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While cold and treacherous, the cover of night proved valuable. Teredal had barely reached the halfway mark on the fourth leg of his journey when he almost ran into a pair of ultralisks.
Two of them!
His well-honed reflexes brought him to a skidding halt as heavy, low-frequency moans echoed off the rock wall at Teredal's side. Ducking behind an overhang, the zealot tried to still his trembling legs.
He had been following a narrow series of canyons for most of the course, leaving its shelter only when it wound too far from his destination. But the canyons had soon run out, and Teredal had been forced to follow a cliff wall. While it was better than running across an open plain, the zealot felt exposed and tried to keep his eye focused on whichever boulder, crevice, or overhang lay ahead in case he had to find cover. It was an exhausting habit he had picked up during the siege of Torenis Prime, requiring the mind and reflexes to stay in constant, frenetic motion when they wanted nothing more than to surrender to the calming rhythms of running. The habit saved his life.
The ultralisks had been preparing to descend from the cliff above him (part of the ledge had crumbled and provided footing for the monstrous creatures). Some part of his mind had recognized their calls bouncing off the nearby rocks. Teredal's instincts had directed him underneath the overhang almost before he consciously noted them. The ultralisks stomped past the ridge above Teredal's hiding spot, their massive pillar-legs sending tremors through the cliff, and cascades of rock and sand tumbled loose. He fought the urge to ignite his blade and attack. Some action, some blood, a vent to his pain after this day and night of running. But Teredal knew the fight would cost him energy and time that he did not have.
Save it for the beacons. There will be blood soon enough.
As he waited for the beasts to pass, the zealot tried to rest his aching hearts. The pain had steadily grown over the night. He flexed his right arm and tightened the bindings that held the claws in place. They were moist with slowly seeping blood; Teredal worried that some zerg infection was keeping the wound from healing. The edicts of his order forbade the use of alien tissue and weaponry for just this reason, but Teredal suspected that this desecration of protoss flesh and armaments was less of a priority than completing his suicide mission. This would be over long before a little blood loss was a factor.
Enough rest. The ultralisks are gone. Time to move.
He crept out from under the ledge and scanned the cliff top for movement against the stars. There was nothing. It was odd to see a pair of ultralisks patrolling like that; usually the heavy creatures charged into the brunt of battle, where blood was certain.
Unless they were not patrolling. Unless they were sent to confront an aexilium of protoss along a suspected path of travel.
Teredal nodded to himself. It was further evidence that the zerg were indeed controlled by a conscious and tactically minded entity. Not incontrovertible, but another piece in the puzzle. He began to run again; his pace quickened. He knew that the final picture would become clear at the next beacon.
It came sooner than that.
The hive was directly in his path. Teredal had avoided two more patrols: a group of hydralisks and another ultralisk. This time both had been accompanied by overlords, and he had recognized their movements as search patterns. The overlords had been glistening with what Teredal recognized as zerg embryonic fluids—evidence that the creatures had been newly spawned from a nearby hive. And sure enough, as he had continued cautiously forward, the unmistakable clicking of drone mandibles had rattled through the thin air. Cursing the delay, Teredal circled wide around the sound. Already the journey had taken longer than he had planned. It would be a race to beat the dawn.
There was a stretch of empty space between where one canyon ended and another began. The gap was not large—only the distance of fifty paces or so—and Teredal could see no way around the opening that would not require him to backtrack. He would have to sprint.
He crouched low and clenched his fists, summoning his strength for a burst of speed. He traced a circle across his chest and then leapt out of the shadows and into the starlight.
Ten paces… Twenty… Thirty… Almost there—
He caught a glimpse of the zerg hive in the twilight to his left, and what he saw brought him to an abrupt halt. Two tall, slender towers, each tipped with a bulbous minaret. They gleamed under the stars, pulsing with vascular motion. As Teredal watched, the towers grew. Slowly, in small and palpitating measure, they grew.
They were spires. The zerg organ-edifices that, when mature, provided the enzymes and genetic materials required to spawn the flying creatures that made up the bulk of the alien fleet. These spires were newly formed, an obvious response to Teredal's actions on Saalok. The zerg knew that something was coming and that their previous strategy of feigned savagery had been revealed. He predicted that the zerg would have the beginnings of a fleet in another day, and a sizeable force not long after; the quick generation of military units was a specialty for these monsters. Protoss would find a moon inhabited by thinking, vicious creatures that would tear them apart before they ever reached Aiur.
An ultralisk roared from the hive, and Teredal realized that he was standing in the open. He turned and disappeared into the canyon. The ache in his chest now became a stabbing pain.