Passport to Paradise
Content Warning: I have a special
warning for this chapter: graphic violence. I don't think it's that detailed,
but opinions may differ. Even if you don't think you can stomach it, I suggest
you read anyway because there's plot development here that's essential to the
Later he would think back and wonder about the moment when
everything had gone straight to Hell. The day had begun so mundanely, after all.
They'd breakfasted at the inn, he and Kakarotto, and had hired a guide to lead
them to the places where people went to share stories (no matter how fantastical
they were). Vegeta had only been trying to fill the empty void inside of him
where his life would have been had he been allowed one in the palace.
Meeting Kakarotto and realizing that they had mutual romantic feelings for each other did much to fill it. He had always wanted someone he could stand to be around, someone who didn't have ulterior motives for being with him. The simpering, doe-eyed women of his father's court hardly fit into that category and, besides, they were women. When he imagined the person he would spend the rest of his life with, that person definitely didn't have a woman's curves.
Kakarotto was a slave even though he was technically still a child, one whose body bore the evidence of the hardships he had endured for a little over four years. His previous masters before the prince had bought him had cared little for his comfort and so had raped him whenever they'd felt the urge or beat him bloody for some minor transgression. Even though he was doing much better than when they'd first met, Kakarotto still expected to be punished severely and still awoke screaming sometimes during the night after a particularly horrible nightmare.
That morning after their meal, their guide Alain led them down to the docks where there were businesses that did a brisk business with sailors, sea merchants, and warriors just passing through. The buildings by the sea were faded from the weather and the salty air, but they looked sturdy and well-built as well.
Closest to the road that led to the newest guard post were the taverns, inns, and shops. Closer to the eastern and western walls were the gaming and pleasure houses. While Vegeta didn't really mind visiting a gaming house for a round of cards and information, he drew the line at the brothels. Besides, he doubted that any of them catered to men who desired other men.
The tavern the prince chose was called the Silver Serpent. It was a mid-level establishment that most of the undesirables would hardly be able to afford. He had no desire to witness another scene like the one back in Hillys nor did he want Kakarotto to witness one. Alain showed them to one of the better tables and then left to talk with the tavernkeep.
"This isn't so bad," Kakarotto said, allowing his body to relax. Taverns were a common setting in his nightmares, though he had never told Vegeta about that. Grott's tavern had not been the only one he'd worked in, so-to-speak. His very first master had routinely taken him to a place that catered to an exclusive clientele where he and a few other boys were made to service the patrons. It had been his first time participating in anything remotely resembling sex, but it had certainly not been the last.
Vegeta glanced at him, noticing how his hands gripped the table even though his face was placid. "Are you honestly alright?"
"I will be."
Alain returned with two mugs of port. "I know the tavernkeep personally so this isn't the stuff he serves everyone else. Trust me, you didn't want that."
"Aren't you going to have some?" Vegeta asked before taking a ship. It was smooth and went down easy.
"I've learned not to drink on the job," was all he said. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across his stomach. "Do you see that big hairy guy over there that's arm wrestling the guy with curly hair?"
Kakarotto was sitting in the perfect position to watch them unobserved. He watched the larger guy slam his victim's arm down to the table so hard that it shook. "What about him?"
"He comes from the hills to the east of the Cove and there's rumors that they're hiding enough gold there to outfit the governor's entire army five times over."
"Gold," Vegeta said dully. "I have enough of that already. Isn't there anything else like ancient magical artifacts or even the remnants of the elven civilizations?"
"No, sorry. I think you should go after the gold. After all, no one can have too much of that."
"Hm, so you say." Alain opened his mouth to make another remark just as a loud explosion outside nearly rocked the tavern from its foundation. For one long moment after no one spoke. They all stared at the door, hoping against hope that whatever was outside didn't try to make its way inside. Nothing like this had ever happened in Fisher's Cove before. It wasn't some war-torn city under siege by an invading army. Even the much-talked-about murder of most of the Arielle's crew and the subsequent theft of its cargo that had forced the governor to restrict access to the docks had nothing on what was happening now.
As quickly as the silence had descended, sound returned. Men began yelling at the tops of their voices, barmaids began screaming, and everyone tried to rush headlong out the back door. Instead of following them, Vegeta ducked beneath the table and grabbed the ankles of his companions, pulling them under with him. He did so none-too-soon. The front door of the Serpent burst open and six black-clad warriors burst in. The people trying to escape were forced to turn and fight.
They watched as the rearmost of the crowd was cut down where they stood, having no time to even attempt to defend themselves. The men behind them drew swords and knives, stepping over the fallen bodies to meet their attackers head on. It was apparent by the easy way the Black Ones attacked that they had no chance, but still they fought on. The crowd behind them grew smaller as more and more people successfully escaped. Vegeta was all set to let out the breath he'd been holding for the past minute when he heard more screams, this time coming from the back room. He knew then that there would be no escape for them.
"We have to get out of here before we're killed," Vegeta whispered. Alain was the closest to the door. It would be up to him to move first and make it out of the tavern before Kakarotto and Vegeta could follow.
"You have to run for it when you think they're distracted enough," he told the terrified young man. "I mean it, or we'll die because of you."
That distance between the table they were hiding under and the door looked to be a mile long. He tried to stop the trembling threatening to overtake his body and shifted so that he was on his hands and knees.
Kakarotto nudged him. "I'll give you the signal." Then he closed his eyes and began to chant very softly in a language neither of them were familiar with. For a few tense seconds they waited for something to happen and then a rag lying on the bar caught afire, the blaze igniting instantly and burning brightly as if the rag had been soaked in oil. The soldiers and their victims all jumped as one, then the soldiers tried to put it out, but it refused to be doused. By this time the fire had spread to the bar and the wood was quickly being consumed by the flames.
"Now!" Kakarotto said, his voice slightly hoarse as if he'd been screaming. Alain needed no further signal. He scrambled from beneath the table and bolted for the door like a frightened horse, Kakarotto and Vegeta right behind him. They would not be able to save those people themselves, but hopefully the warriors could gain an advantage over the soldiers now that there was a fire to distract them and make a clear path the door.
The three of them faltered in the entranceway. Somehow Hell had come to claim Fisher's Cove while they'd stopped to have a drink. "Holy shit," Alain breathed. Vegeta couldn't have said it better himself.
Every building as far as they could see was on fire, as were several of the ships moored in the harbor. The unknown warriors were fighting people in the streets, most of whom were being killed after engaging them only for a second. There were quite a few bodies without their heads and even more people still alive but in horrible pain if the sounds they were making were any indication. The stench of blood and gore mingled with the smell of burnt wood and flesh, causing all three of them to instantly become sick to their stomachs.
"What's the quickest way back to the main city?" the prince asked, praying that his stomach didn't rebel against him. When he opened his mouth to speak, the foul smell of street seemed to settle thickly on his tongue so that he was able to taste death. Vegeta pulled his tunic over his mouth and nose to keep out the worst of it.
"Yes, we have to get back, don't we?" Alain said this mostly to himself. His eyes were wide and showing too much white, a sure sign that he was losing his grip on reality.
"Hold yourself together," Vegeta commanded. "When we're safe, that's when you'll have the chance to fall to pieces."
He nodded and seemed to recover from his terror. "It's this way." He darted out from the doorway and down the street, the two of them following as closely as they could. It was a narrow escape from the battle ax one man was wielding; Vegeta could feel the air stir as the blade missed his neck by inches and embedded itself in the wooden doorframe. When he had left home looking for adventure, this had definitely not been what he'd had in mind.
They darted into a narrow alley that was barely wide enough to squeeze past a large wooden barrel sitting beside a closed door that was being used to hold garbage. At the end of the alley was a stone wall that Alain and Kakarotto climbed over with ease. Vegeta, being far shorter than the two of them, had a little trouble. The teen smiled sheepishly at him from atop the wall and offered him a hand up.
"This way," their guide hissed as another explosion nearly knocked them from their feet. Vegeta absently wondered what they were using to cause such a reaction. It wasn't something he'd ever seen used before.
"Come on," Kakarotto said, grabbing his hand and pulling him. "I'm not going to lose you."
More buildings caught afire as the soldiers moved inland. They were still a street away, but the ruthless men were moving fast. They were soon able to see the inner stone wall separating to two sections of the city and quickened their pace as salvation grew nearer. Apparently many other people had the same idea because men, women, and children of all ages were also running for the gate. Things were bound to be clogged and they couldn't afford to wait calmly while everyone slowly funneled through.
"The gate's closed!" Alain's dismayed cry floated above the cries of everyone else for a brief moment. Kakarotto and Vegeta also rounded the corner and saw a large mass of people all shouting at the soldiers on the battlements who refused to let them pass. The people at the very front were even trying to fell the gates, but they were made of steel and would not be moved.
"What are they thinking?" the teen asked, his eyes wide. "Don't they know that everyone will die if they don't open the gate?"
"Of course they know, Kakarotto, but they don't give a damn." Vegeta stared at the men, his eyes cold. "They don't want whatever's invading the lower city to spread to the upper. It's where all the nobles and wealthy people live, after all."
Alain shook his head. "We can't just stand here and wait for death to find us. There has to be some other way into the upper city. A crack in the wall, a building close enough for us to use to get over..."
Kakarotto's eyes darted around the street, searching for a way to the roof of a building. There was a wagon nearby that was high enough to make it to the low roof of a porch. Then it would be a simple thing to climb to the upper roof and over the inner wall. The fire was spreading rapidly behind them and the death-screams of the victims were drawing closer. "Follow me!"
He grabbed Vegeta by the waist, ignoring his protests, and boosted him up high enough to reach the top. He did the same for Alain and followed them up. "Jump over onto that roof. It's not so far." There were actually about ten feet separating the wagon from the roof, but he wasn't going to tell them that. Alain gulped, but leapt across, falling hard to his knees on the other side. Vegeta took one look at the distance and shook his head.
"I am definitely not going to make it over," he said in a very calm and logical manner that was far more disturbing than if he would have allowed himself to become hysterical. "I'm too short."
"Then I'll give you help. Hold onto me and don't let go." Kakarotto's face was determined. It was a far different expression than what the prince had grown used to. Gone was the meek teenager who apologized for every perceived insult. He was now a man.
Vegeta held him around the neck, his legs wrapped around his waist, once again feeling like a small child. "Let's just get this over with." Kakarotto smiled slightly and kissed him briefly. Then he began to chant in that strange language again, the wind whipping up around them and fluttering their clothes and hair. The prince felt himself moving slowly upward, which he thought was impossible since he was wrapped around Kakarotto and his lover's feet were firmly planted on the wagon. Then he looked down and realized that they were, indeed, floating upward.
"What else can you do?" he asked, marveling at the sensation of flying.
"Many things, Master. Many things." They landed on the roof gracefully and Kakarotto ended the spell. "Come on, there's no time to waste."
From atop the house, they could see that the distance between it and the high wall was about the width of two large wagons, which was another way of saying that it was too far for them to jump. Kakarotto had to cast his flotation spell again to get them across, which was no small feat since there were now two people hanging onto him instead of just one. Once they were on the battlements, Vegeta unsheathed his sword while Kakarotto crouched into a battle stance. Alain, not being a fighter, lowered himself so that he wasn't easily seen and stayed put.
"We don't want to hurt you, but if you won't open the gate for them we won't have a choice." Kakarotto said this in a tone of voice that was a cross between a placation and a warning.
The city guard before him was a young Saiya-jin man who was probably fresh out of training. He looked at Kakarotto, seeing the seriousness of his statement in his eyes, then turned his head to look out over the lower city and the raging inferno it was quickly becoming. He dropped his weapon to the stone and shook his head. "There's nothing anyone can do anyway. Not against demons."
"Demons?" Vegeta scoffed. "There's no such thing."
"What do you call what's happening, then? It can only be the work of demons! What old Brack saw through his spyglass wasn't normal. Those men in black can only be demons in disguise!" He walked over to the gate mechanism he was supposed to be guarding and unlocked it. Then he began to slowly turn the wheel so that the heavy steel gate slid aside.
"Lad, what are you doing?!" Another soldier farther down the battlement shouted in surprise. "You'll bring the lot of them down onto the rest of the city!"
"We're all going to die anyway," the young guard said without a trace of hysteria or sadness. He seemed quite accepting of his possible fate. "Whether this gate is closed or not."
People began squeezing through before the gate was even fully open. They ran into the upper city, mass panic fueling them. Other people who had no idea what was going on caught their maddened fever and began to run with them, joining their own screams to the tumult rising above the city. And behind them the warriors reached the gate like a great wave of death, their steel weapons painted red with blood.
"Close the gate, damn you!" the other soldier cried. The young man quickly began turning the wheel in the opposite direction even though not everyone had passed through. A few people narrowly escaped being impaled by the sharp spikes on the edge, while others were not so lucky. The rest were trapped on the same side as the invaders and they scattered like leaves in the wind, trying to disappear into the narrow lane running between the wall and the nearest buildings. Some of them were able to get away, but most were butchered where they stood.
Those on the battlements watched it all, completely unable to do anything to stop it. Alain grabbed Kakarotto's arm and shook him, trying desperately to get his attention. "You have power I've never seen before. Can't you do something?" Another tortured scream rent the air until it was cut off by the parting of the woman's head from her shoulders.
"No," the teen said softly, his heart feeling each and every needless death. The Elders had expressly forbidden using magic beyond the borders of their village for this very reason. 'People will always look to a sorcerer to solve all their problems,' they'd said. 'Especially the ones we can do nothing about.' It hurt him to watch knowing that even he could not stop death. "They are far too numerous and, even if they weren't, their own magic is too great."
"Their own magic?" Vegeta stared hard at the men, trying to imagine so many people having the kind of power he'd only heard about in fairy tales. "All of them?"
"Most, at least." Something seemed to occur to him suddenly because he grabbed Vegeta and Alain and forced them down with him. "Everyone get as low as you can! They can use magic!" Which meant that they had probably caused the explosions and the fires with their innate power. None of them were safe on the battlements, even less so than on the ground. "How do we get down?" He then spied a small tower about three dozen feet away from them that seemed the likely answer. "Nevermind. Head to the tower!"
They crawled at a snail's pace toward it, not daring for even a second to raise their heads above the low walls lest they become a target. As the first explosion rocked the wall, they were less than a few feet away. "Don't think about what's happening behind us, or what's already happened to people who did nothing to deserve it," Kakarotto said in a calm, encouraging. "Think only of escaping, of surviving to see another day."
"Of surviving to see another day with you," Vegeta said quietly.
Another explosion hit a part of the wall nearer to them and large portions of it collapsed from the force. It was then that Alain reached the tower and had begun descending the ladder he found inside. Kakarotto waited for Vegeta to squeeze in the narrow space with him before he descended himself. Being back on the ground brought a profound sense of relief to the three of them and they decided to hide in the tower until it became unsafe to stay there any longer.
"I think I can put this down as the absolute worst day of my life," Vegeta said with a trace of amusement. It was either make jokes or start to scream so loudly he didn't know if he would ever stop. "Definitely not what I was looking for when I left home for the first time."
Kakarotto moved closer so that he could embrace him. "This is... horrible. There aren't any words to describe how bad all of this is."
"Be happy about that. If there were, it implies that this sort of thing happens often enough to assign it its very own term."
"My family, my friends," Alain whispered in a corner. "All dead! And for what?"
"The Key." Of this, Kakarotto was sure. "They want the Key."
"But how did they know it was here?" Vegeta whispered. "It's been four years. You didn't even know you would be here until a week ago!"
He shook his head. "They must have diviners. Their magic is tainted like that of the people who slaughtered my clansmen." His body began to shake with sobs as the truth started to sink in. "They're here because of me. I'm the reason they killed all of these people."