Disclaimer: the idea and characters of Dragon Ball are owned by Akira Toriyama. This is a simple non-profit fan parody.
Chapter 39 - The Return of the Demon King (part 2)
Pilaf Castle, 23:30 (22:30 Capital Time)
After the bombing had started, Pilaf was quickly left to his own devices, since everyone else had apparently more important things to do than keep his company. The castle was abuzz, what with soldiers barking orders and running around with weapons and ammo, so it wasn't advisable for him to just stand around. As humiliating as it was to admit it, his less than exceptional height meant he would more often than not get bumped against or trampled by some overexcited trooper; it had already happened once or twice. So, he figured the best place to weather the attack out was the apartments upstairs that had been reserved for him, Shu and Chichi. When climbing the spiral staircase leading up the tower he already realised that it was getting far more peaceful, as no one needed to come that way. The shouting and pitter-patter grew more distant and dimmer even before he reached the top floor and pushed the door.
"Hiya boss," greeted him Shu, putting down a car magazine. "How's it going?"
"The castle grounds are under bombardment, every single floor and carpet is completely ruined by muddy footprints, and one soldier thought I was a little child when he told me to move aside," replied Pilaf, less than enthused. "How do you think it's going? You seem to be awfully laid back."
"Well, I figured it really didn't do any good to get any more stressed or worried, so..." the dog trailed off, with a slightly dreamy smile. Outside another shell exploded. "Boom! There goes another one!"
"Are you, huh, all right?," inquired the blue imp.
"Never been better, boss," mumbled the other. He started fidgeting with one of his ears.
"What about Chichi? Is she still sleeping?"
"Sure. I didn't mean it literally when I said bombs wouldn't wake her up, but-"
Something came from the outside. Something different from the explosions before. The sound of a scream, or an angry roar like of a cornered beast. It was more distant and not as loud as the bombs, but also incredibly more haunting. Shu and Pilaf couldn't speak through it, and simply looked into each other's eyes through it, shaken to the core.
When it finally died down, Shu managed to only say, softly, "Boss, I think I want to get away from here."
"Nonsense! This is my castle, and I will not renege or back down to a bunch of mercenaries and brutes who-"
At that point, sirens blared, drowning the rest of his words in noise. Speakers throughout the castle activated, barking a series of orders and codes that were unintelligible to anyone outside of the Red Ribbon. But a few words in there were clear enough to recognise the general meaning of what was going on anyway.
"Evacuation?," asked Shu, puzzled.
"Well, it was high time," Pilaf crossed his arms and nodded, satisfied. "Now finally they'll get out of my ha... I mean, my property."
"Boss, I think that includes us. If they're all leaving, things can't be good."
"What?," the other's eyes bulged out. "How can you suggest that we abandon the castle that cost me so much of my fortune! What could possibly be so bad that-"
Shu looked at him fearfully, without saying anything. They both stayed that way for a few seconds, Pilaf slowly browsing through the possibilities in his mind.
"Crap," he concluded. "Very well, we're temporarily retreating! Let's go wake up the child."
Chichi's room was as princess-like as they came; her father during the previous months had made sure to shape it as her status deserved. There were plenty of plush dolls piled up on top of each other, some very tasteful old style drawers, and a canopy bed with chiffon drapings. When Shu moved them aside, he found Chichi, and she was not asleep at all. Instead, she was awake, wide eyed, and huddled in between the covers.
"Well, look at the poor thing!," exclaimed Pilaf. "Why didn't you call Shu if you were awake?"
"It's fine," she mumbled back. "I'm going to sleep now. I'm not afraid."
"No need to be," said Shu, picking her up from the bed and helping her stand. He went rummaging through her wardrobe, looking for the clothes that were the most comfortable and suited to travel. "But now I'll help you change, and then you, me and Pilaf are going on a little trip-"
"Oh, give me a break!," snapped Pilaf. "They're about to bomb the castle and the Demon King is probably out there and coming to eat us or something. So we're running for our lives."
Chichi and Shu both turned to look at him, the first terrified, the second scandalised, and probably a bit terrified too.
The other shrugged. "What? Get her ready and let's get the hell out of here."
The Instruments' mobile operations base, 23:46 (22:46 Capital Time)
Quarters for Piccolo had been prepared in advance, and they only needed to be deployed at a moment's notice. It was a complex of four buildings, each more or less at the limit of what a capsule could hold, deployed in a triangular pattern with one main building at the centre and three pavillions linked to it symmetrically at one third of a full turn with each other. The throne room was hosted in the central building, of course, and while the overall decoration wasn't overly luxurious, it made it clear enough whose place had the most importance. Piccolo observed the room in silence, grimacing, looking in turn at the walls lined with weapons, including some historical artefacts dating back to his own time, the carpet, and the massive metal chair at the end of the room, positioned to face one of the doors leading to one pavillion and flanked by the other two. He examined the throne, and for a second, everyone present held their breath, expecting him to snap again. But all he did was grab the cushion that had been placed on the seat and tossing it away with so much force that the fabric ripped open and the feathers inside fluttered out into the room. Then he sat down on the bare steel.
"Now, explain," he said.
Drum spoke, having by now taken charge, and responsibility, for most of the communications with the new boss. No one questioned him grabbing the dubious privilege for himself.
"Your Majesty," he started, "we are a dedicated group of loyal soldiers who always wished to bring you back. It took us a long time to retrieve your prison, but we have managed to-"
"You said three hundred years have passed," interrupted him the Demon King. "How can that be? My imprisonment started only minutes ago. Are you lying?"
The other hurried to bow. "No, Your Majesty. We have used the Dragon Balls to free you; their power made it so that you didn't age or suffer a long imprisonment."
"The Dragon Balls?" Piccolo grinned. "Oh, this is precious."
Drum stared quizzingly at the others. Hadn't Piano always claimed that he learned about the Dragon Balls from the Maestro? Then again, he wasn't known as the most truthful type. There was not much that could be done at this point to ask him anyway.
"Very well. Let's change the subject, then," continued the Demon King. "Where am I?"
"Ah, somewhere at the western edges of what we call the Red Lizard Desert. I believe the name is the same as-"
"South east of the Capital?"
"Yes, precisely, Your Majesty. The Royal Palace has been rebuilt since your era, but it is still in the same spot."
"How many days of march away? Does my army have enough horses? Dinosaurs?"
"We, ah, we do not use those any more in this day and age. We possess vehicles that are faster and cheaper to operate than them, some of which can fly through the air. We use them to move our forces."
Piccolo's eyes sparkled with interest. "What about your weapons? You carry no spears or swords."
"We have far better weapons too," said Drum, proudly. He unholstered his side arm and displayed it to Piccolo. "This is just a small one. It's called a gun. It fires a bolt of metal at high speeds and-"
The Demon King extended his hand. "Give it to me," he said, brusquely.
The man hesitated for an instant, considering what might be about to happen. Then, considering what would happen if he did not obey, he swiftly twirled the gun between his fingers and passed it to Piccolo handle first, while gripping the barrel to point at the floor. The other immediately found the right way to grab it, sliding his index finger inside the trigger guard very naturally, despite its long claw. He looked at the weapon, turning it in front of his eyes with an inscrutable stare, careful to not point the muzzle at himself. Then he looked up.
Besides the officers, there were thrice as many simple soldiers who had been called for the occasion to serve as a picket of sort. In the words of Drum and Tambourine upon gathering them, picked among those who had not witnessed the summoning earlier, this was a great honour that they were being granted, for purposes of ceremony, of course. In fact, there was a much more prosaic reason why they'd decided with just a few words to get someone else in the room besides themselves.
Piccolo checked one soldier to his right, raised the gun, and without saying a word, squeezed the trigger. The bang echoed loudly in the dome-shaped chamber, together with the scream of pain of the soldier, who fell to the ground, holding one of his legs, now bleeding.
"I see. Not very fast, but fast enough for weaklings," commented Piccolo, with a sneer. Then he raised again the gun, and this time the second bang was not followed by any other sound, as the bullet had now pierced the soldier's skull.
The more prosaic reason was, of course, that having more people in the room increased their individual odds of making it out alive by sheer numbers.
"It kills just fine. Good for your kind," concluded Piccolo, as he tossed nonchalantly the weapon back to Drum, who scrambled to grab it with all the urgency warranted by having to juggle a loaded gun with the safety off. "Very well. We march on the Capital tomorrow, then, so I can claim back my throne."
Cymbal took a step forward and kneeled, wincing in pain from his wounds. Behind him, Oboe was quickly arranging for two soldiers to carry away the body of the one that had been just shot.
"If Your Majesty allows it," started the ptero, "before that, there are more enemies that demand your attention. A group of stubborn fools has spent the last months trying to foil our plans to bring you back into the world. The cowards are cooped up in a castle that we are-" he looked for a moment for the right expression "-attacking it with large guns. Much larger than the one you've just tested, designed for sieges. However, it is still not enough; they are resisting. I am sure Your Majesty wants to punish such insolence and riotousness. But to do so we need a decisive strike, one with power that-"
Cymbal choked, the foot of the Demon King pushing down on his throat, pressing him down so that his knee was pushing against his windpipe. His wounds and fractures all screamed at once, but he held it in, and only a pained, whiny grunt was heard. For a moment, everyone expected the foot to push a bit more, and another life be snuffed then and there.
"I am not your weapon, you weaklings," hissed Piccolo, his face distorted by rage. "YOU ARE MINE! You will not tell me what to attack, or how to attack it, or who to kill. You will inform me of the existence of my enemies and of their position and you will throw yourselves at them at my command and regardless of your odds of keeping your useless lives. IS THAT CLEAR?"
Still choking, Cymbal managed a small, painful nod, and a croak of assent. The foot was lifted from his neck. He stumbled back, holding his throat with his hands and catching his breath.
"That said, you are right: enemies ought to be punished," continued the demon, with a terrible smile. "For that, you get to live. You will be on the front line, and let the battlefield decide your fate."
Lady Baba had witnessed it all in perfect, speechless horror. She was safe inside her little building, of course, or as safe as one could be while being anywhere close the most terrifying being to ever walk the Earth in human memory just being revived. But that did not mean she did not see. She could have chosen not to, because honestly, what was the point? But she felt like if there were any odds of salvation to be found yet, however slim, she ought to look for them. So, she witnessed it all through her clairvoyance. The summoning, the bickering with the dragon, the fleeting moment of hope when Yamcha had showed up, and then the utter despair of Piccolo's coming, his madness, his cruelty. The death of Piano had given her a little jolt of satisfaction - one day, if she survived all of this madness, she should go grab his spirit back from the Hell he'd surely been tossed into for a day just to get to say to his face, I told you so, you dumbass. And then she had been a little surprised by the Crane Master's - well, she wouldn't call it heroism, but his ability to at least give up cowardice when it objectively had no hopes of being a winning strategy any more. Not that it helped him much. Considering how little she liked her own brother, she liked even less his crooked and equally martial arts obsessed rival, but regardless of it all, that had been one nasty defeat, in the one time in his life he'd deserved a victory.
As time passed, though, she had begun to realise something interesting. It had started when Piano had died. She wanted a good view of the scene, and it was always easy to get in tune with the mind of someone she was already familiar with, so when she had to pick whose eyes to have her crystal ball look through, it hadn't been a difficult choice. And so, she witnessed the entire scene from Violin's viewpoint. This meant seeing the images and hearing the sounds, sure, but also getting some faint echoes of the person's own mental states. Her initial idea was to just tune them out as background noise. At the beginning in particular they just were the sort of annoying nonsense she could expect from these fanatics - pride in victory, sense of triumph, anticipation at seeing your enemies driven before you and slaughtered, yadda yadda. Very unpleasant. But when Piano had died, there had been a jolt of something else there. Something she knew far too well, and didn't expect to see within this girl at all.
And wasn't that a surprise. Why, after all, behind all the hardass facade, the girl could feel something, even if it was for that slimy old lizard. It went against everything she believed; after all, wasn't Piano weak? Hadn't he been killed by one stronger than him? Wasn't that just the way of the world? But expecting consistency from such a wacky system of belief was too much, and after all, the girl was only human. Weak or not, Piano had taken her in. He had given her a cause, a reason to live, guidance, protection. He had been some kind of fucked up father figure - all of this came in flooding from the clairvoyance, making Baba feel slightly dirty as she associated all these warm feelings with that asshole. But most interesting were the circumstances of Piano's death. He had lied to Piccolo. He had taken the merit, or the blame, for a certain decision that had been proposed by Violin instead, and that had cost him his life. Not even Baba could see his motives any more now that he'd violently departed the world, but she knew which guess was eating away at Violin's soul. And right or wrong, that would be her safety anchor.
Five minutes later, Violin unlocked her door, weapon in hand.
"Come with me," she said.
The witch nodded, slowly climbed up on her crystal ball, and floated next to her escort. "Where are we going?," she asked. "What happened?"
"You want me to believe you didn't see what happened?," spat the young woman. She waved her gun. "Come on."
Baba nodded, submissive. Careful, careful when tossing the bait. "I did see," she finally said. And then, after a long pause, as if she was thinking deeply about her next words, or hesitating...
"I'm sorry," she said.
Violin turned around with an angry snarl. She grabbed her wrist with her mechanical arm and yanked it. "What game are you playing at, witch? Don't fuck around with me. You hate us both. You're happy."
"Happy that Piccolo was freed? Now you're being ridiculous," grumbled Baba back. "But you're right, I'm not very sorry. I just appreciate that in his last seconds, Piano may have done the best thing he's ever done in his miserable life. Don't you?"
"So whose orders are you here on, now? Because I don't think you were given any. Seems like an awful lot of initiative from one of Piccolo's dogs."
"I AM NOT ANYONE'S DOG!," shouted back Violin, or rather, Mai, pulling Baba up and lifting her to eye level. One moment later, the crystal ball followed, letting the witch put her feet again on it to stand on a more comfortable position.
"You will help me leave this camp," continued the woman, "like you've done back at the Tenkaichi on that day. You will lead me to anywhere we can find a vehicle to travel as fast and silently as we can. And then from there we will see."
"And I'm supposed to trust you won't change your mind again?," Baba prodded a little more. She really had to cement it, and the best way was to make her spell it out. "What happened to wanting to follow strength?"
"The strong will live," said Mai, "and the weak will perish. That will never change."
"And what has?"
"I have no reason to stand with these people any more," she continued. "Whoever wins is the strongest anyway."
"And what happens to you if that's still Piccolo? He's awfully strong."
Mai could have showed a tormented, or defeated face at that point, but that wasn't really her. So she said the next words with a perfectly stoic expression, as if she was talking about the most trivial of things.
"What happens, happens."
Baba said nothing. She just focused for a few seconds, then floated out of the door and pointed her finger in one direction. Together, they moved away.
The first strange thing was when the order to stop firing came. It didn't make much of a difference to their battery in particular, of course; that guy who had passed by before had properly wrecked everything. Triangle had managed to pull himself back to a sitting position, next to a teammate who was still drooling on the ground. He considered whether he should try to provide first aid, but frankly, he didn't remember much about it. Either the guy would regain consciousness in a couple minutes anyway or it meant he had suffered a serious concussion, and then he had no idea how to save him. It wasn't like they were all that close anyway.
The order arrived via radio, and was short and not very clear. It mentioned something about waiting for further orders carried by the platoon leaders. Triangle guessed it must have something to do with what had happened earlier - the sky going dark, hiding even the stars, and then shortly after that a monstrous scream. His platoon leader, a short haired woman who went by the codename Lyre, indeed showed up half an hour or so after that, winded and overexcited.
"On attention, soldier!," he exclaimed. "I bring orders and good news."
Triangle lifted himself to his feet and pulled off a very poor approximation of a salute. He was still hurting everywhere, and couldn't really manage standing straight. The leader looked at him with a frown, then turned her stare down, at his feet.
"What's he got?," she asked, pointing at the other soldier, still lying on the ground.
"A serious concussion, I guess, ma'am," replied Triangle, with a shrug.
"Well, carry him somewhere else then. He's in the way. Listen, soldier, I have great news! Our plan has succeeded - His Majesty, King Piccolo is here to lead us!"
Triangle straightened up, all pain finally forgotten. "Oh, that's great! All hail our Maestro!," he exclaimed, making the usual chest-beating gesture.
"Shhh, don't say that!," hurried to shut him up Lyre. "We're not supposed to call him that."
"Call him what?," Triangle blinked. "You mean M-"
"Yes, that! Shut the fuck up, for goodness' sake!," the woman quickly said. "Listen, just don't talk at all until you're finished listening to me, ok? Change of terms. Now His Majesty is only to be addressed as His Majesty, by His Majesty's express request. Got that? His Majesty has gathered an advisory council including Cymbal, Tambourine, Oboe and Tuba..."
"And Piano, ma'am?," asked the other, tentatively.
"Piano's dead. What did I say about shutting the fuck up? Can you not obey an order, soldier?"
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."
"Anyway, they've gathered and he's given his first orders. His Majesty wishes to advance on the Capital as soon as possible, but first, we are to attack the castle where our enemies have found refuge."
"But ma'am, my artillery piece is inoperative; it has been damaged by-"
"I did not mention artillery. King Piccolo's orders are for every last soldier to simply grab whatever weapons they have at their disposal and launch a frontal assault of the enemy fortification."
Triangle was sure he could not have possibly heard this right. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but that's sure to-"
"Buckle up, soldier, and no complaints!," she laid her hand on her sidearm. "Orders from the top say I'm authorized to execute you on the spot for insubordination if you don't follow through."
He swallowed. "Yes, ma'am."
"Between us, don't worry too much," she added, with a grin. "I'm sure His Majesty wants to test our loyalty, and has our backs. This is about striking terror in the hearts of our enemies. His Majesty's power will be so overwhelming, victory will be guaranteed even with the most pig-headed tactics imaginable."
"I see, ma'am," Triangle faintly smiled back, feeling some of the excitement come back to him. "Thank you, ma'am."
"At ease, soldier. The attack starts in five minutes. There's going to be a signal. You won't miss it."
Having said that, the platoon leader saluted and left to reach others. Triangle looked around, a bit dumbfounded, then turned to his fallen companion and bent over to grab his body from under his armpits. He dragged it a bit on the ground so that he would be out of the way, and propped him half sitting against an ammo crate. The other didn't react; his eyes were open but almost completely white, with the pupils rolled way up, and a thin line of drool still dripping from his mouth.
"You got it easy, you," mumbled Triangle, now fiddling with his rifle to check whether it was in working order. He hadn't had to actually use the thing for years, before today. "You get to sit this one out while sleeping. Well, nice dreams, I guess."
The body slid down on the side, and eventually hit the ground. Triangle turned to it, and hit by a sudden suspicion, he pressed his fingers against its carotid artery to check the pulse.
"Or no dreams at all, I guess," he concluded, with a shrug.
He wasn't a genius strategist by any stretch, but the idea of a frontal attack on a castle at night sounded rather unusual and odd to him. Also, ridiculously dangerous. He literally couldn't see right beyond a few metres outside of the radius of the lights propped up on poles around his position.
As if to instantly address his concern, multiple spotlights suddenly turned on, illuminating much of the landscape in front of him for a few dozen metres. Their source were hover planes that had been arranged in formation all above the edge of the base. Under that light, he could see other soldiers gathering to fight, rifles in hand. Some of them were ordinary infantry; others were artillerymen like him, or even in some cases other personnel. He could swear there was a whole platoon formed of just kitchen helpers. They seemed a mix of pumped up and terrified.
Some other soldiers came to his position, and they only exchanged quick, grim nods with him as a greeting. Now he could see that their whole formation was basically a long, thin and slightly uneven line of soldiers of all paths, armed with their standard issue equipment, stretched probably for one or two kilometres in each direction. Above it were the planes, and behind multiple tanks were already rolling in, taken out of their capsules for the occasion. The entire line waited and stood there, engines rumbling and people fidgeting, for a minute or two.
Then something rose behind them. It was small, too small to be a plane, but multiple spotlights were pointed on it, so Triangle couldn't help but notice it. In fact, despite the distance, he could still see its silhouette well enough, bright against the night sky, and sure enough, it was a person, levitating a few dozens of metres above them all, almost as high as the planes.
The Demon King himself, Piccolo.
Triangle waited and readied himself. He looked forward.
A single command, loud as the scream he'd heard before, even louder, powerful enough to make the earth tremble, washed over all of them from above.
With a war cry to match it, Triangle and everyone else in the line ran forward.
Pilaf Castle, 00:02 (23:02 Capital Time)
"So they're really doing this?"
Major Ocra stood behind the parapet of the castle's battlements, inspecting the terrain below with light enhancing binoculars. Next to him, master Roshi was also looking at some vague point at the horizon, while Yamcha sat on one of the crenellations, scanning the sky with his own enhanced glasses. Down below, a steady flow troops was streaming out of the castle, being loaded on newly decapsulated transport planes, and taking off to the north west, towards the Capital. Meanwhile, at their backs, a smaller plane was being prepared in the castle's own parade grounds, ready to take off vertically to leave with the last of the officers once they were done supervising the evacuation.
"I'm almost disappointed that we evacuated, now," said the major, putting down his binoculars. "This attack is so stupid, we could have made mincemeat of them."
Roshi shook his head. "They're not the ones to worry about. I remember hearing about this back in the day - Piccolo was never a great military commander. His armies were always barely more than an angry mob. But none of that mattered."
"Hm. If only someone had managed to stop this-"
"Hey, I really did my best!," protested Yamcha. He still appeared shaken - he'd showed up at the castle only a few minutes after the dragon's appearance, short of breath, screaming incoherently about Piccolo being back. At that point, though, the news were well expected already, and the evacuation was underway, so it had changed very little besides confirming everyone's worst fears. "You weren't there. There was this creepy guy who somehow managed to paralyze me just by talking, and then there was that scream and-"
"Yeah, I know, you've told us the story already." Ocra tapped the side of his visor to turn on the mode that overlaid visible light with a projected HUD estimating ki emissions. In it, regular human beings would appear as faint but somehow visible dot, and a martial arts master like the ones besides him, when in combat, would be a reasonably bright blotch.
Looking towards the Instruments' army right now was unsustainable. A single light burned above it, bright as the sun, and made it impossible to distinguish anything else. He turned the HUD off.
"But I can understand where you're coming from. Guess that monster has hit the gym a bit more than you guys," he commented, dryly.
"Oh, sadly training has nothing to do with it." muttered Roshi. "I don't know how he came to be that powerful, but that hardly feels natural."
"We have unnatural means to obtain power too. Not to be ungrateful towards miss Briefs' work, though, but obviously, compared to his, ours are just crap."
"I doubt he's got anything to do with weird technology. Back in the day we still fought with swords and spears, but he was already way too strong."
"It was just a joke," the major frowned. "Say, couldn't you blast him by surprise with one of your attacks?"
"No way he would even let that hit him, from this far away," replied Yamcha, dejected. "He's way too scary."
The old man shook his head as well. "I could fire a Kame-hame-ha wave at him or his forces, sure. In the first case, as Yamcha says, it would be nearly useless; in the second, I could do a fair amount of damage. But either way, he would just get angrier, and now he would know that I'm here. I was there for his imprisonment, you know. He'll think I may be able to use the same technique on him again."
"And can you?"
Roshi took a moment before answering that. "No," he concluded. "I can't."
"Well, so much for that. I'd better get on organising the defence against this rabble at least, then," snapped Ocra. "I'd hate to lose lives to such a messy attack even before their boss gets into the action. It's bad enough that it's taking us with our pants down in the middle of a rout."
The master nodded and left the officer to his own devices. Echoes of distant explosions resonated through the air as the first line of Piccolo's forces stepped over the minefield surrounding the camp centred on the castle. Each explosion one or more foolish men dying in their mad rush. Roshi couldn't help but shake his head at the nonsensical nature of it all, and how easy it seemed to be to find in any age people willing to throw away their lives for the sake of nothing at all.
"Hey, old man!"
Out of a nearby tower came a small group, loaded with an amount of luggage entirely inappropriate to the urgency of the situation. It was composed of Pilaf, Shu, and a little girl with a curious helmet in tow. The daughter of the Ox King, realised Roshi, even though he'd never seen her before yet. That thought, and the thought of her father only renewed his sadness.
"We're doing a tactical retreat," said Pilaf, matter of factly. "Where are the planes?"
"That sounds like a wise idea," agreed the master. "There's one plane left for officers down there. Me and Yamcha are supposed to catch it once we're done here."
"Will they let us on board?," asked Shu, hesitant.
"I own the fucking place! Of course they will!," shrieked Pilaf, then recoiling as Shu's judgemental eyes severely scolded him for his expletive used in front of Chichi.
Roshi stroked his beard. "I don't think they've planned for you guys too, but there's no harm in ask-"
At that moment, the flaming wreckage struck the battlements.
The line had been advancing, and when the first explosions started - when the blood and screams and guts filled the air, and the clash begun - Piccolo, observing the scene from above, still floating at the head of his army, surrounded by hovering planes that systematically illuminated and occasionally shot the ground below, felt something.
It had been a long time since his last battle. Even before his imprisonment, there had not been any for a long time; his power back in the day was renowned and feared enough that it didn't meet with any resistance any more, just terror and fleeing masses. Most of his victims didn't even dare pleading for their lives any more. They knew pity was not a word he knew the meaning of, so they would just collapse into a blubbering mess of fear at his mere sight. Piccolo hated that.
Piccolo hated a lot of things. His whole world was hate. He hated the cowards who denied him the fun of beating them down, and the brave who dared thinking they could stand on his level. He resented that anyone would resist his will, yet despised the sycophants who would grovel at his feet even when he used them to stomp on their neck. There was not a single thing in the world, in fact, that Piccolo did not feel a bitter, deep, relentless hatred towards. And there were very few things that could quell that feeling.
The Demon King looked onward, to the vast mass of enemies, and their castle, which he could see in the distance, despite the darkness - his eyes were keen enough that even the light of the stars alone was sufficient for them. Such hubris, such arrogance, so many enemies set against him, it was a feeling he'd almost forgotten. Not that it wasn't also hatred; but it was a different sort of hatred than usual, and that already made it interesting enough. He felt a grim pleasure in seeing his own followers slaughtered, of course. But that was not all.
Looking around, Piccolo floated to the closest plane he could find to his position. The occupants appeared surprised and pleased to have been accosted by their King - for a second, before realising what he planned on doing. Then their gazes turned confused and horrified as he sunk his claw into the plane's hull, gripping it firmly. He took to spinning mid-air, dragging the plane in a circle like a hammer thrower, and the people inside screamed. The centrifugal force tossed one of them out before they could close the side doors, but the fate in store for the rest wasn't better. Piccolo let the plane go, flinging it like a cannonball towards the castle's top, where whoever was still alive inside would meet their end. As well as whoever the wreckage might happen to hit.
Then Piccolo dove down, and stopping his levitation technique, he jumped into the fray. He didn't have a plan, nor need one. Bullets bounced off his skin, and he was entirely unconcerned by them. At one point, something gave way under his foot and pushed him - he almost lost his balance there, but mostly because he was not expecting it. That annoyed him, and he kicked the ground back in rage, cracking it for a dozen meters. He tore through concrete barriers, barbed wire, and as he finally approached the panicking enemy soldiers who were unloading their stupid weapons on him, he started tearing through their flesh and the metal of their strange armed carriages. Whenever he found something heavy enough, he would grab it like he had done with the plane, and toss it towards the castle, demolishing it piece by piece. So many new tricks up the sleeves of these humans, and all so useless.
The hate could not be overcome, ever. But this endless thirst would sometimes leave room to the slightest feeling of relief when he indulged it by doing the only thing he could - destroying the object of his hate. That is, anything at all.
Surrounded by those who would try to kill him and he would kill in return, Piccolo managed to muster a small laugh. Then he turned back to his endless work.
Master Roshi jumped to the side, pushing Pilaf down on the ground in a rather graceless way; Yamcha did the same to shield Shu and Chichi. They all tumbled roughly on the pavement, but that was nothing in compared to what would have happened to them otherwise, as the contorted remains of a tank hit the wall right below where they'd been standing one instant before, and the entire structure crumbled, battlements and all. They stood now on what remained of the walls connected to the tower, with nothing but a gaping hole where their escape route was supposed to be.
There were mixed screams, and among the three of them, the little girl seemed to be the one who was doing best at controlling herself. Pilaf was now on constant shrieking mode.
"Oh, stop making such a fuss!," snapped Yamcha. "We can still just carry you down as we jump and go catch the pla-"
A roar of engines covered his words. Down below, the plane had turned its own engines, and eventually quickly rose past their height, above the castle, turned into cruise mode, and darted away.
"That makes sense of them," noted Roshi. "They know we can look out for ourselves, and if the plane was hit by one of those, it would be over for everyone."
"THAT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL!," shouted back Pilaf. "WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?"
"Calm down!," shouted Roshi, to very little effect. "Don't you still have a plane somewhere?"
"We-we do-," stuttered Shu, "I still should have a working capsule in my workshop downstairs, so we'd need to..."
Another projectile, this time a block of concrete, smashed against the castle. This time, it hit the base of the tower, caving in the wall.
"...go down there...," concluded the dog faintly, pointing a trembling finger exactly at the spiral staircase whose lower half had just been pulverized.
"So we still have to carry you," said Yamcha. "Master Roshi...?"
"I'll get these two, you carry the little girl," replied the old man. He swept Pilaf and Shu off the ground, carrying one in each arm, while Yamcha picked up Chichi.
"It's fine, we're going away from this scary place," he said, trying to put up his best reassuring hero smile. The little girl smiled back and closed her eyes.
Together, both Roshi and Yamcha took a few steps back, assessed the space before them, then started running. A few meters before the tower, they pushed off the ground with a powerful jump, and the five of them were in the air, zipping in a parabola whose top arced above the tower itself. The screams intensified. Chichi grabbed Yamcha's gi and held onto it for dear life. Below them now was just the castle grounds, which were mercifully flat and free from any major obstacles. The passengers braced for the impact, and both Roshi and Yamcha took care to swing them and flex their legs in a way that would minimize the strain on them as their fall came to a sudden halt - painful, but not fatal.
Without even putting their passengers on the ground, Yamcha and Roshi started running back to the castle. Moving without risking being seen in the cover of the dark was quite easy, and most of the battle and the attention was focused on the front of the fortress, not the side. Shu gave directions, leading the little group to a hidden trapdoor that opened on a service tunnel leading straight inside the castle, to his workshop. The castle was still trembling under the constant onslaught of heavy projectiles hitting it, and at some points they'd heard the sound of whole structures collapsing. Finally, amidst much equipment and disassembled technology, Shu managed to find an old capsule with half rubbed off markings.
"It looks a bit worn out," noted Roshi. "Are we going to be all right?"
"It's all I can find here," explained the dog. "But it's a sturdy one, if a bit slow."
"How much fuel autonomy does it have?"
"Enough to go around the world with a single tank. Why?"
"Oh, we'll talk about that later," replied the old man. "Let's get out of here."
They left while more shaking and trembling made it sound like the castle was about to fall on their heads. When they finally had the respite of breathing fresh air outside and not having an unstable roof on their heads, Shu tossed the capsule, and a small, blocky hoverplane appeared. As he had said, it didn't look especially fast or aerodynamic, but it certainly felt solid.
"All on board!," announced Pilaf, making sure he was the first one to safety. "Shu, take the commands!"
"Sure thing, boss!"
The dog sat at the pilot's seat, while Roshi climbed on the back with a small hop, and Yamcha with Chichi sat next to him. The engine of the plane started sputtering and roaring quite noisily, but in the end, the vehicle took off vertically, and speedily raised in the air. As they went up, they could see the outline of the battle below. Soldiers and others were not visible, but there were burning fires and explosions littering the landscape. In the distance, they could also see the engines of the planes on which the Red Ribbon army had escaped, travelling now north west, towards the Capital and the position of the Royal Defence Forces. Some that should have taken off already were still held back on the ground, and the flashes of gunshots near them made it clear a desperate battle for some people's lives was taking place around them, as the Instruments besieged what little targets remained available. At one point, a deafening rumbling noise announced the moment one of the towers of the castle completely gave way under the relentless assault, falling to the ground in a cloud of dust and brick and stone fragments. Even in the dark, its silhouette could be distinctively seen as it bent over and then collapsed and disintegrated in pieces. Pilaf emitted a sad whimper at the sight.
"Where do we go now, boss?," asked Shu.
"Here's your coordinates," replied Muten, handing him a scrap of paper. "We're going to rendezvous with some friends of mine there, after I make a phone call."
"...you're not the boss," pointed out the other. "Hey, boss? What do you say?"
"Whatever," sighed Pilaf, demotivated, still staring at where his castle used to be. "Just do what he says."
"Oh, um, all right, boss."
Shu checked the coordinates and made the necessary adjustments. He started steering west, to fly around the back of the castle, hopefully outside of the range and the sight of Piccolo's army. As soon as they cleared the castle, he pointed north.
"This is pretty distant," he noticed. "No wonder you asked about the fuel. What's there?"
"My pupil, and if you ask me, the best chance the world has right now," replied Roshi. "We're going to help Goku."
When the sound and fury finally died down, Triangle was surprised to find himself worn out, covered in dust from head to toe, shaking, and alive. He remembered very little of what happened from the moment when the shooting really began in earnest to this point but a lot of explosions, of screaming, of shouting, of dying, of getting pushed and smashed and rolled into the ground and of having debris and flak fly right past and above him. Now he was catching his breath at the foot of a castle reduced to little more than ruins, in which everything that was wood or fabric rather than stone or concrete was burning. The last surviving plane of the Red Ribbon had left. Many had been shot down. His companions were celebrating.
He wandered towards them in a stupor.
"What are you zoning out for, soldier?," shouted a rough voice. It was Cymbal, one of the pteros in command. Triangle had seen him before, during the battle - he was wounded but still fought like a devil; at one point he'd just ripped out his own sling, freeing a broken arm to better shoot with it. And apparently, he'd made it through fine. "Look a little happier! We won!"
"Sure, sir," Triangle blinked.
It was true. They had won.
"Holy shit," he murmured, as the realization hit him.
Cymbal laughed. "You look a little green, soldier. But that's fine, you'll get plenty of experience. This is a glorious day! And a day that will not end now!"
It was not a day at all, of course. Dawn was, at best, still three hours away.
"Sure, sir," the soldier found some enthusiasm, now. Roused by his thoughts, his eyes blazed. "What next, then?"
"The Capital," the ptero grinned. "His Majesty wants to officially take back his throne. We do not waste time, soldier. This is do or die, right away. I hope you got a good reserve of your stim pills?"
Triangle touched his pockets, just to check. "Sure, sir." They were standard issue back with the Red Ribbon already, and switching to the Instruments had simply meant that now there were no limits on the allowed doses. Except the lower ones that your squad leader gave you, that is. They made you hyperactive and hyperfocused for some time each, and banished pretty much any need or possibility of sleep - though that came back with a vengeance after they wore off.
The officer nodded. "Then keep them ready, you'll need them. This is not a day for sleep. There's more fighting, more killing and more winning ahead. But before all that, we can have a bit of celebration! We earned it!"
Not distant from there, some soldiers had dragged some random combustible stuff - abandoned tents, wooden caches, even plastic wrappings and rubber tires - and piled it up in a giant campfire. They were singing and dancing around it. Someone shot their gun up like fireworks; a bit away from it, a few others were having fun beating the crap out of a still living Red Ribbon soldier, kicking him in the groin and head while he was down. Alcohol was doing the rounds too, a few bottles of some cheap distilled stuff probably produced by the workshop mechanics. It was known to react badly with the stim pills, but what the hell. This day was going to go down in history.
"Sure thing, sir," said Triangle, smiling. He walked towards the campfire, feeling like he'd finally accomplished that purpose he always looked for, and it was the happiest moment of his life.
With this, the return of Piccolo is wrapped up, and we go straight into the next arc! Thanks to both old and new readers again, and I'm looking forward to your reviews as usual! I will try to speed things up a bit when it comes to writing the next few chapters, mostly because it's kind of a downer phase of the story and I'm as eager to get back to more fun parts just as much as I'm sure some of you are. I hope the build up will make the payoff all the more impactful though. See you next time!