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 12: Homeward Bound
It took them four days, but the Gray Shadow Fleet was fit to leave. True Light/, /Starsong/, /Aniopith/, and /Venerath had been destroyed in the great battle, and Thunder Blade and/ Final Judgment/ were too damaged to be spaceworthy. The two crippled carriers would stay on the world and watch over the fledgling colony, serving as guardians and industrial centers for the time being. The carriers Phantasm/, /Khala/'/s Chosen/, /Taeralyn/, /Aiur's Fist/, /Lirot/, /Khala's Fury/, /Kelenir/, /Vindicator/, /Star Reaver/, and /Raksala were ready to depart.
The carrier High Destiny and the Arbiter Might of the Khala were out hunting Thres'nalop ships. Szcraa hoped that the two Protoss starships did not find any Thres'nalop. The powerful Thres'nalop flotilla could rip the two Protoss ships apart.
Miraculously, all the Arbiters, Revarus/, /Archoleth/, /Comet Streak/, /Scantid Claw/, and /Tassadar had emerged unscathed from the orbital battle, and were ready to depart.
Since Traenid had been second-in-command, Traenid/Esralath became the new Executor. Tarthan/Jetok's noble sacrifice had given the defenders enough time to allow Straas--and Traenid/Esralath--to arrive.
Executor Traenid/Esralath exited the command Nexus and glided over to her.
"Are you ready to depart Szcraa?" the grayish Archon inquired.
"I'm ready. I just want to look at the landscape a little longer..."
"That is fine. We depart in six hours," he/she said.
The Gray Archon glided away, awash in gray fire. Szcraa looked back at Traenid/Esralath, then peered out over the mesa to the scorched land, damaged by the weapons of the fighters.
Rethoj had told Traenid and Esralath had created a completely new type of Archon, which they were allowed to name themselves. The two decided on "Gray Archon". With the raging power of an Archon wielded in their arms, and the cloaking power normally available to the Dark Templar, the Gray Archon was powerful already. To add to the immense power, they had the capacity to launch the combined powers of both the High Templars and the Dark Archons. Psionic storm, hallucination, mind control, maelstrom, and feedback only added to his/her already immense strength.
Szcraa turned her mind back to Straas. He had transcended beyond the Ignited state, and had advanced to Nova status, which he had labeled his new power level. From what he had told her, Straas had gained his newfound energy when he had reabsorbed the Protoss souls and psi energies back from Ulreathan.
Szcraa suddenly sensed his presence and turned. Her lover stepped up next to her and placed a muscular arm around her waist, shifting it so he wouldn't jostle her folded-down plasma cannons. She laid her head on his shoulder and encircled him with an arm also.
"How did it feel to go Nova, Straas?"
"I felt... I do not know how to describe it. I just felt... stronger; faster than ever. All the while, I could hear murmurs of Xevan, and Thralen, and... and... It was so dark at first. I didn't know if I could hold all that energy. " He stopped, as if overwhelmed.
"It's okay, Straas. You have been through a lot, and I will always be here to help you," she said to Straas.
"I know Szcraa. That is one reason why I love you. And I will always be there for you too, Szcraa."
They just stood there for a quarter of an hour, holding each other, looking over the landscape that had been ravaged by battle, just thinking.
"I love you," Szcraa said to Straas, turning towards him.
"And I," Straas murmured as his face drew closer to hers, "will always love you."
She felt Straas' mouth lock onto hers, and their mandibles grasped. After a half minute of the warmness, they parted. She smiled up at Straas and again wrapped her arm around his body, feeling his encircle her. They walked back to the command Nexus. Five more hours until the fleet departed.
Straas gazed out from the carrier window out at the passing, blurring stars. The distant points of light reminded of him of how the energy of the Protoss he had assimilated had looked like. He still felt pain for what he had taken, but he had finally accepted it as necessary, if not completely right. He felt anguish still, anguish for having to decide whether to take the life-force into himself, or to let the spirits free.
"/You know what the right choice was Straas... And you picked it/,"/ /came the voice of Xevan, resounding in his head.
Every once and a while, he heard a Protoss somewhere unknown speak to him, perhaps through the bond they shared. They gave him advise, consulted with him on his problems, and even spoke to him like a good friend. But he could never be truly a friend to the souls he communicated with.
Shaking the deceased Protoss' voice out of his head, he consulted his internal chronometer. It told him it was almost time for dinner. He looked forward to being with Szcraa. And talking with her. Yes, talk would be good. Just talk.
Through his near-constant anguish, Szcraa was at his side, comforting him. They had grown impossibly closer than ever before, and they shared a bond akin to what he shared with the Protoss souls.
Turning away from the view of hyperspace, he turned on his heel and headed toward the eating area.
Szcraa looked up at Straas as he entered, looking majestic as ever. He slid into his seat beside her, and she placed a hand on his shoulder. It trembled slightly beneath her touch.
"Do they still... talk to you?" she asked delicately.
"Yes. They always will," he replied, his shoulder stilling and his voice becoming strong.
"Straas, what you did on Sawea was right. They gave you access to their energies, and you used the power for good, to halt Ulreathan. If it were not for you--"
" --And two dozen Protoss souls--" he cut in bitterly.
" --Ulreathan would have conquered the world with ease, and the whole galaxy could be in danger. I would be dead/, along with countless innocents. Stop knocking yourself down for what /you think is wrong, Straas."
Straas just stared at her for a second, then looked down at his plate, which was fresh bengalaas meat from Sawea, something better after the increasingly boring stasis-frozen rhynadon..
"I'm... I'm sorry Szcraa. I didn't mean to sound like that."
"It's okay Straas," she said to Straas soothingly. "Let's talk about something else."
They ate the meal conversing on mundane things, like which particular Protoss warrior was better fighter, or what color an ideal carrier should be.
Strangely, she was still hungry after she devoured her plate of meat. Straas looked at her questioningly, and slid over the remainder of his platter. She tried to look apologetic.
"I don't know why I'm hungry all of a sudden," she said as she devoured the meal.
For the past few days, she had been eating twice what she normally ate.
Straas just waved the comment off.
After finishing their meal, they departed and returned to their room. Straas sat on the floor beside his mat, his head in his hands. Szcraa went over to him and began to caress his back, which seemed to relieve him.
"Thank's Szcraa. You have... always been there for me."
"Straas!" she said in surprise. "You have always been there for me too, and you have saved my life." Straas said nothing. Instead of speaking, he reached out and grasped her hands. She sat down next to him and they enfolded each other. She and Straas were still as energetic as ever, and she was exhausted after they finished.
"Szcraa... I don't know if I can ever thank you enough. For being there for me when I need it. Or for just being you," Straas whispered.
"Straas, I love you. I could never keep myself from comforting you, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental. You would do the same for me."
Straas just looked at her, a few tears dripping from his eyes. He wiped them off his face. Suddenly, he grinned a little.
"Szcraa, I just noticed something when you put your weight on me. According to my computers, you have gained about 10 kilograms. I guess that is where all that extra food you have been eating has been going."
She looked at him in exasperation. "Is that what you care about? My /weight/?" she laughed. Straas chuckled softly. It was something two lovers joked over.
They stopped laughing and looked each other in the eye. Their faces drew together so that they were only inches away.
"Szcraa, I love you."
"I love you too, Straas," she said as sleep began to close her eyes. Right before she drifted off, she sensed other minds in the vicinity of her body. She was going to wonder what they were, but then sleep overcame her.
They sat under darkening skies. Traenid draped an arm over Esralath's lightly clothed shoulder, feeling her muscles underneath the light fabric. By both concentrating, both he and Esralath had both been able to slow down their relative time, until they were achieving a five hours for every two seconds of realtime ratio. They could speed up time if they wanted to.
Esralath looked out toward a sunset over some gently crashing waves. This time, they had conjured up a large island, with beaches that blended the white sands of Aiur and the blue and turquoise pebbles of Sawea. The water was a clear blue, and the descending sun shimmered on the waves. He tapped into her mind.
She was remembering back, back to when they had first ever met, back to when they had first sparred, back to the time when... she had stabbed him. Esralath's eyes locked with his. Her psi-voice was little more than a whisper.
"I have many regrets. My largest is that I never got to correct many things in the physical world. That I never got to greet my family one last time." Pain clouded the Dark Templar's eyes.
"We all have our regrets. My regret is that I never got to state my love for you in a peaceful situation." He looked solemnly at her.
"That is true. You were able to say 'I love you' when you were down dying on the floor." Esralath's eyes flickered with sorrow, then the look disappeared.
They just sat silently for a long time, looking off into the beauty of the setting sun. He had a thought.
"I wonder if it is possible for us to be able to exist separately, even for a limited time, in the physical world," he said suddenly.
"Probably not, but I am willing to try." She smiled weakly.
They concentrated and joined their hands. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes. He gazed into Esralath's eyes and smiled.
"I didn't think it would work. Nothing but wishful thinking."
He noticed Esralath's eyes were opened in disbelief, staring at something beyond his shoulder.
"What..." he began. He twisted around and peered behind him. He nearly fell off of his bed.
He was peering at his old room that he had had aboard the /Phantasm/. It had not changed much, except that his belongings were removed.
"I... how... what... how..." All he could do was babble.
They were in his room, inexplicably, impossibly. His stare shot back to Esralath. She was dressed in pure black clothes, which were composed of a light, loose top and leggings. A swirling black cloak rode on her back. Her unrestricting clothes glittered with obsidian colored crystals.
He examined himself. His clothes were pure white, Esralath's opposite. His white top was adorned with glittering silver metal, and the legs of his suit mounted stripes of the same silvery metal. His clothing appeared to be the same design and make of Esralath's, discounting the color. He touched his forehead, and noticed his prized golden headband was not there. Esralath's black crystal armband was missing from her as well.
He just stared at her, and Esralath stared back at him.
"/How/ in the name of all the gods did we do /this/!?" Esralath cried out.
"I do not believe this. This has to be another part of the world we created."
"Then let us try to alter it..."
They concentrated, but nothing happened. Shaking his head, he tried again. Nothing.
They were really inside the physical world again, but separate.
"Let us see Rethoj. He might be able to explain this..." Esralath suggested in a whisper.
"What would Rethoj know of this!? He is a Khalai," he retorted.
"The who should we talk to then?"
He thought on that for a few seconds, then came up with an answer.
"Straas and Szcraa."
Straas could not believe his eyes. Or my sensors for that matter/. /They show /two separate beings in our room/. At first he had thought it a dream, one in which Traenid and Esralath had shown up in his room, unmerged. Past the initial shock came disbelief, then gradual acceptance. The two Protoss had told he and Szcraa of how they had concentrated hard, and how they had emerged separate from each other.
"Why did you go to us first?" asked Szcraa.
"I don't know. We just wanted to talk to someone who..." Esralath trailed off.
"...Who are not normal," finished Szcraa.
He and Szcraa just looked at them. He felt pleased that they were the two Protoss' friends.
"It is so hard to describe the world we live in," said Traenid suddenly.
He wondered what that meant. It was obvious he and Szcraa had puzzled expressions on their faces.
"During resting hours, we exist in a world of our own making, and the worlds can be varied from night to night. We are separate during that period, and we can control our relative time so that it's about two and a half hours for every one of your seconds. Esralath and I can concentrate and alter our world to our liking."
The four of them stood staring at each other.
"How much longer until we reach Waj Norhal?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"At our present speed we will reach Waj Norhal orbit in two weeks," answered Traenid.
That seemed way too much time for Straas. The Thres'nalop could divert from their course and hit the interior worlds, like Aiur, Char, Shakuras, or the Korhal system. "That is a long time. I think we should stop for a brief moment and transmit a signal. The Thres'nalop could have easily hit one of the core systems..." he expressed his concerns.
"We know that, Straas," answered Esralath. "But when we left hyperspace and tried to initiate a transmission, we were not even able to get a lock. Something seems to be blocking our communications. He have tried twelve different times, at different locations."
He was shocked. Straas did not even want to know what could by strong enough to block hyperspace communications at the level of over two hundred light years! Then it came to him
"Ulreathan..." he growled.
"He has to be stopped," muttered Szcraa.
She transmitted via comlink.
The separate beings Esralath and Traenid were not there the next day. Instead, Szcraa saw only the Gray Archon Traenid/Esralath. She wondered if last night was a dream, because what had happened had been so bizarre.