Darth Sidious stared at the hologram in front of him. He was seeking knowledge and counsel on Korriban—the ancient homeworld of the Sith. Some of the tombs for the Dark Lords were more ornate than others. Many of the mausoleums and shattered hallways contained thousands of years-worth of holocrons and archival material on the rites and rituals of the Sith Order. But Sidious took the dangerous step of leaving Coruscant and making his way through Republic space to Korriban for the express purpose of visiting the long abandoned Valley of the Dark Lords. The dilapidated statues and ruins of the old Sith Academy and Temple area were inviting to Sidious. He had not come to reminisce. Rather he was searching for the holocron of one particular Sith Lord. The voice of his former master echoed through a large empty hall as he sat deep in thought.
"The Jedi believe that they will stop me at Dantooine. They are fools my young apprentice. I will sow the seeds of their destruction. Even if they should strike me down, you will live beyond this battle and ensure the survival of the Sith…" He paused the recording looking at his master's image. Darth Plagueis had been one of the most feared Dark Lords of the Sith that the Jedi had ever confronted. He had heard of other Dark Jedi from the annals of the Sith Order—Exar Kun and Darth Malgus were some of the most prominent who came to mind—but Plagueis was something else entirely. He had focused his attention almost exclusively on trying to cheat death and to manipulate life. Other Sith Lords had been focused on constructing empires and training countless apprentices all of whom proceeded to vie for power with one another weakening themselves almost as much as attacks by the Republic or the Jedi with their countless civil wars and conspiracies. The Rule of Two had been instituted with good reason by Darth Bane and followed by all of his successors up to the time of Sidious himself. It was far safer for there to be only two Sith at a time—a master and apprentice—no more and no less. The Sith had learned the hard way that power and ambition were too corrupting to allow for there to be more than two Dark Lords at a time.
Plagueis understood this and was dedicated to the Rule of Two however constricting it may have been to his larger plans. He had seen the potential in a young Darth Maul, but did not take him on as an apprentice. The last time he and Sidious spoke, Plagueis told him that if he did not survive the Battle of Dantooine then he would have his blessing in taking Maul on as an apprentice. Plagueis also taught Sidious how to manipulate the Force, the two of them actually performed a ritual to extend their lives—but it failed with disastrous consequences. The Force rejected their feeble attempts. It actually manifested itself to them as an impenetrable mass of energy and light castigating them for their foolishness and stating unequivocally that their attempt to manipulate the Living Force would lead to the destruction of the Sith. It was an uncomfortable moment for both of them and they had no idea what form that destruction would take. Sidious brushed these thoughts out of his mind as he continued watching his master speak.
"We must distract the Republic …it will fall from within. This is what Darth Malgus and his predecessors never grasped. They thought that exercising power meant attacking the Republic and the Jedi externally. They couldn't see how that would rally the Light Side and unify their opponents into a solid block that would eventually oust them no matter how many victories they scored. It shall not be that way with us my apprentice." He turned off the holocron and smiled to himself. Plagueis' plan was almost foolproof. But it depended, in no small measure, on secrecy.
For now, Sidious and Maul would have to work in isolation from the rest of the galaxy. Relying on the shadows to hide their activities—using less than trustworthy shills to obtain their goals—they had hidden themselves well. Soon, however, they would have to come out in the open. Both Sidious and his apprentice knew the risks that this strategy entailed. Maul was preparing to confront the Jedi Knights and the Queen directly. If they survived their encounter with his apprentice, they would alert the Jedi Council to the existence of the Sith. It was a risk that Sidious was more than willing to take in light of the spectacular payoff that he stood to gain if he remained patient and willing to wait.
"It's a nice podracer. You built it yourself?" Kenobi asked Anakin.
"Yes. It took a lot of time to get it right...and I've made some modifications to it." It was blue colored with a solid white finish for the cockpit. Qui-Gon and the Queen were inspecting it. Padmé walked toward Anakin.
"It's hard to see how someone like you could be enslaved. The Republic has staunch antislavery laws…" Anakin cut her off as gently as he could.
"The Republic, the Jedi. Don't you see? None of that matters. The Hutts and the bounty hunter guilds…they're something else entirely. They call the shots here."
"But Tatooine has representation in the Galactic Senate…" Anakin looked down almost mumbling the answer.
"Tatooine has no functioning planetary government. We are too scattered for that. It's the Hutts who have representation in the Senate, not us." The Queen was impressed by the boy's responses. He was clearly far more attuned to the world around him than one would gather on first appearance. Anakin saw Qui-Gon and smiled at him. "The race on Boonta Eve is tomorrow."
"Are you ready for it?"
"As ready as I'll ever be Qui-Gon."
"Any advice for how to approach Watto?" Anakin looked both ways to make sure that his owner was out of sight.
"Make a crazy bet with him. It'll blind side him and he'll have to take it." No sooner had he finished speaking then Watto appeared.
"So you have a podracer. It looks good. Who's going to fly it though?"
"Anakin." Watto scoffed.
"The boy is a mediocre pilot at best."
"Well, since you think the odds are in your favor Watto…I'm willing to bet my ship against you."
"We can't discuss business out here my friend. There are too many prying eyes…" He looked menacingly at Anakin.
"Very well then, let's go inside." The two men walked inside as the hatch closed behind them.
"Okay Master Jedi…here's the deal. I'll pay the entrance fee for the race, you supply the racer. Then we can talk about what we're betting."
"If Anakin wins the race we get the hyperdrive engine and you set the boy free." Watto turned his head.
"You want the slave boy? Hmm…I am not sure I want to budge on that piece of property. He's extremely valuable to me."
"That may be so, but it's a fair bet for my ship…" Watto thought this over for a while and smiled.
"Very well then, if you win you can take the boy." He paused for a moment. "And what if you lose?"
"You get to keep my ship."
"What about the earnings?"
"Regardless of what happens we divide them equally. So you win either way my friend. You'll have half of the winnings and my ship." Watto's eyes bulged. This Jedi was crazier than he thought. He extended his hand and Qui-Gon shook it.
"You have yourself a deal." Watto believed himself to be the winner in this. Anakin felt the arrogance exuding from the dealer as he stepped out of the building. But Qui-Gon was the only one in the room who recognized just how special Anakin was. He ran out and saw young Skywalker revving the engines of his podracer. There was a sense of anticipation hanging in the air.
The suns began to rise over the main racetrack near Mos Espa. Anakin Skywalker found himself alone in thought. Qui-Gon came by him.
"How are you holding up?"
"I'm all right, I guess. Just a little nervous."
"You have no reason to be nervous Anakin."
"Why not?" He asked with a certain amount of disbelief in his voice.
"Because you have the Force to guide you."
"But I know so little about it Qui-Gon…"
"Trust your instincts out there and feel yourself one with everything around you. If you can allow yourself to do that, I promise you that great things will happen." He patted Anakin on the back and moved to the stands that began to fill-up on the sides of the track.
"How's he doing?"
"Nervous, but he'll do fine. I can feel it." Suddenly, Qui-Gon felt a tremor in the Force.
"Obi-Wan…Do you feel that presence?"
"It's cold…dark…what is that Master?"
"The Sith Lord?"
"Yes." Amidala could sense the palpable fear emanating from the two Jedi.
"We may have a larger problem than getting that hyperdrive engine." He paused. "Obi-Wan…you'll have to miss the race. Find him. You need to make sure that we are clear to get off this planet in one piece. We may have to leave here as soon as the race ends. Understood?"
"Yes." He wasted no time in getting up.
"Should I go with him?"
"No Padmé. This is something he needs to do on his own." They started to see the racers step out onto the track.
Anakin strapped on his helmet. To say that he was a bit scared would have been a mild understatement. There had to be at least twenty-five other racers on the line with him. With the mighty Hutts themselves watching from a high balcony. Anakin could see the very young heir to the dynasty—Jabba—gazing from the balcony. These were their overloads—living off the backs of the common folk. Anakin swore to himself that he would make it his business to come back here and set things right. These thoughts crept into him as he began to hear the loud drone of the podracers. Sweat filled his palms. This was his do or die moment. He heard a voice seemingly come out of nowhere, almost as low as a whisper. But it was so clear and unmistakable in its tone and tenor.
"Remember, Anakin, the Force will be with you…always." He closed his eyes and smiled as he turned on the engines. He lowered the goggles over his face and prepared himself for the arduous task that lay ahead. He heard the sound of the buzzer and in a flash they were off.
Whoever is here, he's strong with the Force. Obi-Wan thought to himself as he scoured the staging areas around the track. The race had just started. It would take at least four laps to complete. Kenobi had his hood up over his head concealing himself. Then out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure dressed in black. Or was it a probe droid? He couldn't be sure. He ducked down into the rafters and saw several aliens arguing with one another. Then he caught sight of the man in black robes. He walked casually, not wanting to alert him to his presence—trying desperately to cover his own force-signature. He moved closer. There was a probe droid next to the man.
Maul still had no luck but they had to be close. Shooing the droid away, he hoped it would have better luck soon. He had spoken with several bystanders and an injured bounty hunter who had spoken of a man wielding a dark blue lightsaber. He sensed something coming closer to him. Maul turned around slightly but found no one behind him.
Obi-Wan hid behind a corner, he saw a long lightsaber dangling from the side of the man's waist. He stepped out once the coast was clear and then continued observing the man who proceeded to duck around behind another set of rafters.
The race progressed swiftly. Anakin was six places behind the lead racer. They were heading toward the Jundland Wastes. Sand People were crawling all over the places looking to take advantage of one foolish mistake. Anakin pulled forward past one racer then another one. He found himself only two places behind the front of the pack. It made him nervous because he was up against none other than Sebulba—a Dug who was hailed as one of the premier podracers of his generation. He also didn't play by the rules and had no qualms about using unconventional methods to win a race. Anakin had a few run-ins with Sebulba and they definitely did not get along. He pushed the thoughts of his chief rival out of his mind as he pressed down hard on his controls.
At break-neck speed he ran through the gauntlet, dodging others, avoiding cliff-faces. But he could still not reach Sebulba. It was bothering him as he pushed the podracer faster and faster. But it seemed it wasn't enough as he made the pass around the track and entered the final lap. Of the twenty-five or so racers who had started three laps before, only six were still on the track—and only two were in serious contention for the race—Anakin and Sebulba. The long waiting game commenced now, to see who would make the first mistake and who would win the day.
"Obi-Wan…the race is almost over. Do not confront him on your own."
"Master, he wants to be found. I may not have a choice in the matter." It was a partial truth at best. It seemed certain that the mysterious hooded man did sense Obi-Wan's presence. But Obi-Wan wanted to relive the glory days of the Jedi Knights. A part of him wanted the chance to strike a blow against a potentially resurgent Sith Order. He made his way to the lower alcoves on the far side of the staging area. There he found the hooded man facing him with eyes of fire.
Darth Maul knew he was being followed. He never expected the Jedi apprentice to actually try to confront him. But he relished the challenge of a duel—something which he had only experienced in his dreams. He gripped his long lighstaber handle in his right hand and ignited one end of it. The blood red color of the blade made it perfectly clear who and what Kenobi was fighting. It sent a shudder down his spine. Kenobi lowered his hood and grasped his weapon.
"In the name of the Galactic Republic, I order you to stand down." There was nervousness in Obi-Wan's voice. His heart was racing. Perhaps this was more than he had bargained for? He raised his saber and ignited it. The dark blue contrasted sharply with his opponent's blade.
"You are overconfident in your abilities Kenobi." The man knew his name. How was that possible?
"I see you already seem to know who I am…at the very least extend me the courtesy of knowing who I'm fighting."
"I am Darth Maul…Lord of the Sith Order." He paused for added effect. "You do not frighten me Jedi…" Obi-Wan recalled his Master's words as they were approaching Alderaan. They had a chilling effect on the young padawan. He had yearned to be like his master, but now he saw how naïve he had truly been. Maul said nothing more as walked slowly toward Kenobi with his blade raised. A silence hung in the air. Then it was broken by the clash of two blades.
Anakin banked hard as he gradually caught up to Sebulba. No sooner had he reached him than he felt his pod lurch. Sebulba stared at him with an angry look and rammed hard to the right.
"Anakin…do not let him frighten you." How could Qui-Gon see what was going on? "Anakin…" The voice of the Jedi Master resounded louder in his brain. "Use the Force…let go of all your fear…" Anakin closed his eyes as Sebulba rammed harder into Anakin's pod.
Obi-Wan parried another blow and jumped backward, but Maul matched him as their blades struck blow for blow in the darkness of a group of warehouses. They had long since left the staging area behind.
"Come now Kenobi, Master Qui-Gon's reputation is on the line here. Surely you can do better than that!" Maul taunted him further. Obi-Wan closed his eyes reaching out with the force.
Anakin's felt a profound sense of warmth—of peace—inside of him as he opened his eyes. He could see every move in Sebulba's mind as they raced. A broad smile spread across his face as gripped the controls and rammed hard to his left. Both of their pods were stuck together. Somehow Sebulba's pod was stuck on Anakin's leftmost engine, Skywalker was unfazed. He gripped the controls hard and leaned left again all the while pushing the thrusters down hard.
Kenobi opened his eyes and lunged forward. With amazing speed he parried, blocked, spun around and managed to kick Maul squarely in the chest. Before Maul could see what was coming Kenobi struck him lightly on the shoulder grazing him and knocked his saber out of his hand. It landed on the floor extinguishing immediately. Sweat dripped down Kenobi's brow as he slammed his foot down hard into Maul's chest aiming his blue blade into the Dark Lord's neck.
Sebulba didn't realize that Anakin was pushing him into a large rock formation. Before he knew what hit him he slammed hard into the rocks and his pod burst into pieces launching the cockpit high into the air before he rolled to a complete stop. Anakin closed his eyes and sped down the rest of the track—he didn't hear the cheers or the chanting of his name. All he knew is that he had won the race—he had done the impossible.
"All you have to do is believe Anakin. The Force will take care of the rest."
Maul lay there stunned. The massive reversal in fortunes, the power emanating through Kenobi astounded him. But he had one trick up his sleeve. He had to get out of the situation otherwise it would risk Sidious' larger plans. He quickly raised his hand force-pushing Kenobi far enough away from him. Summoning his saber to his hand he was determined to flee as quickly as possible. The Dark Lord could not afford to fall into the hand of the Jedi Order. Leaping onto his ship which appeared over the warehouses…leaving Obi-Wan to ponder over the turn of events. He had lived out his dreams and faced down a Dark Lord of the Sith. I wonder what Qui-Gon will think of this when I tell him?
He walked back to the staging area where the race had been in full-swing and was assaulted by the roar of a large crowd. He ran to see what the commotion was about. When he arrived he saw thousands of people streaming down and greeting a young boy with sandy blonde hair. Qui-Gon stood there embracing Anakin Skywalker. A group of locals lifted him up high and chanted his name all the louder.
Obi-Wan smiled as his Master caught sight of him.
"I have to go see Watto…"
"I confronted him. He's definitely a Sith Lord."
"We'll talk about that on the way to ship."
"Yes, my master."
"You knew the boy would win! Somehow you knew! You cheated me! I have nothing left." Watto was crying foul over the days events.
"Sometimes when you play for high stakes, there's always a chance you'll lose."
"Well you can't have the boy. I won't allow it. You can have the engine and the parts…but you can't have Skywalker. It's not a fair deal you made with me." Qui-Gon scratched his beard.
"You're entitled to that position of course. However, if you have a problem we can always see if Jabba the Hutt could settle this dispute. How does that sound to you?" Hearing the name of the Hutt's golden-boy quieted the Trandoshan's protests.
"Fine. Take the boy he's yours."
"Pleasure doing business with you Watto."
Anakin was swopping stories with Obi-Wan and the Queen, when Qui-Gon went to meet with them.
"So here are your earnings!"
"And I am pleased to say we have the engine and the parts we need to get off this planet." Anakin smiled seeing the group so elated by the news.
"Well my work is done here. I have to go report back to Watto or they'll be hell to pay."
"There's another piece of news you might want to stay for Anakin." The boy turned around sensing what it might be.
"I didn't tell you what else I gambled for…" He looked at Anakin Skywalker squarely in the face. "You are free Anakin and welcome to come with us to Coruscant. It was not a coincidence that our paths crossed. I feel it was the will of the Force." The others were just as surprised as Anakin by the news.
"Wow…I don't know what to say…Does this mean that I can be trained as a Jedi Knight?"
"Yes, if you want it of course. It's not an easy life. But I believe that is your destiny Anakin. Will you come with us?" Anakin thought about it for a moment and then said,