Well, getting two extra weeks isnít exactly a bad thing. . .
Ah, no, DBZ still hasnít been signed over to me, and Iím still not getting paid.
"Promise for Always. . .?" "Promise for Always!" Two soft voices, echoing from somewhere far away. Vegeta twitched and stirred in his sleep as the voices played through his ears; voices that were familiar. He woke with a small jerk, and sat up to clear his head. He looked around the dark inn room he was sharing with Kakkarot and rubbed his head. He had dreamed something strange, but he was already forgetting what it was. He recalled something about a promise, but nothing else, not even what the promise was. He sighed a little and laid back down. Bulma and Chi-Chi were in the next room over, and he could hear Bulmaís soft breathing when he concentrated. The woman was having an amazing affect on him, one he didnít quite understand. Kakkarot, he knew, was completely gone on Chi-Chi; the love-struck fool would likely ask her to marry him soon. Vegeta grunted and rolled over. He had no right to mock Kakkarot for such a thing; he was no better, and he knew it. He wanted Bulma for his empress, he knew it now, but what of his father? He wondered, as he started to drift back to sleep, if maybe he could reason with his father, convince him that Bulma was the best choice. . .and then he buried his head in his pillow, knowing that would happen around the same time that his horse sprouted wings and started talking while he flew. Bulma rolled over in her sleep, aware, somehow, on some level, that Vegeta was restless. The small, clay-bead and cherry-seed necklace she always wore when she traveled rattled softly, the half-stone pendant in the center of it landing on the mattress when she finished moving.
They left the town early in the morning, the magic tracker continuing to point south when it wasnít pointing to the ball they already had. The tale of a traveling merchant with self-proclaimed rare and valuable treasures cropped up in a couple of the places they went through, and all agreed the man had gone on. They hadnít yet located anyone else who bought one of the orange crystal balls, though a few people did remember seeing such items in the merchantís cart.
"Well, you can say this for that Ďmerchant,í he wasnít a total idiot," Vegeta grumbled as they rode on. "He moved as far as he could from Shenlon after taking the balls."
"The question is, does he still have the other two, or has he sold them like the first one?" Bulma sighed, tired from the journey.
"At the rate and direction weíre going, weíll be back in Vegetasei before long," Kakkarot observed as they trotted down the worn path, the horses side by side.
"Itís been a while since you were home, hasnít it?" Chi-Chi asked lightly.
"Months. . .uh-oh. . ." Kakkarot blinked suddenly as he realized just how long it had been.
"Something wrong, Kakkarot?" Vegeta asked.
"I just realized how long weíve been traveling. Surely the Emperor of Takanama will have contacted your father to find out why youíre not there by now," Kakkarot answered, looking to Vegeta. Vegeta hissed.
"Damn! Youíre right! And if he has, my father has most likely sent out soldiers to find us!" Vegeta gritted his teeth in annoyance. The last thing he needed or wanted was a band of his fatherís men on his tail when he still hadnít figured out how to present Bulma as his choice of wife.
"On the plus side, they wonít know where to look," Bulma offered. "And I can rig up an alarm for when we camp."
"Can you?" Vegeta glanced at her.
"Well, it wouldnít be anything fancy, just something to rattle or ring when a trip wire was set off," Bulma said, her sharp mind already putting the alarm together. "Iíll need a few supplies from the next village. . .hmm, maybe a net to slow them down while we get away. . ." Vegeta shook his head in quiet pleasure. The womanís mind never stopped amazing him. There was just one little problem.
"If my father has sent men out to find me, then theyíll be going through every populated area for signs of us; meaning weíd better start avoiding villages and towns as much as we can," Vegeta said, frowning. He preferred a bed to the ground, especially with the rainy season on its way.
"Thatís a mighty big Ďifí," Bulma said.
"Not that big. Itís been close to three months since we left, and it only takes about two weeks to get to Takanama. Theyíll certainly want to know why Vegeta isnít there yet, and to find out, they would have sent someone to Emperor Vegeta. In fact, itís practically a guarantee that weíre being tracked down right now," Kakkarot answered with a shake of his head.
"And my father probably gave them instructions to bring me straight back to Vegetasei," Vegeta said, his body tensing with bottled anger. "They wonít let us finish getting Shenlonís treasure." Bulma placed a comforting hand on his arm. She knew his honor was at stake, he couldnít go home yet.
"All right, then, we camp from now on. Chi-Chi and I can go into town for anything we need, they wonít be looking for us," Bulma said, and Chi-Chi nodded in agreement.
"That will work," Vegeta agreed, though he wasnít entirely certain they were safe, either. Bulma and Chi-Chi had also run away, and there had been people after them practically from the start. They had traveled so far that no one had found them, but now. . .what if she were found by someone hunting for her when he wasnít there to protect her?
Bulma got the pieces she needed for her alarms and set it up when they made camp that evening. Vegeta followed her, helping when she needed it, but mostly just watching her. Her hands moved quickly and gracefully as they put wire and bells into a kind of web around their camp, and Vegeta felt like he could watch her forever. He had given up trying to understand why he felt the way he did, and had settled into just trying to handle the feeling. Bulma bent over to test the tautness of a low wire, and her beaded necklace started to fall out of her kimono. Vegetaís eyes snapped straight to the piece of jewelry, but before the whole thing could slide out, Bulma caught it and pushed it back in. Without stopping to think, Vegeta moved to her quickly to try to see the necklace again; it had looked identical to his. His hands gripped her shoulders, making her look up into his eyes, their faces only a few inches apart. The necklace slipped from his mind as he fell deep into her blue eyes. Her lips looked so sweet, so inviting. . .he leaned forward to taste them as Bulmaís eyes slid shut. He pulled her tightly to himself as he kissed her, savoring the wondrous feel of her and what they were doing. His control began slipping, and his hands began to feel her, and then tug on her kimono. It was improper, he knew; he should have her, have this, in a bed in a private room, but they couldnít have those things at the moment. He started to pull on her sash-tie, and she suddenly pushed him away. Vegeta almost fell over, the shove surprised him so much. He looked to Bulma in confusion, seeking an answer, and was greeted with sadness and regret in her eyes.
"Iím sorry," Bulma said, pulling her kimono back into place. "But I canít. . .my mother always told me that I should only give my body to my husband." Vegeta stared at her, a little surprised and a little disappointed. After a few seconds of thought, though, he understood completely. He hadnít told her he wished to marry her, since he wasnít sure it would happen, and it would be unfair of him to claim her if. . .if it didnít happen. His brows forked downward. He had had enough. She was the one he wanted, she was the one that would be best, he had no doubt of that. His father be damned, he would have Bulma for his empress, or heíd have no empress at all!
"Bulma. . ." Vegeta started.
"I know youíre a prince, and could order me to, but, please, donít. . ." Bulma whispered, her voice a pool of conflicting emotions. Vegeta felt his jaw start to drop, but he caught it and brought it back up before Bulma could see it.
"I would never force a woman, Bulma," Vegeta said harshly, insulted that she thought he would. "I was going to say I understood." Bulma saw the anger in his eyes, and felt a small, sick pit in her stomach.
"I didnít mean to say you would force me, Vegeta! I was. . .I was just. . .I donít know! It just came out! I didnít mean to insult you!" Bulma said quickly, hoping to make amends before he turned from her completely. Vegeta pressed his lips together, then sighed. In all the time theyíd known each other, he had mainly displayed aggression and stubbornness; sheíd had reason to believe heíd push, at least a little.
"I do understand, Bulma," he said quietly. Bulma let out a long breath, relief filling her body. "And I also wanted to say. . ."
"Is the alarm set up?" Kakkarotís voice shattered their moment as the samurai walked up to them. "Youíve been out here for a while. Is there a problem?" he asked. Vegeta turned on him in a small, barely-controlled fury.
"No, no problem!" Vegeta said lowly. Kakkarot took a step back, realizing very quickly heíd chosen a bad time to check on them.
"The alarm is just about ready, one more little tweak and itíll be perfect," Bulma told him, her voice slightly strained.
"Well, thatís good. Ah, dinner is ready whenever you are," Kakkarot said quickly, and then hurried back to the middle of camp. Vegeta watched his friend and ally go, quietly cursing his timing and promising himself to pay him back in their next spar. ((That baka is going to be black and blue when Iím done with him . . .)) he thought.
"What were you saying, Vegeta?" Bulma touched his arm and pulled his attention back to her. Vegeta turned back to her, slightly comforted that she still wanted to finish what they were talking about. He reached out and stroked her cheek gently.
"You will make a fine empress," he said. Bulmaís eyes widened.
"Say what?" she gasped.
"I want you for my empress, my wife," Vegeta answered.
"B-but Iím. . ." Bulma fumbled for a moment.
"All Iíve ever wanted, and the best choice I could possibly make. . .even if you arenít of noble blood," Vegeta cut her off. Bulma stared deep into his black eyes, and saw nothing but love and truth in them. She smiled, and showed him her own love in return.
"Youíll have to teach me how to rule," she observed.
"Itís not all that hard," Vegeta shrugged. Bulma laughed softly, and then embraced him. Vegeta went stiff for a second, then eased into the embrace with a small smile. "After weíre finished with Shenlon and have returned to Vegetasei, Iíll send a messenger to your parents, arrange things," he said softly into her hair.
"All right. Iím sure they wonít object. My former fiancť, though. . ." Bulma bit her lower lip in a moment of concern.
"Can do nothing, donít worry about him," Vegeta snorted, and Bulma smiled, strangely comforted.
Raditz drank his small cup of Sake in one swallow. Theyíd been out a week, and had found only a few stories of some young samurai passing by on very fast horses. The descriptions matched his brother and the prince, but no one knew where they were now. The most anyone could tell him was they were heading north, then east. ((Little brother, where did you and the prince go? Youíd better be all right, Ďcause Iím kicking your butt when I find you. . .then Father will, then the Emperor, and. . .maybe it would be better for him if he stayed missing.)) Raditz thought, then laughed to himself. He truly did hope his brother was all right, but he also knew what his brother was in for when he came home. Nappaís raucous laughter broke Raditzís train of thought, and he glanced at his elder with a small sigh. Nappa had already drunk three full bottles of Sake, and was trying to get a young woman to accompany him to his bed. Radtiz shook his head in disgust; they were trying to find their prince, not sample every whore in every village in Japan. The soldiers that made up the rest of the retrieval team all sat around him, most eating, drinking, and talking, and a few sampling the women. Raditz grunted quietly. The prince and Kakkarot had been traveling for months, they could be in the farthest reaches of Japan by now.
"Why do you look so depressed, honorable samurai?" a female voice at his side suddenly asked. Raditz turned to see a young woman holding his dinner. She put it down with a small bow, and waited for the answer to her question.
"Weíre supposed to be looking for our missing prince and his guard, but we donít know where to look, and I seem to be the only one taking the task seriously," Raditz answered, snapping his chopsticks apart.
"Oh, my! What did these two look like? Perhaps they came here as well," she offered. Radtiz looked at her for a moment. He was ready to try anything.
"All right. The prince is short," Raditz made an approximation with one hand over the ground, "but has an attitude that makes him seem taller. He has long black hair that stands straight up like fire with a deep widowís peak, and hard black eyes. Heís well-muscled, but compact, and has a deep voice. The guard, my brother, is taller, wider through the shoulders, with wild black hair that spikes in almost every direction. He has black eyes too, a wide face, a higher voice than the prince, and is as muscular as me," Raditz finished. "Well? Sound familiar at all?" The woman only had to think for a few seconds.
"Why, yes! Two men like that came through here weeks ago, with two women," she said with a nod.
"Women?" Raditz blinked. Maybe there was a mistake, his brother wasnít one to pick up prostitutes, and neither was the prince.
"Yes," the waitress nodded. "A woman with long black hair, brown eyes, and a yellow traveling kimono and a woman with long, light blue hair, deep blue eyes, and a plum traveling kimono. The black-haired woman and the tall man looked like courting lovers, but the blue-haired woman and the shorter man were fighting about something. Thatís why I remember them so well, the fight. That, and they were all strangers." Raditz slowly processed the information. Prince Vegeta and Kakkarot had been seen with two women they had not left with, and who they hadnít picked up here. So where had they come from? And why were they with the prince and his guard? The description of Kakkarot and the dark-haired woman acting like they were courting struck him as doubly odd. What in Kamiís name was going on?
"Thank you, that was helpful . . .do you know where they went?" he asked, his mind in a dozen places at once.
"No, I only saw them while they were in here. Sorry," the waitress shook her head. "I have other tables to tend. Perhaps we can speak more later," she smiled coyly at him, but it went completely unnoticed.
"Perhaps," Raditz said, simply to be polite. He still had questions, but he knew she didnít have the answers. This whole situation had just gotten a whole lot stranger; the Prince ran off. . .with an unknown woman in tow? Raditzís brother, too? ((Baby Brother, what have you been up to?)) Raditz wondered as he put a bite of food in his mouth. ((Weíre missing something here.))
The tracking jewel led the two samurai and their women into a forest with no clear riding path. The trees stood over them like a fortressís towers, their leaf-covered branches blocking much of the sun. Vegeta and Kakkarot held Auroris and Horushu at a slow walk over the broken, root-covered ground for safetyís sake, and watched as the jewel pointed ahead of them.
"The merchant must have sold another one, thereís no way you could get a cart through here," Bulma observed as they passed single-file through two trees.
"Agreed, but who did he sell it to? A hermit?" Chi-Chi answered. "Who would be living out here?"
"Maybe he just dropped one of the balls and didnít notice," Kakkarot offered.
"Possible, but not likely. Wait a second," Vegeta spoke next, and then waved for silence as the jewel glowed gold and tried to fly out of his hand again. The trees thinned ahead of them to reveal a small glen with an old house by a small stone shrine. Sitting in a window of the house, shining in the sun, was the dragon ball! They rode into the glen and quickly dismounted. A quick glance told them that the ball was on the inside of the window, and they went to the front door. Vegeta raised his hand to grab hold of the rope that hung by the door, which he assumed would ring a bell and tell whoever was inside they were there, but he never got the chance. The door slid open to reveal a tall, male figure.
"I thought I heard horses," he said, looking at his visitors and their rides. "What brings you here, so far from any villages or towns?" he asked politely, bowing to them. For a few seconds, they were all frozen, as they quickly realized why he lived way out here alone. He was tall, with the bald head of a monk, and a third eye in his forehead. Vegeta regained himself first.
"Actually, that orange crystal ball in your window is why weíre here," Vegeta said calmly, showing no sign that the manís strange malformation had any affect on him.
"The ball? I bought that a few days ago," he said. "Pardon, where are my manners? I am Tenshinhan, but my friends call me Tien."
"I am Vegeta," Vegeta said with a small bow. There was no need to give his title, it wouldnít help the situation any.
"Iím Kakkarot," Kakkarot bowed next.
"Iím Bulma Briefs," Bulma bowed.
"My name is Chi-Chi Ox," Chi-Chi said with a bow.
"Itís an honor to meet all of you, Iím sure," Tien said. "Now, what were you saying about the crystal?"
"Itís stolen," Vegeta answered shortly. "We were. . . asked. . . to retrieve it."
"Tien, darling, who is it?" a young woman with long, curly, dark purple hair suddenly came up behind the three-eyed man, and he turned to her.
"Strangers, Lunch. They say the orange ball I got a few days ago was stolen," Tien told her. They blinked and stared; he had a wife? Somehow, that was unexpected.
"Stolen? Oh, no! From who?" Lunch asked.
"A dragon named Shenlon," Kakkarot said.
"A dragon?!" Lunch jumped, and ran off into the house.
"Lunch! Calm down!" Tien followed her quickly, leaving a very confused Vegeta, Bulma, Kakkarot and Chi-Chi behind at the door. Looking inside, they noticed the house was clean and well kept, and there was somebody else in a far room. The body was small, indicating a child. A few seconds later, Lunch came running back with the dragon ball in her hands.
"Iím not keeping something that was stolen from a dragon! What if the dragon comes for it himself? Itís too dangerous!" Lunch said to her husband as she made ready to hand the ball over.
"I understand that, but. . ." Tien said, trying to soothe her.
"Weíll gladly reimburse you," Kakkarot said, and Tien looked at him with two of his three eyes.
"Well, that would be kind of you. Are you sure this ball was stolen, though?" Tien asked. Vegeta held up the tracking jewel, which pulled itself free from his hand and practically plunged into the dragon ball, then settled for hovering around it.
"Yes, we are," Vegeta answered, slightly amused by Tienís startled look. Tien sighed then.
"All right, Lunch. Give it to them," Tien nodded, and Lunch all but threw the ball at them. Vegeta took the ball and put the tracking jewel away.
"Iím a little sorry to give it up, itís so pretty and all, but itís better to give it back to its real owner," Lunch said.
"He appreciates it," Bulma smiled sweetly. "Thank you."
"Thank you," Kakkarot and Chi-Chi said together.
"Yes, Thanks," Vegeta nodded. "And good day."
"Bye!" Lunch waved. Kakkarot fetched a few gold coins and gave them to Tien, who agreed it covered what heíd spent on the ball, then Kakkarot helped Chi-Chi back up onto Horushu. Bulma and Vegeta were already back up on Auroris. They called out some goodbyes, and then rode away as Tien and Lunch went back into their house.
"That was as easy as the first one!" Chi-Chi smiled brightly.
"Yeah! Weíll be finished soon," Kakkarot nodded. "And then we can go home."
"You can," Chi-Chi answered quietly. Kakkarot fell silent for a second.
"You. . .you wonít come with me?" he said softly, and Chi-Chi let out a quiet gasp.
"You. . .want me to?" she said in return.
"You have to come with Vegetasei with us, Chi-Chi. Iíd miss you," Bulma said. Kakkarot and Chi-Chi both looked at her in surprise.
"Youíre going to Vegetasei, Bulma?" Kakkarot asked first. He knew his prince had become quite taken with the blue-haired beauty, but so much so heíd defy his father?
"Yes, sheís coming with us to Vegetasei. She will be my empress, so I suggest you start speaking to her in a more respectful manner, Kakkarot," Vegeta answered shortly, and Kakkarot and Chi-Chi gawked.
"Empress?!" Chi-Chi squeaked. Bulma blushed a little and nodded.
"Vegeta, what about. . .?" Kakkarot started.
"I will handle my father," Vegeta cut him off. "For the time being, letís just focus on finishing this chore." They all nodded, that was the important thing at the moment.
The jewel continued to lead them south, and they felt the weather shift slightly around them. Days passed slowly with no sign of the last ball, and Bulma and Chi-Chi began to grow uneasy as they traveled.
"Woman, whatís the matter with you?" Vegeta asked as he saw Bulma tremble suddenly in his arms. They were passing through a field with a large, gnarled tree to one side.
"I know this place. . .Chi-Chi and I passed that tree when we were running away from home," Bulma answered quietly. Chi-Chi was clinging to Kakkarotís arms as a small wave of panic hit her heart and sank into her stomach. The tracker kept pointing south, though, so they continued to follow it. Finally, they came into view of a large, sprawling town. The jewel pointed straight to it.
"No. . .oh, no, this canít be. . ." Bulma gasped, and Chi-Chi fought back a sob.
"What is it?" Vegeta said, though he already had a strong feeling that he knew. Kakkarot held Chi-Chi to his chest comfortingly as she shook with fear.
"Thatís. . .KapuKopu. . .our home. . ." Bulma said quietly. "The last dragon ball is in our hometown. . ."
Well, they couldnít all be easy, now could they? NansJns@aol.com!