His hand slipped, and his face slammed against the stone tower. A huge droplet of water plunked into Goku's eyes. He wiped his face and readjusted his grip, using his feet as hooks underneath the protruding rims of Korin's Tower. Carefully, he placed one foot over the rim and, hands firmly on either side of the tower, pushed himself up. Two inches.
Korin really makes you work for it, Goku thought. He was also starting to get hungry, and he had a feeling Korin didn't have any food.
It took him three days to climb to the top of the tower. He knew because of the way the light changed, even through the dark, heavy clouds. But finally, you could see a base, extending outwards. From where Goku was positioned, he couldn't quite see what the base was, exactly, but he could see several entrance holes. All he had to do was jump through.
Easier said than done. The rain had let up, at least, but now he had to figure out a way to maneuver himself through the entrance. It became clear very quickly that he couldn't hold onto the tower and reach for the entrance at the same time. He attempted to use his tail, but he couldn't get a good grip. Eventually, he decided to simply launch himself at the opening, and, with heavy hoisting, was finally inside.
Goku found himself on a large round platform, with short rails and large columns surrounding it. He peeled off his soaked sweater and squeezed the water out of his sleep shirt underneath as he peered over the side. All he could see was the yellow puff of clouds. How high up was he? It seemed that even the rain started underneath the top of the tower.
He removed his shoes and socks, squeezing them out as well and laying them neatly across the railing to dry. He wasn't sure it would work, as it was quite cold up here, but it was worth a shot. He certainly couldn't wear them.
His feet were cold on the stone floor of the tower, and Goku circled slowly. "Master Korin!" he called out. "Master Korin? Are you here? I'm here to train!"
He turned around and found himself nose to nose with large white cat. He stepped back, caught off guard, but then smiled. "Hi Kitty!" He scratched the top of its head. What an odd cat! It was as big as he was! "Where's your master, huh?"
"Master's right here, doofus."
Goku fell back in shock. "What! You can talk!"
It was a gruff voice, better suited to his father than to a fat fluffy cat. But it was definitely coming from the cat, who was glaring at him with narrow eyes. "Damn right."
"Are-are you Master Korin?"
"The one and only."
"But you're a cat!" Goku was in disbelief. Was he having some sort of fever dream? Had the rain pounding on his head for the last three days left him delirious?
"Yeah, and? You're a Saiyan. What's your point?"
The cat scowled at him. "Do you want something, or did you come all this way to stare at me?"
But Goku did stare, mouth open, unsure. "Um…, I-uh, I," he swallowed, and pulled himself together. "I'm here to train. With Master Korin. So, I guess that means I'm here to train with you."
"Train, huh?" Master Korin approached Goku, circiling him suspiciously. "What the hell for?"
Goku blinked in surprise. "For my purpose, I guess."
"Well, the Chosen Child told me to come here."
Master Korin leaned forward, and his glare deepened. "Oh, great. This again." He turned around and walked off.
Goku followed him. "Well, what are we going to do? What's the first exercise?"
"I ain't training you to do nothing, kid."
"What?! But I thought-"
"You thought what, huh?" Korin turned around suddenly, practically stepping on Goku's feet. "You'd just show up here, snap your fingers, and I'd jump up to help you? Spirit finds a nice warm body to hang out in for a few years, and now all of a sudden it's my problem? No way, kid. I got a good thing going here, nice place, quiet, relaxing, outta the way of you mortals and your shenanigans. I'm not getting involved in whatever this is." He turned back and walked off.
"But," Goku chased after him. "Hey! I thought you were supposed to help me!"
"I'm not supposed to do anything. And I'd watch how you talk to me, if I were you."
"But you helped the ones before, right? The Golden King, and the Ox King?"
Korin rolled his eyes dramatically, although Goku couldn't see it behind his shut lids. "Golden King. Ox King. You mortals think a whole lot of yourselves, don't you?"
"But you did help them!"
"I told them what I told you. Not my problem."
Goku stopped, confused. This had seemed like such a straightforward task. The Child had made it seem like everyone knew about this and would want to help him. But this Korin guy not only didn't want to help him, but apparently hadn't helped the others before him either!
"Tell ya what, kid." Korin had picked up a staff and was circling back around. "I feel bad for you. You came all this way in this crap weather. It's a pretty decent accomplishment. So, here's what I'll do for you. I have this Sacred Water. If you drink from it, you'll become stronger than you ever thought possible."
"You'll let me have some?"
Master Korin shrugged. "Why the hell not? I can afford to give you a couple sips. Here." They had circled towards the middle of the platform, and Master Korin pointed with his staff at a bejeweled porcelain container placed at the top of a raised column with four elephants carved into it. "There it is. Help yourself."
Goku was uncertain. This was a pretty big change in attitude, and it was hard to tell if Master Korin was being sincere. He'd also really been looking forward the chance to train with a new master and learn new techniques. But strength was good! He wanted to get stronger, as strong as possible. He'd be the strongest in the universe, just like he told his father he would!
He made his way towards the column and climbed up.
"Need a hand?"
Goku looked over his shoulder at Master Korin, who was giving him a foreboding grin. Something about him was making Goku really uncomfortable. Maybe it was because he was a cat? But that was speciesist. Goku was not speciesist.
"I've got it, thanks." He reached out to grab the handle.
"No problem!" Fingers outstretched…
The head of the staff slammed into his leg, forcing Goku off the platform.
"Hey!" Goku had landed inelegantly on his back, but jumped up immediately, full of anger. "You said I could have the Sacred Water!"
"Oh well, if that's what I said then don't mind me! Go on, what are you waiting for?"
"Alright," Goku gritted his teeth. "I'll try again!" This time, he launched himself directly at the jug, only to land face first into Korin's paw. The cat kicked him soundly out of the way, but this time Goku landed on his feet.
"Hey, come on! What's the big idea? I thought you said I could drink!"
"Sure you can, kid." Master Korin grinned evilly. "If you can get past me!"
"Alright, fine. If that's how you want it." Goku launched himself at the jug again, only to have the head of Korin's staff slam squarely into his nose.
The blood was rushing to Goku's head now, and he could feel the anger pouring out of him.
With the pointed end of his staff, Korin deftly lifted the jug from its platform and dangled it in front of Goku. "Look, here it is. Come and get it!"
Goku launched, Korin dodged. He chased, but Korin was always just out of reach. He tried to fake him out, but Korin was always a step ahead.
Eventually, he passed out, exhausted – from the chase, the climb, the weather. His last thought was, don't forget to call Mother.
He would remember the next day, but Korin's Tower didn't get very good reception.
Amara descended from the ship first. This was her first mission with the Hotsu crew, and she was determined to show them her skills not just as a fighter, but as a leader. She would command respect, just like Vegeta did. She'd spent the last two months, ever since she had found out about this mission, watching his every move very carefully. Of course, she'd always been aware of his attitude, if only because Nappa was constantly comparing him to her to point out everything she was doing wrong. But now she was taking notes.
Compared to the other Saiyans she'd seen, Vegeta was far from impressive. He was short, with a slim build. Nappa was easily twice his size, and so were many of the ordinary Saiyans who worked in the GFA. But they all cowered before him. They bowed when he passed by, even as he strode on without so much as a glance in their direction. When he did deign to notice someone, they kept their eyes to the ground and spoke only when directly addressed. "Yes, my Lord." "Yes, your Highness. "Yes, Prince Vegeta." No one said "no" to him.
As much as she had initially disliked him, she'd grown to respect him over the last four years. He trained with her only minimally, but when they did spar, she could see in him the qualities that made him such a force. Ruthless, confident, entitled. He expected to win any confrontation. He expected obedience. He knew he was better than everyone around him. Even with Dodoria and the members of the Ginyu Force – he never bothered to hide the contempt he obviously felt for them. For Zarbon he had slightly more respect, whether that was because he too was a prince or because Zarbon had once trained him, or some combination of the two, Amara didn't know. In the face of all the evidence against him – and on Frieza's ship, there was plenty – Vegeta believed in the superiority of the Saiyan race, and of his own self as the pinnacle of that race.
That was her, too, Amara decided. The Hotsu race was superior to all other races. They were the oldest, the most intelligent, the most advanced. The Hotsus had built a grand civilization before any of these other species had crawled out of the gunk from which they'd evolved. And she was superior to all the Hotsus. She was made superior. It was a fact. She would make it a fact.
Kezah came up behind her, holding their mission briefing. Just as she began to speak, Amara held out a hand towards her.
"The briefing." Amara almost said please, but cut herself off just in time. No please, no thank you. Those words would never pass Vegeta's lips. She made a demanding gesture with her fingers.
Kezah hesitated a moment, but then passed on the pad to the young princess. This was an interesting development.
Behind them, the rest of the Hotsu crew exchanged surprised looks and excited grins. How much fun would it be to watch the conceited little sorceress crash and burn?
Tonsa, too, was watching curiously. She'd come along both as guardian to Amara but also to report back to Queen Selardi as to the girl's performance. The Hotsus plan depended on Amara as an instrument of brute force. This would be her first real test.
A few quiet minutes passed as Amara skimmed through the brief. In truth, she had something of an unfair advantage. The brief had been finalized the week before, and Nappa had pulled some strings to get a copy through some back channels, unbeknownst even to Tonsa. Together, she, Nappa, and Vegeta had devised a tactical plan for the mission, and she'd trained almost nonstop to prepare for every eventuality.
It wasn't cheating, as such. The reality was that as superior as she had decided she absolutely and unquestionably was, there was something to be said for experience. Nappa and Vegeta had it in spades. All she'd really done was borrow some. What had really surprised her was how willing Vegeta had been to go along with this plan. Maybe he appreciated the need for royalty to demonstrate their superiority.
Maybe Zarbon had once done a favor like this for him?
"Alright," she handed the pad back, and turned to the group, hands on hips in a wide stance, an authoritative posture she'd practiced in the mirror. "Our first step will be to cut off all energy sources to military bases. We must prevent the natives from launching a large-scale defense, or we'll be outnumbered. Pull up the maps on your scouters." Beeps, as the group turned on their scouters. "Our targets are labelled in blue. You two," she gestured at the women she knew were Zhera and Khera, but deliberately refused to address by name. Vegeta didn't know anyone's names. He barely knew hers. "That's your mission. I expect you to report back in 10 minutes."
Zhera raised an eyebrow. "You expect us to take out seven military bases in 10 minutes?"
"Yes," Amara said. "That's exactly what I expect." In truth, she knew that it would take closer to 20, but that was Vegeta's idea. Set them up to fail. Render them incompetent. Embarrass them.
The two women looked towards Kezah for confirmation, but Amara cut her off before she could say anything. "Are you waiting for something?" she raised her voice slightly. "I think my orders were clear."
"Clear, maybe, but a little unreasonable," Kezah said. She was smiling, but her eyes were dark. "I think we need to reconsider this strategy."
Amara turned her nose up in as haughty a manner as she could manage. "If what you're saying is that you can't manage this mission, then that's unacceptable."
"We can manage just fine," Kezah said between gritted teeth, "but this is not how we work."
"It is now." Amara looked back at the women, who were still clearly waiting for Kezah's go ahead. "Move it! Now!"
The women flew off.
"Now, Tonsa. Take these two," she gestured with a finger at Kezah and Delmar, "and target the largest cities for population clearing. They're labelled in green on the scouters. You," another haughty gesture, this time towards Lodj and Rhoda, "will accompany me to attack the leadership of this planet."
"Now, wait a minute," Tonsa said, "I should be with you, I'm your guardian."
"I don't need a guardian right now," Amara snapped. "I need a warrior."
"Tonsa is an excellent warrior," Lodj said softly. "I think you should reconsider."
"In that case you can keep your thoughts to yourself."
Delmar crossed his arms. "When did you get to be such a bossy little brat?"
She knew this would happen, but she was ready for it. She flared her eyes. A small energy ball formed in her hand. "What did you say to me?" she hissed.
"Alright, come on now," Lodj interrupted. "It won't hurt anyone to shake things up a bit. We'll do this Amara's way this time." He turned to smile at her. "Maybe she'll wow us."
Amara flew ahead of Lodj and Rhoda. She'd wound her hair into a strict bun, but the wind had loosened a few strands that were now flapping against her cheeks. Still, she kept her head high. In truth, she felt rather guilty about ditching Tonsa, but she didn't have a choice. Tonsa would block every move she made and force her back, as long as she was playing the guardian role. More importantly, she needed a reliable witness for what she planned on being a resounding defeat of the best fighters this planet had to offer. Someone the other Hotsus would take seriously when they reported back.
"You know," Lodj flew up to her, "when we get there, I think you should stay back, let me do the heavy lifting. I'm sure you're more than capable," he said before she had a chance to interrupt. "But we can't afford to lose you. You're our insurance card against Frieza."
"I've already made up my mind," she turned to him. "Ple-um, don't-don't question me." Ugh, so embarrassing, she thought. Get it together! Orders!
Lodj grinned. She reminded him of the woman who'd been his nurse – along with Tonsa and Kezah, as it happened – so many decades ago, the same aqua blue hair and big eyes, but minus the snobby attitude. Although Lodj suspected that the attitude was a put-on, a shtick she'd picked up from the Saiyans.
"That's rather an inflexible attitude for a leader," he pointed out.
"And that," she snapped, "sounds like questioning." She shot ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Kezah and Tonsa were had stopped midflight to tear into each other.
"You were always a bitter, jealous bitch! You can't stand the idea that I outshine you in every way! I'm twice the soldier you could ever hope to be!" Tonsa yelled.
"Oh, that's rich!" Kezah shot back. "Some soldier you are! We all know you spend more time hanging out with that Zarbon guy doing who knows what, instead of training that nasty little brat and teaching her a little respect!"
"Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?!"
"You know exactly what it means, and you should be ashamed of yourself, taking our Hotsu pride and dragging it through the mud with a creature like Zarbon."
"At least I'm not throwing myself at those disgusting Saiyans, like you are! I've seen how you slobber over that Nappa, it's disgusting!"
"I've never touched him, and everyone knows it! Unlike you, I've been trying to keep an eye on the people we're supposed to be entrusting our most precious commodity to, a commodity you are supposed to be taking care of."
"She's right," Delmar interjected. "You've dropped the ball on that kid and you know it, Tonsa. Her attitude alone shows it."
"You know nothing of what I've done. Both of you. You don't realize that I've been entrusted with something far beyond what your minds can comprehend." Tonsa sneered at them. "The Queen's instructions were clear."
"Oh, were they?" Kezah said. "I guess we'll find out just how well you've been following them when we return."
"You bitter bitch," Tonsa shook her head. Isn't it about time you accepted that I'm just better than you, and stopping playing your stupid, petty games?"
"Your biggest mistake was thinking we were done once you moved up to the Court of Governance," Kezah said. "But this is far from over."
"Guys, are your scouters beeping?" Delmar said suddenly.
The women suddenly became aware of the flashing light and beeping sound in the corner of their eyes.
"It's coming from over there," Tonsa turned and pointed north. The ground underneath them was shaking. In the distance, they could see a large group of natives running towards them.
They were being ambushed.
"Dammit, this is all your fault!"
"Mine?! You started this!"
"Seriously! This is not the time!"
The three fell into defensive postures, and Kezah and Tonsa exchanged knowing looks. For all their endless bickering, and it truly was endless, they'd been raised together, trained together, and when it came to fighting, they knew each other's every move.
Kezah took off, taking the approaching fighters head on as Tonsa flew up to to challenge the air-born offense. "Delmar!" she screamed. "Back her!"
Delmar chased after Kezah, who was carving a bloody path through the advancing fighters.
Lodj was fighting one and a half battles – the one he was actually fighting, against a bulky warrior supposed to be one of the planet's best. The half was the one Amara was in. He couldn't help but keep on eye on her. If something happened to her, it would be a big hit for Hotsu – who knew what it would do to their alliance with Frieza.
She didn't need any help, though. He was amazed at the speed of her movements and, quite frankly, the viciousness of her attacks. Her willingness to use brute force was…un-Hotsu. Lodj fought with grace, his ki perfectly poised. But Amara switched between the Hotsu shaping technique and the blunt blast moves she'd learned from the Saiyans with an ease he didn't even know to expect.
He looked up. Zhera was rushing towards them, ahead of a giant robot that was blasting at her. She desperately dodged the blasts being aimed from the 9-foot machined that was making its way towards them.
"Hah!" his opponent spat at him. "Now you'll pay for what you've tried to do to our world!"
"What the hell is that thing?!" Amara screamed as Zhera landed.
"I don't know! It was at the base I attacked, and it just came out of the ground-"
"You incompetent idiot! I told you to knock the power out!"
Khera, too, was coming running ahead of fighter pilots, and now even Delmar, Kezah, and Tonsa were running towards them as well. In two minutes, the entire Hotsu crew were surrounded.
"Damn it!" Kezah screamed. "Circle, circle!" The crew quickly put their backs against each other in a defensive posture.
The robot aimed at them, powering for a blast. The fighters materialized their ki into shields and doubled down.
Except Amara. She was standing tall and levitating up, arms outstretched, the shield she had formed rapidly expanding out from her fingers.
"Amara, get down!" Tonsa screamed. "You stupid girl, get down!"
The red ball of energy burst out at her.
The blast hit her shield. With a swift movement of her hand, she shot the blast back at the machine. It exploded against it, and the machine collapsed on its own attack.
The Hotsus stood stunned.
"Attack!" she commanded, and the natives went screaming as the Hotsus pulled themselves together.
"To your first successful mission." Nappa raised a glass of wine to Amara. Tonsa had left her with the Saiyans while she went to file a report about the mission from which they had just returned.
Amara clinked his glass with her own glass of fruit juice, and then clinked it again with Vegeta, who was laying back on the couch with his feet up.
"So the plan worked then?" he said.
"Oh no," Amara said, pushing his feet off the couch so she could sit down. "It was a total disaster. It all went wrong."
He sat up. "What do you mean? Our plan was foolproof!"
"Maybe from Saiyan fools. But it worked out even better!" Amara told them about the attack she'd deflected, and how she'd gone on to lead an all-out offensive.
"Damn," Nappa said. "Good on you, kid."
"Now they'll know to respect me," she said smugly.
"Damn right," Vegeta said.
For the first time since they'd joined Frieza's ship four years ago, Tonsa was in the Hotsu rooms. She was pacing.
"I don't-I don't understand, she's never done anything like that in front of me before."
"How often is she in front of you?" Kezah snapped.
"Please Kezah, not now," Lodj said.
"She should have seen this coming, she should have warned us."
"You're right," Tonsa whispered. She clutched her arms, eyes sunk. "I should have known what she was capable of. I knew she was growing in power but I never imagined…"
"That girl is going to be the end of all of us," Delmar said quietly.
"I can't believe that," Zhera shoot her head. "That stuff is nonsense. We're people of science. We can't fall into ridiculous superstitions like this."
"How do you explain what happened today then?" he replied.
"It's not surprising that-that she's strong. She was built strong. Maybe she exceeds our expectations a bit-"
"A bit!" Kezah snorted.
"-but that doesn't mean anything. She's still just a child."
"We could kill her."
Everyone turned to stare at Rhoda. She shrugged. "Make it look like an accident. Problem solved."
"I can't allow that, that's treason," Tonsa said dismissively.
"And it won't help," Lodj said. "They'll just make another one, and who knows what that one will be like. You're looking at this the wrong way. She was showing off for us today. From the first, with the attitude and the orders, this was a show. Which means that we actually have no idea what she's capable of. Maybe that's her ceiling. Maybe that's the tip of the iceberg." He leaned back, putting his hands behind his head, his eyes contemplative. "Zhera's right about one thing, she's just a child. She wants attention. We can give her that. Figure out where she really stands, what kind of a threat she really is. That way if there's anything to be done when the time comes…" He brought his hands down into his lap again. "The point of prophecies is that they're inevitable. There may not be anything we can do about…her. In that case, our best bet is to be on her side."