Author: Tarlan (TarlanX@aol.com)
Warning: angst, violence
Summary: This is how it all began. The love of a Furyan for a Necromonger...
Riddick knew it would not be too long before one of the Necromonger commanders challenged his leadership though he had hoped it would not be Vaako. He had found the man invaluable to him since taking on the role of Lord Marshal many months ago, filling him in on the protocols and smoothing the transition for both him and the people.
Lord Marshal of the Necromongers. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined taking on such a role. When he sank back onto the throne, his strength giving out finally with the onset of grief as he looked at Kyra's body, he had not intended to fulfill anyone's prophecy or expectations. He knew he could have walked away on that first day, telling the Necromongers to go straight to hell and, until now, he did not understand what had made him stay. Yet, as he circled the powerful warrior -- staring deep into the alert eyes as he waited for Vaako to strike with the battle-ax -- Riddick recognized the truth.
He stayed because Vaako had intrigued him from the start. The well built, intelligent and handsome man had held Riddick's respect from the moment they met despite Vaako's arrogance in assuming his First could best a mere 'breeder'. In turn, Riddick knew he had garnered Vaako's respect after he dispatched Irgun so effortlessly. Instead of anger at seeing his best warrior defeated so casually, Vaako had shown a little surprise -- and a lot of grudging approval. Not that Riddick had been interested in having anyone's approval but for some reason, seeing that tiny smile in Vaako's eyes had pleased him.
Just a few days later, Riddick had the chance to watch Vaako fight on Crematoria and so he knew they would be evenly matched should they ever come face to face. Despite his build, Vaako was light on his feet, moving around his opponents with the grace of a dancer and wielding the heavy battle-ax as though it was made of flimsy paper rather than solid metal. The memory caused Riddick to recall how Vaako had held back from that original fight, only moving in to the affray once he had slaughtered many of Vaako's men. At the time, he had wondered why Vaako had waited.
Poor leadership? Indecision? Cowardice?
Riddick had sensed the intent eyes upon him during that battle, sizing him up, watching the way he fought, and waiting for the right time to attack.
'Probably looking for a weak spot,' Riddick thought. 'One that he would exploit now.'
Riddick jerked back as the ax scythed the air at chest height, too off balance in that split second to take advantage of any vulnerability and press his attack. He feinted to the side and dove under Vaako's armor-clad arm but was unable to give an incapacitating blow as an elbow snapped back into his face, knocking him out of range.
He grinned, tasting the metallic of blood on his lips. He had not faced an equal in battle for many years, knowing he could not include the Zhylaw the Last among that number. Zhylaw had a superior edge over any combatant and if Vaako had not entered that fight, exploiting a weakness seen in his old leader, then the outcome would have been far different. Caught between two assailants, Zhylaw's half-dead ability had turned to Riddick's advantage as he waited, poised and ready to strike where the Lord Marshal *would* be, rather than where he *had* been. Vaako's ax had struck the metal floor while Riddick's knife plunged into Zhylaw's skull.
'Talking of axes...' Riddick somersaulted as Vaako swung the ax again, a slanted downward stroke that would have taken off an arm, and his thoughts returned to *this* fight. His advantage lay in his opponent's warped sense of Necromonger honor despite his current companion's attempt to force that out of him, but Riddick had no such compulsion to fight 'clean'. He would claw, gouge, and bite if that was what it took to survive.
As the ax swung around for a third time, Riddick caught a flash of Dame Vaako's face, seeing her eyes gleaming in triumph even though the fight was far from over. It occurred to him then that she intended to be the winner, fully expecting to be the companion of the Lord Marshal at the end of this fight no matter the outcome.
'Won't she be the surprised one,' he thought, his teeth baring in a mockery of a grin, for he did not intend to lose this fight. Dame Vaako was beautiful but that beauty only ran skin deep and he would rather sleep with one of the night creatures that had killed Fry and the others than take *her* to his bed.
'On the other hand,' he thought, Vaako's beauty went beyond the physical, and Riddick had spent too many years in all-male prisons to care about the gender of his bed partner.
As they circled, Riddick appraised Vaako once more. The commander had the heart and soul of a warrior to go with his undeniable skill, but not the guile of a politician. He was surprisingly honest and could see beyond the personal power afforded by an exalted position, putting the needs of his men and the people converted to his faith first.
It occurred to Riddick that if he had walked away on that first day then Vaako would have taken the Lord Marshal's position, but he would not have lived long enough to fulfill his potential, for his companion would have influenced him. Her power mongering was the cause of this fight and would, no doubt, be the cause of many more, eventually ending in Vaako's death.
Yet, even with her influence, Vaako would have made a good leader of the Necromongers, continuing the fanaticism of the first Lord Marshal, Covu, who had wanted to see every human in this galaxy converted to Necroism... or killed. Every Necromonger was duty bound to remain alive until the known 'verse was swept clean of all human life. Only then would they be allowed to cross the Threshold into UnderVerse and be reunited with their loved ones.
Or would he have continued with the murder of innocents? Although deeply committed to the Faith, Vaako was no simple sheep being led slowly to the slaughterhouse.
Riddick knew all about this Threshold for his first duty as Lord Marshal had been to order the armada to it. As Lord Marshal, he was the only living person allowed to look beyond the Threshold into UnderVerse and what he saw filled him with anger.
Covu had lied -- or perhaps he had seen what he wanted to see with his tortured and grief-stricken eyes -- and the Lord Marshals following in his footsteps had perpetuated the lie, either too indoctrinated to the cause to see the truth that there was no promised land beyond the Threshold, or too callous to care. Only death lay beyond this Threshold, and he knew all about death because he had walked its horizon for all of his existence.
Perhaps it did reanimate the dead but Riddick could see no sign of any others he knew despite wandering through the UnderVerse for many months. The Necromongers had not converted the billions of innocents murdered on Helion Prime --and other planets before it -- so maybe they were not there, but thousands of Necromonger soldiers had died in those same battles. Where were they?
Eventually, he found the spirits of those Necromongers who had crossed over, huddled into one small part of UnderVerse but they seemed no happier in death than they had been in life, still bound by a code that shackled them to the other 'Verse. If anything, rather than a promised land, the UnderVerse seemed to be a place of limbo.
Riddick watched as the spirits of mainly non-believers passed straight through this limbo with ease, drawn towards the radiance of a supernova hovering at its center. Now and then, one of the Necromonger converts would go towards the light, only to be dragged back by those who had commanded them in life.
It reminded him of stories told in the deep of night in Slam, of near death experiences where inmates described the beautiful light that led to the Promised Land. Instead of leading them to the light, Covu's teachings had trapped his people in this grey limbo, unable to move on until their souls were free. Yet, how could that happen? How could every human life be extinguished from his 'Verse? How long would these spirits have to remain in limbo, barred from making that final transition until someone told them they were free to go?
With sudden realization, Riddick knew he had the power to set these spirits free for he was Lord Marshal, the figurehead of their religion.
They flocked to him as they recognized the life that still filled him, and he felt momentary panic as millions of the dead swarmed around him.
"What are you waiting for?" he pointed towards the supernova that burned his half-dead eyes. "Go."
Thousands obeyed instantly, breaking away, and flying towards the light before any other spirit could stop them, yet many more remained. The tormented souls of the Necromonger dead were still shackled by their faith despite his command for new spirits were still arriving from the other 'Verse when there ought to be none remaining.
One spirit came charging towards him, face almost unrecognizable beneath the rabid snarl that snapped at him. Zhylaw drew the Necromongers away from Riddick and, with a heavy heart, Riddick turned from them. Perhaps they needed the spirit of the full dead Lord Marshal to give that final order, but none of those who had preceded him would ever give that command. They saw only a massive army of the undead for them to command unto eternity.
When Riddick returned, he discovered that only a day had passed within this 'Verse.
Perhaps it was fortunate that he had not been a convert of Necroism before taking command for it meant he had not fallen into the same web of lies perpetuated through sixth regimes of Necromonger history. However, now he had to figure out a way to remold a whole faith and stop the senseless killings in this 'Verse, and the wasted afterlives in the next, just as Aereon had foretold.
Should have killed that bitch, he thought without rancor. He could not blame her for wanting to see the end of the most destructive force in human history but he wished she had chosen some other 'messiah' to lead the way back to the 'light'.
In hindsight, Riddick knew he should have introduced the changes to Necroism slower but he had never been one for subtleties. Though very few had actually challenged those changes... and then only those who had the most to lose... like Dame Vaako.
Vaako hissed in annoyance rather than pain as Riddick's knife slashed across one biceps but, otherwise, his grip on the ax did not falter. As they circled again, Riddick saw Dame Vaako licking her lips in hungry anticipation. She had orchestrated this fight because she had not liked the way he discarded some of the Necromonger tenets, stripping her of the power she craved and enjoyed.
'Probably figured that, if I die then she gets everything and more through Vaako... and if he dies then she manipulates me into setting things back as they were and giving her everything.'
He knew she saw Necroism as a means to an end rather than as a religion. It gave her more power and position than she might have enjoyed on the planet of her birth, and he wondered what she had been before becoming a convert.
Vaako, on the other hand, was a devout follower, rising from the ranks of the newly converted as a soldier. He was used to taking orders from others and deadened to pain from making voluntary pilgrimages to the Purification chambers -- as the raw scars on his neck attested. She probably chose him as her companion because he was so easy to manipulate, convincing him that he would be destroying a weak Lord Marshal, one who did not follow the laws of Necroism closely enough, just as she had convinced him to attack Zhylaw.
Yet, with Vaako's loyalty to his people and his knowledge of the Faith, coupled with Riddick's sense of self-preservation and enlightenment, they would make for a strong leadership. Their rule would be stronger than any previous one because they would not be governed by self-importance and megalomania.
'Keep what you kill', Riddick mused as the ax sent sparks flying as it struck the ground where he had stood only a split second before. 'Wonder if killing the bitch means I get to keep her companion?'
Riddick's eyes narrowed in realization of the direction his thoughts had traveled, leading him beyond the aesthetically pleasing exterior to the beauty at the inner core of his adversary. Everything about Vaako was perfection to Riddick's eyes and mind. Only his heart remained unconvinced but the ice surrounded that long-frozen part of his humanity had been thawing since M-344/G. Fry had started off the process by making him consider more than just his personal survival, sacrificing hers to save Imam and Jack... and him.
Losing Imam and then Jack could have sent his heart back into that frozen tundra but, instead, the thaw had continued as the days passed into weeks then months... with Vaako by his side. Losing Vaako would be...
Riddick's eyes widened in awareness of a subconscious desire for Vaako to live.
The grey curtain lifted from his mind and Riddick knew what he wanted, and what he could offer Vaako in return so they might both live and rule together. He watched for an opening, taking advantage of the single weakness he had spotted in Vaako's defense, one that he had failed to exploit for a reason that confused him until this moment. Deftly, he struck and knocked the man backwards, the battle-ax falling from numbed wrists to clatter upon the metal floor of the Necropolis.
Riddick followed through, bringing his weight to bear down upon Vaako, pinning him to the floor, and placing the wicked edge of the ceremonial dagger against the pale throat. It would take but a flick of his wrist to slit Vaako's throat but, instead, Riddick leaned in closer, with his eyes fixed on Vaako. Anger and self-reproach shone in the depths but no fear but, slowly, confusion eroded even that. Vaako expected to die. He had fought well, to the best of his abilities and for the Necromonger cause. Therefore, according to the philosophy he lived by, it made this a timely death, something he should seek rather than avoid. Most likely, he believed fate had offered him this chance to cross the Threshold into UnderVerse before the others.
Speaking low so others could not overhear his words, Riddick gave Vaako a choice.
"Your companion doesn't care if you live or I live. Thinks it's all the same to her... gives her what she wants."
A twitch betrayed Vaako's annoyance at the mention of Dame Vaako. "You think I do not know this?" he snarled back under his breath, and that pleased Riddick for it proved the man was not as trapped by her allurements as Riddick first believed.
"Not gonna happen. Got my eye on someone else."
Riddick watched as a smirk replaced annoyance on Vaako's face, knowing Vaako liked the idea of her gaining nothing for all her machinations. Though he cared whom Riddick had chosen in her place, yet he remained silent.
'You worried it's gonna be someone like Dame Toal?' thought Riddick as he recalled the attractive but sycophantic companion to his second commander. She would follow him blindly, offering nothing more than a body in which to slake his pleasure in return for position and baubles.
Riddick had no plan to leave him in ignorance. He needed Vaako to know whom he wanted, hoping he had read the signs correctly for he had seen the way Vaako looked at him when Vaako believed no one was watching.
Until now, Riddick had taken this interest purely as intrigue on Vaako's part but, in hindsight, he knew it could be far more than that. As procreation had no place within their faith, looking upon 'breeders' with disgust, the concept of marriage was also foreign to Necromonger philosophy. Yet they enjoyed power and sexual pleasures, taking companions who could provide them with either or both. This made the gender of their sex partner irrelevant, and Riddick's keen eyes had spotted as many same sex pairings in their company as male-female ones.
Recalling the way Zhylaw's eyes had crawled over his body back on Helion Prime, Riddick knew that the only reason why Dame Vaako had not sought position and favor with the former lord marshal was because of his preference for male partners. Of course, Riddick had no obvious preference, enjoying the sexual favors of either gender for the person within the body mattered to him, not the configuration of their sex organs.
With no 'contracts' existing between them, Necromongers seemed to cast off their companions at a whim, either to move upwards or to seek greater satisfaction. Certainly, most showed no fidelity to their current partner, always seeking more... except for Vaako. Riddick had seen Dame Vaako flaunting her sensuality with many others, slowly building a power-base of those entranced by her beauty as she moved from the bed of one commander to another like some expensive whore. He had seen Vaako's annoyance at her antics but she had him trapped. If he cast her off then she would easily find another to groom, and Riddick would not be surprised to see Vaako fall from favor as she conspired to destroy any faith in his abilities so her new companion could take Vaako's place as Riddick's 'First Among Commanders'.
Yet Vaako remained loyal to her bed, seeking no other partner even for casual sex.
'Fidelity is the key', mused Riddick, recalling how all offered loyalty to the Lord Marshal, and not surprisingly, how many of his men offered loyalty to Vaako. Vaako embraced that concept, only withdrawing his fidelity when believed the Lord Marshal had lost all respect. Silently, Riddick wondered if he had regained Vaako's loyalty by besting him in combat, proving to him that he was the stronger warrior. He wanted Vaako to continue as his advisor, as his 'First Among Commanders' but, more importantly, he wanted him as his companion until death parted them.
The choice to live or die had to remain with Vaako but, if he chose to live then at least Riddick would not have to watch his back, for Vaako's loyalty to him would be complete. Such was the measure of this man.
"You gotta choice," he said, leaning in and speaking quietly so as not to be overheard. "I can kill you now...fast and easy... or you can live."
Vaako frowned and Riddick knew that he was probably trying to figure out if asking to die would still be considered a timely death. Unless specifically sanctioned, the Faith considered most suicides untimely, and so the spirit of the deceased would never cross into UnderVerse.
"Name your price," Vaako asked roughly, keeping his voice low.
"Want all of you...at my side as my first commander and advisor, and in my bed as my companion." Riddick watched as the bright eyes widened in shock, and Riddick leaned in to brush his lips over Vaako's, to quell the growing disbelief. "Your choice... but choose quickly."
Even though Vaako gave no verbal reply, Riddick read his response in the flush of his cheeks, and in the hardening at his groin against Riddick's thigh. A fine trembling shook the soft lips and Vaako's eyes darted away in embarrassment as he revealed the depth of his desire for Riddick. Riddick had no doubt that Vaako would convince himself later that he chose to live purely because, as First Among Commanders and as Riddick's advisor, he would be able to influence the Lord Marshal, just as his now-former companion had influenced him.
With a deep-throated laugh, Riddick pulled back, springing to his feet and offering a hand to his former opponent, which Vaako accepted. They stood, staring at each other while confused whispers circulated through the Necropolis. Riddick put away the dagger and laid his other hand upon Vaako's shoulder in a gesture that was not lost on those present.
Too late, Riddick caught the hiss of anger from behind Vaako and felt Vaako lurch violently, eyes going wide in shock. Still holding his hand, Riddick watched in horror as Vaako dropped to his knees, revealing Dame Vaako standing right behind her husband.
"He was weak, my Lord," she stated with a cold, triumphant look in her eye. It turned to disbelief as Riddick pulled the ceremonial dagger from its sheath and plunged it into her belly.
"But he was *mine*," he whispered harshly as her eyes glazed over in untimely death.
Riddick dropped to his knees before Vaako, the dagger clattering to the floor as he grabbed at Vaako's shoulders, feeling the horrible gut wrenching pain that had accompanied both Fry and Kyra's deaths.
"Medics," he yelled and heard footsteps rushing towards his position to grab at Vaako.
Vaako awoke to a world of pain but refused to acknowledge it. He was Necromonger and pain was essential to clear the mind of all but his duty. He opened his eyes. The room was in near darkness but he could make out the shape of a man seated on a chair beside his bed. Light glinted off white teeth and the silvered eyes, giving away his companion's identity.
Memories of the fight resurfaced as he recalled the way his former companion had manipulated him into challenging Riddick for right to rule the Necromongers, citing all the dramatic changes he had made since taking over that went against the teachings of their faith. She had used even Vaako's sexual interest in the man to fuel her arguments, accusing him of being weak and favoring the 'breeder'.
Eventually, he had weakened. Although equally matched in fighting skills, he knew Riddick had the slightest edge because of his strong survival instincts and Furyan blood but Vaako had no fear of death. If he died fighting with honor -- and for the faith -- then he would be assured a place in the UnderVerse.
Conversely, if he won then he would know it was not yet his time and would take on the role of leader until the right time was revealed to him. Perhaps, with so much power at her fingertips, his companion would then have been proud of her place at his side and remain true to him.
Riddick had thwarted both of those options by offering him a third; one that he could not resist for it gave him the power to influence without having to kill Riddick.
'Liar,' he thought. The option had strengthened the weakness his companion had tried to exploit. It gave him his heart's desire -- for his body and mind had belonged to Riddick from that first day, if only Riddick had known it.
Or perhaps he had known of it for why else would he offer such a position?
Riddick knelt down beside the low bed and stroked Vaako's face, his thumb brushing lips, leaving them tingling with desire. Vaako tried to rise and felt the pain sharpen in his back.
"Knife scraped off a rib. Didn't hit anything vital."
"Why... are you here?"
"Hmm... perhaps you need a reminder of your new position," murmured Riddick as he leaned in and kissed Vaako's lips, deepening the contact as they parted in willing acceptance. A ghostly face pushed out from Riddick's visage and passed through his skin, and Vaako shivered as the kiss deepened to his soul.
When Riddick pulled back, Vaako felt dazed, barely able to focus as if the whole world had shifted beneath him sending him floating into brilliant starlight.
"How?" he whispered, but Vaako knew the answer. Riddick was now among the half-dead but had concealed that from all of them. He could have used his astral projection abilities to rip out Vaako's soul during the fight, forever banishing him from the UnderVerse, just as Zhylaw would have done with an enemy. Instead, he had fought as a human... and let him live.
Riddick made no answer, merely grinned in that knowing way that irked so many. His strong fingers drew down the light covering and drifted over Vaako's exposed flesh, igniting flames of passion as he dragged a short thumbnail over one nipple.
"Maybe I could show you the reason," he breathed as his mouth descended again in an open kiss, full of possession.
All lingering pain turned to pleasure as Riddick shrugged out of his clothes and settled his hot, naked flesh against Vaako. If Vaako had any remaining doubts then they vanquished as blunt fingers worshipped his body without the brutish strength he had anticipated from this man, slowly bringing him to exquisite pleasure as their bodies rocked together gently.
Afterwards, worn out by his injuries and the spike of passion that convulsed his entire body, Vaako could not help the droop of his eyelids.
"Sleep now," Riddick whispered as his hand stroked Vaako's face, like a parent comforting a child.
He closed his eyes and, for the first time in many years, images of life rather than death filled his dreams as he crossed the smaller threshold into sleep.