1. The Caution
Vaako knew his wife was not the only Necromonger who was shocked when Riddick sank down onto the Lord Marshal's throne, though rumor had it that they were more surprised by Vaako's recognition of that significant act - kneeling before Riddick instead of taking off the breeder's head with his battle ax. Most of them thought Vaako should be sitting on the throne, ordering the final protocol against Helion Prime before directing the Necromonger army towards the next conquest... Leading them to UnderVerse. Instead, Riddick had ordered the departure from Helion Prime early, sparing the lives of those still on the planet without purifying them first.
Scales and Toal had come to him after Riddick ordered everyone out of the Necropolis, confused and tense because they had not even replenished the ranks of those who had found a timely death during the latest campaign. He had listened to their concerns, refusing to admit even to himself that he shared in them. They wanted Riddick removed but Vaako had cautioned them to wait.
Since the moment they first met on Helion Prime, Riddick had intrigued him, and that same fascination still held sway over his thoughts and emotions. On the one occasion when he had come close to fulfilling Zhylaw's command to kill the Furyan, strange forces had taken control of Riddick, and the resulting shockwave had knocked him off his feet.
The meddling Elemental had called it The Rage of Furya.
Vaako didn't understand it but he was convinced Riddick's part in Necromonger history was no coincidence. Even the Elemental had hinted at prophesies.
The first attempt to remove Riddick as Lord Marshal came not long after, and Vaako could still see the shocked realization in Toal's eyes when Vaako was the one to intercept the ax before it could fall upon Riddick's unprotected back. The two Necromonger soldiers holding Riddick's dazed and bloodied body were quick to let go and step back, drawing their weapons even as Riddick sprawled to the marble floor of the Necropolis, barely conscious. The rest of Toal's elite command lay scattered about them, dead or dying from Riddick's blades - proof that Riddick had not gone down without a fight.
Although he wasn't certain why he was protecting Riddick, Vaako called the guards and let all three meet an untimely death at the hands of an executioner, savoring the moment when the light faded from Toal's eyes. Vaako had cautioned him to wait, and this was the price Toal and his men paid for their impatience.
They would not meet in UnderVerse.
2. The Hull Breach
The Naphemil, named after the third Lord Marshal, was one of the original ships built when the Necromongers began their nomadic existence in order to fulfill their destiny as dictated by Covu the Transcended. This first among the sarcophagus ships had once held the elite among the Necromonger warriors, its sole purpose to deposit ground forces as soon as the Necro fighters had cleared the air space above the planet under attack.
The Naphemil was old long before even Zhylaw became Lord Marshal, and over the decades since, it had suffered repeated damage from weapons fire.
In the days before Zhylaw, not all of the new recruits were turned into soldiers. Many of the newly converted were chosen for their mechanical and metal skills, and they were set to work repairing the ships of the fleet and building replacements where necessary. They were involved in the construction of the Conquest Icons and the creation of new statues to commemorate the cleansing of each new system of all life.
Once Riddick had seen beyond the threshold his place as Lord Marshal would be assured and images would be raised within the Necropolis in his honor. Until then, the skilled workers would labor on repairs, but they were far fewer in number after Zhylaw decreed that he needed more and more soldiers.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence Riddick had chosen to inspect the Naphemil that fateful day, but Vaako had never believed in coincidence, not even before Riddick swaggered into his life on Helion Prime. He was tempted not to believe in it now as it was too suspicious that the section Riddick happened to be inspecting suddenly gave way to the vacuum of space.
Vaako grabbed hold of the strong pipe work running along the ceiling but Riddick was just too far away. He saw Riddick grasp a handle but the escaping atmosphere pulled him parallel to the floor, held only by straining muscle and the ominous creak as the handle slowly gave way. Vaako moved hand-over-hand along the pipe, aware of his own precarious position but determined to reach Riddick. At the last second he thrust out his hand and Riddick grasped at it as the handle gave way, the metal whipping past Riddick's head, missing by the merest fraction. With hands locked around wrists, they held on tight until a bulkhead door was sealed and the pressure equalized, dropping both of them to the floor in an ungainly heap.
Riddick had stared at him with those silvered eyes, his lips twitching once before he pushed to his feet and walked away without even a flippant comment.
It wasn't a coincidence, and by the end of the day cycle, Vaako had seen three Necromonger Sub-commanders and Dame Halris meet their death before due time. He had their bodies thrown out of the main airlock on the Naphemil as a warning to all.
When he returned to the Basilica, Riddick had watched him as he crossed the Necropolis, waiting until he grew close before speaking in a low voice.
"Heard you took out the trash."
Vaako wasn't certain what he meant but decided the tiny smile had to mean something as it had certainly felt good to Vaako.
3. The Dark World
Riddick had an affinity for animals, perhaps because they appealed to the primitive side of his nature, but the creatures they met on one dark world would only ever see humans as food, never as master. It was obvious from the start Riddick had met these creatures before, and Vaako wondered why he would wish to face them again.
All he gained in answer were words as cryptic as those that fell from the lips of the Elemental.
"Don't believe in coincidence."
Puzzled, Vaako wondered if Riddick was giving an order to him or stating a fact about himself.
He followed him down to the dark world, flinging himself to the ground beside Riddick without thinking, only to watch in fascination as two of his men were snatched in a whirlwind of beating leathery wings and sharp teeth, and torn to shreds with parts of their bodies heading in different directions. Riddick stood up and moved forward after lighting a single lamp that cast its glow six feet in every direction except one - the long shadow of their own bodies behind them.
"Stay in the light," Riddick ordered.
Vaako wasn't certain what made him turn defensively at the last second but his blaster brought down the largest creature he had seen so far only inches from snatching up Riddick with its wickedly sharp claws. The light from the lamp struck it and it began to smolder, its skin blistering immediately.
Once more Riddick turned and eyed him with intrigue plainly written on his face; his silver eyes glowed in the light reflecting from the lamp.
"Curious," he stated and his eyes wandered over Vaako as if truly seeing him for the first time, before drawing away to the distant horizon. He handed Vaako the lamp and, to Vaako's bewilderment, he pulled on his specially made protective goggles.
The sudden blaze of light from the horizon was shocking for more than one reason. Firstly, there had been no increased glow as seen at an impending dawn but secondly, because the light revealed what had been hidden from his eyes. Hundreds of the deadly creatures surrounded them, kept at bay only by the circle of light cast out by the lamp.
An inhuman scream rose up around them, followed by the beating of wings as the creatures took flight too late.
"Beautiful," Riddick murmured as their bodies ignited, falling like tiny comets plummeting to earth all around them.
"Beautiful," Vaako repeated as he watched them all burn.
The light disappeared for a moment before coming back stronger, and Vaako watched as a yellow star - the minor star in this system - rose slowly, majestically from behind what he could now see was a larger, ringed planet. The temperature began to climb, explaining the rocky, desert appearance and Vaako tilted his head in intrigue at the strange tree shapes in the distance.
Taking out his scanner, Vaako brought the images into closer focus and nodded in understanding as he made out the skeletal remains. In the other direction lay the wreckage of a ship and Vaako followed Riddick towards it but Riddick made no attempt to enter. Instead he activated the solar-powered machine and started heading out. Vaako quickly jumped on board, raising an eyebrow to match Riddick's. Within half an hour they reached an abandoned settlement and Vaako followed Riddick into one of the pre-fabricated buildings. Inside was an orrery and out of curiosity Vaako moved it on, counting off the years and months until the planets came back out of alignment: five years, four months and twenty-one days.
He wondered how Riddick had known it would be this very day that the sun would rise again, for it was obvious the orrery had not been touched since the last fall of night.
Riddick was busy checking through the papers and core samples scattered across the benches, and Vaako knew exactly when he found what he was searching for among the debris. Curiosity getting the better of him, he moved closer and tried to make out the words inscribed on the paper.
"They were Furyan," Vaako stated in surprise, recognizing the script.
Riddick studied him for a moment before turning the paper towards him, but recognizing the script did not mean Vaako could read it, though he could make out one set of symbols that seemed to be astronomical coordinates. It was an area of space that the Necromongers had passed through two years before Vaako's birth - and eighteen years before his first purification and rebirth after the fall of his home world.
"Furya," Riddick murmured.
Riddick's order to turn the fleet around and head towards Furya made no sense to Vaako for there would be nothing left of that world or any other lying in between. The final protocol incinerated every conquered planet, extinguishing all remaining life and leaving nothing but a scorched and irradiated world behind.
His examination of the records had confirmed that Zhylaw had been a young commander during the Furyan System campaign, taking over as Lord Marshal soon after, though under suspicious circumstances. Zhylaw had taken his greatest pleasure in seeking out young colonies and ensuring they would never grow strong enough to fight back, and yet Furya had almost seen him fall. The records showed that Furya had been a nascent colony, perhaps only four thousand strong at the time of the campaign, but all of them trained as warriors - male and female. They had fought bravely, meeting their deaths in due time, and every one of them would have made an exceptional convert but for one flaw.
Vaako's now estranged wife had recounted the words of the Elemental, telling of Zhylaw's weakness - his fear of a prophesy coming true, that he would never lead the Necromongers into UnderVerse but instead would meet an untimely death at the hands of a Furyan.
In fear of that prophesy, he had even strangled Furyan newborns with their own umbilical cords to ensure no Furyan survived. He had sent out ships to follow and destroy any Furyan attempting to escape their doomed world and then watched from orbit as the planet was completely obliterated, just to ensure that nothing could survive on Furya.
And yet somehow Riddick had survived, and so had the small Furyan colony upon the Dark World - until they fell prey to the creatures that had waited for the darkness to fall. It could not be coincidence that of all the worlds that Riddick could have crashed upon, he had found this long, lost colony of Furyans, and a clue to finding the rest of his people.
It made Vaako uncomfortable as he had not thought of his own home world in many years, no longer even certain of his origins. Though sometimes he dreamed of his mother, seeing an impression of her soft smile and hearing the lullaby she loved to hum to him even as he grew out of childhood. On those occasions, he returned to the purification chamber to deaden a pain that he could no longer quite understand.
As the fleet moved through space that was devoid of all human life, Vaako heard murmurs of frustration and anger. He was not surprised to find his estranged wife's voice among the others, whispering her poison to all who would listen. Vaako became more watchful of attack, both on Riddick and upon himself for acting as Riddick's guardian. So far no others had made a move against either of them but Vaako knew it was simply a matter of time before his wife convinced an ambitious sub-commander or nobleman to make a play for the exalted position of Lord Marshal. He suspected she would wish for him meet his end before his due time as well, so she could take what she believed was her rightful place at the side of a new and more malleable Lord Marshal.
Vaako considered dealing with her before that could happen, but Necromonger law was in her favor. To take her life before her due time would automatically forfeit his own, leaving Riddick unprotected. He could not risk that even though he had yet to understand why Riddick's continued existence should be so important to him, especially as Riddick had made no attempt to follow Necromonger doctrine. He had not ordered them to the threshold so he could look upon UnderVerse and become Lord Marshal in more than just name. He had not finished the campaign against the Helion System, or even undergone purification. To many he was still the breeder who sat upon the Necromonger throne.
But not to Vaako.
Months passed and Vaako had taken it upon himself to instruct Riddick whenever the other would accept his teachings. Sometimes they discussed history and Necromonger theology, other times they sparred to hone their skills with blade or bare hands. Occasionally, they used would-be assassins as practice targets, giving those unfortunates the opportunity to meet their death in due time rather than face untimely death by formal execution.
During one such practice, Riddick gained the better of him and tumbled Vaako to the floor of the Necropolis. Vaako could feel the hard length of Riddick's muscular body pressing him down but he could gain no leverage. His blade clattered from numb fingers leaving him vulnerable but Vaako had no fear for even if Riddick decided to end his life, he would have died in due time and would see UnderVerse.
Instead, Vaako was confused when Riddick leaned in and pressed his mouth against Vaako's lips, drawing back instantly to watch Vaako with those shining, all-knowing eyes. Vaako could read the invitation clearly in the hard cock now pushing against his thigh, and in the curve of the lips still above him. His consent would have ramifications, annulling his marriage instantly and making him a male concubine to the Lord Marshal.
Yet he would not be the first male to take such a role . Oltovm the Builder - the second Lord Marshal - had been more than Covu's successor, sharing his bed as well as his beliefs. Therefore, becoming the Lord Marshal's companion would not bring dishonor to either of them, and would name him as Riddick's successor more assuredly than any pyro-doc. Yet it was not for this reason Vaako indicated his consent, pushing up to take Riddick's lips in another kiss. The press of Riddick's body against him had inflamed his own, filling him with a desire so strong that he could feel himself shaking with need.
Riddick pulled back, gaining his feet with catlike grace and extending a hand to him, which Vaako took. He followed Riddick from the Necropolis to Riddick's private chambers, the door barely sealing behind them before Riddick was pressed against him once more, taking him in a series of brutal kisses that were freely returned as they pulled at each other's clothing until they were both naked. Vaako gasped softly as sharp teeth nipped at one ass cheek before he felt the heat and wetness of a tongue stroking over the sensitive skin and delving inside him.
When Riddick pushed inside him minutes later, Vaako ignored the pain of the hard cock breaching his body, focusing instead on a pleasure he had not known before this moment. He opened himself to the pain and pleasure as if he was hanging in the purification chamber, letting the intensity of feelings - both mental and physical - wash over him until there was nothing but pleasure; nothing but the slide of Riddick's flesh upon and within his own.
Eventually, sated and strangely content, he succumbed to the lethargy brought on by good sex and slept.
He awoke to a tiny sound and a tingle of danger dancing along his spine, staying perfectly still with eyes half shuttered as he let his senses take in the strange room surrounding him. Along his side he felt Riddick's warm and heavy body, lost in exhausted sleep, making him wonder how long it had been since Riddick had slept so deeply.
Another scrape of a footstep was unmistakable, nor was the glint reflecting off a metal surface, seen for just a moment. He felt the air moving beside Riddick and launched himself across his Lord Marshal's sleeping form, letting gravity take both his body and that of the assassin to the floor. He ignored the sharp pain of a knife slicing across his side, twisting until he had the assailant's small wrist caught tight in his hand. The knife clattered to the floor and Vaako pushed the assassin away from him as he recognized the soft, feminine gasp of pain. The lights came up a quarter, leaving him staring into his former wife's hard and furious eyes.
"Breeder's whore," she spat out at him, pulling another knife from a hidden sheath but she jerked before she could stab at him, looking down at the knife buried deep in her chest. "Til' Under...Verse Come." Her eyes glazed over in death and Vaako could feel only relief as Riddick's strong hands wrapped around him.
5. The Rage of Furya
For a moment all were stunned when they reached the coordinates for the Furyan System, and then excitement began to ripple through the fleet as the ships turned around, completing the last of their journey facing aftwards as they approached the Threshold. The strong tidal forces buffeted the ships while Vaako looked on in disbelief.
All turned to face away, including Vaako, but he felt Riddick's strong fingers on his arm, drawing him back until they faced the Threshold together, side by side. As the Threshold opened, they gazed upon its ethereal beauty; Riddick touched his chest as it began to glow, just as Vaako recalled on that day on Crematoria.
A world appeared, at first faint and transparent but slowly solidifying. Black marks scorched its irradiated surface, leaving it devoid of all life. Suddenly Vaako knew what Zhylaw had done, and how he had altered the history of the Necromongers for his own purpose.
This was Furya. With a sickening feeling, Vaako knew it had once been the outpost of the Guardian of the Threshold and his warriors, placed there to protect the Threshold from any person or ship making an unauthorized approach to this most holy of places. When the fifth Lord Marshal, Kyrll, committed ritualistic suicide, he supposedly left a pyro-doc beside his body naming Zhylaw as his successor - conveniently found by Zhylaw. At the time this was questioned, with some convinced Zhylaw had murdered Kyrll and seized the position of Lord Marshal. Yet Zhylaw was exonerated under equally strange circumstances, and all of his accusers were systematically hunted down and executed with all accounts of their opposition to Zhylaw removed from the records.
Vaako now understood the true enormity of Zhylaw's crime against not just Furya but against all Necromongers.
As the planet solidified, the glow on Riddick's chest increased and Vaako knew that the Rage of Furya would obliterate all of them, turning on the Necromongers and sending them all to their death before due time. None of them would see UnderVerse, and yet Vaako felt nothing for his accepted people or for himself. His thoughts lay only with Riddick and a desperate desire for Riddick to live.
He turned away from the enthralling vision of UnderVerse and the terrible destruction visible on Furya, stepping before Riddick and drawing him into his arms, kissing him deeply.
For a moment there was no response, and then he felt Riddick's lips move beneath his. He felt the tension in Riddick's body release, and the hard glow upon his chest began to fade. Riddick's hands came up to grip Vaako's arms painfully as the kiss deepened, but Vaako felt only pleasure. When, eventually, they pulled away from their kiss, Riddick stared deep into Vaako's eyes as if reading his very soul.
"Curious," Riddick murmured.
When they turned back, the Threshold was wide open and Furya had slipped inside. It's dead surface began to flicker, and the blackened rock became rows of graves stretching to the horizon before even they dissolved as figures rose from the graves, going about their daily business. Children played and adults watched over them indulgently.
Very slowly the Threshold began to close, taking the living Furya with it.
Riddick smiled and turned to Vaako, his hand gently cupping Vaako's chin and guiding them into the sweetest kiss, full of something Vaako had once aspired to live without, but had failed at miserably since that first meeting with Riddick: Love.
"Never going to let you go," Riddick promised, and Vaako nodded, wanting the same.
Riddick gave a wicked grin, and with a suddenness that surprised even Vaako, he ordered the fleet forward. The view screen filled with the brilliant colors and beauty of UnderVerse as the fleet crossed the Threshold, leaving the Other Verse and all its pain behind forever.