The Ways of the Saiyans
Chapter 1: The Last Night of Kukatoh
The Saiyan cities were quiet beneath the burning sun as it sank slowly toward the horizon, painting the sky brilliant colors of red, gold, and blue as it went. The streets beneath the hot sun were empty and scorching, and all of the doors and windows on all of the buildings were shut. To an outsider, it would almost look as though every city and village on the planet had been abandoned. Even the great Royal Palace looked deserted from the outside. From within the buildings, however, soft voices could be heard whispering prayers and chants. Once the sun had finally vanished below the horizon, five figures emerged from various buildings in each of the numerous cities, including from the Palace, and flew over to tall towers near the center of all of the cities, as faces full of anticipation began appearing in windows. Landing on the top floor of the old stone towers, they walked up to the massive, gold, ball-shaped bell that hung there, and two grabbed hold of the gold rod next to the bell and swung it forward. The rod struck the side of the great bell and released a loud, clear sound that could be heard throughout the entire city.
BONG. . .BONG. . .BONG. . .BONG. . .BONG. . . .
As the fifth note echoed out, every house flung open its doors and the people flooded out into the streets, laughing and talking in excitement. Most wore traditional clothes, though some just wore their armor or street clothes, but everyone had smaller versions of the great bell attached somewhere to their clothing and/or around their wrists and necks; some even had bells on their tails. Several women had some of the rare flowers that bloomed only at this time of year adorning their hair or on their clothes by the bells.
"Finally! The last day is always the longest!"
"Meditating and praying all day I can handle; but the fasting is such a pain. . ."
"I'd rather be inside and hungry than going out for food at this time of year!"
"Mama, it's still really hot!"
"It'll cool down soon, don't worry!"
"How long until the food stands open?"
"Give them a minute!"
"I'm not dancing until I get something to eat!"
"The Children's Dance will be soon, so we'd better hurry. . ."
The crowd chattered happily as they filled the streets, seeking release for the energy they'd been forced to bottle up all day. A large ki ball exploding overhead like a brilliant firework made the crowd fall silent and all eyes turned to the huge vid-screens that were attached to various buildings. The screen blinked to life and was filled with a live shot of the Royal Family, dressed in their finest ceremonial garments, and wearing their sun medallions and crowns, which were gold bands around their heads with round, red stones in the middle of their foreheads. The Prince, who was only five years old, stood between his parents, his lips pressed tightly shut in an effort not to laugh. The crowds cheered lustily at the sight of their Rulers, until King Vegeta raised his hand for silence.
"Good Evening to you all on this, the last evening of Kukatoh!" he said in his loud, booming baritone. The crowd cheered again, then fell silent. "The five days of Kukatoh are the most sacred in the Saiyan calendar! We have spent two days honoring the great warriors of the past, two days honoring the great warriors amongst us now, and now, on this last day, we give hope and prayers for our great warriors of the future!" The crowd erupted in cheers yet again, and the King and Queen had to wait a moment for it all to die down. When it was silent again, the Queen spoke.
"Kukatoh is our word for strength, pride, and honor, and that is what these days are for. This evening we shall honor the promising warriors amongst our children, and they shall hold their heads up with pride and show their strength in dance! The Children's Dance shall be held in one hour's time, so bring all our children forward soon! Kukatoh! Strength, Pride, and Honor!" Queen Lesessu declared in her strong, clear voice. She was shorter than her husband, but still tall by most standards, with a lean build, narrow dark brown eyes, long black hair tied back with a gold clip, tanned skin, and her lips were painted red.
"STRENGTH, PRIDE, AND HONOR!" voices echoed the words across Vegeta-sei. Due to the time difference, half the planet had already had the last day of Kukatoh, but they still watched the Royal Speech and cheered all the same. On the side of the planet that was still celebrating, things came fully to life. Brightly colored lights lit up the streets, music began playing, and the stalls all opened, selling everything from food to jewelry to keepsakes. The crowd began chattering again as they celebrated the last night of the holiday.
"The music is starting for a Mates' Dance! Ooh, let's join them!"
"I don't know the song well enough to sing along. . ."
"It'll be fine!"
"I can't wait to see the Prince in the Children's Dance!"
"Did you hear the rumor that Lord Frieza wants to train the Prince himself?"
"I'd sooner have the Prince never see another combative move again than have him under that awful creature's tutelage!"
"Hush! Not so loud!"
"Relax! There aren't any of his lackeys around now! They always leave in droves at this time of year because of the heat, and even if they didn't, the King would order them to leave during Kukatoh!"
"Let's not worry about all of that! Let's just dance, eat, drink, and have a good time! I'm sure our King and Queen wouldn't give the Prince over, anyway!"
"Agreed! Let's enjoy the day!"
As music and dancing filled the streets, the third-class squad leader Bardock and his mate, Okarana, were working their way through the crowd with their young son Raditz in tow.
"But I don't want to dance in front of everyone!" Raditz wailed as he struggled against his father's grip on his small wrist.
"It's tradition, Raditz. Don't worry, you'll be fine," Bardock answered calmly.
"But I don't know all the steps!" Raditz objected.
"Neither do most of the children your age. It'll be okay, Raditz. No one expects you to do it perfectly," Okarana said. "If anyone should be nervous, it's the Prince! He has a special part in the dance and he does have to know all the steps!"
"But-!" Raditz tried again.
"No more 'buts'! You're behaving as if it's torture, instead of a simple dance!" Bardock cut him off.
"Says you it's not torture," Raditz muttered unhappily under his breath. Then, louder, "I did the dance last year! Do I hafta-?"
"Yes, you have to do it again. Raditz, it's not just the tradition, the dance is a symbol of hope for success in your training. And it only lasts ten minutes!" Okarana said firmly. Raditz fell silent, sulking unhappily. A sweet smell wafted under his nose, and his parents suddenly stopped. He looked up to see them looking at something through the crowd.
"Would a piece of pape nut cake topped with a slice of hokani fruit and whipped cream improve your mood?" Bardock asked casually, his eyes on the nearby table covered in plates of the special holiday treat. Raditz's eyes lit up.
"Yeah!" he said enthusiastically.
"That table's selling roasted kumber meat, too; let's get some of that," Okarana said, eyeing the food hungrily.
"We've got enough time, let's go," Bardock said, and they all headed to the booth selling food.
"And can I have a glass of hokani juice, too?" Raditz asked excitedly, his little voice almost a squeak as they came up to the booth and Bardock bought them each some roast, bread, and a piece of cake.
"In a bit," Okarana answered as she took her snack from Bardock. "Right now, you should stick to water. You can have juice after the dance."
"Okay," Raditz sighed as he accepted the food from his father. He devoured the meat and bread and most of all the delicious treat quickly, smearing the whipped cream onto his face. As he happily licked the cream off his face and fingers one-by-one, he glanced toward the distant outline of the Palace and wondered if the Prince was worried about the dance at all.
Prince Vegeta was practicing his part of the Children's Dance in front of his mother, while his father spoke quietly to one side with four of his advisors. Little Vegeta's attention kept sliding away from his steps to the feast he knew was being made in the kitchens. He could smell the wonderful aromas of meats, vegetables, breads, and most of all the desserts being prepared. As was the tradition, all he'd had to eat that day was a little piece of bread around midday, and his small stomach was grumbling loudly for what he smelled.
"Momma, can't I have something to eat before the dance?" he asked, stopping in mid-step.
"Yes, of course, Vegeta. After you show me you know all your steps for the Children's Dance. Your part is very important, and you must know all of it," Queen Lesessu answered gently. "Now, continue." Prince Vegeta sighed and picked up again where he left off. He glanced briefly to his father and wondered what he was talking about.
"Your Majesty, surely there must be a way to stop this!" one advisor, an older Saiyan with graying hair, whispered. "We can't just hand over the Prince to that monster!"
"Don't you think I know that?! But what choice do I have? I haven't the power to refuse Frieza! If I try, he'll simply kill me, and possibly Lesessu, and take the Prince!" King Vegeta answered hotly.
"There must be some way. . ." a second advisor said.
"If there is, I don't know it," the King said with a heavy sigh. He looked over his shoulder to his small son, his eyes flickering with emotion. "I'm assigning General Nappa to Vegeta as his personal guard. Nappa has strict instructions to keep a close watch on the Prince, and to help him remember who he really is. That's all I can do," King Vegeta said quietly as little Prince Vegeta completed his practice. A proud Lesessu was complimenting her son for remembering all the steps as King Vegeta turned his eyes back to his advisors. "I will continue trying to persuade Frieza not to keep him for long, but I doubt it will help."
"Can't you at least buy a little more time? Giving Frieza Prince Vegeta immediately after Kukatoh is. . .is unthinkable! The day after the holiday is traditionally set aside for inner reflection and rest, given that the festivities themselves are quite exhausting!" the third advisor said, also glancing toward the Queen and Prince.
"I know!" King Vegeta snapped, louder than he intended. His wife and son looked at him curiously, and he gave a small wave and a half-hearted smile to indicate that things were okay. Once their attention was on each other again, he turned back to his advisors and continued in an angry whisper, "I know full well that he shouldn't be going anywhere tomorrow, but that's when Frieza's coming for him! I was barely able to convince that ice-cold bastard to wait until after Kukatoh! I don't like this situation anymore than you do, but we have no choice!" The advisors grumbled unhappily, but could say no more. A servant stepped in then to say the royal feast was ready. Prince Vegeta took off running for the dining room as King Vegeta took his wife's hand and they walked together after their son.
"Our beautiful little boy. . .what will Frieza do to him?" Lesessu sighed quietly, leaning into her husband.
"Don't you start in on me as well, woman! I can't refuse Frieza!" King Vegeta hissed.
"I know that, Beloved. But I'm afraid. . .afraid of what he'll become under Frieza's influence. Vegeta holds the best promise to become the next Super Saiyan; he could free us of that tyrant forever, but not if Frieza brainwashes him first," Lesessu answered. They had reached the dining room and proceeded to take their seats. King Vegeta had no ready answer for his mate. In silence, his dark eyes watched his son eat his dinner, while his mind whirled with what the next day would bring.
In every city, dozens of children between the ages of four and seventeen were brought together in wide, open areas reserved for fighting and/or dancing (depending on the time of year), and directed to form several concentric circles, with the youngest children ringing the outside and the oldest near the center. In Sutarufurai Square in the Central City, Prince Vegeta stood in the very center of it all, on a raised platform so that everyone would be able to see him. His live image was broadcast on vid screens all across the world. All of the small children were nervous and fidgety, and the oldest ones were grumbling unhappily at the embarrassment they felt this dance brought on them. The watchers stood five feet back from the rings of dancers, with the King and Queen sitting in chairs on a raised platform in the middle of the crowd. To one side, a group of men and women sat with instruments in hand. As the last few children were pushed and/or pulled forward by teachers and parents, the band began to play. The children began dancing, the smaller ones with shuffling, unsure feet, the older ones with practiced ease. They danced for over a minute as the music swelled, accompanied by the jingling of the bells on their clothes and the rhythm of their stamping feet and clapping hands. Then they began to sing, a gentle, strong tune that the crowd began to pick up and sing as well:
"Kukatoh, strength, honor, and pride
These things we always carry inside
The way may be dark, the path unclear
But never give way to doubt and fear
Just remember this word when you're alone
And it will always lead you home..."
Little Prince Vegeta listened carefully, waiting for his cue. When he heard the tell-tale words, he began his part of the Children's Dance. In the very center of the dancers, he began performing his steps, just as he had earlier in front of his mother. The music began to speed up, and so did the dancers. Vegeta's steps and leaps became bigger and higher, and he made his ki flare to leave streaks of light behind him. Ring by ring, the other children fell into the same steps, following his lead. Soon, the square was filled with ki light, and the music began building for the finish. Prince Vegeta moved through his steps, his little face tight with concentration, his ears trained on the music and singing. The children moved through the dance until finally, the music came to an end and they performed the final maneuver. All of them fired a ki beam to one spot in the night sky so they all collided and created a beautiful explosion of blue and silver. The watching crowd cheered and clapped, and the children sighed in relief that the obligatory dance was over. Shouting and laughing, they scattered into the crowd, ready to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. There were games to play, contests to enter, normal dances in which to participate, gifts to get and, especially, lots of treats to eat. The joyous celebration went well into the night, the Saiyans honoring their children with great abandon.
It was late when the festivities came to an end and Prince Vegeta finally went to bed that night, but just over an hour later he was awake again and called for a servant to bring him a glass of water. The ningen woman bowed respectfully and went to the kitchens to fetch him his drink. As she stepped into the kitchen, another servant looked up with an amused smile.
"Prince Vegeta wants his water, I assume?" the kitchen worker asked.
"Yes, indeed! He's regular as clockwork at this time of year, isn't he?" the ningen women answered with a smile.
"Just about. But who can blame him? It's so hot and dry during these four months; everyone wants extra water," the kitchen servant said as she filled a glass with cold water. "Here you are, fresh for the Prince," she said as she started to hand the glass to the other female.
"I'll take it to him," a baritone voice cut in, and a large male hand took the glass from the kitchen servant. The two turned and stared at King Vegeta, who stood a foot away and was holding a second glass of water for himself. Both women bowed quickly.
"As you wish, Your Majesty!" they said in unison. Neither servant was quite sure why the King wanted to do it, or why he came down himself for some water, or even why he was still fully dressed, but neither was willing to question him. The King left the room with a whip of his cape, and a strange, far away look on his face.
Prince Vegeta sat up quickly when he heard his door open. "Do you have my water?" he asked quickly, and then saw it wasn't the servant woman he'd sent to the kitchens. "Papa?"
"Yes, son. I have your drink with me. I happened to be down there getting some water of my own, and just. . .decided I'd bring your glass to you," King Vegeta answered gently, walking up to his small son's bed and handing him the glass. Prince Vegeta was a bit bewildered, but he wasn't going to ask questions. Besides, he was really thirsty. He took the glass and drank it down in three large gulps.
"Thank you, Papa," Vegeta said as he wiped his mouth on the back of his little hand. Then he yawned a little. The King shifted uncomfortably.
"You're. . .welcome, Vegeta," the King answered. "You. . .you did very well in the dance tonight. I'm proud." Prince Vegeta blinked and tilted his head a little. His father was acting strangely.
"Thank you. . ." he said again. Then he yawned again, only bigger. He felt sleepy. Much sleepier than normal. His whole body felt warm and heavy, his mind was getting fuzzy, and his eyes were falling closed. He slumped back into his bed, thinking to himself that something felt very funny. Assured that the Prince was deeply asleep, the King whispered a soft prayer for forgiveness. He gathered his son into his arms, pulled his cape over him and, after making sure the hallway was empty, quickly and quietly left the room.
Supinchu was one of the most elite guards in the palace and had traveled farther than any of the others. He was very tall, close in height to Nappa, the head General. His black, shoulder-length hair spiked widely to the sides, and his black eyes were rounded and narrow. He was accustomed to his King and Queen giving him special duties, but why would either of them want to see him in the middle of the night, on the last night of Kukatoh, in an empty, extra room of the palace? It was all very irregular, but the royal family trusted him and his ability to be discrete, so he waited. The door finally opened and the King stepped in with his cape wrapped tightly around him. Supinchu bowed automatically, but his eyes stayed lifted towards his monarch, his curiosity overwhelming him.
"Good evening, my King. May I ask why you have requested such a late meeting?" Supinchu asked in his most formal voice.
"You may. Supinchu, you are one of my most trustworthy guards, and you've traveled the galaxy far and wide. Tell me, truly, is there any world where one could hide from Lord Frieza?" King Vegeta answered, and Supinchu straightened up in surprise.
"Hide from Lord Frieza? Well. . ." Supinchu went through his memories, searching for any such place. "Well, yes, there is one place; a small, distant world half the galaxy away that he all but ignores completely. It only has one thing of value to him, but various complications, including the world's extreme distance, makes it difficult for him to get it. . .the world of. . ."
"Don't tell me the name!" King Vegeta cut him off, which caused Supinchu to look even more confused. "Supinchu, I'm entrusting you now with the greatest treasure of our Empire," the King said, this time quietly, as he pulled back his cape to reveal the sleeping prince cradled in his arm, his little head resting on his father's shoulder. Supinchu jerked back in shock at the sight.
"You Majesty, what-?!" Supinchu gasped.
"I want you to take the Prince to that small, distant world, and hide him there. Put him amongst the people Frieza would be least likely to suspect!" the King said, his voice stone. "I've given him a sedative, so he'll sleep solidly until he arrives there. I've also packed some learning materials, so he'll never forget who he really is!" King Vegeta held up a full, medium-sized bag from his belt.
"King Vegeta, you can't be serious! Why-?!" Supinchu tried again.
"Better he stay with ningen strangers than be raised and trained by that monster, Frieza!" King Vegeta answered harshly. "I can't let that tyrant have my son, do you understand?" Supinchu swallowed nervously and nodded.
"I understand, Your Majesty. Perfectly. And I'm sure he'll be safe on-"
"No! I told you before, don't tell me! Never tell me! What I don't know, Frieza can't force me to tell him," the King snapped. The Prince stirred for a moment at the sound of his father's anxious voice, then fell still again. "You will take him now. I've made sure the launching bay is empty, no one will see you leave. In the morning, when Frieza comes, I will announce that the Prince was somehow kidnapped out of his room. I'll keep everyone busy looking for him on-planet in order to buy you as much time as I can. Once the Prince is safely hidden, you must come back with all haste to Vegeta-sei. If anyone questions your absence, I will tell them that you were simply sent on a diplomatic mission on my behalf; you can create your own details for it. Now, go," King Vegeta said, and handed the sleeping child to the guard. Supinchu gathered the Prince and the bag, and looked at his King once more.
"I will do as you command, King Vegeta. I swear on my honor, the Prince will be safe. I will return as soon as I can," Supinchu said, bowing one last time before leaving quickly with his precious cargo. The King watched him depart and his heart clenched tight. ((May Kami. . .and Lesessu. . .forgive me. When she hears he's disappeared, she'll be frantic! My little son, wherever it is he's taking you, may you be safe there, and grow strong. I swear, this was the only way!)) he agonized to himself. With a weighty heart, he turned and left the room to return to his bed chambers and sleeping mate.
Supinchu climbed into the special space pod with the Prince and quickly punched in the target coordinates for the planet. He glanced briefly down at his sleeping charge, and drew in a slow breath. ((Don't worry, Your Highness! I know a family there who'll be able to take good care of you and hide you away from Frieza at the same time.)) he promised mentally, and then hit the launch button. The pod whirred to life, swiftly lifted off the pad, and flew into space.
"Coordinates set," the female-sounding computer said. "FTL engines engaged. Approximate travel time: 6 weeks. Stasis setting: medium. Destination: Planet Mikusubodo. All information correct?"
"Yes. Activate stasis in three minutes," Supinchu said, as he fitted an oxygen mask over the prince's face. He didn't dare risk mixing the sedative already in the prince's blood with the stasis gases, the combination could prove fatal. He quickly programmed the computer to have a second round of the gas go through the mask should its wearer start to wake, and a few moments later, the sleeping vapors filled the small pod. ((May Kami smile on us both, young Prince.)) the elite guard prayed before he fell asleep.