Disclaimer/Warning: I will only be posting this bit once, so please read. Though this fic does NOT contain any graphic depictions of violence or injury, it is still a DBZ fic, meaning any form of injury or death that occurs within the canon manga timeline from chapter one all the way to the end of the Buu Arc has the potential to happen 'on-screen' here, too, at any time it is plot-appropriate. It's DBZ – people do get badly hurt and die sometimes, even if they do always get better eventually. Furthermore, all ships, endgame or otherwise, have already been decided and carved in unyielding stone.
Chapter 1 – Awakening
Sand. Sand and sky and heat. Those are the first things he sees, the first things he feels when he becomes aware of himself. He has hands – strong, with slightly blunt fingers – and he uses them to explore his face (it feels like a good face), his hair (long and wavy and dark). He looks down at himself – chest, abdomen, legs, feet with wriggly toes – and laughs, because he's a man. He stands, still smiling, not bothering to knock sand from clothes the same colour as it, rough yellow pants and jacket with an off-white shirt, looks around, throws out his arms, and laughs again for the joy of it, because he's a man, but he's also a desert, and this place, this place is his, because it is him and he is it, they're the same, one entity in two forms and he can feel it, see it, all.
He slides down the dune he's on, runs to the top of another, quickly growing accustomed to legs, arms, movement that is other than the rustle of sand or the billowing of wind or the rare patter-splat of rain. He's the Lord of the Desert given human form, and life is grand.
Everything is new and everything is strange, all these things he's known forever, that have always been a part of him, but which he's never seen before because he didn't have eyes to do so. He watches lizards and mimics the sinuous motion of snakes as well as any creature with legs can hope to imitate a living ribbon of muscle, lets scorpions run up his arms and hide in his hair and pockets, and runs with the wolves. Wolves. Of all the creatures that live on him, in him, he thinks he loves wolves the best – their strength, their music, their speed. He wrestles with them, plays with them, and, sometimes, he kills them. Not on purpose or even through neglect, but simply because he is a desert, and things die in the desert – from storms, from the heat, from becoming lost. And if it is his greater self and not his hands that kill them, the deaths are still at his feet.
It doesn't really bother him, no more than it bothers the wolves themselves when they kill rabbits or other game, or when the vultures come in turn for their own carcasses. They are true to their natures, as he is true to his, and they understand each other.
He prefers to see them alive, though, rather than as another set of whitening bones to inhabit his sands for eternity. The desert is the land of death, but it does not begrudge quarter to the living.
It is the wolves he loves best, but it is the creatures that look like him, the humans, that are the most interesting. They travel across him, going to places where nothing lives, nothing at all, and then they get surprised when they die there. The Lord of the Desert thinks that they aren't very clever creatures as he watches them from atop a sand dune, a snake curled around one of his ankles, hiding from the sun under one of his frayed pants legs.
Sometimes he calls the oasis that roams around him, like a vulture circling the sun, and lets the humans find it and cross through to the other side, and sometimes he calls his winds and blows through their caravans with the rest of the sand as they scream. Sometimes they live and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they find the oasis on their own or the winds come from beyond his borders, and he doesn't mind when these things happen. The desert is indifferent to human lives, after all, and he is Lord of the Desert.
At least, he pretends to be.
Indifferent, that is.
Because, while he is the desert, he is also a man now, and men for the most part are anything but indifferent. So he sits on his dunes and watches them, these creatures he looks like but isn't one of. He follows them, blowing from the top of one dune to the next on the wind. Sometimes he lies on the ground and lets the wind and the sand carry what they know to him, and so he learns the words of people, language, and something of their ways. Sometimes he sees something they have that he wants, and he drops from the rocks and takes it. Because everything that passes through his border is his, be it words or bits of food or gold and jewels or human lives. Many things he lets go again, passing out of his borders and out of his possession, but what he wants, he keeps.
He can level a caravan, strip flesh from the bone with his winds and stinging sand, but he finds as time goes that he likes best to approach the humans on their terms in these matters, with fists and feet (but not teeth (they look askance at biting for some reason (odd creatures))), and also with blades once he learns the way of them. He likes blades, and he gets good with them, learns various styles of fighting from the humans as they fight him and each other, and eventually he creates his own fighting form and names it for the wolves he loves. He watches the humans and takes what he wants and laughs at them, because they're such strange little things. They scream when their swords cut him and sand trickles out instead of the red blood they expect. They shake in fear when they see him running along the tops of dunes, the wind blowing him from the top of one to the next. They're scared of him, but humans have always been scared of the desert, so that's nothing new.
One day, though, he learns they have a name for his greater self – they call him the Diablo Desert, named for the demon that's been spotted there, running through the dunes and attacking caravans. They've named his greater self for his lesser self, and he laughs long and loud when he hears this, because they are so right while also being so very, very wrong.
He accepts the name graciously, though, because he is a lord, after all.
Lord Diablo, of the Diablo Desert.
The first time it happens, it's an accident. He misses his footing, goes a step too far, crosses the line between 'his' and 'not his.' He's never been off his territory before this, never considered the fact that the world is larger than him. He knew humans came from somewhere, but he'd never thought about where that somewhere was before; it wasn't important.
He crosses back over the border quickly enough then pauses, feels his face. It feels the way humans look when they're scared, and that won't do at all. He's the Lord of Diablo Desert, and he has no need to fear anything! So he steps back over the border again, on purpose this time, then takes a moment to get his bearings. His greater self is still there, he can feel it, but it is… distant, even though it's only a step away. He feels different, too, strange, less… just less.
Walking further he steps entirely off of the sand that spills over the edge of his border, the feeling of 'less' increasing a bit more, but he doesn't stop, walking until he reaches the trees that edge near his border on this side. He finds a road (he knows about roads, as he has a few himself, though less solid than this) and follows it until he reaches a village (he doesn't have any of those but he's heard enough about them to recognize it for what it is). There are people there, more than he's ever seen gathered in one place before. They talk, they laugh, they yell, and he watches them, curious. There are so many new things here, things he's never seen before. He watches them for awhile, until a strange scent, a good scent, drifts under his nose and his stomach growls.
He slaps a hand on it in surprise – it's never done that before! He'd barely been aware it existed. But now he knows it does and, for the first time ever, it wants something in it. He knows about eating, he's seen it done by all sorts of creatures, but he's never done it himself.
So now he wanders deeper into the village, hands in his pockets, following the scent, and finds a busy place where people are trading things for other things. He watches a little, getting a feel for it (this is a strange territory after all, and he does not know the rules), then follows the scent to its source, a food stall. A woman runs it, old, with greying hair, a little child at her feet. People approach and give her things, coins mostly, then she gives them bowls of food which they eat right there before returning the bowls and walking away.
He frowns, checks his pockets to see if he has anything he can offer in trade (he's seen coins before but, really, when you've seen one you've seen them all, so he doesn't tend to take or hold onto them). His search produces some stones he found at the oasis that are good for throwing, a live scorpion, a sun-shaped necklace of yellow metal, and a ring with a flashing jewel. The last two items he had taken a shine to after his last raid, and thus hadn't immediately hidden in his sands, as he eventually hides everything he claims (it's a very convenient storage system, protecting his treasures while also leaving them within reach at any given moment). Lord Diablo frowns at the things in his hands, instantly dismissing the stones and the scorpion for potential trade (humans don't get along well with scorpions for some reason, and good throwing stones are much too valuable for this), then decides he can bear to part with the necklace (he'll just take it again if the woman wanders through his territory (or he'll find a new one)). He puts the other things away and approaches the stall, holding out the necklace, speaking the human tongue for the first time ever.
"What can I get for this?"
The woman looks him over critically. "You're a scruffy one, aren't you?"
He bristles at this – he is wild and beautiful, because that is what deserts are and he is perfect – but she ignores him in favour of examining the necklace. Her eyes widen as she lifts it up, bites it, then examines the small arc of dents her teeth have left.
"For this, Scruffy, you can eat here for a month!"
He tilts his head, confused, not quite sure what a 'month' is, though he's heard the word before. "Does that mean you'll give me a bowl?"
She snorts, though not unkindly, and ladles a heap of long, dangly strips into a bowl, handing it to him. He nods, like the humans do when they're handed something, and goes to take a bite, only to receive a stinging slap. He clutches his ear with one hand, shocked and outraged. That had hurt! Nothing has ever- he's never- that had hurt! He snarls like a wolf at the old woman.
She merely glares at him. "I don't care how much you've paid me, customers at my stall eat like civilized people! Were you raised in the desert?!"
"Yes," he says shortly, because he gets the sudden feeling that the full truth could be dangerous – the rules seem to be different here, he can be hurt here, so he needs to be cautious while he learns.
The old woman's eyebrows raise at this admission, then her expression softens. "Orphan are you? No parents?" she adds in the face of his confusion. She softens further for some reason when he shakes his head (because he doesn't have parents (because he's a desert (even if he does look like a man))). "Well I don't see how you got to this age without knowing how to eat properly, but I suppose I can show you. Kami knows I've had to reteach my own children often enough."
And she shows him how to use chopsticks, which he does (if only so she'll let him eat (his stomach's getting really unhappy with him)), and then he has his first cautious bite of food. The next bite isn't cautious at all.
"This is good!" he says enthusiastically (why hasn't he tried food before?! (he's obviously been missing out)), "What is it?"
She chuckles at him with warm amusement, something else he's never experienced first-hand before. "It's just soba, boy."
"It's good!" he repeats, finishing off the bowl. He has another, and then his stomach seems to have had enough for the moment, but he knows he'll be back again – he's only just started food, but he thinks he's already found a favorite.
He goes to the village fairly regularly after this, at least once every seven days (a week as he learns to call it (he's never really paid attention to time beyond 'now' before (or 'day' and 'night' if he had wanted to be really specific (time, after all, has very little true meaning to the ageless desert)))). He tries different foods, but always he drifts back to the soba stand, getting to know the old woman, Pai, and her son, Shou, just a little. He tries to make food himself, in his territory, and doesn't do too badly (because he understands cutting things (and if there's one thing a desert knows better than anyone, it's heat (mixing is a little confusing, though))). Pai even teaches him the art of noodles – all sorts, not just soba. She's surprised the next time he shows up at her stall after she's finished her lessons.
"Why wouldn't I come?" he asks, puzzled, when she tells him this.
"It's more expensive to eat out than to cook for yourself," she explains and he laughs, because money he has access to in plenty if he wants it, though he still prefers treasure (it's nicer to look at and generally more interesting).
"That would be poor thanks to the one who showed me you can do more with heat than burn," he says, and gratitude is a new concept to him but, even as the desert is ever the same, it is also ever changing, faster than the human eye can see, and he is a swift learner.
Pai does not question him about his presence at her stall again for some time, not until her hair is much greyer and Shou has grown a lot.
"How old are you, Scruffy?" she asks, and it's a name he will tolerate from her, if only because she has taught him so many useful things, but he shrugs at her question.
"I don't know." He may know 'week' and 'month,' and even have a vague concept of 'year' now, but he has no idea how much time came before he knew of these things, and no interest in figuring it out. "Why?"
"Because when we first met, you looked to me like you were about sixteen."
"So?" he slurps down the last of his noodles, leaning casually against one of the stall's support posts.
"So it's been five years since then," Pai replies, "And, in all that time, you don't look like you've aged a day."
He tilts his head to the side a little, confused, "I have aged. Time has passed, day has become night, and I have born witness to it."
"But you don't look like you have," Pai says evenly, "Look at Shou – he's eleven now, and he's grown quite a bit since you met him."
Lord Diablo looks at where the boy plays with the other boys in the market as they run errands and admits that this is true. "But he is a boy; I am a man."
"By now you should be," Pai agrees, "So why do you still look like you've only just become one? I'm not the only one who's noticed, you know – people are starting to talk, Scruffy. They've been talking for awhile now, about the barefoot youth in yellow with no family, but it's starting to get serious. They're saying you're not human. What are you, child?"
He blinks, then grins, setting his bowl down on the counter again. "Never thought about it too much, actually. Some people call me 'Diablo,' but that's-"
It isn't Pai who interrupts him, though, it's a man who has come up to buy his own meal, and his tone is one of shock and outrage. He grabs the Lord of the Desert's shoulder and spins him around. "You're the Diablo of the desert? All this time it's been you?!" and oh, there is hatred in his eyes as he speaks, "You killed my brother, my father!"
Lord Diablo shrugs, unconcerned, right up until the moment the man slams Diablo's right arm onto Pai's counter and draws a wicked blade.
"Let's see how well you kill one-handed, demon!"
And he slices Lord Diablo's arm off.
The Lord of the Desert howls like one of his wolves at the pain of it and the people around him scream as sand spills from the wound (he vaguely notices that its colour is redder than usual for some reason). The man releases him and he bolts, clutching the stump of his arm, hearing sounds of rage and fear gathering behind him, following him, and he runs, swift as a wolf, a snake, desperately afraid for his life, because out here he can hunger, out here he can hurt – what if he can also die?
He has always been strong, no matter where he is, but now, as reddish sand leaks from his arm, he feels himself starting to falter. Strange things are beginning to happen to his vision just as he reaches the edge of his territory, then his strength is increasing again as he steps onto sand, returning entirely as he crosses over into his territory and the sand and the wind rise to meet him, carry him to the top of a dune, and no sooner have his feet touched down than he takes an arrow to the back, then six more and he smiles, because it doesn't hurt a bit.
He straightens, lets the arrows fall from him and turns to face the mob even as sand spirals up to where his arm was, shaping itself until it forms a new arm. He moves the new limb, looking it over critically, then he gives it a shake and it turns to flesh. Finally he looks down at the villagers who have chased him here, armed with weapons, some make-shift, some less so, and now it is his own eyes that glitter with hate even as he smiles, sharp as a blade.
"You shouldn't have done that, you stupid little humans. I am the lord of this territory and you," he feels his face twist with fury, "You are denied right of passage!"
The winds rise and his sands rise with them, carried to lethal, flesh-slicing speed as the humans fail to realize the danger of holding their ground until too late. The storm grows and rises, stretching until the whole of Diablo Desert is ringed with his rage.
Some of the humans make it out alive.
He watches it all with burning, dispassionate eyes. They had come hunting for a devil.
They can have one.
"You there, Scruffy?"
He hadn't been, had been far away in the center of Dancing Point, but he is there by the time Pai finishes speaking. She's standing by a rock, just outside the reach of the winds that still blow, encircling his territory. He stands in the middle of them, unaffected by the sand they carry, hair and clothes unruffled by their passage, glaring at her. "What do you want, old woman?"
She clicks her tongue at him, disapproving. "That's a fine way to treat the person who's let you eat for free at her stall for near five years now, not to mention taught you the secret art of noodle making!"
He bristles at this implication of debt. "I didn't eat free, I paid!"
Pai chuckles and tosses him a small-ish bag. It clinks when he catches it, and inside is a jumble of coins, jewelry, and sparkling stones. One piece in particular catches his eye, the sun-shaped necklace of yellow metal, gold, with the small arc of tooth marks in it. He looks up sharply and stills the wind in this section of his border, though elsewhere it continues to blow.
"Why do you still have all this? Why not trade or sell it?"
"I thought you were a bandit, Scruffy. There's laws about trading with bandits, you know," she says sternly before her voice softens, "Well, that occurred to me later, actually. At first I thought you were some poor orphan who'd found something he didn't know the worth of. After that it was so hit or miss, I was never entirely sure what to believe – you were as likely to give me a pretty piece of stone as silver. And you seemed like a nice boy, ignorant of the strangest things, I'll grant you, but willing to learn." She walks forward a few paces, intent. "And you've never done a wrong thing in the village before today. Who are you, Scruffy?"
He laughs, but it's not his usual joyful sound, rather something much harsher, darker, the wingbeats of circling vultures echoing in its depths. "Didn't you hear? I'm Diablo."
"I heard you say some people called you that," she replies tartly, "However I've raised seven children, buried two, and am in the process of raising my grandson, so don't think I'll fall for guff like that so easily!"
He stares are her and, slowly, the rage and the hate (such unfamiliar emotions for him) recede, leaving him confused and hurt. "I- Diablo is my name, the name you people gave to me. 'The Diablo Desert.' That is who I am, what I am – the desert, the lord of the desert, its spirit given form. I- I have no answer beyond that."
"Oh," Pai blinks, then moves back and sits heavily on the nearby stone, "No wonder you don't understand humans."
"Why did that man cut my arm off?" he asks plaintively, stepping forward, "I grew a new one, but it hurt! I didn't do anything to him!"
"You killed his family," she says gently, a deep sorrow in her eyes, "Can't you see why he'd be upset?"
He shrugs, feeling helpless and confused, "I don't even know if it was me who did it – I don't know who his family was and there are mortal bandits in my territory, too. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't, but I don't know!"
"You can't remember?!" she looks horrified.
"I remember everything!" he snaps, "But I'm a desert – my sands are full of bones! Wolf, lizard, bird, all kinds! I've listened to travelers and their stories; you call me the Land of Death. So why should I notice one life passing more than another, just because it's human?! Why should I even care – there are always more of you, and you barely live any time at all!"
Pai stares at him then stands, and he finds himself unable to hold her gaze and unable to explain why this is. Walking forward, she places her hands on his shoulders, looking into his face for a moment. Then she pulls him into an embrace. He stiffens at first – for all that they are on good terms, she's never touched him like this before. No one has. Pai makes a quiet sound as he slowly relaxes, half sigh and half laugh.
"Oh Scruffy… you probably have centuries on me, but you aren't very old for a spirit, are you? Human enough to ask why, but not enough to understand the answers you get." She leans back, takes his face in her hands, smiles at him. "If you're anything like my boys, you'll be wanting to hide off somewhere now and nurse your hurts, so here's a little free advice to you – don't. Find a different village, far away from this one, and keep learning. You seem like you have the potential to be such a nice person; don't let hate and fear poison you."
"I'm not afraid of anything, I'm a desert," he grumbles, but they both know he's lying.
Pai smiles, then lets go of him again, steps back, and bows. "It has been an honour to know you, Lord Diablo of Diablo Desert. I will pray that you eventually find the answers to your questions." And she turns to walk away.
And that- that is wrong. She can't just go like that, not when she's taught him so much, given him so much, and it turns out he's never repaid her, not when he- when he owes- "Pai, wait!"
She pauses, turns at his call. He hesitates for a moment, then pulls the sun necklace from the bag, dropping the rest. Holding it up to his mouth, he breaths on it, and the metal glows berry red for a moment before cooling to yellow again, but it's a warmer yellow than before. Walking forward, he places it in Pai's hand.
"You have my blessing," he says, staring intently at her, "The Diablo Desert shall always grant you and yours safe passage, as long as you carry this with you."
She holds it up, expression stunned, looking between him and the little sun. "You can do that?"
"I don't see why not," he says, "I am a kami, after all."
And, just like that, he realizes, he is. He's a kami, a nature kami, that is the answer he searched for earlier, what the combination of man and desert within him form, and he laughs in startled delight as this knowledge rises up in his mind, like it has been waiting for him to need it. And now he thinks to look inward, to the place this knowledge rose from, he realizes there are other things to know, other things he can learn to do, and he has such a long time to discover them all, as swiftly or slowly as he likes. His gaze returns to Pai and he smiles again, a truer expression this time.
"Thank-you, Pai. You've taught me so many things, even if I don't understand them all yet," leaning down, he gives her a slightly awkward hug, "I'll never forget you. Even if my sands scatter to the winds and I forget everything else, even if I lose myself, I will remember you, and what you have taught me."
And then he's running, back into his sands, laughing, and the wind carries him to the top of the next dune as he leaps, Pai's laughter following him like a promise.
He keeps his unspoken vow to Pai and does find new villages, though he's careful not to stay in any one too frequently, and to alter his clothes to fit the local styles a bit better before he enters them, though the basics of the outfit remain unchanged (a white-ish shirt and a loose coat and pants in sandy yellow, all ragged and worn and comfortable, sometimes with a kerchief tied around his head because he likes the look of it, though never with shoes (and over time some of the details will change again and again, but never these)). He continues to learn about humans and the beast folk who sometimes live near or among them and also about himself and his vulnerabilities off of his territory. Though still a mighty warrior, much of his power is tied up in his greater self, inaccessible if he moves even a step off of it, and so he learns subtlety and finesse as well as brute strength.
Now that he is paying more detailed attention to them, he learns that humans are strangely close to one another, a bit like his wolves (whom he still loves best, even if humans are very interesting). Watching people interact turns from idle amusement to a fond pastime of his as time continues on. He still takes what he wants from travelers (it is his right after all), but he chases the mortal thieves and bandits from his territory, and sometimes what he really wants is to simply sit nearby and listen to people talk around their campfires at night. He likes to watch the groups called 'families' best these days – their lives are so different from his. It's not that he's alone – all that lives in and on his greater self is with him – but it is a different type of closeness.
Then again, there is also his faraway friend, whom he met not long after his abrupt leave-taking of Pai's village. She has black hair like his, only hers falls very straight where his waves and curls, and she dresses in silver rather than yellow, in a style he's unfamiliar with. He doesn't know her name, sadly, because she's never been able to tell it to him.
Because she lives on the moon.
He knows she sees him, because the reason he noticed her at all was that she had been waving at him. The sight had been such a shock that he'd missed his footing and tumbled down a dune, and she'd covered her mouth and shaken with laughter he couldn't hear.
They've been friends ever since, he's sure of it.
It's a strange sort of friendship compared to the ones he's seen the humans and beast folk form, because they can't talk to each other – even as kami, they're too far away from each other for their voices to carry. Sometimes he sings to her with his wolves, though, or forms his sands into huge patterns that only they can see – she because she is so high up, he because it's his sand and he knows it as he knows his skin. She, in turn, sometimes dances for him, making graceful patterns with her silver-veined fan, and sometimes she talks. He can't hear her, but he gets the feeling that she might be lonely up there, with no snakes to curl around her ankles, no scorpions to hide in her pockets, no wolves to run and wrestle with, and so he does his best to pay attention and nod at what he thinks are the right moments (a thing Pai taught him to do).
Sometimes, when they first met, she would draw strange symbols on bits of paper, and at first he had tried copying them in his sands, to her great excitement. Then they had both realized that the symbols meant something more to her than they did to him. She tries to explain them to him for a very long time, and he tries to learn, he really does, but without words to accompany the explanations the task proves to be impossible, and they eventually give it up. Sometimes he still uses them in his patterns, though, and she always makes a face like she's snorting or hides her laughter in her sleeves or waves a falsely annoyed hand at him when he does this, and that's how he knows it's a good game.
He likes his faraway friend.
But, as time passes, he begins to think he might like to have a nearby friend, too, one whose presence is not limited to when the moon is present and perfectly round above his territory.
(And, sometimes, a little voice inside him whispers a desire for something more than friendship (but it's a very human-sounding voice, so he generally ignores it.))
Diablo doesn't just learn about how humans interact happily with each other, though. He learns more about Martial Artists and Warriors and those who practice more subtle arts, and of weapons of legend and dangers of fact. Of anything that could hurt him, be a danger to him while he is exploring outside his territory. Because he is stronger than most humans, even off of his sands (he's never been beaten on them), and much faster, but, as he learned in Pai's village (now long since reclaimed by the jungle), if he is caught, if he is cornered, he can be hurt.
He doesn't like being hurt.
And then he learns that there are those who can sometimes prove dangerous within his territory as well. One day a strange group of humans crosses his borders. They wear heavy robes with elaborate designs, and they call him by his name. People have been doing this on occasion lately, trying to get favours or knowledge or other things from him. Sometimes he answers such summons, generally he doesn't (they tend to be rather boring encounters on his end), but this time he has no choice, because these people have a girl child with them, and she carries the sun amulet, the blessing he once gifted to Pai.
He appears right in the midst of them, to their surprise, crouched in front of the girl. Her face is dirty but also wet, in the way human faces go sometimes when they are unhappy. Diablo's never been so close to one actually doing it until now, though, and he ignores the men to examine her curiously. She flinches when he brushes a finger against her cheek, and a new bead of wet trickles out of one eye to land on it. He lifts it up to his eyes, smells it, tastes it – salty-strange.
Diablo doesn't have time to do more than this, though, because one of the men touches him, brushes his hair away from his neck and tries to place something around it. The desert kami's gone in an instant, taking the item with him, though he can't go far thanks to whatever they've done to force his presence here in the first place. But it's far enough to give him time to take the thing from his neck – a metal collar, engraved with strange shapes and patterns a bit like the ones his faraway friend makes and, while he doesn't understand exactly what they mean, he knows, knows, that if the man had managed to secure the fastenings on this item, Diablo would have been caught, would have been bound to the will of these strange people.
A snarl echoes from his chest and his winds begin to rise, swirling around him and the strangers.
"Careful, oh Lord of the Diablo Desert," one of them calls out, "Forget you not, we hold in our hands that which you treasure!"
And Diablo does not need to look up to know the man is holding the girl child by the hair with a knife to her throat.
It is a mistake of the stranger's to do this. The men travel with the girl, they have used the amulet to summon him and prevent his leaving, but these are things they have done wrongly, and the blessing of the amulet protects the girl alone, for these men are none of hers.
Diablo looks like a human, but the sound that comes out of him now is anything but, a roar comprised of screaming winds, snarling wolves, the hiss of an angered snake, the strike of a scorpion's tail – the rage of the desert given sound as his sand lashes. At the end of it, only he and the girl child remain. Of the men who tried to use them both, there is no trace; not even bones remain. The girl stares at him, eyes wide and terrified, and she scuttles backwards, falling to all fours when he approaches her, too scared to stand.
"'Diablo,'" he corrects gently, and he crouches down and holds out a hand, the way he's seen humans do with scared animals in their care, "Can I see your necklace?"
She puts a hand over it, protective (understandable after what she's presumably been through), "It's my family's treasure; it keeps us safe."
He laughs at this. "I know – I'm the one who gave it to them! Come on, let me see it; I don't want this to happen again."
She stares at him for a long moment, then cautiously scoots forward and holds out the necklace on the end of its long chain, not taking it from around her neck. Fair enough. He reaches forward, touches it with one finger, and it glows briefly as he alters the blessing within it slightly, so that it may no longer be used against him in this manner. Then he takes the girl on his back and returns her to a nearby village. There's a ruckus going on there, people panicking and arguing over what they should do, torches being lit against the coming darkness.
He places the girl at the edge of the light and, as she runs towards one specific group, more frantic than the rest, with a sob, and some people look past her and see him. They point and shout and he smirks, vanishes into the dusky trees, too swift to catch.
Only once he is back deep in his territory does he halt and remove the hateful collar from where he'd stowed it in his ragged coat. He turns it over with his fingertips, touching it as little as possible; its very existence represents a threat to him, and it will have to go. It is metal, sturdily made and laced with enchantments, but he is Diablo, Lord of the Diablo Desert, and he is sand. Stone, wood, bone, metal… all give way eventually to sand's corrosion, for only sand is eternal. By the time he is through with it, the collar is nothing but a handful of darker grains mixed into the mass of his greater self.
It is the first time humans have tried to capture him, but it is not the last. However it is also the closest they ever come to succeeding. In this growing age of magic and sorcery, Diablo allows himself to fade somewhat into the background, becoming more elusive, the stories of him becoming more legend than fact as he observes from afar, learns to slip things he desires from caravans without anyone knowing he was ever there, switching the contents of bags and pockets in various marketplaces for practice and laughing in the shadows at the confusion it causes. It's less exciting than head-on battles and the like, but it is also safer for the moment as he learns the ways of magic and how to avoid it.
Because Diablo is the desert, wild and beautiful, and he will not suffer himself to be bound by any will but his own.
Times passes. Diablo remains as he always has been, but the mortals change, slowly turning from one sort of magic to another, to the craft of iron and steel and new creations called 'machines,' and the Lord of the Desert is entranced. Wagons that move without draft animals to pull them and which go faster and faster as time progresses, things that fly through the sky like birds. A new magic, a new science – technology. It fascinates him enough to bring him out of hiding to a certain extent, to again exert his right of claim on anything that passes between his borders, and then to spend days happily puzzled as he tries to figure out how the hell whatever he's taken works. Visiting the villages proves invaluable in this endeavor and is an education in and of itself as the structures change with the times to include pipes that carry water right into individual houses, with no need to haul buckets from the well, and magical pots that cook rice for you with the aid of something called 'electricity.' He has to be cautious in his enthusiasm not to get himself noticed for frequenting any one village too often again over time.
This new era is not without its dangers, though. Some are the same as they ever were – people cannot seem to help but want to fight each other over the most ludicrous things (he'll never fully understand the creatures, he really won't), and, even though those who wear elaborate robes and twist the universe to their will have grown far fewer, other beings of those times remain, spirits and kami like Diablo, along with things far more sinister in nature…
One day the wind that blows in from the land around his territory carries strangeness, smoke and screams and unclean death. And the next time he goes to his favorite village, it's not there, just smoking ruins and many bodies. It turns his stomach. He is no stranger to death, and he has many bones in his sands, each one now noted, the life once attached to it at least partially remembered, as he remembers all things that occur within his territory and that happen to his lesser self. That is part of what it is to be Lord of the Desert, after all. But this…
Death in the desert, death from combat, death from illness, from age, those are natural. This- this is not, this is unnatural, unclean, and it sickens him. He returns to his territory swiftly, for once taking nothing with him.
A little time passes, then again comes the wind, filled with unnatural death and smoke from the direction of another village. He doesn't check on this one. Instead, he goes to a third, farther along than the other two but in the same direction that whatever is causing this destruction is likely heading in. This village is closer to his territory than any other has ever been, almost on his borders, and he has favored it since it was built, for its convenience and the sense of companionship it provides.
When the creature comes, however, there is no village, not any longer, only sand and the Lord of Diablo Desert, waiting for it. The Lord of the Desert knows it, him, the demon at a glance, recognizes his nature and place in the world as he once recognized his faraway friend, and knows that he himself is known in return. The demon stands at the edge of his territory and offers him things, free reign to expand his borders where he will, to take what he likes, kill as he pleases.
The Lord of the Desert laughs at him. He feels no need to further extend his borders, for he already has the best portion of the world (and, to be honest, swallowing the village has left him feeling stretched and strange and keen to avoid doing it again), and he already takes what he likes within his territory, as he always has; that is a right he was born to. As for the killing, death may be part of his nature, but destruction of the sort the demon king speaks of is not. And so he sits on a rock within his borders and laughs as the demon grinds his teeth and purples with rage.
"Go sell your false dreams elsewhere," Diablo mocks, "I have no use for them."
The demon king snarls at him. "Think you I could not simply rip the village from your sands, oh Lord of the Desert?"
"I deny you and yours right of passage," the desert kami says easily, then laughs again as the demon is forced by this to step back from where he'd had one foot partway over the border, "And what I take I keep. You know the laws, Daimao – come back when you've kicked over heaven."
And, to underscore his message, he lets his winds rise, carrying sand at lethal speeds across his greater self, though he is careful to leave pockets of stillness for the creatures living upon him, and to not destroy what plant life he has. Then he walks away into the storm, leaving the furious demon king on his border.
"THINK NOT THAT YOU ARE BETTER THAN ME!" the demon howls over his winds, "THE VILLAGERS ARE NO LESS DEAD FOR YOUR HAVING KILLED THEM THAN HAD I DONE SO, DIABLO!"
And the Lord of the Desert lets his winds carry his laughter everywhere, because he knows what the demon king does not, about secret caves, caves deep as hell, buried far beneath his sands. But then, who could blame the creature, for what demon would willingly return to hell?
And who but a devil would think of hiding people there?
Eventually the demon leaves, and Diablo allows his sands to settle. Eventually, travelers begin to come through again, bringing word of the demon king's defeat. Then the village people emerge from the caverns once more, as many leaving as first entered. There is no village for them to return to (for, as he has said, what he takes he keeps), so they disperse, going to make new homes with friends and family in other places, leaving their gratitude with the Lord of the Desert, and he tells himself he is glad to see them gone. In part this is true – the sudden feel of footsteps and fire and life in his secret, quiet places has been most unsettling. But part of him has watched the families, the friends, as he always watches the goings-on within his greater self, and the little voice that whispers inside him that these would be fine things to have for himself grows a little louder.
Time passes, and the Lord of the Desert continues to watch and to learn. On a whim, he selects a large rock he's quite fond of and begins to fashion it into a house of his own, with large holes for windows and several levels and a cold, swift-rushing stream he raises partway to the surface in the lowest one so that water may be easily taken from its fast-flowing waters (he may not fully understand the point of this whole 'plumbing' business or how it works, but the point is that mortals have running water in their houses so damned if he's not going to have it in his). It's the work of about a morning to get the basic shaping done, a task that would likely have taken much longer were it not for the fact that he can shape his territory to his whim, and after this he slows down to do the detail work.
He's picked up many things from humans over the years, and one is that whoever is in charge of a place tends to have the best house. That means that, as Lord of the Desert and absolute ruler of this territory, his house has to be the best, so he goes slowly, carefully sorting through the things he's taken over his life to make sure only the finest are used in the furnishing of it. Fortunately he has excellent taste, and absorbing that village and having the villagers in his caverns temporarily hadn't hurt, either. So he knows that there needs to be a room with a bed, and that the blankets on that bed should be warm and soft and a touch worn. That there need to be rugs on the floor here and there, and that you can tell a rug's quality by the richness of the colours. Shelves should be made of wood, and they require one or two objects that are interesting to look at on them. Ovens, in contrast, should be made of mud bricks, and must be kept very clean and devoid of clutter…
When it is done, he looks around and nods to himself, pleased. It is an excellent house, worthy of a kami like him – still wonderfully rock-shaped on the outside, pleasant and colourful on the inside (good desert colours, golds and yellows, browns and oranges, dashes of red and hints of dusty green). He's even brought some of his nicer small rocks inside, and a bowl of his very best sand, the rich golden stuff from over by his north-western border, to set on the shelves, next to his carefully gathered cooking implements (some of the few things he has been very careful to trade for over the years instead of simply claiming (he likes cooking and Pai had made sure to instill how valuable good cooking tools were, from a sturdy bowl to a reliably sharp knife)). Truly, it is an exemplary house.
Therefore it's a bit of a shame that no one else will ever get a chance to see it…
Some time after the incident with the demon king and the completion of his house, the humans come up with something delightfully new and clever – small containers that hold more than they should and make a sharp 'poi' sound when they release their contents. At first they're about the size of a coconut, and sometimes instead of deploying they just explode, but, swift as lightning (to Diablo, at least), they get more reliable, the size shrinking as the amount they can contain grows until the largest are about half the length of his little finger and can hold an entire house inside.
He steals so many of these 'hoi poi capsules,' so many. Seriously, they are the most interesting things, you can even get empty ones and put your own things in them, it's amazing, and they have little labels so you can remember what you put in which, in case they get all jumbled up. Diablo's never figured out what those marks people sometimes make on paper stand for, so he devises his own labeling system, based on colour and the fact that he never forgets anything, and thus can get really finicky with the various shades.
Technically these capsules are absolutely useless to him – all he needs to do is put a hand into the nearby sand or stone or even his own pockets if he's feeling especially lazy, and he can reach and remove anything he's got hidden away within his greater self, and it's not like he needs to be efficient with space, he's huge. But they're so interesting, and it's so entrancing to fit a special blue-striped capsule to his favorite scimitar, the one he took back long before cars were a thing with the beautiful blade made of watery blue-tinted metal, and watch it appear and disappear in silent puffs of smoke. Sometimes he wonders how people can complain so easily of being bored – he's been around for ages and, in his opinion, the world's only gotten more interesting as time has passed.
One day a strange group of creatures enters his territory. They look like animals, and not in the manner of the beast folk but like his wolves, like real animals, but they move and talk like people. Shape-shifters. He's seen a few over the years, but never in a large group like this; he'd been under the impression they were quite rare, but, then, he doesn't know very much about them – they aren't common around here. Interesting. He follows their group, notices how they grow subtly more tense when he's nearby, even though he stays out of sight, and they don't seem to understand why they're tense. They make him laugh, because they've forgotten some of the wisdom that was once their right as creatures, who can always tell when kami or spirits are around, but they also fascinate him, because they are like him – something between human and not human.
One creature in particular gets especially upset by his presence, a furry blue-grey being with a creamy face and stomach that generally looks like a cat. She cries when she gets too tense, which irritates the rest of the group to the point that, one night, they wedge her between some rocks in a cliff while she's asleep and then run off without her. She wakes up very stuck and very alone and very afraid and, as usual, she starts to cry.
This makes him uncomfortable for some reason – has every time she's done so, actually. It's like if one of his wolves started to cry. It's not right. Every other time this had happened the other beings had been there to stop her, but now they're gone and she doesn't stop and it looks like she might just cry until she turns into dust and blows away. And it strikes him that this would be- would be such a waste. She's such an interesting, pretty little cat-creature, he doesn't want to add her bones to his sands just yet.
So he drops down from the rock he'd been perched on to land lightly beside her and tweaks one of her ears. "Hey, stop that – you'll dry up if you don't!"
She squeaks, gasps, hiccups, and stares at him with wide eyes, though the tears don't stop entirely. "B-bu-b-but I-I-I'm s-scared," she whimpers, her breathing so ragged from the crying that the words are having a hard time getting out.
He tilts his head to the side. "Does crying help with that?" it's an honest question. He doesn't cry himself – can't like this, actually, he's too dry – and while he's learned more about it over time, the baseline concept is still somewhat confusing.
She drops her eyes, "N-n-no," she sniffles, "It d-doesn't. B-b-but they l-l-left me, and I'm stuck!"
He doesn't see why she's so worried. "So? Just change into something smaller and climb out."
She blinks, shocked. Apparently she'd forgotten she could do that. "Change into a squirrel!" There's a little puff of smoke, and then a blue-grey squirrel scurries out of the crack. Another puff of smoke and she's a cat again, looking up at him gratefully. "Thanks, mister… um, what's your name?"
"I'm the Lord of the Diablo Desert," he says grandly, but for some reason she doesn't look impressed.
"No, your name. I'm Pu'ar," she bows a little in introduction, "Who are you?"
He blinks for a moment, because usually people just call him whatever they like before they hear his title or the name humans first gave him, and are scared of him after they hear them. He's never had to provide a name for himself before. But-
"Yamcha," he says firmly, because it's a name he's heard a few times over the years, and he likes the sound of it.
Pu'ar smiles and holds out a paw. "Pleased to meet you, Lord Yamcha! Thank-you for helping me!"
"Sure," he says, gently shaking her paw.
"Um," she looks around nervously, "Do you have a map of the desert I could copy? Or something? I don't know how to get to the border from here, and I'm bad with directions."
He grins at her. "I can help you – I know the whole desert."
"The whole thing?"
"Yep." And he preens a little at the look of admiration she gives him. No one's ever been impressed by what he can do before – usually they're just scared (then again he hasn't shown off much lately (someone tried to catch him again last time he did (they failed of course (but it was still annoying)))). He leads her to his border, because he said he would, but he takes the long way, because he never said he wouldn't, and because… he likes talking to her. And when they reach his border he hesitates because, when she's not upset, she's very nice and fun to talk to, and he wants to keep her. It would be within his rights to do so if he chose to, everything that crosses his borders belongs to him, everything, but… he's never tried to keep something, someone, that was alive before. He can't hide her in his sands for safekeeping, and he feels that to hold her, as those people once tried to hold him… she wouldn't like that any more than he had. But he doesn't want her to go.
"Hey, Pu'ar?" he rubs the back of his neck when she turns to look at him (because deserts don't usually ask for things and he's not used to it (at least, not when he's on his territory)).
"Yes, Lord Yamcha?"
"You, um, you don't have to- would you like to stay?"
She stares blankly at him for a moment, and for that moment he feels a pang of something in his chest, something he doesn't understand. Because she's going to leave and he won't stop her if she does and he wants to but he won't and he's never lost anything before-
Then she frowns, furry brows drawn together in such a human expression on an animal face, and asks, "Why?"
"Why would you want me to stay?" she asks, obviously confused now, "I'm not… they always chased me and teased me at Shape-changer school, and then they'd call me a crybaby."
"They were stupid then," he says casually, grinning a little as he does, "Do you have anyone waiting for you?"
She thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. "Not really, no one I couldn't just write or call instead. I've graduated, so I'm an adult now." She puffs up a little at this, obviously very proud of herself, adding, "I'm very young to be an adult, you know."
"Stay here with me then," he invites, holding out a hand, "I won't tease or chase."
"But why do you want me to?" she asks again, plaintively.
He tilts his head to the side and smiles. "Because I like you, and I want to be friends."
She blinks, then smiles a little and puts her paw in his hand. "Okay."
They shake, and he gets the feeling that he's just found something very precious indeed.
One of the things I have always loved about DBZ is how it contains mythological/supernatural elements as well as sci-fi stuff. Even Vegeta describes the Namekians' abilities as 'sorcerous,' and the heroes are trained by literal gods, not to mention stuff like Kinto'un, the nyoi-boi, and that one mermaid Goku finds (oh Goku). But, anyway, I've always loved these elements of the story, so naturally I love playing with them.
Thus, hello, Diablo.
Yes, I'm making him a kami. And I'm going to do it without overpowering him, writing him or anyone else horribly OOC, or even changing the canon plotline that much (a couple of tweaks were made here and there, mostly in the Cell and Buu arcs, but nothing major). There are many fics filling in the 'three year gap' and the 'seven year gap' in this fandom. I am going to cover the entire original manga of DB and DBZ, as well as the several millennia of backstory we just got (this fic will be mostly disregarding the anime, and entirely disregarding GT, DBS, and DB Minus (sole potential exception Gine – she's the only thing I really liked out of Minus)). The focus is on Yamcha, but expect to see pretty much everyone at some point or another.
Heck, don't just expect to see them – expect them to be cool! Because I like almost the entire cast of protagonists from this series (sole exception Yajirobe, and even he amuses me at times), as well as a handful of the antagonists. Seriously, everyone. Even Vegeta (when a lot of Yamcha fans seem to take umbrage with him from what I've seen), even Hercule Satan and Chichi, I like them all. I just like Yamcha best.
…okay, Yamcha and Raditz, but I'm focusing on Yamcha in this one.
The fun thing to me about Diablo's house is that it isn't actually that fancy at all. He lives out in the sticks – heck, he is the sticks! A venerable kami he might be, but the fanciest house he's ever seen was a very simple two-story affair. Likewise, he's learned what makes a fine house from the people who live nearby, who were more often talking about what made a good home than a fancy one. Thus Kung Pao is decorated with pretty rocks and bedded with wool and cotton, even though he's got gold and silks hidden away in those sands of his.
Well, maybe a little silk – it does hold colours very well, after all, and it's absolutely lovely to touch! :D
Pu'ar's a bit of a prodigy at shape-shifting, so she graduated a few years early, meaning that she is indeed a rather younger adult than you generally see wandering around.
In regards to Diablo's age: physically and mentally he's about the equivalent of a sixteen-year-old, both when he first awakens and by the time he meets Pu'ar because, while he looks very human, he isn't one, he's a being made basically of spirit and sand, so certain things work a little differently for him, including the aging process. How differently they work will be addressed in coming chapters. Later chapters will also be somewhat shorter, due to not having to cover several millennia of backstory – so far they tend to average about 5000-7000 words, not counting ANs.
The current game plan is to update once a month, on the first, but this could change eventually. Now hold onto your hats, folks, 'cause here we go!
Ningenkakushi: Lord of the Desert and the concepts and original characters and storylines contained within (c) Tie-dyed Trickster/GreenTrickster 2017
All DBZ characters and settings (c) their respective owners, primarily Akira Toriyama, please support the official release and revel in the fact that we live in an era with so much cool DBZ swag available to us!