[personal profile] jaye_voy
ONLY THE STRONG

Title: Only the Strong, 43/47
Author: Jaye (Copyright February 2015)
Codes: (Vaako/Dame Vaako), Riddick/Vaako NC-17



Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Riddick and all related characters and concepts are the property of David Twohy et al. No infringement is intended or profit made. This is NC-17 for adult themes, violence, sex, and language. If you aren't interested (or aren't old enough), don't read it.

Archive: No.

Feedback: Yes, please, positive or negative, especially suggestions for improvement. E-mail is reader8901@fastmail.fm

Summary: Riddick discovers his troubles have just begun.

Notes:
*Set immediately after the end of the movie.
*I've only seen the Director's Cut of TCOR, so some things may not jibe with the theatrical version or novel.
*Written February 2006 - February 2015.

Previous chapters: HERE

***************

CHAPTER 43

"Yeah, I been wonderin’ ‘bout that myself."

Riddick snorted as Breezy jumped. Curves didn’t, so she must’ve heard him comin’.

Truth to tell right now he didn't give a fuck where the whack jobs were stashin' their brats. But gettin' in on this convo was better than listenin' to the ShitShitShit that’d joined the roundy-round with BiteBiteBite and FightFightFight.

Now that the first blast of goddamn-motherfuckin’-lyin’-schemin’-backstabber-what-the-*fuck* had faded, Riddick felt like his brain was finishin’ a reboot.

He still didn’t understand jack shit.

Crazy thing was, wantin’ V joined at the hip *didn’t* feel crazy. Felt right, like knowin’ when to duck a kill shot or where to shove a shiv for instant corpse.

Made no sense at all---but there it was. And Riddick didn’t think it was part of the planet’s come-hither vibe.

Which made the ‘verse more than a little off-kilter.

’Cause Riddick’d always thought that it can only end bad if you let someone get too close---first thing he said to himself when he’d heard ’bout Imam’s price on his head. This little fuck-up with V proved it true enough.

Should've hoofed it back to the shuttle and blasted off. Left V to all his newfound fans. But Breezy didn't do anythin' to be left in this fucked-up Furyan commune.

And the thought of headin’ back to Necro Central without V... Hmph. Even if that didn’t twist up his guts, he wasn’t all that keen on explainin’ the lack of V to MissSlink, not to mention TechChick.

Didn’t think those two’d let him sneak on past the zombierama and into the black, either.

So yeah, even if he was torn right now ’tween toastin’ V’s ass and tattooin’ “MineMineMine” all over it, Commander CompleteJerk would be parked in a seat ‘fore they blew atmo.

But as soon as they were done with this little jaunt, him and V were gonna talk some serious shit. And the “horizontal convo with the hot but fuckin’ stubborn ex-Necro” was gonna take a while.

V’d better clear his schedule. ’Cause Riddick had some pointed questions for his First. And this time Riddick was gettin’ *all* the answers from that twisty bastard’s brain. Even if he had to tie V down and fuck him from now ’til Necro New Year to get ’em.

Curves was lookin’ like she’d gotten slammed ’tween the eyeballs. At his grunt she finally woke herself up and started stammerin’. “I-I-I’m not the one to explain---um, Shirah or the Elder---I can just---”

Riddick was fuckin’ done with the runaround. Reached out and got one hand around Curves’ throat. “Spill it.”

Gal had power behind her punches, had to give her that. Got free of his grip and made him block a good half-dozen blows ’fore she backed off.

Her hand was tryin’ to rub the sting off her neck when she gave him the eye. Good thing it wasn’t glowin’---either Curves wasn’t in the ICanKillYouWithMyMind club or she didn’t actually want Riddick driftin’ away in a pile of ash.

“I don’t know how...” Curves coughed twice, swallowed. Her entire body slumped in the I-give-up. “I’d better show you.”

*******************

Celeste contemplated the model of Furya on the 4-D table in the command center. The armada floated serenely above it. She gave a single nod. “I think we’re ready.”

“As we can be.” Kirin tapped a few commands into a mini-comp, nodded to herself at the result. “I hope we’re doing the right thing here. I’m not entirely convinced that woman was speaking for Vaako. We could be sending our troops into a trap.”

“Surely not too big of one.” Celeste tilted her head to study the First Tech. “The visual reconnaissance at least confirmed that there is no life on the planet outside the sector under the barrier.”

Kirin carried her tension in an even straighter posture of her lean frame. “A barrier that we cannot penetrate with any type of scan---are you aware of just how many tools we have at our disposal? How can we know *nothing* about what is truly down there?”

Celeste had to concede that point. The strange energy field refused to yield any of its secrets.

The whole situation made her uneasy. Too many variables were unaccounted for. Here, and at Helion. The brief message burst reporting sabotage and Jarrah’s injuries only added to the uncertainties.

Still, one thing Celeste was sure of. “Vaako wouldn’t have called for help if he didn’t need it. And if what this Shirah person said was true, he and the others don’t have much time. We have to risk it.”

“I know,” Kirin muttered as she waved a hand to summon her minions. “But I don’t have to like it.”

Celeste left the First Tech to begin deployment---and to implement her half of the contingency plans. Celeste herself had a more personal errand.

She keenly felt the lack of protection as she made her way to the docking bays. But her usual contingent of escorts would serve her better at their current posts.

It had taken some persuasion to get Vaako’s chosen Warriors to leave her side. But in the end she had prevailed. She only hoped the sacrifice was convincing.

Celeste certainly couldn’t have conducted the next phase of this particular operation with a crowd of onlookers, no matter how admiring. No, this would require both delicacy and discretion.

With a flourish she swept her skirt up in one hand to sail into the Briefing Room closest to the docking bay.

The armored figures within snapped to attention with a speed that confirmed their purification. Josslen’s much slower lift of head was deliberate.

Celeste raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

The Lieutenant offered a quick nod in return. With a look and gesture he sent the others toward the door. “Dismissed.”

She offered gracious nods to the Warriors as they filed out. The small room was made much more spacious by their departure.

Blank metal walls greeted her gaze. No tech cluttered the chest-high table at the center of the room. Neither chairs nor other furniture offered comfort or rest.

No, this was a room for swift consults and decisive action.

And thanks to the sound-proofing and other measures, absolutely private.

When Josslen started toward her, Celeste moved to meet him. “I came to see you off.”

Keen eyes studied hers as he lifted a hand to his kiss. “I must admit, I am surprised to be leaving on this mission.”

“You doubt your ability to lead?” Her response wasn’t really a question.

Josslen’s smile was more of a smirk. “Of course not---but I did doubt that your colleagues would acknowledge my suitability.”

“They had no say in the matter.” Thanks to Kirin’s backing, Celeste had claimed the task of deciding who should go planetside---including the military contingent.

The First Tech had agreed---albeit reluctantly---with the full extent of Celeste’s machinations. Kirin had no choice but to acknowledge the truth of their situation.

Now it was time to send Josslen on his way. Celeste reclaimed her hand. “You are certain that your allies will succeed?”

Josslen nodded. “The last message burst from Helion confirmed that the first stage has already been completed. Soon those Warriors will be purified and fully recommitted to the Necromonger Way---and the end of the breeder’s reign.”

Celeste gripped his forearm, the metal cold against her palm. “Remember what I said: Only through Riddick can you become Lord Marshal.”

She raised both arms, pressed fingertips against his breastplate for emphasis. “In chaos, there is opportunity. Riddick will no doubt be distracted by the conflict with his fellow Furyans. That is the moment to pit your strength against his, Warrior to Warrior. If you call challenge, no one---not even Vaako---will be able to interfere.”

Her voice dropped lower. “Or deny you the right to rule if you win.”

Josslen stepped close, armor and weapons belt an unyielding pressure against her body. “You will make a magnificent *Lady* Josslen.”

She held his gaze. “And I shall be---*if* you follow the Necromonger Way. And keep what you kill.”

*******************

Campbell’s eyes mapped the contours of the outer room of the cabin shared by Commanders Troan and Jarrah. His concentrated effort not to fidget had succeeded so far.

The last few days, he’d been ordered into the sleeping chamber to deliver his report to a bed-bound Jarrah.

He knew from the Medics’ reports that the practice should have continued at least another few days, probably a week.

Instead...

“Stop hovering, Lan! I’m not the invalid everyone assumes.” Commander Jarrah was walking steadily, if slowly, one hand gripping the entryway as he passed from the bedroom into the rest of the living quarters.

By the stiffness of his posture and the deliberate pause before every move, the Commander was far from recovered. Yet here he was, fully dressed---if not armored---and about to resume his duties.

Commander Troan did indeed hover, his taller frame curved protectively over his lover’s even if he kept his hands to himself. “I wish you’d reconsider, Farid. Falling flat on your face certainly won’t help your recovery.”

Jarrah’s glare was at full strength. Then he deliberately turned away from Troan and made his way to the table at the center of the room. Centimeter by centimeter he lowered himself into a chair. “Report.”

Campbell flinched when those dark eyes found his. “Status quo, sir. No progress on finding the culprit, but no further evidence of sabotage or attempts to compromise the systems.”

“And we’re nearly done cleaning up the mess left on Helion.” Troan had kept pace with his partner and now stood perhaps a nanometer away from Jarrah’s seat.

The blond’s gloved hands were clasped behind his back, perhaps in his own efforts not to fidget. “So go back to bed where you belong, Farid. You don’t need to do this.”

Farid’s jaw clenched before he answered. “Yes, I do. And if you can’t understand that...”

Campbell’s mini-comp chimed, cutting off whatever was about to be revealed. He pulled out the device and read the message. “Purifier Reese requests an audience.”

“No.” Troan’s refusal was out before Campbell even finished his sentence.

“Um...” Campbell fidgeted---stopped himself and drew his shoulders back. “It’s Commander Jarrah he wants to see, sir.”

Troan’s repeated “No” was drowned out by Jarrah’s “Yes.”

Campbell looked from one to the other. He wondered whether it was a blessing or a curse to be privy to this less-than-united front.

Sometimes ignorance was far less worrying.

Troan’s tone was suspiciously calm. “Farid, you’re not up to---”

“Not up to sitting here and listening to that pale sheep bleat?” Farid’s left hand started up, but he checked the gesture with a wince.

“You are welcome to leave, Lan.” He finally shifted to look at his lover. “In fact, I insist.”

Troan’s quick step back seemed an unconscious reaction. Then the Commander shook his head, a frown marring his features. “I don’t like this. Not at all.”

Campbell gave a quick nod to Jarrah before leading the way out. He offered the same to Reese as the Purifier passed them on the way in.

Not that Reese bothered to notice.

He couldn’t help a gasp when Commander Troan grabbed a fistful of his uniform and hauled him into a nearby office.

Troan practically flung Campbell into the chair before a computer terminal. “Campbell, you’ve proven yourself quite a capable Tech on this mission. So you definitely have a way of letting me know exactly what that *audience* is all about.”

Campbell sat up with a sniff. The denial died on his lips when he got a good look at the worry twisting Commander Troan’s features. He nodded and got to work. “Surely you don’t think the Purifier will harm Commander Jarrah?”

“Depends upon your definition of harm.” Troan dragged another chair over and sat. Focused on the screen.

Campbell finished his last commands and sat back. He had never activated the surveillance camera in the Commanders’ cabin before. He hoped neither Commander Jarrah nor Purifier Reese noticed the change in its status.

The computer screen lit up with an overhead, wide angle view of the room as the Purifier’s voice filled the air.

Reese spread his palms. “Now that the niceties have been dispensed with, Commander, I can tell you that I’m surprised that I had to come to you. I expected you to seek me out as soon as you were able.”

“You thought I would require counseling?” Although they couldn’t see it from this angle, Jarrah’s raised eyebrow came through clearly.

“Hardly,” Reese admitted with a chuckle. He shifted forward in his chair. “No, I expected you to avail yourself of the purification chamber on this ship.”

A noise from Troan startled Campbell into a quick glance. The man looked ready to launch himself out of the chair---either through the screen or through the door. But Troan merely clenched his fingers and stayed put.

Jarrah was already replying when Campbell turned back to the conversation. “That seems a risky proposition, considering the saboteurs’ success the other day. The purification chamber isn’t the most secure place on the ship.”

“I can assure you, Commander, your safety is my paramount concern.” Reese’s head dipped in evaluation. “And I would guess that you are very much in need of my services.”

“You think so?” Jarrah hadn’t moved, but something about his stillness set Campbell on edge.

Reese waved a hand, the leather of his coat creaking with the movement. “The injuries caused by the explosion would have been considerable. And it’s obvious that your recovery is impeded by your...condition. Enough to leave you confined to this cabin, a prisoner of your own vulnerability.”

The Purifier leaned in. “Why do you persist in this voluntary weakness, Commander? Have you forgotten how quickly a Necromonger reacts to purification? Even a single treatment would provide a marked improvement. And of course the benefits would continue long after the session...you would soon be back in fighting form.”

A few moments passed in silence before Jarrah’s acknowledgement. “That is true...”

Reese stood and bowed. “All I ask is that you consider your options, Commander. If you do decide to reclaim the strength of the Necromongers, contact me at any time.”

“Damn it,” Troan muttered as he stood and pivoted toward the exit. But he paused a moment, one hand dropping to Campbell’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

Campbell nodded to Troan’s back as the Commander dashed out the door. A glance at the screen revealed Jarrah still seated at the table, staring into space.

When the cabin door opened and Troan stormed in, Campbell cut the feed. He really didn’t want to know.

But something about the conversation prickled at his curiosity. He switched to a standard interface and began typing.

*******************

Air Elementals didn’t really have to watch their step, but Aereon found herself mimicking the careful progress of Gihrest and Riddick along a rocky, winding passage lit only by the flame in the bowl carried by Gihrest.

They’d entered through a cave---one that looked like any other littering the walls of the valley. But this path held no evidence of occupation---in fact, there was barely space for them to walk single file into the planet’s depths.

“Nobody uses this way in.” Gihrest’s head turned, hair brushing the roughly carved ceiling. “The main entrance is next to the Elder’s cave.”

“This path does seem rather claustrophobic,” Aereon muttered as she skirted another outcropping of rock.

“So what’re we walkin’ into?” Riddick seemed...odd. But in a grim and prone-to-sudden-violence sort of way that Aereon had no wish to provoke.

Still, she couldn’t entirely contain her natural curiosity. “Where’s Vaako?”

Wrong question from the head-snap and glare from shined eyes.

Aereon hmphed to herself and speculated as they traveled another few minutes in silence.

The abrupt change stopped her short. One moment they were hemmed in by rock, the next they stood on a small landing that overlooked a space as vast as the arena before the Threshold Gates.

“Oh...” Aereon breathed. Above them soared in a vaulted ceiling of stalactites. This canyon of a cave was lit by ceiling gaps that allowed slivers of sunlight to sparkle on the minerals and gems embedded in the walls and floors. A yawning arch framed by sunlight suggested the “front door” that Gihrest mentioned.

The trickle and drip of water whispered and echoed somewhere below them and the smells of damp and dust filled every breath.

Riddick’s only comment was a low whistle as he pulled his goggles back down.

Gihrest gave them a moment to get their bearings. Then she doused the flame and jerked her head. “C’mon.”

“But what does this have to do with children?” Aereon asked as they made their way down. The footing was even more precarious on the way to the lower level, though the two Furyans took the journey in nimble-footed stride.

Aereon was tempted to fling herself forward and float down, but restrained herself to a dignified glide.

Gihrest glanced back. “There has been no child born on Furya since Osull---fifteen years ago.”

The twist of her lips before she turned away suggested bitterness. “The non-Alphas have not experienced fertile cycles at all since Va Ako died. Furya does not want to waste the resources. As for the Alphas...that is harder to explain.”

When they reached the bottom, Aereon turned to look at the wall they had descended. Their entrance seemed a long way up.

A gasp shot through her at the horror their small overhang had hidden from view.

Gihrest darted forward as if to hide the sight. “You can’t help them.”

“What the fuck are they?” Riddick’s growl revealed that he wasn’t as indifferent as he might have wanted to be.

Every centimeter of rock on this wall was carved into niches of varying sizes. Many of them held a glowing figure standing, sitting, or lying down. A dozen wizened men and women, but the figures were adults of all ages---some disturbingly young.

Prisoners of stone. At least their eyes were closed.

“Shades of the past---failed dreams of the future.” Gihrest kept her face turned away from the two of them, instead staring at the gruesome display.

Her somber tones seemed strangely muffled. Perhaps her voice was being sucked into the stone. The material had a strange...essence...that held a kind of unnatural attraction. “It’s hard to explain. Va Ako saved the valley from the world burners, but then she died. There was no one from her line left to take her place.”

“And?” Riddick’s fingers twitched before he pulled them into fists.

“Furya requires a living conduit---I don’t understand it so don’t bother asking,” Gihrest insisted with a glance. “Some time after Va Ako was gone, the valley started to decay.”

Aereon gestured at the figures. “Until someone came up with...this?”

“It was discovered by accident. One of the Council of Elders fell asleep at the base of this wall.” Quick gesture to the figure of an old man sitting with his knees up and arms wrapped around them. “The next day, the valley seemed better. And this memento was all that was left of him.”

“So you’ve been ‘feeding’ Furya with your own people?” Aereon barely got the words out as she calculated the number of sacrifices that had been made in the years since Zhylaw left.

“We had no choice. And they volunteered---at first.” Gihrest swallowed. “Later, Furya started to...call...whoever was needed. And each one came. Whether they wanted to or not.”

Aereon found herself unable to calculate or comprehend. “But what does this have to do with children?”

Gihrest sighed. “The belief is that Furya is trying to recreate Va Ako’s line. To find a living connector who can handle the power. Since...this...started, different Alphas would bond, mate...then one day the pair would be found unconscious here at the wall.”

She shrugged. “Then we would wait to see if their seed took root. In all these years, none ever has. Sometimes soon after there is a challenge, with a new partner killing one of the bonded pair to claim the other.”

Aereon frowned. “And are these pairings and challenges being influenced by the planet?”

“Possibly.” Gihrest lifted her shoulders. “Only the Alphas would know for sure.”

“So that chick who burned her hubby and tried to pound me might’ve been on some weird SaveTheKillerPlanet whamma-jamma? That’s fuckin’ *insane*,” Riddick muttered.

“But *that’s* why we needed you to come.” Gihrest turned to Riddick, and her eyes held a glaze of madness or desperation. “Don’t you see? Your Va Ako can restore the balance of the valley---Furya would no longer need the wall---”

“You truly expect Vaako to stay here and help you?” Aereon’s brows drew down at the thought. Had the woman not noticed that neither Vaako nor Riddick were enamored of this bizarre place?

“He may not get a choice,” Gihrest muttered as her gaze dropped.

Riddick’s growl made Aereon shiver. “No fuckin’ way in the ‘verse am I lettin’ any of you creepers get---”

“How dare you defile the heart of Furya?” The angry roar echoed within the chamber.

Aereon whirled to see Riddick already crouched and ready for battle.

The Elder stood at the front of a pack of snarling Furyans. Each one brandishing one of the primitive armaments of the planet.

Along with their own very special weapon---every pair of eyes was already glowing.

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