Age of the Empire
The Second Tale of Shukumei: Little Child Found
Chapter 9

Five years later...

"Don't let Gohan eat any poisonous berries!" ChiChi shouted as Goku and his three-year-old son, Gohan, flew away on Kinto'un. "And come back on time, for once!"

The young man nodded silently, still slightly unsure of how he promised himself to ChiChi in the first place. Had she preyed upon his lack of knowledge of worldly things? At the time, Goku had no idea what marriage was, but ChiChi, who had developed a crush on him, asked for an arrangement. Seeing how much it meant to her, he'd agreed. At the time, he thought that marriage was just something new to experience sort of like exotic food or a foreign play and Goku always enjoyed discovering new things.

He'd gone through with the ceremony and, three years later, he was still having second thoughts. While he loved his wife and usually enjoyed her company, he just didn't feel as if they fitted perfectly together. In his mind, he compared a happy couple to a jigsaw puzzle. Separately, they were simply lonely pieces while, together, they helped to create a complete picture. ChiChi just didn't fit very well with his half of the small puzzle and he found himself mentally pounding her piece into place more often than not.

While he felt quite strongly about this, it wasn't strong enough to cause him to break her heart. She was a kind woman and a good mother to Gohan.

"T'san, where we go?" Gohan's small voice asked, bringing his father away from his thoughts. He looked down at the boy who he loved with all of his heart and smiled. Gohan deserved two parents and, for him, he would do anything.

"We're going to visit my family. You can't meet Jiisan, but you *can* meet my mother. I think it's important that you two form a relationship early on in your life." 'Before ChiChi can take away your unconditional acceptance,' he said to himself, 'before she can make you just like her.'

It had taken many years for him to find enough courage to return to Meimori. The last time he'd been there, a few of the members of his former pack had driven him away with bared teeth and ominous growling. Goku felt that it was very important for his son to learn about his father's past so, when he felt that he was old enough, he proposed the idea to ChiChi. After much pleading, she finally agreed.

"Not much farther." He was looking forward to seeing his family again.

Meimori hadn't changed much over the years. The tall trees still rose towards the heavens and the ground below was still covered by lush vegetation. Goku thought that the forest was eternal, a constant part of an inconstant world.

"I grew up here," he said. Looking around, he immediately recognized the path he was on; it led directly to where the wolves had made their home in the valley.

Every plant, rock, flower, insect, and animal was something for Gohan to examine and they stopped many times along the way to watch squirrels at play or to pick up interesting-looking rocks. Gohan had quite a collection of things by the time the path merged into the valley and his pockets were filled to the brim.

"It's quiet," the boy observed as the gentle background noise of the forest abruptly ceased. Goku tensed and looked around, not really noticing anything out of place. He knew that *something* was wrong, but just couldn't figure out what. Taking Gohan's hand in his own, they continued on to the cavern.

Standing beside the entrance was an adult gray wolf with luminous yellow eyes who turned to regard him as he approached. Its head raised upward as it sniffed the air. Goku gently moved Gohan behind him as the wolf loped towards them. He'd tensed in preparation for an attack and was more than a little surprised when the animal placed his paws onto his chest and licked his face enthusiastically. Goku took in the familiar smell of the male wolf and something deep inside of him clicked.

"You're my brother," he said in awe. Memories of long days spent playing with the happy little wolf cub flashed through his mind. "I had thought you would have left the pack by now!" He ruffled the fur on top of his head and motioned for Gohan to step forward. "Gohan, this is your ojisan. We played together when we were kids."

The boy gazed at the wolf in a reserved way until he received a rough tongue swipe across his forehead. Then, with a giggle, he proceeded to run his hands through the coarse gray fur.

"You stay here and I'll be back in a minute."

The interior of the cavern was lit dimly by the sunlight outside and deep shadows crowded in the corners. In the back lay the sleeping form of the alpha female that had taken care of him for eight long years. Even from twenty feet away he could tell that she was hurt. A pool of crimson had spread beneath her from the wound in her left hind leg and she occasionally whined softly in pain. Goku immediately went over to her and kneeled beside her body. "What happened?" He knew immediately that I had something to do with the strangeness that surrounded his childhood home.

Upon examining the wound, he realized that there was a bullet embedded in his mother's flesh. Not knowing how to remove it safely, he merely tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and tied it around the wound until he could reach a professional. Sometime during the alpha female had woken and, after a moment of panic, had recognized her long-lost cub by his unique scent. Goku smiled at her and smoothed the fur on her head softly. "Everything will be okay." He sighed. "I know that you can't tell me what happened and I really wish that you could."

As if on cue, the male wolf entered the cavern with Gohan close behind. He nudged the boy over to his grandmother and latched onto Goku's pant leg with his teeth. He tugged insistently and wouldn't stop until Goku followed.

Deep in the valley, where a small river met the edge of northern Meimori, lay the motionless body of a wolf. Goku recognized the male that had warned him away so long ago. Along the tree line bodies lay, all of them with some type of bullet wound. It was becoming clearer to Goku what had happened to his pack: humans.

"You're the only ones that escaped," Goku whispered sadly. "None of you were any match against guns."

A fierce anger rose inside that joined with a growing sense of sadness to create a very unfamiliar feeling of vengeance. He knew that it was wrong and would hurt him badly in the afterlife, but couldn't really bring himself to care very much.

Then he thought about how much such an act would weigh on his subconscious and the feeling quieted. Something had to be done, though. "Take care of Gohan while I'm gone," he told the wolf beside him. The words were coupled with a pointed finger in the direction of the cavern and Goku knew that he was understood when the wolf trotted away.

By following the trail of bodies and the trampled underbrush, Goku found a trail that led directly to a small village. Children played without a care in the world while women worked side-by-side and eased the burden by sharing stories. The men were nowhere to be found.

"Excuse me," he said to a small boy about seven or eight that had been about to enter a small home. "Can I ask you a question?"

Large brown eyes looked up in awe as an adult treated him like an equal for the very first time. He nodded quickly. "Mhm hmm."

"Do you know what happened to the wolf pack in the forest?" Goku watched his facial expression change from delight to misery in under five seconds. The little boy grabbed his arm and pulled him behind another building. After taking the time to check for eavesdroppers, he answered the question.

"You can't talk about that around here, the men get angry." He sniffled slightly. "It's my fault they got killed, Mister. I didn't mean for it to happen!"

Goku tried his best to comfort him. "Wait a minute, you probably didn't have anything to do with it. Whoever fired the guns are the ones to blame."

He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Well, they wouldn'ta have known they were even there without me leadin' them. A few days ago, I was playing in the forest to get away from the older boys and I found a wolf cub. He looked lost, but before I could take him home some older boys found me and started to mess with him. I screamed and yelled at them to stop, but they wouldn't. Then a big wolf came outta nowhere and snapped at 'em. His teeth caught Samo in the rear, too." He smiled slightly at the memory, but it soon faded. "Samo went home and told his pa that a wolf tried to kill him as if he hadn't done nothin' to make him attack! The men all got their guns and went out into the woods together to kill all the wolves before they killed one of the villagers." His eyes pleaded with Goku to believe his next words. "I know that those wolves wouldn't have hurt nobody if those boys hadn't been mean to that cub. Honest!"

"I know," Goku told him. "Thank you for telling me. Where can I find Samo?"

"His house is the biggest one off the square. Are you gonna make him tell the truth? They said they'd beat me up if I told on 'em." He scoffed. "Like the grownups would've believed me anyway."

He understood completely. "It *is* hard to be a child in an adult's world."

"Can you tell me later what happened? I wanna know if he's gonna make things right." Goku promised that he would and the little boy went into his house.

Across the hard-packed dirt of the village square was a large hut with five rooms in the shape of an "X" instead of the usual three in the shape of a "T". It indicated that the people who lived there were somehow more important than everyone else, that they deserved better things. Goku knew immediately that Samo was the son of the village's leader. It definitely complicated things somewhat.

A harried-looking woman answered his knock. She wore a tired look on her face and bounced an incessantly crying baby on her hip. "Can I help you?"

"My name is Son Goku. Can I speak with your son, Samo, for a minute?"

"Why? Did he do something wrong?" she asked with a sigh. "Come in and I'll get him."

It was dark inside and the transition from sunshine to gloom caused Goku to be unable to see for a short time. He stood just inside the doorway blinking for several seconds until the living room came into focus. The floor of the room was covered in woven reed mats and hunting trophies of skin and bone adorned one wall.

The woman motioned to the sitting area. "Please have a seat. I'll send him in a moment." The baby, whose tears had nearly stopped, suddenly erupted into a new round of wailing. His mother flinched and tried to calm him down.

Goku felt extremely sorry for the woman. Living with a perpetually crying baby would drive him insane. Luckily Gohan had usually been quiet. "Allow me," he said as he took the child from her arms. With a few hiccups, the little boy's cries slowly ceased and he blinked up at him with curious eyes. Goku tickled his chin and the baby began to laugh. He saw how tiny teeth were just emerging from his gums. "Oh, he's teething. If you give him a toy to chew on, he won't cry as often."

A slightly offended look crossed her face as she took her son back from him. "Do *you* have a child?" she asked rudely, angry that a stranger would be telling her how to parent.

"Hai. He's three." Goku wasn't the least bit put off by her frown, sensing that the woman was so busy that she hadn't been paying very much attention to her youngest. They stared at each other until Goku looked away and asked, "Samo?"

"I'll get him for you," she said with a satisfied smirk.

He looked around the small room idly as footsteps drew closer to his location. Samo was a large boy with short-cut black hair and mean eyes. "What do you want?" he asked without preamble.

"I know the truth."

The boy frowned in puzzlement. "About what?"

Goku started to pace, his anger at Samo's thoughtlessness rising to the surface once again. "You caused a wolf attack and lied to your father. Now they're all dead."

"So? They were just stupid animals, you know. It wasn't like they weren't going to attack us sooner or later." He practically puffed out his chest in pride. "Father said that I saved lives!"

He had to concentrate for a moment on keeping his emotions in check. The boy was really trying his patience. "Look, you lied. What if *I* decided to kill you and your family over something that wasn't even your fault?"

"My father's chief," he said, voice slightly trembling at the look in Goku's eyes. "You wouldn't dare."

"Are you sure?" Samo studied him for a moment and came to the conclusion that the hypothetical homicide just might become reality. He took several paces backward to put more distance between him and Goku. "What-what do I have to do?"

"To set things right?" Goku pretended to think about it. "First, you tell your father the truth."

"What do I do after that?"

"You apologize to everyone you've wronged." He couldn't tell him specifically that the boy he threatened deserved one because it might provoke another attack. "Do you understand?"

Samo nodded. "Y-yes, sir."

"Good." Goku patted him on the shoulder and was disturbed when the boy flinched slightly. He'd wanted to talk sense into him, not terrify him. "I'm not going to hurt you."

Another shaky nod. "Whatever you say."

With one last sad look at Samo, Goku let himself out of their home.


The arrangement back to East District worked well. Goku flew on Kinto'un with his injured mother in front of him while Gohan rode on his brother's back. It trip took longer than before since he couldn't fly at top speed, but they made it back before sunset.

ChiChi was sitting in a chair in the front yard reading a book when the fading sunlight was blocked by Goku's body. She turned around and immediately adopted an annoyed look. Marking her page, she stood up and placed her hands onto her hips. "Goku-sa! Didn't I tell you to be back at dinnertime? What in the world took you so long to return home?"

"It's a long story," he answered. "Can it wait? I need to find someone to take care of her."

That was when his wife noticed the wolves. ChiChi shrieked and hopped away, pressing her back to the front door. "You brought them home?!"

He sighed and decided to treat her question as rhetorical. "Gohan, stay here with kaasan while I take obaasan to the doctor."

"I don' wanna," he said, pouting.

"Please?" A head shake. "I'll bring you back a surprise if you stay."

His wife disapproved of bribing a child to get them to do something and vocally protested against it. "Gohan, you're staying because you should. That's it." She frowned at Goku as she grabbed the boy's hand. "I'll keep your dinner warm."

"Arigatou," he smiled and flew off into the distance. "Ja, ChiChi!"

Not knowing where to go, he decided to head to Western Capital and speak with Buruma. It was dark by the time he arrived and the Capsule Corporation building was covered with hundreds of tiny golden lights.

He gently climbed off Kinto'un. "I'll be back in a minute, I promise," he whispered to the alpha female. She whined softly in response and licked his cheek.

Goku pressed the doorbell and waiting impatiently for someone to answer. When no one did, he pounded on the door with his fist. "I need to talk to you, Buruma!" he shouted. "Open up!"

An upstairs window was raised and a sleepy-eyed Buruma poked her curler-covered head out. "Do you know what time it is?!"


She sighed. "I didn't think so. I'll be down in a minute."

True to her word, she took just under a minute. He smiled serenely at his friend who'd fixed him with a hard stare. "What do you want?"

"I need an animal doctor for my mother."

A confused blink. "Nani?"

"My mother." He motioned behind him towards the hovering yellow cloud where the she lay asleep. "She got shot and I need to find someone to make her better."

The young woman spoke slowly. "Your mother is a wolf?"

Laughing, he said, "Not my *real* mother, Buruma! She sort of adopted me when I was little. C'mon, do I look like a wild animal?"

"Sometimes," she muttered. "Hold on, let me get a phone book." Buruma returned quickly, eager to return to sleep. "You need a veterinarian, probably an animal hospital since they'll probably be the only ones open this late." She found several and tore out the page for him.

He took it and looked sheepishly at his friend. "I have no idea how to get to these places. Could you give me a map or something?"

She sighed again, deeper this time. "I'll get you a navigator. Just speak the address clearly into the little microphone and it'll direct you there. Bring it back to me when you're finished with it. In the daytime."

"Okay. Arigatou!" He hugged her briefly and hopped back onto the cloud. "I'll pay you back!"

Buruma watched him fly off into the distance and said to herself, "You owe me big time, Son Goku."