• Published 14th Feb 2015
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Mass Effect: Gathering Storm - Meluch



When a Prothean Beacon is unearthed on Eden Prime and a rogue Spectre starts a galactic manhunt begins. When the Elements of Harmony are found to be missing, a coming storm threatens to destroy everything.

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Chapter Nineteen - Die Hard Another Day

Chapter Nineteen - Die Hard Another Day
Tilican Tower, Bachjret Wards, Citadel, Serpent Nebula
April 9, 2183

For all of his threats and bluster, Fist had quickly revealed himself to be rather impotent. For all of the thugs that he had hired, he was wary of them and kept them at a distance. Tali wondered if he was too squeamish to try and get any sort of information out of her (not that she was complaining).

It certainly made Fist’s entire operation, and his foolish plan of taking over one of the richest towers on the Citadel look as ill-thought out as possible. When Tali had pressed him on the matter, Fist had murmured something about hostages and escaping the Citadel on an untraceable shuttle to a waiting smuggler ship.

Tali was still wondering on where any of that sounded like a good idea to the man.

She had been sitting on the wood floor of the apartment for nearly thirty minutes now, and even through the light padding of her suit, her rear was going numb. She rested most of her weight on one three fingered hand, tapping her thumb to her two fingers with her other.

From behind the safety of her helmet’s visor, she watched as Fist paced back and forth, trying to figure out what to do. She imagined that his mind must be racing, scrambling to try and come up with any plan where he got out of this situation alive.

She also didn’t imagine that he was anywhere close to succeeding in his endeavor.

He was probably going to be like this for awhile. It made her regret that the krogan that had dragged her through the tower had managed to find her backup, backup omni-tool. An opportunity would have to present itself before she would have a chance of getting free.

Luckily, she was good at waiting.

The fact that her suit had its own plumbing system had nothing to do with that. Nothing at all. Tali would back that claim up all the way to her grave.

Fist was just starting on another turn, and what promised to be more muttering to himself and angry ranting when all of a sudden the floor exploded.

Her stomach was in her throat, and Tali was suddenly falling. She screamed in terror, a small part of her in the back of her mind thankful for her suit’s system because she may or may not have peed herself a little.

Hitting the ground with a solid oomph, the air was knocked right out of Tali’s lungs and it fogged up her visor.

“Agh!” Flailing her arms, she searched for any purchase in her now sightless world, quickly finding what was either the floor, or a wall. It turned out to be the latter, and she used it to pull herself up, stumbling a bit over the pieces of rubble that used to comprise the ceiling she was sitting on just moments before.

“Stupid! I should have gotten the anti-condensation mod, but nooo.” Waving her hands dramatically, Tali scowled to herself before crossing her arms over her chest. “That signed Daring Do poster was obviously the better purchase.”

Thankfully, her visor had started to clear and Tali made a mental note (underlined, italicized, and filed under extremely important) to purchase an upgrade for her visor the moment she could scrounge up enough credits. No more stupid impulse buys because she was a tourist on the greatest space-station ever constructed.

That would be childish, after all.

Her visor clearing the rest of the way, Tali found herself looking at two human woman, a human man, a turian in C-SEC armor, and the largest, meanest krogan that she had ever seen, all just beyond the rubble of the explosion. Fist was still struggling to catch his breath, much dustier than he had been a minute ago, coughing up a storm.

Stepping out onto the rubble, the krogan grabbed Fist in one hand and lifted him up off the ground. He punched him in the face before tossing him to the ground again.

One of the human woman, with red hair and sleek armor, stepped over Fist, looking Tali up and down.

“Tali’Zorah?” She asked, her voice incredibly smooth.

“That…” Tali blinked, realizing that she was still a little disoriented from the explosion, looking at the human woman who spoke to her, a red stripe running up the armor of her right arm. It meant something, she was sure of it, but she just wasn’t sure what. “Tali. That is my name. Yes.”

“Right. Good.” The woman nodded, a relieved smile spreading across her face. “I’m glad you aren’t injured. I’m Commander Riley Shepard, Alliance Navy and Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. We’re here to rescue you.”

“I…” The words all made logical sense to Tali, but her mind struggled to wrap around them. Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. Spectres. Why would a Spectre come and rescue her? Quarians did their best to keep their heads down. To have a Spectre aware of her enough to mount a rescue operation was… troubling. “What?”

“You have information on Saren Arterius, don’t you?” The woman, Riley, asked. She looked a little concerned, her head tilting ever so slightly to the side in a gesture Tali was sure none of the woman’s species would have recognized. It spoke of a sudden worry, that what she had been counting on wasn’t actually the truth.

“How did you know that?” Tali asked, assuaging Riley’s fears.

“The Shadow Broker tipped us off.” Riley’s shoulder’s relaxed and she let go of the tension that had been building in her body, but Tali wasn’t paying any attention to that.

“The Shadow Broker?” Tali was stunned. That didn’t make any sense. “He was trying to kill me! Why would he give up any information that would save me?”

“I think that he wanted Fist dead more than you,” the turian spoke up, stepping forward.

Tali nodded, acknowledging his words even as she looked over at the krogan. She found that he was almost lazily watching their conversation, one of his feet firmly planted on Fist's chest, keeping the man from running away.

“Never trusted the Broker myself,” he rumbled, his voice so deep Tali could feel it in her chest. “Figured it was the best way to live longer.”

“You certainly have a unique outlook on the galaxy.” The other woman piped up, her tone speaking of long suffering, or maybe the beginning of long suffering. “You must be a riot to spend time around.”

“I've caused a few riots, if that counts.” The krogan shrugged, either completely missing the point or simply not caring. Probably the latter.

“You can't do this to me!” Fist protested, struggling under the krogan’s foot.

“Quiet.” The krogan rumbled, applying enough of his weight to make Fist gasp for air.

“You put out the hit order on Garrus Vakarian.” Riley turned her attention from Tali to Fist, glaring down at the former agent of the Shadow Broker. “Why?”

“What?” Fist managed to wheeze out, desperate for air. “What are you talking about? You’re crazy, bitch. You won’t get away with this! I’ll have so many lawyers on you, you’ll wish you’d never been born.”

“Spectre.” Tapping the insignia on her left shoulder, she gave a little shrug. What can you do? “I can get away with pretty much anything.”

“More than that.” The krogan grunted, laughing to himself. He didn’t bother to share whatever had made him laugh with everyone else.

Only half listening to Riley questioning Fist, Tali carefully checked her suit over for any damage. Being a Quarian was such an inconvenience most of the time.

After the failed war against the geth, Quarians had been forced from their planet, wandering the stars in the largest fleet the galaxy had ever seen. After hundreds of years, their sanitized and isolated way of life had left their immune systems virtually non-existant. If there was so much as a cut in her suit, there was a very real danger that Tali would end up dying a horrible death gasping for air, all because her immune system couldn’t handle any simple disease that other race’s bodies pointed and laughed at.

Thankfully, she had escaped unscathed, and as soon as she was satisfied that there was nothing that could lead to a horribly infectious disease and dying a painful, horrible death, she turned her attention back to the conversation.

“I’ll ask you again.” Riley was now standing over Fist, looking straight down at him. “Why did you put out a hit order on Garrus Vakarian?”

“It wasn't personal!” Fist protested, weakly punching the krogan’s leg. Fist looked over at the turian, pleading with him with wide, desperate eyes. “You were poking around in places you had no right to! I had to do something.”

The turian, Garrus apparently, simply folded his arms over his chest, flexing his mandibles slowly. Fist would receive no mercy from him.

“Explain, Fist.” Getting down on one knee, Riley gave him an icy stare. “You really don't want to test my patience.”

“The Broker was bringing to much attention to me.” Fist took a deep breath of air as the krogan let up a little. “I-I needed to get all of the eyes focused away from me.”

“Nihlus. You wanted to kill Garrus because of Nihlus.” Standing, Riley shook her head, disgusted.

“Partly.” Fist admitted, almost begging. He was standing on a knife’s edge, and everything he said would determine the way the next few moments of his life would go. “You were the only one in C-SEC trying to get anything done. With you gone, it would have been easy to shift the blame away from me.”

“That's definitely not going to happen, Fist.” Garrus gave that small chortle that passed for a laugh for turians.

“Do you need anything else from him?” The krogan cocked his shotgun, looking at Riley. “Or can I blow his head off now?”

“Call off your men, Fist. Do something right before you die.” Riley pleaded with Fist. For what reason, Tali wasn’t able to say. He was scum, and he didn’t deserve mercy, not from Riley. Not from anyone. “The people who live here have nothing to do with this.”

Fist’s face twisted in anger. “Fuck yo—“

BOOM!

Fists' head exploded in a shower of skull, grey matter, and blood. Leaning down, the krogan pulled Fist's omni-tool off the corpses wrist and tossed it to Riley, saying, “He’s an idiot. Anything he knows will be on there. He never expected not having the opportunity to wipe it before someone got their hands on him.”

“How do you know that?” Riley glared at him, but Tali could tell that it was only half-hearted. Fist’s death was no real loss to her.

“It's connected to the extranet. Wasn't too hard to hack into.” The krogan shuddered suddenly, looking away even as he shook his head. “He writes down everything.”

“But—"

Everything.” The krogan placed his shotgun on his back magnetic holster. “I know more about that man than I ever wanted to.”

After staring at him for a moment, Riley decided to move right along, turning to Tali. “You have information on Saren. I’d like to hear what you have.”

Tali studied Riley for a moment before nodding, opening her omni-tool. With a few quick taps, she navigated through her omni-tool’s operating system, pulling up her records.

“It’s a little garbled,” Tali explained, looking up at Riley and the rest of her squad.

“That’s fine. As long as it’s usable.” Riley nodded for her to continue. “Go on.”

Without saying anything else, Tali pressed play. Her omni-tool’s speakers flared to life, a low level of static filling the room. A deep voice, unmistakably Spectre Saren Arterius, began to speak.

Eden Prime was a major victory! The beacon has brought us one step closer to finding the Conduit.

Riley smiled, nodding appreciatively. Before she could say anything though, the recording continued and a female voice spoke, cultured and refined.

And one step closer to the return of the Reapers.

“Someone else is working with Saren. That’s… worrying.” Riley cocked her head, pleased but confused all at the same time. “How did you get this recording?”

“I took it from a geth’s memory core.” Tali’s luck might not have been great, but she was proud that she could salvage something out of any situation she found herself in. She was an engineer, and that meant she could make the world around her bend to her will as long as she had the right tools and equipment. “I tracked it for days before it separated from its squad.”

“Impressive.” Garrus actually sounded like he meant it, not something she was used to from turians.

“This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.” Riley smiled, nodding. “The Council needs to hear this. Would you be willing to come with me and present this before them?”

“You want me to go before the Council?” Tali froze, wondering if she had just misheard Riley. She was amazed that she didn’t stutter at all, and that she wasn’t stuttering or making a fool of herself.

“You found it, you should get the credit for it.” The way she spoke, it didn’t sound like she thought it was at all odd for a Quarian to go before the Council.

“I-It would be my pleasure, Commander!” She couldn’t keep herself from squeaking the last word, and she was glad that her blush was hidden behind her visor.

“Alright. Good.” Riley smiled her one more time before turning to face the rest of her squad. “The job's not over people. We still have to take down the rest of the mercenaries in this tower. The people living here had nothing to do with this.”

Opening Fist's omni-tool, Riley poked through it for a moment before grinning and pulling up a surprising feature. “Looks like Fist liked to know where all of his men were.”

On the omni-tool was a map of the tower, with dots representing every single one of Fist's mercenaries.

“Huh.” The krogan grunted, tilting his head. “Convenient.”

“Isn’t it?” Riley didn’t look at all like she was bothered by that fact.

“It looks like most of the mercy are grouped together on this floor,” Garrus said, pointing at the map. “They’re probably keeping the hostages there.”

“We’re going to have to do this carefully,” the human man finally spoke up. “We don’t want any civilian casualties.”

“You’re no fun.” The krogan grunted, rolling his eyes.

“Alright people. Let’s get moving.” Riley pointed at the stairwell. “I have a plan!”

Recreational Floor, Tilican Towers, Citadel

Caesia and Vinyl had found themselves hiding in a storage closet, surrounded by cleaning chemicals that made Vinyl’s nose burn.

On the ground, Vinyl paced back and forth agitatedly, snorting every so often. The room was only five feet wide, but Vinyl did her best to make use of every inch of it. She was incredibly conflicted, and she didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t even been able to tell Caesia what had happened after she had stopped crying, and she had been pacing ever since.

Watching Vinyl, Caesia frowned, wondering what her next step was going to be. She was good, but without any armor, even she would have a lot of trouble going up against at least forty mercenaries. That didn’t bring into the account that she was the woman she used to be. Age affected everyone from the mightiest king to the lowliest peasant.

“What’s wrong?” Turning away from her own problems, Caesia focused on Vinyl instead.

“They’re slavers.” Vinyl snorted, shaking her head as she started the next loop of her pacing, kicking aside a bottle of bleach.

“What?” Caesia focused more on Vinyl, deadly serious. “How do you know that?”

Vinyl stopped, looking up at Caesia with distant eyes. “I saw them… They’ve got ponies in cages in some storage room down there.”

Vinyl pointed with her hoof in the rooms general direction, disgust crawling through her belly. She was supposed to be safe. The Citadel was supposed to be safe! To have that sickness crawling through here… it left her feeling sick.

“Fist is involved in the slave trade…” Caesia blinked, surprised. “I wouldn’t have guessed.”

Vinyl started pacing again. Caesia’s eyes couldn’t help but go to Vinyl’s mechanical leg, understanding flowing through her.

“You were…” Caesia let her sentence trail off, not sure if it was the time or place to be speaking of that.

Vinyl paused, letting her gaze drop to the floor. “… Yeah.”

“I see…” Caesia did see. She understood, and it changed everything. “They won’t get away with it, I promise you, Vinyl.”

“Why not?” Her voice cracking, Vinyl dropped back onto her haunches, starting to hyper-ventilate. “They’ve got guns and hostages and C-SEC is just going to cave to any of their demands.”

“I’ll think of something,” Caesia said, promising her.

All of a sudden, there was a bunch of racket from above them. Caesia and Vinyl hugged the walls and Caesia pointed her rifle up at the vent that suddenly looked a whole lot more threatening than it had just minutes before.

Before they could even think of finding a new room to hide in, the vent cover popped right off and a krogan fell out. He landed on the floor with a CRASH, grunting in pain.

“Ow.” He muttered, rubbing his crest.

With lightning fast reflexes, Caesia had the barrel of her rifle placed at the base of the krogan’s skull, above the first vertebrae of his spinal chord. “You move, I shoot out your eyes and move on to the rest.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.” A feminine voice piped up from above them.

Caesia glanced up to find the barrels of three assault rifles pointing down at her from the vent. Slowly, she raised her hands, setting the rifle down to the side.

“Careful now.”

Two humans, a male and a female jumped down from the vent, followed by a turian, a small quarian, and finally the woman who had first spoken. The storage closet was now packed to the brim, with almost no room to move.

“Alright. I think we were all expecting for the vent to come out somewhere else. That was my bad. I think we took a wrong turn back there somewhere.”

“Krogan aren’t built for vent crawling, Shepard.” The krogan growled.

“It is nice and cozy in here, Shepard. I feel very close to you right now.”

“Who are you people?” Caesia glared at them, unable to feel at all threatened as she felt the heartbeats of three separate people.

“Commander Riley Shepard, Spectre.”

“A human Spectre?” Caesia frowned. She obviously needed to pay more attention to the news.

“It's a new thing,” Riley said with a shrug.

“It's not everyday that a new human Spectre crawls out of the vents.” Rolling her eyes, Caesia didn’t let on how unsurprising that entire statement was to her. Spectres. They were all the same. “Why are you interested in a simple hostage situation? This seems a little below a Spectre's attention.”

“Fist had her.” Riley pointed at the quarian. “I wanted her. Fist is dead, and now she’s a part of my squad.”

“That sounds about right.” Caesia shrugged. Whether the story was true or not didn’t matter to her.

“I think the right question to ask at the moment is, who are you two?” Riley looked first at Caesia, then at Vinyl, who’s blue shock of mane was the only visible part of her amongst the much taller beings surrounding her.

“Caesia Tibrius. I live in the tower with my husband. He has a job as the door man, and he's one of the hostages.”

“I-I’m Vinyl Scratch.” Vinyl eyed all of them, their guns, and their armor nervously, but managed to speak around the lump in her throat. “I live on the top floor with my wife. She's also one of the…"

Riley nodded in understanding. “Well, good news for the two of you, we're here to help you out.”

“I’d like my husband alive at the end of all of this.” Caesia snorted, shaking her head as she crossed her arms.

“You trying to say something?” Her eyes narrowing, Riley leaned forward, ready to defend herself if necessary.

“Civilian casualties have a tendency to skyrocket when Spectres get involved.” Caesia tilted her head, looking away, but not at all ashamed. “He’s rather handsome without a hole in his head.”

“You have a lot of experience dealing with Spectres?” Riley snorted, looking Caesia over.

“Yeah. I do.” She didn’t so much as flinch under Riley’s gaze.

Riley stared at the aging turian woman, then glanced at Garrus who only shrugged, then looked back to Caesia. “Whatever. I don’t have any intention of letting anyone die today.”\

“Except for all those mercs we've shot.” The krogan piped up from his position on the floor, from where he had yet to get up, mostly thanks to lack of room.

“I don't have any intention of letting anyone die who doesn't deserve it. That good enough for you?” Riley met Caesia’s gaze, not backing down.

“I'll keep an eye on you regardless, Spectre.”

“Fair enough.” Turning away from her, Riley opened her omni-tool and pulled up a map of the current floor. “It looks like they’ve got everyone congregated here. There are forty of them, six of us—“

“Seven,” Caesia interrupted.

Riley looked at Caesia, who didn't at all flinch under her look. Riley got the feeling that the woman had seen and done far worse. A Spectre was the least of her worries.

“I can hold my own,” Caesia finally said.

“Alright…” She turned back to her squad. “There's forty of them and seven of us.”

She pointed at the room where Vinyl had found the slaves, making the mare’s eyes widen in recognition.

“It looks like there's another fifteen in here.” “They're keeping slaves in there,” Vinyl said, speaking up from between Riley and Caesia.

“Slaves?” Glancing down at her, Riley studied the little mare.

“Yeah.” Vinyl's voice did more than enough to convince all of them.

“Why am I not surprised.” The turian crossed his arms

“Cause you're not as dumb as you look,” the krogan piped up from the floor.

The turian glared down at him.

“What?” The shrug in his voice was obvious. “It was a compliment. You're not getting anymore from me.”

“How long are they going to keep us here?” Leaning closer to Fidelis, Octavia whispered into his ear.

The past two hours had been some of the most stressful and worrying in her entire life, matched only by those first days after Vinyl’s abduction all those years ago. After being dragged down into one of the tower’s vast storage rooms in its basement, and they had been left there for an hour. Alone in the dark, Octavia was glad that Fidelis was with her. He had been the only thing that had kept her from falling apart in the dark from her fear over where Vinyl was, and what might have been happening to her.

After an hour (at least it felt like an hour, there wasn’t anyway they could have known for sure), thugs had entered the room with bright lights and herded all of the residents of the tower up to the recreational floor, in one of the larger gathering rooms across from the pool. Thankfully there was a clock on the wall this time, and Octavia was able to watch as another hour ticked by.

Octavia and Fidelis were sitting next to each other near the center of the room, surrounded by the rest of the inhabitants of the tower. Most of them were cowering in fear at the sight of the mercenaries, indignant and powerless to do anything about their situation. Out of everybody, Fidelis had the bravest face. He was using his body to shield Octavia from the view of as many of thugs as possible.

“Possibly for quite a length of time,” Fidelis whispered back, his lips barely moving as he spoke. He was careful not to make any sudden movements and draw attention to himself and Octavia. “We can only hope that C-SEC takes care of all of this in a timely fashion.”

“You don't even sound worried!” Octavia shivered, looking towards a group of thugs over Fidelis’ shoulder. They were a motley bunch, and they looked like they could go off at any moment and do something crazy. “Aren't you concerned about your wife?”

“She can take care herself.” Fidelis shrugged, sounding completely unconcerned.

“She's your wife!” The only thing keeping Octavia from running to try and find Vinyl for herself was the fact that it would draw way too much attention to herself and they would start searching the entire tower for the two of them. It simply wasn’t worth it. She had to trust that Vinyl knew how to keep herself safe. “Why aren't you more worried about this? I can't stop thinking about Vinyl.”

“She's retired Blackwatch.” Fidelis snorted, eying the thugs with a barely hidden look of disdain. “She's faced deadlier things then these mercenaries before breakfast.”

“What?” Scrunching up her muzzle, Octavia rolled the new word around in her mind. “Blackwatch?”

“I’m not surprised you wouldn't have heard of them. We like to keep our Special Operations quiet.” We meaning turians. Equestrians still struggled to understand their incredibly militaristic society. “I'm only telling you this so you'll stop worrying so much. One way or another, we'll be out of this soon.”

“No talking!” A thug kicked Fidelis, knocking the wind out of his chest, waving his gun in the air threateningly.

Octavia rubbed circles on Fidelis' back as he struggled to regain his breath, supporting himself with his hands. She nickered softly in the back of her throat.

Finally catching her breath, he straightened back up, nodding to her thankfully, patting one of her foorehooves. Taking a few more moments to make sure his breath was steady, he turned his attention on the thugs, watching them closer.

Through narrow eyes, he watched as the thugs started to get more and more agitated, trying to contact someone with their omni-tools, but to no avail.

Something was up.

Looking around, Fidelis was just barely able to hear the clink of metal as something rolled into the rather large room, and that was only because he was focused in that direction thanks to the thugs. It gave him the millisecond he needed to save his vision.

Grabbing Octavia, he shoved her face against his chest and covered her with his body, ignoring her startled yelp. Slamming his eyes shut, he tucked his head into his chest, but even that wasn’t enough to stop him from being blinded by a brilliant white FLASH that exploded through the room.

Even through his ringing ears, Fidelis was able to hear as gunfire erupted all around them, and the hostages screamed, cowering lower to the floor as they hoped against hopes to not get hit. Fidelis ignored them, making sure that Octavia was completely shielded by his body. She was going to come out of this alive, even if it was the last thing he did.

The firefight seemed to go on for an eternity, but it only lasted for several minutes. The gunfire slowly petered out, and Fidelis lifted his head cautiously. What he found made him smile, as he found that every thug was on the floor dead, or close to death.

From the various entrances to the room, Fidelis watched as three humans, a krogan, a turian, and Caesia emerged. Scrambling to his feet, he hobbled over to Caesia, wrapping her in a big hug.

“Thank the spirits you're alright.” He closed his eyes in relief, feeling her strong heart beat against his chest.

“I wasn’t the one being held hostage. Why were you afraid for me?” Caesia rolled her eyes.

“Maybe so.” Fidelis pulled back, shrugging. “But you're far too reckless.”

“Oh please, this was nothing.” Caesia pulled him back into a shorter hug before turning towards the door.

“It’s safe now,” Caesia shouted. “You can come out now.”

Fidelis watched as Vinyl trotted out from behind the corner, peeking out first to make sure it actually was safe. The moment she saw Octavia blinking confusedly on the ground, she galloped to her wife and tackled her to the ground, wrapping her in the biggest hug that she possibly can.

“Tavi!” Vinyl cried.

“Vinyl?” Octavia latched onto her wife, a huge smile growing on her muzzle despite the fact that she still couldn’t see anything. “You’re alright? Thank Celestia!”

They nuzzled each other, happy that their parting wouldn't be for another ten years.

“Who’s that?” Fidelis asked, nodding his head towards the rather motley squad that Caesia had entered the room together.

“Commander Shepard,” Caesia said. “Human Spectre.”

“Ah…”

“We’re dead!”

The moment that gunfire had erupted several rooms over, the ten remaining mercenaries had barricaded themselves into their storage room to the best of their abilities. They had moved the cages around, turning them into cover as best as they were able to.

“We're dead. We're all going to die!”

“Quiet!” Another mercenary hissed through his teeth. “We'll get out of this, but we just have to be careful. Follow my lead and none of us will die.”

Settling down, the only sound in the room came from the soft breathing of the merchandise from inside their cages, too tired to care what was happening anymore.

Silence.

The sound of footsteps, faint outside.

The mercenaries tightened their grips on their guns, nervousness flowing through their veins. They all wanted to get out of this alive, and they were willing to do anything to make sure that they get through this.

Anything.

The door opened... at least whoever was on the other side of the door tried to open it. It was still blockaded after all.

A gun barrel poked through what little holes were there in the blockade, and it opened fire. The mercenaries fired back.

Though none of the mercenaries noticed it, their panic and desperation too great, the lone gun barrel was aiming directly up at the ceiling to keep from hitting any of the slaves. The mercenaries fired back.

None of them noticed as work torches began to cut through the wall behind them.

The wall falling inwards, a flash-bang bounced into the center of the mercenaries, and it exploded in a fury of light and noise. The ponies in the cages screamed in terror, a cacophony of noise and light.

Before the mercenaries could even think about regaining their vision, Riley and squad stormed in.

It was over in seconds. The mercenaries were dead and none of the slaves had so much as been grazed in the firefight.

Success.

Cause that's how Spectres rolls.

“It's clear!” Riley shouted back through the hole in the wall.

A moment passed, and then Vinyl entered the room, followed by Octavia a few steps behind her. Vinyl did her best to ignore the bodies, stepping up to the nearest cage.

Inside, she found a pale blue teenaged pegasus mare, her eyes glassy and her gaze distant. Vinyl nickered softly, and the mare responded almost automatically. The mare was in no state to communicate with anypony.

“It's going to be alright.” Vinyl tried her best to reassure her. “You're safe now.”

Octavia watched her wife as she tried to comfort all of the slaves, marveling at just how far Vinyl had come. She barely even noticed as Riley stepped up next to her.

“She's a strong mare.”

The sudden voice surprised Octavia, making her jump nearly a foot into the air.

Catching her breath, Octavia looked up at Riley, smiling weakly. “I know. I'm so proud of her.

“I can see that.” Riley looked over at Vinyl. “She's lucky to have you.”

“No. I'm the lucky one. She's my miracle.” Smiling widely, Octavia trotted over to her wife to help her begin freeing the slaves.

Author's Note:

None of you have any idea how glad I am that this whole chunk is over! I've been wanting to move on to the next parts of this story, but this plot thread has persisted in giving me headache. Thankfully, the chapter after the next one will really launch us all off. It feels like I've been saying that a lot, but this time it's the truth.

I do want it to be known that I've moved part of this chapter into the next one. I think where I break here makes more sense then where it used to.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below, and if you wouldn't mind, a like is always appreciated.

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