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Art and Archaeology Chapter 9

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Jan 30th, 2018
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  1. THIS IS CHAPTER 9 of an ongoing story. The rest can be found at http://archiveofourown.org/works/13198722/chapters/30191943
  2.  
  3. Over the next week, Sabine studied the runes on the Cylian Cipher -- or rather, Aphra's impression of it -- but she remained no closer to figuring out their secrets. The Rebel fleet's best codebreakers were busy trying to solve a variety of new encrypted Imperial communications that had been designated priority one by Mon Mothma, so they couldn't spare anyone to help. Aphra, who had moved into Sabine's room, had been providing the fleet with any information she had regarding criminal elements in the Outer Rim who might be able to help with their mission to rescue Han.
  4.  
  5. Finally, with no other recourse, Sabine came to Aphra with a plan.
  6.  
  7. "We need to go to Mandalore."
  8.  
  9. Aphra was pouring over an intelligence report; she'd passed her probationary period and earned enough trust to be allowed access to some basic intel. "What are we looking for? Did you figure out the cipher?"
  10.  
  11. "No, but if there's anyone in the galaxy who could figure it out, it'd be Kendo Kryze."
  12.  
  13. Kendo Kryze was a cousin of Satine and Bo-Katan Kryze. A scholar and historian, Kendo was educated on the long conflicts between the warring Mandalorian clans. Sabine explained that Kendo lived with some other distant members of Clan Kryze in a bunker a few kilometers outside the capital city of Sundari.
  14.  
  15. "It's worth a shot," Aphra said. "Hopefully the Empire hasn't gotten to her first."
  16.  
  17. The Ark Angel touched down at Sundari's spaceport. Mandalore had been liberated from the Empire, but its new government remained distrusting of offworlders, for obvious reasons. Aphra had only been allowed to land because Sabine was with her.
  18.  
  19. As they descended, they were met by Bo-Katan Kryze, flanked by three armored guards.
  20.  
  21. "Sabine Wren. It's good to see you again. What brings you to Mandalore?"
  22.  
  23. Sabine produced the impression of the Cylian Cipher. "We're going to need to speak with your cousin, Kendo. It's a long story, but this cipher leads to something the Empire wants. So we're getting it before they do."
  24.  
  25. Bo-Katan examined the paper. "These are definitely ancient Mandalorian runes. I'll get you and your companion a speeder and call ahead to tell Kendo you're coming."
  26.  
  27. Sabine thanked Bo-Katan, and then she and Aphra boarded the speeder, heading west from Sundari. They had been riding only a few minutes when the looming shape of the Clan Kryze bunker appeared on the horizon. The pair exited the speeder and approached the heavy blast door protecting the bunker.
  28.  
  29. "Halt! Who approaches?" A voice boomed from inside the bunker.
  30.  
  31. "My name is Sabine of Clan Wren. I have urgent business with Kendo of Clan Kryze."
  32.  
  33. "We were told to expect your arrival, Sabine Wren. You may enter."
  34.  
  35. The huge door swung open on a mechanical hinge. Sabine and Aphra entered to find themselves in a dark chamber. A series of tunnels led underground to the various living areas. After being greeted by two heavily armed guards, Sabine and Aphra were led into the bowels of the bunker, to a library room filled with books and tables. An older woman with greying hair was seated at one of them, examining a rock with a magnifying glass.
  36.  
  37. "Kendo?" Sabine stepped forward. "I'm sorry to interrupt. My name is --"
  38.  
  39. "Sabine Wren. Yes, Bo-Katan told me. You have some kind of cipher you want me to see?" Kendo didn't look away from the rock she was fiddling with. "Let's get on with it. I don't have all day."
  40.  
  41. Sabine approached Kendo and placed the paper impression of the cipher on the table. Kendo glanced at it, then returned to her business. Then, suddenly, she looked back at the paper with renewed interest.
  42.  
  43. "Wait... is this..."
  44.  
  45. "The Cylian Cipher! Yes, yes, we found it." Aphra beamed. "Very impressive, aren't we?"
  46.  
  47. "You found it?" Kendo looked up at them. "I'm fairly certain this is a piece of paper, not a cipher."
  48.  
  49. Aphra scratched her head. "Well, uh, it's an impression of the cipher, which we did have before the Empire stole it."
  50.  
  51. Kendo's eyes widened. "The Empire is looking for the Kybalah?"
  52.  
  53. "Yeah, but it's probably just Palpatine wanting a new wall decoration." Aphra shrugged.
  54.  
  55. "No, child, you don't understand," Kendo snapped. "The Kybalah is not some simple artifact. It's a weapon. We cannot allow the Empire to get their hands on it."
  56.  
  57. "You did mention something about a legendary power," Sabine reminded Aphra. "If this thing is some kind of weapon, we've got to find it first. Can you read the runes?"
  58.  
  59. Kendo nodded. "The script is a series of coordinates, or rather, what Mandalorians used as coordinates before adopting the galactic standard numeral system." She grabbed a datapad and began to type. "Let me see if I can figure out where they lead."
  60.  
  61. Sabine approached and watched over Kendo's shoulder. "We started this hunt on Malachor. Do you know why the Mandalorians hid part of the cipher there?"
  62.  
  63. "Thousands of years ago, as you know, the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders fought the Jedi. The Kybalah was a weapon the Jedi used against them. It was stored on Malachor for many years, lost to time. A few hundred years ago, some Mandalorian clans sought to find it. History doesn't tell us what happened, but..."
  64.  
  65. "They found it," Aphra piped up. "There was newer Mandalorian script on the puzzles at Malachor. At some point in the last few centuries, a Mandalorian clan must have found the Kybalah and split the Cylian Cipher in half so that only their heirs could locate it."
  66.  
  67. "So where do the coordinates lead?" Sabine asked.
  68.  
  69. Kendo looked up from the drawing. "Where else? Here on Mandalore, of course."
  70.  
  71. Sabine and Aphra rode their speeder out to the coordinates, in a random part of Mandalore's desolate surface. "Well, we're here," Sabine said, checking the coordinates on the speeder's navicomputer. "But there's nothing around."
  72.  
  73. Aphra hopped off the speeder and began closely examining the dirt. "It's obviously underground. We just have to figure out how to get down there."
  74.  
  75. Sabine noticed a lone, leafless tree around twenty meters away. "That's odd," she muttered. Mandalore had little vegetation or signs of life following the cataclysmic wars that had ravaged its surface years earlier. Approaching the small tree, Sabine noticed the faint impression of a handprint on the bark. She pressed her hand into the impression and felt a slight warmth, as if it was being scanned by a laser.
  76.  
  77. Behind her, the ground began to shake. Aphra leapt back as a massive staircase, similar to the one on Malachor, opened into the ground. "What'd you do?"
  78.  
  79. Sabine gestured to the tree. "It's like on Malachor. The doors respond to my bio-signatures. Mandalorian tech."
  80.  
  81. "You really do come in handy," Aphra grinned. "Maybe Seela was right and you are my pet Mandalorian after all."
  82.  
  83. Sabine gave her a wink. "Let's get down there and find this thing once and for all."
  84.  
  85. As they moved down the staircase, the hole they had entered through suddenly closed, plunging them into darkness. A moment later, illumination filled the space, glowing blue and green lights guiding them down the stairs. They reached another door, which opened to Sabine's touch. Then they stepped through...
  86.  
  87. ...and found themselves in a massive cavern, the ceiling hundreds of feet above them, the same glowing green and blue lights emanating from the walls and bathing the entire area in an ethereal glow.
  88.  
  89. "This is incredible," Sabine said, craning her neck to look at the ceiling. "This has been down here for centuries and nobody knew?"
  90.  
  91. Aphra laughed. "I've gotten you addicted to the thrill of archaeology, haven't I?"
  92.  
  93. Sabine was going to respond before she noticed something. The huge cavern was entirely empty, save for a plinth at the center of the room on a suspended bridge. As they approached, they could see that the plinth had an object resembling an astrolabe set into the surface: multiple circular rings engraved with numerals.
  94.  
  95. "Great. Another puzzle?" Sabine put her hands on her hips.
  96.  
  97. "That's how this works, sweetheart. Always another puzzle." Aphra examined the rings, moving them with her fingers. "These rings can be arranged to locate stars in the night sky, but I have no idea what we're supposed to be looking for."
  98.  
  99. Sabine noted a single symbol set into the center of the astrolabe. It was a rune that had been used since antiquity, even in modern Mandalore. Sabine recognized it instantly. "Heart."
  100.  
  101. "Hm?"
  102.  
  103. "That symbol, there. It means heart. Not like your literal heart, but the 'heart' of a warrior, your courage. All Mandalorian tribes, back when they were still one united front, had a saying: that if you were ever lost, look inside your heart and follow the Trident Star, and it will guide you home to Mandalore."
  104.  
  105. Aphra rubbed her chin. "Okay, but what's that have to do with this?"
  106.  
  107. "The Trident Star isn't a star, it's three stars shaped like a trident if you look at them from certain solar systems like Mandalore. If we arrange the dials..." Sabine moved the rings of the astrolabe. "...that's how the Trident Star appears in the sky from Mandalore."
  108.  
  109. "Okay, but nothing's happening."
  110.  
  111. Sabine paused to think. "Right... we're already on Mandalore. We're not looking for Mandalore, we're looking for something away from Mandalore. So we need to flip the perspective." Sabine switched the dials.
  112.  
  113. Almost immediately, the cavern began to shake. The astrolabe plinth descended into the ground, and the blue and green lights flashed, projecting something on the walls.
  114.  
  115. "It's a starchart!" Aphra exclaimed. She pointed to a glowing star on one of the walls. "That must be it. What star is that?"
  116.  
  117. Sabine entered the coordinates for the star into her datapad and handed it to Aphra. "This is it," she breathed. "The Mandalorians hid the Kybalah here. I know it. Now we just have to get to it."
  118.  
  119. Sabine opened her mouth, but whatever she was about to say was silenced by a loud BOOM. The cavern shook as dust and rocks fell from the ceiling.
  120.  
  121. Aphra turned to Sabine. "What the hell was--"
  122.  
  123. BOOM! The cavern shook again, and sunlight poured in as chunks of the ceiling collapsed. Dark figures rappelled down the holes, and as they came into the light from the walls, Sabine and Aphra could make out the distinctive appearance of stormtrooper armor. A third explosion brought half the ceiling down, and Aphra shoved Sabine aside as a piece of rubble crashed to the ground a few feet away.
  124.  
  125. "We need to get out of here, now!" Aphra shouted, pulling Sabine to her feet. They were still standing on the bridge, suspended over a dark pit in the cave.
  126.  
  127. "How did they find us?!" Sabine yelled.
  128.  
  129. That question was answered almost immediately as a small Imperial troop transport hovered into the cave through the hole. Seela hopped off the transport and casually approached.
  130.  
  131. "I'm not sure how you ladies got in here, but we just asked a couple Mandalorian prisoners very politely if they knew how to decode those runes on the cipher."
  132.  
  133. "Well great job, you stupid nerf herder," Aphra pointed to the walls. "You brought half the cave down, so now you can't see the starchart. Maybe try a gentler touch?"
  134.  
  135. Seela gave a wicked grin. "You were never one for gentle touches yourself, Chelli. I guess your pet has softened you?"
  136.  
  137. "Would you just put an end to this already?" Aphra growled. "I'm tired of you following us everywhere like a lost tooka." As Aphra spoke, Sabine noted that she was eyeing the walls and floor, looking for an escape route or something to use as a diversion. She hoped Seela hadn't noticed too.
  138.  
  139. "No, you're right. I've grown bored of this. Following you is fun, but we don't need you anymore. I assume that datapad you're holding has the starchart we need." She raised her blaster and pointed it at Aphra. "This really is going to hurt me inside, Chelli."
  140.  
  141. "Wait!" Aphra raised her hands, throwing the datapad on the ground. "You can take the datapad, but you still need us. Face it, you're going to find another puzzle or death trap or something and then you're going to think 'Boy, I sure wish I kept Aphra around instead of smearing her brains on the walls of that cave.'" Sabine noted a distinct bit of panic seeping into Aphra's voice. "And besides... didn't Vader want me alive? To kill me himself?"
  142.  
  143. Seela paused for several seconds, thinking it over. "You're right. You haven't quite outlived your usefulness yet."
  144.  
  145. Sabine let out a little sigh of relief.
  146.  
  147. "The thing is, I don't really need her."
  148.  
  149. Then Seela turned the blaster and fired, and Sabine tumbled backwards over the edge of the bridge into the darkness.
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