[ Contents | XIII. Tremors | XIV. Quiet Before the Storm | XV. Temblor ]
It moaned. Above the floor of the abandoned quarry, a dark whirling void danced and moaned. Firelight and torchlight shed no light into its depths, nor did they do more than deepen the giant shadow standing by the makeshift altar.
"Throw him in," grated the shadow's voice.
Rough hands picked up the bound and gagged Kidoru and lifted him up; the gag was ripped away, and two men seized him by his hands and feet. They held him for a few moments, laughing at his screams of terror; then they heaved his body into the center of the wailing void.
A shriek of horrid pain, cut off abruptly--then something dropped heavily from the vortex. It scratched at the ground, and painfully staggered erect, as the moaning void turned into itself and dissipated. Something man-like and goat-headed blinked at the firelight, looking around. Finally the broo beheld the shadowy Keikan-Ma and prostrated itself before him.
The powerful demon seized the broo by his stubby goat horns and hauled him erect, studying him. Keikan-Ma tossed him aside. "He is weak," the demon growled. "Kaeru, you chose poorly." The void began to form above the altar, again.
"But Master! You told us to seek priests and warriors and magical creatures--people with power! This one was a security officer--a warrior--and had power in his company!" The man backed away, terrified.
"FOOL!" the demon growled as he strode forward and grabbed the panicking cultist. "He was WEAK, and so are you!" Keikan-Ma picked up the screaming, begging cultist and threw him into the fully re-formed chaos vortex.
An antelope-headed broo appeared, blinking; the great shadow demon cuffed him to one side. "Sorceror!"
A tall, pale man dressed all in black stepped forward and bowed. "Yes, Lord Keikan-Ma?"
"Teach these fools how to recognize power! Lord Dairi-Mao requires his strongest broo, not the weakest ones! Take these broo, and train them, make them stronger!"
The man in black bowed low again, long black hair hanging down to hide his face, and bemused smirk. "Yes, my Lord Keikan-Ma. It shall be done."
"Of course; there is no other possibility." Keikan-Ma turned to another cultist. "Oshimu.." His voice grated slowly.
Oshimu, a muscular thug in dark jeans and tight black t-shirt, paled. He gulped. "My Lord Keikan-Ma! Something powerful guards those temples; none of my teams has survived to report! Even I barely escaped the first one! I am not weak, but this is beyond me--we need your great might," he said fawningly.
The shadow demon's fiery red eyes narrowed. It nodded, almost reluctantly. "Prepare another assault on the first temple."
Oshimu took a step back, and prostrated himself. "Yes, my lord." As the ritual broke up, he left with the others; on Oshimu's face was the look of one who knows his doom has come.
* * * *
"..so if Mrs. Briefs requires extra security," Nezumi nodded at Raditz, "I could fill in as her driver. If you recall my record with the department, I have considerable experience in that area-- defensive driving instructor, high-speed pursuit driving, and so on." Nezumi finished up her presentation to Mr. Hiregumi and Raditz.
She strove to maintain a serious face even though she was about to burst with excitement. Kidoru hadn't come in to work today--it was Friday, so Nezumi assumed he was taking a long weekend--and she'd seized the opportunity to make her proposal to Mr. Hiregumi without having to present it to Kidoru first. From the thoughtful look on Mr. Hiregumi's face, he was taking her proposal seriously. She wasn't sure about Raditz; he was standing with his arms folded, scowling, but he seemed to do that all the time.
It was Raditz who spoke first. "Hiregumi-san.. do you trust her?"
Nezumi looked sharply at him, and curbed the indignant outburst that sprang to her mind. Raditz's gaze was cold and measuring. He's trying to decide if I'm someone he can trust with his principal's life, she thought. Definitely a professional--maybe he's not gay or clueless--just focussed. Really, really focussed.
Mr. Hiregumi nodded. "Yes, absolutely. I have known Nezumi since she was a rookie in the City Police Department, and she has always been exemplary." He smiled, bringing out the laugh wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. "Occasionally she has been more.. enthusiastic in the pursuit of her duties than some less talented individuals approved of, but do not let that deceive you. Her suggestion is excellent; I recommend it strongly."
Wait a minute! Nezumi wondered; what's going on here? Mr. Hiregumi is recommending something, not just ordering it done? This is Raditz's decision?? When did he become head of security?
Finally, Raditz nodded. "Very well." He nodded to Mr. Hiregumi, and turned to leave. Part way down the hall, he looked back. "You coming?"
"Um, yes!" Nezumi hurried to catch up with him. "I need to get--"
"Worry about that later."
They were outside; he turned a corner into a little-frequented part of the compound. As soon as Nezumi caught up with him, Raditz grabbed the brown-haired girl and hauled her up close to his face.
"Hey! Put me d--" she broke off suddenly, noticing that "down" was suddenly 20 feet below and receding fast. She paled.
"Now, tell me the REAL reason you made that proposal that puts you so conveniently close to Bulma and Trunks!" Raditz growled softly.
Talk about professional paranoia! Keep your cool, girl. He's not going to drop you--probably trying to see if you scare. Sharp, though--he figured out quick that I have an ulterior motive. Focussed, not clueless.
"Two reasons: it gets me away from Kidoru, and it gets me conveniently close to YOU," she answered pertly.
"ME??" Raditz's brows lowered.
"Think about it; you're a pretty suspicious character--coming out of nowhere like that, no background, no references, no nothing, just Bulma decreeing that you be here. Sure, I got the word that you're one of Vegeta's people--but he came out of nowhere, too; I couldn't even begin to list the wild rumors about him if I had all day! Some of us have worked for the Briefs family for a long time, and don't want to see anything bad happen to them."
Raditz's eyes widened. "Hiregumi-san put you up to this! You haven't been here that long, but he's known Bulma's father for years! That wily bastard!" Raditz smirked. "You'll do. You've got nerve enough in a tight spot." He descended rapidly, and they alighted on the rooftop. "I won't ask if you can fight--that's my job. You know where to be and when--see you there."
Nezumi watched in wonder as Raditz rose high into the air above the Capsule Corp compound and darted off into the sky.
"Wow. He can fly, too."
* * * *
Deep in Hell, in the twisted, slimy canyons of the Pit of Worms, Commander Kale was not so amused.
"Commander! We've found another one!" Negi called up from the canyon below.
Kale waited for the second-class soldier to make his way up. "Another what? I sincerely hope you mean 'another broo'." The Saiyan commander frowned.
Negi, a one-eyed scarred warrior of medium height with the usual unruly black saiyan hair spilling down to below his shoulders, shook his head slowly. "No, sir. Another human soul that didn't get here by the usual route. I think they're somehow being switched for the broo."
Commander Kale stood up straight, all his attention on what Negi was saying. "What? How do you know this?"
"The second guy.. he belonged to whoever's doing this. Said it was some kind of ritual--they open a rift, toss someone in, get a broo out. PHYSICALLY get a broo, sir!" Negi seemed unhappy to report it; Kale was even more unhappy to hear it.
"Let me get this straight--someone on Earth is using ritual magic to open a rift to Hell and summon broo demons bodily to Earth? That should be impossible unless-- OH CRUD! Of course! It's a substitution--the poor bastard that gets sacrificed provides the flesh and bone for the broo spirit to occupy, reshaped to fit the broo. Nasty." Kale thought a moment. "Humans are too weak to host most of what we've been fighting for weeks.."
Negi nodded. "Sir, that would agree with what I've seen--the two souls we picked up are weaklings, and the broo that disappeared may have been some of the weaker ones--none of the big guys seems to have gone missing, though I can't be sure yet. They're smart enough to avoid letting us come close enough to count noses." The dead saiyan warrior smiled wryly.
Kale did not smile; rather, he looked as close as a Saiyan ever gets to being sick to his stomach. "Go on back and find out what you can--find out if there are any more of these substitutions. Don't lose any of them, we'll have to deliver them all somewhere when this gets sorted out. Dismissed!"
"Yes, sir!" Negi saluted, and disappeared back down the canyon.
Kale sighed, and pulled his white commander's cloak close about him. "King Vegeta's really going to love hearing about this. Souls getting dragged to Hell without going through Lord Enma's judgement--this one's going to kick crap loose all the way up the hierarchy; just my luck to be the poor bastard it's all going to roll downhill on top of."
He smiled bitterly to himself. "This is Hell, after all. I didn't get sent here for the fun of it." Kale stood wearily. "Duty obliges; the king must know of this madness."
* * * *
"Prince Vegeta! He's turning alongside!" Skeletal Modgudh shouted from her position on the bow.
Vegeta glanced over his shoulder; the oncoming ship was a scant score of yards away. The steersman of the black ship leaned hard on his oar, forcing the bow of the stout ship away from Nailfarer's hull. Vegeta should have been able to see the steersman plainly now, but he seemed cloaked in shadow; all the dead prince could make out were powerful dark arms straining at the great oar.
A final burst of power, and Nailfarer surged forward, nearly colliding with the other ship--
CRACK! Nailfarer shuddered, and wallowed into the waves.
"WHAT THE HELL?" shouted Vegeta, whirling around.
"DAMN THIS FLOATING PIECE OF CRAP--THE HULL'S SPLIT OPEN!" Modgudh shouted, jumping down and racing back from her perch on the bow. "We're breaking up!"
Kadru snapped out of her private miseries and looked about; her body writhed and changed as she took two-legged human form again. She frantically tossed planks aside, probing in the water-filled bilge--within seconds pulling out two armsfuls of sodden fur. The Naga princess looked across the widening gap between Nailfarer and the black ship, and hesitated; it seemed impossibly far to jump.
Nailfarer settled lower in the water every second; Vegeta moved. He scooped Kadru under one arm and leaped to the deck of the black ship in a single bound. After the slightest of hesitation, Modgudh followed him. As before, she landed short, and found herself clinging to the outer hull, her bony fingers hooked over the gunwale as she pulled herself aboard.
Vegeta found himself looking up at the shadow-cloaked boatman, and down at the boathook point inches from his chest. How had he moved so fast? A moment ago, he was still at the oar! Now the oar was lashed down and this creature was staring him in the face!
It rumbled, "An unusual pick-up. Have you the fee?" Shadows cloaked and cowled it, though Vegeta thought he saw the glimmer of teeth in those shadows.
"What fee?" Vegeta snarled, bracing himself for a fight. He could sense some of this thing's power, but most of it was obscured, hidden from him.
"The Ferryman's Fee. I am the Ferryman. There is a fee for transporting the dead, wherever they need to go." The Ferryman explained patiently in his rumbling, bass voice. He tossed back his shadowy cowl, revealing a dark, long-muzzled inhuman head. White tusks protruded from his strong jaws, while his eyes were mere slits. Vegeta thought he could hear an odd high-pitched chirping as the Ferryman cocked his head and looked them all over. "For the living, I charge extra," he pointed one finger at Kadru.
Vegeta's eyebrows lowered; he looked more thoughtful than angry. "WHEREVER we need to go? You could take me ANYWHERE I asked?"
"Wherever Styx flows. If you pay my fee."
Vegeta scowled, and turned abruptly to Kadru. He grabbed her arm and stripped the remaining gold armlets off of her. He thrust them at the Ferryman. "Here! Is this enough, or must I give you the snake-wench, too?"
"NO!" shrilled Kadru, who then took a second look at the Ferryman. "Are you married?"
The Ferryman took Kadru's gold and examined it closely; Vegeta could hear that strange chirping again. "It will do." He cocked his head and looked quizzically at Kadru. "You tasty?"
Kadru crossed her arms indignantly. "NO! I'm foul-tasting and probably poisonous.. but I can cook."
Vegeta looked startled. Well, well--the snake-woman is getting a backbone! And even showing a hint of wit...
"Hmmm.. Sit there and stay out of the way. You, pointy hair--you paid the fee, where to?"
"The name," the Saiyan prince snarled through clenched teeth, "is Prince Vegeta. Take me to the edge of Chaos itself, before Time or beyond Space, whichever."
The Ferryman's head snapped around, large round Saiyan-like ears swivelled in Vegeta's direction. Even his slit eyes widened, revealing opal-white orbs with no pupil. Again, Vegeta heard that high chirping at the very edge of hearing.
"I cannot. Styx has no part in Chaos. I can take you to the Helldarks. From the Helldarks ye walk to the Chaos Hells."
"Do it!" Vegeta snapped.
"And these others?"
"Kadru seeks a suitable husband--take her where she can find one. Modgudh can speak for herself."
Modgudh chuckled. "It doesn't get boring around you, does it? I'll follow the noble Vegeta's path for now."
The Ferryman looked from one to the other. "Good. Now, sit there and stay out of the way. I have a boat to sail." With that, he returned to the steering oar and unlashed it, heaving at it until the boat came around to a new course.
* * * *
After what seemed like days of rolling and surging up and down endless dark waves, the black boat sailed into smoother waters. Before long, the black boat arrived at the mouth of a dark river.
"Styx," the Ferryman announced. "Calmer here, you can move around now. Stay out of my way." He trimmed the main yard, and let out the reefs in the squaresail; as the sail bellied out, catching the wind, he swung the oar gently over and set the boat sailing up the River Styx.
For uncounted hours they sailed up the dark river, enshrouded in gloom. On the left bank, pale things wailed and moaned and begged for passage on the passing boat, but the Ferryman would not stop.
"Who are those restless spirits, and why do you leave the poor things behind?" Kadru finally asked, her eyes filled with tears of pity.
"Don't have the fee," pronounced the Ferryman. "No one loved them enough to bury them with coin; they did not love the one who paid the fee for them, and they lost it." It was the longest speech he'd made yet. He regarded Vegeta. "Ye were paid for, and not with Kadru's gold." The Ferryman fell silent, and said no more.
Vegeta, Prince of the Saiyajin, shivered, though he was not cold; he felt, as the brush of his lover's hair against his face, the gentle weight of the cherry blossoms Bulma laid upon his grave, countless worlds away.
* * * *
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER XV. TEMBLOR
[ Contents | XIII. Tremors | XIV. Quiet Before the Storm | XV. Temblor ]
Disclaimer: See Credits.
Copyright 2000 by Dragoness EclecticLast Updated: Mar 8, 2009