Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ The Blessing of the Sword ( Chapter 24 )

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

CHAPTER 24:

The Blessing of the Sword

(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.)

Higher and higher the blazing cyclone rose into the atmosphere. When it finally breached the clouds, the warring titans burst free, the shockwave clearing the sky around them. Spreading all four of its wings, the Preserver readied itself as the Destroyer circled around to attack. Though spawned by the collective wills of Gene Starwind and the Ryunoken Sword, it was no longer either of them. It could feel the energies of the universe pulsing through its body, guiding its actions as the voice of every living creature called out for it to kill the Destoyer. The Preserver heard their cry and made their voice his own as it flew to meet its enemy's challenge. The Destroyer made the first move, striking at the Preserver's throat with its talons. The titan of light retaliated with its fist, and the passing strikes cast bolts of lighting to streak across the sky. Returning for a second pass, the Preserver slammed into the Destroyer and knocked the titan of darkness into a nearby cloud. The Preserver chased after its opponent for a second attack when suddenly the Destroyer split itself into seven smaller versions of itself. The miniature Destroyers flew around the Preserver and slashed their barbed tails across its body. Rejoining back into one, the Destroyer charged its energy and unleashed several draconic energy blasts that closed in on the Preserver from all sides as the titan of light flew upwards and flailed its wings, firing a hail of energy bolts that rained down and annihilated the dragons. Rising after it, the Destroyer created a lash of red and black flames which he cracked towards the Preserver's head. The Preserver countered with a lash of blue and white flames and easily deflected its enemy's attack. Pursuing each other with god-like wrath, the two titans cracked their flaming whips against each other, igniting sparks that lit the sky and showered the earth beneath them until both their lashes suddenly became tangled together. In the rage of battle, the giants pulled their lashes taught, attempting to yank the other into reach for a decisive blow when the whips split, the recoil sending them flying in opposite directions. With a flap of their wings, the mammoth beings regained control and charged forward, the fury of their attacks ripping the air with each strike.

Down on the ground, Mazren watched the battle in the sky intensify to the point that he could barely keep up. His eyes flitted from left to right, following after the two titans as they slammed into each other with the fury of a thunderstorm. Beneath him, Slag huddled on the ground and whined. He could sense the power and it frightened him.

"Who's winning? Who's winning?" Aisha yelled. "Is Gene winning? Someone tell me who's winning!"

"Neither of them is winning," Suzuka told her. "Both their powers are matched. And each attack only increases their strength even further."

"If they keep up this up they're going to kill each other!" Keibara yelled.

"I fear it's much worse than that," Jubei commented. Mazren turned away from the fight as he and everyone else stared at the Wiseman.

"How much worse?" he asked. Flattening his palms, Jubei pressed them together to illustrate his point.

"We have two equally opposing forces. One positive, one negative. But instead of harmonizing they're clashing against other. As a result, huge amounts of unstable energy are being produced. If one of them doesn't fall soon then the resulting backlash could tear a hole in the fabric of space and time, causing all of existence to collapse into itself."

"You mean like a black hole?" Jim asked.

"Only much more powerful." Mazren looked to his comrades and saw expressions of worry begin to grow on their faces.

"Yeah like that'll happen." As the others switched their attention to him, Mazren turned back to the battle overhead. "So what if Shidowkun's become the Destroyer? He's still the same arrogant conceited bastard he's always been. Why else do you think that he's fighting so hard?"

"You're right!" Aisha said. "This battle isn't over yet. Not by a long shot!"

"Yeah!" Jim added. "No one can beat Gene now. He's the Preserver. He's going to win and that's that." Slag barked in agreement as Jim and Aisha began to cheer for Gene to win. Humming to himself, Mazren suddenly felt Suzuka take his hand in hers.

"You certainly convinced them," she said.

"I know," he replied as he squeezed back. "Now I just wish I could convince myself."

Infuriated by the strength of its rival, the Destroyer's attacks became more and more frantic. Igniting the aura around its body, the Destroyer released its energy in a flurry of explosive blasts. The Preserver wrapped its wings around its body like a shield and forced its way through the barrage. The Destroyer met the charge head on and the two titans grappled with each other, their auras igniting the sky as they struggled against each other. Seeing an opportunity, the Destroyer sneaked its tail around and stabbed towards the Preserver's head. But at the last second, the Preserver maneuvered its left wing into place and blocked the sneak attack in time. The unexpected defense threw the dark titan off balance, allowing the Preserver to pull away its fist and strike across the Destroyer's jaw. With its enemy stunned, The Preserver charged forward, its fists slamming into the Destroyer with the speed and fury of an avalanche. Unable to block against every blow, the Destroyer blindly lashed out with its clawed foot and successfully kicked itself away. Forming an energy ball in its hand, the Destroyer prepared to hurl the projectile when it sensed the Preserver materialize behind it. Before it had a chance to counter, the titan of light snapped its wings forward and the resulting shockwave hurtled the Destroyer earthward as the Preserver tackled it from behind, increasing the momentum even further. Energizing its aura to the highest level, the Preserver drove the Destroyer towards the quickly approaching ground. Once it impacted, the battle would be over.

Until it saw just where it was heading.

As the pinnacle of Shidowkun's tower came into view, the voice of Gene Starwind cried out from inside and the Preserver's energy flickered slightly. Seeing its chance, the Destroyer jabbed the slab of bony armor growing out of its elbow into the Preserver's abdomen, knocking it loose enough for the dark titan to wrap its tail around the Preserver's neck and throw it off.

Hoping that it was over, Suzuka and the others watched horrified as the Destroyer reversed the Preserver's attack and hurtled it towards earth.

"Everyone hit the dirt!" Mazren yelled as he grabbed Suzuka and threw himself on top of her and Slag. Aisha did the same with Jim while Jubei and Keibara hung on to each other. In the distance, Suzuka heard the Preserver crash with a thunderous boom as a shockwave of air and dirt washed over them all. Through the ringing of her ears and the stinging grit in her eyes, Suzuka felt Mazren slowly lean off of her.

"You alright?" he asked.

"I've had better days." Beside her, Slag shook off the dirt covering his coat and sneezed. With a flurry of dust, Aisha peeled herself and Jim off the ground as she rubbed her ears.

"Ow my head," she whined. "My ears are going to be ringing for weeks after that."

"What about Gene?" Jim asked.

"I don't know," Keibara answered. "But here comes the next one." Suzuka looked skyward and saw the Destroyer hovering in the air above them. The dark giant raised its arms over its head and the air began to shimmer as a ball of energy began to accumulate in its hands. The ball quickly grew bigger and bigger as the Destroyer added more and more energy until it was almost as big as itself. Once it was completed, the dark titan's eyes cast down towards where the Preserver had landed as it pulled back its arms and hurled the energy ball forward. Time froze as Suzuka realized that the end had finally come when a pillar of light burst from the ground. Launching into the air, the Preserver slammed its palm into the energy ball, its aura spreading to the projectile; warping the energies and redirecting them back to the Destroyer. Surprised by the unexpected turn of events, the Destroyer raised its aura like a shield as the ball slammed into it, carrying the dark titan into the distance before an explosion lit up the night sky.

"Is it over?" Aisha asked. "Did Gene finally get him?"

"No," Jubei answered. "I can still feel the Destroyer's energy. It'll recover quickly and return even more powerful than ever."

"I guess Skinny had better do something quick then," Keibara added. "Otherwise…oh no look!" Suzuka and the others followed Keibara's line of vision and a cold dread stabbed into Suzuka's heart. The Preserver-the embodiment of both Gene and the Ryunoken Sword-was falling apart. Its body was rapidly shrinking as it sank to the ground; whole pieces of it breaking off and disintegrating. Gene no! Suzuka thought. Gene please get up!

The Preserver's body continued to shrink and flake away until all that remained was Gene Starwind. The weary outlaw fell to his knees and looked up to the sky where the Destroyer had vanished. After the Sword had transformed him, it was like he was watching a dream he had no control over. But when he saw that he was going to crash into the tower, he started to wake up. After that, all he could do was delay the inevitable as he quickly lost his grip on the power.

"Come on," he told the Sword. "We're not done yet. You've got to turn me back into that thing so we can win." But no matter how hard he tried to focus, the power wouldn't come. Was his mind finally and totally burned out? Or was it something else? Gene stared at the S-shaped Dragon crest on his hand and began to wonder if the Sword was trying to tell him that transforming again wouldn't be enough to win. Then what would? Gene asked. Gene closed his eyes and racked his brain as he searched for an answer. Images of the Leyline, Melfina, his training with Jubei and Tyr, and the stone tablets on Tenrei flashed across his mind. The tablets, Gene thought. The fourth tablet showed the Destroyer with the Sword contained within. Didn't Khan tell him that the Sword accepted or rejected those who grasped it based on its compatibility with their own ki? That's why Mazren was thrown off when he tried to take it so maybe…

A smile spread across Gene's face as the power began to flow of its own accord, reenergizing his body and energy. Rising to his feet, Gene looked up to where the Destroyer had vanished and knew what he had to do.

"All right you son of a bitch. You want the Sword that much, then I'll give it to you."

High above the planet's atmosphere, the Destroyer floated along the outskirts of the orbital ring. In the distance, an arm was pulled through space to reattach to its damaged shoulder. The left leg, hanging on by a strand of flesh, began to reconnect the bones and muscle of the hip as a new tail sprouted from the bloody stump. As the mangled wings stitched together, the Destroyer's eyes slowly opened and glowed red in fury. Gene Starwind had stood against its will. He had even caused it pain. For millennia it had slept imprisoned until the intruder had awakened it, absorbing the its power and becoming its incarnation. Watching through the eyes of its puppet, the Destroyer had patiently waited, learning the concepts of sentience and domination until it at last developed a will of its own. After all this time, it would not be denied any further.

As the Destroyer's rage began to rise, its aura flamed around its body. But instead of immediately charging back into the fight, it increased the strength of its aura even further, crushing the surrounding debris with its radiating energy. This time when it attacked, nothing would be left standing.

Reaching above him, Gene reached out with the Sword's power. He had first used it this way during the fight with the android servants. But this time, the object he was reaching for was at least five miles away. Then again, if he could transform into something that could rival the Destroyer then why couldn't he pull this off?

Far away, in the rubble of Shidowun's throne room, Gene's Caster Blade began to shake as it slowly skidded across the floor and suddenly launched into the air. Flying through the hole Suzuka had made in the wall, the Caster Blade glided through the sky where it aimed downward and dove itself handle first into Gene's waiting hand.

"Yes!" Gene said. "Now for the hard part." Reaching to his belt, Gene pulled his remaining caster shell and griped the number 9 in both fists. Next, Gene focused his mind on the Sword, his arms glowing white as he pushed it forward. On his hand, the dragon crest ignited with white flames and burned away as he felt the Sword exit his body and enter the number 9. After a brief second of forcing the energies together, Gene relaxed and opened his hands. In his palms, the number nine shone with the light and heat of a flare. Thanks to Tyr's training, the Sword was now compacted inside the shell.

"Here goes nothing," Gene sighed. Snapping the chamber open, Gene inserted the glowing shell into the Caster Blade and aimed at a star that was slowly growing brighter. Look's like you're ready to end this. That suits me just fine. Taking a deep breath, Gene closed his eyes and concentrated on the power contained within his Caster. When Jubei had first taken it out of him, Gene had been able to control the sword and call it back to him in a moment of desperation. Now he'd have to do it again.

Around Gene, the air shimmered and glowed as wisps of energy materialized and rotated around him before being sucked into the caster where they combined with the sword. As the chamber began to fill with the energies straining inside it, Gene forced them to compact and drew in even more. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before Gene couldn't compact the power any further and the energy began to leak out.

"It's not enough," he growled through the stress. "I need more."

"Help him."

As the voice spoke into his ears, Jim's attention broke away from where the Preserver had vanished and he searched for the source. Around him; Suzuka, Mazren, and Aisha seemed to be in similar states of confusion.

"Is something wrong?" Jubei asked.

"Am I the only one who heard that?" Aisha asked, her tail twitching nervously.

"Heard what?" Keibara asked

"Someone just told us to help someone," Mazren answered. Slag whined beside him. He too had seemed to hear the voice.

"This might sound crazy," Jim remarked. "But that sounded a lot like Mel."

"But different somehow," Suzuka added.

"Forget who said it!" Aisha yelled. "What did she mean, help him?"

"It's Gene," Mazren realized. "He hasn't been able to change back into the Preserver right? Well if something isn't done soon, then the Destroyer's going to win."

"But what can we possibly do?" Suzuka asked.

"You could lend him your strength." All eyes fell on Jubei as Keibara helped him walk towards them. "All of you; join hands and form a circle around me. Keibara, my energy is still depleted so I'll need your help to cast." Jim and the others did as they were instructed and surrounded the Wisman. Jim joined hands with Aisha who joined hands with Suzuka. Suzuka took Mazren's hand and Slag stood between him and Jim. Jim and Mazren both grabbed a hold of Slag's collar as Jubei raised his staff into the air. "Now, reach out with your hearts and mind to Gene Starwind. I shall handle the rest." Jim closed his eyes and attempted to mentally reach out to Gene as he felt something from within connect with the others, joining their spirits as they flew to where Gene was still fighting.

The Destroyer's aura blazed like the sun, casting streams of red and black fire throughout the debris field. There was no more any margin for error. Gene Starwind was going to die. And the best way to insure it was to destroy the planet along with him.

As its power reached its peak, the Destroyer's aura exploded, creating a chain reaction that shattered the orbital rings and showered the planet below with falling debris. With a surge of energy the dark titan dove headlong towards the planet, its power vaporizing any object in its path.

Gene gritted his teeth as his grip began to steadily weaken. The energies he had compacted had begun to seep out of the shell as bolts of crackling energy sprang forth and ripped across the air and ground. Above him, the sky lit up with a shower of falling stars as the light from the Destroyer's aura began to shoot towards him and the Sword called out for him to fire.

"Not yet!" he said aloud. "Damn it it's not enough!"

You can't do anything without me can you Gene?

The sudden voice in his head almost made Gene lose his control on the power when he suddenly felt as though someone else was grabbing the stock of the Caster Blade.

"Aisha?"

Using that trick Tyr taught you huh? There's no way a human will be able to pull this off. Let me show you how it's done. Aisha gripped the power with him and Gene felt the energies slowly begin to push back together.

"What's going on?" he asked.

You can't beat this thing on your own Gene, Mazren's voiced told him. Besides, this is our fight too. So quit hogging all the glory for yourself. Adding his grip to Aisha's, Mazren combined his strength with Gene's to further pack in the energy. Gene heard something howl and felt as though a pair of jaws were seizing the Caster along with the others.

"So even the mutt's joining in huh?"

We're a team Gene, Jim said as Gene felt his partner add his presence to the others. No matter what comes our way we face it together right?

Melfina taught us all what it meant to be family, Suzuka commented. Right now, I can think of no better way to honor her memory than by using that as a means to kill that thing. With the presence of the others adding their power to his own, Gene smiled as he prepared to open himself to them all.

"Then let's do it." As the barriers came crumbling down, their spirits merged towards a single goal, summoning and compacting the Sword's power into one final assault as their strengths fused into one. Jim's loyalty, Aisha's courage, Mazren's drive, Suzuka's calm, Slag's instinct; Gene felt them all flowing around and through him as the power of the attack rose toward its peak.

And then, Gene sensed something else; a pair of gentle arms that wrapped around his waist from behind as a soft voice began to sing inside his heart. Melfina, Gene realized. The presence added its own energy to the attack and the power finally reached its apex. The excess energy swirled around Gene like a typhoon as chunks of earth were lifted into the air and crushed. In the sky above, the Destroyer entered the atmosphere and burst through the clouds as it hurtled towards its target. Taking aim, Gene's grip tightened and prepared to fire.

"No contest!" Gene said as he pulled the trigger. The shockwave from the blast roared across the surface of the planet, scouring the ground as the massive energy blast rose into the sky. At its head, the energy warped and shaped into a giant fist as it flew forward and smashed into the Destroyer. With a flash that illuminated the sky and an explosion that shook the planet, the Destroyer's aura was shattered as the dark titan was sent flying through the air. Turning around, the energy blast reshaped itself into a gigantic serpentine dragon that aimed straight for the Destroyer's heart. The demonic giant raised its hand to block, but the dragon blasted through it like wet paper before plunging through the Destroyer's chest. Exiting through its back, the Dragon's coils wrapped around the Destroyer's torso and limbs as it sank its jaws into the titan's throat. With the Destroyer wounded and trapped, the dragon snapped its coils and slammed the struggling and roaring giant into the ground, creating an explosion of white fire that spread across the planet's surface in a flood.

"Jim, Jim are you all right?"

From far away, Jim heard Aisha's voice call out for him. But it wasn't until something warm and damp caressed his face that he made a conscious effort to wake up. Is that Aisha? Jim thought as he felt his face begin to heat. Man could she use a breath mint. Forcing his eyes open, Jim looked up through the haze and saw a familiar face smiling down on him.

"Hey, glad to see you're awake." Jim looked around and saw that his head was lying on Aisha's lap. He also noticed that Aisha had changed into one of her spare uniforms. Just how many of those things did she have anyway? "Are you okay Jim? You're blushing?" As Jim mustered up the courage to ask if it was her he had felt, something else poked its head into Jim's view. Wagging his tail in relief, Slag whined and licked Jim's face. "Slag was worried about you too."

"So I noticed," Jim said as pushed the wolf away in a mixture of disgust and disappointment. With Aisha's help, Jim rose to a sitting position and finally noticed the changes that had gone on while he was out. With eyes widened in shock, Jim slowly stood to his feet to get a better view. Where once there was only a burned wasteland, there was now an endless field of green. Grass and trees had sprouted where the lava pits had previously spawned jets of flaming gas. The call of birds drew Jim's attention overhead where he saw that even Shidowkun's fortress had been changed. The intimidating black stone tower had been bleached white, as if it had been thoroughly scrubbed for the first time in years. "What the…"

"It happened after Gene killed the Destroyer." Jim turned around and saw Suzuka, Keibara, and Jubei sitting on a pile of rubble. "Remember that flash?" the assassin asked as she drank from a cup of tea. "From what Jubei's told me, the resulting backlash from the attack reignited this planet's life force."

"To be more precise," the Wiseman commented, "Shidowkun had thrown this world's forces of life and death out of balance in order to increase his own strength. After his death, the power of the Sword restored the balance. Now, all is as it was here." Remembering the battle, Jim looked around and saw that not only was Gene missing, Mazren was too.

"Hey, where's…"

"Don't worry," Keibara told him. "Skinny's alive. Your ship and Master Jubei worked together to locate him and Mazren went to pick him up." It was then that Jim noticed the bright red grappler ship that was parked just behind the others. Running forward, Jim inspected the Outlaw Star and saw to his relief that only a few of the bow hull plates and two of the forward scanners had been crushed. The engines and everything else seemed unharmed.

"Gillium!" he called out. "Are you okay?"

"I'm perfectly fine Jim," the computer answered. "All vital systems are intact. Once you and the others are ready taking off should be no problem at all. By the way, where is Melfina? My sensors may be damaged but I can detect no sign of her in the immediate vicinity." Jim lowered his head to the ground and fought to contain the tears that threatened to fall.

"She's dead," he answered through a clenched voice. "Shidowkun killed her." The Outlaw Star's computer was silent as he analyzed what Jim had told him.

"I'm very sorry Jim. Like you, I was fond of her as well." Jim didn't answer. He had gotten back to the throne room in time to see the knife embed itself in Melfina's chest. It was a scene that he would never be able to forget. "But where is Gene?" Gillium asked. "I don't detect his presence either. Did Shidowkun kill him as well?" Before Jim could answer, the sound of an approaching car caught his attention. He looked over his shoulder and saw his Eirfrau drive onto the ruins of the landing port. As it came to a stop, Jim saw Mazren climb out of the driver's side as Gene slowly pulled himself out of the passenger. "Gene!" Jim called out. He and the others ran to and surrounded their friend. Jim was about to forget his pride and embrace his aniki when he noticed how tired Gene looked. His clothes were torn and stained with blood while his eyes had a vacant, hollow stare. "Are you okay Gene?" Gene looked down at Jim and managed to smile emptily at him.

"Physically I couldn't be better." Gene rubbed his eyes and Jim suddenly noticed the back of Gene's right hand.

"Gene, the mark's gone."

"I know Jim," Gene said. "So is the Sword. But I don't know what happened to it."

"Its work was finished," Jubei answered. "It achieved what it sought to accomplish and now it has moved on to where it's needed next."

"Well at least something got accomplished," Gene said. Jim and the others looked to each other and they all grew the same expression as Gene. The battle was over, but the victory hardly seemed worth what they had lost. Pushing his way out of the circle, Gene began to walk towards the tower. "Come on," he told them. "Let's go get Mel. The least we can do is take her home."

"Right behind you," Mazren said as he and Suzuka trailed after. Jim was about to follow himself when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"You know, we can stay down here if you like," Aisha told him. Jim shook his head.

"I'll be alright." Jim knew that as much pain he was in, it was nowhere near as much as what Gene was feeling. It's just not fair, Jim thought as he bit his lip. We went through all that and we didn't even get what we were really fighting for. What kind of victory is that? He and Aisha were just starting to catch up to the others when Jubei suddenly called out for them.

"Wait."

"What is it?" Suzuka asked as they all turned to face the Wiseman. Underneath his hat, Jubei's eyes rose to the top of Shidowkun's tower.

"It's very faint," he said. "But I sense something that feels almost alive." Jim looked to the other and a faint glimmer of hope appeared in all their eyes.

"Hey Gene!" Jim called out. But Gene had already heard Jubei and was running ahead of them into the fortress. Not wanting to be left behind, the others chased after him with Jubei and Keibara following behind. Going down the same passageway they had entered, they found themselves in the lobby where the fortress guards had caught them. But Gene was nowhere to be seen.

"Now where'd he go?" Aisha asked. "You know this place is getting old really fast."

"Let's just focus on getting to the top for now," Mazren said. "He'll catch to us sooner or later."

"Good point," Jim added as he pulled out his PA. "There's an elevator that I managed to get working somewhere. Give me a minute and I'll find it."

Gene's mind and spirit had felt like lead ever since he regained consciousness from the fight. Still, he pushed forward in his frantic climb to the top of the tower. The glimmer of hope that Melfina could still be alive was more than enough to motivate him. Melfina just hold on, he prayed. I felt you join in with the others so you have to be alive. Melfina please just hold on. Ascending the stairway he and Jim had taken to the 26th floor, Gene turned a corner and almost crashed into a figure standing in his way. Gene reached for his caster blade, believing one of the guards had survived, but stopped when he suddenly saw the wings growing out of the figure's back.

"I see you've defeated the Destroyer," the Maiden told him. "That's not something just anyone could accomplish. You should be proud of yourself Gene. You've saved the universe from an unbearable fate." Gene scowled as he holstered his weapon.

"I don't have time for this, so if you don't mind…"

"You're trying to get the Melfina are you not?" Gene felt his eyes widen as the glimmer of hope within him began to grow.

"You mean she's still alive?" The Maiden frowned as she pursed her lips.

"Melfina isn't dead, but neither is she alive."

"Well then which the hell is it!" Gene screamed.

"Gene, please calm down. I will show you what I mean. Take my hand and we shall be transported to the peak of the fortress." The Maiden extended her hand and Gene looked at her in doubt. After everything he had gone through, he had had enough of people who spoke in riddles. Still, it didn't look like he had much of a choice. Cautiously, Gene reached forward to take the Maiden's hand and the hallway vanished in a flash of light. A sudden windstorm whipped around him, and Gene found himself in the ruins of Shidowkun's throne room.

"All right now where's Mel?" The maiden pointed towards a column behind him and Gene turned to look, his eyebrow rising in confusion. Stuck to the surface of the pillar was what looked like a cocoon of solid energy. The glowing shell pulsed as if breathing and was lucid enough for Gene to perceive the outline of a small human shaped figure inside. Beneath the column, a pile of dust lay scattered around the remains of what looked like the armor of a fortress guard and the dress Melfina had been wearing. "What the hell is this?"

"When Melfina separated herself from Jim and came back to fight," the Maiden explained, "I knew that she in all likelihood she would be killed so…"

"So you just let her go?" Gene turned from the glowing cocoon to face her, his eyes twisted in rage.

"Gene, I understand how upset you are. But it was the only way for the universe to have any chance of surviving."

"Shut up!" Gene screamed. "I don't give a damn about that! And you've got no right to act like this isn't your fault! You were the ones who created the Destroyer! You were the one who hid like a coward while we did all the fighting! And you were the one who threw away Melfina's life like a piece of garbage so I'd clean up YOUR mess!" Gene lunged for the collar of the Maiden's tunic and his hand passed through her ethereal form like air, sending him stumbling off balance.

"Gene, that's enough," she told him as he stumbled. "I didn't want this to happen to Melfina either. But the rate you were fighting, Shidowkun was going to take Melfina back and then all would be lost. By letting her go, I ensured that Shidowkun's defenses were weakened by the light of Melfina's soul. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to help you escape Shidowkun's clutch, you wouldn't have defeated him, and neither would you have a chance to revive Melfina." Although he hated to admit it, Gene realized that the Maiden had a point. Gritting his teeth, Gene clenched his fist and pounded it against a nearby column.

"So what's the deal? Is she alive or not?" Retreating towards the cocoon, the Maiden gently stroked its glowing surface.

"There was a man here," she explained. "A fortress guard named Karg who like you was a pawn in Shidowkun's plot. But he was touched by Melfina's kindness, and a part of him that was long forgotten began to stir. During the battle, he freed himself from Shidowkun's control. I spoke with him, told him what I might have to do, and he volunteered to aid me in preserving Melfina's body."

"Preserving?"

"After you engaged the Destroyer outside the fortress, the man and I inspected Melfina's body. Once we learned that her brain was undamaged, the man sacrificed himself, allowing me to sculpt his life force and soul into the form you see here." Hesitantly, Gene approached the cocoon and placed his hand where it looked like Melfina's face was.

"So then, does that mean Melfina's going to be revived?" The Maiden frowned as her eyes locked with Gene's; always a bad sign.

"I'm afraid that this shell can only heal and preserve Melfina's body," she answered. "When a person dies Gene, their spirits ascend to join with the soul of the Universe. Sometimes though, a soul can't completely merge because of a deep emotional tie with an aspect of their existence. I believe that Melfina's soul is one because of her feelings for you. At this moment, I'm using the Leyline to access the ki lines to try and locate her. But I have no idea as to how long it will take. It could be days, or even years. I'm sorry Gene, but this is all I can do for you and her." Removing his hand from the cocoon, Gene stared at where the Dragon crest used to be before he turned to the Maiden and smiled.

"Thanks for you help, but I think I'll take it from here."

"Gene what are you saying?" Grabbing his wrist, Gene relaxed and began to focus. His mind turned inward where it found that almost unnoticeable spark and began to drag it out. In the center of his hand, the skin rose and stretched as a sliver of crystal grew like a budding plant out of his palm.

"This is a shard of the Ryunoken Sword," Gene told her. "Shidowkun said that the Sword leaves a small portion of its power with each host after it departs them. And if he could use his to create a Sword of his own, then I can use mine to bring back Melfina."

"Well," the Maiden said, "theoretically I suppose that it's…"

"It'll work," Gene interrupted. "When the others were joining in the fight with the Destroyer, I felt Melfina join in as well. Now just stand back and let me take care of this."

"Gene wait! I don't think that you're thinking clearly. Even if it is possible, you're still too exhausted from your fight with the Destroyer. If you can't reach Melfina immediately, your spirit may give out and you'll die. At least wait until you're rested before you try something so risky." Gene stopped and reached into his pocket, withdrawing a necklace with a diamond pendant.

"I told Melfina that no matter what I would always come for her," he said. "And that means I won't stop fighting until I get her back. I let her go once already because I was afraid of losing her. I'm not going to do that again."

"And if you die?"

"Then one way or another I'll be with Melfina." Moving closer to the cocoon, Gene turned to the Maiden and smiled. "But if I don't make it, tell Mazren to take care of the others for me." The Maiden smiled back and nodded.

"I will." Turning back to the cocoon, Gene looked to his heart for the image of Melfina; someone who had believed in him when he didn't, who had healed wounds he thought would never heal, and who he'd walk into hell to rescue. The shard in his hand began to glow as it responded to his emotions as Gene pulled back his hand and plunged the crystal into the heart of the cocoon.

The elevator doors couldn't open fast enough for him. As soon as he had space to squeeze through, Jim pushed himself through and ran down the hallway towards Shidowkun's throne room.

"Jim wait up!" Aisha called. Jim ignored her and the others raced after him as he turned the corner and a blinding flash filled the corridor. They all shielded their eyes from the searing brightness as the sound of a strained scream reached their ears. Gene, Jim realized. As the light began to fade, Jim and the others made their way towards the throne room where the source of the light still shone. As they made their way through the doorway, a small figure began to appear in the light. The figure came forward and Jim saw it was a girl with four fairy wings growing out of her back.

"The Maiden," Jim said. He had never seen her before, but he knew that it was her from everything he had learned about Mel and the Leyline. As he and the others watched, the Maiden smiled at them as she raised her hand to bid them goodbye.

"Farewell," she told them. "It was nice to see all of you again." The image of the Maiden faded and another appeared behind it. This one was a huge man who looked to be in his early forties. In his arm, the man carried a six year old girl whose arms were wrapped around his neck. Ignoring the others, the man stared at Mazren and smiled as he gave him the V-sign. Jim looked to Mazren and saw how he seemed to recognize the man. As he overcame his surprise, Mazren smiled back and returned the V-sign as the man and child vanished from sight and the light finally disappeared completely. Searching the throne room, Jim and the others saw no sign of Mel, only Gene leaning against a glowing pod attached to one of the pillars.

"Gene, Gene are you all right?" The sound of Jim's voice pulled Gene out of his daze. The last thing he remembered was plunging the shard into the cocoon. After that, everything was a blur as he felt something attempt to yank him out of his body as he reached and searched an indescribable distance for something important to him. Gene was at the end of his limits and was about to let go of himself when he finally found what he was looking for and yanked it down to him as hard as he could.

Melfina! With his sudden realization, Gene pulled his head away and stared at the cocoon in shock. The light from the pod was fading, its surface darkening and hardening into a dull shell. Did it work? Gene put his head against the surface, but heard nothing to indicate anything inside was alive. Oh no! No this can't be happening! It had to work! I felt her! I know I grabbed her! She can't be dead. Melfina no! As the others slowly approached, Gene pulled back his fist and pounded on the cocoon, shattering it open on impact. Something fell out of the shell and into Gene's arms, the surprise of it making him collapse onto the floor. Crouching on the ground, Gene looked down at the naked girl cradling in his arms and felt her body shake as a wheezing gasp escaped her lips.

"Melfina?" Torn between hope and despair, Gene brushed a piece of hair from her face as Melfina's eyes slowly opened and looked up to him.

"Gene…what's wrong? Why are you crying?" As soon as she spoke his name, the tears Gene had been holding back finally escaped and he chuckled in relief before yanking Melfina towards him and kissing her fiercely.

"Mel!" Aisha and Jim both cried out as they ran over and threw their arms around her neck. The others followed after and surrounded them. Pushing his way through Aisha and Jim, Slag nosed his way in and licked Melfina's face before nuzzling his head in her lap.

"Melfina," Mazren said as he kneeled down. The big man took Melfina's hand into his own and Gene could have sworn that Mazren's usually steely eyes were about to cry themselves. "Are you all right?"

"I guess so," Melfina answered. "But I feel so tired. What happened to me?"

"Don't you remember anything Mel?" Aisha asked.

"I don't know, everything's so confused and I can't remember anything after coming back here to fight."

"Who cares," Jim cried, his face buried into Melfina's shoulder as he shed tears of joy. "You're safe, that's all that matters."

"Yeah that's right," Mazren added as Gene handed Mel to him, his arms wrapping around Melfina's small body. "But don't ever scare us like that again okay?"

"Okay," Melfina agreed as Suzuka stood above her.

"Melfina," she said, "I'm glad to see that you're all right."

"Hey look everyone," Aisha said as she pointed to Suzuka. "I don't believe it. Suzu the Ice Queen's actually crying."

"Aisha will you stop calling me that! And I am not crying! Well…"and Suzuka smiled as she realized the futility of denial. "Maybe just a little." Handing Melfina back to Gene, Mazren stood up and brushed Suzuka's eye with his knuckle.

"Don't worry; we'll overlook it this one time." Suzuka looked to her and smiled before throwing her arms around Mazren's neck and kissing him even more fiercely than Gene had done to Mel.

"Wow," Aisha said as she watched. "Whoever thought Suzu had it in her?" Suzuka broke away the kiss and beamed at the others.

"Get used to it," she told them. Kneeling down beside Gene and Mel, Keibara laid the coat Gene had discarded during the fight across Melfina's nakedness.

"Hey Mel!" Keibara smiled. "Here, wouldn't want you to catch cold after we saved you."

"Thank you Keibara," Mel said. "But what happened to Shidowkun? Did he escape?"

"No of course not," Gene told her as he buried his nose in her mane. Each time he breathed, Gene took a deep breath of its strawberry scent to assure himself that this was real. "We beat him Mel. He's dead. It's over. It's finally over."

"But is it really?" Aisha asked as she stood up. "I don't want to jinx it, but after everything we've gone through how do we know that this time Shidowkun's gone for good?"

"Good question," Keibara answered. "Maybe he's hiding in the shadows RIGHT BEHIND YOU!"

"GAAHH THAT'S NOT EVEN FUNNY!" Aisha screamed.

"Jubei what do you think?" Suzuka asked. "Is Shidowkun dead?" The charms on the Wiseman's staff rang together as he looked at them from under the brim of his hat.

"The being you call Shidowkun is most certainly dead. However, the entity that was controlling him still exists."

"What!" Mazren yelled. "You've got to be kidding us! It took everything Gene and the Sword threw at him and you're telling us it's still alive."

"It is true that the Sword's power shattered the Destroyer's body," Jubei explained. "But its essence still survives. Remember, the Destroyer was spawned from the collective hatred of the entire universe. It can never be completely defeated because a piece of it lives inside all of us." Seeing the worried looks on their faces, Jubei smiled assuringly. "But after the damage you inflicted, it will be a very long time before the Destroyer becomes a threat to anyone. And even if it should return, as long as there are people like yourselves willing to challenge even fate to defeat it, than I'm sure the Sword with return as well."

"Yeah and so what if it comes back," Gene bragged as he bundled his coat around Melfina. "If it does I'll just kick its ass again." Rising off the floor, Gene lifted Melfina into his arms as Keibara came forward to lay her hand on Melfina's shoulder.

"So Mel do you think that you're going to be all right?"

"I think I will be," Melfina said as she snuggled into Gene's arms.

"Glad to hear it," Keibara replied as turned her attention towards Gene. Clenching her fist, Keibara lightly tapped her knuckle on Gene's chin.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"That was a warning shot," Keibara told him. You'd better be the kind of man that Mel deserves. Otherwise, as soon as I finish my training, I'm going to come after you and feed you to Tyr. Likwise," Keibara threatened as she pointed at Suzuka and Aisha, "you two had better be good to your boyfriends. Otherwise, I'll steal both Jim and Mazren away from you."

"Unbelievable," Aisha muttered. "After all this time you're still just a filthy minded pervert."

"Hey, a girl's gotta have fun somehow." Aisha and Keibara smiled at each other before clasping each other's hands in mutual comraderie.

"So Jubei what are you and the Dragon Clan going to do now?" Suzuka asked.

"Now that the Sword's work is finished mine is too," the Wiseman answered. "Maybe now I'll even allow myself to grow old." Stepping towards a ruined section of the wall, Jubei looked across the restored landscape of Shidowkun's world. "For now though, I think I'll stay here. This world is free. It can become a place where all will be welcome; a haven for those with no home."

"What about the Dragon Clan?" Mazren asked.

"I'll leave it up to them to decide whether to stay with me, or to seek out their own path." Turning back to Gene, Jubei approached him. "Perhaps you and your friends would like to stay here as well. Strong leaders are always needed on a new frontier."

"Thanks but no thanks," Gene said. "I'm through being a hero. And now, I just want to go back to being an outlaw." The Wiseman smiled and reached into his tunic, pulling free the medallion that had guided them all to the Sword's planet and placing it around Gene's neck.

"Than as all those before you; accept the Blessing of the Sword; and go forever in peace."

"God I hope not," Gene joked. "Sounds boring as hell." Looking down to Melfina, then to each of his crew; Gene flashed his trademark grin. "Come on everyone, let's go home." With Jubei and Keibara escorting them out, Gene led the others out of the throne room and into the elevator. As the elevator descended to the bottom of the fortress, Gene looked down and smiled at the sight of Melfina asleep in his arms. I've got my angel back, Gene thought as he leaned forward and kissed her forehead. And this time, I'm never letting you go again. As the elevator broke to halt and they exited, Gene felt a large hand fall on his shoulder.

"You know," Mazren said with a grin, "you did pretty good for an inexperienced kid."

"Thanks a lot," Gene replied. "So I guess this now makes me the toughest guy in the universe huh?"

"Yeah right," Mazren said as they exited the fortress and made their way towards the Outlaw Star. "Not while I'm around."

From a safe distance, Keibara watched as the Outlaw Star rose off the platform and climbed into the sky, taking Mel and everyone else with it.

"Are you all right?" Master Jubei asked her.

"Yeah, I'm okay. To be honest I'm a little sad though."

"That's perfectly understandable. But don't worry. As long as you and Melfina have the desire to see each other, I'm sure that you two shall meet again."

"Yeah you're right," Keibara said, feeling a little bit better. "Say Master Jubei, are Mel and Skinny going to be okay?"

"You mean are they going to live happily ever after?" Keibara nodded and Jubei's face grew a serious expression. "Their love is for each other is great, and that gives them both incredible strength of spirit. Unfortunately, whenever someone possesses great strength, there will always appear those who shall challenge them. And in life, everything must sooner or later come to an end." A light appeared in the sky above them and Jubei and Keibara went to meet their returning comrades. "But in the meantime, I shall say a sutra to grant Gene and Melfina a moment of peace. After everything they've accomplished. They've earned at least that."

As she felt the lips brush against her temple, Melfina slowly woke up. Her eyes fluttered open and she found herself lying in her bed aboard the Outlaw Star. Someone stroked her hair, and Melfina looked up and smiled at the pair of warm blue eyes hovering above her.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," Gene said back. "Did I wake you?"

"Yeah, but it's okay." Wrapping her arm around Gene's neck, Melfina pulled herself up to kiss him. Gene's arm snaked around her back and supported her as Melfina's tongue probed into his mouth, making Gene hum in approval. Lifting her off her the mattress, Gene sat at the edge of her bed and placed Melfina across his lap. As Melfina curled against him, the cool air brushed against her naked skin. Gene must have put her to bed as soon as they boarded the Outlaw Star. But unlike in Shidowkun's fortress, Melfina didn't feel scared or vulnerable. She did feel a little cold however. As if sensing this, Gene grabbed her bed sheet and wrapped it around her. As he rested his hand on her shoulder, Melfina caressed it with her own. "So the Sword's really gone?" she asked.

"Yeah that's right," Gene told her. "You know, it feels strange not to have that power anymore, but it also feels good; almost like I've woken up from a bad dream." Gene kissed her forehead as his hand stroked her back. "That's why I came here. I had to make sure that you were still really here." Melfina frowned and Gene pulled away from her. "What's wrong?"

"Gene, I'm starting to remember a little of what happened. Did I die?" Gene sighed and told her everything that had happened; how he had lost control of himself and was almost consumed by Shidowkun, how the Maiden of the Leyline helped him pull himself out, and how Karg had given his life to help Gene and the Maiden bring her back. "I felt so sorry for him," Melfina said. "He was in so much pain and Shidowkun was using that to control him."

"But in the end he was able to break free. And if he hadn't sacrificed himself, I never would have been able to bring you back. As far as I'm concerned that makes up for everything he did under Shidowkun."

"But am I really back?" Melfina asked, a sense of fear begging to wiggle inside her stomach. "What if I lost part of me while I was dead? What if I'm not the same person anymore? What if I'm just a copy of…" but Gene cut her off as his hand cupped her cheek.

"Let me ask you something? Do you love me?"

"Gene I…"

"Just answer the question. Do you love me?" As Melfina calmed down, she considered the question and smiled.

"Yes Gene."

"And do you know that I love you?" he asked.

"Of course I do." Gene's hand began stroking her cheek and Melfina leaned into his touch; the soothing caress slowly pacifying her doubts until Gene lightly pinched her.

"Yeah, you're definitely still you." Melfina looked to him and smiled through her pulled features.

"Yeah right," Melfina said as her hand rose to pinch Gene's cheek. "And you're definitely not dreaming." The two of them released each other and laughed as Melfina relaxed and nestled against him. Her eyes caught sight of Gene's two facial scars and she remembered something important. "Gene, about what Shidowkun said."

"Mel don't worry about it," he assured her. "I know that nothing happened. And even if it did it wouldn't make me think any less of you."

"That's not it," Melfina explained. "It's something else that you should know." Gene cocked his ear and listened as Melfina told him about how she had to pretend to let Harry MacDougal kiss her so that she could escape and how Ron had stopped him from beating her. "The last thing he said before he dragged Harry away was that he had paid you back for your father. It wasn't long after that when I heard an explosion coming from where they were." Gene was silent as he touched the parallel marks on his face.

"I guess that in the end even someone like Ron MacDougal has a shred of decency in him," he finally said. "And don't worry about the thing with Harry. Except how did you get him off you in the first place?"

"Well," Melfina answered, "I had to hit him down there."

"Down where?"

"Down…there." Melfina's eyes lowered to Gene's crotch and his eyes widened in realization. Grimacing at the thought, Gene shook it off and laughed as he pulled Melfina towards him and kissed her.

"I am so proud of you."

"Me too." Melfina leaned her head against Gene's shoulder and sighed in contentment as she felt her eyes beginning to close.

"Well you've been through a lot," Gene said. "I'll let you get back to sleep."

"Gene no," Melfina asked. "Please; stay a little longer." Gene hummed and brushed his lips across her eyes.

"You know I think I will." Turning around, Gene laid her back down on the bed and stood up. Melfina watched through half-closed eyes as Gene quickly stripped out of his clothes before slipping in beside her and gathering her into his arms.

"Better?" he asked as he pulled the bed sheet over them both.

"Much," Melfina said as he snuggled into the warmth of his chest.

"Than you get your rest," he told her. "Because the minute you wake up, I am going to make love to you until you can't take it anymore."

"I can't wait," Melfina sighed. Melfina buried her face into Gene's throat and smiled as a familiar, musky scent found its way into her nose. "Gene, why do you always wear so much cologne?"

"Do you want me not to?"

"No," Melfina said as she drifted into sleep. "No I don't."

And they stayed that way for the next three days.

(Shidowkun is gone, the Destroyer is defeated, and Gene and Mel are finally together with nothing more to fear. But the story's not over yet! Be here next time for the shocking, explosive, and mind boggling epilogue. Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 23
Epilogue

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