[ Contents | XXV. The Reckoning | XXVI. Edge of Annihilation | XXVII. The Gates of Hell ]


By Dragoness Eclectic



Vegeta swooped low over the broken hills, hurtling toward the dark border beyond. He swerved abruptly; he'd already learned to avoid the things that hung like puffs of lace in the sky. The Saiyan prince couldn't have said what they were, but they weren't clouds. Clouds didn't wrap lacy tendrils covered with acid around one's body and try to devour it, and clouds didn't reek of that particular foulness Vegeta knew too well from Cacodemon and his broo.

The stolen knowledge in the back of Vegeta's mind whispered "sky gorp", but Vegeta ignored it. It was just a label, it didn't tell him much. There were other labels from Zorak Zoran's knowledge--the dark god had a label for everything, and a response to go with each label. Apparently the mad god didn't think much--he just assigned a label to something, and reacted, like some programmed android. Vegeta had been tagged with the label "sky/sun god", with the stock reaction "kill from ambush"--so much for labels.

Hmmm.. Vegeta considered the power he had stolen from the dark god--a cold, familiar power that sliced soul from body, leaving a lifeless shell behind. The Death rune, the dark god's knowledge labeled it. Hadn't he always held that power?

Vegeta looked within; what other powers that were already his did this eldritch place give name and form? The furious power that was his heritage, the fire that burned within--yes. The rune of Fire. And the other power that was his heritage, the heritage of every Saiyan under a full moon? The Beast rune. And arching over and behind them all, tying them together--the rune of Mastery.

Death Fire Beast Mastery

It still seemed that something was missing, but Vegeta couldn't quite determine what that element was. Bah! It mattered not--only one thing mattered, and that was the key to Cacodemon's destruction! Somewhere in the depths of Chaotic Hell, where Chaos seeped in and gnawed at the foundations of the universe, the Prince of the Saiyajin would find the bearer of that key, and take it for his own.

Mottled, partly luminous vegetation shrouded the broken, twisted hills now--some branched and filigreed fungus that almost looked like trees; the foul sky gorp were clustering now, forcing Vegeta to fly lower to avoid them or detour widely around them. He chose to fly lower, toward the dark border still in the distance.

Things scuttled and crawled in the phosporescent forest; Vegeta ignored them--their powers were too weak to be the ones he sought. Occasionally he would sense a foulness that reminded him of the great Chaos demon he meant to destroy; those the Saiyan prince did not ignore, but tossed a single destructive blast at as he passed. This happened less and less as he flew, because the land itself became increasingly tainted with foulness, overwhelming any sense of lesser individuals.

He passed over a great black river that tumbled white over rocks and the broken bones of gods; there was no foulness here--the river washed it all clean as it headed for the dark shore in the distance. The river looped and turned; Vegeta flew straight, cutting the curves and heading for the sea. A strange shore greeted his night-canny eyes; a barren beach ringed by bleak, twisted cliffs, lapped by a sluggish, viscid sea. The sense of foulness nearly overwhelmed him as he hovered over the barren seascape. Nothing moved, save the waves as they slapped the etched, seared rocks.

A strange uneasiness settled over Vegeta; there was something wrong, very wrong about this place. He noted details; the rocks that were etched and half-melted as if by some powerful acid, the strange sucking noise the waves made as they slithered back into the sea, the barren sand on which nothing moved, not crab nor sand louse nor shorebird, the trees on the cliffs above that moved with no wind...

"Nani?" Beneath him, a wave stood still and bulged upward--

"KUSO!" Vegeta dodged upwards, surrounded by the white flame of his power as a huge slimy pseudopod exploded upward from the "sea", groped blindly through the air where he'd been, and then crashed back into the "sea" with a wet "plop".

The Saiyan prince's eyes widened. "That's not the sea!" What he'd taken for the sea was an immensely huge protoplasmic thing, a monstrous basin of acidic slime endowed by Chaos with hideous life. "Gorp," he muttered, applying Zorak Zoran's label for the.. thing.

Vegeta flew along the "coast" until he saw the black river coursing down to the "sea". He hovered, watching, his eyes widening as the churning river water struck the slimy sea-gorp-thing and tore into it, washing great chunks of protoplasm away--only to be smothered as more slimy goo flowed in to fill the gaps.

"Kuso!" he snarled to himself. "Is this what that damned demon intends for Earth? My Earth--MY WORLD??" Power seethed around him in answer to the rage that shook the fierce prince. "NEVER!"

Hair blazed golden as the fury shook him, and burst forth in a brilliant orb of fire, streaking down into the slime sea. Explosion! -- the swelling detonation spread and spread, consuming everything from horizon to horizon. Vegeta rose high, high above the great fireball, feeding energy into it until at last his fury was slaked.

Vegeta trembled as the smoke cleared; he'd spent far too much energy in a pointless gesture of rage. Or perhaps not.. he smirked at the sight below.

A deep basin of blasted rock lay where the gorp-sea had been, stretching as far as he could see. The spreading blast had reached up the shore cliffs and burnt the nameless forest black for miles; nothing moved, save the billowing clouds of steam where the black river poured unopposed into the deep basin. The overwhelming foulness was gone.

Vegeta's smirk turned into a satisfied smile; in time, there would be a real sea here. "Time to go. I've things to do." He turned, and flew along the shore toward a distant power that beckoned him, and the foulness that opposed it.

*      *      *      *

Prince Khara also flew, but this time on another's wings--with far more difficulty than expected.

"Please explain to me why all flights to Satan City have been cancelled," the aloof Prince demanded of the airline's agent. He'd made it as far as Shanghai, only to find out that his previously scheduled flight was unexpectedly cancelled. Prince Khara had no servants to arrange matters for him now; once he'd left Beautiful Lankha, the mission was his alone.

The pretty girl behind the counter blinked at the aristocratic young Indian. "Haven't you heard about the earthquake? The city is a disaster area!"

"Ah. I see," the dusky prince nodded. "Arrange a flight to the nearest city to Satan City," he ordered.

"That would be-- yes, the airport is open--all right. Flight 437 to the Southern Capital is departing in an hour, sir."

*      *      *      *

Vegeta crested a ridge, noting the solitary figure standing atop it, looking down into the valley ahead. He slowed to a hover, regarding it suspiciously--it didn't run like the small bands of broo Vegeta had obliterated on his way. He didn't sense that foulness, either. What--or who? He dropped lower, trying to get a good look.

The figure finally stirred, leaping to its feet--obviously noticing Vegeta for the first time. It was an extremely lean--no, skeletal--person, and it brandished a spear. Something familiar about that stance... Modgudh!

Vegeta dropped down to face the skeletal warrior maid.

"--took you long enough to get here," she interrupted before he could do more than open his mouth. "I think I've been sitting here for a week!"

"What?? Woman, what are you talking about, and how did you know I would come here?"

"It's one of the important hero-paths through the Chaos Hells; everyone who fights Chaos comes this way. You're fighting Chaos, therefore..." She shrugged at the obviousness of it. "What took you so long, anyway?"

Vegeta did not answer at first, but stared hard at her. There were changes--the dead guardian now carried a large round shield, and a steel-headed spear, marked with the runes of Air and Fire. Sparks crackled off the tip, and the glow of St. Elmo's fire surrounded the whole spear.

"Nice toy.. Where'd you get it?"

"I diced for it while you and Zorak Zoran were breaking the rocks with each other's heads." The naked bones of her face did not show any expression, but there was a certain tone of smug satisfaction in her voice. "That, and some information."

"You WHAT??" Vegeta's eyebrows arched with incredulity.

Her deep chuckle echoed within her hollow skull. "I thought that would get your attention. I played knucklebones with Orlanth--the god of Air and Storm--for the Lightning Spear." She hefted the weapon in question. "He was not so sore a loser when he learned that I needed it to fight Chaos; Air is a great enemy of Chaos in this place."

A sly hint of a smile quirked the corner of Vegeta's mouth. "Whose knucklebones did you dice with?"

"Mine, of course."

Vegeta's smile turned into a knowing smirk. "You cheated."

"Of course. This gamble was too important to lose." Vegeta couldn't see the smirk on her face, but he could hear it in her voice.

"And the shield?"

"A trade--my powers as bridge guardian for the power of the shield. Since I don't have a bridge to guard anymore, it seemed a good deal." She tilted her skull and regarded him with empty eye sockets. "You really don't know this is the hero-path, do you? What did you do, just stumble on this place by luck?"

"Of course not!" Vegeta growled. "So--you can trade powers here, as well as take them in combat! That might be.. useful." He looked down into the valley, the well-worn hero-path now apparent to his sight. Far below, in the darkness, something monstrous crouched with many legs beside the path.

Vegeta's eyebrows arched downward. "Another waste of time and energy--but I have to go past it! Damn this!" He leaped high and plunged into the valley, Modgudh scrambling down the steep path after him.

Vegeta's power blazed around him, dispelling the pitch darkness of the valley floor. A monstrous scorpion--no, not a scorpion, but a nightmarish combination of woman and scorpion scuttled forward gripping a club in both hands. The creature was a horrid centaur with the lower portion of a scorpion and the head and chest of a woman--an ugly, bloated woman with very sharp teeth. She stood nearly twelve feet tall on six legs; darkness gathered at her feet.

Vegeta grinned evilly at the monster, craning his neck to look up. "Run."

The scorpion woman hissed, and raised her club as if to strike--and then scuttled quickly backwards. She flicked her legs, dancing in pools of darkness--darkness that suddenly welled up and flowed over Vegeta and Modgudh!

Darkness. Silence. Cold. Terror--no, the ghost of fear long since laid to rest. Vegeta drew the wolfskin cloak close around him, and snarled soundlessly--he knew this darkness!

"Zorak Zoran himself couldn't defeat me this way, fool!" He lashed out in the direction he'd last seen the scorpion-creature--and nearly fell on his face as the ground disappeared out from under him. A staircase, and he landed some way down it, still smothered in darkness.

He let his power blaze around him, searing and stripping away the darkness that sought to quench it, until with a hiss it withered away. Vegeta looked around; in the darkness he'd somehow blundered into a cave, and halfway down a staircase. Modgudh crouched above him on the stair, spear ready.

"Well?" Vegeta demanded imperiously, "don't just stand there like an idiot! You're not scared of the dark, are you?" With that, he decended the stair.

Modgudh chuckled. "I outgrew that a very long time ago. Death, darkness and the tomb are not exactly strangers to me..."

Vegeta paused and turned to look up and down her skeletal form. He simply smirked, and continued down the stairs.

"Prince Vegeta--where are you going?"


*      *      *      *

"Mama! What are you doing?" Princess Kadru wailed. "I'll never catch up to him at this rate!"

"Making sure that my own daughter is properly dressed and adorned," Princess Snake answered calmly as she inspected the fit of Kadru's kimono. "I never should have left you with your father--he has no notion of what is fitting for a young lady of your class and talents!" The blue-skinned snake goddess frowned, and shifted one of Kadru's bejewelled hairpins an inch to the left. "There, that's better."

"But Papa did give me my bridal gold and everything--I already told you how it got lost--"

"--and that never would have happened if Vasuki--pardon me, King Vasuki--wasn't such a petty-minded idiot! If you had not been my daughter, he would have had no trouble arranging a suitable marriage for you--but he's still angry with me, and he took it out on you." Princess Snake snorted in disgust. "That is unforgiveable!"

"MAMA! That is a terrible thing to say about Papa!"

"Nevertheless, it is true. Prince Vegeta seems to have done a better job of finding you a suitable bridegroom in a few short weeks than your father managed in several centuries!" The snake goddess adjusted a few more of Kadru's hairpins. "I owe him a favor; Prince Khara of Lankha will be an excellent match. I have already sent a messenger to King Vibishana." She sighed wistfully.

"Mama? What's the matter?"

"Oh, nothing, really." Princess Snake sighed again. "Why are the good ones always taken? First, Son Goku, now this Prince Vegeta... Ah, well, there's always dear Enma--but he's so busy these days; we never seem to find time for each other anymore."

"Mama.." Kadru turned away from the mirror to face her mother, a serious expression on her face. "Perhaps you should make time. If he does mean that much to you..." She lowered her eyes, suddenly bashful.

Princess Snake looked at her daughter, suddenly thoughtful. "You have changed, daughter. There is some wisdom in your words..." She looked her daughter Kadru over one last time. "Excellent! We need not keep the Ferryman waiting any longer; it is time for you to go to Prince Khara."

"Thank you, Mama! I knew you would help me!" Kadru impulsively hugged her mother.

"How could you doubt it? What else can a mother do but help her child in time of need?"

*      *      *      *

Something dark and insatiably hungry waited below, along with a rapidly fading power that contended with the darkness. That much Vegeta could sense, and no more--but it was enough to speed him downward. What if the fading power was the one Vegeta sought? He dared not be too late.

Black wings fluttered toward them; suddenly, a swarm of wings circled Vegeta and Modgudh, diving and striking. With every strike, Vegeta felt a minute fraction of his power drain away.

"Kuso! These things are ki-vampires!" With a flurry of blows, the Saiyan prince mangled and broke the swarm around him. He glanced back; Modgudh fended them off repeatedly with her shield as her spear darted and stabbed, flinging broken wings hither and yon.

"No time to waste!" Vegeta snarled, hovering in the air. He grabbed Modgudh by one skeletal arm and hurtled down the stairway, flying with terrifying speed down the narrow, blind-dark tunnel. Several times they smashed through swarms of fluttering black wings, scattering them with their sheer speed and leaving the evil spirits far behind.

Without warning, Vegeta burst into a huge dark gulf; emptiness surrounded him. No, not emptiness; he sensed countless thousands of the fluttering Black Wings in the abyss around him--and somewhere below, that hungry maleficence and the fading power on which it.. fed.

With a scream of rage, Vegeta plunged down, down into the black gulf, towing Modgudh with him.

His light revealed the battered, bloody body of a woman held in the grip of something dark, her pale face upturned, eyes open and empty. She lived.. barely. Blood dripped from her torn throat--but only a little. Red-orange hair clotted with blood spilled down. Her power, her life was almost completely gone; only a thread remained.

Crouched over her, hold her in its grasp was something black and hungry; red eyes burned in the darkness above sharp white teeth. Darkness cloaked it, hiding its true face and power. The thing hissed at Prince Vegeta.

Vegeta snarled back, "What beast are you?"

And how in all the hells did a living human woman get here? Vegeta thought, but did not say aloud.

"Good question," Modgudh added dryly, "but it doesn't seem inclined to answer."

"Die eternally, and feed me!" the dark monster growled, dropping his dying victim--and leaping toward Vegeta.

Vegeta dodged the thing easily, and responded with a brutal blow to the thing's back--and cried out! Half his power drained away at that mere touch; the Saiyan prince swayed and nearly fell.

Unbidden, Raditz's words returned to his mind:

"The mara drains soul force by touch--yours or its..."

"So blasting the little bastard would make him stronger, would it? And he'd steal my strength if I fought him hand-to-hand? That would be a tricky fight.. an interesting fight! Are there other demons like him?" Vegeta had asked.

"There are. Why do you think the Saiyajin Demon Guard--my outfit--all carry swords?" Raditz had answered.

Vegeta's lips drew back in a snarl; so this is one of those other soul-draining demons! Yes, it would be an.. interesting fight.

The dying, soul-drained woman on the ground stirred, murmuring, "Woe, stranger! Look upon one who dared to face Vivamort, and see your fate!" A single tear trickled from her right eye.

The monster laughed.

*      *      *      *

The red ogre was not laughing; in fact, he looked distinctly worried. As one of the two guardians of this bit of Upper Hell, he had a job to do--no matter how painful the consequences.

"Hey! You there! Stop! You can't go that way!" The oni waved his arms as he ran across the rocky field toward the crowd of people approaching a certain cave. Behind him, his partner, the blue ogre, looked puzzled as he dug bits of clay out of his ears.

With a burst of speed, the slender red ogre darted ahead and put himself between the oncoming group and the narrow Cave of the Stair. He put his hands on his hips and said confidently, "You can just turn around and go back where you came from--you're not getting past me now that I know you're here!"

"Aw, is that so?" came a particularly loud, derisive voice. "I can really just turn around and go all the way back?"

The red ogre hurriedly put on a bent and cracked pair of glasses, squinting at the speaker as he did so. The group facing him suddenly sprang into focus. A particularly large, ugly, bald Saiyan warrior in archaic armour, several humans, a one-eyed Saiyan warrior--and eight gozu-oni faced him!

"Nappa!" The ogre's voice broke into a squeak.

The bald Saiyan smirked as he cracked his knuckles. "How 'bout I just go through you instead of past you? Or maybe over you?" His smirk deepened. "We got an appointment with Lord Enma."

The red ogre gulped. Eight gozu-oni--this just might be legitimate; the bull-headed demons were notoriously honest and would not go along with an escape attempt... He straightened himself up. "You have the necessary forms and passes, of course?"

Nappa's smirk changed abruptly to a scowl; he turned to the smaller Saiyan and folded his arms. With a jerk of his head toward the red oni, he snarled, "Take care of it!", and stood there, scowling impatiently.

"Yes, sir!" Negi saluted Nappa, strolled over to the red ogre, and held up two bone wands carved with characters. "Passes."

The ogre would have taken them, but Negi snatched the passes away. "You can see them just fine from there." Next, he came up with a scroll, and unfurled it for the ogre to read. "And you can read this just fine from where you are, so don't go getting grabby again."

Red looked the document over, read it from beginning to end, and then from end to beginning again. "This is highly irregular..."

"Aw, really?" Nappa's scowl brighted to a smirk again, and he resumed cracking his knuckles.

".. but not too irregular," the ogre concluded with haste. "Go right ahead, I wouldn't think of delaying your visit with Lord Enma!"

"Aw, pity." Nappa looked disappointed as the group filed past into the narrow cavern entrance, four gozu-oni, Negi, the human souls, four more gozu-oni, and finally, Nappa, looking even more disappointed.

*      *      *      *

The monster laughed; Vegeta's eyes widened as darkness rippled and closed around the gaping wound in the creature's gut.

"Useless!" Vegeta tossed the Lightning Spear back to Modgudh with a disdainful shrug and a snarl. "It heals faster than I can wound it with toys like that!"

He dared not touch it--nor blast it, for like Android #19, it would consume energy thrown at it--that left only weapons--and weapons did too little damage. There must be something.. Vegeta probed his stolen memories from Zorak Zoran. What was a Vivamort?

Ah. Vivamort, Lord of Vampires, Chaos God of Dark Undeath--loathed by everyone for his predatory ways. Vegeta noted with a smirk that he was one of the few chaos gods so disgusting and vicious that even other chaotics hated him.

Vivamort.. was not fond of running water--Styx hated him and had sworn to destroy him; nor did he like Fire and Sky--it weakened and burnt him; Earth rejected him and denied him her strength; but his worst enemy was.. Death. Vivamort the Undead had no soul--Death, the Severer of Spirits was utter annihilation to the dark god and his warped children.

"So that's why you're so hungry for ki and spirit! You have none of your own, you have to steal it!" Vegeta hissed as he dodged the evil god. He could sense the gaping emptiness, the insatiable dark hunger that Vivamort possessed in lieu of either soul or ki.

"I will feast on you, Sun-child," the undead god growled, sharp white fangs bared. "Your power is my power.. now." With that, he dissolved, leaving only swirling cloud of mist in his place.

"What the--?" Vegeta's exclamation was choked off as the mist surrounded him, blinding him, embracing him...

..and became Vivamort once again, holding the Saiyan prince in his dark embrace. Vegeta screamed as he felt the power draining out of his spirit--a scream that abruptly ended in a gasp as sharp teeth bit into his neck, bringing a dark ecstasy with them. The Saiyan moaned as the numbing ecstasy spread through his body, filling him with a dark pleasure like none he'd ever known before. The slow destruction of his soul filled Vegeta with a piercing sensual delight; his one passion was to surrender himself utterly to Vivamort's hunger.

But more than mere passion drove Vegeta--in life, in death, and now. Even as the terrible ectasy washed over him in waves, his hand fell to his waist, his fingertips brushing against the small wolf-skin pouch made by Kadru. Vegeta's fingers reached in, almost of their own volition, and drew out a tiny object. As his ghost's body shuddered with destroying pleasure, a part of his mind embraced something else--a cold, keen, familiar fury.

"I.." he gasped, aching with the hellish pleasure that he should not have been able to feel, "give.. you.." his eyes rolled back in their sockets and turned black, "DEATH!" Vegeta's arm stabbed upward, ramming Hati's great canine tooth all the way through the vampire god's body.

Vivamort roared with pain, ripping himself away from Vegeta's throat--a roar that rose and rose into a high-pitched shriek of disintegration as black fire ran up Vegeta's hand and over the impaling tooth, turning it shiny black. The shriek grew in volume until it seemed the very stones would shatter--and stopped.

The great moon wolf's tooth dropped to the ground with a loud clatter in the sudden silence. It was over. Death had severed from its semblance of life the soul of one who had no soul. Of Vivamort, not even dust remained.

Vegeta dropped to his hands and knees, trembling with exhaustion, cold sweat pouring off him. "Chikusho! He got almost all my energy!" He sat down on the stone floor, his hand reaching almost of its own accord for the last peach--then he stopped. "Modghud?"

The skeletal warrior maiden hovered above the broken, dying woman on the floor; as Vegeta watched, she reached her fingertips out to touch the other woman's fingers. "There's nothing left of her," Modgudh said. "Her body cannot live without the strength of her spirit, and what is left of her spirit is too weak to survive in this hell-- and I would live again!"

Their fingers met--a blinding light and a desperate shriek--it was done. Vegeta blinked; where two had been, one lay, shaking her head and holding herself. This woman had long auburn hair, and reached slowly for the spear and shield at her side.

"Modghud?" Vegeta asked again, eyebrows arched.

"No--Yes," the woman's voice answered, echoing as if two spoke as one. "We are--I am no longer Modgudh, nor Griselda.. call me.. Mogris." She flexed her right hand, looking at it wonderingly, and then looked quizzically at Vegeta. "Prince Vegeta.. your armor?"

"Nani?" The Saiyan prince looked down at himself. His bodysuit had darkened to black, and the formerly white armor on top had turned blood-red, as had his gloves and boots. Only his cloak remained the same; Hati's fur still glistened the pristine white of snow.

"These.. are the colors of Zorak Zoran," Vegeta frowned. "When I used the Death rune--"

Mogris's head jerked up. "The Death rune! Aye, naught else would have slain Vivamort so thoroughly." She frowned. "Know the cost, Prince Vegeta. He who holds Death, cannot grasp Life."

Vegeta scowled silently as he drew forth the last peach and bit into it. Once again, he fastidiously wiped the juice from his gloves after he finished the last of the precious fruit, all the while ignoring Mogris. At last he glanced at her as he prepared to leave.

"Nani?" Both of his eyebrows arched up; Mogris hovered about five feet above the stone floor, smirking. "Since when could you fly?" Vegeta snarled.

"She who I now am was a Master of the Air Rune," Mogris answered. A cool breeze swirled around them. "Air, Motion, Mastery--she was a Hero of Orlanth, and a hunter of Chaos. Flight is the least of Orlanth's powers."

As Vegeta rose into the air, Mogris followed, borne up on a cold wind.

Air Motion Mastery

*      *      *      *

Zorn jumped lightly into the chariot, watching Prince Indrajit warily as he did so. He noted in passing that this was the first time he'd ridden in a chariot--perhaps the first time any Saiyan had ever ridden in such a vehicle. (He did not know of Prince Vegeta's brief ride in Prince Khara's chariot). Saiyans had always flown when they wanted to go any real distance, and had had no need of vehicles. Here in Hell, they just jaunted--demon teleport-- when they needed to get somewhere in a hurry.

Zorn, King's Man, former Captain of the Royal Guard, didn't need to "get somewhere"--his orders were to watch Prince Indrajit, and deliver orders to Bardock's team and any other Saiyajin Demon Guardsmen they should come across. He sighed through clenched teeth; watching Indrajit was easy--he was stuck in the same chariot with him. Zorn edged away from him as far as he could get--which wasn't very far. Demons made him uneasy.

"Uneasy" was an understatement; after more than two decades in Hell, he loathed and hated the cruel monsters with a passion that rivalled the King's hatred of Freiza. The only thing that stopped Zorn from turning ouzaru and ripping every demon he saw into quivering shreds in spite of the King's orders was the small fact that the Rakshasa demons weren't truly demons of Hell. They weren't the evil, tormenting spirits of this realm of eternal pain; they were the shades of a mortal demon race. Like the Saiyajin, they too were trapped in their own hell, suffering the fruits of their own wicked deeds.

Right now Indrajit was talking to his general--Prahasta, or was it Jumbamali? Zorn had trouble telling the rakshasas apart; he was only sure of lean, mighty Indrajit in his silver armor. The dead Saiyan warrior wrapped his tail tightly about himself, scowling.

"We are ready," the Rakshasa prince finally told him; with a flick of his reins, the demon-tigers spread their wings and pulled the chariot aloft. An army of rakshasas flew with them, ready to face the broo demons of Chaos--and stop them from joining Cacodemon on Earth, as Demon King Vibishana had promised Prince Vegeta half an eternity ago.

It was the job of the Saiyajin to make sure none of the Chaos monsters escaped back into Hell, nor returned to the unknown nether Hell that spawned them.

*      *      *      *

The land frayed and broke apart into islands separated by swamps of heaving slime; the air was thick with sky gorp and less nameable things that flitted through the air; and there was neither sea nor sky, just a grey void that sucked everything into itself. (If Goku had been there, he would have recognized that twisting, devouring hole in reality--but he was not, and Vegeta had never seen a deadzone). Armies battled here, on the edge of annihilation.

Vegeta, crouching low with Mogris just behind him, thought there had been two armies once; one of broo, and one of Uz and other chaos enemies. Now there was.. chaos. Whole regiments vanished into the slime when the land broke apart, or were sucked up screaming into the sky; whole regiments sometimes appeared, vomited up out of the slime or emerging from the earth and darkness. At the center of the largest group of broo some.. Thing walked, a Thing that hurt the eyes to look at for even a moment. Wherever it walked, armies mutated and changed into slithering chaos horrors, and turned to follow the Thing.

"Pocharngo the Mutator," Mogris whispered in Vegeta's ear, as they watched the unending battle from the shelter of a mostly stable rock spur.

At the head of the largest group of Uz, the men of darkness, a mighty Uz strode, armored and unafraid. A strange power sang around him, and where he walked, chaos horrors collapsed, monstrous features gone, powers stripped away, leaving only feeble beastmen bleating in terror and fleeing from the triumphant Uz.

"Boztakang Chaosfighter," Vegeta answered, grinning fiercely. "I have found him at last!" His grin turned to a frown of apprehension as the Mutator's ever-growing army twisted ponderously to face Boztakang and his Uz.

Uz changed, twisting, deforming before the Saiyan prince's very eyes. Twisted Uz howled and loped off into the hills, abandoning the battle; only a tiny regiment around Boztakang stood firm, unchanged by the Mutator. Countless thousands of howling broo and less nameable things shambled to the attack, assaulting the beleagured regiment--and the Mutator crashed through his own hordes, straight toward Boztakang Chaosfighter.

"NOOOOO!" Vegeta howled in rage. "Not when I am so close! IT SHALL NOT BE! I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!" Power flared and rose within him, and rose high into the sky.

The White Moon rose from Vegeta's hand. The Ouzaru roared its anger and defiance. The land shook beneath its tread; darkness fled from the golden fire that seethed through its golden fur.

Mogris flew fast, flinging herself to one side. "Is this what I have travelled with and dared to mock?"

Pocharngo the Mutator shifted its attention to this new threat and lashed out with its power of chaotic mutation--

Boztakang Chaosfighter saw, and turned his secret power against the Mutator--

The Ouzaru answered in a voice like thunder: "BIG BANG ATTACK!"

*      *      *      *

Amid the smoking ruins of Chaos, Prince Vegeta faced Boztakang Chaosfighter. The Uz stood proud and unafraid, a tall, dark muscular creature with a long, tusked muzzle and tiny squinting eyes--much like his brother, Jeset the Ferryman. Once again, Vegeta heard that odd chirping sound, which he now knew to be a form of sonar.

"So be it. Your secret, for the Death rune." Vegeta allowed himself a tiny smirk. "A profitable trade--though I lose the power of severing souls, we both keep the other techniques we already know, and grow in power!" And I, he thought to himself, am well rid of this cold enemy of Life--my life!

Boztakang grunted. "You will keep all the lesser powers you have learned from Death--and I gain its powers for my kin." The darkness demigod almost smiled. "Grandmother will be pleased," he rumbled.

Vegeta did not sneer--the demigod's grandmother was Kyger Litor, the great Dark Goddess of the Uz. In this strange Time Before Time, everyone seemed to be related to everyone else--even mad Zorak Zoran was a very distant cousin of sorts.

For a moment, they touched, spirit to spirit, each reaching inside himself and giving to the other the gift of his choosing. In a moment, it was done. Freed of the burden of Death, possessing the secret of Cacodemon's destruction, Vegeta turned away, toward Time and Life.

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[ Contents | XXV. The Reckoning | XXVI. Edge of Annihilation | XXVII. The Gates of Hell ]

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