Even though she was still tired from the long hike, Videl's legs followed the new guy with renewed energy as she attempted to keep up with him. She wasn't exactly sure where he was leading her but for once she couldn't muster up the courage to ask him.
Something about the man rubbed her the wrong way... he wasn't physically intimidating in the slightest. He was only a couple centimetres taller than her, and she wasn't very tall to begin with. He was a very lean person, without bulging muscles like many people who were proficient in martial arts that she knew. No, it was the sleek charisma he had about him. His eyes were easily his most distinguishable feature but ignoring the icy-blue orbs, Videl had realised that every time he spoke it was in an eerily collected manner. Cool, calm, and proud - almost as though he was bragging with every word he spoke. Despite that, he didn't sound conceited in the least; he just exuded confidence.
All she knew was that they were going to gather firewood from somewhere, and whether that meant knocking trees down themselves somehow or picking and breaking apart fallen logs was anyone's guess. Yet somehow she suspected that they weren't going to buy nicely cut firewood from a shop. The forests scaling Fire Mountain were extremely dense and Videl had to zigzag her way through the maze of thick tree trunks, all the while swatting away dangerously low-hanging branches that threatened to hit her in the face. She secretly wondered if she couldn't just yank off a few here and there to take back to the camp, but the girl chose to remain silent. As they finally came to a stop, Seventeen spun on his heel and gestured to the trees around them.
"Well what are you waiting for?" he asked impatiently when she didn't move. "Cut down the trees around us."
"But they've got animals in them!" she protested as she glanced up to the various creatures and nests that were housed in several of the trees. "We can't just take their homes away from them like that."
Seventeen let out a frustrated sigh. "Did they not explain the concept of survival of the fittest to you at school, child?"
"Don't call me a child!" exclaimed Videl as she threw her hands up into the air. "I'm nineteen, you're only a year or two older than me at most."
"Heh, you'd be surprised," Seventeen chuckled slightly before his face darkened. "Now stop wasting my time and cut down these trees... or is that pretty face of yours too precious to do any work?"
"Can't we just look somewhere else? Or maybe take fallen logs instead?" asked Videl, searching for an alternative to destroying the homes of the animals.
"No," he said blandly. "Look around you, all the fallen logs are wet whereas the live ones have been protected from the rain by the leaves. Wet logs aren't good firewood especially because they make lots of smoke, so unless you want the clothes that you're wearing - the only ones you're going to have for a while - to stink with the unbearable stench of smoke, you'll do as I say."
"Gohan would find another way..." Videl muttered as she turned away from the man, still looking for other options.
"Gohan?" he asked with a bemused tone, the tiniest of smiles playing at the cyborg's lips. "Don't get me wrong sweetie, but you and I both know that Gohan is the world's biggest softy."
An infuriated grunt from Videl was the only response he got.
Night had fallen rather quickly after the senseis and their students had reached Fire Mountain, drawing the warm sun from the skies and leaving them to shiver in the cold chill that the darkness brought with it. As all the provisions that had been gathered were assembled, Krillin quickly threw the firewood that Videl and Seventeen had amassed onto a big heap, lighting the twigs and branches ablaze in a fraction of a millisecond with a simple small Ki blast. The group of martial artists quickly gathered around the fire, dropping themselves down to the dirt below, too tired to remain standing even another second longer.
Chit-chatter quickly arose and replaced the grim silence that hung in the air with the sound of talking and giggling voices. The teenagers and their teachers quickly forgot about the cold as the heat of the fire washed over them and kept them warm. With Hercule's proposed swap of senseis and pupils, all of the aspiring fighters had a reason to make small talk with their new instructors, taking the time to get to know one another.
The one boy who wanted to get to know his new sensei the most was Mark, for obvious reasons. The raven-haired teen had been wondering what was so special about the demi-Saiyan, what caused Videl to be so drawn to him and what made his father to resent him so deeply. He wasn't one to jump the gun but it tickled his curiosity.
Mark couldn't help but snicker as he thought about how his dad had always referred to Gohan, making him sound like some sort of brute that was only interested in seducing his daughter. Yet, when he and Gohan had gone out fishing to gather their meals the Satan heir hadn't seen anything that could prove that crazy theory; it was quite the contrary, really. There was nothing brutal about freeing a young deer which had been trapped under a falling log or petting the mountain lion that assailed them until it laid on its back, purring like an overgrown tomcat. From the looks of it, the head sensei of the dojo was one of the most kind-hearted people that Mark would ever have the pleasure of knowing.
He could definitely see what his sister liked so much about Gohan, that much was for sure. Even the densest of people would be able to see that the young man meant no harm in any way, not to anyone. That little glint, the little sparkle that resided in those charcoal-colored eyes told him there was more to the man than what could be seen on the surface. Gohan's position as head of the senseis and the incredible results his training produced made Mark absolutely certain that Gohan was a lot stronger that he let on.
And that's where that little glint came into play. Mark could only explain it as a glimmer of killing intent. The way those brown orbs spoke to to him told him that if this warrior ever got angry, genuinely and undeniably angry, there would be hell to pay. His eyes held a sense of ruthlessness, cloaked by a warm hazel that sparkled with joy.
All in all, Gohan was definitely a presence not to be take lightly. For one he would be the kind-hearted soul that could get anyone to smile simply by curling his lips, and to others he would be a menace if they did him wrong. This shrouded the young fighter in a sense of mystery, a feeling that lingered in the air and was impossible to ignore. Mark could certainly tell why it mesmerized him so much; the boy felt really drawn to Videl's old teacher. And, to a certain degree, frightened.
Mark could only wonder what the next few weeks of his training would look like. Judging from the few things his sister had told him, Gohan could be quite a hardass when it came to his teachings, showing no remorse or pity while you were about to collapse in fatigue. Yamcha hadn't been easy to deal with and both Sharpner and the Satan boy could still feel their muscles burning at the memories of the ex-bandit's workout routine. And while he didn't know what to expect of the slightly older man, all that Mark could think of was the incredible strength that Yamcha's training had already granted him. Who knew what he would be capable of after a few weeks as Gohan's pupil?
It would give him power unlike anything he had ever thought possible. He would be superhuman, a fighting machine, unstoppable.
If only it could give him the strength to stand up to his father...
Mark grunted and grit his teeth at the thought of Hercule. He still despised himself for selling out Videl, and his insides still turned to water every time the subject came to mind. The teenager felt grateful that nobody could properly see his features in the flickering light of the dancing flames, the pained expression on his face clearly reflecting his inner turmoils.
Just like his sister, he had been instilled with a sense of justice from a very early age, always choosing to do what was good no matter what anybody else thought. But now he was feeling conflicted, having to choose between bloodlines and wealth in the name of the family. He wanted to do what was good, but the promise of dimes by the dozen had shackled him down and held him in a suffocating grip. And it wasn't like he would be able to play both sides of the coin here. There was no way that he could tell Videl what their father was planning and get all the money that his heart desired.
So far he had only considered either choosing Videl's side or his father's, but never did the thought occur that he might be able to play both sides of the coin. Come to think of it, it only seemed like the natural thing to do, right? If both parties were conflicted and there seemed to be no end to it, there had to be a compromise. Everyone would turn out happy with the results.
He felt a soft tug at the corners of his mouth, a small smile curling his lips for the first time in what seemed like forever. His sister would be eternally grateful, promptly bombarding him as the best big brother that had ever existed. And all the while through his father would be lavishing him with wealth and power, praising him on his achievements and turning him into the richest man on the planet. It all seemed better than a dream and frankly Mark suddenly wondered why he hadn't thought of it before, it was all so obvious.
Now the only question that remained was how he was going to achieve this. He couldn't simply go and tell Videl, nor could he go to his father without any actual results.
Feeling the fatigue of the day wash over him he put the thought aside, knowing that he had more than enough time to formulate a plan the next coming days.
He cast a glance over the company gathered around the campfire. Secretly he felt sorry for the lot. Both Freed and Katie seemed like they would never amount to anything in the world of martial arts, no matter how hard they tried or who would be training them. And of course there was Sharpener, the big oaf of a blonde that always seemed to be thinking two steps ahead, leaving the Satan boy to stand in his shadow. Yet, over the course of the past few days Mark had surpassed the jock in every way, leaving him battered and bruised after each and every spar.
He felt bad for the senseis too, really. If there was one thing that didn't seem easy to the boy it would be trying to teach an old and forgotten style of martial arts, something that the public booed and called 'trickery' and 'nonsense'.
Mark's gaze lingered on the new face in the crowd, the one who had introduced himself as Seventeen. For a split second he was certain that the mysterious stranger returned the stare, causing Mark to quickly turn his head to avoid those intense blue eyes of his. There was something about this young man that unnerved the teenager more than anything, though whether it was that deep ocean-colored stare or the collected aura of conceitedness, he didn't know. Something about this 'sensei' left him with an eerie feeling, something that felt like Seventeen wasn't completely normal, no matter how preposterous the idea might sound.
Suddenly, the Satan heir was snapped out of his train of thought when Katie's high-pitched giggles filled the night sky. He jerked his head to the side and noticed how the girl softly placed a hand on Videl´s shoulder, almost as if she saw his sister as a lifelong best friend.
"Mark, how about you?" Katie said, turning her attention to the raven-haired boy, who arched a brow in curiosity. Upon seeing his confusion she explained. "We were just talking about how it must feel to have such an incredibly rich father. Videl says that it can be quite difficult at times but I find it hard to believe."
Mark didn't fail to notice several sets of eyes staring at him with highest possible interest. The stares unnerved him slightly, causing him to turn his head away and let his gaze linger on the dancing flames of the campfire.
"Well," he sighed, his stare not leaving the the burning branches as he spoke. "I have to side with my little sister on this one, Katie."
He was sure that Videl had her mouth agape, or at least some sort of surprised expression on her face. For all she knew, he had always been so arrogant when it came to their last name. Being the son of the one and only Mister Satan was something to be proud of, something to make sure everybody around him knew about. He always loved to boast about their fortune, their riches, their wealth. And now here he was, declaring that being one of the richest teenagers on the planet could actually be seen as a burden.
A tiny smile tugged on Mark's lips as he watched the little embers dance and play, carried around by the cool evening breeze, leaving their soft dim lights to glow like fireflies in the darkness. It soothed him in a way, a welcome feeling after so many stressful days and nights.
"I mean," he continued his monologue without really paying attention to his peers, his train of thought passing over his lips freely. "At first it seems like the best thing in the world and to some degree it is. You can go through life without any worry on your mind since your dad doesn't mind paying for everything. Hell, I barely even had to raise a finger throughout my entire childhood if I wanted to; our servants would see to it as soon as I snapped my fingers."
The teenager grabbed a branch a few feet away and poked around in the campfire, heaving a joyful sigh as the flames began to blaze anew. From a distance Videl watched in awe as her brother's eyes shimmered in the light of the dancing flames, their normal oceanic stare holding an unusual amount of emotion.
"It's funny how something like that gets to your head," Mark said softly as he tossed the branch onto the pile and watched it burn to a crisp. "Everybody always wants your attention, they always give you praise, affection. It gives you the feeling that the whole world is at your feet. Combine that with a level of skill in martial arts and you have the perfect mix for an ego blown out of proportion..."
He had to stifle a laugh, amused by his own past stupidity.
"...with your head so far up your own ass, you fail to notice that the people you call friends only like you for the money on your bank account." The teen's eyebrows momentarily knitted together in a frown. "They continue to suck up to you and lick your heels, but when they notice that nothing is actually up for grabs, they bolt and you never hear from them again. Because that's all that today's society revolves around: Money."
A soft gust of wind blew over, lifting the boy's raven locks into the air and making the campfire's flames dance. He remained silent until the wind had subsided and only the crackling sound of wood burning remained.
"It's sad to see that the people of this planet are all so obsessed by a few paper bills and coins." Mark couldn't help but chuckle at the remark, each and every word a reflection himself more than anyone. "Money rules everything, without it you're nothing. If you don't have a minimum of a five figure income you're not taken seriously as a member of society, you don't have a right to speak. And people go to amazing lengths to gain their wealth."
"They steal," Mark began to sum up, "they betray each other, they lie, commit fraud. Some of them even kill for the spare change in someone's pocket. And why? All so they can cry the tears that their shallow existence brings forth behind the wheel of their brand new Bugatti instead of on a bicycle. They want to feel what it's like to be able to buy everything that your heart desires, yet in the end it turns out that it's not all that it's cracked up to be." Even the deaf would've been able to hear the sudden acidic bite in the boy's tone as he ended his monologue. After that he kept silent and his gaze never turned away from the flames, not until he finally stood up to go and sleep.
All through her brother's monologue Videl had sat and listened with the greatest possible interest. Throughout her life, Mark had never shown a sign of weakness and had been lead by his enormous ego, but during his rant the Satan girl could swear that she saw something different about him, something deeper than his sudden change of heart. His eyes had betrayed him.
Heaving a tired sigh Videl stood up from her spot by the campfire, stretching her limbs as she stood upright. She bid everyone a good night and made her way to her sleeping spot, all the while trying to anticipate what her next day of training under Seventeen's wing would be like. Whatever it was, she wouldn't exactly say that she was excited.
Hercule slowly rocked in his chair as he eyed the glistening white full moon off in the distance. It wasn't glamorous by any means but it appeared fine, almost like how he had been the last few weeks. As he poured himself a glass of whiskey, he couldn't help but stare at the barely visible craters on the moon hypnotically.
It was interesting how an object so beautiful could have so many imperfections, yet they only added to the mysterious look of the bright orb in the sky. The moonlight was rather dull at the moment but it provided just enough illumination for him to enjoy the nice glass of alcohol on the table beside him.
Firmly grasping the expensive glass, he slowly swirled the drink as he rocked back and forth. The past few days hadn't been all that great for him. His children had essentially left him and run off to another dojo. More than anything, more than any student leaving, more than any damage to his public image, that hurt him the most.
Like most under the media's eye, they were weren't a perfect family and Hercule never really expected them to ever be one. The twins had both lost their mother in childbirth and it had been a rough ride for the first few years of their life until Hercule really started to place in martial arts tournaments. By the time they were eight, it was a common occurrence for him to reach at least the semifinals in each tournament he entered. Along with it came money which helped him support himself and his children financially but the one thing that money couldn't buy was another mum.
Even now, it was clear that Videl lacked any true female role model; she had no-one to really look up to save for himself. And if he was going to be honest, he wasn't exactly the best person to look up to, especially with the quarrels that he'd had with his youngest as of late. She never really looked towards her older brother for anything simply because he showed her up in almost every way possible, something Hercule had always been aware of but had never done anything about. It wasn't as though he could punish his own child for being good at martial arts, but he had only recently become painfully aware of the effects that it'd had on his two children.
Videl distanced herself from them, from the name Satan. In every possible way she preferred being her own person. While Mark relished in spending hours and hours in the dojo, she started doing police work by the time she was sixteen. While Mark enjoyed attending red-carpet events with trophy girlfriends and making friends with those with wealth on their side, Videl went and befriended people on the lower end of the social scale. He supposed it was somewhat his fault for sending the two of them to a public school but in the end, he had to say that Videl's friends had stood the test of time while Mark's ones were never there when the young man needed them. It was no surprise that his oldest had become a lone wolf in the last year or so, opting to spend even more time in the dojo than having a social life.
He took a sip of the whiskey, savouring the wonderful burning sensation as it flowed down his throat. His actions as of late were questionable and Hercule couldn't help but feel that he hadn't been the greatest parent he could be to his children. Perhaps it was the alcohol talking but he couldn't help but feel a little guilty for pitting Mark against his little girl the way he had, but it wasn't as though he had any better options.
As much as he didn't like the thought of Videl dating anyone, that wasn't what had driven him to propose such an offer to Mark. As great as the other dojo was, it wasn't as though he could have Videl crossing over to it. While it felt like a stab to his heart to know that his child, who wasn't so small anymore, did not think his own father had anything left to teach him... or that he was an incapable sensei, the bad publicity and the buzz that the media would give his dojo and himself would damage his otherwise clean profile.
That generally wouldn't have been much of a problem, a little bad press was something that any decent celebrity had dealt with, but coupled with the fact that he had already lost almost one fifth of his students to the other dojo, it would certainly cause him to lose the majority of the rest. Mark had almost already crossed over himself. While the soon-to-be heir was not an official member of the dojo, he had been invited to several training sessions and had already learned how to use the thing they referred to as "Ki".
He raised the glass to his lips once more as he allowed the cold liquid to slide down his throat. Grunting slightly, he thought about where his dead wife would be at the moment. Perhaps looking down on her children in joy at what they'd grown to become, martial artists almost as strong as him, or maybe smiling at the notion that he'd not changed one bit despite all the years. He bowed his head in shame as he thought of all the ways that his children could've turned out better if they had a maternal figure in their life. If only he had remarried or something... just maybe things would've turned out better.
But no, he wouldn't be able to bring himself to replace her. It hurt but he had to do what he had to do, be it keeping himself happy by staying faithful to his wife or by making sure the Satan name wasn't tarnished by the media.
Author's Notes: This chapter was brought to you by Kaka and Kaleb.
For those who addressed concerns as to whether or not Seventeen didn't come back to life after the Cell Saga, the manga, anime and wikia state that he was alive to give Goku his energy to launch the Spirit Bomb against Kid Buu.
We hope you enjoyed and any feedback would be much appreciated.