Half an hour later they were seated in the Nunb’s temporary living room once again. Somehow the soft white nerf-hide couches didn’t seem so inviting this time around.
Dean was stretched out with his arm along the back of the couch, Sam seated next to him in easy reach. They had slapped a Perigen patch on Sam to help ease the headache and one of the husbands had brought them a pitcher of some chilled fruit juice that was supposed to help Sam relax, but Dean was concerned. His little brother still seemed to be in a lot of pain. Sam was hiding it well, though, currently by having an animated conversation with Sian, sorting out the details and planning on how they would go after the rune which was apparently located somewhere on Dxun, but Dean could see the telltale furrow in Sam’s brow, could tell from the way Sam held himself very carefully, that the pain of the vision hadn’t abated.
After Sam’s vision, Sian had led them back to the temporary dwelling. She and Tevv had had a hushed conversation with the other two husbands while Sam and Dean waited in the living room. Soon thereafter, their refreshments had been provided and then the other two husbands had left them alone with Sian and Tevv, presumably to go care for baby Tian and the other young children.
Sian had proceeded to explain what her mother, Seba, had told her. Seba was the descendant of a long line of Markers set up by the original Protectorate. She had some latent Force abilities as did Sian. Seba’s line had strategized to make sure that their descendants always had enough Force sensitivity to maintain their role, while also keeping their talents secret so that they wouldn’t attract the attention of the mainstream Jedi. Of course, that had meant occasional liaisons with Jedi and purported force adepts over the years, but Seba and her lineage had come through, holding their duty to the utmost importance.
In each new Marker’s lifetime, he or she (usually she) would identify which of her descendants would replace her and share the story. Along with the story of the prophecy and the Chosen One, they also kept a map, or rather an image of a map at all times, taking advantage of Sullustan’s perfect memory and intuitive sense about maps. Each Marker used their latent Force sensitivity to share a vision of the map with their successor, the successor need only see the image once to know it perfectly and be able to reproduce it if necessary.
Along with the map and the stories, the Marker performed a ritualized set of incantations in her dwelling that called upon the Force to act as a beacon for the Chosen One. It could only be triggered by the Chosen One, and that was apparently what Sam had triggered when he walked into the burned out dwelling.
Sian was winding down her story and Dean could sense that Sam was starting to get twitchy, whether due to his desire to get out there and find the rune or something else, Dean wasn’t sure.
Tevv on the other hand was sitting with rapt attention, obviously awed by the complex story that had been going on behind the scenes in his family without his knowledge. Rather than acting shocked or betrayed, he seemed reverent.
“How did you know that I was the Chosen One?” Sam asked somewhat abruptly suspicion evident in his voice. “I mean, specifically you said that you recognized me, and how did they, the Markers… your mother, I mean, know what I looked like?” He explained.
Dean shifted closer to Sam squeezing Sam’s shoulder to calm him down. Yeah, it was an unanswered question, but Dean was alarmed by just how suspicious Sam sounded. He missed the trusting, caring Sammy that had existed before the fire, or at least before going to the University.
“My mother had a vision, not like yours, but a Force-dream,” Sian explained, no hint of offense in her tone. “My mother had never had one before, but her mother had told her of these dreams, so she knew what it was. In it she saw you and sense that a great danger was coming.” Sian paused, her expression pained. “That was why she told me,” Sian continued. “Normally she would have waited until I was Ready, um mature as you would say, before revealing my heritage. She shared her vision of you with me when she showed me the map,” Sian concluded.
“Oh,” said Sam, sounding contrite, face flushed red with embarrassment.
The lull that followed gave Dean the opportunity to ask the question that had been gnawing at him since he’d read the Nunb’s family history. Dean slid forward on the couch, dropping his hand from Sam’s shoulder and bringing his hands together between his slightly spread knees in what he hoped came across as a casual gesture. “Sian, Tevv, your family has only been on Onderon for a few generations, right? Pardon me for asking, but it was in the story about Seba’s death.”
“Yes,” Tevv replied, “before that our ancestors lived on Sullust for many generations. We moved here when Seba married us, she had lived here before that and I believe her mother moved here to take up a post as liaison between SoroSuub and the Onderon government, a post Seba took over upon her retirement, when her mother returned to Sullust.”
“Mother said that many, many generations ago one of her predecessors lived here, on Onderon, but then returned to Sullust,” Sian piped in nodding.
Sam immediately perked up, all signs of tension and strain gone, “but the whole time the Rune was on Dxun, right, I mean you haven’t moved it or anything?” Sam asked excited.
“Well I assume,” Sian said with another nod. She took a sip of the chilled fruit juice and continued. “We’ve only had the map but we didn’t know there where it was tied to, but that was so no one could find it, no one but the Chosen One.”
“So, presumably, your mother’s predecessors would have performed the same ritual wherever your family lived, even if it was on Sullust or somewhere far, far away from Dxun?” Dean asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “The ritual is supposed to create a link through the Force between the Rune and the Chosen One, so the Rune will reveal its location.”
Sam and Dean shared a knowing glance. The Markers needn’t live in the same place as the Rune and might not know exactly where the Rune was, which meant that Azazel’s attacks might have killed the Markers but not destroyed their runes… which would explain why Sam and Miss’Ouri had only felt the Force echo on Thyferra. perhaps that was one place where the Marker actually was guarding the rune directly.
“You know,” Sam said to Dean, “That still doesn’t solve our problem. We’d still have to go back to those planets for me to sense this Force connection, and they’re still crawling with RI and Jedi,” he added with a sigh.
“Yeah, but Sam, now we know what we’re looking for and what we have to do. It might make risking the trip worth it. We wouldn’t have to go in and poke around, we’d know exactly what we, well you, were looking for. Besides, maybe there’s some other clue to the Rune’s locations. Maybe this one will lead you to the rest, or at least three more,” Dean hissed back.
Sam gave him a look that said, ’we’ll see.’
Encouraged for the first time since Miss’Ouri had discussed the Runes with them, Dean grudgingly returned his attention to their hosts, who were—thankfully—still waiting patiently and unperturbed, while the Winchesters had their little discussion.
After a few more minutes, it was decided they would proceed to Dxun immediately with Tevv and Sian accompanying them and providing the latest in SoroSuub speeder bikes and a speedy shuttle for transportation on and to the jungle moon.
Dean wanted to wait until morning. Scratch that, he never wanted to set foot on Dxun at all, but given the choice of going or letting Sammy go by himself the answer was clear. But he’d get to ride on a cool, superfast speeder bike while he did it. At least he’d convinced them to stop by the Dream to stock up on weapons before they departed.
The flight on the Nunb’s shuttle was uneventful. They found a small clearing in which to set down—one Sam directed them to; Dean wasn’t sure if Sam had seen it in his vision, or was just getting some kind of message from the Force to land there.
Once on the ground, they paired up on the speederbikes with Sian and Tevv driving and Sam and Dean riding behind. Sam and Sian went first followed by Tevv and Dean.
“Think maybe I can drive on the way back?” Dean asked Tevv as they zoomed along, the pleasant thrill of speed and attractive green blur of foliage almost making Dean forget that he was on the dreaded “Demon Moon” Dxun.
“Sure,” Tevv said, and began describing the control system to Dean en route. There definitely were some perks to working for a major ship manufacturer Dean soon discovered. The speeders were really fast and had enhanced precision handling, allowing for quicker snap turns and 180s and a great repulsor range so that pilots could take the bikes up and down as well as side to side fluidly, smoothly, and with great ease.
Tevv was following Sian and Sam, who were apparently getting some additional guidance from Sam’s vision or the Force, and as a result, the two bikes were following a sort of meandering path of less-dense forest that allowed for higher speeds and greater maneuverability. Far too fast for Dean’s liking (after all, the bike was the only thing about this scenario that he didn’t hate), they were stopping at a larger clearing that was dotted with crumbled walls, and strategically placed rocks. It looked vaguely familiar, like he’d seen it in school or something.
“There was a really important Mandalorian base here during the Jedi Civil War,” Sam explained after they’d parked the bikes and dismounted.
“Wait, like the famous Mandalorian base. So you’re telling me Jedi were here, like right here and they never picked up on the Rune?” Dean asked incredulous.
“Yeah, seems like,” Sam said. “I recognized this place as soon as I saw it in the vision. Well, that and the Force was kind of screaming its location, so it was hard to miss,” Sam added as an after thought.
Sam began walking across the ruins stepping surely and confidently even though there were lots of hidden holes and rocks and other pitfalls strewn throughout the landscape as Dean discovered twisting his bad ankle in a hidden hole and landing on his hands and knees and letting out an undignified yelp. Sithspit! That hurt. He really didn’t want to think about what additional damage he might have done to the ankle, but was relieved that it didn’t feel like it had re-broken, it just throbbed a little as he walked.
“You ok, Dean?” Sam called back over his shoulder, concerned.
“Peachy!” Dean replied. Luckily it was actually feeling like the kind of pain he could walk off, and he didn’t want Sam worrying about him. He wanted Sam to find this Rune and get them out of there.
When it seemed that Sam had walked all the way across the clearing, just about ten meters shy of the woods on the other side, he stopped in front of a small pile of rubble. Closing his eyes and reaching out with his hand he used the Force to levitate it all piece by piece into a neat pile about three meters from it’s current position. Underneath was what appeared to be an innocuous, flat stone.
Turning to Sian, Sam said “Ok, I saw this in the vision, but this is where the Force started telling me there would be a map. I know that the door disappears and there are steps underneath, but I don’t know what to do.”
“Stand here,” Sian said, gesturing to a spot about .67 meters in front of Sam’s current position.
He stepped forward and, like magic, Dean watched as a series of blue and green sigils appeared in front of Sam. They seemed alive, symbols hovering in the air, appearing out of nothing, rotating slowly in a circle above the stone door.
“It’s a lock,” Sian said, her voice awed. “I saw this when Mother shared this with me. She said you would know the combination.”
Dean held his breath as Sam closed his eyes and seemed to reach out in the force again. One by one, the sigils glowed bright and then moved, leaving the circle to form a straight line. The sigils, Dean realized were actually Futhark characters, the formal alphabet of Naboo if he was not mistaken, and Sam was using them to spell Chosen One.
When the last character left the circle and flew into place, the entire phrase glowed bright and then swirled together, bright green-blue light shooting downwards towards the rock and seeming to disappear into it. Dean could what sounded like a series of locks clicking and clanging open, only there was no physical reaction from the rock, and the noise was somehow too big like he was feeling the locks release rather than just hearing them.
“It’s ready,” Sam proclaimed as he reached out with the Force again, hand extending outwards.
The rock seemed to hinge on edge, flipping up to reveal a strange, narrow staircase leading into the ground below. Dean thought strange, because it didn’t look damp or earthen or even dusty. And the air around the newly-revealed entrance wasn’t stale or musty either, he discovered, as he stepped over to Sam’s side and walk down.
“What now?” Dean asked, looking to Sam and Sian for guidance.
This time Sian closed her eyes as if visualizing the map before her. “Forty-nine steps down the ceiling will glow to guide you. When you reach the bottom continue down the narrow hall. Ahead of you will be a pedestal. On it lays the Rune surrounded by a Force field.”
“A forcefield?” Dean asked. Surprised, wondering how something like that would get powered way out here. Not to mention, what was that about the ceiling glowing?
“Not exactly,” Sam said, smiling at Sian. “It’s actually a forcefield made from the Force,” Sam said with dawning realization.
“Yes, and it glows pink. When you get there, it will only allow you or your agent to pass through. It will test you,” Sian explained.
“What else?” Sam asked to Dean’s surprise. After all, they were here for the Rune, right? What else would there be.
“Beyond the pedestal the hall continues. The left wall bears a smooth black panel in the rock. It glows bright with the stories of its sisters,” Sian concluded.
“Whose sisters?” Dean asked, not following.
“Sister Runes,” Sian explained, her eyes now open. “Green, blue, and red, it will glow.” She added somewhat mysteriously.
“I guess we go have a look?” Sam said sounding suddenly nervous.
“Your call, Sam, but I’m all for getting this Rune,” Dean said reassuringly. He couldn’t really imagine what it would be like, seeing something in a dream or waking dream and then actually living it out. He shuddered a little at the thought. Dean had never really liked the idea that the Force could prescribe one’s actions, that things could be preordained decades or centuries in advance (or even minutes, hours).
“Ok,” Sam said, stepping forward onto the stairs and starting his descent.
“You and Sian follow,” Tevv said as Dean reached the tenth steep step down, “I’ll stay here and stand watch.”
Dean looked back and saw Tevv sit down on one of the top steps, so that he could be concealed by the trap door if he wished, or hold it open—as he was doing now—and maintain watch on their surroundings.
Dean thought briefly of all of Dxun’s indigenous predators and shuddered, deciding it was an excellent idea. “Thanks,” he called over his shoulder, giving Tevv a nod of gratitude before resuming his trek down the stairs, going deeper and deeper into the ground, trying to catch up with Sam and Sian.
The roof of the passageway sloped with the stairs, so it was always comfortable to stand, but one couldn’t see very far in front of one’s face. Which was why, when Dean finally reached the bottom of the forty-nine steps, he let out a gasp of surprise as the ceiling opened up in front of him, revealing a tall arched passageway with a soothing blue-green glow coming from above. He couldn’t tell the source of it, it just seemed to exist there in a broad line running down the exact center of the ceiling. Ahead of him, the passageway widened somewhat, so that three people could easily stand abreast. About fifteen meters ahead, Sam and Sian had paused on either side of a strange stone pedestal that rose out of the floor. It seemed to be perfectly smooth and pure black, but yet blended flawlessly into the textured brownish stone that made the floor. Hovering above it, suspended about three centimeters off the pedestal’s flat top, was a square stone with a swirling blue and green design at its center. Surrounding that, sure enough, was a glowing pinkish forcefield, that surrounded the square Rune in a perfect sphere, the pedestal a tangent at its base.
“It’s going to test me?” Sam asked nervously to Sian as Dean approached.
“Yes,” Sian said. “But I don’t know what that means. I just know that it is supposed to let you through.”
Sam turned his eyes warily to Dean, looking for reassurance or guidance, Dean was not certain.
He didn’t particularly like the sound of the word test, but he also got the feeling Sam was supposed to get this rune, and that the forcefield or Force-field wasn’t going to hurt him.
“I think it’s ok, Sammy,” Dean reassured.
With a nervous nod, Sam turned back to the Rune and stuck his right hand out, until his fingertips were just brushing the sphere. Sam gave a little gasp, and Dean saw the pink glow of the field shout out and envelop Sam, traveling up his fingers and outstretched arm and then up his body closing over his head and traveling down until he was completely surrounded then seeming to blink out of existence. It happened so fast Dean could barely follow it, and when the pink glow around Sam was gone, Dean realized his finger tips had passed through it, and Sam’s hand was now closing around the stone square inside.
Carefully and slowly, Sam closed his fingers around the Rune, and just as slowly pulled it out of the pink sphere, which parted and flowed around his hand, allowing him to remove the Rune. When he was done, Sam was holding the Rune in his hand, and the pink sphere, now empty, still rested on the pedestal.
“What happened?” Dean asked, concerned about Sam’s gasp.
“It felt like it was reading me. The Force… it knew who I was, and then it just let me in,” Sam explained seeming to search a little to find the word to describe what had happened. “I’m ok,” Sam added.
Dean smiled, realizing his concern was probably spread across his face. He breathed a sigh of relief. That wasn’t so bad after all. He walked closer to Sam, squeezing up to his side and brushing shoulders where they stood in the cramped space between the pillar and the rough stone wall. “That it?” Dean asked, tentatively reaching out a finger towards the Rune.
“Yeah,” Sam said with awed certainty. “This is what I saw, and I can feel it. It’s connected to the Force, the force is almost flowing out of it,” Sam added.
Dean looked to him for permission, and Sam offered the rune to him. Dean let his fingers close around it.
It felt cool, but not cold, and he could feel the textured of the stone, smooth, but not flat, little ridges and details giving it texture, the green and blue at its center not painted on, but somehow formed from other minerals that were completely integrated into the rock, no boundaries or seems visible. It was as if the Rune had sprung into being fully formed in exactly that shape or pattern. “Wow, so three more of these and we’ve got a Sith-trapping device?” Dean murmured.
“Assuming we can get them all and get the Sith out of his stolen body, yeah,” Sam said.
Dean passed the rune back to Sam, who carefully slipped it into his inside Jacket pocket, and zipped it shut, patting the jacket to make sure it was securely tucked against his chest.
“The panel with the sister runes?” Sam asked.
“Right ahead,” Sian said, then, after pausing, “if it’s ok with you, I will join Tevv in keeping watch.”
“Yeah, thanks,” said Sam with a smile.
Dean nodded his appreciation, and watched as Sian returned back the way they’d come, quickly disappearing as she ascended the stairs.
Sam started walking down the passageway past the pedestal and Dean followed.
“Look,” said Sam pointing to the backlit 2D display that ran along the wall. “There we are now. Those coordinates point to Dxun and that’s the panel in the ground and the passage. And look, see, it’s lit up green because we have the rune!” Sam exclaimed excitedly, fingers running over the square of stone with the blue-green design at its center, as Dean followed his pointing with open curiosity.
Dean hadn’t the faintest clue what the panel was made of or how it was lighting up because for all intents and purposes it just seemed to sprout clean and smooth from the surrounding rough-hewn rock. It was just one of the many things that was strange about this place, this Rune Ward, like it not being cool or damp even though they had to be at least twenty meters underground, like the faint glow that seemed to emanate from the roof of the cave without any visible source or fixture, like how this place could exist at all considering there was no power here, no generators, no wires, no nothing, and yet it was perfectly preserved and undisturbed even though they were underneath the ruins of an ancient encampment where one of the most famous Jedi heroes of the Civil War had tread about thirty-five hundred years ago and on a moon that other Sith lords had used to stage attacks, and somehow, none of them had known this place existed.
“Dean!” Sam exclaimed again, oblivious to his brother’s quiet contemplation. “Look at this. Doesn’t that look like an insect and that’s jungle, and the coordinates!! I’m pretty sure that’s Thyferra! And look, it’s turned Red, probably because Azazel destroyed it.” Sam was pointing to another set of images that were offset down by the left end of the panel, closest to the entrance.
“Huh, why is that one down there, and the other four over there?” Dean asked stepping forward. He reached up to run his fingers along the panel and let out a gasp of surprise when the panel glowed further to life, writing appearing beneath the symbols where he had touched it. The writing had appeared as suddenly as had the colorful symbols outside the entrance when Sam passed over it, and like those symbols.
“Maybe it was a decoy?” Sian suggested from somewhere behind them. She must have returned from standing guard with Tevv. It wasn’t difficult to be stealthy in here, Dean realized, one of the other oddities of the passageway or whatever it was, this place didn’t have an echo.
“A decoy?” Sam asked, turning to regard Sian, eyes wide in the dim light. “Did your mom tell you there were decoys? Do you know about the other Runes or their Markers?” he pressed.
Dean felt almost taken aback by Sam’s persistent questioning, but Sian seemed to take it in stride.
“I don’t know much. My mother only told me what she knew. And she only knew that there were others or were supposed to be, not where they were or who the Markers were or even who they were descended from. But,” she stepped up to the panel next to Dean, running her fingers over the words that had appeared where he had touched it. “She said that the plan was woven through the Force so that it wouldn’t fail.” Sian pulled her fingers back and clasped her hands in front of her chest, turning towards Dean and Sam. “If the Force is in on this, and it was planned over a period of thousands of years, maybe that means there were decoys… people set up as Markers who weren’t really guarding Runes, or extra Runes that were made easy to find and destroy to trick Azazel,” she suggested, her voice taking on that same knowing tone it had when Sam had had his vision back at the ruins of their burned out house.
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Sam protested and shook his head. “I had the vision of that rune, the one on Thyferra being destroyed. And the man who died, he was so worried—terrified when he felt Azazel find the Rune, when it broke, he thought he’d failed, that we would be doomed—”
“Sam,” Dean interjected. It still felt weird to be talking about the Force and Jedi and Prophecies in connection with his family and their future, but in a certain level, it was just like all the Hunting they’d been trained to do all their lives, every bit of information is like a puzzle piece or the tumbler on a lock, and like locks and puzzles, if you keep flipping them and jiggling them around, eventually they’d fall into place and you’d have the picture or open door you were looking for. And Sian’s comment had acted just like that, the puzzle piece or decryption key that gives you the clue to let all the pieces or tumblers fall into place. “Remember what Miss’Ouri said?”
Sam turned to him eyebrows raised in question.
“She said the reason she didn’t know where all the Runes were was because the Protectorate set up their plan using cells.” Dean paused, letting the words sink in. “Well, with cells, you don’t tell them any more than they absolutely need to know. Miss’Ouri knew what she did because it was her job to start you on your path. The guy you saw die, if it was his job to be a decoy, if it was his job to make Azazel think he’d destroyed the weapon or thwarted the plan. He wouldn’t need, hell, he couldn’t know if he was a decoy, ‘cause that would throw the whole thing off. If he had any doubt, if he didn’t think his rune was essential or the real deal…”
“Azazel would know,” Sian finished for Dean meeting his eyes before they both turned to face Sam.
Sammy looked stricken. His mouth was doing that open-close, open-close fish-without-water thing that made Dean sick to see. He wanted to wipe that look off Sam’s face, but he got the sense that Sam was coming to a realization, something big that while painful was absolutely necessary. It was like Dad had always said, you can’t shield people you love from life, or loss, or growing up, no matter how much you might want.
“But all that pain, for no reason? I mean, he didn’t have to think that his death was going to doom the universe. All those generations of preparation and passing on knowledge, and the whole time, they were set up to die?” Sam squeaked, voice hitching in his throat.
“Sammy,” Dean said again, putting as much comfort and affection as he could into his brother’s nickname. He stepped towards Sam, facing him and squeezed his shoulder with his uninjured right arm (his left shoulder was still a little too sore to hold his arm straight out unless he absolutely had to). “It’s war, and everyone the Protectorate entrusted with information were the soldiers. Sometimes you have to send people on suicide missions. And sometimes, sometimes you can’t tell them,” he said sadly, secretly hoping that he and Sam weren’t on such a mission themselves.
Sam stilled, nodded, and his expression seemed to clear, as if like that—poof—he had assimilated the information and accepted it, or as close to accepted it as possible. It was something Dean had seen more and more since Jess’s death, like Sam had just gotten too used to receiving blows to resist them anymore. Instead he just accepted it, sucked it up, and moved on. That was never what Dean had wanted Sam’s life to be like.
Dean let out a sigh, as Sam turned back to the display.
“Ok, so if that’s a decoy, then that means these four,” he pointed to the other four sets of images, starting with the images depicting their location on Dxun, that followed after a large gap on the display, “are the real deal. The ones we need to find.”
Dean nodded contemplatively.
“Man, I wish we had Chevy here, she could get a recording of this for us, make sure we don’t miss anything,” Sam whistled.
Sian stepped forward to get a better look. “Sam, if I get a good look at this, I can draw it; it would be exact.”
Sam thought about the directions and description she had given them to depicted the exact spot he had to stand on the ruins of the camp, the exact sigils that would appear when he stood over the entrance, exactly what he had to touch, and then perfectly depicted the Rune Ward below from the entrance down the long, steep stairs, the Rune on its pedestal, surrounded by the hazy pink Force field, even the continuation of the corridor where they’d found the panel. “I thought that was just a mental map, like something you could see in your head,” Sam said surprised.
“Well, yes, but some Sullustans are also skilled at reproducing maps, and I happen to be one of them,” she said with a shy smile.
“That would be awesome, Sian, thank you,” Sam said, giving her a smile.
Dean had an idea. He stepped forward and touched the images depicting Dxun. Sure enough, writing appeared beneath this one as well, this time green to match the image of the Rune. He looked at it more closely. It was in Basic. The first line underneath Dxun’s coordinates gave Sam’s full name and the date, today’s date on the galactic calendar, beneath that was a riddle of sorts: The Chosen One shall find the Marker. The Marker will provide the Map. The Map will lead the Way. Under the ruins of a future war then past lies the door only the Chosen One can see. The Rune waits underground, guarded by the force. Invisible to all but the Chosen One and his Agents.
“Well, would you look at that? It’s like frigging instructions,” Dean quipped. Yeah, instructions written by a Talz poet high on spice.
He walked over to the red images of the destroyed rune. Sure enough, the writing there began with Darth Azazel’s name and the date of the rune’s destruction. The sacrifice of a faithful soul never forgotten. Hidden on the planet of healing, a ruse and a key. Distract the Sith and guide the Chosen One, read the inscription.
“So, we should look at the other three,” Sam pointed to the three sets of images that were blue, probably meaning they had neither been destroyed nor found, “and see what it tells us.”
The first of the three sets of images showed a giant, gnarled tree, branches twisted and forking, spread wide to create a canopy. It seemed to have an aura or sphere around it, like a bubble, denoted on the image by an area of fainter blue. At the tree’s core, one square spot—the shape of a Rune—glowed darker, deeper blue. Underneath the picture were coordinates.
“Huh,” Sam said. “I think those are the coordinates for Myrkr,” he murmured.
Dean took a closer look. “I’d have to confirm when we get back to the Dream, but that sounds right. He touched the display, and sure enough, words sprang into being beneath the image. There was a blank space where the name and date had been on the other two, blank, presumably because the Rune was still undisturbed, neither found nor destroyed.
Hidden by the Jedi where they so often hesitate to go, the Forceless Tree holds the Rune in her grasp, for she knows the souls of all who visit. The Guardian will only reveal the Rune to the Chosen One and his agents. When the agent comes, he must speak exact and clear to prove his worth: 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. And the Guardian will reveal it. May I take it? And the Forceless Tree will release it. Will the guardian of the Rune please guide me and give safe passage? And the agent will have safe passage through the wilds.
“Real specific on this one,” Dean murmured.
“And look at the instructions for the ‘agent,’ it’s like the Protectorate, or whoever set this up, knew that I wouldn’t be there in person,” Sam said, awed.
Dean turned to face his brother, “Yeah, and I’m betting there’s no way anyone would know to say these words unless they came here, and since only you can find this place, and the Tree apparently can see inside people’s soul, I’m betting any imposters would have a real nasty shock if they tried going after that one.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed. Turning to Sian, who was studying the detail of the Dxun images, he said, “Can you get this one too—I want to make sure we get the words exactly right, so we can send it too our friend.”
“Sure,” Sian said, stepping over to the images as Dean and Sam stepped out of the way.
“Those coordinates don’t look too specific, I mean, it looks more like just the general planetary coordinates, not a specific spot,” Dean said worried. “Do you think you’ll have a vision or something to show Bobby where to go?”
Sam blanched at the suggestion of having a vision, and Dean felt like a bastard for having forgotten just how painful those experiences seemed to be on Sam.
Composing himself, Sam spoke. “I don’t know. Bobby found a legend there that spoke of the Runes or we wouldn’t have even known to ask Miss’Ouri about them,” Sam said. He shrugged. “Maybe he won’t need more information. If we give him that, maybe he can talk to his connections or people on the planet and figure it out from there.”
“We’ll have to give it a try, I guess,” Dean agreed.
Dean, Sam, and Sian stepped on towards the next grouping of images. This one depicted two tall pitchers facing a tall rock face. A figure stood between the two pillars facing the rocks and a curved pathway seemed to lead from the figure to a shadowy crevice in the rocks. Next to the first image was a display of what seemed to be a large cavern with a glowing pool at its center and something shimmering over head—the blue light behind it actually modulating and fluctuating to create the effect.
Looking to Sam for permission, and receiving an affirmative nod, Dean reached out his hand and touched the display.
All three of them let out a collective gasp at the sheer breadth of text that appeared.
“Those look a lot more specific than just planetary coordinates,” Sam murmured.
Sure enough, following the planetary designation, were what looked like latitude and longitude for a very specific point on the planet.
After the blank for the name and date, the panel read: Fleeing the dark wraith the runner finds solace from the burning sun. Between pitchers of stone, facing the cliff, a shadow cast, the path revealed to the hidden cave. The Chosen One and his agents must enter walking into the black when it seems they can walk no more, they follow to left then right until a pool of shimmering stars with a core of light.
“Huh,” Sam muttered.
“What?” Dean asked. “That sounds pretty specific, can’t be too hard to find with all that detail.
“It’s just that it sounds familiar, that’s all,” Sam murmured. “Like I’ve heard a story about something like that somewhere.” They walked on to the next and final set of images. “Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’ll come to me…”
“What?” Dean asked.
“Ven!” Sam exclaimed.
“Ven?” Dean asked turning a raised eyebrow to Sam.
“Yeah Ven,” Sam darted back to the image, double checking the planetary coordinates. “I’m not sure, but that could be Ryloth, right?”
Dean paid them a closer look. The numbers looked fairly close to those for Tatooine, which would be right. “Yeah, I think.”
“Ok, well, Ven is an anthropology major, kind of like Jess,” Sam’s voice hitched every time he said her name, “but he’s studying cultural anthropology, like folklore of sentient species and stuff like that.”
“Ok,” Dean nodded, not quite seeing where Sam was going, but assuming it might have something to do with why the story had sounded familiar to Sam.
“Well, he loves to talk about his major, and he was constantly telling Twi’lek myths and children’s stories, and there’s this story about a lost rycrit who gets chased by a dark spirit and almost runs into the burning brightlands, where he would certainly die. But before he gets there, he finds two pillars of rock shaped like pitchers and they show him a way into a hidden cave where he finds a pool of shimmering stars, and the core of light at the pool’s center keeps him safe and destroys the dark spirit.”
“So, maybe not a made up story for kids then,” Dean assessed. “Can you find a copy of the story? It might supplement these instructions, make it a little easier to figure out.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, hesitantly. He looked like he was going to say something else, but hesitated.
“What is it?” Dean asked, face falling, worried by his brother’s sudden silence.
“I… I kind of want to call Ven, he’s got family on Ryloth. They might be able to help us out, but…” Sam sighed.
“But what?” Dean asked gently.
“I don’t want to get them in trouble; I don’t want to ask Ven to put his family in a position where some Jedi or RI agent’s going to show up and haul them off for questioning or arrest them for helping us,” Sam concluded.
Dean sighed. “You’ve got a valid point Sam, but, if you think he’d help, that his family might be able to make it easier for us, I say ask him. We can send him a message with instructions on how to contact us on a secure, encrypted channel. That way it’s up to him. Ball in his court. If he doesn’t want to risk contacting us, he just doesn’t have to respond. If he does, then great, we maybe we’ll get some help navigating Ryloth, ‘cause otherwise, it will be tricky.”
The Twi’lek homeworld wasn’t exactly an environmentally hospitable place, given that most of its civilization was underground, and they were searching for something that clearly had to be entered from the surface—from a dangerous part of the surface from the sound of things, as much as Dean hesitated to have to rely on someone outside the family or burden an innocent civilian in any way, he knew they were going to need all the help they could get. Besides, Ven had been touched by the Dark Side now; he knew what was really out there, and he’d helped Sam and Dean, and done an admirable job by all accounts. After all, no arrest warrants had been issued for them until after their little library-burglary stunt. Ven was ‘good people,’ and Dean felt instinctively like he could trust him and his family.
“I’ll send him a message when we get back to the Dream, Sam agreed.”
“Um, Sam?” Sian said hesitantly, probably hoping to avoid interrupting their conversation.
“Yeah?” Sam asked.
“I’ve got these three and the rune that was destroyed. Are you ready to look at the fourth?” she asked.
Dean sensed Sam’s hesitation, surprised that his brother really did have to think over his response. “It’ll be ok, Sammy,” he reassured. He knew Sam was afraid they’d find something impossible—an image of Coruscant or Tatooine, someplace that was closed to them, instructions impossible to decipher. If there were coordinates for Coruscant or Tatooine then they’d figure out a way to get there. This was too important, too vital to abandon just because the authorities wanted them captured or dead. And if it was indecipherable, then damn it, they’d call in every favor, spend every credit, and break into every library in the republic if they had to. If this was their only weapon, their best shot and only chance to face Azazel and come out alive, then they were going to make it work—because there were no other options.
Hesitantly, Sam walked towards the final image on the panel, Dean and Sian following close behind.
Sam let out a frustrated grunt, and Dean could see why. Unlike the detailed, multiple images of Dxun, Ryloth, and Thyferra, the final display consisted of only one image, and it was even simpler than the one depicting the Rune on Myrkr. A near–life-size depiction of a rune that looked very similar to the one Sam had clutched in his hands, only rendered entirely in monochrome, backlit in blue, and surrounded by what appeared to be a large rectangular frame, ripples radiating out from the rune to what looked like raised edges on the border of the frame. It didn’t seem to be much to go on, but yet, Dean felt a sense of déjà vu when he looked at it.
Getting an impatient nod of permission from Sam, Dean stepped forward and touched the console.
Very sparse words populated the display sprang to life beneath Dean’s fingers: a simple set of planetary coordinates, followed by the blank line for name and date, and a simple caption. The caption read: Displayed in the land of unspoiled beauty only the Chosen One and his agents will know it’s true worth.
Sam gave a pained cry when he finished reading it, and Dean could see his lips moving over reciting the line over and over and over again. “How… what? Dean, see this is what I was afraid of. It’s impossible. There’s. There’s no way…”
But Dean was only paying partial attention, instead he was scrutinizing the image closely, arms crossed, right hand lifted to stroke at his chin. Yes, this definitely reminded him of something. He tried stepping back, then to the side, trying to view it from different angles trying to see if he could recreate the partial image in his head that kept triggering an elusive memory. It was almost like an itch, an itch that he knew he should be able to scratch, but just couldn’t seem to hit the right … spot. Oh, he realized. He checked the ripples fanning out around the Rune, tried to imagine them actually appearing to move, slipping from color to color in green-gold-blue and back again ending in a seamless frame of bronze-red wood. Crap, it couldn’t be, could it? He looked at the coordinates. Looked again, double checking. Yeah, those were definitely the planetary coordinates for Alderaan.
“I don’t believe it,” Dean said aloud with a little chuckle. “That’s not gonna be hard to find, but, Sithspit, how are we gonna get it?”
“Dean?” Sam queried. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I know where it is, Sam,” he answered.
“How? There’s not exactly anything to go on there,” Sam complained. “I mean, how are we supposed to search a whole planet for a Rune in a squiggly frame?”
“You don’t recognize it?” Dean asked, surprised. After all, Sam was usually the academic, not him. He was surprised Sam hadn’t figured it out before he did.
“Recognize it?” Sam responded blankly.
“Have you ever been to the Royal Museum on Alderaan? Or read any books on art history?” Dean asked.
“Uh, no,” Sam said annoyed. “I studied law and politics on Coruscant, Dean; I didn’t really have time for off-world museum fieldtrips. And what, you gonna tell me you have been there?”
“Yes, actually,” Dean admitted. “Dad and I worked a job there three years ago. Haunted painting,” he added.
“Ok,” Sam said, “well, are you going to fill us in?” He turned to Sian who was wearing an equally confused look. “Or are you just going to gloat?”
“That,” Dean said, pointing at the image, “is Guardian of Souls by Anna Angelia,” Dean explained.
Sian gasped, “By the Force it is, you’re right!” She said, awed.
“Wait, what?” Sam asked. “You mean that sculpture made of stone and wood that moves and changes color and no one knows how it works?” He looked perplexed. “I mean it’s a…” he broke off. “It’s a five-thousand year-old sculpture by a Jedi Master…” His jaw dropped. “And it’s on display on Alderaan…”
“Which is famous for it’s unspoiled beauty,” Dean concluded. “And only we know what it really is.” He let out a huge chuckle.
“And you’ve actually seen it on display?” Sam queried.
“Yes,” Dean reconfirmed. Rolling his eyes; of course Sam would have a hard time believing that, but he’d actually spent a fair amount of time in that museum. “The haunted painting was on display across the hall from it. I must have spent eight hours within two feet of that thing and never had a clue.” Dean smiled. “Wow. That’s brilliant, it’s hidden in plain sight.”
“Wait, did you just say ‘hidden in plain sight?’” Sam asked.
“Yes?” Dean said, not following.
“You remember that poem that was scrawled across Jess’s research notes?” Sam asked.
One hidden by the force. One hidden from the force. One hidden inside the force. And one in plain sight. The words of the poem sprang into Dean’s memory. “Oh, oooh,” he realized. “Guardian of Souls is obviously the one in plain sight, and I’m willing to bet Myrkr is hidden from the force. After all, they’ve got Force-repelling lizards there, the display says it’s in the Forceless Tree.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed with an emphatic nod. “I think Dxun is hidden by the Force.”
“Ahh,” said Sian. “The sigils on the concealed door, the Force-field around the Rune,” she agreed.
“Yeah, that and Jedi and Sith being right here and never finding it. The Force was hiding it from everyone but… me, I guess,” Sam finished.
“So, Ryloth, that’s going to be hidden in the Force?” Dean postulated. “What does that even mean?”
“Beat’s me,” Sam said, shaking his head. “But I’d be willing to bet it has something to do with the ‘pool of shimmering stars’ and the ‘core of light.’”
“Yeah,” Dean agreed, but something was bugging him. He had just gotten a nagging sensation that something was wrong. Looking around him at the Rune Ward, nothing had changed. There were no obvious dangers, nothing to trigger that feeling, but it was the kind of gut instinct he’d had enough times over the years while hunting that he had learned to trust it without question. “Uh, guys, there’s nothing else we need to do here right?” he said stepping back and starting to back towards the exit. He had already reached the empty pedestal where the rune had sat before Sam and Sian looked back at him.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, suddenly attuned to his brother’s mood.
“I’m not sure,” Dean said, honestly, “but I’ve just got a feeling that something’s really wrong here, or about to go wrong. He swallowed and closed his eyes, to steady himself, his original discomfort for the ‘Demon Moon’ and its myriad carnivorous predators and dark energy spots returning at full strength. “If we’ve got what we need, I’d really like to get back to Chevy and the Dream,” he added.
“Sure,” said Sam. “Let me just…” He stopped and closed his eyes, probably extending his senses like Miss’Ouri had taught him. “Blast,” Sam sighed.
“What?” Dean asked.
At that moment, Tevv came running down the stairs from where he’d been keeping watch at the entrance. “There’s a zakkeg outside. It just meandered into the ruins and spotted me.”
“A zakkeg?” Dean asked, shuddering, “as in a giant, armored predator that eats other predators for breakfast?”
“That would be the one,” Tevv said solemnly.
“And the speeders are still at the entrance to the ruins?” Sam asked, as he and Sam walked up to Dean and Tevv were now standing.
“Yes,” Tevv affirmed.
Sam pulled out his blaster and checked the power cell.
“A blaster’s not going to do crap against one of those things. I’ve heard it can be hard to inflict damage on them with a lightsaber. You shoot it, you’re only gonna piss it off,” Dean admitted, thinking wistfully of his mother’s lightsaber safely tucked away in its case in his and Sam’s cabin on the Dream. Not that he, or even Sam, who was, as-of-yet untrained in lightsaber combat, would be likely to be able to control it or do much with it, but it might have at least given them a chance. But like Chevy and the Dream herself, it was now out of range for a rescue, boxed in at the spaceport on Onderon.
“I’m not going to shoot the zakkeg,” Sam explained. “I’m going to try a diversion.”
“A diversion?” Dean asked. “With your blaster? What are you gonna do, blow up a bunch of trees and hope that’s more interesting than a group of nice, juicy sentient mammals?”