DISCLAIMER: Bioware owns the concept of Mass Effect and all of its characters. This fanfic is for entertainment and no profit what-so-ever.
AUTHORS NOTES: It seemed that Shepard would have been a bit more banged up than seen at the epilogue of the Paragon: saving the Council ending. I drew out the drama a bit more. Inspired by the Sam-bashing in SG1 episodes this pays homage to that as well.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Rising From the Ashes
By Elizabeth Carter
World of Oceans
Thessia, homeworld of the asari was a vast orb of oceans dotted with countless islands: some no larger than England others as small as Hawaii. There were no vast continents or great landmasses to be seen. It was if the planet was one massive archipelago.
The whole of the world as a matter of fact is composed of an interconnected system of city-states, similar to those of medieval Italy. The main island was a land of endless fantastical sites and sounds. A realm of legend and lore of dream and wonder, here the regal beings, dwelled in a haven of wind, wave and stone. There were no mega metropolises here as there were on Earth. The air was not clouded with pollution, decayed ozone or toxic wastes. Its pristine nature gave no hint of a race of intergalactic space travelers. It was to here that Liara T'soni brought her mother home.
Home happened to be one of the tallest of the buildings on the planet in the floating city-state of Armali. It was no mere skyscraper but a great cathedral. It could have easily housed Notre Dame a dozen times over with enough room left over for the Taj Mahal, the Great Mosque in Jerusalem, the Louvre and Westminster Abbey to be placed in the forecourt.
Here in the central hall was a great fountain depicting two asari ascending out of the ocean waves in a sensual dance of love, binding and Joining - Embracing Eternity. The whole of the fountain was sculpted not of stone but crystal. Water spouted from the sculpted waves into giant half shells of oysters which themselves were supported by fearsome firaxon sharks. Light from a dozen different sources danced on crystal and water alike giving it a surreal and ethereal quality. The fountain was centralized in the basilica as if it was a holy relic. No doubt lingered in the non-asari minds that this was of great religious significance.
Two broad steps lead down into a cavernous room with attenuated pillars like stalagmites and stalactites. Archways could be seen in the northern, western and southern walls. Each of these exit archways had three descending steps leading into long snaking corridors beyond.
Twin guards stood watch, foreboding and domineering at each of these wings. The warriors were dressed in a like fashion, wearing the colors of the royal honor guard from the ancient days of the asari: silver and blue firaxon shark-scale armor. Their shoulder plates of overlaid semicircles of silver gave the warriors protection from fierce blows without hiding the alluring lines of shoulder and collarbones. Each wore arm bands of sliver and dark azure leather, the silver work depicting serpentine firaxon sharks, with eyes of blazing garnets adding not only to their overall fieriness but protective aesthetic qualities. About their throats the warriors wore silver torcs each with the heads of 'roaring' sharks, into which were set sapphire eyes. The overall effect was both enticing and frightening.
The eight templars turned to the squadron that had passed the gates. They took note of only one. They bowed their head to the daughter of Matriarch Benezia T'soni out of respect, yet said nothing to her.
Liara lead the party past the gates, through an archway to the left and they found themselves ascending a narrow arabesque spiral staircase. The steps seemed without end as they delved deeper and higher into the darkness. The edifices though clearly crafted by mortal architects had the feel as if they had been touched by immortal hands. As the figures below the raised balconies silently testified, they were aeries of ethereal yet aquatic beings. Undoubtedly Shepard, Williams and Tali stood before the home of the great temples of the asari. The whole of the place had the distinct feel as if they were under water.
As they walked, the beautiful angelic like choir echoed perfectly through the marble halls. No human could produce such vocal harmony. No human could generate the perfect a cappella melody as heard here in these halls. And for a moment Liara felt her soul rising as it had many years ago. For it was here in these halls she had been raised by her mother.
Finally the staircase stopped, and they stepped through an opening into a passageway so broad that it was not so much a corridor as an avenue. A line of basalt columns ran down the center of the hall, supporting the arched ceiling high above. The columns were skillfully carved into the shapes of foaming billowing water, conjuring the illusion of walking down a strip of dry land with forever frozen waves towering above them at either side seemingly just at the point of crashing down.
Shepard let out a low sigh, turning her head to try to take in the grandeur of the inner-tower road. She was almost overwhelmed by the glorious surroundings. 'This place is remarkable.' She sent the words for speaking in such a grand domain seemed a sacrilege. 'It is so beautiful, Liara.'
"It's the hall of Athame, it has been here always." Liara took in a deep breath. The weight of years hung heavily on this place. She almost could hear the ghostly ringing of the semantron shaping chants drifting in the air like echoes from the past. "Just wait there is more to come." Liara spoke allowed for the benefit of the others who were just as awe-struck as the Spectre.
The gate was on the far side of the compound yet the drawbridge was drawn up to the portcullis, there were no watchtowers, but then there wouldn't have been. Anyone who had gotten this far would be worthy of an audience with the High Priestess. It was not conceit that there were no watchtowers, but confidence. The asari had not thought that guard towers necessary, for any soul who came this far must be by the grace of the Heavens deemed worthy.
They traversed a long catwalk, leading to yet another antechamber and wending hallway. Below them was a series of low buildings constructed out of the same red coral-colored stone as the walls. The buildings were arranged symmetrically around the central tower in the middle they had glimpsed earlier, supported by fluted crystal columns there was no doubt that the tower was the main temple. Shepard could see between the columns into the dusky interior of the basilica, within she could see figures standing.
Instinct drove Ashley to duck, and take point but as she watched the figures had not moved in the last few minutes. Five then ten then fifteen heartbeats passed and the figures had not moved. "Statues." she said sheepishly.
Liara snickered softly for both had known it to be so. She had frolicked with the daughters of the disciples amongst their stately forms as a child a century ago. Few sounds were as holy or as pure as the sound of children's giggles in their enjoyment of life.
They climbed the rest of the way up over the wall then up again. The chill, damp air caused both of the humans to shiver. On the other side of the wall, once more they stood in awe. This was the last leg of their journey.
They stood beneath a high stone archway, a great arcade that would lead them to the doors of the great temple of the Celestial Waves. Behind them, a corridor stretched into endless shadow. Before them lay their goal. It was glorious and they had yet to even enter the temple proper. Walls of pale blue marble flecked with gold soared upward, vault after dizzying vault. An intricate mosaic adorned the lofty ceiling, depicting a fantastic sky: radiant day shown brilliantly upon one side, while night glittered with jewel like stars upon the other. Light streamed down from the mosaic abovepart of it was sun-gold, part moon-pearlrefracting off the polished walls. It filled the chamber with shimmering luminescence.
In keeping with the ceiling, the gallery's expansive floor was a patchwork of marble flags, depicting the floor plan of a labyrinth, the tunnels picked out in gold flecked white against a background of obsidian and silver. On the far side of the hall, set into a shallow nave, was a door of sapphire.
Shaking the vertigo from her head, Shepard gazed around, her acute vision piercing the dimness of the canopy. They were in the center of a large circular chamber. Soon they would find themselves amid a maze of dark passageways and shadow-filled halls, the labyrinth depicted on the chamber floor. High archways opened to the right and left. Corridors doubled back on themselves or ended abruptly in blank walls. Some stairwells led to nowhere, while others delved higher into the heart of the towers until at last they came to a majestic door.
The heavy intricate door seemed to open, as if some unknown hands touched them and drawn them slowly apart. Shepard couldn't catch her breath. Awe inspiring exhilaration filled her to her very soul. It seemed like her own body was filled with brilliant light from the Celestial Waves. She couldn't move, couldn't talk so overwhelming was this experience. Tears slowly came down her face. The beauty so surreal also struck Ashley and Tali as well; even Liara was moved as she always was whenever she entered the temple.
The Spectre slowly followed her lover up the uneven steps to the door. The young Captain could feel her breath catch in her throat as she entered the temple of Athame. The troop stopped dead in their tracks. Before them lay crystal. The whole chamber was made of crystal. Not only that, but the crystal formations hung from the ceiling and fountained up from the floor, their prisms transforming the chamber with soft pastels of multicolored lights, slowing relaxing ebbing and flowing with each step Liara, Shepard, Ashley and Tali took. The air seemed crisped and clear, yet it wasn't cold immersed all the cool crystal radiated a warmth so inviting so wonderful filling ones soul with easy and complete love. This was the 'embrace' of the Goddess.
As always, it took Liara's breath away. Even in the midst of such beauty Shepard's eyes were drawn to Liara who seemed to sparkle around the crystal almost placing their light to shame. As lithe archeologist looked to her lover her sapphire eyes started in wonder, not for the chamber but for her beloved, whose light she had seen was brighter still and the doctor sworn she glimpsed wings not unlike those of the phoenix glowing in radiant flames behind her. Of course it was a trick of the light. As soon as Samantha shifted her position a fraction of an inch the effect vanished.
The crystals reflected all the colors of the universe. Like rainbows caught in droplets of dew on a spider's web. Each step was like stepping into a wonderland of grace and majesty. They became as children who stared wonderment at the world where everything was new and magical.
The staircase was slender elegant in its simplicity, unlike the last they had traveled. Like the chamber itself it was made out of crystal, except this crystal looked fragile handspun. So delicate that one small touch would bring it down shattering it into a million pieces at their feet. Shepard hesitated as Liara placed her hand on the delicate beauty of the staircase handrail. It felt cool to the touch a degree or two from the warmth of the chamber. She slowly stepped onto the first tread, gradually increasing the amount of weight she placed on it but quickly discovered that despite appearances it was as strong as any metal. Its fragile facade was just that. Much like the asari themselves. Together they approached the innermost sanctuary of the Temple where sat the diocese, the High Wisdom of the asari.
It was difficult to believe they were still inside the massive towers, but it was so, for even here the waves of the ocean sang to them. Nothing the Spectre had seen in her all her travels of the mass relays were so awe-inspiring. Her eyes feasted upon the sight. It was stunning. The central room was an enormous chamber flooded by the warm glow of willow-the-wisps. Its walls were constructed of triangular and trapezoidal panels of marble exquisitely striated and glistening with moisture, resembling the ocean herself.
The floor of the chamber was an elaborate mosaic of concentric circles some parts translucent and illuminated from beneath by the same magic glow of the rolling-waves decorated with mysterious yet somehow familiar symbols. At the center of this was a circular table made of primeval ebony-violet crystal, glowing with the same spectral light as the pellucid sections of the walls.
The home of the priestesses was in a word, breathtakingly beautiful. It was a perfect marriage between the Hall of Wisdom and the home of the asari. Crystal and sculpted stone, carved in eloquent lines of curves and zoomorphic creatures: those that Shepard recognized as firaxon sharks, dolphins, she-lions, varren, stags, harvesters, thresher maws, others appeared to be sculpted asari of renowned beauty that only bards had ever dreamed of.
Marble blended, no merged into crystal so seamlessly there was no way to tell were one left off and the other began, white stone made arabesque love to dark crystal, both polished so such smoothness, that the edifice became a child of wonderful creation.
The walls, ceiling, lintels and frames of the doors were carved into glorious depictions of asari life. Here in the priestess's home the story seemed to be the matriarchal history of each past high priestess into the beginning of the first asari, the Lady herself who gave birth to a nation.
The domicile was both practical and beautiful, was there any home in the asari domain that was not so? Shepard thought to herself: would she ever grow accustomed to seeing such splendor? The serene beings seemed to surround themselves with beauty and yet, it was not garish and boastful. Here there was no proclamation of wealth and blatant stature; simply put the asari surrounded themselves with the beauty of nature itself. Delicately shaped wood carvings, crystal formations, woven leaves of the massive redwoods and a dozen unnamable nuances caused the over all affect of wonder. The asari revealed in the glory of nature.
What drew the Spectre's attention the most was a crystalline statue of a beatified priestess clad in leather and metal. Not only was the subject enticing, as it was a warrior-queen astride a fanged firaxon shark riding it as one might a dragon. But whatever material the carving was fashioned from, appeared to mimic the exact texture of skin, leather, metal rather than stone. The leather and metal cuirass that covered the asari breast, stomach and back was truly an astounding marvel of artistic craftsmanship. Arm-guards, greaves, bracers; all carried that same definite appearance of spiraled metal designs upon leather, the tabard, knee length boots, scabbard of the sword across her back as well as five sheaths of the daggers she was armed with looked as leather should, so much so Shepard had to reach out to touch the stone to ensure herself that it was crystal she was touching. The skin of the carving bore the appearance of true flesh, and again the Spectre stretched out her hand to touch it.
"That is Athame." Liara whispered to Samantha. "Isn't she beautiful?"
For the first time, Samantha looked at the face of the woman depicted in the crystal statue. She had almond shaped eyes as did many of the asari; however like Liara her eyes were larger and her eyelashes were also longer, giving her a very distinctive feline gaze. Her cheekbones were so high they looked almost hollow. Her heart-shaped face gave a very deceptive air of innocence, but there was unmistakable strength in that gaze, in that set mouth. This was a being that one did not anger, not if you wanted to live. Yet in that same gaze was undeniable love and wisdom. The sculpture was so exacting Samantha thought that even the delicate windswept crest would have the soft velvet feel that her lover's had.
"She is beautiful." The Spectre responded. "Did she really ride a firaxon shark?"
Liara nodded her head. "So tradition would have it. In the first days of creation asari were born of the vast oceans. We came from the waters and there we go back. The firaxon shark has always been in these waters. They are regarded with reverence. I think much like the infant sheep on earth. The sharks are pure in form; their greatness knows no enemies save the ocean herself. They have hunted ancient prehistoric asari as we have hunted them. It is said that Athame herself made peace with the oldest mother of the firaxon sharks the Progenitor and a harmony was born between the two tribes. Tentative but it is there. Because Athame calmed the rage in the great mother shark, they have become a synonymous symbol of the goddess.
"Firaxon sharks are important to asari not only as a food source, but sacramentally as well. A roasted shark is important to every holy feast. Hunting the shark is also a holy activity. I had my first hunt when I turned thirty to mark the end of one tri-cycle of maidenhood and my entry into the next stage. Each stage of an asari life has three cycles in and of itself. Infant, youngling and Maiden are the first.
"When an asari daughter leaves the age of youngling to enter full Maidenhood she is given the right to take part of the most holy of hunts. Armed with only blades we stalk, hunt and bring to the surface a firaxon shark. When we first become matrons it is our duty to lead maidens in that same first hunt. It has always been this way, even for those who worship Siari, our other mainstream religion, they also take part in the Great Hunt."
"So you go scuba diving to hunt sharks?" Ashley asked astounded.
"Prehistoric asari had gills to breathe underwater as well as nostrils to breath in air upon the surface; our ancestors were aquatic sentient mammals. The gills atrophied eons ago." Liara pointed to the gentle folds on her neck.
Shepard was a little amazed by this. She knew those soft curves quite well, there was no sign they had once been the gills of Neolithic cave-dwelling asari.
"We only have a trace where they once were however, that is the only true resemblance we hold to our aquatic prehistoric ancestors. Well that and the fact that our bodies can withstand high pressures of the deep seas. We are not prone to what humans call the bends. We can swim several fathoms below the waves where a human or any other sapient race could not. Because of our transparent third eyelid we are able to see underwater as well as above." Liara continued to explain. "As I said when we perform the hunt we are armed with only our biotics, a blade and a compact rebreather. We go into the oceans as we are brought into the world to hunt the shark."
"Wait a minute you go hunting those big freaking firaxon sharks, naked! They can get as big as a blue whale!" Williams stated in open mouthed awe. "You you hunted a firaxon shark in the buff. Somehow I can't see you doing that, Doc."
"Some would think the cannibalistic consumption of the human's god to be unbelievable and quite astonishing: it is to many asari. Why should you hold my beliefs under scrutiny Ashley when you yourself had partaken of this human sacred 'feast' yearly?" Liara pointed out.
"Well yeah but that's symbolic. We don't actually eat God's body or drink his blood."
"Reality and symbolism are often one and the same in religion are they not?"
"That is a very valid point, Li." Shepard added her viewpoint. "Great Hunts have had their part in religious ceremonies on Earth. Makes sense other races would have their own versions of it."
"I think I still prefer the Lamb of God rather than the Shark of the Goddess." Ashley said without insult in her tone. She wasn't about to tell T'soni sharks scared the hell out of her. They had since her surfing accident in the Great Coral Reef nature preserve on Earth when a great white decided she might make a nice snack. She had been fourteen at the time and visiting her grandparents who lived in New Zealand. Fortunately she was rescued by a patrolling coast guard without incident. Still Williams had no love for Jaws.
"I don't relish the idea of hunting a shark any more than you do Lieutenant. I prefer the Pilgrimage to mark my coming of age." Tali said. She didn't repress the shudder of fear the sculpture of the great shark had given her.
"A daughter's first Great Hunt is only one stage of reaching adulthood. I have yet to take part in the Second Hunt. That will not be for another two centuries. At that time I will have become a matron. I am still quite young by my peoples' standards."
"Yeah don't remind me I'm basically robbing the cradle." Shepard muttered. "On earth you might be old enough to be my grandmother, but you're still barely of consenting age. There's a special kind of hell for people like me."
"Your God would condemn you to damnation for taking Dr. T'soni as a mate?" Tali was intrigued by this prospect.
"Because of her youth it might seen as taboo." Ashley said. "But Skipper it's not like Liara is a kid or a teenager or anything."
'You never told me, my youth troubles you so.' Liara thought for a moment before touching Samantha's face. "It would also be scandalous because of your age in my culture would it not? You have only just turned thirty. That is practically a youngling."
"It comes down to equivalent ages, Lover. You're what in human age - somewhere in your early twenties?"
"I would say that is accurate yes. A decade separates us if you wish to go by that measurement, rather than me being eighty-seven years your senior. Chronological ages are in the case moot. Besides I believe our Union to be blessed by the Goddess. Your occasional adaptation of her usage in your language tells me that you have in some level accepted her presence in your life. If only because of me. I believe she now watches over you as if you were an asari daughter."
Samantha smiled. "Okay answer me this. If I was a hundred and six year old asari would you have a relationship with me, is it acceptable?"
"It would be yes. Our first century often marks the time of exploring our sexuality as much as we explore the galaxy around us. If we were only in our thirties it would be greatly discouraged as we would be bordering just under the age of consent. I think as most humans view teenage sex. After the first Hunt we are seen as mature enough to explore sexuality and the act of Joining. It is also the time when daughters undergo training to become huntresses. The average daughter will devote her first twenty to thirty years studying martial arts. I did. After that however I chose to purse an academic life rather than become a warrior. " She smirked devilishly. "Quite rebellious actually as I pursued archeology rather than any the traditional sciences or accepted field of academia."
"That's rebellious?" scoffed Ashley. "My parents would have loved your idea of being a rebel. My mother went ape-shit when I got a tattoo. My dad just laughed, then told me I better not get any more if I wanted to continue to live rent free under his roof. I was sixteen."
Shepard smiled. "I thought I was being rebellious getting ink myself around the same age. But then of course my mom has a rose on her ankle and my dad has Chinese dragon on his back so I simply ended up following another family tradition."
"The phoenix on your right bicep." Liara touched Shepard's arm. "I think it is quite beautiful. In asari culture face markings are very common. A mother would not be displeased about getting 'ink'. So then how did you rebel?"
"Went into Special Ops and became an N7, rather than regular Navy."
"That just made them proud of you." Liara pointed out.
"Yeah pretty much." She nuzzled Liara. "Guess I make a terrible rebel. Though stealing an alliance warship had its moments."
"Not so rebellious there either, Skipper. We were all acquitted in lieu of our saving the collective asses of the galaxy."
"What of being engaged to an asari?" Liara offered.
"You kidding? My parents love you! Making them understand the age difference was a little wiggy at first. I think they were a little reserved because of our ages. It's hard for them to reconcile you're exactly the same age as my dad's mom and yet very young. My father thought I was taking advantage of you. In his eyes you're a kid."
"This is why you felt so guilty." Liara reasoned. "I will tell him our age difference is irrelevant. We are both mature enough to enter into a long lasting relationship."
Samantha grinned widely feeling reprieved. She didn't want to admit just how much Liara's youth troubled her. She felt sometimes lecherous with Liara and not the good sort that lovers share between each other.
"As I said before we met I never considered it, never was interested in such acts of Joining. You intrigued me then as you do now, Samantha." Liara sent a wave of desire into the Specter making her gasp slightly in reflection of that desire.
"Liara, please not in front of the squad-mates."
Ashley and Tali giggled conspiratorially. Shepard gave them a fierce glare which would have made a krogan battlemaster piss his hardsuit, unfortunately it only served to make other women laugh all the harder.
"Laugh it up you two. You'll be scrubbing the sink-tanks with your toothbrushes when we get back to the Normandy."
"Sorry Skipper, but that was such a parent thing to say." Ashley was still snickering.
Liara herself was rather amused, she could feel Samantha had felt no shame in their words or touches. She felt guilt perhaps for having such desires in a holy place and in front as someone as young as Tali but not for the act itself.
"Asari are very open and expressive of our sexuality as I have told you. There can be no sin where there is none in the eyes of the Goddess. In fact we honor her graciousness with our affections." Liara said for as much for Samantha's benefit as to that of Ashley and Tali. "Such deep and true affections honor her greatly."
"What of the day?" Samantha asked with a dignitary's voice when she had referred to their true purpose here on the asari homeworld.
"In a day of grief, the show of love is often the best reprieve from despair."
Samantha regarded Liara for a moment before taking hold of her tightly and soundly kissing her with all the passion within her soul. Liara let out a moan of pure wanton desire. She hungrily returned the kiss that elicited the Spectre's own murmurs of need.
Ashley and Tali both quietly vacated the area, deciding perhaps discretion was indeed the better part of valor.
"I didn't think affection like that was possible," Tali whispered to the Lieutenant as they parted.
"Me either," Williams commented albeit a bit jealously. "To love like that, to be loved like that, I can only dream of it."
"Perhaps is it because you have yet to find the right person, Lieutenant." The young quarian pointed out. "When I find someone I hope to be cared for and loved like Dr. T'soni and the Captain love each other. I would like to give that kind of affections and receive them."
"Yeah me too," Ashley said more softly. "They've got a good thing going. So it's up to us to make sure nobody quashes it."
"People like those ruffians of Terra Firma?"
"Then we will watch out for them." Tali vowed.
Liara pulled back from the kiss breathlessly. Her eyes slowly shifted back from complete black to their usual azure hue. The Spectre's own eyes had completely dilated, a clear indictor how incredibility aroused she had become. Her breath came in great gulps in her struggle to control her passions.
"Kissing one's beloved in Athame's cathedral might be acceptable but I don't think I could 'Embrace Eternity' without feeling I've committed a sin." Shepard said nipping Liara's throat. The asari's hands by their own measure started to undo the collar of the Spectre's mess dress uniform. She had no desire to stop, or nullify her desires for Samantha.
"The others are waiting." Samantha moaned wanting this feeling of longing to last.
"Perhaps you are right. Later you are mine."
"No arguments there, Babe. Come we should catch up. I think they went to inspect the statue of Athame a little closer."
Ashley and Tali were indeed at the statue. At fist they had retreated there to give Shepard and T'soni privacy but had become fascinated by the flawless lines, curves and the sheer perfection of the work of art. There was absolutely no sign of tool marks on the crystal, no indication that it had been made by mortal hands.
For herself, Shepard was drawn to the image of the Goddess. The air of power swirled around her as a cloak both heavy and of wondrous shining light. She was power. She was the mother of a nation, and once more she knew it and was comfortable with her power. Athame of the asari held the very seat of strength, heart, power and essence of what it was to be alive.
Athame was everything a woman could wish to be, intelligent, strong of heart, spirit and body. She was more champion than even Lancelot or even the first human Spectre could ever have achieved. Looking at the stature it seemed to change as if by some glamour instead of a proud warrior there was now a child. Her eyes were large and innocent; the expression was one of wanderlust, curiosity and awe.
"What the " Ashley stopped her profanity in time. This may not be her sacred place of reverence but it was a sacred place of reverence. One simply did not swear in a church. "Why did her face change?"
"Athame is the threefold Goddess Maiden, Matron and Matriarch. Our lives are manifest of this as there are three stages of life to asari." Liara explained.
"Like the ancient belief of Gaia in the old Celtic days. My father's ancestors way back in the Iron Age came from the druids. Gaia had three faces, Maid, Mother and Crone. She was also called Mother Earth. " Shepard said.
"What of your mother's people? Liara asked clearly intrigued.
"Actually they had a reverence the Earth Mother too. My mother's people had a great reverence for the oceans as well. The killer whales or rather the orcas you can only see in zoos now were highly revered, so were several other animals. They became totems. My mother's people were of the Salish who lived in Canada and the North West of America way, way back. Like I said some of Earth's ancient people had their own great hunts. Hunting the orca was one such hunt. Of course they don't do it anymore. "
'Is it not ironic, Samantha that the ancestors of your parents revered the three faced Goddess and the oceans and that you are now Joined with an asari?' Liara's tender thoughts were laced with bemusement.
'Irony or is it destiny?' Shepard smiled back.
Ashley saw a smile slip upon the asari's lilac lips. It was unnerving to see a conversation but not hear it. The connection between the skipper and T'soni had only grown stronger since Liara had joined her mind to Shepard's in order to save her. Now it appeared they had a telepathic connection.
'Perhaps a little of both, my love.'
The statue changed faces and bodies once more, this time it was that of a Matriarch, the same eyes remained, the expression not unlike Benezia's when she was herself in those final moments on Novaria. The gaze actually reminded both Ashley and Shepard not only of the asari Councilor but of the Consort was well. The same confidence of the Matron was there but stronger somehow there was the wisdom of age behind the crystal gaze.
"So how did the asari come to be?" Shepard asked. "Did Athame create your people after her own image?"
Liara grinned as she wrapped her arms around her lover's. It clearly pleased the young woman that her lover had taken a keen interest in her people from an academic and religious standpoint. She leaned her head on the other's shoulder as they watched the statue of the Goddess morph once more back to the Matron aspect they had first encountered.
"Before asari came to this world of oceans, other dreamers lived here. Legends are unclear, for this period of pre-asari residence is not spoken of much in asari myth. It is believed that the spirits lived on the islands within the submarine caverns but they had long gone by the time asari were born of wave, tide and breath. Who where the people of the islands? Where they asari or spirit? No one can say.
"They vanished perhaps because in order to live spirits must be dreamt about. Had their dreams run out? Perhaps they could only live for so long on the remnant memories of those who dreamed them into existence. For when the dreamer dies or awakens her dreams must slowly fade into the Mists. They disappeared without a trace. The daughters of their dreams stayed on the islands a while longer, but eventually faded away themselves, leaving hints and traces - and their names - to the new asari.
"The asari of today claim their heritage from the oceans, but they recognize and hold holy some secrets left from those who came before them, from a much older, more primal dream. The greatest of these dreams gave form to void, from that void came Athame. Her voice was the sound of waves breaking upon the rocks. Her touch soft as the still waters of a tide pool, her wrath like the raging floods. Her love is as encompassing that the depths of the oceans themselves. In her greatness she was lonely. The void that gave birth to her gave birth to fire, stone and crystal. From these elements Athame whispered her dreams. Those dreams gave form to the asari. Athame had children to tend to.
"The vast Ocean Matriarch already teaming with life, made room for the new children of dreams, water and fire. From the oceans the first asari learned the ways of the firaxon shark to be brave and wise in the hunt, to be patient and stealthy in the ambush. They learned the frolic dance of the white dolphins and to play and leave worry behind as all young must do. They learned also to love and embrace their sexuality. They learned the secret ways of the great stingrays to disguise themselves, to have patience and strike when it is most advantageous. From this they became great huntresses. They looked into night and saw the vastness of the stars and learned to forward think and leave behind the now of time that the beast of the waters could only think. They learned to embrace eternity.
"Kindness and hospitality were an important part of life; they were a part of the Breath of Athame and the Way of SiariAll is One. A spirit of love that is still deeply ingrained in our culture. The first asari learned the importance of maintaining the ecological balance on an island. The first priestesses, the first Matriarchs' wisdom was deferred to. We have always held a culture that values consensus and accommodations. There has never been impetus to form larger principalities. Our world has always been dotted with loose confederacies of great republican city-states. Rather than hoard resources, the asari of the past as today barter freely. Rather than attack one another over differing philosophies we sought to understand one another. Just as we seek to understand other species today.
"We have no politicians, no elections, in our own inner government. Despite the fact that we were instrumental in founding the Council, we ourselves have no world government but a free-wheeling, all-inclusive legislature that citizens can participate in at will. It has always been thus. All aspects of policy are open to the plebiscite at any time. In any given debate, we tend to lend the most credence to the opinions of any Matriarchs present, nearly always deferring to the experience of these millennia-old women. In the far ancient days it was they who declared what time of year a certain fish could be caught and for how long; in this way, the fish were allowed ample time to restore their numbers. The same was true of many aspects of early asari interaction with the plant and animal life on the islands. Even today it is the Matriarchs who declare when and what fish to hunt.
"Our homeworld's islands have a unique ecosystem where the plants and animals have few defenses against predators, having developed so long without them. There are no native poisonous plants, and few plants have thorns or other painful physical defenses. The guidance of the Matriarchs-High Priestesses allowed the first asari to live in harmony with beings that were never hostile to them. Most asari still hold the ancient system sacred. We hearken back to traditional culture even as conventional thought and wisdom have us always looking to the future. To break such taboos is to bring grave harm not only to the taboo-breaker, her companions and oathmates but to the whole of creation. Some say Benezia became a taboo-breaker for joining Saren. That she brought her fate onto herself." Liara looked down at her feet, uncertain if she felt shame for this accusation or anger that it had been murmured.
"Matriarch Benezia sought to tame Saren as the Goddess Athame sought to tame the mother firaxon shark from her madness and wrath. The results were catastrophically different. Benezia broke no taboo but strove to heal that which could not be healed, could not be redeemed or saved." Samantha whispered sagely. "There can be no blame for actions taken that the Goddess herself had done. The Goddess brought reason to a shark. Your mother attempted to face off Sovereign's indoctrination in that same verve. The odds favored Athame."
Liara lifted her head and stared at her lover in awe, respect and great affection. Their close touch allowed these emotions to be transmitted from one to the other. "You always know the words to make me feel at ease. You have always shown me kindness, and understanding Samantha, even before we were Joined. Your heart is asari."
"Flatterer," Shepard smiled playfully before kissing her beloved's lips tenderly. "We should hurry though; no doubt the ceremony is ready for us. The guests should have arrived by now."
With her usual prescience, the Spectre took Liara's delicate hand into her own and gave it a gentle squeeze. "However you need me, Liara I'll be there for you. Always."
A smile that never quite reached blue eyes found Liara's lips. "I know, thank you." She brought the Captain's hand up to her mouth and placed a butterfly's kiss upon the back of the knuckles. "Samantha, your willingness to take part of the funeral rites means more to me than I can describe. You have been a source of great strength and support to me. You have given me the freedom to grieve, to feel the loss of my mother but remember her as she was before the fall. Thank you for everything."
Samantha brought Liara into her arms holding her tight. "I wouldn't be anywhere else, Liara but at your side. You needed to grieve so that you can heal. Take as long as you need, Liara I'll be here."
The four women left the long gallery for the doors which would take them to the grand balcony of the bastion.
The top-most tower of the floating city's cathedral opened into avenues grand in nature and façade. So astonished were the humans and quarian they could hardly process what they were seeing. Pillars of spun glass became an arcade of hanging gardens. Flowers of a hundred different colors dotted the architecture like fireworks in a night sky. Waterfalls cascaded from roofs and spires as brilliant, glorious daylight streamed though the water and refracted into rainbows that sparkled across the gardens. Even in this day of mourning the grandeur placed a smile on all who had taken view of it.
Parishioners and guests of the bereaved had already been seated upon marble benches that surrounded the open air sanctuary like a Grecian amphitheatre waiting for Liara to arrive. They all rose as she entered the 'stage' and took her place at an empty altar. Coming out of the wings of the garden were the high-priestesses of Athame. All of them were wearing similar robes that Lady Benezia had been wearing during her final confrontation on Novaria. The color and cut were exacting, yet these garments had the air of holiness about them that was lacking in those worn by the indoctrinated Matriarch.
At the head of the honored Matriarchs was none other than the captain of the Destiny Ascension - Matriarch Lidanya. On her left was Councilor Lei'cree to the left was Consort Sha'ira. Behind them came Shiala and lastly Racen Abstergo, both of whom had been disciples of Benezia: one who followed her in the belief they would stop Saren, the other remained behind on Thessia, yet both were devoted to their departed Matriarch. Behind them were acolytes both of Athame and Siari as well as the remainder of Benezia's disciples.
Matriarch Lidanya held out her hand over the altar causing a minor shift of biotics to gently lift the enshrouded body of Matriarch Benezia up from a hidden container within the altar itself. The body's nude form was covered discretely by a sheer black translucent veil. Her once blue skin had turned to an ashen gray just visible under the cloth. The Asari held to the belief that as you came into creation nude; you should depart creation the same way.
Liara gasped softly in the presence of her mother's body. Samantha was there immediately holding her lover, sending her love, support and strength.
'I am here.'
'I need you.'
'I'm here baby. I'm here. Lean on me, I'll hold you. I will always hold you. You can do this, baby. I will be strong for you. Grieve, just grieve.'
And Liara did.
Matriarch Lidanya's hand still hovered above the veiled corpse. Her voice strong and clear became as a lark's song in the ears of those who heard it. "All is One. The universe is a consciousness, every life within it is an aspect of the greater whole, and death is a merging of one's spiritual energy back into greater universal consciousness. Matriarch Benezia T'soni's spiritual energy has returned to the universal consciousness, and one day will be used to fill new mortal vessels. There is unity between disparate shards of the universe's awareness. As her spirit has returned to the universe, her body shall be returned to the oceans. We take from the mother waters the great firaxon shark. Their life given to nourish us so we may live and so we return to them the offering of life so they may prosper."
That was the cue for Liara to step forward. "All is One." She said while pouring water from the hand blown blue glass vase she held over her mother's body. The vase was of the thinnest of glass, which had been formed into the shape of the sacred firaxon shark, its open mouth formed the spout.
Next came Samantha, who like her betrothed poured water from her vessel over the body. "All is one." She said reverently, and then took a step back to stand beside her lover. She had been included in the ceremony not only because she was to take Liara as a bride, but for her last interaction with the Matriarch. Benezia had entrusted her the charge of stopping Saren and she had. No one begrudged the Spectre's role in the funeral rites, in fact the gathered asari thought it quite fitting.
Shiala, Sha'ira, Councilor Lei'cree and Racen approached one by one they poured water from their glass shark vessels while speaking the ritual words. Each of them had had a connection to the Matriarch. Two of them had been disciples, one a former lover, the other a trusted friend.
Once each urn had been emptied they were collected by six more former disciples of Benezia's. They knelt with heads bowed, waiting for the ceremony to continue. Once more Matriarch Lidanya stood at the crown of Benezia's body. She had a second smaller vase. This contained not water but the sacramental winter wine. The wine itself was unusual in that it had a purplish-blue hue not unlike asari blood.
It was often joked by the members of the other races that the grapes that went into making it 'caught a chill'. This was quite true, as the grapes were allowed to freeze on the vine. They were harvested and crushed while still frozen. Winter wine is very strong and sweet. The Chessentan berries that give it the blue tinge also lend it a unique spicy tone. Because of its hue the asari religious sects often used it for ritual and ceremonies, as it was now used to anoint the brow of the deceased.
Again Liara took her place at her mother's body. She stretched out her hand; her body glowed in the brilliant light of element zero. The others followed suit, simultaneously the other biotics used their powers to change the temperature around the body to sub-zero freezing the body in a shell of ice. In the next instant they willed the body to hover above the altar. Suspended by gentle biotic lifts from each 'pallbearer' the body was guided to the edge of the great wall of the upper balcony that overlooked the vast ocean. As if in a carefully choreographed dance each biotic lowered the body into the frigid waters. The ice would melt soon enough allowing the body to sink below the waves where it would feed the Progenitor, the great mother of the firaxon sharks.
As one the parishioners and guests rose from their crystal pews and filtered out of the open air sanctuary back into the cathedral. Only those of the Normandy crew that had grown a close friendship with the Prothean expert remained behind. Wrex and Garrus had been in the back rows feeling very much out of place in the regal seating of Athame's temple. They were joined by Joker and Dr. Chakwas as well as the elder Shepards and lastly the rest of the Council including Councilor Anderson. One by one they offered their condolences to Liara before taking their leave that is to say all but the Shepards, who like Consort Sha'ira, Councilor Lei'cree and Shiala opted to remain behind. Ashley and Tali remained steadfast as well. They knew the asari had very philosophical approach to death, but they had only their own experiences to fall back on.
Both Ashley and Tali had lost a beloved parent, and so both of the other women knew the wealth of emotion that comes with such a loss. They both knew words after a fashion meant little though you accepted them nonetheless. And so they did what good friends do, they stuck around if Liara needed a shoulder to cry on (despite that shoulder no doubt would be Shepard's) a buddy to laugh with or someone to sit quiet with. This they could do easily and willingly.
Liara had no strength to see them. She had seen death before, had even caused it. But this was so different. She thought herself ready to move on from her bereavement but sometimes reality isn't what we make it out to be in the planning stages.
"Thank you everyone, but I think I'll take her back to the hotel, she needs some time." The Spectre said the protection in her voice clearly evident.
"Of course." Hannah Shepard said for all of them. "You need anything, anything at all Liara we're all here for you. We're your family now."
The asari nodded slowly. "Thank you for your kindness. I I just want my Samantha." Her voice was scarcely more than a whisper.
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