Read an Excerpt
Anakin's fall was cushioned by an island of the thick, smelly froth that floated across the lake of worms. He sank slowly into the froth, releasing more noxious gases, until a burst of ammonia jerked him to stunned consciousness. His eyes stung. The blow to his head had knocked his goggles and breather mask awry.
First things first. He spread his wings and unbuckled his harness, then rolled over to distribute his weight evenly along the wings. They acted like snowshoes on the froth, and his rate of sinking slowed. The wings were bent and useless now anyway, even if he could tug them from the foaming mass.
The Blood Carver had just murdered him. That death would take its own sweet time to arrive was no relief from its certainty. The broad island of pale yellow undulated with the rise and fall of worm bodies. A constant crackling noise came from all around: bubbles bursting in the froth. And he heard a more sinister sound, if that was possible: the slow, low hiss of the worms sliding over and under and around each other.
Anakin could barely see. I'm a goner. Reaching out to put himself in tune with the Force might be soothing, but he had not yet reached the point in his training of being able to levitate, at least not more than a few centimeters.
In truth, Anakin Skywalker felt so mortified by his lack of attention, so ashamed by his actions in being here, in the pit, in the first place, that his death seemed secondary to much larger failures.
He was not made to be a Jedi, whatever Qui-Gon Jinn had thought of him. Yoda and Mace Windu had been correct all along.
But acid awareness of his stupidity did not require that he take further insults in stride. He felt the noiseless flight of the Blood Carver a few meters overhead and almost casually ducked in time to miss a second blow.
A Jedi does not contemplate revenge. But Anakin's brain was in full gear now, his thinking clarified by the ache in his skull and the dull throb in his arm. The Blood Carver knew who he was, where he was from--too much of a coincidence to be called a slave, this far from the lawless fringe systems where slavery was common. Someone was either stalking Anakin personally or Jedi in general.
Anakin doubted he had attracted much attention during his short life, or was worthy of an assassin's interest by himself. Far more likely that the Temple was being watched and that some group or other was hoping to take down the Jedi one by one, picking the weakest and most exposed first.
That would be me.
The Blood Carver was a threat to the people who had freed Anakin from slavery, who had taken him in and given him a new life away from Tatooine. If he was never to be a Jedi, or even life to maturity, he could remove at least one threat against that brave and necessary order.
He pulled up his breather mask, took a lungful of filtered air, and examined his foundering platform. A wing brace could be broken free and swung about as a weapon. He stooped carefully, balancing his weight, and grasped the slender brace. Strong in flight, the brace yielded to his off-center pressure, and he bent it back and forth until it snapped. At the opposite end, where the wings socketed in the rotator, he made another bend, stamping quickly with his booted foot, then jerked the end free and snatched away the flimsy lubricating sheath. The rotator ball made a fair club.
But the entire set of wings weighed less than five kilograms. The club, about a hundred grams. He would have to swing with all his might to give the impact meaning.
The Blood Carver swooped low again, his legs drawn back, triple-jointed arms hanging like the pedipalps on a clawswift on Naboo.
He was focused completely on the Padawan.
Making the same mistake as Anakin had.
With a heart-leap of hope and joy, Anakin saw Obi-Wan winging over the Blood Carver. The boy's Master extended the beam on his lightsaber as he dropped with both feet on the assailant's wings and snapped them like straws.
Two swipes of the humming blade and the outer tips of the Blood Carver's wings fell away.
The Blood Carver gave a muffled cry and flipped on his back. The fuel in his wingtip tanks caught fire and spun him in a brilliant pinwheel, elevating him almost twenty meters before sputtering out.
He fell without a sound and slipped into the lake a dozen meters away, raising a small, gleaming plume of oily silicone. Ghosts of burning methane swirled briefly above him.
Obi-Wan recovered and raised his wings just in time to end up buried to his waist in the froth. The look on his face as he collapsed the lightsaber was pure Obi-Wan: patience and faint exasperation, as if Anakin had just failed a spelling test.
Anakin reached out to help his Master stay upright. "Keep your wings up, keep them high!" he shouted.
"Why?" Obi-Wan said, "I cannot vault the two of us out of this mess."
"I still have fuel!"
"And I have almost none. These are terrible devices, very difficult to control."
"We can combine our fuel!" Anakin said, his upper face and eyes bright in the murk.
The froth rippled alarmingly. At the edge of their insubstantial island of foam, a gleaming silver-gray tube as wide as four arm spans arched above the silicone slurry. Its skin was crusted with stuck-on bits of garbage, and its side was studded with a lateral line of small black eyes trimmed in brilliant blue.
The eyes poked out on small stalks and examined them curiously. The worm seemed to ponder whether they were worth eating.
Even now, Anakin observed the prize scales glittering along the worm's length. The best I've ever seen--as big as my hand!
Obi-Wan was sinking rapidly. He blinked at the haze of silicone mist and noxious gases wafting over them.
Anakin reached down with all the delicacy and balance he could muster and unhooked the fuel cylinders from his wings, taking care to disconnect the feed tubes to the outboard jets and pinch off their nozzles.
Obi-Wan concentrated on keeping himself from sinking any deeper into the sticky foam.
Another arch of worm segment, high and wide as a pedestrian walkway, thrust itself with a liquid squeal from the opposite side of the diminishing patch. More eyes looked them over. The arch quivered as if with anticipation.
"I'll never be this stupid again, " Anakin said breathlessly as he attached the tanks to Obi-Wan's wings.
"Tell it to the Council," Obi-Wan said. "I have no doubt that's where we'll both be, if we manage to accomplish six impossible things in the next two minutes."
The two worm segments vibrated in unison and hissed through the silicone like tugged ropes, proving themselves to be one long creature as they rose high overhead. More coils surrounded them: other, bigger worms. Obviously, the Jedi--Master and apprentice--looked tasty, and now a competition was under way. The segments whipped back and forth, striking the edges of the island. The froth flew up in hissing puffs, until there was hardly more remaining than an unwieldy plug.
Anakin gripped Obi-Wan's shoulder with one hand. "Obi-Wan, you are the greatest of all the Jedi," he told him earnestly.
Obi-Wan glared at his Padawan.
"Could you give us just a little boost--," Anakin pleaded.
"You know, up and out?"
Obi-Wan did, and Anakin lit off their jets at the very same instant.
The jolt did not distract him from reaching out with out-stretched fingers, grazing a curve of worm skin, and grabbing a scale. Somehow they lifted to the first shield and slipped into the updraft of a discharged canister. Spinning, knocked almost senseless, they were drawn up through a port.
Obi-Wan felt Anakin's small arms around his waist.
"If that's how it's done--," the boy said, and then something--was it is his Padawan's newfound skill at levitation?--lifted them through the next shield as if they lay in the palm of a giant hand.
Obi-Wan Kenobi had never felt so close to such a powerful connection with the Force, not in Qui-Gon, nor Mace Windu. Not even in Yoda.
"I think we're going to make it!" Anakin said.