Just a Nightmare
(Part II: Enter the Nightmare)
In a regal, central room of the palace sat a large throne at the end of a red velvet carpet that was edged in golden thread. Vegeta looked around with a critical eye, snorting at the unnecessary grandeur. It was a room to impress people, not one to defend from invading armies. The prince had to admit, though, few would want to attack the Dai Kaio in his own home. To do so was insanity.
There was one problem that complicated things: the person they came to see was missing from the room. All types of people milled around, doing all sorts of different things. Maids cleaned efficiently, assistants talked quietly, and the occasional skilled fighter passed through. The only thing missing was the man of honor.
"Oh, come on," Goku sighed. "We don't have time to waste waiting on you, Dai Kaio."
Vegeta smirked in his direction. "Patience, Kakarotto."
"You know I don't have any of that!"
A side door opened and Dai Kaio stepped through followed by Kaioshin, the highest surviving deity. Both spotted the two Saiya-jin at the same time; Dai Kaio nodding briefly and Kaioshin smiling cordially. The older man went to his throne while the other stood beside him.
"Son Goku and Vegeta-ouji, step forward," an assistant called out at his master's command. They did so, Goku kneeling and pulling Vegeta down to the ground alongside him. "What do you wish to present to our lord and master, Dai Kaio?"
The problem was explained in detail. "So, we have no idea what to do next. I haven't felt this helpless since Majin Buu."
"Hmm," he stroked his long white beard thoughtfully. "Enma contacted me a short while ago and I was informed that one of the evils from the Riger dimension had escaped his imprisonment. We're probably talking about the same demon."
"Riger dimension?" Goku asked.
"Hai," Kaioshin answered, taking over. "This plane, the 'afterlife' as you call it, exists simultaneously everywhere at every time and therefore breaks many of the ningen laws of science. If a person dies, no matter what dimensional plane they once called home, they end up here."
"Wouldn't things get crowded after a while? I mean, aren't there hundreds of different dimensions?"
A smile. "Even more than that. You have to remember that this dimension of the dead is controlled completely by myself and Dai Kaio. We weren't its creators -- the Dai Kaioshin was -- only maintenance men in a sense."
He nodded and asked, "Will you help us?"
"Actually, you should really ask 'Can you help us?' in which case the answer is no." The small purple-skinned man sighed. "Nightmare is immortal and completely invulnerable. To fight him is to waste both time and energy." He held up his hand to stop Vegeta's oncoming verbal assault. "We are immortal, but we also can be killed. Just ask Majin Buu. The Dai Kaioshin, the other three kaioshin, and many dai kaios have been slain by his dark power. Their energy has been woven into the fabric of time instead of returning here. We also cannot interfere with a mortal problem. He poses no immediate threat to us so, therefore, it isn't any of our affair."
" 'It isn't any of our affair'." Vegeta shook his head slowly at their refusal to assist, curbing his rage just barely. "You're fucking deities! Your entire purpose is to take care of the mortals and make sure things run like they should! Or do you only care for them when they're dead? In that case, you'll be receiving a flood of souls very soon."
Goku disliked the response, but could understand the reasons behind it. "Is there a way we can stop Nightmare without having to kill him?"
"Priestess K'sorde used magic," the Dai Kaio informed them. "She sealed him away in Hell. If you could find some way to do that, we'll make sure that he doesn't ever get free again."
"Is she here?"
"Iie. Her race is immortal just as we are. Natural death does not touch them. It's against the rules to cross dimensions, Goku. I'm sorry."
His face was impassive as he considered how many people were going to lose their lives before the entire ordeal was over. "This time, sorry isn't good enough." Without another word, he grabbed Vegeta's arm and they teleported back to Chikyuu.
Bra winced every time Gotenks was pummeled by a seemingly bored Nightmare, and covered her eyes when he was knocked out of the sky to form a deep crater in the earth. She knew that no one would be able to kill him and the knowledge came from somewhere deep inside. One would usually be terrified at the thought, but Bra knew no fear. There was always a way to defeat evil and the Z-senshi had dealt with immortal beings before.
The two young men split apart as the fusion wore off and, this time, neither had enough energy to fuse again. Trunks and Goten exchanged weary looks and passed out from exhaustion at nearly the same time. Gohan, who had wanted to stay out of the battle entirely, sighed and prepared to attack.
"I am tired of this farce," he informed the only conscious fighter in the immediate area. "This city is destroyed and its inhabitants are dead. There's nothing holding me here." Behind him, the air rended and separated so that the abyssal darkness of the space between dimensions peeked through. "Catch me again... if you can."
Just as he stepped through the portal, Goku and Vegeta appeared beside Gohan. The three of them could only helplessly watch as Nightmare headed off to ruthlessly murder more unsuspecting people.
"So, what are we going to do?" Gohan asked needlessly. He could see for himself that neither his father or Vegeta had no plan whatsoever.
Goku dropped to the ground and they followed. "What can we do? Nothing we've done so far has harmed him and the deities refuse to help us."
Vegeta spoke suddenly, his hopeful-sounding words surprising the young man. "None of us possess magical ability and we cannot ask the one who originally defeated the demon for help. Yet we have a solution. If only we could find some way to make it possible."
"It's something, Papa," Bra said as she approached them. She held up the kitten who eyed Vegeta and mewed. "I found him over there. Can I keep him?"
"I don't know about that..." he stared at the feline who stared right back. Bra moved closer and brought the kitten a few inches from his face. With a slight movement, a small pink tongue took a slightly rough swipe across his nose. Vegeta jumped, completely startled. "How can something that tiny survive?"
"The same way everyone and everything survives, Papa. By perseverance." She kissed the top of his striped head. "Can I keep Tigger?"
An eyebrow rose. "You named it after that goofy tiger on Winnie the Pooh?" He found himself smiling slightly at the cute picture she and the kitten were making and quickly coughed to cover it up. "I guess so."
After waiting for Goten and Trunks to wake up, they went back to the Capsule Corporation to figure out a way to seal Nightmare away in Hell once more. The other Z-senshi were called but, being well into middle age, none of them could really help with the battle. Only Piccolo was physically able to endure a long conflict.
"Why do these things always happen to us?" Kuririn asked no one in particular. "It's like we're being conspired against."
"What do you care? We're the ones who're probably going to get killed trying to save all the ningen on this damn mudball." Vegeta grumbled and began to channel surf. They had all taken seats in the living room, using every available surface; the young ones sat on the floor. He stopped on a news report in a language that he didn't understand, but it was obviously about Nightmare.
Piccolo began translating as a female reporter spoke into a microphone from the helicopter that flew above the rubble that had once been a city. She read from a sheet of paper, her eyes tired and grief-stricken. " 'The beast first attacked a few hours ago for reasons that are still unknown to us. He merely walked through our neighborhood and casually left havoc and destruction in his wake. There were no warnings, no demands; he only grinned coldly as he killed my family, my friends, my neighbors, and people that I had seen daily on my way to work. While it had been mainly adults who had been caught in the living darkness he sent to engulf the panicked masses, many children had been killed as well. He had no preference between young and old, male and female, or any race. It seemed that anything living was fair game.' " The young woman had tears in her eyes as she looked up at the camera. " 'This was written by one of the few survivors who managed to escape the unknown murderer. So far, we have reports that twenty people made it out alive. This number is reported to be out of a grand total of one-million. Death tolls this high have not been seen for, at least, twelve years, since the time Majin Buu completely decimated the population of Chikyuu. Is there someone out there who can save us? Are the brave warriors that fought Cell and Buu still able to defend our planet?' "
Vegeta pressed the power button and the screen went dark. "I find myself feeling uncharacteristically sympathetic."
"I think developing a conscience may be bad for you," Gohan informed him matter-of-factly before rising and leaving the room. There was an awkward moment of silence and then everyone started speaking in unison in an attempt to dispel it. Giving up on his son, Goku sorted through his memories in an attempt to find someone other than Garlic Junior, Bibidi, and Babidi who could cast spells. After all, the former was trapped in his own realm of the dead and the latter two were in Hell.
Bra looked up from where she was playing with Tigger on the carpet beside Pan with a strange look on her face. "I-I don't feel so good." She clutched at her head; it felt as if it would burst from the intense pounding within. Her vision became blurry and she blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear her eyes. "Is Nightmare messing with me?"
Goku gently lifted her and laid her out on the couch. He touched her forehead with the back of his hand and discovered that it was surprisingly cool. "I don't know. What do you think, 'geta?" He received no response. " 'geta?" He turned to look at his lifemate and made a soft sound of concern.
All of the color had faded from his face, leaving it bloodless and pale and his eyes were just a touch wider than usual. Fine tremors shook his body, so slight that they weren't recognizable by anyone without Saiya-jin or Namek-jin vision. Bra reached out with her hand and touched her father. "Papa? Are you alright?" The fear in his eyes was starting to worry her.
"You can't die," he whispered as he moved closer to his little girl. "I won't let it happen."
"I won't... die." Her voice had completely vanished by the last word and her eyes closed. For one long moment everyone was struck with fear, but then Bra's chest began to slowly move up and down. There was a collective exhalation of relief.
Goku lightly tapped her cheeks. There was no movement other than what came naturally from respiration. "She's unconscious, but not asleep."
Just as his heart rate had started to calm, it picked back up again at his lifemate's words. Vegeta stroked his daughter's hair, uncaring of the other people in the room. "Is she in a coma?"
"I think so." He stared at her motionless form from where he crouched beside the couch. "I wonder what's going on inside of her mind."
She quietly walked up the deserted street and paused to regard the slightly imposing temple. It was taller than the Lord of the City's three-story house and made of white marble that seemed to radiate coldness. The roof of the temple sloped gently upward and held a small, square tower in its center. The tower itself tapered to a point.
The young woman had been a follower of Etha for over four years, two of which had been spent in training. Yet, no one could have ever prepared her for what was to come.
It was still a mystery how the demon came to inhabit their gentle planet. Had he been drawn there because of their innocence in all things related to strife? Or had he been summoned inadvertently by an amateur wizard's bumbling attempt at sorcery? No matter the explanation, he posed a real threat and would have to be eradicated to preserve their peaceful way of life.
"Is there a prayer room free, Albin?" she asked one the temple guides on duty. There were actually eight people total who provided information about their work and gave tours of the rooms accessible by the public.
Albin was an older man who'd never married or had children, instead deciding to dedicate his entire life to serving his goddess. He looked up from his tightly-clasped hands and nodded. "There are a few remaining just off the eastern hall. These are troubled times, K'sorde."
She nodded in agreement. "This is when we need faith the most. Albin, I intend to do what the others could not."
"Good luck and Etha be with you."
"And with you, as well."
The lobby of the temple was a large, empty space that held little besides chairs for the guides, a table for donations, and a fountain in the center. Mosaic tile in grays and dark blues covered the floor in a pattern so complex that, if viewed from above, would resemble the symbol of the Order.
K'sorde made her way quickly down the long eastern hallway, her sandals making no sound on the highly polished marble floor. After passing four rooms whose doors were shut to indicate occupancy, she came across one that was vacant.
Prayer rooms were little more than small spaces where a devotee could worship in private. On the floor lay a plain pillow for kneeling while a pitcher full of water and a clean glass sat on a small table by the door. She made herself as comfortable as possible on the floor and descended into the trance she found necessary when dealing with a deity.
'Etha, mother of all, please appear before me and grant me the power I so desperately seek. I know you must be aware of what is happening to my brothers and sisters in the northern hemisphere and, so far, no one has been able to stop it. If this senseless murdering continues then there will be no one left.'
In her mind, the figure of an old woman appeared before her. Her spine was bowed with age and her wrinkled face was gentle. K'sorde immediately knew that this was the form Etha chose to present herself as. 'Many people have prayed to me for the power to defeat the demon called Nightmare, but I have not given it to any. Why do you think I will bestow such a gift upon you?'
'I am but a humble priestess, no better or worse than any of your other followers. I could tell you that I would try my best to stop him, but many have probably already used those very same words. Great Mother, you have to agree with me that something must be done. We cannot go on living this way.'
'No, my child, we cannot.' K'sorde felt a tingling warmth engulf her entire body. It grew in intensity until she felt that she could bear no more and then vanished. 'I have given you what you so desperately sought and will try to protect you as much as I can during your confrontation. Do not disappoint me, Priestess K'sorde.'
Crystalline tears trickled down her cheeks unnoticed. 'Thank you, Great Mother. I will not fail you.'
Slowly she emerged from the trance feeling calm and in complete control of the situation. She knew that the composure was false, but as long as it aided her she could care less. Drinking a glass of cool water, she wondered whether or not she should wait for Nightmare and eventually came to the conclusion that it was best. No one knew where the demon was in-between the scout reports and she could think of no way to find out.
"It's all up to me," she whispered, her voice filling the formerly silent room. "The future of the world is in my hands." The admission only served to make her feel afraid. So much responsibility... K'sorde wasn't one-hundred percent sure that she could handle it.
Then, she thought of Goddess Etha and her heartbeat calmed. If the Great Mother herself considered her an excellent candidate there was no reason for her to believe otherwise.
Three days after Etha blessed her, K'sorde heard from the city guard that the demon was heading in the direction of Lemnos. In her cell, she hastily prepared for the inevitable, conversing with Etha as she readied herself. As she turned to leave the room, she noticed a staff leaning against the wall. It was taller than she was and made of sturdy wood that would not flex between her hands. Atop the staff was a vertical star with two rings on both sides, connected by a strong golden wire that arched over the top. She smiled at the artifact and grasped it firmly in her hands. Only the truly blessed possessed star staves.
There was a light knock on the door before it opened to admit Albin. "K'sorde?"
"Yes?" she replied.
Briefly he looked down at the Etha Medallion clasped tightly in his hands as if trying to draw courage from it. "He is here."