For light. For life. For Loden Greatstorm.
Galvanized by the loss of his Master, Jedi Padawan Bell Zettifar is looking for justice when he and other members of the Jedi Order track the Nihil down to the Nefitifi system. It’s not revenge he craves, but rather the chance to return the Republic to a time of peace without fear of others suffering at the hands of the marauders.
In StarWars.com’s exclusive excerpt from Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star, the forthcoming Star Wars: The High Republic adult novel by Claudia Gray, Bell, his new Master Indeera Stokes, Master Nib Assek, and her Padawan Burryaga, face off against the fearsome foes. Read the preview below, and pick up your own copy when The Fallen Star, part of wave 3 of books and comics in the initiative, arrives January 4, 2022.
The Longbeam cruiser slipped into the Nefitifi system as smoothly and silently as a sharp needle piercing black cloth. Only a few million years before, a star in this previously binary system had exploded, leaving behind a nebula of extraordinary scale. Trails of deep-purple and dark-blue gases laced between the planets, radioactive and opaque, hiding the entire system within swirls of mist.
Many smugglers had, in the past, taken advantage of that mist.
The Jedi now believed the Nihil were using it, too. It was their last place to hide.
“Any signals?” Master Indeera Stokes asked her Padawan.
Bell Zettifar, next to her, shook his head. “Nothing on any frequencies. It’s completely quiet out there.”
“It shouldn’t be.” Master Nib Assek shook her head, her gray hair painted silver by the shadows in which they stood. (When a Longbeam ran on half power to avoid attention — as this one now did — lighting dimmed accordingly.) “Gunrunners have used this part of space for a long time. You’d expect beacons, tagged cargo in asteroids, something of that sort. Instead . . . nothing.”
Bell glanced over at a fellow Padawan, the Wookiee Burryaga, who stood by Master Assek’s side. Their shared look confirmed that they understood what was implied: The Nefitifi system was too quiet. Finding no activity here was like landing on Coruscant and finding it deserted: proof positive that something was very wrong.
Here it could only mean that the Nihil were near.
“They must be using silencers,” Bell said to Master Indeera. “Satellites or shipboard?”
“Shipboard, I suspect. We’ll soon find out.” His Master squared her shoulders; her Tholothian tendrils rippled down her back. Bell felt the shiver of anticipation that went through the Jedi cohort aboard; the Force was warning them of what was about to come. Master Indeera put her hand on her lightsaber hilt. “The other Longbeams report similar readings — or lack thereof. The Nihil must be very near.”
Finally, action. A chance to move on the Nihil. Bell had wanted this — needed it — ever since the loss of his former Master, Loden Greatstorm. Not for vengeance. Greatstorm would never have wanted that. For the knowledge that Bell had done something, anything, to counteract the evil that had robbed his Master of his life. The Nihil were already beaten, it seemed — Master Avar Kriss seemed on the verge of capturing their leader, the Eye, at any moment — but neither Bell nor the rest of the galaxy would be at peace until the threat had been laid to rest forever.
The debacle at the Republic Fair months ago could’ve damaged confidence in the Republic — and in the Jedi — past repair. Instead the Nihil were now on the run. The corner had been turned. This entire part of the galaxy would soon be wholly safe once more.
Once everyone else had regained their confidence and security, maybe Bell would, too.
As the Longbeam passed through another thick golden cloud of gases, Master Indeera was the first to say, “They’re above us. Almost directly overhead.” Burryaga growled in assent.
Ship sensors almost immediately began to flash, but the true warning came to them through the Force. Bell’s senses heightened; his muscles tensed. Readiness galvanized him on every level.
Here it comes, he thought as he looked out the cockpit. The dark, swirling nebula gases became translucent as the Longbeam rose, revealing the underbelly of the Nihil ship. Bell imagined the warning alarms on that ship’s bridge, the frantic rush of activity as they prepared to fight — for by this point, surely, the Nihil had realized that the Jedi had come to fight.
But the Jedi had been ready from the instant they left Starlight Beacon, and their moment had finally come.
For Master Loden, Bell thought, and that no one else may ever suffer at the Nihil’s hands as he suffered.
The initial boarding attack had been designed for precisely this moment: The mother ship of the Jedi group seized the Nihil craft in its tractor beam, holding it fast, as the Longbeam on which Bell and his compatriots stood angled itself to attach to one air lock and block several others. Docking — rough, uneven, forced — shook the entire vessel, but the team remained steady and alert, recognizing as one the moment when the vibration signaled their penetration of the hull.
“For light and life!” Master Assek cried as they dashed into the Nihil ship.
Bell had rarely felt the Force with him so powerfully as he did at the moment he rushed forward into a blazing array of blasterfire, slashing through the air that surrounded him so closely he could feel the heat. The scent of ozone filled Bell’s breath. Yet his lightsaber blade deflected every blaster bolt so smoothly that it seemed to be moving itself, aiming without any conscious work from Bell other than fierce concentration. All around him, he saw a sea of faceless, soulless masks — Nihil shooting, scattering, scrambling — and, advancing upon them, the Jedi swift and sure.
“Now!” Master Indeera called over the fray, acknowledgment of the warning from the Force they all felt. Bell ducked behind a metal girder to shield him for the seconds it took to strap on his breather. No sooner had he done so than the telltale hiss from the air vents revealed that the Nihil’s poison gases had been deployed.
Too late, Bell thought with satisfaction. It’s your turn to be too late.
Master Indeera led the charge toward engineering, or what passed for it on the cobbled-together, jury-rigged Nihil vessel. Bell and Burryaga fell in directly behind. It would be up to Master Assek to hold off the Nihil near the air lock; Bell’s job was to paralyze this ship.
Even running at top speed, Bell could tell that this ship was ramshackle to the point of hazardousness; the interior was dismal, dull, and strictly utilitarian. What made someone want to live like this? To join the Nihil, visit infinite pain and destruction upon innocents throughout several systems, and for what? Life on a dark, dank ship creeping along the edges of space, with only the dim spark of potential future riches to provide any light — something that was no life at all.
Bell’s wonderings only took up one small part of his consciousness, musings he’d examine later. The present moment was for completing his mission.
Green gas filled the corridors with toxic haze, to which the Jedi remained impervious thanks to their breathers. However, the gases meant that Bell felt the door ahead of them before he saw it. Master Indeera and Burryaga must have as well, because they all skidded to a halt at the same moment.
“Should we knock?” Bell asked. Burryaga groaned at the terrible joke.
Master Indeera simply plunged her lightsaber into the door’s locking mechanism. The heated glow of melting metal illuminated all their faces in pale-orange light for the instants it took for the door to give way. It stuttered open to reveal only a skeleton crew, most of them young and unarmed, and all too willing to surrender.
It helped Bell, knowing that he wouldn’t have to take additional lives. What had to be done, had to be done — but the pain he felt over the tragedy of Loden Greatstorm remained sharp. It could’ve pushed him in dangerous directions. Instead he was satisfied with their capture, no more.
You taught me well, Master, Bell thought to the memory of the man that he carried within his mind.
Once they’d finished rounding up the prisoners, Burryaga whined curiously.
“Yeah, seems like a low crew contingent to me, too,” Bell said. “Do you think Marshal Kriss’s pursuit of the Eye of the Nihil has shaken them up? They might have deserters by the hundreds, even thousands.” He didn’t like the idea of Nihil escaping any justice for the atrocities they had already committed, but the most important thing was making those atrocities stop. If the price of saving so many lives was a few Nihil deserters getting off scot-free, so be it.
We’ve gone on the offensive, Bell told himself. We’ve outplayed the Nihil at their own game. We did it for you, Master Loden, and for every other person who suffered as you —
Bell couldn’t even think about it.
Burryaga didn’t seem to notice Bell’s distraction, for which Bell was grateful. Instead the great Wookiee shook his head and growled.
“Sure, it was easy,” Bell agreed. “I don’t know if it was too easy, though. No point in worrying about it if the Nihil are finally collapsing.”
In that, at least, Burryaga completely concurred.
Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star arrives January 4, 2022 and is available for pre-order now.
Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.
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