Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Mazren's Secret ( Chapter 6 )

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

CHAPTER 6:

MAZREN'S SECRET

(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.)

(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.)

"Damn it, damn it, damn it!" Harry screamed as he beat his fists against the bulkhead. "We were so close and then we lost her again! Damn it, damn it, damn it!" On a nearby couch, Ron McDougal sat and listened as Harry raged mindlessly. His hands were crossed in front of him and his brow was creased. Although he didn't show it, he was even more furious than Harry. The Shangri La was his ship. It had been the ship of his father. It had gotten him and Harry through scrapes that would have gotten a normal ship blown into rubble. But Gene and that black ship had shot it clear out of space like a helpless tanker.

In his mind, Ron went over what happened over and over again. They had caught the Outlaw Star and were ready to take the android. The grappler pilots that had been sent to aid then were supposedly the best that the Toku had to offer. Gene Starwind had been powerless against their skill and strength. But then, that black ship came out of nowhere. With their surprise reinforcements, Gene Starwind and his friends swatted down the Toku and even knocked around Him and Harry like a cat toying with a mouse. And now, Ron and Harry were out of a ship, had lost the android, and were still in debt to the Toku. And all because the pilot of that black ship had chosen to stick his nose in Ron's business. If I ever see that guy again, he's dead, Ron vowed.

"Hey McDougal," the pilot of ship C said over the intercom. Ron looked up to the source of the voice and scowled.

"What the hell do you want?" he growled.

"I've got a priority 1 transmission. And it's asking for you specifically." Shit, Ron thought. A priority 1 transmission meant that some one very high up in the Toku wanted to talk to him. Definitely not a good sign.

"Fine," he said. "I'll take it down here." Getting up from the couch, Ron walked over to the monitor by the room's hatchway. He turned it on and the image of a large and powerfully built man appeared in the screen. The man wore red and black trimmed armor and his face was covered by an iron mask. Ron relaxed slightly; glad that it wasn't who he thought it was.

"Oh it's you," Ron said. "So tell me Karg what can I do for you?"

"Spare me the pleasantries MacDougal," Karg told him. "The Emperor demands a report from you. Why haven't you acquired the android as he commanded?"

"Well," Ron said as searched for an answer. Though Ron prided himself on his unshakable nerve, he hated dealing with the Toku. If he didn't tread carefully, he and Harry's future wouldn't be very bright. "There was an unexpected…complication."

"What do you mean 'a complication'?"

"Gene Starwind has a friend. I don't know who though. He just appeared out of nowhere and attacked us. He helped Gene wreck your guys as well as our own ship. As a result, we lost the android."

"I see. I shall report this to the Emperor immediately."

"While you're at it," Ron suggested, "Harry and I will go back to Blue Heaven. I know how Gene thinks. He won't be expecting another attack so soon after our fight. And face to face, he's no match for us."

"No," Karg said. "You and your brother had your chance and you failed. You will return to our base on Minos and await further instructions. And as for Gene Starwind, you needn't concern yourself with him anymore. Lord Askared has already been sent ahead of you to Blue Heaven with a company of Oni. He will personally deal with Gene Starwind and capture Melfina himself."

"Now wait a minute," Ron growled. "This is my job and my fight, and if you think that I'm going to sit back and allow someone else to…"

"You have your orders so follow them," Karg interrupted. "Or perhaps you wish the Emperor to learn of your disobedience." Despite his control, Ron suddenly felt every drop of blood drain from his face.

"Hey now there's no need for that."

"I'm glad we understand each other." Karg said. "Remember Ron McDougal, until the Emperor has decided that your debt to the Toku has been paid, you and your brother belong to us. That is all." With a wave of his hand, Karg's image vanished from the monitor. Staring at the screen for a second, Ron pounded his fist against the bulkhead and cursed under his breath. He cursed Gene Starwind, he cursed the pilot of that black ship, but most of all, he cursed the Toku. He hated how he had allowed himself and Harry to become enslaved to them. Still, Ron thought, it wasn't like we had a choice in the matter. After their fight with Hazonko and Gene Starwind at the Galactic Leyline, Harry's physical body was dead and Ron was unable to survive outside of the navigation chamber Gwen Khan had installed. It was then that the Toku, previous clients of Ron's, came to them with an offer they couldn't refuse. In exchange for their help in capturing Melfina, the Toku would restore both of them to life. They had used their technology to heal Ron's wounds and to construct a new body for Harry based on the data he had stored in the Shangri La's computer. But now that the android had slipped through their fingers, it looked like the two of them would never be free.

Turning away from the monitor, Ron saw Harry sitting on the couch, his knuckles bloody and bruised from repeatedly hitting the bulkhead. But Harry didn't even seem to notice the pain. He just sat and stared into nothing, his eyes twin pools of madness.

Even though there was no other living person in the galaxy that he hated more, Ron McDougal suddenly found himself rooting for Gene Starwind.

"Hey," Swanzo called out as they all disembarked from the Outlaw Star. "Are you guys alright?"

"Yeah," Gene answered. "We're fine." Behind Gene stood Jim and as he talked to Swanzo and Mikey. Out of the corner of his mind, Gene watched Melfina. She hadn't said anything since they had docked. And though Gene knew that she could probably use some comfort after what just happened, he also knew there were far more pressing matters to attend to first.

"Everyone on Blue Heaven is talking about that fight you had," Mikey said. "Just what the hell happened out there?"

"It was the McDougal Brothers," Jim said. "Somehow, they survived the Leyline."

"That makes sense," Swanzo said as he rubbed the chin on his environmental suit. "I heard a rumor that the two of them had quit the mercenary business to become full time enforcers for the Toku Pirates. But until now, I thought that was all it was."

"How did you guys beat them anyway?" Mikey asked. "From the pictures the satellite cameras took out in the field, they outnumbered you by seven ships."

"Well," Gene said, "to tell the truth, we had some help after we got out of the asteroids."

"Oh yeah?" Swanzo asked. "By who?"

"Have you ever heard of a man named Mazren?" Suzuka asked. Upon hearing Suzuka, Mikey and Swanzo both went silent. The eye lights in Swanzo's suit increased in brightness while Mikey's norplazay dark skinned paled to gray.

"Um," Aisha asked, "are you guys alright?"

"Are you serious?" Mikey asked. "Mazren the Wolf is here on Blue Heaven?"

"Well," Gene said, "his ship was headed in this direction. Do you have any idea where he might be? We really need to talk to him." But instead of answering, Swanzo turned to Mikey.

"Better get the word out," Swanzo said to his partner. "It's gonna be a bad night."

"Yeah," Mikey said, "you're not kidding."

"Hey now," Gene said. "Now just hold on a minute. What's going on here?"

"I'll tell you what's going on here," Swanzo said. "That guy is here on Blue Heaven, and that means that all hell is about to break lose."

"So he's here," Aisha said. "What's the big deal?"

"I'll tell you what the big deal is," Swanzo said. "The big deal is that that guy is nothing but a grlagzeet torble zuratakax!"

"What?" they all said in unison.

"Whoops," Swanzo said. "Sorry about that. I really need to get this damn translator fixed. What I said was, that guy is nothing but a low-down, good for nothing, back stabbing, bounty hunter."

"What's wrong with that?" Gene asked. "I've been known to take a few bounty hunting jobs."

"It's different with you Gene," Mikey said. "You may take bounty hunting jobs, but you're still an outlaw."

"But isn't this guy considered an outlaw as well?" Jim asked.

"No way," Swanzo said. "And I'll tell you why. Outlaws vary from person to person, but they all abide by a code of honor that's uniform to them all. Bounty hunters, like Mazren the Wolf, have no code. They're the kind of people that would shoot their own mother in the back if it would make them a quick wong. As far as I'm concerned, that guy is even worse than MacDougle."

"But still," Melfina suddenly said, "he helped us twice when he didn't need to. If he did that then he can't really be a bad person." Gene and the others turned to look at Melfina in surprise. Usually, Melfina kept to herself in conversations like this. She really must be falling hard for this guy, Gene thought.

"I hate to break it to you Melfina," Swanzo said. "But that guy didn't do it out of the kindness of his own heart. He probably has some dirty scheme up his sleeve. Trust me, I know all about him."

"The way you talk about him," Suzuka said, "it sounds as if you two have some kind of personal grudge against him."

"That's because we do," Mikey said.

"Oh yeah?" Gene asked. "Like what?"

"Tell me Gene," Swanzo asked, "did Hilda ever tell you and Jim about how she lost her eye?" Gene thought for a second about what Swanzo said for before the realization hit him.

"You're kidding!" Jim said. "This guy actually did that to Hilda?" Gene could understand Jim's shock. He was tough, but he knew that he was nowhere close to Hilda.

"Three years ago," Swanzo said, "Hilda learned the location of the resting place of a ship that belonged to a legendary pirate boss named Torash. The ship, according to legend, held a massive treasure worth over twenty million wong."

"Unfortunately," Mikey added, "the wreckage was deep in Kei territory. And we all know how Hilda wasn't exactly at the top of their list of favorite people."

"So," Swanzo said, "she recruited the only other guy she could find who wasn't afraid to mix it up with the Kei."

"And let me guess," Gene interrupted. "She chose Mazren."

"Right," Swanzo said. "He and Hilda entered into Kei space and found the wreckage. But just as they were loading the treasure, that bastard betrayed her. The Kei had paid him to bring Hilda right into their own back yard. Luckily, Hilda was able to escape, but not before that guy used one of those knives he carries to put out Hilda's eye. Hilda ended up escaping with only her life and a bag of jewels worth only 3 grand."

"And that's why we have a problem with this guy," Mikey said. "Trust us, Mazren the Wolf is nothing but trouble. They say he's shot people just for looking at him wrong." Gene closed his eyes as he thought about what Swanzo and Mikey had told him.

"Well," he finally said. "Be that as it may, we still need to go find him. The Toku are after us, and my instincts tell me that that guy has the answers as to why."

"Alright then," Swanzo said. "But don't tell us that we didn't warn you."

"We won't," Gene said. "In the meantime though, we could really use your help with the Outlaw Star. Some of the hull plating needs repaired, the ventral gun needs to be replaced, and some of the navigation circuits got magnetized."

"No problem," Swanzo said. "Now you all be careful okay?"

"Don't worry we will," Gene said as he turned back to the Outlaw Star. "Gillium, you behave yourself alright?"

"If you say so," the computer sighed. Leaving Gillium and the Outlaw Star in Swanzo and Mikey's capable hands, Gene led his crew towards the moving walkway that shuffled visitors into Blue Heaven. As they all traveled down the passageway, Gene found his thoughts wandering towards Mazren, the man in black who had helped them twice. But he wasn't helping us though, he thought. Technically he was helping Mel. Between him and the Toku, it seems like everyone's after her these days. Well not if I have anything to say about it. It's high time that we got some answers and figured out just what the hell is going on.

The condemned hotel where they had set up as base was no different than any of the other buildings that made up level 5. Widely hailed as Blue Heaven's slum, the only buildings on the asteroid city's fifth level were low income housing apartments and failed businesses long closed down. As it was known to be a high crime area, most of the citizens avoided the area. Thus, it was a perfect place to set up a base of operations without attracting unwanted attention. In a dust filled room on the eighth floor, a man sat in waiting, his hands resting on his knees. Though he appeared to be alone, the man could feel the presence of the unseen servants around him. Behind him, the door creaked open as his attendant entered the room and walked across the floor towards him.

"Has Gene Starwind arrived?" he asked.

"Yes Lord," the attendant said. "According to the Oni positioned outside the Corbanite's garage, he and his crew are on the entertainment section of level 3." The man smiled as he rose to his feet in one flowing motion. His master had sent him on a mission and it was time to fulfill it. But that didn't mean he couldn't have a little fun with his prey first.

"Hey Mel, are you alright?" Melfina snapped to attention as Jim spoke her name. She and the others had just entered the entertainment section of Blue Heaven's third level. Comprised of hotels, restaurants, movie theatres, and various bars, the entertainment section provided distraction for the tenants and visitors to Blue Heaven. The first of three sections that made up the third level; the other sections were comprised of an artificial park and a three level shopping plaza.

"Yes Jim," Melfina said. "I'm fine."

"I know how confused you must be Mel," Gene said as he walked ahead of them. "But don't worry. We're going to find that Mazren the Wolf guy and get the answers as to why the Toku are after you." Though she hadn't said anything, Melfina knew that the others could sense how worried she was. Seeing Harry alive had shaken her more than the others could know. And when he had said those horrible things to her, she had almost fainted from fright. It was almost as though she was reliving the moment when he had attacked her. Although she had told Jim and Gene that she was fine afterwards, she had never told them about how Harry had struck her. And she couldn't now, not while more important things were happening.

"Thank you Gene," Melfina said as she smiled slightly. "But do you really think that we'll be able to find him here?"

"Well," Gene said as his head turned slightly, "if I was him, the first thing I'd do after a grueling grappler ship fight was go have a drink. Somewhere like…" and Gene paused as he looked around before pointing across the street, "over there." Looking in the direction Gene indicated, Melfina and the others saw a red brick building with painted over windows and a neon sign over the front door that read in glowing pink letters: THE TOY FACTORY.

"I'm not sure I understand," Melfina said as she blinked in confusion. "If this man wants a drink than why would he be buying toys?"

"Gene," Jim whined as his hand rubbed his temple. "Now is not the time for that sort of thing."

"Not that one," Gene said. "Look to the left." They all did and they saw a second sign under the glow of a streetlight. Shaped like an arrow, the sign pointed down a alley and read: THE BACK ROOM.

"That makes sense," Suzuka said. "Dingy hole in the walls like that attract men like Mazren just as honey does wasps."

"Well," Aisha said, "since he's your boyfriend Suzu, you should know where he'd go."

"He is not my boyfriend!" Suzuka said through grit teeth.

"Come on everyone," Gene said. "Let's go see if he's there." As they walked towards the alley, Melfina glanced aside at Suzuka. Was Suzuka really attracted to Mazren? If so, then Melfina didn't know why Suzuka should be ashamed of it. I guess there's some things that I'll never understand, she thought. After reaching the end of the alley, they came to a doorway that led straight into the rock of the asteroid. Opening the door, Gene led them inside a bar that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. Dust and grime covered the floor, making it impossible to determine what color it was. At the bar, a group of men drank and smoked with some women. The men were all covered in scars and tattoos while the women wore tight clothes that were torn in certain places. A similar group of people played at a pool table in the back. As they entered, the people in the bar stopped talking and looked in their direction. Melfina hid herself behind Gene while he and the others examined the room. She wished that she could be as brave as the others in these situations, but she also knew that her lack of combat skills would just put her in the way. "Let's do it," Gene said as he finished scanning the bar. Melfina and the others followed Gene as he moved towards the bar to speak with the bartender, a short balding man with a cybernetic lens over his left eye.

"So what can I get you people?" the bartender asked as he cleaned a glass.

"We're looking for a guy who calls himself, 'The Wolf'," Gene said. Upon hearing Gene, the bartender dropped the glass he was cleaning as a look of horror spread over his face. Behind them, the patrons in the bar promptly stopped whatever they were doing and stared in their direction.

"You don't mean Mazren the Wolf do you?" the bartender asked.

"Yep," Aisha answered. "Does he come in here often?"

"Every man for himself!" someone screamed behind them. They all turned to look as every man and woman in the bar ran for the door, knocking over tables, chairs, and anything else that happened to be in their path. Is this Mazren person so frightening that even those people would run from him? she asked herself.

"What the hell was their…whoah!" she heard Gene say. Turning around, Melfina saw that the bartender had pulled out a rocket launcher from behind the bar. The little man had hoisted the weapon on his shoulder and was pointing it straight at Gene.

"What the hell are you trying to do?" the man yelled. "Are you trying to drive me out of business?"

"Now just calm down," Suzuka said as she tried hard not to antagonize the bartender. "We just want to know where we can find Mazren."

"I don't know where he is!" the bartender growled. "And I sure as hell wouldn't tell you! Every time he comes into town, all he does is cause the people who live here grief!"

"Gene," Jim said as he tugged on Gene's sleeve, "maybe we should get out of here before we end up splattered all over the wall."

"You'll get no argument from me there," Gene said. Backing towards the door, Gene slowly pushed Melfina and the others back with him. Once they were out, Gene shut the door and exhaled loudly. "Well that didn't work."

"What do we do now Gene?" Aisha asked.

"What else?" Gene said as he began to walk back out of the alley. "We just walk around some more until we find him." As they exited the alley, Melfina felt a splaza hand take her own. She looked down to see Jim holding on to hers.

"Don't worry," he told her. "If he's somewhere on Blue Heaven, then we'll find him." Melfina smile down at Jim. He was trying so hard to make her feel better.

"I won't," she said. "And thank you Jim." Continuing on their way, they passed by a vendor selling guns and ammunition on a street corner. Gene stopped to look as they passed and his eyes widened in surprise as he pointed at something on the vendor's table.

"Hey buddy?" Gene asked. "How much do you want for that there?" Looking over, Melfina saw that Gene was pointing at a caster shell, a number four.

"That thing?" the vendor asked. "What would you want with that piece of antique junk?"

"Let's just say I'm a collector and leave it at that?" Gene answered.

"Well," the vendor said as he smoked on a pipe, "I won't stop you if you really want it, so I guess I'll let you have it for 50 wong."

"Deal," Gene said as he pulled out his data card. The man ran Gene's card through his reader as Gene then took the caster shell from the table and inserted it into his belt.

"Talk about the deal of the century," Jim said as they walked away.

"You're telling me," Gene said. "That guy had no idea of what a treasure he had there. Oh well, it's his lo..." but Gene was cut short when a man stepped out of an alley and turned to face them. The man was Gene's height and wore a dirty and torn woolen hood and cloak that hid the top of his face from view. Rather than stand aside or moving on his way, the hooded man instead raised his hand and gestured for them to stop

"Can we help you pal?" Aisha asked in annoyance as she placed her hands on her hips.

"Are you the crew of the Outlaw Star?" the man asked.

"Maybe," Gene said. "Who wants to know?" The man smiled and reached for his hood to slowly pull it back over his head; revealing a face with ashen skin, cold yellow eyes, and a shock of silver hair. The skin around the man's left eye was deeply scarred, as though he had been hit in the face by a piece of burning wood.

"My name is Askared," the man answered. "I am the Shogun of Blades."

"Well Mr. Shogun of Blades," Gene smirked, "what can we do for you?" Askared's smile darkened as his eyes gleamed with a sadistic cunning.

"I have here on business, representing my master, The Emperor of the Toku Pirate Guild." The Toku? Melfina suddenly felt her heart skip a beat. Was this man going to attack them as well? Once again, Melfina began to retreat behind Gene.

"What the hell do you want?" Gene growled as his hand reached back to shove her even further behind him.

"I know that our agents, the MacDougal Brothers, have already tried to acquire the android girl in our name," Askared said. "However, I am much more civilized than them. Therefore, I am prepared to make you an offer."

"What sort of offer?" Jim asked.

"That's for you to decide," Askared smirked. "Think it over my friends. The resources of the Toku are immense. In fact, it is not too much of an overstatement to say that we are the most powerful force in the galaxy. There is no way you can keep Melfina from us. So why don't we all sit down and try to work something out. I'm sure that both parties can come to a mutually beneficial agreement." Hearing Askared's words, Melfina suddenly started to shake uncontrollably.

"Well," Gene said, "I guess that since you put it that way, there's only one thing left for me to say."

"Really?" Askared asked. Melfina looked up to Gene as he glared angrily at Askared.

"Go to hell!" Melfina expected Askared to become angry at Gene's response. But instead, the Toku assassin's grin grew even bigger.

"I was hoping you'd say something like that," he said. "Because now I can simply take her for free."

"Is that so?" Gene asked. "I'd like to see you try!"

"So would I!" Aisha said as she pushed ahead of Gene. "I hate to tell you this, but the Toku aren't the most powerful force in the galaxy. That honor belongs to the invincible Ctarl-Ctarl Empire."

"We outnumber you three to one," Suzuka said as she drew her bokuto. Mazren had broken her original one, but Suzuka had acquired a new one just before they left Heifong. "Between my skill, Aisha's strength, and Gene's resourcefulness, you have no chance at victory. The smartest thing you can do for now is to retreat while you still can." But instead of following Suzuka's advice, Askared stood his ground and laughed.

"Do you really think that I would come here alone to face you?" Grabbing his cloak, Askared flung it off his shoulders toward them. As Gene knocked the cloak out of the way, Melfina and the others saw just what they were dealing with. Underneath his cloak, Askared wore red samurai-like armor with two Chokuto longswords hanging from his back. On each gauntleted forearm, Askared had secured a throwing glaive with double scythe heads while numerous throwing knives and shurikens hung on his upper arms, torso, belt, and legs. Behind him, four Oni creatures appeared as another group of ten surrounded them. The people around them, sensing that a bad fight was about to begin, ran for cover. "Here is my new offer," Askared told them. "I will leave with the android, and you will leave with your lives."

"I don't think so!" Gene yelled as he pulled his splaza revolver from his back holster and pointed it at Askared's face.

"And what do you think that you're going to do with that?" Askared asked. "Guns are only allowed on Blue Heaven if their ammo is left behind on a person's ship."

"Actually," Gene said as he cocked the hammer back, "only the 'lethal' rounds are banned." Gene fired the gun at Askared and the assassin drew one of his swords to block; but the bullets exploded on the blade, covering Askared and the four Oni with him in blinding smoke. Askared coughed and flailed his sword around as he searched blindly for the one who had shot at him as Suzuka brought up her bokuto and unleashed a shockwave that knocked Askared and his Oni out of their way. Using the chaos to her advantage, Aisha, grabbed the Oni that was closest to her and with a mighty roar, lifted and spun the creature over her head before throwing it into its companions behind them.

"Come on," Gene yelled as he grabbed Melfina's hand. He pulled her after him as he ran around the cloud of smoke with the other following behind. There was no way to win the fight as it was. The only choice they had was to escape to safety and devise a battle plan.

"After them," Melfina heard Askared yell as the Oni began to give chase.

One nice thing about a reputation, Mazren thought as he walked through Blue Heaven's third level, most people know enough to get out of your way when they see you coming. He and Slag were walking in the plaza section of level three. Comprised of three sub-levels, the plaza section provided stores for every kind of merchandise. Among the many things sold here were clothes, weapons, art pieces-legitimate and smuggled-and even S&M gear. Ahead of them, the park section opened up to a contained outdoors setting with artificially grown trees and flowers while the entertainment section lay behind them. Mazren and Slag weren't there to shop however; they were there to find Starwind before the Toku did. As they walked through the plaza section's top level, most of the people they passed made sure to give him a wide berth. Mazren had been to Blue Heaven enough times for the residents to know that he was trouble and should be allowed to pass. Of course, the fact that he walked side by side with a wolf that measured 3 feet high at the shoulder and 5 feet long from nose to rump was a decisive factor.

Stopping in front of a store that sold leather goods, Mazren and Slag stopped to rest a minute. They had been walking through the plaza section for almost an hour and they still hadn't found either Starwind or Melfina. Mazren leaned against the railing and grunted in frustration. Blue Heaven wasn't a large town, but its multiple layers made looking for any particular person next to impossible.

"Well what do you think?" he asked Slag who sat beside him. "That nose of yours picking up anything?" Slag just yawned as he laid himself down on the floor. I'll take that as a no, Mazren thought as he looked out over the railing. Pulling out his binoculars, he scanned the five decks below him in hopes of finding a certain red-haired outlaw who still didn't know just what was going on. But then again, not even Mazren knew just what was going on. Where the hell are you Starwind? I don't have time to play this damn game of hide and seek. It was just then that Mazren heard a growl coming from beneath his field of vision. Putting down his binoculars, Mazren looked down to see Slag standing up. The big wolf's ears were flat back and his fur was standing on end. "Hey now," he said as he kneeled down, "what's going on here?" Slag stopped growling and turned to look at his master. It was then that Mazren saw an urgency in Slag's eyes that stated something was very wrong. And Mazren knew from experience to never doubt the instincts of his partner. "If you say so boy," Mazren said as he raised himself up and lightly slapped Slag on his rump. "Go get 'em!" With the okay from Mazren, Slag took off at full speed towards the park section. Mazren ran behind him, knowing that something really big must be happening for Slag to get all suddenly worked up.

He also knew that Gene Starwind would be at the heart of it all.

His lungs burned from running but Gene knew that he couldn't stop yet. With Melfina in tow and the others with him, Gene turned left, then right, and then left again. He led his group up an alley, across a street, and then down a tunnel before going up a flight of stairs. As soon as they reached the top, they came out into a part of the park section. Trees of various species grew from the level below them while the edge of the level they were on was framed with flowerbeds.

"All right everyone," he said as he stopped. "I think we lost them so let's take a break." Letting go of Melfina's hand, he checked on the others. Aisha and Suzuka seemed to be doing all right. Jim on the other hand, had plopped down on a park bench and breathed heavily. Melfina just stood by herself by the railing, her cloak rising as she quietly gasped from exhaustion.

"Hey Gene," Aisha suddenly said. "Doesn't this place look familiar to you?" Gene looked around and saw that Aisha was right.

"Yeah," he grinned. "This is the spot where you challenged me to a fight and I beat you senseless."

"What do you mean 'beat me senseless'?" Aisha demanded. "You only survived because I was too hungry to continue!"

"Come on now," Gene teased, "don't be such a sore loser." Aisha's face flushed with anger and Gene barely restrained his laughter.

"Gene," Suzuka suddenly said, "we can't stay here for long. That Toku assassin is bound to catch up sooner or later."

"Suzuka's right Gene," Jim chimed in. "I say we all go back and spend the night in the Outlaw Star. With the Toku running around Blue Heaven, that's the only safe place that we can be."

"I'm so sorry everyone," Melfina suddenly said. Gene and the others turned to her and saw how Melfina's eyes were clouded with tears as she wrung her small hands. "It's all my fault. I'm the one that the Toku are after, and you all are in danger because of it." Burying her face in her hands, Melfina began to cry softly and Gene couldn't believe what he was hearing. Melfina was blaming herself for what was happening? In less than a second, he crossed the distance between them and grabbed her narrow shoulders.

"Melfina, stop it!" he scolded as Melfina stopped crying and looked up to him with frightened eyes. "I don't ever want to hear you talk like that again! Do you hear me? Nothing that has happened is your fault! The Toku are doing this, not you! Do you understand?" Raising his hand, Gene caressed Melfina's cheek as his thumb gently brushed a tear from the corner of her eye. "I know that you're frightened," Gene said as his voice softened. "But you're not alone. We're here because we choose to be and we won't let the Toku take you away. I promise."

"That's right," Jim said as he hopped off his bench. "If those Toku bastards want to get their slimy hands on you, they'll have to go through me first!"

"And even if they do somehow get past Jim," Aisha said as she flexed her left arm, "they'll have to kill me and Suzu."

"We're going to get through this together," Suzuka said as she walked over to place her hand on Melfina's shoulder. "Just like we do everything that we face." Melfina listened to their words of encouragement and smiled as she wiped the tears from her face.

"Thank you everyone," she said. "I'm sorry about what I said."

"It's all right to be scared Mel," Gene said as he pulled her against his chest. "Just remember that you're not alone. You taught me that, remember?"

"Right," Melfina said as Gene pressed her deeper against him. She appeared to relax for a second before her body suddenly tensed and she pushed herself out of Gene's grasp. "I'm all right now Gene," she said as she smiled weakly. She then turned away to look at the flowers behind her, the same kind she looked at the night he had first learned she was a bio-android. I guess she's still upset about what I said, Gene guessed.

"How touching. You've moved me to tears." Turning around, Gene and the others watched as Askared appeared from behind a column as his Oni materialized around them, squatting on the railing like vultures. "Are you ready to discuss the terms of your surrender now?"

"Surrender this!" Aisha yelled as she jumped towards Askared. Aisha swung out with a roundhouse kick, but Askared ducked and dodged to the right. She lashed at the assassin with her claws, raking at his face and torso. But despite her much bragged about Ctarl speed, Askared weaved in and out of her strikes with ease. In a rage, Aisha grabbed a section of the balcony railing and tore a five-foot section off. She roared as she swung the makeshift club at her enemy, but Askared caught the metal pipe and pulled, using Aisha's own inertia from the swing to send her flying into a trash can. As Aisha began to rise to her feet, Askared grabbed a fistful of knives and shurikens from his armor and threw them; the blades cutting Aisha's thick Ctarl skin like paper. With her body chewed up from the thrown weapons, Aisha fell to her knees as Askared dashed over to her, pulled one of the swords from his back, spun, and smacked the flat edge of his blade against the back of her head. Aisha fell to the floor and six of the fourteen Oni pounced on her, pinning her to the ground. With Aisha out of the way, Askared drew his second Chokuto as he turned to the others.

"Who will be next?" he asked.

"Gene" Suzuka said as she drew her bokuto. "I'll distract him. You and Jim take Melfina and get her to back to the ship."

"Wait a minute Suzuka," Gene said. But by that time it was too late. Suzuka raised her sword and charged for Askared. Leaping into the air, Suzuka brought her sword down on Askared who crossed his swords to deflect the wooden blade. Bouncing off the impact, Suzuka landed and maneuvered to Askared's side and slashed at a kink in his armor when the assassin reversed his grip on one of his Chokuto's and blocked the attack. Pushing Suzuka back, Askared spun and twirled his swords as he moved towards his opponent. Recognizing the attack as Yin and Yang Cross, Suzuka spun her bokuto in a circle, using Buddha's Wheel to catch the attack and take Askared to the ground. Seeing her opportunity to strike, Suzuka stabbed downward, but missed as Askared rolled towards her and swung both his swords at her midsection. With no time to block, Suzuka leapt forward, using her bokuto like a vaulting pole to bounce out of the way. But before she could land, Askared kicked at her bokuto and Suzuka fell, allowing Askared to plant his heel into her stomach and sending her crashing into a park bench. "You're not bad for a woman," Askared gloated as three Oni jumped on Suzuka to pin her down. "But a woman is all you are. Why else would you use a toy sword instead of a real one?" Turning to Gene, Askared pointed his sword towards him. "Now if there's nothing else I will take the android if you don't mind." Gene cursed under his breath as he realized the gravity of the situation. He had the perfect chance to get Melfina out of there and he blew it. Now, it was all up to him.

"Jim," Gene said as he pulled his knife from his belt. "You know what to do."

"Right," Jim said as he stepped closer to Melfina. Seeing his next opponent, Askared smirked as he sheathed both his swords.

"This should be humorous," he said as he gestured towards Gene. "Come then." Without another word, Gene charged towards Askared. He slashed at the assassin's throat, but Askared dodged at the last minute and tripped him. Gene fell and landed onto his back and looked up in time to see Askared's foot coming down onto his chest. Gene rolled out of way and was getting back to his feet when he heard a scream. Looking behind Askared to where Jim and Melfina were standing, Gene saw one Oni had knocked Jim onto his face and jammed its foot onto his spine. Another one had grabbed Melfina, twisting her left arm behind her while its other hand covered her mouth. All right then, Gene decided. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Reaching for his belt, Gene reached for the number four he had bought only minutes earlier and loaded it into his caster. He didn't like using number four shells, but it looked like that was his only choice.

"Tell them to let her go you stinking bastard!" he yelled as he aimed his weapon. Askared looked at him and smirked.

"I've heard of your skill with a caster gun Gene Starwind," Askared said. "But it's only fair to warn you that it won't work against me." Don't say I didn't warn you, Gene thought. He pulled the trigger and charged the number four shell. The caster fired, and a slow moving black ball shot out from the caster's barrel as Gene braced himself for the eventual energy drain. Askared raised his eyebrow in surprised interest before drawing his sword to strike the number four's blast. Gene watched in disbelief as Askared struggled against the number four's power before finally deflecting the caster attack back towards him.

"Shit!" Gene yelled as he jumped out of the black ball's way. The ball flew past him and struck a trash can behind him, warping and stretching the trash can before sucking in inside. Do those things still suck your life out if they hit an inanimate object? he asked himself. Gene got his answer when a ray of black lightning shot out of the ball and struck him. Gene screamed as the lightning blast felt like it was draining his blood straight from his heart reach before falling to his knees.

"Close, but not enough," Askared said as he moved towards him. Gene tried to raise himself up, but was knocked down when Askared delivered a thrust kick to his face, the caster flying from Gene's hand and smashing into a flower bed where it cluttered to the floor in pieces. But Gene had no time to morn the loss of his favorite gun. Landing on his back, he tasted blood in his mouth as Askared drew his second sword and crossed them both over Gene's throat.

"Don't feel bad," Askarad mocked as he closed his blades around Gene's jugular. "You and your friends were destined to lose from the beginning. Still, you should be proud of yourself Gene Starwind. I never thought I'd actually have to use my swords against the likes of you."

"Wait a minute" Gene begged. "Let Melfina go. She's no longer the Maiden of the Leyline. She's useless to you." Askared laughed in contempt as his sword's came even closer to slitting Gene's throat.

"We aren't after the Leyline you idiot," he taunted. "Melfina is going to deliver into our hands a treasure of far greater value than the Galactic Leyline could ever hope to be." The assassin's words left Gene speechless. What kind of treasure could be superior to the Galactic Leyline? Gene struggled to free himself, but Askared flicked his sword and Gene felt the blade nick his throat. "Take her back to the ship," he ordered the Oni that had grabbed Mel. "I want to get her to the Emperor as…" but Askared stopped mid-sentence as something flashed by his eyes. Stepping away from Gene, Askared dropped his swords as he stumbled backwards, his hand clutching a bleeding gash under his left eye. Rolling out of the way, Gene looked towards what had cut across Askared's face and saw a throwing knife embedded in the floor. I recognize that knife, he thought. It was just then that something pounced on the Oni holding on to Mel. Gene looked up to see a very familiar looking wolf pinning the Oni to the floor. The wolf bit the Oni in the neck and snapped the creature's vertebrae, causing it to thrash in its death seizure and disintegrate. The Oni pinning Jim saw the immediate threat and down took its foot off of Jim to attack the wolf, morphing its hand into an axe blade. The Oni swung, but missed as the wolf jumped to the railing, bounded off, and knocked the Oni on its face. The wolf snapped the creature's neck like the previous one before turning its attention to Mel and Jim. Pushing the two of them against the railing, the wolf turned its back to them as it growled and snapped at any Oni that got too close.

"Hold it." Gene and the others looked up to a balcony twenty feet above them and saw a broad shouldered man dressed in black balancing on the rail.

"Who in the hell are you?" Askared snarled as he took his hand from the bloody gash under his eye.

"The name's Mazren," the big man answered.

"Mazren the Wolf?" Askaren asked.

"Some people call me that," Mazren smirked.

"I've heard about you," Askared said. "These people are my prey. Go find your own!"

"Sorry," Mazren said, "but I can't. Especially with what you plan to do."

"And just what would a bounty hunter like you care about these people?"

"About Starwind and his friends? Not a damn thing." With a leap, Mazren jumped over the edge and landed in front of them. "But I'll be damned to hell before I let you hurt Melfina," he snarled as he walked towards Askared. As he did, five of the remaining Oni, including the three that were holding down Suzuka, stood in his way.

"Hold it," Askared ordered. "This one is mine. Just make sure that Gene Starwind and his friends don't escape." The Oni obeyed their master's command and positioned themselves between Gene and Askared. Moving towards Mazren, the Toku assassin picked up his dropped Chokutos and crossed them over his chest. "I'm going to teach you just what happens to those who meddle with the Toku's affairs."

"Just shut up and fight," Mazren snarled. Not one to disappoint, Askared dashed towards Mazren who drew his katana in response, the twin swords flashing and chiming against his blade.

With Askared distracted by Mazren and only the Oni to deal with, Gene saw his chance. Leaping to his feet, Gene activated his lightshield and charged into them, the energy barrier knocking them aside on contact. "Suzuka!" Gene yelled as he kicked her bokuto towards her. As the wooden sword slid across the platform into Suzuka's hands, three of the Oni lunged toward her; only to be cut in two by Suzuka's Cloud Cutting Sword technique. The Oni holding on to Aisha saw their comrades slain and the distraction caused their grip on the struggling Ctarl to loosen. With an enraged roar, Aisha threw them all five off at once before laying into them; crushing each of their power sources with a single strike.

Oblivious to the fight behind him, Askared continued to rain blow upon blow on Mazren's sword. Although Mazren knew he had the strength advantage, he also knew that Askared had a reputation as one of the greatest swordsmen in the galaxy. Charging in directly would only play into the assassin's hands and cost Mazren his life. In order to win this fight, he'd have to trick Askared into making his own mistakes. Retreating backwards to the platform's edge, Mazren jumped up onto the railing and Askared slashed at his legs before Mazren leapt off; backflipping through the air and cutting Askared's back as he landed. Askared yelled in pain and surprise as he spun and slashed lengthwise at Mazren, but missed as Mazren danced back and out of the way. After putting some distance between him and Askared, Mazren brought his katana up to his eye level as he showed off the crimson that now stained the blade.

"First blood," he smirked.

"First blood," Askared snarled, "first to die!" Rushing towards Mazren, Askared's swords ignited with fire as Mazren raised his katana in preparation, the blade energizing with crackling lightning. The swords clashed, and Mazren's katana shattered both Askared's swords and his technique. With the same motion, Mazren spun and angled his katana to bite through the underside of Askared's breastplate. Askared kicked at the ground and propelled himself away, throwing another handful of projectile blades. Sweeping his sword, Mazren cleared the air in front of him and charged as Askared flicked his arms and launched the razor sharp throwing glaives on his gauntlets. Mazren braked to a halt and bent back as the glaives flew past him only to come around for a second pass when Askared pulled on the wires connecting them to his gauntlet. Raising his sword to block, Mazren knocked the spinning weapons away when a stabbing pain struck him in his right flank. Dropping his sword, Mazren saw that Askared had thrown a rope dart into his side while he way trying to dodge the glaives. "See what I mean?" Askared asked as he pulled his glaives back onto his gauntlets. "Those who stand in the Toku's way always end up dead!"

"Big deal!" Mazren growled. "You think something like this can stop me! I've gotten a lot worse from far less than you." Grabbing the dart embedded in his side, Mazren attempted to pull it out when Askared's hand glowed, sending a current of electricity racing down the line to the knife embedded in Mazren's side. The big man convulsed and growled through grit teeth as the electrical surge slammed and raged through his body.

"I've heard of your Lightning Blade and Thunder Fist attacks that form the basis of all your secret techniques," Askared said as he prepared to increase his attack. "So it must be pretty ironic that you're going to die by a electric attack." But before Askared could finish Mazren off, a white blur moved in front of him, breaking the rope dart's line and slashing him twice across his chest.

"Not nearly as much as you being cut by a wooden sword," Suzuka said. "How's that for a woman?" Clutching the bleeding x-shaped gash on his chest, Askared's eyes flamed with rage.

"You!" he yelled. "How did you get past my Oni?"

"See for yourself," Suzuka said as she pointed behind Askared. On the other end of the platform, Gene had herded the four remaining Oni into a corner, using his lightshield to hold them in place.

"Guys hurry up!" he yelled. "My batteries aren't going to last forever you know!"

"Precisely," Askared replied. "So you've gotten a second wind. You don't really think that the two of you can beat me in your state do you?"

"Actually it's three!" From Askared's side, Aisha had snuck around and now leapt with her knee aiming straight at Askared's head. Quickly adapting for the sneak attack, Askared ducked out of the way and threw his glaive toward Aisha's neck as she landed. But before the weapon hit its mark, Suzuka intercepted and broke the glaive's wire, sending it flying off course and into a nearby tree. Askared threw his second glaive and Suzuka dodged out of the way, allowing Aisha to grab the glaive's wire and yank Askared towards her. Seeking to turn Aisha's attack against her, Askared allowed himself to be pulled towards the Ctarl and popped the katar punching dagger in his right gauntlet. He was within three feet of striking when Aisha snapped her head, using the momentum to swing the five pound golden ring at the end of her braid into Askared's face. The assassin's nose exploded on contact and the force of the impact knocked him out of the air. Kneeling over on the ground, Askared screamed as he clutched the crushed remnants of his gushing nose.

"I don't know what you're so upset about," Aisha remarked. "I think it's an improvement." Climbing to his feet, Askared began to stumble towards Aisha, his eyes twin mirrors of insane rage.

"Yoo dum frea bidden adimar!" Askared screetched through the remnants of his broken face. "Am godda kirr yoo wid by on doo hundz! Yur ded yu heer ma!"

"You first." Looking over his shoulder, Askared's eyes widened in fear as Mazren charged his fist with glowing electric energy before slamming his Thunder Fist into Askared's chest, the impact cracking Askared's armor and shaking the observation windows as Askared was send flying into the air and over the platform's railing. Over on his end, Gene heard the assassin land with a sickening crack and looked over the railing. Down on the lower level, Gene saw Askared sprawled on the floor with his back and neck bent at a bizarre angle. The four remaining Oni looked over the edge as well, looked to each other, and then leapt over the railing before vanishing into thin air.

"Is he dead?" Gene heard Mazren ask.

"I think that's a definite," Gene said.

"Good," Mazren said. The big man then dropped his knees where he clutched at the dart still sticking out of his side. The wolf, seeing his master injured; left Mel and Jim and ran over to his side. With the wolf finally away from them, Gene ran over to where Jim and Melfina crouched on the floor and kneeled down to them.

"Hey? Are you two alright?"

"Yes," Melfina said as her slender body trembled. "I'm fine."

"Gene," Jim said as he stared at Mazren. "Who is this guy?"

"Well we went looking for him to find out didn't we?" Gene asked back. After helping Jim and Melfina to their feet, they followed Gene as they approached where Mazren kneeled on the ground. Aisha and Suzuka were less than five feet away from him when the wolf turned to snarl at them.

"Down Slag," Mazren said. The wolf calmed slightly, but still bristled at them. Bracing his hand against the wolf's back, Mazren pulled himself to his feet. Hoping that it was safe, Gene slowly approached the big man.

"Are you gonna be all right?" he asked.

"I lost a lot of blood," he answered, "but it's nothing that a good meal and a beer can't fix." Grabbing on to the railing, Mazren gestured for Aisha to come closer. "Would you mind?" he asked.

"Um, sure why not?" Moving closer to Mazren, Aisha grabbed onto the dart and Mazren nodded. With a tug, Aisha ripped the dart out of Mazren's flesh and the big man's hands crushed the railing like a cardboard tube.

"That's definitely going to leave a mark," he groaned. As Mazren strolled over to where dropped his sword, Gene felt someone brush past him as Melfina walked toward Mazren.

"Mr. Mazren?" she timidly asked as Mazren looked down to her. Staring at Mazren and Melfina, Gene suddenly saw something that could only be described as a sight resemblance between the two of them. But he had no idea as to what made him think that.

"Yeah?" the big man asked back as he returned his sword to its scabbard. Gene noticed that Mazren's voice had suddenly turned much softer. It lacked the roughness that it usually held. He watched the two of them as Melfina smiled shyly and looked up to Mazren.

"Thank you for helping us as many times as you did," she said. "Why don't you let us help you this time?"

"I'm fine," he told her.

"But your wound," Melfina said. "You need medical attention."

"Mel's right," Aisha said. "A wound like that wouldn't stop a Ctarl-Ctrarl, but you're human so need to get it fixed immediately."

"You should worry about yourself first," Mazren said as he looked up and down Aisha's body, still covered in cuts from Askared's attack. He then turned back to Melfina and gently cupped her chin in his thumb and forefinger.

"What about you?" he asked as he gingerly turned her face around. "I saw how that Oni was grabbing you. He didn't hurt you did he?"

"Um, no," Melfina answered as she blinked in confusion.

"What about you arm?" he asked as he shifted his hand from her face to her arm. He gently lifted Melfina's left arm and looked it over. "Anything broken or sprained?"

"No," she answered again, "I'm alright. Really I am." It was then that Gene began to get ticked at the guy who was in the midst of running his hands all over Melfina.

"I'm glad," Mazren said before he embraced her. "I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you."

"Um, thank you," Melfina said, even though her face showed that she didn't understand anything that Mazren had just said. All right I've had just about enough of this, Gene thought. Dashing over to them, Gene pulled Melfina out of Mazren's grasp.

"Look pal," he yelled. "Just who the hell do you think you are anyway?" As he pulled Mel away, something slammed into Gene and knocked him to the floor. Gene looked up and saw the snarling face of Mazren's wolf as it stood on his chest. The wolf's teeth came closer and Gene turned away as he felt the beast's hot and foul breath caress his face.

"Gene!" Melfina yelled as she ran to him. But just as she started to move, Mazren reached out and grabbed her wrist.

"Slag," he commanded, "let him up." The wolf looked back at his master for a second before turning back to Gene. The wolf stared at him for a second before stepping off of his chest and trotting back over to sit by Mazren. "I'm sorry about that," Mazen said as he released his grip on Melfina. Melfina ran over to Gene and helped him up. "You see, I told Slag to attack anyone he considered a threat to Melfina's safety." Gene and Melfina could only stare at Mazren; not knowing what to say.

"Look mister," Jim said. "I don't know who you are or what you want. First, you and your wolf help us save Melfina from Haykon, but then you attack Aisha and Suzuka. Then, you help us protect her from the MacDougal Brothers, and then again from that Askared guy. Just what the hell do you want with Melfina anyway?"

"That's what I want to know as well," Gene said. Mazren snorted in disdain.

"First of all, I didn't attack your two friends. They attacked me and I defended myself."

"That's beside the point," Suzuka said. "You are keeping something from us about all of this, and I think that you should tell us what it is right now."

"Or do I have to get tough with you," Aisha chimed in. Mazren stared blankly at all of them as he did when they first met him before settling his gaze on Melfina.

"I was going to have to tell you sooner or later Melfina," he said with a weak smile. "I guess now's a good a time as any."

"Tell me what?" she asked.

"That my name is Mazren."

"Yeah, yeah," Gene interrupted. "We know that already."

"Well here's something you don't know!" Mazren growled as he glared angrily at Gene. "I'm Melfina's brother!"

(Say whaaaaat! Mazren is Melfina's brother? Can it really be possible? Is Mazren telling the truth, or is it part of some dirty scheme of his like Swanzo said it was? Be sure to be here next time when Mazren reveals the long hidden truth about Melfina's origins. Same Outlaw-time. Same Outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 5
Chapter 7

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