You keep what you kill.
That was the last thing he’d said to him - after the few moments spent with head bowed in respect, he’d fled. Fled the hall, fled his wife, fled the Lord Marshal, and fled the terrible, earthshattering mistake he’d made.
He’d gone straight to the Purifying chamber, come out numb, barely able to feel his heart beating. He’d slept that night in the tiny soldiers' barracks deep in the bowels of the ship, the room he’d always kept back for when preparations for invasion were kept up so late he had to snatch a little sleep there, instead of walking all the way back to his quarters. Or for when Dame Vaako became just too much to bear.
By now, she’s his.
The Lord Marshal could take anyone to consort, married or no, male or female, young or old. Didn’t matter, and no blood had to be spilled. If he wanted to wed her, then Vaako would have to die. He wasn’t worried about it. He didn’t really see Riddick as the marrying type.
And if he does want to marry her... so be it.
Vaako wasn’t afraid to die. He’d let his Dame push him into trying for ultimate power over the Necromongers, and he’d never worried about the outcome if he were to lose. He only knew that the previous Lord Marshal was weak, and wasn’t good for their people. Vaako didn’t care about the religion. He didn’t care much about the Underverse. He only wanted the Necromongers strong and well-led. He’d had doubts about his own ability to lead them, but none about Riddick’s. Headstrong, impulsive - dangerous, but with potential a blind man could see.
If he wants to kill me for her, I will not fight.
There were others capable of being Commanders. Others capable of being First Among Commanders - not likely that he would hold the title long, anyway - but there were no other Riddicks. ‘Which’, he thought with a sudden flash of humor, ‘is probably a good thing, so far as this universe is concerned.’
He spent the next day in his usual routine of reviewing troops, meeting with the other Commanders, plotting out courses - waiting the whole time with well concealed nervousness for guards to appear and drag him to the High Chamber. It didn’t happen, which was almost worse than if it did. His state of nerves unsettled him, and he went back to the Purifyer. He came out this time almost certain that his heart was no longer beating - two Purifyings in two days was dangerous.
But his nervousness was gone. Along with any other emotion, leaving behind the calm, efficient machine the last Lord Marshal had admired. He took a small amount of dinner, and a smaller amount of rest, before starting on the third day. It passed almost in a blur - he knew he was performing his duties with perfection, but he felt far away from it all. He’d never had two Purifyings so close - the late Lord Marshal had once punished him with two separated by a day of rest. He’d noticed this odd distance then, but it was intensified now.
I’ll not do it again - not for awhile.
The fourth, fifth, sixth day slipped quietly by. There were no orders for the army to assemble and descend on any of the nearby planets, no guards appearing to take him before the Marshal. He sent a menial to his chambers to fetch his plainest clothing, scorning the thought of the elaborate outfits Dame Vaako had always chosen for him. He stayed in his small, single room with its narrow bed and tiny bathroom.
It was the most comfortable he’d felt in years - if only it weren’t for the shadow of punishment hanging over his head, punishment for that one mistake.
I thought she was only a prisoner.
No excuse. He could remember a thousand and one little signs now, in only the few moments he’d seen them together, that told him otherwise. ‘Blind at the time, and it won’t be forgiven.’ By the seventh day his nervousness was back full force, and he went reluctantly back to the Purifying chamber.
When he staggered, sure he was dead, back to his quarters, she was waiting.
Arranged perfectly on the narrow cot, her bronze dress contrasting brightly with the plain grey blanket. She was dressed as though for court, her hair elaborately arranged and dripping with jewels, sparkling with the mica she dusted into it. The dress clung tightly to every curve of her body, and he wondered, not for the first time, how she was able to move. Her face was made up to perfection - she looked like a bright diamond dropped down onto the ashes of a dead fire.
"Cylus." Her voice was the well-remembered purr that set off alarm bells in his newly-pure mind.
‘She wants something.’
"Wulia." His voice was polite, nothing more. He’d rather have called her Dame, but she had started informal, and it was her choice. She pouted at him now.
"Is that all the greeting you have for me, husband? We have not seen each other in so long. Why do you sleep here, and not in our chambers?"
"Your forgiveness, Dame." That one slipped out without conscious thought. "There is much to be done."
"Much to be done?" One elegant eyebrow arched upwards. "We attack no planets, we gather no supplies, we take no converts."
He did not deem to reply. The courteous request had been all he was willing to concede. He wished his chambers were large enough to walk away from her - he still stood in the open doorway. There was nowhere else to go without decreasing the distance between them. He was unwilling to do that.
She narrowed her eyes at him, standing in one graceful motion and drifting over. Her small, elegant hand came to rest on his chest, but he felt nothing. He was wearing his light armor - not that it mattered. As numb as he was from Purification, he wouldn’t have felt it on his bare skin.
"Cylus - what shall we do about him? When will you be ready for a Challenge?"
"What?" He nearly gaped at her.
She frowned, the delicate line of her eyebrows drawing tightly together. "The Lord Marshal, fool. Riddick?" Her voice was almost a hiss. "Surely you don’t intend to leave a breeder in charge of our glorious race? He will lead us nowhere but to destruction." She waited, but he did not respond, only gazed at her. "Cylus! What is wrong with you? You were eager enough to attack Lord Zhylaw!"
"He was afraid. He was no longer fit to lead." Softly spoken words that explained everything, so far as Vaako could see.
"And you think Riddick is fit?" She was screeching at him now, flinging her elegant self away to stalk around the tiny room. "A breeder? Who knows nothing and cares nothing for our religion? Who has ordered no attacks in a week? Who wept over a single convert moving on to Underverse? He is unfit! He is weak!"
"He is not weak..."
"He is! He will not lead us to ultimate glory! He has refused to take new converts! He has just half an hour past revoked the Law of Mandatory Purification! He says we may go or not, as we please! All our soldiers will remember pain, fear - our army will be useless! He has refused to hold council with the Lords and Dames, he has brought unholy beasts aboard our glorious ship, he has shown no interest in taking a cons... in following our way of life, he has..."
Vaako tuned her out, all his attention suddenly on that broken-off sentence. He has shown no interest in taking a consort.He had not taken Wulia. Sudden despair and relief was clawing at the back of his mind. Would he be forced to keep the vile woman forever? Have this screaming, nagging creature who had lost all beauty in his sight forever a weight around his neck? The onslaught of emotion nearly staggered him - after three Purifications in a week, he would have thought himself removed from this.
Hold a moment - why did I feel relief?!
The Purifying had also taken away the gentle illusions his mind had protected itself with - as much as he wanted rid of Dame Vaako, he realized that he did not want to see her digging her poisonous claws into Riddick. Didn’t want to see him baffled and hemmed in by her sly manipulations, lost in the confusion Vaako had been mired in for the last five years, since she had wormed her way into becoming the Commander’s wife. He wouldn’t be able to lead like that. Yes, for the good of the Necromongers, he was relieved that Riddick had not taken Wulia.
And is that the only reason?
‘Shut up.’ He told the tiny voice whispering in his mind, and tried to turn his wandering attention back to the shrieking banshee in his room. She was going on now about the sacrilege Riddick was committing against the holy precepts of their religion, but he knew that the one broken-off sentence was the true reason behind her rage. She had been so sure of herself, absolutely certain Riddick would take her to bed, perhaps even to wife - then she would have the ultimate power she craved.
He watched her as she walked, the golden-bronze dress stretching and flowing around her luscious curves, and wondered why Riddick had not claimed her. Before he realized it he was speaking aloud, cutting her off in mid-rant. "He did not call for you at all?"
The glare he received would have caused a lesser man to flee for his life. "He called for me."
"Then I do not understand..."
"In the daytime. And did not bid me stay!" The last word was almost a shriek, and she flung herself back onto the narrow bed. "Such an insult I will not tolerate! It only shows how weak he is, Cylus, you know that! He does not even think he can keep a consort? How pitiful! He has taken several ladies and a lord or two - all in the daytime, and none to stay!"
Vaako nearly snickered. Riddick was cleverer than he thought - he had taken care of any desire for Wulia and yet reduced her to the ranks of a casual screw. Even if he didn’t desire her, it was a smart move - it effectively cut off her power over the others, especially since Vaako had removed himself from their chambers. That would be known - it was almost an open desertion. He had only two things to do, and her disgrace would be complete - refuse her request to return, and take off the Torian, the thin marriage necklace with her symbol, that he had worn around his neck for five years.
Thinking of it made his fingers go to the edge of the chain that was visible, and her eyes turned to stone.
"Do not dare."
"I will not challenge him."
"You will do as I say! I was higher in the court than you when we wed, you will do as I say and no argument!" She was back on her feet.
"I will not."
She slapped him then, with her little velvet petal of a hand, and had not enough strength to even turn his face to the side. He couldn’t help but laugh a little, and rage twisted her features into something foul.
His nose wrinkled a bit, and he stepped aside from the doorway. "I believe, Dame, that you should depart for your chambers. Night comes, the soldiering halls will not be safe for a refined lady such as you to wander."
"You will accompany me to our chambers, and you will stay with me tonight."
"I will not."
"You will, else I will denounce you to the Lord Marshal as a conspirator!"
He frowned then. She would do it, he knew, and Riddick would be eager to believe it. Why wouldn’t he, when Vaako was responsible for the death of the woman-child he had loved? He sighed and surrendered, holding out his arm without a word.
A smug look came over Wulia’s exquisite face, and she slid her dainty hand into the crook of his elbow and waited for him to lead the way.
He took her from the dark halls to the elegant upper levels of the ship, and when they reached their chambers, guards were waiting for them.