A/N: Wow, it took forever for me to update this, didn't it? Well, this is the last chapter of the story, so at least you won't be waiting for another one! Enjoy! Oh, and yes, the answer to last chapter's question was Beowulf
Goujun lifted the slumbering child into his arms. For such a strong creature, Goku was not very heavy. He was glad he had remembered to put the drug in the food that would put the child to sleep. It was a powerful one, and wouldn't wear off for another few hours at least. Long enough for the deed to be done.
The sun peeked over the faraway hills, signaling the swift approach of dawn.
It was time.
Normally a prisoner would be fully conscious for their execution, but Goujun didn't care. The child would die sedated or not at all. It was bad enough he was the one ordered to carry the sentence out.
Nearly all of Heaven had arrived to witness this. Some with pity for the child, others with hatred. The majority of gods that came, however, were only curious. They had heard of the powerful heretic of Earth, but had never seen him. They wanted to see what it was about such a tiny thing that frightened the Jade Emperor so.
The higher ranking gods and the Emperor himself sat upon a dais on one side, Kanzeon Bosatsu among them. What her expression was, the Army Commander couldn't tell, for all his focus was on his final destination. A wooden block in the center of the large square.
The goddess had no eyes for the execution block itself. No, her lavender eyes were fixed entirely on the boy sleeping peacefully in the Commander's arms. What did he dream about that put the slight smile on his dirty face? Did he dream of Konzen and his friends? Did he dream of the forests where he had once roamed free?
All through the night she had done as she vowed, going through every document she had ever seen in Heaven since her ascension. Yet of all the loopholes that existed for every single law and policy, she could find none for this. Ultimately the decision rested with the Emperor on whether or not to go through with such an execution. And she had already tried to reason with the damn fool.
She would not look at the Jade Emperor who was glancing at her strangely. No doubt he expected some stunt from her in defiance. Couldn't he tell that her hands were tied? There was nothing she could do but watch as her nephew's charge was destroyed. For him, there was no life after this. No reincarnation, no paradise, no torment. It would be as though he never existed. At least with Konzen, Tenpou, and Kenren, there was the possibility of their return. Someday, dozens or hundreds of years from now, they would come back. But not the heretic.
Goujun lay the boy down gently and unsheathed his sword. The sleeping drug was wearing off already despite the large amount he had given the boy. If the deed was to be done, it had to be done now. He raised the ancient dragon sword and aimed perfectly for little Goku's neck.
Then he waited for the Jade Emperor's signal.
"Do not do this," Kanzeon hissed, eyes still fixed on the pair in the center.
"I am sorry, Kuanyin," her superior replied, lifting his hand.
The hand dropped.
The crowd held their breath as the sword came slicing down with all the power in the Commander's being.
There was not a sound as the sword hit its mark, the infant itan's head dislodged from its body.
Goujun lifted his sword from the block, red eyes narrowed with anger at himself for being so weak as to allow this injustice.
The Emperor nodded solemnly; the threat was gone.
The goddess of love and mercy silently prayed for her nephew's forgiveness.
Then there was a cry of alarm from the center as the western dragon king leapt back many feet, sword drawn up defensively.
The headless body, which was headless no longer, began to move. And Goku opened his large golden eyes.
His diadem, fallen with the rest of his previous head, lay in a pile of dust in a basket.
Goujun hadn't gotten a good look at Goku when he had lost his diadem during the uprising against the Emperor. Well, he thought ironically, he was getting an eyeful now. He brought up his sword into a defensive position, eyeing the transformed demon who stared back hungrily, all traces of the innocent child gone.
Goku grinned and crouched, readying himself to strike at the god who dared try to harm him.
"What happened?" someone cried out from the crowd.
"He grew another head!" gasped another.
"A rechargeable heretic?"
For a moment, no one really knew what was going on at all. The itan was supposed to be dead, not facing off against the dragon king of the West. Yet the assembled spirits and gods came to the silent agreement to back off as quietly as they good. For to run attracted this demon's attention and that was the last thing anyone wanted. Let the Commander take care of him, surely he was capable.
Kanzeon Bosatsu had a different idea on how to go about dealing with this.
Leaping off the dais in a flurry of white flowing fabric, the goddess called out to the transformed demon even as she readied herself. She'd been able to contain him before; hopefully she could do it again.
"Goku!" she called, narrowing her violet eyes. "Back off, kiddo. Don't make this any harder than it has to be."
The demon regarded her lazily. Did this goddess think she could order him around? He'd rip her throat out for even trying.
She noted with mild surprise that he moved faster than when he'd last been unleashed a mere few days ago. It would require a stronger restraint to contain such a creature. However he was still a mere infant and not fast enough to take her off-guard. Sidestepping the charging itan, Kanzeon summoned her power to focus on his head where a diadem should be. Just as Goku spun to try again, she let the chant do its work.
He collapsed where he stood, a golden crown secure upon his forehead where it belonged.
Goujun stood straight and rigid, staring at the goddess and the fallen demon. In all his years in the Heavenly Guard, the dragon had never seen such a thing. Just what sort of creature had he pitied all this time?
"It's impossible," The Emperor breathed, not believing in what he had just witnessed. "We saw the itan die. He is able to recharge himself?"
"The Commander pulled his blow!" accused a lesser god on the dais. "The child never died in the first place."
"Goujun couldn't have!" exclaimed another. "We all saw him strike. How else could the child lose his power limiter?"
The Jade Emperor stood up slowly, visibly keeping himself calm while everyone else dissolved into excited whispers. Descending the dais to stand beside the interfering goddess, he regarded the fallen itan, now mercifully only a sleeping child. "That animal should be dead now. What did you do, Kuanyin?" he asked in a harsh low tone, not even sparing a glance at the equally dumbfounded goddess.
"Nothing," she replied just as softly, putting a delicate hand beneath her chin. Lavender eyes darkened as her mind worked to understand this miracle.
"Do you swear on it?"
"Yes." She may cause untold trouble in Heaven with her meddling ways, but she was no liar. Something had spared the heretic's life and it was not the goddess who had done it.
"Take the heretic back into custody," the Emperor ordered of the guards surrounding the execution block.
Goujun watched the guards move to obey their liege though he did not. Only used a cloth to wipe off heretic blood from his sword and place it in its sheath where it belonged. There was nothing now that could dissuade the Jade Emperor from destroying Goku. Everything was happening so fast and his feeling of 'wrongness' only increased by the moment.
Still in a deep sleep from the effort of transforming and then being contained, Goku put up no resistance to those who put his chains back on. Kanzeon moved to interfere, but the Emperor put a hand on her shoulder, warning her with his eyes not to even dare. The glare she returned was icy with threatened danger, but she did not continue to Goku's side. There were some things even she could not go against, and her Emperor's will was one of them. But that did not mean she had to like it.
This mattered little to the Jade Emperor who was more convinced than ever that the heretic had to be destroyed. This creature may hide in the guise of a child, but all of Heaven had seen just what was beneath that diadem.
"What should we do with him, Your Majesty?" the head guard asked, visibly uneasy at having the dangerous heretic so near.
If the dragon king's sword couldn't destroy the itan, no blade would.
"Take him to the furnace. He burns. One cannot be recharged from ashes."
Never before in anyone's memory had the furnace actually been used on a person. Yet it was always reserved for those prisoners especially powerful who could not be executed by normal means.
Once word got around that the itan had survived Goujun's blow and attacked the Merciful Goddess, those who hadn't been interested certainly paid attention now. The guard surrounding the heretic child had to be doubled as more and more gods fought to get a glimpse of him.
Together, Kanzeon and the Emperor waited for the furnace to be stoked. She with angry, tightened fists, and he with calm patience.
"He has suffered enough," the Merciful Goddess argued. "Let the child go."
"Anything powerful enough to resist the Western Dragon's sword is too dangerous to be allowed to live. The demon dies, Kuanyin." He glared at her for once again defying him in the matter.
"When Konzen returns home and learns of this…"
"When he returns? Kuanyin-sama, you know very well that he is far too headstrong to ever reach enlightenment as a mortal. It is likely that his spirit will simply wither and die like his mother's."
Her lavender eyes narrowed at his scorn for her rebellious sister.
The Jade Emperor failed to see this as he was continuing with his thought. "And if he ever does return, he shall be a wiser god for it and will understand why I've done what I've done."
"When my nephew returns, and he discovers what has happened here today, Buddha himself won't be able to stop him from taking it out of your hide." Her voice was low as she growled at him, such that only the Emperor himself could hear her insubordinate words.
"My dear Kuanyin, you exaggerate. My word is final; do not push me further."
By the time the furnace was stoked, young Goku had awoken from his deep sleep. He'd opened his pale golden eyes to see guards all around his prison cell. Frightened and hungry, the little itan struggled against his restraints.
"What's going on?" he asked the closest guard.
There was no reply. Not even the slightest hint he'd been heard.
"Hey!" Goku tried again. "Didn't you hear me?"
"I'm hungry! I want some food! I'm talking to you! Hey, listen to me!"
When he was finally taken to the furnace chambers, the little demon had worked himself to quite a fervor. He could never stand being ignored, even when it was his Master doing it. So he wailed to whoever might listen and pay him some attention. He wanted Konzen. Konzen would never have let Goku cry for so long. Or Ten-chan or Ken-onii-chan.
"What is all that commotion?" the Jade Emperor cried as they waited for the heretic to be brought forth.
Kanzeon Bosatsu glowered in her seat. Commotion he called it? All she heard was a child crying.
Commander Goujun stood to the side of the furnace, overseeing the men but not actually taking part this time. He too heard Goku's loud complaining and crying as the itan was brought forth. There was no movement of his that could betray his disgust. None that anyone could recognize anyway. Kenren would have probably picked up on the slight narrowing of slitted ruby eyes, but the irritating general was long dead.
When Goku was standing in front of the furnace's door, the child looked up at the dragon king. "Goujun-san," he whimpered, swaying on his feet. "What's going on?" He tried to take a step forward toward him but the Commander took one back.
The dragon king was looking at him now like all the others had. Why did they all look at him like that? Even oba-chan would not come to him when he called. What did he do wrong?
With a nod from the Emperor, one of the guards bent down to the child. With a mighty shove, the unsuspecting child was pushed into the furnace, its doors shutting behind him. For a moment, he barely registered what had just happened, but the meaning became all too clear as the fire was given more life from outside.
Smoke was everywhere, clouding his vision and making his nose feel hot and stifled. He couldn't breathe, couldn't see. And everywhere was like touching a hot branding iron. Once, not long after he'd been brought to Heaven, he'd burnt himself on one of Konzen's candles. The fire had been so pretty, so like his Master's soft golden hair, and he wanted to know if it felt as soft as it looked. The young child had cried long and loud, cried until the god treated the wound and wrapped it. His Master had been gentle then, calm and comforting even as he berated him for his foolishness. But the pain he had felt then was minute and brief compared to what he was feeling now.
He was burning alive, and he was feeling every last second of it.
Not even the thick clay walls could muffle the shrieks and howls completely. Even those among the witnesses who had hated the demon child could not listen without wincing. Goujun shut his eyes and turned away, growing tense. Kanzeon had a delicate hand covering her mouth, trembling slightly. Few things could make the goddess react so strongly having seen and done much in her long existence. However even Jiroushin could see the tears shimmering in deep lavender eyes.
The only one not moved by the tortured screams was the Emperor himself. He sat as still as the jade in his title, for all the world acting like he was hearing nothing.
"Why isn't it stopping?" Jiroushin whispered to himself after a few minutes when the cries did not stop. "How is he still alive?"
Kanzeon turned to her companion standing at her side, still trembling. "He is a child of Earth, of course he could not be killed so quickly." Her gaze moved back to the furnace as new cries for Konzen arose from it. He screamed for his Master, for his big brother and then for his friend. For his oba-chan, for the dragon king, for anyone who might listen to him. Whatever he had done he was sorry, just please please let him out!
"Stop this," she pleaded to the Emperor. "Your Majesty, please!"
Were the situation not what it was, he might have been surprised or amused at the proud Bodhisattva reduced to pleas. As it was, he was neither. Yes he had ordered this and he would not back down from it. But he took no pleasure in the torture of creatures, even foul evil creatures such as the one in the furnace. "If you cannot listen, Kuanyin-sama" he replied calmly. "You may be excused."
Just as she was about to respond, a new sound came from within. It was pounding, desperate pounding on the side of the furnace. He was trying to get out. Silently, Kanzeon wished he would. She wished he would escape and take righteous revenge on those who would have him die. Those fools deserved to die by the child's claws.
As though hearing her wish, miraculously, cracks appeared in the clay.
"This is impossible!" the Emperor cried, seeing this as well. "No creature is strong enough to break through those walls!"
"And no creature can survive the dragon king's sword," she hissed, tears of sorrow becoming those of triumph. Come on, kiddo. Just a little further…
With one final blow, the walls of the chamber cracked and a large lump collapsed to the floor outside. He did not move very much at first, just whimpering and sobbing in a huddled burnt ball. His skin was black and bleeding badly. His hair was not completely burnt off, but it was very near to it. His clothes all but destroyed.
No one moved toward him, all eyes fixed on the quivering lump in the center. As they watched, flakes of burnt skin floated to the ground… uncovering healthy pink skin.
Within a few minutes, in the span of time it took for those assembled to gather their wits, Goku's trembling had stopped. He took a moment to gather his own thoughts before raising his head.
Kanzeon half expected to see the unforgiving eyes of the suppressed demon again, thirsting for revenge. Revenge she knew he deserved.
What they saw, however, was not the furious monkey king plucked from earth. No, his eyes held only a childish innocence and fear. He was hurt, nearly killed not once, but twice. The child knew he must have done wrong, but he didn't know what that wrong had been nor how to make amends.
The goddess saw the Emperor at her side sit up straighter as he stared, unbelieving, at the crouched heretic. That was it, this stopped.
"Majesty," she heard herself say before a plan even formed in her mind. "It seems your plan to kill the child has failed."
He sent her a dark glare at the obvious statement. "Your point, Kuanyin?"
"He cannot be killed, or at least not by you. You can't get rid of him like this."
"Then what would you suggest, Lady?" he demanded through grated teeth. He knew very well of his failure and needed no reminder. Least of all in public.
"Give him to me." Her lips formed a small smile. "Relinquish your rights to him and I will dispose of the heretic myself."
"How will I know you won't just keep it like your nephew did, Kuanyin?" the Jade Emperor demanded suspiciously. Well, at least he hadn't refused outright.
"I give you my word as a Bodhisattva," she answered grimly. "I'll make it so he won't be giving you any more trouble, or," she nodded to the furnace, "embarrassment."
With a resigned sigh the Emperor nodded and waved his hand to the smug goddess. "Then get him out of my sight."
Triumphant at last, Kanzeon Bosatsu stood up smoothly, Jiroushin at her side. She stepped off the platform and down the stairs to the child on the floor. One hand on her thigh, the other offered out to Goku, she spoke for his ears alone. "Come, little one. You've been punished enough."
Turning his pained golden eyes to the dark motherly goddess, Goku accepted her hand. He still had no comprehension of what he'd done that was so terrible, but she was the end of it. She didn't lie, not to him, and she said it was over.
She led the little one at her side across the room and sat him in one of her large futons. More flakes fell from his skin and fell to the floor, and he sighed wearily. It seemed regenerating oneself took a lot of energy.
Taking a vase from a shelf, the Bodhisattva walked to the lily pond just outside. She spared half a glance to the former war prince, still lost in his vegetative state, and returned to Goku's side. Plans ran through her mind and each were quickly dismissed as lost causes. There had to be a way to get the itan to safety without invoking the Emperor's anger. While he was having trouble killing the child, he could still make existence miserable for him.
The best place for Goku is with her nephew. Konzen griped about him often, and seldom had patience for his antics, but at least the child was safe with him. Yes… Konzen would be perfect. But he was gone now, reincarnated into a baby girl in the royal family of a Mongolian tribe. It would be a long time yet before he would be able to take responsibility for the child of Earth.
He couldn't claim Goku now for many more incarnations, but there had to be a way to place the itan aside until he was ready.
Kanzeon Bosatsu smiled down at the unhappy boy as she cleaned his face. The cloth she used was soft and hopefully wouldn't irritate his skin as it grew back. Already the scent of burnt flesh and hair was fading, and his hair appeared to be nearing its normal length. "How would you like to go to Earth?"
"Earth?" he looked up, for the first time showing awareness again. "That's where Konzen is! And Ten-chan and Ken-nii-chan!" His eyes gleamed brightly, and she knew he would someday heal from this terrible experience. Was it her or did his eyes shine brighter than normal?
"Indeed," she nodded, unable to tear her gaze away. Near the center, the gold darkened into a near ruby; a color she was positive hadn't been there before. The goddess couldn't say she was surprised… the fires used to burn the itan were no normal fires. One could only guess the lasting effects this experience would leave. What gifts he may have been bestowed for surviving.
"Can we go now, oba-chan?" he lightly tugged on her robes.
IT was just as well that he wanted to go. The Jade Emperor would want him gone as quickly as possible. No doubt he suspected a trick of some kind from the Bodhisattva.
"Yes, little one. As soon as you're feeling better, we can go."
"I'm better!" If he'd had a tail, it would be wagging. Immortal though he seemed to be, Kanzeon Bosatsu doubted he felt perfectly healthy again. It would have taken a lot of power to regenerate all that he'd had, even for a son of Earth.
"Well…" she paused and weighed options. There truly was no benefit to putting it off. "Very well. Come with me, kiddo."
He fairly beamed now, alive with the promise of being reunited with his Master and friends. At last he would be free from this place and its cruel inhabitants. Just wait until Ken-nii-chan heard about what had happened to him; he'd probably beat them all up! And Konzen would scold him for getting into trouble before letting him curl up in his robes while Ten-chan told him stories. He would take that on Earth than any so-called Heaven up here.
The little heretic stayed close to the goddess when they started for the Gate. He caught the scent of the ever-present Jiroushin, but didn't turn to look at him, so focused was he on reaching Earth. Where would she take him to see Konzen and the others? He barely remembered his life on Earth, it was buried beneath the diadem on his forehead. Perhaps she would take him to the forests. Or maybe a village where Nataku told him humans lived.
The three passed through the Gate, the goddess calling out their destination. They descended to a mountaintop, not unlike the one that bore a large stone egg fertilized by the earth itself. But this was not that mountain. Goku's mother sat many li away to the West.
"Where are we, oba-chan?" he asked with a tug to her robe. "Where's Konzen?"
"My nephew is not yet ready to see you," she said, kneeling to face him at eye level.
"I don't understand…" some of the bright joy seeped from ruby-golden eyes. "When can I see him?"
"When he hears you call and comes to find you. You know how stubborn he is, Goku, so you need to be patient. Can you wait here for him?" She brushed some hair from those beautiful eyes.
"Good. I want you to keep calling for him, even after you forget who he is or why you're calling."
The little youkai scoffed at that. "I won't ever forget Konzen!"
She smiled wryly and nodded. "Good… and don't stop calling. He will come when he hears you."
He nodded, eye set stubbornly, and she knew she could count on him.
Jiroushin came back, Goku hadn't even realized he'd left, and nodded to the Bodhisattva. Before Goku could voice his next question, his eyes drooped and his body slumped forward.
The goddess scooped up the charmed child and carried him to a small hollow that her guard had discovered. Brushing her hand over the boy's face, she made sure to lock away every memory he had of Heaven and what had happened up there. The only things she left him were the flash of hair as golden as the Sun, a mischievous laugh, and a gentle smile. He would remember his task even when he was unable to remember it, and he would call without knowing who he was calling for. It might not have been the right path to take, but as she saw it, it was the only path left to her. When he was ready, her nephew would come to collect his little charge, but until then, Goku would be kept safe here, far from the Jade Emperor's anger or the brutality of Time. The heretic couldn't be killed, but he could be reborn. They couldn't burn him away, but they could lock him up to keep him and the gods safe from each other.
Kanzeon Bosatsu stood up and the stone separated her from the sleeping boy with long bars. "Come, Jiroushin. He'll be fine now."
"Bosatsu…" he stopped and shook his head, following his mistress. The Bodhisattva was the patron of love, mercy, and children… but no one ever said she was conventional about it. He knew she would take far too much delight when Konzen's reincarnation discovered the imprisoned itan. So for all of Heaven and Earth's sake, he hoped Goku wouldn't call too loudly.