They slipped away from the celebration: Luke, Biggs, and Environmental Technician Inshara Rain, a grim-faced Twi'lek with evenly spaced burn scars on both lekku. Luke handed them each a heavy duffel and led them to a clearing just far enough from the village to reduce the noise to a joyous background hum. They dropped their duffels thankfully and sat on them, angularly lumpy though they were, while Luke scraped at the forest duff with his boots, outlining a rectangle about the size of a child's pyre. "The chief said we need to get a certain kind of moss off the trees to put around the edge so the fire won't spread," he said. "We can't use rocks; they'll all be wet and they might burst. Let me see...Hang on." He peered up into the massive gloom of the trees around them.
Then he scampered straight up one of the towering branchless trunks like a sketto getting ready for takeoff.
"Stang, Luke!" Biggs yelped. "How are you doing that?"
"Force," Luke said matter-of-factly. He was already lost in the overarching shadows. There was a faint ripping sound. "Look out below!" An armload of virulently green moss landed with a wet thud. "Think we're gonna need another one," he called down. By the rustling and creaking, he had run along one of the long swaying branches overhead and leaped a ridiculous distance into another tree. Shortly afterward another armload of moss thudded down.
Rain was craning her neck next to him. "He really is a Jedi, isn't he?"
"Apparently," Biggs said bemusedly. "I mean, I've seen him fly and shoot, and it's unreal, but he never pulled stuff like this before."
Luke shinnied down a tree on the other side of the clearing, letting go-Biggs and Rain both cried out-when he was still ten meters off the ground. He seemed to drift downward. He didn't quite stick the landing, though, toppling onto his ass. "Whoops," he said, and grinned. Biggs had to laugh. Luke in his twenties was in some ways still Luke in his teens.
The duffels proved to be full of the things they needed to build the pyre, all dry. Apparently the kid had picked up the basics of starting a wood fire in a wet climate while he was off learning how to defy gravity. The pyre blazed up in crackling resinous flames, transforming the open circle among the trees into a room walled by leaping shadows. The black outfit that Biggs had teased Luke about made him half-disappear into the night as he prowled the perimeter, sometimes looking into the darkness, sometimes closing his eyes and standing still. It was like watching him track womp rats back home, just spookier.
He turned back toward the pyre. The hilt of his lightsaber glinted at his hip; the firelight cast the frostbite scars and grooves of pain on his still-boyish face into relief. Suddenly Biggs was looking at a stranger.
Luke met his gaze wryly. A stranger who could sometimes read minds. Right.
"Only because you're thinking at me so loudly," he said. "Nah, don't worry about it. I had pretty much the same reaction when I first saw that thing you call a mustache."
Rain shifted her weight and flexed the tips of her lekku with pointed politeness. A generation older than the two humans, she had little in common with them-except here. Except now.
The kid took a long, slow breath. There were words to be said now. He closed his eyes and chanted them instead.
The Amatakka rolled out through the night air loudly enough that Biggs and Rain both looked around nervously at first. "I call the seven winds," Lukka said--and here and now it was Lukka, not Luke, regardless of the Jedi getup. Biggs'--Bikkhu's--own flightsuit and Rain's--Anah's--brown tunic didn't matter either.
"We are here," said Bikkhu and Anah. He heard others in his memory: his mother's soft high treble, his father's hoarse bass.
"I call the three moons."
"We are here."
"I call the two suns."
"We are here." Anah was weeping very gently. She never liked anyone to notice, so he looked up to the patch of sky visible between the crowns of the trees, where the occasional fragment of the second Death Star still blazed across the stars.
Depur Depuran was dead.
A wild laugh rose from deep in his chest. He shouted at the sky. "Bentu Depuraak!"
Anah looked up too, smiling even as tears sparkled on her cheeks. "I never even heard of a Marokkepu outdoors. This is...who would ever believe it?"
"We won't be alone for long," Lukka cautioned. "The party will come looking for us." He dug around in one of the duffels again for a squashy sausage-shaped tube that he set down a careful distance from the flames.
"Lukka? Why did you pack Nuboom?"
"Because of this." He pulled out a heavy bundle of black armorweave and shook it into shape: a long, broad cloak lined with black satin, attached to a sleeveless open-fronted robe. "This was Vader's." He met their gazes almost defiantly. "His depur gave it to him."
"I heard," Anah said slowly, "that Vader was really a thief of secrets." No question where she had heard it. Lukka and the Princess had been shouting it--in Basic: Double agent!--all over the docking bay a few hours ago as they demanded a medic for the wheezing ruined monster that lay in the shuttle behind them. Bikkhu had heard that Mon Mothma was not exactly happy with them for that.
"He is. But Vader is a slave name. His right name is Anakin Ekkreth."
It took a moment for the stick to drop to the drum. Then Bikkhu blurted, "Anakin Ek--Anakin Skywalker?"
Lukka nodded. "My bodyfather. My father."
"Great Mother," Anah breathed. She began to giggle. "Ekkreth brought down Depur Depuran!"
"There's more to the story," Lukka said grimly. "He was a Jedi." His voice dropped into a storytelling cadence. "They called him The Hero With No Fear. But the Sith were there beside the Jedi, lurking in ambush. And the Sith are depuran, every last one of them. And the Lord of the Sith, Depur Depuran, was Sheev Palpatine. He stirred up the war that broke the Republic. He wrapped himself in lies: the smiling grandfather, the kindly guardian. He waited until the time was right to strike. And he tricked Anakin Ekkreth into putting his own neck into the collar."
He shook the cape in his hand. "In a cage of black steel he laid him, without escape, without allies. He took away the clear light from his eyes, the clean breath from his lungs. He put a wire into his heart and a window into his hidden thoughts. He took away his voice, his face, his name. He mocked him with pretenses of great honor, even as his hands tightened the chain. And he made Ekkreth keekta-du."
Although he was unsmiling, his voice now became rich with satisfaction: the hidden laughter of the slave. "But there are always places Depur does not see." He lowered himself, wincing, to sit crosslegged on one of the emptied duffels. "Ugh. Day's catching up with me. Anyway. One day, Depur sent his slave Vader to treat with the Depur of Tatooine. 'Offer him my goodwill,' he said." His imitation of Palpatine's voice was so eerily accurate that Bikkhu and Anah both shuddered. " 'Remember, Vader, who you are; remember that I made you, and you are mine. I send you now to Tatooine to remember where you came from.' For in Depur's mind, the desert was nothing at all."
They all paused to savor the pun.*
"And Vader went where he was sent, and bowed to the depuraan, and said the words he had been given to say. Then, his master not having called him to heel, he went walking, alone, through the streets of Depur's city. And there he found the Grandmother of the Quarter, teaching the children. And she was telling them the story of Ekkreth and the secret of tzai: how Ekkreth went to the places Depur did not see, and there did what Depur did not expect. And when the story was done, he remained, and she remained.
" 'I see you,' she said. 'Come and tell me your name.' " Where had the kid learned how to do voices like this?
"And the slave said, 'My name is Vader.' (In Vader's voice!)
" 'You have forgotten,' she said to him. 'I know you, son of the sands. Tell me your name.' "
"And he looked about him at the desert, at everything that Depur did not see. And he said, 'My name is Ekkreth.'
"And the Grandmother said, 'Remember who you are.' " There was something--Lukka's voice was somehow bigger, or older, or just more. Bikkhu rolled his shoulders. The day must be catching up with him too.
"And she went her way.
"And he went out into the desert, and he remembered--everything. And he looked for the window in his thoughts, and painted the mask and the chain across it, so that when Depur looked into Ekkreth's mind, he saw what he expected to see, and Ekkreth could work his trickery in the inner places that Depur did not see. And when Depur called Ekkreth to heel, Ekkreth bowed very low and said, 'My master, I need more time.'
"And he began to steal secrets for the Alliance, though at first they did not believe him. And when he sent his messages, he used this sign." And he drew the Three Moons in the dirt with his finger, surrounded by the Broken Fetter, and left them there to flaunt themselves at the sky.
"So that's why I need the stuff. It ought to burn armorweave. Actually I wanted to burn the armor, but the medics wouldn't let me. The wire in the heart? That's not just an image. The thing only looks like armor. It's a prison. They're still figuring out all the traps in it. Palpatine, Sidious, the Sith Lord, he didn't want to let his Jedi prize escape. Father--Father may not live, but if he does, I want him to know that I burned something for him."
Suddenly the Imperial naval cap that Bikkhu had liberated felt like an afterthought.
Anah stirred. "I hate to be a killjoy," she said slowly, "but that's a lot of armorweave."
"Well, yeah, but I've got a whole tube of Nuboom here."
"I mean, I could make two field tunics out of that. Probably more. Supplies could use every square meter of the stuff we can dig up."
Lukka looked as though he wanted to argue, but he caught himself and sighed. "I see what you're saying. Yeah, that's probably for the best."
He ripped the showy satin lining out instead. "Next year," he said, with slightly unnerving certainty, "next year I'm going to be back at this very spot, and I'll have the armor with me. And I'll make sure the unclean thing burns."
"Hey, we still have some Nuboom to get rid of," Biggs offered.
He brightened. "We sure do!"
Anah smiled at them both, settling her lekku, like an auntie indulging the antics of the young.
They spitted the tube on a pole that was longer than the pyre and swung it gingerly onto the flames, which immediately turned from resin-yellow-gold to magma-red, roaring up in fury. Without a blasting cap attached, Nuboom made a fantastic if short-lived accelerant. Whatever the satiny stuff was made of, though, did not so much burn as melt into foul slag. After Bikkhu had thrown the officer's cap on the fire, Anah took a folded flimsi from her tunic and spread it out for them. An old human man leered out at them. She drew him every year, and every year they burned him, the three children of Ar-Amu who the winds had blown into the Rebel fleet. This was their third Marokkepu together.
"The rain was long ago," Lukka said over the flames, "but the desert does not forget."
"The desert never forgets," they said back to him. Anah had teared up again.
"The Mighty One comes with storm and with fire."
"We will walk free." Just for an instant all of their voices sounded, or felt, like an echo of Lukka's from the story. But beneath the stars, anything seemed possible.
They did not have enough voices for the Song of the Seven Winds, of course, and there was no need for journey-songs, but Anah had a fine warm alto and could keep the beat while she sang. She led them in freedom songs across the dying flames. After the third one, Lukka looked alertly in the direction of the main victory celebration. By the time the cheerful staggering contingent had reached them, they were Darklighter, Skywalker, and Rain again, trading sips from a clay bottle of the Ewoks' best/worst rotgut across a smoking hearth.
The Princess, towing a dazed and happy General Solo firmly by the hand, traded a long look with Luke; he nodded. "Come on," she said happily, "the party's over this way!"
Luke kicked wet moss across the last of the embers, scuffing for an extra second over a bare patch of dirt with something scratched into it. Rain ran on ahead, answering the calls and waves of friends. Biggs trailed behind, thinking about what his little brother had become.
Behind them, unnoticed, two dead Jedi sat in contemplation.