Meet the enigmatic leader in this preview of the Phase II YA novel.
Not everyone views the Force like the Jedi and Sith.
Phase II of Star Wars: The High Republic is almost here, kicking off with Justina Ireland and Tessa Gratton's Path of Deceit, arriving October 4. The YA novel goes back 150 years before the events of Phase I, introducing two new Jedi Knights -- Zallah Macri and her Padawan, Kevmo Zink -- as they head to an Outer Rim world, Dalna, to investigate the missionary group called the Path of the Open Hand. The Path members believe the Force is owned by no one, and not to be wielded in the manner of the Jedi Order.
In StarWars.com's exclusive reveal of the prologue from Path of Deceit, a treasure hunter comes to Dalna for a meeting with "the Mother" -- leader of the Path of the Open Hand who is seeking objects connected to the Force...
Radicaz Dobbs, known as Sunshine to his friends and far worse to his enemies, landed his decrepit pleasure yacht in the docking yard on Dalna, a nothing planet in a nowhere part of space. The frontier was full of hardship and scarcity, but Sunshine had never seen such a terrible docking yard. The area was little more than a mudhole, and the dockmaster hadn’t bothered giving him coordinates but instead mumbled through the staticky comms something that sounded like “Set it down anywhere” as Sunshine cleared the upper atmosphere. “Anywhere” being a large open area that looked like the aftermath of a bantha herd migration. As Sunshine set down his ship, the Scupper, he wondered just how there could be a collector of rare Force-related artifacts in such a miserable outpost. But he did not think on it too long. Credits were credits, no matter where they came from.
The ship touched down without incident, and thanks to its decrepit appearance it wouldn’t attract much attention, not even in the most pitiful excuse for a dockyard Sunshine had ever seen. And if the dockmaster did a random inspection, they would find nothing amiss. The inside of the Scupper was no more impressive than the outside. The deck was old and scuffed, and there was a peculiar smell that never really came out, no matter how many times Sunshine had his maintenance droid, DZ-23, scrub the walls. But the disrepair hid powerful sublight engines, a number of coded safes, and a cutting-edge databank and navicomputer. Sunshine liked to keep ahead of the competition, no matter the role he was playing.
Once Sunshine had landed the ship and tucked away some of the rarer artifacts destined for better buyers, he packed up the remaining items and wrapped them carefully before placing them in a knapsack. He wouldn’t take in all his loot at once, only a few items at a time. He might be rather new at fencing items, it being just one of the many things he did to get by, but he was a quick study. It was a rathtareat-rathtar galaxy, and Sunshine was determined to stay off the menu.
He was just about ready to go when there was a sudden pounding on the outside of his ship. Sunshine punched in the code and the boarding ramp lowered, the stabilizing legs at the end settling with a squelching sound that made Sunshine shudder. When he peered down to see who had been hammering the side of his ship, he saw a massive Nautolan dressed in strange blue-and-gray robes, blue paint smeared across his brow and decorating his hands and bare arms. But that wasn’t the most noticeable thing about the man: his head tentacles had been shorn away, leaving behind blunted and unnatural stumps. It was a brutal reminder that despite the man’s kind smile, the galaxy, and its citizens, could be very, very violent.
“You must be Sunshine,” the Nautolan said, holding his palms to the sky and bowing low. “I am delighted to make your acquaintance. You may call me the Herald.”
Sunshine felt a deep sense of unease. “How did you know who I am?”
A smile tugged at the man’s lips briefly before disappearing, and when he straightened, his large liquid black eyes held not a bit of guile. “The Mother asked me to meet you here. She dislikes Ferdan and avoids the city as much as possible. Being around so many living things can sometimes affect her ability to commune with the Force. If you’ll follow me?”
Sunshine did not want to follow the Nautolan, but the woman he’d exchanged messages with had promised quite the payday if he was able to provide interesting artifacts. So Sunshine, who had a very large bill coming due to the Hutt Cartel for some gambling debts, touched his waistband to ensure his blaster was still there before following the Herald.
“Our compound is not far,” the Herald said, leading the way to a slightly less muddy road out of the small settlement.
“We’re leaving Ferdan?” Sunshine asked.
“Yes. Our people’s compound is outside of the city.”
“This is what passes for a city here?” Sunshine said, looking at the people watching them go. For the most part the residents did not seem to mind their passing, but there were a few who stopped and made a sign Sunshine recognized from the rykestra tables as meant to ward away bad luck. He hefted his knapsack and glanced at the Herald.
“Yes. Dalna is peaceful and sparsely populated. That is why we, the Path of the Open Hand, chose this place as our home. There is very little in the way of distractions. You’ll want to hurry, though. This is the rainy season, and during this time of year you’re likely to get soaked if you dally outside too long.”
Sunshine tried to walk faster, but he was short and stout, and the Nautolan was tall and massively built. By the time the first buildings belonging to the Path came into view, he was huffing, and despite the Herald offering a number of times to take his knapsack, Sunshine still gripped it tight. There was something about this strange man and the odd reactions of the people of Ferdan that had set Sunshine on edge.
When Sunshine and his guide rounded a gentle curve in the muddy road, a knot of people waited for them, all of them wearing garments similar to the Herald’s. Sunshine realized there was a pattern to their garb, with some wearing more blue than gray and the older members having more ornamentation, including oddly beaded necklaces and rich blue face paint. The lone human among the group, a brown-skinned woman with soft curls and bright eyes, wore silver, the cut of her robes noticeably better than the others. Her smile was calm and welcoming.
“Sunshine Dobbs, the Force welcomes you freely,” she said, doing an abbreviated version of the Herald’s bow: hands open, palms held to the sky. She did not bend at the waist or close her eyes. Instead she merely inclined her head toward Sunshine, her eyes locked on his.
Sunshine blinked, forgetting himself for a moment. His wariness melted away. “Ah, you must be the Mother.”
“Please. Call me Elecia. The Mother is a title, not the name I go by.” She flashed a smile, and a warm sensation began to spread through Sunshine, like when he’d had a bit too much to drink. “These are some of our Elders. They assist me in making difficult decisions.”
“Ah, there are no hard choices to be made here,” Sunshine said, sensing an opportunity. He hefted his knapsack and grinned. “Every artifact I have is a delight to behold, and resonates with the Force in every imaginable way.”
Elecia’s smile widened. “Oh, I certainly hope so. Come, you must be exhausted after such a long trip. We have some refreshments in our main hall.”
They made their way through the compound, and Sunshine only vaguely noticed the children playing in the grass, all of them smaller copies of the adults: robes in blue and gray, blue face paint. There were older kids lying around, boys and girls talking to one another, and a group of younger kids played a complicated game of keeping a small sack aloft within a circle without using their hands. It would seem so utterly normal if it wasn’t for the strange clothing and face paint. But despite the novelty of it all, Sunshine found his gaze returning again and again to the Mother. So much so that one of the Elders, an elderly Twi’lek woman with wizened lekku, noticed and smiled at him.
“She is beautiful, is she not?” she said.
“Uh, I, yes. Yes, she is.”
“It is because the Force shines through her,” the woman said. “She speaks for it, and in exchange the Force blesses her with poise and beauty.”
Sunshine frowned. “Is she a Jedi?” he asked. He didn’t much care for Jedi and their mind tricks. The old woman hissed and drew back. “No! The Mother is a prophet. She understands the Force must be free, not wielded as a weapon.”
“Here we are,” Elecia said, turning back over her shoulder to smile at Sunshine. “Elders, I would ask you to join us but you should see to your meditation. The Herald will brief you on what is decided after, if that is okay?”
One by one the Elders nodded and peeled off from the group, walking toward the entrance to a cavern. Elecia turned back to him.
“I hope you don’t mind. I figured it would be nice to have some privacy.”
“Oh, um, yes,” he said, words failing him. There was something quite intoxicating about the woman, so much so that he found it difficult to hold a thought in his head. Perhaps it was the planet. The air smelled sweet and fresh, and flowers bowed their heads in the breeze. It was an idyllic setting, to say the least, and Sunshine found his attention wandering. He wanted to stay here, in this lovely place with this lovely woman. Just the thought of leaving seemed impossible.
But then the Mother touched the back of his hand, and the strange sensation disappeared, bursting like a popped bubble. “Mr. Dobbs, are you okay?”
“Sunshine, Miss Elecia,” he said with an uncertain smile.
“Sorry, I wasn’t myself for a moment.”
“Sun sickness,” the Herald said with a definite nod. “It happens sometimes. The dual suns of Dalna can be a bit strong to those who haven’t lived in such an unrelenting light.”
“Let us hurry inside to conduct these matters,” the Mother said. “There are some refreshments that should help you feel better.”
They entered the meeting house, which was, like the rest of the compound, clean and well maintained but completely unadorned. There were designs set into the walls with a strange rock, but nothing more. Sunshine had expected something like the Jedi Temple on Coruscant: spires and paintings and the like. He had gone once when he was young, although he couldn’t remember why or with whom. He just remembered feeling small.
But the Path didn’t make him feel the same way. Instead he felt warm and welcomed, like discovering his family after a very, very long time. There was a bare table set aside, and the Herald indicated it with a sweep of his hand.
“You may place your wares here while I fetch the refreshments,” he said. As he moved away the Mother came over to inspect the items one by one as they were laid out. Sunshine tried to say nothing and focus on laying out the items, but the Mother made him nervous, and when he was nervous he had a tendency to ramble.
“So, you’re a Force user?” he began. The Mother frowned, and he immediately sensed it was the wrong thing to say.
“No, I am a prophet. I do not use the Force. I commune with it and try to share its will with all those who will listen.”
“Oh. The Herald said you disliked town because it has too many people.”
The Mother picked up a bracelet, frowned at it, and immediately put it back. “The Force is life itself, and being around too much of it can be draining.” She paused for a moment, as though considering. “Imagine a crowded room, with everyone yelling at each other in myriad languages. That is what traveling to a town is like for me. Noisy. Chaotic. Not pleasant at all. It’s why I prefer to stay here, where I can commune with the Force in a more manageable way. Even better is to be out amongst the stars, on our ship, the Gaze Electric. There it is only the harmony of the galaxy, the Force and its beautiful inhalations and exhalations.”
Sunshine paused, watching the Mother as she spoke, her eyes shining. He felt something in him shift, and he knew that he would work very hard to make this woman happy. And that was that. A smile from her would be enough.
But then the Mother was frowning at him. “Are you okay? You have a very strange expression on your face.”
Before he could answer, the Herald returned with a tray, two glasses of tea upon it. The Herald handed one to Sunshine and another to the Mother, but made it clear he would not partake of the refreshments. Once each had a glass, the towering Nautolan cleared his throat.
“This is an impressive set of artifacts, but I do not think it is what we are looking for. We originally contacted you looking for an artifact known as the Rod of Ages. It is part of a set. There are two others: the Rod of Seasons, owned by the Hynestian royal family, and the Rod of Daybreak, which is rumored to be secured in a museum on Jedha.”
“Ah, yes, yes.” Sunshine drank deeply of the tea before turning once more to the wares he had laid out. It was mostly baubles and bits. Junk, really. But he’d counted on these backwater denizens not knowing the difference. “I am afraid that is pretty much a thing of legend. But! I do have a very nice bracelet here rumored to have been owned by a Lord of the Sith.”
“These are not what we are looking for,” the Mother said, disappointment clear in her voice. “Our group aims to liberate the Force in all ways, and that includes by obtaining Force artifacts so that they can no longer be abused. I am so sorry you wasted your time coming all the way out here. You were swindled. None of these items echo with the Force.”
Sunshine frowned. He could feel his opportunity slipping away. “Are you sure? This chalice, at least? It belonged to a Jedi who single-handedly ended a planetary civil war!”
The Mother gave him a sad smile, as though he were a child protesting an early bedtime. “I am quite sure. Don’t worry, we will still cover your fuel costs as agreed.”
“Wait! I have one item you haven’t seen.” Sunshine hefted the knapsack. He’d brought the jewel on a whim, since it was the oddest item in the collection. “This came from a far-off planet, on the other side of a maelstrom. An uncharted wonder of a planet, full of life, ruled by the Force.”
The Mother raised her eyebrows. “Truly?”
“Yes,” Sunshine said, pulling forth the jewel from his bag. It was grotesque in its size, with roughly the heft of an overweight tooka cat. Too big for jewelry, too gaudy to be a statement piece. More than that, the few people he’d tried to sell it to had been repulsed by the thing, as though it were something foul instead of a luminous purple orb.
But the Mother gasped aloud as she saw it fully revealed from the depths of the knapsack.
“Oh, yes.” She took the object as if it weighed very little, and her face became rapturous as she cradled it to her chest. “It sings with the Force, alive and wondrous! Oh, the Force delights in this liberation. We shall take it, Sunshine. Please, name your price.”
Sunshine blinked, and he realized that he didn’t want to leave. Not yet. There was something about this woman that was good and true and honest, and while Sunshine had always wanted to be good, he had never had much use for honesty.
“Perhaps, in exchange, you could allow me to help you locate more of these Force artifacts. Help you liberate the Force.” The Mother frowned, and he realized that he hadn’t actually asked for anything for the strange jewel. “For a small finder’s fee, of course.”
There was a pause, where Sunshine thought perhaps he had overstepped. But then the Mother smiled—at him! Only him!—and he realized he’d been terrified that she would say no.
“Sunshine, that is a very good idea. It will be a delight to work with you.”
Sunshine smiled. All this time he had been looking for a place where he felt wanted, and he had finally found it on a nothing planet in a nothing part of the galaxy.
Star Wars: The High Republic: Path of Deceit arrives October 4 and is available for pre-order now.
Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.