StarCraft and all creative rights to the characters and intellectual property therein are the property of Blizzard Entertainment. This story was written for fun, not profit. This story is not canonical. That is, it is not official lore.

No permission is granted to reproduce this story in any form unless expressly granted, in writing, by the author.

The Crucible

By Eric Fredericksen


Over the years I've written many technical documents, articles, and blog posts, and I was once in the business of writing and publishing peer-reviewed scientific papers. This short story is my first foray into writing fiction (those who have read my blog posts might disagree with that statement).

Some folks know that I am a life-long science fiction geek. (With a helping of fantasy on the side; go Brent Weeks!) I've been fixated on the genre since I was, like, eight years old, and I have book cases filled with hundreds of books, from Abbott to Zelazny, with plenty of space occupied byAsimov and Heinlein (and yes, a lot of contemporary authors, too, like Alistair Reynolds and Iain [M] Banks).

Writers often create entire universes full of characters and stories because they are great frameworks for meta-story arcs and long-term character development. Some very generous folks even allow others to write stories set in their universe (yes, I own every volume of The Man-Kzin Wars series).

Some computer game universes follow the same pattern. Last year I got interested in the StarCraftuniverse created by Blizzard Entertainment and started devouring all the stories I could get my hands on. 

Then I caught wind of a writing contest and thought, "Hey, I should try that!" The story had to be set in a Blizzard universe and between 2500 and 7500 words in length. This story was my submission.

OK, I added a few edits/improvements; a story, like software, is never perfect, so never finished.

I am proud to say that I was one of the finalists! Thank you, Blizzard, for letting me play in your sandbox. It was an absolute blast. :)


A United Earth Directorate system runner warped into the outskirts of a star system. Unidentifiable gasses vented from the ship, and burn marks covered its hull. A hole, now patched, was punched in one side. There was no help to be found nearby.

Not help. A few moments later a cloaked protoss arbiter materialized within weapons range. Inside, a figure in a heavy, cowled robe touched control crystals on several panels.

The terran pilot of the system runner slammed his fist into a bulkhead, apparently not for the first time. The sheet metal was dented, and his knuckles were bloodied. "Verdomme! The warp engine is offline again. At least we're a little closer to Earth."

Peering at her instruments, the copilot said, "Damn that pig bastard DuGalle to hell for leaving us behind. 'For the good of the fleet,' he says. I'll shove a D-8 charge up his ass if I ever see him again."

Suddenly, an opalescent shaft of energy reached out from the arbiter and washed over the system runner. The figure dropped the arbiter's cloak and teleported to the control cabin of the other ship. Moving directly to a locker, he stowed a metal canister then went to the front of the cabin.  Leaning between the two slumped terrans, he configured the navigational controls, and then tapped a device on his wrist to initiate teleport.

The arbiter warped away as the system runner accelerated toward the distant star.

Our Story

Only those few fortunate enough to be out in the open had the opportunity to experience the beginning. Some were walking between buildings, some were traveling in ground vehicles between settlements, and some were sleeping. Many were quietly taking nourishment in the twilight. All were so surprised that they stopped in their tasks or in their vehicles, and stood, staring with fascination. The very nature of the event seemed to allay any fear.

Those in groups debated in whispers about what might be happening, how this thing came to be. The surprise of so many at once was felt through the Khala, attracting attention, even rousing a few from slumber. Word spread quickly from protoss to protoss. The event lasted for nearly a full rotation of Shakuras. All that were able went out to see, to experience for themselves. And every one, upon encountering this strange sight, reveled in the exotic flavor of it.

 -- Alys'aril memory crystal


Her mind is not working correctly, but she is not alarmed. She knows there is a good reason.

I am lying on a hard surface. My skin and nerve cords burn terribly, and I am too weak to move. I accept these things, but I will remember.

Fighting, she struggles to think through the haze of multiple agonies. She realizes that her connection to the Khala is weakening, and she accepts that as well.

I am dying. Dum adu'nala: death comes to all. I hope I have made my friend proud.

Sinking further into delirium, she finds comfort in the partial escape from pain, remembering, reliving. For just a moment, a dark coolness washes down her spine.


Shifted forward in her seat, Syrildon ignored the blinking alarm light and surveyed the readouts. "Signal confirmed."

"Intriguing," Ry'zhara responded calmly from her pilot's chair. "However, I am still curious how the location of this artifact was discovered, given that the judicator declined to enlighten us. We shall arrive in a few hours. Perhaps we will find more clues there. And perhaps in the near future you will deactivate the alarm."

Absently Syrildon disabled the detector. "However or wherever the information was obtained, we have something new to study." She continued analyzing the readings, waiting impatiently as each one sedately offered up its bits of data; grudgingly she accepted that nothing more could be deduced about the artifact until they arrived. Rising from her chair, she moved to the center of the main cabin and settled to the floor to stretch. She and Ry'zhara had been in the middle of the seventh combat sequence, training, when the alarm activated.

Ihan-rii artifact hunting consisted of long stints of uneventful searching punctuated with occasional, nearly always false, alarms. Syrildon appreciated the uninterrupted periods of time because they afforded her freedom to engage in "objectionable" pursuits. Practicing templar combat forms, while not forbidden to other castes, was considered odd behavior for a khalai. Many chastised Syrildon for her wish to be templar, but Ry'zhara understood. She was sympathetic, and trained Syrildon in templar ways.

"I'll convert you into a templar yet, Furinax." Ry'zhara shrugged her shoulders in laughter. "I'll even find a way to change the cast of your skin from that inappropriate blue-gray. Akilae gray would suit you, I think."

"That would certainly meet the Conclave's bloodline requirement to join the templar. However, although your ancestry is a noble one, I am proud to be Furinax. I simply feel a call to defend our people, and I find no logic in the concept that the shade of my skin should prevent me from doing so."

Ry'zhara reached out and touched the activation control of the ron'ashan. A spherical energy field coalesced above the khaydarin crystal mounted in the center of a flattened box. A point of energy appeared, suspended in the field. Syrildon touched a control crystal, and the field modulated in opacity and color.

Ry'zhara turned toward the ron'ashan and basked in its light. They both began to feel a sense of calm purpose, a heightened energy. "I do appreciate your skill in adapting Ihan-rii technology to interesting uses." Lithely she rose from her chair. "Shall we resume training?"

The shuttle was a model of beauty through simplicity. It comprised a main cabin with the controls and seating in the front and a smaller hold for cargo in the rear, separated from the main cabin by a bulkhead and door. The main cabin floor was a firm but yielding material, with recessed attachment points for utilitarian uses. There were no visible seams; the walls, floor, and ceiling met and merged with an artistic, continuous curvature.

The two protoss moved to the center of the main cabin, now bare, and assumed the prescribed stances. They wore no weapons or armor, as these exercises were intended to enhance coordination and timing, and to harden the body. Their nerve cords, the seat of their shared connection in the Khala, originated from beneath the bony crests on their heads and were loosely bound behind their backs with strips of soft, black cloth that held the cords out of harm's way.

"Before I can allow you to handle psionic weapons, Furinax, you must master the physical skills. A prepared body is the foundation for a prepared mind. Your physical progress is good, and your psionic control is excellent. Soon you may be ready. Let us begin." Through the Khala, she felt Syrildon's resolve.

The two protoss carefully shielded their thoughts. Without a visible signal the two protoss blurred into motion, alternating roles of attacker and defender, their digitigrade legs providing both great strength and great flexibility. The cabin, although not as spacious as standard training facilities, provided surfaces perfect for changing direction. The two protoss used every one, including the ceiling.


"Take care: the asteroid registers only weakly on the instruments."

Ry'zhara's hands fluttered over the control crystals on the navigation panel and nudged the shuttle toward the black asteroid. There was no way to land on the rock. With a tilt of her head, she mused, "Ah, yes. Syrildon is cautioning me to be careful. The danger must be great and obvious. On the other thumb, without the artifact detector the asteroid is nearly invisible, so something is abnormal about it. Caution is clearly warranted."

Engrossed in a multitude of sensor readouts, Syrildon pretended to ignore Ry'zhara's sarcasm. "There seems to be a chamber inside. The entrance is that crevasse. I will use the environment suit to investigate while you hold the shuttle in place."

Syrildon donned her suit, tucking in her nerve cords. Completing the closure sequence, she exited the craft and glided into the crevasse. Ry'zhara thought after her, gently, "And once again Syrildon races headlong into an abyss, leaving me with the tedious task."


Her body obeys her somewhat, if erratically, now. Lifting her head off the floor reduces her disorientation.

That is good.

The action brings a left hand into view. The hand is twitching, clenched, and holding a tool. The tool is tapping a thigh. The heated tip is burning the flesh deeply.

That must hurt.

Through blurry vision she sees a bright line on the far wall, orange-white at one end fading to a deep red-black at the other.

Dreaming feels good, and brings back memory.

She turns away from consciousness once more.


As Syrildon floated into the chamber deep inside the asteroid, she mentally relayed information to Ry'zhara. "I see a gray metal cube on a pedestal in the center of an oblate chamber. There are Ihan-rii characters inscribed on one of the six faces. A hemispherical, black khaydarin crystal is mounted in the center of the face opposite the inscription."

Her excitement built as she consulted the instruments in her suit. "There are no detectible defenses or dangerous devices around the cube."

"It is my turn, Syrildon, to advise prudence. Follow procedure, please." Ry'zhara did not attempt to conceal her amusement, but an undercurrent of concern was evident.

"Yes, judicator." Syrildon knew her mockery had succeeded as Ry'zhara laughed.

Syrildon warily shifted her path to approach the cube from the side with the inscription. "I have seen many artifacts, but never one such as this." Something about the black crystal bothered her.

She tried with only minor success to read the Ihan-rii characters. "I see an array of controls on the artifact. One is marked by a symbol that often means 'activate'. The adjacent control is marked with a symbol that, when paired with the first, often means 'deactivate'."

This is why I am assigned the relic seeker occupation, she thinks: my intuitive feel for Ihan-rii technology. It was a skill from which she derived both pride and sadness. The skill was rare, and was another reason that the judicators rejected her requests to join the templar.

"That location would seem to be safe for testing purposes. However, perhaps I should move the shuttle before you begin."

Syrildon shrugged her shoulders in laughter. "Do not worry, brave templar. I will protect you."

"Judicator, templar -- you khalai get so confused. All will become clear once I adjust your skin color." The exchange reminded Syrildon again why she was happy to be working with Ry'zhara.

Syrildon touched the "activate" crystal with the first thumb of her left hand. Immediately the black khaydarin crystal, possibly a focusing element, began to glow, and the wall opposite began to be eaten away.

"Syrildon! The temperature within the chamber is rising dangerously. It is filling with plasma!"

Her arm a blur, Syrildon touched the crystal labeled "deactivate", and the device shut down. The chamber wall opposite the crystal now contained a deep, symmetric hole in the rock. The inner surface glowed with heat. She felt and shared Ry'zhara's anxiety. "The cube seems to be a klu'an-kah, a matter disrupter."

"I believe further testing should be performed from outside, where you are not trapped with the released energy. And with that device pointed away from our shuttle," Ry'zhara said.

Syrildon removed webbing from her utility belt and captured the cube. A slight tug pulled the cube from the pedestal, overcoming a weak magnetic attraction. She began towing the cube out of the asteroid.


Vekinex wore flawless white robes decorated with silvery khaydarin crystals of perfect clarity. The robes were woven of the finest material and hung in light folds. His nerve cords were gathered together by rings of white metal inset with translucent gold crystals, creating a single bundle at the back of his head. He surveyed the assembled Conclave and his feeling of satisfaction, derived from his power over them, verged on euphoria.

"Over a thousand years ago we wandered, searching for sacred Ihan-rii relics to study, to learn from," Vekinex said to the cloistered Conclave. "Here in this system, on Jhas'toril, we found a vast Ihan-rii temple filled with relics. We found more scattered about the system. Some were clearly dangerous, and we chose to study them in solitude." He felt his audience projecting impatience at his recitation of history. He was certain that more than a few resented and even coveted his position of power.

"Events have transpired, brothers," Vekinex said, "that will force an end to our isolation. An alien vessel has blundered into our system. These aliens have visited Aiur. Their vessel carried technology that we have never seen -- Khaydarin crystals that record data, history, events." The assembled protoss began communicating privately in pairs, and a few in larger subgroups.

"I have evaluated the information in these crystals and discovered things beyond my imagination." Again Vekinex paused, relishing the attention of the assembled protoss. "Aiur has fallen to an alien race called the zerg, and the survivors have accepted haven with a group of protoss called dark templar who do not acknowledge the authority of the Judicator caste." The other judicators were barely contained. "Worse, these dark templar do not follow the Khala and amputate their nerve cords to escape it."

The chamber erupted in chaos. After a time the Conclave settled down enough for Vekinex to speak again. "We must break our isolation policy. We must return, after all these years, to save our people. We must save them, and ourselves, from the fate that awaits all who stray from the Khala.

"I have obtained the location of the dark templar world from the crystals. I will lead a small group there, and I will guide our brothers back to the ways set forth by Khas."

Vekinex sensed agreement emanating from the Conclave, and pressed on. "The zerg continue to threaten those who fled Aiur, not just the dark templar heretics. I will take with me certain Ihan-rii relics to aid in the fight against the zerg monsters. I will save our people."

And when I succeed, my life will be enshrined by the preservers, the protoss who record our racial history. I will be revered as Khas is revered.


Someone is shouting at her. He is angry. He is demanding that she open a door. She feels as if this has been happening for a long time. Growing just a little stronger, she pushes herself against the wall, moves her head and torso a little higher.

Yes, that is good. As I feel better, I grow closer to remembering.

Now she can see tools all over the floor, along with other things. Her vision is still blurry. She thinks that the bright line on the far wall is curving in on itself. She can feel heat radiating from the line. It is burning.

With effort she looks down her body. The hand -- her hand -- is still twitching, and the gouge in the thigh -- her thigh -- is deep. Dark purple blood is seeping from the wound. Each time the tool touches her, a puff of steam rises into the room.

There would be more blood if the tool were not red-hot.

I should stop doing that.

Mercifully, delirium returns.


Syrildon glanced nervously at Judicator Vekinex standing by the entrance. He had required her to accompany him on this journey to a place called Shakuras. All too frequently he observed her as she worked.

She had completed all of the dangerous testing in the asteroid cluster where the artifact was discovered. This carrier, the Khala'dor-ah, was no place to activate the klu'an-kah, but Syrildon continued investigating the device, hoping to understand the operating principles.

Syrildon startled as Vekinex suddenly spoke. "Have you achieved any increase in the mass conversion rate? Or the effective range? "

He asked such disturbing questions regularly. Surely the device is for mining or tunneling underground. Perhaps it was built to create the vast underground caverns in which we often find Ihan-rii artifacts, Syrildon thought to herself. "Yes, judicator. I believe I can tune the range to 400 kilometers, and the rate of matter disruption, the generation of high-energy plasma, can be increased to perhaps twice the mass of the Khala'dor-ah for each second of operation."

As usual, he offered no praise for her success. "I expect you to persist in discovering its capabilities."

Syrildon continued, "We must remain mindful that the force carrier particles are modulated at the focal point of the crystal. There is no destructive path between the artifact and the focal point as there is with beam weapons. Moreover, if we do not aim well and focus the effect too far inside the mass, the mass will explode violently with devastating results." The lesson had been learned early in their testing. They had unintentionally annihilated more than one asteroid, and the explosions had been massive.

"You must aim accurately, then, and when I direct," he said thoughtfully. Without further comment the judicator turned, opened the heavily armored door, and departed.

The armored door hissed shut automatically. Relieved, Syrildon turned to the klu'an-kah. After using her mind and the Khala to sense that no one was approaching the chamber, she surreptitiously opened a hidden panel.

She had discovered the release for the panel purely by accident. The scholar who had worked on translating the inscriptions for Syrildon had made no reference to such inner workings. All protoss devices required maintenance, but she had never encountered an Ihan-rii artifact that needed any. Thus far her investigations had revealed little -- an internal, nearly opaque field shielding barely discernible components. Perhaps the field was a security device.

Sensing someone approaching, Syrildon reflexively shielded her thoughts and closed the panel. There is something strange about this expedition. She had been less forthcoming than usual with results because of that feeling.

The door opened, and Ry'zhara entered. "Syrildon, you are late for your training. I am on duty soon, and I wish you to teach me more about configuring the ron'ashan. The flavors of light it provides are beautiful, but I would like to experiment with some variations."

Syrildon was happy to see her friend. "I appreciate your training at least as much as you appreciate the ron'ashan. When we return to Jhas'toril, I will construct one for you. It will be my gift of thanks for your time and patience." She moved toward the door. "In the meantime, let us go practice. We may not find further opportunity for some time; we are soon to arrive at Shakuras."


Vekinex could barely hide his disgust, a disgust that was fast turning into anger. The meetings with these misguided relatives were going nowhere. That the heretics had an equal standing in the discussions made his mood even darker. He found it difficult to address the dark templar directly, to look on their disfigurement, and some were noticing how closely he shielded his thoughts.

The experiences that the Aiur protoss and these heretics share have forged a bond between them, giving the protoss who fled our homeworld a tolerance for the unspeakable dark templar deviance.

He had failed repeatedly in his attempts to steer the discussion to the importance of the Khala. His counterparts from Aiur, not to mention the heretics, were only interested in the practical aspects of fighting the zerg threat. As a final insult, he had been forced to deal with a female executor.

"Yes, the ron'ashan use of xel'naga technology is intriguing," Executor Selendis said. "Syrildon is to be commended. It is not clear, however, how it can be used against the zerg."

Syrildon began to speak, and Vekinex cut her off with a venomous, private thought. "The ron'ashan is but one Ihan-rii device we can offer. Perhaps your templar and our scientist," he said, emphasizing the possessives, "should adjourn to a separate chamber and go into deeper detail. That will also give the judicators present some time to discuss events and policy."

The dark templar had no judicators, and showed surprise at their obvious exclusion. There is no alternative, he thought. I must convince our misguided brethren to relocate to Jhas'toril and abandon their ill-fated alliance with the heretics. They must be made to see that we can defeat the zerg without the dark templar.

Only then can we properly deal with those deviants, Vekinex thought grimly.


Through slightly clearer vision she sees that the bright, burning line is closing on itself, as if preparing to eat its own tail. The shouting has stopped, has been replaced by even stronger emotions. The shouter radiates satisfaction.

He no longer needs me to open a door.

For a moment she feels fear, then shame because of the fear. He plans to hurt her, and she is certain that she cannot stop him. She remembers the tool in her left hand, the tool with the red-hot tip. The hand is still resting on the floor. Wavering, it points the tool away from her body.

I must defend myself. I will burn a hole in his thigh if he comes near me.

She struggles without success to remain conscious, and finds herself sliding into a cool, dark refuge.


The judicators remained in closed conference, where they had been for many days. Periodically they adjourned to rest. During those times Syrildon sensed strain in Judicator Vekinex and had offered him use of the ron'ashan. He had refused and had rebuffed her for speaking without permission. She had even sensed that he wanted to strike her.

At the moment Ry'zhara and Syrildon were waiting in a room across from the meeting chamber. "It is fortuitous that your khalai kin here on Shakuras taught you this game. I am not accustomed to so much inactivity, and playing Ner'mah is a welcome diversion, although the name Cosmic Balance is a mystery to me."

The game consisted of a round board over which one assembled geometrically shaped argus crystals. The goal of the game was to maintain the Ner'mah, the cosmic balance, of your pieces while upsetting the balance of your opponents'. If your structure's balance was upset, your crystals would fall to the board, and your opponent would win.

"I, too, am drawn to playing Cosmic Balance, especially when I have the opportunity to 'korr de zhakan'." Syrildon delicately placed a crystal from her pile into position.

"Clever. You have been practicing without me, haven't you, sister?" Syrildon seemed to have a knack for the game, much to Ry'zhara's annoyance. "I too often find myself vulnerable to being struck at from the shadows."

"Yes, I have been playing alone, even when we are not waiting here. There is something about certain crystal configurations that ... I do not know how to describe."

Executor Selendis paused in passing the entrance to their room. Her golden armor nearly glowed and was encrusted with blue khaydarin crystals. Beneath the armor she wore dark blue, wonderfully rich robes that gleamed with more crystals. A bejeweled band held her nerve cords away from her face.

"I see that you are both still waiting patiently."

"Yes, Executor. We wait here each day in the event that Judicator Vekinex requires our service," Ry'zhara said.

"The judicators should adjourn soon, and I must speak to my people. May I wait with you?"

"We are honored to share your company," Syrildon said eagerly.

"Ah. You are playing Ner'mah. A terran I met once referred to it as 'An unholy union of Go and chess.' I believe he was referring to terran games. It may interest you to know that Ner'mah is a method used by the dark templar to train their kash'lor in attunement to the Void. It is a wonderful exercise for psionic control, even for those of us who recently arrived here from Aiur."

Ry'zhara looked at the board and her disadvantaged position, hoping to find a move that could stave off another loss. "The dark templar teach this game to their offspring?"

"Yes. They begin training their kash'lor very early. The Void is the Nerazim's -- the dark templar tribe's -- source of spirituality and power, much as the Khala is for us. The crystal configurations in the game focus psionic control in specific ways. Their young play Ner'mah and when they are old enough and can properly attune to the Void, they undergo the coming of age ceremony."

Syrildon tried not to think about the consequences of such a ceremony, given the dark templar's truncated nerve cords. "I believe that I have felt, somewhat, that attunement. It is difficult to describe, but when I reach a favorable crystal configuration, one of improved balance, I feel ... something."

Selendis looked at Syrildon more closely. "It is fortunate, then, that you have been training as a templar, especially for psionic control." She tilted her head and glanced toward Ry'zhara. "One should not touch the Void without sufficient mental discipline."

Syrildon's skin mottled, and Selendis continued. "The templar are no different than others where rumor is involved. Your templar friend here has been spending time with her counterparts and naturally mentioned you to my people. Such stories travel at their own speed."

Syrildon hunched her shoulders in deeper embarrassment while Ry'zhara poked at her mentally in camaraderie.

"Do not worry," Selendis said. "Your curiosity and, shall we say, bending of the caste boundaries, are not out of place on Shakuras. The dark templar, as well as the few terrans that we have met, differ greatly from the Aiur people. We are learning to adapt.

"I admit that I believe in traditional societal structure and that at first I found the dark templar ways disturbing, even wrong. However, the dark templar have proven themselves honorable allies in our fight against the zerg."

For some time Selendis described the Shakuras society, how all protoss were heard equally. She shared memories of dark templar bravery. Syrildon was entranced and impressed by the stories, and developed even greater respect and admiration for the executor and for the protoss of Shakuras. It was a place she could, she believed, feel at home. Feel free.

Selendis turned toward the entrance. "The conference will be adjourning soon. Let me leave you with some further insight into the minds of the terrans and the dark templar. They both have sayings that capture aspects of their philosophies. A terran idea that I have found revealing is conveyed thus: 'Honor is revealed in the crucible of unexpected events.'

"The dark templar have an equally revealing aphorism, though judicators dislike it intensely. It is 'Neraz gulio.'"

The door to the conference chamber opened, and Selendis stood. "I thank you both for your company. I must go now. Taro ruul asz."

Ry'zhara thanked her in return. "May honor guide you as well."

"Taro ruul asz, executor. And I think I understand why judicators might dislike that phrase," Syrildon said. "'Truth before authority' sounds like a challenge to tradition."


Leaving the conference room, Vekinex noticed Selendis parting with Syrildon. That collaborator is trying to influence my people. His resulting anger crystallized a plan that had been forming for some time. Communicating privately with the khalai and surprising Syrildon with his intensity, he told her, "Gather your belongings and meet me at the shuttle immediately. And do not speak further with anyone."

The khalai stared back at him for several moments and then hurried off.

Vekinex felt frustration and disgust. I have made no progress. The Aiur protoss do not agree, do not feel the need to relocate to Jhas'toril. The Aiur judicators no longer hold their rightful position of power. Instead, power is shared equally among the castes and even with the deviants. They continue to assert that the dark templar are crucial in combating the zerg. My brothers' minds are polluted by the ideas of the dark templar. If I do nothing, Khas' teachings will have been for naught.

Vekinex headed for the shuttle, barely restraining himself from striking the walls in frustration. He had promised to demonstrate how the klu'an-kah might turn the tide of war against the zerg.

These protoss, he thought, giving the word the same inflection as he gave "zerg", will have their demonstration.


One of the judicator's Khalen'ri piloted the shuttle, rather than Ry'zhara. Syrildon assumed that her friend was needed elsewhere. Perhaps Ry'zhara is aiding Selendis in some task. The thought pleased her.

Vekinex pinned Syrildon with an intense gaze. "When we arrive at the Khala'dor-ah, you are to proceed to the klu'an-kah chamber. You will speak with no one, khalai. You will configure the relic for maximum power and maximum range."

"I understand," said Syrildon hesitantly.

Turning to the pilot, the judicator said. "You will ensure that the khalai does as instructed and return with her and the klu'an-kah to this shuttle. You will place the relic in the hold. Upon my command you will depart the Khala'dor-ah and proceed to a position above the meeting rooms we just departed. You will order the khalai to activate the klu'an-kah and focus it on the meeting room. Ensure that the hall is eradicated along with the disease inside. If the focus of the relic is too deep within the planet, then so be it."

Syrildon was horrified.

"Ik ku da anai," said the Khalen'ri. It shall be done.


She remembers.

Vekinex wants to kill. He wants to kill someone I know.

She does not recall why, but she knows that he is wrong, that he brings dishonor on her, on all of her people. He wants to kill her friends.

I must stop him.


Before the shuttle docked, Syrildon recovered from her shock enough to start thinking. Absently carrying the ron'ashan, she made her way to the klu'an-kah chamber. As she approached the entrance, the ever-present Khalen'ri guard activated the door. Syrildon stepped into the room, quickly placed the ron'ashan on the floor, and turned.

The shuttle pilot had paused, framed by the door, while speaking privately to the guard. Now he began to step into the room. But Syrildon suddenly flowed into the templar combat sequence, kicking him squarely in the chest and forcing him to stumble backwards into the corridor. Using the momentum of her spin, she slapped the emergency lockdown mechanism next to the door.

The door slammed closed in the guard's face just as he activated his psi blades.

Syrildon felt surprise and relief. That should never have succeeded. The guards did not expect a khalai to fight. Retrieving her tool pouch from next to the klu'an-kah, she removed the cover of the lockdown mechanism and disabled the override.

Reflexively she reached out and enabled the ron'ashan, and her tension began to recede. Thinking clearly and calmly now, Syrildon stared at the klu'an-kah.

I cannot allow Vekinex to commit such an unthinkable act. The protoss of Shakuras are honorable. The dark templar have demonstrated bravery and good will, and have fought side by side with us against the zerg. We can join with them, and they with us. Together we are stronger than we are apart. The judicator is wrong; his intentions are dishonorable, intolerable.

And Ry'zhara is still on Shakuras.

"Taro ruul asz," Selendis had said. May honor guide you. I must disable the klu'an-kah.

Gaining access to the inner workings of the cube had been pure luck; getting past the protective field would take time. Syrildon shielded her thoughts, opened the hidden panel, and began to work.


"Open the door!" Vekinex shouted at the Khalen'ri.

The guard indicated the security status panel. "The emergency lockdown has been activated, judicator. The override has also been deactivated."

"Then cut through it!"

"That will take time. The door and the bulkheads for this room are designed to protect the device from outside assault. Neither our psi blades nor the teleporter can penetrate the room."

"Do as I command. And do not damage the relic!"

The guard sprinted down the corridor.

Vekinex sensed Syrildon in the chamber, and whispered to her. "Khalai. Open the door. I understand that you do not have the demeanor or training for the task that I set for you. I should not have asked you to participate. You will not be punished. Simply open the door and leave the chamber."

I need more time. Syrildon decided to answer openly so that the Khalen'ri could hear. "I would not stand in front of the door, Vekinex. I have the klu'an-kah pointed in that direction, and I may activate it."

Vekinex stepped quickly aside. "You will not do that. You too would be killed by the energy release." And you will pay for your defiance; you will learn your place, he whispered to her.

"Perhaps, but as you are fully aware, I am an expert with the klu'an-kah. Are you sure that I will not simply remove your head from this side of the door?"

That should give him pause.


Feeling radiant heat at her back, Syrildon turned and saw a molten spot at the corner of the door. Vekinex has decided that I will not act, or at least has ordered the Khalen'ri to risk their lives despite my threat.

Syrildon inspected her work. She had been able to deactivate the security field, revealing intricate inner workings wrapped around a seamless, oddly glowing, metallic sphere.

There was a problem.

The radiation sensors activated when I removed the field. It was not there to protect the device, but to shield a dangerous radiation source. Glancing at the door again, she worked through the situation. I can try to reactivate the protective field, or I can destroy the sphere and save untold numbers on Shakuras.

Her skin already beginning to tingle from the strong radiation, she recited Ry'zhara's teachings of templar philosophy to steady herself. "Rahlga s'ak-ash," duty is my shield.

She selected a gripping tool from her pouch. Afterwards, if there is time, I can reactivate the radiation shield.


Vekinex does not care if he devastates the planet.

The guards have almost cut through the door. He plans to hurt me.

She looks down at her left fist to ensure she still wields her weapon. She cannot feel the weight of it in her hand. She cannot control her grip. The radiation damage makes her skin burn, and has surely damaged her brain and body in terrible ways. The Khala feels distant, like a fading sunset -- her nerve cords have suffered grave damage. Sometimes, though, she feels a dark, cool current washing over her, across her mind, and it comforts her.

Dark purple blood oozes from her ruined right hand. Her blisters have become open sores, and the radiation has bleached her blue-gray pigmentation, leaving her skin a simple gray.

I will be -- I am -- templar, she shouts in defiance. Or thinks she shouts. With a supreme effort Syrildon manages to lift the etching tool off the floor and point it at the door, toward the burning path of light.


Trying to understand the mechanism had taken too much time. She had finally resorted to forcibly removing random components. Twisted bits of metal were scattered across the floor of the chamber. The artifact was gutted, exposing the sphere cradled in khaydarin crystals.

"Uhn dara ma'nakai," our duty is unending, she recited. Syrildon grasped the sphere, threading the thumbs of her right hand between the crystals, and pulled with all her strength. They resisted for a moment, then shattered, slicing into her thumbs.

She felt triumph as her blood flowed over the sphere in her hand. Using the heaviest tool she could reach, she placed the sphere on the floor and began hammering. The sphere cracked after just a few strokes.

Radiant heat once more broke through her concentration. The guards were over halfway through. Feeling immensely tired and more than a little disoriented, Syrildon moved to the sensor and inspected the radiation readout, then looked at the broken sphere on the floor.

The sphere is leaking deadly radiation that will flood the ship when the guards break through the door. Innocent protoss will die from my actions unless the radiation can be contained. It will be impossible to reactivate the protective field of the klu'an-kah. I damaged the artifact too much.

Looking at the ron'ashan, she considered. The containment field is driven by the enclosed energy source, expanding and compressing proportional to its intensity. The field is opaque to all energy but selected frequencies of light. If I can configure the field to encompass the klu'an-kah, the ship should be safe, and so should I.

She collected the broken sphere, placed it back inside the cube, and picked up the ron'ashan. Her right hand was throbbing, the skin blistered where she had grasped the sphere. Her concentration was failing, and her nerve cords felt as if they had been dipped in acid. "Dum adu'nala," death comes to all, she recited.


Syrildon was exhausted. Her body was covered in blisters from the intense radiation, but her task was complete. The radiation sensor confirmed her suspicions. It is too late for me.

Glancing at the door, she thought blearily, But there is time.

She picked up an etching tool, activated the heated tip, and applied it to the top face of the artifact. Her coordination was so impaired now that she could barely stand, and was forced to grasp the tool with both hands. Her skin hurt almost unbearably. Finished, she activated the ron'ashan containment field and watched it expand to encompass the klu'an-kah.

Only now did she realize that someone on Shakuras must be told what Vekinex intended, that he could still use the weapons on the Khala'dor-ah. Syrildon slumped to the floor in a controlled fall, and stretched out. The coolness of the floor against her back, against her nerve cords, provided slight but welcome relief. With great mental effort, she reached out to the one she trusted with her life and her honor, then the one who could stop Vekinex from committing further evil.

Conserving what strength remained, she waited for the door to fall as sparkling, dark energy washed through her.


The massive door clangs to the floor of the chamber, and the Khalen'ri storm through. Syrildon is haphazardly propped against a wall, the etching tool in her outstretched fist. The tool is steady, and points toward the hole where the door once was.

In a blur of motion the pilot slices her hand off at the wrist with his right psi blade, and stands over her with the left blade at her chest, daring her to move. The guard scans the room and says, "It is safe, judicator."

Vekinex enters the chamber, whispering to her. "I will be keeping my promises now, khalai."

Her blood pumps from her arm onto the floor, and she is unshaken. "Khas nar-adah!"

Vekinex shoulders aside the pilot, stepping into the spreading pool. Syrildon's bloodied stump smears purple across his white robes as he reaches down and grasps her severed arm at the wrist. He wishes to inflict agony, but the nerve endings in her skin are dead. She feels no pain and shows no fear. Her tortured skin sloughs off in his grip.

Shuddering slightly and stepping back, he says, "Khas does not condemn my soul, for I carry out his will." Finally focusing on more than Syrildon, he notices the tools and broken components scattered about the floor, and the containment field surrounding the klu'an-kah. He roars, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

"I have followed honor; I have done what is right."

He cannot feel her through the Khala, and what he sees in her mind frightens him. She has given herself over to some cool, distant place, a place of calm and acceptance, a place of dark energies. Safe there, she laughs at him.

"I am the judge of what is right, khalai!" Vekinex steps toward the klu'an-kah. He looks at the upper face through the fleetingly translucent containment field, and reads the Khalani words etched there.

Neraz gulio. Truth before authority.

Vekinex's face contorts as he lashes out at the klu'an-kah. His bloodied fist passes through the containment field, striking the controls.

And Syrildon embraces freedom.


Recordings of the event exist purely by chance. They show the Khala'dor-ah in orbit without sign of malfunction, until an anomaly was observed near the hold. A sphere of light seeped through the hull, expanding inexorably, consuming the vessel in moments. Scientists believe that the Khala'dor-ah was converted completely into high-energy plasma, an inferno restrained precariously by a containment field. The field reached over 50 kilometers in diameter, making it visible from Shakuras.

I was one of those out in the open as it began. I did not intend to be so. I was on the way to my flagship, responding to Syrildon's warning. Ry'zhara was with me. Her fierce determination to aid Syrildon dissuaded me from ordering her not to follow.

As Ry'zhara and I raced toward my vessel, I was suddenly struck by a tremendous feeling of calm. I knew that Ry'zhara also felt it, as we both halted. It was then that I tasted a flavor of light that reminded me, achingly and unexpectedly, of Aiur. The quality of our twilight was changing, and I looked up to find a beacon, modulating in color and brightness.

When I had seen this before, it was just a toy.

While my eyes were drawn to the new star, I somehow knew that the Khala'dor-ah was gone, and Syrildon with it. We had spent only a little time together, much of that speaking of a child's game. Nevertheless, I knew her well enough; I could no longer feel Syrildon in the Khala. Ry'zhara fell to her knees, overwhelmed by shock and grief.

Investigation revealed what I had already suspected. Syrildon had warned me of a grave danger to all of Shakuras, but she had not stopped there. She had responded to that danger with action, with honor, as a templar. She had defended those she had known only briefly, and the crucible that appeared over our heads had been her weapon. And in doing so, Syrildon had sacrificed not just her life, but also that gift most precious to every protoss: her place in the Khala.

Energy bled from the beacon for nearly a full day, and the sphere shrank in proportion. Where I stood for its beginning, I again stood for its end, and watched with respect as Syrildon's star shined its last.

-- Alys'aril memory crystal