Passport to Paradise
Both of them had practically been shoved out of the room.
The healer was a stern, no-nonsense woman who refused to allow anyone to watch
her work. She claimed that observers made her nervous, which was pretty bad for
the patients. Kakarotto and Vegeta stood outside near the door, wincing at every
groan that Alain made but happy that he was still alive enough to produce sound.
That was where the king found his son. And, judging by the expression on his
face, he was not very pleased to see him.
"Vegeta." The king stopped a few paces from his son and simply stared at him. He hadn't seen him for a month and a half, the longest time they had ever been apart. He took note of the shadows lurking within his eyes, and how new frown lines marred his features. He saw a young man who had seen things no one should have ever been forced to witness, but he had survived them. And the king was more proud that words could express.
King Vegeta looked almost identical to his son. Or, rather, his son looked almost identical to him. He was a little taller and sported a beard, but his hair also swept upward like a onyx flame from the widow's peak that formed the lowermost point of his hairline and their bodies were equally as small-boned. He wore a black tunic with silver stitching and black pants with a matching black cape with silver lining fastened over his shoulders.
"Father," the prince returned, bowing his head slightly with respect. He did not bow at the waist as he had before he'd left home. He now considered himself an equal to the king. They both had been tested by life, and both had passed. "How are you?"
He only sighed and shook his head. "They've been out there for a few days, just watching. Possibly waiting for something or someone. Those humans you sent to us a while ago headed here when the Kir came upon them and set fire to their settlement. Almost all of them were able to escape."
"That's good," Kakarotto murmured. This caused the king to focus his attention on him.
"I don't believe we've met before. I am King Vegeta. You are?"
"Kakarotto." He blinked in confusion when both Vegeta continued to stare at him. "What...? Oh!" He bowed hastily at the waist, blushing. "I'm sorry. I've never met royalty before." He blushed brighter when it hit him that his lover was, in fact, the prince of Saiya. "I meant to say that I've never met royalty who wanted to be treated in a special way. No, that's not what I meant to say. I meant-" The prince covered his mouth with his hand before he made an already bad situation even worse.
Vegeta suddenly felt as if his father should know exactly what they meant to each other. While being with someone of the same gender wasn't exactly looked down upon in Saiya-jin society, it was assumed that all sons and daughters of noble birth would marry someone of the opposite sex and produce children as soon as possible. He was a prince, after all, he wasn't allowed to choose his own destiny. At the very least, he figured his father would let him have Kakarotto as some sort of male mistress after he married, but he couldn't do that to him. He couldn't make him feel like he was only second best. If he had to, he would give up the crown and the kingdom to be with him.
"Father, I met someone on my journey. Someone special."
The king's eyes narrowed speculatively. "I see."
"I know you won't approve, but it's my life to do with what I wish."
"Vegeta, do you honestly think that we have time to discuss this now?" he asked dryly.
Shaking his head, the prince said, "No, Father. Of course not." He cleared his throat. "We came here to tell you about what's happening outside. The barbarians are seeking a gateway so that they can free some sort of creature?" He looked at his lover for confirmation.
"I don't know if it's really a living creature, but I do know that it's evil and should never be allowed to roam the planet again. The Pale Ones, who we now think are really elves, imprisoned it and the gateway is here in the castle somewhere. Vegeta and I have to protect it with everything that we have."
The two of them watched as the king's face transformed. His eyebrows drew downward and his lips pursed before he spun on his heel and stalked off down the hallway. They wondered what they should do for only a moment before the king flicked his hand in a gesture for them follow. Feeling a lot like small children, they trotted after him and tried to catch up.
The king led them to the audience chamber. It was large and completely empty save for a very large and ornate throne on a raised dias near the back of the room. A rich red carpet edged with golden thread led up to the steps of the dias from the wide doors.
"Father, what is going on?" Vegeta asked, coming to a stop before him. He had to tilt his head up to meet the king's eyes, something that never failed to annoy him.
"I should have told you, but my own father never said a word about it until he was on his death bed." The man shook his head. "What if he'd died suddenly and I had never found out?"
His words were scaring him. His tone of voice was scaring him. "Father...?" he asked hesitantly.
"Vegeta," his father sighed, briefly closing his eyes. "I know what you're talking about, possibly even more than you do. It's true that the elves entrusted us with a gateway to another realm where the Dark One is being kept, asleep and benign. We were to be the last line of defense in the event that our cousins in the east somehow lost the Key. Unfortunately, over the years we, as a people, forgot that. Everyone became more and more slothful as peace became more and more like a permanent thing. I don't know if we can repel them. And, even if we do, who's to say that someone else won't come along and pick up where they left off?"
"Sir, if I may speak." Kakarotto was affected enough by the imposing room that he felt like giving the king all of the respect his station urged.
"If you talk like the war has already been lost, then it will be."
"What should I do, then, since you seem to have ideas?"
The prince spoke up to ward off the impending argument. "Father, we've been to his home and discovered a mosaic on the floor in the council house. It depicts the battle that the elves fought with this darkness, and goes on to predict that one person will stand alone before it. Do you have any magic-users on your staff that I don't know about?"
"None. You know I don't give much credence to it."
He turned to his lover hesitantly. "Kakarotto..."
"No. I refuse to believe it."
"You heard him: he has no mages. And you've got your power back now."
The teen's expression was stubborn. "That was a one-time thing. I can't feel it within me like I used to." Vegeta blew out a frustrated breath and opened his mouth to try again, but his father interrupted him.
"There's something I should show you." He rose from his chair and headed to a door set into the wall behind the dias. "We've had it for a long time, but no one has been able to read it. Time and time again one of my predecessors thought to discard it, but something stopped them each time. It's important, and I'm fairly sure that it relates to our current problem."
He led them down a narrow back hallway that was only lit with small lamps. Vegeta immediately recognized where they were and knew thath is father was taking him to his personal study. Of course the book would be there. It wasn't the sort of thing you could keep in a publicly-accessible library, after all.
The style of the bare stone walls never changed from area to area, but they were broken up occasionally by tapestries and by the lamps. Not once did they pass anyone else as they walked, but that particular hallway was one that was seldom used by even servants unless there was an audience or a banquet being held. It was a more direct route to the kitchen from those two chambers, but not from the small dining room that the king and his son normally used.
They entered the study. It was a good sized room, but dark from lack of windows and lack of lit lamps. King Vegeta lit the lantern on his desk and picked it up, carrying it to the back of the room where his bookshelves were. He held the lamp up close, reading titles, forced to search for a book he had only seen a few times before. It had almost faded from his mind, but its air of mysteriousness had ensured that it would not fade entirely.
His fingers wrapped around it, sliding it carefully from between two unrelated tomes. It was old; the leather cover that bound it was dry and cracking with age. He handed it to his son who hovered nearby, then returned the lantern to his cluttered desk. "I'll leave you to it, then."
He was almost out the door when Kakarotto said, "Our friend... Will you tell us if anything changes?"
"Yes," he murmured, "of course." The door closed with a quiet click.
Vegeta's fingers were delicately flipping the thin pages. The ink was faded, but the words and illustrations were still legible. He recognized the Pale Ones from the brief look he'd gotten of the mosaic, but he couldn't say if they looked anything like what he'd expected elves to look like due to the robes all but engulfing their slight forms. The shapes of the letters resembled the ones he'd seen carved into the tree outside of Nohin e Kul, which meant that the book was definitely written in the language of his lover's people.
He turned another page and gasped softly when an illustration of the mosaic was displayed across two pages. It was more crude, possibly even the sketch on which the detailed mosaic in the council house had been based. He silently passed the book to the young man looking over his shoulder, knowing that he could not read the notes inked into the margins.
"The blueprint," Kakarotto whispered, confirming Vegeta's suppositions. He turned the page and there was a closeup of the first section on one page with detailed information about it on the other. Eyes wide with excitement, he turned a few more pages until he was at the picture of the first section of the mosaic that had missing pieces. It was complete in the drawing. Two green eyes stared at him from the darkness, the pupils a vertical slit like a cat's, or a snake's. In the lower right corner was an androgynous person with long light-colored hair and ears that were pointed at the tip. They were wearing a type of robe he associated with the Pale Ones, a simple split-necked affair with an attached hood. The figure's eyes were cast upward in an expression of abject terror.
"He looks almost exactly like the stories say," Vegeta said quietly. "The elf, I mean."
"Was that piece taken so that we couldn't identify the Pale Ones, then? 'The Dark One'," he read aloud, "and one of the Wiit Betholea." He flipped a few more pages until he reached the final drawing, pausing only briefly on the one with the portal. He could fill in the missing pieces easily without even looking -- they were the eyes of the Dark One -- but it was the person in the image that he focused his attention on. He didn't want to believe it, but there was no one else with magical talent within the castle.
Somehow, he still had his power. That didn't make any sense, unfortunately. After they removed the Key he couldn't feel it anymore. He'd thought that, perhaps, the Key was what had given him his ability in the first place. Now that he knew it was still there, he would have to relearn how to manipulate it.
"Vegeta, can you show me a place that will be free from interruptions?" he asked quietly. "I need to relearn how to access my magic at will again."
The prince nodded, relieved that he finally believed that he was the one in the mosaic. "Is my bedroom okay? No one should have any reason to go inside."
"It's fine." He smiled, but it trembled around the edges. "I don't know what the outcome will be of this battle, but I'm going to try my best. Please come get me if anything changes out there."
"I will." Vegeta took the book from him and placed it on his father's desk. He then proceeded to take Kakarotto's arm, hoping that his touch would calm him. "It's not very far."
He darkened the room by drawing all of the heavy brocade curtains. It was a very large space with a bed big enough for three people to sleep comfortably in, a wide mahogany desk and chair, and an armoire. The bare floor was made of stone like the walls, but there was a large area rug made of rich greens and golds and browns covering majority of it. Vegeta told him soon after they'd entered that he often used the space to train when the weather outside was horrible. The unoccupied space could easily accommodate a light sparring match between the two of them.
After his lover left with a promise to return around dinnertime whether anything happened or not, Kakarotto sat down on the rug and folded his legs. He had an idea to revisit every meditation technique his departed master Totepo had taught him from early childhood to early adolescence. It was bound to take hours to find his center again, but he would not be of any use against the Dark One otherwise.
Kakarotto closed his eyes.
Vegeta went in search of his father to find out what had been done already in preparation for the inevitable barbarian attack when a shout went up from the front gate. It was too late to check with him, but hopefully the soldiers remembered enough of their martial training to successfully stop them from completely overrunning the castle. He heard the distinctive high-pitched sound of metal on stone, followed by several pained screams, and nodded in satisfaction. The portcullis were working, at least.
As he walked the deserted hallways, his mind was busy trying to come up with ways to aid the soldiers. The castle did not have very many men who were able to fight, but he had a feeling that the barbarians would show up in droves and armed for bear. Could they honestly repel an attack? Maybe the first wave, but what about the second, and the third? They had mages, after all, and there was no one in the castle with magical ability save for Kakarotto and he was currently unavailable. He sighed as he exited outside onto the battlements, making sure to keep his head down.
Thoughts rose to the forefront of his mind unbidden making it very hard for him to focus. Distantly he could hear the sounds of battle, but did not acknowledge them. If it was urgent then Vegeta's hands would be on his shoulders, shaking him to bring him back. As he felt nothing of the sort, he allowed himself to sink even further within himself, searching for his magic.
It was there. A faint tingling on the edges of his perception that had once been a warm comfort much like a thick fuzzy blanket. Whenever he'd decided to cast a spell before, he'd had no doubt that the magic would respond exactly the way he'd wanted it to. Now, however, his trust in it was shaken almost beyond repair. He wasn't sure if any spell he consciously decided to cast would work and that was often the undoing of a mage. After all, what was a mage without his magic?
He searched for that place deep inside of him that would anchor him to the source of this foreign gift. For it was the same, yet different. This time it would take a bit more coaxing to get it to cooperate.
After finding his father amongst the archers and their lieutenants, he quickly told him about the barbarian attack on Fisher's Cove, recommending that the soldiers retreat from the battlements. The Kir would not have to get very close to blow up the wall and, if Ra Naga was around (and Vegeta seriously doubted that he wasn't), then there would be a magical shield around the enemy that arrows would not be able to penetrate. The king appeared to think about all of this carefully, but eventually decided that the men would stay exactly where they were. "Would you have them overrun the castle?" he asked his son.
"No, Father, I wasn't suggesting that we abandon our defense entirely, but there's nothing to be gained from their needless deaths."
"Since you seem to know more about the art of war than people twice your age, what would you have me do?"
Vegeta took one look at the mocking expression on his father's face and sighed. There was no getting through to him. Hopefully not too many soldiers would die from the king's mistake. The barbarians numbered far too many for him and Kakarotto to handle alone.
Suddenly the shouts of the Saiya-jin soldiers stilled and an ominous hush fell over the battlements. Vegeta shifted position so that he was on his knees and peeked over the stone wall to see what had caused everyone to fall silent. What he saw was disheartening.
A long line of barbarians were advancing on the castle, Ra Naga leading them. If their chieftain was heading them he knew without a doubt that the invisible wall he'd failed to break through a month ago was up and that nothing would be able to stop the mages from casting the explosion spells that had done so much destruction in Fisher's Cove. Vegeta pushed himself to his feet and dragged the king up with him.
"Father, we have to go now," he said firmly. To the men he shouted, "Retreat! Your prince commands it!"
A few of the men paused to see what was going on, but most ignored him. He was not king yet and they didn't have to listen to him if their own judgement didn't think it was a wise course of action. Vegeta growled and glared at his father. "Command them."
"You're forgetting your place, son," the king responded from between clenched teeth, but he did order the men down from the battlements. And none too soon.
The mages finished chanting their spells and stone began shaking around them. Vegeta and his father had just finished descending the stairs to the courtyard when an entire section of the wall collapsed and the barbarian warriors began pouring in. The king drew the ornate sword that hung at his side, but his son darted through now disorganized clusters of Saiya-jin soldiers and vanished into the castle.
The final battle was now upon them.