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A short story by

Valerie Watrous

There was no way out. The screams made him certain of that. He could sense the dark templar huddled together in panic, their structure surrounded on all sides, but he was powerless to intervene. Their fear burned into his mind until his consciousness was pierced with it, each sensation bright and distinct before bleeding away into the abyss. He already knew how it would end. The machines were coming....

"Commander, we are reaching the borders of the security zone."

Aldrion's eyes snapped open, and after a moment's hesitation, the high templar collected his thoughts enough to return the pilot's message through the ship's communicator. "On my way, Zoraya."

He wondered why the alarm he'd set earlier hadn't roused him, even though he could feel its pulse resonating against his skin. The visions had been troublesome even before he had left Shakuras, and his current mission only seemed to add to their weight. But Executor Selendis had entrusted this decision to him after conversing with the Hierarchy. He would not disappoint his people.

Still deep in thought, he made his way from the small meditation chamber to the ship's bridge. The crew had already assembled—an unusual party consisting of two other Aiur warriors like him and a lone dark templar pilot. They were the only ones who could be spared, despite the fact that he scarcely knew them. Even the ship was unfamiliar; he merely recognized that it was of dark templar construction. He glanced up to survey the viewscreen.

"This area has not been patrolled for some time. We may encounter resistance," Aldrion warned. For the sake of the dark templar, he was obliged to use words in his psionic communications instead of conveying his emotions through the Khala. His Aiur brethren had long defined themselves by the mental connection that allowed them to convey their thoughts and feelings to one another effortlessly. Those who opposed the Khala, seeking to retain their individuality, had become exiles: the dark templar. Their long estrangement had ended when Aiur had fallen to the zerg some years ago, but the peace was a tenuous one.

Unlike many Aiur protoss of similar rank and experience, Aldrion did not mind accommodating the dark templar's foreign ways when the occasion called for it. With times like these, he no longer had the luxury of intolerance. Still, he could always sense the barriers within the minds of the dark templar, even as he reached out to touch their thoughts. They seemed cold.

"Activate the cloaking field," he ordered. Zoraya gratified him with a short affirmative. The dark templar were not known for being verbose.

There was a low hum, and the interior lights dimmed as the pilot skillfully manipulated the ship's energy resources to hide its presence. Any viewers outside the ship would have sworn it had melted into the starry expanse.

"Do not be concerned, Commander." Telbrus, the second-in-command, turned to him from across the bridge. "The Aiur protoss do not need to hide in the shadows to fight!"

"Surely, your Aurigan kin have honored us too graciously by sparing you, Telbrus," Aldrion replied dryly, surveying his hulking companion with a hint of mirth. In many ways Telbrus was emblematic of his relatives—strong, brave, and a bit too proud. "But we must not betray our mission with any unnecessary displays of combat."

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