Ki-Blind: Chapter Eight
Darkness had fallen in the forest, and Gohan wondered where they were.
He didn't get lost easily. He'd spent his childhood playing in the woods behind his house -- well, those parts of his childhood when he could escape from his mother -- not to mention enduring Piccolo's harsh wilderness training when he was very young. Navigation was almost second nature to him. But this wasn't a normal situation. Videl was injured, and the two of them were being hunted like animals, driven deeper and deeper into the forest. A brief skirmish with one spider had quickly demonstrated that Gohan didn't have a chance of beating them in his current state -- blood still oozed from the cuts in his left hand and right thigh where he hadn't been quite fast enough to dodge its attacks. So all they could do was try to avoid the spiders. At least the things weren't very good hunters; they apparently could not sense ki, and though their sense of hearing was reasonably good, they couldn't see very well at a distance and didn't seem to notice something walking softly towards them until it was quite close. They did not appear hampered by the darkness (leading Gohan to conclude that they "saw" in another spectrum, possibly infrared) but their glowing red lights made them even more visible at night, and further evened the playing field.
He wanted desperately to know what was happening in the rest of the world. Every once in a while he'd see a flash of light on the horizon and he knew that battles were going on elsewhere, but with his ki sense dulled to almost nothing, he had no idea if his father or brother or Piccolo or anyone else close to him was involved. He didn't know how his mother was; he didn't know how anyone was doing, except for Videl, and she was right next to him.
Videl was holding up well. Gohan had always been impressed by her toughness; for a human, and an inadequately-trained one at that, she was incredibly capable of taking physical punishment without complaint. They had made a crude splint for her arm from some sticks and part of his shirt, and though she turned pale whenever her arm accidentally banged into something as they ran through the woods, she hadn't said a word about it. Her strength was starting to flag now, and Gohan tried to stop for a rest whenever he could, but they had to keep moving to keep from getting circled by the red lights of the spiders. Gohan had tried several times to find a place to hide -- a cave, an old dragon's den, anywhere that they could rest for a few hours without being spotted -- but each time they had been found by the relentless spiders, and once came very close to getting trapped without possibility of escape. Now they stayed in the open and kept moving, still trying to get to a road or a house or anywhere that they could hide or summon help. However, Gohan was less and less sure that he hadn't just managed to get lost.
Videl stumbled, making a small, soft sound of pain. Gohan cast a sideways glance at her pale face and immediately came to a halt, cursing himself for an insensitive jerk. "I think I need to take a break," he said, trying to sound out of breath.
Videl gave him a grateful look and sank down immediately onto the grass. Gohan sat beside her, and saw that she was shivering.
"Would you like my shirt?" he asked. The night was getting colder and colder. He wondered if his father was still up in the mountains -- it must be freezing up there. No; surely Goku wouldn't be affected by whatever was affecting him.
"I'm fine," Videl said resolutely.
He hesitated. She looked so cold, huddling in the loose dark tunic that she had been wearing when the sun was high and the temperature warm. After a moment, he scooted closer to her, as close as he dared get, a bit nervous about her reaction. He wasn't worried that she'd be mad at him for taking advantage of her -- they'd already gone quite a lot farther than simple hugging -- but rather, that she would feel that he was patronizing her by implying that she couldn't take care of herself. Videl looked up at him, frowned, and then leaned against him, so he put an arm around her.
"Body heat," he explained, and laughed sheepishly.
"Oh, shut up," Videl said fondly, leaning into his hug.
She might look cold, but she felt warm enough to him. Gohan appreciated the warmth, but it wouldn't have been quite the same if it had been anyone but Videl. He let his head slip down until his cheek was resting against hers, and then it seemed natural when her face turned until her lips could meet his.
It seemed crazy that their lives could be in such danger, yet it was so easy to forget when he closed his eyes and relaxed against her.
Suddenly Videl flinched away from him. Gohan's eyes snapped open. He was afraid for an instant that he had accidentally hurt her, but then he saw that she was looking over his shoulder. He started to follow her gaze and then froze himself when he saw the familiar red lights glimmering from the forest.
They were surrounded.
Gohan stood up slowly and Videl stood up with him.
They both turned around slowly. At least a dozen or so spiders crawled out of the forest, encircling them.
Gohan looked about desperately, but they were in a small clearing and there were no trees nearby to grab and pull themselves out of danger. He wondered how long they would last if they tried to run, then remembered the horrible speed of the spiders.
"Gohan ..." Videl whispered. "We'll have to fight them."
He wished she hadn't said it. The words made it seem too real. Gohan reached down and picked up a piece of deadwood lying at his feet. He broke it in half and handed one half to Videl. She took it in her good hand.
"Will this hurt them?"
"I don't know," Gohan said quietly. "It'll hurt them more than our fists will, at least."
"Don't you have any extra strength at all?"
He shook his head.
Piccolo lay back in the crook of an oak tree, where the wide branches met the tree's broad trunk. From the outside, he appeared to be asleep or meditating, but actually he was just gathering his strength. Grinding his fangs together in effort, he raised the stump of his right arm and forced a hand to spring forth from the lopped-off forearm. He flexed the new fingers cautiously and found that they seemed to be intact.
This time. But he couldn't keep this up.
Piccolo had discovered that the lost of his ki control hadn't made it impossible for him to regenerate, but it did make it more difficult. Under normal circumstances, his energy levels dropped every time he regenerated, but his energy levels were so high that he would be able to regenerate his entire body multiple times before it made a noticeable difference in his fighting abilities. But now, his energy level was so low that he could feel the drain every time he used his Namekian abilities. And he'd had plenty of opportunities in the last few hours. This time, he'd been genuinely concerned that he'd pass out from the energy drain, and he still felt dizzy, though the lightheaded feeling was thankfully passing.
His regenerating ability had enabled him to not only avoid getting killed by the spiders, but actually kill a few of them, by entangling their limbs in his own arms or legs until he could bash them with something, or by taking advantage of their distraction when they thought they'd killed or at least incapacitated him. However, he was starting to reach his limits, and the spiders just kept coming. Was there no end to them?
Suddenly Piccolo sat bolt upright. His ability to sense ki might be at a low ebb right now -- it was actually a bit stronger than the humans' or Saiyajins', because Namekians were inherently more in tune with the natural flow of energy in the world, though he didn't know that -- but there was one ki that he'd be able to feel even if it was on the other side of the world.
He'd been loosely aware of Gohan throughout the day -- aware that Gohan wasn't that far away, but unable to make his way to the kid while trying to avoid the bulk of the spiders. Now, though, he'd felt a spike of energy followed by a sudden drop to the point where he almost couldn't sense it anymore. Gohan had just been attacked, and from the feel of it, injured.
Piccolo stood up on the tree limb, swaying as he was caught off guard by his own weakness, and coming very close to falling out of the tree on his head. Grimly he got control of himself. He felt better momentarily, his ki rebounding sluggishly from the effort of regenerating his arm, and he turned around, scanning the forest for that elusive sense of Gohan's presence. In a moment he pinpointed it.
"Hang on, kid," he murmured. "I'm coming."
The canopy of the trapped and damaged speedboat boat creaked alarmingly as the water's pressure put further stress on the cracked material.
"We only have a few minutes before that gives way," Master Roshi said softly.
They all looked at each other. It wasn't completely dark in the boat's interior; there was just enough light that they could make out each other's faces, looking back with identical expressions of fear. Except for Yamcha, who was looking musingly at Pu'ar.
"Yamcha-sama?" the cat asked nervously.
"Pu'ar, you can turn into a boat, can't you?" Yamcha said.
Everyone turned to stare at him. There was a moment of silence.
"Yamcha, that's brilliant," Kuririn said.
"Two words I never thought I'd hear in the same sentence," Oolong muttered. "Ouch!" as Kuririn bopped him in the head.
"I'd be happy to help however I can, Yamcha-sama, but there's a problem," Pu'ar squeaked. "Oolong and I ... we don't gain strength, no matter what we turn into. I'm not sure if I could change into a shape that would protect all of you."
"That's why Oolong is here to help," Kuririn said, grinning.
Oolong had been too busy panicking to pay attention to the conversation up until that point, but finally his brain caught up with current events. "You're suggesting that I allow you people to get ... inside me?" the pig screeched in outrage.
"Otherwise we're all going to die," Kuririn protested.
"No," Oolong retorted. "You're going to die. I'm a shapeshifter. Thanks for reminding me."
"No, you don't understand," Yamcha said, rolling up his sleeves. "We're all going to die in a few minutes, but you're going to die first."
A minute or two later ...
"I can't believe I agreed to this," Oolong muttered.
"Agreed isn't exactly the word I'd use," Kuririn said under his breath. "Begged pathetically is more like it."
Between the two of them, Yamcha and #18 had easily "convinced" the pig to help them.
"The five-minute limit might be a problem," #18 said. "Pay careful attention to how long you've been shifted."
Oolong made a faint squeak of dismay. "I didn't want that mental picture. I didn't want it at all."
Overhead, the canopy creaked and made a sharp snapping sound as one of the cracks suddenly extended by another few inches.
"Let's hurry this up, shall we?" #18 said calmly.
Master Roshi rubbed his hands together briskly. "We'll need to split up, obviously. You'll be with me," he leered at #18.
"In your dreams," she retorted. "Kuririn, Marron and I can go together. Then you and Yamcha can go with the other shapeshifter."
"I'd like to stay with Yamcha-sama," Pu'ar squeaked.
"So that leaves ... oh, joy," Oolong muttered, withering beneath #18's I-don't-like-this-any-more-than-you-do glare.
Master Roshi was rummaging in the toolbox. "What are you doing?" Yamcha demanded.
"Just getting my collection, of course."
They stared at him. "You're not bringing your porn," #18 said.
"You're bringing your kid, aren't you?"
"It's different, you old pervert!"
There was another sharp snap from the ceiling and water began to drip on their heads. "We've got to go, now!" Kuririn yelled, taking #18 by the hand.
Pu'ar transformed in a flash into a small submersible, a blue-and-gray bubble filled with air. "Hurry, hurry! Get in!" she cried.
"I'm going! You can come if you want," Yamcha yelled at the hermit, who was digging frantically at the magazines. "Bring what you can carry, if you have to, and that's it!"
"But ... how can I choose? It's too dark! I can't see the pictures!"
Yamcha groaned and reached for the submersible's door.
"All right, all right! Stubborn brat," Roshi muttered, making a mad dash for the dubious safety of Pu'ar. The largest form that she had been able to manage was still so small that they were smashed together, with a bundle of magazines between them.
"Don't make me regret letting you bring those," Yamcha growled.
Meanwhile, Oolong (after being not-so-gently kicked by #18) had transformed himself. With more mass than Pu'ar, he was able to manage a slightly larger shape that the family could stuff themselves into.
"Good thing you're all so small," Oolong grumbled.
#18 whacked him in the ceiling with her fist. "Watch who you're talking about!"
"Ouch! All right, all right," he grumbled. "You're all small except for Juuhachigou's fat ass!"
This time she hit him harder.
At that moment the canopy of the boat disintegrated in a shower of plastic shards, and water rushed in to fill it. The submersibles proved to be airtight, and began to float towards the surface.
"Four minutes, twenty seconds," Kuririn muttered, checking #18's watch over her shoulder. The two of them were packed into the narrow space with her hips wedged into his lap, and Marron on her lap.
"Shut up! I'm nervous enough already!" Oolong yelled.
#18 blinked as a drop of moisture hit her in the forehead. "Yes, I can see that. You're sweating like a ... pig."
"That's really disgusting," Kuririn mumbled through a mouthful of #18's hair. "Say, sweetie, could you please stop moving your head? You almost broke my nose that time."
"You don't have a nose."
"... oh, right."
The teenage demi-saiyajin struggled to his feet, bleeding from multiple wounds. In their first rush, one spider had pierced him through the thigh; another had broken one of his arms; another had opened a deep wound along his scalp. He glanced at Videl, blinking blood out of his eyes, and saw that he had managed to protect her; the only wound on her body, besides the broken arm, was a small cut on her cheek.
They had not managed to kill or even damage any of the spiders, and now the red lights encircled them again.
"I love you, Videl," Gohan said, not daring to look at her to see what the reaction to those words might be. But he couldn't die without having said it once.
"I love you too," Videl said softly. Gohan looked back at her, to see her smiling at him very gently.
They backed up until their backs were pressed against each other. The spiders hesitated, then, sensing the weakness of their prey (or completely indifferent either way) sprang at once.
Gohan and Videl --
-- found themselves flying through the air, each of them gripped by the collar in one of Piccolo's powerful hands.
"Huh ... what ... huh ..." Videl gasped.
Piccolo landed some twenty feet away. He couldn't fly without ki, but he could still manage some pretty respectable jumps.
"Wow, Piccolo-san," Gohan breathed. "That was Vegeta-class timing." He looked up at his mentor. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Piccolo said, maintaining his balance only with effort and wishing that his strength would return more quickly from the last regeneration -- because he suspected that he was going to need that particular skill again in the very near future. "Can you run?"
"I ... don't know." Gohan tried to put weight on his leg and it nearly buckled under him. He gasped with pain. "It's so frustrating ... I never realized how much I always relied on ki to augment my strength and stamina."
"You and the rest of us, kid." Piccolo looked over his shoulder. The spiders had taken a moment to figure out which direction their prey had gone, but now they were reorienting. "All right. Let's go."
He hooked an arm under Gohan's shoulders. Videl nodded to indicate that she could make it on her own, and they started running.
"Do you have a plan?" Videl gasped.
"Plan?" Piccolo glanced down at the two young people.
"Of course he's got a plan. This is Piccolo we're talking about here. He's always got a plan," Gohan said.
"A plan, sure." Piccolo tried desperately to think of something off the top of his head.
"Does that mean you have one or you don't?" Videl demanded skeptically.
"I -- hold on a minute, kid."
Several spiders scrambled out to block their path. They swerved but realized that they were surrounded again. There was simply no way to outrun them now that they'd been discovered. The spiders were too fast, the three of them too tired.
"You don't have a plan, do you," Videl said, feeling a sense of deja vu as the three of them faced outward, Gohan held up by Piccolo. Dying alone with Gohan was sort of romantic, in a weird dark way, but dying with a giant green alien between them ... wasn't. "Damn it!" she cried. "I'm Mr. Satan's daughter! I'm not going to die like this!"
She had managed to keep the piece of deadwood that Gohan had given her, clutched tightly in her good hand, and she held it out in front of her as menacingly as possible.
There were at least twenty spiders around them.
Gohan raised his head. "Piccolo, get out of here. You have to find Dad. There's nothing you can do here except die."
"Everybody dies sometime, kid," Piccolo replied. "It's not so bad. You get used to it after it's happened a few times."
"I guess it wasn't really so bad the last time," Videl said with a shaky laugh. "It was peaceful and there were lots of flowers, and almost everyone I knew was there except for Daddy. Gohan, will you promise to look for me in the afterlife if I get there first?"
"I promise, Videl."
Piccolo rolled his eyes. Of the many things he didn't understand about humans, their weird mating customs topped the list.
Still, there were worse ways to die than to go out fighting, with Gohan by his side.
"What does the radar say?" Bulma asked Trunks.
The little boy squinted at it. "We should be real close now."
Bulma looked below them as miles of dark forest scrolled by under the aircraft, dotted with the red lights of the hunting spiders.
"Wh-where are you taking us? I thought we were going someplace safe?"
Bulma looked over her shoulder at their passengers. "We are. I promise. I just need to pick up somebody else first."
She'd started rescuing civilians on the edge of the forest. She hadn't planned to; there was no way that she could help even a tiny fraction of the population of the beleaguered Earth, and she had left Capsule Corp. with her heart deliberately hardened against the suffering on the ground. She'd been able to maintain this state of mind as they flew over the city, where the army had herded most of the population into a handful of temporary defense camps, and there were plenty of people to help and very little that she herself could do. But out here, the scattered houses and homesteads had no army to defend them. When they had flown over a mother struggling to protect her little children outside a small farmhouse, Trunks and Goten had popped open the aircraft's main door and almost fell to their death (forgetting they couldn't fly) so Bulma had dived down and rescued the woman, her children and her husband. They picked up a half-dozen other families in the same area, then flew back to drop them off at the nearest of the army's camps before continuing on into the forest. Bulma tried to avoid habitation, but even so, she'd already picked up an old couple and their granddaughter from their isolated house.
"Mom, look, there's a house light over there --" Trunks said, pointing. "We should go see if anybody needs help."
"We don't have time."
"Mom, they might be in trouble ..."
Bulma looked at him sternly, forcing herself to keep her face, and heart, hard. The boys only wanted to help. But they could wish back everyone who died, and right now it was much more important to collect the Earth's strong fighters and find a way to defeat the spiders in order to have the luxury of collecting dragon balls.
She didn't know how to explain that sort of decision to an eight-year-old. For right now, "because I said so" would have to do.
There were no spiders flying near them and she took the radar back from Trunks in order to try to fine-tune the readings. The large, anomalous ki that she'd detected earlier should be right under them, somewhere around here, but it had grown so low that she was now having trouble pinpointing it. No other ki's in the area were high enough to register above the background energy. Her heart twisted; she remembered that high Saiyajin ki, rising and then falling. There was no way to find that person now. She'd just have to hope that the person she was currently pursuing was Piccolo, not some hostile alien, and that he was with whoever had been hurt.
She also hoped she was in time.
Between the three of them, Piccolo, Gohan and Videl had managed to hold out surprisingly long, considering the fact that all three of them were tired and depleted, and Gohan was badly hurt. They'd escaped from the spiders twice more, once when Piccolo grabbed his younger companions and jumped up into the branches of a nearby tree, and the other time by fleeing into a waterfall, which baffled the spiders long enough to let them temporarily slip away. But now they were cornered again, backed up against a cliff face. Gohan could barely stand; Videl was holding him up, but she was exhausted herself, and shaky with shock from her broken arm. Though Piccolo was struggling not to show weakness in front of the two injured young people, he knew that he didn't have the strength to regenerate anymore.
Suddenly all three of them, and the surrounding spiders, were bathed in a searchlight. Dazed, dizzy, Gohan looked up, squinting against the glare, and he made out the shape of some kind of vehicle, with a door open in its side and leaning out of it -- the familiar spiky-headed shape of -- Goten?
It couldn't be. He had to be hallucinating.
"Damn those spiders!" Bulma muttered, causing the boys to burst into giggles at the swear word, but immediately they turned serious again, responding to the gravity of the situation. She held the vehicle steady about thirty feet off the ground: far too low for comfort, but too high to help the three small figures below them. "I don't dare go down to pick them up; the spiders will be all over us, and any minute now they'll come flying up to see --"
True to her word, several spiders had already taken off, launching themselves into the air to investigate the vehicle. "Hang on, Goten!" Bulma yelled to the boy crouched at the vehicle's open door, and brought them up quickly to a height of several hundred feet, went through some evasive maneuvers to shake off the spiders and started to descend again.
Bulma gritted her teeth. "Okay. We can't keep this up all day, and neither can they." She couldn't believe she was even considering what she was about to do, but she had no choice. "Trunks, have you ever fired a weapon before?"
Trunks shook his head. "Nuh-uh. I always used ki."
"I was afraid of that. What about you folks?" she said over her shoulder to the old couple.
"We kept a shotgun to keep th' dinosaurs outta the livestock," the old man said hesitantly.
"Good. You're drafted." Bulma handed the bazooka back to him. "Go over to the open door with Goten -- he's the little black-haired boy. When I start to take us down low, fire one shot into the middle of the spiders, making sure not to get close to any humans -- the blast radius on the explosions is pretty wide. Trunks! Get over there with Goten! You two, too," she added to the old woman and their little girl. "As soon as we're low enough, all of you try to grab them and pull them in. Do you all understand?"
They all nodded.
"Okay. Ready ... set ..." She put the vehicle into a steep dive. "Don't fire yet, old guy. Okay -- now!"
The old man fired a bazooka shell over Goten's head. A moment later, fire blossomed in the clearing below them, scattering the spiders. The speeding aircraft rocketed over the grass, knocking more spiders out of the way. "Get ready to grab them!" Bulma screamed.
The three on the ground -- she was pretty sure it was Gohan, Videl and Piccolo, though it was difficult to see them clearly -- appeared to understand what she was doing and made a dash for the aircraft as Bulma slowed as much as she dared. Bulma had to keep her eyes on the cliff and the trees, trusting that the boys would do their part, trusting that sharp spider legs would not pierce her son's small body as he leaned out of the craft to help his best friend's brother ... Shaking her mind free of that line of thought, she kept her hands steady on the controls and pulled them up into a steep climb. Only a second or two had elapsed; it had all happened that quickly.
Bulma risked a quick glance over her shoulder to see what was happening. Wind screamed through the cabin of the craft, because the door was still open; she was thankful that she had short hair, because at least it couldn't whip into her eyes and make it impossible for her to see. A tangle of bodies was sprawled on the floor and she couldn't tell who was who. In the doorway, Trunks was leaning almost all the way out, with someone -- Piccolo! -- holding onto the boy's waist. "Hold on!" she heard Trunks yell.
"What's going on?" Bulma demanded. "Do we have everybody?"
The people on the floor of the craft started sitting up and sorting themselves out. Bulma did a quick head count: seven -- the old couple, the girl, Goten, Gohan, Trunks and Piccolo.
Just as she realized who was missing, Bulma heard Trunks shout to her, "Mom! We gotta land! Videl's gonna fall!"
"Videl! Where is she?" Bulma cried.
Piccolo looked over his shoulder at her. The Namek was more bedraggled than she'd ever seen him, his usual cape and turban missing, and the rest of his clothes in tatters. "She almost didn't get on," he said. "She's holding onto the landing gear. One of her arms is broken, so she can't pull herself up or reach for us."
"But that means I can't land either," Bulma said, despairing.
Gohan pushed himself up to one elbow. His face was covered with blood. "Videl ..." he gasped.
"I know! I know!" Trunks cried. "Piccolo-san! Hold my ankles and lower me down and I'll grab Videl!"
"You won't reach. It's too far down," the Namek said.
Goten scampered over to them. "Then hold onto me, too, Trunks!"
Piccolo cast a glance at Bulma for affirmation. She was not only Trunks's mother, but in the absence of either of Goten's parents, a stand-in for them as well.
Trunks grasped Goten's ankles, and Piccolo braced himself against the door of the craft. Bulma noticed that his body was trembling with fatigue, and wished she hadn't seen that, since her son's life was now in his green-skinned hands. The old couple helped steady him (he gave them a nervous glance when they first touched him, then steeled himself and looked away). Bulma wished she dared leave the controls and help, but the spiders were riled up now, and the air seemed to be filled with the creatures flying about. She had her hands full trying to avoid them without giving such a rough ride that she'd knock any of her passengers out the open door.
"What's happening back there!" she cried, unable to bear the suspense. Another quick backward look, and her heart started beating again: Trunks and Goten were helping a bedraggled, shaken Videl through the door, while Piccolo collapsed against the wall and closed his eyes.
"Shut the door, quickly!" Bulma said, haunted by visions of spider legs hooking through from outside, but the boys were already doing it.
With the door shut, Bulma pressurized the cabin and started climbing until they had left the spiders behind. Then she set the craft on a steady course for Capsule Corp. "Trunks, come here and watch the instrument panels. Yell at me if anything happens."
The boy nodded, obedient for once. Bulma got up and went back to see how everyone was.
Gohan and Videl were lying on the floor of the craft, with the old couple tending to their wounds. Gohan appeared to be unconscious, but Videl opened her eyes and smiled up at Bulma. Both of them were even more filthy and bedraggled than Piccolo, and bleeding as well.
Goten was sitting next to Gohan, crying, "Big brother!" in a heartrending voice. Bulma put an arm around him.
"Your brother's going to be all right, sweetie. Why don't you go help Trunks fly the plane."
Goten nodded and scampered off; like Trunks, he was unusually subdued and obedient after the events of the past few minutes. Bulma reassured herself that Gohan and Videl were in good hands, and then turned to Piccolo. The Namek was still sitting in the same position, leaning against the side of the aircraft. He was so exhausted that his legs were straight out, not folded; she couldn't ever recall seeing him sit that way.
"Piccolo?" Bulma said. "Are you all right?"
One antennae cocked in her direction, and he opened his eyes slightly. "I'm trying to meditate. I'll be all right once I recover the energy I've lost."
"Oh. Well ... okay," Bulma said. She stood for a moment looking down at him. She'd been afraid of Piccolo for a long time, and then intimidated by him; it was odd to see him slumped against the wall, as ragged and exhausted as any human being, looking almost helpless.
His antennae quivered and after a moment his eyes cracked open again. "You still there?"
"Yes," Bulma said. "I just wanted to say ... thanks for helping the kids."
Piccolo grunted and closed his eyes.
Well, I guess I still don't LIKE him all that much, Bulma mused, going to take the controls back from the boys. But he's a good person to have around in a crisis.