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Three-Eyed Turtle and the Murderous Monkey

Chapter Text

Circumstances of Upbringing

Son Gohan was taking his usual hike through the mountains surrounding his home on Mount Paozu one day when he heard the sounds of gunfire and struggle. He rushed towards the sound at speed far beyond normal for a man his age, granted to him by his tutelage under Muten Roshi and his dedication to the martial arts. When Gohan arrived he was greeted by a grizzly sight, literally so, as he saw a giant armored bear-man standing over a ruined campsite, a blood-spattered sword raised high overhead. Gohan could see a pair of bodies lying in a crumpled heap at the bear’s feet, a man and a woman, with the woman shielding the man. Gohan balled his fists as he heard an infant’s wail over the sound of the bear’s laughter and took a step forward.

“Leave this place,” Gohan said sternly as he rolled up his sleeves, “Before I have to hurt you. You’ve done more than enough damage here.” The bear sneered and leveled his sword at Gohan.

“How about you just move along, old timer, before you see something you’re gonna regret?” then the bear-man moved towards the sound of crying and Gohan was on him in a flash. With a single blow, he shattered the bear-man’s sword and with another he sent the beast crashing into a tree.

“I won’t ask you to leave again.” Gohan warned him as he got into a stance. The bear-man snarled as he got to his feet and lunged at Gohan with his claws out and his mouth open wide. Gohan sighed and broke the bear-man’s massive neck with a single palm-strike. The bear collapsed, dead on the spot, and Gohan shook his head sadly. So much death in such a peaceful place. He created a pair of graves for the couple with ki blasts and buried them beside each other before he finally found the crying child inside the shredded tent. “There there, now,” Gohan said softly as he swaddled the three-eyed babe and rocked him from side to side, “It’s all right. Shhhh, shhhh.” The baby’s crying slowly quieted and he sniffled as Gohan wiped his face with a thumb to dry his tear. “It’s all right,” he said again before he found a small medallion fastened around the baby’s neck with a red ribbon. He pinched the medallion between thumb and forefinger and read it slowly, “Tenshinhan.”

OoOoOoO

Gohan brought the infant home and, not having any way to know if Tenshinhan had any relatives who might be able to raise him, took the boy in himself. The prospect of raising a child included difficulties that a martial arts hermit was not prepared for. Nothing that had to do with Tenshinhan himself, of course, the boy was surprisingly well-behaved for an infant. Gohan had needed to buy him clothes, however, and needed to find a way to have ready access to milk for the boy until his teeth grew in, and there was of course the aspect of… changing. No amount of Roshi’s training had prepared him for that business.

By the time Tenshinhan was three years old and had begun to speak, he had already shown an interest in martial arts and was a fast learner from what little Gohan had taught him. In fact, he was more interested in that than he was in learning to count or how to spell his own name! Gohan decided that when his “grandson” was older, he would certainly send him to Muten Roshi for further training.

OoOoOoO

Deep in the mountains on the other side of the continent, Shen the Crane Hermit was training his students early one morning when a great flaming orb streaked across the sky and crashed in the woods not too far from the site of the school itself. Shen gave a dismissive wave to bring the lesson to a halt and moved to inspect whatever had caused the crash.

“Magamo,” Shen called over a shoulder, “With me!” The tall, fair-skinned, mauve-haired youth fell in step behind his master as they made their way through the trees. Magamo was Shen’s best student, strong and quick to learn and good at doing what he was told. Everything you could hope for in a would-be assassin.

“What do you suppose it might have been, master?” Magamo asked as he pushed a branch out of his face.

“I do not know,” Shen admitted, “But whatever it is, we shall deal with it.” The master and student soon came upon a large crater in the dirt that was surrounded by uprooted trees. The ground was hot underfoot as they climbed down into the crater and saw a large metallic sphere that was glowing white hot with contrails of steam rolling off the exterior. Shen held up a hand to keep Magamo from taking another step and took off his sunglasses to peer at the strange, otherworldly device.

“What is it, master?” Magamo asked in hushed confusion. Shen frowned and stroked at his mustache.

"Nothing of this world.” There was a hiss as a section of the sphere unfurled open to reveal a dark interior, faintly illuminated by blinking lights. A garbled voice came from inside the craft in a language Shen did not recognize despite his centuries-long life.

A blur flew out of the darkness and Shen managed to duck out of the way in time, though Magamo was not so lucky and he shrieked in pain as the creature’s teeth sunk into his neck and died with a sickening crunch when the teeth bit down hard enough to crunch his spine. Shen recovered and was finally able to get a good look at what had come flying out of the pod like a bat out of hell. It was… a child. The boy couldn’t have been older than a year, two at the most. He was completely naked, with wild black hair and a tail growing out of the small of his back. It was only then that Shen heard the hideous sound of flesh ripping that he realized that the babe was actually trying to feed on Magamo. He grabbed the child by the tail and ripped him away from his dead student, surprised to discover that the babe went limp when his tail was squeezed. As Shen studied the dangling, naked infant with blood covering his face and a wild look in his eyes, he could sense a great power coming from him. Great for an infant, at the very least.

“Now then,” Shen mused, “What am I going to do with you…” he cocked his head to the side and listened as the alien craft continued to play its strange, garbled message. There was one word he noticed that was repeated often enough to seem like a name. “Kakarot?”

OoOoOoO

Shen was sleeping one night not long after Kakarot’s arrival when he was awoken by a thunderous stomping and the sounds of screaming students. He rushed out of his chambers while still dressed in his nightgown and slippers and was greeted by the sight of a massive brown-furred primate howling and beating its chest. Students that attempted to fight the beast were smacked aside like tenpins and landed in crumpled heaps. The monster roared and swung a fist to smash apart the Crane School but Shen leaped into the path of its fist and brought it to a halt with a grunt of effort. The beast looked down at him with its blood-red eyes and there was the faintest glimmer of recognition before it attacked again, swinging with its massive tail. Shen slid under the tail and came up behind the creature before leaping high into the air and striking with two fingers on the back of its neck. The creature dropped to the ground like a sack of flour and, to Shen’s surprise, transformed back into Kakarot. The students gathered around in hushed murmurs of shock and fear as Shen landed on his feet and looked down at Kakarot with his own level of trepidation. Just what was this little creature?

“Restrain him,” Shen instructed, “And lock him in the cellars. The rest of you, tend to the wounded. Bury the dead in a single grave to mark their failure.” Several students wrapped Kakarot in heavy chain and hauled him to the cellars as Shen looked suspiciously up at the full moon with dawning curiosity.

When Kakarot awoke, Shen confronted him down in the cellars, using a small cask as a stool as he looked the boy in the eyes.

“I do not know what you are,” Shen told him, “But you are not of this world, little one. Still, you have great potential and a great capacity for violence. I can teach you how to use these things, but you must do as I say. You will not eat the flesh of man, and you shall refer to me as ‘Master Shen’ and follow my every instruction. Is that clear?” Kakarot glowered up at him and struggled against his chains before Shen pointed a glowing finger in his face. Kakarot’s eyes slowly looked down in defeat and nodded. “Very good. Your training shall begin on the morrow.” Then he left Kakarot alone, down in the dark and cold.

OoOoOoO

The first thing Shen taught Kakarot was how to speak, read, and write. Once he was no longer a complete savage, Shen began to teach him how to fight. The boy had an insatiable appetite for combat and, despite being a toddler, quickly became a fearsome warrior. He also had a tremendous appetite and needed to regularly consume great quantities of food.

“I will not wait on you like a nursemaid,” Shen told Kakarot as he brought the boy towards the woods, “If you want to be fed, you must fend for yourself.” Then he released his “son” into the wilderness and watched as the boy scrambled through the woods on all fours, his teeth slathering with drool. It certainly took care of the school’s problem with wolves, cougars, and wild boars.

There was a problem, however, when Kakarot would spar with the other boys. The older he got, the more violent and uncontrollable he became. It came to a point where Shen had the boy brought to sit with him by a river to meditate. The water trickled and pattered softly over the smooth stones as Shen sat in the middle of the river on a rock and motioned for Kakarot to sit beside him on a similar rock. The nine year-old sat beside his “father” and copied his stance.

“You killed Hato,” Shen said without ever looking at Kakarot.

“He was weak,” Kakarot rebutted with a huff.

“True,” Shen admitted, “But this does not excuse your behavior. You had already broken the boy’s arm. He had already been defeated. We are not violent beyond reason, for that is the nature of the beast. Tell me, boy, what is it that gives you such rage?” Kakarot paused for a moment and chewed on his lip before responding.

“I hear… voices,” Kakarot explained, “They tell me to do things. To kill people. Kill everyone. They make me so angry, Father, and I just–”

“That anger is good,” Shen interrupted calmly, “But it is worthless if it is unfocused. I can teach you to control it, to focus it, but it will be different. No amount of violence can control your rage. You must be calm. Can you do that?”

Kakarot nodded. “I will try, father.”

OoOoOoO

On Son Tenshinhan’s fourteenth birthday, Gohan received a visit from Muten Roshi. Tenshinhan had grown into a fine, strong young man. Gohan had even been training him about the basics of ki sensing and control. He was planning on saving the Kamehameha for a special occasion, partly out of the fear that once Tenshinhan had mastered that, he would realize that his grandfather would have nothing left to teach him and leave.

Muten Roshi arrived on a flying carpet with his cane across his lap while Gohan and Tenshinhan were sparring in the backyard. Tenshinhan rushed up to meet Roshi and, ever the helpful young man, offered to help Roshi down from his carpet. Roshi declined help from the young triclops in a blue gi and helped himself down.

“It’s good to see you again, Master,” Gohan said with a respectful bow and Tenshinhan bowed as well, “What brings you all this way?” Roshi grinned and bowed back before responding.

“Why, to see this grandson of yours I’ve heard so much about!” Tenshinhan’s face reddened slightly as Roshi and Gohan shared a laugh.

“D-did you really tell this man about me, Grandpa?” Tenshinhan asked. Gohan smiled and nodded.

“Of course!” Gohan said proudly, “How could I not? This is my old master, Muten Roshi, after all!” Tenshinhan’s eyes went wide in surprise and he bowed again.

“G-gosh,” he said, “It’s an honor to meet my grandpa’s teacher, sir!” Roshi chuckled and stroked his beard.

“Don’t be too honored,” Roshi said as he cracked his knuckles, “I’ve come t’see what you’re made of!” Tenshinhan blinked in surprise.

“S-sir?” he stammered out before looking back between his Grandpa and Roshi. Gohan smiled and nodded again.

“I was going to tell you,” he began, “But yes, Master Roshi and I have been discussing the prospect of you leaving to train with him for a little while. I’m running out of things to teach you, after all!”

Tenshinhan shook his head, “But grandpa,” he protested, “I can’t leave yet! I know there’s more to teach me, you’re not giving yourself enough credit!”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Roshi said as he jabbed his staff down into the ground, “I’ll be the one who decides if you’re ready to be trained! C’mon!” Tenshinhan nodded and bowed again before getting into his stance. Roshi bowed back and waited for Ten to make his move. Ten charged and leaped in with a flying kick and a cry of battle.

The next thirty seconds were a blur of fists and feet and pain before everything went black. The next thing Tenshinhan knew, Grandpa Gohan was waving smelling salts under his nose… up a tree. Tenshinhan groaned and fell out of the tree to hit the ground with a thud. Muten Roshi, he realized, was already gone. It was also the late afternoon, when before it had only been just after noon.

“What happened?” Tenshinhan asked as Gohan helped him to his feet.

“Roshi and I decided that you’ve still got a bit of training to do,” Gohan explained as he helped Tenshinhan inside, “But we can worry about that in a couple years. After a beating like that, I think you deserve a piece of cake.” That night, Grandpa Gohan gave Tenshinhan his Power Pole for his present, telling his grandson that it was his now. Tenshinhan was so grateful that he gave his grandpa a great big hug. He couldn’t imagine any better birthday than this! As fate would have it, however, his sixteenth birthday would yield an even bigger surprise than meeting Master Roshi.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Adventures Begin!

It was early in the morning and Son Tenshinhan was gathering water from the river for watering the plants while his grandfather prepared breakfast. He filled the buckets and looped a stick through the handles to carry the water up the hill on his shoulders. After Ten dropped the water off, however, something caught his attention. He spied a cloud of dust from the dirt road that led to his home growing ever-larger and frowned. The only people that came out this far were either Muten Roshi, the milkman, or bandits and hoodlums. The milkman had already come, and Muten Roshi didn’t own a car.

Tenshinhan didn’t want to take any chances and leaped high into the air, over the treeline. He flipped through the air and rocketed towards the blue TURBO car that came racing up the road. A woman shrieked as the car swerved to avoid him and came to a stop as he landed in the ground hard enough to make a hole in the ground. He climbed out of the hole just in time to see a blue-haired young girl climbing out of the car and pointing a pistol at him. She squeezed off the first shot and by the time the bullet reached the spot where Tenshinhan had been, he was already in front of her and had a hand on the pistol. In the time it took her to squeeze the trigger again, Tenshinhan had removed the firing hammer and the magazine, bullets spilling out onto the dirt. The girl stared at Tenshinhan in a cross between shock, astonishment, and fear.

“Who… what are you?” she asked in a tone barely above a whisper. Tenshinhan let go of her wrist and stared at her intensely. They never got many visitors up here, let alone people around his own age. Especially girls his own age.

“Who are you?” he replied, “What are you here for?” She glared at him for not answering her question and he glared right back. Before either one could say anything, however, Son Gohan arrived.

“Tenshinhan!” Gohan called tersely, “That’s enough of that!” Tenshinhan reluctantly let go of the blue-haired girl’s wrist and took a few steps away from her. “I’m terribly sorry about that, young lady,” Gohan said as he bowed respectfully which made Ten bow reluctantly as well, “We don’t get many friendly visitors around here. I’m Son Gohan, this is my grandson Tenshinhan. Who are you?”

“Name’s Bulma,” she said while picking bullets off the ground and loading them back into her magazine, “I’m looking for the Dragon Balls.” She reached into a satchel on her hip and produced a strange, circular white device with a green screen. “I’ve invented this thing called a Dragon Radar and it tells me where they are.” Bulma put the Radar back into her satchel and pulled out two Dragon Balls. Just like the ones Grandpa Gohan had! “I’ve already got two, see?” Tenshinhan blinked. Dragon Balls?

“So there’s more than just the Four Star, grandpa?” he asked curiously. Gohan nodded and stroked his mustache while he eyed Bulma with no small level of suspicion.

“Indeed,” he said, “I have one, as does Muten Roshi, and so does my old schoolmate, the Ox King. We kept three amongst ourselves to keep them out of the hands of those that might use the Dragon Balls’ power for ill. Even if someone got the other four, they’d have to go through us.”

“I don’t understand,” Tenshinhan said, “What power? What happens if you gather all seven?”

“Jeez,” Bulma muttered, “You own one and you don’t know what they do? What kinda hick are you?” Tenshinhan shot her a nasty look and opened his mouth to say something before Gohan spoke again.

“Perhaps we should continue this inside,” Gohan said, “Would you like to join us for breakfast?”

Bulma blinked in surprise. By the shift in her body language, it was clear she hadn’t expected for offer. “Uhhh,” she said before shrugging, “Sure!” Tenshinhan wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that but Gohan and Bulma were already heading for the house before he could voice his complaints. He sighed and followed after them, already having a sneaking suspicion that this Bulma girl was going to lead to trouble.

Breakfast that morning consisted of rice porridge, eggs, and a few slices of grilled fish from the massive bass Ten had pulled out of the river earlier that same morning.

“So,” Gohan began as he poured everyone tea, “Where are you from, Miss Bulma?” Bulma was transfixed by the Dragon Ball sitting on the mantle above the fireplace, so Gohan had to repeat himself. “Miss Bulma?”

Bulma blinked and shook herself back to the conversation. “What? Oh, sorry. I’m from West City.” She took a sip of her tea before continuing. “I’m guessing you two haven’t been there?” Tenshinhan grimaced while shoveling porridge into his mouth but Gohan only chuckled amicably.

“No,” he admitted, “I can’t say I have. Only big city I’ve been to was Papaya Island, but that was years and years ago. I know where it is, though. That’s quite the journey you’ve been on already. What is it you plan on wishing for?”

“Wait,” Ten interjected as he wiped his mouth with a napkin, “What wish? I still don’t understand what the Dragon Balls do.”

“Well,” Bulma began around a mouthful of egg, “When you gather all seven of them together, they’re supposed to summon a giant dragon that will grant you any wish.” Ten turned back to his grandfather with his mouth agape.

“Why didn’t you tell me they could do that?!” Gohan gave a halfhearted shrug.

“I’d always meant to tell you,” Gohan assured him, “I just kept putting it off for one reason or another. Honestly, part of me was worried you’d go off on some wild adventure for the rest of them. The Dragon Balls aren’t meant to be used lightly. With that in mind,” Gohan said as he turned his attention back to Bulma, “What exactly do you plan to wish for?” Bulma’s face reddened slightly and she looked down at her plate. It was kind of embarrassing to say it out loud, especially in front of an old man.

“Uhhh,” Bulma muttered as one hand reached up to twirl her ponytail, “I kinda… wanna… wish for the perfect boyfriend.” Tenshinhan blinked in confusion. What was a boyfriend, anyway? Did she just want a friend? That was… kind of sad. He felt a little bad now.

“Well,” Gohan replied with another chuckle, “I suppose that’s hardly sinister, is it?” Bulma’s face brightened and she gasped in excitement. “Go ahead.” Gohan went on with a gesture, pointing towards the mantle with his chopsticks. Bulma squealed in delight as she dashed from the table and grabbed the Dragon Ball before stuffing it into her pocket.

“Thank you!” Bulma cried eagerly as she ran back over to Gohan and shook his hand in both of hers. “Thank you so much!” Then she threw her arms around him in a quick hug which made the old man turn quite pink. She let out another squeal of delight before turning to Tenshinhan. “Hey,” she said, “I’m sorry for… y’know, shooting at you.” Tenshinhan shrugged.

“I’m sorry for attacking you,” he replied as he sat up and gave a bow. “In fact,” he added somewhat awkwardly, “This journey you’re going on. It’s… dangerous isn’t it?” Bulma shrugged.

“I can handle myself,” she assured him while patting the pistol on her hip. Tenshinhan folded his arms over his chest and raised one eyebrow.

“I think I’ve already proved that guns might not be the most effective thing in the world…” Bulma huffed and Tenshinhan hurriedly tried to get to the point. “What I meant to say was… I’d like to accompany you.” Bulma blushed a little, which Tenshinhan didn’t really understand. “It just wouldn’t be right to let you wander off into some place dangerous. After all, we’d never get our Dragon Ball back.” It was more than that, though. Tenshinhan didn’t want to admit it but part of him was getting… bored, living on this same mountain, seeing the same trees and rocks and rivers, every single day. He wanted to see the rest of the world. Bulma chewed on her lip and shrugged before putting out her hand.

“Eh,” she muttered, “What the heck? Sure!” Tenshinhan smiled and shook her hand. He turned to speak to his grandfather– he’d need his permission as well, after all– but Gohan was already standing and holding out his Power Pole for Tenshinhan to take.

“Grandpa…” Tenshinhan asked in a quiet voice, “A-are you sure?” Gohan nodded and Tenshinhan slowly took the pole from Gohan’s hands and put it across his back before bowing appreciatively.

“Be safe,” Gohan told him as he bowed back, “Look after yourself as well as young Bulma, and remember what I taught you.” Ten stood up and pulled his grandpa into a hug.

“I will,” he promised, “And I’ll be back as soon as we’re done!” Gohan nodded and gave a wave as Tenshinhan and Bulma walked out the door.

“Hey,” Bulma said as they made their way down the dirt road, “I kinda wanted to ask. That third eye of yours…?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, what’s the deal? Not a whole lot of people with three eyes.”

“Whaddaya mean ‘what’s the deal’?”

“I mean, does it cry like the other two? I didn’t see it blink the whole time or anything. Does it get dust, what happens?”

Tenshinhan shrugged. “It’s not really like an eye eye. It doesn’t… see like my other two, but it sees… ki and stuff.”

“What’s ki?” Bulma asked.

“It’s hard to explain.”

“Gee, you’re helpful, aren’t ya?” Bulma climbed into her car and started it up. “My car’s not exactly built for someone your size, so it might be a bit of a–”

“Don’t worry,” Tenshinhan said as he dropped into a runner’s crouch, “I can keep up.” Bulma rolled her eyes.

“Riiiight,” she shot back sarcastically, “Hey, your name’s kinda long. Mind if I just call you Ten?”

“Yes.” Ten told her flatly. Bulma grinned and stuck out her tongue.

“Well, then you’ll have to catch me to do somethin’ about it!” She floored the gas and took off laughing… until she noticed Ten was running right beside her. She blinked and stared and nearly went off the road. This guy was weird.

 

OoOoOoO

 

Chaozu was sitting at lunch with some of the other Crane students during their break and he found himself looking over to Kakarot, the strange child who had been raised at the Crane School since infancy. And turned into a giant monkey that one time. He sat far removed from the other students with a slightly larger bowl of beef and rice than the others and, for some reason, didn’t wear shoes.

“Don’t get too close to that kid,” warned Aoi, one of the white-haired, blue-skinned twin students that Chaozu sat with. He suspected they all sat together because, well, they looked weird to everyone else. 

“Yeah,” added Aoi’s brother Tori, “He’s dangerous.” Chaozu hardly needed to be reminded of that, but… still. He wondered why the kid was so sullen and lonely all the time. What was he thinking about? Chaozu reached out with his telepathic powers to try and see what was going on in Kakarot’s mind. He instantly flinched back at what he found. Kakarot’s mind was so angry, full of rage and hate and a screaming voice in a language that definitely wasn’t English. Chaozu tried to probe further and get a clearer picture.  

He was soon far more occupied by the hand around his throat as Kakarot had somehow covered the distance of more than a hundred feet in about a second. The savage boy slammed Chaozu down onto the table and glared down at him with his hand squeezing at Chaozu’s throat. 

“Stay. Out. Of. My. Head.” Kakarot growled. Chaozu nodded frantically and Kakarot let him go. Chaozu groaned and groaned as he slid down to the floor while the other boy stomped off, presumably to go looking in the woods for more food. 

“Thanks, guys.” Chaozu muttered sarcastically as he rubbed at his throat. 

“Whaddaya think we are,” the twins responded in unison, “Idiots?” Chaozu rolled his eyes.

 

OoOoOoO

 

Later that day, as the sun began to set, Chaozu was out in the fields picking fruit for the next morning’s breakfast. Normally for someone of Chaozu’s stature, the chore would have been seen as a cruel joke. Luckily for Chaozu, he had psychic powers, so that made plucking the fruit down from the trees fairly easy. He heard a trio of snickering behind him and groaned.

“Well, well, well,” said a voice with a firm, authoritative tenor, “Look, boys. It’s the Crane School’s lucky leprechaun!” Chaozu rolled his eyes and set the fruit basket down as he looked up at his fellow students. 

“Hello, Washi,” Chaozu said dryly. Washi was a tall young man with dark skin and white hair. He also had a hooked nose and intense yellow eyes. He was the sort who liked to strut proudly with his chest puffed out. He was also tailed by his two cronies, Kitsutsuki and Garanchou. Kitsuki was lean, always grinning, with a spike of red hair and a toothpick dangling from his lips. Garanchou had no hair, but he did have an enormous chin.  

“Man,” Kitsutsuki teased as he leaned down to look at Chaozu, “You’ve been here five years, have you grown an inch?” he cackled his obnoxious laugh and flicked the toothpick at Chaozu. It bounced off Chaozu’s forehead and he rolled his eyes again. 

“We heard that you had a run-in with Kakarot at lunch,” Garanchou pointed out. “Heard that it didn’t turn out so great!” The trio laughed again and Washu shoved Chaozu. 

“You know it’s rough when the freaks can’t even get along with other freaks!” Chaozu said nothing so Washu shoved him again. Then a third time, so Chaozu shoved him back. Washu stumbled back before he and his cohorts moved towards Chaozu with their fists drawn back.  

“Hey!” a voice barked. All four swiveled around to see Kakarot stomping towards them and Washi laughed and puffed his chest out again. 

“You think I’m scare of you, freak?” he taunted, “You may be able to take out any of the other students, but I’m the best of us.” Magamo had been the best before he mysteriously died the day Kakarot arrived, but Chaozu figured that Washu was trying to forget that. “Let’s see what you’ve–” Kakarot punched Washu in the knee and he howled in pain as the bone snapped in half. Washu fell to a knee with a shriek and Kakarot headbutted him hard enough to send him flying into a tree. As the other two scrambled to pick Washu up and carry him away, Kakarot shrugged. 

“Guess I’m the best.” he said as he watched them run away. Then he turned to Chaozu and nodded at him before he started to walk off again. Chaozu picked up the fruit basket and hesitated for a moment before following after him. 

“Wait,” Chaozu called, “I don’t get it! Why would you help me?” Kakarot shrugged.

“I don’t like the weak. Or cowards. Bullies are both. They prey on the weak to make themselves feel strong because they’re too afraid to actually be challenged.” 

“Thanks,” Chaozu said, “...I think.” 

“What were you doing in my mind, anyway?” Kakarot asked. Now it was Chaozu’s turn to shrug. 

“You just looked lonely. I wanted to see what was going on in your head. Maybe be your friend.” 

“I don’t need friends,” Kakarot told him curtly, “Father says they’ll just get in my way.” 

“Yeah, but… do you want one?”  

“...Maybe.”

 

OoOoOoO

 

It was the end of a long day’s drive (well, a drive for Bulma and a run for Ten) and after a run-in with a pterodactyl, Bulma had decided to call it a day. Ten had been fully prepared to sleep under a tree when Bulma produced a small bauble from her car and threw it on the ground. There was a puff of smoke and then, where once there had been nothing, there was a house!  

“That’s amazing!” Ten exclaimed as he followed Bulma inside, “I didn’t know you could do magic!” Bulma scoffed. 

“Magic?” she asked with a laugh, “What, have you never heard of capsules before?” Ten shook his head and Bulma grinned as she turned on some strange machine that looked like it had a teapot attached to it. “Well, it’s a technology my father invented. He’s the owner and founder of Capsule Corp, so when he steps down, I’m gonna take over and make like a jillion dollars.” 

“That’s… nice?” Tenshinhan said with a shrug. He didn’t really see the importance of money. “So how does it work?” 

“It’s ‘hard to explain’,” Bulma teased, echoing Ten’s earlier sentiments about ki, which made Ten roll all three eyes. “Basically, the capsules create a negative ionic field that bombards whatever object the capsules is used on with particles that greatly shrink down the object’s mass to almost the subatomic level, so that they can be stored easily in the capsule without carrying any weight.” Ten blinked and it was clear that everything Bulma had said went right over his head. “Look,” Bulma added arrogantly, “It takes something really big,” she made overdramatic gestures with her hands and spoke slowly, as if talking to a child, “And makes it really small, okay?” The teapot machine beeped and Bulma poured two mugs of a strange dark liquid. “Now,” she said as she handed him one, “Tell me about this ‘ki’ stuff.”  

Ten sniffed the liquid suspiciously as Bulma sat down at a table and he set it aside before speaking. “Ki is…” he rubbed one hand on the back of his neck as he tried to search for the right words, like how his grandpa had explained to him, “Ki is… an energy inside everything. It’s not like a ‘soul’, it’s not just in living things. Everything from you and me, to animals, to the trees and the rocks and the ocean and the stars. Everything has ki. People can make their ki stronger through training, and they can learn to sense it and even control it.” Ten held up one hand and a small ball of yellow light hovered an inch above his palm. “Like this, see?” Bulma’s eyes went wide with wonder and Tenshinhan smiled, glad to see that he could surprise her, too. He dissolved the ki ball and went on. “Ki is a part of everything, inside and out. It surrounds us all and binds the universe together.”  

Bulma grinned. “Sounds like something out of a movie,” she quipped. Ten blinked. 

“What’s a movie?” he asked. Bulma rolled her eyes as Ten lifted the mug to his lips and took a sip. He jerked away from it and stared in horror like it was a wild animal that had tried to rip his face off. “Blech! What kind of tea is this?!”  

“It’s not tea,” Bulma explained as she loaded her mug with cream and sugar, “It’s coffee.” 

“How do you drink it?!”  

“Heavily modified,” she told him before taking a long swallow. “So can only certain people learn how to use ki or what?” 

“Oh, no,” Ten said, “Anyone can use their ki. They just need someone to train them.” Bulma nodded and took another sip. 

“Maybe you could teach me a couple moves sometime?” she asked with a wink. 

“....Was there something in your eye?” Ten asked. Bulma groaned and took another drink of her coffee before standing up from the table and stretching. 

“Welp,” she said, “It’s gettin’ dark, so I’m gonna take a shower and change. You can wait outside.”  

“Why?” Ten asked. 

“Don’t think this clueless farmboy routine is fooling me, ya sneaky pervert.” 

“P-pervert?!” Ten exclaimed in confusion. Where the heck did that come from?!  

“Deciding to follow a young and beautiful girl like me around the world, all alone on a perilous mission, wanting to be my big hero?” She accused. 

“What are you talking about?” Ten asked. He was so lost.  

“And turn around out there!” Bulma told him as she headed for the bathroom, “I don’t want you looking through the walls with that third eye!” 

“My third eye doesn’t see through walls!” he protested. Bulma shut the bathroom door and Ten groaned before heading outside. He turned his back to the Capsule House and stared up at the quickly-darkening sky as he wondered just what kind of headache he’d gotten himself into.

 

OoOoOoO

 

“Kakarot is starting to worry me,” Ten said as he poured tea for Tao Pai Pai who was sitting across the table from him, “I’ve had him put more focus into his meditation, but at times I catch him muttering to himself in that strange language that machine was speaking in when I found him. He’s violent–” 

“A good quality in a mercenary,” Tao put in sardonically. Shen rolled his eyes and pressed on. 

“I know that. I’ve raised the boy to be a killing machine, haven’t I? But his violence is beyond the point of reason sometimes. He would have killed a third student in sparring if I hadn’t stopped him.”  

Tao nodded and took a sip of tea. “That’s what’s really troubling you, isn’t it, brother? Not that he’s violent or dangerous. You’re worried that one day, you won’t be able to stop him. That he’ll be too strong, he’ll outgrow you. You’re wondering what happens to you then.” Tao chuckled. “Personally? I can’t wait to find out.” 

Shen groaned and rolled his eyes. “I can always count on you for moral support, can’t I, sister?” he asked dryly. Tao Pai Pai, an older (though not nearly so old as Shen), lean-faced woman with her dark hair in a tight ponytail smirked back at him. Before the conversation could turn nasty, a fat-nosed student named Ahiru burst into Shen’s private study and was gasping for breath. 

“M-Ma-master Shen,” he wheezed, “L-Lady Mercenary…” 

“Yes, yes,” Shen muttered while gesturing for Ahiru to get on with it, “Who is Kakarot maiming this time?” 

“It’s not Kakarot,” Ahiru explained, “We’ve… we’ve had an intruder!” Shen shot up quickly from his chair and Tao stood up as well with a look of mild bemusement on her face as she followed after the Master and Student. 

“Explain,” Shen demanded as they walked. 

“We don’t know where she came from,” Ahiru began, “She won’t say. She just seemed to be running from something and broke into our storerooms. She was armed and–” 

“Is she still alive?” Shen asked. He did not tolerate intruders on his school grounds. There was no telling what Turtle spies might be lurking with painted shells. 

“Y-yes,” Ahiru replied, “We wanted to ask you what to do with her.” They arrived on the training grounds to find Da and Chou, a pair of bug-eyed and lanky twins that were Shen’s tallest students by far, holding a struggling blonde girl between them with each holding one of her arms and keeping her off the ground. She kicked and flailed and growled as the twins pinioned her arms behind her back. The girl had scrapes on her knees and elbows and scratches up and down her arms and legs. She also had dirt on her face and clothes and leaves in her hair. She certainly looked like she’d been running from something. 

“Who,” Shen demanded as he pulled down his sunglasses, “Are you?” 

“Name’s Launch,” the girl said, “Who the hell wants to know?” Tao laughed at the girl’s impudence while Shen tugged at the lapels of his jacket.

“I am Shen,” he told her, “Master of the Crane School. What are you doing here?” 

“Not that it’s any of your goddamn business, Grandpa,” Launch told him, “But I was runnin’ from the cops. I didn’t know anything about this place, I just came here ‘cause it was a building where I could lie low and maybe get some food. But I didn’t steal anythin’.” Launch paused. “Okay, so I didn’t get the chance to steal anythin’.” Shen nodded.  

“What were the authorities chasing you for?” he demanded. Launch shrugged. 

“Stole some stuff. Killed some people. What’s it to you?” Shen looked to the towering twins and waved a hand. 

“Release her,” he demanded. The pair let Launch down and she had a moment to stretch her arms before Shen grabbed her by the arm and examined her. “You have good bone structure and ki flow,” he told her, “And a great potential for violence. There is… a weakness in you, but I believe that can be removed.” For some reason, that made Launch grin. “You shall not need to run anymore. You will stay here and be trained in the way of the Crane School.” Shen smirked for a moment. “Unless you’d prefer to take your chances with the law?”  

Launch’s grin widened and she cracked her knuckles. “What the hell? Always wanted to get better at kickin’ ass.” 

 

OoOoOoO

 

Kakarot sat on a rock under a waterfall and let the water run over him as he sat in focused meditation. Control. He had to find control. Had to find… had to find… 

‘Kill them, Kakarot!’ a voice screamed in his head. It was always there, that awful voice. Some days it was louder than others. ‘It is your mission! It is your destiny! Kill them all!’ Kakarot ground his teeth and took several long, slow breaths until the voice went away.  

“Hey,” Chaozu called, “Kakarot! Over here!” Kakarot opened his eyes and climbed out from under the waterfall to see Chaozu hovering just above the treeline. Someday he’d have to get his friend to teach him how he did that. Kakarot quickly climbed up a tree and looked to where Chaozu was pointing. All the students were in the yard and that old lady was next to Father. Father was talking to some blonde… person. 

“Oumu will show you to an empty room,” Father was saying, “Then you will begin training with the rest of the students at dawn. Be wary of my… son, Kakarot. He’s quite dangerous.”

“What is that?” Kakarot whispered as he watched Father walk with the person and the old woman. 

“What do you mean?” Chaozu asked, “That’s a girl.” Kakarot blinked. “Like that Tao lady, but not old.” 

“Ohhh.” Kakarot muttered. A girl. He’d never seen one before…

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Turtles, Pigs, Wolves, Monkeys! What a Zoo!

 

Launch woke up to the sound of someone pounding on a door and sat up in a hurry as she tried to quickly rub the sleep from her eyes and figure out the world around her. The last thing she remembered was she had gone to a boutique in Pepper Town when some nice lady had offered to let her smell a sample of the newest fragrance. Something in it tickled her nose and now… now… now Launch wasn’t sure where she was. She was in… a room, sitting on a straw mat on the floor with a blanket rumpled up around her and covering her legs. Launch also noticed that she had bandages wrapped around her knees and elbows for some reason. What had happened to her? She could see through the window that the sun was still rising in the bright pink sky. The pounding on the door continued and Launch pulled the blanket up to her chest.

 

“C-come in?” she stammered out in nervous confusion. She only hoped that whoever was on the other side would answer her questions. Namely where she was and why she was there. The door swung open and what was on the other side didn’t make Launch any less confused. The person, or rather people who opened the door were a pair of blue-skinned, white-haired young boys, one sitting on the other’s shoulders. They stared at her in almost as much surprise as she stared at them. One boy looked up at the other one on his shoulders.

 

“We gotta go get Master Shen!” He insisted urgently. The other boy nodded before slamming the door shut on Launch. She heard the sound of footsteps pattering rapidly away without having any answers for her questions. Now, of course, she had new ones. Who were those boys? Who was ‘Master Shen’? Launch slowly got up and wandered around the room, trying to get a better handle of the situation. She looked out her window and saw an expansive grassy field with young men of all shapes, sizes, and colors fighting one another. They were all wearing purple pants, red belts, yellow boots, green armbands, and yellow tank tops. Launch walked away from the window and found a small basin on one of the walls in the room with a pail of water next to it. Next to the pail of water was a neatly-folded set of clothes identical to what the young men were wearing. Launch looked down at her own clothes, which had somehow become torn since she had smelled that fragrance, and gave a shrug. It wasn’t like she had anything else to wear. So she stripped down to her underwear and filled the basin with water, washing her face, neck, arms and legs before putting the outfit on. It was a little baggy on her and Launch figured that it hadn’t been made for a girl, especially since she hadn’t seen any outside. Just as she adjusted the belt to make sure it fit comfortably, however, the door swung open. Launch spun around and instinctively backed away when she saw a stern old man in a green-and-yellow jacket with wisps of white hair coming off his temples step into the room.

 

“Wh-who are you?” Launch asked nervously as he advanced silently towards her, “Wh-what’s going on? Where am I?” He didn’t answer her.

 

“As I suspected,” he muttered as he looked her up and down, “There is a weakness in you.” He brought his hands up and slowly reached them up toward her face. “It is a weakness I do not have time for. So it will simply have to go away for now.”

 

“What?” Launch stammered as she kept backing away, trying to move her head to keep his hands away from her face. She didn’t like him. She didn’t like anything about this! “Wh-what are you talking about? Don’t touch me! G-get away from me!” Then his hands were on the sides of her face and his thumbs were at her temples. “L-let go of me! Stop! Stop!” Launch tried to thrash her head, she grabbed at the old man’s arms and tried to pull him off, but he was deceptively powerful for someone so old. Then his thumbs pressed to her temples and something ran through her like a spark. Launch threw her head back and screamed and thrashed…

 

Launch lowered her head with a smirk as Shen brought his hands away from her face. She blew a strand of blonde hair that had fallen in front of her face and looked down at Shen with a grin before cracking her knuckles.

 

“So,” she asked, “What do we do first?”

 

OoOoOoO

 

Kakarot was sitting in his usual meditative position as the river flowed around him with his hands pressed together at his chest level and with his eyes closed. He tried to keep his breathing even and let out a slow, low hum. He had asked Chaozu how he was able to fly once everything had calmed down the day before after the girl had been taken inside the school building and the other boy’s explanation had been… less than helpful. It was clear to Kakarot that Chaozu had never really considered how he could fly because his explanation had simply been “You just need to be calm and picture yourself flying.”

 

Kakarot had been calmly picturing himself flying for the past hour. There were still stars in the sky when Kakarot had begun to calmly picture himself flying and now he was just about calmed out. His humming turned into a growl and the tightly clasped hands balled into fists that sat on his thighs as he began to grind his teeth. He could hear the voices screaming at him again.

 

“Hey,” came Chaozu’s voice from above and snapped Kakarot out of his building fury, “What the heck are you doing?!” Kakarot looked down to see Chaozu floating down towards him with an orange in each hand. He tossed one to Kakarot who caught it out of the air with his tail and tossed it into his mouth, chomping on the whole thing without bothering to peel off the skin.

 

“Trnng t fl,” Kakarot muttered around a mouthful of orange. Chaozu tried not to gawk as stringy pulp and juice ran down the corners of Kakarot’s mouth while peeling his own orange like a civilized person.

 

“Well you’re never gonna do it like that,” Chaozu told him dryly. Kakarot shot him a look and Chaozu decided it would be a good idea to explain before Kakarot decided that Chaozu’s head resembled an orange. “I mean…” Chaozu chewed his lip and tried to find the right words. “You have to be calm. You have to keep your mind clear and you have to be… light.” He took a moment to chew and swallow an orange slice before he explained further. “This isn’t like ki attacks or fighting. You can’t fly by getting angrier. Just… think about flying, I guess. How it would feel. What you think it would be like.” Kakarot wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and nodded.

 

“Be light,” Kakarot muttered as he closed his eyes and brought his hands to his chest again. He let out a slow, long sigh and tried to steady his heartbeat. He breathed out his anger, his frustration, he breathed out the voices. For a moment, everything inside him was clear and quiet. He listened to the river running around him and the morning breeze moving through the grass and the trees. It was peaceful. It was… light.

 

Chaozu watched in surprise as droplets of water slowly rose out of the stream and hovered around Kakarot. Within moments, Kakarot himself lifted into the air, higher and higher. Kakarot opened his eyes and Chaozu half-expected him to fall face-first to the ground. Instead, Kakarot smiled and laughed before rocketing off into the sky, leaving Chaozu dumbfounded. How did Kakarot learn things so fast?

 

Kakarot laughed joyfully, letting out a whoop as he spiraled high into the air and flew in hoops through the clouds. This was incredible! He had never felt so free, so light, so… so happy! He plunged down to the ground below, zipping just above the heads of the other students. He didn’t even mind that he was getting so tired from flying. He never got tired, nothing made him use this much energy. Flying was great!

 

“We will begin,” Shen told Launch, “With strength, speed, and form. Once you have a proper understanding of martial arts, we will begin–” he and Launch dove to the ground as a laughing, whooping Kakarot zipped just overhead in a rocket-like blur.

 

“So,” Launch asked as she propped herself up on her elbows and watched the strange little boy flip and twist through the air, “When do I get to learn how to fly?”

 

Shen ground his teeth and balled his fists, his normally-impassive face turning slowly furious. “Not anytime soon,” he growled out before shooting up to meet Kakarot. Kakarot’s smile instantly faded away as Shen blocked his path with his arms folded over his chest and a scowl on his face. “On the ground,” Shen instructed tersely, “Now.” Kakarot nodded and slowly descended to the ground, looking at his feet as they both touched down. “How do you know how to fly?” Shen asked. Kakarot said nothing, so Shen struck him across the face. “I asked you a question! Tell me!”

 

Kakarot’s face burned and he knew that if he named Chaozu then the other boy would be in serious trouble. He couldn’t do that to his only friend. “I… I just figured it out,” Kakarot said softly. Shen struck him again, this time with a backhand.

 

“Did I teach you?” He asked. Kakarot shook his head, both sides of his face red with pain and a thin trickle of blood coming down the corner of his mouth. Shen slapped him again and Kakarot staggered. He got back to his feet with anger in his eyes and he balled up his fists. “You will fly when I have decided you are ready. Is that clear?” Kakarot nodded slowly and Shen backhanded him, this time seemingly just because. This time, however, Kakarot brought up his forearm to block Shen’s slap. The Crane Master stared at his son for half a second and the boy glowered at him intensely before Shen smashed a fist into Kakarot’s face and he was out before he hit the ground. Shen rubbed at his knuckles as he shuffled back towards Launch. That had actually hurt his hand. His son was getting stronger at a faster rate than he’d expected.

 

“Who’s that kid?” Launch asked, looking over Shen’s shoulders to spy Kakarot’s unconscious body.

 

“My son,” Shen explained as he led her to the practice grounds, “Kakarot.” Launch looked back at him while following Shen.

 

“Kinda funny-lookin’,” she muttered, “But he didn’t seem so bad.” Shen arched an eyebrow.

 

“You think so?” he asked. He would have to show this girl what Kakarot was capable of.

 

OoOoOoO

 

“So,” Tenshinhan asked around a mouthful of peach while he sat on the roof of Bulma’s car, “What’s a boyfriend?” Bulma was surprised that Ten had never heard of the term before. But then again, it could just be part of his innocent hick act. He probably expected her to believe he didn’t know what girl’s underwear looked like, too!

 

“It’s a guy that you like,” Bulma explained, “Who you think is attractive or who you have similar interests or an emotional connection with. Preferably all three. Aaand you spend time with them, usually in the form of dates. A girlfriend’s basically the same thing, but with, well, a girl.”

 

“What’s dating?” Ten asked.

 

“Jeez,” Bulma muttered, “You don’t know anything.” Ten grumbled before Bulma continued. “Dating is time you spend with the person you’re into, watching movies or going out to eat or just, y’know, hanging out.”

 

“That sounds like marriage,” Ten pointed out. Bulma shivered and hurriedly shook her head.

 

“Oh, no, jeez! It’s nothing that serious. That sort of thing comes before you get married! Like, a boyfriend or a girlfriend you can just end things if you’re not happy. If that sort of thing happens in a marriage, y’just tough it out until you’re both emotionally dead.” Before Ten could ask what that meant, they came up to a massive rock blocking the road. “Hey, y’wanna get that?”

 

“Why do I have to move it?” Ten asked. He “Don’t you have some kind of magic that will move the rock?”

 

“It’s not–”

 

“Fine, fine, you’re not a witch. But can’t you move it?”

 

“Hey,” Bulma retorted, “I’m just the brains, the finances, the supplies, and the beauty. You’re the muscle.” Tenshinhan grumbled and groused as he hopped off the roof of the car and walked into the road. He grabbed the rock in his arms and raised it easily overhead. The rock then began to squirm.

 

“W-wait!” a familiar voice cried out, “Please put me down!” Four flippers popped out of the rock and Tenshinhan beamed with recognition as he set the boulder down. “Oh, young Tenshinhan!” The turtle said, “Hello!”

 

“Turtle!” Ten beamed as he dropped into a crouch and scratched the back of the sea creature’s head. “What are you doing so far away from Kame Island?”

 

“Well you see,” Turtle explained, “I was swept up in a huge hurricane and–”

 

“Wait,” Bulma cut in as she climbed out of the car, “Wait, wait wait. You know this thing?” she asked incredulously before adding, “Also, how can you talk?!”

 

“My master taught me how,” Turtle explained with a cordial bob of his head.

 

“Turtle belongs to Muten Roshi, the Turtle Hermit,” Ten explained, “I’ve only met him a few times, but…” he shrugged, “How many talking turtles do you meet?” Bulma didn’t know how teaching a turtle to talk even worked. Their brains weren’t developed enough for speech and their throats weren’t capable of making the sounds for speech. Yet despite all of that, here one was! While she was wondering all of this, Ten turned his attention back to Turtle. “Do you need help getting back to the coast?”

 

Turtle bobbed his head as eagerly as a turtle could manage, beaming up at the triclops. “I would like that very much,” he told him, “I’m afraid I’m terribly lost.” Ten smiled and hefted Turtle onto his back and that was enough to snap Bulma out of her science-based thinking.

 

“W-wait,” she stammered out, “What are you doing? We don’t have time for detours! Who knows who else might be looking for the Dragon Balls?”

 

“Are you saying someone else was smart enough to make your fancy gadget?” Ten asked with a smirk. Bulma’s face turned indignantly red and she huffed, turning up her nose. She looked back down and saw Ten somehow giving her three puppy eyes and groaned before putting her car back in its capsule and taking out another capsule that held a four-wheel all-terrain bike. She huffed some hair out of her eyes and looked up at the early noon sun.

 

“Okay,” she muttered as she climbed onto the bike, “So the coast’s…” she groaned and pointed into the woods, “That way.” She revved up the bike and drove off into the woods, Tenshinhan keeping pace even with the massive turtle weighing down his back. Bulma gawked as she watched Ten and nearly hit a tree at least twice. Just how strong was this weird hick?

 

It took about an hour or two before they finally reached the coast and Ten gently let Turtle down onto the soft sand of the shore. Turtle dunk his head down into the water and took a deep drink of salt water before turning back to Ten and Bulma.

 

“I’ll be back in a moment with my master,” he told them, “I’m sure he would be very interested in giving you a reward for your efforts.” Then he waded into the water and they waited.

 

And waited.

 

And waited.

 

Bulma was messing around on her phone and giggling at cats in hats while Ten busied himself with handstand push ups. At one point, Ten turned his head to Bulma’s bike and, looking for something to talk about, looked at the springs behind the wheels.

 

“Hey,” he said while he continued his push ups, “Why did you take out that bike? Why’s it got those springs? Does it bounce?”

 

“Well,” Bulma said as she put away her phone and looked down at the bike, “I switched because we had to go offroad, and my car is built for roads, even dirt roads like the one we were on. The woods are too full of rocks and tree roots and all sorts of stuff that would make the ride too bumpy for it. The springs all called shock absorbers. They absorb impacts and keep the bike from falling apart.” Clearly, she was just as glad for having something to talk about as Ten was.

 

“So,” Ten said before stopping to flip and land on his feet, “The bike could fall off a mountain, land on its wheels, and it’d be fine?” Bulma chuckled and rolled her eyes.

 

“Not exactly,” she told him, “It only absorbs the impact, it doesn’t nullify it. It has a limit.” Ten chewed on his lip thoughtfully. He had the sneaking suspicion that this information might be useful and so he stored it away in the back of his mind. Before he could find something else for them to talk about, he noticed Muten Roshi coming towards them on Turtle’s back and broke into a grin.

 

“Muten Roshi!” he called out happily as the old master got closer while Bulma stared on. The man was in some kind of orange floral print shirt and tan shorts plus a pair of red sunglasses and an enormous purple turtle shell on her back. He had a big, knobby cane in one hand and didn’t look like he’d shaved his beard in a hundred years. It probably was to make up for the lack of any hair on his head. The only thing Bulma cared about, though, was the Dragon Ball hanging from a string around his neck. This had worked out perfectly!

 

The old master beamed at Tenshinhan as he hopped off of Turtle’s back and the pair bowed to each other. “Good to see you, Ten! And a happy belated birthday to you!” Ten’s smile widened and he bowed again.

 

“You remembered my birthday was yesterday?” he asked happily and Roshi nodded his head, reaching a hand up to rub Ten’s smooth and shiny head.

 

“As if I could forget the birthday of my favorite student’s grandson.” Bulma couldn’t suppress a giggle while Ten’s face turned bright red. “And who’s your young ladyfriend, eh?” he asked playfully as he elbowed Ten in the ribs. Bulma didn’t like the way he was looking at her.

 

“I’m Bulma,” she told the old man firmly as she crossed her arms over her chest, “And I’m not Ten’s ‘ladyfriend’. He’s just watching out for me while I gather the Dragon Balls. Speaking of which… your Turtle said you’d reward us for returning him to you, soooo…” Roshi turned around and pulled down his sunglasses to shoot Turtle a nasty look. Turtle silently sunk his head back into his shell before he sighed and took the Dragon Ball from around his neck and gave it to Bulma. She broke out into a big grin and put it around her neck. Now they had four Balls! Then Roshi turned his attention to Ten and grinned, his mood lifted again.

 

“Now,” he told the young triclops, “As for your birthday present…” he reached a hand into his beard and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Ten was about to protest that he didn’t need any presents when Roshi grinned as if struck by inspiration. “I’ve got it!” He raised his staff to the sky and threw his head back. “Flying Nimbus!” He cried out, stretching out the last syllable. His voice echoed off the waves before a yellow cloud streaked out of the sky with a tail behind it before puttering slowly to a stop at Tenshinhan’s waist. “This is my Nimbus Cloud,” Roshi explained, “It can take you anywhere, fly faster than any jet, and it comes when you call.” He grinned and started to lean on it. “Only the pure of heart can– HERK!” Roshi fell right through the cloud and onto his face. Bulma threw her head back and laughed as Ten helped Roshi back to his feet.

 

“Yeah,” she teased, “Well I guess you’re telling the truth if it doesn’t work for–” she tried to sit on the cloud and went right through it, landing on her tush in the sand. She turned red with embarrassment and grumbled wordlessly under her breath. Ten did not help her up.

 

“Thank you, Muten Roshi,” Ten said earnestly as he bowed to Roshi, “This was very kind of you.” He smiled as Roshi patted him on the shoulder before continuing. “Although, I had a request of my own if you don’t mind.” Roshi pulled down his sunglasses to look at Ten curiously. “Once I’m finished with… whatever it is I’m doing for Bulma,” he gave the girl a sidelong glance while she wiped sand off the bottom of her legs, “I was hoping that I might come to you for training.” Roshi broke into a grin and, to Ten’s surprise, he pulled the young man into a hug.

 

“Nothing would make me happier,” he told the triclops earnestly. Ten hugged Roshi back and looked like he was about to say something before Bulma honked the horn on her bike.

 

“Hey!” she shouted, “We’re burning daylight, hop on your birthday cloud and let’s go!” Tenshinhan looked back at her and rolled his eyes before turning back to Roshi and gave him an apologetic shrug. Roshi chuckled and gave Ten a pat on the shoulder before Tenshinhan hopped onto the Nimbus cloud. He took a moment to balance on the cloud and get used to the feeling of it under his feet before soaring off into the sky, taking a sharp upturn and twisting through the air in a spiral as he laughed his head off and whooped with delight. He was flying! This was amazing!

 

OoOoOoO

 

The first few days that had passed in Launch’s time with the Crane School were the hardest and most exhausting of her life. They got up at dawn every morning and started with yoga which wasn’t so bad. But then... laps around the property line, push ups and sit-ups and dead sprints and leaping rolls, pushing rocks and lifting logs and trying to break rocks and boards with her fists. Then, halfway through the day when she was thoroughly exhausted and two thirds of the way to death… then came the sparring.

 

She was awful. Just the fuckin’ worst.

 

Launch thought she knew a little bit about how to fight and defend herself, but even the blue kids made her look incompetent. Master Shen had been drilling her pretty relentlessly to get her up to par to try and fix the faults in her form and sometimes she felt like she was making progress.

 

Then she’d see the kid fight. Kakarot, right? He made her look like she couldn’t put one foot in front of the other.

 

Today, Launch was watching Kakarot from under the shade of a tree while she drank water from a wood cup. It definitely seemed like Kakarot was a cut above everyone else, which was especially obvious today when he fought a dozen other students at once. Launch was still regularly getting her ass kicked by just one student, but Kakarot… he was everywhere at once. No one could get the drop on him or cut through his defenses without getting into groups of four. Even then, nothing they did seemed to really hurt Kakarot. He sure hurt them, though. It took maybe about a minute for Kakarot to leave the twelve students, many of whom were twice or even three times Kakarot’s height, in a groaning and defeated tangle of limbs.

 

“Jeez,” Launch muttered to herself, “He’s friggin’ awesome.” From the shadows, Shen watched unbeknownst to Launch and stroked his whiskers. He suddenly knew exactly what to do with that village who had been gathering its fighters to storm the school. Apparently they hadn’t much cared for one of Shen’s former students killing their “protector” six months ago and had been arming themselves for revenge. The fools.

 

When night fell and the light of the full moon shone down on the school, Shen went down to the cellars to tie a blindfold around Kakarot’s eyes and led him back up to the surface before waking Launch, Chaozu, and a few of the other students who had not seen Kakarot’s transformation. He had simply told them that this was something they needed to see and they all began to walk. Kakarot had made no objections and, in fact, never spoke up. Did he know what Shen was using him for? Did he want to be unleashed? Did he just not care? Shen supposed it hardly mattered. Shen brought the students to the outskirts of the village and kept them back against the treeline while he led Kakart into the open. He crouched behind his son and lifted his chin up to tilt his head towards the moon while his other hand undid the blindfold. Kakarot stared up at the sky and his whole body went rigid. Shen smiled as Kakarot already began to snarl and fur began to spread all over his body, whispering a single word.

 

“Go.” With that he dashed back to the treeline as Kakarot threw his head back and the sound that came out of him was somewhere between a bellow of rage and a scream of pain. Launch and Chaozu watched in horror along with the other students as Kakarot’s muscles grew large, unnaturally large, and soon he was towering over them, beating his fur-covered chest as his fangs glinted in the moonlight. Kakarot turned his blood-red glowing eyes on the village and began to stomp towards it, the ground shaking with every step.

 

“He… he turned into a giant monkey.” Launch muttered, her face pale.

 

“Y-yeah,” Chaozu added, “I.. I heard he could do that.” Kakarot roared as he stomped on one of the houses of the village, the bottom of his foot coming away bloody before the villagers came rushing out of their houses, screaming in terror before the “warriors” attacked Kakarot with guns and knives, pitchforks and burning arrows, rocks, anything they could get their hands on. Kakarot stomped on the villagers and swatted away the ones that ran across rooftops to try and attack him, their bodies violently exploding from the impact. It was the most horrible thing any of the Crane Students had ever seen.

 

Honestly, Shen was disappointed that Kakarot wasn’t eating anyone. He supposed he’d taught the boy too well not to eat human flesh. Suddenly, Kakarot opened his mouth as if to roar and a massive beam of blue light burst forth from his gaping maw. The remaining villagers scream and ran for their lives. They did not run far. Within three minutes, Kakarot had burnt the entire village and everything in it to the ground and was stomping on its burning embers. Shen chuckled and dusted his hands before snapping his fingers to get the students’ attention.

 

“Back to the school,” he ordered sharply, “Kakarot shall be normal again once the morning comes. Would anyone like to volunteer to collect him?” He looked out among the sweating and terrified faces and grinned as not a single voice was raised. The village was dead and fear in Kakarot was maintained. Two birds, one stone.

 

OoOoOoO

 

“And if I ever,” Tenshinhan snarled as he hauled the pig-boy Oolong up by his throat and slammed him against the wall, “Hear about you doing this kind of thing ever again,”

 

“Y-y-you won’t!” Oolong assured him, stammering nervously as sheets of sweat rolled off of him in terror, dampening his green uniform with perspiration.

 

“I have three letters for you, buddy,” Ten growled as he leaned in closer, his face bumping against Oolong’s snout. “B. L. T.” Oolong whimpered wordlessly and nodded furiously before Tenshinhan dropped him to the ground and watched the pig-boy transform into a motorcycle and dash away while the parents of all the girls he’d kidnapped wept and hugged their daughters.

 

“Okay,” Bulma admitted as she looked back from the trail of dust Oolong had left to Ten, “That was… pretty badass.” Ten smiled at her and, if Bulma wasn’t mistaken, he was blushing a little! “Aaaaaand you killed it,” she teased. Ten rolled his eyes and gave her a punch on the arm.

 

The Dragon Radar had brought them to Aru Village, which had apparently been plagued by a demon that was stealing their daughters. Since there was no possible way for Ten to pass off as a girl, Bulma had offered to disguise herself instead, as long as the village gave them their Dragon Ball once they’d freed the girls. A decision Bulma had regretted almost immediately once she discovered what the girls in this village wore. Still, she’d at least been able to hide one of the Dragon Balls in her headscarf. Ten would then be able to follow her on the Dragon Radar back to the Demon’s hideout.

 

When Bulma first had first seen Oolong, she had been half-tempted to forget the Dragon Balls and just live with him. Hey, he hadn’t looked like a preteen pig the first time she saw him, okay? He had actually taken the form of a dapper and dashing, mustachioed and tuxedoed gentleman! Bulma was a little suspicious from the start, though. On the way back to his mansion (yeah, seriously, somehow this little turd’s house was almost as nice as hers), he kept needing to stop and disappear every five minutes. Bulma had just figured the guy had a nervous bladder. Then when he got her inside the house with all the other girls, he just seemed to… disappear. Bulma talked to the other girls for a while and they all seemed pretty happy, sitting in the lap of luxury and apparently Oolong did whatever they wanted. Bulma had wondered why a guy who looked like Oolong had mostly been kidnapping eleven to thirteen year-olds but, before she had time to try and piece that creepy mystery together, Ten came crashing through the front door like a friggin’ bulldozer which made Oolong come out and that put the pieces together really quick. In the blink of an eye, the gentleman had transformed into a giant robot, an actual demon, a giant snake, and a tank. What he couldn’t seem to transform into, though, was something that could hurt Ten. After maybe a minute of constantly transforming, Oolong was exhausted and stuck in his regular form. Which, to Bulma’s shock and dismay, was an obnoxious and perverted little pig boy. He wasn’t even ten years old!

 

“Thank you again,” one of the mothers was saying now to Bulma and Ten, “Thank you so much for saving our daughters!” Bulma smiled and held up a hand.

 

“Really, it was no big deal,” she assured the woman before she held out one hand, “So… how about that Dragon Ball?” Ten frowned at her as the mother turned to her husband, who then handed Bulma the Dragon Ball. Bulma grinned as she tucked the Dragon Ball into her fanny pack with the other four. Then she pilfered one of Oolong’s capsule packs because it never hurt to have extra supplies, right? As they walked out of the mansion and made their way back to the main road, Bulma turned around and saw that Ten was still frowning. “What?!”

 

“You could at least pretend,” Ten told her wearily, “That we did this because it was the right thing to do!”

 

“Well, yeah,” Bulma shot back, “But they also had a Dragon Ball!”

 

“So if they didn’t have a Dragon Ball, we would have walked right past and let that little creep keep on terrorizing them?”

 

“What? How could you even ask me something like that? I mean, really, that’s just unfair! I mean, c’mon!”

 

“You didn’t say no.”

 

They went the rest of that day in silence.

 

The next day, after crossing a lake on their way to Fry-Pan Mountain, Bulma discovered that she had lost all of her capsules when they’d hit a wave. It had been pretty windy that day which had made the water pretty choppy. After a rather hysterical meltdown (if you want to read what that meltdown would have been like, go check Chapter 3 of Tales of the Monkey Queen!), Bulma crawled behind a rock and took a nap.

 

This left Tenshinhan to his own devices. With no one to talk to and without much else to do, Ten began to practice his martial arts, kicking and punching at the air before whirling and swinging the Power Pole. He had hardly gotten much time to train or experiment with the Power Pole and he didn’t want to neglect his grandfather’s gift. As Ten was practicing, however, he sensed a ki similar in power to his own. Then he heard a sound from overhead. It was an engine sound, similar to Bulma’s car, but slightly higher pitched. Ten watched as a man in a green and orange outfit came down to stop in front of him, riding some kind of strange… bike without wheels and with a floating cat hovering by his shoulders.

 

“Can I… help you?” Ten asked as he set the Power Pole across his shoulders. The man smirked.

 

“Hey,” he said, “I’m Yamcha.” He blinked and stared for a moment at Tenshinhan’s third eye before shrugging. His sword was out in a flash and glinted in the sunlight. “Now hand over your stuff.” Well, Ten decided, he clearly wasn’t friendly.

 

“My name is Tenshinhan,” Ten said as he moved into a fighting stance with his Power Pole at the ready, “And I’m not going to give you anything!” Yamcha shrugged as he brandished his steel.

 

“Hey, your funeral, buddy.” He lunged at Ten and swung in a high overhead arc that Ten managed to block with the Power Pole. Yamcha swept Ten’s legs out from under him, causing Ten to fall flat on his back before Yamcha followed with a downward thrust that would have gone straight into Ten’s chest if he hadn’t rolled out of the way, leaving the sword to plunge into the baked earth. Tenshinhan spun off his back and onto his feet again, his feet clipping Yamcha’s ear and causing him to stagger, giving Ten the perfect opening to jab forward with his Power Pole and catch Yamcha in the ribs. Yamcha let out a gasp of pain before grabbing the staff in both hands and yanking Tenshinhan into a headbutt. Ten staggered back in pain but was still gripping the Power Pole as Yamcha tried to wrench it from his grip. Instead, Ten planted his feet and pulled up on the Power Pole like he was lifting a bale of hay. To Yamcha’s surprise, he was lifted into the air with about as much resistance as the aforementioned hay.

 

“Power Pole extend!” Ten cried out. Yamcha was even more surprised as he was suddenly lifted high into the air. Ten twisted his hips and swung the Power Pole to send Yamcha flying, flailing his arms and legs through the air as if he were desperately trying to swim.

 

“Master!” The cat cried out as he flew to try and intercept Yamcha. While Tenshinhan wondered how a small cat was going to catch a person roughly the same size as him, the cat transformed into a mattress with a puff of smoke that Yamcha landed on with a thud. So he could shapeshift like Oolong!

 

“Thanks, Puar,” Yamcha said as he climbed off the mattress and dusted himself off. “Hey,” he said to Ten as he made his way towards him again, “I didn’t know I was stealing from a fellow thief. My bad, man.”

 

“A thief?!” Ten asked angrily, “What the heck does that mean?!” Who the heck was this guy to call him a thief.

 

“I gotta ask, though, how’d you steal the Power Pole from Son Gohan?”

 

“I didn’t steal it!” Ten insisted defensively, “He gave it to me! Son Gohan is my grandfather!” Yamcha blinked in surprise.

 

“Huh, really? Son Gohan is your grandfather?!” Ten nodded and Yamcha grinned before getting into a fighting stance. “Then you deserve to die at my own self-taught martial arts style!” Ten couldn’t resist the appeal of that challenge and so he slid the Power Pole back into its case on his back before getting into his own stance. He’d never fought anyone other than his own Grandpa or the embarrassment at the hands of Muten Roshi, so this was exciting!

 

Yamcha broke into a sprint and swung hard with a kick from his right leg. Ten moved to block but the attack turned out to be a feint and Yamcha struck with an elbow to the side of Ten’s head to hit his ear. Ten managed to jerk his head back just in time to avoid the attack and struck Yamcha with a series of palm strikes to the body before leaping up and planting both feet into Yamcha’s chest to shove him away. Yamcha stumbled back and clutched at his chest before charging in again with another attack. However, Ten was too fast for Yamcha to break through his defenses and he responded with counterattacks, striking Yamcha’s chest, face, neck, and legs. So on the third pass, to Tenshinhan’s disappointment, Yamcha decided to cheat.

 

When the next blow from Ten sent Yamcha staggering back, he dug in his heels to grind the ground under one foot before kicking the dust up into Tenshinhan’s eyes. Ten cried in pain and flung up his hands to try and rub the sand out of his eyes while his third eye could only see the blurry outline of Yamcha’s ki.

 

“Gotcha!” Yamcha declared boastfully as he broke into a charge. “Wolf Fang Fist!” He smashed Ten with a series of strikes, his fingers arched and held stiff so that they were as hard as iron when he hits Ten’s face and chest with furious speed before finishing the attack with a two-handed strike to Ten’s chest that sent him sprawling into the dirt. Yamcha dove forward to continue the attack and dove right into Ten’s feet as Ten kicked them up to push back to his feet. They caught Yamcha right in the mouth and sent him flying back to land hard on the ground and hold his face, crying in pain.

 

“Are you alright?” Ten asked with genuine concern as he got to his feet, his vision finally cleared. Yamcha slowly pulled his hands away from his mouth and looked down in horror at the bloody tooth in his hand. “Oh jeez,” Ten said in a tone of shocked guilt, “I-I’m really sorry! Does it hurt a lot?” Yamcha scowled at him and took out one of his capsules, popping it open to reveal a bazooka that he hauled over one shoulder and pointed at Ten in a murderous rage. Ten didn’t really know what Yamcha was pointing at him but it looked like a really big version of that gun thing Bulma had pointed at him the day they met. He could probably take this apart, too. They both prepared to make their move when a voice brought them both to a halt.

 

“Hey!” Bulma shouted from behind the rock, “What’s goin’ on?” She wandered out from behind the rock and rubbed at one eye before letting out a cute yawn. Well, Yamcha thought it was cute. Ten thought it was just a yawn. The bazooka fell from Yamcha’s hands as his knees buckled and his face turned bright red. Before Ten could do anything, however, Puar the cat flew down among them and turned into a tiny sun, blinding Ten and Bulma and making them cry out in pain. By the time Ten finally blinked the spots from his eyes, the bandit and his accomplice were completely gone. “...Who the heck was that?” Bulma asked. “He was… kinda cute.”

 

“His name,” Ten said as he plucked Yamcha’s abandoned sword out of the dirt, “Is Yamcha.” He decided to hold onto the sword for now. He had a sneaking suspicion they’d be seeing him again.

 

“Hey,” Bulma noted eagerly, “Free bazooka!”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Friendships Made and Friendships Broken

Bulma still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. One minute, she and Ten had arrived in this town and everyone was being nice to Bulma because of her bunny girl outfit, the only good thing to come from Oolong’s stupid clothing capsules, then the next thing she knew they were attacked by dudes with bunny ears and an actual rabbitman named, believe it or not, “Boss Rabbit”. Yeah, seriously. Then he touched her and now she was standing alone with that Yamcha guy she’d found fighting with Ten the other day.

“So wait,” Bulma muttered as she rubbed the back of her head, “What the heck happened?” Yamcha’s face turned red when she looked at him and she wondered what the heck she’d done. He wordlessly pointed at Ten’s power pole, which was jammed firmly into the ground and went up into the sky as far as Bulma could see. She’d really have to examine that later if Ten gave her the opportunity. It didn’t make any scientific sense and, even as she was wandering the world in search of mystical orbs that would summon a giant dragon that could make her wishes come true, she simply refused to accept “magic” as an answer. Ten descended a few seconds later with a satisfied smile on his face and dusted his hands before sliding the Power Pole back into its case on his back. “Where the heck did you come from?”

“The moon.” Ten explained. Bulma blinked and stared at him for a few long moments.

“I’m gonna need more than that,” Bulma told him flatly as she put her hands on her hips. Ten shrugged and told her what had happened. Apparently. Boss Rabbit had the power to turn people into carrots by touching them, which is what he’d done to Bulma. He and Yamcha had worked together to rescue Bulma from her carroty fate and then, apparently, Ten took Boss Rabbit and his minions to the moon.

“So… so you killed them?” Yamcha asked in confusion.

“What?!” Ten objected, clearly offended, “Of course not! Why would you say something like that?!”

“Well… you took them to the moon. Wait, is there air on the moon?”

“Yeah. They’re going to stay up their and make marshmallow bunnies for people until I think they’ve made enough to pay for the bad things they’ve done.” Bulma and Yamcha stared at him in disbelief before they just shrugged and decided to let it go. As the townsfolk were congratulating and thanking them, Yamcha started to leave.

“Guess I’ll go ahead and get out of here, then.” He was stopped, however, when Ten put a hand on his shoulder while holding Yamcha’s sword out for him with his other hand. “Oh… thanks.” Yamcha had been wondering when he’d lost it. As he put it back in its sheath, though, Ten still didn’t move his hand.

“You don’t have to leave, y’know,” Ten told him, “We don’t have to be enemies. I know there’s some good inside you. I don’t know what it is you’re searching for out in the desert but maybe you can find it with us.” He held out his other hand again for Yamcha to shake. Yamcha looked down for a moment at Ten’s hand and chewed his lip, seemingly in serious thought. He looked at Puar, who looked back at him and gave him a tiny shrug.

“What the heck,” Yamcha said as he took Ten’s hand, “Not like I was doing anything in the desert anyway. You could even show me how you learned how to do ki stuff like you used on Boss Rabbit.” Ten smiled as he shook Yamcha’s hand and Yamcha smiled back.

‘This is great,’ Ten thought to himself, ‘Grandpa would be so proud of me for solving this problem without violence!’

‘Heh,’ Yamcha thought to himself, ‘Sucker. Once I figure out his tricks, I’ll beat him and take the Dragon Balls. Then I’ll finally wish away my fear of women!’

 

OoOoOoO

 

As the days passed on the way to Fry-Pan Mountain, Ten and Yamcha sparred whenever they stopped for rest and Ten showed Yamcha the basics of ki control. At first, Bulma was only watching them to pick up a few tricks on self defense. Plus, it was kinda hot watching two fit guys try to beat the crap out of each other. Although she was very interested in the ki stuff and sat in to participate a few times. However, she and Yamcha were both slow learners. Ten still being a student himself, he wasn’t necessarily the best teacher.

“It’s something you have to feel inside yourself,” Ten explained as they all sat cross-legged beneath the stars, “Before you can sense it in others. It’s like… a light, or a heat that you feel inside. But it doesn’t burn, it’s just… pleasant. When you feel that light, you can try to focus on it and bring it all into a single point, pushing it through the palm of your hand.” Ten demonstrated by floating a ball of ki above his hand. He watched Yamcha and Bulma attempt to follow his example and could even feel their ki flaring slightly with the effort. Bulma pulled off one of her leather gloves and frowned at her glowing palm.

“Gee,” she muttered sarcastically, “I can totally save on flashlights now.”

“Wait,” Yamcha put in excitedly as he watched a ball of ki start to bubble up off his palm, “I think I’ve got something!” He leaned in excitedly towards the ki… which exploded in his face, knocking him onto his back. Bulma, Ten, and even Puar laughed as Yamcha grumbled and sat up while wiping soot off his face.

 

OoOoOoO

 

“So wait,” Ten asked as they drove closer to Fry-Pan Mountain, “Why is it called Fry-Pan Mountain?” There was only about another day until they reached the mountain and he was pretty curious.

“I dunno,” Bulma admitted, “I thought it might have something to do with its location along the equator, like maybe it’s the hottest point on the map. But that doesn’t make sense, ‘cause it’s not geographically near any big hotspots.” Ten decided to pretend he understood that.

“I can tell ya,” Yamcha offered from the backseat, “It’s not that complicated. It’s on fire.” Bulma brought the car to a sudden stop and turned around in her chair to face him.

“I’m sorry,” she said as Ten turned around as well, “What did you just say?” Yamcha shrugged. “No, sorry, I’m gonna need an explanation. Mountains don’t just catch fire. And if they do, the fire goes out, they don’t keep burning so long that they’re named for being on fire. What you’re describing is impossible.”

“Well,” Yamcha explained, “A long time ago, it was called ‘Pleasant Mountain’. Apparently about a decade ago, the guy who lives there, The Ox King, he got a wizard to surround the mountain with eternal fire to protect all his stuff.” Yamcha chuckled and scratched at his nose. “Only problem is, I guess the wizard wasn’t very good, because soon the entire mountain was on fire.” Bulma gave him a skeptical look. “Hey, you’ll see it when we get there.” She huffed and rolled her eyes before driving again.

“Wait,” Ten suddenly realized, “If the Mountain is on fire, how are we going to get the Dragon Ball?” The quartet drove in silence for a few minutes.

“Good thing you’ve got that flying cloud, huh?” Puar asked.

 

OoOoOoO

 

When Bulma brought her car up the road to Fry-Pan Mountain, she brought it to a stop and the four climbed out of the car to stop and stare in open-mouthed shock. It was roaring, neverending pillar of fire. An inferno that stretched more than a thousand feet into the air. Ten peered up at the mountain’s peak and, with his third eye, saw a castle that was untouched by the flames.

“I’ll see if I can get close enough to land near the castle,” he told them, “You guys keep an eye out for this Ox King fella.” From what Bulma had told him when they’d crossed that lake before meeting Yamcha, he seemed pretty bad. Then he looked up to the sky and called for Nimbus. The yellow cloud whooshed down and Ten hopped into it before flying away. They watched him fly away and, as soon as Ten was a dot in the sky, Bulma began to sidle up to Yamcha with a sly grin on her lips.

“Sooo, Yamcha…” she murmured, rubbing one of his biceps, “We haven’t really gotten a chance to talk, just the two of us, y’know? Tell me about yourself.” Yamcha turned bright red and began to stammer incoherently. She giggled at that and bit her lower lip. It was kinda cute, his being shy and all.

Ten circled around the castle a few times, searching for a way to get past the flames. Despite the narrow area where the castle was visible, however, there didn’t seem to be a clear entry point. Whenever he got too close to the castle, his eyes would start to water and it would get hard to breathe. He supposed that maybe the wizard Yamcha mentioned had done his job after all. There was no way to get inside! As he tried to figure out another way to get inside the castle, a terrified shriek tore his attention away and Ten flew with Nimbus in its direction. It sounded like someone was in trouble!

 

OoOoOoO

 

Chi-Chi let out a shriek of fear as she ran from the tyrannosaurus barreling down on here, barely managing to stay out of its maw as she ran for all she was worth. She didn’t know how she’d gotten so lost! Her dad had sent her out to find some guy called ‘Master Roshi’ who might be able to put out the fire. She must have taken a wrong turn on the way to the port because somehow she found herself in the woods and now she was getting chased by a dinosaur! Panic flooded Chi-Chi as she found herself literally up against a massive boulder. She pressed up against the rock as the tyrannosaurus roared, its fangs thick with slobber as it barreled down on her. Chi-Chi felt her stomach fluttering with panic as she brought her hands up to her helmet, the white gem flashing as it focused her ki and prepared to fire a beam that would probably kill the dinosaur…

A blueish-purple blur dropped out of the sky and slammed down onto the back of the dinosaur’s neck with an almighty crack, slamming it into the ground and kicking up a cloud of dust as it lay in a crumpled heap. Chi-Chi stared, mouth agape, as she watched someone climb off of the tyrannosaurus’ neck and dust themselves off. Still not able to quite see what she was looking at, Chi-Chi instinctively squealed as the figure in the dust came closer and let a beam of blue-white ki fly from her helmet that was aimed squarely at the stranger’s head.

The stranger dodged the beam in the blink of an eye, his shadow somewhere else in the dust cloud. “Hey!” The stranger protested as the beam punctured through the dust. Whoever he was, he sounded aggressive and, since Chi-Chi was still on edge, she flung the razor-sharp blade out of the top of her helmet at him. This time, a hand shot out of the dust and effortlessly caught the blade in his fingertips before throwing it back to sink into the dirt at Chi-Chi’s feet. She squealed in fright and pressed her back flat against the dirt wall as the stranger walked out of the dust cloud.

He was…

So handsome!

He was tall and fit with clear skin and a burning intensity in his three eyes. She didn’t even mind that he had three of them, it was so interesting!

“What the heck is your problem?!” he snapped at her, his face reddening. He was even more handsome when he got angry. “I was trying to help you!”

“I-I-I’m sorry!” Chi-Chi stammered out with a bright blush creeping across her face. “It’s just… I was running from the dinosaur and I was scared and you showed up out of nowhere and I was still scared and I panicked…” Oh goodness, she was rambling. She probably looked so stupid! Still, the three-eyed gorgeous stranger’s anger dissolved and he held a hand out to her. Chi-Chi took his hand and for a second she thought he was going to kiss it. Instead, he just shook it, but that was okay, too.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a smile, “I didn’t mean to get angry. Not like you hurt me, anyway. I’m Son Tenshinhan. Are you alright?” Oh, he was such a gentleman!

“I-I-I’m Chi-Chi,” she replied, “My name’s fine…” she trailed off and her face turned red with embarrassment. “I-I mean my name is Chi-Chi and I’m fine!” she blurted out before burying her face in her hands. He laughed, and it was such a warm and gentle laugh that she didn’t feel so bad.

“I’m glad you’re okay, Chi-Chi,” Tenshinhan said. “So what are you doing out here?”

“My father sent me out to go look for Muten Roshi to help us. Our castle is on fire!” Tenshinhan seemed puzzled by that, but before he could ask any questions, they heard a terrified high-pitched shriek and Tenshinhan, like a hero in a story, immediately sprang into action.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ve gotta go!” Then he turned to the sky and called out. “Nimbus!” A magical yellow cloud swooped down from the sky and Ten hopped on it before flying away. Chi-Chi watched him fly away and brought her hands to one cheek with a lovesick sigh. This was the best day ever!

 

OoOoOoO

 

Yamcha had just finished shrieking and moved to defend Bulma and Puar as the Ox King loomed over him. He was a monster of a man, thick-bodied and heavily muscled with a thick beard; he wore a purple armor with a red cloak and a horned helmet that hid his eyes. He had a massive axe in each hand, with blades that were bigger than Bulma’s entire body. All in all they were both completely at a loss as to how someone so gigantic had managed to sneak up on them.

“Are you two trying to steal from my palace?!” The Ox King roared in a voice that shook the earth under their feet.

“N-n-no!” Puar assured him from behind Bulma while trembling helplessly.

“Y-y-yeah,” Bulma added from over Yamcha’s shoulder, “We juuuust wanted to admire it!” Before Yamcha could add to the lie, Tenshinhan dropped out of the sky like a missile and kicked the Ox King hard in the chest with both feet. The king stumbled back as Ten landed next to Yamcha and immediately took out the Power Pole.

“Hey guys,” he said with an oblivious smile, “Couldn’t find a way into the castle.” Yamcha gawked at him and Ten blinked. “What?”

“You… you literally could not have done that any worse! Every single thing you just did and said was the wrong thing!”

“What?!” Ten balked. “I saved your butts!”

“Guys!” Bulma interjected while pointing at Ox King, “Not now!” The horned king growled and raised his axes overhead. Yamcha sighed and reluctantly drew his sword. This was gonna suck.

They lunged forward as Ox King swung his axes, ducking under the swipes to drive their weapons into his sides and chest. They hit the armor with a thunk and bounced off as he swung the massive weapons again with a startling speed. If he had been a little lighter or if he’d attacked them barehanded, Yamcha was sure they’d already be dead. They used whatever advantage their speed and size could give them, outmaneuvering Ox King’s swings and throwing punches and kicks, stabs with staffs and swipes with swords. For all his bulk and savage swinging, Ox King still fought like a man who had learned how to fight a long time ago. He might have been a great fighter in his youth but he was out of practice and relied on brute strength.

Not that it really mattered since nothing they could do seemed to hurt him! Even Ten’s ki balls just bounced off of his skin. Yamcha made a desperate jab to the exposed flesh of the Ox King’s underarm but he dropped his arm down and caught the sword, trapping Yamcha as he raised the other axe overhead. It could have probably cut Yamcha clean in half.

“Power Pole extend!” Ten cried out and the magic staff grew in length to smack the axe out of Ox King’s hand, sending the massive blade spinning through the air to sink into the ground. Ox King let Yamcha escape before he turned his attention on Tenshinhan, his whole body language belying suspicion.

“Where did you get Son Gohan’s Power Pole?” the Ox King growled. “Did you steal it?!”

“I didn’t steal anything!” Tenshinhan insisted indignantly. Why did people keep asking him that?! Yamcha wanted to run over and smack him but part of him realized that Ox King knowing Son Gohan might be the only thing that would save their skins. “I’m Son Tenshinhan! Son Gohan is my grandfather! He gave this to me!” With that, Ox King dropped his other axe.

“Son Gohan is your grandfather?!” He exclaimed. Tenshinhan nodded and Ox King laughed before embracing him, lifting Ten off the ground. “Why didn’t you say so?” He bellowed excitedly while Ten quickly began to turn blue in the face. Ox King dropped Ten, letting him gasp and collect a breath.

“Wait,” Bulma interjected as she and Puar came out from behind the rock they’d been using for cover, “You know Son Gohan?” Ox King nodded and proudly patted his stomach.

“We studied together under the Turtle Hermit himself, Muten Roshi. We were good friends as boys!” Then he looked down at Ten and smiled. “So what’re you doing here?”

“We…” Ten paused to take another big gulp of breath. “We were hoping to get your Dragon Ball.” Bulma, Puar, and Yamcha groaned as they rested their faces in the palms of their hands. Why did he have to be so honest? “We’re gathering them for…” he blinked, scratching his bald head. “Y’know, I don’t even know what we’re wishing for anymore.” Ox King laughed again.

“Well, I suppose that’s no big deal. I’ve got a lot of treasure in there, one piece won’t be the end of me. Especially for Son Gohan’s grandson.” Then he looked back at the still-on-fire mountain and gave a slightly embarrassed shrug. “Might be difficult to get, though.”

“Oh,” Tenshinhan put in when he was struck by inspiration, “Your daughter is looking for Muten Roshi, right? I’ll go get her and we’ll go find him!” Ox King visibly paled at the idea. Apparently he had reconsidered the idea in the time since Chi-Chi had left. “Nimbus!” Ten called out, hopping on the cloud as it rushed back.

“No, nononono, nooooo!” Ox King cried as Tenshinhan and Nimbus flew away. But he was long gone, and his voice trailed off. “Ooooooh no,” he muttered, “Master Roshi’s gonna kill me.”

 

OoOoOoO

 

Kakarot’s mind was fuzzy the morning after his most recent transformation. He was starting to recall the events more clearly these days but it was still unclear on the details. He remembered… knocking over trees, roaring at the sky, and killing people. He still had no control in the moment, although he was unsure if he would ever have that. He tried not to think about it, though. He didn’t like to think too much about his transformations, even if he knew he was more powerful when he was big. He didn’t like the lack of control or the mindlessness. If he was going to have so much power and kill people, he wanted to be able to know what he was doing.

This morning, Kakarot wanted to spar with Chaozu for a while after his meditations. Of the Crane students, Chaozu came the closest to giving him a challenge. Strangely, though, he couldn’t find Chaozu anywhere. He tried asking some of the other students but none of them talked to him. They all seemed so… afraid, even that new girl, Launch. He almost missed the derision and name-calling and anger. At least then they were interacting with him. Finally, Kakarot decided to use his ki sensing to find Chaozu. To his surprise, Chaozu was still in his room.

“Chaozu!” Kakarot called as he pushed the other boy’s door open, “What are you doing inside? We should be training. I was hoping we could spar!” Chaozu didn’t answer Kakarot. He just stared at him. Like… like everyone else had been staring at him. Chaozu had never looked at him like that. “Chaozu…” Kakarot said softly, “What’s wrong?”

“I-I,” Chaozu stammered out as he broke into a cold sweat, “I just… I don’t want to train with you anymore, Kakarot.” That hurt Kakarot more deeply than any of his father’s blows.

“Wh… why?” Kakarot asked. His eyes were beginning to moisten. They’d never done that before. What was happening to him?!

“You’re… I’m afraid,” Chaozu admitted as he pressed flat against the wall, “And I can’t be your friend anymore.”

“But I’m not…” Kakarot tried to defend himself as liquid came out of his eyes, he had to say something. “I’m not dangerous! I’m not a monster! Didn’t I help you when we met?”

“By crippling someone,” Chaozu reminded him, “And before that, you’d tried to strangle me.” Kakarot felt like a knife had been jabbed into his chest and he balled his fists while snarling at Chaozu, who for a second seemed to grow even paler. Then Kakarot roared in frustration and pain before he punched through the ceiling and flew off into the sky. He disappeared into the woods and crashed into the earth, not even trying to land. He came out of the ground in a fury, roaring as he ripped trees out of the ground and smashed boulders with his fists. He wasn’t a monster! Why were they so afraid?! He’d kill them! He’d kill them all! Every single one in the world! After he’d beaten his knuckles bloody, though, all the rage had burned out of Kakarot and he was only left with grief. His only friend thought he was a monster, too. Maybe they were right. He curled up in a ball under a tree and cried for the first time in his life, his body wracked with sobs as the skies opened up and the rain came down in sheets. That was when Shen came to find him. The old master had projected a shield of invisible ki over his head to keep the water from touching him.

“What are you doing out here, my son?” Shen asked as he sat down beside Kakarot under the tree. He sounded… gentle.

“What’s wrong with my eyes?” Kakarot sniffled as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. Shen put an arm around Kakarot’s shoulders, surprising him further.

“You are crying,” Shen explained. “Humans cry when they are sad, upset, in pain. Sometimes even happy. So there is one more way you are like us.”

“No one else seems to think that,” Kakarot muttered bitterly. Shen nodded and sighed sadly.

“Perhaps it is my fault,” he admitted, “I should have trained you separate from them. I should have known that they might turn on you. The world is a dark and cruel place, Kakarot. It is full of people who hate and fear what they don’t understand. They distrust you because you are not like them and so they do not know what to do with you.” He took off his sunglasses as Kakarot leaned against him, daring to give him a hug. “In this world, you can only trust those who are honest with you, who accept you, those who do not force you to be something you are not. Have I ever lied to you, Kakarot?” His son shook his head. “No. I have always known exactly what you are, and I have told you as much. You are an alien, yes. You are not of this world. You are not like us. You never will be. But I will not force you to be like us. You have great strength and the potential to grow far stronger still. I have never abused that power or told you how to use it. I have only cultivated it. Most importantly of all, you are my son.” Kakarot buried his face in Shen’s chest as Shen stroked his hair. “You can always rely on me, my boy. When the world turns its back on you, your father will always know what is best.”

They sat under the tree for several hours, waiting for the rain to pass. When the rain broke they returned to the school and Shen even let Kakarot fly. Then he cleaned the cuts on Kakarot’s knuckles and bandaged his hands. The boy liked the look so much that Shen decided to grant his son a boon and taught him how to wrap his hands himself, using two torn strips from an old pair of gi pants. Shen had ruffled Kakarot’s hair and Kakarot had smiled at him. The little fool.

 

OoOoOoO

 

After Tenshinhan had found Chi-Chi still wandering the grassland where he had left her and invited her to come with him, she had been… maybe a little too excited at the idea. He let her ride behind him on the Nimbus where she hugged him a little too closely for his liking. But he was also too polite to tell her to stop. Chi-Chi had told him that Ox King had sent her to ask Roshi for something called a “Banshou Fan.” Using his ki sensing, it was easy enough for Ten to find Roshi, although Chi-Chi suggested they ask some dolphins.

Ten couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.

Once they reached Roshi’s island home, Ten was surprised by the house the world’s greatest martial artist lived in. It was a little beach house with a chair on the shore. To Ten’s horror, Chi-Chi had tried to kill Roshi with that blade in her hat, apparently because she hadn’t believed that he could be Muten Roshi. Ten was incredibly confused by the idea that Ox King had apparently never explained what Muten looked like. Apparently, Muten had lost the fan in a poker game. He had an idea, however, of how to put out the fire. In exchange for touching Bulma’s chest. Well, the term he had used was “cans”, but he had motioned to the area of his chest. Which confused Ten more than a little bit. Either way, Ten did not approve of the bargain.

“Muten Roshi!” Ten balked in dismay.

“What?” Roshi protested irritably. Ten fixed him with a look and after a moment, Roshi threw up his hands in defeat. “Alright, alright! Fine. Forget I said anything.” As it turned out, Roshi had lost the fan in a poker game with a woman who apparently also had great “cans”. Still, he’d told them that he had another way that he’d be able to put out the fire.

As Roshi was not able to ride the Nimbus, however, he had to ride a Baby Gamera that was apparently in his care. According to Roshi, it would take another ten years or so for it to start to mature. It flew, as it turned out, by spinning. Which hadn’t worked for Roshi as it made him violently ill when they landed. Once Roshi had finished that business, however, he had some choice words for the Ox King.

“Gyuu Maou,” he scolded the giant, “Is this what I taught you martial arts for, hmm? Well, is it?!” Despite being shorter than Bulma and wearing board shorts, Roshi made the Ox King cower before him, falling to his knees to bow to the Turtle Hermit. “Frightening people, terrorizing the land and stealing their treasures for yourself! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

“I know, Master Roshi,” Ox King said pitifully as he laid his horned helm at Muten’s feet, “I-I’m sorry! I don’t know how I got so lost, I’m sorry I let you down!”

“You let yourself down!” Roshi told him sharply. “You abused my teachings and so you’ve dishonored yourself! And now your greed has cost you. If you expect me to deal with this mess you’ve made for yourself, I want you to promise me that you’ll change your ways from this day on.”

“I will!” Ox King swore, “I will, Master Roshi, I promise!” Roshi nodded and turned to the burning mountain.

“So what’re you gonna do about that?” Bulma asked with the arrogance of youth. “Throw the candy you keep in the back of a van at it?” Roshi huffed indignantly and took off his palm tree-print shirt, tossing it over his shoulder. He was a lithely muscular man and still looked in pretty good shape despite his age.

“Not bad for three hundred, eh?” Roshi asked with a smirk. Bulma rolled her eye before she stopped and blinked.

“Wait,” she asked, “You’re three hundred? How have you lived this long?” Roshi chuckled and adjusted his glasses.

“Oh, I’ll live well past that, I’ll assure you.” Then he turned back to the mountain and brought his hands slowly down to ball into fists at his sides. He took a long breath in and out, humming softly to himself. Ten was surprised that he could sense Roshi’s ki growing. With a sudden grunt of effort, Roshi’s muscles exploded in size and he shot up almost three feet in height. Veins twitched in his massive muscles and the four youngsters gawked in stunned astonishment. Subconsciously, Bulma decided that he didn’t look so bad like this. Roshi slowly raised his massive arms and made intricate, careful motions through the air as his hands began to glow with a bright white light.

“Wait…” Yamcha muttered with dawning realization and an almost childlike excitement, “I know what this is!” Roshi brought his hands to his side and his whole body seemed to radiate with power.

“Kaaaameeee... Haaaaameeee…” Roshi thrust his hands forward, “Haaaaaa!” An absolutely enormous beam of blue-white light rocketed forth from Roshi’s hands and completely enveloped the mountain. Everyone was blinded with a bright flash of white light with Tenshinhan and Yamcha grinning from ear to ear like children at the circus. While Grandpa Gohan had told Ten several time about the fabled Turtle Destruction Wave, he had never shown him the technique. For his part, Yamcha had been certain he would never see it in his life. When the light finally faded, Bulma was completely gobsmacked.

“What the hell was that?!” she asked with the anger that only a scientific mind confronted with the impossible and incomprehensible could muster.

“That was incredible!” Ten exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting for Grandpa Gohan to teach me that!” Roshi chuckled.

“That’ll take ya some time,” Roshi assured him, “It took me fifty years to develop the technique and it took your Grandpa ten years to learn it!” Ten stroked his chin and turned to the groups’ RV. Roshi chuckled again as he brought his hands down to his side and adopted Roshi’s stance.

“Kamehameha!” Ten threw out his hands and a beam of light flew from his hands and put a hole through the car. Roshi stared at him in wordless shock. Bulma, however, had several words.

“What the hell were you thinking, you stupid triclops?!” She screamed, red in the face. “Were you thinking?! Even if you thought that would work, why would you point it at the car?! You stupid kung fu-loving troglodyte! ” Meanwhile, Yamcha turned his attention to a boulder in the background and tried to copy Ten’s stance.

“Kamehameha!” Yamcha exclaimed… and a bubble of white ki formed in his hands before it immediately burst. He sighed and dropped his hands in disappointment. Still, he supposed it was better than having it explode in his face.

As it turned out, Yamcha had a car capsule in his case, so destroying the car wasn’t the end of the world. While Roshi had technically put out the fire, he had also completely obliterated the mountain and everything on it. Roshi still asserted that it served Ox King right. They were still able to find the Dragon Ball in the rubble, so Ten assumed that they must be indestructible. All in all, it brought their total up to six. Before they could leave, however, Ox King had a question for Tenshinhan.

“Young Man,” Ox King said, “For the help you have given me today, I would like to offer you a reward.” Before Ten could protest and say that he needed no reward, Ox King pressed on. “I would like to offer you the hand of my daughter, Chi-Chi, in marriage.” He gestured to his daughter, who came up to his knee, and she giggled as she looked up at Tenshinhan with a blush on her cheeks and love in her eyes.

“W-well…” Ten stammered as his face turned red. He wasn’t sure how to react to that. He didn’t want to marry Chi-Chi. He didn’t even know anything about her except for her name. But Gyuu Maou was a friend of his grandfather’s, so it would be an insult to refuse him, and no doubt Grandpa would lecture him when he got home. Also, Gyuu Maou was far larger and stronger than him. “I-it’s not that I’m not flattered, sir, it’s just…” He swallowed again when Bulma honked the horn of Yamcha’s car to urge him along. “I-I-I just… don’t know Chi-Chi that well. Aaaand I still have to help Bulma finish gathering the Dragon Balls. Plus I promised to train with Muten Roshi after I finish with that, b-but if I get the chance I’d be happytogettoknowChiChibetterNimbuuuuus!” The last words came out in a blur and he grabbed the tail of the cloud as it sailed past. Despite this, Chi-Chi giggled still. After all, it wasn’t a no.

 

OoOoOoO

 

Kakarot went back to eating alone, save for the occasions when Shen would let his son eat meals with him, usually when his sister Tao visited. He did not interact with the other students and only trained and sparred with Shen. Shen’s plan could not have worked more perfectly. Not only did the rest of the school living in fear of Kakarot isolate him from their influence, it also made his “son” much more loyal and dependable, believing that he was the only one he could count on in all the world. Each successive defeat in their sparring matches also reinforced the idea that Shen would always be able to defeat him and that there was no point in defiance.

Today, with Tao watching, Shen led Kakarot out to a field with several stone slabs arranged in a row, some side-by-side and some one in front of the other.

“What are we doing?” Kakarot asked. Shen smiled down at his son and rolled up his sleeves.

“Today,” he explained, “I shall teach you the Dodonpa.” He held his arm out straight and balled his hand into a fist before extending a finger. “I have already taught you the basics of ki control and manipulation. You must draw on your power, building it up and focusing it through to the tip of your finger before unleashing your ki in a straight, piercing beam. Watch.” Then his fingertip suddenly glowed and crackled with yellow light. “Dodonpa!” Kakarot watched in astonishment as a thin beam of ki flew forward from his father’s finger and punched a neat hole through one of the stone slabs.

“That was incredible!” Kakarot exclaimed, clapping eagerly and for once, acting as young as he was. Shen smiled and ruffled his hair.

“Now you try,” he told the boy. Kakarot nodded and adopted Shen’s stance. His tail swished and twitched as he focus and thrust one arm forward. Then he pointed a finger forward and began to focus on his ki, feeling it build inside him. “It will take you some time,” Shen said reassuringly, “It took me years and years to develop the technique. So don’t be discouraged if you–”

“Dodonpa!” The blast flew out of Kakarot’s finger and blasted a hole in the slab next to the hole Shen had made. It was wide and erratic, sparking and lacking the precision or control of Shen’s beam, but it was a Dodonpa all the same. Shen gawked in surprise while Taopaipai threw her head back and laughed boisterously. Shen recovered and let out a nervous chuckle before nodding approvingly.

“V-very good, Kakarot,” Shen praised, “But you’ll need to work on your control. Keep trying.” Tao continued to chuckle as Shen drilled her nephew. She knew, in that moment, that the boy would not stay here for much longer. The day would come, she was sure, when this strange little monkey would kill her brother. And then… well, who could say?

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Arise, Shenron! Behold his Phenomenal, Cosmic Powers!

Once, long ago, before the age of the Demon King and before the Dragon Balls, there were five Kingdoms of the Earth. And the greatest and most powerful of these was the Kingdom of Oryza. The Oryza empire ruled the desert lands for generations, each monarch known by his blue skin and pointed ears. Its Emperors were warriors and scholars, poets and astronomers, architects and preachers. From Quinoa II the Just and Paella I the Pious to Jollof III the Cruel and Biryani the Mad, the Oryza dynasty seemed to be eternal.

Then came the Demon King. Then came desolation. The ruin of the empire. The twilight of the age of man. Though the Demon King was eventually defeated, the devastation he wrought made resources scarce and reduced the five Kingdoms to squabbling and scavenging when they might have been rebuilding. Reesotu I had been drafting a plan to put an end to the squabbles. The most brilliant of his line, he had sought to create a document that would ensure peace and unite the five Kingdoms through equality and harmony, a manifesto of law and order that would unite their nations.

Then, from the North, struck the Kingdom of Canis. The Dog-Kings, using strange and wicked black arts, summoned a terrible and foul dragon that blotted out the sky and tore the world asunder. They united the five Kingdoms but only under their rule. In the blink of an eye, the other four kings had their power swept out from under them and woke to a world where they all knelt before beasts. While the other kings and all the masses of the world saw fit to fall into line, the Oryza Kingdom would not go quietly. They remembered the way it was, the way it was meant to be. But the fates spat on the Oryza line and madness seemed to take old. Reesotu was slain by Biryani II, his own son, who sought to wage war against the new Kingdom of the World by himself. Disgrace and desolation followed his mad folly as the Oryza forces were wiped out and Biryani’s family were forced to desert their ancestral home with whatever they could carry as the dogs took all of Oryza’s knowledge and resources for themselves. The greatest and noblest line of kings, left as beggars digging in the dirt and sand of history. Their numbers dwindled and died like crops left to wilt in the sun until only one remained.

As intelligent as Reesotu. As merciless as Paella III. As dogged as Biryani II. Pilaf, the first of his name. He has made it is mission in life to use every ounce of his once-in-a-century brilliance and every last scrap of gold in his family’s fortune to take what is rightfully his. He seeks what the Oryza were always meant to have: dominion over the Earth. With his faithful warrior Shu the dog-man, who knows his place as a servant before the true race, and Mai his devoted huntress, he shall use the same black sorcery that the Canis Kingdom used, these “Dragon Balls”, and become supreme ruler of all the Earth. He Emperor Pilaf, burdened with glorious purpose. Nothing shall stand in his way!

 

OoOoOoO

 

Our four intrepid… heroes (more adventurers really. Three treasure hunters and one hero) made their way through a forest of enormous mushrooms in Yamcha’s hovercar. The mushrooms provided a shield from the baking desert sun that hung high overhead as they drove along in search of the next Dragon Ball. Yamcha was at the wheel with Bulma in the passenger seat beside him. Tenshinhan lay across the back seats, snoring, with Puar curled up on his stomach. As they drove, part of Yamcha realized that, with Ten asleep, this would be the perfect time to steal the Dragon Balls and the Dragon Radar and bolt. Puar had been asking Yamcha for a few days now, “So when are we going to betray them?”, since that was the plan. Wasn’t it? But every day, Yamcha would come up with another excuse.

“I still have to get Ten to show me how to use ki”, he’d say, or “As soon as we get that last Dragon Ball”, or “Once we get a good opening.” The truth of it was, though Yamcha didn’t want to admit it, that he’d actually started to become friends with the hick and the heiress. He didn’t know how it happened, but at some point pretending to enjoy their company had become actually enjoying their company.

“So,” Bulma said, breaking the silence as she scooted over in her seat to get a little closer to Yamcha, “We’ve just got one Dragon Ball to go.” Yamcha nodded as he kept his eyes on the road and tried not to look at Bulma too much so he wouldn’t swerve.

“You think someone else has it?” He asked. “I mean, y’know, intentionally, not just like a funny-looking trinket they picked up off the side of the road or something.” Bulma giggled at that and nodded.

“Yeah,” she told him, “I’ve been following the Ball’s movements for a few days now. Someone’s definitely carrying it around. Which means someone else is after the Dragon Balls, too.” She smirked and gave a little shrug. “I’m not surprised but I guess it doesn’t really matter. After all, we’ve already got a six point lead.”

“So when we beat up whoever has it,” Yamcha inferred, “We’ll have all seven Dragon Balls.” Bulma nodded again. “Huh. How’re we gonna do that, anyway? Like, what’re we gonna wish for?” Bulma shrugged again.

“Ten was never in it for the wish,” she explained, “I think he just wanted to follow a pretty girl around and see more of the world besides mountains and fields. So I don’t think he really has an opinion.”

“You have told him that the Dragon can grant any wish, right?” Yamcha asked curiously. Bulma huffed and crossed her arms. “Hey,” Yamcha said defensively, “Just checkin’. So what were you gonna wish for?”

“The perfect boyfriend,” Bulma replied honestly. Ten picked that moment to snore uproariously and Yamcha chuckled.

“Not your type?” he asked jokingly. Bulma threw back her head and let out a quick laugh.

“Are you kidding?” she asked back, “About two days after he started following me, I had to explain to him how a freezer works.”

Yamcha blinked. “What,” he asked, “He doesn’t get how things get cold and freeze?” Bulma shook her head.

“It’s not that,” she explained, “He just doesn’t seem to get technology at all. Apparently him and his grandpa have an icebox or something in their little hut.”

“Huh,” Yamcha muttered, taking one hand off the wheel to rub his chin.

“So what about you?” Bulma asked. “I mean, there must be something you might want.” Yamcha tapped his chin and seemed to be thinking. In reality, he was just embarrassed to actually admit it out loud.

“It’s kinda dumb…” he muttered reluctantly.

“Aw, come on!” Bulma pouted. “I told you mine! What is it?”

“I… uh…” Yamcha looked out the window and sighed. “I can’t talk to girls. I mean, I dunno. I just kinda clam up like I was when I met you. I mean, I guess part of it’s because I live out in the desert and I don’t really socialize with anyone so that could be fixed if I just, y’know, moved. But hey, when a magic dragon could fix your problems, that’s easier, right?” Yamcha sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Ah jeez,” he muttered, “That sounds awful, doesn’t it?”

“Hey,” Bulma reminded him gently, “Magic boyfriend wish, remember?” Yamcha chuckled until Bulma patted him on the arm. “Besides,” she added, “I’m a girl and you don’t have any problems talking to me.” She ran her fingertips up and down Yamcha’s arm, his face turning red as he started to stammer like an idiot.

 

OoOoOoO

 

Mai watched the car from a distance through her binoculars and scowled at the idea of these ridiculous children trying to thwart the plans and dreams of her mighty Emperor Pilaf. She lifted the walkie-talkie to her mouth and spoke to Pilaf in his ancestral palace.

“They’re in position, Supreme Leader.” Pilaf chuckled on the other end.

“Excellent, excellent,” he mused with another chuckle. “Send Shu in.” Mai turned her attention to the five foot tall gray robot and nodded to signal him. Shu gave a salute and flew off. Mai grumbled as she watched Shu fly and wondered why she couldn’t do it. What was even the point of the little dog-man? If the robot was just a little bigger…

 

OoOoOoO

 

Before Bulma could make her move- although she wasn’t entirely sure what that move might have been- a robot dropped out of the sky and Yamcha was forced to slam on the brakes. Shockingly, this didn’t wake Tenshinhan up. The robot was rectangular, with an opaque black bubble window, as well as tubular arms and four insect-like legs.

“Hello,” a voice crackled from inside the robot, “My name is Shu. I’ll be taking your Dragon Balls now.”

“How about no?” Bulma retorted bluntly, reaching for the zipper of her fanny-pack where she kept her self-defense capsules. One of them was the bazooka. Before she could grab a capsule, however, the robot stuck out its arm and what looked like a laser gun popped out of its forearm.

“It’s really easier for everyone if you say yes,” he told her calmly. Meanwhile, Yamcha was reaching back to try and discretely poke Ten awake. This action caused the apparently-triggerhappy Shu to fire, slicing the car nearly in half with a purple laser beam. Yamcha and Bulma jumped out of the car to avoid the beam and Ten and Puar were sent hurtling from the car in the ensuing explosion. The two of them watched as Shu picked up the nearly-indestructible briefcase Bulma had custom-made for this journey and start to fly away.

“What’s goin’ on?” Ten mumbled as he sat up. Apparently a car exploding beneath him was enough to finally rouse him.

“What’s going on,” Bulma snapped as she urgently kicked him in the ribs to get him to his feet, “Is that some robot is running off with our Dragon Balls! Go get him!” She pointed into the sky where Shu was flying off and Tenshinhan immediately hopped to his feet.

“Nimbus!” he called out and drew his Power Pole as the cloud soared down from the sky. He didn’t know what a “robot” was but he sure knew that no one was going to steal his Grandpa’s Dragon Ball! Ten quickly gained on the robot with Nimbus but he could see that it was starting to pull away, so he crouched down low and leaped forward with a flying kick that sent them both crashing into the sand. The robot stumbled awkwardly onto its feet and aimed its laser at Ten. Ten was already on his feet, though, and was faster than the machine. He slammed the point of the Power Pole up into the elbow joint of the robot’s laser arm, sending it spinning through the air where its laser couldn’t harm him. In the back of his mind, Ten thought it was odd that the robot wasn’t bothered by losing an arm. He decided that the robot wouldn’t mind losing another arm and smashed it off with a roundhouse kick that sliced the arm away at the shoulder. The robot turned and ran before it started flying again with, as far as Ten could tell, flames shooting out of its butt. “Power Pole extend!” Tenshinhan cried. The staff shot out in length and went up the robot’s flaming rear end and out through the top. Ten pivoted his hips and smashed the robot into the sand where it burst apart. Ten ran over to inspect the wreckage and was surprised to see a dog-man in a ninja costume. The dog-man drew his sword and jumped up at Ten to attack him.

The sword shattered harmlessly against the palm of Tenshinhan’s hand. The dog-man fell to the ground and  dropped the sword in bug-eyed horror as he looked up at Tenshinhan nervously.

“You’re coming with me,” Ten told him bluntly before picking him up by the scruff of the neck with one hand as he put away his Power Pole. Then he dug through the sand with his other hand and found Bulma’s briefcase with their Dragon Balls and called down Nimbus to fly back to the others. With the briefcase on his lap and Shu dangling off to the side, Ten somehow thought that this was the right time to strike up a conversation. “So what’s your name?” he asked. Shu kept looking down at the rushing ground beneath them, growing paler with every second.

“Sh-Sh-Shu,” he stammered out.

“Nice to meet you, Shu. I’m Son Tenshinhan. I’ve never met a robot before.” On top of being terrified, Shu was now confused.

“I-I’m not a robot,” he explained. “I’m a dog.”

“Oh.” A short and awkward silence followed. “So… what is a robot?”

 

OoOoOoO

 

Bulma, Puar, and Yamcha were waiting anxiously when Ten returned with the Dragon Balls and Shu, who was apparently a dog-man. He brought the Nimbus to a stop and hopped down before dropping Shu onto the ground. Yamcha immediately hauled Shu up by the front of his shirt and started unsheathing the sword at his belt.

“So why’d you–” he started to growl before Ten clamped a hand down on his sword wrist and glared at him. Yamcha sighed and sheathed the sword. In a clearly-frustrated yet calm tone, he continued the question. “So why’d you want our Dragon Balls,” he asked before adding, “And how’d you even know we had them?”

 

OoOoOoO

 

Far away, Mai popped her sniper rifle capsule and was staring down the sights, the gun already cocked and ready. “I can take the shot, Glorious Emperor,” she muttered into her walkie-talkie. She had the sights aimed squarely at Shu’s dumb, stupid head.

“Absolutely not,” Pilaf told her calmly but sternly, “We may still be able to turn this to our advantage.”

 

OoOoOoO

 

“M-my boss,” Shu stammered out, “E-emperor Pilaf. He has one of the Dragon Balls and he built a machine to help him find the rest. He kinda wants them to… well, rule the world.” Bulma mentally kicked herself for not thinking of that wish herself.

“Well isn’t that a funny coincidence,” Yamcha asked sarcastically, “We’re looking for the last Dragon Ball. So where’s your boss live?” Shu wordlessly pointed off to his left and they all turned and stared at the ominous castle in the distance. Even in the bright desert sun it was completely cast in shadow.

“Huh,” Bulma muttered, “How’d we never notice that?” Yamcha shrugged and snapped his fingers.

“Puar,” he ordered, “Turn into some chains and wrap around our new buddy here. He’s gonna walk us over to have a talk with this ‘Pilaf’ guy.” Puar dutifully shapeshifted in a puff of smoke and wrapped around Shu tightly in his new chain form. Yamcha gave Shu a swift kick in the rump to start walking which caused Tenshinhan to smack him in the back of the head. Shu led the marching party with Yamcha following behind him, Bulma in the middle with the briefcase of Dragon Balls, and Ten bringing up the rear.

 

OoOoOoO

 

“You see, Mai?” Pilaf said smugly, “Shu’s bringing the Dragon Balls straight to us. Return to base.”

“Yes, my Emperor,” Mai replied before shutting off the comm. Then she groaned and hopped down off the rock she’d been perched on to get back on her bike and drive to the castle. She couldn’t believe Shu had actually done something that worked. Even if it was a complete accident.

 

OoOoOoO

 

“So how did you start working for this Pilaf guy?” Bulma asked as they marched toward the castle. “Like, were you guys friends for a long time?”

“Nah,” Shu admitted, “Me and Mai found an ad he put in the classifieds. Before that I used to be a dog walker.”

“Huh,” Tenshinhan wondered, “Was that weird?”

“Is it weird when you go to the zoo and look at monkeys?” Shu asked with a somewhat-offended tone.

“...What’s a zoo?” Ten asked. Shu looked at Yamcha, who looked at Bulma, who shrugged. They walked silently until they were in the shadow of the castle and were nearly at the door.

“So is there a secret knock or a code you have to punch in or something?” Yamcha asked as he looked up and down the massive stone doors with rusted iron handles and hinges.

“Nope,” Shu replied, “Just gotta open it.” Yamcha nodded and stepped up to the door. He puffed out his chest, cracked his knuckles, and spat on his hands before rubbing them together. He grabbed one of the massive hooped door handles in both hands and pulled hard on the door. His feet dug into the dirt and he nearly slipped a few times as he grunted and strained and pulled. No dice.

“Allow me,” Tenshinhan said amicably and stepped toward the door. He grabbed on the same handle that Yamcha had pulled with one hand while Yamcha shuffled off to the side and rubbed the raw, red skin of his palms. Ten gave one easy pull and the ancient door rumbled and groaned as red dust fell off the hinges and the door opened wide enough for the four of them to pass through. Yamcha huffed and stuffed his hands into his pockets as he walked behind Yamcha.

“Yeah, well,” he grumbled, “I loosened it for ya.” Then he turned his attention back down to Shu. “So where to now, buddy?” Shu looked around and pointed down at a large yellow arrow painted on the floor with his nose. “Well that’s not suspicious at all…” he muttered.

“Not like we have any other plans,” Bulma admitted with a shrug. They followed the arrows along the floor, Tenshinhan having his eyes closed and focusing with his third eye. He could definitely sense at least two other ki inside this castle. He just couldn’t get a fix on the exact room. “What now?” Bulma asked as they walked into the hallway that the arrows had guided them into. “It’s a dead end.” As soon as Bulma said that, a wall slammed down behind them, boxing them in. “Ah, dang it,” Bulma muttered, “Shouldn’t have said that.” Ten charged toward the wall and slammed a fist into it with a roar that turned into a scream of pain as his body turned blue and electricity corsed through him. It was the most significant pain he’d experienced since he’d left with Bulma and it knocked him onto his rear end. Yamcha reached for his sword and made to attack Shu as gas suddenly flooded the room. The four passed out in less than a minute once the chemicals hit them with Yamcha’s sword clattering onto the floor and Puar changing back into his natural cat form.  

“A little less dramatic than I’d wanted,” Pilaf admitted as a secret panel in one of the walls opened, “But if we’d hesitated, Shu would likely be dead.”

“A pity,” Mai muttered sarcastically as she followed him into the room. Pilaf popped open the suitcase and his eyes glinted with excitement as he looked upon the Dragon Balls. He counted five and then he found the one in the pouch on the Triclops' hip.

“Yeeeees,” he whispered reverently in a tone that quickly escalated into a shout of ecstasy. “Yes, yes, yes!” Pilaf yanked off his gas mask and threw his head back to laugh triumphantly. “It’s mine! It’s finally mine! The world is mine!” Mai was taken aback by the rare sight of Pilaf’s outburst of emotion. He normally kept himself so composed. Of course, the downside of this emotion was Pilaf passing out almost immediately. Mai sighed and picked him up under her arm and picked up the suitcase with the other hand. Then she came back in and took the weapons from the prisoners. Lastly, she came for Shu. Frustratingly, now she had nothing to do but wait for several hours for Pilaf and Shu to wake up. Well, moreso Pilaf than Shu. She sighed and sat down at the table in the secret room and pulled off her gas mask before picking up a book she’d been meaning to get to.

“I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood…”

 

OoOoOoO

 

Tenshinhan’s eyes slowly opened and he groaned as he returned to the waking world. He quickly recalled what happened and sat up suddenly, immediately reaching for his Power Pole and was surprised when his fingers closed around empty air.

“They took my Power Pole,” Ten remarked in a clearly offended tone. How could they do that? It was his grandpa’s birthday present!

“And my sword,” Yamcha added groggily as he sat up as well.

“Aaaand my capsules,” Bulma muttered as she staggered to her feet. “So they’ve already wished for Shenron, probably. Do we have any idea if they’re going to keep us here til we die?”

Ten closed his eyes and quickly moved into a lotus seat to focus his ki sensing properly. His third eye shone brightly as he looked outside of their enclosure. “I see something,” Ten announced. “Three people, standing out in the desert.” Then he felt a terrible rumbling of power and watched a lance of pure ki shoot off into the sky. The power was unlike anything he’d ever sensed! “They’re summoning the dragon now!” He declared as he shot up to his feet.

“So we’ve still got a chance to steal their wish,” Yamcha noted, “How fast are you, triclops?”

“Not fast enough,” he admitted, “But maybe Puar could turn into something fast.” Then he brought his hands down to his side and hoped he could summon up enough power to blow a proper hole in the wall and that it would go straight outside. “Ka… me… ha… me… ha!” The blast tore a huge chunk out of the wall and Puar transformed into a rocket, flying out of the hole as fast as he could.

“Wish for something,” Bulma called after him, “Wish for anything!” The trio stared out the hole and watched in awe as black clouds filled the sky, lightning flashed and thunder boomed. “Maybe we should use this chance to run for it,” Bulma suggested. Ten nodded and started to walk before he immediately collapsed and Yamcha caught him as he fell to one knee.

“Hey, you okay, man?” Yamcha asked. Ten groaned and shook his head as he let Yamcha help him to his feet.

“That took more out of me than I thought,” he admitted painfully. “If only I were as strong as Muten Ro–” Then a deafening clap of thunder drowned everything out. Tenshinhan, Bulma, and Yamcha looked toward the sky and stared with mouths agape as a beam of light shot up into the black clouds and transformed into an enormous green-and-yellow dragon. The beast seemed to fill up the whole sky, with eyes the size of lakes and teeth as big as mountains.

“You who have gathered the seven Dragon Balls,” Shenron boomed in a voice so powerful that it knocked the trio off of their feet, “State your wish and I shall grant it.” There was an incredibly tense pause of only a few seconds that seemed to last a hundred years. “Very well,” it said. Its red eyes flashed and it spoke again. “It is done. Farewell.” Then the dragon transformed into light and disappeared, leaving only the glowing dragon balls to hover in the sky before flying off in all directions across the horizon.

“So… did Puar do it?” Bulma asked nervously. None of them knew the answer. They waited for several seconds in tense silence until Puar arrived in his normal cat form, holding… a sandwich.

“I did it!” Puar exclaimed proudly. “I did it! I stopped the wish!” Bulma and Tenshinhan gave a cheer while Yamcha laughed and held up his hand for a high five.

“Nice move, little dude,” he cheered. “So what’d you wish for?” Puar held up his sandwich. “...A sandwich?” Puar then took a bite out of the sandwich, which immediately regenerated as soon as Puar swallowed.

“It’s a sandwich that never ends,” Puar explained.

Bulma’s eyebrow slowly arched and she looked at him incredulously. “Why a neverending sandwich?”

“I was on the spot, okay?” Puar retorted defensively. “Anyway, we better get moving. Pilaf looked pretty mad.” The others nodded and started to move.

“Maybe we can steal a pla–” Ten started to say before he immediately started falling again. Yamcha caught him and slung him over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

“I gotcha, buddy,” Yamcha assured him, although under his breath he added, “Why does the guy taller than me have to be the one who can’t walk?” The three of them started to run (well, Bulma and Yamcha ran and Puar flew), looking for any building that looked like an airplane hangar.

“Shu,” they heard a nasally voice that must be Pilaf cry out, “Release the hounds!”

“Oh, that’s not good,” Bulma muttered nervously as she and Yamcha put on a bit more speed. It got worse when they actually heard the barking, snarling, and snapping of teeth in the distance and growing louder. As they ran, Bulma tripped on a loose stone and fell face-first into the sand, making Yamcha come to a stop.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” He groaned in frustration before bending down to pick Bulma up under his arm and running again. “Puar if you sit on my head, I swear to God I’ll turn you into a goddamn hat.” Yamcha ran into the first open building he found… which then slammed shut behind him. “Ah, son of a bitch.” He muttered before dropping Bulma and Ten.

“Well done,” Pilaf’s voice crackled onto a set of speakers high above them. “Well done indeed. You managed to evade my dogs… right into your grave!”  Then he broke into a high-pitched maniacal cackle. “If you’ll look up,” Pilaf’s voice instructed, “You’ll see that the roof of the room you’re trapped in is an indestructible transparent polymer. When the sun rises into the sky in a few hours, the roof will magnify the heat of the sun’s rays and cook you all alive!” Pilaf cackled in a nasally laugh that was interrupted by a coughing fit before, presumably in a fit of embarrassment, he cut the transmission. Yamcha beat his fists furiously against the walls of their prison, Puar turned into a drill and tried to pierce through them, and Ten added his own punches to the attack once he was back on his feet.

“No,” Bulma muttered as she slunk down to her knees. “No, no, no!” She had to think of something. There was a way out of this. She could do it! She was smart, there was nobody smarter than her, she could get out of this. She just had to think! She scrabbled along the floor, looking for weaknesses in the panels or the meeting points of the walls and the floor. A crack, something loose, an imperfection she could exploit. She couldn’t find anything, though. There was no way out. She was going to die here. The realization crushed down on her chest like a lead weight. Her parents would never know what happened to her. Her sister, her friends, no one. She’d just be gone. She’d never find that perfect boyfriend. Never get married or have children. Never become the richest and most powerful woman on Earth. As the clouds parted and the light of the full moon shone down on them, Bulma noticed that Ten was no longer trying to escape. He was just sitting on the floor with his eyes closed like an asshole. “What the hell are you doing?!” Bulma asked furiously. “What, have you given up?!”

“I’m meditating,” Ten told her calmly without ever opening his eyes. “I need to regain my strength. I haven’t been training with the Kamehameha properly and so I used more power than I thought I had.” He’d spent more time teaching them how to use ki than he had spent on his own studies, a pretty dumb idea in retrospect. “Plus, whatever that gas was that they knocked us out with had some kind of effect on me, which I’m still getting over.” There was a slight pause before Ten added, somewhat bashfully, “And I’m hungry.”

Yamcha stopped hitting the wall, rubbing his sore knuckles with a frown. “Yeah,” he admitted as he walked over to where Ten was sitting and sat down beside him, “Same here. We haven’t eaten in like, what, six hours?” Puar floated down and broke off chunks of his sandwich for each of them, which instantly regenerated into a full sandwich.

Bulma rolled her eyes and sat down with them, holding out a hand. “Gimme one of those,” she grumbled. As they sat and ate, they reflected that despite being from the same parent sandwich, all four of them were eating something different. Tenshinhan ate a ham and cheese sandwich, while Yamcha’s was roast beef, Bulma’s was a peanut butter and banana while Puar, who ate the parent sandwich, had a tuna melt. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Yamcha looked up at the night sky and the full moon high above.

“Man,” he muttered, “This sucks. I don’t wanna die here.” He sighed and shook his head, pulling his knees up to his chest. “I never got to make up for all the bad shit that I did. All the stealing, all the fighting, the people who died… I told myself that it was only to survive. I always promised that once I got out of the desert, I’d make it all better. Donate to charity or work at a soup kitchen or somethin’. But now… I guess I’m just a bad guy.” He’d never actually admitted to doing these things in front of the others before. Yamcha sniffled and, before he even knew it, he was crying. He wasn’t a wuss or anything, he told himself. It was just that facing your own mortality made you emotional. To his surprise, Bulma put her hand on top of his.

“Hey,” she said softly, “It’s okay.” Yamcha looked up and saw that Bulma was on the verge of tears, too. She scooted closer to Yamcha and put her arms around him. Yamcha was stunned at first before hugging her in response while Puar wormed his way between them. Yamcha’s face reddened and he brought his face slowly closer to Bulma’s as they–

“Okay,” Tenshinhan said suddenly as he stood up, “I think I know how to get out of here.” Yamcha could have strangled him. Tenshinhan ignored Yamcha’s malevolent glare mostly because he didn’t understand it. What’d he do? Didn’t Yamcha want to not die? “I’ll need you to get up,” he told them as he brought his hands down to his sides.

“Did you get your strength back?” Bulma asked as Yamcha put out a hand to help her to her feet. Tenshinhan shook his head as he slowly closed his eyes.

“Not all of it,” he told them, “But I have an idea. You guys remember how I gave you some pointers on ki control, right?”

Yamcha rolled his eyes and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

“What’s the plan,” Bulma asked, “Are you gonna have me and Yamcha give you dramatic lighting?”

“I dunno what that means,” Ten said with his eyes still closed, “But I need you both to stand in front of me. Close your eyes and try to sense my ki and one another’s. Once you feel that energy, I need you to let yourselves be completely open, so our ki can flow into and through one another. If we all focus our ki, and you copy my movements exactly, we should be able to get out of here.” Yamcha and Bulma looked at one another and, deciding that they really didn’t have any better options and really, really didn’t want to burn to death, they stood with Tenshinhan, Yamcha in front of him and Bulma in front of Yamcha. They closed their eyes and tried to focus on their ki. It was extremely difficult for Bulma, as she had so little, but they could eventually sense it, plus the ki of one another and Tenshinhan. Bulma’s ki was a single match, flickering in the darkness. Yamcha was a torch, lighting up the dark. Tenshinhan was a campfire, and the pair felt the warmth of that fire spreading through their bodies, from the tops of their head to the tips of their toes. “Very good,” Ten said with a smile, clearly feeling their ki passing through him as well. “Now follow my movements and speak as I do. Keep your eyes closed. You’ll just have to feel it passing through you with your ki sensing.” It had always come very easy to Tenshinhan, on account of his third eye, so it was difficult to explain to them how to do it. It would be kind of like explaining walking to a fish. They had a basic understanding of the same idea but he could never really explain it in a way they would understand.

Or at least not in this short of a time frame.

The trio moved in perfect synchronicity, bringing their hands up in front of them before pivoting their bodies to the side. They stretched their arms out before bringing them slowly and precisely together, their hands touching at the wrists and palms.

“Kaaaa meee…” The trio moved their hands down to their sides, their auras mixing and intermingling like flickering flames. “Haaa meee…” Blue-white lights gathered in their palms and fed off of one another’s light, filling the whole room and shining out of the clear roof like a beacon. “Haaaa!” They thrust their hands forward and three beams of blue-white light shot from their hands and intertwined, merging into one and enormous beam that blasted a hole in the wall of their prison. Yamcha, Puar, and Bulma gave an exuberant cheer at their freedom and quickly ran out of the hole.

“Come on,” Bulma said, “Let’s go get our stuff back! I’ve got my phone in one of those capsules so I can call the military to come arrest these jerks.” Yamcha stared at her in amazement at that statement. “My dad has a lot of defense contracts that I help him oversee sometimes,” Bulma explained, “So I’ve got connections.” They turned suddenly when they realized that they hadn’t heard any footsteps other than their own and noticed that Tenshinhan was leaning against the hole they’d made in the wall and slumped slowly down into the sand.

“Ten!” Yamcha cried in concern as he rushed to the triclops’ side. “You okay, buddy?” Ten nodded weakly and Yamcha put his arm over his shoulder. “C’mon, we gotta go. No time to be layin’ around!” Ten groaned and Yamcha noticed that the other man was dead weight against him. “Hey, what happened?” Ten gave an embarrassed chuckle.

“Most of the ki in the Kamehameha was mine,” he admitted reluctantly. “Still more energy than I had to spare. Guess I’m not as good of a teacher as Grandpa.” Yamcha looked back at Bulma and they exchanged a nod before he let Ten’s arm drop and patted him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” he assured Ten, “Me and Bulma have got this.” Then he looked up at Puar and gave the floating cat a thumbs-up. “Keep an eye on him, alright? We’ll be back before ya know it.” Puar nodded and floated down to Tenshinhan, turning into a little umbrella hat and nestling on Ten’s bald head to try and shield him from the heat of the sunrise that would soon arrive. Yamcha and Bulma exchanged one last look before sprinting off into the night toward the castle.

To the duo’s surprise, they didn’t run into any defenses or traps on the way to the castle. It did make a sort of sense, though. Pilaf probably thought that the only people who were a threat or even had any knowledge of his schemes were as good as dead. Well, wouldn’t he be in for a surprise? Yamcha gave Bulma a boost into the first open window they found and then, to his own surprise, jumped in after her. They both felt stronger and faster after the Kamehameha. Not only that but there was a certain light and hopefulness to their energies that hadn’t been there before.

“They’re two floors up,” Bulma whispered and started walking toward the nearest flight of stairs. “I dunno how I know that but I just do, y’know? I can sense them.”

“Yeah,” Yamcha whispered as they silently made their way up the stairs, “Me too. It’s kinda weird, right?” Bulma nodded. “So we’ll grab one of ‘em and get them to tell us where our stuff is?” Bulma shrugged.

“Sounds like as good as a plan as we’ve got,” she admitted. They tiptoed up the stairs in swift silence.

Two floors above, Shu’s ears twitched and he sat up in bed. There was someone inside the castle. Other than himself, Mai, and Emperor Pilaf, of course. He could hear their feet rushing up the stairs. They’d be here in no time at all! He quickly sprang out of bed… and flopped down onto his face on the floor. Shu scrambled to his feet and pulled on his ninja outfit. He grabbed his new sword, which he’d taken from the scar-face guy after the three-eyed guy broke his old sword, and strapped it to his back before bursting out of his door and running down the hall to find Mai. No reason to wake up the Supreme Leader.

“Mai!” Shu whispered as he pounded lightly on her bedroom door. “Mai! Wake up!” The door opened and Mai was standing in front of Shu in her turquoise nightgown, bags under the murderous glare in her eyes and a pistol’s outline clearly visible against her hip.

“What,” she hissed, “What is it?!”

“Intruders,” Shu whispered, “I heard them coming up the stairs!” Mai rolled her eyes before balling her fists and rubbed the sleep out of them.

“You go to the top of the stairs and wait for them,” Mai whispered. “I will wake Emperor Pilaf and help him prepare for our escape.” Shu nodded and watched Mai sprint off before heading to the top of the stairs and drawing his sword. He wobbled slightly as he held it, unaccustomed to its weight.

Bulma and Yamcha ran to the top of the stairs and came to a sudden stop at the point of Shu’s sword. Yamcha glared down at the dog-man. “Is that my sword?” Yamcha asked.

“N-no,” Shu insisted unconvincingly. “It’s mine!” Yamcha and Bulma exchanged a look and Bulma hopped effortlessly over Shu’s head and sprinted down the hallway while Yamcha cracked his knuckles.

“So,” Yamcha said as Shu raised the sword awkwardly. “How about you just gimme that before you get hurt?” Shu took a swing that Yamcha sidestepped easily, then another that Yamcha hopped over, and a quick thrust that Yamcha took a quick step backwards to avoid. “I warned ya,” Yamcha reminded Shu before kicking the sword out of his hands. “Hey,” he asked, “Is Ten’s Power Pole in your room, too?” Shu blinked and stared at Yamcha frightfully. “The staff you took from the three-eyed guy,” Yamcha explained with a sigh. Shu nodded frantically. “Thank you!” Yamcha said amicably before swiftly bringing his leg up and down, cracking Shu in the back of the head and knocking him out. Yamcha felt pretty good about himself as he picked up his sword and scabbard, putting them back on his belt. “...Shoulda asked him where in the room, Yamcha,” he muttered to himself.

 

OoOoOoO

 

Mai raced down the corridor toward the stairs that led to the hangar bay outside with Pilaf racing ahead of her, the dangly end of his yellow nightcap bouncing off of his shoulder and his bunny slippers “thwapping” against the stone floor. She spun around when she heard the footsteps rapidly approaching and turned to face the oncoming threat.

“Go on ahead, Glorious Leader!” she called over her shoulder as she got into a fighting stance. “Secure the jet for takeoff! I’ll take care of these pests and join you!”

“Sure thing!” Pilaf replied as he sprinted down the stairs. She wouldn’t be able to hear Pilaf mutter “I’ll secure the jet for me, I dunno how you’re getting out of here,” under his breath. Mai waited expectantly and was shocked to see the blue-haired young girl sprinting along the wall and attack Mai with a flying kick. Mai jumped back to avoid the kick and drove her palm into the girl’s chest as she tried to regain her balance. The blue-haired girl was sent flying back before she caught herself and sprinted toward Mai with a swinging right hook. Mai brought up a forearm to block but it was only a feint and the girl caught Mai with a body shot that actually lifted her off her feet as it drove the wind out of her.

“So hey,” the girl said as she rubbed at her chest while Mai caught her breath. “We never really talked. In fact, I’ve never met you or your boss, just the dog guy. I’m Bulma. What’s your name?” Mai glared at Bulma and grabbed the sides of her head, smashing her forehead into Bulma’s face. Bulma staggered away and Mai followed with three punishing body blows and a kick to the side of the head that staggered her. Mai grabbed the front of Bulma’s shirt and shoved her up against the wall, pushing her forearm into Bulma’s throat.

“I’m Mai,” she growled, “And I’m going to kill you.” Pilaf had already attempted to kill her and the other three so he obviously thought they deserved to die. And her glorious emperor was always right.

“Yeah,” Bulma gurgled, “Not gonna happen!” She drove her knee into Mai’s groin, causing her to let out a guttural gasp of pain and drop away from Bulma, letting her fall from the wall. Bulma kneed Mai in the face, snapping her head back, and hit Mai with a straight jab to the face that sent her crashing into the wall. “Ha!” Bulma laughed proudly as she amateurishly dropped her guard and put her hands on her hips. “Not so tough now, are…” Mai was pointing her gun at her. “...You?” Mai wordlessly pulled back the hammer and levelled the pistol’s barrel between Bulma’s eyes.

Yamcha came crashing through the wall behind Bulma, leaping over her head as he barreled into Mai, knocking her to the ground and knocking the gun out of her hands. “Go!” he told her as he took the Power Pole off of his back and tossed it to Bulma. “I’ve got this!” Bulma caught the Power Pole out of the air and sprinted down the stairs as Mai struggled under Yamcha’s grip. She bit Yamcha on the bridge of the nose, forcing Yamcha to break his grip and roll away. She grabbed the gun as she got up onto a knee and fired, Yamcha barely dodging the bullet as he drew his sword. She fired again and this time Yamcha cut the bullet out of the air. She fired a third time to the same result and then Yamcha cut the gun in half, causing Mai to drop the gun in stunned shock. “Ha!” Yamcha laughed as he held the point of the sword at Mai. “Whatcha got now?” Mai held up her hands defensively… and then kicked Yamcha in the nuts. “Ah, come on!” he cried as he fell to his knees and dropped the sword.

 

OoOoOoOo

 

Bulma sprinted down the stairs and out of the castle, toward the only building with lights coming out of it, hoping that whatever boost she and Yamcha had gotten from Tenshinhan hadn’t run out yet. She watched a jet start to come out of the building and grit her teeth resolutely.

“No you don’t,” Bulma growled as she put on an extra burst of speed. She gave a mighty leap and clutched onto one of the wings for dear life, her fingers digging into the metal as she crawled across it to climb onto the cockpit. She stared down at the little blue man in his yellow pajamas in complete disbelief. “You?” she asked incredulously. “You’re the guy who tried to kill me?!”

“Wrong!” Pilaf exclaimed, his voice somewhat muffled through the glass as he glared haughtily up at her. “I’m the guy who’s going to kill you!” He yanked back on the controls and the plane suddenly rocketed upwards into the air. Even as the wind whipped and her hair around and threatened to buffet her off, Bulma held fast and drew back a fist, smashing it against the cockpit, trying to get it to shatter. Pilaf stared at her with wide eyes before yanking sharply to the left on the control, sending the jet into a spiral and hurtling Bulma off. She screamed and flailed through the air before the Power Pole, that was loosely tied to her back, smacked her in the back of the head and gave Bulma an idea. She grabbed the Power pole and held it tight in both hands, aiming it at the jet.

“Power Pole extend!” she cried, hoping that the stupid magic wasn’t voice controlled. The staff shot forward and out, part of it shooting out behind her and toward the desert as she rocketed towards the jet. The staff ripped through the wing, missing Bulma’s target of the center by a few feet, and the impact sent Bulma flying off the Pole. She watched Pilaf break off from the jet into some kind of escape mini-rocket and glowered even as she fell. Not on her watch! She summoned up all her energy and anger, bringing one hand back like she was about to make the tennis serve of her life. She let out a scream and a single ki ball flew from her hand, hitting the engine of the rocket and causing it to drop out of the sky like a stone. A little yellow parachute popped out of it and she watched Pilaf drift down toward the ground in an ejection seat.

Well, great for him. Bulma was still falling. She was totally out of ideas, no Power Pole, no capsules, nothing! She screwed her eyes shut and felt her heart push up into her throat as she curled herself up into a little ball and screamed out at the top of her lungs.

“Nimbuuuuuuus!” she cried out desperately. Several seconds passed and Bulma was still falling. She was too terrified to open her eyes, not wanting to see the ground that was rushing up to meet her. The impact came much more suddenly than she’d expected and, to her shock, it was… soft and pillowy. Bulma slowly opened her eyes and looked into a wad of yellow fluff with dawning, almost euphoric glee. She sat up and realized she was riding on the Nimbus! She threw her head back in jubilant laughter as the sunrise crested over the horizon with tears running down her face, just happy to be alive. She drifted through the air for a little bit before getting the hang of controlling the cloud and guided it back around to grab the Power Pole, which had seemingly stretched infinitely out into the sky. “Power Pole retract!” Despite this, it shrunk almost immediately back down to its normal size before she slid it into its sheath on her back. Bulma guided the cloud back down toward the ground in front of the castle doors where Yamcha was waiting for her, a grin on his face as he watched her and her pouch of capsules in his hand.

“Well,” he remarked playfully, “You seem to have things under contr-mmph!” he was cut short as Bulma leaped off of the cloud and tackled him to the ground in a kiss. Yamcha was stunned for several seconds with a face as red as a stoplight before he kissed her back, his arms wrapping around her waist as her arms went around his neck. They broke away with nervous and excited laughter before Bulma climbed off of Yamcha and helped him to his feet.

“So,” Bulma said as she took the capsule pouch from Yamcha’s hand and clipped it back onto her hip, “You take care of those guys?” Yamcha nodded.

“Yeah,” he assured her, “Took all their weapons and capsules and junk and tied them up with Pilaf’s parachute. They should be stuck for a little while.” Bulma grinned and took her cell phone, dialing a number labelled “Emergency Only.”

“Hello?” Bulma said when someone picked up. “Yeah, this is Bulma Brief. Yeah, as in Dr. Brief’s daughter.” Yamcha stared at her with wide eyes and his mouth agape. “Yeah, look, can you send the Royal Federal Agents?” Bulma rolled her eyes at the response and sighed. “I mean, this Pilaf guy kidnapped me and tried to murder me and my friends, not to mention he tried to take over the world, which I’m pretty sure is an act of treason. Sooo if you wanna round him up?” She grinned smugly and nodded. “Awesome, super. You guys have the coordinates from my phone’s GPS, right? Alright, cool, ‘cause I’m not stickin’ around in the middle of the desert, it’s gonna get hot as shit.” She hung up and turned to Yamcha, who was staring at her. “What?”

“Yuh-yuh-your dad is the guy who invented capsules?!” Yamcha exclaimed. Bulma grinned and gave a nonchalant shrug.

“Well yeah,” she told him casually. “Where do you think I got all this capsule stuff from?”

“I figured you were just rich!”

“I mean, I’m also that.” Then she turned toward the Nimbus and started to hop onto it. “C’mon, let’s go get Te-yeeeep!” she went right through the cloud and fell into the sand on her butt. She grumbled and glared at the cloud as she got up, rubbing her butt.

“Guess Ten’s powerup wore off,” Yamcha surmised. Bulma rolled her eyes and nodded. “Then we’d better start walking.” She nodded again and they started walking in the direction of the building they’d left Ten at as the sun continued to rise. Apropos of nothing, Bulma grabbed Yamcha’s hand. He looked down at their hands in astonishment and looked back up at Bulma, who smiled at him. And he smiled back. Maybe they didn’t need the Dragon Balls after all…

 

OoOoOoO

 

Tenshinhan was waiting for them when they got there and was looking much better than he had when they’d left him, now on his feet and with Puar casually floating around him as a small dark cloud to give him shade. He waved eagerly at them and Puar returned to his cat form as he flew happily toward Yamcha, hugging his master tightly. Yamcha gave his cat a one-armed hug as Bulma took the Power Pole from her back and tossed it to Ten, who caught it effortlessly out of the air and slung it onto his own back.

“So,” Tenshinhan asked, “What are you guys going to do now?” Bulma and Yamcha stared at one another for a moment. Somehow, they hadn’t actually thought that far.

“Well,” Bulma replied, “I figure I’ll go back to West City.” She looked at Yamcha and beamed. “My house is huge so it probably has a guest room.” Yamcha’s face lit up at the prospect of no longer living in the desert.

“I guess I’ll be going to West City, too,” he said with a grin. “Maybe I’ll, I dunno. Go to school or something.”

“What about you?” Bulma asked as she looked back at Ten. “You gonna go back to living in the mountains with your Grandpa?” Tenshinhan thought about that for a moment and shook his head.

“Nah,” he decided, “I figure I’ll go find Master Roshi again and take him up on that offer to train me.” Then he turned his head to the sky and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Nimbus!” He called. The cloud swooshed down obediently and he hopped onto it. For some reason that Tenshinhan didn’t really understand, Bulma stuck her tongue out at it. “I guess I’ll see you guys around,” he told the trio.

“Hey,” Yamcha said, “Maybe we’ll see you at the Tenkaichi Budoukai!” Ten blinked and cocked his head to one side. “You’ve never heard of it?” Yamcha asked incredulously. Ten shook his head. “It’s a tournament held on Papaya Island every five years where the greatest martial artists from around the world compete to see who’s the best! The winner gets a boatload of cash and is declared the World’s Champion! The last guy, King Chappa, won the tournament without even being touched!” Tenshinhan’s face lit up with ever-growing excitement at every word coming out of Yamcha’s mouth. “The next tournament’s in about a year!”

“Great!” Tenshinhan exclaimed. “Then I’ll see you guys there!” He hopped onto Nimbus like he was riding a surfboard. “Let’s go, Nimbus!” he crowed eagerly. The cloud rocketed into the sky and Tenshinhan laughed with excitement as he waved goodbye to his new friends. What an adventure! He couldn’t wait to find out what the future held!

 

OoOoOoO

 

Kakarot woke up with a groan and squinted at the bright morning sun. He stood up slowly on legs that were growing increasingly sturdy as he grew more accustomed to these outbursts. He took stock of his surroundings with a sigh. He was naked and standing in a field of trampled earth, fallen trees, and burnt and blackened houses with the distinctive smell of burnt flesh. He sighed and started to head back in the direction of his father’s ki. The worst thing, he decided, was that he didn’t recall what had happened when he transformed until the day after. Even then, it only came in fits and flashes. It wasn’t fair.

He wanted to enjoy it.


A/N: Hey, guys! Sorry for the wait and also sorry that there's not a lot of Kakarot in this chapter. The chapter was already over 9,000 words long and I didn't wanna bog people down. But don't worry, the next chapter will be all about the Monkey boy. 

 

Chapter Text

Kakarot’s Days

 

It took Kakarot nearly a week to return to the Crane School. After returning to the village and finding whatever scraps of clothes that could fit him that weren’t burnt to ashes, it had simply been a matter of focusing on Father’s ki and heading off in that direction. In all honesty, Kakarot could have returned to the school in about a day if he flew but he liked to take his time. As he got older he was beginning to appreciate the time he could get away from under the hawkish eyes of his father. When he was young and vulnerable, he had needed his father’s guidance and protection when it seemed that the whole world was Kakarot’s enemy. His father had been the only one Kakarot could trust. But that was six months ago. Kakarot was older now, he was stronger, and he told himself that he liked being alone in the world. He was nearly twelve now and he was certain that the old man was running out of things to teach him. Kakarot would not deny that Shen had taught him many things and had refined his skills as a warrior and a killer. He had taken a wild animal and turned it into a weapon.

Yet now, Kakarot could sense that their father and son “relationship” was near the tipping point in its power structure. Although he could not sense his own ki, there were days when Kakarot could sense Shen’s and he felt that his teacher’s power was not as great or all-encompassing as it once had been. Their day was coming, Kakarot could feel it. Of course, he still was far below Aunt Tao but it hardly mattered. He would surpass her. He would become the most powerful being on the planet.

When Kakarot sat down at nights and made himself a fire with ki blasts to cook his meat, he would think about how he had used to eat his food raw, right after he killed it. It was easy to recall, actually. Kakarot could remember almost every moment in his life. When he looked into the fire he could even see faces. A man who looked a lot like how Kakarot might look as a grown-up, although with far more scars than Kakarot would ever have. After all, you need to be hit to get scars. Kakarot could see this man, whoever he was, talking to a woman. He could even hear them, if he focused hard enough. They were speaking the same language as the voice in his head that told him to kill everyone, although that voice had been quiet recently, perhaps from all the times Shen had sent Kakarot out to destroy random villages. So whoever these people were, they were from… wherever Kakarot was really from. They were his real parents. Kakarot wondered who they were sometimes. If they missed him. If they were looking for him. Kakarot tried not to look into the flames too often. It made him feel sad and made his eyes do that crying thing. He hated crying. It made him feel weak. He wasn’t weak.

OoOoOoO

When Kakarot finally returned to the school, Father was waiting for him at the entrance with his arms folded across his chest and a stern expression on his face. Kakarot knew his father didn’t like it when he stayed out long, which was partly why he did it in the first place.

“You’ve been gone quite some time, Kakarot,” Father observed coolly as Kakarot walked towards him. “Far too long, for my liking. Did you get lost?”

“What’s wrong?” Kakarot shot back as he tried to walk past Shen. “Did you need some more villages exterminated?”

Shen stepped in front of Kakarot’s way. “I did not know,” he said as Kakarot glared up at him, “That killing unmanned you so. Perhaps you should leave, as we are training killers here.” Shen smirked down at Kakarot, assuming he had some power over Kakarot in an emotional context. That Kakarot would come apart at the seams at the idea of being separated from his father, the only person he could trust in the world. Kakarot scoffed. 

“I don’t have a problem with killing,” Kakarot retorted. “The first thing I ever did on this planet was kill someone. What I have a problem with is you sending me off to kill the weak. It’s a waste of my time.” He shoved past Shen, nearly taking the old man off of his feet. He could feel the old man’s glare at the back of his head and smirked. The only reason Kakarot was still here was because he knew there were still things Shen could teach him. There were lessons that Shen was holding back from him. Once Kakarot had surpassed Shen, he would leave this place behind forever.

“You’ve missed your training,” Shen reminded Kakarot firmly as he put a hand on Kakarot’s shoulder. “Perhaps the others have caught up to you by now. Shall we test them?”

Kakarot looked over his shoulder at Shen and chuckled. “Why not?” he asked coldly. “After all, it’s not my bones that’ll need to knit.” Shen glowered at his son as he walked away. The boy was getting wilder by the day. It was clear that he would need to be taught a lesson sooner rather than later.

OoOoOoO

Kakarot stood in the clearing with his arms hanging casually at his sides as he turned in a slow circle to take count of all those surrounding him. Shen had brought the entire school against him. Nearly two hundred of them against just one of him. They were all staring at him. He could see it in their eyes. He could smell it on them. Despite their greater numbers and despite the false bravado of cracking knuckles and sneers, they were scared of him.

“Well,” Kakarot asked as he came to a stop and folded his hands behind his back. “Are you going to attack me or are you waiting to kick me when I fall asleep from boredom?” They let out a collective roar that might have actually intimidated anybody else. But, as Kakarot already knew, he was not like anybody else. He was unlike anyone else on the planet. The only thing that the other students had on their side was that there were a lot of them. Kakarot was stronger, he was faster, he was just better than all of them put together. He ran through them all like a buzzsaw without a moment’s hesitation, most of them taken out with a single punch or kick.

“Dodonpa!” Kakarot heard Chaozu cry and pivoted to avoid the ki beam that whizzed past his head. Kakarot lunged at the albino and drove a foot into his chest to send the other boy sprawling. Chaozu got back up and persisted with the attack, to Kakarot’s mild surprise. Kakarot gave his former friend no more mercy or courtesy than the others, dropping him with three blows to the chest and a chop across the back. Chaozu was indistinguishable in Kakarot’s mind from the rest of the group. He’d turned on Kakarot and was as afraid of him as everyone else. Good. Fine! He didn’t want anyone. He wanted them to be afraid of him! They should be afraid, he was stronger than them all!

Kakarot felt the air rushing toward him as one of the students aimed a kick at the back of his head. He reached his hands back and grabbed them by the calf and ankle, flipping them over his head and slamming them into the ground. He reached his fist back to punch the other student in the head and knock them out when he realized he was staring down at the one female student. The blonde girl… Launch? She looked up at him with a mixture of fear and defiance and something about it made Kakarot hesitate for half a second as he looked down at her, one hand reached back to strike while his other hand held a rumpled fistful of her gi. He slammed her into the ground instead before darting off to finish the rest.

In the end, and after less than ten minutes, there were two hundred bodies on the ground in various states of unconsciousness and all Kakarot had to show for it was a bruised knuckle. Kakarot cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders, looking out at the carnage before his eyes settled on Shen.

“Well, father?” he asked caustically. “Was this supposed to teach me some kind of lesson? Maybe next time I’ll disappear for two weeks. When I get back, one of them might have gotten good enough so that I can pick up a wound that isn’t self-inflicted.”

Shen chuckled and rolled up his sleeves. “You think you’re strong, don’t you, boy?” he asked in a mocking tone as he got into a fighting stance. “Would you like to see how strong you are?” Kakarot stared at Shen for a moment and processed the information before getting into his guard. Shen beckoned him forward and Kakarot roared before charging at him. Shen jumped back to evade a roundhouse kick from Kakarot, the shock evident in his eyes behind his sunglasses. Kakarot pressed the attack as soon as Shen’s feet touched the ground, unleashing a series of hate-filled punches and kicks that forced Shen to take a step back, then a second, step, and then a third, before Shen retaliated with a kick that cracked Kakarot under the chin and sent him flipping backwards. Shen thrust out his hand as soon as Kakarot touched the ground and cried out, “Dodonpa!” The lance of yellow ki grazed Kakarot and burned his left shoulder, causing him to wince in pain before he charged again. “Dodonpa!” Shen cried again, this time hitting Kakarot in the right leg. Shen kicked Kakart out of the air and sent him crashing into a tree, where he slumped to the ground. Shen smirked and turned away, convinced the battle was over. After all, what could the boy do with one arm and leg.

“Hey!” Kakarot barked out as he got to his feet slowly. He didn’t put much weight on his right leg and shifted his stance to make up for it as he glared at Shen. “We’re not done yet!” Shen rolled his eyes as Kakarot charged at him and took off his sunglasses.

“I tire of this game, boy!” he spat as he raised his hands into a diamond at his chest. “Know your place! Kikouhou!” The blast caught Kakarot dead-on and sent him hurtling away as if he were shot out of a cannon to crash through the forest outside of the school. Shen waited for a few moments to see if Kakarot would retaliate before dropping his arms and gasping for breath. He hadn’t used that technique in nearly a century and for good reason. It hurt like the devil. “You have all been gross disappointments,” Shen scolded his students harshly as they struggled up to their feet and helped those who were still unconscious. “None of you will eat tonight.” Shen went into the woods to find Kakarot’s body and was glad, despite himself, to discover that the boy still had a pulse. It was only because of the value Kakarot presented him, he knew. The boy could still become a powerful weapon and an instrument of destruction. As long as Kakarot remained on bended knee, Shen would still have use for him. He could finally remove the blight of Muten Roshi’s continued existence from his life forever. Perhaps the blight of his sister, as well.

OoOoOoO

When Kakarot awoke, he noticed with no small irritation that he was in chains again. He also had poultices on his arm and leg where he’d been struck and his entire body was sore. It was not, however, the complete darkness he’d come to expect. The twins, Aoi and Tori, were holding a candle between them and were also holding a bowl with some broth in it. By their startled reactions, he guessed that they had still expected him to be unconscious and had been sent to feed him. 

“What time is it?” he growled out in a hoarse voice before coughing.

“It’s… uh, it’s evening,” Aoi stammered out, the color draining from his blue face.

“And it’s Wednesday,” Tori added. That gave Kakarot something to think about. Whatever that technique was that father had hit him with had knocked him out for an entire day. Nearly two. Kakarot growled and pulled on his chains as Aoi and Tori stared in shock. They both looked like they wanted to raise some sort of an alarm but were both too cowardly to do so. With a grunt of effort, Kakarot burst out of his chains and rubbed at his sore muscles.

“Is the moon full?” Kakarot asked as he ripped the bowl from Tori’s shaking hands. Aoi shook his head as  Kakarot chugged the broth down and threw it against a wall, causing the wood to burst apart and send broken chunks flying off. “Then what’s the problem?” he asked brusquely, already shoving them out of his way and walking up the stairs out of his prison.His father insisted that he kept Kakarot away from the others because he was better than them but was there really no better place for Kakarot to rest than underground with the rice and the vegetables? The half-moon hung over him as Kakarot wandered to the river where he liked to meditate. He hadn’t meditated in several days and he was starting to hear the voice again. He needed to clear his head and his spirit again. He sat beneath the waterfall and closed his eyes, letting the water rush over him as he breathed in and out slowly. After he had told his father about the voices he heard, his father had taught him some words to focus on when he meditated. ‘I am calm,’ he told himself. ‘I am the rock in the center of the raging sea. I am in control. Nothing else commands my destiny. I am in control. I am… I am…’ Kakarot lost his concentration as a scent tickled his nose. He opened his eyes slowly and took several sniffs, turning his nose to the sky. It wasn’t a food smell or an earth smell. It was a people smell. He’d never really smelled it before. He… liked it. “I know you’re there,” Kakarot said as he kept his back to her.

“The whole ki thing, right?” Launch asked as she walked toward him. She took off her shoes and sat on the edge of the river, sliding her feet into the water with a sigh. “I’ve been trying to figure that out but I’m not really big on the whole meditation thing. Too much sitting around.”

“It wasn’t your ki I noticed,” Kakarot explained, “It was your smell.” The blonde girl eyed him curiously and, for some reason, Kakarot felt heat rising in his cheeks and he suddenly felt as if his tongue was heavy in his mouth. “I… I mean… I just have a good sense of smell,” he muttered as his eyes looked down toward the water. “It was– I mean, it’s a good smell.” Launch laughed and the heat in Kakarot’s face grew worse.

“You don’t have much experience talking to girls, do you?” Launch asked with a grin. Kakarot felt something wash over him when he talked to her. It wasn’t weakness but he knew it was something close to it. No one else created these kinds of feelings in him. He didn’t like it and it made him a little angry.

“I’ve never talked to any girl!” Kakarot snapped at her, making Launch shift back a little in the grass. “I’ve never even seen another girl aside from Aunt Tao.”

“You mean that crabby old lady?” Launch asked. “She gives me the creeps. Even worse than Master Shen.”

“Fa– Master Shen scares you because you’re weak,” Kakarot told her. “He doesn’t scare me. I know he trusts me. He’s the only person on the planet who’s honest with me.”

“Then why do you look like crap?” Launch asked as she gestured to his clothes. Kakarot looked at his rags and shrugged.

“Father says comforts are for weak people that need them. I don’t. I’m strong. I can endure.”

“That’s a load of bullshit and you know it,” Launch told him perhaps more sharply than she’d meant to. There was a silence as she looked up at Kakarot and Kakarot, not wanting to look at her, looked up at the stars. “So why didn’t you hit me earlier? I mean, you still kinda knocked me out but I know you could have hit me worse.”

“I could,” Kakarot assured her bluntly. “I just… I don’t know why I stopped. There was something about the way you looked at me. You were afraid of me.”

“I thought you wanted people to be afraid of you,” Launch pointed out. Kakarot huffed and turned away from her which made her grin. “You don’t really, do you? You may be really dangerous and you really like to fight, but you’re not an actually bad person, are ya?”

“You’re weak,” Kakarot told her. “You and everyone else at this school. I’m sick of fighting weak people. There’s no challenge to it. It’s just bullying people and I’ve always hated bullies. They’re hollow victories.”

“Well if I’m so weak,” Launch shot back with a grin as she stood up out of the water, “Why don’t you train me?”

Kakarot shook his head. “I’m not a teacher,” he told her. “I can’t explain to you the things that come naturally to me. It’s like a fish asking a bird how to fly.”

“Y’know there are flying fish,” Launch pointed out in a way that made Kakarot’s cheeks burn in that strange way again. “What’re you afraid of? That I’ll get good enough to kick your butt?” This made Kakarot laugh and he actually got up off of the rock to stand across from her. He smirked and put his hands behind his back as he looked up at her. “Aw, c’mon!” she groaned impatiently. Kakarot beckoned for her to attack with his chin and Launch charged furiously at him.

Kakarot hopped into the air and blocked her fists with his feet, dropping down or leaping up again to avoid her kicks as he kept smirking at her. It only made Launch more irritable which caused her strikes to go wilder and make it easier for Kakarot to dodge them.

“You’re letting your anger control you,” Kakarot told her. “What you need to do is control your anger. It can give power and focus to your attacks or it can turn you into a wild, flailing idiot. It’s all about mastering your anger.” While doing all of this, Kakarot was still blocking Launch’s attacks with his feet, even balancing on his tail with his hands behind his head. Launch gave a frustrated cry and tackled Kakarot suddenly, taking him by surprise and knocking both of them into the river. They came out of the water soaking wet and, to Kakarot’s surprise, Launch laughed. Surprising Kakarot even further, he laughed as well. They got out of the water and sat on the river’s edge in better spirits than they had been.

“So,” Launch asked as they looked at the stars, “You’re not from here, are ya?” Kakarot shook his head. “Do you know where you are from?”

“I try not to think about it too much,” Kakarot admitted with a shrug. “Father’s shown me the spaceship that I came to this planet in. If someone wanted to find me they would have found me by now. It’s been eleven years. So wherever I’m from, this is where I am.”

“And what’s with the tail?” Launch asked. Kakarot looked at her curiously while she reached for it. “I mean, does it feel stuff? I know you can move it and junk but… do you feel if I do this?” She put her hand on the tip of Kakarot’s tail and tugged on it lightly. Kakarot shuddered as a spasm went through him and he jumped away as if he’d been stabbed. “Whoa! Hey!” Launch exclaimed as Kakarot hugged his tail to his chest defensively.

“D-don’t do that!” he exclaimed nervously. What the hell was going on here? Why was he like this? What did she do to his tail?

“Sensitive, huh?” Launch asked with a smirk and a tone in her voice which made Kakarot’s face burn worse than before, which made her laugh again. “Okay, sorry, I won’t mess with it.” Kakarot eyed her suspiciously as he sat down next to her again. Launch shivered suddenly and Kakarot gave her a look that was almost concerned. “It’s a little chilly,” she muttered as she rubbed at her arms. “Shouldn’t have gone in the wa– in the wa… ah, ah...ah-choo!” Launch sneezed suddenly and, in a blink, everything about her changed. Her body language became far more relaxed, her face became softer and much more confused, and most startlingly of all her hair turned blue. Kakarot stared at Launch and Launch stared at him. She opened her mouth to scream before Kakarot shot his hand out to cover her mouth.

“Don’t,” he told her harshly. “You’ll wake up the whole school. Then they’ll take you to my father and he’ll do to you whatever he did before to make your hair stay yellow. Okay?” Launch nodded slowly, visibly afraid. “I’m not going to hurt you,” Kakarot assured her. “Do you know where you are?” Launch shook her head. “You’re at the Crane School. It’s a martial arts school where my father Master Shen, the Crane Hermit, trains people to become assassins.” Launch’s face paled at the idea of being surrounded by murderers. “You’re a student here,” Kakarot told her, “So you won’t be harmed. You came here several months ago and my father took you in. Do you know anything about martial arts?” Launch shook her head again and Kakarot sighed. “I can help you train so that if you get changed back to this again or if you want to escape, you’ll be able to defend yourself. Do you understand?” Launch nodded slowly and Kakarot took his hand off her mouth. “My name is Kakarot,” he told her. “Now copy my stance.” Kakarot got into his guard and Launch did her best to do the same.

Kakarot let her have the first punch and more or less let Launch use him as a practice dummy as he tried to show her how to fight. She had all of the strength that she’d accumulated in the last several months with blonde hair but had no idea how to use it. Kakarot was pretty sure that if a fly had been on his face when Launch had punched him, the fly would have lived. It was late at night when Launch had exhausted her energy and plopped down onto the grass beside the river while Kakarot sat back on his rock under the waterfall.

“I think I’m getting pretty good,” Launch declared happily with a wide smile on her sweat soaked face, her hair plastered to her forehead. “What do you think?”

“You’re terrible,” Kakarot told her matter-of-factly. Launch flinched and seemed to be on the verge of tears and something in Kakarot made him feel like he had to say something. “But that’s okay,” he assured her, “You’ll get better with time. This is what we’ll have to do for now. You come to me at night, I’ll make you sneeze, and then we’ll train.”

“That sounds nice,” Launch said with a smile that made Kakarot’s face burn. “Thank you, Kakarot. This is very kind of you.”

“I’m not being kind,” Kakarot muttered as he looked away from her. “Weakness annoys me.” Launch smiled at him anyway and Kakarot looked away again. “I have to turn you back now.”

“I know,” Launch muttered sadly. She sighed and looked up at the moon again. “I was just… she’s been in control for so long. I was hoping I could stay out a little longer.” Kakarot gave her a look that was almost apologetic and brought his tail up to tickle her nose. Launch giggled for a moment before sneezing suddenly and turning blonde again. Launch looked at Kakarot quizzically for a moment before realizing what had happened and smirking. “Y’know,” she said as she got up, “You’re not as bad as you think you are, Kakarot.” She moved her hand down to ruffle Kakarot’s hair and he smacked it away, glaring at her.

“Don’t get any ideas,” he told her firmly. She just laughed and walked away back to the student compound. Kakarot yawned suddenly and arched his back, reaching his right leg back to scratch his ear before wincing at the burn on his leg and using his hand to scratch it instead. He was suddenly very tired. He went back to his room down in the cellar in a better mood than he had been in months.

The secret training carried on like this for nearly three weeks. Launch would come to Kakarot at night while most of the other students were sleeping and he would train the Blonde Launch before making her sneeze and training with the Blue Launch. Some nights they would focus on sparring and some nights they would focus on meditating. Blue Launch was far more receptive to meditation than Blonde Launch, who found it boring and annoying. Despite her complaints, Kakarot insisted that meditation was an essential component to understanding, sensing, and controlling ki. After the first week, however, once Kakarot was fully recovered from the effects of Master Shen’s Kikouhou, the training had to take on a significant change.

OoOoOoO

Shen found his son one morning in the woods, practicing his control by punching trees as Shen had instructed him to. He was supposed to be trying to punch them neatly in half, directing the force in such a way that it sliced through the wood rather than violently exploding. The exercise was another attempt to get Kakarot to control his growing strength and trick the boy into handcuffing himself. As Shen walked into a clearing of splinters, however, one of two things was clear. Either the boy was slacking in his training, which Shen found unlikely, or he was growing stronger at a rate Shen had not anticipated.

“You seem to be feeling better,” Shen observed as he sipped at his tea. Kakarot turned to his father and bowed respectfully to him, never breaking eye contact. Shen nodded and Kakarot took that as permission to rest before sitting down on a stump. “If I know you,” Shen continued as Kakarot watched him intently, “You want to learn that technique I used on you, don’t you?” Kakarot nodded eagerly and Shen chuckled. “I thought as much. Copy me,” Kakarot stood and Shen rolled up his sleeves.

“Why are you showing me this?” Kakarot asked curiously as he stood beside his father and copied his wide-legged stance with his balled fists at his hips He knew that his father wasn’t completely blind to the growing tension between them and he also knew that Shen wasn’t sentimental enough to think that teaching Kakarot techniques would inspire any familial strength between them.

“Because you are my son,” Shen explained simply. Kakarot didn’t buy it. Whether he did or not, Shen pressed on. “The technique is called the Kikouhou, as you might have heard me say when I used it against you.” He brought his hands slowly and smoothly up to his chest and held them in a diamond formation with one hand overlapping the other as Kakarot following his movements precisely. “You focus all of your ki into a single point. You gather it and you hold onto it until it becomes painful, concentrating all of your power until the moment of release.” Yellow ki gathered in Shen’s hands and cast the entire forest in a deadly orange glow. Shen’s arms trembled as Kakarot watched intently, gathering up his own ki and focusing on it, sweat beading down his brow. “Now, you release! Kikouhou!” The burst of yellow-orange ki devastated the landscape in front of them, flattening the trees, blasting the earth, and tearing apart the clouds.

“Kikouhou!” Kakarot cried at the same time. The kickback from Kakarot’s own blast sent him hurtling backwards through several of the remaining trees in the area before he finally rolled to a stop with a groan. He started to push himself up but his arms gave out almost immediately and he crashed back down with a groan. His muscles felt like they were on fire!

“Oh,” Shen added as he walked past Kakarot, “Did I forget to mention? The Kikouhou will draw on your own life energy if you don’t have complete control of it. Mastering the technique will take time and be quite painful. How thoughtless of me.” Then he flew off back to the school, leaving Kakarot to pick himself up.

Kakarot’s recovery and his own training severely impeded the second week of his and Launch’s training. They spent most of that second week focused on meditation and Kakarot verbally coaching Launch’s katas. Launch had to admire that even though Kakarot was clearly hurting, he was still willing to continue their training and was back on his feet to spar with her again after only a few days. On the third week, however, another new development occurred.

“What’re you doing here?” Kakarot asked Chaozu icily when he realized Launch had brought the albino with her. Chaozu looked awkwardly down at the ground before Launch kicked him in the ribs since he was too short for her elbow.

“I’m… sorry,” Chaozu muttered weakly. Kakarot shrugged and started stretching. “I miss being your friend. I know you better than everyone else does, Kakarot. It was wrong of me to treat you that way. I… you’re not a monster, Kakarot.”

“Maybe I am,” Kakarot retorted with a shrug. “Doesn’t matter. You wanna train? Fine. I told you before, I don’t need friends.” Chaozu winced at Launch and gave her a look that clearly asked if he should leave. After all, she was the one who had told him in secret about their training and had dragged him out in the middle of the night. Launch shook her head and started stretching as well. Chaozu gave a reluctant sigh before joining them. With Kakarot’s focused effort and the three of them working together, Chaozu and Launch soon became the strongest non-Kakarot students at the school and the two of them together gave Kakarot the closest thing he had to a challenge outside of sparring with his father.

It wasn’t much of one, but still.

However, by the fourth week, things were about to drastically change.

OoOoOoO

“So let me see if I understand this.” Tao asked as she and Shen shared tea in Shen’s study. “You fear Kakarot is growing too powerful to be controlled. So you decide that the best way to control him is… to teach him your most powerful technique?” She looked at her brother with one arched eyebrow, clearly confused. “I’m sorry, brother, but I just don’t see the logic there.”

“That’s because you’re a woman,” Shen retorted as he poured a fresh cup of tea. “Tactical thinking was never your strong suit.”

“Have you forgotten that I can literally kill you with a touch?”

Shen cleared his throat and tugged at his collar nervously. “Wh-what I mean to say,” he clarified, “Is that teaching Kakarot the Kikouhou falls perfectly within my plan. Even as talented as he is, it will take him months to master the technique. During which time he will destroy his body and hamper his abilities. It could take him years to get back to his full strength and by then he will be completely under my control. He will never dream of standing against me for I shall be the only one in this world that he can rely o–” Before Shen could postulate any further, however, the door to his study flew open and Hachidori burst into the room, panting wildly with a fearful look in his eye. The young man was tall and thin, with beady eyes, an outrageous metabolism, and hair that seemed either dark blue or dark green depending on how the light hit it.

“M-m-master Shen!” he gasped out while hopping frantically from foot to foot. “You– you have to come quick, Master! It’s Kakarot!”

“Yes, what is it?” Shen asked dryly as he picked idly at his fingernails with a knife. “Who has the boy maimed today?”

“N-no one, master,” Hachidori admitted reluctantly. “He’s… he’s challenging you.” The knife snapped under Shen’s fingernail and he turned slowly to glare at his student murderously. Hachidori’s blood ran cold under his master’s icy gaze as Shen and Tao stood up, the martial artist and the master assassin shoving him to the ground to walk outside. They walked out to the training grounds where the students were gathered in a wide circle and all muttering nervously to each other. Kakarot stood in the center of that circle with his arms folded over his chest as he glared at his father. There was something almost comical to it, the way he stood there so seriously in his rags.

“Father!” Kakarot barked before getting into a fighting stance. “I challenge you to single combat! All of the students assembled here shall act as witness to my victory!” Shen chuckled and cracked his knuckles before rolling up his sleeves.

“Do you really understand what you’re doing, boy?” Shen asked as he stretched and got into his guard. “My lifespan is literally thirty times longer than your own. You cannot even begin to comprehend the knowledge that I have amassed.” And if worst came to worst, Shen reminded himself, he knew of Kakarot’s greatest weakness. The one that he hadn’t even told the boy about.

“ Oh good,” Kakarot retorted with a smirk. “I was worried it wasn’t going to be a fair fight.” Shen sneered at Kakarot and prepared himself to launch a counterattack against whatever Kakarot struck with, only to be surprised as the boy covered a distance of more than a hundred feet in a heartbeat as little more than a blur. Shen’s arm was halfway to blocking Kakarot’s strike when that strike, an elbow, was already buried in Shen’s gut. Shen let out a sputtering gasp of pain before Kakarot drove his other fist up under Shen’s jaw with a flawless uppercut and finished his combination with a heel kick that caught Shen in the side of the head and sent him tumbling away through the dirt. Shen was stunned as he picked himself up. The boy’s speed, his strength… it was impossible! How could he have improved so much so quickly? Had Shen simply been blind to the boy’s power?

‘Impossible,’ Shen thought as he got to his feet. ‘I’d been monitoring him so carefully–’ Shen had barely gotten to his feet before Kakarot came at him again with animalistic tenacity, unleashing an onslaught of body punches and cracking Shen across the face with his tail. Kakarot moved to continue his attack before Shen pushed him away with a kiai. Kakarot skidded to a stop on all fours and got to his feet with a smirk.

‘Typical,’ he thought to himself as he got into his guard. ‘I knew I’d surpassed the old man but I was hoping he’d at least make me try.’ As Kakarot thought that, however, Shen glared at him with his naked eye through the shattered lens of one of his glasses. The look of hatred and rage in the ancient master’s eye gave Kakarot a moment’s pause as Shen took off his sunglasses and tossed them away, followed by his waistcoat and shirt. He flexed his lean old muscles as he got into a guard that Kakarot had never seen before with an expression of disgust practically chiseled into his face.

“It seems that you’ve progressed beyond my expectations,” Shen admitted as he and Kakarot began to circle one another. “I assure you that is not a mistake I will make in the future.”

“There is no future for you, old man!” Kakarot spat as he pointed a finger at Shen. “Dodonpa!” The beam flew straight and true, striking Shen between the eyes… only for him to completely dissolve as an afterimage before the real Shen appeared in front of Kakarot with one hand darting out and closing around the boy’s fist.

“I disagree,” Shen slammed his other palm into Kakarot’s shoulder, causing Kakarot to cry in pain as it popped out of the socket. Shen released Kakarot’s hand and his arm dropped limply to his side as Shen followed his attack with a roundhouse kick that caught Kakarot across the face, crashing through several students and colliding painfully with one of the sleeping quarters. Shen was on Kakarot in a flash, punishing him with a series of spear strikes that shoved Kakarot up against the wall. Cracks webbed out from behind Kakarot as Shen continued his assault before he formed a ki ball in both hands and slammed it into Kakarot’s chest, sending him flying through the room and out the other side, into the woods. Kakarot was stunned for a moment as he tried to collect himself.

‘I had no idea that father had this much power,’ Kakarot admitted to himself through gritted teeth as he rammed his arm against the floor to pop it back into his socket. He could hear, smell, and sense his father’s approach as he got to his feet. ‘At least now I’ve got a real fight!’ Kakarot leaped into the air at the exact moment as Shen dove toward him to drive his head into the old master’s stomach, headbutting him and launching them both through the roof. They hung in the air over everyone’s heads, punching and kicking each other mercilessly as stormclouds gathered on what had once been a beautiful, cloudless afternoon. To everyone but Tao Pai Pai, the pair were nothing more than a pair of blurs fighting in the air. They could hear the battle more than see it, from the cries of pain and grunts of effort to the dull and painful “THUD” of impacts. Tao Pai Pai, meanwhile, watched with mild interest. She wanted to see what this boy her brother was so high on, this nephew of hers, could really do. Shen drove his thumbs into Kakarot’s eyes and clapped his ears, taking advantage of Kakarot’s heightened senses before axe kicking him out of the air.

“Tsurukeri!” Shen cried as he dove down after Kakarot with one foot, his body turning into a deadly red arrow as his foot drove down into Kakarot’s stomach and sent them both into the dirt. Shen floated smugly out of the crater he had made with Kakarot’s body, his arms folded over his chest. “You may be good, Kakarot,” Shen told his son condescendingly. “You may even be the best fighter I ever created. But you are still my creation. You are only what I have made you! Now you will hopefully understand that you will never be greater than me!”

To Shen’s shock, however, Kakarot did not vomit out fountains of blood from having his entire ribcage shattered. Instead he climbed out after him like a demon and barrelled into Shen with a bloodcurdling roar and madness in his eyes. He drove his fists into Shen’s body and face with hammer blows, each strike combining surgical precision with the punishing force of an anvil. He sent Shen into the air with a rising shoulder block to the chest before grabbing him by the ankles and slamming him twice into the ground and finally throwing him into the other students. Shen crashed into them like tenpins before shoving them out of his way and charging Kakarot again. Kakarot drew his fists back for another attack, his hands glowing with ki and his entire body language screaming murderous intent.

“Taiyoken!” Shen cried out suddenly as he flung his hands in front of his face. Everyone was blinded, save for Tao who had seen it coming and had calmly closed her eyes. Kakarot cried out in pain and was brought to a screeching halt as Shen pulled his hands back before thrusting them forward and giving a flick of his wrists. “Tsurusenpuu!” There was a gust of air that rushed toward Kakarot and he was suddenly lifted off the ground in a vicious cyclone. He was trapped in the air and buffeted about, disoriented as the razor sharp ki wind bit into his skin and drew blood. The wind dropped and Kakarot plummeted out of the air, directly into Shen’s upraised fingers as the cruel old master drove a spear strike directly into Kakarot’s sternum. Kakarot sputtered in pain but, again surprising Shen, grabbed his forearm in a death grip.

“Is that all you’ve got?!” Kakarot snarled vehemently as he glared at his father. He flung himself at Shen and tackled him to the ground, driving his elbow into Shen’s face over and over. There was an audible and unpleasant “CRUNCH” followed by a spray of blood as one of the blows broke Shen’s nose. Desperately, Shen grabbed a fistful of grass and dirt, ramming it violently into Kakarot’s eye and causing Kakarot to cry out, more in frustration than in pain, and roll away to rub the dirt from his eye. Shen went in for an attack from behind, only for Kakarot to throw out his foot into Shen’s stomach. “I can still hear and smell you, old man!” Kakarot reminded Shen as he reached behind to grab Shen’s arm and flip him overhead. Shen caught himself in the air and Kakarot flew up to meet him. They met again in another furious exchange of blows. This time, several students were caught in the crossfire, being too slow to dodge a deflected ki blast, and were badly burned. Kakarot was the one to bring it back to Earth this time, grabbing Shen by the neck and driving him into the ground. Shen drove Kakarot away with a backfist and they both staggered back to their feet.

“Let’s see you dodge this one, you little brat!” Shen spat as he held out his hands. He waved intricate, glowing patterns in the air as Kakarot stood perfectly still and braced himself, daringly taking the attack head on as Shen had known he arrogantly would. “Ki wana!” Shen flung his hands forward and a net of yellow ki launched itself around Kakarot before he could escape, ensnaring him and pinning his arms to his side.

“Your tricks won’t save you!” Kakarot snapped as he struggled violently against the bonds even as they burned his skin. “I’m going to kill y–” Shen charged forward and kicked Kakarot hard in the ribs to bring him to the ground. Shen got on top of Kakarot and rained down punches across his face as Kakarot struggled. Despite his pain, Kakarot never screamed. He glared at Shen through the blood, snarling and roaring like an animal as he fought against his restraints. Then, something unexpected happened.

Launch and Chaozu flew through the air and attacked Master Shen with a double flying kick, knocking him off of Kakarot. Shen stared at them in bewilderment, more shocked than hurt, as they tried to pull the bonds off of Kakarot.

“Get outta my way!” Kakarot barked at them as he hopped his his feet before charging past them. “I’m not doing this for you! I’m doing this for me!”

“You should have accepted their help,” Shen warned Kakarot as he pointed venomously at his son. “Because you’ll never defeat me! Dodonpa!” Kakarot pivoted to one side to avoid the beam and kept up his charge, attacking Shen with a leaping roundhouse kick. Then, shockingly, he opened his mouth with a roar and a bright yellow beam of ki caught Shen full in the chest to knock him to the ground. Then, with a grunt of effort, Kakarot finally broke out of his ki bands.

“Get up,” Kakarot ordered his father as he stalked towards him menacingly. “We’re not done yet!” Shen got up slowly to his feet. He looked old and weak. He looked beaten. “I’m not done with you, old man!” Kakarot charged forward to give Shen a running kick to the ribs while his father was on all fours. That was when wily Master Shen sprung his trap.

He rolled across the ground, barely skidding under Kakarot’s kick, and his hand shot out to grab Kakarot’s tail as it brushed past him. As soon as Shen’s fingers closed around Kakarot’s tail and squeezed, the boy felt a numbness shoot through his entire body. He couldn’t even move his fingers. He was completely helpless. Shen got to his feet with Kakarot’s tail in both hands and dragged him around by it, slamming Kakarot into the ground over and over with Kakarot letting out a dull grunt of pain each time.

“You see, boy?!” Shen barked in a delirious, victorious haze with blood still running from his broken nose. “I am the master! I have always been the master! You are nothing but an animal that I control!” He dragged Kakarot to a rock and raised his son overhead, slamming him back first against the boulder again and again. “And now I’m going to put you do–” however, when Shen swung, Kakarot suddenly seemed much lighter and he realized that there was only a tail in his hands. Slowly, with terror spreading up his back like cracks across a frozen lake, Shen turned and watched as Kakarot climbed to his feet with murder in his eyes. Shen brought his hands up in a flash and grit his teeth. “Kikouhou!” Kakarot was already there, however, with Shen’s wrists in a vise grip as he forced his father’s arms violently apart and overhead. Two bursts of ki shot harmlessly out of Shen’s hands into the sky overhead as Kakarot squeezed and the bones in Shen’s wrists crunched.

“You know the best part of spending two weeks training solely to master a technique?” Kakarot asked as he grabbed Shen’s left arm in both hands. “You learn its WEAKNESSES!” he pivoted and wrenched Shen’s arm over his shoulder, snapping it at the elbow before kicking the old master away. The boy watched as his father struggled to his feet and pointed his less-injured arm at Kakarot.

“Dodonpa!” The beam flew straight through Kakarot’s face and Shen’s terror only grew as he realized Kakarot had mastered the afterimage technique after only seeing it once. He felt a fist dig into his back and let out a sputtering cry of pain as his body spasmed. Two hands grabbed his hair and yanked the back of his head down into a knee with an ungodly “CRACK!” and Shen fell to the ground. Kakarot was on top of Shen in a flash with his hands around his father’s throat and he squeezed. His face was a contorted mask of feral fury, his eyes murderous and his lips curled to expose his pronounced canines. Shen kicked and scrabbled desperately in the dirt as Kakarot’s fingers dug into his neck like iron and he realized that he was being choked to death. ‘I wanted to create the world’s greatest killer…’ Shen reminded himself as his vision swam and his struggling stopped. ‘And I succeeded.’ Then, without warning, Kakarot’s grip loosened and he dropped Shen from his grip, letting the old man cough and sputter, taking in gulps of air as his vision cleared slowly.

“I knew it,” Kakarot muttered in disgust as he climbed off of his father. “You’re weak, and I’ve outgrown you.” Kakarot was bruised, bloodied, and practically naked, but he stood tall as the undisputed victor. He had let his father live not out of compassion, nor out of mercy, but to prove a point. He knew he was superior and now, for the rest of his life, his “father” would know it, too. He looked at Launch and Chaozu for a moment before looking back down at Shen, lying broken and bloodied on the ground. “There’s nothing left here for me,” was all he said before flying off.

Slowly, agonizingly, Shen crawled to his feet. “Thank you so much for your help,” Shen muttered at his sister in a voice that was not dripping but rather stewing in sarcasm. Tao Pai Pai raised an eyebrow curiously.

“Whatever made you think I was going to?” she asked before turning and leaving abruptly. Shen looked back at his students, who were all looking around awkwardly as if unwilling to make eye contact.

“What are you all standing around for?!” he demanded viciously to silence. He hobbled toward Chaozu and Launch who stood paralyzed in a strange mixture of fear and determination. “Do you two consider yourselves friends of Kakarot’s?” He asked them icily.

“Yeah,” Launch told him defiantly despite the tremor in her voice. “So what?”

“Good,” Shen muttered as he picked up Kakarot’s severed tail off of the ground. “Because you’re going to kill him some day. I’ll make sure of it.”

Chapter Text

Three Baldies and a Princess

 

Son Tenshinhan had gotten a few miles away from Pilaf’s castle before he realized that he had no idea how to get to Muten Roshi’s island again, or even where it was from his current location. He even wondered for a moment if he should go back home to Grandpa and tell him what he was planning. But, he also had no idea where he was in relation to he and Grandpa’s house, so that would just take even more time to try and figure out. That was time he couldn’t afford to waste if he was going to enter the Tenkatchy…

The Tincatchy…

The big tournament next year! Tenshinhan was just going to have to find Muten Roshi's house and then send his Grandpa a letter. He just hoped that would be okay. After flying aimlessly for a few minutes, Tenshinhan realized that it would be far easier just to focus on Muten's ki. He sat on the Nimbus for a moment, hovering in the air as he closed his eyes and meditated thoughtfully. There was only one ki that he could sense anywhere nearby that was large enough to belong to Muten Roshi. He wondered, as he turned the cloud and flew off toward the source of the ki, if that meant that Roshi was the strongest man on Earth or if, perhaps, Ten would discover more of them as he grew stronger and his ability to sense ki grew greater.

Soon enough, Tenshinhan was floating above the island that Kame House was located on and he floated Nimbus down to the ground before hopping down onto the sand. He walked to the screen door and knocked politely, waiting on the porch for Muten Roshi to answer.

"How in the hell do you salesman keep comin' here?!" Roshi's agitated voice came from inside the house. "I live in the middle of the goddamn ocean!" There was the clacking of his staff upon the wooden floor inside before Roshi came to the door, a smile coming onto his old face and poking out from beneath his beard as he looked up at Tenshinhan. "Ah, Son Tenshinhan! Done with your little Dragon Ball adventure, I take it?"

Ten nodded eagerly as he stepped down from the porch of the Kame house. "Yes, Muten Roshi, I am. I'm ready for my–" before Ten even had a chance to blink, he felt the sting and heard the crack of Roshi's staff whapping him on top of the head. "Ow!" he cried as he reached up to touch the red mark on his bald head.

"That's your first lesson," Master Roshi told him sternly. "As of this moment and until such a time as I consider your training complete, the word 'Muten' will not pass your lips again. From this moment forward, I am Master Roshi. Is that clear?" Tenshinhan nodded, still touching the spot on his head with a wince. "Good," Roshi said with a nod. "Now, before we can proceed with your official teaching, I need you to do something for me. I need you to go get a girl wh–"

"I know!" Ten said eagerly, catching Master Roshi by surprise. "You want me to have someone to train with, who'll make me work hard to be better, like how you taught Grandpa and Gyuu Maou!" Tenshinhan wondered why his Grandpa had never mentioned the Ox King by name when talking about his time as a pupil of Master Roshi, but he guessed that Grandpa Gohan hadn't approved of where Gyuu had ended up in life, either. Roshi could practically see the light bulb going off over Tenshinhan's head and he gasped excitedly. "I know just who to bring! Nimbuuuus!" The cloud flew back down and Ten had hopped onto it before Master Roshi had a chance to react.

"No, no, nonono, wait!" Roshi exclaimed frantically as he waved his arms. "That's not what I–!" Tenshinhan was already gone. "Ahhh, nuts," he muttered as he kicked the sand. "Gyuu Maou's gonna blow his top." Turtle chose that moment to come out of the water and waddle his way back up onto the shore.

"What'd I miss?"

OoOoOoO

"So… Master Roshi wants Chi-Chi to learn martial arts?" Gyuu Maou asked as he stroked his beard curiously with one hand, the other hand supporting the enormous load of lumber he carried on his shoulder. As a way to prove he'd changed his ways, he was rebuilding his destroyed home by hand when before he might have forced the people to repair it for him.

"Yes," Tenshinhan assured him with an eager nod as he looked up at his Grandfather's old schoolmate. "I mean, he didn't say Chi-Chi's name," he confessed, "He just told me to get a girl… but what else could he have meant?" Gyuu lifted up his sunglasses to look at Tenshinhan with his bare eyes and squinted at him suspiciously, trying to see if he was being deceitful or not.

Oh. No. The boy really was just that naive. "Weeeeelllll," Gyuu stretched out the world thoughtfully while he rubbed the back of his neck. On the one hand, it was his master. On the other hand, this was his daughter. He hoped Roshi would hold himself to a different standard in that case… "Chi-Chi's not really interested in the martial ar–"

"Yes, I am!" Chi-Chi declared excitedly, appearing as if from nowhere and clinging excitedly to Tenshinhan's forearm, startling both him and her father. As opposed to the "armor" Chi-Chi had been wearing when she and Ten had first met, she was now dressed more sensibly in a blue sleeveless tailcoat with red trim over red pants and white boots, complimented with a red belt and red wristbands. Ten had sort of forgotten about the whole "Marry my daughter" business. Clearly, Chi-Chi had not. "I'm very interested in learning about martial arts and training alongside Tenshinhan! Plus," she added hopefully, "My learning from Master Roshi could be a way to redeem you in his eyes after what he said about how you abused his teachings and dishonored yourself." She knew that her father was still troubled by the dressing-down he'd received from his master. Maybe it was a little below-the-belt but she really wanted this!

"Weeeeelllll…." Gyuu said again, clearly hesitant. Chi-Chi clasped her hands in front of her and held them pleadingly up to her father as she gave him her best doe-eyed look. He groaned and ran his hand over his face before throwing it up in defeat. "Alright!" he allowed, "Alright!"

Chi-Chi squealed with delight and threw herself at her father, wrapping her short arms as best as she could around his thick neck. "Thank you, daddy!" she cried eagerly. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She let go and landed back on her feet to look at Tenshinhan, sighing dreamily up at him.

Ten didn't really know how to deal with that.

"U-uh… N-Nimbus!" he called awkwardly, hopping up onto the cloud when it descended. He held out a hand to help Chi-Chi up and she took it eagerly, wrapping her arms around Ten from behind and squeezing him tightly. "You really don't have to hold that tight…" he muttered in a slightly flustered tone as the yellow cloud flew off. The Ox King sighed and shook his head. If nothing else, spending more time around Chi-Chi might convince Ten to marry her.

OoOoOoO

When Tenshinhan returned to Kame Island with Chi-Chi, the pair were surprised to see another child standing with Master Roshi. He was bald like Tenshinhan, however, his bald head was shiny, plus he had six incense burns on his forehead and he wore a yellow gi shirt and orange gi pants with his shoes.

"Master Roshi," Ten asked as he hopped off of Nimbus and helped Chi-Chi down, "Who's this?" he pointed at the stranger.

"This is Krillin," Master Roshi explained. "He'll be training alongside you two." Krillin scoffed at that.

"Who ever heard of a girl learning martial arts?" he asked indignantly. Chi-Chi glared at him and looked like she was about to pop him in the mouth. "Besides," he went on, "How can she be a martial artist! She doesn't even have the discipline to shave her head!" Chi-Chi grabbed her hair fearfully and Tenshinhan blinked in confusion.

"...Shave her what?" he asked curiously.

"All great martial artists shave their heads!" Krillin declared while pointing to his own chrome dome. "It's a symbol of your commitment to the pure ideals and focus of combat! Look at Master Roshi!" He pointed up at the old bald master for emphasis. "Isn't that why you shaved your head?" he asked, pointing at Ten's baldness.

"Nnnnooooo," Tenshinhan said slowly, "I was just born this way. My Grandpa, Son Gohan, just lost his hair because he was old. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to Master Roshi, too." Roshi considered giving him another good smack with his staff for that but had to admit that he had a point. "Hair doesn't mean you're good at martial arts. That's just crazy talk. There's all kinds of martial artists and they all look different!" Krillin muttered under his breath and kicked at the sand, grumbling and mumbling at having been thoroughly dressed down while Chi-Chi beamed at Ten for once again coming to her rescue.

"Alright, alright, that's enough," Master Roshi told them as he tapped his staff into the sand. Krillin moved quickly to stand on the other side of Ten, not wanting to be too close to Chi-Chi. "Now, before we begin with your training proper, I need to know just what I'll be working with. Now, Tenshinhan, I know that your Grandpa's taught you plenty about fighting already. You must even be able to sense and manipulate ki for you to find your way here. So you're a little ahead of the curve." Ten couldn't help but stand a little straighter at that, feeling proud of himself. "What about you two?" he asked.

"My father's taught me a little bit about fighting," Chi-Chi explained somewhat bashfully, "But not very much. Most of my protection usually comes from my armor and the focusing crystal in my helmet that harnesses my ki."

"I trained for eight years at the Orin Temple!" Krillin declared proudly and puffed out his chest. Ten looked down at him in astonishment.

"You started training in when you were two?" he asked, genuinely impressed. Krillin's face reddened at the perceived insult.

"I'm twelve, you jerk!" he raged indignantly. Chi-Chi giggled at that and he glared at her so she stuck out her tongue in response.

"Pipe down!" Roshi told them with a snap of his fingers, the kiai-charged sound like a giant gong being rung. "This might be where I live but it's not nearly enough space to train all three of you." He tapped the side of his house and it returned to its capsule form with a "Poof!" That was a bit of a surprise to Ten. He figured that the only buildings that came in capsules were those big round ones like Bulma carried around. "There's a bigger island where I'll be training you all," Roshi explained as he fished another capsule out of the pockets of his board shorts, "The same one where I trained Gyuu Maou and Son Gohan."

"You trained the Ox King?" Krillin asked with a laugh as they watched Master Roshi toss a capsule out toward the water and it "Poofed" to reveal a hoverboat. They all climbed inside as Roshi took the controls and started it up. "How did a brute like that ever manage to study martial arts?" he wondered, laughing again before Chi-Chi grabbed him by the back of the head and shoved his head under the water as Master Roshi drove them across the ocean.

"That's my daddy, you jerk!" Chi-Chi yelled as Krillin kicked and flailed before Tenshinhan grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and pulled her away from Krillin, grabbing his ankle with his other hand to pull him out of the water.

"Alright, you're both being crazy!" he told them sternly. "We're all here to be students of the Turtle School! We're all on the same team! We should all be trying to help each other! So just quit fighting, okay?" The two shorter students huffed and looked away from each other before Ten sat them back down, which he guessed would have to do for an agreement.

OoOoOoO

Once they reached the larger island, Master Roshi wanted the three of them to run a 100-meter sprint, to test the "solidity of their legs." Whatever that meant. Chi-Chi made the run in 13.5 seconds and Krillin did it in 10.4, while Tenshinhan made the run in 8.0, to the other two's amazement. Then, Master Roshi took off his turtle shell and ran the 100 meters in 5.6 seconds. Despite their astonishment, Master Roshi insisted that they should be able to reach that with enough training and that the purpose of the Turtle School training was to break down the barriers of what they thought they were capable of.

"On that note," Roshi told them, "Chi-Chi, you won't be able train as much as Krillin and Tenshinhan, since someone needs to look after the Kame House and make food." While Chi-Chi didn't seem to mind this, Ten certainly did.

"Master Roshi, that isn't fair!" he protested.

"Yeah," Krillin agreed, "Why does she get to take it easy?" Tenshinhan smacked him in the back of the head. "Ow!"

"I meant it isn't fair to her," he told Krillin sharply before turning his attention back to Master Roshi. "Why does Chi-Chi have to do that sort of stuff? I should be the one to do it," he offered. "Grandpa Gohan taught me how to cook a few things and you said I'm already ahead of them so it won't be too big of a deal if I don't get as much training as them." While Ten had been really looking forward to training with Master Roshi, he couldn't just let Chi-Chi do all the work by herself.

"Really, Tenshinhan, I don't mind," Chi-Chi assured him, even though she was thrilled that he was standing up for her yet again. "I wouldn't want to get in the way of your training and we all have to eat, right?"

"Well, you shouldn't have to make food all the time," Tenshinhan offered, "I can help." His insistence made Chi-Chi blush and break out into giggles.

"That would be wonderful," Chi-Chi she sighed dreamily, cupping her face with both hands as she looked up at him, making Ten blush and tug at the collar of his gi uncomfortably.

Roshi cleared his throat again, making them all jump. "If I can continue?" They nodded and stood at attention again while Roshi picked up a rock off the ground and started writing a kanji on it with a magic marker. "We'll start your proper training tomorrow," he explained as he showed them the kanji, "But for right now…" then he reached his arm back and chucked the rock into the forest. "Whoever gets that rock gets to eat. However ya get it, I don't care, but if no one gets it back before sundown then nobody–" Tenshinhan was already gone. "...Eats?"

Tenshinhan returned a split-second later with the rock in his hand, Krillin and Chi-Chi staring at him in disbelief tinged with despair before he crushed it into powder in his fist. "I'm sorry, Master Roshi," Ten said apologetically, "But that doesn't make any sense. Whoever doesn't eat would just have a harder time training tomorrow and they'd be mad at whoever won for making sure they didn't eat! Plus we'd probably all be fighting over the rock or cheating or whatever to try and get it back to you first, which would just make everyone madder! Can't we just help each other get better?" Master Roshi looked quietly at him for several moments and Ten sighed, dropping his head. "Look, if someone's gotta not eat, let it be me, okay?"

"No," Roshi told him with a shake of his head, "No, that won't do. No one has to go hungry tonight. Though I have to say, I didn't think I'd face such disagreement over my teachings from my best student's grandson."

Ten bowed his head with his face slightly red from embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Master," he muttered, "But it's just wrong, ya know?" Roshi supposed that it Ten's disagreement with his teachings was a good thing. He wasn't being rebellious or disruptive. The boy just saw something he couldn't agree with because he wanted to help people. It wouldn't be right to punish him for that.

OoOoOoO

Their training over the course of the next year was far more arduous than anything they had been previously prepared for. Obviously, Chi-Chi struggled the most, but even Tenshinhan's training with Gohan and the stories he'd told him hadn't prepared him for the labors of Master Roshi's training. Yet, as Roshi expected, Ten never complained and he never objected, he simply put his nose to the grindstone. Every morning, they would deliver milk to all 300 inhabitants of the island, climbing mountains and being chased by giant dinosaurs. Then, they would have to plow a field with their bare hands. In the afternoon, they'd be chased by a giant shark when they swam laps across a lake or be tied to a tree and have to dodge angry bees who'd had their hives attacked by Master Roshi.

They all struggled to see what any of this had to do with martial arts.

As if the training couldn't get any more difficult, on the second day of their training, Master Roshi made them wear 20-pound turtle shells and forbid them from taking them off, even when they slept! When they got used to thatthe 20-pound shells were replaced with 40-pound shells. After a long enough time, Master Roshi did start teaching them about how to fight and began showing Krillin the basics of ki sensing and control, which all came from meditation. As he'd already spent eight years with the Orin monks, this was something Krillin was already familiar with, while Chi-Chi still struggled. By now, though, she wasn't here just to get to know Tenshinhan better and to be around him, but to actually try and better herself and become a real martial artist. Some of that, of course, had to do with Krillin egging her on and driving her to prove something to him.

Not that she stopped being interested in Ten, of course. Not even close.

It wasn't all bad training with Master Roshi, though. While he could be strict with his training, he was never overbearing or cruel and would always encourage them not to give up when they were struggling. On top of that, once the initial animosity between them had passed, Krillin soon enough began to get along with Tenshinhan and looked up to him as something of a big brother. Ten wondered if it had anything to do with their both being bald, since Krillin still seemed a little fixated on that. During that time, Tenshinhan and Chi-Chi also grew closer as he helped her when she struggled with Master Roshi's lessons or when they sparred and she showed him techniques of her own whenever he helped her in the kitchen. Ten was very impressed with how talented fo a chef she was, which always made her all aflutter. He still didn't think he was interested in Chi-Chi in… that way and he certainly wasn't in a rush to marry her, but he was, at least, more comfortable with her company and not desperate to change the subject every time she made direct eye contact with him or complimented him.

In a strange way, the trio bonded over their shared sense of loneliness as well. "I never really liked staying at the Orin temple," Krillin confessed one day while they were all laying in hammocks and Master Roshi was snoring away in the depths of a nap. "They were all jerks to me because I'm small and because I look like I don't have a nose. I was glad to get away. Even if they were the only kind of family I ever had."

"I know how you feel," Chi-Chi said softly, which made Krillin look at her incredulously. "No, really, I do! My mom died when I was very small," she explained, making Krillin look down awkwardly, embarrassed for the anger in his eyes. "My dad didn't take it very well. He became isolated and obsessed with protecting the things he cared about. He loves me and has always been kind to me, but I felt trapped in our castle ever since. The giant fire wall around our home didn't help, obviously. It's actually nice to be out here. This is the longest time I've ever been away from my father and sort of on my own. I feel like I can breathe and look after myself."

"I don't really have the same problem as you guys," Ten admitted as he stared up at the clouds. "I've always had Grandpa Gohan to look after me. But… I still kinda feel lonely sometimes. I would've liked to know my birth parents. I wish I could meet somebody else with three eyes, ya know?"

As one year ended and another year began, Ten knew that they were getting closer and closer to the Tenkaichi Budoukai. He hadn't heard Master Roshi ever mention it so he was wondering if he might have to ask his master for permission to enter the tournament. He sure hoped he'd say yes!

OoOoOoO

Yamcha pushed himself up off of the floor of the Gravity Chamber with a groan with sweat rolling off of him in sheets, three times the pressure of Earth's gravity pushing down on him. He knew that this wasn't actually what the gravity chamber had been made for (something about how it was for the Royal Space Association's ships and suits and how they handled higher and lower gravity) and that Dr. Briefs didn't really like it when Bulma kept letting him use it for his training, but it was the best way to maximize his strength growth in a year and a half. He'd never had a workout this intense! It had only been six months so far and he knew he'd catch up to Tenshinhan in no time. Nah, forget catching up, he'd go past him!

The gravity returned to normal as the door opened up, making Yamcha nearly fling himself across the room as Bulma stepped inside, holding a water bottle in one hand and a small towel in the other. She laughed a little when she saw Yamcha nearly crash into the wall and tossed the water to him underhanded with a grin. "So, how's the training coming?" she asked, waiting for him to finish sucking down water before handing him the towel to wipe his sweaty face.

"Well, I'm still not really able to sense ki all that great," he admitted with a shrug, "But I'm pushing myself as hard as I can and I'm definitely feeling stronger."

"Ya know, I could help you with that," Bulma offered, "The whole 'ki' thing." Yamcha gave her a skeptical look. "I'm serious," she insisted. "I've been meditating a lot recently when I'm working on a lot of projects and I start to get overwhelmed. It helps me clear my mind and refocus and stuff. The more I do that, the more I've been able to sense ki and even manipulate it a little, like when we were meditating with Ten and stuff." She held up her palm and a small ki ball floated out of it. "See?" she told him with a proud grin. Yamcha rolled his eyes with a defeated sigh and she waved the ki ball away, patting him gently on the arm. "Hey, you'll get the hang of it. Like I said, lemme help you. I've got the ki stuff and you can show me some martial arts moves."

Yamcha grinned a little more at that, nodding at the idea. "Okay," he agreed, "I think we can work with that." He took another sip of water and hung the towel around his neck. "What's Puar up to?" he asked.

"He makes a pretty good assistant," Bulma told him, her tone clearly impressed, "I've got him keeping an eye on my perpetual motion prototype. If I can get a working model together, I think that'll impress the hell out of the board of directors at the next meeting and I can get myself a permanent seat at the table. I mean, yeah, Capsule tech is amazing and all, but if I can beat the energy crisis, I'll make President in no time!" She grinned to herself but frowned when she noticed the slight smile on Yamcha's lips. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he assured her with a shake of his head. "Nothing, really, I've just… been thinking." Yamcha felt Bulma keep staring at him and sighed. "This… isn't working, is it?" he asked, gesturing back and forth between them. Bulma let out a relieved laugh.

"Oh, good, so it's not just me," she said with a shake of her head. "No," she agreed, "It's just… not."

"I don't feel… attracted to you, like I should be," Yamcha admitted. "I mean, I dunno what it is, I don't think it's anything you're doing, because you're awesome, Bulma. You're smart and pretty and all and–"

"Hey, hey, hey, you don't have to butter me up to set me down gentle," Bulma teased him. "I'm fine with calling this thing quits." He nodded and sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Guess I better go get Puar," he muttered, "We'll find somewhere else to stay–" he started to go before Bulma grabbed his wrist and pulled him back.

"Hey, whoa, hold on. What, did you think I was just gonna kick you out because we aren't gonna make out anymore?" Yamcha gave a bashful shrug. "Jeez, I'm not a jerk!" Bulma exclaimed, giving Yamcha a playful shrug. "You're still my friend!"

That made Yamcha smile. "Okay," he said, "I can work with that. I can work with friends." Bulma smirked and patted him on the cheek.

"How about I go change into some workout-appropriate clothes, you take a break from the heavy lifting, and we meditate for a while on this whole ki thing?" she suggested. Yamcha grinned and gave her a thumbs-up.

OoOoOoO

Flies swarmed around Bacterian's several-months-dead body. His plans to enter the 22nd Tenkaichi Budoukai would never come to fruition. As it turned out, while bathing rarely might have been an unorthodox yet effective battle strategy, never bathing was a strategy for nothing but death.

OoOoOoO

It had been almost a year and a half since Son Tenshinhan, Krillin, and Chi-Chi had begun their training under Master Roshi. As well as vastly increasing their abilities, the time had also turned the trio into fast friends. On one of their rare days off, they were all sitting in front of the TV and watching the news, which was yet again covering another attack by the recently-appeared terrorist cell called the Red Ribbon Army.

"It's just awful," Chi-Chi said softly, no longer even noticing the enormous turtle shell on her back. "What would make people do that sort of thing?" No one had been able to figure out the Red Ribbon Army's goal yet, outside of the vague concept of "world domination."

"Someone needs to stop them," Tenshinhan muttered darkly as he sat beside Chi-Chi on the couch, his hands balling into fists and the fingers of his left hand digging into the armrest on his side.

"Someone is stopping them," Krillin reminded them from where he sat on the floor. "The Royal Army, remember? I know you guys wanna help, but even with as strong as we've probably gotten with our training, we're still only three people." Chi-Chi scoffed at that and it looked like the two might argue again before Master Roshi walked in through the screen door.

"Good news, everyone!" the old master told the trio with a smile. "I've decided to enter all three of you in the Tenkaichi Budoukai!" Tenshinhan and Krillin gasped in excitement and Chi-Chi cocked her head to one side in confusion.

"The Tenwhat?" she asked, bewildered. Krillin couldn't help but roll his eyes a little. Of course she didn't know.

"The Tenkaichi Budoukai," Tenshinhan repeated. "I know about that! It's the big tournament on Papaya Island where all the strongest fighters from around the world gather to see which one of them is the best!"

Roshi nodded along, still smiling under his thick white mustache. "That's right," he told them. "Its official title is the Strongest Under the Heavens Tournament. I don't want you all to focus on winning," he told them, "I only want you to do your best."

"Come on!" Tenshinhan said eagerly as he jumped up from the couch, "Come on, come on! Let's go! What are we waiting for?" Krillin and Chi-Chi hopped to their feet as well, his energy infectious. Roshi couldn't help but laugh as he shook his head.

"Settle down, settle down. The tournament's not until tomorrow. Tonight, I want you all to pack and get a good night's rest, because we'll be getting up at first light. One of the people you deliver milk to has a plane that'll take us to the nearest airport and we'll be taking that out to Papaya Island. But before that, come on outside." Roshi turned and walked back out of the Kame House and the trio, somewhat confused, followed out after him. "Take off those turtle shells," he instructed, and they did so, the heavy purple shells falling into the ground with heavy "THUNKS." "Now… jump!"

The trio crouched down and felt the energy build up in their legs, their whole bodies already feeling much lighter. Then they pushed off… and were suddenly launched two stories into the air, staring at one another in amazement. They all broke out into broad, excited grins and raced one another around the island, their legs a blur as they all laughed their heads off. While they all enjoyed themselves and discovered the fruits of their training, Roshi slipped back into the Kame House and checked to make sure that he had already packed the wig and costume glue at the bottom of his suitcase.

The next morning couldn't come soon enough, though the Turtle Trio were already so excited that they could barely sleep. Chi-Chi had surprised herself with how excited she was at the prospect, given that a year ago she hadn't been that concerned at all with martial arts and had really only tagged along to be closer to Tenshinhan. Now, though, she'd been working really hard to better herself and had spent so much time sparring and working with Ten and Krillin that she wanted to see how she matched up against the best fighters in the world. Being a martial artist was exciting!

When morning finally came, Tenshinhan, Krillin, and Chi-Chi practically burst out of bed in their excitement to get the day started. Before they could go anywhere, though, Master Roshi made sure they all ate a healthy breakfast and cleaned up before they got dressed. Since they were representing the Turtle School, Master Roshi wanted to make sure that they all looked their best and had gotten them all fancy clothes from the tailor they delivered milk to– which explained why the chipmunk woman had gotten their measurements that one day. Ten and Krillin had suits and ties like Master Roshi, complete with trilby hats, while Chi-Chi wore a sparkly blue dress with frills at the shoulders and along the bottom that she was absolutely thrilled with.

Tenshinhan wasn't crazy about the tie.

OoOoOoO

The number of martial artists on Papaya Island was amazing! It made Tenshinhan's head spin to be surrounded by so many different kinds of fighters. His third eye raced and took in every detail, from how they dressed, to whether or not they wrapped their hands or had footwear, their body types, natural posture, anything that could give him an idea as to how they fought. He could sense all of their kis around him, the warmth and light of all that energy washing over him and making his whole body tingle pleasantly. He'd never been around so many people at once. It was so exciting!

For Chi-Chi, it was all a bit much to take in. Having been isolated for much of her early years, seeing so many people all at once was a bit overwhelming. It made her head swim until, in a surprising gesture, Krillin put a calming hand on her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile.

"Hey," he told her, "It's okay. Just a bunch of people whose butts we're gonna kick, right?" The fact that it was "we" and not "I" made Chi-Chi smile a little in surprise. Even though they'd become friends, Krillin usually wasn't as complimentary of her skill as a fighter as Ten was. When he was, it was usually begrudging, even if he meant it in a friendly manner. So this was… quite the surprise.

After they were all signed in, Master Roshi gave them their orange Turtle School gis to change into and left them to their own devices to stretch and warm up. Ten could barely believe it: his own Turtle School gi! Just like the one Grandpa had worn in those old photos he'd shown him. He wished that his Grandpa were here to see this. It had all happened so fast that Ten hadn't even had the chance to write Gohan and let him know he was entering the Budoukai…

"Tenshinhan!" that familiar voice called almost as soon as the thought had entered Ten's head. For a moment, he thought he was imagining things but then he sensed the ki that voice belonged to and all three of his eyes widened as he grinned from ear to ear, looking through the sea of people to find…

"Grandpa!" he exclaimed happily, leaving Chi-Chi and Krillin behind as he pushed his way through the throngs of people. He was greeted by the smiling face of his grandfather– who he hadn't seen in months, though he'd written to him a few times– and lifted him up with a laugh, hugging Gohan to his chest. "Grandpa, I can't believe you're here! How did you even know I was entering?"

Grandpa Gohan laughed as Tenshinhan held him up, beaming down at his grandson. "Oh, you didn't have to. Master Roshi wrote me about a month ago to let me know he was going to enter you and your friends. I'm so proud of you, Tenshinhan," he told his adopted charge affectionately. "Seeing you here standing in a Turtle School uniform, knowing how far you've come..." Then Chi-Chi and Krillin pushed their way through the crowd to join them and Gohan patted Ten gently on the arm, telling him to set him down. "Ah," he said warmly once he was on the ground, gesturing to the two younger students with a smile. "So these must be Tenshinhan's new friends that I've heard so much about. Krillin and Chi-Chi, is it?"

Krillin bowed respectfully to Gohan while Krillin gave a little curtsy. "It's an honor to meet a legendary fighter like yourself, sir," Krillin said formally in a way that left Ten stunned. He didn't know that Krillin even knew how to be respectful.

"I'm honored to meet you as well, sir," Chi-Chi added as she stood up from her curtsy. "I'm sure daddy would be thrilled to know you were here to see me fight and cheer me on for him."

"Well then, what did I come here for?" asked the Ox King in a booming voice, somehow able to sneak up on them despite his colossal bulk. Unlike the previous two times Ten had seen him, Gyuu Maou had traded in his armor and goggles for slacks, a button-up shirt, suspenders, glasses, and what could only be called an "informal" ox-horn cap. Chi-Chi gasped and squealed joyously, leaping up into her father's arms and putting her own arms around his neck in a hug as best as she could. Gohan laughed and patted Ox King on the side, getting his old classmate's attention.

"It's good to see you again, Gyuu," he told his old friend fondly. "I see that Master Roshi finally managed to talk some sense into you, eh?" Gyuu Maou gave an embarrassed chuckle and shrugged. "Speaking of which," Gohan added, "Where is our old master?"

"Oh, so I'm old?" Roshi asked with goodnatured irritability and a joking smile. "Have ya looked in the mirror recently, Gohan? You could pass for my brother!" He laughed and pulled his pupil in for a hug, patting him enthusiastically on the back. "It's good to see you," he said before looking up at Gyuu Maou as the other set down Chi-Chi so he could bow to his master. "Both of you."

"You as well, Master," both students said simultaneously as they bowed to Roshi, who bowed in response.

"Hey, Ten!" a girl's voice called and Krillin rolled his eyes. What, was he the only one here who didn't have some kind of cheering squad? Tenshinhan turned his head and saw a blue-haired girl waving at him, breaking out into a huge grin as he recognized her.

"Excuse me, Grandpa," he said politely before rushing over to Bulma, jumping over the crowd to close the distance. "Bulma!" he greeted cheerfully. "How've you been? What're you doing here?" he asked. "Did you decide to enter?" he wondered, an eyebrow raised in disbelief. He doubted that she was, given that she was dressed in a red tank top over a white short-sleeved shirt, orange shorts, sneakers, and had a bow in her ponytail. Not exactly proper martial arts attire. But, hey, who knew? Maybe that was just what she was comfortable with.

Bulma laughed, though, and shook her head. "What, me?" she asked. "No way. I mean, I could probably take a few of these guys," she guessed, looking around. Ten thought that she might actually be right. He could sense that her ki had grown in the year and a half since he'd seen her last. "Nah, I'm just here to offer moral support." Before he could ask who for, an arm put itself across the back of Tenshinhan's neck.

"Hey there, triclops!" Yamcha shouted with an eager grin. "Ya miss me, buddy?" He laughed and patted Tenshinhan on the chest, taking his arm off so that Ten could get a better look at him. He was still wearing the same mishmash of colors for a gi that Ten had last seen him in but now he'd cut his hair much shorter.

"Hey, Yamcha," Ten greeted with a smile of his own, clasping the former bandit's hand and shaking it. "Nice to see you! You've definitely gotten a lot stronger, I can sense it!" He gave Yamcha's hand a squeeze and grinned. "We never did finish our fight," he pointed out. Yamcha smirked and squeezed his hand right back.

"Well let's hope the brackets let us fix that, huh?" he asked, one eyebrow raised cockily.

"Hey!" Puar called as he floated in through the window, hovering just over everyone's heads. "What about me? Don't I get a hello?" Ten smiled fondly and reached a hand up to scratch the floating blue cat behind the ears, eliciting a purr from the shapeshifter.

"Hey, Ten!" The triclops heard Krillin shout as the spectators started to file out. "Get your butt over here! The elimination round's about to start!" Bulma chuckled, grabbing Puar by the tail like a balloon.

"Guess that's my cue to leave, huh?" she guessed with a smile and a shrug. "Good luck, you guys! Sorry I didn't get a chance to meet your new friends, Ten!" As she and Puar left, she couldn't help but notice that other people were apparently using the same nickname that she had originally given to him. She guessed he didn't have such a problem with it after all.

"Now," Master Roshi was saying when Tenshinhan rejoined his friends, "Remember: you aren't here to win, so don't get all down in the dumps if you don't get far. The only reason you three are here is to test your abilities and your growth as martial artists. That's all you need to worry about. Don't look for me in the crowd," he added, "Just know that I'm watching and focus on your matches. Understand?" The trio nodded and he smiled at them. "Now go show 'em what the Turtle School is made of!"

"Yes, Master Roshi!" they said in unison before going off in their own directions. He watched the three move to their starting rings for a moment before ducking off quickly into a corner to change himself. He needed to move quick so that the glue would have time to settle!

OoOoOoO

There were foes who were larger than Namu. Enemies who came from wealthier cities or who had more privileged lives and could afford "better" instructors in the way of combat. It did not matter. For they only fought for themselves. For glory, or to prove their skill, or to prove something to themselves. They did not fight with the strength of a village at their backs. They did not fight with the lives of hundreds weighing on their every movement.

They could not stand against him. He would not fail.

OoOoOoO

There were several advantages in life to being a giant dragon monster. Chief among them being that you are a giant dragon monster. While Giran had faced some degree of hostility and trepidation from others throughout his life for his appearance, it was in the world of fighting where he could best turn people's biases and fears against them. They were more likely to surrender when they thought you were gonna eat 'em, after all.

Idjits.

OoOoOoO

Chi-Chi swallowed nervously as she got into her guard and stared up at the serious-looking dark-haired man standing across the ring from her in his yellow-and-black tracksuit. She watched him hopping on the balls of his feet and felt more than a little intimidated. He was twice her age, more experienced… he had to be stronger than her, right?

She flinched when he threw his first strike, a thrust kick right to her face, though she had plenty of time to see it coming. If anything, it was his weird war cry that startled her. This was her first real fight! She couldn't get eliminated already! He threw out another few quick kicks that made Chi-Chi take a step back until she felt her heel on the edge of the ring. Oh, no!

"Come on, Chi-Chi!" she heard Krillin call. "Are you really gonna let this chump get you! What was the point of all your training, then? Kick his butt!" Somehow, Krillin's egging her on snapped Chi-Chi out of the spell of her own self-doubt and she caught her opponent's next kick, grabbing his foot in both hands and swinging him around and around before tossing him out of the ring, sending him sailing over the heads of the other tournament entrants. Chi-Chi gave a jubilant cheer and ran to Krillin, startling the former monk as she wrapped him up in a hug and actually hoisted him off of his feet. "H-hey! Lemme go!"

OoOoOoO

Ranfan really didn't know what she'd been so worried about. The King's Road Style she'd learned from Tsuruta-sensei was more than effective against most of the people she'd come across in this tournament so far. They didn't tend to put up too much of a fight after you dropped them on their head. But, for those who gave her a little trouble… well, it wasn't like she could get thrown out for a little wardrobe malfunction here and there, right? That wasn't her fault! Just like it wasn't her fault if her opponents got distracted.

OoOoOoO

"Hiyah-Si-Hiyah!" Yamcha cried as he delivered the two-handed finale of his Wolf Fang Fist attack, swiping his hands down in an 'X' motion and throwing his whole body into it, sending the opponent crashing against the ring tile and out cold. He threw back his head and howled triumphantly, puffing out his chest. Hell yeah! Top of the world! He was going all the way to the finals, baby! No one was getting in his way!

OoOoOoO

The mustachioed giant cowboy spat out his chew onto the floor of the ring, right in front of the old man's feet as he looked down at him contemptuously. "D'you know who I am, ol' man?" he asked gruffly, sneering at him and squinting one eye as the other nearly popped out of his head. "They call me the Lariat! Lemme show you why!" The cowboy charged across the ring, sticking one arm straight out and reaching back with it as far as he could to throw all his weight into it like he was trying to break the bearded old man's neck.

Jackie Chun pivoted to one side, sticking his foot out to trip the cowboy. He grabbed the top and bottom of his wrist with two fingertips of each hand and swung the cowboy's arm around, smashing him in the face with his own lariat and making him drop to the ground, out like a light.

OoOoOoO

Krillin swallowed nervously and felt his blood drain from his face when he realized who he'd be facing. He looked up at the two upperclassmen from the Orin Temple, the pair of them sneering at him with their hands on their hips.

"Well, well, well," observed the taller, thinner one. "If it isn't the little coward who abandoned the temple! Looks like he got himself some new friends." Krillin's face reddened with anger as the shorter, fatter one elbowed the taller one in the side and pointed at Chi-Chi.

"Not just friends, he got a little girlfriend!" they laughed as Krillin sputtered in shock.

"Krillin's not a coward, he's not my boyfriend, and he's gonna kick your butts!" Chi-Chi barked at them, catching the monks off-guard. Then they laughed to themselves again as the taller one got into the ring.

"In that case, you won't have to worry too much about me beating you," he taunted, "Since it's not like you can be any more disgraced than you already are, you little coward!" Krillin's face burned with indignation as he balled his fists. He wasn't a coward! He was a student of the Turtle School! Maybe they were right, though. They'd been training with the Orin Temple longer than him. They hadn't run away. They hadn't given up.

Ten lay a reassuring hand on Krillin's shoulder and squeezed it gently, giving him a smile. "Don't worry," he assured the shorter Turtle to break him out of his funk, "You can handle these guys. They're not even close to you anymore."

Krillin's mouth hung open slightly as he looked up at Tenshinhan. "You really think so?" he asked. Tenshinhan pointed to his third eye.

"My third eye never lies," he told him with a grin and a thumbs-up. Krillin nodded and gave the thumbs-up right back, climbing into the ring and looking up at his opponent with a look of steely determination.

The fat monk blinked and Krillin had gone from one side of the ring to the other. His skinny friend had also gone from standing in the ring to having his head shoved up into the ceiling with his feet dangling in the air.

"Ring out," the judge declared while Krillin smirked and stuck his tongue out at the fat monkey, "Krillin is the winner!" That was the most satisfying uppercut of his life.

OoOoOoO

"Alright, you hairless chump!" The mustache-having, pompadour-rocking, hair-covered fighter declared, pointing a finger at Tenshinhan dramatically. "Now you're gonna see what happens when you step into the ring with a real man!" he opened his shirt to expose more of his carpet of virility on his chest. "Because I am the man of the hour, the tower of power, too sweet to be sour, too hot to handle, too cold to hold–"

'Are you gonna attack me?" asked a bewildered Tenshinhan. "You heard the judge say to start, right?" The mustached martial artist snarled between gritted teeth and charged at Tenshinhan, leaping forward and tucking into a roll before springing back up and delivering a haymaker.

"Dynamic Mess 'Em Up Punch!" he declared with plenty of flourish and gravitas as his fist collided with Tenshinhan's jaw.

Nothing happened.

"...That's all ya got?" Tenshinhan asked in a deadpan. Then he grabbed the mustache man's fist– which for some reason he hadn't pulled back to return to his fighting stance– and yanked him into his upraised knee, knocking him out cold and causing him to collapse to the ground in a heap.

Tenshinhan sure hoped the fights weren't all gonna be like this unless he faced his friends. He wanted to face someone new! When was the action gonna start?!

Chapter Text

The Action Starts! The Finals Begin!

 

It took a couple of hours to whittle the combatants down from over a hundred to eight finalists: Son Tenshinhan, Yamcha, Krillin, and Chi-Chi of the Turtle School, the purple-haired grappler Ranfan, the dragon-beast Giran, the stony Namu, and the enigmatic Jackie Chun. After a few minutes’ rest, the finalists were brought together to draw their numbers.

“Son Tenshinhan,” a blond man in a dark suit and equally dark sunglasses announced as he stood by the box with the numbered balls inside. “Please step forward.” Tenshinhan walked up with a smile and held out his hand for the stranger to shake.

“Hi,” he greeted, “What’s your name?”

The other man looked at him awkwardly before taking his hand. “Uh… Ken…” he said slowly as they shook hands.

“It’s nice to meet you!” Ten replied genuinely as Krillin pressed his face into his palm.

“You too… Take a number, please?” Ken gestured to the box and Ten let go of his hand to reach into the box. He grabbed a ball and drew it out, holding it up with a grin.

“Four!” he declared enthusiastically. “My lucky number!”

“That’s nice,” Ken told him dryly, “Please hold onto your ball and step back into line, please.” As Ten did so, Ken wrote his name on the large whiteboard next to the Four bracket. “Jackie Chun,” Ken then announced, “Please come up and take your number.” Jackie stepped forward quietly and calmly and pushed up his sleeve to reach into the box, drawing his number out.

“Eight,” he told Ken before walking back into line. ‘Save the best for last, eh?’ He thought to himself with an amused chuckle.

“Giran!” Ken declared. The dragon-man stomped forward and the floor shook under his feet as he walked up to the box. He looked awkwardly from the small box to his giant hand and reached in carefully with two fingers, pulling out a ball with his claws.

“Three,” he announced as he flashed Tenshinhan a wicked, tooth-filled grin. Ten obliviously and innocently smiled back at him. After him, Yamcha drew number five, Ranfan number six, Chi-Chi number one, and Namu number two (making Chi-Chi a little nervous).

“Which means that Krillin is number seven,” Ken declared, “And will be facing Jackie Chun in the final first-round matchup.” Krillin eyed Jackie Chun and tried to puff himself up. One steely look from Jackie put an end to that, however.

‘Poor boy,’ Jackie thought to himself. ‘Talk about lousy luck of the draw. Ah, well. Hopefully, he’ll have better luck next time.’

“Alright,” Ken told them, “Everyone get in a single-file line in the order of the number that you drew and I’ll make the official announcements.” Giran tried to swipe Tenshinhan’s feet out from under him with his tail but Ten idly leaped over it without a word and gave him a smile. No harm done, right? It was probably an accident. Still, Giran looked shocked.

OoOoOoO

When the finalists and Ken stepped out into the arena, the fighters were shocked by the sheer mass of people cheering when they came out. Tenshinhan had never seen so many people in one place! It was crazy! Chi-Chi and Krillin were similarly overwhelmed. Namu didn’t let the spectators phase him. They didn’t matter. They were a distraction. He had a goal. He had a purpose.

Yamcha, for his part, grinned and puffed out his chest. ‘Oh yeah,’ he thought to himself as he waved to the crowd, ‘I could get used to this.’

“Let’s go, Yamcha!” Bulma and Puar cheered. “Come on, Ten!” They whistled and clapped eagerly for their friends as they sat in the front row with Gohan and Gyuu Maou, much to the disappointment of whoever got stuck sitting behind the Ox King.

“Come on, grandson!” Gohan added to the cheers, cupping his hands around his mouth. “Show ‘em what you got!”

“That’s my girl!” Gyuu Maou cheered enthusiastically, waving his arms to get Chi-Chi’s attention. “Hey, sweetie! Daddy believes in you!” Chi-Chi buried her blushing face in her hands and tried to hide, somewhere between grateful for her father’s attention and embarrassed by his overzealous appreciation.

Once again, Krillin reflected on the fact that he didn’t have anyone to cheer for him and huffed a little. He’d show them who they should have been cheering for when he won the whole thing.

“Lllladies aaaand gentlemen!” Ken greeted the screaming masses enthusiastically, “Welcome to the 21st Tenkaichi Budoukai!” The crowd roared in response, wild and eager to see some action. “It will be,” he shouted as he gestured wildly with plenty of exuberance, “Son Tenshinhan,” he waved enthusiastically to the cheering crowd, “versus Giran!” The dragon-man roared and spread his wings, though that didn’t seem to do anything to dissuade his smile. “Namu,” he barely moved his head in a nod, “versus Chi-Chi!” she waved to the crowd and blew her father a kiss, though she felt a little unnerved by just how steely her opponent was. “Ranfan,” Ranfan winked and blew the crowd a kiss, “Versus Yamcha!” He flexed and posed and grinned like an idiot as Bulma rolled her eyes with a grin. “And Krillin,” he grinned and waved but not nearly as energetically as Tenshinhan or Chi-Chi, “versus Jackie Chun!” he nodded silently with just barely more movement than Namu. For some reason, the sight of Jackie Chun made Gyuu and Gohan exchanged amused looks before they chuckled to themselves. Bulma and Puar gave the older pair a confused look, but there was no way they could tell them why this “Jackie Chun” character reminded them so much of a certain “Bruce Lao” that had been in the Budoukai they’d entered as boys.

Chi-Chi, Krillin, Yamcha, Bulma, and Ten couldn’t get a handle on Jackie Chun or his ki. It was almost as if he was hiding his power. ‘Still, I’ve been training hard,’ Krillin thought to himself with a confident smirk. ‘I can handle myself against this weird old man.’ If Jackie Chun were bothering to read Krillin’s thoughts, or for that matter wanted to drop the masquerade, he would have cuffed Krillin behind the ear.

“Now, before we start,” Ken said, “I’d like Son Tenshinhan, Chi-Chi, and Krillin to step forward, please.” The trio did so, although they each shared slightly confused glances as they did. “Now, I couldn’t help but notice that all three of you are wearing the same style of gi, not to mention that character on the front and back. I’m guessing you’re all trained by the same person.” The trio nodded in agreement. “Tell us, then, who is your teacher?”

“The Turtle Hermit, Muten Roshi!” they declared proudly in unison with large grins. This drew a collective gasp of surprise from the audience along with some murmurs of interest. Even Ken was stunned. However, of the other entrants, only Ranfan had much of a reaction.

“Th-the Invincible Old Master is your teacher?!” Ken exclaimed. “Absolutely incredible! There hasn’t been a Turtle School student in the Budoukai in decades! Who knew he was taking on new students?” Jackie Chun did his best to look impassive, but it was hard to hold in a cocky grin that his name was held in such reverence. “Who even knew he was still alive?!” Jackie Chun had to once again do his best to look impassive, but now that was due to the impulse to kick Ken right in the ass. Or his old students, from the way Gohan and Gyuu Maou were snickering. “So would you say the three of you have gotten close during your training?” Krillin was about to ask Ken what kind of question was that when Chi-Chi butted in, wrapping her arms around Tenshinhan’s forearm.

“Oh, yes!” she assured Ken with an eager smile. “Son Tenshinhan and I have grown quite close over the last year and a half.” Ten’s face reddened as several members of the audience “Awww”’d. Bulma rolled her eyes and Yamcha reached forward to poke Ten teasingly in the ribs, only heightening his embarrassment.

Seeing a need to jump in and preserve Tenshinhan’s dignity, Krillin spoke up. “Yeah,” he agreed, “Ten’s like a big brother to me!” This, again, drew a reaction from the crowd and Ten looked down at his friend in surprise. Krillin had never actually said that out loud, as evidenced by his slightly-red face and the way he looked away in embarrassment... But, hey, anything to spare Ten some embarrassment. Ten smiled warmly down at him and ran a hand over his smooth head appreciatively, making Krillin smile back at him.  

“I’d say we’ve all grown to be good friends during our time training with Master Roshi,” Ten added, finally able to put in his two cents. “That’s what I think is the best thing about Martial Arts, really!” he beamed as his statement drew polite applause from a slightly-impatient audience. Chi-Chi, meanwhile, huffed indignantly. That was not what she’d meant at all! And now Krillin had twisted the meaning around and taken the focus off of her and Ten!

“Well then,” Ken said with a laugh to try and get control of the situation again as he read the room, “Let’s hope that whatever else happens, this tournament won’t impact your friendships! Now then,” he continued, “All other contestants come with me!” he declared as he started marching out of the ring. “Namu vs. Chi-Chi is about to begin!” Tenshinhan and Krillin gave Chi-Chi an encouraging thumbs up as they followed the others out of the ring, leaving her alone with her stone-faced adversary. She swallowed and felt a shiver run through her before she bowed to him, as was customary before the start of a match. Namu’s expression almost changed as he bowed to her in response. “Fighters ready?” Ken asked as Chi-Chi and Namu got into their fighting stances. Chi-Chi placed her hands out in front, one above the other, while she stood with her legs bent, one in front of the other. Namu pivoted his body to one side with his forearm raised across his chest and his fist opened, the blade of his hand facing her, while the other arm ran parallel to his waist, hand balled in a tight fist. “Begin!”

Chi-Chi charged forward, feeling that all of the attention was on her now and wanting to make a good showing of herself with Daddy and Tenshinhan watching. Oh, and Master Roshi, too. With a battle cry, she leaped into the air and launched herself across the ring with a flying kick, aiming for Namu’s center mass. But with only a colorful blur to show that he had moved at all, Namu was suddenly standing directly to Chi-Chi’s left. She gawked in surprise before she managed to ground herself, skidding on the tile floor and spinning to a stop, facing Namu again and with her back to the audience, but her heels nearly touching the edge of the ring.

‘I’ve got to be more careful!’ she chided herself. ‘I can’t ring myself out!’ She got back into her guard and took a quick breath to calm herself before moving on the offensive again, this time winding up for a roundhouse kick.

“You won’t beat me,” Namu told her firmly, suddenly standing beside her before she’d even finished drawing back her foot for the kick. She barely had time to register the first rushing toward her head and raised her fists up to block it, a jolt of pain rushing up her arms from the impact as she was knocked back, feet skidding into the stone again to keep from being launched away.

Tenshinhan watched from the fighter’s area with a concerned frown on his face and turned to say something to Krillin, noticing that his friend was wearing the same expression. “You saw that, too, huh?” he asked. Krillin, standing on a chair to see over the wall, nodded. Namu was fast. Chi-Chi looked like she was moving underwater by comparison. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he muttered.

For a moment, it looked like Chi-Chi did, as well. A cold panic fluttered through her stomach as she realized that she’d never been in a proper fight before. ‘He’s so fast! I wish I still had my focusing crystal,’ she thought to herself. ‘Then maybe I could hit him with a ki blast!’ But weapons weren’t allowed in the Budoukai, so she hadn’t been allowed to bring it and cover up her shortcomings. She swallowed her nerves down and balled up her fists. She couldn’t get scared already! What was the point of training for the last year and a half? She came at Namu again, attacking him with a flurry of punches aimed at his midsection, but Namu deflected them all without giving any ground. Chi-Chi let out a frustrated cry and jumped high up into the air, well over Namu’s head, and pivoted her body to hit him with a rolling savate kick to the back on her way down. But, again, Namu moved effortlessly to the side, without even turning his head to follow her movements.

“You are not strong enough,” he said matter-of-factly with his back still turned to her, “And you lack true conviction. Yet still, I might have let you beat me because I sense your spirit.” That made Chi-Chi angrier than anything else, the idea that he’d let her win out of pity. “But not today.” Chi-Chi’s eyes burned furiously as Namu turned to face her and she prepared an attack… but the cold, steely look in her eyes froze her completely and chilled her to her core. “Today, I cannot fail.” In a flash, he dropped to one knee and suddenly there was a fist in Chi-Chi’s stomach, lifting her off her feet and driving the wind out of her. He caught her as she crumpled and lay her gently down on the tile floor.

“Chi-Chi!” Tenshinhan and Krillin cried in shared worry, while Jackie Chun swallowed his own reaction.

“You may begin counting now,” Namu told Ken as he turned his head to look at him, still kneeling beside Chi-Chi. He didn’t want to hurt the child any more than was necessary, after all.

“O-oh, right!” Ken stammered out. He’d been so stunned by the brief display of speed from both competitors, and of force from Namu, that for a second he’d forgotten his job. “One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six!”

Gohan looked at Gyuu and saw his friend’s face had turned a dark shade of red, so he reached up and put a hand gently on one of his massive forearms. “Easy, big fella,” he told the other man gently. “She’ll be alright.” Even so, Gyuu Maou started to move, his eyes locked onto Namu as he started climbing over the audience barrier.

“I’m okay!” Chi-Chi cried suddenly, though her face was still against the ground. Even Namu looked startled by her sudden consciousness. Her fingers scrabbled on the stone dragging herself up to her hands and knees, then to her feet. “I’m okay,” she insisted as she brought her hands up and got into her stance again. “I can keep going.” Namu got to his feet as well, giving Chi-Chi a nod of respect.

Everything hurt. That one punch had done more than knock the wind out of Chi-Chi; she felt like her whole body was on fire. Every breath was shallow and it burned as it filled her lungs. But she couldn’t get counted out. She had to keep trying. She’d show him he had conviction!

“Come on, Chi-Chi!” Ten shouted enthusiastically. “Keep fighting! Show him what you’re made of!” His voice made Chi-Chi’s heart swell as she was filled with a burst of confidence and leaped into the air again, firing off a barrage of kicks at Namu’s head. The speed of her attack actually caught him off-guard, forcing Namu to give ground as he blocked and deflected her attacks. Before he knew it, he was only in the ring by the ball of one foot.

“Yeah, Chi-Chi, get him! You’re almost there!” Krillin cheered with his hands cupped around his mouth.

“That’s my girl!” Gyuu added, so proud he thought he might burst. Chi-Chi landed and sprang up again, this time launching her body at an angle with her fingertips pointed out straight to strike Namu under the chin.

But then, a thought flashed through Namu’s mind. An image. A village, starving, sun-baked earth parched and cracked where once there had been a river. Young and old, everyone, desperate, clinging to life. ‘No,’ he thought resolutely. He pivoted his body, still in the ring only by one foot. Chi-Chi shot past him and he drove her down with a chop across the back, smashing her into the grass so hard she bounced.

“Ring out!” Ken declared. “After a stunning second wind by Chi-Chi, Namu is the winner!” The crowd murmured for a moment, and then they began to boo Namu. After all, as far as they could tell, he’d just beaten up a little girl. If he was at all upset by their vitriol toward them, he didn’t show it, as he bowed to Chi-Chi before he walked quickly, almost mechanically, toward the fighters’ area. Tenshinhan crossed him and for a moment, their eyes locked. Ten, to his own surprise, couldn’t find it in himself to be angry at the man. There was no malice in his soul.

Jackie Chun, though, couldn’t help but find the man more than a little discomforting. ‘ Just what,’ the old master wondered, ‘Makes this man so focused? When I do it, it’s an act but this guy’s almost made of ice!’ With the slightest mental manipulation, he was able to gaze into the younger man’s mind. Telepathy was one of the minor perks that came with exceptionally advanced ki sensing. It required you to be entirely stationary and focusing your energies towards the act, meaning that you were completely defenseless, so it was less than useless in combat. As Jackie peered into Namu’s thoughts and sifted through his memories he saw… A homeland crippled by drought. A people in desperate need of help. A solemn vow. ‘I will win the prize money and buy water from the city! I swear it!’ Jackie swallowed with his eyes wide in surprise. ‘If he manages to beat Tenshinhan and get to the finals, I might just forfeit...’ Jackie thought– although he honestly didn’t find it all that likely. ‘Maybe I can still do something for him, though.’

Meanwhile, Chi-Chi was just starting to regain her senses. Which meant realizing that she was lying face-down in the grass and the realization that she’d been eliminated. Her body trembled as she tried not to let out tears of frustration, her hands balling into fists that ripped up the grass before slamming back down into it. She was shocked by how much it hurt to be eliminated so early, not just physically but emotionally, but she’d really tried hard! She’d done her best and kept fighting even when it hurt!

‘I couldn’t even hit him!’ she thought miserably. ‘I never had a chance!’ She should never have been in a position for Master Roshi to enter the tournament. She shouldn’t have been training, just taking care of the Kame House, cooking and cleaning for Krillin and Tenshin–

“Hey,” Tenshinhan said softly as he scooped Chi-Chi gently up in his arms. “It’s okay.” She blinked up at him in surprise, a few stray tears rolling down her cheeks before she wiped them away, her face reddening with embarrassment at him seeing her like this. “You did great!” he told her encouragingly as he started carrying her back to the fighters’ area. “I was really surprised when you got back up after that first hit, especially since you started with less training than me and Krillin. I know you can get even stronger!”

That was when Chi-Chi was fairly certain that she was still unconscious and was, in fact, dreaming. Tenshinhan was holding her in his strong arms, cradling her against her chest, smiling at her and giving her words of encouragement. It was only when they got back to the fighters’ area that she realized that this couldn’t be a dream since, well, Krillin was there.

“Hey, do your legs work?” he teased her with an annoyed smirk, his arms crossed over his chest. “Because Ten needs to get back in the ring to fight next.” Chi-Chi’s face burned red and she hopped down from Tenshinhan’s arms.

“Go get him, Tenshinhan!” she told him with a dreamy smile, her hands clasped together and raised to her cheek. Ten’s face reddened slightly and he cleared his throat before giving them a wordless thumbs up before going back to the ring. Giran stomped toward the ring, pushing his way through all of the other competitors, nearly knocking Krillin and Chi-Chi off their feet.

“The next match will now begin,” Ken announced, “Tenshinhan vs. Giran!” Giran cracked his knuckles and showed his fangs with a snarl as Ten did a last few quick stretches, holding one arm across his chest and then the other. “Fighters ready?” he asked. Ten smiled pleasantly up at Giran and bowed respectfully at him. Giran responded with a roar and charged across the ring, swinging his massive tail at the young triclops’ head. “H-hey! I didn’t say begin!” Ten jumped back to avoid the dragon monster’s attack and got quickly into his fighting stance. “Begin!” A flustered Ken declared.

Ten sprinted toward Giran and ducked under a swipe from his razor-sharp claws, countering with a straight jab to his pronounced gut. Giran staggered back before he let out another snarl, attacking with a few more slashes of his claws. Ten zipped between the attacks but that was just a feint for Giran’s tail to sweep Tenshinhan’s feet out from under him. Ten recovered by flipping through the air with a few handsprings, putting distance between them. As soon as Tenshinhan touched down, though, Giran was barreling toward him with his head down like a battering ram. Ten put his arms out and caught Giran rather effortlessly, tossing him over his head and out into the crowd. Instead of going out of bounds, though, Giran’s rather diminutive wings spread and he started flapping them to keep himself aloft.

“Wow!” he exclaimed in astonishment as he looked up at Giran. “I didn’t think those worked!”

“What’re you tryin’ to say, boy?” Giran asked irritably, already baring his teeth.

“Well, it’s just that your wings are so small and you’re so…” before Ten could try and put things delicately, Giran picked up on what he was trying not to say and divebombed toward him with a roar, his mouth open wide and his fangs showing. Tenshinhan yelped and zipped off to one side, grabbing Giran’s tail as he flew by him and spun Giran around and around before slamming him to the ground. With a snarl, the dragonman whipped his tail and launched Tenshinhan off, forcing the other to launch a kiai at the air so he wouldn’t get knocked out of bounds. By this time, Giran had gotten back to his feet, swiping with his claws and snarling with his fangs exposed just as Ten came to the ground. One strike actually caught Tenshinhan on the shoulder, making Chi-Chi shriek at the thin trickle of blood running down Tenshinhan’s arm as he hissed in pain, while the others showed worry as well. “Hey, watch it!” Ten exclaimed. “What do you think you’re doing?” Fighting for their lives was one thing, but this was just a tournament! It was supposed to be about displaying skill and technique, there was no reason to try and injure one another!

“I’m just usin’ all the tools I was given,” Giran explained with a laugh. “Like this!” Then he opened his mouth and a purple light shone from inside. At that close of a distance, and still pretty surprised, Tenshinhan didn’t have a chance to react before Giran fired a beam out of his mouth that hit Ten squarely in the chest. But instead of being injured by a ki blast or by fire, Ten discovered that he was wrapped in a weird… purple gum?!

“Now wait just a second!” Ken exclaimed as Ten looked down at himself in confusion. “The Budoukai rules specifically forbid the use of any weapons, hidden or otherwise!” Giran headbutted the confused Tenshinhan and just laughed.

“This ain’t a weapon!” Giran boasted while beating a fist against his rather rotund stomach. “My body produces this naturally, just like the rest of my species!”

“Monster!” Namu snapped in disgust, showing emotion for the first time and catching everyone off-guard. “I recognize that gum! It is the same that made the dam holding back the water from my village! You were the ones that have condemned my people to death!” Namu jabbed a finger at the dragon hatefully, his whole body trembling with rage and his eyes burning with fire.

At that harsh accusation, Giran just shrugged. “Yeah,” he admitted cavalierly. “That sounds like somethin’ me and my brothers’d do. What’re you gonna do about it, boy?” He laughed as Namu tried to lunge at him and the security held him back while the crowd booed him vociferously.

That was enough for Tenshinhan. With a cry of anger, he jumped into the air and hammered him with bicycle kicks to the face before effortlessly breaking free from the gum that was restraining him. With a vicious uppercut, he knocked Giran unconscious and he crashed to the grass like a sack of wet laundry.

“Ringout! Son Tenshinhan wins! He will face Namu in the second round!” Ken declared, gesturing to Ten as the crowd cheered wildly. He looked over at Namu, who nodded in approval, his rage sated for the moment. Now he could clear his mind again and focus on winning the tournament to save his people.

OoOoOoO

Yamcha hopped on the balls of his feet as he got into a fighting stance with a grin, beckoning with two fingers extended. In contrast to his orange and green gi, Ranfan was dressed in a white-and-blue wrestling singlet with grappling gloves and wrestling shoes and her purple hair was in several rows of tight braids. She dropped into a low stance with her arms stretched out.

“This could be quite the match, ladies and gentlemen!” Ken declared dramatically. “From the looks of things, it seems to be a case of grappler versus striker! Fighters ready? Begin!”

Yamcha dashed toward Ranfan and she lunged forward as low as she could to the ground, causing Yamcha to go flying over her. She spun around on her heels and lunged for a takedown, hoping to grapple him from behind but was surprised to discover that Yamcha was facing her again already. ‘Whoa,’ she thought, ‘He’s fast!’ He threw a quick snapping jab at Ranfan and she brought her forearms up quickly to block the blow, grunting from the pain that shot through her body. She jumped up as quickly as she could and wrapped her legs around Yamcha’s arm and rolled forward, trying to catch him in an armbar. To her shock, though, Yamcha managed to stay on his feet, flailing his arms to regain his balance.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed in shock. “Nice try, there!” He started swinging around to try and get Ranfan off of his arm, even as she pulled with all her might, outright trying to rip his arm right out of the socket. Yamcha let out a grunt and tossed her over his head, sending Ranfan tumbling through the air. “Here I come! Wolf Fang Fist!” he shouted as he charged at Ranfan, peppering her with strikes as she tried to block and deflect the onslaught. But when Yamcha went for the big double-palm strike, Ranfan managed to grab his wrists, the speed of his movements burning her palms. She gritted her teeth from the pain and yanked him down as she lifted up her knee, smashing him under the chin with it. While Yamcha was stunned, she pulled him into a double underhook and turned him over, dropping him rather viciously on his head and neck to horrified gasps from the audience.

“What an incredible maneuver!” Ken exclaimed as Ranfan got up quickly to her feet, her knees stinging from the impact. “Yamcha looks down and out, folks! It might be time to administer the count. One! Two! Three!”

As he continued counting, Ranfan reflected somewhat sadly on the turn of events. She hadn’t wanted to use the Tiger Driver. Master Tsurata had taught her that it was one of a series of incredibly dangerous holds only meant for the most extreme situations. ‘But what else could I do?’ she thought to herself. ‘I had to win. He was stronger and faster than me. It was my only opening to- ‘

“Five! Si–” Then Yamcha kipped up to his feet, his eyes wide as he held the back of his neck. “Yamcha’s up!”

“What?!” Ranfan exclaimed in shock.

“What?!” Son Gohan and Gyuu Mao echoed in amazement.

“Go, Yamcha!” Bulma and Puar cheered.

“Alright!” Ten added eagerly, emphatically pumping his fist. Even Jackie Chun raised his eyebrows, clearly impressed.

‘Boy’s stronger than I reckoned,’ he was forced to admit. ‘He might give me some trouble in the next round after all!’

“Man, that really got the kink out of my neck!” Yamcha exclaimed as he rubbed the back of his neck, then turned his head from one side to the other to crack it. It was a good thing he did so many of those neck bridges under higher gravity. “That move was sick! Where do you train, anyway?”

But Ranfan didn’t respond because her mind was racing. If forbidden techniques couldn’t slow this guy down, what other options did she have? It was one thing to do… that in the preliminaries where no one was watching, but she’d really wanted to use the Budoukai as a way to get more attention for her dojo. There’d be no way to do that if she had to… debase herself in front of hundreds of people! But she didn’t come all this way to lose, either. Maybe this guy was just a freak and everyone else in the tournament would be something more normal that she could defeat with proper fighting techniques. But to even get close to the next round…

She shook her hair from side to side, undoing the braids and causing it to explode into its natural state with curls falling down her back and around her shoulders. Then she gripped the material of the singlet around her waist and hiked it up, drawing attention to areas… below the belt, the material being pulled taught outlining them. Then, with a moment’s reluctance, she pulled down the straps of her singlet, leaving her completely naked from the waist up. Tenshinhan’s face turned red as he shut his eyes and slapped his hands over Krillin and Chi-Chi’s eyes as well. Namu stood in horror for a moment before shutting his eyes tightly. Gohan and Gyuu’s faces burned red while Jackie Chun did everything in his power to keep blood from shooting out his nose. Which involved keeping his hands behind his back and shooting it out through the pores in his fingertips, soaking the bushes behind him with blood.

“...The hell are you doing?!” Yamcha asked. That reaction, or lack of reaction, caught Ranfan by surprise. This left her wide-open to a roundhouse kick that sent her flying out of the ring to hit the grass.

“Uh… I… uh…” It took a second for Ken to collect himself before he cleared his throat. “Ringout! Yamcha wins!” Yamcha pumped his fists up with a slightly-confused smile, though that smile faltered when the crowd booed him for kicking a woman in the face. “Buncha weirdos,” he muttered before going to help Ranfan up. She touched the bruise on her cheek as she fixed her singlet, still feeling a little ridiculous at having to resort to that. “You okay?” he asked.  

“Yeah,” she muttered, “I’m fine.” Then she crouched down and pulled some things out of her shoe. “Here,” she told him, handing the two objects. They looked like business cards. “My dojo,” she explained, “And… something else you might be interested in.” She might be jumping to conclusions, but if she had an opportunity to help someone else the way she’d been helped.

“Way of the King’s Road,” Yamcha muttered as they both walked out of the ring, reading the first card before he turned it over and looked at the second. “Internal Harmony… discovering your true self?” The hell did that mean? He… did have some confusing feelings. It might help? He’d worry about that later. He needed to pay attention to the next match.

OoOoOoO

Krillin glared at Jackie Chun as he got into a fighting stance. He tried to focus on the old man’s ki and get a gauge of his strength but it was almost as if he was hiding it. Krillin didn’t even know you could do that. But it didn’t matter. He could win! He could beat this old man, and that Yamcha guy, and face Tenshinhan in the finals!

Jackie could almost see the thoughts dancing in the boy’s head and the flights of fancy he was already entertaining. “You might wanna keep your mind in the present, my boy,” Jackie told him calmly. “A lack of focus in the jungle can get even the mightiest lions killed. Never mind the cubs.” Krillin felt a surge of indignant anger at being called a cub and ran in for the attack. ‘Rookie mistake,’ Jackie thought disapprovingly as he sidestepped Krillin’s charge. But as he turned around with either a counterattack or a further lecture in mind– he wasn’t really sure which one yet– Krillin pushed off the ring with his hands and threw back a kick that caught Jackie squarely in the jaw and make him stagger back. Jackie took a moment to touch a finger to his lip, surprised at the boy’s strength. In the last few months of their training, Roshi’d left the children more or less autonomous to spar with one another and develop on their own, so he hadn’t quite been expecting this. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, Krillin was actually fast enough to take advantage of Jackie’s lapse in focus and continued the attack with a series of jabs and hooks to the torso, before finishing with a sharp elbow jab under the jaw that sent him reeling back.

“When a lion gets too old, even a cub can bring him down,” Krillin retorted with a bit of a smirk, bursting with confidence at taking advantage in the opening salvo.

“Stay focused, Krillin!” Ten called encouragingly to his friend. He didn’t want Krillin getting ahead of himself so early in the tournament.

“You can do it!” Chi-Chi shouted eagerly. Even if she was out of the tournament, she could still encourage and offer support to her friends.

With a slightly rueful chuckle, Jackie wagged a finger at Krillin. “Caught me sleeping there, sonny,” he admitted before he hardened his gaze. “Won’t happen again.” He let out a cry of his own and went on the attack, shocking Krillin with his strength and speed as he pushed him back with an onslaught of attacks.

‘Not good,’ Krillin thought to himself in a panic. ‘I need to get some distance!’ He stuck his left arm out at his side– though this opened him to a blow to the ribs from Jackie– and fired a kiai to shoot him off to the side. He couldn’t jump backward since he didn’t know how much space he had and he didn’t want to ring out. In the second it took Jackie to turn and face him again, Krillin managed to fire a ki blast at him that the old master deflected off into the sky. This at least gave Krillin an opening, though, and he came at Jackie with a sweeping kick that he leaped over and did a backflip to get away from, firing his own ki blast that Krillin jumped out of the way to dodge, right into a knee to the face as Jackie came back down.

“What incredible skill and power on display from both fighters!” Ken narrated enthusiastically. “It’s hard to keep up! And this is only the first round!”

For his part, Yamcha was focused and quiet as Krillin and Jackie continued to trade blows. He was going to be fighting one of these guys in the next round and he’d never seen either of them fight. He’d never even heard of Jackie Chun and he considered himself something of an expert… or, as Bulma put it, a fight nerd.

Son Gohan and Gyuu were also watching with rapt attention. Aside from the brief spar with Tenshinhan and the Kamehameha that destroyed Fry Pan mountain respectively, they hadn’t seen their master in action in decades. He was clearly still in good form.

Krillin crossed his arms in an “X” and dove at Jackie, sliding across the ring almost like a penguin to take out his legs again. But Jackie saw it coming and leaped high into the air, leaving Krillin to skid along until he could see the grass rushing up at the ring’s edge. ‘No, no, no, no! Not already!’ Krillin threw his hands out and fired another kiai, launching himself backward and upward to where Jackie was already waiting for him, diving out of the sky with both fists. But Krillin sensed Jackie’s ki approaching him in a moment of clarity and flipped up to meet him, cupping his hands at his side. ‘Now or never!’ He thought as he tried to focus and gather his ki as Tenshinhan had taught him. “Kamehameh–” but before he could finish, Jackie was already there, having put on an extra burst of speed to drive his fists into Krillin’s stomach and send them both crashing to the ground, with the old man springing to his feet first.

“You reacted too slowly,” Jackie told Krillin as the other was slow to pick himself up off the ground. “With a technique like the Kamehameha, especially as inexperienced as you are, you need to make sure the target is stationary, not rushing toward you.”

Krillin scoffed and wiped the blood from his mouth as he got back into his guard. “How do you know so much about the Kamehameha?” he asked hotly, not welcome to being talked down to by a stranger. “Let’s see you do it!”

Jackie hummed thoughtfully and wondered if he should answer the young man’s challenge. It would give up the game if he did and raise too many red flags. This disguise wasn’t nearly as good as Bruce Lao, after all. “Never said I could,” he lied. “Just said I’ve seen it better. In fact,” he added as he put his fists at his sides and left himself wide open for an attack, “I’d bet if I gave you that exact opening I told you about, you still couldn’t do it!” It might seem overly harsh, but he could see that Krillin was still too brash and needed a proper lesson in humility to be able to grow more.

“Fine!” Krillin snapped as he stomped his foot angrily. “I’ll show you what I can do!” He pivoted to his side and put his hands together, focusing his ki and directing it toward his hands. “K-kaaa… meee… haaa… me…”

“Come on, Krillin,” Tenshinhan muttered under his breath, “Focus!”

“HAAAA!” Krillin cried as he thrust his hands forward, firing a beam of… yellow ki from his hands. But Jackie Chun still wasn’t moving, the beam was going right for him… and then through him. Tenshinhan dashed in front of the beam and kicked it up into the sky to protect the audience while Krillin was still stuck with his arms out, wondering what had happened to Jackie Chun.

“The Afterimage technique!” Gyuu whispered to Gohan, who nodded sagely.

“Like I said,” the old man told him from behind, “You still have a lot to learn.” Krillin spun and threw an elbow at Jackie, but that attack went right through him again.

“Krillin!” Chi-Chi cried. “On your left!” Krillin pivoted and saw a chop coming down toward his head. He brought his forearms up to block it, feeling pain shoot through his body from the impact and feeling the tiles cracking under him. Summoning all his remaining strength, he pushed Jackie off of him and went to go on the offensive again. But just as Krillin was making his move, Jackie was behind him again. Each time Krillin tried to retaliate, Jackie was already gone. Krillin kept attacking, kept swinging desperately, and soon enough Jackie wasn’t even using the technique offensively and was just making a point to exhaust him.

“I… I…” Krillin swallowed thickly, sweating profusely as he put his hands up weakly, struggling to stay in his fighting stance. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t keep up. Jackie Chun didn’t even seem to have broken a sweat, he wasn’t even breathing heavily! Krillin… didn’t have a chance. He knew when he was beaten. “...I give up,” he admitted, collapsing to his knees.

“Krillin surrenders! Jackie Chun is the winner! He will face Yamcha in the second round!” Krillin looked down dejectedly as the crowd cheered Jackie Chun. All his work in the last year and a half and he was eliminated in the first round of the finals. He felt so… helpless! What was the point, if some random guy no one had ever heard of completely outclassed him?!

“I look forward to facing you again at the next tournament,” Jackie told him encouragingly as he put a hand on Krillin’s shoulder. Krillin huffed and pulled his shoulder away and, for a moment, Jackie was worried if he’d gone too far. He’d only meant to teach the boy some humility, not crush his spirit. He was tempted to tell him the truth before Tenshinhan approached.

“Krillin,” he said as he crouched down to be on the younger boy’s level, “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you did great! I was having trouble keeping up with his movements but you were able to follow it and keep fighting. You’ve come so far in just over a year! I know you can keep getting stronger if you keep trying!”

Krillin smiled at that and nodded, letting Tenshinhan help him to his feet. Jackie had already left by that point, happy to leave the pep talk to his star pupil, with Krillin following behind soon after as Namu made his way into the ring. Yamcha squinted at Jackie suspiciously as a thought began to form in his mind.

“I thank you for giving that beast a lesson in humility,” Namu told Tenshinhan pleasantly, “But you still stand between me and saving my people.”

“I don’t really have any need for money,” Ten replied. “If I win, I promise to give you the prize money.”

“Thank you again, but I cannot accept charity. I must do this on my own.”

“Well, then,” Ten said as he got into his fighting stance, “Good luck!”

“The same to you,” Namu replied as he got into his own stance.

“Fighters ready?” Ken asked. “BEGIN!”