Age of the Empire
The Second Tale of Shukumei: Little Child Found
The next day, Goku felt that he should move on now that everything was fine in the
village (after acquiring the Uchida-sama's dragonball, of course). Over breakfast, he discussed a few ideas
with Buruma and Shinpi.
"I guess we could ask for some kind of payment for helping out," he said slowly, "and hope that he tells us that we can have anything we want."
Shaking his head, Shinpi poured himself another cup of tea. "That won't work. The chief is not a very generous person. In fact, you would have more success if you were to steal it instead." The teen's face perked up at the thought, but quickly fell when Goku firmly shook his head.
"I'm not a thief," he said. "My jiisan wouldn't like it."
Buruma sighed. "We can just ask him can we have it, then. Hopefully he'll say 'hai'."
As quickly as they could, the pair made their way down the street and to the village chief's neat house. Once again, he was working his garden. "Uchida-sama, can we have your dragonball?" Goku asked as politely as he could. "Shinpi-san told us that you had one in your living room."
"Describe it," he commanded as he dusted his hands off and rose.
"Well, it's about this big--" He held up his hands and demonstrated. "--, orange, and has red stars on it."
For a moment the man silently constructed an image in his mind and then rolled his eyes when he figured out what the boy was talking about. "Oh, *that*. It was my wife's. Achigo found it somewhere and kept it as a knickknack. You can have the tacky thing." Uchida-sama tensed slightly as he received hugs from two extremely happy adolescents.
"Arigatou!" they both chirped in unison.
"Um, you're welcome." He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "If you release me, I can get the dragonball for you."
They nodded mutely and he disappeared inside his home, returning a few moments later with the three-star ball. Goku looked upward towards the heavens as he took it, knowing that he was one step closer to seeing his grandfather once again.
Goku and Buruma looked at the sea of sand and sighed wearily in unison. "So, it's in there somewhere."
"Hai," the teenage girl nodded.
"Are you sure the radar's not broken?"
She glared at him, blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "I made it myself," was forced out between clenched teeth. "It's fine." Goku merely smiled at her serenely.
Pressing the button on the top of the radar, Bulma began to walk through the deep sand. "Follow me. I'll find the exact place and you get to digging."
"Why me?" the boy asked curiously.
"Because you're the strongest and you have the most stamina! Besides," she frowned at her hands, "my nails would probably break." Walking up a large hill, she started to go down the opposite side and tripped over something partially buried. Falling flat onto her face, the radar flew from her hand and slid down into a valley. "OW!"
Goku came running at her shout. "What's wrong? Are you okay?" Then he looked down and grinned. "You found the dragonball!" The six-star ball rested on a cushion of sand.
"Oh, great," she muttered as she brushed herself off. "I'm *so* happy for myself." As Goku picked up the orange sphere, she went to retrieve the dragonball radar. Just as her foot touched the bottom of the valley, it sank down into the sand up to the middle of her shin. "What in the-?" She screamed when the sand gave way beneath her and she felt herself begin to fall. "GOKU!"
He scrambled down the dry, shifting sand and made it to the edge just as she completely disappeared from sight. "Oh, no," he said to himself as he worriedly peered over the edge. "Buruma, are you okay?"
Her voice reached him faintly. "I just fell into a hole, Goku. OF COURSE I'M NOT OKAY!"
"I'm gonna use my staff to pull you up." Then he felt the ground starting to give way underneath his knees. "Oh, never mind."
"I'm gonna be coming down there with you soon."
It was dark as pitch and fairly small in size. He had no idea how far he'd fallen, but was unpleasantly surprised to hit the ground... head first. "ITAI!"
Buruma grinned involuntarily, knowing that he wasn't really injured. "Good thing your head is hard as a rock, kid."
"It still hurt," he pouted. He pushed himself up from the ground and began to walk in the direction of his friend's voice. The low sound of pain told him that he came a little too close. "Oops, gomen."
"Don't move," she told him as she rummaged around in her backpack. "I don't want you hurting me again." She pulled out a small flashlight and switched it on, the pale yellow beam illuminating a small triangular area in the darkness. The ground and surrounding cavern walls were made of pale limestone and there was a mountain of sand blocking the exit, it having slid down the slope with the widening of the hole. Buruma's hopes sank, her heartbeat speeding up with fear. "We're trapped down here! I don't want to die so soon!"
Goku was worried, but he had it under control. "This is a tunnel, right? We should see where it goes."
"W-what if it doesn't go anywhere?" she asked, her voice trembling ever-so-slightly.
"Then I guess we're just stuck, but it's better than waiting until the air runs out."
She had to admit that he had a point. The boy was handy to have around during a crisis.
The ceiling of the adjacent tunnel was so low that it caused Buruma to have to duck her head while Goku was still able to walk normally. After a while, her neck was starting to get a crick in it. That, in turn, made her irritable.
"This is all your fault, you know that!" she snapped.
He was startled by her words. "How? You're the one who went after the radar!"
"If you hadn't distracted me before, I would have noticed that damn dragonball! Then I wouldn't have tripped over it and we wouldn't be stuck down here!"
Frowning, he just shook his head. "Whatever."
Abruptly the tunnel opened into a large, round chamber. Giant stalactites and stalagmites projected from the ceiling and floor, some even larger than the teenage girl. Buruma immediately stood up and rotated the stiffness out of her neck. "Oh, thank Kami." Her smile faded when she realized that the two of them were now faced with several decisions.
"Left, right, or straight," Goku mused. He turned to the older girl. "Do you have anything I can use? Like rope?"
She dug around in her backpack and produced a spool of thread. "What are you going to do with this?"
"Hold on to the end so that I can find my way back. Can you give me your flashlight?"
"But then I wouldn't be able to see..." Against her better judgment, she handed it over anyway.
Goku chose the left path and started to unroll the thread as he walked. The tunnel sloped gradually downward and leveled out after about twenty feet. Suddenly the ground dropped away into a deep pit. On the edge of the flashlight's beam he could see where the tunnel picked up on the other side. Unless there was no other choice, he would rather not have to deal with navigating his way across. Buruma wouldn't be able to handle it very well.
The middle tunnel ended at what appeared to be a dead end. Upon further examination the boy discovered small cracks in the limestone surface that he would be able to wedge his fingers into. Again, it would involve skills that he just didn't think his new friend possessed. Buruma was a city girl and, therefore, used to an easier life. Having grown up in the forest, he'd spent a fair amount of time climbing and developing stamina and strength.
The third tunnel was promising. It was relatively level and obstacle free. Goku went quite a ways before having to turn around and return to his friend.
"We can go down that one, but the easiest isn't always the best."
"It's better than the other two, right?" she asked as she wound up the thread. "Come on."
The walk was easy and also pretty boring to Goku. He found himself whistling a song that his grandfather had taught him a few years ago and it caused melancholy thoughts to surface. He sighed and forced his mind onto something else. "Where do you live?"
"In Western Capital. It's a big city that's pretty far away from here. It took me four days to reach Kaijiken."
"I lived in the forest," he told her. "First with my okaasan and then with my jiisan. After he died--" His voice held only a tiny hitch. "--I went to live in Heiwa with Seion-sama."
Buruma opened her mouth to say something else when a gentle vibration began beneath her feet. It rose in intensity and soon became an earthquake that would rate about a 3.5 on the Richter Scale. Both of them were knocked from their feet and the teen cringed when she recognized the source of the tremors.
"Explosion above us," she forced out between clenched teeth. The girl looked up as if she were able to see who'd done it. Large pieces of limestone were breaking away from the ceiling and descending towards them at rapid speed. Goku pulled her free of the largest pieces and both of them ran back the way they'd come.
It felt as if the entire tunnel system was collapsing around her which was, in fact, partially true. The easy tunnel, the one that Goku was sure his new friend would be able to handle, vanished almost instantly beneath tons of solid rock.
Looking sadly at what used to be a very promising escape route, Goku sighed. "Just wasn't meant to be, I guess."
"What are the other two choices?"
"Either you hang or you climb. Which is better for you?"
She shrugged. "How deep is the pit and how tall is the wall?"
"Don't know and more than you would be able to handle."
Longingly, she cast a look in the direction of the entrance. "I don't suppose you can dig really, really fast?" Then she answered her own question. "Never mind. That slope was so steep that more sand would just pour down here while you dug. Then we'd run out of air and suffocate to death."
"Okay, then, we'll go left."
Goku led her back through the tunnel and removed his staff from its sheath across his back. Buruma gasped when she looked over the edge and estimated the depth of the pit and then gulped when she saw how far across the other side was. There was a crack nearly three feet from the floor of the cavern and he wedged the staff into it, testing to make sure that it was secure.
"Bo staff extend," he commanded. "You have to grab on with your hands and legs before trying to pull yourself across," he explained. "It's not going to move."
It was approximately twenty-three feet from cliff to cliff and just about one-hundred feet to the ground below. To demonstrate, Goku held on firmly and started to make his way over the gap. "It's not that hard."
The teenager rolled her eyes. "Easy for you to say. You're strong and used to physical activity." Despite how much she said that she couldn't do it, the girl didn't have much of a choice. It was either pull herself across the pit, climb the wall, or die from lack of air or water. There was still a chance that neither of them would make it out. After all, both of the remaining alternate paths could lead to a dead end.
Buruma made sure the backpack she carried was fully closed and flexed her hands. "I can do this," she whispered to herself. "No problem." The boy was more than halfway across by the time she pulled herself up onto the staff. Firmly locking her legs around the magical wood, she slowly began the long journey. "I'm doing it!"
He hopped off at the end and began to cheer. "Just a little bit more, Buruma! You can do it!"
Everything was going fine until she made the mistake of looking down. Sweat broke out along her body and her hands slipped from the staff. "OH, KAMI!" Goku winced and shut his eyes, only to reopen them when he'd realized that the screaming had stopped. Buruma hung suspended by her legs, both eyes clenched shut as tight as they would go.
"Just reach up and grab the staff again, okay? Slowly."
Following his directions, she reached upward and strained to grab hold of the Bo staff again. Her abdominal muscles were beginning to ache the more she tightened them. "It's too hard!"
Making a quick decision, Goku hopped onto the staff and dropped down beside her to hang by his tail. It bowed slightly beneath their combined weight, but held firm. "Reach up as far as you can and I'll pull you the rest of the way."
Tears sprang to Buruma's eyes as she struggled to grasp his hands. Just when she felt as if she could move no farther, her hands made contact with the boy's. "Arigatou," she whispered with a weak smile.
"I'll pull you across," he told her as he used his tail to propel them.
The first thing she did upon reaching the other side was kneel down and lay her cheek against the cool limestone floor. Goku sheathed his staff and stared at her curiously. "I'm reacquainting myself with solid ground," she explained.
Soon they were forced to move onward. The water supply was running low and Goku was becoming weak with hunger. About every twenty steps his stomach let out a fierce growl and he winced. "So hungry..."
"I have a couple of granola bars," Buruma said as she pulled them from her pack. "They're not much for you, but-" Before she could finish her sentence, they were snatched from her hand.
"Oh, domo arigatou!" he said to her before quickly unwrapping one of his prizes and stuffing the entire thing into his mouth.
The teen chuckled slightly, and after he consumed the other one, they continued on.
Twenty minutes later the tunnel began to gradually slant upwards and the air started to smell fresher. A tiny sliver of bright light shone through what seemed to be a dead end and a smile spread across Goku's face. "This is it," he said. "We're almost out."
"It looks thick," she said as she examined the stone. "Too thick for you to move."
Goku nodded in a preoccupied way and pressed his hands to the wall over the crack. He pushed on it slightly then, after a moment, exerted more force. For a long moment absolutely nothing happened. Buruma was starting to give up hope and the boy was beginning to tire. Then, the wall gave a loud raspy sound as the pieces of rock slid against each other and a hole became larger. It wasn't even large enough for Goku to get his head through, but it was a start.
"Now, it's gonna be easy," he said with confidence. Wedging his hands into the hole, he pulled backwards. It widened significantly. He grinned as he gazed out at an endless sea of sand and clear blue sky. "Ta da!"
"I could kiss you!" Buruma cried. Then she grabbed him and planted a big one directly onto his forehead. "Bless you!"
Blushing slightly, he rubbed his forehead with his tail. "Um, how do we get back to the capsule house? I'm close to starving to death."
By following the compass on her watch, they were quickly able to locate where they had made camp. Along the way they saw the crater where the explosives had detonated. Neither knew why it had happened only that it had nearly cost them their lives.
"I think it was a mistake," Buruma surmised. "There haven't been any reports of fighting in this area. At least, I haven't heard of any."
"Why would they fight? For fun?"
"Not this kind of fighting, Goku. They do it to hurt each other as much as possible."
He shook his head in a bewilderment. "I don't understand."
"No one does, kid. Not really."
Everything was, miraculously, exactly where they'd left it. Weary both mentally and physically, the two only wanted a good meal and a warm bed. The teen collapsed on the sofa while Goku rummaged through the fridge.
"Can you bring me something, too? I'm too tired to move." She kicked off her shoes and closed her eyes. Goku nodded and fixed a tray for her. There were so many different things on it that it weighed heavily on her lap when he set it down.
"What's all of this?"
"I couldn't decide what to choose so I brought one of everything. Was that okay?"
She hid her smile. "It's fine. You can help me eat it."
That night, Goku took the time to reflect before he fell asleep. His quest for the dragonballs was taking him to places he would have never seen otherwise. 'Even if things don't work out, I guess I can say that this was all worth it.' "Buruma?"
"Hmm?" was the sleepy reply.
"Did you find me by accident or were you following my dragonball?"
There was a brief moment of silence. "I must have been following it in the beginning, but once I found that road I put the radar up. Being tired and hungry, I was done searching for the day."
"Oh. That's why you didn't know that there was one in Kaijiken. G'night, Buruma."
"Good night, Goku."
After breakfast the next morning, Buruma went to retrieve the radar to locate the fifth dragonball. She knew that her backpack had been left on the coffee table in the living room, but it wasn't there when she entered the room. "Goku!"
"Nani?" he called back.
"Did you move my things from the living room?"
"Why would I do that?"
She scratched her head. "Then where is it?"
After twenty minutes of thorough searching, she concluded that not only was her backpack missing, but her capsules, a lot of electronics, and Goku's staff as well. "I think someone stole our stuff! Those dragonballs are important!"
"How can we find who did it? This desert is gigantic!" Goku was upset about their latest predicament, but he didn't see how things could be rectified.
Buruma paced and tried to come up with a plan. On her fifth pass by the window, she noticed something in the sand. "Footprints," she said. "They left footprints!" She wondered how stupid could a thief get, but, then again, there weren't exactly any tree branches around to brush them away. She'd seen that done on television once. "Let's go before the trail becomes cold."
Goku nodded and blushed when his stomach growled loudly. "Um, Buruma..."
She sighed. "Go ahead."
Ten minutes later they were following the trail left behind by, what seemed to be, a man. The footprints were large both in width and in length and their depth indicated that the culprit weight over one-hundred-fifty pounds. They led around a tall dune and stopped at a large boulder. The teen snorted. "How conspicuous can you get. Even *without* the footprints I would've still been able to find it."
"What does conspicuous mean?"
"It was obvious."
"Oh." Goku went up to the boulder and pushed tentatively on it. It moved very easily. "This'll take a few seconds."
The cavern was lit by torches that sent golden light bouncing along the stone walls. A long, relatively narrow tunnel led directly to the central chamber... and the largest hoard either of them had ever seen. There were many different types of electronics, jewelry, and assorted valuables. Behind it all there was a smaller cavern: the living space of the thief.
"We really struck gold this time, Pu'ar. Do you know how much capsules can go for in the remote towns and villages out here?" Yamucha looked down at the collection that rested on a small table. The tall sixteen-year-old boy with the long, untamed black hair had been abandoned long ago by his parents. He couldn't even remember what they looked like. It didn't matter, though, he and Pu'ar were doing quite well for themselves. "That girl even had some I've never even seen before!"
"She's Dr. Briefs' daughter, Yamucha," Pu'ar said. The small blue cat flew over to a shelf and pulled down a book. Flipping to the correct page, she pointed to a picture. In it was the doctor himself, his wife, and Buruma as a little girl.
Yamucha gazed down at the seven-year-old's smiling face. "Well, I'll be damned. If we kidnapped her, who knows much ransom we'd get!"
Pu'ar shook her head vehemently. "We can't do that, it's wrong!"
"Pu'ar, *stealing* is wrong."
"Hai, but it's not as bad as this would be. Dr. Briefs would be sad that his daughter was in trouble and Mrs. Briefs would probably cry." She turned her back to him. "I won't do it!"
He rose from his chair and crossed to the cave entrance. "Okay, *you* don't have to. It'll only take me a few minutes."
Yamucha stepped from the small cavern and almost bumped into Goku. He looked down, surprise clearly displayed on his face. "How the hell did you get in here, kid?!"
"I moved the rock."
In his mind, the statement just didn't make any sense. *He* could hardly move the boulder, how in the world could a little boy do it? "Oh, really?"
"Hai. I also can't let you go after my friend." He gave him a stern look to show that he meant business. "What did Buruma ever do to you?"
"It's not what she did, but what she's going to do." The young man spotted Buruma crouched in the shadows and did a strange combination of three things. First, a pleased look came into his eyes, he grinned, and then he blushed. "Uh, uh, uh..." He stood there, frozen.
Pu'ar landed gently on Yamucha's shoulder. "That means hello," she explained.
Instead of a greeting, he received a lot of angry screaming. "How dare you even *think* of using me to acquire money from my otousan! You're nothing more than a sleazy, lowlife who doesn't have any other skills." She glared at him. "I'll be taking back our things, now."
Her words caused him to come back to life. "If you think that I'm just about to let you ruin a night's work then you've got another thing coming."
"Iie, *you* do." She turned to Goku. "Handle this, please."
The boy's eyes lit up with delight. It had been a while since the last time he was able to fight someone. He hoped that the battle would be, at least, a *little* challenging. Goku couldn't remember the last time he'd had a good opponent. "Really, Buruma? I can fight him?" The teen nodded and a grin spread across his face. Turning to Yamucha, he said, "I hope you're strong."
"Don't worry," was the confident reply, "I am."
Pu'ar and Buruma stood on the edge of the sole empty area of the central cavern, each cheering on their friend. "Make him pay, Goku! Don't hold back!"
"You can do it, Yamucha!"
Goku and Yamucha both dropped down into defensive stances. The boy's hands were sort of hovering out in space, completely leaving himself open to attacks. The desert bandit's, on the other hand, were carefully positioned in front of his body, his fingers curved downward like the claws of some wild beast. It looked as if Yamucha had received more training and that Goku had no idea what he was doing.
Neither fighter made any movement for several seconds, each sizing up the other. The thief felt that he was fighting an amateur, someone who would provide little or no challenge, Goku, on the other had, recognized the skill Yamucha possessed and was positively twitching with excitement.
"Are you ready?" Yamucha asked.
"Hai. This is for everything you stole from us and a promise that you won't ever do anything bad again."
His heart sank as images of being rich crumbled and was blown away by the wind. But then he cheered; there was no way a little kid with a monkey tail would ever be able to defeat him. "Okay, sure."
"You're for real?" Pu'ar asked in astonishment. "How will we survive?"
"I'm not going to lose, Pu'ar. Don't worry." He nodded in Goku's direction. "When you lose, you'll quietly walk away and let us have the girl over there. Do we have a deal?"
Goku nodded. "It's a deal."
"Hey!" Buruma protested, but it went completely unnoticed.
They lunged in unison, the teenager making the first move. Goku blocked it easily and began an series of blows to test his opponent's defenses. Few landed. This continued on until Yamucha knocked him backward with a punch to the midsection.
Goku doubled over involuntarily and winced. "You were telling the truth about your strength."
Grinning, he answered, "Hai. You ready to give up yet?"
"Nope! Not when I have a reason to stop holding back."
There was a long moment of stunned silence. The bandit and Pu'ar exchanged looks of shock while Buruma smirked. "You're going down, Mister Lowlife."
"Not if I can help it." He gritted his teeth and readied himself for what was to come. Nothing could have prepared him for the flurry of punches and kicks that suddenly came his way. The onslaught was so fierce that defending himself was the least he could do.
Within minutes, he'd fallen to one knee, gasping in pain. Goku paused in his attack and gazed down at the defeated Yamucha in silence.
"Go ahead," the bandit said in a low voice. "You've earned it."
"Earned what?" Goku asked, genuinely confused.
"The victor earns the right to kill the defeated. It would save me the shame of having to face others after being beaten by a child."
Expression pensive, Goku kneeled down before him. "I don't want to kill you, Yamucha." He consciously lightened his tone. "How can I fight you again if you're dead?"
He sighed. "It would be better if you did. The only thing I know how to do well is steal things. Since you made me promise not to do it anymore, and because I'm a man of honor, I don't have any way to take care of me and Pu'ar."
"You could learn," Buruma said, her hostility towards him lessened considerably. Oh, she was still angry with him, but not as much as before. "Join up with us and you can discover what you're good at."
Goku nodded with a smile. "That'll be great!"
"I don't know about that. Pu'ar and I have made a life here in the desert. We've stolen from passing travelers -- as well as many of the neighboring villages and towns -- and have established a reputation. Starting over and going back to being a small fish will be hard for me."
"But it's better to earn something than to just take it. You'd feel a lot better about it." Goku persisted. "C'mon, just travel with us for a while. It'll be fun."
Yamucha considered everything for a moment and then eventually agreed. "Alright, but I have one question."
"What on Chikyuu am I going to do with all of this stuff?!"