All ye should know by now that I own not the characters, nor the plot. And by the way, any time you see them using "magic" it’s really ki. And I am NOT Shakespeare. The man was lyrically abled; I am not. Therefore do not make fun of my version of poetry. Thank you.
"…and if neither of you are knocked clear of the horse, the winner shall be judged by the strength and damage of blows," the knight concluded, handing the Saiyan his weapon. Outside the sanctuary of his tent, Vegeta felt foolish perched on an animal he’d never before ridden and dressed like the balding, slightly plump knight under his right knee. He snorted in acknowledgement, fearing that if he nodded he’d fall over the back end of his mount. "No helmet, my lord?"
Vegeta glared down as if the iron cap offended him and the burly man slowly withdrew it. "I have no need of such protection," he boasted, certain that when Kakorrot won, it would be the solid-packed earth that suffered and not his skull.
The knightmaster rolled his eyes knowingly before he placed the covering back into the arms of his squire. "I hope you know who you are up against, my lord. Sir Kakorrot has been the only one to defeat even me in this area."
Vegeta perked up, though not visibly. "And have you found a way to best him?" he asked as nonchalantly as possible.
The knight glanced at him as if he were mad. "Nay, my lord. I couldn’t let my pride suffer so a third time." The Saiyan scowled and the older man grinned. "You know him, then?" The duke’s son nodded, feeling a little more confident in his position on the beast. As long as it wasn’t moving he was fine. "Do you know his weaknesses then?"
Of course. When he fights, he favors his left leg in order to get his right into a strike position. Before he punches, he always grits his teeth and gets a strange look in his eye. I know when he’s going to use magic because every muscle in his neck tightens. Vegeta growled suddenly, making the knightmaster step back. And NONE of this is going to help me. He gripped the reins tighter and forced his throat closed so no more sound would be emitted. And there HAS to be a way. I cannot lose to Kakorrot!
"My lord?" Vegeta’s eyes bored into the dark cerulean of the older man. "Are you ready?" The Saiyan nodded and the knight’s beefy hand landed solidly on the mare’s backside. Vegeta almost went flying as the horse jerked forward at a trot. "Much luck, my lord!"
Kakorrot, at the other end of the field, was completing his tasks as well and slid onto his own mount effortlessly. Like the duke’s son, he wore as little armor as possible, but his arrogance was placed in the knowledge of his opponent’s weakness. Instead of waiting for the knightmaster’s overly nervous squire, he reached for the lance himself. When he brought himself upright, Vegeta was waiting a foot away from the barrier line on his side. The taller man nudged his stallion forward, the beast’s chest even with the end of the cord.
The king rose, bellowing a greeting to the commoners and combatants below the royal box. Neither Saiyan listened, more intent on the match. Vegeta squirmed into a more comfortable position and laid his lance across the mare’s back. "If you throw me, I will have you for dinner," he threatened, jabbing his fingertips into the horse’s neck for good measure. Whether or not he was understood was debatable, but it calmed enough for him not to have to worry about being bucked off. Kakorrot noticed the exchange and grinned, patting his stallion’s back. The malnourished mount of the older Saiyan would be no match for the trained warhorse of the king, yet another advantage to Kakorrot.
Finally Chi-Chi’s father nodded to the knightmaster. "Begin!"
Kakorrot’s stallion was overeager for battle, and his constant rocking was nearly making the Saiyan seasick. He finally gripped the beast’s mane in his fist and pulled its head back in a sign of dominance. Across the field, Vegeta lifted his lance and leaned it against his shoulder, ready. He smirked and nodded once to the knightmaster, knowing his foe had already done so and kicked his mare into a trot, leveling the point to the level where Kakorrot’s chest should be.
The bigger man’s head snapped up at the sound of hoof beats, and his upper lip curled in disdain. His heels dug into the stallion’s ribs. As Kakorrot neared, Vegeta took in the angle of his lance and repositioned his arm to guarantee the weapon would slide off his shield. The shorter competitor braced himself for the impact, leaning forward to meet the lance. His calculations were correct, and he was only shoved roughly back into the saddle. Without waiting to settle, he swung his own weapon around to collide solidly with the back of Kakorrot’s head. The wood splintered down the side, and had Kakorrot been wearing any more armor, he would have fallen. As it was, the stunned soldier could barely keep his mount going in a straight line.
Seeing his advantage, Vegeta circled the mare at the end of the barrier and started back even before Kakorrot could reach his side. This time, with the bigger man disoriented, the point found its mark in the center of his chest. Kakorrot rocked back, but used his own generous strength to push his foe nearly out of the saddle. As the two men continued the pass, the lances slammed together and shattered.
There has to be a way, he growled to himself, eyeing the already clear-headed Kakorrot. I cannot defeat him like this. He suddenly grinned and motioned for the squire. "You have a heavier lance, do you not?" The boy nodded slowly, and the Saiyan’s battle smirk appeared. "Fetch it for me."
"But my lord," he sputtered, "you can hardly stay on the horse."
"You are not to question me, boy," he hissed, clenching the side of the mare’s neck and leaning down to stare straight into the squire’s wide blue eyes. "You are to do my bidding. A heavier lance." He motioned to Kakorrot he would only be a moment more. The younger Saiyan mentally raised an eyebrow as the squire scrambled back with the requested weapon. Vegeta hefted the weightier object and smirked. "Well done, boy." He nudged the mare to the line and nodded.
Kakorrot wasted no time in kicking his stallion into a charge, lance leveled at Vegeta’s unprotected head. The older man smirked and urged his own steed into a trot, steadily picking up the pace. When Kakorrot was almost within reach, he yanked back on the reins, allowing himself to be pitched forward. Kakorrot’s aim faltered, and Vegeta smiled. Using his considerable might all the way from his hips and added to the force of his new momentum, he let the lance fly. It was only through sheer brute force he remained on his mount, and pulled himself upright just in time to see Kakorrot tumble backward and land on his feet before collapsing.
Vegeta dismounted shakily and walked over to the other Saiyan as casually as possible. He grinned and placed one knee on the ground beside his fallen companion. "You have lost again, Kakorrot." And with that, he drew one fist back and sent his one-time friend into blackness.
The king rubbed his temples as the two continued their three-year-old bickering. Chi-Chi looked rather amused as Bulma championed her lover’s cause, and the knightmaster denied the victory. "Did too!" the noblewoman shot back, crossing her arms. From the look on her face, she was quite enjoying her immaturity, and having even more fun dragging a man of such station into it with her.
"CHILDREN!" the king finally roared. The knight, in the middle of another outburst, fell silent and turned his head away. Both women grinned at his reddened cheeks, and Bulma would have commented had her monarch not continued. "We settle this more like adults." He narrowed his eyes at Bulma, scowling, which she returned with an innocent smile. He wouldn’t accuse her of deliberately provoking the man into such a juvenile argument, but it was just as obvious he knew. "In fact, *I* will settle this. Vegeta defeated Sir Kakorrot fairly and is entitled to all the awards as such."
"Sire—" The knight cut himself off as he realized that now he sounded like he was whining at the king and tried again, "Sire, he THREW the lance. That is NOT tilting!"
The king looked amused. "The rules are such: ‘If either of the combatants are knocked off their horse BY THE LANCE then victory goes to the man still mounted.’ Sir Kakorrot was indeed knocked off his horse by the lance. The rules say nothing about how the lance must be applied." Chi-Chi grinned at her friend and winked. Bulma rolled her eyes. And I wondered where she learned to think as she does.
The knightmaster was still very red in the face, but this time from obvious frustration. He couldn’t argue with the king, especially without sounding more childish than he had already, and wouldn’t continue to lose face in front of the two women. "You are correct, sire," he finally admitted through clenched teeth. "I shall inform Vegeta of his victory."
"Take Miss Briefs with you," Chi-Chi broke in. "I’m sure he would like to know his voice in front of the king." Bulma could hardly restrain herself from rolling her eyes. The knight glanced at the king, who deferred to his daughter. "‘Twas just a thought, my lord." She cocked her head pleadingly, and the king nodded.
"As you wish, sire. My lady," he acknowledged, bowing to the two royals. When he turned to offer Bulma his arm, she was gone. "Where—"
The king’s smile didn’t quite fit under the hand he used to hide it. "It seems you have taken too long for her liking." He sighed and bowed once again, taking his leave. I really should know better by now than to get involved with those three. It’s impossible to best any of them.
"I thought you would never come back." Vegeta’s voice sounded in her ear as she stepped into his tent. Strong arms wrapped around her waist and eased her to him. "Why did it take so long?"
"I wanted to have some fun with the judge," she answered truthfully, trying to turn in his iron grip and failing. She sighed and leaned against him, content for the moment. "Vegeta, I have something to tell you."
"You had something to tell me three days before, my lady," he teased, kissing the back of her neck. "Why is now any different?"
"Because we can go tonight."
He pulled back like he’d been burned. "Go where?"
Now she could face him. "I’ve found someone to wed us." His eyes nearly bulged out of his head, and she took both of his hands, grinning. "We can be married before the full moon festival, just as the true nobles of Vegetasei."
"Woman, where…" He saw that look on her face again, the one that irked him nearly senseless because it meant they were either going to be banished from Chikyuu or dead.
"The Forbidden Lands?" Bulma suggested. She winced as his hands tightened on hers. "We’ll make it through, my lord. I’ve found a way."
His cold, no-nonsense answer stunned her. "No? Vegeta, I thought—"
"No. I will not allow you in that danger."
"Do you want to be married or not?" She pulled her hands away so she could cross her arms.
"It would be helpful if my mate was still alive to marry," he snapped back, copying her pose, except he managed to look intimidating. "And the Forbidden Lands end—"
"Inside Vegetasei’s border," she completed for him. "I know."
"And if we marry there, then you will be restrained to Vegetasei for—"
"Five years," she interrupted again, and he growled. "Vegeta, you’ve told me all this before, and I’ve still made up my mind to go. You’ll protect me," she added coyly, batting her eyes at him. The Saiyan grunted, and Bulma could feel him relenting. She took his hand again and rubbed the back unconsciously. "Can’t you see that all I want is for us to be together? I’m willing to pay whatever the cost."
Vegeta drew her closer, still scowling. "Woman, you will be the death of me."
He was half out of bed even before the intruder could step in front of his door. Winding his tail around his waist, he moved stealthily toward the wooden barrier, grabbing the outline before it could do more than step into the room. A strangled squeak met his onslaught as he pinned the stranger against the wall by its throat. Aided by the light of his own magic and the dim flicker of the candle, he realized he was glaring straight into the terrified eyes of the princess. With a disgusted growl, he shoved back, upper lip curling from their close proximity, as they were pressed together from chest to knees. Chi-Chi massaged her jugular, wincing at having that same move done to her twice in the same day. Kakorrot huffed and crawled back under his quilt, pulling the blankets nearly over his head.
When he realized he could barely hear even her breathing in the still night, the Saiyan opened his eyes. She hadn’t moved except to slump back against the wall, the candle lowered and dripping wax to the floor by her side. Even by the faint glow of the flame he could see she was clearly in pain; in his anger, he must not have held back as much as he thought he had. Gritting his teeth against his new feeling of guilt, he growled, "What are you doing here?"
She opened her mouth slightly as if to speak, then closed it and rubbed more fiercely at the lump in her throat before trying again. "They’re gone." Her voice sounded strained and ragged, and it was as much from holding back tears as it was from damage from his hand.
He rolled his eyes before closing them again. "Return to your room," he uttered sleepily, tugging the quilt completely over his head until one a spike of black hair was visible against the light fabric of his pillow.
"Goku, Bulma and Vegeta are GONE." He didn’t take the time to register the change in her tone and was at her side before she could see that his blankets were drawn back. She dropped her light at the dangerous glint in his black eyes.
"Where?" he demanded, one hand plastered to the wall to support his weight as he leaned in. "Where, princess?" His voice was deceptively soft, though the chime of threat rang through perfectly clear. Chi-Chi feared that as he’d harmed her once, in this state he would have no second thoughts in killing her if she didn’t comply.
"I… I don’t know," she finally lied, tensing as the Saiyan’s weight shifted.
"You do know, my lady," Kakorrot hissed, tail lashing behind him impatiently. It took every ounce of Chi-Chi’s self-control not to latch onto the furry appendage for dear life, even with the knowledge that both Kakorrot and Vegeta had outgrown that particular weakness.
"I don’t," she snapped, this time more vehemently.
"I can smell it on you," Kakorrot nearly purred, one hand reaching up to toy with her hair. Out of instinct, the princess ducked away. "Bulma would tell you such an important thing as this. She tells you everything."
"Would I be this upset when I found them missing if I knew where they were?"
"Yes." He straightened and locked eyes with her, tail snapping around his waist in a moment of clearness. "You told me because you’re too afraid to venture after them alone." Chi-Chi went rigid as Kakorrot correctly deciphered part of her motive for coming to him. "Where in the kingdom would Bulma go and have her best friend afraid to follow?" he muttered to himself, starting to pace. The princess slid toward the door, and had her hand on the knob when the Saiyan jerked around. "They’re going to the Forbidden Lands?!" Stunned, she could do no more than nod. "How could you let her go?!"
"Have YOU tried stopped Bulma when she’s got her mind set on something? The gods themselves couldn’t stop her," she shouted back to cover her fear of Kakorrot’s maniac attitude. He was already half-dressed and yanked on a shirt as he thrust open the door. "Where are you going?"
"After them," he growled, not pausing as he barreled past her.
Chi-Chi bit her lower lip until a thin line of red ran down her chin. Bulma… I broke my promise. All that will happen will happen because I wanted Goku’s favor. Now instead of simply two of her best friends venturing toward unknown horrors, there are three. With a slight growl, the heir to Chikyuu ran to her room. She couldn’t chase them into the Forbidden Lands in a nightdress.
The noble winced as her chest impacted harshly with the elbow of her lover’s outstretched arm. "Vegeta?" The Saiyan narrowed his eyes thoughtfully as he glanced over his shoulder, not even so much as blinking before turning his gaze back. Peering over his slight frame, she bit her lower lip. "’Tis…" She trailed off, trying to find the right word to describe this… void in the middle of the forest.
"Barren," Vegeta completed softly, the fur on his tail nearly standing on end. No branches fallen from the overcrowded canopy of trees met with the bare earth, no rocks scattered the ground, not even a single strand of grass littered the dark soil. Motioning for her to remain where she was, the duke’s son marched firmly into the middle of the circular meadow, scowling darkly. He disappeared into the grove on the other side, only to return immediately looking harried and windblown. At his fiancée's worried look, he shook his head, displacing sand from his flame of hair. "Desert."
Bulma tasted blood and removed her teeth from her lip. "I didn’t know it would be THIS difficult," she muttered, more to herself than to her future mate.
He grunted and descended gracefully to a cross-legged position, staring up at her oddly. "Woman, we should not be here. SOMETHING has passed, and I do not wish for us to have an encounter with it." She stepped fully into the glade to protest, but he was already shaking his head vehemently. "We will spend the night here, woman, as this thrice-cursed forest wills us, but upon the morrow we WILL return to Chikyuu."
"Vegeta, what about—"
"I will not have you in this constant danger!" His magic nearly exploded as his volume increased, pushing her back by its sheer force. Taken aback, she cracked one eyelid to see that the Saiyan’s obsidian eyes burned into hers with a protective intensity she’d never seen from him before. He’s… worried, she realized, eyes wide. The Vegetasei native wasn’t really incensed, only concerned for her well-being. The Saiyan held out one hand to her. "Come, woman."
The noblewoman made her way toward the center of the meadow, passing her fiancé and dropping to the ground a few meters away. He growled over his shoulder and half turned, scowling at her. "We are betrothed, Vegeta. We cannot—"
"To hell with what we can and cannot do woman! It is not safe for you to be so far from me. Come near." Fighting back a smile, Bulma inched farther away, earning a heated glare from her lover, especially as she stretched out on the surprisingly comfortable soil. "Nearer, woman."
The noble raised her torso slightly to glare at him, even if only playfully. "I refuse to compromise myself now, my lord."
He growled, narrowing his eyes almost to slits and moving toward her with obvious intent. "Woman, I warn you now…"
"Stop there," she ordered when he was only an arm’s length away. Surprised, the Saiyan halted, his furious expression fading into a milder one of confusion. "No closer."
Vegeta grunted again, but this time Bulma heard acceptance in his voice as he allowed himself to relax next to her. "Now let us see where this damnable forest deems us fit to wake," he muttered dryly, and she could sense the soft, dry smile on his lips. Reaching over only once, his kiss fell on her forehead. "Peaceful night, lady."
"Peaceful night, my lord," she answered, only to find her lover already asleep.
As the pair drifted off into the land of slumber, an old Namek sprite far above the world of chaos and war smiled down upon them. They were the most intriguing mortals he’d yet seen, and envisioning them in a lifelong bond of marriage would prove quite entertaining: as they complimented each other perfectly, there wasn’t a way they could go a sunup without bickering. Seeing that no more would come from them this night, he turned his attention to their friends, who were only now entering the woods. These two were much less interesting than Bulma and Vegeta, but now that they had set foot into his territory, he felt a strange obligation to make sure the more mischievous spirits of the Forbidden Lands didn’t upset their direction too badly. It wouldn’t do to have four mortals wandering forever in circles. He cocked his head to the side and let his eyes go unfocused, which actually brought the image closer and clarified it.
The princess grunted slightly as she bounced one-legged over a tree root, trying to regain her precious balance, before tripping over the next. Kakorrot immediately spun around, looking as if he didn’t know he was being followed—and from the look on his face, he didn’t. Chi-Chi grinned sheepishly as she sat up, nursing her injured ankle with one hand and staring up with pleading eyes at her ex-fiancé. The Saiyan paused when he was a hand’s width away, looking like he was about to berate her for such foolishness. He clamped his opening mouth shut, expression never changing, and held his hand down for her. She glanced at it hesitantly, then slipped her palm into his and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. One he was sure she could stand on her own, he jerked away as if bitten.
Chi-Chi battled to keep the hurt from showing too openly on her face as she flexed her right foot, feeling the strain and biting her lower lip. Even IF Kakorrot allowed her to continue on with him, it wasn’t a good idea to go traipsing around the Forbidden Lands injured. Locking eyes with him, she found herself voiceless. The Saiyan was alight in the moonshine, his powerful muscles accented by shadows, his face half-hidden in darkness. He looked like some kind of all-powerful god too beautiful to be shown directly to mortal eyes.
Kakorrot sensed her hesitation and took the opportunity. "You should not be here, my lady," he growled harshly, looking ever deeper into the wood. "It’s too dangerous, especially for the princess of Chikyuu."
The monarch scowled, taking the three hobbling steps toward him until they were close enough for him to feel her breath on his chest. "You are only here because I wanted your favor. Now I have endangered the lives of the three people most dear to me in my betrayal." Chi-Chi hissed when her averted his eyes, grabbing his chin and jerking it back with such forcefulness that Kakorrot nearly took a step back. "I will not allow my friends to wander this place alone when I could have done something about it. Allow me to come with you, even if only to know their fates."
"No." The flat answer indicated the discussion was over, but the princess pulled on his tail hard enough to stop him in his tracks. "Lady…"
"I WILL come, Goku," she growled. Now it was she who attracted the Saiyan’s attention, radiant and flushed in the light. Her free hand transferred to his tunic, near his neck, and eased him down to her height. "I don’t have any choice. I know not my way from here."
Kakorrot straightened, nearly taking the princess with him. Finally he scowled and nodded, a motion barely perceptible. "If you can keep up, you may come." Chi-Chi laid her hand on his arm, and he wrenched away as if the fires of hell were concentrated in her palm. "Do you agree, my lady?"
He was gone before the word finished. Chi-Chi went rigid, suddenly understanding why the knight had made the bargain: if she had been at top form she might have had a chance. Now that her ankle was swollen and probably sprained, she could do no more than stagger down the path and pray that Bulma and Vegeta slept long enough for her to find them. The princess slumped against the nearest tree, tears of shame, regret and hurt slipping down her cheeks. She allowed herself to slide to the ground, drawing her knees to her chest and resting her quivering chin on her crossed arms. She knew Kakorrot’s sole intention was to find Vegeta and kill him, after which he would return Bulma to Chikyuu and become a hero. The more probable scenario was Vegeta would kill the valiant knight, even against Bulma’s wishes, and carry her off to be his bride before the noble had the proper grieving time for a beloved friend.
Bulma, forgive me. All that will happen now will happen because of me.
Kami’s smile had vanished when Kakorrot had first pulled away from the woman who obviously worshiped the ground he walked on. It was replaced by a scowl as the scene went on, the Saiyan only making himself more cruel and distant. Even long after the princess had cried herself to sleep, he watched. Finally he looked above, to where his young sprite—resourceful and reliable if not loyal or willing—was mediating, he frowned and leaned more heavily on his staff. This would require more than the Namek boy’s magic… this would require something that hadn’t been used in almost a thousand years. This would require senzu.
Piccolo cracked one eye open slowly, sensing his master’s unease and not feeling particularly pleasant about becoming his errand boy. Kami’s head tilted back to make contact with the boy, mouth set in a grim line. The Namek’s cape fluttered in an invisible wind, and he appeared next to his master, arms crossed and scowling with the obvious intent of refusing whatever request was about to be made.
"Fetch a senzu near to me," came the order. The younger sprite’s face clearly showed his surprise, although the comfortable mask of irritation was quickly brought down to cover it. Kami’s eyes narrowed as he stared into the black distance. He could feel his counterpart’s question and shook his head minutely. "Fetch a senzu near to me. Only then shall I tell thee." A sudden thud sounded, making the elderly sprite’s head snap around. Piccolo had shed his bulky shoulder pads, the cape still twisting as if it were possessed. White turban followed, the sound of another harsh impact echoing through the Lookout. He scowled once more, as if silently demanding of his master if this really needed to be done. Kami nodded gravely, watching his servant’s form fade into transparency, then disappear into nothing.
Piccolo growled, every muscle tense as he hovered a good 18 centimeters above the pine-needle-strewn forest floor. While every sprite in this place had no choice but to obey Kami, he still didn’t want to be caught unawares by the rougher demons: his master had forbidden him to kill anything, no matter what the cause. It didn’t help that the forest’s inhabitants could always track their way back to the point they just left—the Forbidden Lands had a tendency to place a patch of desert above a mountain chain, or part of a stream extending out of a waterfall, or a lone oak tree where an oasis should be.
The sudden roar of the sea alerted him to the sudden wave that nearly washed over him. He nimbly dodged out of the way, seeing that the water appeared from and disappeared into nowhere. The most ferocious bend of a mountain river was encased in a meter-by-meter area under his moccasined feet. Rolling his eyes—though thankful he wasn’t wet, as damp sprites were harder to hide—he stepped fully away from the churning square and looked deeper into the woods. Wrestling the magic senzu away from the wily old Korin had been the easy part. Finding the mortals in Kami’s territory would prove to be much more challenging, even if he’d been given a moonspan to do it in. This task had to be completed in a night.
He grunted as ferns sprouted in front of him, pushing him back toward the treacherous meadow that belonged a demon with the strength of a newborn Saiyan. However, it seemed that the forest willed him to go, shoving him back toward the clearing with every sort of flora he could imagine. Finally the Namek willingly stepped onto the barren soil, black eyes hard. Surely Kami would understand th—
Two figures lay in the center of the circle. Piccolo brought to memory his master’s last words: "To any other pay no heed. Quickly now, two thou needs. Thou hast not need of one for each: a mountain lion, not sweet peach. The male is Saiyan, a tail has he, the lady human and pleasant to me. The man is cruel. A bean to him so he’ll have love that will not dim. Keep the other for thee and guard it well, for much love brings much hell. Use this one to stop effect, for thou art verily imperfect." Looking at the shadows, he could see that one was indeed a man. The woman was curled up at his back, as if waiting until her love slumbered to creep as close as she dared and symbolically sleep behind him for the night. Piccolo’s upper lip curled back in disdain, seeing the man’s belt uncurl from his waist and beat a soft, steady rhythm on the ground at his side. It seemed that he was fighting the urge to change, even in his sleep.
Piccolo clenched his fist, the senzu ground into a fine dust by the pressure. He held out his palm, blowing softly. The enchanted wind took the grains and deposited them in the eyes of the sleeping Saiyan. Mission accomplished, the sprite smirked, once more fading into the darkness. His timing was perfect: no sooner had he gone then Chi-Chi crashed into the glen.
* * * * *