled him to the side. "Garrus what is going on? Why are those people offering so much money for that junk?"

Garrus looked down at him, his mandibles clicking, "Vashlani, I thought you knew..." He quickly looked around and lowered his voice. "Listen in this world most things are synthetic, remember when you asked about where to get timber? Cutting down trees is forbidden without Council or homeworld permits, real gems are incredibly rare here as is actual paper made from tree pulp. Acid tests done on tiny pieces show it's ancient so I can sell it without incurring a fine or possibly jail time."

Vashlani just looked at him and wondered if it was some sort of joke. "You set this up as a joke on Vashlani right? No one would possibly pay that much money for things the people where this khajiit comes from leaves behind as useless clutter and junk."

"It's no joke, Vashlani. When I first went into your house and saw all that paper and heard those books were real, I nearly passed out. I thought you were hoarding and protecting it, until I saw you writing on it, using it like we do datapads. That scroll you handed to me I thought was different since it had that spell on it. But when you took us back to the Normandy, I took a sample of the crumbled scroll and tested it and saw it was real. I made you that promise not to say anything about those scrolls, and I kept it, but that paper was from that chest so--"

Vashlani looked down at the metal flooring of the Citadel. "I had no idea. The corks from the fabricator they are not from the Cork trees?"

Garrus shook his head. "No, they are synthetic. Same consistency, density all that, but not from real trees. That soul gem thing, it's taking so long to break down because we have to match up the components to the minerals we have available, or EDI has to figure out ones that are compatible. The bottle things are made from a crystalline substance common to this place and used in many things, so that wasn't an issue. I'm sorry for not saying something earlier about this stuff; I honestly thought you knew."

"No, don't apologize Garrus. Vashlani knows you would have told him." He looked up at the tall turian, "But now that he knows maybe you could help him. The offer you made me, the one about helping me build that tower. Would you be willing to sell a piece or two of jewelry and buy things for Vashlani? This khajiit handcrafts bits and baubles for the enchanters at the College, and Master and Vashlani used to take them to a town near the time of Saturnalia to sell. If you could do that for me and buy a few things it would be a great help."

"Sure, but listen we need to be careful. This stuff is rare, and we don't want to draw the wrong type of attention. But if we sell a piece here and there on different worlds we should be alright."

Their next stop sold custom made and prefab buildings. Vashlani told the salesperson he didn't need help several times since the asari kept trying to get him to add unnecessary things to his order. Garrus said to cancel the order they would go somewhere else; finally, she stopped pushing and went to pester another person.

"Ok, Garrus, here is what this khajiit needs; the brewery building," he gave the approximate size he needed. "We'll go to a ruin and rip out the shelving and install in it to save money." Garrus let out a snort as he programmed the dimensions. He helped him pick out the materials to have it made in and the colors for the outside to try and get it to blend in a bit better. The shiny silver metal just wouldn't work but maybe the one called Earth Granite would.

Vashlani brought up his account and paid for it after extracting a promise from Garrus to help him move the container into the bag and help set it up when it arrived.

Their last stop was to the Galactic Courier Service. Garrus pulled out a small package and paid to have it delivered to Palaven before they headed back to the Normandy.

Curiosity got the better of him, and Vashlani asked about the package. "You know that book I picked up from that one place? I sent it to my mother back home, she... has not been doing too well and I wanted to get her something since I won't be going home for a while. That book seemed to be some type of fairy tale or fantasy story, and I thought she might like it."

"Oh, did you want Vashlani to make you a healing potion for her?"

Garrus stopped and looked down at the floor, his hand gripped the duffle bag's straps harder. "No, it is a sickness of the mind, not just the body. There is nothing anyone can do for her. Thanks for the offer."

 


 

Later that afternoon when they took the container into the pocket bag they spent an hour looking for a suitable place for it. The goats ran at them when they tried to put it up in their meadow, they bleated at them, and the chickens tried to peck their feet when they were near the stable. Vashlani shook his fist at the animals then they dragged it further from the house toward the far side of the pond. It took only a few minutes to set up as it was automated. Once they were done Vashlani made a list of supplies he needed in his journal, then Garrus helped him carry the things he already had out to the new building. They moved the old shack to the side of the new brew house for storage space. While Vashlani was arranging things inside, Garrus grabbed a small basket and headed for the dextro greenhouse. When they were ready, they headed back to the Normandy.

 


 

"Shepard, can Vashlani have a few minutes to talk to you about something?" he asked from the couch where he had been sitting while she went over the restock and expense reports. They would be leaving the Citadel the next day as a request had come in from Cerberus Headquarters about someone they needed her to rescue.

"Sure, what is it?" She kept typing in her terminal, and he got up and went to lean against the glass enclosure next to her.

"This khajiit has a proposal he wants to make. Garrus and Vashlani got to talking the other day, and Garrus mentioned how he really wanted to see a ruin from my world for himself. Vashlani told him how dangerous it was, but he really wanted to go... so, well, after making sure communications worked and he could get back here if something happened to me... Vashlani took him to my world."

Shepard's typing paused for a moment, "You did what!"

"It's fine, EDI made sure our suits worked and everything, and he is fine, and Vashlani didn't take him anywhere too dangerous. An empty tower and a cave that's it. He got to see a bit of my world and enjoyed himself."

"I can't believe you two did something like that without telling me." Shepard slammed her hands on the desk.

"Vashlani is sorry. He wouldn't have let anything happen to Garrus, and he gave Garrus a portal scroll and made sure he had food, and the Arch-Mage could bring him back if something happened to me. He had fun and liked seeing the things for himself. Vashlani thought maybe... you would like to see it too. Maybe take one of the others along if they wanted. They could keep some of the treasure that we find, Garrus said it could be like a... a... bonus, and only if they wanted to go and only the team that Vashlani trusts and are willing to accept the binding."

"Vashlani, this mission is too damn important to lose one of the crew in a different dimension because they wandered off, got killed, or did something to piss a local off. You know how Mordin is, he gets so fixated on something if it is scientific, Jack would cause nothing but trouble in a town, she does enough of that on the Citadel."

"Garrus told me that certain things from my world were worth a lot in this one. Vashlani just thought since everyone was interested in where this khajiit comes from, they could see it for themselves and help out others as well. Some of that money could go to buy that vat-grown food and some supplies for them; the war is depleting everything fast, but... Vashlani can go back on his own during shore leave. This khajiit won't bring anyone else and put them in danger again. Vashlani is sorry, Shepard." Vashlani turned and headed back down to the couch, he picked up his datapad and disappeared.

 


 

Vashlani ate and changed clothes before going down into the smithing area. He set the datapad up on a crate near him as EDI had upgraded the software and added what she called a messaging app. Joker was talking to him over it as he sat at the work table cutting one of the larger amethysts down into smaller gems.

"What are you up too, Vash?"

"This khajiit is cutting gems to add to jewelry. He is making ones for a necklace, bracelet, and a ring with this one stone. After he finishes, he will craft the other pieces and set the stones. When we come back to the Citadel they can be sold, hopefully, for a good price, he has many things that he needs to buy."

Joker shifted in his chair. "Yeah, we sorta overheard your conversation with the Commander. Why didn't you tell us it was bad on your homeworld?"

"Skyrim is but one place on Tamriel, yes, not everywhere is as bad. Vashlani and others are doing what they can to help. Rumors from the College said the Dragonborn is working hard to rid the land of the dragons, but that is just one person with a few followers to help against those beasts. If they can stop them, much of the damage can be healed. The nords... well, if they aren't fighting among themselves; many are causing problems with outsiders, and by that Vashlani means anyone that's not a nord." He held up the first of the smaller cut gems, checked it for any flaws and put it to the side before continuing to cut the smaller stones.

"So you really plan on going back there during your leave time?"

"Yes, Vashlani needs to make Septims... credits, for needed things, so he must hunt bounties and find things to sell. He will be going there as often as he can. When on shore leave and in between helping Shepard."

"You'll be coming back though, right? You're not staying there?"

Vashlani looked over to the datapad, "Vashlani... will do what he needs to do, Joker. If he can make it back, he will, if not..." He shrugged. "Skyrim is harsh and cruel. One never knows if one will freeze to death or be killed by a sabrecat; set upon by a group of bandits or roasted by a dragon." He turned away to finish the cut of the stone for the ring.

"Well, that new armor of yours should help, right?"

Vashlani let out a slight laugh. "Vashlani won't be taking that armor with him, Joker. If something happens and this khajiit dies, he cannot take the chance of someone finding it. He will be wearing his robes. Vashlani made that mistake before; he didn't think it through properly when he wore it into the caves and ruins." He held up a small gem looking at how the light reflected on it before making another cut to it. "Hopefully this khajiit can find enough small caves and bounties that Vashlani won't have to go into a Dwemer ruin. Some of those are quite large. The last one took me a few months to completely go through and clean out on my own. Vashlani can't afford to be gone that long if he is also to keep his promise to help find your colonists."

He picked up the gems and moved them to a different work table. He slipped on a pair of glowing, thick gloves before bringing down a heavy bowl and a shimmering green bottle. He used the acid to clean the gems carefully, then as they soaked in a different solution, cleaned up his area.

Once he melted the gold ingot, he poured it into several different molds and set them aside to cool before he carved and polished them.

He let out a huge yawn. "Vashlani is sleepy. He will soon finish up; then he can get some sleep." Joker gave a slight laugh as he sat in his chair and watched his friend.

Vashlani set the last stone inside the bracelet and let out a sigh before he stretched and rubbed his back. "It has been a few years since Vashlani created jewelry like this, not since before his Master died. He forgot how uncomfortable it could be, hunched over for so long." He stood and collected a small lined box and carefully placed the pieces inside. "Vashlani is headed to bed, Joker. He will see you in the morning. Good night."

"Yeah, night Vash."

 


 

Vashlani sent a notice to Shepard that he would be gone for a few days, when he returned he would make sure to make up the time with the mineral scanner for her upgrades, then headed to the Main Battery and handed the box to Garrus. He told him what was inside and the next time they went to the Citadel or wherever he thought he could get a good price for them, to sell it. He wanted part of the funds spent to buy crates of food and supplies for the College. He handed him a list of what was typically found in his world, the rest of the credits could be transferred into Vashlani's account when he returned and before Garrus could say anything Vashlani disappeared.

 


 

"Garrus? You got a minute?" Shepard asked as she went into the Main Battery.

"Can it wait? I'm in the middle of some calibrations. There is a lot of work to do here." He kept his back toward her and hadn't paused in his tapping away at the holo-keyboard on the terminal in front of him.

"Oh, yeah, I guess so. We'll be arriving at Lorek in a few hours, be geared up and ready to go." She started to go out the door when he let out a humming sound.

"Sorry, Commander. Not sure if I am going to be able to go, these calibrations are at a delicate stage. I've already had to redo them several times. It may be better for you to take one of the others, they won't have their minds on something else and can focus on the mission."

Shepard stood there stunned. Garrus had never turned down her orders to be ready; he never passed up the chance for battle. Her mouth was still open when he crouched down and took off one of the panels under the terminal and started fiddling with some of the wiring. His omni tool flashed in the darkness of the service port. "EDI? What about now? What are the output readings?"

"There has been a one percent increase in total output, Garrus." Shepard heard him grumble as he seemed to ignore her completely.

"Still not good enough. What is the projected increase once those new Thanix cannons are fabricated and installed?" Garrus got up and moved down the short flight of steps and pulled off another panel covering.

"Five percent at maximum, Garrus, unless the output is adjusted after installation. I have updated the food and medical supply orders for Vashlani's people. Mr. Moreau made additional requests and transferred credits into the donated funds account that was set up for them. Kasumi has also donated toward the purchase of more items. She requested ramen be added, although it is not on the list that Vashlani gave you. Mordin offered to help genetically alter the vegetable seeds to achieve larger produce, at a faster rate, and be temperature tolerant, in between the research for the Collector Swarm and studying the Lazarus Project details for the Commander.

Preliminary bids on the jewelry set Vashlani made are being sent to your omni tool, as are the requests for more detailed holos and gem analysis. Doctor Chakwas has sent inquiries to several medical supply companies to try and find Vashlani a viable alternative to linen for his worlds bandages or at least a solution to clean and disinfect them, that they can make. In my research of his vids, it seems the nords use the same linen to wrap their dead that they do for bandages, often scavenging the linen from tombs."

"Sounds good, EDI. Thank everyone for me. What about the building supply list I forwarded, any word on locations on where we could find that stuff since we aren't allowed to go to his world to help him?" Garrus used a tool that sent out sparks from the end as he stuck his head inside the opening. "We also need to find someone that can custom create armor that would blend into the Skyrim style, since he won't use the one we bought him in his own world for fear of someone seeing it or getting their hands on it. I don't like to think of him just wearing his regular robes and making do when we have the means to help protect him, from enemies and that bitter ass cold."

"Hey, Garrus, too bad you couldn't have brought back some of that armor with you. Those other things you brought back were pretty cool, and those vids EDI took of that tower... wish I could have been there to see it." Joker's voice held a note of both excitement and disappointment.

Garrus chuckled, "That place was something else. The air in that world was so clean and the sky so clear there. You could see for miles, even without advanced viewing systems. Who knows maybe once we finish this Collector business and our contracts are up, he'll take some of us there for a bit of sightseeing... if we survive the Relay. What about now EDI? Any better?"

"One point zero two percent now, Garrus."

Shepard backed out the door.

 


 

Vashlani sighed as he emptied the sacks from his pocket bag. The notice board contained a few random requests that could he could fill quickly; he just didn't have the time to try and find forty River Betty fish for the woman in Markarth. He dropped off most of the Septims with the Court Wizard to pay the ongoing expenses in Windhelm. He would soon have to figure out something else as the money wouldn't last long. He did at least find a small stone quarry right outside the College and had been able to spend the last four hours swinging a pick axe and carving out several large blocks of stone to be broken down into building pieces.

He showered then dropped into bed, falling asleep before he even hit the pillow.

 


 

Vashlani sent a message to Garrus letting him know he would be bringing some stuff that he found to the Normandy if he wanted to look it over and see what he thought they could sell. When he arrived, there were a bunch of crewman standing around in the mess hall and waited as Garrus unloaded the sacks and laid everything out, rapidly typing in his omni tool as he looked at each piece. Garrus removed a few items from the tables and put them in a sack then the crew started to look over everything. Garrus heard a few grumblings over some of the items they had seen removed, he only crossed his arms and leaned on an empty table.

"Garrus? What's going on?" Vashlani whispered to him.

"We told the crew you were bringing some stuff from your world and they wanted to see it." They watched Mordin pick up a book and run his hands over the cover then the pages inside, quickly hurry over to where Kasumi stood and touch his omni tool to hers then walk away already reading what was inside.

Zaeed started picking up some of the weapons that were on the table and then grabbed the last bottle of ale before Jack could figure out a way to get it into her liquor-laden arms as well, they argued as they walked to Kasumi, both of them linking their omni tools and heading toward the lift.

Garrus grinned and watched as more and more of the crew showed up and bought the items that were laid out. Even Miranda came over and picked up a ring that was lying on a small scrap of fabric, turned it this way and that, then slipped it on her finger before strutting her way over to Kasumi.

Kelly and Gabby got into a slight argument over the green silk shirt that they both wanted until Garrus cleared his throat. Kelly let go of it and told Gabby she could have it but the next one was hers.

Vashlani looked up at him with a confused expression on his face.

"Since we couldn't go to your world to hunt treasures, what you brought back would have to do. Almost everything you can think of would be worth something to someone; you just have to figure out what it is they would go for. It would be a lot more fun if we could go there and see everything and bring things back ourselves but ..." He gave a slight human like shrug.

"I'm not too late am I? What did I miss? Did he bring back one of those big cups for my coffee?" Joker limped toward them, and Garrus nodded to the sack next to him. Joker rooted around and pulled out the cup. "Damn, wish it was one of the golden colored ones like that stuff you brought back, maybe next time. Thanks for the mug, Vash." He limped over to Kasumi then headed over and started to wash it in the sink before running it through the sterilizer and filling it.

"Vashlani, dear, glad to see you're back, now let me see what you brought." Doctor Chakwas went over and looked at everything that was left. Picking up the only stained glass lantern that was there and the handful of candles beside it. "Oh, what a lovely lantern. Did you know that they used to do this on Earth, a very long time ago? It's a lost art now. Everything's done by machine and not by hand anymore. Do you think the next time you go back you can get me some more candles, dear?"

"Of course, Healer."

No one seemed to see Shepard standing in a shadowed corner watching her crew, she chewed her lip and let out a sigh. Sometimes she really needed to think before she opened her mouth. After everything that Vashlani had done for them, without much of a complaint or asking for things, she overreacted, just like before. She knew he would do everything to protect her people, and she knew that her people could handle themselves, their gear so much more advanced than what was on his own planet.

"Anything left for the Commander to look at?" Her voice carried to where Garrus and Vashlani stood, and they turned to her.

"Sure thing, Shepard. Thought you might stop by and put a few things in that sack for you," Garrus said to her, his eyes flicking toward her for a moment.

She walked past them, her hand gripping Vashlani's for a moment and squeezing it before she went to open the sack. She pulled out a set of finely made gloves, they felt like the buttery soft hide of his pants. Then came something rolled tightly with strips of leather, when she unrolled it her fingers sank into the soft snow white fur. "What is this Vashlani?"

"It's the pelt of a snowy sabrecat. One of the outlying farms posted a job to kill the animal; it had already killed all the farmer's chickens and one of the horses. It happens sometimes. They come down from the mountains and if they are hungry enough will attack the farm animals and the people." He watched her stroke the pelt a few more times then roll it back up.

Next came a book, then a leather wrapped object. When Shepard opened it there was a dagger inside of glimmering green and gold.

"That is a dagger made from malachite and moonstone; the handle is gold wrapped in a few leather strips. The Jarl of Winterhold gave it to me as a reward for killing a frost troll that had taken up residence too close to the Whistling Mine and had scared off all the miners and killed two of his guards. This khajiit doesn't use daggers but thought it would bring more money here than it would back in Skyrim."

The last thing was something long and slender also wrapped in pieces of leather. When Shepard unwrapped it, they heard a loud gasp come from the other side of the room. Kasumi was staring at the weapon lying on the table.

"Kasumi?" Shepard questioned her, but the thief's eyes remained fixed on the sword.

"Vashlani, where did you get that?" The petite thief took several steps toward them as she said it.

"From out of a cave's treasure box, buried and forgotten until Vashlani found it while clearing out a few vampires that were terrorizing a small town in the southern part of Skyrim. It is a sword of the Akaviri. According to a few books that my Master had collected about the people, this one belonged to one of the Ka Po' Tun, the tiger people. Some think they may be related to the Khajiiti, to my people, for they are... cat like as well. See, this is the symbol of their clan." He pointed to a small engraving right above the hilt of the sword.

"Kasumi? What's going on?" Garrus asked her as she hesitantly touched the blade.

"On Earth, the Japanese people in ancient times used katana, like this one. I can't believe they had the same thing in Vashlani's world. It's almost identical. I have been looking for one to... seeking to procure one. Finding a blade in any decent shape was next to impossible. What with the tsunamis and earthquakes, wars and everything else." She looked up at Vashlani, "Those books you mentioned, is there any way to get a copy for me? I want to learn more about these people. I'll pay whatever you ask for them."

Vashlani watched the human reverently touching the old sword. "Vashlani can send a missive to the College. The librarian there may have a copy or can send a courier to the Bard's College to see if they have a copy. The books are rare; I don't... the Master only had one volume of each and --"

"I understand." Kasumi gave him a brief smile, her attention once more on the sword laying in front of her.

"Would you settle for a digital copy, Kasumi?" Garrus asked her, and she eagerly nodded. She touched the sword one more time before connecting her omni tool to Garrus' to transfer the funds they had made with the impromptu sale and backing away.

She turned to head back to her room when Shepard called her name, "You forgot something didn't you?" She was holding out the leather wrapped sword, and Vashlani was smiling at the thief.

 


 

Garrus sat in Shepard's cabin with both of them going over the funds and lists. Vashlani couldn't believe his ears when they were talking about so much food. They warned him again that the taste was different and that he needed to tell whoever the College's Cook was, to make sure to use it as an extender not just serve it as is. Shepard assured him that an order would be placed and ready when they got back to the Citadel. The both of them would help him get the cooling units to the College and explain how they worked.

Garrus left shortly after and the room grew quiet.

"I'm sorry, Vashlani. I shouldn't have yelled as I did. I'm worried about this whole Collector business, and I took it out on you." Shepard sat on one of the couches and Vashlani waved her apology away.

"No apology is necessary, Vashlani understands. We should have told you what we planned. This khajiit needs to be heading home; he has enough ingredients to attempt to make that potion. He will bring it to Mordin after it has time to settle. If you need Vashlani in the meantime send him a message, khajiit will keep the datapad nearby."

 


 

Vashlani assembled all of the ingredients and items that he would need to create the potion, then read and reread the mixing directions before he started. He cut the bulbs and extracted the juices. The leaves and slivers of roots were mixed with the mashed pulp of the bulb and pushed through a strainer. He added the resulting mixture to his retort, and the low flame under the apparatus started to heat it up. He timed it carefully, the second it was done he removed it and poured it into a glass beaker to sit and rest as the potion directions said. He compared the notes that the Arch-Mage scribbled in the paper's margins to what his looked like and grinned. So far so good. He carefully dribbled the extracted juice into the beaker until it swirled with a greenish hue.

When the mixture was ready, he poured it into the alembic and adjusted the flame, carefully watching for the changes that the Arch-Mage scribbled on the paper. The moment the potion went from green to white he took it off the heat and poured it into a potion phial. He counted to twenty, and as soon as the potion turned yellow, he corked and sealed it.

He had just cleaned his equipment when he heard the sphere coming up behind him. When he turned, he saw it holding a basket towards him. "What are you doing, sphere?" He looked into the basket and withdrew the bundle of scrolls and folded note from the inside, "Thank you." Once he removed the items, the sphere turned and rolled back out of the room.

He opened the note card and read the scrawling script:

Vashlani,

Arch-Mage Aren took me into his confidence about your unique situation and the situation your friends have found themselves in. Though Paralysis is a common enough spell in the alteration school, protection against it or cure of it, isn't. It took testing, but I do believe I have found a counterspell for it. Now mind you, this is for the spell effects, it may not work if it is something like a poison, that would need an antidote.

Savos has told me of the resist recipe he sent. I am adding another recipe to it and a few copies of the spells I made. The potion is a cure for the paralyzing effect of poisons or spells. It was in an old tome that Urag had locked in a case, that grump of an orc actually had the audacity to tell me to wash my hands before picking up the book. It is quite old, from the Third Era, in fact, it does, however, use rather common ingredients. You will need a supply of Imp's Gall, Milk Thistle Seeds, and Viper's Bugloss Leaves. Savos assured me that you were well versed in the art of alchemy. The leaves are... fiddly, as they are an ingredient only someone with vast experience in mixing concoctions can get full use out of. You only need to use two of those three to create the potion. If you are in short supply, please send a missive as soon as you can, I will share what ingredients we can spare with you.

Should you need further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Tolfdir

Vashlani hurried to his study and copied the scrolls and potion recipe into a tome before quickly heading back into the portal room. He sent a small note letting them know he received the missive and had enough of the ingredients on hand. He also informed them that very soon he would be bringing them a supply of food and other essentials. He would notify them in advance so they could prepare since several others would join him for the delivery of the containers.

He took several bundles of parchment, a full inkpot swirling with the colors of a rainbow, and a new quill down from a shelf, placing them all in a satchel before running back to the alchemy table and followed the directions to make the new potion. When he finished, Vashlani went back to the ship and into Mordin's lab.

Chapter Text


 

 

When he entered Mordin's lab, the salarian looked up and came out from behind the table he had been standing behind.

"Vashlani, how can I help you?" The rapid speech took a second for his brain to decipher then Vashlani reached into the satchel and took out both the potions.

"Vashlani has had some friends doing research into paralyzation to try and help against these... bugs?" He placed the yellow potion on the table, "This one is a resist potion. If the creatures are using some spell or poison, this will help us to resist its effects if we are stung. Shepard thought you could use it to help in your research."

He placed the other potion on the table, its contents swirling green then blue, "This one is a cure potion. If they are using some sort of poison against the humans, this will counter it and remove the effects. I only have the one potion of each for you to test with your research. Once we know which one is needed or if either of them even works, Vashlani can make more. He also has something else to use in case of emergency, but will need to test it somehow."

Mordin blinked at him then reached for the phials. "Hmm, maybe... possibly. Not sure. Will test." He hurried around to the other side and made notes into his terminal before carefully unstoppering the first of the bottles and adding a few drops to a slide before putting it into a machine.

Vashlani looked around and moved the stool to a small cleared off section of another table and set up his scroll writing items and began to transcribe more scrolls.

 


 

"Commander, The Illusive Man wishes to speak to you in the debriefing room." Kelly's voice came over the comms as Shepard finished going through her email.

"On my way." She turned off the terminal and headed for the lift.

 


 

Shepard hurried out the door of the debriefing room and ran down the hallway toward the lab. When she entered, she saw Vashlani sitting there writing something with his tail swinging in rhythm to the tune that Mordin was humming. Mordin seemed to be spraying something into the container the lone Collector bug they had been able to find on Freedom's Progress held.

"Mordin, we have an emergency, please tell me that you have those countermeasures worked out. Our colony on Horizon just went dark."

He gave a brief nod before saying, "Yes, countermeasure seems to be working. Need to run another test with Vashlani's backup plan."

"What do you need?" Shepard's voice held a bit of relief to it.

"I need a human volunteer, can't be you or one of the ground team. Vashlani needs one that will let me test these scrolls on them and be in a sealed room with that bug without Mordin's countermeasure."

"That's asking a lot as the risks involved are high. How sure are you about those scrolls?" Shepard asked him as she crossed her arm and started chewing her lip.

"The scrolls are the equivalent of those potions Vashlani gave to Mordin, but these scrolls can be used to cure or help protect others, unlike the potions that are for our use. So if you see one of the ground crew go down the scroll can be used on touch. Whereas, if you feel yourself get stung and the countermeasure failed, then the potion can be used if no one is nearby. The scrolls can also be used on the survivors if necessary, and there is no risk of overdosing from using too many. We need to know if they will work as intended, and without trying them out first...," he shrugged.

"The formula he brought to provide protection added an extra layer to the countermeasure. The one bottle was enough to use for four suit mods. Not enough left to give to others. The formula for the cure can be used in a battle situation instead of in a lab. If those... scrolls work the same, it may give us more of an edge in battle." Mordin's fast as lightning speech came from the other side of the room where he was entering information into the terminal. "The mods are refillable. I can make more, one for each team member. Will take time. Gave EDI the intel, added it to the programming for monitoring vital signs. If affected, the program will autoinject a small amount into the bloodstream. Dextro and levo are safe. Will expand the mods to include the cure if it works from the scrolls. Can have that ready in a few days, but not hours."

She sighed before rubbing her temple, "Alright, looks like we don't have much choice. We'll be arriving on Horizon in five hours. Come on Vashlani, let's go see if we can find you a guinea pig."

"Guinea pig? No, Shepard. I need a human, not an animal." Vashlani gathered up his things and stuffed them in his bag as he followed her out the door. Mordin heard a snort from her before she started a full out belly laugh. His mouth turned up into a grin for a moment before his attention went back to the terminal.

 


 

"Attention all crew, this is Commander Shepard with an important announcement and request. We are on our way to Horizon where we just received notice that the colony has gone dark and Collector involvement is likely. I need a volunteer, a person willing to be a test subject for a backup measure. I will not lie, what I am asking will be dangerous for the person. You will need to be in a room with Vashlani, without the protection that Mordin will be providing, and the creature will be released inside. Vashlani needs to test something for giving resistance to the paralyzing effect of the sting and also for the cure should it fail. Normally it would be me that would undertake this, but since we are coming up on a battle we need someone that is not a ground crew member. It is why I am asking for a volunteer and not ordering someone to do this. I know it will be a difficult decision and not volunteering will in no way count against you. If you would like to participate please come to the quarantine lab on deck four within the hour. Commander Shepard out."

Shepard and Vashlani stood outside the room pacing while Mordin continued to type something into his omni tool. The bug inside the container hovered and smashed against the side once in a while. "Vashlani, something I didn't tell you earlier. The Illusive Man somehow found out that Kaidan was down on the planet, don't ask me how he knew because Councilor Anderson wouldn't even tell me. Anyway, I thought you should know."

Vashlani let out a small grunt and nodded as he continued to pace. Shepard sighed as the time was growing close to the hour and no one had shown up; she really couldn't blame them. Vashlani was still pretty much an unknown to them; he was unlike any other race of beings they knew of. Plus they all had watched the footage and knew of the dangers of the Collectors and could hardly be faulted for being afraid.

They heard a slight clearing of a throat and turned to see a young woman approaching them, she was plainly nervous, her fingers twisting on themselves and her eyes darting everywhere.

"Commander Shepard, ma'am, I'm here to help." The young woman couldn't have been more than twenty years old.

"Are you sure about this? It is dangerous," Shepard asked her as she stopped in front of them.

"Yes, ma'am, I know that. But seeing as how I am only a dock worker and operate one of the loaders for the cargo bay, I won't be much loss if something goes wrong. Plus my mum and dad were in one of the colonies that they took before you came back. I don't think I'll be seeing them again, but if this works at least I know, I helped to stop these bastards in some meaningful way."

Vashlani's tail flicked as he stared at the woman. "Vashlani would like to know the name of the brave woman that stands before him."

"Oh, it's Yasmine. Yasmine Lee." Her voice came out in a light squeak as she answered.

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Lee." He gave a deep, rumbling purr and her eyes jumped to him. When he had her undivided attention, Vashlani explained the scrolls and what would happen inside the room, once again asking her if she wanted to do it. Her firm nod had him smiling, and he let out another purr.

 


 

On the shuttle ride to the surface of the planet, Vashlani handed each of the ground crew four scrolls of each type, reminding them all again that any that didn't get used were to be returned. Garrus and Shepard already knew how to use them, so they tucked them into their armor's compartments as Vashlani explained them to Jack. She was skeptical and smart mouthed about how could reading a few words off a piece of paper do anything but quieted down when she noticed the other two glaring at her.

Vashlani scratched his head as he tried to figure out where to put the scrolls in Jack's "armor." Finally giving up and removing a pouch from his backpack and attaching it to the belt at her waist.

"Approaching landing area. The area is swarming with those little bastards ma'am," the shuttle pilot said over his shoulder. Vashlani put his helmet on and raised the hood before taking out his staff.

"Where the fuck did that come from?" Jack asked as the staff seemed to appear out of nowhere. Garrus snorted as he readied his rifle.

"You're in for a hell of a ride, Jack. Enjoy the show but don't go stopping in front of him." Garrus moved to be in front of the door to provide cover fire as the others dropped from the shuttle.

"Mordin? You keeping an eye on the readouts for the countermeasures?" Shepard asked as they made their way through the area, so far the bugs seemed to ignore them, only coming close then to move away again.

"Yes, Shepard. So far the swarm has not determined you are a threat or human target. Cannot guarantee it will remain so."

The comm gave some static feedback and Joker came on letting them know they were losing comms with them, more than likely the swarm was doing it.

The team rounded the corner and saw several shipping containers scattered in the area, at the same time they got their first real look at the Collectors. Resembling giant bugs and quite fast, their weapons peppering their shields and whittling them down rather quickly. The Collectors seemed to have a strong layer of armoring, the team's weapons not doing as much damage.

Vashlani sent out his wolf familiar, and it was killed within seconds. He ducked behind one of the containers, and they all heard him muttering something that the translators couldn't pick up, they assumed he was no longer speaking in the common language of Tamriel but his own dialect. After a second of firing on them, the group saw more landing; the bastards could fly.

Vashlani popped up and activated his staff, the crackle of lightning ranged across the area. Everyone heard a "holy fucking shit" coming from where Jack was crouched near a crate and using a combination of biotic shockwave and shotgun blasts.

Garrus started firing at several, his own weapon modded with an armor piercing round that was punching through the Collectors armor and dropping them quickly. "Fire, Vashlani, use fire to get rid of their armor modifications." Garrus' yell got the khajiit's attention, and he slid his staff into the holder on his back and stood up. Bolts of fire flashed from both hands.

His summoned atronach hunched over then bent slightly backward and Vashlani yelled, "Duck!"

Garrus must have been the only known turian in the galaxy that knew how to duck and cover. His time with Vashlani had taught him that. The thunderous explosion from the destroyed atronach sent crates flying; it also had the effect of sending the Collectors flying, most of them didn't get back up, the few that did were heavily damaged and easy to kill.

When the last one was down, they moved toward the lower area, and Jack stared at Vashlani as the khajiit grumbled, "Fire is not my strongest element. I have not learned the higher level spells. All I have is my atronach, fire bolts, and flames."

Shepard hacked a datapad and found an account with a hefty amount of credits. "What about that one thing you used on Ilos? It used fire. Whatever the hell it was."

Vashlani shook his head as they moved to a different area, his hands still on fire and Jack staring at them and edging away. "That one will not always come. Sometimes it is one that uses magic, at times one that uses a bow--"

"Yeah and one that uses some weird weapon and tries to pound you into the dirt with it," Garrus' grumpy voice came from behind them as he covered their rear.

"Vashlani can send to Faralda when we get back. She will probably have a more powerful flame spell tome I can buy, though it will not be as strong as my electrical attacks. We will see."

The rest of the way across the small colony was the same; the Collectors would come down and attack. At times one seemed to be different, it hovered in the air, and its appearance changed. It also called Shepard by name.

They stopped to look at a downed husk, Garrus telling Jack about Shepard encountering them on Eden Prime before and how they fought them on several other planets as well as the Citadel.

Vashlani let out a humming sound, "This one smells different, Garrus. Not quite the same as the one from Virmire. They look different too."

"Could this be what happened to the colonists? Poor fuckers," Jack asked, her voice held a bit of a shake, but she was holding firm. Shepard shook her head no.

"There are no spikes, no dragons teeth. That was what they used to impale the humans on and turn them into these things. They brought them with them; it's the only explanation. This is proof they are working with the Reapers." Shepard gripped her pistol tighter, and they moved.

Something grotesque moved along the right side of the battlefield, something, unlike anything they had ever seen, something that looked like it came from someone's worst nightmare. The creature used a powerful biotic wave attack that immediately stripped their shields.

Vashlani stood and opened his palm, bolts of pure white light flew from it and embedded themselves into the creature, at the same time his other hand balled into a tight fist of glowing purplish black. When he opened it, a matching swirling patch of light shone near the abomination, and a creature of flame appeared. Fireballs flew at any enemy near it; the female creature glided across the field until one too many hits caused it to burst into a fiery explosion, taking out several enemies in the conflagration.

Vashlani quickly hurried over to where Jack laid on the ground, he held out a hand and let the healing warmth of his spell surround her. Her eyes fluttered open, and she stared at him and at the rapidly closing wound on her side. "There, feels better, yes? Almost done and you will be back on your feet in a few minutes. No scars and no damage to your tattoos." He leaned a bit closer to her, "Your system is also being cleansed of the poison that you used, the drug. You are already powerful, you do not need it, this drug keeps you from the precise control of your powers that you are capable of achieving. Control and accuracy are what is important, what makes the difference between true power and chaos. You have the potential inside of you, if you but seek the control of body and mind. It is your choice which path you take." The swirling light diminished and he stood up and moved away.

"Hey, Jack you coming or do you want to lay there and nap some more?" Shepard yelled out as they moved toward the buildings.

"Shut the fuck up, Shepard. And you better not go killing things without me." Jack stood up and ran her hand over her side then looked at Vashlani's retreating back as he caught up to Shepard. Her choice...

After checking the buildings, they ran across a dead Collector, and Vashlani stopped to examine it. "Machine, this is mostly machine but not all. No individual smell, a clone. Just the smell of corruption, ancient decay like those of the Draugr. But overall, nothing but a machine."

Shepard ran a quick scan and saw there was a way to copy the heavy muscle weave that the creature had before they moved on. They searched several more buildings and stopped to look at a huge pod shaped item that was propped against the wall.

The Collectors attacked again, and when the fight was over, the team searched around for anything that could be useful. They found two people frozen on the stairway with several of those swarm bugs near them; it looked like one was helping the other one up when they were both stung and paralyzed.

"Should we use the fucking paper that he gave us now?" Jack asked as she poked one of the people.

"No, not until we can get rid of the swarm. They'll just get stung again, and it would be a waste. Let's move on. When we're done we'll come back and gather up any other survivors and take care of it," Shepard told her as she jogged up the stairs to one of the living units at the top of a building. A few things were left behind, and they picked them up. Shepard hacked a terminal and diverted some of the funds.

Shepard found one of the Collector's weapons laying on the ground; it looked undamaged; almost as if it was placed there and forgotten. She picked it up and attached it to the magnets on the back of her suit, she would have Mordin go over it later, and maybe Jacob could get the weapon replicator to make another copy. If not... well at least they had one to examine and try to find its weakness.

They had just exited a building when more of the Collectors came down, and again one of them hovered in the air glowing then attacked them with more powerful attacks and tried to demoralize them, it directed everything at Shepard. Vashlani's spells flew across the battlefield. F The heat of his fire and crackle from bolts of lightning, the popping of Garrus' rifle and Jack's boasting as her biotics flared knocking several of them into the air, were heard as well. Shepard didn't say anything just kept up the constant stream of weapons fire taking out anything that flew, as soon as the glowing one was killed a different one would react, glow and start its repetitive banter all over again.

"Vashlani, take out the other Collectors before this one is killed, whatever it is only swapped out to another once it's down, remove the extras and it's trapped."

Vashlani heard and directed his flames and fireballs toward the other creatures. Jack's shockwave sent them flying only to be turned to ash by either Vashlani or the flame atronach he summoned.

When the fight was over, they searched the area and recovered any usable heatsinks or items. Garrus pointed to what looked like a giant garage door where the Collectors had come from, and they made their way to it. He started to hack the door as Shepard stood ready to shoot anything on the other side. Vashlani stood to one side of her with a huge ball of fire held between his hands. When the door opened, they moved into the building, not seeing or hearing anyone until a boot kicked something a few feet in front of them.

There was a lone person inside of the building. When the trouble started, he apparently ran into the building and locked the doors. Garrus let out several clicks, and Vashlani's ears twitched inside his helmet. How many people were killed or taken because he locked the door in his cowardice?

Shepard's lip curled up in a slight snarl, and the mechanic started to blame it all on the Alliance, everything was someone else's fault. He conveniently forgot that the Alliance issued warnings about building out in the Terminus, he forgot the Alliance told them that they would be on their own if they went. He reluctantly told them that there had been mention of attacks happening, but they all put it off to propaganda, just lies to get them to go back to Alliance space and have to follow their rules. He finally told them that the Alliance had sent them GARDIAN lasers to help protect the colony, but they couldn't get them to work. And of course that was the Alliance's fault also, and the person they had sent to set it all up was some military person called Alenko. It was all his fault too.

Shepard had heard enough; she told the guy to unlock the door that led to where they had built the laser then hide in the corner, he was good at that. She gathered up everything she could find useful, and they moved to the door. As soon as Vashlani has passed through, the door swished shut and locked. Vashlani growled and moved his cloak aside to make sure his armor covered tail was still there before following the rest of the group.

The fighting was as fierce on this side of the colony as it had been on the other, with more of those monstrous things that Shepard had come to call Scions. They finally made it to where they encountered another locked gate-like door, and after making sure that everyone was healed and they had heatsinks and medigels, she nodded to Garrus who began to hack the door code.

When the door opened, they saw the laser control system in the middle of what seemed to be a courtyard, surrounded by yet more storage containers and small portable buildings. From the one side, they saw movement and scattered as husks came running for them. Garrus was thrown back as one of the Scion's shockwaves hit him and Vashlani ran for him casting a summons just as he skidded to a halt beside the turian.

The summoned creature drew the Scion's attention long enough for Vashlani to cast a quick heal and Garrus to get into position to start shooting the husks that were bearing down on Shepard and Jack. When the area was clear, Jack and Vashlani gathered up any useful items while Garrus and Shepard took a look at the laser system.

"This shouldn't take long for EDI to fix, as long as the comms are working, Shepard. The control panel is unlocked, try contacting the Normandy." Garrus kept his eyes on the area as the other two joined them.

Once Shepard was connected, EDI fixed the calculation error within seconds, and the system started to power up, she warned that it would take several minutes to reach full power and become active, they needed to protect the system during that time.

"You have incoming, Shepard," EDI's warning came just seconds before the first husk appeared.

There was a slight lull between attacks, just long enough to reposition themselves after a quick scramble to heal and grab whatever heat sinks they could use. Garrus stood up, his visor flashing out a warning. "Shepard there is something big and fast heading our way that just came out of the Collector Ship."

"GARDIAN lasers at 70 percent, Shepard. You need to hold them for a while longer." EDI told them, and Shepard hung her head, knowing full well she had to do so without having to be told about it.

The creature that came at them was horrific. A giant bug with multiple husk heads growing from it. The beam it shot out was devastating and seemed to be directed at Shepard while practically ignoring the other crew. Vashlani summoned a storm atronach then raced to Shepard's side, stuffing the medigel packs he had... found, into the slot on her suit.

"Where did you find all those packs, Vashlani?" Shepard called out as she moved to the other side of the barrier she was hiding behind, waiting for the moment the creature landed, to stand and send out several missiles from the launcher she had brought along.

"That man in the one room, the coward? He had all these red boxes stacked up behind a container. Vashlani noticed Shepard would take out the packs when she saw the containers in other buildings and that the same symbol on the box for medigel on the Normandy was on those red boxes. So Vashlani helped himself to the stash when no one was looking."

Shepard started to laugh. "This is one time I won't yell at you for swiping things from a planet while I'm not looking, good job, Vashlani." They all heard his purr over the comm.

With one last missile, the creature seemed to disintegrate, not even a minute later they heard the hum of the laser system then saw the cannons start to fire at the Collector ship. They heard someone running up behind them to see the mechanic running toward the courtyard. He turned yelling at her to do something, to stop the ship leaving with most of the colony.

"What the hell do you want me to do? Whistle and tell 'em to hold up a minute they forgot to drop off their stolen passengers? We did what we could do. We saved the people that were left, including your cowardly ass, and we got rid of the Collectors. We also have a means to remove the paralysis from the ones left behind," Shepard growled at the man, she was pissed. She risked everything while this bastard hid and he had the balls to tell her to do something?

"We did what we could, Shepard. Which was more than that guy did," Garrus said as he moved to stand beside her.

"Shepard? That name sounds familiar."

A few seconds later Kaidan came up to them and told the mechanic just who Shepard was. Of course, that sent the surly bastard off again on his anti-Alliance remarks.

Vashlani couldn't believe his ears at what he was hearing. Kaidan just called Shepard a traitor to the Alliance, to her people. Then accused her of working for the people they had thought was behind the missing people. The Alliance wouldn't do anything to help, yet he stood there condemning her? Then to turn on Garrus for being there for her and included him in this traitor business. His growls started low in his chest, and he could hear Garrus' subharmonics telling him to calm. When Kaidan turned his attention to the khajiit, the human did a double take. "Should have known you would find a way to bring this alien back, maybe he's in on this whole mess. They didn't start taking people until after he disappeared, maybe he's part of the Collectors."

Shepard stepped up to Kaidan and almost slapped him. "You know us better, I don't know where you got this bullshit you're spewing, but you're way out of line."

"Yeah, well, we'll just have to see what the Council and Alliance say about all this, Shepard." Kaidan took several steps back before turning and starting to walk away.

"That's Spectre Shepard to you. The Council already knows about what we are doing out here. As does Anderson."

Kaidan stumbled and paused just slightly before he continued to walk away from them when he heard that the Council reinstated her status already. He had no idea what was causing the maniacal laughter coming from behind him. He couldn't see the two mage lights that had stuck to the butt of his armor or Jack rolling around on the ground holding her sides from the laughter.

"Joker, we need the cleanup crew down here. Mordin, we need you and Doc ground side, we have survivors to find and cure."

They took all of the remaining colonists to the large garage, and after tossing the mechanic out of the way, they set up a portable barrier.

"Alright, Jack. Remember what this khajiit told you about reading from the scroll?" Vashlani watched the human shrug then give a brief nod. "Say it nice and slow, then touch the person, no one or nothing else."

She gave a slight snort then read off the scroll before she poked the man that was lying on the gurney on the nose with one black nail-polished finger. She let out a gasp as the man started to move and let out a yell before someone told him what happened. A marine wheeled him out while another one needing a cure was wheeled in.

"Vashlani was glad when the tests he ran showed the paralysis was not caused by a poison but by some other means. Vashlani can do this quickly."

Jack stood off to the side and watched an orange glow appear on Vashlani's hand then flick toward the woman now in the room, she started to move, and they quickly wheeled her out and another one in. The process kept going and only stopping when Vashlani told them he needed a few minutes to recover. He pulled out a blue phial and tipped it into intake slot, the light swirled around him, and Jack asked him what drug that was.

"No drug, Jack. Just an herbal mixture that helps Vashlani to recover his magic faster, naturally. There are no side effects, no euphoric highs; this khajiit doesn't need them. Vashlani knows his potential, knows that to become a Master, as his Master was before him, that it takes a clear head, a focused mind, steady hand, and willpower. Drugs, such as the one you took or the one that many from the land that Vashlani comes from uses, clouds the mind. We think it gives us power; we think we control it. We do not. It will rob us of our strength, our willpower, our very souls. In the end, it leaves us weak." Vashlani stood and signaled to the Marines to bring in another victim.

 


 

Vashlani let out a sigh after showering and changing into a comfortable set of hide pants and one of his silk shirts. He made his way to the kitchen and packed a meal, and a basket full of his home brewed mead then headed back to the Normandy. He was currently sitting in the navigator's chair, eating and sending out probes, when he finished they would be heading toward the Citadel again. Shepard wanted to have a face to face talk with Anderson about what happened on Horizon.

Joker and Vashlani had been discussing what was said on Horizon when Garrus walked up to the bridge. He rooted around in the basket looking for one he could drink. "The one with the blue flower on it, Garrus." Vashlani held out his hand giving the bottle a quick chill before hitting the probe launch button.

"When we hit the Citadel are we going to take another trip?" Garrus asked the khajiit and saw him shrug.

"Vashlani is unsure. Shepard was rather angry at this khajiit the last time. We shall see once we get the containers moved and Vashlani gets the latest news. With the war and dragons, we need to be more careful. Vashlani didn't think of that when he took you to the tower." Vashlani took another bite of his sandwich before hitting the button again.

"You are going to that College place, right? It's pretty safe there... relatively speaking, I'm coming along too, I want to see it for myself. I think Doc said she wanted to talk to some of the mages that heal people. Maybe one of them could figure out how to help with my condition." Joker shifted then moved them to the next planet when EDI told them that one was below the threshold.

"Maybe it is so, Joker, but we need to be careful. There is one... person with whom we need to watch out for. The Thalmor that is currently at the school may not be there just to advise or whatever he said he was doing. Too many questions, too many times he has pulled students away and questioned them about happenings around the school, and now with the new discovery that was made and his seemingly intent interest in the artifact does not add up to only being an advisor. You see, Thalmor believes they are superior to everyone, including ones of their own race. They have caused many wars, many deaths and use their position to make people disappear, including other altmer. There are rumors of ethnic cleansings when the non-Thalmor altmer and bosmer elves try to uprise."

He opened a bottle of mead for himself before he continued, "Because we enter the College through special means we need to be extra careful. Should he find the way into Vashlani's home, it could be destroyed. They could locate the key to coming to this dimension and cause chaos. Vashlani does not wish for that. The Arch-Mage will clear his quarters, we bring in the containers and get the news. From there we shall see. It may be possible for Colette to come to see you, she is the restoration master and trainer. As far as wandering around the College, Vashlani does not think that would be advisable right now."

The bridge became rather crowded when Shepard joined them, picking out a bottle of mead with a symbol of a bee on it. She snatched the rest of Vashlani's sandwich when he held out his hand for the bottle. "What are you guys up to now?"

"Talking about what to do during shore leave," Garrus said as he leaned against the wall divider behind Joker's chair. "We were asking him if he thinks we could have another trip. He also gave a warning about one of the people to watch for while we are there."

"Well, we will be on the Citadel for a few days for repair and restock. Then we head out, there are some small shit things that Cerberus wants us to do." Shepard said around the mouthful of sandwich she was chewing on. "The orders are already placed and will be waiting at the docks. We can go after I get back from seeing the Councilor and we get the ok from Vashlani. Maybe we should gear up just in case before we go there? Or at least bring our stuff in a crate."

"Sounds like a plan." Garrus dropped his empty bottle into the basket before he turned and headed back down to the Main Battery. Shepard thanked Vashlani for the snack then went up to her cabin. Vashlani just flicked his ears at her.

"At least Vashlani planned for just such a happening." He reached into his bag and brought out a small meat pie wrapped in paper. He grinned before taking a large bite out of it. Joker just snickered.

Chapter Text


 

 

They woke with the constant buzzing sound of the alarm Shepard had set for the next morning. Shepard disentangled herself from Vashlani and headed for the shower while he stretched and yawned before slipping on his hide pants and going to feed his hamster. He was sitting in her chair using her terminal to send Garrus a message when she walked out of the bathroom.

“What’re you doing?” She pulled out a set of her nicer casual clothing and sent a notice for a gear crate to be brought up to her room.

“Vashlani is sending Garrus a message. This khajiit had something to run through the fabricator and had a question to ask before he did.” He stood up and walked down to the lower level opening a drawer and rooting around in the clothing sets he kept on the Normandy. “Hmm. This one will be back in about an hour; these just won’t do for the College.” He popped out of the Normandy while Shepard stood there holding a set of jeans and a long sleeved shirt wondering if they were appropriate now.

Shepard just finished packing her armor crate and notified Doc and Garrus to be ready. Joker was currently bringing the ship into the dock, and EDI just assured her that the containers were arriving at their assigned location to be available for an immediate transfer.

“Okay, as soon as I get back we’ll help Vashlani. Everyone needs to dress in their formals. No casuals. Garrus bring your weapons and armor crate down to the armory. Stock the heatsinks, just in case. Joker once we announce shore leave, lock the ship down and come to the hold. EDI check to make sure the pin camera you wanted is fully functional so you can join us as well.”

“Functioning as it should, Commander. Thank you for accepting my request to join you.”

Shepard smiled, “Not a problem, EDI. Glad we could do it. The camera needs to be off when I get to the Councilor’s office. They don’t take too kindly to them there.” Shepard stepped off the lift and headed to the bridge to wait for the clear signal for the doors to open.

 




Garrus started tucking heat sinks into his satchel, keeping a careful count, then stuffing the same amount into Shepard’s weapon case before closing it and hurrying toward the lift to go down.

“Garrus? Why are you carrying armor and weapon cases? I saw Shepard with hers heading toward the armory earlier as well. Why do you have hers also?” Kelly asked from in front of her terminal where she was entering in a few last comments before starting her shore leave. “Why are you all wearing dress formals?” He hurried on the lift and pressed the button, ignoring the questions that she had asked as the door started to close.

Chakwas waited in the cargo hold next to the dozen cold storage crates, the pallet filled with stacks of regular dry goods containers, and a half dozen crates of medical supplies. She found a supplier of cloth type bandages, usually only used in the poorer countries on Earth, and also was able to procure a considerable amount of a natural powdered disinfectant that they could replicate using common plant ingredients. One of the crates had several of the plants under a portable dome.

Garrus hurried toward her. “Is it all here, everything that we ordered?”

“Yes, the only thing left is to wait for Vashlani to come back and then we can show him how to work the controls for the mass effect fields, and we can start moving them. I pulled the seeds already, and as soon as we are back, I’ll take them to Mordin. I locked them in the cupboard in the med bay.”

“The last of the crew left the ship, EDI’s confirmation just came through. I’m locking down the Normandy and will be down there, don’t go anywhere without me,” Joker said over the comm, the excitement he felt was apparent in the tone of his voice.

Garrus hurried over to the fabricator and started it going with the list of things Vashlani wanted to be made with the crates of supplies that he ordered.




“Vashlani is now onboard, I have let him know that all of you are in the cargo hold and are awaiting Shepard’s arrival.”

“Thanks, EDI,” Joker said as he stood next to the pallet of crates containing several portable mass effect field generators. They had been busy moving the containers onto more manageable pallets.

When Vashlani saw how many crates were waiting for him, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“These are all for Vashlani’s people?” He looked at the silver colored containers, the white containers with the big red cross symbol on it that he recognized as the human’s medical symbol now, and the unmarked other boxes that were piled up.

“Yes, food and medical supplies. Mordin is also helping to make some of the seeds more tolerant to your weather. The food will be larger and healthier for you to eat,” Chakwas told him as they watched Garrus and Joker lining up the filled pallets.

“When you’re ready we can start taking these into your home bag... thing. For now, let me show you how to work these things,” Joker told him and proceeded to show him how the buttons worked and which one did what then let him play around with an empty pallet to get the hang of it.

Once they had everything set up and ready Vashlani took off the pocket bag and activated it, slowly widening the opening for one of the others to maneuver the pallet into the opening. “Vash, that’s still freaky as hell,” Joker told him as the last of the pallets disappeared inside the bag, and Vashlani slowly closed it up.

“Vashlani sent word to the College; they will be awaiting our arrival. We must take things slow, as where we will be teleporting into is a small storage room. So one at a time going through the portal. This khajiit will open the bag, and we can bring out supplies, they must be moved slowly as not to damage my bag.”

A few hours later Shepard came hurrying across the cargo hold, Garrus handed her the N7 branded armor and weapon crate, and they all assured Vashlani they were ready. They held hands to form a circle, and the group disappeared.

Vashlani opened the doors to the portal room, then slowly and carefully stretched the bag’s opening. He reached in and grabbed hold of a crate’s handle and tugged. Vashlani checked his bag over once they removed all the containers then tied it back to his waist cording before he covered it with his tunic and satchel.

“Vashlani will go through the portal to make sure everything is ready, then will come back for Shepard, Joker, and Healer. Each of you will go through the portal one at a time, then move away from the area; the Arch-Mage will help you. When the Arch-Mage signals us, Garrus and this khajiit will move one pallet at a time, pushing it through the portal. Each of you will move them to where the Arch-Mage indicates. When all of them are through, we will join you. Ready?”

After they had nodded he walked up to the portal and activated it; they watched as he stepped through.

“That thing is freaky, but it doesn’t hurt. Vash brought me through it before, on the first Normandy, that’s how he got me on the ship so we could steal it and get to Ilos,” Joker told them all, and it seemed to put the others at a bit more ease. Of course with Garrus already experiencing the whole movement thing with the map, a portal wasn’t too much of a stretch for him.

Vashlani looked around and made sure nothing was blocking the way around the portal and told the Arch-Mage to be ready. He noticed that Colette was already there and off to the side in the main room was Makmar, the two older mages that ran the large College kitchen, and Tolfdir. Vashlani quickly reminded them that the people were to be protected, no one was to mention them, and not to be alarmed by one’s appearance, as it was unusual.

He glanced around then walked back into the storage room. A moment later an older female stumbled, and the Arch-Mage caught her, quickly signaling for Colette to make sure the woman was alright, then turned to help the young man that must have the unusual health condition that they wanted Colette to have a look at. “Colette, please help this young man and be very careful with him, he is the one you will need to try and heal later.”

After that, a woman with a blaze of red hair and a large shiny case came walking out of the room. “Ah, you must be the Commander Shepard I have heard so much about from Vashlani. Welcome. One of our healers is tending to your companions; they were a bit shaken up.” The red eyes of the Arch-Mage wandered over the young woman that had held the attentions of the khajiit mage for so many years.

“Thank you for the welcome, sir. The crew of the Normandy is grateful for all the help that Vashlani, along with you and the College have provided to us. The information you gave us helped us to cure many survivors and has helped our scientist to come up with a way to protect us from the enemies. As a thank you, we would like to gift to you and your people some food and supplies. Vashlani has instructed you on the use of the food? It is a bit different than what you are used to.” Shepard placed her crate on the floor out of the way and did something to her hand which caused a bright orange-yellow glow to surround it. The other two joined her, the same light surrounding their hands.

“Yes, I was and passed the information to our kitchen staff. Let me send the signal through, one moment.”

The Arch-Mage moved to the storage room door not seeing the way the Doc’s eyebrow rose or her lips curl slightly. Shepard however did and gave her a grin. Chakwas shrugged, “He’s even more intriguing than I remember.”

“Uh-huh, sounds like someone has been nurturing a crush on a certain Arch-Mage.” Shepard elbowed the Doc who only gave a light grunt before grinning.

When the Arch-Mage backed out of the room, Shepard took a step toward the door and braced herself for the pallet in case it came through faster and harder than what they were expecting. The first crate came through sliding rapidly toward them, and her omni tool flashed, a purple field sprang up, and the pallet came to a halt when the field caught it.

“Medical,” Shepard said, and the Doc hurried forward. They all heard the gasps as the pallet floated in the air and settled in the area that was for those supplies. “Another one, Doc.”

“Joker, this one’s dry goods.” Joker limped over, and his arm glowed as he moved the box to the corner and waited. The pallets kept coming, and they all noticed the looks on the faces of the College people at the number of boxes and crates that Vashlani's friends gave to them.

“Doc, here comes the cold storage,” Shepard said and grunted as the force of the much heavier silver container bowed out the mass effect field, and she shouldered it to stop it. As the last of the food containers came through Shepard rolled her shoulder and shook her wrist, the glow disappeared as did the other ones.

She kept rubbing at her shoulder, and the one mage stepped forward. “Here let me heal --,” she stopped as Shepard smiled but shook her head.

“Your magic can’t help me, unfortunately. People from my dimension... changed me, and the heals that you or Vashlani do will no longer work on me. I do thank you for the offer though.”

Chakwas stepped next to Shepard, and the orange glow came back. “Bruising only, Shepard. Nothing was broken or dislocated.” She pulled out an auto-injector from a small bag at her waist, and they all watched as she tipped Shepard’s head to the side and held it to her neck. The red haired woman winced as a click sounded.

“Divines, what sort of summoned being are you?” One of the kitchen mages was pointing to the storage room as Vashlani and Garrus came through.

Garrus gave a small chuckle. “I’m a turian, not a summoned being. At least you didn’t call me a thing.”

“This is Garrus; he is Vashlani’s good friend and a warrior.” Vashlani’s whiskers twitched as he moved over to Shepard. “What happened, why are you in pain?”

“Nothing to worry about, Vashlani. At least with the countermeasure we have working, we can start getting this crap out of me and get me back to somewhat normal.” Shepard let out a slight hiss as she gave a shrug. Vashlani brushed her cheek with his thumb, a small glow encased his hand, and he gave a sad sounding purr as it had no effect on her.

“Get a room later you two, let’s help them get all this stuff put away so we can see what this world is like.” Joker limped his way over to the dry goods section, a smirk on his face as he managed to dodge the flick of Vashlani’s hand, keeping his hat on. Until Vashlani cast telekinesis on it. “Hey, that’s cheating.”

“The other instructors are holding classes in the main hall. When you're ready, we can move these...boxes. The best place for them is down in the guarded storage area. Makmar is in charge of the school’s supplies and keeps the storage rooms locked.” The Arch-Mage joined them, and Makmar came over with them.

“When the Arch-Mage asked me to clean out a storage room, I was not expecting such a large amount of goods. I’m not sure if we’re going to have enough room in there for all of this.” The orc scratched his head and glanced at all of the containers.

“The ones that are over next to Joker, those are stocks for the school. Corks, sealing wax, phials. You can add them to the regular stock room. Vashlani requested as much material as they could find so Garrus could make them for the school.”

The orc nodded, “Hmm, in that case, those can stay here, and we can take them down later. Draw a bit less attention that way. What about the other ones?”

Shepard led them to the white boxes with the red symbol, “These are medical supplies. They contain essential items such as bandages, rolls of gauze, and an herbal antiseptic; it's a cleaner to keep wounds from getting infected. Also one of these contains boxes of a mixture that you can use to soak your used linen wraps in after you thoroughly wash them, it will disinfect them. Let them be used again with a minimal chance of contamination of another’s wounds. It will also clean and sanitize any linen wraps that are... uh, scavenged from elsewhere. Doc there has a list of what was used to make it and how to do it. We also brought the plants it’s made from, in case you didn’t have them already.” She let out a small snort as she had turned just as the Doc gave a flirtatious look to the Arch-Mage before handing him the roll of paper. The Arch-Mage's large red eyes blinked before Shepard saw the man stroke his beard and give the older woman a smile.

Shepard moved to the large silver containers, “These are cold storage containers for long term food storage. Keeps everything nice and cold, so it doesn’t spoil so fast. Joker has a list of what is in each container and how to open it. The batteries they run on should last about... I don’t know, 30 maybe 40 years before they stop working.” She opened up one of the containers, and a blast of cold air came out along with turning the air around them foggy. “The food is to be mixed in your soups and stews, to extend them. This food can be cooked and ate as it is if you get really, really desperate. But it tastes horrible like that.” She closed the lid and heard the snickers from the kitchen staff. She answered their questions as best she could with how the units worked to keep the food so cold and if they could store other things in there.

“Once one of them is empty, yeah, I guess so. Meats can be wrapped to protect them from the extreme cold and put in there to keep fresh. I wouldn’t put fresh fruits or vegetables in there though; I don’t think they would do so well.” Makmar let out a grunt and walked around the dozen crates.

“Tolfdir? Can your telekinesis lift one of these big boxes?” Makmar asked as he continued to look over all of the items.

An older human came forward, “Well now, I don’t know, let’s have a go at it shall we?”

Shepard moved away from the crates, stopping beside Vashlani, who put his arm around her waist. She gave him a nudge and tipped her head to the side. He glanced over seeing the Arch-Mage not paying a bit of attention to the others; he was deep in conversation with the Healer. At least it looked like a conversation until the Arch-Mage smirked and stroked his beard again. Vashlani purred and let out a small chuckle as he turned back to the others seeing Tolfdir raise one of the containers several feet in the air before it floated toward him.

“Hmm, maybe it would work. We would need to mark these somehow so that we can check it against that parchment, then one of the Alteration mages can help to move them when necessary. Stack them no more than three high. We can sneak a full box from the storage area to the kitchen’s stockroom after it’s closed for the night. Yes, yes I think that would work,” Makmar said to the mages that ran the kitchen.

“Arch-Mage, we’re ready to start moving them now.” Makmar turned when he wasn’t answered to see the Arch-Mage flirting with the woman who giggled like a lass at whatever he said to her.

Makmar cleared his throat to get his attention then repeated that they were ready.

“Oh, yes, yes of course.” The Arch-Mage turned his attention back to Chakwas, “now don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back, and we can continue our discussion.” He grinned at her and gave his beard a stroke before hurrying over to join the other mages in moving the containers.

“Maybe I should have told you and that guy to get a room instead of Shepard and Vash,” Joker said from across the room as they watched two of the mages lift the large containers and start maneuvering them down the winding staircase.

Vashlani grinned at the Healer who had turned a shade of pink. “They wouldn’t have had to go far as we are standing in the Arch-Mages living quarters.” He gave Shepard’s waist a slight squeeze reminding them all not to touch anything as this room contained many powerful magical artifacts, “This whole room pulses with magic, some of it incredibly dangerous to the unwary.”

After Vashlani had left, Garrus grabbed his large armor crate and headed back to the stockroom where he changed into his armor. He hadn’t minded answering all the questions that a few of the mages had tossed his way, they seemed curious not disrespectful, and he appreciated it, considering how some people from his dimension had treated Vashlani. When he finished, Shepard did the same. She was just attaching the rest of her weapons to the magnetic harnesses on the back of her armor when the group returned.

Seeing the strange armor and what must have been weaponry caused another round of questions and answers. While the group answered the questions as best they could, Vashlani went into his pocket bag and changed into his armor. He filled another sack with food and drinks for Garrus. He made sure his travel bag had enough for him and Shepard.

“A courier dropped this off for you, Vashlani; it’s from Windhelm.” The Arch-Mage handed him a satchel that looked stuffed to the brim with papers. Vashlani smiled and purred, quickly draping it across his shoulder before turning to the others.

“Are you both ready?” Vashlani asked as he handed the food sack to Garrus and watched as he slipped it into the enchanted satchel he wore. “Garrus you still have the emergency portal scroll Vashlani gave you the last time?”

Garrus assured him he did, and they both said they were ready, EDI ran checks, and upgraded Shepard's suit with the new communications protocol. Vashlani nodded then reminded them that if he fell since the portal was closed, the only way back was through that scroll and help from the Arch-Mage. They all said they understood.

“Joker, you and Healer will be safe here. Listen to what the Arch-Mage tells you and be careful of the elf named Ancano.”

Colette moved near Joker. “We shall make sure your friends remain safe. While you explore, I will see if I can do some healing and research, maybe I can find something to help him in some of the old tomes in the library.”

“Ah, do not worry so Vashlani, your healer friend is in safe hands. I will take excellent care of her, now hurry along and show your other friends some of Skyrim,” the Arch-Mage said as he wrapped the Doc’s arm around his and wandered off to the other side of his quarters. “Let me show you my private garden, my dear. I have many unusual plants that you have never seen.”

Vashlani shook his head then put on his helmet, making sure everything synced before he pulled out the map and told Shepard how it worked. Garrus already knew, so he spent the time putting on his own helmet and checking the heatsinks. Garrus had EDI run additional diagnostics to make sure his heating system was fully functional as he had made some improvements and hoped that he no longer froze if they hit another blizzard.

“Here is where we are now.” Vashlani pointed to the symbol for the College. “These larger symbols are for the hold’s main towns, where the Jarls are, with Garrus in the party we cannot go to any of the cities. It’s why this khajiit provided you with extra food and mead. We can go to some of these outlying areas. There are caves and old ruins that are small. Since we have but two days we can spend here, we can do those. Or we can begin a Dwemer ruin; we may not be able to finish it though.”

“We can always come back though, right? During long travels or other shore leaves?” Garrus asked as he looked over the map, his visor making a quick scan of it.

“Yes, but there are no promises that others will not come behind us to finish looting them, leaving us nothing. Also... some of the Dwemer constructs have the ability to repair other machines. So it is also possible that we find enemies and no loot.” Vashlani’s whiskers and tail gave a twitch, his hand ever so slightly clenched at the thought.

The others looked at the map and asked what the symbols on it were and why some were dark and others had color to them. “The dark ones are places this khajiit hasn’t been to yet. If this one knows a specific location and name, I can mark it on the map. If Vashlani happens to pass close enough to the entrance, it can be marked. The colored ones, on the other hand, are the places Vashlani has been to. Towns, villages, camps, dungeons, ruins, and Giant camps are all marked and colored.”

“Did you say Giant camps? As in huge, grind your bones to make my bread Giants?” Joker asked as Colette continued to poke and prod at him.

“Uh... Vashlani doesn’t understand.”

“He means huge beings, like super-sized ugly humans. Our human fairy tales tell of very tall, very mean creatures that would kill people and eat them,” Shepard explained to him as he continued to scratch his head.

“Oh. The Giants here are not hostile, normally. Not unless you go into their territory and try to hurt them or the animals they herd. Or steal from their chest... unless they are far enough away that you can run in grab the loot then run out of their territory, Vashlani has a lot of experience doing that.”

“Commander, I want to see one of those. Maybe not in person... do you think you could go to one and do a vid stream? Ouch, watch it that hurt.”

Colette glowed slightly, and Joker let out a sigh. “Interesting.” She started to poke at him again.

Vashlani looked back over the map and pointed to one location. “Here. Crypt, Giant camp, and a Dwemer ruin that this one hasn’t been in yet. It is also close to Dawnstar. Garrus could stay in Vashlani’s home while we stay at the Inn if you want. Dawnstar is very cold and covered in snow and ice. Vashlani can buy Shepard clothes to wear so she wouldn’t stand out in this world.”

“Vashlani, just go to the stockroom and have Makmar give her a set of Novice College robes, hood, boots, and gloves. No need to spend your Septims.” The Arch-Mage and Doc had returned, her hair seemed to be a bit mused from the usual straight bob she wore it in, and her cheeks were rather pink. “These two will also be given clothing to wear for their stay with us to draw less attention from the others. The young man will be staying in Tolfdir’s room, and the lovely Healer will be rooming... elsewhere. Their clothing will be delivered to them shortly, and we can show them a bit of the College if they are interested.”

  Vashlani nodded and offered his thanks. “Now other than Dawnstar and the people traveling the road, we need to keep Garrus away from this area here, Hall of the Vigilant. They "hunt" vampires, werewolves, and Daedra worshippers. Most of them couldn’t tell a Daedra worshipper from a stump, but Garrus is different enough that he would draw their attention and attack without even thinking about it first. They have drawn more than one vampire clan’s ire. We do not want that kind of attention drawn to the College or us.”

“So why don’t we do what we did the first time, have me wait in the bag and when you reach the destination, make sure it’s clear then come get me. Less time I spend out in that damn snow the better anyway.” Garrus stood with his arms crossed as he looked down at the map. They agreed it was the best choice. Vashlani rolled up the map and tucked it into his pack, then took Garrus and Shepard into the bag before he jogged down the spiral case to the stockroom where Makmar handed him the clothes, this time without complaint.

Vashlani stood on the College’s Rampart and drew out the map, keeping it out of the ever blowing wind as much as he could. “Can everyone hear me?” A chorus of yes' coming back. “This khajiit is going to go to the Giant’s camp at Red Road Pass. Once I know it is clear I’ll bring Shepard and Garrus.”

“We’re ready, Vashlani,” Shepard said as she loaded the gun with a heat sink before slipping it back into the harness.

“The holo and vid links are ready and active Vashlani. Recordings are going into the protected area of your files. I’m ready to begin our adventure.” EDI’s voice joined the others; they could almost hear more than the artificial emotion of excitement when she spoke.

The next minute Vashlani crouched in the blowing snow behind a huge rock, his thick fur cloak wrapped about him, hiding the different armor. A minute later two other figures joined him.

“Holy shit, they are Giants. Can you get closer?” Joker’s excited voice came over their comm lines as they huddled behind the rock.

“Yes, some, but their herd is moving this way, that means so will the Giants,” Vashlani said then proceeded to go behind one of the painted rocks that marked the Giant’s staked out domain.

“Commander, can you zoom in on that rock painting,” Chakwas asked, her voice filled with awe.

“Spirits, what the hell are those things?” Garrus had his head poked out around the side of the formation; his visor focused on the large lumbering creatures heading their way.

“You have got to be shitting me! Are you seeing this Shepard? There is no way those are what I think they are. Right?”

Joker let out an ouch shortly afterward, followed by, “Well, that didn’t work, let me try again,” from the mage that wanted to heal him.

Shepard’s camera focused on the creatures. It was larger than an elephant and covered with thick brown hair. A long trunk and giant tusks gave a final clue to what they were. “Oh God, those are... they’re Wooly Mammoths. How can this be possible? They went extinct on Earth thousands of years ago. How the hell can they be here?”

“Is there a way you can get a sample? Hair, tusk, blood? Anything we can take back with us?” Chakwas asked, “if we can find enough viable DNA they can finally clone them and bring them back into existence on Earth.”

“You’re kidding, right? You do see the readout on those… I don’t know what you called them, but my translator called them hairy elephants,” Garrus said, his visor taking numerous scans of both the creatures heading toward them, one had what looked like a tree over its shoulder carting it as if it weighed nothing.

“Mammoth... Garrus. They’re called mammoths.” Shepard snickered.

“It is too dangerous if one of the mammoths thinks it is under attack, it brings the whole herd, along with the Giants, to their defense.” Vashlani moved to a different rock and spotted the chest. “Wait here, Vashlani will be right back.” Then he took off running down the slope and jumped off the top of a rock, twisting in mid-air to land in front of another rock and ducked under the overhang where they lost sight of him.

“Vashlani? What the hell are you doing? They’re coming this way,” Shepard hissed at him, and Joker laughed.

“He’s grabbing all this shit out of a chest, Shepard, and jamming it in his bag. Look at him go.” Joker was laughing, and less than a minute later Vashlani came tearing back up the slope toward them and skidded to a halt behind a rock; panting heavily.

“Vashlani said he was good at getting into those chests and away again.” He looked up at the position of the sun, “We need to leave now to get to the Frostmere Crypt before sundown. We do not want to be wandering around after dark outside.” He opened the map and checked the direction then headed southwest at a fast clip.

Vashlani watched from his perch in a large tree as several bandits seemed to attack another. When the woman was dead, they went back into the crypt. “This may not be a good idea.” He climbed down from the tree and made his way over to the female, removing all the armor and loot from her body before going into the bag.

“Vashlani needs to discuss this with you. There are bandits at the ruin. We can go in if you want, but none of them can be left alive. Vashlani is unsure how many or what else we may find.” He dumped all the loot he picked up on the floor in front of the General Goods box and started placing items inside of it.

“Where did you get that armor?” Garrus asked as he picked up a chest piece that still had fresh blood on it.

 “One of the bandits outside of the ruin was killed by others. Vashlani took what was usable.”

“You took the armor and stuff off the dead body?” Shepard asked him. She crossed her arms over her chest as she waited for an answer.
Vashlani stopped what he was doing and his ears rotated.

“Yes. Vashlani only did what we all do here to survive. Items of the fallen are taken and used if better or sold if not needed. Vashlani- Vashlani is sorry if this upsets you, but this khajiit has many expenses that he has to pay in this world. Many Septims are needed, and this is how he can help Shepard in her world and be able to do what needs to be done in his world. Otherwise... I will need to remain here. Even if that means losing Shepard... and Garrus’ friendship.” He grabbed up the other items and took the chest piece from Garrus, and dumped them into one of the storage chests inside the portal room.

“Why did you bring so much stuff to our dimension to sell then?” Garrus asked from the doorway.

“Because there are many things that Vashlani wanted from there, and with the machines like the fabricator, Vashlani can help the people here. He can provide for...” He closed the lid. “Are we going into the crypt? Or do you want to go elsewhere?”

“I say we go into the crypt. We are, in a way, already here. Right?” Garrus said, seeing the way Vashlani wouldn’t meet his eyes. The khajiit had another huge secret it seemed, one that he doubted even Shepard was aware of. “Shepard, what do you think?” Garrus said over his shoulder; she was out in the open cellar room watching the sphere separate the items.

“Sounds good.”



The two bandits that had attacked the other one lay dead at their feet, Shepard and Garrus was looking over the other items in the room while Vashlani removed the items from the bodies before joining them. “There are a bunch of books here, Vashlani.” Garrus had them piled in his arms and was reaching for another one.

Vashlani gave him some sacks to put his loot in. “The satchel you have is enchanted, you can carry many things other than food and heatsinks. We will unload them into a crate in the pocket bag when it gets too heavy.”

Vashlani pulled out another traveling bag from inside of his. “Vashlani made this for Shepard.”

She ran her hands over the fur, and her fingers encountered the metal symbol that adorned it, she picked it up from where it was nestled in the thick black fur to get a better look at it. “What is this?” Her gauntlet covered fingers moved over the five disks. Four smaller ones embossed with a variety of swirling patterns, the fifth was larger and embossed with a sort of knotwork and a large blue-green stone in the center.

Vashlani’s whiskers twitched. “Just an amulet. Vashlani hopes you like it.”

Shepard smiled at him and told him she did before adding her loot to it and slipping it on her back.



*Meanwhile back at the College EDI continued to stream the live feed to Joker and Chakwas’ omni tools.*



Joker looked over at the laughing dark elf who had his arm around the Doc as they watched the streaming vid at the next table over.

“Savos? What’s so funny?” Chakwas asked him and snuggled a bit closer to the Dunmer.

“Your Commander Shepard has no idea, does she? Vashlani just gave her an Amulet of Mara attached to that bag.” The Arch-Mage looked at the others who had confused expressions on their faces and started to laugh again.

“That sneaky khajiit just gave your Commander a necklace that is worn by those who are looking to be married. I have a suspicion that somewhere Vashlani has one that matches hers and will wear it around her soon enough. If he takes her into a Temple of Mara,” he started to laugh again, “your Commander is liable to walk out a married woman.”

Chapter Text


 

 

After Vashlani had picked up the remaining loot, he led the way toward the staircase down. He heard talking and movement from further ahead and paused, when the movement stopped they continued down the stairs. They saw him hold up a hand with a purplish black glow to it.

“Garrus, to the right, one bandit at the table. See him?”

Garrus brought up his sniper rifle; the scope brought the bandit clearly into his sight. “Got him, ready when you are.”

Vashlani summoned his bow and took aim at the other bandit that was stirring something in a pot. “Now.” Shepard spotted a third bandit coming from a passage to the right, her submachine gun barked several shots, and the man was thrown backward and didn’t get up.

“When we get to the Dwarven ruin, you may want to use a different weapon, Shepard. That gun will draw too much attention from the Falmer, and the noise may bring the ruins down on us,” Garrus said, and Vashlani laughed as they gathered up all the items laying around. He noticed that both of them were leaving the coins laying on the tables and only taking items from the shelves.

“Oh, ha ha.” Shepard groused, even to her the report of the gun seemed to be overly loud in this place.

“Vashlani, look at this. The leader of this group put a bounty on his own people.” Garrus handed him the note that he found on a table. Vashlani took off his pack and reached in and brought out a small journal he had taken from the woman outside and let out a sigh.

“The female from outside, that is the Eisa that is mentioned in this note. Her journal says something about a sword as well. Listen, "Night shift woke me to say they’d hit something big. Kyr, Ra’jirr, and I went down to take a look. It’s huge like a whole forest was just swallowed up by the earth, with a big old monument out in the center. Kyr took the sword from it as a trophy, proof his whole plan was finally paying off. For once, he might be right.

Ra’jirr’s been having nightmares over the past few days. He keeps muttering about a “Pale Lady”- one of those swamp women who steal children away at night, I think. To think some fool story could turn the toughest bandit I know into a cowering kitten, frightened of his own shadow. I’m just glad none of the others see him like this.

It’s getting worse. Ra’jirr can barely sleep at all now, and whenever he dozes off, he wakes up screaming- woke the whole place last night. He says the “Pale Lady” is coming for us- she’s down in the forest, we have to return the sword, or she’ll kill us all. Not a chance- the boss clings to that thing like he was born with it. I’ve told everyone Ra’jirr just has a fever, but this can’t go on. I’ve pulled a few things together. I’ll slip out tonight and never look back.“

“You think that Kyr person still has that sword? And what about that Pale Lady? A myth, hallucination?” Garrus asked as he looked at the journal.

Vashlani continued to pick up some loot, adding the sacks of flour and salt to his bag. “Could be... but could also be something very different. Something powerful could cause the nightmares of what she wrote about in this journal. Then again the khajiit could have been strung out on skooma.” He looked around making sure they got everything. “Let’s go open that gate.”




“Spirits, look at the size of that sword. Do people really use those?” Garrus muttered as he watched Vashlani cast a spell at a giant green sword that lay in a brazier. It floated toward the khajiit, and Vashlani grunted as he grabbed the handle and the weight of it dropped into his hands.

“Yes, they do and do so very well. Good for lopping off heads, not as good as a giant axe but it works.” Vashlani laid it on the small table after pocketing a potion that had been sitting on top of it. “Now let us see what we have here.” He grabbed an old shirt that was on the floor near the table and began rubbing away the ash and soot from lying on the brazier. “Hmm, dull green, curved. Orcish blade. The Stormcloaks in Windhelm would pay good Septims for this, wouldn’t have to pay a courier...”, he was muttering as he continued to rub away the grime. He quickly wrapped the sword in some scrap leather and placed it in his bag.

They continued through the ruin, getting rid of the bandits and looting the place clean. They had to stop once to unload everything into several different crates, and ate a quick meal before they went back. After they went to a different level they ran across several bedrooms, one of which was the leaders. Shepard found a journal and read more from it, confirming that the khajiit had started to lose it and had asked the leader for the sword. The leader wrote that he could have it, through the gut. He seemed to be just as obsessed with the sword as the khajiit was, but for a different reason. They looted everything in sight and then moved on.

The next room was another bedroom; this one seemed to be used by the khajiit. There was a note on the table, and Vashlani frowned when he read it. “Khajiit doesn’t think this is caused by the skooma. Something is wrong. We need to be careful.”

After getting rid of several more bandits, Garrus and Shepard stood and watched as Vashlani pulled what looked like a big pickaxe from inside his travel bag and started to bang on some rock.

“Vashlani? What the hell are you doing?”

*Crack* “This is...”, *crack* “silver ore...”, *crack* “Shepard.” *crack* “Vashlani, needs this.” *crack* *crack* “Almost...”, *crack* “done.” *crack* *crack*

Several chunks of the ore fell to the floor, and he quickly bent to pick them up and stuffed it all in his bag. They only shook their heads at him before they hurried on, it was getting late, and they wanted to finish and get to Dawnstar for the night.

They came to a large iron door, and Vashlani pulled out the journals and reread them. “This is it; this is where they found the sword. Ready? Vashlani is not sure what is beyond this door.”




When the door opened, they walked into a slightly darkened area, but it quickly became lighter when they saw the moonlight from outside shining down into the area. “By the twin moons,” Vashlani whispered as they saw the forest that was mentioned in the journals. They also saw a bandit laying against a rock, he had started to move, and Shepard raised her gun, aiming it at him as they took a few steps closer. The bandit coughed wetly and told them that Ra’jiir had taken the sword and was trying to return it. One last cough and the bandit breathed his last. Vashlani quickly looted the body and readied several spells.

They took several more steps down the path toward the wooded area, and Vashlani saw something flying around in the light. He stopped and watched, unsure what it was he was seeing.

“What are those? They aren’t registering as organics on the scanner, nor are they coming up as synthetics,” Garrus hissed over the comm.

“Vashlani doesn’t know.”



*** College ***



They were having dinner in the Arch-Mage’s quarters after changing into their new clothing; Joker had at first refused to give up his hat until one of the other mages gave him a hood with a strange design embossed on it. They watched the team’s progress through the dungeon, making comments and both of them jumped when they saw a mass of boulders fall from a trap and went hurtling at Shepard.

When Shepard's team opened the iron door and walked through, they sat forward to watch what would happen next.

“Holy shit, look at that.” Joker was drinking another mead and had his eyes glued to the stream from Vashlani’s camera. “What the hell are those white things flying around in there? Birds or something?”

The Arch-Mage was looking at the screen intently. “My dear, is it possible to speak to them as you did earlier? I need to talk with Vashlani, quickly.”

“Of course. EDI? Patch us through on audio.” Chakwas looked over at the mage who was frowning; his eyes seemed to be moving everywhere on the screen.

“Audio has been patched.”

“Thank you, err...EDI was it? Vashlani? Can you hear me?” The Arch-Mage pointed at something moving on the screen.

“Yes, Arch-Mage.”

“Is there any way you can get a closer view of what is happening without moving near it?”

“Vashlani can zoom in. One moment.” A few seconds later the view sharpened and was much closer.

“Oh no, it is as I thought. Vashlani, those are wisps. Do you understand? There is a Wispmother nearby. She is dangerous, Vashlani, very dangerous. She is susceptible to fire and very little else. You cannot use stealth to try and approach; the wisps see everything. She probably already knows you are there and will be ready for you.” The worried tone of the Arch-Mage had the others looking at each other with frowns on their faces and worried expressions as they turned back toward the screens.




“Fire? Damn it Vashlani; we don’t have flamethrowers or Incendiary rounds.” Garrus was huffing through his nose trying to figure out how the hell they were going to kill something like that.

“Let Vashlani think, Garrus.” Vashlani’s eyes were tracking the movement of the wisps and noticed something else. A khajiit was nearing the wooded clearing.

“We may not have to try and kill her. That khajiit has the sword. The Wispmother didn’t appear until after they took the sword from here.” Vashlani turned to them slightly.

“Return the sword, and she should leave? Right?” Shepard muttered, and Vashlani nodded.

“That khajiit will distract her momentarily, then we move closer, and as soon as that one goes down, Vashlani will call for a flame atronach. You shoot whatever moves, not me though. This khajiit will run for the body, grab the sword, and put it on the table. She should leave, at least temporarily.” They heard shouting and quickly moved toward the clearing. There they saw the khajiit trying to fight against a ghostly white form that looked vaguely feminine. Vashlani started throwing sparks and fire bolts at anything moving while the others started shooting. When the khajiit fell, Vashlani dove for the body and a blast of ice hit him.

“Shepard... the sword... table.” He slid the sword as far as he could before he passed out. Shepard ran for it and scooped it up, Garrus shot at the Wispmother with concussive rounds and knocked her back from Shepard as she slammed the sword into what looked like a display holder that was on the table. The Wispmother disappeared, and the summoned wisps and shades fell.

“Vashlani!” Shepard ran toward him and fell to her knees.

“He is alive Shepard. His vitals are weak but steady. The Arch-Mage informed us that it's because of the ice she used. I have adjusted his armor’s heating program to raise the temperature slowly. The Arch-Mage also suggested to give him one of the red health potions to speed things along,” EDI told her.

Shepard shakily dug through her pack and brought out one of the potions he had put in there earlier and popped out the sealed cork, pouring it into the intake of the helmet. Several minutes later he started to stir as he laid in her arms.

“Oh, Vashlani was hit bad that time,” he groaned and rolled out of Shepard’s arms, getting shakily to his feet. He leaned against the stone table. “Blasted Wispmother. Almost froze Vashlani like an icicle. A Khajiiticle...”, he started chuckling, and his knees buckled.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” Shepard muttered as she helped him to his feet.

“It is the cold, Commander. He just needs a few more moments for it to wear off,” The Arch-Mage told her, his own voice held a hint of laughter. “Khajiits don’t do so well when hit with cold spells.”

Several minutes later he seemed to have returned to his old self and after a growl toward the sword, set about gathering up things.

“As long as that sword remains where it is it should be safe. Spread out, see if you can find anything else. Do not leave the area, though.” Vashlani crouched down and started to gather up some plants that he had found as the others slowly moved around. Garrus called out he found an old skeleton with some stuff he took from it and a chest that he couldn’t get to open. Shepard called out that she found some green looking rocks and a staircase.

They both looked at where they left Vashlani to see him running in circles with his hands outstretched trying to catch a yellowish bug that was flying around. Garrus let out a snort and Shepard muttered about almost being as bad as a dog chasing its tail.

Vashlani made a leap and caught whatever it was that he chased then headed to where Garrus stood. Vashlani looked at the chest then cast the open lock spell and waited, there was no clicking noise, and he cast it again. When the chest failed to open, he shook his head. “Vashlani’s spell is not strong enough, Garrus. This chest won’t unlock.”

“Wanna bet on that?” Garrus took his rifle and rammed the butt of it into the wood, splintering it around the lock. “More than one way of getting a box to open.” They finished ripping the top of the chest off and took out the items that were inside before heading to the other side of the area where Shepard stood waiting.

“Oh, Vashlani needs this.” He took out the pick axe and started to use it on the greenish ore that was part of the rock that Shepard stood on. When he finished mining, they started up the staircase and stopped when the Arch-Mage asked them to take a closer look at the monument and wall that was there.

The curved structure had a stone dragon carved into it and the wall had symbols or writing on it.

“What in Spirit’s name is this?” Garrus reached out and ran his hand over some of the etched symbols.

“It’s a dragon word wall. I’ll inform the Dragonborn of the finding.” Arch-Mage Aren told them as he looked at the screen, unable to decipher the words written there. Only those that learned the way of the Voice could read them. Or a dragon.

They continued up the steps, and Vashlani threw out his arms and leaned backward as he stepped on a pressure plate releasing a barrage of darts from one wall toward the other. “Oops, that was close.”

“Vashlani, how the hell did you survive for two years doing this crap?” Garrus muttered to him as they entered a flooded room with a natural stone bridge spanning it.

“Hmm.” Vashlani knelt on the bridge and looked down into the water. “Ahh.” He stood up and started to strip off everything.

“Now what the hell are you up too?” Shepard asked as he sat on the bridge to remove his boots.

“Treasure.” Once he was down to his small clothes and after an admonishment to Shepard not to look, and for EDI to stop the recording, he stripped them off and dove into the water.

“I can’t believe we’re in the middle of a damn cave-dungeon thing and he goes skinny dipping.” Shepard held her helmet in her hand, and Garrus just laughed and knelt near the edge of the bridge, watching as Vashlani rose up from the water to give him some things before diving back down again.

“That water is so cold, but Vashlani found good things.” He quickly dried off with one of his spare shirts before putting his undersuit and armor back on. “Shepard can look now, Vashlani has his armor back on.” He put on his helmet, and they finished checking the above-water parts of the room before heading through the iron door and retracing their steps to get outside. Vashlani took them all into the pocket bag, and they unloaded their bags.

“Vashlani will shower and change clothes. Anything you want to keep you can place in these chests, one for each of you. These will be your chests when we go adventuring, or you can keep other things in there for when you are in Vashlani’s home, they will be safe there. After Vashlani finishes, he will go to Dawnstar while Shepard showers and changes into her mage clothes. Garrus you are free to use the bed upstairs or get a bedroll and pillows from the storage room if you wish to sleep outside or down in the armory.”

 




Vashlani stopped outside of Dawnstar when he saw a khajiit caravan had set up and went into a wooded area to bring Shepard out. He gave her a heavy fur cloak to wear, making sure the hood was up and telling her about the caravan. She adjusted the small pin camera, and EDI told her that it was working, the glow from her omni tool went out, and they exited the bag.

Vashlani asked the merchant, a khajiit named Ahkari, to show his woman her wares while he spoke to one of the caravan guards to get news. Shepard raised her eyebrow at him when he had called her, “his woman.”

Shepard looked at all the items, taking her time so that EDI and the others could also get a good look. She picked up something that looked like some sort of stringed instrument before putting it back down. She reached for a small purple bottle when Vashlani grabbed her wrist. “No.” His voice was low, and a slight growling came from him as he pulled her hand away from it.

She looked at him and nodded. He let out a breath and released her wrist. “This khajiit will buy the pieces of glass, two goat horns, and the straw bale,” he held up a folded piece of yellow and purple cloth, “and this.”

After putting it all in his bag and grabbing the straps of the straw bale, they started toward Dawnstar. Vashlani grunted as he hid behind a tree and entered his bag taking the bale with him and dropping it into the closest drop-off box before heading back to Shepard.

“Vashlani? Why didn’t you want me to pick up that bottle?” Shepard asked as he wrapped her arm through his and they walked toward the sign that read Windpeak Inn.

He let out a sigh, “That was a bottle of skooma. A drug, illegal and highly addictive.” He turned to her and took her hands in his. “The khajiit homeland is where the Moon Sugar that is the main ingredient is grown, most khajiit eat the sugar in everything. We have a higher tolerance for it, as it is a part of our everyday lives, but can still become addicted. All the other races of Tamriel have very little tolerance to the drug and become addicted quite quickly. This khajiit makes a taffy, and a few sweets with it but is not addicted. Garrus can also eat the sugar without any trouble. The effects of the sugar are bad for humans, whether in sugar form or the more potent skooma. Stay away from it, Shepard. There is no cure, and it will destroy you and everything you love.”

“But you use it?”

He started to shake his head vehemently as she asked the question.

“Vashlani cooks with the sugar, never does he use skooma. Remember, Vashlani told you of the sugar before. This khajiit uses the sugar in only a few things and during the holidays for his moon cakes. He does not use it as a drug, and other than the sweets or food he makes for Garrus, does not, nor will not, give it to another. Healer tested the sugar; it is entirely safe for Garrus.” He held open the door to the Inn, and they walked in.

“Welcome. Warm yourselves by the fire or have a seat and someone will be right there to take your order.” A male’s voice called loudly. They barely heard him over the other people talking and a horrible screeching noise. As they drew closer to the Inn’s counter, she saw what was making the noise. Apparently, it was a woman singing. Shepard wished she had her helmet on so she could dampen the sound.

Vashlani paid for a room for a night, and he shut the door firmly, grabbed one of the thick pelts off the bed and jammed it in the crack between the floor and door, hoping it would block out more of the sound.

“Holy hell Vashlani, is that what they calling singing in your world?” Shepard had a pinkie in her ear wiggling it as if to loosen the noise she heard from inside her head to get rid of it.

“No. That sounded like someone was dying in great agony over a bed of hot coals while being beaten with a war hammer. That was not singing.” Vashlani’s ears kept rotating, and he looked around for more cloth to stuff in the various cracks. When he exhausted the pile of old clothing, he had gathered from inside of the trunk and the dressers he took off his cloak and pulled out their dinner.

“Before we leave in the morning, Vashlani will need to go see the shopkeepers to sell a few things. If you see anything you want, we can buy it for you, if this khajiit has the coin. We need to make sure to completely unload our bags, except for food, potions, and your heat sinks. Dwemer ruins can be a treasure trove, and we will want to gather as much as we can from inside to keep or sell. Vashlani will go over everything in the morning when he isn’t so tired.”

Shepard deactivated the pin camera, they undressed and fell into the bed, both of them exhausted. She tossed and turned trying to get comfortable on the hay mattress before Vashlani grunted, rolled over, and pinned her into place with one arm. “Night, Shepard.”




Just after dawn Vashlani woke and nudged Shepard, she gave a sigh and snuggled closer to him. He let out a purr and ran his hand up and down her arm while nuzzling her head. “Shepard, wake up we have a busy day today.”

“Five more minutes,” she muttered and buried her head into his furry shoulder.

He gave a purring chuckle and slipped his hand down to her waist and hip, stroking them. “Hmm, Vashlani can think of something better for you to do than sleep, but it will take much longer than five minutes.”

She let out a short laugh, “You're a bad khajiit. I’m trying to get another five minutes of snoozing time.”

He bent closer to her ear and let out a purr, “Vashlani has been told he is a very, very good khajiit. If we had more than a few minutes he would be most pleased to show you just how good.” He buried his face into her neck and started purring louder.

She started to laugh, “Alright, alright. I’m awake.” She let out a groan and stretched. “This bed is almost as uncomfortable as sleeping on the ground.” She got up and rolled her shoulders before putting on her clothes.

“Vashlani has been spoiled with his big bed and the one on the Normandy. Let us eat then this one will need to go through the crates.”

They sat at one of the wooden tables in the Inn’s main room and the same woman that had been singing the night before came over to take their order. Shepard raised her eyebrow when he had ordered mead to go with their breakfast.

He leaned in to whisper to her, “Nords do not drink milk unless they are children. They don’t serve teas or coffee, only mead, mead, and more mead. When we get back to my home, we can drink something else and fill our water skins.”




They found Garrus still sound asleep in the armory, he seemed to have built a nest up against the smelter from pelts, blankets, and pillows and was curled up in the middle hugging another pillow. Shepard had to clap a hand over her mouth and leave the room so she wouldn’t wake him with her laughter.

“Garrus? Garrus wake up. Time to start the day,” Vashlani said in a hushed voice, not sure what would happen should he startle the turian from sleep.

“Five more minutes,” came the mumbled reply as Garrus buried his face into the pillow and Vashlani couldn’t help but start to laugh.

They left the bag with Vashlani’s travel pack filled and Garrus happily eating a large portion of sabrecat steak with slaughterfish eggs. He had clicked his mandibles a few times and looked at Vashlani strangely when he placed a teapot and cup in front of him. “The herbal mixture will help with digestion of the eggs. Vashlani has noticed that if sprinkled with the sugar and this herbal tea is drank; the non-khajiit foods are easier on his stomach.”

While Vashlani sold the unwanted items, Shepard looked over the other things that had been laid out for sale. She heard Joker hiss something over the comm when they were inside the general goods store, and she picked up what looked like a model of an old sailing ship from Earth.

The shopkeeper carefully wrapped the ship and Vashlani placed in his pack. They left the store and walked toward the ruins they were going to visit. A thick stand of trees gave enough cover for them to enter the bag so she could change into her armor and Vashlani carefully placed the model ship in his study to give to Joker when they were back on the Normandy that night.




The small ruin he took her and Garrus to was called Windward Ruins, a small open ruin with crumbling walls and snow-covered overgrowth. It also had a bunch of skeevers, giant rat-like creatures that were notorious for carrying diseases. Once they killed the skeevers, the group looked around, and Shepard ran her hand over a large pedestal in the open center of the ruin.

“Vashlani, any idea what this was for?” She ran her hand over the top of it, and he shook his head.

“No. Many of the things we find have information lost to the ages. All we can do is gather what is there, and in some cases, sell it to one of the few researchers that are still around. There are some in the College, some here in Dawnstar, and at least one in Whiterun and Markarth. What they don’t post a need for through the Hold’s notice board, then we keep or sell.”

 



The group stood outside the extensive Dwarven ruins; there had been several bandits that seemed to have taken up residence there and had to be dealt with before they could get into the main part of the ruin.

“Damn, Vashlani this place is huge,” Shepard said as she glanced around. There were so many small tower type buildings that they could see and what seemed to be some sort of locked cage that he told them was a Dwemer lift and was used to go deep underground. Without the key, they couldn’t use it though.

Their cameras busily recorded everything around them as Vashlani reminded them of the dangers inside. When they were ready, he swung the large ornate doors made of Dwemer metal open, and they walked inside. “Vashlani’s pack is stuffed with sacks. We will need to use any crates, barrels, boxes, or other bags from inside here if we run out. Vashlani will use the pocket’s storage dimension this time. We don’t leave here until we are ready to go back to the Normandy. It is not safe to pop in and out of these ruins. We stay as quiet as we can if we see the Falmer.”

As they rounded the first corner, Vashlani stopped when he saw the cart filled with Dwemer dressers and two Dwarven spiders that were in pieces on the ground. He walked over to them and picked through the debris, and put several pieces into a sack. “Garrus, Vashlani needs your help with something.”

“What?” Garrus put his rifle in the harness on his back and went to stand beside the khajiit.

“Khajiit needs two of those dressers. Must be perfect, no damage. Help me pick through them.” Vashlani moved to the cart and started to grunt to try and get one of the heavy, metal dressers from the back of it.

“You’re joking?”

When Vashlani kept grunting and pulling at the objects, Garrus knew he was serious. After twenty minutes and Garrus nudging Vashlani aside so he could just grab them himself and haul them off the back, Vashlani was satisfied with two, and they manhandled them inside his pocket bag.

They found a Dwarven sphere that had been destroyed next, scavenged from it, and kept going. The group only stopped when they heard talking from around another corner. They quickly dispatched the bandits, looted everything that wasn’t nailed down and kept on going.

In another section they watched as several bandits fought with the animunculus, when the fighting was over they mopped up the survivors. They looted the area, Vashlani and Garrus grunting as they loaded up a chest then picked the heavy, metal and stone thing up to shove it into his bag. Shepard stood watching them and wondered why Vashlani wanted more chests when he had a whole storage room filled with them already.

Vashlani dropped onto a stone chair to catch his breath and pointed at several long metal shelves attached to a wall. “What about those Garrus? Right size?”

The turian turned, and his visor ran through the dimensions of the brewery building and Vashlani’s blueprints. “Those can be used in the brewery along the one wall.”

Vashlani let out a huff as he stood up, “Let’s get moving; break is over. More good stuff to take. We are doing well here. Maybe we can finish this today.”

Garrus activated his omni tool and used the plasma cutter to remove the shelving and stuff it into the bag carefully.

They moved along killing and looting the Dwarven Constructs and taking everything they could. They came to a room, and Garrus looked through one of the closed gated doors. “Vashlani, you better come look at this.”

Inside the room was one of the large Dwarven Centurions lying on the ground. A red light was still pulsing, and the core was rotating. “Get that gate open, Garrus. Vashlani needs to remove the core while it is still functioning.”

“What is that thing, Vashlani?” Shepard asked as she observed him taking out a rather odd looking device from the chest of the construct. The construct was huge and was built entirely of the same bronze looking metal that was throughout the ruins. The construct had enormous weapons for arms and hands and even had a face designed into it.

“A Dwemer Centurion. The largest of the animunculus created by the ancient dwarves. We are lucky this one was not working, had it been we would have been in a fight for our lives. They use steam as a sort of breath attack; they are almost entirely resistant to ice and poison attacks, Vashlani’s lightning is resisted as well, but not as much. Their melee attacks can kill if it hits you.”

“How the hell did you kill these things before?” Garrus asked as he continued to look over the unit.

Vashlani chuckled, “Easy enough if you have time to run at them before you’re spotted. Vashlani would get between its legs and shoot lightning up its a--,” he cleared his throat. The others started to laugh. “The design is flawed; the centurion cannot tilt its head or lower its arms to attack anything that near it. So anything that is between its legs or up against it is reasonably safe. But if you take even one misstep and find yourself just far enough away from it that it can target you, it will pretty much kill you in one hit.” He continued to remove bits and pieces of the thing, slipping them into his pocket or travel bag.

“Garrus?” EDI’s voice called out over their comm lines.

“Yes, EDI?”

“Pan your camera back to the right please and focus on the strange portal-like device near the large pipes.”

Garrus did as she asked. “Requesting a scan of the object.” Garrus held up his omni tool and ran a scan over it; he also used his visor for a more in-depth scan.

“Vashlani, the object that Garrus is scanning, what is the name of it?”

“According to the books that Vashlani has read and a few translated texts, it was called a gantry, EDI, and was where the centurions would stay until activated.”

“Scan completed. Also, scan the centurion. This data may hold the key to the request you made earlier,” EDI told him.

Garrus looked at Vashlani and hurried over to scan what remained of the automaton. “It would be better if we could scan one that was intact and inside this gantry thing.”

Vashlani nodded to him, “We shall see. There are still several more hours to explore the ruins yet, let us keep moving.”

They ended up in front of a passage that metal spears blocked and a lever in the middle of a small platform. They were studying the puzzle when Joker came on the line.

“Hey, Vash. Grab me that cup from the table to the right, please, a plate too.” Vashlani went over to pick up the items, and EDI asked him to get that decorated piece of metal as well.

“This?” He picked up the small Dwemer plate metal and held it up in front of him. The embossed side of it toward him so Joker and EDI could see it on the screen.

“Yes. Do you think Shepard would mind if you brought that back to the Normandy?” EDI’s computerized voice sounded a bit hesitant as she asked the question.

“This is for EDI, yes? A gift. Vashlani will bring it for you. Does EDI see anything else she wants for the Normandy? Just tell this khajiit.”

There was a slight hesitation before she asked for one of the urns. “Which one, the blue one with the Dwemer metal accents and feet or the huge one in the middle of those tables?”

“Both?”

Vashlani wrapped the blue urn in some scrap cloth he took from a bandit and put it in his bag, then grunted and pulled the big urn over and carefully tipped it into the pocket bag.

“Thank you, Vashlani.”

The khajiit smiled and wandered back over in front of the lever where the others were still trying to figure it out. EDI told them less than a minute later how to solve it.

The passageway continued a short distance past the puzzle lock and ended in a doorway. Vashlani pushed the doors open, and it led to a Dwemer lift. “Hmm, Vashlani isn’t sure if this goes up or down. If down, well it could be dark and filled with Falmer. If up it will take us outside. Ready?”

When the doors of the lift opened, they walked out into the dimly lit passageway, ahead of them was a large door with a dead Falmer and Dwarven spider in front of it. “Vashlani was afraid of this. Many Falmer is probably infesting these ruins. Do you remember what Vashlani said about them?”

Garrus nodded, checked his pouch for the heatsink count and loaded a fresh one into his sniper rifle. Shepard looked between the two of them, seeing how Garrus had switched from his assault rifle to the quieter sniper one. “Shepard, switch out for your pistol. It’s a bit quieter,” Garrus mumbled to her, and they waited until she did so. “For once, Shepard, cover my six. These sneaky bastards drop silent and can come up behind us.” Vashlani quickly looted the creatures before standing up and agreeing with him.

Vashlani quickly checked his packs and withdrew a staff, clipping it to the special holster on his armor. Then counted his small purple gems moving ones out of his pocket bag and slipping other gems inside of it. He glanced at both of them and drew a deep breath before his hands moved, and the purplish black glow enveloped them. He walked to the door and pushed it open.

 




Shepard drew in a breath as she got her first look at the underground ruin, long bridges spanned the area and connected tall tower-like structures. Blue glowing phosphorescence spotted along the walls while lights and fires dotted the area giving off enough illumination to see that water flooded the area below them and more water gushed from large pipes along the walls. They started forward and spotted movement ahead and from the east. Vashlani pointed them out, and they moved, the quiet thump of his summoned arrows and the swirls of purple light going into his pack interspersed with the pops of Garrus’ rifle and Shepard’s pistol.

They came upon a tent-like structure, and Vashlani cleared it of loot after answering Garrus’ questions about the glowing blue balls he picked up. “Those aren’t balls, Garrus. Those are chaurus eggs.”

“Chaurus... chaurus?” Garrus held out the eggs to Vashlani who put them in his pack.

“You remember those huge, black bug-like things with the giant pincers that spit poison at us?” When Garrus let out a small groan, Vashlani nodded, “Chaurus.”

They checked the rest of the area finding a doorway. “Wait...,” Vashlani turned to his companions. “Vashlani wants to check the water and underwater areas for things.”

“Again?” Shepard asked him and saw the way his head tilted slightly down. “We’ll just wait in front of this door and keep a look out.” She told him, and his head snapped up before he quickly started to strip down.

They moved to the edge as he carefully lowered himself into the water, his hand raised and he flicked his fingers. A ball of light appeared and circled his head just as he went under the water.

“Shepard? Maybe we should get Vash some swim trunks when we get back. Has to be better than swimming in that water with his junk just hanging out.”

Shepard started to laugh as Joker asked her to pan her camera around so they could see more of the area while they waited. Garrus meanwhile followed that small ball of light that moved under the water.

 




They encountered more Falmer and almost tripped on a wire hooked to a giant claw trap that would have impaled whoever did. Several Falmer were lying dead, and Vashlani pointed out the destroyed Dwarven Constructs scattered about as well. Vashlani picked over everything before they went into another area and found another of the Dwarven Centurions broken and lying on a table. Vashlani grinned as he quickly removed the core and gems embedded into it, gathered the oil that was still inside of it before finally ripping it apart after checking a list he had pulled out of his satchel. He started humming as he looted the room, his arms loaded down with Dwemer metal ingots and scrap metal, the others looking at bits and pieces while Vashlani shoved everything he could into his bag.

They pushed open another door and started down a corridor. Vashlani turned the corner then quickly backed up.

“What?” Shepard hissed at him as they saw the way his armored tail started to swing and the way he nervously fingered his staff.

“There is a Centurion in the room, still standing in the gantry. That bastard could activate when we get closer.”

“We need that thing scanned while it’s in there, Vashlani. We have to get closer if...”, Garrus didn’t say anything more and Shepard looked between the two of them.

“Vashlani knows Garrus, he knows, but...”, he looked toward Shepard then back at the corner.

“Don’t worry about us, remember we’re better geared and armed. Let’s just do this,” Shepard told Vashlani and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“One moment. Garrus, I would like your permission to add a different program to the scanning capabilities of your omni tool. It will give a bit of distance and a more in-depth scan of the object,” EDI cut in before they started to move.

“Permission granted for that, EDI.” Garrus watched as a ping was received and he accepted the upload. The app rebooted and showed a different icon on the small screen. Garrus inched his way around the corner and saw the giant automaton. He tapped on the button and aimed the small light grid at the object, he took several steps toward it, stopping just as the light grid touched the construct and the scan started. Everyone held their breaths and waited.

“Why do you want that scan?” Shepard hissed over the comm at Vashlani. He ignored her. “You’re not going to tell me are you?” She received silence in reply.

“Scan complete, will start data analysis for you Vashlani. Leave the scanning app running, Garrus. I will continue to examine the construct if it activates. I am enjoying our trip; it has been quite the exciting visual experience. EDI out.”

“We ready to do this now?” Shepard huffed out. Still a bit peeved at being left out of the loop in whatever Vashlani had asked of the others.

“Yes. Vashlani asks that you both be careful. Do not let it hit you. Vashlani would not like it one of his friends was hurt,” he said it quietly and slipped his staff into the holder before flicking his wrist and having a ball of purple and black show up in one hand, the other covered in crackling blue-white electricity.

As they rounded the corner they heard a release of steam as the giant mechanical construct activated, Vashlani took off running towards it while the other two split up and dove for whatever cover they could find. They started firing at it as soon as they saw the storm atronach appear and start to attack. Vashlani, on the other hand, was almost stuck to the creature's legs as he moved with it, casting dual Thunderbolts into the underside of it, only stopping long enough to swallow a blue potion and to recast his summons.

Vashlani had just swallowed another potion when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye dropping from a large pipe behind Shepard. “Shepard, behind you!” he yelled and watched for a second as she turned and opened fired at whatever was coming up behind her, she tossed a grenade and jumped over the debris landing on the floor below him just as it exploded sending parts of the Dwarven sphere in all directions.

The giant construct focused its attention on her. She had come too close to it, and it released steam in her direction. Her suit alarms blared, and they all heard EDI coming over the comm telling that she was making adjustments to Shepard’s suit environments.

Vashlani cast another summons and tried to get to Shepard before the Centurion did. He grabbed her by the suit collar and dragged her behind a fallen pillar; then he stood up casting his spells at the creature as fast as he could. A moment later Shepard joined him, the rat-a-tat-tat of her assault rifle set on automatic, hammered away at the construct until finally it fell and didn’t move.

Garrus ran to them and started a scan on Shepard, even after she assured both of them she was fine.

Vashlani was disassembling what he could from the construct as the others looted the area, Garrus came back with a massive two-handed sword in his hands and a shield. They piled up their findings, Garrus and Shepard picked through it while Vashlani ran his hands over the sword. His brows drew down, and he pulled a different journal from his pack and started flipping through the pages. He let out a purr as he ran a finger over the engravings on the flat of the blade. “This blade has a reward for its return. A good sum of Septims,” his gaze swung to Shepard, and he let out a very low rumbling purr as his eyes narrowed into glittering blue slits, “from a warrior in Riften.”



** College of Winterhold **



The Arch-Mage started chuckling as he watched and listened to the group on the screen, his arm around the human woman that shared the bed with him. He felt her shift and looked down at her.

“Why are you smiling like that, Savos?” Chakwas stroked the side of his gray face, brushing the dark hair behind his pointed ear.

“My dear, Karin, Riften is where the Temple of Mara is. After a few centuries, I have learned to read the facial expressions of most races of Tamriel, and our dear friend Vashlani is thinking hard about how to get your Commander into that temple. Now my dear, how it breaks my heart to say this, but they will be heading back to the College, and it will be time to part ways, for now. Although, I do hope that this old mage will get to see you again and soon.” He smiled at the tug she gave on his neck.

“Five more minutes,” she whispered just before his lips met hers.

Chapter Text


 

Garrus put the few things he wanted to keep into the satchel Vashlani gave him then told Vashlani to sell the rest, he would watch and listen over the comm, and if he saw something in the stores that he wanted he’d let Shepard know.

Shepard was currently picking through several items and putting them in her travel bag that she wanted to take back to the Normandy. She went to put it on when he reached for it. “Here this khajiit will hold onto that for you.” He tucked the bag with the amulet away where no one else in Skyrim would be able to see it.

Vashlani told her he needed to go to a different town for just a bit if she didn’t mind. She shrugged and put on the heavy fur cloak and muffler he handed to her. When they stepped out of the ruin, and he used the map she almost fell over from the strong wind that blew at her from off the mountains.

“What the hell?” she yelled as he gripped her arm tightly and they fought their way through the blinding snow and heavy winds toward the walls of the city.

Vashlani put up with the comments from the nords in the town and Shepard snarled at many of the bigoted people with him just whispering to her to ignore it all. They jogged down the steps, Vashlani moved to the side when Shepard hissed that the others kept yapping to slow down so they could see the town more. Once inside a store, that had a sign swinging in the wind called Sadri’s Used Wares, Vashlani began selling all the goods that Garrus had passed up. Shepard picked up a small gem that was laying on the table after Garrus had told he wanted it over the comm. She handed it to Vashlani who paid for it from the coins he just got.

“I would also like the Amulet of Arkay that is on the shelf,” Vashlani told the Dunmer store owner then laid down the coins as payment. When he was done selling everything from that satchel, he asked Shepard if she thought any of their other friends would want something, she waited a second then when no one else said anything she shook her head.

“Nope, don’t think so. It’s my turn for selling and buying now.” She gave a brilliant smile to Dunmer who blinked at her and gave her a slight smile back. “I just love your store. The way you have your goods laid out catches the eye; I bet you have many customers who come to you just to sell their things, this must be their favorite store in town.”

She blinked as she heard Garrus start laughing in her ear the minute the Dunmer told her he was glad she liked his store and offered her a discount on her purchases that day.

It was the same at the apothecary and the small stall they had stopped at. Shepard gave them a brilliant smile and complimented them on something to do with their store and how it must be the best one she’s ever been in and walking out with goods sold to her at a discount.

Vashlani told her there was one more thing he had to do as they lightly jogged up the stairs to the Inn. “This khajiit won’t be long. Warm yourself by the Inn’s fire, Vashlani will be right back.” He left her sitting near the fire as the bards started to play their instruments and he hurried down the stairs. He was back before she had finished the tankard of mead that she had bought from the woman who came around to ask if she had wanted anything.

Once back at the College they gathered around saying their goodbyes and thank you’s to the Arch-Mage and Colette was pressing several potions into Joker’s hands when a female came running towards them and yelled for the Arch-Mage to come quick, something was happening down in the Hall of the Elements. They hurried down the stairs, in Joker’s case Colette was making sure he didn’t fall on the stone steps. When the two of them reached the bottom it was just in time to see the Arch-Mage and another person in a full set of black armor blasted backward by some sort of spell that a gold colored elf cast from inside a giant blue barrier.

They heard Chakwas scream, “Savos” as the older elf was thrown through one of the school windows and out into the courtyard. Garrus chased after her as Colette and Joker stopped to help a female to stand up. Shepard shook Vashlani, squeezing medigel packs on several areas where it looked like he was bleeding. After making sure the woman was going to be alright, Colette ran toward the doors leading to the courtyard to see the female that the others called a healer working on the Arch-Mage. The other mages were staring at Garrus as he knelt beside the Arch-Mage telling Chakwas the readings his visor took. Tolfdir warned several mages to back away that Garrus was not a Daedra or summons, but a friend to the Arch-Mage.

“EDI, Garrus is uploading the scans, contact Mordin have him report to the med bay.” Chakwas appeared to be talking into thin air and the other mages thought she had lost her mind, the Arch-Mage was dead yet she was trying to use salves to heal him. Colette approached her and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“He is dead, Healer. There is nothing we can do for him.”

Chakwas shook off her hand and said gruffly, “Maybe you can’t here, but I have technology in my world that can. Where is Vashlani? We have to hurry or we will lose him for sure.” Her hands were shaking as was her voice but she wouldn’t stop. She pulled out a silver tube and pressed it against the Arch-Mage’s neck.

“There is a faint heart beat and respiration is very shallow, Doctor Chakwas. I have notified Mordin about the medical emergency and have uploaded the Arch-Mage’s biological scans into the equipment. It is ready for you.” EDI’s voice startled the others as it came from the glowing light around the stranger’s wrist.

“Healer, khajiit is here. Vashlani will take you and the Arch-Mage to the Normandy.” Vashlani stumbled as he leaned heavily on Shepard as they moved closer to the group.

Chakwas stood up and pressed several buttons on her omni tool. A glowing purple field enveloped the Arch-Mage, and he slowly rose from the ground. Several of the mages shouted about using necromancy and Vashlani told them to be quiet, it was not necromancy, it was magic to keep the Arch-Mage's injuries from getting worse as they moved him. “Shepard, Vashlani will be right back.”

He laid a hand on Chakwas and the floating form of the Arch-Mage then disappeared. There was an outcry from the mages and Tolfdir waved his hands and told them to calm down.

They all heard a new voice coming from the doorway and saw a heavily armored person walked toward them wearing black and red colored armor.

Tolfdir turned toward the newcomer. “Dragonborn.”

“What is going on here, Tolfdir? Where is the Arch-Mage?” The helmet caused the voice to distort; they couldn’t tell if it was a female or male that was inside the armor. Shepard and Garrus looked at each other then back to the figure.

“Our healer took him somewhere that she can tend him better. He won’t be harmed and will be brought back to the College as soon as he heals.” Shepard told the person, she noticed that the newcomer hadn’t turned toward her, their focus was on Garrus.

A moment later a grunt came from the armor and this “Dragonborn” person looked away from Garrus to focus on Tolfdir. “I have spoken to Mirabelle; she woke me up after the blast knocked me out. I’m going after the Staff of Magnus that the Augur said was in Labyrinthian, when I return I’m going to teach that damn Thalmor a harsh lesson.” The person headed toward the outer gates, two cloaked and heavily armed figures fell into step behind as they exited the College.

Tolfdir turned to the others. “Please, let us get in from the cold and wait for Vashlani to return.”




They ran through the ship, the Arch-Mage between them as they headed for the med bay. EDI told them that Mordin was on his way, the tracker on his omni tool had him listed as being in a skycar and closing in on the docking area.

Chakwas carefully lowered the suspended form of the Arch-Mage to the medical gurney and set about removing his garments, Vashlani helped her as quickly as he could. His head was still bleeding and he didn’t want to waste any of the potions or healing magic on himself when the Arch-Mage was in greater need. The scanner came down and did a full scan on the Arch-Mage, the holo appearing on the screen next to them.

Chakwas pulled a different machine down and began the repairs, starting with the worst of the internal injuries while Vashlani set about slowly and carefully healing the small areas.

The damage was too extensive just to try and treat him all at once, he wasn’t strong enough and the potions wouldn’t fix this amount of injury to the Arch-Mage’s insides.

Mordin rushed in and scanned over the report, only the blinking of his eyes gave away his startled reaction to yet another alien lifeform on the Normandy. He took a sample of the damaged liver and placed it into the small cloning device and started it up. The data on the machine rapidly moved over the screen then the process began to grow a replacement liver. Then came a new lung and Vashlani worked to heal the other organs as the machines kept the Arch-Mage alive. Once the liver and lung were graphed into place, Vashlani healed them so that no scar tissue remained. The bio scans were rerun to make sure that nothing remained behind and they saw a small tear in the heart. Vashlani went to heal him again when his vision became blurry and he started to fall. Mordin barely had time to catch the khajiit before he landed on the floor.

They placed Vashlani on another gurney and Mordin started up another scan. “Concussion. Blood loss. Didn’t bother to heal himself. Residue from applications of medigel present. Didn’t heal him.”

“Top cupboard, left-hand side. Lock code is 65A1T8. Get out one of the small, red-liquid filled vials and pour it into his mouth. Make sure he swallows it all. That should fully heal him; it usually heals all their injuries.”

Mordin blinked at her then went to the cupboard.

Chakwas completed the repair work on the Arch-Mage’s heart, and another scan reran. “Damn it.”

Mordin blinked and looked closer at Chakwas, finally realizing that the human was more invested in the alien than just as a doctor. He glanced up at the readout. The damage was repaired but the heart wasn’t working on its own.

“Lazarus project. Records show Shepard’s heart did the same. Use of cybernetics to regulate her heart was required. Have no other option.” Mordin rushed to a storage cupboard and removed one of the sealed packets and brought it to her. “Will assist. Won’t let him die.” He gave her a small pat on the shoulder then proceeded to do the same surgery on the dark elf that the Lazarus team recorded in Shepard’s files.

They heard the groan coming from Vashlani as they closed up the Arch-Mage’s chest and applied a thin layer of cloned skin to the area.

When Vashlani stumbled over to them, they explained what they had to do and he reached out to heal the elf again, letting out a sigh of relief when the healing started to work on the rest of the Arch-Mage's body. “Vashlani is thankful for what you have done for the Arch-Mage, he is a friend to this khajiit. This one knows how much the Arch-Mage meant to Healer and was glad she was nearby when the Thalmor attacked him.” Vashlani moved to the small cupboard and took out a blue potion and swallowed it, Mordin watched in fascination as the blue light swirled around the khajiit then disappeared. Vashlani let out a deep purring sigh.

“Vashlani needs to go get the others. I will tell the College about the Arch-Mage and to keep the knowledge a secret. I cannot let that Thalmor live; he saw Garrus. Too dangerous for the College, too dangerous for this dimension.”

“College? Others? Thalmor?” Mordin blinked.

Vashlani looked at him. “This khajiit thanks Mordin for what he did. We will talk some later, yes? Will answer some of your questions then.” Mordin quickly agreed and moved back over to the Arch-Mage’s side. He opened his omni tool and began to type away rapidly. Vashlani headed toward his room before he entered the bag and took the portal to the College.

“Doctor Chakwas, the ship's crew have begun to return. Scheduled departure is in three hours.”

“Thank you, EDI. Please notify them there will be a slight delay, then darken the med bay window.” Chakwas moved the gurney near the medical bed in the furthest corner and used the mass effect fields to move him onto it, covered him with a light sheet and dropped a kiss to his brow before she stepped back and raised the privacy barrier. “Please continue to monitor Savos for me.”

“Of course, Doctor. EDI, out.”




Vashlani tiredly made his way down the long winding stone stairs of the College. J’zargo had been waiting at the bottom and told him that the others were in the Arcanum and that the rest of the instructors were watching the Thalmor. When they entered the enormous library, Shepard met him and held him tightly as he let out a sigh into her neck and a slight purr as he felt her stroke his head.

When he raised his head, he looked to the gathered mages. “He is alive. The healer was able to save him. The Arch-Mage will remain with her until his body adjusts to the small changes that had to be made.”

“What do you mean, Vashlani?” Colette asked him, her voice held disbelief that the Arch-Mage could have lived through the blast.

Vashlani ran a hand over Shepard’s hair before he looked to the Restoration instructor. “His internal organs were severely damaged, and they had to use special magic from their dimension to save him; something like Dwemer machines had to be used to fix him.”

Shepard let out a sigh and dropped her head to his chest. “How much?”

“His heart would not beat on its own. They used the same cybernetics that they did on you and Garrus. Healing magic will still work if he gets hurt again; except for his heart. They replaced some of his insides with ones Mordin grew in the cloning machine after he took pieces of it from the Arch-Mage. He is not awake yet, but Healer is taking care of him.” Vashlani looked at the other mages, some with a look of horror, some with disbelief.

“He is alive and is not a thrall or the undead or some abomination. When he recovers, you will see for yourselves.” He brushed his hand one last time down Shepard’s hair before stepping from her embrace. “Now this khajiit has a Thalmor to murder.”

Tolfdir held up his hand stopping him. “The Dragonborn is out finding what is needed to get to him and stop him. When the Dragonborn returns from their mission, then they will deal with the elf. But you and your friends should get back to their dimension in case others should come. Know that we are grateful to you all and you are welcome here at any time. Should you need us, send a message through Vashlani.”




When they had all arrived back to the ship, they changed clothes and Shepard hurried down to the Med Bay to get the full report. Joker opened the airlocks and the rest of the crew started to filter on, speculation on what was going on ran rampant as Shepard was never late. She quickly scanned the new dossiers that had come from the Illusive Man as she waited for the lift to get to the right deck.

“Joker set a course for Nos Astra. We have two pickups there, then head for Haestrom, we’ll be picking up Tali on that planet.”

“Aye, Commander. Hope Nos Astra has those display boxes for models. I want one for my new ship.”

Shepard’s lips curled into a small smile that faded as quick as it came when she saw how ashen the Arch-Mage was. Even though his skin had been gray anyway, there was now a much paler tone to him. She glanced up at the Doc and saw her worrying her bottom lip as she carefully took readings and brushed his dark hair to the side.

“He has the best care giver in the galaxy watching over him, Doc, he’ll pull through.” Shepard placed a comforting hand on her old friend’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze.




Garrus stood on a ladder holding onto the piece of the Dwarven plate metal trying to line it up on the section of the ship’s bulkhead that EDI had wanted it on, “How’s this EDI?”

“Left two inches and down one point five inches.”

“Here?”

“Hmm. Maybe to the right an inch?”

“EDI!”

“There is perfect, Garrus, thank you.”

Joker was snickering as he watched from his pilot’s chair as EDI kept having Garrus move that piece of metal all over the wall. “That was hilarious, EDI.”

“Glad you found it so, Mr. Moreau. I shall be expecting the downloads that I requested to be transferred into the databank for me when we get to Nos Astra.”

“Yeah, yeah, no worries. I’ll supply you that intel.”

The camera view switched to Vashlani who was placing the blue urn for EDI in the debriefing room on a new table that he fabricated for it. Once it was in place, EDI told him how to activate the small mass effect generator that would lock the urn into place so they wouldn’t have to worry about it falling over. OnceVashlani had it in place they watched as he looked around before bringing something out of his pouch and dropping it inside the urn.

“What the hell is that cat up too?” Joker muttered as he brought the camera in closer. They watched as Vashlani held out his hand and a greenish glow swirled around it. Joker smiled as he realized it was the same spell that Vashlani used in the greenhouse. The pot began to fill with dark, rich soil. Vashlani took several plant bulbs out of his pack, and they watched and listened to the khajiit happily humming as he planted them and a few seeds inside the urn before pouring water from a small bottle over it. A moment later a large, bright, purple ball of light stuck to the ceiling of the room and Vashlani smiled as he walked out and the lights automatically went out.

Joker took off his hat, scratched his head, and zoomed in closer when he saw the soil start to give a wiggle as tiny seedlings sprouted. “Holy shit, will you look at that EDI.”

Vashlani struggled with removing the large Dwemer metal urn from the portal bag and placed in the crew quarters. A warning from EDI came over the ship's intercom and said that it was her decoration and not a rubbish bin.




Chakwas was asleep with her head on the bed next to the Arch-Mage when she felt a hand in her hair and jerked upright. “Savos?”

“Karin, my dear, where am I? What has happened? The last thing I remember was the Dragonborn and I confronting Ancano and a bright flash.” The dark elf’s voice was hoarse and cracked. She rushed to get him some water then explained what happened.

“You’re on the Normandy, recovering from surgery. I couldn’t let you die, Savos, I had Vashlani bring you here and we saved you.” She sat on her chair and took his hand in hers, “we had to use some of our technology to do it though. I can explain more if you wish it, but just know I am not sorry we did it. I just couldn’t...,” she felt the thumb of his other hand brush lightly against her cheek wiping away the stray tears that fell.

“You do not need to explain, my dear if our positions were reversed I too would have done whatever I could to save you.”

She let out a small gasping sob before leaning toward him to give him a gentle kiss.

“I am sorry, Doctor Chakwas, Arch-Mage Aren, but the Commander requested that I inform her when there was a change in the Arch-Mage’s condition. She and Vashlani are on their way down from the loft.”

“It’s fine, EDI, thank you for letting us know. Please start a full body scan on Savos and transfer the findings to my private terminal.” Chakwas wiped her face then quickly dashed cold water on it and blotted it dry, tossing the cloth into the disposal just as they came racing through the door.

Chakwas went over the scan with Shepard while Vashlani talked with the Arch-Mage and told him what was going on at the College.

Chakwas insisted the Arch-Mage stay at least two more days before going back to Vashlani’s world so she could monitor the cybernetics that was controlling his heart.

“That will give us time to get the next two on board and be on the way to Haestrom. It’s a long journey, even at FTL between relays. It will work for all of us. Keep me informed of any changes. EDI knows to keep all the intel on him a secret. She’s been monitoring all the communications still. If he feels up to it and you think it will be safe, he can have a tour of the non-classified areas of the ship. Just remind him that he can't tell anyone about us. Not like anyone from his world would believe it anyway, but--,” she shrugged.

“Commander, ETA to Nos Astra is four hours.”

“Thanks, Joker. Arch-Mage, I’ll leave the Doc to go over the regulations on this ship, even though this one is not a military vessel I still run a relatively tight ship. If you need anything just ask her or call out to EDI and she’ll help you with nonclassified information if she has it. I’m going to head out to get ready for our next stop.” She shook his hand. “I’m glad the Doc was there to help you.”

“As I am, Commander, as am I.”

“Vashlani will bring you some food before the team leaves the ship.” He smiled at the Arch-Mage who had taken the Doc’s hand in his again before he hurried from the med bay to catch up with Shepard.




The asari that met them at the dock told them that Liara had paid all their docking fees and she requested to see them at their earliest convenience. She also told them that it would be best not to sign anything as indenturing was legal there. When Vashlani asked what that was Shepard turned to him and said it was slavery, just a nicer way to say it, but it amounted to the same thing. The asari bristled and told her they didn’t use the word “slavery.” Shepard shrugged, “It’s the same damn thing no matter what fancy name you attach to it or how you say it, slavery is slavery.”

When they entered the city Vashlani ran to the railing and gazed over the rest of it, Mordin equated it to a giant beehive with many queen bees. Shepard snorted then waited for Vashlani to finish his holos before moving on. They stopped at a small kiosk where Shepard persuaded the asari to give her a small discount and proceeded to buy several upgrades for the crew; then they went to see Liara. Garrus told them that he needed to get the pieces of jewelry that Vashlani made authenticated and a gemologist report made so they could sell them. Kasumi was right beside him, swiftly saying she would be better able to tell if someone was trying to cheat them.

Liara had been surprised when she saw Vashlani with Shepard. Since the other asari who apparently was her assistant didn’t leave the room, Vashlani had to be extra careful in what was said. Even more so when Liara hugged him and whispered they were being watched and to be diligent for he was in even more danger here than he was on the Citadel.

Liara went over a few things with Shepard, declined to rejoin the Normandy as she had many debts that needed to be repaid. Shepard asked about them, and Liara didn’t go into details. She did, however, ask for help to get some intel that she could use to settle one huge one. She agreed and Liara gave her the locations of some terminals to hack.

She also provided the information that Shepard needed to find her next two recruits. They could locate the Justicar through the tracking officer in the transport area, and a drell had been spotted speaking to a dock worker a few nights before.

When Shepard got up to leave Liara stood quickly. “Shepard wait. There is something I should tell you. It was me that gave your body to Cerberus. They said they could bring you back and I just-- I just couldn’t let ...”

Shepard stared at her for a few minutes, her brain processing what Liara had just told her. “Why? I don’t understand.”

“The Collectors were after your remains for some reason, I was suspicious and then Cerberus approached me, told me they could bring you back to fight against the Reapers because they believed they were real. So I set about helping them.” The asari started twisting her hands together hoping that Shepard would forgive her, she knew that Shepard hated the organization for the terrorist activity and inhumane things they had done and Shepard had to clean up the mess they left behind when one of their experiments got out of control.

Shepard scratched her forehead then gave Liara a nod and a slight smile, “You kept me out of the hands of the Collectors. I don’t know why they would want my body, but thank you.”

The others in the room could almost feel the oppressive weight that had been in the room lift at Shepard’s smile. Liara let out a small laughing sob before hugging Shepard and whispering her thanks for understanding. After they had left Liara’s office, they headed toward the cargo transport area to see if they could track down that asari that had been spotted talking to Thane Krios, at least they hoped it was him.

She told them that she had indeed spoken to the assassin and told them that he was after Nassana Dantius, an asari who was not known for fair play and honesty. After talking to them a while longer, she told Shepard to meet her later that night and she would take them to the second tower, which she said she was almost sure Thane would have chosen. Shepard agreed then the small group wandered around Nos Astra; stopping here and there to take holos, or to shop. Vashlani pointed at a sign for a club, insisting he wanted to see it, so they headed there.

After an asari stopped them and told them about a human that was causing problems inside, they went up the steps and into the club. They noticed many different people standing around and Shepard started to walk toward the bar when Mordin cleared his throat to get her attention. When she turned around Vashlani was standing stone still staring at the asari dancing on a table in little more than a set of glorified underwear.

“Come on, Vashlani.” She tugged on his arm and he stumbled a bit.

“Shepard... she was not wearing clothing. What was she doing? What kind of dance was that? Why was she out in public like that? Why wasn’t a guard arresting her?”

“She’s a stripper, Vashlani and she’s working. In places like this, you will see most of the asari working there in as little clothing as possible unless they are what they call Matriarchs, or older asari who have grown out of the... wild stage.”

“Liara did not do such things.”

“No, thankfully, she didn’t. Asari live very long lives and most of them waste two-thirds of it taking off their clothing for credits, joining mercenary groups or frittering the time away when they could be using it to better the galaxy. You won’t find many like Liara.”

As they drew nearer to the bar, Shepard let out a groan as she recognized the person that was making all the trouble. A man named Conrad Verner, who was her self-proclaimed number one fan, stood there. He was a pain in her ass on the Citadel before the attack and now seemed even more so. She questioned him about why he was causing problems and trying to get the deed to the club; then she asked him where he got the N7 armor. He told her it was an expensive replica. She let out a sigh when he went on a spiel about how she died and someone had to do something. She told him that she would take care of the problem and to not cause any more trouble.

Once Shepard tracked down and talked to the other asari that was after the deed to the bar and receiving a shop discount, Shepard told her that the deed was ready for her, all she had to do was go back there and inform the bartender that Shepard had sent her. The asari grinned and hurried away. Mordin let out a soft snort before Shepard started buying stuff from the kiosk. She also spared a few moments to talk to another asari and told her that her krogan boyfriend was going to keep shouting horrible poetry until she talked to him. She needed to make up her mind to accept him at his word about not wanting her to be, as the asari had called it, a baby-making machine or to let him go. As a reward, she was given yet another discount.

“This one has fish, Shepard.” Vashlani pointed to a listing for a rare Prejek Paddle Fish and she pushed the button sending an order for two to be delivered to the Normandy. After they had finished shopping, they headed back to the lounge only to see a different asari arresting the one that had tried to use Conrad to steal the deed. She told him it was a sting operation and he helped to uncover it but it would be best if he just went home. He agreed and walked off. The asari behind the bar couldn’t believe what was going on and only shook her head before offering Shepard a drink and telling her about her parents and how she had ended up tending bar.

They left the lounge and headed back to the dock to catch the ride to the Dantius Towers. It was time to find Thane Krios, the drell assassin who was her next recruit.

When they arrived, they noticed the barriers on the doors and looked up at the top where they were sure the assassin was heading. They started toward the doorway when they heard gunfire and saw several salarians running away from something only to be shot in the back. Several mechs turned toward the team as they shot out the barrier and rushed to get inside. Once the mechs were down and they checked the area making sure it was clear and nothing would come up behind them, not to mention adding some more medigel and credits to their stocks, they followed the trail of green blood.

They found a survivor of the attack, a salarian who was in a lot of pain but was able to tell them some of what was happening before Mordin said if they didn’t get him healed he wouldn’t survive. He started to type something out on his omni tool when he glanced up and saw Vashlani place a hand on the wounded salarian’s shoulder. A slight golden white glow started around it, “Thank you for the information, you were very brave and of great help. We shall try and save your friends; it would be safer if you did not stay here.”

The salarian blinked at him and wobbled a bit as Vashlani helped him up, “Yes. You are right. Thank you. I’ll be going to the hospital now.”

Mordin looked on in astonishment for a second before rapidly starting to type again.

“This khajiit healed him just enough so that he would lose no more blood, took away a little of his pain, and fixed the damage done to his spine. The rest of the wounds were left, it would be too suspicious if he were completely healed.”

Shepard nodded and Mordin once more looked at Vashlani before walking over and hitting the button for the cargo lift. On the way to reaching the penthouse, they encountered many Eclipse mercs, mechs, and even found several salarians who were locked in small rooms for their protection. One pointed to a dead merc that was locked in the room with them and told them that they didn’t see who shot the merc in the head but he wasn’t a salarian. All of them agreed that Nassana deserved to get what was coming to her from the assassin.

Mordin was hunched behind a large container muttering to himself about the spells that Vashlani was using, how the electrical current jumped from one to another; useful but dangerous to allies that were too close to where he was aiming as there was no Friend or Foe mechanism. Shepard softly snorted as she watched the salarian rub at a singed area of his armor as he said this; he was told not to get in front of Vashlani and became excited when the khajiit had summoned a flame atronach. He had barely dodged the fireball that flew past him to hit the merc that had just popped up behind another container.

They had just finished off the last merc that guarded the door to the penthouse when Vashlani called a halt for a moment. They watched as he walked to the edge of the platform and started to look around, Shepard leaned back against the wall and waited.

“What is he doing? Why did he stop? What is he looking at?”

“Mordin, he’s taking a vid and holos of Nos Astra from this vantage point, he’ll be done in a second.” Mordin let out a huff and went back to typing on his omni tool, hating standing around waiting when there were experiments he could running or facts he could be checking.

His finger paused a second, “Shepard, when we get back to the Normandy there is something I wish to talk to you about.”

“Sure, Mordin, I’ll come see you in your lab.”

When they were ready, they entered the building. Nassana and several of her goons were waiting on them. She recognized Shepard and brought up about her sister that Shepard killed years ago; she was a pirate and a slaver. Nassana had used Shepard to do Nassana's dirty work and eliminate her, so there was less competition within the family.

Vashlani glanced up at the grate above the asari; he saw something... there a shadow moved. “We have a visitor, keep her talking Shepard. This khajiit thinks your assassin is above her.”

Eventually one of the guards noticed the slight noise that came from the overhead vent as the assassin readied himself. It took only a few seconds after he had dropped down soundlessly from the vent to dispose of the mercs and Nassana. It surprised Shepard when the assassin bowed his head as if in prayer. After a few moments, she took a step forward and cleared her throat.

As Shepard spoke to the green scaled male in front of her, Vashlani studied him; it was the first time he had seen someone that had a vague resemblance to one of the other beast races from his own dimension. Granted there were no horns on his head or feathers and he didn’t have a tail. He noticed the eyes and hands were also different, his scales more like those of a snake than the tougher, thicker plates and hides of the argonians.

The assassin approached them, still talking to Shepard and a strange scent reached Vashlani’s nose. Something bitter and smelled slightly of death. He thought at first that either it was the beings natural scent or one that had clung to him because of his profession, then his eyes glowed and he took a long, indrawn breath. Disease.

He took a cautious step toward them as the two stood in front of the table with the dead asari on it after shaking hands and getting the assassin’s agreement to work for them, for free. Vashlani took another breath, and he was certain of it.

“Vashlani? What is going on?” Shepard asked as the khajiit stepped between the two and stared at the other male.

“Vashlani is sure of it Shepard; this one is diseased. Khajiit smells it.”

“Krios? Is he right?”

“Hmm. Yes, Commander, he is correct. Though how he could tell by my scent, I do not know. The disease isn’t communicable, even to other drell. If you are curious or need more information, I would rather discuss it on board your ship as this is not the best time or place.”

“Vashlani?” Shepard called his name and he stood there for a moment longer before he leaned in a bit and took another inhalation.

“Possible, Shepard. Cannot guarantee it would work. Vashlani would need more time and details.”

“Very familiar with Keprals Syndrome. Can provide additional details past what Sere Krios can,” Mordin said from his spot near the door, his omni tool was out and apparently he had run a scan on the assassin while the others were talking.

“Okay. Let’s move out and get you settled on the ship; we have one more recruit to pick up,” Shepard said as she turned and walked toward the exit.




Jacob, for some reason, thought it was proper to be in the debriefing room and question her about bringing Thane on board. She let him know in no uncertain terms that it was her ship and unlike him, Thane was doing the job for free. Shepard told him if he had such a disregard for mercs than he needs to take it up with Zaeed. As far as she was concern he wasn’t anything other than a gun for hire, just another merc himself. Jacob didn’t like her response and after a brisk salute walked out.

When EDI asked him if he had a preference where he would like to stay, Thane asked for somewhere dry. She directed him to the Life Support Room. Shepard reminded him that he needed to stop by the medical bay for a full work up by the doctor.

“Commander? Miranda would like to see you in her office when you have a chance,” Kelly told her as she stepped out of the hallway and headed for the lift. She gave the Yeoman a short nod then hit the button for the crew deck.

“It’s my sister, Shepard. She’s in danger. I told you about my father and now I think he may have found her. She’s here on Illium. I had everything set up but I received a report from the person I had watching her. I have her and the family that adopted her, ready to move to a different location, but I need your help. I... can’t do it alone. I am to meet with someone in a few hours that has all the details.”

“Are you sure she is in danger and that she and her family are ready just to pick up and leave?”

Miranda leaned on her desk, “I’m sure, Commander. I’ve spent my life trying to protect her from our father. From having what happened to me done to her as well, in his need to create a legacy.”

“Alright, Miranda. Gear up and come with me to recruit the Justicar, as soon as we get her secured we’ll go make sure your sister is safe.”

“Garrus, gear up. Airlock five minutes.”

“Copy that, Shepard.”

She saw Vashlani standing outside of the med bay window with the Arch-Mage and hurried over to them. “I only have a few minutes before I need to leave again. Vashlani, please wait until we are all back on board before taking the Arch-Mage back home. I do hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, sir.”

The Arch-Mage smiled at her then turned his attention back to the med bay. “I have, Commander. Although, I will be sorry to leave.”

Shepard grinned. “Don’t worry; I have a feeling the doc is going to be wanting to come visit with you as often as possible, Arch-Mage.”

“One can only hope, Commander.”

Chapter Text


 

 

Shepard assigned Samara the other Observation room. Miranda retreated to her room and stared out of the window, they had rescued her sister, but she had been betrayed by someone she thought she could trust implicitly. The Eclipse merc that he had been working with shot him in the back when he told Miranda that he wouldn’t tell her father where her sister was. All the merc was after was a paycheck, she didn’t care what condition the girl arrived in as long as she was alive so she could collect.

Everyone was now on board, and Doc went with Vashlani to take the Arch-Mage back. She would stay long enough to answer the other mages questions and say her goodbyes before coming back. Shepard sent a notice to Thane and Samara that a meeting with them and one of her crew would happen soon. Until then they were to relax and get settled.

Shepard received a ping from Kelly telling her that Jack wanted to see her, and Grunt was busting stuff up down in the cargo hold. After talking to them and letting them know that they would take care of their issues as soon as they could, she went to see Mordin. He also needed to go to Tuchanka because his one student had gone missing and reports said that the Blood Pack had taken him there. While she was in his lab, she used the upgrade terminal to set up for the upgrades to the ship’s armor and mineral scanner, along with the few weapons or biotic upgrades that various crew members told her about.

Shepard was in her cabin when Vashlani and Doc returned. She sent a notice to the others and had them all meet in the debriefing room. There they had their first look at Vashlani. Both of them took it well and asked several questions. From there Samara left, returning to her meditations and Vashlani asked Thane about his disease.

“This Keprals, is it something you are born with or do you contract it?”

“We are not born with this. A drell’s lung tissue cannot handle high humidity; we evolved on an arid world. The hanar rescued a portion of our people and took them to live on Kahje; unfortunately, no one could foresee our species not adapting to its aquatic environment. The hanar have scientists working on the problem, but it is unlikely that the research will bear fruit while I am still alive. This disease takes time to manifest, it also has several different types, from fast progression to one that is slow. The type I have is the slowest form of the disease.”

Vashlani’s whiskers had started to twitch when the hanar were brought up.

“Vashlani, I told you about that before.”

His blue eyes flicked toward Shepard before turning back toward Thane. “Hmm, do not be so sure of not being cured. If this khajiit would offer you a chance of a possible cure, would you be willing to try it? Remember it would not be permanent, but it would possibly remove it from your body until you encounter the same conditions that caused it originally. Should you keep yourself away from those conditions, it could then become permanent.”

Thane stared at the alien life form in front of him and placed his hands behind his back. “I mean no offense, but if the best minds of the Hanar Illuminated Primacy cannot find a cure, I doubt one lone... person could.”

“Thane, Vashlani is unlike anyone else you have ever met before, and not just because of his appearance. He can do things you couldn’t possibly begin to imagine. Would you be willing to try?” Shepard asked.

Thane closed his eyes and dropped his head, they waited as he thought it through or possibly prayed about it. “No. Even should a cure be possible, I am unworthy of being saved. I have taken too many lives, done too much to darken this galaxy. Treatments should be used to help the innocent.”

“Hmm. This khajiit will say this, should Thane change his mind he can talk to me. This khajiit does need to try something though; he needs to make sure that his spells can heal Thane. Do you agree?”

Thane blinked at him, seemingly at ease with the completely different alien species on board thing and gave his assent. Vashlani took a step forward and removed a small knife from his pouch, “This will sting only for a moment. If Vashlani’s healing doesn’t work, Shepard has medigel. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” Thane didn’t flinch as the knife made a shallow cut on his palm. He did, however, blink when Vashlani’s hand began to glow as did the cut. His eyes took in every detail as the wound closed without leaving so much as a hairline scar or discoloration to his scales.

“I told you, Thane, Vashlani is unlike anyone else in this galaxy. Please think about it some more,” Shepard said as she leaned on the table.

Thane flexed his hand and gave a brief bow before leaving the room.

“Think he’ll come around?”

“Vashlani doesn’t know, Shepard. We shall just have to wait and see. If he had agreed to at least try then we would have known for sure that the potions would work. There is one thing that this khajiit will talk with Mordin about. Thane mentioned his people cannot handle moisture; we have a reptilian race in Tamriel, the Argonians. They prefer the moist environments and have problems with dry climates; they can also breathe underwater like a fish. This khajiit wonders if that information could be used to make a permanent cure.”

He purred as he gave her a quick nuzzle, “Speaking of Mordin, this khajiit promised to answer some of his questions then he needs to go home and take care of a few things. Send Vashlani a message should you need him.”

“We’ll get to Haestrom in about 10 hours to pick up Tali; I’ll need for you to start scanning again. There are still many upgrades left, and I want to get them lined up to be worked on before we put in for dry dock at the Citadel again.”

“Vashlani will try and be back by then; he will see you later tonight, yes?”

“Yep. We have many places to go to take care of some crew needs, plenty of opportunities for more vids and scans.”

He grinned at her and drew her into his arms; she wrapped her arms around his neck which started him purring as he buried his face into the crook of her neck causing laughter to bubble up from her. He slowly raised his head as the door opened and Jacob walked in.

“Jacob?” Shepard said as she waited to hear why he had interrupted them.

“EDI told me you were in here, Shepard. I need to have a word with you. It’s personal.”

“Vashlani needs to go see Mordin anyway. This khajiit will be back later.”

 



After attaching the shelving they took from the ruin, Vashlani started another batch of must going in the boilers. When he was sure, everything was brewing just fine he closed the door to the brewery and headed for the house to continue his study of a new Creation magic spell.

Vashlani carried a tray loaded with a steaming teapot, tea cup, a bowl of piping hot stew, and a plate of freshly baked cookies toward the sitting room, and had the large tome of Creation Magic spells tucked under his arm. He just passed by the small table in the hallway when he caught sight of the glow surrounding the small box that sat in front of the vase of flowers. He was so startled by the sight that he almost dropped the tray.

He hurried to the sitting room then ran back and carefully opened the box, inside was a small cloth bound journal.

He read as he ate, his eyes moving over the words his Master had written in the journal. Not only was the spell for creating the basic room in there, but also for creating the Dwemer lifts. He smiled as the journal covered adding different types of rooms, bathrooms, armor display rooms, how to add and shape for windows, and adding the balconies. Even how to add entire levels to the inside of the home and more.

He finished eating then hurried back to his study, the blueprint for the tower was spread out and he jotted down things he wanted to be changed or added. After he finished, he practically ran down the steps and into the smithy.

He let out a tired sigh as he forged the last of the components for the lift, once the tower was in place he could put in the lift to help to move things to the upper floors of the tower. Some of that stuff he was planning on putting in there was quite heavy. After a quick shower he headed back to the ship, Joker told him they had about three more hours before they reached the planet. Vashlani let out a groan and headed up to the loft; he was gone longer than he initially expected. He quietly undressed and slipped into the bed. Shepard woke, sighed, and rolled over.

“Vashlani is sorry, Shepard. He got to working and lost all track of time.”

She snuggled closer, “Must be something pretty big and important.”

He wrapped his arms around her and nodded. “It is, Shepard. Very important to Vashlani. When it nears completion, he will show you and tell you why. He will say many things then. Mordin requested to be taken along when we go to my world again. I am a bit worried about taking him. He was most interested in receiving samples from me, some of which this khajiit found rather embarrassing and declined. If he asks the same thing from some of the people there he is liable to be hit with a lightning bolt.”

She chuckled before trying to wiggle out of his arms to get up and get ready to go to the surface. “Vashlani...”

He grinned at her, “Five more minutes.”




Vashlani yawned several times as he packed a basket and headed back to the Normandy. He had drifted off to sleep after Shepard had left the bed and woke up when the ship had arrived to pick up Tali, now he was going to start scanning while they waited for the team to return.

By the time they had made it back, he had used up all the probes, emptied several mead bottles, ate half of the food he had made, and fell asleep in the nav chair. Joker was currently finishing off the basket of food and mead when Shepard came up to the bridge and grabbed one of the last bottles out of the basket. Joker handed her a datapad with the mineral report on it. She smiled and muffled a snort as Vashlani gave out a purring, snorting snore before settling back down.

She typed out orders to head for the refueling station to restock on the probes and top off fuel then head for Pragia. When Vashlani woke up, Joker was to let him know where their next stop would be. If Vashlani wanted to come along to let her know, otherwise he needed to keep scanning. Joker nodded and stuffed part of a sweetroll in his mouth with one hand while programming in the coordinates to the station with the other. Shepard grabbed a crostada from the basket then headed for the upgrade terminal to add the Thanix Cannon to the list. She had almost enough iridium to order the new probe bay that Thane’s contact sent them. She sent a small ping to Joker to let Vashlani know that they need to concentrate on finding stores of palladium and element zero.




“Ugh, Vashlani hates the rain, but at least it isn’t cold.” He grumbled as he jumped off the shuttle onto the landing pad. They followed Jack down into the lab where she had been imprisoned and mistreated since shortly after her birth, all so that Cerberus could create a super biotic. It worked, the only thing was she became a bit psychotic and broke out, killing everything and everyone in her path.

She was confused about the events that happened; her memory was from being a young woman, traumatized, under an extreme amount of stress and strung out on the drugs that they gave her to perform in an arena of sorts. If Jack did what they told her to, they flooded her system with drugs; if she didn't, they tortured her. She chose the drugs.

Another survivor of the place was using Pragia as a base; he had the crazy idea of reopening the facility and restarting all the experiments. Shepard helped Jack see that the man was delusional in thinking he could do it and stopped her from killing him. Shepard helped Jack work through her memories and listened to her when she spoke of her time locked in the cell.

When Jack said she was ready, they placed a rather large bomb that Garrus and Tali had rigged up in the middle of her cell and headed back to the shuttle.

They watched Jack, seeing her flip the top of the detonator up and down, a frown on her face and vulnerability in her eyes. She took a breath, looked up and pushed her thumb down on the trigger. Shepard reached over and banged on the door of the shuttle, the pilot kicked it into high gear, and when he gave the all clear, Jack took her thumb off of it and blew the place sky high.

When they had made it back to the Normandy, Shepard went to take a shower, and Vashlani headed for his home to do the same. When he arrived back, he headed down to the crew deck to hear shouting coming from Miranda’s room. Shepard went storming past him and started yelling at both Miranda and Jack.

Jack confronted Miranda about what they learned at the Teltin facility and Miranda, being the Cerberus cheerleader that Jack had named her, stuck up for them. Miranda told them it must have been a rogue operation and how Jack had clearly been a mistake. Shepard separated the two of them and laid into them both, telling them to save their anger and hatred to use against the Collectors.

Jack went storming out, and Shepard turned her gaze on Miranda who only shrugged and sat down behind her desk.

Shepard came out shaking her head before she started rubbing her temples. “This is the last thing I need, crew members going at each other like this.”

Vashlani leaned against the table before he drew her into his arms, his chest vibrated with a purr as she leaned against him, “Tell me, Shepard, will you need Jack and Mordin for the next mission?”

“Well, I was going to have Joker set a course for Tuchanka to take care of a few things there with Grunt and Mordin, but we can head to take care of something for Jacob and Zaeed instead. Why?”

“Let me take Jack to my world, let her battle against something new, work out her frustration and anger. Also, Mordin will be there to help keep her in line and will give him more data and something to keep him busy. Khajiit overheard him talking to himself about releasing something in the ventilation then saying no no because it would kill us all.”

Shepard let out a groan. “I'm not surprised at Mordin. I think he’s bored now that the countermeasure is in place. I’m worried about Jack being in your world, though.”

“Vashlani thinks it will be alright. Her anger can be taken out against bandits or witches, wolves or other creatures. She can see something that, other than a few of you here, have never seen before and claim a few unique items that are all her own, without... trading for them.” He gently cupped the side of her face, “If she gets out of line this khajiit will take care of it and bring her back.”

Shepard let out a sigh, “Alright, but only if she wants to, and nothing overnight. Once we complete the two missions for Jacob and Z, we’re heading to Tuchanka, and I need Mordin here.”

Vashlani smiled, “Agreed.”




“EDI? This one needs Jack’s measurements so he can make her a set of armor consisting of shirt, pants, gloves, and boots.” He gathered up several of the hides that were in the storage container when the file came through. “Thank you, EDI.”

“Now let us see if Vashlani remembers how to forge basic armor.”

Early the next morning he packaged up the set and stocked his potions, and some food then asked EDI to have Jack and Mordin come to the small room that had been assigned to him, fully geared. When they showed up, he had Mordin scan for any devices. Mordin said nothing showed. Vashlani supposed by now Miranda, or whoever was putting them there, realized he didn’t use the room.

He handed each a binding scroll. “Do not open those yet. Vashlani wants to know if you would like to visit his world? For one day, to see and fight creatures from there, to see what his world is like, and bring home a treasure all your own?”

“Of course. Have wanted to visit and run data collections since the first encounter,” Mordin quickly said to him.

“Fuck yeah, as long as I can kill stuff and bring some shit back to make some creds with.”

“Very well. The paper that you are holding is what is called a Binding Scroll. It will bind your word that what you will see of my secrets, you will be unable to tell another person that has not shared in the binding. Shepard, Garrus, Joker, Healer, and one other has taken the binding, and they are perfectly fine. The spell will not cause you any harm. The only way Vashlani will agree to take you with him is if you accept the binding and agree to follow his orders while we are there. It is to keep us all safe and bring us back alive. Do you agree?”

“I do not see how this would keep me from speaking about the things I will see,” Mordin said as he flicked the scroll around in his hands.

Jack snorted. “I thought the same thing until I used one of these fucking things on Horizon and cured one of the poor fuckers there that got stung.”

“These will not permit you speaking of my secrets, Mordin. You will see things that are... personal, private and are things that Vashlani’s teacher passed onto him. Other mages would try to take the items or destroy them out of jealousy. This Vashlani cannot risk. He is risking much just telling you about these when you are not under the binding already. After reading the scroll, this khajiit will ask two essential questions. Your answers will seal the binding; seal the knowledge to you or away from you, depending on your reply, so consider your answers carefully before you speak.”

“Yeah, alright already, I want to get there and start kicking ass.”

Vashlani nodded, “Alright, Jack open your scroll and read it, you know how.” Jack did as he asked. “Do you trust Vashlani to take you safely into his world and bring you back to your own.”

Jack glanced up at him, her lips curled in her perpetual snarl, then slowly released it as she stared into his blue eyes. “Yeah... yeah, I do actually.”

“Jack, can Vashlani trust you with his secrets? Will you keep them safe within you?”

She blinked up at him before crossing her arms over her chest. “Yeah, you big Furball. I’ll keep your secrets.”

He held out his hand to her, she stared at it before reaching out and grasping it, “The words seal the binding between us, Jack. Thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah alright.”

“I still do not see how just saying this will keep us from telling about it,” Mordin insisted.

Vashlani nodded, “Alright Mordin.” He pushed the salarian to stand against the wall. “Kindly wait here for a moment, do not go anywhere. It is crucial that you do not move from that exact spot. ” He held out his hand to Jack again. “Jack, if you would be so kind, let me take you and show you one of my biggest secrets then we shall return. Vashlani promises you plenty of things for you to kick ass with afterward.”

She let out a sigh and grabbed his hand, and to Mordin’s shock, they disappeared.

“Holy fuck. What the fuck is this place?” Jack turned around and started to glow with biotic energy when the sphere came up the lift. “What the fuck is that?”

“Ah, that is my sphere, Jack. It takes care of this place, Vashlani would appreciate if you did not destroy it as it was a gift from my Master. As to where we are, welcome to my home.”

Jack watched as Vashlani reached out and took some rolled up papers and a bag from inside the basket that the sphere thing had, then it turned around and went back to the lift and went down. “Now shall we return before Mordin causes a panic?” He held out his hand, and she readily took it.

Mordin stood in the same exact spot and started blinking when the pair arrived all of a sudden.

“Where did you go? How did you do that?” Mordin’s questions were fired rapidly at them as he ran scans over both of them.

“Huh? What the fuck are you talking about? We’ve been here the entire time.”

“No. You disappeared and went somewhere.”

“Doc, you must be taking some of your own experiments. You’re fucking crazy if you think we went anywhere.”

“Mordin? Are you satisfied? She has no knowledge of which to share because the binding will not allow her to.”

“We’re wasting fucking time here. Read the damn scroll already.”

Mordin finally opened the scroll and read it, answering to the positive when asked the same questions that Jack had been. When Vashlani gripped both of their hands he grinned and took them to his home.




“Slow down, Mordin. Vashlani cannot answer all of those questions at once.” Vashlani gave out a huge sigh, and Jack snickered at them.

“Jack, if you would, please follow me. Vashlani has something for you.”

When they went up the stairs, Jack saw it was his bedroom and hesitated. When he turned toward her, she quickly put the snarl back on her lips and crossed her arms in a defensive gesture. He’s just like all the rest of the fuckers.

He picked up a package and placed it on the chair, “This is for Jack from Vashlani. He hopes you like it.” He took several steps back from her and waited as she tore the paper off. Her hands encountered something buttery soft to her touch.

“Vashlani made this for you. A set of leather armor. Where we are going is bitterly cold and very dangerous. This will help protect you from both the elements and any unwelcome attention from men or women.”

“What do you want, Furball? You want me to fuck you or something? I came here to kick ass not be screwed by you.”

“You misunderstand, Jack. This khajiit wants nothing from you in that regard, only to help make your stay in his world more comfortable for you. This one will be downstairs waiting, all Vashlani asks is that you do not snoop in his drawers or closet. Things in my home are not always as they seem, and many things here are hazardous. If you change your mind and do not want to accept the gift, and would rather return to the Normandy, Vashlani will understand and will take you back. The decision is entirely yours.” He gave her a grin and walked past her, leaving her standing alone in his room still not believing he meant what he said.

As Vashlani waited for her to make up her mind and either trust him and dress or come down and ask to leave, he answered some of Mordin’s questions. Finally, he heard movement coming from the room above them, and a few minutes later Jack came down the stairs.

She wore the full set of gear, the leather soft against her skin. “You look very nice, Jack. Vashlani didn’t do too bad when he made that set.” He smiled at her, “The hides came from wolves that Vashlani hunted. I lined the boots with rabbit fur. The pouches that are on either side can be used to carry medigel, heatsinks, food, or your treasures. Vashlani had to think about how to make you the harness for your shotgun, but this khajiit thinks he did pretty good.”

Even Mordin smiled at the girl as he typed things into his omni tool.

“Now there is one last thing, this belongs to Shepard, but khajiit thinks she wouldn’t mind you borrowing it.” He held up the thick bear pelt cloak that he had given to Shepard when she came with him and wiggled it. Jack raised her eyebrow, and he gave a slight laugh before moving around behind her and draping it over her shoulders. “Now we are ready; the Arch-Mage is waiting for us at the College. When we arrive, Jack will accompany me to town. We shall look at the notice board and choose what jobs we shall take, then do it, and collect our bounty. Shepard made it clear she wanted you both back before they reached Tuchanka. So let us be off.”

Later that night after they had fought a giant, and Jack insisting she wanted to take another job, then just one more cave, then one more.... and Mordin wanting to collect data on plants, air, soil-- damn near everything and everyone-- Vashlani called a halt and said it was time to eat then get back to the ship. He set about cooking for them as they looked at everything they had collected.

He stood in front of the oven checking the loaves of bread when Jack came over and leaned against the spice and clean towel rack. “Ok, Furball, be straight with me, why are you so kind to me? The only time anyone does something like that they want something in return, what is it you want? You said you didn’t want to fuck me so what is it?”

Vashlani looked toward her then slid the heavy cooking stone back into the oven. “Vashlani wants nothing from you, Jack. Shepard and Vashlani have both seen what you are capable of doing, of what you are capable of becoming, should you learn to focus your talents. Not rely on raw power, but unlocking the hidden strength inside. Shepard asked Vashlani to help you to learn to focus but to do so, you must trust me. You cannot come to trust if you look for hidden meanings behind what this khajiit does. When you reach the point where you trust me then I can start showing you how to focus your mind, stay calm, and able to face everything with a clear head. No drugs; with no rage. Maybe one day what I can teach you, you can then pass on to another, just like my Master passed his knowledge onto me.”

She looked at him for a bit; her eyes were apparently trying to gauge the truthfulness of his words before she huffed. “Yeah, like me teaching someone is ever gonna happen. Hurry up, Furball, I’m starved.”

He laughed and told her to grab the basket with the cold drinks in it and head out to the gazebo, he and Mordin would bring the rest.

Chapter Text


 

 

They all piled into the shuttle and Shepard piloted them down to the surface of the planet. A dry, windy, nuclear dead wasteland. They were “greeted” by several krogan who told them to go see the Clan Leader. They went further down into the area, rubble and broken metal remnants of what the building used to be were scattered around, and not a single plant was visible anywhere.

Shepard grinned when Wrex noticed her from where he sat on his stone throne and called out to her; she took it as her cue to scoot around the krogan that had been blocking her way and went to talk with her old friend.

As Shepard spoke with Wrex and brought him current with what was going on with the Collectors and learning how he was trying to unite the clans, Vashlani used his suit camera to look around and take holos of everything.

Vashlani’s attention snapped back to Shepard when she told Wrex the reasons she was there. The big krogan leaned in and told her to talk with his scout but not to take up too much of his time; he was needed to keep an eye on the other clans. When she had brought up the issue with Grunt’s behavior, he took a deep breath and started to laugh. Apparently, he thought it was funny that Grunt had hit puberty and Shepard hadn’t known about it. He told her to see the Shaman if Grunt wanted to become an Urdnot he had to go through the trial, and she should go as well. When the other krogan who had been talking with Wrex before they came heard that he became angry and stormed off.

Before they went to speak to the Shaman, they wandered around the compound and made a few purchases. Shepard went to kill the pyjaks, all the while Vashlani was complaining about her wanting to do that. It wasn’t until a krogan scout told that the creatures were eating all of their food, and destroying what they didn’t take, that he had relented and let her go about it. “Vashlani is going to go talk to Wrex since he won’t come with us.” Shepard kept shooting the monkey like creatures and gave him a brief nod as he walked off.

“Well, Cub didn’t think I’d be seeing you again once you returned to your people.”

“Vashlani wasn’t sure he would be able to return.”

They spoke for a while then they saw the others leaving and heading toward a Tomkah. “Okay Cub, she’s gone, now tell me why you wanted to hang back when I know you wouldn’t usually leave her side.”

Vashlani took a few steps closer, “Does Wrex remember the offer Vashlani made to him on Virmire?”

Wrex leaned a bit toward him and gave him a soft grunt, “Yeah. Did you bring it?”

“Yes, and Vashlani brought a few other things that he thought Wrex would like from his world. The rest of the items Vashlani wants to use as barter.”

“Barter? What the hell could you possibly want from this heap of rubble and dirt?”

“Vashlani will trade one extra potion, a tooth from a sabrecat that Vashlani turned into a necklace, and a big crate of those steamed giant mudcrabs, dripping with butter that Wrex liked. Also, I have some holos and vids to share with Wrex.”

“Hmm, mudcrab, eh. Alright. What do you want in return?”

Vashlani pointed, “Vashlani wants that.” Wrex looked to where he pointed, and his booming laughter echoed throughout the entire compound.

 




When Shepard and the crew returned they headed straight for the shuttle, about twenty minutes later they were back, this time with Thane instead of Mordin. Shepard stopped and looked at the suspicious grin that was on Wrex’s face; his rather shiny, greasy face. He was currently holding one of the giant legs of the crab-like creature that Vashlani used to share with the krogan on the old Normandy and smiling at her. There was a huge bowl of what she thought was melted butter and what looked like a hide shield they had taken from one of the bandits, filled with more of the crab legs, sitting on what must pass for a table there. Vashlani sat on a rather large crate drinking something through his suit’s intake straw.

She looked between the two of them noticing a giant tooth hanging from a golden chain around Wrex’s neck that hadn’t been there before and narrowed her eyes.

“We’re going to the Shaman now to take care of Grunt’s problem, you coming with us or staying here to... talk with Wrex some more?”

“Right behind you, Shepard,” Vashlani said as he hopped down from the crate.

Apparently, Grunt had to go through what Wrex and the Shaman referred to as a Rite of Passage into adulthood. Only they wouldn’t tell them what this Rite consisted of. Come to find out it was fighting the native fauna of the planet. First came wave after wave of varren. Thane and Vashlani started to get a decent rhythm going. Vashlani would freeze them then Thane would shatter them with a rifle round. Shepard would mop up any that got past the two of them and keep the creatures from coming up behind them.

The next wave seemed to be several large bug-like creatures that use fire and would explode when killed. They found that out when one got too close to them before it died. Vashlani used one of his larger spells to heal before handing over several of the medigel packs he was carrying to Shepard so she could refill her suit’s dispenser.

Thane commented a few times about Vashlani’s abilities but was most impressed with the way he could switch elements, often casting a different one with each hand. Grunt was too busy running around shooting everything he could and laughing to pay much attention to them.

Before hitting the keystone again, Vashlani insisted on everyone healing and making sure his magic fully replenished, then they would eat so they would have the energy to take on whatever came next. He handed each of them a large portion of meat, calling it a horker loaf, along with a bottle of mead for Shepard, a tankard that contained tea for Thane, who blinked when Vashlani used flames from his hand to heat it up. Thane’s mouth fell open when Vashlani pulled something that shouldn’t have fit in the bag out; he gave Grunt a rather large, sealed metal canister that he chilled, before grabbing another bottle of his special brewed mead for himself.

“Vashlani, I beg your pardon, but... just where did you have this stored? And more to the point, where did it come from?” Thane asked him as he breathed in the steam from the tea. At first, he didn’t recognize any of the scents; then his mind flashed back to the debriefing room and the smells from the flowers in the large vase in the corner.

“Vashlani cooks and sometimes shares what he makes with others. I can do many things that others can’t.” He bit off a hunk of the meat and started chewing then helped Grunt to open the metal pail.

“My favorite; Snowberry milk. Hehehe.” The young krogan began to chug from the large container as he clenched his fist around the huge hunk of dried meat that was in his other hand.

“Finish all your horker loaf and Vashlani will give you a sweetroll, Grunt.”

Grunt jammed the entire loaf into his mouth and started chewing.

“Grunt, what has Vashlani told you about doing that? You could choke, don’t to that again.” Grunt just stared at him as he continued to chew and finally swallow. He held out his huge hand toward Vashlani.

The khajiit rooted around his bag and brought out a large box, causing Thane to start coughing because he knew there was no logical reason these things could fit into the backpack Vashlani wore. Thane watched as Vashlani opened it and brought out a rather large sweet that barely fit into the krogan’s hand.

“Hehehe,” Grunt laughed then started to take small bites of the roll. Vashlani gave a much smaller roll to both Thane and Shepard before taking one for himself and returning the box to his travel bag. When they were all done, and everything was collected and stored, Shepard hit the keystone.

 


 

When they returned to the Urdnot camp, they were tired, dirty, and aching. Vashlani was upset because the keystone had summoned an incredibly huge worm-like creature that Shepard called a Thresher Maw and it spit acid. The acid had splashed on his new cloak and tabard, eating holes in both garments and destroying the enchantments on them. Grunt, however, was smiling and seemed much more relaxed and in control than what he had been.

Once the shaman had told Wrex that not only did they pass the Rite but had killed the massive creature well under the time limit that was customary. Wrex formerly accepted Grunt into the clan, and now he was Urdnot Grunt.

When they reached the shuttle, they noticed the large crate that Vashlani had been using as a seat now sat beside the door to the shuttle. Vashlani asked Grunt to load it inside. Once they were all in and the door shut, Shepard started to lift off.

“Grunt, lift that crate up for me again,” Vashlani said, and Grunt bent over to do what Vashlani asked.

Thane looked over and even after all he had seen today he still couldn’t keep the gasp from being loud enough to be heard when he saw Vashlani stretch out a tiny bag and Grunt drop the crate inside once it was wide enough. He blinked and the bag was once more back to the size it was before and tucked into a compartment in Vashlani’s suit.

“Vashlani told you he could do things no one else here can. Think about my offer, Thane. Vashlani feels he can trust you. From what he has heard and seen so far, this khajiit thinks you have a deep sense of honor. This one feels he can trust you with his secrets. Maybe we can talk later, yes? Maybe become friends? We shall see.”




“Vashlani is taking Garrus to his home; we will be back tomorrow. Kasumi said you are heading to help her? If you need me just call.” He nuzzled Shepard and headed for the Main Battery.

Thane was there holding an armful of Garrus’ books when he walked in, and he came to a halt. “Garrus?”

“Ok, Vashlani, I know you don’t like sharing certain things, and through the binding, I have nothing to share either, but Thane came asking questions since he found out that we knew each other from the first Normandy. Even though I admit to having reservations about having an assassin on board, he seems to be respectable, and he grows on you, once you get past the assassin part. Shepard and Doc like him. Drell also can’t forget anything. He might be willing to help with... uh, not sure what it was, and he likes books.” Garrus cleared his throat and looked nervously between the two of them. “He was interested in some of the things from the vids and holos and didn’t want to bother you with them when I told him about what happened with Mordin, so uh... I thought maybe... we could... you know...”

Vashlani looked at both of them. “I will answer any questions Thane may have as long as they aren’t centered on Vashlani himself. If he wants to learn more about me, he will need to agree to the binding. I assure you it is not harmful, but it is voluntary, just understand that Vashlani will not share most things with Thane if he won’t agree and neither will anyone else that is already under the spell.”

“If I may, what exactly is this binding you speak of?” Thane placed the pile of books on a crate and turned back to him.

“Vashlani has many secrets, some not so special, some that will cause others from his world to try and take what belongs to him. The Binding spell that will be put on you will keep you from speaking of khajiit’s secrets to those not under the spell. Once the agreement is accepted ones that have taken the binding will be able to share information, as long as no one else is nearby. In effect, it blocks the repeating of the knowledge. It just won’t be there no matter how many times you are asked... or under what strain you are under.”

Thane placed his hands behind his back, “Along with eidetic memory we can recall memories in perfect clarity to relive them. We call it solipsism. Everything from what we have read to the taste of food or smells of flowers. How will this Binding affect this? We do not always have control over the recall.”

“You will retain the memories. You will be unable to voice them even if under an altered state. Your mind will be blank under those conditions. The memories will flood back to you once you are no longer under the influence of this solipsism you speak of. Vashlani has a question for Thane.”

“I see. Go ahead and ask, I will answer if I can.”

“You said you could remember everything? Can you reproduce something that you have seen before? Like symbols and writing? Perfectly, as if you are copying something you have sitting right beside you?”

“Yes, although... it’s a bit complicated to explain. If we do not have the innate talent for artistry, such as drawing, a complex layout or map would be near impossible for us to reproduce in any usable form for others, but it is clear in our minds.”

“But words and symbols?” Vashlani looked through the stack of Garrus’ books and pulled out one called Dwarves v1 and started to flip through the pages until he came upon a copy of one of the Dwemer symbols. “Here, if Vashlani asks you to draw this symbol, to write it from your memory, could you do it?”

Thane took the book from him and glanced at the symbol before handing the book back. “Yes.” Vashlani’s whiskers twitched, and he glanced at Garrus then back at Thane. He reached into his pack and brought out a piece of parchment and an ink pot with a quill.

“Show me, please.”

Thane stared at him then reached for the items, placed them on top of the same crate that had the books piled on it. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened his eyes, he carefully drew the symbol. Vashlani looked between the two and grinned, “EDI? Is this a perfect copy of what is in your databank?”

“Yes, Vashlani, and I have made progress in the translation of several more symbols. More data input would be appreciated.”

“What would Thane ask for in exchange for his help with copying symbols such as these? It would be from memory, and you would need to dress... differently, pass for a masked human in my world. You would also need to be under the binding.”

Thane looked at him and cocked his head slightly. “My time is growing short on this side of the sea, any memories that you can give me would be sufficient. Those that come from your world will be unlike any that I have experienced.”

Vashlani looked at him, “This khajiit could offer you more than memories, but if that is what you choose; so be it. Vashlani will return in a few minutes, and we will do the binding.” Thane nodded and expected Vashlani to exit the room; instead, he just disappeared. He blinked then turned to Garrus who was looking at him with a grin on his face.

“Better get yourself back to your room and get your guns, I’ll pack up more heatsinks for you. EDI, let Vashlani know we’ll be right back should he pop back in before we return.”

“Of course.”




Vashlani sat on the crate waiting when they returned. “Ready?”

Thane nodded and accepted the scroll that Vashlani handed to him. He followed the instructions that Vashlani gave and answered the questions. When they clasped forearms Vashlani pronounced the binding sealed, Garrus put his hand on the khajiit's shoulder, and they disappeared.

“Welcome to Vashlani’s home, Thane. Let me show you around then we shall see about disguising you.”

“I’m heading down to the smithy, Vashlani. We have enough things made that I should be able to start assembling some of the smaller pieces from that schematic.”

He opened the door as Vashlani yelled, “Garrus, no!”

But it was too late; as soon as the door opened a giant purple varren came bounding out and knocked Garrus over in his rush to get to Vashlani. He knocked the khajiit on the ground and proceeded to lick his face.

“Urz, you stop that and let me up. Vashlani told you he would be back. Have you been a good boy? Not chasing the sphere or Vashlani’s chickens and goats?”

The varren lowered down to place his chest on the ground and wiggled his rear. “Good boy, Vashlani knew you would like it here.”

“Vashlani, where the hell did you get a varren and does Shepard know you started swiping things again?”

“Vashlani didn’t swipe Urz, Garrus. He traded some things to Wrex for him. Urz is a good varren and very smart. He will get smarter the longer he stays here, just like Vashlani’s other animals, and this khajiit will take him hunting in his world to keep his battle skills sharp.”

“Wait... are you telling me you made that varren immortal as you did with the goats and bees?” Garrus rubbed the back of his neck as he watched Vashlani rough house with the varren and the animal not even leaving teeth marks on the khajiit. Thane blinked at the news that Vashlani could do such a thing.

“Of course. Urz is disease-free, immortal, and will be my companion; he lives here in Vashlani’s pocket dimension now.” Vashlani stood up and brushed himself off. “Urz, Vashlani has to show his friend around. Don’t wander too far and remember no digging holes. If Urz wants to go back inside use the outside lift, no scratching on the door.”

Urz growled then dashed off around the corner heading for the meadow. A moment later they heard a squawk of a chicken and bleating of a goat.

Vashlani let out a sigh then took Thane to see the property as Garrus laughed and went inside.

They spent the rest of the morning in the greenhouses and brewery. Thane was hesitant to touch the animals, but Vashlani patted the goat’s head and explained where they were exactly. In the orchard, Vashlani brought down several apples which Thane took his time touching, smelling, and eating. Everything was being committed to memory. Urz went barreling by them causing the chickens to squawk again, and a moment later they heard a splash from the pond.

“Hopefully the sphere will teach Urz to leave the laundry alone when it washes my clothes. Come with me, let Vashlani show you his home.”

After the tour ended and Vashlani answered any remaining questions Thane had, Vashlani tossed a note through the portal to the College. A response and package came back a few minutes later. “These are novice mage’s tunic, pants, and boots. Try these on then we shall add a few other things. There is someplace Vashlani wishes to take you. There is a large stone tablet with lines of writing belonging to the Dwemer and Falmer races. For Vashlani and Garrus to finish his animunculus, we need a translated text. EDI is working on the translation, but with the guards at the museum along with more of the Thalmor wandering around Markarth, Vashlani cannot take the chance of wearing his space armor or using the datapad to take holos.”

“So you wish for me to memorize the tablet then recreate the writings?”

Vashlani nodded and held out the parcel, “Yes. Since it is a museum, there will be many things to see there as well as the town being of Dwemer design it is unlike any other in Skyrim. Once you are sure you have memorized the tablet, we can explore the town or search the job listings board for any available bounties in the area.

Vashlani and Garrus will return to the Normandy tomorrow, but if Thane wishes to return early, this one can take him back when he wants. Garrus makes a bed down in the smithy. Since it never rains inside the pocket dimension, unless this khajiit calls for it or inside the cupola to replenish the water barrels, the gazebo is a nice place to nap. Under the apple trees in the orchard is as well. Vashlani hasn’t tried falling asleep in the sitting room yet. You can use the study as long as Thane promises to not disturb the books or chests in there, other than the ones from the open cases.”

Thane gave him a slight bow then Vashlani said he could use the room at the top of the stairs to change and he would wait down in the smithy for him when he is ready. When Thane entered the smithy, Vashlani looked him over then checked his hands before moving over to a table sitting next to pieces of wood with a hide stretched over them. Garrus sat on a stool at a workbench with a variety of bronze looking bits of metal scattered everywhere and a large hologram projected on the wall beside him. Thane blinked because all Garrus was wearing was a set of turian cut pants and boots. The armor that he usually wore was in a corner on top of a chest. He could faintly hear music coming from what must be Garrus’ visor before his attention was back on Vashlani.

Vashlani handed him a pair of modified, thin leather gloves. Once assured of the fit, they headed for the portal room. Vashlani gave Thane a cloak, a muffler, and a large hood. Once he was covered Vashlani told him to wait there he would return then Vashlani activated the portal and walked through.

 




Vashlani and Thane stood in front of the huge stone tablet, Thane ran his hand over the symbols, and Vashlani kept an eye out for guards. Technically, they weren’t supposed to be in here. They only received the key and permission to enter the museum, not Calcemo’s tower. They cleared a ruin of a giant frostbite spider as a favor to the mage, and he gave them the key to look inside the museum. But Vashlani had made quick work of the locks on the doors, and they made their way up the tower to where he learned Calcemo kept the tablet.

“I have finished studying the tablet. Follow me, and we can slip past the guards and be on our way with no witnesses,” Thane murmured. Vashlani gave a slight nod and followed the assassin, who had memorized the layout of the tower as they went through it.

Before leaving the dark interior of the Underkeep, they made sure that Thane was covered then entered the city.




They were looking through the job offers at the notice board when a commotion began on the other side of the marketplace. Screams and a yell came from a group of stalls, and they hurried over. Someone murdered a young woman, and they heard whispers of “Forsworn.”

“Who or what are the Forsworn?” Thane whispered to Vashlani as they stood among the others watching the guards not doing anything, other than telling people to move along that everything was under control, and there were no Forsworn in the city.

Vashlani let out a slight hiss, “The Forsworn are a faction of Reachmen that formed shortly after the Markarth Incident. The Empire and the deposed son of the Jarl here promised Ulfric Stormcloak that they could freely practice worshiping Talos if he helped to take back The Reach. Ulfric did it. The surviving Reachmen fled and formed the group known as the Forsworn. Then the Thalmor found out about the promise of free worship. It went against the agreement that was set up to stop the Thalmor invasion into Skyrim and arrested Ulfric. They let him go, but that incident is part of what set off the whole damn civil war that is going on here now.”

Vashlani looked around then continued, keeping his voice low so as not to draw attention, “The Forsworn are aggressive and are quite capable fighters in what they call insurgent warfare, but they are also known to be two Septims short for a pint if you know what this khajiit means. They want everyone, not a Forsworn, out of The Reach. That even includes other nords.”

He stopped speaking as a familiar figure approached them.

“Dragonborn? The Arch-Mage had written to tell me you had taken care of the... issue at the College, this khajiit thanks you.”

Thane looked over the armor covered figure that was taller and bulkier than he was, the armor left nothing to show the gender. The full faced helmet hid the person's eyes in its dark shadows.

“Aye, you are the one they called Vashlani, right?”

He nodded, and a grunt came from the helmet. “Pass along my thanks to your healer. When she saved the Arch-Mage’s life, she kept me from being named in his place. I am not a mage and would not have been a good replacement. The Arch-Mage told you what happened to Mirabelle? I take it this person is another... guest of yours?”

“Yes, this is Sere Thane Krios. Thane may I present the Dragonborn. Slayer of the dragons that have been terrorizing Skyrim, hero, and warrior of legends that bards will write about. The Arch-Mage did, and this khajiit is sorry that he was not there to help. Mirabelle was a friend to this khajiit, and he was sad to hear of her death.”

The figure let out a snort, “Don’t flatter me, Vashlani. I’m just following the path that the Divines set me on. Did either of you see what happened to that woman?”

Thane glance at the two people following the one in the black and red armor. One was a giant of a human with black paint outlining his eyes giving him a more threatening appearance. He carried a giant two-handed sword and wore armor that matched the Dragonborn’s; except for the huge black fur cloak with a clasp made of steel in the shape of a wolf’s head. The other one caused him to blink. A reptilian male was wearing armor that looked forged from scales and bones. He carried a large bow that appeared to be made from bone also. The male looked different than he did, his scales resembled thick plates, and he had horns coming from the sides of his head with smaller spike type protrusions along his jaw. Thane noticed his face was more elongated in the nose area than his own. When the person yawned, he saw the stranger's mouth was full of sharp looking teeth.

When he was looking at the holos in Vashlani’s folder, he had taken notice of what seemed to be people with long, thick tails but the images were not detailed enough to show the actual texture of the scales and form of the race. Thane blinked and dropped his eyes when he realized he had been staring at another race similar to his own.

The Dragonborn didn’t like the sound of the involvement of the Forsworn in the murder. It also didn’t help when some stranger said a note fell from their pocket... especially when this armor didn’t have pockets.

“What are you doing here anyway? Particularly with a guest that must look-- different?”

“Vashlani is showing Thane the town and looking for something worth doing on the notice board.”

Another grunt. “Go to the Left-Hand mine, speak with Pavo Attius and tell him that I sent you for the information on the Kolskeggr mine. If the milk drinker has locked himself in the barracks, talk with Skaggi he has the details as well. Damn Forsworn problems. If you have one of those mage maps hand it to me, I’ll mark the location of the mine for you.”

After the map was marked and handed back, the Dragonborn turned to their companions, “Alright, looks like we need to get to the Underkeep to see the Jarl. Farkas, Derkeethus, let’s go.” The two made to follow the Dragonborn when suddenly the figure turned back to Vashlani. “Vashlani? The person that was in the courtyard, the rather tall one with the...”, the armored hand moved around the helmet at the back, and Vashlani nodded.

“His name is Garrus; he is Vashlani’s friend.”

“Ah. So not a summons then?”

Vashlani shook his head no.

The Dragonborn grunted before turning back around. The three heavily armed and armored people walked toward the keep, and everyone moved out of their way.

Chapter Text

They started walking toward the mine, Vashlani saw a small grove of juniper trees and pulled Thane into them and then into the bag. “Change back into your armor and get ready for a fight. Vashlani has encountered the Forsworn before; they are humans. Some of them have magic and use a variety of weapons, but if this is a large group of them, there may be a Briarheart leader. If there is, he will be difficult, and you must be protected.”

“What is a Briarheart?” Thane asked as he stripped off the gloves and cloak then handed them to Vashlani.

“Foul beings. Dark magic is used to remove their human heart and replace it with a heart made of briars. It is held inside their chest cavity with leather strips. They are a form of intelligent undead. Very dangerous and very strong.”

Thane nodded then jogged up the stairs to change back into his battle leathers.

There had indeed been a Briarheart within the mine, along with several other Forsworn. Thane watched as Vashlani crouched and ran his hand over a large section of rocky floor with gold colored striping to it.

“Now Vashlani understands why the Forsworn were here and wanted this mine. This section is gold, Thane. This mine must be the only gold mine still left in Skyrim, all Vashlani knows of are gold veins here and there, not an entire mine of the ore.”

Vashlani stood and set about gathering all the ore he could while Thane followed him from ore deposit to ore deposit. He held a lit lantern in one hand and read from a book he had picked up from a Forsworn they had killed in the other. When Vashlani finished mining the ore, he took Thane back into the bag and offered him a shower, letting him know that if he put his armor in the basket, the sphere would wash it in the pond for him. “I will be downstairs. Vashlani will serve you and Garrus dinner, but this khajiit has somewhere he needs to go.”

When Thane arrived in the kitchen Garrus was already there and dressed in a casual set of clothes, Vashlani placed several different types of food on each end of the table along with a basket of chilled ales and a fresh, steaming teapot by Thane. “Vashlani will be back in a few hours. Um... don’t touch anything that you shouldn’t. I would hate for something to happen to the dimension, and both of you die and Urz too.” Then he grabbed a large basket and pack from a chair and disappeared.

“Do you know where he went? He seemed to be in a hurry to get there.”

“Nope and I’m not going to ask him either, neither should you. Vashlani has many secrets, always had. He’ll clam up and evade them along with you should you ask. He does, however, do the disappearing act every time we come here for more than an hour or two. Sometimes he’s gone overnight and will show up early in the morning. He’s a good cook, eat while it’s hot. If you want more of something to eat just ask the sphere or use the box. He left a bunch of paper, one of those feather things, and some ink if you want to start writing those symbols, or he doesn’t mind if you just hang out around the house. I wouldn’t go wandering too far outside though; he still hasn’t gotten around to checking out the entire, err... property.”

Thane spread a piece of linen cloth over his lap before picking up the heavy bronze looking utensil and started to place food on an equally heavy metal plate. “Garrus?”

“Yeah?”

“What exactly is it that I am eating?” Garrus snorted and nodded toward Thane’s teapot.

“He wrote it all down so you can ask for more of certain things. What exactly it is... well, your food comes from this world. Mine is a blend of turian and quarian vegetables and grains he grows in the one greenhouse, mixed with items he and Doc tested and found compatible for Tali and me, but she doesn’t know that. She kept trying to pilfer my taffy earlier. Vashlani is worried that one of the ingredients will have an unexpected effect on her and doesn’t want her to have it if possible. If you want something stronger than that tea, any bottle with a bee or beehive symbol on it is safe for you.”

Thane stood after he finished eating and made to pick up the dishes when Garrus stopped him, “Uh, no. Watch.”

The sphere rolled into view and started to gather up the dishes, disposing of anything not eaten or drank into a small pail. Thane tipped his head to watch as the sphere proceeded to clean the dishes, table, and pick up the bucket going back to the lift and going down.

“Well, that was rather efficient.”

Thane followed Garrus down to see what it was that he was working on, “This is why he needed your help with the text, most of this isn’t translated. The ones who wrote this disappeared thousands of years ago and there are very few samples of anything that had been translated or even able to be translated. With EDI and your help with reproducing that tablet, she can start to extrapolate the words, from there apply them to this schematic, so we know how to activate something like this. Vashlani’s Master did it somehow, but Vashlani thinks he kept it a secret because of how some of those mages would kill him to get their hands on this place and the diaries.”

“I see. That would explain why that tablet was not only heavily guarded but away from public eyes.”

“Yeah, he told me back when we summoned him here that things like this were to be turned over to their Imperial rulers, they aren’t supposed to go into the ruins and take stuff either, but apparently everyone does. It’s just this rare thing that will get him into trouble if caught with it in Skyrim.”

Thane let Garrus get back to work; he heard music start playing as he made his way back up to the main part of the house. He went into the study, where a basket containing many rolls of parchment along with a quill and inkpot sat next to the desk. Thane’s lips twitched into a small smile when he noticed Urz had fallen asleep in front of the lit fireplace and was giving out low growls as his paws flexed in sleep.

He just finished the second line from the tablet when Urz scrambled up and ran for the hallway.

“Have you been a good boy? Not messed in the house? Not chewed on the furniture? Good boy, here Vashlani brought you something. Ah... that’s a no-no, you do not jump to grab the food. Sit. Good boy, now take it outside and eat it.”

Thane looked around the corner and saw the varren carrying a long, brown... something in his mouth and heading for the lift down. He moved to the kitchen where he saw the khajiit unloading slabs of meat from a crate that had appeared where none was before. When that one was empty, he watched as Vashlani pulled another one out of the small bag’s storage dimension.

“Oh hello, Thane. Khajiit didn’t wake you did he? Vashlani got lucky tonight. He was checking something outside of town before he left Windhelm with a small job, someone wanted a letter delivered to a person in Markarth when he saw a sabrecat take down a mammoth. Of course, the cat was killed by the giant. It stood there for awhile, then went to take care of the rest of his herd. Vashlani didn’t think he would ever get done cutting up both the cat and that huge mammoth, but Vashlani did it. Plenty of meat now for Garrus. We also have lots and lots... and lots of mammoth for Urz and us. He even brought something back for Healer; she wanted some of the mammoth to make more mammoths for Earth. I hope they have the grassland and a way to herd them. I don’t think the humans would like having giants living there.”

He grunted before pulling another crate out.

“Beg pardon, but what is a mammoth?”

Vashlani reached for his datapad and flipped through his holos until he found the one he was looking for and showed it to Thane.

“Vashlani estimates he was able to get about 1500 pieces of meat and the whole trunk for Urz from it. It will take this khajiit a few hours to unload his bag. Then a hot shower and sleep, Vashlani is tired but happy.”

“So what Urz was dragging outside was this creature's snout?” Thane asked incredulously as he looked up from the holo of what looked to be a rather huge, hairy beast.

Vashlani nodded as he emptied another crate and opened a mead before starting again. “One-third of it, the rest is already packed away for later.”

“Let me be of assistance.”

Garrus came upstairs yawning, asked what the hell they were doing, then helped to dump the wrapped meat into the kitchen chest. Between them, they were able to get the rest of the crates unloaded in less than three hours. Garrus grabbed a drink and told them goodnight he was going to sleep. Vashlani gave Thane a bedroll and pillows then headed up the stairs.

 



After breakfast, Thane began transcribing more of the symbols, and Vashlani went down to the smithy with Garrus. He pulled out the blueprint of the tower room and showed Garrus the changes he'd like to make. Vashlani told him that he now had access to the spells to build the rooms but no resources to do it.

“That shouldn’t be a problem for much longer, Vashlani, when we get back to the Citadel the final sale on that jewelry you made will take place. You can buy whatever you wanted from our world, and we can start gathering the resources here while the ship is in drydock. With everything that we are having done, it should take, at the minimum, two weeks. Mordin and Doc want to start removing the cybernetics from Shepard. While she recovers, we can mine the stone. Renting a laser mining mech will not be that expensive since it’s short-term, we just need a very out of the way place to do it in.”

Garrus changed some dimensions on a few things to fit the design better, “Are you completely sure that this is the final design? No other changes?”

Vashlani tilted his head to look over the plans one final time. “Vashlani is sure.”

“Alright, when we go back I’ll head to the fabricator and program it for these iron items you want, all you need to do is provide the material. There is one more thing I wanted to talk to you about though. This thing with powering stuff with magic, I was thinking, you know how we have that solar set up for you now. What if you go ahead and purchase an outdoor building and put a few larger cells in there, let the solar panel start to charge them up, then when we get this schematic figured out we can hook it up to the batteries to keep them charged. In the meantime, you should be able to run a few things, like your data storage and the hot tub off the solar cells. You won’t be using that hot tub every day, so in between uses the cells can fill.”

Vashlani rubbed his head, “Garrus thinks that the cells would work with the same thing that would power the animunculus? Like the gantry does for the Centurion?”

“Yeah I do, it may take some engineering changes, but I don’t see why not. The pre-made building like you use for the brewery would work, only this time go for a more decorative building instead of just functional. All you would need is to move the cells from the basement and put them into the building with the new ones, move the panels from your roof to the top of the building and run the electrical wiring into the junction box that we can have installed inside of it. Then we run the cables and wiring to whatever needs the power. EDI can do a quick analysis and give us the total cell count, wiring size, and length, along with everything else. That way we buy what we need and not waste credits on something we don’t need, or fall short on something we do. You won’t have to spend your cred... Septims, on timbers or cut stone for it.”

“Hmm, since it will be outside it won’t interfere with adding more storage areas later on down here or expanding the ones I have now. That might work better, before we leave we look around outside for where to put it, yes. Then we can look on the... extranet? For what Vashlani wants, so we know, yes? Sound good?”

“Sounds good.”

 



Thane finished several more lines of text from the tablet before Garrus and Vashlani came back inside. After making sure they had everything, Vashlani petted Urz and reminded him about his behavior. Then he pulled out a huge, meaty bone from inside a chest giving it to the varren, who dragged it toward the lift to go outside with it, then they went back to the ship.

When they returned, Joker told them that the mission with Kasumi was over and showed them highlights from what happened. Vashlani let out a growl, “Why didn’t she call for Vashlani. What she did was needlessly dangerous.” He turned and stalked toward the lift to go up to the loft.

“He should have waited an extra minute before leaving because she isn’t on board right now. We were scanning for resources while waiting for you guys to come back and received a message about a cache of minerals and some broken down mech, and she headed for the surface. After she gets back, we’re going to the Citadel. So how’s it going? Do anything or find anything good while you were there?”

Thane told him about the Forsworn and how Vashlani apparently brought home enough meat from a massive woolly beast called a mammoth to feed a small army.

“Bet you’ve never seen anything like that house of his. I thought Shepard was going to shit herself when he opened up that door, and we went in. Hell, I almost shit myself.”

“Very true, Joker. That will be a memory I will come back too, his home was a marvel. Illogical, but a wonder nonetheless.”

They turned hearing Vashlani coming up the metal walkway toward the bridge, his grumbling and growls heard clearly. “Where is Shepard?”

“She’s down there somewhere with Zaeed and Grunt. She’ll signal when she’s ready.”

Vashlani let out a grunt the rooted through his pack bringing out a bundle of scrolls. His whiskers twitched as he handed them to Joker, “Colette sent these. Vashlani thinks someone has an admirer.” He let out a laugh as Joker’s eyebrow raised and he swiped the bundle from the khajiit’s hands. “Now this one has to go see Healer; there is a bundle for her as well. Maybe not a bundle... more like an entire satchel.” He started to walk away, then turned back, “If you want to send Colette return correspondence just let me know. I’ll add it to what Healer has.”

 


 

Chakwas looked over the carved piece of the mammoth tusk that Vashlani had brought her; her hands ran lightly over the bone. “The giants, they carved this into the tusk on a live mammoth?”

Vashlani nodded as he sat on the medical gurney eating an apple. “Yes, each tribe has a pattern. Vashlani is worried about this cloning you want to do. Mammoths need so much land to roam and caretakers that can handle them. Rogue mammoths or ones that had their giants killed can sometimes go on a rampage; they are not easy to stop.”

Chakwas didn’t say anything but continued to stroke the piece of tusk. “Maybe you’re right. How would I explain finding this perfect piece of tusk anyway? I’ll have Garrus fashion a display case for this. Thank you for bringing it and the satchel back.”

“Healer is very welcome. The Arch-Mage is most anxious to see you again; he’s been preparing for your visit.”

Chakwas’ cheeks went fiery red and her lips twisted into a small grin. “Well, I’ll be happy to see him as well. Though that will all wait until we have the weave removed from Joker and the cybernetics we can take out of Shepard. We’ll go slow, small things that you can heal as they are taken out, then give her time to rest, heal and acclimate to having them gone from her. From what Mordin said he estimates we can remove about sixty percent of them. Her eyes, liver, colon, and both kidneys are all synthetic. They have to stay in there. The bone, muscle, and skin weaves can be removed. We need to add a birth control implant in her, Mordin says there are just enough cells to give her back a womb.”

She laid the tusk on a small shelf and turned to him, “It is going to be very long and grueling procedure. You must tell us when you need to stop to regain your healing magic. The machines will keep her body alive as we clone her organs and replace them, just like with the Arch-Mage. After we begin if you find yourself unable to heal her we’ll stop and see why.”

“Yes, as more of those machines are removed this khajiit’s healing of Shepard will improve.” They spoke a while longer, and she went over more of the scans with him to make sure he understood what they were going to do then Vashlani left.

 



Vashlani was on her terminal looking at outdoor buildings when Joker announced Shepard was back with a massive payload of platinum and they were now on their way to the Citadel. He turned off her terminal and swiveled the chair to look at her when the cabin door opened. “I spoke to the Healer. Vashlani knows what will be done. Vashlani will need to go to his home and make a large cache of potions for both healing and magic. Khajiit will be gone most of the night so will just stay at his own home.”

“That’s fine; we should be reaching the Citadel in about 12 hours. Doc told me they would only remove so much at a time to minimize the shock to me.” Shepard stripped off her outer suit and underarmor before grabbing a fresh set of clothes and heading toward the shower. As she passed by Vashlani, she heard him purr and saw his blue eyes roam over her body.

“You are tempting this khajiit on purpose, Shepard.”

She shook her head at him as she hit the button for the door. He watched as she walked through and until the door shut.

He let out a groan and turned back to the monitor. “EDI? Can you patch me through to Garrus? Vashlani found the building but wants to make sure it’s the right thing.”

 



When they docked at the Citadel, everyone was given their shore leave and told to make sure that they had everything they needed, once the ship was in lockdown for the dry dock crew to begin working, only authorized personnel would be allowed back on board. EDI let them know everyone else was off and the ship locked. Mordin, Chakwas, Joker, Shepard, and Vashlani all went to the med lab. They quickly went over everything once again before Shepard went to the mess hall to wait for them to help Joker.

After Joker was settled on the table and said he was ready, Vashlani leaned in toward him. “Vashlani will use a healing spell that keeps a small heal constantly going on Joker, recasting the spell before it runs out. Do not worry. After we are done, Vashlani will boost your health slightly to aid in recovery. He also has a gift for you when you awaken.”

The removal of the weaves was a slow process; they had to be careful of his bones, several times they broke, and Vashlani moved in with healing after the machine reset it, strengthening them as he went. He kept a constant regeneration spell on Joker, timing it so that the next spell would activate within two seconds before the last one expired, it allowed him time to drink a potion or heal a different bone. He dripped a small cure disease potion into Joker’s mouth watching him swallow reflexively. The light blue glow pulsed and then dimmed before the Doc ran a scan on him. They were able to completely remove the weave and heal the bones for the time being. With the addition of Vashlani’s and Colette’s potions, the density of Joker’s bones returned to where it was before Vashlani had left. They all stretched and rotated their cramping shoulders before cleaning up the area and moving Joker’s gurney behind a different screen to give him time to recover.

“Vashlani will be back with dinner for all of us; he has it all packed and ready.”

Joker woke a short time after they had finished and Chakwas showed him the scan. He said he hurt but was glad it was gone. Vashlani handed him a bracelet with an amulet on the end of it. “This is an Amulet of Arkay, the God of life and death. It grants the wearer increased health. This bracelet, when used with the potions that I give you on a regular basis, will steadily increase the chance of your bones no longer breaking. Colette is still researching the old tomes from the Arcanum, many of those are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. It will take her a while to go through them all. It doesn’t help with the librarian breathing down your neck making sure you don’t get a speck of dirt or a drop of potion on the books.”

He handed him the Dwemer plate and cup that Joker used pretty much exclusively now, filled with food and water.

 


 

Garrus waited outside the ship when Vashlani exited, “This khajiit is ready to get a few things if he has enough credits.” They started walking for the lift when Garrus began to laugh.

“I don’t think you are going to have to worry about credits for a very long time, Vashlani.” He stopped and tapped out several commands, transferring the funds from the sale of the jewelry to Vashlani’s account. When the khajiit used his datapad to look at the amount he almost dropped the pad.

“This... this is a mistake, yes?”

“Not a mistake, Vashlani. When the gemologist confirmed the gems and metals were real and flawless, handcrafted to make the pieces one of a kind, the bidding shot way up. That was what the winner of the auction bid, minus the fees to the auction house and others. It’s all there, my friend, and all yours. We added extra protection, and so did Kasumi. If anyone would know what a thief would need to do to steal it, she would.”

 



Vashlani looked back down at the pad and swallowed, still not believing the number of credits that were showing in his account.

“Let’s go to get that building and other stuff you wanted. It’s going to take all week to get it installed as it is.”

Their first stop was the hot tub dealer where Vashlani bought the setup he wanted, Garrus set it up for delivery to the Normandy’s docking bay. Then came the building and solar cells. Garrus told him to get slightly larger cells just in case they needed to upgrade a bit in the future. At the building dealer, they had to deal with a pushy sales rep until Garrus demanded to speak with the manager. He told him loudly that if he wanted their future business, they better stop shoving things that they informed the sales associate wasn't needed or wanted, and concentrate on what would make their client happy, or they would be sure to take their business elsewhere. The manager ran Vashlani’s ID, courtesy of EDI and Kasumi, through his computer and saw prior business transactions and an alert on his account as an “extremely valuable customer,” which told him the stranger in armor was loaded with credits. After that he was left alone to make his choices, the manager himself answered any questions and took care of finalizing Vashlani’s purchase.

They were walking past several other stores when Vashlani stopped and looked in several windows. Garrus turned and walked back to him, looked into the window then back at Vashlani. “Uh... what are you looking for in that store?”

Vashlani looked up at him. “Garrus, I would like to go in.”

Garrus looked down at the khajiit then back at the window, “Shepard doesn’t know does she?”

“No, Vashlani is already planning for this but wants to finish the tower and heal her. Vashlani is scared to death of what she may say.”

 



When they made it back to the Normandy, Garrus used the loader to move all the crates and boxes inside the cargo bay before locking it back up. Once they were sure everything was there, Garrus grabbed one side of the pile of boxes, and Vashlani spread his hands over as large an area as he could then muttered the phrase.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to you doing that,” Garrus said to him as he helped to separate the containers and to move them with a portable mass effect field.

They started building the cell shed; he chose a structure that looked like a small wooden house. The one side was slanted, and Garrus would attach the panels there instead of on the roof. They moved it into place then attached the cell bases to the floor. They installed the solar batteries, and Garrus told him that in the morning he would start working on wiring them to the panels and control box. “It’s about time for me to head for the Perseus and blow off some steam. See you tomorrow. I may be late though, depends on if I get lucky.”

Vashlani laughed and took them back to the ship.

 



Vashlani sat at Shepard’s desk writing something on a parchment with a quill, the quiet scratching the only noise in the room. Shepard went to bed a few hours ago, and Vashlani had started to answer the numerous messages that were sent to him stuffed inside the satchel. A small smile on his face as he wrote about his latest adventure, what he had seen and done, about the people of the Citadel and maybe one day they could see it together. Vashlani set aside that parchment. He began on another then another, slowly writing. When he finished, and they were all dry, he rolled them up and placed them in the satchel; he’d toss it through the portal when he went home. He glanced at the clock and saw that many hours had passed and he let out a quiet sigh, checked Ji’za, and then went to bed.

“You seemed rather busy.”

He jerked and let out a hiss. “Vashlani thought you were asleep.”

“I was, but woke up a while ago.” She felt him roll over and snuggle up with her; his fur no longer bothered her as it once had. She had grown used to him being there, of the way he would cuddle for warmth and not complain when she hogged the bed or practically wrapped herself around him while she slept.

“Vashlani was writing to those back in his world, personal and business things, so much to take care of and I have to rely on others.”

Shepard stroked the back of his hand where he had draped an arm around her. “Did you need to stay in your world? It sounds like you are needed there.”

He purred and drew her closer. “Vashlani is where he wants to be, he goes back as often as possible and has help that he trusts.” His hand started to stroke against her abdomen where her short crop top and sleep shorts had left her bare. “Mmm, you are teasing Vashlani now, Shepard. First came the long walk to the bathroom in only your underclothes, which left little to the imagination, and trust Vashlani, his imagination worked overtime. Now no more long shirts and pants to bed. Maybe soon even less, yes?”

“Go to sleep, Vashlani. Tomorrow is going to be a long day.”

“Hmm, there are many more things that this khajiit would like to do in this bed than just sleep, Shepard. Many, many things if you just tell Vashlani yes.” He nuzzled the area right below her ear and pulled her even closer so she could feel the change happening to his body, the way he pressed tight against her buttocks, his fingers spreading wider to touch more of her abdomen, pressing and kneading against her.

Her hand pressed against his and held it still. “What is wrong, Shepard? Did you not like how this khajiit touches you? Was there something else you'd like better?” His voice was gentle, not angry or upset about her stopping him.

“Vashlani... it’s-it’s just, I’ve never been much of a xenophile.”

“A what? Vashlani doesn’t know this word, this xenophile.”

She laughed shakily. “It’s a way of saying that a person is attracted to another individual of a different species; sexually.”

“Khajiit doesn’t understand. Is it wrong? In his world, it is not unusual to find couples of different races. If each person agrees to the relationship, it is accepted. Well... some of the nords and Thalmor may be the exception to that. Is this why you do not accept Vashlani’s advances? You do not want Vashlani as a lover because he is khajiit and not human?” He started to shift away from her so his body would calm and return to its normal, relaxed state.

“No, there isn’t anything wrong with it. I just never thought about being with anyone that wasn’t a human. I didn’t mean to give you the wrong impression, we’re friends, and I’m comfortable around you. I’m sorry.”

“Oh. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Khajiit apologizes to you.” He eased further away and adjusted the covers a bit. “Good night, Shepard. Vashlani hopes tomorrow’s removal of those machines will make you feel better.”


A short while after her breathing changed he still laid there staring up at the ceiling. His tail flicked to the side as he raised his hand and looked at the fur-covered appendage as he sheathed and unsheathed his claws. He sighed and closed his eyes; he guessed he had nothing to be worried about earlier, it seemed it wouldn’t matter to her anyway. The cover floated to the mattress as he disappeared.


He left several large baskets of food and drinks sitting in the middle of one of the crew tables and went into the med bay to wait for the others to show up. Chakwas looked at him strangely, as he typically would be arriving the same time as Shepard, not hours early. Her eyes started to drift shut again as she watched him settle on a chair next to Joker’s gurney and nod off to sleep.

Chapter Text


 

 

 “Alright, Shepard, this first round will be to remove the weaves. We will run a scan on you after we've finished the process then your body will need to rest for a bit. We will monitor your recovery, then comes the cloning of the organs we can and removal of the synthetics. Once the new organs are in place, Vashlani will heal them so there will be no internal scars. Depending on how well your body adjusts and the results of the overnight observations we can start to remove the small cybernetics. I told you before that some of the cybernetics will need to remain,” Chakwas went over everything with her as Vashlani put on a decon suit over his clothing and jewelry he wore.

 “We'll need to use the usual methods of healing for the first part. Vashlani will keep a slow heal going and monitor any improvement in what he can do for you. Once we get enough of the weave out, his healing will take over. We are getting ready to begin; you’ll feel a slight pinch, then you'll get sleepy. Do not worry, Shepard.”

 Shepard looked around at the others, Vashlani put a mask over his face then glanced down at her. His glove covered hand patted the back of hers before he looked away. He missed the way Chakwas and Mordin looked at each other then down at Shepard. They watched as her eyes drifted shut, a slight frown on her face before the machine said she was ready.

 They started the machine going to begin cloning her replacement skin, Vashlani had to look away as the laser slowly and carefully cut the weave and attached skin away from her. The muscle weaves were next. The khajiit’s eyes became misty as they saw what happened to her, what they did to bring her back from the dead.

 “Doctor Chakwas, wait a moment. There is something there that wasn’t in the report. It wasn’t on the scans,” Mordin’s voice cut through his thoughts and turned his attention back to what was going on.

 “What is that?” Chakwas ran a different scan; it showed nothing. “EDI, we need your help here. There is an odd piece of cybernetics inside of Shepard that isn’t registering.”

 “One moment, Doctor.”

 “I've calibrated the scanner for this new development; please rescan," EDI told them.

 EDI relayed the findings of the scan a moment later, “The device is a small, rectangular chip, embedded into Shepard’s nervous system. The wiring is being highlighted in green and shows it runs to her brain and her heart. Indicative of a sophisticated control chip. Without further tests, I cannot determine if it can be removed safely or if any attempt at removal will irrevocably damage her brain. I hypothesize that it is there in case Shepard goes rogue, so to speak, to bring her back under Cerberus control. There are no entries made into the official Lazarus Projects data files. It is a possibility that Ms. Lawson may not even know of its existence.”

 “Khajiit does not understand.”

 “When they were rebuilding Shepard, they put all this stuff inside her. Apparently, they also put in something that possibly could kill her if we take it out of her. From what EDI says it most likely is something that at some time can be remotely activated to either shut her down or bring her fully under Cerberus control,” Chakwas told him as she looked at the scans again.

 Vashlani’s eyebrows drew down, “Control? As in have her become a thrall, under the control of a master?”

 Chakwas nodded at him. His head dropped and then raised as he looked everywhere, trying to take in everything at once. “EDI, you don’t know how they could control or kill her?”

 “Not without additional testing, which is a danger in and of itself, Vashlani.”

 “What could they use? Poison?”

 “It could be something as simple as an electrical pulse along the wiring to disrupt her brain, a pulse into the cybernetics that controls her heart to shut it down. Or it could be a poison or something to damage her nervous system. I do not know, Vashlani,” EDI told him, they could hear a slight discordance in her electronic voice. “I suggest you consult with Ms. Lawson as she was the director and would have knowledge of cybernetics.”

 “I agree. Ms. Lawson would be a good choice. If she knows nothing about this, she would see she wasn’t in full control of the project as she thought. If she knows, she will tell us how to remove it, one way or another,” Mordin said as he continued to remove the last of the weave from around the area.

 “I have sent her an urgent request to return to the Normandy,” EDI told them.

 They continued to work removing the weave from her bones until Miranda came into the room. She started to act like a shrew, screaming about undoing all her work until she felt a chill in the air and her skin rapidly grew colder. Vashlani was behind her and had grabbed her by the back of the neck, his hand starting to freeze the amp port there, while her armor mods began shorting out from the electrical impulses that he sent through the grip on her upper arm.

 “You will close your mouth and listen to what the Healer has to say, human. Should you be deemed unnecessary, this one would be more than happy to remove you from the ship.”

 “EDI? Fill her in on what we have found. Ms. Lawson, you better hope that you had nothing to do with this,” Chakwas’ voice was cold as she looked at the younger woman. The disgust in her eyes was clear.

 Vashlani watched Miranda closely, saw the way her eyes narrowed and her body tensed as she heard what they found. “No, I did not add the chip. I asked for one to be put in, as it was documented, in case Shepard decided not to cooperate. The Illusive Man denied the request, saying that he wanted her brought back as she used to be and was afraid the chip would interfere with that. It was not authorized and was not put in by me. Someone on my team went against my instructions.”

 “Or the instructions of someone else were being followed,” Mordin murmured, “records show they spent billions of credit. A substantial investment in one person. Would be very costly to lose such a person, to lose control over someone that could rally Humanity and other species in case of war. The one that would control such a person would, in fact, control the others.”

 “The Illusive Man would not do that; he only wants what is best for Humanity.”

 They heard a snort from the corner, “He wants what is best for himself. That includes control over everything. Not even I’m that naive, bringing the Doc and me to her, building the ship to look like a larger copy of the original Normandy. He’s doing nothing but playing mind games with Shepard. She’s not dumb; she already figured that out the day I showed up at the docks. She knew she needed a strong crew and even stronger ship. She’d dealt with Cerberus before, no matter what spin you put on it, saying that it operates in cells and the shit we saw and stopped were rogue or not part of you guys, it’s bullshit. That boss of yours has his finger on every employee’s pulse; he knew. Even if you didn’t.”

 “You will remove this machine from Shepard. If anything happens to her, you die, and there will be no body or body parts for them to use to bring you back.”

“You don’t need to use threats. Shepard helped me save my sister; I’ll remove it to help her, not because of you.”

“Vashlani doesn’t care why you do it, just get it out of there.” Vashlani slowly removed both of his hands from her. She ran a hand down her suit and saw that all her shields were burnt out. EDI blocked her omni tool to any communication sources, it would only connect to the scanning system, and the intense cold had shorted out her biotic amp.

The khajiit paced and watched Miranda and the others. He cast a little healing each time he passed by Shepard’s head, just a slight touch out of sight of Miranda. A quick flick of Mordin’s eyes told him the healing begun to work better than it had been. He stopped and watched as Miranda took a small clamp-like tool and hooked it to the wires going out of each side of the device. She looked at the scans again and frowned.

“This looks like it would use a remote to send a signal to her brain and a different one to her heart. EDI, do a scan of Shepard’s brain, it was intact when they found her body. After we made sure it wasn’t damaged we proceeded to rebuild her from the few good cells that were available and those from her brain. There would have been no reason to add anything there.”

“Scanning. Tracing the pathway of the wires. Anomaly detected within the brain stem. Pathways to the heart show the connections end at the cybernetics to control her heart.”

“It’s a kill switch, if she doesn’t do what the person wants, they just push a button and she’s dead.” Miranda looked up at them all, “this was not at all what I had wanted. Something to make her more amendable, certainly, to outright kill her and undo years worth of work, no.” She looked at the scan again.

“To remove it we will need to work in tandem, one on her brain to remove the device installed there, on her heart to remove the cybernetic there, and replace it with a different one, and I will remove this piece. It must be all taken out at the same time, or it could activate.”

They moved to collect the equipment they needed, and Vashlani walked over to Joker to sit in the chair next to him.

“It’ll be okay, Vash, the Doc will watch what is going on and Mordin will too. They won’t let anything happen to her; you’ll be back to cuddling with her in a day or so.”

Vashlani looked over at Joker and lowered his eyes back down to the floor.

“Vash?”

“This khajiit will not be around much for awhile if Vashlani is needed just call him. He has much to do in his world and at home.” He stood back up and moved near them when he saw them adjust the table in preparation. Joker just stared at him wondering what that was all about.

Vashlani watched as the three of them stood poised over their respective cybernetics, Miranda started a countdown, when she said now they all lifted their components out. They heard a short, high-pitched electrical sound before the end that had been attached to Shepard’s heart let out a small spark.

“Well done. Let’s get this finished so Shepard can rest for a while. We’ll finish up in a few hours.” Doctor Chakwas took her piece of removed tech over to an exam table, followed by the others, Vashlani brushed a hand along Shepard’s arm and sent a rejuvenation and regeneration spell over her.

“Ms. Lawson, there is a piece of data you should be made aware of. At the exact moment you removed the tech from Shepard, your omni tool sent the activation code.”

“That is impossible, EDI. I had nothing to do with this.”

Mordin turned to her, blinked and placed one long, spindly finger against his mouth and tapped. “Of course. Ingenious. Should Shepard not cooperate the signal sent by remote from your omni tool. The signal goes out, and Shepard falls. EDI traces the signal to you. Crew loyal to Shepard, not to you, removes you. Leaves him open to recall ship for a different purpose, possibly eliminates rest of crew as well. Techs clean up all data from EDI’s storage. Nothing to show that it wasn’t internal, he remains blameless. You’re the perfect scapegoat, never question loyalty to masters. Jacob couldn’t be trusted. He doesn’t trust The Illusive Man, doesn’t trust Cerberus, only there for the paycheck. You on the other hand...” Mordin didn’t finish just walked past her to begin a study of the tech.

Miranda rubbed her forehead then walked out heading toward her room to change into a different uniform.

“EDI, do a full scan of Shepard, see if any more surprises are awaiting us tonight.” Chakwas started the sterilization machine after she moved Shepard to a different area.

"Vashlani needs to go to his home now, send a message when you need him to return.” He glanced at Shepard then disappeared. All three remaining there looked at each other and wondered what was wrong between Vashlani and Shepard.

 


 

Vashlani saw Garrus attaching the cells to the banks of solar panels that lined the slope of the small building when he returned.

“How did it go? You’re back sooner than I figured you would be.” Garrus placed the panel back into place as Vashlani told him about them finding odd machines that didn’t show on the Healers equipment then what it turned out to be. Garrus let out a growl and shook his head at Miranda’s continued insistence on wearing blinders when it came to the things Cerberus did.

“Vashlani will need to be back later to help with healing Shepard as they take out more. If Garrus doesn’t mind can we go and start mining the stone? Vashlani needs lots of stone to build.”

Garrus looked over at him, “You don’t want to stay with Shepard in case she wakes up?”

Vashlani just shook his head no and walked into the house to change his clothes leaving Garrus standing there with a welder in one hand and a bunch of wires in the other.

 


 

Vashlani looked over his map trying to remember where exactly he had found that group of stone quarries that was far enough outside of town or anything really, so they could set up the laser miner for a few hours. He let out a sigh and buried his head in his hands. What was he to do? How was he to just forget what he felt for Shepard, had felt for her for a long time, because he wasn’t a human but a khajiit?

“What’s going on, Vashlani? I hadn’t expected you to show up for hours yet, and when you do you want to go mining instead of hurrying back to sit by her side.”

“Shepard doesn’t want Vashlani in the same way he wants her. Vashlani is Shepard’s friend because he is a khajiit... not a human.”

Garrus dropped into one of the other chairs. “Maybe you misunderstood. Shepard is not a xenophobe-- someone who doesn’t care for aliens. It has to be miscommunication.”

Vashlani leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “No, she said she wasn’t a xenophile and never thought about someone that wasn’t a human in that way. There was no misinterpreting what she said Garrus. She said she was Vashlani’s friend. She doesn’t want me for... more.”

Vashlani leaned forward, his hand moving across the map trying to get his bearings and calm his thoughts to try and remember. “Hmm, Vashlani remembers a swamp, huge spiders, and Draugr. Snow and horkers. He was in Morthal, a job for collecting swamp pods and deathbells and didn’t want to use his supply. So maybe around this area. Let Vashlani check the area near this tomb. If this is the place he will come back and we can start mining, yes?”

Garrus’ mandibles fluttered, and he said sure, his eyes taking in the way his friend tried to act as if nothing was wrong, but the drooping of his whiskers and the way his tail hung straight down was a sign he had come to know as one of deep sadness. His body language reflected almost the same changes when he spoke of his Master’s passing, but now it was accompanied by a hum that resonated a longing and a feeling of loss from the khajiit.

Vashlani wrapped his heavy fur cloak around himself, walked through the portal, and handed the satchel of letters to the Arch-Mage before heading to the balcony. He activated the symbol for the tomb he had run across when he was collecting the ingredients then started to search closer to the large mountain area. As he got closer to the mountain, he heard hammering and sawing coming from a clearing.

A figure in black and red stood there, directing a group of workers who seemed to be building a structure.

The figure whirled when a shout went up, the gauntlet covered hand raised to grip the pommel of the massive sword on their back, then lowered when they recognized the khajiit making his way toward them. “Vashlani? How did you find me way out here in the middle of the Divines forsaken swamp?”

“Dragonborn? Vashlani didn’t know you would be here. He was looking for stone quarries he had found many, many months ago that was in this area.”

“Aye, I purchased this land awhile ago and just now got around to starting to build a home here, as if I need yet another one, but my housecarl does anyway; can’t have him living with the Jarl all the time. There are several stone quarries on the property, help yourself, there’s a pick over by that one if you need it. Are you building your own house somewhere nearby?”

Vashlani moved closer to the figure, “Something like that, yes. Dragonborn, Garrus and this one would need a secluded spot to mine.”

“Garrus? The one with the spiky head?”

At Vashlani’s nod, a hum came from the suit of armor. “Give me an hour to clear out this rabble, then come back. You can mine for the rest of the day, just leave the pick near the quarry for later. There are also clay deposits a bit closer to the water so you won’t have far to go for that if you need it. The only thing I can’t help you with is lumber, that bastard Jorgen charges out the ass for it and won’t let anyone else use the mill, he’s as bad as that orc over in Solitude. If you need lumber and have the time, see Hert at the Half-Moon Mill. Just uh... don’t go at night, don’t go inside her home, and try not to stare at her too much. Chop her up some wood, and she’ll pay you for it then let you use her mill in exchange for a portion of the sawn logs you cut. I’ll send a missive to her to let her know that you may be coming around. Best not to just show up at her place unexpectedly... ever.”

Vashlani blinked at the armor wearing person standing beside him. They tilted their head, “You may be mistaken for dinner.”

“Oh.”

“If ever you need more clay or stone send a courier to Lakeview Manor, address it to my steward there, Illia, she’ll let you mine whatever you need, and have Hert send the lumber there. I've built the manor so you can have whatever is left in the lumber pile as well. Illia will keep the others inside while you’re there. Just watch out for bandits... and giants... oh, and wolves.” 

The sound of a throat clearing came from one of the men off to the side. 

“Guess I should mention the occasional dragon as well. Sometimes skeletons or necromancers... and skeevers. It’s a nice place though and only a short walk to the mill. Has a great view of the lake.” The Dragonborn crossed their arms over the chest plate and tapped their fingers against the arm piece. “I’ll just get these workers on out of here then.”

Vashlani nodded and thanked the Dragonborn for their generosity before walking back toward the tomb to enter his bag.

When they returned, Vashlani noted everyone but the Dragonborn and one of the heavily armored figures, that always seemed to be near the hero, had left. They were bent over a worktable that sat beside a chest and a large table with some tools sitting on it with a small anvil next to it.

“I still think you should make the alchemy lab, library tower, and the enchanting tower. At least it will look right; not lopsided and thrown together like what you did at Lakeview, Harbinger. A kitchen, trophy room, and a bedroom that is empty, because you rarely ever stay there. When you could have built a greenhouse or something to go with the kitchen and maybe a storage room for the extra ingredients and other junk you have a habit of picking up.”

“This again, Vilkas? Really? I’m the damn Dragonborn, not an architect.”

Vashlani cleared his throat, and they turned toward him, Vilkas began shouting about a Dremora and the Dragonborn backhanded him in the abdomen while telling him the stranger was Vashlani's guest.

“The stone quarry is right over there and Vilkas will show you where the clay deposit is, we’ll just stay out of your way while we go over these plans some more. Other than us and uh... the occasional bandit, spider, Draugr, and a dragon or two, we are alone here, so you don’t have to wear the helmet and cloak here, um... Garrus, right?”

Garrus looked down at Vashlani who only shrugged. He reached up and took down the hood of the cloak before reaching for the seals of his helmet.

“By Talos...,” Vilkas hissed out.

“Don’t know who this Talos person is, but my name is Garrus, and before you ask, no I’m not a summons or anything else, I’m a turian. Vashlani, I’m heading over to that mining area to set up the laser. I’ll start getting the blocks cut after you set up the pallets.”

Garrus dropped his helmet and cloak on the end of the large worktable and headed toward where a pick leaned up against the rock wall of the mountain. He ran his three-fingered hand over where there were apparent signs of stones being crudely hacked out of the mountain. He took out a small laser and marked a large section of the quarry then backed up a bit before lowering the large, silver case he had been pulling behind him to sit on the ground.

Vashlani turned to the Dragonborn, “Um, with respect, neither of you, please tell another of anything you see while we are here.” When they both nodded, he walked over to Garrus and pulled out several metal panels from his pack. After pushing a button, they opened up into large, flat, floating pallets.

“What in Oblivion?” The Dragonborn murmured to their companion who stood there with a look on his face that reminded the Dragonborn of Vilkas’ twin brother, Farkas when someone started talking about something that he didn’t understand.

“Vashlani, you ready? I’m programming the size and number of stone blocks we need; push that first pallet into place.”

When it was ready, Garrus used his omni tool to start the mining mech. When the machine unfolded itself from the case and began moving toward the marked section of the mountain, they both heard the yells coming from the other two. Vashlani waved at them and stepped back a bit as the laser activated and the mech started to methodically cut out huge sections of rock then cut it into precise blocks before loading them onto the pallet.

Vashlani and Garrus walked back to where the other two were standing and staring at the mech, “Don’t go touching it. Now about this clay?” When neither answered, Garrus waved his three-fingered hands in front of their faces, “Hello? Clay...?”

The Dragonborn raised their right hand and pointed to a spot near the log pile and the one called Vilkas raised his left hand and pointed to a spot close to the water without taking their eyes off the mech. It already had more blocks cut to the right size than what they could mine, cut, and grind down in an entire day.

“Alright then, guess over this way...”, Garrus started walking in the direction of a pointed finger when he let out a yell of his own. “What in the Spirits are those things?”

“Those are Horkers, Garrus. As long as you don’t get close to them, they won’t bother us, here is the clay pit.” They set about digging out clay and loading it into large, wooden containers that Vashlani brought from his home. A ping went off, and they went back to where the mining mech had stopped with a fully loaded pallet of blocks. Garrus activated the barrier on the pallet and pushed it out of the way while Vashlani moved another one into place. The other two still stood there staring.

“You know... we have the mech for several days. If you have need of blocks for your home, we can cut them for you, in payment for letting us use your mines. Just write down how many and the dimensions that you need,” Garrus said to the Dragonborn as he passed by them.

“Huh? What? Blocks? Aye, I need blocks for my home. Thank you Garrus, for the offer, it will save me months of work or a small fortune in Septims to buy them.”

“No problem.”

 


 

“Garrus, Vashlani needs to go back to the Normandy for a bit... to, uh check on something.”

“Uh huh, bring back some food and meads, I’ll stay here with these guys and get the rest of the clay dug out. The stone blocks we need are almost done, depending on time, I’ll move the mech down to the other mining area to start working on theirs. I’ll have to pile it up on the ground though unless they have something to store them in and can move it into place.”

The khajiit nodded then started to walk toward the tomb, “Vashlani? Talk to her. Maybe she just doesn’t understand how you feel about her.”

 


 

Vashlani entered the med bay, Chakwas was at her terminal eating something from one of the baskets he had left, Joker was watching something on his omni tool while eating as well. He answered their greetings then went behind the screen that separated Shepard’s gurney from the rest of the room. She was still unconscious, the machines quietly beeping out a steady rhythm.

He brushed her hair to the side then sat on the chair next to her.  He picked up her hand and held it while sending a small pulse of healing magic into her. He watched as the seams where the cloned skin was attached, closed without scarring. He let out a sigh of relief as his magic could once more be used to heal her. By tomorrow what the healers could remove would be gone, and he would set about healing her completely.

He pressed his cheek to the back of her hand and let out a small purr before standing up and heading back to Chakwas’ terminal.

“We should be ready very soon, her scans over the past few hours have steadily improved. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours to finish up once the organs are finished cloning. I’ll send a message to your datapad when we are ready. Is everything alright with you, Vashlani? You don’t seem yourself.”

“Vashlani is fine, he didn’t sleep well last night and has been very busy today. He is a bit tired, that’s all. I will return later.”

After he left Joker looked up at Chakwas, “What the hell is wrong with him?”

“It may have something to do with a conversation I may have overheard last night, Mr. Moreau.”

“What was it about, EDI?” Joker set his tray aside and leaned down to rub his legs lightly; they were feeling better but not as good as they once did.

“Vashlani tried to initiate sexual activity with Shepard in the loft’s bed when Shepard told him she wasn’t much of a xenophile. After explaining it to him, he apologized. He left the loft after she fell asleep.”

“Shit, so he finally started to make his move, and she shot him down. I didn’t think she was against cross-species relationships.”

 


 

Vashlani returned with two baskets and called for Garrus to join him, the others as well for an early evening meal. The Dragonborn passed on the food; they needed to return to Solitude, there was a rumor that they had been in the middle of checking on for the Jarl’s steward and needed to give him their report. Vashlani tossed Vilkas several bottles of mead and a sack filled with food for later before they headed over to where their horses were tied.

“Did you talk to her?”

“No, she is not awake, and it doesn’t matter, Garrus. This khajiit will not make Shepard unhappy. If just being friends is what makes her happy, then so be it.”

“What about what makes you happy, Vashlani?”

“Vashlani has friends, a home, and he is satisfied, just as his Master before him was satisfied with his life.”

Garrus let out a huff and tossed the sandwich he was eating down on the plate in front of him, “That’s a load of shit, and you know it, Vashlani.”

“What good will it do to pursue it, Garrus? When this fight is over in your dimension, this khajiit will return here, while Shepard remains in her world to do what she does there. It is not meant to be. Vashlani should have known better. He should have fought against what his heart was telling him, what it had wanted, and just settled for something else. Instead of wanting what he cannot have.” He stood up and moved over to one of the twisted trees that overlooked the Morthal swamp and sat with his back against it.

Garrus let out a sigh and gathered their mostly uneaten food then returned to the laser mech to finish mining the stone blocks for the Dragonborn.

Chapter Text


 

 

The removal and replacement of the organs went easier than they could have wished for. Since they took out the weaves earlier; her body responded to Vashlani’s heals much better than expected. If her vitals remained stable overnight and there were no complications that appeared, they would remove the cybernetic implants they could extract.

Chakwas released Joker already, so he was back at his usual spot on the bridge.

Since only a handful of people were on board, the ship was quiet. Vashlani walked around the crew deck after he had fed the fish and Ji’za, taking the little space hamster out, giving it a pet and letting it eat a small treat from his hand before putting it back inside the cube. His thoughts turned inward, centered on Shepard and how he was to go about day-to-day activities on board.

He didn’t seem to make any progress so went to the dark and quiet med bay. The Healer having opted to sleep in the crew quarters since there was no one, other than Shepard, to tend to, and EDI would alert her if Shepard needed something. He sat in the chair beside the occupied medical bed and lifted Shepard’s hand in his.

He stroked the back of it with his furry thumb, marveling at how silky soft and smooth it now was. Trying to wipe away the memories of what it had been like to see sections of it gone as they removed the bone and muscle weaves from under it before replacing it.

He sighed as he raised her hand and held it to the side of his face and closed his eyes. “For the first time in Vashlani’s life, he regrets being a khajiit and not a human. The one person he found, that he wants to be with forever, doesn’t want him because of it. It will take time but this khajiit will heal, this khajiit will learn to stop wanting what he can’t have. Vashlani will be a good friend to Shepard and when this is all over you need not worry, I will leave so you can find a human to love. I cannot stay with you, this one could not handle knowing you loved another. Vashlani will not bother you any longer, Shepard. He will be here when you need him to help with your mission as he promised. Goodbye.” He stood up and leaned in pressing his thin lips to her forehead for a moment before he placed her hand on the bed beside her and disappeared.


The next morning they removed the implants, by lunchtime, the last of them were out and Shepard. After they ate, Vashlani went back to his home stating there was still so much to do. He would be back the next morning to take them all to the College since the workers would come to install the new cannon and ship armor.

 




“Garrus, will you be all right working here while Vashlani goes to cut timber, or would you rather return to the ship so you can go on shore leave with the others?”

“Here is fine Vashlani. I’m almost done with the wiring to the box, by the time you get back I’ll have it done then go on leave. We still have plenty of time to finish this up and see more of your world before we get back to hunting down the Collectors. Shepard said she has all the crew she needs so she will crack down on time spent on leave and things.”

“All right. Vashlani made you food. It is in the box, and I stuck the paper to the cupboard that tells you what is available. Thank you for all your help, Garrus.”

“Yeah, not a problem Vashlani. It’s what friends are for right, you’ve helped us, and this is simple stuff. Until the work crew installs the new cannon, I have nothing to work on in the Normandy, anyway.” Garrus smiled at him trying to get the khajiit to smile back. It didn’t work. Vashlani just nodded and picked up his pack before walking through the patio doors and back inside the house.

 




Vashlani was nervous as he approached the mill. Chickens clucked about in the yard beside their nests and a chopping block was off to the side. He saw someone working the mill and made his way around to it. The sun was shining, and he looked up at it; he still had many hours of daylight left.

The nord woman turned at his approach, her orange eyes glowed and he swallowed, “This khajiit is Vashlani. The Dragonborn suggested I come to ask if this one can use your mill in exchange for some cut firewood.”

She blinked at him and a small smile graced her face, “Well now Vashlani, the Dragonborn sent me a notice, by delicious courier, that you may come around. Would you like to come inside for a bite before you cut timbers? You can place the firewood right beside my hearth if you like.” Her voice was seductive in its tone and Vashlani almost said yes before he remembered the Dragonborn’s warning.

"This khajiit thanks you for your generous offer but must decline the invitation. He has many timbers to cut and only a few hours to do it in before he must be on his way.”

“Ah, I see, what a shame. It has been so long since a handsome, healthy khajiit has wandered into my mill. The Dragonborn requested we send the cut timbers to Lakeview. My crew will deliver them a few hours after sunset. You can stack the firewood you brought in front of the house if you please.” Vashlani gave her a swift nod then hurried away to stack the wood. He breathed out a shaky huff of air at the Dragonborn’s courage dealing with a vampire on such a routine basis; one that could be out in the full sun.

Hert stood by to make sure the khajiit knew what he was doing and watched as he used a spell to move the heavy logs to the splitter then pull the lever. Once she was sure he wouldn’t damage her mill, she winked at him and picked up a pickaxe then chipped away at the nearby stone quarry. About an hour before the sun set Vashlani split the last of the logs and went to count them.

“You have quite a load there, Vashlani. You did well for not being a mill worker,” Hert said from behind him as she moved to record the amount of logs, and give him the payment for the firewood. Half would go to Lakeview and half as labor payment for the logs and use of the mill. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to come inside and stay for dinner?”

He was jotting down the total when he said, “Khajiit thanks you for the offer, but he would rather eat dinner than be dinner. This one must decline.”

Hert laughed, “Aye, I can see why the Dragonborn likes you, khajiit. You are welcome here anytime to use the mill. You will be safe here as long as you come during the day; remember that. After nightfall, my husband awakes and I can make no promises, he is not like me. Now, you must be away from here as the sun is low on the horizon and he will wake soon.”

“Thank you for the use of your mill, have a pleasant evening.” He grabbed his pack and hurried up the slope toward the road. Once he was out of sight of the mill he went around the other side of a large boulder and entered the bag.

He grabbed a mead from the kitchen box and chilled it as he walked through the house and out the sitting room doors. He dropped his pack on the ground and almost fell into a chair. Garrus watched as he yanked the cork from the bottle and drank. Urz laid down at his feet and rolled over to his back, whining for a belly rub.

“Long day?”

The khajiit’s eye turned toward where Garrus sat on the other chair with his feet propped up on a crate. When the bottle was empty Vashlani belched and turned toward him. “Garrus, do you have any idea how nerve-wracking it is to be all alone trying to cut lumber, knowing a vampire is breathing on your neck and sizing you up for dinner? Well, this khajiit does now. Let me tell you, it isn’t fun. I need another one of these meads.” He scrubbed at the large varren’s belly and laughed as Urz’s tongue lolled out to the side.

“What’s a vampire?”

Vashlani looked at him and shook his head, “They were once a living person who became infected by Sanguinare Vampiris disease. They died from it and rose to become a dangerous and intelligent undead. They are a bloodsucking nightmare that can infect a living person with the same disease that killed them and turned them into a vampire if they attack them with a vampiric draining spell, or if they become infected through a bite. If that happens and you don’t find a cure within three days you die and turn, then feed on the blood of others, some even eat the person.”

“And you were cutting lumber with one of those right there with you?”

Vashlani let out a shaky laugh, “The owner of the mill and her husband are vampires. The Dragonborn deals with them a lot and they seem to respect each other. Hert is the only vampire I have ever known who could be out in the sunlight. It is unheard of. Sunlight, holy places and restoration spells cast upon them are their bane, their return to true death, but she was out there cutting lumber and stone in broad daylight. She scared the hell out of me.”

Garrus let out a low hum, “Well as soon as you get your mead, I’ll show you what I’ve done and teach you how to use the setup.”

Vashlani activated the portal back to the Normandy as Garrus gathered up his things, “You’re not coming back with me?”

“No, this khajiit will rest a few hours then get the lumber before I build the tower. I will be there in the morning to collect Healer and Joker... and Shepard if she wants to go, and take them to the College, then return here to continue to build. Vashlani will keep his data pad nearby if you need him send a message or a—chat request. Good night, Garrus and thank you for all the help you have given to this khajiit.” Garrus stared at him then shook his head and walked through the glowing blue portal.

 




Vashlani stood in front of the huge pile of lumber holding a lantern up so he could see. He had to figure out a way to move all of it to his bag. Another mage joined him, a female who introduced herself as Illia, the steward of the Manor.

“How the hell are you going to move all of that lumber? From what Rayya said there hadn’t even been that much delivered here when the Dragonborn was building this place.”

“Vashlani has no damn idea; he kept cutting logs. It didn't help that I needed to rush.”

Illia let out a soft snort, “Ah, went to Half-Moon, did you. The mill owners have that effect on people. Come follow me a moment, I doubt the Dragonborn would mind if you borrowed the wagon and horse to move the lumber, as long as you’re careful and return them as soon as you can. I’ll send a missive by courier explaining the situation.”

They moved the wagon into place and Vashlani used telekinesis to move the large pieces of lumber and Illia grinned at him before walking back toward the house.

Massar was descending in the night sky when Vashlani sat on a nearby rock and yawned. He pulled a tankard from his pack and heated the special tea inside of it. He inhaled the fragrant floral brew, and his magic regenerated quicker as he drank. When he finished, he hitched the horse and climbed onto the seat. As soon as he was through the gate and had traveled down the road he pulled to the side and climbed back down. He placed a hand on the horse and wrapped the other around the wooden brace of the wagon then took the entire thing into the bag. It ended up taking three entire trips to get it all into his bag, the wagon sat near the stable with the final load of lumber still in it. It was almost sunrise before Vashlani collapsed in his bed to sleep.




The ping of his data pad woke him in the morning.

“What the hell do you want, Joker? Vashlani was asleep.”

“Vash, dude it’s almost ten in the morning. You should have been here hours ago. We’re all here waiting for you.”

“Shit, Vashlani will be there in about an hour.” He groaned as he disconnected the call and rolled out of bed.

Vashlani yawned as he approached the small group of people waiting for him in the mess hall. “Vashlani sees we have gained a few more people since yesterday. Thane and Mordin you both wish to visit the College as well?”

“I do Vashlani, I understand it is the largest library in your Skyrim. I believe it would be of interest,” Thane said to him from where he stood beside Joker.

“That it is, Thane. Just know an orc named Urag maintains the Arcanum, he guards those books and will not tolerate any damage. As long as you take care with them while you are there you won’t have to worry about him. He’ll leave you alone if you treat his books as well you do the ones you borrow from me and Garrus.” Thane gave a slight bow and assured him he would.

“Mordin? Do you want to spend time at the College? Uh... you know they don’t react well to being poked and prodded during training.”

“Yes, I remember well. Just finished repairing the burn holes in my coat. Will not bother them. Was more interested in the garden and alchemy areas.”

“Hm, the Lustratorium is a relaxing place most times. The caretakers will be happy to answer your questions on the plants. As for the alchemy, there is only one person who would talk to you at the College, if you can find her. An argonian by the name of Falls-Like-Snow stays either in the alchemy room or down near the Midden. Do not go into the Midden without speaking to the Arch-Mage and having another mage go with you. It isn’t safe. You would stir up the skeletons, wraiths and other undead that call it home, and piss off the Arch-Mage who just got them to calm down again after one student wandered around down there.” Mordin nodded with enthusiasm and typed on his omni tool.

“If everyone is ready, this khajiit will take you to the College.” They all held each other’s hands and Vashlani moved to place his hands on Joker and Thane’s shoulders. Shepard dropped her empty hand she held out expecting to take his as usual.

Vashlani sent a note letting the Arch-Mage know there would be two more and what they were interested in. When the reply came, he started them going through. Chakwas took Shepard by the arm to help her to make it through as she hadn’t recovered yet. Shepard looked at Vashlani, expecting to be staying at his home with him, not going on to the College herself.

“Colette is a far stronger healer than this khajiit. If the Healer needs help in healing you, she would be the better choice as she would already be there for Joker.”

“But, I thought...”, she didn’t get the chance to finish as Chakwas stepped through the portal with her in tow.

Vashlani dropped his head and used the heel of his hand to rub the space between his eyes, he felt a hand on his shoulder as Joker passed by him and into the portal. He cleared his throat, “Are both of you ready? Just step through the portal, it will not bring you harm and they are waiting on the other side. This one asks that you do not leave the College grounds.”

Thane nodded then stepped through it. Mordin stopped to look at him. He made a hum sound before blinking and making notes on his omni tool then walking into the swirling portal. Vashlani followed him.

They got the sleeping arrangements done, and Vashlani reminded them he would be back the next day to take them back if they were ready. As Shepard approached him he disappeared.

“What’s going on? Why won’t he talk with me?” Shepard turned toward the others, all but Joker and Chakwas moved away from her and followed the instructor to the areas they wanted to explore. “I thought I would stay with him, not at the College.”

“Commander,” Joker took off the mage’s hood he was wearing and rubbed at his head. “Think about it, I’m sure it will come to you.” He shook his head and jammed the funny looking hat back on before limping over to where Colette waited for him.

“Let’s get you settled in Colette’s room so you can rest, Commander. I’ll be nearby. EDI will let me know if you need me. You’ll be back on your feet by tomorrow, and I can do a full scan on you to make sure everything is back to where it used to be.”

 



Vashlani sat with his back against an apple tree, a basket full of bottled mead on one side and a snoring Urz on the other. His data pad pinged again, and he glanced down at it, then closed his eyes, he couldn’t talk to her yet. After another bottle of mead found its way to the empty pile, he got up and went to finish unloading the cart. A few minutes later the sphere went past him carrying the empties toward the brewery, Urz jogging right behind it.

 



“Karin, my dear, what’s going on with your Commander and Vashlani? I haven’t seen him looking so downhearted since the day he tried to return to her and found the portal gone.” The Arch-Mage was escorting Chakwas around the College and stopped to show her some of the artifacts that a group of new students found a short time ago. At one point Mordin went running past them with an angry looking dunmer hot on his heels.

Chakwas let out a soft sigh and leaned her head against the dark elf’s shoulder, “It has been like this for several days now before the surgery we performed on her. The way I understand it, Vashlani made advances toward her, but she told him she wasn’t someone that found an interest in alien species. He apologized, and now I believe he is trying to force himself to no longer love her. Whether she knows just how much he cares for her, I don’t know.”

“Hm, that is something you can’t force away. It will be the same with Vashlani as it was with his Master. The curmudgeon that Vashlani called his Master once loved another student here, she rejected him and he never got over it. Instead, he put everything into creating new spells and improving spells he learned in school or created himself. He disappeared many, many years ago. I thought he had died, but from what I learned from Vashlani, he spent all his time building a home. Then by chance, Vashlani came to live with him, but he remained an unruly bachelor the rest of his life.”

“He is such a nice man, I don’t understand Shepard. She shows no signs of being a xenophobe, quite the contrary, she likes most aliens and gets along well with them, and seemed happy and at ease with him. The two of them always seem to enjoy spending time together and they shared the Captain’s cabin. All of us thought they had already begun a relationship a long time ago, but I guess we were wrong.”

“I hope they figure it out soon before it is too late to rekindle it. Now come my dear, we must track down your Professor Solus and see why my Illusionary magics instructor was chasing him.”

 



Vashlani backed the horse into the stall at the Manor and waved at Illia before adjusting his pack and starting down the road toward Pinecrest. Once he was past the small pond he vanished.

Back at his home, he tossed the pack in the study and the data pad on the small table before pulling the small journal out of the box. He took a deep breath and released it, said a simple cantrip that made the book float in front of him before turning to the first spell. He focused his thoughts on the blueprint of the tower. The size, shape of it, the way the stairs clung to the wall, and how the wooden railing snaked down along them, carved and sturdy. Openings in the floors where the lift would go, the area sealed inside a decorative cage for safety. As he repeated the words they glowed. He heard noises from behind the door, a loud bang followed by a slow hiss then nothing. When the words stopped glowing, he released the cantrip, and the book lowered into his waiting palm.

He heard a click, and the door cracked open. He placed the small book on the table and pulled the door all the way open and stepped inside.

The inside was pitch black, there were no windows or lights. Vashlani’s eyes glowed before he cast a light spell, releasing his night vision and looking around. He marveled at the multi-leveled tower and walked back out to his pack. He opened the inventory journal and checked the amount of stone, lumber and glass he had, along with the materials he needed to begin construction of the furnishings. Vashlani pulled a book from the shelf in the study and made a list of what he wanted to build, hoping like the dressers he had, to find some of them. But at least this book contains instructions on how to build things like beds, wardrobes, chairs and benches, tables and other items.

He flipped back through the spell book and found the spell to build and activate the lift, comparing what he had to what he needed before he went back in the room. He cast another light spell and built the lift. After that he tested it and locked the door, then he placed all the books back in the lockable case. He grabbed another mead and headed for a shower, he had someone waiting for him in Windhelm and he didn’t want to be late.

 



Shepard sat up on the bed and tried again to send a message to Vashlani, he didn’t answer. “EDI? Can you tell if Vashlani has his data pad on and if he’s at his house?”

“Vashlani had his data pad with him earlier. I cannot pinpoint his location unless he answers the chat request or sends a message.”

Shepard rubbed her forehead and opened her omni tool again, “Thanks, EDI.”


To: Blu_I_Kitty@NormandySR2.net
From: CrimSon_Terror@NormandySR2.net


Vashlani, I don’t know what is going on but I wish you would talk with me. I thought I would stay at your home, not here or at least spending time with you as I heal. To be honest, I thought you would be the one to heal me, not the College mage. The Doc said I should be up and around tomorrow, almost like new, maybe we can visit some places then? Show me around more? I guess I will talk to you tomorrow. Good night.


~*~

Vashlani heard the beep coming from the data pad and told his companion to just ignore the sound coming from his pack. He reached in and turned it off before placing the pack back on the floor. An hour later Vashlani smiled at his companion, “Come, I think it’s time to return to the room at the Inn. It’s getting colder out here. We shall awaken in the morning and even more snow will cover Windhelm.” His companion’s light, musical laughter floated in the air as they walked hand in hand toward the Inn.

Chapter Text


 

The next morning Vashlani turned his datapad back on and checked his messages. There was four total from Shepard, each asking what was wrong and to talk to her. He sighed as quietly as he could then went to answer the door when there was a soft knock on it. He took the tray of food and drinks and sat it on the table before gently calling the other occupant’s name letting them know it was time for breakfast, then he had to leave.

Vashlani had been standing with the Arch-Mage having a hushed conversation when the others arrived. The Arch-Mage handed a scroll to one of the other mages to give to Tolfdir.

“Is everyone ready to return? Vashlani is planning an outing to a Dwemer ruin for treasure and also to check an artifact out for the Dragonborn. As Shepard will tell you the ruins are quite large, filled with treasure and are dangerous. They contain everything from animunculus to traps, Falmer to giant bugs that spit poison. They are a wonder to behold, but you must always keep your guard up, everything inside tries to kill you in one way or another. This time the ruins may take the entire week to go through, if we don’t finish it by the time we need to head back there is a possibility of further exploration at another time. Either way, it will be an adventure. If you are interested in going, Vashlani will provide food and drinks along with bedrolls. It is not safe for all of us to go in and out of the bag at the same time, anything could come upon the site of return, then we would be in trouble when we came back. There are storage boxes to keep your treasures in until we return. All Vashlani asks is that you stay alert, listen to him, and with the things you take back, please be responsible for the sale of them. Garrus warned me that too many strange things show up and it will cause suspicion there.”

“So you are saying it is best to take the things we shall keep for ourselves, a few things to sell on the black market? I can understand that completely,” Thane said to him with a nod. Mordin agreed. Vashlani felt if the rumor he was to chase was true, the Professor would be in second heaven with sample gathering.

“You may also take items to give as gifts, though you must be careful to come up with a plausible story about where you got it.” Vashlani smiled at him and Thane inclined his head.

“Holos and vids are fine as long as you protect them. When I went to one it was amazing, like nothing I’ve seen before. Will we be able to return to a town to sell items there as well? We can sell things back on the ship in an auction too. It may be worth it to have anyone that wants to view a stream of it to meet on the Normandy. There are several viewing decks. They can also see more of what this world is like.” Shepard was flexing her hand and shoulder as Chakwas ran her omni tool over her to make sure she was fully healed.

“Yes, on the last day we can do that. Thane, if you keep yourself covered and wear the College robes again you should be able to blend in well enough, as well as Jack if she wants to. I will provide to each of you a small pack to use while you are there. It will hold many heatsinks, medigel refill packs for those times when you are too far away from Vashlani to heal you or if he is low on magic. It will also hold quite a bit of treasure, food, and water. Vashlani will take each of you into the bag so you can unload it into your adventure chest. You can refill it with necessities, to be ready for the next day. Questions?” When there didn’t seem to be any, he sent a short text message to Garrus and Jack letting them know if they wanted to come along be at the Normandy in three hours. “Vashlani has a few things to finish up here, when he comes to the Normandy he will bring your packs filled with necessities and a bedroll.”

EDI sent out a crew-wide notice about the stream.

Everyone was packed and Shepard went over the upgrades for the Normandy with the workers. Chakwas planned on staying at the College which surprised no one. Joker stayed on the Normandy to keep an eye on the workmen and watch from the holo-screen. They ended up needing an entire deck to give the crew that wanted to watch enough room, only those registered as the crew could activate the door and lifts to that deck. They could come and go, EDI still monitored them and scanned for any audio or vid recorders. She would blank out the stream when they returned to Vashlani’s home to help protect Vashlani’s privacy.

EDI was very careful to monitor the outsiders so no one outside of the crew could gain access or information.

“Oy, why is the psychotic going?” Zaeed called out from next to the large cooler where he was pulling out several bottles, “and where the bloody hell did she get that armor?”

“’Cuz I can dipshit.” Jack adjusted her leathers then packed several high caloric bars into one of the side pouches. “Furball made this just for me.”

Tali heard a whisper from one of the ship crew, “Wonder what she had to do to get it?”

Tali heard a few snickers before she called them all bosh’tets for even thinking of Vashlani doing that. “Besides everyone knows it’s Shepard that has his heart, he sees no one but her like that. It was like that on the original Normandy after they learned to trust each other.”

Shepard snapped her head up to look at Tali, then over to where Vashlani had his back to her handing Mordin a backpack. Her brow furrowed and her eyes dropped to her pack. She noticed the amulet was different.

“Vashlani? Are you sure this is mine? The amulet isn’t the same one.”

Vashlani froze then turned toward her, “It is the right one, Vashlani changed out the amulet for a... more appropriate one. Both backpacks have the same amulet now, but yours is made from the black pelt of a bear. The other one is the brown of the wolves near Whiterun. Garrus and Thane have satchels embossed with the College emblem, Jack’s two hip pouches and her thigh pouch are embossed with the pattern of Winterhold.”

As the observers settled themselves on the observation deck, Joker explained everything he could to them. They all settled in and the door locked.

Once the others were inside the small room assigned to Vashlani, Garrus ran a scan looking for anything. EDI verified there was nothing there and they went into the pocket home.




When the camera activated on the holo-screens placed around the deck the group saw nothing but blinding, blowing snow. They heard the ground crew start talking about finding a campsite as other camera views started to appear until the entire group was active. The huge ruined buildings, covered in great glaciers of ice were approached. The group picked over the campsite, and Vashlani tucked several journals he found into his bag.

Everyone started talking. Joker yelled at them to shut up and watch. If they had questions they could ask them before the group entered the building. EDI assured them she could patch the audio.

 




“Hey, Furball, what the hell is up with this locked gate?” Jack yelled over the howl of the wind before she fiddled with the audio setting of her comm link.

“Those are lifts, they can only be activated from within unless you have the key; which we don’t. Come on let’s try and find the entrance and get out of this wind.” Vashlani looked around and spied a rickety-looking wooden catwalk. “There, that’s our way in.”

“You’ve got to be shitting us, Furball. That damn thing looks like it’s about to blow away in this wind, and it’s high up there.”

“Scared, Jack?” Garrus asked with a grin.

“Shut the fuck up chicken bug before I blast your ass off the side of this mountain.”

They followed the wooden ramps to an opening in the glacier, the group slipped through and shook off the snow. EDI told them there were people with questions and Vashlani told her they could ask them for a few minutes, but once they started into the actual ruins they wouldn’t be answering until they stopped for a break. Vashlani went over what to expect with the three that had not been inside of one of these before.

EDI relayed the message then activated the audio uplink, Joker had them send their names to EDI if they had a question. One by one she called the names and questions were asked. If Vashlani or one of the others could answer they would if it was something that fell under the binding they simply paused and said they had no idea. Once the others were armed and everything was ready, Vashlani said no more questions.

The group followed the ice tunnel that twisted and turned, stopping to grab a few things on the way. They eventually came to what looked like an abandoned campsite.

“This must be where the expedition set up. Everyone take a look around but be careful,” Vashlani said and the others separated and started to poke around.

A few books were found along with the head of the expedition’s journal, which Vashlani tucked into his bag. He pulled the lid off the barrel and removed the bags from inside of it. He crouched down and opened one and found it contained salt. The other one contained a crystallized substance. He turned off his camera and removed his helmet before he touched it to the tip of his tongue; regular sugar. He quickly sewed the sack shut and put it aside. The other bags contained flour and apples. He put them all back in the barrel and sent a small note to EDI to turn off their cameras once they cleared the rest of the area so he could store the barrel. Each of them showed what they found, Vashlani only asking for the journal and food items. Once he got her acknowledgment he added the barrel to the pocket storage. A few quick questions from Jack and Mordin were answered before he told EDI to start the cameras again.

They continued on, finding a larger site that had several bedrolls spread around. Blood splattered the ice floor.

“Wonder what the hell happened here,” Garrus held his rifle in one hand while he used his boot to move aside one of the bedrolls.

“I don’t know, but we should move as quietly as possible. Could be anything in these ruins,” Vashlani said.

There wasn’t much there to scavenge.

“Hey, Furball, what’s this thing?” Jack held up a stringed instrument that had been laying between several of the bedrolls.

“It’s called a lute, a stringed instrument played by bards and others. Do you want it?” Vashlani waited and watched. Jack shrugged and went to put it back down. “Why don’t I hold onto it, you never know it may come in handy later, yes?”

They started down the ice tunnel again when they saw a wall made up of wooden planks in front of them. They slowed down and Vashlani glanced in-between several slats seeing a few crates on the other side. A couple more steps and they heard someone shouting ahead of them. The speaker had speech patterns similar to Vashlani so they thought it was a khajiit, which made sense, several entries in the leader’s journal had mentioned khajiit brothers. Once the voice stopped they started around the corner, and saw the tunnel change from ice into the Dwemer style of stone and metal, although there were still several areas with ice and snow built up.

They continued on, stopping long enough for Vashlani to scavenge from the wreckage of a Dwarven spider, and for Mordin to take notes and a holo of it. The passage opened into a room. They moved around investigating, and piled up the loot they found before splitting it up. Several items were kept by Vashlani as they were only useful to him. He handed each of the three, new to the ruins, a hunk of gem that wasn’t registering as any known substance. “These are fragments of a soul gem, they are of no use to me, but are unique objects from this world. The gems themselves are found either in geodes, which are rare above the surface or in a place called the Soul Cairn, which is a place this khajiit hopes never to go to. They are useful only to those that practice enchanting and have the ability to fill them. These, however, cannot be used as such.” They looked at the purple gems that varied in hue from bright shiny purple to an almost black.

They looked around the area again and Vashlani was looking at another journal that had been left on top of a barrel when he heard, “Holy fuck!”

Jack backpedaled and threw a shockwave at the mechanical spider that had jumped from the scuttle along the southern wall. Garrus shot it at the same time as Thane.

“Like Vashlani said, be careful, everything in here will try to kill you and will come out of nowhere,” Garrus told her as he shouldered his rifle, and went back through the barrel he had been looking in.

Shepard stood in front of a doorway in the North wall and tried to get it to open. “This doorway is blocked.”

Vashlani looked up, “It happens if someone or something has barred it from the other side in order to force intruders to go through the ruins in an attempt to slow them down or kill them.”

When they were ready they continued on. Another spider dropped from a scuttle and was quickly dispatched then looted. They started down another tunnel when they heard a khajiit start to yell about skooma. Vashlani let out a quiet sigh and tipped his head down. Jack and Shepard looked at him.

They followed the ice tunnel more before it opened into another area. They saw a khajiit holding a woodcutter’s axe and standing over another khajiit’s corpse. He yelled again. “Where is it, there has to be more skooma, where are you hiding it? Shut up! Shut up! Don’t lie to me J’zhar! You hid it! You always try to steal it from me!”

One of them must have made a noise because the khajiit looked up. “What? More of the smooth skins here looking for food?” Suddenly his grip tightened on the axe, “No, no you’re the ones that stole my skooma.” Then he came at them swinging the axe.

Vashlani searched the corpse of the khajiit, finding empty skooma bottles, a few healing potions, and a pair of nice gauntlets. He carefully removed the helmet from him and packed it in his bag.

“What the hell was wrong with him?” Jack asked as she stood to the side.

“Skooma addict. There is no cure. That one was in severe withdrawal.” He stood up and looked at the young woman. “The drug took his sanity, his soul. Never forget what you saw, Jack. Remember it if you ever find yourself tempted by a drug. The moment of high you get, the power and immortality you may feel as the drugs hit your system comes with a price. A high price that lasts far longer than the few moments of euphoria.” He walked over to the other khajiit and saw Mordin running scans on him.

“This one’s been dead for a long time. The scans show probable death caused by severe hunger. Wounds consistent with what would happen by one of those machines.”

Vashlani reached for the journal and knapsack. He dumped out the empty skooma bottles before picking up the journal and reading it aloud.

“Shit, so this guy’s brother tried to get him off the stuff only to end up dead in this shit hole,” Jack murmured.

“Yes, and a notebook I found earlier mentions the group left them behind because the khajiit were injured in an attack. They had no food or water. They must have tried to find the others and he finally died here.”

Thane dropped his head and offered a prayer for them. A few minutes later they moved on.

Vashlani found another journal and carefully read it while the others looked at the bits of metal on the table. Garrus jammed a huge piece of engraved solid metal in his satchel. Jack snorted. “Fucking weird shit in this world.”

Several more spiders and spheres jumped out at them as they headed deeper into the ruins. Vashlani stopped and pointed out a glistening reddish-purple puddle on the floor shining in the light from a large device in the middle of a room. “That is oil. Watch any use of flames in this area or we can all get burned alive.”

Mordin approached the strange lighted device in the middle. Two of the scuttles opened. Dwarven spheres dropped from them and charged with their shields and swords at the ready.

Once they looted the bodies Vashlani called a short halt and withdrew small bundles handing them to each of the others, “A small snack, then we move on. We are heading deeper into Dwemer part of the ruins, do you hear that noise; the loud banging? Those are pipe lifts, some are traps, some are used to reach higher areas. Once we finish eating we will answer a few more questions then move on. The next time we stop will be to have dinner. Depending on how tired we are, we can set camp and sleep, or continue on, but these ruins are not safe to be doing while overly tired.”

When everyone had finished eating they answered a few more questions, checked their weapons and Vashlani had EDI cut the cameras until he said otherwise, “Vashlani needs to use the facilities, he will take three of you to his home then come back for the others. You can put your findings into your chests.”

When Vashlani had taken Garrus, Thane, and Mordin into the pocket bag he hurried through what he needed to do. He gave a huge hunk of meat to Urz, told him he needed to go outside to eat it, and to stay outside until night fell. The varren tipped his head, wagged his bottom before grabbing up the meat and trotting to the lift to go out.

“You know she will find out you have that varren eventually,” Garrus’ voice came from behind him and Vashlani shrugged.

“Vashlani knows, but no sense in having her yell at him right now. This khajiit is sure she will have plenty to say about it later.”

When they were ready he had EDI reactivate the cameras and announce the “vids” were starting again, it was the signal to the absent crew to return if they wanted to continue watching.

After clearing several more areas, they found another journal that filled in a few more blanks on what happened to the expedition. They followed the path around and entered a large room where the banging was quite loud. They were attacked by several more dwarven animunculi. When they had it cleared they looked around. Vashlani just pocketed a large, glowing white gem which had his eyes narrowed, and a huge grin on his face when he heard his name called.

“Vashlani, look at these pistons. It’s almost as if they line up to be steps.” Shepard pointed to the three that rose with a few seconds pause in between.

The khajiit moved to the first then when it rose to its highest position he jumped to the next one that rose, then the third, making a leap on top of the ledge. They saw a glowing purple ball of light float in the air for a moment then stick to one of the overhead pipes.

Vashlani leaned over the ledge, “Many good things up here, will be down in a moment.” He cleaned out both chests, picked up the potions, gems, and grabbed the large Dwarven Warhammer from off the top of a stone table, then headed for the edge. They watched as he dropped down, landed in a crouch, and piled all the found objects on a broken stone block for everyone to see. He tucked the flawless gem, metal ingots, and potions into his own bag while the others looked over everything else. Thane chose a book, Garrus took a shiny dagger that had registered a slight drop in air temp around it. Mordin poked at the hammer, then one of the small gems choosing a red one. Jack fingered a necklace for a minute then picked up a green gem, and tucked it into one of her pouches. Shepard glanced at all of it then shook her head. Vashlani put the rest into his pack.

“Vashlani will list everything we pick up that will be auctioned to the others. He will send EDI a list. What doesn’t sell, Vashlani would like to sell here to help offset his debts in this world.” The others either nodded or shrugged. Jack told him whatever, that she didn’t fucking care.

They kept moving until they came to a large area with scraps of animunculi everywhere. Another dwarven spider came around the corner being quickly decimated by the group. They gathered up all of the scraps, all of the oil, and everything else from the broken pieces of machinery, helping to put it into sacks for Vashlani.

“Vashlani there’s a forge over here, the damn thing is still hot,” Garrus called out from one corner of the room. Vashlani checked the area, finding a few dwarven ingots and scrap metal.

“Too bad there is no smelter. It will be a long night melting all this down. Vashlani is glad for the storage capability of his home or else he would have to leave most of this.”

Garrus gave a grunt, “At least you haven’t torn down the pipes in here yet.”

“Not yet, give me time.”

“Vashlani, there’s a locked door. Looks like there are a few chests in there.” Mordin called out from the other side of the room.

Vashlani pulled out a small pouch with several small tools inside, he handed them to Shepard then waited as the others had a go at trying to unlock it.

“Kasumi would have enjoyed the challenge of trying to pick these locks I believe,” Thane said as he put the lockpick and wrench in the opening and tried to wiggle it around.

Garrus had his audio turned off and was chuckling inside his suit waiting for the moment when Vashlani would reach out, touch the lock with a glowing hand, and have it pop open. When the rest had tried and failed Mordin tried to hand the objects to Garrus who waved his hand.

“It looks like we won’t be getting whatever is inside of...,” Thane spoke when Vashlani reached for the lock and opened the door.

Vashlani let out a snort then walked into the small room.

Garrus laughed. The two chests inside were also locked and now they could see the soft orange glow coming from his one hand, something that none of them had noticed when they had been adventuring with him before. He looted everything from inside then moved the stuff off of two decorative shelving units along the wall. “EDI, pause cameras. Garrus?”

The turian lifted them up as Vashlani wiggled his bag around and both of the units disappeared inside. “Start the stream again, EDI.”

They joined Shepard; who stood in front of a giant set of metal doors.

 




Vashlani opened the large metal doors and shone the flashlight from his helmet around the area. Shepard pointed out a well-lit area ahead of them. When they got closer they heard a banging noise and was attacked by one of the dwarven spheres. When they were done they headed back toward the light and Vashlani had to grab Jack as she went to open the chest.

“You must check the floors also, Jack. Do you see it?”

She shrugged her arm from his grip and looked around. She saw the differently patterned stone right in front of the chest, right where she was getting ready to step. “Yeah.”

“Open the chest from the side and we shall see what that trap had in store for you.”

Garrus picked up one of the heavy pieces left from the machine and dropped it on the stone. It sank into the floor, only an inch, and huge, sharp spears shot out from the panel right behind the chest. Had anyone been foolish enough to step on the block they would have been impaled.

Several locked chests and doors, a multitude of animunculi later, and once again they stood before huge doors. They sat around and ate a meal, answered a few questions. It also gave the ones back on the Normandy time to take care of their business before they continued on. Joker informed Shepard that the workers had begun to fit the new ship armor, and the old cannon had been removed.

When they were ready Vashlani opened the large doors. This area was fairly well lit, with many passages branching off on both sides and continuing further down. “Shepard. You, Mordin, and Jack down the right until the end of the hall, you know the dangers here as well as Garrus does. Garrus and Thane, come with me along the left. We’ll stop at the end of the hall, keep your guard up.”

Shepard looked at him and blinked, “All right. Follow me and watch your step.”

Vashlani led the others into the room. They saw a stone bed, several pieces of Dwemer metal laying around, and a chest. “Shit. Falmer crap. Shepard did you hear me, we have Falmer here.”

“Copy that, Garrus.”

They heard Vashlani filling in everyone about what to expect and how to handle them, then Vashlani heard a slight click on his comm. The HUD showed Garrus on his private line. “Vashlani, now would have been a good time to have Shepard with you, what the hell are you doing?”

“It’s done and over, drop it Garrus. No good will come of pining over something that was never mine, and never will be.”

“Damn it Vashlani, you care for her, and have for a long time. Can you just let her go?”

“What choice does Vashlani have? He is a khajiit, not a human, and no magic will turn me into one.” Vashlani opened the bag and jammed the Falmer shield and helmet into it before heading out of the room and further along the passage. He met up with Shepard who told him what she had found and pointed to a broken machine that laid in a smoking ruin from their attacks.  Vashlani healed everyone, made sure to replenish his magic, then he looked at the door at the end of the corridor.

Beyond the door was a large room filled with metal pipes that let out small bouts of steam, and a staircase leading up. “Vashlani, scans show there is a gap between those metal panels and a passageway beyond.”

“Thanks, EDI. Everyone wait here and be on your guard, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“I’ll come with you,” Shepard took a step forward and he shook his head.

“No, Shepard, no telling where this leads, best if you wait here with the others. If something happens, Garrus will return you all to the Normandy as we planned.” He didn’t wait for her to say anything before he squeezed himself between the two metal panels. The passageway led under the pipes and came to a dead end. He crouched down beside the body of a bosmer that was lying up against some rubble, a Falmer arrow still stuck in his shoulder. Vashlani picked up the single lockpick and journal that lay beside him and read it before emptying the chest along the wall and heading back the way he came.

“It was the Falmer that got the rest of the expedition. Vashlani found a journal back there. Bastards took them while they were asleep. Several got away but at least two of them refused to run for the surface. They were after something specific in this place and wouldn’t leave without it. Their greed cost the entire expedition. We can leave or we can continue. If we go on we need to be on our guard all the time. Falmer drops silent, and will smell and hear us coming.” The others discussed it and said they wanted to continue. Vashlani gave them a brief nod of acceptance, then turned toward the stairs heading up.

Garrus pointed to the glowing piles on the floor, “Tell me those aren’t what I think they are.”

Vashlani broke open one sac, “Yes, chaurus eggs. From the look of it, quite a few of them.” He pocketed the eggs from all of the sacs and reached under a shelving unit where a potion had fallen, while the others gathered up the odds and ends before they headed east.

“Damn it. Vashlani was hoping this one wouldn’t have this trap, he should have known better. On the floors of both sides of this ramp, you will see different stones. Anything that looks different than the floor we are standing on avoid stepping on it. If you do it will release a spinning blade trap that will move down the middle, see the track on the raised stone? It hurts and may kill you. Vashlani does not know what is at the top, so he will go first.”

Vashlani readied a lightning spell in both hands and cautiously moved up the ramp, sliding along part of the wall then moving across to the railing in the middle to bypass another pressure plate. When he made it to the top a dwarven spider dropped from a scuttle.

The group at the bottom watched as the area Vashlani had just disappeared into glowed with purple, blue, and white sparks. The sound of crackling electricity and the clatter of falling metal reached their ears.

“All right, just like Vashlani did, come on up.”

When they reached the top they saw him gathering up more of those eggs; the sacs were everywhere.

“Vashlani there is a lever here. I believe it will open the way further. There’s also one on the other side of this gate, most likely to activate the gate from that side.” Thane looked through the openings between the metal bars and into the area beyond. “That area is wide open, like an enormous cavern.”

Vashlani pulled the lever and the bars lowered, everyone walked through it and stopped near the light source.

“Incredible. Architecture impressive,” Mordin said as he looked around.

“These fuckers ever hear of guard rails?” Jack asked as she carefully leaned out over the edge of the walkway and looked into the vertical cavern. It seemed to go quite a way down.

They made their way down a long curving path until they reached a platform, Vashlani stopped to gather the eggs from the sacs, as Thane looked out over the edge and Garrus, tried to push open a door that was there.

“There is a dead body down there, and an enormous amount of blood.” Thane was still looking over the edge and pointed to the carnage below when Shepard came to stand next to him.

“This door is locked,” Garrus said to the group.

Vashlani walked over, held a glowing hand to the lock, and they heard a click. They walked through into a large area with a Dwemer worker animunculus trying to repair a damaged unit. It resembled a spider, but once it was dead they could see a slight difference. “This is one that maintains the still working animunculus and devices here. We defeated several already but this one is still in fairly good shape so you can see the minor differences.”

Once they emptied the chest they found, the group headed toward the other door. Locked. Vashlani cast his spell, but they didn’t hear a click, he cast it one more time, but the door lock was too complex for his spell. He shook his head then went back out to where Thane still stood.

“Looks like the only way down to there is to jump.” Vashlani looked over the area and moved to one of the large pipes off to the side. He studied the way it bent downward. He jumped on top of the pipe and slid down. When he reached the end he jumped off and landed on the floor. He looked up at the others and signaled them to come down. They waited until he moved out of the way before going down in the same manner.

“Another one from the expedition?” Shepard asked as she stood watching him pocketing several potions before picking up yet another journal and reading it.

“Yes, it seems so.”

They saw two ways to go from there, one ramp leading up and another ramp that was heading down toward a waterfall. They went up when suddenly a piston shot out from the wall. “Damn, that would have been a long fall,” Garrus muttered to himself.

“Maybe it’s best if only one of us goes past this then calls back to the others if needed?” Shepard said as the pistons shot out again and let off a bout of steam.

Shepard eased out in front of everyone and waited for the next time the piston popped out, then hurried to the other side. “There’s a chest here, opening it up now.” She grabbed all of it then waited for the piston to activate before hurrying past it. They returned to the spot with the dead orc and started toward the waterfall, only to come to a sudden halt as Mordin pointed to a Falmer that stood in the bright light from a stone embedded in the wall.

“What is that? Is that a Falmer of which you spoke of? Must have samples... blood, tissue. Will give me something to study, to run tests on.” Mordin took a step forward only to be grabbed by Garrus who shook his head.

“Not so fast Mordin. Keep it down, those things are very dangerous, and we are on a ramp with no kinetic barriers to keep us from falling.”

As they said this an arrow, glowing purple in the light, shot out from beside them, quickly followed by another, then a third. The creature had come charging at them and fell as the last arrow sank into its face. A purple glow swirled around it before disappearing into Vashlani’s pouch.

“We do not stand about and talk when a Falmer is that close. Where there is one, there are more, along with huge spiders or chaurus. We can become overrun.” Vashlani bent down and rifled through the meager contents of a ragged pouch then picked up the bow and quiver of arrows, before reaching into his pouch for a knife and small sack.

“Eww, for fuck’s sake Furball, what the hell are you doing cutting off its ear for? A trophy?” Jack asked as she made a disgusted face.

“No, potion ingredient.” The khajiit didn’t stop cutting until he got it completely off.

“Wait, you make potions... those things we drink from those thing’s ears?” Shepard took a step back and the others waited.

“No. These are used for poisons or potions sold to those of a sneaky nature to help them with lockpicking. Just don’t ask what things go into the potions I give you. You may not like the answer. They help, they don’t taste so very horrid... most of the time.”

The group couldn’t tell if he was joking or being serious. They had all seen him take strange bits and pieces of things. The size of the greenhouses and how many plants he jammed in there let them know it wasn’t all just for cooking. Jack shrugged and nudged the dead thing with a foot. Mordin knelt down and took readings before drawing out a blood sample kit from his backpack.

“Bag comes in very handy. Good storage, nothing breaks, easy to access. Must experiment and see if they can be adapted to our world.” They all heard him muttering about fur, cloth, mechanics, and mass effect fields before pausing and whispering, “Magic? No, no, no, never heard of anyone that can do this. Must get more samples, genetic readings.”

“Mordin, didn’t the Arch-Mage tell you no more sampling of his teachers or pupils without their permission?” Vashlani started down past the creature and heard Mordin mumble about scientific studies, and needing a large number of samples to work with.

They were rounding another bend when Thane hissed out to stop, that he heard something. After a moment they heard the sound of a lightning attack and Thane peered over the side, “There is one of those Falmer down there along with a mechanical spider. They are fighting each other.”

“Yes. They are enemies because of the history between the Falmer and the Dwemer, who caused them to be blind and forced into slavery, then left to mutate into the form they are now when they disappeared. If you are interested in learning more talk with Urag in the Arcanum and ask to read the books on the Snow Elves and Dwemer history.”

They continued down and found more Falmer and even giant skeevers which had Jack grumbling; she hated those things. Vashlani gave her a cure disease potion, she had been bitten by it, and he wanted to make sure she was cleared of Ataxia if she had contracted it.

Garrus pointed out a tripwire hooked up to one of those claw traps and after it was triggered they kept moving. At the end of the winding ramp, they saw a flame spout in front of the door. Vashlani inched around it then opened the door and the others followed him, keeping their backs pressed to the wall. As they got closer to the well-lit area near the end of the hall Vashlani stopped and pointed to the dome-like structure. “Falmer tent.”

There were several of the creatures wandering around the large open room and after killing them, they spread out and looted everything they could. Vashlani took several of the ingredients from the satchel that was lying on top of the alchemy table, making a few healing droughts and cure disease potions to restock what he had used. When the others joined him, he quickly pocketed all the ore chunks they had found and Garrus handed him several Dwemer struts and cogs.

They followed the path around and came to another large room they could look down on and view the layout. Several tents, a huge oil slick, and a large structure were in the middle of the room. There were also several flame spouts shooting downwards. Thane spotted several grates off to the side and eased out onto them. He made no discernible noise as he stepped over the few pieces of Dwemer material that lay on them. Once he got into position, next to a large round part of the piping, he raised his sniper rifle and braced himself. The phut, pause, phut, pause, and one last phut sounded as the others watched three Falmer drop without knowing anyone was in the room with them.

Vashlani patted him on the shoulder, “Quite the feat. Only the most learned in the art of stealth could do what you did. We must keep an eye on you, the Dark Brotherhood may try to snatch you from us to join them. Thieves guild as well.”

“Hmm, there is no worry about joining the Thieves guild, they would be more suitable for Kasumi. She would probably run the outfit by the end of the week.” Everyone laughed as it was the first time they had heard the stoic drell crack any type of joke. They searched the area and grabbed up anything useful then started down another hallway, and several flights of stairs.

They were looking over a few items on a table when Mordin hit a Falmer with an Incinerate. “Thought I was harmless didn’t you.” Then he pulled up his omni tool and made more notes.

The area below them held several more Falmer, their tents, and egg sacs. There was a knapsack that sat beside a lift and blood covered the lift’s floor.

“Should we use this lift?” Shepard asked as they peered around inside it.

“Not yet, hard to tell where it may lead. Clear the area then we’ll see.”

Shepard reached out and laid her hand on Vashlani’s arm as he turned away from the mechanism, he froze then took several steps away from her. He knelt down and opened the pack taking out a helmet and another journal, a handful of Septims were at the bottom of the bag. The others spread out, two more Falmer were located. One started to cast magic and was met with a hail of gunfire. Vashlani searched it while Garrus told them that the thing was a female. Mordin was busy taking samples as Jack and Thane looted the place. They called the others over when they saw some type of torture devices.

“Don’t pick up that meat,” Vashlani blurted.

They all turned to look at him, and Vashlani pointed to the pile of human remains on the floor, “Don’t pick up the meat,” he softly repeated and they all backed away from the tables.

They finished gathering up all of the loot they found and shared it between packs, Vashlani shoved a good bit of it in the knapsack he found before dropping it into his pouch. In front of a door was another dead Falmer.

They headed back toward the lift and once everyone was on board Garrus pulled the lever. It opened into the room behind the barred door that Shepard had found. Once opened they figured they could use it to leave the ruins and come back later if they needed too.

Once back in the lower room again they headed toward the door, and Thane pulled the dead Falmer out of the way so Vashlani could open it. They went down the curving ramp. They killed the Falmer and giant spider in the room at the end of the ramp. Shepard stayed as far away from the creature as she could get. Once they were done they headed back up to that small room accessible from the lift and call it a night. Whatever was behind that heavily guarded door could wait until they weren’t so tired.

Chapter Text


 

 

After emptying everyone’s packs and refilling them, they settled down on their bedrolls around a small fire they built to ward off the chill of the stones. Garrus, Shepard, and Vashlani were taking the first watch, they would wake the others in several hours. They put the bar back on the door, checked for unblocked scuttles and once they were assured that the only way anything would get up to them was from the lift, they laid down to sleep. Jack complained about how hard it would be to fall asleep on a stone floor, then promptly started to snore lightly.

After everyone was asleep, Shepard approached Vashlani where he was tending to the fire. “What’s going on, Vashlani? You are cold why won’t you talk to me now?”

“Vashlani talks with Shepard, he is her friend. Nothing will change that. It is just... it is easier for me to deal with some things when I have a bit of distance. I need time is all, Shepard. I’m sorry if it distresses you.”

He went back to poking the fire with a long piece of Dwemer metal and she eventually gave up and moved back to her original position.

“You really don’t understand what is happening with him do you, Shepard?” Garrus’ voice came over their private comm link.

“What do you mean? I don’t. He went from staying in the cabin and being around, to once again disappearing. Now he wants to distance himself from me even more. I don’t have a fucking clue what I did to piss him off.”

Garrus let out a sigh, “You didn’t piss him off, Shepard. You broke his heart. That furry bastard loves you, and has loved you for a long time now, but was trying to get a few things prepared before he told you. When you turned him down and told him why he felt bad and didn’t want to hurt you. So he’s trying to get rid of the feelings he has for you by only being your friend, just like you wanted.”

“He... he what? You’re wrong.”

“I’m not wrong, Shepard. Think about it. Think about how he acted toward you before and just what caused him to change. You’ll see I’m right.”

She watched Vashlani pull out a small book and write something down then put it away again before he let out a sigh and went back to poking the fire. His shoulders were slumped and his actions were listless.

“He told me you weren’t attracted to a different species, I never thought you would have a bit of xenophobia in you, Shepard.” Garrus moved toward the lift, checked around it, and saw nothing had changed. He couldn’t hear anything but the light snores of the others, and the crackling of the fire.

“I’m not, Garrus. I told him I never thought about being with someone that wasn’t human. It never occurred to me because I’ve never been attracted to one before.”

He stopped beside her before continuing to his spot against the far wall, “Maybe you never met the right one until now. You better think hard and fast about what it is you feel for him, Shepard. If it is only friendship, give him space, and make sure he knows you care for him, even if it is only as a friend. If you feel more, then you need to stop holding back from him and tell him before he closes his heart off from you and you lose his love.”

Shepard snorted, “How’d you get so wise in the ways of love?”

Garrus strutted past her, “I watch a lot of vids.”

Shepard leaned back against the cold stone and turned her thoughts inward. She honestly hadn’t realized it... or at least she told herself she didn’t. But the way he would hold her and rub his cheek against her hair, snuggle with her at night, told her otherwise. Mordin woke up and told Garrus to go to sleep, salarians only needed one hour each cycle. Mordin went to talk quietly to Vashlani and type on his omni tool.

And what about her? She had missed him terribly when he went home and was happy when he showed back up, well except for the damage to the ship and her slipping on the ice in the mess hall. She had grown accustomed to him being with her in the loft, the way he smiled at her and laughed. She had grown to trust him, to like him, but did she love him? Would she recognize it if she did? The rest of their watch had her doing so in silence, examining her thoughts and feelings, what she had said and how things were between them. Just before it was time to wake the others she stretched and yawned. She saw Vashlani doing the same before he went to call Thane and Garrus. Jack jerked awake and her biotics glowed for a moment when Shepard woke her. Four hours later they headed back down the lift to go through that door.

 


 

When the door opened, they were once again in the large cavern with a ramp heading down. Vashlani’s arrow and a soft phut from Garrus’ sniper rifle dropped the Falmer that crouched near a brazier in the middle of a landing that had a set of steps leading down from it. When they reached the bottom floor several more Falmer and a giant frostbite spider attacked them. The creatures had everyone scrambling back up the stairs as biotics, gunfire, a flash from Mordin’s incinerate skill, and Vashlani’s own firebolts flew out toward the creatures. Before they gathered up the loot, Vashlani made sure no one was poisoned, and they were all healed, then entered the doorway into the next area.

Jack snorted as she pointed to the claw trap sticking right in the middle of the room. “That’s fucking obvious.” They all chuckled then pushed the door open to enter the next area.

One hallway contained more of the stone pressure plates and they maneuvered around them. The Falmer that had its back to them ended up nearly blown apart when everyone hit it at once with something from their arsenal. They opened yet another door and cautiously went up the set of steps they found. It opened into a cavernous area with yet more stairs and quite a few Falmer. There was a large structure in the center of the room with large metal gratings and another set of stairs behind it. It took quite a while to defeat all the Falmer, gather up all the chaurus eggs, and other loot from this area before going back in front of the gated stairs.

“Vashlani, there must be an activator for this door,” Mordin said as he studied the bars that blocked them from the set of steps in the center.

Jack jogged up a set of steps they hadn’t yet gone up and yelled out to them, “Hey, I think I found it.” She pulled a giant lever that was positioned on a pedestal. “There’s a chest up here too.”

After the gate opened the group went through. Vashlani, Garrus, and Shepard all stopped and let out loud groans over the comm line as they heard the ominous sound of steam being let out and the tread of something very heavy coming from the platform just above where they currently stood.

Once the Centurion was down they looted the area, Shepard found a key and handed it to Vashlani. His HUD showed a private message, when he activated it, “After we leave here we need to talk. Please,” showed up in flashing letters on the screen.

Everyone gathered at the top of the stairs and the large gate was opened and they started in, everyone stopped to listen when they heard two people speaking up ahead of them. Well, more like arguing. Someone wanted the other person to leave. The male voice snidely replied that the only reason they wanted him to leave was so they could have all the glory for themselves. Then they heard shouting and the clang of metal, they inched their way up the stairs to see the two people fighting each other.

After the male went down, the female’s attention was on the shadows flickering on the wall showing the group. She shouted, charging toward them, only to be slammed backward into the wall by a shockwave. The crack of the Redguard’s head against the stone wall was loud in the room, as was the crash of the shield she dropped as she landed.

Vashlani requested the enchanted shield, it would bring many Septims in his world, and left the rest of the loot to the group. He wandered over to the other lift and unlocked the door. “Is everyone ready? Vashlani thinks he knows where this goes, if he is right this will bring us back to this point much quicker.” They all piled onto the lift and he pulled on the lever. Their suits registered the intense cold again and Vashlani breathed in and released it. “This khajiit smells the fresh air of Skyrim.” A few minutes later they arrived at the top and Vashlani yanked on the other lever to open the door. When they looked out they saw they were at the top of the mountain outside the door that Jack couldn’t open. He yanked on the lever on the floor again and they descended back to their original spot.

“Now what Furball, there aren’t any more doors, only this weird thing in the middle of the room,” Jack said as she stood next to the mechanism.

“EDI, pause the cameras and audio for a moment,” Vashlani said.

After her confirmation, he told them, “This is where we stop for the day. This one has to contact someone in the College to verify our findings. It should be safe here now for all of us to enter the bag and relax.” He walked down, shut and locked the gate with the key, before having EDI announce that the stream was over, for now, they would tell her when they were ready.

Vashlani let out a sigh at the havoc that would be caused in less than a minute when they arrived at his home and Shepard saw Urz. Until now the varren was told to go outside before he had brought her into the home, now though would be different. He shrugged, how much more harm could it do? Urz was his companion, given to him in trade and that was that.

 


 

Urz came barreling out of the study heading right for them as soon as the door opened. “Hello there boy, did you miss me? Did the sphere give you your meal today? How about a nice big bone?” The varren turned and ran toward the kitchen.

“Vashlani? Why the hell do you have a varren, and why does it look like the one from Tuchanka?” Shepard asked as she stripped off her helmet and gauntlets.

“Because it is. Urz is my companion now, he lives with me here, in my pocket home. I traded Wrex many items for him,” Vashlani said as he headed for the kitchen himself.

“Well, that explains the smirk Wrex had on his butter-covered face.” Shepard let out a sigh as she kept herself from rushing after him for an explanation for taking an animal trained to fight in a pit and turning him into a house pet... or companion as Vashlani put it.

Garrus leaned down and whispered that Vashlani had made the beast the same as the goats and she let out a groan.

Everyone scattered to all points of the house and grounds.

Vashlani stood in the kitchen and apparently flipping through a rather large cookbook when Garrus told him he needed to go back and replenish everyone’s heat sinks. He had all the spent ones gathered up and tallied to make sure they had left none behind.

“All right, just let me figure out what to make for our lunch before I take you back. Please let the others know if they want to go back to the Normandy, the portal will be open soon. I need to know how many will stay for the meal, and returning to continue onward after I talk with the Arch-Mage.” He continued to flip through the book as everyone’s answers came back. Mordin would return after he went back to the Normandy to upload all his gathered data and store his samples. Jack would head back and hit the Citadel for the rest of shore leave, and to sell some shit for creds before the others sold theirs. Thane and Garrus would also return later. The only person who hadn’t answered was Shepard.

“Shepard? Will you be returning as well or are you going back to the Normandy?” Vashlani waited for a response and didn’t get one. He looked up and turned around not seeing anyone else in the kitchen. Then he heard his shower running.

“EDI? Can you patch me through to Healer, I need to speak with the Arch-Mage.” He glanced over at the datapad that he propped up against a rather large honey pot.

“One moment... connection complete.”

“Healer? Is the Arch-Mage there with you now?”

“I’m here Vashlani. We have been watching your group’s progress through Alftand. When I saw the mechanism I sent word to the Dragonborn. J’zargo should return shortly with them.”

“You sent J’zargo?”

The Arch-Mage laughed, “Believe it or not, the Dragonborn recruited him as a follower. You should have seen his eyes glow when he thought about all the powerful artifacts he could get following the Dragonborn around Skyrim. One of the other companions apparently keeps him in line and it lets him expend all that magic on things other than my windows. One more thing before you go, the task which you wanted the College’s help with has been taken care of, the precious cargo is safe and secure within these walls.”

Vashlani gave a loud purr and grinned at the dark elf, then told them to have EDI contact him as soon as they were all gathered. He put lunch on for those that would return then went in search of everyone. Jack sat on a porch chair watching the goats and rubbing Urz’s belly with one leather-clad foot while drinking an ale. Mordin, Garrus, and Thane were all down in the portal room going through their boxes. Everything they hadn’t wanted to keep was separated into various piles. The things they wanted were placed inside sacks or wrapped in leather scraps and put back into their own boxes.

“I have to find Shepard yet, wait here for another minute or two,” Vashlani told them before he turned around and took the lift to the main floor.

He jogged up the steps, looked around outside, and through the first level of the home, then let out a sigh and started up the steps to his bedroom calling out for her.

“I’m up here and I’m staying, because we will talk this through and don’t you go disappearing anywhere else.”

He let out a sigh and turned around before he stomped back down the stairs. He was still grumbling as he made his way to the portal room and activated the portal for the Normandy so the others could go through. They had been told when they were ready to return they were to just send word over the chat app. Once he received word from EDI that they had all arrived he closed the portal and went back upstairs to find Shepard in the kitchen dipping a spoon into the stew pot and standing there with just one of his shirts on.

“Shepard?”

“Mmm, this is good, what is it?” She asked as she blew on another spoonful before putting it into her mouth. He was tempted to tell her chaurus stew then changed his mind in case she did something like spit it back out or dump the pot.

“Pheasant stew. I traded some of the excess ingredients for several of the birds from a hunter outside of Markarth.” He leaned against the doorway and watched as she reached into a small basket and took out a bright red apple. He turned and headed for the study hoping that she would just forget about their “talk” if he made himself scarce. He wouldn’t leave the home, but maybe she would just leave things be.

He pulled out a small notebook and the journal of all the items that had been accumulated over the last few days. Compared the requests off of several town boards and what he had, noting the ones he could complete.

“What’re you doing?”

His fingers tightened on the quill fractionally before he laid it on his desk and capped the inkwell. “Noting down the jobs I can complete now. Lunch will be ready soon. The herb loaf just has to finish baking.” He closed his journals, put them away, and made to move out around her when she blocked his path.

“We will talk and you moving from one room to another will not stop me from following.”

“What did you want to talk about? So far the exploration of that ruin is going well, everyone seemed to be quite enjoying themselves, and they’re working together better. Maybe Kasumi and Grunt would like to come along with us. Jack wants to spend the rest of the time back in your dimension, so we will have room. I trust the other two, Grunt will need to be careful though... this place could explode if he got carried away and knocked something over.” He turned and moved over to the wall of bookcases and placed the found journals on a low shelf.

“That isn’t what we need to talk about.” Shepard padded over beside him on bare feet. “We need to talk about what is going on between us.”

“Us? There is nothing going on between us. We are friends, talking and working together.” He stood up and hurried out the study, practically running for the front door.

This time she found him inside the brewery. “Damn it, Vashlani. You know that’s not what I meant. Is it true?”

He stirred the must again and adjusted the heat on both kettles before climbing up a ladder and checking the readouts on the two large boilers. “Is what true?”

She let out a frustrated huff of air and stared at him with her arms crossed under her breasts as he descended the ladder and jotted something on a scroll of paper that was tacked to the wall. She followed him out of there and into the greenhouses. “Is it true about the way you feel about me? Garrus said you loved me and so did Tali. The other night... it wasn’t just about wanting sex, was it? Don’t lie or skirt around the truth, Vashlani. I want to know.”

“Leave it be, Shepard.” He kept his back toward her as he inspected all the plants.

“No. Not this time. I want to hear it, and hear it from you.”

Vashlani straightened up and walked past her and into the open meadow.

“Vashlani! Damn it, answer me.” She yelled as he got further away from her.

He stood in the middle of the flower-strewn meadow with his hands holding his head and covering his eyes. Why couldn’t she drop it? Did she like torturing him with her questions?

“Vashlani?”

“Shepard, just stop. Nothing good will come of asking these questions. Please, don’t do this. This khajiit is trying to be what you want him to be.” He left her standing there and headed toward the orchard.

He sat under a green apple tree and fed the goat that had come over and laid beside him an apple as he tried to get his emotions under control. He tensed when he heard her coming around the tree. She stopped beside him and dropped to her knees. Her hand reached for his face and he jerked away. She persisted, using both hands to turn his face toward her. His blue eyes opened and looked into hers.

She drew in a breath. “It’s true...”, her whisper barely reached his ears, even with his enhanced hearing.

“Don’t worry about it, Shepard. This khajiit won’t bother you with his attention. He knows you don’t want him.” He removed her hands from his face before standing up, “Lunch should be ready now. After we eat, Vashlani needs to see if Kasumi or Grunt wants to join the group.”

When he arrived back at the home he opened a bottle of mead and drank it. He gripped the bottle so hard when it was empty it shattered in his hand. He pulled the larger chunks of the brown glass from his hand before rinsing it off and casting a healing spell. He finished dumping the remains into the rubbish barrel when Shepard came into the kitchen.

“I got an urgent call from Garrus then one came in from Thane. They want me to come to see them as soon as possible. After I dress can we go back to the Normandy before we eat?”

“Sure. The food doesn’t spoil or burn. The bread won’t be hot though. It will also give me time to talk with the others. EDI, can you please pass the message to the Arch-Mage that I will be in Shepard’s dimension for a brief time?”

Of course, Vashlani,” EDI said.

 


 

Shepard met Garrus inside of the med bay because the repair crew still worked on replacing the cannon and they would have no privacy. Garrus told her an informant on the Citadel contacted him with information on how to find the turian traitor behind the deaths of his entire team on Omega. He was on the station right now, and someone named Fade knew how to find him. He couldn’t let the opportunity get away from him and wanted her help to go after him.

She agreed but told him that first; she had to go see Thane and would meet him at the airlock.

Shepard found the drell pacing back and forth in his small room, quite an odd occurrence since every time she visited he had been sitting in his chair looking out the window at the drive core.

She listened patiently, asked several questions and tried to hide her shock at learning that not only had he been married before but batarians murdered his wife, but he had left his only son with relatives and went after her murderers. He never went back or contacted his son, Kolyat, for over ten years now. But suddenly his contact informed him that Kolyat had taken on a job as a hit man, he was untrained and Thane didn’t want his son to walk the same dark path. Luckily, he was also on the Citadel.

She told Thane to join her and Garrus at the airlock in five minutes they would handle everything. Vashlani met her as she came out of the room and she quickly briefed him on what was going on.

“Kasumi wishes to come with us this time. Grunt is staying behind, something about an order of fishdog skewers he was waiting on for his lunch? What’s a fishdog?”

She looked at him and scratched the back of her head trying to figure out a way to put it without upsetting him more, “Well... a fishdog is a varren. A silver and blackish type, it resembles a type of fish so they call that subspecies, fishdogs. Krogan and other people... eat them.”

“They do what! Grunt better not even think about trying to eat my Urz.”

He was still muttering to himself as he followed her to the airlock. Shepard’s lips twitched as she remembered him trying to get into the space hamster cage, and also trying to smuggle that space monkey from the planet. Not to mention his wanting to stew up a hanar.

They waited until Vashlani was covered then took a skycar to the C-Sec headquarters to get information to help her friends.

Garrus stayed behind to search through the files for more information on this Fade person after Bailey told them he was a forger that worked out of the warehouse district. The others hurried up to the Dark Star Lounge where the person who would have information on Thane’s son could be found. Once they got what they needed they worked with Bailey to bring in the man who hired Kolyat and finally got the name of the target, and where he’d be.

Vashlani stood to the side listening to the conversation between Thane and his son. He wondered just how Thane could leave his son and not try to maintain contact, not even letters or vid calls. His brows lowered as the blue male hung his head when he heard what happened after his mother died, a comforting purr sounded from Vashlani’s chest as tears dripped from the boy’s large, dark eyes.

When the group made it back to the precinct Vashlani and Shepard gave Thane some time to talk to his son while Shepard talked Bailey into helping to get the boy back on a straight path, to keep him from becoming just another statistic.

When Thane came over to speak with Bailey, Vashlani slipped into the room with Kolyat.

“Who the hell are you?” the surly boy asked as he slumped in his chair.

“This one is a friend of Commander Shepard. I came in to see if you were all right. Vashlani also lost his parents at a young age and knows it is difficult.”

“Yeah well, seems like you turned out well enough. Or are you a criminal too?”

“Vashlani isn’t a criminal. He was one of the lucky ones to have stumbled onto a human that raised him with love. Your Aunt and Uncle, they did not do this?”

“Not that it’s any of your damn business, but no. They could have cared less, they probably would have dumped me out on the street if it wasn’t their fear of the galaxy’s greatest assassin coming back to get them for doing it. It’s all bullshit. And doesn’t matter anyway, not like anyone will care or come see me as I rot in prison.”

“Hmm, you are not going to prison. Shepard worked a deal with the human named Bailey. She is giving you a second chance at life, at being someone your Mother would be proud of.” He saw the boy shifting in his seat, his eyes widened at the news then he slumped back in his chair.

“What’s she doing? Trying to get on my Father’s good side? Guess she’s fucking him.”

Vashlani’s sharp, “no,” sounded clearly in the room. “Shepard is a friend and Commander to your Father. Do not disrespect her that way again.” Kolyat’s eyes widened again. He shifted away from the stranger and the sudden heat that came from him. His eyes glanced down when he saw flames surrounding the stranger’s hands. He swallowed when the stranger opened his hands and flames disappeared.

“I came in to check on you. I see it was a wasted effort.” Vashlani turned to slip back out of the door again when he stopped at the young man’s call.

He turned and looked back at the table, Kolyat was looking at him then looked at the table, “Thanks... for coming to talk and checking on me.”

Vashlani nodded his head and slipped back out the door.

“EDI? Can you hide Vashlani’s little outburst? He didn’t mean to lose his temper.”

“Already taken care of, Vashlani, those few minutes of video are full of static, unclear, and not repairable.”

“Thank you, EDI.”

“There you are. Come on, we will go take care of Garrus’ thing. Thane headed back to the ship to meditate, he is unsure if he will be coming along later.”

When they got back to the Normandy Garrus stormed into Vashlani’s room. He asked to be taken to his house and to be left alone, he needed to work and calm down. Vashlani opened the portal and Garrus didn’t hesitate to enter it. Shepard went to the armory and used the list that Garrus had sent her to fill sacks with repair kits, heatsinks, spare mods, and other things that the turian deemed necessary in traveling to Vashlani’s world. She restocked her medigel and Vashlani once more opened the portal before going to the Life Support area to speak with Thane.

Vashlani took off his helmet as he sat across the table with Thane and stared at the drell. “How could you leave your child?”

Thane linked his fingers and looked across the table. “When they killed my wife I fell into what my people call battle-sleep, and made the conscious choice to hunt them. In doing so I blackened my soul. Kolyat would be better off with relatives. All I knew was how to kill. I failed my wife because associates of those that I was under a contract to terminate used her to punish me. They knew they couldn’t get to me, personally, so bought the information on who did the hit. They took the one thing from me I cared about, my Siha, my wife. In doing so they brought their own deaths.”

You’re wrong, Thane. You also had a son, he should have been your priority. You shuttled him off to unknowns while you took revenge. What would have happened if they went back to get him? You weren’t there to protect him, as you weren’t there for your wife. That should have told you something, that should have made it clear. To do everything you could to protect your son. And why did you not contact him? No letters or visits?”

Thane blinked, his full lips turned down into a frown. “Vashlani, all due respect, it truly isn’t any of your concern. You do not know the fear that comes from being a parent. The weight of the choices we make.”

Vashlani growled; a low, deep menacing sound of an angry cat. He grabbed Thane’s arm and they disappeared.

Shepard and Garrus both stared at the pair that stalked toward them. Thane had his eye ridge cocked as he allowed the khajiit to drag him toward the portal room and through the gate.

“What the hell was that all about?” Shepard asked and Garrus shrugged as he carted a load of scrap metal back to the smelter.

Shepard followed him out. “What’re you doing?”

“Melting this down,” Garrus told her as he shoveled the coal into the one area, then jammed the scraps into a melting pot and shoved it over the incredibly hot coals.

“Why?” Shepard picked up one of the small pieces she saw Vashlani rip out of one of the spider mechs.

“Because.” Garrus clammed up and grabbed the tools that Vashlani laid out and poured the melted down scraps into the various molds.

“What the hell is up with you two lately?” Shepard threw up her hands and stormed out of the smithy and headed for the stairs.

An hour later a much calmer Vashlani, followed by Thane, came back through the portal. The drell had his hands laced behind his back and his head lowered as he followed the khajiit.

Shepard and Garrus were eating when they joined them in the kitchen. “Be ready, we shall return in another hour. I must go get Kasumi and Mordin now.” He looked at Thane who gave him a small bow then moved to the cupboard and took down a bowl before he joined the others at the table.

A few minutes later they all heard exclamations in a strange language as Kasumi got her first look at Vashlani’s house. Mordin came bustling in and sat down to eat.

They snickered as they all heard Vashlani warn Kasumi several times to put things back down and to stop touching stuff.

“Kasumi, I saw that. Put it back.” Vashlani’s tired sounding sigh echoed from the sitting room. “Vashlani’s house isn’t a treasure trove for you to take from. You will have the opportunity for plenty of treasures. Just none of mine. Come to the kitchen and eat.”

Vashlani was followed by the thief who immediately broke into ohh and ahhs at everything there, then promptly asked if he knew how to make ramen. Vashlani collapsed in a chair and put his head on the table with a low growl of, “No. What is ramen?”

Shepard got up, retrieved some food for him, and placed a bottle by his right hand; he reached out and chilled it before sitting up. The sphere rolled in carrying a small basket and held it out to Vashlani.

“Thank you, Sphere.” He reached in and grabbed the bundle of papers.

He held one out to Thane, “For you.”

Thane looked at him then wiped his mouth and hands before taking the paper from him and opening it up to read.

“The Dragonborn is waiting for us at the College. As soon as we finish eating we shall head there and go back to the ruins in the morning. Make sure your weapons and armors are ready. Garrus would you be so kind as to retrieve one of the spare satchels from the special storeroom for Kasumi and explain how it works. Stock it with plenty of food, and several waterskins. I must go answer this correspondence before we leave.”

He was at his desk, hurrying to answer the inquiries that came through the portal when Thane came in.

“Vashlani, would you mind if I borrowed paper and one of your writing instruments.”

The khajiit looked up at him and pointed to a small dresser with several cabinets, “There are supplies in the left-hand side; use what you need.”

A few minutes later Vashlani tied up the last of his scrolls and Thane handed him the response he wrote. Vashlani smiled at him, opened his desk drawer, and withdrew a purple ribbon that he tied around the scroll.

“Perhaps we can talk again after we return from this adventure?” Thane quietly asked as they exited the room.

“We shall if that is your wish.”

Chapter Text


 

When Shepard’s group exited the Arch-Mage’s storeroom they were met by a group of people. One was a male lizard who approached Thane and looked him over.

“Dragonborn, these are my friends and the ones that are coming with me to finish checking the rumor. Commander Shepard, an N7 soldier, and Commander of the ship upon which she resides. A most notable warrior. You already know Garrus.” Garrus gave the armored figure a wave.

“Aye, Vashlani, I remember him, the Commander was also here before, if I remember correctly.”

Shepard nodded, “I was. These are other members of my crew, Kasumi Goto, and the green male that is being sized up is Sere Thane Krios, a Compact trained Master Assassin.”

The other scaled male drew in a breath and turned his green gaze back on Thane, “Assassin? You are a Shadowscale?”

“I do not know that term, but yes, I am an assassin who has sworn his arm to Shepard to help with her mission.” He let out several coughs and the others backed up a bit.

“Do not worry, it is not contagious and is being managed. It is the humidity here in Skyrim that is causing the issue. The rain and snow do not help my condition and I apologize to you.”

Mordin hurried over, ran a scan, then injected him with something. “You must not spend as much time here. The cold and damp is accelerating the deterioration of your lungs and increasing the damage caused in other areas from the Keprals.”

“What is wrong with the assassin?” the scaled male asked.

“His people come from an arid land, their lungs cannot handle humidity and moisture. When their planet started to become uninhabitable due to mismanagement, another race rescued a portion of their population. The only problem was none of them knew the drell wouldn’t be able to adapt to the hanar’s homeworld. It is oceanic; mostly water. This problem caused something called Keprals Syndrome to develop and as of now, it is not curable. It is being studied but... their race is dwindling because of the disease. A large portion of their population dies from it all the time, and soon if no cure is found... well.” Shepard looked at Thane and at the other reptilian male.

“Have been informed about a reptilian race in this world. Argonian is what the species is called. That is you?” Mordin quickly asked then approached the strange looking male, his omni tool out. “Tried to find the female of your kind when I was here last. To learn about this alchemy business. Female hiding. Didn’t find her.”

The male took a step back and reached for a sword at his back, “Easy Derkeethus, he’s a friend of Vashlani’s,” the Dragonborn said to him and held up a hand.

“Mordin, at least introduce yourself first before probing the man.” Garrus started to laugh and his dual tones drew the gazes of the others.

“Professor Mordin Solus, former STG. Geneticist. Doctor. Researcher. Would like to run a scan. Will not hurt. Was told your species thrive in a moist environment. Possibly could give data needed to help work on a cure for Keprals. Both evolved from reptiles. Although you seem more of Earth’s Crocodylus niloticus, with your thicker plating and elongated facial features. Teeth designed for tearing into flesh as are your claws. Whereas Thane is related more to Earth Serpentes subspecies. Smooth, small tight scales, no sharp appendages, and teeth evolved into those of an omnivore.”

“Uhh...err,” the one called Derkeethus mumbled. Thane stifled another series of coughs and Chakwas approached him as did Vashlani.

“Maybe it would be better if Thane returned to the Normandy? Or to Vashlani’s house?” Vashlani whispered.

“No, I would prefer to obtain the memories first hand while I still can. These memories are special, like none other.”

“You should wear a breather mask here, Thane. The filters can help with the moisture.” Chakwas reached into a pack at her side and drew out a small capsule, handing it to Thane.

“That would be acceptable.” He broke open the capsule and removed the item inside. Everyone watched as it grew in size and shape until it was a clear mask. He slipped it over his mouth and nose and an orange glow appeared on his arm. He linked his omni tool with the mask and small blue glowing dots appeared on the mask. “Yes, this is better. Thank you, Doctor.”

She smiled at him then handed him several more of the capsules that he tucked into an inner pocket of his suit.

Shepard told the others Thane was dying and only had a short time left to him. His species had perfect memory recall and it was something he wanted; new memories to make while he could and to revisit when he was no longer able.

The argonian looked over at the assassin, who was still speaking with the others, then nodded. “Alright. If you think it could help.”

Mordin’s thin lips curled into a smile and he ran a scan over him. “Need a few samples. Blood and tissue mainly. Unless you would also be willing to donate urine and sperm.”

“Mordin cut that out,” Shepard told him, her voice held a hint of subdued laughter.

When everyone said they were ready, the Dragonborn told them they needed an artifact taken into the same ruins. The device in the last room was indeed what they were looking for. “Normally, it would be my group that takes care of this, but something has come up in a different area, a place called Solstheim. It cannot wait as it concerns the increased attempted assassination attacks to myself, and also could be connected to this problem we are having with the dragons.”

Garrus crossed his arms over his carapace, “What exactly are these dragons we have been hearing about? I have been here several times with Vashlani and haven’t seen anything he pointed out as being a dragon.”

The three individuals scoffed, “Aye, and you better hope it stays that way, Garrus. Dragons are enormous creatures that fly, breathe fire, lightning, or frost. Their heads alone are bigger than we are,” the Dragonborn told him.

Garrus looked at them then down at Shepard, “Too bad we can’t use them against the Reapers. Bet they would give those bastards trouble.”

“What are Reapers?” The huge man standing beside of the Dragonborn asked, his voice deep and growling.

Shepard saw Kasumi inch closer to him; her eyes on the huge man.

“In our own dimension they are ancient beings we have learned would come to our galaxy every fifty thousand years to harvest all of the advanced lifeforms. They killed everything they didn’t want, would leave anything they felt were not advanced enough alone, and then retreat back into what is called Dark Space. The cycle has been going on for millennia. Now they are here, for us, and we are fighting them. We’ve destroyed many of their constructs, even killed one of the main Reapers. But there are so many more. They take people and turn them into mindless followers, to use to turn more people. It’s called indoctrination. So we have to keep watch for them as well,” Garrus said to them then brought up several images on his omni tool. A giant projection was shown on the tower walls. “The scanned size of Sovereign was two kilometers long. The spinal mounted magnetohydrodynamic cannon has a yield of 132 to 450 kilotons of TNT, an explosive.” He played several of the vids he had recorded of their fights with the Reapers and Collectors.

Vashlani cut in, “That thing is huge and powerful, like nothing this khajiit had seen before. The dragon that flew over Vashlani’s head was tiny compared to the Sovereign.”

“There are other species working with them, one is the Collectors; bug-like people. They have been taking whole colonies of humans and doing Spirits knows what with them,” Garrus said as he changed the holo to show one of the vids he recorded of a Collector.

The others looked at the group once again with what appeared to be a new found respect.

“It seems Vashlani has found quite a group of warriors,” the Dragonborn said and the others nodded.

“They would make good whelps, Harbinger,” the dark-haired man said with a smirk.

“Aye, but I have a feeling they are far beyond that, Farkas.” The Dragonborn turned to Vashlani and handed him a scroll, a cube, and a strange bronze colored sphere. “Here is information on what we are looking for. If you find it, do not open it or let anyone else do so. It will cause madness and blindness to anyone that does. If you find a word wall inside the area please send word to the Arch-Mage with the location. If the information that I received is correct, it is dangerous there. All of you be careful.” They started to leave when the Dragonborn stopped and returned to Garrus.

“Those pictures you showed us. Could you take more? Of the area you are going into and of your own world? I would like to see what it is like.”

“Sure, Vashlani has a bunch of stuff from our own world he can show you later too,” Garrus told the armored warrior.

“Aye, my thanks.”

 


 

They arrived back at the ruins just after sunrise and used the shortcut near the expedition’s campsite. Now, as they stood in front of the mechanism Vashlani opened the scroll and read it over, carefully placing the sphere into the hole on the device. They heard a slight rumble and then the floor opened up, revealing stairs heading down.

“Oh... Vashlani does not like the look of this. EDI, is everyone ready on the Normandy?”

“Yes, the door is locked and everyone seems to be excited. There were a few questions about why only certain members were being allowed to join you. I told them it was only going to be the ground crew as they could all see how dangerous it was, and it was by your choice who goes and who does not. Samara has sent a private request to speak with Vashlani about the possibility of also joining you. Zaeed has said he’d like to also come as long as, and I quote,”I don’t have to see any of those bloody, creepy bastards from those tunnels up close. Tali had also expressed a desire to join you until you ran across the very large arachnid. She promptly withdrew her request.“

“I will speak more with Samara, I do not know much about her and would like to learn more before I trust her with my home and my life. Zaeed will be unhappy being here at this moment. Maybe, if this khajiit plans on bounty hunting a different day, but he must think about it. Start the streams if you please, EDI, we are going to the next area.”

“Oh, this is going to be so much better than vids,” Kazumi said. Then she giggled and activated her cloak.

When he opened the door at the bottom, all of them drew in a breath, “By the twin moons” was followed by, “Spirits”, and “By Arashu”, with a few “Oh my Gods, will you look at that”, a lone “Very impressive. Must obtain samples,” followed.

“This is... is it really the great Dwemer city of Blackreach?” Vashlani whispered as he took several more steps into the giant cavern that was lit by enormous fungi in blues, greens, and purples. The stalactites and stalagmites dotted around the cavern were covered with bio-luminescent fungus giving off more light and an approximation of the height of the cavern. Their flashlights activated, and they scanned the surrounding area. Garrus spotted something that looked like a weapon mounted on the short wall in front of him and approached it. He ran his hands over it while scanning it with his visor.

They heard a banging, clattering noise from below them and they all gathered at the wall to look around. They finally spotted what looked like one of the Dwemer constructs trying to break down a door. Behind his mask Garrus’ mandibles flicked as he cranked a lever on the side of the huge weapon, lining up the sight of it with the creature. He reached over and with his mandibles spread in a grin, yanked on the lever next to the wall. A giant bolt flew from the weapon and blew apart the construct with one hit.

“Oh, Shepard, I want one of these. Could you imagine one of these mounted to a vehicle along with our cannons?”

Shepard shook her head, “There is no way in hell we could get one of those out of here, Garrus.”

He let out a huff and they looked around for a way down to the construct. Mordin stopped to take various samples from each of the different types of mushrooms, before scraping some of the pillars and putting the containers into his pack.

Vashlani picked through the rubble of the construct while Thane ran his hand over the door, “I wonder why it was so intent on getting in here.”

Vashlani shrugged and went back to picking through the remains of the sphere. When he was satisfied, he got up and moved over to the door. He reached out and checked the lock, it was open. He pushed on the door and it squeaked with disuse. Inside they found a skeleton still gripping a journal, a fully set up and functional alchemy lab, and a few books. Vashlani let out a small gasp as he reached for a satchel, “This is a special ingredient bag. Only very rare ingredients are ever inside. The magic it is imbued with actually restocks those ingredients every ten days or so if they are taken out. Master had one when I was a child, we were harvesting wild ingredients when we were attacked by a Hagraven. Her fireball damaged the pack and her claws tore it before we could defeat her. The magic was lost.”

He felt a light touch on his shoulder and glanced up seeing Kasumi standing there. “I found a table and shelf over there, it is lined with plants and other things.” He nodded and stood up to follow her as the others looked around and gathered various items. They found a set of softly glowing boots, some Dwemer housewares, a few of the purple soul gems, two chests, a dagger, and a knapsack. They waited while Vashlani carefully sorted the ingredients in his own alchemy satchel and placed the magical one into his pack. The rest of the treasures were split up. He carefully looked over the set of dwarven boots, studying the enchantment before he let out a slight chuckle and handed them to Kasumi.

“The enchantment will help with carrying even more treasures than you normally would. I think this will come in handy for someone that likes to pick many things up and put it in their pockets.”

Kasumi giggled then sat on the dwarven chair and wiggled the boots on over top of her skin tight ones. They were a bit snug but she bounced a bit and clomped around a few seconds, then her footsteps went silent.

Vashlani shook his head. “Divines forbid you ever get a hold of something with muffle on it. No one would ever hear you coming, not even a khajiit or Falmer.”

They all laughed, Vashlani opened the journal and read it. His brows drew together, “Nirnroot cultivation?” He scratched his head, “No one can cultivate the Nirnroot. Many people have tried, even Master and myself, with no luck. Yet... according to this, he was able to and taught someone else how to do it as well.” He rubbed his chin and looked at the others. “It goes on to say that providing a good quantity of samples of this, “Crimson Nirnroot” to an Avrusa Sarethi at a farm outside of Riften, she could use her knowledge to grow this rare sample outside of Blackreach. Maybe she can teach Vashlani to grow it as well.”

He tucked the journal into his pouch and brought out a journal of his own, grabbed a piece of charcoal off the desk and made a note in it. “Vashlani will need to pick every sample of this Nirnroot while he is here.”

“How will we recognize it?” Shepard asked him as she watched his hasty scribbling.

“It will not be difficult, the plants make noise. A most annoying sound. The regular green ones grow near water and make a chiming sound, apparently, these make a humming sound.” He pointed to one growing on the table next to the alchemy lab.

The others grew quiet and looked at each other, “A plant that makes noise?” They approached it and then they finally heard the noise it gave off as they adjusted the filters on their suits.

Mordin was typing away on his omni tool, “Would also like a sample of this plant. Both types.”

After they were sure they had removed everything from the building they exited.

“You know, I don’t think we are going to be able to explore this place in a week,” Shepard said as they started moving through the cavern, killing several Falmer and leaning against various structures while Vashlani stood over striated rocks banging away with a pickaxe.

They ran across another lift nearby and Vashlani looked over a carving of a huge head in front of the lift and found the button to lower the metal bars. When it opened they all climbed on board and rode it up. They found that it let out at a completely different area than where they entered.

“Ahh, we are near Nightgate Inn. Stayed there once. Nice place and friendly people.” He pushed up on the lever and they started to lower again after he double checked his map, seeing a small notation on where the Blackreach Lift was located. When they reached the bottom again they started to explore further, stopping to let him mine ores, his excitement palpable when he found a geode and showed them the difference between an ore deposit and one of the geodes. A tumble of uncut gems came from it along with more soul gems. He smacked one of Kasumi’s hands when she tried to pocket one of the whole soul gems. “Ach... no, not those. Those are rare and invaluable to me and my magic.” He handed her a broken one instead.

Thane pointed to something flying toward them, with a Falmer, and one of the chaurus bugs running alongside it. Vashlani hissed, “Hunter, quickly Thane before it gets close.” Two shots were fired by two sniper rifles almost simultaneously and the hunter fell to the ground while the others took on the closing creatures.

It was mid-afternoon and Vashlani had just finished plucking yet another Nirnroot, the majority of his companions had agreed after the first few times of seeing the plant, that the ridiculous noise coming from it did become rather annoying when they spied a large towering structure ahead of them. As they drew closer to it Vashlani became excited over the geode quarry, but then he pointed at something that was hanging from the building. Giant cobwebs and sacs.

“Frostbite spiders,” he mumbled as he hurried to the geodes and started to bang away, stopping to pick up the fallen gems before Kasumi could.

“You’re no fun, Vashlani.” The thief pouted and he smiled at her.

“Vashlani will make it up to you, Kasumi. A nice one of a kind, handmade necklace? Gold and a gem of rare quality? Made just for you by this khajiit.”

The thief placed a finger to her lips and wiggled with a small smile curling her lips, “You’re such a sweet talker. You know the way to tempt a woman.” He grinned at her through the transparent faceplate of his helmet. When he was done they proceeded toward the tower.

He stopped several times, the flash of an enchanted arrow coming from his bow or a soft crack of a rifle round aimed at the giant spiders they could see around the exterior of the building. One dropped on them from above and when it had its front legs reared up to strike at Shepard, Kasumi disappeared then reappeared on top of the giant creature, shooting it between its many eyes until it fell. She nimbly hopped off of it, landing beside Garrus as Vashlani extracted the venom from its fangs.

“Ready to go inside?” He asked after he stoppered the bottles. Everyone either gave a yes or nodded. He pushed open the door and they went in. Several more spiders were inside the ruins of the tower and it was literally coated in spider webs. Several times he had to use fire to burn their way through the thick mass in order to further their progression. They looted what they could find and took a small lift up to the higher level where he finished extracting the venom from the ones they had killed earlier.

“Vashlani is ready for a break. Why don’t we sit here under this fungus and have lunch, this area is clear for now.” He opened his pack and withdrew a large blanket and laid it down along with several baskets of food and drinks. They spent the time relaxing as much as they could, and answering questions while they ate. Vashlani chuckled at Tali’s request to kill more of those disgusting spiders so there were less of them in the world. She also wanted one of those glowing mushrooms.

He sat for a few minutes and looked at one of the small versions of the enormous, glowing blue mushroom they happened to be sitting under. “Hmm, maybe there is a way.” He pulled out a large specimen jar from inside his pack. Looked it over for any damage, then reached back into his bag and dropped a tiny pinch of something inside of the jar. He hummed then whispered something in his native language, and the jar filled partway with his magical soil. A telekinesis spell was used to remove one of the mushrooms and lower it gently into the jar. A bit more soil, a little water, and then Vashlani whispered something into the jar and breathed into it, quickly capping it as whatever he breathed into the jar swirled around inside before settling on the mushroom and soil. He held it up in front of the camera, “The mushroom will remain as it is at this very moment, size and vibrancy, as long as the jar remains intact.”

He packed it carefully away and they cleared the area before starting to move west once again. They found another lift but it wouldn’t activate as they didn’t have the appropriate key. They turned to the south and continued on. Shepard pointed to a building toward the East and they made their way closer. When they did, they saw a huge grouping of buildings and ramps. Many more Falmer, and chaurus came at them also.

The rest of the day was spent clearing out several buildings and halls that were stuffed full of the Falmer and the creatures that they cultivated. They tiredly slogged their way out of a flooded catacomb and Kasumi told him she was tired. The others agreed with her, according to the clock in Shepard’s suit they had been going at this place for the last 17 hours with only a few small breaks. They were all tired and hungry and now they were also soaking wet.

“Alright, let’s get out of this water and someplace fairly safe.” They headed to the small building they had found earlier, it had been completely empty... except for the various traps. They all filed inside and shut the door before going down the short flight of stairs into the main part of the building.

“EDI, cut the stream and let the others know we will continue in the morning and to hold their questions until then.” Once he got the acknowledgment back he took them into the pocket home. He laid out a robe for Kasumi and one for Mordin, apologizing that he had nothing else to fit him. They cleaned up while he cooked their dinner. When they had split everything up and stored it in their boxes he handed Kasumi and Mordin a bedroll, explaining that it never rained outside if they wanted to sleep there or in either the study or sitting room as long as they didn’t bother his things, other than reading a book from the shelf. He stared at Kasumi who shrugged then readjusted the robe and headed for the lift outside.

Everyone was settled and Vashlani had just finished his own shower and slipped into the bed when he heard a noise on his balcony. His eyes glowed in the darkness, his night vision increased and he made out Shepard coming through the door.

“Shepard? What are you doing in Vashlani’s room? I thought you were going to the sitting room.”

She stopped at the bed and moved the covers before slipping in beside him, pillowing her head on his chest. “Don’t do this to me, Shepard.” His harsh whisper was barely heard over the pounding of his heart. He tried to push her away, to slip out from under her head, but she wrapped her arm around him and held tight.

“Go to sleep, Vashlani. We are both right where we want to be. We have a long day tomorrow. Goodnight.” Shepard rubbed her face against his fur and let out a sigh.

He gritted his teeth and turned his head away from her, blinking and letting his vision return to normal. He could only hope he found a few hours of sleep so his magic would regenerate and he wouldn’t have any problems with tomorrow’s exploration. They still had several days so he won’t push them as much the rest of the time. He drifted off with his mind going over everything he had seen that day and the pleasant warmth of Shepard next to him, her breathing regular and her fingers buried in the fur of his waist.

 


 

Vashlani woke before Shepard and he laid there, soaking in her warmth and the feeling of having her there, even knowing it was only making it harder for himself. He let out a quiet sigh and shifted, easing out from under her head, arm, and the leg she had thrown over him. She gave a low snort then rolled over. He quickly dressed and went downstairs to start something cooking for everyone and saw Mordin sitting in the kitchen with his omni tool open and several of the specimens he had collected laid out on the dining room table.

“You are awake early. Could you not sleep?”

“Salarians only need one hour per cycle. More than that is just wasteful. Too much to do. Too many tests to run. Sphere of yours brought my suit and coat back in a basket. It was clean, mended, and folded.”

“Yes, it does that. It should have cleaned everyone’s suits and returned them or placed them in a basket near them.” Vashlani brought down his cookbook and continued to answer Mordin’s questions.

“How does it know to do that? How does it understand? There are no terminals here. There are no upload links or data streams. Omni tools do not show any extranet connections.”

“Magic and mechanics. The Dwemer used a combination of both to create the constructs, buildings, and most of their inventions. Instructions are magically inscribed into it. It will learn and improve its job as time goes on. Before it would dump my armor into the lake and watch it sink to the bottom. Now, after many times of washing and caring for it, it knows not to do that. It handles all the forms of armor and clothing that come from your world in the same manner. My enchanted garments are carefully washed to preserve the enchants. My regular clothes are scrubbed in a tub with a washboard before strung out on a line.”

He glanced up and saw Garrus coming into the kitchen, wearing his usual blue and white pajamas, and heading for a shelf that contained turian instant kava canisters. Garrus held out his filled cup and Vashlani took it by the bottom, flames licking up the sides as he heated it until it steamed. With a mumbled thanks, Garrus carefully took it before sitting at the table.

Mordin stared at him then asked him where the clothes came from. “I keep clothes here for when I stay here, beats sleeping in armor or nude. That sphere comes and goes from the smithy all hours and it kinda creeped me out at first knowing I was laying there bare ass while it moved around the room. So I brought clothes with me to keep here.” Thane arrived shortly after wearing his Mage’s outfit. Vashlani put a steaming pot of tea in front of him.

“Vashlani made you some special tea today, Thane. It should help ease your lungs a bit.” Thane thanked him and inhaled the delicate scent of flowers and spices.

Kasumi and Shepard wandered in and Vashlani cocked his eyebrow at Kasumi and pointed to the counter. She gave a sigh and emptied her pockets. “I really want to know just how you can tell I have something.”

“Magic. Let’s eat and head back. We have several days so let’s make the most of them.” The sphere rolled in and gathered up all the items Kasumi had laid on the counter, placing them in one of its ever-present baskets, paused beside her for a moment, the face on the construct seemed to frown in disappointment before it rolled out.

“Ouch... even the mechanical butler is mad at me,” Kasumi muttered.

“At least all you raided was the storage rooms, had it been any of the magical items in the labs or other areas it could have had a more dire outcome. Vashlani told you the things in his home aren’t always what they seem. The items could explode, destroying not only you but this bag as well. Everyone and everything inside would cease to exist. It was not told to you just so you wouldn’t take something from me, but to protect you. Do not do this again, Kasumi.”

Her dark eyes dropped to the table and everyone fiddled with whatever was on their plate. They all knew the dangers, they all knew that to break trust with him could be detrimental, in more ways than one.

When everyone was finished he advised that they hurry and change into their armors, place their clothing into the basket next to the front door if they wanted it washed, and meet him outside the portal room in fifteen minutes. He went into the study and let out a breath, shaking his head and wondering if he had made a mistake trusting the thief with entrance to his home. He started to write in his journal when he heard a soft knock on the door.

Kasumi stood there twisting her fingers, “Gomen nasai.” She bowed as she continued, “I’m sorry. Forgive me. I can’t seem to help it. I see all these strange and wonderful things and the next thing I know it’s in my hand.”

Vashlani sighed and finished writing the last entry before putting his journal away and walking toward the small woman. “This one time I shall forgive, Kasumi. But this khajiit must warn you, for your own safety, do not take anything else from my home without asking. I do not wish to erase your memory... nor do I wish to damage the thing which is behind your eyes that records everything. But I will do so to protect myself and others.”

She nodded and bowed again before hurrying away.

 


 

They spent several hours in Blackreach, heading south over long bridges and through areas brightly lit by the phosphorescent fungus. They stopped to rest often, the whole area was heavily infested by Falmer and their chaurus. Vashlani spent quite a lot of time going through the area, finding many of the small ore and gemstone quarry deposits he wanted, purple or bluish-white stones dropping from them as he chipped away. Ores being looked over and scanned before they were added to his pack. It was early evening, by their HUD readouts, when they ran across what looked like a small home. It seemed to be intact and they searched around the outside before they went in. It was covered with a thick layer of dirt and dust. Kasumi found several more of the Falmer weapons inside, but they too were coated with the dust of lying in this place for countless years. She added them to the pile of findings from several chests they found in the home.

“Here is a good place to stop. Vashlani needs to take care of a few things outside of here. Now would be a good time to head back to your world, have your shore leave then meet on the Normandy in two days if you wish to come back for more exploration. EDI can you please relay to Samara that I will be available in the morning if she wishes to speak and has the time.”

“Of course, Vashlani. I am also uploading and securing the latest footage. The crew would like me to ask if it is possible when you return if you could come and answer some questions?”

“It will be several hours. If they don’t mind waiting I will, as long as it concerns this place and not me or what Vashlani can do. Have the items I ordered arrived yet?” Vashlani packed the items into bags and then asked for the others to wait outside for just a few minutes and not to come in until he said it was safe to do so. Then he had EDI stop the stream and she let him know everything had arrived and it was Joker that checked it over, not letting anyone else near the crates. He drew out his magical chalk and set about adding a new portal to this abandoned building.

 


 

Joker met him down in the cargo bay and had a frown on his face. “What the hell, Vashlani? This stuff is not for you. What’s going on?”

“They are gifts, Joker.” Vashlani looked down at the pilot, who had taken off his hat and rubbed the top of his head. “Vashlani will explain another day, right now he is running late and needs to get this home quickly.” He grabbed both large containers by their handles and disappeared.

Vashlani returned to the Normandy early the next morning and accepted Samara’s invitation to join her in the Observation room that she had been assigned as her quarters. Once inside he removed his helmet and they started talking. Vashlani asking more questions than giving Samara answers, which she graciously accepted because of the unique circumstances. Mordin sent him a message letting him know that he wouldn’t be joining them when they went back, he had so many samples to run tests on and catalog. He also wanted to start testing the blood and tissue samples he had taken from Derkeethus.

Vashlani explained to Samara that she couldn’t just go killing someone in their world if it interfered with the asari Justicar code. Things were different there and she couldn’t apply her black and white rules. Many people had to take care of justice on their own. If someone’s family were hurt, it was up to them to take care of it or hire others to do so. Many times you wouldn’t know what caused it, a father avenging the hurt on his family. A farmer taking back what had been stolen from him. A member of the Companions hired to retrieve something of value that was stolen or killing bandits that raided a village. A Dark Brotherhood member finishing a contract. A bounty hunter taking a target that was wanted by a different Hold. Just because she saw what she considered a crime, didn’t mean there wasn’t a purpose behind it, one that she had no way of knowing. It would be best if she didn’t draw attention from the various factions by causing a “misunderstanding”.

The asari looked at him for a few moments then closed her eyes briefly. “There are no precedents in the code that will forbid me from following your recommendations, as there is nothing that covers traveling to a different dimension in them. So it will be as you ask, I shall follow your lead while we are there. Just as I told to Shepard though, do not ask me to do something too dishonorable or I may have to kill you once this mission is done.”

Vashlani smiled at her and nodded. “Of course. This Vashlani promises you. Now, do you have any questions about the binding or what will happen?”

When she said she did not, he handed her a scroll and they went through the steps. He took her through his home and surrounding grounds, answering her questions about the objects and artifacts. She requested time for meditation, somewhere quiet. He led her to one of his favorite spots in the orchard and placed a blanket for her to sit on. He let out a purr when she settled and proceeded to float as she surrounded herself with the biotic aura.

He entered the house and grabbed his journals from the locked cabinet before entering the tower room. He lit several candles before flipping through the first journal and finding the spell to add windows. He read the spell and thought of the design he wanted for the one on the bottom floor before taking a deep breath and letting it out. He climbed on one of the crates and placed his hand on the spot he wanted the window to be, then slowly and carefully said the spell. His eyes grew wide as the stones beneath his palm shimmered and turned invisible, the borders of the window turned into a form of hardwood as did the crossbars for the panes of “glass”. When the shimmering faded he looked out of the window, into the meadow and grinned when he saw Urz walking beside one of the goats, a chicken lazily riding on his back.

He jogged up the stairs to the second floor and opened the book again, this time finding the spell to add a doorway that connected to a magical space. He grinned and said the spell, heard a pop and saw a door grow in the middle of the wall. He gave a short burst of laughter and opened it. The room was bare, but not for long, he thought with a grin before closing the door up again.

The next spell created a glass double door leading out onto a small balcony overlooking the orchard. He heard his name being called and looked down at Samara who stared up at him.

“Please excuse my question, Vashlani, but that structure was not there a moment ago. Where did it come from?”

“It was here Samara, you just couldn’t see it from outside until I opened the door and walked out onto the balcony. Watch closely.” Vashlani turned around and walked back into the room and went down the steps, jogged outside and around the corner. He saw Samara standing there with what must be the first confused look the asari’s face held since she became a Justicar.

“Magic. This khajiit still has much to do, would you like to return to the Normandy? Or would you like to remain here, I can provide food and if you wish, access to the study is granted if you’d like to read.”

“I would like to return to the Normandy if you wouldn’t mind, for now. I thank you for your trust in allowing me to see your home.”

Vashlani gave her a smile before holding out his arm to her. She placed her palm on his forearm and they went back to the ship.

Shepard stood waiting for them when they returned. Vashlani hesitated slightly when she approached him wanting to return to his home with him.

“Vashlani has a few things he wants to do on the Citadel first, he has several things to buy, before returning.”

“That’s fine, there is someplace I want to take you anyway. Joker made mention of getting you swim shorts to wear under your suit because of your penchant for skinny dipping in those waters. With those on you won’t be completely naked anymore.”

Vashlani sighed and relented, she wasn’t going to leave him in peace. Maybe... maybe it was time for him to show her what he now considered his greatest treasure, not just his home or the things he could do. But something more, something that he felt deeply about. Maybe then she would relent. When she finally cast him aside completely he would be allowed to piece together his heart. Without her, it would never be whole, but he could start to heal.

Chapter Text


 

 

They went into the human clothing store and Shepard went to the men’s section, followed by Vashlani. She chose several trunks and paid for them, whispering that they could be altered by Tali to fit his tail, after she paid for them.

 

“Okay, now that that is done where are we going next?” Shepard looked up at him as he stood there for several moments. She frowned when she noticed his hands twitched and the readout on his suit registered a spiked increase of his heart rate. “Vashlani? Everything alright?”

 

He seemed to snap out of it and looked down at her. “Yes. There is something I need to tell you and several shops I need to visit.” He walked over to the AVINA VI that Garrus had shown him how to use and typed what he was looking for into the console then copied the list onto this datapad. She frowned and followed him to the first location.

 

They were standing outside of a furniture store and she still couldn’t understand what caused him to seem so agitated. He looked at the store directory then followed the maps directions. When they entered the area Shepard stopped dead still and scratched her head wondering what they were doing there.

 

Vashlani looked over everything and made his choices, holding his datapad under the credit scanner to pay for it. He said not a word as he headed for the next location on his list, then the next, and the next. Finally, he stopped at one of the skycar terminals and she stood next to him with her eyes glancing at him and the floor.

 

When they made it back to the Normandy he received notice from EDI that several crates and smaller packages had arrived. Garrus had them loaded onto a pallet and waiting for him down in the cargo hold. He checked the manifest to his personal log of purchases and noted that there were two missing. “Please let Garrus know there will be two more arriving in the next two hours. Vashlani will return to get the entire pallet then. For now, he must take Shepard somewhere important and cannot be disturbed.”

 

Vashlani turned to Shepard, a wary and very confused look on her face. He saw a touch of hurt in her eyes as well. He held out his hand and for the first time since the initial binding, she hesitated in taking it. He waited her out. Finally, her hand was placed in his and they left the Normandy.

 


 

 

They walked down the spiraling stone staircase of the Arch-Mage’s tower, heading toward the doors that would lead them to the guest quarters of the College. Vashlani had refused to answer Shepard’s questions on where they were going and what was going on.

 

They stood outside a closed door and he paused before knocking. When the door opened Shepard almost fell over backward when a young human girl jumped on Vashlani.

 

“Papa! You’re back so soon.” The young girl clung to the khajiit holding him about the neck as he picked her up and hugged her to him.

 

“Sophie, my sweet, your Papa has a guest he would very much like you to meet.” He stroked his hand down her long dark hair once more before setting her back on her feet.

 

“Like Thane? From the other place you go to? The one with all the strange people?” The young girl looked up at her father with a huge grin on her face.

 

“It is so, my young cub.” He smiled and swallowed hard as he turned toward Shepard who was standing there with her mouth wide open.

 

“Commander Shepard, I would like you to meet my adopted daughter, Sophie. She is a young child I met in Windhelm. She sold flowers outside the docks before I was summoned back to your world. The Civil War the Nords are embroiled in took the life of her natural father, her mother died when she was a small cub, leaving her homeless and alone. Vashlani worked with the Jarl’s court mage to adopt her and made sure the Septims Vashlani left for her went to her care while I was with you. Vashlani has done his best to be there for both of you. He had hoped...,” he blinked then cleared his throat, “it is of no concern.”

 

“Sophie, this is Papa’s friend, Shepard. She is a great warrior. Vashlani thought it was time for you two to meet.”

 

Sophie smiled at the woman standing in front of her, “Oh, Papa has told me so much about you. He showed me pictures that moved and told me about where you lived. He said that someday, maybe, I could see it too. And Thane told me about himself and he writes to me. I like him. Is he here too?”

 

“No, sweet, he is not here at the moment. You will see him later after Papa is finished with the task the Dragonborn requested of him.” He stroked her hair again before reaching into his pack. “Papa has something for you.” He drew out a stuffed animal from one of the shops they had visited. Shepard could only stand there and stare.

 

The young girl let out a small squeal before holding the bear in her arms and squeezing it, “You’re the best Papa, ever.” Vashlani gave a purring laugh.

 

“My darling, Papa, and Shepard have to leave for a while. He will come back as soon as he can. You promise to listen to the Arch-Mage and Tolfdir while Vashlani is gone?”

 

“Yes, Papa. Oh, Doctor Karin wants to talk to you about me. She said something about fixing something she found when she was checking me after I got here to make sure I was healthy. She gave me a terrible tasting medicine and applied a balm to my feet and hands. My feet no longer sting and hurt like they did before, they are also pink and no longer have that blackish color, and I have another letter for Thane.”

 

“That is good, my girl. I am glad the Healer has helped you. Now give Papa the letter and a hug, he will be back to see you again.”

 

Shepard followed him back to the Arch-Mage’s quarters and listened while Chakwas spoke with Vashlani, telling him she had used some of the medicines she had brought with her to reverse the damage done to Sophie’s feet and hands from frostbite. “She was lucky she didn’t lose her feet and several fingers. She told me about what happened and how you found her, gave her warm blankets and clothing. How could they leave a child like that to sleep in the cold here? It's a situation which can kill a grown person, how she survived the months sleeping in a barrel outside in that weather is a miracle. She has a few other issues which the healing of the mages here can’t fix. I want your permission, and Shepard’s of course, to take her back to the Normandy before we leave and fix the genetic issues I found. Her vision can be adjusted so she doesn’t squint when she tries to read and her teeth can be straightened, cleaned, and repaired. I will also add a coating which can strengthen and protect them and will last for the rest of her life. It should only take a few hours to accomplish and she will only need an hour or so to recover.”

 

“It will not cause her pain and will allow the mage heals to still work? No machines?”

 

“No machines, nothing outward will change, she will just be healthier overall. I promise Vashlani.” Chakwas smiled at him and waited for their consent. Vashlani’s whiskers twitched before he nodded.

 

They turned to Shepard, who still hadn’t said anything, and waited for her to give an answer. “I-I...” she looked at them, then straightened, plastered a slight, but a shaky smile on her face. “Of course, Doc. Do what you need to do to help her, make sure she has everything she needs and is comfortable.”

 

Chakwas smiled at her before she turned back to the Arch-Mage and they wandered into his personal garden, giving the other two a bit of privacy.

 

“I take it she is the reason you always disappear when we are in your home, and why you pick up everything not nailed down to sell here?”

 

“Yes, this khajiit visits and writes to his daughter every chance he gets and spends as much time with her as possible. Since Vashlani doesn’t have a home here in Skyrim, he was paying to house her at the Inn in Windhelm. The war is heating up and the Dragonborn told us all to be prepared, there was no talking reason to the Jarl of Windhelm. The Dragonborn has told us all he is even more unhinged than we had assumed. He cares nothing for the other races, cares nothing for the children who are starving in his streets, even the ones who are nord, like my little Sophie. All he sees is the High King’s Throne and the power which would come from being crowned as the High King. Vashlani needed to get her safely away from there, the Arch-Mage offered a room and Vashlani had her moved here. She is better protected now, both from the war and prejudices against the mages which most nords have. She has quickly become one of the most important people in Vashlani’s life.”

 

Shepard let out a hum, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just stay here then? She needs you here, as her father. All of us would understand.”

 

Vashlani shook his head, “No, Vashlani gave his word and has already explained to Sophie what he is doing and she is proud that this khajiit is helping so many different people. I have shared with her everything I could from your dimension, vids, and holos of things Vashlani saw on the Citadel and of the crews from the ships. The vids Joker sent of the first trip to the Citadel and some of the other worlds that Vashlani has gone to. As long as he can come back here often and see her, to make sure she knows this one hasn’t forgotten her, then I will continue to help. As long as the war does not come to the College, Vashlani will travel with you. Should Jarl Ulfric turn his bigoted eyes toward Winterhold and this College, Vashlani will race here to protect Sophie, the Arch-Mage, and his friends.”

 

Shepard nodded, completely understanding his need to protect them. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But... if it does and we are not in the middle of yet another hair-brained mission, I’ll be here to help you.”

 

Vashlani smiled at her and raised his hand to touch her, stopping short and curling his fingers into a fist before dropping it. “It’s time we get back, there is so much that Vashlani has to do yet before we go back to Blackreach in the morning. Thank you, Shepard, for understanding.”

 

She smiled up at him and nodded.

 


 

Well, that didn’t go exactly as he planned. Vashlani stood in the small tower and used telekinesis to move one of the Dwarven dressers onto the lift to take to the upper floor. Shepard was supposed to rail at him, scorn him... not offer assistance if the College comes under attack. Or seem to forgive him for keeping yet another secret from her for so long. He let out a sigh as he heard banging and cussing coming from the upper floor of the tower.

 

“Damn it, Shepard, I told you to hold that piece steady. We’re never going to get this bed put together at this rate.”

 

“Those stupid directions don’t make any sense, Garrus. Why the hell are we attaching the poles to the bed frame before the canopy frame gets attached to the poles.”

 

“How the hell do I know, I’m just following what’s written here. Now hold that pole steady.”

 

“May I be of assistance? Maybe two of us holding it would help?”

 

“I got it Thane, but it looks like Kasumi is losing the fight with the tapestry. That’s the third time it’s fallen off the wall.”

 

“It’s this adhesive. We should sue the company, we’d make millions. It says it will securely hold anything to any surface for decades. It’s blatant false advertising. It doesn’t work on magical walls.”

 

“Well figure something out, Vash should be up here with the dresser in a minute and it goes right where you’re standing.”

 

“Quit armchair ordering, Joker. Weren’t you supposed to be hanging up Sophie’s clothing?” Shepard’s voice rang out from the top of the stairs.

 

“Yeah, I did, but as soon as I put the stuff in there that sphere of his came zooming out of nowhere and rearranged the damn closet. Every time I’d stick something in there, it would move it. So I let it do its thing and we’re both happier for it.”

 

Vashlani covered his eyes and heaved out a sigh, somehow it had gone from only Garrus helping to get the stuff moved into the room and put together to half the ground crew hearing about it and showing up to come help. He felt a hand on his shoulder and uncovered one blue eye to see Samara standing there with a small smile on her face. “They mean well, Vashlani. But this is not what people like them are used to. They know fighting, killing. Not creating a home for a child. It is a new experience for them and believe it or not, I do think they are enjoying themselves.”

 

He let out another sigh and called out he was raising the lift. They heard a bunch of scrambling from the room above them and he just shook his head while Samara gracefully made her way over to where the highly polished Dwarven shelving units were being filled with toys, decorations, and books. Once he stepped onto the lift and closed the small gate, the lift raised and the others helped him to move the dresser into place. The tapestry had been turned into a rug on the floor.

 

After the last dresser was put into place and the bed finally put together, they went down to eat and get ready for the next days adventure. Joker sent a completed update on the upgrades. The cannon was now in place, as was the enlarged mineral probe bay. The Normandy’s new armor plating was almost complete. The only things they were still waiting on was the last parts for the extended fuel cells and the one part for Tali’s upgrade to the barriers. The ship should be done in less than a week, which gave them a few days to finish up what they all need to do on the Citadel before leaving again.

 


 

The magelight had barely begun to brighten the area when Vashlani woke up and let out a yawn. He tried to get up but Shepard only tightened her hold on him. She wiggled, and buried her head in his neck, breathed out a sigh and settled back into sleep.

 

He closed his eyes as his whiskers twitched and his ears rotated, how he had often wished that he could wake up with her like this every morning, tightly wrapped around each other, waking with loving looks given, and a sweet kiss or two. He gritted his teeth when he felt his body stirring, he had to force those thoughts out of his head. She wouldn’t be his, not now... not ever. Just a friend.

 

A few minutes later he felt her grip loosen from him and she rolled over, he slid out of the bed quickly and headed for the shower.

 

When everyone was ready they headed back to the abandoned building in Blackreach. They were all surprised that they hadn’t had to walk all the way back but just popped out inside the home. Vashlani just shook his head no as the question was asked, and Garrus nodded in understanding. Once EDI said everyone was ready they headed back out.

 

Kasumi pointed to a tower a short distance away and they meandered their way there, killing the Falmer who got in their way and stopping to answer Samara’s questions about them before starting again. Vashlani stopped to mine a few things, giving a piece of an unusable soul gem to Samara, explaining that everyone who joined them so far had been given one. Even though she said she was allowed no belongings, other than her weapons and armor, she did accept it as a gift from him.

 

Several hours later they reached the outside of the tower they all stood looking up at the massive tower that had waterfalls on each side of it. The light from a brazier shone on a carving of a giant face of a Dwemer looking down at their group, and a staircase which led down and circled around the corner. There was a single doorway directly in front of them. After a short discussion, they headed down the stairs, stopping to open a chest they found that contained several soul gems, a few regular gems, a scroll that Vashlani quickly tucked into his bag, and several necklaces. He held out his hands to the females and all but Samara chose one. Garrus scooped the last one from his hand, shrugging and muttering, “Tali asked for some stuff.”

 

They continued down, spotting what looked like a small Falmer camp across the water. Vashlani’s whiskers twitched, he wanted to go across there and muttered it out loud. Shepard let out a sigh and said, “What is it with you and water? I thought felines of almost any type hated to get wet.”

 

Vashlani turned his head toward her, “This feline... became accustomed to swimming, as Master forced him to learn. Once he got used to it, this khajiit grew to love the water.” Vashlani’s tail twitched then he turned back toward the camp.

 

Shepard sent a one-word message to him, “Sorry.”

 

Garrus shook his head at her as they filed across the small stream, fanning out and taking out the three, rather tough, Falmer there and began to loot the camp. Vashlani found a chest at the top of the hill inside a tent and bent down to it. His spell didn’t work and he let out a Khajiiti curse. “Kasumi? Would you like a go at this chest? It is locked and too complex for Vashlani’s spell.” He saw her give a brief nod as she jammed something into her satchel and jumped over several rocks and sauntered into the tent. He held out his set of lockpick tools and she gave a hum, ran a scan over the lock, and pulled out a set of her own.

 

“Mine’s better. They don’t break.” She giggled and stuck them in the lock then wiggled them around. Several minutes and quite a few restarts later, they heard a click and she grinned up at him before she flipped open the lid.

 

His eyes roamed over everything which was contained within, taking out the soul gems, spell tomes, a coin pouch, and the enchanted gear, tucking it all into his pack. The rest of it was split between the others. He collected the ores from the three corundum deposits that Thane pointed out to him and then about fell over when Samara described a section of striated rock with an incredible purplish-pink glow. His shout of ebony and the way he ran for the rock had them all laughing. When he finished mining they headed back to the doorway.

 

Garrus and Vashlani pushed the door and it opened into a small area with a lift. Once everyone was inside and the door closed again, Thane grabbed the lever and pulled. When the lift stopped it opened to a short hallway, the group followed it to a room which contained an abundance of benches and a few other things that seemed to have been set up a very long time ago, if the dust and long-dead fire pit in the center of the room was any indication. They looked around the room and took what they could. Garrus and Thane muttered about the ruined books they found and how it was such a waste.

 

They used several of the ruined books to start the fire going in the center of the room, once they were assured no one was there. Vashlani brought out a clean stew pot and the ingredients to make a fish stew. Since Thane had told him his people usually only ate fish or their eggs as their source of meat, that is what he made. He handed Garrus a basket and the turian unpacked it, setting a covered container near the fire to heat up. They sat around eating and answering questions about the things they had found, where he thought they were, and what could possibly be behind the other door. When they were done and felt rested he packed everything in Garrus’ basket then slipped it into his bag. After a short pause in the vid stream, so they could take care of their private needs, they popped back into the room and headed for the door.

 

They walked down the short hallway which ended at another door. All of them looking at each other since they hadn’t encountered any other creatures or people since they entered the tower. When the door was pushed open they all gasped at the room that was behind it and at the giant machine which almost filled it entirely.

 

“This is it. This is what we were looking for,” Vashlani whispered.

 

Vashlani and the others spread out. Shepard found a skeleton under what looked like a podium and picked up the journal, eighteen gold pieces, all three of the charcoal sticks, a steel dagger, a tiny pouch with some kind of powder inside it, and a few rolls of parchment. She tucked it all into her pack before handing Vashlani the gold and the journal.

 

They followed the winding ramp up to where it looked like a control panel sat and Vashlani began to read the journal as Garrus reached for a stack of cogs on a shelf behind him.

 

I weren’t never one for writing about my life. The king-priests of old deserve their stories told, but Drokt is a simple man. So this isn’t no journal and I’m not telling any stories here. But this infernal machine done worked its way into my brainspace and I won’t leave till it’s figured out.

 

The whole contraption just sets like a dead horker if it doesn’t have the box. Putting the box in the hole made it all come to life.

 

Five rings, but only four buttons? Most of ’em don’t work most of the time anyhows. When the lights line up, more open, but they don’t seem to help. Just make another damned thing move.

 

The old fleabag khajiit what sold me this cube said something about “the light through the knowledge through the machine rests on the cube.” I remember because he made me say it back at him till I wanted to throttle him.

 

So I did.

 

Tried to leave, but wolves to the top and them eyeless freaks outside the tower. Gotta stay here till I get it right.

 

And I will get it right.“

 

Vashlani laid the open journal on the podium and took out the Dwemer cube that was in the machine and tossed it over his shoulder. His ears rotated as he didn’t hear it hit the ground, but he didn’t bother to turn around. Then he drew out the one given to him by the Dragonborn along with another scroll.

 

“If you’re reading this then that means you made it. The contraption you see in front of you is called an Oculory. You have to tune the damn thing and get the lenses to line up, it’s a pain in the arse. This is what I was told, ‘To focus the knowledge away and inside without harm. Place the lexicon into their contraption and focus the knowings into it.’ The man is mad, but once everything was deciphered from his almost incoherent ramblings, it was accurate. What you need to do, is after placing that cube into it, push the buttons. The rings will line up the lenses depending on the sequence of the buttons you pushed. Once they are lined up the information will be inscribed on the block I gave you.

 

There is a possibility of a chest.

 

Vashlani, a word of warning, once more do not read from anything that would be contained inside the chest. What you are after is an Elder Scroll. Aye, a real Elder Scroll. They disappeared from the Imperial Library in Cyrodiil 26 years ago. They seemed to have been scattered all over Tamriel. You are a mage and the Arch-Mage told me you were trained by someone highly skilled, he would have warned you about them. Warn your companions in case one of them doesn’t understand the dangers contained within the Prophecies. Return with the scroll and the lexicon cube once it has been inscribed. Take great care, Vashlani and may the Divines provide you and your companions protection and divine speed.“

 

“By the twin moons... an Elder Scroll.” Vashlani swallowed as he looked at the device then turned to his friends. Their looks of confusion were clear on their faces. He rubbed his hands on his cloak then explained to them what the scrolls were and why they were so dangerous.

 

“The Dragonborn was correct. The scrolls are said to contain information on all possible past, present, and future events. They are sometimes referred to as the Prophecies for that reason, and eventually, anyone that reads them will go blind and mad. They are dangerous Aedra artifacts; artifacts of the Gods. Does everyone understand? They are not treasures to be split among us, they are dangerous items which must be taken and placed in a safe location away from anyone that may be tempted to learn from them.”

 

“How many of these Elder Scrolls exist?” Thane asked as the others looked back at the machine.

 

“It is unknown, not because there are so many... but the number is unknowable. You see they are said to be fragments of creation, outside of time itself, that does not exist in countable form, and the prophecy part is only a fraction of their power. They do not exist... yet, they have always existed.”

 

He swallowed again and turned back to the machine, his hands were visibly shaking as he reached for the first button. After testing each of the buttons he started to look for a pattern. Thane stepped forward and watched for several minutes longer before he reached out and placed a hand over Vashlani’s stopping him from pressing even more button combinations.

 

“If I may? There is a discernible pattern.” Vashlani looked at him then stepped back slightly. Thane closed his eyes for a moment then reached for the button to his right. Less than a minute later they saw the lenses line up and the lexicon began glowing with a greenish-white light. A large gem-like creation lowered in the middle of the room and cracked open.

 

Vashlani laid a hand on Thane’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze before grabbing the lexicon and heading down the stairs. Everyone stood around him and looked at what was revealed. A long ivory tube-like container that resembled carved bone with handles and a giant purple gem in the middle sat suspended inside. Vashlani slapped Kasumi’s hand as he saw her reach for the scroll.

 

“Oops... habit.” The thief gave a slight shrug.

 

Vashlani reached out and gently took the scroll from inside the container and placed it into the pocket storage dimension. It was about the safest place he could think of. “Let’s get the hell out of this place.”

 

They opened the door that was below the controls and found another lift. “This must take us up and out, the journal said there were wolves on top and the Falmer outside the tower.” Vashlani grabbed the control and pulled.

 

When the gate opened he blinked, “How in Oblivion did we end up just north of Whiterun?” He looked around and pushed them all back into the lift. “Not good... there are so many guards who patrol this area. We have to get you all back to my home then we can decide what to do and where to go.”

 

Everyone unpacked their bags and sorted the loot, they sat around the pond and discussed what they wanted to do. Garrus was going to stay there and work on a “project”, while the others would dress and go to Whiterun to see the hold’s Capital. Vashlani told them there were many stores there, good food at the local Inn, and they would be able to see the home of the Companions, Jorrvaskr. The Jarl’s palace was there as well, sitting high above and overlooking the entire town.

 

They made sure Thane and Samara were covered, their differences well concealed under hoods and cloaks, long gloves, and heavy mufflers. Vashlani handed Shepard a package, explaining he had bought it for her a while ago and just never got around to giving it to her. Inside was a long multi-layered dress with a corset, gloves, and a pair of thick, fur-lined boots. They gave the mages clothes to Kasumi to change into.

 

The afternoon was spent at the large, newly opened exterior markets. They sold a few items to the vendors and bought a few things. Kasumi ohhed at the display of large, red berries. Vashlani kept an eye on her to make sure she didn’t swipe anything but saw her pay for her purchases with a few coins she found in the ruins. Thane asked for a sack of various other fresh fruits and farm grown vegetables, giving a slight cough to cover the difference in his voice when the vendor looked at him. When they were done they made their way to the main gates, stopping at the khajiit caravan and doing some more trading.

 

When they entered the town their eyes were everywhere, Thane and Samara drew their heavy fur cloaks closer about them, more to hide their slight body differences and in case their coloring showed, than because they were chilled. They went to the armory and bartered their unnecessary equipment; what was left they took across the street to the Drunken Huntsman. The shop owner purchased all the Falmer bows and arrows at a good price, once Shepard charmed the bosmer, his large dark eyes twinkling with merriment.

 

The general goods merchant was a sleazy little breton man whose eyes didn’t wander above Samara’s chest. Vashlani cleared his throat then placed all their miscellaneous gear on the counter. He frowned at the amount of gold the man quoted him. Samara said in her calm, sultry voice, “Are you quite sure that is what you can offer for this?” She took a step forward, thankfully the whole place wasn’t all that well lit, and leaned forward slightly. Her blue chest was covered in a thin gauzy shirt and the corset pushed her already ample bosom, up even higher. They watched the man’s eyeballs almost pop from their sockets then he nearly doubled his offer. Making a not so subtle comment that he could offer more if she wouldn’t mind meeting him later. Samara huskily chuckled and told him she would think about it.

 

Shepard eyed Samara and Kasumi grinned at the asari after they left the shop. “Damn, I thought I was good at schmoozing the discounts. Maybe we should let you do the “Favorite Store in Whiterun routine.” Samara gave her a small smile.

 

“In my youth, I dealt with many a male like that one. Easily handled because they never look a well-endowed asari in the eyes.” The women started to laugh. Thane and Vashlani only shook their heads.

 

Vashlani did a brisk trade with the apothecary, almost laughing when she tried to tell Thane he had Rockjoint. He apologized but said a potion had already cured it, mayhap she was mistaken. She hummed and said no, he definitely had Rockjoint or maybe it was the Rattles. Vashlani paid for his purchases and assured the woman that they were heading toward the Temple where he could pray to the Goddess for a blessing. That way they could be sure it was completely cured.

 

“The woman was off her rocker. Thane doesn’t have Rockjoint or the Rattles, whatever the hell that is. What a phony,” Shepard growled.

 

“Not a phony, Shepard. She is an apothecary trying to sell her wares. Just because her diagnosis, at times, is not quite accurate, it doesn’t make her a phony. Just a bit...off. Although the ingredients she sells are quite good.”

 

They walked up the long flight of stairs and they all stared at the upside down long boat that was on a hill. “That’s Jorrvasker, home of the honorable company of Companions.” They started to turn away to view the huge tree, which just begun to bloom, when Vashlani heard his name being called.

 

A giant of a dark-haired nord jogged down the steps in heavy fur and metal armor with a wolf’s head engraved on it.

 

“You are Vashlani, the friend of our Harbinger?”

 

“I am Vashlani, yes. You were with the Dragonborn in Morthal.”

 

“Aye, my brother is with the Dragonborn now. Have you heard any news?” The large nord looked over the group and saw two of the members heavily bundled up even though the weather was fair that day and raised an eyebrow before looking around. “Maybe we should speak elsewhere, your friends shouldn’t be standing about with all the guards patrolling this area. Follow me.” He led them up the steps and around the side of the building to the training area, yelling “Clear the area, whelps.”

 

Apparently, no one argued with the huge male because everyone filed into the building. Shepard looked at him with a raised eyebrow, he looked at her with a matching one. Ahh, a natural leader.

 

“Harbinger left me in charge until they get back. My name is Vilkas. As I was asking, did you hear anything?” He motioned to the benches and chairs scattered around the area.

 

“Not since the Dragonborn asked this khajiit to handle a task for them. Their destination was Solstheim though, and two companions went along.”

 

Vilkas grunted, “Derkeethus and Farkas. I knew the Dragonborn should have taken me instead. My twin may be as strong as Ysgramor but he doesn’t always think things out. Derkeethus should be able to pick up the slack though, as long as they don’t run into a damn mage.”

 

Shepard cleared her throat and tipped her head toward Vashlani, the big man only shrugged and made no apology for his words.

 

They spoke a while longer then they made to leave. Vilkas stepped in front of Shepard and eyed her. “Would you care to join me for a mead later?”

 

Vashlani clenched his hands and looked away from them. The nord was a Companion and a human. A good match for Shepard.

 

“I’m flattered, but there is already someone who I am in a relationship with... sort of.”

 

The man grunted and told them to watch out for the guards and not to cause trouble.

 

Vashlani couldn’t help but glance her way as they made their way back to the square. “Vashlani does not understand, Shepard. A Companion was interested in you, one that is close to the Dragonborn and most of Skyrim has heard of the warrior twins. Why would you turn him away?”

 

They paused at the steps leading up to the Bannered Mare Inn and Shepard turned to him. “Because Vashlani what I said was true. I am in a relationship with someone kinda... with you. I’m trying to figure this all out, this whole... thing with you.” She turned away and didn’t see the way he swallowed and blinked. Kasumi patted his shoulder giving him a smile as she passed him on the stairs. The rest of the group went inside and they headed for the largest table in the most shadowed corner of the Inn they could find.

Chapter Text


 

Shepard read over the reports from the maintenance crew then Joker and EDI gave her one as well. The work was complete and after a very thorough check from EDI and assurance that everything was functional and that nothing remained behind; like hidden cameras or other items that had been placed by order of the Alliance or Council… or Cerberus. She put out the alert that shore leave would end in 24 hours and everyone was to report back and ready to head out before then.

 

“Alright, everything is ready. Are you sure you are okay with Chakwas doing the procedures on Sophie?”

 

Vashlani nodded hesitantly, he trusted the Healer implicitly, but this was his daughter and she had already been through so much in her young life.

 

“We’ll stay right outside the med bay window, you will be able to see that she is doing fine.” She patted his arm and he touched her hand gently before letting it go. He blinked then they went to the College to fetch his daughter.

 

Neither one could help but smile at the girl’s excitement, her incessant chatter, and eyes wide with wonder as they took her on a small tour of the ship before taking her to the med bay. They all stood there while Chakwas told her what she would be doing and assured her that her Papa would be right outside so he could see what they were doing and that it wouldn’t hurt.

 

The girl shrugged and smiled at the older woman, “You helped my feet and hands not to hurt, and Papa says I’ll be okay.”

 

Chakwas pointed out the window where Vashlani and Shepard stood and Sophie smiled and waved to them. They smiled and waved back then watched as the girl’s eyes began to close. They stood there not moving for the two hours it had taken for the Doc to run the genetic scanner and fix the few issues that were found. Her teeth were straight now, and she had a tray inserted in her mouth that was treating them to make them impervious to normal damage from foods and drinks. Her eyes were currently being worked on, the lenses being adjusted so she would have perfect vision. They saw Chakwas stroke the girl’s hair gently as she lifted the machine from her eyes and run a scan over her again. She removed the tray, a laser with a blue light came down, and Chakwas ran it over her teeth, making sure to treat each one completely. Once she finished the procedure Chakwas turned to them with a smile and adjusted the light blanket covering the child as she continued to sleep.

 

“She’ll wake up in about an hour. Everything went perfectly. It will take her a bit of time to adjust to having good eyesight, but within a week or so she won’t even notice it anymore. Her genetic structure was altered slightly, just enough to fix the few issues that would have resulted in poor growth and shortened lifespan. I went ahead and checked her for cell damage left over from her frostbite and repaired it. Under normal circumstances, she will live a long and healthy life, keep her away from things like alcohol and drugs, and make sure she eats healthy foods and exercises and she will do fine.”

 

They went in and Vashlani sat in the chair beside the gurney and held his child’s hand in his and waited. Shepard squeezed his shoulder then leaned against the wall. A short time later the girl’s eyelids started to flutter and she opened them up. A confused and frightened expression filled her face until she heard the purr coming from beside her and turned her head, she smiled when she saw Vashlani.

 

“Papa?”

 

“I’m here, my precious cub. The Healer says you are all better now. You will grow used to the changes that were made to help you see very quickly, so do not worry. Now how are you feeling?”

 

The girl looked around then held out her hand, then stuck her foot out from under the blanket and bent her knee to look at it. She felt along her teeth, her eyes widening a little further. Shepard smiled and handed her a small mirror. They watched the girl grin and open her mouth wide before touching her pearly white, straight teeth again.

 

“I feel good, Papa.”

 

“Papa is happy to hear that, cub. The healer has something more for you.”

 

Chakwas handed her a small bag which contained several jars of a tooth powder and another containing several brushes with replaceable brush heads that had to be kept hidden from others. “Brush with this twice a day to keep your teeth looking white. It will keep them clean and strong. Your breath will be clean and fresh as well. Like chewing the leaves from a mint plant, only without leaving the green bits stuck between them.” She showed her how to do it and once she was sure she had it right patted her shoulder and gave her a smile. She handed Vashlani a small slip of paper that had the ingredients listed for the powders. Everything it contained could be grown and dried, then had to be ground down into a very fine powder. She included the replacement schedule for the brush heads. The sack contained enough replacements that she shouldn’t have to worry about not having one for the rest of her life.

 

Vashlani packed her things in his bag and helped her off the gurney. “Now my dear, how would you like to see the place called Citadel?”

 

***

 

Shepard helped the child change into the unfamiliar clothes that Vashlani had set out for her. The girl’s impatience to go and see the things her Papa had told her about was apparent.

 

Sophie, even with her excitement, was still scared. She clung to Vashlani’s gauntleted hand as they walked through the wards, the sheer amount of people of all races was probably more than what the child had seen in her entire life.

 

The stopping in various stores was followed by her child’s curiosity about the food, the people, and things she saw.

 

Sophie spotted a familiar figure striding toward them with another of his kind beside him and the girl smiled. “Thane!”

 

The pair stopped and Thane looked at the group, “Sophie? Vashlani brought you here? To the Citadel?”

 

“Aye, Healer fixed me and then Papa and Shepard let me come to see the Citadel before I have to return to the College.” She looked at the green male and the blue one.

 

“Oh, pardon my manners. Sophie, Vashlani, this is my son, Kolyat. Kolyat, this is Vashlani, a friend and crew member aboard the Normandy, and his daughter, Sophie.”

 

Kolyat’s mouth turned down into a frown, “You leave your kid to go traipsing off just like Thane did. What is up with you people? How can you just up and leave like you do? Don’t you give a shit about any of your kids?”

 

“Kolyat!” Thane gasped.

 

“No, Thane, it is a fair question. Vashlani does leave his Sophie. She is safe within walls filled with people of tremendous power to protect her. Vashlani has told his Sophie of what he does and why. Vashlani made a promise to Shepard and Sophie knows of it. Vashlani did not just leave her unprotected and unknowing.”

 

“Papa writes and comes to see me all the time. He saved my life when everyone else ignored me and left me in the street to die after my other Papa died because of stupid wars. You’re mean to think that my Papa just leaves me. He brought me blankets and clothes, hot food, and gave me a real room and bed so I didn’t have to sleep outside in the snow anymore. My Papa loves me and does what he does to help others like he helped me.” The girl finished her tirade, wiped the tears that streamed down her face with the back of her hand then kicked Kolyat in the shin.

 

The blue drell hopped around and cursed under his breath as he bent down to rub at his leg.

 

“Shh, my dear sweet cub, it is alright. Papa does love you, Kolyat just didn’t understand. His circumstances were a bit similar to your own as he was growing up, his Mother lost to death, his own Papa having to leave him as a child with others. Do not be angry or sad, my sweet.” Vashlani crouched down, his armored hand gently running down his daughter’s head, he wanted to kiss her forehead to comfort her but was unable.

 

She flung her arms around his neck and he hugged her tight.

 

Shepard looked like she was getting ready to slug Kolyat again when the blue drell crossed his arms and muttered an apology.

 

“Thane, when Vashlani returns from taking Sophie back to the College we shall sit and talk. Khajiit thinks you should speak with Kolyat as well. He will need to understand, in case what we try works.”

 

Thane hesitated then nodded. The group started to walk away from the two drell when they heard, “Wait.”

 

Kolyat approached and crouched in front of the girl, “I’m sorry for what I said. I’m still... angry about Thane leaving me when I was even younger than you are.”

 

Sophie looked at him for quite a while before she said it was alright.

 

***

 

Vashlani sat at Shepard’s desk when EDI announced that Thane was ready down in the Life Support room. He finished placing the order for outdoor playthings for Sophie before he headed down to the crew deck.

 

He had been looking in his bag when he entered Thane’s room. “Vashlani will tell you...”, he stopped dead in his tracks when he looked up and his eyes met those of Kolyat.

 

“I apologize, Vashlani. But when I mentioned you knew of a possible cure he wouldn’t stop asking, and when I couldn’t seem to give him any form of an answer or even remember what I had been saying he insisted on coming here.”

 

“EDI, lock the door to this room and cut all communications.”

 

“Any audio and video feed had already been disabled. Locking the door and signing you out, Vashlani.”

 

“You...you...who...what...I-I,” Kolyat started to blink and stutter.

 

“Breathe, Kolyat. It is alright. Vashlani may look different but he won’t hurt you unless you do something... unreasonable,” Thane said quietly.

 

Kolyat started backing up toward the drive core window as Vashlani came toward him. “Sit down before you pass out and fall down, Kolyat,” Vashlani growled.

 

The young drell dropped like a rock into the only other chair in the room, his eyes not leaving Vashlani’s face.

 

Vashlani laid his pack on the table and looked at Thane who had his hands folded and his forehead resting on them.

 

“Thane knows I do not like being put into this position. A crew member who Vashlani would have to work with is one thing. Your son is another.”

 

“I do and I offer my sincere apologies.”

 

Vashlani looked at both of the men in the room and let out a sigh, his tail swayed and he saw Kolyat’s eyes lock onto it as he swallowed. “Alright, Kolyat, I need you to pay attention to what Vashlani says.”

 

The black eyes snapped to his own blue ones. “Vashlani is a khajiit from a different dimension. Vashlani will not harm you, but you must understand that he needs to protect himself. If anyone finds out about this khajiit they will try to capture me, possibly kill me. The crew will fight to help protect me, do not doubt this, and I am not a weakling when it comes to power, with capabilities that you could never imagine. It would mean unnecessary deaths. Do you understand?”

 

Kolyat blinked rapidly and nodded.

 

“Good. Vashlani will hand you a roll of paper, read it and answer some questions. This is called a Binding and will be a protection for me, it will also be a protection for you. Your Father can tell you more once the ritual is finished.”

 

“Can you... can you really cure Keprals?”

 

Vashlani’s eyes rose to meet the boy’s, his fingers clutched the quill in his right hand. “Vashlani offers the possibility of a cure to Thane. It is only a temporary reprieve. If Thane spends time in the same conditions which caused him to contract the disease the first time, there is a chance of it reoccurring.” His eyes dropped back to the scroll and they watched as he dipped the quill into a small bottle of glowing ink before writing on a sheet of paper. The words glowed brightly before they settled on the paper and changed to black. When he was done, Vashlani capped the inkwell and put everything away.

 

“When Vashlani tells you to read the words written here you must do so aloud. Answer my questions, then we shall speak more.” A few minutes later the binding was done and Vashlani turned to Thane.

 

“Alright, the potion that I will offer to you is different than the one I gave to the others. It still cures any known contracted diseases from Tamriel, but this one also has an added effect of healing. The potion recipe is very old and is not in any other recipe tome that Vashlani has ever seen, not even in the College; only in Master’s handwritten potion book. In this place the original potion has helped ease Joker’s condition, he was born with his and so it affects him differently. The healing and poison cures work as they should, so Vashlani is confident that this will work for you.”

 

He reached into his pack and drew out a large bottle of swirling blue potion in various hues. “You have seen me give these to the others when we were in the cavern. If you decide to take the potion you must drink the entire bottle at one time; do not stop, just gulp it down like ale. Do you have any questions?” He gently placed the potion bottle on the table in front of Thane and waited.

 

“Why can’t you make a bunch of these and give them to us, our people are dying because the hanar aren’t in any damn hurry to help get rid of their slave labor.”

 

Thane’s eyes snapped up to his son’s, and he frowned. “The Compact is not slavery.”

 

“Bullshit. They tear kids away from their families; take parents away from their children. They have you out in conditions which they know will be a death sentence to our people. This shit has been killing our people for generations and they aren’t doing shit to help us. The salarians aren’t involved, the asari, or hell even the damn humans, haven’t been asked to help. They don’t want us cured because they would lose a free source of labor for their damn fish and kelp farms, for their killers and spies. They don’t provide even the most basic of protections when our people have to be out in that damn weather and they fucking know we get sick.”

 

“Kolyat, should a large number of these potions be given and all of a sudden your people are cured there will be suspicions raised, questions asked, and a search for the reason. Know this, there are others now searching for a way to help the drell. Not just those tasty looking pink jellies. Many people are trying, including ones from where I come from. The argonians are reptilian, similar to you, they, however, are marsh-bred. They are at home in the water, it is the dry air they have problems with. Their bodies and blood are being tested, to see if a cure can be made from the volunteer. One person, who they don’t keep track of, one person can be cured without raising those suspicions. That one person can then help another, but slowly until the “cure” can truly be found to keep your people safe from it.”

 

Vashlani looked at the sullen boy slumped in a chair with his arms crossed and could only hope that he would understand one day.

 

Thane let out a shallow breath and blinked, he had no idea the hatred his son felt toward what happened to the drell ran so deeply. That his views on the subject were different than most drell. Thane’s eyes dropped to the bottle then closed. His head dropped in prayer and asked for guidance. When there was none forthcoming he let his hands rest on the table. He looked up and saw Kolyat staring at the bottle, and tapping his finger on his bicep.

 

“Well, what are you waiting for? Drink it.” Kolyat stared at his Father and then the bottle, glancing once in a while to the fur-covered being leaning against the wall. “Or are you going to turn your back on me again and leave me? You dragged me into this by coming after me and stopping me when you could have just left me the hell alone like you had for the past ten years.”

 

That caused Thane’s brows to draw down again before they smoothed out. Kolyat had a right to be furious with him, he also knew his anger was partially covering nervousness and hope. He reached for the bottle.

 

The glass was smooth and slightly warm to his touch. He could now see gold flecks moving around inside of it. His thumb brushed against the glass, over the thin twine wrapped around the neck of the bottle. He swallowed before letting his thumbnail scrape off the wax seal. The hypnotic swirling motion seemed to increase for a moment before Thane popped the cork.

 

“By Arashu... what is happening?” Kolyat jumped from his chair and plastered himself along the window as Thane kept drinking.

 

Thane started glowing blue then gold, a swirling white light enveloped him, shining so brightly the others had to cover their eyes. When the room went back to normal Vashlani approached Thane, who stood up and looked at his hands and arms.

 

“Hold still, Thane,” Vashlani whispered before he leaned in and inhaled.

 

“Wait, you’re not going to kiss my Dad, are you? Because if you are, let me out of this room first, that is something I most certainly don’t want a memory of.”

 

Vashlani let out a snort and looked back over his shoulder before laughing. “No, Vashlani isn’t sexually interested in your father. Khajiit have an enhanced sense of smell. As a mage and alchemist I have learned to detect things like disease and pheromones, sometimes even lies and deceit within the scents coming from a person’s body. Vashlani is seeing if the potion worked, then we shall proceed to the med bay where Healer will run a different type of test.” His ears flicked and he turned back to Thane. Another inhale and exhale before he moved behind him and did it again.

 

“You smell different. Leather and the guns of this place.” Another inhalation, “Some type of spice and the dust of old books from my own world. Vashlani does not smell the lingering bitter odor of disease and death.” He circled back in front of him again and looked into Thane’s eyes, gently tipped his head once more to the side and inhaled along his ribbing.

 

“Nothing. Take a breath.” His voice was low and calming.

 

Thane swallowed, and Vashlani heard the nervous humming coming from him as he circled Thane.

 

Thane took a shallow breath.

 

“Again. Deeper this time.”

 

Thane inhaled and held it, there was no pain. No sharp stabbing in his chest and he let it out.

 

“Once more.” For the second time, Thane inhaled, a deeper breath than he had drawn in almost six years.

 

Vashlani smiled at him, “Any pain?”

 

“No. Nothing but the rush of oxygen into my lungs. No pain, no tingling in my arms or legs.” He looked at Vashlani again then down at his body. He flexed his hands and took another deep breath, his chest fully expanded before he let the breath out.

 

“It worked?” Kolyat’s whisper came from the other side of the room, filled with wonder and hope and fright.

 

“Vashlani thinks it did. Let us go to the med bay.”

 

Garrus and Shepard were waiting for them outside after EDI notified them that they were requested on the crew deck.

 

When the doors slid open and a smiling Chakwas came out Shepard straightened and looked at them. “It worked, didn’t it? You’re cured?”

 

“I’m... I’m cured of Keprals, completely. Also, the potion healed the damage it caused to my body. My organs are fully functional. There is no scarring. Nothing.” Thane’s normally calm, cool voice was shaking and held a touch of wonder, and just a bit of doubt still.

 

Shepard gripped his shoulder. “You don’t mind if I hug you, do you?”

 

The drell blinked at her and grinned, “No, Commander, of course not.” She gave him a brief hug and patted him on the back. Garrus shook his hand with a wide grin on his face.

 

Shepard grinned and laughed, dragging Vashlani into a hug as well.

 

“This deserves a party. We still have a few hours before the others start coming. And since Kolyat is alive and not a frozen drellcicle, I supposed he knows everything?”

 

“He is under the binding spell, yes. If you want a party, we can go to my home. There is something that Vashlani wishes to show you, but you will need to wear clothing that can get wet.”

 

“Swimsuits? We can swim in your pond. It will probably be the first time Thane or Kolyat can be near so much water without worry. Food and your special ales,” She grinned up at him as she draped her arms around his neck.

 

“Vashlani can do this. A few other things as well. Give me an hour to prepare.” He started purring at her apparent happiness at the health of her friend.

 

“Count me out with the swimming thing, turians don’t swim, we sink like rocks. But the food and beer sounds good.”

 

“What about the two of you? Would you like to come to the house for a few hours?” Vashlani asked.

 

Kolyat looked at everyone standing there, this guy had a house here? How? Why doesn’t anyone know about him?

 

“I would very much like to, Vashlani.” Thane said and they waited for Kolyat’s answer.

 

He gave a shrug. “Nothing better to do.”

 

Shepard grinned at them. “Good, let’s go shopping.”

 

“Send me a message when you return.” Vashlani brushed her hair behind her ear and smiled at the others. Shepard took a few steps back and started to laugh when Vashlani disappeared, and Kolyat let out a short burst of profanity followed by a barrage of questions.

 

Vashlani uncovered the hot tub and after the rain cloud which formed above it started to fill it full of rain, he ran inside and started some food cooking. He pulled some of the Dwemer platters down, and filled them full of different foods. He packed baskets full of ale and meads. He handed them to the sphere and asked for them to be taken to the gazebo. He went and locked all the doors but the small bathroom which he had added to the sitting room for his guests to use.

 

He just finished the last tray of food when his datapad let out a ping.

 

Apparently word got around once again and the crew was waiting for Vashlani. He let out a laugh when they all were jammed in the tiny storage room waiting for him.

 

Kolyat had no idea why they were stuffed in this small room instead of meeting at Vashlani’s house.

 

Vashlani shook his head and started to mutter something and wave his hands around. A bright blue swirling glow started in the center of the room and Garrus walked into it, followed by Joker, Chakwas, and Kasumi. Samara and Jack went next. Mordin didn’t even look up from his omni tool just followed the others. Shepard checked a large bag she was holding then went into the light.

 

Kolyat had once more plastered himself up against the wall.

 

“Do not be afraid, Kolyat,” Thane said then walked into the light.

 

“Vashlani will be right behind you. Do not worry. The others are just on the other side.”

 

***

 

Vashlani took Kolyat on a quick tour of the grounds while the others were inside changing into their suits. Kolyat couldn’t believe what he saw or heard at first. But after a while, he seemed to calm down and Vashlani showed him where he could change before jogging up the steps to put his own suit on. He stumbled to a halt when he saw Shepard standing in the middle of his bedroom adjusting what must be the top of her suit.

 

“Almost done, Vashlani.”

 

His throat was dry and he couldn’t do more than nod at her.

 

She brushed past him and he tried not to stare at the small pieces of fabric that were covering her, sort of.

 

He turned back to change and muttered to himself that she was going to kill him by stopping his heart with the things she did.

 

***

 

The large bag that Shepard had been carrying apparently was stuffed with outdoor games and pool things. Vashlani watched her set some strange device up and turn it on, a few seconds later the round object she had hooked it up to, blew up into a large circle that she threw into the pond and Jack headed for. She hooked something else up and a minute later a yellow circle that had the giant head of a duck wearing a hat joined the circle floating in his pond. Joker made his way to it and levered himself up on it. She threw in several more things before handing him a giant blanket to spread out on the grass near the pond.

 

From somewhere music started playing and everyone started to enjoy themselves. Kolyat and Thane wondered down to the edge of the pond and Thane crouched, dipping his hand in the water and letting it run through his fingers.

 

“What was it that you wanted to show me, Vashlani?” Shepard looked at everyone sitting around talking, eating or swimming. Mordin had disappeared somewhere around the corner of the house heading toward the stable a while ago, and Shepard really didn’t want to know what he was doing.

 

“Come with Vashlani,” he pointed to the other side of the small cabin. They dodged around the sphere who seemed to have picked up several baskets and had them all balanced in its spindly metal arms and was heading for the pond.

 

She laughed when she saw the hot tub and helped him to remove the cover again since the water cleaning cycle finished and climbed in. He pushed the buttons on it and the water started to bubble and froth merrily, a light steam started to rise from it and he climbed in beside her taking the seat next to her and let out a purring sigh.

 

“Ahh, just like Vashlani hoped. Nice and warm with a good view of the meadow and mountains. Does Shepard like this hot tub?” He reached over the side and picked up a basket which sat on a small table, chilled a clear bottle that seemed to contain water and handed it to her.

 

“Shepard likes this hot tub very much, this is wonderful. I can see coming here after a long day to relax in this tub.” She twisted the cork out of the bottle and took a drink, letting out a sigh at the taste of pure, clean water that could have only come from his world.

 

Vashlani gave a startled jump when Shepard scooted closer to him on the bench seat and wrapped his long, wet, furry arm around her shoulders.

 

They heard a snort coming from the open doorway of the sitting room and saw Garrus come out and grab a bottle from the side table before climbing in and sitting in one of the open spots.

 

“Spirits, this was a damn good idea you had Vashlani.” He let out a sigh of his own as he settled in the hot water.

 

A few minutes later they watched Mordin run around the side of the house and past them being chased by both goats and Urz. He seemed to be holding one of the chicken eggs out in front of him.

 

“Now what the hell is that salarian up to?” Shepard muttered and stood up to lean over Vashlani and pick up another bottle. She missed the look that passed between the two males and the narrowing of Vashlani’s eyes.

 

Several minutes later a ping on Shepard’s omni tool came through. “I am sorry to disturb your relaxation, Shepard, but a message from the Illusive Man just came through and Ms. Chambers has been trying to contact you.”

 

Shepard let out a sigh. “Thanks, EDI, we’ll be there in a few minutes. When I get on board send out the immediate recall notice.”

 

“Yes, Commander. EDI, out.”

 

She moaned and they all got up and went in search of the others. All of them helped to clean up and put things away before Vashlani opened the portal and they went back to the ship.

 

“Hey, thanks for trusting me and all... and, uh, thanks for curing my dad,” Kolyat said quietly after all of the others had entered the portal.

 

“You are welcome, this one is happy to have been able to help.”

Chapter Text


 

Once Shepard disconnected the call with the Illusive Man she called a meeting in the debrief room and let them know that somehow Cerberus intercepted a report about a Collector ship that the turians were able to stop, but not until they had lost their entire patrol. Garrus’ mandibles flexed and his head lowered, Vashlani looked at him when he heard the subharmonics resonating of disbelief coming from his friend.

 

“We’re on the way there now. Since it is unknown what the ship is like and what we may encounter we will be split up into teams. Garrus, Vashlani, and Samara are with me. Tali, Miranda, and Thane team two. Jacob, Kasumi, and Zaeed are team three. Grunt, Mordin, and Jack you three are on standby. If something happens to a team you three move in and get them the hell out of there and back to the ship. Stay in communication with the others at all times. No heroics and watch your asses. If an emergency evac is called you get your asses off that ship. Understood?”

 

They all nodded their agreements and were dismissed.

 


 

Once they were inside they ran another comm check then the teams split up, “Look for survivors, find anything that might help figure out why they are after humans, and see if you can find us some more tech we can study and use against them.”

 

Shepard’s team went forward while the other two split off in either direction when they reached the first intersection.

 

“This ship looks like a giant hive, Shepard,” Garrus said quietly over the comms as they moved forward. They heard several others agree.

 

Shepard stopped to gather some scans on equipment, and a few things were picked up as they made their way through. At one point EDI and Joker came over their comms, “Commander, you aren’t going to believe this but I had EDI run some scans, listen to what she found.”

 

“The emissions from the drive core of the Collector’s ship are identical to the one that attacked and destroyed the original Normandy, Shepard. The ship is the same one, it is also the one that attacked Horizon.”

 

“So you’re telling me this ship has been dogging me for the past two years? Something doesn’t smell right, everyone keep your guard up, there is something really not right with this whole set up.”

 

“Set up is right, Commander. I’ll keep running scans on it, see what else I can dig up. Joker, out.”

 

The other teams reported finding a few empty pods and others found some hanging in groups from the ceiling, EDI told them there were no life signs, the pods probably lost life support when the ship was damaged.

 

“That’s another thing that’s been bothering me, Shepard,” Garrus’ voice came over the comms, “how did the patrol take down this large ship? And where was the debris field from the wreckage of their ships?”

 

“Maybe the lasers from Horizon softened it up enough for them to take out. But the thing about the ships is bothering me too.”

 


 

“Shepard, more pods.” Samara pointed out a section of pods against the wall and Shepard hissed.

 

“Let’s keep moving there is nothing we can do for them now.”

 

They came around a corner and Vashlani stopped.

 

“What’s going on?” Shepard hissed at him.

 

“I smell death and decay. A strong odor of rot and corruption. It is coming from up ahead.”

 

They approached the area and saw a pile of what looked like rags at first, as they drew closer they saw it was actually bodies, piled up and left to rot like garbage. They all stood and stared, not believing what they were seeing. Garrus reported to the others what they had found, after a few moments of silence they acknowledged and said they were still on the move.

 

They went down another hallway where a bank of machines and what looked like incubator pods was lined up. Shepard started to examine one when Vashlani let out a hiss.

 

“Look, a Collector.”

 

“What are they doing? Experimenting on their own people?” Garrus mumbled as he bent over to get a better look at the being that was in the pod.

 

“Shepard. I ran a scan on the Collector. Its genetic structure is four base pairs. Only one species in the galaxy has the same genetic structure. Protheans. The Collectors are Protheans.” EDI told them and they all backed away from the pod.

 

“Oh my God, the Protheans aren’t extinct. They were harvested and changed into the Collectors. EDI? Can any of this be undone? Is there any data there that tells us what they were doing?”

 

“No, Shepard. They are no longer Protheans. There is nothing truly left of them. It is all cloned, all changed. From what I can determine... they were looking for similarities between the Protheans and Humans.”

 

“No species deserves this. We have to stop this,” Shepard said aloud and the others nodded their agreement. Vashlani placed his hand on her shoulder.

 

What looked like a human’s weapon locker was knocked over and several heatsinks had spilled out, she bent down and picked up several heavy weapon power cells, adding them to her pack then Garrus helped her to tear the door to the locker open wider. When they did several weapons spilled out. She picked up the Widow sniper rifle and handed it to Garrus, who strapped it to his back, the Claymore was given to Vashlani, who tucked it into his bag and she picked up the Revenant with a feral gleam in her eye, swapping out the heatsink and attaching the other rifle to her back as she stood up.

 

Another hour of wandering through the twisting tunnels and they found themselves in a giant room. The walls and ceiling lined with pod after pod, millions if not billions of them, all lined up and ready for use.

 

“Are you seeing this?” She hissed over her comm line.

 

“There are enough here to fill with all the human colonists and still have millions left over,” Samara said.

 

“We’re seeing the same room as you are Shepard. Why so many pods if they are just after our colonists?” Jacob’s voice came over the comm along with murmurings from other squad members.

 

“Shepard, they aren’t just after the colonists... they’re after Earth,” Miranda’s strained voice was heard and several of the others muttered their agreements.

 

“We’re not going to let that happen,” Shepard’s growl was loud over the comms.

 

“Um...guys? Is it just me or is anyone else wondering why we haven’t seen any dead Collectors? Their bodies? Anything... even live ones? Where did they all go?” Kasumi’s questions were echoed by several more.

 

They found what looked like a control panel at the bottom of a ramp and EDI told them she could use that one to tap into their databanks and mine it for more intel, but Shepard had to manually run the bypass.

 

It was only a moment later when the Collector ship shuddered and the power seemed to fluctuate, blowing several of the lighting structures. They heard Joker’s curses and Shepard yelled they were alright and asked what was going on.

 

“This isn’t good, they’re trying to hack EDI,” Joker’s yell was accompanied by the shaking of the control panel, it was actually some type of floating platform and the Collectors seemed to have gained control over it and were trying to bring it toward them.

 

“Shepard you have incoming. I’m rerouting now.” EDI’s intel was just a bit late as the others had already seen more of the platforms heading their way.

 

“Everyone haul ass back to the ship.”

 

They all responded they were trying too but were meeting resistance of their own.

 

When the fight was over, EDI started to datamine again. She also informed Shepard that the signal had been fabricated. When asked how she knew, EDI told them about a turian security protocol and how that protocol was corrupt. The Illusive Man had to know about it being a fake, he was the one that wrote the program that discovered the code originally.

 

“Bastard set us up.” Shepard hissed out as they jumped from the platform and started to head down a slope, hoping it would quickly lead them back to the shuttle.

 


 

They were moving back through the ship as quickly as they could, doing their best to mow down the Collectors as fast as possible then moving. Vashlani had to duck behind a barricade to pull more of his blue potions out and drank down a rather large one before corking it and putting it in his pack. The blue light swirled and seconds later he stood up, spread his hands outward and pointed the ground. Lightning crackled and covered the entire area where the Collectors were amassing, their bodies jerking and bowing backward as he kept his hands spread and moving them side to side. He could only hold the spell for several seconds before it drained him completely, but it was enough that the entire room of Collectors and husks were stopped and easy targets for the others while several more just disintegrated.

 

“Big one?” Garrus asked him and Vashlani nodded.

 

“Yes, very draining for me still. But there are more... many more, which are even more powerful.”

 

Garrus’ mandibles flicked, more powerful than that... he was glad the khajiit was on their side.

 

“EDI, get this damn door open,” Shepard shouted as they rounded a corner. EDI told her she was bypassing a firewall and to move to a door on a different wall. It slid open as they headed for it. As they ran for the ramp, Garrus let out a curse and pointed. Another one of the large praetorian units was heading their way, as were several husks.

 

“Damn it, cover and get rid of those husks. Samara watch for the beam it’s very powerful,” Shepard shouted and pointed to a low wall.

 

She heard the asari’s acknowledgment and watched as Samara and Garrus started picking off the husks. Vashlani ran to Shepard and stayed near her, as once again the large nightmare of a Reaper construct concentrated on her. Vashlani let out a breath and began forming a huge ball of lightning between his hands, he stood and threw it towards the large creature when it landed, then proceeded to send another then another at it until he had to duck and dump another potion into the intake port.

 

“Shepard, I’m running out of potions here. Once I use up the last large potion I have less than 10 of my smaller ones.”

 

“Understood, Vashlani.”

 

He stood back up and sent more dual cast thunderbolts toward the creature, finally, it disintegrated into ash and they ran for the door which just slid open again. Vashlani dumped a long thin tube of blue liquid into his port as they ran, the blue glow was constant around him for several seconds. “That was the last of the regeneration potions, Shepard. All I have left is the large one and eight small, then only what I will have in my mana pool until I can rest; preferably sleep.”

 

“Alright, let’s pick up the pace.”

 

Joker came over the comms, team two just made it back, the rescue team engaged the enemy and helped a wounded Jacob get back to the ship. Everyone else was on board and either being treated or guarding the last shuttle.

 

They ran around another corner and was confronted by a legion of husks coming their way.

 

“Shit!” Shepard started peppering them with shots from her new gun and Garrus swapped to his own assault rifle.

 

Vashlani handed the rest of his potions to Samara. “Dump one into my port when I tell you, don’t drop the phials.” He stepped forward and raised both hands, huge gouts of flame shot out and he moved them side to side as they inched their way down the slope toward where EDI told them the shuttle was waiting. “Now!” Samara uncorked one and dumped it in, Vashlani started spraying fire everywhere again. They kept it up until Samara told him she used the last one.

 

He kept the flames going until they sputtered and died. Samara moved in front of him and used a combination of biotics and shots from her weapon to push the rest of them away from them. She spread her arms wide and shouted, a red and blue swirl of biotic power leapt from her and hit one of the last husks, it reared back and Samara seemed to gain some of her health back as Vashlani noticed a few of the gashes on the asari healed over when the husk was hit with whatever power she used.

 

“Move, get to the shuttle!” Shepard yelled.

 

They ran, Joker, yelling at them over the comms to hurry because the weapons system was now online and powering up and he wasn’t going to lose another Normandy.

 

No sooner did the shuttle bay doors close than Joker engaged the warp drive and they headed straight for the closest relay and were away.

 


 

Vashlani took one of the spare potions he kept in the med bay and healed himself, then used a blue one so he could help Chakwas with the healing of the others before collapsing in a chair.

 

“Come on, Vashlani, you have done more than enough. Go home and get some sleep. If something happens or Shepard needs you, EDI or I will contact you.” Chakwas helped him to stand then he yawned as he made his way to the armory and changed into a set of loose pants the others had called sweatpants. He started back toward the elevator when the human female called Chambers once more stepped before him.

 

“Vashlani? Where are you going? I ran some scans earlier and they came back as you not being on board and we are out in the middle of space. How can the VI not find you? Where do you take the others? Why won’t you take me? I’ll be good company for you, really good company.” Her eyes roamed hungrily over the khajiit, and she licked her red painted lips. He was shirtless with only the tags and his amulet around his neck. The black pattern of his stripes and spots curled around his arms and chest. A pattern of a paw print on his shoulder and the design she sometimes saw on his clothes was also on his left pectoral muscle in black, contrasting against his gray and white fur.

 

“Get away from me, woman. This khajiit doesn’t like you, doesn’t want anything to do with you, and most certainly won’t have sex with you. Stay away from me. Vashlani is Shepards. Will only be Shepards. If you approach me again with this you will learn a lesson that the wind cloak seemed to fail in teaching the first time.” He turned toward the lift doors which had just opened and stepped on.

 

“Dangerous. Must advise you to stop seeking him out. He is not available. He is not interested, and will not hesitate to hurt you. Ship crew or not,” Mordin said from behind the female before he turned and hurried into his lab.

 

Vashlani got off the lift and went into the loft. “EDI, that woman said she ran scans with a VI. Is there any way you can stop it?”

 

“It has been done, Vashlani. The VI was originally programmed as an emergency tracer for the crew. Yeoman Chambers talked one of the male engineers into programming it specifically for you. My own programming forbids me from blocking engineer’s changes unless they are deemed unsafe or unsecured. I was unaware it was not for an emergency and only for her personal use, once it was clear that it was not the case, I blocked the changes and reverted it to its original coding.”

 

“Thank you, EDI. Vashlani is going to feed Ji’za and Shepard’s fish then return home. Please tell Shepard where I’ve gone.” Vashlani hit the big red button on the wall next to the fish tank and watched the fish move closer to the top of the water and happily eat the multicolored flakes before he lifted down Ji’za’s tank and added food and water to the cubical.

 

“Vashlani will be back soon, little Ji’za. He is making sure that when you can come live in his home you have a nice, safe spot. My little Sophie will be taught how to take care of you as well. You will like my cub.” He scratched the little hamster between the ears then put it back in its home and secured the cube to the shelf. Once he was sure everything had been done he let out a yawn and went home.

 


 

The next afternoon he was restocking his supply of potions adding them to a new satchel he had made just for them that would attach to his suit, allowing for much quicker retrieval, when a notice of a chat request came through.

 

“Vashlani, we’re heading for Omega. Samara has found the target she was looking for and is requesting both of us to come visit her in the observation deck. It seems really important.”

 

“Alright Shepard, please let her know I will return in a few minutes. Vashlani is filling the last of his potion phials now.”

 

He heard a grunt from the datapad and glanced over at it.

 

“I heard what Chambers did again. I don’t know what to do with her. Normally I would just throw her in the brig for harassment and drop her off at Alliance HQ, but since we aren’t Alliance and the crew wouldn’t look too kindly at me for tossing her ass out the airlock, we are just going to have to deal with it a different way.”

 

“Mordin told you about what she said?” Vashlani put a cork in a phial then coated it with a layer of melted wax. He checked the seals on the ones that were finished cooling before placing them inside the satchel.

 

“Yeah, so did EDI. I should have known she would try crap if you showed back up. One of the first things she did was come on to me and tell me how she just loved all the species. The way she said it gave me creepy chills up my spine. I heard Thane telling her the other day that if she approached him with such an indecent proposal again he would stuff her into the compactor in Zaeed’s room and shoot her out the opening. Garrus told her that he didn’t have a human fetish and she would have more luck propositioning the digital wall clock than she would him, then he shut and locked the Main Battery door.”

 

Vashlani let out a purring laugh as he packed the rest of the phials into the bag and picked it up along with the datapad. “Vashlani just needs to change his clothes. I will be there shortly.”

 

“Alright. Oh, one more thing. Grunt asked for some more of your snowberry milk and a sweetroll or two if you have any.”

 


 

Vashlani stood behind Shepard as they listened to the story Samara told them, without emotion, about her children. Their genetic abnormality turned them into killers should they meld with someone. Two of her children chose isolation, one had not and went on a killing spree. It was the reason Samara had been on Illium. Now her most recent inquiries have put her daughter, Morinth, on Omega where she has killed again.

 

“I would like to you go with me to investigate, Shepard. Vashlani, perhaps you can help in some way, possibly have some knowledge of this happening in your own dimension and if there is a cure or means to stop this from happening. Normally, I would not ask for help, but I respect both of you and this is not a normal situation. If she sees me she will run and I will lose her, it may well take me another fifty years to track her if she goes underground. She must be stopped, Shepard.”

 

Shepard nodded her head and placed her hand on Samara’s shoulder. Samara shrugged it off, not asking for pity. “I am not offering you pity, Samara, but understanding and the support of a friend.” The asari Justicar looked into the human’s eyes for the longest time before giving her a brief nod.

 

Vashlani stroked his chin as they walked out of the room. “Hmm, a person that can kill using pleasure and sex. This is most unusual. Vashlani has not heard of such a thing but will do some research while we travel. Although it sounds like something Sanguine would think up, he rules the Daedric realms of passion, both the light and dark side of it.”

 

“Who’s that?”

 

“Sanguine? Daedric Prince of hedonistic revelry, debauchery, and passionate indulgences of a darker nature. He even rarely does something for the light side, of course, it is usually for his entertainment. And usually gets the mortal into big trouble.”

 


 

Vashlani sat at his desk, while Shepard sat on the floor in front of the fire and petted Urz, the varren had his head in her lap and was snoring softly.

 

“Find anything?”

 

“No. This may be something specific to your dimension. It seems like it only affects the asari from what Samara said, and only asari couplings, but not all of them are affected.” He closed the last of the tomes and rose to place them back on the shelves. “I am not sure what help this khajiit will be to you and Samara.”

 

“I’m not too sure either, but these Ardat-Yakshi that Samara told us about are very dangerous. They enthrall their prey and then mate and burn their neurological systems out. Sounds rather unpleasant.”

 

Vashlani let out a grunt as he stretched. “It is time for us to go back.” Shepard gave Urz one last pat before moving. The varren got up and yawned, shook himself then headed for the lift going down.

 

“I still can’t believe you took that pit fighter.”

 

Vashlani shrugged, “Urz is smart. Vashlani could tell that about him, he could also tell he was wanting a new master and he was tired of fighting in the pit. He will enjoy the excursions we do to hunt, but not constantly fighting and recovering. Urz wanted a home and Vashlani gave him one. Also... Vashlani wanted something rare and overheard some krogan talking about how they had never seen a purple varren before.” He smiled at Shepard as she shook her head.

 


 

“Vashlani isn’t so sure about this, Shepard. Vashlani doesn’t like the sound of using you as bait to lure this Morinth.” He was agitated and worried about Shepard’s ability to fight off the sexual lure of the asari.

 

“What are you worried about? All I need to do is not fall for her lines. I’ve never been attracted to an asari and knowing this one kills with sex really doesn’t endear me to her.” Shepard adjusted the dress she had worn to Hocks’ party with Kasumi and Vashlani let out a growl.

 

“Samara said she would be hard to resist, that if she is allowed to enter your mind she could easily destroy you.”

 

“Only if I let her, Vashlani. Stop worrying.”

 


 

Vashlani raced through the lift doors and ran toward the med bay. EDI had alerted him when they had returned and Shepard wasn’t doing too well.

 

“What happened?” Vashlani ran to Shepard’s side and cast a heal on her.

 

“The plan was proceeding accordingly. She led me back to Morinth’s apartment and I waited until I received the signal from EDI. I entered the apartment and Morinth immediately attacked me. I gave her peace and her victim's justice then brought Shepard back to the Normandy.”

 

Vashlani looked up at Samara, she was standing there looking as calm as ever but his eyes saw the sadness radiating from her, the worry about Shepard, and the pain at having to kill her own daughter.

 

“What happened to Shepard?”

 

“Morinth had begun to meld with her before I could reach her.”

 

Vashlani let out a low growl, “Vashlani cannot fix damage to the mind.” His eyes glowed with a blue light and he tore his gaze away from Samara to focus once more on Shepard. His hand stroking her red hair from her face and placing his forehead against hers, his eyes closing.

 

“Move aside Vashlani, let me continue her neural scans to see if there is any damage.”

 

He paced as the scans were run, he growled each time Chakwas frowned and switched the machines.

 

When the Healer finally let out a sigh and moved the last of the machines out of the way he asked her if Shepard was going to be alright.

 

“I believe so Vashlani. The scans are a bit different than her last ones. There may be some lingering effects from the trauma, but I don’t think it’s permanent. If Samara had been any later in arriving, things may very well have had a different outcome. What she needs now is rest. She will remain here under observation. I have given her a very mild sedative and she should sleep soundly through the night. I’ll set up a cot for you nearby.”

 

Vashlani didn’t sleep. He sat beside Shepard all night holding her hand and whispering to her. He sent tiny pulses of healing through her with no effect. Most of the other crew had stopped in for a few minutes, over the course of the next day, before leaving again. Kasumi brought him a large, steaming bowl of some type of noodles with vegetables and thin slices of meat in it. He thanked her but barely touched it.

 

It was almost another full day cycle before he felt her move and called for the Healer.

 


 

Shepard was tucked into the bed in the loft with Vashlani hovering over her. “Vashlani told you to be careful. He knew something would go wrong.”

 

“Stop nagging at me, Vashlani. I’m fine and why the hell are you insisting I stay in bed another day? I slept all day yesterday and Chakwas said I was fine.”

 

“No, she did not. She said you will be fine with some more rest but didn’t need to stay in the med bay.” He dug around in his bag and pulled out a book and handed it to her.

 

“What the hell is this? Kolb and the Dragon?”

 

“It is to keep you entertained while I go to the College to secure the Elder Scroll into the vault. Stay in bed.” He leaned down and laid his head on top of hers. “You had me so worried, Shepard.”

 

“I know, and I’m sorry. I didn’t expect her to be so... sensual? Alluring? It threw me for a loop Vashlani, I thought I was prepared and even knowing I really wasn’t attracted to her that way, there was the hint of power which drew me. I lowered my guard, just for a split second. That was all it took before I felt an oily presence in my mind, an invasion of who I am. For those few seconds before Samara came through the door it was horrible, I couldn’t scream or call out, I couldn’t fight.” Her usually so strong voice cracked and wavered when the memories came to her.

 

Vashlani let out a sigh and sat on the bed beside her, drawing her into his arms. “Vashlani should have been there to watch over you. Promises to Samara not to interfere be damned, I should have been there for you. Khajiit is sorry that he wasn’t.” He tightened his hold on her as he stroked her hair and back. A deep purr sounded from his chest, his whole body vibrated from the rumble of it. She closed her eyes and just listened to it, her own arms tight about him. They sat like that until she had calmed and finally pulled back from him.

 

“Vashlani will be back as soon as he can. He expects you to be right here, resting and reading that book.” He grinned at her then pressed a kiss to her forehead before standing and disappearing.

 

“Kolb and the Dragon, huh.” She leaned back into her pillows and opened the book snorting as she finished the first page, then she started laughing out loud. It was a pick a path book. She heard about these kinds of stories being popular hundreds of years ago. She grinned and turned to page two to read the next part before flipping to a page near the back to read what happened on the path she had chosen.

 


 

Vashlani stepped out of the Arch-Mage’s storeroom and waited until he had finished speaking with one of the instructors before walking toward the dark elf.

 

“Let’s hurry and get the scroll into the vault. I don’t know when the Dragonborn will be back to pick it up and I don’t want it where anyone can get their hands on it.”

 

Vashlani followed him through a series of magically locked doors and passageways down into the Midden. Several more twists and turns then a few more magical wards and they were standing in front of a wall of stone. The Arch-Mage cast a complicated spell, concentrating for several seconds as both he and the wall glowed before a door appeared. Vashlani quickly handed him both the lexicon and the scroll before taking several steps back while the Arch-Mage sealed the room and placed the magical wards again, then they hurried back to the tower.

 

The Arch-Mage handed a satchel to him for Chakwas and Joker before Vashlani went back to the Normandy. He grinned when he appeared and Shepard was fast asleep with the book open on her lap.

 


 

That evening they were eating when Kelly approached their table, Vashlani gave out a hiss and Shepard squeezed his thigh. “Yes, Yeoman?”

 

“The Illusive Man sent you a private message, it was marked urgent and I forwarded it to your terminal.” Her eyes flicked from Shepard to Vashlani and back again.

 

“Alright, as soon as I’m done with dinner I’ll go check it. Thank you for letting me know. Is there anything else?”

 

“No, Commander.”

 

Shepard turned from her and let out a low laugh as Vashlani nuzzled her and let out a purr. “Stop that, it tickles.”

 

He let out a throaty purr, “You didn’t say that before.” He nuzzled her again before standing up and moving to drop off his dishes and walk up the steps to the Main Battery.

 


 

An hour later Shepard walked into the Main Battery with a mix of disbelief and anger on her face. The three occupants looked up from what they were doing. “The Illusive Man has ‘requested our assistance’”, she used the dreaded air quotes that she had come to hate, “for a delicate mission that contains highly volatile technology that Cerberus has been researching. The whole station has gone off the grid.”

 

“Not again, what is it with Cerberus and its damn experiments going haywire and running amok.” Garrus tossed the tool on the workbench he had been using to make adjustments to the Thanix after yet another grueling day of calibrations.

 

“We’re heading there now. Joker has the ETA at 0600. Garrus, you and Vashlani be ready, I have no intel on what we will be facing. He wasn’t forthcoming with any details. I have this itch on the back of my neck that tells me it’s going to be bad.”

 

Thane started to carefully roll several long sheets of parchment up while Vashlani capped the inkwell.

 

“Whatcha doing?” She asked as she tried to get a peek at what was on the paper.

 

“Nothing, Shepard. I was interested in a few things that I had read from one of Vashlani’s books and wanted to ask him about a few of the symbols.”

 

“Oh. Anything good?”

 

“They were of Dwemer origin. You know most of it is unknown, even by our scholars.” Vashlani shrugged.

 

“Well, I’ll see you boys in the morning.” Shepard rubbed the back of her neck and left the Main Battery. Thane and Vashlani stared at each other, both of them wondering how long they were going to be able to keep the secret of the animunculus from her.

 


 

From the moment she met Dr. Gavin Archer, Shepard didn’t like him, not one bit. By the time they made it off the planet with the Doctor’s young, autistic brother, that Archer had hooked up to interface with geth in order to create some sort of hybrid, she wanted to turn around and shoot the bastard. Instead, she contacted Grissom Academy and let them know she was coming in with an emergency that needed special care. She forwarded the report to them and after watching the woman on the holo, snarl and grind her teeth the entire time she read it, she signed off to go to the debrief.

 

“What the hell was Cerberus thinking?” Garrus said as he stood there with his arms crossed.

 

“Just another fucking Cerberus experiment. The bastards don’t care who the fuck they mess up.”

 

Shepard sighed and held up a hand before Miranda could interject something to try and defend the crap that they had found going on down on the planet. “My best guess is they were trying to emulate the control that Saren had over the geth. The geth blindly followed Saren, or Sovereign, whichever way you look at it. If they could create their own hybrid, and get them to follow it... Cerberus would have control over them.”

 

Miranda started to open her mouth again and was once more cut off. “Don’t even try to justify what we saw down there.” Shepard activated a vid feed of when they found David. Tubes and metal cables jammed into him, his eyes held open by clamps. Unable to move, to speak. The VI he was hook too had overpowered the young man and he was turned into something like a virus. Turning the geth platforms they had found in a crashed ship active and using them to kill the Cerberus personnel, then trying to find a way to escape. All he wanted was someone to help him.

 


 

 She stood under the spray of her shower and leaned against the wall, hoping the water would wash away the memories of what she had seen, of what it had been like when David had taken control of her remaining Cerberus implants and in effect took control over her. She knew it was to try and get her to understand in the only way that he could, by interfacing and showing her what had happened to him, but once again she felt violated.

 

She sighed and shut off the water, it wasn’t helping.

 

When she exited the bathroom, she smelled one of Vashlani’s meals, a fragrant stew, and freshly baked bread. She glanced down into the lower room and saw that he had set up what looked like a picnic in the middle of the room. Even a jug with flowers in it was sitting off to the side. She couldn’t help but smile.

 

“Come, sit and eat, relax then we can talk. Maybe it will help, yes?”

 

An hour later after he had cleaned up they sat together on the couch and he tucked her up against him and let her talk. Eventually, she let out a tired sounding sigh and snuggled against him. She kissed his cheek and he froze before he let out a purr. “Thank you,” she whispered as she rubbed her face against this silk shirt and closed her eyes.

 

They must have drifted off because they both jumped when EDI startled them by saying Tali seemed agitated and wanted to talk with her down in engineering.

Chapter Text


 

 

Vashlani watched and grinned as Shepard laid into the quarian Admiralty Board for not only putting Tali on trial for treason but hiding the fact her Father was on the ship which the geth had taken over. When they went to investigate they found that it was her Father and several quarians that had caused the mess by assembling geth, bringing them online and torturing them. The geth reacted and killed the ones on board. When they got back they heard the quarians already getting ready to pronounce the group dead, it had only been a few hours until Shepard and Tali burst into the room. Tali smart-mouthed them then Shepard took over.

 

Now Shepard was yelling at them that this wasn’t about Tali at all, it was about them wanting to go to war with the geth, again. She kept the knowledge about Tali’s father and what he had been doing over there to herself, hiding the fact that they had found evidence that would have labeled Tali’s father a war criminal. He could hear the mutterings of the crowd over what Shepard was saying and how they should have known that someone like Tali wouldn’t have turned traitor.

 

The Admirals realized they had made a huge mistake and voted not guilty so they could save face. They gave Shepard a few token upgrades and thanked her for representing one of their people. Shepard sneered at them and it showed in her voice. “I didn’t represent one of your people, Tali is one of mine.” The murmurs started again as everyone talked among themselves as they left.

 

They spent a few minutes walking around and letting Tali say goodbye to her Aunt and some of her friends then headed back to the ship, Tali’s head held high. She may now carry the name of a human ship, but she was damn proud to have it.

 


 

Shepard was leaning back in Vashlani’s hot tub, a relaxed smile on her face, enjoying the luxury, as Vashlani showed Tali around his home. He had extracted several more promises from the quarian than he had her, one of which was no trying to destroy or tamper with his sphere. He did allow her to run several scans over it which all came back as unknown just to show her that it wasn’t some sort of AI but a mix of magic and science and was damn useful. It took excellent care of everything while he was gone and was happy to have the sphere as a companion. The sphere gave out a small bout of steam then headed for the lift up to take another basket of drinks out to the small table next to the hot tub.

 

He left Tali happily discussing technical stuff with Garrus down in the smithy, while he went and changed clothes to join Shepard in the hot tub.

 

It wasn’t even thirty minutes later that Garrus came running out of the house. “Either of you two seen Tali? She said she was going to go look at the sphere again and now I can’t find her. I checked the house and the greenhouses, the orchard, meadow, and stable. She’s disappeared.”

 

“This is a pocket dimension, Garrus, she just can’t up and disappear, well unless she wandered too far away from the grounds and got lost. She’s here somewhere. Did you ask the sphere or Urz?” Vashlani levered himself up from the tub and Shepard followed him.

 

“Uh...”, Garrus rubbed his fringe.

 

Vashlani grabbed a towel to dry off with and gave a loud whistle, Urz came charging around the corner of the house. “Tali is missing. Do you know where she is?”

 

Urz lowered his body and gave a wiggle.

 

“Okay, take us there.” They followed the varren as he went charging around the house and made a beeline for the brewery.

 

“Oh no!” Vashlani yelled out and put on a burst of speed. “Vashlani just started a new line of whiskey, if Tali had found his aging casks, he isn’t sure what will happen to her.”

 

Urz stopped at the slightly opened door to the small brewery shed and the others pushed the dual doors open to reveal the rows of boilers, casks, shelves, and ladders. Off to one side was several large cauldrons and a shelving system built almost to the ceiling filled with round casks with different colored ribbons hanging from them.

 

“Someone’s been busy. This place looks a lot larger than it used to be Vashlani.” Garrus joked with him as they looked under some of the shelves.

 

“Yes, well, Vashlani didn’t count on going through as much alcohol as we do. Plus the Arch-Mage put in an order for some as well. So expansion was necessary. I’m going to be adding several vintages of wines, too.”

 

They stopped when they heard a noise coming from the far side of the building, where the shelves were stocked with recently decanted whiskey. “Oblivion, that’s the strong stuff. I haven’t quite got the mixture right yet. The last person who drank that straight ended up knocked out for two days after half a glass. Not sure about the dextro blend I made.”

 

They hurried to the other side of the building and saw a foot sticking out from behind one of the large barrels marked “Real Corks” and heard what sounded like a hiccup.

 

“Uh oh.” They all looked down at the quarian who had somehow got herself jammed behind the barrels, holding a rather large, round-bottomed, brown glass bottle in both hands. It had what looked like a huge bendy straw sticking from it.

 

Garrus snapped a quick holo as he held back his laughter, Vashlani heard it though and also saw Shepard’s lips start twitching.

 

“Tali, what have you gone and done?”

 

“Shhheppparrd, did you know, Vashlamandy had booze?” They saw her try to get the straw back into her intake slot, “and not just your booze. But stuff for meee tooooo.”

 

“I think you have had enough, Tali,” Garrus said as he tried not to laugh.

 

“No, I just figured out how to get the port...snork...”

 

“Cork?”

 

“Yesh... Garrush. The corp out of the bottle.” They saw her wobble a bit. “One more sip. Just a teeny one.” She tried to get the straw in but kept missing the slot.

 

Shepard reached down and took the bottle from her hands and gave it to Vashlani who held it up to the light. Garrus reached for Tali and carefully lifted her up. “How much did she have?”

 

Vashlani scratched his head and blinked at him, “I... she had maybe one swallow? Just about a shot glass full. I have to redo the recipe.”

 

“No, sounds good to me. Put a cork in it and hand it here.” Garrus wiggled one of his fingers at him, then smiled as he carried a now unconscious Tali to the sitting room. Vashlani shook his head then jotted something down on a roll of paper near the bottles, picked up the cork Tali had dropped on the ground and tossed it into a small pail, before reaching for a fresh one and twisting it into the opening.

 

“She’s going to be feeling it when she wakes up. Guess we should have figured she would go looking for something she had seen Garrus eating or drinking but was denied her. Plus with what just happened, alcohol would have probably been my first choice too if I had been in her shoes.” Shepard wrapped an arm around his as they walked back toward the house.

 


 

They heard a groan from the sitting room and saw Urz jog toward it just as they sat down for dinner that night. Shepard let out a short laugh and got up to go check on her quarian engineer.

 

“What happened?” Tali groaned out from her still reclined position on one of Vashlani’s couches. He had replaced the hard wooden furniture in this room with thick cushioned ones from the Citadel. The Earth-based store claimed them to be “rustic.”

 

“What happened was you found Vashlani’s private brewery and helped yourself to one of his untested bottles of dextro whiskey. That stuff can peel the paint off a wall, Tali, and you had one of the biggest bottles of it in your hands.”

 

“Ugh... I’m such a bosh’tet. I just wanted what Garrus had.”

 

“Not even Garrus had that whiskey yet. Vashlani hadn’t got the recipe right. If you wanted something you could have asked, you know.”

 

Tali grabbed the throw blanket that had been draped over her and pulled it up to hide her helmet, “I did, on the Normandy. Vashlani said no, he couldn’t be sure it was safe. I... ugh... my head, I told him I could run scans. He just didn’t want me to have it, he hates me.”

 

“No, Tali, this khajiit does not hate you, only wanted to protect you. One of the ingredients has a drug like property, although it was safe for Garrus, with your... What did you call it?”

 

“Her immune system”, Shepard said.

 

“Yes, with that, Vashlani didn’t know what effect it would have on you and didn’t want you to be hurt by it. If I hated you, I would not have brought you here. It was a good thing I was cautious. The whiskey you took, was strong, you had only a swallow or two before becoming extremely intoxicated.”

 

They saw her fingers clenching around the edge of the blanket before it was lowered.

 

“Give me some time, Tali, this one will see about adjusting the mixture or trying to find something which would be more suitable for you. A nice light ale made with exotic flowers and khajiit hops. The flowers only found in the dry desert of northern Elsweyr during the only month they bloom.”

 

“You would do that? A special blend just for me?”

 

“I would. But to import the flowers and some of the fragile seeds will take a while. It will be a long journey and the month of blooming is still many months away. Vashlani will send a courier to the supplier of his hops, by the time they make it there it should be close to the season, he can package them up and send them back as soon as the flowers and seeds are ready.”

 

After dinner they went back to the ship, Vashlani once again explaining to Tali about the food not being able to be given to her, he had no means of making it safe and it also used the sugar to make it compatible for Garrus.

 


 

Vashlani was manning the probes again for his own turn at the system when another call from the Illusive Man came through marked urgent. Joker activated the cameras in the debrief room and they listened to the Illusive Man tell Shepard they found a derelict Reaper, he had a scientific crew there but-- surprise surprise-- they lost contact with them.

 

Joker shook his head, muttering about how for such a big all knowing, all seeing bastard, he certainly loses control and contact with more teams than anyone else Joker had ever heard of.

 

Shepard sighed and told him they would go check it out, before signing off he told her that his team had located the ship’s IFF chip and it would be necessary for them to safely navigate the Omega-4 Relay to get to the Collector base. She nodded then cut the connection.

 

“Joker...”

 

“Already got the coordinates plugged in, ETA is 12 hours. Sending you the mineral report.”

 

Shepard stood in front of the upgrade terminal and purchased several armor upgrades now that they had enough minerals, they would be ready by the time they were finished with the defunct Reaper ship. “Joker, after this next mission put in on Nos Astra, to pick up the upgrades and refuel.”

 

“Aye, Commander.”

 

She sent a notice to Thane and Garrus about the next mission before heading up to the loft to make a restock order which she could send off as soon as they returned. A few hours later a basket of food was set near her elbow as she filled out several personal reports and had forgotten to go for dinner. She ate while she finished them up, joining a softly snoring Vashlani in the bed several hours later to catch a bit of sleep before they had to deal with the mission.

 


 

“I don’t like this Shepard.” Garrus hissed over the comm as the group made their way through the airlock doors and saw huge blood splatters on the walls and on the floor. “Just like old times, moving in the dark, waiting for something scary and synthetic to jump out and shoot at us.”

 

“Hush up, Garrus. I so don’t need that image in my head right now,” Shepard said as they moved into the first room and she activated the holo-screen and listened to the head scientist’s journal while Garrus looted several wall safes.

 

“They were already feeling the effects of indoctrination. Even ‘dead’ these things are dangerous. Stay alert.”

 

The group moved through the room heading for the airlock door into the actual Reaper.

 

“Shepard?”

 

“What is Vashlani?” She said quietly as they approached the door.

 

“All that blood... where were the bodies?”

 

They all paused and stared at each other.

 

All of a sudden the ship gave a huge lurch. “Joker? What’s happening?”

 

“The Reaper’s drive core just went offline, the ship is being pulled into the brown dwarf’s gravitational field.” His voice started to sound strained.

 

“We don’t have the IFF chip and we need it. We may not get another chance at one,” Shepard said as the ship settled. “We need to head further in, we have a short time to find it, then I’m counting on you to pull our asses out off this ship.”

 

“Yeah, I got it, already,” Joker hissed at them.

 

“Well, at least if we start to run short on time, I’m here. If necessary we go into the pocket and use the portal to the ship. But that puts us in a precarious situation should we need to depart the bag using the ring sooner than that. It would send us right back to this spot... or what was left of it... or wherever this ship happened to have been at the moment we entered the bag.”

 

“I got it, Vashlani... bag as a last resort,” Shepard muttered as the airlock door swished opened and they entered the Reaper. More blood awaited them as did more journals showing the crew becoming paranoid, sharing memories and over it, all were being indoctrinated. They started down a ramp when they heard the moans of husks coming from the dark areas on either side of the platform. They started to back up when Vashlani spotted something running at them that he hadn’t seen before.

 

“There’s a red one, as if it’s on fire, heading this way.” He held up a hand and several shards of ice shot from his palm, hitting the husk dead center. Only it didn’t freeze, it exploded.

 

“Oh, just lovely,” Shepard hissed.

 

There were more rooms containing loads of husks which came at them. Several rooms had different Reaper troops but Shepard and the others didn’t stop to look at them.

 

“Am I the only one wondering why there are Reaper units still functioning on this ship? Where did they come from? Husks are made from humans, correct? But why are there human husks on a 37 million-year-old derelict Reaper? And where did those other ones come from?” Thane whispered to them as they stopped and stared down a long, dark hallway.

 

“I think you figured out what happened to the crew, but how they were changed, dunno. Keep an eye out.”

 

They took several steps down the hall when two shots rang out and two husks went flying from a side passage that they hadn’t seen.

 

“Sniper,” Thane hissed.

 

“And a good one at that. Both were headshots and I didn’t see a damn thing,” Garrus said quietly.

 

“At least we know there is one survivor, maybe they will have information?” Vashlani said the glow from the ice spell he was holding in one hand and the flame spell in the other were throwing odd shadows along the wall. Garrus grabbed everything he could, shoving it into his bag and the heavy ammo canisters into Shepard’s pack.

 

They started down the short ramps in front of them, heading into a better-lighted area, when more groans filled the room. Husks came from everywhere as did a couple of Scions.

 

They stood staring at the many Dragon’s Teeth devices which had been set up as some sort of display at the end of the room. Garrus and Shepard explained to the others what they were and what they were used for. Thane told them that his own people told stories of devices found on worlds that would turn people into soulless monsters. They all realized they must be the same thing. Shepard looked around more carefully and noted how the room was arranged, bringing it to their attention how it was set up as some sort of alter. Garrus said that it made sense considering one of the logs told of how the ship was being viewed by some of the indoctrinated as an old god that was asleep.

 

They moved to another door and through it after it slid open. It revealed a huge open area of the Reaper, filled with crates and stairwells, many hiding places that the units could be lurking.

 

Shepard just gave the hand signal to split up when shots rang out. She turned quickly to see a husk had somehow come up behind her finish dropping to the floor. They whipped around and Vashlani pointed to a spot further down and up high in the rafters, his eyes were glowing a bright blue behind his smoky face shield of his helmet. Everyone looked up at a geth unit who stood there holding a sniper rifle.

 

Garrus and Thane brought up their own rifles then nearly dropped them when the unit spoke. “Shepard-Commander”, before it quickly disappeared.

 

“When did they start talking? I thought they needed to be in huge numbers to be intelligent. What the hell is going on Shepard? How did it know who you are?” Garrus muttered as they scanned for more units. Only instead of geth, the cavernous room became filled with husks, abominations, and scions.

 

By the time they made it through the entire room and cleared it of the units they were all breathing heavily. Well except for Thane. They had kept an eye on him at first, but they saw the way his eyes were lit up and a grin twitched his lips as his lungs worked flawlessly. Vashlani had collapsed on one of the containers which held heavy weapons ammo and held up a hand. He pulled out several phials and lined them up on a crate then drank them one after the other. The last one was a green swirling one none of them had seen before. After the light dimmed Vashlani stood up and moved as if they hadn’t spent the last eight hours fighting through a giant Reaper. Shepard and Garrus shared a look and both of them knew they would hound him to find out just what he used to do that.

 

They approached the door and Vashlani glanced down and saw a small black object sitting on a tray. He slowly reached over, started to fiddle with it, edging it closer to the end of the tray as the others were busy hacking the door. His hand had just closed around it and started toward his pouch when Shepard whirled around.

 

“Fork it over.” She had a hand held out and he froze.

 

“I... what? Fork what over?”

 

“What you just swiped off that tray.”

 

He stood staring at her while Garrus shook his head and went back to hacking the door.

 

Vashlani let out a sigh and opened his palm, revealing the small black computer chip he had. Shepard grabbed it from his palm and held it up to the light before looking back at him.

 

“Huh, good find Vashlani. This is the IFF we needed from here.” She tucked it into an empty heat sink holder on her suit.

 

“Vashlani knew that. It’s why he picked it up.” His whiskers twitched inside his helmet.

 

They heard a snort coming from Shepard’s suit as she shook her head and turned back toward the door just as it opened.

 

There was a barrier across it and they all watched as the geth unit worked over a terminal and shot husks as they got close. The barrier dropped and the unit turned around and was damaged by a husk which blindsided it. The light went out on its head as it dropped to the ground. The crew ran in and took out the husks before rushing toward the terminal as a thick metal plate closed over the core.

 

“Garrus, you need to get the shield open so I can take out the core.”

 

Thane moved to one side and Vashlani moved to the other as more husks appeared. Thunderbolts, gunshots, warps, and snowballs were flying everywhere as the two held off the majority of the enemy.

 

“Now, Shepard.”

 

She rapidly pulled the trigger on her missile launcher, the guided missiles flew toward their target. When the shield closed up she dropped the used ammo canister and slammed another home just as the shield opened again. This time they heard the explosions as the core cracked.

 

They got into an argument over whether to take the geth unit or leave it.

 

“If Shepard doesn’t want it, Vashlani will take it. Unique. And it has some of what looks like your old armor stuck to it. Vashlani can build a special display in his sitting room for it.” He bent down and grabbed one of the machine’s arms and started dragging it toward the door which opened.

 

“Oh for God's sake. Thane grab the other arm and help him,” Shepard hissed as they started toward the door, their guns rapidly firing at the encroaching enemies as they made for the shuttle.

 

They heard a grunt and Shepard glanced back and saw the unit floating toward the open door of the shuttle followed by Vashlani and Thane. Garrus turned and ran for it, leaping off the ledge and sailing toward the opening. A few last shots and Shepard followed.

 


 

Garrus and Thane dumped the inactive geth unit on the table in the debriefing room then went to change out of their armors, leaving Vashlani happily humming in the room with it. He had just brought out a huge ball of twine from his pack and started to measure the unit when Shepard came into the room followed by Jacob and Miranda.

 

Vashlani wasn’t paying much attention as he was tying knots on the twine and jotting down measurements until the subject of the “unique salvage” that was found came up. His ears rotated and whiskers twitched as Miranda tried to get Shepard to give the unit to Cerberus. Jacob suggested airlocking it.

 

“This is Vashlani’s treasure. You can’t have it, and you can’t destroy it. It doesn’t belong to you or to Shepard. It’s mine. This khajiit is keeping it,” he growled at them all and went back to measuring around the flashlight head and down one arm.

 

Shepard grinned at the Cerberus agents and shrugged. Jacob shook his head and stalked out of the room followed by Miranda who knew it would do no good to argue with the alien.

 

Shepard cleared her throat and waited until Vashlani finished measuring the thing’s foot before speaking. “While the unit is here on the Normandy we will need to take precautions. We’ll need to run tests just to make sure it’s really deactivated and won’t cause any harm. EDI can set up special barriers inside the AI core for it. Only you and I can have it taken down, so you don’t have to worry about anyone messing with it. If we’re sure it’s safe and won’t spontaneously restart you can keep it there until you’re finished building the display.”

 

Vashlani looked up and narrowed his eyes at her, his whiskers twitched and the blue eyes glowed brighter for a few moments. “This is Vashlani’s unique geth. You said you didn’t want it. You won’t try and sell it or give it to those others? Or destroy it? No one else can have it?”

 

“I wouldn’t give it to Cerberus even if it wasn’t something unique. And no I won’t sell it. As long as it stays inactive it won’t be destroyed. But if it activates and tries to hack the ship or harm a member of the crew I will destroy it without a second thought.” Shepard watched him clutch the ball of twine in his one hand. “Only for the safety of the crew, Vashlani. Not for any other reason.”

 

“Alright, but just until I can get the display built.”

 

Shepard nodded and asked EDI to have two of the ship crew come to help Vashlani move it to the table inside the AI core.

 

He took a few more measurements and made sure EDI knew not to let anyone mess with his treasure before he headed out of the room and back to the small portal room. He had to get started on the display.

 

Shepard waited a few more minutes then asked EDI if he left yet. “Just now, Shepard.”

 

Shepard ran to the AI core and closed the door behind her.

 

“I’m activating this thing, EDI. I have questions for it. Make sure you can’t be hacked and all precautions that can be made, are.”

 

She had just learned the unit had been sent out to search for her, telling her the true geth were against the Old Machines and that it wanted to join her crew when Vashlani came into the AI core.

 

The ball of twine slipped from his fingers and rolled toward Shepard who let out a sigh and bent down to retrieve it. “Vashlani, this is Legion. Legion this is Vashlani, the one who saved the mobile platform from the Reaper corpse.”

 

“But... my treasure. How?” He turned to Shepard with a look of hurt in his eyes. “You did this. You waited until Vashlani left then you turned it on. Why? How could you lie to me like that? You said it was mine.”

 

“I said if it stayed inactive, Vashlani. I needed answers as to why it could talk and why it helped us. If it didn’t turn on then I wouldn’t have cared what you did with it.”

 

Vashlani looked at the two beings in front of him before taking several steps back and turning to rush out the door.

 

“Shit. We’ll talk some more in a bit Legion. I need to try and fix this,” Shepard said to the geth unit as she headed for the door.

 

“Vashlani! Wait, let me explain,” she called out to the khajiit’s retreating back.

 

“There is nothing for you to explain. You lied to me. You said it was mine. And you stole it from me, and turned it on when my back was turned.” Vashlani banged on the door to the portal room when the door wouldn’t open. “Damn it EDI. Open the door!”

 

He reached for the ring in his pocket to leave the ship when Shepard grabbed his arm. “Don’t leave. Please. Listen to me. Let me explain. Come back to the room and talk to it. It gave intel which we needed Vashlani. It wants to join us, to fight against the Reapers. Aren’t you curious about it now? Don’t you want to talk to the only geth unit that’s willing to talk to us? We will be the only people to have spoken to one in almost 300 years. It can tell you of its people. It can tell you where that armor came from. It wouldn’t be able to speak if it was deactivated.”

 

Vashlani’s ears twitched. “You stole from me, Shepard.”

 

“I’m sorry. I had to find out more about it, how it knew who I was and what it was doing on that Reaper. There was only one way to do that and it was to try and activate it. I knew you wouldn’t let me do it, because if it worked you would have lost a unique treasure. It’s been searching for me for years, it came through the Veil to gather intel and to find me or at least find my remains. What it was going to do if I was dead, I’m not going to even ask it. I don’t think I would like the response.”

 

She tugged on his arm trying to get him to go with her back to the core. “Come on. I know you’re curious about it. Who knows maybe it will have another mobile platform stashed somewhere you can have. Maybe even more unique looking than the one they are using now.” His ears twitched again. He pulled his arm from her grasp and shook his head.

 

“No.” Then he vanished.

Chapter Text


 

They docked at Nos Astra two days later to restock and prepare. Vashlani had yet to return or answer anyone’s messages. Shepard began worrying that maybe she went too far with going behind his back to activate the geth instead of just waiting for him and explaining what she needed to do. She had returned to the AI core and explained to Legion what had happened. That she had made a promise to Vashlani, should the platform not have become active, he could have it. Legion didn’t understand at first. Then his flaps moved and several clicking noises happened as the runtimes within the unit held a consensus. They came to the conclusion that had the platform become non-functional, the organic known as Vashlani would have taken it for a trophy. Just as they had done with the scrap from Shepard’s old armor... when it needed to fix a hole. Shepard told it that Vashlani had been excited and was even making a special area just for the platform in his home, but now she was worried he wasn’t going to return at all.

She sat at her terminal listlessly clicking on messages when one had her eyebrows raise. Ashley Williams sent her something.

Skipper,

I’ve been keeping up with the news. Been deep undercover until now. Heard what the StfCmdr did, not cool. Listen, this will be the only message I can send as I am going out on assignment again. Not all of us think you’re crazy. The crew of the original Normandy knows and believes what is coming. Well, all but certain assholes; all due respect.

I trust you are going to find our missing colonists and bring them home if possible and stop those Collectors.

Good luck out there Commander.

Ash

She let out a sigh and turned off her terminal. In the morning they would be leaving to head to some type of Heretic Base that Legion told her about. It tried to explain what was going on with some type of virus which would change how the true geth think and turn them all into Heretics and follow the Reapers. She shrugged. She had no idea what it had been talking about all she got from it was they needed to stop them before they turned the geth, like Legion, into ones like on Eden Prime.

She collapsed on her bed and closed her eyes, her arms clutched the pillow that Vashlani always slept on and tried to get some rest.

 


 

Vashlani was banging away down in the smithy, he had spent the last two days making the rest of the parts on the list Garrus had made up. Finally, he had cast the last of the pistons and let out a long sigh before taking off the heavy apron he had put on to keep his work clothes from getting too singed.

The datapad pinged yet again and he glanced over at it. Thane sent him the last of the lines of text from the tablet. His whiskers twitched. “EDI, did you get your copy of that text?”

“Yes, Vashlani. Running it through the translation program now. I should have it finished in an hour.” There was a pause before the AI hesitantly asked, “Vashlani? Why have you not returned to the Normandy or answered Shepard’s inquiries?”

“Because Vashlani is pissed that she lied and stole from me. Okay, so Vashlani will pick things up from different places and put it in his pockets. But this was different. She said it was for me, gave it to me. Then took it away.” He pulled out a stool and sat down to start putting the pieces together where Garrus had left off.

“Vashlani takes things that no one else wants or left lying around. Not from someone’s home or pockets. Not from a friend. If Shepard would have said to Vashlani, ‘Vashlani, don’t go anywhere, let me see if I can turn it on. Shepard has questions and wants answers. If it doesn’t work, you can have it to take home.’ I wouldn’t be mad. But no. She didn’t. She went behind my back.”

Vashlani kept working, assembling the large pieces and levitating them out of the room and to the lift to take outside before returning to work on another piece. Two hours later Vashlani yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Any luck, EDI?”

“Yes. It is finished, although the words do not seem to make sense. Or possibly because the information contained within pertains strictly to your own dimension.”

He picked up the datapad when the ping of new mail arrived and quickly read the words on the screen before dropping back onto his stool with a look of shock on his face.

“Are... are you sure this is right?”

“Yes, or as close as what I could translate. Some of the meanings had no... equivalent in my databases.”

Vashlani stared back down at the datapad then got up slowly, a shaking hand reached for his box and summoned a Centurion Core and put it on the table in front of him. The red glowing light and constant motion of the gears inside and around it no longer fascinated him, now that he knew what it contained.

“EDI, if I held something up to the camera of the data pad could you somehow scan it? This one wants to do a quick scan of his sphere and look for something identical on the inside of it.”

“Unfortunately, the datapad does not have those capabilities. If you would come to the Normandy with the object, a scan could be run. Since we are currently docked at Nos Astra, a data pad with scanning capabilities could also be delivered quickly.”

Vashlani tapped his fingers on the table. “Can you order me the best datapad which has everything I need on it? Pay for it from my Normandy account, please. I will be there in a few hours.”

“For those capabilities, it would be more appropriate to order a bracelet omni tool. All current software can be transferred, and the increased storage capacity and hardware abilities would be a major improvement over the software and limited use of a datapad.”

“Alright. Do it.”

 


 

He stood in front of the door to the AI core and rubbed his head before reaching into his pouch and drawing out a large soul gem that was black as night. A slight grimace was on his face as it felt warm in his hand and he could see a pulsing glow in its dark depths.

When the door slid open he walked in and came to a stop as the geth’s light trained on him.

“Vashlani-Khajiit Mage. This unit is known as Legion, a terminal of the geth.”

Vashlani’s whiskers twitched and he moved over to where EDI’s blue pawn shape had just popped up.

He was acutely aware of the geth watching him as he placed the gem on the small panel which slid out of the opening under the holo of EDI.

“Vashlani needs this to be kept secret, EDI. No files to remain after you scan this.”

“Understood.”

“Shepard-Commander explained the cause of your hasty retreat. This mobile platform is a prototype and will be in production shortly. One could be provided to Vashlani-Khajiit Mage for his display.”

“It isn’t the same. And it is more than just because of that... platform. All she had to do was ask first. Not take. I would have understood had you turned on while I was here. But to wait until I left then sneak in to do it was wrong. She did not give me a chance to even tell her, ‘sure, try to turn it on again.’”

“Scan complete, Vashlani. I will walk you through how to transfer everything over to your new omni tool.”

He followed her steps after unpacking the shiny new device, first connecting the cord to one of her ports so she could scan and scrub it. Then he rooted around to find the cord which matched the holo of the tether that she had rotating above her. When he finished hooking it up he watched as the transfer started.

“Vashlani-Khajiit Mage shows trust in the AI known as EDI with his data?”

“EDI is Vashlani’s friend, of course, I trust her. Vashlani trusts EDI with many of his secrets.”

He didn’t see the way Legion’s flaps fluttered or the way his flashlight head dimmed and grew bright again.

Vashlani placed the black soul gem carefully back into his pack as EDI explained how to use the scanning app on his new omni tool. Vashlani slid the bracelet on his wrist and pulled the sleeve of his tunic over it once he was sure he understood. He headed for the door only to encounter Shepard standing on the other side apparently waiting.

“Vashlani, you’re back,” Shepard breathed out almost in relief.

“Only for a few moments, Commander.” Vashlani moved to go around her when she placed her hands on his arm.

“Please, don’t do this. I know I screwed up royally... again. Come up to the loft and talk to me. Always before we talked, at least try.” She gave him a few gentle tugs and a shaky smile.

His bright blue eyes stared down into hers, seeing a sadness in them and he sighed, letting her tug him toward the lift.

 


 

Vashlani didn't say a word as the lift slowly rose from the crew deck to the loft. Shepard kept glancing up and him and holding tightly to his arm as if it would keep him from disappearing again.

When the loft doors opened Shepard practically dragged him inside and down to the seating area. The doors closed, and the lock went red before Shepard turned to him.

"I know I messed up Vashlani. Just like I did before."

Vashlani's blue eyes flashed toward her. "You stole from me, Shepard. It is not like before. This is worse. I trusted you and your word and you lied."

"I knew you wouldn't let me restart it, so I did what I felt I had to. If we could pull intel from its databank or get it working and find out what it was on the Reaper ship for and why it spoke to us, then maybe we would have an edge against the Reapers. At least find out why the Geth were involved in this mess and how they found the Reapers. Possibly, even the reason they followed Saren before. Whether it was voluntary or if the Reapers had a way to bypass their AI protections and take control."

"No, Shepard you didn't know what I would do because you didn't bother to ask this khajiit. You assumed. You didn't give this one a chance to even say yes or no. You took. I thought you were my friend. I thought I meant more to you. This khajiit was wrong. I only came back to ask EDI something and this one should just go home."

He moved toward the space hamster cage to say goodbye to it when Shepard grabbed him by the arm and turned him around to face her.

“Don’t go. Please don’t leave. I’m sorry. I don’t know what more to say. I am not used to having to ask permission to do something that may provide critical information for a mission. I followed orders when I was Alliance, I was given intel to work from, I’d do what needed to be done, often having to change and reform a new plan in the middle of a firefight. As a Spectre, we get minimal information and complete the job only limited by our own morals.

I need any scrap of intel I can get my hands on to stop the Collectors, to find out what they want, what they’re up to. I need to find answers to why they are working for the Reapers. Why they were after my body. Why the geth are working for the Reapers… or at least why a fraction of the geth was if Legion is to be believed about them splintering.”

She tugged him back toward the seating area and down onto a couch. “Just stay here and talk. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from Legion. What the next mission will be about. We can work this out. I know we can. Don’t leave the ship. Don’t leave me.”

She wrapped her hand around his and clung to his arm throughout the hours as she talked and told him why Legion had been searching for her, of what the geth told her and where they were going and why.

He listened and felt his anger slipping away as she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder and her thumb against the back of his. He sighed when he noticed her voice had become quiet and glanced down to see her leaning against him and sleeping. Large dark circles were under her eyes and her skin seemed paler than normal. She didn’t even wake when he shifted to stand and picked her up. When he laid her on the bed she rolled toward the side he always slept on and murmured, “Vashlani” before hugging his pillow to her chest.

“She hasn’t slept more than an hour or two at a time since you left, Vashlani,” EDI told him quietly. “I’ve been monitoring her vital signs and they’ve pointed to depression since you disappeared. I believe the organic expression is, she missed you terribly.”

Vashlani sat on the couch and put his head in his hands and rubbed his face. “It still doesn’t excuse what she did, EDI.”

“No, it does not. But everyone has noticed the difference in her the past few days. Joker has expressed worry about her. We both agree she cares a great deal about you and knows she hurt you badly with her actions. Joker also told her… what she did hurt not only the two of you but Doctor Chakwas as well and to a slightly lesser extent himself.”

Vashlani leaned back on the couch and glanced over at Shepard who mumbled broken nonsense words in her sleep then removed the black soul gem from the small pouch at his side and laid it on the coffee table. He blinked as she murmured his name again.

He realized he was screwed because he couldn’t stay mad at her any longer.

 


 

Vashlani sat on the couch and stared at the black soul gem. His ears flicked as he heard her steady breathing from where she was sleeping and he once again turned his attention to the item in front of him.

Unlike the regular soul gems which he used to trap a soul of a creature such as a wolf or Falmer until the gem shattered and the soul was released when it was used for recharging or enchanting a magical item, this one was dark, this one held a person’s soul. Man or woman, human, mer, or beastfolk, he didn’t know. The container held three such gems. His Master and himself never used these for their enchanting work, even though the enchants and recharges would be the most powerful. His Master had told him it always felt wrong to trap one of those souls in a gem, even if it was a scruffy, murdering bastard of a bandit. Yet, three filled gems were in the storage and if the translations were correct... it was one of these which was used to power a Centurion Core, it was one of these that would be used to power his animunculus. The gem which was inside the Core remained intact unless the unit became damaged; the soul would remain trapped inside for an eternity... or however long the construct remained functioning.

With the knowledge, he had now, his determination to build his construct, to have it functional, started to waver. Years and years of labor and collection went into scrounging for the pieces and parts to make it. He and Garrus had poured so much time into casting the pieces and cleaning them up, polishing and smoothing them, assembling the larger parts in their spare time. Was he just going to stuff everything in one of the storage areas and forget about it? Let it gather dust or just dump it somewhere and hope no one ever found it?

He sighed quietly, but it apparently wasn’t quiet enough.

“Vashlani? What are you doing awake? We leave on our mission in a few hours.”

“Vashlani knows, he has some thinking to do.” He reached for the gem to put it back in the bag when Shepard asked what it was. “Just something for enchanting. You should go back to sleep. Vashlani will be back before it is time to board the geth base.”

 


 

Vashlani stood before his Dwarven Sphere; the construct was rolled up in a ball and stationary in its usual spot near the rack of storage chests. Vashlani’s whiskers twitched and pushed the holo button on his omni tool to start the scanner. When it was finished he asked EDI for the results.

“There is a similar gem inside the Sphere, although the composition is slightly different. It more closely resembles the gem that Garrus and I are working to fabricate.” She brought up the internal scan and enlarged the area where the soul gem was attached inside the sphere. He studied it and saw that it was a large, flawless Grand Soul gem, glowing with a white-hot light. It wasn’t a black one after all and Vashlani let out a relieved sigh.

The Sphere stirred and unfolded itself, standing there quietly as its Master regarded it. The magic flowing through it which connected it to this dimension, to this house, registered nothing was needed at the time, that nothing was out of place or had to be tended to, so it stayed still for a few moments before slowing moving back into its ball until its services were once more required.

 


 

Vashlani followed behind Shepard and Legion and listened to the quandary the unit found itself in when it realized that the Heretics were spying on the true geth. The machine couldn’t seem to understand that when groups splinter they have a habit of changing, and not always for the best. When they reached the final room and Legion had to decide on what to do with the Heretics, the unit turned to Shepard and asked her to decide. When asked why he told her they could not come to a consensus, and that they trusted her decision.

“Destroy them, there is no guarantee they will not try to do this again. Destroy the program and get rid of the infected geth.”

Vashlani blinked at her then at Legion.

“Understood.” Legion didn’t hesitate but moved to the terminal and started to program in the destruction sequence. The others held the Heretics off long enough for him to activate the program then they hurried to make it back to the shuttle and the Normandy before the hidden base was destroyed.

Vashlani was taking off his armor and running it through the repair machine when he heard a commotion outside of the armory and opened the door to find Shepard running toward the lift.

He followed after her and she took off from it as soon as the doors opened heading for the med bay. Inside the AI core, Tali stood with a pistol pointed at Legion and she was yelling at it and Shepard. About how it had scanned her omni tool and found the data she had about what happened on the Alerai and the tests that her father had been performing. She screamed it was going to send the data to the other geth and it would cause them to attack the Fleet.

Legion stood there and calmly said the geth had the right to know that the Creators were testing weapons. That if it was the other way around that Creator Zorah would tell her own people about the data she found. Legion was only trying to protect his people just like any of the organics would.

Shepard took a deep breath and started to yell at them both. It was about time they stopped acting this way, there were larger things to worry over. In this case Legion was right, Tali would tell her people, but Tali also was right in saying the data would start a war. She told them instead of working against each other, to learn to work with each other, share data which would help both of their people. If they didn’t stop fighting there wouldn’t be anything left of either one of their races to fight against the Reapers when they showed their ugly mugs.

Tali slowly lowered her weapon and Shepard waited. “Alright. You’re right. Legion, you’re also right in saying I would have tried to warn my people. What if I gave you some non-classified data to send to yours? Maybe you have something which would help ours in some way?”

Legion’s head flaps moved. “That would be acceptable, Creator Zorah.”

 


 

Shepard grunted and dropped down onto the couch. “What is wrong, Shepard?” Vashlani asked as he sat beside her and drew her closer to him.

“All this fighting between our races. This... division of us is going to be our downfall, we have got to learn to work and live together.”

Vashlani hummed and laid his head against hers. “Vashlani understands that, Shepard. It seems to be something which is universal, yes, in all dimensions when there are different people. Vashlani wishes the races on Tamriel could also stop their fighting and live in peace.”

They sat like that for a few minutes before her terminal beeped and she grunted as she got up. She read over the message then asked EDI for a secure line to Liara’s office in Nos Astra.

 


 

“Liara, I have some intel for you. I just got this. Sending the encrypted packet to you now.”

“Thank you, Shepard. I’ll look at it later, at home. How is everything going so far?”

Shepard and Liara spoke for a few minutes before Joker interrupted their call. After disconnecting he told her the IFF chip would be ready to install the next day and according to EDI it should be ready to go the day after.

“Run tests on it first, Joker. It’s unknown Reaper tech. We can’t be too careful.”

“Roger that, Commander.”

Vashlani stood up and moved behind Shepard’s chair, placed his hands on her shoulders and started to knead the muscles. His hands slowly warmed up and she let out a deep sigh.

“That feels good, why the hell haven’t you done this before?”

He chuckled as he moved his thumbs to the back of her neck and pressed, moving them in a gentle motion to work out the stress knots he found there. “Vashlani was going to save this for a special occasion but decided you needed it now. We have two days while they do this work, afterward, we head to the Omega relay, yes?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Vashlani has an idea.” He bent down and whispered something in her ear and she let out a hum then a giggle as his whiskers tickled her neck.

 


 

“Alright, everyone ready?” Shepard asked the ground crew as they assembled in the cargo hold. The ones who had already been to Skyrim knew what to expect, the others were nervous and trying not to show it. They were all fully armored and the ones with packs had them on; stuffed with heatsinks, medigel packs, and portable camping equipment Garrus had spent all night fabricating.

She heard everyone give out some form of yes and had EDI send the notice to Vashlani. He told them all to be ready he was on the way.

Vashlani took off his ring and appeared in the small room of the ship and hurried down to meet the rest of them.

“It is all set up. I need everyone to listen closely, especially those who have not accompanied me before. You have all seen the footage of Skyrim, yes? You all know it is dangerous there as well. So you must listen to me. Those of you who have not been taken into my confidence will be blindfolded and will be guided by one that has. You must not take the blindfold off until you are told to. Do not make the mistake of thinking I will not notice you peek. Once we get to our destination, we will spend two days exploring. Food and shelter will be provided for you. Do not wander away from the group, to do so can lead you to death or be left behind. Legion, I will honor EDI’s recommendation that you be trusted as I have trusted her, please do not break our trust. She has explained everything to you, yes?” Legion’s flashlight head bobbed in acknowledgment and it voiced its agreement to the terms which had been given.

“Any questions?” Vashlani asked as he adjusted his pack.

“Why are we to be blindfolded? Why not just take us as you do the others?” Miranda asked, looking haughty but still, a bit peeved at not being included in everything.

“Because Vashlani doesn’t like you. The others Vashlani doesn’t know well or hasn’t gone somewhere they may like. Grunt and Zaeed would have already been taken at some point but Vashlani was afraid Grunt wouldn’t want to come back once he got a taste of the creatures of my world, not to mention all the snowberry bushes would suffer at the loss of their fruit in one go.”

Everyone laughed, Grunt was the loudest. “Mmm, snowberries.”

The ones assigned to help the others put the hoods on them and made sure they were secure, then gripped their arms, linking hands with one of the others. Vashlani moved around making sure everyone had a secure hold on another one before taking Shepard’s hand and pulling them all into the bag and down into the portal room. He activated the portal which he had set up just that morning outside of the Dragonborn’s home in Hjaalmarch.

“Move through quickly and to the side, someone is there waiting and will guide you where to stand.”

Shepard and Garrus went through first, followed quickly by the others, once Vashlani was sure that everyone was through he whistled for Urz and went into the glowing portal and closed it behind him.

The Dragonborn and two of their companions stood off to the side looking over the group who just arrived. Thane had moved over to Derkeethus and was speaking quietly with the argonian while the others were staring openly at them.

“By Talos would you look at some of them. They are so very different from us Harbinger.” The one huge nord male said to the shorter armored figured while the equally large male on the other side nodded an agreement.

“As some of the ones from Nirn must be to them as well. Come you two, Vashlani and his... is that a dog? Whatever it is, just came through.”

“Divines cursed magic is what this is,” The one nord hissed and the Dragonborn looked over at him.

“Magic certainly, but not a single one of them has done anything to any of us. The one called Garrus helped considerably with that... thing, he had cutting blocks before. And they gave the Mage’s College so many supplies, which they, in turn, have used to help the injured from dragon attacks and this Civil War. Not to mention they have fed many souls with hot, nourishing food which was also provided by Vashlani and his friends. We do not disrespect them, is that understood?”

“Yes, Harbinger,” both males said at the same time.

“Vashlani, Shepard, Garrus, welcome back to Skyrim. Vashlani told us that you had two days to view our home and the ones being brought were great warriors. Though I must say, and I mean no disrespect, but a few of the women looked to be without armor or wearing suitable attire.”

Shepard snickered as she glanced back at the three women who were dressed in skin-tight catsuits. “I have to admit they do look a bit... under armored, but believe it or not, the outfits they are wearing are indeed fortified armors.”

They heard a hum coming from the heavily armored figure. “Well, if you say so.” The Dragonborn twisted around and signaled to Derkeethus and they joined the rest of the group who was brought to attention.

“Vashlani, would you do the honors of introducing us to your companions, after which I shall tell you all of the assignment that we shall be going on. I think you will find it very... interesting.”

“Of course. Everyone this is the hero of Skyrim, the Dragonborn. Derkeethus; argonian ranger. Farkas and Vilkas; the twin warriors of the Companions-- a company of honorable fighters. And these are Vashlani’s friends...” He called each of their names and they raised their hands. Legion caused quite a stir.

“Wait... so that isn’t something like the thing you used to cut blocks with, Garrus?” the Dragonborn asked as they approached Legion.

“Nope, that was a mech. This is Legion, a terminal of the geth, who are a race of intelligent synthetics.” Garrus went further into an explanation as the Dragonborn looked over Legion and reared back when the unit spoke to them.

“Amazing. We thought the Dwemer’s automatons were incredible, they do not speak and will only perform a specific task. You do not though? You move and make decisions of your own? You speak.”

"That is partially correct. This is a terminal of the geth, there are one thousand, one hundred and eighty-three geth runtimes present within this unit. Decisions are made via consensus.”

“I don’t really understand that, but it’s amazing anyway,” the Dragonborn said.

The three Companions started checking their gear as the Dragonborn addressed the others once again. “Now as to the assignment. Normally this would be handled just by myself and my followers, but as we have received reports of a somewhat unusual occurrence, I have put off going there to check it out. But Vashlani has presented me with an opportunity which works in both of our favors. For your group, you get to see some of the local areas and witness something that he has told me existed only in the human’s fairy tales, Dragons. And for me, I get a much larger group of warriors to help get rid of what seems to be a nest of them. With at least one of them being ancient.”

The humans in the group broke out in gasps, questions and unbelieving snorts. The aliens in the group looked around in puzzlement. They quieted down after Shepard’s warning and the Dragonborn went into details on how to fight them and what to be careful of. They pulled out their map and showed Vashlani where they were headed.

As they walked they started talking to each other, more questions were asked to the aliens than ones toward the Dragonborn, who seemed content to walk beside of Garrus and Shepard and direct their questions to where each of them was from and what their home was like. It was late afternoon when a halt was called and the Dragonborn, Vilkas, Derkeethus, and Legion went further up the path. A roar had filled the air and everyone sought cover.

Legion used its advanced optics to scan the area and the three creatures that seemed to be nesting in the peaks along a small mountain area. When it finished Legion projected a small hologram of what was there.

“This one here, the red one, is the ancient. It breathes both fire and frost. Whatever you do stay away from the mouth. If it should grab you, it’s all over. Their bite is horrendous and it can throw you a long distance. If it just doesn’t take off and drop you from a great height. These others are powerful but not like that one. We’re damn lucky there are no black serpentine ones in there.”

A groan came from Derkeethus at the thought of having to fight more of the black ones.

“Trust me, I feel the same, my friend,” the Dragonborn let out a small chuckle.

“Everyone ready? The moment we enter that clearing, all hell is going to break loose and you have got to be ready or you’ll be dead.” The Dragonborn looked at the group and waited.

The shaggy-haired nord grinned at the strange looking humped creature when it bashed its hands together and growled. Grunt began laughing as he removed the shotgun from his back before he jammed a helmet on its head.

“Let’s go,” the Dragonborn said as they drew the large weapon from their back and charged toward the field.

The air was filled with roars and shouts, gunfire, and the blue-purple flare of biotics mixed with the crackle of lightning. Great gouts of flame and white frost spewed from the creatures that took off as the group ran onto the field. Magically enchanted arrows flew, embedding themselves in the dragons, the damage causing them to circle and land where they were set upon by the three with huge swords and a creature that jumped on the wings, biting and tearing at the membranes, before jumping back down and racing back to its Master, a flash of gold surrounding it.

The fight was fierce. The creatures had never encountered a group such as this with weapons of great power. They tried to flee only to be brought down by magic and once more set upon.

The fields were a bloody mess as the last of the dragons, the great red ancient, let out a scream of ‘Dov Ah Kiin’ and collapsed at their feet.

Shepard and her crew all gasped and watched in wonder as the Dragonborn approached the huge red creature and it began to glow. A bright light swirled and headed for the Dragonborn, who slowly rose off the ground as the light whipped around them, before entering the helmet through the eye and mouth openings. A few moments later the Dragonborn dropped to the ground and hung their head for a second before standing up and turning toward them.

“What the bloody hell just happened?” Zaeed muttered as he eyed the figure walking toward them.

The one male, Vilkas, looked over at the scarred man. “That is why they are known as the Dragonborn. What you just saw was the absorption of the dragon’s soul, of its power, by the Dragonborn.”

The three companions of the Dragonborn set about looting all of the creatures and laughed as Vashlani whipped out a skinning knife and started to butcher the creatures. Derkeethus began helping him and Mordin seemed to be everywhere at once with vials, huge needles, and his sampling kit at the ready.

The Dragonborn in the meantime answered what questions they could before wandering toward the huge wall which had begun to glow with a blue-white light. After a few seconds, they gave a whistle and one of the large nords jogged over and helped to carry the loot from the chest the Dragonborn had unlocked.

They set up a camp on the least bloody and damaged part of the surrounding area and as the dragon’s remains were slowly rendered into alchemical ingredients and food, the others told stories of their adventures. The battle with the dragons had brought them all together, each one a warrior and each one now held a greater respect for the other.

 


 

It was well after the midnight hour when Vashlani entered the tent he shared with Shepard and collapsed face first into his bedroll.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered as he turned his head slowly toward her.

“Nothing is wrong, we finally finished. Vashlani never wants to see another dragon or dragon steak as long as he lives. But... there is enough meat for the rest of my life, my cub’s life and probably her cub’s life, in the storage. Thank the Divines it is magical or it would have exploded with all the dragon meat that was being jammed into it. Mordin ran some strange test and said even Garrus and Tali could eat it. Tali made some sort of gagging sound at the news. Legion is still in the basement unloading the crates into the food storage chest. It said it didn’t need sleep and volunteered to keep working so Garrus and I could come back. The Dragonborn let me have a few of the scales and one of the large bones from the ancient dragon. They kept the rest to take to the Companion’s skyforge to have more weapons and armors made for them. Grunt yanked one of the teeth from the ancient dragon as he yelled, ‘I am krogan’, scaring Derkeethus enough that he sliced the liver wrong and we had to feed it to Urz.”

Shepard let out a snorting chuckle and shifted in her bedroll watching as Vashlani sat up and got ready for bed.

Vashlani let out a grunt as he pulled off his boots and armor, laid everything out next to him then crawled into the bedroll. He yawned widely and scooted closer to Shepard, kissed her forehead before he draped an arm across her and drifted off into sleep.

Chapter Text


 

 

EDI sent Shepard an update about the IFF early in the morning. They had installed it, now they were going to activate it and run the tests, she would contact them again as soon as the tests finished.

The day was cold and a light snow had begun to fall overnight, it didn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Once the others had eaten, the Dragonborn returned from keeping a lookout and thanked them for their assistance and hoped to see them again sometime. The others said their farewells before packing up the tents and other supplies.

“Now what?” Jack asked.

“Well, we can visit a ruin or we can go to a hot spring that isn’t very well traveled. Most people don’t like to go there because of the dragon and the bears. The Dragonborn told Vashlani last night the dragon was already gone and so were the poachers so we shouldn’t have to worry about being seen.” Vashlani shrugged, “It is up to the group.”

Half of the group wanted to go to sight-see and lounge in the hot spring while the other half wanted to go kill stuff and gather loot. Vashlani leaned against a boulder and split his attention between the group and Urz, who was trying to drag a dragon rib which still had meat on it across the ground toward him. The varren seemed to have given up halfway and just settled down in a spot to have his own breakfast.

Shepard shook her head as the group stood there trying to come to a compromise, which surprised her, since normally they were the most stubborn group of people she had ever met, and wandered over to Vashlani.

“Hey, this was a good idea. Fighting those dragons, not so much,” she let out a short laugh and he grinned down at her. “When we get back, I think... I think it’s time to talk... about us.” Her hand stroked the side of his face, her thumb caressing the short, silky soft hair along his cheek.

His blue eyes searched her face but were unable to read anything there. He opened his mouth to say something when all of a sudden his amulet glowed.

Shepard shouted and she ran to the others as Vashlani immediately disappeared, the only ones who could possibly be calling him was Joker or Healer and that wasn’t good.

 


 

He had just appeared on the bridge of the Normandy when he heard the screams of the crew. As quickly as he could he cast his mage armor and readied his spells while EDI filled him in on what was happening. He raced toward the doors throwing spells at anything and everything that wasn’t a crew member. Firebolts and sparks flew as he ran down the corridor trying to dodge the bullets from the weapons being fired at him. He had to make it to the med bay where Joker was trying to evade more Collectors and get to EDI’s systems so she could help fight back.

A double cast of lightning bolts disintegrated the Scion that was making its way toward the med bay door which Joker had just limped through. EDI unlocked the door and slid it open just as he reached it.

“Joker, I’m here. What’s going on?”

“The Collectors set us up. They had some sort of, I don’t know... transmitter virus, installed in that damn IFF. It activated when we turned the damn thing on. Shit, shit, shit...” He tried to explain to Vashlani what he needed to do as well as trying to restart some of EDI’s programs at the same time.

“Mr. Moreau, you must remove the shackles so I can gain full control of the warfare programs. I can restart the weapons and defense systems, I can save us, but you have to free me so I can act.”

“Shit... Shepard isn’t going to like this.” He reached for the controls and started muttering something about being turned into batteries and pi. Vashlani was tempted to ask him what kind of pie, then thought better of it since Joker seemed to be concentrating hard on what he was doing. All of a sudden the lights went out then powered back on.

“I have control,” EDI’s voice rang throughout the AI core room and Joker backed away from the panel.

“You must get to the engineering section and manually restart the drive core, Jeff. There is a maintenance shaft behind you that will lead you down to it. Don’t let anything happen to him Vashlani, please.”

Joker blinked and turned to go down the shaft, Vashlani had already started down in order to clear any hostiles in the room.

They heard the noise from above them, their shadowy corner was adjacent to where Jack made her quarters on the sub-engineering level. “We need to wait for them to move out of the way, Vash. I can’t hurry as fast as I’d like. If I hadn’t been so stupid as to get those weaves put in-”

Vashlani placed a gentle hand on Joker’s shoulder then eased his way out of the alcove. “Now, let us go.” A shot rang out and Vashlani grunted and stumbled as he headed up the stairs. A quick dual cast of his flame spell at the Collector drone that stood at the top and it collapsed in a pile of ash.

They slid into the engineering room and Joker stopped at one of the consoles then they moved into the small area where the actual core was located. “Now, Jeff, restart the core and I will open the cargo bay doors and airlocks as we warp. It will jettison the remaining Collectors as we escape. The room you are in will be sealed, you and Vashlani will be safe.”

“What? Wait... doing that will kill the rest of the crew too.” Joker’s hands hovered over the panel, he hesitated and didn’t believe what he was hearing. Had he made a mistake in unshackling EDI?

“There is no one left on board, Jeff. The Collectors have taken the ones who were not outright killed. I am so sorry, Jeff.”

Vashlani moved up next to Joker, “You are sure, EDI? No one left?”

“No one. We must hurry, they are amassing outside of the doors.”

“Shit.” Joker let out a hissing breath as he moved his fingers rapidly over the holo keys. A bright flash then the drive core lit up, glowing brighter than it had before.

“Hang on. Cargo doors open. Mass effect drive... engaged.”

Both of them were flung backward, Vashlani did his best to cushion their fall. The impact was too hard for Joker and the snap of several of his bones were heard, as was his scream before he passed out from the pain.

 


 

Vashlani healed Joker as well as he could then carried him to the med bay. He gently placed him down on a gurney before heading to the locked cupboard and drinking a mana potion. “Thank you for doing all you could to save the crew and ship, EDI. Vashlani will go and get the others. If Joker wakes up before we return, please let him know, and thank him as well. This couldn’t have been easy for him.”

“I will, Vashlani and thank you.”

 


 

Garrus read the emergency portal scroll as soon as everyone grabbed onto someone, Jack had just wrapped her free arm around Urz when the scroll crumbled. Now they milled around the room, waiting for word. Several of them were keeping an eye on Miranda and Jacob, none of them really trusted the two and Vashlani would have a fit if anything was stolen. Shepard told Miranda to shut up when she started to ask questions. Legion followed the sphere out of the room when it had come in to light the candles in the room. Legion had come back a short time later carrying one of the sphere’s baskets laden with bottles. They looked up when they saw Urz rush to the door and put his paws up on it.

Vashlani slipped into the room. “We need to get back to the Normandy, there has been an incident and Joker needs us. I will explain more when we get there.”

Shepard grabbed him and lifted the mage’s tunic up that he was wearing. He hadn’t put his armor on that day and only wore his mage’s robes, “You’re bleeding. This is a gunshot wound. What’s going on?”

“I will heal it when we get back to the ship. There is no time, we must go.” He opened the door and told Urz to behave himself, he would be back soon, then firmly shut the door before Miranda could see more than just a sliver of what was through the opening. When he turned back around his eyes glowed and he carefully looked at everyone there before he stepped toward the green and white portal and activated it. He hid his the movements and whispered the words so no one could see or hear. When the portal turned blue he motioned for them to step through.

 


 

“Explain to me again, Joker. What happened?” Shepard asked her pilot as he sat on the debriefing room table. Vashlani was still working to fully repair the damage to his bones.

Right after he had finished telling them what happened, Miranda came storming in yelling about him unshackling an AI and both Joker and Vashlani turned on her. “If it wasn’t for EDI being able to clear this ship, no one would have been left, no one would be able to fly the Normandy to the relay. Without EDI being able to do so many tasks, we wouldn’t be able to go and rescue them,” Vashlani growled and Joker nodded.

“EDI cleared the ship, she’s alright.” He tugged his shirt back down after Vashlani let him know his ribs had been healed and all he needed was a bit of rest now.

Shepard looked at Miranda. “I trust EDI, she’s part of the crew and has had ample opportunity to kill us. She hasn’t and she stays unshackled.” She turned to Vashlani and pulled his tunic up and off of him and poked around the wound. “Get up to the loft. I’ll bring up some med supplies and a few of your potions. We’ll get it patched up and have you rest a bit.”

“Wait. Vash, you got shot?” Joker looked at the wound. Vashlani had only healed it enough to stop the bleeding.

“This khajiit is fine, Joker.” He reached over and picked up his tunic from the top of the table.

Once she was sure Vashlani would listen to her, she turned to Joker, “Set a course for the Omega relay. We’re upgraded as best we are going to get. They took our people, now we’re going to get them back and make them pay. The rest of you, prepare and get some rest. When Joker gives the two-hour warning report to your assigned emergency stations.”

 


 

Vashlani sat on the couch while Shepard cleaned the wound, he tried to tell her it wasn’t necessary but she frowned at him and he let out a sigh and let her go about it. He tipped his head back, leaned back against the couch and just tried to enjoy her touch. When she told him she was done he lifted a hand lazily and gave it a small flick, the golden white glow surrounded him for several seconds as the wound began to heal. When the glow faded he jerked slightly as he felt her palm stroke over the area, sliding through the fur which had grown back. It was slightly shorter and just a bit lighter colored than what covered the rest of his side.

He let out a purring sigh as she continued to stroke his side, his whiskers twitched and ears rotated once in a while. He felt her other hand brushing over the symbol for the College and his mouth opened slightly on a gasp, then he gritted his teeth and opened his eyes, before pressing his palms over her hands to still their movement.

“I need for you to stop, Shepard. Your hands are...,” he glanced away from her. “Vashlani needs to go make potions and ready items for what we may find and need for the rescue.”

“We need to talk about this, Vashlani. Go and make your potions and whatever else you need. When you come back, though, we talk.” Shepard slowly dragged her hands out from under his and he nodded before he stood and gathered his tunic then disappeared into his pocket home.

 


 

He showered and dressed, fed and petted Urz, then headed down to the crafting room. His travel pack and potion satchel were filled with every potion he thought would be handy; healing, magicka, cures, and stamina. The storage was emptied and so were the shelves. A sack was used to pack all the available scrolls into before he moved to the Enchanting area. A necklace and ring were added so his destruction and healing power increased. The tabard for magic regeneration and even more destructive power was tossed on the pile.

He picked through a barrel full of staffs he made; he found several and packed them into the bag.

Several waterskins were added before several sacks of dried meats and fruits for a quick energy boost were placed in the travel bag. When he was done he headed for the portal room and went to see his daughter. He prayed to the Divines that it wouldn’t be for the last time.

 


 

“Sorry Liara, I know you wanted me to come by tonight, but something has happened. Hold off on any rescue attempts, just give us a few days. We’ll be back and then we can go.”

“A few days may be too many. I have to go now.”

“Liara, just a few days. If you don’t do anything rash your friend should be fine. If you go storming in or hire some merc group Gods only know what might happen. If they fail, your friend could die. His death could be used to send you a message. Just a few days is all I’m asking. If we aren’t back or you don’t hear from us in three days time, then... then we failed and you do what you feel you need to do. Alright?”

Liara stared at her friend, she knew Shepard could just about pull anything off, but this was going to be her only chance. She would use those three days to amass a group of mercs and have them ready to storm the Broker’s ship or if Shepard made it, then she would go with her to storm it herself. “Three days, Shepard. Good luck.”

After her comm call with Liara ended she quickly put together a report and sent it off to Anderson. It detailed everything she had done and found. She asked that if she should fail, a memorial for Joker and Doctor Chakwas be held. They deserved the highest honors which could be given to them. After finishing up her requests and sending off several additional emails she stood up and headed toward the bathroom. She took a quick shower then went down to the seating area to wait for Vashlani to return. She was nervous about what she had planned, but she had to know.

 


 

“Shepard, Vashlani just returned. He is on the way up to the loft now.”

“Thank you, EDI. After he comes in, please activate the security protocols. We don’t want to be disturbed.” She lowered the lighting in the loft and poured two glasses of wine before smoothing her slightly damp palms over her hair and the robe she had on.

Vashlani entered the room and paused for a moment as he noticed the dim lighting. He placed his pack and tabard on Shepard’s desk then walked down to where she sat on the end of the couch.

“Shepard? It’s getting late. Joker said we arrive at the relay in six more hours. Shouldn’t you be resting?”

“Not yet. We’re going to talk and we need to do it now. Just in case.”

Vashlani looked at her for a minute then sat beside her on the couch where she had indicated.

She reached for her wine glass and took a fortifying sip before she began.

“When you had shown more than a... comfortable friendship toward me, I told you I wasn’t attracted to an alien species in that way.” She looked at him as he started to shift and take a small drink of the wine before he scooted closer to the edge of the couch.

“But that didn’t mean I wasn’t open to forming a closer relationship with someone if I did find such a person. It just hadn’t happened before. The time you spent away from me, the way you changed toward me, hurt. I didn’t really understand why until Garrus opened my eyes. Until he told me that maybe I just hadn’t met the right alien for me yet. Not until you came along. I’ve been struggling with myself; against myself. I doubt you will stay here, especially with a family back in your own dimension, and I can’t leave mine with the looming Reaper threat. I... didn’t want to fall in love with you, only to watch you walk away and disappear like you did before. That hurt too. But, I- I also don’t want to lose what little time we have left. It took me so long to come to terms with myself, to realize this.” She reached for her glass with a shaky hand again, “Say something?”

“Khajiit doesn’t know what to tell you, Shepard. Vashlani... I care for you, but I will not be able to stay here. I can’t bring Sophie here to stay. We would always be in danger and you said you could not leave here.” He stood up and moved away to look out the small window, to watch the stars pass by him. The view had once made him so scared that he passed out; now it was something he had come to enjoy.

“You need not worry that this khajiit will cause you problems, Shepard. This one will abide by your decision. If it is we shall be very good friends who care for each other, then that is what it shall be. If you want more, then that is what it shall be.”

Shepard stood and walked to him, a gentle hand on his shoulder to turn him toward her, “When I was floating out there after the first Normandy was attacked and I heard the hissing of the escaping air, I thought of you. It was you that filled my mind as the horizon of the planet came into view. It was the thought of never seeing you again which filled me with pain as my vision darkened and the knowledge that I was dying came to me. Even then I think, deep down, that it was already too late. I had come to care for you.”

She reached up, knowing that she had to be the one to reach out to him. Her hand gently caressed his face as his eyes closed and he leaned into her touch. Her hand stroked the silky soft hair along his cheek to the back of his head. She watched as his ears swiveled, the gold hoops caught the light and reflected it briefly. The fur along the back of his head and neck was longer but still very soft, her fingers sank into it as she stroked down toward his shoulder. Her other hand touched his ear before applying a gentle pressure on his neck.

His eyes slit open and those bright blue orbs searched hers. “Are you sure, Shepard? I may not be able to stop if you change your mind. Please be sure before doing this.”

“I am sure. I don’t know if it will... um, work... but we won’t really know until we try.”

Vashlani chuckled, “Shepard? Are you worried because I am a khajiit that we will not able to enjoy each other?”

Her cheeks turned fiery red. “The doc said something about compatibility.”

He grinned down at her before leaning down to whisper, “Oh, a khajiit and a human or elf are very compatible.” When he straightened, a smirk curled his lips and his whiskers twitched.

Her eyebrow raised. “I see. Well at least one of us is going to know what to do with the other.”

He hummed, “You are not angry or disappointed you would not be Vashlani’s first human lover?” He tucked a strand of her glorious red hair behind her ear as he searched her face.

“No, not at all. Both of us had lives before this.”

His thin lips curled up into a smile and she could barely make out the elongated eye teeth behind them. “That is good to hear. Vashlani would like to really kiss you now. This is acceptable?”

“More than acceptable,” she murmured as she tugged on his head. She heard a loud purr just as his lips touched hers.

She registered how velvety they were on her own before he shifted slightly and his mouth opened on hers. She expected his tongue to be sandpaper rough, like that of an Earth cat, instead, it had only a slight roughness to it as she felt it slide against her lips seeking entrance.

They were both breathing heavier and Shepard noticed the elongated pupils of Vashlani’s eyes had dilated so wide that only a slim, bright blue iris was left.

Shepard took a step back from him and slowly reached for the belt tying the robe together. He purred and tipped his head to the side as he reached for the lacing of the tunic he wore. His eyes followed her movements and his breath caught when the robe parted and fell to the floor in a silken waterfall.

Under it, she had worn a short shift of blue with thin straps. A deep V shape was cut into it from collar to just below her belly button and was covered with lace.

She saw his ears rotate and whiskers twitch before he pulled the tunic over his head and dropped it to the floor.

She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and glanced up at him before running her hands over his chest. She could feel the vibrations coming from him as his purr deepened in tone.

“This is alright?” she whispered as her fingers sank into the fur then traced the two stripes that ran over his shoulders to his pectoral muscles.

“Mm, yes, Shepard. If anything does not feel right or needs to be adjusted khajiit will tell you. Vashlani understands that a khajiit body is new to you, so explore, take your time.”

She chuckled, “I have seen you in just your underwear, you know.”

“Khajiit knows. But seeing and touching is very different,” his own hands found her waist and he slowly circled his thumbs on the silk covering her.

His eyes closed as her fingertips traced the magical tattoos before they skimmed over his abdomen. She could feel the muscles, under the fur, bunch and twitch at her touch.

His ears laid back on the side of his head when he felt her working the ties of his hide pants. He looked down at her as he felt her start to kneel in front of him and unlace the boots that he wore. He let out a chuckle at her low muttered curse when she couldn’t figure out how the laces were tied on the specially designed shoes.

“Let me show you, Shepard. Khajiit feet are different than your own or those of the few on board that is not human. Our shoes work differently to accommodate both the shape and the need for our nails to be able to retract and extend when we need them too.”

She watched as he unlaced part of the boot and removed it before unlacing a different section. He shifted it slightly then unhooked a small clasp on the side. When he completely removed the shoe he flexed his foot, then his toes and long nails extended out before he flexed them again and they sheathed themselves.

 “That must be hell on sheets.”

He grinned and shook his head. “Only when we get too excited. Most of the time there is no danger from them.” She quickly finished the other shoe’s lacing and then smirked at him as she ran her hand along his foot, feeling the much shorter and rougher hair on the back of it.

“You’re not ticklish?” she asked with a slight pout and he laughed as he shook his head.

He reached for her hands then tugged her toward him.

“Vashlani would like to do exploring of his own.” His hands caressed her thighs and slowly slid up under her shift to her waist and lifted the silken material up as he went.

Shepard put her hands on his shoulders as he leaned in and nuzzled her, “Take this off, Shepard. Vashlani wishes to see all of you.”

She gathered the material in her hands and slowly lifted it up, revealing her thighs, waist, and breasts to his gaze. His thumbs moved over her hips and brushed along the fabric strips there. He nuzzled her stomach and breathed in her scent as her hands stroked the top of his head and rubbed between his ears.

“I wish to touch you, Shepard, touch all of you. This is acceptable?” Vashlani whispered against her soft skin. His whiskers and the soft fur of his face causing a tickling sensation and her skin become covered with goosebumps.

She nodded and shivered as she felt his hands glide over her waist and stomach, the soft pads of his fingers and palms contrasted with the slide of his fur and the velvet feel of his lips as he kissed her stomach then worked his way up. She gasped as his hands gently cupped her breasts and tested their weight in his palms. He purred and shifted her so he could taste as well as touch.

The roughness of his tongue on her engorged nipple caused her to moan and gasp. She felt a light scraping of his teeth against the side of her breast before his lips closed around her and his tongue pressed her nipple to the roof of his mouth and he started to suckle. One of his hands moved to her back and held her against him while the other wandered down to her hip and slowly started to ease the scrap of silk and lace from her center.

When the panties drifted down to her feet he gave one last lick to her nipple. He stood up from where he had sat on the bed and picked her up, kissed her quickly before he turned and laid her in the center of the mattress. He moaned softly as he saw her lick her lips when his hands went to finish unlacing his pants and removed them, only the linen wrap which was his underwear remained.

When he joined her on the bed he took her wandering hand in his and shook his head no as she reached for him, “Not yet, Shepard. There is one thing that Vashlani must tell you. If after hearing it you changed your mind about making love with me, this one will understand and offer to pleasure you in a different way. Khajiit tells this to you because being with a male khajiit is not... comfortable at first, even for a female of my kind.”

Her eyes searched his and she frowned slightly. “I don’t understand.”

He hummed and brushed a thumb along her cheekbone and let out a small sigh. “A male khajiit is not made the same as a human. Our females need to be... stimulated in a certain way for her body to release eggs and enable pregnancy when she goes into her heat cycle. The males are built to provide this needed stimulation.”

“So you’re saying what? You have bumps on your...?” She glanced down and thought of one of her sexual aids from the old Normandy. It had been one of her favorites.

“No. We do not have bumps.” He chuckled when she let out a sigh that sounded a bit disappointed.

“Then what?” She let out a small moan as he brushed his thumb on her nipple again and pressed slightly before giving it a slight tug.

“Our females require... pain, and we must anchor ourselves inside them for a time during our climax if they are to achieve pregnancy. It is not something we can control. Whether or not we have sex during their heat cycles or not, even if we are with a female of a different race or even a male. It is normal for us and can be extremely painful and frightening for those who have not been with one of our males before. For a human or a mer, it can be traumatic the first few times until your bodies can adjust to ours.”

“You’re sort of scaring me now, Vashlani. Just tell me.”

He swallowed and moved his hand over her abdomen, hoping and praying that she wouldn’t change her mind.

“Our males have penile barbs. Small curved barbs that help us to rake the females channel to stimulate her pain receptors and get her to release her eggs. She does not have a climax in the same way as the humans and mer do during the act. We must give her pleasure before we mate her. When we enter our mates the first stroke in feels good, it is the raking of our barbs on the withdraw which is painful. The female becomes a snarling, dangerous creature by the time we climax, and as soon as we can safely withdraw we do so and move away from her. We don’t lay there and cuddle. At least not until she calms down and the pain eases. Then she decides if she accepts us into the bed afterward. If she does then we give care to our mate. Kisses and touches; healing if she requires it. If we are mated to a mer or human, on the other hand, we do cuddle and take care of them as soon as we can. A male who cares for more than himself will always assure his mate of his affection for them as soon as possible. It is different if they had a prostitute who has serviced a male before, they usually just leave after a male can release themselves from inside them and they drink a small healing potion which is part of the fee.”

Shepard laid there and looked into his eyes before nervously clearing her throat, “I uh... I’m not sure. I don’t want to disappoint you or feel like I led you on... if we don’t...”

He gave her a gentle smile before he touched and stroked her hair. “Do not worry about such a thing. It is why this one wanted to explain to you first. Vashlani cares about you, Shepard. Even if we do not fully make love, khajiit will accept whatever affection you can give him.”

She brushed her hands over his face and listened to him purr as she dug her fingers into the fur along his shoulder and upper arm. His eyes opened wide as a tug was felt on his neck and he lowered his head to hers. Her eyes closed as he began to once again touch and taste until her body hummed. Her hips jerked when she felt his hand caress her inner thigh before his finger brushed at her core. A low moan and gasps were wrung from her as his finger circled and lightly touched the little nub at the apex of her center.

Her back arched and she clutched at the bed sheets when his rough tongue licked her. His fingers and tongue worked her until she let out a throaty moan and arched her back even more as her body shook with her release. He kissed and stroked, purred and hummed to her as he slowed down and let her relax. She panted and gasped out his name as he chuckled.

“You certainly weren’t kidding when you said you knew what to do with a human.”

He nuzzled her and whispered he was happy to have pleased her and she was the only human who mattered to him, the only woman he wanted to be with. He gave a deep purr which vibrated his whole body when he felt her hands move over him. He sighed and gasped as she whispered for him to kiss her and moaned when her leg stroked his and brought her lower body against his linen cloth covered one. She giggled when his tail moved over the outside of her calf and curled around her ankle before it slid up her leg over her hip and bushed along her ass. She let out a small gasp as the tip dipped between her legs and brushed over her sensitive flesh.

She ground into him as the tail kept sliding along her until she moaned and shook from another orgasm.

She panted as he placed his forehead against hers and rubbed their noses together, causing her to laugh again and him to smile.

She stroked his face then tilted her head to kiss him. His chest rumbled with a pleased purr as her hands stroked his back and sides. His eyes opened and he tensed when her fingers stroked his abdomen and slid lower. She kept kissing him and felt him shudder as she cupped him.

He groaned and closed his eyes as her fingers moved gently over him. He gasped when he felt her loosen the bindings along the side and slip the material from him. Her own sharp gasp had him opening his eyes and hesitate before he looked at her.

“You... you weren’t joking about the barbs. They’re small but I can feel them.”

“Yes. I would not joke or lie about this, Shepard. They look small but will cause you pain,” he sounded sad as he said it and stroked the side of her head.

Her hand was gentle as she explored him and he buried his head in her neck as he purred.

He felt her shift and move again. Those fingers of hers stroked his hip then he hissed as he felt her press her hot, moist center against him and he shivered. “You must be sure about this, Shepard,” he whispered in her ear as she thrust her hips against him. She gave a slight gasp as she rubbed lightly against him.

“I’m sure. Make love to me, Vashlani.”

He shifted them both and slowly moved to cover her. His lips took hers as he pressed a finger deeply into her then withdrew. She started to thrust against his hand, and he felt the heat and wetness building. He lined himself up to her entrance and rubbed the smooth head of his cock against her until she groaned, and lifted her hips as he started to stretch and fill her. He was careful to not withdraw until he had become fully seated in her and she had time to adjust.

When her eyes opened, she brushed the side of his neck then reached for one of his hands and gripped it tightly. She felt his tail stroking her leg before he kissed her and swallowed the first scream of pain as he withdrew.

The golden white glow began immediately as he cast a healing on her and slid back in. He paused and kissed away the tears, “I am so sorry. It is too much for you to bear. This next withdraw will be the last one, Shepard. I cannot stand to see you in such pain just to be with me.”

“No, don’t stop. You said it yourself, my body needs to adjust to being with you. If you stop now, we’ll never be able to make love. I want this, the pain is nothing, Vashlani. The pleasure will come when my endorphins release.”

She lifted her hips and ground against him slightly as he continued to look into her eyes.

“So be it,” Vashlani whispered against her lips seconds before he withdrew then thrust deep into her again. His fingers wrapped around hers tightly as he closed his eyes and began a rhythmic withdraw and thrust. He moaned minutes later when he felt the first thrust of her hips meeting his as he slid back into that tight channel and hilted.

His purr got louder as her legs widened and he settled tightly against her. His thrusts sped up as she gasped and clung to him, her cries sounding of pleasure; no longer of pain. He reached between them to flick that little nub while he continued to thrust into her. As soon as he felt her tighten he shifted her legs higher around him and moved to his knees. He pressed deeper with each thrust, her knees pushed almost to her shoulders.

He growled low in his throat and her eyes opened as his lips pulled back into a snarl. His ears flattened to the side of his head and his thrusts became rougher, the pain intensified again as he slammed into her and withdrew faster. Moments later he let out a roar and she felt him swell as he released a flood of scalding hot liquid inside of her. His orgasm continued and he started to sway slightly.

She watched as his snarl eased and his whiskers moved before he opened his eyes. They seemed to be unfocused as they stared down into her own eyes and he blinked. “Shepard?”

Her lips tilted up in the corner. “Were you expecting someone else?”

“I- what?” His voice sounded weak and he wobbled a bit. She hissed and shifted her legs into a more comfortable position and he blinked again and cast a healing on her.

“I’m sorry, Shepard. I think I forgot to tell you about this part.” His voice sounded slightly slurred and eased himself down on her then rolled them onto their sides. She shivered as she heard him grunt and felt him release again.

She leaned forward and kissed him and he gave a bit of a startled jump as his eyes opened again. “What’s going on?” she asked him as his eyes slid shut again.

“Khajiit males become so relaxed after mating while we are locked into the female. Orgasm after orgasm... coming inside you feels so good, Shepard.” He purred and sighed as he shuddered and released more of his hot seed in her. “Males relax while we can. Never do we do this face to face with a khajiit female, she would tear us apart. Only kitty style.”

He wiggled his head on the pillow, got as close to her as he could, wrapped his arm around her waist, and his tail flopped across her thigh.

His whiskers and tail twitched several more times as he flooded her. She stroked his head and scratched between his ears.

Finally, after quite a while she felt him start to soften and he slipped out of her as he opened his eyes. His vision was clear and he tensed for a brief moment, as if to flee before he relaxed and leaned in to kiss her. Another flash of healing warmed her and she felt her passage tingle slightly as his hand covered her. One long finger gently probed her as more healing warmth washed over her. She groaned as his finger teased her, flicked gently against her clit and rubbed and pressed until her body tensed and bowed. She felt his seed expelled from her body as she climaxed.

“I am sorry for hurting you, Shepard,” he whispered to her as he rolled from the bed before reaching for her. He helped her up, carried her into the shower, and carefully cleaned her. He made sure her body was healed and satisfied.

When he thrust his finger into once again she pushed his shoulders she murmured, “I can’t... not again.”

He leaned down and kissed her before looking into her eyes. “These last few are not simply for pleasure, Shepard. Vashlani must remove as much of his seed from your body as he can before he makes sure you haven’t... haven’t become pregnant.”

Her eyes opened wide. “That’s possible between our species?”

“It is rare, but it does happen between mated couples. Master received correspondence from other khajiit when he was... advising me on certain matters as I grew up. Most of the offspring do not leave the clan areas in Elsweyr and they keep the children a closely guarded secret. The cub takes on the appearance of the mother species. If the female is khajiit the cub will look like a khajiit. A cub born of our union will likely appear to be a human, but with some increased abilities; such as better night vision and greater agility, but it will be a khajiit. It would be dangerous for you to have my cub in this dimension, Shepard. I hope you can understand.”

She held his hands in hers, “It is alright, Vashlani. I cannot become pregnant.”

“I do not understand; your body has been repaired.”

She nodded, “Doc inserted a fresh inhibitor rod under my skin, it releases a hormone which keeps my body from ovulating, at least until it expires.”

He sighed and nodded, his head drooped as did his tail. She lifted her eyes to his and saw the look of deep sadness in his bright blue orbs before he wrapped her tightly in his arms.

Chapter Text


 

 

Joker announced he was exiting the Omega relay and they would be hitting the Omega-4 in an hour. Everyone scrambled to get armored up and to their assigned terminals or spaces. 

Vashlani whispered to Shepard asking if she felt any lingering pain and when she shrugged he cast another healing spell on her. The light caught Garrus’ eye and he glanced over at them. Garrus smiled as he noticed the way Vashlani helped Shepard, even though they all knew she didn’t need it, into her armor and a flash of healing before they shared few rubs of their cheeks together. About damned time. 

Joker slowed the Normandy and Shepard entered the bridge followed by Vashlani who strapped into the navigator's seat after Joker pointed to the harness. Vashlani noticed Joker had his lower body strapped to the seat and hurried to hook up his own. 

“Attention crew. We are entering the relay in one minute. Everyone is to monitor their terminals and update. It has been an honor getting to know each of you and working with you. May our Gods and the Spirits see us safely on the other side.” Shepard closed the comm and activated her boot’s mag locks then grabbed a tight hold on the back of the pilot’s chair. 

Joker’s fingers flew over the keyboard and the reports started to flood the channel. Jacob announced the drive core had lit up like a Christmas tree. Tali was doing her best to divert the energy overflow. Garrus yelled to stop sending it to the damn Thanix before she blew up the gun before he had a chance to use it.

 “Calibrate faster, you bosh’tet!” Tali yelled over the comms. 

The Normandy started to vibrate harder as Joker activated the abnormal colored relay and he lined up the ship to enter it. “Entering the relay, everyone squeeze those cheeks tight ’cuz here we go.” 

Vashlani looked over at Joker and then back to Shepard who gripped the back of the pilot’s seat in her gauntleted hand. Her eyes never left the viewing screen. 

“Shit! Evasive maneuvers! EDI!” Joker yelled as they cleared the relay and entered an enormous debris field on the other side. 

“Compensating. Shields and barriers holding. New ablative plating down 5%,” EDI announced as they started to clear the worst of the field. 

“Damn, look at all this, Commander. Some of these ships are ancient. Definitely not anything like we have now.” 

“These must be the ships that had tried to go through the relay before. Keep your eyes open.”

They slowly started moving toward the accretion disk, the scan which was taken indicated the base was near it. All of a sudden they were attacked by drones called Oculus. Several small explosions happened inside of the Normandy as Joker tried to evade the mass of enemies. 

Jack and Grunt reported minor damage in the subdecks of engineering. Tali reported damage to the drive core but the multicore shields were still holding. Thane reported damage in several crew areas. Large beams were coming down and they were to watch for the debris. The protective barriers were damaged but still active. 

EDI sounded the alarm and announced one of them had cut through the ships armor and was currently in the cargo hold. She had activated a kinetic barrier over the hole. Shepard yelled for Garrus and Samara to get to the cargo bay. She banged into Miranda as she turned to hurry toward the hold, “What the hell are you doing up here and not at your post?”

“This is where I should be during this fight since your turian XO has to man the guns,” Miranda said and stumbled as Joker headed into the debris field. 

“I haven’t time to argue. Get out of my way.” 

The three of them charged into the cargo hold and began to fire on the Oculus. Once again Shepard was the main focus and the others whittled down the heavy armor while she dodged and got off a few rounds. It closed the metal shutter over its eye and retreated back out of the same hole it had made earlier. 

“Entering the debris field, gonna try and shake them off,” Joker announced over the comm just as the ship dived into the floating debris of destroyed ships. Everyone was thrown around and the warning alarms went off. 

“Jeff, those barriers weren’t meant to deflect debris this large. Shields down to 12%. Barriers holding at 35%.” 

“Glad we had upgraded to Tali’s shields and that new armor. At least they’re gone... for now.” 

The alarm went off again as the sensors picked up the Oculus had returned, “Commander, you have to handle this one.” 

Once the Oculus blew, the ship shuddered and more damage was taken as Joker sped them through the debris field. When they exited Shepard ran for the bridge while the others returned to their posts and gave a damage report. 

So far no one had any major injuries. The Normandy moved toward the base once again when an alarm sounded. 

“Looks like they are sending out an old friend to meet us, Shepard,” Joker growled as his fingers once more flew over the keyboard. Garrus called out the Thanix was ready and waiting. 

“Let’s show them our new teeth, Joker,” Shepard hissed out and Joker grinned when he lined up the shot and hit the fire button. A beam of light shot out from the cannons which had been lowered and struck the enemy ship causing major damage. 

Joker maneuvered the ship around for another strike. He wasn’t about to let the vessel that destroyed his beloved Normandy SR-1 do the same thing to the new one, and they deserved some payback. 

“Eat this you bastards,” he growled then slammed his hand on the button again. This time the beam must have hit in a weaker area because the Collector ship shuddered then started to blow apart. Joker wasn’t able to get away fast enough and they were caught up in the explosion. The ship rocked and spun out of control until EDI and Joker were able to regain it. The alarms sounded again and EDI warned of an impact. 

They ended up on a ledge outside of the Collector base and after Joker groaned and was able to sit upright, he told them all of the outside cameras had been damaged but scans showed major damage to the ones on the base as well. They could only hope the Collectors thought the ship had been destroyed. The damage may buy them enough time to get the crew out of there and fix the ship before they came after them. 

Vashlani reached over and healed Joker, then Shepard told any of them who had injuries to report to the med bay and get healed up, then report to the debrief room for their planning session. “EDI, I want scans of that base. We need as much intel as you can get.” 

Vashlani unbuckled his safety harness and stood up then leaned down to cast a heal spell over Shepard, and to give her a brief kiss before stepping over Miranda who was lying unconscious on the floor of the bridge and headed to the med bay. 

The group discussed various avenues of entry into the building and how to bypass certain areas. After the discussion ended it was decided that Legion would go into the maintenance shaft so he could come out behind one of the closed doors and open it for them. Garrus would be leading the second team, much to Miranda’s grudging acceptance. Her sneer of having someone other than herself leading the secondary was heard in her voice and no one really cared. The others trusted Garrus over her, except for maybe Jacob. Shepard split up the teams to include Vashlani with her after she heard a very low growl coming from him when it looked like she was going to leave him behind. 

The ones with satchels which were provided by Vashlani added many extra heatsinks and extra medigel packs. The biotics raided the mess hall stores and stuffed the remaining high-calorie protein bars into the bags as well. When they were done they went out through the main airlock while Garrus’ team exited through one of the emergency exits on the crew deck. 

They moved as quickly as they could through the onslaught of enemies, Shepard ran for the green glowing panels, as soon as she spotted one, it would lift the obstructions in the tunnel so Legion could work his way past before his hardware overheated. 

Thane and Grunt ducked when the flaming atronach flew over their heads and headed straight for a group of Collector drones while shards of ice impaled the abominations which were running toward them. 

They took cover behind a barrier and Shepard looked at Vashlani, “If you have stronger spells up your sleeves you’ll need to use them. We’re moving too slow.” 

Vashlani nodded at her, “I have many spells prepared, mate.” He reached into his small pouch and drew out four small blue potions and handed them to her. “When I tell you, pop the cork and pour one into my port. The spell drains me fast and I need to keep casting it until all of them are gone. Ready?” 

Shepard put her rifle in its holder and stood up. Vashlani stood and cast a wall of lightning in front of them, the strikes and electricity flowed and followed his hands as he sprayed it in a wide arc. The Collectors or Reaper units who were caught up in it either disintegrated or were stunned. The pops of a shotgun and rifle came quickly as the others moved along behind them, only stopping to hit the panel and when the last of the creatures fell. 

Vashlani reached into his bag and took out a small jar, the contents of which smelled like a very sharp mixture of cheese and beer, and several small chunks of bread, “Vashlani must eat. We can keep moving but without this, I will use too many potions too soon. There are so many enemies here.” 

“Alright, stay in the center of us as we move.” Shepard took point and they ran down a long hallway and she slapped another panel when Legion told her to hurry that the heat was once more getting too close to causing a malfunction. 

When they reached the closed door they yelled for Legion to hurry up and open it. Vashlani stepped up next to Shepard and dual cast a chain lightning spell which bought them enough time for Legion to get the door open. 

When they turned around they saw pod after pod in a huge cavernous room and Shepard walked up to one. A woman who she didn’t recognize was inside and Shepard wiped the condensation from the small viewing window. When she did the woman started to move then scream as small insect-like creatures swarmed her and she started to dissolve. Shepard yelled to get those pods open quickly. 

The crew tore into the pods using whatever they had available to rip them open. Vashlani tore the lid off of the one that contained Kelly and she fluttered her eyelids before whispering his name and tried to kiss him. She ended up on the ground when he opened his arms and dropped her before moving to the next one which contained one of the bridge crew. 

When everyone was out of the pods and were resting on the ground he went around and gave them a light healing touch to strengthen them slightly and the others handed them either emergency rations or water, telling them they needed their strength. 

When Joker told her he couldn’t get in close enough to pick up the crew and they would have to backtrack to a different area, Shepard looked at them still sitting on the ground. They looked exhausted and still so frightened. There would be no way they could make it on their own in that condition, “Mordin, you go back with them and make sure they stay safe. If you and the Doc can’t handle the healing have her call Vashlani.” 

“Vashlani has stocked his potion cupboard. If you need the healing potions you know how to use them, Healer. There are also several scrolls inside there to use as a last resort,” Vashlani told her as he helped Chakwas to stand. She held up her medallion to show him she still had it and he nodded, “I will come if you need me.” 

“Commander, EDI and I have some intel you need to hear,” Joker said to her then EDI told her about the seeker swarms which they would have to go through in order to make it to the center of the base and according to the scenarios she ran, Mordin and Vashlani’s countermeasure wouldn’t be enough. 

“The countermeasure will help some and Vashlani’s potion modules will help to counteract the stings but there are just too many,” EDI said to her. 

Shepard paced as the others helped the crew on their feet. Mordin let Joker know they were on the way to the pickup point. 

“Shepard, I may know of a way,” Samara said quietly. “A biotic barrier which would surround the team. I could hold it as we move through the area, but we would need to move as quickly as possible.” 

Shepard looked at the asari Justicar and started to speak when Miranda interrupted, “Technically any biotic can do that. Not just her.” 

Everyone heard the grinding of teeth over the comm line, “Enough, Miranda. You are in no way comparative to an asari Matriarch in the way of sheer biotic power and Jack’s power is clear off the human’s charts. It will be one of those two who will provide the barrier. Not you. I will not sacrifice the safety of my people because of your superiority complex.” 

“Let me do it, Shepard. I know I can hold it,” Jack spoke up and Shepard turned to her and looked her in the eye for several minutes. She saw confidence and power in their depths, she also saw the focus and discipline which hadn’t been there before. 

“Done. Samara, you go with Garrus’ group and if they need the barrier you erect it for them. Vashlani and Thane, you’re with me. You two protect Jack.” She signaled for everyone to get into their groups and they started for the door which led further into the base and to where the pipes EDI said were pumping the genetic material from the humans those little machines had processed was being sent to. 

They kept close to Jack and in between battles Vashlani had her drink a small green potion and eat one of her bars while he protected her. “You are doing well, Jack. Vashlani is proud of how far you have come and how you took control of your life. Your focus and discipline are incredible. Your power is now completely under your control.” He smiled at the young woman as she held the barrier around them while Shepard and Thane fought several husks and scions which were between them and the room that would help to cut off the swarm. 

“Thanks, Furball. I’m getting so tired though. The potions you gave me helped, but... I don’t know how much longer I can hold this,” Jack told him and a slight hint of doubt entered her eyes. 

“Vashlani has confidence in you, Jack. So does Shepard. You can do this my friend, and I’m right here beside you.” He dug into his pouch and brought out a different jar. Flames licked up the side for just a few seconds before he unscrewed the top, “Drink. This will help to restore your stamina and quench your thirst,” he held up the jar and the smell of potato soup came to Jack’s nose. 

She drank the smooth soup down then handed the jar back to him with a nod. The others shouted to move and once more Jack stood and pushed her way down the long hallway. Vashlani sent out flames or ice bolts and supported Jack with his other hand. The others shot the husks and Collectors which were trying to stop them from reaching the room. 

When they reached the doors Jack turned and as the others hurried through she sent out her remaining strength with a biotic push that sent the enemies flying and bought them enough time for her to get the doors shut. 

“She... Shepard... copy? We are in deep shit, get those doors open!” Garrus’ voice finally broke through the interference the swarm caused and they rushed to the other doors to provide cover for them. Tali swept in and started to work on the jammed sensor to shut the door. A single shot made it past them and Garrus stumbled as he slammed back into the wall and held a hand over his abdomen. Vashlani ran to him and cast as large a healing as he could afford just before the doors slid shut and locked. 

Everyone tried to catch their breaths as Vashlani healed the worst of the injuries. The rest were treated with medigel. Everyone called out their stock numbers of heatsinks, medigel, and Vashlani told her how many potions he had left. EDI and Joker let them know everyone had made it back safely and they were being healed as quickly as they could and sent to start repairs right away. None of them wanted to be there longer than necessary and were working as quickly as they could.

 “According to my calculations, Commander, the room where the pipes end is close by. I do not, however, know what you will find there. There are more Collectors amassing outside of the door, Shepard.” EDI told her then closed the comm link. 

Shepard let out a sigh and Miranda stepped forward, “Pick your team, Shepard. The rest of us will stay here and keep them off of you as long as we can.” 

They gathered around her and Vashlani helped her up to the floating platform that EDI would control and move toward the last room. “Garrus, Vashlani, and Tali, we have been together the longest, we started this fight with the Reapers and we should continue it together. The rest of you, show them what you’re made of. A bunch of loners, misfits, mercs, thieves, and killers; all have come together to fight a threat to the entire galaxy. Where we were once separate, we have now come together as one. We have fought together, bled together, and partied together, now we end this together. You are all the best in the galaxy. Feared for your fighting prowess, feared for your power. Now turn that power into stopping these bastards and show the entire galaxy what a group of people can do when they come together and fight for a common cause. It doesn’t matter if you’re human, turian, quarian, or krogan. It doesn’t matter if you work in the shadows as a thief or assassin. You are now a protector, fighting to stop an ancient force that many others refuse to accept exists. Fight proud; stay strong.” 

The group who was left behind nodded, a fire was lit in their eyes and shown with determination as they got into place as the platform rose and started toward the final destination. 

Vashlani gripped Shepard’s hand and connected with a private comm line. 

“There is something I would like to speak to you about when we have finished this battle and are back beyond the relay, my mate. Stay safe for me.” He gave her hand a squeeze then stepped away to start casting lighting bolts as several platforms came toward them carrying Reaper troops and Collectors.

 


 

They were standing in a large room, overhead a silver construct was suspended using the pipes that came from the pod room and various cables. It looked almost like a giant human. “EDI? What is this thing?” 

“It seems to be a mix of organic and synthetic tissues. It is a construct. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of humans must have been sacrificed to create this, Shepard.” 

“Are you telling me this thing is alive? That it was formed like a human because human DNA had been used?” Shepard took several steps forward and Vashlani placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. 

EDI told Shepard of her hypothesis concerning the Human-Reaper embryo and Shepard’s hands curled up into fists. 

“This thing is an abomination. I’m blowing it the hell up.” She took off the Cain from the magnetic holder on her back only to be stopped by Garrus when he pointed out the coverings that enclosed the weak points of the tubes. 

“Don’t waste the heavy ammo, Shepard. We have incoming. Let’s deal with those and when those shutters open, I’ll take out the tubes. That should weaken them enough to drop the damn thing into the abyss.” 

They took cover and just as promised, as soon as one of the tubes became unprotected a shot rang out and it would shatter. 

When the construct fell they thought it was over and they had won. 

A call came from The Illusive Man as Garrus handed Shepard several grenades to jam into the service ports. She argued with the head of Cerberus, not giving in to his bullshit about using the tech to further humanity. He wanted the base, he wanted the technology. She wanted to blow the place sky-high. Garrus and Tali watched with baited breath as Shepard paused then they let out sighs of relief when she told him no, this place and that abomination weren’t worth losing their humanity over. Tali cut the connection with The Illusive Man as Shepard jammed in more grenades then shut the service panel. 

They all froze when they heard the monstrous, metallic, groaning noise coming from where the construct had fallen. The thing was active and its self-preservation mode kicked in. When the giant thing raised back up they scattered. This time Shepard aimed for the glowing spots she supposed represented its eyes and heart and let loose with a blast from the mini nuke. A horrendous scream echoed through the room and the construct dropped down as more Collector and Reaper troops appeared. 

Vashlani stood up and spotted a dropped heavy weapon ammo canister and cast telekinesis at it. After he caught it, he tossed it to Shepard who slammed it home into the slot on the Cain and readied it again for when the construct came back up. As soon as it did she stood and Vashlani slid behind her and cast a shield over her. As soon as it registered at one hundred percent she let the blast from the weapon fly and the construct faltered and thrashed around. It sent the platform they were standing on spinning and tipping. Tali screamed as she slipped and fell. She slid between Shepard and Vashlani who both dropped and slid after her, grabbing her hands just as she went over the side. 

They pulled her up and all four of them stumbled and went tumbling off the other end. 

Shepard groaned as she came to and shook her head to clear her vision. She crawled over to where Vashlani was sprawled out and shook him. He groaned and asked what happened. 

“No time to talk. We need to find Garrus and Tali and get the hell out of here.” 

They found Tali unconscious near the edge of the broken ledge and as Shepard turned her over they heard a groan coming from the other side. Vashlani stood up and lifted the huge concrete slab with a telekinesis spell and cast a healing on Garrus before he pulled him away from the edge so he didn’t roll off of it. 

A few moments later they heard the buzzing of wings and took off running. “Go, go, go!” Shepard shouted as they put on more speed, she turned around to fire several times before running again. One after the other they leaped toward the opening in the Normandy that had flown in and hovered next to the only long piece of a ledge and broken rubble which was long enough. Vashlani jumped and sailed through the opening, he landed on all fours before he turned and stood up. He yelled, “faster” and Shepard ran as hard as she could. 

The ledge crumbled. The distance was really too far to jump. Just as her feet left the remaining bit of rocky ledge she felt a tingling sensation and was engulfed in a red light. The same light was surrounding Vashlani’s hands. He had hit her with telekinesis and strained to bring her on board. As soon as her feet touched down in the airlock Joker ran for the controls and EDI got them moving toward the only way out. Back through the Omega-4 Relay before the grenades exploded and destroyed the base and anything around it. 

“Vashlani really needs to work on his Alteration spells, he uses way too much magicka when he casts them,” he mumbled then dropped to the floor of the Normandy’s bridge. 

The ship was pushed through the relay by the resulting explosion. The ship hurtled out of the other side and hit several asteroids, damaging the shields further before Joker and EDI could slow it down. They limped toward Omega to start emergency repairs so they could use the relays to get to Nos Astra and meet up with Liara.

 


 

Shepard and Vashlani stood in the cabin’s shower. Their tongues twining around each other as their hands explored. Vashlani slowly pushed her against the wall of the stall and lifted her legs, he groaned as she wrapped them around him and brought him into contact with her heated center. 

Shepard buried her head into his neck and dug her fingers into his fur as he entered her with a loud purr. He began to whisper words in her ear, how good she felt, how happy he was that she was his mate. His mouth returned to hers as he withdrew and muffled her scream of pain. His thrusts were slow and steady, his caress of her breast was gentle as was his tug on her nipple. When she tore her mouth from his and let out a gasp he thrust into her hard, her cries of pleasure starting to echo in the small bathroom. The water automatically shut off after a few moments and Vashlani growled as he continued to thrust up into her hard and fast. She let out a small scream as her body tensed around his, the pulses from her orgasm squeezing around him tighter as he continued to move in her. His lips crashed against hers again as he slammed into her one final time, his cock swelling and locking him inside of her as he spilled his hot seed over and over. 

“Mm... Shepard. My mate, my love,” he whispered to her as he slowly sank to his knees. They slid down the wall of the shower stall as his head rested in the crook of her neck. She felt his purrs and the way his breathing began to slow down as his body relaxed in between his orgasms. Her hands stroked his head and neck. It wasn’t the most comfortable position in the world and she may have to rethink the whole making love in the shower thing if he continued to fall asleep as soon as his body came. At least she knew it wasn’t that he did it because he had been satisfied and didn’t want to cuddle. He had wrapped her up in his arms as soon as the lethargy had started to take him over. 

She heard him let out a sigh and felt him nuzzle her neck as he came around, his cock softened and slipped from her as his lips met hers in a soft kiss. He rose to his feet and helped her up before kissing her again.

 


 

“Liara, we did it, the Collector base is destroyed. We severed ties with Cerberus and will need someplace safe to ditch the trackers and other things from the ship. For now, we’ve put in for emergency repairs on Omega but we should be able to limp into Nos Astra in two more days, please just wait for us.” Shepard told her as she stared at her friend on the other end of the holo-screen. 

“Alright, Shepard. Two days only. When you arrive I’ll have the dock already set up for repairs for you, come to my apartment and we’ll talk there, it isn’t safe to do so here. And Shepard, congratulations.” Liara gave her a weak smile then shut off the comm. 

“Shepard, Vashlani has heard that several of the crew will be leaving the Normandy tonight. Vashlani is worried because not all of the crew have been bound by magic. Will you keep everyone on board long enough for me to go to the College and speak with Tolfdir to see if he has something that would help? I won’t be long.” 

“It won’t hurt anyone will it?” Shepard asked and Vashlani shook his head. 

“No. Vashlani will ask for something to alter their memories of me. Those who leave and are under the binding won’t be affected.” 

Shepard chewed her lip then nodded. Vashlani gave her a quick kiss before he entered his pocket home and jogged down the steps and finally through the portal. An hour later he was back with a small black cauldron, a pouch full of herbs, and a bottle of bright red liquid. 

“Vashlani needs to boil everything in this cauldron and get it into all of the rooms so the crew will breathe it in.” 

“Set it up in engineering, Vashlani. There is a large duct which runs under the flooring. The smoke can be spread out using the ventilation system,” EDI told him and he carried everything down and began to get to work. Jack watched and helped him to dump the pouch of herbs in just as the pot began to boil. The maniacal gleam in her eyes and the way she snickered as the smoke filled the shaft caused Vashlani to laugh softly. 

“I bet you mages could pull off some fucking great practical jokes on people.” 

That evening the crew who wanted to leave the ship filed out of the airlock, some had a glazed look in their eyes until they stepped onto the Omega dock where they rubbed their eyes and noses before wandering off to get lost in the crowd. 

While everyone who elected to remain as part of the crew of the Normandy took a day to rest and recuperate, Vashlani and Shepard spent it in his pocket bag. Shepard relaxed in his hot tub or played with Urz as he restocked his supply of potions. 

Vashlani let out a sigh as he put the last of the blue magicka potions on the shelf and shut the cupboard door. He joined her in the hot tub and she snuggled up against him. 

“Vashlani sent a message to the College. The Arch-Mage wishes to see Healer as soon as her duties are finished and I would like to see my cub, Shepard. Do you mind if I take Healer back to Skyrim for awhile? We are docked at that awful place for another day so will have some time.” He nuzzled her head as he stroked her arm.

She sighed and nodded, “Sure. I’m sure the Doc can’t wait to see your Arch-Mage again. I won’t be able to go with you though, too much to do and I need to write up a report on what we found and get it to Anderson. At least someone in the Alliance should have all the facts, the others would just pass it off as me being delusional again.” Vashlani let out a small growl as he heard those words.

“Don’t worry about it, Vashlani. I just hope they come to their senses before it’s too late. But right now we really should get out of this water before I shrivel up even more.” She chuckled and stood. The water ran down her bare body in rivulets and Vashlani’s ears laid back as he stood up with her and ran a hand down her back and over her ass.

They barely made it up to his bed before he had her on her hands and knees and began a slow but steady assault on her body. The moment her back arched and she cried out his name he thrust deep into her and rode her hard. She gasped as she felt his teeth close over the skin on the back of her neck to hold her in place as he pounded into her. Each time they came together the pain had lessened faster as her body adjusted to his and the pleasure became more intense. He growled and bit down harder when she tried to lower her body to the mattress, so instead, she locked her elbows to hold herself up and he purred as he eased his hold and continued to thrust hard and deep inside her.

His hand slid around and started to move between her folds, caressing her little nub as he started to piston into her and she screamed out his name as she orgasmed, earning her another deep purr. His thrusts slowed as he slammed into her and she rocked forward slightly. He growled again and she raised one hand to brace herself against the headboard as he thrust in deep and let out a moan and purr. He kept up the hard thrusts until she cried out again and he started to thicken and swell inside her, after a few more thrusts he let go with his teeth and roared as he filled her. Moments later she let out a grunt as he collapsed on her. She sighed contentedly as he continued to purr; his arms trapped hers to her side as he rolled then started to snore slightly. She snorted and closed her eyes; soon drifting off to sleep.

Chapter Text


 

 

Shepard sat at the kitchen table as Vashlani served them breakfast the following morning, “You said you wanted to talk about something after we completed that mission, what was it?”

She saw him hesitate for a moment.

“Vashlani has something he wishes to ask you but now is not the time. Let’s eat first, then I need to go to Skyrim. After that, if there is time before we reach Liara we can talk.”

Shepard raised an eyebrow and chewed her food as she stared at where he sat at the other end of the table.

 


 

Shepard dressed in her armor as she listened to the chatter around her. The remaining ship and ground crew were on the mend and everyone was excited. Even though the ship crew had started out as loyal to Cerberus their loyalty shifted to Shepard and even to her crew. It no longer mattered to most of them if they were human or alien, they had risked their lives to save them and to stop the immediate threat to humanity.

Vashlani had taken Chakwas to the College and the rest of the crew were ready for some much-needed shore leave. The repair facility had started as soon as they docked and assured her they were paid enough credits to be able to call in all of their workers to make the needed repairs in record time. Liara spared no expense. Shepard paused and wondered if it was out of friendship or if it was only because Liara needed the Normandy for her own personal request.

“EDI? What ground crew members are still aboard?” she asked as she sat to put on her armored boots.

“Thane is meditating in the Life Support Room. Tali is in Engineering following the repair personnel from area to area. Garrus locked himself in the Main Battery and refuses to let repair personnel into the room. He stated, ‘No one is messing with my calibrations on my Thanix’. He said they needed to fix the loose wall panels then hurry and get the hell out.”

Shepard let out a snort and rubbed her forehead. “Anyone else?”

“Legion is making repairs to his platform and states he'll be finished in under 10 minutes.”

“Great. Can you please tell Thane and Legion to meet me at the airlock in 15 minutes to join me when I meet a friend.”

“Of course, Shepard. Logging you out.”

When the group stepped out of the skycab they noticed there were Illium police everywhere. Shepard frowned and looked at Thane, who took in every small detail. As they took the lift to Liara’s floor he whispered that something serious must have happened. When they stepped off they saw the police barrier and two uniformed officers standing outside the doorway.

“I am sorry but no one may pass the barrier,” one of the uniformed police officers said as the group approached.

“Spectre Shepard?” came a feminine voice from inside the apartment. Shepard looked up and saw an asari walk down the steps, her gauntleted hand skimmed along the banister.

“What’s going on here?” Shepard asked as the asari came closer.

“Spectre Tela Vasir. You were on your way here to see your friend?”

Shepard narrowed her eyes, “Yes, for a personal matter. What happened?”

“Hmm. The first human Spectre. I heard a lot about your exploits. Maybe I’ll have you sign my chest plate.” The sneer in the asari’s voice was clear and Thane shifted ever so slightly. “As to what happened, someone attacked your friend about an hour ago.”

The asari turned toward the officers, “You’re all dismissed. This is a Spectre investigation now.”

One of the other asari who stood nearby objected and a turian officer just mumbled it wouldn’t do any good to argue. None of the officers looked happy.

The asari Spectre showed Shepard around while Thane and Legion stayed near the door. They were still close enough to hear everything and to keep an eye on the two Spectres but far enough away it wouldn’t be seen as interfering in the investigation. The two Spectres wandered around the room then Shepard headed up the curving staircase to the bedroom area.

Thane whispered to Legion to record the conversation happening as Vasir walked up the stairs to Shepard’s call for her. Several minutes later they came down the stairs and spread out. While the asari went into Liara’s study, Shepard looked around the various displays she told them came from Ilos. Shepard poked a peculiar case with several plants and a piece of broken pottery in it when a hidden drawer opened and an optical storage disk flashed.

After listening to the recording stored on it, Vasir told Shepard she knew the building where Liara was going for the meeting she set up for information on where to find the Shadow Broker’s ship; since she parked her skycar right outside, they could use it.

When they arrived everything seemed normal and they headed for the building when an explosion rocked the area and debris rained down on people from several stories up. Vasir yelled she was heading for the roof while Shepard and her crew went through the front.

After stopping to check on several of the injured people they looked around inside. Thane pointed out the bullet holes and other signs that this was not an accident but someone had sent out heavy forces to intercept and stop Liara and themselves. They even found an unexploded bomb and told Vasir of their findings. She told them she had found nothing so far.

They ran into a group of heavily armed and armored mercs and Vasir told them those were the Broker’s army. The tone of her voice gave Thane pause and he switched comms to a private line to voice his concerns to Shepard and Legion.

“There is something wrong,Shepard. The disrespect she showed to you and those officers, along with knowing who these mercs work for without seeing them? She knows more than she has said. How did she know you were on the way to see Liara to begin with? Didn’t you tell us that Liara had said it was too dangerous to speak until you got there? Yet someone waited until right before you arrived to attack. Not while we were off world. Not when we were on Omega. It wasn’t until you let her know you were on the way. And there was a Spectre here on Nos Astra at the exact time they attacked your friend. Who contacted her? The police weren’t too thrilled to have her there. A random shooting of an information trader wouldn’t be worth a Spectre’s time, it’s a local police issue. And only the Council can assign the Spectres unless they are personally involved. Yet the asari made it there within an hour of the attack, had gone all over the apartment and knew about what happened and knew you would be there tonight. Be careful, Siha.”

“Acknowledged, Thane, and I too have been wondering about things. As far as the disrespect,” she snorted, “it isn’t anything unusual concerning their species and humans. I have met very few asari who didn’t have the same ‘superior to humans’ attitude.”

He let out a disgruntled sounding hum as he shot several mercs trying to hide behind a vending machine.

They made it to a sealed door just as a blast from what sounded like a shotgun went off. Right before Legion opened the door another gunshot sounded and Shepard frowned.

Vasir looked up with a sneer once again on her face, “Aww, if only I was a few seconds sooner.” Shepard grit her teeth. Her moral code was screaming she needed proof of Vasir’s involvement in what was going on before she took out another Spectre.

“That must be Liara’s contact. Did you find anything?” Shepard asked the asari. “And how did you get in here? There is only one door and the window is intact. So you were ’just a few seconds late’? Explain.”

“No. Did you find your friend’s body?” the asari asked callously.

“You mean this body?” Liara’s voice came from behind them as she entered the room with a handgun pointed right at the asari. After several minutes of Liara talking and the Spectre backing up toward a window everything clicked into place and Shepard had what she felt she needed to hunt the other Spectre.

They heard a crack and the window exploded as the Spectre used her biotics to shatter it so she could run. Shepard leaped after her and fought to hold on the asari as they plummeted down into the lobby of the building. The asari knocked Shepard loose and floated down with a smirk on her face as Shepard hit the floor hard. Her smirk didn’t last as Liara was hot on her tail. Shepard opened her eyes just as Liara touched down and noticed her friend didn’t even blink or bother to ask if she was all right; she ran after the other asari without hesitating.

Legion helped her to her feet just as more Shadow Broker mercs flooded into the room. When they made it outside Liara was waiting beside a cab.

“Legion, get back to the Normandy and have EDI send out a notice of immediate emergency return to the crew. Explain what happened and have the rest of the ground crew on standby,” Shepard told the geth unit just before she slammed the door shut and they took off after Vasir.

A long, reckless car chase ensued. Shepard had enough and rammed her skycab into the side of Vasir’s car as if she was still driving a Mako. It sent the other car into an uncontrolled spin and it crashed into the side of a building which Liara told her was called The Azure and was an expensive hotel, Shepard mumbled, “from the look of it the clientele are charged by the hour.”

After dealing with more of the Broker’s mercs, no doubt called in by Vasir, they chased the injured asari down. The asari Spectre knew she was in trouble and grabbed hold of a young human woman to use her as a shield. Shepard laughed when Vasir told her to drop her heat sinks and heavy ammo cartridges or she would kill the woman, “Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? I unleashed the Rachni on the galaxy. I entered the Omega-4 relay and blew the hell out of the Collectors. Do you think for one moment I wouldn’t kill her to stop you?”

Vasir grimaced and shifted the grip on her weapon as she stared at Shepard who held her gun steady; it was pointed right at the human and asari.

When Shepard saw the uncertainty in the other Spectre’s eyes she whispered to Liara, “Now, Liara.” The Spectre either discounted Liara’s biotics flaring or she didn’t see the table which flew at her and knocked her away from the woman. 

Thane ran for the woman and dragged her out of the way then sent in a warp toward the asari as he took cover. He alternated biotics with shots from his sniper rifle when the asari held still long enough.

Shepard and Liara were alternating their attacks. Biotics to lower the armor’s shield or barrier then Shepard would open fire. Several times the asari ran and called in help, using the time she fled from them to heal. A biotic detonation performed by Liara hitting the Spectre with a singularity and Thane sending in a warp right after caused a large explosion and sent the asari flying back against the wall. She didn’t move as the group approached her.

She hadn’t lost the sneer on her face or in her tone of voice when she spoke with Shepard, telling her they were both alike, both killed and would do whatever they needed to do. Shepard shook her head, “No, I kill when I’m left with no other option. Not as an easy way out. As far as Cerberus, I never worked for them. I used them as a means to an end. Never once did I lower my moral standards to cater to them, and when they thought I would just hand over Collector technology, I laughed and blew it the hell up instead. You’re pathetic.” Shepard watched as the inner light faded from the asari’s eyes as she died then reached into her armor and withdrew the OSD which had started the mess.

Shepard’s jaw dropped when Liara took off shouting orders at her about getting the Normandy on route to the Shadow Broker’s base.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Liara? I go falling out a window and you run and don’t look back or shout asking if I’m all right, you just take off. Now you’re giving me orders to get the Normandy in the air. This isn’t like you, Liara. I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.”

Liara paused and turned to her, telling her that two years was a long time and things had changed, she had changed and they didn’t have time to be standing around talking, she needed to rescue her friend.

Shepard narrowed her eyes and sent out a notice letting Joker know they were on the way to the docking bay and all non-personnel were to vacate the ship, they would finish up the repairs when this personal mission was over. She then walked away from Liara, followed by Thane. She didn’t see the way Liara hung her head for a brief second before running after her.

Several hours later Vashlani returned with Chakwas and Shepard let them both know what happened and where they were heading.

 


 

Vashlani stood in the armory as Shepard suited up after the repair machine finished with her armor, “What do you mean? Why isn’t this khajiit going with you? I leave for a day and you get attacked, jump out of a window, and almost get killed. Vashlani is pissed you did not call for him when you needed him, now you are going to this... Shadow Broker’s ship without knowing what you will encounter? And you expect me to stay behind?”

“Yes, I don’t want a large force, it will just draw attention and I most certainly do not want you anywhere near there. From what I know about the Broker he or she or it... whatever, doesn’t care about anything but business. If he should get a hold of you, he’ll sell you to the highest bidder without batting an eyelash... if he has those. Look, I can handle this. I’m Commander Shepard, after all.” She gave him a small grin as she stood on her tiptoes and tugged his head down so she could rub their noses together.

He purred, “I know you are formidable, my mate, but you are not invincible. If you insist on going over there without me then I ask that you make me a promise. You will promise to call me should you get into a bad situation. Vashlani doesn’t care if someone sees him, I would rather take that chance than to lose you because you are stubborn and won’t ask for your mate’s help.”

“You’re nagging, Vashlani. Don’t worry so much, I’ll have Liara and Garrus with me. It’s just a rescue mission. Get in, find Feron, and if anyone tries to stop us, well we eliminate them then we get our asses back here. It will be a simple snatch and run, I promise.”

 


 

“Vashlani will kill me,” Shepard hissed out as the group made their way through a ton of mercs just to find where Feron was being held. When they eventually found him they saw the Broker had hooked him up to some sort of electric chair with a vast amount of medical equipment which brought him back to life when the Broker punished him by sending electrical currents through his body. Now they were working even deeper into the ship after talking with Feron for a few seconds and finding out they would have to confront the Shadow Broker in order to release him from captivity.

The merc who was guarding the door to the Broker’s room fell to several shots from Garrus and Shepard, Liara moved to the terminal to use her bypass hack on it in order to open the door and the others searched for items to loot.

They heard the hiss of the door sliding open and moved into the room with Shepard taking point. What they encountered on the other side was not something any of them could have prepared for. A hulking dark shadow sat behind a desk, its voice even and calm. The being knew who they were and why they were there. It also knew about Garrus being Archangel of Omega and giving a roundabout threat with selling him to the remaining members of the gangs.

Liara took a step forward after the creature said he knew everything while she just fumbled in the dark with only limited knowledge. Somehow Liara knew what the creature was and pieced together that as a yahg it must have been captured by a hunter as a trophy or a pet because after their kind attacked and killed the Council’s contact ambassadors the Council banned them from leaving their planet and put a warning beacon in space about the hostiles. Since their species was only discovered in 2125CE she told them the yahg must have killed the old Broker and took their place, since no one had ever seen the Broker before, it would have been easy. All the creature had to do was learn enough to activate the bots and VI then over the years learn the language.

They could almost feel the anger radiating from the creature. When it lost its temper the yahg stood and towered over even Garrus by several feet. They backed up. All of a sudden, the creature broke the heavy looking desk and threw a section toward them. Shepard pushed Liara out of the way and Garrus took the brunt of the damage knocking him unconscious.

Shepard and Liara scrambled to their feet and dove for cover as the creature roared. It went charging for Shepard and she opened fired while dodging around the various pillars. After a short time, the creature ran back to where the desk had been and stopped. A bright reddish light enveloped it and Liara yelled the barrier was deflecting their ammo.

“Shit, he will really kill me now,” she mumbled as she cracked her knuckles then took off running toward the creature. She jumped and slammed her fist into the being several times before it shook her off. The barrier around the yahg went down and she ran for the nearest pillar as Liara squeezed a few rounds from her pistol toward it.

After the high powered barrier went up for the second time Shepard once more went hand to hand with the creature and tossed to the side after landing several blows. She crawled across the deck and shot the creature as it tried to get closer. “Hell with this, ’Io ti chiamo, Vashlani’!”

A loud roar came from the being who had just jumped through the glowing blue and white swirling light. Twin bolts of dark purple and white lightning shot toward the huge yahg, the beast grunted and stumbled backward.

Liara yelled for Shepard and told her she had a plan and to get out of the way. The next set of Thunderbolts struck the creature and Liara cracked the glass of liquid from above it. The combined lightning and liquid electrocuted the creature and Vashlani sent in one last set of Thunderbolts causing the creature to disintegrate.

Vashlani turned toward Shepard who was getting to her feet and he let out a growl.

“Uh oh... I can explain. Vashlani, honestly it wasn’t as bad as it looked.”

Vashlani took off his helmet and snarled, “Not as bad as it looked? Garrus is unconscious under a table, a giant... thing tried to kill you and when I came in you were on your ass trying to scoot away from it while Liara hid behind a pillar. You promised!” He threw his helmet against a broken pillar and stomped toward Garrus.

Liara scooted around the other direction and headed for a huge bank of monitors which had just lit up. A cacophony of voices came from the area. Shepard limped over to help with Garrus then turned when she heard Liara assume the role of the Shadow Broker. She hadn’t even stopped for a moment to check on Garrus or her... just went straight for the computers.

Another door swished open and a rainbow-colored drell came running in with a pistol in his hand. Vashlani began casting a spell when Garrus grabbed his hand. “Not an enemy. That’s Feron, the one we came here to rescue, and the one it seems Liara has forgotten about. He’s hurt pretty bad and will need all your healing.”

Feron dropped the pistol when he spotted Vashlani as he helped up the turian off the floor. “Who? What?”

Shepard waved a hand. “He’s a friend and someone who can help heal you. Garrus, you and Feron go with Vashlani somewhere safe where he can take care of you two. I have something to discuss with Liara.”

Shepard waited until Feron had pointed to a room off to the side and led the others into it before she approached Liara who was still standing at the bank of computers.

“Look at this, Shepard. All this intel at my fingertips. I can start a war in seconds.”

“Was this a rescue mission or did you use that as an excuse for me and my crew to take out the Broker so you could take their place? You never once looked back after we defeated that thing. You have yet to ask if Garrus is all right, or if the drell you were so frantic about rescuing survived, or if there was some sort of trap to kill him.”

“What?” She turned from the screens and faced Shepard.

“You heard the question. First, you didn’t bother to ask if I was all right, then you pushed Joker to get here faster than was safe. Oh don’t look so surprised, I knew you went up to the bridge and used your friendship with him to push the ship, the repairs weren't complete yet, as you well know. Then you happen to have a program to break into the Broker’s ship and from what you said earlier it wasn’t the first time you did so. Instead of making sure your friends were safe, you head straight to the computer banks and tap a few buttons to disguise your voice and take over for the Broker. What was the first thing out of your mouth... you can start a war?”

“I-of course this was a rescue. I knew Feron would be ok and Garrus too, we had to jump on this right away so we didn’t lose this intel, this resource.”

Shepard stared at her. “Yeah... right. I will check on the guys. Get your priorities straight, Liara.”

Shepard walked into the room which turned out to be some sort of vid showing area and sat on the couch near Feron. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, Commander, thanks to your friend here,” the young drell told her as Vashlani applied a salve to the worst of the burns on his scaled chest.

“This salve works on argonians rather well, Vashlani hopes it helps with the recent burn scarring to Feron. Vashlani will explain how to use it, along with giving you several potions to use over the next few days to finish helping with the injuries you have suffered. He cannot heal the old scars though but can make a scar reducing salve for you. You should return with us to the Normandy, Healer should use her machines to make sure there isn’t more damage than what I can use my spells on. Vashlani is Shepard’s mate, not just her friend.” He stood up and moved over to Garrus and cast another healing spell on him before he told him it would be best to go see the Healer.

Feron just buckled his coat back up when Liara walked into the room while twisting her fingers together. “I think I owe everyone an apology. Shepard, this really was a rescue mission. I just got so wrapped up in getting the Broker... wanting to get the intel he had, that I- I seemed to forget about the original reason I was going after him. I am sorry for what I did or should I say didn’t do. I should have made sure everyone was safe; those communications could have waited until then.”

They glanced at each other then back to her, Feron just gave a shrug and Garrus’ mandibles flicked before he gave a very slight nod. Shepard gave her a slight smile to let her know she accepted the apology.

Vashlani, however, just let out a small growl and Liara dropped her eyes. “You put my mate and friend in danger just for some information? That is unacceptable, Liara.”

Vashlani brushed past them and headed back to the main room, Shepard followed and just as she saw him grab up his helmet, he disappeared. She let out a sigh and turned back to the ones gathered in the hall. “Come on you two let’s get you guys to the med bay. Liara, I need to get back to Nos Astra as soon as I can. I’ll let Feron decide if he wants to come back here or to go with me and hitch a ride to Kahje or wherever from Illium. I’ll send you a comm after he decides.”

 


 

Feron told them he would stay on the Broker’s ship, he murmured to Shepard he would keep Liara focused on what was important and not let her get sidetracked. The Broker knew about the Reapers and had tried to figure out how to survive their invasion. Feron said some of the intel may come in handy and he would continue to dig for more. Vashlani had given him a small sack with several jars and phials inside, he gave instructions on the use of each one before they shuttled Feron back to the other ship.

Shepard plopped down on her couch and waited for Vashlani to return from his pocket home. He was still upset with her waiting so long and taking that big of a risk before calling for him. She must have drifted off because she woke to him removing her slippers.

“It is late, Shepard, you should have been in bed awhile ago like the Healer said. Vashlani had a few things to take care of in Skyrim or he would have been back a few hours ago,” he whispered and she noticed the lights were turned off, only the soft blue glow from the fish tank and his eyes remained. “Joker said we would arrive in a few more hours. Vashlani wishes to speak to you after we do, let us get a few hours of sleep so you're not so tired when we talk.” He picked her up and carried her to the large bed. She yawned and rolled then snuggled into the fluffy pillow as she watched him undress before he climbed in beside her.

“I am sorry, Vashlani. I thought we could handle it. I didn’t expect the Broker to be a yahg, let alone one with a high powered barrier. Thank you for coming when I called and saving us.”

He let out a huff and sighed before gathering her into his arms. “Go to sleep, my mate. As long as you can call for me, Vashlani will always come to you when you need me.” His purr was low and deep when he felt her fingers thread through the thick fur covering his chest. They both fell asleep soon after.

 


 

The Nos Astra repair facility manager told them they would continue with the rest of the repairs but would take them longer as another ship which needed emergency repairs had docked a few hours before them. The asari assured her the crew would have the ship finished by the end of the solar day. When Shepard asked how much they owed the asari laughed and said nothing, they had received a pre-authorized credit chit and they just needed to finish up and send a detailed repair statement to the address on their file. Shepard made a mental note to send a thank you to Liara.

Before returning to the ship she stopped at several local food stands and loaded up on different asari dishes. When she was back she sent the thank you note and another one to Vashlani to meet her in the cabin for a meal and that talk.

Vashlani walked through the cabin’s door and immediately hit the large red feeding button for the fish tank and watched the various fish swarm toward the multi-colored flakes before going to tap on Ji’za’s cage and drop a tiny snack in the bowl.

He sat on the floor cushion next to the small table while Shepard divided the food between them. “What is this? Are these vegetables? Why are they blue and purple? And why does this one have green spots? Is this real food?”

Shepard snorted and shook her head, “These are asari foods. Yes, they're safe to eat and those are vegetables and that one is supposed to have green spots... I think.” She waved her fork at him. “Eat and stop with the questions for now. If you like them we’ll ask Samara how to grow them before she leaves the Normandy. She sent me a message earlier saying she would leave in the morning to continue her work as a Justicar. Now, what was it you needed to talk about?”

She watched as he poked some of the food on his plate and glance over at her, when she ate he took a few bites then a sip of the tea in his cup, “You know how happy it has made me that you have become my mate, even though you infuriate me with your recklessness sometimes. Vashlani will always be there for you, Shepard. This one has spoken to his cub, my precious Sophie, to see how she felt about you. She likes you very much, by the way, and asks about you every time I go to see her.”

He tapped his fork on his plate before eating more. He let out a soft sigh as he looked at Shepard and saw her eyebrow raised in question. “All right, Vashlani will just blurt it out and hope for the best. Vashlani wishes to take you to Skyrim and present you to the Priestess of Mara in Riften so she can wed us. Usually, only those who are wearing the amulet of Mara are approached and asked. Vashlani attached one to your travel bag the first time he gave it to you and have carried one inside a compartment of the space armor since I came back to this world, but haven’t had the courage to wear it around you or ask you... until now. So... so... Shepard, will you come and marry me?”

Shepard sat frozen at the other end of the table with the fork suspended in the air and the only sound came from the drip of sauce which fell from the bright blue piece of food speared on it.

“You... you want to get married?”

He gave a nervous, jerky nod of his head and grabbed for his glass of water and drank it down without looking at her.

“This is... this is something big, Vashlani. Can I have time to think about it? This was not something I was expecting... at all.” She picked up her own glass to wet her now dry throat, her hand shook slightly.

“Of course, Shepard. Just uh... let me know of your decision as soon as you can. There is only one Temple of Mara which can do weddings and try to track down one of the wandering Priests would be almost impossible. That is if you accept,” he cleared his throat then shoveled the now cool food into his mouth as fast as he could.

A few minutes passed and Shepard laid her utensil down beside her plate. “Vashlani? You know it’s dangerous for you to be here and impossible with the Reaper threat for me to go to your world. Why would you want to get married? I assume you will go home more often now since we defeated the Collectors.”

“Yes, Vashlani will spend more time there with his cub and take care of a few things. He needs to earn more credits so will do more bounties and treasure hunting soon, but even then Vashlani can travel back and forth to the Normandy and you can spend time with us in Skyrim or at my home when you need a break. We can be together. I love you, Shepard, and want to be your husband. I want to spend as much time with you as I can, even if that means using the portal.”

She looked at him and his eyes met hers. “Just give me time, Vashlani. There isn’t anything pressing right now I need to do so I will give this all my consideration.”

He gave her a smile and purred, “Vashlani and Garrus will spend the rest of the day and night working in his home. Maybe it will give you enough time? When we return in the morning to say our farewells to Samara you can let me know if you have decided or if you need to think more. If you’re not ready, Vashlani can take Urz hunting and you can let me know when you are. Just try and stay out of trouble, Shepard.”

“Not even sure I can get in trouble just sitting at the docks. I’m planning on spending it here on the ship going over the supplies list and having EDI help me place orders on what we need to restock. She’s a whiz at finding the cheapest rates and since we are working on our own funds now and not getting anything from Cerberus we will need all the discounts we can get.”

Vashlani let out a hum, “Vashlani needs to make Kasumi a necklace. He will make another one for Garrus to sell and you can have those credits to help fund the Normandy.”

“That would be a great help, thanks,” Shepard stood and gathered up the remains of their lunch and tossed it in the recycler.

“You need not thank me, mate. Vashlani will help you however he can, yes?” He gave her a brief kiss and told her he would see her in the morning. If she needed him he would have his datapad near him, then he told Garrus to meet him in the small room he would be there shortly. Another quick kiss and a purr then he jogged out the door and to the lift.

Chapter Text


 

 

Vashlani unlocked the small shed he once used to house the brewing equipment in and he and Garrus went inside. The bits and parts of the animunculus lay on pieces of burlap sacking. “Vashlani put the rest of the pieces in here. We've crafted, smoothed, and polished the pieces. Now we need to finish putting it together.”

“Even if we get it together it won’t work, not unless you’ve figured out how to do it.”

Vashlani let out a purr that sounded worried to Garrus, “I have. EDI and Thane sent me the last of the text and translation. What it takes is a Centurion Core, and it uses a replenishable supply of dwarven oil to power it. Everything is here in the room. I’m still not sure I want to power it up.”

“What the hell are you talking about? We’ve both worked hard on this thing and I want to see it completed,” Garrus crossed his arms and stared down at Vashlani.

“I know, I know. Vashlani wishes to see it complete too, but he is having second thoughts because of the information they gave him.”

“Which is-”

“What powers the core and will be the power source of this once it’s complete. The core contains a black soul gem.”

“The thing we are trying to create for you? What’s the big deal, you use those all the time,” Garrus asked impatiently.

“No, Garrus. The ones I use only capture what we call White Souls. Those from animals, or creatures that have lost any form of ‘humanity’, such as the Falmer. A black soul gem captures a Black Soul. When a human, mer, or one of the beastfolk, such as myself, is killed after they had performed a soul trap on it captures our soul inside one of the black gems. Held forever, or until someone uses the gem to enchant something. The Centurion cores... are nearly indestructible, the gems inside the core protected. The souls remain for an eternity unless the construct becomes nonfunctional due to severe damage. They have trapped the ones inside the working constructs for thousands of years, Garrus.”

Garrus dropped his arms and his mandibles fluttered.

“Now you understand why I am hesitating to activate it. I do not know of the soul contained in this specific core, and my Master and I both believed we should not use the black gems. After I received the information, I found three inside the enchanting chests. It never dawned on me to check the listing for them since I thought none would be there. Master must have known he needed them because of activating the sphere, but he didn’t want me to find out. It’s probably why there were no instructions only vague references made.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Let’s build it, adding the core and oil is the final step. Either I will activate it and cast the incantation to attune it and inscribe its duties. Or it will become a statue, but one thing for certain Garrus, I’m not hooking a core up to power my other things; we will get more batteries.”

“Fair enough. We have plenty of room in the battery storage shed for more.”

They worked until they heard the animals return to their places in the stable which signaled the start of the night cycle. Vashlani made them dinner then while Garrus went back out, carrying several lanterns and replacement candles with him, Vashlani headed down to cut the gems for the jewelry. It would be a long night.

When the sound of the alarm went off both of them felt tired. Now they stood in front of the animunculus, the magelight had just barely lightened the area, and Vashlani stared at what they had made.

Never had he heard of or seen one such as this, a one of a kind dwarven creation; a replica of a horse. It would never tire, never need to eat or drink. According to the translation that EDI made of the architect’s notes it could defend itself and traveling at almost twice the speed of a galloping living horse. It was made completely of the dwarven metal and as the magelight grew brighter; it gleamed and shone off the bronze-colored surface. The cage which would hold the Centurion Core and then encased to protect it was visible; a large gaping wound in the construct waiting for a core. 

Garrus watched as Vashlani ran his hands over the thing, testing the smoothness of the metal joints and along the back for sharp edges. The khajiit’s hand ran down each leg testing the joints then standing to slide his hand through the addition of synthetic hair Garrus had added for the mane and tail.

“I thought your little Sophie would like that touch. I read on the extranet human female children like to brush things like that and add decorations and stuff,” Garrus’ mandibles fluttered, and he cleared his throat when Vashlani looked over at him with a big grin on his face.

When he finished his examination of the construct, he moved to stand beside Garrus.

“So, Vashlani, have you decided what you will do?”

The khajiit let out a sigh, “Vashlani wants to activate it so badly. To bring Shepard here so she can see it and ride it with me. Take it to Skyrim so Sophie could have fun with it too. It is just the thought of using a Black Soul as the power which is stopping me. What kind of person was it? Who was it? Was it a female? A male? Could a child’s soul be trapped inside?”

“You’ll make yourself crazy trying to find answers to those questions. Those cores are ancient and no details on them remain. Are you going to let them sit and collect dust or will you use them for something worthwhile? Something that is useful and not destructive. Have those souls power things to bring light and joy to you and your child. I think that would be a good use for it.”

Vashlani glanced up at the turian and gave a purring hum before turning back to the Dwemer Horse in front of him. He pulled the core from his bag then held it up and watched the gears spin and the red light pulse like a heartbeat at the center. He held it out to Garrus then took several steps toward the construct, this time he brought out several metal jars which contained the oil needed to lube the joints and act as the creature’s “blood”. When he finished pouring the noted amount into the small hole and sealed it back up, he reached for the core and attached it. He sealed the cavernous opening back together with the spell written on the schematic and the red light pulsed steadily as if it was waiting for the activation and inscription spells.

“Io, Vashlani invocare il potere della gemma all’interno di nucleo per attivare e sintonizzarsi con me, per servire la mia volontà e le volontà di quelli che mi iscrivere a te. Si deve essere leale e affidabile. Si deve servire volontariamente. Si deve sopportare i miei fardelli. Si deve agire come il mio fedele destriero. Si deve difendersi dagli attacchi. Si deve proteggere quelli che ritengono meritevoli. Tu appartieni a me ora e fino a quando i quali il passaggio di proprietà di questa casa portale dimensionale è dato a quello che ritiene più degno."

As Vashlani’s voice raised on the last of the incantation, the red glow from the core pulsed faster and sent out a bright light. When it faded they saw the horse’s eyes open and glow with the same red light. The horse snorted steam from its nostrils and pawed at the ground before it walked toward Vashlani and lowered its head to him.

“Ah, excellent. Your Master will think of a name for you and will inscribe it when he returns. We shall also inscribe the names and voices of those whom you will also serve. Follow me. This one will show you to your temporary home until Vashlani can bring in one of your own.” He led the horse toward the stable and Garrus chuckled as he heard Vashlani telling the horse that the goats and chickens won’t be thrilled to have it taking up more of their space, but they were to be protected and all of them will learn to get along. Urz seemed to sniff at it and Vashlani shook his finger at the varren and Garrus let out a huff of laughter as Vashlani told it to be nice to horse and it wasn’t a chew toy then the khajiit let the construct out into the meadow to roam and learn its new home.

When they returned to the Normandy, Vashlani handed Garrus a small pouch with a necklace inside. He gave Garrus instructions to sell it and all the credits given to Shepard to stock the ship then he headed to see Kasumi.

After being admitted to her room he glanced around and saw several packing crates piled on her bed. “Kasumi is leaving the Normandy as well?”

“Yep, Shep said we would head back to the Citadel this afternoon and I don’t like long goodbyes, so thought I would get everything ready now. I’ve had a great time learning about your culture and those of the Akaviri,” she giggled, “not to mention the ton of credits I got from selling a few pieces of treasure from your world, but it’s time for me to move on. Places to go, things to procure.”

“Ah, speaking of treasures, Vashlani believes he has promised you something special. I stayed up late to make this just for you, Kasumi.” He handed her a slim wooden box, and she smiled as she ran her hand over the engravings. The box alone would bring a small fortune, but she had no intention of ever selling it.

She carefully lifted the small golden latch on the box and let out a gasp. Inside was a delicate filigree choker of what she could tell was pure gold, not like what they massed produced here. Interspersed along the fine webbing were small black gem chips which sparkled in the artificial light of the Normandy, but what caught her attention was the perfect, flawless diamond in the center and mounted on a gold backing.

“This is gorgeous, Vashlani and worth a large fortune here. Are you sure you want to give this to me and not to Shepard?”

He let out a small chuckle, “You forget, Kasumi, that these are more common in my own world and Shepard will be showered in gems and jewelry if that is her desire. This one was made for you. I would like to ask a favor of you though. The recordings of my world and of me which you have on the device behind your eyes, please delete them. The binding spell will keep knowledge of me from being spoken, but should anyone gain access to the gray box of yours-”

She nodded as she removed her hood and held up the choker, “Here put this on me as I erase the information.” He saw a light in her eyes flicker and he moved behind her to place the necklace on her. When he closed the catch, she moved to a small mirror near the bar; she let out a squeal of delight at the way the necklace laid against her skin and sparkled and glittered under the light. She adjusted the suit’s collar and ran her hand over her neck before she hurried to put her hood back on.

“Thank you, Vashlani, I will never forget you and your kindness to me, even though my sticky fingers kept trying to steal things from your home.”

He laughed softly and gave her a brief hug before he went to see Samara before she departed.

 


 

Vashlani stood in front of Shepard’s terminal on the CIC deck and placed an order for a large plasti-wood building that reminded him of the stable already in the pocket bag and also several huge sacks of hamster food. His whiskers twitched before he added fish food to the order. After he had EDI pay for it from his account, he let out a small growl as he saw Kelly try to see what had been on the screen.

While he waited for the delivery he went up to the loft and spoke with Shepard.

He leaned over her shoulder as she sat in front of the terminal and typed up a restock order, “Have you thought about what I asked you, my mate,” his voice purred in her ear and she let out a soft groan.

“I’m still thinking. I have come to love you, Vashlani, but there are obstacles in this dimension on us becoming married. It wouldn’t be legal and that is something which bothers me. On Tamriel, it will be legal and that is great, but here... I couldn’t even have you recognized as my husband. I couldn’t take you in front of one of my own priests, let alone register the documents. It’s not as if ‘Khajiit’ is one of the species on the damn form.”

She let out a sigh as she closed her eyes for a moment. She felt his hands start to knead her shoulders and let out a pleased moan.

“Take what time you need, Shepard. I want you to be happy with your decision, we shall think of something. Just relax. I spoke to Samara and Kasumi earlier. Kasumi said we are heading back to the Citadel after we leave here, yes?”

“Yep. The rest of the crew who wants to leave asked for me to take them to the Citadel so they can blend in better. EDI hacked into the Cerberus accounts holding their pay and moved them to different ones. That bastard, TIM, tried to skip out on paying everyone after I stole his ship and told him to go fuck himself.”

He snorted and continued to rub her shoulders, “Vashlani is waiting for a delivery, the window they gave ranges over the next two hours.”

“That’s fine. Garrus sent me a notice that he was in town selling the necklace you gave him and as soon as he returns with the credit chit I’ll place this huge order. We will need to wait for it to arrive before we leave, anyway.”

He leaned in and nuzzled her neck, “Hmm, two whole hours to wait, Vashlani wonders how to pass the time.” His hands slid down from her shoulders to cup her breasts and she gasped when his thumbs brushed over the already hardening nipples.

 


 

Shepard heard EDI’s voice in her ear telling her she had an encrypted message from Admiral Hackett and had transferred it to her personal terminal. Shepard whispered her thanks then slowly moved Vashlani’s arm as she got up from the bed. He had long since softened and slipped from her body and was still snoring away in a deep sleep.

Shepard tossed on a set of sweats and went to her terminal as quietly as she could. She noticed a flashing intranet message and Garrus let her know the credits for the necklace had been transferred. Her eyes about popped from her head when she saw the amount. She quickly placed the order then connected with the Admiral after telling him the room was secure but the volume was turned down. Sound carried through the vents, she said. It was a lie but there was no way she was going to tell him that she had a giant cat person asleep in her bed after almost two straight hours of sex and didn’t want to wake him up by talking too loud. Her body was still throbbing from the feel of him.

“Admiral Hackett,” she said though she didn’t salute. At this point in time she wasn’t part of the Alliance and hadn’t had even an iota of their help in defeating the Collectors, she didn’t feel it necessary to show him any sort of commanding respect.

“Shepard. Anderson sent me the report on the Collectors base and the aftermath of your confrontation with them and Cerberus. He informed me you have broken ties with the group and are now on your own. It is this reason why I am contacting you. We have an operative in deep cover, a scientist who we sent into batarian space to investigate rumors of Reaper tech.”

“Did they find anything?”

“I’m not one hundred percent sure, Shepard. What I am sure about is she said she found something incredible, but since we don’t talk on a regular basis I can’t be sure it concerns the Reapers. She was supposed to check in two days ago and has missed the window. This morning we intercepted a communique from the area which has me believing that she has been captured by the batarians.”

“Send in an extraction team. I’m not part of the Alliance anymore and even when I was they never believed me.”

“I know you aren’t part of the Alliance, Shepard, it’s why you are perfect for this. Nothing can be traced back to the Alliance. Get in, find her and get out then get the Intel on whatever it is she found.”

Shepard rubbed the back of her neck, “Sir, I’m not an infiltrator. This mission sounds like it would be more suitable for one trained in stealth. What about one of the other N7’s?”

“No, Shepard, it’s been all over the news since you came back that you’ve cut ties with the Alliance; that works in our favor.”

“That works in the Alliance’s favor, not in mine since if I’m caught no one would be sent in to retrieve me. It lets the Alliance disavow all knowledge of my actions and claim I’ve gone rogue.”

The Admiral didn’t say anything to her, just stood there and stared at her over the holo-screen.

“I don’t know, Admiral. I just finished a suicide mission and most of my people are still shaken and many left. There are two still with me which might make a good team to go in and get her.”

“No, Shepard. If you go, you go in alone. No one else. Too many people will draw attention and everyone knows how you operate. They won’t suspect it’s you if you go in alone.”

Shepard laughed quietly, “All they need is for one to get a peep at me and they’ll know.”

“She’s my friend, Shepard, not just a scientist. I’ve known her for years and you’re the only one I trust to get her out of there safely.”

Shepard sighed and hung her head then gave the man a nod, “All right, but we are waiting on a restock order and finalizing necessary repairs to the ship. It shouldn’t be more than a few more hours before we launch. You owe me, Admiral. Shepard, out.” She cut the comm when the screen went back to being the clear glass which separated the bedroom from the upper level, she saw a very naked Vashlani staring at her with glowing blue eyes.

“That does not sound good, Shepard.”

“No, it doesn’t and I don’t like the fact he insisted on me going in alone and not wanting to send in an Alliance Infiltrator.” She chewed her lip and headed down the steps.

“What did you mean by them denying that they sent you in? Why would they not go get you?”

She pulled out a change of clothes before replying. “The batarians and humans pretty much hate each other. The batarians see us as taking over planets they wanted for themselves and have proceeded to catch as many humans as they can for their slavery system. What they don’t take from the outlying colonies they would just outright kill after they violated the females. If they should catch me, then Hackett and the other Systems Alliance Brass will not send in a rescue party, but will publicly deny they sent me there. I would be deemed a rogue and left to rot. More than likely the batarians would torture me, rape me repeatedly, use any and every method of Intel extraction they have available before giving me a public execution as a war criminal.”

Vashlani’s eyes had grown even larger, and he had started to shake violently. “No, no, you can’t do this. Send Thane or someone else, someone who can sneak. You make enough noise in that armor even I can hear you come up behind me when I’m busy looking at something.”

She placed her hand on his chest and could feel his heart beating so fast she worried it would explode. “Calm down, Vashlani, I won’t be there alone, exactly. I’ll have a means to contact you if I need you, and Joker will have the Normandy nearby. I’ll use one of the shuttles because even if she is a friend of Hackett’s I don’t want her on board, especially if she really did find a Reaper artifact and has been exposed to it for too long.”

“Shepard, please promise me that you will call me and not wait too long this time. I can’t bear the thought of you not having at least one of the others with you.”

“I promise and this time, I’ll call you if I get into a situation I can’t handle on my own. Now, if you have anything which might help my odds in getting past a bunch of batarians in a high-security facility, I would gladly take it.” She stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to his lips before she headed to the shower.

When she came back out she was alone in the loft. “EDI, is Vashlani still on board?”

“No, Shepard. He said he may have something that will help if he didn’t then he knew who did and needed a few hours to gather it all up. The shipments for him and the restocks have arrived. The crew is working as quickly as they can to put everything in its place. Jeff said we can leave whenever you are ready as he has already received clearance to leave the docking bay. ETA to the Bahak system is six hours once we are through the local relay. All remaining crew is aboard.”

“All right, send a message to Vashlani with the time of five hours from now then tell Joker to launch.”

Chapter Text


 

 

Vashlani grabbed the recipe books off of the shelf above the alchemy table and flipped through the pages. “I know it’s here somewhere, I’ve seen it. Alteration... no. Pickpocketing... no. Argh, where is it!”

He put that book back and opened the next one, finally after what he swore was hours and was actually only a few minutes he found what he was looking for. “Ah, here it is. Potion of Extended Invisibility. Now let’s see the ingredients.” He ran his finger down the list of usable ingredients then flipped through this small book to check his stocks. “Yes, yes, Vashlani has these things.”

He called for all the ingredients, phials, corks, and sealing wax then set about carefully chopping, stewing, straining, and fiddling around with the different pieces of equipment until he had four large phials filled with a swirling white potion with tiny flecks of silver floating in it. It wasn’t until he placed the last of the phials into a cushioned sack he noticed his data pad was flashing with a new message, he quickly scanned it and ran to the portal room to grab a fresh tabard then headed back to the Normandy.

He was in the armory suiting up with her as he went over the details of how to use the potions and what not to do if she wanted to remain invisible. He went down with her to the shuttle bay and made her promise again that she would call for him. He watched her put the potions into a compartment in her greaves before she kissed him and entered the unmarked shuttle, his purr of worry followed her.

Vashlani watched as Joker edged close to the relay then announced they would run dark. It permitted no excessive noise, no lights, and no communications.

Joker entered several commands and the ship’s lighting system went out, only the emergency floor lighting still functioned. His eyes scanned the screen readouts, and he entered strings of more commands until the light on the panel turned green then he activated the stealth systems and flew toward the relay.

“We’re in position, Commander. Passive scans reveal nothing nearby in orbit, you’re clear to go,” Joker told her over the shuttle’s comm.

“Roger that. Opening shuttle bay doors and going silent. Shepard out.” She activated the doors, and the shuttle piloted its way down toward the surface.

As soon as it touched down, she hopped out, and it moved to a pre-determined location to await her signal. Vashlani hurried to his quarters and entered the pocket bag to wait outside the portal in case she needed him.

Shepard made her way to the door and tried to open it but she couldn’t get through the security so she made her way around to the side and cut the power connection then rewired it to bypass the security system and straight into the power coupling for the door. A few seconds later she heard it opening. She cautiously made her way through the door and noticed how dark and damp the hall was, it was also falling apart. There were loose panels and cables hanging everywhere, someone broke holes in the floor and some floor tiles were missing.

She came to a large hole in the floor and peered into the darkness and saw nothing; she edged back from the gaping maw and found what looked like a control switch. When she activated it only sparks came from it so she left it alone and headed for the only other way she saw, down a curving passageway and to a different level.

She heard a small growl the closer she got to the end of the ramp and as she turned the corner she was attacked by a varren. “Shit, there are varren down here. How much you want to bet those batarians send their prisoners down here to die?” She muttered to herself, knowing she had to hurry and find Dr. Kenson as quickly as she could. She saw something giving off sparks, and she hurried over to it and used her omni tool to patch up the wires on the controller before turning it on.

After she ran up the ramp back to where the other control box was she clicked the button and watched what looked like a bridge appear. She swallowed then moved over it as quickly as she thought was safe. She moved forward and saw the area was slightly changed, not so damaged and better lighting sources. There was also a dead body in one corner as if it was stashed there by a varren. She moved past it and up the ramp.

At the top, she hesitated as she saw laser barriers and a few doors. She listened then hit one of the control panels to turn off the barrier and opened the door. After looking around she moved back to the unblocked hallway and kept moving. Several more varren attacked her as she turned barriers off and looked around, collecting a few things as she went. At one point she saw a valve for what was probably the gas flow. Shepard heard several growls from further down the passage and looked up at the ceiling, she shot the one with a caution symbol on it and heard yelps from that area. The gas line must have ruptured and cooked them. She kept working her way through this section then came to a ramp leading up to a door.

She eased up the steps as she heard two batarians talking and she frowned when she heard one of them say someone wanted to ram an asteroid into a mass relay. The other person sounded skeptical but was told it didn’t matter because they caught the one who planned it. Could it be Dr. Kenson? What the hell kind of damage would result in something hitting a mass relay, especially something that large? As far as she knew nothing ever had slammed into one before, nothing but ships came close unless they weren’t active like the Charon relay had been all those years ago. Human explorers had found it frozen in a huge chunk of ice floating in space out past Pluto. When they unknowingly messed around and activated other ones they found, the turians took affront and instead of waiting for the Council to send out a first contact party to initiate dialogue. The turian in charge had attacked and sent both species into a bloody war that only halted once the Council got around to stepping in.

She didn’t have time to think of that now; she had to find the Dr. and get the hell out of there without being seen or caught. She turned the corner and glanced down at the scattered papers on a desk then heard what sounded like a door opening. She took her time going up the stairs into what looked like a sitting area and kitchen. She kept away from windows and doors and snooped in the boxes and containers sitting around; finding a few useful items as she did so. When she realized there wasn’t another way to go she moved to the door furthest away from where she heard the guards and ducked down as she scooted through it. She immediately headed for the closest barrier and waited. When no alarm sounded she let out a quiet breath.

“This is so stupid... I can’t sneak worth a damn... he should never have put this on me.” She closed her eyes then opened them while quickly looking around. She saw another door and also another building that had a good hiding spot next to a bunch of stuff piled up around it. If she could just get up on it with no one seeing her she could get through that door. She peeked around the corner and waited until both of the batarians that stood in a small alley between the buildings smoking a cigarette, had their backs turned and she did an awkward crouching run across the open area and hid behind a large barrel.

When she thought it was clear she used the small emergency access panel to short out the door and open it before she climbed up on the boxes and hopped over the railing and hurried through the door. She looked around the living area for any clues about where they held Kenson then headed for the other door on the top floor. She knew better than to open the other one with the batarians standing right outside.

She found another door at the end of steps going up and once it was open; she stepped through and listened. She heard a batarian talking about the asteroid and relay plan again and noticed the guy was in the room across from where she crouched, thankfully he had his back turned. “Shit!” She hissed and ducked down under the window frame. She adjusted the grip she had on her pistol and reached into the compartment in her armor and took out a potion Vashlani had given to her.

“Invisibility; temporary cloaking in a bottle. Well, here goes nothing,” sh