Author's note: This short story is loosely based off of an idea my boyfriend and I worked on. It takes place in a time period when the protoss are unified largely, despite lingering differences. At this point in time, Artanis strives to learn the dark templar arts of the Void, and Zeratul has become slightly more open minded to learning about the Khala. The story portrays my understanding of the Khala and the means the protoss use to communicate, as interpreted from the Dark Templar Saga. In addition, the fact that the protoss use human gestures in this story is explored. Validated by the idea that in the future, humans descended from Raynor's Raiders live side by side with the protoss, it only makes sense. I like this little oneshot because of the emotion within it, and the depth of affection that the protoss are capable of but rarely show in ways humans understand. I hope you enjoy it as much as I liked writing it. Please review, if you can. It's a short little piece, after all.
Starcraft (c) Blizzard
It's the heart that really matters in the end.
The view over the Aiur treetops never changed, always fading in and out underneath the roiling lace of the mists. Time healed all the scars left behind by the Zerg. Now, everything was as it should have always been.
A flock of winged animals zipped through the air, cutting clean across Artanis' field of vision. Startled, the protoss turned his head sharply to follow their movement, but felt his shoulders relax when he recognized their innocuous forms. They looped and dove, moving as one before vanishing into the distant sky as nothing more than dots.
Calmly, he turned away from the grand picturesque window of his citadel and abandoned the view to the world beyond. Though the warmth and tropical glow outside cast a soothing green light across the ceiling, the young Hierarch felt a pain strike his heart upon seeing the form of Zeratul, the good Patriarch, standing in the open doorway.
Slowly, Artanis strode across the smooth floor, his feet padding softly upon the cool and polished surface. A quiet rippling of water barely stirred the silence. The source fountain reflected shimmering lines of white off of the nearest wall. Polished river stones, stacked and arranged like a fine rock garden, gleamed under the water trickling into the pool below. The Hierarch spared no expense in integrating the beauty of nature into the elegantly artistic structure of his official dwelling. For the moment, though, the peaceful décor earned no attention.
He stopped in front of the dark templar, bowing his head.
Zeratul.... His thoughts betrayed a hint of sorrow. Welcome, my old friend.
He neither lifted his head nor his gaze, but he made a brave effort to shield any despair lingering in his soul.
A strong hand softly clasped Artanis' shoulder. Carefully placed, it welcomed him with a gentle squeeze.
Lift your head, Hierarch. Avert not your gaze, for no shame ought tarnish your emotions, my dear friend. Zeratul stood tall, but not in an intimidating fashion. In fact, his posture seemed comfortable as he looked down with an oddly inviting gaze at the younger protoss before him. You have matured and grown wise beyond expectation. Hold your head high, and proud.
Artanis glanced up at the dark templar, incredulous. At times, he didn't feel as wonderful as his followers and the Synod claimed him to be. Admittedly, to himself, there were many times he felt rather incompetent. However, he did recognize he'd come a long way from his rushed introduction to leadership more than a century ago.
The Patriarch looked at his young student with gently soulful eyes. Complying with dark templar tradition of respecting the privacy of one's thoughts, Zeratul didn't probe Artanis' mind, but waited instead for him to reveal it of his own will.
I thank you. Artanis sent finally. He closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his thoughts and composing them. He appreciated Zeratul's gentle greeting and the praise, but it did little to ease what bothered him.
Zeratul…. He began softly, You may shield your thoughts, but your eyes speak to me clearly.
Artanis watched as Zeratul turned away slightly.
Your heart aches. Artanis continued, suppressing his own sadness. I see it in your face.... Now he fully lifted his head, his golden eyes searching the elder's expressions carefully.
A compassionate mental silence hung between them. The younger protoss' gaze held steady, softened by worry.
What is it that pains you so? He asked at last. His eyes flickered faintly, full of concern.
Zeratul's eyes met Artanis' tenderly, but inside they were alight with emotion.
It is nothing, just thoughts of the past. Things I needn't be concerned with, and neither should I burden them upon your soul. The Patriarch defended his position. His nature, as a dark templar, hung over him now. Individualism, keeping to oneself, all were a part of the traditions of his people. And, although he knew it was irrational, he feared risking his place with Artanis. He shuddered to think that his personal concerns might be sneered at, and he found he couldn't bear the thought with how much he had come to value the things that were a part of his very soul--
--How much he'd come to value Artanis.
I simply miss and long for my Matriarch... Zeratul spoke with the cool, unrealistic calmness that marked the protoss as a species. Indeed, though he hid it well, plenty was going on in his mind that disturbed him.
Artanis nodded slowly in answer to the shared thought. He could understand it. Though he couldn't truly know the pain Zeratul must have felt, he imagined it. The imagining hurt him...in more ways than one.
Come... Artanis gestured away from the door to lead his teacher inside. The panel slid closed without a sound. Walking over to the window in a deliberate stride, Artanis continued.
Your pain burdens me not. I...I wish to understand it, to know it deeper. How could it be a burden?
Artanis glanced over his shoulder as Zeratul approached, then turned back to look out the window. As a Khalai protoss, Artanis couldn't fathom the idea of other's emotions burdening him. To the contrary, he felt at peace when allowed to feel them completely. And although he knew that Zeratul was a Dark Templar, and had quite different views, he still could not imagine being so closed off. Especially not with someone so dear to his heart.
The thought slipped, and he only caught it after it was formed--much too late to block it. He sighed mentally.
I apologize.... I know why you keep your thoughts to yourself. I simply... it hurts me.... to know you are so alone....
Zeratul pondered the thought quietly. Let it bother you not. There is no need to apologize for how you feel.
There was a pause, and a gentle feeling of reassurance met Artanis with Zeratul's thought-voice. It seems to me, that hiding my shame away and worrying over it, and not sharing it with you is counter productive. You worry either way. There was another, more awkward pause as Zeratul worked with the thought in his mind for a brief moment.
He studied the back of Artanis' head quietly as he did so. The Patriarch's typically blazing eyes seemed to have humbled themselves to embers, if but for the moment. Slowly, and cautiously he spoke. Would it soothe your worry to remember what I have done, in its truest form?
Artanis closed his eyes and dipped his head slightly. Of course it would, he knew, but that was selfish.
I...hesitate to ask it. He sent momentarily, before quickly adding. I remember what has been done.... It is the present I wish to know. Opening his eyes slowly, he looked out over the trees for a moment.
Are you afraid? He asked meekly. Zeratul was not a stranger to the Khala entirely, and Artanis admired his willingness to learn about it in order to further unify the protoss. But he also knew that Zeratul was uncomfortable in that space, and while they shared thoughts almost constantly, Artanis often left him to his emotions.
Something drove him this time, though. Not just his own need to understand, but a genuine sadness for his teacher. Surely Zeratul didn't want to be left entirely alone to his pain. Artanis could almost sense that. He could almost feel an aching loneliness that Zeratul seemed afraid to admit to. It was an ache so great it was not entirely concealable.
Or perhaps, Artanis mused, he wasn't trying to hide it completely at all.
Zeratul raised an eyebrow. He was surprised by the implication of the use of the Khala, albeit not completely. He kindly let Artanis know of his shock and his amusement with idea. The Khalai had forgotten there were other ways than the Khala to connect so intimately.
Slowly, Zeratul reached into a small pouch he kept on his person, and removed a tiny Khaydarin crystal. There is a way that the Dark Templar use when we wish for a connection with another individual. Though it does not interconnect all of us, at our consent we share as much of our being as you of the Khala would.
Zeratul's glistening eyes locked with Artanis'. I am not ready for these memories to be open to your Preservers. Until I allow them to be taken by another, they will know not of them.
The young Hierarch's golden eyes flitted momentarily down to the tiny crystal in Zeratul's palm, then again back up to his master's face. The dark templar's mild amusement coaxed a bit of a head tilt from the youth, and he himself felt a flicker of humor at the realization that Zeratul had planned for this and come prepared. Still, his gaze remained solemn.
I understand, of course. His tone was nothing short of dazed, but then...came a breakthrough. Artanis' eyes lit up almost instantly with a sense of pride. You…you would truly honor me so? The thought fell upon Zeratul as barely more than an amazed whisper.
Zeratul's eyes narrowed into a smile, and in a gesture just as rare, the Patriarch extended his hand as he tilted his head. He offered for Artanis to place his own hand upon the small Khaydarin crystal as it lay nestled in his palm.
You have earned it. I could not ask for a better friend, let alone a student. It is why I have chosen to share my feelings, my hopes, my dreams, and my memories with you in this most complete way tonight.
As Artanis took hold of the tiny but potent crystal with Zeratul, every memory, thought, and emotion between them flowed unto Artanis freely. The exact detail and level of intimacy of each memory was shocking--
Zeratul shared all of the events that traumatized him--every fear he felt to the highest level possible--but these memories flowed fast. They were no less horrific for the pace, from the touching of spirits with the Overmind to the Matriarch's death and Zeratul's dread and disappointment at the actions of the Conclave. It all poured into Artanis vividly.... Nothing was hidden.
But before Artanis could speak his mind, or ponder these sensations more, a new set of memories seemed to replace the ones previously engaging his mind and soul. These memories... were more intimate.
The love Zeratul felt for Raszagal. Every detail of the Matriarch's being, every reason Zeratul loved her so, and most importantly... just how strong the love was between the two, and all the good times they shared in their lifetime.
The memories flowed uninhibited, and Zeratul allowed Artanis to search his soul now. For once, the Patriarch was an open book. Every feeling was available, the level of sincerity in every action he took finally obvious.
Artanis had to close his eyes for a moment. The intensity of the feelings melting into his own essence so suddenly overwhelmed him. Though he was quite used to sharing emotions in the Khala, many of these feelings--Zeratul's feelings--were either new to him or previously dampened.
Artanis carefully took a moment to concentrate on himself, taking special care to block himself out of the Khala as completely as he could. He knew that it would startle many Khalai and that he would be questioned later, but he would simply tell them the truth--as much of it as they needed to know anyway. They would find that he needed time to meditate on his own, and he knew that they would grudgingly accept that. After all, he was Zeratul's student of the Void. They would question him no further, and they would not know of Zeratul's deepest feelings.
Artanis felt his fingers closing tightly in response to the sudden flood of new information and emotions. The hand at his side clenched into a loose fist, and his other hand firmly gripped Zeratul's. The feeling of the elder's calloused knuckles under his fingertips alerted him to his own actions. Otherwise his thoughts gripped him too tightly to notice.
Gradually, the intensity of the sensations tapered off softly, as Artanis grew more accustomed to feeling them. Replacing the powerful, almost electric feeling that previously surged through him came a softer touch. Warmth and deep comfort at feeling Zeratul's soul entwined with his took over, amplified all the more by his own respect and admiration for his teacher.
His own emotions suddenly surged, and he didn't try to control them. He knew he didn't need to now. His delight and wonder at being trusted so deeply by one of his greatest heroes struck him so hard that something akin to a sharp gasp rattled him. He tried to calm himself after a moment, if only to avoid overwhelming Zeratul with the tremendous joy -- joy so deep that Artanis somewhat wondered how he could possibly be worthy of caring for this precious charge bestowed on him. He almost felt weak under the weight of it, and he noticed with slight embarrassment that he was shaking.
He took a moment to concentrate instead on Raszagal...and again, he felt a strange peace at knowing her kindness. Her heart and soul were more than beautiful...they were exceptional. Her love for her people laid softly on him and he could feel the memory of her compassion and the warmth of the love that Zeratul returned to her as a soft embrace, enfolding him entirely. Caught up in it, he suddenly felt at home. The safety and security of the memories left him feeling fragile, like an infant...and yet it didn't scare him. After all, he was under Zeratul's gentle protection, and the memory of the Matriarch's tenderness eased him all the more.
It reminded him, startlingly so, of being a small child, held lovingly in his parents' arms.
I am glad it brings you such joy. Zeratul's eyes remained narrowed, and Artanis felt the elder's palm grip his shoulder gently.
It was a gesture of approval. Meant to help the youth stabilize himself, its firmness accompanied deep compassion. Rare is it that one gets to share with another such experiences--experiences spanning an entire lifetime. Cherish it, and remember this day. For one day you'll be in a position to share your life experiences with a youth. It is but one of the best gifts we may give our children.
As the last memories waned between Zeratul, and Artanis... The elder Protoss slowly pulled his hand away and nodded favorably at Artanis. Tassadar would be proud of you this day, were he still alive to witness this.
Now Artanis returned Zeratul's expression. His softly narrowed eyes gleamed. Tassadar continued holding a special place within the Hierarch's heart, and although he no longer wanted to be what Tassadar was--although he had grown up since the days he idolized Tassadar--Artanis still felt deeply honored by such profound recognition.
To be looked upon with pride by Zeratul and Tassadar made Artanis feel truly fulfilled.
I have always hoped.... He sent with eyes full of emotion. To make both of you proud.
He looked regretfully at Zeratul's hand as it slipped away. He hated for such depth of union to end. He had so much to share himself, and he reveled in being a part of his teacher. In the end, was that not what all protoss were? Part of one another? Separate entities brought together to form a whole, like bare atoms forming the stuff of life?
It made Artanis shudder just thinking of the awesome meaning behind such an analogy, and in that same moment, he reached out and caught Zeratul's hand once more. The elder's eyes met his, confused and a little wary. Startled by his own action, Artanis briefly looked away.
Stay…. I beg you not take your leave just yet.
Zeratul took pause, staring at Artanis for a moment in silence. His gaze was not angry and still soft, if only riddled with perplexity. His young student's eyes traveled to his hand, captured but willingly prisoner. He watched in silence as Artanis lifted his other hand, gently opening Zeratul's fingers and laying his palm upon the Khaydarin crystal again. Artanis' hands carefully enfolded his, and this time, it was Zeratul who closed his eyes.
He felt Artanis' youthful spirit plunge into his more tentative being, but he didn't pull away. He simply watched, listened, and felt. In that moment, he realized that Artanis was quite a fearful child in many ways, still. He exuded the outward confidence but suffered the inward uncertainty of a young male still struggling to find and maintain his place in the order of things. He also found, to his mild surprise, that he provided structure in Artanis' life--structure so necessary that without it, the Hierarch would be terribly lost and afraid.
Zeratul slowly lifted his other arm, laying his fingers across the back of Artanis' hand. Knowing he was so deeply important to his student surprised him somewhat, but gave him a sense of accomplishment. If he had no other purpose, at least he had this.
Your purpose is greater, far greater than that. Artanis sent, his thoughts wavering with emotion. The color of his skin mottled slightly, not with grief, but with intense feeling nonetheless. He bowed slightly, pressing his forehead against Zeratul's hand as it covered his own. You are the beloved father of an entire people…and look at all the good you have done.
It is difficult for one to see fault in whom they love. Zeratul sent back gently. Not a reprimand, but a reminder that he was not perfect.
It is also difficult for one to see the good in themselves. Especially for one so humble as yourself. Artanis lifted his head slightly to look at his teacher. To his surprise, Zeratul's eyes never ceased smiling. Head tilted, the elder slowly withdrew his free hand and extended his arm, pulling Artanis into a gesture so alien…so human that most protoss never utilized it. However, Artanis knew it well, and feeling Zeratul's strong arm around him, while their souls mingled so deeply, brought such a feeling of acceptance and home to him that he simply fell into the embrace and closed his eyes to take it in. So deeply enveloped in Zeratul, Artanis again began trembling. The same youthfulness that gave him such great confidence at times now brought back feelings of unworthiness. That Zeratul should offer this to him was overwhelming.
Sensing Artanis' vulnerability, Zeratul simply laid his chin upon Artanis' head. In return, he felt Artanis' hands squeeze tighter around his. Their hearts, beating in unison, pressed close. Know that your gift to me, Zeratul began warmly, rekindles my hope. So often life drifts by lazily, or passes as a ghost…almost intangible. He felt Artanis as the youth opened his eyes, listening intently, leaning into him for support.
What gift? Artanis thought, though it was more of a curiosity waiting to be directed than a carefully constructed question. As soon as his curiosity touched Zeratul, it was quenched.
You remind me of my one great success….
Artanis felt himself collapse as he sensed the meaning behind the thought before it was even finished, and he was grateful for Zeratul's strength holding him up. His thoughts rang with mingled emotions…all of them powerful…all of them good…and all of them enough to break him down. It was all he could do to close his eyes again and let Zeratul's compassion flow over him like warm water on cool, thirsty skin. Artanis, lost within the comfort of his master's physical and emotional embrace, absorbed the full weight of the Zeratul's conclusion as it touched him in the depths of his heart and soul.