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"In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." -Oscar Wilde
Chronicle of Darkness
By Lynx Klaw
Chapter 1: Duplicity of the Knight
She knew what she had asked was unfair. It really was. She now realized that no matter how much he may have wanted to, he couldn't have taken her with him. But she also knew he was coming back... She had proof. This was her one consolation. She still wore it around her neck, that two-inch fang, on a metal chain. Some at school had asked what it was... She never told them and didn't plan on telling.
Audrey J. Knight slowly walked out of the school, idly stroking the sharp edges of the tooth. It had lodged in his skin just above the ankle; pierced straight through the boot. The monster it came from was dead, now, of course. And Riddick had kept it, saying it was a reminder of what a real monster was.
Before he left, he told them he still wasn't sure if he could rejoin the human race. He needed time to think about it, but there were too many mercs on his back to stay with them to contemplate it. He gave her the tooth, and she still remembered what he said.
'I gotta lay low for a while 'til the tracks go cold. Need time to think, too. Do not lose that. I'll be back for it.'
'Could you help me with my calculus homework?'
What? Riddick hadn't said that... She blinked and looked up from the tooth. It was Rachel, a short, redheaded girl. She was one of her two friends; her only friends. They'd decided to stop by a small cafe on the way home. She had almost forgotten they were walking with her...
The brown-haired girl stared at her friend blankly, as if she didn't comprehend what had been asked. Finally, the words got through and she replied at length, "Uh, okay."
Cassandra was her other friend; she had a dusky complexion and blonde hair. Cassie was taller than Audrey by a couple of inches, but did not have the same athletic build. She was much less shy than Rachel; more boisterous and tomboyish than the redhead even though she preferred the skirt and blouse as opposed to Audrey's pants and blouse. The other option of school-issued clothing was for those of the Chrislamic faith, which was a long, dark robe.
It wasn't apparent by looking at her, but Audrey--who, in private, went by Jack--was probably the toughest person in the school of either gender. Beneath the white blouse and tan pants were honed muscles that had been training to kill without excess movement and the least amount of energy. No one knew that, of course. No one knew that she was already a killer, and that she still had the weapon as a trophy from a kill: a rifle that had belonged to a man named Junner Front. She used it to blast the head off a psycho-bitch named Antonia Chillingsworth on a merc ship. It was her second kill, to date. But no one needed to know that, either.
Audrey never stuck out. She never did anything different than anyone else. The only thing that made her an outsider was her initial appearance in the school four years ago. Her hair had still been cropped to an inch. She had let it grow some since; it now came down to the bottom of her shoulder blades. She did her homework, she was on time, and she made good grades... Nothing about her ever stood out.
"So, Audrey, who's taking you to the dance?" Cassandra asked.
Jack blinked at her, "I'm not going, Cassie. I'm busy."
"Busy," echoed Rachel, "They're not giving any homework so everyone can attend. What could you possibly be doing the night of the dance?"
"Tr-" the girl trailed off. Her gait immediately halted and she stood stalk still. Her inner animal, still so young, suddenly felt threatened. It knew there was a much larger, much nastier animal out there. Somewhere, it was watching her... and it knew she was an animal, too.
Cassie and Rachel paused to stare at Audrey, who had an impassive look of concentration on her face. Her eyes moved back and forth over them and beyond them unseeingly.
"Audrey?" Rachel asked. Neither of them had ever seen her like this.
Jack's shoulders sagged slightly, becoming lax. Her left hand moved toward her right sleeve inconspicuously. Suddenly, she whirled around with her shiv in hand, and flung it. It spun through the air and embedded itself into a thick tree planted near the school grounds with a dull thump. There were few trees on New Mecca, and only those transplanted and kept up with off-planet soil. Behind this thick, oak-like tree, a figure emerged to lean against its side.
"Knight," said the deep, growling voice, "Don't you think it's a little morbid to pick a last name based on one of the worst points in your life, Au-drey?"
He moved around the tree and gripped the shiv. After pulling it out of the trunk, he approached the trio silently, making two of them flinch as the blade caught the sunlight.
The way he said her name was almost mocking, as if Audrey was unfitting. Well, it was, but that was beside the point. She couldn't think of a response... his mere presence stifled the air out of the atmosphere. Finally she closed her gaping mouth and formed a coherent thought.
"Ri-" she paused, quickly correcting herself, "Rick..."
Five years. Five years and she felt like she had when she was twelve.
"Au-Audrey, we should get away from him... he looks dangerous," Cassie said, ignoring the fact that her friend had just launched a shiv into a tree.
Rick wore brown cargo pants and a black tank, covered by a cloak that he casually pulled back to reveal his bald, goggled head. A smirk pulled at the edges of his lips at Cassie's statement.
"He is," said Jack, grinning at Riddick. She had dreamed of this moment for so long!
Suddenly, Jack felt a rush of elation. He'd come back! Finally, after five years, he'd come back. But of course he did; he wouldn't have lied about something like that. She wasn't sure what to say, so she began to walk toward him. His words stopped her, however.
"What did I tell you about shivs?" he growled.
Her exuberance immediately died and she felt like she was twelve again. He shows up after five years and the first thing he does is scold her? Jack felt her cheeks grow hot as she remembered what he'd told her. He'd also given her a list of activities; training, actually, which she was to independently perform. She dutifully followed the rather free-form instructions and improved herself every day. She hoped he didn't think she'd forgotten or, even worse, didn't keep up!
She mumbled, "Only throw your shiv when there are no other options..."
"So why did you throw your shiv," he demanded more than asked.
Her voice became defensive, "I was hoping I could just make you decide I was too risky of a target."
"We'll talk intimidation later... but it might have been better," he reached out to flip the collar of her blouse, "if you weren't wearing this."
She crossed her arms and glared at him, "It's school issue!"
Riddick chuckled and raised the shiv up in front of his face. He tilted his head to the side. Jack watched him and fought the urge to rush over to him and just... just... bear hug him or something! But she knew better. He wasn't given to large displays of affection. The most she'd ever received was a hand on her shoulder when her thoughts got the best of her or if she woke up from a nightmare. It was enough, however; more than enough for her to know he was concerned.
"Did you make this shiv?" he asked, staring at the slightly curved, razor weapon in his grip.
"It's too heavy on the back end."
"Oh. No, it's not," she said, quickly moving to his side and grabbing his hand in both of hers.
"Audrey!" Rachel exclaimed, watching her friend approach the large, imposing man who simply screamed 'lethal.'
Jack blinked and looked at them as if just noticing their presence, "Uh... Why don't you go on without me? I'll see you guys at school tomorrow."
Rachel and Cassie were reluctant to leave the sometimes unorthodox girl with this man, so they simply stared at her. She always kept her distance from everyone in school; hardly anyone knew anything about her even after five years. Many had given up trying to get to know her, and she had only the two girls as her friends. Even they didn't know much about her, but her nature and simple presence was like being in a wild, yet protective wolf's territory.
Riddick allowed her to pry his thumb away from the shiv. She moved it to the quillon, where there was a depression. He frowned as she placed his thumb on the depression.
"Use that to rotate the guard to the left," Jack pointed enthusiastically.
Riddick raised a brow, but did as she instructed. There was a barely audible click and he felt the weight in the grip drop... And a spike fell out of the pommel the same length as the grip.
"It takes some getting used to the new balance, but it sometimes comes in handy," she said excitedly.
"Looks nice, but does it work?" Riddick asked skeptically.
"Of course it does!" she retorted indignantly.
It was almost like he'd never left, Jack felt. They simply seemed to fall into place once more. It was a tad awkward to pick up like this after so many years, but she wasn't going to let that get in the way. She looked up to his face and realized he was frowning.
"You could never hit a target before," he said, "I remember that much before I left."
She shook her head, "I know, but after I started school, I found out why. You were training me wrong--Hey, just hold on a minute, let me finish. I'm left-handed. You were teaching me to throw with my right; after my first week of school, I decided that if I handled a pen half as well as I did a shiv, I might as well try throwing with my left."
"You favored your right hand," the convict reminded.
"It was stronger and hit better," Jack replied.
Riddick finally took the time to study the girl. She was seventeen, now. She'd filled out, definitely unable to pass herself off as a boy, anymore. She was taller now, just a few inches shorter than him. She had let her hair grow out, too. From the quick reconnaissance he had done, her grades were good and she had integrated back into humanity--away from predators, convicts, and the darkness fairly well. But he knew a part of her was fused with all of that; he knew her animal would never let her fully join humanity. At least she could be a part of it, though. She hadn't burnt that bridge as he had.
He looked up from studying her and glanced to the two girls behind her, "Hm. So who're your friends?"
Rachel squeaked and hid behind Cassie. Jack turned around, staring at them again. Why were they still here? She had told them they could leave... They looked rather rooted to the spot. She smirked slightly; Riddick had that effect on people.
She laughed gently, "That's Cassie and the one trying to become invisible is Rachel. Cassie, Rachel, this is" Richard B. Riddick. Escaped convict. Murderer. "Rick..."
Cassandra was the first one to nervously address the man, half-expecting him to kill her for looking at him in any perceived derogatory way. How could Audrey stand beside him so confidently, so at ease, and speak with him so freely when the man reeked of something... dark.
"H-hello, um, Rick... So," she continued trying not to sound prying for fear she might be snapped in half by those huge, powerful hands, "how do you know Audrey?"
Cassandra stared at the goggles and wondered why he wore them, but was afraid to ask. Suddenly a wide smirk, not quite a grin or a smile, tripped across his features in an almost predatory way. When Rick spoke, it seemed somewhat sarcastic, cryptic, as if he were telling them an inside joke he knew they would not understand.
"We survived a rather long night."
Jack was staring at him with a look that clearly indicated she did not find that funny at all.
"Can I have her back, now?" she impatiently asked.
Rachel and Cassandra tensed at the tone she used and even further when he lifted it up and tapped her nose with the flat of the shiv.
"You threw her away. You'll have to come get her, now," he rumbled in an amused but serious growl. His voice dropped until only she could hear, "The gym's empty; meet me in five minutes and you'll have a chance to get her back."
Jack rubbed her nose and sighed; she supposed that's what she got for forgetting her lessons. She watched him turn and walk away. He rounded the back of the school before she shook her head. Five minutes! She couldn't stand there and talk with her friends if she wanted her shiv back. She growled and grumbled to herself. The gym was locked after school. If she was going to find a way in, she'd have to leave now.
"Shit," she muttered. She quickly glanced to her friends as she quickly shrugged out of her backpack, "I can't make it to the cafe, today. Sorry... Damnit, I know it's in here... Why don't you--ha!--go on without me?"
She waded through her backpack and pulled out a small knife and slipped it into her boot. Jack had complied with every dress code save the shoes, and still wore boot-like shoes just high enough to conceal the blade. She reached in and snagged a shiv that looked much like the one Riddick had just taken.
"Audrey! What are you doing with all those knives? We're not allowed to have those!" exclaimed the redhead.
With that said, it brought attention to a fact that they had seemingly skipped over with the arrival of Rick. Audrey had blades... and she apparently knew how to use them. They waited for Audrey to respond, but she deftly slipped the shiv up her sleeve and closed the pack.
"Don't wait up, I'll see you guys tomorrow!" she said cheerily, as if nothing were out of place. She took off, running after Rick--she had about four minutes to break into the gym.
'How could she act like nothing happened?' thought Cassie.
"Come on," the blonde said, grabbing Rachel's hand and dragging her protesting friend behind her, "We'd better follow her to make sure nothing happens to her; I don't trust that guy."
She pulled the reluctant Rachel around the school, coming to the back, where the gym stood. They saw Audrey run up to the doors and yank on them. Then they heard something they had never heard her say before.
"Fuck!" she jerked on the doors again, and then let loose a string of epithets that had her unknown watchers' jaws dropping and their ears burning. With a stubborn kick to the door, she jogged around to the side of the gym.
She looked around, looking for another entryway, but found only a dumpster sitting there. Wait, the gym had skylights! She grinned, shrugged off her backpack, and then shut the dumpster lid. With a shocking display of strength which, until now, no one had seen, she leapt onto the dumpster and fairly sprung from it as if it were a trampoline. She managed to grab onto the fire escape ladder and pulled herself upward by pure upper body strength until she could put a foot on a rung.
Jack made quick work of running up the steps and managed to grab onto the roof's ledge on her second jump. Pulling herself up, she left her two friends standing at the corner of the school, watching her progress.
"I didn't know Audrey was so athletic..." Rachel said in a near state of shock.
"Snap out of it, that guy's probably in there!" Cassie said, pulling her friend once more.
She knew neither of them would manage to get to the roof. It would take too long to make a team effort to make it up there, anyway. They moved over to the locked door that Audrey had thoroughly cussed out just two minutes before and peeked inside. Through the sun rays beaming through the skylights, they saw... nothing. Suddenly, a shadow blotted out part of a beam and they both looked up to find Audrey opening up the window. She dropped in some thirty yards above the ground onto the rafters. Rachel felt faint and Cassie paled--what if their friend slipped in her obvious haste?
Jack made her way across the rafters to the climbing rope; she'd laughed when the gym teacher asked her if she could climb the rope. Her body wasn't built with upper-body as its forte, but that hardly stopped her. She had hauled herself to the top of it without rest, something her body easily took after the conditioning she was undergoing at Riddick's behest. She slapped the rafters and slid down the rope quickly. As a freshman, she had the fastest rope-climb, only beaten by a record from six years ago by a senior. After the stunned faces, she quickly toned herself down--she didn't think she had made that much progress, but seeing the other girls struggle to the half-way mark made her check herself.
Dropping down the rope, she stood in the middle of a large court that resembled a cross between a soccer and football field. She strode towards its middle, extending her senses. Her entire body tingled with anticipation--this was going to be their first, official spar. Jack had followed the training schedule rigorously; loose as it was, it could be tailored to anyone of any style. It was ingenious, really. She doubted she would stack up to Riddick, but she hoped she at least did well enough for him to consider showing her more. She had to wait, now; making the first attack would be a mistake on her part... and he hadn't revealed himself, yet.
Cassie and Rachel watched from the door's window... Audrey's back was to them, tense and compact with her posture slightly lower to the ground. Out of the shadows behind her, the large form of Rick loomed soundlessly. Audrey didn't notice! How could someone so big be so quiet? His steps were silent and he was practically on top of her!
Jack's animal was roaring again. A much more powerful animal was nearby. Suddenly, she felt air against the side of her face and quickly tucked her chin. As she expected, an arm tried to get her in a choke-hold. She immediately slammed her elbows into his ribs. After two hits against solid flesh, she had won the point and he let go. Before Riddick could back away, she swept her foot behind his and turned to ram her right shoulder into him. The force of her body stumbled him backward, tripping him over her foot. He toppled over like a tree. As he fell, Jack followed him in descent, one arm out and braced by the other.
Riddick hit the ground surprised, and grunted when she landed on his stomach with an elbow. He had to admit, that was a nice one, but for his weight and size, it had too little effect. Never the less, she won the point. She rolled away and came back up to a crouch.
Riddick leisurely sat up and stood, "That's good for someone your size, but you gotta think about the bigger ones out there. That ain't gonna work."
"I've been working on it; I'll figure out something soon, unless you got pointers?" she casually, but refusing to let down her guard.
The convict didn't reply, but launched himself at her, aiming his right fist for her jaw. He wasn't going to break it, but if he hit her, it would definitely bruise and jar her senses some. He didn't have to worry, however; she was well aware of his power over her and knew that when speed and strength could not be a deciding factor, her agility and smaller stature could be used to get into the spaces normally closed off to larger fighters. She could get past their strike zone and land a few hits before dancing back out of range.
Jack ducked and moved inside the blow. However perfect it was delivered, it was now well past her. She raised a knee toward his gut, but was blocked by his own knee, batting hers aside. His left came hooking in and, off balance, all she could do was take it. The blow smashed into her cheek and rather than reel backward, the girl rolled with it delivered a backhand to his jaw. With his own leg raised, she caught him before he could plant the foot and it clipped the side of his chin. Both grounded, they were now side by side, facing opposite directions.
This time, she took the initiative and bent down. Her right leg came up behind her in a vertical strike meant to plant the flat of her foot in his face. Her attack was not fast enough and Riddick caught her foot.
"Too fancy, Jack. Pretty won't save your life," he said in a slight mock.
In a vertical split, she suddenly flung her other foot back, dandling upside down by his hold to swing the second one up. Her goal was to bring her heel down onto his shoulder, which might actually dislocate it if she put enough force behind it. Of course, he caught that one as well with hardly a blink.
"I told you, Jack. Too-"
His sentence was cut off as Jack performed a startling sit-up curl and, with one fist clasped by the other, came down onto his face like a mace.
"Not if it's a decoy!" she said, as he dropped her due to the stun of his nose being broken.
He was amazed that she would think to use a combo like that. Then again, the free-form technique he'd given her to study was so open-ended that he could see exactly how she had developed the idea of faking two slow attacks to set up a third that left the opponent wide open. Bringing up a hand, he righted his nose with a sick, crunching sound. Riddick wiped the blood from around his mouth and grinned.
"Very nice, Jack. But don't get cocky; I could have shivved your sweet spot upside down before you got that second kick in," he explained and she took it to heart. He knew she would see the critique of her work, not just an admonishment, "If you try something like that again, it won't work. They'll know it's coming. But since you seem so capable..."
"Oh, fuck," she muttered, realizing she was about to see if she could take some pain. Things were about to get heated.
He jumped toward her, faking movement to a left hook to deliver a straight jab from his right. She misinterpreted and it glanced against her cheek and nose. That ensured a proud bruise that was soon to develop from his other punch and gave her a slightly bloody nose. She ignored this as best she could and shot a leg out to catch him in the ribs. It connected, but she had stumbled too far back off balance for it to do anything then jar him. She danced backward and darted under a forward kick aimed at her gut. Jack quickly rose from her near horizontal charge to spring into an uppercut.
Riddick leaned backward just enough to miss the fist (and the elbow transition), then hammered her ribs with his right fist. Not enough break anything, but it would leave another bruise on her skin. Bruises were okay; though. Jack didn't mind bruises--they were minor pains and marks that served to remind her of lessons. A fighting study-guide written in black, blue, and sometimes purple and green...
Jack pulled back to reassert herself for another turn, eyeing her opponent. He had a slowly reddening area on the right side of his face where she'd caught him twice. Likewise, she could feel the warmth radiating from where he had landed his punch.
Riddick, too, took the chance to collect himself and give a few pointers, "You do hit harder with your right, but you overextend when you try to make your lefts stronger."
The teenager frowned and flexed her left hand, nodding only slightly. He told her these things once, verbally. And then he would begin to exploit that weakness until she stopped it. It was quite an effective method of remedying her flaws.
Finally, reading the minute movements of the muscles on his face, she knew he would wait for her this time. Watching the face and eyes often told of the maneuver before it happened. Reading telegraphed moves was a useful tool he'd taught her while they were on Chillingsworth's jumper. When he wasn't running her through an endless number of exercises, they were sitting there, eye to eye in low light.
She launched in with a flurry of punches and kicks, pressing her speed to try keeping him on the defensive. This didn't happen, of course, but she was forcing him to block more and kept him from delivering anything harder than a jab. She knew she couldn't keep it up forever, but all Jack needed was an opening and she could exploit it to the fullest in the rush.
Riddick was surprised at her progress. The training he used was almost common sense, but not well observed by many. When someone decides to start following these 'rules' religiously, they instantly begin to become something far more dangerous than the average man. It was taught in the military, martial arts, and sometimes found in dance; simple rules of balance between energy and power. Once you learned how to conserve it, when to properly release it, you became efficient. Once you applied that to your body's actions, you became a weapon.
They were both skilled. He would be the first to admit that in just a few years, with continued training and perhaps a few pointers, she could become a formidable challenge for him. That spoke volumes on how dangerous she already was.
It was an intricate dance they were performing. It was painful, but blissful, as well. Attack, dodge, counter-attack, block... They repeated and intertwined. Soon there were fists splattered with the opponent's blood. Neither cared, it was too good to stop. They hadn't pulled their shivs; by an unspoken agreement, they promised each other, 'later.' This was the time for bare, brutal contact. Weapons, extensions of the body though they were to their wielders, would somehow lessen the animosity. And the animals inside them were howling.
"Are they trying to kill each other?" Rachel asked, watching Audrey land one blow for every three she received.
It was clear to her that, as amazingly skilled as her friend was, she was completely outclassed. What boggled her mind was that her friend was so skilled in the first place! She tore her eyes away to look at Cassandra. The other girl was biting her lip and staring, too nervous for words. Still worried, the redhead turned her eyes back to the window. Rachel was afraid to call out to Audrey for fear of breaking her concentration and causing the girl to make a fatal error.
Both she and Cassie gasped when the fight came to an abrupt stop. A single opening in Jack's barrage and Riddick ended the spar with a punch to her upper stomach. The air whisked out of her and she stumbled back, unable to keep her footing. She fell backward, the power of the ground coming up to forcefully pat her on the back making her gasp and filling her lungs with fresh air after their hasty purging.
Riddick looked roused by the fight; while his adrenaline was pumping, he was hardly as winded as Jack. They would have to work more on her stamina, but she had shown remarkable skill. He reached into his waistband and pulled out the girl's shiv and approached Jack. The girls watching from the door felt their hearts jump into their throats for fear of what he would do.
Jack caught the shiv when Riddick tossed it to her despite a short coughing fit. She slipped it up her other sleeve and let her arm flop back down, laying splayed out on the floor of the gym. The girl began to chuckle and that soon turned into a tired, but content laugh.
"Wow. If I get a spar like that, I should throw her at you more often."
Riddick chuckled with her, "Don't press your luck."
She sat up, propping herself wit her elbows. Her expression sobered as she stared at him. Jack wanted to ask him, but almost feared that he would disappear if she let the one thing that hung between them out into the open air. The teen tried to suppress the urge, to be strong and let things be. She didn't want to destroy the mirth that seemed to flow while he was here with her. She tried... but failed.
"You're not going to leave soon are you?"
Riddick was silent for a few moments and Jack felt that she had just killed the good mood that had just formed. He bent down and held his arm out to her.
"When mercs start nosing around, I'm jumping," said the convict, "But I'll stick around 'til then."
She smiled and took his arm. He helped haul Jack to her feet and they both walked back toward the rope. Apparently, they'd both used the same method of entry. They talked quietly as they made their way outside.
Meanwhile, Cassandra and Rachel watched as the two climbed the rope as if the two were riding a lift. Granted, Cassandra had seen Audrey that first day in the Phys. Ed. class, doing the same thing... but until now, she hadn't had the chance to fully understand the implications.
'I thought she was just athletic... she might actually be dangerous,' Cassie rolled the seed around in her mind, trying to decide whether to toss it or plant it. Evil didn't really seem to be part of Audrey's nature... Even if she was decidedly dangerous, Cassandra did not feel a sense of danger from the girl. 'Great, now I've confused myself. I used to feel like I didn't need to ask questions. But now...'
Rachel's thoughts, while somewhat similar, were more focused on Rick. He was dangerous... she felt threatened by his mere presence. Especially after seeing how he picked Audrey apart as if she were nothing... And from what she saw of Audrey, she held a new, somewhat wary respect for her reticent friend. She'd known there was something behind that soft-spoken, calm attitude. Rachel wasn't expecting this, however. She was a little startled. The redhead didn't think Audrey was vicious... but everything she'd just seen was contradicting that. For her part, Rachel was in a passive denial at the moment, still trying to come to grips with what she had just witnessed.
The girls moved around to the side of the alley, listening as Audrey and Rick came down the fire escape and dropped onto the dumpster. Audrey was laughing, but she had a small split lip, a cut above her left eyebrow, and a very large bruise across the right side of her face. She shouldered her backpack again and laughed as she talked.
"And he found a really nice lady named Lajjun," said Jack. She really liked the woman; she was usually understanding and gave great advice. Not to mention that Lajjun wasn't the 'old lady' type of woman; she knew how to have fun, too. That was the first of many things that surprised Jack about the woman.
"The Holy Man settled down and hooked up, huh?" Riddick said, picturing some prudish woman of scholarly status... like a Chrislamic librarian. He had no idea how far off the mark he was.
"Yeah, whole proper wedding an' all. Vows and all that shit. Got the whole thing on vid. Almost three hours... Took up nearly the whole damn mem-stick!"
She was sore, she was bruised, the blood felt sticky in some places as it dried, and she couldn't be happier as she regaled Riddick with updates of her life since he'd been gone. There was a thump as her convict-instructor landed on the dumpster. She turned around and started so hard her fingers went numb, dropping the backpack.
Riddick soundlessly landed behind her, "Think you're busted, Jack."
"Me? What about you?" she asked, turning around to look at his goggled face.
They seemed to have a silent conversation, which was broken by Riddick after almost a minute of silence, "I gotta unload some cargo, then I'll be dropping by. Better do some nice damage control. Any tips or rumors might just shorten my vacation."
Jack understood. If her friends talked about this, word might get out; mercs would be on his back again... and he would have to leave. Her face went stone cold in a very Riddick-esque expression. The slightly battered teenager bent down to pick up the book bag. After she had it shouldered, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Jack relaxed a bit, but still felt tense. There were no words, was no sound, but she knew he had left. Her animal wasn't sensing him anymore...
She stalked toward her two friends, trying to stay calm. It wasn't their fault; they were probably just worried about her. Riddick wasn't exactly a person that radiated a feeling of safety to others. Maybe it was just her. Still, she had told them to go!
"Why are you following me?" she demanded a little harsher than she wanted. Her friends winced and she immediately regretted saying it that way, "Sorry... I didn't mean it that way. But why didn't you just go on to the cafe?"
"W-we were worried about you. That man... he was-" Rachel began, still somewhat taken aback by Audrey's recent change--everything she thought she knew about the girl seemed to have been thrown into question, "Are you going to be alright? You're hurt..."
"Huh?" Jack said stupidly. It was then she was reminded of the small, sticky trail of almost-dried blood running down the side of her face from her brow. Without thinking, she wiped the back of her forearm across her cheek. She stopped when she realized just what she was doing, "Oh, shit! My shirt; this is gonna be hard to get out..."
"Audrey," Cassandra said suspiciously, "who was that Rick guy? And why were you fighting? ... And why did he call you 'Jack?'"
Her hand subconsciously sought out the tooth on the necklace, rubbing her thumb over its contours almost as if she could draw strength from it. The girls caught the motion. Her expression hardened as she thought over where the questions might lead. Jack needed to curtail their curiosity before it led to anything compromising.
"We weren't fighti--that's not important. Rick's just taking some time off and decided to visit. I don't need people talking, whispering behind my back, and asking me about him," said Jack. She realized she was coming off a bit harsh again and tried to reign in her impulsively aggressive nature, "He's back for a while and I don't want my time ruined by gossip. Maybe you should just pretend you never met him."
She looked upon them, trying to impose upon the two girls the importance of her statement, "You can come over for a bit, if you want, but when Rick comes back you should probably leave."
"Audrey, is it safe for you to be around him?" Cassie asked.
"Safer than anyone else," Audrey said.
They arrived at Audrey's house almost half an hour later, the girls stayed off the topic of Rick. Imam greeted the three girls, and quickly noticed Audrey's bruises and cuts. The man brought them and cleaned Audrey's cuts. When he asked what happened, Audrey said that Rick stopped by the school, where they had some fun in the gym. She went over it with Imam--with some heavy editing. Cassandra and Rachel watched as her guardian simply nodded and accepted that fact. Audrey told him that Rick was stopping by after he unloaded some cargo.
"I shall prepare more places at the table. I take it you did not go to the cafe?" he asked.
Audrey shook her head, "No, I met with Rick just as we left the school. I'll help Lajjun make some of the dinner."
Imam, however, stopped her before she could head into the kitchen, "Jack, give me your hands."
Audrey made a face, but held her hands palm up to the dark-skinned man. Rachel and Cassie caught the name again and wondered why her guardian and this 'Rick' called her Jack; the two exchanged a glance. Imam sighed and grabbed the girl's forearms and held them up, rotating them to show the backs of her blood-speckled hands. He nodded in confirmation of his suspicions and looked at Audrey squarely. She had the decency to glance away.
"I want you to go up and clean yourself. There is time for a shower before our meal will be ready." As she began to walk away, Imam called out, "And I expect you to remove your blades. I will not have tools of death at the table, Jack."
Audrey visibly deflated and sulkily trudged up the steps. Cassie frowned as she watched her friend head upstairs and then looked at Abu 'Imam' Al-Walid as he went to set the table for four more places.
"Mr. Al-Walid, may I ask you a question?" Cassie said as unobtrusively as possible.
"Of course, child. First, would you be Rachel or Cassandra? She speaks highly of you both."
She watched him carefully, trying to watch for any signals, "I'm Cassie. Why do you and Rick call Audrey 'Jack'?"
'That was a Hell of signal,' thought Cassie as Imam paused with a plate half-way to the table, almost dropping it before he tightened his grip. He resumed quickly enough, going about his job nonchalantly. Rachel noticed it, as well, and the two shared another glance.
"It is not my place to tell you, young Cassandra. Please ask... Audrey. She is a private person and must be the one to decide." Imam replied easily.
The girls blinked and Cassie nodded slowly. Apparently, it was a very sensitive issue. She supposed she could respect that. At that moment, the door opened and the frame of a large shadow blocked the light. The girls turned around to find Rick standing in the doorway.
Imam came to back from the dining room and paused. He let out a sigh, "The medical kit is on the coffee table. Please clean yourself up if you are to eat with us."
The girls--Cassie towing Rachel--were quick (and the latter still somewhat reluctant) to follow the man into the living room, where he pulled out some cotton balls and alcohol.
"Somethin' I can help you with, girls?" he asked in an amused tone.
Rachel squeaked again and hid behind Cassandra. Riddick smirked and turned his goggled face to them as he dabbed at the small cut near his cheek where Jack's boot had connected just enough to stagger him to the side. His smirk grew as he remembered the fluid set-up she had used; faking a left kick and a right jab to send him ducking--right into the boot.
"Sorry, don't speak mouse."
Cassie was still very on edge with this man, now aware of just how capable he was, and spoke warily. Even so, she could not help the suspicious tone that crept into her voice, "What do you do for a living, Rick?"
"Transporter. Short or long jump, do a bit of both," Riddick said, shrugging, "Cargo's been pretty light, lately, but I found more business in the Helion System. Gonna be workin' here a bit 'til business dries up."
Rachel wondered if he used to be military. It wasn't uncommon for retired military to take to the shipping lanes for an easy job. It would explain his fighting prowess, but he didn't look so old. Then again, with cryo these days, he could have spent a good deal of his life frozen, thawed for several tours of duty and only aged a couple of years.
He vaguely answered a few more of the girls' questions for a few minutes. The scent of lavender reached Riddick's nostrils a few seconds before he felt fingers slide over his scalp.
"You're stubbly," Jack stated.
Riddick chuckled, "Been kinda busy, Jack."
Jack had felt the stubble on his head earlier during her spar, but had been rather preoccupied at the time. Now that she had time, she brought two small bowls, a rag, and a towel. One bowl was empty and the other had some warm water in it. She spread some soft, clear gel atop his head from a small bottle she'd nabbed from the bathroom cabinet and procured a shiv from... somewhere. Rachel and Cassie blinked, wondering when the knife had appeared in her hand.
"Hm," was all she said, drawing the shiv over his head. She remembered the other times she'd done this. While they were still on Chillingsworth's little jumper, she'd performed this task three times on the way to Helion Prime. She watched him do it once. When she simply took the shiv out of his hands and began doing it for him, he never stopped her.
"So... if you're stickin' around for a bit, am I gonna get more spars?" she asked as she scraped the gel and stubble on the edge of the empty bowl. She repeated the process.
"Better keep some time open in your schedule. I expect you to have your homework done before you think of reaching for a shiv, though."
She gave a shrug, "No problem. 's not hard stuff."
"Um, Audrey," Rachel said timidly to gain the other girl's attention. Rick still sent a chill up her spine. She couldn't see his eyes and that made the impression even worse. "Can I ask you something?"
Jack looked up, not even pausing in the shaving. She was surprised that after five years, she could do that without cutting him, "Uh, sure. Shoot."
"Why do Mr. Rick and Mr. Al-Walid's family call you 'Jack'?"
There were a few seconds of silence and Riddick casually reached up and pried her fingers away from the bottle of gel. He still looked relaxed, but there was just the slightest crease in his forehead; an almost-frown. The convict set the bottle to the side. Her body was still tense and her knuckles remained white around the shiv, so tightly held that her fist was shaking.
"If you squeezed it anymore, Jack, and you would have had a mess to clean up," he said easily.
Jack wasn't hearing him. Her jaw clenched and unclenched. Riddick could feel her beast boiling to the surface. Damnit, he would have to teach her better control over herself. There were a few times his beast had taken over and it was never pretty. He was aware that this was a sensitive subject for her, but if she couldn't handle it... Riddick decided to start meditation lessons before each spar.
"I'm sorry, Audrey... If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine," Rachel said, watching the distant, glazed look burn in her eyes like Hell had relocated into those orbs. She flinched as their sights set on her when she spoke.
Riddick heard the tiniest of sounds, a low, humming rumble. Jack was growling, slipping. Staring up at her, he noticed her unfocused stare. The girl was getting caught up in the past. He closed his eyes and slid the goggles up.
When he opened his eyes, the room was plunged into the soft orange of candlelight, the shadows play softly on the walls. His steel and steely eyes shimmered as he rose from the couch. The other girls started at the sight of his eyes, but he turned his back to them. Jack's eyes drew up to his gleaming, quick-silver pools as they fixed on hers. His right hand rested on her shoulder, as it had countless times during nightmares five years ago.
"Are you with me, Jack?"
She slowly came back to him, realizing the pain in her hand from clutching the shiv so tight, "I'm with you."
"You sure?" Riddick questioned.
She nodded and repeated, "I'm with you. Can you...?" She held up the shiv.
He gave a nod and took the blade, sitting back down and taking the bowls and rags to shave his head. The convict's stormy eyes were perfectly comfortable in the dim light as the clinking of porcelain bowls and the metal continued.
"I'm... going to my room for a bit. I'll be down for dinner, though," she said softly. It was more for Cassie and Rachel's sake than Riddick's. She looked at them for a moment and then retreated upstairs.
Cassandra frowned in worry, watching the interaction. The way they didn't even need sentences to communicate; she could see that bond. Most of the words spoken were for their benefit or emphasis. How well did Audrey know Rick? How did they develop such a bond?
The cessation of noise brought her attention toward the shiv in the man's hand as he moved it to his pants and it slipped away noiselessly. He wiped his now smooth scalp with the rag wet with warm water. The large man dried his cleaned head, and then simply tossed the towels on the settee's arm. Riddick leaned forward, watching the two of them. The Rachel girl was blatantly staring at him--his eyes, more accurately--with an almost entranced wonder. It nearly made him chuckle.
"That, girls, was an invitation. Jack doesn't open easily and you won't get another one."
Cassandra looked into his shined eyes. Yes, they were shined. Why? A transporter wouldn't need to see in the dark. His fighting made her think he might have been ex-military, like Rachel had thought, but it didn't match. Sure, Rick looked and sounded methodic, ordered, and strict, but he didn't look... controlled. There was something wild about him.
The blonde girl nodded at his words, more than a bit eager to leave his presence. Even though he seemed harmless to Jack, she was unsure if that was the case for the two of them. She stood up, motioned, and called to her friend to join her. Rachel, however, seemed to be captivated by the platinum stare that Rick had yet to remove from them.
"Rach," she said a bit more forcefully, "Come on, let's check on Audrey."
Rachel startled and blushed when she noticed how obviously she'd been staring. Rick was aware of that fact and was actually staring back! She quickly stood and left with Cassandra, heading up the stairs and into their friend's room. They had both been to Mr. Al-Walid's house before to visit Audrey, but neither of them had ever been in her room in the four years they had known her.
Abu's house was of fair size, each room having enough space for plenty of free movement even with furniture. Taking place of where a small shrine would be in every other room was a workout bench-machine, several dumbbell and barbell weights, and a mat. When the girls entered the room, they found Audrey standing on the large mat and going through some sort of kata with a shiv. Her movements were slow save for the thrusts and swipes, which were more to expel the angry energy than for practice. They moved to sit on her bed, watching her move. They noticed her eyes were closed, but neither doubted their presence was missed.
Jack's mind was a tidal wave of rage, but she fought back the animal with these exercises. Her senses picked up two people entering her territory and the animal inside her growled, but she frowned and ignored it. She knew who it was and had figured they would come up for some answers. Granted, everything would be highly edited, but the girls had been good to her in her time here. In five years, she hadn't let anyone know much of anything about her. Did she purposefully let things slip just so she could talk about it? She hated the idea that she would need anyone but Riddick's and Imam's advising words or listening ears. Maybe it was because she wanted someone to know; someone outside of the 'family' of the Holy Man, the Convict, and the Girl.
Lajjun and Ziza just sort of slid in with Imam, but where did that leave Rachel and Cassandra?
"Audrey...?" Rachel asked, quietly. Jack knew there was a steel determination behind her quiet and, often, easily flustered persona.
Jack cut to the chase, not bothering to halt her exercise, "What do you wanna know?"
Rachel was quick with a question, "Why did you get angry when we asked you why they call you Jack?"
The redhead knew Cassie would have just gone in for the kill, but felt this one needed tact. Cassandra was perceptive, but had problems with subtlety concerning other people's feelings.
"You don't waste time. Good, I hate dancing around issues. I think you know Imam's my legal guardian, not my father."
"Uh, yeah," Cassie said, watching the girl methodically turned, cut, and stabbed the air. She hadn't looked at them yet, but the blonde was sure she was listening, "We kinda gathered that."
"Officially, I'm adopted as his daughter," Jack said, "Don't think that's quite an accurate description of the relation, but it keeps the system happy.
"Parents are dead; an accident of some sort while they were on the job. I got passed off to my Aunt and Uncle. I waited three weeks before bailing. Spent the next two years on Daedalus Station."
Daedalus Station. It was a labyrinth of slums and more or less an underworld cesspool on its lower levels. If you wanted to disappear from someone, it was the perfect place to do it. Unfortunately, if you weren't careful, you could disappear from everyone--permanently. Cassandra and Rachel looked at her in surprise, they had an idea of how much a dive that place was, but they didn't really know. Jack wasn't inclined to inform them.
"Why did you run away?" Cassie asked, leaning forward slightly.
Jack fought back another wave of rage and focused on answering and keeping her movements fluent. They were over far too quickly as the form ended. She sat down with her legs crossed in a meditative position. A flicker of movement drew the other girls' eyes to her hand, but the shiv was no longer there. After a moment, she blinked and sighed. Imam didn't want her to bring blades to the table. She reached behind her and pulled the shiv from her belt, where it was hidden by her blouse that was never tucked in (much to the chagrin of her school instructors strict on dress code).
She walked over to the bed, still thinking over the answer. The young pick-pocketing girl of Daedalus didn't want to give too much away. On the other hand, she promised she would give them some answers. After she slipped the blade under her pillow, she crawled into the middle of the bed and sat with the girls. The absurd thought came to her that this was how she envisioned a sleep over to be were it not for the negative topic matter. She flopped backward onto her pillows, a frowning grimace on her face as she glared at the ceiling.
"I wasn't about to stick around with those abusively conceited fucks," she said, ignoring Rachel's noise. She never cared to spare virgin ears... children being the exception, but childhood stopped at twelve, for her. "On Daedalus, you do what you gotta do to survive. Nobody's gonna give you UDs or a free meal. So either you work for it, scavenge for it, or steal for it. Picking pockets isn't easy there. If you get caught making a pull, you can end up slaved out, dead, or both... or at least with a four-inch reminder on your hip to be more careful. The people that were in the most danger were children and women. Your vulnerability doubles if you're both. So I decided Jack was safer than I was."
"So... you changed your name from Audrey to Jack?" the taller girl asked.
Jack wrinkled her nose and shook her head. Audrey was actually Imam's suggestion, but that wasn't important. Knight had been her chosen last name, her name she registered with the system. They'd been gracious enough to allow her to pick her own when she claimed she was an orphan and didn't know it. They didn't know and it was specifically chosen to remind her of just who she was and where she belonged. She was with the darkness--where Riddick was.
"You... lied to everyone?" Rachel asked in a voice that, soft as it was, had a slightly hurt, but mostly offended tone.
Jack raised her head to glare at the shorter girl, "I'm not lying. Look, you're lucky I'm telling you this at all. I am Jack. But you can't go around nameless in the system, so we gave them a name for their records. I'm Audrey Knight, too, I guess. It doesn't really matter what name I go under, but I'll always be Jack."
Trying to placate the two girls, Cassandra moved on with the topic, "So, um, what's your real name?"
"It doesn't matter," she said venomously, her anger directed back at the ceiling, "She's dead. She was weak. She couldn't cut it."
There were a few moments of silence. No one really wanted to talk, but there were still more questions. They all knew that. The still-slightly tense quiet was broken by Rachel.
"So do we call you? Audrey or Jack?" she questioned.
She thought about it and answered them quite truthfully, "Audrey. You don't know Jack... probably wouldn't want to know Jack."
Another short pause and several quiet contemplations later, Cassandra thought of another question. She remembered Rick's somewhat lacking explanation of how the two met. The tall blonde also remembered the withering glare Rick received from Audrey, proving the girl didn't like his explanation. With that knowledge, she assumed Audrey would give her a better explanation.
"Can you tell us how you and Rick met each other?" she said, trying not to sound prying, but the way Rachel leaned forward a bit defeated the purpose.
Neither expected the mirthless laugh that escaped her. They had heard her laugh before, but not this one. It sounded listless and disparaging. Jack's head fell back against the pillow and she closed her eyes.
"Well, I remember feeling like I would be better off dead, which is kind of ironic... Anyway, I first saw Rick getting on board some ship on its way to New Mecca. I was heading for Taurus 3. Used the last of my UDs to get on that ship. Came out of cryo--not on Taurus 3, had a few brushes with death, and decided I'd rather live than die like that."
She paused, reflecting on the horrible deaths she had (and hadn't) witnessed on that God-forsaken planet. Jack gave a melancholy sigh and continued, "Rick, Imam, and I survived and I decided I'd always choose life over death."
"What... what happened?" Rachel asked, hesitant in asking; she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
In her mind, clicks and whoops sounded along with the leather sound of flapping wings. Claws and jaws full of fangs... the carnivorous darkness swooped and darted, descending up on her. Jack's eyes snapped open. She sat up and pulled her legs to her chest and hugged them. Dinner would be ready anytime and the questions were steering towards the ones she couldn't answer truthfully.
She rested her chin on her knees, "I'm not going to tell you. Neither will the Holy Man or Rick, so don't ask them."
Hello, everyone. Welcome to my story. This is the first chapter of a long story; I hope you enjoyed it and will enjoy future chapters! There was a time when I thought I introduced Riddick too early, but I feel it flows much better to start here.
Reviews and constructive criticism are always welcome. The cat will use flames to keep itself warm... or the K-monster, my editor, will use them to toast marshmallows, who knows?