The Furyan's Return: Prologue
AN: Minor changes made. Grammar corrections 12.31.08
Ten months had passed since the promotion of the previous Lord Marshal to Full-Dead. In an unprecedented move, a Breeder had ascended to the throne. The Necromongers, as they were known, ceased their ominous blitzkrieg across the universe. And, Helion Prime was released from final protocol thanks for the new Lord Marshall, a moniker he hated. Its citizens began to rebuild their cities in renewed opulence and resumed life as before, except for two people.
Ziza walked freely among the armored-clad warriors who parted like a sea of black beetles. Everyone knew not to mess with the bright frizzy-haired child under penalty of immediate promotion. Most didn't mind the child; it was a novelty since no child had ever walked in the great hall of the Necromonger flagship, Necropolis. In fact, the Necromongers did not procreate in the way Nature intended. Instead they worked their way across the universe collecting converts to replenish the ranks of those brave warriors who went on to UnderVerse. An unfortunate side effect of the conversion process left every Necromonger sterile.
However, since he had come, everything had changed. And, he was now in the bridge of the ship as it hovered into orbit over the ruined world below.
"Riddick!" Ziza burst into the solemn environment of the bridge with her childish enthusiasm, encountering scowls from the older battle commanders. "Are we there yet?... I heard the engines quiet."
"I told you to wait and I'd come get you." Despite the harsh words, Riddick's lopsided grin gave away his amusement at Ziza's enthusiasm. A chuckle rumbled deep in his chest. He scooped her up and set her on the edge of the radar pool which showed an oily gray 3-D representation of the world below. Secretly, Riddick shared Ziza's excitement.
He was home, a word he never thought he'd utter in relation to himself. But the homecoming was bittersweet. The ruined world lay below, the victim of the previous Lord Marshal's ruthlessness.
Riddick would have arrived earlier but the aftermath of his ascension had taken several months to resolve. The most immediate consequence was the split of True Believers led by Lord and Dame Vaako. Under coercion from Dame Vaako, Lord Vaako gained a sizable force to follow him, and they were able to usurp several ships in the process. Riddick had let them go; there was no way to keep Vaako and the others as part of the fleet, nor could he hunt them all down without expending a huge amount of his recently won resources. So, he gave Vaako and the True Believers full pardon with the promise that they never return or interfere with the fleet.
But that hadn't been the case. Several times True Believers attempted to ambush Riddick's remaining armada, but never with any success. Riddick, despite his lack of enhanced abilities, outsmarted and outmaneuvered them at each turn and gained the full respect of his crew. However, the message was clear – a non-Necromonger Lord Marshal would not be tolerated by the True Believers.
Yet, the True Believers were not the only ones to leave the fleet. Riddick gave free passage to any Convert wishing to find a new world to return to a normal, non-military life. Few took his offer. Most preferred to remain with what they knew, considering that their worlds had long been destroyed and would take generations to be restored. As long as the people remained, they were loyal to the new Lord Marshal, who hated titles but preferred simply to be called Riddick. And, besides, several Converted Furyans wanted to participate in the rebuilding of Furya, the only chance of having a home, just like Riddick. As the Purifier had been fond of saying – "We all began as something else."
As Riddick and Ziza looked down upon the shifting surface of the monitor, toppled buildings and pastures of gravestones flitted across the scene followed by a larger set of structures making up a sizable city. Furya Majoris, the capitol of the planet, contained the royal palace, municipal buildings, schools, a university, residences and outlying agricultural centers. Also, scrolling by were a mish-mash of ships of every size.
"Is that it?" Ziza's voice carried childish disappointment.
"Yes." Despite Ziza's attitude, Riddick could hardly contain the longing in his voice. From the looks of things, it would take a lot of time and work to rebuild. He just hoped skilled people would come to his call. Every type of skilled personnel was needed except one – mercenaries.
Something brushed against his leg ,and he absent-mindedly reached down to pat its neck roughly. He was greeted by a satisfied growl-purr and a second head nudging his other leg. Riddick let Ziza down and both kneeled to pat and scratch the scaled creatures Riddick had rescued from Crematoria. No one else could touch the animals; they tolerated only other people as long as they were fed fresh meat regularly and as long as no one threatened Riddick or Ziza.
On his way to Furya, Riddick made a last visit to Crematoria to rescue the convicts who had remained when he made a suicidal run to evade Vaako. Due to the damaged communications, the Guild had never been notified that the prison was in the convicts' hands and no one else seemed to miss the jailors. The conditions had been atrocious by the time Riddick had arrived; half-starved and fighting amongst themselves, only a handful of the original inmates remained. They readily agreed to go with Riddick and most stayed aboard the Necropolis in order to find a place on Furya while others made the first jump off-planet they could.
Not only were the inmates alive, so was Eve Logan, the female merc who ran with Toombs' crew. Last time Riddick had seen her, she was half-dead when the fight between the jailors and mercs went bad. Her shoulder had been broken, and she had had multiple internal injuries, but the convicts had nursed her back to health to the best of their abilities and it showed. Eve's left arm had been left virtually useless, having healed crookedly, until the Necromonger medics reset her broken bones. This earned Riddick another loyal follower since the convicts were getting close to slaving her out by the time he arrived. Rumors circulated that Eve shared Riddick's bed, rumors which Riddick seemed uninterested to dispel. Those close to him saw it as a good sign that he was getting over her. Even now no one could speak Kyra's name without Riddick being a bad humor for days.
As for Toombs… he never made it past the first riot on Crematoria.
"Commander Toal!" Riddick barked as he stood up.
"Yes, my Lord?" Toal scowling face appeared beyond the scrolling monitor.
The title 'Lord' did not settle well with him, but he accepted for now. And, it kept the mercs off his neck.
"Please escort Ziza back to her rooms and inform Lajjun we have arrived." Riddick hid his amusement as the scowl deepened.
The entire ship knew that Toal secretly hoped to win over Lajjun, but she still grieved for her husband, Imam. And no one blamed her considering a Necromonger killed her husband. More importantly, shortly after she accepted Riddick's offer to join him on the trip to Furya, she'd discovered she was pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy on top of her grief and the deep space trip. Thus, she stayed to her rooms for most of the journey.
"Yes, my Lord," Toal replied resolutely.
"And then prepare a small squadron for a planet drop. Nothing too big. I want you with me."
Toal nodded and turned to Ziza who, unfazed, grabbed the big warrior's hand and began to skippingly lead the way. She turned to smile brightly at Riddick and wave, but he had already turned to return to his chambers to don his armor, the clacking of his pets' claws sounding through the corridors as they followed.
After strapping on his imperial looking armor, he attached his ever-present blades on top. The faintest of gusts blew the hair across his arms.
"Don't you knock?" he asked without turning.
Aereon materialized behind him. "Doors have little meaning when information travels easily through them. We have arrived." It was more a statement of fact than a question. "I wish to go with you."
Riddick finally turned and carefully looked over Aereon who flitted a few feet away. Riddick's eyes glittered in the low light of his rooms. "Checking up on me?"
"Merely curiosity." Aereon was nonplused.
Since Riddick had ascended to the throne, Aereon had stayed on in an uneasy truce. She worked as a diplomat and advisor as Riddick made his way across the galaxy, stopping to reassure established governments and set up tentative trade agreements for a nation not yet born. But, there was always the underlying hint of uncertainty, of being spied upon. It was only exposed through their playful bantering.
Aereon maintained an easy posture under Riddick's reflective stare. It meant she wanted something, Riddick deduced. What it was could only be revealed if she was allowed to go on-planet. He understood her stubbornness, perhaps too well.
"Sure. Hitch a ride," Riddick said, cheerfully, or as cheerfully as he got.
The small ship with a dozen Necro guards landed in the center of the courtyard of the ruined palace. Toal and Riddick disembarked first followed by Aereon and the guards. They were greeted by several dozen people, would-be settlers attracted by the arrival of their prospective ruler. From the direction of a crumbled fountain a man stepped forward. He was forty-ish, red graying hair was tied into a tail at the nape of his neck. He wore a somewhat regal if not bedraggled tunic of iridescent green with a gold cord over a lithe body that looked to hid a quiet strength.
As the man approached, the Necros moved to surround Riddick. Undaunted, the man continued his way towards the landing party obviously unarmed. For every step the man took, the crowd seemed to surge backward in fear. The man was obviously a spokesman for the group of settlers, so Riddick stepped from between the Necros to greet him.
"Your Majesty," he stammered, "… we welcome you," he smiled pleasantly and bowed at the bottom of the steps of the platform upon which Riddick had landed. "My name is Renaul. I am an archeologist and historian from Begira. We are happy that you have arrived."
From behind his goggles, Riddick surveyed the crowd. So many... Somehow he hadn't really thought they would come.
"Thank you for your welcome, Renaul. Please… just call me Riddick," he said as he offered a hand to help Renaul up. "I am glad to see so many faces here. Is this all the settlers?"
Renaul chuckled, dusting off his pants, and looked back at the crowd who seemed to reflect a private joke. "No, Your Majesty. There are many more. But they are a bit shy of their new ruler."
Riddick saw the fear in many eyes. They had probably heard his reputation and how he defeated the Necros. He wasn't sure if he liked seeing all these would-be citizens afraid of him. Normally, it wouldn't have bothered him, but now…
Renaul was talking, "I was a scholar on my planet – specializing in xenohistory, ancient worlds. Or, what was once ancient, I guess," Renaul looked apologetic. "Might I give you a tour of your home-world?" Renaul said, bowing gracefully.
Riddick realized how little he still knew about Furya despite the small lessons from Aereon. He had been an infant when the young Necromonger warrior decimated his home planet, and the trauma of it seemed to have erased even the faintest memory of that time. And now, an almost child-like glee filled him, a glimmer of joy, alien to him and feeling more like indigestion.
He sensed no deception in the man. In fact, he seemed to be what he said – a scholar, his hands soft from reading and studying. The faint sheen of dust on his clothes more from rooting through archeological sites rather than from heavy manual labor.
"I'd like that," Riddick replied simply.
Renaul bowed once more and waited as Riddick and his party approached.
As they walked the town and Riddick listened carefully to Renaul's quiet but engaging voice, the ruined buildings and debris-strewn streets transformed in his mind's eye into the a bustling city full of scholars, warriors and merchants, of families and communities. It had been a bustling metropolis with public transportation, centers of research, trade and commerce. He imagined proud Furyans walking the streets on their daily business.
As the troupe walked, Riddick noticed the crowds swelled but still held back a healthy distance. Faces of old and young peeked at him from between columns, around street corners and from balconies. The path before him was clear of the swell of people for nearly 100 yards. He was unable to count the numbers in the narrowed streets and behind broken doorways, but he guessed there were almost a thousand settlers and some even looked to be Furyan, the strong cheek bones and distinctive features so similar to Riddick's own.
Renaul's tour brought them back to the palace, saving the best for last most likely. They arrived at the steps that would have led to the great hall. The massive carved doors lay in chunks in front of the opening to the hallway, forcing the party to climb them like boulders and projecting them to the highest point they had reached thus far. As Renaul spoke about the once opulent palace, Riddick casually turned to look back at the way they had come. What he saw forced Renaul's voice to a whisper in the back of Riddick's mind. He swelled with awe such as he had never known.
Below in the courtyard and only broken by the Necro's small vessel was a sea of expectant faces, thousands upon thousands crushing in upon each other. The masses could not be contained in the courtyard big enough to land a battle-cruiser in. Like so many thousands of ants crawling over the crumbled courtyard walls and out into the city beyond, the people murmured among themselves. The droning noise had been so consistent that Riddick had not registered it for what it was.
He turned now to face the crowd fully, and they let out a collective gasp at gaining his full attention. The crowd shifted; some trying to retreat and others trying to get a closer look at the Furyan returned. And, from the crowd on the left a girl come forward, bravely facing the black-clad warrior. She rose up the crumbled steps, carrying something in her hand. Riddick waved off the surging Necro guards and stepped down to meet the girl. She looked to be about 10 or 12 years old, had clear blue eyes, high cheek bones, had a single long blond braid down her proud back. A Furyan child. The realization that Furyans could have survived on other planets and had children startled Riddick.
In the next moment, from the girl's hand was produced a bunch of flowers. Riddick tentatively reached for them, taking them gently in his much larger rougher hand. In truth, they looked more like a common flowering weed, jagged grayish leaves and thick creamy white petals. He looked them over carefully, unaccustomed to such offerings.
The girl smiled calmly at his look of curiosity and said, "From the graves of the Fallen."
Powerful emotions surged in Riddick, and his hands clinched tight, almost crushing the sturdy flowers. He rose to his full height and held the flowers over his head.
"Furya will rise again. And, you will all live as free people, I promise you!" The bellow resounded throughout the courtyard to every assembled person.
The roar that greeted him shook the cobbled steps and shifted the crumbled doors anew.