Videl screamed until her throat felt as rough as sandpaper. Seventeen stood opposite of her, looking down at his punctured torso. His eyes were distant and glossy, as if he was not aware of what had just happened. He did not respond until his heart beat once, twice, three times, pumping blood from the gaping wound as if it were a geyser.
The girl tried to approach him, setting one foot before the other with hesitancy. Without her knowledge, her hands went to her hair, pulling at the strands and tying them around her fingers. It was all she could do to keep in touch with the situation; if she did not pain herself somewhere on her body to bring herself back to reality, she was bound to faint. She did not notice how Seventeen's blood rolled down her temples in beads and made its way downward to her chin. Soon every step she took was accompanied by the near silent drip of life essence raining down on the forest floor.
More voices around her made themselves known. Some were pressing her to move, or so she thought, others were just screaming the way she had done just a moment ago. She couldn't make out their words, nor their message. She only had eyes for Seventeen and the way he just seemed to stand there, unmoving and in shock.
Videl tried to run now. The weight that had been keeping her legs down was now gone, leaving her free to pick up as much speed as she wanted to. She wasted no time, kicking off from the wet soil below her and racing the Grim Reaper. She almost stumbled over her own feet, but she pressed on. She could see the colour disappearing from Seventeen's face. That wasn't good. She was going to have to hurry or he might - no… would - die. She had no concern for what else happened around her, or at least not right now.
She was only five yards away from Seventeen now, two more giant steps and she would be able to force him to the ground, to at least make sure that there was no way he would be hit again.
She felt two arms wrap around her torso, locking her in place. Videl screamed until she almost tore her vocal cords. She kicked with every ounce of strength that her body could possibly muster. Her arms were trapped but she tried to hit whoever was holding her anyway. But he just wouldn't budge. Videl screamed again, feeling tears well up behind her eyes. They stung like battery acid.
"Stop it!" A voice came from behind her, a stern and demanding one. "Stop it now or you'll be killed! You can't help him now!" Videl stopped her already feeble attempts of escaping when she heard Gohan's voice. Her legs went limp and suddenly she felt no desire to struggle. It was as if her body naturally trusted Gohan. Even if her mind wouldn't believe that Gohan would handle the situation, her body certainly did.
For the first time since she had heard that bang Videl had the time to process exactly what had occurred. How much time had passed since then? It couldn't have been more than a few seconds. She glanced over her shoulders and saw Mark. Her brother was running so fast that he stumbled on every step. He kept throwing looks first at the training group, then at something in the trees of which Videl had no doubt that he could see. There was also not a single trace of doubt in her mind that whatever Mark had spotted was responsible for Seventeen's state of being.
Videl turned her head back to Seventeen so violently that she was sure she smacked Gohan with her pigtails. Seventeen had not moved even a single inch. He still stood there, trying to keep his balance, his body swaying back and forth but never really falling.
"Seventeen!" Videl found her voice and screamed the words. "Please! Say something!"
Seventeen had heard her. Her Sensei turned his head slowly, looking at his pupil with blue eyes that seemed miles away. His upper lip curled only a bit. He was smiling. Smiling in the face of death. Videl felt her stomach turning when another stream of blood came out of the wound in a pulse, crimson cascading down onto the dead leaves beneath his feet. The only response Seventeen could give was a terrifying, half-demented giggle.
Videl began to fight her restrainer again, planting her heels in Gohan's upper legs. The boy behind her groaned but he did not budge. Videl screamed at him to let her go, to let her help Seventeen, to just leave her be and blindly run into the scope of some lunatic who would not hesitate to pull the trigger on her. She didn't care. Not at all.
Seventeen did move now. He leaned over a bit further as if he wanted to thoroughly inspect the wound that spewed blood over his feet. He reached for it with a finger, prodding at the entrance and hissing when he touched the exposed flesh.
Another pulse of blood. Seventeen looked up at Videl once more, then back to his wound. He tried to speak, but words wouldn't leave him. They didn't have to; Videl could read them on his lips.
"Lucky... shot... eh?"
Videl heard a noise so strange that for a second it banished all other thoughts from her mind. It sounded like two rusty gears scraping alongside each other, or perhaps the dreadful noise of train wheels coming to a stop. When Videl did collect her thoughts again she saw Seventeen, his face now as pale as snow. What she saw next did turn her stomach around.
Seventeen's wound was growing. Normally Videl would've called herself insane for seeing such a thing, but the wound was actually becoming bigger. It started at the center of the bullet hole. From there the open flesh ripped in two perfectly straight lines, one of which ended between both of his collarbones. Red substance was already welting on the surface. Seventeen watched the lines appear without speaking.
That dreadful noise again. Videl wanted to press her hands to her ears, make it stop at whatever cost. But Gohan was still holding her, so all she could do was watch as her Sensei bled out.
Seventeen gave a soft wheeze. Then, as if Kami had intentionally given him such a design flaw, Seventeen's entire right ribcage shifted down. She could hear the flesh tear and blood rained across the forest floor. Seventeen did his best to stay grounded and most of all silent. He didn't grunt or scream until a thin sheet of metal tore through his clothes. Videl saw that it had come from between his lowest two ribs. What it was doing there she did not know. All she did know was that the plate must've caused massive internal bleeding.
Tears were now streaming down her cheeks. She wanted to cry out but all she could was sob.
Seventeen gave one final watery laugh. Then his eyes fell shut and he tumbled backwards, landing in the grass and moving no more.
She was hardly aware of Gohan letting go of her. She didn't register her brother screaming in the distance. She did not feel the leaves sticking to her skin as she dropped to her knees, one hand clasped over her mouth. At least not at first.
The world came back to her when a sharp kind of pain suddenly inflamed her face. She looked up and saw Gohan staring back at her, his eyes burning with anger and his entire body trembling in that very rage that Videl had always feared of him. She pressed a hand to her cheek, shocked. Gohan had slapped her...
"Videl!" Gohan yelled at her. "Get to your feet now! We don't know if this guy is still anywhere near! Go away as fast as you can. Go with your brother, he can protect you!"
Videl reared her head in Mark's direction. Said boy was almost at the foot of the hill, but he wasn't looking their way anymore. His gaze was fixated on whatever he had spotted between the high branches. Videl wanted to scream at him to get away, or else he might end up like Seventeen, but her voice refused to work.
She watched as Mark suddenly braced himself. Her brother shot off into the air when he leapt, a good thirty feet at least. He was speeding like a bullet, rushing into the upper parts of the trees. Videl heard a scuffle moving around in the branches. She heard Mark groan. She heard fists connecting to flesh. She had no idea where Mark had learned to use his abilities this well, but that wasn't of any matter to her now.
Branches snapped and leaves fell down. Suddenly Mark reappeared, landing on on his feet and staring up. A man Videl had never seen before in her life dropped himself to the ground also. Most of the man's face was concealed by large red lenses that resembled goggles. One of his hands was gone but had been replaced with a long and sharp looking blade. His hair was long and black, tied into a braid that nearly reached his backside. The mystery man had no eye for her, only for Mark. The man smiled.
It was as if her brother had lost his composure. Mark swayed on his feet, his left hand pressed to his left temple. Blood seeped from between his fingers. Videl hurried back to her feet but didn't move when she heard Mark.
"Videl, no!" Mark was reeling, but at least he didn't fall back. "Don't come any closer! This man is dangerous! He wants to kill Gohan because Dad is paying him a lot of money for it!"
Videl blinked twice, not fully getting what her brother was trying to say. She knew that her father didn't mind to play dirty, but she simply could not believe that her father would hire an assassin in order to kill Gohan. It just didn't fit right.
Gohan himself was watching the scene in awe. It was as if he didn't know how to respond to this new threat. Videl screamed at him to go and help her brother, but her words were jumbled and didn't make any sense.
"God fucking damnit, Videl!" Mark cursed. "This isn't the time to play damsel in distress! If you don't get the hell out of here now you'll be as dead as Seventeen! He says he works for our father but he wouldn't hesitate to kill you if he could do so for his own gain."
That startled her good. Videl could now move again, but she didn't quite run for it.
"Mark, but what about you?"
"Don't you worry about me," Mark said. "I'll take care of this asshole right here."
"No!" Gohan had apparently found his voice. The young man stood there, his arm outstretched and a desperate look on his face. "No, Mark, you go too! I can handle this by myself."
"Did you not hear me?" Mark spat. Gohan was visibly taken aback by his sudden anger. "I said I would take care of it, ya got that? This guy is here in order to kill you, not me. This prick here knows well enough not to kill me. My dad would have him killed if he did."
The mystery man, who had kept silent until this point, gave a laugh from the hollow of his stomach. "Indeed it is so." The man gave a little bow to Mark. "I must say, your father did not seem to pleased with you, Mark. I personally don't see why. You are an excellent fighter and you are so much smarter than that man can ever hope to be."
"Don't you dare associate me with that piece of scum."
"Fine, fine," The man waved a hand with an air of nonchalance. "Whatever you say. But you really are smart. It is true that I can't kill you, but your father mentioned nothing about beating you until you are but an inch away of death."
"Fucking try me."
"With pleasure." The man raised the blade that replaced his missing hand. The sheet of metal retracted inside the man's arm and a steel hand replaced it. The man stretched the fingers once or twice, then looked at Mark. "I reckoned you'd at least want a fair fight."
Without any other semblance of a warning the two assaulted each other. They moved so fast that Videl could only see split seconds of the action. It boggled her mind, the speed at which they were moving. She could see Mark connecting a fist to the man's gut one instant, the next her brother received a kick to the ribs so hard that she could actually hear the bones crunch.
The two sprung back from one another, neither of them phased from the effort. Mark drew a scowl on his face and reared his head to Videl and Gohan.
"Gohan! Are you fucking deaf! Get your ass away from here now or I might have to kill you myself when I'm done with this bastard."
Gohan had finally gotten the hint. Videl, who had been watching the fight without blinking even once, suddenly felt a pull on her wrist. Gohan was dragging her away from the clearing and into the denser parts of the woods. She tried to resist and go back for her brother, but it was like trying to break diamond with cotton swabs. Gohan was just too strong.
Just before Mark disappeared from view Videl had the chance to scream his name one last time. Then he was gone and the only one that remained was Gohan, pulling her into the maze of trees. Meanwhile, all that flashed before her eyes were images of Mark bleeding from his temple and of Seventeen falling the ground, likely to never get up again.
Mark stumbled back. His legs were heavy and his temples were throbbing, but he wasn't allowed to give up. Not a single chance in hell that he would give up. If he threw in the towel now it would only result in more casualties. He would not have them on his name or his heritage.
Tao stood opposite of him, all smiles. "What is it now, Marky boy? Didn't your father raise you to be a true fighter? Where is your spirit?"
Mark chuckled at that. "Really? Bringing daddy issues into the fray? How pathetic. I figured that the great General Tao would at least be able to do better than that."
"Hmm," Tao muttered. His smile faded and he resorted to twirling his pencil moustache. "You disappoint me. I had hoped that the son of the great Hercule Satan would at least be a semblance of a challenge. It seems that I was mistaken."
"I suppose you're right," Mark slid his wrist past his temple to remove the blood that was now seeping into his mouth and flavouring his tongue with the taste of rust. "The thing is, though, it's not my dad who taught me how to fight."
"Really now?" Tao grinned at him. Suddenly the man was gone and Mark felt a heavy pain ripping through his side. Even before he could blink Tao had resumed his old position. Mark placed a hand on his ribcage. Warm liquid was pouring across his fingers.
"Then please do tell me," Tao scoffed, "Who taught you how to fight like that? It doesn't seem like they did a proper job."
Mark growled and moved a step forward. Blood flooded his right side again but he paid it no mind. "Don't you dare insult my trainer. Don't you even say one more word about him if you want to keep what's left of your face intact."
Tao gave a soft chuckle. "Big words for such a petty boy. Too bad that you can't back them up with action."
Mark let these words slide by him. Little did Tao know that he was accumulating as much energy as he had within himself. The long journey here had taken a lot of effort and strain, but Mark was still good to fight. He would show this Tao exactly what he was made of.
"No witty reply this time?" Tao began to laugh. "It really is pitiful. All it takes is a few hits to shut you up. Now I wish I hadn't tried so hard. Path-"
Mark blasted from his spot as soon as he saw the gap in Tao's defense. His fist landed on the man's jaw with deadly precision. He could hear bone snap and he even saw two teeth flying from the assassin's mouth, along with a glob of blood. Tao was lifted from his feet and smacked head first into the nearest tree. The wooden giant splintered but managed to stand his ground. Tao had been drilled into the tree, his legs swinging limpy back and forth.
Mark did not pat himself on the shoulder, nor did he cheer, He had felt how strong Tao was the second he had received a kick to the ribs. Gohan and his companions weren't the only people in this world capable of manipulating Ki, it seemed. Mark had a feeling that he might be able to stand his ground against Tao, but it would take every bit of effort he could muster.
Tao's body twitched once, then twice. Then, the assassin freed himself from his confinement. He dusted himself off and spat yet another tooth out. When he spoke Mark saw that one of his front ones had gone missing, leaving a gap.
"Damn..." Tao said mostly to himself. Then he turned to Mark. "I have to hand it to you, boy, that wasn't half bad." He shook his head and his braid swished from side to side. "That only leaves me with one problem, though. It seems that we are almost of an even match. If I were to fight this battle I would not have any energy left to pursue that other kid your father is paying me to kill." His voice was slurred and thick. Blood dripped off the man's gums.
Mark eyed Tao warily. He didn't like where this was going one single bit.
"Which means that I have to decide," Tao held two fingers up. "Do I have my fun or do I go after my money? Take a guess, what do you think?"
Mark didn't reply but instead moved for Tao again, hoping to land another devastating strike. The assassin was too fast for him, though. Not a second after dodging the Satan boy's fierce attack, the man shot off into the forest in pursuit of Gohan. Mark cursed loudly and ran after him. His head was growing heavier still, the fatigue catching up to him. If he did not manage to stop Tao soon he would drop dead from exhaustion. He tried to ignore all the blood that was still leaving him at an alarming rate and just press on. He wouldn't notice that he would start coughing up blood half an hour later, nor that his blood pressure was through the roof.
All that mattered now was his perseverance.
"I've taken down one of them."
"Of them? Taken down?" repeated Hercule incredulously.
"Yes, one of your daughter's two little boyfriends - I saw her kissing him not even forty-eight hours ago."
Hercule massaged his temples, eyeing the glass of whiskey beside him. Oh how he would love to savour the taste of it and pretend that none of this had even happened. "Did you kill him?"
"Quite possibly, but what would you expect from the mercenary you hired to do your dirty work?" asked Tao emotionlessly.
Hercule took a sip. "Do tell me that you at least struck the right person: the one with spiky, black hair."
"He'll be next," grinned Tao before glancing towards the next bag of cash sitting next to Hercule with the ominous crimson-red goggles he had for eyes. "Now, since I'm going to end up killing two people - and I am not a man in the business of offering bargains like some pathetic farmer - I do believe I am entitled to some extra payment."
The rich liquid seeped down Hercule's throat, momentarily curing him of his eternal curse like a magical antidote. "That was not a part of our deal."
"Neither was your idiot son interfering and causing my dental bill to rise by a few ten thousand zeni, but we can call it even."
"No!" exclaimed Hercule as he flung the glass towards Tao. "This was not what we agreed to. I told you not to kill anyone! And you killed the wrong fucking person, too."
The glass shattered on Tao's robotic face, breaking into several sharper jades of glass as the leftover liquid drenched the mercenary. The broken glass, Hercule was scarred to note, did not so much as make Tao flinch when it came into contact with his skin.
"Get out of my sight," growled Hercule. "You can keep what I have already paid you but you will never receive another zeni from my hand. I do not ever want to see you again and so god help me if you come near my family again…"
Though Tao was visibly seething, shaking, with rage, he maintained his composure. He wiped some of the alcohol off of the red lenses that covered much of his face before turning on his heel.
"You toyed with the wrong person, Mr. Satan."
With that, the mercenary left, leaving Hercule to stare at nothing but the shattered fragments of glass scattered across the ground.
"Almost there..." Gohan breathed the words out in his hurry to move forward. His hand was still locked around Videl's wrist, dragging her along through the thicket of trees all around them. They were only a little bit away from the city. In a few minutes they would be out in the open and they would be less vulnerable to attacks. The assassin had managed to take them by surprise before; Gohan would make damn sure that wouldn't happen again.
He came to a much too sudden stop. He turned around and saw Videl standing motionless, her blue eyes staring at seemingly nothing. Gohan observed her for a moment, noting her composure. She seemed to be in shock.
"Videl?" Gohan asked with some hesitancy. "Videl, are you okay?"
The girl said nothing, but she did move. When her back found the trunk of a tree she slid back against it, sitting on the forest floor with that vacant expression that wouldn't leave her features.
"Videl, listen to me," Gohan sank through his knees and tried his hardest to look Videl in the eyes. She showed no response towards him. "Videl, I need you to get up now and keep moving. If we don't, we'll be in serious danger."
Nothing. No glance at him, not a single word about what just happened. Nothing at all.
"Do you want Mark to kill himself over nothing?"
That startled her. She blinked twice, as if waking up from a deep sleep. She stared around a bit, then found Gohan's eyes. Her old Sensei forced a stern look upon his face, hoping that it would help her get into action.
Instead, she buried her hands in her hair and began to cry loudly. Gohan was flabbergasted. He didn't know how to respond to that.
"Vi, I..." Gohan placed a hand on her quaking shoulder. "Please... I didn't mean to say it like that."
"No," Videl sobbed and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "No, you're right." Her voice was thick and she was stuttering, but she was slowly getting herself together. "You're right. We have to get moving. It's just that..." She stared at her feet as if they could finish her sentence for her. "It all happened so fast. I couldn't even follow what was happening until Mark was opposite of that man with the long braid."
"Don't punish yourself over that," Gohan told her. "We were taken by surprise. Those things happen. Don't try to change something that you couldn't prevent."
Videl was lapsing back into her shock, her body rigid against the tree trunk. Gohan grabbed her upper arm and shook her roughly. "Videl!" he shouted at her. "Get yourself together right now! I could never forgive myself if I got you killed. You're too precious to me for that." The confession was true and came straight from the heart. It had been on his mind a lot lately and some force had prevented him from speaking it, but now the words were out and the truth had been revealed to the light. Who cared if he loved her? All he cared about was keeping her alive and breathing.
And that worked. Videl gave a sharp exhale, then balled her fists so tight that a little stream of blood seeped from her palm where she had dug her nails in them. She rose from the ground, seeking support against the tree. Her breathing was heavy, but when she looked up Gohan saw the determination in her eyes.
"Right," she said. "Let's go."
Gohan nodded at her and turned around. They were about to take off when they heard a scuffling noise coming from between the trees ahead. Gohan wasted no time in pulling Videl behind him, making sure that she would be shielded from any possible threat.
Krillin stepped into view with Sharpner close behind him. Gohan sighed in relief; the situation hadn't given him the time to scan the Ki of whoever was approaching to see whether or not it was friendly. Gohan moved away from Videl, walking over to the bald monk.
"Hey Gohan, what are you doing all the way over here?" Krillin asked. "Sharp and I just back from buying groceries." He raised one of the plastic bags in his hands. "We were just about to bring them back to camp. You can join us if you want to."
"Sorry Krillin, no time for that." Gohan frowned and gave the details of the whole situation to Krillin as quick as he could.
Krillin was shocked, to say the least. "So Seventeen might be dead?" he inquired. "And what about Mark, Freed, Katie and the other teachers?"
Gohan sighed. "I don't know about Mark. He was fighting that assassin guy so that we could get away safely. I know for a fact that both Freed and Katie are gone for the weekend and that means that so are Yamcha and Tien."
Krillin nodded, clearly understanding the situation. "So what do we do now? Are we gonna go after Mark and make sure he doesn't die?"
Gohan shook his head. "I don't think that's necessary. This assassin is working for Mark and Videl's father, so he wouldn't kill Mark without proper reason. We should use the diversion he has created and bring these two to safety." He gestured towards Videl and Sharpner.
"Okay, so where do you suppose we take them?"
"I reckon that the new dojo would be a safe enough place," Gohan reasoned. "It's close to the center of the city so it's as public as it can be. There is a police station as well as a hospital right nearby, so that might work in our favour too."
"Right," Krillin gave a nod of understanding. "Might as well head out straight away, now that Mark is still keeping this killer guy busy."
Gohan turned to Videl. When she gave him a reassuring look he took her wrist and started running.
"D-damnit," Mark hissed through his teeth. "Shit..." He was perched atop the roof of an ice cream shop in the middle of Satan City. He had chased Tao down for well over an hour and he had managed to keep up as far as the city's limits, but the assassin had made use of the crowded area and had managed to escape Mark's field of vision. The boy had cursed at this and had taken to the heights, hoping that it would provide him with a proper vantage point. His only hope rested on Tao's noticeable appearance.
He gazed across the many streets below him, looking for a pair of eyes as red as rubies. He spied families out shopping, an old man feeding pigeons on a dirty yellow bench and more cars than he dared to count, but no Tao. Mark cursed again. If he didn't hurry now the results would be disastrous. The only problem was his Ki reserves were almost gone.
His diaphragm shook in protest. He had strained his body to its limits even before the initial confrontation with Tao and he was now feeling the consequences of his actions. The vibrations moved up to his lungs and Mark coughed, stifling it in his fist. When he removed his lips from his hand there was a thin sheen of blood covering his skin. The coughing of blood had started half an hour ago, but this was the first time Mark saw it. His stomach dropped. This wasn't good; if Tao didn't kill him, he would be responsible for his own demise.
In the upper right corners of his eyes, Mark could see the new dojo being built. Most of the structuring had been done and now all that remained to do were things like installing security systems and doing a proper paint job. Mark could see the vaguest of movements from behind the windows. This eased his conscious a bit; at least he could tell where the rest of the group was.
Something moved to his left. It wasn't on ground level and it was far too big to be a bird. Mark turned his head just in time to see Tao running along the rooftops, making his way towards the new dojo. Mark drew in his breath and sprang straight into action. He used his Ki to cushion his landings and used it again to jump off, ensuring that he covered maximum distance.
Mark caught up with Tao as the assassin was about to leap for the dojo, ready to jump from atop a small supermarket. Tao hadn't seen him coming, so Mark made the man aware of his presence by pounding his fist into Tao's unprotected cheek. Tao yowled and went flying. He rolled across the rooftop of the convenience store and went over the edge, managing to keep himself from falling with nothing but his mechanical fingertips.
Mark walked over to him, his breathing deep and heavy. He wiped a trickle of blood away from the corner of his mouth. Tao was looking up at him, his eyebrows pressed down against his goggles. Gone was the calm and collected man that Mark had faced only an hour ago. Right now that deep hue of red where his eyes were supposed to be expressed nothing but fiery rage.
The Satan boy put his body's weight on Tao's fingers. Even if the assassin didn't feel it, at least he wasn't able to wiggle them free. Mark leaned over.
"I told you I would get you," Mark said. "It took me a while but I caught up with you. None of that arrogant demeanor now?"
Tao growled. "You better watch yourself, you little punk! I won't have any problems with ending that pathetic life of yours before you can even blink!"
Mark furrowed his brow. "I thought my father was in the way of that dream of yours?"
A grin appeared on Tao's face. "Well Daddy decided to screw me over. I kind of feel like returning the favor and perhaps a good way to start is to send him his son's head in the mail."
Mark gulped. He was at a disadvantage now and he wasn't certain to walk away from this with his life. He wanted to feel frightened. He wished he could just back out and learn to deal with the guilt that would plague him forever if he did, but apparently that was all the old Mark. The new one replied to Tao's statement by putting one foot over the ledge of the building and kicking down, hitting the assassin in the face with the sole of his shoe.
Tao cursed at him and spat out blood. "That tears it!" He swung his second arm up and gripped the ledge. He hoisted himself up. Mark tried to resist him, but the sudden influx of power was too much to handle. Mark fell back and watched Tao scramble over the edge of the building.
"I am so sick and tired of all you little punks," Tao breathed the words, his shoulders trembling in his epic rage. "All you do is get in my way and make my job more difficult on me. I should just exterminate you all right this instance!"
"You tried that before, remember?" Mark taunted. "It didn't end to well for you."
"Hmph," Tao scoffed. "That was before my limitations in this battle fell away, however."
Mark slid into his fighting stance. "Then I'm going to have to put an end to this right here and right now."
Tao remained silent.
Mark charged. He saw Tao switch his mechanical hand over to his blade, so he was wary from the first instant. Tao slashed at him but he slid underneath, kicking up and striking Tao in the chin. The assassin flew up and Mark got to his feet just in time to plunge his elbow into the man's gut. Tao sucked in air and spittle and blood flew from his mouth. Tao smashed down onto the roof and left cracks in the stone.
"D-Damn..." Tao was having trouble getting up. "Why did I underestimate these runts..."
Mark smirked at the easy victory. He had expected Tao to be more of a challenge judging on the man's speed, but it seemed that he was a lot more of a showman than he was an assassin. He walked over to Tao, who was now on his hands and knees, one palm pressed against his stomach as a violent mixture of blood and vomit left his mouth in regular intervals.
"You there," Mark spat at him. "Die already." He kicked Tao in the ribs and the man went sprawling. He rolled across the length of the roof and stopped just by the edge. Mark took his time to walk over there, making sure that Tao was able to feel the anticipation.
Tao was trying to throw some expletives at him, but all the ruby liquid that had stuck to his lips refrained him from speaking. Mark graced the man with the last smile that he would ever get to see in his life. Then he placed his toes on Tao's sternum and kicked him over the edge.
Mark turned around and sighed in relief. His legs were trembling to support his weight and his headache was nearly blinding him, but all of that didn't matter now. It was over, done with, finité. Right now he would head over to Gohan and Videl, inform them that all was good and then collapse into a little heap of misery. Then he would sleep for forty-eight hours. Perfect.
He was about to walk off and head down when he heard noises behind him. Mark turned around.
"Surprise, surprise." Tao was watching him, standing only a few feet away. The metallic parts of his face had been dented and the blade on his hand was standing in a strange angle, but it was Tao alright. Cracks ran through the red lenses where his eyes were supposed to be. Tao was smiling.
"Well, Mark," Tao said. "It seems that you are even more capable than I had previously imagined."
Mark had no reply for that. His breathing still hadn't fully returned to him and his limbs were growing heavier with every second. He had to do something quick.
"I know what you are planning on," Tao smirked triumphantly. "but it's not going to work. I'm going to take you out right here and now." Tao pointed a finger at him. His smirk grew. "Dodonpa!"
Mark never saw it coming. One minute there was nothing, then all of a sudden a golden beam of Ki erupted from Tao's fingertip. It reached Mark before he had the time to process. It struck him on the left side of his gut. The energy ripped right through his flesh and cauterized the wound instantly. Just before he went flat on his back, Mark had the time to admire the golf ball-sized hole in his body.
Then he fell over as pain tore through him, turning the world black before his eyes.
Tao couldn't help but grin as the building came into view. The last time he had seen it, repair work was still being done and he had needed to play it calm - distance himself from the eye of any onlookers. This time, he would be taking great pride in physically distancing the eyes of any onlookers from their very bodies.
He spat on the ground, rubbing at his missing tooth with his tongue, forming a tiny puddle of red, sticky saliva. He was sure that some classes had resumed at the initial location given that when he had visited the dojo's temporary training grounds they had been almost empty.
He was interested to see more of the students in action. From the sounds of it, the dojo was something akin to the one his own brother had trained at long ago with that damn turtle hermit. That Mark child had given him a good workout so he couldn't help but shake at the prospect of encountering more of them.
And of course, he would mercilessly cut every single one of them down as they begged for help. It had been a long time since he had been able to let loose; murdering high profile targets for billions of zeni did get a little boring.
He stepped forward towards the glass door of the dojo. Blasting it open with ki, he announced his presence as his eyes were quickly drawn towards the blonde receptionist he had met the other day.
"Oh h-hello," she stuttered a little, shaking in fear, as she tried to act like a professional. "It's y-you again."
He closed the distance between the two of them with three large steps. Reaching towards her face, he brushed a few strands of blonde hair away from her eyes with three cold, mechanical fingers.
"S-Stay back… I'll call the police!" she warned, fear radiating off her very body. It was clear to Tao that every single warning bell within her pretty little body had gone off.
He twisted his left wrist almost six-hundred degrees. Her eyes grew wide with disbelief as he tossed his entire - now detached - left hand backwards as though it were a tennis ball. He chuckled darkly.
And then, wordlessly, he slashed at her left cheek with the knife that was now protruding from his left arm. It was a clean cut, going from her temple to her jawline, and swift enough to cause blood to squirt onto a nearby wall.
She screamed for her dear life at the top of her lungs but he simply kicked her right hip, shattering it completely in one blow. The blonde ceased her screaming, reduced to a mere sobbing heap on the floor.
Satisfied with his handiwork, Tao crouched over her body and grabbed the girl's skimpy top. He wiped the blood from his blade before letting go of the material and kicking the shuddering girl into a corner. This one didn't have to die, but he would rather teach her a valiant life lesson; she would now have to learn to go through her days without that pretty little face. Maybe she would understand that not everything in life came handed to you on a silver platter. Tao was, after all, a teacher.
Smirking to himself, he proceeded past the reception and towards what he could only assume was one of the dojo's sparring grounds. Reaching a door, he paused to think out his next move. There was clearly some kind of spar going on, that much was clear from all the grunting and the occasional sound of a fist coming into contact with a body.
Raising a single finger to the wall in front of him, he willed Ki to build up at its fingertip. "Dodonpa!"
He blasted a hole the size of a golf-ball through the wall and straight through the skull of a student on the other side who instantly crumpled onto the floor. A slightly larger ki-blast increased the hole in the wall until it was so large that he could walk through it unhindered.
"W-Who are you?" stuttered the student's sparring partner as he backed up against the wall. Tao was a little amused to note that this one seemed to have some level of mastery over Ki because he tried to send a small blast of Ki the mercenary's way.
A few moments later, the student found himself clutching his heart desperately as a fountain of blood cascaded down from it. Tao just sneered at the sight before burning the man alive - or at least what was left of his life - with a searing hot blast of energy.
The people that stood surrounding him were all left in awe, their mouths hanging open and their jaws quivering in what Tao knew to be pure terror. A grin crept across his face and he weighed his options; there were so many fun possibilities playing around in his mind. He quickly assessed that there were about twelve other people present, most of whom seemed to be students. He only counted two possible Senseis. This would all be far too easy. Now the real question: Would he pick them off one by one and give the rest a chance to stew in their own fear, or would he take everyone out in one fell swoop?
Grinning still, Tao brandished his blade, enjoying the gleam on the spotless steel. He could see his own lips curling into a devilish smile. Then he was off.
The first one of his victims was an unfortunate girl. She hadn't much time to even blink, let alone process what was happening to her. Tao jabbed his blade deep into her gut and pulled it upwards, cascading his own feet in a waterfall of blood and internal organs. He kicked her kidney away before taking his weapon back. A silver belly button ring shone at the tip of it, causing Tao to laugh that she would have to die with such poor life decisions. He nudged the girl on the shoulder and she fell backwards, her brown hair spreading out behind her as she hit the ground.
Screams erupted around him, the sound of it like music to his ears, a guttural symphony of the dead and dying. It was an artform losing its ground, but he would see to it that before the end of the day, the whole world would once again know the feeling of dread. He went on the move again.
This time he took out two at once. Both of them were students also, judging by the piss weak stance they went into seconds before he ripped them open like fish at a barbeque. Their guts were tossed across the length of the room; Tao would be sure to decorate all of the walls with their bits and pieces. Like those support pillars there, they would look much better wrapped in intestines.
With two more bodies pooling blood at his feet, Tao was now really getting the enjoyment he wanted out of this. It had been a while since he had killed this many people in such a short span of time and it was making him nostalgic. Maybe after he was done here he could seek out a secluded village and murder everyone there. Yeah, that seemed like a fun way to spend the evening.
Fate, however, seemed to disagree with this course of action.
"Stop it!" a voice from behind called.
Tao whirled on his heels and saw them standing there, two of them to be exact. One of them was short and bald, the other tall with a mop of blond falling onto his shoulders. The latter was looking genuinely terrified, his breathing rapid and uneven. He looked as though he might pass out. The other one wasn't so frightened, it seemed, staring him down with the anger radiating from his eyes. Tao chuckled at them.
"Come to stop what can't be prevented?" Tao taunted. He retracted his blade and replaced it with his mechanical hand, doing the customary check to see if the fingers were nimble enough.
"You have no idea who you are talking to," the bald one spat at him. "I can already feel from your Ki signature that you are as insignificant as the flies on my windshield."
Tao managed to keep his cool, despite the sudden overwhelming urge to slice baldy's throat. "Right. And those flies would be able to draw blood they way I've been doing now. They can, without doubt, turn this lovely little place into a horror house if they so desired."
The short man balled his fists, his knuckles cracking. The blond kid still made no move, his fear having paralyzed him on the spot.
"You know what?" came the retort. "I'm not even going to off you myself."
"Ho, ho!" Tao laughed at this, bemused. "Not that you would be able to manage so, but please enlighten me. You make it sound as if there is someone you would let do the job for you. Who, might I ask?"
Baldy's lip twitched upward. "The guy you've been after from the beginning. HIs name is Gohan. Remember it well, cause then you'll know who to bear a grudge against when you're rotting in hell."
This did irk Tao. Whoever this little bastard was, he sure had a lot of nerve to suggest that anyone would be able to beat him. The only one capable of such a feat were Son Goku and perhaps the Demon King Piccolo. And since neither one of them were around, he was quite certain that he would walk away from this unscathed, especially after he had taken out Hercule's boy, the only one who had posed a threat to him so far.
Tao remained silent for several seconds more, drawing out the tension hanging in the room. Most of the trainees had by now run away, showing no regard whatsoever for their fallen comrades. Humanity really was a piss poor race.
"So, where is this savior you speak of?" Tao questioned. "He does not yet seem to be here. How long do you think he would take? Do I have enough time to murder you on the spot?"
"Not even by a long shot," Baldy grinned. "I already raised my Ki to let him know where I am. I can already sense him heading over this way. We spread out to find you quicker, you see, and we would use our Ki as distress signals. He should be here within the next thirty seconds. You'll be dead in thirty-five."
"Like he would be able to harm my being."
"Sure he can. You're only human, after all."
Tao scoffed at this, not knowing where Baldy got the guts to imply such a thing. Surely he had transcended anything 'humane' the moment he had taken on this new form, this bionicle masterpiece. Yet, perhaps it would be wise to retreat for the time being. His energy reserves were running out, and he was supposed to take out the Satan boy's Sensei after all. Mark had been considerably stronger than he had first expected, so what would that say about his teacher?
A decision was made; it was time to leave here now. Tao pointed his good hand at the wall and flooded Ki into his palm. The wall blasted outward as if it were made from tissue papers.
Baldy was shocked to see this move, which of course pleased the mercenary. Even Blondie actually moved his body, albeit only to press his hands to his ears and cancel out the sound of the blast. Tao smirked, an idea forming in his mind. He had shed enough blood already, but one more gallon of the red goo wouldn't harm a single soul. Or, well, except for Blondie maybe.
Tao gave them one final surprise, the one hidden in his sleeve. He closed his hand around the revolver. The thing was about the size of an apple, so he could keep it concealed at all time. To the two men in front of him it would seem that he was pointing nothing but a sleeve at them. By the time he pulled the trigger it was already too late.
Baldy did his best to jump in front, but he was too slow by a wide margin. Blondie never saw it coming. His throat was pierced by the bullet, flesh exploding out of his neck like a ripe tomato being smashed on the floor. The mere impact of it sent him tumbling back, the fall hard enough to roll him over on his stomach. A pool of blood was quickly spreading around him and soaking his golden hair into crimson. A few bubbles rose to the surface of the red lake, before popping out of existence, much like the owner of the final breaths they had come from.
Tao stepped out of the hole in the wall, waving at Baldy, who stood frozen to the ground.
Gohan clenched his fists together and stared at his feet. Broken glass glimmered around him like crystals. he heard the screams from around him but they didn't quite reach him. They were muffled, like the voices of your fellow passengers on a bus through your headphones. Onyx eyes traveled around the room, taking all of it in.
Sharpner was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, his face down and small bubbles of air arising as he took his dying breaths. Videl was hunched over him, her hands on her shoulders as she softly shook him, her lips forming words that were meant to soothe. 'Please Sharpner, hang on. Please Sharp, don't die on me. No, Sharpner, no, you don't deserve this'.
Erasa was sitting in the corner, one hand pressed against her face in futile hope of stopping the bleeding. A large gash was drawn against her features, the result of the assassin's attack. Her lips were quivering and her head bobbed from side to side, as if all of this were just a dream and she would wake up any minute with her pretty face intact.
Krillin was standing in the middle of it all, an expression of disbelief on his face. Gohan presumed that the monk could sometimes forget that not all of them were strong beyond their imagination. Not all of them were capable of surviving such massive attacks. Reality must've come as a smack to the face.
Gohan growled. The sound started in the pit of his belly and moved up to his throat. It was so raw that he could feel his vocal cords protest. Videl jumped up from the sudden noise, her preoccupation with Sharpner suddenly forgotten. Tears were brimming in her eyes and her shoulders were shaking, but she had managed to keep a lot of her composure. Gohan was impressed with her for it.
Gohan turned around, his back towards Videl. His fingernails dug into his palm, drawing blood. Videl's voice rose up from behind him.
"Gohan, where are you going?"
"I'm going to stop all of this," Gohan answered. "I'll make sure that this guy regrets ever getting in touch with your father."
Krillin ran over and placed a hand on Gohan's arm. "Be careful," he said. "I know this shouldn't be a problem for you, but try not to raise too much attention. The police and paramedics are already on their way, so please stop worrying about us."
Gohan nodded his understanding. "I get it, low profile. No guarantees, though."
Krillin sighed, now suddenly the epitome of peace. A smile broke out across his face. "Right. Just go for it already."
Gohan was about to blast off through what was left of the window, when Videl piped up again.
"If you see Mark, please get him out of there. Please."
Gohan laughed at that. "You didn't even have to ask." He blasted out of the window, taking to the sky within half a second. As soon as he had found a proper height to use for observations, he stayed in place, hovering.
The assassin was easy to find. It was as if he wanted to get caught, sporting that weird appearance of him. Gohan used his senses and found the man's Ki. It was thoroughly unimpressive when compared to his own. Gohan flew to him slowly. He wanted the man to be aware of his presence before making a move. He shouldn't be allowed to get away with what he did so easily. He was going to experience the whole thing from start to finish.
The man watched him approach but didn't move himself. He just smiled when Gohan touched down in front of him, his confidence radiating off him. Gohan showed no emotion, no expression. The only thing that might be present in his features would be his desire to kill.
"Well, well," The man snickered. "It seems like I have some more vermin to take care of. This day just keeps getting better and better."
"Shut up," Gohan had no time for bullshit. "Where's Mark?"
"Oh, you mean this poor thing here?" He stepped to the side, revealing Mark. Said boy was lying on his back, a hole of a Ki beam evident near his stomach. For a second Gohan feared the worst, but there was still a Ki signal coming from his body. Gohan sighed in relief.
"You should've seen him," the assassin scoffed. "He thought that he would be able to handle me. I sure proved him wrong."
Gohan's voice was like acid. "You mean by getting your face beat in and losing half your teeth?"
The man grumbled at this. "Okay, I admit, he was a bit of a pest, but all pests can be dealt with. Just like you. So how about you get on your knees with your hands behind your back, or I will destroy what's left of this boy right here." He pointed a finger at Mark and yellow Ki began to glow at his fingertip.
"So that's who you are..." The man turned around, his eyebrows pressed down in his confusion. Gohan was smiling; it all just made sense now. "You're General Tao, are you not? I heard so much about you."
Tao grew a smirk that spread from ear to ear. "Ah, I see that my reputation exceeds me. Do they know the extent of my power where you are from, young man?"
Gohan laughed in return. "Nah, they just laugh at how slow you are."
Before Tao got a chance to blink Gohan moved, picking Mark up from the ground. He stopped by the edge of the building to give Tao a chance to see what he had done. Even before the man went on his rant of expletives, Gohan had made his way down to ground level. He would take Mark over to Krillin; the small man would be able to keep Mark safe.
Gohan walked slowly to make sure that Mark wouldn't suffer from his injuries any further. He was about to cross the road when Mark stirred.
"Uh... Gohan..." The Sensei looked down, feeling amazed. mark had been pierced through with a Ki attack and was still conscious to tell the tale. "Gohan... did I... stop him?"
Gohan smiled a sad smile. "No Mark, you didn't. He got Sharpner."
"Aw, fuck!" Mark cursed. "FUCK! I knew I was useless to begin with."
Gohan replied to this with a glare. "Mark, shut up."
"You heard me." Gohan made work of it to capture Mark's eyes. "You did an amazing job, Mark, you really did. You gave us a chance to find a hiding place. Yes, he still found us, but if it hadn't been for you all of us could've been dead."
Gohan could see Mark trying to find a retort to this, but in the end it seemed that he gave up. Gohan crossed the street and walked into the dojo. He laid Mark down on the ground.
Videl sprang to life immediately. She rushed over to her brother and got to her knees. "Mark, thank god, I thought you were dead..." She buried her face in his chest, the sounds of her crying now louder than ever.
"Yeah, it was a close call," Mark managed to groan. "But if you don't watch where you put your hand you can take over that responsibility." He pointed at the hole in his body. "It's still tender, believe it or not."
Gohan didn't have the time for such a warm family moment. He had other matters to deal with now.
Tao was still waiting for him on the rooftop. When he Gohan touched down he asked "Are we ready to go now?"
"That depends," Gohan said. "Do you have any last words that you want to tell the world?"
"A confident one, eh?" Tao smirked. "Well let's do something about that."
Gohan was ready for this. He would end it all within the blink of an eye.
Tao rushed at him, but the assassin was far too slow. Tao slashed his blade at him but Gohan ducked underneath it. He swirled around and ended up behind his adversary. Gohan grabbed Tao's arm and brought it down over his leg. The bones snapped like matches, their milky whites protruding from a ruin of mangled flesh.
Tao screamed, having never expected such a turn of events. Gohan allowed him a moment for the shock to settle. After judging it to be enough he pulled Tao's shoulder out of his socket as he turned him around. Tao howled again but Gohan ignored it this time. Gohan closed his fingers around Tao's throat. Tao tried to struggle and put his hands around Gohan's wrist, but there was no use at all.
Gohan showed no expression at all when he lifted Tao off of his feet. He walked over to the edge of the building and stretched out his arm. Tao now had nothing below his feet but the street and the cars in traffic.
"I suppose this is the point where you start begging," Gohan said. "You might want to lead with how you never intended to do any of this, that you were simply doing your job. You think it might be a good excuse," Gohan laughed. "But now that you see how serious I am, you know that it won't suffice. Instead you'll throw your hands up, pleading for your life. 'Oh no, please forgive me, it was all a mistake! I have seen the light now! Halle-fucking-lujah.'
"There is only one issue though. See, you just killed one of my finest students. You had no regard for him, for his life, for what he was hoping to achieve in the future. You just killed him and then you laughed about it. I cannot accept such a thing."
Gohan was silent for a few seconds. Tao did not move an inch aside from the rising and falling from his chest on each frantic breath.
"It is simply inexcusable." Gohan closed his fist, crushing Tao's windpipe. The assassin struggled for only a second or two. After the third he was growing purple. After the fifth it was all over. Gohan opened his fist and let the corpse plummet towards the earth. The police would be perfectly capable of cleaning up the mess.
Gohan jumped from the roof and walked over to the dojo. The situation there hadn't changed much; Videl was still crying, Mark kept trying to tell her to man up and Krillin had taken to caring for Erasa. The blonde was crying, but winced every time a tear rolled over the gash in her face. Gohan sighed. It seemed that after this whole debacle had been dealt with peace could finally come again.
Sirens were howling in the distance. Gohan walked out to meet them.
He was in pain. He could say such a thing safely, seeing how every little move in his muscles hurt like off the seven hells combined. Seventeen grumbled. Great. Now he wasn't only in pain, he was also alone. Just fantastic.
Seventeen managed to open his eyes to slits. Even that hurt like a motherfucker. There was no way in hell that he would be able to lift his head to look around, so he would just have to do with staring at the blue sky. He just hoped that it wasn't going to be boring.
If only his Ki channeling system was still in the shape it should've been. If that had been the case he could've just taken off into the air and leave this damn clearing behind them, but noooo... he just had to lie here in the grass, hoping that he wouldn't die within the next ten seconds. Life could be such a surprise sometimes.
Seventeen heard a noise in the distance and it was drawing in closer. He determined it to be the swishing of helicopter blades. He sighed. They probably weren't here for him, that would be too much to ask. Maybe there was a forest fire nearby that had to be put out.
HIs hair was swept up by the wind when the sound kept swelling. The ground underneath him began to vibrate. Then came the sound of doors unlocking. Seventeen wished he could roll onto his stomach and see what was going on behind him.
"Oh my god," Seventeen knew he recognized the voice, but he wasn't able to put his finger on it. "Wow, they really did a number on you, didn't they?"
"Look who's observant today," Seventeen mocked. "Could it be because my guts are practically falling out of me? Or is it because my hair looks a little wind-swept?"
"Now, now, Seventeen," the voice came again. It was female and a little demeaning in tone. "No need to get your panties in a twist. I'm only stating what I see."
"Well how about you stop that and help me out here. You may or may not have noticed that I am literally falling apart here."
Shadows came to loom over him, two of them in total. Seventeen forced his eyes open further to see who had the nerve to block his sunlight.
"Heya," Bulma Briefs greeted, one hand raised in a waving motion.
"Good day," Dr. Briefs was present too. "My my, so this is the design that Doctor Gero picked for his ultimate machines, eh? Looks kind of dingy if you ask me."
Seventeen couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Yeah, it's got some design flaws."
Bulma sank through her knees and pulled out a capsule. She threw it down next to Seventeen and a stretcher popped out from a cloud of smoke.
"Don't worry Seventeen, we're gonna get you all patched up."
Seventeen smirked one more time before the world went black. "Yeah and don't forget to charge my batteries."
We deeply appreciate all the support you fans have shown us over the past few years, through all the highs and lows and various writers that this story has gone through. Both Kakarot Son and kalebxdd are highly pleased that they've been able to finish this story and hope that you will follow them in their future endeavors for Team Dragon Star.
Keep your eyes peeled for the epilogue which we hope to post soon. This might clear up any questions still lingering amongst our readers.