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A short story by

Valerie Watrous

"We cannot be certain. There is no recent data for this area," Aldrion said. "And even when we do send out scouts, they are often killed before their intelligence can reach us...." His words hung in their thoughts like a grim prophecy.

"They are heading for this asteroid; we must act swiftly." Zoraya met Aldrion's gaze, and he sensed a tentative trust in her words.

Aldrion lowered his head. "Then my choice has been made for me."

* * * * *

Despite the lingering tension, the greatest chance of success rested on sending the two most experienced warriors to infiltrate the colossus's holding chamber while the other two covered them with the ship's weaponry. Unable to hide his lingering reluctance, Aldrion shuttered his thoughts and ordered his crew members back to the ship to make the final preparations. At his command, Zoraya gingerly guided the vessel down into the asteroid's narrow tunnel, parking it within optimal firing range of the crumbling facade. Darsiris stood before the ship's weapons station at nervous attention.

"We are ready, then?" Aldrion inquired. He gazed at his crew thoughtfully for a moment, then headed down the exit ramp. Telbrus followed him closely. The interior of the tunnel was scarred from numerous collapses, but that suited their tactics. Aldrion chose one of the larger rock formations near the facade and motioned for Telbrus to join him behind it. When everyone was prepared, Darsiris took aim and fired the ship's weaponry at the massive metal door.

Unexpectedly, a holographic image of a judicator appeared before the facade wall. Transparent and riddled with static, the protoss began to speak in an authoritative tone befitting his caste. "Warning, traveler! You have approached a forbidden area. Intruders will be severely punished."

"Rather polite for a security alert, is it not? Maybe this will not be so difficult," Darsiris mused as he watched through the viewscreen. He was quietly pleased with having another chance to share the bridge with Zoraya, who had joined him at the weapons station.

"We shall see." She opened fire on the door. The weakened metal panel was falling in readily when the iridescent discs above it fluttered like the wings of insects, revealing row after row of photon cannons.

"Fire at the other rocks! They need some cover! Hurry!" Darsiris cried. Seconds later, the cannons began to aim at any moving object, nearly annihilating the entire area. Each shot bit deep into the ground, and even with the debris, it was a matter of seconds before Aldrion and Telbrus's cover had been reduced to dust. Darsiris and Zoraya fired at the door a few more times, creating a hole large enough for the others to enter.

"Go!" Aldrion ordered. He and Telbrus leapt as one, narrowly avoiding dozens of bolts. When they reached the doorway, Aldrion shoved Telbrus through the opening as several cannons turned toward them. Darsiris reacted quickly, unleashing all of the ship's weapons in a full-out barrage that brought down half the ceiling. Aldrion had just enough time to pull himself through the door before the falling rocks blocked off the entire entryway.

"I thought I was the reckless one!" Telbrus exclaimed, trying to suppress his concern as he helped Aldrion to his feet.

"Recklessness is necessary at certain times." The two templar began running down the dark hall, both pairs of their psi blades illuminating the path. The structure's high ceilings were supported by rows of slim columns, none of which looked particularly sturdy after their long service. "We are nearly there!"

A warning rumble vibrated through the hall, fracturing a column near them. Telbrus seized Aldrion's arm and dragged him to safety just as stone crumbled behind him. Gratitude, warm and earnest, flooded Telbrus's mind, but he was too distracted to register it.

"The structure is self-destructing." Telbrus glanced around anxiously as he continued.

"And the zerg will be here soon."

"You are not doing this just to save the crew, are you?" Telbrus paused to examine his commander.

"Keep going. We haven't much time. I know that the zerg are an enemy like no other. Their ruthlessness challenges every preconceived notion of warfare that we possess. But I cannot let my people lose themselves in battle—even a battle as important as this."

The hall widened before them. They had entered the vault. In the distance, Telbrus could just make out the ominous silhouette of the colossus.

"The protoss fight honorably," Aldrion continued. "A templar's blade is as pure as his heart. But the colossus is a war machine with no function except to destroy. I believe it can destroy the zerg utterly. And what then?" He turned to Telbrus. "What of the ongoing tension between the dark templar and the Aiur protoss? Will we survive as the Daelaam, one united people? Or will a thousand years of fear and hatred continue to separate us? How dangerous will this weapon be with those emotions running rampant?"

"Protoss will not kill protoss," Telbrus said quietly.

"Not now, no. But they have before. And your own words are proof that the bitterness lives on. Perhaps the only way for you to understand is to experience it directly." With a suddenness that burned through him, Aldrion revealed his vision to Telbrus through the Khala.

Telbrus was momentarily overwhelmed as the vision overtook his consciousness. The darkened vault faded away, and he found himself within Aldrion's body, resting in the high templar's quarters on Shakuras. However, the familiar building was strangely deserted. His eyes strained to see, and, turning, he moved toward a window. Gazing into it, he saw that the courtyard was empty. Not a single being had emerged to enjoy the peaceful grounds, but he could sense the presence of others across the way—deep within a structure that housed many high-ranking dark templar and their kin.

He felt their fear threading through him, a sharp sensation that bordered on pain.

"Help!" a female voice called to him from the other side of the structure's walls. "Stop them before more die. Help us!"

Telbrus was searching for a reply when the colossi appeared on the horizon, bearing down on a band of shadowy warriors. The dark templar scattered to increase their chances of survival against the machines, running for the shelter of the structure.

The colossi followed.

"Run!" Telbrus thought furiously. "Hurry!"

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