(Note at the end about why this took so long & when to expect future chapters.)
"Let's skip the warm-up," Caulifla said. "We already know neither of us is a pushover."
"You sure?" Goku paced to keep the distance between them even. "You look a little beat-up."
"Don't want your pity."
"All right." He came to a stop, raising his guard. "I'm curious, I admit...to see how far the universe 6 saiyans have come."
"I'll try not to disappoint!" With that she was on him, no punches pulled from the first blow, the fighters exploding into Super Saiyan, then 2. Goku thought he saw a gap in Caulifla's defences but she went low as he lunged high to follow it up, landing a solid punch up into his ribs. He fell back, a little bent but smiling.
"You're not as tired as you look…"
"If you let your guard down, you're gonna hurt!" she warned.
"—Cannon!" With a final effort, Cabba launched his opponent out of the arena. Letting the beam dissipate, his arms dropped to his sides. That came close...I'm nowhere near the top fighters here. I'll just have to do whatever I—
"Justice Punch!" The words heralded a tremendously powerful impact, Cabba finding himself in a crater in the side of a rock-spire in terrible pain. His vision swam into focus to reveal the unmistakeable stature of the Pride Troopers' leader, Toppo, already preparing his next attack.
"Justice Flash!" A hail of energy bullets leapt from the mighty fingers, and Cabba screwed his eyes shut, waiting for the impact—that never came. He dared to look…
Vegeta stood protectively over him, gloves scorched where he'd deflected the shots. "You're in a pathetic state, Cabba."
"And don't call me that." He sniffed. "Still, watch this fight closely. You might learn something."
"Looks like the saiyans are all gathering," Champa noted, most of his pep restored by now.
Vados nodded. "Indeed. Bonds of friendship, love, rivalry, teacher and student...quite the ambassadors for inter-universe relations, that group!"
Beerus tch-ed, overhearing this. "Just as long as they don't forget they're enemies here."
"I'd say it's for the best, Lord Beerus," Whis opined. "I can't speak for the relationships between 6's trio...but certainly, Goku's acquired quite the rival and Vegeta quite the understudy. I think it can only lift our team's spirits!"
"If you say so…"
"I wonder why they're doing that," one Omni-King said.
"Doing what?" the other asked.
"Pretending to get along. They'll have to beat each other in the end."
"I dunno either. Mortals are weird."
The Grand Priest frowned for a second, but turned his attention back to the fight.
"All that 'justice' talk, and you still hit someone as weak as this kid from behind," Vegeta said, adopting his usual scowl.
"The commencement of the tournament was warning enough!" Toppo insisted. "Further formalities are a privilege to be dispensed as we see fit!" His giant fists bunched. "Now, let us commence! Innocent lives are at stake, and I must see you as naught but the beast that must be vanquished in their defence!"
"You talk too much!" Turning Blue from the get-go, Vegeta took the initiative. His lightning offence drove Toppo back at first, but as soon as he tried to land a decisive blow, the Pride Trooper leapt skywards with deceptive grace.
"Justice On!" seemed to be Toppo's code for landing squarely on Vegeta's shoulders, trying to shove him off-balance. The saiyan held on, but Toppo wasn't done, heaving them both into a rapid spin. "Justice Tornado!"
Vegeta shoved him off, staggering back and trying to clear his dizziness. He knew the next attack would come before he recovered, trying to predict its angle and firing a desperate beam to ward it off—and nearly succeeding. It grazed the side of Toppo's head as he barrelled in, taking hold of Vegeta's arm and wrenching it painfully backwards. "Justice Crusher!"
Damn it! Vegeta twisted this way and that, but the grip was unyielding. How could I be caught so easily? How could I of all people… He hissed as Toppo put more pressure on the joint. It's going to break—!
Like a golden meteor, Cabba's flying kick rammed into Toppo from the side, throwing him off Vegeta and a good thirty feet back.
"Master! Are you all right?" He turned to his supposed mentor, wincing at the terrifying look he received.
"I didn't ask to be saved by the likes of you…!" Vegeta snarled, but relented a little at the fearful expression he got back. "...I'm all right. It's just dislocated." He popped his shoulder back in, rolling it experimentally. "I suppose there's no helping it. You'll learn better if we beat the lesson into you."
Cabba's face lit up. "Then...we can fight together?"
Vegeta smirked. "Just try and keep up."
Kale rounded the corner to a clash of golden power as Goku and Caulifla went head-to-head again. For a second she felt the familiar twist of jealousy, but it washed away soon enough—she couldn't help but notice her carefree smile.
She's having fun...we could all be destroyed here, but she's having the time of her life.
I still wish I could be part of it. I wish she'd look at me that way. But...I'm just glad.
Oblivious to their spectator, Caulifla dodged another punch, forming a ki sphere in one hand before juggling it to the other, throwing off Goku's defence and gaining ground from the solid hit. "C'mon, use your full power! That blue thing!"
"I got plenty of forms," Goku said, "and Blue is the strongest of 'em all. The next one up from here is Super Saiyan 3—why don't you try beating that one out of me."
"Sure, show me whatever transformations you got." She jerked a thumb at herself. "I'll be doing 'em soon enough. I just gotta beat you in this form, right?"
"Ain't plannin' on makin' it easy for you!" He vanished, appearing behind her with a chop aimed at her neck—she got a hand up just in time, lessening the impact but still falling forwards a step. He teleported again, appearing to her left now, but she was already moving, striking where he appeared. Goku wasn't out of tricks, though, and her fist swung through a fading afterimage, the real thing charging in from directly in front and landing a punch directly to her face, the follow-through throwing her on her back.
She sat up, scowling. "The hell was that?"
"Afterimage," he said. "Pretty simple, for a proper martial artist."
"Huh? Whassat make me?"
"A brawler. Talent, sure. Strength, sure. But no refinement." He rubbed his head. "Still, impressed you saw through my teleportation."
"Well, you used that against the universe 2 lady," Caulifla said with a shrug, as if that she'd know this was obvious. "I kept an eye on ya that whole time."
"R-Right…" Goku gulped. No formal training, but she's sharp! Scary sharp. "This time I'm coming to you." He raised two fingers as if to teleport, then dropped the feint and sprang at her normally, landing a couple jabs with the opening the surprise created. He swung a kick, but it passed through—an afterimage?
"Like that?" Caulifla came soaring down from above, both feet catching Goku in the chest and shoving him through a rock-face, pursuing before he was recovered and coming in for a heavy uppercut. With no time or space to manoeuvre, Goku did the only thing he could think of to buy a little of both, spreading his hands on either side of his head.
Momentarily blinded, Caulifla skidded to a halt, wildly swinging around to stop him from getting in close. She could feel his ki building, though, and already knew that when her vision cleared she wouldn't like what she saw; which turned out to be Goku directly above her, furiously concentrating on the energy buildup between his hands.
Not sparing a moment to think, she threw all the energy she could muster into the palm of her hand, thrusting it up to meet his beam with her "Crush Cannon!"
Hers was a spray of several beams, so while the main few cushioned the blow the rest went wide and the more focused Kamehameha punched through, crashing down on Caulifla with immense force—but, thanks to how much she'd slowed it, a bearable one.
Those errant beams of hers, though, still found their mark, shooting up around Goku's beam and striking him out of the air. He fell across from her, neither anything like unscathed.
Goku chuckled. "Man...everything I throw at you, you counter. You even pulled off an after-image…"
Caulifla glared at him, wiping sweat and dirt from her face. "You say that, but you got a hell of a lot to throw, old man."
"'Old man'?!" Yeah, there's no mistaking it. Even if she's not the strongest here, that instinct and adaptability...is this how the Muten'Roshi felt when I came along?
"You wanna keep going like this?" Caulifla asked. "If you wear yourself out before you get to use full power, we'll both regret it."
"You're right. I've about gone through my bag of tricks, and at the rate you're learnin'..." Goku spread his stance. "Here's that Super Saiyan 3 I promised you."
Toppo scattered the saiyan duo with a spirited charge, wheeling to block Vegeta's immediate counterattack and going for another lock, missing by inches. Cabba came in from behind and Toppo smacked him away with ease, but the moment of distraction let Vegeta take his flank, a spinning kick driving him away with a grunt.
"Get up!" Vegeta ordered his protegé. "You'll need to be far stronger for a battle of this calibre."
Cabba nodded, falling into line beside him. "Yes! Only...how should I do that?"
"Aim for a power beyond the Super Saiyan. The next level, at least, should be within your reach. That loud woman from your universe has the hang of it already."
"Caulifla?" Cabba looked off to the side. "She's just more gifted than I am. I can't adapt like that…uh?" His sudden confusion was borne by the laughter that now rang uncontrolled from Vegeta's mouth.
"Now that sounds familiar." Vegeta grew serious again as Toppo came back into view, approaching with a measured stride. "I used to think I was the unsurpassable elite, that no amount of hard work could topple. Now I'm the one always desperately trying to keep up with a talent beyond my own. So, I'm going to teach you what that bastard taught me—that you can cross those gulfs with sheer grit!"
From the steady rate Goku's ki began building Caulifla was expecting a lengthy transformation, but all at once it skyrocketed and a wave of golden power burst from his body, outlining the flowing mane of hair that now hung all the way down his back. Fierce eyes glared out from beneath jutting brows, and the power was palpable in the air between them: Super Saiyan 3.
"So that's the next level?" She cocked her head, studying his energy. "It's like you're straining every bit of power you've got to its highest level, every second…that's gotta tire you out quick."
"I'm glad you understand." He held out a fist. "You can probably guess I don't have time to waste in this form, so...pretty sure you won't last long enough to copy this trick."
She grinned despite the obvious gap in power, readying for his attack. "Won't know 'till I try!"
She went to attack, but then he was just not there anymore. She half-registered the sound of a foot tapping the ground and a yellow blur in the corner of her eye before something jackhammered into her ribs and turned her world sideways.
She was still trying to figure out which way was up when the next blow came, this impact feeling even harder as her velocity suddenly reversed. She finally got a foot on the ground, skidding to a stop on all fours and waiting for the ringing in her ears to die down. The huge ki spike behind her told her she hadn't escaped, though, and when she looked over her shoulder she saw Goku was standing with a hand extended as if to fire a blast, demonstrating he could've kept up the attacks if he wanted.
"Thought you were short on time," Caulifla said, staying where she was and catching her breath.
"What do you think of it?" he asked. "This power."
"It's great...it's awesome! I gotta get my hands on it!" She threw herself backwards, landing on her hands and swinging a kick down at him from overhead; he caught it on his forearm without trouble, but she used the force of his block to launch herself clear of his counter-punch. He gave chase with that unfathomable speed, instantly appearing above and hammering her down to the ground. This time she kept her wits enough to control her fall and spring right back out of the crater, facing up at him as he descended towards her. She had a little time; without flight, his speed wouldn't affect how fast he fell.
She started firing up at him with both hands; he twisted back and forth in the air, dodging each blast by a hair, expression remaining stoic. She didn't relent when he hit the ground, swinging her aim to chase him as he ran a full circle around her, staying ahead of the destructive volley. His hair kept going for a moment when he slid to a halt, billowing out behind him.
She clenched her fists, panting. "Yeah...that should do it."
"Hu?" He stopped focusing on her so much to take in his surroundings—all those blasts hadn't vanished. They were still hanging where he'd left them, an inescapable dome of energy spheres. "Isn't this Piccolo's…?"
"Sorry, dunno who that is. I just got this idea from the last person I fought. Haa!" She brought the accumulated energy field inwards, beams streaking in at Goku from every direction. He got to dodging again, straining to avoid the hundreds of simultaneous attacks. Even with all his wits and training, all of Super Saiyan 3's speed, it took everything he had to keep a step ahead of such a comprehensively-laid trap. So much focus he didn't notice that Caulifla was no longer standing still and directing her beams—as the last volley kept him occupied, she was predicting where he'd leap to next, moving to intercept—
More than hurt, he was just surprised to catch a punch right across the face despite holding such an advantage, recoiling right into the last few of the prepared ki attacks, which crashed down on his back and shoulders, driving him to one knee.
He cracked a smile. "Hey...you're pretty good."
She pointed at him, then flipped the gesture into a thumbs-down. "Take whatever form you want! I am gonna beat you."
"I like your attitude." He lifted his head. "But I gotta save energy. Hit, Ribrianne, Toppo, Jiren—I wanna fight 'em all! So I'm gonna finish this right now." He crossed the distance between them before she could blink, leaning into a hard stomach-punch that flung her free of the scenery formed by the cracked arena. She was on a direct course for the stands, until with a burst of green light a second figure arced past, spiriting her back to solid ground across from Goku.
Caulifla smiled up at Kale's controlled transformation, not seeming to notice her injuries. "Kale...you really got strong, huh?"
"We're about to find out…" Kale gave a start, realising how casually she'd been princess-carrying Caulifla. "Ah! This is a bit…"
"A bit what?"
"It just…" Kale hurriedly set her on her feet. "...feels like...it should be the other way around…"
"Heh! Would you like that?" Caulifla barked out a laugh at the blush this produced. "Aw, I'm sorry for teasin'. I'm just happy you're letting your feelings out for once." Y'know, without going on a rampage.
So was it just teasing? Kale wondered. I managed to confess earlier, but...how does she feel? "U-Um...Caulifla—"
"Hey," Goku called over. "I don't really get what you're talkin' about, but can we fight now? Kale, right? This form I'm in tires me out pretty quickly, so…"
"You think you can take us both?" Caulifla asked.
"Maybe! I wanna find out. You two seem like a pretty good team...maybe you'll make me go full power."
"Count on it. Ready, Kale?"
Kale snapped out of her thoughts, focusing on the fight. "Y-Yes!"
"You cur…" Toppo turned to display the tear down the side of his jumpsuit. "You have damaged this custom uniform...the mark of a Pride Trooper!"
Vegeta sneered. "Is your pride so cheap? If you wear it to a fight, of course it'll get damaged."
"It seems you do not understand! I shall make you!" Toppo began to strike a series of elaborate poses, punctuating each sentence he bellowed.
"I love my people! I love my country! I love my planet! I love my universe! Know me as the Pride Troopers' leader, Toppo! Small evils! Normal evils! Grand evils! All evils...shall shatter before this iron fist of justice!"
Vegeta didn't quite know how to respond, but certainly there'd be no help from Cabba, who seemed totally enraptured by the performance, starry-eyed and beaming.
Eventually Vegeta settled on "...'normal evils'?"
"There is nothing normal about evil!" This declaration accompanied Toppo's charge, the aforementioned iron fist of justice smashing into Vegeta's guard and shoving him along without slowing. "We are no passive defenders of peace! We quest through our universe seeking out evil! Don't think I'll just stand back and wait for your attacks!"
Wh-What strength he has! Fired up like this, the Trooper was an overwhelming force. Vegeta backpedalled, conjuring up a quick "Galick Gun!" to stop Toppo's momentum, jumping back into melee now he had the initiative. Cabba had finally come to his senses and joined him, the two settling into a good rhythm: Vegeta took Toppo head-on, with Cabba darting round the flanks to use the openings this made and harry him with his relatively lighter blows until the effort of trying to keep track of them both made a larger opening, allowing Vegeta to land a solid hit.
They kept on like this, gaining more and more ground. "That's good, Cabba!" said Vegeta. "Your attacks are already more confident than last time. But you can't shatter that wall by relying on me!"
Vegeta was about to continue, but had to hurriedly change course as Toppo found a moment to strike at Cabba, the prince taking the blow in his place and flying back out of reach. Cabba barely had time to register any of this before a mighty arm wrapped around his neck.
"Justice Rear Naked Choke!" Toppo tightened the hold, looking over to Vegeta—"I assume even you are not wicked enough to attack through your ally...hmm?"—or at least, where Vegeta had been.
"Hah!" came the voice from behind him. "Did you think I'd sit still?"
"Perfectly-timed," Toppo admitted. "It will be simple for you to rescue him and defeat me, now."
"What do you take me for?" Vegeta stepped back, turning away from them.
"You would abandon an ally? Cruel evildoer!"
Vegeta ignored him, looking over his shoulder into his pupil's eyes. "Cabba."
"M-Master…" Cabba gritted his teeth and started tugging against the hold.
"Your 'master' has forsaken you," Toppo said. "Young one, surrender and I will throw you off painlessly."
"He...believes in me!" Cabba insisted. "He's testing me...I have to find something other than him to fuel me!" The grip tightened, though, and he felt his bones straining against the crushing pressure. There was no breath left in him, his shaking arms starting to fall limp—
This has to...come from inside myself! Don't just 'want' to get stronger...convince myself I can be. Start from there!
Master...I know what you mean now...this is…!
"Do you yield?" Toppo demanded. "I won't kill you, but if you continue to resist your spine will be severely—"
"Don't…" Cabba forced his arms back up, taking a firm grip on Toppo's wrist. "Don't look down on...the pride of a saiyan!" With renewed force he pulled against it, and at the same time an explosion of power shoved Toppo back from beneath, leaving Cabba standing free, wreathed in an aura of lightning and flame.
"That's the way." Vegeta approached and clapped a hand on Cabba's shoulder. "Building your own power...aiming for nothing less than Number One. Well done breaking through to Super Saiyan 2...now, stand back and witness what real power is."
The other saiyans' fight was paused for a moment by the distant surge of ki and distinctive yell of "Final Flash!", a huge yellow beam lighting up the dark void for a moment.
"Whoa, Vegeta's really turnin' it up over there!" Goku gave a little laugh. "I better keep up!" He ran for his opponents with one hand held up to guard and a ki sphere building in the other, waiting for their reaction.
Kale reached to grab him by the head, the block coming up—she took hold of the offered arm anyway, keeping him in place as Caulifla came round from the other side. He quickly let his readied blast fly, but Kale jerked him off-target, Caulifla's fist hitting home and giving Kale added momentum to lever him over her shoulder, both of them giving chase after he was thrown. He just managed to right himself before taking a combined hit, a shockwave from each hand pushing the pair back.
Trying to keep them separate he darted past each in turn, landing a solid hit to Caulifla, but when he went to knock Kale in the opposite direction she made the block, riding out his attack and hitting back. He dodged, but not by as much as he'd have liked, and furthermore Caulifla was already leaping back at him; he ducked, letting her fly past, but a quick blast into the ground changed her course and she shot backwards into him, elbow making painful contact with his neck.
"Now!" she yelled as he swayed sideways, and with a nod Kale focused her power, a two-handed beam at point-blank driving him into his own personal crater.
"Got 'em!" Caulifla held out her hand, receiving a very awkward high-five a moment later. "Aw, what was that? C'mere!" She wrapped an arm around Kale's shoulders, grinning. "Long as we're together, there's nothing we can't do!"
"Y-Yes!" Kale stammered back, blushing. I still want to ask, but...ahh, this is nice...
"Not bad…" Goku was shakier as he rose, grinning up at their combined front. Little flecks of red light started working their way into his aura as he prepared for the next round. "You make me feel like going all-out!"
Caulifla gave a bring-it gesture down his way. "About time!"
So, the main reason this chapter took so long is I've been trying to get a job, and though I've now succeeded at that, the other reason is one that may well affect me producing future chapters. It's not that I'm suddenly not interested in this story, but I realised that I'm still effectively writing these characters in the only context they've already appeared in during the TV series (the Tournament of Power). There's merit in making it more focused on them for sure, but I do kind of want to write them in other situations, so I'm trying my hand at writing a different universe 6 story at the moment...which might go up here, on AO3, or both, not sure. I'm also not sure whether after writing a bit of that I'll be super-psyched to do this again after having had a change of pace or if this'll continue to be fairly slow to update, but...well, only time will tell! Hopefully that all makes sense.
I was planning to give Katopesla more focus before ringing him out, especially since he's a homage to my beloved Kamen Rider, but alas it just didn't fit the flow and structure of the chapter. With so many characters and fights, something has to be set-dressing for the important stuff! Which in this case, was the paralleled/contrasted dynamics between Vegeta & Cabba, and Goku & Caulifla.