Duncan made his way back across the fields towards the village; he avoided the riverside this time, its banks dangerously swollen. Getting lost wasn’t something he worried about, he knew it wouldn’t happen; maybe Bishop had let a life of ease make him soft, but that had never been Duncan’s problem. In the end it always came down to the hunt, even now when he didn’t hunt to kill. The hunt never changed.
The downpour made it at once difficult to find a trail and easy to follow it at the same time. There was no scent and it was all but impossible to track by sight in the rain and dark. It did lessen the ability to effectively cover a trail however, and all he needed to do was find the beginning, and he could track them back to wherever their base was.
Shadow shapes flitted across the ruins of the village, the burned buildings spewed up black smoke as their flames died, further obscuring his passing. He slipped past the tavern where he first saw Riddick and the others, and continued down to the low building where he had shot the man that had threatened the child.
The traces were strongest here, what there was to be found. He circled the room where Riddick and the others had been, and took note of the door that led somewhere out behind the building. They would have left that way, and probably entered that way as well; the door had been kicked in. The print was smaller than he expected it to be and he wondered if it was the woman’s.
The trail was harder to hide when he slipped behind the building and along the side. They had run with the girl and probably had been more interested in getting as much distance as they could rather than taking care to cover their tracks. He had nearly lost the trail at the edge of the village and had to backtrack a few times until he found their tracks in the high grass, and then he moved out again.
Duncan hadn’t given too much thought to what he would say to Riddick when he met him, if he met him. He looked down to the knife he had in his hand, so much an extension of himself and thought the unthinkable. He wasn’t here to kill Riddick but if the man came at him armed, one or the other would die. Of that he had no doubt. There was also the weapon still slung across his chest.
He looked back towards the village, and then back across the grass to where he knew his downed ship was located. Duncan ran over in his head what resources he had; a bare handful of mercs were left uninjured now. He had no idea what state the mercs in the ship were in, if any of them would be fit enough to deal with a Company ship. There were mercs he didn’t entirely trust. There was so much at stake and he couldn’t risk it now, he needed Riddick. He needed his skill and his military training.
He tucked his knife into a sheath on his boot, hidden, and with a hard thought, took the weapon he had across his chest and left it underneath the last tree. He felt naked and a little strange, but it felt right too, to walk back out into the field, relatively unarmed.
Riddick didn’t know why he hurt, it was a strange feeling. It felt empty and cold in a way that all the rain couldn’t explain. He knew that he would be back for Shazza, that he would always be back for her and he knew that she trusted him, which was a strange feeling in itself. He could see it in her eyes when he left her. That’s what had hurt, that one look in her eyes as he had left her. He had turned to watch her for a moment, as she stood out in the rain. She couldn’t see him, it was too dark. But he could see her clearly, and he watched her cry. It hurt.
Riddick had stayed and watched until the others had pulled her inside and Theo took her place at the railing of the Moorglade. Theo. It focused his mind completely on the job at hand, to track and kill Warfield and the other one, the one he hadn’t seen yet, Bishop. They were the biggest threats as far as Theo was concerned, he hadn’t even asked about the other mercs, just dismissed them as soon as Theo described Warfield.
Normally Riddick would stalk a kill for a short time, to get to know their patterns, their habits. He could kill quickly as well, it’s what he was trained for, but what took real skill was the hunt. To track a kill without ever being seen.
He had almost nothing to go on right now. Theo had said that Warfield was a merc-hunter. He had heard of those, they were the bogeymen of some of the mercs he had run into, spoken of in whispers, and never by name. As though even to speak of them was to invite them. Other than that, all he had to go on was a few minutes, where he had watched the man choose whether to shoot an extremely dangerous convict or stop the murder of a little girl.
That Warfield had chosen as he did, when he knew who he faced, impressed Riddick. Honor was rare. It was so easy for mercs to throw it out in their dealings with him, because of who and what he was that it affected him when someone would behave differently. When they had to know the risks. There had been recognition in Warfield’s eyes when he had looked at him.
Riddick thought of Anna, held tight by her mother, and thought that it could have so easily been his little Jack. There was nothing for it now, if the man was a threat to them, he would die. Curiosity would have to take a back seat.
Riddick crept across the grass, knife hidden along the length of his forearm. The weapon slung across his back was merely an afterthought, a way to deal with contingencies. He had always preferred a knife for close fighting, and he knew from his brief encounter with the merc-killer that close is how it would be. The man was graceful and quiet, silent. He had crept forward on the balls of his feet like a cat. The villager that held Anna hadn’t heard him at all, even when Warfield was right behind him.
Riddick crouched lower in the grass at the smallest of noises. Everything in him coiled and bunched, and he shut his eyes for a moment and just listened. The whicker of wet blades of grass against something passing through it and the smallest squeak of boot soles on trampled and broken leaves underfoot. Someone was here, someone as silent as he was. He smelled nothing in the downpour and saw nothing, but he heard it. Riddick swept his head silently from side to side, to seek a direction. He stilled and cocked his head, to listen for the sound. It took longer this time to pick it out. If it weren’t for the rain he wouldn’t have heard anything at all. Impressive.
Duncan stilled at the sound. He had crept as silently as he could but couldn’t avoid the noises that his boots made on the flattened grass, a wet squeak. Just the tiniest of sounds, but he heard it, and he knew that any hunter worth his salt would hear it too. He believed that Riddick was just such a hunter, a predator like himself.
The old instincts died hard, to hunt, to track, to kill. His body had pressed closer to the earth beneath the line of the grass and he crept forward silently on the outer edges of his soles to minimize noise. As he reached down automatically for the knife in his sheath he froze. This is not what he wanted. It was what he was, but not what he wanted.
It was so hard to stand up, to pull his hand away from his boot blade and just stand there exposed in that open field. It went against everything he believed in, but then again, his trip out here to find Riddick also went against what he was supposed to believe in too. Supposed to. He was supposed to believe in a lot of things, to track down a mass murderer and ask for his help wasn’t supposed to be one of them. His beliefs had changed; they had been changing slowly for years. The longer he stayed with Bishop the more he found that he was nothing like the man. Then, in the strange electrified air of the field they had passed through he had felt something else, some other purpose, still his own but subtly different somehow.
He took a deep breath and stood fully, his arms slowly extended out to the sides away from his body. He could feel someone, Riddick, behind him; he had circled him as he had stood still. That he wasn’t dead now wasn’t really much of a comfort; he knew what it was to hunt, and he knew what it was to play with his kills. In fact, he had counted on it. Riddick likely could have picked him off cleanly with a single shot; he could see clearly in the dark after all. Duncan had counted on the man’s predatory instincts as well as on his honor.
“I hold no weapons, Riddick!” Duncan called out into the pouring rain, to anyone else it would have looked as though he talked to himself, but Duncan knew Riddick was there. He didn’t say that he was unarmed; there would be no way that Riddick would ever accept that, the idea was ludicrous. He felt rather than heard the movement and turned to face where Riddick would be, if Riddick was still there. He couldn’t hide the small jump of fear and again fought the urge to reach for the knife in his boot. Riddick played with him.
The sound came from nowhere and everywhere, a dark dead sound from the bottom of a well. “You’ll die all the sooner then, merc.”
Riddick circled the merc again, unseen and unheard for the most part. The merc-killer had felt him though, as he had passed, he had felt him and moved, circled to face him just out of reach of the arc of his blade. Riddick was curious; Warfield stood in the open with his hands out, an easy target, but still was aware enough to know he was hunted. He had said that he held no weapons, not that he had none, Riddick had already noticed the boot sheath. The merc held no other weapons however. He circled the merc-killer again, impressed that Warfield continued to circle with him, always facing him, even though he couldn’t see him. That took talent, it took guts. ‘It took honor’, a quieter voice spoke at the back of Riddick’s mind. “You made a mistake coming here, merc…”
Duncan cut off the voice; he knew that Riddick would get bored with him if he didn’t offer him something soon. “I need your help, Riddick.”
Riddick snorted, a huff of air that misted in the air in front of him, it wasn’t a laugh, it was something else. He had circled predictably several times, to wait for Warfield to anticipate the move and turn away from him. With lightning speed he spun and nicked the back of the merc’s calf and took his knife in the process. “I’ve heard that kind of shit before…”
Duncan had expected it, and knew he would likely have to bleed a little. He swung his boot back in an arc that took him closer rather than farther from the blade and caught Riddick hard, it felt like ribs and the controlled hard exhale as Riddick hid the blow confirmed it. He spun and dropped all of his weight onto Riddick to seize the advantage. His hand pulled back at the last second and he just tapped the side of Riddick’s neck before he was thrown clear.
‘Fucking fast.’ Riddick threw the merc a short distance across the grass; he didn’t resist and had in fact allowed himself to be thrown. The heat of the merc’s fingertips burned his neck, it was just a touch, a warning, but it also let him know that the merc could have seriously injured him, and hadn’t.
“I need your help, Riddick! This isn’t about Theopoulis.”
Riddick uncoiled gracefully, his own hand lingered where the merc’s had been a second before. Not about Theo, that much actually made sense, or he wouldn’t be here, alone. Unless the others had somehow slipped past him, and he knew that hadn’t happened. So he was alone, it wasn’t about Theo or not about Theo anymore.
He slipped in behind the merc and whispered softly in his ear, his fingertips brushing against the skin over the abdominal aorta. Two could play that game. “I’m listening.” He was curious about why the merc was out here, alone, why he would come out without an arsenal when he knew who he faced.
“There’s a Company ship on the way, it’ll be here in three days with a thousand men. You know what they’ll do if they get here.”
They both froze, their circling stopped and the awful truth drew out between them. Riddick’s first thoughts were not for his own escape, but for Shazza and Jack, for what would happen to them. Riddick knew what the Company was, what it really was. All the citizens ever saw were the uniforms and the commercials on the vid, they never saw what he had seen. He couldn’t control the growl, the feral snarl that was pulled from him, and his body shook with a tremor of murderous rage. “What the fuck’s in it for you, merc.”
For the first time Duncan was really afraid, as he watched the hate wash over Riddick’s features, his voice dropped so deep it could barely be heard, only felt. He kept his hands out to the sides and tried not to move, tried not to even breathe. There were so many different things he could say and he ran them through his head. In the end he looked at Riddick and gave the man the truth. “Have you ever been in the electrical fields?”
Duncan watched as Riddick’s head tilted to the side, his eyes glittered in the darkness, fully aware and watchful. He knew then that Riddick had, and that he knew exactly what he spoke of. “I saw something, Riddick. If we don’t stop it…” He felt foolish all of a sudden, how could he make Riddick understand that he got a vision from an electrical charge, but Riddick didn’t laugh. “If we don’t stop it, they’ll destroy this place, they’ll kill everything. Everything.” Duncan felt drained the moment he had finished; he had been wound so tightly and now all there was to do was wait. If Riddick didn’t believe him, then they would fight. One or the other would be killed but it wouldn’t matter, because they would both die in the end.
“Where’s Bishop.” Duncan noted that Riddick hadn’t discounted what had been told him, he simply switched gears. Of course, Theopoulis would have told Riddick that they were a pair.
“Bishop’s dead, I killed him myself, to put an end to the raid on the village.”
Riddick watched his eyes carefully for deception and found none, which didn’t mean it wasn’t there. It wouldn’t be the first time a merc had spun a line of bullshit, but it felt like truth. “So what’s your big fuckin’ plan, merc?”
“We kill everyone on that Company ship when it gets here.” Duncan felt his spine turn to ice when Riddick smiled at him, a full smile that held no warmth, only the promise of death.
Copyright © November 2006 xxxevilgrinxxx