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Dantooine

Dantooine had long been a place of refuge for Jedi and Sith alike. It was isolated enough to provide some privacy and quiet from the bustling pace of the galaxy. The planet was almost idyllic in its appearance: majestic wildlife; graceful, easy-growing sedges and grasses; ancient trees; babbling brooks and streams; rolling hills; and cool rocks covered the planet’s main continent, while a temperate climate made it inviting and comfortable. But those obvious attractions were not what made Dantooine the attractive retreat it was.

No, that particular feature was never something an ordinary person would notice, a detail one could spot from orbit, or a footnote in a travel bulletin. It was an unseen quantity that drew in those who touched the Force. There were ruins and caves—an old Jedi academy, places where lightsaber crystals grew, hidden crypts full of ancient Sith secrets. And then there were the scars left in the Force—places where powerful acts of light and dark had forever altered the flow of the Force providing camouflage for those needing to hide. Dantooine was Force-null, but only because there was so much Light and Dark—and everything in between—woven into the planet’s surface and rooted down to its core that it promised invisibility in the Force for all who sought it. That was why Dantooine called out to the Force-sensitive beings of the galaxy attracting them from afar, awaking them from slumber, promising refuge.

That unseen special something was a big part of why Miss’Ouri Ot’Kla had made this grassy planet her home. The other reason, of course, was she had known the Emissary would eventually come to Dantooine. She would come to hide, but in meeting the Hunter she would make her home and choose to live again. And she did. The Hunter had lived and loved and ultimately lost her life unwittingly playing the part in the prophecy the Force had set out for her millennia ago. Ever since then, it had been Miss’Ouri’s duty to keep watch. And now...

Now her home had become a base of operations. More than a refuge for injured Winchesters and a handful of other Hunters who sought her counsel—those few who didn’t shy away from her Jedi past—it was the new home of the Protectorate. The organization was becoming centralized in a way it hadn’t been since its inception. Fittingly, it was only a few kilometers away, after all, in the depths of a hidden cave, where the first Protectorate had gathered to create the Aequetas Animae, imbuing a single crystal with more unique Force properties and control than any other crystal before or since. And it was that crystal that was protected, guarded, and prepared until finally the Emissary awoke and forged a lightsaber with the stone at its heart. Ultimately, she bequeathed to the one who would change everything, the Fulcrum of the Force, creating an unparalleled, unequalled, and indelible bond between the Healer and his blade.

And now the Protectorate gathered again, the Aequetas Animae once more in its midst, and Dantooine was its refuge.

~~~


As the grey of pre-dawn gave way to rosy gold of morning, sunbeams broke over the rolling hills and pooled in valleys where they reflected off the prismatic dew drops collected on grasses. She glanced out the windows at the front of her house, the side not built into a hill, where the courtyard spread out. In a few hours, it would be filled with the crackling and snapping of lightsaber blades, the occasional thud of people or objects hitting the ground, and the faint hum of the Force rippling in the air. The space was quickly becoming a regular training ground.

She sighed. Even now as they slept, she could feel the turmoil in the minds of those around her.

The new Protectorate. The current generation, one Prophecy faced and disaster averted, now preparing for the future...

The Future... it was an idea new to Miss’Ouri. After spending her entire life preparing; searching the Force for answers about the Prophecy; trying to be prepared for whatever the Chosen One, Healer, or Guide might need; it came as a shock—now all that was behind them. Or was it... No, that wasn’t true. Azazel and his associates had been stopped, dispatched for all eternity, their plot to permanently shift the balance of the Force to the Dark Side thwarted, and with it the threat of destroying the Universe. But the fallout—the effects—was only beginning to manifest itself. It would be some time before her new charges recovered. For some, she thought with a sigh as her mind brushed against one particularly burdened mind, it would likely be a lifelong process.

It was quieter around here than it had been over the last month, well, the last year, really, ever since John Winchester showed up on her doorstep wondering if his deepest fears were finally coming true. Her once-quiet existence had been filled with a never-ending stream of people and adventures, her door revolving as they came and went. But now, some of them had gone back out into the universe. Bobby was back on Myrkr, once again cultivating his contacts and alliances on the planet that housed the unusually powerful Force-repelling lizards. Master Gariq Shran had left for Onderon almost a week before, and if his schedule went according to plan, he would now be meeting with Jedi Master and Councilmember Yoda.

But Dean and Cas Tiel were still here, and Dean, by the feel of his dreams, was going to learn many uncomfortable truths about himself today. His powers were finally setting into their own, and now he had to learn to accept the person he was, the person he had become, and figure out what it would mean for the future.

Sam Winchester had returned as well, after months on the run, feared lost to the Dark Side once and for all. Now, the Chosen One had to learn to adjust to being a person again rather than just a name in a prophecy. He had to accept what he had done, and most of all, forgive himself. Otherwise he would never recover, never learn who he could be, what he could do with the Force, or accept what he meant to his family. His would be a long road, but Miss’Ouri had full confidence he could rise to meet it with a little bit of support.

And then there was Mina, the newest addition. Her body had hosted Azazel’s secret acolyte, Ruby, and she had very nearly died in her attempt to reclaim her body and banish Ruby from the mortal plane. She carried as much guilt as Sam and an enormous amount of untapped, untrained potential. But like Sam, she would need to learn to forgive herself before she could find her place among the Protectorate. It would take time, but Miss’Ouri knew they could all make it and usher in a new era for the Protectorate, and for the Force itself… But first they could get through today.

~~~


Sam stepped out into the hallway only to duck back inside his room. When he was securely tucked away, back pressed to the wall just to the right of the doorway, his heart racing, he forced himself to let out a long, frustrated sigh. Damn it! This was the fourth morning this week. It was ridiculous. As long as they were going to be here, training, at Miss’Ouri’s, chances were they were going to run into each other. The house wasn’t that big after all. But knowing that didn’t stop the flutter of panic in Sam’s chest followed by a brief ache of lust, a surge of shame, and pangs of panic and regret so strong they made his entire body tremble. Like it was doing right now...

He hadn’t felt this confused since his Force powers had first started to manifest a year before. And even then, he’d had rage to burn out and silence, every other emotion. Now...

Now, Sam knew how misplaced and destructive his rage had been. He understood now what Miss’Ouri had been trying to tell him. He hadn’t gotten himself in trouble—nearly destroyed the Universe—because he’d used powers that drew from the Dark Side. It wasn’t allowing himself to feel rage, or any of the other natural emotional responses to the string of life-altering events he’d endured, that nearly spelled his doom. It wasn’t his personality and outlook on life, well not alone, that did it. It was the combination—how he’d allowed rage to consume him, to drown out every other emotion, to silence logic. He’d ignored his other instincts and common sense in favor of giving in to the one thing that meant he didn’t have to feel anything else—that could keep reality from feeling real. He’d embraced a black-and-white view of the world, even as he’d learned the full spectrum of the Force. That was why he had fallen. That was why his actions were wrong and destructive. His dreams had been prophetic—visions. But he’d ignored Miss’Ouri’s warnings and advice. He’d tried to change the Prophecy, avoid the vision, not realizing all the while he’d been playing right into it. He’d very nearly brought about the exact version of events Darth Azazel had shown him, and it had nearly cost him not only Dean’s life, but his own life, his soul, and the life of every living being in the Universe.

To say he was a bit cautious and wary about using his powers now would be an understatement. And that—in addition to grief, embarrassment, guilt, regret, shame, and fear—was why he was avoiding Mina, hiding out in his room every time she walked past.

Sam sighed again and smacked his head back against the wall. “Suck it up, Sam,” he muttered. “If you’re going to take responsibility for what you did and move on after Jess—” his breath hitched as he mumbled her name, “you’ve gotta apologize to Mina, get to know her.”

Of course, that was assuming Mina would have anything to do with him. He was half afraid she’d lash out with the Force and kill him on sight if he tried to talk with her. After all, she’d just begun her training and didn’t have complete control over her Force abilities yet. Who was to say she wouldn’t accidentally kill him just from the emotional shock alone? He’d deserve it. He wasn’t sure how much she remembered or could discern of what Ruby had done with her body, but he was pretty sure she’d figured out he and Ruby and—he cringed at the thought—Azazel—had been lovers.

The chrono in Miss’Ouri’s living room chimed, letting him know it was late enough that if he didn’t get moving and mingle with the rest of the house’s inhabitants soon, someone would come looking for him—probably Dean, who would be bad enough, but maybe Cas, whose presence would lead to an almost unbearably awkward situation. There was nothing quite like being coddled by his brother’s five-thousand-year-old partner to make him feel like a daft nerf herder.

Reluctantly, Sam pried himself off the wall and hit the door control. He let out an involuntary gasp and jumped back when he saw who was waiting for him. “Rub—Mina!” Sam corrected himself, stomach hitching at his mistake.

An annoyed squawk drew his attention away from Mina and down to where Chevy was standing by her side.

“Uh, hi Chevy,” Sam stammered. “What brings you here?” His question was posed to them both or to neither; he wasn’t really sure. He spoke while staring at the wall across the hall, eyes unfocused. Seriously, how could he have slipped up and started to call Mina ‘Ruby’?

While they’d shared the same body, Mina was almost the perfect opposite of Ruby—She was calm and reserved where Ruby had been agitated and boisterous, in control where Ruby was hanging on by a thread, kind where Ruby was mean, and observant where Ruby was expressive. Her eyes were completely different—a much softer blue unmarred by the trademark Sith tinge of yellow that had crept into Ruby’s eyes like veins of false gold tarnishing the stone around them.

Chevy squawked again and rocked forward, before trundling away.

Just great. Sam got the message loud and clear. Apparently, it wasn’t enough for Mina to want to confront him. Chevy wanted it too. And Sam, well… after what had happened between him and Chevy, he couldn’t very well ignore her wishes. Not if he wanted to live with himself.

Now, she’d cornered him. He felt like a trapped womp rat; Mina was in a speeder barreling down the canyon, and she had him in her sights.

Terrified, breath burning his throat and heart pounding against his ribs, he pressed the control to open the door. “Mina, c—come in,” he stammered.

~~~

Royal Palace, Iziz, Onderon

Jedi Master Gariq Shran picked idly at the hems of his robe’s sleeves as he waited for the turbolift doors to open. He was on Onderon, of all places, in the royal palace, riding up to the landing pad on the palace roof. Legend (and a bit of history too) had it this was the site of a pivotal battle in the history of the Republic... in the history of the Jedi... And now here he was, prepared to make history again, perhaps.

Jedi... For as long as he could remember, that word had been a part of him—his identity. An inexorable truth and part of his self. And then—almost a year ago now—he’d begun to realize the Jedi weren’t all they pretended to be. They could turn as blind an eye to the destruction of the Universe as anyone. He’d spent so many years as a Shadow, hunting down the Sith’s unmentionables, trying to keep the Dark Side in check, only to find out the Dark Side was running amok, unchecked by the Jedi, while nameless, faceless, Hunters—often with no ability to touch the Force—risked and gave their lives to avert tragedies and Dark uprisings that fell below the Jedi High Council’s notice.

Worse than that, the Council knew of a prophecy that foretold the rise and return of perhaps the most insidious Sith Master to ever live—only to ignore and deny it even as it unfolded around them, threatening to tear the Force and the very galaxy out of existence. Acknowledging it would mean admitting to the Jedi Order’s mistakes and atrocities committed long ago. So, the Jedi sat and did nothing, then actively worked against the only one who could stop the Prophecy’s fulfillment, all to save face and maintain their illusion of superiority and control.

A little more than two months ago, Shran had found himself faced with an impossible dilemma: toe the Jedi Order’s line, or abandon the Order and defend the Force. In the end, it wasn’t even a contest. He knew where his loyalty lay. He’d made his choice...

Made his choice, and now what was he? He had sworn allegiance to the Protectorate, a tiny, secret, barely organized, but millennia old, sect of Force users committed to protecting balance in the Force. He’d taken up arms against the Jedi Council and the Temple’s forces. But he’d never formally left the Order. He didn’t have a bust in the Archive memorializing his leave… but then again, neither did so many others.

Shran no longer knew who he was; the Jedi part of his identity was hollowed out, displaced—he didn’t seem to fit in his own skin anymore.

And now he was here, on Onderon, where he’d been so many months before, tracking—he thought—a destructive Dark Side user, or perhaps Dark artifact, he’d believed had been tied to one of the Winchesters.

Of course, if he’d succeeded, he would have dashed any hope of saving the Universe from Darth Azazel’s destruction.

Now he was here, summoned by none other than a member of the Jedi High Council for a meeting. He was afraid... Not that long ago, he would have pushed down his fear and denied it, seeing it as a seed and tool of the Dark Side. Now he owned it, examined it. Looked at its roots and origins and did his best to assess what it meant.

As much as he had made peace with leaving the Order, he still sought approval... Not of everyone, but at least of this Master, and he didn’t want to be misunderstood. No... he didn’t want the Protectorate to be misunderstood. He would feel failure if he couldn’t get someone within the Order to understand.

That was his fear. Acknowledging it, he set it aside and took a deep breath, drawing the Force into himself and calming. He would know soon enough whether he could succeed, and even if everything went sideways, he had another reason to be on Onderon. Sian Nunb—who was already Protectorate and at least partly trained—and her family, which might include other Force sensitives, lived just a few klicks away in Iziz, the capital city.

As he stepped out of the turbolift into the bright midmorning sunlight, he immediately saw the Master he had come to meet. Hovering a few feet off the ground, diminutive lightsaber strapped to the side of his tan, homespun robes was Master Yoda. Short, green-skinned, and already several centuries old, he was by far the most respected (and most powerful, knowledgeable, wise, and experienced) member of the Jedi High Council. Shran still believed if Yoda had been there on Coruscant at any of a number of points during the Azazel Crisis, the entire situation would have unfolded differently—for the better. He’d tried to reach Yoda, but had only succeeded in sending a message, its receipt delayed so Yoda could not help in time. And now Yoda had summoned him here.

Shran set out across the white stone rooftop towards Master Yoda, who appeared to be surveying the scene below. “Master Yoda, you summoned me?” he called out as he approached.

The green, hovering man didn’t flinch or start, but his ears did twitch, turning towards Shran and lowering himself to the rooftop. “Master Shran, received your message, I did. Grave and unfortunate were its contents. With bravery, honor, and valor, acted you have. So, discuss with you the implications of recent events, I must.”

Master Yoda’s rather infamously stilted speech pattern was jarringly familiar and soothing to Shran. It reminded him of his childhood, days as a youngling under Master Yoda’s tutelage. He’d been no more than three or four, practicing basic levitation and telekinesis with the others in his age group to the lyrical, lilting banter of Master Yoda’s sing-song voice. Master Yoda had told him he was special even among all the younglings gathered at the temple, little Gariq had shown unusual talents early on. It was Master Yoda who had identified Shran’s ability to see Force signatures, Master Yoda who had trained him to use it, Master Yoda who had helped him to keep his abilities a secret—even though now Shran got the sense Yoda really wished those secrets didn’t have to exist. And it was Master Yoda who’d noticed Shran’s ability to sense the Dark Side, detect objects touched by Sith, gravitate towards nonsentient beings that used the Dark Side... He’d recognized the talent and helped Shran to cultivate it into the skills of a Shadow. Had Master Yoda known the role Shran was to play? Was it conscious? Or had the Force guided him to guide Shran?

Yoda had said Shran was the most talented Jedi in that area since Mary Campbell...

Shran remembered her now with shocking clarity. Dean’s mother—Dean and Sam’s mother—the Emissary. The one for whom the Protectorate made the Aequetas Animae. A crystal forged out of the Force itself, waiting for thousands of years, passed on from one generation to the next, eventually making its way to Master Joran, so he could give it to Mary, and she could bequeath it to Dean creating an unparalleled, inseparable, unfathomable, sacred bond. As a child, Shran had wanted to be like her. He’d secretly hoped—when he was very small, before Mary disappeared and was presumed dead—that when he was a little older, perhaps she might choose him as her Padawan.

Master Yoda had seemed amused by that; or at least Shran had thought so at the time. He’d let his secret aspiration and borderline infatuation slip after moral history lessons one day. Yoda had tutted at him, told him a Jedi should focus on where he was, what he was doing, right now, not look to the future. Shran had asked if he could have Mary as his Master when he was old enough, and Yoda had just said “we will see,” and left it at that.

Looking back, Shran could see the sadness and trepidation in Master Yoda’s voice and understood the deflection for what it was. Had Master Yoda known? Could he see Mary Campbell’s destiny scrolled across her soul like Shran could see a person’s identity written in the Force they touched? Had Master Yoda known what would become of him?

At the same time, he felt guilty. Bereft at the memories, or rather at the comfort they now failed to bring. What had been pure joy at the time—days filled with endless fascination and discovery; mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging lessons; new powers; new people to befriend—he now could see as a ploy of sorts to keep him busy, keep him from feeling the loss of his family until the connection to them was so muted and buried it was all but forgotten. He’d thought he was so lucky to be chosen, to be a Jedi—and now he knew that was true, at least from a certain point of view. But not for the reasons he had believed.

Compared to children like Mina, or even Sam and Dean, who grew up out of the way and off the scanners, who would grow “too old” before anyone realized what they were, what they could do, who they could be, he was lucky. He’d had the opportunity to fully learn about the Force and who he was in it. But now he also realized the cost. While the Minas and Sams and Deans of the galaxy (okay, well maybe not Sam, but Dean at least) were busy forming life-long, strong familial bonds and discovering the unfathomable power of unconditional love, he was living alone, disconnected from the distant memory of family. They had discovered their sentience, their personalities, their place in society, their humanity for lack of a less-speciesist word—while he’d been whittled down to only who he was in the Force. An instrument of the Force to defend the people. But not one of the people...

“Plagues you now, it does,” Yoda murmured sagely.

Shran shuddered, blinking in the bright sunlight—he’d slipped into a Force trance, lost in memory and revelation, so completely immersed he’d lost touch with he here and now. He was standing next to the edge of the roof, hands resting on the polished white stone of the railing a good 10 meters away from where Master Yoda had been hovering when Shran had first emerged from the turbolift. He looked down. Yoda was standing next to him, looking up with wide, bright eyes that seemed to twinkle with a mixture of amusement and sorrow.

“Yes,” Shran answered simply. He could feel that Master Yoda understood what Shran had contemplated in his mind’s eye, as if maybe Yoda had seen it too. “We are... splintered. Fractured as beings. I am only now beginning to understand the loss.” He looked back out across the expanse of Iziz as it stretched around the Palace and spread to the city walls... he was looking at Sian Nunb’s house. He could see the disruption in the pattern of buildings, the melted scar in the earth, the wound in the Force Darth Azazel had created when he killed Sian’s mother in an attempt to destroy the Marker and hide the Runes. The first time Shran had come here he had misunderstood. He had missed so much. Now he could see it. He was there, in the room, in the eerie not-dark-darkness, the unnatural fugue state of the Force, when Sam Winchester had flowwalked into the moment of Azazel’s attack and learned—saw, absorbed—the message he needed to know. Shran was there now too. A shadow. He had always been there in that moment, he just hadn’t known it until now. Sam had not known what he was. Shran had not felt the presence of his future self when he had visited the scene. Azazel had missed them both.

“The path you walk, easy, it is not. Unsettled are you. But impressed, am I. When a child you were, I never imagined how fully you would grasp your potential,” Master Yoda’s words pulled him back again.

Shran turned, and suddenly he was back on the palace rooftop, and the melting flames and sulfurous stink of Azazel’s corruption were gone. Pure open sky and pristine marble surrounded him. Only now he was seeing in Force sight—the echoes and scars of five thousand years, dozens of battles, accidents, triumphs—death and life and betrayal and hope... all played out here before his eyes. Every person performed each action distinctly, every action left its unique mark on the Force, and the Force forever changed the physical world it touched. In an instant he was everywhere throughout all time. Seeing and being and yet, nowhere. He blinked, and again he was back.

Master Yoda was staring him in the eye. “Fearful was I of the burden you carried. Not certain if you would be able to master such gifts.”

“You knew...” Shran whispered.

“Protectorate, I was not, but the Lost Prophecy I did study; stumbled upon it in my youth,” Yoda replied, turning back to the railing to look out over the city, lifting himself effortlessly, so he hovered just behind the railing again. “My place to interfere it was not,” Yoda elaborated. “Prophecies are tricky, changing...”

“They never mean what you think, so if you try too hard to derail them, you may suffer exactly what you seek to avoid.”

“You have been speaking with Miss’Ouri, heh?” Master Yoda scoffed in ammusement. He inclined his head towards Shran. “How is she?”

“Miss’Ouri Ot’Kla is well,” Shran replied, feeling a thrill of surprise that Yoda knew her, and then realizing his foolishness. Master Yoda had been training Jedi for several centuries. Of Course he knew who Miss’Ouri was beyond the vague notion of a deserter with a bust in the Archive marking her departure from the Order..

“Heh, trained you well, she has.” Yoda’s face crinkled up in a smile, before a cloud fell over his eyes, his ears flattening to the side as he pressed his lips together. “Unfortunate times are these. Disaster averted, but there is so much more to come. Such is the way of the Force, always changing, shifting, but have the Jedi slipped too much? Are we twisted in our ways?” His gaze turned back out over the city, away from Master Shran.

“I—” Shran broke off, surprised at his own false start, then more shocked with the realization he knew what to say, how to continue. “I do not think recent actions of the Council represent the sentiments of a majority of the Jedi, nor even the wisdom and opinion of the Council at large.” He paused, swallowing hard, sneaking a sideways glance at Yoda to see how he would react, but the Jedi Master was listening, patiently, one ear cocked towards Shran, his eyes focused in the distance. “Lord Azazel almost won. He almost shifted the balance in the Universe entirely to the Dark Side, and in doing so, he almost destroyed the Force and all life with it. Part was due to his own planning and the arrogance, dishonesty, and shirking of responsibility of a handful of powerful Jedi five thousand years before. The Order’s own traditions did play a part as well—the policies on familial bonds and against training older Force sensitives—it gave Azazel’s message leverage it would not have otherwise had. Gave truth to the lie. And part of his near success was due to the actions of two very vocal, opinionated, and power-hungry Jedi who happen to sit on the Jedi Council. They cultivate fear and respect in equal measure, and use creative—and questionable—interpretations of the laws governing the Council and the Order to get their way. They were so certain of their rightness and righteousness, they closed their minds to the Truth the Force bore out and ignored the signs. They ignored the Prophecy and manipulated their colleagues and those entrusted to their care.” Shran glanced sideways again.

This time Master Yoda met his gaze and held it.

Shran began to speak again, knowing Master Yoda wanted to hear his words, needed to know Shran’s opinion. “I do not believe the Council is evil or the Order is unsalvageable. My eyes are open now, and I cannot deny—I oppose many of the Order’s policies. Their understanding of the Force is ineptly two-dimensional. But when I fought back, I was not lashing out against the Jedi, but against two men who would have destroyed the Universe and managed to torture and condemn numerous innocent along the way.” Shran took a deep breath, and for the first time noticed the rich summer sweetness of the air, the life the breeze carried with it. Have I been so burdened with my guilt, so confused in my identity, that I blocked this all out? he wondered. But yes, it must be. Speaking his mind to Master Yoda, face to face, as he had wished to do so many times over the last year—like he tried to do in that recorded message sent from the communications room near the top of the Tranquility spire right before the Universe changed for him forever—had released something inside him. He had been holding back... withdrawing himself from the Force, almost ashamed to feel its flow. He had learned so many new skills, watched his abilities bloom and grow, and yet... yet...

Until now, he had still been missing it. The breathing, living pulse of the Force produced by every lifeform on a near infinite scale—the Force was everywhere and it welcomed him.

Master Yoda nodded at him, seeming to understand what was happening. When Shran had settled, adjusting to the new feel of the world around him, Yoda spoke, “Responsible for the disaster and the state of the Council, Masters Uriel and Zachariah are.”

“Yes, that is what I believe,” Shran agreed.

“The others on the Council agree with you. Agree with you, I do.”

“So, what...” Shran didn’t know what to suggest.

“Removed from the Council, they will be. A vote of no confidence we have taken. Master Uriel has admitted to his mistake.” Yoda’s ears twitched. “He has sought refuge, meditating and researching on Ossus. But Master Zachariah—” Yoda trailed off, his tone grave and strangely uncertain. He pursed his mouth, his brow furrowed in a scowl.

“Zachariah doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong.” Shran knew that—he’d seen how obsessed Zachariah was, how unreasonably confident in himself and his mission. But it was more than that... “Master Yoda, Master Zachariah had the Beckonstone and a... box, another Sith artifact in his possession for an undetermined amount of time. I do not know if the artifacts were responsible, but I believe his connection with the Force is dangerously unbalanced. He is consumed with his lust for power and control...”

“Yes, fallen to the Dark Side, has he.” Yoda’s scowl deepened, and he shook his head as if trying to chase away a particularly haunting memory.

“He tried to turn the Council against you and those who agreed with you.”

Yoda did not respond, but his presence shifted in the Force.

Shran could feel the dismay bleeding from Master Yoda and suddenly he understood.

“Some doubted, so you showed them the ysalimiri, of their placement in the Sith Containment levels. You showed them Dean Winchester’s cell. You explained what the loss of connection to the Force did to him, and what it nearly did to the Force. You saw it as if you had been there, and so did they, because they all felt the Force tearing itself apart that day. But Zachariah didn’t show remorse or regret. And when the others on the Council agreed with you, he... lashed out and fled.” Shran could see the events playing out before his mind’s eye. An echo of memory preserved in the Force and passed on. The rift Zachariah’s actions had caused within the Council had reverberated throughout the Force, shifting things—the Order was no longer quite the same. While it wouldn’t change overnight or eradicate its shortcomings in a day, the seeds of awareness had been sown. From now on, there would always be those willing to challenge the prohibition against training older students, those who would question and push back against the practice of taking children from their families.

“Another bust in the Archives there will be. Fearful was he. Hateful and arrogant, he placed himself above others until in his eyes they were equals no more,” Yoda said at last.

Ah, Zachariah had become an embodiment of the caricatured version of Jedi Darth Azazel had tried to sell to the masses. What irony that Zachariah’s selfishness had bolstered Azazel’s grab for power.

They stood together in silence, feeling the Force shift around them, while a breeze stirred up fallen blossom petals that littered the streets below.

“And what of me?” Shran asked.

“Ah, what of you indeed. Need new Councilmembers, do we. Wise and open minded, are you. The Council has nominated you for membership,” Yoda said with a wry chuckle.

“Me?” Shran gaped, taken aback. “I have sworn my allegiance to the Protectorate.” He stilled. “I will not forget what I have learned; I will never agree with the Order’s recruiting and training protocols.”

“Ask you to watch over the Council, Miss’Ouri did. See what we are doing?” Yoda cocked his head, “What better way than to sit on the Council.”

Shran could feel his face contorting in confusion. “You’re serious? You really—”

“Not I, not alone. A unanimous vote, it was,” Yoda corrected. “Value your perspective, do we.”

“But my duties to the Protectorate—Master Yoda, I have Force sensitives to find and train, descendents of original Protectorate members to locate, meditation and research into the ancient texts. There are so few of us; we cannot afford to lose any of the information or wisdom that has survived the past 5,000 years, lest the universe face a similar twilight in the future—”

“And tend to your Protectorate duties, you will.”

“How?” Shran asked, running his hand through the tight curls of his close-cut hair as he tried to make sense of this latest twist of events.

“Not mutually exclusive, are they. If you find a student suited to the Jedi Order, induct them we will. But if better suited for the Protectorate, are they, arrange for their training, you will.” Master Yoda made it sound so simple. He was also clearly leaving out some details.

“So is that what I will be doing? Searching for sensitives?” He definitely would need to do some of that for the Protectorate, but his expertise was in tracking down Sith and other Dark Side relics and (usually) avoiding catastrophes. Since meeting the Winchesters he’d become aware of how inept at it he was, but he’d been learning from Cas and Miss’Ouri and Dean had been teaching him Hunter techniques—which he had to admit were very effective and often more accurate at both hunting down and determining the source of Dark Side disturbances. Jedi arrogance had previously blinded him to considering many of the scientific and technological resources beyond DEDs. He couldn’t give all that up, not now, no matter how helpful having a legitimate seat on the Council might make some of his other responsibilities.

Yoda was making a face at him. He made a scoffing sound—oh apparently Yoda was amused.

“Among your duties it will be, but not alone. Master Shran, wish to lose your expertise and skill in hunting the Dark Side, the Council does not. Wish to interfere with your responsibilities to the Protectorate, I do not.”

“So you’ll just... what? Let me be a double agent?” Shran spluttered.

“Consider the Protectorate an Enemy the Jedi do not.” Yoda glared at him. “That sentiment to Master Zachariah alone belonged.”

“You don’t want anything else from me?” Shran asked, his voice rising in surprise. He turned away from the expanse of the city to face Master Yoda.

“Your expertise, guidance, and counsel, value do I. If catastrophic error the Jedi are poised to make, stop us, you will.” Yoda sounded almost amused as he spoke, but there was an underlying current of solemnity in his words that cut into Shran’s gut sure and swift as a vibroblade.

“If you’d been on Coruscant—you would have believed me. Sithspit, you would have believed Dean Winchester, and you certainly would have known Cas Tiel was not James Novak. If I didn’t know the timing was out of Master Zachariah’s control, I would have bet good credits he engineered your absence,” Shran admitted bitterly.

Yoda tipped his head to the side; his expressive face looked almost hurt. “The Universe has a sense of humor, some have said. The Force permeates everything, binds us together. So great was the pull of the Dark Side, twisted events to suit its needs it did.” He frowned, looking down at the rooftop below his hovering feet. “Master Zachariah violated protocol. Delayed reports and messages, did he. Unsettled was the Force. I did not know the progression of events until your message. My instincts—I should have trusted them more readily.”

“Master Yoda, surely this was not your fault!” Shran exclaimed.

Yoda looked up, his eyes sorrowful. “My fault, no. But a lesson I have learned. Yes, even Jedi Masters keep learning.” There was a twinkle in his eye and levity behind the heft of wisdom, as if he was sharing a great secret with Shran. “Even I make mistakes. Trusted in the Force, I should have. Blinded was I by my faith in the Council.” He shook his head again, the frown leaving his features. “Will you accept the Council’s nomination?”

“I—” Really, Shran couldn’t say ‘no.’ “The Council really won’t use this to try to get control of the Protectorate?”

“Master Shran, no other Councilors know of the Protectorate.” Truth. Absolute. Even after all this, the Protectorate was still very much a secret society.

“What about Dean and Cas—and Sam and the others for that matter. What happens when the Council decides they need to rein in unauthorized Force users or chase Hunters because they are engaging in ‘dangerous vigilante work’?” He couldn’t accept if he would inevitably be forced into a position where he would have to betray either the Order or the Protectorate. He knew which side he would choose, and he knew how the Order would respond to that. He couldn’t in good conscience accept—

“Protect them, we will. Even if they need to appear before the Council. You have my word.” Master Yoda extended a three-fingered green hand to Shran.

If Yoda gave his word, he would take the steps to back it up. Letting out a long sigh, Shran took Yoda’s hand and shook it, squeezing firmly. “Then I accept.”

“Good, good,” Yoda approved. “Now, I believe you must pay Miss Nunb a visit. Send my regards to Miss’Ouri.”

Shran laughed; Master Yoda sounded so pleased, and Shran felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “It will be my honor,” Shran reassured. Maybe forging this new future, this new partnership, a new path for the Protectorate, wouldn’t be so impossible after all.

Master Post | Part 2