From a fancy royal wedding to a submerged prison, my how times have changed for Gella and Axel in this first exclusive excerpt of Lydia Kang's new novel.

The next installment of the Star Wars High Republic saga is almost upon us. Following the events of the Convergence book and Battle of Jedha audio drama comes Star Wars: Cataclysm by Lydia Kang, which will be released April 4 by Random House Worlds.

Kang recently sat down with EW's Dagobah Dispatch podcast to take us inside the process of what it is like to work with both other authors and Lucasfilm to establish one story in a much larger landscape. She also talked about making the enigmatic Yaddle a big part of her book, and you can listen to that entire conversation below.

But that's not the only Cataclysm content we have for you, because EW also has the first exclusive excerpt from the new Star Wars novel, and it is a big one — revealing the reunion between Jedi Gella Nattai and the friend who broke her heart when he helped unleash chaos on Eiram, Axel Greylark. But first, the official description on Cataclysm for those either not caught up or who need a refresher.

"After five years of conflict, the planets Eiram and E'ronoh are on the cusp of real peace. But when news breaks of a disaster at the treaty signing on Jedha, violence reignites on the beleaguered worlds. Together, the royal heirs of both planets—Phan-tu Zenn and Xiri A'lbaran—working alongside the Jedi, have uncovered evidence that the conflict is being orchestrated by outside forces, and all signs point to the mysterious Path of the Open Hand, whom the Jedi also suspect of causing the disaster on Jedha. 

"With time—and answers—in short supply, the Jedi must divide their focus between helping quell the renewed violence on Eiram and E'ronoh and investigating the Path. Among them is Gella Nattai, who turns to the one person she believes can unravel the mystery but the last person she wants to trust: Axel Greylark. The chancellor's son, imprisoned for his crimes, has always sought to unburden himself of the weight of his family name. Will he reconcile with the Jedi and aid in their quest for justice and peace, or embrace the Path's promise of true freedom?"

As all roads lead to Dalna, Gella and her allies prepare to take on a foe unlike any they've ever faced. And it will take all of their trust in the Force, and in one another, to survive."

Star Wars The High Republic Cataclysm by Lydia Kang
'Star Wars The High Republic Cataclysm' by Lydia Kang
| Credit: Random House Worlds

Star Wars: Cataclysm by Lydia Kang excerpt

After the war between Eiram and E'ronoh reignites, the Jedi must divide their focus between helping quell the renewed violence and investigating the Path of the Open Hand. Among them is Gella Nattai, who turns to the one person she believes can unravel the mystery but the last person she wants to trust: Axel Greylark.

"I've seen Axel Greylark on the holonet," Orin said. "Quite the wealthy playboy. Looks like his palace has changed locations."

Gella nodded. She bit her lip. She had to control their first conversa­tion or things might go haywire and she'd get no information.

"What's this boyo like?" Orin asked. "In your opinion?"

"Clever. Conniving. Charming."

"I may have a crush on him already," Orin said.

"He's the walking definition of charisma," Gella said. "But he's got a thing against Jedi because of a bad history involving his dad's death. Don't let him fool you. Under that celebrity sheen, he's painfully inse­cure."

Orin made a clucking sound. "You like him, don't you?"

Gella cocked her head toward the Jedi Master. "I didn't say that."

"Didn't have to."

Gella steadied her mind and took a breath. "He's slick. But there is a gentle side to him that I sensed. A young kid inside who's still hurt­ing. I looked for the good in him before I had a grasp of who he was." She furrowed her brow. "And I tend to get defensive when I'm reminded of my mistakes in judgment. They had huge consequences, Orin."

He looked down as they drew closer to the landing pad. "I've spent a lot of time in the Outer Rim, fighting sadistic spice traders, round­ing up parasitic scavengers that hurt good and honest people. I may have not always been around civilized folk all the time, but I did learn one thing. I'm good at reading people. But it's a skill that has taken decades. You're sharpening those skills even as I speak, but still. Be careful, Gella. Your feelings may alter your judgment."

Gella said nothing, using their imminent landing as an excuse to not speak. She would be on her guard. Not make any snap judgments. And control her emotions. It all seemed so very simple. Then why was she still nervous?

They were welcomed by armed guards, native to Pipyyr. Long-limbed, with fur in shades of black, white, and gray, they stared at Gella and Orin with glossy, rounded black eyes. They were shorter than Wookiees, with fangs that shone only when they spoke.

It was cold and windy. Gella pulled her cloak around her front and nodded when she met the guards.

"We've come to interrogate Axel Greylark, one of your prisoners."

"The Republic has sent you?" one of the guards asked, voice sound­ing like a low rumble.

"Yes," Orin said.

"No," Gella said, almost simultaneously.

They exchanged glances and the guards shifted their feet.

"I am Jedi Master Orin Darhga, and this is Jedi Knight Gella Nat­tai. We are working directly in concert with Chancellor Greylark," Orin said. "Our visit will be brief."

The guard looked down at a datapad. "Your ship checks out. The Eventide is one of Greylark's fleet." He looked up at Gella. "It looks like the chancellors have left a white list for access without authorization. You are on it, Jedi Nattai. Very well. You will leave your weapons on your ship or locked in our armory."

Neither felt particularly safe to Gella, but they decided to leave them with the guards. Past a three-meter-thick outer blast door and yet another one to the inner building, they were led down narrow cor­ridors of stone. The air here smelled strange, like old seawater. Gella was growing a mild headache, and even Orin looked a little off.

"You'll probably notice the pressure change," said the guard leading them. Her voice was gruff and low. "Our atmosphere is slightly denser than on other inhabited planets. Most get used to it."

Gella rubbed her temples as they seemed to descend lower and lower, and the walls felt like they were pressing closer. The guard led them through yet another set of blast doors, and finally to a row of cells.

The cells were small—containing a cot, washing facilities, and table. Bleak and bare. There was a viewscreen in each room, most dis­playing a static image of a planet—perhaps the inmate's homeworld. One displayed an old holonet music show that Gella remembered as a child. On another screen was a candid interview with a jovial Chancel­lor Mollo, his facial tentacles waving.

So this is where they were keeping Axel? It was nothing like what she'd imagined. She'd assumed Axel would be in a cushy prison for the wealthiest convicts in the galaxy. This was harsh for any prisoner.

"Inmate AG-07. Transferred from prison barge CA73Z two weeks ago. Here we are." The guard stepped back so they could speak with relative privacy.

Inside, the disgraced Axel Greylark was curled up on the cot. He wore a white jumpsuit like the other prisoners, his dark, wavy hair longer and mussed, as if he'd just woken up. Gella had imagined speaking to him a thousand times since she'd last seen him on Eiram. Gella curled a fist, but instead of pounding the wall like she'd imag­ined, she could only bring herself to tap gently on the clear barrier between them. Orin glanced at her, his face showing the tiniest bit of worry.

Axel rolled over. When he saw Gella, he jerked to attention, draping his legs over the side of the cot. He was thinner and paler, with shad­owed and hollow eyes. An expression of confusion settled on his fea­tures.

"Gella! What are you doing here?" he asked. He had eyes for noth­ing but her; he didn't even seem to notice Orin standing at her side.

Gella's head throbbed mildly. She told herself to stay clearheaded, but the ache was distracting. She took a moment to reach out with the Force, to steady herself. But it was more difficult than usual.

"We're here to ask questions," Gella said, trying to ignore the pain. "About Jedha."

He shook his head in disbelief. "What—how did you get here? What have you been doing?" Axel looked suspiciously at Orin, finally noticing him. Axel's whole posture changed slightly, like when dark­ness descends imperceptibly just after a sun sets. He crossed his arms. "So, what about Jedha?" he said.

"Before that, mate. Why are you looking so knackered?" Orin asked.

"What?" Axel said, his face confused.

"You look tired. Or sick. Or both," Orin added.

"If you care, why don't you get me transferred off this fuzz-covered planet?" he said, winking.

One of the Pipyyr guards growled at a distance.

"Insulting the guards?" Orin said. He motioned to Gella. "Maybe he's not as clever as you think."

"You called me clever, Gella?" Axel's eyebrows went up. "I'll take it." But his hand went to his stomach, and he suddenly paled, despite his repartee.

She stepped closer to the partition, studying him. There were several emotions arising from Axel. Relief, distrust, and now . . . discomfort. And he wasn't controlling them well. This was all genuine. "You aren't well," Gella said. "What's going on?"

"It's the atmospheric pressure." He rubbed his head. "Feels like my brain is being squeezed all the time, and I can't keep food down. It's worse when they let us walk outside in the upper courtyard, so I just don't leave my cell."

"Don't they have medicine or something for that?" Gella shouldn't care, but the words left her before she could think about it. Maybe it was her own blossoming headache that made her think less clearly.

"They do. It helps a little, but I'm more sensitive than most to the pressure, I guess. Maybe growing up on some of those high levels on Coruscant with those altitudes. I don't know."

It was disconcerting to see him look so unwell, and Gella knew she was being more sympathetic than she should. They'd passed by several other inmates, and none of them seemed nearly as sick.

"Look, I'm fine. I get boring food, lots of rest, and far too much time to think. Definitely no Chandrilan linen sheets or shimmersilk pajamas here. But you didn't visit Pipyyr's finest high-security prison on the edge of nowhere to ask if I liked the bedding and entrée op­tions. What happened on Jedha?"

Gella studied him, staying silent. She sensed his emotions—the queasiness, the pain, the wondering. He really seemed to not know.

"The peace talks on Jedha failed. There was a battle, with a lot of casualties. Jedha City is a mess. We think the Herald of the Path of the Open Hand started a riot, and things got out of control. Some­thing, or someone, was hurting Force-users. Something powerful." Gella stepped closer to the partition. "You knew this was going to hap­pen, didn't you?"

"No." Axel stood up. He looked down at Gella. "I didn't. I swear."

"What else is going to happen? After everything—you have to tell us."

"I'm not a member of the Path of the Open Hand," Axel said, shrugging.

"But you worked for them. Is the Herald their leader?" Orin asked.

Axel hesitated. He knew something.

"Spill it," Gella said firmly. She was getting irritated. If only this headache would distract her.

"He holds a lot of power, but the Mother leads them," Axel said, his hands hanging limply, as if tired of the questioning already.

Gella and Orin exchanged glances. She could tell by how he said the words that he didn't mean Chancellor Greylark.

"The Mother? Who is that?" Orin asked.

"She's the leader of the Path. She took them from a small religious group on Dalna into something bigger. Much bigger," Axel said.

Gella watched him carefully. Axel had never said who'd instructed him when he wreaked havoc on Eiram. There had been a woman he'd spoken to, but Gella had never learned her identity. And the way Axel was standing now—slightly hunched and not meeting her eye—spoke volumes.

"She was the one, wasn't she?" Gella said. "Who was behind all your moves on Eiram and E'ronoh?"

Axel nodded, still not making eye contact.

Orin frowned. "Does she know what the Herald did on Jedha?"

Axel shrugged again. Gella took a calming breath before saying, "Tell us what you know."

Orin pointed at him. "Aye, or I'll talk for the next seventy-two hours straight until your brain feels pressure of a different sort."

"Trust me, one hour will suffice," Gella said, drily.

Shockingly, Axel smiled a little. "It's so strange, having someone to talk to that's not a wall, or a guard yelling at me." His hands shook a little as he raised them to the partition. "The Path is stationed on Dalna. But that's common knowledge if you ask around. Look, Gella. I need to tell you something. I didn't have a chance before I got taken away—"

"—For murder. Among other things," Gella added.

"I know, I know. And it was wrong. I had a million reasons why it made sense, and why I had to do it. But I didn't have to do anything. It was my fault, and my doing entirely. I'm sorry. But I'm sorrier for losing your trust, Gella."

They stood only a scant meter away from each other. She remem­bered when she could have reached out to him, clapped him on the back, smiled and laughed over being outsiders on Eiram and E'ronoh. None of this seemed real. And then she shook her head slightly to reset. Concentrate, she told herself. This isn't a time to be reminiscing. He lied. He killed. He fooled you. Don't let him do it again.

"I'd believe you more if you could tell us what else the Path, and whoever else you've been working with, is up to," she said. "I don't think what happened on Jedha was just the Path stirring up trouble against the Jedi. Tell me what you know."

Axel took a step closer. His palm slapped against the partition hard. Gella and Orin both jerked back in surprise. Axel's head sagged.

"Gella," Axel gasped, and closed his eyes. "I'll tell you everything, but . . ."

"What is it? Axel?" Gella put her hand up as well, and Orin moved to pull her back.

"I'm . . . I'm pretty sure I'm going to black out." Axel's hand squeaked down the plane between them, his eyes closing. He crumpled to the floor as the guard ran over and called for the medic to the lower circle of the prison. The guard ordered Gella and Orin back, opening up the cell to assess Axel. She murmured to herself, checking his vital signs.

"Well!" Orin's eyebrows rose high. "That did not go as I expected."

"I thought he was going to be different," Gella whispered. "Defen­sive. Manipulative."

"I thought you were going to give him a harder time. I'd no idea the job was already done for us before we got here."

The incoming guards placed Axel on a hover-stretcher and whisked him away. She stared at the empty corridor for longer than she in­tended, frowning deeply. Axel was doing so poorly. Incarceration was one thing, but this place was physically hurting him. It was cruel, even if it wasn't the intent of the prison itself. The Republic needed to know. Gella wondered if Chancellor Greylark had any idea how aw­fully her son was faring. She also wondered if the effects of Pipyyr and her distraction from feeling the Force made it easier for him to influ­ence her.

And now her fury toward Axel had morphed into pity, and wanting to help him.

Reprinted from Star Wars: Cataclysm (The High Republic) by Lydia Kang. © 2023 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Published by Random House Worlds, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Listen to an interview with Cataclysm author Lydia Kang on this week's episode of EW's Star Wars podcast, Dagobah Dispatch.

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