This was unusual, given his certainty that this time he had died. It had not quite been the death he had been craving, but it had been an honourable one at the hands of his arch-enemy, and the peace it had granted weighed heavily in his hearts despite their absurd insistence at beating.
Exhaling, he stretched his senses out into the Force. It was the surest way to place himself, and the thrum of the living against his mind was enough confirmation for him.
So. Alive again. And not even on Dathomir.
The walls of the palatial bedroom were obscenely Kryze’s, still holding the decorations and gilding he hadn’t the presence of mind to change early on in his reign. The confirmation laid bitterly on his tongue, and abruptly he was fed up with the idea of living on a planet he had already spent roughly twenty years on the first time.
The Force was a strange beast, and the idea that it could punish him by undoing so much of his life as he had breathed his last sounded about right. But- and he clenched the ridiculously expensive sheets in his grasp, but-
Light seeped into his skin, a thready but still present brush of warmth against his skin and senses. It reminded him of Kenobi, the gentle reassurance of peace as he died. It was almost cruel, how comforting the memory was, especially now that the destruction of the Jedi hadn’t happened yet.
His comm chirped, fracturing the euphoria of the revelation at hand. Maul clapped a hand to his mouth, not sure whether he was restraining a laugh or a sob. The Light was fracturing his resolve to the Sith, and all he could feel was relieved.
Forcing himself to steady, he pulled the comm to him, answering with a brusque, “Maul.”
Hope. What a strange feeling.
It was difficult, trying to undermine the goals Sidious had so deeply impressed on him that they were etched into his bones. But no longer did the man’s edicts reverberate in his lungs with every breath he took, filled instead were they with an unrestricted buoyancy that threatened to make him hover at the slightest provocation.
Was this how a Jedi felt? It baffled him, but also explained the way they seemed to flutter through the Force, a marvel of nature instead of a tragedy shaking the ground beneath their feet.
Meditation was at once easier and excruciating. The Force had always been a soul-sucking entropy, to be treaded carefully and yet bent to one’s will. But these shards of light burned, forcing growth in the holes in his soul that had been scraped raw where Sidious had laid claim. Where a grave once stood now blossomed a garden, and beauty caught his eye more often than grief as he accepted the Light making itself comfortable.
His thoughts strayed often, his deaths compounding and overlaid. Many times did he force himself to put his comm away, to restrain the urge to howl in the direction of Obi-Wan Kenobi and bring the entirety of the man’s formidable army upon Mandalore’s heads.
Perhaps, Maul pondered, it would provide suitable vengeance for Kenobi. To conquer the world of his once-lover and reassert balance sorely lacking in this galaxy.
The thought clung to his mind, a thorn catching on cloth, and it unraveled the loose plan. Kenobi - despite his once harshly-denied ties to the Dark - was not the type to exact his rage upon the world, no matter how deeply routed the ditch of grief ran in his heart.
No, only hope would attract hope. And Maul, with his own hearts still thudding painfully at the still-burning loss of his brother, knew Kenobi now better than the man himself did.
With a smirk, Maul gestured one of his soldiers close. There was a trap to be laid, and he knew just the bait.
Obi-Wan stared in bewilderment at the missive tied to the trooper in front of him. It was, to put it politely, unhinged chaos.
The trooper wasn’t even one of his - he had checked. And then handed the very long roster of the entire Third Systems Army to Cody to double-check. And then, on Anakin’s insistence, to R2.
“Well, Lieutenant,” He sighed apologetically, “It does indeed look like just a spot of bad luck.”
“If it helps, sir, I’ve got a clean bill of health.” Smoke offered, still looking a bit pole-axed to be in the same room as him and Cody, but faring rather well, all things considered.
Cody sighed even deeper than him, which had the expected impact of Smoke straightening his back to parade-perfect straightness. His commander waved the trooper back to at ease, pressing a thumb to his temple in an attempt to relieve the burgeoning migraine from this shit-show of a situation.
“Healthy except for a shaved head.” The commander commented, and wasn’t that the crux of it. No injuries, nor signs of surgery, though that was no guarantee given Smoke’s… transit time, and that in itself was a bundle of issues.
The good lieutenant shrugged, and, well- that did seem to be that. Only a lingering sign of sedation, but then being sent through the absurdly mundane postal system in an admittedly well-equipped box did carry that sort of assumption.
Helix, moving aside the privacy screens to perform another check on the trooper, patted them on the back, “Think about it this way, vod. You were important enough to be mailed first-class.”
Cody gave up all pretenses at maintaining an authoritative façade and groaned, “Usen’ye, vod.”
The medic made a wry, rude gesture back, chuckling. Helix clicked a few things on his datapad, and gestured to the trooper, “You’re good to go, vod. I’m recommending to put you on light duties in case anything crops up, but everything seems to be in order.”
“Oya!” Smoke grinned, looking forward to their unintentional vacation. Hopping off the cot, they grabbed their helmet and left, a bounce in their step.
“Well at least someone’s enjoying this,” Helix shook his head. He glanced at their Jedi, who was still scrutinizing the honest-to-gods paper that had come with Lieutenant Smoke, “What’s on that thing, anyway, General?”
Obi-Wan startled, smoothing his beard absently. “Oh, some sort of message,” He surmised, “I think someone’s asking for help.”
Cody grunted at that, sidling up to the general to peer over his shoulder. The message itself was in Mando’a, written neatly and precisely. “It is paper, though.” He said, “Are you able to-”
“Check it for signatures?” Obi-Wan hummed, already switching the paper to one hand so he could remove the glove from his other. With glove sufficiently bitten and removed, the man mumbled, “Not quite as well as Quinlan.”
The two clones exchanged an amused look at the man’s single-minded intensity for a new discovery. It was dropped as quickly as the glove from their shocked general, a strangled gasp mingling with the dull thud of Obi-Wan’s glove as his hand laid as if riveted to the paper.
“General,” Cody said, tone stiff and demanding information.
Obi-Wan shook his head once, muttering the message out loud, a lilting cant to the words as he absorbed the new information. “K'olar, Kenobi. Jorhaa be mirjahaal.”
The intervening few moments were tense, and Cody wondered whether he should tap out an alert as a preemptive measure when his general’s gaze snapped to his. The blue eyes seemed to glow, something physically impossible for the man’s species and yet perfectly understandable for the scope of his mythological status.
It drew that familiar stirring of faith forth, and Cody nodding in acknowledgement. Whatever the General saw, he approved of, for he nodded back, seeming to fold himself back into his mortal form.
“Gentleman, I have a call to make.” Obi-Wan announced, “I believe we’re going to Mandalore.”
This lure of hope was maddening, tugging at his spirit in a fluctuating jerk of attention. Maul took to pacing more, which in turn drew the attention of Kyr'tsad and the few New Mandalorians that lingered in Kryze’s court.
“Alor.” Bo Katan interrupted him while he prowled in search of some way to release all of this damnably energy. Sparring had ceased to entertain him days ago, the thorough victories and the sheer fact that his rage was no longer reliable fuel.
Brave warrior that she was, the Kryze sister merely stared placidly back at his scowl. “Who is it, precisely, that we are expecting? There are rumors growing, and it would be better to quell the dissent.”
He exhaled sharply, feeling the burning warmth of the Light sinking deeper with the action. “Haatyc or'arue jate'shya ori'sol aru'ike nuhaatyc,” He chided her, a distant part of him relishing her shock at his smooth handling of this system’s language. “We are heading into a war, Kryze. And I have invited a powerful ally to bring us all to glory again.”
It was interesting, how stark the hope was that flooded his senses. And pleasing - for Maul was right. Hope brings hope, and only shall it grow when given room.
He felt the insistent tendrils of Light settling in his own hearts, and smirked at joyful look that greeted him.
Obi-Wan felt it difficult to meditate. He sighed, glancing in the direction of his desk, where that damnable paper was carefully stowed away.
The Force was an insistent swell, burgeoning with ultimately welcome but distinctly unhelpful feelings like joy and anticipation. He appreciated the encouragement to rest his worries, but feeling the remnants of Maul’s Force signature was only ever going to be unsettling.
Should he trust the sincerity ringing forth from Maul’s message? It wasn’t something that could be easily faked, but then specialists in Force artefacts like Quinlan were too far away for a quick consultation, and whatever was brewing now on Mandalore, it needed immediate attention.
Anakin was worried, and that in turn set himself on edge, dredging up the feeling of Satine’s cooling body in his arms and how much it had hurt to breathe through the fracturing of his heart.
And now, exactly like last time, Maul was at the center of it. But now, only Maul was at the center of it.
That in itself was a quandary, for Maul had become so prevalently obsessed with him since their first fight on Naboo. Not that Obi-Wan could say much, for a twin flame burned in his own spirit at the mere thought of the other man. Grief at lost opportunities, yes, but now he had to contend with an overture of… what?
Peace? Was that what Maul truly wanted, now? The Force seemed insistent that it was no lie, and the Force had never led him astray, no matter how confusing the path.
He inhaled, loosing his spirit into the currents of the Force once more. One tone stayed with him, and it was the consistent feeling of hope.
Whatever it was, it would be alright. Obi-Wan had to trust that.
Entering the Mandalore system was nerve-wracking on its own, their only steering the stark thread of faith beating along with Obi-Wan’s heart. With Cody at his right hand, and Anakin at his left, he managed to feel unmoored from the reality of how quickly access was granted to the Negotiator as they made their way to the capital planet.
His troops seemed to sense that they were about to escort their general into some battle they couldn’t accompany, and the Force surged with the echo of their prayers as they worked in calm, professional tandem. Obi-Wan found that his heart had room to swell in pride, listening to their manda as they passed checkpoint after checkpoint.
Eventually, though, all good things must come to an end, and he regretfully withdrew from the jatne manda his troopers unintentionally enveloped him in. He inhaled, steeling himself for the upcoming meeting.
“Olarom at Manda’yaim.” Echoed through the Bridge from Mandalore’s flight control.
Obi-Wan nodded in acknowledgement, clapping a hand to Anakin’s shoulder with a smile at the press of well-wishing from his old padawan. He met his commander’s eye, watching the man draw himself up in anticipation.
“You have the bridge, Commander,” He ordered, knowing that the Negotiator and everyone on it was in the safest hands they could possible be.
“K'oyacyi, General.” Cody assured him. The Force bolstered his commander’s sentiments, and Obi-Wan found himself smiling.
“I will, Commander.”
Although their assigned diplomatic partner was… unusual, Obi-Wan had still insisted on peacetime protocol rather than the loose-handed play at reconnaissance and body-guarding the 212th had become accustomed to during their general’s usual diplomacy. It had brought sour looks to even the High Council when they had convened at his request, but if Obi-Wan was going to throw all of his faith into the Force’s will, then he was going to follow its pull to the letter.
And with that notion in hand, he arrived with only a complimentary guard and his lightsaber as bodily protection, armor shed and cloak donned. It almost made him nostalgic for the first time he and his master had arrived, guileless but with heightened awareness.
The trip to Sundari was mostly quiet, and it felt good to practice his Mando’a with those who had grown up through the same Mandalorian turmoil as he had, a common ground by which to foster good relations with the guards accompanying him. The variety of dialects was pleasing, and the stories fulfilling.
It made him miss with distinct fervor his own troopers, the camaraderie so similar it was at once dissociative and yet yaim’la. The guards were attempting to be polite to their Alor’s guest, but curiosity was a trait every sentient shared, and so Obi-Wan whiled away the time between his shuttle’s designated landing spot and the palace by sharing tales of home and the front lines, cultivating rapport in the manner he had learned as a Padawan.
The flutter of hope settled warmly across his shoulders with each smile and laugh, Mando’a settling on his tongue as if it had never left from that year traversing the system with Qui-Gon and Satine.
(Maybe Anakin did have a point about that year here.)
New friends tentatively made, they traversed the corridors to deliver Obi-Wan to a very familiar room. Bo Katan Kryze lounged in front of the closed doors, a moue twisting her features despite the curiosity burning in her eyes.
She scoffed, but stood aside with a nod of her head that still managed a respectful tilt. He nodded to her, feeling the mantle of the Force’s direction settle in his bones.
It was time to see what Maul wanted.
For all his planning and treading the edges of Sidious’ intimidating scope of influence, Maul still couldn’t help the stutter of his breath as Obi-Wan Kenobi walked through the doors of this room exactly as he had hoped.
He had abandoned the idea of the throne room as soon as it had occurred to him and his overeager advisors. They were meant to meet on equal grounds, and this antiquated room with its oblong table, seats of the same height, and walls illustrated by tapestries of famous monarchs past would make its mark.
The impression was certainly gathered by Kenobi, curiosity flitting across his face as he recognized that this was neither throne room nor the one more popular for meetings with advisors. He gestured for the other to sit across from him, taking his own seat.
In lieu of speaking, Kenobi instead pulled the missive out of his pocket, sliding it across the table with a flick of his fingers until it sat in the middle, slouching in his chair.
“Tion gar vercopaan par ... me'jorbe?” The Jedi drawled in askance, “Jorhaa'ir be mirjahaal?”
Maul ticked a brow upwards, catching how loaded the tension was between them. He leaned back himself, matching Kenobi’s posture. “Elek. Haatyc or'arue jate'shya ori'sol aru'ike nuhaatyc.”
And that irrevocably caught Kenobi’s attention, a considering frown and nudging at his shields the other’s reply. Maul lowered some of them, where the Light was the most enduring, and felt the ripple of stupor from Kenobi at the revelation. The Force bounded between both of them, a thought-quick upending of expectations.
Kenobi broke his gaze, glancing around the room before twirling a finger. He nodded, flicking his wrist in dismissal.
The Jedi leaned forward, “Sidious.”
Maul leaned with him, “Is Palpatine.”
Kenobi made a punched-out sound, not questioning the answer as he tugged at his beard. The Force was an insistent undulation over his senses, now, the familiar press of the Jedi’s signature settled against his own as the other man thought.
It reminded him of the last time he had died, weariness eclipsed by the Light and Kenobi’s own spirit as he was sent off. The sensation coaxed him to close his eyes, mellowed by the reassurance that Kenobi was taking significant part in the future.
He drifted in the Force for a while, buoyed by the Light surrounding and binding him. It was calm, a gentle warmth while he waited for his next directive.
And interrupted by a firm hand on his shoulder, somnolence shaken from him with determination by Kenobi himself.
“Maul. Maul.” The Jedi called to him, looking altogether too relieved for an accidental meditation. “I was about to call for your guards. Are you alright?”
He gusted out a sigh, ascribing the trembling in his hand as he grabbed Kenobi’s to weariness. While the Force still sung to him, a clarion call of peace that rung in his ears, Kenobi’s presence pressed more forcefully upon him, a rousing direction to bring his senses to bear.
“I’m fine, Kenobi.” He muttered, sitting up and ignoring the way the other helped him do so. The nudge the Force made to speak the truth, however, wasn’t so ignored, “It is no easy thing to change alliances in the Force, Jedi. Not for a Sith.”
The searching, concerned look he bore as gracefully as he could, pulling the paper on the table toward them both. Maul read the words he wrote once more, turning to hand it to Kenobi.
“I can bend Mandalore to my will, Kenobi.” He said, firmly twisting his words together with his memories of the Jedi Purge, “But it will be more difficult to bend your army to yours. We have a common enemy, and I will help you with this.”
“Because they will not listen to me?” Kenobi questioned, frowning.
“Because their will is not their own,” Maul corrected, withdrawing the control chip from a pocket, holding it up and watching the pieces come together on the other’s face, “This is in every clone’s brain. It is Sidious’ doing.”
The lash of Dark intention was unnerving, not only from its originator, but also how aberrantly different it was from the Light he had grown accustomed to. It sat bitterly on his mind, but heartened him at the resolve this Jedi tempered himself into before his own eyes, how similar it was to their last meeting on Tatooine.
It was that blend, that knife-edge Kenobi strode, that spoke hope to his senses. And it made him smile, bouncing that emotion back at the Jedi before him, something real and earnest that drew a sigh and tentative smile from Kenobi.
“You removed one.” Kenobi stated, a cunning light in his eyes. “How do we remove the rest?”
Maul grinned, “Very carefully.”