"The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."
Ain't No Hero is a a collaborative story by KidVegeta and Destructivedisk. It tells the tale of how Grandpa Gohan first comes across the Four-Star Dragon Ball. This story takes place several years before Grandpa Gohan finds the baby Goku crash-landed on Earth. This story's theme is Waitin' for a Superman by Iron and Wine.
Chapter 1: Inking the Sky
"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?"
-Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Before Grandpa Gohan’s hair had gotten too white or his mustache too bushy, or indeed, before he had even gained the illustrious title of ‘grandpa’, he lived a quiet, humble life far removed from society. Long gone were the days of him being a martial artist, training under the legendary Turtle Hermit to compete in tournaments and petty school rivalries. Long gone were the days of friendship – for Gohan hadn’t seen his childhood friend, the Ox-King (as he was now called), for many moons, and he kept no other close acquaintances. And long gone were the days of him being a hopeless romantic. Gohan did not mind how things had turned out. He didn’t need company, romantic or otherwise, and fame was never something he cared for. He could have created his own school to follow in Master Roshi’s footsteps, but he had decided against it when he realized how much trouble it would be to start one up. And living alone in the mountains didn’t lend itself to staying in contact with many friends, either. He was okay with that. Having long, quiet days to himself, where he could smoke his pipe, tend his garden, and meditate by waterfalls was all he needed. It was all he ever wanted.
It was seven or eight o’clock when Gohan strolled into the village. The sun was just starting to set, but some waning light was still hanging in defiance in the vast sky above him. He smelled fish and salt and watched as a few hurried individuals bustled past him, carrying baskets or riding on bicycles. He chuckled to himself, thinking of how frantic and stressed they were. And he felt humbled by their selfish neglect. Gohan had been rather famous in his time. He had won numerous high-profile tournaments and had been quite rich at one point, too. It was amazing, he thought, what a few years and a fake Jamaican could do to your image. He doubted anyone recognized him for who he was – for who he truly was.
Soon he came upon the fish market, which was his destination. He nodded to a few of the shopkeepers as he passed; they were familiars to him, but they were not his friends. It was almost routine to see the same faces watching anxiously from behind the same stalls every week. He knew most of them by their faces, though he knew none of them by their names. They weren’t more than a part of the scenery to him, though he felt no ill-will towards them either.
Gohan went up to his favorite stall, which was managed by a middle-aged brunette woman. He made his purchases, graciously thanking her for her low prices and her courtesy. He slipped her a few extra zeni when he paid, and winked at her. She blushed and quickly handed him his receipt before ushering him away. He smiled as he walked out with a bag in his hands. He still had it. He could probably push the issue with her if he wanted to. Maybe next week.
After picking out a few vegetables and fruits (and adding them to his growing-ever-heavier brown bag), Gohan started making his way back home. By now, the sun had set, and only the scattered light coming from a few rusty lampposts guided him back. He walked along the water, watching the occasional fish jump and smelling the sea and grass. Such sights and smells were the greatest pleasure for a man like Gohan. He enjoyed these walks to and from his house more than the taste of the fish he came to purchase.
As he was going, Gohan saw a large, black, hulking shape ahead of him. It was halfway in the water, and it was making a dreadful screeching sound. From this, Gohan surmised that the thing was wholly artificial, and as he approached it, his eyesight confirmed his thoughts. He peered at it intently, watching the contraption scoop out mud from under the water and then fling it back onto shore. Three or four men, clad in green and yellow robes, stood around the thing, smoking and laughing amongst themselves. One of them was waving around a sawed-off shotgun as if it were a yo-yo. The entire scene was beyond strange; it was positively queer.
Gohan frowned. An innate curiosity rose in him like heartburn, and he considered approaching them to ask what they were doing. But he quickly shook his head, clearing that thought from his head. He wasn’t a boy any longer. He wasn’t an adventurer. That itch he was feeling couldn’t be scratched any longer. The concerns of the world weren’t his.
Gohan would have been perfectly content had he turned around, then and there, and went back to his humble abode, where he could have continued to live a quiet life. But reality was much too cruel a bitch for that. As Gohan turned around to depart, he heard the shotgun go off behind him, echoing across the open field and generating an orchestra of movement as animals darted away. Gohan turned around – he heard (even over the sound of his ears ringing) a shout.
After this, the following events became nothing less than a silent movie to Gohan. The shotgun’s blast was deafening indeed, and Gohan found that his eardrums were blasted out. He had nothing aside from vision with which to judge the situation. The consequences of this temporary deafness cannot be understated.
All Gohan could see was the man, the one who had previously held the shotgun, aim it at another member of the group. Gohan, even in his age, was still a samaritan – he could not watch tranquilly as two more men were murdered in front of his eyes.
He darted over to the man with the shotgun and swiftly kicked him in the back, holding back power so as to not murder the man. The man, however, was shockingly unaffected (like when Chiaotzu attacks Super Saiyan 3 Broly in Raging Blast 2). He turned about a fixed point to look at Gohan, before making eye contact with the former martial artist. Gohan looked down, watching the man’s hands slide down the barrel of the gun. From his days in the war, Gohan knew full well that this meant he was cocking his gun.
Gohan waited; he knew he could sustain a shot from a shotgun. After the man attempted to kill him, he would doubtlessly be discombobulated, and Gohan could quickly and easily incapacitate him. Alas, such a chance would never arise for Gohan, for it was then that another member of a group approached the shooter from behind. Silently, he used a switchblade to slit the throat of the man from behind.
Blood spurted wildly. It reached the shore of the water, giving the water a murky red tint. Several waves spurted out, each one carried out by the tides like ripples on a blank shore. The body of the shooter fell to the ground, indenting the dirt beneath him and dirtying the soil. His assailant retracted his switchblade and placed it back into his pocket, for his job had been completed.
Gohan knew not what to make of this. Internal struggles were evident, but he could not understand the dynamics. He watched as the knife-man mouthed words to him, but he could not make out what he was saying. The fourth man, the only one to have stayed out of the whole ordeal, had taken a seat. He appeared to have chosen to stay out of it.
As the man continued moving his lips, Gohan’s attention wavered – he watched the man who had previously been shot gasp for air, clutching his chest and coughing up blood. The man who had just been cut was already dead – his eyes were blank and his body was obviously limp, lying against the ground like a common noodle. Gohan contemplated the possibility of running back to his house and alerting the authorities, but he feared that such an action might make him the target of some sinister group. He instead waited, and, after a minute, turned his head back up to the man with the blade.
Gohan, whose hearing was beginning to come back, could, at last, read the man’s lips: “Very well, then.”
The man pounced toward Gohan, brandishing his switchblade. He surgically directed it toward Gohan’s throat, gearing up to slash his throat wide open like he had done prior. Gohan, though, was cognizant (not to mention quick), and ducked out of the way of his assault. He spun around the fighter and delivered a kick to his new challenger, this time not holding back quite as much force. The kick made contact, sending the man crashing back to the ground. Gohan found that this kick strained his leg, for he was so long out of practice.
The man stood back up on his two legs and unveiled a longer, sharper switchblade. He lunged at Gohan, who was struggling to maintain his proper fighting stance after the earlier kick. Gohan dodged again and deflected the man’s stabs by forcing his hand back, along with the blade. He slid back on the ground, quickly losing balance and toppling over.
This gave the mysterious new villain an opening. He jumped at Gohan openly, before making a quick swipe across Gohan’s chest. The gash created was deep and bloody. It was not a wound that many could withstand. Gohan was hearing more clearly now, and he heard his own moans of pain as they erupted from his mouth, although he was not fully aware of having made them.
He wasn’t playing games any longer. Gohan jumped up, kicked the man across the face, knocking out his teeth and his consciousness with one fell swoop. The blade fell from the man’s loose grip; at once, Gohan lunged for it, grabbing it and then hurling it into the water like one would do with a flat stone. He looked back and saw the last remaining man was watching him with grim indifference, as if he was used to such occurrences happening on a regular basis.
“What’s wrong with you people?!” bellowed Gohan, his voice shaking with pain and anger.
The man kept looking at him, with eyes as sullen as the muddy lands they were standing on. “Fuck off.”
“You heard me, old man,” the other replied. He placed a cigarette in his mouth.
“I-I…” Gohan stammered; he was in utter bewilderment. He had just saved this man. How could he be so ungrateful? Back in the day, when Gohan had been a proper martial artist, men and women alike would praise those who had saved them. It was human nature – a reflex, even. What had changed?
“‘ey! Open up!” the other man yelled, though it was not at Gohan. Instead, he slammed his fist against the black machine in three staggered knocks. Once a small round door swung open, he yelled again: “Got someone here for Junk Eye to deal with.”
At once, a large crashing sound was heard, as if there was a bull in a china shop inside that colossal machine. Then, a man who couldn’t have been an inch under seven feet stumbled out of the round door and pressed his gigantic boots into the mud. He had a beard like a burnt forest, a chin carved from a mountain, a nose like well-used sickle, and eyes of lambent fire. One burned red, the other a lighter yellow. Gohan swore both of them were lazy eyes. And even so, he hadn’t seen a more contemptible man in all his years.
“So you think you can take us on, d’ya?” Junk Eye spat Gohan’s way.
“N-no, I was just trying to stop that man,” Gohan said, pointing to the dead man with the slit throat, “from killing anyone!”
“We don’t need no heroes here, you old fool. Our men can fend for themselves.”
“You let them kill each other?” Gohan retorted, his tone betraying his disbelief.
“Ain’t no one’s job to play god. Let them do what they want. The strong will survive. And our brotherhood only wants the strong.”
“I told you, man, fuck off. You don’t want to get involved,” the man who was sitting down spoke up.
Gohan was speechless; perhaps from the blood loss or from the shock of what he was hearing, he could not reply. What had he just walked into? Who were these insane people?
“Leave us alone. Just go home,” Junk Eye sneered. Then, he thrust his wrist up for Gohan to behold. It was wide as it was hairy, and plastered on it was the rancorous picture of a red dragon. “But if you stay and mess with the Red Dragon Brotherhood, we’ll kill you. And we’ll remember you. Your name will go with all the rest.”
The other man nodded in agreement, “Aye, we remember.”
“Your choice, old man.” Junk Eye raised a large weapon – perhaps a grenade launcher or a booshka wannabe – and Gohan’s eyes widened in horror.
So Gohan, the once proud and respectable martial artist, ran all the way back home. He did not pause to pick up his spilt bag. He didn’t pause to tend to his wound. He just ran. And he didn’t look back.
Mikhail “Junk Eye” Baskov watched as his men dug graves for their two fallen brethren. The one with the slit throat was buried next to the one with the gored chest near the muddy shore where their digger – the name he had given to their piece of heavy machinery – was sifting through the waters for their prize. Mikhail stepped back into the machine, where several lackeys were monitoring screens. He looked at the largest one, which was showing radar. A single blip was showing up every few seconds, and it was only a few feet away.
“How deep is it?” Mikhail asked, scratching his chin.
“About five more feet, sir,” a squeaky-voiced man chirped. “Why don’t you wait outside, sir? We’ll get the ball in a few minutes.”
Mikhail lurched forward and grabbed the man by the neck, squeezing as hard as he could. The man gasped, flinging his arms this way and that, trying to resist Junk Eye. But there was no overpowering the strongest man in the world. With a grunt, he let go and flung the man back into his chair to wheeze and suck in air like an aeroholic.
“Don’t you ever tell me what to do,” Junk Eye growled.
With that, he promptly turned around and trudged back outside. As soon as he stepped out of the digger’s door, he saw the mechanical arm that did all of the digging stop and pull up. Several men, in their green and yellow robes, stopped talking with one another and looked up at the rising arm, though they dared not step forward and ruin their pristine suits. Mikhail didn’t care about any of that. His suit was already ruined from years of hard use. He shoved past them and shined a flashlight on the digger’s arm. He caught a glint of orange as he approached, and this made his heart race. He then proceeded to run up to the thing and wrench it from the digger’s grasp. Pulling it out, he saw it to be exactly what he expected – a small orange ball with four stars on it.
He grinned and took out his cell phone, preparing to call his brothers and tell them the good news.
(Cue Wish You Were Here)
It was close to midnight. The moon hung high in the sky and the many bugs of the forest were screaming their little lungs out. Mikhail was out for a walk, for he wasn’t much of a sleeper, and his most recent acquisition had spiked him with so much adrenaline that he couldn’t sleep anyway. He took the small ball out of his pocket and looked it over. It was finely crafted, perfectly smooth, and nigh indestructible. He didn’t know who made the thing, but it was a damn beauty.
As he kept walking, Mikhail saw a small shape scurrying about just outside of his vision. He raised his flashlight, for it was very dark, even with the moon, and saw it to be an old dog with matted, dirty hair. It had only one eye, and it seemed to limp as it walked. Upon seeing it, Mikhail dropped to one knee. With his left hand, he shone the flashlight at the animal, and with his right hand he beckoned for it. Pocketing the orange ball, he took out a half-eaten sandwich and showed it to the dog. He whistled for it and dangled the food in front of its eyes. It was obviously starving, for as soon as it saw the food in Junk Eye’s hand, it cautiously started to approach. Every few feet, it would pause, jumping back and barking, as if it was suspicious of some trap. But Mikhail stood calm, never flinching and always beckoning for it to come over.
After some time, the animal did, and Mikhail let it eat out of his hand even as he patted it on the head and scratched its ears. Once it was done, the creature looked up at him with begging eyes.
“Sorry pup, that’s all I got,” Mikhail replied softly, petting it. “But you stay safe out there, all right? Don’t let the monsters get you.”
With that, he stood up, patted it one more time on the head and walked off.
As he continued walking, the path guided him into a small village. At this time of night, few people were around, but Junk Eye did notice a few stragglers still making their ways back home. He particularly noticed a few shopkeepers packing up and throwing their spoiled products into the ocean. One was a woman in her mid-forties with brown hair. He watched her dump a few rotten fish into the water before packing up her things and walking off down the road. Mikhail shadowed her until he was sure no one else was around.
(Wish You Were Here Reaches 2:06)
Then he moved right up behind her, silent as death, and covered her mouth with his hand. He shoved her to the ground, even as the woman let out muffled screams. She scratched at him with her free arm and kicked with her legs. But soon, he subdued her, placing his weight over hers. He lifted up her skirt, pulled down her underwear and then unzipped himself. Even as she struggled, he forced himself inside her. As soon as he was inside, she stopped resisting. He then felt her hot tears running down his fingers even as he thrust into her in the silence on that dirt path. Each lurch forward became more desperate and more violent until he reached his soundless climax.
Once Junk Eye had finished, he rolled off of the woman, though he kept his arm around her, holding her near him as he pulled up his pants. His flashlight lay in the dirt and it was pointed away, so he couldn’t see her face. Still, as he was trying to pull up his pants, he let his other arm slip from her mouth.
“Y-you monster! Wh-why?! Why?!” she sobbed.
Mikhail quickly put his hand back over his mouth and zipped his pants up at the same time. “Ain’t no monsters in this world, darlin’,” he said in a raspy, low voice. “It’s just a dream. Remember that.”
With that, Mikhail took the woman and slammed her head into the dirt, knocking her out cold. Then, he stood up, stretched his jaw, and made his way back to the digger to get some much-needed rest.
Chapter 2: Triton of the Minnows
"I'll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark"
-I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab For Cutie
“Fucking schattenparker cunt. Cowardly little shit. I should have tore out his stupid fucking throat. Losing my fucking Dragon Ball. That useless fucker will pay for this.”
Super Handel sat in the large armchair at the center of the room. Around him were scores of men, many of them fucking the stupid bitches into the blood-soaked carpet. The corpses of the bartenders and male patrons littered the floor like broken glass. Behind him stood two guards, a pair of bald, silent men who wore sunglasses and had countless tattoos painted across their bare skulls. Super Handel leaned back in in the chair and gazed at the small orange ball he was holding in his right hand. It had five white stars etched across its surface. As he stared at it, Super Handel caught a glance of his reflection in the orange tint. He frowned upon seeing his own hideous appearance and pocketed the ball.
A man named Gangrene shouted over to Super Handel from across the room. “So should we go see Junk Eye, Han-”
“Super Handel, you fuckwit,” he corrected the man. His anger burned red across his face as he coughed and grabbed for his crack. “What do you say, boys? Shall we go give that cunt Junk Eye a visit? Shall we relieve him of fuckin all the country wenches this side of East City?”
For a moment, there was silence, save for the soft, wet smacking of his men’s pleasures.
Then, Super Handel saw a man jump up in front of him. “I’m not done with this lot yet,” he spat, gesturing to two girls he was using.
“Then finish up, you fucking fag bitch,” Super Handel sneered as he smoked his crack. “Ain’t no one I know who takes that long to cum who ain’t a fuckin faggot.” He grabbed the nearest girl by the hair, shaking her back and forth before throwing her to the carpet. “Got yourself a couple of pretties, eh lad? What’s your fucking excuse? Like sucking the meatpipe too much?”
The man’s face shone pale with anger and fear and sweat. Nevertheless, he stood up and stared down Super Handel, baring his teeth. They were pointed and sharpened like daggers - the trusted weapons of this man Super Handel knew as Wolf Tooth. “Take it back, Super Handel…” he breathed furiously.
Super Handel stood up and kicked a couple bitch rats from his feet to step towards Wolf Tooth. The girls screamed but did little else. He grinned, flashing his yellow teeth Wolfy’s way. “Please accept my apology, Lord Cockthirsty.” Super Handel did a little bow and then looked up at his fellow. His grin grew broader when he saw the anger and hatred in Wolf Tooth’s eyes, his quivering lips, his palms closing into fists. “What’s that, milord? Don’t have nothin ta say? Is your cunt mouth too full of cocks ta speak?”
Wolf Tooth lunged at Super Handel, but the crack addict caught the other man’s fist easily and shoved him up against a wall. “Don’t make me, Super Handel! Don’t make me!”
Super Handel chuckled. “Or what? You’ll cut me to bloody ribbons? Really? Are you that fucking stupid? You know who I am. I’m a legend. I’m a fucking legend! You see these hands?” Super Handel brandished his free hand in Wolf Tooth’s face. “You know how many self-righteous cunts I’ve torn apart with these hands? Not even King Chappa would dare fight me.”
Wolf Tooth narrowed his eyes, but did not respond.
Super Handel spit in his face. “Ain’t nobody I try to kill with these hands gets away. I wantcha dead, you ain’t ever seen again. No one escapes. Not since I was a little boy. But how about it? You want to try your luck? You think it’s time to take over the Red Dragons, cunt? Is it time? Eh? Answer me, stupid cowardly little fuck.”
Wolf Tooth scowled, bringing his chin up to meet Handel’s eyes. “N-no, Super Handel. I’m sorry.”
“That’s what I thought,” Super Handel whispered before pushing Wolf Tooth into the corner. Then he turned to the others, beaming as broadly as the morning sky. “Come on boys, let’s go rescue Junk Eye!”
There was a roar like a jet engine as his soldiers answered in the affirmative, jumping up from their bitches, many of them sweaty and bloody. He grinned. They were his kind of soldiers, truly. Grizzled dogs. The disgusting, foul kind. The ones who weren’t afraid of fucking the world. In this life, it was the strong who survived, the strong who fucked as they pleased. And he would fuck who he wanted until the day he died.
Super Handel led his men out of the bar and out onto the street. There, waiting for them were several dozen police officers. They were huddled behind their hovercars, guns in hand. Each one of the cocksuckers pointed their weapons directly at Super Handel as he exited at the forefront of his brotherhood.
“What’s the meaning of this, officers?” he sneered towards the lead policeman.
Their leader was a tall, broad-shouldered ape of a man. Muscles bulged out from beneath his tight blue armor, and he had the smug look of a cumguzzler on his face. Super Handel hated that look. “We know what your group has been doing in there,” the officer stated.
Super Handel fawned surprise. “Oh yeah? What’s that officer?”
“Rape. Murder. Public intoxication. And desecration of public property. You can’t just go into a bar and do that! It’s against the law! We will deal with all of you under the authority of King Furry. Surrender now and this won’t go any further.”
“Come here, ya fuckin’ coward. Come on! I won’t bite! I just wanna talk,” Super Handel growled, cracking his knuckles. At once, the policemen recoiled and prepared to shoot their weapons. Super Handel just smiled. He knew they wouldn’t shoot. Not with the cunt king of pride at their helm.
The police chief scowled and then looked to either side. Super Handel saw the look on the cunt’s face. He didn’t want to damage his reputation. He didn’t want to be seen as a coward. Looking back to Super Handel and the his gang, the police chief stepped forward. “No funny business, all right?”
The policeman stepped up to Super Handel. “Now, we can do this the-”
“You know why they call us the Red Dragons, you cozy bitch?” Super Handel interrupted.
The police chief was shocked, appalled, enraged. “Wha-”
“Cuz we fuck you till you bleed.”
With that, the chief’s face flushed. In his outrage, he lunged at Super Handel, a punch already in full swing. Super Handel easily ducked around it, stepping behind the man with such speed that the chief didn’t know he had missed until he felt his bones cracking. Super Handel grabbed the man’s arms, pulled them close, and bent them until they shattered in with a thick, sickly crunch. The chief screamed out in pain and tried to wriggle free from Handel’s grasp. But the Red Dragon co-leader held on firmly. He turned around and flaunted his victim to the police across the street. They wouldn’t dare shoot with their leader being held as a hostage. Not yet, anyway. Super Handel grinned at them.
He looked over his shoulder, back to his gang of Red Dragon warriors. “What do you say, boys? Before we pay Junk Eye a visit, how about we play some cops and robbers?”
They roared in approval. Grinning, Super Handel looked back at the policemen and beamed at them with all his ferocity as he took his right hand, brought it up to his hostage’s throat, and plunged his long, dirty nails into the man’s soft flesh.
Gohan had returned home the previous night and stitched his wound up by hand. The pain of it had nearly rendered Gohan blind at some points, but he had grit his teeth and fought through it. Now, at the dawn of the next morning, Gohan found himself in excruciating, paralyzing pain and he was having trouble keeping himself from crying out. He was a martial artist. He was a man. Crying was not part of him. He would not let it become so.
The man struggled his way over to his bathroom and opened the cupboard, searching for painkillers. He saw several pill bottles, but as soon as he picked them up, he felt their emptiness, their uselessness, in his hands. In anger and pain, Gohan threw the bottles across the room. He grunted as the pain overtook him again. Then, breathing slowly and evenly, he tried to clear his mind.
“Just… just need some painkillers. There must… must be some in town…”
Gohan was not a stupid man; he was not a suicidal man. He knew what returning to the town meant. The Red Dragon Brotherhood - or whatever they wanted to be called - was going to be nearby. He had to avoid them at all costs. It would be his life if he didn’t. Briefly did this make the good man think of staying where he was, but another acute stab of pain in his chest quickly convinced him that he needed those painkillers.
The journey through the rugged terrain was no simple jaunt. Gohan’s wound was inflamed, and with every step, it grew more and more difficult to move. Each breath was ragged and hurt his heaving chest. Sweat rolled down his face like tears and Gohan found himself grasping tree branches just to stand up. It felt like an eternity, a slice of hell, just walking down the mountain. And when Gohan finally saw the town on the edge of sight, he nearly burst into tears right then and there.
There was no sign of the Red Dragons when Gohan limped into the town. He made his way up to the stall he so often frequented, looking for that brunette woman he found to be as beautiful as the dawn. Yet as Gohan approached the market, he found it to be wholly abandoned; dust and wind were his only companions in the once-bustling place. Gohan limped forward, peering about with suspicion and caution. He knew not why everyone was gone.
Then, ahead of Gohan, a man came into view. He was bald and shirtless and he had a tattoo of a red dragon on his chest. Seeing this, Gohan’s heart leapt into his throat and panic took him. He rushed for cover, briefly forgetting the wound at his chest. He crashed into the stall with a low thud. Looking down, he saw his wound had torn open again, and blood was quickly staining his shirt. He pressed his now-sticky shirt to his chest and stood up to move again when he saw the door to the house ahead of him open. Out from it peered timid eyes - the very eyes of the brunette Gohan loved. His heart started beating fast again. He could not believe his eyes.
She motioned for Gohan to come forward and he scurried to her as fast as he could. As soon as he made it inside, she hurriedly shut and locked the door. Gohan found a nearby chair and collapsed into it.
“What are you doing here?” The woman asked Gohan. There was something in her voice he had never heard before. Was it fear? Regret? Sadness?
“I… I need some painkillers,” Gohan breathed out, gesturing to his crimson chest. Upon seeing it, the woman’s eyes lit up in horror.
“What happened to you?!”
“It… doesn’t matter. I just… just need some painkillers.”
“I-I carry some at my stall. But when the Red Dragons came… I closed shop. I-I think I put everything in my other room. Let me go check.”
Gohan closed his eyes and tried to think away the pain. Swimming in his thoughts, he saw the face of that great Red Dragon leader, Junk Eye. His terrible face, his terrible smile, his terrible strength. It frightening Gohan. But it made him forget about his pain. By the time the woman came back, he felt numb.
“Here,” she spoke softly, handing him the painkillers. “This is the strongest stuff I have. It’ll make you fall asleep, though.”
“Thank you,” he sighed before swallowing four of the dull red pills in one gulp. “So… what are the Red Dragons doing here?”
The woman’s eyes darkened and she frowned. She glanced about for any onlookers (though there could be none with all of the curtains drawn and the doors locked) and then reached for something in her pocket. Pulling it out, the woman showed Gohan a glittering orange ball with four white stars plastered upon its surface. “Looking for this.”
Gohan froze. “Wh-what are you doing with that?!” he managed to get out after a few seconds of silent horror.
The woman’s face was stony as it was cold. “It doesn’t matter. But I don’t want them to get it. Here, you take it. You can hide it better than me,” she said, shoving the ball in Gohan’s face.
“No, no! I c-can’t!” Gohan pleaded.
Before the woman could respond, there came a knock on the door. The brunette pocketed the small orange ball and then walked up to the door. After looking through the peephole, she opened the door. Gohan thought that she looked scared when she did so. Standing in the doorway then was a feral-looking man with dark hair that had never before been washed and a scraggly, scar-covered face. He was smoking a cigar and had rifle slung over his shoulder. In his free hand, he carried a strange, small device.
“What do you want? Please, just let me be! Go away!”
The man laughed. “We’re doin’ a sweep, darlin’. I’m just going to scan your house for any signs of the Dragon Ball. You don’t have nothin’ to hide, dya?”
Gohan saw the woman go white with fear. That ball she had was the Dragon Ball the Red Dragon Brotherhood was looking for. And if they had some kind of scanning device - some kind of Dragon Ball radar - they would surely find it. She would pay dearly for hiding it from them. Gohan stood up. He felt weak, tired, delirious. The room swum around him, vertigo coming at him in pocketed waves. He blinked away the pain and confusion as best he could.
The man stepped inside and started to scan the house. He walked about casually, not even noticing Gohan, for his eyes were so glued to the device in front of him. Gohan quietly walked passed the man and moved to the door. The woman was watching him, but she did not speak a word. Gohan moved past her like a jackal in the night and gripped the door. Then, he slammed it closed.
The Red Dragon lackey jumped and turned around. Pointing the radar casually in the woman’s direction, the beeper went off. The man’s eyes widened and his mouth gaped in surprise, letting his cigar fall to the floor. But it was not because he then knew that the woman had the Dragon Ball. It was because the man saw a punch flying his way from a bloody, tired, desperate man. And he had no answer to it.
Gohan hit the man to the floor. He felt the man’s nose break on his hard fist and saw the blood soon flying. As the man began to scream, Gohan dropped his leg on the man’s neck and covered his bloody mouth. The man struggled like a well-oiled snake, and Gohan had trouble holding him down. Then, he saw the woman come from behind and hit the man over the head with a book and he went limp. Gohan fell off of the Red Dragon minion gasping for air and feeling his burning chest. Just taking down that man had used up the last of his energy.
“Hey, stay with me!” the woman said, her voice rising. “Don’t die! I can get you some help! My sister is a nurse!”
“She… doesn’t live with you… does she?” Gohan gasped.
“No, but she’s nearby. I can take you in my cart!”
“It’s… not… safe. The Red Dragons are… outside.”
“They don’t have any vehicles. We can outrun them.”
Gohan felt like he was about to faint. He could barely think, let alone argue with the woman. So he nodded like a proper little boy. “Okay… just… please… hurry.”
“I will. But I need to know your name first,” the woman said meekly.
“Gohan,” she repeated, her eyes sparkling. “I’m Sephra.”
Sephra, Gohan thought. Her name rang in his mind like a bell, a sweet bell to be sure, and soon it was all he could think about as sleep overtook him and darkness swallowed his thoughts.
Outside the window, Sephra saw the Red Dragons moving about. She spied that tall one, that demon pig of a man with the messed up eye, ordering his soldiers about. Many of them were looting houses, and the screams of men, women, and children were coarse against the morning air. She glanced back over to Gohan. He was sleeping in the back of her cart. She had managed to drag him to it, as heavy as he was. Now all she needed was an opening. Sephra was a good bicyclist, but towing a large cart with a sleeping man behind her would significantly lower her speed. She needed surprise as much as speed to be her advantage. She shuddered with fear and anger just thinking what that tall Red Dragon leader would do if he found her with his Dragon Ball. She bit her lip.
Sephra was preparing to open her garage door when she saw a group of men come roaring into the town, stopping just in front of the tall man with the weird eye. Many of them were riding motorcycles, and they looked as fierce as she had ever seen men look. These were not idle soldiers - they were true warriors, rough-faced and battle-hardened. As they dismounted, three men at the head of the pack moved directly to the tall Red Dragon man with the messed up eye. Sephra pushed her ear to her window to listen in.
“Junk Eye! How’s it going, ya cocksucker?”
“Don’t call me that, Super Handel. It isn’t nice!”
“Shut your fucking hole, you fucking retard,” Super Handel replied. He slapped Junk Eye across the face. “You lost one of our Dragon Balls. That’s a big fuckin’ problem, eh?”
The other two behind Super Handel nodded.
“Look… Handel… it was an accident. I’ve got my men searching the town right now! I know it’s in here somewhere.”
“It’s Super Handel, you deformed piece of shit,” the other replied so softly that Sephra almost missed it.
Junk Eye went red. “I-I’m sorry, Super Handel! I meant no disrespect!”
“Good,” the other replied before turning to his two compatriots. “What do you say, boys? Should we forgive Junk Eye’s stupid fucking mistake? Should we let the cocksucker back into the brotherhood?”
“The Red Dragons forgive and forget,” one of them pointed out.
Super Handel nodded his head. “Aye, we do. So come on, Junk Eye, let’s find that Dragon Ball,” he then said, patting the taller man on the back.
Sephra saw the relief in Junk Eye’s face as they began walking off.
Then, as the four of them turned and started walking, Super Handel tripped Junk Eye from behind, causing the larger man to flop to the dirt ground like a sack of potatoes. He rolled over just in time to see Super Handel jump on his chest. Super Handel shot his hands forward like a pair of pit vipers and tore out Junk Eye’s eyes. The larger man’s scream was high; it was unbearable. Sephra felt herself gasping in shock. Something welled up in her throat. She hated Junk Eye. He had done unspeakable things to her, but she still a creeping sense of pity for the man.
Blood poured down Junk Eye’s disheveled face. Super Handel kept the larger man pinned down as he squashed the two eyes between his fingers. The dark crimson was everywhere. How could the others stand it?
“You fucking freak. You fucking disgrace,” Super Handel screamed at Junk Eye, spitting on the man’s bloody face. “The Red Dragons don’t want fuckups like you. We don’t allow stupid cunts to lead us. You’re fucking done, garbage-eating bitch.” He spit on the man’s face again.
“Super Handel, we should go,” another man urged. “The Dragon Ball is still out there.”
Super Handel raised a bloody hand. “Give me a moment for fuck’s sake. Now, Junk Eye, it’s time for you to die. You can’t believe how long I’ve waited to wipe that smug grin off of your stupid cunt face. Die, motherfucker!”
Super Handel stood up and held Junk Eye down with a boot to the neck. Junk Eye was still screaming and writhing about, but Super Handel was able to pin the larger man rather easily. “Red Comet attack!” the man roared.
Suddenly, a red light came shooting out Super Handel’s hand. Sephra’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head right then and there. What was happening? Was this some kind of magic trick? Some kind of light show? The light caused the entire street to glow red, though it was most alit at Super Handel’s position. He was silhouetted by the light. Then, Super Handel released the light on the man lying on the floor and an explosion went off, so loud and violent that Sephra’s windows cracked and broke. She jumped back in shock, dodging glass fragments. Then, she looked back out the now broken window. Ahead of her was a dust cloud forming from the attack. It was sweeping through the street, blocking off all sight and sound.
At once, Sephra knew this was her chance. She was shaking uncontrollably from what she had just seen. But she knew in her brain that she had to leave now. Gohan was injured. She had sewn him back up the best she could, but she was no proper seamstress. Her sister would be able to save Gohan. She would be the only one to save Gohan. And Sephra wasn’t about to let the brave man die on her watch - the man who had paid her notice these past few weeks, the man who had showed her love, the man who had saved her from that Red Dragon soldier. She didn’t know if she loved him back, but she had to save his life. She owed him that much. So Sephra pressed the button for her garage door, jumped on her bike, and pedaled out into the dust cloud that was overtaking her town.
She was scared; she was frightened; she was quivering with fear. But Sephra knew that she had to leave. With Gohan and the Dragon Ball accompanying her, it was time to make that journey into the dark.
Chapter 3: Seasick Sailors
"Hope you got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we're in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye"
-Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revivial
The man known as Gohan remembered little of his mad escape from the village. Flashes, glimpses of what was going on entered into his brain and then were discarded with the next breathe. It was all one swirling scene to him, one black thought on the edge of memory. When he finally woke up, he had no idea where he was or exactly what he was in. For when Gohan sat up, he found himself in a wooden carriage bouncing along through the dirt. He peered out of a window with a bamboo flap and found himself to be riding along in the middle of a desert.
Gohan was perplexed. He remembered a few fragments of what had happened to him - the wound he had received from the Red Dragon Brotherhood had started to fester and made him weak, so that woman - no, her name was Sephra, he recalled - had taken him to get help. Gohan scratched his bushy mustache and tried hard to remember what had happened next. There had been another woman all in white and a lot of bright lights, but he didn’t know where that was. He remembered someone dragging him, staring into his face as she walked. It was Sephra, he guessed, but he didn’t remember her face clear enough to be certain.
Gohan looked down at his wound and saw that it was covered in fresh bandages. He patted it lightly and felt no pain. Wherever Sephra had taken him, she had gotten him good help, that he knew. And for that he was grateful. But as to where he was going now, he did not know. He racked his brain for any clues, but he didn’t remember any voices - a few faces, a few lights, but no sounds and certainly no feelings. He figured they had anesthetized him. Gohan felt his stomach rumbling and his mouth was parched. Being so hungry and so thirsty out in the middle of the desert was no good. Gohan sighed and leaned forward. He needed to know what was going on.
Gohan pulled open the bamboo door on the front of the cart and beheld what was ahead of him. Driving through the dry heat with a reckless vigor was Sephra. She wasn’t on the bike he had expected; instead, she was riding a black-and-orange painted chopper. It was a beautiful vehicle, Gohan thought. It made him slightly jealous. He was a manly man. Why didn't he have a hoverbike? He leaned forward awkwardly and poked Sephra on the neck. As soon as he did, she whirled around, and the Gohan saw she was wearing a black helmet with a skull on it and a pair of pink goggles. When she saw him she smiled warmly.
“I’m glad to see you awake, Gohan!” she yelled over the roar of her motorcycle’s engine.
“What happened?! Where are we going?!” he yelled back.
He saw Sephra shrug. “To the Ox-King, of course!”
“The Ox-King?!” he repeated.
“Yeah!” Sephra yelled. “You said I needed to take you there when we were at my sister’s! Don’t you remember?!”
Gohan shook his head. “Do you know where he lives?!”
“My sister looked up his address!” she replied. “I’ve been following her directions! We’re almost there! Just sit back and enjoy yourself!”
Gohan obeyed and sat back. He tried to remember talking to Sephra about the Ox-King, but he couldn’t conjure up the memory no matter how hard he tried. He guessed it made sense. As delirious as he had been, he would not have been stupid. He would have wanted to go to the Ox-King for a clear purpose. It was no light endeavor. He had wanted to see the Ox-King because… because…
Gohan sat up with a jolt, remembering the Dragon Ball he had tucked away in his pocket. He reached in there and pulled out the small thing in one fluid motion. It was a small, queer ball. It seemed like it was made of glass, but it was far sturdier than any glass he had ever felt. Its orange color gave it an eerie glow, and Gohan could see a distorted image of himself in the reflection its smooth sheen produced. He wondered why the Red Dragon Brotherhood wanted it. It had four white stars on it, and Gohan had assumed that there were at least three others with less stars on them. As to what they all signified, he could not know. Perhaps they were worth a fortune. Perhaps they were an old heirloom of one of the Brotherhood’s leaders. He did not know. He only knew that he had to keep the thing from their grasps. That’s what Sephra had said, anyway.
Gohan opened the cart’s bamboo sunroof and settled into a more comfortable position. Sephra was driving smoothly, but this wasn’t the most comfortable of places. Still, with the sun warming his face and the pillows and blankets that lined the inside of the place, Gohan felt a cozy nap coming over him. That was until the first rocket hit the side of the wooden carriage.
Gangrene was a helluva guy. He fancied himself one, anyway. He grinned at himself in the mirror, admiring his fine beard, his polished teeth, and his yellow eyes. His red-brown fur was combed perfectly, giving him an elegant, regal appearance. He was a bear to the men who sat next to him, and he felt very much their superiors. Anthropomorphic animals were looked down in many communities, but not in the Red Dragon Brotherhood. Here, they accepted him for who he was. They made him feel at home.
He was the co-leader of the entire Brotherhood, along with Wolf Tooth and Super Handel. Junk Eye had been the fourth co-leader until Super Handel had gouged out the man’s eyes and killed him for losing one of the Dragon Balls. Even though Super Handel was Gangrene’s co-leader - technically making them equals - Gangrene was afraid of the man. He was so vicious, so powerful, so insane that he could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Gangrene was almost certain that Handel would be the one to make the wish when they finally found that last Dragon Ball. He briefly considered betraying the man just before the wish was to be made, but he discarded that thought in the next instant. Perhaps if he got Wolf Tooth on his side, they could try to assassinate Handel before then, but alone, Gangrene had no hope of succeeding. And if Wolf Tooth proved to be loyal to the insane German freak… well, Gangrene would have to kill him too. And that would leave him alone with the crack-addicted lunatic. He didn’t want that.
Gangrene sighed and looked out the window. The air was hot, though it was pleasant on his face. He opened his mouth and let his tongue taste the arid air. The red rusted pickup truck he was riding in was going quite fast. It was an old hovercar, one of the first models produced, and as such, it ran like it was always on its last leg. Sitting behind Gangrene, lounging across the entire back row of seats, was Super Handel. He was lying lazily on his back, fondling the Dragon Balls and smoking crack. He had the five star and three star balls in either hand and a crack pipe between his lips. Such was the life. To Gangrene’s left was the driver, one of the gang’s lackeys. He didn’t know the man’s name. Gangrene held the Dragon Ball Radar between his paws. He turned his attention back to the yellow blip that was their escaped ball. It was traveling due west, but they were gaining on it.
“Super Handel,” Gangrene began. “We’re almost there. Do ya wanna prepare the welcomin’ party?”
“Fuck if I know,” the man replied. He had the most irritating British accent Gangrene had ever heard. “Now tell me this, Gangy, as my best fuckin’ friend who would never lie to me. Are my pants legitimately on fuckin’ fire? Or am I just dreamin’ this shit?”
Gangrene narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “Your pants aren’t on fire, Super Handel.”
Super Handel raised his eyebrows and pocketed one of the Dragon Balls. “Must be the crack, eh? Haha, fuckin’ powerful shit this is.”
He waved the crack pipe in Gangrene’s face, but Gangrene didn’t take the bait. He turned back around and quietly looked down at the radar again. They were nearly there.
“Super Handel, we need to ready the boardin’ parties,” Gangrene insisted. “Look, I can see cart up ahead!”
Super Handel shot up like a prairie dog out of a hole. “Whatzat?! Oh, look at it. Ugly thing, ain’t it? Course the fuckin’ thieves who stole my Dragon Ball would be drivin’ that retarded piece of shit!” He pointed hard at the wooden cart the car was approaching. “Now Gangy, destroy the bitches’ vehicle. Get the fucking ball back, but don’t kill ‘em yet, alright? I wanna stare into their cunt eyes before I rip them out.”
“You already did that with Junk Eye, Super Handel.”
“Fuckin’ right you are!” he said, shrugging before going back to the crack. “Gotta try some new shit this time.”
Gangrene nodded and turned back to the scene ahead of him. It wasn’t just their hovercar that was pursuing the thieves. The entire brotherhood was with them. Many were riding on hovertrucks with machine guns or rocket stations positioned on their beds. Others still rode on hovercycles, machine guns or pistols in their hands. One way or another, the old cart would be destroyed and the Red Dragons would get their prize back.
As they neared the cart, Super Handel, Gangrene, and the driver all put on sunglasses so they could look cooler than the midnight sky. It was about to start. Super Handel whooped like a hyena, leaned forward, and pressed the button on the truck’s cassette player.
(Cue Bad Moon Rising)
The Red Dragons took up their cries for blood together, screaming wildly like a feral pack of dogs. Many shot their machine guns into the air. A car ahead of Gangrene angled around the cart, allowing the man in the back to get a clear shot off with his rocket launcher. He shot it with impunity, leaving behind a smoke trail that briefly obscured the view from Gangrene’s car. They heard the explosion however, and the roars of the Red Dragons who had seen it. Gangrene’s driver moved their car out of the path of the smoke (as Super Handel started ranting in the back about the bullshit of fire ants) and then they saw the spectacle that had unraveled before their eyes.
Half of the cart had been blown away and what was left was on fire. There was a middle-aged man with a bushy mustache standing in the cart fighting off all of the Red Dragons who got close. Twice, men on hoverbikes tried to board the cart, and twice the man punched them away. Gangrene had to admit, the guy had some good moves. And when he hit the second Red Dragon away, the brotherhood member’s machine gun had flown onto the cart. The thief picked it up and started to fire it back at the Red Dragons chasing him. He turned his head back to his driver and started shouting something, and soon the cart was zigzagging across the desert.
The thief shot the driver of one of the cars ahead, causing it to flip over and collide with another hovercar. The two exploded in a brilliant fiery flash. Gangrene’s driver had to fly right over it, and briefly did Gangrene feel sick to his stomach. He watched as the male thief continued firing the machine gun, hitting numerous hoverbike drivers in the process. The dead men fell from their bikes, and many more vehicles started to crash into each other. Gangrene’s driver had to be more careful to avoid them, and at least once, Gangrene thought they were going to crash, themselves.
Seeing how many men they were losing, Gangrene decided to take matters into his own hands. He opened the glove box and took out a submachine gun. Then, using his bear-like strength, he climbed halfway out of the window and started firing the thing towards the thief. It was hard as hell to aim at all while moving so fast, and with his driver angling around so much carnage, Gangrene couldn’t get a clear shot off. Still, he sprayed his gun around, and he thought he ended up hitting one of his own men, but he couldn’t be sure. He needed to get that ball with whatever means, though, so he didn’t feel bad about it.
The dust started to kick up as a few rockets missed the cart and hit the ground. Gangrene growled softly. He had just combed his hair. He had just taken his bimonthly bath. And now all the sand and dust and dirt was going to get in his perfectly prepared fur coat. It made him angry. So he shot more and more and more, getting more reckless and more wild with each trigger pull. And then Gangrene’s car was right up against the cart. They rammed against it, sending it flying left. He aimed down his sights and found himself looking directly at the thief himself when a bullet hit him in the neck. Gangrene gasped, dropped his submachine gun and nearly fell out of the window. He dug a black claw into the metal roof of the car to keep himself steady as he saw blood pouring out from his gaping wound. He whimpered and howled in pain, but he could do nothing about it. It ached and hurt, but he had to bear through it lest he fall out of the car and get seriously injured. He saw the driver falter and fall back from the cart slightly as more gunfire came flying at his windshield.
Then, ahead, Gangrene saw the male thief throw his machine gun away. It must’ve run out of ammo. Then, he squatted down into a fighting stance. Even though they were traveling at high speeds, Gangrene could hear the man’s voice as clearly as if he was right next to him. It was chilling.
“Kame…hame…ha!!” the man bellowed in a deep, commanding voice.
A blue light overtook Gangrene’s vision and then he felt heat wash over his body. An explosion went off so loud that the bear’s ears rung and popped and he feared he had gone deaf. This time, he was not able to hold on, and he felt himself slipping out of the car. He saw himself tumbling through the air and spotted the cracked, dry ground of the desert fast approaching him, but Gangrene did not remember hitting it.
Gangrene awoke to feelings of pain unimaginable and intolerable. He tasted blood and felt shards of tooth and flesh coating the inside of his mouth. He spit them out in horror and disgust and tried to sit up, but he couldn’t. The bear looked left and saw a graveyard of destroyed hovercars and hovercycles. He looked right and saw the red hovertruck he had been in lying upside down not too far away. The front of it was melted away from that blue attack Gangrene had seen earlier. He saw blood splattered on what remained of the windshield - clearly the driver’s. But he didn’t see where the cart or the rest of the Red Dragons had gone.
Then, a shadow fell upon Gangrene’s face and he looked up. There, standing tall, crack pipe in hand, was Super Handel. He didn’t appear injured in the slightest, though his sunglasses were slightly askew and he was mad. In fact, he was fuming.
“Fuckin’ useless fuck!” He kicked Gangrene so hard that the bear momentarily lost the ability to breathe. He saw black spots and shining stars in his eyes and new waves of pain washed over the old ones. “Gangrene! How could ya? How fuckin’ could ya?”
Gangrene knew many of his bones were broken. His neck, his ribs, he spine, his legs, they were all twisted to hell. He couldn’t move much. Even a small movement of the neck elicited a burst of pain like a knife in the belly. He shuddered. “Super Handel… please… I didn’t mean to…”
“Shut your fuckin’ hole, you useless cunt! You talk when I fuckin’ say you can, bitch!” he screamed, spitting in Gangrene’s broken and battered face. “He got away again! You think this is some kind of fucking joke, cocksucker? Huh? You think I like being humiliated like this? Huh?! One stupid motherfucker! That’s it! One! And he takes out all of our men?! What the fuck?! Why didn’t you fucking shoot him, you useless sack of shit?!”
“Shut the fuck up!” Super Handel roared like a bear. He stomped on Gangrene’s neck, causing the injured co-leader to let out a muffled scream. “Half our men are fucking dead or injured. We only have a few working cars. All this because you couldn’t make your fucking shot, you yellow-eyed, garbage eating miststück! What good is a man with a gun if he can’t shoot anything?!” Super Handel let out a long, uninterrupted scream and then took a heavy hit from his crack pipe. “Du Hurensohn!” he muttered to himself before walking off.
Gangrene could see the other surviving members of the Brotherhood congregated around a few of the remaining working cars. Wolf Tooth was there, but he didn’t even glance at Gangrene. The bastard. It should have been him and Gangrene leading the Brotherhood. They should have killed Super Handel long ago. It shouldn’t have ever come to this. The insane should never run things.
“Super… Handel!” Gangrene cried out, his hoarse voice breaking in the warm air.
The man turned back around to look at Gangrene. There was contempt and hatred building in his eyes like a volcano about to explode. “What now, motherfucker?”
“I need… medical attention… please… take me to a hospital…”
Super Handel returned to his crack pipe before answering. “Nah, mate. You’re fucking right where you need to be,” he said. “And when you finally shrivel up and die, you pathetic little faggot, I won’t have to put up with your bullshit any longer. But me, I’m looking forward to gettin’ you out of my life. It’ll be nice not having to deal with a bunch of fuckin’ failures. Maybe you’ll see that fuckwit, Junk Eye, wherever you go. You two can jerk each other off down in hell for all I care. But right now, you’re fucking done. The Red Dragons don’t tolerate failures.”
Gangrene was crying in pain and fear by the end of Super Handel’s speech. He reached his broken, blood-stained paw out to his longtime friend in utter desperation. He couldn’t die. He was too scared. He wanted to live. He wanted to grow old. He wanted to live life. It took all of his strength to keep his broken furry arm outstretched in Super Handel’s direction. “Super Handel…! Wait… wait! Please, Super Handel! Please! Wait!”
But the man just laughed, turned around, and walked off.
“There it is!” Gohan shouted. Tears started to stream down his face when he saw Ox-King’s great castle on the legendary fire mountain. They had made it, improbable as it had been. He was safe now.
Sephra revved up her engine and raced to the castle gates, tearing right through them without stopping. The motorcycle and half-destroyed cart came bumbling through into the castle’s courtyard screeching and whining as they bent and destroyed the black metal that had once guarded the Ox-King’s palace. Not wasting a second, Gohan jumped out of the charred, smoking bamboo cage and ran up the steps to the great castle door. He beat his hand on it several times until it finally opened. There, standing alone, was the Ox-King himself. He was huge, more giant than man, and his beard was as legendary as Gohan’s skills with the women. Gohan bowed as soon as he saw the king.
“Gohan… what are you doing here? What have you done to my gate?!” the Ox-King asked, stupefied.
Gohan looked back up at him. He saw the Ox-King recoil in shock upon seeing Gohan’s face covered in cuts and smoke and dust. The large bandage around Gohan’s chest made him seem even more ragged and wounded. But Gohan didn’t have time for that. He pulled the Dragon Ball out of his pocket and thrust it into the Ox-King’s face.
“There’s no time, old friend! I’m being chased by a bunch of men who want to kill me. They want this!” he said, emphasizing the small orange ball he was holding by moving his arm up and down. “I need you to help me. For old times sake.”
“Well, I don’t know…” the Ox-King began in his slow, lumbering voice.
“You owe me one!” Gohan said, nearly in tears again. “I set you up with that beautiful brunette…”
“Oh yeah, her,” the Ox-King said thoughtfully, scratching his beard and looking to the sky. “I almost married that one.”
“Look, if you don’t want to repay me, how about this?” spoke Gohan. He was breathing too fast. “You help me deal with these guys who are trying to kill me, and I’ll get your gate repaired.”
The Ox-King scratched the back of his head, looking unsure. Then, his stony face broke into a toothy grin and he stepped forward to embrace Gohan in a tight bear hug. “All right, Gohan. Anything for my best friend.”
Chapter 4: Bittersweet Distractors
"Cracked eggs, dead birds
Scream as they fight for life
I can feel death, can see its beady eyes
All these things into position
All these things we'll one day swallow whole"
-Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead
The sun was just beginning to droop below the horizon by the time Gohan had finished eating dinner. He excused himself from the company of the Ox-King, his servants, and walked down the vacant stone halls of the castle alone. Torches lined the walls and fur rugs were numerous on the floor, but he passed them all without second thought. Soon, Gohan found himself standing in front of two towering glass doors. Pushing them open, the man stepped out onto a balcony which stood tall overlooking the Ox-King’s village.
Gohan leaned up against the finely-wrought balustrade and peered out over the barren landscape. There was a warm favonian wind blowing across his face, but it did little to calm Gohan. For, though yet far off, grey-black storm clouds were looming. It was a curious, unnatural sight for a desert, one that made Gohan feel unnerved.
To clear his mind, Gohan turned his attention away from the approaching storm. Below him was the small collection of houses in the village, and many roads ran from between them out into the expansive desert beyond. Gohan wondered if the Red Dragon Brotherhood was still out there somewhere. They had to be. He had not killed them, and they would not stop chasing him until they got their precious ball back. He shuddered and felt his palms slick over with sweat just thinking about them. Gohan had barely escaped them twice. He did not fancy his luck a third time.
The man knew his folly was staying at his old friend’s house. The Red Dragons had some sort of Dragon Ball tracker, and soon they would arrive. The Ox-King’s land and people would be put at risk all for Gohan’s sake. That was something he couldn’t have on his conscious. He had been graciously fed and tended to by the Ox-King already. There was no point in staying any longer. He needed to draw the Red Dragons away from this little oasis in the desert and deal with them once and for all. With the Ox-King at his side, Gohan knew they stood a fighting chance, as anxious as he was about it.
So Gohan sat up and turned around to go tell his friend his plan when he was met by Sephra. She was standing in the opening of the two great glass doors, her hands on her hips and a strange smile dancing across her face like a rogue sandstorm.
“Nice place, don’t you think?” she said before stepping forward onto the balcony.
“It’s not bad,” Gohan admitted, “but I wish I were home.”
Sephra walked over to Gohan, stopping just to his right. Leaning up against the balustrade, she sighed, “Me too. I can’t wait for this to be over. I can’t imagine how it’s been for you, Gohan.”
“My wounds will heal,” said Gohan as he scratched his mustache. “Your sister and the Ox-King have treated me well.” He laughed. “This old body of mine has a little bit more left in the tank. I’m just happy I could help you escape those monsters. Do you know why they wanted the Dragon Ball?”
Sephra was eying the impending clouds, chewing her lips thoughtfully. “They said it was part of their plan to take over the world, but I don’t know how it would help them with that.”
Gohan frowned. “Well, how did you get ball anyway?”
Sephra’s eyes suddenly went as dark as fury. “I found it by my shop, okay?! That’s it! No need for discussion!”
Gohan was taken aback by her abrupt change in personality. He had never seen her as anything less than friendly before. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. He put a hand out to her shoulder to try to comfort her, but Sephra drew away from him. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Did I say something wrong?”
Sephra shook her head, bowing her head and closing her eyes. “No, no. It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it, Gohan. I’m sorry.” He thought he saw a tear roll down her cheek, but Sephra turned away before Gohan could be certain.
“I-it’s okay. I… I… come here, Sephra,” he said, putting out his arms. “You don’t have to worry. I’m here to protect you. And I-I like you a lot. I hope you know that.”
She faced him again and nodded meekly. Gohan took that as his cue to move forward and embrace her. But the man felt no embrace in return, no warmth exuding from Sephra’s figure. His heart was beating madly; Gohan’s mind was swimming with confusion and lust and love and he didn’t know why Sephra was now acting as if she didn’t love him back. He had seen how she’d been before, when he had come to her stall and flirted with her, when he had learned her name in her house, and when they had talked on the ride across the desert. Why would she take Gohan to her sister to heal him if she didn’t care about him? Why would she play the game if she didn’t love him back? He had to know for certain. Gohan moved his head forward, his lips out, preparing to kiss her. But the look that Sephra gave him then stopped Gohan right in his tracks. It was fear as much as it was disgust; a cold dagger through his beating, living heart. Gohan let go of Sephra and stumbled back, his eyes wide, his lips trembling.
He did not know if he felt anger or betrayal or both. “S-sephra, what is this?! I thought we had something special! Were you just leading me on?! Were you just faking those feelings before? Don’t you feel something for me too?!”
“Gohan… it’s complicated. I-I can’t do this right now. Please, you don’t understand!”
Gohan’s face roared red with color. “No, I do! I understand what’s going on. I saved your life. I’ve gone on this stupid life-and-death mission to hide the Dragon Ball just because you asked me to. Because I thought we had something special. Well, I was wrong. It looks like I’ve risked everything for nothing.”
“Gohan…!” Sephra started, her eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t mean it like that-”
But before Sephra could continue, before Gohan could get angry again, a white blur shot past their eyes. Gohan felt something hit his chest, the air exploding out of his lungs. He was falling, and before he knew it, he was on the ground with a tall man standing over him. Sephra screamed. The man grinned and placed his boot to Gohan’s chest. He was holding something in his hand, and when he saw that he had Gohan’s attention, he gave the martial artist a flash of the orange ball.
“The Red Dragons’ll be taking back what you stole from us, old man. But cheer up. You’re lucky I’m in a good mood today. I’m not going to kill you. Just remember who I am. Remember who we are. The Red Dragons forgive and forget.”
“N-no!” Gohan breathed out, struggling to stand up; but the man’s boot was too firm on his chest.
“That’s right. Now we’ve got all the Dragon Balls. The wish is ours! The world is ours! Hahaha!”
“Wish?” Gohan asked in a deflated, rough voice.
But the man didn’t answer him. Instead, he pocketed the small orange ball, kicked Gohan aside, ran, and jumped off of the balcony down to the village below. Gohan struggled to stand up, but he could only crawl like a drunken baby. He peered through the balustrade, but he did not see the Red Dragon man. Feeling tired, small, hopeless, Gohan turned back around to Sephra, but he found the woman to be gone.
Wolf Tooth jumped from building to building, his boots barely touching the brick walls or shingled roofs before touching off again. He darted through the streets like a hungry dragonfly, moving from shadow to shadow. No one could track him; no one could see him. That old man would not be getting the ball again. That much was certain.
He stopped on the edge of the small village where Super Handel and the remnant of the Red Dragons stood huddled around the few cars they had left. Super Handel had their entire brotherhood with him here, every last one of them. When Wolf Tooth reached the other Red Dragons, he could see helicopters approaching from distance, racing dark storm clouds to their position. Soon, they landed and dozens of men piled out, armed to their bones in weaponry. Mercenaries they were; men whom Super Handel had bought to help him wage war against the old man who had stolen their Dragon Ball. With the Red Dragon Brotherhood’s membership at an all-time low (consequence of so many of them dying the day before), these mercs were more than necessary. Super Handel was dancing when Wolf Tooth approached him, and Wolf Tooth had an opinion that the co-leader of their gang would be dancing even more soon enough.
“Super Handel!” Wolf Tooth shouted. “Super Handel!”
“Fuckin’ hell, mate. What is it?” the man shouted back, juggling four of the Dragon Balls casually.
“I got it! I got the last ball!”
The juggling ceased, and the four orange balls fell to the cracked desert ground. Super Handel pulled down his sunglasses and stared at Wolf Tooth with those crack eyes of his. “No way.” Wolf Tooth produced the ball with four white stars on it and showed it to Super Handel. “Motherfuck!” Super Handel turned to one of his minions. “Get me my fuckin’ crack pipe, man! This is a certified crack pipe moment!”
Super Handel ran up to Wolf Tooth, screaming and hollering and partying to some unknown tune. He jumped at Wolf Tooth, hitting him right in the chest and causing them both to hit the ground. Then, Super Handel pinned the man to the ground and playfully slapped him across the face. “Fucking finally someone who ain’t a disappointment in my life, eh?! Hehe! Whoohoo!”
“Yeah, Super Handel, glad I could help out.”
“Want some crack, mate?”
“No, I’m more of a acid guy, myself.”
“Ahaha, right you fucking are!” Super Handel nodded, jumping off of Wolf Tooth and running back to get his crack pipe from the trembling lackey who held it like a golden artifact. “Now, wolfy, tell me mate, are ya ready to party it up in this bitch?”
“I think we should make our wish now, Super Handel.”
“Oh, bugger that shit,” Super Handel spat, slapping the air. “We gotta make that old cocksucker pay for what he did to us.”
“We should do the wish first.”
Super Handel grabbed a pistol from one of the nearby soldiers and pointed it at Wolf Tooth. “We’re goin’ into town, bitch. We’re gonna rock this fuckin’ world.”
Wolf Tooth paused, then nodded. “Y-yes, of course. We’re going to rock this world.”
Super Handel nodded enthusiastically. “There’s plenty of people there. Plenty ta eat, eh? Y’know’m sayin’? Y’know’m sayin’!”
Wolf Tooth gulped and then nodded. He hadn’t acquired his name by accident. In truth, he loved tearing the flesh from people, feeling their warm blood cascading down his chin and their screams filling his ears, and eating the ripe meat. He loved that. Perhaps Super Handel was right. Maybe they did need to make the old man pay. They needed to ransack the place to show the Red Dragons weren’t a gang to be messed with. He could indulge in pleasure for a few hours. It wouldn’t be bad. But Wolf Tooth did have a weird sinking feeling in his stomach that if they did not make the wish now, they would never make it. He shook his head and cleared his thoughts. That wouldn’t happen. They would make their wish. Until then, he had to be himself. He had to be free. He had to go into town and find some victims. It was the Red Dragon way.
Dread drove Gohan to the Ox-King. His old friend knew what had happened upon seeing the disheveled, dismayed gasp splayed across the man’s face. It was without words then that they exited the Ox-King’s impenetrable fortress home and descended into the chaos that awaited them. It had not been more a few minutes since Gohan had met the man on that balcony, but already, the Red Dragons were overtaking the city like maggots on a dying dog. Gunfire peppered the air and cars were flying down abandoned roads with careless spirit. The residents of Ox-King’s town had fled into their homes to seek refuge, but not everyone had made it. Many townspeople lay dead, their bodies riddled with bulletholes or run over by a car. It was ghastly to witness, and Gohan knew the anger it would bring the Ox-King.
It was a large pool of blood that greeted the two in the center of the next dusty street - far too much for its owner to still be living. As Gohan moved forward cautiously, he saw a man hunched over another off on the sidewalk, behind a rank of trash cans. There was more blood here, trails stemming from the huge pool out in the center of the road. When Gohan came onto the two, the one on top looked up, his face dripping with blood and bits of meat and his eyes yellow with desire. Gohan’s heart steeled itself and he felt his fingers trembling; but then he realized that this was the man who had stolen his Dragon Ball. A keen thirst for revenge overtook Gohan and he wanted nothing more than to make the man feel real pain. What he had done to the poor pedestrian, Gohan could only hope to forget. The first step was making the Red Dragon pay for his deeds.
“You!” Gohan yelled. “Get off of him!”
“A corpse doesn’t mind company,” the Red Dragon replied softly, flashing his sharpened red teeth their way.
“You will pay for that!” the Ox-King boomed, though horror was not hidden from his voice.
“Make me!” the man replied, thrusting his arms out in either direction. “I’ll have a taste of you two before this is over. We’ve already won. The wish is ours!”
“You won’t get out of here alive!” the Ox-King promised. He dropped into a fighting stance.
Rage was building in Gohan’s veins. The injustice of his position was far too much for any man to take. His love interest had left him, he had been constantly on the run from sociopathic murderers, and he had failed in his mission to protect the Dragon Ball. He was a martial artist. It was his duty to protect the world from the scum that stood before him. Enough was enough. Gohan needed to stop the Red Dragon Brotherhood once and for all.
Gohan hunched down into a fighting stance when another Red Dragon soldier walked up behind the one covered in blood. He had a crack pipe in his mouth and a pistol in his hand. He was recklessly shooting it in the air and singing a song about sunshine and moonshine. When he saw the standoff, he let the crack pipe fall from his mouth and a wry smile replace it.
“Wolf Tooth, ya fuckin’ muppet. Why didncha tell me ya found the old cunt? Fuckin’ hell…”
Wolf Tooth shrugged. “He just appeared…”
The other man laughed and humped the air vigorously. “Haha, well let’s kill him!” He whooped to the sky and then pointed at Gohan. “You’re a right fucking git for stealin’ my Dragon Ball, old man. Ya know that, right? I’ll make you bleed for it. I’ll make you squeal like a pig, I will! Nobody messes with the motherfucking Super Handel!”
“The Red Dragons forgive and forget,” Wolf Tooth pointed out.
“Right you are, mate,” Super Handel agreed. “It’s time for the world to forget this fucker.” Then, in a burst of energy, Super Handel grit his teeth and charged at Gohan. Wolf Tooth was not far behind.
(Cue Stree Spirit (Fade Out))
Wolf Tooth was closer to Gohan, so he turned his attention to the bloody man first. He was on Gohan in an instant, throwing punches like one would throw newspapers. His wild, fearless form caught Gohan off guard, causing the older man to stumble backwards, dodging and blocking his opponent’s attack. Wolf Tooth had long fingernails, and he was using them to his advantage by trying to scratch out Gohan’s eyes. Gohan felt them cut into his face, splitting open his skin and spraying blood out. He bit his lip to forget the pain.
Ahead of him, Super Handel was charging at him like a drunk, swerving all over the road. Before he could reach Gohan, however, Ox-King intercepted him, and hit the man with all his weight. It looked like a football player tackling a princess. Super Handel flew through the air as a ragdoll into a nearby building, flying through a window and leaving nothing but a streak of blood behind. Still more Red Dragon soldiers were in the town, and upon hearing the commotion going on, they started converging on Gohan’s and the Ox-king’s position. Many of them were heavily armed with weaponry and started firing at the two. Gohan had to dodge bullets as much as he had to dodge fists. The Ox-King, free of the opponent he had chucked into a building, instead charged the regular soldiers like a mad bull and mercilessly punched them away with bone-crunching attacks.
The storm clouds had reached the city by then, blocking out the sun and heat. As Gohan dodged Wolf Tooth’s blows, he felt something land on his bleeding face; rain it was not, he realized. It was snow. He blinked and looked upwards. There was a torrent of snow falling, cold and deliberate.Within a few moments, the entire city was covered in falling snow, greatly obscuring visibility. Gohan could have sworn that it was a blizzard that they were in, but he didn’t have time to mull it over, for there was a man who was trying to eat him right in front of him. Briefly then did they engage in a match of blows that was unlike anything Gohan had ever experienced before. Abandoning reason for madness, the two put their blocks down and then started punching as much as they could. Gohan felt his body and face soon get covered in bruises as he exchanged attacks with Wolf Tooth. The speed of their attacks drained their energy, and within a few seconds, Gohan felt weak. He knew his opponent did as well.
Wolf Tooth’s exhaustion caused him to slip in the mushy snow that had fallen to the ground, giving Gohan an opening. He sprang forward and sent a flying kick right into Wolf Tooth’s jaw, knocking him away. Gohan instantly pursued him, dodging the perilous gunfire that was whizzing around his head as if he were in a battlezone. When he got to Wolf Tooth, the Red Dragon reached out, grabbed his leg, and pulled him to the ground. Then, he jumped on top of Gohan, elbowing him in the nose and reaching for his neck. Gohan felt numb from the snow up against his flesh. He could barely feel his fingers. He could not grasp around Wolf Tooth’s own hand. So instead, Gohan grunted and used all of his energy to roll to the side, taking Wolf Tooth into the snow with him. Around them, the screams of dying townspeople and Red Dragons intermingled with the gusting wind that was the planet’s own cries.
The bloody Red Dragon soldier was digging his fingernails deep into Gohan’s arms, causing even more blood pour out. Gohan groaned aloud that time, the pain overtaking him and allowing Wolf Tooth to beat his face with his fists. Gohan was seeing spots, hearing nothing, feeling nothing. One thought kept pounding itself into his skull as much as Wolf Tooth’s fists - survive. Survive, he thought. I have to survive. He blinked his eyes and tasted iron. Before him was Wolf Tooth, grinning devilishly. Just as Gohan’s eyes were clearing, he saw Wolf Tooth lower his head towards his own, the man’s bloody red teeth opening for the bite they were about to take. Gohan acted on reflect, on instinct when he shot his head forward, hitting his forehead into Wolf Tooth’s teeth. He felt many of them shatter and break against his skin, a few shards lodging themselves into his face, but not hurting too much. Wolf Tooth fell off of Gohan, screaming and spitting up blood.
Gohan stood up, breathing heavily and spitting out his own blood. He looked around and saw explosions going off on the edge of sight. A glint of flame or light was all he saw in the snowstorm, and screams soon followed. He only hoped that the Ox-King was the one causing the screaming. Turning back to Wolf Tooth, Gohan moved up to the man as silently as he could. He didn’t want another trick. But Wolf Tooth was in no position to attack him again. He was covering his bleeding mouth, rolling in the snow in sheer pain. Gohan reached into Wolf Tooth’s pocket and pulled out the Dragon Ball, then prepared to kill the man. He had to do it. He had to kill him. If he didn’t, the Red Dragons would come after him again. They would kill more innocent civilians. It was for the greater good. Gohan spit out more blood and then sighed. He crouched down and started charging up a Kamehameha. It would be the cleanest way.
Then came the Ox-king. His beard was covered in snow and his body had multiple wounds dripping blood, but he ran as if he was unafflicted. He came to Gohan, grabbed him, and then rolled away in the snow. A second later, a bright flash blew past Gohan’s previous position - a rocket it was, and if it had hit him, he would have surely died. Gohan struggled against the Ox-King’s grip all the same, however.
“I have to kill him! He can’t get away!”
“They’re retreating, Gohan! We should let them go.”
“No!! They’ll come back unless we kill them! They’ll never stop hunting me!”
Gohan felt the Ox-King shift uncomfortably where they lay. “But Gohan, we’re hurt. It’s too dangerous. We have to treat our wounds.”
Gohan shook his head. “At the very least, we should make sure they are leaving the village. For your people’s safety, Ox-King! You have to believe in that. Come on!” Gohan just wanted to kill some Red Dragons, regardless of what he said. He was desperate.
The Ox-King sat there for a moment, feeling a wound on his stomach gingerly and grimacing. Then, he looked up at Gohan, nodded solemnly and followed his friend into the screaming blizzard.
Delirium clouded all else. Panic, desperation, fear were not far behind. Wolf Tooth ran through the snow, stumbling and shivering and bleeding and hurting but never stopping. He knew what awaited him if he did. He knew little of what had happened to the rest of the brotherhood. He had seen a few scattered bodies frozen in the snow, but no sign of anyone living. He hoped Super Handel was still alive. If not, there would be nothing but chaos. In his current condition, his mouth a lightning bolt of pain, he could lead no one. He didn’t care to, either. He only wanted to live, to escape the hell he was currently in. Nothing else mattered.
Wolf Tooth howled in pain as the wind hit his face, enflaming his bloody gums. Not all of his teeth had been knocked out by the old bastard’s cowardly attack; a few were hanging loosely in his mouth, sending waves of pain though his body with every movement his made. He couldn’t even clench his teeth to fight through the pain.
After some time of walking, Wolf Tooth felt the snow lessening and saw that he was outside of the small village. Soon, he heard the sound of helicopters and cars and people. He could see footprints in front of him - dozens of them, he was sure. His heartbeat quickening in his throat, Wolf Tooth broke out into a run to find his way back to his only friends.
Both helicopters were buzzing, and soldiers were piling into each one. Sitting in the holding area of the nearest one, his legs dangling out of the open door, was Super Handel. His face was bloody, his arms bruised. He looked utterly tired. His crack pipe had surely been lost in the scuffle before, and that was going to contribute mightily to his mood. No one looked up as Wolf Tooth entered the area. He made his way past several soldiers retreating the the helicopters, not one of them giving him a respectful nod or helping him wade through the snow. He was their leader, damnit. How dare they disrespect him like this, the useless fools.
As Wolf Tooth approached Super Handel’s helicopter, a soldier yelped, “They’re comin’ at us again! Both of them! The old one and the huge one! Kami have mercy oh, oh, oh!”
Super Handel shot up like a prairie dog on blue meth. He turned to the pilot of his vehicle and screamed madly, his eyes bulging, “Get this fuckin’ bird in the air right now or I swear I’ll rip open your throat and shit down the hole! Do it!”
The pilot needed no more motivation to take off. Wolf Tooth saw what was going on, his get away literally flying away and ran forward. The mercenaries that Handel had hired were not in the helicopters. Instead, they had taken up defensive positions around the rest of the soldiers, preparing to fight the two martial artists to the death. Wolf Tooth would not die with those idiots. He would not.
“Thuper Handel! Wait!” he screamed. It hurt so much to speak with his teeth in shambles. Tears welled in his eyes, but quickly froze against his skin.” Thuper Handel!”
As the helicopter was rising, Super Handel poked his head out the door and scanned the snowy ground for who was calling him. Focusing in on Wolf Tooth, his eyes narrowed and he frowned. “Wolfy? Where the fuck have you been?”
“Where’s my Dragon Ball?”
“Where’s my fucking Dragon Ball?!” Super Handel roared down at him.
Wolf Tooth felt over his pockets quickly and came to the terrifying realization that he no longer possessed the ball. That old man must have taken it, or maybe it had fallen out when he had retreated. He did not know. No matter, he did not have the ball, and he would not be getting back in his current condition. “I-I… lotht it!”
Super Handel’s eyes went dark. “You worthless piece of shit.” He turned back to the pilot and nodded. “Lower us back down. We’ll pick him up.” Looking at Wolf Tooth, Super Handel’s mouth became a lipless slit of rage. “Well, come on then. Let’s get out of this fucking wasteland.”
“You mean it, Thuper Handel?”
Super Handel held out his hand for Wolf Tooth. Wolf Tooth grasped it and the helicopter started rising into the air again, above the other one still on the ground. Wolf Tooth was confused.
“Pull me up!”
But Super Handel did not. He let Wolf Tooth dangle like an ornament on a Christmas tree. Wolf Tooth looked back down to the ground, which was slowly disappearing into the darkness. He heard bullets start firing below him as the two martial artists entered the area. The other helicopter started to take off, and explosions started going off as the mercenaries were killed and cars were destroyed. Wolf Tooth looked back up at Super Handel.
Super Handel looked at Wolf Tooth for a long moment and then smiled. “You know what we say, Wolfy, when it comes to this, eh?”
“The Red Dragon Brotherhood forgives and forgets.”
And then Wolf Tooth felt himself falling, his stomach in his throat and his mind in the blizzard itself. Tumbling head over foot, the man caught but a glimpse of the second helicopter, silhouetted by the many explosions going off on the ground, directly below just as it began to rise up towards him, unknowingly oblivious, its voracious blades a steely whirlwind cutting through the silent falling snow.
Chapter 5: Minor
"I'm not trying to stop a hurricane
I'm not trying to shake the ground below
I'm just trying to find a way to make it back home
I'm not trying to part the ocean waves
I'm not trying to overthrow the throne
I'm just trying to find a way to make it back home
I'm just trying to get home"
-Home by American Authors
He winced, tilting his head to one side and shaking it to stop the pain. The strawberry margarita had given him another brain freeze. He was being careless. He took another drink and brought his drooping eyes back to where the woman was bending over, feeling how warm the water in the pool was. He felt a different kind of warmth rush over his body as he continued to peer on. She was wearing a two-piece, which barely concealed her tan oiled skin. He realized he was gaping again, so the man took another sip of his alcoholic beverage.
He leaned back on his plastic chaise lounge and opened up a newspaper to seem inconspicuous. He didn’t want to be found out; he didn’t want the woman to leave or hit him for leering. He pretended to read the daily news, which included a story about a red comet in the sky, a written update about the gang that had butchered an entire police force in Central City not three days ago, and an article on the underratedness of eating large quantities of apple seeds. He read not a single one of them, as enticing as their headlines were; instead, the man poked his sunglass-protected eyes over the paper and watched the woman as she walked, her large, supple breasts bouncing with every step. He started to salivate.
It was close to evening when she finally jumped into the pool of the cruise ship. He watched her swim about, splashing friends, shouting and playing, and getting her slim, silky body all wet. He took another drink and watched her still. He was hidden under an umbrella, where the sun, which was blazing above in the empty azure sky, could not reach him. He liked it that way. A cool breeze was drifting across the ocean, and it was keeping the entire ship pleasantly cooled. He sighed. This is the life, he thought.
Over the low buzz of the people in the pool, another noise then came to the man’s ears. This was louder - the low roar of an engine. The man sat up, puzzled at why such a sound would be coming towards the cruise ship. He blinked and saw ahead of him a small red hovercar racing to the boat. He gasped when he realized who was driving it. Standing up stiffly, the man grabbed his walking stick and adjusted his Hawaiian shirt, brushing away old food crumbs, and then smoothed over his quite-nearly-bald head. The hovercar came sputtering towards him, landing right on the deck of the ship itself. People all around were standing up like the man was, many of them irate and annoyed by the intrusion, others puzzled or afraid. The man felt none of those emotions. He only felt anxious. He gripped his walking stick and walked forward, hunched over as he went.
Two men jumped out of the hovercar. One was somewhat old - though not nearly as old as the man - with a bushy mustache and a long face. The other was the size of a giant, his chest akin to a great tree trunk, his face covered in a beard that was a forest. The man walked up to these two newcomers and bowed. They did likewise.
“Master Roshi!” the one with the greying mustache shouted. “We’ve been looking for you!”
“Have you?” Master Roshi replied, clutching his walking stick even more firmly than before. “You know I’m on vacation, don’t you? Come on, shoo! Shoo! Can’t you see, you’re ruining my game?” He gestured to the woman in the pool, who was watching them with wide, confused eyes. “I think she likes me!”
The two men ignored Roshi’s lust. The larger one instead looked to the other and spoke: “Come on, Gohan, show Master Roshi the ball!”
“Oh right,” Gohan said, fumbling for something in his shirt pocket. Then, producing a shining orange thing, he presented it to his former master proudly. “Here, look! Do you know what this is, master?”
“That’s all you want to know? You interrupted my vacation just for that?!”
“Please Master Roshi, it’s urgent,” said the taller man who Roshi knew to be the Ox-King. “There’s someone who wants this really bad. He’ll do anything for it… even kill for it!”
Master Roshi furrowed his brow and sighed heavily. “Very well. But once I’ve told you what this thing is, will you leave me in peace?” They nodded a bit too enthusiastically. “Good. What you have there is a Dragon Ball - one of seven. If you gather all of them together, Earth’s legendary Eternal Dragon will appear and grant you any wish you desire!” Roshi looked back to the woman in the pool. “You wouldn’t happen to have all seven, would you?”
“No,” Gohan said. “Some group has the other six. I guess that’s what the wish is that they were talking about, though. It explains why they were trying to get this one from me. They’ve been hunting me down for days! But we lost them a few days ago back at Ox-King’s castle. I didn’t know what to do, so we came here to get your help.”
“You need help taking on an opponent?”
“Yes, Master Roshi! They are very strong!” the giant bellowed.
“What was the point in training you two if you can’t even defend yourselves?” Roshi snapped.
“Master Roshi, this is different! These guys are monsters!”
Master Roshi went to respond, but suddenly they heard a new sound that quickly drowned out their conversation. This one was a roar of blades - a helicopter on fast approach. The three martial artists spun around to see a black military helicopter come screaming towards them, an errant banshee on the otherwise sunny, peaceful day. Within a matter of moments, it was hovering above them. Roshi saw Gohan’s eyes bulge with horror, the Ox-King swear under his breath, and vacationing people around run out of the area in fright. Surely, they had never seen something like this happen before. Then, from the helicopter, ropes were flung out, and men dressed in heavy military gear slid down them, eventually landing on the wooden ground of the cruise ship. Chief amongst these men was one who stood taller than the rest. He wore urban camouflage pants, dark steel toe boots, a black wife beater, and ammo bandoliers all across his body. He was smoking a cigar and holding a pistol - which he was pointing at Roshi and his compatriots - and he had an RPG strapped to his back. With a breath of smoke, he stepped forward.
“This has been one wild fucking goose chase, ya old cunts,” the man rasped in a heavy British accent. “But looks like we’re at the end of the line. Gimme my Dragon Ball back, and no one has to get hurt. But if ya don’t,” he began, unshouldering the RPG with his left hand whilst keeping the pistol trained on them with his right, “I sink this fucking ship. So whaddya say, cunts?”
Gohan tightened his fists. “How did you find us so quickly?”
Super Handel cocked his head. “Oh you thought we ran away, didya?” His face grew dark and he turned to look over the soldiers standing still behind him. “The Red Dragon Brotherhood don’t run from no one, you barmy fuck! We were tracking you with our Dragon Ball Radar!”
Gohan shook his head and mumbled softly to himself, “I thought we destroyed that thing back in the snow…”
“We don’t want any trouble,” Master Roshi began.
“Shut the fuck up!” Super Handel spit. “Gimme my ball or everyone fuckin’ dies, got it? No more arguin’!”
The RPG was pointed right at the deck of the cruise ship. Below, countless innocent vacationers were partying unsuspectingly, Gohan knew. He couldn’t let them die. The old man fell into a defensive pose and looked over at his two companions. Ox-King did the same. Master Roshi stood as straight as a tree, his arms behind his back, coolly surveying the scene from behind jet black shades. Gohan looked to the sky and sighed. He had thought he was done being a hero, done protecting the world. He just wanted to live his life in peace. He wanted to go home, to enjoy his quiet house on his quiet mountain and live out the rest of his life. But Sephra had ruined that dream. And here he was, defending her and all the others from the scourge of the Red Dragon Brotherhood. She was probably back at the village, selling fish for ridiculously high prices. He felt his nails digging into his palms. It was no use. The Red Dragon Brotherhood had to be stopped, no matter the cost. But he was old, Gohan was. He was tired. And he hurt. He wished it didn’t have to be this way.
Gohan let out a breath slowly and reached for the Dragon Ball. Super Handel’s eyes followed him the entire way. As soon as he had plucked the orange glass from his shirt pocket, he raised the ball and prepared to throw it. Super Handel pocketed his pistol and thrust out his gloved hand, palm up. He nodded to Gohan. Gohan looked once more to his companions and then threw the ball.
And then Gohan ran as fast as he could.
He barreled into Super Handel before the man had even seen him. He felt the taller, younger man’s body snap like a tree in a storm, and they both fell to the ground. The RPG went off, shooting into the deep blue above. Gohan heard an explosion, screams, felt flames and sparks falling all around him, but he never looked up. He punched Super Handel across the face, kicked him in the stomach, and grabbed his RPG. Flinging the thing over the edge of the boat, he then returned to his position and caught the Dragon Ball he had thrown not two seconds before.
The soldiers were already aiming their guns at him when the Ox-King and Master Roshi attacked. The Ox-King flung men as if they were dolls; Gohan’s old master fought with his flip-flop-laden feet, kicking and tripping all who stood in his way. Soon, chaos enveloped the top of the cruise liner. As soon as Gohan had pocketed his Dragon Ball with four stars on it, he saw the Red Dragon helicopter come crashing down onto the deck, blackened and aflame, its blades twisted and broken and its occupants reduced to red piles of meat. It landed between Gohan and the others, and he could scarce see what was going on because of it. Before he knew it, however, Super Handel came flying out of the smoke and flames of his helicopter, feet first, screaming for Gohan’s blood.
Gohan dodged out of the way of the oncoming attack and countered with a spinning kick of his own. Super Handel flew into a nearby chair, splintering it and yelping. He stood up only to be met with Gohan’s hardened fist. Gohan saw the man’s lip bleeding profusely now. But Super Handel didn’t seem to notice. He roared and kicked Gohan’s feet out from under him. Then, he lunged into the older man with his shoulder. He grabbed Gohan by the shoulders and then headbutted him back. Gohan gasped and blinked, seeing bright white lights and black dots and nothing else. He put up his defenses, but Super Handel came crashing down on him from above. Blinking away the blindness, Gohan caught a glimpse of the man running at him again. This time, Gohan jumped up out of the way, back flipped and landed right behind his opponent. Before Super Handel could turn around, Gohan elbowed him, flipped over, tackled the man, pinning him to the ground, and then beat his head in with all of his strength. But even as Super Handel was getting pummeled, Gohan saw him reaching for his holstered pistol. Gohan went to grab it, but it was too late. Super Handel was as fast as lightning. He pulled out the gun, aimed it at Gohan, and shot him in the side of the chest.
Gohan felt the air leave his lungs like a vacuum was sucking it all away. He saw spots again as he fell to the splintered wooden floor of the cruise ship. And then the pain came to him, and Gohan screamed louder than he had ever screamed before.
Super Handel stood over the bleeding, crying man gingerly. He had his pistol trained on the old fuck in case he tried anything stupid. But Super Handel knew he wouldn’t. He knew the man was dying.
“Where’s my fuckin’ ball, eh?” he shouted, spitting blood and snot on the man.
“I-I… don’t have it…” the man wheezed.
“Bullshit,” Super Handel whispered, kicking the man hard where his wound was. The man cried out again. Super Handel was done playing games. He was tired of losing. He wanted his ball, his victory, and he wanted to get out of this fucking place before it all went to hell. So he rolled the man over and felt in his shirt pockets for the ball until he found it. Then, pulling it out, he shook it in front of the man’s head briefly before putting it in a knapsack on his belt that housed the other six. “I knew you were lying. Fucking cunt.”
Super Handel stood back up and smiled when he saw the despair on the old man’s face. “Don’t worry, cunt. You’ll bleed out soon enough. Heheh!”
“Y-you… won’t win…” the man breathed.
“I won’t, eh? I already have! I’ve got the fuckin’ ball, mate! It’s my precious, you todger.”
The man tried to stand up, but Super Handel kicked him back to the ground. “It’s fucking over. No use trying anymore. You know mate, the hero doesn’t always win. Some of them gotta die; some of them gotta lose. And this time, that’s gonna be you! Hahaha!”
“I’m… no hero…” the man replied, ferocity in his face.
Super Handel’s grin vanished in an instant; replacing it was the rage of a thousand drug overdoses. “Ain’t no hero? Ain’t no fuckin’ hero?!” He spread his arms around him, his mouth agape, and circled the man. Behind him, more explosions were going off, flame and smoke covering the ship save for where he was. The helicopter’s wreckage obscured the heat from his body, so he was in no great rush. “Don’t make me laugh. You’ve been at this since the fuckin’ beginning! You’ve been tryna stop us the whole time!”
“I-I… don’t… don’t…”
“Cunt!” Super Handel yelled. “The Red Dragons always get the last laugh!”
“Pl-please…” the man started. “Don’t do this…”
Super Handel’s eyes flickered with the flames around him. He closed his mouth and pursued his lip while aiming his pistol right at the man’s head. “I’ve had enough of you, you bloody wanker. Just shut up and die.”
Super Handel took a breath and pulled the trigger. An explosion went off at the same time, causing him to stumble forward and miss the shot. The bullet hole was just a few inches away from the old cunt’s face. He exhaled ferociously out of his nose and aimed again. He looked down at the man pleading for his life with those big, watery eyes of his. The Red Dragon leader pulled down on the trigger again.
This time, Super Handel’s shot went off into the sky, like his RPG had previously, because he was being tackled by that big hairy oaf of a man. It was like being hit by a car (Super Handel had been hit by many a car in his younger always-high days, so he knew the feeling quite well), and he couldn’t breathe. When the giant threw Super Handel, he had to lie there crumpled on the ground for several seconds, gasping for air. When he looked up, the giant and the old man in the Hawaiian shirt were standing in front of him. He growled, gathered up his breath, and charged them.
He couldn’t even think about what he was doing; it was automatic. Fighting two-on-one, he had to be far more aggressive than even he was accustomed to. He punched wildly at both of them, each one blocking one of his hands with both of theirs. He ran around them like a rabid wolf, striking like a bloodthirsty python, never getting hit, always on the offensive. He felt his muscles seizing up, the lactic acid building to muscular lethargy, but still he pushed them past the burning wreckage, past the bloody bodies that had been his soldiers, past the dying old man whom he had shot. They reached the edge of the ship. Blood and sweat coated Super Handel like a shield, but he was exhausted. He let loose a flurry of punches, briefly overmatching both of his opponents before collapsing on the hard wood. The two of them were covered in as many bruises as he, and they were tired too. If only he had another spike of energy, he could kill them right now.
“Give us the ball, son,” the man with the Hawaiian shirt said softly. Super Handel grew angry upon looking his way. How could this old man and the other one do so much damage to him? What the hell was going on? Instead of complying, he threw a drunken punch the man’s way, but it was easily parried. The older man nodded to his giant companion, who then bull rushed Super Handel and tore the knapsack from his belt. All seven Dragon Balls were in there.
“No!” said Super Handel hoarsely. “Give ‘em back, you stealing motherfucker!”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” the older man replied solemnly. “You can’t be trusted with them.”
“Liar!” Super Handel took out his pistol and went to fire it, but the older man effortless kicked it away into the ocean below. Super Handel slumped up against the boat’s railing. He saw the other man whom he had shot come stumbling up to the group.
“I… n-need to go to the hospital. It’s bad, M-master Roshi… I won’t make it if we wait…”
Master Roshi nodded. “Ox-King, take Gohan to the hospital in your hovercar. I’ll stay here and put these fires out.”
The Ox-King grunted and picked up Gohan like he was a sack of flour. He then carried the man off into the smoke. Master Roshi turned away from Super Handel and began walking off as well. Super Handel’s face went red with rage. They were ignoring him now. Those fools were ignoring the greatest man who ever lived. Well, he would show them. Just thinking about it, Super Handel felt a much needed surge of energy course through his raging veins.
“Hey, fuckface! Where’ya goin’?! I gotta present for ya!” he shouted to Master Roshi, his voice cracking. “Red Comet attack!”
Gohan felt numb and cold, which scared him considering all the fires burning around him. He should be overheating. But he was shivering. He was dying, he knew. The Ox-King was carrying him back to the hovercar. If they went fast, he would get Gohan to the hospital in time. As they were making their way through the smoke and the bodies of Super Handel’s lackeys, the two of them heard a cry:
“Red Comet attack!”
The entire upper deck of the cruise ship then lit up red. The smoke dissipated and Gohan could hear the screams of other vacationing people watching from the lower decks. The Ox-King whirled around and showed them both what had just happened. Super Handel was standing with his arms extended, a red beam of energy shooting from his palms right at Master Roshi. Roshi had but a moment to react. He turned around, saw the attack coming at him, jumped back, tore off his shirt and began charging his famous Kamehameha. He only got off the blue beam a foot before the Red Comet hit him.
The beam struggle was not looking favorable for Master Roshi. Super Handel had used the element of surprise to gain the swift advantage. The beams were clashing so close to Master Roshi, that the sparks shooting off from their collision were hitting him. Master Roshi hadn’t had time to charge up to his full power, and now Gohan knew that there was a good chance he would lose. He was beginning to falter.
“Ox-King, set me down,” Gohan said weakly.
“But Gohan, we have to go! You’re hurt!”
“Master Roshi’s in trouble. We can’t leave him like that.”
“A-are you sure, Gohan? You could die.”
Gohan felt his feet hit the ground. He was already charging up his attack. He didn’t have time to feel the pain or the strain on his body. He knew he was losing energy with every second. It was now or never.
“Ka…me…ha…me…ha!!!” he bellowed.
Super Handel’s head snapped to Gohan’s position just in time to see the blue energy beam racing towards him. His eyes bulged in horror and he lost his concentration. Master Roshi was able to overcome Super Handel’s own attack then, his Kamehameha pushing back the red blast eagerly. All at once, the two Kamehamehas converged on the Red Dragon’s location. Gohan heard the man scream:
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”
Then, the attacks exploded. White light overtook the entire area, smoke soon following. Gohan didn’t hear the explosion. He saw the lights, but he felt himself falling. His legs had given out. He couldn’t feel those either. He didn’t know if Super Handel had died or if they had beaten him, but he smiled all the same. A warmth came over Gohan’s body at that moment and he felt himself laughing. He could hear nothing besides his own thoughts.
Maybe Super Handel was right, he thought. Maybe I am a hero.
Gohan closed his eyes and breathed in the sweet rugged air. He smiled broadly before continuing down the mountain to the little riverside village. He had a finely-wrought walking stick with him, and it helped him get over the particularly nasty areas with ease. He walked with a limp, but he figured it was now healing to the point of being barely noticeable.
The man strolled into the village around seven or eight o’clock. It was pitch dark, save for the lit torches that lined the dirt streets snaking into town. Gohan maneuvered his way past several bicyclists frantically pedaling past him in either direction and fell into line with the women carrying baskets on their heads who were basically running into town to get what they needed as quickly as possible. He chuckled to himself thinking about how tense all the people were. Despite not sharing their constant sense of urgency, Gohan felt at home amongst them. It was good to be back.
Gohan went to the market and ordered himself some fish, vegetables, noddles, and spices that he fancied he would make into a soup that night. He glanced over to where the stall Sephra used to run was. The stall was still standing where it always had been, but no torches were lit around it, no food was being sold there, and no one was manning the station. He wondered what had happened to Sephra. Had she left the village to move in with her sister? Had she fallen in love with someone and moved to a big city to start a new life with him? Was she truly gone? He did not know and he did not care. Gohan would have felt sore thinking about her if he had not been so happy to be back home, living a humble and free life on his own terms.
He returned home with a torch in hand and set down his groceries on the table. Gohan set the torch into its place in the wall and then began unpacking all that he had bought. He took out a carrot and smiled. He had missed eating home-grown organic food. It was the simple pleasures, such as that, that kept him going. He would feast tonight. As Gohan continued to unload the food he had bought, he caught a glimmer of orange coming from the room ahead of him. He looked up and saw the four-star Dragon Ball sitting on a pillow on a table.
Gohan thought back to the months he had spent in the hospital healing from the agonizing battles against the Red Dragons. The Ox-King and Master Roshi had visited him several times, but they had been the only ones. There was no one else who thought he mattered, it had seemed. On the last visit, Master Roshi had proposed the idea that they should split up the Dragon Balls so no evil person or group could use them. Gohan had immediately reached for the four-star ball which sat at the top of the late Super Handel’s knapsack. It had been with him since the start of his journey, and he was not going to forget that. It was his ball, but it wasn’t just a memento. It had become part of him on his quest against the Red Dragons. He didn’t know why he thought that now, but he did.
Master Roshi had taken the three-star Dragon Ball, and the Ox-King had taken the seven-star one. For the others, they were less sure of what to do. Gohan suggested they drop one in an ocean, bury one in the arctic region, throw one in a volcano, and hide another in a forest. He didn’t know if Master Roshi hid the balls in those specific ways, but he trusted that his master did away with them properly.
His whole life, Gohan had never felt like the hero type. Even when he had been younger, fresh out of Master Roshi’s Turtle School, he had not tried to gain glory or fame. At the same time, he knew he could not sit back and let evil things happen. For years, he had tried to fight the never ending stream of crime in West City. But that had worn on him greatly. He had never been happy doing that. Constantly protecting everyone had made him tired and miserable, and it had nearly driven him to insanity. He couldn’t deal with it anymore. He was older now, and Gohan needed to live his own life how he wanted to. He didn’t mind helping those who needed help, but he knew that no matter what he did, his actions would be small. There would always be evil and there would always be good. He was just one person in the mix. Now, it was just the small town by the edge of a river that he would swear to protect. They didn’t know who he was. They didn’t see him as a hero for stopping pickpockets or burglars, and that was fine. He was happy to live an unassuming life now. The Dragon Ball would stay in his house as long as he lived. No evil person would ever be able to use it. That was one thing he could promise to the world, at least. He would be its guardian.
Gohan sat down at the table to prepare his soup. He felt his mouth watering as he chopped up the vegetables and prepared the broth. He had missed this life so much. He felt tears coming on, but swore the onions were causing them. He sat back and rubbed his eyes clear and shook his head. This was no time to get sad. His long and harrowing journey was finally over. Gohan could finally rest. He could finally be happy again.
It was good to be home.
- A prologue or epilogue (who knows which?!) to this story was posted in my 2016 one-shot collection, The Heels of the Unknown. It features Super Handel fighting a strange monster cult, stealing drugs from old women, and confronting Mercenary Tao.
|Ain't No Hero|
|Protagonists||Grandpa Gohan • Ox-King • Master Roshi • Sephra|
|Red Dragons||Super Handel • Junk Eye • Gangrene • Wolf Tooth|
|Other characters||Tertiary characters in Ain't No Hero|