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A short story by

Cameron Dayton

The zerg were waiting at the fifth beacon spot. Teredal could hear them in the shadowed valley far below. While the four previous beacons didn't necessarily point directly toward a fifth, this was one of two or three locations that would make sense if one was hunting for a pattern. Teredal imagined that similar groups had been stationed along other possible beacon points; that was what an intelligent tactician would do. Once the fifth marker had been placed, however, there would be no more question about the configuration. The location of the sixth marker would then be obvious, and every claw and fang on Saalok would descend upon it.

One thing at a time. The fifth beacon needs to be placed first, and this valley is occupied.

Teredal slid back from the peak that looked down into the valley where his goal lay, one hand over his chest. He would have to act soon but knew that he did not have the energy to confront the patrol gathered below. An ultralisk, six hydralisks, and an overlord. Melee strength, ranged firepower, and a coordinating force to keep the zerg under control. The zealot took some comfort in the patrol's composition; obviously whoever was controlling these zerg had no idea what sort of enemy was setting these beacons. The patrol had been built to handle a variety of imagined possibilities. Teredal would have laughed if he had the energy.

Would they imagine a wounded old soldier with piecemeal weapons?

He lifted his claw-bound arm, regarded its jagged edges with a critical eye. Still sharp, still deadly. Far below, the patrolling beasts were headed back up the canyon toward his intended mark. The overlord floated over them, muscular gas bladders contracting as it propelled itself forward.

The zerg had swept his people from their homeworld with a ferocity that had countered protoss wisdom at every turn.

It is time for the protoss to return that ferocity.

Teredal thumbed the trigger on his beacon and leapt into the darkness. Guided by the sounds below, spurred by a rage kept chained for far too long, he pushed through pain, the fatigue, and leapt.

He landed on top of the overlord, which jetted forward in shock. Thrusting his claws through the fleshy bladder on one side, Teredal was met with a blast of warm, moist air and a psychic scream that rattled his skull. Teredal clung to the creature as it tilted and began to sink. There was a collective hiss from the hydralisks below, and Teredal knew that the overlord was calling out to them. Feral creatures would cry for help. Sapient creatures would demand an attack. Teredal used the claws to climb around the wounded overlord as a volley of spines tore into the place he had just been.

If I had any doubt before, it is now gone.

His mount was sinking rapidly, gas whistling from several ragged holes. The ultralisk rumbled forward, intent on intercepting the compromised overlord when it hit the ground. Teredal did not plan to be there. Guided by the lumbering sounds of the monster's footfalls, he gathered himself and leapt again, igniting his psi blade like a torch in the dark canyon. He would need light for this.

Blazing like a falling star, Teredal plummeted through the night sky to land with a crunch against the heavy carapace over the ultralisk's shoulders. Again, the claws held firm on the monster's bony shell. Teredal felt a new pain cutting through his side.

Ribs… broken. Have to reach the… neck joint…

He had hard-won knowledge of the ultralisk, had achieved some acclaim among his brethren for slaying the beasts singlehandedly. But his victories had always come at a price and had never followed such a grueling run, or such injury. The wounded veteran clung to the ultralisk's back as it bucked and spun, the monster trumpeting rage that echoed off the canyon walls. Slowly, deliberately, Teredal crept toward its neck.

Just… like the plaza of Nelyth…

With a slash of his fiery blade, he split the thin plate across the monster's neck and plunged the claws deep into exposed flesh. The ultralisk roared and gave one final lunge, dislodging Teredal and flinging him into the air.

The zealot was able to roll as he landed, skidding across a stretch of sand. He came to his knees as the hydralisks circled around him, hissing hungrily. The ultralisk stomped forward, ichor running down its chestplate. It was wounded, but it still lived. Teredal was bleeding, outnumbered, and drained of energy. He extinguished his blade and knelt before the beast. The hydralisks drew closer.

Four. Three. Two. One.

The beacon exploded in a blast of psychic energy that tore the ultralisk's head apart. An incandescent wave of blue and violet rippled out from the gaping wound where Teredal had planted the device, washing the valley in cold fire. The hydralisks screamed, writhing as blood spouted from their mouths. They fired spines as they fell, piercing each other in blind agony. The canyon walls shuddered with metaphysical resonance, the very fabric tying their atoms together, trembling with the force of the blow. Teredal's shield, fully recharged, flickered once, twice against the storm of energy and then was spent. As he knelt, the zealot placed his remaining strength into the psychic defenses he had learned as a child. They were all he had. At this range, with the full force of a beacon meant to roar across the face of a planet, there was little hope a single protoss would survive.

Little hope…

It means there is some.

You approach the answer, Teredal.

The zealot crumbled into the shadows and was still.

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