Theo came down the hallway at a dead run, numb from her meeting with Vejiita, a large bruise slowly spreading down the right side of her face. She reached the doorway of the exercise area, knocked it open with the flat of her hand and flew through it with hardly a pause, her hair streaming on either side of her face. Her sensei, Takuan, was standing at the opposite side of the area, waiting for her with his arms folded across his chest; his legs planted shoulder width apart, immobile, his body standing squarely in a large shaft of sunlight. Theo scanned the room as she raced in and saw him waiting for her at the far end; his expression immediately made Theo's knees shake and her stomach flip.
Oh great, she groaned inwardly, steeling herself for the worst, just great. It's the regen tank for sure this time - I hope all my teeth grow back.
Theo trotted over to him, keeping her gaze lowered and her face set. She bowed deeply in front of him and sank to her knees on the ground in the shadow, still keeping her gaze to the wooden floor, and waited to be released.
He was annoyed, but he kept himself in check. Several years of working with these Guardians had taught him to go slowly and keep a lid on his impulses and feelings. Even though they were collared, Takuan always had the feeling that they had never been broken. He knew that Theo was psychically strong, and he suspected that had she not been tightly bound to the Saiyans, her inherent rage would surely have destroyed them all. Discipline, he reasoned was the only way to keep her in line; he did his level best to make sure that she never forgot her place on Vejiitasei, as did the few select Elites who worked closely with the Guardians.
A slight pause. "Yes, sir, I am," she responded.
He stood staring at her for a moment, feeling that something was not quite right. Even though she was not in full light, he could see that her posture was correct, her head slightly inclined, her hands lying lightly on her thighs, eyes downcast, tone steady - everything she did conveyed the utmost respect for him. She was breathing quickly, but not anything that was out of the ordinary for someone who had just been running for several minutes. But there was something ...
Takuan moved forward and tapped her shoulder, a signal that she should rise to her feet and prepare for the day's workout. As she slid from a kneeling to a standing position, he suddenly realized what was out of place. She was habitually late, for which he always disciplined her, sometimes more harshly than others - but she was usually self- possessed and restrained. There was something about her manner today that communicated agitation; he couldn't quite place it, but she was totally unsettled, extremely scattered, and not at all her usual self.
Interesting, he thought. "Look at me, woman. Why were you late?" he asked, probing.
She swallowed slightly and blinked. "I ... I was detained by Prince Vejiita," she responded quietly, dropping her eyes.
Prince Vejiita? wondered the Elite. Why would he want to have anything to do with her? Peering more closely at Theo, the Saiyan took her chin in his hand and gently turned her face in profile so that the morning sun lit it. "Oh, I see," he said, amused, as the livid bruise across her cheek and jaw stood out starkly. "You were late because you had a ... conversation ... with our Prince this morning," he said, raising his thick eyebrows at her.
"Yes, sir," she replied hoarsely, her eyes widening imperceptibly as he grasped her bruised cheek with his hand.
Turning her head back to the center and releasing her chin, Takuan smiled nastily and narrowed his eyes. "Tell me, little Princess," he asked pleasantly, "if you had NOT been detained by the Prince, would you still have been late for our session today?" The index and third fingers of his left hand traced a path from her chin down the front of her neck, hooking underneath her golden collar in a gesture that seemed intimate, pushing slightly at the hollow in her throat.
She stared at him for a moment, feeling his fingers slide against her neck and into the choker, making connection with the instrument and thereby accessing her entire internal world. The thought you'd better do something fast unless you want him privy to everything that just happened flashed across her mind and quickly disappeared.
Theo nodded, bobbing her head and moving her neck slightly so that contact was lost. "Yes, sir," she murmured, managing to look totally miserable, "I still would have been late for our session. I am sorry."
His fingers left her throat. "I see," he said, still amused - and hit the left side of her face with his open palm, hard enough to drop her to the floor over a meter away from him. He watched her push herself up off the ground and shake her head, dazed, before she looked over her shoulder and through a curtain of hair at him. Her expression appeared to be calm, but the colors of her eyes were changing at a wild rate, involuntarily showing her fury, and her left hand was clenched into a fist.
Ah, much better - her anger forces her to focus, he thought, watching her. Takuan smiled broadly, his black eyes snapping. "Good - now we will have some fun, won't we, little Princess?" he said grinning, baring his teeth, the tip of his tail flexing around his waist in anticipation. "Get up and come over here, and let's see how much you remember from the last time. And don't be late again."
"Yes, sir," she murmured, flipping her hair out of her face, scrambling to her feet and moving quickly in front of him. Someday you're going to die, you bastard, Theo thought, narrowing her eyes at her sensei, and I'm either going to kill you or laugh while someone else does. That's a promise.
The young Prince stood at the doorway to the recreation room, surveying the damage, his arms folded across his chest armor. His black eyes missed nothing -- the broken wall, the splintered furniture, the subdued second and third class warriors picking themselves up out of the rubble, the embarrassed expressions of the warriors still standing. A strange look crossed his face, almost a mixture of extreme annoyance and admiration. Several Saiyans were pulling others out of the debris, preparing to move them to regeneration tanks, as they had been badly hurt. Raditz was standing at his side, his face expressionless but his eyes showing amused astonishment.
Vejiita walked into the crowd of Saiyan warriors, his diminutive form followed closely by Raditz. Pointing at a large Saiyan with unruly, cascading hair, he demanded, "Tell me that man's name."
Raditz flicked his gaze over the warrior for a moment. "That's Gari," he said indifferently.
"That WAS Gari," Vejiita muttered ominously.
The man was flanked each side by two smaller Saiyans, both whom appeared the worse for wear. Their battle gear had been torn, each had large gashes on their arms and any extra equipment they had been wearing had been smashed to bits.
Everyone hastened to get out of Vejiita's way as he quickly strode over to the taller Saiyan. Stopping directly in front of him, the Prince stared for a moment, saying nothing, and then acidly inquired, "Gari, exactly WHY did you start the fight?"
Realizing who was in front of him, the warrior immediately went down on one knee, his fist to the floor, head bent. "Prince Vejiita," he said in a muffled voice, speaking directly to the slate floor under his fist. His companions instantly followed his lead, as did most of the soldiers in the immediate vicinity.
"Get up," the Prince said shortly, "and answer my question. Why did you start that fight? And make no mistake," he said, a dangerous glint in his eye, "you started it. I know it." Glaring around the room, he continued, "The fact that the rest of you bakas followed him is incredible." He swung back to stare at Gari, power unconsciously swathing his small body. Raditz took a step back.
Gari stared down at him, dumbfounded. "I ... don't know. I was ... they were..." he stopped confused, looking at his companions. They glanced at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
"You don't know why? You destroyed a perfectly good recreation room, and you don't know why?" Vejiita stepped right in front of him and glared, arms akimbo. Raditz smirked at Gari and stood more than a meter away, grinning.
"My Prince, I ... I had no idea that -"
A huge power surge enveloped the Saiyans in the middle of the room, exploding outward in a fiery burst, flattening most of the warriors in its wake. Dust and dirt billowed up from the floor while debris rained down from the ceiling, a large beam sagging and creaking alarmingly. Raditz leaped forward from his position and found the Prince nose to nose with Gari; he had his small hand clasped tightly around the warrior's neck, his other hand clenched in a fist, a blue aura encapsulating it. The larger man was on his knees in front of Vejiita, his armor burned away in several places, clutching his wrist, struggling to breathe.
"You - are - useless!" Vejiita spat at Gari, shaking him then striking him across the face several times with his free hand until the man's head lolled drunkenly about his shoulders. The Prince flung him against the far wall by the doorway and watched as Gari's body impacted with a sickening thud, then slowly slithered to the floor where it remained, motionless. His face impassive, power sliced out of Vejiita's palm and instantly engulfed Gari; moments later, the only thing remaining was a scattered pile of ashes.
The other Saiyans in the room had backed a respectful distance away from the Prince. His black eyes sought out Gari's companions who were trying to appear inconspicuous among the other warriors. "What about you? Or you?" Vejiita continued, stabbing the air with his hand as he pointed at them. "Do you remember why the fight started?"
"I felt something..." one of the men said hurriedly. "Almost as if I had to fight Gari."
"So did I," said the other warrior, standing in front of Vejiita, a stoic expression upon his face. "But I thought it was just because he had thrown me into the wall for no reason."
Vejiita ground his teeth in impatience, almost losing his temper. "WHAT did you feel?" he asked evenly.
The second warrior stared at him, phlegmatic, and thought for a moment. "It itched," he finally said. "My head itched, and then I wanted to fight Gari. I wanted to kill him."
Vejiita stared at him for several moments. Raditz walked noiselessly behind the Prince and took up his usual position, glaring balefully at the circle of warriors around them.
The young Prince started to nod, almost to himself. He turned to the first man attacked by Gari and said, "Well? Did you feel that, too?"
"Yes, sir, I did," the man answered, adopting the impassive demeanor of his colleague.
Vejiita took another look around at the recreation room, now in worse shape than when he arrived. A smirk appeared as his eyes narrowed, looking back at the man who told him his head 'itched.'
"Interesting," he said to himself. Aloud, he drew himself up to his full height and commanded, "Captain-"
"-make sure this mess gets cleaned up. " Speaking to Raditz over his shoulder, he continued, "Come with me and cancel my afternoon training session. I have something else for you to do."
Vejiita walked out of the room, the soldiers bowing in the dust out of respect to the Prince of Vejiitasei and to his enormous raw power. Raditz followed, trailing along in his wake, badly confused. The Prince had never canceled a training session- never in his short life.
"Sir," he said quietly as they moved into the alcove, "are you sure you want me to do that?"
"Oh, yes, Raditz, I'm quite sure," he said, staring through the frosted glass doors into the wreckage of the room. "I'm going to train this morning, but this afternoon I have something completely different in mind." A strange smile, one that was entirely too knowledgeable for any five year old child, moved across his face. He turned to Raditz and said, "I'm going to learn how that was done."
Looking through the frosted glass again, the Prince said, "I want you to bring one of the slave Guardians to me, Raditz. Bring the daughter of the Guardian Queen to me - you know which one she is - you've handled them enough. Bring her to my private training room this afternoon. Oh," he said offhandedly, "bring several other soldiers with you, too. Make sure that they're second class or below."
Expendables, Raditz thought; but, saying nothing, he nodded his head in acquiescence and left the room.
Hours later, she managed to pass through each major area of the palace without so much as a whimper, her head held high, but as soon as she stepped through her own door Theo groaned, "I feel awful." With that, she slammed the door to her quarters and slumped against it, drained; then she dragged herself through main room, each step heavier than the last, her hair straggling into her eyes.
"Have fun with your sensei today?" Stranna asked archly from a corner of the room. Stranna was a statuesque brunette whose eyes were the color of blueberries at the moment, and whose face had the ageless grace of beings capable of living thousands of years. She was wearing a soft blue tunic and free flowing pants, belted at the waist, and was standing next to a large bookshelf, holding several books in her hands.
"Oh, go away and leave me alone," Theo wearily replied, keeping her face averted. Wincing, she made her way to the kitchen, leaned over a corner of the counter for support, grabbed a container of water sitting on the counter and greedily drained it.
"Hey! That belonged to someone, y'know," Stranna said, following her from the front room. "What did he do to you today?" When Theo didn't respond, Stranna moved in front of her and took a good look at her face in the light of the kitchen. Almost immediately she cried out, "Theo! Are you all right? What happened?" The woman's face was a mass of purple bruises; large angry welts covered her forearms. Stranna's arms automatically went out to embrace Theo and examine her face. Theo drew back, flinching, holding her free hand up as if to ward her off.
"Oh, Theo, Theo," Stranna said quietly, patting the younger woman's shoulder and staring at her, "what did he do to you?
"You should ask what didn't he do to me," Theo muttered, not looking at Stranna, slumped against the counter. "And then ask what will he do to me -- because I have to go back to him in about an hour or so."
Stranna looked at her, appalled. "Go back to him? Why?"
"Because," Theo said heavily, "he's punishing me for being a 'wiseass.' Plus for being late every day this week. And," she finished, rubbing her jaw, "he doesn't like my technique." She looked ruefully at Stranna. "Actually, I don't think he likes me very much."
Stranna's eyes raked Theo's bruises professionally. "Hmm ... let's get rid of the worst of them, anyway," Stranna said, delicately placing her hands on either side of Theo's head. Theo gasped, but allowed her to continue. Stranna closed her eyes, concentrating; immediately, Theo felt warmth with almost a slight buzzing sensation coming from the older woman's hands. The warmth penetrated her skin and traveled across her head and into the soft tissues of her face. Theo felt a sharp tingling sensation where the darkest of her facial bruises were as Stranna asked, "What did you say to him to make him do this?" When Theo didn't reply immediately, Stranna asked again, "Well, what was it?"
Theo looked at her from under lidded eyes, and meekly said, "All I did was tell him how he reminded me of my sensei back on Homeland." Her nose felt like it was buzzing.
"But -- you didn't HAVE a sensei on Homeland," Stranna said, suspicious, moving her hands to the back of Theo's neck, pushing her hair to the left side of her face.
Theo sighed, feeling the heat penetrate her sore muscles, then grinned, then winced against the pain in her face. "Well, that's true," she conceded, "but HE doesn't know that. And I told him that, compared with my other sensei, his training was ... barely passable. Possibly adequate. Nothing special."
"What?" Stranna snorted, staring at her, stilling her hands on Theo's neck. Looking at Theo's smile contorted against the pain in her face, she started chuckling and continued working on her neck again. "You told an intolerant, xenophobic Saiyan - an Elite one, at that - that, compared to an outsider, an alien, he was simply adequate?" She shook her head, laughing. "Woman, you've been around me too long. You can't do that and not expect some type of reaction - no wonder you look the way you do. Your tongue gets you into more trouble than any five people I know ..." With that, she gave a last squeeze to Theo's neck and stepped back, pursing her lips as she examined Theo once more.
"It was pretty funny," admitted Theo, her eyes sparkling with mirth, remembering how Takuan looked when she dropped that bomb on him. But oh, Kami, what he did after that ... She reached up to rub her neck, pushing other kinks out of it. "Thanks, Aunt Stranna."
"I'm not finished yet," Stranna said, lightly clasping Theo's wrist with long fingers and peering at the marks on Theo's forearms. "These are nasty. You're lucky he didn't break your arms. You should probably go soak in the bath for a little while before you have to go out again - I can heal the other major stuff while you're there ..."
"Healing? Is that what you're doing in here?" a familiar voice called. Yisador, Theo's mother and the Matrix Queen, pushed her way purposefully into the kitchen, her eyes distracted and worried. She was a slight, older woman with a careworn face, wisps of gray tangled with honey red hair pulled to the back of her neck and fastened with a large golden clasp. At the moment, her eyes appeared to be uncompromising, steel gray bullets, ant trained themselves on the two women in front of her.
"Who's - good Kami, Theo, what happened to you?" she exclaimed, shocked, staring at her daughter's face. Theo opened her mouth to explain, but Yisador rushed on, holding up her hand to stop her, a peculiar expression playing around her eyes. "Never mind. You'll have to tell me later - because there's an Elite coming over here to collect you."
"What?" Theo asked, the color draining from her face.
Her mother nodded. "I just received word. He's coming from the King's wing, and he's on his way here to collect you. Not just any Guardian, but you in particular." She frowned, her eyes still searching Theo's. "He'll be here in about 2 minutes. You have that long to tell me why he's coming, so get started."
Theo opened her mouth and closed it again, suddenly very afraid to say anything at all.
Yisador and Stranna were looking at her expectantly. "Well?" prompted Stranna, nudging her gently with a long finger. "Do you know why he's coming for you?"
Theo nodded, still looking at them with huge eyes, saying nothing.
"WELL?" Yisador said, exasperated, "...are you going to tell us anytime soon?"
Theo swallowed. I have to tell them, she thought, frightened, but they're going to be so angry ... "He's coming for me because -" and Theo's face had a odd, twisted look, "-because -," and she finished in a rush, "-because the Prince felt me use the power this morning alone, without any moderator." She stared at the floor, clutching her hands together.
Stranna and Yisador stood, staring at her in shocked silence. Theo took a deep breath and continued.
"And that's not all. The Prince," she said in a frightened whisper, "he ... he made me promise to teach him how ... how to use ... coercion. And he said he'd send for me this afternoon."
Her mother was the first to recover. She leaned over and grabbed Theo's shoulders, her eyes snapping in anger. "Explain this to me, Theo," she said tightly, her teeth bared. "Explain very slowly and carefully in one minute what happened."
"I was passing the west side rec room ... and I saw Saiyans, lots of them, just relaxing with each other." Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, but she held back with an effort and continued. "I ... I hated seeing them that way ... they were so happy,, it wasn't fair! ... so I stopped ... and I..." and she gulped, but continued, " ... I ... ah ... I went into their minds ... and made them fight with each other."
Stranna shook her head and made a disgusted sound in her throat. As soon as Yisador heard that, she closed her eyes and shook her own head in resignation, her hands gripping Theo's shoulders. "How many? How many minds did you breech, Theo?"
"Enough of them," Theo replied miserably. "Enough of them so that they trashed the west side rec room. They even broke through one of the outside walls." She looked at Yisador imploringly as she stared back, incredulous. "They didn't know what happened, but... but he did. I didn't know ... he was standing right behind me the entire time, and I had no idea... he ... they ... they're not supposed to be able to sense anything that low!"
"This is what I've been trying to tell you and everyone else for months - they aren't as stupid as they appear, especially the Elites. They're much more intelligent and sensitive to chi than most of us believe." Yisador folded her arms across her chest and groaned to herself. Now what are we going to do? she wondered.
Heavy footsteps pounded outside, and the door swung open. A large Saiyan with enormous hair and black eyes stood framed in the doorway for a moment, then walked inside the room.
"Don't you knock?" Stranna angrily asked as she tramped into the main room and stared up at the Saiyan. "Where are your manners?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "I don't need to knock at a slave's door," he replied. "You have no property. In fact, you ARE property." He looked around the room. "Where's the brat Princess? The Prince wants to see her now."