The moment they arrived on the planet after the signal, people lining up for the dreaded inspection, she knew.
It was the redheaded boy, with fear in his eyes. But she played her part, trying to lure him out, to toy with him. When the Abednedo stepped out of line, ready to turn himself instead of the boy, a smirk crossed her lips under the mask.
She didn’t expect the lightsaber. Perhaps a Padawan, all alone and scared.
Killing him would have been a mercy.
She thought nothing of him, until he jumped aboard a ship and there she was.
Different clothes, different place, different hair, but the same look in her eyes as her former Master recognized her helmet. And Cere was rescuing him. Protecting him. Trilla’s blood burned inside her veins.
She thought nothing of him, and now he became everything.
As a hunter, it was imperative to gather as much information as possible. To learn every aspect of your prey. However, this time she searched obsessively every databank available to the Inquisitorius, every scrap of intel to uncover the truth behind Cere’s new protégé.
Cal Kestis. Padawan to a Jedi Knight named Jaro Tapal, an imposing Lasat that was posted over Bracca during the Clone Wars.
She saw the picture clearly drawn in front of her—the story every survivor of Order 66 had lived. One she had lived in her bones. But Cal Kestis’ Master had died protecting him, while she had received betrayal in return for her trust.
The pain had never left, but now Trilla relished it, welcomed it. That was what the Empire had gifted her. She allowed the flow of hate course through her blood, her next steps taking shape in her mind.
If Cere wanted to rebuild a new Jedi Order with Cordova’s holocron, she would have to do it over her dead body—and the corpse of his appointed Padawan.
He had piqued her interest, a mix bag of curiosity and disdain. Despite his apparent naivety, Cal Kestis wasn’t intimidated by her, igniting the lightsaber the moment she had brought up the holocron.
Perhaps that compelled her, in the end, to reveal herself when the energy field denied her the final blow. No better way to plant the seed of doubt in his mind than showing who she was—and unmask not only her identity, but Cere’s true nature.
He accused her of manipulation. But the funny thing was, Trilla thought, there was no need to twist the facts. It surprised her a bit how smug he acted, then rattled at the mere mention of the children.
Oh, but did he want to protect those children. That struck a cord inside her—the faint memory of children surrounding her, tugging at her robe, scared and hungry.
And Cere had killed them all.
He became fascinating in some twisted sense. The hunt was freedom in her world of pain—killing was the climax, the release of all those things she had bottled inside her. And she hadn’t enjoyed hunting anyone more than Cal Kestis.
So she waited, until the opportunity arose. He had been spotted recently in Kashyyyk, working hand in hand with no other that the infamous Partisans.
She found herself looking forward to trapping him among the terrors that lingered in those damned Shadowlands. A rematch of their time in Zeffo. Oh, yes. The way she could get under his skin was enthralling.
(What she didn’t acknowledge was how it worked both ways.)
They were alone, preparing for deployment in Kashyyyk. The Ninth Sister uneased her, with her sly smiles and prodding eyes. It felt as if she were scraping at your mind—which was probably the case. Even with her mask on, she sensed her scrutiny.
“You fancy the boy, Second Sister?” she teased in mock, chuckling dryly.
It froze her, and her whole body reacted with a convulsion. Taking a deep breath, Trilla turned on her heels. The bright red light of her ignited saber sparkled suddenly in the room, and she raised the blade close to the Ninth Sister.
“Bring him alive, Ninth Sister, or I’ll cut your other leg off.”
Instead of feeling threatened, the Dowutin smirked.
The mask came off with ease as she raised it over her head, carefully placing it on top of the sink. Alone in the refresher of her own quarters, she stared at the reflection in the mirror. The face of Trilla Suduri stared back, dark bags under her eyes, hair disheveled—the carcass of a young woman who had died five years ago, in this same fortress.
She hadn’t felt this restless in a very long time. The Ninth Sister was declared MIA. Cal Kestis had escaped once again, under her nose. She should have been the one facing him.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. She opened them up again.
The image in the mirror had changed. Where she had seen her face, now she found blue eyes piercing her. A pale face, covered in freckles. The lopsided lips.
Cal Kestis looked at her with an unreadable expression. Her eyes widened, an incomprehensible horror took over her body, fingers clasped with fury at the basin of the sink.
“I am what Cere made me,” he said, tipping his head back slightly. “A Jedi.” His body shifted, moving closer to the mirror’s surface. “You were never worth it, Trilla. I am.”
She started dry-heaving, sensing the panic attack inside her lungs as she had experienced so many times at the beginning. But she always managed to control her body, and the slight trembling stopped.
Her hands grabbed the helmet and Trilla took a last look at it. When she turned her eyes back to the mirror, Cal Kestis stood there still, unwavering.
A second later, the reflection broke in tens of shards as the hard surface of the helmet crashed against it.
Weeks had passed, but the numb feeling of what she had experienced in the mirror hadn’t vanished completely. It disturbed her, so she turned to meditating.
When she was a Padawan at the Jedi Temple, they had taught her to let the Force flow through you, to become a vessel. Now it was different. Meditation meant harnessing the Force, allowing all your feelings and passions to rise from its depth and unleash them.
It was the path of freedom.
So she sat in her own meditation chamber, cross-legged on the cold floor. The Force surrounded her with violence, and she used all her inner strength to subjugate its power.
Then the air changed around her. She wasn’t in her chamber anymore, but on an earthy, muddy field. The rain poured from the clouded sky, dampening her whole suit and hair. In front of her, there he was again.
The same frightened expression he had worn on Bracca. Trilla smirked.
“On your knees, Cal Kestis.”
And he obeyed her, this time. He dropped to one knee, head lowered. It sent an electrifying sensation through her spine.
Taking one step further, she approached him and trapped his chin between her gloved fingers, forcing him to look up at her.
“Outstanding,” she repeated, and her lips drew a smirk.
Trilla bowed slightly, her fingers travelling down his throat, encircling it until her fingertips left a mark on his skin. Her lips found his and she kissed them with rawness—with hunger.
She opened her eyes shaken to the core, heart racing inside her ribs. At that moment, she knew it.
Cal Kestis was all she could have become. A light in the darkness of her existence—a light Cere had decided to consume for her, while this boy was given all she had been denied. She wouldn’t allow it. He’d submit and die under her heel, and hopefully Cere would suffer now and pay. For her and all the children.
She’d claim the last remnant of the naive Padawan Trilla Suduri with his life.