"Maul? You ok?"
The former Sith Lord Maul barely registered the voice of his unlikely companion. Something was calling out to him, summoning him even, and whatever it was resided in the cave that Ahsoka Tano had just exited.
The force sang to Maul, swimming in the darkness, radiating upon him like a warm sun. He could feel his muscles clench in anticipation beneath his skin. Whatever was calling to him was clearly trying to get under his skin, and was more than likely some sort of crazy apparition of the force.
It was almost as if something was daring him to enter, daring him to take the test.
And Maul was not one to back away in the face of a trial of some kind.
Without turning, he made a waving gesture with his hand behind him, hoping that it was angled in the Togruta's direction.
"Yeah, I think I'm going to stay for a bit. I feel the need to enter the cave myself. I'll bring the Jedi along shortly."
Without waiting for a response, Maul found himself walking down the slope and into the cave, his cybernetic legs clunking aloud, causing echoes to bounce off of the walls of the cave he was now in.
The ground was no different from outside. It was still swamp like, and reeked of one of the foulest stenches he had ever smelled. But it was nowhere near as bad as the garbage dump he had found himself in back when he lost his original legs, but it was still bad.
Pressing forward, Maul found himself forced to duck under a series of vines that hugged the walls of the cave. As he proceeded deeper and deeper, light began to fade from his vision, becoming obscured by a dense grey smog of some kind. The same grey covering was present outside of the cave, but in here it was even thicker.
By now the force was calling out to him in droves, the darkside penetrating his mind.
Images began to flash in his head. People from his past.
Sidious, Talzin, Dooku, Grievous.
The voice stopped Maul in his tracks, and his breath halted in an instant.
His voice was so familiar, so similar to the last time he had heard it.
Turning slowly on his heel in the direction of the voice, Maul gasped aloud.
Before him, stood a tall Zabrak, much larger than him, but with yellow and black skin, as opposed to Maul's red and black.
"Brother?" Maul questioned quietly, his voice far more timid than he realised it could get.
"Yes Brother, it is me. Have you gotten your revenge yet?"
Maul wasn't a being of love. He felt no compassion for anyone. No desire to do anything for anyone, aside from himself. And even those who offered to help him would usually meet their ends one day, usually by his own hands.
But then his brother, Savage had come into his life. His brother had saved him, after being betrayed himself by his own masters.
That had bonded the two together, even if they were different. Savage would help him, and in turn Maul would help Savage, but not for their own separate agenda. They had a shared one. A common goal.
And so they had become partners, albeit not entirely equal ones. But partners none the less.
And somehow, down the path they had fought, Maul had come to admire his brother. Love him even, as any brother should.
And then he had been taken away from him, on the night of his greatest victory.
And when that had happened, Maul had become reclusive again, swearing to never care for anyone ever again.
"No I have not brother, not that it matters. You are not really here." Maul replied, sadness in his tone, before he continued to push deeper into the cave, passing right through the image of Savage that had been before him.
Maul's mind was whirling in anger. How dare whatever was trying to test him use the image of his fallen brother. What sort of trickery was this?
"I am here though brother, and you have changed much." The image of Savage appeared again before him, blocking Maul's way through the cave network.
"No you are not! You are dead!" Maul began to snarl, his hand ghosting over the hilt of his lightsaber.
And then another voice chimed in, cackling with glee.
"Yes, he is dead isn't he? A shame you were not powerful enough to save him, just as you won't be powerful enough to save her!"
And then another sound flooded his senses, one of a lightsaber igniting.
Before him, a red blade pierced through the image of Savage, much like it had done in real life, and the vision before him faded.
"NO!" Maul screeched, igniting his own saber and swinging it in rage at the image that now stood before him.
But rather than make contact as the Zabrak hoped, his red blade merely passed right through the cackling form of Sidious, causing Maul to stumble slightly and topple over from the weight of the rage enhanced swing.
"Pathetic, even now!" The image of Sidious taunted, before turning away from Maul.
Maul rose to his feet, baring his teeth and charging at the phantom before him.
And once again, he passed right through, his saber connecting with the wall of the cave rather than the image of Sidious.
Spinning around on his heel, Maul found himself face to face with a new vision before him.
Sidious still stood centre stage, and around him lie the bodies of various individuals. Savage was among them, but the others were unrecognizable.
At least at first glance they were. Maul began to take a tentative step forward, towards the nearest of the unrecognizable bodies than now littered the damp floor of the cave.
Reaching his hand out, Maul found a laceration that ran the length of the person's spine, one that was clearly caused by a lightsaber.
Grasping hold of the figure, he spun the body over.
As the corpse came the right side up, Maul backed away in horror at the sight of the familiar face, now still.
"Bridger?" Maul whispered, surprising himself by how effected he was by the sight of the young boy dead. Shifting his eyes away from the boy's fallen form, Maul began to identify the other bodies around him. Jarrus lay not far away, his body next to another form, one that clearly belonged to Captain Syndulla. Their hands were interlocked. Clearly they had gone down together.
Glancing to the left, Maul saw a large heap of metal, one that possessed various shades of orange.
"The astromech as well?" Maul inquired aloud, horror seeping in his tone. Who could have done such a thing?
"You have chosen well, my new apprentice. Now, rise and take your place by my side." Sidious voice then filled his senses, forcing Maul to snap out of his inner thoughts and focus on the situation at hand.
The phantom of Sidious had his back turned to Maul, suggesting that he was talking to someone else, rather than the Zabrak. Blinking once, Maul narrowed his eyes, focusing all his gaze in Sidious' form.
Or rather through it. The phantom was somewhat transparent, as if it was a ghost from some sort of bedtime story.
And through the form of Sidious, Maul could make out another figured, this one bowed before the Sith Lord, or their knees.
"Thank you my master. I had long since waited for this moment." Another voice flooded the cave, this one feminine, and hauntingly familiar to Maul.
The former Sith Lord began to move, rounding the phantom of his old master to get a closer look at the kneeling figure.
The figure had their head down, bowed in submission, but that didn't stop Maul from identifying the familiar white and blue montrals.
"No," Maul whispered again, glancing around at the fallen forms that coated the cave floor, "You wouldn't do that. I don't believe you would do that!"
And then the image around him faded, leaving him once again alone in the cave. Darkness crept around him again now that the images had faded.
Lady Tano would never do such a thing, no matter how hard Sidious tried to corrupt her… would she?
Maul's head began to spin, his vision becoming blurry. A lance of pain shot through his head, resulting in a slow pulsating ache in his mind. Surely he had not just seen the future? That wasn't the purpose of the cave, right?
More importantly, what had Lady Tano seen?
"Troubled you are?"
Maul groaned aloud, partly at his aching head, but also partly at the voice of the small green Jedi Master Ahsoka had stumbled across.
"Don't you have more important things to do right now? Go bug Kenobi!" Maul responded, his tone impatient.
"Meditating Master Kenobi is. No one to talk to I have. Appreciate the company, I would."
Maul found himself rolling his eyes. Why of all people did the little green Jedi want to talk to him?
Then it occurred to him. Lady Tano had entered the cave, clearly experienced something, and then left it, with the Jedi in tow.
Was all this controlled by the Jedi, as some sort of test?
Was he being tested by a Jedi?!
It was then that he heard chuckling, one that was not vindictive like Sidious', but one that was clearly full of humour.
"Took you longer to figure it out than I expected it did. Slow are you, hmm?"
The green Jedi's voice was beginning to grate on his nerves, but rather than argue, he decided to humour it back.
"Fine, what did you wish to discuss, 'master Jedi'?"
Maul waited a few moments, half expecting some sort of hostile retort from the Jedi.
But instead, once again, the Jedi known as Yoda simply laughed.
"Loss you feel. Remorse for the fate of your brother. Not want Ahsoka to suffer a similar fate you do. Why?"
It was a loaded question. Years ago he would never have imagined himself trying to help a Jedi, let alone want to willingly work with one. His only true companion in his life had been pain and death, one that had followed him around and taken everything he dared to hold dear away from him.
But then, out of nowhere, the Togruta had come. She had barged into his life, offering support, offering help.
Offering him a different path when he thought he had already found his.
And for some reason, he had accepted.
And now, once again, the spectre of death that seemed to follow him around was targeting her.
And he would not let it anywhere near her!
"She helped me when I didn't know I needed it, when everyone else would have turned me away. I see something of myself in her, a warrior cast aside by those she diligently served. But unlike me, she found herself again, whilst I continued on a path of self-destruction. Maybe, just maybe, I thought she might be able to do the same for me."
The voice of the Jedi Master was silent for a few seconds, clearly analysing Maul's words. So the Zabrak waited.
Then, the Jedi spoke again.
"Not infallible Ahsoka Tano is. Failure, always a possibility it is. Guide you she can. Help you she will. But your path, your own to decide, not hers to direct. Not the same person as your past. Different you are now. Balance you have achieved, in your own way. Use that to guide you, you must."
Normally, Maul would have never listened to a Jedi. Their advice was often born of their own ego, laced with an edge of pontification.
But the green Jedi's word struck a chord with the Zabrak. He couldn't rely forever on Lady Tano to keep him balanced. One day, she would not be available to help him, and he would have to find his own path once again. All she could do was advise and support him in his decisions, as any friend would.
"I understand. We share a bond, Lady Tano and I, but not would of dependency. Rather one forged and fuelled by a common goal. She walks her path, just as I must walk mine. Only when our paths align will we rely on one other, whenever and wherever that may be." Maul spoke aloud, surprising himself with the scale of the confusing rhetoric he wasn't even sure he understood. He knew what I meant in his heart. He and Lady Tano would go their own separate ways, but would always find their way back together when the situation required.
Hearing the green Jedi chuckle again aloud, a pleased edge to it, maul began to retrace his footsteps back out of the cave, satisfied with what he had seen and learnt.
For now, he and Lady Tano would stand side by side, facing Darth Sidious together, only to part ways at the end. That was, until they were called upon once more by the force to stand together, against what, Maul was unsure.
But he was looking forward to finding out.
Because now, now he had a purpose. One he would aim to fulfil.
And one that he hoped would keep him occupied for a long time to come.
After all, it would only take one small push and Maul knew what would happen.
He would relapse, and fall back into his old self.
And he never wanted to be that person again.