Plus, the Padawan connects with three new younglings — Gavi, Kildo, and Tep Tep — in an excerpt from the forthcoming middle grade book.
The last time we saw the Lonisa City Zoo, the Valo attraction was under attack by the Nihil. Now, amid the rubble, hope emerges in the form of three feral Jedi younglings.
As Phase III of Star Wars: The High Republic continues with the upcoming middle grade novel, Escape from Valo by Daniel José Older and Alyssa Wong, fans will reunite with Ram Jomaram from Phase I of the multimedia initiative, still fighting the good fight. In StarWars.com's exclusive excerpt from the book, which arrives January 30, return to Valo for a surprising encounter with a fearsome acklay.
The Lonisa City Zoo was in ruins. It had been partially destroyed two years earlier in the first Nihil attack, and now it was all rubble, twisted metal gates and fences, and ripped-up brick paths. Greenery sprawled over the wreckage, thick woody vines heavy with leaves and blossoms, different species twining together and creating new ones. Creatures roamed the zoo, no longer confined to their overgrown habitats.
Ram had sought refuge in there during the attack on the Republic Fair, alongside Lula Talisola, who was gone, too, for all Ram knew — lost amid the shattered, sunken debris of Starlight Beacon.
So much loss.
“Come on,” Tep Tep squeaked, excited to show off where they’d been living.
Ram shook off the never-ending sense of sorrow as best he could. He found a smile, and it was genuine. How could he not smile at the enthusiasm of these young Jedi? He followed them through a gap in a high fence and into an abandoned exhibit, watching nervously for the creature that was supposed to be living there. “You’re sure the acklay isn’t coming back?” he asked.
A low rattle above him made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Ram froze. The unmistakable clack-clack of pointed deadly legs grew louder. Hot fetid breath washed over him. . . .
And then Tep Tep raced past him, arms extended. “Blueblossom!” she cried, hugging the giant six-legged reptilian creature behind Ram. The acklay made a horrible hissing, clacking noise, baring its needlelike teeth. Oh Light, it was purring.
Tep Tep petted it affectionately on its green-scaled snout. It bumped its face happily against her hand, basking in the attention. “Ram, this is Blueblossom. Don’t be scared, he’s a sweetheart. He’s so pretty, don’t you think?”
“Very pretty,” Ram agreed faintly. The acklay bared its teeth at Ram, its three predatory eyes tracking his every movement.
Tep Tep rubbed the acklay’s cheeks. It chittered. “Blueblossom, where are your friends?”
“There are more?” Ram asked in horror. Sure enough, he heard more clack-clacking all around him.
Tep Tep nodded brightly. “In the wild, they live in packs. It would be cruel to keep only one.” She held out her hand, and four more acklays appeared out of the night, their bladed legs stabbing down with each step. They shoved their massive heads into Tep Tep’s palm, snarling and fighting to get the best position. She giggled. “That one’s Dewflower, that’s Posypetal, this is Moonbloom, and the biggest is Puffball. She’s the pack alpha.”
“Breathe,” Kildo advised. He shrugged, bright orange eyes glinting in the dark. “That’s Tep Tep’s thing—animals love her as much as she loves them. When we first set up in the zoo, Tep Tep used her Force gifts to tend to the injured animals here. She was able to calm them down and soothe their pain. Now they prowl around the area and protect us from the Nihil. They’re not going to hurt you while she’s around.”
“So . . . they’re tame?” Ram ventured.
Kildo snorted. “Absolutely not. Last week, they ate a couple of Nihil who wandered too far into their territory. That’s why our hideout’s here; no Nihil ever make it past the acklay pack. Or the mynocks. Or the krykna by the south entrance.”
“I would stay away from the hragscythe nest, too,” Tep Tep advised. She tickled one of the acklays under the chin. The creature flipped over on its back, wiggling in the dirt. “They took over all the exhibits on the north side of the zoo, and they’re not very friendly.”
Ram shook his head and followed Gavi through the hidden gap in the exhibit’s main rock formation.
“Behold, our hideout!” Gavi announced proudly, sweeping his arm out toward the room beneath the acklay habitat. It was a converted service area, a place where zookeepers would prepare food and use the overhead trapdoor to clean up after the creatures. Three small bedrolls were laid out haphazardly on the floor, a datapad lying on each one. A pair of crates in the corner held provisions. The duracrete surfaces — floor and walls — were covered in white chalk writing and diagrams. The room’s only source of light was the camping lantern in the middle of the bedrolls. “We have everything we need right here. Amazing, right?”
It was pretty grim. But Ram had to reluctantly acknowledge that it did cover the basics. Plus, it was in a strategic location; no one wanted to fight five acklays.
Ram eased himself down on a crate, the others settling on their bedrolls. “Tell me what you meant about being the only Jedi left,” he said.
“When the Nihil attacked the Republic Fair, the masters took us to the mountains in the north. We were going to hide there until the danger passed. But we got ambushed and separated from the main group. Our teacher, Master Aebal . . .” Gavi swallowed. “He didn’t make it. After that, we all found each other and holed up in a cave.”
“We spent a year searching for the others,” Tep Tep added, drawing her knees up to her chest. “We couldn’t find any traces of them. They were gone. It’s just been us ever since.”
Ram believed it. These three were unusually close, in a way that seemed to surpass normal bonds between younglings. They were also slightly feral, acting like a little pack of their own. But it sounded like they had been fending for themselves over the past year, so Ram wasn’t surprised.
“I guess you can stay here if you don’t have anywhere else to go,” Ram admitted. “The acklays are a good security system. But I stand by what I said earlier — you need to stop running missions. It’s too dangerous for three inexperienced younglings.”
“So train us,” Gavi demanded. The others nodded behind him. “You’re the only one who can teach us how to be Jedi Knights! That means it’s your duty now.”
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