They were created by the Terran Dominion, secret weapons forged from Zerg flesh and Terran steel. They were the ultimate war machines, unstoppable on the battlefield. They were incapable of questio...
Gregory P. Wong
Chapter 11: Absolution
Straas circled Ulreathan warily. The transformed Ulreathan mocked Straas as he made feints at him with his burning scythes.
"You were not strong enough before! What makes you think you are strong enough to defeat me know?"
With a scream of fury, Ulreathan rushed Straas and brought down his swords. Straas dodged, but just barely. His left shoulder burned with pain where the dark swords had scraped. Ulreathan shot backward, sheathed his swords, growled, and in a swift movement, pointed his right hand at him. Energy began to build up on the Blademaster's palm.
"/Shadow Flare/!" The same dark ball of energy that had slammed into him last time they fought smacked into him again. He flew and felt his back slam into a rock outcropping, stunning him.
Ulreathan began to advance on him, until two forms hurtled from out of nowhere and slammed into Ulreathan. The Thres'nalop commander barely stirred. With his unnatural speed, Ulreathan could have caught the figures, but he obviously did not think them important enough for that.
With a sweep of his hands he knocked the two Protoss Dark Templars sprawling to the ground. Straas recognized them. /Xavan and Thralen/! Straas leaped up to aid the Dark Templar, but another blast of energy, this time from Ulreathan's eyes, knocked him back down.
With a menacing laugh, Ulreathan lifted both Protoss by their head. As Straas watched in horror, pulses of light began to leave the two Protoss' bodies, and they began to thrash convulsively. The light traveled up Ulreathan's arms and into his body. After fifteen horrific seconds the bodies fell to the ground, lifeless, drained of energy. Dead.
With a sudden jerk, Ulreathan shot a Protoss observer out of the sky with a crackling bolt of lighting that blasted into the drone. The ruined observer crashed to the ground, smoldering.
Slowly turning back to Straas, Ulreathan smiled a twisted Protoss smile, and advanced on him with his energy draining arms outstretched towards him.
Szcraa ducked under a blast and swept her right psi-scythe up, slashing apart a rampaging Bloodscythe. She and the cloaked Dark Templar had rushed undetected into the Thres'nalop flank. It took the insectoids two bloody minutes to notice the flanking maneuver.
The aliens whirled around only to find one apparent individual responsible for the carnage, which was far from the truth. Two hundred plus one were the cause of the death and destruction. As soon as Thres'nalop sensors were in place, the Dark Templar disdained their invisibility field and concentrated all their psi energy into their warp blades and defensive fields.
The disorganization of the Thres'nalop allowed the delicate, storm-casting High Templar to maneuver onto the battlefield. The powerful psionicists began to lay down devastating sheets of psionic lighting, while other High Templar created simulacrums of Protoss warriors everywhere. Dark Archons used their feedback technique to slay darkblades, while their maelstroms froze the insectiods in their tracks. Mind-controlled Thres'nalop turned on their brethren while explosive scarab drones detonated and swept ranks of attacking Thres'nalop away. Phalanxed Dragoons and Reavers fired of destruction in volleys that temporarily cleared the area of Thres'nalop forces. Weary zealots fought with renewed vigor and strength.
The Protoss had gained the upper hand.
But only for a little while.
Several Thres'nalop Katanas and Scimitars appeared over the northern horizon. Dozens of Thres'nalop scabbards dropped off reinforcements into the safety of the Thres'nalop rear ranks. The Thres'nalop ranks swelled from the reinforcements. Szcraa looked in desperation at the oncoming capital ships, which would be in main weapons range in only 15.480 minutes.
She felt air rush towards her neck and ducked. The abdomen-spear of the steelblade passed cleanly over her head, and she swept up her right leg up. The three talons on her right leg eviscerated the Thres'nalop. As the gutted corpse slumped to the ground, she surveyed her immediate surroundings. Dozens of Thres'nalop bodies lay blasted or sliced before her, mixed with a growing number of Dark Templar corpses.
She felt an energy bolt before it drew close, and dodged it. Searching, she looked for its source. Six Thres'nalop talons were raining fire down on the Protoss with impunity, since the Dragoons were already occupied. She activated her neural targeting system, lined up the Thres'nalop fighters in her sights, and blasted the Thres'nalop fighters to bits with searing plasma.
She felt an explosion near her. Spinning to face it, she saw that it had emanated from a blasted sickle. A dozen Dragoons had ganged up on it and had taken it out with one volley.
She dashed at over 160 KPH in her Ignited state and leaped onto a rock outcropping. She opened up her chest and activated her shoulder-mounted plasma cannons, and rained iridescent teal, psionically charged Magna Needles, and blue, scorching plasma onto the Thres'nalop. She looked back north again. Only 11.912 minutes until the Scimitars were in probable weapon range. They were just passing over the northern outpost.
"/By Adun/!/ The Executor has detonated himself/!" came the psi-voice of a Protoss officer.
"/The Khala's Light technique/!/ By the gods/!"/ /said another.
"/We need to keep that zone clear/./ The carriers are coming down... and... /By all the gods/! Thres/'/nalop ships are heading this way/!"
"/We have to keep them back/./ The colonists are on those ships/!"
"/His sacrifice was not enough/./ They/'/re com--/" The transmission was lost in a crackle of static.
Traenid emerged back into consciousness, having finally collected enough energy within himself to stay awake. His abdomen sent sheets of pain to his brain, as his blue blood stained and pooled over the floor. He slumped against his chains. Esralath peered at her warp blade, then at him, then back at the weapon. With a shocked look on her face she ripped the weapon off her right arm and dropped it to the ground. She looked back at him.
"You should not have said those things." Her voice was struggling to stay even.
"Wha... Why.? You know it... its tru... true." His psi-voice was fading as his strength ebbed.
"How could it be true? Ulreathan has not hurt any of the Dark Templar. You saw so yourself. When we investigated the colonial wreckage, we did not find a single body, did we?"
"Loo... look behind... you," he stammered, as he saw what one of the holoprojection feeds was showing. Straas the Cyberlisk was battling a hideously transformed Ulreathan, but he had caught a glimpse of something off to the periphery of the screen.
"What..." she turned around, and gasped. Her voice rose to an agonized wail as the screen showed Ulreathan draining the life force out of two Protoss.
" FATHER! THRALEN! NO!" She collapsed to her knees, staring at the screen, with the twitching bodies that rapidly grew still in the transformed Protoss' grasp. Then Traenid saw her shudder, her eyes releasing green mist, the equivalent of tears. The feed broke up into static when Ulraethan pointed a finger toward the observer and blew it to pieces.
Then, as if for the first time, she looked at him, at his bleeding body, at her warp blade generator on the other side of the room. Her wail intensified.
"/WHAT HAVE I DONE?! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!/" She slammed her fist into a button recessed into the wall, and he felt his bonds deactivate. He slumped unto the floor, and Esralath kneeled, just staring at him for a few seconds, until she crawled over to where he lay. She cradled his head in her arms.
Sensors and alarms screamed, showing a flight of six Scimitars and four Katanas passing over their heads. The Thres'nalop were obviously not going to count the inactive antimatter cannons as dangerous.
"Esralath... activate... the anti... matter cannons. The ships... will..." He felt too weak to continue."
Her head hung in despair. "I do not know the override codes! Tarthan/Jetok only gave them to /you/."
He began to transmit them to her via his mind, but he was dying fast. He could barely stay conscious, yet alone remember the complex code and tell it to her. "I... can't... tell... you," he gasped. He felt despair well up inside him too. Then a thought came to his weary mind.
"Esralath... We must... merge."
"M... /me/?! How can you merge with someone who killed you?! Who can you even forgive me?!"
"I forgive... y... you, Esralath."
"I do not want forgiveness! I want to be able to make up for all I have done. The Thres'nalop must be stopped."
This... is... no... not forgiveness. It... is absolution... for you. You will never forgive... your... self, even... though... I do. Please... let us... do this... together," he gasped out. Esralath hesitated.
Traenind saw a flicker of some emotion pass over her eyes. She trembled slightly, then gently placed her arms around him and embraced him. He felt his rapidly numbing arms also go around her body. Her body trembled.
"I do not know how to merge, even with a Dark Templar..." she whispered.
"I am no... High Templar... either. But we wi... will try. Buh... by all that hangs... in the balance... we will... try."
Eight minutes until the Scimitars and Katanas would reach the landing carriers.
Eight minutes until all hope died.
First, he noticed that his body started to tingle. He watched in fascination as Esralath's skin turned transparent, then began to glow slightly. He looked at his arm; it was undergoing the same metamorphosis. Then he noticed that there was no more pain.
He suddenly felt consuming worry, afraid he had already died and left Esralath half-merged; but no, it was just that his physical body was being converted into psionic energy. He looked at his arm again, which was glowing blue; Esralath's was glowing a deep crimson. With nothing in this dimension to hold them up, their armor fell away, clattering to the floor. A ball of blue mixed with red engulfed them, and they felt the strain of merging. He grasped her tighter. Then something happened: it all stopped.
Nothing happened. Just the churning of the psionic sphere.
"What is happening?" Esralath whispered softly.
"I do not know."
"Dark and light are not supposed to mix. We cannot..."
Traenid felt determination rise up inside himself.
"We can if we try Esralath." He felt determination rise in Esralath too.
"We can. We need do this. Lives depend on this."
They concentrated harder, their bodies continuing to merge. Then there was a flash, and he found himself in a completely new environment, unmerged. Six minutes until the Scimitars arrived...
Ulreathan's hands locked unto his head. He looked up into the transformed Protoss' eyes and clenched his jaw. He promised Szcraa that he would live through this, and he would keep his promise. This should have sealed his fate, but he knew one thing...
"Ulreathan... you have the power to steal.
"I have to the power to take back!"
In a flash, Straas shot up back to his feet, and his arms grasped Ulreathan's head. If Szcraa could give energy, he knew he had the power to take the soul energy back from Ulreathan.
As soon as he made contact with Ulreathan's head, his mind was filled with voices and images of Protoss that had fallen victim to Ulreathan. The transformed Protoss began to drain his energy; he began to weaken rapidly. His burning scythes sputtered and extinguished. Straas concentrated harder, and blue rings seemed to be transferred from Ulreathan to his own body. Then, both rings, outbound and inbound, drew still. His legs weakened from the exertion, and he knelt. Ulreathan loomed over him, scowling.
"Foolish, Straas. You can only hold me off for so long."
In something that was not sight, he saw himself and Ulreathan locked together, as if he were standing outside his own body. Wispy images of Protoss floated around them, forming a circle. Two of the Protoss ghosts were extremely clear; they were Xavan and his son Thralen. He looked up desperately at the Protoss.
"Please! /Help me/!" he pleaded.
"/You carry the hope of all races Straas/," murmured Xavan.
"/Our souls and our energy are yours now Straas. Hurry, let us relinquish our power into you, before it is too late/," whispered Thralen.
Straas wanted desperately to answer "yes". But if he did, how could he be any better than Ulreathan?
"I... I can't. I cannot take your souls or your power. It would not be... be..."
"/You are not Ulreathan if we give you our souls/./ He chose to take, while we choose to give. /Straas, take our power/, let the evil of Ulreathan be put to good/," whispered Thralen.
"/You are the only person able to destroy Ulreathan, Straas/./ Let our souls help you/."
Somewhere in the background he heard mammoth explosions sundering the air.
The Protoss spirits all grasped him with one of their arms, then they disappeared one by one. As each soul disappeared, his surroundingds grew dimmer. Soon, all was black. Black.
With a jolt, he was looking out his own physical eyes again, staring up into Ulreathan's mutated features.
He felt his strength grow with each spirit he absorbed. The blue energy rings on his arms began to slowly travel back to his shoulders, then blaze into his body. Somewhere in the half-consciousness, he had managed to rise to his feet.
Ulreathan's eyes grew in surprise, then turned into a look of horror. With a flash of blazing light, he and Ulreathan separated explosively. He hit the boulder he had been recently pinned against, dazed.
"Damn you! This will not be our last encounter, abomination!" A dark sphere surrounded Ulreathan. The sphere flashed, and Ulreathan was there no longer.
Straas looked up, feeling the given energy inside of him awaken. He stood, and with a roar of defiance, he Ignited. With the pleas of the Dark Templar still in his mind, he took his Igniting one step further: he went Nova.
Traenid could not fathom what had happened to him. In one moment he had been dying on he floor of the northern command Nexus, and then in another instant he was here, sitting on a grassy hill. The landscape resembled Auir's, somehow mixed with images of Shakuras. He jumped to his feet, and surveyed his surroundings. Surrounding him was green grass, blue running water, and purple rocks and crystals. Looking up the hill, began to trek up the side, feeling that something was wrong, but he was not able to identify it. At the very top of the mound, he encountered Esralath. Then he got a pretty good idea of why he felt strange.
Esralath was completely naked, and so was he.
He just stared, doing his best to not let his eyes roam. Esralath tried her best too, but like him, her eyes darted very quickly over him, then stopped. She looked embarrassed and sheepish at the same time. Then her expression was changed into one of agony. She rushed into him and hugged him tightly, sobbing. He tried to ignore the fact that she was very naked.
"Traenid, I am so sorry," she sobbed into his shoulder. "I... I... By the gods I am sorry."
"Esralath. I forgive you. I really, truly do." Esralath's moved her eyes into a weak smile.
He thought about one thing in his mind.
"I know what you want to say, but I want to hear it from you."
"Esralath... I love you." He looked into her eyes, knowing.
"Traenid... I love you too." Her eyes misted, and he knew his eyes were also crying. Through their tears, they had somehow managed to lay themselves on the soft, luscious grass. His arms went around her slim, athletic body.
Strangely enough, he was not exhausted, or even tired, after they were done. Neither was Esralath.
"Do you have any idea where we are?" she asked, her head on his chest.
"I think. I remember Tarthan/Jetok sometimes mumbling to himself about how the Tarthan part of himself had pulled off a fighting maneuver on Jetok. And vice-versa," he replied, stroking the side of her face.
"Really?" said Esralath, snuggling into his arms. "Then that means that they can exist in another consciousness..."
"That is my thought also. I usually hear the Executor speaking of this after the night's rest," he held her tighter
"Then we can meet each other only every night?"
"... And be naked when we do," he said. Esralath just stared at him. Then she started to laugh. Traenid grimaced at his jibe, and continued, "Well, from what I heard, Tarthan/Jetok could 'conjure' things with his mind."
"Then I had better 'conjure' something to cover myself with; your eyes keep darting around. Not that I really mind too much."
The Dark Templar snorted in laughter. "It is not as yours are not! Do not worry, I do not mind either."
He smiled. He then closed his eyes, and concentrated on some clothing.
When he opened his eyes, he was clothed in his familiar ship clothes. Esralath was similarly clad. They both climbed to their feet.
"Let us look around."
"That would be nice."
They grasped each other's hands and explored the land. They traveled for at least six hours.
After their second "stop", they climbed up a mountain, conjuring their own respective armor to help gain traction on the steep surface. When they reached the summit, they strangely were not tired at all, not even from the day's travel. Or from other things...
They gasped when they saw what was at the peak of the mountain.
A pure white ball of energy floated and twisted before them. Traenid's eyes widened in surprise as he saw an image of the inside of the Nexus. The monitors of the command area were still transmitting...
He shot a look at Esralath, who was also wide-eyed with amazement.
"The image of the Nexus has not changed, even when we had traveled for at least six hours." Traenid whsipered, spying his chromometer.
"Traenid, we... we are an Archon. We are not governed by time," whispered Esralath.
"That is our entrance back into the physical world. We are here, outside of time, inside a world created from our minds."
"Then if that is the physical world, then we still have much to do," said Traenid quietly.
"Yes. Let us not do this alone. I will see you when we come back here Traenid."
"I will be awaiting that moment."
With that they took each other's hand and stepped into the swirling vortex of energy.
They awoke in their new body. Traenid/Esralath looked around the Nexus command room, and noted the antimatter cannon activation key.
He/she glided over, and stopped, inspecting himself/herself. He/she was surrounded with a gray swirl of energy that twisted and pulsed. Swirling energy orbited his/her body. His/her body pulsed with energy, and he/she appeared to be a normal light Archon, but clad in the Dark Archon "armor". With growing urgency, he/she keyed in the access codes to he antimatter cannons and initialized them.
"Only six seconds passed when we traveled for six /hours/."
"I did not anticipate this Esralath! We share thoughts, yet we are distinct. My thoughts are your thoughts, your thoughts are my thoughts."
"I have always wondered what this was like, Traenid."
"Let us discuss this later. We have work to finish."
"Let us go. /I owe Ulreathan much/..."
He/she concentrated his/her energy, and he/she teleported outside the Nexus in a backwash of wispy energy. With a roar of power and fury, Traenid/Esralath flew into battle.
5.036 minutes left. Szcraa flashed her psi-scythes, and Thres'nalop fell dead before her. She looked desperately around. One hundred Dark Templar had already fallen under the seemingly endless onslaught of the Thres'nalop. The Scimitars were getting closer, and the ground forces were pressing nearer. She had personally slain hundreds of the insectiods, but that would not be enough. The carriers would not be safe when they landed. For them to survive, let alone win, would take a miracle.
Three miracles happened.
Szcraa saw a pure streak of white flame shooting toward the battle, almost too fast for her to track effectively. Any Thres'nalop that tried to impede the flaming beacon was either scorched or sliced apart in blinding speed as it passed.
Huge spheres of blue energy began to fly from the northern outpost into the rear of the scabbards, Scimitars, and Katanas.
A mysterious, strange Archon suddenly appeared with a flash by her side.
The white, burning figure skidded to a stop near her. It was Straas, but not Straas when she had left him.
"I told you I would be fine," said Straas with a glowing smile. A flaming white body, but the same Straas. She felt like crying and laughing at the same time.
His scythes were no longer burning with a blue-white flame, now it was pure white, the purest light. His eyes were glowing with white light, and he emanated an air of power. His reddish skin glowed white.
"The Thres'nalop will feel the fury of Nova power."
The Scimitars and Katanas began to fall, as they succumbed to the fire from a "neutralized" base. The antimatter cannons then directed their fury into the sky, striking at unseen orbital ships.
The Archon raised his--no, /his///her/, since she somehow perceived that it was Traenid and Esralath merged--and called down lighting from the sky. The gray-glowing psionic entity raised his/her arms to the heavens and called down wave after wave of psychic electricity from out of the blue, and Thres'nalop halted in place, as if held in the bonds of the maelstrom. Others, in a mass, turned on their neighbors and began to attack, mind-controlled. A blue shaft of energy exploded from the Archon's right arm, while a red beam emanated from the being's left one, incinerating enemy after screeching enemy.
Straas leaped into battle, his white torches flashing, striking fear into foes and awe into friends. His Magna Needles were glowing arrows of radiance, while his plasma cannons rained hot, white, fiery death onto Thres'nalop. He moved with speed and strength she could never, ever match. One moment he was here, then in a blaze of light, he was one hundred meters away, all in the space of a few milliseconds.
The Protoss, weary of battle, saw the symbols of hope, and rallied; first holding, then shoving back, the petrified Thres'nalop. The orbital carriers, free from the threat of the Katanas and Scimitars, descended and began to rain firepower from above with hundreds of interceptors.
Szcraa shook herself out of the surprise, and then rejoined the battle. She danced from here to there, slicing with white-emerald flaming blades and blasting the countless enemies with green-white Needles. Then suddenly, abruptly, all was silent.
She peered over the battlefield. Dust wafted away from Protoss and Thres'nalop bodies and wreckage that was strewn about. The Thres'nalop were destroyed to the last, with none even attempting to escape. She looked at Straas, who had changed back to his red-colored, crimson-eyed self. She ran over to him and threw her arms around her lover.
"I did it, Szcraa. I defeated Ulreathan. At least... at least for now."
"And gained unimaginable power in the process..."
"As it turns out," he said, smiling slightly, "I am an energy sink, since you are an energy tap."
"Incredible..." she said, laying her head on his muscular chest.
She turned and saw the grayish psionic entity floating next to them.
"Hello, Traenid/Esralath," Szcraa said to the Archon.
"Greetings, Szcraa, Straas." The Archon's voice was a mix of his/her two parts. "It is beautiful here..."
"I'm sure it is, friend. I... how does it feel, to be formed of two opposite energies?"
"Nothing that we expected. It is strange. Instead of pushing against each other, we are very close; it is like our energies want to be together." He/she said, his/her voice echoing.
"Opposites attract..." Szcraa said under her breath.
"Straas!" Came the psi-voice of Rethoj the Khalai. "We have detected two dozen Thres'nalop capital ships leaving from Sawea's moon. They are heading to the world where we recovered you!"
She looked at Straas. "The Dominion doesn't know what it's going against! We have to reinforce them!"
"With what? Four carriers have been destroyed, and four more carriers can barely stay in the air, much less fight," came the voice of Traenid/Esralath.
"So what? Innocents, like these Dark Templar, are about to be massacred, their life-force feeding Ulreathan. We must help them! If the Thres'nalop take that world, then they will grow stronger and stronger, and Ulreathan will become unstoppable." She stopped, suddenly grasping it. "He plans to seize the coordinates of all the Terran star systems. If he does that, then nothing will be able to stop him!"
All three--four?--of them stood still, pondering.
"We shall leave a small detachment of warriors here to help reestablish the colony, but we will assist the people of Waj Norhal. After all, we /were /on a mission to resupply the colony," said Traenid/Esralath. She and Straas nodded.
They headed to the carriers.