[ Contents | XV. Temblor | XVI. Aftershock | XVII. Revelation ]
"IIIIAAAAA!" Vegeta flung the three-headed crocodile-demon across the barge and back into the Stygian Nile from whence it had come--minus its heart and a few other vital organs. A back kick disposed of the serpent man that thought it was sneaking up on him.
CHUNK! Modgudh decapitated the last of the serpent men. She'd armed herself with a bronze khopesh and hide shield wrested from one of their attackers, and had hacked her way through the crowd with wild abandon.
The water boiled as the giant twenty-headed fire-breathing snake-demon sank limply back into the river--all but one of its heads were crushed by the Ferryman's black mace.
The Naga princess coiled around the base of the mast, a khopesh gripped in each of her six hands. Vegeta still wasn't sure where the extra four arms had come from, or when, but Kadru had given a good account of herself--there was an impressive pile of serpent-demon corpses around the mast.
"Is that the last of this trash?" the Prince of the Saiyajin snarled.
The Ferryman looked the length of the boat, up, and around. "Looks like."
Modgudh wiped her blade clean, and then began methodically stripping corpses of weapons and tossing the bodies overboard. At Vegeta's contemptous sneer, she said mildly, "You may kill godwolves with your bare hands--I like a good blade myself. However, I'll make do with these brazen weed choppers."
Vegeta turned on his heel to glare at the Ferryman. "I thought you said you had an agreement with the gods of the Hours!"
"The gods, yes. Those krjalk snakes are god-enemies. No agreement with them," the Ferryman growled in his bass voice. He shrugged. "Just hit 'em a lot; they stop after a while."
Vegeta smirked. They had sailed smoothly through the First Hour, and, after exchanging questions with the officious gatekeeper godling, through the gates of the Second Hour. About half way through the Second Hour, the snake-demons attacked.
Vegeta thought it had been an amusing warm-up, and a welcome distraction in the hereto uneventful and BORING river voyage. He turned to stare at Kadru. "When did YOU learn to fight?"
She glared at him, pouting indignantly as usual. "Occasionally a maiden must defend her own virtue; it would be unwise to be totally dependent on another." She closed her eyes modestly. "My mother taught me how to defend myself."
Vegeta blinked. She turns into a six-armed mowing machine--and she considers it 'maidenly self-defense'?? What do the nagas do when they are serious about fighting??
Vegeta paced the length of the ship, kicking a few corpses back into the river. "Now what? Will they try it again?" The Saiyan prince looked hopeful.
"Maybe. Not likely." The Ferryman slouched at the steering oar again.
"Why not? Are they that cowardly?" Vegeta asked scornfully.
"Boat's mine. I am of the Dark. Krjalk snakes are Apep's. Apep is the Serpent of Darkness." The Ferryman shrugged. "We're not natural enemies."
Vegeta's eyes narrowed. "So what are you--natural allies?"
"Mmph. Nope. Different darks." The dark boatman cocked his head slightly, watching Vegeta. Yet again, Vegeta heard that strange high chirping. "Maybe not so different. Sun is Apep's enemy, sun is my enemy. Different methods; they fight the sun, I stay away from it."
"What about this Apep?"
"Big stupid snake. Should be dead for the day by the time we get there. If not.. could be trouble." The Ferryman shifted slightly on the oar.
"Why? Would he attack us?" Vegeta asked eagerly.
"If he thinks my boat is the sun barge, yes. Otherwise," the boatman shrugged, "don't know. He's stupid, but very strong."
Vegeta smirked. "Good! I hope he's strong," the dead prince said, his eyes alight with anticipation, as he leaned against the gunwale, watching and waiting.
* * * *
"Did everyone get out?" Bulma asked worriedly, looking at the ruins of Capsule Corps HQ. Trunks was in his grandpa's house, having a bath and getting cleaned up; Nezumi and Raditz stood with Bulma.
"As far as I know," she continued, "Raditz and I were the only ones left on the top floor--it was Friday afternoon, after all."
Nezumi looked increasingly worried. "Mr. Hiregumi was still working when I left to pick up Trunks--he was staying late to take care of some things Kidoru was supposed to do today. If he's still there.." Her big brown eyes filled with tears.
"There's no one alive in there," Raditz said abruptly.
Nezumi bit her lip and looked away. "We have to make sure.."
"I'm sure," said Raditz.
"Is that really necessary?" Bulma asked archly.
"I told you once before, I don't believe in comforting lies," the big Saiyan answered.
"You also said you knew when to keep your mouth shut, if I remember correctly," Bulma retorted.
"This isn't the time. That rubble is loose and dangerous. No need to go in there in a hurry and get someone killed if there's nothing under there but corpses. Take the time to do it right. There's enough people dead already today." Raditz's face was impassive, devoid of even his usual scowl.
"Maybe he left before the quake.." Nezumi tried to find one last bit of hope.
Raditz shook his head. "No. Hiregumi-san.. is dead."
"You heartless bastard! You say that like it was nothing! Don't you have any feelings at all?" Nezumi's tears ran freely. She turned to Bulma "Ms. Bulma, if you will excuse me, I don't think you will need me to drive you anywhere today anyway."
At Bulma's nod, she walked away, back straight, chin up and eyes filled with angry tears.
Bulma whirled to face Raditz, angry words at the tip of her tongue--and stopped. His face was still expressionless; both his hands were held down at his side, fists clenched.
He looked at Bulma. "I felt him die; his ki faded away right after the collapse--when I was hovering above the building with you. He was the only one still in the building besides us." Raditz looked away. "Strange.. he had no power to speak of, yet I respected him. He taught me things I never even conceived of about my own profession--and I mean my REAL profession, not that 'Planet Trade' death squad business of Frieza's. He was smart, and he was tough--and I don't mean physically--and he had the gift of being able to teach his hard-earned experience to others--even me."
Bulma shuddered; it was just too much, on top of everything else. "Raditz, take me inside--I can't stand to look at this anymore! No, not my parent's house--I don't want to face them right now--my place--if it's still standing."
It was. The small one-story Capsule houses had ridden out the quake all over the city--the hemisphere dome was tremendously strong and not vulnerable to the whiplash effects that toppled skyscrapers.
Her house should have been a sanctuary from the disaster outside--but the earthquake had left its mark here, too. Bulma stared in horror at all the little things thrown to the floor, broken or disarrayed. She trembled as she picked up one of her favorite pictures of Vegeta and Trunks--the glass was cracked, the frame bent. It was the last straw.
She threw herself at a surprised Raditz, held onto him, leaned her head against his warm chest and cried, a storm of inner pain bursting loose. Almost instinctively he put his arms around her and held her while she wept.
Raditz looked down at the beautiful blue-haired woman in his arms, finally understanding as her tears stripped away the last of the armor from his heart. You've found my weakness, woman; I care about you. It isn't just duty anymore. It hasn't been that since I stepped between you and the Opawang, and died your death.
Sometimes I think it's because you remind me of Luki--she had blue hair, too--but she was nothing like you. Other times, I think it started with the strange bond you created when you took my scouter for your own--I saw you from Hell, then. Maybe it started when you stood with Kakarott at our first meeting, so long ago; I don't know. I just know that I care for you, I would die again for you, and I will kill anyone or anything that tries to hurt you.
And I cannot endure your tears. Raditz could feel her tiring from the force of her own sobs; he picked her up and laid her down on a couch, and sat beside her. She curled up next him, comforted by his warmth and strength; the big Saiyan held her and tenderly stroked her hair.
After a time, Bulma lifted her head and looked intently at Raditz's face, as if searching for some sign. "Raditz.." She sighed, and pulled away slightly. "I like you, but..."
"I know." His face was not quite as impassive as he intended; Bulma could see the regret in his eyes, in the set of his mouth.
"This is--" she began again.
"--not right." He finished. "I should leave now. I meant to.. help, but I'm only good at hurting." He stood, and Bulma rose with him.
She held his big hands in her small, delicate hands. "Raditz! You helped more than you know." She stood on tiptoes, threw her arms around Raditz's neck, and kissed him, much to his surprise. Before he recovered from his split-second of shock, Bulma let go and stepped back.
"Thank you." Bulma smiled, wiping her tears away with one hand. "Vegeta is my mate and my heart and half my soul," she said, "but YOU are more than just a friend, just like your little brother. I do love you both, but not that way--and you know that. You are right, you do need to leave, but don't go too far--and come back soon!"
Raditz looked at her thoughtfully, and then said, with just a hint of a smile, "I'm not going all that far!"
Bulma smiled knowingly, and just before he flew away, said, "Give Son-kun my love, Raditz."
* * * *
Unfriendly eyes watched Raditz go. <He leaves them alone, Great Deputy!> Scout informed Deputy via their mindlink. <He goes to Son Goku>.
<Excellent, my Scout! You know the plan; execute it!> Deputy heaved himself from the filth and toxic mud of his lair, and shook his wings clean of encumbering sludge.
<Enforcer!> Deputy hunched on his powerful back legs as he waited for the shadow demon to respond.
<Master?> A sleepy query; it was still daylight, and the shadow demon was a night creature.
<Your opportunity comes. Raditz has left the city, and will not return. You have your orders; carry them out!> With a powerful leap, Deputy surged into the air, his ponderous wings flapping lazily as he gained altitude and speed.
It was time to deal with Raditz.
* * * *
Upon a mountaintop not too many miles distant from Son Goku's humble dwelling, a certain Namek meditated. Something curious caught his eye.
"What manner of creature is that, and what is its business?" Piccolo wondered. "Strange that I cannot sense its ki; another android?"
The green warrior rose into the air. "And over there travels a ki I do recognize," he muttered with some distaste. "Raditz. I thought it was safe to forget him years ago. They must be getting sloppy in Hell, to let him out! It makes a certain perverse sense that it would be Bulma who wished him back."
"I think I'll keep an eye on this; it just might get interesting."
* * * *
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER XVII. REVELATION
[ Contents | XV. Temblor | XVI. Aftershock | XVII. Revelation ]
Disclaimer: See Credits.
Copyright 2000 by Dragoness EclecticLast Updated: Mar 8, 2009