"Well," Vaako said, stepping out of the Necro transport shuttle. He eyed the delegation waiting for him in the Basilica's bay with about the same expression he'd worn on their last meeting: wary, but also amused, as if he knew something Riddick didn't. "This is... unexpected."
Riddick crossed his arms over his unarmored chest, giving the former First Among Commanders the same wry, smug expression. No matter what Vaako might have up his sleeves, he couldn't have planned for this moment. Whatever Krone had said about Vaako intending to honor his word, the heir presumptive to the Necromonger crown would have known something was up the moment Krone returned without most of his guard-- and would have drawn the obvious conclusion. "Thought you'd got rid of me, huh?"
He had half a dozen soldiers of his own ranged behind him; they might be the kind of blank-minded, overly purified drones he normally had no use for, but the fact that they still saw him as their Lord Marshal had proved... surprisingly convenient. If things went south and he had to fight Vaako, he'd do it alone, but they would keep any other complications out of it.
Vaako didn't look to be in the mood for fighting, though. Too intrigued, or maybe just full up to his quota for the day. He tilted his head, dark-outlined eyes glittering in his pale face; a silver-edged shadow seemed to linger for a brief moment, ghostly grey eyes fixed on Riddick's with just as much burning intensity as the live ones. "Krone reported that you found the planet to your liking, and chose to stay," he replied.
The words were spoken calmly, with only a mild curiosity behind them, unmoved by the evidence of betrayal. Then again, the dark patterns of splattered blood marring the dull shine of his armor and the lack of any other Necromongers with him told their own story. Before Riddick had killed him, the scarfaced Commander had been droning on about misbelievers and kind hearts not being worthy of leading the Faith; but it looked like Krone had underestimated Vaako as badly as he had Riddick. No surprise there.
The real question was, had Riddick underestimated Vaako? The next few minutes had the potential to be very, very interesting.
"Funny," Riddick mused, tone equally cool. "He told me 'you keep what you kill'... right after he shot a cliff out from under me. Don't know what planet we were on, but somehow I doubt it was Furya."
Dark eyebrows rose; Vaako glanced down at the black sleeveless shirt Riddick wore, taking in the obvious lack of armor or visible wounds, and curved his mouth in a wry smile. "And yet here you are."
"And here we both are," Riddick reminded him, tapping the bloody blade he'd used to shut Krone up against his thigh. "Don't think you had anything to do with it. But it still voided our deal."
"Home," Vaako lifted a dark brow. "For transcendence. I remember." He took a few more steps forward, closing the space between them, trailing an echo in smoke and mercury behind him as he moved. "But I gave the order. And I can't exactly forfeit what I sought, and received, in return."
"Lord Marshal," Riddick drawled, the word doing double service as both acknowledgement and correction.
Riddick leaving the way he had, at Vaako's word, had been tantamount to naming Vaako as successor to the chair he'd never truly wanted-- one of the two traditional ways for the Lord Marshal to pass on the title. But he hadn't actually said the words, or signed any official document for the records. And never before had a Lord Marshal transitioned out of the role and later returned. Until the matter was settled to the satisfaction of the Legion Vast, there were effectively two Lords Marshal.
The easiest way to take care of the problem would have been the other traditional way to pass the crown: the way Riddick had taken it from that asshole Zhylaw. It might actually be a challenge now that Vaako had taken a half-step up from the rest of humanity, that Holy Half-Dead status Riddick had spent the last few years avoiding. But he didn't think Vaako would go there unless he was pushed. There wasn't any prophecy driving this Necromonger, just belief; and he'd believed hard enough in the cause to bend the knee to a breeder in the first place. Chilling his blood down even further wouldn't have changed that about him.
He'd had all the time in the world to set up Riddick's death before he'd finally decided Riddick wasn't going to shape up as leader of the Faith and dangled the bait of Furya. Krone had said the man had a 'kind heart', on whatever sliding scale Necromongers used to measure such things. And... Riddick had heard the heat of remembered arousal in Vaako's voice, when he'd talked about the last battle of Furya.
He could use that. There was a reason he'd come back, after all, beyond the basic courtesy of doing unto others. And it hadn't been to do anything so civilized as rule.
"Lord Marshal," Vaako replied, dryly. His tone was just ambiguous enough it could be acknowledgement, or equal greeting; the knife's edge between pride and insult the man walked with such ease. "I don't suppose you'll accept another ship and another pilot as fulfillment?"
"What's that they say about doing the same thing and expecting a different result?" Riddick gave the man a toothy grin, still tapping the knife against his thigh as he began a slow stalk around him.
Vaako didn't bother to turn and follow him with his eyes; his shadow did that for him, soul's-eyes shining as silver as Riddick's own. The sight of it tightened something deep in Riddick's gut, opened the adrenaline gates in his system; now why couldn't his first sojourn in the fleet have been even a fraction this interesting? He'd never have let his animal side be lulled enough for assassins to get the drop on him if he'd had someone to play off of like this, before. Was it just that Vaako might be able to fight him on equal ground, now, or just that Riddick hadn't taken a close enough look before? Questions, questions. But not the ones that mattered.
"Didn't think so," Vaako rumbled. "You won't trust me enough to leave on my word, again; but you were never content on the throne. So what do you want?"
"Wouldn't say never," Riddick replied, pausing to look back through the field closing off the bay at the glowing throat of Underverse, hanging like the maw of a great sea beast in the starry depths. "Didn't mind leading the Conquests. It was the rest of the job I hated. And it occurred to me that there's one other way I can be sure of finding other Furyans, without leaving the fleet to do it."
"You know there are none left in our ranks," Vaako said thoughtfully, turning his physical body to stare over Riddick's shoulder. "The former Purifier was the last; very few of them laid down their weapons voluntarily, and none were ever capable of much... restraint. I don't expect to see any again until the Crusade is done, and the Fleet returns here in Due Time."
Riddick could hear the capitals on certain words, and the suspicion underlying them. "Exactly," he said, satisfaction purring under the words. "So how about I help you hurry that day up."
Not that he was particularly eager to exterminate all life in the 'verse; but the innocent usually laid down arms and joined up before he'd have to do something about it, the ones who didn't were legitimate targets anyway, and practically speaking a complete sweep of humanity would be impossible to execute. Sooner or later, the Necros would decide they'd done enough, and when that day came... Well, maybe he'd finally find his purpose. And in the meantime, it would keep him out of the crosshairs of mercs and planets full of monsters even deadlier than he was. The business of survival might have whetted skills and wits gone slack with disuse, but he had a new sharpening stone in front of him now, and even he could get tired of backwater hand-to-mouth bloodshed.
"You want to share the throne," Vaako said, tone finally lifting with intrigue. "That's never been done before; there's no precedent for it."
"Wasn't any precedent for violent succession until Baylock killed Naphemil, either," Riddick shrugged, then smirked at the surprise in Vaako's expression. "What, you thought I wasn't listening to all those lectures? I just didn't give a damn."
"And now you do?" Vaako's voice rose again.
Riddick glanced up at the metal relief work to either side of the doorway; the Lords Marshal welcoming Necromongers back to the capital ship, the way Chrislams might have placed a cross, or other such homeworld iconography. He'd always thought the statue of Baylock looked ravenous, compared to the ordered images of the other Lords Marshal; a starving wolf, holding a head in either hand, robes hanging in strips like rags around his armor. Brutal, but not cowardly with it like Zhylaw. Riddick would still have killed him, sure, if the guy had come at him with his 'convert or fall forever' speech, but you had to respect that straightforward dedication of purpose. "Nah; you know me, I got no time for religion. You remember the first thing you ever said to me?"
Silver shadows flowed, leaving Vaako suddenly in front of him, living Lord Marshal supplanting the statues. "No," he said baldly, dark eyes narrowed only half a meter away. "Frankly, you weren't that important-- at the time. But I imagine it was more or less the same thing I used to say to every lone resister."
Riddick chuckled. "No doubt. Being asked to bow, though; that was unusual enough for me to remember."
"'This is your one chance'," Vaako recalled the quote in a low, almost caressing murmur.
"'I bow to no man'," Riddick reminded him. "I got no desire to rule. But I got no more desire to show the back of my neck now than I had then, either. And I'm more useful to you alive than dead." He tipped his chin back toward his coterie of guards, still waiting patiently by the airlock. "So I'm pretty sure you can find a way."
A slow smile crept over Vaako's face, and he reached out to take Riddick's chin between an armored thumb and forefinger. The grip looked fragile, but Riddick could feel the tug down somewhere deep, where his animal side denned in wait; it set every nerve in his body alight, confirming that he'd made the right decision.
"There is one precedent," Vaako mused aloud. "A pair of Lords Commander who took one another as consort, and joined their sections of the Fleet. One chose to lead in battle; the other in more... administrative matters. But neither slacked in their faith, so it was permitted."
"Thought you already had a wife," Riddick commented, unflinching as he twisted out of the grip. He'd expected something like that-- this one conversation had fired him up more than any four courtesans had ever managed, and Vaako's interest wasn't exactly subtle-- but he had no desire to end up under Dame Vaako's knife. Woman knew how to plan; fending her off might get... inconvenient.
"I thought you said you'd been listening," Vaako retorted, amused. "We're not breeders, Riddick. She's achieved her ambition; why should she object so long as I stay on the throne?"
Well, then. "If you say so," Riddick replied, then reached out to grasp the other man's forearm, sealing the deal Seventh Lord Marshal to Eighth. "Lord Consort."
"Lord Consort," Vaako echoed again, returning the clasp. Then he pulled Riddick in, seizing his mouth in a bruising kiss.
Riddick tasted blood on his teeth, and smiled.