The Art of War »
A/N – I couldn't help it. I finished this chapter and I decided to post it before the due date, my treat.
Circa Nine Years before the Last Chapter's Events
Colors mingled dually together, stark scarlet against medic white—stretching onwards, merging, shifting, splashing—hemmed in by the soft pulse of a fragile consciousness. The morbid luminosity of the red teetered on the verge of conquering the white, its crimson ringlets trickling into the snowy expanse, permeating clarity with fleshy, bulbous ruby.
Through the white emerged a mottled patch of amethyst, glinting once before sinking into the pearly depths once again. A distant drumbeat hummed vacantly in the frosty void, each subtle rat-a-tat-tat puncturing the breadth of glaring white…
A dull roar arose in the milky chasm, and a wave of vermilion crashed upon the sugar-white shore, grappling for position before ebbing into a feeble carmine tide. The hoarse roar continued its husky crescendo, stirring the red ocean into a typhoon of thick, globular crimson. The white began to shrink, retreating as burgundy overtook it. And still the roar grew louder, desperate, piercing…
The rhythm accelerated and became clearer, accentuated with a harsh snap in time with its hectic beat. Now a dim flicker of pale yellow dribbled into the abyss, tearing at the crumbling walls of white and the caterwauling current of scarlet. The dark river gurgled over the pallid yellow, and now the jewel-esque purple arose through the onslaught, slicing through the red waterfall and causing a ripple of pain to shriek through the expanding yellow. So many colors…so many…
And then there was nothing—just cool black mist, blanketing everything in tranquil silence…
Frieza withdrew his hand in disgust and watched the prone form of the unconscious five-year-old slump to the floor, a burgeoning puddle of blood blossoming around his body. The tail of the child, its fur matted and tinged a bloody puce, was still curled loosely around his waist in a vain attempt at shelter. The lizard slowly approached the broken figure, his lips turning upwards as he surveyed the damage. Suddenly, a fit of rage consumed the icy features of the Icejin and he lashed out violently, kicking his victim across the room. He hit the opposite wall with a sharp crack, remaining unresponsive.
Frieza had been unable to tame the fiery will of the young Prince. It was for the insubordination of refusing to kneel in respect that this punishment had been inflicted upon the stubborn child. Vegeta had adamantly stood his ground even in the face of a beating, reigning in his cries of pain, staying deathly silent. Frieza had screamed at him, pummeled him, smashed his body against the wall in frustration—but it was to no avail.
Scowling at the near-corpse splayed against the wall, the mercurial tyrant barked impatiently into his scouter, "Take the monkey prince to the medical wing immediately."
Moments later, four reptilian medical assistants scurried nervously into the room with the corners of a metal stretcher secured between them. Directing a glance of annoyance toward one of the unlucky slaves, he snapped, "You there. Come here."
Wringing his two-fingered hands in anxiety, the green-scaled creature blinked his catlike topaz eyes at his master before bowing humbly. "Y-yes, Lord Frieza?"
Examining one of his black nails appreciatively while he spoke, Frieza commanded, "See to it that princey here doesn't completely heal in the rejuvenation chamber. I want him fatigued for his next little appointment with me. Perhaps then he will be more inclined to obey me when he finds himself lacking in strength to fight back."
With a fidgety nod, the enslaved medic whisked back to his work. As his bulging saffron eyes took in the grotesque sight of the comatose child, he could not contain the shudder that phased through him. A small part of him respected the Prince for daring to rebel against the dictator that held them all in captivity, but a larger part pitied him and thought him to be a hopeless fool—pining after liberty he would never gain.
He was grieved that a young boy should have to endure such suffering. He saw it painted clearly on his battered face—pain and loss, masked by a profound hatred and iron determination. It seemed unfair that a mere child had to experience the confusion of being sentenced by his loved ones to live in this barbaric world. He was still infantile—so vulnerable, so moldable. Perhaps that was why Frieza favored the Prince, if frequent beatings and constant mockery could be counted as favoring.
Pushing his momentary lapse of sympathy to the back of his mind, the doctor aided in the team effort of hauling the now bloody stretcher out of the throne room.
Nappa exhaled sharply, his onyx eyes smoldering as he clenched his fists. "What?" He seethed to the edgy medic. Behind him, Raditz took a step forward, his wild hairstyle quivering with his movements. The two warriors had been sent on a purge without Vegeta, and had arrived back at base in time to hear the infuriating news of the meeting their Prince had had with the wicked Icejin an hour before.
"Don't hurt me! I'm just following orders!" The reptile-reminiscent doctor squeaked in defense, holding his slimy hands out in front of him.
"What did Frieza do?" Nappa snarled.
Sighing, the green-skinned being gestured for both of the Saiyans to follow, leading them into a large, white-walled room in which the rejuvenation tanks were kept. Both soldiers were horrified when their eyes caught sight of the bruised and broken form of the child prince floating inanimately in crystalline sapphire fluid.
Raditz growled menacingly, bringing his fist down violently onto a nearby table. Splinters radiated out from the impact. "He doesn't deserve this!"
Several of the medical assistants had been given quite a scare from Raditz's outburst and skittered away to attend to business elsewhere. After taking an uneasy glance around the room and confirming the fact that he was alone with two furious Saiyans, the unfortunate medic scrambled to redeem the situation and placate his irate clients.
"Look, I'm doing the best I can. He is in a tank and his wounds are already healing. Once your Prince is ready, I will let you know," he assured them, conveniently excluding the information that once their young royal remained in DNA-enhanced liquid for the amount of time it would take to heal his wounds without rebooting his energy reserves, he would be subjected to a second brutal audience with Frieza.
"We will wait here for Prince Vegeta's recovery, then," Nappa determined.
Oh dear. "I am not quite sure—" the doctor began, but was interrupted by Raditz.
"We are going to wait here, and you cannot stop us." Raditz insisted, clamping one hand upon the trembling shoulder of the alien.
"I—" The reptile stuttered, a thin, pink tongue darting out before slithering back into the damp recesses of his mouth. How could he tell them the truth? They would surely kill him.
At that moment, a slim female whose features resembled those of a dog shuffled in, her aquatic blue eyes somber. A sleek metal clipboard was clutched in her feminine paws, and she tapped it absentmindedly. Looking up, she reported, "According to my estimates for the time he will take to partially heal, he is due to see Frieza again in four hours."
Upon noticing the muscular men posed in threatening positions next to the doctor, who looked visibly shaken, a look of fear flashed within her deep blue irises and she backed away, her jaw hanging slack. She recognized the hostile visitors, and suddenly the extent of information she had let slip dawned on her. "Am I interrupting…something?" She questioned in a desperate attempt to feign innocence.
"Who is due to see Frieza in four hours?" Nappa inquired darkly.
Behind the volatile warrior, the medic caught sight of the doctor making a slashing motion across his throat with one quaking hand, his eyes widening earnestly. The expression would have been comical if the situation was not a dangerous one.
"That information is strictly confidential," she replied.
Faster than she could bat an eye, the ill-fated nurse soon found herself pinned against the wall by the broad fingers of a bristling Saiyan warrior, cutting off every wisp of oxygen. Gasping for breath that would not come, she writhed helplessly, her fleecy paws clawing in vain at the vice grip of the livid bodyguard. As she tilted her head back for a scream, she was mortified when all that came out was a sickly wheeze of air. Warm, sticky fluid bubbled through her matted pelt and ran in reeking streams down the wide hand that choked her.
"I—I'm only following orders—" she managed to hiss.
"Is it Prince Vegeta?" Nappa snarled unrelentingly.
"You're not the only one who has to follow orders around here, scum! Now tell me!" Nappa shook her aggressively, a spray of spittle hitting the cheeks of his captive as he spoke.
"Y-Yes…" she whispered weakly, and the brawny Saiyan let her limp body sag to the floor. Whimpering softly in between frantic gasps for air, she rubbed the sore bruises that were now beginning to blossom across her aching throat.
A dirty expletive erupted from Nappa as he turned his vigorous attention upon the small-statured Prince hovering aimlessly in the cerulean solution, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. Hatred welled within the powerfully built bodyguard when his thoughts turned to Frieza.
"How could that blasted lizard do this to him? What gives him the right?" Nappa fumed, pacing thunderously through the cramped space.
/Nappa,/ the deep, raspy voice of the second-oldest member of the Saiyan trio pinged into his mind, brushing against his conscious.
Irritably, Nappa sent back, /What is it, third-class?/
/Don't speak of this now. Frieza has spies everywhere, just waiting for you to slip and say something out of line./
As much as he hated to admit it, Raditz was right. Any punishment they received for insubordination would be inflicted upon their Prince, and neither of them wanted to cause him any more humiliation than he already underwent on a daily basis.
/But what can we do? Surely we can do more than just stand and watch him get beaten!/
The silence on the other end of the mental link assured Nappa of his fears. There really was not a thing they could do to help their Prince except be there to support him when he needed it, and clean up the aftermath as soothingly as possible.
Suppressing a sigh, Nappa hammered one meaty fist against the cold metallic surface of the door in a repetitive knock. The sounds punctuated the echoing expanse of the corridor, but there was no accompanying response from within the room—only stubborn, wordless silence, mutely proclaiming to the world what words could never hope to convey.
"Vegeta, at least answer me so I know you're alive." The tone was firm, but rueful considering the recent events that had transpired.
Just as expected, he was met with the same obstinate taciturnity as before.
"Vegeta," he persisted, gentler this time, almost pleading. "Just say something."
"Go away, Nappa!" The embittered reply cut through inches of solid steel and electronics separating the two Saiyans, causing Nappa to wince unhappily.
"Vegeta, please—" Nappa beseeched him, but was abruptly cut off by another torrent of words emanating from inside the Prince's quarters.
"I am your Prince, so you have to obey me when I say go AWAY!" Although muffled, the hoarse voice belonging to the five-year-old warrior still managed to sound haughty, flustered…and miserable.
"No, Vegeta," Nappa heard himself say, and he was not surprised when nothing but stunned silence persisted between them.
His courage mounting, the aging bodyguard continued, "Your father assigned me to keep you safe and out of trouble, Prince. It is my job to do so, even at the cost of disobeying your orders. I promised him, Vegeta."
"Well a lot of good you've done! I sure haven't felt safe lately! What use is your worthless protection if Frieza has the authority to override it like he did today?" Vegeta snarled venomously from behind the door.
The scathing remark stung more than Nappa cared to admit. Clearing his throat, he answered levelly, "There is only so much I can do. One of the ways I can and should help is by talking with you. I just want to talk to you, Vegeta. Please let me in."
"No buts, Vegeta. How about you open the door?"
He heard tidbits of unrecognizable muttering and almost smiled in spite of himself. He then heard the activation code being entered into the pad on the other side of the door, and with a whoosh the entrance yawned before him. Vegeta had briskly retreated toward his cot and now lay on his stomach with his face turned away from his mentor. "Come in," the child barked coldly. Nappa nodded and strode into the small living space, seating himself upon an uncomfortable stool by the bed.
"Well?" Nappa prompted.
"Well nothing. You were the one who wanted to talk," Vegeta spat.
Silence settled over the room for a while, and Nappa grew anxious.
"Vegeta," the older warrior ventured, unable to take the eerie quiet any longer, "Do you want to tell me what happened today?"
"No!" He snapped automatically, unconsciously curling into a ball. "Why would I want to tell you? Why can't you just leave me alone?" He hissed into his pillow.
Gingerly, Nappa laid a hand upon his Prince's shoulder, a feeling of relief coming over him when he did not flinch away from the comforting touch. "You can tell me, Vegeta. It may help somewhat."
More silence descended, encompassing the small space in a blanket of soundlessness that seemed slightly more amiable than last time.
After several minutes, during which the tension between the fighters began to dissipate, Vegeta turned his heated gaze upon his bodyguard in a sudden movement. "I hate him!" He declared hotly, his fists clenched tightly enough to draw blood.
Nappa's visage darkened. "What did Frieza do?"
The Prince did nothing but shake his head viciously, his tail flicking frantically in agitation. "I hate him!" He repeated, but with more malice in his voice.
"My question remains." Nappa asserted.
Turning his smoldering gaze upon his mentor, Vegeta scowled. "I didn't bow to him. He punished me. They put me in the rejuvenation tank—"
"I know all that, Vegeta. What did Frieza do the second time?" Nappa encouraged him.
"He asked me if I was willing to bow to him. I said no. Then, he…" Vegeta's voice trailed off as the weight of his shame crashed down upon him.
"He punished you again?" Nappa inquired softly, knowing how humiliating it was for his Prince to be crushed in such a way.
Without saying a word, Vegeta nodded. "Yes. B-But then, he—" at this moment the stormy countenance of the young Prince morphed into something reflective of fear, "—then he stopped."
"Stopped?" The muscled warrior questioned, alarm rising in him.
"Yes." The flame-haired youth found a sudden interest in his gloves. "A-And he told me…" the roughened voice grew quieter.
"What did he tell you?" Nappa asked in an attempt to keep the boy talking.
Whirling toward his comrade spontaneously, he exclaimed in anguish, "He told me if I didn't bow, he would kill father!" Pounding his fists against the mattress, he turned away and shut his eyes, his head lowered in disgrace.
This new piece of information left Nappa speechless. How dare Frieza say such a thing…?
But the Prince was not finished. Grasping fistfuls of blanket in his gloved fingers, he cried heatedly, "I bowed, Nappa!"
"I—I just couldn't bear the thought of…" He began to explain before his voice faded and his shoulders slumped in defeat. "I don't want him to die, Nappa."
Nappa sighed. "I know, Prince."
"Father says that real warriors don't cry," Vegeta stated suddenly, more to himself than to Nappa, as there were unshed tears pooling at the corners of his eyes. He swiped them away roughly with a gloved hand, leaning into his mentor's touch.
"I—I want to be a real warrior, just like Father," the Saiyan Prince continued. "Father is strong. He says that I will be a Legendary Super Saiyan one day, just like my ancestor was!" A smirk graced his boyish features. "And then I will punish Frieza!"
"Your father is strong, but you will be much stronger than him one day," Nappa told him.
Vegeta glanced up, one bushy eyebrow quirked. "You really think so?"
Nappa smiled knowingly. "I know so, Prince."
Review! The next chapter is due by 12/24/2012, but may come earlier.