Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Awakening the Power ( Chapter 23 )

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

CHAPTER 23:

Awakening the Power

(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 note: BEFORE YOU READ THIS. DON'T FORGET TO POST A REVIEW FOR THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER'S SHOCKING TWIST.)

The darkness was everywhere. It wrapped around him, penetrating his body, and dissolving him into the blackness of the void. With each second another part of him faded away into oblivion, but Gene didn't care. Once he vanished completely, so would the pain.

Melfina, I failed. I couldn't protect you. I couldn't save you. I just stood by and let him kill you.

"Gene."

It's all my fault. I had the power. I should have been able to stop him. But I couldn't. Why did you have to fall in love with me? Why did I receive the Sword if I couldn't use it? What was the point if everything was going to turn out like this?

"Gene."

It would have been better if we had never met at all.

"Gene!"

Gene snapped to attention, and the darkness began to slow in its consumption of him. For a second, he could have sworn that he heard Melfina's voice calling out to save him, just like when she cured him from the poison. But when he looked around, he saw that he was still alone.

"Gene, you musn't give up!" In the darkness, a humanoid shape began to take form. The figure began to glow with a blue light and Gene saw that it was a young girl with slender features and thick collar length hair.

"Mel," Gene said as his heart leaped into his throat. Gene reached for her, and felt the darkness binding him begin to weaken. But it was only after she came closer that Gene finally noticed the ceremonial body suit she wore and the four lacy wings growing out of her back.

"You," Gene murmured. "Who are…"

"Not so long ago," the girl answered. "I was part of the one you call Melfina. But after she wished to be with you at the Leyline, I separated from her." Gene's head spun as he tried to make sense of what she said before he finally understood.

"You're the Maiden of the Leyline aren't you?"

"Yes that's right. Gene, listen to me. It's not too late. Shidowkun hasn't fully assimilated you and the sword yet. You can still pull yourself out but you have to choose to do it yourself."

"What about Melfina? Can you help her? Like when we fought Hazonko?" The Maiden cast her eyes downward and frowned before looking back up to Gene.

"I'm sorry Gene. But without a physical body, my ability to control the Leyline is limited. Maybe if we were there I could use it to help her, but I'm afraid there's nothing I can do." Gene scowled and looked away.

"Then go away and leave me alone." The darkness around Gene began to intensify and began to draw him in even faster.

"Gene, you can't let Shidowkun win. If he does, everything will…"

"I DON'T CARE!" Gene screamed. "Don't you get it? He's already won! He killed Melfina! He took everything from me!" By now, the darkness had consumed a third of Gene's self and he could feel it spreading faster. "I didn't accept being the Swordwielder to save the universe. I did it for her. And now she's dead. There's just no point."

"So you're just going to run away again aren't you?" That voice, Gene realized as he pulled his head up in time to see a woman materialize behind the Maiden; a woman wearing a purple jumpsuit and an eye-patch over her right eye.

"Because of my feud with them," Hilda lectured, "the Kei pirates killed practically all my friends. I won't deny that every time they did, a part of me wanted to go crawl underneath a rock and die. But I didn't. I picked myself back up and I fought back. And I made sure that the Kei paid for what they did. It wasn't just because of my outlaw's pride. If I didn't, then everything I went through with those I lost would all be for nothing." Hilda paused and Gene watched as her normally icy features softened. "You've still got people who you care about don't you? Don't let Shidowkun to do them what he did to Melfina." Hilda's image began to fade and she smiled at him. "Good luck Gene. And remember, outlaws never go down easy no matter what happens to them." Hilda vanished and a second figure appeared in the dark. This one was a middle-aged man about Gene's height but had dark brown hair and a slightly stockier build.

"Dad."

"Gene, do you know why I sacrificed myself so that you would live? Because I believed you were worth dying for. And I was right. You ended up saving the entire universe. And now you're going to do it again. That's why Melfina gave her life to save yours. So don't let either of our sacrifices go to waste. You're far too strong for that." Gene's father winked at him and like Hilda; he too began to disappear into the void. "Good luck son. Now go show them what happens when you mess with a Starwind." After his father evaporated into nothingness, a third figure materialized behind the Maiden. Gene took one look at the man's muscular frame and auburn colored hair and immediately recognized Tyr; the man who had helped him master the Sword.

"You know lad," Tyr told him, "Master Jubei told me that when you arrived to lay claim to the Sword, I would die shortly afterwards unless I left. But I chose to stay because I wanted to have a hand in what was to come. After all it's not often that you get involved in a fight to determine the fate of the entire universe. Do you really think that I would have wasted my last few days of life training you if I didn't believe in you? Do you think that the universe would have permitted you to wield the Sword if it didn't believe in you as well?" The bearded warrior smiled and gave Gene a thumbs up as he dissolved away. "Good luck lad. And remember; keep your guard up on your left."

"Do you see now Gene?" the Maiden asked. "If you let Shidowkun win, you won't just be letting yourself down. You'll let down everyone who ever believed in you; Hilda, your father, Tyr, even Melfina. Don't help Shidowkun prove them wrong by giving up." Gene lowered his head and felt tears begin to form in his eyes.

"But it hurts," he said. "It hurts so much." The Maiden smiled at him and reached towards his hand.

"That's because the love you felt for Melfina was so strong," she told him as she slipped something into his palm. "Never forget that." Releasing him, the Maiden backed away and disappeared into the darkness.

"No don't go," Gene pleaded. But the Maiden had already vanished. Opening his hand, Gene stared at what she had given him. It was small diamond pendant hanging on a gold chain, the same one he had given to Melfina…

Opening the back door as quietly as he could, Gene sneaked into the office and peered into the kitchen. As he expected, Melfina was cooking dinner. With her back turned to him and all her attention focused on the stove, it was the perfect chance to strike. Creeping across the floor, he pulled out the contents of his coat pocket and in one swift move, wrapped it around her slender throat. Melfina gasped in surprise and turned around, only then did she notice the diamond pendant hanging from her neck. Her eyes widened in astonishment and she asked him why. As Gene told her that it was custom for couples to celebrate their first month together, Melfina looked down at the pendant and began to cry. When he asked what was wrong, Melfina said that she didn't know and that she hadn't gotten him anything. Gently wiping away her tears, Gene caressed her cheek before giving it a gentle pinch. He said that being with her was enough of a gift for him, especially since she was the one who cooked for them instead of Aisha. Melfina stopped crying and smiled up at Gene before throwing her arms around his neck and giving him the biggest kiss that she could…

…Staring down at the pendant, Gene's eyes finally overflowed as he clutched the necklace to his chest. Around him, the darkness began to writhe and boil as if in pain.

"I'm not done yet," he said. Gene began to pull his arm out of the shadows and the churning of the void intensified. "Do you hear me you bastard! You think I'm just going to roll over and die? You think that I'm just going to let you get away with what you did?" Both of Gene's arms broke free and he pushed at the darkness. The Sword's power began to burn inside of him, restoring the parts of him that had been consumed. In an attempt to reclaim him, the darkness closed in around Gene, attempting to dissolve Gene from every angle. But Gene intensified the power and the void began howling in pain. "I'm through being your pawn! Now let…me…OUT!" In a surge of energy, Gene burst free of the void's grip as a light appeared in the darkness and he blasted towards it like a rocket.

Lying helpless alongside Mazren, Suzuka realized that this was it. Shidowkun had absorbed the Sword along with Gene and there was nothing they could do.

"Hey," Mazren said.

"Yes."

"Can you reach the left outer pocket on my jacket? I brought along a chrono-grenade just in case something like this happened."

"Do you really think it'll work against him now?" Chrono-grenades were a highly dangerous weapon, deemed illegal by practically every galactic power. By igniting a detonator made of dragonite, they created a sub-space fissure that sucked everything inside its blast radius into a temporal distortion where it disappeared forever.

"I've no idea in hell. But it's better than doing nothing."

"Agreed," Suzuka said as she reached for the pocket. Above them, the energy Shidowkun had focused into his fingertip began to intensify.

"Now die," he snarled as the energy suddenly wavered and sputtered out of existence. "What?" Shidowkun asked as he stared at the now harmless digit, moments before his face twisted into shock and pain. "No!" he yelled as he clutched at his chest. "This can't be happening? It's impossible!" Taking her hand away from the pocket, Suzuka and Mazren watched as Shidowkun's aura began to flicker and weaken.

"Now what's going on?" Mazren asked.

"It's Gene," Suzuka answered. On his shoulder, Shidowkun's armor suddenly cracked and a beam of blue energy sprang forth. With a scream of pain, Shidowkun's aura shattered and he crashed to the floor as similar beams of light began to erupt from his chest, his torso, and even his left eye.

"I won't let you escape!" Shidowkun growled as his body began to be burned away from the inside out. "The sword…is…mine and so…are…you!" But despite his determination, Shidowkun's body couldn't hold on. With a shudder that shook his entire frame, Shidowkun retched a mouthful of liquid light that ran across the floor of its own accord towards Gene. Once again, a blinding flash filled the throne room as another hurricane of power began to rise around them. But this one felt different than the one created by Shidowkun. It was strong and intense, but it also felt reenergizing and even protective of them.

"Hey," Mazren said. "I think I'm getting my strength back."

"So am I," Suzuka said. Hearing a whine behind her, Suzuka and Mazren looked up to see Slag padding towards them. Climbing back to their feet, they watched as the light began to dim enough for them to see what had happened. On the floor was Shidowkun, kneeling in pain, his body covered with burns and bleeding heavily. And across from him, a cyclone of energy levitating him in the air; was Gene.

"Gene," Suzuka called out. Gene turned to face her, and Suzuka was shocked to see his eyes glowing with a white light. But even more shocking was the way his energy felt. The last time she had seen him use the Sword on this level was when they had fought Yama. But back then, Gene's energy felt like a wildly blazing fire that was burning itself out. Now, Gene's energy was like the sun, a steadily burning force that slowly increased in strength.

"Sorry to worry you guys," Gene told them as he turned back to Shidowkun.

"He did it," Suzuka heard Mazren say. "He's really done it." Moving out of the way, Suzuka and Mazren watched as Gene floated towards Shidowkun. The Toku Emperor looked up to his enemy with his one remaining eye and sneered in rage.

"How did you do that?" he wheezed. "No one has ever escaped my grasp before so how did you to it?" Gene held out his hand and displayed the diamond pendant he held in his palm.

"Because I wasn't about to let you win," Gene answered. "And because Melfina wouldn't want me to give up."

"Are you even listening to what you're saying?" Shidowkun asked as he forced himself to stand. "Melfina doesn't want anything because I killed her! I killed her with your own weapon! I've taken the one thing that could give you happiness! Don't you understand that? If any of your feelings for Melfina meant anything than you would hate me with every breath in your entire body!" Suzuka and Mazren turned to Gene and watched as he pocketed Melfina's necklace.

"You're right," he admitted. "I do hate you. I hate you in ways I can't even describe. But I'm not going to let it control me. And I'm not going to let it kill the love that Melfina gave me." As he spoke, Gene's expression changed from placid to intensive. "But what I am going to do is pay you back for what you did to me, to my dad, to Mel, and to everyone else you screwed over for you own stupid amusement!"

"You've lost demon." All eyes turned to the throne room's doorway as a figure in a straw sunhat appeared. "Gene Starwind has proven himself stronger than your machinations," Jubei stated. "And now, it is time for you to answer for all that you have done." Hanging his head, Shidowkun's body began to shake. At first thinking that he was coughing, Suzuka ultimately realized that he was actually laughing.

"You idiots!" Shidowkun yelled. "After all this time of planning and waiting, did you really think I'd be so arrogant as to not have a contingency plan?"

"What was that?" Mazren asked as he reached for his sword. Grinning sadistically, Shidowkun raised his hand and a sliver of blue crystal materialized out of his palm.

"Does this look familiar?" he asked. "It's a shard of the Sword. Whenever it departs its current wielder for the next, it leaves behind a small sample of its power. And while I may not have been able to hold it for long, I did grasp it long enough to be considered its master. Now, I suppose I could use this shard not only to regenerate my wounds but to increase my strength as well, but I have a better idea."

"Just get to the point," Gene said. Through the holes in the throne room's walls, a pulsing red light caught Suzuka's eye.

"You've seen the spires that surround the exterior of my throne room," Shidowkun continued. "Those spires aren't just for decoration. From the moment this fortress was complete, those spires have been absorbing the negative ki radiating from myself and everyone who has ever served under me. And now, I think it's time to put all that pent up energy to some good use." Outside, all four of the spires' peaks ignited before discharging an energy beam into the apex of the pyramidal chamber. Raising his hand to the ceiling, Shidowkun caught the energy as it flowed down towards him and into the sliver.

"What's he doing?" Suzuka asked.

"He's fusing the ki stored in those spires with the energy of the shard," Jubei answered. "He's creating his own Sword." In Shidowkun's palm, the shard absorbed and fed on the energy, growing and reshaping into a huge scimitar like sword that was almost as long as Gene. The sword's blade was made of a dark red crystal while its black stone hilt was carved into the shape of a horned skull.

"The Ryunoken Sword was created to stop me," Shidowkun said. "But the Oninoken Sword was created so serve me." Staring at his creation, Shidowkun giggled maniacally as his face contorted even deeper in insanity. "And now Gene Starwind, I'm not going to just kill you. I'm going to burn you to ash and scatter you to the wind." Before anyone could react, the dark sword dropped into Shidowkun's waiting hands and ignited him with an aura of black fire. Shidowkun laughed in triumph and tightened his grip as the blade glowed red and melted over his body before he launched himself into the air and arced towards the sarcophagus were his Destroyer body was imprisoned; fusing himself into the stone box in a flash of light.

Outside the fortress, the surrounding earth began to shake and crack before rising like a rocky tide. In the distance, the lava pits exploded with columns of flaming lava while the sky darkened and flashed wildly with lightning. Aboard the bridge of the Dragon Clan's ship, Inayah and Mateen made the final preparations before lifting off.

"What's happening?" the Ctarl warrior asked her mate. "It feels like the entire planet's tearing itself apart."

"And that's precisely why we're doing as Keibara instructed and taking off," Mateen told her.

"But what about Master Jubei? We can't leave him and…"

"He gave us our orders and so did Keibara. We'll return as she instructed after twenty four hours have passed. But for now, we need to lift off and get as far away from this planet as we can." Inayah nodded and looked out the porthole towards the ominous black tower as the engines came to life and lifted the Clan's ship off the quaking ground. Turning back to her station, Inayah began the preparations to make the jump to sub-ether space as soon as they cleared the planet's gravity zone.

Mazren could feel it coming. Even with Gene and the Sword's energy protecting them, it felt as though a huge fist was squeezing his chest. As the entire fortress began to shake underneath him, the sarcophagus into which Shidowkun had disappeared began to crack, red light seeping out from the fractures. Beside him, Suzuka readied her bokuto as Slag braced his forelegs and whined in fear. Gene on the other hand, showed no signs of either fight or flight. He stood facing the sarcophagus in patient waiting as the rumbling intensified.

"I've never sensed anything like this before," Suzuka said, her voice trembling slightly. "It's as if it's trying to suck my own energy away."

"Prepare yourselves," Jubei advised. "For this is just the beginning."

"I really did not need to know that," Mazren said. As the rumbling reached its peak, the sarcophagus split itself down the middle and exploded, pieces of it flying in all directions. Mazren was in the midst of throwing himself in front of Suzuka when Gene's aura widened, forming a shield that deflected the shrapnel away from them. As the smoke cleared, Mazren stared at what remained amidst the rubble of the sarcophagus and felt like he was going to vomit.

Lying amidst the base of the stone box was something the shape and size of a man. Its black skin was wet and slimy while its large skull like head was topped by several pulsing veins. Its fingertips ended in hooked claws and two knobby protrusions grew out of its back. But the most repulsive thing about the creature was the way it moved. It writhed and wiggled on the floor like a snake, all the while mewling like a newborn kitten.

"What the hell is that?" Mazren asked, wanting to look away but unable to take his eyes off the creature.

"Now you see as I did," Jubei said. "This is the Destroyer in his true form." The creature rose to its feet, its muscles throbbing and growing as its glowing red eyes finally discovered them. One of the veins on its head ruptured and a stream of red and black fire erupted from the hemorrhage. Other veins burst soon after and the Destroyer's head ignited with a crown of writhing flames before it shrieked in rage, the air around it turning red with an aura that clashed against Gene's. The Destroyer launched itself towards them and Mazren pulled his sword out to attack when Gene intercepted. Digging his feet into the floor, Gene caught the creature's wrists and held him back as their radiated powers whirled and crashed around them.

"Get out of here!" Gene yelled. "This guy is mine!"

"Are you crazy!" Mazren yelled.

"We can't stay here," Jubei said as his the wind caught his hat and tore it off his head. "Right now that thing is in its larval stage. It has to be destroyed now before it reaches full strength."

"Jubei's right," Suzuka said. Sheathing her bokuto in her obi sash, Suzuka kneeled down and picked up Jim's unconscious body. "We have to get out of Gene's way. He can't kill the Destroyer if he has to worry about us as well. Jubei, Mazren's arm is still broken so we need someone to carry Aisha."

"Of course," Jubei agreed.

"Wait a minute!" Mazren yelled. "What about Melfina?"

"Leave her. There's nothing we can do for her. We have to worry about saving those who are still alive." Mazren looked back to where his little sister lay dead and back to Suzuka as he gritted his teeth in rage and frustration.

"All right," he consented; his throat tight. Jubei lifted Aisha over his shoulder and with Slag leading the way, the four of them retreated from the throne room and down the hall towards the emergency stairway. A loud boom sounded from the throne room, but Mazren didn't look back. You'd better win Gene, he thought. Because if you don't I'm kicking your ass. As they rushed down the stairs towards the Outlaw Star, Mazren suddenly noticed what floor they were passing.

"Hey Jubei wait a minute!"

"Why what's wrong?"

"Do you sense anyone on this level besides us?" Breaking to a halt, the Wiseman closed his eyes as he scanned the nearby area with his magic.

"No. Why?"

"Never mind forget it." Following after the others, Mazren cast a look back at the doorway for level 15. Sorry Karg. Looks like I wasn't able to get to you in time either.

Gene heard the others escape from the fight and grinned. Now he could take care of Shidowkun or the Destroyer or whatever he had turned himself into without worrying about the others getting caught in the crossfire.

"It's too crowded in here," he told the wildly struggling creature in his grip. "Let's take this outside." With a shove of the Sword's power, Gene blasted the Destroyer through the wall and outside of the fortress. Launching himself out the hole, Gene dived after it. Grabbing onto its throat, Gene increased his speed and drove them both down the side of Shidowkun's fortress towards the ground. The two of them were seconds from impacting when the Destroyer increased its aura and knocked them apart. In an attempt to escape, the creature used its power to rocket itself away as Gene broke his descent.

"Get back here!" Gene roared as he chased after it. Grabbing on to its ankle, Gene spun the Destroyer around before throwing it towards the ground. Rotating its body so that it landed feet first, the creature rebounded off the impact and raced back towards Gene, its claws stabbing and swiping madly as Gene blocked and dodged its strikes. Grabbing its clawed hand, Gene and the Destroyer grappled against each other, their powers crackling in the air until the Destroyer pulled Gene forward and drove his knee into his stomach. As Gene flew backwards, the Destroyer moved in for the kill as Gene used his aura to brake his momentum. Punching the air, Gene punched and created a shockwave that sent the Destroyer flying head over heels across the ground. Gene charged forward and attempted to spear the creature on his pointed hand when the Destroyer righted itself and breathed a mouthful of fire in Gene's direction. Maneuvering out of the way, Gene felt something grab his neck as the Destroyer tugged on the energy lash it created and pulled him towards it. The Destroyer swiped its claws in an attempt to eviscerate its opponent but Gene created an energy sword that slashed off the creature's arm. Regenerating a new limb, the Destroyer created a sword if its own as it dove towards Gene, the blades of fire sparking as they dueled across the planet's surface.

The site of the Outlaw Star was like a breath of fresh air for Suzuka. The climb down the stairwell had fortunately been quick and without incident; despite sounds that the battle between Gene and the Destroyer had moved outside. Departing the fortress, Suzuka was relieved to see that the ship was still intact and where they had landed. In the nearby distance, two blazing lights raced around the fortress's perimeter as Gene and the Destroyer raged on, oblivious to anything around them.

"Everyone wait!" Jubei suddenly ordered.

"Why what's wrong?" Mazren asked. Slinging Aisha off his shoulder, Jubei placed his hands over her forehead and heart.

"Your friend's pulse is very weak. If she isn't tended to soon, she may not last much longer." As Jubei began to chant, Suzuka heard Slag bark at something behind them.

"Hey! What kept you guys?" Suzuka and Mazren turned around and saw the small figure of a girl run towards them from the Outlaw Star.

"Keibara what are you doing here?" Jubei demanded. "I ordered you and the others to get off this planet."

"And leave you here alone? I'm not about to let Dad come back from the grave and haunt me for that. Don't worry about the others. They've already left. Now what's going on here? And where's Mel?" Suzuka and the others didn't answer, and Keibara eyes suddenly widened in realization. "You don't mean…" When no one answered, Keibara covered her mouth in shock. "But then, that means that Skinny was…"

"No," Jubei interrupted. Finished with Aisha, Jubei removed his green robe and laid it over her nudity. "Gene Starwind gained control of himself before Shidowkun consumed him. But afterwards, Shidowkun was able to awaken his Destroyer body. Now, Gene Starwind is fighting to slay it before the creature reaches full strength."

"That's why we have to get out of here," Suzuka added. "But first you'd better tend to Jim as well Jubei. I think Shidowkun gave him a concussion when he dropped him."

"Of course." Taking Jim from Suzuka, Jubei leaned him against the wall as he cupped Jim's temples in his hands. Beside them, Aisha moaned as she slowly came to.

"Ungh! What happened? Did I get him?" Groggily, Aisha pushed herself up and the edge of Jubei's robe began to slide off her left shoulder and breast.

"Um, Aisha," Mazren suggested, "you might want to cover yourself up." Puzzled, Aisha looked down and stifled a shriek as she yanked the robe back over herself.

"You pervert!" Aisha shrieked as she leapt forward and slapped Mazren hard enough to drive him face first into the ground. "Oops! Sorry Maz, I thought you were Gene. Hey, where is Gene? And why are we out here? Oh no Jim! What happened to Jim?" As Suzuka and Slag tended to Mazren, Keibara and Jubei gave a summarized account of what happened, assuring Aisha that Jim was going to be all right.

"But what about Mel?" Aisha demanded. "You're supposed to be a wizard! So do something!"

"She's right," Keibara added. "Master Jubei I've seen you revive people before. Can't you do it for Mel?" Taking his hands off of Jim, the Wiseman shook his head in resignation.

"I can only restore someone to life if they still possess at least a spark of their own ki within them. But Melfina has been dead too long. I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do." Realizing that Mel was gone for good, Aisha pulled Jim into her arms, holding him as if he too would be taken away at any moment. As if sensing her need, Jim slowly opened his eyes.

"Aisha?"

"Oh Jim," she whispered. "Don't worry, you're safe now." Peering out from the Ctarl's embrace, Jim looked around and realized something was missing.

"Where's Mel?" Reluctantly, Aisha loosened her hold on Jim so that she could look him in the eye.

"She's gone Jim. Shidowkun killed her."

"But where is she? Didn't you bring her?"

"I…was knocked out," Aisha answered; nearly speechless by the intensity of shock and despair in Jim's eyes. "Suzu and Maz they…

"So you just left her?" Jim's expression changed to anger and he began to struggle out of Aisha's grip.

"Jim, calm down."

"No! Let me go! I'm won't leave without Mel! Aisha let me go! I'm not leaving her! Let me go!" With a shove to Aisha's throat, Jim knocked himself away and ran for the door when a loud crack sent him stumbling backwards.

"Suzu!" Aisha yelled. Snatching Jim back into her arms, she caressed his reddened cheek from where Suzuka had slapped him. "How could you be so cruel? Don't you understand how Jim is feeling?"

"Jim, Melfina's dead and there's nothing more we can do for her. She sacrificed herself to save Gene and right now, he's fighting so that her death wasn't in vain. If we can, we'll come back for her after Gene wins. But for now, it's more important that the people who are still alive to stay that way." Calming down from his hysteria, Jim's body collapsed into Aisha's arms as he began weeping into her shoulder, his body quaking with sobs.

"Why?" he sniffled. "Why did this have to happen? Why Mel?"

"I know," Aisha said as she did her best to comfort him, her own eyes flooding onto his shoulder. "It's not fair. Melfina was too good a person to have something like this happen to her." Suzuka watched Jim and Aisha cry into each other's arms and felt as though she was about to break down herself when a strong hand grasped her shoulder. Looking over to Mazren, she saw her own sadness reflected in his eyes and the understanding between them was enough for Suzuka to stay strong just a little longer.

"Heads up everyone!" Keibara warned. "We've got company!" Further along the spaceport that made up the base of the fortress, over two dozen guards and Toku officials spilled out of a doorway. Some of the guards noticed them and began to advance towards them, their blaster spears charging to fire.

"Great," Suzuka heard Mazren say. With his arm finally healed, Mazren drew his guns as Slag took position beside him. "This is all we need."

With his ribs shattered and his organs hemorrhaged, even the act of breathing was enough to send waves of agonizing pain through Karg's body. Fortunately, the boy who was with Melfina had managed to purge the virus from one of the elevators. Leaning against the side of the car, Karg clutched his chest as he felt the battle going on outside. It looks like her plan worked, Karg thought. Now it all depends on the strength of Gene Starwind. Suddenly, the elevator lurched to a stop, making Karg hiss in pain before coughing up another mouthful of blood. Karg wiped his lips as he exited the elevator and realized his time was almost up. After the fight with Mazren, Karg had used what little bit of his ki remained just to keep himself moving. Just a little further, he told himself as he forced his body down the hall to Shidowkun's throne room. Can't give in yet. Still something I have to do.

Stepping through the damaged entrance, Karg searched for Melfina's body and found it lying on the left side of the throne room. Beside her, a glowing blue figure kneeled on the floor, its hand gently stroking Melfina's head as Karg approached. His shadow fell across her and the Maiden of the Leyline looked up to him with tear filled eyes.

"I realized this was what might happen if I didn't stop her," she admitted. "But I didn't expect it to hurt like this."

"No one ever does," Karg answered. "But there's more important business to attend to. What is her condition?" The Maiden turned her attention back to Melfina as her ethereal fingers penetrated into Melfina's cranium.

"She's lost a good deal of blood and there is significant damage to her right ventricle. However, her technological components have protected her brain from oxygen starvation. We should be able to succeed."

"Then let's do it."

"Of course. First, I need you to remove Gene's knife. Otherwise we won't be able to repair the physical damage." Karg nodded and braced himself against a nearby pillar as he lowered himself to the floor, his hand grasping the knife in Melfina's chest as he gently pulled it out of her. Tossing it aside, Karg slid his hands underneath Melfina's body and lifted her up; his teeth gritting from the further strain on his body as he forced himself to stand.

"Now do it," he ordered. "Hurry, while I still have the strength." The Maiden rose off the ground and came towards Karg, halting a second to look up at his heavily scarred face.

"I want you to know that I am grateful for what you are doing," she told him. "And I assure you that unlike Shidowkun, I will keep my half of our bargain." Karg frowned as his eyes moved from the Maiden to the dead girl in his arms.

"At this moment, I could care less about our deal. I do this for her…and for Sienna." The Maiden nodded and smiled up at him.

"I understand," she replied as she placed her hands over Melfina's heart, her wings glowing white as they stretched and enveloped around Karg's body.

With a fling of its sword, the Destroyer launched a barrage of energy shards as Gene slashed with his own sword, firing several energy blasts that intercepted and neutralized the attack. Driving himself forward, Gene prepared to surprise attack through the resulting smokescreen when the Destroyer suddenly plunged through first. With no time to dodge, Gene braced his sword as the Destroyer slammed its blade into him, the impact sending Gene crashing into the ground. Unwilling to give its opponent the time to recover, the Destroyer dove after him, its sword creating an explosion of power where it struck. As the dust cleared, the demonic creature surveyed the area for any trace of its foe when a something attacked from beneath, cutting a deep gash across its spine. Before the Destroyer had delivered its second blow, Gene had used the power to phase into the ground before doubling around and attacking from the rear. Capitalizing on his enemy's shock, Gene grabbed the Destroyer's head, slamming the creature face first into the earth and dragging it across the ground before spinning it over his head and hurling it into the distance. The Destroyer bounced and skidded across the desiccated landscape before slamming into the stone face of a small cliff, the resulting avalanche trapping it under slabs of fallen rock.

"Game over!" Gene yelled as he raised his weapon over his head. From within, the Sword's power manifested itself further into the blade of energy, making it grow and blaze higher until it towered over Gene like a monolith. Gene leapt towards the Destroyer and swung the giant sword towards it when the pile of rubble exploded, consuming and destroying everything around it.

Through the haze of her tear-reddened eyes, Aisha looked up as the remaining fortress guards advanced towards them. She saw the others prepare to face them and was torn between her desire to help them fight and her need to care for Jim. She was about to make her decision when the sound of an explosion ripped the air and rocked the world around them. A sharp feeling of cold dread clutched Aisha's heart as she and every other pair of eyes turned to the source of the blast. In the nearby distance, a sheet of red and black flames shot from the ground towards the sky. In its center, an enormous figure began to grow and take form. Vaguely man shaped, it looked to be twice as tall as the Outlaw Star. On its head, three crests extended from its forehead to wrap around the top and sides of its blazing cranium while a pair of huge demonic wings stretched out from its back to breach the blazing geyser. A flap of the giant's wings dispersed the remainder of its aura as a barbed tail grew from its lower back to thrash along the ground. From every major joint; slabs of bone burst from its flesh to create a sort of natural armor. Its transformation complete, the Destroyer's eyes ignited red and it opened its mouth to roar, the earth and sky rumbling with its power.

"Okay," Keibara said. "I'm beginning to think that staying behind wasn't such a good idea after all."

"Gene," Aisha heard Jim say.

"Jim no!" Aisha told him. "Don't make a sound. Maybe it won't even notice us." Suzu and the rest seemed to think the same and froze. However, the Toku guards and officials didn't share the feeling.

"He did it!" a guard yelled. "Shidowkun finally has the power!"

"Hail Shidowkun!" another cheered. "Now the Toku will rule!"

"Stop you fools!" Jubei yelled. But it was too late. The Destroyer heard the cries of the men who had once served him and turned towards the fortress, its eyes shining brighter before discharging an energy blast towards them.

As the sound of the second explosion reached him, Gene attempted to move and felt his torso pinned beneath the ground and a slab of rock. Despite the ringing in his ears and the numbness beneath his waist, Gene summoned the sword's power and lifted the stone off of him. Channeling the power to heal him, Gene looked up to what the Destroyer had turned into as the base of the fortress was consumed in a fireball. Guys! his mind screamed. Gene reached out with his feelings and to his relief found that Jim and the others had escaped the blast. Unfortunately, the Destroyer had also sensed them and was beginning to advance towards them.

"Hey!" Gene yelled as he forced his exhausted body to stand. Even with his body repaired, the combined strain of fighting the Destroyer and using the Sword's power to a higher level than before had exhausted practically all of his strength. "Where're you going? We're not done here! Come on." But the Destroyer ignored him as it continued to where his crew stood powerless to stop it. "Damn it, get away from them you son of a bitch!" Throwing out his hand, Gene fired a wave of energy that struck the Destroyer's back just above its tail. Yet despite putting all his strength into the attack, the demonic giant still ignored him. Finally drained of his remaining stamina, Gene collapsed to his knees.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, his eyes glued to the S-shaped Dragon crest on his hand. "You're supposed to be ultimate power. So why aren't you doing anything?" The crest began to shine, its heat traveling up Gene's arm to revitalize him again. "That's not enough!" Gene screamed. "I need more. I can't beat him like this. Come on do something!" The light from the crest intensified and Gene gritted his teeth as his body felt like several burning needles were being stabbed into him at once. Beneath him, the ground cracked and heaved and the air ignited with the Sword's power. "Khan said that we're linked right? That you feel the same things I do right? Well guess right. That thing is going to kill everyone. Do you really want to let that happen? Because I'm not losing anyone else do you hear me!" Gene forced himself to stand and bolts of white energy crackled across him. Inside, Gene's blood began to boil as it burst out through hemorrhages in his skin. "I don't care if I die! I don't care if I lose everything else! Do you understand! Now give…it…to…ME!" With Gene's scream, the power consuming his body blazed forward and spread over him before sinking into his center and exploding from within.

With his despair over Melfina's death overwhelmed by fear of the Destroyer, Jim watched paralyzed as the demonic giant decimated the ones who had served its human incarnation. The explosion was racing towards them when Jubei threw himself ahead of the others, his staff shining gold as he created a barrier that redirected the shockwave along a different path. But while the Wiseman's magic had saved them from being incinerated, the altered path of the explosion had carved a deep gash into the spaceport around the fortress's base. With a creak of bending metal, the landing pad on which the Outlaw Star was perched dipped and slowly plummeted downward.

"Gillium!" Jim screamed as he saw the red grappler ship pitch nose-first into the ground. The sound of thundering footsteps began to rattle the earth as Jim and the others looked up to see the Destroyer coming towards them, its tail thrashing across the ground.

"Guys come on," Aisha yelled. "We've got to get back inside before that thing sees us!"

"It wouldn't do any good," Jubei gasped as he leaned on Keibara's shoulder. "It knows that we're here. And nothing in the universe would be able to stand up to something like that."

"I'll take those odds," Mazren remarked. Shedding his jacket and his body armor, Mazren stepped forward as the Destroyer finally stood over them. Grasping his hands in front of his chest, Mazren's arms began to crackle with the final remains of his energy. "I don't care how strong that thing is. If it's going to kill us, then I'm going to make sure he gets something in return." Beside Mazren, Suzuka came forward to join him, her bokuto drawn and ready to strike. The Destroyer craned its head downward, its skull-like visage devoid of either contempt or amusement as its tail rose over its shoulder.

"Accepting death with grace is the mark of a true warrior," she told him as the wooden blade shone white. "But given the circumstances, I think I'd rather do it this way myself." Mazren smiled in resignation as the two of them prepared to put everything they had into one final assault. Nosing his way between then, Slag ruffled his fur and growled, determined to face his final enemy alongside his master. As the barbed tip of the Destroyer's tail began to glow like a heated iron, Jim found his face buried in Aisha's cleavage as she placed her back between him and their impending death.

"Don't look Jim," she told him. "It'll be over soon." Jim closed his eyes and pushed his face into Aisha's body, realizing that all in all he could think of a lot less pleasant ways to die in.

"GET AWAY FROM THEM"

Gene, Jim realized as his eyes snapped open. Pulling himself out of Aisha's chest, Jim saw a pinpoint of light appear where the Destroyer had emerged before a ball of blue and white flames burst forward and slammed into the Destroyer, knocking off its feet and sending it crashing into the ground. Jim and the others watched as the massive sphere reversed direction back towards them and slowly began to unfold into another gigantic humanoid shape. As the second giant placed itself between them and the Destroyer, Jim looked up and felt a mixture of shock and awe grow inside him. As tall as the Destroyer, the second giant's body was packed with miniature stars, almost as if someone had sculpted space into a physical body. Its head was wreathed in a crown of blue flames while four white wings; two angelic and two draconic; sprouted from its back. As the Destroyer recovered itself and saw its new opponent, the dark titan's eyes blazed in fury as it charged forward, its body igniting with an aura of dark flames. The new giant ignited its own aura as it charged forward and crashed into the Destroyer head on. The energies from their respective powers mixed and wrapped around them, forming a tornado of flames that rose skyward and carried them into the atmosphere. On the ground, Mazren and Suzuka dissipated their attack as they watched the spectacle before them.

"Okay," Mazren said. "Now I've seen everything."

"Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah!" Aisha yelled. "Will someone please tell me just what the hell is going on!"

"It's Gene," Jim answered. "He did it."

"Did what?" Keibara asked. "Master Jubei how…I mean…what was that?" Following the rising typhoon of light and darkness, the Wiseman nodded and smiled in amazement.

"The boy is right," he told them. "It is Gene Starwind. He's mastered the Sword's power to a level that his own body was unable to safely handle."

"So the Sword transformed him into something that could!" Suzuka exclaimed.

"Precisely. Just as Shidowkun has become the Universe's destroyer, Gene Starwind has become the one who will preserve it." As the battle between the two titans rose into the heavens, Jim broke free of Aisha's grip and ran to the edge of the platform.

"Do it Gene!" he yelled. "Make him pay for what he did!"

(As the battle rages to its climax, Gene has mastered the Sword's power to a level that rivals that of Shidowkun. But will even the infinite strength of the Preserver prove to be a match for the dark power of the Destroyer? And what is the secret plan of the Maiden? Why did she lie to Gene about not being able to revive Melfina? The battle comes to a head in our final explosive chapter, which is posted right now. But first, leave a review.)

Chapter 22
Chapter 24

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