Lair of the Shadow Broker: Hagalaz (2)
AN - dedicated with great respect to Reikson and Drakependragon who tolerated multiple rewrites of this chapter
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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
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.