[ Contents | XXI. Into Darkness | XXII. The Helldarks | XXIII. Akaaryum ]


By Dragoness Eclectic



Rough hands seized Pomona and Melchior and dragged them from the shed. Pomona barely had time to notice the empty, merciless eyes of their captors before she and Melchior were tossed into the back of a pick-up truck. The hard metal bed bruised her side, and she groaned.

"Po? You okay?" Melchior was worried about her as usual, but never had a complaint for himself. Pomona almost smiled; so typical of him! He hadn't been thrown any more gently than she had.

"Just had the breath knocked out of me," she managed to gasp. "I think we have bigger things to worry about," she added as the truck's engine started.

The truck bounced down a rough gravel road, bruising and battering the captives unmercifully as well as making conversation impossible. Pomona couldn't see out from her current position, but she could see up; and as the truck bounced downhill, turning back and forth, she saw the walls of a quarry rise up around them. We're going down the service ramps into the quarry, she realized. Finally, they stopped, and she could hear chanting.. and screams.

"Did you see what happened to the other two?" Melchior asked groggily. Blood trickled down his face where his head had struck the side of the truck.

"Not sure, but I think there was a car waiting behind this truck. Maybe it was for them?" Pomona shivered, trying not to think of their own fate.

Before Melchior could answer, the empty-eyed men dragged them from the truck, and carried them forward through the crowd in the pit of the quarry. There were cheers as the two of them were lifted high, and carried to the altar.

Pomona screamed when she saw what waited at the altar. Pomona screamed, and the great shadowy form laughed, revealing sharp gleaming teeth and incarnadine eyes. Then a familiar figure stepped forward from the throng, eyes bright with a feverish light, long black hair hanging down uncombed.

"Here are my offerings, O Keikan-Ma! May they find favor in your eyes," Voron mocked a prayer.

The demon grinned. "They are strong; you have done well, sorceror. Lord Dairi-Mao is pleased; stand forth to receive his blessing," he hissed. As the shadow demon spoke, the sound of great wings flapping echoed off the quarry walls, and something monstrous descended to the altar. Deputy had come to initiate his followers.

*      *      *      *

Sinhika crouched above, watching. She had followed Enforcer to this quarry-temple, followed and watched he and his human followers convene this unholy ceremony. The descending levels of the pit quarry formed a great natural amphitheatre, and Sinhika watched from the rim of the next level up. Her lips were drawn back in a snarl.

"Akaaryuum anishhtuum! This.. atrocity is.. I cannot let this continue! But.. I cannot fight even Keikan-Ma barehanded, and as for that other thing..! Weapons. I need such weapons as my father and uncle used of old--or failing that, sharp arrowheads and a well-honed blade, endowed with my own power. Yes.. these beasts will practice their rites until dawn; I will return before they can escape." She rose, preparing to fly with all her speed back to the city--

"--those two at the altar, they are-- no! Achintya! This cannot be! Pomona? Melchior? NOOOOOO!" She screamed soundlessly within the illusion of silence.

*      *      *      *

Deputy reached out and touched Voron's bared chest with one dripping talon; Voron gritted his teeth as the talon seared Deputy's mark into his breast. "You are the first true initiate of Cacodemon in this age, human! Rejoice in your honor and my favor; revel this night in blood and pain!"

Deputy turned his mighty head toward Enforcer and grinned. "Summon my broo!"

The smaller demon raised his hands, and the vortex began to form over the altar. Melchior and Pomona sat with their backs to the altar, bound hand and foot, and could see nothing of it, but the sudden stirring of the evil throng told them something was happening. Somehow, Melchior managed to brush Pomona's fingertips with his own.

"I think this is it, Po." he whispered.

Pomona smiled sadly, looking at her friend. "Been good to know you, Melc."

Then they grabbed Melchior.

*      *      *      *

In Hell, the broo sensed the opening chaos vortex; monsters raised their heads and pricked their ears. Other denizens of the underworld also noticed...

"Sir! Look, there!" Negi pointed down into one of the more open canyons of the Pit of Worms. "Can you feel it? It's another one of those disturbances! This is the first time we've actually been able to see what happens!" the Saiyan warrior told his commander.

Commander Kale nodded, intent on the scene below. In the canyon, a darkness churned and swirled and howled, twisting all vision around it. Monstrous things clustered thickly about it; small animal-headed broo and larger things, less identifiable, with tails and tentacles and too many legs and extra heads and other deformations. The crowd of monsters trembled in anticipation.

"Look, there's some of the big boys," Negi whispered to Commander Kale. "See that house-sized monster with the mirror scales? That's the 'Captain of Ragnaglar'--he seems to be the leader of this bunch. The ram-headed one with the tentacle sprouting from his hip and the extra face on his chest is Howler--very aggressive, tends to attack stupidly, but he always brings along enough fellow idiots to cover his retreat. That.. thing.. that looks like a giant polyp with two tentacle-arms is another sub-leader--I have no idea what they call it, but it's got a lot of power." He turned to his commander. "Now that they're gathering here, shall we attack?"

"Not yet. I need to know exactly happens with one of these 'disturbances'." Kale gestured with one white-gloved hand at the scene below. "Hold off until whatever is happening has finished. Be ready for my word."

Suddenly the howling note rose to a piercing shriek, and the dark vortex froze, deepened into absolute blackness. A figure seem to hang suspended in that blackness. The Captain of Ragnaglar leaned forward, sniffed disdainfully, and turned away, disappearing into the twisted canyons. One by one the subleaders also examined the vortex, and turned away, disappointment and disdain plain in their expressions and the set of their bodies.

The smaller broo howled and surged forward, stronger ones smashing and biting and clawing their way past or through the weaker ones. Finally one surged ahead of the pack and flung himself into the vortex. There was a flare of light, and a human form fell to the ground amid the struggling pack. Negi caught a glimpse of green hair before he disappeared under the crowd of broo.

"Now! Attack!" ordered Commander Kale.

"You heard him, you slugs! ATTACK!" Negi yelled to the rest of the squad as he leaped down, landing near one edge of the chaotic pack. Even as his blade sliced one goat head from its owner's shoulders, another dark vortex began to form...

*      *      *      *

Pomona gasped as something with many coppery legs landed lightly beside her, straddling the altar. It scuttled aside as the smaller shadow demon growled some command to it. Rough hands grabbed her by the feet and shoulders, hoisting her up to rest on the blood-soaked altar.

"Sorceror Voron," hissed the great winged monster called Lord Dairi-Mao, "you have power now--use it, as you have been taught, and summon my broo yourself!"

Voron bowed, smirking. "With pleasure, Great Lord." He flung his arms wide and began to chant the ritual, focussing his power on this new task. To one side, a ram-headed broo with the lower body of a giant copper-scaled scorpion watched intently. Pomona shuddered as she caught sight of the distinctive earrings hanging from both ears; earrings last seen on Melchior's ears.

At last the void yawned, moaning. Pomona turned her head away, only to see the secondary altars set up among the frenzied crowd. She squinted; what was that on the one nearest her? Then she realized what she was seeing, and what they were doing to the young girl tied there...

At Pomona's brief cry, Voron looked down. "Oh, don't worry--we won't be doing that with you! You're much too powerful to waste in mere entertainment. You're just going to die and go to Hell and have your soul eaten by chaos spirits." Voron grinned mockingly. "Throw her in!"

Pomona struggled desperately, nearly breaking free of the hands holding her, but to no avail. She screamed as she was flung into the void--

--a terrible wrenching agony, as if her very flesh and bone were being turned inside out, a feeling of a vile presense inside her, and then separation. The sensation of being ripped away from herself, and flung into darkness. Then--

*      *      *      *

Back at Capsule Corporation, Sinhika flung open the door to the main machine shop. Dr. Briefs and one of his technicians looked up from their work, startled.

"Dr. Briefs," asked the orange-haired Indian girl wearing a hardhat, "do you have some leaf springs, two meters of #12 steel cable, and about three dozen steel rods I could use?"

"There should be some in the metal shop supply room," he answered absently, already back to considering the problem before him.

"Thank you. You're not using the metal lathe or the electric forge right now, are you?"

"No, not right now.. What are you working on? We're working on the city's power problem," Dr. Briefs looked concerned.

"I need to make some weapons to kill two large demons--don't worry, I know how to operate the equipment and I have my goggles." Sinhika brandished a set of welder's goggles.

"Oh, that's fine. That won't interfere with my broadcast power generator. Be careful with that equipment; I wouldn't want you to get hurt."

"Thank you, Dr. Briefs," Sinhika called over her shoulder as she disappeared into the metal shop.

*      *      *      *

Over at Bulma's house, Raditz watched Nezumi impatiently. "What do you think you're doing? How is this going to help us find Bulma and Trunks? If something happens to them while you're wasting time--" He snarled and clenched one white-gauntletted fist.

Nezumi glanced up from the dirt she was examining. "Do you already know where they are? If you do, how am I stopping you from rescuing them right now?" She looked at him, pert and falsely innocent.

Raditz, dressed in the black and white armor that Bulma had developed, folded his arms and scowled. "No, I don't know where they are!" He fiddled with the slim black scouter attached to his right ear. "I can't even pick up Bulma on this stupid thing, and I know I stored her energy signature when we started calibration."

"So she's out of range?" Nezumi continued working, snapping quick pictures of the footprints and taking samples.

"Or dead. Or masked somehow. The demons didn't show up on the scouter at all, nor could I sense them. Maybe they have some way of hiding things from both artificial and natural senses." Raditz paced, still scowling.

"You're really worried about them, aren't you?" Nezumi looked at him, startled, then thoughtful. "You're not nearly as heartless as you acted this afternoon!"

Raditz scowled at her. "It's my duty to protect them! I've already failed in my duty, and if anything worse happens to them.."

"As you say, Raditz-san," Nezumi bent her head down to look at her work, hiding a smile. A few minutes later she frowned thoughtfully. Nezumi pushed the magnifier up on to her forehead. "There's something very odd about these footprints. Not the shape--basic size ten workboots, but what was tracked in and left on the rug--that was odd. I would have expected tar, or maybe mud, but this is some kind of white sand or rock dust. In fact--" she picked up a few grains of the sand with tweezers and dropped it into a test tube from her kit. It bubbled and boiled. "--it's marble dust."

She pursed her lips and stared at Raditz. "Where do you find marble dust around here? Answer that question, and we just might find Bulma and Trunks!"

*      *      *      *

Darkness absolute enveloped him, darkness and silence unbroken. It was like nothing he had ever known--complete nothingness. He could see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing, only unending darkness and silence and emptiness. There was no ground beneath him; if he was falling, he could not feel it.

No power of his could make light in this place--if place it was. Strain as he might, he could see nothing but blackness. Did he still have eyes? He was a spirit--did he still have that false semblance of a body that the Hells had granted him? Did he have ears, and if he did, was there anything to hear? Neither the dead heart that rested unbeating in his breast, nor the stillness of his empty lungs could break the silence within and without.

He could feel nothing, not ground, not falling, not pain, not even himself. No sensation of power tickled his mind, not his own or any other's. Only empty, silent darkness, forever and ever.

It seemed that he'd been drifting in the darkness forever; even the memory of light faded. Did he even exist? Perhaps he'd found only Oblivion beyond the borders of Time. Who was he?

I am.. Vegeta, Prince of the Saiyajin! Why did he cling to that name, that title? It was meaningless, as empty as this place. The Vegeta dynasty was ended, their world destroyed, their subjects dead. Prince of Nothing. The Saiyajin were dead and damned, forgotten except as a vague legend of destruction and evil.

Not all dead. Not all! Kakarott.. Once his enemy, his rival, sometimes his ally; soft-hearted fool, and yet.. brilliant in combat, worthy of his prince's trust--even if he didn't acknowledge his own prince.. far too lenient with his enemies.. but Vegeta himself had lived, had found a life he never dreamed of because of that lenience.

Or had it been lenience? He had seen that glint in Kakarott's eyes when they fought their first, magnificent battle; oh yes, Kakarott had revelled in that combat as much as his prince had! Both of them, pushed to their absolute limits and beyond, to--stalemate. Neither of them had truly won, though Vegeta had been forced to retreat; both of them too brutally injured to truly say "I defeated my enemy!" Vegeta knew why Kakarott let him escape Kulilin's vengeance; like Vegeta, he knew they must fight again! It was destiny...

..A destiny which had eluded him. The last, worst blow had been Kakarott's death fighting Cell, a death from which there would be no return--or so he'd thought. Never to face Kakarott again--for Vegeta knew himself well enough to know that his final destination would NOT be the same as Kakarott's-- never to finally know which of them was the strongest, that was bitter, perhaps even more bitter than his humiliation at Frieza's hands.

It was more bitter; at least when Frieza killed him, Vegeta had taken with him into the darkness the faint hope that Kakarott--a Saiyan!--would avenge him. Kakarott had then done the impossible, and reached the Super-Saiyan in spite of his soft heart (and occasionally soft head), reached the Super-Saiyan and defeated Frieza. Of course the idiot was then lenient and spared Frieza when he should have finished the alien despot--but his son Trunks had completed the vengeance of the Saiyajin. Yes, that had been sweet! His son avenged both his father's and his grandfather's murders; and Kakarott had, in his way, avenged his own father.

Kakarott's lenience had an annoying habit of fulfilling destinies.. If he had let Kulilin kill me, I would not have been on Namek to save Gohan and that same idiot who wanted to kill me from the Ginyu Force--and Frieza. Did you ever know how close your son came to dying, Kakarott? Frieza picked your son as his first victim, and only I was fast enough to save Gohan!

I still suspect you had something to do with the wish that resurrected the Nameks--and myself. Lenient again, Kakarott? You could have worded that wish in such a way as to leave me rotting in my grave. You did not, and I lived.. and had a son. A son without whom you and your whole world was doomed. Hah!

No words of mine will ever change you, Kakarott. You are destined to be.. lenient, and whatever else you are. It is my destiny to be what I am, and it is our destiny to finally face each other in combat, and learn which of us is the stronger. Did you understand the joy that flashed through me at the sight of you, somehow restored to life and facing that monster? Did you know how much I exulted in the knowledge that we would finally face each other, after that monstrous demon was dead?

Then Cacodemon killed me. I was the one dead without hope of return, gone to a realm that Kakarott would never know! It is almost as if.. as if it is not our destiny to face each other again! Always, when I have come close to facing you, Kakarott, something has intervened--death, marooning in space, monsters trying to destroy the world. Always something!

This time, I shall return, and you will survive the next battle--I will not permit any other possibility. And then, we will face each other, and I will defeat you, Kakarott! It will be a magnificent battle-- perhaps I won't even kill you. It would be so much more satisfying to humble you, to see you bow before me and acknowledge me as your prince and your better--far more satisfying than standing over your empty-eyed corpse!

Yes, at least there was Kakarott. And if he'd understood Kakarott truly, Raditz lived as well. Raditz! At least he acknowledged Vegeta as his prince. At least that--Vegeta had always thought him weak, and frequently a fool. Hell seemed to have cured him of being a fool, and perhaps Earth would cure him of being weak. If he was anything like his brother, father and nephews, Raditz had hidden potential. Who knew what he might become, in time?

Prince of a kingdom of two subjects. Not much more than nothing, was it? Ah, but the Prince had a consort.. Bulma, blue-haired, beautiful, bold, as fiesty as any Saiyan woman--more so, for the Vegeta kings had been too strong and too feared for any woman to defy them to their faces. Bulma never feared to defy him when she was angry. He loved her for it, he was proud that his princess loved to fight him--even though she could not fight him physically. He could fight her way, too. He'd learned to fight with words during the long, bitter years under Frieza, when he dared not openly rebel against Frieza and his lackeys.

There were so many things that he.. loved her for. Ah, curse this! Even alone, in infinite darkness, it was so hard to admit even to himself what he felt.. or even that he felt. So many, many years of teaching himself not to feel anything, and to hide what he did happen to feel.

First, he'd been taught that a Prince or King must avoid any attachments, any vulnerabilities that could be used by this faction or that against him, or that could distort his judgement from what must be done.

I thought I saw in my father's murder and the murder of our world the vindication of that teaching--for he had made the 'mistake' of caring about me. A strange 'mistake', for in the normal course of things I would have killed him for the throne when I was ready--but now that I have a son, I begin to understand.

And under Frieza--how much less did he dare to show any favor to anyone! Frieza's cruel humor delighted in mental torment. Grief and despair entertained that fiend well; there was nothing Frieza liked better than destroying hope. To show any trace of affection for anyone other than Frieza was to doom the unfortunate you cared about. Sometimes I think that bastard was actually jealous of his lackey's affections!

Not that I liked any of Frieza's other lackeys; I loathed them all! Well, there was one old doctor who was always respectful, even concerned--he'd been on Vegetasai before it was destroyed, and actually liked Saiyajin! I wonder if he survived? He was alive the last time I saw him, but that was long ago. As I remember, his race is quite long-lived...

No matter; I'm not likely to see him again! I cared only about my own people, Nappa and Raditz, and dared not show that they were anything more than loyal lackeys. In truth, I didn't see Raditz as much more than that, and he never pretended to anything more. Nappa.. was much more. He trained me, all but raised me, taught me of the traditions, and never failed to remind me that I was the Prince of the Saiyajin. I trained myself to never show my true feelings in front of anyone, but always treated Nappa with contempt--for all eyes and ears reported back to Frieza, and we were constantly monitored.

Too long; too many years of pretended contempt at Nappa's short temper and lack of tact, too many years of pretended contempt for his stupidity and impatience, and the pretense became real. That was Frieza's real victory over me; I became what I pretended to be--a cruel beast without any feelings except hate and anger.

When did that change? It had to have been Namek--I went through so much on Namek. For the first time in years, I had real hope in my quest--the dragonballs! It would have been insanity to trust to a vague legend, save for one thing: Kakarott died fighting Raditz. He died, and returned to life to face me. It was impossible! It was real.

I had hope; more hope after I handily defeated Frieza's lackeys--Kiwi, Doddoria, finally Zarbon. I had all the dragonballs at last--so I thought; I was pleased, even joyous in anticipation of my victory, an emotion I had not felt since.. since the fall of Vegetasai. I was so pleased that I was.. lenient. Lenient to that bald idiot, lenient to Bulma, lenient to Kakarott's brat--so I thought of him then.

I had only contempt for the boy's cowardice during their fight with Nappa--no true Saiyan child would have whimpered and run like that--yet at the end Gohan surprised me, finding courage in anger and striking back at Nappa with unbelievable power.

He surprised me again, on Namek, coming out to face me when for all he knew I was ready to strike him dead that instant! I saw it in his eyes: the boy was afraid, but he faced me, defied me! I knew then that Raditz had been right--Kakarott's son was a true Saiyan! And more.. he was the first Saiyan I had seen since I returned from Earth, alone, the last of my race. Not the last--not any more! It didn't matter that he was the son of my enemy--he was a Saiyan child, alone on a world occupied by the mortal enemy of the Saiyajin, and I was the Prince of all Saiyajin!

It was as simple as that. I wondered that I hadn't seen it before; Gohan was a Saiyan child who needed my protection, and it was my duty as Prince to protect him. Or was it merely duty? Sometimes I suspect that I actually.. like the brat!

Kakarott.. Gohan.. Bulma.. Trunks.. Yes.. my son, whom I first met as a grown man and warrior--and I did not even know him! Or did I? From the beginning, there was something disturbingly familiar about him. I must have been blind not to see that he had my face and my will--and his mother's ridiculous hair. Not that it is ridiculous on Bulma--never that!

I never did tell her that blue was a favored color among Saiyan women; there were many who dyed their hair that shade. It had a certain.. symbolism. Perhaps I should tell Bulma what it symbolizes some day...

Day. I can only remember that when I remember them; I remember how they looked under Earth's sun, or Namek's three stars. I can see Kakarott under the darkened sky of Namek, radiant in his own glory, the first Super-Saiyan in a thousand years! Ah, what a sight that was, to greet me upon my resurrection! Amid the ashes of my broken pride, dying with one last faint hope -- a hope so gloriously fulfilled!

Kakarott.. there are between us bonds of battle, life and death. You have not feared me since we fought on Earth.. because you know me better than I know myself. Unlike all the others, you know the difference between what I say from pride, and what is in my heart. And I, I have come to know what you are, Kakarott, and what is in your heart.

Do you know what is in my heart, Kakarott? You know my pride, and you know how I love battle, and I think you know what lies between us.. but do you know the rest of it? Did you ever suspect that I protected your son on Namek, or why? Did you have the least idea how I felt about your "oldest friend" Bulma? Perhaps.. I look back, and you were the only one who could even comprehend the bond between Bulma and I.. a bond she knew existed long before I did! Well, perhaps not all that long.. Heh.

Vegeta remembered a certain moment in the shower, and Bulma's loud objection that she was NOT his "servant woman". He chuckled to himself, and the very darkness drew back, as if startled--as if laughter was an alien thing. It was still black, but now Vegeta thought he could feel air rushing past his face, as if he were falling.

How had he gotten here, wherever "here" was? Vegeta remembered standing on the bow, riding the ship down the falls; plunging vertically into the abyss, Vegeta half-flying with it. The ship, and Vegeta, struck.. something. The darkness became thick, viscous, slowing the ship's fall and Vegeta's too. The force of it pulled Vegeta from the ship--he'd only been touching it lightly, flying with it rather than riding it. He'd watched in dismay as the ship plunged down past him, Modgudh still clinging tightly to the sternpost, the Ferryman gripping the steering oar, leaving Vegeta behind, caught in thick darkness like a fly in a spider's web.

How long he'd been caught in that darkness, he did not know; nor was Prince Vegeta sure that time even had meaning here. How long had he been falling, and would it ever stop? Perhaps he was caught in an--

CRUNCH! THUD! Vegeta hit bottom, his body bouncing from the impact, to fall again, nearly every bone in his body shattered. Pain ripped through him; neither unconsciousness nor shock intervened, for the damned have not those comforts. Sheer will alone held Vegeta together; only unstoppable determination kept him from drifting away as a broken wisp of spirit.

One.. last.. peach. Without thinking, Vegeta tried to reach into his armor with his one good hand and pull it out.

"ARGGGHHH!" Collarbones broken in several places, and snapped and splintered arms left the Saiyan Prince helpless. I'll have to wait for it to heal, at least a little bit. And Vegeta waited unmoving, broken and bleeding, in the place where Time has no meaning, and forever is now.

*      *      *      *


[ Contents | XXI. Into Darkness | XXII. The Helldarks | XXIII. Akaaryum ]

Disclaimer: See Credits.

Copyright 2000 by Dragoness Eclectic