Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Ultimate Power vs. Ultimate Darkness; Gene vs. Shidowkun ( Chapter 17 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

CHAPTER 17:

Ultimate Power vs. Ultimate Darkness;

Gene vs. Shidowkun

(Official disclaimer: This work is entirely a fan fic. I do not own the rights to Gene, Melfina, or any of the themes, concepts, alien races, planets, starships, or other characters that appear in the "Outlaw Star," anime or manga. So Bandai, Sunrise, or whoever owns the rights to "Outlaw Star," PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DON'T SUE ME!! I'm only doing this to honor your work and to show my respect and appreciation for what has become my favorite anime.)

(Author's notice: For all of my readers who don't know yet, please don't be mad, but during my last six month hiatus due to my schoolwork(1/03-5/03) I went over what I've written so far and reedited it before reposting it at fanfiction.net and mediaminer.org. I haven't done anything to change the plot, just did some minor aesthetic and cosmetic changes. Therefore, some things might seem a little different than what most of my readers might have read so far. Anyway, here's what you should know if you haven't reread my reposted chapters 1-16, just to get you caught back up. And if you have then ignore this part and go right to the story:

1. After Gene awakens the Ryunoken Sword, he gets a crest in the shape of the Leyline symbol on his right hand. It doesn't give him any distinct powers. It just marks him as the swordwielder.

2. I rewrote the conversation between Jim and Melfina in chapter 10 when he tells her about what he's uncovered about the Toku. You might want to go back and reread that part.

3. I also rewrote Gene's conversation with Jubei in chapter 13 regarding how Jubei could be over 100 years old. The original I realized was a bit of a plot hole so I fixed it. You might want to go reread that part as well.

4. Though I originally depicted the Dragon clan of being composed of equal parts samurai and ninjas; because of the way they're going to fight the Toku; I've rewritten them all as ninjas.

5. In chapter 13, Mazren gives Melfina a transmitter that she could use to call him if she got in trouble. I originally had her place it on the backside of her pendant, but rewrote it so that she places it inside a pocket of her skirt. The reason why will be made clear in this chapter.

7. In chapter 14, Korde gives Suzuka a bokuto that has the power to reflect an attack back towards an opponent. It still has that power, but its primary power is the ability to neutralize an enemy's power by focusing on the center of his energy.

6. I've changed the basics of Mazren's technique. Here's the basic mechanics: rather than use more ki to charge his attacks, Mazren instead accelerates the flow of ki through a particular part of his body, say his fist for example. The same way a turbine produces more power the faster it spins. The downside is that accelerating ki tends to increase the strain on his body. His two basic two attacks created by ki acceleration are the Thunder fist (a super punch) and the Lightning Blade (a super slash). The charged versions of these attacks are the Thunder Fist Storm (an overwhelming barrage of punches) and the Sky Reaving Lighting Blade (an extended lash of electrical energy). In chapter 14, he learned to charge his attacks to the next level and created Lightning Blade Flash (a wave of lighting energy that cuts anything in its path to ribbons.) Some more attacks will be premiered later.

Well that's it. I'm sorry if this is confusing, I just thought that my fic could use a bit of constructive editing. It is a work in progress you know.

Oh and by the way, most of the martial arts weapons used in this chapter can be viewed at Superior Martial Arts Supply and Swords Online)

The jungle was quiet. Too quiet.

The Toku invasion force had been on the move for roughly half an hour. By now, the individual teams were close enough for visual contact with one another. Positioned point were the Mongol Armor suits, their static saws cutting through the undergrowth and making a path for the rest. Between the Mongols, the cybers guarded the armor suits' blind spots while Oni assassin drones moved quickly and silently through the trees. Above the canopy, the Tengu drones provided aerial reconisance to the Toku assassins, the commanders of the invasion force. They were only half an hour from contact with the enemy fortress, and they had yet to see either an interception force or even a booby trap.

Unbeknownst to them, they already had. In the jungle around them, shadows created by neither plant nor jungle beast flitted amongst the leaves as they took position.

Off to the forward left of one team, the underbrush began to rustle. Signaling for a stop, one of the assassins gestured with his Pudao sword to stand ready. The rustling grew louder as they waited, only to be greeted by a huge reptile with three horns growing out of its face. With a sneer of disgust, the assassin signaled to let it pass. It was the third such creature his group had encountered yet. And since their objective was the Dragon Clan, it wasn't worth the trouble to kill. Once the beast had passed, the assassin gestured for his group to keep going. Hopefully this would be the final delay in their path.

That hope was dashed to nothing when a Cyber in the group thirty yards to the right stepped on a vine tripwire. From out of the canopy, a tree trunk swung down and slammed into one of the Mongols and sent the armor suit flying into a group of ten Cybers, crushing them like tin. The Toku barely had time to recover when a hail of shurikens and arrows attacked from all sides at once. Onis and Cybers found themselves shredded by the star shaped projectiles while several Mongol suits were blown to pieces when an explosive arrow lodged in their armor plating.

From out of the treetops, a lone figure dropped to the ground. Using the Rising Cyclone Fist and Claw, Tyr launched himself spinning into a group of five cybers; his good hand knocking them into the air and setting them up to be slashed by his claw. Off to his right, the assassin with the Pudao sword raised the scimitar like blade and spun it around his head as he flew toward Tyr. But Tyr dodged and slashed his with claw, taking the assassin out with a single pass. As he returned to the cover of the trees, the formerly organized Toku force split into a chaotic mob.

"Forget about the stragglers!" Tyr yelled to his fighters. "Concentrate all efforts on the main forces." At Tyr's command, the heat signatures of the Dragon Clan's warriors appeared in the cyber's scanners as they dropped on mass from the trees. "Commence attack!"

"Gene, do you hear that?" Gene turned around and looked in the same direction as Melfina. They had been running for almost twenty minutes and still had a long way to go. From off in the distance, Gene could hear what sounded like explosions.

"It's started," he said. "Damm it. I thought we had more time than this." Another explosion echoed as Melfina took Gene's hand and pulled it in their destination.

"Gene let's go," she said. "The sooner we get to the hanger the sooner the Dragon Clan can retreat."

"Yes ma'am," Gene answered, impressed and proud that Melfina was being so strong. Continuing on their way, Gene continued to keep a vigil for any Toku forces. On occasion, he would use the ki sensitivity skill to search for anything his eyes couldn't see. Nothing seemed out of place, but then again, if the Oni and other drone troops that Toku brought with him had no souls, they wouldn't appear until they were right on top of them.

Coming upon the clearing where he had trained the day before with Jubei and Tyr, Gene checked for any signs of trouble. When all seemed clear, he and Melfina decided to chance it and left the cover for the trees, just as a sudden blur rushed into and knocked them off their feet. "What the Hell!" Gene yelled.

"Long time no see." They looked up to a nearby tree-branch and were greeted to the sight of Harry McDougal sitting on the limb, wearing some kind of cyber suit. "So where do you think you're going? Don't you know that it's rude for the guests of honor to leave the party early?"

In another part of the Jungle, a quintet of Cybers was cut into ribbons by a typhoon of razor sharp wind. After dispatching them with the Wind Dragon Spiral, Suzuka next turned her attention to a trio of Oni that dropped from the trees to surround her. One formed its hands into a blade and charged, but Suzuka deflected with her new bokuto and slashed across its manji symbol. For the other two to, Suzuka ran behind and decapitated them both with a single stroke.

Behind her, Suzuka sensed an oncoming attack. She leapt out of the way just as an arcing energy lash came down on where she was standing, the attack hitting two Clan ninjas instead who weren't fast enough to escape. Off to her left, Suzuka saw a young man with slim, highly attractive features, and thick blonde hair that came down to just below his thin shoulders. He wore a knee length crimson robe and was armed with a tai chi straight sword.

"Hmm," he said. His voice held an arrogant, condescending tone that Suzuka immediately disliked. "Quite beautiful. Why don't we find something more productive to do besides fighting."

"I beg you're pardon?" Suzuka asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Attractive people should never be forced to kill one another," the assassin continued. "Besides, it's pointless to resist. No woman can refuse my perfect face; much less even defeat…" but the assassin was cut short as Suzuka sent a small Razor Sharp Gust across his cheek.

"If you're just going to talk than go away and stop wasting my time." With a stunned expression that changed to rage, the handsome assassin's hand rose to the tiny, almost unnoticeable nick underneath his right eye.

"My face!" he half shrieked. "You've mutilated my beautiful face!" With a scream of mad fury, he charged Suzuka head on, his sword a blur of motion as he slashed and stabbed at Suzuka's bokuto. He has the skill to back up his boasts, Suzuka thought. But he shouldn't have lost his temper. Allowing her enemy to waste his energy, Suzuka blocked and parried his attacks until an opening presented itself. With a firm grip on her bokuto, Suzuka whipped and pummeled her enemy across the face before slashing across his chest. But the assassin was wearing some kind of armor underneath his robe and had received a small gash. Recovering quickly, he slashed with his sword and released another arcing energy lash. Time to end this, she thought. Waiting until the last possible moment, Suzuka snapped her bokuto across the middle of the attack and dashed forward. But before she could bet close enough to strike, her enemy whipped his blade and coiled his attack around Suzuka's Crimson technique, aiming straight for her throat. Suzuka was barely able to avoid, her enemy's attack cutting the hem of her kimono and nicking her thigh instead.

"Look what you did?" he screamed as he pointed at his face, covered in bruises from Suzuka's sword strike. "You've destroyed my perfect beauty." But while her enemy ranted, Suzuka quickly analyzed as to how he had countered what was supposed to be her ultimate victory technique. That sword of his, she realized. It's so thin and flexible that he's able to coil and twist his attacks around his opponent's. Raising her bokuto, Suzuka focused on the center of the assassin's power and saw a pinpoint of light appear just below his navel. Let's see if this bokuto Korde gave me is worth the wood it's made of. As her enemy prepared to release another attack, Suzuka felt her bokuto began to heat as the wooden blade began to shine with a white light. The assassin unleashed another attack and Suzuka snapped her sword forward. From the bokuto's tip, a bolt of white energy flew down the center of the energy lash, striking her enemy in the center of his power and turning his attack back toward him, drilling him right through his torso.

Off in the not to far away distance, Suzuka could hear what sounded like blaster fire. Running to offer aid to whatever the Clan warriors were fighting, Suzuka heard the handsome assassin babbling in his death rattle.

"How? How could any woman resist my perfect beauty?" Stopping in her tracks, Suzuka turned to face her fallen adversary and decided to at least give him an explanation.

"I'm spoken for," she answered. "And he's more of a man than you could ever hope to be."

Providing cover fire for the Dragon Clan, Mazren's ears picked up a whistle coming down from above him. He jumped out of the way as a flurry of shurikens and throwing knives struck the tree behind him, the projectiles chipping away the wood and cutting it down. He looked up to the source of the attack as young girl of about eighteen leapt down from the treetops, a bladed wheel hanging from her belt. "I recognize that technique," he said.

"My name is Suni," the girl announced. "Lord Askared was my teacher; and my lover."

"I see." Holstering his blaster and submachine gun, Mazren drew his sword and Suni drew her blade wheel. Behind him, the ninjas he had been covering prepared to return the favor. "Leave her to me," he told them. "Go help the others." The ninjas nodded and left Suni to Mazren. The two stared with locked eyes and took off running side by side. Suni slashed and spun with her wheel, but Mazren parried and slashed back. Jumping away, Suni tossed the wheel, and Mazren dodged. But after he passed, the wheel split into two separate disks. One attacked from the ground while another attacked from the sky. Mazren jumped and leveled his body sideways, the disks missing him by a fraction of an inch. Suni caught the discs and rejoined them into one wheel as she assumed a Crane stance. "Looks like Askared taught you some of his moves. I wouldn't use them on me. I've already seen them."

"Then I'd better use one of my own then." Spinning to her left, Suni threw her bladed wheel underhand and flung it at Mazren head on. Mazren raised his sword to block, and the wheel split at the last moment. The two halves of the wheel spun around him, creating a miniature tornado as they released dozens of shurikens. The energy created by the wheel's revolutions caught the shurikens like leaves in the wind, trapping Mazren in the center as they began to slowly cut him from fifty places at once. "Try escaping from that," Suni taunted over the howl of the wind and the whistling of the blades. She's right, Mazren thought. If I move, I'll only make it worse. But every technique has strengths and weaknesses. But where? The spinning motion of the blades makes it impossible to properly defend against. Wait, that's it. Drawing his sword and holding it horizontal to his body, Mazren ignored the pain from the multiple cuts as he charged his Lightning Blade and began to spin, creating a whirlwind of his own within Suni's. Pushing the shurikens away, Mazren stopped spinning and thrust his sword towards Suni, the sudden shock gathering the shurikens and sending them flying towards her. Suni attempted to protect herself with a ki shield, but was too late to block them all. As he felt his wounds begin to heal, he walked over and stood above the teenage assassin who was the same age as his sister. Though alive, she was covered from head to toe with wounds that would scar her for life. "Go ahead," she said. "Kill me." But Mazren grunted in disdain and turned away.

"I don't kill defenseless people," he said. "Especially defenseless women." As he started to walk away, Suni used what little ki she had left to call her wheel back to her. As the two halves returned to her hands; Suni slapped them back together, sent the last of her ki into her weapon, and re-seperated it. From inside the wheel, dozens of poisoned needle darts were sent flying towards Mazren. The needles were a second from striking Mazren when he turned and punched with his Thunder Fist, the internal energy from the technique creating a barrier that deflected the needles back towards Suni. "Unless they push it," he added as Suni fell back dead. Off to his left, a wave of blaster and heavy machine gun fire struck the tree to his left. Mazren dove behind a nearby boulder for cover as three cybers and a Mongol armor suit appeared to his right. Drawing his micro-grenade launcher from his back, he leapt from his cover, fired, and hit the Mongol beneath its cockpit, taking out all four targets at once.

Redrawing his gun, Gene aimed straight at Harry. "Look Harry," he growled, "I don't have time to play with you so just get out of our way." Up in the branches, Harry chuckled and flipped down from the branch so that he now hung upside-down by his knees.

"Hey Melfina, you like my new outfit? I picked it out just for you. I mean it has such fond memories for the both of us. Remember? It's just like the one I wore when I told you that I loved you. The same one that Hazonko killed me in. Do you remember that? Do you remember when I died? Do you, you backstabbing little BITCH!" Melfina couldn't think of anything to say, not that it mattered. She knew that Harry, or rather this copy of Harry, would never accept it. Meanwhile, Gene's eyes narrowed as he tightened his hold on his gun's trigger.

"I thought I told you to watch your mouth when you talk to Melfina you stupid asshole."

"And just what are you going to do if I won't?" Harry smirked.

"How about this?" Shifting his aim, Gene fired an energy bullet at the limb Harry was hanging from. The wood shattered and Harry fell, but he flipped and landed on his feet before dashing to the other side of the clearing. Gene's eyes followed the trail of shadows and couldn't believe what he had seen. How the hell did Harry move so quick? He didn't sense any ki, so it had to be that suit he was wearing. But how could a Cyber suit be anywhere near that powerful?

"Where the hell did you learn to shoot Gene?" Harry asked. "You handle that gun like an old lady." Oh you are really going to pay for that, Gene thought.

"Melfina," he said aside, "get back into the trees. I'll handle this." But Melfina didn't. Instead, she moved over to behind Gene so that her front was pressed against his back. Before Gene could ask what she was doing, Melfina reached around him, wrapping one arm around his waist while her other grasped his gun arm. "Mel what are you…"

"I'm tired of running and hiding from him Gene," Melfina said. "And I'm tired of always standing by and doing nothing while you and the others risk your lives to protect me. This time I'm going to fight too. Besides, my eyes are better than yours. I can follow Harry's movements and guide your aim. Besides, if he's still working for the Toku then he needs to take me alive. This way he won't be able to use his suit's weapons." As he continued to stare at the girl who always seemed so innocent and naïve; but also incredibly brave at a moments notice, Gene smiled and nodded in understanding.

"Okay then," he said as he looked back to Harry. From deep down, Gene felt a powerful connection with Melfina form, just like when they fought Hazonko. "Let's do it."

Separated from their group, a quartet of cybers continued on their way to the fortress. From above them, a figure dropped down from the branches and landed right in the middle of them. Before they could react, Aisha used a spinning heel kick to take off all of their heads in a single sweep. From out of the branches, an Oni attacked with double axe-blade hands. Aisha dodged to the left, wrapped her whipping chain around the Oni's arm, and pulled its defenses open so she could place an elbow strike in its chest. More of the creatures jumped out of the trees, and Aisha met them head on. Grasping the whipping chain in the middle with both hands, Aisha twirled and spun both ends around her as she fended off the attack; making sure to keep in mind what she had learned with Ortho. Always keep a cool head, make as little movement as possible, and turn your enemy's attacks against him. When she dispatched the last of the Oni, Aisha prepared to return to the cover of the branches and wait for more; but something struck her in her back, knocking her to the ground and making her drop her chain. From behind her, a Mongol had snuck up and fired its chaingun into her back. Her thick Ctarl skin had protected her from being killed, but she could still feel blood flow from where she had been shot. Quickly rolling to her feet, Aisha jumped and ran as the Mongol's machine gun fire followed her; tearing up trees, underbrush, and anything else that got in the way. The bullets were an inch from grazing her heels when something stuck between the Mongol's legs and twisted, sending the armor suit sprawling to the ground. Aisha around and saw Ortho drive the butt of his Bo staff into the Mongol's drive systems. With the armor suit unable to move, the Silgrian fighting master rushed over and expected her wounds.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Sure fine," Aisha said. "It'll take more than a scratch to take down a Ctarl-Ctarl."

"I'm sure, however allow me." Drumming his fingers around where she had been shot, Ortho sealed the broken vessels and stopped the bleeding. "That should do it."

"Yeah thanks." Knowing that she still had a long day ahead of her, Aisha realized that she should maybe conserve as much blood as she could. Suddenly, the noise of what sounded like a train found its way into Aisha's ear. She shouted a warning to Ortho, but was too late. From out of the jungle, a man-sized tornado slammed into them and sent them flying. Aisha picked herself up, looked for Ortho, and saw him lying motionless on the ground. "Ortho!" she screamed. She rushed over to him, saw the blood on his gi, and knew that he was dead. Meanwhile, the cyclone stopped spinning and revealed itself to be another Toku assassin, armed with a pair of Tiger Hook Swords.

"What's the matter pussycat?" he taunted. "You look like you lost your best friend?" Turning to the assassin, Aisha bared her fangs and felt her rage build as she prepared to transform and rip her enemy to shreds. Don't do it, she heard Ortho's voice say in her head. Don't lose control. Fight calmly, not aggressively. Despite the feral rage that was developing inside of her, Aisha forced herself to calm down and relax. "Too afraid to fight?" the assassin asked. "Don't worry. You'll join your friend soon enough." Twirling his hook swords, the assassin began to spin and transformed himself into a whirling cyclone of motion. As he launched himself towards her, Aisha relaxed her body and mind, waiting for the precise moment to move. The assassin was only an inch from slashing across Aisha's throat when she darted out her hand and caught one of the hook swords, stopping her enemy's movements completely. Okay, she heard Ortho say. Now you can go crazy. With a roar, Aisha pulled back her other hand and uppercut across the assassin's jaw, sending him flying into the sky. As her enemy landed somewhere off in the distance, Aisha picked up Ortho's body and carried him over to where the underbrush was the thickest.

"This is the most I can to for you now Ortho," she said as she pulled the shrubbery over her friend and teacher. "But I promise that I'll come back for you later." Returning to where she had fought the assassin, Aisha looked around for her chain. When she couldn't find it, she instead decided to take the assassin's hook swords he had dropped. He wasn't going to need them anyway.

"Aisha," she heard Jim yell in her earring communicator. "There's a Clan team near you that's got heavy wounded. They're under fire, due west about two hundred yards."

"Got it," she said. She could grieve for Ortho later. Right now, there was work to be done.

Alone in the jungle, surrounded by its life, Jubei stood and waited. Off in the distance, he could hear the explosions as the invaders to his home clashed with his clan. The Wiseman's heart was heavy with grief. Already, he knew that some had died in battle. But he also knew that he couldn't leave his location to help them. Unless he succeeded in his role, then there would be even graver consequences for the Dragon Clan, and possibly for the entire galaxy as well.

In front of him, one of the invaders stepped into view. Around each of his forearms was wrapped a trio of chains that ended in spiked weights, daggers, or cutting hooks.

"Hold it right there," the assassin called out. From underneath his sunhat, Jubei examined his attacker without fear or concern.

"Go away," he warned. Taken aback by Jubei's aloof attitude, the assassin's surprise quickly changed into anger.

"You'd better take me seriously old man if you know what's good for you. Or maybe you want to try your luck against my Flying Snake Chains."

"If you're going to do something than do it," Jubei replied. "There's something I must accomplish here and would therefore prefer not to waste time with the likes of you."

"You senile old bastard!" the assassin yelled. Leaping into the air, Jubei's opponent pumped the air with his legs, creating currents of air that he used to propel himself in a circle above Jubei's head. Flinging out his arms, the assassin cast his chains in a sphere that surrounded and slowly began to constrict toward Jubei. Analyzing the assassin's technique, Jubei calculated where to strike and countered with the Golden Rod, his staff a glowing blur of motion as it struck the chains and turned the attack back to the assassin, the links wrapping around his body and crushing him. Standing over his fallen enemy, Jubei positioned his free hand in a prayer gesture.

"You should have heeded my advice." Suddenly, the feeling of an approaching threat struck into Jubei's heart. He's here, the Wiseman realized. Reaching into his robe, Jubei retracted five scroll charms. As he began to chant the proper sutra, the dark force entered into Jubei's presence and the Wiseman threw the charms into the air. As if possessing a mind of their own, the five talismans flew into the air and glowed with the same golden light of Jubei's staff before forming a golden ring that enclosed the area around him.

"The Five Sutra Binding Circle," an unseen voice said. "Do you really think that this will hold me?"

"Perhaps not the original spell," Jubei answered. "But this is my own variation. It feeds on the energy of the one trapped inside it, turning their power against them. The stronger you are, the stronger the bind. And so you shall stay imprisoned here until Gene Starwind is ready to face you."

"So in other words you decided to trap me rather than face me outright," Shidowkun taunted. "Are you truly so afraid of me."

"Afraid of what?" Jubei asked. "You are nothing but a demon who feeds on the fear and pain of those you victimize. You skulk in shadows, afraid to venture into the light where punishment for your crimes awaits. And you stalk and threaten an innocent girl simply because it amuses you. No demon. There is no fear of you in my heart. Only contempt."

"Well said priest. But you've made two minor mistakes."

"And what would that be?"

"First," Shidowkun lectured. "If the one who casts this spell is incapacitated or slain before it is completed, than the spell is neutralized. Secondly, though the one inside the circle has no power outside the bind, they do inside." As if on cue, a tendril of solid darkness extended out from the shadow of a nearby tree and attempted to wrap itself around Jubei's neck. But Jubei turned in time and smashed his staff into it, vaporizing it on contact. All around him, the shadows came alive as multiple dark tentacles reached for him. Jubei spun, dodged, and struck back for each one; never allowing a single tendril within a three-foot radius. From the branches, a mass of them attacked at once; too many for Jubei to fight one at a time. So instead, the Wiseman twirled his staff over his head and drove the blunt end straight into the ground. From the headpiece, beams of light radiated out and destroyed the tendrils, preventing any further attacks as well.

"Your dark power is strong demon, but even the smallest of lights burns brightest when surrounded by the shadows."

"Perhaps," Shidowun replied. "But then again, the power of the darkness without is always inferior to the darkness within." Curious as to what Shidowkun meant, Jubei realized too late that he hadn't illuminated the shadows within his own clothes. From within his robe, the isolated shadows stretched around and over Jubei, binding his body and making him drop his staff. With Jubei's attack defeated, two more tendrils dropped from the branches, wrapping around Jubei and lifting him into the air. "You say that you hold no fear of me priest," Shidowkun said. "You also call me a demon. Perhaps I should place the fear in you by showing you just how right you really are." From the darkness that bound him head to foot, two tendrils extended out and flowed into Jubei's eyes. Jubei's head convulsed as Shidowkun invaded his mind and revealed to him his true face; the shock of it all making Jubei scream in fear and pain. "And now that you know, I shall leave you to tend to more pressing matters." Retracting the dark tentacles, Shidowkun dropped Jubei to the ground where he lay weak from shock as the Toku Emperor continued on his way.

The power of Harry's cyber suit made it impossible for Gene to see anything except the afterimages. But luckily for him, Melfina had no problems following him "Left!" she yelled, moving Gene's arm to guide his aim. Gene followed her guidance and fired a ki bullet, barely missing Harry who stopped and reversed direction in time. Melfina guided Gene's arm after Harry and squeezed Gene's wrist, signaling for him to fire. Harry dodged and circled around, but Melfina never let him out of her sight. They weren't able to score a hit yet, but Harry's suit was going to wear down sooner or later. As he followed Melfina's directions, Gene took notice of how good her reflexes were. Maybe I should teach her how to shoot after this is all over, he thought.

As kept trying to get close enough for a hit, Harry felt his suit heating up. The acceleration circuits weren't meant for this kind of a workout. If he didn't find a way to get close to knock them apart, his suit was going to have a meltdown. Glancing behind him, Harry caught sight of the trail of afterimages behind him and got an idea. Shifting into reverse for a second, Harry projected an afterimage in front of him, and Gene and Melfina took the bait. As they fired at the illusion, Harry dashed toward them, knocking both of them apart and off of their feet. Before they had a chance to regain themselves, Harry backtracked and sent Gene rolling with a kick to the stomach, delighting in Gene's wheezing sounds of agony.

"Gene!" Melfina called out. She got to her feet and tried to run to him, but Harry appeared in front of her and slapped her to the ground.

"You wait your turn," he told her. "Trust me, you'll get to feel the pain soon enough." Though Gene had been caught off guard and stunned by Harry's attack, the sight of him striking Melfina triggered something in him. In his mind, he saw how Harry had terrorized and smacked Melfina on Heifong as the world began to take on a reddish tint. The power was swelling inside of him, making him rise to his feet. And rising with it was a roaring that drowned out the noise from the nearby battle. "So you still want to play huh?" Harry asked as he saw Gene stand up. "Than let's do it."

After the shock from Harry slapping her wore off, Melfina saw that Gene had gotten back up. But something was different about him. Gene's eyes were no longer their warm dark blue, but actually looked as though they were shining with a red light. As she watched, Harry once again tried to rush him, but Gene dodged and thrust out his arm, catching Harry in the chest and knocking him off his feet. In the same motion, Gene grabbed Harry by the throat, spun, and threw him across the clearing into a nearby tree. Melfina continued to watch horrified as Gene dashed across the clearing and punched Harry in the stomach, making him cough up blood.

"Now it's your turn!" Gene yelled. Moving his fists in a blur, Gene began to beat and pound on Harry until he was nothing but a bruised and bloody mess. Wrapping his hands around Harry's throat, Gene lifted Harry off of his feet as he began to strangle him. How do you like it? his mind screamed. How do you like feeling beaten and helpless?

"Gene stop!" Melfina screamed as she ran over and pulled on his arm. "Don't do this please?" Gene stopped in his choking of Harry and couldn't believe what he had heard. He was the one that loved Melfina. He was the one who would give his life to protect her. He wasn't the one who had beaten and terrorized her. How dare she try and stop him. He snapped his head around and Melfina took a step back. It was then that Gene saw the look of fear on her face and realized that she was frightened of him. The realization was enough to drive him out of his rage. He looked back to Harry and dropped him to the ground. Standing above the gasping, bloody mess that was Harry McDougal, Gene felt like he was going to vomit. Did I really do this? he asked. It was just like Jubei and Tyr told him. When fire rages out of control, it destroys itself and everything around it. Gene had lost control, and in the process had almost hit Melfina.

"Mel…"Gene said, "…I'm…" but he couldn't get the words out. What could he say to make up for what he had almost done? He couldn't even look at her.

"It's alright," she said. Moving to his side, she grasped his arm and rubbed it up and down. "It's okay. Let's just go."

"Right," Gene said. Leaving Harry where he lay in the clearing, Gene and Melfina continued on their way through the jungle, but were stopped once again when a quartet of Oni dropped in front of them. Gene pulled his gun and was about to fire when something else jumped down from the trees, some kind of jungle cat with three strips of scaly skin running along its back and sides. The snarling animal launched itself into the Oni and began knocking them right and left. Gene didn't know what was going on, but he wasn't the type to look a gift horse in the mouth. Grabbing Melfina's hand, he pulled her after him as they made their escape.

As she ran, Melfina heard a yowl off to the side. She looked to the left and smiled at the sight of the Scale Leopard cub she had helped the other day. Thank you, she thought.

Stepping out of the jungle and into the cultivated growing fields, Guan made his way toward the enemy fortress, the heavy curved blade of his Kwan Dao battle staff gleaming in the late morning sun. Taking stock of the undamaged fields, he realized that he was the first one to reach the fortress. He was a mere twenty paces away from the structure when a doorway carved into the wall opened to greet him. From out of the passage came a tall and gray skinned Saurian man, his body covered with scars. In his hand, the Saurian grasped a Wolf's tooth battle staff, the spiked club at its end dripping with blood. So it appears that I am not the first after all, Guan thought.

"I dislike killing immensely," the reptile-man answered. "But I am willing to do so if you do not leave here immediately."

"And just what makes you think that you can stop me?" Raising his Kwan Dao in a battle stance, Guan tossed it over his shoulder, twirled it behind his back, then brought it up front in an underhand slash. The Saurian raised his Wolf's Tooth in response and copied Guan's movements. But instead of an underhand slash he performed a few quick jabs with the club end. Accepting the challenge, Guan countered with a series of blindingly fast circular slashes to the air in front of him followed by a lateral overhead slash. The Saurian nodded and spun his Wolf's Tooth overhead before jumping and spinning to the side, striking out with his weapon using only one hand. A slight bead of sweat formed on Guan's temple as he decided to go all out. Grasping the middle, he unlocked the connection joints and changed his Kwan Dao into a customed three-section staff. With his hold on the middle section, Guan spun the ends around him as he swept to the side, above him, and even between his legs.

Korde assessed his opponent and knew there was only one way to counter a technique like that. Raising his Wolf's Tooth, he spun it in front of him; then moved it to his right, to his back, his left, and then back to his front again. With the assassin's attention locked on the Wolf's Tooth, Korde threw it into the air, and the assassin followed it up. Seeing an opportunity present itself, Korde took advantage of the assassin's negligence to dash forward and deliver a spinning back heel straight to the ribs. As the assassin flew back with a broken rib cage and hemorrhaged organs, his Kwan Dao was thrown into the air. Stepping back on one foot, Korde caught both it and his own weapon, twirled one in each hand, and then brought them down by his sides.

"Never take your attention off of your opponent," he lectured to the spirit of the departed assassin. Turning around, Korde returned to the inside of the fortress to await the next intruder.

Atop the fortress, a quintet of the Tengu drones touched down from the sky. Surveying the buildings around them, the winged bio-mechanical creatures scanned for any signs of a guard. Off in the shadows, one of them saw a slight movement. Moving in to investigate, the Tengus grew bladed spurs out of the back of their right hand and extended the finger spikes on their left. With their attention focused on where they had seen the disturbance, they were unaware of the figure that doubled back to behind and above them. Leaping off the edge of the structure, Slag pounced on the closest Tengu and knocked him to the ground. After snapping his neck in two, the snarling Wolf slammed into the Tengu to the right and impaled the creature on its comrade's spurs. Two of them fired their finger spikes, but Slag jumped and bounded off the wall, dodging and avoiding each volley with ease. Living in ice and rock covered mountains rife with narrow ledges had given Tybaltian Rock Wolves like Slag unequalled agility and sense of timing. After dodging a third volley, Slag jumped between the Tengus and the drones ended up shooting each other. Meanwhile, the final Tengu took back to the sky where it arced back down to earth, spinning it's razor sharp wings in a barrel role to cut Slag to ribbons. Standing his ground, Slag waited until the Tengu was less than two feet away before leaping straight into the air, allowing the drone to smash headfirst into the wall behind him. As the last of the invaders disintegrated in its death throes, Slag returned to the shadows where he continued to prowl for any more invaders.

Monitoring what was becoming an increasingly worse situation, Jim did his best to choreograph the Clan's defense. Though the Dragon Clan's surprise attack had given them an early advantage, The Toku were starting to get organized and arrange an appropriate counter strike.

"Team A," he said into the radio. "Team C's been wiped out and the Toku group they were fighting is back on the move. Intercept and keep them back. Team B, spare as many as you can to reinforce A. Team J, Team H is trapped in deadlock with their group. Move in and assist."

Out in the jungle, the Toku's superior numbers and technology was finally starting to pay off. Still, unlike the Dragon Clan's guerrilla warfare, their infantry based tactics were of little use in the natural mesh of the jungle. For every one of the Dragon Clan they took out, the clan took out at least ten from the Toku's forces.

Leaping through the trees, Clan two ninjas fled from a group of cybers. One was cut down by blaster fire, but the other used a throwing knife to cut a nearby trip wire, triggering a swarm of sharpened bamboo sticks to come down on top of them.

In the treetops, a lash of electric energy from the canopy cut down three Tengus as they flew overhead. Dropping down to the ground, Mazren drew his submachine gun and his blaster pistol to face a company of Oni and Cybers. The cybers were cut down easily enough while the Oni leapt out of the line of fire. But Mazren countered by using his submachine gun to lay down suppressing fire and herding them right into the path of his blaster pistol.

Slashing to ribbons anything in her path, Suzuka's bokuto was a blur of motion as she took down over a dozen Oni, cybers, and two assassins armed with Kusari-gama scythes in a single pass. Off to the left, a Mongol lumbered out of the trees. But Suzuka used Ground Sweeping Wind Blade to send a shockwave of wind racing across the ground; cleaving the armor suit in half.

Leaping into action against a group of Oni, Aisha flashed the hook swords she had borrowed off the assassin that had killed Ortho. The hooked blades proved to be extremely effective with what she had learned as she used them to trip, hook, and reverse the attacks of anyone who went against her. All the while, she kept a calm state of mind so that she could fight at her peak efficiency, just like Ortho had taught her.

Pinned down by the fire from a Mongol and a company of Cybers and Oni, three wounded clan members were left unable to fight back or escape. From behind the enemy, Tyr flipped overhead and brought his heel down among the Cybers, using the Gaia Kick to generate a seismic explosion that blasted the mechanical men off their feet. Twisting around, Tyr whirled his fist around the cloud of dirt he had kicked up and used his ki to pull in and compact the dirt around his hand. Once he was ready, Tyr launched the Earth Fist Bullet at the Mongol, denting its armor and knocking it onto its back. The Oni leapt for him, but Keibara intercepted and swatted them away with the Spinning Crane Kick.

"Go!" Tyr commanded. "Get them out of here!" From the branches, three Ctarl clan members dropped to where the wounded fighters lay, taking one each before returning to the treetops. As the fight continued around him, Tyr cast an eye towards the mountain in the distance. Damn it lad what's taking so long, he wondered. We can't keep this up much longer.

Pushing aside a vine that blocked their way, Gene and Melfina finally arrived at their destination. At the foot of the mountain, the jungle thinned from the usual dense growth to rocky terrain with only a few sparse trees. Roughly forty yards ahead of them stood a rock wall with a crack at Gene's eye level.

"Get ready Mel," he said. "Once we start running, don't stop 'till we're inside."

"Right." Gene took on last look around before he was convinced it was safe and grasped Melfina's hand.

"Now!" Tugging Melfina after him, Gene made a break straight for the rock wall. They were halfway there when Melfina suddenly stopped. "Mel what are you doing!"

"Gene something's wrong," Melfina explained. "I…" but Melfina didn't get a chance to finish before her eyes widened with fear. "Look out!" Melfina pushed the two of them to the ground just before a blast of red and black fire shot out of the jungle and exploded into the hidden door.

"Jim," Gillium exclaimed. "Something's wrong." Great now what? Jim wondered. With the Toku getting their second wind, he couldn't handle any further surprises.

"Wrong as in what exactly?"

"I've just detected an explosion at the northern base of the mountain," Gillium explained. "But I'm not detecting any enemy forces in that area." That's where Gene and Mel were heading, Jim realized.

"Aisha, Suzuka, Mazren, anyone!" Jim yelled into the communicator. "Get over to the north side of the mountain now! Gene and Mel are in trouble."

A horde of Oni and Tengus were bearing down on top of him. With most of his ammo depleted, Mazren drew his sword and unleashed the Lightning Blade Flash; the wave of lightning energy slashing them all to ribbons.

"Jim," he called into his earring communicator. "I've finished here and I'm heading for the mountain. Call Aisha and Suzuka and have them meet me there." Sheathing his sword, Mazren took off at full speed. He was the closest of their group, and therefore had the most chance of getting to Melfina and Starwind before it was too late. Mel I'm coming, he thought. Just hold on.

Behind him, Mazren's ears picked up what sounded like the hum of energy, followed by an explosion that lifted him off his feet and sent him flying a good twenty feet. Lying stunned on the ground, he saw the red coated figure of Ron MacDougal appear from behind a tree, reloading his caster with a fresh shell.

"And just where to you think that you're going?" Ron asked. "You and I still have unfinished business to attend to." Ron fired and Mazren hand-sprung out of the way, using his ki to push against the ground and boost his escape. Rolling to his feet, Mazren drew his pistols and fired, but MacDougal raised a lightshield and deflected the bullets. "Gonna have to do better than that," Ron mocked as he reloaded his caster. Mazren leapt into the branches above him as Ron fired, the ball of energy blasting the trees behind him into splinters.

Looking up, Ron searched for any sign of the android-man. He didn't see any sign of him, but there weren't any signs of the branches being disturbed. That meant he had to be hiding somewhere above him.

"Neat little trick," he said. "But unlike Gene Starwind, I didn't get my reputation as the best simply by dumb luck." Reaching into his coat, Ron pulled out a set of infared goggles and began to scan the canopy for any human shaped heat images.

Hearing Jim's alarm, Tyr turned his attention to the mountain and realized it was time.

"Keibara," he ordered. "Stay here and help the others."

"Hey wait a minute Dad." But before Keibara could finish, Tyr had already begun to head towards the mountain. Swearing under her breath, Keibara watched as her father disappear into the distance. Though he told her to stay behind, most of the enemy in this area had been taken care of. Besides, Keibara had the feeling her Dad knew something he wasn't telling her.

"Six of you come with me," she ordered the ninjas in her group. "The rest of you stay here and take care of the remaining enemies." With a quick jump to the branches above her, Keibara and her warriors set off in hot pursuit of her father. Sorry Dad, she thought. But this time I'm not doing what you say. If you're fighting than so am I.

Suddenly, two red stripes flew out of the branches and impaled the two warriors behind Keibara. The ninja girl barely had time to recover from the shock when one of the stripes pulled back and slashed through the branch she was standing on. Keibara fell, but quickly righted herself to land on her feet. The remaining members of her group dropped from the trees to join her as another figure lowered from the trees, twirling a sash around it to generate wind currents to slow her descent. The figure touched down and revealed itself to be a woman with white streaked black hair and crimson sashes wrapped around her curves. Keibara drew her sai as the woman assessed them all before smiling in a conceited way.

"Hmmmmm," she said as she looked Keibara up and down. "A little too unrefined for my tastes, but you're pretty enough to have some fun with." Okay, Keibara thought, now I'm a little weirded out. Behind her, the others began to draw their weapons to back her up.

"Leave her to me," she ordered. "You go and help my Dad." The others nodded in consent before they returned to the treetops to continue on their way.

"Now that wasn't very nice," the woman said as unraveled the sash on her left arm. "We all could have played together. Besides, little girls shouldn't play by themselves in the forest."

"Yeah and neither should grandmas." The woman's eyes widened in shock before narrowing in rage.

"You'll pay for that you little brat." Throwing out her left arm, the woman cast out her sash and Keibara leapt above the attack. Coming down right on her enemy's left side; Keibara thrust and slashed with her sais as the woman twirled and whipped her sashes. Across the jungle floor the two woman warriors danced in a flurry of metal and fabric. After cornering Keibara against the trunk of a tree, the woman dashed backwards, twisted her sash into a tightly wound coil, and flung it towards Keibara. But the ninja girl leapt out of the way again as the coiled sash impaled through the tree and unwound, shattering the tree from the inside out. Following after her, the woman and Keibara continued their fight across the branches, the fury of their traded attacks breaking the wood beneath them. Leaping to the ground, Keibara unleashed a blur of kicks and the woman blocked with palm strikes. After a deadlocked blow knocked them both apart, charged her ki into her sais and stabbed towards the women, using the Diamond Dagger to send a flurry of energy spikes towards her enemy. But the woman twirled her sash in front of her and deflected them away. In the same motion, the woman released a cloud of flower petals that had been wrapped inside the folds of her sash, clouding Keibara's vision. Using her sai to sweep them away, Keibara searched for her opponent and sensed someone appear behind her. Keibara prepared to defend, but the woman thrust her hands to both sides of Keibara's head, leaving her at the woman's mercy.

"You know," Keibara heard her whisper, "subtlety is the key to success in either pain or pleasure. The slightest touch can bring death or unimaginable bliss. Does this concept intrigue you? Are you curious to know what my touch can do?" Taking her finger, the woman traced from Keibara's earlobe to along the side of her throat.

"Get away from me!" Keibara shrieked. Anger and fear overcame Keibara's calm as she blindly struck behind her with her daggers. The woman laughed and jumped out of the way as Keibara chased after her. Feeling enraged and violated, Keibara charged at the woman who once again unwound her sash and flung it towards her. This time, the sash flew around Keibara in a spiral, the spinning coils generating wind currents that trapped her in place. With Keibara unable to defend, the woman reversed the revolutions of the sash, the sudden change of the energy flow sending Keibara flying out of the spiral and into a nearby tree. Before she could get up, the woman pounced on Keibara, the edge of her sash pressed against her throat.

"My name is Aeslea," the woman told her. "I usually kill those who insult me. But you were fun enough to play with. So I'll let you live for now." Leaning towards her, Keibara felt Aeslea's breath on her earlobe as she whispered to her. "But before we play again, find another trainer. Someone besides the lowest bidder." With a laugh, the woman vanished into the tree. Forcing herself to calm down, Keibara stood back to her feet. I'm gonna make you pay for that, she vowed. Being toyed with was bad enough, but no one insulted her father's teachings and got away with it.

After the initial shock settled, Gene looked up and saw that the entrance to the Clan's secret hanger had been blasted shut. The rock doors had caved into the entrance and the keyhole had been melted shut.

"Gene!" Melfina whispered. Gene looked over and saw that her eyes were wide with terror,

"He's here isn't he?" Melfina nodded and Gene quickly scrambled to his feet. Pulling Melfina to hers, Gene backed them up to a nearby tree as he reached for his earring communicator. "Jim! Jim come in…" but all he got was screeching static. "Melfina, stay close to me." Wrapping one arm around her waist, Gene drew his gun as he reached out with his ki sensitivity. But all he felt was the jungle around him. It was as if Shidowkun was somehow merging into the shadows or something. "Melfina listen to me. Can you find him? Can you tell me where Shidowkun is?" Melfina closed her eyes as she tried to zero in on where the terrible feeling was coming from.

"There," Melfina said as she pointed toward the edge of the jungle. "He's hiding by that tree over…" but before Melfina could finish, something ripped her away. Gene fell to the ground and looked up to see Melfina being lifted into the air by what looked like a vine of pure shadow. Melfina struggled and gagged as the dark tentacle tightened its hold on her slender throat and began to strangle her. With no time to waste, Gene fired and hit the tendril, vaporizing it with one shot. Melfina fell, but Gene dove forward and caught her before she hit the ground. Melfina gagged and coughed as he held her, so Gene quickly loosened her collar and tie, accidentally breaking the chain of her pendant.

"Are you okay?"

"I think so," Melfina croaked as she rubbed her throat.

"Very good reflexes," a voice said. "But it will take more than that to defeat me." Gene and Melfina looked over to the tree she had previously pointed to as two burning red lights appeared in its shadow. Across the trunk of the tree, the shadow stretched, swelled, and pulled back as Shidowkun stepped out of the darkness to greet them. Standing at roughly six and a half feet tall, Shidowkun wasn't quite as massive as Yama; but his armor, bearing, and his skull like mask gave him a far more intimidating appearance.

"So we finally meet," Gene said as he and Melfina got back to their feet. Before Shidowkun could reply, a rustling from the underbrush distracted his attention. From out of the jungle, the same Scale Leopard that had previously helped them against the Oni leapt at Shidowkun with claws bared. Extending his hand, Shidowkun caught the Scale Leopard by the throat in mid-jump and with a grunt of disdain, snapped the large cat's neck like a dry twig.

"No!" Melfina yelled. With a toss of his hand, Shidowkun threw the dead animal to their feet and Melfina kneeled down by the jungle cat's side as the cub emerged from the jungle. It bounded towards the body of its slain parent where it yowled and pawed at its head. "Why?" Melfina asked as her eyes began to glisten.

"Why not?" Shidowkun asked back. Looking down at the slain Scale Leopard, Gene felt his blood begin to boil. He wasn't very fond of animals, but the Scale Leopard had helped them against the Toku. Shifting his attention to Shidowkun, Gene pocketed Melfina's pendant as he brought up his gun.

"Melfina," he said aside, "find some cover."

"But Gene…"

"Damn it don't argue with me! Just do it!" Melfina was taken aback by Gene's outburst, but she didn't argue with him any further. Grabbing the cub, Melfina ran to the blasted remnants of the secret door and jumped behind a large rock. Holding the cub close for security, she peered around the edge to watch the fight that was about to commence.

With Melfina safely out of the way, Gene was now able to focus all his attention on Shidowkun. On his hand, the Leyline crest began to shine as he summoned the sword's power; feeling the flow of its energy through his muscles. I don't know if I'm ready for this, he thought, but then again, I wasn't sure I was ready the first time I took off in the Outlaw Star and that turned out alright. One thing I am sure of though is that if I beat this guy, I can end it right here and now.

Dashing through the jungle, Suzuka made her way to the base of the mountain. It had been roughly two minutes since Jim had sounded his alert, and Suzuka could sense that the situation was far more urgent than any of them suspected. I haven't seen any enemies this far in yet. That means that Shidowkun must have found them. I only hope that I'm not too late. From behind her, a shadow cast itself across her path as another of the winged Tengu drones swooped down towards her. Suzuka angled her bokuto to defend as a blur suddenly flew at the drone from the trees and sent it spinning to the ground. The blur landed and revealed itself to be Aisha, a pair of hook swords in her hands.

"Hey Suzu, glad to see you're still alive!"

"Likewise," the assassin replied. Looking up and down Aisha's body, Suzuka saw that the Ctarl-Ctarl was covered in blood from wounds all over her body. "Aisha I don't think that you should continue fighting in your condition. You should head back to the fortress and seek medical aid."

"Forget it Suzu, it's nowhere near as bad as it looks. We Ctarl can take way more damage than a puny human can." With that said, Aisha began to take off for the mountain. "Now let's get going. Gene and Mel need our help." Running after Aisha, Suzuka quickly caught up with her just as something crashed through the jungle towards them.

"Down!" Suzuka yelled as she tackled Aisha to the ground. The object flew over their heads and Suzuka followed its movement as it returned to a giant of a man with a barrel chest, a pot belly, long arms, and short legs. The object was a three-foot wide meteor hammer that the giant tossed like a tennis ball.

"About time," the assassin said. "I was beginning to think they were all dead." Tossing the huge metal ball into the air, the assassin grasped the hammer's chain and spun it over his head as Suzuka and Aisha stood back up.

"Aisha," Suzuka whispered aside, "we don't have time to waste. We have to finish this quickly so we can get to Gene and Melfina."

"Right." Placing her hook swords in her belt, Aisha brought her hands together and bulged her muscles while Suzuka focused her ki into her bokuto as the giant flung the hammer towards them. But just before they could knock it back, an energy blast intercepted the hammer and sent the huge iron ball flying back to the assassin; the chain turning back on the recoil and wrapping itself around the giant's neck, snapping it like a dry twig. As their enemy fell over dead, Aisha and Suzuka turned around to see Jubei leaning against the trunk of a nearby tree. The Wiseman seemed to have suffered a serious trauma as his breath came in ragged gasps and sweat covered his brow.

"Get going," he told them. "I wasn't able to stop him. Gene Starwind…he needs your help now." Nodding in understanding, Suzuka and Aisha continued on their way to where Gene was most likely already engaging Shidowkun in battle.

Propped between the branches, Mazren kept absolutely still as Ron MacDougal searched for him below. Among the two dozen martial arts that had been programmed into Mazren's bio-android brain were ancient Ninjitsu stealth techniques such as blending into the environment and even how to lower ones body temperature. Ron wouldn't see Mazren until he wanted him too. But Mazren also knew that he couldn't afford to stay here for long. I could use one of my new techniques, he thought. But something tells me that I'm going to need as much ki as I can spare so I'd better not waste it. I've already used up all my ammo except for my pistols. But that shield of his is too strong for regular bullets to punch through. Plus, he's already got a shell loaded into his caster. At this range, I won't be able to dodge it. Still, in order to fire he's got to drop his light shield. Guess I'll have to risk it. Waiting until Ron looked away; Mazren dropped his cover and drew his gun.

"Hey!" Ron turned around and grinned as he saw Mazren appear above him.

"There you are," he said. "This is for what you did to my ship." Pulling the trigger, Ron charged his caster and prepared to fire. Not yet not yet, Mazren kept telling himself. The barrel of Ron's caster started to glow as the shell reached its full power, and the shimmering circle of the light shield vanished. NOW! Mazren fired and shot the bullet right down the barrel of Ron's caster a split second before it could fire. Ron blinked in stunned shock as the caster began to shake, smoke, and glow hot. "Shit!" Tossing the weapon aside, he and Mazren leapt for cover as the caster exploded in a burst of rainbow color. Picking himself off the ground, Mazren looked for Ron and saw him with his leg pinned underneath the trunk of a fallen tree.

"See you around MacDougal," Mazren called as he left.

"Come back here you son of a bitch!" Ron yelled after him. "I still owe you for wrecking my ship."

"Yeah and I still owe you for what you and your brother did to my sister," Mazren called back. "But I've got more important things to do at the moment."

Looking Gene up and down, Shidowkun didn't seem very intimidated. But that was fine with Gene. Acting tough was something he had a lot of practice with himself. I can do this, he told himself. And furthermore I'm going to do this.

"I am Shidowkun," the armored figure announced, "Emperor of the Toku Pirate Guild. My name means, 'God of Death.' You have no chance of defeating me."

"And I am Gene Starwind," Gene replied. "An outlaw who still hasn't learned how to listen to warnings. And I'm going to end this right here and now."

"Is that so?" Shidowkun asked. "And just how do you plan to do that?" Gene smirked. It looked like this guy wanted to play mind-games.

"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to use the sword's power and fight you with everything I've got."

"Very heroic," Shidowkun remarked. "But why?"

"What do you mean why?"

"Why are you so foolish as to try to fight me? What possible purpose could that serve?" As he spoke, Shidowkun's eyes seemed to glow even brighter and his voice took on a slightly musical tone.

"Because you're trying to hurt Melfina," Gene answered, his voice sounding very far away.

"So you're taking the role of the brave knight protecting the beautiful princess," Shidowkun mocked. "But wasn't that what you were doing with when you fought Harry McDougal a few moments ago?" Unable to look away from Shidowkun's eyes, Gene suddenly felt as though fingers were entering his head, grasping on to something in the back of his mind, attempting to pump it bigger. "He threatened her. He hit her. You were just trying to hold him responsible for that. But she stopped you. She didn't want you to kill him. If she truly loved you, than she would have let you prove it by slaughtering the one who had caused her pain." With each word, Gene felt as though something was trying to swallow him from the inside; something that was telling him Melfina wasn't worth protecting, and that she had stopped him from killing Harry because she secretly loved Harry. He's trying to get me to lose control like I did before, Gene realized.

"You're wrong," he said as he tried to shut out the dark voices in his head. "Melfina stopped me because she's gentle. She wouldn't wish harm on anyone. Not even Harry." Embracing what he said, Gene felt the darkness begin to recede and vanish. Shidowkun sensed that he was losing the fight and increased the strength of whatever he was doing.

"But shouldn't that gentleness be reserved only for you?" Shidowkun asked. "If you truly are the first in her heart, all of her love should belong to you alone. Why should you have to share her heart with anyone else?" In Gene's head, the urges continued to push and overthrow his mind until it felt as though a mob of demons was screaming inside Gene's brain.

"Stop it!" he yelled. "GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HEAD!" With his yell, the dark voices vanished in a burst of light. The Toku Emperor staggered for a second, as if stunned by Gene's outburst, but quickly regained his bearing.

"I am impressed," he commented. "Very few have the emotional and mental strength to resist my Dark Eye Whisper. I suppose this must be that so-called outlaw pride I've heard so much about. But it will take more than that to defeat me. You may have extraordinary power Gene Starwind. And maybe even more incredible determination. Unfortunately, that is all you have. Therefore, end this ridiculous charade and hand over both the sword and Melfina to me."

"The hell I will! Why don't you come over hear and try to take them yourself?"

"As you wish." With a whirl of his cape, Shidowkun spun and sunk into the ground. Blinking in surprise, Gene was caught off guard when Shidowkun rose out of the ground to deliver an uppercut to the jaw followed by a spinning back kick to Gene's stomach that sent Gene skidding across the ground, his gun dropping from his hand. As Gene clutched his stomach, the Toku Emperor advanced towards him, his body moving with an almost motionless grace. "Your inexperience shows by how you failed to defend against such a basic attack. Even the most rank of amateurs would have seen that coming." Raising his leg, Shidowkun stepped on Gene's gun and crushed it underneath his armored foot. "Take for instance your weapons. Because you're so dependant on them, you can't even use the sword's power without their aid." Pushing himself up, Gene stood his ground. Don't let him get to you, he told himself. Keep your objective clear and your mind focused.

"Okay so I'm not some martial arts Dragon Master or whatever," Gene responded as he casually brought his hand to around his back. "But at least I'm smart enough to always carry a backup." Drawing his small revolver, Gene fired a ki bullet straight for Shidowkun's face. But Shidowkun raised his hand and slapped the bullet away, sending it careening to the ground. No way! Gene thought. Rapidly pulling the trigger, Gene fired a swarm of ki bullets towards Shidowkun. Sooner or later one of these is going to hit home, he reasoned. But Shidowkun raised his hand and successfully deflected each one. Behind her rock, Melfina ducked for cover and held the scale leopard cub tight as some of the bullets came their way. Gene meanwhile, continued to fire until his finger had become sore and stiff from overuse.

"Here we see another example of your inexperience," Shidowkun lectured. "One tactic doesn't work, yet you continue to use it in the hopes that fate will be generous." Pointing his hand, Shidowkun snapped his fingers and fired an energy bolt of his own. The blast struck the gun and knocked it from Gene's hand. Rubbing his hand in surprise, Gene began to feel the first real pangs of fear stab at his stomach. Snap out of it Gene, he yelled at himself. You can't afford to lose this fight.

"Okay then," he said as he pulled his knife from its sheath. "How about we try up close and personal this time?" Grasping his knife in both hands, Gene channeled the sword's power and the knife glowed with a blue light before the crackling energy blade sprang forward. Under his mask and helmet, the Toku Emperor craned his head and laughed slightly. "What the hell's so funny?"

"You call that a weapon? This is a weapon." Parting his cape, Shidowkun's hand created a glow that extended and shaped itself into a six-foot long halberd of swirling red and black fire. Grasping the weapon in both hands, Shidowkun spun it in front of him, daring Gene to attack.

"You ever hear of something called overcompensation?" Gene asked. "It's not how big your equipment is. Its how you use it."

"Than let's see how well you use yours." Focusing his senses on Shidowkun, Gene raised his sword and charged. Using the power to guide his attack, Gene slashed and stabbed with the ki blade, and in the beginning actually seemed to dominate. But despite his efforts, Shidowkun easily parried and blocked for each attack, moving his halberd with only minimal movement. Realizing Shidowkun's weapon was designed for long range fighting, Gene attempted to close the distance between them and sneak inside his defense. But Shidowkun saw what he was doing and alternated the length of his Dark Fire Halberd to compensate and adapt. Locking their weapons together, Gene and Shidowkun's power created energy bolts that crackled in the air around them as the ground cracked beneath. "Now it's my turn," Shidowkun declared. With a push of hidden energy, Shidowkun shoved Gene back and charged. He slashed and stabbed at Gene with blinding speed, never giving Gene the moment to counterattack. Gene concentrated the power on helping him dodge and block Shidowkun's attacks, waiting for the right moment to strike back. And when Shidowkun over-telegraphed a stab to Gene's shoulder, he saw his chance. He ducked under the attack and stabbed his sword up through Shidowkun's defenses. But the Toku Emperor saw what was coming and back flipped out of the way. As Shidowkun hand sprung back to his feet, Gene charged straight towards him, aiming for the gap Shidowkun had allowed in his guard. He had closed half the distance between them when Shidowkun threw out his right hand, firing an energy blast shaped like a serpentine dragon of the same dark fire as his halberd. Braking to a halt, Gene jumped out of the way as the dragon struck the boulder beside him, shattering it with one hit. Gene rolled to his feet as Shidowkun pulled back the dragon; positioning it over his hand like a fanged boxing glove

"What the hell?"

"A favorite technique of mine," Shidowkun explained. "The Soul Dragon's Fang." Retracting his halberd, Shidowkun reshaped its energy into another Dragon Fang around his left hand as he levitated off the ground. Floating on the air, Shidowkun circled around Gene, hurling and pulling back his Dragon Fangs. Gene dodged and deflected the winding energy blasts with his sword as the attacks seemed to come from all directions at once. Suddenly, Shidowkun stopped in front of Gene as he threw out both Dragon Fangs at once, the serpentine energies twisting and coiling around each other and fusing into one large dragon. For a counter, Gene intensified the power of the sword until it blazed with energy. Snapping it forward, Gene unleashed an energy wave that split the dragon right down the middle. Shidowkun cancelled his attack and propelled himself into the air as the wave struck and exploded the spot where he was standing. Gene's eyes followed Shidowkun as he flew overhead, lost him for a second in the sun, then found him as Shidowkun landed off to his left and fired another Dragon Fang. Gene blocked with his sword and waited for another one, just as something broke out of the ground beneath him and wrapped around his body, making him drop his sword. Expecting another direct attack, Gene had failed to notice that Shidowkun had moved his second Dragon Fang underneath the ground for an ambush.

"Straight through the heart!" Shidowkun yelled as he fired his other dragon. Time seemed to slow for Gene as the dragon shaped blast moved in on his chest, until he heard Melfina scream his name from where she hid. I can't lose like this, he realized. I promised Melfina that I'd protect her. I can't lose. I CAN'T AFFORD TO LOSE! With a scream of desperation, the power erupted from Gene's body in a flash of blue fire that vaporized the Dragon Fangs all the way up to Shidowkun's arms. Yelling in a mixture of pain and surprise, Shidowkun grasped his wrists as he stumbled backwards. Taking his oppurtunity, Gene pulled his shotgun and kicked at the ground, using the power to propel himself right in front of Shidowkun.

"Hi," Gene said with a grin as Shidowkun found himself looking down the double barrels. Before he could counter, Gene fired a massive ki bullet that knocked Shidowkun back a good fifteen feet. The Toku Emperor landed with a thud and Gene finally gave himself a minute to relax. It was over. He had won.

"Gene?" he heard Melfina call out from her hiding place. Gene turned around, smiled, and gave her the thumbs up.

"Yeah he wasn't so tough," Gene said. Just then, Melfina's face paled and her eyes widened in shock and fear. She tried to speak but no sound came out. Instead, she raised her arm and shakily pointed to behind Gene. Gene turned around, and felt the blood drain from his face as well.

Shidowkun was standing back up. One hand clutched at where Gene had shot him as black blood flowed out between his fingers. The air around Shidowkun swirled like a miniature whirlwind as dark lightning crackled across his armor. His helmet and mask, already damaged from Gene's attack, cracked from the increased power and fell away. Okay, Gene thought as he felt his throat begin to tighten, now I'm getting a little frightened.

Underneath Shidowkun's mask, his skin was a hard stone gray. Around his mouth was a Mephistophelian beard and mustache while his black and red hair swirled around his head like flames. His features were broad but drawn tight across his face, giving him a cruel and bony appearance. But it was his eyes that were the worst. They were blank and pupiless, like the Oni. But while the Onis' eyes glowed green, Shidowkun's eyes glowed red as fire. And as his power rose with his anger, the eyes increased their shine. Removing his hand, the mutilated mass of flesh and bone began to heal and pull together until the wound completely vanished.

"You're going to pay for that," he growled. Before Gene could get over his shock, Shidowkun launched himself forward, his clawed gauntlet barely missing Gene's side. Gene brought up his shotgun, but Shidowkun swatted it away before he could fire. Falling back, Gene could only dodge as Shidowkun slashed and swiped at him with his claws. Shidowkun swiped downward and Gene moved outside of Shidowkun's reach as the claws exploded the earth beneath him. Channeling the power into his fist, Gene punched straight for Shidowkun's head. But the Toku emperor bent backwards and retaliated with a hook kick to Gene's head that sent him face first into the ground.

"I'm not done yet with you yet," Shidowkun growled. "Not until I pay you back for my pain a thousand fold." Through the blood that flowed from where from Shidowkun had kicked him; Gene looked up and saw that his hand was just inches from the knife he had dropped. Gene slowly reached out and grasped the knife as Shidowkun picked him up by the scruff of his neck and hoisted him into the air. Raising his other hand, Shidowkun's claws glowed as he moved them to within an inch from Gene's eyes. "Are you curious as to what I can do with these?"

"Are you curious as to what I can do with mine?" Gene asked back. Powering the knife as much as he could, Gene slashed Shidowkun's arm and cut it off at the elbow. Roaring in pain and surprise, Shidowkun dropped Gene and stumbled back as he clutched the bleeding stub. With no time to rest, Gene repowered his fist and dashed forward. A quick punch to the stomach, and Shidowkun was sent flying through five trees before finally bouncing off a boulder. "Game over!" Gene yelled. Pulling his caster, channeled the power, and the fins forward of the barrel glowed and smoked from energies greater than any shell. Satisfied that he had charged his attack enough, Gene fired, and a blazing surge of energy erupted towards Shidowkun. The blast was only a second from striking him when Shidowkun raised his remaining hand and caught it, the force of the blast sending him skidding across the ground. What the hell!" Gene thought as Shidowkun spun, changing the momentum of the energy blast and throwing out his hand, creating an energy wave that raced along the ground towards Gene. Still in partial shock, Gene dropped his caster and attempted to raise a shield, but it was too little too late. The energy wave slammed into Gene and overwhelmed his shield, throwing Gene back and sending him crashing into a tree. As he slumped to the ground, Gene coughed up blood and felt his body paralyzed with pain. It felt like he had internal bleeding and maybe even a broken rib.

"Stronger than I expected," Shidowkun admitted. Shidowkun's right gauntlet had been completely destroyed while the flesh of his hand was charred and smoking. "But still not strong enough."

Over behind her rock, Melfina watched the entire battle between Gene and Shidowkun. She knew that she would only get in the way if she moved out. That was why she had obeyed Gene when he told her to hide. But now, Gene had been seriously hurt and was unable to fight back. As Shidowkun began to move towards him, Melfina decided that she couldn't hide anymore. Removing her tie, Melfina tied one end around the neck of the Scale Leopard cub and another to a root that poked out of the ground.

"Stay here," she told it. Leaving her hiding place, Melfina ran towards where Gene lay unable to move. She was only ten steps away from him when something tripped her. Melfina looked down and to her horror saw that the arm Gene had cut off from Shidowkun grasping onto her ankle.

"Where do you think you're going?" Shidowkun's hand let go of her ankle as dark fleshy tendrils extended from Shidowkun's stub, attached to the severed limb, and pulled it back towards him. As the forearm grafted back onto the stub, Melfina's hand found a tree branch lying on the ground. Standing to her feet, Melfina brought up her makeshift club and stood her ground.

"I won't let you hurt Gene," she said, doing her best to keep her voice from quavering.

"And just what do you think you can do to stop me?" Shidowkun asked. "Are you going to try and hit me with that big stick of yours?"

"Melfina run!" Gene hissed. "Get out of here. Just go!" The pain through his body was so great that he couldn't even concentrate enough to make the power heal himself.

"It doesn't matter whether you run or fight," Shidowkun told them as he began to move towards her. "There is no escape from me. Surrender now; and maybe I'll let Gene Starwind live." Melfina could feel the terrible aura of Shidowkun's words, as if they were daggers attacking her heart. But she stood her ground beside Gene and refused to budge.

"I don't care how strong you are," she said. "I won't run from you. And I won't stand by and let you hurt Gene." Concentrating only on protecting Gene, Melfina ignored whatever fear she had of Shidowkun. And as she did, she felt something spark inside of her. What was that, she wondered.

Through the agony of his wound, Gene watched as Melfina made a desperate stand against the guy who had beaten him half to death. He had felt something radiate from her; something too brief and intangible for him to grasp. Could she still have the power to access the Leyline? he wondered. Shidowkun seemed to sense what Melfina was doing as well as his face seemed to grow what looked like a shadow of fear. But the trace of it vanished as his eyes narrowed in anger and he continued moving towards Melfina.

"Get away from them you jerk!" Leaping out of the jungle, Aisha snagged Shidowkun's sides with a pair of hook swords she was carrying, spun, and used her momentum to throw him into the air. "Suzu now!" From the jungle's edge, Suzuka appeared from behind a tree and used her bokuto to project a shockwave into Shidowkun, propelling him into the wall of the mountain. "Mel!" Aisha called out as Shidowkun fell to the ground. "You take care of Gene. Me and Suzu will handle this guy." Behind Aisha, Shidowkun rose to his feet, his eyes blazing with fury as Suzuka joined Aisha's side. But his anger changed to amusement when he saw the state of his new opponents.

"Don't make me laugh. How can you possibly expect to win in your condition?" Looking over to Aisha, Suzuka realized that Shidowkun had a point. The extensive battle with the Toku had taken its toll on both of them. Suzuka's ki reserves and Aisha's strength had nearly been depleted. As these thoughts registered in Suzuka's mind, Aisha looked over to her and grinned.

"Hey Suzu, let's show this guy just what we can do together." Suzuka nodded and smiled herself.

"Let's do it." As Aisha and Suzuka prepared to take their turns against Shidowkun, Melfina dropped her stick and hurried back to Gene's side.

"Gene can you move at all?" she asked as she kneeled beside him.

"No," he wheezed. "I'm sorry but I can't fight anymore." Taking his hand in hers, Melfina brushed the loose red strands from sweat and blood stained brow.

"Then I won't leave you. I'll stay by your side no matter what." Looking into her eyes, Gene felt as though the energy he had sensed earlier was transferring to him, helping to dull the screaming pain in his body. Gene took advantage of it and grasped onto the sensation, using it to help him concentrate on healing.

Meanwhile, Aisha and Suzuka had already thrown themselves against Shidowkun. Aisha went low, spinning and reaching with her hook swords; while Suzuka went high, slashing and stabbing with her bokuto. Blocking their weapons with his armored forearms, Shidowkun spun and pushed them back with a wave of force energy. Leaping back towards him, Aisha swung her hook swords in an attempt to catch and take him down. Hooking his wrist in one, Aisha attempted to snag his neck. But Shidokwun caught the hook in his other hand and turned his body, using the motion to twist the hook swords out of Aisha's hands. With no weapons to use, Aisha dashed forward and thrust her pointer fingers towards Shidowkun's pressure points as he moved his arms in circles to swat her hands away. Thinking she had him distracted, Aisha, attempted to bring her knee up into Shidowkun's groin. But Shidowkun raised his own leg to block and in the same motion, swung his leg in a crescent kick that nailed Aisha in her temple and sent her spinning to the ground. Before Aisha could get back up, Shidowkun drove his foot between her shoulder blades and pressed into her spine. Normally, Aisha wouldn't have had a problem shaking off someone like him; but the wounds she suffered were finally starting to get the better of her.

"I'll admit that you're strong," Shidowkun consented. "But even a Ctarl has their limits." Shidowkun raised his foot and was about to stomp down into the back of Aisha's neck when a white blur flew in front of him, slashing him multiple times across his body and knocking him away from Aisha. Reversing direction, Suzuka slashed at Shiowkun's throat and he punched in retaliation. His fist struck the sword and the impact knocked back. Suzuka scarcely had time to regain herself when Shidowkun thrust out his palm and fired some kind of dark fire energy blast. The blast was only a second from striking her when Suzuka used a displacement technique to disappear from sight. As Shidowkun searched the surrounding area for her, Suzuka peered out from behind a tree as she prepared to use her bokuto's special power. But when she focused on the center of Shidowkun's power, she saw he had none. What kind of technique is that? she wondered. It's like his entire body is generating power. But though this was unexpected, Suzuka realized that it wasn't necessarily disadvantageous. If his power was as evenly distributed as it was, than the bokuto would attack Shidowkun's entire body instead of a single point. Suzuka decided to chance it. Focusing on Shidowkun's energy, Suzuka's bokuto began to shine white as she stepped out from behind the tree.

"Looking for someone?" Shidowkun turned to face her and smirked in triumph.

"Giving up are you?" With a thrust of his palm, Shidowkun fired another dark fire blast as Suzuka snapped her sword forward. A bolt of white energy flew from the bokuto's tip and struck Shidowkun's blast, turning the attack back towards him and exploding it around his body.

"Not exactly." Suzuka asked. But with a surge of wind, the dust was swept away and Shidowkun appeared before her; seemingly unharmed from the attack.

"Foolish woman," Shidowkun taunted. "My power knows who its master is and will never hurt me." Unbelieving in what she saw; Suzuka began to rethink her battle strategy. If his own power can't hurt him, she decided, then I'll just have to attack him with my own. The bokuto should still work so long as I keep focused on his energy. Bringing up her sword, Suzuka dashed forward to deliver the Flying Swallow straight into Shidowkun's heart. But Shidowkun jumped into mid-air before she could strike him and came down right on her sword, using some kind of lightfoot technique to balance on her bokuto's tip in mid-air. "You really do have no idea as to who you're challenging do you." Pulling back his other leg, Shidowkun delivered a kick straight to Suzuka's jaw that sent her flying backwards. Suzuka landed in a heap and tasted blood as Shidowkun leapt into the air and dropped towards her when what looked like a swarm of electrified daggers struck him in his shoulders, hips, and in a straight line from his thoat to his navel. Shidokwun roared as the daggers discharged their energy into him as he lost his balance and he fell to the ground. Following the daggers' path to their source, Suzuka and the others turned and saw Mazren atop a nearby boulder.

"My turn," he announced. Picking himself up from the ground, Shidowkun's eyes blazed as his power rose and popped the daggers out of his body, sending them flying in all directions.

"Your turn to die you mean." Shidowkun fired another dark fire blast, but with a burst of what sounded like a thunderclap, Mazren dashed out of the way to Shidowkun's side. Drawing his guns, he fired at the same places he had previously attacked with the Lightning Blade Dart. Shidowkun fired another blast and Mazren avoided again, circling around to the other side, using the Lightning Dash to move faster than Shidowkun could attack.

As Mazren drew Shidowkun's attention away from the others, Suzuka got back to her feet and hurried over to Aisha. "Aisha," she asked the Ctarl, "can you get up."

"Yeah sure," Aisha said as she began to slowly push herself back to her feet. "But I'm gonna need a moment to catch my breath." Suzuka helped Aisha stand as they watched Mazren's repeating pattern of dodging Shidowkun's attacks and returning fire. "What's Maz doing? He's not even targeting any organs."

"That's right," Suzuka commented. "He's targeting the chakras instead."

"Cha-what?" Aisha asked.

"Chakras," Suzuka repeated. "They're meeting points in the body where life force and ki intersect. A direct attack to them causes ki to be released in mass quantities."

"Oh I get it, Maz's trying to weaken him before he moves in for the kill." As Aisha and Mazren stumbled back to where Melfina and Gene were, Mazren continued to fire as he dodged Shidowkun's attacks. As he expected, Shidowkun was treating the attacks as little more than mosquito bites, getting more and more frustrated, and never suspecting what Mazren was really planning. Firing his last bullet, Mazren dropped his guns and Shidokwun smirked in arrogance.

"All out of toys I see. So what do you plan to do now?" Flicking his arm, Shidowkun created a lashing whip of dark fire that he cracked towards Mazren's head. Mazren ducked under the whip and dashed towards Shidowkun. Pummeling his body with the Thunder Fist Storm, Mazren released even more of Shidowkun's energy and sent him stumbling back.

"How about that?" As Shidowkun's face contorted into blind rage, Mazren began to channel and charge his ki throughout his entire right arm. That's right, Mazren thought. Come running right into my little trap and I'll show you the first of my new tricks.

"You worthless filth!" Propelling himself forward, Shidowkun launched himself into a head on attack. He stabbed with his claws at Mazren's head, but Mazren dropped to his knees and slammed his palm into Shidowkun's torso; using the Thunder Fist Dragon to fire a surge of focused electric energy clear though Shidowkun's body. Shidowkun coughed up blood as he was knocked into the air and landed with a hole in his torso the size of a small melon. Time to end this, Mazren decided. Drawing his sword, Mazren unleashed the Sky Weaving Lightning Blade to cleave Shidowkun in half. But before he could strike, a black tendril shot out of the jungle to wrap around Shidowkun's arm and pulling him out of the way. Mazren chased after him as Shidowkun disappeared into the jungle without a trace. Looking around, Mazren searched with his Wolf Ear's Awareness, but found nothing. That technique looked like a variation of a ninjistu Shadow Movement, he thought. But it's a lot harder to seek out though.

"Behind you!" he heard Suzuka yell. Not questioning it, Mazren jumped into the air as another Dark Fire Lash whipped through where he was standing and slicing down two trees. Looking back down, Mazren saw Shidowkun, and charged his sword to release Lightning Blade Flash. The wave of electric energy was about to strike when Shidowkun reformed his whip into another halberd. Twirling his weapon, Shidowkun dispersed and deflected the attack; the bolts of lightning striking down whatever trees that were still left standing in the area. One was sent back to Mazren and struck his sword, knocking the katana from his grasp. As he landed, Mazren saw that not only had the wound he had dealt Shidowkun completely healed; but his energy had been totally regenerated.

"I applaud your strategy," Shidowkun commented. "You tricked me into wasting my energy, then attacked when I was too blinded by anger to properly defend. But I will not be careless again."

"Than I guess that there's no point in holding back anymore." Pressing his fists together in front of him, Mazren began to accelerate the flow of ki through his entire body. I was hoping not to use this last technique. But I guess I don't have much of a choice. With his ki charged and flowing at its highest level, bolts of energy crackled around Mazren's body as the ground beneath him began to crack and rise.

"No I suppose not." Thrusting his Halberd forward, Shidowkun moved the blade in a circle as the axe head began to flame with increased power, creating a ring of flames hot enough to sear the air around them. Mazren's power reached its peak and his body flamed with electric fire as he used Thunder Fist Crush to launch himself toward Shidowkun like a comet. Shidowkun met his attack head on and their clashing powers deadlocked before sending them flying away from each other in a burst of energy. The strain of Mazren's technique made his body feel like it was on fire, but his energy was still flowing and he could still attack. Shidowkun's attack on the other hand, had been neutralized with his weapon. Taking his opportunity, Mazren charged for another attack and his ki erupted in a geyser from his shoulder. Screaming in pain, Mazren fell to his knees as he clutched the bleeding wound. Somehow, during the initial attack, Shidowkun had snuck past Mazren's guard and cut his shoulder

"Every technique has its strengths and weaknesses," Shidowkun lectured. "Accelerating the flow of your ki increases your energy output without using more ki. But it also places your ki under such high pressure that the slightest damage to the ki lines of your body results in it all being released at once." With both his strength and his ki depleted, Mazren was unable to defend as Shidowkun rushed him and lifted Mazren off his feet with a rising palm strike to the chin. As he was lifted off his feet by the attack, Shidowkun repeatedly punched and kicked him, the force of his blows suspending Mazren in mid-air before a roundhouse kick to the stomach sent Mazren flying into a rock by the mountainside where he slumped to the ground. "And with your body still suffering from the strain of that last technique you can't even move can you." Raising his hand, Shidowkun's palm glowed as he prepared to fire at point blank range.

"Don't even think about it." Shifting his attention, Shidowkun saw that Gene Starwind had gotten back up. The Ctarl and the Assassin stood by his side as they kept the android girl sheltered behind them.

"Hey Maz," the Ctarl called out. "You okay?"

"I've used up all my strength," he answered. "I'm can't move for a while."

"Don't worry about it," Gene told him. "You gave us the moment we needed to catch our breath. Just concentrate on healing for now. Mel, go over and stay with Mazren. You'll be safe there." Moving out from behind her friends, Melfina hurried over to her brother as the others prepared to make their desperate stand against Shidowkun. "Now you have to face us all," Gene told him.

"And yet it's still not much of a challenge." The Toku Emperor leisurely moved towards them, but stopped when a sudden rumbling from underground drew all their attention. From beneath Shidowkun, a whirlwind exploded out of the ground and knocked him into the air. Leaping out of the tornado, Tyr launched himself against Shidowkun and used Rising Cyclone Fist to knock him across the battle scarred clearing.

"All of you get out of here now!" he ordered. Leaping to his feet, Shidowkun created another whip of dark fire and cracked it at Tyr's head as Tyr split himself into a trio of flickering images. The three images attacked Shidowkun and swarmed around him as they attacked from all sides at once. Though surprised and overwhelmed at first, Shidowkun recovered and grasped the claw of the one to his left between the blades, dissipating the other images.

"I have had enough of your clan's interference." Squeezing his hand, Shidowkun crushed the claw, the shockwave traveling down Tyr's arm and shattering its bones. With a heave, Shidowkun shoved Tyr to the ground where he lay paralyzed from the pain.

"Master Tyr!" a voice yelled. From out of the jungle, a quartet of clan ninjas appeared between Tyr and Shidowkun, their weapons drawn to attack.

"No stop you fools!" Tyr yelled. Shidowkun smirked in triumph as the four ninjas leapt towards and surrounded him. As they attacked, Shidowkun created another energy whip and spun like top, swatting them out of the air and to the ground where they lay still. Shidowkun was about to turn back to Tyr when a swarm of energy spikes struck him from behind.

"Remember me?" Keibara asked. "I'm the one who dared you to try picking on someone other than Mel?" Shidowkun turned to face her as his eyes narrowed in annoyance.

"Insolent child." With a wave and thrust of his hand, Shidowkun gathered the air around him and projected it in a jet powerful enough to drill through rock. With a jump, Keibara ran along the top of the attack and kicked at Shidowkun's head, missing him by only a fraction. Turning back to him, Keibara rapidly thrust her leg until it looked as though she was kicking ten places at once. With Shidowkun distracted by the Stormshadow kick, Keibara planted her foot straight into his solar plexus and drove out his breath in a loud puff. Bouncing off the impact-Keibara leapt into the air, pulled back one leg and spun as she dropped, aiming the Falling Cyclone Kick right for Shidowkun's skull. She was only a second from impact when Shidowkun reached out and grabbed her ankle. With a twist, he turned her momentum against her and slammed her face first into the ground. Before she could even cry out, Shidowkun lifted her over his head, spun her around, and threw Keibara into the rock wall where she fell to the ground.

"Die!" Shidowkun snarled. With a flick of his arm, Shidowkun fired a ball of black lightning straight toward her. The ball was only a second from striking Keibara when a large figure leapt between her and it. Taking the attack that was meant for his daughter, Tyr roared in pain as dark energy crackled all over his body before falling to the ground beside Keibara.

"Tyr no!" Gene yelled. He, Aisha and Suzuka rushed over to where Keibara was already cradling her dying father's head in her arms.

"Dad…" she choked, trying to hold back her tears, "I…I thought…so I…but you…and now…" Reaching up, Tyr wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.

"You did what you thought was right. Just as I taught you to. Don't blame yourself. This outcome was bound to happen no matter what actions you took." With a turn of his head, Tyr switched his attention to Gene. "Lad?"

"Yeah?" Gene answered as he felt his throat tighten.

"Remember, keep your guard up on the left." With a final hissing sigh, his eyes rolled back in his head and Tyr, the first warrior of the Dragon Clan, was dead. Kneeling down, Gene closed Tyr's eyes and felt a hole eat into his stomach. Tyr had taught him how to be stronger, had helped him master the Sword's power; and Gene had just stood by and allowed him to die.

"Pathetically simple," he heard Shidowkun comment. Gene turned back to Shidowkun and felt his blood begin to boil as Keibara stood back up. Looking up to her, Gene saw that her body was trembling while her eyes were red with tears fury. Realizing what she was about to do, Gene yelled for her to stop but was too late. Screaming in rage, Keibara rushed Shidowkun, her sais aimed straight for his heart. But when she stabbed at him, the daggers shattered on Shidowkun's armor. Grasping her by the throat, Shidowkun lifted Keibara into the air as she continued to thrash at him in blind anger. "I accept," Shidowkun said as his body began to shine with a red aura. The aura spread to over Keibara and her screams of rage turned to pain as the aura intensified in its light.

By Mazren's side, Melfina watched in horror as it looked like Keibara was being consumed by Shidowkun's aura. First the Scale Leopard, now Tyr, she couldn't stand to see anymore suffering at the hands of such a horrible monster. "Stop it," she said before she began to scream. "LEAVE HER ALONE!"

With Melfina's outburst, Gene felt that same spark from before erupt from her in a flash. And he wasn't the only one. With a yell of shock and what seemed to be actual pain, the aura Shidowkun had encased Keibara in shattered as he dropped her to the ground. Stumbling back, Shidowkun clutched his torso and heaved in fatigue. What the hell was that? Gene wondered. What did Melfina just do? Meanwhile, Shidowkun had started to recover and glared up at her.

"You dare," he snarled as he pulled back his hand for another attack.

"Oh no you don't!" Gene yelled. Rushing forward, Gene swung his leg in a roundhouse and planted his shin right into Shidowkun's side. Caught off guard, Shidowkun was sent bouncing along the ground as Gene clasped his hands in front of him. "Everyone get clear!" he yelled. Behind him, Aisha ran over to drag Keibara behind the rocks where she hid with Suzuka and the cub while Melfina helped Mazren move behind theirs. Summoning as much power as he could, Gene began to compact it as tightly as he could, his hands feeling like they were about to explode from the strain. This one's for you Tyr. Pulling back one hand, Gene balled it into a fist and punched, the recoil from the Starbreaker Fist knocking him to the ground. The roaring ball of fire and light shredded the earth underneath it as it raced towards Shidowkun, who looked up to late to see the attack bearing down on him. Gene rolled onto his back and covered his head with his arms as the resulting explosion created a mushroom cloud of flame and smoke that rose above the tree level, the huge shockwave washing over and threatening to blow them all away. When it finally passed, Gene staggered to his feet and shook off the debris that coated his frame. Looking over to where Shidowkun was last standing, all that Gene could see was a pillar of black smoke and scattered shards of what used to be his armor.

"Hey, are you guys okay?" he called out. From behind the rocks, the others poked their heads out one at a time. To Gene's relief, they all seemed shaken, but unhurt.

"We're fine," Suzuka answered as she helped Keibara stand.

"What the hell was that?" Mazren asked as he and Melfina appeared from behind their shelter.

"A little something Tyr taught me." Gene answered. "He called it…

"The Starbreaker Fist," Keibara interrupted. "It was my Dad's ultimate technique."

"Yeah and no wonder," Aisha said as she rubbed her ears. "My head's still ringing."

"Gene?" Melfina called out. "Is Shidowkun really dead?" Gene looked back to the pillar of smoke and grinned.

"If he did, than he really is the God of Death." If Melfina couldn't sense him, than that had to mean that Shidowkun was finally dead. But just as he began to walk over to the others, a wind began to blow from the direction of the smoke. "What the…" Gene said as a man shaped figure appeared in the slowly clearing smoke. Now way, Gene thought. No way in hell!

"I'll admit; that was an impressive attack." The last of the smoke cleared away, and Shidowkun stood before them. But though he was alive, Shidowkun's breastplate had been blown to pieces while his left arm and a good chunk of his shoulder had been blasted clear off. "Even with my shields, that last attack would have killed me if I hadn't dodged out of the way." As he spoke, Shidowkun's body began to glow with its red aura while his mutilated side began to pulse and ooze. From the remainder of his shoulder, tendrils of muscle and bone grew out and began to connect together, repairing and rebuilding his arm and shoulder. Frozen in shock and horror, they watched as Shidowkun regenerated an entire limb, something not even the greatest of Tao masters could do. How the hell can he do things like that? Gene thought as his body began to lock up. Where is he getting his power? It's just not possible! With a final flash of energy, Shidowkun finished repairing his arm and flexed it, getting used to his new limb. "Perhaps now you finally understand just what you are dealing with." With a thrust of his arms, Shidowkun stretched them to an unnatural length. Gene watched as the extended limbs rushed past him and grabbed onto Aisha and Suzuka, lifting them off their feet and slamming them into the rock of the mountainside.

"Guys!" Gene yelled. Once again, he had stood by and allowed his friends to get hurt. Forgetting his fear for a moment, Gene started to run towards where the two of them lay, but was halted when Shidowkun suddenly appeared in front of him.

"No contest!" Before Gene could react, a punch to his chest lifted Gene off his feet and into the air. As he started to fall back to earth, Gene felt something wrap around his body and hold him aloft in mid-air. Looking down, Gene saw that Shidowkun had cast several wires of shadow around Gene's body from his hand. The wires were no thicker than a hair strand, but felt as strong as steel cables.

"Another of my favorites," Shidowkun lectured. "Shadow String Bind." Clenching his fist, Shidowkun pulled the wires taught, digging them into Gene's flesh and slowly crushing his bones.

"Big deal," Gene said. "I trained using this exact situation." Summoning the power, Gene began to push it out from his skin and gradually felt the wires begin to loosen.

"Really, did you train for this as well?" Shidowkun's arm glowed, and a surge of black lightning was sent racing down the wires. Gene screamed in pain as the energy slammed into him and broke his concentration, allowing the wires to retighten around him. "I've heard that the sword acts to automatically protect the life of its wielder," Shidowkun stated, increasing the strength of his attack. "But I wonder as to just how far its protection will actually LAST!"

Behind his rock, Mazren watched as Shidowkun slowly tortured Starwind to death. Aisha and Suzuka had lost their final bit of strength from Shidowkun's last attack, leaving him the only one who could still move. But though his body had healed enough for him to stand, with his ki still depleted Mazren was to weak to walk without support.

Suspended in the air, Gene felt the his body going numb. The wires were slowly crushing him while the black lightning that crackled around him made him unable to concentrate enough to fight back. The sword's power was doing it's best to keep him from dying, but it could only do so much without his help. "Do you feel that?" Shidowkun asked. "Do you feel your body shutting down? Do you feel the void slowly closing in around you? Maybe I'll be merciful and put you out of your misery right now."

"Stop it!" someone yelled. "That's enough, please no more." Halting his torture of Starwind, Shidowkun swiveled his head towards Melfina.

"And why should I?"

"If you stop your attack then…" and Melfina lowered her head in defeat, "then I'll surrender." With a smirk of triumph, Shidowkun released the wires and Gene dropped to the ground.

Limping as fast as he could through the jungle, Ron McDougal cursed out loud, not caring in the least who heard him. After almost twenty minutes of struggling, he had finally managed to wrench his foot free from under the fallen tree, spraining his ankle in the process. First my ship, then my caster, he thought. When I finally catch up to that android I'm going to make him die long and slow. Off to his left came the sound of something rustling through the bushes. From the holster inside his coat, Ron drew a huge .45 revolver loaded with hollow point bullets and pointed it at the slowly moving figure.

"All right whoever you are come out where I can see you!"

"Hey Ron is that you?" Harry! Ron realized. Putting away his gun, Ron hobbled over to the underbrush. Something was wrong with Harry's voice, something Ron couldn't put his finger on. Pushing aside a shrubbery, Ron saw just what was wrong with his brother. Harry's eye was swollen shut, his nose was busted, and his face was covered with dried blood.

"Harry!" Rushing over to him, Ron forgot about the pain in his ankle as he braced his brother against the side of a tree. "Oh Harry, what the hell happened to you?"

"It was Gene Starwind," Harry gasped. "I had him and that bitch right where I wanted them when he suddenly attacked me. He's gotten a lot stronger somehow. I couldn't even keep up with him. Not even with my suit."

"Hey it's all right," Ron told him. "Don't worry about it." On the other hand, Ron realized the implications of the current situation. They had both failed. And if Shidowkun caught them then than that was it. Considering what limited options that were available to them, Ron briefly considered surrendering themselves to Gene Starwind and his friends. At least then he and Harry would have a chance of leaving this planet alive.

"Ah so there you are!" From above them, Shidowkun's woman Aeslea lowered herself down from the treetops with one of her sashes. As she landed and rewound the fabric around her arm, Ron pointed his gun straight at her.

"Lady, take one more step and I'll…"

"Don't flatter yourself," Aeslea smirked. "Besides that's not what I'm here for."

"What do you mean?" Harry wheezed.

"Isn't it obvious?" she asked as the sound from Shidowkun's personal shuttle came towards them. "We've got her. We've won."

Lying on the ground, Gene tried to push himself back to his feet. No, his mind screamed. I can still fight. Melfina don't do this, I'm not done yet.

"Come then," Shidowkun ordered. Raising her head, Melfina slowly started to walk towards him when Mazren darted out his hand and grasped her wrist.

"Melfina no!" he ordered. "Think about it. This is exactly what he wants." Melfina turned to Mazren and smiled sadly.

"Mazren It's alright." Taking his hand, she easily pried it off her wrist and continued to walk towards Shidowkun. From where she lay, Aisha slowly began to stand back up.

"Hold it," she said. "Melfina isn't going anywhere." She started to stagger back towards Shidowkun, but Suzuka grabbed her by her shoulders and held her back. "Suzu let me go!"

"There's nothing we can do now!" Suzuka told her. "Shidowkun planned this too well. All we can do is fall back for now and try again later."

"Suzuka's right," Melfina told Aisha. "Besides, I don't want anyone else to die because of the Toku's persuit of me. You all have always protected me from harm, but now it's my turn to protect you." Aisha stopped struggling for a moment as she realized that Suzuka and Melfina were right. Right now, she was too weak to even throw Suzuka off of her. Lowering her head, her shoulders slumped in defeat and humiliation.

"Melfina," Keibara asked. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

"I'll be all right," she answered. "The Toku need both me and the sword. They can't do anything to me so long as they don't have it. So I'll be safe for the time being." Realizing this might be last time she would see Keibara for a long time, Melfina smiled sadly at her. "Keibara, thank you for being my friend. Will you do me one last favor?"

"Yeah sure."

"Take care of the Scale Leopard cub. It's an orphan now. Just like we are." Keibara nodded as she walked over to where Melfina left the cub. Untying it from the root, Keibara held the cub tightly, looking like a little lost child.

"Suzuka," Melfina said. "Please keep Gene and Mazren from killing each other for me. I'd like to be able to see both of them when I'm rescued."

"Don't worry. I will." Though her exterior was calm, Suzuka's throat felt as though someone was strangling her with an iron grip.

"Aisha," Melfina added, "give Jim a message for me. Tell him not to worry about me and I'll miss him, but that I'll see him soon."

"Sure no problem," Aisha replied, biting her tongue to keep herself from breaking down into tears.

"If you're finished," Shidowkun said as he moved to behind her. Melfina kept her back to him as her eyes moved over to where Gene still kneeled on the ground.

"Melfina," he called out. He reached towards her with his hand. She was so close and yet so far away. A single tear fell from Melfina's eyes as she reached her own hand toward him. Her lips mouthed 'I love you,' just as Shidowkun tapped the back of her head with his finger. Melfina gave a tiny cry before she lost consciousness and fell into Shidowkun's grasp. Hefting her over his shoulder, a wind began to pick up around them as Shidowkun levitated into the air.

"Let this be a lesson to you," he told them. "No matter how hard you prepare, no matter what techniques you learn, no matter how stronger you become, you will never be able to defeat me. Because when all is said and done, your strengths all have limitations. My strength on the other hand, is infinite, eternal, and invincible. If it wasn't than why am I leaving with the spoils of today while you all lie licking your wounds in the dirt?" Shidowkun paused in his gloating as his attention focused on Gene. "If you want the android back, then come to me within four days. My servants will send you the appropriate information on where to meet with me. And don't worry about Melfina. I'll make sure she's put to good use." As he laughed at the implied threat, the air around Shidowkun glowed before bursting into red and black fire that surrounded him and Melfina. With a burst of energy, Shidowkun took off into the sky like a comet and was gone.

"I can't believe we're really doing this!" Aisha growled.

"We don't have a choice for now," Mazren told her. "But this is far from over. Not by a long shot." Watching Shidowkun leave, Mazren was unaware of how his clenched hands were bleeding from digging his nails into his palms.

"Gene," Jim called from Gene's earring communicator. "What's going on? The Toku are all withdrawing? Did we beat them?" But Gene didn't even answer. With a scream of rage and despair, Gene pounded his fist into the ground.

(Melfina has been captured by Shidowkun. Now, it's time for Gene and the others to lick their wounds and prepare for the final battle. Will they be able to save Melfina? Is Shidowkun really invincible? And what is this strange power that Melfina seems to suddenly possess? Tune in next time. Same outlaw-time. Same outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)

(Author's notes: You people have no idea how tempted I was to have Gene say during his conversation with Shidowkun, "I'll never hand Melfina and the Sword over to you. You killed my father," and to have Shidokwun say, "No Gene. I am your father.")

(Author's Respect: To all my readers, here are some other Outlaw Star fics at fanfiction.net you might like: Teach me to Dream by blingblingbabe, Descent Into the Darkness by Ansem Revived, Hearts Less Lonely by RoseFire, Romancing A Drone by mercy-angel-09, and any and all of the Outlaw Star fics by breakaway-republic.

Also, there is a very good Outlaw Star website called Kindred Spirits. It's in my opinion the most insightful and accurate site to Outlaw Star on the entire web. Also, its webmistress has a pretty good Batman Beyond fic called Incandessence at fanfiction.net. You can check out both the website and the fic by doing an author search at fanfiction.net for Rika-Chan2.

Finally, my fic isn't the only epic Outlaw Star fic on the web. There is another one called "For the Soul of the Stars" that I read about a year ago. I'll admit that I can't agree with most of the themes in this fic nor do I agree with how the author depicts the OLS characters. But it is better than most other OLS fics in terms of character depth, plot development, and attention to detail. And it was the fic that inspired me to write the Ryunoken Sword. She has the entire story posted on her own website which can be found by doing an author search at fanfiction.net for Lynderia. Check it out and see for yourself.)

(Author's request: Would any of my readers be interested in doing some fanart for my fic? I'll give you artist credit)

Chapter 16
Chapter 18

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