"Alright, let's get back on course toward the next Dragonball," Bulma said. She checked the radar, pursing her lips.
"Oh! I almost forgot!" Tights said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a Dragonball with six stars on it. "I found this in the desert while I was changing a tire."
"Wow, Oneesan, you're a real good luck charm!" Bulma declared happily. "That saves us from having to search the desert for the next one. Okay, so..." She hummed thoughtfully as she expanded the scope of her tracker. She squinted at the next blip on the radar. "Huh. Those coordinates look really familiar." Shrugging, she punched them into the console and turned the plane on a new bearing.
"Ah?" Tights asked. "We're headed in the direction of the Mushroom Forest?"
"That's where I'm picking up the signal," Bulma confirmed.
Over the three hours it took to reach their destination, the group swapped stories of their adventures. The sun was beginning to dip low in the sky when they approached a forest of giant mushrooms growing on the edge of the desert. "We're almost there," Bulma reported.
"I'm getting the strangest feeling I've been here before," Oolong said.
"Me too," Puar agreed.
"Oh my," Tights said suddenly. "Look at those ruins!"
Up ahead, they could just make out the ruins of what must have once been a grand palace. Bulma gasped in recognition. "Of course!" she exclaimed, bringing the plane lower. She smiled. "Wow, this brings back memories..."
"Yeah, none of them good," Oolong muttered sourly.
At the heart of the mushroom forest stood the base of a pyramid, large sections of it crumbled and eroded. Atop the broken pyramid was a smashed foundation, jagged marble slabs sticking up at odd angles. All around the pyramid, the remains of a grand marble palace lay strewn about. Fallen towers, shattered domes, broken arches, and walls that had been broken apart and thrown around like so much garbage; much of the broken palace had collapsed into the center of the pyramid, destroying its support structures and all the lower levels.
"Whoa, what happened to this place, a bomb?" Ron wondered.
"Son-kun happened," Bulma said.
Jaco frowned. "The damage is consistent with a transformed Saiyajin," he said. "I'm guessing this...Son Goku of yours transformed into an oozaru here, went berserk, and demolished this palace?"
"That's about the size of it," Bulma confirmed.
"Oozaru?" Kim asked.
"Giant pissed-off weremonkey," Bulma said. "Before we cut off Son-kun's tail, any time he saw the full moon he'd turn from a pint-sized puncher into a raging monkey the size of a skyscraper. We'd all been captured by the guy who used to own this place when we were looking for the Dragonballs the first time. It was all over for us until Son-kun happened to look at the moon by chance. Then he turned into that giant monkey thing and smashed up the place."
"See? SEE?!" Ron cried. "Monkeys are the ultimate evil!"
"Chill, Ron," Kim said. "So, is this place safe?"
"Probably not," Oolong muttered.
Bulma landed the plane near the edge of the ruins. "Alright, we'll split into two teams," she said. "We have my Dragon Radar and Twilight's scanner, so it'll be quicker to search the ruins that way. Tights, Jaco, you go with Twilight and whoever else goes with her. Roshi, I guess you're with me, but behave yourself."
As Twilight adjusted her scanner, Tights, Jaco, Sonata, and Puar formed up alongside her. Roshi, Oolong, Kim, and Ron joined Bulma's group. "We'll take the inside," Tights said. "Jaco's strength will come in handy there."
Bulma nodded. "Alright, we'll search the outside. Meet back up out front in...three hours, I guess?"
"Got it." With that, the groups split up to search.
* * * * *
By the time the group emerged from the ruins with the Dragonball, the sky was dark.
"Good news!" Tights said as Bulma's group walked up to them. She produced an amber sphere from her pocket and held it up with a bright smile. "We found the Dragonball!"
"And we found a bunch of scorpions and tarantulas!" Ron exclaimed. "Seriously, so many scorpions..."
As Tights handed the Dragonball to Bulma, Bulma looked up at the dark sky, placing her hands on her hips. "Alright, I guess we should set up camp for the night and—"
Bulma's plane exploded. The group gasped, bracing themselves against the rolling wave of sand, dust, and hot debris. "What the hell?!" Bulma cried.
Floodlights snapped on, casting a harsh halogen glare over the desert. A black airship lowered into view.
Over a loudspeaker, a raspy voice cackled.
"So, we meet again. Ironic that this, the place where you and your friends ruined everything for me, is the very place where I'll have my revenge...and the Dragonballs!"
Bulma's shoulders slumped. "I know that voice," she muttered.
"This clown again, seriously?" Oolong asked in a bored tone.
"No tricks!" the voice boomed. "No chop-socky karate crap! No freaky giant monkeys! This time, it's just me, a full stock of bombs, and my two minions manning the miniguns!"
Bright flashes and loud, staccato bursts erupted from the deck as dozens of bullets scored the ground around the group. Twilight shrieked and jumped behind Ron. Tights gritted her teeth.
With a grinding groan, a loading platform descended from the airship. A small blue imp dressed in green and black robes with a white ruffled collar strode toward them, holding a large burlap sack.
"Pilaf," Bulma growled.
"Bulma," Pilaf said with a smirk. "I don't see that spiky-haired punk with you this time." He looked the group over. "I don't want any funny business. I'm sure at least some of you aren't bulletproof, and Shuu and Mai have lots of bullets up there. Wouldn't want anybody to get killed now, would we?"
"Tch," Roshi spat with a scowl.
"Now," Pilaf said, holding out the open sack. "The Dragonballs. All of them. No tricks. Or else."
The group looked nervously at each other. "Look, Pilaf..." Bulma began. "How about a deal? We really, really need the Dragonballs to bring a friend of ours back to life. If...if you'll wait until next year, I'll help you find them again."
"Do I look stupid to you?" Pilaf snapped.
"Kinda, yeah," Ron said.
"RON! NOT HELPING!" Kim hissed.
"I'll be taking the Dragonballs now, and as far as your dead friend...too bad, so sad."
Above, the miniguns clicked ominously.
"Dammit..." Bulma sighed, closing her eyes. "Fine," she snarled. One by one, she dropped the six Dragonballs they'd collected into the sack. Pilaf watched intently as each ball fell in. Once Bulma dropped the sixth, he nodded, closed up the sack, and backed away.
"Remember this day, Bulma," he said as he stepped onto the loading platform. "For THIS! Is the day that Emperor Pilaf triumphed once and for all!" With that, he ascended back into the airship, which rose high into the sky and streaked off to the northeast.
In the silence that followed, Tights asked quietly, "We're following him, right?"
"Of course," Bulma said. She sighed as she looked at the mess that was her plane. "But we're gonna have to split up. That...was the only plane I had that could carry a group this size."
"I've got a helicopter and a jeep," Tights said.
"I've got an ornipther and a bike," Bulma said. She looked over the group, frowning. "Okay, the original gang I was with? You're with me in the ornipther. Twilight, Sonata? You're with Tights in her jeep. Kim, Ron, can either of you drive a motorbike?"
"I can," Kim said.
"Okay, you take the bike. That leaves Jaco and Ron in the helicopter. You can fly a helicopter, right Jaco?"
Jaco snorted. "Please. There's no primitive vehicle you have that I can't operate."
"So I guess camping for the night's out, right?" Ron said tiredly.
"Sorry, we can't let Pilaf get too far," Bulma said apologetically. "If he manages to use the Dragonballs, it'll be a whole year before we can find them again, and by then we won't be able to wish Son-kun back to life at all."
"And the world will be destroyed by those Saiyajin," Oolong added.
"Right, saving the world comes first," Kim said with determination.
"Uhh, guys?" Twilight said nervously, studying her scanner. "We...we'd better get moving. According to this? He's already got all seven Dragonballs."
Bulma gasped, checking her own Dragon Radar. Her face paled.
Everyone looked at each other, nodded, and boarded their assigned vehicles, taking off in pursuit of Pilaf's airship.
* * * * *
Standing on the deck of his ship, Pilaf cackled. "At LAST!" he crowed. "FINALLY, I have all SEVEN Dragonballs! I can make my wish!"
"Uh, sir?" Mai said. "I think we've got a problem."
"Huh? What's that?" Pilaf asked.
The Dragonballs had been spread out on a blanket on the deck. Their red stars gleamed into the night sky. As Shuu and Mai turned each Dragonball this way and that, Mai kept a gloved hand on one particular ball, studying it with pursed lips.
"This one right here, the one we found two days ago?" Mai looked up. "I don't think it's a Dragonball."
"Of course it's a Dragonball," Pilaf snapped. "It's orange, it's crystal, it's the right size, it has markings on the side..."
Mai raised an eyebrow and picked up the ball, turning it to show Pilaf the two golden bananas on the side. She then picked up an almost identical ball, turning it to show two red stars.
Pilaf took a step back, sweat beading on his brow. "Wh-what—?!"
"We're one short," Mai said. "I don't know what this is, but it's obviously not a Dragonball."
"Uhh, Your Majesty?" Shuu said, frowning. "You're not gonna believe this, but I'm picking up two Dragonballs following us from the southwest."
Pilaf let out a string of curses. "She tricked us!" he snarled. "This is all that devil woman Bulma's work!" He clenched his fists at his side. "I swear, I'll make her pay if it's the last thing I ever do!"