The wind blew his hair back and stung his eyes. Blinking, he looked over his shoulder to see the shape of his pursuer rapidly advancing toward him; he gritted his teeth in determination, and focused his gaze ahead again. He would not allow himself to be caught. Concentrating his ki, he shot forward at a greater pace.
Buildings whizzed by below him, nearly invisible blurs, and he deftly wove his way among towering skyscrapers. It would have been foolish, he knew, to think that he could escape through the use of so simple a trick, but he hoped that he could put enough distance between himself and his pursuer so that he could reach his goal. A quick glance backward showed him that the strategy was not working very well; his pursuer continued to gain ground.
He growled in frustration, but then grinned as he saw his destination---an expansive courtyard next to a large domed structure---rushing forth to meet him. With an extra boost of ki, he surged toward that courtyard, angling his flight downward as he approached it. Lightly, he touched down on the tender grass, his white flying aura disappearing like a snuffed candle flame; a few seconds later, his pursuer landed next to him, and he looked up at him, smiling.
"Ha! Beat you again, Gohan-san!" he crowed triumphantly.
Gohan-san smirked slightly. "Hai. Guess I'm a bit slow today, huh Trunks?"
"We shoulda started at the same time; you woulda got closer that way," Trunks responded matter-of-factly. Whenever they raced, Gohan-san would give him a ten second head start to make things fair; that had been fine when Trunks had been little, but it had become obvious to the younger boy that he didn't need them anymore. He won all the time, though Gohan-san did get close once in a while. "Bet you weren't half as fast as me when you were my age!"
"You know, you're probably right," Gohan-san said with a slight chuckle; at the chuckle, he drew in a sharp breath, and pressed a hand to his side.
Trunks eyed his friend concernedly, but said nothing. His face darkened with understanding, though; Gohan-san had clearly been fighting the jinzouningen recently, and had gotten hurt. Trunks wasn't disturbed that his friend always tried to battle the evil robots, but he did wish that he could help. Despite his persistent pleading, the older boy refused to teach him to fight.
Gohan-san must have noticed his worry, because he straightened, and smiled down at him. "It's nothing, Trunks. I'm fine. Now let's get inside before your mom yells at me for keeping you out too late."
"Hai," Trunks agreed quietly. The sky was slowly edging past dusk, which was the only reason that Gohan-san had let the race be in the city; too many people were out during the day, he always said, so the two of them shouldn't be flying around because people might mistake them for the jinzouningen. While it irritated Trunks to no end---he liked to zigzag around the skyscrapers---he understood the logic, and never complained.
As he and Gohan-san entered the Capsule Corporation facility, Trunks noticed that his friend was walking a bit funny, limping as though his left leg hurt him; and, he realized, glancing up at his face, his dark eyes were a bit clouded, as though he were trying to mask the fact that he was in pain. One thing was evident: despite what he'd said, Gohan-san was not fine.
Trunks angrily scrunched his face into his best imitation of his mother's famous glare. "You should be teaching me to fight. They wouldn't be able to hurt you like that if I knew how to help."
"I told you, Trunks---I'm okay," Gohan-san sighed exasperatedly. "There's nothing you could have done to help me, anyway. I can't always be worried about you when I'm fighting; it would make me worse off than I already am."
A hot, furious flush rose in Trunks' cheeks, and his hands clenched convulsively into fists. He couldn't believe this; Gohan-san thought he was in the way! "So I just get in the way, huh? Fine! I'll stay out of it! See if I ever try to help you again!"
Clamping his lips shut, he stormed down the hallway on his own, the sound of his forceful steps echoing off the walls.
"Trunks, wait!" Gohan-san called after him, but Trunks ignored it. "Trunks! Come on!"
Upon reaching his room, Trunks flung the door open, nearly tearing it off its hinges; he stomped across the floor, irritably kicking away the occasional toy or article of clothing, and hopped onto the bed.
I can't believe Gohan-san said that! he seethed, folding his arms across his chest. He's s'posed to be my best friend! Your best friend isn't s'posed to tell you that you get in the way!
Balling one hand into a fist, he drove it into his pillow, easily punching a hole through both the fabric and the thick stuffing. He wouldn't be useless in a fight; only little kids would be useless, and he wasn't a little kid anymore. He was a whole eight years old--- almost a grownup. If Gohan-san would just give him a chance, Trunks would show him that he'd be able to help him battle the jinzouningen.
Startled by the voice, he jumped, and turned to see his mother standing in the doorway, her blue eyes concerned. He looked down at the pillow still impaled on his arm, and sheepishly pried it off, small bits of stuffing falling onto his lap.
His mother smirked faintly. "Gosh, I can't keep anything around you anymore, can I? At this rate, I'm going to have to reinforce the walls so that you don't accidentally knock down the house," she joked, but then her face turned serious, and she crossed the room to sit next to him. "I ran into Gohan in the hall a minute ago, and he looked pretty upset. What happened? You two have an argument?"
Trunks frowned, and turned away from her. For a minute, he debated whether or not he should answer, but then decided that he may as well. "He thinks I'm a pest."
"Nani?" His mother sounded shocked.
"I told him that he should teach me to fight, so the jinzouningen wouldn't be able to hurt him," he explained, and fought a burning sensation in his eyes. "He pretty much said all I'd do was get in the way."
Silence reigned for a few minutes, before his mother broke it. "Trunks-chan." He didn't turn back to her, but her fingers firmly gripped his chin and forced him to look at her. "You know better than I do that a lot of the time, the things Gohan says come out wrong. He was probably worried about you getting hurt yourself. He wouldn't want to risk that, especially considering that we don't exactly have a ready supply of senzu beans."
Casting his eyes downward, Trunks nodded as much as he could; his mother did have a point. Gohan-san tended to come off as a little cold, but usually didn't mean it; Trunks had forgiven him for that kind of thing before. As his mother released his chin, he suddenly took note of her last statement. "Senzu beans?"
"Hai," his mother responded. Her brow wrinkled. "I guess he never told you about those, did he?"
Trunks shook his head; his curiosity piqued, he asked, "What are they?"
"He and the others used to use them all the time. Eating one would instantly heal all your wounds and restore your strength," she paused, and almost laughed before continuing. "I lost count a long time ago how many trips we made to Korin Tower---that's a long ways away from here . . . to the west, I think---to get those things. I doubt it's still standing anymore, though; the jinzouningen probably destroyed it years ago."
"Probably," Trunks agreed softly. That was too bad; those senzu thingies sounded like they would've come in really handy in times like these. But if that tower were still standing . . .
His mother good-naturedly nudged his shoulder. "Anyway, it's your bedtime, kiddo. You're going to smooth things over with Gohan when he comes back here tomorrow, right?"
Obediently, Trunks crawled forward on his bed, clumsily dragging his damaged pillow with him and propping it up against the headboard; he pulled down the blankets and squirmed under them, a plan forming in his head as he did so. "Hai, Kaasan."
"Well, that's great," she said, messing up his hair a little before tucking him in. "I hate seeing you two fight. Night, Trunks-chan."
"Night, Kaasan." He carefully kept an eager smile off his face until his mother left the room, and then let it fully stretch his lips.
He was going to fix things in a way that she couldn't even imagine.
"Okay, let's see . . . Jacket: check. Backpack: check. Food: check. Comic books: check. Looks like I'm all ready to go."
Trunks had kept his voice low as he'd listed his supplies, though he was far from any of the bedrooms and thus wasn't in any danger of waking his mother or his grandparents. At night, a person was supposed to be quiet; it was just a rule. He'd purposefully waited a few hours before he got ready for his trip so that he could be sure his mother was asleep, knowing that she wouldn't let him go. It wasn't as though he liked to disobey her---in general, he always tried to be a good boy---but this was simply something that he had to do. He would apologize to her when he got back.
He slung the backpack over his shoulders, and was about to slap off the glaring kitchen light, when a pang of guilt hit him. His mother would be worried sick about him if she woke up and didn't know where he was, and he didn't want her to feel that way. Biting his lip, as was his habit when he had to make a difficult decision, he turned and walked back into the kitchen. Finding a piece of paper with a lot of big words that he couldn't understand written on it attached to the fridge by a magnet, he carefully took it down and flipped it over to the blank side; he looked around for a pen, but didn't see any. There was probably one sitting on the counter somewhere, though.
Trunks stretched up onto his tiptoes, trying to see on top of the counter, but only his forehead cleared that level. He sighed in annoyance; it was no fun being short. Still, it was no big obstacle; he simply levitated himself a bit and scanned the countertop. He let out a soft crow of triumph when he found a pen, and quickly printed a note---he was just starting to learn how to write in script, so that would have been too messy to read---on the sheet of paper; he replaced it on the fridge.
There! Now Kaasan will know where I went, so she won't get worried, he thought, striding confidently to the door. Without missing a step, he hopped lightly and smacked off the light switch, drowning the room in darkness.
A cold gust of wind blasted over Trunks as he stepped out into the courtyard, and he shivered, turning up the collar of his dark blue jacket. He couldn't help but feel a surge of excitement at the thought of what he was doing: going on an adventure all by himself, and a useful adventure, too. If he did a good job, he was sure that Gohan-san would see that he could be of help to him.
West. That was what his mother had said before she'd tucked him in. Confusedly, he searched the sky. Which way was west? His adventure was going to end awfully quickly if he couldn't figure out that point. Maybe he should have thought of bringing a compass . . .
An idea flashed into his head with the speed of a lightning bolt, and he scrutinized the heavens more closely until he found what he was looking for: a single bright blue star that outshone all the others. Gohan-san had taught him one time, when Trunks' mother had allowed him to stay up late for once, that that bright blue star pointed directly north; if he remembered right, to go west, someone had to turn left from north . . . so he had to make sure that the star was always on his right.
With a small smile of pride, Trunks secured his backpack more firmly on his shoulders and sprang into the air, twisting his body westward. Under normal circumstances, he likely would have been quite tired right now, since it was several hours past his bedtime and he hadn't slept at all, but the thrill of what he was doing sent adrenaline pumping through his blood, keeping him refreshed. In fact, he felt more energetic than if he had slept, and flew at a speed far beyond what was normal for him.
It wasn't until he was almost an hour into his journey that he realized that there was a rather big flaw in his plan: his mother would tell Gohan-san, and then Gohan-san would track him down using his ki, which was all too detectable when he was flying. Trunks was quite good at ki control---at least Gohan-san had taught him that much---and could push it down to nearly untraceable levels . . . but not when he was flying; the very act of flight required a person's ki to stand out.
He frowned in thought. While he didn't exactly feel good about hiding from Gohan-san, he'd determined to do this himself, and he wasn't going to go back on that. Surely there was some way he could keep from being found . . .
That way came to him suddenly, and he let out a soft sigh of relief. Yes, that idea just might work, though there was, of course, only one way to know for certain. Still, he was pretty confident that things would work out.
Boy, he thought. I sure am glad that I'm smart.
Bulma idly ran a brush through her chin-length hair as she strode down the hall toward the kitchen. For a moment, she closed her eyes and took a large sniff of the air as the delicious aromas of pancakes, sausages, eggs, and various other breakfast foods wafted through it. She sighed in contentment; her mother was a wonderful cook, much better than Bulma herself, who had no time to learn how and no patience for it besides. And the sweets her mother concocted on nearly a daily basis were also greatly appreciated, especially by Trunks; there was just a natural connection between children and sugar.
Pops and sizzles greeted Bulma's ears as she entered the kitchen; her mother stood over the stove, singing softly to herself before looking over her shoulder.
"Oh, good morning, Bulma-chan!" the elder woman said brightly, though not quite with her normal cheeriness. "How're you doing, dear?"
"Great, Okaasan," Bulma responded, absently leaving her hairbrush on the table as she went to pour herself a cup of coffee. Taking a swig from her mug, she noticed that the table was empty. This was rather strange; Trunks was an early riser, and always the first one at the breakfast table---being half Saiyajin, he would not risk missing a meal. "Okaasan, have you seen Trunks-chan yet this morning?"
To her surprise, her mother stuttered, "Um . . . n-no dear, I . . . I haven't." The elder woman dipped her hand into the front pocket of her apron, and pulled out a neatly folded sheet of paper. "I found this note on the fridge when I first got here. Trunks-chan left it for you . . . Now, promise that you won't get too upset, dear. He means well . . ."
Bulma set her mug on the counter and snatched the paper out of her mother's hand, unfolding it in a rush. A brief note was indeed there, in Trunks' large and somewhat clumsy printing. Her eyes widened as she read it.
I went to that tower to get those senzu thingies that you talked about. Don't worry about me, since I know how to take care of myself. I'll be back soon.
Bulma's hand clenched, crumpling the note, and she angrily gritted her teeth. "Good Kami," she growled. "I never should've told him about those. Trunks-chan, what on Earth possessed you to do this?"
"Bulma-chan, are you . . ."
She ignored her mother, storming out of the room and heading toward the nearest phone. While she would have dearly loved to go out and search for Trunks herself, she was well aware that she would have poor odds of finding him; there was no telling how far he could've gotten during the night. For the first time, she wished she had the ability to sense ki, so she could just track down her son and drag him home, but since she couldn't do that, she guessed that she would have to rely on someone who could. Upon reaching a phone, she lifted the receiver, and punched in the number of the Son residence.
Gohan's ears pricked at the harsh ringing of the phone, but he remained seated and continued to devour his breakfast; his mother rushed to answer the call, and out of mild interest, he kept his ears trained on the other room.
"Hello? Oh, Bulma! What . . ." he heard his mother say. "Trunks did what? Oh, my . . . No, no, don't apologize; I understand completely. Don't you worry."
Gohan stopped eating when he heard Trunks' name. What kind of trouble had that kid gotten himself into this time? Granted, Trunks didn't cause trouble very often, but when he did, it was never anything small; he seemed to subscribe to the theory that if someone were going to do something, he should do it in a big way.
He looked up as his mother re-entered the kitchen, her face betraying a mixture of anxiousness and determination. "Kaasan, what . . ."
"Trunks flew off sometime last night," she interrupted. "He left Bulma a note saying he was going to Korin Tower to get senzu beans, and she doesn't have any idea how far he might have gotten by now."
Gohan was glad that he'd stopped eating, otherwise he was sure that he would have choked to death on his breakfast. "Korin Tower? Is that place even still standing?"
"Well, apparently Trunks thinks it is. Gohan-chan, Bulma needs you to . . ."
"Find him and bring him back home," Gohan finished for her, shooting out of his chair so quickly that his knees banged the underside of the table, flipping the piece of furniture upside down and spilling its contents onto the floor. Normally, he would have paused sheepishly after having done such a thing, but there was no time for that right now; nonetheless, he spared half a second to apologize. "Gomen nasai, Kaasan."
He raced out the door, his mother calling behind him, "Gohan-chan, be careful! Trunks isn't the only one who could get killed out there!"
Gohan permitted himself a small, brief smile at those words as he launched himself into the air. No matter that he was seventeen years old; he was still his mother's "baby boy", and she didn't want to see him hurt.
He shook his head to rid himself of those thoughts, and cast his senses outward in an effort to orient himself on Trunks' ki. After a moment, he frowned, unable to sense the child's presence, but he instantly dismissed the grim possibility that had entered his mind. While he was very sensitive to the feel of Trunks' lifeforce, it was likely that he was still too far away to get an accurate reading. Another issue to consider was Trunks' fine grasp of ki control. Gohan had trained him in that, since the kid had taught himself to fire ki blasts at the age of four, and would have been a legitimate---though quite unintentional---threat to his family if he hadn't learned how to handle it properly.
As the ground blurred far beneath him, a smear of ugly brown interspersed with the occasional blotch of green, Gohan began to wonder why Trunks was pulling a stunt like this. He sincerely hoped that it didn't have anything to do with their falling-out the previous day; if it did, and something happened to the kid, it would be all Gohan's fault. Gohan knew first hand what it was like to have guilt gnaw away at one's soul, having experienced the sensation for years over the deaths of the other fighters, and had no desire to feel it again.
After a while, he opened his senses once more, fairly confident that he'd closed the gap between himself and Trunks sufficiently enough to find his ki, but he still could detect nothing. He swore under his breath, an action he rarely took, even as much as these harsh times had changed him from the innocent young child that he used to be. It looked as though Trunks wasn't going to make this easy on him. What else was new?
Gohan sighed wearily. This was fixing to be a very long day.
Trunks rummaged through his backpack as he swallowed the rather large bite of food he had been chewing, and smiled when he felt his fingers close around a small stack of cookies. He pulled them out eagerly and almost immediately shoved one into his mouth. Most of the food he had packed was the stuff that he liked best: the cakes and various other desserts that his grandmother made. Still, he knew that his mother would be angry if he only ate sweets, so he'd packed a few pieces of fruit, too---not that he had eaten any of that, yet.
Crumbs trickled down into his lap as he ate, and he brushed them off with his free hand, and onto one of the comic books he had being reading during the course of the afternoon. He didn't really care, though, as he'd already finished most of them, and they were scattered in a semi-organized half circle around him on the grassy plain in which he'd decided to rest.
Boredly, Trunks stared up at the sky, wishing that the day wasn't quite so clear, so that he could distract himself by seeing what shapes the clouds made; the sunset was pretty, with the way it coloured the sky in bands of yellow, orange, and a shade of purple that his mother had always said matched his hair, but it wasn't terribly interesting.
So far, this adventure wasn't turning out to be very difficult or exciting like he'd hoped it would be, especially since he'd decided that he couldn't fly during the day if Gohan-san was coming to fetch him. Instead, he would fly at night time, when he hoped that Gohan-san would be taking a rest.
Finished with the cookies, Trunks thoroughly wiped his hands off on his pants, and found himself yawning loudly; he knuckled his eyes drowsily, annoyed that he was feeling so tired, even though he hadn't slept well when he'd first stopped in the morning.
Oh, what's the point? he thought. I'm bored anyway, so I might as well nap until it gets dark.
He was about to stretch out on the grass, when he saw the distant sky flicker oddly. Blinking, he froze, and stared at the flickering area more intently, trying to figure out what was causing it. After a moment, he knew beyond a doubt; his eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed shut in an expression of fury that should have been unnatural for someone his age.
"Jinzouningen," he spat. Roughly, he snatched up the scattered comic books, wrinkling the pages beyond reclaim, and shoved them into his backpack. He suddenly didn't care if Gohan-san caught up to him or not; he was just going to get those senzu things and demand to be taught how to fight---and he was never taking "no" for answer again. Never. He was sick of having to stay back when Gohan-san tried to help people.
He violently jerked the backpack onto his shoulders, trying not to think of all the screams and buildings falling on top of people that were surely happening where the jinzouningen had decided to attack. Nonetheless, he couldn't fight back a shudder before he blasted into the sky, his body surrounded by a pale white aura, and his face set in ruthless determination.
A startling blaze of power seared into Gohan's mind, and he pulled up sharply, his flying aura extinguishing. That's Trunks!
He sighed, relieved that he had finally found his younger friend, but then frowned with worry as he got a better feel of the child's power; Trunks' ki was pushed high, nearly to its limit, and laced with urgency, meaning that he was probably in danger. The jinzouningen were far from the only threat in the world, but were the only one that could cause such a stir in Trunks; with his natural strength, and adeptness with ki, the kid could handle pretty much anything else on his own.
A wave of fear rippling through him, Gohan flared his ki to the Super Saiyajin level, the power lightening his eyes and hair and surrounding him in an aura of golden flame. Ready to fight, if necessary---and provided it wouldn't be too late by the time he caught up to Trunks.
This time, as he rocketed through the skies, the ground beneath him did not blur; in fact, it hazed out of his vision entirely, as though it had never even existed. It simply was not fast enough to keep up with him, as he was travelling beyond the speed of sound. But light moved a good deal more quickly than sound, and as such, several bright flashes managed to invade his peripheral vision.
It was enough to make him pull up again and stare at the flashes' origin. His eyes could detect an oddly wavering skyline . . . No, that wasn't a skyline, he determined once he squinted to get a better look---at least it wasn't one anymore. Rather, it was a series of massive smoke plumes, slowly billowing into the heavens.
Both Gohan's fists and his teeth clenched, a low growl escaping his throat; those blasted jinzouningen just didn't know when to quit. As if what destruction they'd already wrought on the planet and its people wasn't enough, they had to demolish another city. He was about to rush to the inhabitants' defence, but half of his mind was still trained upon Trunks' ki; it wasn't terribly far from the city as fast as Gohan could cover distance, but not close enough to be endangered.
His mind twisted indecisively; half of him pushed him to get to Trunks, while the other half urged him to find the jinzouningen. Hundreds of innocent people were dying over there, but Trunks . . . Gohan shook his head, deciding that he ought to do what he'd come here to do, no matter how much he might like to help those people. The question was moot at this point, anyway; no more flickers had lit the sky since he had paused to observe the scene. The attack was over.
Solemnly, Gohan closed his eyes. "Gomen nasai," he whispered softly, hit by a slight pang of guilt at his own helplessness. With a single shake of his head, he opened his eyes, and yet again set off after Trunks.
So focused was he on this task after a few moments, that he didn't even see the blast coming.
Trunks wasn't sure, but he thought he saw something ahead of him, some kind of building. Could that be the tower? As he got closer, he was able to make out more details; it was indeed a building, a slender spire of which he couldn't see the top. He couldn't tell what colour it was, since it was partially silhouetted by the sunset. That didn't matter, though; this simply had to be the place.
Finally! I--- His thoughts were cut off by a huge pulse of energy intruding upon his consciousness, and he halted in midair, looking over his shoulder. There was only one ki on the planet that was that powerful . . . The ki took a sudden drop before rising even higher than before, gaining an edge of what Trunks assumed must be violence.
"Gohan-san . . ." he whispered, his heart pounding against his ribcage. If that were indeed violence that he sensed in his friend's aura, then that must mean that Gohan-san had run into the jinzouningen. He was in trouble, and would need help. Trunks gathered himself to fly to his aid---
"I can't always be worried about you when I'm fighting; it would make me worse off than I already am."
Gohan-san's earlier words burned into his mind, and he relaxed his tensed muscles. He couldn't fight, yet; he didn't know how, and that was the whole point of his self-imposed mission. The best way for Trunks to help Gohan-san was to go and get those senzu things just like he'd planned. Drawing in a heavy breath, he shot toward the tower as he murmured one single sentence.
"Be careful, Gohan-san."
Drawing in a sharp breath between clenched teeth, Gohan tried to ignore the searing pain in his back. Instead, he concentrated on the two figures, those of a male and a female, which hovered a few feet away from him, their grey eyes emotionless, and their slender arms crossed over their chests.
"Didn't I tell you, Juuhachi?" the male figure asked in a smooth voice. "I knew I saw him out here."
Juuhachi reached up and tucked a few strands of blonde hair behind her left ear. "So you did. Your optic sensors must have been functioning properly, for a change, Juunana. I'm impressed."
Gohan's eyes darted between the two jinzouningen, and occasionally over his shoulder. He really didn't need a fight on his hands right now. Trunks was nearby, and could potentially get caught in the crossfire. There was no way that Gohan could allow himself to fight full-out when that possibility existed; all it would take was one misfired ki blast . . .
"So," Juunana addressed him for the first time, eyes lighting up with glee and lips stretching with mischief. "How's our favourite toy today? Still broken, or ready to play again?"
Juuhachi spoke up before Gohan could form a retort. "Looks like he's recovered enough to provide us some entertainment." She shifted her gaze onto her brother. "So who gets him this time?"
"I played with him last time," Juunana responded nonchalantly. He closed his eyes and gracefully swept his arm out in a gesture of invitation. "Consider him yours, sister."
"How very kind of you," Juuhachi drawled. And then attacked.
Gohan had been ready; he flung his arm out to block the jinzouningen's kick, following up with a quick roundhouse to her midsection. Juuhachi, however, blurred away at the last possible second and landed a heavy blow to his spine, and another to the base of his skull.
The world bobbed crazily in Gohan's vision for a moment, but he managed to regain his composure. Sensing another attack, he hurriedly dodged, and spun, bringing a hand up to catch the next. Blows shot out at a pace greater than rapid-fire, all Juuhachi's, for Gohan could find no holes among her strikes to make any of his own---she was so blasted fast.
Unfortunately, holes in his defences were all-too present; he missed a block, and Juuhachi's fist slammed into his chest, and her elbow into his chin. A painfully bright light grew in front of his eyes; with a startled gasp, he was scarcely able to bend his body backward to evade the blast of pseudo-ki that would have done a very nice job of blowing his face off had it hit him.
Reflexively, both of his hands shot out to catch her foot just before it drilled into his abdomen. He tried with all his strength to push the foot away, but Juuhachi's continued pressure was making such an action impossible; the stalemate was decided when the jinzouningen promptly smashed her other boot into his face, instantly breaking his hold---and very nearly his nose.
Gohan ignored the dizzying pain in his head, and let free two swift strikes at Juuhachi; both connected, the jinzouningen obviously not thinking that he could have recovered so quickly. With a furious growl, she lashed out with her fist, but Gohan was already gone. He'd decided on a hit and run strategy; a close-quarters battle was putting him at too much of a disadvantage.
Again, Juuhachi charged at him, and he followed his pattern, allowing only brief exchanges before darting out of reach. Continuously driven backward across the sky, Gohan wished for once that this could be taking place in a city, or in the mountains, or a forest . . . anywhere but an open plain where he had nothing to use as cover---something that he would be needing in short order. After having fought the jinzouningen for years, he was painfully aware of one fact:
He couldn't keep this up forever . . . but Juuhachi could.
Trunks gulped in a great volume of air, but this did little to improve his lightheadedness. It was getting tougher and tougher to breathe the higher he flew; more than once, he'd felt as though he were on the verge of fainting. He never allowed it, though; if he did something that weak, he wouldn't be able to help Gohan-san.
How high is this stupid thing, anyway? Trunks thought irritably. He felt as though he had been shooting straight upward for hours, and he still couldn't see the top of the spire; sometimes, he'd wondered if he were really even moving at all.
He could still sense Gohan-san's ki far below him, flaring high between bouts of lower, but stable levels. Occasionally, it took a dip, causing Trunks' heart to jolt. The ki always rose again, though, so he knew that his friend was safe for the time being; hopefully, he could stay that way.
Another bout of dizziness assaulted him, and he stopped his ascent, head swimming. He drifted closer to the tower, and pulled himself over a guardrail to lie upon a flight of stairs. Allowing his eyes to slide shut, Trunks panted heavily, waiting for his head to clear---and it wasn't until it did so that he realized exactly what he'd done.
His eyes snapped open as he scrambled to his feet. A flight of stairs. There hadn't been one of those on the tower, not in all the height he'd travelled. And, he noticed for the first time---while mentally kicking himself for not realizing it earlier---the building was no longer simply a spire; rather, it contained a slightly squashed spherical structure, cut in half lengthwise, the separate halves apparently connected by thin pillars, just inside a low railing, around its perimeter.
For a moment, Trunks was so awed that he could only stare, but a violent flicker of Gohan-san's ki jolted him into action; he charged up the stairwell, heedless of his breathing difficulties, the sound of his hurried steps echoing after him. When he reached the top, he half doubled over, palms resting on his thighs, and head bowed, as he tried to draw air into his burning lungs.
"You would be Trunks."
Startled, Trunks straightened up in attention at the sound of the slightly grating voice that had just spoken. Before him stood a pudgy white cat, a little shorter than he, holding in its left paw a wooden cane that was perhaps twice his height; the cat's eyes were squinted shut, making Trunks wonder if it could even see, and a knowing sort of smile was plastered to its face.
"H-hai," Trunks answered, blinking in confusion. "But . . . but how did you know that?"
"Watching the Earth for a few hundred years gives one a good opportunity to learn about people," the cat responded, its smile not fading.
"Uh . . . right . . ." Trunks trailed off uncertainly. This strange little---and apparently centuries-old---cat was the master of the tower? It seemed odd, but he supposed that weirder things had happened. There was no time for that at the moment, anyway. Now what was the cat's name supposed to be, again? It had to be the same name as the tower, but he couldn't quite remember what his mother had said that was . . . "Boring-sama?"
The cat let out a strangled gurgle, and nearly fell over; only a firm grasp on its cane kept it on its feet. "That's Korin-sama, child. Korin-sama."
"Oh." Trunks bowed politely. "Gomen nasai, Korin-sama," he apologized in his most respectful voice. "I didn't mean any offence."
Korin-sama calmly walked past him, cane tapping the floor lightly at each step until he reached the edge. "The world's gotten itself into quite a fix, hasn't it? Worst one yet."
"Hai," Trunks said slowly, unsure just what to make of him. Korin-sama seemed very distant, but he didn't seem unfriendly, either. Not really. He shook himself mentally; he'd come here for a reason, and it wasn't to try and figure out some old cat. "And Gohan-san is in trouble, too. Kaasan told me that there were some senzu things here that could heal somebody right away. I thought they might come in handy, so if you have any . . ."
Korin-sama didn't turn, just remained in the same position, peering down upon the world. "Hmm."
Trunks waited for the cat to say something else, but nothing came. He was about to repeat his question, when his heart leapt into his throat; Gohan-san's ki had taken a drastic dive, and it didn't rise afterward this time. He rushed to the edge of the platform, staring down as though he could actually see any distance in the darkening sky, but could not.
A harsh gasp broke through the block in his throat; Gohan-san's ki took another hit, and vanished from his senses. Slowly, a burning sensation crept into Trunks' eyes. No . . . Come on, Gohan-san, you can't be dead. You can't! he thought desperately. Still, he felt nothing, and the burning spread from his eyes to thin trails of fire on each cheek; convulsively, he clenched his fists. Stop it! Stop scaring me! Do you hear me, Gohan-san? Stop it!
All was still, as though time itself had frozen in fear. Trunks, frustrated and helpless, glared down at the world, willing time to continue so that he could sense Gohan-san again---and until he did, he would not believe that time was passing. How could things go on if his best friend was dead?
And this was all his own fault, too, Trunks realized. This happened because he'd snuck off to get those senzu things in a stupid stunt to try to prove his worth; if he'd stayed home as he was supposed to, everything would have been fine. One would think that he'd have learned by now not to sneak off---only bad things had come of such an action in the past---but no; he'd just had to do this.
Abruptly, a new sensation interrupted Trunks' self-berating, and his heart returned to its normal position in his body; he allowed himself a small smile of relief. The sensation was Gohan-san's ki, quite low, but present, and steady. He should have known that the jinzouningen hadn't killed him; Gohan-san always managed to survive, somehow.
"Well, that certainly was a close one."
Trunks jumped and turned at the sound of the comment; in his concern for Gohan-san, he'd totally forgotten about Korin-sama. Briefly, he glanced downward before returning his gaze to the old cat. "Hai. But he's still hurt, though. Do you have any of those senzu things, or not? He's gonna need me to get those to him."
He waited for a long moment, but Korin-sama didn't answer him. In fact, Trunks would have thought that the cat was eyeing him measuringly, had those eyes been open. The sightless stare made him uncomfortable, and he was unable to stop himself from squirming under it; a great and unnerving knowledge seemed to burn behind the perpetually closed lids.
Eventually, however, Trunks' temper overpowered his discomfort; his cheeks flushed red, and his lips pulled back in a snarl. "Well?" he demanded. "Do you have any, or not? Gohan-san needs my help!"
For some reason, the grin on Korin-sama's face widened. "Relax, Trunks. I do have a bag of them left. If you'll give me half a moment, I'll get it and you can be on your way."
Trunks calmed at these words, but at the next ones, spoken as Korin-sama hurried to the centre of the platform where stood an odd-looking little shrine, he blinked in confusion.
"Far better that one leaves as another enters, than for both to depart. More guests will be here very shortly, after all."
He wondered about these odd statements for only a second, before a bright flash caught the corner of his vision, and drew his attention back to happenings beyond the platform's edge. He tried to dismiss the conclusion made by his rational mind, telling himself that his eyes were just playing tricks on him; such was a comforting scenario, for his rational mind told him that the flash had been a ki blast.
"Hey, Juuhachi, check that out," Juunana called over his shoulder.
"What is it?" Juuhachi snapped. "What kind of useless thing are you pointing out, this time?"
Juunana chuckled a little; his sister was quite amusing when she was angry, and she was especially infuriated right now. The kid had managed to score a few decent shots on her today, before she'd beaten him into the ground, so she was naturally in a bad mood. It had been more than worthwhile letting the kid live after every battle---if one could even call them battles; the entertainment never seemed to stop.
"This," he said, halting in front of a slender white spire which he could see clearly due to the automatic adjustment of his light receptors to the darkness. "I didn't think that humans could construct something of this size. I wonder how we missed it."
"So you just dragged me over here to look at some boring building? Could you possibly find a bigger waste of time?"
Juunana ignored her, instead tilting his head backward, noting that the spire extended beyond his range of sight. "I wonder how high it goes." He turned at his sister's disgusted sigh.
"Are you just going to float here all night, admiring the architecture, or something?" Juuhachi all but spat, her hands on her hips, and her mouth curved in a frown.
He smiled in response. "Want to see who can blast it into the most chunks before it hits the ground?"
"You're such a little kid, Juunana. Why would I want to do something like that? It's boring," she huffed. "If you want to do it, then fine. I'll just see if there are any humans around here. Unlike destroying buildings, killing humans is fun."
With those words, his sister dove; Juunana watched her until she was beyond his field of vision, his face screwed up in annoyance. He just didn't understand why she was so fussy. All she ever did was pick off humans and try on clothes, and would benefit greatly by expanding her interests.
Well, he wasn't simply going to stand around and let her attitude spoil his fun. Turning his attention back to the spire, he channelled some artificial ki through the circuits in his left arm, and fired an experimental blast nearly straight into the heavens. Juunana waited a moment, then frowned in disappointment as no explosion came; he'd really hoped this thing was a bit higher than that. It seemed that another test shot was in order.
He channelled another ball of artificial ki, and aimed lower this time before releasing it.
Trunks jumped backward with a yelp as another beam of light blazed through the sky in front of him, and had only a fraction of a second to realize that it really was a ki blast before it struck the dome's ceiling. A sudden cloud of smoke and debris engulfed the platform, invaded his lungs. He tried to cough out the stinging substance, but more kept billowing down his throat.
Whipping his attention around, he called out between fits of coughing, ""Korin-sama! Korin-sama?"
The only response was a rough hacking noise that barely reached his ears, yet Trunks' head was spinning too much for him to tell what direction it was coming from. Slowly, the smoke thinned out, and he blinked enough tears out of his eyes to see through the lightening curtain of haze. He caught sight of Korin-sama, his once white fur now covered in layers of grey and black, kneeling on the floor, front paws groping blindly in front of him.
Trunks started to rush to Korin-sama's aid, but was brought up short by the cat shouting, "Catch!" and tossing a tiny object in his direction. Instinctively, he thrust his hands out to capture it---
And missed. Just as the object was about to drop into his outstretched palms, the floor jumped violently, and Trunks tumbled to his knees, before feeling the ground plummet from underneath him.
A thick, stinging cloud enveloped his body, threatening to smother him; he was too distracted by the painful coughs that tore themselves from his raw throat to stop his descent. Bright flashes added another source of pain, this time to his eyes, and caused blobs of colour to dance behind his scrunched eyelids.
The air sweetened suddenly, and Trunks hacked the last traces of smoke from his lungs. Senses clearing, he caught himself in mid-fall; he darted his head around, trying to see what was happening despite the darkness and the fact that his vision was blurred by tears and blocked by floating blotches of purple. In all directions, chunks of what had once been the tower plunged from the sky, some of them exploding like concrete fireworks as they were struck by brilliant yellow ki blasts.
Wait a second, he thought abruptly, a chill erasing the heat of the smoke-filled air. Where's---
A rough slab of the tower crashed onto his shoulder, burning away his earlier chill with a searing hot agony; the sound of crunching bone echoed in his ears, second in intensity only to his sharp cry. Still, he was able to maintain a firm grasp on his ki so that he didn't fall any further---until another large fragment slammed into his back.
Totally consumed by the waves of pain, he only dimly noticed when the weight on his back suddenly vanished in an explosion of light. For a brief instant, he regained his senses and stopped himself again, before another source of agony washed over him.
It was a different kind than he'd ever felt before, throbbing hot one second and cold the next until he could no longer distinguish between the two extremes. While it was concentrated mostly on one part of his body---his stomach---it's fire seemed to spread everywhere as though he had been doused in oil.
The sensation ended almost as quickly as it came; a fierce impact broke his fall, and Trunks had enough thought left for a relieved "thank-you" to pass through his mind as that impact turned his world numb and black.
Slowly, Gohan's eyes blinked open, lids gently scraping against blades of grass. He waited a moment for the heaviness in his head to recede, then, ignoring the aches in his arms, gingerly pushed himself to his knees. An extreme soreness swept through his middle, the result of suffering a great many vicious blows, and a thin trail of blood trickled into the corner of his eye. He coughed a little of the crimson liquid out of his mouth; pain stabbed his ribs at this action, prompting him to press his hand to the probably broken bones.
Swallowing roughly, he at last lifted his gaze. The sky was fully dark, now, tiny blue stars trying vainly to lighten it; Gohan's last memories were of dusk, so he judged that he'd been unconscious for at least a couple of hours---not really all that long, considering what kind of condition he usually ended up in after fighting the jinzouningen. No matter how badly wounded he was after any battle, however, he'd always had the strength to make it home, even if the journey was a slow one; it was as though they were letting him live, not daring to do too much damage, lest they end up killing him by accident.
Gohan smiled darkly at that thought; he wouldn't put such a thing past the jinzouningen. It would be just like them to taunt him like this, to keep him around and continually remind him that he was powerless, that all his efforts were futile. They delighted in such tortures, physical and mental alike; the whole situation was a grand game to them, and he was their favourite playing piece. This game couldn't go on forever, though, he knew. At some point, they would tire of it, and he had to stop them before they did; if he died before he destroyed the jinzouningen, the world would be truly lost. There was no one else.
His supporting arm wobbled, and gave way; he heavily flopped back to the ground. No one else . . . though there could be if he were willing to do what he'd been avoiding for a long time. Trunks had the potential, and wanted to learn; the little boy was making the latter more than clear on an ever more frequent basis. One day, whether trained or not, the kid was going to fight.
A sigh escaped Gohan's lips; there, undeniably, was a battle that he could not win. Far better for Trunks to be prepared for that eventuality . . .
Unsteadily, Gohan forced himself back onto his knees. He'd come all this way to find the kid, and for that reason alone---amazing were the things forgotten when one was in a daze. Letting his eyes slide closed, he let his senses wander onto Trunks' ki . . . and his face wrinkled in worry when he couldn't find it; he tightened his lips, and searched more intensely.
There. A weak, yet fairly stable stirring of ki. Trunks was hurt quite badly, he was sure; while the kid had known for quite a while how to suppress his ki, he was in a wide-open area where the jinzouningen had been about, and thus injury was the more reliable bet. In fact, it was something of a miracle that he wasn't dead.
Gohan pushed himself to his feet, swaying dizzily; he staggered forward a few steps, but managed to keep his balance. Calling forth a tiny amount of ki, he levitated a few inches of the ground, determined to get to Trunks as quickly as possible, and sincerely hoping that Korin Tower was still standing, so that the child could have gotten his hands on a bag of senzu beans, as he'd intended.
He was sure going to need one.
It was dark, and it was hot. That was all, really. Nothing else---except the feeling that he was lying facedown on something hard and lumpy. Truthfully, it wasn't so bad. At least he wasn't in pain, though some tiny part of him knew that he should be. He should be thankful for that. But he wasn't; he was a little boy who was all alone, and didn't even know where he was.
I want Kaasan.
A silly, childish thought, but he was past caring, now. He was only eight---he had a right to act like a baby every once in a while. Anyway, his mother and Gohan-san had been telling him for a while now that he was trying to grow up too fast. Maybe they were right. It wasn't his fault, though. The jinzouningen were to blame for this, for everything.
Pain came now, one giant knife stabbing all of his body at once. He heard a moan, and wondered if that was coming from his own mouth. Strenuously, he opened his eyes, and was immediately assaulted by an intense spell of dizziness that threatened to drag him away from the world. He fought against it, though, some sort of instinct warning him that if he went back to sleep, he wouldn't wake up again. And he wanted to stay right where he was. He had to, but he didn't know how he would manage . . .
Those senzu things. They were probably nearby. If only he could find them . . .
The dizziness receded enough for him to see clearly. At least he thought he was seeing clearly; everything was still dark, so it was difficult to tell. There did seem to be a tiny something sitting very close to him, though he was unable to figure out what it was. Despite this, he, with great effort, reached out his hand nearest to it---inwardly thankful that it was his other arm that couldn't move.
A smooth, limp softness greeted his fingertips, as though he were touching some sort of material. He would have smiled if he'd had the energy to spare for it; the senzu things were in a bag, he'd been told, so that was probably what he was touching right now. Slowly, he clenched his fingers around the bag . . .
And the dizziness regained its strength, sapping his. His fingers relaxed, and his eyes fluttered shut. Desperately, he tried to hold on just a little bit longer . . .
A large hand came over his, gently prying it off the bag; he feebly lunged for the bag---he needed one of those senzu things---but it was already out of his reach.
"Trunks, try to relax," came a quiet, soothing voice. "You're going to be fine. Trust me."
He gasped in pain as he felt himself being rolled onto his back; raggedly, he panted, the darkness around him whirling more crazily than before, drawing him further and further away . . .
The voice spoke again. "No. Stay here, Trunks. Come on. It's me, Trunks; it's Gohan-san. Stay with me, kid. Just a bit longer."
Gohan-san was here? Again, he would have smiled, but anytime that he moved, it only made him feel worse, so he decided that he should stay still. If Gohan-san said he was going to be fine, then he was going to be fine; Gohan-san didn't lie.
He moaned slightly as Gohan-san's hand slid under his head, tilting it up. A pair of fingers forced something small between his teeth.
"Bite down," Gohan-san ordered firmly. "Come on, Trunks. Bite down."
Careful to move slowly, he closed his teeth on whatever Gohan-san was feeding him. It was hard, and tasted terrible, but he was starting to feel better, so he kept on chewing, and then swallowed.
The pain and the heat swept away as though enveloped by a cool, soothing wave. An odd prickling sensation engulfed his stomach, back, and shoulder. His heavy daze lifted from his head. After a moment, the prickling sensation was gone, and so was all feeling of having been hurt.
His eyes snapped open, and he shot into a sitting position. For a minute, he stared at his palms, blinking every few seconds as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Then he examined himself; his jacket and backpack were torn virtually to shreds, and there was a huge hole in his shirt . . . but no bruises, no cuts, no bleeding. It was as though he had never even been hurt.
Gohan-san let out a strained chuckle. "Senzu beans work wonders, don't they, Trunks?"
Trunks looked up at him; his older friend was smiling, though pain was evident in his eyes. Squinting to see in the darkness, Trunks noticed that blood was dribbling down Gohan-san's face from a large cut on his forehead. "Hai. But don't you need one, too?"
"I guess I do," Gohan-san replied. "But only half of one. I'm not hurt all that badly, and it looks like we're going to have to save these for emergencies."
Once Gohan-san had finished eating his half of a senzu bean and was healed, Trunks averted his gaze. "Gomen nasai, Gohan-san."
"What are you talking about?"
"This . . ." Trunks began softly, " . . . this is all my fault. Just because I wanted to get the senzu beans."
"Well . . . mission accomplished, at least," Gohan-san quipped unconvincingly.
Trunks eyed his friend scathingly, annoyed with the attempt at humour, and watched the fake smile fade from Gohan-san's face before continuing. "But if I didn't come here, you wouldn't have gotten hurt like that, I wouldn't have almost died, and Korin-sama wouldn't have . . ." he trailed off. What had happened to Korin-sama? The last time he'd seen him, the old cat was tossing him the bag of senzu beans. After the tower had been blasted, Trunks had been too distracted to think about him . . .
He scrambled to his feet. "Korin-sama! We've gotta find him! He'll need a senzu . . ."
"Um . . . Trunks, listen," Gohan-san spoke hesitantly, placing his hand lightly on Trunks' shoulder; Trunks, in turn eyed him curiously. "Uh . . ." Gohan-san shook his head, then stood. "Follow me."
Anxiousness twisting his insides, Trunks plodded along after his friend, weaving a path through the fallen chunks of the tower. A horrible, sick feeling rose in his throat. He already knew what he was going to find; it was instinct, in this world. This kind of thing happened all the time.
Thus it came as no surprise, really, when he stopped beside Gohan-san and made out Korin-sama's dust-darkened and motionless body lying on the ground, the old cat's wooden cane resting next to it. Trunks' eyes stung slightly, and a few silent tears escaped to roll down his cheeks. He could look at the corpse of a stranger, and not react at all---but it wasn't that he didn't care. It was just because death was so common; he'd seen it before. Korin-sama hadn't been a stranger, though, and Trunks couldn't stop even a small reaction to such a death.
"I passed him on my way to find you," Gohan-san stated, his voice as sombre as Trunks had ever heard it. "It was the fall that did it; one from a height like that would be enough to kill anybody. The only reason I can think of that you survived is that you caught yourself at least once, and so didn't fall nearly as far."
Trunks stood silently for a few minutes, not even bothering to blink the tears from his eyes, before speaking. "We can't leave him like this," he said, his voice sounding all too grown up in his own ears. His next words were born of semi-detached logic. "We should bury him."
Gohan-san quietly agreed, and the two spent the next few hours hollowing out a small portion of the land to be Korin-sama's grave. They could have just used ki blasts, of course, but doing so had seemed improper, disrespectful, so they dug with their bare hands, in reverent silence. By the time they finished covering the body, dawn had streaked the sky in red, orange, and yellow.
Only one thing remained to be done. Trunks stepped around the grave, clutching Korin-sama's cane. The early morning sun warmed the wood under his fingers, making him linger for a single moment. Then, his lips tight with resolve, he sunk the cane halfway into the earth. He held on to it for a few more seconds, delaying this act of closure, and then, slowly, he let go.
He heard Gohan-san's soft footsteps behind him, and didn't turn when they stopped, and Gohan-san's shadow partially fell over him.
"You aren't to blame for any of this, you know," his friend started. "The jinzouningen would have found this place on their own, eventually. And there's no way either of us could have stopped it from being destroyed. You haven't done anything wrong."
"I know," Trunks murmured in response. He'd done a lot of thinking as they had dug the grave, and had come to those conclusions on his own; this whole situation still bothered him, but not quite in the same way as before.
After an uncomfortable silence, Gohan-san spoke again. "If you still want to learn to fight, I'll teach you."
Surprised, Trunks turned, staring up at his friend's face. Gohan-san's features were set sternly, his dark eyes serious, and the trail of blood that had coursed down his cheek from a cut was still present. Senzu beans---the bag of which now hung from the belt of Gohan-san's ragged gi---healed wounds and restored strength, but did not clean one's body or restore one's clothing to prime condition.
Gohan-san really meant it; he'd teach him to fight. But the question was: did Trunks still want to? He wasn't quite sure, after what he'd just been through.
On impulse, he looked over his shoulder, at Korin-sama's cane. The sunlight hit it at a strange angle, seeming to turn the wood from a dull brown to a lovely reddish colour.
" . . . one leaves as another enters . . ."
The realization hit him, suddenly. Korin-sama had known what was going to happen; he'd known his own death was coming. One leaves. So the one entering was . . .
He turned back to Gohan-san, eyes hard with determination. "I still want to learn."
His friend's expression didn't change; he merely nodded. "We should go, now. Your mom's worried about you."
"Hai." Before starting off, he turned to the grave one last time, and bowed deeply. "Goodbye, Korin-sama. Thank you."
There was nothing more to be said. At Gohan-san's prompting, he took to the air, and flew alongside of him. He didn't look back, not even once. He couldn't afford to; all of his attention had to focus on the future. The battle against the jinzouningen was still being waged, and he was a part of it, now. He had entered.