Artanis awoke the next day with a gleam in his eye. He smiled as he moved out of his resting chamber, cleaning and dressing himself. He had another match today in the holographic suites, another competition with his rival, the "head of the class," Romanis. Normally, he'd be quite afraid of facing him, but because he had already surprised the Conclave by defeating Romanis yesterday, Artanis had nothing to lose this match. Even if he lost, he'd still move on to the next stage of selection. This would only decide if the Conclave was completely wrong about Romanis.
A spring in his step, Artanis moved quickly into the doorway of the room that held the two holopods. The ensemble there shocked him for a moment, as he saw most of the Conclave there again, as well as his instructor. Romanis was nowhere to be seen, but one of the holopods was clearly active, indicating Romanis was most likely already inside the holographic world in which their last battle took place.
Then, with a sudden burst of recognition, Artanis realized why the Conclave was there. Of course they would be...the last time something of this nature had happened was two hundred years ago. They were just here to witness such a rare occurrence as what he'd accomplished.
Artanis moved into the room, and six heads swiveled toward him. The looks in their eyes stopped him in his tracks. He'd seen that look in his instructor's eyes before, such as the times he'd gone on all-night soaking sprees (the equivalent of an extremely rowdy Terran party) and had been exhausted the next day in class. No, these people were not happy with him. He quickly scanned over the match yesterday in his mind, trying to decide what he'd done wrong.
Could it be? No, they were in the computer...why would they be there, if they were not acceptable to be used...
:It seems you've committed a grievous error yesterday, Artanis,: the instructor began. :Do you not know that association with the Dark Ones is anathema?:
:Association with...: a confused Artanis began to stutter. :You don't mean, the dark templar, do you?:
:Of course, foolish youngling,: the instructor spat, his emotions clouding his eyes for a moment. :There was a computer bug, one that's been in our system for thousands of years. Exploiting this bug, you won your match over Romanis.:
:Exploiting?!?: Artanis exploded. :I rarely used them! I defended with them once, maybe twice, at the most...:
:Nevertheless,: a now calmer instructor chastised, :The Conclave has chosen to disqualify your match yesterday.:
:They're handing me a loss?!?: Artanis felt his hands balling, energies of the high templar swirling about him. The people in the room subconsciously increased their shielding, and a few readied counterstrikes as well.
:Settle yourself, Artanis. Take control of your energies, and I will continue.:
Artanis closed his eyes, and for what seemed like an extremely long moment, his meditation exercises would not come. Then, to his relief (as well as everyone else in the room's), the offensive energies about him slowly dissipated. Artanis began to think clearly again, and a realization dawned on him.
:Why is Romanis in his holopod if I was disqualified in the previous match?: he asked, calmly.
The instructor answered, a tone of contentment in his voice caused by his student's control under such an extenuating circumstance. :I said the match was disqualified, not you. You will repeat your performance yesterday. If you win, Romanis will have lost twice, and will return to zealot training. If you lose, then you will return to the pits yourself. Understood?:
:I do not agree with the fairness of this decision, but the decision of the Conclave it is...and thus, I will accept.:
:Excellent, young one,: the instructor finished. :Now, it is time to prove to the Conclave that you do not need to utilize the Fallen Ones to succeed against Romanis.: Artanis blinked, as he thought he caught a bit of a wink from the instructor. Was it possible that he had nothing to do with this whole prediction business? No matter. As the instructor had just stated, it was time to show Romanis what he was capable of--again.
Artanis moved slowly toward his holopod, and, with one glance back toward the assembled figures glaring intently at him, slid into it, closing the door behind him. He lowered his shields, and opened his mind to the holographic images the machine induced.
This time, his mind was not so clear, as he opened his eyes. Doubts were beginning to push their way into his mind. He had walked into this match thinking it was a win/win situation for him; he was completely unprepared to have so much riding on the line this time around.
He ordered his probes to begin gathering resources, as well as the creation of several more of the robotic workers. Once he had several of them, he ordered the construction of a pylon, and a gateway following it. He planned on using mostly ground troops in this match, hoping that he could out-produce his opponent, or perhaps catch him in haste to produce more advanced units.
At the same time, he sent one of his robotic probes out to do some reconnaissance work. He recognized the map from his studies, as it was one of the more highly contested battlefields in the Koprulu sector, due to the (as of yet) unexplored Xel'Naga temple centered in the area. He knew that he was to the south of the temple, and decided to first send his probe to the mineral lode in the east.
Artanis' eyes smiled, softly, as the probe relayed back that, indeed, Romanis' base was centered in the east. He also had no attack units as of yet...but then, it was too early for Artanis to have any, either.
A gateway was running at Romanis' base, however, and a zealot was soon warped in from a simulated Aiur to deal with the probe spy in his base. At the same time, Artanis' own zealots, stationed at the choke-point leading up to the plateau on which Artanis had his base, reported to him that they had destroyed an enemy probe themselves, as well.
His enemy knew where he was.
Cursing, Artanis ordered the construction of a cybernetics core, to allow the creation of the unit he was planning on winning this battle with--the dragoon. His opponent, unbeknownst to Artanis, had already created a core, and was already creating dragoons. Artanis sent a zealot out to Romanis' base, hoping that perhaps his choke-point was left unguarded, but as he approached it, heavy dragoon fire rained down upon the foot soldier, and he wisely withdrew a few paces, ready to alert Artanis of any advancing force from Romanis' base.
Romanis was not idle during this time. A robotics facility was operating, as well as an observatory. Perhaps Romanis was fearing that Artanis would again exploit the bug that had allowed him the creation of dark templar. Several zealots, as well as at least a dozen dragoons, were poised for their first strike into Artanis' base, and as they moved forward, the lone zealot stationed near Romanis' base by Artanis reported the moving force back to his commander.
About this time, as the dragoons played with the zealot Artanis was using as a scout, Romanis began to create a second nexus at the nearest resource node to his main base.
Romanis moved his dragoons near to the plateau that contained Artanis' base. The zealot Artanis had been using to report the movements of the enemy force had reached home, and was leading the attacking force into one at least twice its size, near the entrance to Artanis' base.
Then, Romanis' force stopped, just outside of visible range, and one zealot continued forward, giving Romanis a view of the forces his own were about to walk into. The zealot quickly fell to multiple dragoons, and Artanis cursed, as he knew the enemy force would be withdrawn before it could be destroyed.
Just at that moment, a little chittery voice pushed into Artanis' communicator. He let his spirits rise again, as he realized that he had won the race to reavers. He loaded the factory of death into a waiting shuttle, and moved his dragoon force forth toward the enemy base, sensing he had the upper hand.
He stopped, on the eastern outskirts of the buried temple, as he noticed an amassed force of Romanis' own dragoons. Cursing the shuttle's slowness, he waited for it to deposit the reaver behind his own dragoons, and then decided to do something bold.
Pushing a few buttons in front of him, Artanis sent his own mind into the dragoons of his attack force--a simulation within a simulation. It was a daring move, and one that could have extreme potential repercussions, but it gave his troops a sense of fluidity and teamwork that could only be achieved in this manner.
He started to execute small hit-and-run strikes with his dragoons, taking down small groups of the enemy fighters. Yet, there seemed to be no end to the four-legged walkers in sight...and worse, he noticed the troops of his enemy moving in similar patterns to his own.
Romanis was also taking direct control over his troops.
The enemy dragoons retreated east from the temple grounds, into the valley that separated the entrance of his two bases from the central temple area. Artanis broke his connection long enough to order the creation of a new base at the mineral patch near the entrance to his own base, and then took control of his troops again.
Unfortunately for him, and his troops, he saw an enemy reaver moving down the ramp that led to his opponent's base. His own reaver had fallen behind in pursuit of Romanis' dragoons, and so Artanis pulled his dragoons back to wait for the lumbering giant.
Next, came the most grueling battle of the whole match. Reinforcements poured down Romanis' ramp, as more and more dragoons, reavers, and zealots were shuttled from Artanis' base. Having destroyed all of Artanis' dragoons, Romanis pushed his forward, hoping to catch the upstart unprepared for what was left of his forces, but he met a large wave of reinforcements from Artanis' base. The offending force of Romanis' dragoons were destroyed, and the remnants of Artanis' forces once again pushed into the hotly-contested valley.
For several minutes, the sounds of scarabs firing, dragoons firing, and the fall of dragoons, reavers, and zealots were prominent. The ground was covered in a bluish goo, reavers shooting scarabs, as the battle seesawed back and forth, between the two bases. Artanis was sweating profusely, horribly, as the strain of the battle took its toll on him. He was fighting with all he had, and yet was still instructing his gateways to pump out more dragoons, and now, high templar.
Slowly, steadily, Romanis began to emerge on top of the battle. Enemy dragoons and reavers were pushing toward his main base. At the same time, an enemy shuttle dropped a probe on the cliff above Artanis' second base, and a third base from Romanis was started in the valley to the north of the temple.
Artanis gnashed his teeth, as he continued to lose ground to the enemy invaders. Slowly, they worked their way into his expansion base, destroying first his gateway, then the pylon that supported it, and, finally, his nexus went down.
With a mental snarl of rage, Artanis made a final desperate push to rid the valley below his main base of the invaders. Using a liberal amount of psionic storm, and masterful drops of his reaver from a shuttle, he finally destroyed all of the enemy dragoons and reavers...but the cost was very high.
His nexus was in ruins. His enemy had established a third mining base on the northern end of the map. And, as of yet unknown to him, Romanis had littered the cliff above the valley he had just fought in with cannons.
Artanis was out of minerals at his main base, and yet had enough in reserves to reestablish the base that had just been destroyed. Then, as he began to mine from the minerals next to the eastern cliff, cannon fire began to rain down on his workers. Cursing mentally again, he loaded up a shuttle with a reaver, and cleansed the cliff of the cannons. However, he was running low on reserves, and his probes had lost valuable mining time during the cliff-top battle.
Meanwhile, Romanis was setting up yet another base, just off the western edge of the cliff his main base was on. Using his three mining bases, he was assembling another large force of dragoons just outside Artanis' only mining base.
Then, the hammer fell. Romanis moved in, quickly. Multiple storms fell about the offending dragoons, but no amount of storm was going to stop the dozens of dragoons flooding into Artanis' only mining base. His nexus was destroyed yet again, and Artanis had nothing left to stop the dragoons from marching straight into his main base.
Artanis felt a wave of grief wash over him, as the realization of what had happened washed over him. He settled his mind, and began to reach for the control in his nexus that would signal his honorable surrender.
Just as his finger was about to touch the panel, a very different alarm claxon sounded. This one had nothing to do with the simulation; it was the alarm that indicated a real emergency.
Artanis quickly threw his shields back up, and thus, his connection to the holopod was severed. He swung open the door, quickly, to see Romanis moving out of his holopod at the same time, just as confused as Artanis was. Both trainees looked at each other, confused, to the sounds of alarms indicating the citadel was under attack.
Together, they ran out into the hall, watching, stunned, as instructors and cadets alike scurried about them. Both cadets ran to the nearest person who didn't seem to be in a panic, and almost assaulted their instructor with questions.
:What the hell is going on?: they shouted in unison. The instructor glanced at them, his eyes considering, and then he grabbed them both by the shoulder, and pulled them toward a shuttle bay.
:The Zerg have come to Aiur, cadets,: the instructor said, calm, as he moved them aboard a shuttle with another frightened cadet. He pulled the shuttle out, moving away from the battle erupting behind them.
Romanis and Artanis looked at each other, stunned. Then, they turned back to the instructor, and Romanis voiced what was on both of their minds.
:What of us?: he asked, a bit of tension on his mental voice.
:The conclave has hastily decided where you two will be stationed. Romanis, you will remain here, to help defend against the Zerg onslaught, ready to take the place of our top Praetors here. Artanis, despite the conclave's distaste for you, they have given you command of a base near the southern pole. You are not likely to see much action, but...it is the best I can offer.:
Artanis smiled, inside. He had been assigned a backwater post...but having a command was better than what would have happened had the Zerg not attacked.
Coming up, part three: Artanis' first command.
Here, for your viewing pleasure [and to clear up any confusion] is the minimap battle.)