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A short story by

Matt Burns

"Is it not better to die with that fire still burning in your blood than to live and watch your culture fade into the night?" Taelus said, quoting another part of Vorazun's speech. "Tell the Aiur protoss to come. We will not go peacefully. Korshala Adun, Master."

And then he was gone, disappeared back into the depths of the Citadel.

"Korshala Adun…" Mohandar repeated.

"I heard him," Vorazun replied. What was Taelus thinking? "Korshala Adun" was a phrase the Nerazim used before setting out to battle. It was a farewell that meant, "Until we both meet with Adun," signaling that the warrior did not expect to return alive. "He cannot mean—"

The earth groaned and heaved beneath Vorazun's feet. Her muscles coiled as she fought to maintain equilibrium and keep herself upright. Overhead, an explosion had torn through the top of the Citadel, illuminating the inner courtyard with emerald light. Vorazun grasped Mohandar by the forearm and pressed him against the side of the building. Chunks of stone rained down around them, impacting the ground with enough force to rattle Vorazun's skull.

When the shaking stopped, Vorazun surveyed the damage above. Where once the Citadel had ended in a sharp spire, now mangled metal and cracked stone crowned its top. The explosion had not been set off to destroy the Citadel. It was meant to wake up Talematros.

Taelus, and whoever else was inside, wanted an audience to witness what was to come.

"There are others," Mohandar said.

"Other what?"

"Explosions. Artanis has contacted me through my psi link. Bombs were detonated in some of the orbital shipyards. It does not appear there are any casualties." Mohandar was silent for a moment as he continued speaking with Artanis. "The hierarch will be here soon. Once he arrives, Selendis and her zealots will warp in to the Citadel and apprehend the rebels."

"That is exactly what Taelus desires." Vorazun shook her head. She had expected this to be a mere protest, an act of disobedience meant to embarrass and irritate the Hierarchy. "He wants to sacrifice himself in a fight with the Aiur protoss. How could he be so foolish? We must get inside. I can talk to him. He will listen."

Mohandar swayed on his feet in silence, the psi-link system on his gauntlet pulsing with energy. Finally, he said, "I have explained this to the hierarch. He believes it is too dangerous for us to go in alone."

"There is still a chance to resolve this peacefully."

"Artanis has asked us to pull back for now," Mohandar said.

"Then go." The words came out harsher than Vorazun had intended. She turned away from Mohandar to collect her thoughts. It wasn't the elder's fault that this was happening. In some way, Vorazun feared she was responsible. How had she not seen this coming from one of her own supporters? Had there been signs? Had she ignored them?

Mohandar shuffled to the force field. "You will need a sentry to bore through this, or some other type of weapon. But we do not have the time for that."

"We?"

"You are right. If we can end this without Aiur protoss intervention, it will be better for everyone."

Mohandar's walking stick clattered to the ground. He extended his gnarled hands toward the force field, his frail body trembling from exertion. A small orb of emerald Void energy took shape between Mohandar's palms.

"Well? Are you going to stand there or help me?" The elder groaned, his psionic voice barely a whisper. "I am old, but I still have some surprises left in me."

Vorazun understood immediately what he was doing. She dropped her staff and held out her hands, focusing her mind on the unseen. She reached into the ether, into the Void that was all around them, and gathered what energy she could. A sphere coalesced in her hands, numbing the skin of her palms. In unison, Vorazun and Mohandar channeled the energy into the force field. A gaping hole yawned open in the barrier, large enough for them to crawl through.

* * *

Mohandar stumbled over the pieces of a sentry that lay scattered about the Citadel's inner corridor. From the look of it, Taelus and whoever was with him had disassembled the sentry, torn out its force-field generator, and then used that to create a permanent barrier at the Citadel's entrance. It was no easy feat. The rebels were technically minded and resourceful. That also made them dangerous.

"Let us rest for a moment." Mohandar collapsed against the smooth, featureless wall of the main corridor. Breaking through the barrier had taken more out of him than he'd expected. His mind was growing foggy again. He wanted his mental faculties sharp for what was to come.

"Of course." Vorazun leaned against the wall opposite Mohandar and set her staff beside her. She stared at him, her green eyes like stars in the darkened hallway. "Thank you for coming with me."

"We must do something. In that, you are correct," Mohandar said. "But what you said earlier about removing the Nerazim from the Golden Armada…" He trailed off. He didn't want to bring this up now, but he was still shocked that Vorazun was entertaining such an idea.

"I stand by what I said. Is it not enough that we have given the Aiur protoss a new home?" Vorazun said. "That we have helped them build the Golden Armada? I do not think that Nerazim should die in a war that is not our own."

"Aiur is the home of all protoss," Mohandar countered. "Whether or not we live there matters little. As a symbol, it represents all of us."

"And what will be the price of reclaiming that symbol?"

"Is it the loss of life that troubles you? Or is it the thought that some of our people might one day choose to live on Aiur if the Golden Armada succeeds?" Mohandar asked.

"Both," Vorazun said.

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