Disclaimer: Star Wars characters, names and places belong to George Lucas and no money is made off of them by me. Everything else is original and belongs to me and may not be used without permission. - Savage

Rated M/NC-17 for violence and sex.


Servant to the Sith - Part 1

Somewhere in the dark hellhole of a cellar there was another bottle of the expensive tonic requested by Meister Jarel. Laychel leaned back on her heels and pushed her dark hair away from her eyes. The fingers of her other hand rubbed aside dust and dirt to reveal the symbols on the labels, but couldn't seem to come up with the one that matched. She was beginning to get nervous, though her master and owner had never been a particularly cruel man. Not that she was in need of a lot of punishment. She was born into slavery and had learned to live the life as well as any other.

Her knees cracked as she stood up and gave a higher shelf a good looking through. Ah! Here it is! She gently pulled the bottle from its wooden cradle and held it close to her body and she dashed up the stairs. She wiped the bottle clean with a damp cloth, opened it and gave it to a server. The server took in through the sliding doors to the dining area where Meister Jarel was entertaining some rather unusual guests.

Laychel hadn't seen them, but they were certainly the talk of the whole palace. The man who came to bring the answers to their political problems (whatever they may be) and his assistant were in the next room. No one seemed to know their names, and descriptions of them varied so wildly Laychel was beginning to doubt anyone had seen them at all. The only consistent item was that they were dressed in black, and that the assistant was not human. Not a lot to go on, and despite her efforts Laychel had not been able to catch a glance at either of them through the door as servers carried trays back and forth.

It was growing late, and normally she would have been done with her duties for the day. However, with the important guests and one of the other slaves bashing into a table and hurting her leg badly, Laychel was still rushing back and forth trying to get serving dishes and such cleaned up before the next batch was brought in.

"I'm telling you," one of the servers was whispering to anther. "He can't be human with that skin color!"

"That's not his skin color! He's got tattoos all over him!"

"He's still not human!"

"Is too!"

The argument was taken out of her earshot. Laychel continued her cleaning until the head server called her over.

"I don't know where Myna and Jaya went," she said, "But I need someone to help me carry this stuff."

Laychel was handed a tray of sweets. Her heart began to beat a little faster as she realized she was going to get a chance to decide for herself just what these visitors from off-world looked like!

"Then we are settled, are we not?" Meister Jarel laughed his full laugh, his beard shaking all around his chin. "There is only one thing left to do, in honor of my people's tradition!" He stood and placed his hands on the table, leaning over a little closer to the figure seated across from him. The figure's hooded robe nearly covered his face completely, and Laychel suddenly realized why no one could make up their minds. She couldn't even tell you if he had a nose with that cloak on!

"And what tradition might that be, Meister Jarel?" the robed figure inquired.

"A gift!" Meister Jarel laughed again. "I must present you and your friend with a suitable gift! You have saved my people from our enemies and I must reward you with…with…" Jarel suddenly began looking back and forth throughout the room, apparently trying to come up with a suitable treasure for the off-world travelers. Laychel placed the tray down and moved slowly back toward the kitchen, trying to get a better look at the assistant, standing well behind the other one, but also dressed in a hooded cloak. His arms were folded across his chest, and she could see clearly that his skin was indeed covered in red and black tattoos.

"Perfect!" Jarel suddenly grabbed her by her forearm, causing her to yelp slightly. "One of my most beautiful serving wenches!" Jarel pulled her in front of him, held her tightly by her upper arms and presented her to the stranger. "As are all my slaves here, she is well trained, obedient and thoughtful. She will tend to your every need as you make your long journey back to the capitol."

"Servants?" the figure inquired, tilting his head up slightly to get a better look at her. She could see pale skin and pale eyes peering out from under the hood. This one, at least, appeared human, but his gaze left her knees feeling weak. "Slaves are more likely to be in the way than helpful," he dismissed. Laychel felt a sigh of relief build up in her, but she dared not let it escape her mouth.

"Not this servant, my Lord! She's one of the best, and will only do as you instruct," Meister Jarel released one of her arms long enough to shake a finger at his guest. "I must insist on this, Lord Sidious, or my people will think me unkind."

"Well," Lord Sidious replied, standing. "We can't have that, can we? Have her prepared to depart in an hour." Laychel's eyes widened as the realization of what was happening hit her full speed in the chest. She was being sold! Not even sold, but given away to off world travelers to be taken who-knows-where! The dark figure turned his head slightly to his assistant, who nodded in turn and left the room. He smiled up at her.

"I look forward to learning more about you, young lady."

Laychel thought she might faint, but her training took over as her mind failed.

"And I look forward to serving you, Meister Sidious." He nodded, obviously pleased with her response.

Laychel thought a whirlwind must have just crashed into her life, spun her around a few thousand times and dropped her in a land across the dune seas. Her entire life had been spent on the planet of her birth. She had never even traveled into the atmosphere, let alone outside of it. Now she was strapped into a harness and plunging into deep space with two strange off-worlders and no idea what they would want of her.

Her new Master (Master – he had said to call him Master, not Meister), Darth Sidious had helped her up the ramp to the space ship and into the seat for take off. His actions seemed kind enough, but the touch of his hand and his eyes made her skin crawl. She could just barely see the assistant (she still did not know his name) sitting in the cockpit manning the flight controls. Once they had flown past the atmosphere Sidious showed her how to unlock her harness so she could move about the cabin.

"I have no requirements of you at the moment," he told her. "But my apprentice, Darth Maul may also make requests of you. You are expected to obey him as you would me. Otherwise, feel free to look about the ship and get acquainted with everything in it."

"Of course Mei…Master Sidious," Laychel said. "I am here to serve."

"Very good," he nodded and disappeared down a ramp to the lower level.

Laychel glanced around the cabin a bit, but she had already taken much of it in during takeoff. She walked slowly up to the front of the ship when the apprentice sat in silence. She approached with her head bowed slightly, trying to appear her most demure. He did not even glance her direction, but continued to look straight ahead or at the gauges and instruments in front of him.

Laychel could finally get a good look at him, though.

The cloak was still drawn up around his head, but she could see the black and red markings of his face easily in the light of the panels. His face was strong, the black of his markings coming all the way up to his cheekbones did not hide the definition of his jaw line. She saw the marks on his nose actually made a series of small diamonds. She found him intriguing in a strange sort of way.

"Lord Maul?" she said quietly. He did not respond to her, but she thought his eyes narrowed slightly. "Is there anything you require me to do?" He tapped a few of the buttons and took no notice of her. Laychel gave up and went back to the cabin. It didn't take long for her to explore the rest of the ship – it was obviously not meant for long journeys or to carry more than a few people. There were two bedchambers (she wondered where she would end up sleeping), a bathing area and storage compartments.

Darth Sidious exited from one of the bedrooms a couple hours into flight and asked how she was fairing.

"You are generous to inquire about me," Laychel bowed. "I am fine, but was wondering if either you or your apprentice required a meal I might serve?" It was the best way she could think of to satisfy her own hunger, which had been building since her stomach got over the launch. She had seen nothing she would call a kitchen, and no rations she recognized.

"No, I do not think so," Sidious replied. He smiled slightly.

Laychel tried to hide her disappointment. If he noticed, he made no comment. He walked up to the cockpit and leaned close to Darth Maul. She could hear him speaking quietly, but could not make out his words. She thought the apprentice answered, but she couldn't be sure.

"We will be traveling in hyperspace for another 15 hours, young slave," Sidious told her. "This may be a good time for us to get to know each other a little better. Laychel felt a sting of panic form in her stomach until she realized he just meant to sit and talk with her.

Laychel sat down on a bench on the other side of a small round table from her Master.

"I think," he started, "it would be a good idea for me to know you name."

"Laychel, Lord Sidious."

He asked her many questions, mostly about her world and many things she did not know the answers to, though she tried her best. When he was done questioning her, he asked if she had questions for him.

"If I may, Master," Laychel said. "I would like to know what you will be asking of me, if you wish to tell me at this time."

"Honestly, my dear Laychel, I haven't decided," Sidious chuckled. It was not like the warm, friendly laugh of Jarel. It made Laychel shudder. "Perhaps something will come to mind later." He nodded at her to continue.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"For now? To Coruscant, the capitol of the Galactic Republic."

"I have heard of that place," Laychel remembered. "The planet that is one big city, with buildings stretching into the sky."

"That is Coruscant."

"Is that where you live?"

"Most of the time," Sidious smiled. "Though I do travel quite a lot."

"And does Lord Maul always travel with you?"

"Some of the time, though I often send him out on his own errands."

"Does Lord Maul…" Laychel hesitated. "Does he ever speak?" Sidious let out a long laugh. Again, Laychel felt shivers up her spine at the sound.

"Indeed he does, though not often," he looked at her seriously. "You would do best to keep your distance from Lord Maul unless it's is absolutely necessary. My apprentice can be somewhat… temperamental."

"I understand, Master," Laychel nodded.

"No, I'm sure you don't," he countered. "No matter, though. You will probably figure it out sooner or later."

The room Laychel was brought to when they arrived at the political center of the galaxy was far more luxurious than she was used to. It wasn't overly large, but it was a private room and she had always shared with many others in a dormitory setting. Master Sidious has informed her that they had no other slaves – she was the only one and that her duties would be light. Also, she was never to speak of herself as a slave to anyone she came across in Coruscant, as such things were frowned upon. Laychel didn't understand, but agreed to adhere to her new Master's wishes without question. She would refer to herself as a 'domestic servant' whatever that was supposed to mean.

Sidious also made it clear it was unlikely that she would have contact with any others in her service to them at all.

Laychel felt a little worried about the whole situation, as she sat on the edge of a real bed and looked out the small window that graced one side of her room. Darth Sidious was frightening on many different levels, though he had made no move to harm her in any way. At least, not yet. And the other one – Lord Maul – he had disappeared soon after they arrived and she hadn't seen him since. She was used to being busy – many others working around her, talking, laughing and doing their work. Here – what was she going to do? Her Master still had not made in clear what would be asked of her, she had not been asked to do anything the whole time they traveled through hyperspace. Eventually, she had discovered ration bars made of some sort of grainy protein mixture that wasn't the tastiest thing she had ever had, but at least it filled her up.

On her home planet, she had been born into slavery, and assumed she would die as a slave. Thoughts of 'escape' or 'freedom' just didn't exist for her. She was not unhappy with her life as a slave to Meister Jarel and it had never occurred to her that she would ever live anywhere else. In his domain there were many content slaves, some even married and had families. Her parents had been of such a union, though she didn't really know them well. Here there was no one – and she definitely got the idea that there would not be companionship for her from either of her Masters.

Laychel put her head down on the pillow, not even noticing how soft and comfortable her bed was. She was just a few months from the eighteenth year, and she thought about spending the rest of her life with a Master who terrified her and his non-communicative demon-like apprentice. Tears fell from her eyes until she fell into sleep.

Laychel woke early and found a bathing room off the side of her bedroom. She showered and dressed quickly, not wanting to waste any of the day, though she didn't even know what she was going to do. Master Sidious had told her she was free to go about the complex of rooms as long as she did not enter his private rooms without being summoned.

Laychel wandered the hallways and rooms, not seeing any sign of Lord Sidious or Lord Maul. She did find a kitchen, which was all but barren and obviously rarely used. There was some dried fruit and other similar, non-perishable items, but nothing fresh. She wondered if they always ate like this. She managed to make herself a breakfast of the fruit and some water, but was hardly filled by it. Ration bars seemed to be the primary food consumed by her new Masters. She had one of those too, just to fill up her stomach.

She continued familiarizing herself with her knew home until she literally ran into Darth Sidious as she came around the corner. She dropped to her knees in horror, apologizing profusely until he reached up and pulled her up by her hand.

"Once you are more familiar with the area and our habits I assume this will not happen again," his tone was not rough, but Laychel felt a cold chill wash over her anyway.

"No Master. Never."

"Are you finding everything you require?" he asked.

"Yes, Master," she said, "but…"

"What?"

Laychel thought carefully about how she wanted to phrase her question.

"I am not familiar with the food ingredients available here," she said. "I would like to prepare meals for you, but I do not have the ingredients I need."

Sidious seemed to consider this for a while, not replying until she wondered if he was angry at her suggestion.

"Very well," Sidious finally said. "There is a communication device you may use to have someone deliver what you require. Lord Maul will show you where it is and how to use it. I look forward to trying your cooking." He continued on, leaving her to let go of the breath she had been holding and lean against the wall until her strength returned.

Lord Maul found her in her room and motioned for her to follow him without a word. She noticed as she followed him how quietly he moved – she couldn't hear the sound of his footsteps or the movement of his cloak as he walked. No wonder Sidious had seemed to appear from nowhere – she would have to be cautious around Masters she could not hear.

"It has already been programmed," Lord Maul's voice was smooth, dark and deep. His features made it seem like his voice would be raspy and that he would hiss his words at people like a reptile, but he didn't sound that way at all. Unlike the voice of Sidious that made her want to hide from him, Lord Maul's voice was fascinating to her.

He showed her the sequence to key into the device and told her that the address to give the delivery service was also pre-programmed before leaving abruptly. She called out a thank you to him, but he was already gone.

Laychel found she could quickly find and select things she was familiar with by their pictures and order them to be charged to the address encoded. She didn't argue, since Lord Maul had apparently placed that information into the database as well. Soon a message chirped, giving a time the things would be delivered by droid.

Maul finished his routine training early and returned to his room to shower. He was annoyed, nearly angry at having to stop his exercises to attend a formal dinner. He would do it, of course, because his Master required it but he did not like it. He had hoped to get his anger out in practice, but some annoyance had remained behind.

It seemed to him that this "dinner" was for the slave they had returned with, not for her Masters. He had no desire to waste his time begin served food he mostly likely would not want when he could be honing his skills and preparing to kill Jedi. He realized he was gritting his teeth and clenching his fists. He tried to take a few deep breaths to calm himself down – getting a hold on his anger was still something he needed to work on. Once he felt he was back in control, he dressed in his tunic and covered himself in his cloak, hood up, and headed to the formal dining room.

The last time Sidious and Maul had dined in the large, candle lit room was three years ago, when Maul had take his final vows, pledged his life to Sidious and took the name Darth Maul. It had only been himself and his Master and a meal prepared at some local gourmet restaurant and delivered to them. Sidious claimed it was delicious, but Maul only picked around at it, not caring for much of the food consumed by humans.

The young Sith apprentice entered the long room and moved to sit at the right hand of Darth Sidious, who sat at the far end head of the table. The slave had already adorned the table with linen (wherever did she find that?) and silver place settings and wine goblets of shining blue crystal. Maul sighed inwardly, caught his Master's disapproving glare and quickly regained himself. He bowed to his Master and sat at his side, his hands folded inside his cloak.

The slave brought out courses and served them both, Sidious first, and then Maul. She poured wine for them as well and asked if there was anything else they required. Maul looked over the various concoctions on his plate, frowning at them.

"You have not set a place for yourself, Laychel," Darth Sidious said.

"No, Master," the slave seemed confused. "Forgive me, Master, but I do not yet know all your customers. On my world, slaves did not dine with their masters."

"You will dine with us," Sidious said simply.

"Yes, Master Sidious," Laychel bowed her head and went into the kitchen.

"What do you think of her, Lord Maul?" Sidious looked over to his apprentice, who was still frowning at his plate.

"I have no thoughts of her," Maul replied. Sidious smirked and was about to make further comment when she returned with her own place setting and joined them to the left of Sidious, across from Lord Maul.

Laychel sat nervously until Sidious began eating, and making accepting nods to her. She noticed quickly that Lord Maul was not eating anything she had placed before him, though he had sipped at the wine. Mostly he was moving the food about on the plate with his utensils, pretending to eat.

"I'm sorry, Lord Maul," she began with her head lowered a bit. "I do not yet know your tastes, but I will be glad to prepare anything you desire – just tell me what you would like."

Sidious laughed, the sound making her jump a little.

"I once told Lord Maul to try chocolate, that he would find it appealing, but when he did he was convinced I was trying to poison him!" He laughed again. Maul narrowed his eyes a little, the memory obviously not as amusing to him as it was to his Master. "I'm afraid I don't know his tastes either, my dear, but if he ever does come across something he enjoys, please let me know!"

Dinner progressed with Lord Sidious making polite conversations with her about her homeworld, her life there, and what did she think of Coruscant. She tried to be as honest as possible, making positive comments about the few aspects of her new home she had seen. Lord Maul sat attentively, but never did take a bite of his food or join in any dialogue.

Laychel served slices of sponge cake drizzled with berries for dessert. She was pleased to note the Lord Maul at least ate some of the fruit, even if he didn't touch anything else. After dessert was finished, Sidious turned to her.

"Laychel, I realize this is all very new to you," he looked out at her from under his hood, his eyes intense enough to make Laychel wonder if they were looking right through her. "But understand I must know now where your loyalties lie. I am in a…sensitive position, and I must not encounter any subversive activity. Now, I will ask you this once, and I expect a completely honest answer – do not think sparing my feelings will bide well for you."

Laychel felt every muscle in her back and shoulders tense.

"Will you ever betray me, young slave?"

Laychel was taken aback. For a long moment, she didn't know what to say, and feared saying anything that might be taken the wrong way. She took a deep breath.

"Master Sidious," she kept her head bowed. "Though being given to you was unexpected, I accept you as my new Master, and I will be loyal to you always and in every way."

"Do you feel that, Lord Maul?" Sidious looked over to his shadowed apprentice. "There is no deception within her. She is very well trained, is she not?" Lord Maul tilted his head a bit.

Laychel felt a sudden wave of chilling power. He wasn't just listening to her words, but knew her answer before she ever spoke. He knew what was in her mind.

"Yes, dear girl," Darth Sidious looked back to her. "I know everything in your mind."

"How?"

"Lord Maul," Sidious held out his hand and Maul rose soundlessly. He knelt before Sidious and bowed his head. Laychel saw Darth Sidious move his hand slightly in front of his apprentice, who reached up to remove the hood of his cloak. She could not hold in her gasp of surprise.

His head was covered with a crown of short, twisted horns. The red and black tattoos circled the horns halfway around his head, where the color became completely black. There were also two shorter horns at his temples. She had never heard of anything that looked like him before, and could not contain her shock. Strangely enough, she did not find him repulsive.

Lord Sidious placed his hand against Maul's head and seemed to caress him there for a moment.

"What do you want in your life, my young apprentice?"

"To serve you and destroy the Jedi," his response was quick, but did not seem rehearsed.

"And where do your loyalties lie?"

"My body, mind and soul belong to you, Master. I live only to serve you."

"Excellent," Lord Sidious turned to her. "I will expect no less of you, though I don't believe you will be asked to exert yourself in quite the same ways as my apprentice."

Laychel's eyes swiveled from one man to the other, wondering just what their relationship really was, and how would she fit into their lives?

"One more thing, Lord Maul."

"Yes, Master?"

"If I asked you to ignite your saber and impale yourself on it, what would you do?"

"I would die, my Master."

"Do you understand, slave?" Sidious asked. "Do you truly understand?"

Laychel shivered, and thought she did.

Laychel managed to keep herself busy preparing meals for her Masters, though one of them never touched anything she made, no matter how many ingredients she tried on him. She attempted on a couple more occasions to get him to speak with her – give her some idea what types of food he would enjoy, but she was always met with his silent, cold stare.

On occasion, she would explore the dwelling.

It was not so much a house but a series of buildings, all interconnected. She discovered her rooms were far off to one side and so high up she could not see the bottom when she looked out the window. Sidious told her that no one really lived on the planet surface – at least, no one of consequence. They all lived high up in the top most sections of the immense buildings. Laychel thought she could have spent years and never see all of the buildings Lord Sidious seemed to call his own. No wonder Maul could disappear for weeks at a time without her seeing any sign of him. He would only appear for meals if summoned by Lord Sidious.

Early one morning, Laychel dressed slowly and meandered to the kitchen for her breakfast, wondering what she would do with herself. Sidious had left on business, he said, and would not return for several days. Maul was, as usual, missing. She didn't even see any reason to make herself a decent breakfast, and settled on fruit instead.

She had grown fairly accustomed to not having a lot to do except find ways of occupying her time. Sometimes Master Sidious would engage her in conversation about political issues she knew nothing about. He spoke of "Jedi" as the political enemy of the Sith, and that he and Maul were the last of their order. He talked a little of the Force as their teacher and guide, but she didn't comprehend most of what he was saying and he would quickly grow frustrated with her.

Finishing her light meal, Laychel decided to do a bit more exploring, and headed for a lift she had discovered during her last "expedition", as she was beginning to think of them. The lift had no numbers or anything inside, just a series of buttons to choose from. She started at the top and thought she would work her way down. The first several stops showed little of interest – a view port offering a similar view of the Coruscant cityscape as she could see from her own window; a room of computers making all sorts of electronic sounds; and various other uninteresting stops. About half way down the lift buttons, she found one of interest.

At first, it looked about as exciting as the others had been. It was only a short corridor leading to a shut door, which opened as she approached. There was a half-wall with glass covering the rest of the way up overlooking a large arena. In the arena she saw a control panel next to a set of large doors, but nothing else. She was about to turn back and try the next one when Darth Maul appeared from below her and walked over to the controls. Laychel instinctively pushed herself back against the wall, into the shadows where she could see but not be as easily seen. She watched.

The Sith Apprentice spent a few moments at the console, then dropped his cloak from his shoulders and walked into the middle of the arena. Laychel watched, her mouth hanging slightly open in awe as his fluid, silent movements began. At first, he just moved slowly from one stance to the next, almost like he was dancing. Then he pulled out a long cylinder and added it to his movements – thrusting it out, pulling it back, and spinning it over his head. After a few minutes of this, he activated a button on the side of the thing and two slivers of red energy appeared, one out of each end of the cylinder. Laychel could hear the crack-hum as the weapon ignited and she listened to the vibrating swishing sound as he moved it through the air.

From behind him, the double set of doors opened and two droids, hovering half a meter above the ground, advanced on him. Maul did not move, but continued his practice movements. Laychel almost opened her mouth in warning, but then realized it was not necessary. Maul hurled around at the last minute and deflected the energy of the droid's blaster into the arena's wall.

Laychel continued to watch, fascinated by his smooth continuous movements. Sometimes he was too fast to even see as he jumped effortlessly around the droids, avoiding their every attack. Two more droids joined the first, and the four of them attacked at once. He continued on the defense, avoiding and parrying every blow but not attacking. As two droids moved to crush him between them he leapt high into the air, executed a back flip over them and landed behind one, his energy weapon slicing it neatly in half. The other three followed within seconds of his attack on the first.

When they were all lying in smoking pieces, he transitioned his body back into the slow regular movements of the practice stances. It was as if the battle never took place. Laychel knelt down on the floor, finding her legs were getting tired just standing there. She continued to watch as wave after wave of droids attacked him, he destroying each set as he had the first. She had no idea how long she watched him, but when he finally destroyed the last set and turned his weapon off she let out a long held breath and realized her stomach was growling.

Maul felt her presence before the first droid attack. He quickly located her on the observation deck where Sidious used to instruct him on technique and point out his missteps. His anger at her grew quickly, considering her not only a nuisance but now she was also violating his sanctuary. His transferred the anger into his fighting, not forgetting her presence, but tolerating it just long enough to finish his practice. Perhaps then he would take some of his left over aggression out on her.

Once he was finished and deactivated the sparring program he felt something. He wasn't even sure what it was at first, but quickly located it in her direction. It was a primal, raw feeling of sexual desire, and it was coming from the young slave girl. He almost laughed, but contained himself, half considering the idea before removing it from his mind completely. He also forgot the idea of scolding her for entering his domain and left the arena without even glancing her direction instead.

Laychel realized her breath was coming quickly and her whole body was tingling. She watched his fingers move over the control panel like lightening, and thought about what it might feel like for those fingers to move over her that fast. He turned and walked back underneath her and to a door hidden from the observation area above the arena pit. As he walked under her she could have sworn she felt him – his energy, his heat – maybe it was even this Force Master Sidious kept talking about. It came over her like a storm and almost seemed to push her backwards. Laychel quickly recovered herself and ran back to her room.

The deep red colors and dark shadows of the Sith Master's personal chambers mirrored the mosaic pattern on his apprentice's features. Darth Sidious stood in contemplation staring out the window at the darkening Coruscant sky. Maul knelt with his ankles crossed, his hands lightly resting on his thighs. He kept his head bowed, as was proper, until his Master spoke.

"I have a task for you, my apprentice."

"I live to serve you, my Master," Darth Maul raised his head slightly.

"And you have served me well, Lord Maul," the praise was unusual. It also made no difference – Darth Maul did not serve the Sith Master for want of praise. "I have been made aware of an item. An item that may have been acquired long ago from Lord Bane. You are to retrieve it and bring it back to me."

"Yes, my Master."

"It may be located in the Machtig system on the outer rim. There is one inhabited planet – covered sparsely by the dregs of human society – smugglers, pirates and thieves. I want you to leave immediately."

Darth Maul rose, bowed and headed for the study door.

"One more thing, Lord Maul."

Maul stopped and turned back to his Master, silently berating himself for not being more in tune with his Master's wishes. Sidious came away from the window and closer to him.

"Laychel will accompany you." Maul tried to keep the surprise from registering in his expression. "I think it is time she saw a little more of the galaxy, and she may even prove beneficial to you."

"As you wish, my Master," Maul nodded. He would never question Lord Sidious' reasons for his directions, even when the reasoning was beyond him.

"You do not think it wise, my apprentice?"

Maul moved his eyes away slightly, disappointed in himself again that he did not accept completely, but let his doubts into his thoughts.

"My mind is transparent to you."

"You wonder what my reasons for sending a slave girl with you may be? You do not see the value?"

"She is young and inexperienced."

"Yes, but we deal with all types to meet our eventual goal, do we not?" Maul nodded.

Sidious walked up to Darth Maul until they stood very close.

"Tell me, Lord Maul," he began. "Are the slave's thoughts as open to you as yours are to me?"

"Yes, my Master," Maul replied after a short pause.

"You know of her feelings – her desire for you?" Maul nodded. "You know she watches you when you spar?" Again, Maul nodded. "Why have you not acted on this?"

Maul considered for a moment.

"I did not see the benefit in such action."

Sidious began to laugh. The sound was frightening.

"You have been trained well, Lord Maul," Sidious sat down in the oversized chair by the window. "Lust is an emotion of the dark side, and can prove helpful in many situations. It is also important that you do not let it overcome you. She is, of course, yours to use as you find…beneficial."

Maul bowed his head, sensing this time that the conversation was not yet over. He waited, trying to remain patient by also eager to start his mission. He had not left Coruscant in some time, and was anxious to begin. Many times his Master would hold him in-limbo conversation, just to test his patience, which Sidious believed was lacking.

"I has been some time for you, has it not?" At first Maul believed Sidious' comment to be about the mission itself – about leaving Coruscant, but quickly realized that was not the topic at hand.

"Yes, Master."

"You are a young man, why do you not pursue these emotions?"

"It seemed to me that such pleasures should be reserved for those who are worthy of them," Maul said. "It is unlikely for me to find a willing and worthy partner."

"Perhaps someday our slave will prove herself worthy of you, apprentice," Sidious smiled inwardly at Maul's bigotry. It occasionally got in the way since Maul did not like to deal with anyone else – all those who were not Sith he deemed unworthy of his presence. He began to dismiss Lord Maul to begin his task, but noticed his apprentice's hesitance. "You have a question?"

"Master," Maul started, then paused, trying to choose the appropriate words. "You have told me my appearance would always frighten those around me."

"And you wonder why a slave would turn that fright into fantasy? It's actually quite a reasonable mental defense. As her masters, we are also her captors. She must comply with everything we wish. You are a strong, virile male and she is the only female you have any contact with. You could take her at any time, and she would be defenseless. Her mind rationalizes this, and copes by telling her she desires this contact, so if you ever act in such a way, the mind remains intact. She can continue her slave duties without resisting you. She must tell herself to want you to keep from being damaged by you." Sidious paused and watched Lord Maul's face a moment. Even the Dark Master sometimes found his expression hard to read under the mask of tattoos. "You do not understand."

"Understanding is not required," Maul recited. "I accept it as truth." He looked up to his Master. "Often I do not understand your reasons until afterwards, when they become apparent to me. I accept. Is that enough?"

"For now, Lord Maul. For now."

Laychel sat with the takeoff harness securely strapped around her shoulders and waist. She didn't think she had been this nervous about a launch since the first day she entered the Infiltrator when she was presented to Darth Sidious as a gift. She had trouble just fastening the straps.

In the cockpit, Darth Maul readied the ship for its journey to the Machtig system outside the Republic. Laychel heard smugglers, pirates and thieves primarily occupied it. Darth Sidious had ordered Maul to this area where a certain item (she did not know what) could be obtained from a certain vendor (she did not know who) for a certain, undisclosed price. Laychel thought the lack of information given by Sidious made the mission a virtual impossibility, but Darth Maul had simply nodded and began preparations for the trip.

When Sidious informed her that she was to accompany Maul on the journey she almost fainted at the idea. If she understood the travel time, the minimum amount of time they would be alone together was four days. Laychel did not make a habit of questioning her Master, so she prepared to leave as well.

Now that she was there on the ship, alone with him, she really began to feel nervous. Just looking at his yellow-red eyes and frightening markings was enough to send a lot of people screaming down the street. She had lived with them for nearly two years now and still found it difficult to look him straight in the eye. But his looks were not what bothered her. It was his manner, the way he would look at you without ever saying anything. In all the time she had been in their service she didn't think he had said more than a dozen words to her. When he spoke to Darth Sidious, his voice was deep and soft, quite contrary to his looks and mannerisms. What in the heavens would she do with him in a small, cramped ship for several days? She didn't even want to think about it.

Once they left Coruscant and entered hyperspace Laychel removed the harness and walked quietly up to the cockpit. Maul ignored her, as usual.

"Lord Maul?" she asked. "Is there anything I can do for you?" His lack of response was an assumed negative. "I will be in the galley if you need anything," Laychel walked back and plopped herself down on the bench. There was nothing to do. Nothing to clean on the small ship, no food to prepare, since ration bars and water were all they carried on the Infiltrator. She wished she had access to Coruscant's library database, but knew such a thing would be denied. They were supposed to be using stealth on this outing, though she never fully understood why.

Laychel was observant enough to know that there was a lot more going on in the life of Darth Sidious than one might expect. Firstly, that wasn't the name most knew him by. He was some sort of predominant politician, or posing as one. No one was even supposed to know Maul existed. She knew he had some sort of grand scheme in mind, but had no knowledge of the details. She didn't want to know. Knowing would just make her life more complicated.

After several hours of poking around at the latch for the seat harness, Laychel resolved to take a nap on the bench. At least it would pass the time. She stretched out, not too comfortably, but she had certainly slept in worse places, too. Before she had a chance to doze off, Darth Maul walked in from the front of the ship.

He paid no attention to her, but moved to the center of the galley and removed his cloak, tossing it so it landed on the bench near her feet. He rolled his left shoulder back, then his right. Laychel recognized his preparations for fighting practice. She had seen him do the same thing many times before, and it had always held her in awe. Finally, she would have something of interest to watch, and she didn't even have to hide!

Maul moved slowly, stretching his neck and shoulders before changing fluidly from one fighting pose to another. He threw his fists out in mock punches and his booted feet stretched far above the rest of his body in a series of kicks. He made absolutely no sound as he moved, save the slightest tap of his feet as they returned to the floor of the galley. After a while, she saw his actions begin to repeat, the pace slightly faster.

After he went though warm-up, he pulled out his weapon – the double-bladed lightsaber. Laychel felt her heart start to beat a little harder. It was a terrifyingly awesome thing to see. He held it out in front of him as the two blades sprung to life. She felt her body involuntarily push back against the bench, trying to get as far away from the energy beams as she could. Maul twirled the deadly thing easily over his head like it was a young child's toy baton. He could turn the thing back around both of his shoulders and catch it up above his head as it came back, and never even flinch. She watched wide-eyed as he continued his practice movements, this time with the ignited saber going through various similar-but-opposite motions of his feet.

Laychel hardly noticed when three hours went by, his movements readily increasing the whole time. She could see the muscles in his arms and legs as he went through the gestures and found herself wishing she could more clearly see the outline of his back and chest. The thought brought her mind back to another thought she had had on various occasions regarding his tattoos, and just how much of his body was covered with them.

She was starting to get hungry, and realized with his energetic movements she was not the least bit comfortable sneaking around him to the storage bin with the ration bars. She began to wonder just how long she had been sitting in the same position when she tried to move and found her left leg and hip had fallen asleep. Maul showed no sign of slowing down.

"Don't you ever take a break?" Laychel found herself asking, her own shock registering as she realized she had spoken the thought out loud.

Darth Maul stopped, one arm slung forward, blade in hand, the other back behind him, his legs bent at the knees in a feigned killing blow. His eyes moved over to her, narrowing. For a long moment he just stared at her, unmoving. Finally, he straightened back up and the lightsaber extinguished.

"If you are going to eat, get it and get out of the way so I can continue," he growled.

Laychel jumped, partially because of his tone, and partially from shock that he had spoken to her at all, and in a complete sentence! She walked around him quickly, finding it hard not to stare at him, and retrieved a small handful of ration bars and a decanter of water. She returned to her seat and placed the items on the small round table.

"Would you like any?" she asked, tentatively. He looked up at the ceiling and turned his neck from side to side and rolled his shoulders again. He threw a single kick high in front of him, and then let his foot slowly return back to the ground.

"Water," he said. Laychel jumped again. She had already assumed that he was not going to answer. She poured some of the water in a cup and brought it to him. He took it from her and drank it down. She moved back to the bench and watched him go on until she was too tired to remain awake any longer.

Maul stopped when he noticed she had fallen asleep. For a moment he just looked at her, feeling a trickle of sweat slide down between his shoulder blades. He could feel her curiosity directed at him, and had felt her watching him more intently over the past several months, ever since she had discovered his practice area on Coruscant and started watching him there. He walked over to her, soundlessly and looked over her sleeping form. He did not understand his Master's wishes that he take the woman on this mission, but it would never occur to him to question his directions. The feeble excuse he made to the slave that she would look more at home in a crowded market place than he was just that, feeble. She did not appear to notice the blatant lie, or did not care to.

And the added instruction his Master had, apparently, delivered as a second thought – that Maul was to "purchase something nice the slave desires" was by far the most bizarre request Sidious had ever made of him. Buy something for her? He agreed, of course, but the idea of it was completely purposeless as far as he could imagine.

He picked up one of the ration bars on the table, retrieved his cloak and went off to the shower.

Laychel felt the speed of the Infiltrator shift as they left hyperspace. Darth Maul was already up in front of the ship – he didn't seem to need the sensors to tell him they were arriving at their destination. Laychel joined him in the cockpit and looked out of the main viewport. She could see the greenish planet looming ahead of them. She sat down in the co-pilot's seat, watching carefully for Maul's reaction in case he did not approve of her presence. He didn't seem to know she was even there.

The Sith angled the Infiltrator into low orbit around the small planet, checked a few calculations, then began descending into the atmosphere. Laychel quickly pulled the harness straps over her shoulders so she wouldn't be thrown from the seat as the gravity and friction of the upper atmosphere began to affect the ship. They broke through the clouds above the largest of the continents; giant trees and lush undergrowth seemed to cover a good chunk of it. The ship sped over the land right above the treetops until Maul found the clearing he was looking for and lowered the ship expertly to the ground.

Laychel found she was actually a little excited about the whole trip. She didn't have the slightest idea what they were supposed to accomplish here, but she had not spent much time on any worlds other than Coruscant (and that mostly indoors) and she was looking forward to the change of scenery. She followed the Dark Lord to the hatch and out of the ship.

They walked down the ramp and Laychel looked around, a little confused.

"I thought we were going to a city," she said.

Maul tapped the controls on his wrist communicator and Laychel watched the back hatch open, revealing a speeder. It obediently cruised around to the front of the ship and stopped.

"The city is some miles away," Maul said.

"You couldn't have landed closer?" Laychel asked. He turned to her, obviously angry. Laychel found herself backing away slightly.

"Do not question my actions, slave!" His voice was not loud, but seemed to carry over the trees anyway. She thought he might hit her, but he turned to the speeder instead.

Maul was angry, but more at himself than the female slave. He was not accustomed to traveling with another, and had not taken into consideration the trip from the landing spot to the market within the city. His speeder was only designed for one. He could easily travel the few miles needed on foot, but she would be a great hindrance and could not control the speeder on her own. He was left with little choice.

Touching a sequence on his wrist, Maul activated the Infiltrator's cloak and straddled the speeder. He scooted up as far as he could and motioned for her to get on behind him. Hesitantly, Laychel obeyed. There was very little room behind the Sith, and she could just barely get her leg over the seat.

"Hold on," Maul said. Since there was nothing else to grip, Laychel wrapped her arms around his waist, surprised at the warmth she felt from his body. It occurred to her that she had never been this close to him before – not in two years of knowing him, and had never touched him before this day. She felt her pulse quicken as her body meshed against his back.

Maul activated the speeder.

Laychel had to hold on as tight as she could just to keep from flying off. The wind pulled water from her eyes and down her cheeks as they sped faster and faster over the planet's terrain. She squeezed her eyes shut and pushed her forehead into Maul's cloak. The trip was actually fairly short, but seemed forever to her. When Maul stopped abruptly she was flung first forward, then back against the speeder's frame. They were there.

Laychel opened her eyes and looked around. The market was huge, row upon row of tent-covered tables, each with its own vender shouting out to literally hundreds of passers-by. There were people everywhere – nearly all human – and they milled around various tables and tents, arguing price, passing credit chips back and forth and exchanging merchandise. Laychel sat unmoving and stared at the spectacle.

"Release me," Maul said. Laychel dropped her arms quickly, her face turning a little pink with embarrassment.

Darth Maul stepped off the speeder and looked around the market. He frowned slightly.

"Lord Maul?" she said. "May I ask you a question?" he didn't respond, so she decided to press on. "What are we looking for? If you tell me, maybe I can help you find it."

"You do know what we're here for?"

"We are here to retrieve a certain item," he said.

"What item?" He didn't answer. She asked again. He turned to her, his eyes blazing.

"I don't know yet," he snarled. "I will know when I find it!"

"How are you supposed to find anything when you don't know what it is!" Laychel couldn't believe what she was hearing. How could they come all this distance through hyperspace to find something and not know what it was?

"My actions are led by the Force," he said. "It will guide me to what I seek." He refused to speak to her any more.

Laychel followed Maul as he walked up and down the rows of merchants and their wares. He didn't even look at what was there, but just walked methodically back and forth. Some of the sellers called out to her, trying to entice her with a bit of jewelry, clothes or a scarf with intricate patters laced in it. Laychel; had never seen such a place! There were so many people, buying so many new and exciting things. For the first time in her life, she wished she was not a slave, but was able to move about places like this and buy whatever she fancied.

As they walked around the market, Laychel noticed immediately that no one spoke to Maul. At first, she thought it must be his appearance; there were very few non-humans among the thralls and she thought he did look a bit out of place. After a time, though, she realized that was not the case. They weren't really ignoring him, but their eyes seemed to go past him, not focusing on his form at all. It was like he was not even there, and they did not see him. He was certainly visible, but seemed to cloak himself from their eyes.

After a couple hours of walking up and down, Maul finally paused and began looking through the wares on one of the tables. Laychel glanced over the things, but found them of little interest. Broken artifacts from either this world or another, she didn't know, but they certainly weren't very interesting. She looked to the next tent and found the table covered in brightly colored skirts and blouses made out of a material so soft she almost couldn't feel it in her fingers at all.

"The Lady has good tastes, no doubt!" the merchant came up to her and smiled broadly. "Those are very rare – come from a long ways from here. The material is like none other – very smooth to touch, very long to wear out." Laychel listened to him drone on about the making of the fabric, the garment's origins and other information she did not care about. She ran her fingers down the length of one dress patterned in dark blues and greens.

She looked up to the sky, shading her eyes. She was getting hot and thirsty. She quickly thanked the merchant and turned back to Maul. He was still looking at the same table.

"It's hot here," she said softly.

Maul ignored her. She told him she was going to find some shade, then sighed and wandered to the far side of the market to stand in the shadow of one of the larger buildings. She wanted something to drink, but didn't feel like pushing the issue just yet. She felt a lot of hostility coming from him since they had disembarked, and didn't feel like having it directed at her.

She leaned against the wall, closing her eyes against the cool stone at her back. What she thought was going to be an interesting and exciting afternoon had quickly turned boring. There were many interesting things to see and buy, but being a slave she had no currency, and certainly wasn't about o ask Maul to buy something for her. She didn't even have a chance to look at much of anything, since she nearly had to run to keep up with the Sith, anyway. She reached up and wiped sweat from her brow, sighing deeply. She never heard her attacker approach.

Laychel tried to scream, but a hand was gripping her mouth tightly and she could feel the sharp metal blade against her neck. She was pulled back around the building to a darkened alleyway. She could feel hot breath on her neck as she was shoved against the wall, the knife still pushing against her tender skin.

A scruffy human male leered down at her, holding her up against the wall with his free hand.

"Scream and your dead meat, girly," he rasped. He licked his lips as his eyes roamed up and down her body. It was a useless threat, since his arm crossed her throat and she found she could not even draw breath to cry out. He leaned over her, his breath stank, and she thought she might pass out from the smell of it.

"You're a pretty one, ain't cha, girly?" He licked is lips again and used his knife to tear the top of her shirt and ripped part of it away. He was reaching into the opening he had made when she heard the sound of a lightsaber being activated.

Laychel held the torn parts of her shirt together with a trembling hand as the man slumped soundlessly to the street in front of her, a neat hole through his chest. She tried to take a breath, but found she couldn't inhale and started to panic.

"Breathe," Maul's voice was as commanding as she had ever heard and her breath came almost involuntarily. She gasped a couple of times and began to cry, staring at the dead man by her feet. Maul took her by her waist and pulled her to one side, away from the body. She turned into Maul's chest and sobbed.

For a moment he let her cling to him, then pushed her back.

"You are not injured," he said.

"He was…" she whimpered. "He was…going to…"

"What did you expect?" Maul mumbled. "There isn't a lot of entertainment here, and you are a beautiful woman." She looked up at him through watery eyes. His eyes narrowed. "For a human," he added and started to walk back to the marketplace.

"Wait!" she said. "I can't go back out there!"

Maul took notice of her shirt, opened all the way to her navel. He growled, looked around at the nearest tables (none of them lined with clothing) and quickly removed his cloak. He placed it around her shoulders.

Laychel followed him back to where she had been looking at dresses. To her surprise, he pulled out the blue-green one she had been admiring and tossed it onto the counter along with a pile of slender gold bars.

"I knew you'd be back for that one!" the merchant winked at her, taking no notice of Maul in the least. "And while you're still in a purchasing mood, I would suggest you check out the booth at the end of the next row. It's run by my brother and I happen to know he's got a lovely bit of jewelry that goes just right with that dress…"

Laychel thanked the seller and hurried to catch up with Darth Maul, already walking away. She had no desire to be far from his side again. He led her to the back of another building where she quickly changed into the new dress, using the cloak for cover. When she was finished, she returned his cloak to him.

She followed the Sith Lord closely as he scoured the remaining tables. He seemed to be getting frustrated and Laychel noticed that others were beginning to notice him. His eyes swung back and forth from table to table, obviously not finding whatever he was looking for. As the reached the last table, one of the merchants beckoned to her, though his eyes remained suspiciously on Darth Maul.

"I see you are a Lady of great taste," the merchant grinned. "I have a number of items you may be interested in." Laychel realized this must be the booth of the dress-seller's brother. He brought out a sealed case containing many chains of gold and platinum, each with a different precious stone in the setting. One in particular was a choker necklace lined with diamonds and gold centered around a blue-green stone.

"It's beautiful," she remarked, and then smiled. "But I'm sure it's much too expensive!"

"Not for a Lady of your means, I'm sure…" the merchant said. Laychel blushed, unused to being mistaken for a lady. She was not even a free woman!

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Get it," Maul's voice made her jump a bit. She saw the merchant glance up at her companion and quickly look away, obviously regretting ever calling her over. He pulled to necklace from its case and held it out to her, quoting a price. Laychel gasped – she didn't think she could be sold for that much!

Maul dropped a pile of the gold bars down on the merchant's table, these a little thicker than the ones he had used to buy the dress. The merchant nodded and thanked her half-heartedly. Maul ignored him and picked up the necklace and attached the clasp at the back of her neck. She looked up at him and smiled.

"Thank you," she said. "But I have to admit I don't understand why…" Not surprisingly, he ignored her and continued another pass at the market tables.

Darth Maul hoped that little trinket would satisfy his Master's request that he buy her something she liked. He also secretly felt vindicated by the high price – his revenge for having to bring this woman across the stars on his mission.

For the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, he combed the marketplace, searching for something – anything that made its Force-presence known, but he found nothing. He didn't feel drawn to any particular area or any particular type of item. He was already beyond frustrated when the sun began to set and the market dwellers home, first closing up shop tight – not leaving anything of value in the area. He led Laychel back to where the speeder had been left, only to find it had been stolen. Maul felt his anger grow and wash over him. Laychel took a few steps away and remained silent, apprehensively waiting for his next move.

Without a word Darth Maul headed back to the main road, Laychel close behind him. The sun was nearly set and the street was lit with pale lamps. It would not be wise to be outside as night fell – he would have to acquire a place for them to stay. They walked until they stood in front of a small inn. Inside they found a caricature of a fat innkeeper, wiping out beer mugs and chortling at customers. He didn't hesitate when Maul asked for a room for the night, and even gave her a knowing wink as he handed Maul a key to an upstairs room.

Laychel walked around the small room, checking into every corner. She had never stayed in such a place before. There was not much to see – a single dresser, chair and bed and a small door leading to a room with a shower, toilet and sink. Laychel suddenly realized just how tired she was, and how inviting the bed looked, but didn't really know what she should do about it.

The room was – above all – small, and Laychel became keenly aware of the closeness of the Sith Lord, no matter what part of the room he was in. She sat down at the edge of the chair (at least her feet could rest) and wondered what she should do. Maul removed his cloak and let it lay across the top of the dresser.

It was hot in the room, too. Or at least humid, which made it seem hotter than it was. Laychel wasn't sure, but she thought she could hear rain on the roof. Darth Maul must have been feeling it too, because he slipped his tunic over his head, revealing his bare back to her.

Laychel had to fight to keep herself from gasping out loud. She had always been able to tell he was well built, his muscles sharply defined even under his clothes, but the sight of his brightly tattooed back was more than she was expecting.

He continued to ignore her, his attention focused, for no apparent reason, on the door to their room. Laychel could tell there was no point in trying to talk to him now, for he seemed to have returned to his usual stance of pretending she did not exist. She yawned, and decided the only way she was going to get any rest was to just take the bed herself. If he objected, she assumed he would tell her.

She laid down, pulling the thin blanket up to her waist. Her eyes traveled over the lines of his muscular arms, neck and back. She wondered what it might feel like to run her fingers over his back and chest.

"Good night," she said. She was a little surprised when he turned to her, didn't say anything, but just looked at her lying there until she could no longer meet his eyes. She bit her lip and glanced back up at him, but he had already turned back to the door.

Darth Maul closed his eyes and used the Force to feel out the door of the room, down the stairs and to the bar below. Something was wrong. Very, very wrong. He had been feeling it for most of the evening, but had not been able to pinpoint where it was coming from. He thought at first it was the disappearance of the speeder, but did not believe that now. He could feel something…someone watching him, evaluating him from nearby.

He put his hand on his lightsaber and began to pace back and forth in front of the door. He did not have to look at the woman to know she was sleeping. The day had been difficult for her – she was not used to the more harsh realities of life away from Coruscant. He hadn't really thought about her being in danger during the mission, but he felt her fear when she was attacked it suddenly occurred to him that his Master would not be the least be pleased if she were damaged. He thought of the time he had smashed the first Infiltrator-like ship Sidious had given him, and the punishment that followed. He had been much younger and inexperienced then, but he had no doubt he would receive similar punishment if he brought back a damaged slave – or failed to bring her back at all.

There was movement down in the bar – the attention of the being was directed at their room. Maul felt out the mind of the being – the human – and assessed his level of danger. He was not alone, but traveled with a small group. Maul delved into the man's mind and saw his mob – there were six of them, plus himself. Good, Maul thought. Seven humans did not concern him. He felt no Force power in any of them, but the thought of sparring with some living enemies (even if they were not Jedi) excited him.

But they were not approaching. The leader whose mind Maul touched was not a stupid man. He knew the room was too easy to defend from, and told the mob they would wait until the couple (couple?… oh yes…the slave was with him) returned to the streets where they could be surrounded. Maul relaxed slightly, a little disappointed, but he would be patient. He could not get a sense of why the group wanted to attack, and thought the leader did not really know himself but was acting under the direction of another.

He stepped back away from the door a bit. He stretched and twirled his saber handle above his head for a minute then turned around, his eyes falling to the sleeping form on the bed.

He wondered if she realized the dress she had picked out was nearly see-through. Especially now, with her arms coiled up around her hair above her head as she lay on her back. The blanket barely came up to her middle and her breasts were clearly outlined in the thin material. He could make out the slightly darker circles of her nipples through the fabric.

Oddly, he felt aroused by this display. It was not expected. She had been around him for some time now, and her interest in him was apparent, though she never said anything or made any motion towards him. He never really thought much of it. She was a bit younger than him, just barely out of her teens, and human. Humans did not really capture his attention unless they happened to be his target. He entertained the idea of joining her in the bed and waking her with his tongue down her throat. His lips curled up slightly as he imagined her shocked response, but he decided now was not a particularly good time to act on these feelings. Though their stalkers were not currently acting on their intentions, they could always change their plan. He would need to remain aware.

Darth Maul alternated between pacing and standing quietly in meditation as the night hours passed. When the sun was yet an hour from rising, he went to the bed to wake the woman so they could get on with the mission. As her reached out his hand to shake her shoulder, his eyes focused on the jewelry at her neck. He had not examined it closely before, but now found it held his attention in a distant kind of way. He reached over to it, lightly placing his finger on the left most diamond and tracing the arc of the chain around to the strange colorful stone in the middle.

When his nail brushed the stone, it began to glow.

The wave of energy – pure, dark Force energy – slid up his finger, into his hand, up his arm and spread across his shoulders, back, and down until it encompassed him. All fatigue left him – all hunger and thirst was gone. He was completely mindful of anything and everything around him, from the woman below his hand and the erotic dream she was experiencing to the murderous mob waiting in a corridor next to the inn for them to emerge. They wanted the necklace – he could see that. They didn't know exactly what for – their employer did not say, but they were willing to kill for it. They were not nervous – only two against the seven of them. Hardly worth the bother…

"Lord Maul?"

He turned up to the slave woman's face. Her eyes were wide with fear and excitement. He could see her inner turmoil – trying to decide if he was going to kill her now or continue to touch the rest of her, and knowing she would not be able to defend herself against either type of attack and half wondering if she was still dreaming.

"It's time to leave," he said, somehow knowing that he did not have to keep in physical contact with the gem in order to continue his heightened Force-awareness. "They are outside waiting for us."

"Who is outside?" Laychel whispered. He did not respond, but pulled his hand away (inwardly grateful he was correct about the feeling not leaving him) and threw on his tunic and cloak. Laychel disappeared into the washroom, coming out a few minutes later with her hair pulled back and secured behind her neck.

Maul strode out of the inn with Laychel nearly running to keep up with him. He headed straight for his enemies in the alley, pausing halfway down as he felt them gathering around him.

The leader stepped out of the shadows in front of the Sith Lord, grinning. Three others, all armed with some sort of bludgeoning weapon, gathered around him. Three came up from behind. Maul could also feel an anxious Laychel close behind with her back to him. He noticed that she was not actually fearful – her confidence in his fighting abilities apparent. Maul felt/heard the leader's thoughts before he spoke them.

"You got something I want, little lady," he snarled. Two of his companions began approaching from the front, two more from the back. Maul stood absolutely still until they passed a point he had mentally marked for striking.

With a flash of silver metal, Maul's saber exited his cloak and sprung to life. Neither of his first two victims even saw the weapon before being impaled on it. One in front and one in back lay destroyed on the ground. Maul twirled the saber over his head and flung it out at the other frontward attacker, removing his fighting arm. The man began to scream, cursing, and pushing himself back on his heels to escape another blow from the energy blade.

The two left at his back both went for Laychel at the same time. With a grunt, Maul used his gathered energy to push Laychel into the wall to one side, the would-be captors stopped in confusion, as their prey was no longer there. One swipe finished them both.

Laychel tried to catch her breath - everything happening so fast her head was starting to throb. She had seen him locked in battle with droids programmed to be faster, better fighters than humanly possible, and did not really fear for her safety when she was with him. That didn't seem to stop the adrenaline from coursing through her body, though. She pressed her hand against the bruise on her cheek from where she hit the wall of the building next to them and watched Maul take off after the leader and the man with the severed arm. He stopped short of leaving the alley and returned to her.

Darth Maul motioned for her to get up, his senses searching out any additional attackers. He felt no other threat other than the two men running back to confess their failure. Maul hoped they would be punished severely for underestimating an enemy. The slave woman pulled herself off the ground, her hand still rubbing at her face.

"Who were they?" she asked, but was answered with silence. She had to follow quickly to keep up with him as he headed back to where the speeder had been left and then towards the town's exit.

The Sith stopped short of walking across the large open courtyard that lead to the city gates, standing open for the day's commerce. Laychel almost ran right into him. He closed his eyes and tilted his head to one side, his mind reaching out across the wide-open space – he could see nothing, feel nothing. That alone was cause for alarm.

Laychel felt Maul's hand reach back for her, his fingers lightly brushing her breast and making her gasp, but he moved his hand farther up and stroked the stone at her neck. The flow of energy was obvious, even to her. Maul pulled it into himself and re-focused his thoughts for danger. Still he felt nothing. He took several deep breaths and began to move across the courtyard to the gate.

Halfway across he stopped. No Force energy warned him, but his own eyes saw the approach of humans from every opening around the courtyard. He concentrated for a moment, still unaware of their presence in his mind. He felt anger grow inside of him and reached back to grab the slave with one hand as he pulled his saber out with the other.

"Ouch!" Laychel exclaimed as his nails dug into her skin through the light fabric of her dress.

"I can't FEEL you!" Maul hissed.

"Well I sure can feel YOU!" Laychel felt tears welling up in her eyes as she tried to pry his clenched fingers off her arm. That's when she noticed he was shaking – actually physically shaking.

Maul could feel overwhelming tension around his body. He had no sense of anything around him – not the humans, the plants, the small animals racing about the place – nothing. No Force, nothing. Not even his own slave. He could hear the slave pressing him for explanation and he silenced her with a harsh glare, then seeing the others who approached them from behind. They were completely surrounded. He counted quickly – thirty nine. Even with the Force guiding him he would have been hard pressed to defend this open position against that number. As it was, he felt he had entered some sort of black hole – a space completely empty of anything. He had never felt so utterly alone and helpless.

Darth Maul pulled the slave woman around and held her in front of him, his arm wrapping around her shoulders and crushing her against his chest. Laychel grunted, but was now keenly aware of what was happening around her and did not protest despite her fear. He could feel the necklace's center gem against his forearm, but there was no sense from it at all. He held his lightsaber at arms length in front of her and ignited it.

Several members of the approaching mob slowed their advance, and two (he recognized the leader by his scowl and the other by his missing arm) stopped completely. He was still a warrior – Force or no – and he was not about to stand by while these humans stole his Master's prize. He brought the saber's tip to the young woman's neck.

"I can destroy the artifact," he said, trying to compel his voice to remain calm. "And you will have nothing."

Laychel's muscles went taut and she squeezed her eyes shut against the searing blade at her throat. She had no doubt that that Dark Lord would kill her if he thought it was necessary to complete his mission. She didn't understand what was happening, but did realize what they were after. She tried to concentrate on the sensation of Maul's arm around her, her back pressed tightly against his chest, but she could not lose herself in the feeling. Maul shifted slightly, bringing her with him as he moved. She opened her eyes to see a slender gray man approaching.

"You will also have nothing to return to your order," the gray man pointed out. "And neither of you will be going anywhere until you tell me how to get it for myself."

Maul stared intently at the man. Get it for himself? Maul thought. Light as bright as the twin suns of Tatooine dawned in his mind. The necklace – it would not come off her neck. Chances are, even in death it could not be removed. Since he had placed it (unknowingly) on her neck, the man was assuming he could also take it off. Maul sneered at the man.

"But you cannot remove it from her, so your prize is also lost to you."

"There is a way – so I will find it."

They all attacked at once, from every side. He killed several before he had to let go of her and fight double-handed. He heard her screams as they tore her from his side. When he was overwhelmed he mentally remembered each time his blade struck flesh and came up with thirteen. Another light flashed in his mind, but a sharp blow to his left temple preceded this one. All was dark.

When Lord Maul began to regain consciousness the first sensation he had was the ache in his shoulders. His arms were bent back, hands just slightly over his torso where they were shackled to the stone wall. His legs were similarly restrained, leaving less than an inch of movement in his limbs possible. He opened his eyes and quickly surveyed his new surroundings.

A four by four meter stone cell, three of four walls containing a set of restrains like the one he wore. The floor was covered in a thick layer of dust and a thin layer of straw. There were no windows, and the only light came from a glowing orb on the wall above a thick steel door. To one side of the door there was a short table. It was empty except of a tall, cylindrical vase with a blue, glowing sphere on top of it. To his left, still unconscious, was Laychel.

She was not restrained, but obviously battered into a comatose state. She lay with her legs curled under her slightly and her head resting on her arm. The bruises on the side of her face brought attention to his own throbbing head. The blow was hard enough he could only assume he had been hit with the handle of his own weapon. He called upon his Force skills of self-healing, but there was nothing to call on. Darth Maul tried to shift his shoulders just a little to relieve some of the pressure on them, but the feeble movements did nothing to dull the pain. He would just have to cope with it. His unassisted anger and hatred would have to be enough.

Laychel stirred and sat up, holding her head and groaning. She opened her eyes and looked around, panic gripping her. Her eyes met his and she bit down on her lip they way he often saw her do when she was confused. His shackled state told her enough – he still had no Force power.

Without speaking she stood up and went to the door, listened and tried to open it. Futile, she knew, but still had to be tried. She looked around at the other meager trappings of the place and turned her attention back to the Sith.

"Well, this is a switch," she commented, walking over to him. "The slave walks and the Master is shackled."

"I should think it is in the slave's best interest to see to it that her Master is UN-shackled," Maul growled at her. She sighed and checked over the metal holding him to the wall. It was quite securely attached.

"Do you have any other ideas?" Laychel asked. His silence was all he offered her. She examined her surroundings again, but there was little information it had to offer her. She noticed the little decorative globe in a vase, and found it odd, but uninteresting. She didn't think of it again. "What do you think they will do with us?" she asked, not sure she really wanted a response. He didn't give her one. She looked up into his yellow eyes. His focus was on her neckline. "What's so special about it?"

"There is a high concentration of Force contained in the gem," Maul said. "Or at least, there was. I sense nothing now."

"Is this the item you were sent to bring to Lord Sidious?" Maul nodded. "I tried to take it off when they came at me," Laychel said. "It won't come off. It burned my fingers when I tried." Maul nodded again. He had already suspected as much. "They will have to kill me to removed it, right?"

Laychel took the Sith's lack of answer for a yes. She felt a shiver go up her spine. She moved a little closer to him, wanting to feel security in his strength even when she knew he was now helpless. She could feel the warmth of him so close to her and thought of what it would feel like to run her hands up the length of his body. She quickly pushed the thought from her mind for fear he would hear it.

But he can't hear your mind now, she told herself. He could not know what she was thinking, or what she might do and the thought brought a slow smile to her lips. She looked up into his face. He was still looking at her neck.

"Well," Laychel said moving even closer. "If I am going to die over this, I'm not going without doing something I have always wanted to do first." To Maul's surprise, she took his face in her hands and covered his mouth with hers.

Though he had not really intended to, the Dark Lord felt himself begin to respond to her kiss, and when her tongue touched his lips, he opened his mouth to receive it. Her fingers moved over his jaw and stroked his left ear, fingering the silver stud there. He pushed against her lips, his tongue flittering against her mouth and probing there.

"How touching," the gray man's voice came from the doorway.

Laychel broke away first, Maul's intense eyes locked with hers.

"At least now I can die somewhat satisfied," she whispered low. She turned to look at their captor, keeping her body close to Maul's.

"It's time for us to start a dialog," the man said. He stepped into the room followed by two armed guards. Laychel could see more outside. They weren't going to take any chances, even with the Sith Lord chained.

"I am Rugen," the man said. "You must be a Sith Lord, for I don't know who else would know the secrets of that particular gem. I won't bother asking your name, since you will not bother to give it to me." He walked the short distance to Laychel, who found herself cowering against her Master's chest. "But you are not Sith," Rugen reached out and touched her chin, running his hand down until he reached the top of the necklace, then looked up at Maul. "Unless this Sith Master has chosen a very poor apprentice."

Rugen released Laychel and turned away from her.

"I'm going to make my demands very clear and concise," he informed them. "You tell me how to remove the necklace without harm to myself or the girl, and I will allow you to die with a bit of dignity. Otherwise…well, your death will not be so pleasant."

Maul answered with nothing but a low growl that sent a quake up Laychel's spine.

"Fine," Rugen said and turned to her. "And you, woman," he began. "What exactly is your relationship with this…Sith."

Laychel hesitated, glancing up at Maul. He could see something in her eyes he had never seen before…something mischievous. Then her demeanor changed completely.

"I don't understand!" she suddenly wailed. "Master, why don't you release yourself?" She turned quickly to Rugen. "You can't hold him with bonds! He can change them with a thought!"

"My dear," Rugen sneered. "He is quite…incapacitated."

"He…he can't move?" she whispered. "He can't hurt me?" Laychel looked up at him, trying to show as much hatred and fear as she could muster. She saw a slight glimmer in Maul's eyes, a glimpse of understanding. He bared his teeth at her.

"Speak a word to them, slave and you will wish I'd slaughtered you with the rest of your family!" Maul snarled. Laychel had to take a step back and deliberately fell into Rugen. She began screaming and crying, her fists pounding lightly into this other man's chest. She heard his soothing words over her cries.

"You are in no more danger, my young friend," Rugen's buttered words slid over her. "Your bondage to that monster ends here…" Maul watched as their captor lead Laychel out of the prison, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He felts his lips curl into a slight smile and drew his tongue over them, remembering her touch. She was turning out to be quite a clever girl, indeed.


Author's notes:

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