In a large clearing just south of Imp Ire, white-armored troopers kept the excited citizens away as two massive starships settled down carefully – one a shabby disc-shaped freighter, the other a slightly less battered craft bristling with guns. As the imps watched, enthralled, the landing ramp of the freighter lowered, and three humans and a huge shaggy beast disembarked. From the other ship emerged an armored human who moved to join the others.
"I've done some stupid things in my life," Han Solo said with a shudder, "but that was the worst."
"Come on, Han, it worked out," Luke told him, slapping his shoulder. "And the Falcon was never in any danger."
"Still, flying into the Maw… on purpose, even…"
"How did you ever find out the Maw was the gateway, Fett?" Luke asked, turning toward the hunter. Most pilots avoided the Maw, a cluster of black holes, at all costs. What had made Fett decide to risk it?
"Old spacer tales," he replied. "Ships are constantly being sucked into black holes. But an old legend my father told me spoke of a passenger ship that fell in the Maw… and reappeared years later on the opposite side of the galaxy, its occupants insane and speaking of bizarre beasts and landscapes. It seems they were not mad after all."
Han stopped in his tracks, looking down at the imps with an expression of mingled amusement and surprise. "Hmm… remember what I told you about short help, kid?"
"No short jokes, please," Sergeant Ressive requested. He turned to Luke. "So this is the friend of yours that's marrying your sister today?"
"It is," Luke replied.
Ressive nodded. "Everything's been set up in the village square. I think you'll approve, Walker of the Sky. We have a few surprises." He motioned for their party to follow.
Luke smiled as they walked the short distance to Imp Ire. It had been three months since they had departed Xanth, three months since the defeat of the Crypt Keeper and Horsemen… and the thwarting of X(A/N)TH's plot. During that time, Luke had been incredibly eager to return, if only to see if his father had found the pathway back. But his responsibilities at the Academy got in the way, and for a time it seemed he would never return…
Until Fett had blasted his way past an entire squadron of X-wings to reach the Academy and deliver some exciting news – he had found the gateway.
So this excursion had been planned. Leia wanted what family she had left to be present at her wedding, and seeing as Padme couldn't come to their galaxy, they had decided to come to Xanth for the wedding. Han hadn't been exactly thrilled at the prospect – having never been to the screwball alternate world, he couldn't appreciate it quite yet – but in the end he had agreed to it for Leia's sake. "Anything for a Princess of Alderaan," he had told her.
Luke had been slightly concerned that Fett's desire to be wed in Xanth as well would cause some friction, but surprisingly, Leia and Han were quite receptive toward a double wedding. Both Luke and Leia had struck up an unusual friendship with the hunter during their adventures, and Han… well, the novelty of the "heartless" Fett getting hitched was enough to interest Han.
So all in all, everything had turned out pretty well for everyone involved… except maybe X(A/N)TH. Though Luke harbored no hatred toward the World Demon, really. What he had done to Anakin still rankled, but he had decided to let go of his hatred.
Besides, though slicing the demon-turned-dueling-droid apart on a regular basis was a tempting prospect, he decided to leave that for his Padawans. He had enough on his plate.
When they emerged in the village square, Luke started in surprise. He had expected all of Imp Ire to turn up… but there were far more than imps here. Centaurs, ogres, crossbreeds of every stamp, curse fiends, and a few familiar faces…
"Luke, you're back!"
Jenny came running, Sammy close on her heels. She threw her arms around Luke's waist, then turned and embraced Leia as well, then Fett.
"I'm so glad you came back! This is so exciting, Leia, you're getting married! And is this your husband-to-be? He's so handsome… and who's this?"
Chewie barked a greeting and extended a massive paw toward Jenny.
"This is Chewbacca, Jenny," Luke introduced. "He's a friend of ours."
"Hello, Chewbacca," Jenny greeted, curtseying. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Jenny Elf."
Chewie gave a whuffing laugh.
"He likes you," Leia translated.
"C'mon, the others want to meet you," Jenny urged, taking Luke by the hand and dragging him away. He laughed and followed.
Gathered near a beautifully flowered canopy was an eclectic group of characters – Sorceress Alto, still in her bizarre dress and with a massive dragon hovering at her side like a trained dog; a hooded creature with a death-pale hand clutching a large red hoop; the Imp-eror, smiling fondly at Luke like a grandfather; the Good Magician, his ever-present book open in his lap; Padme, smiling proudly; Phillipa, still in human form; and a familiar-looking woman with short gray-brown hair, glasses, a notebook under one arm, and a gold formal with feathers at the neck and sleeves.
"Can't resist getting in on the action, can you, Kenya?" Luke asked, extending a hand.
"Hey, I'm not going to miss the wedding of the century," she replied, shaking his hand. "Or weddings, I guess I should say. Pity, though – I'd be interested in dating Fett if he weren't already attached."
Luke laughed. "I was kind of hoping Metria would be here too… or Mentia…"
"Mentia wouldn't come," the Good Magician huffed. "She was always contrary. And Metria's too busy doting on her fool husband and trying to get the stork's attention."
Sounded like Metria to him. He turned to the others. "I know you, Alto… but who's this?"
"This is Hood," Leia introduced. "He helped me at the Ogre-fen. I'm glad you're here, Hood."
Hood raised a hand and waved.
"You have quite the crowd at your wedding, kid," Alto told Leia, pursing her royal-purple lips and looking around. "Not this many people showed up at Dor and Irene's wedding, and they're the king and queen of Xanth. People must like you."
Padme stepped forward to embrace her children. "Welcome back, Luke. Leia… Leia, you've grown so beautiful…"
"Mother…" Leia breathed.
Fett strode past Kenya, Alto, Hood, Padme, the Imp-eror, and the Good Magician without so much as a pause, then embraced Phillipa. "I told you I would be back."
"I knew you would be," Phillipa replied. "I just knew it."
Luke turned to scan the crowd again. "Where's Father?" He had hoped…
But it wasn't to be, apparently. "My men have seen no sign of him since the battle with the Crypt Keeper. I'm sorry, Walker of the Sky."
His heart sank. He missed his father. And he sincerely hoped nothing had happened to him in Mundania …
Branches snapped, and gasps and screams filled the village as a silver-blue wheeled vehicle careened through the trees and came to a screeching halt in the center of the square. Doors on both sides of the vehicle popped open, and three figures emerged, two of them gaping in wonder. One was dressed as a stormtrooper, the other in Vader armor. The third…
The startled crowd parted to let Anakin reach his son. The elder Skywalker swept Luke up in his arms.
"My son…" he murmured.
"Father," Luke murmured. "I was so worried about you."
"I'm so sorry, son…"
"For what?" Luke asked, releasing his father and stepping back to look him in the eye. "You had no control over what happened, Father. And it's not important anyhow. All that matters is that we saved Xanth… and that you're back."
Leia stepped away from Han and Hood and, to Anakin's great shock, embraced him as well. A smile cut through his stunned expression, and he laughed gently and returned the gesture.
"Father, I forgive you," Leia told him. "For everything. Jenny was right. If you could defy X(A/N)TH for Luke, even if it meant your death, you have truly changed."
Anakin blinked back tears. "That means… a great deal, my daughter."
Luke turned to the two men who had accompanied his father. They were still gaping at everyone and everything around them, apparently unaware of how stupid they looked.
"Hey Father, who're your friends?"
"Douglas and Christian, citizens of Mundania," Anakin replied. "They helped me reach Xanth." He turned to the two men with an amused smile. "So, would you still rather go to that convention, or would you care to take a vacation in Xanth?"
"What kind of question is that?" demanded Christian. "Of course we're staying!"
"Anything with both Star Wars and Xanth," Douglas added.
Anakin laughed. "What's with the crowd?" he asked.
"Your daughter's getting married, Anakin," Padme told him with a teasing smile. "And it's about time you showed up, we thought you'd never make it…"
"Do you think I'd miss this?" he countered, laughing. "Not for the galaxy."
Leia extended an arm. "Would you take me down the isle, then?"
Good Magician Humphrey slammed his book shut, wincing. Noisy bunch, these imps. With the rowdy music and all the dancing, he wasn't going to get any work done here.
The wedding reception was still going full-blast. Food and drink flowed freely, and music of every variety filled the square, from that cursed Mundanian noise to the more tolerable GFFA tunes to true Xanthian music. From where the Good Magician sat, he could pick out various couples among those dancing – Chang and Wara, Leia and Han, Anakin and Padme, Fett and Phillipa, Sorceress Alto and Luke, Chewbacca and a centaur woman, Douglas and a harpy-naga crossbreed, Christian and Jenny, an imp woman and that strange blue and silver droid Luke and his company had brought along for the ride…
He picked up his book and strode toward the table where Kenya sat, jotting something down in her notebook.
"And why aren't you out there dancing?" he demanded.
"Do I have to?" she retorted. "It's not exactly my strong point." She smiled a little but didn't look up from her writing. "Well, looks like a happy ending for this story. Not what I expected it to be, but it works. Let's hope those reading it will think so."
He set his book down and opened it. "I presume you're finishing up this historical volume for the Muses?"
"I'm almost done," she replied. "Why?"
"I think this is the last volume you will be required to do."
"Rats," she replied. "I'd hoped to do another one. They're tough to write, but…"
"There are other projects you need to devote your time to," he told her. "Besides, I think the Skywalkers' tale is finished for now."
Kenya smiled. "You know, when you first contacted me about writing these stories, I had my doubts. I mean, Star Wars and Xanth couldn't be any more different, right? But they seem to have done pretty well together. Better than I suspected, at any rate."
The Good Magician felt an urge to smile but managed to successfully quash it. "Sometimes, it's a blessing to be proven wrong."
If you haven't already noticed from reading my other works, I'm a big fan of what are often derogatorily called "fluff" endings in fanfics – where evil is destroyed, dark characters are redeemed, and all ends well and happily (usually with a wedding). Call them cheesy or overdone or whatever, but I much prefer things to end pleasantly, rather than the sometimes apocalyptic or overly tragic endings I've come across.
When I wrote "Centaur of Attention," I decided to take a departure from my usual "fluff" ending style, and ended that story on a slightly darker note than usual. Nothing heart-shattering or destructive, of course, but with just enough loose ends for the reader to tie together for a satisfactory ending. But when I went back and reread the story, the resolution left me feeling… unsatisfied, as if I'd cheated myself and my readers.
"Catacombs" was the natural answer, of course, and I feel it tied everything together pretty well. Yes, the ending is fluffy, but I feel it's truer to my personal style.
While "Centaur of Attention" is characteristic of the style of the earlier Xanth books, "Catacombs" is more reminiscent of the newer Xanth books. Reality is twisted and warped to an alarming degree, real-life people make appearances, the World Demons have much more influence, Mundania pops in regularly, and sly references to other works are incorporated. This explains the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" reference in Chapter 3 and the "Empire Strikes Back" filming scene in Chapter 12.
Hood is a character from James Dashner's "Jimmy Fincher Saga," and the riddle of the door comes from the second book of the series, "A Gift of Ice." This is a cheat, I know, as Piers has yet to go as far as using a character from another series in Xanth, but I did it as a tribute to a lesser-known but excellent author. (If you're interested in the Jimmy Fincher books, check them out – they're put out by Bonneville Publishing and are available online.)
Yes, Supernova is someone's real name, though I will respect their privacy in this story.
Chang Centaur, Chas Centaur, Wara Werecorn, Darius Dracotaur, the imps of Imp Ire, Phillipa, Sorceress Alto, Douglas, Christian, Carter Curse Fiend, the Four Horsemen, the Crypt Keeper, and Demon F(O/R)CE are my own characters; the rest can be found in at least one Xanth book (or a Star Wars movie).
Imp Ire, Lake Eerie, and the catacombs of Castle Zombie are my own creation.
The following puns are my own: slippery-elm tree, mail-man, milk-man, couch potato, fingernails, toenails, hangnails, bluff, cat nip, dogwood, cardinal, walking-sticks, silversword plant, tear-odactyl, rock star, country-western star, iron maiden, eye rack (to go with the George Bush pun from "Centaur of Attention"), ovenbird, rosewood, key of a map (actually, this one's borrowed from "National Treasure"), aqua-fur, glass tiger (yes, it comes from the band name), flu bug, plot device, horse of a different color (yes, borrowed from "Wizard of Oz"), merry-gold flowers, conductor, meteor-ologist, inversion, Dune Sea, silver maple, Tree of Knowledge, paper tiger, cat burglar, tiger snake, tiger moth, catatonia.
And as stated in my conversation with the Good Magician, I believe this is the last Xanth tale… for now, at least. It seems a proper place to end. But if the magician makes another call to announce new developments among the Walkers of the Sky, I'll be sure to let the readers know.