Author's Note: Been doing a lot of catching up, particularly with my video gaming. Someone had challenged me during my playings of Legacy of the Void in trying to come up with an idea of putting Zeratul within the RWBYverse. Starcraft had been my very first video game that I played online and I had been – and still am – a humongous fan of Blizzard as they are still one of the few video gaming companies that's still made up of brilliant geeks like us. After finishing Legacy of the Void and witnessing the conclusion of such a long and excellent story, I came up with the idea that I felt I had to pursue, all with the idea of combining the end of the old with the beginning of the new.
It was an…innocent world.
Between the thick, hardy trunks and beneath the healthy green canopies, the air rippled. So slight and insignificant, one would have to be looking right at that small space and knowing just what to look for to have seen it. By then it would be gone, the individual losing sight of it until the anomaly occurred again some distance away. After passing another tree, the phenomenon didn't repeat. Instead, within the shadow of the tree, a darker one formed, lengthening and shaping into the being who stepped out into the light.
A being who possessed a slight stoop but still moved with quiet grace, the frayed robe of dark purple not so much as rustling with his movements. With that grace was power that was evident in the muscled, sinewy frame that carried the heavy pauldrons of gold decorated with green gemstones. Cloth and armor continued to mix together with a long piece of the former covering his groin and another over the lower half of his face. Other than the pauldrons, the other prominent piece of armor was the large vambrace at his right arm.
He was not human. A bundle of severed cords tied at the top of a triangular head, skin of a blue hue, digitigrade legs with two toes, and hands that ended in four digits. Beneath the cloth, there was no mouth or nose, nor did he possess any ears. Only a pair of brightly glowing green eyes.
Yet Zeratul could hear the wind blow gently through the forest, smell the clean air, and feel the healthy rays of the sun. Those brightly-lit orbs surveyed the peaceful landscape and he decided that innocent was indeed the correct word to use. For what seemed to be far too often, he had witnessed worlds such as this defiled in some way. From methods such as all life being incinerated and the very crust broken and spewing molten rock, infestation that involved the consuming of all fauna and vegetation beneath abominable organisms, to the polluting and wasteful technology of younger races.
It did not mean that it wasn't inhabited. The sensors on his personal craft, Void Seeker, had detected the life signs that it matched as terran in origin despite a number of irregularities, but those life signs appeared oddly contained within limited territory. The energy signatures it had detected from those settlements along with the planet itself had been equally unusual when compared to typical terran worlds.
It had been one of the reasons why he had been drawn to this world, hoping to find answers to prevent a premonition of a galaxy-wide apocalypse from becoming reality. To halt the machinations of a dark god who resented all creation. However, even so early in his investigation, the prelate of the nerazim doubted that this would be a world to produce answers. It was an oddity that appealed to his curiosity to find such a place so far out in the void. It did not resonate as a source for answers.
Something was resonating directly beneath him though. Lowering to a knee, Zeratul focused on a specific point on the ground. A hand of two fingers and two thumbs dug into it, the sharp claws that tipped them burrowing and scratching deep into the soft soil until they hit something solid. Not a rock or a stone as he could already feel the too-smooth surface of the object before he got a proper grip on it to pull it out.
It was a crystal and his first thought was of the khadyarin crystals that were an intricate part of the lifestyle of the protoss – from powering their technology to being simple tools for meditation. It was not blue though, instead a vibrant red.
There was power contained within, and the dark templar attempted to probe its depths. Unlike khadyarin crystals though, its nature was quite different. He felt wild, abundant energies that the small crystal – easily fitting in the palm of his hand – almost seemed inadequate in accommodating it.
An innocent world, perhaps, Zeratul mused. His gaze turned up towards the sky, where the sun was shining within an expanse of blue, and thought of what he saw on his way in: a moon that orbited around this planet, but one that had an immense section of it shattered into pieces. But one that holds secrets of its own.
As he had done many times before, he longed for the life as he once knew it. Even after attaining the rank of prelate, it hadn't stopped him from doing as all nerazim had done since they were banished by their khalai brethren from Aiur: to explore deep into the farthest reaches of space. It had been their means of survival, to tap into the Void as they had done, and it became their way of life. During his long life, he had journeyed through the darkness between the most distant stars, beheld the births of negative-suns, and borne witness to the entropy of entire realities…all for the sake of knowledge of beings that may be responsible for shaping the entire universe and, quite likely, several more before it.
The xel'naga – the "wanderers from afar". Great beings that had come from the Void to seed and encourage the evolutionary growth of all life. Believed to be a benevolent species, living to create, study, and propagate sentient life, the legends had always claimed that the protoss – the firstborn – as their most successful creation. Over millennia later was it revealed that the zerg were another. As of only recently, Zeratul had uncovered that the two races were so much more than that.
Such discoveries were what he had once yearned for during his hundreds of years of life. To unravel the mysteries of the gods of their time and how to use the answers to benefit both the templar and dark templar. But now, what he sought was a means to prevent their extinction to the whims of a malevolent entity that had broken from the ranks of the xel'naga. Unfortunately, he did not even have a quarter of the time that the past had blessed him with.
None of which that could be spent on this world. A world so far from the Koprulu sector and even further from the terran homeworld of Earth, yet terrans there were. From the soil he had unearthed a crystal of great power like khaydarin crystals and, if he was to take this sample back for examination, he theorized that he might glean some information as to the source of the strange energy readings of the planet.
Maybe this was another reason as to why he had set down here: to seek comfort in reminiscing, much like he had done whenever he had been uncertain as he constantly was now. To receive healing from being on a natural, unsullied world of mysteries. How he desired to spend a little longer in peace… But this could not be so. He had made such a mistake and he did not wish to repeat it.
Zeratul refocused on the red crystal and, tempted as he was, he would not tap further into its power. Not solely for the reasons he just contemplated but for caution's sake. James Raynor had spoken of a saying from his kind about playing with fire and for some reason the prelate found it to be unusually suitable for what he held. It did not stop him from drawing it back and depositing it within his robe.
Perhaps, when all this was over, he would examine it further. Perhaps return to this planet and any others like it to investigate their secrets. Spend the rest of his life as he had done thus far once peace returned if he was allowed to partake in it despite all that he had been involved in.
He began making his way back to where he had left the Void Seeker. He had been careful in his choice of a suitable landing spot, having selected this forest due to its distance from the major settlements of the largest gatherings of terran life signatures. The pleasantries gained from this area had been unintended, but not unwanted.
He did not cloak himself, expecting the return trip to be uneventful as he had not spotted any terrans or other intelligent lifeforms along the path he was retracing. He did not leave himself completely defenseless, projecting his senses outwards to alert him to any presences that were not his own.
And alerted he became mere minutes later. Zeratul halted as soon as he detected…he was not sure how to describe it. The first thought that came to him was a sudden blackness that encroached upon the edges of his awareness. It was not cold or empty like the void but more like an abyss full of unending violence. He stepped off to the side, shadow and light bending to his whim as he clothed himself in them, a brief ripple marking where he had been before he vanished from sight completely.
Whatever was approaching, it was coming towards him on such a precise path that it would've put him on guard if he wasn't already due to the mere arrival of this presence. Coincidence and chance were not something that existed in nerazim culture and Zeratul found everything involved to be warrant of suspicion. He did not make a run to the Void Seeker, choosing instead to lie in wait while continuing to track the entity's approach. His initial opinion did not change; what felt like pure, black malevolence coming right in his direction. Very few examples there were for him to compare it to.
He kept his hidden gaze to where he sensed them coming. He saw the spikes first; long, jagged shards of white that jutted up above the surrounding vegetation. A moment later and he saw the lanky black bodies; thin but with defined muscularity beneath the furred hides. They crawled on all fours and he finally saw the pointed snout of the lupine head of the leader, its skull adorned with a mask of ivory.
Zeratul had observed only a minor number of what he assumed was the local fauna and these did not match them. They possessed a resemblance to them but it almost appeared that they had been changed. Nothing like being infested as the zerg would do to other lifeforms but Zeratul couldn't help but feel as if these beasts had been somehow corrupted and twisted into these monstrous forms.
Their instincts, too. He could not make out specific thoughts in these primitive minds, but he could make out what drove their existence. They existed to hunt but not for sustenance or survival. The malice that they exhibited expressed nothing but a great hunger to kill for the sake of killing. No, not just kill: to devour and erase all traces of what they saw as an enemy rather than prey.
Their single-mindedness for slaughter reminded Zeratul of the zerg but he instead settled on a different and much more hideous foe: the hybrids. At least with the zerg, their directives led to the strengthening of the brood they belonged to and the Swarm as a whole. Even if they were to be cut off from a queen, they possessed their own natural instincts that they would fall back on.
But then there were the hyrbids – the ultimate perversion of the xel'naga. Although these black beasts held more of a resemblance to the local fauna than the hybrids did to what they were formerly, that design for absolute hatred and erasure of those they targeted reminded Zeratul too much of when he first beheld the abominations for himself. There was also something else. Watching as these animals prowled through the forest, that darkness heavy in the air, Zerataul was struck with another similarity: of how these creatures, like the hybrids, may be an extension of something far darker and far worse.
They didn't move on as he wished. The group – seven total – had begun spreading out the closer they came, the implications of which something that was not lost on the prelate. Their heads were drawn to the ground, a couple sniffing, but he wondered if it was really a scent that they were looking for. The one that had been in front was closest and Zeratul could make out how it's head slowly moved from side to side, trying to pick up on something…and drawing ever closer to the dark templar.
He already came to the conclusion but it was only when the beast stood on its back legs, casting a shadow over the invisible nerazim, that Zeratul believed he found the proof: it could detect him!
The beast's lips pulled back in a snarl, sharp fangs now visible, but what captured Zeratul's gaze were the red eyes that burned beneath the bone-like mask. Empty of everything save for that maliciousness, they brightened as did the lines that mapped the mask and Zeratul detected the increase of the savagery in its thoughts in response to having found prey. There was no use in hiding any longer.
The beast's roar was in time with the activation of a warp blade from his vambrace and was swiftly cut off when that blade of crackling green Void energy pierced beneath its chin, burning through fur, flesh, and then bone when it stabbed through the skull and skull mask, the tip protruding right between the red eyes. While the green energy continued to glow bright, the red in those eyes dulled to nothing.
Zeratul pushed the corpse off to the side, removing his warp blade in the process to present it and his uncloaked form to the rest of the group that rounded on him. One of them howled upon sighting him, joined by the snarling or angry barks as they addressed him and the prelate could feel the mental pressure of such intense hatred that became fixated on him. He easily bore it, and what interested him more was the wisp of what appeared to be smoke that entered his vision.
The beast he just slew remained where it fell, and to his amazement it appeared to be disintegrating. Its body was slowly dissolving, even the bony spikes and masks that broke down into smoky tendrils that slowly danced up before disappearing. A curious sight, but something else that wasn't unfamiliar to Zeratul. Thinking of his own people, he wondered as to what, exactly, the essence of these beasts were returning to-
The lunging of one of its brethren reminded the prelate that there would be a time for questions later. With catlike grace, he deftly leapt to the side, his warp blade coming around to catch and sever one of the paws to its hind legs. The creature landed sloppily and despite losing its appendage it immediately attempted to stand without it, either ignoring or its rage overcoming the pain as it tried to stand on the cauterized stump.
Tenacious beast, Zeratul allowed, it still snarling and barking when it twisted around to reface the protoss which it was rewarded for when he decapitated it.
There were five more left, Zeratul facing them to find that a pair was already bounding towards him. Brandishing his warp blade, he rushed to meet them with the lead one diving forward, claws outstretched to try and bring him down. He slid beneath them and the creature itself, sharp green energy carving a line down the middle.
Upon clearing the first, he launched himself at the second, doing what the other tried to do when his feet impacted against the chest of this one, the digits of his free hand wrapping around its throat to stop its charge and have it collapse onto its back. His warp blade was already poised and it was a simple matter to perform a similar execution when the sword-like energy struck, vaporizing the bone of the mask and burrowing deep into its brain.
Three left, with one of the remaining number having reached him when he glanced over, his weapon still embedded in his latest kill while his next adversary was already swiping at him.
Those claws tore through air, smoke, and nothing else.
The creature stood and stared as the smoke cloud that had suddenly appeared and was broken up by its attack, revealing Zeratul having vanished. It began to turn its head around, searching, and then a cry tried and failed to clear from its throat when a warp blade entered through the back of its neck and out the front. It struggled nonetheless, with Zeratul holding on by one of the spikes on its back. He jerked his arm down, cutting through vertebrae and whatever else, and he flipped away when the creature stopped its thrashing and fell, Zeratul landing upon the high sanctuary of a tree branch.
Two left, with the last pair snarling from where they were down below. Vicious, malevolent creatures, but they were not the most formidable foes that he had ever faced.
Zeratul suddenly started, sensing before he heard the shrieking behind him. He looked back to see small, black feathered bodies that darted amongst the branches, the screeching coming from pointed beaks – as sharp as the talons that sought to rip and tear into him.
What they found instead was a barrier of psionic energy that they clawed uselessly against, the flock of birds – adorned with miniaturized versions of those bone masks – crashing against the shield. They didn't break through but Zeratul did tip and nearly plummet, grabbing the branch and swinging himself over to another, barely avoiding being seized when those on the ground jumped at him. He rotated on his latest perch, finding the birds having regathered and coming for him again. He split two in half with one stroke, batted aside another with his free arm, and cleaved through another.
He nearly lost his balance again, the tree shaking and beginning to tip. Daring to glance down, it was to see the trunk being torn to pieces, the wolflike animals destroying it to bring him down. They really were quite relentless and despite appearing to belong to entirely different species, the two he fought were linked by that same hatred that would not be abated until he fell before them.
The tree tipped further and Zeratul vaulted from it, slicing through another of the nearby birds in passing before he vanished in another plume of smoke, teleporting back to the ground at a distance from them. He should consider retreating as he didn't know if any more of these creatures were nearby, what other types that he may have to contend with-
The ground shook beneath his feet and something erupted right in front of him.
It was a great worm that unearthed itself; a body of several meters in length that came to a rest. Like the others, it was black, and when it turned its head towards him, the white mask became visible with multiple pairs of red eyes. It was reminiscent of a beak but when it opened, it was to expose a mix of jaws and mandibles. And out from its cavernous mouth, it disgorged a mass of writhing, screeching serpents.
They shot towards him, how they snapped at the air with needle-like teeth betraying their intent to bite and either rip Zeratul to pieces between them or draw him back into the worm's gullet. He severed off one of these 'tongues' but the rest pressed on, relentless, and he took the brunt of it with his shield, the barrier holding as they battered into it, but only barely.
The source, then. As the serpents reared back for another combined attack, Zeratul teleported again, bypassing them as he reappeared at the worm. Without delay he stabbed his warp blade right in the center of the worm which immediately bucked and squealed, its serpentine tongues joining it with a chorus of tormented hisses. Zeratul cut down the entire length of the worm, splitting it wide open, and only then did it become silent and still, the tongues soon following it as they collapsed in a pile together.
Such a minor victory did not last as when the prelate surveyed his surroundings, it was to see more. More and more. More of those wolves who had established a circle around him during his skirmish with the worm, surrounding him. A large flock of the birds perched themselves within the trees, cutting off that avenue of escape. Another worm did not break out from the ground, but he spotted other specimens having joined. A lizard-like monster with a barbed tail, another with an armored shell and saber-like fangs, and a multi-legged insect with lance-like protrusions extending from its carapace.
No matter the shape and size, they all expressed that same craving for his demise.
Innocent, Zeratul contemplated as he raised his warp blade, may've been a term used prematurely.
He waited for them to react first and he entertained the possibility of being able to break the perimeter and escape if an opening presented itself. He could not hope to engage and expect to survive, not against these numbers. He tensed when one of them began convulsing and making a hacking noise, his first thought being that it was some kind of signal. Yet as the beast – one of the wolves – hunched over and continued hacking, it was for him to realize that it was in fact choking on something.
So too did another, and another. A pair of birds suddenly fell to the ground, twitching, and the rest of these dark creatures were on alert, searching for a threat that was not the protoss in front of them. Zeratul remained on guard but something at the edge of his vision caught his attention and he turned to examine what it was.
Seeds. Seeds that were being carried by a breeze that the prelate hadn't been aware of until now.
Within the bellies of the ones that were choking, something began to writhe. Choked howls and other cries of pain attempted to be heard right before those afflicted were suddenly torn apart from the inside. Massive lengths of thorny briar exploded outwards, immediately spreading from where they first sprouted within the innards of their victims. Green lengths entangled and constricted around whatever monsters were immediately in reach, thorns over a foot long stabbing and piercing into their bodies.
All around Zeratul, the ranks of his bestial adversaries were swept aside as more of their numbers bulged and popped, birthing more of the thorny tendrils that slew scores of them by winding around them and penetrating into their hides like daggers from multiple points.
If there had been any that had the sense to retreat, Zeratul did not see them, so swift that the briar grew and struck until it was not the dark creatures but this huge field that surrounded him, the impaled corpses trapped within. When the bodies began disintegrating, he lowered but did not yet extinguish his warp blade, unsure if this was a threat that was now neutralized, or if another was to make its appearance soon.
Whichever the case, it was when the last traces of the monsters vanish did someone choose to appear. A section of the briar shifted and then dispersed, creating a path for a thin, slender form to walk through it…clothed in a white cloak.
A terran, Zeratul recognized, certain that it could be nothing else. The cloak hid much in terms of their features, but he could see the pale hands at their sides with four fingers and one thumb. Strands of red and black hair poked out from the hood, and the clothing that he could make out from the folds – a black blouse with a gray skirt – were fitted on a form the curvature of which, he was sure, belonged to a female. If not her appearance, it was the feminine quality of her thoughts that he heard.
What is it?
Zeratul was about to power down his warp blade but right after he picked up on the human's thoughts, he detected that hateful, bestial thought originating right behind her and he immediately broadcasted a warning. "Beware!"
It was already tearing through the briar – a great, hulking beast that did not pay any mind to how its hide was being ripped open during its struggle, the hooded human the focus of a haze of rage that ignored everything else – when Zeratul sent the warning and the human was already reacting. With barely a hint of effort the female sprung up and flipped back, disappearing behind the danger. The dark templar barely made out the metallic sound of a weapon being drawn, saw something cut swiftly and cleanly through the limbs and other parts of the body, and then the creature was falling to the ground, several pieces of it rolling away.
The human was back to standing, the weapon she used for the kill absent, but the display was more than enough to convince Zeratul to not take her lightly. He had never seen a terran perform such a physical feat before, nor had he seen what he was sure to be whatever power she possessed that had been responsible for nature itself slaughtering the rest. What he did know was that he did not wish to direct such hostility to himself and he finally extinguished his blade. Standing as straight as he could, his glowing gaze stuck to the shadows that hid her own.
He did not speak, and neither did she. That would be the case anyway, were he not capable of listening to the tumbling of thoughts that he could pick up from her mind. There was the one before – What is it? - but many more came, one after the other.
A faunus? Zeratul picked up on mental pictures. Humans that were not humans, each example having the addition of some quality of an animal like long furry ears. Many of them consisted of human-like beings with scales of various patterns but nothing that she could match him to. No, I've seen nothing like it before. Or…him? I thought I heard him but…not. Did I hear him in my head?
It seemed like a good moment as any other. Opening his hands and holding them out to his sides, he bowed his head before saying, "I mean no harm."
He did not speak as she probably expected him to – with an orifice that he did not possess. Instead, it was a telepathic thought that flowed into her mind, the emotion carried behind it transmitting nothing but peace. He saw her head jerk up in surprise, the shadows of her hood pulling away enough to show that her mouth was agape from surprise. Zeratul stayed in his stance.
The human closed her mouth, stared at him some more, and then examined the briar around them. There were so many questions stemming from her but rather than voice them, she motioned her head towards the small path that she made. "I'm not sure if there are any more Grimm around. There's a better place for this."
'This' being to talk, undoubtedly about what he was. There didn't appear much of a choice, the only exit being the one she created, but he could teleport through it and be on his way to his ship. Then he would leave this planet. Instead of going through with that, however, Zeratul chose to follow the human out.
He decided that he could indulge himself in satisfying a few of his curiosities.
"You spoke the word 'Grimm'," Zertaul said. "That is the name of those creatures?"
"The creatures of Grimm," the woman clarified, not even giving him a glance.
The prelate took special note of that: creatures of Grimm. A wording that implied that they were of something greater. He did not attempt to explore further in this line of questioning such as what 'Grimm' was, settling with another lull of silence between them as they walked.
It was how their interactions had been since he chose to follow her. Trekking through the woods, both on alert, and not just for those Grimm. Although her back was turned to him with her being in the lead, she was still cautious of him, and he predicted that if he tried to make any move to attack her, she would respond in the same manner as she did to the one who tried to ambush her last. Rather than do that, he chose to pose questions that she answered freely.
"I thank you for your help in dealing with them," he offered and noted the slight lifting of her clothed shoulders. She was getting better but not quite used to his means of communication. "My name is Zeratul."
She kept up her pace but there was what he thought to be an obvious pause. "If you're a telepath, are you able to read my mind?"
"I can." He felt there was no reason to lie to her. "Do you know of others?"
"I have met those who have a Semblance that involve telepathy. They can transmit their thoughts and read the thoughts of others. If you're able to do that too, won't you be able to know my name?"
Semblance. A special power or an ability if he was to guess, something that which she probably had and could explain some of her feats. "I could," he admitted.
"Then why don't you?"
"I choose not to." It was something that he had developed through his interactions with other humans. Many found it to be a breach of privacy that they did not like and he had politely acknowledged requests to not have their thoughts so thoroughly plumbed. While he had done so upon their first meeting, once he concluded that they were not enemies, he extended the same courtesy to her, shuttering out her thoughts but not entirely. Her most obvious surface thoughts were difficult to avoid picking up on. "It is, as others have said, rude."
"Well…thank you." She sounded a bit perplexed at the admission. Perplexed, but pleased. She looked to him over her shoulder, the corners of her lips curved up. "My name is Summer. Summer Rose."
He inclined his head in a formal greeting. "Greetings, Summer Rose."
It carried a friendly warmth and one that she was not immune to, going by the minute lengthening to her smile. "Greetings, Zeratul." She faced ahead, her smile lingering, and Zeratul felt the air grow a bit friendlier between them.
None of the Grimm appeared and he did not sense them within quite the distance when he and Summer arrived at what he guessed was their destination: a sizeable clearing with a waterfall descending into a river. Aside the river was a four-legged animal and Zeratul was mildly astonished to be able to recognize it. It was a horse, something that could also be found on the terran worlds in the Koprulu sector. The sight was a mix of remarkable and relief, it's calm and plain mind so at odds with those of the Grimm as it ate some grass. The owner – he believed it to be Summer – did not seem worried about it running off for it was not tied to anything but was equipped with a couple packs.
"I come to this place often," Summer explained, going to the horse. "There aren't usually any Grimm here, but I had to clean up a gathering of them recently. They've been spreading, becoming more active, and the ones that came for you were the remnants of a small horde that I had been sent out to exterminate."
"These Grimm are a common threat?" Zeratul questioned, watching her while he remained in place.
He could make out her bewilderment, even if he was trying to respect her privacy, and Summer paused to openly regard him. "A very common threat, for as long as humanity has been here on Remnant. Most of it belongs to them."
Remnant. Humanity. Zeratul took in the words and deciphered them, coming to conclusions. Remnant was apparently the name of this planet, and the natives here did refer to themselves as humans if not terrans. Remembering his earlier scans of the planet and the major population centers that were so limited and scattered, he believed he found the reason as to why that was.
While pondering, Summer had removed a pack from the horse and set it down at her feet. She was examining Zeratul closely, and he predicted that this was where the questioning would begin. He was not disappointed.
"You're not from around here, are you?" He was not given the chance to confirm or deny it as Summer immediately said, "And I don't mean here, here. I mean you not knowing what the Grimm are is an obvious clue but…I have a sense for these kinds of things; what's natural and what isn't. During our walk, with you just moving through nature, I was able to get a better impression of how you did not belong here. As if you were alien to this world."
It was an issue that the protoss had decided on in the past of revealing themselves and interfering with other races. The templar of Aiur had known of the existence of the terrans but had maintained a distance from them, settling on keeping a watch over them until the threat of the zerg forced their hand. He knew that some of the reasoning came from experience when the xel'naga made themselves known to the protoss, uplifting and then abandoning them, leading to the bloody Aeon of Strife. Despite his journeys through the galaxy, Zeratul and other dark templar had similarly kept their presence hidden from what intelligent life they encountered if they were able to do so.
He could establish an idea that the humans here were either just beginning or did not possess any kind of space travel capabilities as he had not detected any nearby colonies or orbital installations around the planet. To unveil to one of their number the true vastness of space and that there were other beings who populated it, he considered it as unwise. Under normal circumstances.
Seeing as these were not normal circumstances, Zeratul relented. "Your senses do not betray you. I am not native to this world that you call Remnant."
He could not see but he imagined Summer's brows rising beneath her hood. "You're an alien, then. Like, an actual alien?" She pointed up to the sky. "As in from another planet?"
He nodded. "Many, many lightyears away from here, yes."
Summer tilted her head up, her hood slipping a little, and she just stared up at where she had pointed with what had to be awe. Then she smiled anew, not expressing any excessive excitement or, what was equally possible, fear. She seemed more pleased. Happy that she was given a chance to see and hear it for herself.
Zeratul was inexperienced when it came to others responding to such a thing, but Summer's attitude did not match what he expected and he said as much. "You do not seem particularly astonished."
Summer was slow in her response, but that happy contentment was still present. "I suppose I should be. We have yet to figure out how to get into orbit, nonetheless getting far enough to encounter aliens. If I had met you years ago and you admitted as much, I suppose I wouldn't be this calm."
She lowered her head but her hood did not fix itself, exposing her eyes. They did not glow like that of a protoss, but those silver irises seemed to shine in their own way. "But this is not the first kind of secret that I had become privy to – the kind of such a scale that it changes how you look at everything. All that you once believed in – all that everyone had once believed in – suddenly having the rug pulled out from under it and being completely unraveled. All that I've seen and experienced since then…I suppose it's gotten a little harder to amaze me."
Zeratul could believe it but he felt that there was more to it than that. He almost reached out to connect to her thoughts, a reflex that he had not and could not get over entirely. There was something else, something that was hidden behind this contentment, and the only reason he suspected and almost mentally reached out to her was because he felt that that, too, was familiar.
"I do have questions," Summer continued. "Where you're from, how many other aliens are out there, how you know to speak, er, think my language, but they all seem too time-consuming to answer that they're almost irrelevant. I suppose the only question that is important enough to ask is if there are going to be more of you coming, and if they will be a danger to my world."
Zeratul instantly thought of Amon and the threat that he posed to all life in not just the galaxy but the entire universe. Of a vision where all that life was consumed, the light of this universe burnt out, and all of creation forever plunged into darkness. He shook his head. "You have nothing to fear. Not from my kind or any other."
It was true from a certain point of view. If Amon was stopped and the end that he would've wrought avoided, Remnant would not come under the notice of the protoss, the terrans, or the zerg for quite some time. Perhaps for another millennium, though circumstances could always change during such a span of time. As he had done with many other worlds he visited during his previous expeditions, Zeratul expected to depart and leave this planet to whatever fate had in store for it. By then, he could only hope that the humans here would be equipped to move on into the galactic plane.
But if they were to fail against Amon, it would not matter. Nothing else would be able to stop him. Let these humans and the mysterious faunus live out the rest of their lives in ignorance, dealing with the more immediate threat, until all perished in an instant.
Summer appeared satisfied with his answer, nodding as she said, "That's all that I want to hear." She lifted her pack. "Now that the Grimm are taken care of, I was planning on having lunch." Her eyes narrowed at the cloth over his chin. "I'm not sure what you eat, or if you eat for that matter, but..."
"The only sustenance I require," Zeratul interrupted, sparing her, "is that provided by your sun."
"It is convenient, yes."
"Well, if you care to join me regardless, you are free to do so." Summer moved over to the edge of the river and sat herself there with her pack. After pulling off her boots and setting them aside, she dipped her legs into the water, briefly shivering before she relaxed with a sigh.
Zeratul was at first worried. After seeing them strike from the air and below the ground, he was leery of the threat that the Grimm could pose from the water. Seeing Summer rummage through her pack and staying relaxed convinced him that that specific threat was not a danger here. It also convinced him to join her.
Summer looked up at him when he ventured to her side, having not been caught unaware by his silent movements. She smiled, hopeful, and watched as he set himself down next to her, letting his own alien legs join hers in the water that he found refreshingly cool. He subtly hunched and a dry but warm chuckle echoed. Summer blinked but then giggled herself, the psychic sensation washing over her pleasant.
"This is a peaceful place," Zeratul complimented. With the sound and motion of the waterfall, the prelate was reminded of his own special world that he regularly visited for peace. One with a rosy pink sky, thickly soft blue grass, and a meadow in a specific mountaintop that had a waterfall like this one.
"I do come here often," Summer repeated. "I discovered it while coming back from a mission. It's not too far from my home and I make it a habit to stop by whenever I feel the need to relax."
He could relate to it. "A mission? You are a soldier of sorts?"
"Of sorts. I get sent out to wherever the Grimm are spreading too much and too close and deal with them." She visibly hesitated, then added, "Along with other threats that are not Grimm but dangerous nonetheless."
She grinned. "That is the official job title."
She resumed her rifling through her pack, taking out a canteen that she took a greedy sip from. Resting his hands on his legs, Zeratul stared out along the river, soon closing his eyes. Listening to the rush of the waterfall, feeling the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the river, his thoughts became centered for the beginnings of a calming meditation.
There was a sudden gasp from Summer, her alarm so poignant that there was no ignoring it. Zeratul opened his eyes, caught the sight of something fluttering by him, and he quickly snatched it out from the air. He had a mind to be careful, his claws not piercing through the papery material as he delicately held it between his digits. He flipped it around, curiously inspecting it.
It was a photograph. He recognized Summer as one of the four people that were in it, with a blond male standing next to her. Huddled at their legs were two children, the taller one having the same hair as the adult male. As for the smaller one, it was hard to not see her as anything less than a miniature copy of Summer.
The Summer who was next to him had her hand partially raised and frozen towards the photograph. Her eyes were still widened with that panic but her brows began to lower as she tensed, gaze darting between Zeratul and the photo. The protoss could read her protectiveness for it, bordering on a possible danger if he did not return it. He gently held it towards her.
"Your offspring?" he asked.
Summer did not hide her relief as she retook possession of the photo. She looked at it with a deep longing that exuded from her. "Technically, one of them is my offspring, but both are my daughters." Her fingers stroked along the image. "They're with their father right now, but I intend to see them again soon. My husband used to come on missions with me, and he'd join me here when we were done."
"He does not accompany you any longer?"
She shook her head sadly. "Someone has to stay with our girls, and our job is dangerous. I do not want them to lose both their parents, not after everything that this family has gone through already." Shifting uneasily, she added, "Lately, it has gotten increasingly dangerous, even for him."
Zeratul did not pry although he did notice the heavy, invisible weight that set itself down on her shoulders, hunching her over with a small stoop, making her tinier than she was before. Inexplicitly, the image was oddly staggering for the prelate who was at a loss for words.
Summer set the picture aside, making sure to set it beneath her pack. The position would keep it from flying away again, but the faces of her family were still visible. She concentrated on her food, taking out strips of dried meat that she bit into.
Meanwhile, the nerazim concentrated on her. Shifting to the peaceful scenery of the clearing, and then back to the human, a stark sense of understanding struck him. "Something troubles you greatly."
Summer delayed in answering by extending her chewing on the dried meat. "I guess you wouldn't need to be a mind reader to figure that out," she sighed.
"It is a very troubled soul who would seek sanctuary in a location and not with their people."
Summer tilted her head. "Speaking from experience?"
Zeratul nodded slowly. "Yes."
She produced a half-grin. "It's strange. We haven't spoken long but I can tell that you are someone of great age and experience. I don't know if it's because of your telepathy but your voice, the weight and emotion behind it, and what I can detect from you…there is only one other person who I have felt the same from."
"I have lived for a long time," Zeratul admitted. "I have learned and seen much over my travels across the stars. And yet, it is only during the most recent years of my existence that I have become burdened by so much to the point where it has nearly become overwhelming. The reason for my coming here is related to a duty that I have previously neglected and now seek to make amends."
Summer had taken another chunk, chewing thoughtfully as she listened to him. "Does sound familiar." She set the rest of her meal down, setting her palms on her legs before leaning forward in contemplation. "I knew early on that I wanted to be a Huntress. Not just to fight the Grimm, but to travel and uncover places like this." She waved a hand to the perimeter of the clearing. "All these lands that are denied to us and of their beauty that the Grimm keep shrouded in darkness."
Zeratul inclined his head to show that he was listening. Their aspirations, born of their youth, were closely related. His explorations and expeditions into the Void that he remembered with fondness, were of the same nature that was carried in Summer's words, albeit on a lesser planetary scale.
"I enjoyed it," Summer confided. "To make it better, I had comrades with whom I was able to reach and share that dream with. We were a family and I cherished that. If I was to spend the rest of my life with them as we were, I would've been happy, even if our efforts wouldn't have changed humanity's position in this world.
"That was until I was given an opportunity in the form of power that was previously beyond my comprehension. When it became known to me, I thought of all the good I could do with it. I became in touch with this world to a degree that I never thought to be possible. Naïvely, I thought of how I could one day break the grip that the Grimm had on us."
Summer became forlorn, those silvers shrouded with sad remembrance as she relived past passions which were then denied to her as she explained, "That same day was the day I learned that the Grimm were not the only monsters that are out here. I had thought that the worst of humanity's internal strife was over after a long era of war and that I had been fortunate to be born into a time of peace that can become a golden age of prosperity. But behind all these proclamations of peace, a conflict that has spanned for far longer and far from the eyes of the people continues.
"I've taken part in it and seen for myself as to how many times our kingdoms and the rest of Remnant had been on the cusp of disaster time and time again. I've vanquished threats that no one will ever know, but there is always another. With each rise, the darkness that was supposed to have receded is growing stronger. The Grimm are becoming more active and more prevalent, and the family that I had once been able to count on has drifted apart." She fidgeted, disturbed. "I have also seen great horrors of which that I can only describe as abominations."
"All I behold is an abomination."
It had been what Zeratul had described his first look at a hybrid, far away on a dark moon where outrageous experiments were being conducted by a servant of Amon. Unable to fathom as to what he bore witness to on top of all that he had undergone because of the vile whims of the Queen of Blades, he had done what Summer was currently doing now: coming to a place that was separated from the madness and attempt to gather the fortitude that she could to face all that she had experienced during what seemed like such a short amount of time.
"You fear for the future," he spoke. "As well as what your own actions may've wrought."
Summer turned away, searching within the contents of her pack before producing a clear bag containing flat, brown things with small chips of black. She took out one and bit it in half, crumbs raining down on her lap while the gooey chips stuck to her lips. She was about to wipe the mess but paused, staring at the other half of her treat.
"I wonder how long this will last," she revealed. "Every time I come home, my daughters are so happy to see me. I bake a batch of these whenever I get home and before I have to leave. I take my youngest in my lap, tell her the stories that she wants to hear, but every time she looks at me, so proud and excited, I silently dread about all that I do not tell her. She is like the rest; blissfully unaware of all that occurs and what may be coming. I do not have the heart to tell her the truth of all that I've seen and done for the same reasons as to why the rest of our civilization are kept ignorant."
Secrets and lies for the greater good. Zeratul knew all too well about that, he and the rest of the dark templar being one that the now defunct Conclave had tried to conceal – with murder, and then exile – with the fears that their very existence would bring ruin to the protoss race if they became common knowledge.
"I want to keep her innocence intact," Summer went on. "With all the deception and evils that I have seen, she is the only pure thing that I am blessed to have and can call my own – my little rose. Regardless of how hard I try though, I am fully aware that I am at risk of doing more harm to her than anyone else. I fear for the day when it becomes too dangerous for me, yet I go on because it is the right thing to do, telling her that I will come home like always, and all I turn out to be is a liar."
Summer was still a young woman. Zeratul's interactions with humans were enough that he was able to recognize that. With her having earlier pushed her hood back when she took her spot at the river, he could see the smooth, unblemished skin of her face, free of wear. There persisted the vigor of youth, but it was proving inadequate against a load that had simply become too much to bear. She was tired, not so much physically but tired within the soul.
"I fear so much of what may happen when I am no longer there to protect her. It is not just about abandoning her, but how I may inadvertently put her right into the middle of all that madness. Because of me, she may inherent something that will make her as much of a target as she would be a savior. All the evils and the good, all converging on her, and I weep whenever I think of how that face that looks up to me so will transform." There was a wetness prickling at the corners of Summer's eyes, causing them to glisten, and she used it as an excuse to sweep them away and the crumbs at her lips.
Zeratul waited until it was clear that she had nothing else to say, having spent the time being attentive to not only her voice but every emotion and nuance that was broadcasted with her thoughts. That child's face, so much her own, and what she considered as much of a curse and a blessing when it smiled up at her, taking joy in that happiness, but wondering how it may morph into something like her own when she beheld her horrific foes. Creations spawned not only by the darkness, but enhanced by the hands of others who had gazed upon her with hatred and…fascination towards what she possessed and what they wanted. Many lives were ruined and distant settlements had been wiped out because of their plans, leading Summer into engagements which had her dancing along the razor edge of life and death, and after every disaster she knew, deep in her heart, that there would be another after each one.
"I…understand," he said.
Summer smiled thinly. "I wanted to believe that you would." She tapped a couple fingers against her temple. "It's faint but I know you can see deeper and further than anyone else can. It makes me kind of wish that I had some kind of telepathy as a Semblance and be able to understand another like you can. Get a better picture of what they're going through and help them."
The request was woven into her words but there was no subtlety in her thoughts. She wanted to be reassured. Zeratul, she decided, was someone who could do so. He was an alien, not native to Remnant, but that was what she wanted. She wanted an outside perspective that was grander and who could look upon her worldly plight as few could to reassure her that he had seen and known something of that scale and that there had been a measure of hope that did not turn false.
"Whether it be a world or a galaxy, your race or another, some things are universal," Zeratul began. He half-closed his eyes, becoming deep in thought. "My kind as well as others have gone through many eras: war, peace, prosperity, and revolution with the threat of extinction close at hand. I have lived through those ages, uncovering and revealing secrets that many wish to never see. This includes performing unforgivable acts whether they be intentional or not."
The betrayal of Aiur's location to the Overmind that led to the deaths of most of his templar brethren and the loss of their beloved homeworld, the slaying of his matriarch, Raszagal, so that she would not fall into the hands of Kerrigan, and the neglect of the duty that she had placed on him with her dying thoughts. He had done what good he could to mitigate it such as giving the templar shelter on Shakuras, using the secrets that he had uncovered and taught to others like the noble Tassadar to slay the Overmind and its Cerebrates, and his travels since then to stop Amon.
"I have encountered many beings during then, many of which started as enemies before they became valuable allies. Prejudices, old and new, were overcome to stand against a great enemy that was beyond the scope of our imaginations. Our way of life changed in order to accommodate them."
"That's one of my greatest fears," Summer intoned. "Myself and others have tried so hard to hide so much from our people. We say that it's for their safety, but I have accepted that one day it will get out and I wonder if everyone can handle it. There are still divisions between us, even during this peaceful time, so how can I not be afraid that everything will collapse?"
"It may very well have to," Zertaul stated, Summer's head jolting up at that. "Entire empires and hierarchies had been cast aside along with their old truths that declare that all should perish rather than live and accept change. Hardship will be unavoidable, but that is what galvanizes others to act to pursue a better future."
The Terran Confederacy, the Conclave, and even the Swarm. When all three had been embroiled in war, each was forced to change or face annihilation. The terrans that ruled the Confederacy and the judicators that commanded the protoss had been those who would gladly choose the ladder, but it was beings like James Raynor, Tassadar, Fenix, Artanis, and himself too, who had risen up and overthrown them. The Swarm that he had once believed to be a merciless, all-devouring organism, had in fact been another pawn of another entity with the Overmind using the war to create a chance to go against it: Sarah Kerrigan.
"If that happens…my daughters. They will be in the middle of it and undergoing all that I wanted them to avoid."
"Of course they will," Zeratul mercilessly declared. "They are the new generation that will bring about this great change. It cannot happen without them. We can shape the beginnings, but it is they who must persevere and overcome the mistakes of those who came before them. They are innocent, as you say, but it is their innocence that is untainted by the preconceptions of their elders that will see them through."
Summer wanted to dispute against it and he could hear her arguments. Many were selfless as he could sense her desire to take on all the dangers and spare her children along with those of others of what she knew was out there. She had the power and the responsibilities that should make this her conflict that she should be able to settle and create the brighter future. To himself, Zeratul hoped that Summer's child inherited more than just her appearance. That kind of selflessness was what would be desperately needed.
"I was the one who admitted to the possibility of not being there for her when it matters most," Summer conceded, the fight that she had been preparing for draining out of her when she realized this. "If what I'm afraid of most comes to pass and my little rose is forced to confront this herself without me, how can I possibly be at peace over something so uncertain? How can I believe in an outcome that I will not be there to see if I am to die before then?"
That, Zeratul had to admit, was a question that he didn't believe that he could answer as his own war was still ongoing. Amon and his minions were still out there. The dark god had already begun to make his return from the Void, his hybrids and other minions already carrying out his will for his eventual arrival and domination of everything. He was doing what he could to search for the tools necessary and guiding the others on how best to oppose him. Being so close to the heart of the conflict, Zeratul knew that his odds of survival were vastly one-sided.
If he was to die before he saw the outcome, how would he not be uncertain? He knew what Amon was better than most but he could not grasp the full scope of the dark god's abilities. Even if he accomplished in banding terran, protoss, and zerg together and gave them the weapons needed to defeat a being like Amon, he could not be certain if they will succeed.
That was when Zeratul remembered those who have already passed on such as Tassadar when he sacrificed himself to kill the Overmind, Raszagal when she entrusted the future of the nerazim to him, and even the Overmind itself when it embraced its end with joy. Did they experience uncertainty? Did they doubt about what would happen after their death? And in asking himself those questions, Zeratul found the answer.
"You believe," he revealed. "Others have passed on, many who were greater than myself, far earlier than anyone wished or they deserved. It has been a long and terrible conflict, but I have seen what has been allowed to grow because of their sacrifices and how they inspired those who came after them. It is impossible for them to have known this when they died, but peacefully they had gone with the belief that they could entrust the future to us."
He opened his eyes to the fullest at the brightest illumination as he met Summer's gaze. "If there is one thing that my culture knows for certain, it is that we are never alone and neither will your children. Continue to tell your stories to them and let them think of you as they will. Whatever you believe yourself to be, Summer Rose, know that I find you to be compassionate and selfless and I am confident that they and those who know you will agree. While you may one day pass, the examples you had set while living will be what they will carry as they age and fight in the coming battles. The enemies that they will engage may be those they will find to be frightful, but they will stand beside others who will be linked in their surety that darkness cannot be permitted to triumph."
Once bitter enemies, Zeratul had encouraged and seen the building blocks of the alliances that will stand against Amon. The reformed Sarah Kerrigan – someone who Zeratul had wished to die more than anyone else in the past – was already taking the fight to Amon and he knew that James Raynor would assist her, the human now a commander within the Terran Dominion after another tyrant was dethroned. Artanis, once a young executor, was now the hierarch of the Daelaam with those like Raszagal's daughter, Vorazun, acting as his counsel. The unified protoss of khalai and nerazim was a group that Zeratul hoped to convince to shift their efforts to their true enemy.
Yes, after all that has occurred despite such tumultuous beginnings, how could he not believe that they would be able to succeed?
Summer lapsed into quiet contemplation. She returned to eating, but she did so without much thought, devoting most of them to digesting what Zeratul shared with her. The prelate let her be, resuming his basking in the peace of nature and this other peace that settled deep within him. In trying to reassure Summer, he had done the same to himself. He had feared for the future and he still did, but by recalling the past and all that had been built over the destruction, he was able to experience…a measure of serenity that he hadn't known that he needed.
"I don't want to believe it." Done with her food, hands resting on her empty lap, Summer gazed into the clear waters. "You sound so certain of it being a necessity, but Remnant has constantly been in a state of war, and I don't want to believe that this peace that has been made is only going to lead to more war. I will try to maintain it with everything that I have no matter what, but if war comes to pass regardless, I do not fear the possibility as I once did. Even if I'm gone when it happens, there are people that I have met who I can entrust my children to – two of the next generation that I must entrust the future to. Following their examples, I hope they grow strong enough to shape whatever change will be necessary to create a much brighter era."
"And yours, as well," Zeratul pointed out.
Summer smiled sadly. "If they will forgive me for leaving them."
The dark templar knew well the uncertainties of receiving forgiveness. "They will, for you are not leaving them with nothing."
Summer pulled her legs out from the river and stood up, picking up her bag with one hand, the photo in the other. She spent several seconds staring at the photo, full of love and pride, and then put it in her bag while her feet slipped into her boots. "I should return to them now."
Zeratul mimicked her as he stood up. "As should I return to my own. I have delayed here for longer than I should've." He tilted his head, transmitting amusement as he said, "Although I did find this enlightening."
Summer cracked a lighter, easier smile. "I agree."
There they stood, two beings of different universes, but two that had managed to meet at the right location at the right time to see how similar they were, carrying the burdens that had become lighter because of their association. Zeratul bowed his head. "Farewell, Summer Rose."
Summer performed the same movement. "Farewell, Zeratul."
They stepped away, Summer to her horse, Zeratul to his ship, where they would both return to where they belonged. They would go to face their respective evils, uncertain of what fate would have in store for them or for those they may end up leaving behind. Now, however, they were not afraid to meet it with heads held just a little higher.
Author's Note: And there we go. A nice, quick little oneshot. Didn't want this to run off into something bigger that I knew it wanted to be and I was struggling to keep this contained. Even with nearly 11k words, it was a struggle for me to establish and get through what I wanted with the two of them without turning it into something way bigger. There's definitely probably moments that might feel a bit quick, but this was what I wanted: two kindred souls, weary of their various trials, able to come together to share their worries and hopes with Zeratul, obviously, being the one to present more wisdom. The guy is six hundred years old after all and did a lot of traversing across the galaxy.
Obviously, I was going by a lot of my own headcanons when it comes to Summer, especially the most popular one going around the RWBY fandom where she was in fact a Maiden and that Ruby may've inherented her powers when she passed on. Learning more about the Maidens, the secret brotherhood that protects them, and the big threats we're beginning to see in RWBY, I found her as one who her children remembers as a loving, happy mother – which she was – but not knowing that the Grimm were not the only monsters that she had dealt with behind the scenes to keep her family safe.
Well, this was a nice distraction and I hope those who are reading this got some entertainment out of this. I got more ideas to complete, and others that want to be thought over with the possibility of being written. Until next time!