[ Contents | XXVII. The Gates of Hell | XXVIII. Inferno | XXIX. Converging Paths ]


By Dragoness Eclectic



Sean looked around--the place was still a mess, but his unexpected guests didn't seem to mind. Three good-looking girls, three guys, one underage kid--and several evil-tempered spirits from Hell. "One hell of an earthquake party," Sean muttered, pushing the black hair back from his eyes.

"It's time." Sinhika stepped out of the small studio room, looking tired.

Goku and Bulma looked attentively at Sinhika; Raditz looked up slowly from where he'd been brooding. Once again, bleak resignation was written on his face as he rose from the couch.

Nezumi did not like that look. "Excuse me," she said, tapping Raditz on the elbow. "I'd like to talk to you for a moment.. privately.. before you leave." She nodded her head toward the tiny bedroom.

Raditz stared at her for a moment, and then followed without a word.

Nezumi faced him in Sean's small bedroom -- and found that her boldness had left her. "Raditz.. I.." Damn it, girl! This is important, quit stammering like a school girl! Nezumi gathered her courage, and stepped close to the big Saiyajin.

"..After what you tried to do in the quarry.." Nezumi frowned up at him, and put her hands on his chest. "Don't try something like that again. Ever! When you find the kids, you will come back with them, understand?"

Raditz flushed. "What? Woman--"

Nezumi glared at him. "Don't you 'woman' me! You weren't going to come back, were you?" she accused. "Don't you dare!" Nezumi pointed back in the other room, "Do you really want to hurt them that much?"

It's now or never, girl! She took a deep breath, reached up and grabbed a length of hair on each side of his face, forcing him to face her. "Do you really want to hurt me that much?"

Raditz's eyes widened. In the quarry, when she stood between me and Piccolo.. that was no fluke. I thought she was.. attracted to me, but this! She.. It's more than.. She has no idea!

He looked down at her anxious face and tender brown eyes. How many women on how many planets begged their lovers to return to them--just before they died fighting the Saiyajin? (Why am I thinking of Nezumi and 'lover' in the same thought?) How many young women like Nezumi have I killed??

Raditz gripped Nezumi by her shoulders and snarled, "Forget it! You don't know what I am!"

Nezumi scowled fiercely up at him. "You're wrong, Raditz! I don't know what you did, I don't know what you used to be, but I most certainly do know what you are! You are a man who would sacrifice his life and go to Hell to save two small children who aren't even yours! If you don't know what that means, you are absolutely the most clueless idiot I have ever met!"

Raditz flushed again. "Someone else said that to me, long ago," he muttered. "You sound just like her." He looked past Nezumi's angry scowl and saw the tears gathering in her big brown eyes. What is this woman doing to me?? And why does she remind me so much of Luki?

"So be it. I will do my best--and that's all I can promise; it's a dangerous place."

Nezumi wiped her eyes on her sleeve. "Your best is all I'm asking for. Promise?"

"I promise." He bowed his head as she rose on the tips of her toes; their lips almost touched---

BANG! Something exploded with a crash in the outer room, and voices were raised in anger. Raditz spun around to find out what the danger was, and the moment was gone.

*      *      *      *

"You know, I'm damn glad you people showed up when you did.. Considering what's next, anyone care for a drink?" Sean held up a bottle of whiskey and waved a pair of shot glasses around.

"After what I've been through tonight.. one shot wouldn't hurt." Bulma sighed as Sean handed her a drink.

"Sure." Sean poured himself another shot and tossed it down--

"Thank you, Sean.. or should I say, VirtualBlack?" Bulma sipped the whiskey gingerly, staring at him cooly.

Sean nearly choked on the whiskey and came up sputtering. His eyes snapped open wide. "YOU! You're the sysadmin at Capsule Corp, aren't you? You're the one that wiped my computer!"

"I don't know how you jumped to that wild conclusion.." Bulma tossed her blue hair back, "..but you're right." Bulma slammed the shotglass down and put her hands on her hips. "And you are the little sneak who stole files out of our computers and tried to blackmail me!"

"Huh?" Sean stared at her in confusion. "When did I try to blackmail you?"

Bulma leveled an accusing finger at him. "Don't deny that you cracked through our security and then demanded a payoff to fix it! If that isn't blackmail, what is it?"

Sean's eyebrows went up. "Marketing? Lady, I didn't create those security holes--I just proved that they existed, to show you that you needed someone who knew security on the payroll, and then offered my services! Since when is trying to get a job blackmail??"

"Oh." Bulma looked sheepish, and then indignant again. "What about stealing my files?"

"Okay, okay, I shouldn't have done that--but you pissed me off with your answer, and one of your competitors was offering good money for company secrets. I didn't even sell your files to them--I did it just to prove that I could if I wanted to." Sean sulked. "You didn't have to trash all my files."

"I didn't," she answered. "I copied them. You have some interesting tastes in artwork."

He looked at her abruptly. "You've seen them!"

Bulma nodded. "'Wolfslayer' and 'Game of Demon Kings'. Where did you get the ideas for those pictures?" She tried to keep the question casual, but her voice was taut with hidden excitement.

Sean eyed her, one eyebrow raised. "Same place I got the idea for the painting in the other room, the one that's caused all this excitement--in dreams." He poured another shot and tossed it down. "Dreams that won't leave me alone until I express them somehow." The young man in black regarded Bulma thoughtfully. "Now answer a question of mine--who is the demon prince in those pictures? Why does he haunt me? I think you who he is."

A soft hiss of indrawn breath. "The 'demon prince', as you call him, is my husband Vegeta."

The bottle of whiskey exploded.

"WHAT??" Commander Kale manifested abruptly, glaring balefully at Bulma. "You lie! The Prince would never sully his royal blood with.. with a lower creature like you!"

Bulma clenched her fists and gritted her teeth. "'LOWER CREATURE'?? I'm a hell of a lot higher than an ill-mannered beast like you! I'll bet you're just jealous because no decent Saiyan girl would 'sully her blood'--or her reputation--with you!"

Kale blanched with shock; his eyes widened, then narrowed with anger.

"Uh, Bulma," Goku said from across the room, slightly worried...

Sean stared at the shattered bottle, and the bleeding cuts where glass shards had stuck in his hand.

"You.. son.. of.. a.. bitch." Sean said slowly, a terrible, quiet fury in his voice. "That was my last bottle of Tennessee sipping whiskey." He raised his eyes to glare at the evil ghost. "You come here, you try to murder me, you destroy my stuff, you insult one of my guests in front of my face, and YOU RUINED A PERFECTLY GOOD BOTTLE OF WHISKEY! I've had it with you--and I don't recall inviting you here, SO GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOME!"

Something long pent up burst forth--Kale slammed into the front door of the apartment and was held there, pinned by an invisible force. Heads snapped up; all three Saiyajin had sensed it. Kale's face twisted into a grimace of pain as the Saiyajin ghost tried to pull himself free, and failed.

"Sean, could you kindly not blow Kale clean through the wards I just laid?" Sinhika stood in the doorway of the small studio, still looking a bit tired and somewhat annoyed. "Sean? Hello? Sean! SEAN!"

Sean started, and Kale collapsed, no longer pinned to the door. "What did I do?" the artist said, slightly confused. The ghost Saiyajin got to his feet, shook himself, and vanished with a scowl.

"You tried to throw him out--he's an evil spirit, you didn't invite him, you're the 'owner' of this dwelling..." she shrugged. "All it took was will, and boom! He would have been out the door--except for my wards. I laid those to keep anything that emerged from that painting from getting loose in the rest of the world--he counts."

Sean gaped at the demon-girl. "You mean I could have thrown him out the whole time?" She nodded. "He nearly killed me!"

"You didn't know," Sinhika said. "I bet you never actually commanded him to leave, did you?"

Sean blinked. "Uh, no. It never occurred to me."

"There you go." Sinhika tossed her orange hair back, and stood with her hands on her hips.

"I'm not sure I understand," commented Goku, looking slightly puzzled.

"It makes perfect sense to me," growled Raditz, a bit testy at the interruption. "Forget that Kale's a Saiyajin--he's an 'evil' spirit from Hell; the usual powers affect him."

"You mean like those charms against evil spirits that Mom and Ox-King hang over all the doors and windows at home? Those would work on him?" Gohan asked.

"Yep." Raditz smirked. "The only reason I could enter your house when I was a ghost was because Ox-King gave me his permission--and that would not have been enough if I had been an enemy."

Goku smiled. "I understand now." He looked at Sinhika, who was standing expectantly in the doorway. "Are we--?"

"Yes," she answered. "Everything's ready for the final invocation; prepare yourselves."

*      *      *      *

Kale watched the final preparations as he paced back and forth, invisible and immaterial, a ghost. The demon-girl had trapped him; he could neither escape nor return. The others, yes--he sent them back, to warn the King that he would soon have unexpected visitors at court. He could not return, not until the King's curse was fulfilled: "Make sure whatever opened the gate doesn't ever do it again!"

Thanks to the demon-girl's magic, he couldn't leave this place, either--not that Kale had ever intended to abandon his king and his duty. There was little chance he could carry out his duty, now that that wretched human artist knew how to cast Kale out of his dwelling--a humiliation the weakling would pay dearly for if ever he came to Hell.

Still.. Kale's eyes narrowed as he thought. There were two possibilities, and one was stupid--marooning several living, non-evil souls in Hell was not something the King would appreciate--dead souls who didn't belong in Hell had been quite enough of a problem. But the other option..

Raditz was correct; his orders didn't say to kill the artist of the rift. Let someone higher than Kale stand in judgment of the young man's life; Kale would just make sure he painted no more pictures in the meantime.

*      *      *      *

Brakes squealed as the car stopped abruptly, just short of crashing into the police barricade. The dead man got out of the car as the police officer hurried toward him. The black leather coat flapped open in the breeze.

"You can't go into the city--only emergency vehicles are allowed-- Oh my God!" The cop froze, a look of horror on his face as he got a good look at the dead man. Terrible wounds gaped beneath the loosely flapping coat; loops of intestine hung out of the dead man's slashed and gutted belly. The officer knew the man had to be dead; no one could live like that--nor should he walk.

The dead man grinned unpleasantly; in a flash too fast for the policeman to see, it had him by the throat. Two other policeman came running up, guns drawn.

The dead man turned his head. "Children of Darkness, take them!" He rasped in a whisper. The shadows of the night took shape, and swallowed the other men.

The policeman's struggles grew weaker and weaker until he hung limp in the dead man's grasp. Still the dead man did not let go, but held him as he withered and shrank. At last the dead man threw down what had once been a strong young man, but now was nothing more than withered, dried skin over brittle, dry bones.

"Better," he whispered to himself. The dead man looked himself over; the gaping wounds were partially healed, and his entrails no longer spilled down. That had been quite an annoyance while driving. "Half a lung.. I need more than that. Yessss.. one of these cattle is still alive. Children, enough! Go and play until I need you anon!" The dead man's eyes glowed crimson.

The shadows withdrew, revealing one frozen corpse, and one shivering, whimpering man, wide-eyed with terror. The dead man knelt beside him, smiling hideously.

"You'll do," he rasped.

*      *      *      *

Up and up Vegeta flew, Mogris trailing in his wake. He spiralled up the infinite waterfall, where Styx plunged through the barrier of Time. He could not say whether the journey took hours or centuries, for there was no Time in this place. At last, soaked with spray, he passed back into History, back into the Seventh Hour of Night.

"Finally!" Prince Vegeta looked around, pondering the lore Prince Khara had briefed him on so long ago. Upstream, the Stygian Nile quickened as it rushed toward the great waterfall; downstream, the riverbed was dry, all of its flow diverted into the waterfall. Along the banks, strange gods gathered beams and girders and caissons; plans to repair the hole in the floor of Night were evidently in progress.

The shortest path back to Earth should be to follow Ra's path from the Cave of the Dawn... Vegeta flew downstream, following the dry riverbed. In the Ninth Hour, he slowed down, daunted by the fiery glow and intense heat ahead. He squinted, peering ahead under shaded hand. A great golden riverboat rested on the dry river bottom, stranded by the loss of the Nile. Within stood a brightness too intense for Vegeta to look at directly.

"Kuso! The Sun is stranded--I can't follow him out of the Night--and I can't pass him!" Vegeta turned back toward the Seventh Hour just as Mogris caught up to him.

"What did I miss?"

"Eternal Night. The Sun can't rise as long as the river pours through that damned hole!" Vegeta snarled as he flew back to the Seventh Hour.

He alighted facing a pair of gods who were consulting a sheaf of blueprints. One, a powerfully-built bull-headed man with long straight horns turned his head toward Vegeta. The other, an ibis-headed scribe who was making marks here and there on the blueprints, only turned his eyes for a moment.

Prince Vegeta raked through his mind for Khara's lecture on the gods of Egypt. The bull-god was Khnum, the Builder; the ibis should be Thoth, Scribe and Sorceror. Vegeta stared at the ibis-god.

"Which one of you two can tell me when this hole will be fixed?"

Thoth finally lifted his head to look directly at Vegeta. "Possibly never, if the serpent continues to interfere. He will not be slain until Bast comes, and she will not come until Ra reaches the Dawn--which will not happen until the Nile flows in its rightful bed."

"What serpent?" asked Mogris.

"That serpent," pointed Khnum.

Prince Vegeta turned; Apep the Night Serpent reared its head from the hole in the riverbed, black scales glistening.

"Oh, that Serpent!" Vegeta sneered disdainfully.

*      *      *      *

Where in all this devastation is Sinhika? Prince Khara worried as he flew invisibly over darkened streets and rubble. Was she all right? From what he'd seen, humans were still as ignorant as ever about their kind, and he had no fears for her from them, but.. If she had been caught in a falling building and crushed.. Khara could never forgive himself if she'd come to harm--he was supposed to protect his younger sister, not abandon her to her own devices in a disaster area!

Think; you are a prince of Lankha and a scholar. You had her address; there is no sign of her anywhere near the ruins of her apartment--therefore, she is somewhere else. But where, and why? Three things could send her elsewhere--duty, friendship, physical necessity. Her dwelling was in ruins--necessity demands she must shelter elsewhere--among friends. Prince Khara did not feel the pull of duty, so that could be dismissed. All he need do was find which friends still had suitable shelter, and he should find Sinhika... Where then, were her friends?

Khara sighed. It seemed he must do some labor with his own hands, searching for clues in the remains of her apartment. Perhaps the neighbors might know something, if any remained?

A sound caught his attention as he pondered, the sound of a crying child. What? Prince Khara rose into the air, and drifted in the direction of the sound.

No; not a crying child, a screaming child--a little girl who ran screaming in mad terror down the street, running from.. darkness. A wave of deeper darkness that not even Khara's emerald eyes could pierce flowed over the rubble after the child. As she ran over the broken rubble the inevitable happened: she fell, and the darkness closed in.

"Ashubhaam aadhyaatmikuum andhakaara! A darkness elemental, here?" Prince dropped to the ground, drawing the bejeweled hand-and-half sword his father gave him long ago. It flashed with his power as he appeared, standing between the fallen girl and the onrushing darkness.

Once, twice, thrice the great blade flashed, and the darkness parted with an inhuman shriek. Only the calm night remained. Khara turned to check on the girl.

She stared wide-eyed at the tall, emerald-eyed Indian prince in his turban and long brocaded coat. "Who are you?" she asked in awed tones.

He bowed politely. "I am Prince Khara of Lankha. And who are you, and where are your parents?"

"I'm Miko, and.. and.. that monster attacked my mommy!" Her blue eyes began to fill with tears.

Khara frowned slightly. "Where is your mother, child? She may need help, quickly!"

Miko nodded, and ran back the way she came, Prince Khara striding quickly after.

*      *      *      *

In Hell, another child talked to his rescuer. Bardock listened, continually bemused, interjecting a question now and then, as Goten chattered on and on. As he flew along the canyon looking for the rest of his team, the warrior got an earful about Daddy (Kakarott, of course), Nunk Rats (Raditz, apparently), Mommy, Trunks, Nan Bulma (Trunks' mother), Gohan (his older brother), Grandpa N'Ox King, the "Bad Dinosaur" (some kind of demon) that had kidnapped him, and some large, powerful demon that Raditz had defeated or nearly been killed by, possibly both--Goten was a bit confusing on that topic.

Goten was a bit confusing on every topic, but it was enough to know that both his sons were alive--and that Bardock need no longer be ashamed of his firstborn son. Whatever Raditz was doing, he seemed to have reconciled with his younger brother, and this little one admired him and looked up to him--his son could have no better witness.

"..and Daddy trained Nunk Rats and Trunks and--" Goten broke off, looking worried. "We've got to find Trunks! He got lost when it went BOOM!"

"Your friend Trunks is here??" Bardock started out of his reverie; he'd only been half-listening.

Goten pouted; Grandpa Bardock was as bad as Daddy about not paying attention! "Trunks fighted the bad monsters, and something went BOOM! An' I went bounce! Where'd Trunks go?"

"We will find him," Bardock promised, arcing above the canyon toward the recently blasted crater that had obliterated half the Pit of Worms region. Yes! There were Celipa and Toma, as he had sensed. Panboukin and Totepo were much further away, and busy, Bardock sensed. But who was Celipa carrying, and why had she removed her armor? He descended to meet them.

"TRUNKS!" Goten yelled jubiliantly past Bardock's ear. The boy waved frantically at the figure in Celipa's arms, who seemed to be wearing Celipa's body armor.

"Bardock! You found one, too!" Toma exclaimed, wide-eyed at the sight of the child in Bardock's arms. Bardock stared at the purple-haired boy holding onto Celipa's neck. The purple-haired boy stared boldly back at him, albeit with some confusion.

"Why is he wearing your armor, Celipa?" Bardock wondered; what was it about the boy? There was something vaguely familiar about his face...

"It wouldn't do for the King's grandson to be running around in nothing but his underwear." Celipa smirked at Bardock's astonishment.

"The King's gra-- He's Prince Vegeta's son?"

No wonder that face looked familiar! But that.. hair! He must have gotten it from his mother, who must be.. not Saiyan. Human. But.. the Prince? With a weakling non-Saiyan female? The Prince???

There were no Saiyan women left, you idiot! Bardock rebuked himself. Still.. it disturbed him. He'd excused Kakarott in his own mind long ago--his son could hardly be blamed if he'd lost all memory of his own race and didn't even know he wasn't one of the locals! But.. the Prince? He knew exactly what he was doing when he took some woman of Earth for his mate!

Bardock glanced at Goten, who was telling Trunks--Prince Trunks!--about his new grandfather. Goten had talked about Trunks, and said his mother was "Nan Bulma"--but had not mentioned Trunks' father.

"He's your grandfather?" Trunks' eyes were wide as he looked at Bardock, with something that looked disturbingly like respect. "You are Goku-san's father?"

Yes, his tone was definitely respectful! That wasn't right--a Vegeta prince did not defer to a low-class warrior! Even if Bardock was no longer really a low-class warrior.

"Yes, young prince." To his surprise, Trunks made a wry face, and sighed.

"That's what Raditz-san did when he first showed up--he called me 'young prince' all the time." Trunks looked slightly smug as he continued, "but Mom made him stop that. She says it gives me a bad attitude. I think she meant that I started talking back and getting in trouble too much, 'cause she only tells me I've got a bad attitude right after I get in trouble." The purple-haired boy looked sheepish.

Bardock smiled ever so slightly. Whatever the boy's lineage, he reminded Bardock more of his own son Raditz than the long grown Prince Vegeta--not that he'd ever had any real contact with the prince during his life. A strong mother, a fierce, proud father, and a boy with a nose for trouble--as all boys have.

He noticed Celipa quickly cover her mouth with her free hand--suppressing a giggle. But there was also a certain sorrow in her eyes, and Toma hovered protectively near. Bardock sighed quietly to himself--he knew his teammates, his friends well enough, alive or dead. To hold and protect the Saiyan child was a bittersweet joy for her, that renewed her unending grief for the children she and Toma never lived to have.

"Bardock." Toma was serious, as serious as Bardock had ever seen him. "What are we going to do with them? Living children, innocents, here.. something is terribly wrong. This is.." The tall handsome Saiyajin was at a loss for words.

"This is an abomination," Bardock stated flatly. A certain implacable determination entered his eyes and voice. "They must be sent back, to the living world--and we will make sure of it. Whoever, or whatever did this will pay for this perversion of reality and justice--fate is not kind to those who mock it, and justice even less." He smiled wickedly, in anticipation. "And if we Saiyajin reach them first.."

Toma and Celipa smiled evilly as well. "Don't be greedy and keep them to yourself, Bardock," Celipa half-mocked. "Share the 'fun'." Her voice was mocking, but a cold fury burned behind her eyes, fury at whoever would consign a child to Hell.

"Haven't I always?" Bardock asked.

"Always," answered Toma. "Anything any one of has asked for, you have given." He smiled ever so slightly at his leader.

"Save once," Bardock said, his mood changing abruptly, regret in his voice and eyes. "The most important thing you asked for.. I could not give you."

"Let it go, Bardock! I asked you for the impossible! Will you continue to condemn yourself because you did not have the power of a god? I do not--I cannot hold it against you; why do you still hold it against yourself that you could not save Vegetasai?"

"Because I failed to keep my promise to a dying friend."

"And you know I forgave you that a long time ago!" Toma sighed. "Then keep a new promise to your dead friend..."

Bardock looked sharply at him. "What?"

"Promise me you will forgive yourself, old friend. Let it go." Toma spoke softly.

Bardock closed his eyes briefly. "I will--when we no longer pay the price of my failure. When we are free of Hell."

"Hell?" Goten squeaked, and suddenly threw his arms around his grandfather's neck and hugged tight, screaming and crying hysterically. "HELL?? AAAAAHHHHHH! I DIDN'T MEAN TO BE BAD! GRANDPA, TELL MOMMY I'M SORRY!!! I DIDN'T MEAN TO--"

"GOTEN!" Bardock's voice cracked authoritatively even as he held the terrified little boy close, ruffling his hair and comforting him. "Stop yelling and listen to me!"

"Grandpa?" The combination of comfort and firm authority stopped Goten's hysteria cold. He looked up at his grandfather's face, scared, yet trusting the Saiyan warrior completely.

"Good, you're listening. Little one, it is not your fault you are here--the one who sent you here did a very evil thing; so very evil that even the demons of Hell would not do it. You do not belong here! Do you understand that?"

Goten nodded mutely, tears beginning to dry.

"Second, you are a Saiyajin, and Saiyajin do not scream and carry on like wailing banshees! If a Saiyajin is afraid--and don't let anyone convince you that Saiyajin never feel fear!--he keeps it to himself, so that his fear does not shame him and dishearten his comrades."

"Banshee?" whispered Toma to Celipa.

"Female psychopomp demon from Earth's borderlands--has the most ungodly loud screech imaginable," Celipa whispered back.

"Third, we will do our very best to get you and Trunks home. I promise you that, Goten son of my son Kakarott, on my honor as Saiyan warrior and by my blood which runs in your veins." He looked at Toma, Celipa and Trunks, who was pale and trembling in Celipa's arms.

"We're going back to the palace," Bardock said. "If the gods do watch over innocent children, and if Kale's bad luck has run true to form, then that rift is still open. That may be the children's one chance to get home alive. Toma, Celipa--let's go."

*      *      *      *

Where a painting had rested on an easel, there was now a hole in the air. Sean thought it looked like a picture window had been installed in mid-air: a rectangular, frameless window three times the size of his original painting that looked down into the infernal throne room. The view was crystal clear--it had none of the flatness or blurriness of a painting. Hot air with a stench of sulfur and things long dead blew out of the opening.

Sean stepped back, giving the others plenty of room. Raditz studied the opening for several minutes, and turned to Goku.

"They're expecting us; see how tense the guards are, and how they keep glancing at the gate while never staring directly at it? Kale must have warned them."

"They might be just worried about it in general, and not expecting us specifically," Goku countered.

"Either way, we may have to fight our way through them." Raditz grinned at his brother. "Ready, little brother?"

"Ready!" Goku dove gracefully through the opening, followed by Raditz.

"HEY! DON'T YOU DARE LEAVE ME BEHIND!" Bulma yelled, and jumped through the opening.

*      *      *      *


[ Contents | XXVII. The Gates of Hell | XXVIII. Inferno | XXIX. Converging Paths ]

Disclaimer: See Credits.

Copyright 2000 by Dragoness Eclectic