Part I: The Night Runner.

The stars, glittering stitches in an endless tapestry wrought of midnight, softly illumined the darkened streets.  Pools of garish yellows and purple lamplight whipped past like a rain of stars.  Thin wisps of smoke-black clouds trailed from the dome of the heavens.  Above the sleeping houses, trees, and night-blooming flowers hung suspended in thick, placid slumber, in which all time was forgotten and reality distorted within dreams.

Gentle breezes caressed the night runner's face, trailing its fingers through her swinging ponytail of sunglass.  Scarcely did her feet linger on the pale ground, for she had melted into the night.  A quicksilver shadow, the night runner sped onward.  Save the crunch of rubber sole upon gravel and the swish through the damp grass, she was as much a part of this soundless place as the waxing moon.

Although this ritual was a nightly one, each run presented new awakenings of sharper senses in the cold air.  These were many and diverse: shining mirrors of silver water; rich, crumbling earth; sweet blades of green grass; the wild heather and weeds waltzing in the gentle spotlight of the moon; thick, sour swamp gases; icy brick and warm wood; and the sharp aroma of hickory smoke.  Emerald green hills, trees wrought of silver flaking bark, still black waters, sidewalks as pearls joined in seamless mastry…such were the wonders that a mere golf course took on when clothed in the mantle of shadow.  Cozy houses, trim and neat, and sprawling mansions, unkempt, overgrown with rotting vines augmented the dull trickles of pulse coursing through her veins.  When clothed in night's mantle, these simple, nondescript sights and smells became illustrious wonders she sought each night.  She was an empty vessel and  the night a rich, dark wine intoxicating her.  That the night had taken others before her, there existed no question.  However, these lovers meshed more completely, more intimately than any before them.

Higashi no Kaioushin, then seeking the ball of infamous Majin Buu, learned of the night runner and her affection for the shadow.  Thinking that perhaps Buu had already escaped and molded his hideous flesh in likeness of another, he sought her.  Finding the girl presented no difficulty, for it was impossible to mistake her pattern of ki.  Flowing rapids of shadow wine, which evaporated in the sunlight, could not disguise the nothingness that resided within the riverbeds of her veins.  For several nights, he watched her, secreted away in the topmost branches of a tree, or hovering above the roof of the most decrepit old mansions.  At length, he decided that he could not determine the cause of the void within her simply by spying on her.  As he watched the moon set the night before All Hallows Eve, Kaioushin made his decision.  The next evening - he was certain she would not stray from the chance to run beneath the glowing orange Harvest Moon - he would confront her.

 

****

                All Hallows Eve and its luminous orb of orange Harvest Moon flowed past the night runner as water rushing down a hill.  Her motions were fluid, each time-sculpted, highlighted in the brief flashes of headlight and streetlight.  She drew ravenous gulps of the air, straining her legs to achieve greater and greater speed.  For several miles, she waltzed with the night, her feet pounding through sidewalks and crunching through fallen leaves.  At length, the night runner came upon an expanse of browned grass and skeletal trees.  In the light of the Harvest Moon, she thought she discerned a figure moving amongst the tops of the trees.  Impossible, she knew.  Yet with the leaves scurrying about her feet and the sweet perfume of pumpkin lingering in the air, somehow in the aura of the tremendous Harvest Moon, the possibility seemed very real.  For the first time in months, her breath caught in her throat.  She was a doe, bounding away to safety, away, far away from the presence.  Her blood stirred in her veins, breaking the rhythm that had been unshakable since the previous summer.  A cramp twisted her insides.  Panic set in as she glimpsed the true nature of the night: sinister and deceptive.  So deceptive was he that she had not recognized it in all their previous meetings.  The light of the moon was as war fire, turning the sweat that trickled from her wrists the color of blood.  Tree branches whipped into her hair, snarling and pulling.  Tears came to her eyes as icy wind slapped her face.  Her fingers, balled into tight fists, were numbed to the point of being immovable.  Ears pricked for even the slightest of sounds, she easily made out the soft footsteps stirring the leaves behind her.  She whirled about, eyes wide with dread. 

However, the being before her nearly brought a laugh to her lips.  How stupid she'd been, the night runner berated herself.  Why, she had not overreacted like that since…God knew when.  A second look sent the laugh back down her throat, choking her.  Though the keeper of the presence was shorter than her, the ki he exuded - she sensed many other things about him, inexplicable qualities that frightened her - surpassed any she had sensed in her short life.  Despite her predicament, a wry smile twisted her lips almost in bitterness.  A damned shame that I have spent so long shaping my ki to flee an enemy, she thought brashly.

"I have not come here for combat."  His lilting voice, almost elven, sent tickles of danger down her spine, as if a loose strand of hair brushed the taut flesh of her back.  He took a step toward her.

The night runner took a step back.  She instantly regretted it.  He had not made any intimidating gestures.  However, the danger prickle in the back of her mind shot off sparks as if it was blazing metal struck with a hammer.  Now that she had stopped, apparently for good this time, the night runner's pulse quickened like flame fed with oily fodder.

"The night has made you cautious."  From his tone, she could not tell whether he approved of this.  "Who are you, self-named night runner?"

"I should ask you the same."  Though she planned for the words to ring out boldly and challenge this being who had interrupted her run, the words stuck in her throat like caramel sweetness.

"You first."  His sinister, mocking smile hinted that he was quite used to getting his way and that his 'offer' amounted to little more than a command.

"I am Meghann."  As the night runner at last spoke her name, her mind draining of the thousand aliases she could have used, a scattering of goose pebbles raced up her arms.

"Well met, Meghann night runner.  I am Higashi no Kaioushin."  He bowed and then extended his hand to her. 

She stared in disbelief.  Kaioushin's hand emitted an opaque lavender aura.  Not trusting the strange light, yet unable to resist reaching for such a boundless reserve of ki, she clasped his hand firmly.  The touch of his warm palm against her own sent jolts of adrenaline through her bloodstream.  Meghann dropped Kaioushin's grip with a gasp.  "What did you do to me?" she demanded.

"Nothing at all." 

She did not believe him for a second.  "I must be on my way.  If you'll excuse me."  She waved in parting, wanting nothing more than to flee back to the shadow's embrace.  Scarcely had Meghann taken three steps when something compelled her to turn around. "Higashi no Kaioushin…."  She handled the phrasing of his difficult name as if it was fine crystal.  "Will you be in this place tomorrow?"

"If it pleases me, then yes, I shall await you in this place again."  He stared after her long after she had turned.  Several times, the burning of his inky-black eyes against her shoulder blades compelled her to glance behind.  To her discomfiture, he had taken up his old place, nestled amongst the spindly tree branches.  Though his eyes were of similar hue to the night, they somehow pierced the veil of darkness to meet her own.  For a change, Meghann felt grateful to return to her home and slam the door on the night.

As silver dawn won back the hours, evil dreams befell both the night runner and the Kai.  She dreamed of Kaioushin's ki illumining the night with lavender, choking off the darkness altogether.  His eyes trailed her, a beam of silver marking the things upon which they rested.  Once this spotlight enveloped her, try as she might, she could not outrun it. 

The Kai, on the other hand, dreamed of the horrendous void pulsating and growing within her.  He knew, even if she did not have any connections to Majin Buu, the appalling emptiness within her would be a certain threat to the east.

Distant thunder rumbled and set the pebbles of the worn roads trembling the next night.  Uneasy stillness clung to the air, a stuffy weight that pressed on the night runner and slowed her progress.  Sewer grates radiated blasts of heat like volcanic gases, souring the air.  When the first streak of blue arced across the sky, it illumined the grass and stones as if it was a strobe light.  Meghann forgot all time and trouble, content simply to fly through each moment as it seemed, each frame of her returned to life in the thick twilight.  At the crunch of leaves beneath her feet, she seemed to recall a troublesome occurrence from the night before beneath the chill cast of the Harvest Moon.  However, the oppressive purple-gray clouds above blocked the memories from surfacing.  In this way, Kaioushin's second appearance startled her more than his first.  He had kept vigil atop a burned out streetlight this time.  He needed no illumination to locate the still emptiness that rippled in perplexity, unable to recall the happenstance of the previous night, interred deep in the vault of subconscious.  That she could not remember puzzled him, but he supposed it did not matter. 

She remembered soon enough when his eyes met hers, trailing gray smoke, almost eerily white.  "You again."  Recognition flashed in her eyes, the point of a sharp sword.  Without an exchange of words, he knew that she remembered him as the cause of the brewing unrest in her mind.  Simultaneously, she recognized his perception.  "What question will you put to me this night?"  Her fear and uncertainty formed a poor disguise of arrogance.

The Kai crossed his arms.  Suspicion radiated from her like the missing ki.  Admittedly, there existed other ways, faster ways to determine the origins and intent of the emptiness that lay within her.  However, he already had several ideas of how night worked through her.  Because of this, the Kai was determined to not use these other ways unless time absolutely necessitated it.  "Why do you run?  What fascination does the night hold for you?"

"There are others who do as I do," she retorted.  "I don't hear of them being bothered by a peculiar being like you."

"You are different from the others.  Besides which, you are answering backwards."

Meghann frowned in concentration.  During these sprints through darkness, she could feel the pulse of the small town beating from the soles of her feet to her fingertips.  Countless sensations could only be savored fully beneath the distant light of the virgin moon.  How could she explain the kindling of fire in her legs and hands, the whip of wind stinging her eyes.  Sometimes it could be unholy agony, sprinting down a boulevard with sweat streaming from every opening in her body to choke and drown her.  Nonetheless, this delicious pain fueled exhilaration in her mind that transcended any other.  Yet…to explain it to Kaioushin…  True, she could simply summarize, claiming that these twilight journeys made her feel truly alive.  However, that would open the way to more questions.  The prospect of both answering and barring the way to further inquisition daunted her like a towering hill in the sunlight.  "Clears my head, I guess," she responded at last.

Kaioushin's gentle laugh was as soft rain upon young spring leaves.  "Of what?" 

Unable to find mirth in the explanation, Meghann stared at him in puzzlement.  "Do you consider me empty-headed?" she demanded of the elven deity.

Kaioushin fell silent.  "No. You cloak your secret in silence."  He winced.  A single loose thread in his plan could unravel all of the great tapestry he had woven.  "If you are even aware of it within you," he amended hastily.

"Speak of them and I will tell you if I recognize them."  Her eyes were fog crystals, daring him, luring him to lower his guard.  "A loss for a gain.  I cannot tell fully what you seek from these odd questions."

Her voice was as Kaioushin imagined that of the serpent: smooth and convincing.  He drank deeply of the sound, savoring the sensation within his sensitive ears.  There would be much to tell her and with no way to determine what she knew…  The enormity of the task weighed upon his shoulders like the yoke of responsibility Buu had left him with when he had vanquished the other Kais.  "You are a dry riverbed and the night as phantom waters that crash through it.  Do you understand what I am trying to impart?"

She shook her head warily.  Others before the lavender Kai had tried to bar her way to the night.  None had succeeded.  "You are trying to keep me from being a conduit for this electricity as you see it," the night runner stated, her voice hard and cold.

"Not necessarily.  I seek to understand the emptiness that lies inherent within you."

"It was hardly inherent," she laughed.  "I worked for it many hours.  It was a rhythm of sorts, if you must know.  Much more difficult than the beat of drum or the turning of a rope, I might add."

"You mean…"  Revulsion he could not disguise trembled on the edge of Kaioushin's lips.  "You sought this nothingness?"

Her eyes narrowed in renewed distrust.  "In making these treks across starlight road and shadowy curb, I can resolve matters of the subconscious.  I suppose you would not see the importance in this.  Merely by standing near you, I can sense the pulse of life flowing through you.  Somehow you hold thousands of lives in balance simply by existing."

Kaioushin's eyes narrowed.  She had hit too near the mark for this approach to be safe, at least for this night.  "When do your powers peak?" he could not resist asking.

"Midnight," she answered inevitably.

The god's drumming fear escalated to a boundless crescendo as he recalled the destruction Majin Buu had brought about.  Now there are those who seek to replicate the hellacious emptiness that hideous creature embodied.  It is too much to bear!  He invoked the power of kai-kai without so much as a gesture of parting.  Back on Kaioushinkai, he brooded long until after the sun rose above the silent realm.  Eventually he slipped into a troubled doze, his head pillowed on his arms.  Late in that evening, when twilight shadows marched across the hillside, Kibito roused him.

                "It is not like you to sleep the entire day away," his powerful bodyguard remarked.  "What troubles you?"

                Kaioushin did not answer.  Like a distant light playing about his face, he could sense that the deep shadows of twilight stretched their bony hands across the earth and called to the emptiness within the night runner.

                "I found a relative location for the ball of Majin Buu," Kibito broke the mournful silence at last.

                "Was it buried?" Kaioushin questioned wearily.  My whole life seems to be an inquisition, he thought bitterly.  Sneaking about, prying in the affairs in mortals…  Jumping at shadows…  He cursed his weak body.

                "Buried?  In a manner of speaking."  Kibito frowned, not understanding his charge's concern. 

Kaioushin's face drained of blood.  "Where, exactly?"  His fingertips prickled as if tiny electrical sparks danced across the smooth tapered flesh.  What would he do, what could he do if Kibito told him the ball was buried in the flesh of a human?

"In the ground.  Deep near the core of the earth."

Kaioushin sprang to his feet.  Suddenly the ageless realm of spun sugar lavender glass seemed as ephemeral as the planet he had visited some nights ago.  Recalling the screams of the other Kais as Buu eradicated them, he froze.  He could envision the day so clearly… 

Blood reflected within the puddles of the first storm to break over Kaioushinkai in millennia.  Buu was the storm and his master Bibidi the vengeful conjurer of the clouds…  Blood staining the holy lavender of hand, mountain, and grass.  Kaioushin had hidden with Kibito in the shadows of hillock and tree, hearing Buu's calliope whistle intermixed with the deranged laughter of Bibidi, the circus master…  Several times, the creature had nearly found him.  Luckily, for the Kai, to Bibidi's fury, Buu had become unmanageable when he had struck the first blow to the Kai.  Babidi had sealed the creature in a crucible that resembled mortal flesh sewn together, a filthy pouch missing a drawstring. 

As the vision faded, Kaioushin drew in a shuddering gasp.  "We cannot wait!  We must set out to find and eradicate this monster!"