“Sam, Miss’Ouri, come quick!” Dean called out as he ran out of Miss’Ouri’s house into the stone-paved courtyard where the Caamasi ex-Jedi was training Sam. Dean saw that Sam was levitating in a cross-legged position with his eyes closed, using the Force to deflect various small objects Miss’Ouri hurled at him with the Force. The glinting orange glow of sunset over the golden plains in the background made the scene almost surreal.
Both Miss’Ouri and Sam looked up, carefully stopping what they were doing. The objects neatly retreated into an organized pile, and Sam carefully descended, uncrossing his legs and standing. Wow, Sam’s control has really improved, thought Dean as he noticed both pairs of eyes turned towards him. “Something’s happened on Naboo—I think it’s Azazel, but it’s not another fire,” he explained beckoning to them.
Sam broke into a run, and Miss’Ouri followed at a brisk jog, hiking up her robes to move faster.
Dean turned and hurried back inside, rejoining Chevy at the holoprojector. Chevy had been hiding indoors ever since Sam had half-landed on her after his vision that morning. Dean still blanched and shuddered at the thought of Sam having waking visions.
They gathered around the projector, sitting on the simple-but-comfortable seats of Miss’Ouri’s living room, and Dean replayed the news vid he had just watched. The group of them, including Chevy, watching with rapt attention in stunned silence as the reporter recounted the events of yesterday. There were no images, just descriptions and a handful of interviews with unidentified purported witnesses.
“To repeat,” the attractive Bothan newscaster spoke in an evenly modulated voice, “the Naboo Queen and her audience were attacked yesterday, and twenty-two individuals, including Senator Parnsk were kidnapped when Minister of Interspecies Relations Corvan Iblis turned on the crowd and attacked them with an as-yet unidentified weapon. The Minister later escaped with the hostages in the Queen’s personal Yacht. Port Authorities are still unsure exactly how Minister Iblis was able to get past planetary security and take the ship out of orbit, but sources have confirmed that the ship did leave the Naboo system and jumped to hyperspace. The Yacht’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
“One brave bystander somehow commandeered a blaster and managed to fire on Minister Iblis, but the Minister was reportedly unharmed. Witnesses speculate he was wearing a personal shield. That heroic individual, the Queen, and several hundred bystanders were injured and later treated at the Royal Hospital. Five people were killed, whether from the Minister’s weapon or the stampede that followed his exit is unclear. The Republic News Service tried to contact the brave bystander, but hospital authorities have reported he disappeared earlier today, no word yet on whether or not he might have been kidnapped.”
“That’s Dad,” Sam said, awed, his wide eyes turning towards Dean. “That was Dad. He was there. He tried to stop it!” Sam murmured.
Dean knew from Sam’s tone that Sam was certain. Probably getting insight through the Force, Dean acknowledged. A quick glance at Miss’Ouri and her agreeing nod, confirmed that. At least that meant their father was still out there, still on the Sith’s trail.
“Reports from other bystanders have been unsettling,” the newscaster continued, “some saying the Minister claimed to be a Sith Lord,” she said significantly, “and that he had used the Force, others saying the Minister appeared unwell and had yellow eyes. Authorities confirm at Jedi delegation is investigating this event and will release a report to the public once their investigation is complete. Until then, we will not have any footage of the tragic events. Queen Alinara has released a statement confirming that she and her staff are well and expressing her condolences to the families of those kidnapped and killed. She has postponed a diplomatic trip to Coruscant and is focusing all her efforts on helping the Jedi and local authorities with their investigation. Unconfirmed reports have suggested the Jedi investigators are accompanied by members of Republic Intelligence,” the newscaster concluded as Dean switched off the holo.
“Miss’Ouri, what does this mean?” Sam asked, frantic.
Miss’Ouri stood and closed her eyes, assuming the pose Dean now recognized as reaching out to feel the Force. “I don’t know, child,” she said, shaking her head, eyes closed. “The Dark Lord’s actions are shrouded in shadows, and I cannot see his intent, only a feeling.” She shuddered. “It’s bad, very, very bad. A step closer to his plan,” she said, voice distant and mournful, before coming back to herself and opening her eyes.
Sam turned to Dean expectantly, as if his brother would surely have an answer.
Dean felt a pang of guilt that he had no such answer. He was just as lost as Sam. He couldn’t help feeling that he had failed in his role as a big brother as he shook his head.
“We’ve got to do something,” Sam exclaimed, standing and clenching his fists in frustration. The contents of the room began to shake ominously around them as Chevy made a wary trill and rolled back to a “safe” distance.
“What, Sam?” Dean found himself asking, feeling a renewed surge of uselessness—sure, he’d been researching everything he could, pouring over records and ancient texts, but since finding their Mother’s holocron, he felt like he hadn’t found anything that productive… or maybe that was just the feeling of doom that had followed him since hearing the prophecy confirmed in his mother’s own voice. “You’re still learning how to control the Force—” he added gently.
“Yeah, I’ve learned enough,” Sam half-snapped. Then, more gently, unclenching his fists. “What about those Runes Bobby mentioned? We could go after them—” Sam continued.
“We don’t even know where to look!” Dean exclaimed, voice escalating. “Miss’Ouri said she knew about three possible locations. We need four if Bobby’s source is right, and all three locations have had fires, and one rune’s been destroyed, you saw it in your vision,” Dean protested.
Sam seemed to deflate, collapsing back onto the chair he’d been seated in before he started pacing. He opened his mouth to say something else, but Miss’Ouri interjected.
“Boys,” Miss’Ouri exclaimed in a commanding tone that got both Winchester brothers’ immediate attention and silence. “Sam has a point,” she continued more sweetly, solemn.
Dean wanted to object, but didn’t dare.
Miss’Ouri seemed to sense this and turned to Dean with the Caamasi version of a smile. “You have a point, too, Dean. Sam is largely untrained, and he still needs to work on controlling his temper,” she turned to Sam, leveling a stern glare, “and his impulses, or he will be open to influence by the Sith. But,” she said, holding up a hand to silence any protests, “there is only so much preparation a teacher can give. Students must test themselves, rise to the challenge in unfamiliar waters, or they will never grow. That is something Jedi often fail to understand. They try to keep so much, even their trials, controlled, but that is not the way of the universe, the way of the Force,” she added solemnly.
“I would love for Sam and you, Dean, to stay, but I sense the time has come to act, or we may not have a chance. And I trust you, Dean,” she said smiling at him, a hint of sadness in her eyes, “to see that Sam is ok.”
“But how?” Dean asked. “I mean, where can we look?” He wasn’t going to touch the keeping Sam safe topic. That was his duty, and Jedi or not he would see that his brother was all right, even if he did feel like he’d been failing at that as of late.
Miss’Ouri looked expectantly at Sam, whose brow was furrowed in concentration.
“Onderon,” Sam said with wonder. Then a smile spread across his features and his eyes lit up. “We can start on Onderon,” he said with more confidence.
Dean felt perplexed and knew it showed on his face, as he looked fist to Sam and then to Miss’Ouri for direction.
“Miss’Ouri said that the runes or possible links to them are on Coruscant, Thyferra, and Onderon,” Sam explained, looking to Miss’Ouri for confirmation. She nodded, and Sam continued. “We can’t go back to Coruscant, because we’re wanted there, and it’s crawling with Jedi and RI. We know the Rune on Thyferra was destroyed. But I bet if we check , the Jedi have left Onderon. We can go there. If the family that Azazel attacked was one of the Markers,” he said tripping over the unfamiliar use of an otherwise ordinary word, “then maybe I’ll sense something. It’s worth a try,” Sam concluded, looking at Dean for approval.
“All right,” Dean said, resignedly, getting a nod from Miss’Ouri and a wary whine from Chevy. “Onderon it is.”
Since arriving on Myrkr, Bobby had been stunned with the planet’s wildness. He knew that humans had only recently settled the place, and that a large number of the planet’s original sentient inhabitants had died out when their off-world colony was obliterated centuries ago, but the planet still felt shockingly untamed.
Sure, there were settlements and a few small cities, and even one or two places that were clearly trying to be proper resorts, but much of the planet was covered by vast jungles filled with lush greenery, wild animals, undergrowth, and hostile plants to thick and prevalent that it was unwise to enter without a guide.
The strange lizards his contact had told him about lived in that jungle, so he had a meeting today with a guide to discuss collecting to of these ysalimiri as he learned they were called. Bobby was just relieved the planet was more or less outside Republic space and didn’t have any overzealous officials, complex tariffs, or excessively burdensome restrictions on export or trade of native animals. Otherwise this helpful act he was doing for the boys would become an unmitigated nightmare.
He met the guide at mid day outside on of the few trails that led into the dense jungle. The path was narrow, and the guide was covered from head to toe in clothes made from a finely woven material. “To keep off pests and plants,” she had explained in accented Basic.
Her name was Rela, and she was carrying a strange frame-shaped backpack and wearing another.
“What are those?” Bobby asked, curiously pointing to the two frames.
“Nutrient frames for the ysalimiri,” she explained with a smile. “They are mostly sessile, you see, and this,” she gestured to the backpack, “gives them nourishment.”
“Ahh,” Bobby said feeling a little lost. “Mostly sessile you say?” he asked curiously, as he took the proffered frame from Rela and slipped it onto his back.
“Well, you don’t see it often, but they’re capable of moving, even being fierce, especially if their predators, the vornskrs, somehow manage to find them,” she explained. “Mostly they just stay embedded in the Olbio trees, and we have to be very careful removing them or they could die.”
Olbio trees made sense, but, “And vornskrs are?” he asked.
“Those,” she said, pointing to a four-legged, long-snouted, dog-like animal with fierce looking teeth and claws that was hunkered down just inside the tree line.
Bobby shuddered involuntarily. He had seen several of the vornskrs leashed as pets in town, they’d looked kind of cute then, but seeing one in the wild and knowing they hunted what he was after made him feel rather… unsettled.
“They say they hunt with the Force. That is why the ysalimiri generate a bubble where there is no Force, it is an evolutionary adaptation,” she elaborated. “Shall we enter?” Her hand swept to the side and along the entrance to the path.
“Uh, sure,” Bobby agreed, following carefully after the tall agile guide. “So, Rela,” he asked after a few minutes, the path growing narrower and harder to follow, al kinds of dangerous-looking, brightly colored plants pulling and catching at his pants and boots. He only hoped his clothes were up to the task of withstanding anything the jungle threw at him.
“Yes,” she responded.
“Are the rumors true; do they repel the Force?” he asked, “and how would that even be possible. I mean, I’m not expert, but isn’t the Force supposed to be in all life? Necessary?”
Rela did not stop walking, but seemed to contemplate for a moment. “As for how it is possible, I do not know,” she shook her head. “One biologist I took through here explained it as how the animal interacts with the Force. All of its Force energy and presence is pushed outwards to the outside of a sphere around it. If you were to search for an absence of the Force, you could find the edges of its bubble, but not the animal in it. And if several of the animals are together…”
“All you see is a big bubble,” Bobby finished.
Rela nodded as they walked. “Jedi have come here and confirmed or studied many times over the years. There’s even a legend left by the original inhabitants of Myrkr that says the Jedi came for the first time about five thousand years ago, and they’ve been coming back ever since to see if it’s still true, so I believe the stories.”
“You don’t say?” Bobby said absently, thinking of the timing of the Jedi’s legendary visit and the story about the Runes he’d found at the same time he’d learned about the ysalimiri. Perhaps there was a rune here ant that was how the Jedi had learned about the lizards? Dean’s latest message said Miss’Ouri had told the boys three other locations the Runes could be, but maybe there was one here as well. Bobby kept walking, but wasn’t really paying attention to where he was going, lost in thought over the Runes and their possibilities.
“Stop!” Rela said, holding up her hand and physically blocking Bobby’s path.
He stopped with a lurch.
That plant,” she said, pointing to a plant that was no more dangerous looking than many others that they had passed, but had spines on it that were sort of purple in color. “That plant causes a bad allergic reaction in many people,” Rela added, pointing to a spot on Bobby’s wrist where he had unwittingly brushed against the plant. Bright purple pustules with black centers had risen up on the skin and were just now starting to itch furiously.
“Got it,” he hissed, reflexively reaching forward with his other hand to scratch at the inflamed skin.
“Scratch, and it will spread,” Rela warned.
Frustrated, Bobby returned his hands to his sides. “I’ll be more careful,” he swore.
“Good,” Rela said resuming their trek.
“So, how much farther to the ysalimiri?” he asked, trying not to sound whiny.
“A ways,” she replied.
Great, Bobby thought, rededicating himself to avoiding any more plant encounters. He just hoped the lizards were worth it.
“So what are these runes called again?” Dean asked, preparing the Dream for landing.
“It’s called something like a Force Rune or Rune of the Light,” Sam said focusing on his datapad.
“You don’t know?” Dean said, sounding half-incredulous.
“Gimme a break here Dean, the two sources we’ve found that talk about these things aren’t exactly in Basic. One’s in a regional dialect of the Vratix’s native language and the other is in something that seems like ancient Neti, except if it is, it’s an different dialect than anything I was able to pull up on the University’s remote access library. It’s possible there’s something out there that would help me translate this better, but if it exists it’s probably in the Jedi Archives on Coruscant, and there’s no way in hell we’re going there,” Sam said with frustration and slight annoyance, running his hand through is bangs for what must have been the twentieth time in as many minutes.
“Ok,” Dean muttered, “no need to get so snappy about it.”
Sam ignored him and went back to his datapad. Sam had transferred all of their combined research—transcriptions of Miss’Ouri’s lessons, Bobby’s translations, Jess’s journal entries, the translated portions of both the Coruscant relic and their mother’s holocron recordings about—onto the one datapad and was trying to cross reference it.
Or at least that’s what Dean hoped he was doing. If Sam was still obsessing over the so-called Lost Prophecy and what Darth Azazel might want him for, Dean was going to smack him… or maybe not, but he sure felt like knocking some sense into Sam. Dean had really hoped Miss’Ouri’s training would calm Sam down, make him feel like he had some control. Instead, it seemed only to have intensified Sam’s paranoia and concern over his role in the prophecy. Dean kind of wondered if Sam had actually been listening to Miss’Ouri at all, considering that Dean hadn’t been paying that close attention and he had picked up on the whole “fear is bad; obsessing won’t fix anything” notion. Still. They needed to focus on the task at hand. If they could find this mysterious weapon, it might help them get to the bottom of Darth Azazel’s attacks or possibly even stop him, destroy him for good.
Dean distracted himself by finalizing the details for the Dream’s approach and landing. They were flying under an alias, Ranger’s Prize, one of the old IDs John had set up in honor of their mother. It felt particularly ironic considering both that they’d just learned their mother was actually a Jedi and not an Antarian Ranger and the nature of their mission, but of all the Dream’s many alternate identities the Prize had the cleanest-cut history, was—due to its age and use background—the least likely to be tracked by the Jedi, and was the most likely to get them in the good graces of the planet’s authorities so that they would have the freedom to do the investigating they needed.
Dean got them cleared for landing and secured a birth on the outskirts of Iziz, the planet’s walled capital city close enough to the walls for easy access to the jungle, but still inside and protected and with ample access to the city’s many amenities and research facilities. It was only a few klicks from the site of the most recent fire, so they could go investigate that too without much trouble… not that either of them was looking forward to the prospect.
“Chevy, do you mind taking the controls for the landing? I wanna talk to Sammy for a minute,” Dean said to his droid.
Chevy whistled an affirmative and wheeled herself up to the console, swiftly interfacing with the Dream’s computer.
Confident that they would have a smooth landing, Dean shifted his attention to the issue that was really eating at him, it had been nagging at him ever since Miss’Ouri had concluded that this was their best bet.
“Sam, do you have any idea where this Rune of the Light or whatever might be? I mean specifically, not just what planet it might be on,” Dean started swiveling in his chair to face Sam and dropping his elbows to his knees, hands clasped. “Or how we find it? ‘Cause we’re about ten minutes from landing on Onderon, you know, the planet where pretty much every Sith leader in history has stopped to hole up or have a battle at one point or another, the planet that’s got it’s own blasted military force that Dad says makes the Support Corps look like a bunch of Chadra Fan, the planet that’s all freaking jungle except for the one walled city where the military and the government are, the planet whose jungle has more freaky-ass carnivorous super-hunter animals than pretty much any other system in the Republic. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t really feel like going poking around aimlessly under those circumstances, especially with my ankle not really healed and a crazy murderous Sith with a timetable on the loose and gunning for us. So, please, Sammy, tell me you’ve got something?” Dean realized he was being petulant, but sithspit, he hated jungles. He was allergic to almost everything that lived or grew in them, and that was just the ordinary ones.
“Well, Dean, you heard what Miss’Ouri said,” Sam grinned sheepishly. “Darth Azazel is probably targeting families that were set up as Markers for the Runes when the Protectorate first came into being. Miss’Ouri doesn’t know all their identities, neither does Azazel, but it’s likely that he’s trying to kill whomever has knowledge of the runes’ whereabouts. But…” Sam paused, eyes dropping to his hands, which were absentmindedly turning the datapad over and over again.
“But?” Dean asked, unsure of where Sam was going.
“Miss’Ouri thinks I’ll be able to feel the runes. They’re supposed to call to the Chosen One, something about how the Jedi who opposed Darth Azazel decided to use his strategy against him so the weapons that could destroy him would call out to his anointed. At least I think that’s what the translation said. That was the gist, Miss’Ouri told me,” Sam said shrugging.
“Meaning?” Dean prodded, suppressing the shudder he’d felt at the mention of the “anointed.”
“Meaning I’m hoping I feel something when we land, and if not, then we go check out the fire site and see if I get something there. After that, I was going to look for wonky hiding places like the one Mom mentioned,” Sam explained hurriedly.
Dean couldn’t stop himself from letting out a long, pained sigh. “Great, just great, we gotta go down on freaking Sith beacon central and poke around another crime scene and then maybe go wandering in the jungle,” he spat bitterly.
“Dean, we don’t really have much choice, this is the only thing anyone knows about that has a chance of stopping Darth Azazel. We need four Runes. Miss’Ouri only knew the locations of three and we can guess where others might be, only those are all places where Azazel’s started fires, meaning several of the systems are impossible to access—they’ll pick us up before we can even think about looking—and then the others, like we tried with Thyferra, have given off the force echo that shows the thing’s been destroyed. We don’t have the time to turn this down just because Onderon kinda sucks. I mean, really man, it could be worse,” Sam said shaking his head before meeting Dean’s eyes.
Sam was right about the systems being impossible to access. Since the second fire on Coruscant, Jess’s fire, the Jedi, RI, and local authorities had been going back to the locations of all the earlier fires and picking over them for missed clues. But wait, what had Sam just said?
“Worse?” Dean scoffed.
“We could be going to Dxun?” Sam added with a faux smile, his voice rising with mention of the planet’s even more wild, overgrown, Sith-attracting moon.
“Good point,” Dean sighed. “Of course, knowing our luck the blasted thing will end up being on Dxun after all.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sam teased affectionately. “Let’s worry about that when we get to it. For now, let’s just figure out what we’re going to do first and go from there.”
They left the Dream about mid-day Iziz time and headed towards the location of the fire. They decided to depart on foot with Chevy in tow, since inside the city everything was paved and easy to get around. They walked down a broad, wide promenade paved in white stone that wended its way about a half-klick inside the perimeter wall. This was the “lower rent” area of town, but it was still beautiful, imposing marble spires and other cut stone buildings cool and bright against the hot jungle sun.
The location of the fire stood out against the pristine, white and coral backdrop, its blackened edges a scar upon the landscape, looking almost like a black hole, a spot where everything just stopped—no more buildings, no more life, just death, emptiness. Sam could see where the stone was melted and twisted around the edges—thick ropey blobs of carbon-coated rock that more resembled freshly cooled lava fresh from a volcanic eruption than the formerly white sandstone. Fire like that just shouldn’t be possible. Onderon was a damp, humid environment, and their common method of building construction just didn’t have that many combustibles in it to render a blaze of that size. Sam was at once horrified and awed by the power of the Force, that a Sith could draw that much power to himself to mimic the transformative power of a geologically active planet’s core.
Their cover this time was remarkably simple and so close to the truth it kind of scared Sam. They were posing as victims of a similar fire on Dantooine a long time ago who were passing through on business and had heard about the Onderonian family’s plight and wanted to share their condolences. It was essentially their life story. Dantooine was far enough out on the rim (and had had more than its fair share of tragedies over the years) that no one was likely to check the details and figure out just how long ago the fire had happened or how similar the details were, and even if they did, they’d be even less likely to trace that fire’s victims to Sam and Dean Winchester, dangerous fugitives wanted by Republic Intelligence and the Jedi Council. It was easy to keep the cover since it was essentially the truth—just with a lot of details omitted—and by posing as fellow victims and not another branch of the authorities, they figured they’d have a better chance getting to know the family and maybe find some answers (or clues).
From the holobulletins, they had figured out that the family was a small Sullustan warren-clan that had settled on Onderon a generation or so ago. Their matriarch had been killed in the fire, leaving behind three husbands, and a number of children including one young adult woman who was almost old enough to start her own warren-clan. They had just finished with the complex Sullustan burial and funeral rites, otherwise Sam and Dean’s visit would be wholly inappropriate.
“Sam,” Dean said pausing just short of the temporary shelter the government had set up for the family to live in while the fire was being investigated and their home reconstructed. Sam was kind of surprised they’d stayed this long and weren’t already trying to get as far away from the painful memories as possible. “Sam, base to Sammy?” Dean tried again turning to face Sam and waving Chevy to his side.
“Yeah?” Sam asked in reply slowly dragging himself out of his thoughts.
“There’s something I don’t get about this,” Dean said, shifting to take his weight off of his healing ankle. “We think Azazel’s killing the family member who knows something about where the runes are hidden, right? But he’s leaving everyone else alive. Wouldn’t one of them know something? I mean, maybe this won’t be so hard and we won’t have to rely on you doing your Jedi feelings mojo thing?” Dean suggested hopefully. “I wish you’d at least let me bring the DED,” he grumbled half-under his breath.
“I don’t know,” Sam replied hesitantly, thinking back to what Miss’Ouri had told him. “Miss’Ouri said that she didn’t know the methods each of the Marker Jedi used to pass on the knowledge. It’s possible that some of the Markers might not even know that they knew about the rune and that the knowledge might only be triggered under the right circumstances. Even if they were aware, they likely wouldn’t have shared the information with anyone else… unless it was someone who was tapped to be the next Marker. But we don’t know. I suppose we could get lucky, but this stuff is all super-secret, you know cell-based counter-terrorism if you will. The Jedi opposition of Darth Azazel’s time was trying to set up a way to stop his rise and resurrection without anyone knowing, not even the mainstream Jedi, so there’s not exactly a lot of records or information sharing that we can draw from. I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Sam admitted.
“Ok,” Dean said uncertainly. “Well, I guess here goes nothing.” He gave a wry, lopsided grin and turned back to face the shelter. Without further pause he walked up to the door and pressed the chime.
“Hello,” said a young Sullustan woman with long braided hair trailing out from under her head covering, down her back and over her shoulder. She was standing in the structure’s main doorway, leaning against the white plasteel archway. She had big, dark eyes, well all Sullustans had big eyes, but hers were somehow bigger and more welcoming than most. If not for the direness of their situation, Sam had no doubt Dean would be hitting on her in a matter of seconds—then again, under normal circumstances Dean tended to hit on pretty much anything and everything sentient. As it was, Dean just shifted, hesitantly raising his head to meet her eyes.
“Hi,” Dean began, his voice a bit scratchy. “My name’s Dean and this is my brother Sam and our droid Chevy,” he said gesturing first to Sam and then to Chevy. “We’re mechanic’s merchants just stopping in the system on business and we heard about what happened to your family and wanted to offer our condolences. You see, our mother died in a really similar fire on Dantooine several years ago, and we remember what it was like with everyone prodding and asking questions and no one there to just… uh listen, so, we wanted to offer you our support?” The words tumbled out of Dean’s lips with hardly a breath or break in between. He sounded awkward and nervous, so different from Dean’s normal confident bravado that Sam was taken aback. He was pretty sure it was real and not an act too.
The girl looked from Dean to Sam and over to Chevy and then back to Sam, surveying them.
“Hi,” Sam said, with a half waive. “I’m Sam, so sorry about the fire,” he stammered.
The girl nodded at him, her eyes seeming to bore into him, inspecting, what for, Sam couldn’t fathom. Then she seemed satisfied about something and gave a little nod after which her face broke into a wide Sullustan smile. “Come in, pleased to meet you Sam and Dean. Your offer of empathy is most welcome.” She stepped aside bringing her arm in a long sweeping motion, and beckoning them to enter.
Dean followed up the ramp to the door followed by Chevy. The girl nodded, indicating that it was ok for Chevy to enter. Finally, Sam entered bringing up the rear.
Sam was really glad that the population of Onderon was about ninety-nine percent human, because if this temporary home had been designed by and for Sullustans, the doorway would probably come up to his mid-chest. As it was, he had to duck slightly as he crossed the threshold stepping into the cooler, dryer, dimmer climate controlled interior.
The girl stared at him again, wide-eyed as if looking for something. Sam didn’t really know how to respond, so he gave a nervous smile and stepped past her, joining Dean and Chevy in the somewhat more open foyer.
“My name is Sian Nunb,” the girl said when they were all inside. “I will go gather my father and my mother’s husbands and tell them of your generous offer,” She added in slightly accented Basic. “Please wait here.” Giving Sam another lingering glance, she exited the room, her long blue robes swishing after her, the color accenting the pink hues of her skin.
Sam took a moment to take in the space, the room was dark, much darker than he had expected. But then again, Sullustans were originally cave-dwelling due to the inhospitable nature of their home planet, and they had famously acute eyesight able to see in much less light and for much farther than any human (or at least any non-Jedi human), so it shouldn’t have been that surprising.
Within a minute, they heard voices approaching, and Sian returned followed by three adult Sullustan men, one of whom was carrying a very young baby.
Sam couldn’t suppress his gasp when he saw the young child—just past six months, just like he had been when his mother had died. Did Darth Azazel want this innocent child for something as well? Or was it all just a terrible coincidence or possibly a decoy to distract them from what Azazel was really doing? Lure them and trick them as he had their father?
“Fathers,” Sian began, “This is Sam and Dean and their droid. Their mother died in a similar fire on Dantooine, and they’ve come to offer their condolences and support.”
The men nodded, introducing themselves and shaking hands with Sam and Dean. Sam could barely keep attention, and promptly forgot their names. He wasn’t trying to be rude or disrespectful, he was just—searching, desperately thinking, feeling, reaching out to see if there was some way that he could sense some echo of the Rune. He didn’t even know what he was felling for or if it would be there, but he had to know, so his senses kept creeping out, stretching like Miss’Ouri had told him, looking in the Force for some clue. As a result, his grasp on the more mundane and closer by was a bit dampened. Something Miss’Ouri had warned about that he’d have to work on for sure, but for now, it was probably ok. Azazel had already been here, as had RI and that Jedi Shadow, so it should be safe. Plus, Dean was on high alert and he was doing the talking.
The next thing that registered for Sam was that they were being led to a round living room of sorts and seated on low, white nerf-hide couches. Sam let the leather surround and comfort him, just sinking in and drifting with his senses. He piped into the conversation at a few key moments, when Dean mentioned him, and was pretty sure he responded in all the right places, but mostly he was just searching, searching, and getting more and more frustrated, because he couldn’t feel anything! He also got the sense that Sian was looking at him, and that was very disconcerting, though he wasn’t sure why.
“Have you been back out to the wreckage, I mean the house?” Dean asked sheepishly. “I had stayed away from our old house for years because of the memories, but I just recently visited it with a friend’s encouragement, and it was a very… uh, healing experience,” Dean stammered, his voice sounding oddly hollow, like he was caught somewhere between acting and telling the truth. Sam hadn’t asked Dean too much about what had happened at their old house—a place he had never really known—aside from the contents of their mother’s Holocron. He got the idea now, and felt bad for realizing so late, that whatever happened, it must have been pretty profound for Dean.
Sam’s attention was snapped back to the conversation when one of the men, Tevv, he thought his name was, said, “Yes, we have been back, we keep going back searching for clues. We are shocked that our Seba has entered eternal sleep so young. But more than that there is something so strange about this that none of the authorities have noticed, it seems like we’re missing something like they’re missing something, there is some map or plan here at work, that we cannot see, and to us as Sullustans that is most difficult to except. Sian especially,” he said glancing at the Sian who was seated to his left, “seems to think there is something more at work here, and I trust her judgment.” He turned his eyes on Sam and then Dean, “would you like to see it. If the fire that took your mother was so similar, maybe you will see some clue or find some answer that they did not. Maybe you can find us all some peace.”
“We, we would be honored,” Dean said, his voice catching in surprise.
Sam was silent and then felt a sharp jab to his calf where Dean had kicked him. “Oh yes, honored, we will take a look at it,” Sam stammered.
“Sian and I will accompany you,” Tevv said, standing. “The Onderon government says it’s safe, melted so that it won’t collapse, but it’s still… dangerous.”
Sian stood as well and gestured for Dean, Sam, and Chevy to follow. They rose to their feet, a little stiffly since the couch was so low, and followed Sian and Tevv through a narrow hallway towards the back of the structure where Tevv opened another sliding door and led them outside into the sticky afternoon heat.
“That was a close to an engraved invitation as we’re ever gonna get, Sam,” Dean whispered gruffly in Sam’s ear. “So don’t fuck it up. I know you’re doing your Jedi whatever, but pay attention, please? These folks seem nice and they’ve just lost their wife and mother and I do not want to act like a dick around them, OK?”
“Yeah, got it,” Sam muttered back. He tried to reign in his senses a little so that he could keep better touch with what was going on around him.
It was working too. Sian and Tevv led them into the melted hole that had once been a sliding transparisteel door and into the charred, soot-covered interior of the once-brilliant home. Sam let his fingers ghost over the surfaces, feeling the cool, smooth lines of the melted stone the flaky, sticky texture of the soot; the ragged edges in the less-melted places where interior walls had torn and buckled and their sharp innards were exposed. He could feel echoes and eddies of the Dark Side, kind of like what he’d first felt when Darth Azazel had come to his apartment, but nothing crisp or clear, nothing that might signify a way to a rune.
“Over here, is where they say it started,” Tevv said sadly. In little Tian’s nursery. Only… they said it looked like the ceiling melted first, which makes no sense.” He led them through another melted arched doorway and past more charred debris into a smaller, pleasantly round room that seemed largely open to the elements, probably because it had once had large picture windows looking out on the small courtyard outside.
Sam managed to take two steps into the room before the vision struck. Counting the vision he’d had while training with Miss’Ouri, this was only the second he’d had while awake. Familiarity didn’t make suck any less. It struck at him from the blackness, slamming into him with the force of a charging Ronto, stars bursting in front of his eyes, white knives of pain stabbing into his brain. He had let out an anguished gasp and was on his knees before he could register what had happened.
“Sammy?” he heard Dean’s alarmed voice call, followed by “I’m sorry, my brother, he gets bad headaches, he should be ok in a few minutes,” hastily explained to their hosts. Sam was vaguely aware of a flurry of movement and something firm and familiar that smelled like Dean swooping in to catch him, before he lost all touch with reality and got lost in the vision.
He was seeing it, the last moments of Seba Nunb’s life playing out before his eyes. The baby was wailing in her crib, little fists balled in terror as Darth Azazel used the force to her up the arch of the sandstone wall and onto the ceiling. He couldn’t see what had happened before; there was no rewinding the holo or moving around for a better angle. Darth Azazel’s eyes flashed yellow, and he seemed to be saying something to Seba Nunb, who was remarkably still alive, but his words were swallowed over her screams of “No, no!! Not my baby… You’re not getting it!” and then the roar of the flames drowned everything out, erupting around Seba and flowing outwards.
Darth Azazel seemed to sense something, twisting his host’s head towards the doorway from which Sam was seeing the events. In an instant he vanished, disappearing as quickly as he had come—impossibly he just seemed to be there one second and gone the next like a shimmer in the Force. Then someone was running from where Sam watched, running towards the crib and screaming. He recognized it was Sian from the long braids. She rushed through the flames and grabbed the squalling baby, crying out in shock and dismay as she saw Seba burning on the ceiling. Sian seemed torn, she was screaming something at Seba’s form, it seemed questioning, disbelieving, but he couldn’t make out the words over the roar of the flames. Then Seba turned to where he was standing and closed her eyes.
Sam was jolted from the scene of Seba’s death as the vision swallowed him up in blackness and took him. He was flying through space seeing star charts and holoprojections of different systems. Certain hyperspace routes and planets seemed to glow green in his vision, and then it was as if he was flying along one of them, whizzing through space (and maybe time) towards one of the planets or moons that had glowed green.
He seemed to land, materialize, somewhere, somewhere unfamiliar. It was jungle. Tall green trees and colorful flowers and shrubs all around. The world seemed to breathe with life. There was so much, so many, beings of all sizes scurrying—routing through the soil, flying through the air, swimming and basking in pools, tearing through the underbrush. Life was fierce, fighting, killing, hunting—cyclical. Each being a link in the food chain, every breath, every existence connected in the Force. He seemed to be carried along a path that wended its way between the trees until reaching a clearing. The clearing seemed to be filled with rubble—the remains of a wall and maybe some shelters—something that would suggest a settlement or camp, but one that had been abandoned for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Jedi had been here had treaded this ground. He knew it, as whisper on the force. It spoke to him and told him the way. Through the clearing and the rubble almost to the jungle again was a particular pile of rubble. Nothing spectacular about it, by appearances sake, but the Force flowed through it, a symbol visible in blue light emanating from beneath. He knew the sigil was there only for him. A Marker. Left for the Chosen One to find.
He felt himself shudder somewhere inside, still unwilling to accept that the Prophecy was real, that it was meant for him, about him. But in the vision, he—or rather the disembodied awareness that he was—kept on moving. The rubble could be cleared with the Force. He knew it with absolute clarity and then the rubble was moved, showing a hidden door, camouflaged and concealed by tricks of the Force. The force had been at work here for thousands of years, and he would be the first—and only—since those who had created it to see what it held.
He knew somehow that pressing his hand to it, the door would know him and would disappear. In the vision the door vanished, laying open a series of dusty stone steps that led down into a dark, damp tunnel, a hallway. “In there,” it told him. “In there and only the Chosen One can free it,” the Force seemed to whisper to him.
How will I know where to go? How to find it? His mind asked.
“Map,” was the Force’s only reply.
Then he was falling, dropping, crashing back into his body, the universe sucking and reeling away from him—his soul dragged back through time and space—and then he was in his body, shaking, shivering, collapsed on the melted floor of Seba Nunb’s burned out home, Dean’s arms wrapped securely around his body, his voice whispering reassuring nothings in Sam’s ear.
The pain, the pain was almost too much to think through. Stabbing through is mind with even greater intensity than when the vision had begun. But he knew. He knew! “I know where it is,” Sam panted, groaning the words out in pained breaths.
He heard a gasp from across the room, and felt Dean moving, turning probably trying to come up with an explanation for Sam’s bizarre behavior. The pain was too bad for Sam to really care. Well, that and the thrill of victory, or near-victory. He could almost taste the power of the Rune, the promise of it. Now that he knew where it was, it was calling to him, and he needed to go.
“It is you!” Sian exclaimed. Sam recognized the tone and realized she must have been the person to gasp.
“Look, I’m sorry, sometimes when my brother has these headaches he’s disoriented afterwards, says things that don’t mean anything. We’re sorry to have bothered you,” Dean said hurriedly, the nervousness patently obvious in his voice.
Sam felt a hard elbow nudge him in his still-tender ribs, making him suck back a hiss of pain. That was Dean’s universal signal for “get your shit together we need to get out of here now!”
“No wait,” Sian exclaimed.
Sam heard movement, shuffling feet coming towards him, he wished his head would stop pounding so that he could open his eyes and see what was going on, but he knew from experience that light, would make him sick.
“Mother told me about this. Sam is the Chosen One,” Sian continued sounding incredulous.
“What?” Tevv and Dean said in unison.
Huh, Sam thought, maybe Dean’s theory about family members knowing something was right.
“Before the fire, before the man with yellow eyes who vanished, before she died… Mother told me that a man would come, that he would look like you, and that he would be the Chosen One that the Prophecy warned about, that I must show him the map for it would be the only chance for defeating the Sith,” Sian explained, her voice touched with emotion.
“Say, say again?” Dean stuttered. “You know about the prophecy?”
“What prophecy? What is this Sian?” That was Tevv’s voice, sounding somewhat lost.
“Mother said that it was only for my ears that I was her heir, that she must prepare me,” Sian explained.
Sam finally then managed to open his eyes and took in the room around him. He was on his knees in the exact center of the charred nursery. Dean was seated on the floor against Sam’s back, his arms wrapped securely around Sam to keep him from falling. Sian was standing about two meters away, looking like she wanted to approach Sam but was afraid Dean might bite, and Tevv was still standing near the melted far wall looking utterly lost and perplexed, his big eyes open even wider than normal, and his cheeks scrunched up in a show of confusion.
Sian’s words finally percolated through the fog in Sam’s mind, and one phrase stuck out. “You have a map? It said I was supposed to find a map?”
“Yes, I have a map, in my head, for ruins, it shows where to find the Rune, how to avoid traps. Mother shared it with me. She said that I would be able to share it with the Chosen One, but I do not know where the map belongs,” Sian added sadly.
“It’s on Dxun,” Sam said, with absolute certainty. That was the place so full of life that he had seen in his vision.
“Oh blast!” Dean muttered. “So much for ‘it could be worse.’”
Master Post | Part 12 | Part 14