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The final guardian resided in an Antarctic wasteland; the terrain was icy plateaus and snowy hills while the seemingly endless ceiling was of a red sky raining snowflakes and small hail. The heroes could see their own breath in front of them. The smell of mold and rot was the strongest in here, driving Beast Boy insane. He closed his nostrils and took in a deep breath, instantly regretting his decision to do so. He morphed into a noseless polar bear and Roshi and Star hugged him for warmth. "Congratulations, fools," the Master's voice shrilly said. "You have managed to defeat my four lower guardians. Dabura, reveal yourself."
The demon faded into the vision of the three heroes yet to fight. Trunks grimaced and drew his sword. "I will vanquish you, Dabura," Trunks said, bursting his aura to Super Saiyan Two. "Let me fight him, Supreme Kai."
"I will allow it," the Kai said.
"You will allow it," the Master said, "but will I? No; the warrior who won my tournament must defeat the last guardian, alone."
Trunks glared at Gohan for a second. "Gohan," Trunks said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a short, brown stick roughly six inches long and tossed it to the Saiyan. "This is from another Z-Fighter. I think you know what to do."
Gohan nodded to the vengeful Saiyan and turned to his opponent. He raised his staff into the air. "Power Pole: extend!" he exclaimed, turning six inches into seven feet.
Dabura chuckled. "You wish to duel with the person who invented weapons?"
Gohan fancily spun his staff around on his sides and above his head, falling into stance with a wide stomp. His staff was poised in a thrusting position.
"Very well," Dabura said, simply spreading his arms with his sword in one hand.
Gohan's aura spiked, melting some of the ice as he went Super Saiyan One and Super Saiyan Two. "Hold it, Gohan!" Roshi said, feeling the tower tremble. "You're going to knock down the tower and kill everybody!"
Gohan took on the form he fought Vegeta in that turned his golden aura purple. Dabura's eyes widened. They settled into his vicious smirk. "How unpleasant," Dabura said. His aura grew as well, forming black jagged swells of energy all around him. "I am afraid that I will have to give you a worse treatment than the Kai."
Gohan chuckled. "What does that entail? I'm sure 'Dabura getting skewered by a piece of wood from the guy he's trying to kill' isn't among the list of instructions."
"You know how much I love pride," Dabura said. "He's one of my middle children."
"Did he inherit your face?" Beast Boy taunted to the opponent he could not see, but hear.
Dabura glared at Gohan. "After I kill you, Garfield goes."
"I believe that was 'the burn,'" Starfire said.
"He is right, you know," Gohan said with a smirk. "You are one ugly demon. I've killed things you don't even control that were prettier than you."
"Stop acting childish," Dabura said, grinning even wider. "Your words will only worsen what I'll make the Dibbukim do to you."
"What are you going to do about it?" Gohan said. "Kill me?"
"Son Gohan, knock it off!" the Kai ordered. "We do not have time for you to act like a child!"
"I am seventeen still," Gohan said, "I'll be eighteen in a couple hours, but I still have a little more time to be an asshole."
"What are you talking about?" the Kai and the demon said.
"I'm a kid, Beast Boy's a kid, Starfire is a kid," Gohan said, "we might not be kids for much longer, but sending an army of teenagers to fight battles for gods is kind of stupid, don't you think?"
"I'm about to kill you and you're thinking about the value of choosing a hero of a young age?" Dabura asked. "This is the dumbest thing to ever happen to me, and I'm the author of stupidity!" He threw up his hands and Gohan lunged with the bo staff.
Dabura parried it and thrust at Gohan's chin.
"I'm the father of lies, fool," Dabura chuckled, driving the Saiyan back with a series of the most precise slashes he had ever seen. Gohan ducked a slash and pushed up on the demon's wrist, locking Dabura's arm in a twist and ripping backward to send the sword skittering out of Dabura's hand. Gohan spun around and hit Dabura with the side of his staff. Gohan flipped over Dabura's head and jabbed at it in the air. Dabura stumbled forward and whipped around, taking a shot right in between the eyes. Dabura landed on his back next to his sword and hopped to his feet, charging with a cry of rage. His aura turned red and he started swinging, sending crescent shaped blades of chi at the Saiyan. Gohan dodged and ducked the blades and met Dabura in a clash of brute strength.
Dabura lifted his blade and struck once again, joyfully hearing wood splinter and break. Gohan hopped back and looked down at the staff, seeing the two halves retract into two sticks roughly two and a half feet long. Gohan flipped the sticks around where the jagged edges pointed forward and clashed with the demon again. Gohan blocked an overhead strike and cut Dabura's stomach. Dabura hopped back and glanced down at his wounds. Gohan took the chance and lunged forward with a thrust with both sticks. Dabura swiped upward, cutting the sticks to their handles. Gohan dropped the handles in shock, for a moment he stared at the only weapon he had believed to be indestructible lying in pieces at his feet.
Dabura laughed. "Time's up, foolish boy! I'll see you soon!" He swiped downward. Gohan caught the flat end of the blade and clenched his fists, crumpling the metal in his hands. He ignored the immense amount of blood draining from his hands and balled them up as he kicked Dabura in the stomach. Gohan darted forward and threw Dabura to the ground over his shoulder while disarming him. Dabura spun to his feet with a sweep kick and kneed the bottom of Gohan's spine to send him into the air. Dabura took in a deep breath and blew, spitting flames at the airborne Saiyan.
"Destructive Wave!" Gohan shouted, blowing through Dabura's fire with an electrified ball of chi.
Dabura hopped over the wave and fired his own spinning black wave of souls. "Evil Blast!"
Gohan returned with the infamous blue wave of death. "Kamehameha!" he shouted, creating a blue and black beam struggle at point blank range.
Dabura grinned and spat fire in Gohan's face, allowing the Evil Blast to overtake the young Saiyan. Gohan screamed in pain and crashed into one of the jagged plateaus, burying himself in snow.
"Gohan!" the heroes cried, racing toward him but finding that they remained in the same spot.
Piccolo closed his eyes. "Damn it, Gohan," he said, feeling Gohan's signature barely over the spiritual interference.
"Gohan, no!" Starfire cried. "You cannot lose now! We need you the most!"
Dabura walked over to the pile of snow and aimed his hand at it. "So, Gohan, it seems like you care for those other mortals. What do you say I bring you back after this so you can watch me roast them alive? I bet the Tamaranean would make a great Succubus."
A bloodied hand shot out from the snow and gripped Dabura's wrist. It dragged the rest of Gohan out to break the devil's nose with a powerful straight punch. Gohan's face was barely burnt, save a few blisters forming on his cheeks. Gohan's expression was angry and bloodlusted; Piccolo and Trunks remembered that face on a smaller, more vulnerable boy almost seven years ago. Gohan's aura exploded, shaking the tower and distorting the illusion around them. Flickers of the blank room they saw on the first floor made it clear to the group that what they were feeling wasn't real. Gohan darted forward, kicking Dabura in the stomach so hard that the demon arched over his foot. "I'm going to make you regret saying that."
Dabura hopped to his feet. "How so? The power you are feeling is from one of my creations."
Gohan's hair became a darker shade of black and his pupils shrank into red circles with three black tomoe spinning in them. He took a blank but slightly displeased expression, looking similar to one very scary being. "By destroying you."
Dabura laughed. "That's exactly what I want, can't you see, human? You will continue to feel pain until you realize that you cannot win!"
"You know what's something you seem to neglect a lot?" Gohan asked rhetorically. "While you are in a human form, you can feel just as much pain as I can."
Dabura hopped back, barely dodging a drop kick. He hopped to the side as the kick split the ground, shaking the foundation of the tower to its core. Gohan landed the next blow in Dabura's diaphragm and solar plexus, taking the wind out of him while dealing an excessive amount of pain. Gohan sent a blow to Dabura's chin then followed with an elbow strike to snap the sternum. The Saiyan stepped in and started striking at the ribcage with finger strikes, snapping every bone in the chest. Dabura weakly threw a counter attack and Gohan ducked, striking upward to break the arm and kicking Dabura's knee backward to snap it.
The other heroes watch Gohan's explosion of anger break every bone in Dabura's body. "Where did this come from?" Starfire asked.
"His form hasn't changed," Beast Boy said, "it looks like he's just… been awakened."
"That energy," Supreme Kai said, feeling very alarmed at Gohan's outburst.
"When Gohan becomes bloodlusted," Trunks said, "he can no longer control his anger and will go to any length to make that individual feel the pain he felt one million times over. He becomes sadistic, even. It's-"
"Terrifying," Piccolo finished for him, fixated on his student with a stare of pride and horror as Gohan wrung Dabura over his knee, twisting and then snapping the screaming, pleading devil's spine.
"No!" the Master cried. "This isn't possible! How could someone defeat Dabura?!"
"Alright, coward!" the Supreme Kai said, leading the rest of the heroes to rally around Gohan. "Show yourself! We've played your game long enough!"
"And I thank you for that," the Master said grimly, "and even with all of that, you and your friends fighting my forces on the outside still lost. Come outside and witness the dawn of a new era, a dawn of darkness!"
Gohan drew his hands to his forehead. "Masenko Ha!" he exclaimed, turning Dabura's body into oblivion. The blow punched a giant hole in the wall, allowing him to see a yellow barrier put up around the tower by an unknown magic. Raven fired all she had at the barrier from the outside. Gohan heard a familiar chanting on the roof and the Z-Fighters gasped.
"What is it now?" Beast Boy asked.
"He's trying to summon the Dragon!" they exclaimed. Trunks blasted a hole in the ceiling and hit a smaller barrier that allowed them to see everything. The sky had turned as dark as night and violent storm clouds had swelled overhead as the seven orange Dragonballs glowed through the hard rain that battered the barrier like a car window in a circle, ready to summon the magnificent, mystical being Gohan's father and friends had worked their whole lives to keep out of the wrong hands.
The wrong hands were two pairs of scrawny, wrinkly hands belonging to two short, spindly being wearing strange, dark robes. One being was green and the other yellow; their facial features were very insect like and their heads were large with few hairs jutting out of their scalps. They both had genie lamp-like objects strapped to their sides. Their hands were raised to the sky and they were swaying back and forth as they chanted the summoning spell. In front of the balls more toward the edge of the roof was giant, pink, gelatin-like cocoon webbed in the air between two pillars on the corners of the building. A human-sized black dot in the center of the circle alarmed the Supreme Kai as it wriggled, slowly feeling the power to break out of its sphere. "There it is!" the Kai exclaimed. "We have to break the barrier before the Warlocks can awaken the Dragon or the demon!"
"What do the Dragon and the demon have to do with each other?" Starfire asked.
"Do you really want to know?" Beast Boy asked, an equally good question.
"We're on it," Piccolo and Gohan said, falling into a horse stance and drawing two fingers to their forehead. Lightning sparked throughout their body and a yellow, red, and purple ball of crackling chi formed on their fingers.
"My guess is that they're going to use the wish to push the awakening sacrifice over the edge," the Kai said. "The carnage will be irreversible if we cannot stop them! Holy Pierce!" he shouted, firing a white wave at the barrier.
The Warlocks glanced at the barrier with a smirk and continued their ritual. "Aid him!" Starfire said, drawing her hands to her cheek. "Galick Gun: Fire!" she shouted, hitting the barrier as well.
"Kamehameha!" Roshi shouted, firing his own wave.
"Demon Wave!" Beast Boy shouted, blasting out a yellow wave from a set of green paws.
Trunks brought his hands together in an attack that had shaken up even the worst of villains' dispositions. "Final Flash!" he exclaimed, using his father's attack to bend the barrier ground. The Warlocks hopped up as they saw the Dragonballs roll toward the edge of the building. "Piccolo, Gohan, do it now!"
"Mankansappak-" Piccolo stuttered.
"Makankasapa-" Gohan followed.
"Mankokasappo-" Piccolo failed.
"Screw this!" Piccolo shouted. He and Gohan stepped forward and fired the drilling beam into the barrier.
"Special Beam Cannon!" the student and master exclaimed, breaking through the barrier from the bottom and the top. The seven heroes hopped through the hole and were immediately drenched. Trunks drew his blade and vanished.
"Babidi!" the green Warlock shouted. "Awaken the horror now! He'll gain strength as he goes along!"
"Yes, father!" the yellow Warlock shouted, racing for the pink egg. The glint of a blade passed him as Trunks appeared behind him, smirking at the sound of Babidi's head rolling of his body with the neck spouting blood. He vanished again as Bibidi tried to keep the last Dragonball from the heroes while he chanted. Trunks stabbed him in the neck, ending him them and there. Bibidi fell to his knees drowning in his own blood. The four star ball rolled to Gohan's feet and the Saiyan looked up toward the sky, seeing a ray of sunlight pierce the clouds. The worst of it was over, for now. The barrier lowered, and Raven, Ravager, Robin, Cyborg, and the Z-Fighters made their way to the top of the tower with the rest of the heroes not too far behind.
"Gohan!" Robin shouted happily from the bottom of the tower. "I know a way to get rid of the dragon without losing anyone! Summon the Dragon!"
The Supreme Kai scowled. "I'm telling you all, it won't work-"
"Piccolo," Gohan interjected, "do you still know the chant?"
"Yes," Piccolo said, entering a deep, trancelike state of chanting. Piccolo said the last word and fell back, exhausted. The island began to shake and the tower even more so as the seven Dragonballs rose high into the air with a massive, yellow wave of bright light that blew everyone back. The ray of light formed intricate loops in the sky and breached the clouds, only to break through again and settle above the tower. The light began to materialize, forming shining emerald scales, a tan underbelly, two antlers and glowing red eyes. Hundreds of arms and legs formed on the intricate loops and hair-like attachments, several short and two long on either side, made him look like an Imoogi from Korean dragon lore.
The heroes sat back for a moment in amazement and awe. Only those who had seen the all-powerful provider dared to step forward after the creature's power blew them back. "I am Shen Long, and I shall grant you any wish! Now speak to me what you seek!" the dragon boomed, making every being on the island quiver. Even Terra's body Beast Boy held trembled at every word.
Robin bravely stepped forward. "Almighty Shen Long!"
All eyes were on the Boy Wonder at that moment. He had to make it work. "I wish for all the energy sacrifices made to the demon in the egg to be void!"
The Dragon's eyes flashed white and the rain stopped. The clouds cleared, returning the island resort to the weather it was accustomed to. "Your wish has been granted," it chanted, turning into yellow energy again. The seven Dragonballs spun in a circle until they were a white ring high in the sky. A bolt of lightning hit the tower's center and the dragon vanished. The zombies crawled into their graves and the tower slowly receded into the Earth. The civilians hidden in the highrises and placed on the high ground looked toward the arena grounds, wondering if it was finally over.
The demon egg started to glow and break free of the webbing. The Kai's jaw dropped. "Dear us," he said. "The energy Shen Long put into granting the wish pushed it over the edge. We have one minute before it awakens and we all die."
Robin felt like he had just been shot. "It what?!"
The three Titans up for sacrifice looked at each other warily. They knew the other was going to move. "Stay back," the Kai said. "Trunks, tell the Supreme Kai of time that I-"
"You're too important right now," Gohan said, "if you die now and something worse comes along, you'll be the only one who knows how to stop it. It has to be one of us."
The three Titans looked at each other again and huddled together, whispering to each other. "I'll go," Beast Boy said immediately. "I'm the weakest on the team and won't be much help compared to you two."
"You most certainly are not the weakest," Starfire said, "and it is my people's theology that honors a noble death. I shall go."
"Well, you know what," Gohan said, breaking up the circle. He hugged Beast Boy and hugged Starfire, leaning in and giving her the long kiss on the lips he had wanted to give her since they met, but now, it was far past infatuation. Starfire closed her eyes and a tears rolled down her cheeks. She opened her eyes, looking at the soft, onyx eyes she had grown to love and shut her own tighter, not wanting to see them leave for good. Gohan stepped back. "I don't care what you two think."
Starfire and Beast Boy saw electricity run over their limbs, making them feel like they weighed a hundred times more. The two Titans found themselves struggling to move forward. "No, you're not doing that, dude!" Beast Boy proclaimed. "You're the strongest on our team! You're the last person who needs to die right now!"
"I have enough spiritual energy to appear to you when I absolutely need to," Gohan said softly but reassuringly, turning away from them. Gohan walked up to Piccolo and hugged him tightly. "Thank you for giving me the strength to do this. No matter where I am, what you've taught me will always be with me."
For the first time, Piccolo found himself in shock. He slowly hugged Gohan back, seeing him as the five year old he knew and loved. Piccolo never wanted to let go. "G-gohan," he stammered. "I-"
Gohan reluctantly released from his mentor and turned to the Titans. "Robin," he said, "I don't have a lot of time."
"No!" Starfire cried, sluggishly stepping forward.
"I won't let you, bro!" Beast Boy shouted, vigorously fighting Gohan's spell with the help of every animal.
The Saiyan started to float toward the demon egg. "How about one more count-off," Gohan asked, grinning at the hard-faced leader.
Robin painfully grinned back. "One."
Cyborg bowed his head, his human eye tearing up. "Two."
"Three," Raven whispered. Tears rolled down her cheeks through the layer of dust kicked up from the earlier battles.
"Four," Beast Boy said through grit teeth.
Starfire screamed in terror as Gohan touched the sphere. She slumped to her knees and buried her face in her hands, wailing loudly. "No, Gohan! You cannot do this! I cannot take-"
"Don't cry," Gohan said in a pleading but soothing tone. He started to glow pink and his skin started to crack. "Please, Koriand'r; don't cry."
Starfire turned her loud sobs into muffled sniffles. She looked up at the Saiyan, watching in despair as he started breaking apart. "Go."
Gohan saluted to everyone similar to the way his father left the Z-Fighters before taking Cell away. "Teen Titans," he said with a smile, beginning to fade away. A bright light opened above him and his life started to flash before his eyes, the conflict with the Saiyans, the trips to Namek, the Cell Games, now the World Tournament seemed to all happen in his head at once but he could distinguish which event was which. Five blurry figures appeared in front of him, two of them looking like his father. Another had long, spiky, black hair and wore what looked like Saiyan armor. The other two he knew for certain who they were; one was his little brother, the other his mom. He slipped into oblivion and the pink sphere exploded, rocking the island with the release of power.
The heroes backed away and kept staring into the center of the explosion, hoping that Gohan would come out. The dust cleared and they did not find their Saiyan, but a large, golden trophy with wads of hundred-dollar bills on the ground. At least the Master was being truthful about something.
But Son Gohan, the savior of the universe, was gone.
They stood around for a minute, suddenly thinking on their own mortality. The Titans focused more on their fallen friend. Robin fell to his hands and knees. "I didn't think this would happen!" he whispered. "I was so sure that it would work… what have I done?"
"It's not anyone's fault," Vegeta said sternly, pulling Robin to his feet. "And stop crying, all of you. Do you think Gohan would want to see you crying like a bitch?"
Krillin scowled. "Shut up, Vegeta. Now's not the time for that."
"It's exactly the time," Vegeta said. "Gohan died a proud Saiyan warrior. The Dragon doesn't have too many loopholes with Dende's current power, so you're all hurting yourselves if you think wallowing in pain is somehow going to bring him back."
Starfire burst toward her master and threw a punch into his cheek. She found him unmoving and unflinching. She cocked her fist back to throw another strike.
"Starfire," Raven said. "Enough."
Starfire looked into her master's cold, unforgiving eyes. He never struck back. She shakily lowered her fists and stood still.
"Without Gohan," Supreme Kai said, "everyone would have died. If you could still contact Gohan, you would all be watching everything go to hell from otherworld."
Silence but the wind filled the arena grounds. A few tropical birds squawked overhead and they could hear the waves crashing into the sand of the beach. Life had moved on, Robin thought, and so should they. "Well, what do we do now?" Kid Flash asked.
Robin picked up the trophy to put in Gohan's room. Son Gohan's name was engraved into the gold and on the plaque below it. "We'll arrange a ceremony for both him and Terra in the backyard of Titan Tower."
"Gohan will be buried next to his father," Roshi demanded.
Robin shot Roshi an icy glare, but he knew Gohan would have wanted it that way. "Give me an address and we'll hold it in a week."
The five Titans started walking away from the arena grounds.
"Z-Fighters, Young Justice, let's get out of here," Robin said impatiently with a voice of aggravation and grief. "I'm going home."
The son of Goku is dead, but so is the demon and the Warlocks! What will happen next? Find out in the final chapter of Winner Take All!