[ Contents | XXVI. Edge of Annihilation | XXVII. The Gates of Hell | XXVIII. Inferno ]


By Dragoness Eclectic



Raditz plunged through the empty air where the void had been, and crashed hard into the back wall of the quarry pit. Goku sliced through the same empty air, grasping vainly at his vanished son. Hurtling through the air at super-saiyan speed, not even super-saiyan reactions were fast enough--Goku barely managed to avoid crashing into Raditz as he smashed into the quarry wall.

WHOOOOOMMM! The sheer force of Goku's impact blasted a huge semi-circular crater in the wall of the quarry--doubling the size of the pit, and spraying thousands of tons of marble gravel across nearby hills. In Satan City, they felt it, but dismissed it as yet another aftershock of the quake.

Silence reigned at the bottom of the quarry, silence broken only by short, sharp gasps of pain from Sinhika, and the rustling of gravel as Raditz pulled himself painfully out from under the broken quarry wall. He turned slowly to face the shattered altar, every muscle in flaming agony.

Goku pushed boulders of shocked marble off himself and rose into the air, looking around. He alighted near Sinhika, his face serious. "You're hurt pretty bad," he told her as he knelt beside the injured Rakshasa girl. He glanced at Raditz, who nodded as he limped slowly toward his younger brother.

"Here, eat this," Goku put a senzu bean between her lips; Sinhika gulped it down. Her eyes widened abruptly, and she gasped.

"Hey!" She sat up suddenly, still holding her stomach; then she slowly let go, marvelling at the unmarred flesh beneath the huge slash in her bloody clothing. "That's much better. Thank you."

The dark-skinned demon-girl got to her feet and regarded Goku quizzically. "I--"

"Goku!" Raditz interrupted. "Did you see-- are they-- where are Goten and Trunks? Did you rescue them?" The long-haired warrior held himself close, his face drawn with pain, desperation in his eyes.

Goku looked at him, his face very serious. He slowly shook his head. "No. They fell into that.. deadzone." He clenched his fists. "It's my fault; I should have listened better when Piccolo gave me your warning about the demons."

"No." Raditz collapsed to his knees, shuddering with pain, his long hair falling around him like a cloak. "No! Not your fault. It was my duty to protect them.. and I FAILED!"

"What's a deadzone?" interrupted Sinhika as she wiped and sheathed her blades.

"Something an old enemy once created--a door into a prison of absolute darkness," Goku answered grimly.

"Hmmph! Well, THAT was a rift into the underworld--and these bastards," she waved her hands at the charred corpses scattered about, "have been summoning those beast-demons from there." She indicated the arrow-pierced corpses of the various broo.

Raditz lifted his head. "How do you know this?" Something tickled the back of his memory, something about alien beast-demons like this...

"I saw them do it--and I know the taste of a gate to the underworld. My people are.. rather magical. We dwell on Earth or in the underworld as it suits us." The orange-haired demon-girl smiled at Goku.

"You're a demon," Goku said, curious.

"Yes--but I'm not an oni or gaki," she said, naming the two commonest demon types of the region. "I am rakshasa."

"--They're in Hell." Raditz interrupted, his voice flat. There was only despair in his eyes when he looked at his younger brother.

"What? Are you sure?" Goku clenched his fists, the only hint beyond his unsmiling face of the turmoil within.

Raditz nodded wearily. "I remembered-- the alien beast-demons. They had just appeared in Hell when I.. left." He closed his eyes and shuddered. "It's no place for children."

"Then we'll just have to go there and bring them back," Sinhika said in a matter-of-fact way, as if trips to Hell were a lot like running down to the local convenience store.

"No, not 'we'. I failed them. This is mine to amend--and I know only one way to do it." Raditz rose to his feet, his face bleak. "Goku.." the tall Saiyan staggered slightly, his seared leg muscles nearly refusing to support him.

"Goku.. Kill me! Send me back to Hell, and I'll find the kids. You HAVE to do it! I won't defend myself--and you have more than enough power even if I did. Please! It's the only way."

*      *      *      *

"There they are!" Gohan pointed down into the huge quarry pit; Piccolo nodded. "There's Dad, and Raditz, and I can't see who else--"

"HEY! GOHAN! GET ME DOWN FROM HERE!" Bulma jumped up and down, waving wildly from her ledge. On the quarry rim, another small figure jumped up and down and yelled, trying to get some attention.

"You get Bulma, I'll get the other one," Piccolo instructed his favorite (and only) student. "So that wretched Saiyajin managed to survive again?" He shook his head as he swooped down to the indignant girl on the quarry rim.

"Yikes! Who are you?" Nezumi squeaked as Piccolo scooped her up and plummeted down into the quarry pit.

*      *      *      *

Goku stared at Raditz in silent horror as Bulma and Gohan dropped to the ground beside him.

"WHERE'S TRUNKS??" Bulma yelled, looking around. Fear filled her eyes. "Raditz, tell me! Where's Trunks?" she begged.

"Dad, where's Goten?" Gohan asked, his voice tense with worry.

Raditz looked away, unable to face Bulma. "GOKU! Please.. You'd be doing me a favor."

"Do what, Dad?" Gohan asked, puzzled. Goku remained silent.

"RADITZ!" Bulma yelled. "Tell me where Trunks is--Oh no." Fear turned to dread certainity before Raditz could answer. "No, oh please no! Not Trunks, too!" Bulma sank to her knees, tears filling her eyes. "He's dead, isn't he?"

"I don't know--he might still be alive," Raditz finally spoke. "But.. he's in Hell."

Gohan turned white. "And Goten?" His lip trembled, and the boy clenched his fists.

Raditz nodded. "With Trunks, wherever that is."

"My baby's in Hell?" Bulma held herself. "NOOOOOOOO!" Deep sobs wracked her; Sinhika held the distraught blue-haired woman.

"GOKU! DO IT! Please!" Raditz cried out. "It's the only way!"

"Do what?" Gohan asked again.

"There must be some other way!" Goku finally said, anguish in his voice. "The Dragonballs--"

"No time!" Raditz snarled. "I will not leave innocent children in Hell as the price of my life! I have been there, Kakarott--and I would pay any price to get them out of it! I will pay the price, I will go to them and do whatever it takes to get them back--now DO IT! Send me back to Hell! KILL ME!"

"It might work," Piccolo spoke up as he dropped in with Nezumi. He stared at Raditz. "You have changed, Raditz" the Namek admitted with a certain grudging respect. "But you are still a bastard for trying to make your own brother kill you." Piccolo curled his lip back, baring one fang. "I will spare Son Goku that grief, and take care of you myself." So saying, the green warrior raised two fingers to his forehead in a gesture all too familiar to Raditz.

Raditz's brows arched downward in anger; he scowled, clenching his fists--then forced them open again, his expression changing to bleak resignation.

"Piccolo--wait!" Goku said.

"NO WAY!" Nezumi jumped in front of Raditz, blocking him with her body. "Are you people all insane?? I am NOT letting you kill Raditz!"

Raditz blinked. "What?"

Sinhika's eyes widened with recognition. "Kakarott? Son Goku is 'Kakarott'?" she muttered to herself.

"Gohan, take this girl and Bulma and leave. They don't need to see this," Piccolo growled.

"No," Goku said firmly. "It won't work."

"What??" chorused Piccolo and Raditz. Gohan looked from one to the other, almost as confused as they were.

Nezumi glared at Piccolo, arms folded. "My name is Nezumi, not 'this girl'," she muttered.

Goku looked intently at Raditz. "I don't think you'd go to Hell this time.. big brother."

Raditz's shoulders slumped, and he sighed. "You just might be right--and mother would agree with you." Comprehension dawned on Gohan's face.

"'This time'?" Nezumi wondered.

"There is another way," Sinhika spoke up. Everyone turned to stare at her. Bulma looked up, her face streaked with tears, desperate hope in her eyes.

"What?" Raditz demanded. He started to step forward, then winced as fresh pain ripped through him.

"You're hurt!" Goku was surprised.

"I went too far with Kaioken," Raditz answered abruptly.

"Kaioken! I didn't think you were ready for that! You were lucky to survive!" Goku marvelled, and tossed a senzu at Raditz.

"The first Kaioken was okay--I got hurt when I tried Kaioken times two." Raditz caught the magic bean and winced, rubbing his sore right shoulder; the motion unfortunately aggravated his sore left shoulder. He quickly ate the bean.

Goku's jaw dropped. "You tried Kaioken times TWO??"

"HOW ARE WE GOING TO RESCUE MY BABY?" Bulma screamed, unable to endure Goku's digression.

"I know another.. gate into Hell, and it is nearby," Sinhika said, getting to her feet.

"Why didn't you mention this earlier?" Raditz snarled.

"It took until now to remember the Mantra of Opening, without which this 'gate' is merely a door for disembodied spirits, nothing more. I know the spell to open it for the living." Sinhika smiled fiercely.

The ghost of hope glimmered in Raditz's eyes. "Lead us to it, then." As Sinhika rose into the air, he turned to Bulma, only to find that his brother Goku already carried her in his arms. Nezumi cleared her throat, and looked at Raditz expectantly. The big Saiyan picked her up, and they departed, leaving only the dead behind.

Most of the dead, that is--Voron's corpse was nowhere to be seen.

*      *      *      *

Ki blasts refracted off of glittering mirror-scales; the Captain of Ragnaglar howled with delight and leaped forward. His slashing claws missed the agile Toma, but the leap moved the chaos demon another few yards closer to his goal.

"Persistant, isn't he?" Celipa yelled to Toma, who had just dodged the demon again.

"Too persistant! Anything he wants this bad, I do NOT want to give him!" Toma yelled back.

"Neither do I! Toma, Celipa, fall back and guard the other side of the vortex--and DON'T LOOK UP! I want some of us still thinking straight!" Bardock grinned fiercely at the big demon, and flung a glowing white sphere into the non-sky of Hell. "Totepo, Panboukin--THIS ONE'S OURS!"

The two large Saiyans and Bardock looked up at the artificial moon...

*      *      *      *

Something that was dead and yet still moved limped slowly along the gravel service road. His enemies flew toward Satan City on the wings of their own power; he had no such power to spare. Fortunately, most of the vehicles that had been parked above the quarry were still intact and driveable. One of them might even match one of the sets of keys he'd looted from the charred corpses below; if not, well, he knew how to hotwire a car.

Glowing crimson eyes glanced in the direction of the city; he'd catch up to his enemies soon enough. Then.. ah, yes, then! Dead lips drew back in a hideous smile; he would have laughed, but he had no lungs left.

*      *      *      *

WHAAAAAMMMM! The vortex exploded in a flash of blinding light as its creator died. The very canyons of Hell cracked and shattered at the touch of that unthinkable concussion; monsters found themselves tossed and scattered from one end of Hell to the other. The ouzaru standing over the crushed remains of something with mirrored scales tumbled head over heels, and were flung sprawling, dazzled and half-deafened into the canyons.

At the center of the destruction, in a field of broken, flattened rubble, two small figures held on to each other.

"Truuunks! I'm scared!" Goten locked his arms around Trunks's waist.

Trunks's head hurt; so did the rest of his body. Still stunned from the beating Enforcer and Deputy had given him, he could only blink and hold onto Goten. He wished his head would stop spinning! And where was Mom?

"Trunks.." A new note of dread crept into Goten's voice, "Bad things coming."

Trunks rubbed his eyes; his head wasn't spinning so bad anymore, though it ached like fury. He managed to rub loose the dried blood gumming his eyelids shut and looked around.

Mom was nowhere around; the whole quarry was gone. There was nothing but broken rock below and glowing red fog above. And there were monsters sneaking up on them... bad things.

Trunks gulped; some of them were animal-headed men--but they didn't look nearly so nice as the hengeyoki back home. Others were.. really ugly; all slimy and tentacly or bony and twisted looking. Some were both -- there was one who looked like a goat-man made of brown mud, and there was a satyr-like monster with a fringe of wriggling tentacles growing around his waist like a skirt, and a long tail with a toothy mouth at the end.

I am not afraid, Trunks told himself. I am a prince of the Saiyajin, and the son of Vegeta. I WILL NOT BE AFRAID! I wish Father was here.. or Raditz-san.. or Goku-san.. or Gohan. This is just like fighting the gaki, he tried to convince himself. (But Raditz-san isn't here this time!) I wish I had my spirit sword--

"HEY!" Trunks jumped as the longsword appeared in his hand, as if it had been there all the time. He stared at it--it felt real, it had weight and hardness, not like before, when it was Spirit, barely felt. He swept it back and forth experimentally, testing the balance--

The monsters charged.

*      *      *      *

Dying sucks, thought Sean as the blood thundered in his ears and his vision began to fade--except for the demon commander and the others with him. They were becoming more substantial, more real as the rest of the world turned dark.

The wall exploded in a flash of orange.

Sean found himself sprawled on the floor, breathing once more. The white-cloaked demon commander stood in the middle of the room, his arms crossed in front of his face, looking.. startled. There was also a large new hole in the wall and in the neighboring apartment.

"I told you something didn't feel right," Sinhika's voice rang out in the sudden silence.

"He's a Saiyajin!" an unfamiliar voice said. "I don't understand--my blow went right through him!"

Sean squinted at the broad-shouldered young man--no older than Sean--in the orange karate gi. His heart froze--that face and hair! He was the very image of the scar-faced demon in the red cloak from his painting! Not another one! Behind him, another, taller figure looked around him and tried to push past.

The demon commander didn't seem too pleased to see the new arrivals. "Great. Right when I was wrapping this mission up.." He snapped his fingers--the demon commander's warriors reappeared around the apartment. "Keep these fools out of my hair while I finish this mission!"

"THEY'RE ALL SAIYAJIN!" A younger voice yelled from out in the living room. What the hell was a 'Saiyajin'? Sean wondered.

"They're all dead," the taller interloper said flatly. "You won't be able to hurt them--they're ghosts." He stepped forward, pushing past the orange-garbed man. Between the two newcomers, the demon, and Sean, the room was just about full.

"Hello, Kale--I can't say I'm glad to see you," the tall, long-haired newcomer said.

"Raditz," Commander Kale snarled coldly, and then his eyes widened. "You're.. breathing! YOU'RE ALIVE!" It sounded like an accusation.

"Yeah." Raditz smirked. "I guess the demon-girl was right--there is a gate to Hell here."

Now that he was close enough to spit on his boot, Sean finally recognized the newcomer--it was the long-haired tough who'd been across the street from Floodland that one time. The chill crept into his blood again; what he'd taken for a fur belt Sean now knew to be a tail. This guy--Raditz--was one of them, one of the monkey-tailed demons of his painting. He didn't seem any more pleased to see the demon commander--Kale--than Kale was to see him.

"Not for long," Kale snapped. "I don't know how you got yourself incarnated again, but if you remember anything about Hell, you know where I fit in. I have a job to do; don't get in my way, low-born!"

"Does your 'job' include killing a helpless man who can't fight you?" the guy in orange growled. Oh, good, thought Sean; someone besides me thinks my murder is a bad idea.

"He has the power to create forbidden gates! I have my orders; he must die, so that this gate or another like it can never re-open." Kale smiled cruelly. "It matters not--you do not have the power to stop me before this weakling dies.. Kakarott."

"You know, I've beaten everyone who started by calling me that," 'Kakarott' grinned, slipping into fighting stance. "For the record, my name is Son Goku!"

"..and you are the Super-Saiyajin who defeated Frieza." Kale bowed, an ironic smirk on his face. "But you can't stop what you can't touch!" he said--and vanished. After that, everything happened at once--or at least, too fast for Sean to follow.

Something tall and hairy flashed over Sean, and was thrown back, as if by a blow; there was a flash of orange and another hole appeared in his wall. An exclamation of dismay--

"I really can't hit him!" yelled Goku.

"It's just like fighting the Ghost Ochimo. Ask Gohan about that," Raditz laughed mockingly--

Something bright slashed the air--

--and everyone froze. Commander Kale stood awkwardly, clutching at his shoulder; two feet of glowing white katana protruded just below his right shoulder blade. Shock and astonishment ran across his face; Raditz had run him through. Raditz stepped back, pulling his blade free with a twist; Kale staggered, but kept his feet. Phantasmal blood welled up from the wound and vanished before it hit the floor.

Raditz's smirk deepened. "But I can touch you!" He lifted the sword into guard position. "Shall I try two for two?" The smirk vanished, and Raditz scowled. "Call off your ghosts, Kale--unless you want to report back to Hell carrying your head under one arm!"

"Damn you, Raditz!" Kale snarled. "If I report another failure, it doesn't matter what you do to me first!" The ghost tensed, readying himself.

"Before you do anything stupid," Raditz snapped, "get hold of yourself! I'll bet your orders weren't literally 'Kill whoever made this gate', were they, Kale? You came up with that one yourself." Raditz growled softly.

Kale's eyes narrowed, and he nodded, almost against his will. A flurry of exclamations from the outer room indicated that the other Saiyans had vanished once again. Sean rubbed his throat and watched, fascinated. Goku danced from side to side, trying to see around Raditz's hair.

"So what were your orders, and who gave them?"

Kale smirked. "My orders come from King Vegeta himself! I was ordered to find out where this rift went, and make sure whatever opened it doesn't do so again!" He shrugged. "You see, I have no choice--and that pitiful weakling has no choice but to die. You can't change that!"

Raditz sneered, "Typical. You can't see beyond your orders, and you don't think! That's what got you in trouble on Tsaba, remember?"

Kale's eyes widened with anger. "When you return to Hell," he threatened--

"Don't worry, that'll be Real Soon Now." Raditz smirked again. "You see, we need that rift you're in such a hurry to close--because things are more screwed up than even you could make them if you tried! While you've been worrying about this rift, someone's been throwing living people physically into Hell--and it's MY job to bring them back here where they belong!"


*      *      *      *

"Truunnks! Behind you!" Goten yelled, and Trunks spun around. Block, thrust, parry, slash--another monster went down. He panted heavily; there were so many of them, and they came from all sides.

"Goten! You have to help! I can't get them all!"

"How??? I don't know how to fight yet--Daddy was gonna teach me after my half-way birthday!" Goten pouted angrily; Trunks saw what looked suspiciously like a few tears running down his face.

"'You're stronger than you think'," Trunks quoted. "I don't know, hit them with rocks or something!"

Goten brightened. "Okay!" He bent down and picked up a small boulder, determination on his face. "But N'Uncle Raditz said that first."

Pipunc, a seriously mutated broo who resembled a goat-man carved out of brown mud, suddenly realized he was in trouble. The tiny kid he was about to attack had just picked up a boulder that he, Pipunc, could barely have lifted. "Uh-oh. That kid's str--"

"GOT HIM!" Goten yelled delightedly as his boulder crashed into the mud broo's head. The chaos demon's body dissolved into mist and seeped away as the broken spirit fled. Goten picked up another boulder and looked around for a new target. There were far too many.

CRACK-BOOM! A sphere of energy arced down to explode between the two kids, incinerating another broo and flinging them through the air. Goten found himself alone, in a narrow canyon, while Trunks.. was not alone.

As he picked himself up, head ringing, the violet-haired boy flinched back instinctively as something came at him from the corner of his eye. His instincts saved him; a black, ridged tentacle just missed his neck; teeth gnashed inches from his face.

Trunks ducked and rolled away from the goat-demon-thing; it was the one he'd seen before, with the tentacled waist and the extra mouth on its tail. It hissed, and raised its hand, bony knives sprouting from its fingers as the violet-haired boy watched. Trunks raised his sword.

The demon came in slashing with both claws; Trunks backed, parrying, and tried to counterattack, but couldn't get past the creature's guard--it was fast! Then the tail, unlooked for, snapped around and hooked his ankle--Trunks fell!

The monster loomed over him for an instant, claws poised--and froze. A bloody hand emerged from the demon's chest; it was a slim, delicate hand, and it held the demon's heart. The hand squeezed, and the demon dissipated, its power broken.

Trunks looked up, then scrambled to his feet. The owner of the hand was a compact, fierce-looking woman with short dark hair, wearing dark blue Saiyan armor with a red bodysuit and one yellow legging. The boy glanced at her waist--she had a tail.

"You're a Saiyajin!" Trunks blurted, and then flushed. That was such a stupidly obvious thing to say! Especially to such a fierce-looking--and pretty--lady. Had he forgotten all his manners?

The Saiyan woman smirked, and raised her eyebrows. "Now how would a human child know that?"

Trunks scowled fiercedly. "I'M NOT HUMAN! I'm Saiyajin, too!"

The woman put her hands on her hips. "With that hair?" Her voice was skeptical.

Trunks's hands balled up into fists. "I am Trunks Vegeta Briefs, the son of Vegeta, Prince of all Saiyajin!"

Her eyes went wide, and she started to say something--

"I find that hard to believe," interrupted a man's voice. Trunks looked up; another Saiyajin, this one a tall, handsome warrior dressed in light blue armor floated down beside the woman.

"Look at his face, Toma!" the woman hissed. "Ignore the hair; look at his face."

Toma looked, and the mockery dropped away. "He has the prince's face." He frowned at the woman, not altogether seriously, and asked, "Why am I always the last to see these things, Celipa?"

"Yes he does--don't feel bad, I didn't see it until the boy got angry and started yelling at me." Trunks was surprised to see Celipa smile briefly at the other Saiyan--very briefly and furtively, as if smiling was not allowed here.

"Well, that makes sense," he admitted. "Has anyone ever seen Prince Vegeta any other way?"

"I have!" Trunks spoke up a bit sharply; these two were talking about his father as if Trunks wasn't even there!

Celipa smirked. "He's certainly got the Prince's spirit!" The smirk dropped away. "But what is a living child doing here? Something is wrong, Toma.. very wrong."

Toma nodded. "I know. Bardock needs to know--now."

*      *      *      *

Goten found himself alone in a deep canyon--alone, and scared. Were there more monsters behind those rocks? Where was Trunks? Had he been blown to pieces? Where was Uncle Raditz? He had almost rescued them from the bad dinosaur!

Goten thought about sitting down and waiting for Trunks to find him--like Daddy always said to do when he was lost--but the ground was slimy. Yecch! He couldn't sit his bottom down in that! Standing still didn't help, either--the nasty stuff just oozed over his bare toes. Ewwwww!

Goten ran along the canyon floor, hopping from stone to stone, looking for Trunks. Maybe he was around that corner... No. Someone else was. Goten took one look at the familiar shape and spiky hair and ran forward. He was dressed differently than Goten had ever seen, but there was only one person it could be.

"Daddy!" Goten bounded like a mountain goat from rock to rock in his eagerness--then "Daddy" turned to look at him. Goten stopped abruptly, skidded on the slime, and fell hard on his rear.

"You're not Daddy!" the child yelled accusingly. Daddy did not have dark golden skin, and criss-crossed scars on his left cheek...

The stranger who looked like Goku stared at Goten in astonishment. "A Saiyan child here? What vision is this--the future or the past? He is the very image of young Kakarott--but Kakarott is a grown man, now. How can this be?"

"I'M NOT A BISION! I'M A GOTEN!" the child yelled indignantly. "What's a bision?"

The familiar stranger's eyes widened. "You're real--and living! But.. who could be so cruel as to condemn a child to this realm?" He took a step closer to Goten, who was struggling to his feet amid the slippery slime.

"Of course I'm real!" Goten pouted indignantly, and then looked thoughtful as an idea struck him. He ran boldly up to the stranger, extended one finger, and poked him gently in the leg. Goten looked very surprised, as if he had expected to find nothing there. "You're fun!" he exclaimed.

The man stared at Goten with an expression of bewilderment; then the faintest hint of a smile shadowed his lips. "It's been a long time since someone called me that, little one!"

Goten stared up at him, puzzled. "You talk like N'Uncle Raditz!" He pointed, "And you've got a tail like Nunk Rats, too!"

The man's eyes widened in shock. "What--How--How do you-- Uncle Raditz?? You're Kakarott's child!" His brows furrowed. "But I thought you were older.. Raditz said you were about four, and that was many years ago, surely.." he trailed off, puzzled.

Goten pursed his lips, thinking. "Gohan is twelve." The little boy counted on his fingers, and showed them to the man. "That's lots more than four!" He frowned at his hands. "Only I don't have enough fingers--that's only ten," Goten informed the stranger who seemed to know Nunk Rats.

The stranger's eyes widened again, this time in understanding. "You're his little brother, aren't you? Two sons.. like father, like son." That ghost of a smile touched his lips again, and was gone, replaced by an expression of wonder.

Goten looked at the oh-so-familiar stranger, and remembered something he'd been told. The little boy's eyes grew round. "You're my grandpa, aren't you? Grandpa Bardock?"

Bardock nodded, too awed to speak. How did this child know him? He reached down and Goten held his arms up to his grandfather; Bardock picked up the little Saiyan boy, his.. grandson! He held the boy for a time in silence; he could not speak--his heart was too full.

"Your face is hurt," Goten broke the silence, voicing concern as his finger traced the ancient scar on Bardock's cheek.

"It's all right," he answered. "That happened a long time ago; it doesn't hurt anymore." Bardock held Goten away from him, looking at him. "Where's your tail?"

Goten looked both confused and worried. "My tail? I'm supposed to have a tail?"

"Of course--" Bardock started to answer, then frowned. "I don't know; your mother can't be Saiyan, so perhaps not." Bardock wasn't sure which disturbed him more about his grandson: the missing tail, or the idea that his mother, Kakarott's mate, was.. not Saiyan. An alien; a weak creature little better than an animal.

Don't be an idiot, Bardock! The best part of Bardock lectured himself: look at this child--he is the very image of Kakarott, and sense his power--it is incredible! Whoever or whatever his mother is, she made Kakarott's blood--my blood--stronger! Even if he were not so strong.. he is my grandson!

Bardock drew Goten close to him again, setting the boy on his shoulder. Fierce pride, and something else filled him as he looked at the boy--I have been graced with a living son and grandsons; the Saiyajin live on! We did not go down into oblivion, we are not forgotten in the dust of history!

"Grandpa?" Goten ventured, continuing as Bardock looked at him attentively. "How come you're fun? Nunk Rats--N'Uncle Raditz--" the boy carefully corrected himself, "said you died a long time ago."

"First I will ask you a related question, because I know Raditz died before you were born, little one. How, then, can you talk to your uncle?" Bardock knew that Raditz had gone back to Earth as a ghost, and was curious to hear the child's answer.

"Grandpa N'Oxking and Nunk Rats say I can see ghosts. I didn't know that. Nunk Rats wasn't fun, but Nan Bulma accidently wished him better, and now he's lots of fun!"


*      *      *      *

Raditz dozed fitfully while Sinhika made her preparations; apparently, opening a gate between Earth and Hell required more than a few words and a wave of the hand. It required several hours of mysterious rituals (Why had she gone from door to window to window of the small apartment and stroked every sill and jamb with herbs and steel?) and chanted prayers--which bored Raditz mindless to watch. He was tired, and hungry, and his other job, watching Kale, was even more pointless and boring--the ghost Saiyajin had vanished, unmanifesting with a Cheshire Cat smirk. Raditz scowled; he knew Kale well enough to predict trouble. Kale would bide his time until the gate opened...

Gohan and Goku had a.. discussion about Gohan's part in this--Raditz couldn't call it an argument, Gohan was too obedient to openly argue with his father. Gohan sat dejectedly at one end of the couch; he would be staying behind to protect Sinhika. Goku had been adamant; his son would not follow him into Hell--something Raditz had quite agreed with. Hell was no place for children.

Gohan didn't see it quite that way; being left behind when his father went into danger grated on him. Dad was treating him like a child! Why? Goku had all but forced Gohan to grow up during the Cell Game, and afterwards... Gohan had been the man of the house for the years Dad was gone. Why treat him like a child now?

Goku, Raditz and Bulma had had an argument; she didn't care what Goku or Raditz said about the dangers or the horrors, Bulma was going after her son, and nothing and no one was going to stop her. Period. As she pointed out, she'd gone to Namek, stood with everyone when Freeza and King Cold arrived, and generally been mixed up with everything dangerous before and since--why, when her son was involved, did anyone think she was going sit safely at home?

She'd had unexpected support from Sinhika; the orange-haired Indian girl (as she appeared in front of Sean) took it as a personal affront that "the men", as she put it, thought it perfectly fine to go into danger for their children, but didn't take Bulma--a woman!--seriously when she was willing to face Hell itself for the sake of her son!

The argument had ended when Raditz had sighed, and said, "Goku, it's not sheer power alone that matters in Hell; virtue and love make one stronger there, too. Bulma may well be in less danger than anyone else except you, little brother."

Bulma whirled to face Raditz. "Huh? Why did you spend so much time arguing with me, if that's the truth?"

"Because Vegeta is going to kill me when he finds out that not only did I let his son get kidnapped by a demon and thrown into Hell, I let his wife that I'm supposed to protect go to Hell after him!" Raditz shrugged helplessly; there was something in his expression that suggested it wasn't fear of Vegeta that drove him to protect Bulma. "On the other hand, I will be there as well, and the Prince can't kill me any deader for the one than the other, and.. Sinhika is right, damn it." Raditz clenched and unclenched his fists; the argument was over.

Raditz dozed fitfully, and dreamed. He dreamed of his first mission, under then Subcommander Kale; he watched Kale kill the woman and child again--and woke up shuddering. In the nightmare, the woman and child had been Chichi and young Goten!

Raditz dozed off again, and the nightmare resumed; it was the second nest, the one he'd cleared himself under Kale's supervision. As he slaughtered the inhabitants, he saw their faces--and every one of them was someone he knew: Lina, Nezumi, Mr. Hiregumi, Bulma, Dr. Briefs, Bulma's mother, Trunks, Ox King... He woke up, cold sweat beading on his forehead. Not again!

For the next few hours, the long-haired Saiyan warrior dreamed of every world-clearing mission he'd ever been on, of every innocent creature he'd ever killed--and all of them were people he knew--and.. cared about. He woke shaking as Sinhika made her final preparations.

As the demon-girl burned incense and poured melted butter over a metal dish full of hot coals, Raditz stared at his hands and felt sick. Everyone he'd killed had been someone's mother or father, son or daughter or lover. Everyone. They had all been people that someone cared about. They had all been people--and he, Raditz, was a butcher, a murderer on a scale that Earth's worst legends didn't dare imagine. Death and Hell had been his well-deserved fate.

He'd known this in his head, of course--no one was ignorant of why they had been condemned to Hell!--but part of him had never really accepted it, had never really understood why squashing vermin was so terribly wrong. His heart had been at war with itself, that tiny, almost smothered part of it that had known from the beginning that he was murdering people contending with the rest of his heart, that felt only contempt for weaklings and pride in his own Saiyan strength.

His pride had been broken in Hell, when Raditz learned what it had cost him, what it had cost everyone--and what a foolish illusion it was. His contempt had been broken on Earth, where a child taught him about loving someone unconditionally, no matter how little he appeared to deserve it, and four humans taught him respect for more than mere strength. There was nothing left to keep the truth out of his heart, nothing at all.

It was time to return to Hell.

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[ Contents | XXVI. Edge of Annihilation | XXVII. The Gates of Hell | XXVIII. Inferno ]

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