Star Wars’ next chapter of The High Republic’s flashback phase II is about to be upon us, as the situation between the ancient Jedi Order and the Path of the Open Hand—a mysterious group that believes the Force is not for anyone to use, especially Jedi—gets worse. So it’s probably a sign of things to come that the next major book in the series is called Cataclysm, right?
Penned by Dr. Lydia Kang, Star Wars: The High Republic – Cataclysm follows up with the ongoing crisis in the Outer Rim, in phase II of the transmedia Star Wars prequel—itself set hundreds of years before the events of the first phase, which was set around 200 years before the Star Wars movies. In phase II, the Jedi Order and the fledgling Republic, slowly expanding its reach across the frontiers of space, have been thrust into the center of a roiling war between two neighboring planets in the Outer Rim, Eiram and E’ronoh. But while the Jedi race to diffuse tensions between the worlds, the Path of the Open Hand and its sinister leader, Elecia Zeveron, have sought to manipulate the conflict and turn galactic opinion against the Jedi—and now Jedi Master Creighton Sun and Jedi Knight Aida Forte are about to find that their investigation into the Path has taken a dark turn…
Check out io9’s exclusive excerpt from Cataclysm below, as Creighton and Aida find themselves cornered by the Path—of if you’d prefer, listen to it in audiobook form with narration by Star Wars audiobook stalwart Marc Thompson!
“I heard that the Path had been nurturing a very simple life here on Dalna. Living off the land . . . in better weather, I’m sure it’s very bucolic,” Aida Fore said.
“Yes.” Creighton Sun replied.
“Well . . . they sure aren’t taking care of their crops much. It appears to be late summer here. This Dalnan corn is starting to rot on the stalks. Seems like they’re distracted.”
“I agree. But distracted by what, I wonder.” Creighton pulled his hood a little closer to his face to shield it from the rainfall. The structures here were also not well kept. They cautiously opened a door or two, and found living quarters that seemed uninhabited for the moment, with tipped-over bottles and containers. A rain barrel stood outside, overflowing onto wet dirt. “Aida. Turn off your comlink. We don’t want any messages coming through and exposing us. We’ll contact Yaddle as soon as we’re done.”
“Hey! What are you doing here?”
Aida and Creighton spun around to see a Togruta Path member, a male, standing some distance away. He was carrying what appeared to be a pretty heavy bundle, but its contents were obscured in cloth.
Creighton’s hand had already gone to grasp his lightsaber hidden under his cloak.
“Do I know you? What’s your name and assignment?” the Path member asked, taking a slight step backward. Like Creighton, he had put his hand inside his cloak. He could be holding some sort of comlink.
Creighton could sense the paranoia emanating from the Togruta, his heart beating a mite too fast. He relaxed and pressed his own thoughts toward the man, enveloping him inside another consideration altogether. One that felt irresistibly true.
“We are your brethren in the Path. We are on your side. And you will help us,” Creighton said, calmly.
Aida stayed silent and Creighton leaned on the man’s consciousness until, rather easily, he accepted the new thoughts as his own. The man’s demeanor morphed into one of patience and almost chemically induced relaxation.
“Where is everyone?” Aida asked.
“In the caves,” the Path member said.
“Why?” Creighton said.
“I do not know.”
“Take us with you. We are working together, after all,” Creighton said, and the man nodded.
Creighton and Aida followed the Path member, who walked ahead unsteadily, as if slightly lost. They followed him toward several rolling hills, past an octagonal building and some other structures, including one that looked like a simple cottage.
As they crested over a rise, several Path members awaited entrance at a security door tucked between two small hills.
“Moora,” Aida heard a Path member say to a young child leaning on her arm, “nearly there. You can rest soon.”
“What about grandfather?” the child said.
“He’s coming later,” the Path member said nervously. “Maybe he’s already there.”
Another Path member just inside the door instructed them to head to a room down the corridor.
Aida grabbed Creighton’s arm. “It looks like elderly and children are inside somewhere. C’mon, Creighton. You just aged fifty years.”
“I am not that old, Aida. We could as well reverse this charade. Your mind is strong enough to fool them.”
“Yes, but as my master once taught me—it is easier to let water run downhill than it is to push rain back into the clouds.”
He groaned. “I see your point but it would be nice next time if you threw in a compliment about wisdom and the years, to soften the blow.” He bent over, leaned on Aida, and began to hobble. The Togruta Path member took his turn entering the code, and the sentry droid opened the door. They followed him in.
“My grandfather is feeling unwell,” Aida said to the Path member just inside, a short woman who peered at them as they came closer. Creighton could feel Aida manipulate her vision of Creighton’s form.
“Grandfather?” Creighton growled quietly. “Am I your grandfather now?”
“You see, the rain makes him feel ill.” She smiled and patted Creighton’s hunched back.
“The elderly are to stay aboveground. In the huts,” the woman said.
“In the huts,” Aida repeated, her face questioning.
“To keep them safe. They are our shield, as the Mother says.”
Shield? Against what? Creighton wondered with disgust.
“Please. Just for a short while,” Aida pleaded.
The woman sighed. “Very well. Head to the chambers on the right. Stay until you are summoned.”
“Summoned for what?” Aida asked, pressing the Force through the woman, loosening the kept secrets in her mind.
“You’ll know when I know.”
“Thank you,” Aida said. She and Creighton hobbled past her. Under the lip of the cave entrance, the temperature dropped ten degrees and a cool clamminess emanated from beyond. Their wet robes left trails of water on the ground, already slick from water trickling in from the cave entrance. Small lights illuminated the way, with colored markings on the wall. To the right were several passages that opened to larger rooms. They walked by, noting there were mostly children within them, playing quietly.
Beyond these caves, the passageway was abruptly blocked by a set of three burly guards. Unlike the other Path members they had seen on Dalna, these wore bandoliers of ammunition, with blasters holstered at their sides.
“For a peaceful group of people who believe in keeping the Force free for all, they sure are decked out with a lot of firepower,” Aida said. “How are we going to get past them? We can influence a few, but we can’t take on that many people at once.”
“Let’s wait. Next time someone comes by to pass them, we’ll add ourselves on as if they miscounted how many are in their party. It’s easier to mildly sway many by influencing their thoughts than changing the set mindsets of a few.”
Aida and Creighton ducked into one of the rooms and waited. A shadow grew near the entrance of the chamber. Creighton saw a group of three Path members, dragging another person in ropes behind them, a Teevan man with telltale silver-tinted skin. The man looked ill, his Path clothing torn and bruises on his face. Though Creighton and Aida were hidden in the shadows, the man’s head swiveled and Creighton was shocked to see the Teevan’s blue eyes immediately find his own.
The look in his eyes was plaintive: You see me. Please help me.
Creighton sensed the Force about him, disturbed, stronger than most, but weakening. Creighton pulled back into the shadows out of the eyesight of the captured man. Aida put her arm on Creighton.
“That prisoner. Is he a Jedi?”
“I don’t think so. He’s dressed like a Path member. But he’s Force-sensitive, there’s no doubt about it.”
“Please,” the Teevan man wheezed. “Please don’t do this. I don’t use the Force, I swear, it’s just a gift—”
“Silence!” A human guard turned and punched the prisoner in the face. The Teevan’s whole body went slack. “The Force is not something to be gifted. It is neither given nor taken. And you have used it. There are witnesses. You do not have the right to call yourself one of the Path any longer.” Blood fell from the mouth of the prisoner with dribbles of saliva. They dragged him forward.
Creighton nodded to Aida, and they pressed their intentions not to be noticed onto the three guards, as well as the ones heading deeper into the caves. Quietly, they slipped behind the group of four as they passed the guards, who blinked and shook their heads as if cobwebs had descended upon them.
The prisoner let his feet drag harder, slowing the guards down. Creighton could feel the Force emanating from him, an unfocused beacon calling out in distress. Glancing at Aida, he saw her concentrating hard but also likely sensing the prisoner reaching out to them. For help. And yet right now, they couldn’t help him.
Another guard kicked the prisoner for slowing the pace as he was dragged ever downward. They didn’t notice Creighton and Aida following close behind. It was painful for Creighton to see his bloodied ankles and feet dragging in the cave dirt before them. With a few swings of his lightsaber, Creighton and Aida could easily incapacitate the guards, save this man, and escape. But to what end? They were here to prevent the possible slaughter of countless more. Why would the Path choose to imprison this man instead of simply kicking him out of the compound? And what else existed in these caves? If all went well, they would save him, too. But not yet.
“Concentrate, Aida,” Creighton said. “I know what you feel. We must stick to the plan.”
There were several offshoots of tunnels that went left and right.
Some led to more storage areas; some were full of Path members sitting, eating, talking; others who were reviewing plans on holos the Jedi could not get close enough to see. The Path weren’t acting like people readying for a cold winter ahead. They were planning something. But what?
The guards and the prisoner reached a circular metal door flanked by more guards with blasters.
“The Mother in there?” asked one of the guards holding the prisoner.
A tall, muscular human guard at the door nodded. Creighton and Aida gave an imperceptible glance at each other.
“The Leveler, too?” asked one of the prisoner’s guards.
“Where there’s one, you’ll find the other,” said the other door guard, a Weequay woman. She lowered her voice. “I heard it could kill hundreds. Maybe more.”
“It’ll change everything,” the prisoner’s guard said. “Well, let’s get a move on. I’ve been told to feed it.”
“Be quick about it. We’ve been ordered to assemble. Everyone is gathering,” the Weequay woman said.
The prisoner sagged nearly to the floor, as if exhausted by the exchange. The Force was emanating from him in fitful bursts. His energy was waning. Aida frowned deeply. Creighton, too, was upset by the prisoner’s attempts to reach out for help in the only way he could.
The heavy blast door to the chamber was meant to keep out armies, not genteel farmers. Was the Mother going to kill this person? Why? Creighton wondered what they meant by the Leveler. Was it a tool? A weapon?
Feed it, one of them had said. As if speaking about an animal of some sort. One guard punched in a code to the door. It opened, and a puff of air escaped, washing over Creighton and Aida, fluttering their robes.
Creighton was closer to the door, and he felt a bizarre sensation wash over him immediately. He stumbled and reached out to steady himself against the wall. Aida wavered at his side, and he grabbed her arm. But there were seven guards now clustering around the door, plus the prisoner. And then he felt it again, even stronger.
A sense like he was trapped, like fingers were rising up out of nowhere and clawing his legs, pulling him downward. Down to what? There was no water to drown in, no mire below. And yet that was the overwhelming feeling. He didn’t know why. None of it made sense. He saw Aida squeezing her eyes shut, hands shaking. He had never seen her like this. He pulled her to him, and they slowly backed away from the group. The prisoner was being dragged inside the place past the blast door, and was now screaming at the top of his lungs, a devastating sound.
But there was another voice, too, an unrecognizable, chillingly soothing voice that reached to his core like a dagger.
You’re doomed, Creighton.
Reprinted from Star Wars: The High Republic: Cataclysm by Lydia Kang. © 2023 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Published by Random House Worlds, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Audio excerpted courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio from Star Wars: Cataclysm (The High Republic) by Lydia Kang, read by Marc Thompson.
Star Wars: The High Republic – Cataclysm releases in hardback and audiobook April 4, just in time for this year’s Star Wars Celebration in London, England, running April 7-10.
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