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A short story by

Valerie Watrous

With a soft mechanical hum, the colossi's twin thermal lances aimed at the dark templar residence and fired. The walls melted in seconds, and those who were not instantly vaporized were reduced to heaps of rubble. Telbrus felt a devastating shock as dozens of lives were lost—innocent lives who had only sought unity. Lives the protoss were not supposed to take.

One of the colossi turned and fired, leveling a second building, and soon all of the colossi were shooting at once, beams crossing through the air in a frenzied pattern. The psionic cries from the dark templar's deaths battered Telbrus with increasing intensity. He had not felt such anguish since the fall of Aiur.

Then stillness. The colossi retreated.

Cautiously, he emerged from his untouched vantage point. Only smoldering ruins awaited him across the courtyard, but he kept walking. Already the wind was beginning to carry away the fragments of ash, and a single powerful gust swept the ground fully clear before him. Then he saw it: the shadow of a dark templar who had stood against the rain of ruin. The owner of the voice that had called to him for help. He knew her: it was Zoraya.

The assault had pinned her corpse to the ground, incinerating every surrounding molecule until a silhouette, loving in its perfection and detail, had been etched into the earth.

He fell to his knees as revulsion and guilt seized him.

"Telbrus." Aldrion's hand was steady on his shoulder. "It is only a possibility... only one version of the future that may visit us. But I cannot be the architect of that future. Do you see?"

"Our people," Telbrus began weakly, "... we are on the verge of another tragedy.... But I can change. I can show the others how to change...."

Aldrion examined his companion's mind with bittersweet satisfaction. Telbrus's headstrong enthusiasm had been tempered into a sense of duty at the expense of great pain. Aldrion gazed up at the colossus, both magnificent and terrifying in its size and power. Four spiny legs towered before him, with a raindrop-shaped structure at its apex that held the machine's twin weapons.

"Activate it," Aldrion urged as the sound of zerglings echoed down the hall. "I will shield you."

Telbrus hesitated for a moment, confusion muddling his thoughts, and then pressed forward as the network of support beams began to crack overhead. Chunks of splintered metal fell around him, and the zerglings poured in through every opening. Cringing, Telbrus summoned his strength and ascended the giant machine.

Aside from a thick coat of dust, it was in excellent condition. His studies had indicated that crystals situated between the lasers powered the colossi. Steadying his hands against the vault's increasingly disruptive tremors, he focused on initiating the activation process.

Aldrion was too strained to offer any guidance. Brandishing his psi blades, he charged into the growing zergling assault. The center of the roof was riddled with holes, each crack spreading farther than the last. His eyes caught a flash of light—Zoraya's ship? Then a slow, sickening groan began to resonate through the entire vault.

"It still works!" exclaimed Telbrus as the colossus began to hum, a gentle glow spreading through its crystalline panels. The giant's long legs, strangely elegant, began picking through the rubble toward the opening that had been cleaved through the ceiling. It was too high for a templar to reach, but the machine was tall enough to have a chance at clearing it.

Aldrion moved to follow, but another group of zerglings, much larger than what he had faced before, rushed to intercept Telbrus's path. The commander leapt forward, drawing the zerglings' attention away from the retreating colossus.

"Aldrion! We have to get out of here!" Telbrus twisted back to examine the other high templar as the colossus ascended the wreckage. The zerglings were close on his heels, but Aldrion led them in a wide arc away from the opening. He paused, summoning a psionic storm that decimated many of the zerglings. But there was still too much ground to cover in too little time. A massive pillar began to teeter above him as the last supports of the building started to crumble.

"Do not worry, Telbrus," the commander said. "You will do well. Our people will be proud—all of our people."

The pillar shattered, taking the rest of the structure with it. Fiery bursts of energy leapt up as the last of the entire vault's infrastructure collapsed, sending rock, metal, and zerg corpses flying haphazardly. Zoraya tried to guide the ship closer, but there was no way to intervene without damaging the vessel.

Suddenly brilliant energy beams shot through the rubble, blasting away until they left a huge crater. In its center stood Telbrus and the colossus.

"Aldrion...?" Darsiris asked, hoping blindly that the emptiness he felt was an accident.

"He gave his life so that I could escape."

"His remains?"

Telbrus could only manage a simple gesture of hopelessness. He stood numbly as Zoraya landed the ship and began loading the colossus that Aldrion had entrusted to him. The machine was dented and scratched but ready for battle. Telbrus was unsure of himself. He did not move until Darsiris approached him.

"It is time to return," the zealot said. Zoraya was watching them from the ship's exit ramp. Telbrus tried to communicate with her and found that her thoughts were closed to him, but he could not help but find relief in seeing her alive... strong... not the broken victim in his vision.

"Please tell her that I am sorry," Telbrus said. "I am so sorry... for everything I have said and for everything her people have endured since they rescued us."

Darsiris agreed to relay the message and hurried back, overcome by emotion.

Telbrus boarded the ship, slowly removed his battle regalia, and decided to spend the lengthy voyage in deep meditation. He gazed at the asteroid one last time, noting how their encounter had left it more shattered than ever.

But as the ship launched, a strange marking caught his eye. Thinking back, he tried to place it. He had only been a short distance away from the structure when the final cave-in had occurred. Telbrus realized that the colossus's blast must have cleared away the stones where Aldrion had passed his final moments in crushing agony. He knew then that the marking was Aldrion's shadow, etched into the ground by the burning fury of the colossus's lasers.

And that shadow would always be at his back.

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