[ Contents | XXIII. Akaaryum | XXIV. At the Hill of Gold | XXV. The Reckoning ]


By Dragoness Eclectic



Bulma collapsed gracelessly to the ground, her legs numb from hours of being tied up, unconscious. She rolled behind the wooden frame, and looked again.

"TRUNKS!" Darkness crept in as the fires were put out one by one; in the dimness, Bulma could see the white glow surrounding her son. So could Enforcer.

With a roar, the shadow demon stepped over the altar towards Trunks--

A high-pitched yell split the air. "ARROW STORM!"


Enforcer howled and staggered as dozens of blazing arrows impaled him, pierced him, blasted through him. Dark ichor ran from dozens of gaping wounds; the monster fell to his knees, coughing black blood.

Bulma finally got control of her legs and staggered to her feet, looking this way and that; the wounded demon was between her and Trunks! Finally she ran around behind the altar--

--a rough hand grabbed Bulma by the ankle and pulled her down. Rabnai leaped out from his hiding place under the altar slab and threw himself on the blue-haired woman. "You're mine," he leered.

Trunks screamed in rage; the wooden frame exploded as power blazed around the lavendar-haired boy. He dropped to the ground, loose manacles still hanging from his wrists and ankles.

"LEAVE MY MOTHER ALONE!" Trunks jumped over the altar in one bound to confront the brass-haired broo.

Rabnai jumped to his feet, snarling. The metal-horned broo raised one hand and pointed at Trunks; a narrow beam of green light darted from his finger to splash off the aura surrounding Trunks.

"No, you idiot--not a Disruption! He's too strong!" Voron could be heard cursing from under the altar in the silence that followed.

Rabnai snarled wordlessly, lowered his head, and charged Trunks, razor-edged horns foremost. Trunks dodged nimbly aside, twisted, swept one foot out, and tripped the charging broo. Rabnai went skidding on his face for several yards--

Under the altar, Voron's fingers wove and twisted as he incanted a spell--

High above, Deputy looked around. Yes! That flurry of arrows came from right.. over.. there! The source was still invisible, but Deputy knew his prey had to be there. He folded wings and dropped--

Trunks moved his hands rapidly in a series of gestures--

In response to Voron's silent call, the two lesser broo pushed through the rapidly thinning crowd toward the altar.

THWACK! Another steel arrow impaled the goat-horned broo. The antelope-horned broo dove for cover without waiting to find out what happened--

With a roar, Deputy spun in mid-air and lashed out with his tail. It connected! There was a cry of pain, and a dark shape fell to the quarry floor, flung by the force of the blow.

A plume of searing energy erupted from Trunks' flattened palm, enveloping Rabnai the Broo. There was a long drawn-out cry as the demon was consumed by Trunks' power.

Sinhika staggered to her feet, still holding her steel bow; blood ran down her face. She promptly vanished again.

Bulma tried to bolt to cover, only to find that she could not move! It felt like she was embedded in thick, gooey mud--only with the greatest effort could she move an arm a few inches.

Voron laughed. "Don't bother. You're much too important to Lord Dairi-Mao for me to let you get away."

Out of the corner of his eye, a flash of lavendar hair--

"SHIELD!" A flare of power as Voron crossed his arms over his face--

"HAIIII-YAAA!" Trunks flung a blast of ki at the Chaos sorceror, who vanished in a cloud of glittering white dust and smoke. As Trunks watched, the smoke cleared to reveal a trail of scorch marks twenty yards long. Voron crouched at the end of it, forced against the back wall of the quarry, arms still crossed in front of his face, clothes smouldering. The goth sorceror lifted his head cautiously, and peeked at Trunks over his arms.

"Uhhhnnn!" Trunks doubled over as Deputy's tail swept down out of the darkness to catch him in the stomach. The force of the blow picked him up and flung him back over the altar to fall on the quarry floor. For long seconds, the boy did not move.

"YOU BASTARD!" The shrieks were simultaneous from Bulma and from the empty air, followed by--


SHOOM! SHOOM! SH-SH-SHOOM! SHOOM! SH-SH-SHOOM-SH-SH-SHOOM! Blazing arrows lanced out of the darkness toward Deputy as he settled on the altar--

--only to glance off his armored hide, or be flicked away with one contemptously wave of his razor-clawed hand. Deputy's jaws opened wide, and fire vomited into the air. A dark shape was suddenly silhouetted in the blaze, and someone screamed; the shape fell from the air to smash into the rocks below.

Trunks stirred, groaning with pain as he sat up. His face and right shoulder were dusty and bleeding from hitting the rocks. He panted, short of breath, exhausted. He looked up as a shadow came between him and the fires at the altar.

Enforcer loomed over him as it plucked the last of the arrows from its chest, the shadowstuff rippling and closing over the wounds. It grinned, baring all those impossibly sharp teeth. A massively clawed hand lashed out and knocked Trunks sprawling.

Deputy leaped into the air, great wings flapping; as he passed over the quarry, his tail snapped down to pick up a fallen body from the quarry floor, and fling it at the foot of the altar.

<Summon the best of my broo, Enforcer! This one has power! Clean up this mess and prepare--I will return soon!>

Voron staggered back to the altar to where Bulma was still caught in his spell. An evil smirk twisted his face; he slapped Bulma twice, ringing blows on either side of her face. "You and your brat will pay for that, oh yes! There's still one broo left--weak as he is, I'm sure he'll be strong enough for you. The rest of us will take turns entertaining the boy." The sorceror laughed cruelly.

Enforcer flung Trunks limp body at Voron's feet, followed by another--this one strange to Bulma. A black-skinned girl with orange hair.. and fangs, and sharp claws; she was unconscious, somewhat singed, and bleeding from various scrapes and cuts. There was something familiar about her, nonetheless..

"Bind them!" Enforcer commanded his lackeys, and they hurried to obey.

"Why are you doing this to us?" Bulma asked Voron, mind numb with horror.

"Oh, that's part of the torment--we're going to degrade and torture your son to death in front of your very eyes, and do the same to you--and you'll never know why." Voron smiled, an insane light in his eyes.

A narrow-winged shaped spiralled down from the dark sky; Scout landed atop the altar, clutching a small, dark-haired body to his chest.

"Masssters! I have the child Goten!"

*      *      *      *

"DIIIIIEE!!" Vegeta screamed as he flung the blazing ki sphere at his enemy. The hulking monster raised his weapon and batted the sphere away to explode somewhere in the distance--only to stagger as a barrage of dozens of smaller blasts hit him and exploded. Vegeta dove in to rain blow after blow on the monster, only to have it dodge and block him with its weapon.

By the light of his own attack, Vegeta could see the monster; it was black, massively muscled, armored in ancient blood-red metal, and bore a disturbing resemblance to the Ferryman. Disturbing, for where the Ferryman was laconic and peaceful, this monster was all snarling rage--muscles knotted, veins standing out, eyes wide, nostrils flared, froth and blood dripping from its lips. It towered over Prince Vegeta, twelve feet of madness and fury incarnate.

*      *      *      *

Some time before, Solace-In-Darkness had left in him at the edge of darkness, with only a parting whisper:

*Beware my brother. Hate is his nature, and he hates Light most of all*

Vegeta had wandered for a while, marking the landmarks and contours of this strange new hell--a dark rocky wilderness lit only by the Saiyan's own power. No plants save mushrooms and strange fungi softened the jagged hills; no birdsongs pierced the silence; only monstrous insects crawled over the broken wilderness of Darkness. Other dark shapes flitted at the edge of awareness; Vegeta knew he had been watched.

The monster ambushed him in a narrow defile through the hills. As Vegeta ran through the shadowed canyon--reluctant to waste precious energy on flight--the thing--larger and broader than even the late Doddoria--had lept from the shadowed rocks and smashed him down with a single over-hand blow of the terrible flaming club that it carried.

It had tried to smash him down, that is. Vegeta's reflexes had kicked in and he'd danced nimbly aside, responding with a quick blast from his right hand. That was the first time the monster parried one of his blasts with its club.

"Child of Dehore, snuff this fire!" howled the monster, and flung something blacker than darkness to envelope Prince Vegeta.

Cold. Silence. Darkness. Terror. The primordial Darkness of the Chambers of Subere seemed to embrace the Saiyan prince once again, a black oblivion that sought to empty him into nothingness...


Searing cold, ancient terrors of night and shadow, devils lurking in the darkness, just behind, ready to devour the blind, helpless prince...


Freezing, numbing, soul-draining cold, paralyzing the lost prince, leaving him forever blind and frozen, forgotten and alone...


Light exploded outward, piercing the Darkness with fiery arrows until it shrivelled, crackled, and disappeared. Golden fire enveloped Vegeta, seethed and flickered through his hair, intensifying until his hair blazed golden, his dark eyes now green as turquoise as he glared at the monster.

"DIE, LIGHT-SON, DIIIIEE!!" thundered Zorak Zoran, Darkness god of Death and Hate, brother of Xiola Umbar, who is also called Solace-In-Darkness--and the battle was joined.

*      *      *      *

In the Ninth Hour, the Barge of Ra ran aground, scraping the wreckage-strewn bed of the Stygian Nile. Diverted by Apep's Chasm, the waters of the Stygian Nile no longer flowed in their ancient bed, and the Sun was stranded in the depths of Night.

*      *      *      *

In Hell, Commander Kale waited impatiently for Negi to gather the rest of the small team--they'd scattered to the four winds as soon as they returned from the mission. Typical, thought Kale sourly. Negi and his cronies would rather brawl in the barracks than chase will-o-wisp demons out in the slime canyons. At least in the barracks they were sure of finding someone to fight.

Some of them, Kale reflected darkly, still didn't understand the whole point of Hell; they were still sure there must be some way to "have fun" down here--or to get out. Kale himself wasn't sure he understood the point of this place. Why were they condemned to this realm of endless sorrow? Justice? No--the victims of the Saiyans had their justice already, when the Saiyans all died the very same death they'd dealt out to so many others. Lives ripped away in an instant, a unique world utterly destroyed; no descendants to remember them or mourn them, not even graves to hold their bones, just dust drifting in the void of space. No--what had happened to them was not justice; it went too far. What crime had the very fish and birds and beasts of Vegetasai committed, that the whole world should be slain like that?

He knew that he'd done evil things in his lifetime--if Kale had had any doubts, his Judgement had made everything terribly clear--but what choice had he had? It was what the Saiyans were; they were born to fight--blame whatever gods made us that way! The life he'd lived and died was the only life he knew; was it justice to be damned for being what the gods had made of him? Was it right to suffer eternally for doing his duty, for his loyalty to his king, for his courage in battle? He'd done what was right by his people's laws and traditions all his life--he had nothing to regret. Yet still he suffered in this place of anguish...

Tap, tap.

"What the?" Kale whirled, startled by the unexpected tap on his shoulder. No one ever dared tap a commander on the shoulder! He stared in confused astonishment at the pink-haired girl in the black leather miniskirt who stood there, scowling angrily. Who--oh, yes. One of the lost souls they'd picked up in the Pit.

"What do you think you're--" the white-cloaked Saiyan started to snarl.

"Doing? What I want to know is that the hell you think you're doing?!?" snapped Pomona, cutting him off in mid-question. She continued without giving Kale a chance to answer. "I wasn't going to complain about the 'accomodations', seeing as this is Hell and it's temporary, but the company is another thing entirely! What did you do, search the hells for the two slimiest bastards you could find to put in with us?? If that child-molesting psychopath wasn't bad enough--fortunately Melc and I are a bit too old for his tastes!--that other little weasel pervert, the one who was whimpering all the way here, got his courage and his pathetic excuse for manhood up and made a major annoyance of himself." Pomona skirted the details, but the disgust was plain on her face. "Now don't get me wrong, I can handle his type, but your man Negi had to go and interfere before I got finished with him--and then he wouldn't let us find some other room away from those creeps! I am NOT going back there, and neither is Melchior!" Pomona crossed her arms indignantly; Kale noticed for the first time that Negi and the other gaudily-haired human were behind her.

Kale glared disdainfully at Pomona, and spoke to Negi. "Why am I being bothered with this?"

Negi looked sheepish. "The others don't want them back, either." A ghost of a smirk flashed across his face for a moment, and he continued, "and there'll be less trouble if we separate them. I don't have the authority to do that, sir--and you said we can't punish them, because they haven't been condemned yet."

He didn't need this. Commander Kale really didn't need this-- The King was displeased with his inability to finish off the alien demons infesting the Pit of Worms, he was about to enter an unknown rift to who-knows-where to face who-knew-what, and now this! His best sergeant was bothering him about a bunch of insignificant lost human souls!

"Since you're so concerned about these.. these creatures," Kale growled, "I'm detaching you to Captain Nappa's command! He and his guards will be taking them to Lord Enma--you will escort them, and see that everyone stays out of trouble and in one piece!"

Negi paled. "I'll be facing Lord Enma again?"

Commander Kale smiled cruelly. "Very likely. Enjoy the trip!" With that, he turned on his heel and strode down the hall.

"What a jerk!" Pomona observed as the Saiyan commander disappeared into the distance.

Negi turned abruptly, snarling. "Shut up, woman! You've already caused enough trouble--keep your vulgar tongue to yourself! Commander Kale is a commander, and of noble blood; you're not even Saiyan!" The one-eyed warrior trembled with rage and something else; one hand was half-raised as if on the verge of striking. "Orders or no orders, if either of you says another disrespectful word, I'll.. I'll.." he trailed off.

Pomona flinched back, surprised by his vehemence. Melchior smiled wryly. "Yeah, I guess that would be a problem. You can't very well kill us, can you?"

The Saiyan warrior scowled, raising his fist again. "I can make you wish you could die!"

The green-haired youth nodded gravely, "I do not doubt that. I was not mocking you, merely pointing out the.. oddities of the situation."

Negi tossed his hair back, and smirked momentarily. "The 'oddities of the situation'. Yeah. That's a good one." He folded his arms and stared at the two colorfully-maned humans. "Now what the hell am I going to do with you two? You'll just start trouble if I put you back with the others."

Pomona shrugged. "Well, your commander did order you to escort us--how about we just sort of tag along with you? We won't cause any trouble, will we, Melc?"

Melchior shook his head. "Nah, I never cause trouble." He turned briefly away, to hide a smile.

Negi scowled some more, then shrugged. "Hmmph. Might as well; things can't possibly get more screwed up! Come on!" The one-eyed Saiyan strode down the hall, then paused. "And keep your mouths shut when I report to Captain Nappa! I don't need to be embarrassed by a pair of ill-mannered humans!"

Every time Negi thought he'd gotten used to Hell, it threw a new curve at him. Not only was he saddled with these two annoying humans, he would be facing Lord Enma again. Negi shivered involuntarily; no Saiyan in Hell--no anyone in Hell--could remember Judgement with anything but terror.

The only difference between Saiyans, as far as Negi could tell, was in how well they denied it. Negi shivered again; he couldn't. It was with him every instant, lurking in the background--the terror of that infinite moment when all illusions were ripped away and his own rotten, blood-stained soul stood revealed to himself and He Who Judged. Negi could not forget, no matter how much he wanted to, what a wretched excuse for a person he'd been, and what a damned waste of a life he'd led. He deserved to be where he was.

He glanced back at the two humans. Poor bastards! They had no idea what awaited them--or maybe they would be lucky, and find themselves to be worthwhile, in spite of whatever sins were theirs. But that wouldn't be luck, would it?

Negi's instincts told him they didn't belong here--he hoped his instincts were right. The boy was an interesting set of contradictions--all the pacifists Negi had ever run into had been easy victims, unwilling and unable to fight back, but this youth who claimed to be a pacifist fought back with admirable skill for a mere human, let alone one who "didn't like to fight". Negi's eyes narrowed; maybe it would be more correct to say that the boy didn't like to start fights. Negi smirked to himself; the green-haired boy certainly liked to finish them with himself as the winner.

As for the woman in black... she certainly had no compunction about starting or finishing fights! Too bad his orders required him to interfere-- letting her carve off pieces of that weasel Kidoru wouldn't fit "keep the lost souls in one piece and see them safely to Lord Enma". What a pity! If only.. Negi thought wistfully, if only she and I were alive and she were a Saiyan...

And she was right; Commander Kale was a jerk.

*      *      *      *

"DIIIIEE!" Vegeta hurled a barrage of ki blasts at the hulking death god. Zorak Zoran dodged with a surprising agility for a creature of his bulk, an agility that reminded Vegeta unpleasantly of Doddoria. What he didn't dodge, he simply shrugged off, letting it explode against his bloody red armor.

The monstrous god threw his head back and howled, swinging his huge, flaming leaden club with unbelievable swiftness and force. With equally unbelievable swiftness, Vegeta dodged; the blow split the earth beneath him, opening a deep chasm.

Zorak Zoran wrapped his left hand loosely around the flaming club, and drew fire from it, forming a ball which he hurled suddenly at Vegeta--then several more fireballs in quick sucession. Vegeta dodged several; then, tiring of the game, simply flicked them away with a touch of his hand to explode in the distant hills.

Again Vegeta drove in, raining a flurry of blows on the monster--impotent blows. The death god's massive armor and more massive body simply shrugged off Vegeta's strikes. The hulking monster howled again, and lashed out left and right with his club, blows which narrowly missed Vegeta, driving him back toward the chasm. Vegeta smirked; the monster was used to fighting on the ground, against opponents that couldn't fly!

Vegeta leaped into the air--

--and Zorak Zoran leaped forward, grabbing the Saiyan's leg. The monster roared and slammed Vegeta into the ground with the one hand; with his other hand, he smashed the club into the downed prince with bone-crushing force. Vegeta cried out in pain, and the monster laughed, raising his club in both hands for a second blow.

*      *      *      *

Engrossed in his drawing, Sean did not hear the slow turning of his doorknob, nor the scratching as someone slipped a jimmy behind the bolt--but he did notice when Caleb tried to club him down from behind.

"WHAT THE HELL?" Sean dove to one side, scattering his pencils and drawing on the floor. He rolled and came to his feet, looking across the couch at Caleb, both hands clenched in fists. Two other men had followed Caleb into his apartment; they laughed unpleasantly, circling around either end of the couch.

Sean flipped his black hair out of his eyes, and eased himself back and to the left. The goon on that side raised his fists and lunged at Sean, fist swinging in a solid hook to Sean's chin.

It never got there. Sean swept his left arm up, blocking the blow, and snap-kicked the goon in the shin with his steel-toed boot. The muscular thug yelled and stumbled, giving Sean his chance. He rushed the goon, throwing his own hard-muscled, six-foot-tall body against the burly man, knocking him sprawling.

Caleb snarled, and leaped in front of the open door, cutting off Sean's escape. Sean recovered his balance and smiled coldly; he hadn't been trying to escape. He reached into the corner, behind the stereo speaker, and grabbed the axe handle he kept there.

Anger seethed through Sean at this culmination of a thoroughly rotten month-- first losing his job, then the near-eviction from this roach motel, losing all his artwork, then the earthquake, and finally these creeps assaulting him in his own goddamn apartment! His cold smile turned into a snarling rictus--God, he wanted to hurt someone, and these bastards had just given him an excuse.

"All right, you bastards, you want me--COME AND GET ME!"

It was over in less than five minutes. Sean panted heavily, down on one knee, leaning on the axe handle. Blood trickled over his left eyebrow from a cut on his forehead; his lower lip was already swollen where he'd been hit.

Sean thought that the one who'd run probably had several broken ribs or a ruptured spleen; he knew the man had a broken arm. Sean had broken it for him. He knew for sure that the other guy on the floor had broken ribs, a broken collarbone, and probably a busted skull; Sean was not sure if he was still breathing, and didn't care enough to check. His un-neighborly neighbor Caleb definitely wasn't breathing, but his blood and brains were making a mess of the carpet and his axe handle.

The place was a mess. The brief but vicious fight had knocked over everything the earthquake had left standing, and everything he'd started picking up afterwards. Sean got to his feet painfully, cursing; even the painting had been a casualty of the fight. He picked up the broken stand, and straightened the bent legs as best he could, then gently picked up the painting and put it back on its stand. He frowned; someone had gotten blood on his painting!

"Nice fight; nice work. That your painting?"

Sean whirled. "Oh, crud."

Behind him, leaning insouciantly against the doorway between his tiny studio and the so-called 'living' room was a demon from his painting--muscular, almost-human body, not-quite-human face, brown and green combat armor, katana, short white cloak, brown fur belt wrapped around his waist. As Sean stared, he felt that there was something not quite real about the demon, like something from a dream. Sean swallowed hard as he recognized this demon as the white-cloaked one kneeling before the demon king in the original version of his painting.

Commander Kale smiled coldly at Sean; he'd found his quarry.

*      *      *      *

Vegeta glared across the chasm at Zorak Zoran, breathing hard. He'd rolled at the last moment, tossing himself into the chasm, and jumped out the other side. The Darkness god roared at him across the gap, and backed up, tensing his legs.

He's going to jump the chasm! Vegeta realized. I was right; he can't fly! Even as he thought it, the death god ran forward and leaped--

--Vegeta darted into the air, and plunged down, slamming his fist into the mad god's back as he hung in mid-jump. The force of the blow slammed Zorak Zoran into the depths of the chasm; Vegeta settled down on the other side, poised for the next move.

His eyes widened as the massive creature jumped to his feet, bellowing and roaring. Foam spattered its jaws, and it ran straight up the side of the chasm, booted toes kicking into the side of the rock in its rage to get at Vegeta.

In answer, Vegeta's power blazed around him in a fury of white fire. Stone cracked, shattered, and blew away, disintegrated by the mere backwash of his power. He reached the screaming crescendo of his power just as the mad death god leaped over the edge of the chasm and charged, club raised, tongue lolling from froth-filled mouth.

Fire, Light and Darkness exploded in a blinding flash and concussion that shattered the very hills around them. When the smoke cleared, Zorak Zoran still stood. Great gaping holes were torn in his armor; red blood streaked his coal black hide. The mighty barrel-shaped chest heaved with great gasping breaths, and the light of madness filled his eyes. He raised his club again.

Vegeta also stood, gasping, his armor cracked and singed. His right arm moved slowly as he wiped away the blood trickling from his mouth, still half-numbed by the death god's blows. He grinned, the mad joy of battle dancing in his eyes.

"You're one tough bastard," Vegeta snarled. "I'm going to enjoy finishing you off!"

*      *      *      *

Deputy's wings flared as he alighted on a mountaintop near the quarry. Yes, this was far enough away; the Names which must be spoken would be heard by Deputy alone. He held his wings half-spread as he concentrated on the link between himself and Cacodemon.

The great body tensed, leg muscles bunching as Deputy crouched, ready to spring and rend--only it was his mind that sprang, sprang into Cacodemon's, fighting to get the animalistic demon's attention. At last he began, still not sure if the tiny, maddened mind was even listening.

<Cacodemon, Master, Spawn of Wakboth the Devil, fragment of itself. By your name, Cacodemon-Wakboth I command you, release this form! Disperse, and reform--you are not ready!>

*      *      *      *

The glowing red monstrosity howled again, and charged, but Goku and Piccolo could not hear it.

"..-" Goku's hands cupped--

"..-" his body slipped into the familiar stance--

Piccolo put two fingers to his forehead, concentrating so hard the veins knotted in his green scalp--

"..-" Power gathered between Goku's curved fingers--

Piccolo's fingertips began to glow brightly--

"..-" Goku drew his hands back, the glow between his hands so brilliant it shined through his flesh--

Piccolo extended his arm full length--

"..!" The brilliant white sphere of a Kamehameha wave plunged down, straight toward the demon--

"..............!" A narrow shaft of energy, sheathed in a violet spiral of energy stabbed down into the demon as Piccolo fired his Makankosappo--

Once again, a second sun rose in the middle of the Western Capital; Goku and Piccolo shielded their eyes from the full fury of their own attacks. When it cleared, and they could see again, there was no sign of the gigantic demon.

"..... .. .. ..?" Goku asked, looking puzzled. He shook his head, frowning; his face brightened as he remembered something. From the pouch at his belt, Goku plucked two senzu beans, and tossed one to Piccolo.

"What happened, Piccolo? I can't sense him anywhere!" Goku asked as soon as their hearing returned.

"It appears that we destroyed him," Piccolo said slowly. "But you are right to question--that was too easy."

Goku nodded. "My attack wasn't powerful enough to completely destroy something with that much power."

"I have a feeling that we will hear of that monster again," said Piccolo ominously. "And we will not like what we hear."

*      *      *      *

Vegeta crouched atop the rocky spire, looking down at Zorak Zoran, who bellowed up at him. All around, the landscape was shattered and melted from the fury of their battle. Wouldn't anything kill that creature?

The death-god swung his club, shattering the base of the rocky spire. As it collapsed, Vegeta held out his one good hand--

"GYARICK-HO!" The brilliant, dense beam, capable of destroying a planet, lanced out, catching the darkness god squarely in the middle. His outline faded and seemed to dissolve in the blinding white fury--

SHRACKKK-KOOOMM! The ground exploded where the beam struck, smashing its way deep into the fabric of the Helldarks. Far, far below, the beam flashed and detonated; superheated steam geysered out of the new chasm. Vegeta settled to the ground, chest heaving--the last blast had taken almost everything he had.

"Die!" Zorak Zoran rasped.

*      *      *      *

It had been a long time since they'd fought together. Longer than mere years; it had been a lifetime ago. And yet, Bardock reflected as he waited for Toma and Celipa, it felt like yesterday.

Yesterday.. the day they all died. The day Bardock tried to stop Frieza, to save the homeworld, to avenge his dead friends. The day he failed, failed them, failed his world, failed himself. The day Bardock and his world died.

After the day, nightmare. At first, Bardock couldn't have said why he rebelled when he was cast into Hell; he only knew that he could not accept what fate had decreed--his pride and his rage would not let him. That's what he would have said then.

Later.. he understood. His anger at Frieza's murder of his team and his people had very little to do with pride--it was the injustice that ate at him. The Saiyans had served Frieza faithfully and well--and in return, their prince was taken, their king murdered, and finally, all of them exterminated in the blink of an eye. It was just plain wrong.

It had taken longer to understand that his anger was not aimed purely at Frieza, but at whatever powers that had permitted this atrocity to happen. He had been cursed with foreknowledge, yet denied the ability to do anything about it--that was the Kunassasei-jin's vengeance for the extinction of his race. A paltry vengeance; Bardock had not lived long enough to suffer from it. Those visions of Kakarott's future had given Bardock one last hope to take with him into death.

It had seemed unjust to Bardock that he should have been given that glimpse of the future, given the chance to act on it, only to find out that all he'd done was futile. He'd given everything his broken, bleeding body had left to stop that damned frigid-blooded monstrosity--and it wasn't enough, it never would have been enough. Why? Why lead him into the last and greatest and finest battle of his life, the only battle he'd ever fought that was truly right, only to lose it all? He could have accepted death, even damnation, if his death had meant something!

Last of all, Bardock finally understood the obvious.. it was just. He and his people had died the same death they'd bestowed on so many others. How many brave warriors of those other dead races had fought desperately against the invading Saiyajin, sacrificing their lives in futile attempts to stop their extinction? How many of them had died asking "Why?"

It was just; a merciless justice, as merciless as the Saiyans themselves had been. Bardock loved truth too much to deny it when it stared him in the face.

"Hey, Bardock, you still with us?"

Bardock started; he hadn't noticed Toma and Celipa's arrival. The tall, handsome Saiyan warrior and the short-haired Saiyan woman both looked at him with some concern.

Toma frowned; Bardock brooding always disturbed him. Toma suspected that Bardock still blamed himself for his failure to avenge his team, still blamed himself for not being there to fight with them, no matter how many times Toma tried to convince him otherwise.

Bardock sighed. "Unfortunately, yes." Realizing as he said it how that must sound, he gave them both a slight smile. "I keep expecting to wake from this nightmare someday..."

"Don't we all?" Celipa asked tartly.

"No," answered Toma slowly. "Too many of us have given up.."

"Saiyajin giving up??" Celipa's eyebrows went up; she was appalled.

"We were not made for this kind of fight," Toma explained. "This is a battle of spirit, of heart--something we were never meant for. A battle we don't even know how to win."

The Team in Hell

"Yes." Bardock answered simply. "Toma is right. Yet.." He looked off into the distance, at the lurid, broken landscape, "..something in my heart tells me there is a way to win this war, and sometimes I feel like I'm on the very edge of discovering it."

"What makes you think Saiyajin can win? You know what we are!"

Bardock smiled at them. "Kakarott won his war. As did Diive and Rashi." His voice dropped, and he said very softly, "So did Kinoko."

He glanced at the horizon, and back at them; Totepo and Panboukin had just arrived. The team was complete. "Let's go. No more time for this; there's a job that needs doing."

*      *      *      *

"I don't believe this!" Vegeta snarled in exasperation. He stared at the monstrous death god.

Zorak Zoran swayed, barely on his feet. Scraps and tatters of charred flesh hung down here and there. Torn and burnt muscles barely clung to his bones; gaping wounds showed blackened internal organs beneath. His skull was nearly bare of flesh; both eyes were but burnt and empty sockets. His armor was completely blown away; only rags of living darkness still cloaked him.

"I don't believe this!" Vegeta repeated. "Indrajit was in better shape than you after I defeated him! What does it take to kill you?"

"Death," croaked Zorak Zoran as he raised his club. Fire billowed and roared around the mystic weapon. Then the monster charged.

I don't have another beam like that left. Unless.. the last peach! Weary, distracted, Vegeta dodged the mad god's weapon--straight into his mighty fist.

"URK!" Vegeta doubled up, Zorak Zoran's seared fist buried in his stomach. Time slowed down as Vegeta watched the Darkness god reverse his swing, and slam the butt end of his club into the side of Vegeta's head.

WHAM! Vegeta was flung to the ground by the force of the blow. He blinked, trying to clear his eyes of blurriness, tried to roll away from the next blow.

The death god roared and stomped on Vegeta's stomach; the Saiyan prince screamed in agony. Zorak Zoran raised his club for the final blow. Vegeta raised his left arm to block the blow, an instinctive, futile gesture.

Of its own accord, his frozen, dead left hand opened, and caught the flaming head of the death god's club. The flame guttered and died; the club frosted over, and the icy cold of Hati's bite left Vegeta's hand at last!

"HAI-YAAAAA!" Vegeta lunged up, plunging his right hand deep into Zorak Zoran's exposed chest. He seized the monster's heart, captured the essence of its being--

Knowledge and ravening, furious power washed over him, through him. Prince Vegeta knew Zorak Zoran for what he was: ancient god of a time now dead, master of Death and Darkness, Thief of Fire, wargod of the Uz--the Men of Darkness--implacable enemy of Light and Chaos!

Knowledge Vegeta took, and something else--something hard and cold and utterly uncompromising, something that had long been a part of him. He took Death.

Without a backward glance he rose into the air, leaving the maimed god behind on the Hill of Gold. In time, Vegeta's stolen knowledge told him, the wargod's sister Xiola Umbar would find him and heal him as she had healed Prince Vegeta, and Zorak Zoran would again stalk through the infinite darkness, hunting Light and Chaos with merciless fury. He smirked at what else his new-found knowledge told him: in this place, Zorak Zoran ambushed the Lightson, the Son of the Sun, and stole Fire from him in the endless, eternally recurring cycle of the Godtime.

"Only you failed in your ambush this time, didn't you?" Vegeta laughed mockingly as he sped away.

Over the endless grey hills of the Helldarks he flew, toward the Chaos Hells, where chaos gnawed at the foundations of the universe, and reality fell apart. With his new knowledge, the Saiyan prince knew that there, on the edge of annihilation, he would find the secret he needed--and then let the gods of Chaos tremble!

*      *      *      *


[ Contents | XXIII. Akaaryum | XXIV. At the Hill of Gold | XXV. The Reckoning ]

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Copyright 2000 by Dragoness Eclectic