Sorry for giving you what was essentially a filler chapter, but I had a few things to put into play that would not have fit well anywhere else. I also needed to get back into the story. Practice and all that, you know.
My lateness sob story is justified, I promise. I'll summarize it in my profile. Then those who are thinking about stabbing me for updates will understand why I'm slow. (You know who you are!)
Disclaimer: I do not own DBZ or any of its characters. The demons' Hell, the Seer, the Arachi, and other miscellaneous demons are mine. I am making no profit from this.
"Face your fate."
The Arachi thrust its hand down, and in that moment Piccolo finally gave in to the nagging voice inside his head. In hindsight, that was not a wise action, but what choice did he have? He probably would have died otherwise. He opened his mind to the foreign entity, only to realize it was not foreign at all.
It was, in fact, very familiar.
Years ago, Ma Junior had been a feared demon. Children screamed at the sound of his name. Women fainted. Brave men trembled. He left a swath of destruction across the land, scarring its people and the very face of the earth. He looked forward to ruling the world one day.
But something had changed within the demon, over time. He himself was not aware of when it happened, although he had his suspicions. It might have begun while he was training Gohan and culminated with his death over the boy. It may have been watching Goku's own death, as he sacrificed himself to kill his brother. Whenever it had been, he had not immediately noticed the changes in his soul. He should have suspected them when he learned that Raditz had gone to Hell at his death, rather than wandering the Earth. He had been foolish.
As he changed, the evil inside him ebbed. He subconsciously rejected that side of himself more with every passing day. When faced with Gohan's imminent death, he finally threw it completely aside. He may have growled at everyone who came too close to him and warned them of demonic nature, but he had known the truth. The heritage was present, but the rage was not. The demonic self that drove him so hard was gone.
Or so he had once thought.
With all the recent events that had occurred, from Uranai Baba's crystal ball to Shadow, to the incident at Capsule Corp and the appearance of the Arachi, it had been made very clear to Piccolo that the part of himself he had thought was gone was only dormant. He cursed it. He raged against it. For Gohan's sake, he may have even hated it. But he came to realize that it was still very much a part of him, and no matter what he did, he could not rid himself of it. It was a part of his subconscious that had remained quiescent these past few years.
The 'foreign' voice that had spoken to him was, essentially, himself.
Time had slowed to a crawl as the Arachi's hand descended. Conversely, the well of power within him began to churn. In hindsight, he would be able to call it self-preservation. Knowing that he had no other choice if he wanted to survive this encounter, Piccolo took the chance and dove within himself, to the mental training ground that was the manifestation of his center. He did not know what he would find there. He hoped it would be the answers to his unspoken questions.
He appeared in the middle of a field, one that seemed to stretch on forever. Around it were trees, a forest. It was very similar to the area he had grown up in. He should have felt relieved. Instead, he was wary.
In the center of the field stood another figure, one that was both alien and familiar all at once. Scowling, he approached it. It did not move, nor did it give any indication that it felt his approach. But the moment he came within arm's reach of it, it turned around and smirked at him. He knew that expression, intimately. It was his own.
Piccolo found himself staring at a younger version of himself, slender and lean of muscle. A younger self with eyes of blood.
"I was wondering how long it would take you to realize what was going on," the demon-self said. "How long it would take you to remember what you are. How long it would take you to find me."
"I know what I am," Piccolo snapped, "and I know who I am. What I want to know is how this all happened in the first place. I went through a lot of effort to suppress you."
The demon-self scowled. "And it took me a lot of effort to get through to you. You locked away Daimao's evil, which unfortunately closed me off from you. You sealed away that which could have made you whole."
Piccolo said nothing, merely folded his arms across his chest and waited for his darker side to continue.
"For all your intelligence, you never learned what your birthright truly meant. You could deny me until the end of time, but I am still you. In this, you are a fool."
Piccolo bristled. The demon-self laughed. "At least you have the sense to know when you require assistance. I can tell you the truth, now that you are willing to listen."
Suddenly, Piccolo found himself looking at an egg. It was mottled white-and-grey, and it was twitching. It was nestled in thick grass, most of which was broken, as though the egg had been dropped into place. "This was how our life began," his own voice stated. "Inside an egg, left to fend for ourself. Our sire wanted us to follow in his footsteps. What he did not realize was that when he created us, he passed along everything that he had been."
His voice went silent while Piccolo pondered the ramifications of what had been said. Then his eyes widened in surprise.
Piccolo Daimao, the Demon Lord, had once been half of an entity that was sent to Earth many years before. When that entity purged itself of evil, that part of its personality manifested as Daimao. The entity had been a Namek. Therefore, Daimao was a demon, an evil spirit, in a Namek's body.
When Daimao formed his very last egg, he wanted a child that would be an exact replica of himself – something that he did not realize was impossible. He was only half a being. However, he carried the genes of a whole entity. When he reproduced, the resulting child was not a copy of a half but a reproduction of a whole. Piccolo was a fully Namekian child.
Yet Daimao's twisted nature could not be discounted. His insidious evil corrupted anything it touched. This was easily seen in his other children. Piano, Cymbal, Tambourine, and Drum – these four had not been created with care. Each of them visibly reflected Daimao's evil, possessing the form of a demon. With Piccolo, this warping was more subtle. Because of the care Daimao had taken in forming him, Piccolo's physical form was not altered. Instead, he carried the demon seed within him, a corruption that could manifest… a potential far beyond what his sire had predicted. The child that had been created was one-of-a-kind, a Namek who carried the blood of a demon and a god.
The demon-self chuckled. "You understand now," he stated.
Piccolo nodded once, mutely.
"We are capable of more than any other Namek ever born. We are capable of more than any demon, any angel, any god. We have the potential."
"Then why did I not realize this before?"
Piccolo knew what the answer to his snarled question was even as his demon-self laughed. "Because by denying me, you denied the possibility. You were so bent on rejecting our sire's legacy that you ignored his gifts."
"We are Namekian."
"We are more."
Piccolo scowled. "We nothing. If this potential you're talking about is really there, why didn't it come out sooner?"
"Our birthright needed to mature, as did we. Now we are ready for it. We – you – are strong enough now to separate Daimao's taint within us from the power he bequeathed you. So we have a choice: we can pursue Daimao's task, at which we will not fail now that you are aware of your full self, or we can pursue our own path." The demon-self paused for a moment to let his point sink in, then he smirked.
Piccolo found himself returning the smirk when he realized what his demon-self had implied. "I have been looking for a suitable challenge," he said, grinning fiercely.
The demon-self smiled. "And he certainly has been issuing one. But for now, you need to pay attention to what is happening outside."
Without warning, he launched himself at Piccolo, who was so caught off-guard that he did not even react. His fingers dug deeply into Piccolo's forehead, and he gasped at the pain. "Something to remember me by," the demon-self hissed. "And do remember it, because you won't find me again." Then he shimmered and vanished, leaving only bloodied fingerprints on Piccolo's forehead.
For a moment, Piccolo thought to return his attention to the outside world and let time catch up with him again. Then his vision grew bright, and he was assailed by the strength of a sudden burst of power. He felt his insides burning, though such a thing was not physically possible in his mind. It was almost indescribable. The closest he could come was the intensity of the sensation he had felt when fusing with Nail.
But then he was suddenly aware of the talons deep in his back, the dirt his face was pressed into, the hissing of the demon above him, and he had no more time for reflection. He had to act.
And so he did.
Piccolo ignored the grinding of talon against bone and reached his arm back, grabbing the leg that held him down. He reached for the power that had felt so strange just a few seconds ago and, upon touching it, found that it was as familiar to him as the backs of his hands. He beckoned to it, and it responded. Ki flowed into his fingers as effortlessly as breathing.
He did not take time to exult in his new-found strength. Instead, he concentrated on sending every ounce of his power into burning away the demon at his back. The Arachi's leg began to glow a sickly-yellow color as Piccolo's ki rushed up its length. It hissed again, this time in surprise. "What do you think – "
It never finished its sentence. Piccolo's ki erupted in a brilliant white-red flare, and the Arachi shrieked. The weight against Piccolo's back was suddenly gone, and he flipped off the ground onto his hands and knees. When he pushed himself up into a crouch, he felt the fabric of his cloak tear away from the gouges in his back. He winced. Even with his innate regenerative abilities, the wounds would take some time to heal. He would probably have to bind them.
The intense light began to fade, and he realized that he was crouching in a rather large crater. Something was gurgling closely off to his side, and when he turned, he saw its cause: the Arachi, who he knew would be a threat no longer.
The writhing demon was laying on its back in a sticky muck made of its own yellow blood. One of its withered human legs was gone, burned away, as was the chunk of abdomen it had been attached to. The other leg, its left leg, was missing below the knee. Its right arm was gone. The three insectoid legs on the right side of its body were sheared away. At a glance, Piccolo found one of them twitching on the ground several yards behind it. The other two were not visible. Its remaining limbs were twisted around at odd angles, which he supposed could account for its thrashing.
"You!" it spat, spraying blood across its own face. "How could you gather that much strength?" The words came out thick and slurred – its jaw was broken.
Piccolo felt his lips twitch into a smirk as he stood. "Because I've been a fool. I am one no longer."
"But the magic…"
"You should have known better than to do battle with the son of the Demon Lord, Arachi."
Piccolo felt the demon's shock at the same time he sensed Goku and Gohan landing somewhere nearby. "Treachery!" it hissed. "Treacherous little brat! You knew! You were, all along! Know that Daimao will come for you now."
But Piccolo had bigger things to worry about at the moment – like how the approaching Saiyans would react when they learned the truth about him.
His fears were not unfounded. The moment Goku met his gaze, he knew what the man was thinking. Goku had never been good at hiding his thoughts. The Saiyan was shocked first, then alarmed, which then gave way to a steely determination that Piccolo recognized all too well. The man was gearing up for another battle… this time, against him.
But Goku was holding back. Was it because he had said Goku's name? Was the Saiyan completely disregarding what he had told him about not going easy on an opponent? Was he just frozen in fear?
Then something heavy barreled into his chest, and the air left his lungs in a forceful huff. The unexpected weight knocked him back several feet. Something in the back of his mind told him this new 'attacker' was not dangerous.
The Namek dropped his gaze to the young boy clinging to his torso. Gohan buried his face in the remains of his cloak and laughed. "You're all right! You're all right! Piccolo, we won!"
Goku stiffened, and rather than thrusting Gohan away, Piccolo raised a hand to the child's head and awkwardly patted it. "Yeah, kid. We won this time."
Gohan's smile grew wider, and Goku's jaw dropped. With some satisfaction, Piccolo noted that the Saiyan had relaxed – if only the tiniest bit. It was enough that he began to think he might make it out of this situation with all of his limbs more or less intact.
Goku, in turn, stared hard at the Namek. In his experience, red eyes meant demonic influence. However, he had to admit to himself that something about this was different. For one, Piccolo's eyes weren't wholly red, just the irises. This brought to mind another encounter with the Namek, their first meeting.
"You are in my way. Move."
Goku glared at the man who approached the doorway he stood in. Ma Junior, or Piccolo, as he knew him to be, had just defeated Shen – Kami in disguise. Kami's Mafuba had failed… Piccolo had reversed it and trapped the god in his own prison. With Yamcha, Tien, and Krillin at his back, he did not fear the demon.
"What did you do? Hand that jug over to me!" he demanded of the other.
Piccolo returned his glare. Then he smirked. "A delightful jest!" he sneered.
As the two had tried to stare each other down, Goku remembered how the other's eye color had fascinated him. He had never seen anyone outside of Piccolo Daimao and his spawn with red eyes. At that time, he had equated the color with demons. Now, he was not so certain.
Come to think of it, Goku thought, frowning, he looks a lot like he did back then. Well, except older now, obviously. But what kind of demon holds a child like that? The obvious answer was 'a devious one', but Goku had never met anyone who could act that well. Not even Shadow had been able to fool him for long. Could this really be Piccolo still?
Gohan answered his question for him. "Piccolo?" he asked, looking up. Then, "What happened to your eyes?" The gleeful expression on his face turned serious. Whatever question he had been about to ask his mentor was lost.
Piccolo set him down and crossed his arms over his chest. I was afraid of that, he sighed to himself. He had hoped his transition – augmentation – would have no physical manifestation. Obviously, he was wrong. Now, he would have to tell them what had happened, if he did not want to find himself on the wrong end of a kamehameha.
"I am what I should have been," he told the child. "Before the hybrids, before Frieza, before the Saiyans' arrival, and even before your birth."
"I don't understand, Piccolo."
"I have embraced what I am. Not a pawn to Daimao, not a simple Namek. I am myself."
Gohan smiled, and Piccolo found himself smiling back. He was not certain that Gohan had understood what he meant, but he hoped the child appreciated the rare occurrence.
Goku was reluctant to interrupt what appeared to be a special occasion, but he could feel Vegeta's approach, and he knew the man would not be as inclined as he to allow an explanation from Piccolo before blowing him up. "Piccolo," he said quickly, "what are you talking about?"
Piccolo glanced up at him, and he found himself stunned by the change in his eyes. They could have been Frieza's eyes… but no. Frieza's eyes were cold and emotionless. Piccolo's still reflected his intelligence and spark of life. His were not the eyes of evil.
"Do you remember what I once was, Son Goku?" Piccolo asked.
"Of course I do," the Saiyan replied. "You were an unholy terror." He laughed nervously.
"Be serious, Son," Piccolo snarled.
Goku fell silent.
"Do you remember?"
"Yes, I do."
"You remember the darkness."
"Then perhaps you will be content with the knowledge that it is now contained and has no chance of breaking free."
Goku stared at him in utter confusion. For as long as Piccolo had been one of the 'good guys', he had snarled about being a demon and how it was not a good idea to come anywhere near him. As far as Goku could tell, he had also struggled against that darker side since before he had taken Gohan away for training – really, what kind of demon sacrificed himself for a small child? He may have been evil at the time of the last Tenka'ichi Budokai, when he was fully under Daimao's sway, but that had changed since then. Goku thought he had managed to somehow get over his sire's influence.
But… contained? Wait… He thought back to his first encounter with Shadow, a demon sent from Hell to force Piccolo into doing Daimao's bidding.
"Come now, Goku. Surely you did not think the chance for such power would be overlooked, did you?" Shadow had sneered at him as it stalked forward in Piccolo's body.
"Whoever you are," Goku had growled, "you made the wrong choice of victim. I'm the stronger one. I'm the Super Saiyan. You should have gone for me."
Shadow had laughed. "That is where you are wrong, Goku. This one, Piccolo, has as much potential as you do. He is of two people; yet each time you have fought against him, you have only fought against half of what he is. Think of what he could have been combined."
Goku had given it thought. Piccolo had been almost impossible to defeat at the last Tenka'ichi Budokai, and he had been strong enough to hold back Frieza for a time on Namek. Once as demon, once as Namek.
"Ah, so you see what I am saying."
Only half? "How long did it take you to talk him into it?" he had asked. "The Piccolo I know wouldn't have agreed to this."
"He never agreed."
The gears in his head were turning rapidly now. Could Piccolo be talking about the power Shadow had hinted at? Had the Namek encountered another demon without his knowledge, bargained with it for power? He did not even want to consider that option, but it made so much sense… "I thought you were past that, Piccolo," Goku said lowly, dangerously. Vegeta was very close now, seconds away.
"I am not talking about Daimao. I am –"
"About to explain why in Hell you kept this information to yourself, Namek!"
Vegeta landed between the two warriors, scowling. "This creature could have destroyed us all, and you knew about its existence! What other secrets are you keeping?" he demanded.
Piccolo abruptly set Gohan down, though the boy still gazed up at him in wonder. He knew how the Saiyan prince saw him – tattered, bloody, and weary. He also knew Vegeta thought that, despite his injuries, he was dangerous. "I am not keeping the kind of secrets you think I am," he spat back. "It should not have been able to make it to this plane unassisted."
"Then it had help!" Vegeta growled. "Tell me what kind of demon – and yes, I figured that out – has the power to send assassins through to this world without alerting any of us to it!"
Piccolo opened his mouth to reply, but Goku answered the question for him. "Kami told me that Daimao has allies who can influence the living realm. This might have happened because of one of them."
Vegeta whirled on him, and he met the Prince's glare with a steady gaze of his own. "You're in league with him, Kakarot?" he exclaimed incredulously. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"No joke, Vegeta," he replied. "It's not exactly something that gets brought up in everyday conversation."
Vegeta's face reddened immediately, and for a moment, he looked like he was going to explode. Suddenly, uncharacteristically, he launched himself into the sky with enough ki to form a crater behind him. He was out of sight before displaced clods of dirt and grass began to rain down upon the three remaining warriors.
It was at about the same time that Krillin and Yamcha reached what was left of the battlefield.
In the distance, the storm began to dissipate.
Thank you, all, for reading! Reviews are appreciated but not necessary – seeing the number of hits for each new chapter is gratifying enough.
Chikyuu: I was just as surprised to hear from you, too. You've been reading my stuff since what, early "From the Past"? Six or seven years ago? Wow. I also very much forgot it was Piccolo's birthday (shame on me), so it was a coincidental update. Now I'm embarrassed. (grin)
Volcanic: Nice to hear from you, too (in several stories)! I don't intend on disappearing again anytime soon, or at least not for long anymore. Hopefully I can keep up with the updates now that my schooling is done!
Anyone else who's been hanging around for a long time (and is willing to admit it!) is welcome to let me know. You'll get a shout-out at the end of next chapter. 'Til then!