At the start of 2015, a spark was lit within the Star Wars publishing world as the first wave of novels arrived set within the height of the High Republic era, when the Jedi were at their strongest. But that strength came to crumbling ruination when they came up against the fierce anarchist Nihil, led by Marchion Ro, who sought to dismantle not only the Jedi but the entire Galactic Republic, who they saw as encroachers in the largely uncolonized Outer Rim. As the final wave of Phase I of The High Republic came to a close this spring, the multi-media initiative began shifting gears to a time set 150 years before the events that saw the destruction of the Starlight Beacon. Collider is excited to exclusively share Chapter 4 of Justina Ireland and Tessa Gratton‘s young adult novel Path of Deceit ahead of its October 4th release date.
In Path of Deceit, the Jedi Knight Zallah Macri and her Padawan Kevmo Zink travel to the frontier planet of Dalna to investigate the theft of Queen of Hynestia’s prized Rod of Seasons. It’s on Dalna where Kevmo meets Marda Ro, a devout follower of the Path—a group that believes that “The Force will be free” and that not even the Jedi can interfere with the mystical energy. In spite of their beliefs being at odds with each other, Kevmo and Marda are drawn to each other. But their intriguing connection isn’t the only alarming thing happening on Dalna. The Mother, a former refugee that was taken in by the Path has become the group’s leader thanks to the power of her visions and the small miracles that seem to flow through her, but her leadership comes under scrutiny when her focus turns towards purchasing expensive Force artifacts while her followers struggle to survive. As the Jedi close in on reclaiming the Queen’s stolen artifact, The Children (the young acolytes who operate the artifact heists for the Mother) get swept up in a sinister plan after Marda’s cousin Yana reveals her intentions to leave the Path—something the Mother has no intention of allowing.
In the exclusive excerpt, Kevmo meets Marda for the very first time, and he’s drawn to her right from their first introduction. It’s a sweet little passage that sets the stages for a novel rife with intrigue, drama, and compelling storytelling that will keep readers hooked to the very last pages. Check out the Path of Deceit‘s cover below and then scroll down to meet Kevmo and Marda for yourself.
As the skiff broke the Dalnan atmosphere, Kevmo Zink could not keep still. His left heel dancing lightly against the metal deck was the only outlet for his energy. The rest of him focused on guiding the controls as he piloted them toward the docking beacon at Ferdan.
Kevmo couldn’t see the town yet but skimmed over the peaks of three volcanoes toward the purple-and-green forest at their feet. He wanted to pull up and turn the ship for a joyride around the northern edge of this supercontinent while the red suns blazed. Skiffs performed excellent split rolls, and the sky was perfect. But they were on a hunt, and Kevmo knew from experience that the argument that aerobatics genuinely helped him with his focus and his relationship with the Force would not fly with his master. And . . . it was probably for the best.
“Kevmo,” the Soikan Jedi said in her coolest voice.
He stopped his leg and smiled apologetically without glancing at her. Taking a deep breath, Kevmo stilled his thoughts and calmed the threads of his constantly reaching awareness. He checked the skiff’s bearings and flicked the communication switch, indicating their approach to the beacon. In the Outer Rim the smaller ports were often unsupervised, and Ferdan was no exception, with only a droid managing the beacon. It made absolutely no sense that the Hynestian Rod of Seasons had been smuggled all the way out to Dalna. Yet there they were.
The Hynestian queen had been furious to have her rod stolen and demanded the aid of the Jedi, but the culprits hadn’t left anything behind. They’d been in and out with surprising ease, given the security of the palace. The theft had taken place during a time when many different groups of people had visited the capital city, more than usual thanks to a local festival. Kevmo and Zallah had sifted through immigration evidence for hours looking for any possible leads, and their best one was that a missionary group from Dalna had registered with the port authority for two days. And there was a rumor that there was a buyer especially interested in Force-related artifacts on Dalna. The planet hadn’t been a priority for the Jedi because nobody had been hurt and until then there hadn’t been obvious thefts involved—as far as they were aware. Everyone had a right to the Force, as long as any artifacts were legally and safely acquired.
This part of Dalna, from above, looked like a fertile agri- cultural paradise to Kevmo. Snowcapped volcanoes circled the river valley. Tall purple and spreading red-green trees lined the river, spilling into a rolling prairie that glinted with wide opal deposits like pools of rainbows. The town of Ferdan didn’t look like much, but Kevmo bet they had really delicious fruit and baked goods there.
The droid managing the port beacon acknowledged them, and Kevmo nudged the skiff into its final descent.
It was a simple drop, and the moment the landing gear made contact, Zallah unlatched her safety harness and left the cockpit. Kevmo put the skiff through its shutdown procedures and joined her to grab his things. They’d be staying in Ferdan, because even though Kevmo and Zallah weren’t currently assigned to a Republic Pathfinder team, part of their mission remained doing that work: introducing themselves to the locals to learn as much as possible about their needs and opinions, scouting potential locations for future temple outposts, and looking out for Force-sensitive children.
Most of the planets they visited had their own sentient indigenous populations, but nothing like that ever evolved on Dalna, and the planet had been settled off and on in a remarkably haphazard way. Probably thanks to the unstable belt of super volcanoes basically ringing the whole planet.
They’d been quiet for more than a century, though, and Ferdan was the heart of one of several agrarian centers—as well as an apparent smuggler outpost and open market. Right in the middle of a huge underground caldera.
At his bunk, Kevmo stuffed his cloak in his bag and tied his heavy black braids into a club at the nape of his neck, careful to pull the tiny Padawan braid free to fall forward over his shoulder. Then he tugged it, a reminder of his old habit when he’d first put it in, because the presence of that specific braid comforted him, reminded him he belonged— just like the bright gold clan tattoos striped across his blue cheeks.
Then Kevmo grinned at himself, excited, and hurried to join Zallah where she waited with her hands clasped calmly behind her back. She did not look at him, but when he stepped beside her, vibrating with anticipation, there was a tiny impression at the corner of her ice-blue lips. He’d learned to read it as a micro expression of amusement.
She tilted her head in inquiry, and he nodded: he was ready. He reached out and hit the lever to open the skiff.
Calling the strip of pinkish land where Kevmo had set down the skiff a port turned out to be extremely generous. Kevmo laughed lightly at the squelch of mud when the boarding ramp extended. But the air smelled good—like rain and astringent flowers behind the exhaust. He centered himself as quickly as possible and followed Zallah down the ramp.
The town spread out in short one- and two-story buildings of pink stone and gnarled pale wood that clearly had been pulled out of a river. Like many frontier settlements, it was a combination of thrown-together local build and prepackaged housing. To Kevmo it felt full of potential. People there didn’t have a lot, but they used every advantage.
They stopped in the port office, and Kevmo filled out the required registration for parking their skiff, then paid the charge plus a little extra. He couldn’t help it. There were only two other ships at port, a cargo hauler and a run-down, obviously repurposed pleasure cruiser. Ferdan needed the credits.
As they headed into town, Kevmo took in everything he could while Zallah drifted at his side. The streets were full of people from all over the galaxy. Kevmo recognized many species—Mon Calamari, human, Chagrian, a family of Grans, and even a Wookiee very far from home—but there were several people totally strange to him. Everyone had the weary look of refugees and rustic farmers, and paid little attention to Kevmo and Zallah, despite their Jedi robes and the lightsabers hanging from their belts. Zallah drew looks for her elegance and cold demeanor, but Kevmo slipped under the radar. There they were only as threatening as any new face. Kev liked that—the nearer one got to Coruscant, the more opinions everybody had about Jedi, and those opinions, whether good or bad, got in the way of their work.
At a broad crossroads, Zallah paused. Her glance directed him to the tavern across the way and the flickering holo projected from the first-story eaves declaring rooms for rent. Kevmo nodded.
“I will acquire rooms and seek information in the bar,” his master said. “You head into that market for supplies and do what you do best.”
Kevmo nodded and handed her his pack. She meant make friends with everyone he came across. By sundown he’d have the start of a network of gossip in Ferdan.
Zallah studied him for a moment, then said, “Remember the difference between trusting your feelings and enthusiastically expressing them.”
A laugh bubbled up from his chest, but he managed to choke it back and only smile in response. The blue-white skin around Zallah’s eyes tightened in her version of an eye roll.
With a jaunty little bow, Kevmo turned on his heel and was off in the opposite direction of the tavern, toward the busy market.
The afternoon sun gleamed off the dark metal of the booths lining the market street as sellers yelled out in several languages but mostly Basic. Kevmo passed ruby-red fruits and leafy orange vegetables, candied nuts, grass hens already plucked and strung up by their legs. He chatted with an old Rodian tending a booth with personal sun shields, charming her into describing a map of the neighborhoods in town. A family of humans all covered in freckles and selling water purifiers and jars of pickled vegetables elaborated on the local population, including the newest camp of refugees from Eiram and E’ronoh, and the nearby cultists called the Path of the Open Hand. Those were the ones who’d been on Hynestia Prime, but Kevmo tried to hide his deep interest in the target. The market teemed with people from across the galaxy, bumping into him, yelling, laughing, haggling—and Kevmo breathed it all in.
He wanted to stop in the middle of the market, sur- rounded by all that chaos and life, and just plop down to meditate. The Force thrummed around him: Kevmo was fairly certain he could vibrate with it if he closed his eyes and let go. The Force was so brilliant, just like the suns blazing overhead, and it was noisy with light and life.
Kevmo did have to pause in the shade of a juice stand, just to remind himself to center. He was one being, part of the living Force but his own. It was those boundaries he needed to hold, what separated him from others, from the ground and sky and stars. He needed to block out the glorious crush of life around him, and he needed to buy himself and Zallah some dinner.
Reaching for the Force, he welcomed the warm flow of it, letting himself feel how it pulsed in his heart, and then just as it flooded through him, he carefully, purposefully narrowed his connections. The Force dimmed, distant stars instead of the blazing sun, and Kevmo smiled.
He wiped sweat from his brow, flicked his braids back over his shoulder, and opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw was a beautiful girl in plain undyed robes, surrounded by children and flowers. Her black hair was sleek and twisted into a knot at her dark gray neck, adorned with tiny white and yellow blossoms. Three blue waves marked her forehead, reminding him of his family tattoos. She smiled sweetly as she turned one of the children around, directing them to offer a small bouquet of those same flowers to a passerby. As Kevmo stared, the girl suddenly looked back at him: her eyes were solid black, as black as space, and for a moment he could swear he saw stars shine in them.
Kevmo didn’t even try to stop himself from heading her way.
She stood in a cluster of younglings—a Rodian, a Mikkian, two adorable Klatooinians, three humans, a Gran, and a tiny Mon Calamari literally bouncing in place. They occupied one of the rusty tables at that end of the market available for anyone’s use, selling—no, giving away—flowers. White river roses floated in water-filled bowls, and scraggly bouquets of meadow blossoms and wilting orange starium and random feathers were scattered across the table. They had a small banner with Aurebesh words painted in vivid blue: The Path of the Open Hand. Freedom, Harmony, Clarity.
Oh. He’d come right to them.
Kevmo stopped within arm’s reach of the table and smiled at the girl. “Hi.”
Her lashes fluttered as she glanced away. “Hello.” Her gaze moved back to his, as if she couldn’t do anything but look at him.
An introduction stuck to Kevmo’s tongue as he studied her, feeling even warmer than before. His lips parted, but none of his usual easy conversation fell out. He wanted to—
Suddenly, the girl darted forward to grasp the wrist of the Rodian child who was in turn reaching for Kevmo’s lightsaber. “Hallisara,” the girl said with a bit of panic as she snatched the Rodian’s hand away.
Kevmo angled his body back, letting out a light chuckle. “Hallisara, is it?” He crouched. “It’s not a toy, but here.” Unclipping the lightsaber, he held it carefully in both hands. “You can touch there along the grip, gently.”
The little Rodian’s turquoise antennae twitched, and she reached out to place one suckered finger exactly where Kevmo had indicated. Her big black eyes widened even further, and she said, “Oh,” very reverently. Kevmo thought Rodians saw a different light spectrum than Pantorans, but he wasn’t sure what. To him, his lightsaber was gorgeous, plated with red gold and an alloy that reflected the sun like mirrors, but maybe the child saw something totally different.
“What is it?” the girl in charge of all the younglings asked.
“A lightsaber.” Kevmo glanced up at her. “A weapon.”
Her pretty mouth turned down. Her deep black eyes were incredible, even when she was concerned. Kevmo could see the light in them still, and the sweep of darker gray shading back toward her slightly scalloped ears. He had no idea what her people were. She was entirely new to him. And he didn’t want to believe she was a thief. He stood, holding her gaze as he reclipped his lightsaber on his belt. “My name is Kevmo Zink,” he said. “I just landed on Dalna.”
The girl blinked and smoothed her hands down her plain tunic. “I am Marda Ro, from the Path of the Open Hand. These are our older Littles.” She indicated the nine children surrounding her. One of the humans hid behind Marda’s arm, the Mikkian twisted two of her vivid yellow head tendrils together, the two Klatooinian siblings stuck out their lower jaws to display their big blunt teeth, and the rest grinned at him.
“I like your tattoos!” cried the bouncing Mon Calamari, blinking their bulbous eyes one at a time.
Kevmo laughed. “Thank you, youngling. They were for my birth family.” He’d already had the tattoos when he was taken to the Temple, and while he honored the lines of Pantoran poetry, the Jedi were his family. He flicked his gaze to the blue waves on Marda’s forehead.
She reached up as if to touch but did not quite. “These are for the Force.”
Kevmo startled. “The Force! The Path of the Open Hand is about the Force?” That would explain why they were involved in stealing Force-related artifacts. If they were.
Marda nodded slowly, either shy or hesitant in the face of his enthusiasm.
Recalling his master’s advice, Kevmo reined himself in a bit. “I know the Force,” he said gently.
Just then the smallest of the human children squeaked as a bright blue honey glider leapt off his shoulder, where it must’ve been tucked under his tangle of red hair. The glider spread its wing membranes and slipped through the air to land on the dome of the Mon Calamari’s head. The child giggled while the abandoned human boy’s face scrunched into grief, and the Mon Calamari said, “It must be my turn, Simi!”
The older Klatooinian barked, “A gift freely given, Simi!”
Hushing the teasing children, Marda gently tugged Simi’s tangled curls to soothe the crying human. She slid Kevmo an apologetic look. He wanted to brush his knuckle along her high cheekbone.
Kevmo looked abruptly away, a little shocked at himself. He was not supposed to be thinking such things.
He gathered himself together by remembering how careful he needed to be with his attachments, and how susceptible he was to fancy and enthusiasm. He’d need to spend extra time meditating this evening and maybe wear himself out completely drilling his lightsaber forms. Still, even though this was all foremost on his mind, Kevmo risked looking back.
Marda waited patiently, unashamed to be caught staring at him while he composed himself. The pull of her gaze remained strong as a tractor beam. Kevmo managed a crooked smile.
Returning it, Marda scooped one of the river roses out of a bucket. It dripped against the metal table as she offered it to Simi. “Will you make the gift to our new friend?”
Kevmo waited patiently for the human boy to crawl under the table and pop out onto the street beside him, rose cradled in his cupped palms. Kevmo crouched again.
“A gift freely given,” Simi said almost too softly to be heard over the chaotic market.
Kevmo reached with the Force to lift the rose out of Simi’s hands and floated it the brief span between them until he could catch it on the very tip of his first finger.
Expecting laughter or maybe even some delighted applause, Kevmo frowned at the sudden dramatic silence. He turned to see all the children gaping, and beautiful Marda looking at him with abject horror.
“Stop!” she cried, and Kevmo was so startled, the river rose tipped off his finger and fell to the ground.
The High Republic: Path of Deceit arrives on October 4th, pre-order it today.