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Hunters of the Dark Side (Part 15)


Chapter Forty-Two

 

Fifteen minutes later, the four of them were crammed at the top of the stairs that led down into the Rune Ward, crowded beneath the hidden trapdoor that was disguised as a flat rock from above. 

 

Sam was poised at the very top, eyes closed and blaster in hand, and Dean was crammed in next to him, similarly armed, with Sian and Tevv immediately behind them.

 

“Ok,” Sam said, opening his eyes at last. “I’ve located the zakkeg in the Force. When I open the door, I’m going to project an image that nothing has changed. There’s a tree at nine o’clock right behind a low rubble wall. Dean and I will shoot that together on the count of three. Three blasts, no more. That should do enough damage to make the tree fall, and should grab the zakkeg’s attention. Then I’m going to project an image of a maalraa running into the forest. When the zakkeg goes for it, you three run for the speeders. I’ll do my best to cover your scent,” Sam explained.

 

“Wait, what about you?” Dean asked. “I don’t like this there’s an awful lot of ‘shoulds’ and ‘maybes’ here.”

 

Sam shrugged. He wasn’t particularly fond of the plan either, but their alternative was sitting in the Rune Hold with no food or water and hoping that the zakkeg left and nothing else took its place. When he had reached out in the Force to find it, he had sensed it’s primitive brain, so strange and different from touching another sentient’s. It was hungry and had smelled food. He got that much. And Sam knew with a sickening certainty that the “food” the beast smelled was them. No way the thing was going to wander around on its own now, even if he did mask their sent. The creature would just wait until the smell returned.

 

“Look, I know it’s risky, but we don’t have a lot of options, unless you want to just sit here and hope it goes away,” Sam said. “As soon as it’s far enough away, and you guys are at the bikes, I’m gonna run and try to catch you. Not sure if I can maintain the illusion while I’m running, so be prepared to step on it.

 

Dean gave him a threatening look. 

 

“Dean, I’ll be careful; I promise,” Sam placated.

 

Dean seemed to settle down and re-checked his blaster.

 

Taking that as a signal, Sam steadied himself and reached out in the Force again. Eyes still closed, he reached up with his left hand and touched the trap door above them, right hand shifting his blaster into a ready firing position. There it was, the little glimmer of hungry consciousness that was the zakkeg’s mind. Carefully, carefully, he grabbed its attention and thought hard about the image of the trap door as it looked from the outside. Just a rock. Nothing interesting. Nothing moving. Then Sam listened to the Force in himself and his three companions and gently tuned out perception of their smell, presence, and movement from the zakkeg’s awareness. When he felt confident he had a grasp on all that, he spoke. “On the count of three, one, two, three!”

 

Smoothly, Sam lifted the trap door, maintaining his grasp on the zakkeg’s mind, opening his eyes, only when he and Dean were both clear of the hatch, blasters aimed and firing at the tree. 

 

Sam felt the zakkeg’s awareness shift to the loud blasts and explosion, and watched it turn its armored head in fascination as the tree splintered and crashed to the ground under the combined force and heat of the blasts, sending chunks of rubble falling off the crumbled remains of the wall as the tree landed on it. The zakkeg was interested, and there, Sam planted the image of a startled maalraa, a toothy, round-headed cat-like predator, and the only zakkeg food source with which Sam was sufficiently familiar to possibly pull this off. Sam didn’t know what a maalraa smelled like to a zakkeg, so he did his best instead, to give the zakkeg an image of the maalraa moving, starting to run, but slowly enough that the zakkeg could catch it. Catch it and feast on it. He sensed the primitive hunger want increase in the animal’s mind and fed the Force into that as much as possible.

 

When the zakkeg started to run after the phantom maalraa, Sam whispered, “Go!”

 

Dean, Sian, and Tevv, streamed out of the hatch and began to sprint across the open field, dodging around rocks and piles of rubble towards the speeder bikes.

 

Sam tried to dampen the sound of their feet, their smell, their heartbeats, working double time to keep those sensory cues out of the zakkeg’s mind as it chased its perceived prey.

 

Dean and the others were running fast, and had almost reached the bikes. He just had to hold onto the zakkeg a little longer. 

 

His attention slipped just a moment as he checked on Dean’s whereabouts. As he watched his brother carefully climb onto the bike and beckon after him, he failed to make the maalraa dodge fast enough, and the zakkeg’s teeth swiped through where the maalraa should have been. Sam tried to project the sensation of teeth hitting furred flesh, of tearing and stopping, but it came a little too late, and wasn’t accompanied by the taste of maalraa. 

 

The zakkeg stuttered, confused, still seeing the maalraa, as far as Sam could tell, but disinterested from the hunt. It felt not right. Sam tried to make the maalraa run again in front of the zakkeg, but it seemed disinterested. A little too late, Sam realized that in his haste to mask the others and keep the zakkeg interested in the maalraa, he had let his grip on his own presence slip. The zakkeg could smell him, and it was coming his way.

 

“Sithspit!” Sam cursed, as he flung himself from the hatch, hearing the door slam shut behind him. There was no way he could levitate the rubble that had concealed it back into place, not unless he wanted to be zakkeg chow. He sure hoped the Force would keep the Rune Hold invisible to everyone else, ‘cause he really didn’t have time to check it. The zakkeg was coming after him and closing fast.

 

“Dean!” he called. “Tell Sian and Tevv to go! We got incoming!” Sam saw Sian and Tevv fire up the repulsor on their SoroSuub speederbike and whiz off into the distance, as Dean mounted the bike and looked over his shoulder at Sam.

 

Sam didn’t need the look of shock and terror on Dean’s face to know how close and how fast the zakkeg was coming. It was moving much faster than Sam had thought possible. He could hear the animal in the force and feel it growing nearer just fine. Sam kept trying to throw distractions at it, even once sending it the image of an enormous boulder in it’s path, but the zakkeg just dodged and kept on coming.

 

Giving up on masking himself or the others from the zakkeg, Sam put all his Force energy into making himself faster, willing his body to just get to Dean. He didn’t teleport or anything like that, but he did move a little faster, and with a flying leap jumped onto the back of the speederbike behind Dean as he fired the engines and opened the throttle just as the zakkeg’s teeth would have gnashed through his neck where he had just been.

 

Sam’s landing was awkward, and it took most of his concentration just to stay on, wrapping his arms around Dean as the acceleration threatened to throw him off the back of the bike. 

 

Sam looked over his shoulder. The zakkeg was coming. It was pissed and it was picking up speed, pacing the speederbike. Sam could feel its mind had identified him as the source of frustration, as the obstacle that had taken away its food. And Sam smelled good to the zakkeg, way better than the scent-less maalraa. 

 

“Can you go any faster?” he called to Dean through the roaring breeze.

 

“Not unless you want to go splat on a tree,” Dean shouted back. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re taking the direct route.” He pointed at a little blip on the bike’s display that Sam could just barely make out over his shoulder. “More direct, but the foliage is a little, uh dense this way. Otherwise I’d go up and get out of chomping range!” 

 

As if to illustrate the point, a series of low-hanging branches and tangled vines, zoomed into view, causing Dean and Sam to duck to avoid having their heads taken off.

 

Sam reached out in the force and tried to push the zakkeg away to no avail. The animal looked a little dazed for a split second, but didn’t lose much speed. Blast! Miss’Ouri had warned him that some objects and animals were harder to control (or move) than others, especially if you were tired. And tired, he was becoming. The series of illusions he’d fed into the zakkeg’s mind had taken most of his energy.

 

“Sam?!” Dean called warily, as Sam started to slip in the seat, “Hang on! We’ll be back to the ship soon.”

 

Sam tightened his grip around Dean’s waist to try to hold himself on the bike. He could sense the trees and foliage whipping and pulling and snapping all around them as Dean cut as direct—and therefore not as fast—a path through the jungle as possible, with the zakkeg picking up speed behind them. Damn those things were fast. As yet another branch slapped hard against Sam’s cheek, leaving an angry pink welt in its wake, an idea struck him. Maybe I can’t throw the zakkeg, but that doesn’t mean I can’t…

 

Reaching out with the force one last time, Sam grabbed a small tree as they whizzed past. He held on it, pulling, and pulling, bending the tree from it’s normal position until, just as the zakkeg was about to pass it… Sam let go. The tree whipped back into place with springy force, smacking the zakkeg clear across its low-to-the-ground chest, and whipped it off its feet, sending it careening into another tree.

 

As Sam had hoped, the zakkeg lost interest. No prey was tasty enough to make up for breaking a tree with your back, even if your back was armored.

 

With a sigh of relief, Sam turned back to lean against Dean, and collapsed against his brother’s solid weight, the shape of the rune that was zipped carefully in his jacket’s inside pocket pressed between them. That was a close call, but at least they’d gotten what they’d come for. Now they just had to do it three more times—or two if Bobby could find the rune on Myrkr—and they’d have a chance at defeating Lord Azazel. 

 

“I think we’re clear now,” he called to Dean.

 

“Awesome!” Dean shouted, throttling back just slightly.

 

They weren’t great odds, but right now, they were odds Sam was willing to take as they continued at a fast, but not suicidal, pace back to the ship.

 

 

Chapter Forty-Three

 

After reaching the Nunb’s shuttle, they had returned to Onderon, stopping briefly at the Nunb’s temporary residence for Sian to draw the console and its pictorial map on a datapad, and exchanging thanks and saying their good-byes.

 

Once aboard the Dream, Dean placed a holocall to Bobby, who was thankfully still on Myrkr, and convinced him to go looking for the Rune. He’d seemed pretty incredulous about the “Forceless tree,” but he’d said “yes” and agreed to look at the figures Sian had drawn from the display in the Rune Ward, and that was all that really mattered. 

 

Before Dean ended the call, Sam came in and insisted on going over the instructions for getting the Rune again, emphasizing to Bobby how vitally important it was that he say everything exactly right. 

 

Sam’s insistence was almost amusing, but Dean wasn’t going to say that out loud.

 

“So,” Dean said to Sam meaningfully when they finally ended the call.

 

“So,” Sam responded.

 

“Did you send the message to Ven?” Dean asked expectantly. He’d placed his call to Bobby from the Bridge so that Sam could use the comm unit in the clinic in privacy.

 

“Sent the message, and got a call back from him about three minutes later,” Sam said with a surprised smile.

 

“Really?” Dean said. He’d been pretty sure Ven would come through, but that was fast, he must have been sitting at his holocom to even read a message that fast.

 

“Apparently, Ven was worried about us when he found out the authorities were looking for us. So, he didn’t even read the message, beyond the instructions for how to make the secure call to us,” Sam explained.

 

“And?” Dean prompted.

 

“And apparently he and his family are really, really thankful for saving his life—kind of glossing over the whole fire because of me in the first place thing,” Sam sighed, “but he seemed really sincere, and said if there’s anything they can do to help us, they wanna do it.”

 

“Wow,” Dean said, wishing Sam would stop blaming himself for the fire. He could understand where Ven’s family was coming from. Even as a hunter one didn’t expect to have their home or ship turned into a deadly flambé courtesy of a five-thousand-year-old-Sith-Lord with an axe to grind. “So, are we headed there next?”

 

“I guess so. Ven said he was gonna call his parents and tell them to expect us,” Sam replied, standing from the co-pilots seat where he’d dropped when he joined Dean on the bridge and stretching. 

 

“I’ll set coordinates for Ryloth,” Dean said, punching the information into the navcomp. “You gonna go get some rest?” He hoped Sam would say “yes”; his brother had been looking like death warmed over ever since they’d gotten back from that forsaken moon.

 

“Yeah,” Sam said. “You?”

 

“I’m gonna get this set up and send the info we found to Dad… just in case,” Dean added that all-too familiar feeling of danger creeping up on him when he thought of his absent father. They knew Dad was alright as of when he’d fled Naboo, but that was already several days ago, and Dean had never gone so long in his life without talking to his father in person. The weeks were piling up and it was draining him. He just really wanted to talk, get some guidance. He couldn’t help hoping that maybe if they sent John the info about the Runes, they’d run into him somewhere.

 

“’Kay,” Sam said, stifling a yawn and walking off toward the passenger cabins.

 

“Night, Sam,” Dean called after him.

 

“’Night,” was the mumbled reply.

 

“Ok, Chevy, let’s get us up in the air and headed to Ryloth while I send Dad another message,” he said to Chevy.

 

Chevy gave an affirmative trill, and Dean got to work, hoping that maybe this time his message would result in contact.

 

 

Chapter Forty-Four

 

“Forceless Tree?” When Bobby had received the holocom transmission from Dean and seen the attached file (the drawing of the map their Sullustan friend had made), he didn’t know what to make of it… for about ten seconds. Then he looked over at one of the two lizards who was lounging, for lack of a better term, on its frame across the room, and he had his answer. Some big tree where a whole bunch of ysalimiri lived that created a big bubble in the Force. That was a “Forceless Tree.” That was where he would find the rune. He was overjoyed! Then, with sinking spirits, he realized he’d probably have to go back into the jungle and deal with all those awful plants and vornskrs and every other nasty species on the planet… again. He shuddered, looking down at his still-puffy-purple wrist.

 

But, he owed it to the boys, maybe the galaxy. So, he called Rela again and asked if she knew of a place where ysalimri congregated, a tree probably, that would be very, very old and exist in a large Force-bubble.

 

It took Rela a few minutes, during which Bobby was practically jumping up and down with anticipation and impatience, but at last, Rela said she knew of such a place. But she sounded very hesitant.

 

“Can you take me there?” Bobby asked, almost too eagerly.

 

“It is a most sacred place,” Rela explained. “According to legend, the first Jedi to visit Myrkr and brave the effects of the ysalimiri went there. Today, some people go there to meditate, we do not harvest ysalimiri from that tree.”

 

“The Jedi went there?” Bobby said, dumbfounded. “You mean the tree’s five thousand years old?” he asked.

 

“Yes, and the tree is actually older than that,” Rela answered. “Botanists think something about the ysalimiri makes the trees age more slowly.

 

That was it, it had to be. This rune was for real, he knew Sam and Dean had supposedly found one, maybe two, of the others, but he hadn’t quite believed that he would find one here yet. But now he did. He was sure it was out there, but what could he do to assure Rela that it was ok for him to go there?

 

“I, I don’t want to harvest its ysalimiri, there’s—the Jedi that first visited it, I think they stored a Rune there, called the Rune of the Light. My friend, he’s, there’s this Prophecy and this Chosen One, and he got instructions from a hidden cave on Dxun, and I need to get the Rune for him. I swear, I don’t want to hurt the tree or the lizards,” Bobby stammered in spite himself. Way to go Singer; make yourself sound like a frigging psychopath why don’t you?

 

“You know of the Rune of the light and the Prophecy?” Rela asked, surprised.

 

“Yeah,” Bobby said, equally shocked that she had heard of it, but then again, if his hunting contacts had been able to pick up on the legend, it made sense that someone on the planet would have heard of it. “That’s why I needed the lizards, I’m trying to help my brined,” he affirmed, hoping this was a sign he would get in her good graces.

 

“We thought it was just a story. Wanderers have tried to find something in the tree. They come every once in a while, maybe even started coming before humans settled here. But none have succeeded. They have not found anything,” she answered.

 

“If you can just take me there, I’ll try,” Bobby said, pleading. “Just let me try, and if there’s nothing there, we can leave. I’ll pay you, of course,” he added graciously.

 

“Ok,” Rela said with a curt nod. “If you find it, you don’t have to pay me, just don’t harm any lizards.”

 

“Deal,” Bobby answered, extending his hand. They shook, and Rela smiled obviously curious to see what would happen

 

“So, when do we leave?” Bobby asked, anxious to get going.

 

“Tomorrow at first light,” Rela said. Then, picking up on Bobby’s obvious disappointment, “the Tree is very deep in the jungle, and as you know, we must go on foot. If we get there and back before sunset, we will be very lucky. I will pack camping gear should we need to spend the night.”

 

“Spend the night?”

 

“Trust me, you don’t want to try navigating the jungle in the dark,” Rela said.

 

That had been yesterday. Bobby had talked to Dean, found out they’d found a second rune, and let Dean know that he’d have a third in a day, maybe two. Dean had seemed melancholy, distant even, which was surprising, because finding a Rune should have been good news. Bobby wondered what was up, but pushed it to the back of his mind. If all went well, in another week or two tops they’d have all four Runes.

 

That had been yesterday. Now they were will into their trek—about seven hours in—about half of their daylight gone, and they still hadn’t reached the tree. Bobby hoped they got there soon, because he really didn’t want to have to spend the night in the jungle. Not to mention, the boys needed the Rune as son as possible.

 

“Just a little farther; we will reach the tree soon,” Rela assured, sensing Bobby’s flagging spirits.

 

“Good,” he murmured, following carefully behind her on a narrow winding path, picking his way over tree roots and around creeping vines, this time covered from head to toe—gloves and a hat added to hopefully allow him to avoid any further entanglements with toxic plants.

 

After five more minutes of walking, they came to a small, rushing stream with very, very blue water. As they crossed it, Bobby noticed a marked difference. Everything on this side of the stream was quiet, tranquil, serene. Even the air felt stiller. The normal jungle sounds were conspicuously absent.

 

“That’s one of the bounds of the tree’s influence,” Rela explained. 

 

Bobby nodded. If he’d had any doubts about the effect of the ysalimiri up to this point, they were gone now.

 

After another fifteen minutes of walking on relatively clear, fat ground, they reached the tree or rather where you could clearly see the tree. It was huge, very broad, maybe thirty meters around, but not that tall by comparison, maybe only twenty or twenty five meters tall. Most of the tree was made up of thick, forking branches that spread wide over the Jungle creating a dense canopy and creating a broad ring of empty space around it. 

 

As they approached, Bobby could see the ysalimiri, hundreds of them, lounging on every available branch, blending into the wood and hiding behind the leaves.

 

Up close, Bobby could see a large split, a fork between two prominent branches that reached out about three meters up. A particularly old-looking lizard was draped over the junction between the branches. Recalling the map and instructions Sam and Dean had sent him, he stepped up toe the trunk, carefully balanced between its sprawling roots, and touched it, trying to lever himself up to see into the join underneath the lizard.

 

Immediately, a loud growling, hissing sound arose from all around. Shocked, Bobby stepped back to see that seemingly every lizard on the tree had turned its head his way. They seemed to be expressing their distaste for his actions, looking like they were ready to withdraw their claws from the tree’s thick bark and pounce at any moment. He remembered what Rela had said about them being mostly sessile and took another step back.

 

Rela chuckled in amusement, apparently finding the show of him foolishly trying to disturb the tree to be worth the effort and risk of taking him there.

 

Wait, there are things I’m supposed to say so the tree will reveal the Rune, Bobby remembered. Of course, he’d thought it was ridiculous at the time, but now he was starting to take the instructions seriously. 

 

Stepping up to the tree again, Bobby spread his arms wide, palms upturned in supplication. Sam had said he needed to get it exactly right. Here goes nothing, he thought nervously. “Guardians of the Rune, I come to you on behalf of the Chosen One. Please give me the Rune you conceal so he may defeat the dark wraith,” Bobby proclaimed, bowing his head and dropping to one knee as he finished speaking.

 

Suddenly, the hissing and growling stopped, and he heard a strange scraping, slithering sound. Bobby waited until that sound stopped as well, and then very, very slowly looked up.

 

“Oh my!” Rela exclaimed from behind him.

 

The ancient-looking lizard had moved from its perch over the split in the branches, and was now more or less standing, hesitantly, on the left branch of the fork, revealing a carved stone rune with blue and green design at its center placed in a shallow carving in the bark. Miraculously, the bark had not grown up or healed over it in all the time it must have been there. He could see that the rune would pry out easily. 

 

Recalling the other lines Sam had told him he beseeched, “May I take it?” directing the question to the old lizard.

 

The lizard blinked slowly and purposefully, and Bobby understood that as a “yes.” 

 

Wary of the lizard’s claws, Bobby hesitantly stepped forward and reached up to touch the rune. As he did so, he had to press against the trunk of the tree, and he felt a strange sensation pass through him, as if someone was reaching inside him to learn his intent. As soon as the sensation passed, the Rune fell free into his fingertips. Huh, guess I passed, he thought as he stepped back again.

 

The lizard was still watching him warily, and Bobby recalled the third line of the ritual. Tentatively reaching his arm out to touch the left branch where the lizard now stood, he said, “Will the guardian of the Rune please guide me and give safe passage?”

 

The lizard then blinked again and stepped from the branch to Bobby’s arm, walking along it, mindful of its claws, not scratching or cutting, stopping only when it was perched across Bobby’s shoulders, tail draping down over his right shoulder. It was surprisingly soft and warm, furry, not at all cold or scaly like he’d expected. Bobby hadn’t bothered to touch either of the lizards they’d brought back from his first trip into the jungle, because he’d been vaguely unsettled by the things, now he realized they were actually quite nice, cute even.

 

Rela gave out a little chuckle at the sight. “You weren’t lying?” she said, surprised.

 

Bobby turned to her with an incredulous glare.

 

“Ok, ok, and don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone, I don’t think the ysalimiri or the tree would approve,” she promised with a hint of irony.

 

Bobby nodded, trying not to jostle the lizard. “Thanks.” Turning back to look at the tree one more time, he noticed an image of the rune carved into the cavity where it had been, covered in some shiny sap or lacquer, announcing the purpose of the tree to any who knew what it meant. 

 

Slipping the Rune carefully inside his jacket pocket, he added to the tree and its lizards, “Thank you.”

 

Then, they resumed their trek back to civilization. When they got to the river, Bobby realized why the lizard had to accompany him. The Rune was imbued with the Force, which meant if, if the stories about the vornskrs were true, the Rune would be like a homing beacon or dinner bell to the predators any time they passed through an ysalimir-free portion of the forest outside the tree’s sphere of influence. Instead, the guardian lizard gave the Rune, and Bobby, a bubble of protection for which he was grateful.

 

I’ll be damned, Bobby thought as they hurried as quickly as the Jungle would allow, trying to beat nightfall. A five-thousand-year-old lizard guarding a Rune on a five-thousand-year-old tree that can read your mind. If the Rune wasn’t tucked against his chest and the lizard draped over his shoulders, he never would have believed it.

 

Pushing their speed as much as possible, Bobby and Rela made it out of the jungle just as darkness fell. Rela helped him transfer the guardian lizard to a nutrient frame and bid Bobby farewell, refusing his offers of payment. 

 

Still overwhelmed, Bobby retired to his hotel room, where he was now surrounded by three ysalimiri. He dispatched a quick holomessage to the Winchester boys letting them know the Rune was in hand and that he would be headed to the rendezvous point in the morning. As he drifted off to sleep, rune tucked close to his chest, he could only hope it all worked in the end.

 

 

Chapter Forty-Five

 

The “hunt” on Ryloth was going almost eerily smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that Sam really started to believe that there was something wrong.

 

Ven’s family had met them at the landing pad just like Ven had promised, greeting the Winchesters with kindness and affection. Sam was worried that they would be hesitant to house wanted fugitives, but they were anything but. Ven’s father, the clan’s ranking warrior, was very appreciative of Sam for saving his their son and keeping him out of trouble. Sam had tried to protest, pointing out that if not for him, Ven never would have been in trouble in the first place.

 

“Nonsense,” Ven’s father said. “Ven talks about you all the time. You are a good man, and from the sound of it, a good warrior. We will be happy to help you on your quest,” he had said, grasping Sam’s upper arm firmly.

 

After their welcoming, they had followed the story in the children’s tale about the lost rycrit that ran into the hidden cave to escape the dark spirit and found a glistening pond of stars. 

 

Using the coordinates and landmark shown in the passage on Dxun and the map Sian Nunb had so carefully transcribed from memory, they found the hidden crevasse without much trouble. Ad they had hoped, once the landmarks were known the entrance was visible to all, not just Sam. It seemed that their theory was correct, either the Nunb’s Marker and the Rune on Dxun were some sort of key, or the system was set up so the Chosen One need only visit one Marker to learn the locations of all the Runes.

 

The entrance was a barely visible crevice in a vertical wall of red rock in the face of a mountain not far from where the habitable land gave way to the uninhabitable permanently sun-facing brightlands. Just like the story said, and precisely at the coordinates indicated on Dxun, the crevice was between two tall, pitcher-shaped rock formations. When standing exactly in the middle of the two pitchers and level with them on the same line, with the sun at one’s back, the crevice in the rock cast a shadow that resembled a curved walkway, inviting one in. 

 

Sam was amazed that it had worked.  Most of the habitable parts of Ryloth were below the surface and those not were filled with shadows, since it was the semi-dark, semi-light areas along the permanent day-night terminus that were inhabitable, so any location where a shadow could be that obvious and precisely described was almost unheard of, and probably a big part of why no one had discovered the story was real until now.

 

Up close, the crevice seemed to dead end just inside, but if one walked all the way in and touched the wall, then stepped forward into the blackness, there was a passage, of perfect size and perfect height for one averaged-sized bipedal sentient (or a lost rycrit) to slip through. The narrow passage continued for twenty-five meters and took a right turn, just like the story hinted and the map on Dxun had said, then continued for thirty more and opened into a large cavern, a bioluminescent pool at its center and large multi-colored crystals adorning the cave ceiling, reflecting and refracting the light back down at myriad angles making the pond glisten and shimmer like a pool of stars.

 

“Wow,” Said Dean, sucking in a surprised breath at the sight. “The story really wasn’t kidding.”

 

“No, it wasn’t,” Sam agreed, awed the breath-taking display of light. He looked around the cavern, which seemed to be ringed by solid stone. Ven’s father and cousin had accompanied them and were now exploring, seemingly equally awed, lekku alive with emotion.

 

“Any idea what the bioluminescence is from?” Dean asked, crouching down to get a better look at the pool, running his hand back and forth over the surface, watching the light play over his hand, but not actually touching it. 

 

“There are some bacteria and algae common to our Ryloth’s caves and caverns that are bioluminescent—neither is harmful to Twi’leks or humans,” Ven’s cousin supplied, trying to assuage Dean’s hesitance.

 

“Anything else they might be?” Dean asked looking up at the three other figures.

 

“No way of knowing without doing a spectral analysis,” Sam said with a shrug.

 

“I wish we’d brought Chevy,” Dean muttered rising to his feet. “But,” he said, looking directly at Sam. “I know there’s no way she’d have fit through the tight turns in that passage, so it’s probably good we didn’t bring her, plus she’s watching the Dream and if there’s any way we can receive transmissions in here, if someone comes looking for us we’ll know,” he added walking over to the nearest wall and running his hands along the rough surface.

 

Sam didn’t bother to add, but there was no way either of them was unnecessarily risking Chevy’s wellbeing on Ryloth’s harsh, unforgiving surface. They’d both be much more comfortable if she was safely aboard the Dream or ensconced deep inside the local cavern complex Ven’s family called home.

 

Sam noticed that the rock Dean was touching didn’t look carved or smoothed by water or wind or sand. There was no evidence of quarrying or burrowing or melting or blasting.

 

“What do you think created this place?” Dean asked, his tone almost reverent.

 

“Maybe whatever’s in the pool? Maybe Jedi? Maybe the force?” Sam posited. He didn’t know, but those were his three best (and only) ideas.

 

Ven’s father and cousin both shook their heads “no,” indicating they had no clue either.

 

“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Ven’s father. “This place was just supposed to be a children’s story,” he added, lekku twitching. “I don’t know what could have created this.”

 

“I don’t think it’s harmful,” Sam said. “It doesn’t feel evil,” he added significantly, stepping towards the pool. “The story said that the pool of shimmering stars protected the rycrit from the dark spirits for it had a core of light that shut away the dark, and the pool kept the rycrit safe until the darkness was destroyed.”

 

“And the map on Dxun shows a shaft of light in the center vertically linking the crystals and the pond,” Dean added, consulting a copy of the map on his datapad. “So, the rune is probably the ‘core of light,’ but do you think it’s in the ceiling or the pool?” Dean asked.

 

“I think the only way to find out is to stand in the center of the pool, be the beam of light and see where the Rune is,” Sam said, sliding his left foot into the pool. It was deeper than it looked, but the edge sloped down gradually, so he did not trip. It was also strange, the pool did not feel very wet, its temperature was the same as Sam’s skin, and the consistency of the fluid was not exactly like water. It was slightly more viscous and flowed around Sam like liquid silk, yet the surface showed no ripples or other signs of displacement as he moved. After the first two steps, the bottom leveled out so that Sam was immersed in the pool up to about his knees.

 

“Does that feel as strange as it looks?” Dean asked.

 

“Yeah,” answered Sam, glancing back over his shoulder at Dean. Looking back ahead of him towards the center of the pool, he could see something square-ish with a blue-green design at the center that looked a lot like the rune they’d found on Dxun. Ok, Sam thought, what I’m seeing could be a reflection from something on the ceiling or it could actually be under the water. If I go there and I can’t see it any more, then it’s on the ceiling, because I would be blocking the reflection…

 

“Sammy, you see something?” Dean called out anxiously.

 

“Uh, yeah, just give me a second,” Sam yelled back. One, two, three more steps and he was there. Ok. He looked down and sure enough, he could still see the rune on the bottom, more or less between his feet where he stood. “I think it’s on the floor!” Sam called out.

 

Sam crouched and then bent, hovering his face over the surface of the pool and reaching into it. The fluid parted for him, seemed to welcome him in, lapping and caressing at his skin gently. He knew he was supposed to be here, that he was touching a manifestation of the Force, a pool composed of the very force of life itself. Sam gasped at how its energy seemed to surge through him, encouraging him, strengthening him.

 

“Y’all right there?” Dean asked, a hint of worry obvious in his tone.

 

“Ye-ah,” Sam gasped, the sensation nearly overwhelming him. “It’s the Force, Dean. This is the Force making all of this,” he continued, voice breaking in awe. Just then, Sam’s fingers closed on the rounded edge of something smooth and powerful, he traced his fingers around it so that he was grasping the Rune on two if its four sides. As soon as he applied pressure to it, it came free in his hand, lifting easily from the floor of the pool. Underneath a soft white glow began to emanate, and as Sam stood with the Rune and stepped back, he could see a shaft of white light reaching upwards from the pool and reflecting off a large, flat crystal on the roof of the cavern.

 

“Huh,” Dean said, face scrunched in confusion over the sight, which now perfectly matched the image on the Dxun map.

 

“Maybe the pond always has the ‘core of light’ so that it will protect wayward rycrit even after the Chosen One removes the rune,” Ven’s father said from his position on the far side of the pool, applying the bits of the prophecy the Winchesters had told him to the children’s story.

 

“I think so,” said Sam, looking back at the opalescent gleam as he walked back to the pool’s edge. He wished he could stay longer. It was so beautiful and the cavern seemed to radiate peace, peace that Sam had not felt at least since before Jess’s death if ever.

 

“C’mon, Sammy,” Dean said gently, snaking his finger’s around Sam’s arm gently, getting Sam’s attention without startling him into dropping the Rune.

 

“It’s so…”

 

“I know,” Dean whispered, leaning towards Sam’s ear.  “I can feel it too, but it’s time to take the Rune and go.”

 

And so they went, leaving the cavern single file back the way they’d come. Walking outside into the oppressive heat that existed this close to permanent daylight, they hurried to Ven’s father’s landspeeder, moving quickly to return to the more humane temperatures of the darker land where Ven’s family made their home, where Sam and Dean were invited to spend the night.

 

As on Dxun, their exit from the Rune-ward was uneventful, and without a Zakkeg to chase them once outside, rather anticlimactic.

 

They agreed to stay the night even though Sam’s continued anxiousness to stop Azazel and make him pay, had him itching to get back in the Dream and fly off after the next rune. Dean pointed out that they really should repay Ven’s family’s hospitality, and if that meant leaving eight standard hours later in order to share a meal and some stories in order to garner the most good will (and thus the greatest likelihood the Ven’s would protect them from any prying authorities), then they should do so.

Master PostPart 14Part 16