[ Contents | XXII. The Helldarks | XXIII. Akaaryum | XXIV. At the Hill of Gold ]
A murky red-orange light dimly lit the canyon floor, revealing broken rocks and pools of slime--and about a dozen goat-headed demons crowding close. Pomona staggered to her feet--and shrieked as something touched her from behind.
"Easy, Po. It's me." Melchior stood at her shoulder, a wry smile on his plain face. "My parents always warned me I'd end up here.." He sighed.
"Here? What happened, anyway? Are we...?" Pomona stooped and pulled a knife from her boot; three of the goat-demons hissed at her; the others seemed to be looking anxiously over their shoulders.
Melchior nodded. "I think so."
A goat-demon reached for Pomona; the pink-haired girl slashed at it with the knife, and it pulled its hand back hurriedly. "Uh, Melc, any idea what these things want, or how we can get them to go away?"
"I dunno; they're not talking to me. I don't think it's good." Earrings glittered in the light as he turned his head this way and that, watching the goat-demons in front of him. "They can be hurt." Pomona finally noticed that one of the goat-demons was sprawled at his feet, unmoving. "I wish I had a real weapon, though."
"HAI!" A shout from somewhere in the murk, and something came flashing down toward them. Melchior grabbed it reflexively, and found himself holding a katana.
"'Ask and ye shall receive..' All right!" The green-haired lad gripped the sword with both hands and slashed the nearest goat-demon. It fell back, guts spilling onto the ground. Another growled and rushed him, only to lose its throat. Something whined and exploded in the distance, and several of the goat-demons turned and bolted into the fog.
"Forget these two," snarled another goat-demon. "Saiyajin coming!" The remaining goat-demons froze, sniffing the air and listening. As one, they turned and ran.
Pomona turned to look at Melchior and the carnage he'd wrought. "Damn! Where'd you learn to fight like that? I thought you were a pacifist!"
"Tae Kwan Do, a little Kendo. Everyone's got to have a hobby." Melchior shrugged, looking slightly embarassed. "I don't like fighting, but I don't care to be a punching bag, either".
Pomona raised one eyebrow. "Geez, you think you know your friends, and they're still full of surprises. Now what?"
A tall figure dropped silently out of the mist to the canyon floor in front of them. "Now, you come with us."
Pomona stared at the figure in front of her--a man in some antique armor with long, unruly black hair tumbling down his back; a long scar crossed his face and perhaps accounted for the eyepatch worn over one eye; and a furry brown belt was wrapped snuggly around his waist. There was something vaguely familiar about the man's look--she knew she'd seen someone like him before.
"Who are you, and why are we going with you?" Melchior asked, one eyebrow raised.
"I'm the warrior who owns that sword you're holding. For a weakling human who doesn't like to fight," the tailed warrior sneered contemptuously, "you do some damage," he allowed grudgingly, glancing at the fallen broo. "You should have finished them, though."
The tailed warrior held out one hand; glowing energy gathered around it and surged forward in a beam to strike the sprawled bodies, incinerating them. Wisps of broken spirit seeped away. "You only hurt them; they would have recovered."
"Oh. Well, they looked dead to me!" Melchior shrugged, and presented the hilt of the katana to the strange warrior. "Thanks for the blade."
"Don't thank me, human! It was only an accident that it wound up in your hands!" the Saiyan glowered, strangely embarassed. He took the katana back, and sheathed it. "I am Negi. You're coming with me because I've been ordered to take you two back to report to the king."
"That almost makes sense," noted Melchior. "What king, and what kingdom is this?"
Negi scowled. "King Vegeta, Duke Infernal of the Hell of Evil Warriors--which is where you are. You don't belong here, so somebody a whole lot higher up than me has to sort this damn mess out! Now get moving!" the dead Saiyan snarled.
"I'm moving, I'm moving!" Melchior set off in the indicated direction. With a shrug, Pomona followed him.
"You know something, Melc?" she asked her green-haired friend.
"What, Po?" Melchior concentrated on hauling himself up the steep trail that Negi bounced up like a mountain goat.
"It's such a relief to know that we don't belong here.."
* * * *
Goku materialized just outside Bulma's house; he was about to go inside, when he sensed another, familiar presence. Piccolo! He flew up, and found the Namek warrior hovering high above, watching.
"Hey, Piccolo! Have you found them? What's Raditz doing?"
"No, I can't sense them nearby; as for your brother---" Piccolo broke off abruptly, and turned his head toward the east.
"Ahhh! It's back!" Goku gasped.
"You've sensed it as well?" Piccolo asked abruptly.
"Yes, for months. It comes, and disappears again before I can find it." Goku frowned. "It's evil, and incredibly powerful.. like the demon that killed Vegeta."
"It's not disappearing so fast this time!" Piccolo snarled. "I heard the demon called Deputy boast of his plans to Raditz; Vegeta's death, the attack on Raditz, Bulma and Trunks kidnapping--they all go together, Son. This.. evil.. reappearing now is no coincidence."
Goku nodded. "There's no time to waste; it could vanish at any moment! Let's go!" Power flared as Goku plunged eastward through the sky. A heartbeat later, Piccolo caught up with him, and paced him as they flew.
* * * *
"..the rift vortex these demons create requires a soul of close to the same power to make the exchange. It might be possible to stop the exchange by stopping the broo from entering the vortex on this side, sire." Once again, Commander Kale knelt before his king, and brought the Saiyan monarch less-than-welcome news.
King Vegeta frowned. "Then why didn't you stop the exchange??" he snapped.
Kale swallowed quickly. "It also might blow the rift wide open, sire--and I lack the power to close an open rift."
The auburn-haired king glared at the white-cloaked commander kneeling before him, and then turned his head to glare at the red-cloaked warrior standing beside him.
"That means I send you, Bardock," King Vegeta growled to the scar-faced warrior who greatly resembled Kakarott. "Get your team, and deal with these damn broo and their rifts--now! Dismissed!"
"Sire!" Bardock knelt and saluted, and then left quickly, his red cape swirling behind him.
After Bardock's departure, the dead king turned back to the rest of his court. His gaze flicked up and down the line of bull-headed demons--Gozu Oni--standing guard, and came to rest on their Captain.
"Nappa, prepare to--"
--Reality strained, twisted, and finally gave way--
"--WHAT IN ALL THE HELLS IS THAT?" King Vegeta jumped to his feet, staring at the shimmering void that had appeared in the air near the ceiling. It looked like a rectangular pool of black water, standing on edge; it reflected the light in shimmering waves, but revealed nothing of itself.
Commander Kale swallowed again. "It's a rift, sire," he heard himself saying.
King Vegeta glared at the hapless warrior; his arm trembled and energy glowed around his hand. "Don't tell me the obvious, Commander! Since you are here, take your team and find out where that damn thing goes--and make sure whatever opened it doesn't ever do it again! Don't bother coming back until you do! Now, get out of my sight!"
"Yes, sire!" Kale bowed and retreated with as much speed as dignity allowed.
The king turned back to the Captain of the Gozu-Oni. "Nappa--"
The doors that had just swung shut behind Kale re-opened, and Kosho, King Vegeta's chamberlain, entered.
"NOW WHAT?" King Vegeta snarled.
"Sire," announced his chamberlain, a black-bearded Saiyan of average height, "Prince Indrajit of the Rakshasas requests an audience with you.." Kosho paused, and then continued in a slightly surprised tone, "He says he's here on behalf of Prince Vegeta."
* * * *
Prince Vegeta waited, broken in the darkness. He remembered--all he could do was remember, now. He did not care to remember the bitter years under Freeza--let them be forgotten. Before that.. his father, Nappa, the elite warriors of Vegetasai--also bitterness to remember. All gone.. Though their souls still lived, in the Hells, the world that had been home was gone forever. Only his newest home, Earth, still lived--and this demon of Chaos meant to destroy that, too! Rage seared through Vegeta; for all his promises and will, he was helpless, a broken thing lost in darkness!
There must be some way.. what had Kakarott done when he lay, broken and helpless? Others had helped him. Help from others.. something Vegeta had always disdained--it meant he was weak, that he could not do for himself. Well, he was weak now, he could not do for himself what must be done. It was not the first time--but his pride would never let him admit to others that he'd really needed help.. Only once, when he was dying at Freeza's feet, had he admitted his need to Kakarott. Only once.. but there had been other times. That son of Kakarott's seemed to have a talent for.. rescuing Vegeta, though Vegeta had never thanked him for it.. Gratitude would have been an admission of weakness, of needing help.
Now.. he needed help. And there was no one to ask..
Vegeta started; what was that? A presence, dimly felt..
As if in answer, something warm enfolded him, warming him and taking away the agony of his broken bones. He could feel bones shift and set, knitting together; torn muscles reattached themselves; wounds closed.
"Who are you?" Vegeta asked.
"Why did you heal me?"
*That is my nature*
Prince Vegeta scrambled to his feet, and flexed his hands--or rather, one hand. The other hand was still cold and paralyzed. "Can you heal my left hand?"
*No. It is not injured*
"WHAT??" Vegeta's eyes opened wide in astonishment, though he still could not see anything. "Then why can't I use it?"
*You don't know how to use it*
"That's ridic--" Vegeta stopped abruptly; eyes narrowing. Perhaps this being knew what he--no, she--was talking about? "How do I use it?"
*Your hand knows how to use itself; trust yourself*
"Answer the question!"
"Or will not? Never mind. Answer another question--how do I find the Chaos Hells, and Cacodemon's lair?"
*You cannot. You are trapped within the Chambers of Subere, the darkness that has never known Light*
Cold sweat beaded Vegeta's forehead. This was not good! If he could not escape.. Wait! Something in the dark being's words.. But he'd have to ask for help again! This was impossible! He was the Prince of the Saiyajin, he didn't ask for anyone's help!
But, he was Prince of the Saiyajin; he was responsible for his subjects: all five or six of them--and the blue world he claimed as his own. The stakes were too high; even the king did not go into battle alone and unaided.
"I cannot, you say. Can you guide me out of this darkness?"
*Yes* The warm darkness enfolded him in its--no, her--arms again, and took him away.
* * * *
"Goten?" Raditz froze abruptly; sweat broke out on his forehead.
"Hmmm?" Nezumi looked up from her list of marble and decorative rock dealers, monument makers, and similar businesses that dealt in marble. Red marks adorned the map of Satan City she'd taped to the conference room table.
"Something's wrong with Goten.. I felt him start to call for help, then nothing." He looked at Nezumi, eyes wide. "I can't sense him at all!"
"Uhmm, maybe he's too far away? You said you couldn't sense Bulma because she's so weak, and your nephew is just a little boy.."
"I can always sense Goten, no matter where he is!" Raditz growled. "I told them the demon was after him, too! WHY DIDN'T ANYONE LISTEN??"
Nezumi winced. "HEY! Don't yell at me, I didn't do it!" Sensing his urgency, she folded up her map and list.
"Come on!" Raditz grabbed her by the arm and half-dragged her out the door as she stumbled along, trying to keep up.
"My brother's house--that's where Goten is or was. Whatever's wrong has to do with what took Bulma and Trunks. Hang on!" Raditz grabbed Nezumi under her arms and wrapped his tail around her waist.
"WHAA--!!" Nezumi felt like her stomach was left a couple thousand feet below as they rocketed straight up and over, heading toward the waning moon.
* * * *
"Watch yourself, Son Goku! It's coming straight at you!" Piccolo hovered above the swampy ruins of the Eastern Capital; below him the mud boiled as something burst from the mire.
"I see it!" Goku yelled. "It's horrible--I haven't felt anything this evil before! It has nothing but evil ki--and it's huge!" As the thing rose from below, he transformed, his hair blazing golden, eyes turned to glowing turquoise. The energy of his transformation crackled and seethed around him.
It was half the size of an ouzaru, covered with glowing red fur; monstrous bat-like wings flapped with an unnatural slowness as the thing ascended to meet them. A face like a giant bat's turned toward them; tentacles writhed and fused and split again all around its mouth. It screamed.
Piccolo put his hands to his head and groaned as the harsh scream pierced his ears, bringing pain undreamed of. Blood ran from Piccolo's ears, nose and mouth. Goku also shook his head from side to side, as if clearing his ears; there was a puzzled look on his face.
"..." he said, and then realized he could hear nothing. Piccolo pointed at his ears and shook his head; they were both deaf. Goku pointed at the monster.
"......!" Piccolo shouted as he hurled a tremondous energy beam straight into the creature's face. It dodged, but not quite fast enough; one wing was holed.
It snarled soundlessly, and twin rays of ruby light shot from its eyes toward the green alien. Piccolo dodged. The fight was on.
* * * *
"My lords," Voron bowed to the two chaos demons that he knew as Keikan-Ma and Dairi-Mao, "all is in readiness. Einak and Rabnai know their tasks and are eager to begin," the chaos sorceror indicated the two broo who had been successfully summoned with the sacrifice of Pomona and Melchior. He continued, "My assistant Caleb tells me he will soon capture another human with power, and your two special victims are at hand, and starting to recover consciousness. They are ready for your pleasures." The young man smirked.
Deputy nodded his huge dog-like head. "Enforcer, I am pleased with you; you have chosen well with this one." The great demon rocked back on his tail.
<Enforcer, get things started! Sooner or later our enemies will recover their senses and get organized--let there be a suitable reward for them when they finally do!>
<Yes, Great Deputy!> The shadow demon hissed an order to his followers, and they hastened to obey. The wicked throng fell silent as the unconscious bodies of a blue-haired woman and a lavendar-haired boy were carried to the altar, and tied upright to wooden frames, one to either side of the altar, facing each other.
"Use chains for the child, you fool, not rope!" Voron snapped, and two cultists scurried quickly to obey.
Deputy's eyes widened suddenly, and he giggled with pleasure. <Enforcer, prepare for another! Scout has finally accomplished something--he has the child Goten for us! He comes even now.>
<It shall be done, Great Deputy!> Enforcer summoned Voron to him, and snarled his orders; Voron bowed low, and gathered some more of the cultists, and set them about the needed tasks.
"Wake them," Enforcer growled.
Splash! Bulma woke up sputtering; someone had just dashed a bucket of cold water in her face. Her head hurt abominably, and her arms ached; she tried to shift her position, and realized that she couldn't move--her arms were tied in place.
"WHAT DID YOU DO.. that.. for?" As Bulma opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Trunks, chained to a heavy wooden frame on the other side of a blood-stained block of marble. He, too, was soaked with cold water and sputtering awake. Next to him crouched a monster--a ram-headed demon with horns of brass or gold, and brassy, wiry fur covering its body.
Bulma looked quickly around; a crowd of very nasty looking people, another monster next to her--this one a sort of goat-headed scorpion centaur with copper plates instead of chitin--another monster like a nine-foot shadow with sharp teeth standing behind the altar, and perched on the rocks behind him--!
"EEEEEEEEEE!" Bulma screamed at the sight of Deputy crouching above her.
Deputy giggled. "I killed Raditz; his blood tasted good." Deputy flicked out his long, barbed tongue and licked his lips with exaggerated slowness. "I promised my broo they could play with you and Trunks for a while." Deputy giggled again, then stared hard at Enforcer.
"Strip them!" the shadow demon commanded.
Two of Voron's picked men reached up to rip away Bulma's clothing--
THWACK! THWACK! Each man stopped abruptly, and collapsed to the ground, a steel arrow protruding from his chest. THWACK-THWACK! Two men approaching Trunks fell.
"Cacodemon! NOT NOW!" Deputy's head snapped up and he howled angrily. Powerful legs bent as he crouched and sprang into the air, great wings flapping.
TH-CHING! An arrow glanced off of Einak's copper plates; SHUNK! Another arrow missed Rabnai and embedded itself in the wooden frame as the brass-horned broo dove to one side.
<ENFORCER! DEAL WITH THIS!> Deputy bellowed to his demon servant over their mindlink. <I have another problem to solve!>
"YEAH!" Bulma yelled. "I think we've got a friend out there!" she shouted to Trunks.
"MOM! ARE YOU OKAY??" the boy shouted, tugging at his chains.
"DO I LOOK OKAY TO YOU??" Bulma tugged futilely at her ropes.
SHOOOM! An arrow blazing with power hit Einak in the middle of the chest and exploded in a blaze of light. When everyone's dazzled vision cleared, the copper scorpion-broo could be seen slumped against the altar, blood pouring from a massive hole through its chest.
Voron took one look, and dove behind the marble slab altar. Rabnai, the brass-horned broo, joined him there as another blazing arrow just missed his head.
BOOM! It exploded against the marble floor of the quarry and showered rock splinters in all directions.
"MOM! ARE YOU HURT?" Trunks' face blanched in terror for his mother.
"NO, I'M NOT HURT." Bulma thought she wasn't likely to stay unhurt, tied up on display in the middle of a battle, but she spared Trunks that encouraging thought.
Enforcer strode forward, scanning the quarry for the deadly archer. From the angle of the shots, the archer was on one of the upper terraces, or flying... Nothing. He could see nothing. The shadow demon growled. So, the elusive Defender-of-Temples had returned!
"Put out the fires," he snarled to the worthless human slaves. Enforcer would battle in his element, darkness.
SHIIP! SHIIP! SHIPP! SHIPP! Bulma dropped to the ground as the ropes binding her parted, neatly sliced by four arrows.
* * * *
Goten opened his eyes a crack; they were still flying through the night. He held very still; as long as the bad dinosaur thought Goten was still asleep, it wouldn't hit him on the head and knock him out again.
Goten was so very scared; he bit his lip to keep from crying. The bad dinosaur must not hear him! He wished Daddy or Gohan or Uncle Raditz or someone was here to help him. He wished very hard, with all his heart.
A kind voice in his head, where the 'not-fun' people spoke.. like Uncle Raditz used to. But he couldn't answer! The bad dinosaur would hear him!
*Just think of what you would say, as if you were just about to say it, and I'll hear you*
Grandma Kinoko? I want my daddy!
*Talk to Raditz; tell him that*
But he's not here!
*You've talked to my son before when he wasn't here. Like this..* and she showed Goten.
Oh. Wow! I can do that?
*Yes, you can do that. Be brave, little warrior; your path will not be easy, but courage will see you through*
Something kissed Goten lightly on the forehead; Kinoko told him one more thing--and was gone.
* * * *
"Huh?" Raditz halted in mid-air, prompting an "Urk!" from Nezumi.
<Goten?> answered Raditz. <I hear you, kid>
"What's going on?" she asked.
"It's Goten; I can hear him, but I can't sense his presence."
<N'Uncle Raditz, the bad dinosaur that hit Mama tricked me! He came back and pretended to be Daddy and grabbed me! I want you and Daddy and Gohan!>
"I don't hear anything," Nezumi looked around, confused.
<Goten, listen--tell me where you are, if you can>
<I DON'T KNOW!> the child wailed mentally. <It's dark, and the bad dinosaur is flying up in the air!>
<Can you see the ground? Lights? Anything different? Which way is the moon?>
"He's speaking telepathically," Raditz tossed out an aside to Nezumi.
<The moon is back that way, N'Uncle Raditz.> Raditz got an impression of the lunar orb shining behind them. <Oooh! I see some fires. The bad dinosaur is turning toward the fires>.
"They're toward Satan City somewhere," Raditz said absently, as he reversed direction and flew back the way he came.
<N'Uncle Raditz! The fires are in a big, big, big hole in the ground!>
<Goten, do you mean a cave??>
<No! It's a hole in the ground! I know what a cave is--I'm not stupid!> Goten thought indignantly. <It's got giant steps going down to the middle, and the walls are all white>
"A hole in the ground with giant steps?" Raditz muttered aloud.
<Kid, can you show me a picture? Think of what you're seeing.>
"Crud! I see what he thinks he's seeing, and I don't recognize it, either! It's a stepped pit, narrowing as it gets deeper, dug in some white rock. There are ramps from level to level, and some buildings up on the edge.."
"Stepped pit?" Nezumi thought aloud. "Sounds like a quarry to me--I'VE GOT IT! RADITZ, STOP FOR A MINUTE!" She pulled out her map as Raditz halted in mid-air again. "Look!" Nezumi pointed at the map; "There's an abandoned marble quarry northwest of Satan City! Remember the marble dust in the footprints?"
"What? All I see on that map is 'Quarry'--how do you know all that other stuff?" Raditz was skeptical, worried, hopeful all at once.
"I used to be a cop, remember? Five years ago there was a double homicide out there--the owner and his wife--and the investigation was a hot item in the department for a while. I hear the property got tangled up in legal fights between the heirs, and no one has actually operated the quarry in the last few years. Okay?"
Reading a map while dangling in mid-air from someone's arms would have been daunting enough for most people, but not Nezumi. She twisted her head and shoulders around to look Raditz in the face to see his reaction--and turned crimson as she realized how close he was. Fortunately for Nezumi's dignity, Raditz's thoughts were elsewhere.
<Goten, we're on the way! Hang on, kid!>
* * * *
Deputy hovered above the quarry pit. <O Greater Self! Cacodemon!>
Thoughts hurled across the mindlink, to meet an animalistic rage. Deputy growled to himself; this incarnation of his demon-god parent was stupid and madly aggressive--exactly what Cacodemon had feared. He sensed his greater self as if it was a second body he wore miles away--Deputy searched that self, and studied his gifts.
<MASTER! YOU ARE NOT READY!> Deputy shouted over the mindlink. <YOU ARE WASTING YOUR POWER--DISPERSE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!>
Only rage answered him, rage at the two tiny figures that taunted it. Deputy howled in anger; one was Son Goku! Already the battle had begun. He would have to invoke the Name to bring Cacodemon to heel--and that was not a trivial ritual. First he would have to end this little fracas in the quarry-temple, and hope that his greater self survived until then.
Deputy bellowed his anger and frustration as he descended; someone's body and soul would pay for this! Scout circled below him, bringing the child Goten; Deputy almost howled with anticipation. Yes, the child's blood and agony would slake his rage!
Intent on his thoughts and worries, Deputy took no note of the streak of white fire approaching from the southeast...
* * * *
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER XXIV. AT THE HILL OF GOLD
[ Contents | XXII. The Helldarks | XXIII. Akaaryum | XXIV. At the Hill of Gold ]
Disclaimer: See Credits.
Copyright 2000 by Dragoness EclecticLast Updated: Mar 8, 2009