Chapter One. In Which Riddick Meets Death, the Death of Rats, and Binky.
“So which death are you?” A woman’s voice demanded.
Riddick opened his eyes and instantly regretted it. He wasn’t wearing his goggles. He wasn’t wearing anything. He squinted at the woman ominously. “Huh?”
“I said,” the woman said, with a studied lack of patience, “what are you the death of?”
“Who’dya have in mind?” He made sure his voice rumbled. He’d worked hard on that rumble. It had made heavily armed men gibber.
But not this girl. “What?” Irritation rolled off of her, unleavened by even a flicker of anxiety. If her acerbic voice wasn’t enough to make that clear, the tap of a heavy blade was eloquence itself.
Riddick risked opening his eyes a little wider. He confirmed that he was naked and unarmed. He also learned that he was lying in front of a roaring fire, with a severe young woman standing over him. One hand was on her hip, contemptuously. The other held a giant scythe, which she was tapping meaningfully. The blade was so sharp his squinting eyes could not see its edge, and it sat in her hand like she was born to wield it.
Aside from the scythe, she looked like . . . a school teacher. Well, mostly like a school teacher. He squinted at her balefully. She was far more there than any teacher he’d ever had. Far too real. Far too confident.
Her mistaken confidence aside, she was nothing he couldn’t handle. Even naked. There was a weapon right there. Looked sharp. He could do this easy.
Except something was wrong.
Maybe it was her utter lack of fear.
Or maybe it was the horse.
Behind the young woman was a pale horse. An enormous pale horse. Placidly eating fruit from a bowl set on a table. A table in what, he knew, somehow, deep down, must be a drawing room. While he was no expert on horses, or on drawing rooms, he was reasonably sure that one did not typically contain the other.
Yes, something is wrong.
The young woman’s eyes raked over him. He focused on her as best he could. White hair, with a black streak. Improbably, it was tied back into a severe bun.
“Alright. I’ll try it again. You and Binky and this thing,” she somehow gestured with the scythe at the scythe, which made his head hurt even more, “all showed up together. That probably means Grandfather has gone AWOL again. That means I am not in a good mood. So are you the death of something? Or are you some sort of small god? Or, gods help me, some sort of hero?”
He shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
That pissed her off even more. “So, why are you lying naked on the floor and what do I have to do to fix the multiverse this time?”
He stared at her blankly through barely open eyes as memories cautiously reassembled. A throne room. A dead girl. An army. An enormous . . . swirly thing hanging in space. Ordering the Necromonger fleet into the swirly thing . . .
And now he was utterly unarmed and utterly naked while an utterly sensible young woman tapped an utterly sharp scythe at him. Meaningfully. And, for one of the first times in his life, the longer he stared at her, the less sure he was he’d win a fight with her. Utterly unsettling.
A rat scampered in, scrambled up the scythe. While that was strange enough, it was aggressively unlike any rat Riddick had ever seen. For one thing, it was wearing a leather cowl. For another, it had its own scythe.
“Squeak squeak squeak SQUEAK squeak!”
“Oh, librarian poo.” The woman glared down at him, and there was something new in her eyes. Before, she’d been annoyed at the idea of him intruding into her life. Now, she was angry at him as a person. Great. “You imbecile. Stay here. I’m going to let someone know I’m leaving.”
He shrugged again, fighting hard to regain his equilibrium. Really wishing he had some goggles. And some pants.
“You,” she gestured to the rat. “Keep an eye on him. Don’t want him scaring the children.” She stomped off.
Immediately, she came back. “Nothing in this house is going to fit you, and I really don’t want you scaring the children.” She snapped her fingers, and suddenly he was dressed, all in black and silver. She stomped off again before he could ask any questions.
He stood cautiously and looked around, ignoring the pain in his eyes. He confirmed, again, that there was a horse. There were bookcases. There was a fireplace. Hm, a poker. He picked it up thoughtfully. Became aware that the door was creaking open.
Before he could react, a very small head eased its way past the threshold. A very young girl – 4? 5? — was peering at him with big eyes.
“I’m the boogey man, kid,” he growled. To his surprise, she opened the door all the way, faced him accusingly.
“No you aren’t. He’s upstairs under the bed.”
He hefted the poker in a manner that had made much larger men run. The child stared at it expectantly, as if waiting for it to turn into something amusing. He hefted it again, somewhat deflated.
The young woman had returned. He brandished the poker again, this time even lower. She snorted, clearly completely uncowed. Feeling absurd, he found himself putting it down. She addressed the child. “Run along, dear. I have some things to discuss with this . . . gentleman.”
“Okay.” The kid petted the horse on her way out.
The strange woman was still decidedly sensible looking, but her hair, heretofore in a neat bun, was beginning to assert itself. Unwinding from the restraints as if motivated by a force of its own. She saw his eyes watching it, touched her own head.
With a muttered curse, she vaulted onto the horse’s back, held out a hand.
“Come on, then. Let’s get this over with.”
Riddick knew on the same level that he knew drawing rooms existed that people rode horses. It had never occurred to him it was a thing he might possibly do. He eyed it dubiously. “It’ll take both of us?”
“Binky? He can take thousands.” She pulled him up behind her with a surprisingly strong hand. The rat scampered up the horse, took up station on the horse’s withers. “To grandfather’s house we go, Binky. Let’s see what Albert has to say. Or Quoth, he sometimes knows where the towels are buried.”
“Quoth?” he rumbled. It was a good rumbling word. Something about sitting on this pale horse made him feel a little better. A little like he was home.
“The raven. Hold on.” And with that, the horse launched itself upwards, through the house itself.