There was a part of Maul he did not like to consider.
When he was in the field with Master Qui-Gon, on a mission, he could maintain a clarity of focus and purpose. He could set his sights on the goal, devote his energies to the task at hand, and forget the nameless thing that crawled within the crevices of his mind.
When he was alone, idle, most of the time he could tinker. He loved machines. They were easy to understand. A machine was made for a single purpose, and designed to perform it as efficiently as possible. Enmeshed within the inner workings of a speeder, or a droid, or his saberstaff – which he had torn down and rebuilt twenty-eight times now, refining the design – Maul could almost feel that clarity of purpose suffusing him.
But then there were the times when tinkering was of no help. When the whispers became too loud to ignore. There, too, Maul had a solution.
He stood in the Jedi Temple’s sub-subbasement, miles beneath the surface of Coruscant. He’d found this room, abandoned for who knew how long, years ago. A fellow pupil had mocked him for his face, the red-and-black canvas of his skin.
Maul had hit him. More than once. Even after the boy had given up all defense and had curled on the Temple floor, sobbing. He’d known it was wrong, but he couldn’t stop. And when the red fog had finally lifted from his vision, he’d fled, shame and horror suffusing him. He’d found this place, and hidden for two days. Thirst and guilt had finally compelled him to return, not discovery.
Ever since, he’d retreated here when it all became too much. As it was now.
Maul stared at the detritus strewn about the room. Long-dead droids, empty storage crates, pieces of rebar, scattered and unidentifiable electronics. His gaze took it all in, but his mind was far above, in the Jedi Council Chamber only an hour ago.
Qui-Gon, placing his hands on the boy Anakin’s shoulders. “I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan learner.”
With a snarl, Maul slammed his fist into the side of a storage crate, denting the ancient metal. He threw you aside, the voices seemed to whisper in his ear. Saying you are ready for the Trials was an afterthought. You are an inconvenience.
Maul followed the punch with a snap kick to the same spot, the anger suffusing the move with such power that it collapsed the metal, tearing it.
He circled the crate, firing blow after blow into it. His knuckles quickly grew bloody, but the Force and his own extensive conditioning guarded him against more serious injury.
All those years of training, and you mean less to him than some desert brat.
Maul roared and threw a final punch at the crate. The Force blazed through him and out his arm, combining with his strike into a kinetic blast which sent the heavy box hurling into a wall as though it were made of flimsi-foam.
“There is no emotion,” he gasped to himself. “There is peace.”
“So certain, are you?”
Maul whirled, hand dropping to his saberstaff before he could stop it. Standing at the entrance to his sanctuary was a diminutive, familiar figure.
“Master Yoda,” Maul said, his hearts thudding in his throat. “I am sorry.”
Yoda gestured at the room, beginning to walk a circuit through the debris. “For vandalism? Jedi property, this is.”
Forcing himself to take several deep breaths, Maul considered his answer. The question was transparently facetious. He had seen this before, when Yoda decided he wanted to make a point but also wanted the object of his scrutiny to arrive at that point themselves.
Ultimately, he decided that head-on confrontation was the best way to get through this. “For my anger,” he said. “It is unfitting for a Jedi.”
Yoda contemplatively poked the ruined crate with his gimer stick. “You have come down here more than once.” Without waiting for Maul to reply, he turned to face the Zabrak. “Struggled with this your entire life, you have?”
Maul nodded mechanically. “It is beyond my control, Master. It feels unnatural.”
“Energized with the Dark Side, you have been,” Yoda said sagely. “By the Nightsisters. Taken you from Dathomir, Qui-Gon has. But take Dathomir from you, he has not.”
Frustrated, Maul stared at his bloodied hands. “I cannot fight the rage when it comes.”
“This, I know.”
There was the distinctive snap-hiss of a lightsaber activating. Maul snapped his gaze back up to see Yoda’s shoto floating in midair before him. The Jedi Grandmaster himself sat on top of the ruined crate.
“A threat, you are,” Yoda continued, his features pinched into a grave look. “I must remove you.”
Maul felt his jaw drop open in surprise. “Master Yoda?”
Yoda’s only response was to send the shoto plunging forward in a thrust toward Maul’s throat. Reacting without thought or hesitation, Maul pulled his saberstaff from his belt and ignited the twin blades, whirling the weapon in a parry. He barely turned the Grandmaster’s weapon aside.
If Maul had not deflected it, he would be dead. Yoda was serious.
The Grandmaster attacked again, the shoto blazing through the air like a thing alive. Maul kept up his defense, blocking three more strikes aimed at lethal targets on his body. It was devilishly hard work, fighting a blade wielded with the Force. All of Maul’s training had taught him to use his foe’s body to inform his defense – their stance, mode of attack, physical strength, everything about them told him how to defeat them.
There was none of that here. Yoda sat atop the ruined crate, eyes closed as if in meditation. And still the shoto came. On its next pass it scored the side of Maul’s neck.
The sudden pain and smell of his own burning flesh woke the voices again. You are going to die down here in the dark, they said to him. Killed by this insignificant little Jedi who thinks he can judge you.
“No,” Maul growled, his defense faltering as his concentration was suddenly split between the battle and grappling with the voices. The shoto lashed him with two more burns as he barely managed to stay ahead of it.
Yoda is right. You are a threat. You’re not a Jedi, you’re a Nightbrother. A slave.
“There is no emotion,” Maul started to recite, but the shoto abruptly changed its angle of attack and slipped beneath his guard. He backpedaled furiously to avoid being eviscerated. There was a shower of sparks as Yoda’s weapon slashed clean through the hilt of Maul’s saberstaff, destroying one of the blades. He hurled himself into a handless somersault to the side, readjusting his grip and making the mental switch to single-bladed combat.
Qui-Gon was right to throw you aside. You are worthless. No doubt he and Yoda are in on this together.
“No,” Maul hissed again. “Master Qui-Gon would never –”
Then where is he? With the desert brat, and you know it.
You have been replaced.
“NO!” Maul roared, the anger exploding out of him as his control failed. He battered aside the shoto’s next thrust, then telekinetically hurled half a dozen pieces of rebar straight at Yoda like spears, intent on skewering the diminutive Jedi.
The Grandmaster turned aside the assault with a wave of his hand, but the shoto paused its offensive as he did. Sensing weakness, Maul struck. He hurled himself into a flying leap at Yoda, bringing his lightsaber down in a move meant to cleave him in two.
A moment before Maul hit, Yoda’s shoto swung into position, blocking Maul’s saber. With a hiss, Maul disengaged, slashing at Yoda again before the Grandmaster could direct his shoto back to the offensive. His second attack was blocked in turn, but Maul did not let up. He kept the pressure on, hurling a storm of cuts at his foe as he circled Yoda’s perch on the crate. His speed was such that Yoda could not return to the attack without risking them killing one another in the same instant.
It became apparent to Maul that this was a contest of will. The anger raging inside him gave him preternatural stamina; he made assault after assault on Yoda’s defenses without a hint of fatigue. The question, then, was whether his anger would give out before Yoda’s concentration.
The voice inside him no longer spoke to him in words. It now leaked into his consciousness in the form of dark impulses, furious anger, and surges of power. But it now communicated to him a way to end the stalemate, and Maul seized on it.
Putting all his strength into the next strike, locking his saber against the shoto, Maul lashed out with a booted foot at the crate. His anger empowered the move and the heavy object again went flying, disappearing out from beneath Yoda in a flash.
As Yoda began to somersault away, Maul snatched out his hand and grabbed the Grandmaster by the front of his robe. He whirled as soon as he felt his fingers close around the fabric, slamming Yoda into the permacrete floor hard enough to crack it. He poised his lightsaber above the Grandmaster, point angled at his heart. Now, the voice told him wordlessly. NOW!
Maul hesitated. He stared at Yoda’s unmoving form: head lolling insensate to one side, ears drooped, limbs splayed out wildly where they had struck the ground.
“No,” Maul said for the last time. He released Yoda, deactivated his lightsaber. Only then did he become aware of the shoto, still floating, its tip a millimeter from the back of his robe. If it stabbed at this angle it would pierce both of his hearts at once. Shock would kill him instantly.
The Grandmaster opened his eyes. Smiling inscrutably at Maul, he picked himself up with no more than the usual difficulty. If Maul had not been the architect, he never would have believed Yoda had made the cracks in the floor. He seemed completely uninjured.
He called both his gimer stick and his shoto back to him, deactivating the latter before carefully tucking it into his robe. “Beyond your control, this rage is clearly not,” Yoda observed.
Maul stared at his boots, too overcome with shame to answer.
“Strong you have become under Master Qui-Gon,” Yoda continued. “You are proficient in your use of Juyo. A most difficult form, it is.” He poked Maul’s abdomen with his gimer stick – the highest point on the Zabrak’s body he could comfortably reach. “More conditioning, you do not require. You require training, to use your anger.”
Maul frowned. “Master?”
“This darkness, a part of you it is,” Yoda said. “As it is in all of us. Deny their darkness, some Jedi can. For you, not an option, that is. Inherently a weakness, it is not. It may be turned to a strength with training.” He pursed his lips for a moment, considering. “Speak I will to Master Windu. In Vaapad, he will train you.”
That made Maul gape. “I don’t understand, Master. I – I attacked you. I gave in to my anger.”
“To fall is not the failure,” Yoda told him. “Not to rise, the failure is.” He turned his back on Maul and moved to the room’s entrance. “To Naboo, you must go. Queen Amidala is returning to her people. Protect her, you and Master Qui-Gon must. Your training will begin when you return.”
Maul hesitated, then asked a final question. “Master. Were – were you ever in any real danger from me?”
He heard Yoda’s distinctive chortle. “Prideful you are, my young Jedi. Consider not knowing the answer your penance, for your vandalism.”
And he was gone.