Author's Note: Formerly, this fic has been called 'Sith Training Chronicles' and "Darth Maul: Dark Life'. It has been a challenge to find a truly appropriate appellation. Each chapter is a stand-alone story, although the first and second are connected in that the second occurs immediately after the first. At the end of chapter 9, there is a time line roughly explaining where each stands in relation to its fellows, in case you get confused.

Author's Note from June 2009-- I can no longer guarantee the quality of some of the older of these stories. However, this collection has become something of a basis for my fanon view of Maul, something I come back to when writing him.

Nightside Coruscant. Traffic streamed up and out of the gravity well into space where sun and city-light reflections of orange and silver faded away as the great orbital mirrors turned. Countless unplotted dramas played out, but the feeling in the mind of most was content. It was a peaceful time in the Republic.

Not so for the Works. Like a swath of stain in the population center of the galaxy's capital there was this ruined place, where assembly plants and office towers long ago abandoned were left on their own to rot, rust, and sink into the bedrock with the weight of thousands of floors. The air tasted like dirt, smoke, and metal or blood.

At a crossroads in these desperate straits, Sheik Montanya stood with a bulky sensor in her hand, watching for the signal lights of high-level life instead of rats and mutants. She was a green-skinned Twi'lek, but this fact was covered by a portable holoprojector that gave the illusion of a black-haired human female, still as lithe and tall as reality, dressed in a brownish coverall. The theory was that young Twi'leks, members of the Bounty Hunter's Guild or no, were, in places like this, apt to be dragged off into dark corners by slavers or worse.

Jant said she was being paranoid. Montanya replied that she was the leader of the team, so she would look like whatever she liked.

And this team was good. In the field now, they listened and obeyed perfectly but were smart enough to ensure they'd all live if orders could not be given. Montanya had first told them to split up, Wookiee twins Tchyryk and Morrbacca going on ahead while Montanya, human Jant Urn, and handsome Zabrak Zane Nu-Dallis remaining to try to sight their quarry.

The white blip appeared.

Montanya aligned her eyes with the tracker's indication. "Got him. Come on."

There was a conduit between two rusted, black buildings, a massive pipe that had once carried water or coolth or plasma. The Sith apprentice crouched on top of it, perfectly balanced, hooded and cloaked, all potential and quiet fury.

He could see them now. One human one Zabrak one...Twi'lek. The apprentice knew the mind-signature of those beings whose brains extended into their head-tails. If they were like the Wookiees, they would be safe to face in the group. Theirs were only the reflexes of the biological.

The drop was about eight feet. He fell fast.

The human brought up a weapon first, a long carbon blaster. The Sith took a step from where he had landed, gripped the barrel of the blaster with two hands, pivoted, and broke the human's jaw with his heel. The human's head snapped back. The Sith put his foot down, then shot the Twi'lek in the shoulder with the blaster he had pulled from her partner's immediately limp hands. Sparks would be showering over her delicate lekku; she screamed in the back of her throat.

As she bared her teeth the one now behind the Sith--Zabrak--had two knives held low, ready for a strike to the spine that would paralyze the Sith and veritably short-circuit the nerves clustered at the back of his neck. The Force shattered the bounty hunter against the near wall. Human lurched to his feet with his twisted mouth rimmed red with his blood but pulling a cryoknife from a sheath by his right elbow. The Sith registered this in the same real-time slowness that allowed him to move between movements, plan between breaths. He did not need that skill now. Twi'lek had leapt to the aid of Zabrak.

Fury; fed by adrenaline, battlelust, primal fight where there was no other option. The Sith closed a gloved hand over the hilt of his lightsaber and brought it flaring up in the teras kasi form Rising Sandpanther, a liquid move that tore into Human from left wrist to right shoulder. Ozone and the quick stench of burnt skin joined the acid in the air.

Montanya dropped to her knees next to Zane, the pain in her shoulder and lek eating into her but she couldn't let it touch her, couldn't see--Zane's face completely slack. The wrist she found herself touching as gently as she could felt broken but worse, bones shattered by when his hand struck immovable metal--Montanya jerked away, feeling tears sting behind her eyes.

She'd never told him...

The adversary in black turned toward her, orangeish eyes both so focused and so...unseeing. Unseeing of any emotion but rage. The markings covering his face were not natural to Zabraks--she could see the hooked horns, like Zane's but rearranged--though they matched this one, augmented him.

Montanya shuddered out terror and raised her long vibroknife while taking Zane's hold-out blaster from the side pocket of his vest. It was the last time she would touch him...

The red swordblade--some perverted form of lightsaber? This was no Jedi!--thrummed over the killer's left shoulder and slashed open the wall behind her, hissing. She rolled, tucking her lekku against her back and keeping the hip the holoprojector clung to from being crushed against the grimy ground. She came up with the little blaster in one hand and her vibro in the other, firing fast as her shaking fingers could pull the trigger.

There was a nexu, one of the vicious creatures of Cholganna, slinking along in the darkness of the walls where no passing lights from starships or the area's broken and random illumination could help the eyes. It must have been called by the scent of blood, as the Sith had predicted it would be. Kill two birds with one blade.

The Sith deflected each blaster bolt with precision borne of dark clarity, keeping them away from the woman. He summoned the Force and flung her a meter into the synthetic ground. She was stunned for a second, her lekku trapped between the floor and her own weight. He could see the green head-tails draped around her neck when the nexu powered forward and stepped on the holoprojector. With persuasion that slipped into its mind, it killed her quickly and crouched on top of the body, skittering around like an insect to turn four eyes on the Sith.

Darth Sidious stood on an uplifted balcony and looked down at his creation.

All this world was his. The alleys of The Works were claimed by none else, and the people below were pawns in his great game...

five bounty hunters, numbers taken down to one. They had taken a job to kill when their real purpose was to die.

a nexu, thrown into the gears of the great machine to make things interesting, a whim, a so expensive toy.

and the apprentice, Sidious' hands when his was the body of an old man, and sometimes, of a trusted traitor.

The plans had grown like the young trees on Naboo; they would bend, make their noise in the wind, and again return to their grand state. This manipulated generation, this scheme fueled by the Darkness, could weather any storm.

And if it did not, there was always a new sapling ready to be planted, a new apprentice.

The apprentice paced toward the nexu, matching his wide, fiery stare to the slitted blue of the animal's double eyes. The nexu's gaze flicked away, but it was predator, and under its claws ran blood. It leapt. Two steps; one slow, so controlled, and then the Sith drew his lightsaber in a movement quick as shadow-flicker that combined the next step into the red blade coming down across the nexu's neck with signature thrumm. The felinoid fell against the Sith's feet. He stepped over it and the Twi'lek, drawing the lightsaber back into nothingness, looking back only to see if the hunters of men had anything he needed. There was nothing obvious, for Darth Sidious provided. The apprentice faded into anonymous streets. He had overestimated the challenge of the return to Coruscant; he felt now rather relaxed from his first mission offplanet alone. He expected no reward for his achievement save his Master's approval and the return to familiar territory. The new-inked skin across his chest and shoulders had lost its companion pain.