[ Contents | VI. The Invisible Demon | VII. City of Illusion | VIII. The Ghost Prince ]
Prince Vegeta felt the subtle change even as he passed the archway and left the pale wood. It was an awareness of both himself and the world around him as less substantial, less real. He'd left the underworld, and was once again a ghost in the world of the living. Vegeta scowled; the dead rakshasas had not lied about the path leading to the "Middle World", but he did not like becoming an insubstantial spirit again. At least in the underworld, everything else was spirit, too, and as substantial or insubstantial as himself--and he could deal with things as if they were real.
In Lankha, Beautiful Lankha, he walked, an invisible shadow of himself. Saiyan eyes gazed on forms both beautiful and horrid, dressed in the garb of all tribes and nations. The rakshasas that disturbed Vegeta the most weren't the snarling beastmen, nor the hideously deformed black dwarfs in skins and feathers--it was the handsome, youthful demon lads wearing jeans and T-shirts with commonplace logos like one might see in any big city of Earth. Vegeta gasped involuntarily the first time a car marked with the unmistakable Capsule Corp. logo nosed through the crowd on a main avenue. These creatures traded with the outer world--how many of them were out there, on Earth, and who were they? Cloaked in illusion, masters of deception, who would ever know?
It slowly dawned on Vegeta that the rakshasas and their cars, bicycles, and rickshaws had not run into him, or through him yet--and as he looked more closely at passers-by, he noticed many curious looks in his direction. Subtle; none were so rude or so bold as to stare directly at him, but THEY SAW HIM! The hair on the back of his neck prickled; Vegeta was getting very tired of Rakshasa deceptions. He was not a pawn to be played in someone else's chess game! Anger boiled not far beneath the surface; he desperately wanted a definite enemy to fight.
Vegeta turned, snarling, with the intent of flying to the spired palace that dominated the city--and stopped. A fantastic chariot--silver-chased, and pulled by two growling tigers--had pulled up before him. Four powerfully-built Rakshasa guards dismounted and knelt before him. A proud young Rakshasa dressed in an ornate bejewelled silk coat, turban, and pants also dismounted from the chariot and bowed to him. Another Rakshasa, an exquisitely beautiful demon-maiden with brilliant orange hair and black skin remained in the chariot.
"Prince Vegeta of the Saiyajin? I am Prince Khara of Lankha, and this is my sister Princess Sinhika; my father the king has anxiously awaited your arrival, and invites you to be his guest. I am at your service, noble prince." The emerald-eyed prince bowed again, and indicated the tiger chariot with one white-gloved hand.
* * * *
In downtown Satan City, a perfectly ordinary human being strode down the street, seething with anger. Well, actually, Sean Nixon was far from perfect, and not exactly ordinary, but he was human, and he was still angry. He viciously kicked a discarded can out of his path as he hurried, black trench coat flapping around his legs.
"Man, I cannot believe this!" he ranted to the pink-haired girl beside him. "First, this big ugly demon-thing appears out of nowhere and destroys the best club in the city, not to mention turning my boss into a monster, but somehow spares my fleabag apartment, and now, just as I've gotten things put back together from that catastrophe, I get an eviction notice! HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO PAY RENT WHEN SOME UGLY FUNKY-ASS MONSTER WASTED MY JOB? Then I had to redo all my design work FROM SCRATCH! How was I supposed to know that one of those martial artist weirdos would destroy the bank vaults where the offsite backups were 'safely' stored? It took so long, we would have lost the friggin' website contract even if my boss hadn't been turned into some gray drooling thing with tentacles! Man, this just friggin' sucks!" Sean waved the offending form letter in the air for emphasis, and then threw it on the ground and stomped on it a few times.
"Calm down, Sean. Next time, more beer, less coffee, eh?" The pink-haired girl in the very short black miniskirt (and black leather blouse and black fishnet hose and black spike heels) picked up the offending letter, which bore repeated signs of Sean's wrath in the form of Doc Martens treadmarks all over it. She handed it back to him with a wry smile.
He took it back in a long-nailed (painted dark purple) hand. "I suppose I better keep this for my records, especially if I want to contest it." Sean sighed. "Damn it! If I can't earn a living, I have to go back home.. to Nebraska.. to my parents." The gloom in his voice made it clear he thought that a fate comparable to a painful death at the hands of a berserk demon.
Pomona giggled. "You'd miss good old Satan City that much?"
"I'd miss YOU. And that's another thing," Sean started off on another rant, "are we the only ones who can see what a sleazeball fraud Mr. Satan is? I can't believe the dumb jerks around here actually RENAMED THE CITY after him! I didn't see HIM out fighting that demon a few months ago, did you? Of course, all the Shiny Happy People around here think Mr. Satan saved their butts, just because he got on TV and said so." Sean hawked and spit into a sewer grate.
Pomona wrinkled her nose. "I hear you, but could you find some less disgusting way to express your contempt?"
"Well, if I were one of those aforementioned martial artists, I'd fight in the next Tenka'ichi Budokai, beat the crap out of him, and THEN spit on him."
"Cute, Sean. You sure have a way of making a statement, I'll give you that."
"Think of it as performance art, with a political subtext."
Pomona rolled her eyes theatrically. "I don't know why you don't go back to art, anyway. You were good, very good; with a few pieces on exhibition, you'd have no trouble getting commissions and making some real money!" Pomona frowned.
Sean winced as the sun came out from behind a cloud. He pulled a pair of mirrorshades from an inside coat pocket and donned them. Coal-black hair drooped into his eyes. "Oh, I was good--too good. Let's not go there, okay." He sounded suddenly old and tired.
Pomona shrugged. "Whatever. Look, if you need a job, why not just apply for another job? I know you liked the old one, but just until you get on your feet, ya know?"
"Underpaid thralls are a dime-a-dozen around here; a foreigner like me...Nah. Besides, do I look like the suit-and-tie salaryman type?" Sean grinned rakishly at her, black fedora cocked at an angle, black trench coat open to reveal black lace-frilled shirt and black jeans.
"Drawing pretty pictures for a web design house isn't the only thing you know how to do, my pretty goth boi!" Pomona said significantly.
"Hmmm.. you've got a point there." He pulled out a clove cigarette and lit it. "I wonder who in this city might need a first-class hacker?" Sean "VirtualBlack" Nixon speculated.
* * * *
Several hours later, Sean leaned back in his computer chair and stretched. "That does it," he said to himself. "Got everything set up and ready to go." He lit another clove, and shook his head. "Some of these guys need a security expert really bad.. Doesn't anybody in this town keep up with the latest vulnerabilities and hacks? Well, tomorrow is soon enough to start sending out my 'resume'."
"Makoto, close 'VirtualBlack'," he commanded his computer. "Makoto, open 'Dreams'." Sean sat back to stare at the list of files, trembling slightly. He'd deliberately misled Pomona into thinking he'd given up art entirely. He hadn't, of course--he could no more stop drawing than he could stop breathing; it was in his soul.
Now the computer screen was his canvas, and Sean painted with pixels instead of acrylics. He tried to convince himself it was safe that way. They were just files, strings of 1s and 0s on a disk, not actual images. He could dispose of them in an instant, with the flick of a key, instead of slashing and burning them, if they started to.. change. When he wasn't viewing them, they didn't exist as pictures--no canvas surface providing a window or a door.. He hoped it was safe. He really did.
"Makoto, display 'Game of Demon Kings.'" The image he'd been working on, the image that he'd dreamed of, the image he couldn't get out of his head, sprang into being on his screen.
It was a still image of two chess players in an opulent room whose decor and architecture suggested Persia or India. Beyond them, an tall window overlooked the sea. The players drew the eye immediately; one was a tall, handsome, black-skinned demon with sharp claws and fangs, dressed in costly embroidered, bejewelled tunic and trousers, wearing a turban with a great ruby pin. Long, dark blue hair spilled out from below his turban; his eyes were sapphire blue and keenly regarding the marble chessboard, as one clawed hand reached out to touch a piece.
The other player was less obviously demonic, but not less remarkable; a short, well-muscled man with a crest of upswept black hair, and too-wide eyes rested his chin on a white-gloved hand as he studied the board, frowning. He wore some form of high-tech white armor over a dark bodysuit, and a red cape tossed back over his chair. A badge of some kind was engraved in red on the right breast of his armor, something rather like a pitchfork crossed with an anchor. This other player looked almost human--until you noticed the eyes were too large and the eyebrows arched odddly, and the unlikely hair.. and the white-furred tail wrapped around his waist. There was something in his expression, a relentless ferocity, that scared Sean, and he had painted it himself!
Sean studied the picture. No, it didn't really need anymore touching up, but.. had he painted the chess pieces in those positions? He didn't think so, but he wasn't a chess player, and the patterns had no special significance to remember. Sean wiped the sweat from his brow; man, this apartment was hot all of a sudden!
Please, God, don't let it happen again! he prayed silently. "Makoto, close picture. Makoto, start new picture." Time to work on something else, yeah, that was it.
* * * *
"That's it!" Bulma yelped with excitement, staring at the display. "NOW I see how that power detection circuit goes together!" She frowned at the translated tech manual on her computer. "Somebody should have put a damping filter on the gain, though. I see why the silly things blow up all the time."
Raditz looked rather red-eyed and tired; they'd been working on translating Bulma's new tech manuals almost non-stop since she'd returned to Capsule Corp grounds, with breaks for odd things like sleep and food.
"Bardock--my father--mentioned that once; he intended to revise the design. There was some issue with sensitivity, though, that made it complicated. And then Frieza killed him, and blew the planet up, so it didn't get done..." Raditz trailed off. He shook himself. "I think I'm going to cut back on the translation work a bit-- borrow that gravity chamber of Vegeta's and work on my own training in the mornings. I'll start getting lazy if I just park my tail in front of a computer all day."
"Um, okay." Bulma looked a bit subdued; somehow she'd managed to step into painful territory. She sighed; that had happened with Vegeta sometimes, too. She brightened up. "We're making good progress though--besides revisions to the scouter design, the armor shouldn't be too hard to duplicate, either--if my materials engineers can work out that 'tight coil' long-chain polymer you guys used to make it so elastic. Elegant--it responds to pressure from one direction, the inside, by stretching, and pressure from the other direction, the outside, by contracting and becoming more rigid."
"Will I have new armor soon?" He watched her out from under half-closed eyelids.
"Raditz! Is that ALL you think about? That, and your scouter? Have a little patience!" Bulma stood, yawned and stretched, unaware of Raditz's frank and admiring gaze.
No, that's not *all* I think about. I should spend a lot less time alone with you, though. You're entirely too pleasant to look at, and have courage, and wit and such a fascinating personality--and you belong to my prince! Raditz, remember that!
She forgets I am not Kakarott, and that Vegeta is not here. Not consciously, but in her habits, her manners--my brother is a good friend, and has never been anything more, it seems--and never thought of being anything more to her. She is relaxed around him, even careless, and accepts me as Kakarott's brother--and is as careless with me as she is with Kakarott. Fool woman! I am NOT my brother; you should not trust me anymore than you do other men--I have seen how guarded you are with them.
I have to protect her from herself, and from myself. *Sigh* Vegeta, why did you do this to me??
* * * *
Vegeta at that moment was not in the least concerned with what he had done or not done to Raditz. At that moment, Prince Vegeta regarded his royal host with some bemusement. These Rakshasa continually amazed him; infuriating him nearly to violence with their games of illusion, and then turning about and treating him like the prince he was, all deference and courtesy. Fawning flattery he would have thought it, save that he could sense the power smouldering behind King Vibishana's eyes, and knew that as a ghost, he, Vegeta, was little threat to the living. Their courtesy was not that of fear, but genuine deference to his rank and name.
A remarkable creature, this Rakshasa king. He was monarch of a race of fierce proud warriors, night-hunting, man-eating demons, who reminded the Saiyan of his own people. The Rakshasas also used ki--they flew, and shaped illusions, and used their own power to enhance mundane weapons to supernatural sharpness and toughness--an odd use of ki that Vegeta had never encountered before. And their ability to hide their own power, in fact their whole existance, astounded him. To fight invisibly--what an advantage!
Still, he was not here to admire the Rakshasas' talents. They had expected him, welcomed him for reasons that seemed obscure to Vegeta--that nonsense about him being a descendant of Hanuman, who was apparently a close friend of King Vibishana's. Preposterous on the face of it, and yet.. Prince Vegeta glanced at the new white tail he had so strangely acquired, and remembered the image of the white ouzaru. Enough of that! Let them believe whatever nonsense they chose to, as long as it made them so cooperative! Cooperative.. to a point.
"Even from here I can sense it," Vegeta growled, looking out the tall window at the ocean. "It's out there, half in the spirit world, half in the real world, gathering its damned power--sooner or later, it will return." He turned from the window to glare at the tall sapphire-eyed king. "That.. thing is as much your enemy as mine, Vibishana! Prince Khara told me of the Rakshasa.. 'dharma'." He pronounced the unfamiliar word with a strange accent.
King Vibishana nodded. "It is the dharma of the Rakshasa to protect all that is holy to the Creator from that which would despoil and unmake it. By tradition, we have protected the temples and holy places, but the duty goes deeper than that." Dark blue locks stirred in the breeze as the king lowered his voice, pensive. "I know not what brought this doom upon you and your lineage, but it is not of our doing, or of our dharma. We remain apart."
Prince Vegeta's eyes widened, and his brows lowered with anger. This was the sticking point that infuriated him--the Rakshasa king would give Vegeta anything he wanted--in Lankha. Knowledge, magic, a wicked game of chess.. but he refused to stir outside the hidden city. "Don't be a fool, Vibishana! That thing's nature is destruction! It's not hungry, or angry or vengeful--it just wants to make things.. not be! If that thing runs free, it will not stop with my family--it will destroy everything you care about, and you will be too late and too weak to stop it! Destroy that filth while it is weak!"
Sapphire eyes regarded Prince Vegeta keenly. King Vibishana nodded gravely. "I would be a fool were I to ignore wisdom, even if the specifics please me not. The demon is rightfully yours--thy enmity is personal and great; for myself, I still believe the thing a doom against thyself and thy lineage alone, which will return to whatever hell it came from when it is done with thee. But, should you fall, and fate proves me wrong, I will stand against it."
Finally! At least he concedes that much. "You'd have to stand in line behind Kakarott and his son..." Prince Vegeta said wryly. He scowled. "More useful would be an alliance in advance. Your power is a fraction of theirs; if they fall after me, what could you do but die?"
"That I cannot do; I am immortal, and cannot be slain." King Vibishana smiled, somewhat amused.
"Immortal! That could be useful!." Prince Vegeta regarded the other monarch thoughtfully. "I once intended to wish for immortality..."
"Obviously, you did not."
"At the time, I was.. interrupted." Prince Vegeta said somewhat sourly, remembering the terrible fight with Kakarott when he came to Earth for the dragonballs, and the missed third wish on Namek. "Later, I knew better.. What joy is there in fighting, if there is no risk to it?"
King Vibishana smiled sadly. "The dharma of a king is graver still than that of a warrior. I must do that which is right, for my people and for their dharma, not that which pleases myself alone." He looked into the distant horizon. "Long ago, I would have followed Rama to heaven, but my dharma, my duty, is here. So long as this fair blue world exists, and we Rakshasa live to protect that which is hallowed, I cannot die."
Ghost though he was, Prince Vegeta shivered. I am prince.. but I was never king. I am the heir, and if any had survived to crown me, I would have been king--and I would have borne that burden! Is that the burden you bore, father? The burden of doing what was best for the Saiyajin, no matter how much pain it cost you? And still bear--I have seen you in Hell! Damned Saiyajin.. still your people. Even though you were mortal, and died, you are still their king, in Hell.
I once blamed myself for Vegetasai's destruction, knowing that you attacked Frieza over me. If you had not.. cared about me, Frieza would not have killed you, and followed your regicide with Vegetasai's genocide. So I believed, and I refused to allow anyone to so care about me again. I destroyed a world that dared to call me a hero!
Later, I blamed you for the death of our world--if you had not been weak in your affection for me, you would have not attacked Frieza and doomed us all. I thought you a fool who had thrown away his kingdom and his people for the sake of one child--for purely personal desires. I hated you for your weakness and folly, and refused to allow myself any such weakness.
Only after I died on Namek and met you again did I finally understand. Frieza decided our doom long before you challenged him over me--and even if he had not.. It was not just for personal desire that you challenged Frieza; you had to challenge that monster, for how could you be king, how could you rule over and protect our people if you could not even protect your own child from our enemies? It was not weakness that sent you against Frieza; it was strength!
A weak king would have yielded his authority to save his life, a weak man would have sacrificed his child to save himself! You were strong, stronger than I could know.
Prince Vegeta returned his attention to King Vibishana. I think I have the measure of this man.. demon.. whatever, now. "You want to join in this fight, don't you?"
"With all my heart!" Vibishana's fierce sapphire gaze burned into Vegeta's. "Were it my pleasure alone, I would come against this abomination with the all the host of the Rakshasas! But it is not my pleasure alone, and it is my people's safety and the fulfillment of our ancient duty that I must weigh against my own desire in this."
Vegeta's lip curled up in that devilish smirk. "As you say.. the demon is mine! I will deal with that monster--but his host infests the upper hells, and are as vile as the demon himself." Prince Vegeta looked out across the sea for long moments, as King Vibishana waited for him to continue. "When the demon returns to Earth.."
"You expect his host to follow." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes." His eyes narrowed as he looked at the Rakshasa King.
The corner of Vibishana's mouth quirked very slightly into the ghost of a smile. He nodded. "Yes," he answered the unvoiced question.
The noble rakshasa regarded Prince Vegeta. "Has the beast a name, or you some clue to its true nature?"
"It wasn't polite enough to introduce itself, although it seemed to know some of our names." Vegeta brooded, seated on the sill of the window, staring across the sea at those he could not see, save in his heart. He remembered the demon's malevolent obsession with Gohan and Bulma and even young Trunks.
They must be warned--and I cannot warn them! Kakarott knows NOTHING of this--he thinks the thing destroyed, and everyone is safe and sound, thanks to my 'noble sacrifice' and his final attack! The fool! If she dies of HIS complacency, I will not forgive!
Or.. can I warn them? Yes! There just might be a way!
"Two things, King Vibishana." Prince Vegeta regarded the rakshasa thoughtfully, dark eyes unblinking. "You hid the way to Lankha behind illusion, did you not? That is why the demon passed you by, and smashed through Lower Hell instead!"
The tall rakshasa smiled ever so slightly. "Yes, I did." He regarded Prince Vegeta quizzically. "Why?"
Vegeta laughed triumphantly. "HE CAN'T SEE THROUGH YOUR ILLUSIONS!" He spun to glare at the sea's distant horizon. "If I can sense him, he almost certainly can sense me, except for Lankha's--your--illusions. I will need to.. borrow a few of them for a bit."
He turned back to face King Vibishana. "As for the other..." Vegeta thought a bit, remembering a cryptic phrase Raditz used: "further from the mortal world than anything short of Chaos itself" -- and the broo, with their exultant hate and self-knowledge that they were Chaotics.
"What is Chaos?"
* * * *
Rainbow-colored mud bubbled desultorily in an ancient dump, now inundated by the wandering river that had once been channeled by the built-up banks of an eastern city. That had been before the Saiyajin came, before a bored Nappa had obliterated a thriving metropolis in the blink of an eye. Now only ruins remained at the edge of a great crater; only crows and rats dwelled where people once lived.
No, not only crows and rats dwelled there. In the darkness, mud heaved and surged as something formed itself from toxin and filth. Deputy regarded his greater self with a critical eye; no. It was not yet ready. The mud subsided as something dispersed itself scarcely before it had finished forming.
From the instant of separation, Deputy had diverged from his greater self. Though he felt all the imperatives laid on his greater self, Deputy sought his own path to fulfill them. He did not wait on his greater self. Deputy plotted.
The scheme unfolded. As his greater self had done before, Deputy wrenched himself apart. When he was done, three beings stood where one had been before: Deputy, and two smaller others.
Deputy, himself the size of a small house, turned to the smallest, a slender, lithe demon, like a small dinosaur, scarce bigger than a man, whose hide rippled and changed colors at whim. "You are Scout; seek our victims, find them, learn about them and return to me. Do not fight them, do not even let them know you exist, but return to me with knowledge! Now, go!"
The raptor-like demon nodded its horned head once, unfurled slender, swift wings, and darted away into the sky.
The other demon was wingless, and half again as tall as a man. Corded muscles bulged its scaly, shadowy, hide; a wide mouth filled with far too many sharp teeth grinned perpetually. Except for the dull grey claws, and lurid red eyes, the rest of it was blacker than black, the very stuff of darkness.
"You are Enforcer; gather our worshippers, bring them to me, let them serve us! They have forgotten us, but you will remind them. I say to you, avoid our victims, fight them not, do not even let them know you exist--their doom is mine to devise. Now, go!"
The shadow demon nodded, and disappeared into the night. Deputy, who was the very image in miniature of that one version of his greater self, sank back into the mud and filth that was his hiding place. His greater self would take the Saiyajin warriors--but Deputy would take the weak ones, the woman and the children. He giggled to himself; "'woe and grief, such that they will beg for death and curse the day of their birth'." He looked forward to the fun.
* * * *
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER VIII. GHOST PRINCE
[ Contents | VI. The Invisible Demon | VII. City of Illusion | VIII. The Ghost Prince ]
Disclaimer: See Credits.
Copyright 2000 by Dragoness EclecticLast Updated: Mar 8, 2009