A/N: Wow, I leave for a spell and the site looks all different when I come back, huh? Well, sorry about the delay, hit a nasty writer's block with my work on this site. As a result I'm a bit rusty with this fic, so I'm sorry if that shows. :P

Also, I got a new project going on the side, that's a fanart/fanfic collab called "In Dark Places". It's a Vegeta/Goku-centric AU work, and it'll be a bit dark. I think if you guys like this story so far, you might like that one too. It's linked on my profile page, check it out and see if you like. :)

Raditz frowned as he pressed the buttons on his scouter. He was trying to sync up to Vegeta's scouter, but there was no signal, which he assumed meant the prince had turned it off. He looked back towards Nappa, giving a brisk shake of his head. Nappa was standing in front of his space pod, leaning casually back against it with his arms crossed. He scowled, wondering what was taking the prince. Both Saiyans were ready to go, and were just waiting for Vegeta so they could go take care of the next assignment.

Cui and Jhainer were both not too far away from them on the dock, doing rapid, expert checks of their space pods, each teenager trying to launch as soon as possible. Cui had decided to postpone his meeting with Manzin in favor of getting a jump on all three of his competitors, thereby choosing himself over any potential alliance. Jhainer's mentality wasn't much different.

Finally, Jhainer was satisfied and he quickly climbed into his space pod, with the latch door shutting behind him. Cui was only a fraction of a second behind him, scrambling into his own space pod in a desperate attempt to keep up. Nappa and Raditz didn't flinch as both space pods blasted off moments later, barreling up into the sky, followed quickly by two empty space pods that would return full. A few seconds later, and they were all out of sight.

"Vegeta's going to be pissed now," Raditz grumbled to the eldest Saiyan. "And I bet he's gonna blame us for not letting him know that Jhainer and Cui already took off."

"The kid must've lost track of time, I guess," Nappa grumbled back, even though he knew the idea was ridiculous before the words had even left his mouth. The young prince was nothing if not meticulous when it came to details.

"Prince Vegeta losing track of the time. Right," Raditz snorted mockingly, rolling his eyes.

"Watch how you use that title, third class," Nappa growled in warning. "Try to see if you can pick up his power and locate him that way."

Raditz scowled but he reached up to his scouter to do as he was told. The lights started running on his scouter while he stared off into the distance, but after a few minutes, he looked back to Nappa and shook his head.

"Nothing that matches his power level."

This time, the two Saiyans fell into a tense silence while they stared uneasily at each other. They both knew for a fact that Vegeta hadn't left the planet, because they were standing right there on the space pod dock. The only way his power level would've dropped was if he'd been beaten in a fight, or if he was dead.

"Let me see," Nappa finally said, reaching up to activate his own scouter. After all, if Raditz' scouter was malfunctioning and they went after Vegeta, they would only delay things further – a consequence that would earn them hell from their prince.

The lights had barely flashed across Nappa's scouter when Zarbon smoothly strolled out of Frieza's base and onto the space pod dock. He was half-dragging, half-pulling a barely conscious Manzin along with him, holding the young alien up on his feet with a strong hand on his brand new silver set of armor with the appropriate black cape to go along with it. When Zarbon got close enough to Manzin's space pod, he roughly threw the boy towards it. Manzin helplessly crashed on the ground facedown in front of his pod, with no strength to get up after the vicious beating that had only mercifully ended moments ago. He gasped for air, eyes squeezed shut in pain, but Zarbon and the Saiyans ignored him.

"Where's your precious monkey prince?" Zarbon asked, glancing over at Vegeta's unoccupied space pod.

Nappa quickly deactivated his scouter, and then lowered his head in a show of respect. "On his way, Zarbon."

Thinking nothing of it, Zarbon gave a mild shrug and then started to head back towards base. If Vegeta wanted to be late, he was only hurting himself and his own chances to earn rank. After all, in the end, it didn't matter to Zarbon which man moved up; they would listen to him and obey his orders regardless.

He was just about to go back inside when Vegeta finally dropped down in front of his men. Zarbon only glanced over in curiosity, but he was shocked at the sight of the youngest Saiyan. Vegeta was visibly roughened up, with nasty dark bruises spreading on his face, and parts of his face busted open and bleeding. The prince was barely able to stand, prompting Raditz to instinctively grab the teenager by the back of his armor to steady him and hold him upright.

"What happened, Vegeta? Who did this to you?" Nappa asked in surprise. Seeing Vegeta this beaten wasn't a rare occurrence; in fact, the prince was usually left in worse condition after meetings with Frieza. But Vegeta was a preliminary ranked man, which meant he had immunity, and they all knew it.

The prince just shook his head. "Never mind that. Let's go," he rasped, favoring his ribs and trying not to be obvious about it.

"You might not have to answer to your low brow monkey friends, Vegeta," Zarbon suddenly cut in, effortlessly shoving Nappa aside to walk right up to the young prince. "But you will answer to me. What happened?"

Vegeta looked confused for a moment as he craned his head back to look up at Zarbon. For a brief moment, the prince wondered if he'd suffered a more serious head injury than he thought, because he could've sworn he heard genuine concern in Zarbon's voice. The lieutenant had never once shown any concern for his well-being, and had delivered worse beatings to him than the one he'd just taken.

Vegeta studied Zarbon's eyes for a few seconds, before scowling as realization set in. Zarbon was concerned, but it was for his own skin. Dodoria might have been handling the main training, but Zarbon was the one to ensure that the rules for the rank qualifying squad were followed to the letter. If Frieza caught wind of this, Zarbon would be the one who would pay dearly for allowing Vegeta's immunity to be broken.

The teenaged prince looked down, feeling foolish for thinking even for a second that Zarbon actually gave a damn about him. He knew that no one did. And, deep down, he knew that no one ever would.

When Vegeta lapsed into a bitter and stubborn silence, Zarbon roughly grabbed him by the jaw and forced them to make eye contact again.

"You tell me who is responsible for this, so I can handle the incident appropriately," Zarbon snarled, his patience starting to wear out with the boy standing in front of him.

"I don't know who it was. They attacked before I could see," Vegeta hissed out through his teeth, his dark eyes blazing with defiance. He and Zarbon had a fierce stare down for several tense moments while Raditz and Nappa exchanged worried looks.

"So be it then," Zarbon said as he released his grip. "You'll need a new cape to signify your immunity. You can get one when you return, but you'll receive a thrashing because of the expense and inconvenience."

"What? Why?" Vegeta yelled, his face reddening with growing rage.

"Because, boy, your gear is your responsibility. You will learn to take care of the equipment you've been granted."

"But it wasn't even my fault-"

"Let's make that twice the usual punishment," Zarbon smoothly interrupted.

Vegeta snarled, "That's bullshit-!"

"Three times the usual then, with the electric whip. Are you done yet, boy, or shall I continue?"

Vegeta fell into silence, sinking his teeth into his ripped bottom lip and uncaring of the fresh blood running down his chin or the way his whole face throbbed in response. The skin on his back and arms was still pulsing and burning from the last thrashing he'd taken which hadn't yet healed, but that didn't matter. This was the way Zarbon was punishing him for not naming any of his attackers by name; the lieutenant would have jumped on any excuse to deliver another round of punishment for defying him, no matter how minor. The prince refused to name Ajox though, and so he had no choice but to shut his mouth and bite back his rage. He would soon be in a purge anyways, where he could relieve his frustrations the only way he knew how.

"That's what I thought," Zarbon arrogantly said, smirking as he patted Vegeta on the shoulder. "Report back to me as soon as you return with your recruit. Good luck, monkey prince."

Vegeta grunted, and then impatiently shrugged out of Raditz' grip on his armor as Zarbon walked away. The prince looked over towards Manzin's space pod and scowled. Manzin had by now pulled himself up, and was slowly and gingerly easing himself into his space pod. Vegeta looked towards his men and made a quick, silent hand gesture signaling them to get into their own space pods. Nappa and Raditz nodded and did just that while Vegeta angrily limped over to Manzin.

Manzin was slowly taking out his spare blue scouter from a compartment in his pod, when it was slapped right out of his shaking hand. He looked up and growled at the sight of the teenaged Saiyan leaning into his space pod, the fur on his body starting to bristle with his growing rage. To strike Vegeta in such clear view of Frieza's base would have been asking for more hellacious punishment, and he'd had his fill for the day. Still, it was tempting to slam his fist into Vegeta's face and shatter some of his teeth for putting him into a horrible situation in the first place.

"You're dead, Saiyan," Manzin swore, his voice unsteady with intense hatred. "Either as part of his competition or after I win it, you won't live to see the next solar cycle."

Vegeta glared at the older boy as his tail slowly tightened around his waist. Finally, his eyes narrowed. "We'll just see about that. Luckily for you, though, you're not number one on my list anymore, Manzin. Your brother is. But don't worry. As soon as he's dead, you'll get your spot back. I promise."

Manzin blinked a few times, stunned at the threat towards his brother who had a higher power level than he and Vegeta combined. Not only that, but Ajox was one of Frieza's top men. After a few moments though, Manzin relaxed and chuckled, trying not to wince in pain when he did. Now the bruises and bloodied lacerations on Vegeta's face made sense.

"Your arrogance will be your downfall, Vegeta."

"Enough talk. Tell Ajox that I want him to meet me, alone, on a planet of my choosing in the galaxy that's holding the tournament we're scouting. Just the two of us there, and no one else. We'll fight there, and only one of us will leave the planet alive."

Manzin was fairly certain that he was going to pass out as soon as his space pod took off, but for the moment, he was left stunned over Vegeta's words. For a moment, the black hatred of Manzin's eyes eased and there was a hint of orange as wariness took over. He'd always known that the prince was arrogant, but this was on another level. Was he really that cocky to think he could defeat a rank 3 man without anyone else's help?

"What's the matter?" Vegeta growled after growing tired of the prolonged silence. "Are you afraid that your brother is that much of a coward that he won't accept my challenge? Or is he too weak to fight me when I'm actually prepared for him?"

Manzin's eyes flashed to a dark red, which made Vegeta smirk with anticipation. Manzin bared his teeth as his eyes quickly reverted to their black slits of hatred. "If you're that eager to die, Saiyan, then so be it. You just tell me what planet you want Ajox on and he'll be there."

"What's he going to say when he takes his space pod?" Vegeta demanded, wanting to make sure all his angles were covered. "Surely he won't say that he's heading off to his death, will he?"

"You don't want anything traced back to you, do you?"

"If you're so sure that he's going to defeat me in battle, then we wouldn't want Frieza knowing he killed me. He likes your brother, but he likes me more."

"Ajox doesn't have to say anything. He can go wherever he likes, since they can track his space pod regardless. He's a rank 3 man and he's on leave right now. You just tell me where and when you want to die, Saiyan, and I'll pass your death wish along."

Vegeta chuckled, licking some of the blood off his lip. He straightened and patted the top of Manzin's space pod a few times. "Make your peace with your brother while you can, because I'll be laughing in his ashes soon."

Manzin angrily slammed his fist into the button to raise the latch on his space pod hard enough to make it spark with electricity, but Vegeta was already limping back over towards his space pod. The prince was favoring his ribs with his left arm, and he wiped angrily at his eyes to get rid of the blood trickling down into them. Nappa and Raditz were already situated in their pods, just waiting for him. He was still shuffling along when he heard Manzin's space pod blast off behind him, followed quickly by the empty pod for his new recruit.

Vegeta practically collapsed into his own space pod moments later. He just shifted over enough to kick at the button to raise the latch, using his broken foot and uncaring of the pain that fired up his entire leg a moment later.

"Destination set to: Nioren, Galaxy #66 in the west sector. Awaiting verbal command from Vegeta, soldier rank preliminary, to launch."

"Launch, damn thing, LAUNCH!" Vegeta screamed, trying his best to rearrange himself so he was sitting upright in his pod.

The initial wave of acceleration slammed into him as his space pod blasted off into flight, and he waited a few seconds for it to pass until he tried again. It took a moment, but finally he was sitting up, out of breath and soaked in sweat. He squinted through the glass portal, but only saw a series of red and blue colors as they passed through the atmosphere of the planet. Vegeta reached into one of the spare compartments overhead with a shaking hand, pulling out a spare, red scouter. He slipped it on and activated it, entering his identification to sync it back up with base.

The young prince finally leaned his head back, staring blankly out of the portal window as the colors faded and then only the darkness of space was visible. Vegeta looked down at himself, swallowing as he did. His foot was in bad shape, straining against his boot, even with the tear in the instep. His back was burning, and he knew for a fact that several of his ribs were broken. None of the injuries were new to him, and he would never outwardly complain about them. He was a warrior. He would endure, just like he always did – but could he endure his injuries in a battle to the death against an older, stronger, more experienced warrior?

Vegeta slowly leaned forward until he was hunched over, both hands sliding up into his upswept hair as he grabbed two tight fistfuls of it and closed his eyes. He could win, but he needed a plan to compensate for his injuries, lest he die on this mission. He was suddenly regretting his impulsive decision to challenge Ajox so soon. In retrospect, he should have waited until he was healed. But the challenge was already issued, and now he was honor-bound to fulfill it, even if it meant his very death.

Death, however, was not an option. He had to survive and grow stronger so he could defeat Frieza and have his vengeance. He accepted the responsibility, though at the moment, alone in the darkness of his space pod, it felt like an enormous and damn near impossible burden on his shoulders. Frieza was still so much more powerful than he was. It would take years, decades even, before he could be strong enough to challenge the tyrant. That meant more years of pain, starvation, and torture he needed to suffer through. Moments like these, the thought alone was daunting.

After around ten minutes, the prince finally lowered his hands and reached down under the seat of his space pod. His fingers hit a small, secret compartment he had added that no one else knew about, not even Raditz or Nappa. He flipped it open and then leaned back as he inspected he'd pulled out, the same way he did before every mission. It was sharp, jagged, and broken, like him, but it still existed – also like him. It was a broken piece of his armor set from when he was a child, the only piece he kept after shattering the armor set, and it had his royal family crest engraved on it.

Vegeta frowned as he stared at the piece of broken armor in his gloved hand for a long time. Finally, he clenched his fist tightly around it, so tight that he felt the jagged edges tearing through his glove and into his skin. Warm blood started pouring between his fingers as he looked back up through the space portal at the stars flashing by.

His vengeance would come one day, but he had a thing or two to take care of first.

Somewhere along the way, he must've fallen into an exhausted, dreamless sleep. It felt like only minutes had passed when Vegeta's eyes suddenly snapped open and he sat upright in his space pod. Raditz was saying something over the communications, his red scouter was flashing, and there was a bright light outside of the portal window on his pod. The prince squinted, raising one hand up to block out the light as he read the words that were scrolling on his scouter in Galactic Standard.

Tie-breaking procedures are by power level. 1-Manzin, 2-Vegeta, 3-Cui, 4-Jhainer. When you've reported your recruit, you cannot change your choice, unless someone of higher power level wants your recruit. Report back to base in two days at 110X with your recruit. Confirm receipt of message.

Vegeta instinctively confirmed the message on his scouter, and then hit the button to open up the latch. He winced as light washed inside, keeping one hand up to shield his eyes while he lethargically climbed out to get on with his next task.

"We're clear, there's no one anywhere close to us," Raditz informed him. Vegeta nodded, slowly limping over to where his Saiyan comrades were standing as his vision cleared up.

"What else?" the prince gruffly ordered.

"We're on Planet Nioren, which is close to multiple suns. There is never any nightfall, which is why this planet is always chosen to host the interplanetary tournament. The tournament is very prestigious and the winner is rewarded enough riches to feed everyone on their planet ten times over, as well as galaxy-wide recognition. The tournament's held once every three solar cycles by the Cold calendar. The power conversion on my scouter says each kid needs a power level of at least 1,500 just to qualify."

"So all of these kids are tough enough to end you, Raditz, is that what you're telling us?" Nappa snickered, earning a glare from Raditz.

"We'll see about that," Raditz continued, squaring his shoulders. "None of these fights are ever to the death. These brats are trained in pure martial arts. They're trained to fight with honor. They know nothing about life and death battle."

"They will learn soon enough," Vegeta muttered, raising a hand to his scouter to find the strongest fighters in the tournament. "There will be no riches for the winner this time around."

"Nioren is very scientifically advanced. Frieza often comes here to recruit some of the scientists to be his technicians. There could potentially be military resistance when we try to take a kid."

"How serious a problem?"

"Minor, not serious. Just an annoyance."

"When does the tournament start?"

"We have some time yet."

"Hn," Vegeta grunted, scanning over his body quickly in frustration. It was draining just to remain standing, but the day had barely started. Raditz and Nappa exchanged a look before they looked back at the teenager in front of them. The bruises on his face had worsened, and his left eye was completely bloodshot and twitching rhythmically.

"Vegeta," Raditz quietly started, ignoring Nappa shaking his head at him. "If you want, we can choose the second strongest fighter to come with us and you can stay here. You don't look very-"

His words were immediately cut off with a fast and violent uppercut straight to the chin, sending the Saiyan flying backwards and landing hard on his back. Raditz felt the pain from the blow radiate up his whole face and then shoot down into his neck and shoulders, before it centered in his mouth. He could feel some broken pieces from a tooth or two rattling in his mouth which was now filled with warm blood. His tongue felt like it was on fire.

Raditz barely had the chance to raise his head before Vegeta planted his good foot right into his throat, applying ruthless pressure.

"Don't you EVER insinuate that I am weak," Vegeta snarled, increasing the force as Raditz tried to shove his foot off to no avail. "I do not need either of you weaklings to help me complete my mission. I am fully capable of finding a brat to recruit, purging his planet, AND killing you both on my own. Understand?"

"Yes!" Raditz desperately rasped out. Vegeta scowled, keeping his boot right where it was for five additional seconds that felt like decades to Raditz, before releasing the pressure. He removed his boot, and levitated up a few feet, glaring over at Nappa.

"Let's go," he ordered, and blasted off without further hesitation into a flash of blue light in the sky.

Vegeta kept his eyes straight ahead, flying at full speed and completely indifferent to the fact that Nappa and Raditz had no hope of keeping pace with him at this velocity. He easily placed Jhainer, Cui, and Manzin; between the four of them, they were hands down the most powerful beings on the planet. They had each landed on four opposite ends of the planet.

Vegeta reached up with his scouter to establish a transmission with Jhainer, when the Trikan boy suddenly appeared out of nowhere, teleporting mere inches in front of the prince. Completely caught off guard, Vegeta couldn't slow down in time and he collided with Jhainer, both teenagers barreling together out of the sky until they crashed right into the ground, sand exploding around them on impact.

"Goddamned Trikan," Vegeta hissed a moment later, shoving Jhainer away from him, "Get off me, imbecile!"

"Why don't you watch where the hell you're going, Saiyan?" Jhainer irritably demanded, pulling himself up so he was sitting, his thick blue tail angrily lashing against the ground. He leapt up to his feet moments later with ease before dusting off his silver armor.

"Me?" Vegeta cried out, pulling himself up so he was sitting, his left arm secured against his ribs. He shot the older boy a nasty glare, and was breathless when he yelled, "I'm not the one with the teleportation device, idiot!"

"You're also not paying any damn attention to your surroundings," Jhainer snorted. He paused in thought when he saw the condition Vegeta was in. The Saiyan hadn't looked like that when they parted ways after getting briefed on base. "What happened to you?"

"Nothing," Vegeta grumbled, slowly pulling himself up to his feet, leaning all of his weight on his left leg. He cursed under his breath as he wiped off the sand on his armor.

"Right," Jhainer knowingly said, his good eye cold and hard as he frowned. After a moment, the young Trikan slowly squatted down. With one blue, clawed finger, he drew out one word in the sand so no one would overhear on their scouters.


Vegeta glared down at the name, then shifted his dark gaze to make eye contact with Jhainer. He was partially inclined to involve the other boy, but to kill one of Frieza's ranked men was a grave offense that could potentially mean his own death at Frieza's hands if word got back to the tyrant. One slip of the tongue from Jhainer, and his life could be over. He knew Manzin would never say a word to Frieza should Ajox die at his hands, because he would want his own retribution. Nappa and Raditz didn't know his plan to challenge Ajox, but they would soon. They also wouldn't say a word. But did he trust Jhainer to that degree? It was a tremendous risk.

Finally, Vegeta roughly kicked at the name, purposely sending sand flying right into Jhainer's face. The prince sneered at Jhainer, exposing his canines in blatant challenge.

The Trikan snarled as he shot up to his feet, and without any further hesitation, he flew right into Vegeta, slamming into his midsection and sending them both crashing back into the sand and right into an impromptu brawl. Both teenagers were struggling to gain the upper hand as they grappled in the sand, each trying to gain leverage, both hitting the other wherever and whenever they could. Finally, Vegeta mounted Jhainer, striking him with a hard punch to the face. Jhainer easily blocked the second punch, hauling Vegeta down and smashing his elbow hard into the Saiyan's nose. Jhainer's tail reached around and hooked into the top of Vegeta's armor, roughly throwing the younger boy right off.

Both scrambled up to their feet instantly, sizing each other up for a few seconds. Vegeta brushed at his nose, leaving more blood stains on his gloves, before flashing Jhainer an amused smirk. The Trikan nudged his injured side a bit, tasting a hint of blood in his mouth, before returning the smirk. Jhainer's race wasn't bred for combat like the Saiyans, but he had been trained for battle since he could walk. He loved a good fight just as much as the Saiyan standing across from him, and it showed in his exceptional skillset.

Vegeta spit out a mouthful of blood, before going to say something when there was a crunching sound behind them. They instantly whirled around, tensed now for life and death battle instead of a sporting brawl, but there was no one there. For the first time, Vegeta finally took in his surroundings on the planet. They were encircled by dark, enormous structures that stretched far into the sky, disappearing into red and yellow clouds. The structures looked like they were made of rock, but they were curved and looping amongst themselves like snakes, as though writing in a language he didn't understand.

Jhainer let his scouter run a few seconds, his battle stance unchanged. He frowned as he lowered his hand. "I got some readings but they're all under 2,000," he softly said. "Everyone is heading towards the tournament. We should go too-"

"Shut up, Trikan," Vegeta hissed, straining his hearing as he watched the blinking lights on his scouter. In the distance, he heard faint footsteps. "I think someone is trailing us and I'm going to find out just who it is."

Without a sound, the prince advanced, staying in the dark shadows cast by the structures to remain undetected. Jhainer moved with him, staying close behind, both of them moving in complete silence. Finally, the teenagers came up to a wall of rock with some shrubs. Vegeta, having levitated the whole way, leaned up with his back against the wall, and then they both peeked around the corner.

There were four aliens gathered together, surrounding a fire with white and blue flames. Strung up over the fire was some animal that looked like it'd only been skinned moments ago. The aliens were small, silver, and sleek, as though designed by metal. They only had two all-black eyes on their heads with two holes on either side where their ears should've been. No hair, no noses, no mouths. They were all small, none of them surpassing Vegeta and Jhainer in height.

The two smallest aliens looked to be engaged in a spar of some kind while the other two aliens sat and watched silently. All were dressed in loose, black rags, making them appear poor. But the fighting was anything but. Vegeta watched with wide eyes, captivated by a fighting style he'd never seen before. The aliens moved with such natural fluidity and speed, phasing in and out of sight, countering moves again and again. They must have been trained, and trained well. They had instincts though that couldn't be taught.

"Well there goes your theory about enemies on our trail," Jhainer whispered lowly so only Vegeta could hear him.

"Hn. They must be preparing for the tournament," Vegeta whispered back.

"They're both impressive. Powerful for children," Jhainer relented, earning a grunt of agreement from the prince with him. "No surprise Lord Frieza sent us here to recruit."

"Perhaps we should introduce ourselves," Vegeta whispered, a smirk spreading over his face.

"Zarbon said we're not supposed to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves. If they find out what we're truly here for, it could jeopardize the entire mission."

"When the hell did Zarbon say that?"

"He told us on our scouters before we left base."

"Ah, well, my scouter was broken at the time, so I didn't get that message."


"Calm yourself, Trikan. The tournament hasn't even started yet, right? There is nothing to do anyways. Might as well see what these brats are made of when the lights aren't focused on them," Vegeta snickered. Jhainer just shook his head in disapproval, but did nothing to stop the Saiyan as he levitated over, entering the view of the other aliens. Jhainer hesitated a moment, glancing over in the direction of the tournament which was going to get underway soon, and then followed after the prince.

The spar between the two smallest aliens came to an abrupt halt at the sight of the two young soldiers coming into view. Vegeta chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest, amused at how all four of the aliens stood and gathered together, with the two small fighters in front, their small, silver hands balled into fists. He couldn't read those black eyes, but he knew just from the body language that they were afraid. As well they should have been.

"We didn't mean to interrupt," Vegeta informed them, maintaining his levitation to hide his limp. He gestured towards where the spar had been taking place. "Please, do continue. We're eager to see more of your fighting skills."

The four aliens stared blankly back at him, unmoving. "Seems like you wrecked the festivities, Vegeta," Jhainer softly said, exposing his sharp teeth when the Saiyan got close to the animal over the flames.

"I do that a lot, it seems," Vegeta chuckled, reaching in with his gloved hand and ripping right into the dead animal with his fingers. He tore out a chunk of half-raw meat and sniffed it carefully, before chucking the piece into his mouth. His stomach growled with hunger – he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten, and he eagerly ripped out a larger piece of the animal's flesh. He turned back to the teenager with him. "Hungry?"

Jhainer stepped forward, his own starvation getting the better of him. He ripped out a piece of meat for himself while Vegeta chewed, staring at the aliens across the flames from him. He smiled and dusted off his hands, gesturing again for the spar to continue. He couldn't tell the genders of the aliens, but he didn't care. The two runts could fight, and he wanted to see them in action.

"Go on, I want to see more," Vegeta ordered again, waving his hand back to where the two small aliens had been fighting. When he was again met with silence, the prince's eyes darkened considerably, and his tail slowly unwrapped from around his waist with his growing ire. "That's twice now that I've told you brats to get back to fighting. I believe that's one time too many."

"Vegeta, they probably don't understand you," Jhainer said in between bites of his meal.

"Is that so? Well, fortunately, there are other ways to get the message across."

Vegeta suddenly phased in and grabbed one of the larger and weaker aliens, gripping them roughly by their rags. In a flash, he had the alien's face inches away from the white-hot flames on the ground, easily holding the weaker being in place.

No! a boy's voice echoed in Vegeta's head in panic. The prince glanced over at one of the small fighters who had stepped up, and grinned.

Telepathic, are we now? Vegeta sent back mockingly.

Y-yes, the boy sent back, bowing his head in respect. There was no way for him to express fear on his face, but there was terror in his heavily accented voice. My name is Raum. I was fighting with my brother Adriel. We are with our sisters in preparation for the tournament. Please, don't harm us.

The Saiyan stayed in silence for a moment, frowning in thought. He looked forward at the female alien in his grasp who was struggling helplessly to get away from the flames that were threatening to burn her any second now. The Saiyan snorted and pulled her back, throwing her roughly to the ground. He then turned his sights towards the smallest alien there, the boy who had communicated with him telepathically. Raum's attention was distracted as he and his siblings rushed towards the fallen alien woman.

Vegeta instantly intercepted Raum, wrapping one hand around his throat and brutally slamming him back into a structure of rock. He heard an alarmed telepathic cry in his head, and his battle sense picked up the other small fighter, Adriel, running desperately towards him to defend his brother. Jhainer phased in immediately and fired a vicious ki blast into Adriel's face before the boy could attack Vegeta, sending him crashing back to the sand. He rolled over, clutching his face in pain.

The prince chuckled, looking back at the boy in his grasp who was struggling to free the grip around his throat.

"Can you hear what I'm saying, boy?" Vegeta demanded, tightening his grip. Raum nodded. "Excellent. Now, I spared your-sister, wasn't it? I believe I'm due something in return for being so merciful today. What do you think?"

We have nothing to give, Raum sent telepathically with a whimper.

"Oh, I think you have plenty to give. Here is what I want you and your brother to do. I want you both to advance into the semi-finals, and then purposely lose your fights there. Look as bad and as pathetic as possible when you do."

But we need the riches! Our father is ill, and-

"Calm down, boy. If you do this for me, I promise I will take care of your father for you and the rest of your family. You and your brother will both be...handsomely rewarded."

No, Raum sent back, his voice unwavering. Vegeta just smiled at him.

"Jhainer," he ordered, his smile slowly turning sadistic. "Kill all three of them."

NO! Raum desperately pleaded.

Jhainer chuckled, his blue tail waving as he went back over to the cooking animal. "I don't take orders from you, Vegeta. Handle your own problems."

"So be it," Vegeta growled, raising his free palm out towards the remaining three aliens.

Alright, I agree! I accept! Just please, don't hurt them! Raum cried mentally. Vegeta looked back at him, fascinated to see that his black eyes were now shining. The prince blinked, and then frowned when he realized they were tears. He promptly released his grip on the boy's throat, sending him falling back to the ground. Raum scrambled over to his brother, helping pull the boy up as they staggered over towards their older sisters and huddled together in fear.

"I'll be watching the tournament from beginning to end," Vegeta warned, making eye contact with all of them. "Any of you try anything, and I mean anything, I will kill all four of you, then find your planet and kill everyone there. Understand?" They all nodded, and he gestured for them to leave. "Go, get prepared for your fights. I will be watching soon."

Jhainer was silent as he watched the aliens leave. He was squatting down and eating meat from the animal that was half-bones by this point. He ripped off a piece and held it over the fire to cook it more when Vegeta came up next to him to eat as well. The two teenagers ate in a comfortable silence, both of them staring into the white flames.

"You should have just let both boys fight to their maximum capacity," Jhainer softly commented after a few minutes. He reclined back and sat down on the sand. "Get them some fighting experience, and truly see what they can do."

"And let Manzin see their potential?" Vegeta snorted. "I don't think so."

"What the hell does it matter to you? Even if he got one of them, you could get the other. You have second choice."

"I don't want Manzin to get one of them, idiot. If neither of them make it into the finals, then he definitely won't pick them. If they can't make it into the semi-finals at all, then I won't pick them either," Vegeta snidely explained, slowly sitting down as well. He gingerly stretched out his feet, trying not to wince when he did. Unspoken by the prince was the fact that if he somehow failed, he preferred Jhainer to win over Cui and Manzin. It was unspoken but well understood, not to mention mutual. They lapsed into another comfortable silence for some time, until Jhainer's soft voice finally broke it.

"This is the first time I've recruited." The prince next to him looked over at him curiously, but Jhainer was staring into the flames, his good eye narrowed. "Those children have no idea what we're going to do to them and their homes."

"We have our orders. No point in dwelling on it."

"You ever dwell on what happened to your planet?"

"My planet is none of your business," Vegeta snapped.

"I think about my planet often," Jhainer quietly admitted, sounding far older than his years. "You're fortunate, Vegeta. You have two of your people here with you."

Vegeta looked away. "Nappa and Raditz are idiots."

"Perhaps, but they're Saiyan. I haven't tasted the air of Trika in…" Jhainer's voice trailed off, and he shook his head.

"You will see your native land again when you earn rank."

Jhainer shot Vegeta an amused look as his thorny tail rose up behind him. "Are you finally conceding that I will emerge the victorious man in the rank qualifying squad?"

"You will, but not from this squad. You can try again after I win though."

Jhainer shook his head. "Arrogant words from the individual with zero points thus far."

"Unnecessary concerns from the weakest member in the squad." Vegeta chuckled at the glare that he got from the older teenager before his scouter beeped. He reached up, and accepted a live communications link with Nappa. "What is it?"

"We've arrived at the tournament. Manzin and Cui are already here, and are seated at the front. This place is huge, Vegeta. There are lots of fighters."

"When will it begin?" the prince demanded.

"Five minutes."

"I'll be there."

Vegeta cut the transmission, looking over at Jhainer. "Looks like our break is over. Time to get back to work."

"Yes. Back to Lord Frieza's work," Jhainer muttered, barely able to hide the remarkable bitterness in his voice.

Vegeta frowned, not saying anything to that as he slowly got up to his feet. The two teenagers were soaring through the air only moments later. Yes, it was back to Frieza's endless work. One day though, it would end - and it would end by his hand.

Unfortunately for all of them, that day was not today.