Summary: The night before the battle of Naboo, Darth Maul has a disturbing premonition and is forced to come to terms with the likelihood of his death.
The Neimoidian Viceroy of the Trade Federation, Nute Gunray, his flagship captain, Daultay Dofine, and Rune Haako, his legal advisor, were clustered around the small, opulent table inside the throne room of Theed Palace, babbling to each other in a heated rush all at the same time.
They immediately hushed each other as I entered the room, and stared up at me with open distaste and fear mirrored in their large amphibious eyes. Each shifted in their chairs with noticeable discomfort at my sudden and unwelcome presence.
I had sought them out this evening merely to announce my arrival and regarded each of them contemptuously in turn, causing them to quiver even more. Dofine rose quickly, albeit a little unsteadily, and cleared his throat.
"I...I must get back to the ship," he stammered, keeping his voice low. He bowed to his colleagues and all but backed out of the throne room, bumping into fixtures, and colliding with the open doorframe before finally turning and scurrying away.
Rune Haako and Nute Gunray exchanged wary glances, then focused their attention back on me, this time looking expectant.
Instead of greeting them to put them at ease, I purposefully ignored them and went directly to the throne, sat down and leaned back into its plush padding with a heavy sigh. The Neimoidians continued waiting for me to speak first, but I remained silent, just to tax them. I could feel their eyes on me as I absently surveyed the room and its contents. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Rune Haako half-rose as if to excuse himself, but the Viceroy latched onto his arm and pulled him back down, whispering to him in desperate tones.
Unable to tolerate my rudeness any longer, Nute Gunray finally spoke.
"Ah...you there! We...ah...wish to...speak with Darth Sidious," he began, his confidence growing with every word he was allowed to say. "We appreciate him sending you here to protect us, but we have not heard from him since. We have tried contacting him earlier, but he does not respond."
"It would be nice to know everything is going as planned," Haako piped up. "Despite our...recent minor setbacks. Perhaps you could summon him for us."
Slowly, I turned my eyes on them and folded my arms across my chest. It wasn't even worth wasting my breath to correct their gravely mistaken assumptions. Again they waited, eyeing me uncomfortably.
Gunray tried again. "What are we supposed to do when the queen gets here? He hasn't told us anything. How are we supposed to capture her with the Jedi guarding her? She keeps getting away...It's impossible! We can't be blamed! I heard that YOU couldn't even stop her!"
At that, I narrowed my eyes and curled my upper lip into a threatening snarl. He was treading on very thin ice and I thought it was only fair I let him know he did not want to risk provoking me. I rose from the throne and began stalking about the room, keeping my eyes fixed on the Viceroy with a menacing glare.
My warning was sufficient in deterring any further attempts at conversation with me. The two Neimoidians visibly shriveled and wilted in humility, dropping their eyes to the table before them.
"Did you say something?" I inquired in a low, whispery voice, daring him to respond.
Coming around the table to where the Viceroy sat, I leaned over his shoulder, placing my hand on the surface in between his, causing him to twist around awkwardly to face me.
"You will address me as Lord Darth Maul," I growled in his ear. "Or you will not address me at all."
Nute Gunray swallowed hard and nodded appeasingly. Rune Haako studied the surface of the table as if it held some detailed phantom schematics that required his absolute and immediate attention. I think he was hoping that if he didn't look at me, I would just leave him alone.
"My lord," the Viceroy started over, entreatingly. "We are worried. We have been unable to contact Darth Sidious. We need an update."
The perfume the Neimoidians wore hardly masked their rather offensive personal odor. I could not bear to stay so close. I straightened and slowly moved away from them. The sense of relief I felt coming from them both at my slight departure was truly humorous.
"You spoke with Lord Sidious this afternoon," I reminded Gunray. "You know all you need to know."
Clearly, that wasn't what he wanted to hear. "But...but things have changed! What has he got planned? What about the queen? What...what about the Jedi! We can't find the Gungans! Did he tell you that? There have been reports that they are massing for war. What measures has he taken to ensure our safety? We need to know!"
I closed my eyes momentarily and pleaded with the Force for patience. It was unfortunate Sidious and I had to ally ourselves with these beings in the first place, but there was no denying the power the Trade Federation possessed. The Neimoidians did have their uses. And they were expendable.
"Incompetent fools," I growled under my breath and succeeded in startling them back into submission. "Only you could consider failing when everything is being handed to you on a plate! There is no room for failure at this point. The girl returns into our very clutches. Her capture is guaranteed. The Jedi with her do not concern me, so they certainly should not concern you. They are nothing more than annoying obstacles. And the Gungans are a primitive society. Even if they rise up, their organic warfare will be no match for your army's firepower. Success is ensured."
The Neimoidians stared up at me, their feeble mouths gaping open dumbly. Thoroughly disgusted by their obvious lack of faith in our power, I left them then, weary of their jitters and clingy, condescending manner. It had been a very long day thus far and I was anxious to meditate in agreeable solitude.
I found an antechamber in one of the more remote corners of the palace and settled in for a long mind-settling meditation, stripping to the waist to revel in the weight of the cool night air pressing soothingly on my heated skin.
It was this sensuality I focused on, tuning my mind to feelings, emotions, and senses. As soon as I closed my eyes, I started sinking.
I can feel my body descend as I pull my consciousness down to the cold depths of some long dead and vast black sea. The frigid darkness begins to envelope me as I fix my eyes on the last rippling sparkles of light above me on the surface. I descend until I am completely surrounded by an impenetrable void--rendered blind with its emptiness and deaf from the roar of its silence. The glittering surface has long since dimmed and I realize I am weightless and senseless, but still acutely aware of even the slightest shift in the water's movement and temperature on my exposed skin. Nothingness surrounds me yet I am surrounded. I sense its presence...everywhere. I could drown in this darkness, but I do not shun it or try to push it away. It is a part of me now, moving with me, not against me. In an effect, it allows me to extend my consciousness beyond myself. Its power becomes my power, my will becomes its will. The black sea and I are one. I drink it and breathe it into my body to draw upon its strength as I turn to face that which would destroy me.
There are three of them. They stride arrogantly towards me in a garrish white light which cuts through my dark sanctity like a sword. Such brightness offends me, so I submerge myself even deeper into the shadows, farther down than I have ever been before, and they follow me willingly. The light steadily begins to fade and I can see them clearly now in the absolute darkness that I have tainted them with.
Fear approaches me first. His name is written on his forehead in blood red lines but I know him well and recognize him despite that. He is a walking contradiction for he is both repulsive and beguiling, strong, yet subtle. I have faced his kind before many times and take care now not to let him come too near. He seeks to ruin me, but in the dark he is mine and I bend him to my will. Now I use his destructive powers in battle. Fear becomes my devoted slave.
I turn to the left now and see Hate. Hate betrays me sometimes so I am wary. He is blazing hot and much too powerful for me to hold captive. He is a spinning vortex of energy, feeding off emotions set free by the outer influences that manipulate my mind. Unlike Fear, Hate cannot and should not be controlled, but released with precision like the lash of a whip, to sting and cut deep into the cool flesh of indifference.
Pain is hovering at my right and she intimidates me above all. She comes unbidden--always given to me by something else. She is deceptive and unavoidable at times. I have known her all my life. I have embraced every curve of her heated body though I know succumbing to her charms can be debilitating. She calls to me like a siren singing in the night, promising repose upon her voluptuous milk-filled breasts. Even now she touches me with tantalizing caresses as soft as the breath of a whisper. When I turn away from her seduction, and refuse to acknowledge her, she leaves me. All she ever wants is to be acknowledged.
Under the cover of my darkness, Fear, Hate, and Pain are here, for me now, and I am ready to use them. I feel strengthened with them at my side so I raise my face to the dawning sun, blackened in this fathom of the dead sea where I wait in security to confront my foe.
I see the Jedi now. Beyond the sun he runs, out of the center of my mind and skids to a stop just behind my eyes. Determination is by his side as well as Ignorance, who obligingly masks Fear for him, and Love, who is birthing Courage.
I peer around me, bolstered by the sight of my own colleagues feasting on the black water with gaping red maws, drinking it down in great gulps. They consume the light the Jedi brings with him casting crude shadows on him. I sense he is weakened by their presence in me.
In defiance, the Jedi sneers at me as I turn to face him. I can see his eyes are the color of melting ice. Oddly, my skin feels burned by the intense coldness of his gaze. Determination drapes his arm around the Jedi's shoulder encouragingly as a film of grief smears his image.
While I wait for him to come closer, visions of death and destruction flash all around me. I see Gungans writhe in agony beside broken bits of droids on a scalded green hillside. Space ships buzz and drone around the circumference of my head, spitting sparks and firepower into the dark before exploding in great balls of yellow and white light.
And then there's the Jedi. The one I have already wounded. His heart lies dying at my feet. I try to ignore him, but I can still hear the once erratic pounding of his pulse as it falters and fails to a steadier, but almost imperceptible beat.
The weight of the darkness presses in on me. I know the time has come. I free Hate and send him whirling towards the remaining Jedi. Much to my surprise, he actually touches Hate, but only for a moment. He does not embrace him or send him back to me. He merely accepts his presence. Now I feel Fear sidle up to me, ready to do my bidding. I point at the Jedi and Fear begins to work on him, but the Jedi is stronger than I first thought and takes Courage by the hand.
Concentrate! I admonish myself and rein the creature in. This one's not worth the effort! But Surprise continues to wreak havoc on my concentration so I seize Surprise, and cram her down the Jedi's throat.
Now Arrogance and Satisfaction have taken their place at my side. I bask in their warped and distorted rays, bending them closer to my widening eyes. Easy? This was easy. Why am I even contemplating this? Was there ever any doubt?
Surprise clings to the Jedi now. But just as I begin to think my victory is assured, Surprise rises and attacks me! Then Pain begins to weep pitifully behind me. I turn to look at her and see that her tears are bright, oily, and green. The color of them blinds me and I realize I should have never acknowledged her. Suddenly, Pain throws herself upon me, wrapping her arms around my waist. I cannot deny her any longer. Then I find I cannot draw another breath, not even to scream. Pain is paralyzing me, devouring me, pulling me apart until I feel myself begin to fall...sideways and upwards.
Out of my darkness I fall. Back to the surface and its glittering white light. I hate it, but I am powerless to resist this abomination of physical science. My mind begins to muddle and I think peculiar things. Shouldn't I be falling down? I wonder. I've never been this far up. The Jedi's eyes are the color of ice.
Now the scope of my vision is filled with the diminishing figure
of the Jedi above me. Smaller and smaller he grows until Pain covers my
eyes with her hand. This is how I die.
My eyes flew open in shock. I inhaled sharply, filling my lungs to capacity with the stale and musty air of the antechamber I had meditated in. My pulse banged deafeningly in my head and even in the cool crisp darkness of the room, I realized I was sweating. This was a disturbing vision, to say the least.
Rising unsteadily, I placed my hands over my eyes, shuddering in disbelief. My brain scrambled to interpret the vision differently and to a more assuring end, but the conclusions remained the same. The young Jedi will defeat me tomorrow. I will fail.
No! This was just a warning. Something which could happen, but not necessarily, I reasoned, as I distractedly pulled on my clothes. A later meditation may produce a different version entirely. Nothing was for certain yet.
Still agitated, I notice my exhaled breath billowing through my teeth in the cold temperature of the room and ordered myself to calm down. I slumped against the wall as though all my strength had suddenly left me and placed my hands flat against the cool stone of a pillar. Its unyielding hardness and smooth polished finish was soothing. I touched my burning forehead to its surface, cradling my face between my thumbs.
I can still see him. The chilling sensation on my skin reminds me of when he looked at me. His frozen eyes burned with the intent he had to kill me. I hate his eyes more than anything about him. I yearn to snuff out their cold fire. I don't want him to ever be able to look at me again.
Feeling somewhat sickened, I pushed myself away from the pillar, wrapping my cloak tighter around myself as I made my way out into the great hall.
I needed to speak with Darth Sidious. I needed to shake the doubt this meditation had instilled inside me. My master would know what it meant. Perhaps it meant nothing at all.
It was a full four minutes before Sidious answered my summons.
"What now?" the Dark Lord's hologram grumbled even before it had fully formed.
I offered my master a placating bow and saw his scowling, shimmering visage lean forward with newfound interest as he realized just who it was calling him.
"Lord Maul....I was expecting the Neimoidians again. They have been pestering me unceasingly for reassurances," he informed me, sourly.
"Master," I greeted, pleased he had finally answered my call, and oddly calmed by the sight of him. I straightened rigidly to speak with him, chagrined by my own petty need for reassurance. I felt obligated to apologize, but let it pass, knowing my master usually preferred me to get directly to the point. "I seek your counsel. I have been given a portent of my death at the hands of the young Jedi who guards the queen. I need to know if it is relevant."
Lord Sidious' _expression did not change. He studied me momentarily, then sighed softly--one I recognized as a gesture of tried patience--and leaned back in his chair.
Waiting, I licked my dry lips in anticipation, then narrowed my eyes at him when he still failed to respond. I cleared my throat uncomfortably.
"Is it possible to foresee one's own death?" I questioned him pressingly, and shifted my weight from one leg to the other.
He continued to just stare at me, and I suddenly felt like a fidgeting child under the weight of his silent scrutiny. I commanded myself to remain still.
Sidious scowled again before finally replying.
"I'm sure it is nothing for you to be concerned about," he stated in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. Then: "It's possible to foresee one's own death, but I think it would be unlikely such an event would actually come to pass if one did."
I must have looked confused, even though I actually felt a little relieved, for he hurriedly elaborated on his statement before I could question him further.
"Since you are now aware of the events about to unfold, all you need do is take the necessary steps to hinder their development. Thus avoiding the outcome altogether," he explained, sounding almost as bored as he looked by the simplicity of the solution.
Taking a deep breath, I shook my head. "This was not that kind of prevision, Master. There were no distinguishing events that unfolded. This foresight was more like an abstract dream, spawned from strong negative emotions. I did not see anything except darkness and light...and the young Jedi. I was only aware of the presence of our emotions and peculiar manifestations of sensations. Then I experienced my death. Of that much I am certain. When, or how, it is to come about remains unclear."
Darth Sidious raised his hand to quiet me. "It is a precautionary premonition then," he pronounced with certainty. "Do not let it impede you," he added, threateningly.
Lowering my eyes and crossing my hands behind my back, I informed him that I had already considered that, but the sensation of impending failure continued to plague me.
"Don't fret about this unnecessarily," Sidious said, slowly shifting his weight in his chair and placing his elbows on the table he sat at. "If it was imminent, Lord Maul, I would have seen it as well. You will not fail."
I sensed this last statement was more of a command from him than any offering of encouragement. I smiled to myself at his unabashed single-mindedness. Failure on my part was simply unacceptable to him. His left-handed confidence in my ability did serve to ease my mind however, and I bowed to him, ready to end our communication. Further discussion of this matter seemed futile anyway.
"Thank you for your imparted wisdom, Master," I murmured. "Your assurance is appreciated."
Sidious nodded, his lips pressed firmly together in a thin pale line. He sat forward abruptly and tilted his head back far enough for me to see his eyes beneath the shadow of his hood. "But you are still troubled."
Staring back at him in surprise, I opened my mouth to utter something dismissive, then realized he was right. There was no denying it; he had sensed it in me. Too agitated now to remain still, I paced a small circle in front of the holo-projector.
"You know I have faced death many times," I began, sorting through the possibilities swirling in my mind. "I would embrace it--if it meant our success. I assure you, it is not the idea of dying. It is not the Jedi, or the prospect of dying at the hands of the Jedi, though the notion definitely exacerbates my vexation." Suddenly full of tension, I found myself clenching and unclenching my fists at my sides. "It is the profound nature of this entire operation. Having seen each plan carried out to the letter, thus far. All the waiting....and now, with the end of our exile finally within our grasp." I paused and raised my fist, imagining the power it would soon wield over the entire galaxy, then slowly, almost painfully, opened it and let my hand fall back to my side. "I believe this portent is relevant. Why else would the Force have given it to me? If it is a warning, what is it trying to warn me of?" I turned and faced my master. "I never even considered the possibility of failing before. It is the failure that troubles me. I cannot fail."
Frowning deeply, Darth Sidious shook his head.
"Sometimes failure is inevitable. Unavoidable. If anyone fails me, it will be those damnable Neimoidians. Their blundering has changed our course time and time again, but I knew their nature when I allied myself with them so I planned around the 'inevitable.' I trust you, Maul. You will not fail. You will do what you must. You will die if you have to, but you will not fail."
I swallowed hard and lowered my head, simultaneously filled with humility and pride at the sincerity behind his words.
"Yes, Master," I whispered.
"Presently everything is working in our favor. Amidala is on her way back to Naboo as we speak. I'm sure she hopes to stir her people into uprising, but even if she does, it won't amount to anything significant. Let the Neimoidians earn their keep and deal with the local conflicts. I want you to dispose of those infernal Jedi traveling with her. She feels empowered by their presence. But they have thwarted us for the last time. Draw them away from the girl and she will have no choice but to surrender to the Viceroy."
I felt a little ashamed then. He was nearly repeating what I had told the Neimoidians earlier, chastising them for their own lack confidence. However, my heart began banging against the confines of my chest at the idea of killing the Jedi. I looked Sidious squarely in the eye and nodded.
"Their mandate remains the same then?"
"Yes," my master replied. "I've been advised by the Jedi Council they were sent with her solely to protect her."
I raised a brow. "From me?"
A distorted smile tugged at the corners of Sidious' perpetually down-turned mouth. "Supposedly," he drawled. "And to keep the Neimoidians from getting their hands on her. They still need her to sign their treaty." He paused and took a long-suffering breath. "She won't sign it willingly, however. She's just not afraid of the Neimoidians."
I shrugged slightly. "She sees them as they really are. Greedy, cowardly, and idiotic. Such traits are hardly intimidating, Master. Even to a fourteen-year-old girl."
"Unfortunately, the Neimoidians will not give me a moment's peace until that treaty is signed," the Dark Lord half-snarled in digust. "The sooner I dissolve this union, the better."
I narrowed my eyes, considering the predicament with the queen. "Her Highness is unaware of our involvement?"
"There have been rumors, apparently," Sidious confirmed and smiled in earnest, flashing his flat graying teeth in devious delight. "Won't she be surprised to come home and find the likes of you prowling her halls?"
"I shall make her sign the treaty," I told him dutifully and without bravado. She may not find the Neimoidians intimidating, but she would find the presence of a Sith intimidating. I could guarantee it.
Easing himself back in his chair, Sidious nodded with approval. "Truthfully, I no longer need her. She spoke quite eloquently and passionately before the Senate and they all agreed with her." He paused and took a deep calculating breath. "Unfortunately, she could fall in the heat of this little insurrection she is devising. What a pity that would be," he added sarcastically. "I can hear the public outcry now. Swift justice for the loss of such a brave little queen."
I understood. "You want me to kill her," I acknowledged. "She would be dead and the blame would fall on the Nemoidians." I started pacing again, thoughtfully this time. "If pressed however, the Nemoidians would not hesitate to betray you."
My master shrugged. "I've already thought of that," he pointed out, dispassionately. "No one will believe them."
I nodded slowly, beginning to understand the depth of detail Darth Sidious had given his planning. Details I had yet to be made aware of. It occurred to me just then, he probably constructed these plans and worked out the details as events unfolded--all part of the grand scheme, but kept flexible by circumstances.
"But I'm not entirely sure I want her dead just yet," he continued, confirming my suspicions. "We'll deal with that when the time comes. One problem at a time, Maul. One Jedi at a time."
It was getting late, but I did not want to sleep. I could not sleep anyway. I had the urge to meditate again but steadfastly resisted it, and stalked aimlessly through the palace halls, still considering the premonition of death I had been given. I also pondered the fact my master might have already planned around the off-chance I was indeed killed confronting the Jedi. Perhaps my death would only be a setback, just an inconvenience, and not a failure. Not for him, anyway.
The sun had set hours ago, but the castle corridors remained bright from the numerous ornate artificial light fixtures lining them. I ducked out onto one of the balconies overlooking the water falls and went to the edge to lean over the bordering wall.
There was a stiff, damp wind coming off the surface of the water that whipped my cloak out behind me, snapping the fabric of my sleeves. The cold was penetrating and sent chills rippling down my spine. The sensation was invigorating and comforting in a way. My cheeks and lips began to feel raw and punished, but I embraced this pain, acknowledged it, then determinedly put it out of my mind.
"I am not afraid of you," I whispered as if speaking to the manifestation of pain in my meditation.
The sound of the racing falls seemed amplified in the night. If I squinted, I could make out the dark, craggy rocks just beneath the myriad of droplets cascading through the air. Fixing my gaze beyond the falls, I saw Theed. The city was darker than normal with most of its buildings and homes vacated, its inhabitants imprisoned in the camps. In the darkness, the stars beamed down upon it with uninhibited brilliance. I turned away from the light, lowering my eyes to the black water below. Even it was not entirely dark, I noted. The stars flickering above made the surface of the water sparkle like cut gemstones.
I was immediately reminded of the black sea and its glittering surface above me. There seemed to be no darkness without the presence of light, but light was destruction of the darkness. Light was my enemy.
The Force was speaking to me about my premonition. I could feel it moving in me, flowing along the rivers of my blood. I could sense it surrounding me and pressing in on me with a suffocating weight, driving me down to my knees. Fighting the pressure, I gripped the edge of the cold stone wall tightly and closed my eyes, seeking complete darkness. Still, I felt myself falling, but not down into the depths of darkness, but upwards towards a searing light.
Growling in frustration, I snapped my eyes open in defiance and glared challengingly at the world below me. Its hushed serenity stared back at me in wide-eyed innocence. The cool wind reached out to soothingly stroke my face. But I knew I would find no peace tonight. Did I even have a right to be at peace tonight? I took several deep breaths, turning away from the black waters and the black city and stalked off the balcony in disgust.
What was the Force warning me of? I decided right then I had to know. My mind raced to re-analyze the premonition piece by piece. Everywhere around me I had seen darkness contaminated by the light. I realized how important it was to keep the darkness pure. Any influence of light would weaken it. Emotions brought light and the Jedi brought light, as well as the dangerous lull of a deceptively picturesque landscape.
Before I had experienced this portent, I was complacent with arrogance. Secure in the darkness which surrounded me. It was obviously wrong of me to feel so at ease with our present circumstances.
I needed to strengthen my resolve and sharpen my sense of duty. Discipline myself completely for what was to come. Clearly the effects of my unrestrained emotions and senses were the cause of my death, resulting in my failure--the infiltration of light.
Was dying even a failure? I did not believe that now. The Jedi in my vision did not defeat me by besting my ability. There was nothing wrong with my ability. Or my power. When I stand before the Jedi I will draw upon the Darkness and keep it absolute and pure. For it is the Darkness I will be fighting for. It is the Darkness I need to defend.
Yes, it seemed so clear to me now. Even the disquieting sensations I had experienced on the balcony. My heart thudded hollowly inside my chest, fueled with newfound resolve born of the bestowment of this epiphony. My mind was being consumed and my consciousness driven by a singular purpose.
The hate I had always harbored towards the Jedi began to grow, rooting itself deep in the pit of my stomach. The need to kill them overwhelmed me and like a spark igniting a flame, I suddenly knew, without the slightest doubt, in the end no Jedi would survive our confrontation. The wheels had already been set in motion and I knew what I must do to crush the Jedi beneath their spinning momentum. Even if I died tomorrow, it truly did not matter, for I knew I would still play an integral part and my immortality was assured. Our success was assured.