[ Contents | XIV. Quiet Before the Storm | XV. Temblor | XVI. Aftershock ]
Trunks slouched at his desk, working on the drawing in the back of his notebook. He'd long since tuned out the teacher's drone--listening to Mr. Bara explain basic arithmetic to the rest of the dummies bored Trunks silly; he'd read the math book all the way through in the first week. He dutifully did his lessons and homework, because it made Mom happy, and since he scored 100s most of the time, Trunks didn't see why he should have to listen to Mr. Bara tell him stuff he already knew.
It was much more interesting to get just the right texture penciled in for Raditz-san's hair, and the ghostly luminescence around the Ochimo of Water. He'd switched to a green colored pencil for the latter.
Trunks stopped to admire his handiwork; he thought he'd done rather well for a back-of-the-notebook pencil sketch. Then a hand fell on his shoulder.
"Well, Mr. Briefs, I see you've managed to get your classes confused." Mr. Bara glared sternly down at the purple-haired boy. "I'm teaching mathematics, not art!"
Trunks quickly closed his notebook and shrank back in his seat, cheeks flaming.
Mr. Bara frowned and held his hand out for the notebook. Trunks reluctantly gave it to him, and watched as his teacher opened it to the back, to his drawing.
"Hmmph! Definitely not lesson material!" He ripped the drawing out and crumpled it up. "Boys will be boys, but in MY class, you will be a student! Is that understood, Mr. Briefs?"
Trunks nodded dumbly, still too embarassed to speak.
"IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"
"Yes, sir," Trunks answered in a very small voice.
After class, an angry and upset Trunks sulked in the hallway beside his locker. It just wasn't fair of Mr. Bara to embarass him in front of the whole class like that! He DID do his lessons, he passed every test with the highest scores in the class, why did Mr. Bara care if he drew pictures when he got bored? And it had been one of his best pictures, too. Trunks angrily kicked the locker in front of him.
WHANNGGGG! The whole bank of hall lockers rang from the force of Trunk's kick; the door of the locker he'd kicked crumpled up like tinfoil around his foot. Trunks stared dumbly at the wad of sheet steel wrapped around his foot.
"Oops." He looked around guiltily. To the left--no one; to the right--MR. BARA!
"Mr. Briefs! I believe we need to have a talk with the principal about your temper..."
* * * *
Sinhika hurried toward the elevator; it wouldn't do to be late reporting to her new boss on the first day. As she hurried, she reflected on her recent encounter with Raditz. He was the big attractive guy that time downtown--but then she hadn't been close enough to see details. She'd almost lost her composure when she realized what that brown fur "belt" was--a tail! He looked like one of the Ghost Prince's people--that same outrageous hair, sense of raw power, and of course, the tail--he had to be one of them!
Sinhika, she scolded herself, don't be an idiot--you came to Satan City in the first place because the Ghost Prince came from there. I shouldn't be surprised to find more of his kind here. In fact, the only surprising thing is that I haven't run across the others he mentioned, Kakarott and Gohan. I would think that such powerful warriors would be well known. Instead, the only well-known local warrior seems to be that Mr. Satan character.
She suddenly wanted to see Sean's magic painting again; would she find someone in it who looked like a close relative of Raditz, too? Sinhika had a creepy hunch that she would. What was the significance of that painting? The king of the monkey people--no, what was it the Ghost Prince called himself?--the king of the Saiyajin and his court, in Hell. Were they really the Children of Hanuman? Sinhika wasn't sure she believed that--it had been a very long time since she'd met Hanuman the Wind-childe, but she remembered him as being a very nice furry white monkey-person who made her laugh. How could his children be demons of Hell?
How could your kind, compassionate and righteous father have a brother who was the Demon King, the terror of the Three Worlds, who stole another man's wife and was slain for it? a contrary thought whispered in the back of her mind. Good and evil are not inherited; good men may have wicked children, and good children may have evil parents.
* * * *
"TRUNKS DID WHAT??" Bulma shouted into the phone. "Yes, I'll be coming down there right away--no, I can't. I've got an appointment in fifteen minutes, too late to postpone it--but just as soon as I can, I'll get down there!" Bulma slammed the phone down.
"What has gotten into that boy?" Bulma muttered as she picked up the phone again and punched in the codes that switched it over to comm-link mode. "The same thing that's gotten into me, I suppose." She rested the phone on the desk for a moment, as one stray tear escaped her eye. "Vegeta.." her empty heart ached.
"No! I will.. not.. start.. crying!" She grabbed the phone up and punched in a certain ident code. "Raditz! Since you insist on following me around, I will be going to Trunks' school in about half an hour or so." Bulma slammed the phone down.
"I shouldn't have done that," she sighed. "That was rude; it isn't poor Raditz's fault." Bulma looked at her desk, stared at the wall, glared at the computer. "Hmmm.. well, rather than mope.." She started browsing a certain archive of computer files--computer files that her attack programs had copied from VirtualBlack's computer before erasing it.
"'Goth Convergence'--oh boy, aren't we Mr. Cool! 'Tools' and 'Downloads'--predictable hacker crap. 'Interesting'--there's my Saiyan tech manuals, you thief! 'Dreams'--what's this? Pictures? 'GameOfDemonKings', 'Wolfslayer'.. Hmmm.. doesn't sound like the kind of hentai crap I'd expect... Let's see if I can display them..."
* * * *
Raditz walked across the compound, thinking dubious thoughts about Nezumi. The more he thought about it, the more he doubted that Hiregumi had put her up to spying on him. No, Raditz doubted that Nezumi meant to spy on him at all--but if not, what was her real reason for wanting to get close to him? Raditz was sure she had been sincere about that part. But why?
Raditz barged through the front door of the main Capsule Corp building--and stopped suddenly as realization struck him. Could it be that simple?? She wants to be close to me.. because she wants to be close to me. He thought back to all his 'chance' encounters with Nezumi and her black-haired friend Lina.
I don't believe this! I am a clueless idiot! How could I have missed such obvious signals? If a Saiyan girl had even hinted at.. I would have.. Oh, crud.
Raditz started walking slowly toward the stairs. I just wasn't thinking of them as people, he thought, hating himself. Not as real women who might be really interested in me as a real live man. So many years of denying to my heart that anyone without power and a tail could be people.. He clenched his fists tightly, and then let go as he floated up the hollow stairwell to the top floor.
* * * *
Sinhika knocked, and stepped into the office holding an armful of folders. Bulma sat motionless, staring at her computer screen, her face blank with shock. She didn't seem to notice Sinhika.
"Ms. Briefs? Um, I'm not early, am I.." Sinhika trailed off as Bulma turned slowly to face her, that look of shock and confusion still written on her face.
"How can this be?" the blue-haired woman asked shakily.
"How can what be?" Sinhika walked quickly over to this desk to see what was so shocking and horrifying--
--and dropped the presentation she'd so carefully put together, now forgotten in her own shock.
"Pitaa! Aadhyaatmikuum Kshatriyaa!"
There, in full color on the computer screen, was an extremely vivid portrait of King Vibishana and Ghost Prince Vegeta playing chess! And the style--she'd seen one other painting in that vivid, dynamic style--Sean's painting!
"What?" The shock vanished from Bulma's eyes, replaced by suspicion. "You're the new girl--Miss Manohara? What could you possibly know about this?"
Sinhika pulled her scattered wits together. "I.. I'm sorry, Ms. Bulma. The portrait--it is such a vivid one of a fearsome personage of ancient myth. The artist is very.. skilled."
Sinhika pointed gingerly at the black-skinned demon noble. "That is Vibishana, the Demon King of the Rakshasas. You can tell, because he has black skin--demons are always depicted so--and wears royal garb. There were only two Kings of the Rakshasas in all of myth; the first was Ravana, who had ten heads and twenty arms, and the second was Vibishana, who has but one head and two arms, but whose eyes are sapphire and can see all hidden things. I do not recognize the other player from any myth, though." The orange-haired girl looked shyly at Bulma. "Did you draw this?" Sinhika dissembled.
"No," Bulma answered, relaxing. "I found it, and was very surprised by the skill of the artist.. and his choice of subjects," she added mysteriously. "Enough of this." She closed the viewer, and turned back to Sinhika. "Down to business.."
* * * *
"Raditz. Could you come here? There's something I want your opinion on." The request was normal enough, but Bulma's voice was tight and strange. The big Saiyan looked at her sharply. Now what?
Bulma carefully closed and locked the door behind them, making Raditz very edgy. It was after working hours, now, and almost everyone else was gone for the day. What was she up to?
He found out. His own throat went tight as he looked at "Game of Demon Kings" in its full glory on Bulma's wide-screen display.
"Vegeta," Raditz finally managed to say. "But who's the other guy? And where in the HELL did you get this portrait?"
"Out of the personal files of the twit hacker who stole my tech manuals off of YOUR computer--you do remember that incident, don't you?"
Raditz rubbed his head. "Yeah."
"My newest employee--the Indian girl--managed to identify the other player as a mythical demon named Vibishana, King of the Rakshasas. I looked them up--they're mythical shape-changing, man-eating demons of India. Okay, the artist likes to paint mythical figures--but how in the hell did Vegeta get in his picture? And why is he dressed like that?"
"That's.. how Vegeta appears in Hell." Raditz seemed reluctant to say anything more. "He's wearing the armor and cloak of a Saiyan prince--what he IS, what he.. sees himself to be. I can't really explain it better than that."
"As for how did Vegeta get in the picture.. Maybe I should ask the artist." Raditz smirked evilly. "Know where I can find him?"
"Not yet--I just have his electronic address. You and Mr. Hiregumi might be able to find it out his real-world address from that, but I'll bet his real-world address is somewhere in his own computer files--which I have." Bulma smirked back. "I'd like to hear what Mr. VirtualBlack has to say about his paintings, myself! Take a look at the other one."
Bulma opened another image, this one titled, "Wolfslayer". A burning golden giant ape and a monstrous white wolf fought across mountain tops in a swirl of blazing gold and silver white; the moon silhouetted them. Superimposed on the image of the ape was the ghostly face of a man--the face of Vegeta, snarling in battle rage.
Raditz stared at it for a bit. "Our artist friend seems fond of Vegeta, doesn't he? But how could Vegeta be ouzaru? His tail--Bulma, show me the first picture again!"
Bulma displayed "Game of Demon Kings" again. Raditz's finger darted out. "Look! He has a TAIL! Funny color for a Saiyan's tail, though."
Bulma stared. "I can't believe I missed that! It's white. Maybe that's why I missed it--all the Saiyan tails I've seen have been brown."
"They're always brown," Raditz said, still staring. "Why did he draw Vegeta with a white tail?"
The floor trembled--at first a minor tremor like so many in the past few days, but then it gathered in strength and violence--the floor, the walls, the whole building heaved and tossed like a small boat in a hurricane.
Without stopping to think, Raditz grabbed Bulma and sheltered her in his arms, ready to fend off the worst the shuddering earth might throw at them. Bulma screamed in protest as the walls cracked open, "But this building is earthquake proof!"
Then the floor collapsed underneath them, and the ceiling followed after. Bulma screamed; Raditz's aura flared as he formed a ki shield around them and flew upward. Once, twice, thrice he blasted chunks of reinforced concrete into dust; he batted lesser debris aside with one hand and will.
It only took a second for Raditz to blast his way clear of the collapsing building, but to Bulma it seemed like an hour of terror before they hung suspended in the blue sky, looking down at the spreading ruins.
Everywhere she looked, buildings swayed and fell; dust rose into the sky. The ground heaved and cracked, splitting open into crevasses, sliding and rising to form new hills and cliffs.
"Gods..." Bulma buried her face in Raditz's chest.
He held her silently for long minutes. "Your parents are alive."
"What? How did you--oh. You sensed them?"
"Yes, down there in the garden." Raditz nodded at the ground.
Bulma looked down. Yes, there they were, safely in the middle of the garden, looking around. She suddenly realized that the ground was a lot closer, that Raditz was landing them right in the garden--
"Bulma! You're okay!"
"Baby!" Mrs. Briefs hugged her daughter tightly, rare tears flowing from her eyes. "We thought you'd been killed when the HQ building collapsed!"
"Raditz saved my life--Trunks! Where's Trunks! He was at school!" Bulma started to panic again.
"He's alive, too." Raditz said. His eyes were closed; he seemed to be listening to some distant voice. His lips curved up in the hint of a smile as his eyes opened. Goten is fine, too, he thought to himself.
* * * *
Trunks had been sitting in the principal's office writing "I will not lose my temper and break things" for the 478th time when the quake hit. Remembering the school's frequent earthquake drills, he started to hide under the principal's desk with the principal--then he remembered Nezumi.
He ran out into the secretary's office. "Miss Nezumi?"
Nezumi looked at him, somewhat startled as she sheltered in a doorway, arms over her head to protect herself. "Young man, get under that desk--NOW!"
"Yes, ma--YOUCH!" Trunks reflexively threw his hands up as a ceiling beam crashed through the false ceiling, and executed a perfect Burning Attack. Ceiling beam and the rest of the ceiling vaporized in the incandescent brightness; blue sky reigned above.
"Wow. I guess I did learn something from all that training with Goku-san." Trunks ran over to Nezumi as soon as the floor stopped heaving. "Are you all right?"
"I think so." Nezumi looked at the hole in the ceiling and looked at Trunks again. "Did I really just see you vaporize the ceiling and the entire second floor room above us?" The usually giggly brown-haired girl was wide-eyed and serious.
Trunks looked up. "Oh, man, I hope I don't get in trouble for that. I wasn't mad or anything--I just thought the ceiling was going to crush us!"
Nezumi couldn't help smiling at Trunks; the boy looked so worried! "I know, and I think you were right--that beam would have smashed us flat! Either that, or we would have been buried under the second floor when it fell on us!" She held out a hand for Trunks, and he helped her up. "Just don't mention it to the principal," she winked. "I don't think he'd understand."
After checking that the principal was okay, they made their way out to the car--only to halt in dismay. Not only was the road unusable--broken and covered with fallen electric lines, but the car had fallen into a chasm in the ground and been crushed.
"I guess we're not going anywhere soon," Nezumi muttered.
Trunks was wide-eyed. "What happened to everything?"
"Earthquake, Trunks--a bad one. A very bad one. This one's probably going to make headlines around the world." Nezumi was exactly right.
Nezumi's cellphone buzzed. "Yes? Ah! He's fine, ma'am. Trunks is right here with me--not a scratch on him. Dust, on the other hand..."
Thip! Something landed on the grass behind Nezumi, and Trunks' eyes went wide with surprise. Then he grinned even as she turned around, reaching for the gun in its concealed back holster, and yelled, "RADITZ-SAN!" as he bolted past her.
Nezumi snatched her fingers out of her jeans like she'd been caught doing something naughty, and tried to look innocent as she faced the big.. tall.. muscular.. handsome.. incredibly long-haired bodyguard. As Trunks greeted Raditz, Nezumi noticed that he, too, had plenty of plaster dust in his hair.
"Hmmm.. That car isn't going anywhere," Raditz observed. "Come here, Nezumi."
"Uh, the last time I got close to you--"
"--I did exactly what I'm planning to do now--grab you and fly." Raditz smirked. "I'm taking Trunks home now. You coming?"
"Just watch where you put the hands, big guy," Nezumi walked up to Raditz, smirking back.
Raditz grinned evilly. "Okay." He grabbed Trunks with his right arm, and grabbed Nezumi by the arm with his left hand. He rose into the air, and just as Nezumi started to feel the strain of suspending her entire weight from her shoulder, Raditz's TAIL wrapped around her waist and hips in a most intimate manner, supporting her weight and holding her close to him.
"T-Tail! You've got a tail!" she squeaked as she grabbed him around the waist in return.
* * * *
Sinhika landed gingerly on the roof of Sean's apartment building. Amazingly enough, the old building was neither collapsed nor on fire. There were a few cracks in the walls, and she doubted a single unbroken window remained in the city, but all in all, the place seemed pretty solid. She hurried down to his apartment, to find the door open, and Sean standing in the middle of his living room, looking at the fallen and tumbled debris of his possessions.
He glanced at her and a smile flickered across his face momentarily. "Hey, Sin. Glad to see you're okay." He nodded at the apartment in general. "Wouldn't you know it--half the city falls down, and my apartment building, Cockroach Central, stands solid as a rock! I think the roaches must have been holding the building together." He reached down, and found a carton of cigarettes somewhere in the mess.
"You don't smell any gas, do you?" he asked, holding his lighter at the ready.
Sinhika sniffed the air. "No..."
"Good." Sean lit his cigarette, and soon the distinctive reek of burning clove filled the air.
"I'm glad YOU'RE okay," Sinhika walked over to Sean, grabbed him by the lapels of his shirt, pulled him to her face and kissed him, long and hard.
"Whoa! What was that for?"
"Just because you're you, Sean." Sinhika winked. She peeked into the small studio he used. "Did the painting survive? I wanted to look at it again."
Sean stepped over some fallen books into the studio, where he picked up the collapsed easel and painting. "No damage, but.." he trailed off.
"But?" Sinhika looked at the painting with him.
"I have this vague memory of spilling my guts to you about my paintings, so I guess it's all right to point out that the painting has.. changed."
The orange-haired girl looked where the black-clad artist was pointing. "You're right. The white-cloaked guy who was kneeling before the king is gone, and he's been replaced by that ugly bald guy in the heavy Chinese armor who's in a huddle with the king and that scar-faced guy with the every-which-way-hair."
"I wouldn't call it a huddle, more of a staff conference. A meeting of the king with his ministers." Sean frowned, wishing Sinhika would take his cursed painting a bit more seriously.
Sinhika pursed her lips. "Could be. Scarface there has been standing at the king's side the whole time. Since he and the king are the only two wearing red cloaks, I'd say Scarface there is someone very important..."
* * * *
While Sinhika and Sean discussed the finer points of art inside, outside, Pomona and Melchior made their way to Sean's apartment.
"Melc, we are sooo lucky! I can't believe we left the Cafe just before the quake hit--and the whole place collapsed!" Pomona was still a bit shaky.
"Uh, yea!" Melchior's comment was a bit clipped; he was out of breath from stumbling over rubble and dodging fallen electrical lines. "Sean's probably okay--his building's still standing."
"He's the only one of us with a roof over his head, so far. Hope he lets us crash with him." Pomona was in better shape than Melchior.
They made their way up the lightless stairs to the dimly lit hall on Sean's floor.
"Looking for a place to crash?" The slender man with the long black hair and black trenchcoat stood in the middle of the hall, blocking Pomona's way.
"Voron! What are you doing here?" Pomona snapped. "And don't tell me you're crashing with Sean--he'd toss your sleazy ass right out the nearest window first."
"Pomona! I'm crushed. I just thought I'd offer you two the chance to join with us--with my new coven. We've plenty of places to sleep, and you'd both be very welcome."
"Oh cripe, what is it this time, Voron?" Melchior asked sarcastically. "First you tried the Wiccans, then the Druids, then the Scientologists.. last I heard, even the Church of Satan kicked your sorry ass out!"
Voron held out his hand, and slowly drew into a fist. He snarled angrily, "I WASN'T KICKED OUT! I left those bickering fools because they had no real power! I've found the real thing, now!"
"Oh, sure, right. Voron, you and the horse you rode in on, you know what to do!" Pomona sneered.
"I'm sorry you feel that way. Melchior?"
"Voron, you're a jerk, you've always been a jerk, and you always will be a jerk. Does 'go away and never bother me again' mean anything to you?" asked Melchior mildly.
Voron smiled evilly. "Actually, I'm not all that sorry you feel that way. Caleb?"
"Huh? Who's Cal--" Something smashed into the side of Melchior's head, and everything went black.
Pomona spun around, and yelled as Melchior collapsed. Sean's unshaven nextdoor neighbor stood over his falling body, a blackjack in one hand. He smiled at Pomona, terrifying her utterly.
"Scream all you like--no one will hear you," Voron mocked. "I told you I have real power now!"
Pomona responded by punching Voron in the face with a heavily be-ringed hand. "Power this, you son-of-a-bitch!" Then she kneed him in the groin, and Voron was out of action.
Caleb jumped on her from behind; he was as strong as a tiger. Try as she might, she couldn't get loose from his grasp. Two other men stepped out of Caleb's apartment, and methodically beat her senseless.
After a few minutes, Voron got back to his feet and wiped the blood off of his cut and bruised face. "Now, boys, these two have POWER! Might not look like much, but Pomona here," Voron kicked her in the ribs, "has the potential to be a first class witch. Too bad she won't live so long. Melchior, here, is also gifted--and he IS a witch."
Voron bent down and ripped a small necklace off Melchior's neck, revealing the pentacle. "We'd never have been able to get the jump on him without the ritual Keikan-Ma taught me, that hides you from all supernatural senses." He glanced down the hall at Sean's door. "We've got a good haul tonight, boys, but the real prey I want is behind that door. The artist and the mystery girl--they're both very powerful and probably don't even know it. Keep an eye out for opportunities, and let me know before you move! End of lecture, gentlemen; let's go."
* * * *
Something howled in the distance; two more doleful voices joined, baying at some nameless thing in the depths beyond the right bank.
"What is making that hideous racket?" Prince Vegeta asked. He leaned against the bow, watching the Styx flow by.
"It sounds almost like Garm--if there were a pack of him." Modgudh observed.
The Ferryman grunted. "Cerberus. Guards Tarterus." He lounged against the sternpost, one hand resting lightly on the steering oar.
Kadru perked up. "The three-headed dog who guards the Underworld in 'The Odyssey' and 'The Twelve Labors of Hercules'?"
Everyone stared at Kadru. "Where did you learn that?" demanded Vegeta.
The Naga princess looked indignant. "I'm not ignorant; I had a proper education, you know. I've studied all the classics, both Western and Eastern."
"Another giant dog guardian? What is this obsession with canines? I would think demons or soldiers would make better guards!" Vegeta folded his arms and sneered.
The Ferryman chuckled. "You'll see those."
The black ship rounded a bend in the river, and came out between widening canyon walls. Above them, the Ferryman's passengers could see a vast blueviolet dimness; ahead, a vast cliff. The Styx flowed into a vast cave mouth in the cliff; in it, something glowed.
"Now what?" asked Vegeta.
"The Twelve Hours of Night," rumbled the Ferryman. "Good timing. Ra is just ahead of us."
Modgudh's fleshless face turned toward the Ferryman. "So I'm an ignorant country girl--who is Ra and why is this good timing?"
"Sun god of Khem. Better to be behind him, and not catch up to him, than be ahead of him, and be overtaken by him. He makes things a bit hot," the dark being stated laconically.
Vegeta laughed mockingly. "You people actually believe that Earth's primary star disappears into the underworld at night? How ridiculous! Even children know that the planet rotates on its axis to create day and night."
The Ferryman smiled a toothy smile. "In the world of the living, yes. You're not there, are you?"
Prince Vegeta scowled, and fell silent. He made his way back to the bow, and stared out at the river, waiting.
* * * *
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER XVI. AFTERSHOCK
[ Contents | XIV. Quiet Before the Storm | XV. Temblor | XVI. Aftershock ]
Disclaimer: See Credits.
Copyright 2000 by Dragoness EclecticLast Updated: Mar 8, 2009