Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Final Revelations ( Chapter 19 )

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

CHAPTER 19:

Final Revelations

(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.)

Sliding the door open, Aeslea entered into Shidowkun's private bath. Smaller than any of the others, it was dimly lit and had a floor made of solid obsidian. Instead of water, it was filled with a liquid that glowed a sickly yellow green. A product of Tao alchemy, the liquid had been created by Naga to ease the strain Shidowkun's body occasionally suffered from using his power.

"Why are you here Aeslea?" Shidowkun asked as she approached the bath. Though his back had been turned to her, the Toku Emperor had known it was her the moment she came in. Aeslea moved to the other side of the bath, never taking her eyes of her master. His body was smooth and hard as stone, every inch of him radiating with power. Though she often amused herself with the android servants, it was Shidowkun who gave Aeslea true pleasure. He was the only one who could dominate her, who could humble her, and the only one who could satisfy her.

"To serve you of course," she answered as she disrobed. "It is my duty is it not?" Dropping her robe to the floor, Aeslea joined the emperor in the bath. Taking a sponge from the bath's rim, Aeslea pulled the emperor to his feet and began to wash him. Moving the sponge across his chest and shoulders with one hand, Aeslea's other caressed the muscles of the Emperor's stomach. "You're quite tense," she observed. "I would imagine that you would be more relaxed after having your way with the android girl." Aeslea felt his body tighten ever so slightly. "Oh I see. You weren't able to break her." Shidowkun knocked her hands away and turned his back to her. Aeslea knew that Shidowkun had become obsessed with Melfina ever since he had first heard of her. It was maddening to him that there was actually someone who was beyond his control. It made him want to possess her all the more. "Still," Aeslea theorized. "Even if you can't destroy her faith and love in Gene Starwind, you should be able to take her by force if you so desired."

"Not possible," he said. "It appears that I have underestimated the Sword's desires. As it stands, I can't even be near her without the risk of losing everything." Moving closer to Shidokun, Aeslea grasped him from behind and teasingly began to caress his muscular chest.

"Her power won't affect me though," she said. "Melfina's far too pretty a doll to allow to go to waste. And I do get lonely when you don't come to see me." In a blur of motion, Shidowkun spun around and grabbed Aeslea by the throat. As she felt his fingers begin to tighten, Aeslea saw Shidowkun's eyes blazing with murderous fury as his hair danced across his head like flames. He was close to killing her, and the threat excited her.

"You will not touch her," he growled. "If I cannot possess her, then no one will. Do you understand Aeslea?"

"Yes," Aeslea whispered. "Now do to me everything that you would to Melfina. Make me your plaything to do as you see fit." But Shidowkun merely glared in disgust as he let her go.

"This bores me," he said as he climbed out of the bath.

"My lord," Aeslea called out as he left her alone. How could he leave her like that? Aeslea decided that it was Melfina's fault. The little mechanical slut had taken her place as the object of Shidowkun's desires. Aeslea would gladly cut up Melfina's pretty little face if she only could. But since Melfina was now Shidowkun's property, Aeslea would have to get her satisfaction in some other way. Lowering herself into the bath, Aeslea picked up a cat-of-nine-tails whip that lay nearby before activating the bath's intercom. "Send up two of the android servants," she instructed. "Preferably two that look like Melfina."

"Yes that's right it is I Gwen, the eminent and brilliant Gwen Khan. How good to see you again Gene, yes very good indeed." The figure stepped into the light and Gene saw that it was Khan all right. From his mustache and goatee to the oversized medallion around his neck to his repetitive speech, it was definitely Gwen Khan. But even though he saw it, Gene still didn't believe it. He was positive that Khan had faded out of existence after the Leyline granted his desire. Gene was about to ask just what Khan was doing on Blue Heaven when Mazren stepped forward.

"It's been a long time hasn't it, 'Dad?'" There was a distinct venemocity to Mazren's voice which told Gene that he had more than a few issues with the man who created him and Melfina; not that Gene blamed him.

"Dad?" Khan asked. "Yes yes I did create you so I suppose I am your and Melfina's father. And I suppose that I could ask for a worse son than you. Yes I suppose I could."

"I'm touched," Mazren remarked. "Starwind, Khan and I have a lot of catching up to do so why don't you and the others…"

"Before you try anything Mazren," Khan interrupted, "I should tell you that it's impossible for you to hurt me."

"Why? Because of the command code you programmed into me? I hate to tell you this Khan but you built me too well. I learned how to overwrite my own programming a long time ago."

"Is that so? How fascinating. But actually no that's not the reason. You see; I am Gwen Khan but I'm also not Gwen Khan. I'm like his shadow. A message that he created after the Leyline granted his wish." To prove it, Khan pointed his hand and drove it through Gene's torso, penetrating it as though it was mere air. "You see," Khan said as he retracted his hand. "I'm sort of like a living hologram."

"Hologram or not," Gene said. "Don't do that again." Gene wasn't the easily shook type, but that was nothing short of freaky.

"So then why are you here?" Jim asked. "You said that Khan created you as a message. What are you a message of?"

"Well Jim," Khan answered. "To be honest I'm a warning."

"What sort of warning?" Aisha asked.

"A warning not to fight Shidowkun again," Khan replied. "Take my advice. Forget about Shidowkun, and forget about saving Melfina all together. It's not worth what'll happen if you do. Mind you I'm not telling you this for your sake, no not at all. The consequences of pursuing this action will affect not only you, but the entire universe as well."

"In what way?" Suzuka asked.

"I suppose I could tell you," Khan said. "But first, have your friends leave us alone. My message is only for you five and doesn't concern the Dragon Clan. No it doesn't concern them in the least."

"Jubei, Keibara and the others are with us on this job," Gene told him. "So don't tell us that it doesn't concern them because it does."

"Oh very well," Khan sighed as he gestured to Jubei and Keibara. "But only those two may stay. The other three can leave. I do hate speaking to a large audience. I always have to repeat what I say for those who haven't heard me."

"Funny," Gene said, "You sound like the kind of guy who loves to hear himself talk. Hey Jubei, would you mind?"

"Not at all," the Wiseman answered as Keibara turned to address the other three.

"You guys go wait for us back in the dock," she told them. "We'll fill you and the others in when we're done." The three clansmen bowed in compliance before returning to the dock to work on the Outlaw Star. "Satisfied?"

"Yes, I'm quite satisfied," Khan answered. "Now where to begin. I suppose at the beginning will do. You see, when my wish was granted by the Galactic Leyline, I learned a great many things about its history as well as Melfina's. Although perhaps the history of the original Melfina would be more accurate. Yes I think it is."

"Damn it will you just get to the point!" Gene yelled.

"The point," Khan continued, "is that through the Leyline; I learned a great many things that have vital importance to the galaxy as a whole. That's why I created this image of myself. It's a program that was designed to activate should the time come that these facts needed be known."

"And just what are these facts?" Mazren asked.

"The ryuno-what?" Ron asked.

"Ryunoken Sword," Naga repeated. "The Sword of the Dragon. It's an ancient item that possesses power which surpasses even that of the Galactic Leyline. It's also been referred to as Excaliber, So-ja-ja, and some even as the Sword of God. With it, one can control life and death, or even creation and destruction as they desire."

"I get it now. Shidowkun wants the sword to conquer the galaxy. And he plans to have Gene bring it to him by holding Melfina hostage."

"Not at all," Naga replied. "Shidowkun's desires are not merely for this galaxy but for the entire universe."

"That's impossible," Ron said. "Even if Shidowkun has power like this ryuno-whatever sword, there's no way he can rule the entire universe. After all, he'll still be just a man." Humming in thought, Naga took another drink of his wine.

"Perhaps the time has come for you to learn the truth about Lord Shidowkun."

"Thousands of years ago," Khan told them all, "there was a highly advanced race of beings. Their society had reached a level of advancement of which we can only begin to imagine. With their science; they created vessels that could instantly travel through space, gave birth to living artificial worlds, and improved themselves with highly complex nano-cybernetics which heightened their physical and mental capabilities to their utmost. But their achievements weren't all in the sciences, not at all. They also had evolved socially, reaching levels of personal and cultural enlightenment beyond ideas such as greed, hatred, and even war."

"Melfina told us about these guys," Jim said. "Supposedly they created the Leyline as well."

"Very good Jim, how good of you to remember something like that. Yes, they did create the Leyline. Eventually, their technology evolved to the level where they were actually able to read and harness the ki lines, the bottomless wells of energy that are the essence and driving force of the universe itself. With this achievement, they created an artificial planet which to house a technological marvel called the Akashic record. The Akashic record was originally designed to be a type of library that would access the ki lines to read and record the history, present, and even the future of the entire universe. But something happened that its creators could never predict."

"And let me guess," Gene said. "That would be the true power of the Leyline."

"Exactly," Khan answered. "Yes that's exactly right."

"You see, after the Akashic record was completed," Naga continued, "its creators leaned that connecting the ki lines to such a powerful computer had an interesting side effect. In addition to reading the ki lines, it had the ability to manipulate them to a degree that surpassed even the abilities of their greatest priests. The ancient race now had the power to control and alter the concept of fate to fulfill their every desire."

"So that's how the Galactic Leyline came into being," Ron said. "So what happened next?"

"With their greatest achievement, the Leyline's creators set out to share their wisdom and power with the rest of the galaxy. They appeared to lesser evolved beings as celestial creatures, which is where the legends of angels and other such stories come from. It's also why the sentient beings of this galaxy share certain similarities in regards to appearance and basic cultural fundamentals. And if they encountered one they felt was worthy, they took him to the Leyline to reward him with his deepest desire made real. Of course, to further ensure that the Leyline's power would never be abused, they created the title of Maiden and Guardian of the Leyline to ensure that it was always protected. The beings you know as Melfina and Mazren are bio-android copies of the last Maiden and Guardian to serve those venerated posts."

"You know," Ron interrupted. "This is all really interesting. But you haven't answered any of my questions so…"

"I'm getting to it," Naga told him. "Just be patient. Now, despite their state of enlightenment, the ancient race were often disgusted that those they attempted to teach were unable to overcome the dark urges within their hearts and minds. Urges that, unless pacified, would only hinder the ancient race's plans for universal development. So, deciding that it was their duty to save lesser beings from themselves, they enacted a plan that they hoped would forever remove darkness from the hearts of every being in the universe."

"How exactly were they going to accomplish that?" Suzuka asked. Just trying to consider the possibility of something like that was beyond her comprehension.

"I know it sounds farfetched," Khan said. "But the ancient race did find a surprisingly logical way. You see, each living body and the cells that make them up are in themselves a separate universe. And just like each cell in our bodies, every person is separate yet part of a much larger body."

"You're talking about the ki lines aren't you?" Gene asked.

"Yes, yes that's right Gene. Through the ki lines of our own bodies we are connected to the ki lines of the planets we live on and through that to the ki lines of the universe. Based on this principle, the ancient race used the Leyline to bleed off the negative ki energy that was the source of all darkness within a person's soul through the ki lines and store it in a special memory file of the Leyline."

"But you can't do that," Jubei exclaimed. "You can't suppress darkness like that. All it accomplishes it allowing it to become even more powerful by permitting it to manifest."

"I have to agree with you," Khan consented. "Yes, in my perspective humanity on the average is a rather conceited race. Their egos can't handle the fact that they're capable of experiencing both love and hate. So instead of seeking atonement with the darkness within them; they either lose hope and surrender to it completely or they attempt to suppress it until it can't be held in anymore and explodes out of them. But in their arrogance, the ancient race had forgotten this crucial fact. As a result, they kept drawing in and manifesting darkness until it couldn't be contained anymore and it escaped."

"So what happened after the darkness escaped?" Aisha asked.

"To put it in a nutshell," Khan answered, "it infected the Leyline like a virus, using its power to transform it from data into a living physical entity. For lack of a better term I've chosen to call this being the Destroyer. This creature possessed power of such a raw and primal form, it was almost like a force of nature. But because it was the embodiment of the hatred of the entire universe, it had no real sentience. All the Destroyer had was an overwhelming desire to destroy and kill everything it saw."

"Gene, remember those tablets on Tenrei?" Jim asked. "The ones that showed the Dark Giant? That had to be the Destroyer."

"That's what I'd say," Gene said. "But how did they stop it? That's what I want to know."

"Realizing the mistake they had made," Naga explained, "the ancient race used all of their power and knowledge to create a weapon that would kill the Destroyer. To do this, they used the Leyline to break off a very small piece from the universal tanden; the source of all ki lines; and transformed it into a solid object."

"And that's the Ryunoken Sword," Ron realized. "But I still don't understand how it's power can be greater than that of the Galactic Leyline."

"In layman's terms the Leyline can access and manipulate the ki lines. The Sword on the other hand, IS the ki lines. As it was born from what could be called the universe's 'soul', they flow through it and from it. And whoever wields the sword is blessed with using the power of the universe as they see fit. But as I was saying, after it was completed, the Sword was given to the Guardian of the Leyline, who used the Sword to engage the Destroyer in battle. And though the Destroyer's power was great; its energy was drawn only from the collective negative ki of every being in the universe. With the Sword's ability to draw on all of the universe's ki, the Guardian was able to weaken it, enabling the Maiden of the Leyline to use her power to convert the Destroyer into data and seal it away in a closed storage medium. Of course, this victory was not without a price. The Sword had been lost during the battle, and the ancient race had been totally exterminated except for the Guardian and the Maiden." Feeling his temples beginning to pound, Ron took another swig of his wine. This was all too much for him to digest at once, but he had to learn more.

"What happened to the Destroyer after the Guardian and the Maiden defeated it?"

"After the battle," Khan told them, "the Maiden sealed away the Leyline in an impenetrable defense field before she and the Guardian took the imprisoned Destroyer to one of the last remaining outposts of their once great empire. They then sealed themselves inside the central computer building and the Maiden used her power to convert her and the Guardian into data inside the outpost's main computer. There, the two of them would wait until the rest of the Galaxy had reached the level of development that their culture had obtained."

"This outpost," Mazren asked, "wouldn't happen to be the Grave of the Dragon would it?"

"Hey!" Aisha blurted out. "In the pyramid, remember how that one wall acted really weird when Melfina touched it?"

"That's right," Suzuka said. "As I recall, that there was also some kind of indentation in the floor."

"The wall must have been the original Maiden reacting to Melfina," Jim theorized. "And that big space on the floor had to have been where the Destroyer's prison used to be."

"But I don't get it," Gene said. "If the Destroyer was locked away by the original Maiden and Guardian then where is it now?"

"Well to answer that," Khan exlained, "we'll need to move ahead roughly ten thousand years later."

"It was then that approximately 100 years ago," Naga said, "that a man named Chicarax attempted to overthrow the Toku Emperor. To do this, Chicarax had developed a technique in which he would copy the powers and techniques of his enemies by absorbing a small portion of their ki. Regardless to say, Chicarax was discovered and he barely escaped with his life."

"I get it now," Ron suddenly interrupted. "After he escaped Chicarax found his way to the Grave of the Dragon where he found the Destroyer's body. So he stole it and used it to become the Emperor."

"Wrong," Naga answered. "Chicarax didn't use the Destroyer. He became the Destroyer."

"He what?"

"When Chirarax stumbled upon the Grave of the Dragon, he could sense the incredibly strong ki coming from where the Destroyer had been sealed away. So he broke into the main complex, and attempted to use his technique to steal the Destroyer's power for his own."

"Did he fail?" Ron asked.

"Not at all," Naga answered. "He succeeded in absorbing the Destroyer's ki. But it absorbed him as well. You see, the Destroyer's energies were so potent that they locked onto and amplified the darkness in Chicarax's soul, burning away whatever light was left in him. The end result was a being that possessed its own will and desires, but was also an extension of the Destroyer's. Afterwards, Chicarax returned to the Toku guild, slaughtered the Emperor and everyone who stood in his way, and proclaimed himself to be the new Toku Emperor. With his power, he reigned absolutely and eventually took the name his vassals referred to him as; Shidowkun."

"Wait a minute," Ron said. "Are you saying that…"

"That's right," Naga replied. "The same Shidowkun from 100 years ago is the same Shidowkun we serve today. Not only that, his Destroyer body is right here in the fortress, still sleeping after all this time." Ron's mouth felt dry, but the little cup he had wasn't going to cut it this time. Throwing it aside, he tossed back the bottle and took a long swig.

"So tell me," Ron said as he lowered the bottle, "what sort of powers did Shidowkun gain after he and the Destroyer absorbed each other?"

"The first one is obvious," Naga said. "With the incredible energies of the Destroyer flowing through his body and mind, Shidowkun has reached a level of power that few others could ever hope to reach. And since his soul is solid darkness, his mind is always in balance which gives him unrivaled control over his power. But there are even greater abilities that he received from his merging with the Destroyer besides brute strength."

"Like what?"

"For example," Khan said. "Just as the Destroyer was fueled by the hatred of the entire universe, so too is Shidowkun. He is actually able to draw on these negative forces and convert them into usable energy. Quite a useful ability wouldn't you say?"

"So that's where his power comes from then," Mazren said. "However he still can only hold a limited amount of energy at a time."

"True," Khan admitted. "But that leads us to his next power. By drawing on the hatred of the enemy before him, Shidowkun is able to cause the darkness within a person to swell. And if the person lacks the strength of will to resist their own dark side; then their minds become enslaved to Shidowkun."

"Shidowkun tried to do that to me," Gene confessed. "He called it his Dark Eye Whisper."

"And it's a good thing that you were able to resist him," Khan added. "Yes it's very good. For if you had, then you would have found out his most dangerous ability. You see, when the Destroyer's energy merged with him, it mutated Shidowkun's ki absorption technique. He now had the power not just to absorb a person's energy, but their very souls, assimilating them into his own. When he does, he not only gains a person's abilities; but increased strength and energy reserves as well."

"He consumes souls?" Suzuka asked.

"That's right he does. Of course, there is one requirement for him to do so. He can only absorb souls that are overcome by hatred. Otherwise his own would reject them."

"That's what he tried to do with me," Keibara said. "When he killed my Dad, I was so enraged I couldn't even think. All I wanted to do was make Shidowkun hurt as much as I was. And when he grabbed me, it felt as though he was tearing my heart out."

"You don't even have to be considered evil," Khan continued. "All it takes is one moment for you to be consumed by hatred and then you're his. So in conclusion, it's impossible to fight Shidowkun with only rage. In the end, you'll just end up making him even more powerful."

"Disgusting," Jubei remarked. Behind him, Gene heard the chimes on the wiseman's staff ringing together in anger. "To have the soul consumed completely destroys a person, erasing their memory and denying any possibility of life after physical death. To even be an accomplice to such an act is beyond forgiveness."

"Wait a minute," Gene said. "Something about this doesn't add up. If I had given in to my dark side when I fought Shidowkun, then he would've absorbed me right?"

"Yes that's quite right Gene," Khan answered, "and the sword would be absorbed as well."

"But that can't be right," Aisha said. "The Sword would refuse him like it did Mazren wouldn't it?"

"That would be my guess," Jim added. "After all, the Sword did choose Gene to wield it so that should count for something."

"Is that so?" Khan asked. "Tell me Gene, do you know why you were chosen to be the Swordwielder and not Mazren? Even though he is technically the original master."

"I've got some ideas," Gene answered. "But something tells me you know the real reason."

"This I've got to hear," Mazren said.

"And well you should," Khan commented. "Remember, the Sword was forged from the ki of the universe. And ki, like blood, has different types. As such, the Sword will only work with one whose ki is compatible with its own. If it's not, then the sword will resist them. If it is, it will obey them. That's why the Guardian was chosen to use it. On the other hand, if the one who wields it possesses the same type of ki as the Sword, it merges with them."

"So that's why I couldn't use it," Mazren realized. "No matter how close I am to the original Guardian of the Leyline, I'm still just a copy."

"Did the Toku know about my ki type when they attacked my father's ship?" Gene asked.

"I'm afraid so yes they did," Khan replied. "And now Gene, I think it's time you learned the truth behind yourself and Melfina and how you fit into Shidowkun's plans."

"Okay," Ron interrupted. "Let me see if I get this straight. Shidowkun's soul was absorbed by the energy of the Destroyer which turned him into something beyond human. Gene Starwind has merged with the Ryunoken Sword because he possesses the same type of ki as the sword, which gives him power that rivals, maybe even surpasses Shidowkun's. And he's holding Melfina hostage to make Gene bring the Sword to him."

"Exactly," Naga said as he watched two of the android servants dancing for a pair of Akuma guards.

"So why Gene Starwind then? Is his ki type that hard to find?"

"Not really. His ki is rare, but not impossible to find. We had several candidates in mind, but his fate was by far the most convenient for us."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"Fate is like a river," Naga explained. "Just as a river's path can be changed by a single pebble, so too can a person's fate. You just have to know where to intervene. In the case of Gene Starwind, I used my abilities as a Tao master to foresee what would occur when and how we intervened at various stages in his life. It was when he began to accompany his father into space that Lord Shidowkun and I envisioned the perfect scenario. By attacking his father's ship at Sentinel III with him on board, we predicted that Gene Starwind would be ejected to safety. The trauma of that incident would keep him there on Sentinel III until the time came when he would encounter four specific women. Two of these women would become his allies, a third would die shortly after meeting him, and the fourth would become his lover."

"So in other words Shidowkun set Gene up to meet Hilda, Melfina, as well as that assassin and Ctarl woman, then waited until the time was right to act. But what about that other android? If you're such a hot shot fortune teller, why didn't you see his involvement?" Leaning forward, Naga gestured for Ron to come closer.

"Just between you and me," he whispered. "I did, just not how he would act out his part. Nevertheless, Shidowkun ordered me not to tell anyone about him, not even the other Shoguns. You see, even though Shidowkun possesses incredible power, he is at his core still a fighter and prides himself on his tactical skills. Allowing Mazren the Wolf into the scenario was his way of shuffling a wild card into the deck; a reminder to always have a contingency plan should something go wrong."

"Clever," Ron said as he leaned back. "And what about Melfina. Did you know that she was the one who'd become Gene's lover?"

"We hoped that she would be the one," Naga answered. "But no, there was no definite way of telling who would become what to Gene Starwind."

"Couldn't you have hypnotized them into it? I thought that your recently departed friend Mako had the ability to brainwash people."

"Oh no no," Naga laughed. "It's not that simple. If Melfina and Gene were to become lovers, then it would have to happen on its own. It would be the only way to make it genuine."

"I thought that Shidowkun was a master strategist though," Ron said. "Couldn't he find a way to trick them into falling in love?"

"True, being able to read and manipulate the hearts and minds of your enemies is the very nature of strategy. However, the sad truth is that only true feeling can move the heart. You can't force someone to love or hate if they choose not to. Even Lord Shidowkun doesn't have that power." So Shidowkun wanted Gene and Melfina to fall in love, Ron thought. Doesn't really make sense though.

"So what's so special about Melfina?" he asked. "And why would Shidowkun be trying to make Gene fall in love with someone? All he'd really be doing is giving him more incentive to fight."

"Exactly," Naga replied.

"As it stands Gene," Khan told him, "you're playing right into his hand. Shidowkun knows what sort of person you are. Why else would he take Melfina hostage and not one of the others? Because he knows that you'd do anything to get her back."

"So based on what you're telling us," Gene said, "the only reason he came after Melfina was to lead me into a trap."

"But if that's true," Suzuka said, "then that would mean it was Gene who Shidowkun's really been after all this time."

"But what about what those three guys on Tenrei told us?" Aisha asked. "You know, about sacrificing an innocent to corrupt the Sword's power."

"If I was Shidowkun," Jim theorized, "that's what I'd want us to think. That way, we wouldn't figure out what he was planning until it was too late."

"You're absolutely right Jim," Khan praised. "I've always known that you were the smartest out of your little group. Except for one thing. Even though Melfina isn't going to be sacrificed to the sword, Shidowkun is still going to kill her. You see Melfina is a threat to him."

"How could Melfina be a threat to anyone?" Keibara asked. "She doesn't have enough meanness in her to hurt a fly."

"You're forgetting something," Mazren reminded her. "When Shidowkun tried to absorb your soul, Melfina stopped him."

"That's right," Suzuka agreed. "Somehow, she was able to generate a type of energy that was harmful to Shidowkun."

"Yes I can explain that," Khan said. "It's rather embarrassing to admit but when I began to decode the information that the Kei pirates had obtained from the Grave of the Dragon, I had very little difficulty in decoding Mazren's information. Not so for Melfina. In fact, it was almost as if the information didn't want to be decoded. In hindsight, I suppose that the original Maiden was trying to keep the Kei from obtaining the Leyline's power. Yes that makes sense doesn't it? Well in any case, one of the things I was unable to fully decode was her soul, which had been converted into data along with her physical body. And since it was the Maiden's ki that would unlock the Leyline, I couldn't very well leave it out could I. So, I merely swelled the part of her soul that I could decode to fill in the gaps."

"Let me take a wild guess here," Gene said. "The part of her soul that you couldn't decode was her dark side."

"But I thought you said that the Leyline's creators didn't have a dark side?" Aisha asked.

"No they had one alright," Khan answered. "They merely had obtained a sense of atonement with theirs so that it didn't try to overcome them anymore."

"I get it now," Mazren said. "Even if Melfina didn't have the will to resist Shidowkun's power, he still wouldn't be able to control her because there's nothing for him in her that he can feed off of."

"And if Shidowkun feeds off of hate," Jim said, "but since Melfina has no hate in her heart, then that means that her ki would be like poison for him. But if she has this power than why didn't she ever use it before?"

"Everyone has the power to use their own ki," Jubei replied. "But because they don't always sense it, they never develop it. And in Melfina's case, if her soul has no darkness, she is always in balance. So as long as her mind doesn't become clouded by doubt or uncertainty, there are no restrictions on when she can use it. However, to harm Shidowkun as you all describe would still require ki of incredible strength considering his own power. And the ki I felt in Melfina when I first met her was nowhere near that level."

"You're absolutely right," Khan said. "And I think I know why that is. You see Gene, when you and Melfina; now how should I put this; joined, the sword must have transferred some of its energy directly into her, greatly increasing her ki's strength. And it's a good thing too. Because Shidowkun has for quite a while been rather obsessed with possessing Melfina for himself; forbidden fruit and all I suppose."

"Possessed?" Gene asked. "Are you saying that he's going to…"

"He's already tried I'm afraid," Khan answered. "But luckily for Melfina, she was able to use her ki to stop him. And if he tries again then Melfina might learn how to fully harness it so I think that she'll be safe for the time being at least." Gene clenched his teeth as his balled fists began to shake. Melfina was almost raped because I wasn't strong enough to protect her, he thought. Damn it I swear I'm going to kill that son of a bitch.

"Gene take it easy," he heard Jim say. "I know that you're upset but you got to keep cool."

"Jim's right," Suzuka added. "If you allow your anger to get the better of you than Shidowkun will have already won and Melfina will be lost for good."

"I don't mean to disappoint you all," Khan interrupted, "but she's already lost. The minute you arrive to save her, Shidowkun is going to kill her. And that brings me to my final point."

"Which is what exactly?" Gene asked.

"Tell me Gene," Khan said, "why do you think that you were able to make such rapid progress in using the sword's power?"

"So Gene used the sword to power up Melfina's ki, and that's why Shidowkun can't even touch her huh?" Behind his calm exterior, Ron was secretly gloating. He was taking an exceptional amount of pleasure in seeing Shidowkun being denied something he was after.

"No, the sword did it of its own accord," Naga corrected. "You forget that the sword was forged from the universe's ki. It therefore has memory and instinct, but it lacks a will of its own. It therefore completely obeys the master it chooses to serve. But in the case of Gene Starwind whom the sword has merged with, his will becomes that of the sword. It shares his desires, his goals, even his emotions."

"Let me see if I understand this," Ron said. "You're telling me that the sword 'loves' Melfina?"

"As deeply as Gene Starwind does. And like him, it desires to protect her. And if something should happen to her, then it will desire to seek vengeance along with him."

"Oh I get it," Ron said. "When he and his friends come to rescue her, Shidowkun is going to allow him to reach Melfina and then kill her right in front of him."

"And when he does," Naga said, "Gene Starwind and the sword will be overcome by their mutual hatred, and Shidowkun will take them both for his own."

"Clever," Ron said. "He goes around the rules without breaking them. But what is he going to do with all that power? Isn't he already the most powerful man in the entire galaxy?"

"Yes, but he is tired of being a man," Naga explained. "Even if he were to absorb the sword, his human body could only handle a fraction of its true power. That's why he needs a body that is beyond any other in the universe." Ron was about to ask where Shidowkun was going to get a body like that when the realization finally hit him.

"He's going to use the Sword to release the Destroyer."

"That's right," Naga said. "With the power of the sword and the unlimited strength of the Destroyer, Shidowkun will become nothing short of God himself."

"Seems like a pretty solid plan for universal domination," Ron said.

"Oh no no no," Naga laughed. "He won't stop there. You forget, the Destroyer's energy was both absorbed by and it absorbed Shidowkun. And just as he gained the Destroyer's powers, the Destroyer gained something for itself; intelligence. Through Shidowkun, it has learned the pleasure of domination as well as sentient thought. Where once it desired only to mindlessly kill and destroy, it now realizes that if it did, it would have nothing to do afterwards. That's why it needs the sword. With its power, even if the universe was burned to ash, the Destroyer could recreate it from nothing only to tear it down all over again." So that's it, Ron realizes. Shidowkun, or rather the Destroyer, plans to make the universe his own personal playground.

"Just out of curiosity," Ron asked, "what's going to happen to Shidowkun's followers after he fully merges with the Destroyer?"

"You needn't worry about that," Naga assured him. "All those who are loyal to Shidowkun shall be spared the Destroyer's wrath. That's why he desired to keep you and your brother around. It's his way of showing gratitude for all your hard work."

"I'll have to thank him for that," Ron said as he stood up from the table.

"Leaving already?" Naga asked

"I've done a little too much in the last few days so I'm not in much of a party mood. I'm going to my quarters to get some rest."

"Suit yourself," Naga said as he called over a blonde android servant. As she approached, Naga pulled her into his lap and began stroking her thigh with his skeletal hand.

"One last question though," Ron said. "The one who originally brokered the deal with the Kei pirates and the Tin pa Empire to cooperate on the Leyline project; was it Shidowkun?"

"Would you pass up an opportunity to gain revenge against the ones who imprisoned you?" Naga asked back.

"Geuss not," Ron answered as he left. Exiting the bath, Ron strolled down the hall before he took an elevator up five floors, then went down another hall before he finally reached the quarters that had been assigned to him. As soon as he was inside and safe from prying eyes, Ron walked over to a cabinet over by the wall and slammed his fist through the wooden panel.

That god damn son of a bitch! his mind screamed. Just how dumb did Naga thing Ron was anyway? There was no way that Shidowkun was going to spare anywone. So either Naga actually believed that was going to happen; which Ron doubted severely; or he had told Ron everything to make him another pawn in Shidowkun's game. And no one played Ron MacDougal for a chump and got away with it.

Retracting his hand, Ron looked at his fist. He was strong enough not to break any bones on the cabinet, but his knuckles were torn up pretty bad. If Naga can use his Tao magic to see the future, he thought, and if Shidowkun can manipulate the future based on what Naga tells him, then he must have known about the trouble Gene Starwind was going to cause us. Shidowkun had to have known that hiring Ron to attack the ship of Gene's father would trigger the events that would eventually cross his path with Ron and Harry's. And if that was true, then Shidowkun also would have known what was going to happen to them at the Leyline. It was the only explanation for how the Toku conveniently showed up afterwards with an offer he and Harry couldn't refuse.

Harry, Ron thought. He had copied his memories, his personality, and everything else about him into the Shangri La's computer before his physical body had been killed. Maybe he could have copied his soul as well. After all, according to Naga that was what the original Maiden and Guardian had done after they defeated the Destroyer. And if a program can be broken down into data, who's to say a soul couldn't as well after it had been digitized. The Toku must have transferred into Harry's body only the parts of him that they needed. But even though the digital Harry had gone off line after his new body was built, it should still exist in the Shangri La's computer. It and the rest of their ship's files had been downloaded into the Black Box after Mazren the Wolf destroyed the original Shangri La. What I don't get is why would Naga tell me all of this? Ron wondered. Was this part of Shidowkun's plan as well? And if he went through with what he was considering, would Ron still be Shidowkun's tool?

Shaking his head, Ron went to his quarter's bathroom to treat his still bleeding knuckles. He would wait until Gene Starwind arrived and then he would make his decision about what he would do. The fate of Harry, his own, and quite possibly the entire universe could depend upon it.

"So you see Gene," Khan concluded. "It's not at all in your best interests to try and save Melfina. If you do, she'll still be killed and both you and the sword will be absorbed by Shidowkun. So it's really not worth the price is it?" Gene glared at Khan for a second longer before he turned around and began to walk away.

"Yeah well thanks for the warning, but I think I'll try anyway."

"Wait a minute Gene!" Khan asked. "Haven't you heard a single word I've said? This is exactly what Shidowkun wants you to do. After all, he was the one who arranged for you to meet Melfina in the first place. Forget about whatever promises you might have made to her. The sad truth is that you were never even meant to fall in love with her."

"I don't care if I was meant to fall in love with her or not," Gene said. "The fact is that I did and I'm not going to let anyone take her from me."

"And what about the others?" Khan asked. "As I recall, your friend Jubei predicted a death besides Shidowkun's. So even if you do save Melfina, one of the others will die in her place. Will you really sacrifice Jim or Mazren's life simply to save your own lover?"

"You overlook one fact Mr. Khan" Jubei pointed out. "I am still not able to say for sure whose death it is."

"That's right," Keibara said. "For all we know, it could be Master Jubei or even me whose going to die."

"And even if it is one of us," Jim added, "we've all made our decision."

"That's right," Aisha said. "Gene isn't the only one who wants to get Melfina back. She's one of us, and a Ctarl-Ctarl never abandons a comrade no matter what."

"And what about the universe?" Khan asked. "If you fail, then Shidowkun will merge with the Destroyer and plunge the entire universe into eternal darkness. Are you really so selfish Gene that you would risk the fate of everyone in existence just to save one person?" Gene stopped in his tracks and reached into his pocket. When he retrieved it, he was holding Melfina's pendant in his hand.

"Yeah you're right," he agreed. "Maybe I am being selfish. Maybe the universe is more important than two people and their feeling. But you're forgetting something Khan. It was because of Melfina that I became the person I am today. It was for her that I sought out the Leyline, and it was for her that I learned how to use the Sword's power. If I were to just give up on Melfina, then everything that I've been through and done up to this point would all be for nothing." Looking over his shoulder, Gene flashed his trademark grin. "Besides, if I really chose what was best for the universe over what mattered to me then…"

"Then what?" Khan asked.

"Then I wouldn't be an outlaw," Gene answered. "So I guess I'll just have to risk the fate of the entire universe. Now if you're finished, I need to get back to work."

"I don't think that I'll ever understand people like you Gene," Khan said. "But in any case, you've made your choice so I won't waste my breath anymore." Behind Khan, the hall became visible as he began to fade away into nothing. "Well goodbye to you all. I am a messenger. And the message has been delivered. Goodbye…goodbye…goodbye." As Khan disappeared from sight, his voice echoed in the corridor before it finally silenced.

"Let's get back to work everyone," Gene told them. "We've wasted enough time here."

As the rest of them followed after Gene, Suzuka noticed that Mazren wasn't joining them. Instead, he and Slag was staring at the spot where the hologram of Gwen Khan had just disappeared.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"Suzuka," Mazren said. "You and the others met my father before haven't you?"

"Yes that's right," Suzuka replied. "Well, the others met him at Heifong. But I didn't meet him until he followed us to that space station."

"Based on that meeting," Mazren continued, "would you say that Gwen Khan was an honorable man?"

"Actually he seemed the type who would use whatever means he could think of to obtain his goals."

"So then why would he leave us a warning like that? Considering he already got what he wanted from the Leyline, what would he care about the universe?"

"He wouldn't," Suzuka said. "Do you think that this was another part of Shidowkun's plans?"

"I'm not sure," Mazren answered. "If Shidowkun really is as good a strategist as Khan claimed he is; then he'd know not only when to act, but when not to act. Something like this would seem like overkill."

"Then who?"

"Off the top of my head," Mazren said, "I'd say that we've got someone on our side." By his hip, Slag looked up to Mazren and whined in agreement.

"Hey!" Aisha called out. "Are you two coming?"

"Yeah hold on!" Mazren called back. "But if that's true then who? And why won't they show themselves?"

"I suppose whoever they have their reasons," Suzuka said as she took his hand. "For now, let's just be thankful that we're not facing this battle alone."

"Yeah I guess you're right," Mazren said. With a slight grin, he brought up Suzuka's hand and gave it a small kiss. "I say to hell with fate. Let's make sure we survive this."

"Agreed," Suzuka said as they left to catch up with the others.

Opening her eyes, Melfina found that she wasn't in her cell anymore. All around her was an inky black void that seemed both shallow and eternal. What is this place? she wondered as the chill reached her naked skin. How did I get here? Suddenly, she became aware of what felt like a hand stroking her breast as someone began kissing her throat and neck. Who's there? Who's touching me? Melfina knew that she should feel frightened and violated, but she didn't. The hand and lips that caressed her were rough but were also gentle and loving. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw someone positioned on top of her. The person looked up to her and Melfina made out red hair, a scarred cheek, and a pair of warm dark blue eyes. Gene it's you, Melfina thought as her eyes shed tears of joy. You came for me, just like I knew you would. She tried to speak, but Gene leaned towards her and kissed her so deep and slow, Melfina willingly surrendered herself to him. She didn't know where they were, or even how they had gotten there. But they were together and the Toku were nowhere to be seen. For Melfina, that was all that mattered.

Gene I'm so happy, she thought as he felt his lips return to her throat. Oh Gene, please touch me some more. Take me to that place where I can feel only joy. Suddenly, a pair of glowing red lights appeared in the dark. The lights illuminated the void and revealed Shidowkun standing before them. Oh no Gene! She tried to scream out a warning, but her voice wouldn't work. She watched as Shidowkun extended his hand and created a spear of swirling red and black flames. Gene stop we're in danger! Melfina tried to push Gene off of her, but it felt like his body was made of lead. She felt tears fall down her face as she futilely continued in her effort to warn Gene. Why wasn't he listening to her? Why couldn't she save him? Melfina watched helplessly as Gene rose off of her slightly to caress her cheek with his hand, just as Shidowkun plunged his weapon into Gene's back. The spear tip burst out of his chest and specks of Gene's blood peppered Melfina's face. As Gene's body convulsed and fell limp; Shidowkun retracted his spear and Gene's body collapsed on top of her.

"You could have saved him," Shidowkun told her as he vanished into the darkness. "But you were too weak. His death is all your fault." Alone in the dark with Gene's dead body on top of her, Melfina began to scream…

…Melfina lurched straight up from her mattress as she felt her heart pounding within her chest. Covering her mouth, she looked around and saw that she was back in her cell. It wasn't real, she realized. It was just a dream. Gene didn't really die. But no matter how much she kept telling herself that, Melfina couldn't stop shaking. It was the first nightmare she had ever experienced. She knew that Gene used to have nightmares, and he would always wake up in a cold sweat afterwards. Melfina crossed her arms over her chest and shivered from a combination of lingering anxiety and cold. She was still wearing the dress that had been given to her the other day. As far as she knew, her own clothes had been thrown out with the garbage. To her relief, she hadn't been harassed by anyone since Shidowkun tried to force himself on her. The only visitors she did have were the odd Akuma guard who brought her food and water. Over on the table was an untouched meal that had been brought to her before she fell asleep. Melfina knew that she should eat something to keep her strength up; but she just couldn't force herself to do it.

Rising off the mattress, Melfina made her way into the bathroom to clear her head. Running some cold water into the sink, Melfina washed away the remaining makeup on her face until she was positive that it was all cleaned away. Looking in the mirror, Melfina saw that her hair was starting to stick out like it usually did. With the exception of her trimmed bangs, she now looked like her old self again. It was then that she noticed the slight bags under her eyes and how pale her skin looked; the product of her pent-up worrying and not eating. It was just a dream, she thought. But it'll really happen if I don't stop Shidowkun. I can't let him hurt Gene, but I don't know what to do. Grasping the sink for balance, Melfina bit her lip to keep herself from breaking down into tears as he stomach began to ache inside her.

"Melfina, please don't cry. It'll be all right." Melfina snapped to attention as she looked around the room, searching for whoever spoke to her.

"Who's there?" she asked. From behind, Melfina sensed someone embrace her. But when she looked over her shoulder, she saw no one.

"Don't you remember me?" The embrace from Melfina's unseen guest didn't feel like a threatening gesture. It was gentle and nurturing, but it lacked the loving passion that she felt in Gene's arms. It felt more platonic, almost like a sister, or even a mother. "We had to part just as we finally found each other." Melfina thought about what the voice told her before it all came together in her head.

"It's you," she said. "But I thought you were gone forever."

"I never really left you," the voice explained. "Ever since we parted, I've been watching over you and Gene, doing what I could to help."

"Did you know about Shidowkun?" Melfina asked. The voice was silent as Melfina felt its embrace tighten slightly.

"Yes," she finally answered. "I'm so sorry Melfina. I tried so hard to keep him away from you and Gene, but without a physical body my power is limited. Not only that, I have to act very carefully. If Shidowkun sensed my presence, then he'd find some way to bind me. And then I wouldn't be able to do anything for you at all."

"I understand," Melfina said. "But aren't you taking a big risk by contacting me? Won't Shidowkun sense you?"

"You don't have to worry about that. His attention is elsewhere for the time being so we can talk for a few seconds."

"I see," Melfina said. "But what about Gene? He's walking into a trap. You have to warn him before its too late."

"I already have," the voice said. "He knows everything. He and the others are coming for you right now. They'll arrive tomorrow. And they have a plan that I'm certain will put the entire Toku guild in its place."

"Thank you," Melfina said as a wave of relief flowed through her. It was then that she felt the embrace begin to loosen a little.

"I have to go now," the voice told her. "If I stay any longer then I'll risk being detected."

"Wait a moment!" Melfina said. "Tell me about this power I have. What is it and how do I use it?"

"Just don't be afraid of Shidowkun," the voice told her. "Trust in your feelings, in Gene, and most of all in yourself. As long as you do, then Shidowkun won't have any power over you. And Melfina?"

"Yes?"

"Please eat something. You're going to need all your energy if you hope to escape." The unseen arms released her, and Melfina knew that she was alone again. But even so, Melfina didn't feel as scared as she did before. Gene's coming for me, she thought. I believe in you Gene. I always will. As she exited her cell's bathroom, Melfina saw that her meal was still on the table. Feeling her stomach growl; she headed over to eat. If she was going to be rescued, then she would need to fully recharge her strength before Gene arrived.

Looking up at the Outlaw Star, Gene made a final visual check to ensure that everything was finished. The grappler weapons were both loaded, as were the new guns. The Gattling blaster from Mazren's ship had been replaced with a much more powerful guad blaster while the ventral machine gun had been switched out from a single to a double. Fred really came through for me this time, Gene thought. I'd better remember to thank him after all this is over. Switching his attention to aft, Gene analyzed his ship's new engines. A hybrid of the Warshark's and the Outlaw Star's, the fin shaped rotating engines were placed at a diagonal position like on the Warshark. They had no landing gear built into them, but since the Outlaw Star was originally designed to be customized; it wasn't too much trouble to install the landing gear from the Warshark into the ventral hull. All in all, I'd say we're ready. Guess it's time to get going. Breaking his attention away from the Outlaw Star, Gene strolled over to where Jubei and most of the others had gathered.

"Everything's done Gene," Jim said as he saw Gene approach. "Ammo, fuel, parts; everything's been loaded up."

"Great, but where's Mazren and Aisha?" Gene asked.

"The two of them left with Slag to make sure that Mazren's possessions were taken to storage," Suzuka told him. Because they were all on a time budget, they weren't able to load on any of Mazren's personal property. It all had been sent to a nearby storage garage to be sorted out after they returned with Melfina. "They said that they'd be back shortly." As if on cue, Aisha, Mazren, and Slag entered into Swanzo's dock.

"Hey everyone," Aisha called out. "Everything's set with us and we're ready to leave."

"I just talked with Keibara," Mazren told Jubei. "She and the other clansmen are back at their ship and are awaiting your return."

"Then I won't keep them waiting," the Wiseman replied as he moved away from them. "We shall meet again at Shidowkun's planet."

"Hold on a minute Jubei," Jim suddenly said. "Just out of curiosity, what's happened to the future now that we've changed our plans?" Although Gene didn't want to admit it, he was curious himself. Instead of fighting Shidowkun head on, he and the others had decided that based on what Khan told them; it would be better to just get in, get Melfina, and get out. They would come back and fight Shidowkun after Gene had fully mastered the Sword's power. Holding his staff vertical, the chimes clanged together as Jubei looked over his shoulder to them.

"In all honesty," he answered, "I don't know. As it stands, the future has become too fragmented for me to clearly read."

"So in other words there's absolutely no telling what's going to happen now," Mazren said.

"Suits me just fine," Gene said. "Life's more interesting that way."

"Indeed it is," Jubei said as he left to return to his own ship.

"Okay then," Gene told his crew. "It's time to go."

"Hold on a second," Mazren said. Reaching into his pocket, Mazren pulled out a whiskey flask. "It's tradition among us bounty hunters that whenever a group sets out on a really big hunt to pass the flask around." Taking a swig, Mazren passed it to Suzuka. "Let's show the Toku just who're they're messing with." Looking at the flask, Suzuka shrugged and took a swig of her own.

"Whatever happens," she said, "I have no regrets." Suzuka next passed it to Aisha who took over twice as much as both Suzuka and Mazren in one gulp.

"We all come back or nobody comes back," she said as she wiped off her chin. "And if anyone dies," she added as she passed the flag to Jim, "I'll kill them."

"I don't usually drink this stuff," Jim said as he looked at the mostly empty flask, "but what the hell." With a lopsided grin, Jim took a small sip, and Gene saw his partner grimace slightly from the taste. "Saddle up," he said as he passed it to Gene, "lock and load." As Jim's face turned red from the whiskey, Gene was tempted to tease him about acting so grown-up; but decided that it wouldn't be appropriate to the moment. Besides, he was secretly proud of Jim.

"What can I say?" Gene asked as he finished off the flask. "Let's get this show on the road." Leading his crew up the ramp, Gene walked down the Outlaw Star's main deck towards the bridge. As he climbed into the pilot's seat, Jim and Mazren sat in the two co-pilot seats in front of him while Aisha and Suzuka took the console seats behind him. "You ready Gillium?"

"The ship is air-tight and all systems show green. Shall I contact Swanzo and Mikey for you?"

"Go ahead." A window opened on the bridge's view screen and displayed Swanzo and Mikey in the dock's control room. "Guys we're ready to launch."

"Traffic's clear outside of Blue Heaven," Swanzo told them. "I also got word from your friends. They're launching now and will meet up with you at the rendezvous point."

"Good luck on your rescue," Mikey said. "Give 'em hell!"

"We will," Gene said as he cut the transmission. The port hatch opened behind them and the docking claw carried them to outside Swanzo's dock. As soon as they were freed, Gene guided the Outlaw Star out of the asteroids and into clear space. Reaching into his pocket, Gene grasped Melfina's pendant as he set the coordinates. I'm coming Mel, he thought. Wait for me. Pointing in their desired direction, the Outlaw Star's sub-ether engine activated and the bright red grappler ship vanished from sight in a flash.

As the sensors detected his presence, the double doors to Shidowkun's throne room opened and allowed Naga to enter. In front of Shidowkun's throne, Hisho was giving his report of the Toku's latest activities: smuggling shipments, armament production, and any possible threats to the Guild's livelihood. On the throne above him, in full armor, Shidowkun listened with what appeared to be genuine interest; but was more likely sheer boredom. Off to the right stood Karg, his back standing against one of the support columns along the throne room's side. Across from Karg rested the stone sarcophagus that contained Shidowkun's Destroyer body. Naga could feel the stone box resonating slightly, as if the force within knew that it's time of liberation was drawing near. As the Emperor saw Naga enter, he broke off his attention to his majordomo and gestured for him to stop.

"That will be all Hisho. We can continue this business at a later date."

"But Lord Shidowkun…" Hisho interrupted. Shidowkun glared at his attendant and Hisho ceased his protest. "Of course Lord. We shall continue at your desire." Turning around, Hisho hurried out of Shidowkun's throne room as Naga smirked under his hood. Hisho was almost as disliked among the Toku for being a beaurocrat as Naga was for being a Tao master. Of course, he did his job well and was loyal to Shidowkun so the rest of the Guild tolerated him begrudgingly. And if everything went according to Naga's plan, he might just have a use for Hisho in the new order to come.

"You have something to report Naga?" Shidowkun asked.

"Indeed master. Gene Starwind and his friends have just left Blue Heaven. Based on the path they're taking and their current sub-ether speed, they should arrive in roughly twenty-four hours. However, it would appear that members of the Dragon Clan are accompanying him in their own ship."

"It doesn't matter," Shidowkun decided. "As I expected, Gene Starwind hopes to gain an advantage by arriving early. But when he arrives, Xanax will capture and bring him to me. And when he feels the android girl die in his arms, the Sword will become infected by his hate, and its power will become mine. As for the Dragon Clan, they are of no concern. I've already proven to be stronger than their leader. No matter what sort of allies Gene Starwind brings with him; this fortress is equipped with fully automated defenses, construct soldiers, and my own personal guard. They won't pose a threat."

"You are truly most ingenious Lord Shidowkun," Naga praised. "No one else could so perfectly engineer such a master strategy. And when everything is finished, the Toku shall rule the universe as we alone see fit."

"Indeed," Shidowkun said as he leaned forward. "Now then Naga, I have a new assignment for you. Sent a message to each group leader in the Toku and tell them that the operation has begun. When I contact them next; it will not be as their Emperor, but as their God."

"As you command Lord Shidowkun." As he turned to leave, Naga smirked again underneath his hood. And the next time I contact them, he thought, I shall be their Emperor. Naga had served Shidowkun ever since he had come to power. He was the first of the Shoguns, and was the only one who possessed the truth about him. Those fools Askared, Yama, and Mako had served Shidowkun under the pretense that he would use the powers of the Sword and the Destroyer as a way to conquer the universe. But Naga wasn't fooled. He knew that no one would be spared the Destroyer's wrath after Shidowkun awakened it. And even though he could care less about the universe, he wasn't about to allow an opportunity to become Emperor escape his grasp. That was why he had allowed Ron MacDougal into Shidowkun's scenario, a scenario in which he had only told Shidowkun the visions that would benefit Naga's own ambitions. I've fulfilled my half of the deal, he though as he exited the throne room. I just hope that she has fulfilled her half.

Watching Naga leave, Shidowkun leaned back in his throne and scowled slightly behind his mask. Did Naga really think that his personal machinations were beneath his notice? Shidowkun was well aware how Naga coveted the title of Toku Emperor for himself. His self-serving nature was what made Naga such a valuable part of Shidowkun's overall plan.

"My Lord," Karg said. "I thought you might like to know that…"

"I am already aware that Naga has told Ron MacDougal everything," Shidowkun said. "And it seems that she has made her move as well." It amused Shidowkun that she could think to outmaneuver him. Although; he had to give her credit for creating the image of Professor Gwen Khan. He didn't think that she was that imaginative.

"Forgive me for saying this Lord," Karg continued. "But is it wise to allow our enemies to have knowledge of your strategy? Doesn't this put our goals at risk?"

"Not at all. In strategy, the best advantage one can give his opponents is to allow them to think that they have the advantage. It makes their actions easy to predict. As for Ron MacDougal, you forget that I still have his brother Harry to use as either a bargaining chip or as a secret weapon. He won't pose a problem."

"Of course Lord," Karg replied as he gave a short bow. "If I may take my leave, I must prepare the Akuma for Gene Starwind's arivival."

"One moment Karg," Shidowkun said as he rose off his throne. "There is something that I wish to speak with you about."

"What would that be Lord?"

"The bio-android girl, you've had food sent to her correct?" Though Karg's mask prevented his face from being read, Shidowkun did notice a small amount of tension appear in his body.

"Yes," Karg answered. "Was I incorrect to do so?"

"Not really. I'm just curious as to why you would go to such trouble when it would be much simpler to give her the organic paste we feed our own androids."

"Melfina is much more complex than our own. I feared that if she was given the paste than she would react negatively to it."

"Is that so?" Shidowkun asked as he descended down the stairway that led from the floor to his throne's platform. "Are you sure there wasn't any other reason."

"What other reason could there be?" Circling around Karg, Shidowkun positioned himself behind his guard and leaned towards him.

"You aren't having second thoughts about your involvement are you Karg?" Shidowkun asked. "Have you forgotten about how they betrayed you? Or what they did to her?" Even though Shidowkun had gained Mako's telepathic abilities when he took Mako's soul, he didn't need them to know what was going through Karg's head at the moment. In his mind, Karg was struggling to break free from his restraints as a six year old girl was being tortured to death in front of him; his pleas to let her go lost in the child's screams and sobs. "She'd be the same age as the android wouldn't she? If she hadn't died that is."

"I haven't forgotten," Karg said. "I have sworn to aid you in your quest until the day I die. I will honor my vow."

"And if I ordered you to kill Melfina with your own two hands immediately?"

"Than it would be done," Karg answered.

"Excellent. You are dismissed." As Karg left, Shidowkun returned to the platform and looked out the observation window behind his throne. There was little doubt as to why Karg was the most loyal of his followers. His servitude to Shidowkun wasn't based upon greed or fear, but a sense of mutual objectives. It wasn't even necessary for Shidowkun to use the Dark Eye Whisper on him. So strong was Karg's hatred, hatred born out of love; that all it took was for him to remember the past and he was consumed by it.

It was the same type of hate that would deliver both Gene Starwind and the Sword into Shidowkun's hands.

(At long last everything has been revealed. Shidowkun, the human embodiment of the Destroyer, plans to use the Sword to restore the power he once had; plunging the universe into darkness. Gene and the others now must save not only Melfina, but themselves and the entire universe as well. But can they defeat not only the entire Toku Pirate Guild, but the greatest force of evil the universe has ever known? And who is this mysterious entity who seems to be on their side? The stage has been set, the characters are in position, the time has come for the final battle. Be here next time. Same outlaw-time. Same outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 18
Chapter 20

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