Cold numbness filled Raditz; he was dying fast. No healing in a regen tank this time; the damage ran too deep. He could barely feel the grass against his cheek.. unfortunately, he could still hear Vegeta over the scouter's comm link, demanding to know what was going on.
I have an eight-inch hole punched through my heart, and I'm dying, and oh, by the way, Kakarott is looking just like me right now--dead real soon--and could you shut the hell up and let me die in peace, it's been one rotten day, he thought briefly of saying. Not enough breath. Tell Vegeta the important thing..
"He's a goner! The fool! How could he?" Raditz wondered as much to himself as to Vegeta. How could Kakarott have thrown his life away? Why did I throw mine away?
"Don't lose your long sleep over it. I'll bet Goku will be back here in a week. " Piccolo sneered.
What? That green bastard thought I was talking to him--he doesn't know about the comm link! What did he just say?
"What? That's impossible! Tell...me...how!" At least Vegeta had shut up long enough to listen over the scouter.
"Gladly. On this planet, we have something we call 'dragonballs.' Whoever brings all seven dragonballs together gets any one wish granted-- Goku's friends will use the dragonballs to wish him back in no time. It's Goku that will have the last laugh," Piccolo gloated.
That'll work out okay for Kakarott. What are you, green man? You just killed my brother, and I swear you enjoyed it, and now you're gloating that he'll be alive again? I don't get you. I don't really get Kakarott. I could see from the beginning of this fight you wanted to kill my brother. Why couldn't he see it? Or did he? Did he really want me dead so much he was willing to let you kill him? 'A true warrior never hesitates to kill--even his own brother'. I taught him that, didn't I? Not the smartest thing I've ever done.
Raditz tasted the bitterness of his defeat--it had all gone so wrong, he'd come seeking a brother, and found only enemies and death--and spat defiance at the green man, "No. I'm afraid you're wrong, green man. This device on my face is also a transmitter. Fool."
Yeah, Vegeta heard that! I can just see the gleam in his eyes now. You don't get it yet, do you, green man? Let me explain it in short words (I'm not sure I've got long enough left for long ones):
"They've heard every word. Now...they'll come. I know they will. They'll want to make a wish." Quit yelling in my ear Vegeta, I'll tell them anything I please.
Kakarott's voice came weakly, "When will they be here??"
You're still with us, brother? I was a fool to think you a weakling. You deserve an honest answer, and I'm going to enjoy pissing off this green goon.
"One year. And the funny thing is..." Raditz started to chuckle--oh god that hurt!--"they're much stronger than me." Sounds like Vegeta's having a stroke, hearing me admit THAT! Gee, greenie here doesn't look so happy any more.. what a damn shame. This just gets better every second.
"What's wrong? You look so depressed all of a sudden, green man. Don't be so glum! We can't all have the last laugh." He laughed hysterically at the bitter jest--it was his last laugh. He didn't even feel the final blow.
* * *
Darkness, light, a strange place. Raditz blinked; where was he? A golden bridge, leading to an impossible palace. Odd blue-skinned, horned folk chivvied a crowd of drifting--what? Wisps of beings? Nice scenery, but how did I get here? And where is here? I feel so.. weird. Hmmm.. on the minus side, no heartbeat, I'm not breathing, and I have no idea what is going on; on the plus side, no fist-size hole all the way through my chest, all the right pieces seem to be there, including tail and hair, and, um, me. Dead is definitely NOT what I thought it was. He grinned to himself--
--and was rudely interrupted by a poke from one of the blue horned guys. "No loitering! Move it, will ya! King Yama doesn't like to be kept waiting!"
A deep-seated resentment of beings with horns flared hot in Raditz, and the unfortunate demon was greatly surprised to discover that he could fly, from one end of the chasm of Eternity to the other. The other demons of the Bridge looked up; the nearest took note of the wild hair and the long, thin furred tail wrapped about Raditz's waist.
"Uh-oh. One of THEM. I just remembered, it's time for my mid-shift break." He very carefully back away, through the gate and out of sight. The rest of the demons were less dignified; they just plain ran. Raditz charged through the gate after them. And stopped cold.
"AND JUST WHO ARE YOU?" boomed the voice of the very large, red, horned demon-god sitting enthroned before him. The question reverberated in his soul, and Raditz became aware of himself as never before; every memory, every sorrow, every joy of his past brought forward and revealed. Again, he remembered the fierce joy of battle and conquest, the comradery of his fellow warriors, the terrible grief when all Vegetesai died--all gone, Zorn and Turles and Bardock his father, and King Vegeta, and on forever--protecting and training the young Prince Vegeta, and learning bitter humility and obedience under Frieza, for they were the last of the Saiyajin, and death was not an option--survival had to be all, until the Prince grew strong enough; Earth, and meeting his little brother Kakarott as a grown man, and the horror of realizing Kakarott had lost himself--he did not know he was Saiyan, he had lost his tail, become weak, and he did not want to fight! This last--too much, and Raditz tried to force Kakarott back to the Saiyan path--the bitterness of rejection ("I don't want you as a brother!")--(but for all his threats, he had not harmed the child or Kakarott's friends)--learning that Kakarott had not lost the love of the fight! Nor had he been so weak after all..
He felt himself weighed, judged, and found wanting--but salvageable. King Yama judged him; somehow, Raditz was absolutely certain of it. Exactly what King Yama was, Raditz had no idea; it was enough that he was here, and those obnoxious demons worked for him. Raditz hated imperious creatures with horns. With a feral scream Raditz leaped to the attack; he put all of his Saiyan strength into a punch to the great demon's mid-section.
Then it all went wrong. He painfully slammed into the floor, face-first; King Yama had both of Raditz's arms pulled behind him in one hand, and grabbed his TAIL with the other! Tears started from his eyes from the pain; his spirit-body still carried that vulnerability. How did that monster move so fast? And not even Vegeta was that strong!
And then a hauntingly familiar voice growled somewhere behind him: "If your majesty allows, I'll take care of this one." Raditz quailed inwardly; that voice! It could not be!
The demon-god rumbled, "Up here recruiting again? I thought he looked like one of yours. Just as ill-mannered as all of you were when you first arrived. He belongs in the hells with you. Take him, and teach him manners, Commander." Raditz felt himself lifted and tossed, skidding to land face down in front of a pair of booted feet. He looked up as a strong hand grabbed him by the hair and dragged him to his feet.
Aw, no. It really is him. Why did it have to be him? Why did I have to stupidly lose my temper in front of him? Time to face the music (and wasn't that one of HIS favorite phrases?).
Some time later, Raditz sat gingerly on the edge of a table in the Guard barracks, holding his sore and battered ribs.
Okay, so I can't be killed again, but I can hurt just like it all over again. Fun. And the rules are different--I don't get stronger from a beating here--unless I learn something from it. I think that's what father--er, Commander Bardock--said. Not that I have a clue what he meant by that.
Ouch. He still can fight, though. I think he's even tougher than he was.. before they all died. I don't think he's in Frieza's class, but he could teach Nappa and Vegeta a few things.
I had it coming; father was not real happy with me. I screwed up his plans and hopes rather thoroughly--I haven't been chewed out like that since, well, he and King Vegeta died.
"I did not go to the trouble of rigging Kakarott's tests and getting him sent to Earth, while I arranged an elite guard post with the Prince for you, just so the two of you could meet on Earth and kill each other! My intent," he snarled, "was that no matter what happened, at least one of my sons would survive! You have managed to ruin all that! If Kakarott's son had not survived that complete disaster you made of things..." Bardock glared at his son. "What the hell were you thinking with, your hair??"
Ouch. I had that coming. Damn, but Kakarott looked like you--younger, and no scars--and when he got mad enough to fight, it was you all over again. Did you just say what I think you did?
"What do you mean, you rigged Kakarott's tests?"
Bardock laughed. "You really thought one of MY sons was only a third class warrior? Not hardly. Your little brother rivaled Prince Vegeta in his potential! As soon as I learned that, I forged his power ratings; I didn't want him coming to Frieza's or King Vegeta's attention. They never would have let me send him to an obscure planet for conquest." Bardock looked grim, "Even then, I suspected that Frieza meant nothing good for us--and I remember what King Vegeta did to the last child to rival the Prince's power."
Now is not a good time to remind father that Brolli's father was a complete raving nutcase, and the kid had even more bad head genes added in from his mother's side. *I* would have ordered the kid snuffed--let someone with Vegeta's power and none of his.. restraint run loose? I don't think so.
Frieza. I really wanted to be reminded of him--the whole reason everyone I ever cared about (except my Prince) is dead--hey, wait, so am I! And if I am here... Can I really be done with Frieza that easily?
Raditz shuddered. "Am I truly, finally free of that horned bastard?"
Bardock regarded him. "Yes, in that he has no power to harm you any more, nor even believes that you still exist. And no, for there is a fierce hunger for vengeance, for JUSTICE, in all of us, that will not be satisfied until he is destroyed. We are free of him, but he still butchers his way across the universe with impunity, and that burns in our souls."
The three of us weren't exactly thrilled, either--but we weren't strong enough. We just weren't strong enough. We needed Kakarott, and anyone else we could find--we never dreamed he had a son! Even Vegeta, smart as he is, never guessed that my brother could have had a son--how could he? There were no saiyan women left alive... Sorrow cut keenly through Raditz for a moment.
"Vegeta hoped to become strong enough to fight him. That's why he sent me to Earth, to find Kakarott and get him to join us. Yeah, I know I didn't pick a good way to recruit him--but it had to look legitimate to Frieza and his flunkies; they recorded everything those scouters transmitted back to base--that's why I tried to make Kakarott conquer Earth for us--to make it look real. That was just a cover, though--what Vegeta really wanted another Saiyan warrior with us, for the day we were strong enough to turn on Frieza and destroy him."
Bardock glared at him. "Bullshit. You meant to do exactly what you told Kakarott you were going to do."
Raditz winced. Damn, I can lie to myself, but not to him! "I would not have killed the kid! That was a bluff! Father, he's my nephew, and a child--a Saiyan child! He had a tail.. and his power--incredible! Our race is NOT extinct! Do you think I would have killed that wonderful child? What kind of monster do you think I am?"
"Not the monster I feared you might have become. You seem to have become a bully and a fool, instead. You and Vegeta planned to destroy Earth--WHERE DO YOU THINK THE CHILD'S MOTHER CAME FROM? Kakarott by sheer luck or inevitable destiny landed on the one world in the entire galaxy whose people can interbreed with us. Do you have any idea how impossible that should be? We Saiyajin have been given a second chance--and you idiots would throw that chance away!"
Bardock glared coldly at his son. "What was it you told your brother? Oh, yes--'Youth I might forgive, but idiocy has no place on a saiyan mission!' And you DARED call him 'a shame to our race'?? YOU?? You--who made false promises and lied just to escape defeat, you who threatened small children, you who tortured your own younger brother when he made the mistake of thinking you actually had honor! Yes, you are quite the 'true warrior', Raditz! I am ashamed that you are of my blood! Don't you ever DARE call anyone 'a shame to our race' again--you're not worthy to decide that." Bardock's contempt was palpable. He leaned closer to his demoralized son. "And I wouldn't be talking about other people's idiocy if I were you, either."
I can't actually die of shame--even if I weren't already dead. I can wish with all my heart that I could find a rock on the far side of a cold, airless outer planet in a distant galaxy to crawl under, but that doesn't seem to work, either. And yet..
Raditz lifted his head. "The funny thing is," he said quietly, "I started breaking Kakarott's ribs one at a time, because I couldn't bring myself to finish him. For all my big talk, I was half hoping that someone would stop me before it was too late." A short, ironic laugh. "I never expected it to be the kid."
Bardock looked at him with an unfathomable expresssion in his eyes. "There may be hope for you yet."
Bardock paced. "Bad enough when there were only the four of you left, but now there's only Vegeta and Nappa and the child left. Vegeta and Nappa would destroy this world, this last hope, because Vegeta's bloated, self-centered ego is more important to him than the survival of our race, and sooner or later, Frieza will tire of the last of the Saiyans and finish the job he started four years ago! Of course, Vegeta will try to stop Frieza--"
"--and if Prince Vegeta is as much like his father as I think he is, he WILL make the same mistake King Vegeta did; he'll think himself strong enough long before he really is, because he WANTS to be strong enough." Bardock continued, prophetically, "Prince Vegeta will find out the hard way that Frieza is far more powerful than he ever imagined, and I will be greeting him as I did you."
"Why did you have to kill your brother? He had the potential, and the patience--and he is the father of a saiyan child! He and Prince Vegeta together, perhaps.. But no. Vegeta's princely ego would never allow it. We truly are a damned race." The bleakness in Bardock's eyes disturbed Raditz.
Don't look at me like that! Why do you say such things? Why must you tell me the truth? I cannot endure this--but I do. I would rather die--but I am already dead. But I didn't kill Kakarott--it's my fault he's dead, but I didn't strike the blow.. I didn't think he'd do it. I just didn't believe he would let himself be killed like that--but then, I didn't leave him a choice, did I?
Raditz defied his father's despair. "No! Kakarott may have died with me, but he won't stay dead, not if what that alien said was true!"
"Listen to me!" Raditz quickly told Bardock of the Dragonballs, and what Kakarott's friends might do with them. "It's hard to believe, but I don't know what to believe any more." Like what I'm doing here, and where is here, and what a 'true warrior' really is, and things like that...
"Such things do exist." Bardock smiled slightly at Raditz's startled look. "I know of them, because wishes have been used to return people who were here to mortal life, and it's part of my office, to keep track of such things. Perhaps this destiny is not so dark after all.."
Bardock lifted his head up, looking intently at something beyond Raditz's perception. "Ah. There he is. Wait here. And THINK." With that, his father vanished in a puff of sulfurous smoke.
How did he do that? What did he just do? And who is 'he'? Oh no. Of course. Kakarott! So you're here, too, brother? I don't think I'm ready for this. Ahh, my ribs still hurt! I think he broke a bunch of them--funny, just like I broke Kakarott's ribs. I'm not quite stupid enough to think that was a coincidence.
I'm stupid enough to be here, though. I should not have lied to Kakarott--he wasn't so stupid to fall for the same trick twice. Only-- it wasn't a trick the second time. I really didn't want to die, and I didn't want him to die, not when death was truly staring us in the face. He wouldn't listen, he wouldn't let go, not after I lied the first time. Maybe he wasn't so stupid that first time--maybe I was the fool. If I had meant my promises and kept them the first time, when he let me go.. we'd both still be alive, and we'd both be stronger than ever. And maybe Kakarott would have listened to me, if he'd learned that I could be trusted and knew what I was talking about. Instead, I used my promises as a momentary trick, to throw him down and go for the kill--a kill I didn't really want to make. Damn. I am a fool.
The pain's gone. Now what?
Bardock re-appeared in another burst of smoke and looked at Raditz thoughtfully. "It gets better, Raditz. Kami, the Spirit Guardian of Earth, has taken Kakarott under his protection, and received permission from King Yama to send him on a spirit quest. Kami intends to return him to mortal life after Kakarott completes his quest--a quest," Bardock emphasized, "that will bring his power to its fullest potential--given time. If," Bardock said pointedly, "he completes it--and I believe he will."
"How much time? A.. year?" Raditz asked.
Will Kakarott be strong enough to fight Nappa and Vegeta both? Aw, damn, I hate this! I want Kakarott to win, but not against my Prince! If he loses, Vegeta will kill him--but to win, Kakarott will have to kill Vegeta. Damn, damn, damn! I am a complete idiot! If I had been thinking.. there must have been some other way to handle it back on Earth, some way that wouldn't have made us enemies. Why couldn't I have been a clever plotter like Vegeta, or a thinker like father?
Bardock still watched him. "More than a year, and more than one battle to realize the fullness of his power, but, to answer the question you really meant to ask, he may well be powerful enough to fight Prince Vegeta." He frowned. "And then I will be seeing one or both of them at King Yama's throne, as I did you and your brother just now. This is not the way it should have been..." That regret, that shadow of despair, again.
Oh great, I hadn't even thought of that. They might kill each other, like our little mutual suicide just past. And Frieza will have won, because of my stupidity. Damn. I really hate myself right now. And yet.. I feel better, somehow. Stronger. What is going on?
Raditz changed the subject. "Just what do you do here? And why did King Yama call me 'one of yours'?"
Bardock half-smiled that peculiarly Saiyan half-smile, half-smirk. "Four years ago, we rebelled against Frieza, and lost utterly. He killed us all, and destroyed Vegetasai beneath us. You don't see it yet, do you? You will. Four years ago, several million very angry Saiyan warriors arrived in Hell. There are uncounted trillions in the Kingdom of Night, from worlds beyond count, but we are as strong in spirit as we were in the body.
"The ancient demons served King Yama, keeping order in the hells, punishing disobedient spirits and pursuing deserters and fugitives." Bardock paused to spit in contempt. "The Demon Guard and their commander A-nara-oni, were lazy and corrupt by the time we arrived. They took bribes from sorcerors, they harassed mortals, they ignored their duties--they were useless and arrogant, because no one dared challenge the demons of the underworld."
"And then everyone but me, Nappa and Vegeta got here," Raditz prompted.
"And Kakarott." Bardock added, "We were dead, and angry, and we are what we are--Saiyan warriors. Violent, brutal killers all, and consigned to this hell--but justice was due." He turned stern. "Those we had killed had their justice, for we died the same death we'd dealt to others. Not death--that was just--but the betrayal--that was the injustice. We claimed--we still claim!--the rightful anger of a people who had served faithfully only to be betrayed."
This hell? I was hoping I'd misunderstood that part of Yama's judgement. On the other hand.. we're all here. I'm not an exile anymore.
"The demons thought we would cower and bow to them just like all the other condemned spirits of this place." Bardock smirked in the Saiyan way. "Fools! We did not.. react well. You could say we 'went ape'."
Raditz's jaw dropped. "But how? There is no moon here.." he trailed off as he saw the glow emanating from Bardock's cupped hand. The light wasn't intense enough to trigger the change, but he could feel its thrill running through him. "Oh. Right".
Bardock extinguished the ki ball. "Physical limitations mean very little here, as you will learn. Spirit, ki, character is your strength, ALL of your strength in this realm. We didn't need to become ouzaru to defeat the demons, but it helped in the long run--demons have shallow minds and are easily impressed by large hairy monsters that can pile-drive them into the ground with a single punch. You have to beat them a lot harder and longer in your normal form to force them to respect you. "
They gave us attitude, we beat them up, they're easily impressed. I got that part--but what the hell do you mean by the rest of it? This must be one of those things I need to learn...
"So you beat up the demons, and wrecked everything in sight--then what?"
"King Yama was not pleased that his demons had been thoroughly beaten and humiliated, but he had been even less pleased with their blatant corruption for centuries. Too bad! No one else wanted to do the job of keeping order in the hells, so King Yama endured it until something should turn up."
Raditz started laugh. He couldn't help it! "And then we Saiyans turned up! This is unbelievable! We wrecked Hell??"
Bardock smiled. "King Yama ruled that since we had defeated the demons, we should do the job they had failed so badly to do, provided that we rebuilt the Duke of this hell's palace--"
"--I thought the place looked vaguely familiar!" This IS the Royal Guard barracks! I was not imagining things.
"--and that one of us defeated A-nara-oni, in single combat." Bardock half-smiled, "A-nara-oni was the terror of the hells and countless mortal worlds; Orcus, Demonicus Rex, Devourer of Kings, Corrupter of Saints, Who picks his teeth with Heroes' Bones, the Unconquerable, etc, etc, etc."
Damn, this is good! Too bad Vegeta can't hear THIS over my scouter--hey, no scouter! Now why is that? So the original is still back wherever on my corpse--now that's a creepy thought--I've got armor just like before--minus the big ugly hole--why not the scouter? I still don't get this place. (A sudden flash of a nice-looking blue-haired human woman holding his scouter and tinkering with it).
Hey! Where'd that come from? Good-looking babe--hmmm, she's the one that was on that island with Kakarott's friends. His wife, maybe? No, she didn't act like the kid was hers. Hello, Raditz! See pretty girl, have attention-span of butterfly. I thought I stopped doing that when.. when all the pretty girls died. Grief is the one mortal wound that doesn't make a saiyan stronger. Does death?
Damn it! My mood swings are getting worse than Vegeta's! Stop it! I'm dead, I'm in hell, my father thinks I'm scum and he's pretty much right, I may be single-handedly responsible for extinction of my entire race--I have absolutely nothing left to be proud of. So much for Saiyan pride. I think I've hit bottom here; it can only get better. Now, father was telling me about this demon lord...
"Well, you're here, so who defeated this bad boy?" Raditz queried.
His father mused, "Demons are so predictable, they always believe their own boasts. It's a bad mistake to make."
Useful tip. Remember this-- 'cause I did the same damn thing!
Bardock looked at his son and grinned wolfishly. "My son, you have the honor of speaking to Commander Bardock of the Saiyan Demon Guard, Lord-General of the Legions of Hell."
Raditz started as a sheathed katana fell at his feet. He turned slowly; they were there, behind him, grinning. His cousin Turles, broad-shouldered and arrogant as ever; slender, saturnine Ran Mara; King's man Zorn, and the rest of his old comrades from the Royal Guard--Guardsmen once again. Each of them wore a sheathed katana at his side. Turles, the squad leader, saluted him twice--first, the traditional farewell salute to a fallen warrior, and second, the traditional greeting of one Guardsman to another.
"Welcome to hell, warrior. Welcome home."
Not the END.