The planet Aiur hung like a glimmering jewel in the star-speckled blackness of space as the massive Auriga Fleet Carrier Feldspar entered orbit above the lush jungle world. Judicator Turmalis stood on the observation deck, arms behind his back, enraptured as he watched his homeworld appear through the glass viewports embedded throughout the deck. It had been so very long since he had been home, and it was good to be back.
"Beautiful, is it not?" he asked.
Executor Endara moved to stand next to him. "Indeed it is. In all of our travels we have seen many wondrous sights, but all pale in comparison to this," she replied.
Turmalis turned and took her hand in his. "The first thing we should do is run through the jungles as we did when we were younger."
Endara's eye glow changed to a violet hue as she reached out with her feelings for him and caressed his hand. "We will do that and more."
Turmalis sensed there was more that she had left unsaid and thought for a moment. "Ah yes... the Conclave will expect our report. I suppose it will be good to see my brethren again, but I most assuredly do not look forward to becoming embroiled in their political disputes any time soon."
"I am certain Venadar will arrange for us to have some free time, Turmalis," Endara offered.
Turmalis laughed. "If he does not, heads will roll," he joked.
"What do you mean you have not heard of Venadar? By Adun's blade, he is Judicator of Teross!" Turmalis shouted.
The young Khalai on the viewscreen looked confused and fearful. "I apologize, Judicator, but I have never heard of Teross either."
Turmalis' eye glow deepened from orange to dark red, his annoyance giving way to pure anger. "This is absurd! I am Judicator Turmalis of the Auriga Expeditionary Fleet and I demand that you find someone with more intelligence than an Ipikyth for me to speak with!"
The Khalai's eyes widened and he panicked. "Again, I apologize. I will find someone right away!"
The screen went black.
"You think something is wrong?" Endara asked.
Turmalis made a perturbed gesture. "I am certain. This Khalai may be young and possibly brain-damaged but even so he should have recognized Teross. He did not even blink with recognition of the word!"
"Be calm," Endara soothed.
Turmalis looked downward, ashamed of his outburst. "I apologize, Endara," he said. "This is not how I expected our homecoming to be."
"I understand," she intoned. "But I believe you are letting your fears of what the Conclave will say of our union blind your emotions. Remain calm until the facts have presented themselves, and then we will act upon them. Detachment breeds competence."
Turmalis gazed into her eyes and felt the warm glow of her commitment to him radiating from her. "You are right. We shall see soon enough what is going on here. Perhaps we have merely entered a rip in the spacetime continuum and this is simply a parallel universe populated by imbeciles."
Endara laughed. "You are quite humorous when you are agitated."
"Perhaps you can agitate me further when we are alo—" Turmalis began to say when the screen lit up again and an unfamiliar Protoss Judicator appeared.
"Greetings esteemed Judicator Turmalis and Executor Endara. I am Judicator Turinas of Therazan," the Protoss said.
"Turinas, I wish to speak with Judicator Venadar. I am appalled at the apparent lack of —"
"I regretfully inform you that Judicator Venadar... passed into the light some years ago when Teross fell in a small uprising organized by Dark Templar sympathizers. My Khalai servant was unaware. I apologize for your reception and will help in any way I can to make your return home a welcome one."
Turmalis was stunned by the news. Venadar is dead? How can this have come to pass? he wondered.
Endara, aware of his thoughts, took over the conversation. "We thank you, Turinas. We have much to catch up on since our departure. We will be entering atmosphere momentarily, and will meet with you shortly."
"I look forward to it. En Taro Adun." The screen went black again, leaving Turmalis and Endara with many unanswered questions and a dread silence that left them feeling hollow.
Turinas awaited them in the landing bay as their shuttle made its way onto the tarmac. The hatch opened and they plodded down the walkway to greet him.
"Welcome home," he said. "Walk with me."
The two followed him down vacant streets and ornately carved buildings that climbed high into the sky.
"Where are the people?" Turmalis questioned.
"There have been... a few changes since you have been gone. It is now past curfew and the citizens have retired to their homes."
"Curfew?" Endara turned.
"As I mentioned before, there was an uprising nine years ago by a group of Khalai sympathetic to the Dark Templar. Many great Templar perished during the conflict and Teross was destroyed in a... riot. Venadar was the first to die. Both Nannoth and Taeradun vanished during the conflict and are presumed dead. There were a few survivors, however," Turinas replied.
He led them to a large building and the three of them entered a lift.
"Since that time, the Conclave has instituted a number of laws to prevent the reoccurrence of such a conflict. Media and communications are now broadcast directly from the Conclave once per day and there is a curfew from sunset to sunrise. A small price to pay for enjoying the benefits of the Empire, wouldn't you agree?"
Turmalis hesitated for a moment. "Perhaps. I would think the Conclave knows best in these matters."
Turinas turned to face him. "A splendid answer. I believe you will find that your way of thinking will help you greatly in the current scheme of things."
"Oh?" he asked as they exited the lift and walked down a corridor filled with Zealots lined up against the walls, standing at attention. Turmalis was worried now. He could see the same worry emanating from Endara.
Turinas paused before two large doors, carved with symbols bearing the markings of the Ara clan. "Indeed. There have been quite a few changes in the Conclave and Regional Councils over the last few years. But I will not attempt to explain it further, as there is someone who can do so far better than I."
Turinas palmed a ruby-colored crystal embedded in the right side of the wall and the doors swung open to reveal Judicator Aldaris seated at a conference table eyeing them. To the left of him was Judicator Jepok of Antioch.
"We would be delighted if you would join us," Aldaris said, rising from his seat.
Turinas put a hand on Turmalis' shoulder, urging him forward past the threshold. "He arrived shortly before you did. There was nothing I could do..."
The doors slammed shut behind them.
"...to prepare better accommodations for this meeting," Turinas finished. "I do hope you'll excuse the manner in which you've been treated thus far."
Turmalis felt a brief tinge of warning between himself and Endara. "Of course."
"Please be seated," Aldaris said, gesturing to the gaudily decorated chairs. "We have much to discuss with the great heroes of the Auriga Expedition."
Turmalis stood on the balcony watching a group of strange vehicles gathered in the distance when Aldaris joined him.
"What are they?" Turmalis asked, gesturing toward the machines.
"Those are the new Scout ships. By order of the Conclave, the Furinax are using a more advanced design. The new ships can hold two occupants and travel twice as far without being recharged. I expect it is the first of many new designs they are working on," Aldaris answered. "But we should be discussing your future, not that of mere machines."
"You have come quite far since I have been gone."
"More than you realize," Aldaris replied with a slight hint of pride. "I am now in charge of all the Regional Councils and the Assembly's direct link to the Conclave."
"Congratulations," Turmalis said. "And what is it you wished to discuss with me that you would go so far out of your way as to conceal our return from the Outer Regions, and rush to meet us here in secret?"
"Bold as ever. Very well then, let us dispense with the pleasantries and say what we have to say."
Turmalis turned to face him now as the winds whipped at them. "And exactly what would that be?"
"As I have said, I am moving up in the world. Those who are my allies will prosper. I am asking you to be one of those allies," Aldaris returned.
"Like Turinas and Jepok? If you believe having Jepok in your grasp will blind me to the fact that you are the one responsible for this..." he said, pointing down to the empty streets below.
Aldaris nodded. "I do what I must in the name of the Khala and all it stands for. You were not here and cannot fathom the atrocities our people have suffered in your absence. I will not let it happen again. Ever."
Turmalis scratched his jaw while considering his words. "And what are you proposing to offer me in return for this... partnership of ideals?"
"Reinstatement as a full-fledged Judicator in charge of your own province, and prosperity such as you have never known," Aldaris replied.
"And if I find such a partnership disagreeable?" Turmalis asked.
Aldaris' eyes flashed yellow with a hint of anger. "You would find that course of action to be... unhealthy."
"A threat? Things have changed more than I could have imagined," Turmalis replied. He looked down from the balcony at the street below as the winds picked up in strength. "Be careful not to accidentally slip from this balcony and plummet to your death," he warned casually. He could see the shock in Aldaris' face, and his rising panic as he debated in his mind whether or not Turmalis was capable of such an act.
"What is it you want?" he hissed at last.
"How could you make a deal with Aldaris?" Endara asked angrily. "You know very well his twisted vision of serving the Khala is nothing more than a pack of lies to hide his ambition and lust for control!"
Turmalis sighed. "Please, Endara. You should know me far better than that. I made the deal to keep an eye on him. As Jepok once told me, it is necessary to keep your allies close and your enemies closer. My bargaining with him was necessary to keep watch over him. I have already contacted the Conclave and informed them of our meeting. They have given me full approval to continue this charade for as long as necessary."
The shame was apparent in Endara's eyes as she embraced him. "I am sorry, Turmalis. I should indeed have known better. When you were speaking to Aldaris, I talked with Jepok and he is no longer the same person. He has changed. There is a great sadness in him. Perhaps even shame, or guilt."
"I understand. If Aldaris could bend the greatest Judicator of our time to his will, how could I possibly stand a chance?" he laughed. "Fear not. I will speak with Jepok and get to the bottom of this."
The Antioch Chronicles™ © 1998, Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. All rights reserved. The Antioch Chronicles™ trademark and associated logos are the exclusive property of Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. Characters and distinctive likenesses thereof, character names, item names, place names, named events, artwork and all other related material not disclosed herein are protected under the laws of the United States of America and other countries. Any reproduction, retransmission, or unauthorized use herein is prohibited without express written permission.
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