Age of the Empire
The Second Tale of Shukumei: Little Child Found
Chapter 8

Night fell silently and the city grew still. Nobuyoki hadn't returned for several hours (though a few followers had run in and out bringing bags of valuables and money). Each one had stopped to sneer at the captive, but none were brave enough to get very close. So, they placed their loot just inside the door and departed as quickly as they'd come.

Goku entertained himself by counting the stars he could see outside from his position and then, when he'd finished doing that, he started to mentally count sheep. It was boring work that made him drowsy and his growing hunger only made it worse. He wished that the boss would return soon so that he could get what he'd come for.

That was one important thing he'd discovered since being tied to the chair: there was a locked metal box atop the dresser. Since Goku could see no money other than what had been brought in later, he assumed that the merchants' livelihoods were inside. It was doubtful that Nobuyoki had left the key behind, so he was forced to wait uncomfortably until he showed up again.

The door opened finally at midnight and Nobuyoki stumbled through. He tried three times to shut the door, finally succeeding when he tripped and fell against it. Never very bright when it came to common sense, he figured that his knots were superior enough to hold Goku in place for as long as he desired. He laughed to himself and began to sing drunkenly on his way to the bathroom.

"I've been a hard drinker for many a year,
And I always fall over on ten pints of beer,
So now when I drink, I sit on the floor,
And I never will risk falling over no more."

The door was shut, cutting off any further verses. Goku wrinkled his nose disgustedly, and settled down to wait once more.

Ten minutes passed, then twenty. After thirty minutes, Goku grew so frustrated that he flexed his arms and snapped the rope. He stood up and sighed as the feeling returned to several areas of his body. "That was boring," he commented to himself. "I wonder what's taking him so long in there."

He turned the doorknob and shook his head when he found it unlocked. Peeking carefully around the door, he saw Nobuyoki slumped over the toilet. Eyebrows raised, he went over and poked him. "Hey, are you still alive?" A snort was his only answer. "Guess so. Must've passed out."

A silver key caught his attention as it glittered in the overhead fluorescent lighting. He just knew that the key went to the locked box and carefully liberated it from its owner. Tail waving behind him in a reflection of his pleasure, he went back to complete his mission. He inserted the key into the lock and had to snatch his hand away as a bullet came very close to embedding itself within it. "Nani?" he spun around to face a very miserable Nobuyoki.

"I am *not* in a good mood right now! I suggest that you get your ass right back over there and retie my knots before I get really angry."

He pretended to think for a moment. "How about not?" Goku then lifted the small strongbox and dashed for the door. Bullets impacted around him, the man's aim still very good despite the substantial amount of liquor he'd drunk. He remembered the bags beside the door and figured that it would be a good idea to take them along as well. Dropping the box for a moment, he grabbed a nearby potted plant and hurled it at his pursuer. Nobuyoki actually dropped his gun to catch the plant and that gave Goku the time needed to pick up everything and escape out the door. He sprinted down the hall and around a corner, pausing to listen for signs of pursuit. "Made it," he said with a smile.

"Why did you take so long in there?" a voice asked on his right. Goku jumped and spun around the confront the newcomer.

"Kuririn?! Don't do that to me!"

"Gomen nasai." He looked curiously at the other boy's tense expression. "Did you get what you came for?"

"Hai, but now the boss is after me." He peered around the corner and, after seeing that the coast was clear, he headed towards the stairs. The two of them ran as fast as they could away from the hotel and didn't stop until they'd made it all the way to the market square.


"Do you think she stayed?" Goku asked his friend.

Kuririn shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe she was curious enough to wait on you to show up." He suddenly smiled knowingly. "Are you going to take her back to Roshi-sama?"

"Hai. She's pretty and she's a lady. Sort of. I wonder if he'll care that she's not very ladylike."

He started snickering. "Oh, he won't care. She's female and would look good in a bathing suit; that's all that matters."

It was very hot just like the day before. At ten in the morning, people were already miserably fanning themselves with anything handy as they trudged onward to complete their business. No children ran around outside; it was too hot even for play. Most of them remained inside in front of electric fans or asleep beneath the shade of a large tree. Goku and Kuririn were just about the only children around.

"How will we find her?" the bald boy asked. "You didn't tell her where to wait."

"Well, there's only one way out of town, right? She's probably there."

The town was surrounded by a tall stone wall that had successfully kept out would-be invaders and wild animals for many years. The entrance was guarded around the clock by well-trained guards, but there were other ways inside the walls.

Leaning in the shadows was Lunch. There was a backpack by her feet and a gun strapped to each thigh. She nodded to them and pushed herself upright. "Took you long enough. Why am I here?"

"Kamesennin sent us here for some things," Goku explained, "and he said to watch out for pretty girls."

"You're pretty," the bald boy finished. "So we want you to come back with us."

She stared at them for a moment in complete silence before bursting into hysterical laughter. Both boys' faces fell -- they were sure that her humor meant that she was going to turn them down -- but Lunch surprised them by grabbing her back and moving towards them. "Why not? It's not like I have anything else to do." Visions of priceless valuables and handsome young men danced in her head. She had no idea what to expect, but that didn't stop her from hoping for the best.

They left the city and walked along the coast. Goku cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted to the sky, "Kinto'un!" The yellow cloud immediately answered his call but, as he studied it, he knew that there was room for only two.

"Do you have something to cross the ocean in?" he asked Lunch. She pulled a capsule from her pocket with a smile. "My friend Buruma had one of those!" the boy said.

"Oh yeah? A lot of people have them." She tossed it out and a green hovercar appeared in a puff of smoke. As she hopped in she said, "Lead the way."

The flying car and the flying cloud both created wakes in the salty water as they headed to Roshi's small island home. Kuririn clung to Goku's back in terror much the same way he'd done before, eyes clenched shut and silently praying to Kami. The younger boy, on the other hand, was looking forward to training with the infamous Kamesennin Muten Roshi, even though he hadn't known who he was until four days ago. The depression that had hung over his head like a dark, ominous cloud since the moment Shenron had destroyed his hope of ever seeing his grandfather alive again was slowly fading. He would never completely get over it, but now knew that the burden was truly capable of being borne.

They arrived around lunchtime and Goku's stomach was more-than-ready for a meal. He hopped down from Kinto'un onto the sand and then turned to help Kuririn down. His hears twitched when he heard an unfamiliar sound... and it was coming from inside the house.

"What's that?" he asked no one in particular as he walked toward the front door. "Sounds kinda like someone's in pain."

Kuririn and Lunch both froze when he said those words and exchanged knowing looks. "Uh, Goku, maybe you shouldn't go in there..." The other boy trailed off and blushed deeply. He had a feeling he knew exactly why his new master was making such sounds. The images the knowledge created turned his stomach.

Goku knocked on the door before opening it. "Kamesennin! We're back!" There was no response, but he faintly heard more sounds that, this time, resembled grunting. He was halfway inside when both Kuririn and Lunch grabbed him and dragged him back onto the beach. "What are you doing?"

"A man deserves a little privacy sometimes," Kuririn proclaimed as he fought to keep the disturbing thoughts from his head.

"We were gone all night; isn't that enough privacy?" He scratched his head. "I don't understand."

Lunch sat down against a palm tree and smirked. "Well, that's obvious. Maybe you're just too young."

The front door opened and an uncomfortable Roshi beckoned them inside. He didn't notice Lunch until she had crossed the threshold. "Well, hello," he said with a smile he hoped was charming. "What's your name?"

"Lunch," she replied with a frown. "Goku, Kuririn, can I speak to you two for a moment?"

"Sure," Goku said. She pulled them outside.

"Who is that?"


She turned to look at the old man and paled. "That ancient hentai is the one who sent you to find pretty girls? He's disgusting!"

Kuririn sighed. "I had a feeling you were going to say that. Can you at least stick around for a little while? Getting a girl was our first official task as his students."

"I guess I will, but if he touches me I'm going to kick his ass." She glared at them, the cold expression causing Kuririn to shiver, before reentering the house.


The months passed quickly for the two boys. Lunch settled in, pleased to have free room and board, and they were able to discover that she had a curse placed upon her. Whenever she sneezed, the intimidating blonde Lunch turned into a very sweet blue-haired girl. Roshi, who had incurred Lunch's wrath more than once during her stay, found that it was easier to spy on the kinder version.

They'd gotten up before dawn the next morning after Lunch had decided to stay on Kame Island, before the sun had even begun to rise, to deliver milk to the people on the mainland. Not only were the recipients spread out far apart, but they had to run the entire way.

After the delivery, they had to help a farmer with his daily work on even numbered days. He owned three acres of land and already had fifty people working for him. The boys learned how to cultivate, sow, and later harvest what they'd help to create.

Before going back to the island, they joined a construction crew in building a skyscraper on odd numbered days. The foreman was a little leery about allowing two adolescent boys to work for him... until he saw them in action, that is. He even admitted to Kamesennin that they were probably the hardest workers he'd ever had.

Every night after dinner, but before bedtime, Goku and Kuririn attended class. In Kamesennin's House of Education they learned not only the three "Rs", but also important skills for living. Well, at least they were important to Roshi. Neither boy could see when knowing how to date three women at once would ever come in handy.

Goku had a dream the night after his first day of training. He was back at his grandfather's home in the forest, lying lazily in the grass. So peaceful was he, that squirrels and other small rodents occasionally came close enough to touch. They could sense no evil in the boy.

The front door of the small house creaked open and Gohan's familiar white-whiskered face appeared in the doorway. "Little One, it's time for lunch."

"Okay, Jiisan," he said happily. After brushing his clothes free of dirt, he skipped over to his home. Just as he moved to enter it, his entire body froze and his eyes widened.

"I shouldn't be here," he said to himself. "Jiisan shouldn't be here. He's.... dead."

As he realized this, the dream world faded as if it had never been. Darkness surrounded him, weighted like stone, but it did not affect him, Goku had never been afraid of the dark. When he refused to cower in terror, the consistency of it changed to that of a comforting woolen blanket. The boy had the impression that he'd successfully passed a test of some sort.

Before he could ponder on this for long, a pale white light appeared in the distance. It moved closer and closer to him on a direct path, bringing sunshine and nature with it. The darkness that the light touched was transformed. The affected area began as a small, three-foot wide circle that spread left and right as far as his eyes could see. Within the healing light was a familiar round silhouette that caused his hopes to soar. Goku stood, rooted in place, as the person drew closer.

"Jiisan," he whispered in awe. "You came back!"

The old man took a moment to look over his adopted grandson. He was older than before, and there was a more mature look in his dark eyes, but he was still the same boy. Gohan spread his arms open wide and smiled when Goku immediately threw himself into them.

"I miss you so much! I was going to bring you back but Shenron wouldn't let me. Why, Jiisan, why?" Warm tears soaked the phantom cloth of Gohan's shirt.

"Sometimes, Little One, bad things happen that we have no control over. My early death happened because of your transformation, that's true, but you couldn't have stopped yourself even if you'd tried. I believe that it's a legacy of your true people and not of the ones you've come to live among." He gently pried the boy away. "Do not mourn for me, Goku, I'm happy in the next life. Instead, remember all the good times we shared together."

He nodded slowly. "Okay, Jiisan. I'll try."

"That's my boy. I look forward to the day we meet again, but try not to let it happen too soon. You're destined for big things." He stood silently for a moment, imprinting Goku's image onto his memory, before turning and walking away. "Remember what I told you."

Goku watched him go, the sadness of being alone mingling with the happiness of seeing his grandfather again. He thought back to what Gohan had told him and nodded. "I have to move on," he told himself. "I have to stop mourning."

"Sayonara, Jiisan."

[1] an excerpt from The Hard Drinker (found on: