Chapter 24:

Into the Dragon's Den

This chapter is brought to you by DarkVoid116, Kanotari, and Dying Grin

They blasted through the windy sky, aimlessly searching for the Dragon Balls, before settling down on a rocky plateau to discuss the plan.

"Thank Kami we're out of that wind," Wren muttered. "It was impossible to talk in it."

She received a grunt in response from her partner, Tavo. "Damn Carth," she continued, "they could be anywhere on the planet. We could spend the rest of our lives searching and never find one."

She paused momentarily, a thought striking her. How had they not remembered?

"Tao." The one word was enough to make Tavo's head snap up. "He may know."

Wren stood up, dusting the dirt from her legs and grinned. "Last I heard he was extorting someplace called Aru village, let's go."

She blasted off from the rocky plateau, leaving a sizeable crater behind, Tavo right on her heels.

They flew through the air for awhile before she spoke again. "I don't know where exactly the village is, besides the fact it's near the 429 Mountain Area but it's pretty much the only village around not part of the Ox-King's kingdom. It should be a piece of cake."

Tavo grunted and muttered a rare, "Yeah."

"Apparently," the girl began after another minute or two of silence, "some guy called Goku is a sore topic for him. Not sure if there's any truth to it, but let's be careful anyway."

Tavo grunted, opting not to speak like usual.

The rest of the flight was spent in silence but they soon spotted Aru village, or rather it's burned-out shell. The only building not blackened and crumbling was a grand mansion overlooking the village on a nearby hill. "One hundred bucks says he's in the mansion."

Tavo shook his head. "I don't bet when I know I'll lose."

Together they walked down the well worn village path. They could feel eyes on them but when they looked they saw nothing. Something had the locals spooked, badly.

Wren stopped and sighed. "I don't want to walk, and he surely has anti-air defences. Tavo, just fire a flare through a window or something to grab his attention."

Tavo complied, lifting the sniper rifle from his bag and loading a special bullet in it before taking aim. The flare hit its mark, smashing through the large ornate dining room window. Red smoke poured out, shrouding the inside of the room.

Tavo left the path and leaned against a nearby wall. Wren opted to stay on the path, awaiting Tao's imminent arrival.

"Why must you request an audience in such a barbaric way?" The voice was cold and clipped and it came from above her.

She craned her head up, and saw the shape of a man standing on the church roof silhouetted against the moon.

"Tao," she called upwards, recognizing the mercenary. "We need to know how to find the Dragon Balls."

Silence, tense silence, followed before he reached into his robes. "Catch," he murmured, throwing an old VHS tape toward her.

She caught it midair, and squinted to make out its title in the dark. "21st WMAT," she muttered thoughtfully. "Whatever that is..."

"The fighters that use ki," Tao called from above her. "Those are the ones you're looking for."

When Wren looked up to thank him he was already gone. "Crazy old geezer," she muttered under her breath.

They walked to the nearest house and Tavo kicked in the door, a shrill scream greeted the action.

Tavo, in one fluid motion, grabbed the woman before she could strike him with the meat cleaver and pinned her to the ground.

The woman sobbed and struggled weakly, but was unable to break out of Tavo's iron grip. Wren crouched down to see the woman's tearful face and spoke in a quiet voice, like one would use to soothe a scared animal. "What's your name?"

The young woman was silent for a moment but a squeeze from Tavo made her speak, "Pochawompa. My name is Pochawompa."

"Well then Pochawompa," Wren said with a pleasant smile. "My associate and I just need to use your video player, okay?"

Pochawompa nodded, tears streaming down her face. Wren walked into the living room and inserted the tape into the woman's video player while Tavo bound and gagged the girl.

Wren sat down on the springy couch, Tavo joining here a few seconds later, and watched as the ancient tape began to play.

Yamcha's black eyes snapped open, shaking off his hangover. He had heard something in the apartment.

Soundlessly, he kicked off the duvet and slipped on his shoes. He rose to full height, alert and listening for more sounds.

After a few tense seconds with nothing to show for them, Yamcha was about to go back to bed when he heard something: the sound of shoes on wooden planks. The only room in the apartment that had a wooden planked floor was the living room. He was wearing a pair of white pyjama pants and was shirtless. Not exactly fighting gear.

Another sound. The ex-bandit took a deep breath before stepping into the hallway. The second door on the right led to the living room, the door was ajar as was the front door. He entered the living room and opened his mouth, but his words died in his throat. A goddess stood across from him.

She had smooth, silky, pale skin and wore a skirt and shirt that left little to the imagination. She had fiery red hair, which was tied back in a sloppy ponytail. Her eyes were a kaleidoscope of colours, but seemed to settle on a mesmerising shade of forest green.

His visitor rested her hands on her hips, smirking. That's when he noticed her deadliest assets, two wicked looking daggers strapped to each of her thighs. He dropped into a distinctive stance, sighing, "Not another crazy fan!"

She continued to smirk, a deadly gleam in her eyes. "Desert Bandit Yamcha, batter for the Taitans... and of course protector of Earth during the Saiyan invasion."

The woman's words hung in the air like storm clouds, and Yamcha's arrogance dimmed and withered like a dying flower. Anybody who knew of the planets protectors' wasn't your Average Joe. He growled softly. Puar was asleep a few rooms away, but it seemed that the woman thought they were alone. He planned on keeping it that way.

Suddenly her whole demeanour changed. Her lips parted into the silly smile of a girl in love as she threw herself at him. The redhead ran her hands over his abs and giggled, "I'm your biggest fan, silly!"

He relaxed again, his cheeks red from embarrassment. He was just being paranoid. Crazy fans had broken into his home before, but none had known of the Z-Fighters. She must be a conspiracy theorist to boot, probably completely nuts... though he wouldn't say no to a fling. With a smirk, he pulled her closer and brushed his lips against hers, his five o'clock shadow scratching her chin.

The pleasant moment was abruptly shattered when she kicked him in the balls. His eyes bugged out of his head and a small whimper escaped his throat. He raised a quivering hand, trying to shield himself as she casually pulled out one of her serrated daggers. The former Z-Fighter could only watch as she smiled victoriously and sank the blade deep into his gut.

"Fuck," he gasped, as paroxysms of pain swept through his body. He forced his shaking hands to clench into fists as she pushed the dagger in further and further, laughing her cute little laugh as she did so. The dark-haired warrior saw her eyes close for a split second and he seized the opportunity.

"Wolf Fang Fist!"

His hands smashed into her body again and again, nearly disappearing from view as they picked up momentum. The mysterious woman cried out and fell back under the continuous assault of his fists, until at last she hit the floor with a grunt of pain.

Yamcha's breath was uneven and ragged, and he could feel the blood trickling down his chest from where the dagger still protruded from his flesh. He was so out of it that he failed to notice the red dot hovering over his left kneecap until the shot was fired from the apartment complex across the street.


Bone and blood flew out from his busted kneecap, as he fell to the ground. His head spinned and his vision was distorted by the pain.

He made out that the woman had risen to her feet and, after ripping her dagger from his chest, had answered her ringing phone. It was probably the sniper who had shot him. He couldn't make out what the other person was saying, but it was the woman's response that set alarm bells off in his head.

"Another heat-signature in the apartment?" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes and making an exaggerated face of surprise, "Golly gee, I'll get right on it."

"Puar," he thought, drifting in and out of consciousness. He could make out the woman twirling both daggers in her fingers as she began to slowly walk towards the hall door. His lifelong friend was going to die in his sleep, feeling safe and sound, knowing that his best buddy was there to protect him. Puar had told him once that was why he could sleep so soundly anywhere; he trusted Yamcha with his own life.

The mental image of his old friend waking up and screaming as the daggers ripped through his fur and skin raced through his mind. Newfound rage bubbled through his veins, giving him the energy and vigour to stand.

"Fuck that!" he roared at the top of his lungs. The woman whirled around in shock, daggers raised. Yamcha poured some ki into his right hand, anticipating the next bullet. He was right.

The sniper fired once again but this time Yamcha raised his hand swiftly to intercept it. His ki melted the piece of fast moving metal just before it tore through his hand.

The woman's eyes widened in shock and she took a step back. That small moment of hesitation was all that was needed for his confidence to grow. He clenched his fists and roared to the heavens above, "You won't touch a hair on his head!"

The former bandit whirled around and threw a ki blast at the windowsill, causing the wall to come crumbling down and blocking the sniper's view of his target. He was running on pure adrenaline now, and he was sure that if he looked at either his knee or his chest, he would falter.

Yamcha grinned savagely at her shocked face. "It's nothing personal, babe."

She growled and dashed towards him, her daggers raised. He adopted an offensive position and announced, "I'm going to finish this in one hit. Blinding Wolf Fang Fist!"

She yelled in response as they clashed. Each had too much at stake to lose.

Blood flowed into his eyes and he staggered backwards, she had cut his forehead open. He tried to wipe it away with his arm but it only spread it around more. He cursed as he listened; his attacker moved silently.

The sniper's next shot came from nowhere, blindsiding him.

Pain swept through him, making his body spasm. His knees buckled underneath him. Blood erupted from his mouth.

Darkness rushed to greet him as he landed on his back.

"Wake up buddy," the familiar voice of Krillin instructed him gently.

Every nerve ending in his body was screaming in pain. He tried to speak but failed, his throat dry. Then he noticed the limp form of his assailant. The redhead was slumped in a corner, blood dripping from the corners of her mouth. Had he done that?

"I found you unconscious," Krillin explained. "She was like that. What happened? Who is she?"

He finally managed to speak, "Puar?"

Krillin shook his head. "Gone."

Yamcha banged his fist against the wooden floor weakly, knowing that he had truly lost. Puar must have been taken by the sniper. Tears prickled in the corner of his eyes.

"Yamcha! Focus," Krillin reprimanded him. "I checked the woman and she is alive... barely."

Yamcha struggled to raise his head for a better view. Krillin was right. Blood oozed from a wicked gash on her forehead. Her skull must be fractured. He was amazed that she was still breathing.

"If we hurry," the monk continued, "we can heal her at Korin's Tower and you can interrogate her."

"What about you?" Yamcha croaked out.

"Tien and Chiaotzu are still in the dark," Krillin explained.

Without any further ado, Krillin hoisted Yamcha over one shoulder, then walked over to the unconscious woman and hoisted her over his other shoulder.

He ran out the door, being careful to avoid any other residents, and then onto the street. The former monk checked one last time that the woman was secured before shooting off into the air.

"The universe must hate me," Videl sighed as she stared up at the peak of the mountain, shielding her eyes from the sun. "Are you sure that radar is right?" It was just her luck. The first Dragon Ball would be buried under heaps of leaves in the middle of a freaking dinosaur's nest perched on top of a cliff.

"We'll find out, won't we dollface?" Carth replied, sparing one last glance at the glowing green screen in his hand. Sure enough, the blinking indicator pointed right to the top of the mountain. "Get up there," he barked.

With a heavy sigh, just to remind Carth that she loathed him, Videl took to the air. A faint smile tugged at the corners of her lips. At least there was one plus side to her transformation: flying was easier. She did a graceful backflip, reveling in the feel of the wind around her.

"You've had your fun," her boss called from below. "Now get going!"

She nodded and blasted off into the sky, racing for the rocky peak. The cloudless sky was practically begging her to fly faster, and so she obliged. The sun warmed her face as she grew ever closer. It felt so pleasant, so...

A shadow passed over face, sending shivers down her spine. She glanced upward, and sure enough, there wasn't a cloud in the sky... still. She looked around wildly. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

The problem made itself evident when massive claws wrapped themselves about her arms. Videl's eyes snapped upward, where she saw a wall of beige leading to a muscled teal neck topped off with the vicious snapping jaws of a very angry pterodactyl. Her father had told her tales of beasts like this when she was just a little girl, not that she had believed them. She thought they were just another fairy tale, another myth told by adults to make their children behave. As she stared into the creature's red and yellow eyes, she realized exactly how wrong she had been.

The creature uttered a guttural shriek before spreading its teal wings wide and ascending into the sky. She could see their destination up ahead: the dino's nest. Each flap of its feathered appendages took her closer and closer. Videl couldn't help but remember the people her father's stories. They fought valiantly, but in the end, their fates were all the same. A chill ran down her spine as she realized that now it was her turn to be ripped to shreds and fed to the pterodactyl's demon spawn. She closed her eyes, trying not to think of the searing pain that was about to come.

Videl wondered if she should fight back. A chill ran down her spine as she remembered that even the slightest injury might break her concentration and send her hurtling down to Earth. On the other hand, she could be vivisected by the bird-like monster's razor-sharp talons...

Videl made the decision almost instantaneously. She lashed out with her feet, kicking at the dinosaur's clawed feet, while writhing from side to side in an attempt to free her arms. The creature's talons ripped into her flesh, holding on to its slipping prey. The bird let out a squawk as her boot connected with its stomach. Its grip loosened ever so slightly, but that was all Videl needed. With a burst of strength, she ripped one arm free. She then threw all of her weight onto the bony foot that still held her other arm. Her fingers dug into the beast's flesh, trying to pry its talons off her, but it was no use. The pterodactyl was far stronger than her, and she dared not use too much ki; she would never be able to survive the fall.

Suddenly, the beast's claws opened and Videl found herself plunging toward the ground. She wondered why it had dropped her, but forced herself to worry about it later. Instead, she closed her eyes and tried to remember everything Gohan had ever taught her about ki. She could hear his voice telling her, "completely relax your mind."

Relax? She wanted to scream, but what use was that. Videl took a deep breath and did her very best. As her mind approached Nirvana, she became aware of the tension in her muscles, her rapid breathing, and the blood pouring from her lacerated arms, but she also could feel her center, her essence. It was from there that she drew her power, from there that she began to call on her ki to save her.

Her back connected with something solid, and she reeled in pain.

"Nice of you to drop in, Sunshine," the obstacle teased. "I was just introducing our avian friend to my fist."

"Carth," Videl realized dryly. He had caught her, saved her. Boy, that was backwards.

"I see you met Mr. Pterodactyl," he observed.

Videl rolled her eyes as she shoved Carth away, taking flight herself. Sure, now it was easy.

"Classy fellow, isn't he?" Carth remarked as they descended to the ground. "Excellent host."

"Let's just get back up there before he decides to serve hors d'oeuvres," Videl sighed.

"We'll have to get past security first," Carth agreed. "That ought to be fun, won't it, peach?"

She knew just what he meant. Flying was out of the question if they wanted to remain undetected, and she for one wasn't eager for Round 2 with the oversized bird.

Videl glanced upward, noting the steep cliff that stood between her and the Dragon Ball. After a day of running through the mountains, her body ached. Despite her muscles' screams of protest, she wrapped her fingers around the jagged rocks and began the ascent, just as Carth commanded. Stealth was paramount now that they knew what they were up against. For several minutes, she climbed soundlessly next to her fellow android, but the pain just grew worse and worse. As she reached for the next handhold, she realized why. Her fingers were bleeding from the coarse rock.

"I should have brought the simpletons with me," Carth muttered under his breath. Videl could see the blood caked underneath his fingernails. It was good to know that he was suffering too, even if it didn't take away her own pain.

Refocusing her attention to the daunting task at hand, she continued climbing. The edge of that intimidating pterodactyl's nest was emerging into view. What the hell was that thing, anyway? None of her senseis ever taught her how to defend herself from fifteen-foot tall flying monsters where she was from! Even if her father had relayed the tale of Mount Paozu pterodactyls when she was a kid, it still hardly prepared oneself to actually face down a creature of that stature. If it weren't for Gohan's teachings, she would've been completely defenseless.

Come to think of it, she was might be somewhat near Gohan's house. The area looked vaguely familiar to her. Videl allowed the newly formed stray thoughts of her former friend, and what she'd been forced to do and say to him, to distract herself from the nagging pain eating away at her fingertips.

"Don't die on me, pet," Carth panted in between breaths. Videl snapped out of her reverie and realized the android was a full body's length above her.

Steeling her resolve, she pushed her body to its limits and exerted even more effort, slowly closing the gap between her and her kidnapper. If she had to put up with His Most Exalted Assholeness, the least she could do was to put him to shame. Plus, he still owed her answers!

"If we're going to have to tolerate one another's presence," she began, "could you at least tell me why you lied to Coco about the Dragon Balls?"

He laughed. "The same reason I don't play poker with my hand face up. Secrets keep me in the game."

"Poker, he says," Videl grumbled under her breath. "I ask you about information that could keep me alive and you respond with a joke?!" she screamed, unleashing all of her mounting frustration. From that infuriating prehistoric artifact to her increasingly bleak situation, nothing was going her way these days.

"Are you trying to bring the bird swooping down on us?" the android hissed.

Videl's eyes widened as she realized her mistake, remembering why they were climbing this accursed rock in the first place. "Oh," she whispered. "Sorry."

"Besides," Carth sighed, returning to their earlier conversation, "if I was joking, I'd be laughing. Never let Coco hold all the cards."

Understanding flashed across Videl's features. He wasn't intentionally trying to fuck with her mind; he was just using an analogy to convey his answer. "So what's your Ace of Spades?" she asked, playing his game.

He raised an eyebrow and gestured to the top of the cliff with a bloody hand, as if to say, 'What do you think we're doing this for?'

She felt like a moron now. His master plan couldn't be more obvious. "What are you going to use them for?" she ventured to ask, holding her voice steady. Although a little nervous for his reply, she needed to know what Gohan and his friends would be up against in the end. If someone miraculously managed to rescue her from this hellish nightmare, at least she could relay some intel. Plus, her curiosity needed to be sated.

"That would be telling, darling. Remember our little chat about secrets?"

Videl glared daggers at her mechanical boss. "I remember your sad attempt to mock me with a joke about playing poker, if that's what you're referring to."

"It wasn't a- never mind," he sighed. "I'm going to use them for a juggling act in my new travelling circus. What do you think I'm going to wish for, genius? I thought you were smarter than that."

"Wish for? W-what?" Videl sputtered. Then she began laughing. "Oh, now I know you're joking! What, is a magical blue giant genie going to explode from a golden lamp and request your wish?"

He regarded her carefully for a moment. "You really don't know, do you?" he asked with no trace of sarcasm. "You have no idea what we're gathering."

"Oh, so there is a purpose? I just figured Coco's grasp on your balls was too tight so you needed replacements."

"Here I am, handing you the Ace of Spades, and you think I'm joking," he laughed before sparing a glance toward the peak; it wouldn't be long now.

Before she responded, Videl followed the movement of his eyes, taking note that they were soon going to have to deal with the pterodactyl again. "Let's say I believe you, for argument's sake. What then? Are you gonna get your own blow-up mannequin for when you grow tired of me?"

"Whatever I want, doll. Money, power, immortality... a pair of earplugs so I don't have to hear your incessant whining. The usual."

"Those earplugs better come in a package. So how do these things work? Humor me, since you're forcing me to confront Smiley up there?"

"Well when a mommy dragon and a daddy dragon love each other very much... oh you didn't mean those Dragon Balls."

"Oh, so you've seen dragons having sex. That explains why you're so standoffish. I understand now," Videl quipped back.

"I've already given you the Ace of Spades. You know what the Dragon Balls do. I'm sure as hell not giving you a royal flush and letting you know that much, no matter how pretty your poker face is."

Swallowing her revulsion at the 'pretty' comment, Videl thought about taking another approach to cracking the Carth code. "Look at it this way: if I help you find these orange balls, I'm going to find out eventually anyway. If you don't tell me now, I'll just keep whining. So just tell me. Your move."

"Tell you what, doll face. I'll give you a hands on demonstration when you give me the last Dragon Ball."

"I'm not much of a hands on learner, unfortunately. I like to have information told to me up front," Videl countered. Quickly assessing how close they were to that avian albatross, she realized there were only five minutes worth of climbing from the peak of the mountain.

He held a finger up to his lips, then pointed upwards. "Rustling," he murmured, almost inaudibly.

Inclining her head up towards the next, Videl heard what Carth was referencing. It appeared that the Dragon Ball's pesky bodyguard was moving around, causing a small ruckus. "I get it," she hissed quietly to her captor. "However, don't think we're done talking about Coco's stranglehold on your nuts." Satisfied that she'd won that particular conversation, she refocused her attention on acquiring that orange sphere.

As the duo quickly approached the apex of the mountain, all conversation had ceased. Only now did Videl remember the overwhelming pain coursing through her limbs. Free from the distraction of witty banter, her body's protests were hard to miss. She grasped a rock and hoisted herself up another foot, listening to Carth's labored breaths trailing just behind her. Just yards above her, green leaves poked off the edge of the nest. They were finally there.

As two heads poked above the grassy expanse, the giant teal dinosaur could be seen relaxing, its wings harmlessly flapping. It hardly resembled the beast that'd mercilessly attacked her earlier.

Out of the corner of her eye, a bright orange sparkle steered her attention away from the menace in the furnace. It even had a single star on its surface. She held her tongue for now, inquisitively glancing towards Carth.

Now that they had a clean path to the Dragon Ball and the element of surprise, her captor seemed to be throwing caution to the wolves. It all happened too fast for her to react. The android who'd previously been at her side was streaking through the air, staying low to the ground. Within seconds, the one-star Dragon Ball was firmly within his grasp.

Everything would've been perfect, except Carth's little display of speed inadvertently drew the attention of their teal friend. Carth was prepared this time, though. Before Videl could shout her protest, she saw the android warrior. With the orange sphere in hand, he unleashed a concentrated charge of ki point blank into the dinosaur's chest.

As quick as it has happened, two loud screams rang through the forest, in succession. The first was easily identified as their prehistoric buddy's pained, tortuous cries.

The second, however, made Videl's blood freeze over.


He heard his former mentor's pleas fully well as he raced across the skies, but simply did not care. His friend, a person who he had trusted, had the Dragon Radar and apparently evil intentions. Sure, he now knew Carth had transformed her being into a mechanical abomination, but that did very little to lessen the pain he was experiencing.

First things first, Gohan needed to acquire a Dragon Ball. If he could get his hands on at least one orange sphere, RabitGrass couldn't enact their evil plans.

Relaxing, the Saiyan allowed his energy to flow throughout his body uninhibited. He summoned the necessary amount of ki, then transformed into the first stage of Super Saiyan. Immediately, a distinguishable amount of distance began to grow between Piccolo and himself. While the Namekian was able to keep up with him in his base form, the enhanced speed of this powered-up mode was simply too much. Gohan could only hope his friend wouldn't be able to tell where he was headed. The last thing he wanted were visitors, especially at this place, of all places.

As he continued his beeline across the evening sky, mountains and hillsides flashed across his peripheral vision. Eventually, he came to a stop above his old home. He hadn't known back then, since he flew off the handle as soon as the blast went through his mother's stomach, but his group of friends had decided the safest way to protect the Dragon Balls would be to place two of them in locations they themselves knew about. Hoarding all of the balls would be a bad plan, but distributing the risk a little seemed like a nice idea.

Bulma had spearheaded the movement among their circle of friends to honor his mother's memory but putting a Dragon Ball with her in the grave.

As he landed on the soft grass out by Mount Paozu, his aura flickering wildly, his emotions began to overcome him. He remembered spending time with Videl in this house, taking her after that debacle as Saiya in Satan City. He remembered the feeling of helplessness when a bullet struck his newfound younger brother. Most of all, he remembered the seven years of rage and despair that followed his mother's assassination.

If Piccolo knew his intentions - and considering he'd blasted off wordlessly after hearing about a stolen Dragon Radar, he probably did - then he didn't have much time before his ex-mentor arrived.

No doubt, a conversation about morality would ensue from there. It was ironic, really; the demonic spawn of the creature that terrorized the world for years lecturing the son of Earth's greatest hero on ethics and morality. Still though, in light of Dr. Brief' death at his hands and his uncontrollable temper, it probably wasn't the worst idea to make sure he was calm before acting. He always remembered Piccolo's lectures on thinking with his head on straight back when the Namekian was a more consistent figurehead in his life. He dwelled on his thoughts for a few more minutes before he heard the sound of another being touching down on the soft grass nearby.


It was a simply acknowledgment of his presence from the warrior, but it at least kept their meeting from being overly awkward.

"Piccolo," the Super Saiyan greeted tersely. "Come to lecture me? I'm not in the mood. For all we know, Videl and her puppetmaster have already rounded up the other five Dragon Balls. I've stopped underestimating their abilities." It was true. He'd underestimated the strength - both in number and power per individual - of RabitGrass' forces back when they first invaded Capsule Corp. He also failed to protect Goten, thinking nothing could hurt his little Saiyan companion. Heck... his mother, grandfather, Videl, Goten, Dr. Brief... This organization was turning their entire clique against one another.

"I'm not here to lecture you, Kid. I just want to make sure your head is clear. If you still want to crush Carth's bones after our little walk, then by all means, go ahead."

That caught Gohan by surprise. The former guardian of this planet giving his blessing for seemingly unnecessary violence?

"There's more," Piccolo continued, throwing Gohan for a mini-loop.

'I should have guessed.'

"Videl somehow managed to incapacitate Vegeta and wound him very badly. He's lucky to be alive, Saiyan genes included."

What? She didn't have anywhere near that sort of strength! Even accounting for a power up that Dr. Brief may have given her during the procedure, it didn't add up! Sure, she had a previous base understanding of ki, unlike Seventeen or Eighteen, but Dr. Brief also wasn't malicious like Dr. Gero. Even with all his misguided shortcomings, Gohan never once believed Dr. Brief meant to dismantle their group.

"It didn't appear to be done by strength alone, if I had to say. Just be careful, Kid."

Suddenly, Gohan felt an overbearing sense of dread well up inside of him. It was the same feeling he had whenever something bad was about to happen. The last time this sensation had ran down his spine, Goten had been shot. Even so, he couldn't prevent Bahia's shot from hitting its target. It is, however, part of what helped him save Videl when Coco's goons shot her.

Just like that, the Super Saiyan felt a familiar, nearby ki plummet to nothing, followed by a very recognizable voice screaming out in immeasurable pain.


Gohan shot off towards his old friend's nest immediately, feeling Piccolo right on his tail. The old pterodactyl's abode was scarcely two miles from his childhood home, so he got there in a matter of seconds.

When Gohan arrived, he found a horrifying scene. The creature's chest was badly burned, smoking still. His face was the picture of pure agony. There was no doubt in Gohan's mind; Toh-Toh was either dead or would be shortly. There was no saving him at this point. He had failed a friend. Again.

Sure, he hadn't played with his prehistoric friend since well before King Yemma snatched his parents away, thanks to an overgrown grasshopper and two teenage menaces stealing his attention, but his personal philosophy was 'once a friend, always a friend.'

Then another thought hit him. The whole reason for separating the Dragon Balls, but keeping two in known locations, was for this exact scenario. Someone unwanted might get a hold of a radar, but Gohan or Vegeta or someone similarly fast would be able to gather the two around Mount Paozu.

One in buried alongside Son Chi Chi.

One in Toh-toh's nest, guarded by their neighborhood watch-pterodactyl.

It all abruptly fell into place. He couldn't sense any ki signatures nearby, but this had to be the work of RabitGrass. Whether or not it was Videl's handiwork remained up for debate, but Gohan guessed it was a combined "effort" of her and her puppetmaster. Most importantly, there was a distinct lack of a bright orange sphere in his friend's nest.

Piccolo had landed behind him a minute ago, Gohan noted, but had yet to comment. He assumed that the elder man was just digesting the information as much as he was. "It's Carth's fault. I just know it."

"Take a deep breath, Gohan."

"No!" he snapped. "They have been one step ahead of us the entire time! The public demonstration Bulma told me about over the phone was probably just a ploy to get someone inside Capsule Corp. without massive suspicion. They took Toh-toh's life and the Dragon Ball. Don't you get it, Piccolo?"

The Namek frowned a little at how heated Gohan's speech had become, but the teenage warrior paid it no heed. He instead was focused on plotting.

"We need to get one step ahead of them, this time. We have an advantage they couldn't have anticipate; neither Dr. Brief nor Videl knew of the Dragon Ball hidden in my mom's grave. We're finally going to get a leg up on these bastards."

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