A new era of Star Wars is nearly upon us. The High Republic launches in January, bringing fans to the galaxy far, far away a couple hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace. This era gives us the chance to explore a different government, foes we haven’t seen before, and the Jedi Order as it used to be. That means plenty of new characters to form totally healthy attachments to, including one Vernestra “Vern” Rwoh. She’s a Jedi Knight, one of the youngest in generations at a mere 16 years old. Vern’s at the heart of Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage, and we have an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book to share with you today. And it features a rad twist on a lightsaber: the lightwhip!
But first, let’s learn a little more about Vern. A Mirialan, she’s devoted to the Jedi Order. Obviously. She wouldn’t be a teen Jedi Knight otherwise. And in A Test of Courage, Vern is on her first mission. Ireland tells Nerdist, “Like most overachievers she is both excited and a little trepidatious at having such an important job to do. Vernestra feels a deep attachment to the Order and truly does consider it her calling, so all she ever wants to do is the best job that she can, Force willing. She isn’t proud or self-congratulatory, instead she is just deeply committed to serving the light.”
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Things go slightly awry on the mission when a galaxy-wide disaster (which touches all The High Republic stories) kicks the transport ship Vern’s aboard out of hyperspace. She and her charges end up stranded on a jungle moon. And as you can imagine, a jungle moon is full of dangers. To get her group out of trouble, Vern uses her lightsaber—a lightsaber that she has turned into a lightwhip. Yes, a lightwhip is a lightsaber and whip combo. The weapon appeared several times in Legends stories, but in the current storytelling universe has thus far been mentioned only in Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars roleplaying books. So, it’s a little exciting. And as you’ll read in the excerpt below, it makes total sense for Vern.
Ireland shared some insight on why the weapon is right for Vern, too. “Vernestra is deeply conventional for a Jedi. She doesn’t question the wisdom of the Force, and by extension, the Order. She believes in her fellow Jedi and that everything will work out for the best, no matter how the short term may appear. So I wanted her to have a lightsaber that was a little unconventional to show that she truly is a deep and complicated person and not just ‘Mirialan Jedi #1,'” she says. “She feels some bit of conflict over her weapon, and at some point she may have to reconcile the handiness of such a weapon with the expectations of the Order.”
We can’t wait to learn more about that. But for now, let’s dive into this excerpt.
Honesty cried out in alarm, and everyone turned to look at him. “It burns,” he said. He held up his arm, where a raindrop had landed on his sleeve, searing a hole in the material and leaving the edges charred.
“Gah, he’s right,” Avon said, ducking her head and dashing back to stand next to J-6. “Where’s your umbrella?”
“How about a please?” J-6 said. A compartment in her chest opened up, and a silver rod extended out and above her head. There was a crackle as a blue dome of energy emitted from the slender stick, creating a canopy of cover.
“Get over here, Honesty. Unless you have Force powers to protect you, as well,” Avon said, pushing the goggles up onto her forehead. Vernestra realized she had unconsciously been using the Force to keep the few random rain drops from hitting her, and a glance over at Imri revealed that he had been doing the same.
But using the Force in that manner was not sustainable, so Vernestra cut loose a couple of broad leaves and used the Force to levitate them over her and Imri’s heads. That would keep them dry.
Honesty crowded in close to Avon and J-6, and the three of them walked forward awkwardly. The little scout droid ﬂew back through the trees, beeping a cheerful melody. “Go ahead and follow Essdee. He’ll take you to the cave he found. I can track his beacon, and we’ll catch up with you,” Avon said to the Jedi, eyeing the rain with concern.
“We can also track their progress no problem,” Honesty said, pointing to a charred branch, the aftermath of Vernestra’s hacking and slashing. “More important, does this area ﬂood?” Honesty asked, looking around at the ground.
“Let’s hope not,” Vernestra said. If the rain was caustic enough to burn through clothes, then a ﬂowing river of the stuff was going to be disastrous for any nonnative organic life-forms. Crude matter they might all be, but no one wanted to end up melted by a rainstorm.
“Imri, with me,” Vernestra said before redoubling her efforts on the foliage blocking their path. The two of them began to slash at the thick growth, and as they did the rain’s pace increased from intermittent to more regular. The broad leaves over their heads grew heavier, and Vernestra had to concentrate to make sure the leaves remained at an angle so the water could sluice off harmlessly. The foreboding Vernestra had sensed blossomed into dread, the feeling a heavy weight in her middle. She could clear the brush faster, but that would mean showing the true nature of her lightsaber. She glanced at Imri. He was intent on using his blade to cut through the brush. But he looked as tired as Vernestra felt.
He could handle the truth.
“Imri, stand back,” Vernestra said. They’d traveled far enough ahead of the others that there was no one else around to see what she was about to do, and some of Vernestra’s anxiety drained away. “I can do this faster but I need you out of the way.”
“Vern, what are you talking about?” he asked, but still stepped back as she had asked.
“Watch.” Vernestra twisted the front ring on her lightsaber, and the single blade fractured and split before falling in a sinuous strand of purple light. Vernestra swung the lightwhip so that the deadly beam cut through the growth in front of her, clearing the same path as she and Imri had been clearing in a fraction of the time.
“Wait, how did you ﬁgure out how to do that?” Imri asked. He didn’t sound judgmental about the unorthodox weapon, merely curious. “Did you study one of the light weapon archives?”
“No, the entire design came to me in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. I couldn’t sleep until I’d ﬁnished the modiﬁcation.” Vernestra swung the whip in a horizontal ﬁgure eight, letting the bright violet blade work from the residual momentum. She’d started training with the whip in secret, and even Douglas had not known of the modiﬁcations to her lightsaber. Imri was the ﬁrst to see.
“Lightwhips are used by the Nightsisters,” he said. Vernestra turned to look at Imri out of the corner of her eye. She’d learned very early on that the whip required more attention and care than the lightsaber. One wrong move and she could be slicing through one of her own limbs.
“During the Sith Wars the Jedi also used lightwhips,” Vernestra said, clearing the path and walking forward at a brisker pace. Philosophical conversation or no, they still had a massive rainstorm bearing down on them, and they could not levitate leaves over their heads forever. “Have you read the testimonies of Cervil the Uncanny? She states that the whip was sometimes used to defend against the Sith Lords who used the Forbidden Forms. Besides, I was led to this design by the Force. I cannot believe that the dark side directed its construction. Do you feel any of that anger and discord in me?” Vernestra did not mention that she hadn’t told anyone else about the change to her lightsaber, not even her former master, Stellan Gios. The Padawan didn’t need to know everything.
Imri shook his head as his cheeks pinkened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to question you.”
“Questioning me is ﬁne, Imri. I should have questioned the design, as well. But look! It’s already proven useful.”
Vernestra cleared one last group of saplings and then the greenery fell away, revealing a small clearing and a rise. SD-7 was just beyond, hovering in the steady rain.
“Imri, you see that rock?” Vernestra asked, turning off her lightwhip and holstering her weapon. “It looks like there might be a cave under there. Can you clear it?”
Imri nodded and reached out a hand toward the cave. At ﬁrst the massive boulder didn’t move, but then it began to roll right toward them. It gained speed as it hit the incline and Imri grunted from the effort of trying to stop it, shaking and sweating as he reached the limits of his strength.
A heartbeat before the boulder crashed into them, Vernestra pushed it to the left, sending the enormous rock careening into the thick underbrush. The sound of its passage down the hill was loud enough to compete with the thunder overhead.
“Sorry,” Imri said. The large boy was bent double, hands resting on his thighs. The leaf overhead protecting him from the rain fell as he lost his focus. Raindrops sizzled where they hit his tunic, charring the pale material. Vernestra moved her cover over so it ﬂoated above the Padawan, as well.
“It’s okay, Imri. You did well, you just have to learn to focus on the whole task. My master taught me that it helps to envision the entirety of the task, not just one step at a time. We can practice once you’ve had a rest. Come on, let’s check out this cave.”
A Test of Courage will be available on January 5, 2021. It’s available for pre-order now.
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