Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Return to Tenrei ( Chapter 9 )

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

CHAPTER 9:

Return to Tenrei

(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.)

THE TIME: The next day

THE PLACE: Tenrei

"So this is Tenrei huh? Doesn't look like the sort of place where a trio of wizards would set up shop." Gene could understand Mazren's doubt. When he and the others had first set foot on Tenrei, he had doubted the validity of the rumors himself. Especially since everyone he asked here didn't know a single thing about them.

"Be that as it may," he answered, "they're here." Gene and the others currently stood on the observation platform outside of Hagone Hot Springs' spaceport. Beneath them, Tenrei's capital city lay nestled between snow-covered mountains. In the streets, people of various races, all dressed in assorted styles of bathing suits, walked and laughed as they enjoyed their vacation on the resort world.

"Do you really think that those wizards that you met are still here Gene?" Melfina asked. "I mean, you did say that their temple had been blown up."

"They should be," he told her. But of course, he really had no idea if that was true or not. Still, he didn't want to disappoint her. "But Melfina, even if they aren't, then we'll just go see Urt on Mt. Nyotai. She came here with Ark and Hadul so she should know something that we can use."

"I hope so Gene," Melfina said. So do I, he thought.

"So then what are we waiting for?" Aisha asked as she leaned over the deck's railing. "Let's go see those wizards and get some answers."

"Aren't you forgetting something Aisha?" Suzuka reminded her. Her face was drawn tight, showing she did not relish what was about to happen.

"Oh yeah," Aisha said as she scratched her chin. "We have to go through immigration again don't we?"

"What kind of immigration?" Mazren asked.

"Greetings ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Hagone Hot Springs!" Turning around, Gene and the others saw the gatekeeper they had met the first time they came to Tenrei. Just as then, he held a welcome sign in front of him while two women wearing spandex body suits and cartoon animal heads flanked his sides. "I hope that you're all ready for some good and wholesome fun in the sun. We just have to take care of some immigration matters and then the fun can begin."

"Hey now wait a minute," Gene said as the man walked over and pulled on his arm. "You don't have to…GAAAH!" he yelled as the gatekeeper threw him into a changing booth. As the door clanged shut behind him, Gene could hear the cries of the others as the gatekeeper and his aides shoved them all into their respective booths. Surrendering himself to the eccentricities of Tenrei, Gene stripped down and changed into the clothes that were provided to him, a teal Hawaiian shirt with maroon swim trunks. From his trunk's drawstring, he attached the bag that held his damaged caster.

"All right then," he heard the gatekeeper call out, "as soon as you're ready, just come on out." With the okay from the gatekeeper, Gene opened the door at the other side of his booth, squinting from the sudden increase in brightness. As soon as his eyes adjusted, Gene stepped out of his booth to stand at the top of the steps that led down to the city.

"Hey Gene?" Jim asked as he stepped out of his booth. Jim had changed into blue trunks with a white T-Shirt. "Do you ever get the feeling that something isn't quite right with this planet?"

"I do," Suzuka said as she stepped out of her booth. The beautiful assassin was wearing a revealing bright red two-piece that drew attention to her long legs and nicely sized breasts. Looking at Suzuka in her getup, Gene couldn't help but grin. "Is there something I can help you with?" Suzuka asked as she noticed the lecherous way he was looking at her.

"Nope," Gene said as he turned away. Gene decided that he had better stop looking at Suzuka before she whacked him over the head with her bokuto again.

"You know Suzu," Aisha said as she leaped on Suzuka's back, "you need to learn how to have fun. You don't want your boyfriend thinking that you're the world's biggest wet blanket do you?" Aisha had changed into a bright yellow one-piece that perfectly complimented her athletic physique and the very short and fine tan fur that covered her body.

"For the last time," Suzuka said, "Mazren is not my boyfriend. And stop calling me Suzu."

"Sorry to keep everyone waiting," Melfina said as she exited her booth. Turning around, Gene couldn't help but stare in awe at her. Dressed in a dark violet bikini that clashed beautifully with her light skin, Melfina had also tied a zebra-striped towel around her hips. Her slender and petite body wasn't quite as voluptuous as Suzuka's, but it was perfectly built in all the right places. Slag, who had accompanied her into the booth, walked out by her side. For a second, Gene actually felt jealous of the wolf. "Is something wrong Gene?"

"What? Oh, no,no, nothing, nothing at all Mel!" Gene immediately looked away and reprimanded himself for his behavior. What the hell am I thinking, staring at Melfina like that? Taking a deep breath to clear his head, Gene called out to his crew as he began to walk down the steps. "Come on everyone, if we hurry we can make the next train before it leaves the station."

"Hold on a second Gene," Jim suddenly said. Gene and the other turned to look at Jim as he pointed to himself and everyone else in turn. "One, two, three, four, five, and I guess Slag makes six. Weren't there seven people in our group?" Looking around, Gene saw that Jim was right. Mazren still hadn't come out of his booth.

"Excuse me?" Gene asked the gatekeeper. "But what happened to the big guy who was with us?"

"No need to worry," the man assured them. "He'll be out shortly. He's just having a little trouble getting into his clothes."

"Is he all right?" Melfina asked.

"Hold on I'll check," the man said as he moved towards the booth. "Sir? Sir? Are you all right?"

"I AM NOT WEARING THIS STUPID THING IN PUBLIC!" Mazren yelled through the door. "I STILL HAVE MY PRIDE!"

"Come on Maz," Aisha called out. "You can't look that bad. Just come on out. Suzu got all dressed up for you."

"Aisha!" Suzuka yelled.

"Unfortunately sir," the gatekeeper said. "No one gets into Hagone without passing through immigration first."

"What was that?" Mazren asked. "I'm having trouble hearing you through the door."

"I said," the gatekeeper yelled as he moved closer to the booth. As he did, Mazren's fist smashed through the thin sheet metal of the door to grab onto the gatekeeper's shirt. Mazren pulled on the man, smashing him repeatedly into the door before throwing him back. Gene and the others stepped aside as the gatekeeper rolled past them to land in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Hearing the creak of bending metal, they looked back to see Mazren forcing the door up with his bare hands.

"Mazren!" Melfina cried out. "Was that really necessary?"

"Well just look at what they were trying to get me to wear!" he said as he reached back into the booth. Retracting his hand, Mazren pulled out a hanger that held a silver tank top with a black Speedo that looked like it had been designed for a man two sizes smaller than him.

"Ooooh, too bad Suzu," Gene heard Aisha whisper. "I'll bet that you were just dying to see him in that." It was then that Mazren noticed Suzuka. The two stared at each other for a second, before looking away, both of their faces flushed.

"All right now," Gene said, "let's get out of here before whatever passes for police on this planet comes to talk to us." Heading down the steps, Gene led his group through the streets of Hagone to the train station. As they walked, Gene noticed that most of the people they passed were giving them a second look. At first, he though that they were looking at the girls, but then realized it was Mazren who was attracting their attention. Gene guessed that on Tenrei, a man walking around in his street clothes was equivalent to walking around naked on Heifong. Rather than attract any more attention, Gene hurried the others on their way, reaching the station just as the 3 o'clock train was starting to board. They got on, and rode the train as it took them on a scenic tour of the resort planet.

"So what are these wizards like?" Mazren asked. The big man's eyes were flicking all over the passing scenery, as if looking for any sign of trouble.

"Well," Gene said, "Ark and Hadul, the two we're going to see, are a little on the strange side. Though they claim to be former priests, they act more like a pair of oversexed teenagers."

"Sounds like they're your kind of people," Jim replied. Gene responded to Jim's remark with a quick rap on the head.

"As I was saying," Gene continued, "they and the third one Urt originally came here in search of some kind of power called Mana."

"So then what's with all the hot springs?" Mazren asked.

"Apparently," Gene answered, "Urt eventually gave up looking for Mana entirely and turned the entire planet into one big hot springs resort. And speaking of hot springs, is that jacket of yours water proofed?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Attention everyone," the conductor said over the intercom, "as part of out service package, we will now flood the passenger cars with fresh, natural, hot springs water."

"What?" Mazren asked as he looked towards the front of the car. Realizing what was about to happen, Gene and the others held their breath as a wall of water crashed through and flooded the car. After the initial surge, Gene stuck his head above the surface and spit out a mouthful.

"This is why," he said as the others poked their heads above the surface.

"I guess some things never change," Jim joked.

"I still fail to see the pleasure of this," Suzuka said.

"They call this hot!" Aisha growled.

"Mazren?" Melfina asked. Gene saw that Melfina's brother was scowling, but then, when was he not.

"You know," he said, "it usually takes me a full day to reach a verdict about a planet. But this one is an exception." Slag meanwhile, didn't share his master's sudden sense of dislike for Tenrei. He dog-paddled and splashed all throughout the flooded train car.

Atop the hill, Yama watched and waited. Beneath him, peoples of various races entered and exited the Hot Springs Center. Behind him stood the green peak of Mt. Nantai. From what his aid had told him, the Outlaw Star had docked at the Hagone Hot Springs Spaceport a little over half an hour ago. And if his sources were right, the temple at the peak of Mt. Nantai was where the artifacts were supposedly stored. If they really were similar to the medallion, than this would be the place where Gene Starwind would be going next.

As he waited, a train pulled up to the terminal outside of the center. To his delight, Yama saw none other than his quarry appear. Narrowing his eyes, Yama concentrated his vision on the group of outlaws. The boy, the Ctarl, and the android girl all seemed to be unarmed, while the woman with them carried a bokuto. Starwind looked as if he was carrying a gun underneath his shirt, and possibly a second one in the bag hanging from the drawstring of his trunks.

Shifting his vision to the left, he then saw the man in black. Unlike the others, he had somehow gotten on to Tenrei without passing through immigration. By his side walked a large silver and gray wolf. Both the man and the wolf were dripping with water. As Yama expected, the man in black was armed with a sword on his back and throwing knives on his arms. If he could kill Askared, Yama thought, then he must be exceptionally skilled with his weapons. I had better exercise caution.

Hearing a sudden cry, Yama looked away from the man in black to see Starwind being showered with water. The wolf had crept up over to his side and was shaking itself off. The boy saw Starwind's predicament and began laughing at him. As he watched, Yama couldn't help but laugh himself. Enjoy yourselves for now my friends, he thought as his prey began to travel up the path to Mt. Nantai's peak. Because once I receive my orders from Lord Shidowkun, the android is ours.

Gene had only just finished drying off from the soaking he had gotten on the train when he received a second drenching from Slag. Looking at him, Jim couldn't help but snicker. Gene heard Jim's laughter and turned around to scowl at him.

"Put a sock in it Jim," he growled.

"You know Gene," Melfina said, "Slag was probably just playing with you. Maybe he's starting to like you."

"I doubt it," Mazren replied. "He just didn't want to get anyone else wet." Slag whined and wagged his tail in agreement. Gene just growled in disgust and quickened his pace up the mountain. Deciding that needling Gene was getting old, Jim switched his attention over to Mazren. Even with all that he had learned in the last few days, the big man was still a mystery to him. When he had first met him, Jim had pegged Mazren for nothing but a total jerk. Still, nothing could prepare him for the revelation that Mazren was Melfina's brother. And even though he knew that it was stupid, Jim couldn't help but feel a sense of jealousy towards him. Ever since he had come onboard, Melfina had spent all of her time fussing over him. But that wasn't the main reason as to why Jim felt threatened by Mazren. What Gene had talked about with him in the Laundromat still played on his mind. What if Melfina decides to leave with Mazren after Gene talks to her? he worried. No way! Mel would never do that. But still, she might think she should if she misunderstands what Gene says. Jim forced the thoughts away and cursed Gene under his breath for putting them there in the first place. As he looked back up to his aniki, Jim began to wonder if Gene had really changed at all in the past year. He may not be quite as much of a lecher as he used to be, but he was still running away from his responsibilities.

"Okay everyone," Gene said. "We're almost there so get ready." Jim blew out threw his lips as he and the others hurried to catch up to him. He and Gene were going to have a very long talk about it all later. But right now, their priority was to get the information they needed. But just as Gene walked up over the next ridge, he stopped in his tracks.

"Gene, what's wrong?" Melfina asked. Walking up to his side, Jim saw what had taken Gene by surprise. Before them stood a massive three-section temple, its gray, stony walls shining in the afternoon sun.

"I thought you said that the temple had been blown up?" Jim asked.

"So did I," Gene replied.

"Well in any case," Mazren said as he and Slag pushed past them, "let's go see if anyone's home." Hearing a grinding noise, Jim looked up to see Gene's teeth clenched together.

"That guy is really starting to get on my nerves," he growled. Not wanting to be left behind, Jim and the others followed after the two bounty hunters as they entered the central temple structure. Inside the first chamber, they stopped and looked up at the three massive statues that dominated the room.

"See those?" Gene asked. "Those are the three wizards."

"So then where are they?" Aisha asked. Her question was answered by the sound of laughter coming from behind the statue of the younger wizard.

"How interesting," the voice said. "Every time I think that we don't get many guests all the way up here, my red headed friend shows up." Looking towards the source of the voice, Jim and the others watched as a man with strawberry blonde hair and wearing a white robe with a dark blue cape walked out from behind the statue. "And this time he brought some friends with him. And some of them aren't bad looking either."

"Hey Ark," Gene called out as the wizard walked toward them. "How's it going?"

"Oh same old, same old," Ark shrugged. "The mana is still gradually weakening, and Urt still won't let Hadul and me come up to Mt. Nyotai."

"Speaking of which, what happened here?" Gene asked. "Wasn't the temple blown up."'

"Yes it was," Ark answered. "But Hadul and I rebuilt it from the ground up."

"All by yourselves?" Jim asked. How could two people possibly accomplish something like that?

"Well," Ark laughed, "we are wizards you know. But anyways, man with red hair, why don't you introduce me to your friends."

"Huh? Oh yeah sure. This is Jim," Gene said as he pointed at him. "And that's…"

"Actually," Ark said as he walked past, stopping in front of Melfina, "I meant the good looking ones. Especially this exquisite creature."

"Oh," Melfina said in surprise. "How do you do? My name is Melfina."

"Melfina," Ark repeated as he took her hand in his. "Why can't beautiful girls like you come visit every day?" Melfina blushed slightly at his words, but Jim immediately took a strong dislike to Ark. It was obvious that he had picked out Mel for easy pickings. Luckily, Slag decided to take action. Placing himself beside Mel, Slag ruffled his fur and growled at the perverted wizard. Taking the wolf's hint, Ark wisely began to back away.

"All right Ark cut out the monkey business," Gene said. "We came here for serious business."

"You need some more caster shells?" Ark asked.

"That would be nice," Gene replied. "But to tell the truth I had two different reasons for coming here."

"Well since you came all the way here," Ark said as he returned to behind his statue. He returned pushing a cart laden high with souvenirs. "How about buying some official Mt. Nantai merchandise?" Gene groaned in frustration as his hand went to his temple.

"Just humor him," he said. "Otherwise we'll never get anywhere." Later, after they each had bought a sufficient amount of souvenirs, Ark finally began to get serious.

"So man with red-hair," he asked, "what can I do for you this time?"

"Well," Suzuka said, "we have come into possession of a very strange medallion. We were hoping that you could tell us something about it."

"What sort of medallion?" Ark asked. Mazren reached into a pocket in his jacket's interior and produced the golden disk. Tossing it toward Ark, the wizard caught the medallion and studied it for a second before his eyes widened slightly. Before they could ask him what was wrong, a second wizard joined them. This one was dressed in the same style as Ark, but was much older. He walked with the aid of a gnarled cane and was bald with a long white beard.

"Lord Ark, why isn't lunch ready yet?" the old man asked.

"Lord Hadul," Ark said as he hurried over to the older man. "Look at this!" Hadul studied the medallion, and his eyes widened as well.

"Well, well," he chuckled. "Who would have though that the legend was true."

"Wait a minute," Gene said. "What legend?" The two wizards looked up from the medallion to them.

"Come with us," Ark said as he and Hadul vanished down a hall. The six outlaws followed after Ark and Hadul as they were led down a hall and to a door through which Ark and Hadul gestured for them to enter. Looking in, Jim saw what looked like a dirty and run down kitchen.

"Please wait in here," Ark said as he and Hadul left them. With their hosts off doing god knew what, they entered the kitchen and sat down to wait. But after almost an hour, even Jim began to lose his patience.

"What the hell is wrong with those two?" Aisha asked as she paced back and forth. "Are they taking a nap or something?"

"There's nothing we can do for now Aisha," Suzuka said. Unlike Aisha, Suzuka sat quietly alongside Mazren, Slag, and Mel; drinking some tea she had brewed on the kitchen's stove. "So let's just be patient and wait for them." Aisha was on the verge of saying something else, but was interrupted when Ark and Hadul returned.

"Everyone please follow us," Hadul told them. Hoping that maybe they would finally get somewhere, Jim and the others followed Ark and Hadul as they were led down another hall, and then into the temple's center. Walking in, they found themselves in a large, darkened rotunda room lit by a glowing six-pointed star on the floor. Around the star, four man sized stone tablets had been set straight up. In the star's center stood a woman with long black hair and wearing a purple cloak.

"Ark and Hadul," the woman said without turning around, "you two had better have a very good reason for summoning me here."

"Hi Urt," Gene called out. The woman turned at the sound of his voice.

"Well now," Urt said with a smile. "If it isn't the red-haired man with the caster gun. Have you come to challenge me for some more number four shells?"

"Maybe later," Gene said as he flashed his famous grin. "But right now, what I need is some information."

"What sort of information?" the sorceress asked. Ark walked over to her and handed her the medallion. Urt looked over the disk for a second before looking back up to Gene. "Where did you find this man with red hair?"

"Well," Gene said as he pointed at Mazren, "the truth is I didn't. My friend here brought it to me. I saw an image just like that one when I came here last. I was hoping that maybe you all could tell me something about it?"

"You mean this one, don't you?" Ark asked as a light suddenly appeared to their left. Jim and Gene looked over and saw on the wall the same image that was on the medallion, a man holding a raised sword with lines of power radiating out.

"That's it," Gene said as he turned back to the three wizards. "What can you tell me about it?"

"How about this for a start," Hadul asked as a light went on over the first tablet. The tablet didn't show the image on the medallion, but rather of a demonic looking black giant. In its hands, the giant held planets in its grasp. Underneath the giant, a city in flames was being crushed under its feet.

"All right I'll bite," Mazren said. "What are we supposed to be looking at here?"

"When we first set out in search of the power of mana," Ark said, "we had to search many worlds before we came to this one."

"On one of those worlds," Urt said, "we discovered ruins of what we thought was a tomb. But upon investigating, we discovered that it was actually a time capsule, containing a record from an ancient and unknown race that colonized the stars when humans and the other six known races were still in their infancy."

"When we left," Hadul said, "we took the records with us. Amateur Archaeology had always been a hobby of ours."

"These are a record of an ancient race huh?" Aisha asked. "So what are they a record of?"

"Well," Hadul said as he stroked his beard. "I believe that the ancient race was attacked by some powerful enemy, symbolized by that dark giant. And judging by the way the giant is depicted, I'd say that this enemy they encountered almost destroyed their entire civilization."

"So what did they do?" Mazren asked as he brushed his fingers over the tablet.

"See for yourselves," Ark said as a light went on over each of the other tablets. As he examined the tablets, Jim saw two things that he never expected. On the second one, a dragon coiled into an S-shape dominated most of the tablet's face. Beneath the dragon, a warrior knelt as he received what looked like a sword from the dragon. The third tablet showed a battle between the warrior and the dark giant as the warrior plunged the sword into the giant's chest. Above them, a girl with four fairy-like wings cast chains onto the giant, binding him in place. Not knowing what to say, Jim and Gene looked to each other. They both had a good idea as to who the girl was supposed to be, but they didn't dare risk revealing that in front of the three wizards.

"Melfina?" Jim heard Suzuka ask. Jim and Gene both looked up and saw that Mel's face had paled greatly, her eyes widened into a look of fear and surprise.

"Melfina what's wrong?" Gene asked.

"Gene, I can't explain it," she answered, not taking her eyes off the tablets. "But these images remind me of something. But I just can't remember what. All I know is that it's something vary bad." Aisha meanwhile, had her own thoughts. Turning to Mazren, she took his square chin in her hands and turned his face to the side.

"You know what Maz?" Aisha asked. "That guy in the tablet looks an awful lot like you." Jim and Gene looked away from the tablet towards Mazren, then back to the tablet, then back to Mazren again. No doubt about it, Jim thought. The warrior in the tablet is the original Guardian of the Leyline.

"Just how much do you know about what these tablets say?" Gene asked.

"Only theories actually," Hadul said. "I believe that the dragon symbolizes the governing body of the ancient race. The warrior was probably their champion who used that sword shown there to fight off the enemy force. The fairy character most likely symbolizes some kind of priestess figure who aided him in battle." You're a little off old man, Jim thought, but you're close enough.

"What about the last one?" Suzuka asked. Jim looked and saw that the last tablet in the lineup was far different than the previous three. The last tablet showed the same dark giant, but inside the giant's center was the sword. Lines of power radiated out from the sword, but Jim had no idea as to whether they were killing the giant or energizing it.

"I believe that it might be something of a prophecy," Hadul said. "Possibly the return of the enemy force, but also the sword to fight it."

"So is this that legend that you were talking about?" Gene asked.

"Throughout the history of the seven known races," Ark answered, "there are legends of weapons that bestow god-like powers on their wielders. On Earth, stories persist of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur. And on the Ctarl home world, clan shamans sing of the huntress Horkaza and her lance So' Ja-Ja."

"But no matter what shape these weapons take or what race they belong to," Urt said, "they all share certain, similar traits. For instance, they always choose their wielders, they make their masters invincible in battle, and they exist solely for the destruction of evil."

"Right," Gene said. "Look, would you just get to the point and cut out the fairy tales!" But the three wizards simply laughed at Gene's outburst.

"Just what makes you think that we're telling you a fairy tale my red-haired friend?" Ark asked. The wizard's remark left them all speechless.

"Wait a minute," Jim said. He really couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Are you trying to tell us that Excalibur and all these other legendary weapons are for real?"

"Not weapons," Hadul corrected, "weapon. If you compare when each of the weapons appeared in their respective cultures, then you'll see that neither one appears at the same time as another. Instead, they appear right after each other. They simply move on after they serve their purpose."

"And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this sword is that one ultra-powerful weapon," Mazren said as he pointed at the image of the sword.

"Very good young man," Hadul said. "And as the tablet claims that it was forged from a dragon, I have named it, the Ryunoken Sword."

"Ryunoken," Mazren repeated. "The Sword of the Dragon."

"What about the Medallion that Mazren found?" Suzuka asked as she looked away from the tablets.

"The medallion is a clue to the sword's location," Urt said. "Apparently, if the legends are true, than the sword is calling its new master towards it."

"And since Mazren found the Medallion," Melfina said, "than that means he's the one."

"That makes sense Gene," Jim whispered. "If the Ryunoken Sword was originally meant to be used by the Guardian of the Leyline, than that automatically makes it Mazren's sword."

"Maybe," Gene whispered back.

"But there's one thing that I still don't understand," Aisha said. "If Maz is the so called 'chosen one,' then why are the Toku after Mel instead of him?" Jim's hand covered his eyes in frustration. Way to go Aisha. Why don't you just put up a billboard while you're at it?

"Excuse me?" Urt asked. Caught red handed, Jim listened as Gene told Ark, Hadul, and Urt all about how the Toku had tried repeatedly to kidnap Mel and how that one guy said she would deliver a treasure even greater than the Galactic Leyline into their hands.

"That's the other thing that we came here to ask you about," Gene said as he finished his tale. The three sorcerers looked to each other, a serious look on all their faces. Eventually, Urt broke the silence when she left Ark and Hadul and walked over to Melfina.

"Melfina child," Urt said. "I have to ask you something, and it's very important that you answer as honestly as you can. Your very life may depend upon it." Urt's words caused Melfina's eyes to widen in fear.
"All right I'll try." Urt's words had caused Jim to be afraid as well. He could sense a terrible premonition in the air.

"Have you ever truly hated anyone?" Urt asked her.

"What?" Mel asked back

"Is there anyone at all that you would love to see dead?"

"Hey that's enough!" Gene yelled as he put himself between Urt and Mel. "Melfina is nothing like that!"

"That's right," Jim said as he moved over to his aniki'sside. "How could you possibly ask her something like that? Melfina would never even think of hurting anyone or anything!" Jim expected Urt to say something smart, but instead, the black haired sorceress shook her head sadly.

"That's what I was afraid of," she said.

"What do you mean?" Mazren asked, his voice low.

"As we said before," Hadul said. "In every legend that the sword appears in, they all share certain similar traits."

"One of those," Ark said, "is the theory that the sword's power would be corrupted if it was ever used on an innocent soul."

"So that's it then," Mazren growled. Slag looked up to his master and whined, as if picking up on Mazren's thoughts.

"What is?" Jim asked, even though he already had a pretty good idea as to what the big man was thinking.

"The Toku know where to find the Ryunoken Sword," Mazren said. "And they intend to sacrifice Melfina to it to corrupt its power."

"Have you located the man in black?" Shidowkun asked. Sitting in the main hall of his fortress, the Toku Emperor leaned forward in his throne. In front of him, Yama's image appeared in the holoscreen as he gave his report.

"Yes Lord Shidowkun. Just as I thought, he has joined together with Gene Starwind and his friends."

"What is your initial impression of him?" Shidowkun asked. Yama was silent as he pondered his answer.

"He appears to be a disciplined fighter," Yama answered. "However, most of his power seems to be concentrated in his weapons. I am certain that I will prevail if I should ever face him in combat. Of course, I won't know for certain until I actually do." Shidokun hummed in thought, but nodded.

"Very well," Shidowkun told his Shogun. "If you so desire, than you may seek him out." As he spoke, the Emperor slipped a data disk into a slot in his throne's left armrest. "But take this as well. This is the data that Mako and his agents have uncovered on the man in black. Study it, but do not kill him yet. Instead, try to learn anything about him that might prove useful to us."

"Yes Lord," Yama said as the transmission ended. Turning his throne around, Shidowkun stared out the large octagonal window behind him. When he had first ascended to the throne in his coup all those years ago, the power that he wielded had proven ample distraction. But now that the time was drawing nigh, after all the years of waiting and planning, his impatience was steadily growing. I must be patient, he told himself. Just a little while longer, and the power I seek will be mine at last.

Aisha and the others had been left speechless by what the three wizards had told them. Looking over to Mel, Aisha watched as her whole body began trembling in fear.

"So what are we going to do now?" Jim asked.

"I'll tell you what we're going to do!" Aisha yelled. "We're going to find this Ryunoken Sword thing and get it before the Toku do!" If what the Urt and the other two told them was true, then the sword must have known what the Toku were planning and wanted to help stop them.

"Hadul," Suzu said to the older wizard, "you said that the medallion was a key to the location of the sword. Does that mean that you can translate the characters on the rim?"

"Of course," Hadual answered as he took the medallion from Ark. "Just give me a second." Closing his eyes, Hadul hummed as he ran one wrinkled finger over the medallion's rim.

"Well?" Gene asked. Hadul opened his eyes as he tossed the medallion back to Maz.

"It says, seek the sword in the path of the dragon's breath."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Aisha asked.

"Sorry," Ark said. "But I'm afraid that you're going to have to figure that one out by yourselves." But that wasn't good enough for Maz, who ran over to Ark and raised him off the floor with one hand.

"Look you!" he yelled, "I don't have time to play this damn game! Especially when it concerns my sister's life! So quit playing dumb and tell us where the damn sword is!" Ark, caught totally off guard by Maz's sudden aggression, blinked in surprise as he tried to wiggle out of Maz's grip.

"Mazren, stop it!" Suzu said as she placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. "This isn't going to help us!"

"I'd listen to your friend young man," Urt said. "We can only point you in the right direction. Finding the sword is something that you're going to have to do yourself." Realizing that they were right, Maz growled in frustration before dropping Ark on his ass. Ark struggled to his feet, dusting off his rear and straightening his robe.

"Well then," he said as he regained himself, "now that we've answered your questions, is there anything else that we can do for you?"

"Actually, yes there is," Gene said as he reached for the bag that hung onto his trunk's drawstring. Reaching inside, Gene pulled out his caster gun and showed it to the three wizards. "My caster got damaged during a fight with the Toku. I was hoping that maybe you guys would be able to fix it." Urt took the damaged gun and looked it over.

"This is one of yours if I'm not mistaken Ark," she said as she studied Gene's caster.

"Yes I know," the strawberry blonde wizard beamed. "You can tell because of the artistic markings on the barrel."

"Actually," Urt said as she looked up, "it was because of the shoddy and inferior design."

"Hey!" Ark yelled. "Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"That you wouldn't be able to make a descent caster gun if your life depended on it," Urt smirked as Ark flushed with rage. Ignoring Ark's agitation, Urt turned to leave. "Don't bother with trying to get this worthless piece of junk fixed," she called out to Gene. "I'll just make you a new one. I'll also make you some number fours as well. I have a feeling that you're going to need them. And as long as you all are here, why don't you go stay at the new hotel that I just had built. You can stay on my tab as my official guests."

"We appreciate it," Gene said. Urt simply looked back to him and smiled before leaving them all to return to Mt. Nyotai.

"Damn that woman," Ark cursed. "She is the coldest, most inhuman bitch that I've ever known. God I want her." Aisha just stared at the wizard and wondered if he was playing with a full deck. "But in any case," he said as he turned back to Gene, "I'm not about to let Urt show me up, so take these with you." Reaching into his cloak, Ark pulled out three caster shells and handed them to Gene.

"You'd better take this as well," Hadul said as he handed Gene another shell. "You never know when a number nine might come in handy."

"Thanks a lot guys," Gene said as he pocketed the four shells. With their business completed, Aisha and the others left the temple and headed for Urt's hotel. Upon reaching it, Gene suggested that they go for a soak in the hotel's hot springs baths. The others agreed, except for Maz, who had decided to try and conquer Mt. Nyotai. Aisha would have been enjoying herself greatly, if the water wasn't so lukewarm.

I can't believe humans consider this hot, she growled to herself. She, Suzu, and Mel were sitting in the women's bath while Jim and Gene were in the men's bath on the other side of the fence. Though the manager had told her that they had extra hot baths for Ctarl-Ctarl guests, Aisha knew that she couldn't leave Mel with only Ice Queen Suzu to keep her company. Raising her head, Aisha looked to Suzu who sat to her left, drinking sake as her brow furrowed in thought. I know we need to form a plan Suzu, Aisha thought, but would it kill you to devote some energy to making Mel feel better? Thinking that, Aisha looked over to Mel who sat against the edge of the bath, her eyes downcast and covered by her black hair. The poor thing hadn't said a single thing since they had left the temple. Behind her, Slag lay on the ledge of the bath. Maz had left him behind to help protect her. The big wolf could tell how scared Mel was and had laid its head on her shoulder. Poor Mel, Aisha thought. Aisha hated seeing Mel like this. Her face just didn't look right without a smile. She wished that she could find a way to help her. Mel always did that for her. Whenever Aisha got fired from those waitress jobs for losing her temper, Mel would always sit down and talk with her about it. Aisha would always feel better afterwards, it was a sort of magic that Mel had.

Just then, Aisha had an idea of how to get Mel to smile again, and maybe even have some fun herself in the process. Moving slowly, so as not to alarm Suzu, Aisha snuck over and removed Suzu's towel from where it lay. She then reached for the disposable, waterproof camera that she had bought earlier. As soon as she was ready, Aisha went into action.

"Mazren!" she yelled. "What the hell are you doing here? This is the women's bath!" Her little plan worked. Suzu, caught off guard, jumped out of the water and reached for her towel. When she didn't find it, she frantically looked around while Aisha shot a picture of Suzu au natural.

"Aisha!" Suzu yelled as she saw the camera flash. "What do you think that you're doing?"

"Hey Mel?" Aisha asked as she retreated to Mel's side. Mel snapped out of her depression and looked up as she realized that something was happening. "Do you think Maz would like to have this picture I took of Suzu?"

"You wouldn't dare!" Suzu yelled as she splashed through the water toward her.

"Oh yes I would!" Aisha sang as she retreated. Suzu gave chase as Aisha ran all the way around the baths, eventually cornering her against the far side. Suzu had a longer reach, but Aisha's superior strength enabled her to hold her off. As they wrestled, Aisha and Suzu stopped when they heard what sounded like a slight laugh come from Mel.

"I'm sorry," Mel giggled as they looked towards her. "But you two look so silly."

"Yep," Aisha said as she dropped the camera, "I knew that would work." As Aisha walked over to sit by Mel, Suzu busied herself with destroying the camera and the picture therein.

"You did that to make me feel better, didn't you?" Mel asked as she smiled slightly at her. "Thank you Aisha."

"Don't mention it Mel," Aisha beamed as she rested her arms behind her head. "It was worth it just to get Suzu all riled up." Aisha was glad that her little plan had worked. Mel was more than a friend to her; she was almost like a younger sister. And Aisha vowed that she would die before she would let the Toku get anywhere near her. Suzu meanwhile, had finished destroying the camera and came over to sit between the two of them.

"Given your reasons Aisha," Suzu said as she sat down, "I think I'll let you off the hook this time. But don't EVER do that again!"

"As I said before Suzu," Aisha laughed, "you need to learn to have fun."

"Um Suzuka?" Mel asked. "Just how do you feel about Mazren?"

"Why do you ask?" Suzu asked back as she turned to face her.

"Well," Melfina replied, "I'm not sure, but I think that my brother has a crush on you." Seeing Suzu's reaction, Aisha couldn't help but grin. The assassin's normally snow-white complexion had flushed a bright pink.

"So." Aisha teased. "When's the wedding?"

"Will you drop it!" Suzu yelled as she splashed at Aisha. Aisha yelped in surprise as the wave struck into her. Not one to just sit back and take it during a water fight, Aisha pulled back her arm and splashed Suzu back. But Suzu dodged in time, and the wave ended up hitting Mel instead.

"Whoops," Aisha said as she saw her mistake. "Sorry Mel." But to Aisha's surprise, Mel just grinned mischievously and splashed her back. Aisha was caught off guard by Mel's attack and was knocked off her feet.

"Oh I see," Aisha said as she regained her footing. "You wanna play huh?" With the war declared, Aisha sent out a wave big enough to soak both Mel and Suzu. It wasn't long before all three of them were involved in a splashing water fight. Slag, not wanting to be left out, jumped into the water and leaped between the waves that they sent out.

"What the heck is going on over there?" Jim asked. Gene had been so preoccupied with his thoughts that he hadn't heard the commotion coming from the other side of the fence. Cocking his ear, Gene heard the sound of splashing and laughing. Usually, he would have drilled a hole through the fence to see what was going on. But with all that had happened today, he just didn't have the energy.

"Aisha and Suzuka must be trying to cheer Melfina up," he said. "Just leave them alone for now, okay Jim."

"If you say so," Jim said. Tuning out the party on the other side of the fence, Gene went back to his musings. He and Jim were alone in the Men's bath. The sun had set, and the stars had just become visible. Around the baths, fresh snowdrifts had formed from the last snowfall. Mazren, against Gene's warnings, had decided to try and climb up to the peak of Urt's mountain. As he hadn't been knocked off the mountain yet by a giant snowboulder, Gene guessed that Mel's brother was doing better than he currently was. For though Gene had hoped that the baths would give him some inspiration, he had been soaking his scarred body for almost an hour and he still was no closer to solving that riddle. Seek the sword in the path of the dragon's breath, he thought. What the hell does that mean? Gene knew that the dragon's breath was another name for the Leyline; and that second tablet did have the Leyline's symbol on it. Did that mean that the sword was somewhere on the Leyline? If that was the case, than finding it would be even harder than he thought. They had only stumbled onto the Leyline's coordinates the last time by a series of lucky coincidences. As he sat in the steaming water, Gene was once again jarred out of his thoughts when a busboy entered the bath area carrying a parcel under his arm.

"Excuse me sir," the guy said, "but this package has just arrived for you."

"Huh, oh thanks pal." Gene tipped the busboy and took the package from him. Opening it, Gene felt a sense of elation rise within him.

"Hey Jim," Gene said as he pulled out the contents of the package "Check this out!" Urt had done as she said and had built him a brand new caster. In contrast to his old and rusted one, this one was painted with a bright red finish and had a slightly longer barrel. Just ahead of the forward ring, two triangular fins grew out of the top and bottom of the barrel and extended forward to just ahead of the barrel's end.

"Wow!" Jim said as he eyed the caster. "Totally cool!" Setting the caster aside, Gene reached in and pulled out a leather pouch. Emptying the bag into his waiting hands, Gene was rewarded with three number four shells and a note that he folded out and read:

As promised, I have made you a new caster gun. The fins can be used

to energize the number four, nine, and thirteen shells without using you own

life force. You can also use them to boost the power of your shells simply by

holding the trigger down longer. Just don't hold it down too long, or the shells

will explode in your face. Enjoy!

-URT

Allright! Gene thought as he set his new caster and the number fours aside. With an arsenal of three number thirteens, three number fours, a number nine, plus a caster that would enable him to use them without sacrificing his life force; maybe now he'd be able to show the Toku just who the hell they were messing with.

"Gene?" Jim suddenly asked.

"Yeah Jim?"

"Askared said that the Ryunoken Sword was a treasure that surpassed even that of the Galactic Leyline," Jim said. "But according to what Melfina told us afterwards, the Leyline was supposedly a computer version of God. If that's true, then how could the sword possibly be more powerful than the Leyline?" Gene was quiet as he thought of the best possible answer to give to his young friend. He had been wandering the same thing himself.

"Remember those tablets, and the dark giant they showed?" Gene asked. "Maybe the giant was someone like Hazonko, who used the Leyline to give him power. The Leyline probably wasn't strong enough to stop him, so whoever created the Leyline made something that would."

"You mean the sword right?" Jim asked.

"Right. And if the Leyline is supposed to be God, than that makes the Ryunoken Sword the sword of God."

"I guess that makes sense," Jim said as he looked up to the star lit sky. Though he hadn't said anything, Gene could tell that something was bothering him.

"What's wrong Jim?" Gene asked.

"I just don't understand why this happening to Mel?" Jim said. "She's never done anything to deserve this. Why would the Toku want to hurt her?" What Jim said had caught Gene off guard. He really didn't know what to tell him.

"The Toku are just psychotic assholes Jim. They probably heard about her when they took over Kei space and decided that she would be perfect for their plans."

"Maybe," Jim said. "But Gene, don't you ever wonder if there's some kind of purpose behind it all?" It was then that Gene began to get ticked. He had never been a believer in the whole 'every thing has its purpose' philosophy. It was nothing but an excuse by the religious to sit by and do nothing for when the shit hit the fan.

"Let me ask you something Jim," Gene said as he leaned forward. "Was there any purpose for my dad being killed by pirates? Was there any purpose for your parents being killed in that car crash?"

"Well," Jim said as he searched for an answer, "if those things hadn't happened then we never would have met. And we never would have found Mel or met any of the others."

"Pure chance," Gene replied. "That's all it was."

"But still Gene, if we hadn't found Mel, than we would just be living the same old routine on Sentinel. And you never would have…"

"Look Jim," Gene snapped. He didn't like the way this conversation was going. It was high time to nip it in the bud. "There is no grand scheme to life. We're born, we live, we die. And in between, shit happens. The sooner you realize that, the easier it gets." Jim had been left speechless by Gene's words. But then, Jim should have known better than to discuss something like spirituality with him. "Look," Gene said, "let's change the subject to something that doesn't have anything to do with destiny or fate."

"All right fine," Jim said as he took Gene's hint. "How about the stars then?"

"What about them?"

"Well," Jim said as he pointed up, "did you know that Tenrei is one of the few planets that has the same constellations as earth?"

"Really? Wow, that sure is interesting," Gene said with as much sincerity as he could muster. Looking up, Gene saw a few that he recognized. Above him was Orion, although, it was a little off center. He also saw Pisces, Leo, and Auriga. Looking east, he saw one that he had trouble attaching a name to. But then, he recognized it as a Chinese one, the dragon to be precise. Wait a minute, he thought. A thousand things ran through his mind at once: the medallion's riddle, the shape of the constellation, the coordinates of the Leyline. And then, it all connected. "That's it!" Gene yelled as he stood out of the water. "That's it!" Jim heard Gene's outburst and looked towards him.

"What's it Ge…GAAAAH! GENE! PUT A TOWEL ON OR SOMETHING, I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT!"

The icy wind cut into Mazren's face like a razor blade. Around him, the mountain winds blew up loose snow that danced around his black-garbed form. When Mazen first caught a glimpse of Mt. Nyotai, its rocky and ice covered peak presented an interesting challenge. And when Starwind had told him about the many booby traps that Urt had set up to keep men away, Mazren knew that he would be crazy to resist such a challenge.

Continuing his way up to the peak, Mazren passed by a no men allowed sign. Stopping for a second, he suddenly got the feeling that he was being watched. But after looking around, he saw that he was the only living thing on this side of the mountain.

It's probably just stress, he thought as he continued on his way, the snow crunching under his heavy boots. He didn't know what to expect when he first came here with his sister and her friends, but it certainly wasn't what he had learned. When he had realized that the Toku planned to kill Melfina for their sick plans, it had taken everything he had to restrain himself. This battle is going to be more difficult than any I've ever faced before. I've got to be in top shape. And the perfect way to test myself is to climb a mountain that was designed to keep away trespassers. And after everything was over and dealt with, he would take his sister away from all of this: away from the pirates, away from danger, and away from Starwind. He would give Melfina the kind of life and stability that she deserved.

But in the meantime, he had a mountain to climb. Looking up, he saw the first trip wire appear. With a deep breath, Mazren focused his senses as he raised his foot and stomped down on the wire. Immediately, a flurry of snowballs flew towards him from an unseen launcher. Raising his hands, Mazren lashed out with a series of palm strikes, blocking and deflecting each frozen missile. After the barrage ceased, a snowboulder dropped down to his left and rolled towards him. The clock in his head told him when to move and Mazren jumped, clearing the snowboulder in one bound. Taking off at full speed, Mazren watched for any other traps he could activate. Ahead of him, a series of pits lay covered with snow, but still visible to his android eyes. He avoided each pit just as he dodged each snowboulder that dropped down in front of him. After Mazren cleared the pits, another snowball barrage assaulted him. Rather than block with his hands, Mazren instead pulled out his katana and sliced each icy missile in half. As he fought the snowballs off, two more snowboulders rolled towards him from both sides. Ignoring the snowballs for the larger threat, Mazren shrugged them off as he ran ahead. Just as the snowboulders prepared to crush him, Mazren jumped and dove between them. The snowboulders missed hitting him by a fraction of an inch as they crashed together. Looking left, Mazren saw a narrow ravine that led straight up to the mountain's peak. It was the perfect place for the next trap, so he ran straight into it. As he neared the end, another snowboulder, far larger than the previous ones, dropped down in front of him. With no time to jump or any room to dodge, Mazren raised his sword and focused his strength. The massive ball of ice was only a foot away when he snapped his sword forward and down, hitting the weak point in the snowboulder's structure and slicing it cleanly in two. With nothing further to hold him back, Mazren bounded out of the ravine and found himself at the peak of Mt. Nyotai. Sheathing his katana, he walked to the edge and looked down at the landscape beneath him, breathing in deep the success of his self-imposed test. From behind him, the sound of clapping drew his attention. He turned around and saw Urt standing behind him wearing a violet hood and cloak that did little to conceal the voluptuousness of her body.

"Well done man in black," Urt praised. "You are one of the few men who has ever survived the rigors of Mt. Nyotai. Not to mention the only one to climb it in just one try."

"Well," Mazren said, "it really was nothing. Getting past non-lethal traps is no challenge for me in the least."

"If you say so," Urt said as she walked closer, close enough that he could see the frozen breath escape from her lips. "Still," she said as she eyed him up and down, "it's been a long time since such a magnificent specimen has come to visit me. You must be cold. Why don't we go inside and I'll warm you up in one of my baths?" Mazren couldn't help but smile. He knew that he wasn't a handsome man. He was athletic, but his features were a little too hard, too chiseled. Still, he never had to complain about his love life. Some women just took to him.

"Sounds nice," he replied. "But I'm going to have to decline. Don't get me wrong Urt. You're probably the sexiest woman that I've seen in a long time. Still, I've got people waiting for me down below."

"You mean your sister and your girlfriend right?"

"Yeah," he said. "Only Suzuka isn't my girlfriend. She's just a temporary traveling companion."

"I wouldn't count that out as of yet, man in black," Urt replied. "You'd be surprised at what can happen on a journey."

"Perhaps," Mazren said. As he looked away, Mazren found his thoughts drifting back to earlier that day. "Urt, be honest with me. Does this Ryunoken Sword thing really exist?"

"Who can be for sure," Urt answered. "However, those tablets that you've seen are not the only record of the sword. Records of it appear in every culture. Such a widespread cultural phenomenon must have some basis in reality."

"Has anyone ever found it in the Toward Stars Calendar?" Mazren asked.

"Not that I know of," Urt answered. "Still, there have been seekers. Some returned empty handed. Others didn't return at all. It's one of the great mysteries of the universe." Just like the Galactic Leyline, Mazren thought. But since the Leyline was real, and that tablet had the Leyline's symbol on it, then the sword must be real as well. "But what about you? Do you really think that you are going to be able to wield the sword once you find it?"

"What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"I mean," Urt said, "do you honestly think that you're the chosen one?"

"Look Urt," Mazren said. "That whole 'chosen one' bit is nothing but a fairy tale. It probably just takes a certain level of physical and mental discipline to control the sword."

"Are you sure about that?" Urt asked.

"Absolutely," Mazren said. "A truly great warrior is one with the discipline to use all of his abilities to their maximum."

"Is that so?" Urt asked. "I always thought that the true sign of a great warrior was the reason he was fighting." Mazren was about to comment on that when something grabbed his attention. Closing his eyes, he used the Wolf's Ears Awareness technique to seek it out.

"Urt," he said as he redrew his katana, "run." As he spoke, something huge and man shaped leapt up from underneath the ledge. Mazren jumped and dodged as the attacker landed and drove his fist into where he was standing, sending out an explosion of snow and cracking the roof of the temple underneath. The roof caved in from the blow and Urt's attendants shrieked and ran for cover.

"You!" Urt yelled. "How dare you bring violence upon my mountain! Who do you think you are anyway?" But the attacker didn't bother to answer. He rose to his feet, and Mazren was able to get a better view of his assailant. The attacker stood about eight feet tall, and possessed a body that bulged at every inch with muscle.

"Do you know who I am?" the huge man asked.

"You're Yama," Mazren answered, "more commonly known as the Shogun of Strength."

"Very good," Yama replied. "I have come to talk to you."

"About what?" Mazren asked as he assumed an attack stance.

"I know that you are Mazren the wolf," the giant man said. "I also know that you are the one who killed Askared, the Shogun of Blades."

"Yeah," Mazren snarled. "So what about it?"

"The Toku were greatly angered by your actions" Yama told him. "However, Lord Shidowkun does have an eye for talent. Therefore, I would like to make an offer to you."

"What sort of offer?"

"Whatever your reasons for aligning yourself with Gene Starwind," Yama said, "renounce them and bring the android girl to us. If you do that, I'm sure that I can convince the Emperor to bestow Askared's former title upon you." Mazren felt his anger rise at Yama's words. Still, he realized that charging blindly against someone like Yama would be suicide.

"Let me get this straight," Mazren said. "You're asking me to turn my little sister over to the Toku so that I can be one of their lackeys. Like hell I will!" Yama blinked in confusion.

"Your sister?" Yama asked. "How could the android girl possibly be your…" and Yama stopped mid-sentence as the realization hit him. Cocking back his head, Yama roared with laughter loud enough to shake the whole mountain. "Amazing! Simply amazing! Who would have thought that Professor Khan would have created another?" Returning his gaze to Mazren, Yama's mouth twisted into a sneer. "I can't believe that I actually offered the title of Shogun to an android. Well in any case, I suggest that you stay out of our way. If you interfere again, I swear that you will meet death by my own hand."

"Really. I doubt it," Mazren growled as he raised his sword. "I killed one of your little club, and I'll kill the rest of you if I have to. So why don't we save some time and get it over with now?"

"As you wish," Yama replied as he assumed an attack stance of his own. As they stood facing each other, it was the Shogun of Strength that made the first move. Launching himself towards Mazren, he raised his fist and brought it down to crush the black clothed bounty hunter. Waiting until the last possible second, Mazren jumped to the left as Yama's fist smashed another section of Urt's roof. Aiming for a rock slab that jutted out of the peak, Mazren landed feet first and bounded off back towards Yama. Have a taste of my thunder fist you bastard! Pulling back his left arm, Mazren concentrated his ki into his fist, sheathing it in electric power, and punched at Yama. The giant fighter blocked, and the power from the impact caused a flurry of snow to rise up around them. But though Yama had blocked Mazren's thunder fist, he had left his stomach open to attack. Reversing his grip on his sword, Mazren slashed upward, but the blade hit only empty air. Yama had anticipated Mazren's attack and had somehow been able to move his bulk off to the side in the fraction of an instant. Mazren attempted to twist his body to counter, but was too late. Yama pulled back his left leg and delivered a swinging knee kick straight into Mazren's stomach. Mazren felt the impact even through his body armor and was sent flying towards the rock slab he had previously rebounded from. His vision exploded as he smacked head first into the rock and fell into the snow. Stunned and in pain, Mazren felt blood run down his face. His strength had protected him from most of Yama's attack, but it still felt like he had received some internal injuries. His healing nanites frantically worked to repair him, but were still slower then Yama who already stood above him.

"How pathetic," he heard the giant say. But as Yama prepared to drive his foot down on him, the snow behind them suddenly began to tremble and shake. Looking up, Mazren watched as the snow raised itself up and formed into a wave. Yama saw it was well and tried to block, but was too late. The tidal wave of snow crashed into the Shogun of Strength, sending him rolling head over heels down the mountain's side. Pulling himself up against the rock slab, Mazren looked up to see Urt lowering her hands.

"Never turn your back on a sorceress during a fight," she said. "Especially after you wreck her home." Turning to face him, Urt rushed over to Mazren and kneeled down to him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," he answered as he breathed heavily. "Just give me a second to catch my breath." Pulling himself to his feet, Mazren cursed himself for his stupidity. Yama was a lot stronger than Askared, and his arrogance had almost gotten him killed. If he didn't get his act together, than he might as well just hand Melfina over to the Toku with a little pink bow on her head. Thinking that, Mazren remembered that Urt had overheard everything that he and Yama had discussed. "Aren't you going to ask me what Yama and I talked about?" he asked her. Urt's response was simply a smile.

"There's an old saying that I think applies perfectly to this situation," she told him. "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no tales."

"Well said," Mazren replied. It was then that the cell phone he carried in his jacket went off. Reaching into his pocket, Mazren pulled it out and answered. "Hello?"

"Mazren," Jim's voice said over the phone. "Get back to the Mt. Nyotai depot immediately."

"Why? What's going on?"

"We're heading back to the ship. Gene says that he's solved the riddle." Really, Mazren thought. This ought to be good.

"All right," he told the kid. "Just sit tight, I'll be there as soon as I can." Breaking the connection, Mazren pocketed the phone and turned back to Urt. "I wish that I could stay and help repair your temple, but I'm needed elsewhere."

"Perfectly understandable," Urt said as she pointed to the Eastern slope. "I suggest you take this path. It's the fastest way down and you won't have to worry about any booby traps."

"Good idea. And thank you for your help. I hope that someday I'll be able to repair the favor." Turning to leave, Mazren staggered to the path Urt had indicated when he heard her call out to him again.

"If you really want to return the favor, then take up my offer the next time that you're here!" Mazren turned back to her, not quite understanding what Urt had just said. "Whatever the case may be, I still say that you're the most magnificent man to ever conquer my mountain. Maybe next time you can conquer me."

"Maybe I will," Mazren said with a slight grin. With nothing left to say, Mazren continued on his way back down the mountain.

As she waited for the next train, Melfina wondered where Mazren was. Although Gene had said that he would meet them at the ship, she didn't want to leave him behind. While they waited for her brother to show up, Melfina reflected on everything that had happened that day. Although what the three sorcerers said had frightened her, Aisha and Suzuka had managed to cheer her up. After the water fight had ended, Aisha suggested that they go out for a night on the town, just the three of them. It sounded like fun to Melfina, and even Suzuka agreed to come along. But just as they had redressed and exited the bath, Gene came running out from the men's bath. Gene said that he had solved the medallion's riddle and that they were all going back to the ship.

And so, here they were, waiting for Mazren at the train stop. After two trains had already passed by, Melfina began to get worried. Had he gotten lost in the dark?

"Hey!" Aisha suddenly yelled. "There he is! I see him!" Slag, who sat beside her, perked up his ears and whined. Melfina looked in the direction that Aisha and Slag pointed and saw her brother. She felt a wave of relief wash through her at the sight, but it once again turned to worry when she saw how he was walking. Mazren was moving slower than usual, and his hand was held over his stomach. As he walked into the light of the station, Melfina looked at him with horror. Mazren's face was stained with dried blood from a wide gash on his head and his breathing was irregular.

"Mazren what happened?" Melfina cried out as she ran towards him. The others saw his condition and ran over with her.

"Damn!" Gene exclaimed as he saw Mazren. "What the hell happened to you? Did Urt install some new traps?"

"I wish it really was that," Mazren said as Melfina helped him over to the bench. Slag padded over to his master and laid his head on Mazren's lap. "I had a little run in with Yama."

"Yama?" Suzuka asked.

"He's the next Shogun," Mazren answered as he stroked Slag's head.

"You're kidding!" Jim exclaimed. "The Toku are here on Tenrei."

"So which one is he?" Aisha asked.

"He's the Shogun of Strength. If you can believe it, he did all this to me with just one hit. But anyway, what's this about Starwind solving the riddle?"

"That's right," Gene said with a nod. "It hit me when I was in the bath. But I don't want to talk about it now. I'd rather tell you all in the ship. Because once I tell you, we're gonna need to take off immediately." As Gene spoke, a train began to pull up to the station. They boarded and Melfina sat down next to her brother. The only time she had seen anyone beaten as badly as him was when Gene fought Leilong.

"Mazren?" she asked. "Are you sure that you're going to be all right?"

"Yeah sure," he told her. "Don't worry. By the time we get back to the ship I'll be all healed up." Sure enough, by the time they got back to Hagone Hot Springs Space Port, Mazren's breathing had returned to normal and his gash had closed. As they entered the spaceport, Melfina was relieved to see that the incident Mazren caused earlier had been forgotten. That way, they all could change back into their street clothes without any trouble.

'Yes," Suzuka said as she stretched in her kimono, "this is so much better." Melfina could relate. It was fun to dress up in the clothes Tenrei provided for them, but it was nice to get back into her usual blouse, skirt, and cloak. After they had all gotten back into their street clothes, Gene led them into the Outlaw Star, and down the main deck towards the bridge.

"Welcome back everyone," Gillium said as they entered the bridge. "Are we ready to leave now?"

"Later Gillium," Gene said. "Right now I need you to turn on the viewscreen."

"Yes Gene." As Gillium activated the viewscreen, Gene keyed in something at the pilot seat's console.

"Now then," Gene said. "That medallion said that the sword lies in the path of the dragon's breath right?"

"Yeah so what's your point?" Aisha asked.

"I at first thought that the medallion meant the Leyline," Gene continued. "But then I saw this while I was soaking in the baths." As he spoke, Gene pointed at a winding, serpentine constellation.

"I know that constellation," Suzuka said. "That's the Chinese dragon."

"Right," Gene said. "Now Melfina, do you remember the former coordinates of the Leyline?"

"Of course Gene." With her bio-android brain, it was impossible for her to forget anything she learned. Especially if it was galactic coordinates.

"Then type them in and show it on the screen," Gene told her. Melfina did as she was told and walked over to the left side console, sat down, and typed in what used to be the Leyline's coordinates. Bringing it up on the view screen, Melfina saw that the Leyline's former coordinates placed it right in the mouth of the dragon constellation.

"See what I mean?" Gene asked.

"I get it now," Jim said. "The medallion was talking about both the Leyline and the constellation."

"Exactly," Gene said. "Now Gillium, zoom in on the Leyline's position." Gillium enhanced the image and showed the empty space where the Leyline had originally been. "Now orient the Leyline's coordinates so that they line up with the two stars that make up the dragon's mouth." The image altered thirty degrees. "Now zoom out so that the two stars are included." The image expanded and showed the two stars that flanked the Leyline on both sides. "And now Gillium," Gene said, "trace a line from all three to a point of intersection." Gillium traced a path from both the two stars and the Leyline, and they met at a star roughly ten light years away, somewhere out in the unexplored regions. "See that?" Gene asked as he pointed to the star Gillium indicated. "I'd bet my brand new caster that this star here is where the Ryunoken Sword is."

"Gene you did it," Melfina said as she got out of the chair. "You solved the riddle."

"I can't believe," Jim said. "Gene Starwind actually used his head for once?"

"I hate to admit it Starwind," Mazren said as he examined the image on the screen, "but you really impressed me."

"Really?" Gene asked, obviously pleased with himself.

'Yeah," Mazren said. "You're not as dumb as you look."

"Why thank you Mazren." But then Gene realized what he had said. "Hey wait a minute!" Aisha and Jim both snickered at how Mazren had gotten the upper hand with Gene. Even Suzuka's normally solid face cracked a smile. Melfina however, wasn't amused.

"Mazren!" she cried out.

"What? I complimented him."

"Mazren," she repeated sternly, tapping her foot to emphasize the point.

"Oh all right," he said in surrender. "Starwind, I'm sorry." But Gene remained silent.

"Now Gene," Melfina said. Gene rolled his eyes but relented as well.

"I accept your apology," he said. "Now what do you say that we get out of here. If we hoof it, we can make it there in less than three days."

"Well then let's get going!" Aisha yelled as she jumped into her seat. "It's time for another treasure hunt!" Suzuka merely sighed coolly as she sat down at her console.

"Well," Jim shrugged, "here we go again."

"As you all are busy up here," Mazren said, "Slag and I will get out of your way." Without another word, Mazren and his wolf exited the bridge.

"Well Mel," Gene said to her, "its time to get back on the road again. Let's go bag us a sword."

"Sure," Melfina said. As Gene went to the pilot seat, Melfina went to her navigation chamber. The hatch opened, and she stood on the platform as it lowered her inside. As soon as the hatch above closed, Melfina felt unseen forces gently peel the layers of clothing off of her. The minute she was naked, there was a sudden flash as the chamber filled with the transmitter liquid.

Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting.

As soon as her thoughts were merged with the systems of the ship, the panel in the front of her chamber opened.

"Systems all green," she told the rest of the crew.

"All right then," Gene said. "Outlaw Star, launch and set a course for that star." Melfina ignited the engines and the Outlaw Star rumbled as it lifted off the launch pad. As they once again set off for the sea of stars, Melfina found her eyes locked on Gene. All of her friends were special to her, but Gene always held a special place in her heart. He had ever since he first promised to help find her past. The things she had overheard him say still hung in her mind. She couldn't bare it if Gene told her that he didn't want her around anymore.

Gene, she silently pleaded. Please don't try to push me away. Just let me stay with you.

As there were no guests yet in her hotel, Urt had the entire bath to herself. She had to use the hotel baths since hers had been wrecked by that berserker's attack. Urt thought it funny how every time that the red haired man came to see her; she always ended up calling the roof people. Looking up, Urt saw the exhaust from a ship as it departed the spaceport. Somehow, she knew that the ship she saw belonged to the red haired man. A red haired man with a caster gun, she thought. This is definitely a portent of another disaster. Craning her neck up, Urt watched the ship as it slowly disappeared from sight. All we can do now is see if the universe will be saved, or destroyed by his hands.

(At last, the plans the Toku have for Melfina have been revealed. But not if Gene and the others have anything to say about it. As they set out in search of the Ryunoken Sword, what new dangers will they encounter? Is Mazren the destined wielder of the sword? Or is it another one of the Outlaw Star's crew? What is this disaster that Urt mentioned? And what about Yama? Has the fall he took down Mt. Nyotai rid Gene and Co. of him forever? Or is he just getting started? Stay tuned for out next exciting episode. Same Outlaw-time. Same Outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 8
Chapter 10

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