Another small village, another night spent in a tiny inn.
Another morning of Sanzo getting them up and on the road way too early.
"But I didn't get to have thirds," Goku complained as he tossed his pack in the back of the Jeep. He looked wistfully back at the inn. "They made really good food."
"You're not supposed to have thirds for breakfast," Sanzo grumbled. "With the way you load your plate, seconds is enough." He kicked his duffel in Goku's direction. "Put that in the Jeep."
Goku pouted, and then he picked up the pack and put it away. He frowned when felt a weird, rhythmic rumbling beneath his feet. "Do you feel that?" he asked.
Sanzo's eyebrows drew together, and he stared at the ground. "Yeah. Doesn't feel like an earthquake, though."
"I agree," Hakkai said while he stowed away his pack, "I don't think it's an earthquake. Perhaps there's a rockslide nearby."
Jeep kyuu'd nervously.
"Whatever it it, it's not in the direction we're going," Hakkai said, giving Jeep's hood a reassuring pat.
"What the hell is that?" Gojyo asked, pointing towards the woods that stood, tangled and overgrown, at the far end of the town.
Goku's gaze followed Gojyo's finger. Poking through the scrubby treetops was an enormous head, a head that had dozens of round, blinking eyes, several undulating antennae, and multiple rows of very sharp, very pointy teeth. The creature tilted back its head and roared, and then it breathed to its left, flames shooting out of its maw, setting the treetops on fire.
Seconds later, the villagers' screams filled the air.
"Fuck," Sanzo said.
"Sanzo," Goku said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "I wanna fight it."
"We don't have time for this shit."
"Sanzo," Hakkai said, "The villagers are panicking. We need to help."
Gojyo clapped Goku on the back. "You want to fight it, Short Stuff? Go right ahead. I'm going to go rescue some damsels in distress." He headed over toward the panic-stricken crowd.
Goku ignored the insult and glanced at Sanzo.
"Don't take too long," Sanzo said, and he leaned back against Jeep's door and lit a cigarette.
Hakkai rolled his eyes, and with a long-suffering sigh, followed after Gojyo.
"Yes!" Goku summoned Nyoi-bou and bounded over to where the monster was ripping up trees and flinging them around. A monster! Not one of the usual youkai, or a stupid shiki-thingy, but a monster! Goku could count on one hand the number of times he had fought a real monster.
It was a really ugly sucker, too-all slobbery and fang-y, and waaaay too many eyes. Spinning Nyoi-bou in his hand, Goku launched himself at the creature. He smiled when he landed a solid thwack against its head.
It snarled and turned on him, and Goku snarled right back at him. Then he laughed and went at him again.
He'd gotten in a few more hits when he saw a bright flash of light over to his left, and suddenly Goku and the monster were no longer alone.
Goku almost dropped Nyoi-bou in shock; hovering in the air was the strange boy he had seen at Sharak's fortress! He watched him descended to the ground, and then Goku gasped as the kid pulled a hug, badass sword out of nowhere and leaped toward the monster.
He was so fast! Goku jumped back into the fray, extending Nyoi-bou and sweeping it behind the towering creature's legs. The monster howled and toppled over with a thundering crash, and then the mysterious youth raised his sword and struck at its thick, scaly neck, neatly severing it.
"All right!" Goku shouted, and he brought his weapon back to its normal size and twirled it. "We got him!"
An empty gaze flicked over him, and then suddenly the boy stood in front of him, the great sword in front of him, ready to strike.
Goku could see his reflection in the gleaming metal, and he wondered how heavy the sword was. While it wasn't as big as Dokugakuji's sword, it was still pretty damn big, especially considering the size of its wielder. Once again, Goku felt that strange, haunting sense of familiarity.
"Hi," he said. "Do I know you? I keep thinking that I do, but I don't."
The boy cocked his head and regarded Goku. "Scanning," he said, and then he frowned. "You are not in my database." His gaze shifted to Goku's forehead. "You wear an obvious, and sizable, limiter, yet your energy does not read as youkai." His frown deepened. "Identify yourself," he commanded.
"I'm Goku," Goku replied. He felt a strange tightness in his chest as he said the words. What was going on with him?
"Go...ku," the other repeated. "That name is not in my database."
"Um, Son Goku?"
A pause. "That name is not in my database."
The guy was sure acting weird, Goku thought, almost like he was a machine. And his eyes were weird, too-all blank, like nobody was home. But the feeling that he somehow knew this person would not go away. "What's your name?" he asked.
The sword lowered by a fraction of an inch. "I am the War Prince, Nataku."
Why did it feel like he knew this guy? Goku knew there was a huge gap in his memory-a gap the size of China, it seemed-but how the heck would he know a god? He cast his memory back to that moment when he had last seen the young man, disappearing into the clouds, when he had raised his hand and opened his mouth to call out a name.
"Nataku," he said, testing the name on his lips.
The sword lowered some more, although Nataku's blank gaze remained steadily on him.
"You were awesome finishing off the monster," Goku said, kicking at a limp, talon-tipped foreleg. "You took off its head with one strike!"
A corner of the god's mouth turned up, and his grip on his sword was not as tight as it had been seconds earlier. "It was too easy."
"Well, I got him started for you," Goku said, grinning. To his surprise, Nataku returned the grin.
"He wasn't all that tough."
"Nope," Goku agreed. He glanced over at the village, and was pleased to see that most of the fires had been put out. He looked back at Nataku, and nodded toward the massive sword. "Want to have some fun? I bet I'm tougher than this pile of crap."
The War God gave him a true smile this time, and Goku could swear that his eyes weren't quite as dull as they had been moments earlier.
The great sword came up, and then landed on Nyoi-bou with a loud clang.
Goku laughed, and Nataku's laughter echoed close behind. They danced over and around the corpse of their prey, their weapons striking, clashing, blocking as they took turns advancing and retreating. It was play, dangerous play, and as he swung Nyoi-bou in a dizzying arc to parry Nataku's blows Goku felt the tightness leave his chest, replaced by a fierce joy that made him giddy.
Somehow, he knew this person. And somehow, Nataku knew him.
Even if neither of them remembered it.
A final exchange of strikes, and then the two tumbled onto the grass, laughing. Nataku's eyes were a clear, sparkling violet, full of mirth and mischief.
"That was great," Goku said. He dismissed Nyoi-bou and tucked his hands beneath his head
"Yeah," Nataku dismissed his own weapon, and then he propped himself up on an elbow. "I know I know you, but I don't," he said.
Goku nodded. "Me, too."
"This stinks of the gods," Nataku said.
Goku snorted. It was something Sanzo would say.
As if his thoughts summoned the monk, Goku heard Sanzo calling his name.
"Ugh, I have to go," Goku said. He rolled over and scrambled to his feet, brushing grass and twigs from his cargo pants. He turned toward Nataku. "Come with me, I know Sanzo would-" He stopped. "Nataku?"
The young god stood stiffly before him, and his eyes were once more devoid of any emotion, any spark of personality. He swung his head to view the dead monster, and then he regarded Goku with a dispassionate gaze.
"The creature has been dispatched," Nataku said. "You are not in my database. I must return." Then, just like before, the young god rose into the air, surrounded by a glowing light.
And just like before, Goku stretched out his hand toward the disappearing form.
But this time, a name was on Goku's lips. "Nataku!" he called, his voice cracking with an emotion he still didn't understand. "Nataku," he said again.
"Goku! Get your ass back to the Jeep!" Sanzo's voice cut through his turbulent thoughts.
"Coming!" Goku called back. Before he left the clearing, he lifted his gaze toward the spot where Nataku had disappeared. 'This stinks of the gods,' Nataku had said.
"I'm gonna find out how we know each other," he promised the clear, bright blue sky. "I promise."
He hoped they would meet again.