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Zeppo Effect: Fight for the Lost

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Zeppo Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The Galaxy's Greatest Hero is back from the dead with a small army of the deadliest operatives in the galaxy to take on all comers. They say it's a suicide mission, that it’s certain death. THEY keep forgetting that Shepard has a Zeppo in her corner.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi > Mass Effect Trilogy(Recent Donor)BHRamsayFR1864310,83930385133,47916 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

Lair of the Shadow Broker: Hagalaz (2)

AN - dedicated with great respect to Reikson and Drakependragon who tolerated multiple rewrites of this chapter

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Dossier:‭ ‬The Witch‭

I‭’‬m Willow Rosenberg,‭ ‬super-witch.

Oh,‭ ‬yes‭; ‬Sheila and Ira‭’‬s little girl has come a long way since the bad old days of Sunnydale High.‭

Sometimes I levitate a pencil and remember when doing that used to be difficult and I even laugh sometimes out of sheer nostalgia.‭

Something so simple now,‭ ‬once took up all my concentration and focus.‭

Once,‭ ‬I left one hanging in the air for an entire‭ ‬day,‭ ‬and forgot it was there until I looked in a mirror and noticed the damn thing still hovering behind me.‭

It‭’‬d followed me‭!

Well,‭ ‬how about that‭?

Seriously,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬let‭’‬s get one thing straight.

The seal‭?

Locking away every Big Bad behind a gate‭ ‬and throwing the key away‭?

Not everyone agreed to it.

Some of our oldest and dearest friends and allies swore to have nothing to do with us after I did that.

They said I went too far,‭ ‬that I was playing Goddess and abusing power.

Honestly,‭ ‬try to destroy the world once and some people just never let you forget it.

To make things worse,‭ ‬and to illustrate the depths of their hypocrisy,‭ ‬none of those guys had an alternative plan for dealing with the Enemy.

What was I supposed to do‭? ‬Let the Big Bads run roughshod all over us and slaughter every other human being on the planet in the process‭?

Not likely.

I mean,‭ ‬the Old Ones were winning.‭ ‬I think the PTB had washed their hands of us,‭ ‬but‭…

People we knew and loved were being turned against us.‭

I still remember the look on Buffy‭’‬s face when she saw her father standing with the enemy.

I knew then and there,‭ ‬that our reality was either‭ ‬them or‭ ‬us.

‭…‬and I happen to like‭ ‬us a lot more then I like‭ ‬them.‭

Maybe it was overkill,‭ ‬I‭’‬ll admit it.

But if you‭’‬d seen what their unchecked predations did to our friends,‭ ‬our families‭…

…and if you‭’‬d seen what they did to Kennedy,‭ ‬my poor sweet Kennedy‭…

I mean,‭ ‬you‭’‬d want payback,‭ ‬too‭; ‬as in‭ ‬‘scorched Earth‭’‬ payback.‭

When I finally pulled it off,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬something strange happened.‭

The world got better.‭

Not puppies-and-rainbows better,‭ ‬and certainly not all at once either.‭

No,‭ ‬what we noticed was a gradual and incremental drop in the worldwide rate of violent chaos and general mayhem.‭

People still yelled at each other in the streets,‭ ‬still sued each other over ridiculous bullshit,‭ ‬and there was still badness in general,‭ ‬true,‭ ‬but‭…

But the really-crazy weird stuff,‭ ‬everything that happened because of the Old Ones and their influence‭?

That stuff stopped happening.‭

Removing the threat of the Old Ones and their minions,‭ ‬allowing everybody to mostly forget about the Watchers and their allies‭? ‬Somehow,‭ ‬this let the world get its act together.‭

I was living in New York with a nice girl‭ (‬Buffy says she looked like Anya,‭ ‬but I disagree because that would‭’‬ve been‭ ‬really,‭ ‬really weird‭) ‬when they announced that mankind was going‭ ‬to try to explore Mars.‭

By then,‭ ‬I‭’‬d already created the Rosenberg Trust and the Summers Foundation as a means to funnel money into cutting-edge innovation and research ... among other things.‭

I secretly helped fund mankind‭’‬s reach for the stars‭…‬ well,‭ ‬okay,‭ ‬their reach for Mars,‭ ‬anyway.‭

I was watching TV with Not-Anya when they first discovered the Prothean ruins on Mars.‭

Maybe it‭’‬s because of everything that I went through back in the‭ ‬‘Dale that I really wanted to believe that mysterious ruins from an ancient race wouldn‭’‬t turn out to be a bad thing for once.‭

At first,‭ ‬it wasn‭’‬t.

Mankind headed out into space,‭ ‬eventually finding the Charon Relay and the Mass Relay network.‭

Learning that you aren‭’‬t alone is weird enough.‭

What‭’‬s even weirder is that,‭ ‬for all‭ ‬that the galaxy is diverse and strange,‭ ‬there are some things that remain appallingly normal.‭

They say that power corrupts,‭ ‬and absolute power‭…‬ well,‭ ‬the reason it‭’‬s so very seductive and dangerous is because there‭’‬s suddenly no such thing as limits and boundaries.‭

Every little thing that you ever wanted is suddenly within reach.‭

I‭’‬d created the Torchwood Protocols in order to help me collect,‭ ‬catalog,‭ ‬and categorize information.‭

Suddenly,‭ ‬I could learn everything about anyone and so I collected and used that information to keep me safe,‭ ‬keep my friends safe.‭

But as mankind expanded out into the galaxy,‭ ‬the galaxy expanded into our worldwide data networks.‭ ‬The Internet became part of the extranet,‭ ‬and the Protocols‭…‬ well,‭ ‬they saw the extranet as just another branch of the Internet that hadn‭’‬t been conquered yet.‭

In hindsight,‭ ‬what happened was inevitable.‭

I‭’‬ll be frank.‭ ‬The Shadow Broker came looking for me.‭

He said that he wanted an alliance.

For a long time,‭ ‬I honestly‭ ‬think that‭’‬s really what it was all about.‭

But then the Broker discovered all of the secrets I‭’‬d been keeping‭; ‬all the things that we‭’‬d hidden in the dark corners so that the rest of the world could get on with their lives.‭

He knew about our not-so-secret war.‭

He‭’‬d learned the identities of those few friends and allies who‭’‬d managed to survive the centuries,‭ ‬and the whereabouts of the families of those who didn‭’‬t.‭

I learned a lot about him,‭ ‬but he learned powerful and dangerous secrets about me and about Earth.‭

How,‭ ‬you ask‭?

Turns out,‭ ‬the Brawl-for-It-All had consequences beyond Earth.

We‭’‬d dropped a really big rock in an even-bigger pond and generated shockwaves that are still rolling away from us.‭

Every known species we‭’‬ve encountered‭; ‬Asari,‭ ‬Salarians,‭ ‬Turians,‭ ‬even Krogan‭…‬

They‭’‬ve all been feeling the effects of that spiritual tsunami.

I knew that the Shadow Broker would make a move‭; ‬if not on me,‭ ‬then on Buffy or Xander.

I had to strike first.‭

After that‭…‬ well,‭ ‬being an information broker with the galaxy at her fingertips has certain advantages.

But it does come with a price‭…‬ a price I was more than willing to let someone else pay.

That‭’‬s where my partner came into the picture.‭

Xander‭’‬s going to have a field day with‭ ‬I-could‭’‬ve-told-you-so and all,‭ ‬but I made my decision and I‭’‬ll stick with it to the end of my days.

Part of me hopes that he doesn‭’‬t come for me,‭ ‬that he had the good sense to steer Shepard the Spectre away from this place.‭

But we‭’‬ve been doing this a long time,‭ ‬and nothing‭’‬s ever as easy as you want it to be.‭

Xander‭’‬s coming and he‭’‬s bringing Shepard with him.‭

…and when they get here,‭ ‬I‭’‬m going to have to explain it all.‭

What I‭’‬ve been doing,‭ ‬and why.

Plus,‭ ‬I‭’‬m going to have to tell him what I did to him‭; ‬the truth of it,‭ ‬actually.‭

The return of the Reapers‭…

Shepard becoming a Slayer‭…‬

The rumors about Aria T‭’‬Loak‭’‬s biotics being temporarily supercharged,‭ ‬and how Xander was supposedly involved‭…

…and if the rumors about the Illusive Man‭’‬s real identity are true,‭ ‬then even the rise of Cerberus can‭’‬t be a coincidence.

It‭’‬s all connected somehow,‭ ‬and I‭’‬m afraid that I already know what the connections mean.‭

What we did-‭ ‬no,‭ ‬what‭ ‬I did,‭ ‬upset the balance.‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬fate‭’‬s about to restore that balance by any means necessary.‭

I‭’‬ve known Xander Harris my whole life.

In all that time,‭ ‬the one thing that‭’‬s become abundantly clear to me is that fate loves to screw with him.

Buffy and I used to joke that Xander was fortune‭’‬s fool,‭ ‬back before the Brawl.

It‭’‬s not a joke anymore.‭

The power that we used to save his life,‭ ‬which now fuels and sustains him‭…‬ that power‭’‬s old and dangerous in ways that I can only barely understand.

In Xander,‭ ‬it‭’‬s found the perfect conduit.

He‭’‬s literally a constant fact‭ ‬now,‭ ‬his destiny forever intertwined with powerful forces.

Shepard‭…

The Reapers‭…

All of the secrets and lies that I‭’‬ve only just begun to understand‭…

How Xander‭’‬s tied up in it all‭…

Goddess forgive me,‭ ‬but if I‭’‬m going to turn the wheel of fate and save us all‭?

Help me,‭ ‬Xander Harris.‭ ‬You‭’‬re my only hope.

Yeah,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬knock off the‭ ‬Star Wars jabs,‭ ‬it‭’‬s appropriate here.

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Lair of the Shadow Broker:‭ ‬Crashing the Party

The sub-orbital drop went well,‭ ‬even though Xander had to opt out on Shepard‭’‬s orders.‭

“Two centuries,‭ ‬and you‭’‬re telling me you‭’‬ve never made a suborbital drop‭?‬” she asked when they had a private moment during the pre-deployment prep.

‭“‬All the things you know about me and‭ ‬THIS is what surprises you‭?‬” Xander chuckled.‭

“You‭’‬re‭ ‬military.‭ ‬You had to do a suborbital drop at least once,‭”‬ she argued.

‭“‬My psyche profile says that I have a crippling fear of heights,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“It‭’‬s not true,‭ ‬but since I‭’‬m rated as a combat engineer,‭ ‬people more or less expect me to stick to support roles.‭”‬

“I‭’‬ve seen your military file,‭ ‬Xander.‭ ‬You should‭’‬ve been sent to the ICT Academy for ops training.‭”‬

“Boss,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve survived many a demonic apocalypse so I don‭’‬t have anything to prove to anyone.‭ ‬If I became an ops operative like you,‭ ‬they‭’‬d record my name,‭ ‬my face,‭ ‬and every single detail about me.‭ ‬In case you‭’‬ve forgotten,‭ ‬I‭’‬m trying to maintain a low profile.‭”‬

“Low-profile‭?‬” she parroted,‭ ‬smirking.‭ ‬“You call Akuze low-profile‭?‬”

“I distinctly remember telling you that I wasn‭’‬t supposed to be there in the first place,‭ ‬and that the‭ ‬Normandy run to Eden Prime was supposed to be a one-off‭; ‬in-and-out,‭ ‬remember‭?‬”

“So‭…‬ any time you might have gotten an invitation to the Villa,‭ ‬you deliberately washed yourself out of the program‭?‬”

“I spent many a year as an underachiever before Dawn persuaded me to embark on my scholastic career,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“You‭’‬d be surprised at how fast you pick up the old habits when you need them again.‭”‬

“Xander,‭ ‬we need people like you,‭”‬ Joan argued.‭ ‬“Especially if the Reapers are coming.‭”‬

“No,‭”‬ he shook his head.‭ ‬“You need me to keep on doing what I do best‭; ‬keeping your ship running and keeping you alive in combat,‭ ‬so the great Commander Shepard can do what she does best.‭”‬

Joan sighed irritably.‭ ‬“We‭’‬re not finished,‭”‬ she said mulishly.‭

“How did I know that would be your reaction‭?‬” he rolled his eyes.

Shepard and the rest of her team hit the hull and cleared out the mechs and drones patrolling the area in short order.‭

Once they had a clear space,‭ ‬the rest of the squad followed deploying along the hull of the ship.‭ ‬Fighting the Broker‭’‬s guards proved‭…‬ interesting,‭ ‬given that they quickly figured out that they were under attack and way out of their league.‭

Jack and Morinth worked in tandem,‭ ‬hurling mercs off the hull and into the sky long enough for Thane to pick them off with a sniper rifle shot or just let them get struck by an errant lightning bolt.‭ ‬Legion was effectively marginalized by such teamwork,‭ ‬so it just issued taunts that it must‭’‬ve learned somewhere as it picked off enemy drones with an M-97‭ ‬Viper sniper rifle.

Miranda and Jacob retrieved squad mates with their own biotics whenever someone on the team was hit by a strong-enough biotic blast or weapons discharge dangerous enough to leave them vulnerable to the storm winds.‭ ‬Garrus covered them,‭ ‬picking off various enemy rocket drones with an Overload-Concussion Shot combo.

Once the hull was secured,‭ ‬Shepard took Liara,‭ ‬Zaeed,‭ ‬Tali,‭ ‬Mordin,‭ ‬and Xander deeper into the ship.‭

They found their way to a vast open-air area,‭ ‬where gigantic conductive plates rose and fell amidst ionic discharges flaring and dancing around the room.‭

“Keelah‭…‬” Tali whispered,‭ ‬her genius engineer/mechanic mind already whirring with possibilities for enhanced electrostatic-containment cells for the Migrant Fleet.

‭“‬This ship is amazing,‭”‬ an awestruck Liara murmured.‭ ‬“All the power from the storm is gathered here and distributed around the ship.‭”

Xander felt a familiar tingle across his skin,‭ ‬like ants were crawling all over his body.‭

Shepard noticed his disturbed shudder and turned him.‭ ‬“What is it‭?‬” she asked quietly.

‭“‬I‭’‬m not sure‭…‬” he muttered,‭ ‬distracted.‭ ‬“…but I think that the Broker‭’‬s tapping more than just the storm.‭ ‬If I didn‭’‬t know better,‭ ‬I‭’‬d swear that there was magic involved.‭”

“Magic‭?‬” she parroted,‭ ‬still somewhat in disbelief.

‭“‬Trust me,‭ ‬boss,‭ ‬you grow up in a town as lousy with magic as Sunnydale was and you can pick up a few things,‭”‬ he murmured,‭ ‬distracted.

Mordin simply took in the entire scene with his usual assessing eye.‭ ‬His auditory fibers had caught Shepard‭’‬s quiet conversation with Xander and the topic of magic had made him wonder.‭ ‬Their body language indicated a strong familiarity with such a ridiculous concept,‭ ‬almost as though it actually existed.‭

But if there was one thing that he‭’‬d learned in his forty years,‭ ‬impossible could only be used to describe so many things.‭ ‬The way Shepard and Xander were talking,‭ ‬magic wasn‭’‬t one of them.

As they reached the center of the room,‭ ‬Xander looked over a railing and saw it‭; ‬a coffin-like container wired to the ships‭’‬ main power leads.‭

Jumping down to the low platform,‭ ‬he wiped away the condensation on the pod‭’‬s window and came face-to-face with a very familiar acquaintance.‭

“Willow‭?‬” Xander whispered,‭ ‬before he noticed the wires on the pod.‭ ‬Growling to himself,‭ ‬he deployed the cutting torch on his omni-tool and set it on a crevice that seemed to run down the length of the pod itself.

Tali scanned the room‭’‬s layout quickly.‭ ‬“It looks like they‭’‬ve got her wired into the power leads somehow‭…‬” she observed.‭ ‬“…I think she‭’‬s part of the data network.‭”

“Then for all we know,‭ ‬she‭’‬s been directing the Brokers forces from here.‭”‬ Liara insisted.‭

“You really think she‭’‬s still the big bad when she‭’‬s been locked up in this box‭?‬” Xander snapped.‭ ‬“The Shadow Broker‭’‬s been using all this crap to keep her imprisoned somehow.‭”

“Then the moment we free her,‭ ‬the Broker‭’‬s forces will be on us like stink on shit.‭”‬ Zaeed snarled,‭ ‬his pulse rifle glittering with his heavy Disruptor Ammo mod active.

‭“‬I‭’‬m not leaving her trapped in this box,‭”‬ Xander snapped.‭

“Considering that she might be the only one aboard this ship that might help us get to the Broker,‭ ‬I‭’‬m inclined to agree with Xander.‭”‬ Shepard‭ ‬added.‭

“I guess she and the Broker really have fallen out,‭”‬ Liara muttered.‭ ‬“Still,‭ ‬I want to know what happened to Feron before I decide anything.‭”

Xander glared at her while Shepard interjected,‭ ‬“Fair enough.‭ ‬Let‭’‬s get her out of there.‭”

The seal on the coffin gave way to Xander‭’‬s determined manipulations and hissed open.‭

Willow fell forward,‭ ‬Xander grabbing her limp form with gentle grace as he pulled her out of the coffin and hauled her dead weight to where Shepard was waiting for him.‭

Xander‭ ‬administered some stimpacks and sighed in relief as Willow slowly opened her eyes.‭

“You came for me‭…‬” she rasped hoarsely.‭ ‬She sounded like she hadn‭’‬t talked for a while.‭

“Yeah,‭ ‬well,‭ ‬you know me,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“I was in the neighborhood and figured‭…‬ hey,‭ ‬Willow‭’‬s always up for a party.‭”

“A party‭? ‬That‭’‬d explain the pounding headache I have,‭”‬ she deadpanned,‭ ‬smiling at him.

‭“‬You‭’‬re suffering from hibernation sickness,‭”‬ Tali whispered,‭ ‬scanning the rail-thin redhead with her omni-tool.‭ ‬“I‭’‬ve seen it in Quarians after prolonged sessions in stasis tubes or sleeper pods.‭ ‬You‭’‬ll be fine in a few hours,‭ ‬after you‭’‬ve had a chance to get used to moving around.‭”

“No offense,‭”‬ Zaeed snarled in warning,‭ ‬“…but I‭’‬m feeling a little exposed like this.‭”‬

“Willow,‭ ‬I hate to rescue and run,‭ ‬but d‭’‬you think you can get moving‭?‬” Xander asked her.‭ ‬“Your partner‭’‬s rolling out one Hell of a red carpet welcome.‭”‬

“He does like to make you feel wanted,‭”‬ she shrugged.‭ ‬Struggling to her feet,‭ ‬she staggered towards a far door and tapped at a nearby keypad for a few moments.‭

“Hey,‭ ‬that bastard changed my access codes‭!‬” she squawked after the keypad turned red.

“You honestly didn‭’‬t think that he was going to betray you and then leave you a way to get back at him,‭ ‬did you‭?‬” Liara snorted.‭

“Well,‭ ‬if you have a better idea‭…‬” Willow snarled viciously.

In response,‭ ‬Liara directed her omni-tool at the door,‭ ‬launching a security-cracking program.‭

“You do realize that the security in this place is top-notch,‭”‬ Willow snorted.‭ ‬“I should know‭; ‬I designed or installed most of it.‭”‬

Suddenly the door on the other side of the room burst open and armor-clad mercs began pouring in.‭

“Liara,‭ ‬could you hurry that cracking program up a little‭?‬” Shepard demanded,‭ ‬laying down covering fire with Zaeed.‭

“It was illegal on Ilium,‭ ‬it didn‭’‬t exactly come with a warranty,‭”‬ the former archaeologist snapped back,‭ ‬aggrieved.

“But you tested it,‭ ‬right,‭ ‬honey‭?‬” Joan pleaded.‭ ‬“Tell me that you tested it at least once.‭”‬

Liara‭’‬s cheeks darkened as she pointed towards the approaching army instead.‭ ‬“There‭’‬s more on the way,‭ ‬could we discuss this later‭?‬”

“He‭’‬s throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us‭!‬” Xander shouted as his Revenant fired high-explosive slugs at full automatic.

‭“‬At least there‭’‬ll be less to deal with later,‭”‬ Liara insisted.‭

“You hold on to that dream,‭ ‬kid,‭”‬ Zaeed snorted.

‭“‬I‭’‬m older then you are,‭ ‬Mister Massani,‭”‬ the information broker insisted.

‭“‬The way you keep taunting Murphy,‭ ‬you won‭’‬t be‭ ‬that much older‭!‬” Xander snapped.

‭“‬This is some rescue,‭”‬ Willow snorted in spite of herself.‭ ‬“Not to be all Princess Leia about this,‭ ‬but shouldn‭’‬t we have an exit strategy‭?‬”

Zaeed chuckled coarsely as he kept on shooting into the oncoming merc army.‭ ‬“Apparently the big plan was to get you out and you‭’‬d magically fix all our bloody problems,‭”‬ he rasped.

‭“‬You‭’‬re serious.‭”‬ She deadpanned,‭ ‬unwilling to believe him.‭ ‬“Willow can fix it‭; ‬that was the sum total of the strategy that you put into breaking into the most secret location in the galaxy‭?!?‬”

A second later,‭ ‬she promptly turned on Xander.‭ ‬“That was the big plan‭?!?‬” the petite redhead shrieked at him.‭

To his credit,‭ ‬he didn‭’‬t even flinch in the face of her anger.‭

“Well‭…‬ yeah,‭ ‬kind of,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“Was I wrong‭?‬”

“No,‭ ‬but‭…‬ honestly,‭ ‬Xander,‭ ‬this is-‭”

“This is all very charming and all,‭ ‬Miss Willow,‭ ‬but if you could help out‭?‬” Joan asked pointedly,‭ ‬nipping the über-witch‭’‬s lecture in the bud.

Huffing in irritation,‭ ‬the weakened redhead placed her hands on the floor. her eyes shimmered and turned white.

Suddenly the mercs cried out as they floated into the air. "Local gravitic compensator offline -- please contact maintenance." The Ships VI supplied unnecessarily.

"...And now that you aren't grounded ..." Willow hissed as she held up a hand.

The ionic discharges around the room suddenly swirled around her,‭ ‬gathering up force and accumulating power.‭ ‬Turned her gaze on the mercs,‭ ‬she unleashed the power in her hands and thunder roared under the weight of her fury.‭

The men and women in the Shadow Broker‭’‬s army convulsed and writhed beneath this incredible discharge of raw power,‭ ‬and several combat drones exploded with great force.‭

All too soon,‭ ‬the merc army was decimated.‭ ‬Only a few were left alive to stare at the smoking bodies of their fellows.

Willow reached out and laid a hand on a wall and suddenly the few mercs still alive and floating in the air dropped like sacks of wet cement to the ground where they remained - pinned by the force of gravity; which in their portion of the floor had doubled in the last few seconds.

Shepard,‭ ‬Xander,‭ ‬and Zaeed.promptly cut them down with gunfire.

‭“‬This is why you should always bring along a trained witch.‭”‬ Willow snorted,‭ ‬marching towards the door behind them.‭ ‬When she reached it,‭ ‬she closed her eyes and placed both of her hands on‭ ‬its access panel.

‭“‬I thought you were locked out of the systems‭?‬” Liara demanded.

‭“‬Yeah,‭ ‬he did,‭”‬ the redhead mused,‭ ‬distracted.‭ ‬“Too bad for him I still got that good old technopagan mojo working.‭ ‬This is even easier then frying that army.‭ ‬Now hush,‭ ‬this is hard enough to do in the middle of a firefight without you guys talking to me.‭”

“Is she‭…‬ okay‭?‬” Tali asked.‭ ‬“I mean,‭ ‬I don‭’‬t see her using an omni-tool or anything,‭ ‬it‭’‬s like she‭’‬s just talking to the door.‭”

“I‭’‬m not talking to the door,‭ ‬that‭’‬d be crazy,‭”‬ the über-witch snorted.‭ ‬“I‭’‬m talking to little Miss Blue‭’‬s hacking program -- teaching it how to hack my security.‭ ‬Now‭…‬ cross circuit F to lead B and then activate the bypass.‭”

The door hissed open and Xander and Tali hustled Willow though the doorway while Liara,‭ ‬Zaeed and Shepard finished off the left-over mercs and the door slammed shut behind them.

‭“‬Well,‭ ‬that was fun,‭”‬ Willow sighed.‭ ‬“In hindsight,‭ ‬I should‭’‬ve been more suspicious over how much manpower and firepower that Yahg-boy was stockpiling.‭”

“A Yahg‭?!?‬” Liara sputtered.‭ ‬“You had control of the most powerful data network in the galaxy,‭ ‬and then you just GAVE it to one of its deadliest races‭?!?‬”

“A particularly nasty example thereof,‭ ‬and‭…‬ who the Hell are you,‭ ‬exactly‭?‬”

“Willow,‭ ‬meet Doctor Liara T‭’‬Soni,‭”‬ Xander introduced them.‭ ‬“Doc,‭ ‬my oldest and bestest friend Willow.‭”

“T‭’‬Soni‭…‬ T‭’‬Soni‭…‬” the redhead mumbled speculatively.‭ ‬“…why do I know that name‭?‬”

“I‭’‬ve only been attacking your network and waging a shadow war on your people for the last two years now.‭”‬ Liara snapped.

‭“‬Oh,‭ ‬yeah,‭ ‬thanks a lot for that,‭ ‬by the way,‭”‬ Willow snorted.‭ ‬“Keeping my sociopathic partner in check was a lot easier because of you.‭ ‬What‭’‬s your deal,‭ ‬anyway‭?‬”

“Liara thinks you went all Sith Lord on us,‭ ‬and I told her that was‭ ‬ridiculous.‭”‬ Xander boiled down the situation to a recognizable,‭ ‬if ancient,‭ ‬pop-culture reference.‭ ‬“I was right,‭ ‬wasn‭’‬t I‭?‬”

Willow looked away unable to meet Xander gaze,‭ ‬“That‭’‬s‭…‬ complicated.‭”

“Whenever you say that,‭ ‬you‭’‬ve screwed something up spectacularly,‭”‬ he scowled.‭ ‬“What did you do‭?‬”

“She‭’‬s not right‭…‬ exactly,‭”‬ Willow began weakly,‭ ‬“…but she‭’‬s not entirely wrong,‭ ‬either.‭”

Seeing her lover about ready to explode over the strange conversational tangent,‭ ‬Shepard butted in.‭ ‬“Miss Rosenberg,‭ ‬you know this ship.‭ ‬Can you get us to the detention block‭? ‬I‭’‬d like to free Liara‭’‬s friend Feron.‭”

“Feron‭’‬s alive‭?‬” the redhead quirked an eyebrow.‭ ‬“Tazzik said he was dead.‭”

“According to my source,‭ ‬he‭’‬s being held prisoner in something called‭…‬ the Chair.‭”

Willow paled.‭ ‬“Please don‭’‬t tell me he‭’‬s hooked up to MY chair.‭”

“What is this chair,‭ ‬exactly‭?‬”

“A data-access node keyed to my bio-signature,‭”‬ the redhead groaned,‭ ‬pinching the bridge of her nose.‭ ‬“Anyone else who tries to use it gets their brains cooked.‭”

“Then we have to get to him now‭!‬” Liara insisted,‭ ‬already running down the corridor as Shepard followed after her,‭ ‬shouting at her to wait for the rest of the team.

‭“‬Let‭’‬s go,‭”‬ Xander sighed,‭ ‬slinging an arm over Willow‭’‬s shoulder.‭ ‬“We can talk later.‭”

“Yeah‭…‬ I think it‭’‬s long past time we talked,‭”‬ the weakened super-witch mumbled.

Around the time Shepard‭’‬s squad‭ ‬had reached the detention level,‭ ‬Garrus buzzed Joan‭’‬s com.‭ ‬“Shepard,‭ ‬you‭’‬ve got multiple hostiles inbound.‭ ‬A few of them just took off.‭ ‬We‭’‬ve got the rest pinned down but you‭’‬ve still got enemies headed your way.‭”‬

“Understood,‭ ‬Garrus,‭”‬ she nodded.‭ ‬“We‭’‬ll handle it.‭ ‬Do what you can to keep the rest of them locked up.‭ ‬Shepard out.‭”

Looking up,‭ ‬she noticed the rest of them nodding grimly at her.‭

They‭’‬d heard.‭ ‬Liara closed her eyes,‭ ‬centering herself and readying her biotics.

The gentle rattle of foil wrapping being torn open enticed her into opening an eye,‭ ‬only to see Xander shaking a ration bar at her inquiringly.‭

The Asari sighed before grabbing the bar and scarfing it down,‭ ‬allowing the nutrients and proteins to replenish her while enjoying the bar‭’‬s chocolate flavor.

Willow snorted in spite of herself.‭ ‬“A hundred years,‭ ‬and I somehow knew that you‭’‬d still be Mister‭ ‬Snacks-Guy.‭”

“Does a body good for pick-me-ups,‭ ‬you know,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭ ‬“…and on that note,‭”‬ he added,‭ ‬producing several bars that he handed to her.‭ ‬“…it does a body good.‭”

Zaeed watched Willow rip into the snack bars with feral ferocity.‭ ‬“So‭…‬ what are you,‭ ‬some kind of biotic or something‭?‬” he asked cautiously.‭

“…or something,‭”‬ the witch said vaguely,‭ ‬not in the mood to talk.

‭“‬Manipulation of electromagnetic discharges an unusual application of biotics,‭”‬ Mordin pondered.‭ ‬“Unprecedented,‭ ‬to my knowledge.‭ ‬Cannot recall a single case before this.‭”

“Well,‭ ‬I‭’‬m not a biotic,‭”‬ the redhead shrugged,‭ ‬tearing into more snack bars that Xander shoved at her.‭

When she didn‭’‬t elaborate,‭ ‬the Salarian decided that he needed to understand.‭ ‬“Then‭…‬ what are you‭?‬”

“Complicated.‭”

Any further bits of conversation were cut off by the sound of heavy boots clomping towards them at a rhythmic pace.‭ ‬A deep resonant voice rang throughout the ship‭’‬s P.A.‭ ‬system,‭ ‬menace in its undertones.‭

“I want the pathway to Central Operations secured,‭”‬ the voice snarled.‭ ‬“I don‭’‬t care how many you lose in the hanger bays,‭ ‬they don‭’‬t matter.‭ ‬Fortify the detention wing and the main pathway to the CIC.‭”

“I know that voice‭…‬” Shepard mumbled,‭ ‬her Mattock already in hand.‭ ‬“Why do I know that voice‭?‬”

“Tazzik kidnapped you and took you to see the Broker two years ago.‭”‬ Xander shrugged,‭ ‬fine-tuning his Revenant‭’‬s recoil compensators.‭ ‬“Stands to reason you‭’‬d remember him,‭ ‬since you were awake.‭ ‬Mind you,‭ ‬you were all cave-girl at the time,‭ ‬but the subconscious mind‭’‬s a wonderful thing.‭”

Shepard growled darkly as she activated her Snowblind Rounds mod.‭ ‬Several troops came running into the room,‭ ‬rushing her and firing their weapons blindly.‭

Joan seemed to flow around the gunfire,‭ ‬raising her weapon and tagging anyone that she could see with single,‭ ‬precise headshots.‭

More troops gathered at a natural choke-point,‭ ‬pouring gunfire down the hallway.‭ ‬Willow‭’‬s eyes grew dark and she slapped her hand on the floor as she whispered silently‭ ‬to herself.‭

“Fire suppression systems engaged,‭”‬ the ship VI suddenly announced,‭ ‬as pressurized clouds of Bose-Einstein condensate suddenly filled the hallway.‭ ‬As the mercs found their armor and chunks of flesh flash-frozen,‭ ‬they started screaming as their bodies crumbled to pebbles by their own weight.

‭“‬Nice one,‭ ‬Willow,‭”‬ Xander smirked,‭ ‬stepping forward.‭ ‬“Now let me show you how combat engineers do it.‭”‬ He tapped at his omni-tool and Anya sprang forth,‭ ‬ravaging the mercs with a purple storm of lightning that coruscated violently across its victims.

‭“‬Yeah,‭ ‬go get‭ ‬‘em,‭ ‬Ahn‭!‬” the immortal Scooby grinned as the convulsing mercs literally shook themselves to pieces.‭ ‬“Tear‭ ‬‘em up‭!‬”

“You named a combat drone after your former fiancée‭? ‬Seriously‭?‬” his oldest friend demanded dryly.‭ ‬There was no censure in her voice,‭ ‬only mild incredulity.

‭“‬…and I stand by that choice,‭”‬ he nodded.‭ ‬“Look at how she‭’‬s tearing up the male mercs,‭”‬ he pointed out.‭ ‬A quick glance around him later,‭ ‬and Willow conceded to his logic.

Tali cleared her throat.‭ ‬“Now that the amateur‭’‬s had his fun,‭ ‬I think the lady needs to see how a REAL combat engineer takes care of business.‭”

She tapped at her omnitool and a combat drone popped into existence.‭ ‬Tali‭’‬s new defense drone unleashed rocket blasts that promptly devastated the merc lines.‭

Xander snorted in spite of himself.‭ ‬“That all you got,‭ ‬honey‭?‬”

Tali‭’‬s body language radiated the smirk that had to be on her face as she then tossed a small drone into the air.‭ ‬Once it expanded itself completely,‭ ‬it promptly began raking the merc lines with gunfire.‭

“A gun turret-drone,‭ ‬courtesy of the Geth,‭”‬ she explained,‭ ‬rather smug.‭ ‬“A girl‭’‬s got to be able to protect herself when she‭’‬s hanging out with so many dodgy characters.‭”

Xander gaped before turning back to her.‭ ‬“Tali,‭ ‬you‭’‬ve gotta whip me up one of those.‭”

“Maybe if you‭’‬re good,‭”‬ the petite genius-machinist chuckled.‭

A merc charged their position,‭ ‬flying at Mordin.‭ ‬The old Salarian snap-punched the merc and sent him reeling,‭ ‬just enough for a swift and debilitating Neural Shock that attacked his CNS before he finished off the mercenary with a bullet to the head.

‭“‬Nice moves,‭ ‬Doc,‭”‬ Xander whistled at the old mad scientist‭’‬s handiwork.‭ ‬“Guess you learned that in STG,‭ ‬huh‭?‬”

“Learned much in STG,‭ ‬but martial arts skills developed during scholastic phase humans refer to as secondary education.‭”‬

“High school‭? ‬You‭’‬re kidding me.‭”

“Unwise for young Salarian with fascination for art and musical drama to‭ ‬NOT develop physical combat skills,‭”‬ he shrugged.‭

At that,‭ ‬Xander had to concede.‭ ‬He‭’‬d once coaxed Mordin into singing after the old guy had mentioned it in passing‭; ‬turns out,‭ ‬the old Salarian did a fantastic Gilbert and Sullivan.‭

Giles probably would‭’‬ve liked Mordin‭’‬s singing as much as he would‭’‬ve despaired at how such a ridiculously-iconic song from‭ ‬The Pirates of Penzance had been mangled.

The squad pressed ahead,‭ ‬arriving at a heavy door rather quickly.‭ ‬Willow whispered to the door again and it sprang open,‭ ‬allowing them into the room where they found Feron.‭

The Drell was secured to a large chair with contact leads feeding into and out of it.‭

“You use this thing‭?‬” Liara asked Willow,‭ ‬who just blinked wearily.‭

“It‭’‬s perfectly safe for‭ ‬ME to use,‭”‬ the redhead rasped,‭ ‬taking a long pull from Xander‭’‬s canteen.‭ ‬“I‭’‬ve got the training and the implants needed to handle that much data and information being fed directly to me.‭”

The former archaeologist rushed to Feron,‭ ‬who blinked as he took in her approach.‭ ‬“Are‭…‬ are you real‭?‬” he rasped.‭ ‬“I‭’‬m not sure what‭’‬s real and what‭’‬s not real anymore‭…‬”

“The memories‭…‬” the Drell operative shuddered.‭ ‬“…t-the dreams and‭…‬”

“Feron,‭ ‬it‭’‬s Liara,‭ ‬Liara T‭’‬Soni,‭”‬ she mumbled.‭ ‬“I‭’‬ve come to get you out of here.‭ ‬I‭’‬m sorry it took so long for me to find you.‭”‬

“Liara T‭’‬Soni‭?‬” he whispered hoarsely,‭ ‬with reverence in his voice.‭ ‬“…but the Broker said that she was gone.‭ ‬She‭’‬d abandoned me,‭ ‬that she was dead.‭”

“No,‭ ‬Feron,‭ ‬I‭’‬m not dead,‭ ‬I-‭”‬ as she groped for words,‭ ‬Willow bent to look him‭ ‬over with a critical gaze.‭ ‬“His mind‭’‬s still intact,‭”‬ the redhead noted.‭ ‬“That whole perfect recall thing that the Drell do,‭ ‬must have kept him from losing his mind completely.‭”

“Why in the Goddess‭’‬ name would you build such a thing‭?‬” Liara demanded hotly.

‭“‬Why does anyone do anything‭?‬” Willow shrugged.‭ ‬“In my case,‭ ‬it was maintaining and expanding my power.‭”

“Power over what‭?‬” Xander wanted to know.‭ ‬“You‭’‬ve already got more than enough juice to smack around the‭ ‬entire‭ ‬Asari Matriarchate like they were‭ ‬bitchy little stepdaughters.‭”

“I‭’‬m only powerful as a Wiccan,‭ ‬Xander,‭”‬ the über-witch corrected him.‭ ‬“Once I started tapping the galaxy extranet and amplifying my technomancy,‭ ‬I needed a way to process all the information I was retrieving.‭”

“You were mainlining the extranet‭? ‬Isn‭’‬t that dangerous‭?‬”

Fate chose that moment for a massive discharge to feed through the chair,‭ ‬the arcing energy caused Feron to howl in pain.

‭“‬Yeah,‭”‬ she shrugged.‭ ‬“Especially if you don‭’‬t know what you‭’‬re doing,‭ ‬but‭ ‬I do.‭”

Popping her neck,‭ ‬looking somewhat healthier,‭ ‬she stood up a little straighter in Xander‭’‬s grip.‭ ‬“Now let‭’‬s go talk to my partner.‭ ‬High time we‭’‬ve ended this.‭”

“Zaeed,‭ ‬Tali,‭ ‬stay here and keep our exit clear.‭”‬ Shepard snapped.‭ ‬“Rest of you,‭ ‬with me.‭”

8
9
8

Xander wasn‭’‬t sure what he was expecting when he laid eyes on the Shadow Broker,‭ ‬but a thickly built creature sitting quietly behind a desk and watching them‭? ‬Pretty damn far from the top of the list.‭

Willow was apparently used to his appearance as she pulled herself from to Xander‭’‬s support so she could stride into the room standing beside Shepard and Liara.‭

“Here for the Drell‭?‬” the‭ ‬Broker guessed,‭ ‬more rhetorically than anything else.‭ ‬“Reckless‭; ‬even for you,‭ ‬Commander.‭”‬

“I‭’‬m getting a lecture on reckless action,‭ ‬from the guy who ordered his pet Spectre to blow up a building‭?‬”

“Extreme,‭ ‬but necessary.‭”

“No,‭ ‬it wasn‭’‬t‭!‬” Liara snapped.‭ ‬“Neither was caging Feron or torturing him for two years.‭”

“Doctor T‭’‬Soni,‭”‬ the Broker chuckled humorlessly.‭ ‬“Feron‭’‬s condition was your fault.‭ ‬He betrayed me by giving you Shepard‭’‬s body,‭ ‬so he‭’‬s only paying the price for that betrayal.‭”

Shepard felt‭…‬ something stirring in the air.‭ ‬ Just‭ ‬as‭ ‬the Broker nodded,‭ ‬two mercenaries faded into being guarded from their sight by cloaking tech almost as good as Kasumi Goto‭’‬s.‭
She was‭ ‬about to‭ ‬draw‭ ‬a bead on them with her Mattock when they were‭ ‬suddenly‭ ‬pulled into the air.‭ ‬ Choking gasps and cries of pain came from the struggling pair of mercs as their armor began to spark and warp.‭

“You‭’‬re sitting in my chair,‭”‬ Willow hissed,‭ ‬her eyes black as power swirled and seethed between herself and the mercenaries.‭

“I‭’‬m more entitled to this chair then you ever were,‭”‬ the Broker rumbled,‭ ‬its ears twitching noticeably.‭ ‬“…and once you‭’‬re gone,‭ ‬everyone will know who the real Shadow Broker is.‭”

Willow‭ ‬scowled,‭ ‬sending the two mercs flying to the corners of the room where their crushed bodies sprawled lifeless against a wall.‭

“I think we already know who the real Shadow Broker is,‭”‬ Xander sneered.‭

“How nice to see you again,‭ ‬Alexander,‭”‬ the Broker sighed.‭ ‬“The list of clients who want to study your‭…‬ immortality,‭ ‬is quite lengthy.‭ ‬I can cut you into pieces and buy a planet with every piece I sell.‭”

“Immortality‭?‬” Mordin murmured speculatively.

‭“‬So you‭’‬re here as well,‭ ‬Doctor Solus,‭”‬ the massive creature rumbled.‭ ‬“The Blood Pack was quite happy when I delivered your protégé to them.‭ ‬When I deliver both teacher and student,‭ ‬they‭’‬ll be extremely grateful.‭ ‬Krogan pay well for former STG members.‭”

“Protégé‭? ‬Maelon‭? ‬With Blood Pack‭? ‬No reason for Blood Pack to want him unless‭…‬”

“Yes,‭ ‬Doctor Solus.‭ ‬You should‭’‬ve thought more carefully before making an enemy of the Shadow Broker.‭ ‬Especially given how many secrets you have.‭”

“What did you do‭?‬” Shepard demanded.‭

“Each of your crew has a past,‭ ‬Shepard,‭”‬ the Broker chuckled.‭ ‬“Some of which are as dark as yours.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve merely used my resources to insure that those pasts have a chance to catch up with them.‭”

“You‭’‬re confident for someone with nowhere left to hide.‭”‬ Liara snarled.‭

“Challenging me was an exercise in futility.‭ ‬I know your every secret,‭ ‬while you fumble around in the dark.‭”

“Is that so‭?‬” the former archaeologist sneered.‭ ‬“You‭’‬re a Yahg‭; ‬your species was quarantined to your homeworld for slaughtering the Council‭’‬s first contact teams.‭”

Xander quirked an eyebrow,‭ ‬surprised at Liara‭’‬s knowledge.‭ ‬He didn‭’‬t remember hearing any news reports of such an incident in the last century,‭ ‬but then remembered that it‭’‬d probably been covered up.‭

“Since this base is much older than the discovery of Parnack,‭ ‬you definitely didn‭’‬t have this ship built.‭ ‬I also remember your first conversation with Xander,‭ ‬and what you‭ ‬didn‭’‬t say.‭”

Shepard was impressed by Liara‭’‬s confidence,‭ ‬if not a little aroused.‭ ‬Plus,‭ ‬she really wanted to know what had happened to her while she‭’‬d been incapacitated by her post-resurrection trauma.

‭“‬You were afraid of a human girl,‭ ‬so much so that I‭’‬ll wager that Willow killed the original Shadow Broker less than thirty years ago,‭”‬ the former archaeologist twisted the metaphorical knife as Yahg-boy‭’‬s eyes narrowed at her incrementally.

‭“‬That‭’‬s it,‭ ‬isn‭’‬t it‭?‬” she sneered,‭ ‬quietly enjoying her enemy‭’‬s building anger.‭ ‬“You tried to kill the Broker and take over,‭ ‬but you failed.‭ ‬He must have kept you around as a warning to his men,‭ ‬an example of what happened to anyone foolish enough to challenge him.‭”
Willow was nodding,‭ ‬a little surprised at the young Asari‭’‬s deductive abilities.

‭“‬Then Willow came along,‭ ‬and you went crawling to her for protection after she did what you couldn‭’‬t do.‭ ‬You‭’‬ve been her flunky ever since.‭ ‬Humiliating,‭ ‬I‭’‬m sure,‭ ‬but at least it‭’‬s a step up from being the Broker‭’‬s slave‭…‬ or maybe you were just his‭ ‬PET.‭”

The Broker rose slowly from his desk,‭ ‬rage flowing off him in waves as Shepard,‭ ‬Xander,‭ ‬Mordin and Liara all felt their eyes widen in surprise at the Yahg‭’‬s sheer size.‭

Suddenly,‭ ‬he smashed his desk and hurled the pieces at the squad,‭ ‬knocking Mordin unconscious.

‭“‬This time,‭ ‬I‭’‬ll deal with you myself‭!‬” the Yahg snarled,‭ ‬throwing himself at them.‭ ‬Shepard swung hard,‭ ‬battering him back with punches.‭

‬The mighty beast was taking her beat-down pretty well,‭ ‬all things considered,‭ ‬but looked so angry that he didn‭’‬t seemed to register the pain that he‭ ‬SHOULD be feeling.‭

Shepard only realized this when she heard the monstrous creature‭’‬s ribs cracking and snapping under her brutal assault.‭

‬“When you die this time,‭ ‬Spectre,‭ ‬you‭’‬ll do the whole galaxy a courtesy by‭ ‬STAYING that way‭!‬” the Yahg bellowed.‭

‬It lashed out,‭ ‬smacking her away and throwing her body into Xander,‭ ‬whose body blunted the force of the impact.‭ ‬An explosive gasp made her realize that she‭’‬d just whacked him in the stomach.‭

‬“You have no idea how long‭ ‬I‭’‬ve worked to make this empire mine‭!‬” the elephantine beast snarled.‭ ‬“This ship should have been mine from the very beginning‭! ‬I deserve it all‭!‬” the eight-eyed creature bellowed,‭ ‬advancing toward the fallen Spectre.‭

‬“You want this shit that bad‭?‬” Willow sneered,‭ ‬her eyes bleeding into total black.‭ ‬“Then you can have it,‭ ‬and everything that it implies‭! ‬Doctor,‭ ‬the observation window‭!‬”

Liara nodded grimly,‭ ‬her body consumed in electric-blue fire.‭ ‬Gathering her biotics,‭ ‬she fired a force-blast that smashed against the plasteel surface of the ceiling‭’‬s observation window.‭ ‬The hardy material cracked and then shattered under the force of the biotic Warp,‭ ‬prompting the wailing howls of gale-force winds to fill the room.‭

‬Shepard,‭ ‬Xander and Liara suddenly found themselves grabbing onto anything that could keep them from being sucked out into Hagalaz‭’‬s electrified atmosphere.‭

‬“Still playing at being a god,‭ ‬Rosenberg‭?!?‬” the Yahg roared.‭ ‬“I will have the real thing‭!‬”

Willow ignored him.‭ ‬She hovered‭ ‬in the center of the room,‭ ‬her eyes completely black and her hair now snowy-white,‭ ‬as lightning from outside began to fill the room.‭ ‬By sheer force of will,‭ ‬the most-powerful witch in human history redirected Hagalaz‭’‬s lightning into hitting her body and‭ ‬coruscating across her body and extremities.‭

‬The stench of ozone filled the air as part of Xander absently noted that Willow was now reminding him of Storm,‭ ‬from the‭ ‬X-Men,‭ ‬and suddenly looked remarkably‭…‬ divine.‭

‬But the Yahg hadn‭’‬t stayed idle.‭ ‬It fiddled with the controls on its belt and the shimmer of a kinetic barrier flared briefly.‭

‬“Energy and projectiles won‭’‬t hurt him now‭!‬” Liara reminded the witch,‭ ‬who ignored her.‭

‬“Doc,‭ ‬you‭’‬re gonna want to get your blue ass on the floor in a few seconds‭!‬” Xander yelled above the howling gale-force winds.‭

‬“Oh,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬Xander,‭ ‬I want her to see this.‭”‬ Willow hissed.‭ ‬Turning to Liara,‭ ‬she snapped,‭ ‬“I want you to make a singularity in his path.‭”‬

To her credit,‭ ‬Liara didn‭’‬t hesitate.‭ ‬It took some doing to secure her position so that she wouldn‭’‬t blow herself out the window,‭ ‬but she quickly produced a blast of biotic power that swirled around the Yahg‭’‬s body.‭ ‬As its event horizon swirled and tore at the behemoth‭’‬s
kinetic barrier,‭ ‬Willow‭’‬s lips curled into a very nasty smile.‭

‬“You know what the funny thing is,‭ ‬about a biotic singularity‭?‬” the witch asked,‭ ‬more rhetorically than anything else.‭ ‬“Mainly the way they‭’‬re made.‭ ‬It doesn‭’‬t take a whole lot to turn a biotic singularity into a real black hole.‭”‬

Willow‭’‬s fingers flexed,‭ ‬gathering up the lightning still coruscating around her body and lumping it into a swirling morass of electricity.‭ ‬Her hands now more like claws,‭ ‬the petite witch grinned nastily as the electricity suddenly condensed into a thick ball that she then slammed together.‭

A blinding flash of light saw her firing the ball lightning into the singularity,‭ ‬which flared brightly before every single light in the entirety of the universe seemed to disappear.‭

‬Xander was the first person to realize what had just happened.‭ ‬“Ohhh‭…‬ crap,‭”‬ he groaned.‭

‬Then the inexorable pulling started.‭ ‬The screaming winds were no longer coming from outside the ship.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬they were now coming from the swirling ball of absolute darkness that had grabbed Yahg-boy in its inexorable hold.‭

‬“No‭…‬ no‭! ‬This ship is mine‭!‬” the eight-eyed beast roared,‭ ‬clutching at a nearby pillar that was beginning to tear itself from its foundation.‭ ‬“It‭’‬s mine,‭ ‬I tell you‭!‬”

“You‭’‬re‭ ‬FIRED‭!‬” Willow‭’‬s cackling echoed off of the deck plates as the black hole‭’‬s event horizon relentlessly pulled at her rebellious subordinate‭’‬s body,‭ ‬even tearing his support pillar off of its stand.‭ ‬The Yahg screamed as its body was torn apart by the gravimetric shears of the event horizon before the‭ ‬leftovers were compacted to a size invisible to the naked eye.‭

‬Then the winds began to pick up speed,‭ ‬as chunks of the room began to tear itself off their moorings and swallowed by the inexorable force of the mini-black hole.‭

‬“Uh,‭ ‬Willow‭!‬” Xander shouted.‭ ‬“…anytime you want to turn that off,‭ ‬you can‭!‬”

Liara raised her hands and a wall of biotic force shimmered into existence around the
dark ball,‭ ‬which had swollen to a size similar to the smallest ball-bearing in the world.‭

‬“You supercharged the gravimetric distortion field,‭ ‬didn‭’‬t you‭?‬” she shouted over the howling winds of both Hagalaz‭’‬s atmosphere and the force of the mini-black hole.‭

‬“I was pissed off,‭ ‬what can I say‭?!?‬” Willow shouted back,‭ ‬eyeing the seething globe.‭

‬“You DO realize that when the distortion field hits critical mass,‭ ‬the event horizon will destabilize and the whole thing‭’‬s going to detonate‭?!?‬”

“I got it under control‭!‬” Willow snapped back peevishly.‭

‬The witch raked her fingers across the space right in front of her and Liara watched in astonishment as the air tore itself open.‭

‬She wasn‭’‬t the only one in the room that could see the‭…‬ things that seemed to exist beyond the tear.‭ ‬They were monstrous creatures with only glowing eyes to distinguish them from an all-encompassing darkness like the realm that confined them‭; ‬beasts of all shapes and
sizes that she could only just barely seem to see.‭

‬But even that momentary glimpse was enough to have her wanting to curl up into a ball and gibber madly.‭ ‬She couldn‭’‬t even begin to understand the beasts that seethed about in that void,‭ ‬screaming as they stewed in resentment.‭

‬As they noticed the breach,‭ ‬one of them pointed at the breach and screeched.‭ ‬The whole lot of them suddenly made a beeline for the portal,‭ ‬en-masse.‭

‬Willow waved her hands and the seething dark ball of force went spinning through the space-time fissure,‭ ‬breaching Liara‭’‬s impressive Stasis ball as the demons beyond were quickly and spontaneously bathed in a blinding light.‭

The young Asari‭’‬s last sight of that impossible realm and its monstrous denizens was its sinister darkness being consumed by the sudden detonation of the energized artificial black
hole.‭

‬The room was silent,‭ ‬filled only with the sounds of everyone‭’‬s panting and heavy breathing.‭

‬“What was that‭?‬” Liara asked hesitantly.‭

‬“That‭…‬ was where I send all the bad little Yahg who lock me up in a stasis pod and try to steal my powers.‭”‬ Willow sneered.‭

‬“That looked like a Hell dimension,‭”‬ Xander snapped,‭ ‬beyond the point of caring about anything even remotely close to confidentiality.‭

‬“It was,‭”‬ Willow sighed.‭

‬“I thought we couldn‭’‬t access Hell dimensions anymore,‭”‬ he pointed out.‭

‬“I did,‭ ‬too,‭”‬ the redhead snapped back.‭

‬“I clearly recall someone,‭ ‬and I think it was you,‭ ‬saying that being able to access Hell dimensions again was a bad sign.‭”‬

“It is.‭ ‬Look,‭ ‬could we talk about this later‭? ‬I feel the overwhelming need to pass out.‭”‬

Suddenly,‭ ‬a panel at the far end of the room brightened.‭

‬“Shadow Broker,‭ ‬this is operative Murat,‭”‬ a synthesized male voice issued from a hidden speaker somewhere in the ceiling.‭ ‬“We‭’‬ve had a momentary connection failure.‭ ‬ Can you confirm your status‭?‬”

A female voice added,‭ ‬“Operative Shora requesting update.‭ ‬Are we still online‭?‬”

“Shadow Broker,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve lost our feed,‭”‬ a second male voice added,‭ ‬almost sounding panicked behind its mechanical modulation.‭ ‬“We‭’‬re online and awaiting instructions.‭”

Suddenly the room was filled with hundreds,‭ ‬if not thousands,‭ ‬of voices all asking the same question over and over again.‭

‬Xander looked at Willow,‭ ‬who shook her head.‭ ‬ “I can barely stand up.‭”‬

Liara suddenly moved to the controls and looked at them a moment before reaching out and touching one of the haptic displays.‭

‬“This is the Shadow Broker,‭”‬ she said coolly.‭ ‬ “The situation is under control.‭ ‬We had a temporary malfunction while upgrading the data-feed network that disrupted the communication feeds.‭”‬

As Feron came charging into the room,‭ ‬M-3‭ ‬Predator at the ready,‭ ‬Xander could hear Liara‭’‬s message being broadcast through the ship‭’‬s PA system with the same deep mechanical tones that Yahg-boy had been using to disguise his voice.‭

‬“However,‭”‬ Liara continued,‭ ‬“…we‭’‬re now back online,‭ ‬and all systems are running at optimal efficiency.‭ ‬Resume standard procedures.‭ ‬I want a status report on all operations from all agents and all departments within the next solar day.‭”‬

As Feron collapsed on a nearby couch,‭ ‬Shepard went to look him over but was waved away.‭

‬“Shadow Broker,‭ ‬out,‭”‬ Liara finished her transmission.‭

‬“Are you sure that becoming the new Shadow Broker is really the smartest thing you could do,‭ ‬Liara‭?‬” the revived Slayer asked.‭

‬“It was either that,‭ ‬or lose all of the data-feeds and access to all that information,‭”‬ the archaeologist-turned-information‭ ‬broker sighed.‭

‬“So‭…‬ you want to be the new Shadow Broker,‭ ‬huh‭?‬” Willow chuckled,‭ ‬having limped up to the young Asari.‭

‬“Well,‭ ‬I can‭’‬t possibly be any worse at it than you were,‭”‬ Liara snapped back,‭ ‬feeling defensive.‭ ‬“…and I won‭’‬t turn power over to a‭ ‬sociopathic power-mad conspirator.‭”‬

The redheaded Wicca stared at Liara hard for several seconds before she burst into cackling laughter.‭ ‬“Fine,‭ ‬fine,‭ ‬you have my blessing,‭”‬ she wheezed,‭ ‬heading towards the exit.‭

Suddenly stopping in her tracks,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬Willow looked back at her would-be successor.‭

‬“You know something,‭ ‬T‭’‬Soni‭?‬” the redhead said wryly.‭ ‬ “Having a thing is not as pleasing
as wanting a thing.‭ ‬ I used to think that it was just a cool line from an even-cooler TV show,‭ ‬but I never realized how much that rule applies to real life.‭ ‬ Not until I had as much power as I do now,‭ ‬and I paid‭ ‬a heavy price for them.‭”‬

Liara stared at the grim redhead as her words of warning rang in her head.‭ ‬“But the saying‭’‬s true,‭”‬ Willow added.‭ ‬“I had to learn it.‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬apparently,‭ ‬so do you.‭”‬

“Well,‭ ‬that was certainly a Kodak moment,‭”‬ Xander sighed sarcastically.

Having said her piece,‭ ‬Willow staggered.‭ ‬The day‭’‬s events had taken their toll on the witch and she sank into Xander‭’‬s arms.‭

“It‭’‬s okay,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve got you,‭”‬ he whispered reassuringly.‭ ‬“This time,‭ ‬I‭’‬m not letting you go.‭”

He hugged her close as they walked out of Yahg-boy‭’‬s office.‭

“I‭’‬ll check the power systems,‭”‬ Feron said weakly as he stumbled out.

Mordin followed him.‭ ‬“Drell constitution strong.‭ ‬Should still have thorough medical examination to determine level of trauma suffered as result of torture and detainment.‭”

Suddenly Shepard and Liara were alone.

‭“‬So what now‭?‬” Joan asked.

‭“‬I‭’‬ve just been so focused on‭…‬” she began,‭ ‬trying to explain her conflicting feelings.‭ ‬“For two years‭ ‬now,‭ ‬all‭ ‬I‭’‬ve wanted is revenge.‭ ‬ Now I have both you and Feron back.‭ ‬ As for Willow‭…‬”

“She seems pretty powerful.‭”‬ Joan shrugged.

‭“‬Her social skills could stand some work.‭”‬ Liara pouted.

‭“‬Kinda why I‭’‬m worried about you turning into some creepy recluse with information on everybody.‭”‬ Shepard popped her neck.

Liara looked around the room,‭ ‬not wanting to look at her lover.‭ ‬ “I can finally‭…‬ I could give you‭…‬ everything I ever wanted,‭ ‬I have the power to-‭”‬ suddenly,‭ ‬she couldn‭’‬t speak.‭ ‬She seemed ready to cry.

Joan pulled her into an embrace.‭ ‬ “All I want,‭ ‬all I‭’‬ve ever wanted‭…‬ was you.‭”

Liara looked into Joan‭’‬s eyes and she couldn‭’‬t help herself.‭ ‬ She leaned in and they kissed,‭ ‬a soft and loving‭ ‬kiss that made her remember their first kiss on the Citadel.‭

She could feel‭ ‬Shepard‭’‬s arms‭ ‬around her.‭

She wanted to lose herself in this moment,‭ ‬to pretend‭ ‬that‭ ‬there was nothing beyond that door.

No galaxy to save,‭ ‬no enemies to fight‭…‬

For a second,‭ ‬Liara‭ ‬could feel it‭;‬ she had it all.‭

Then she‭ ‬saw it‭; ‬incoming calls from various Shadow Broker agents.‭

“Think you can join me on the Normandy‭?‬” Shepard asked quietly,‭ ‬noticing what her lover was looking at‭ ‬after pulling away.‭

“I‭…‬ I can‭’‬t,‭ ‬Shepard,‭”‬ Liara mumbled.‭ ‬ “There‭’‬s so much here that I‭…‬ I need time to learn how this all works‭ ‬and‭ ‬how best to use it.‭”

“You‭ ‬have Feron.‭”‬ Shepard pointed out.‭ ‬ “Plus,‭ ‬once she‭’‬s better,‭ ‬Willow will show you everything you need to know.‭”

“Don‭’‬t you mean everything‭ ‬she‭ ‬THINKS‭ ‬I need to know‭?‬”

“Still don‭’‬t trust her,‭ ‬huh‭?‬” Shepard sighed.‭ ‬ “Even after everything that‭’‬s happened‭?‬”

“She‭’‬s hiding things.‭ ‬ From Xander,‭ ‬from you‭…‬”

“Sometimes we keep secrets from those we care about the most,‭ ‬because we want to protect them.‭”‬ Shepard murmured.

Liara looked away,‭ ‬guilt‭ ‬making heat suffuse her cheeks in embarrassment.‭

There were so many things‭ ‬that‭ ‬she wanted to‭ ‬say,‭ ‬to confess,‭ ‬to share with her lover.‭

But where to start‭?

How to start‭?

Joan stood‭ ‬there‭ ‬holding her for a moment longer‭ ‬before she sighed.‭ ‬ “I‭’‬m heading back to the‭ ‬Normandy,‭”‬ she said.‭ ‬ “Try not to be a stranger this time,‭ ‬okay‭?‬”

Liara nodded and watched her leave.‭

As the door hissed‭ ‬shut,‭ ‬Willow‭’‬s ominous words rang in her head.‭

“Having a thing is not so pleasing as wanting a thing.‭”‬

Liara looked around at her new kingdom.‭

A‭ ‬domain‭ ‬of secrets‭ ‬that‭ ‬she‭’‬d fought‭ ‬and killed to seize.

She sighed and reached for the comlink.‭

She wouldn‭’‬t be like Willow.‭

She wouldn‭’‬t let‭ ‬being the Shadow Broker keep her away from the one person‭ ‬that‭ ‬she cared about most in this galaxy.‭

“Having a thing is not so pleasing as‭ ‬WANTING a thing.‭”‬

“Shut up,‭”‬ Liara hissed to the voice in her head,‭ ‬which no longer sounded like Willow Rosenberg but more like her mother Benezia.
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