The long, cold hallway seemed to stretch on for infinity. The unending sequence of silvery walls basked quietly, illuminated by cyan-coloured orbs mounted on statues and pedestals inscribed with runic memories. The silence was astoundingly evocative here, almost instilling a need to break it, and a fear that you would break it - and that in doing so, you would be broken, too. This was a deathly silence. This was a quiet hallway. This was infinity.
At the end of infinity lay an elevator shaft, and it was this machination that shattered the silence; the silvery doors, matching the bland, chromatic colour scheme of the hallway, parted ways, retreating into the walls and revealing a hulking war engine, a golden destroyer. Four powerful legs rose, jointed, and fell slightly, their shape not unlike the Terrans' "L", before suspending an immense core at least three metres in diameter. The core was the true centre of this machine, where its pilot lay, permanently affixed to his vehicle, and it hovered slowly as the legs began rising and falling. The machine propelled itself forward at a steady pace, soon clearing the elevator, beginning its hopeless march down the infinite hall.
This war machine is known as a Protoss Dragoon, a hardened exoskeleton controlled through the essence translators that acted as artificial nerve endings. The fallen warriors of the Protoss would be placed into these golden machinations if their physical forms were still in suitable condition, allowing the fallen to serve their leaders, even after what would normally be considered 'the end'. With the recent conclusion of the Aeon of Strife, the new Protoss Conclave saw it fit to reanimate their injured warriors and use them as soldiers once more should another conflict break out. The pilot of this particular Dragoon, however, had a specific role to play in the chain of command. Warrior-Dragoon Drakkar, one of Adun's former honour guards, had been summoned to attention by Judicator Kizrath. Whenever a Judicator had requested Drakkar's presence in the past, something dire had transpired.
Drakkar wondered what it was, this time.
As his war machine trekked onward, each stride with his great legs bringing forth a resounding CLANG! from the impact of plating on plating, the warrior couldn't help but feel a dark, invisible presence nearby. Drakkar's instincts were rarely off, but there was no one else in the hallway. If there were, he would have noticed.
No sooner did the mentality enter Drakkar's mind did his sensors pick up motion ahead. Indeed, a Protoss footsoldier was soon made visible, making his way with the haste of a messenger towards the Dragoon. As the other Protoss neared, his thoughts found their way into Drakkar's own. "En Taro Adun, Dragoon brother! Judicator Kizrath has sent me to redirect you to Judicator Felanis for your meeting. The honourable Kizrath is currently preoccupied."
Drakkar sent back thoughts of tired reluctance; tired obedience, too. The honour guard was indeed weary of being sent back and forth between members of the Judicator caste like a Bengalaas between two hunters. This scenario made him feel helpless. Sometimes, though, Drakkar wondered if he was the hunter, and the Judicator were the Bengalaas; their charade of respect and irritating detours the only way for the honour-caste to prevent themselves from becoming captives.
"Inform Kizrath that his request will be carried out." Drakkar's mental message was short, and notably agitated. The Zealot sent a thought of affirmation before continuing on down the endless hallway, most likely to the elevator that Drakkar originated from. The tired Dragoon began his movements again, rounding a rare corner into another passage of the infinite hallway. Eventually, he would reach an elevator that traveled to Felanis' chamber in this structure, where he would finally be granted the knowledge of what the Judicator caste required of him now.
As he entered the elevator shaft and interfaced with it psionically, Drakkar couldn’t help but think that these confrontations with the infinitely-more "enlightened" always seemed hopeless.
The elevator rose quickly, traveling to the sixth sublevel before its silver doors parted ways, revealing the war engine once more. Drakkar proceeded down the notably shorter hallway, connected to the door panel, and watched as it slid open.
The room was nearly empty; a powered-down terminal stood straight against the wall, waiting for the next time it would be put to use. A large window took up the wall opposite the terminal, casting a dark-blue, almost ominous light into the room. It is there, at the clear window overlooking the massive shrine that the complex was built around, that Judicator Felanis stood tall. His gaze was focused, his demeanor intent, and as he turned to face the warrior who had entered, his visage was ghastly, cold, and haunted. It was clear that something of a truly daunting nature had occurred. As Drakkar moved forward, allowing the doors to close behind him, the Judicator stepped away from the window and approached the terminal. His movements were slow, his pace telling. His thoughts, as he began to speak to Drakkar, were in disarray.
“I cannot pretend that the conflict ahead of us is a small one, warrior.” As Felanis began, he pressed his fingers against the terminal, interfacing with it to bring up an image unrecognisable from the Dragoon’s vantage point. “For the first time in recent history, the Temple of Adun is in jeopardy.”
Drakkar held back a mental snicker. The Judicator was being laughably weak-minded. “Honourable Felanis, you do not truly believe that the meager insurgents and renegades that are so sparsely populated in this region actually pose a threat to us? Such a notion is comical, Judicator. We need not worry about them; we have far more of a standing military than necessary to defend the temple.”
Felanis snapped around, his eyes blazing with rekindled fire, and his response was surprisingly powerful. “You know not how wrong you are, Dragoon!” He stepped to the side as he spoke. “Come closer, and see for yourself what horrors the gods have sent upon us! Their wrath is manifested in ways beyond our comprehension!”
Heeding his superior’s directions, Drakkar stepped forward, his exoskeleton looking abnormally large in the room that, by contrast, was small and claustrophobic. As he analysed the image of an animal that, indeed, was not native to Aiur’s soil, the honour-guard’s thoughts ran wild. The beast was at least the height of an average Protoss soldier, with a thick, boney structure that resembled one of Aiur’s native lizard species. The main differences in the structure lay in the tail, which was lined in foreboding, sharp-looking scales, and the limbs that ended in vicious claws. Its head was agape with an endless maw of teeth, and a plate-like rill extended to make up the rest of the beast’s figure. Larger scales extended along the neck of the creature, and the thick sinew showed both muscular dexterity and immense physical strength.
Indeed, this was a beast of war.
“This creature is nothing short of abnormal, Judicator. Where did you find this? Where, on Aiur, does it dwell?” Drakkar’s exoskeleton retracted two steps, allowing the Dragoon to “face” Felanis as best as was possible. The Judicator stepped back to the terminal, powering it off once more, before returning to the opposite side of the room.
As he neared the window, looking out once more to the shrine to the gods, Felanis’ thoughts found their way into Drakkar’s mind. “The beast was observed by a military patrol on Saalok. They believe that our great moon is in jeopardy of falling to the beasts.” He paused for a moment, reflecting on what he was about to say. “They have reported sightings of other creatures that fight with the one you saw already. Unfortunately, their reports were not as detailed. The patrols were… apprehended before the full report could be sent to us, but we did receive information that some the beasts on Saalok were capable of spaceflight.” Felanis turned back to the Dragoon warrior, his eyes far less intensified than before. “These developments are dire, destructive in nature. If these aliens make landfall on Aiur, the Conclave is certain that the tentative bond we now have will be shattered, and that our race will fall into disarray once more.” The Judicator stepped slowly to the centre of the room, his gaze locked forebodingly on the honour-guard’s core.
“We do not want another Aeon of Strife, Drakkar.”
It was the first time in the entire conversation that Judicator Felanis had used the warrior’s name, and the Dragoon was taken aback by that far more than what the Protoss had said earlier. He was used to the haughty, holier-than-thou attitude that Judicators possessed. What Felanis was expressing was anything but.
“Then we must act before the potential for destruction turns into a civil war. What would you have me do, Judicator?”
Felanis didn’t hesitate. “We have forces established on Saalok already, and they are doing what they can to suppress and destroy all traces of the alien life. However, the Conclave wishes to prevent news of these developments from spreading to those who would incite insurgencies.” The Judicator stepped back to the window. It was becoming a habit. “You are to ensure that such news is prevented.”
Drakkar stirred. “I am a warrior, not a diplomat. I hardly have the abilities or credentials required to censor your news, Judicator.” The resentment in him wanted to say more, but the discipline in him held his proverbial tongue.
Felanis nodded his weary head, his eyes still fixated on the shrine. “I know what role you play, Dragoon. I am all too aware of who you are.” He paused, as if thinking of his phrasing, and then continued. “You are to carry out assassinations. The list of renegade leaders you are to execute is available in your briefing log. I expect you to begin immediately.” The Judicator’s gaze was still locked on the shrine. “That is all.”
Drakkar did not reply. He merely left the Judicator to his own devices, approaching the elevator shaft once more. The Dragoon stopped outside the open doors, thinking for a moment on the subject of his latest war crime. He shook the thoughts from his mind, almost instinctively, and entered the shaft. He cursed his ability to consciously think, for no matter what he thought, he could not change the establishment.
It seemed that the Conclave, so lauding of their so-called honour, lacked the very thing they claimed to build themselves around.