Jedi Meet a Force Cult in the Latest Star Wars: The High Republic Novel

Jedi Meet a Force Cult in the Latest Star Wars: The High Republic Novel

New Disney+ series Andor is grabbing all the Star Wars attention lately, but for High Republic fans, there’s a new tale out next week well worthy of notice. Gizmodo is thrilled to have an exclusive excerpt from Star Wars: The High Republic: Path of Deceit, the latest in the series. It’s by Justina Ireland (2021’s Out of the Shadows) and Tessa Gratton (who has Quest for Planet X due next year).

Here’s a summary of the book to give you some context in the galaxy far, far away:

Set in the world of the High Republic, 150 years before the storytelling of Phase I, an era of change brings new hopes and possibilities . . . but also new dangers.

The Outer Rim planet Dalna has become the focus of a Jedi investigation into a stolen Force artefact, and Zallah Macri and her Padawan, Kevmo Zink, arrive on the pastoral world to follow up on a possible connection to a Dalnan missionary group called the Path of the Open Hand. Members of the Path believe that the Force must be free and should not be used by anyone, not even the Jedi. One such believer is Marda Ro, a young woman who dreams of leaving Dalna to spread word of the Path throughout the galaxy.

When Marda and Kevmo meet, their connection is instantaneous and electric — until Marda discovers Kevmo is a Jedi. But Kevmo is so kind and eager to learn more about the Path, that she hopes she can convince him of the rightness of her beliefs. What Marda doesn’t realise is that the leader of the Path, a charismatic woman known only as the Mother, has an agenda of her own, and it is one that can never coexist peacefully with the Jedi.

In order to follow her faith, Marda may have to choose to become her new friend’s worst enemy. . . .

Here’s the full cover, followed by the excerpt from Path of Deceit’s fifth chapter; it explores Marda meeting Kevmo for the first time — and soon after that, realising his true identity.

Image: Disney Lucasfilm Press
Image: Disney Lucasfilm Press

Marda’s day had lightened considerably when she first saw the Pantoran boy’s smile. She’d been feeling melancholic after the Mother’s rejection of her plea to join the Children the day before. Despite the new hatchlings in Ferize’s nest, the lovely day, and the pleasant tangle of the Littles under her charge, she had not been able to unspool the thread of disappointment twined around her throat. Disappointment and something worse: a gnawing guilt that she’d never be enough, no matter how hard she worked, no matter how hard she believed, because she was Evereni. She didn’t even know why her people were mistrusted. Nobody would tell her. As if she was just supposed to accept it, like gravity and sunrise. Evereni were not worthy of representing the Path to the galaxy. Except Yana was allowed, so it had to be something wrong with Marda herself.

The Mother, putting a hand on Marda’s cheek, had tasked her again with the Littles. “You are the one I can trust with the sparks of belief in their young hearts. You nurture their understanding of our Path, Marda Ro, here in our home. This home that we share must remain true, and you are its caretaker. Will you accept that for me?”

Marda had nodded and lowered her eyes against stinging tears. The Mother was a true avatar of the Force, existing in perfect harmony, clarity, and freedom with it. As she willed, so Marda must do. “I accept,” she whispered, and she meant it — only, the galaxy was so massive, so great. She knew she could expand to fit it.

There had to be something wrong with her if she could not be content with this purpose freely given to her. Marda had tried to bury her uncertainty under soft smiles and softer hands as she led the Littles to forage for beauty along the river and in the rolling meadows. Gifts from Dalna into their hands, gathered and prepared to become gifts from their hands to the wanderers of Ferdan.

They’d settled at the available table in the market, the one Grandfer Aurin — an old Umbaran who sold used droid parts — often saved for them. They did not wish to join the Path, but they liked the way Marda preached about living with and for the Force. Eff, the younger of the Klatooinian siblings, loved Grandfer Aurin and sat on their lap for the first hour of gifting. The other children played games and tied bouquets and waved happily at passersby, only occasionally arguing as Marda welcomed everyone to the table, offering her faith in return. Jerid, a brown-skinned human boy, the oldest of the Littles with Marda, teased Utalir, who was only nine, that her sun-yellow head tendrils were prettier than the flowers and he wondered what would return to the Path if Utalir offered herself as a gift freely given. Marda had found it necessary to separate them, urging Jerid’s little sister, Vemian, to unlatch herself from Marda’s hip, where she liked to hide and imitate everything Marda did. Meanwhile, Tromak hid under the table rolling pebbles into the square, Jezra’lin would not stop bouncing, and Hallisara, Simi, and Ferali wouldn’t stop competing for the affection of the honey glider who had attached itself to Simi a few weeks earlier, taking advantage of the boy’s willingness to share his porridge. The honey glider was a good omen, though, the same bright blue as their brikal-shell paint from eating the larvae of the arthropods.

The antics of the Littles distracted Marda from the worst of her melancholy, but it had clung to her nevertheless in that busy market, as she felt like the only person on the entire planet who wasn’t allowed to leave.

Then the Pantoran boy. He drew her attention suddenly and unerringly: tall and appealing in layered robes simply made, in colours not dissimilar to her own, with elaborate black braids, warm blue skin, a smile that showed off blunt teeth, and pretty gold markings across his face.

When he caught her gaze, he came straight for her, as if he knew her already.

Marda’s stomach flipped.

He stopped at her table, grinning at the children but not taking his bright yellow eyes from her for long. His skin was nearly the same blue as the brikal shell, the gold vivid. She wanted to touch the markings, find out if they smeared or were indelible, or maybe just blossomed on his skin naturally. Like tiny trails of sunseed.

Then he spoke, and she spoke back, and he was from offworld. Of course; everyone was. But he had just arrived, from the stars, and something inside Marda pinched in longing. The Pantoran boy — Kevmo — was good with the Littles. Liked them. And he knew the Force. That was how he said it. I know the Force.

Breathless, Marda thought this was why the Mother had denied her again and again: this moment, this boy. For Marda to be there that day. She felt the certainty bubbling up as if she would giggle.


Then he abused the Force.

“Stop!” Marda cried, reaching out. She grasped at Vemian, still holding her hip, and turned the human girl’s face away as if that could protect them all from what Kevmo had done.

“Marda,” he said when the river rose fell to the dusty ground, the gift freely given dashed at their feet. Shaking, Marda lifted her jaw and tried to be fierce. “You do not know the Force.”

He watched her mouth, wide-eyed, then licked his bottom lip. Marda knew what had happened: he’d seen her sharp teeth; he knew she was Evereni, and he would leave.

That was for the best. Kevmo Zink used the Force for a game! The consequences of unbalancing the Force such as he had done could lead to the death of living beings! And he’d done it to tease a child. Marda swallowed her grief away and let indignation rise. She walked the Path of the Open Hand. She would explain. “The Force is not a tool. It is only itself. Life. Light. Everything that connects us. Not a tool.”

Kevmo leaned closer, expression serious. “It can be. We use the Force if we can, use it for the betterment of the galaxy, for everyone.”

“How can you know you are bettering the galaxy when you cannot predict the effects of touching the Force?” Marda struggled to sound calm, mostly for the sake of the Littles, who paid avid attention, eyes wide, antennae attuned.

“My training is quite thorough,” Kevmo said. “Of course I know the effects of using it.” Suddenly all the flowers lifted off the table to hover delicately in the air between them. “It is exact, especially on this scale. No one is in danger.” He said it coaxingly, voice soft.

But Marda stared at the trembling pink and yellow petals before her. “Please,” she whispered.

“This is a gift,” he continued, slowly spinning the flowers into a gentle spiral, a rainbow galaxy. “You believe in gifts freely given. That’s what you said?”

“Uh-huh!” squeaked Jezra’lin, then clapped their hands over their wide mouth.

Marda squeezed her hand into a fist. More people were staring at them, including Grandfer Aurin.

Kevmo said, “Being able to use the Force like this is a gift. It flows through me, is part of me, and using it is like using my hands or my ears or my voice.”

She couldn’t help glancing at his mouth as he spoke, and focused there as she said again, “Please stop.”

The flowers fell. Marda closed her eyes in relief for a moment. “You can know what you do here, but how can you predict the consequences in the Force? Use it here, for nothing but teasing? For — for impressing me?”

The boy grimaced.

Marda pressed on. “This incident here alters the Force, changes it in ripples, pulls it, directs it, and those changes change other things, out in the galaxy. Who is to say that your tricks here have not set in motion ripples that will result in something dangerous where you cannot see it?”

“That’s not how the Force works,” he insisted.

“Yes, it is.” Marda very nearly bared her teeth. “It is not to be controlled.”

“Jedi don’t — ”

Marda gasped. “You’re Jedi?”

Kevmo paused, lips parted, and very slowly nodded. “You do control the Force! You seek to bend it to your will! I know of the Jedi.” How stupid that it felt like her heart was breaking. There were Jedi on Jedha, and she’d heard so many stories of that great world, the different ways of priests and wanderers and witches who came together there at the temple. Jedi came from the Core Worlds, with their own ways that were the opposite of the Path’s.

“That’s not true.” Kevmo leaned urgently toward Marda, putting his hands on the table. “We don’t impose our will on the Force! But — ”

“You use it. The Force must be free, Kevmo Zink. It is for us to live in harmony with it. Part of it. Not using it.” Marda clicked her teeth just slightly, to keep from gnashing them, to keep from crying. She should have known he was Jedi the moment he named his weapon a lightsaber. But she had always avoided thinking about them, and knew so little.

Kevmo looked at her with something akin to longing, and she paused. This gulf between them was vast, though only moments before she’d felt so right and good about meeting him.

Finally, the Jedi said, “The Force is warm, and bright. It is life. And using it — ” He glanced at the Path banner, hand-painted by Marda and Er Dal and Old Waiden years before. Kevmo turned his hands over so the paler blue skin of his palms faced the sun. “Using it feels right. Good. Like basking in starlight.”

The pit of Marda’s stomach opened, because he sounded like she did when she begged to go with the Children into space. She shook her head. “Give out the flowers, everyone,” she said, reaching for little Simi. “Ferali and Utalir, fold the banner, please. Let us go from here.”

The Littles quickly grabbed flowers and dashed across the street to hand them to the sellers and buskers they knew, a final blessing before they left. Marda knew she was running away. She collected the pan of chips and credits and coins they’d been given and tucked it into a small bag before giving it to Tromak for safekeeping. She did not look at Kevmo again.

Until she turned to leave and he said, “Marda Ro.”

She paused and deliberately glanced at him over her shoulder.

“Will I see you again?” he asked, gaze intent, hands moving, flexing, as if they could not find a way to rest.

Every part of Marda wanted to promise, just one more time, to leave him with a last gift freely given: hope. But it was better this way. She said, “No,” and ushered the Littles before her, never looking back.

She had to bite the tip of her tongue to manage it. The sharp taste of her blood put her firmly back in her body.

It took only until they were just out of the market, the Littles in a chain as they walked, hand in hand in hand, for Jezra’lin to pipe up, “My older sibling was Force-sensitive! I wonder if they could do that with the flowers. I hoped I would be.”

“Not me,” Jerid said. “It’s easier to follow the Path if you can’t even be tempted to touch the Force. That’s what my mama said.”

Hallisara said, “That weapon was incredible! It was pretty, too. I wonder what it does.”

“What’s a Jedi?” Utalir asked softly, tugging at Marda’s sleeve with bright yellow fingers.

Marda paused. Jerid took advantage by saying, “Warriors! They fight monsters, I heard.”

“Monsters!” shrieked Simi, startling the honey glider, who had once again hidden in the boy’s red tangles.

This was getting out of hand. Marda said, “That’s enough.” She stared at the chain of Littles and nodded hard. “Come this way, and I’ll show you something important.”

They skipped and cheered a little as they fell back in line.

Marda led them out of Ferdan toward the compound but veered south to the quarry and construction grounds, where many parts of the Gaze Electric — the parts unique to the Path of the Open Hand, not droids or hyperspace or shielding — were being built.

Members of the Path were using the big kilns to heat various metals intended for the giant molds at the edge of the grounds. Steam and smoke rose into the blue sky, and the ting-ting of hammers was like bells. Droids stepped here and there, hauling the glittering pink granite from the quarry, others breaking it up. There were piles of thin black slate to be chipped into shards for the vast mosaic floor of the temple hall in the Gaze Electric. Soon it would all be taken up to the ship and put into place, and Marda would be allowed to visit and paint the walls with waves of brikal-shell blue.

It was difficult to see the shape of the ship in these piles of stone and sweating people, while the ship itself hung in orbit. Sometimes the sun shone just right and glinted off the hull, and from planetside it looked like a star, like every other ship. But it was not like any other ship at all.

“Littles,” Marda said, leading them to a quartet of alloy buttresses leaning against the rise of a hill. “Do you know what we are making?”

“The Gaze Electric,” Jezra’lin answered, bouncing on their toes.

“That is its name. But do you know what it is?” Marda lowered herself to sit with her legs crossed and beckoned the Littles to array themselves around her.

“A ship.”

“A temple!”

“A sanctuary!”

The replies layered together into enthusiastic chaos, and Marda smiled. Their attention bolstered her, helping her settle the trembling in her hands left over from that encounter with Kevmo Zink.

“That’s correct,” she said. “All of those things. The Mother had a vision of this grand ship, a beautiful, vast place large enough for every member of the Path, and many more. We can grow our family out amongst the stars, take ourselves anywhere we like, wherever the Force needs us to share our clarity with other beings.”

“Clarity,” Vemian said very quietly, staring at Marda with awe-filled aquamarine eyes. Marda thought suddenly that she herself looked like this when she spoke with the Mother, as if the Mother could do no wrong and every word from her lips was the word of the Force itself. Realising Vemian saw Marda that way made her feel taller, stronger, but a little bit frightened, too.

“Clarity,” Marda said. “And freedom, and harmony with the Force. That is the Path of the Open Hand. The Force is everywhere, in everything, blazing through the particles of the universe, and it is not our place to touch it. We are not above other creatures or things. We are not above the Force. We are it, if we are lucky.”

Ferali, the older Klatooinian sibling, frowned, his large forehead bulbs shading his eyes. “That is why that Jedi shouldn’t have moved the flowers.”

Marda nodded solemnly. “He took from the Force. Stole. Abused. Even that alone is wrong, you understand? We do not take. We only hold out our open hands.”

The Littles slowly turned their hands over, palms to the sky.

“When you are open, gifts freely given will come to you, as long as you are alive. As long as the Force flows through you.”

Simi put his little white hand in Marda’s grey one. She squeezed. The honey glider pushed off his neck and landed on Hallisara’s knee. The Rodian grinned. “Thank you,” she said. “For the gift of your friendship.”

“I’ll be your friend, too,” said Eff, Ferali’s little sibling, coaxing the cute blue glider.

“Me also,” Tromak said, all three eyes blinking fast.

Marda smiled softly. She led them through the rest of their catechisms while members of the Path worked noisily, the future sanctuary of the Gaze Electric surrounding them in a comfortable nest. Yet Marda could not help thinking of the Jedi boy holding out his open hands to her, and how badly she had longed to open her hands to him in return.

Excerpt from Star Wars: The High Republic: Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland reprinted by permission of Disney Lucasfilm Press.

Star Wars: The High Republic: Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland will be released October 4; you can pre-order a copy here.

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