[ Contents | XIX. Serpent of Darkness | XX. Bad Moon Rising | XXI. Into Darkness ]
"Impossible!" snarled Vegeta. "That thing's sheer size..." he trailed off, a smirk on his face as he stared at the monstrous black snake. "Size. Oh yes." The Prince of the Saiyajin laughed wickedly as he uncurled his tail and switched it from side to side.
He rose high into the air, a glowing ball of light forming in his right hand. The great serpent rose below him, mouth barely open. The huge creature seemed slow, but his onslaught was as irresistible as a runaway freight train hurtling down the track.
The ball of light in Vegeta's hand grew brighter, and the snake squinted, great eyelids half-closed. "Gotten a bit shy about your eyes and tender mouth, have you?" Vegeta mocked. Then he hurled the moon ki high, almost to the roof of the immense cavern.
It exploded, swelling into a ball of blazing moonlight; Vegeta laughed as he felt himself begin to transform.
Apep hurtled toward Vegeta--
--and passed him! Immense mouth agape, the Night Serpent hurled himself at the ball of moonlight. Jaws of Stygian night opened impossibly wide, surrounded the light, devoured it. Vegeta's moonlight vanished, winking out like a candle swallowed by a whale.
Downward the hell-serpent plunged, down into the Stygian Nile, and beyond. Vegeta, his aborted transformation fading quickly away, watched as the great snake shattered the very bed of the river, and plunged into darkness absolute. With a final flick of his tail, the Serpent of Darkness vanished into the abyss; all the waters of the river drained after him.
"I DON'T BELIEVE THIS!" Prince Vegeta gaped at the hole in the riverbed. "HE ATE MY MOON! Chikusho!" The Saiyan prince dropped down to the riverbank beside the Ferryman's beached ship, and reverted to his normal black-haired form.
The Ferryman was already ashore, inspecting the damage to his ship's hull. He chuckled, a deep rumbling sound. "Snake thinks you are the sun god. Thinks your moon ball--"
"--is the sun!" Vegeta threw up his hands in disgust. "What an incredibly stupid monster! Now what?"
"Hmph. Now, I fix my boat." The Ferryman walked along the bank, picking up pieces of driftwood here and there.
"No, what happens with that snake and that huge hole in the river? You can't sail without water, and I'm not where I need to be!"
The dark Ferryman dropped the pile of wood beside the boat, climbed back aboard, and emerged with tools. Kadru peered over the side to watch; Modgudh climbed down beside them.
The Ferryman grunted, "Snake thinks it won--it ate the sun for the first time since creation. Have to patch the hull and unstep the mast before we go on." The dark man grinned, lips drawing back from teeth and tusks. "Snake made a shortcut--broke the barrier of Time's Beginning. Helldarks are down that hole. Rough ride to get there." He began to trim driftwood planks to fit.
Vegeta looked over at the cataract plunging into the dark abyss. "I don't believe this!" he repeated.
"I haven't believed most of this nightmare since Papa shoved me into your arms," Princess Kadru said, "but still I am here." She sighed.
"Woman, you would stand a much better chance of finding a husband to your liking if you would stop the incessant whining!" Vegeta snarled through gritted teeth.
Modgudh's bare skull looked up at the Naga Princess. "He speaks the truth, surprised though I am to admit it." Beyond her, the Ferryman finished shaving a board down and tested its fit against the hole in the hull.
Vegeta smirked at Modgudh's comment. "And don't go on about how plain you think you are, or how poor you are without all your baubles, or what terrible hardships you're putting up with--YOU'RE the one who decided to follow me around! You spend so much time whining about what you haven't got or what you aren't that you completely ignore what you ARE!" He folded his arms, sneering.
Bam! Bam! Bam! The Ferryman nailed the plank into place, and moved on to the next hole.
Modgudh chuckled hollowly. "Lightning strikes twice in the same place!"
Kadru glared at Modgudh and Prince Vegeta in turn. "I did not decide to be thrown out of my own house into the arms of the first passing stranger of noble lineage! THAT was Papa's doing! I think I have done the best I could under the circumstances--and what I haven't got is a husband!" She folded her arms and glared fiercely at Vegeta, tail writhing and coiling. "Even you can't argue with that fact!"
On the ground, the Ferryman picked over the driftwood boards, selected two that suited him, and began to trim them down.
"That's not a fact, that's your stupid obsession again! You should marry Prince Khara--you're exactly what he likes in a woman!" Vegeta snapped, disgusted.
"Prince Khara? Khara of Lanhka, the son of the Rakshasa King?" Princess Kadru asked, wondering.
"I don't know of any other!"
"Would he really want a wife like me?" Kadru looked hopeful.
Vegeta stared at her. She was taking his casual insult seriously! And the very conservative Prince Khara was unmarried...
"Unless he hates snakes, you'd be perfect for him!" Vegeta smirked.
The Ferryman finished hammering the last boards into place, and climbed back up on the canted deck. He began to unstep the remnant of the mast.
Princess Kadru made her decision. "You will introduce me to him," she announced.
Prince Vegeta stared at her contemptuously. "Spare me your delusions!"
Behind Kadru, the Ferryman finished unstepping the mast, and threw the shattered pole down to the beach. He jumped down beside it.
Undeterred, Kadru continued, "You are a prince and my father gave me into your care; it would be appropriate for you to arrange the marriage. First we will have to visit my mother, though."
"Enough, snake-woman! The universe may fall into quaking ruin long before any of that matters!" Vegeta snarled in exasperation.
"This will do for rollers;" the Ferryman announced to no one in particular, "I need a new mast." He stared at Vegeta. "You in a hurry?"
"I would like to get moving before the heat-death of the universe sets in!" Vegeta snarled, still exasperated.
"You're fast; fly along the shore, look for a good mast pole," the Ferryman grunted. "I'll move the ship. Get done sooner that way." He took out a bronze-toothed saw, and, with a shimmer of power, started cutting the old mast into sections, paying no further attention to Vegeta.
"Hmmph! Well, if it gets this thing moving..."
* * * *
"You summoned me, father?" Prince Khara bowed before his father, the King of the Rakshasas.
King Vibishana sat in his study, at an ornately inlaid teak desk. Two pieces of paper lay before him; one, an ancient yellowed scroll; the other, a crisp, newly printed letter on plain white paper. He picked up the latter and handed to Khara.
"Yes, I did. Explain this, please." Vibishana's face was expressionless.
Prince Khara glanced at the paper; it was a printed copy of his e-mail notice to Sinhika. "Sir, you expressed your displeasure at my sister's abrupt departure, and I took it on myself to get her to return. I calculated that if gentle persuasion did not suffice, financial pressure might."
Vibishana frowned. "I am disappointed that Sinhika left without taking counsel with me, and I am concerned for her.. as a father. If I were concerned as King, I need only command her to return, and she would obey. I know that, she knows that, and YOU know that. YOU have no business commanding your sister in anything, or cutting her off from the treasury without my command!"
"But--" Khara stepped back, flustered at his father's anger.
"Fate has placed Sinhika exactly where the King of Lankha needs her; you will not interfere. Indeed, you will restore her access to the treasury this very night, and then you will go to Satan City and assist your sister in any way she sees fit." Cold sapphire eyes glared into gentle emerald eyes, until the latter dropped away to stare at the floor.
"And," the Rakshasa King added in a gentler voice, "you will give Sinhika this." Vibishana picked up the aged scroll and handed it to his son. "She will know what to do with it when the time is right."
Prince Khara's eyes widened; he thought he recognized it, from his long hours of study with Ghost Prince Vegeta amid the ancient lore of Lankha. "Is that--?"
"Yes, it is the Mantra of Compassion, that I gave to Hanuman in the long ago, to restore the slain armies of Rama to life." The ebon king smiled gently. "It will soon be time for it to be used again, by another of compassionate heart."
"Sinhika?" Prince Khara raised one eyebrow in skepticism.
"Not hardly--but she will know who must use it."
"It shall be done, my king," Prince Khara bowed low, and backed out of his father's presence at the sign of dismissal.
After his departure, the ebony-skinned king walked to the window and looked out over the ocean once more.
So... It is done. Khara is faithful, if unimaginative; he will find her and do his part. This new Indra, Dende.. in spite of his youth, he is like the previous one, wise and restrained, not arrogant and lustful like the Indras of my youth. He will do well--my devious nephew could never have blinded this one with the illusions of the world!
It is time for me to do my part. King Vibishana turned from the tall window, and headed for a certain stair.
It is time to command Indrajit.
* * * *
The daughter of Vibishana crouched on the sloped roof of a temple. "Again," she growled silently to herself, "they're doing it again! Aghammanul anaarya! Butchers!" She pried open a wooden louver and slipped inside. "With all the chaos from the earthquake, who is to stop them? Who will even notice, among all the dead?"
Sinhika looked down from her perch on a rafter; the thugs had already done their work. An old man sprawled on the floor, beaten bloody and unconscious, as did two young acolytes. A third was held by two grinning thugs in T-shirts and jeans, while yet another punched him repeatedly in the stomach.
The Rakshasa princess squinted; she'd seen that last thug before. He was a burly man wearing a tight black shirt that showed off his muscles and black jeans--yes! He was the third man who'd escaped her at the very first temple! Her eyes narrowed; he would not escape this time!
In what illusion would she walk? Not a temple guardian this time, she decided. Something.. more traditional. Sinhika grinned, baring fangs and flexed her claws--and fell upon the burly man in black.
Oshimu drew his fist back for one more blow on the helpless acolyte--it never fell. Something like a monstrous orangutang fell out of the rafters onto his back, knocking him to the floor. The breath was smashed out of him, and he barely had time to realize his plight before two hairy hands grabbed Oshimu's head on each side and twisted--
CRACK! The two other thugs looked on in stunned horror as the ape-demon stood over Oshimu's corpse and grinned at them, baring sharp teeth. Great claws bent backwards from the hairy beast's palms; it turned slowly--
WHOMMPHH! A shadow lashed out, catching the ape-demon hard in the side, flinging it across the room. The shadow grew and solidified, finally standing some nine massively muscled feet tall with smouldering red eyes. The ape-demon got its feet as Enforcer strode across the room, taloned arm upraised to strike.
Even as Enforcer's talons slashed down, the ape-demon vanished! Enforcer's head snapped around, looked up, and behind. No sign of his enemy.. the demon growled, scarlet eyes narrowing.
Suddenly the ape-demon reappeared, great claws raking across Enforcer's back--and skittering off the shadow demon's scaly hide. Quick as thought, the great demon lashed out with his talons, slicing into the ape-demon--
--and meeting no resistance. Illusion! Enforcer snarled in frustration as the ape-demon vanished. Nostrils flared; the shadow demon could smell the other creature's presence, but that wasn't enough to pin it down, to allow Enforcer to attack. Did it have to materialize to attack?
No! Something invisible crashed into the chaos demon's chest, and rebounded. Unseen claws slashed his throat, leaving no mark. Enforcer grinnned, revealing far too many razor-sharp teeth for any natural creature.
"Children of darkness, come your master's call!" Enforcer growled. "Come forth, ancient shades!"
Shadows stretched out across the floor, grew, and pooled together. The two remaining thugs huddled together in a rapidly disappearing spot of light. The barely conscious acolyte screamed in stark terror as the darkness closed over his head--
Sinhika snarled soundlessly as she hovered high above, cloaked in illusion, near the rafters. She glared at the living darkness filling the ground floor; she heard two screams as it enveloped the thugs, followed by fading moans and one last despairing cry:
"Help me, Lord Keikan-Ma! It is so cold! So cold..."
Silence, and only the red-eyed shadow demon looking up and about, with darkness lapping about his thighs. Enforcer laughed softly, and raised his taloned hands.
A ball of dark violet, red and black lightnings roiled in each hand. I don't like the look of this, Sinhika thought, as the great shadow-demon flung both balls of dark energy into the air--
CRACK--BOOM! BOOM! Both spheres exploded in blasts of dark lightning, shattering the temple in cascades of violet, red and black electrical fire. One bolt caught Sinhika, blasting her backwards through the wall, just as the wall collapsed in flaming fragments. Her head struck a chunk of support beam, and Enforcer's mocking laughter rang in her ears as everything went black...
* * * *
Pomona's head ached, she was incredibly thirsty, and her body felt like one huge bruise. That was the first thing she noticed. The second was that she was tied up and lying on her side someplace incredibly dusty. She sneezed.
"Po?" Melchior's voice called softly from behind her. About the same time, Pomona realized there was something warm pressed up against her back.
"Melc, that you?" As soon as she said it, Pomona realized the idiocy of the question.
Melchior chuckled. "If you mean, am I the guy trussed up like a hog laying against you, yes, that's me."
Pomona opened her eyes. It didn't help much; wherever they were, it was dark. "Where are we?"
"Locked in a shed somewhere," answered Melchior. "Can't tell much else."
"I don't like this," Pomona said. "What are they going to do to us?"
"Considering Voron's usual interests.. I have a guess--and I don't really want to think about it. I think he's really gone over the edge this time." Melchior was more melancholy than usual.
Both of them fell silent at the sound of someone turning a key in a lock; a door opened, and a small electric lamp lit up the interior of the shed that was their prison. Voron walked over to the two prisoners, and looked them over, smirking.
"No too uncomfortable, are you?" Behind him, two other men carrying a burden entered the shed; as they put their burden down, Pomona noticed that it was a woman, tied up and unconscious.
Pomona just glared at the long-haired young man in the black leather coat. Behind her, Melchior muttered, "We'd both be a lot more comfortable if you dropped dead on the spot, but what the hell--I don't usually get what I want."
Voron laughed maliciously. The two men left and returned, this time carrying a small boy, whom they set down beside the woman.
"Don't worry, we won't harm a hair on your heads--not until the sacrifice." Voron grinned wickedly. "I need you at your very best of health and power."
"Damn. I was right; you have gone over the edge!" Melchior cursed.
"Is that what you call it? I say that I have broken through the wall of human limitations--limits imposed by small, narrow minds full of petty concerns. I told you before--I have real power now! I will have yet more, when your bodies and souls are traded for Lord Dairi-Mao's demons--demons under my command!" Voron smirked, and raised the lamp high. Pomona noticed the unconscious woman's blue hair, and the boy's violet hair.
"Don't worry, you'll die quickly enough. These, on the other hand," Voron nudged the other captives with his foot, "my Lord Dairi-Mao has plans for. They will long for death, they will beg for it for hours and hours before we permit it to take them--and then we will feed their souls to Chaos. And just think," Voron giggled, "the demons we summon using your lives will make it all possible."
* * * *
<Gohan!> Piccolo's mindvoice echoed in the young Saiyan's head.
<Someone has kidnapped Bulma and Trunks! Watch your little brother; they'll be after him next.>
Gohan's eyes widened. <What?? Can you find them? We need to tell Dad!>
<I'm looking for them. You worry about your little brother, Gohan. The demon is after him, and Raditz--but he thinks Raditz is dead. So did I.> Gohan could hear the ironic amusement in Piccolo's thought.
<The demon was almost right, Piccolo. If Dad doesn't get back with senzu soon...> The worry in Gohan's thought was papable.
<I don't like Raditz, but I like the demon that was killing him even less. If Raditz alive hinders this demon, I'll put up with that wretched Saiyan for now.>
<He's not that bad.. not anymore.> Gohan answered.
<I haven't killed him yet, have I?> A minute taste of Piccolo Dai-mao flavored the Namek's thoughts, then he continued in a less sinister flavor. <I'll put up with him, for you and for Son Goku>.
<Thank you, Piccolo-Sensei!>
<No, thank YOU, Gohan.>
* * * *
"Gohan! Help me here!" Chi-chi called from the bedside. "He's going into convulsions again!"
Gohan turned his attention back to his mother and Raditz. The long-maned Saiyan was regaining consciousness--or some delirious state that wasn't merciful unconsciousness. His face was drawn with pain, and he tried to claw at the poisoned wounds on his chest and tear away the bandages. It was all Gohan and Chi-chi could do to hold Raditz down and restrain him--fortunately he was so terribly weak that Chi-chi could hold him down with her full strength.
Raditz arched his back, and the veins stood out on the backs of his hands and on his forehead as he writhed in pain, then collapsed again, too weak to fight anymore. Sweat drenched him; blood trickled from his nose and the corner of his mouth. His breath came in great ragged gasps, as if he'd been fighting long and hard.
Through this and all the other intervals of merciless consciousness, the Saiyan warrior had remained silent, teeth clenched together, refusing to cry out in his agony. Now he laid back, a slightly puzzled look on his face. "Kinoko?"
Raditz began to speak quietly but rapidly in a language Chi-chi did not recognize. She looked at Gohan questioningly.
"I think it's Saiya-go; I heard Vegeta say words like that once or twice." Gohan said hesitantly. He recognized a few names: Kakarott, Bardock, Vegeta, Bulma, Goten, his own name, Trunks. Gohan looked at his mother, confused.
Chi-chi shook her head. "He's delirious." And dying, her somber face showed. "Gohan, take Goten out. He doesn't need to see this. Neither do you."
Goten, who was still sitting at the foot of the bed, staring at the blank wall behind the bed, suddenly spoke up. "N'Uncle Raditz talks to the lady with long hair like him. Am NOT leaving!" he objected.
* * * *
Oh gods, the pain! Even Hell didn't hurt like this--that was all pain of the soul, emptiness and loss and sorrow and eternal regret--not this mortal agony. It feels like I'm on fire inside, and disintegrating one cell at a time. Why won't it stop? It just goes on and on...
*Your body is fighting to survive, Raditz*
"Kinoko?" Mother? How.. oh. I'm dying again. That's why I can see you, isn't it?
*Yes* Cool fingers stroked his face, taking away the pain. *Do not worry; you will be fine*
Will I live? A dim echo of the fever and pain still raged through his body, but her touch cooled him, calmed him; he could think coherently again.
*I do not know, my son*
How can I be fine if I die.. oh. Oh! Surprise blocked out the remaining pain for a short time, and he smiled. Something else to blame on Kakarott--or perhaps Goten and Bulma, too. His smile faded abruptly as Raditz remembered other concerns.
But I can't die, not now! The demon is after Bulma and Trunks, and I promised Prince Vegeta I'd protect them! And Goten.. I can't protect any of them if I'm dead!
*I know. It is not an easy path you walk, my son, but you are a Saiyan warrior! Have we ever taken the easy path?*
Raditz smiled again, much to the amazement of a bewildered Chi-chi and Gohan. Well, every time we did, it turned out to be a mistake! Frieza, the 'Planet Trade'.. No, the easy path is not for us--but there is a path for us, a hard path, but still our path! Heh. Somehow it makes sense that we have to go to Hell to get to Heaven.
Ghostly feminine laughter. *Even your blessed brother Goku managed to fall into Hell before getting to Heaven!*
Goku! But.. you yourself named my little brother, named him Kakarott! That is his real name, his Saiyan name! Mother, how could you abandon it?
*I have met the one who named him Son Goku, dear Raditz, and he is a good man and it is a good name. In his heart and soul, your little brother knows himself as Goku, and I honor his choice. Search your heart, Raditz, and you will understand*
Raditz remembered what he'd told his little brother, when he'd explained why he still called him 'Kakarott'.
"Kakarott is the name of the little brother I loved, the name mother and father gave you, on our home world. Our parents, who loved both of us, who died with our world," Raditz had said. "Goku is the name of a Saiyan who did not know me, who renounced his family and race, and who killed me. I like Kakarott better."
Only.. it wasn't Kakarott who gave me a second chance, it wasn't Kakarott who forgave me and embraced me as a brother, it wasn't Kakarott who accepted me into his house and thanked me for saving his sons. It was Goku.
* * * *
"Mom! What's wrong? He's so pale.." Gohan looked anxiously at his mother.
Chi-chi felt Raditz's forehead, and frowned, moving to check the pulse at his neck. "Fever's gone.. he's cold, and I can barely feel his pulse.." Chi-chi met Gohan's eyes, and shook her head again. "He's in shock. Not long now," she said sadly.
* * * *
A delicious coolness spread through Raditz. It's stopped hurting.
*Yes. Your body has given up the fight*
No regrets, this time, for what he'd done. Only a few regrets for chances missed... a laughing brown-haired girl he'd like to have known better, a blue-haired princess who'd stolen his heart, a nephew and a young prince he'd wanted to teach, a brother he'd need a lifetime to know...
*Not quite yet*
Oh. I hope little brother gets back in time; I'd like to say goodbye to him.
Raditz could see his mother Kinoko very clearly now; she was even more beautiful than he remembered from his youth. He'd gotten his long hair, height, and delicate features from her. Her hair almost swept the floor, and she was only a few inches shorter than Raditz. Her face had a delicate, almost elfin beauty to it--very unusual among Saiyajin. Here and now, she wore a long white satiny dress with her brown furry tail wrapped around it at the waist, not the Saiyan battle armor he remembered seeing her in last. If only father could see her like this!
Until his reunion in Hell with his father, Raditz had not understood the real reason Bardock had sent him away, out of his life--his too-close resemblance to his mother, and Bardock's unending pain at Kinoko's death. She had been killed just after Kakarott's birth, a few short months before Bardock's last, accursed mission to Kunassasei.
I don't think father knew he was saving my life when he sent me away--pulled strings and got me assigned to that scouting mission out in the backass of nowhere, even though I was supposed to have been assigned a permanent post in the Royal Guard, on Vegetasai. He just wanted me offworld and away from any place he might see me for a long, long time.
I didn't exactly thank him for it, either. At first, I was just angry and disappointed--what had I done wrong? Had I somehow managed to disqualify myself from the Guards? I was even more angry when I found out my father had been responsible--what right did he have to ruin my career before it really got started? How had I offended him? There was no reason that I could see.
After the destruction of Vegetasai, I cursed him for my survival. The last thing I wanted to be was the weakest of Frieza's three surviving Saiyan slaves! Then, part of me wished I'd died on Vegetasai, even the stupid, useless death of being destroyed by some wandering bit of space debris. Clever of Frieza to tell us that--it shamed us that the rest of our race had died such un-Saiyan deaths, and made us all the more willing to fight for him. How long did Vegeta know the truth, before Nappa stumbled on it and enlightened me?
Not that it matters now. They're all dead--Vegeta, Nappa, Frieza, father.. and soon me, again. But.. I was unjust to father, not knowing the reasons for what he did, not knowing the truth.
Mother.. we need to save father.
A light chuckle. *Bardock will be easy. You were the stubborn one, my son* A light, cool kiss on Raditz's forehead. *Teach him what you have learned, and he will be fine*
Someone else, far away was talking to him, asking him to do something. Someone.. his brother. But it was so much work, and Kinoko was rising to leave...
Mother? Don't go! Raditz started to get up, to follow her--
"NUNK RATS! DON'T GO!" A child's wail of despair cut through the cocoon of shock his dying body had wrapped around his mind. "PLEASE! LISTEN TO DADDY!"
Sorry, Goten, I'm just so tired. I can't fight anymore.. Goodbye, little brother. I'll see you again someday.
"Raditz.. please! Just chew on this, and you can go back to sleep! I promise! For me, please?" Little brother was pleading--crying?? This must be important to him.
Oh, all right, just for you. And stop carrying on like that--you're a Saiyan! Show some pride!
Raditz bit down with his last effort--
AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH! His eyes snapped wide open as warmth and strength flooded into him. He could feel the poison vanish from his blood, and all the terrible wounds closing, healing. Raditz breathed again, taking in fresh air and life. His little brother stood beside the bed, looking down at him, joy on his face. He quickly wiped a tear away, but Raditz saw it.
Raditz slowly smiled at his brother. "I guess I don't need to say goodbye after all.. Goku."
* * * *
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER XXI. INTO DARKNESS
[ Contents | XIX. Serpent of Darkness | XX. Bad Moon Rising | XXI. Into Darkness ]
Disclaimer: See Credits.
Copyright 2000 by Dragoness EclecticLast Updated: Mar 8, 2009