The contest deadline is drawing nearer. . .maybe I shouldnít have entered this late. . .too late now! I still donít own DBZ, (sniff), and Iím not making money on this anyway.

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Chapter 3

Bulma and Chi-Chi screamed and cried as they strove to free themselves from the massive dragonís claws. Why had he taken them? Where was he taking them? Bulma had heard stories from travelers, that some dragons in foreign lands were known for stealing women and eating them. Sheíd never heard of Japanese dragons doing that, but that didnít mean it was impossible. The dragon dove downward and into a wide cave. After passing through a short stone tunnel, they came out in an enormous cavern - the mountain was hollow, shaped to make a good den for Shenlon. Several small piles of treasure were set around, with a hefty pile of treasure to one side, and fresh animals bones lay near a small hole in the wall, apparently awaiting disposal. Shenlon landed on the treasure and made himself comfortable, as though it was only there to serve as bedding. Shenlon put the two frightened women down in the center of his coils to keep them from running.

"Calm down," he said in a deep, booming voice like thunder. "I have no intention of harming you."

"You can talk!" they both jumped. "You can talk?!" they blinked as it sank in a little deeper.

"Why did you kidnap us?!" Bulma demanded quickly, her eyes darting between Shenlonís face and the walls of scales around her.

"What do you want?" Chi-Chi asked simultaneously.

"Actually, I want the help of those samurai you were with," Shenlon answered calmly.

"Huh?" both women blinked.

Vegeta and Kakkarot spurred their horses faster than they had ever gone before, tearing up small pieces of grass and dirt as they covered the miles between the village and the mountains the dragon had landed in. It seemed the village was on one end of a long mountain range, and the dragonís den was on the other. The speed of the dragon seemed impossible, it had covered the distance in mere moments while it would take them a few hours. The sounds of Bulmaís screams and her terrified face still filled Vegetaís mind, driving him into a blind fury at the dragon. The dragonís attack had been so sudden, he hadnít even realized sheíd been taken until she screamed. ((If she is harmed, at all, when I find that dragon, I will kill it myself and have its head as a prize!)) Vegeta swore to himself quietly as he watched the mountains loom slowly closer. Unknown to the prince, and beyond his care at the moment, was that Kakkarot felt much the same as he did, though he was thinking of Chi-Chi.

When they finally reached the mountains, Auroris and Horushu were both too exhausted to move another step, so they were left at the mountainís foot while the two samurai began to scale the brown and gray peak. Fueled by their anger and fear for the women, they climbed up the steep side of the mountain quicker than what was truly safe, aiming for the only cave big enough to permit the dragon entrance to the mountain. They reached it with skinned and dirty hands and knees, and climbed into it slowly with their katanas drawn. They could see the den beyond the other side easily enough, but only the occasional flash of a green-scaled tail-tip told them Shenlon was inside. They inched down the stone tunnel carefully, not wanting to alert the dragon to their arrival, until they reached the end of it and realized it was a few hundred feet off the ground.

"What do we do now, my prince?" Kakkarot whispered as he looked at the distant floor. Vegeta was growling quietly.

"There has to be a way down! We can scale down like we scaled up!" Vegeta answered, already crouching down to do so. Kakkarot was a little less certain of that plan; the wall looked almost perfectly smooth. If the distance wasnít so great, he would have been willing to try jumping, but scaling simply didnít look possible. Not to mention another large problem with that idea.

"But wonít that leave us in plain view of the dragon?" Kakkarot asked softly. Vegeta frowned; he wasnít wrong. He glanced around quickly and spotted Shenlon still curled up by the far wall, his tail lazily swing back and forth across the den, but there was no sign of Bulma or Chi-Chi. Straining his sensitive ears, he could almost hear muffled female voices.

"So what do you suggest, Kakkarot?" Vegeta asked back, obviously losing his patience. Before Kakkarot could answer, a deep, booming voice cut in.

"You could ask for a hand," Shenlon said as his tail slid underneath the cave mouth, making a clean step and slide to get to the den floor. The two samurai jerked in surprise. They glanced to each other, gave a short nod, then jumped onto the tail and slid down it, jumping off when they were near the ground.

"Where is she, dragon? The blue-haired woman you stole - give her back before I--!" Vegeta barked, his katana pointed to the large face.

"Before you what, Little Man?" Shenlon chuckled. The sword was too small to hurt him, unless it went into his eye, and his head was high enough up that it was unlikely.

"Whereís the woman with the raven hair?" Kakkarot demanded, more than willing to help his prince kill this beast.

"Vegeta!"

"Kakkarot!" two small voices called from somewhere in Shenlonís coils.

"Relax, theyíre both fine. I have not harmed them," Shenlon said as he reached into the center of his coils and pulled the two women up in one paw. They looked at each other in relief and joy. "And I have no intention of harming them, if you agree to my terms."

"Terms? What terms?" Vegeta said evenly, his anger barely in check.

"Iíve watched you for some time, and I know how strong and skilled you are. I want you to find something for me, since you can go where I cannot," Shenlon answered, and pulled something else up from his treasure pile with his other front paw. He set down the treasure in front of them - four orange crystal balls with red stars on their sides, which flashed gold every few seconds. They would fill a human palm completely, but looked very small by Shenlon. The two samurai and two women stared at the magical treasures quietly, unsure of what they had to do with what Shenlon wanted.

"What are these?" Vegeta asked. "And what do they have to do with our finding something for you?"

"There are supposed to be seven of these magic dragon balls. Three have been stolen. I want you to find those three," Shenlon explained.

"You. . .want your balls back?" Kakkarot said slowly, and silence followed for a moment.

"Was that necessary, Kakkarot?" Vegeta muttered to him.

"Donít make me breathe fire on you!" Shenlon said at the same time. Kakkarot laughed uncomfortably as a drop of sweat went down his cheek. It just seemed like the thing to say at the time. "Now, for an extra incentive. . ." Shenlon turned back to the subject at hand, and proceeded to drop a sizable bag of gold coins in front of the two samurai. "Youíll get three more like that if you bring the balls back." Vegeta looked at the gold for a moment; he didnít really need money, though their travel supply was nearly diminished. He looked again at Bulma in the dragonís paw.

"All right, weíll find these dragon balls for you - if you let the women come with us," Vegeta said coolly. Kakkarot felt a quick twinge of relief that his prince had asked for both women, and not just the one he preferred. Shenlon eyed him carefully.

"Do you swear you will find them, and bring them back to me, on your honor as a samurai?" Shenlon answered.

"I do," Vegeta said, tilting his head up to show his inner pride.

"Very well then," Shenlon said, and put the women down. Bulma ran into Vegetaís arms, relieved at being safe, and happy to see him again. He wrapped his free arm around her, his sword arm still holding his katana. Chi-Chi went into Kakkarotís willing embrace, and both whispered a prayer of thanks. The men looked to Shenlon again as he put a green jewel on a chain on top of the pile of gold he had already offered them. "This magic tracker will tell you when you are near the balls. Now, go." Vegeta and Kakkarot sheathed their swords and they gathered up the treasure and the tracker. Shenlon lifted them back to the cave mouth so they could leave. "Remember this - the magic of the balls only works when all seven are together, so do not think you can do anything with the three youíll find," Shenlon added as they left. They nodded in understanding, and left quickly.

They climbed down the mountain slower than they climbed up, mostly because Bulma and Chi-Chi werenít really dressed for climbing rocks. When they managed to get back down, they found Auroris and Horushu laying down in the wild grass, still breathing heavily from running to the mountain. The horses neighed and snorted when they saw all of their friends coming back.

"They still need to rest," Kakkarot observed.

"Auroris, can you walk?" Vegeta asked his red steed, who dropped his head as if to say no. "Weíll have to wait a bit, then." Vegeta sighed. They all sat down and ate some of the remaining food supplies while they waited for the horses to recover.

Dusk had settled heavily across the land when Auroris and Horushu finally stood back up, and Vegeta and Kakkarot helped their women up into the saddles. Vegeta held up the green jewel and watched it sway from side to side for a few moments before it glowed and pointed back to Shenlonís den.

"It works, but weíll need to get away from those other four before we can track down the missing three," Vegeta observed as the jewel seemed to tug on its chain as it pointed to the nearest dragon balls. He climbed up behind Bulma and nudged his horse into a relaxed trot. Kakkarot and Chi-Chi followed.

Once they were back to the village Shenlon once protected, the jewel began pointing in a different direction. After a good nightís sleep, they began to follow the direction the jewel pointed to, which, strangely, was almost back the way they had come. The jewel wobbled and jerked as it sought out the stolen globes, leading them once again across the country side.

Emperor Vegeta was going over some documents concerning treaties and trade when the messenger arrived. The messenger was a young man, most likely in his late teens, with dark skin and hair, and light brown eyes. The youth bowed before Vegetaseiís lord and then offered him the parchment he carried.

"I come from the Takanama Province, by request of My Lord Bamu," the boy told him, and Emperor Vegeta nodded in acknowledgment as he took the message and started reading.

"Has my son caused that big an uproar?" he muttered.

"Yes, but not in the way youíre thinking, my lord," the boy answered lightly, and Emperor Vegeta arched an eyebrow at him and continued to read. At the end, he stared at it for a few moments in confusion.

"What do they mean, my son isnít there? I sent him and his guard weeks ago!" the Emperor snapped harshly.

"Yes, my lord, so we all assumed. . .but he never arrived in the Takanama Province, and we were hoping you might know if he had another stop along the way. . ." the boy took a small step back, sensing the Emperorís growing anger.

"Another stop?! No! I told him to go straight to the Takanama Province!" Emperor Vegeta said, his eyes blazing. What had his fool son done this time? He had held high hopes that the length of the stay and silence from his son was an indication he had taken a liking to the princess of the province, but if he had never arrived. . .where had he gone?! A sudden bolt of panic struck the old Emperorís heart; what if his son had gotten into a battle with bandits, or worse, and had been killed? He shook the fear off quickly, that was nonsense! His son was the strongest fighter in Japan, he couldnít be killed so easily; and it wasnít like he was alone, either. Kakkarot was almost as strong as the prince. So, that left one other option - the prince had run off. "I will send out men to find him. Tell your Emperor that as soon as heís found, the prince will be reprimanded and then sent to the Takanama Province as promised," he told the boy as he quickly wrote a message of apology to the rulers of Takanama, along with the vow he had just made.

"Yes, my lord," the boy nodded, took the new note, and left. Emperor Vegeta watched him go, and then sighed and shook his head. ((My son. . .strong, proud, smart, with all the promise of a great ruler. . . if only he wasnít so pigheaded! What am I going to do with him?)) he thought, clenching and unclenching his jaw. Then he stalked to the training grounds, where several of his samurai were sparring.

A youth with long, spiky hair clashed swords with a much older, taller, mustached bald man, while others watched the duel of skills. The youth almost had the older man, but he let out a burst of shear brute strength that sent the youth sprawling.

"All of your fancy moves are worthless without strength to back them up," the older man said.

"Strength alone wonít get you far," the youth snapped in return.

"Ease off, son. You almost had him that time - next time he wonít be so lucky," the youthís father, who bore a striking resemblance to Kakkarot, said as he helped his son up.

"Raditz, Nappa," the Emperor said, grabbing their attentions. The youth, Raditz, snapped to full attention, as did the older man heíd been fighting, Nappa.

"Yes, my Emperor?" they said as all present bowed to him.

"I need some assistance. It seems my son never arrived in Takanama," the Emperor said coolly.

"What?" Raditzís head snapped up. Nappa stared blankly.

"Neither he, nor his guard, ever showed," The Emperor repeated. "Iím sending you two and some others out to find them."

"Thereís been no word?" Raditzís father asked slowly.

"No, Bardock, there has not. And I assure you, your youngest son will receive punishment for failing in his duties," the Emperor said with a scowl, and then left to get the rest of the Ďrescue teamí together. Raditz turned to his father.

"Why wouldnít they be there?" he wondered aloud.

"Letís hope itís simply because the prince didnít want to go, and nothing more serious," Bardock answered. Raditz gave a nod. He didnít always get along with his little brother, but he was still his brother, and he didnít want him to be dead or hurt.

"Come on, kid, letís get ready. I canít believe the prince would pull something like this," Nappa grunted as he headed off to change and pack. Raditz went to do the same with his father behind him.

"Missing?" Okarana, Bardockís wife and mother of his sons, stared at them in shock.

"Well, they arenít where theyíre supposed to be, and no one knows where they are; thatís missing in the common use of the word," Bardock answered, and received an icy look from his wife.

"This is no time to joke!" Okarana snapped. Then she turned to Raditz. "Raditz, I wish you good luck in your search for the prince and your brother. I want both of you to come back safely, all right?" she said gently. Raditz nodded as he put some things into a bag to take with him.

"Iím sure my brother and the prince are fine. They just got side tracked. It didnít take a genius to see that Vegeta had no interest in going to Takanama," Raditz answered. "And my brother isnít the sort to insist his prince do anything he doesnít want to."

"Even so," Okarana said. Raditz finished packing and went to get his horse.

"Donít be too hard on your brother when you find him, all right?" Bardock said before Raditz stepped out of their house. Raditz glanced over his shoulder at them and gave a quick smirk.

"I wonít be any harder on him than I normally am," he said, and went on his way. His parents looked at each other for a moment. They werenít sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

The tracking jewel led them to another village surrounded by rice fields. They walked past the houses as the jewel levitated horizontally, pointing the way. Many people saw the magic talisman and backed away, uncertain of their purpose. The jewel suddenly glowed and practically pulled itself out of Vegetaís hand, trying to go toward a young couple, no older than he and Bulma. Vegeta walked up to them as the green jewel pointed to a round pouch on the womanís side.

"What is that thing?" the woman asked, backing a way.

"A tracker. You have an orange crystal ball in your pouch - take it out," Vegeta said coldly.

"Itís stolen property," Bulma stepped in, hoping to ease the situation. The woman looked stunned and pulled the ball out of her pouch.

"But how can that be? You said you bought it for me!" she turned to the young man she was with.

"B-but I did! From that merchant who passed through the village a few weeks ago!" the young man objected quickly. "Are you sure itís stolen?" he asked, turning to Vegeta.

"Positive. And not just stolen, but stolen from a dragon," Bulma said before Vegeta could answer. The two looked down at the shiny orb with a mixture of regret and panic, and then she handed it over to Vegeta.

"Thank you," Vegeta said, and walked away. Kakkarot moved forward and found out how much the boy had spent on the ball, and then gave him that much out of the gold theyíd been given.

"Well, if theyíre all this easy, weíll be done in no time," Bulma observed happily as she admired the ball.

"And then we can move on to more important things," Vegeta agreed.

"Say, did the merchant have any more of those balls?" Kakkarot asked, drawing Vegetaís attention back to the couple.

"Yes, now that you mention it. . .he had two more," the young man nodded. "They were stolen too, huh?"

"Yes, they were. Which way did the merchant go?" Vegeta asked, coming back over.

"He left heading south," the young man answered. "Thatís all I know."

"All right, then," Vegeta pulled out the tracker again, and sure enough, it pointed south.

"Thank you, youíve been helpful," Chi-Chi said politely to the couple with a small bow. The couple went on their way, and Vegeta, Bulma, Kakkarot, and Chi-Chi set off to look for the next ball.

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Okarana - a play on "okra", a green vegetable.

I accept comments - NansJns@aol.com!


Chapter 2
Chapter 4
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