Disclaimer: I do not own Dragonball/Z/GT but I do own this story. This story is set in the year 747 A.D. - two years before the Dragonball series begins.
"There are two perfectly good men - one dead and the other unborn."
Ancient Chinese Proverb
"And this is where the body was found?"
It was an obvious conclusion to reach. The path was stained with freckles of faded red. Nearby, a broken pot of wilted flowers lay strewn across the stones. The dirt on either side of the narrow path had been raked smooth but the dirt leaking from the flowerpot was scuffed about in a manner that indicated a struggle.
"Yes." Nodded the eldest gentleman of the group. He did not need to say more, it was clear that he was worried. He had good reason to be.
Murder was never a simple affair. Formal investigations were bound to be costly and time consuming. Witnesses would often lie or forget what they'd seen in order to protect themselves from scrutiny. Investigators risked discovering a bewildering tangle of scandals which, in the end, might prove to have no real bearing on the specific crime in question.
Time was against them.
Where was the killer now? Had the killer left the city? What if the killer was still here? What if the killer was planning to strike again?
Their location made the circumstances all the more dire. Rising above the blossoming treetops behind them were a majestic collection of upswept roofs. Golden tiled roofs, each one symbolic of the sunlight it reflected. This was Imperial City, home of the Meiji Emperor, where even the lowest ranking servant had some drop of noble blood in their heritage.
If the killer was still here...
"What have you learned?" Demanded the youngest of the group.
A murder inside the Imperial City required special attention. The lead investigator had to be of noble blood but also had to be both reliable and unbiased. Which meant, inevitably, that the investigator had to be sent for. Which had, of course, only served to delay the investigation even further since it had taken more than two weeks to select the lead investigator and another week for the youth to arrive.
Why the aristocrats had chosen a fourteen year old boy with no previous experience in solving crimes, the elderly gent could not begin to fathom. But the youth did at least seem relatively calm and educated. The type of person who could easily become a decent detective, if given a few more years to mature.
"It requires some work." Admitted the elder of the group, his voice anxious. This was his way of saying that they had not made much progress.
The group consisted of five men in suitably formal attire. Traditional outfits were worn - socks, sandals, pants and layers of dark robes. None of the five men had witnessed the murder. None of the five had been close to the victim. Only the elderly gent had ever set foot in Imperial City before. Yet this was the group entrusted with solving the case and bringing the killer to justice.
Three of the men carried swords. Samurai that had been sent by the World Emperor. In addition to helping investigate, these three were expected to secure the Meiji Capital and protect everyone of importance in the area. Not an easy task by any standards. Made all the more difficult by the discriminating social politics of Meiji Imperial City. So limited were the samurai in what they could and could not do, that the chore of solving the crime ultimately fell on the shoulders of an elderly man and a fourteen year old boy who had only just met.
In the tradition of any nobleman of a respectable age, the elderly gent did not go by his name. He was addressed more formally, by a nickname that served as his title.
"Tsuru-Sennin." The youth stated. "Surely you have learned something?"
The Crane Master regarded the boy. How could he be expected to trust this stranger? And yet... What choice did he have? If the crime went unsolved or if the killer struck again, it would bring dishonor to them all. And in Imperial City, dishonor was the leading cause of public execution.
"Remind an old man of your name, boy." The Crane Master ventured. Introductions had been hastily made and quickly lost to discussions of the murder.
"Han." The young man replied, introducing himself by his last name as was the custom. Han did not look or act fourteen. He was tall for his age with a slight muscular build, a serious nature and a pair of intimidating dark green eyes half-hidden behind a wave of ebony hair.
"Ah, yes. Han." The Crane Master had heard of the family. As had every historian on the planet. Though famous for many reasons, the Han were best known for their imperial ancestors. But the current generation of the family was so numerous...
No. It was impolite to ask for first names.
"His Grace," The Crane Master began, referring to the deceased Regent of the Meiji Imperial Court, "was found dead on this spot nearly a month ago."
"Who discovered the corpse? What was the time of day?"
It was rude for someone so young to question an elder but Han did not apologize. He was here to solve a crime. He had to learn everything that he could about the case.
"A gardener. In the morning. I have interviewed him extensively," The Crane Master sighed in mild frustration, "but his memory is poor."
Han studied the ground for a while longer. Absorbing every detail of the scene before stepping back and turning towards the samurai - who stood apart from the nobleman in uncomfortable silence. With a small nod to acknowledge the veteran warriors, Han began to stroll down the path towards the distant golden-roofed pavilions. "Who else have you spoken to?"
"Nearly everyone in residence." The Crane Master confided as he walked beside the youth. The samurai trailed them at a respectful distance. "And they all have alibis."
What this implied was either that the killer had been an outsider or that someone inside Imperial City was lying.
"When you say nearly everyone...?" Han started to ask.
The Crane Master cringed, worry clouding his expression and reducing his voice to a nervous whisper. "I have not yet been granted an audience with the Emperor."
Regent. It was, perhaps, the single most prized title in all of history. For it meant being the Emperor without actually having to be the Emperor. It was the power without the pomp, so to speak. The crown without the ceremony.
Being regarded as a god meant that the Emperor had to live by a million unwritten rules that crept into every aspect of daily life. It was, therefore, a title of immense contradiction. According to legends, the Emperor was blessed with special powers. Yet at the same time, the Emperor could not dress himself. Period. It was not allowed. Such mundane tasks were considered unworthy of a gods attention. Thus it was up to servants to dress the Emperor and brush his teeth and basically everything else along those lines.
Emperors generally did not find their lifestyles ironic. It was what they had been raised to expect. They did not view the daily rituals as limitations on their own authority. They did, in fact, have more important things to worry about.
Regents were always a concern.
Whenever an Emperor was too young to be considered an adult, there was a Regent. A person who basically made - or at least finalized - all the important decisions and wielded the power of the throne until the Emperor was old enough to take over. Regents were not considered gods. Therefore, Regents had a lot more personal freedom than Emperors.
Power and personal freedom were a dangerous combination.
Needless to say, history was littered with the stories of young Emperors who had never quite made it to the throne. An Emperor would become ill or crippled or go missing all together and the Regent would remain in control. There were even instances in history where Emperors had been imprisoned - albeit luxuriously - just to keep them from ruling.
And now, in the Imperial City of the small Meiji Empire, the Regent was dead.
Had to be murder. That was just a given. No one ever died of natural causes in Imperial City. No one important, anyway.
The Emperor sat alone. Alone, in this context, meaning in the presence of less than fifty other people. Guards, servants, tutors, ministers, politicians, entertainers... This was as close to 'alone' as the Emperor typically got while awake. He was so completely used to being around other people that he was able to reduce the majority of them to background noise. The Emperor didn't really see or hear them anymore - they were just always there. It was sort of comforting, in a detached way.
Most of the people in the room behaved in ways that made them easy to overlook. Out of respect people kept a distance, bowed their heads and averted their eyes. Everyone spoke in quiet voices. The few people who were actually addressing the Emperor knelt AND bowed - both at once - before him. As a result, they were often speaking into the floor which tended to distort whatever they were trying to say.
The floor itself was a distraction. For security purposes, tile floors all over the empire were designed to creak and groan with every movement. The floors of Imperial City were positively musical.
So the Emperor sat alone behind the curtains of his dais, listening to melodies of the floor. Vaguely aware of the murmurs of other people in the grand hall.
He was also a smidge telepathic and therefore aware of their thoughts. It was this that disturbed the Emperor. No one had told him - well, not directly - of the Regents death. In fact, everyone in the Imperial Court seemed content to avoid mentioning the Regent. Superstition, perhaps. Mentioning the dead man might summon his unhappy ghost.
It wasn't just the fact that the Regent was dead and that an underage Emperor was now in full power - bad omens. It was the fact that the Regent had apparently been murdered.
The Emperor was the prime suspect and he knew it. No one was going to say so. No one inside Imperial City would dare to accuse their sacred leader of such a crime. Innocent or guilty, it hardly mattered. He was divine. That would excuse him.
He was fifteen years old. The murder barely concerned him. It was up to the appointed officials to sort that mess out. The Emperor was no longer bothered by such happenings. At this level of government, murder was not an uncommon event.
Instead what had caught his attention... For the first time in his sheltered life, the Emperor was beginning to realize the extent of his political power. He was immune to mortal laws. And now the Regent was gone. There was freedom in that, perhaps. Without a Regent to make the decisions... The Emperor felt that he could get away with anything. As long as he didn't push the boundaries too far. As long as he stayed on good terms with the Imperial Court.
The Emperor closed his eyes and imagined that he was outdoors. That his gaze settled upon a line of white that was barely visible in the distance. The imposing outer walls of Meiji Imperial City. He had never actually seen the wall up close. Only as a distance line of light and shadow - so that's the way he imagined it.
Imperial City was not just a city, it was its own world. Literally. Imperial City had been designed to represent the empire in miniature - complete with temples, an orchard and a mock-village set up in one section of the immense garden. Emperors did not typically leave Imperial City unless it was on fire, under attack or both. Events that, despite being somewhat frequent in history books, had only allowed a fraction of the Emperors to glimpse life beyond the walls.
But the current Emperor was fifteen. And divine. He could get away with anything. Or so he hoped. Why should anyone be upset if he went to have a look at the empire that he was now fully in charge of?
It was such a ridiculous concept - the idea of going somewhere new - that the young Emperor was instantly taken with it. He resolved to sneak away as soon as the chance was presented.
He'd already picked out a fake name to go by while mingling with the lesser ranks of society. Chou. It was a common enough name, he'd blend in. And just for good measure, he'd tacked on a title as well. Something vague yet respectable. Chou Tzu.