Sacrifices

Five years after Soul of Fire - Heart of Ice


"Sir?"

Opening his eyes was a painful procedure, the light feeling like a thousand needles stabbing into his brain all at once. When he had finally managed to battle the pain aside he first became aware of the ceiling. Metal plates, cold and sterile. Of course. This was the Royal Palace of Naboo. He had fallen down a shaft, hadn't he?

"Sir?"

His throat was dry and felt swollen, and numb lips refused to form words. A face moved above him, into his field of vision, a round face, human, tanned, with earnest blue eyes half-hidden behind bangs of blonde, sun-bleached hair. A young face with old eyes. There was no fear in that blue gaze, only concern. He remembered the child now. The boy had been perching on the canopy of one of the fighters in the hangar. The details started coming back gradually. The fight, his fall. He must have lost consciousness for some time.

"Obi-Wan is on his way down, I think," the child went on to explain. "I went ahead to check on you."

Darth Maul did not answer. Regarding the boy steadily he tried to assess his condition. Not surprisingly he could not feel anything below his waist. The lightsaber had cauterized the wound, sealing blood-vessels and fusing bone, and the Dark Side had prevented the Sith warrior from dying of shock. He was alive, yet, but there was no doubt that his fate was sealed. If the Jedi did not kill him, blood poisoning would certainly finish him of.

"You killed Qui-Gon."

There was a slight tremble to the boy's voice, a hint of deep emotion, but Maul did not care to study the child's feelings. He had to remain composed now.

"Why'd you do that?" the boy continued, more accusingly now.

A mirthless laugh was barked between red and black lips. The blissful ignorance of innocence. The boy truly was amusing.

"You're hurt bad."

Watching the boy's throat move under the soft skin of his neck the Sith felt an ancient desire for blood rise from his soul. Such sweet prey ... So brave. Leaning forward the child brushed a hand over the fallen warrior's forehead carefully to examine the sharp horns crowning it. Darth Maul started when a black-gloved hand moved over his eyes almost tenderly, and the light fell away and turned into a dark gloom. Immediately his senses alerted him to imminent danger and he flipped up from his position to stand tall, facing a nightmare. What was this? The figure opposing him was possibly human, but his imposing bulk was hidden underneath heavy armor, his face concealed by shadows.

"Who are you?" Maul hissed, and lay a hand on the hilt of the lightsaber that was fastened to his belt.

"I am the future," the other replied gravely, his voice full of steel and the roar of battle.

Something brushed past Maul's awareness, a hint of glory, of bloodshed and darkness. His lips parted slightly in anticipation and desire, and his golden eyes burned even stronger at the promise of the kill.

"What future is that?" he asked softly, almost a purr.

"The Sith will triumph," the dark warrior replied harshly, "but it is not your sacrifice that will bring us victory."

"Nor will it be yours." He did not know where that had come from, but saying it filled him with deep satisfaction. And he knew that he was right.

"We shall see."

"Meaning?" Straightening slowly Darth Maul held his gaze fixed straight on the other man.

"Prove your worthiness to me, show me that you are a true Sith."

"You are not my master," Maul reminded the warrior in some amusement.

"The Dark Side is your master, Lord Maul. Now and forever."

Subconsciously Maul was aware that this was a vision, nothing more, but maybe it was something else too, a test, maybe. "I will take your challenge. But if we are to compete as equals I want to see who I am facing."

Taking a step closer the tall warrior moved into the light. "My name is Anakin Skywalker," the man announced, his blue eyes cold pits of ice. It were those eyes that Maul recognized. Hiding his surprise he could not prevent his excitement from growing. This was intriguing.

"Skywalker." Savouring each syllable as if it were some exquisite delicacy Darth Maul smiled slowly. "Let us see if you are worthy of that name."

Unkooking the lightsaber from his belt he held the reassuring weight in his left hand, waiting, his body tensing ever so slightly, ready to defend, should the other attack.

"A curious design," Skywalker commented and nodded at the double-bladed weapon.

"But effective."

"Good." Lighting the single blade of his own laser-sword the other smiled. "We shall see how effective."

At first Maul did not understand what Skywalker meant by that, but then the other man whirled around his own axis and struck at him low, his blade aiming at the Sith Lord's left arm. Dancing out of his way elegantly Maul ignited both blades calmly.

"You killed the old man and failed to destroy the apprentice," Skywalker snarled. "You did not succeed in capturing the queen. Your master's plan has been blunted by your foolishness."

First one, then the other blade struck at the man, like blood-red vipers. "But the Sith will survive," Maul countered coolly.

"Your master has lost years of planning to your failure."

"He is patient." He blocked the other's blade and tried to wrestle it from his grasp.

Retreating again Skywalker shook his head. "You could have been so much more."

The angry hum of the lightsabers drowned out the silence between the two warriors. "What do you mean?" Darth Maul asked at last.

"You were destined to be the one to carry the flame of the Sith into the future. You let that flame die."

"My master is alive," Maul growled, now truly angry.

"Without an apprentice he is vulnerable. You were his weapon and shield. Now he is defenseless."

Realization dawned with a sharp intake of breath. "You will be his apprentice!" Maul laughed out loud. But the laughter died away in painful coughing as he woke up again, the vision fading in the unrelenting glare of the lights overhead. Black spots were dancing in front of his eyes as his gaze sought the boy's face again.

"Anakin," he whispered slowly, and watched in malicious delight as the boy's eyes widened in fear and surprise.

"How d'you know my name?"

"Much better," Darth Maul breathed, his lungs stinging with the effort, "I know your fate." The boy froze. Raising his left arm the Sith lay a hand on the child's chest tenderly. "Your heart," he continued in an agonized hiss, "and your soul."

Anakin shook his head in denial, but when he tried to rise from his crouch Maul grabbed the front of his shirt, holding him down. "You will not escape," the warrior growled, his strength returned to him as he was filled with a vision of the future.

"Anakin!"

The boy's head snapped around, his eyes wild and full of confusion. "Obi-Wan!" he called out and struggled to free himself of the suddenly unresisting grasp of the Sith. As his golden eyes were dimmed with the light of eternal night Darth Maul smiled mirthlessly. His sacrifice would not be useless. On the contrary. He had served his master well, and Anakin Skywalker would not remain hidden for long. Meeting the boy had been a revelation, and he believed that it had been his destiny to die here and prepare the boy for his future. The Sith would go on, but not without him.

***

Anakin Sykwalker looked at the still features of the warrior, the patterned skin of his face like a relief of fire and death. Why was he suddenly so afraid? His head came up and sought Obi-Wan's blue-eyed gaze.

"Anakin, are you all right?"

"Yes," the boy answered in a small voice.

Bending down Obi-Wan slipped his arms around Anakin's torso and gently lifted him up. "Come," he whispered. "Let's go."

Leaning his head against Obi-Wan's shoulder Anakin felt numb. As he was carried back into the warmth and light of the Naboo sun he watched the darkness follow him, shadows crawling along the walls that kept their distance cautiously. He shivered and froze, when Obi-Wan squeezed him affectionately in an effort to soothe him. But the sight of those golden eyes would not go away. There was something hauntingly familiar about them. Burying his face in Obi-Wan's shirt he tried to shut out the darkness and forget.

The End