She’d known before she even disembarked her ship. Reva had gotten the alert about the fortress’s security breach, accompanied by cold and impersonal lists of casualties and already a cost analysis of repairs, but she had no way of learning the details until her ship docks on the landing pad. Up here, there isn’t much evidence of damage. High above the detention levels where the breach occurred, the landing pad is relatively quiet. There’s one supply ship landing, a troop transport taking off for Coruscant, and the Grand Inquisitor standing in the center, watching her ship arrive.
“Third Sister,” the Grand Inquisitor says as a greeting. “I regret to inform you that the Second Sister is deceased.”
Reva doesn’t react. Not a single muscle in her face even twitches. It’s windy today. The gusts coming off the ocean bring the smell of acrid smoke and burning oil and tug at her braids, at her cape. She takes a deep breath of that salty air and asks, “How did it happen?”
The Second and Third Sisters were not so different.
None of the Inquisitors are so different from one another, not really, though they are constantly at war with one another. The competition between them has always been bitter, a constant battle for favor and survival in the new Empire. But they are really all the same. Desperate, alone, angry. The differences come in expression of that turmoil. Some hold their pain and fury together in a tight, cold core in their chest, while others let their anger spill over into recklessness, sadism.
Reva becomes angry. She lets herself be angry, with the whole galaxy at times, because it’s easier than any alternative. She takes all her pain and transforms it into fury. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and it makes her effective, if reckless. The others all look down on her, believing her to be an overcompensating street rat from the lowest levels of Coruscant. They think she’s trying to prove herself to them. They believe she came from nothing.
But Reva has secrets. Ones none of the others know of, she’s made sure of it. And one day she’ll use those secrets, fed with all the anger and hatred she’s been tenderly cultivating for the last five years, to burn this whole place to the ground.
Trilla, by contrast, does keeps neither her objectives nor her obsessions secret. She does not nurse her hatred in darkness, but makes it plain for all to see. Her story is readily available. Everyone knows of her fall from the heights of a promising padawan, her betrayal by her former master, and her desire to find and destroy her.
But Trilla does not appear angry on the outside. Information that was once torn from her lips by Imperial torture is now offered willingly. She shares everything she knows about her former master, everything she knows about the Jedi. She embraces what she had one been. She holds herself with the cold detachment of a proper Jedi-in-training, just twisted out of shape. Her anger fuels her but it does not spill over. This quality makes her cruel, yet brutally effective. She rapidly becomes the most feared among them, a wraith that haunts the stories told around campfires on the so-called Path.
Trilla is cold where Reva is hot. Their duels are ferocious. Sometimes it seems that, though they are meant to be practice, one of them might not come out of the training room alive. But their contrasting natures make them perfect matches in the ring. Reva lets her anger drive her blade, Trilla her cold hatred. Their bouts end in more draws than outright victories, and just as many screaming matches. The others mostly get out of the way for that, though the Ninth Sister seemed to enjoy watching.
But still, they are comrades. They work together well, when they are sent out on the tails of rogue Jedi, and Reva must admit, of all the Inquisitors, Trilla is the least loathsome. In another galaxy, they might have been friends.
The last time Reva had seen Trilla, she’d been ice cold.
“There’s a report of a Jedi on Bracca,” she’d said without emotion. “A credible one.” There are always reports of Jedi. Half turn out to be frauds, or false denunciations because someone’s hoping to move in on their neighbor’s farm. A rambling old man here, a weird little girl that doesn’t get along well with her peers there. As the supply of true Jedi begin to dwindle in the galaxy, the number of false reports begin to outweigh the real. A credible report is cause for excitement. Like blood in the water.
“Bracca. Lovely planet.” Reva had only been once, years before. It was not pleasant. It was constantly raining, cold and raw, and always smelled with the tang of oil The nasty part of her revels that Trilla had been assigned such a miserable task. Trilla doesn’t react to her sarcastic remark, just sweeps away without another word.
“She volunteered,” the Fifth Brother corrects with a sneer later, when Reva says something along those lines to him. “Said she might find something important to her there.”
The smug look falls from Reva’s face. “Ah.” Trilla moves one step closer to her own vengeance, while Reva stagnates. Patience is not a virtue of the Dark Side. Reva feels a flare of anger because the Force briefly shows her the path laid out, much as it likely had Trilla. There is a Jedi on Bracca, one that will lead her towards Cere Junda, towards the holocron that both sides had long been searching for, hidden too well for even the Jedi to recover. If Trilla is successful, she will not only get the personal revenge she’s been dreaming of for so long, she will also provide their masters with the biggest boon in their quest to eliminate the Jedi.
And Reva stays behind, surrounded by her enemies, losing favor due to her recklessness and the derision with which the others look at her. Anger burns in her chest, threatens to explode like a dying star.
“The Ninth Sister was drafted.”
That makes Reva feel a bit better.
Reva half-hopes she’s wrong, over the next day or so. She hopes Trilla will come back stymied. She tells herself that it’s because she doesn’t want the Second Sister to gain the upper hand in the Inquisitors’ endless struggle for power. Reva has high aspirations. The magnitude of Trilla’s victory, if accomplished, would set her own goals back. She very carefully doesn’t think at all about the Jedi she’d gone after, or the children on the list.
“The Second Sister’s not coming back,” the Fourth tells her, a few days later. “She has not completed her mission.”
“She’s not captured one half-trained padawan? She’s losing her touch.”
“He had help evading her. She won’t be back for a while.”
Reva wonders with a certain amount of detachment, what will happen next. Both to Trilla and to the children on the list she is pursuing.
She doesn’t have time to think on it, and for that she’s glad. The Fourth Sister ignites her saber and their duel begins.
She gets a new assignment soon after, so she is not there when Trilla returns, bearing with her the holocron but down a lightsaber, pursued by Jedi…
“The Jedi,” Reva says. The wind picks up. Thunder rolls in the distance. The smell of smoke gets stronger. She looks down at the churning waters. Oil has leaked out of pipelines in the destroyed underwater part of the fortress, caught fire on the surface of the sea. Troopers work from hovering ships to quench the fires. “The ones she was hunting? They killed her?”
The ones she failed to capture? The ones who nearly destroyed the fortress? If Trilla had survived, oh how Reva would have sneered at her failures. It would have been a gloat for the ages, especially with how bitterly angry she’d felt when she’d learned Trilla had been on the path to her ultimate goal.
“Yes. The ones who also murdered the Ninth on Kashyyk.” That news had come days earlier, along with footage and descriptions of the fugitives. “She was killed by the Jedi over the holocron. A shame. She was one of our best fighters. She would have had a very bright future in service to our goals. But she was blinded by her hatred for her former master, her obsession with revenge. She was foolish and she has paid the price for her…recklessness.”
Reva has done her best to keep her objectives to herself. With the deepest, truest ones, she has succeeded, but she’d had to give one up to keep the others. Her fixation on capturing Kenobi had spilled over, become common knowledge among the Inquisitors. It had become something of an avatar, a symbol of all she hopes to accomplish.
The others think she is getting a little too obsessed with finding the old master. She shifts uncomfortably at the Grand Inquisitor’s implications.
He grins. “Look where it’s gotten her. Cut down with her own lightsaber, by her own former master. Tragic, really. Obsession can be useful, but stray too far and it will be your ruin.”
“Was the holocron recovered?” Reva asks instead of responding to the bait.
The smile drops off his face. “Unclear. Purge Troopers are still searching the rubble, under the supervision of the Fifth Brother. We have not yet found it.”
A list of all the Force-Sensitive children in the galaxy. Spared, it seemed, for now, from the Inquisition’s grip. Reva has become well-accustomed to holding two conflicting thoughts in her mind at the same time. She feels both relief that these children had escaped and frustration that they have slipped through their fingers. There is no conflict in it, not after the last five years. Both are true, at the same time, to different parts of her mind. A necessary insanity, if one is to survive this place.
“Is Lord Vader very angry?”
“He is. I’d stay away for now if I were you. You can make your own report when tempers have cooled somewhat.”
“Shall I update the descriptions for Trilla’s fugitive Jedi?”
“Already done. The wanted listing has been sent out to the galaxy again. We’ll have them before long.”
One of the others got the jump on that. Pity she’d been away. Another point lost in the endless game they play. Reva shows no sign of the disappointment, only nods. “Anything else, Grand Inquisitor?”
“Not now. You did well on Kuat.”
The targets on Kuat had gone easy. They’d barely tried to run. Reva had cut them down without another thought. “Thank you.”
“You are dismissed.”
Reva bows and leaves him.
Reva cannot shake the sense that there is something more to Trilla’s death than the Grand Inquisitor had been willing to share.
She first tries to find the security footage of Trilla’s death. That part of the fortress has been utterly destroyed, so most of the video is scrambled, fragmented. And then just gone. A blank slate until the recording cuts out entirely when the undersea tunnels explode. She backs up more. The last clear image is several hours prior, when the detention level is nearly empty and quiet. There are a few Purge Troopers moving around the edges of the walkways, the techs at their stations, but no sign of Trilla or the fugitives. Reva scrubs forward and is again met with a blank void. Someone has scrubbed the footage. It is just gone, deleted from the system.
So Reva descends to the morgue to see the body as it is laid out to be prepared for burial. No, not burial. Preservation. There is no burial, no funerals, no ritual burnings for them. There is just preservation in golden liquid, hidden deep under the fortress with the others, for a purpose none of them properly understand.
Trilla is laid on the table, flat on her back, still wearing her torn and burned black uniform. The cape fans out behind her. Her eyes are open, deep brown, staring unseeingly at the ceiling above. The wounds on Trilla’s cold body betray the real story of her death.
Her torso is nearly split in two by a single, brutal diagonal slash, made unmistakably by a lightsaber. The blade had cut downward from her shoulder to her belly, scorching flesh and fabric as it went. It had to have been made from above, by someone taller. Someone taller and with a terrifying amount of strength to nearly bisect her completely.
The young, red-haired padawan she’d been hunting had been shorter, the former master weak and out of practice. And moreover, Reva had seen these marks before. Every night in her dreams, she sees bodies, cut by those marks. The saber that night had still been a bright blue, but she has no trouble imagining it turned scarlet, underscored by the sound of mechanical breathing, a sudden blade striking down the Second Sister from the darkness.
She knows the style of Anakin Skywalker better than anyone in the Empire, save perhaps one.
Reva understands both why the Grand Inquisitor would lie about who killed Trilla and why they would not attempt to disguise the clear evidence of Vader’s handiwork. It doesn’t actually matter. It is a sign, a message. There is only death to be found with the Jedi they hunt. Only safety in loyalty to the Inquisition, and victory at all costs. Connection wrought by a weak will is a fatal mistake. They must only be eliminated. It doesn’t matter whether the killing blow was struck by a Jedi or by one of their own. Trilla was killed by the Jedi, and she was killed by Vader, and both things are as true as the other. Just like the frustration and relief that Reva feels are equally true.
There is no way out. There is only the way forward, through the Inquisition itself. The Second Sister learned that lesson too late. Reva has known it for five years. A trickle of grief sneaks its way in to her heart.
She spends a little more time looking down at Trilla’s body until the feeling of mourning has transmuted into a sense of triumph. Until the pain of watching another be cut down by Skywalker’s blade becomes a relief that there is one less challenger on her road to her own objectives. One less person to stand in her way.
Then she leaves the corpse behind and returns to her duty.
She sees the Jedi once more, two years after Trilla’s death. It’s fleeting, and from a distance. She is with Vader when they meet on a deserted and ruined moon in the Outer Rim, and they wisely flee the moment they feel his dark presence approaching. Reva only catches a glimpse of red hair, bobbing away as the former padawan runs, the master close on his heels. The master looks back once, when they reach their ship. She gives no sign that she sees Reva watching her through binoculars, and turns back after a moment. Vader has fighters pursue them, but they escape again and Reva does not ever catch up to them again. She thinks of them sometimes and wonders what they think of what happened to Trilla.
And she thinks of them, and Trilla, three more years after that, as she watches security footage of cracks spreading along fragile glass. On her screen, seawater seeps in, then floods in a great rush as the glass gives way and frustration and fear roil within her.
She thinks about what she learned from Trilla’s fate. This is the most dangerous time. She knows she walks on a knife edge. There can be no room for mercy, no room for mistakes. She is in the most peril she’s been in since that night in the Temple, when she laid down amidst the corpses of her classmates and pretended to be one of them. Trilla’s body lies somewhere in the vaults deep beneath her feet, encased in amber preservative, and if Reva is not very, very careful about what happens next, she just might join her. She just might join the dead.
Reva straightens her spine and takes a deep breath. There is no room for weakness. She goes to face Vader, the tracker already implanted on the girl’s toy droid, and her buried secrets threatening to resurface.