Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Guardians of the Sword ( Chapter 10 )

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


Guardians of the Sword

(Official disclaimer: This work is entirely a fan fic. I do not own the rights to Gene, Melfina, or any of the themes, concepts, alien races, planets, starships, or other characters that appear in the "Outlaw Star," anime or manga. So Bandai, Sunrise, or whoever owns the rights to "Outlaw Star," PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DON'T SUE ME!! I'm only doing this to honor your work and to show my respect and appreciation for what has become my favorite anime.)

Sitting in the quarters of his ship, Yama gave his report to Lord Shidowkun.

"Are you positive about this information Yama?" the Emperor asked.

"Yes lord." Yama had told Shidowkun nearly everything that had transpired that day: his encounter with Mazren the Wolf, and the revelation that Mazren was actually another bio-android built by Gwen Khan. He hadn't told him about how that sorceress had gotten the best of him; that would have been suicide. Yama knew that Shidowkun had absolutely no tolerance for failure.

"Most interesting," Shidowkun said. "What about Gene Starwind? What is the current status his ship?"

"According to our sensors, the Outlaw Star is currently taking off now," Yama replied. "My guess is that they are heading straight for the Sword's planet. We ourselves are planning to take off as well. I await your further instructions."

"Wisely done," Shidowkun said. "Here are your new orders; follow the Outlaw Star to the Sword's planet. And before they have taken the Sword, capture Melfina and bring her to me. Once we have her, we will order Gene Starwind and his friends to bring the Sword to us." Yama nodded in agreement. With the power of the Sword in Shidowkun's hold, the Toku would reign unchallenged.

"And what about the other bio-android?" Yama asked.

"Mazren the Wolf is none of our concern," Shidowkun answered. "He was never a part of this plan, nor is he now. If he interferes again; kill him." Yama bowed in compliance as the transmission ended. Reaching for the intercom to his right, he spoke to the pilot of his ship.

"Take off immediately. Our destination is the Sword's planet."

'Yes Lord," the pilot said. Even though the tracer the McDougal Brothers had told them about had vanished, Yama knew exactly where the Outlaw Star would be going. And as Gene Starwind seemed to only use Melfina on a minimal basis, Yama would take a shortcut and cut him off at the pass.

Feeling the rumble from the engines, Yama leaned back as his ship lifted out of the mountain chasm where it was hidden. As the ship rose from the surface of Tenrei, Yama looked out the observation window. After a time, he saw the snow-covered peak of Mt. Nyotai, home to that damned bitch of a sorceress. Just you wait, he silently vowed. As soon as the Emperor gets his hands on the Sword, I will return to personally repay the insult.

"Jim?" Melfina asked through the hatch. "Can I come in?" Sitting at his desk, Jim looked up from his computer. It was mid-afternoon the next day. By Melfina's estimates, they were going to reach their destination by tomorrow morning. To pass the time, Jim had decided to busy himself with some research. And as he and Gene had finally found Khan's tracer and destroyed it, hopefully they would now be able to travel without fear of being followed.

"Yeah, just hold on," he called back. Reaching over, Jim pressed the button on his desk that activated the auto-door. It was an alteration that he had installed himself. That way, he wouldn't have to get up from his desk and interrupt his work. As the hatch for Jim's quarters opened, Melfina stepped through, carrying a tray with a coffee pot and cups on it.

"I made some coffee," she told him as she walked over. "Would you like some?" Jim looked up to her in surprise. Melfina had spent so much time piloting the Outlaw Star; the only time she had emerged was when she cooked the meals. Still, he was glad to see her. She had been through a lot in the last few days.

"Yeah, thanks," he answered. Jim watched as Melfina set the tray she carried on the edge of the desk and poured him a cup. Taking it as she handed it to him, Jim thought about how much Melfina meant to him and the others. He loved her like a mother, even though technically she was only five or six years older than he was. Of course, he was far too embarrassed to ever tell her that.

"So what are you working on?" Mel asked as she leaned over for a look.

"Well," Jim said as he turned the monitor around so she could get a better view, "they say that knowledge is power. So I've decided to gather as much as I can about our friends the Toku."

'That's a good idea Jim," Melfina said. "Have you learned anything interesting?"

"You could say that," he replied as he pointed to one window. "According to this here, the Toku were originally created by a crime syndicate on Old Earth called the Yakuza. When humans began exploring space in year 1 of the Toward Stars Calendar, the Yakuza created a special branch to handle smuggling runs between planets. But after the Yakuza ceased to exist in the mid-22nd century, the smuggling ring went out on its own and reformed itself into a pirate guild. Once they did, they officially began to call themselves the Toku, and expanded their activities to include not just smuggling, but piracy, arms manufacturing, slavery, and even planetary protection rackets."

"That is interesting," Melfina said. "Is there anything else that you've learned?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," he said as he switched to another window. "Now this data I downloaded here says that the Toku's hierarchy was originally composed of an emperor and a council made up of the leaders of each member group."

"So when did it change?" she asked.

"Well," Jim said as he scrolled down the window, "it says here that roughly a hundred years ago, one of the lesser bosses, a man named Chicarax, attempted to assassinate the Emperor and take the throne for himself. But the Emperor learned of his plot and ordered him and his co-conspirators killed. Chicarax was able to escape, but he was grievously wounded in the process. The Emperor and his aides thought that he was dead, but Chicarax returned a month later. He killed the Emperor single-handedly as well as anyone else that stood in his way. He then appointed himself the new Toku Emperor and began to consolidate all power for himself. He created the Shoguns to serve as his enforcers, moved his base to an unknown location, and began to aggressively expand the Toku's operations. On some planets, they had entire governments in their pocket. Chicarax himself became something of a legend among pirates. He was rarely seen, and only spoke to his followers through the Shoguns. His tactics became infamous for their ruthlessness, and he himself developed powers that no one else in the Toku could hope to match. As a result, it wasn't long before his followers began to call him Shidowkun, a pirate word meaning God of Death."

"Wait a minute Jim," Melfina suddenly said. "According to what Mazren said, Shidowkun was the name of the current Emperor. If all this happened a hundred years ago, then how could he possibly be alive today?"

"Good question," Jim continued. "Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find anything on that. The only thing that I can think of is that Shidowkun could be some kind of traditional name bestowed on every Emperor that followed after."

"I see," Melfina said. "You've certainly learned a lot Jim."

"There's one more thing," Jim said. "Although there's no definite proof, there are rumors saying that in order to run their operations like clockwork, the Toku have developed their own independent computer system through the use of ether-radio transmissions."

"Ether-radio transmissions?"

"Energy travels instantly through sub-ether space," Jim told her. "Theoretically, it is possible to send binary data pulses in energy packets through sub-ether space to anywhere in the galaxy with no lag time whatsoever. But from what I've heard, it's technology that's still over ten years away." Jim stopped talking as an idea struck him. But if the Toku have already developed it, than that means that all of their bases and ships are connected by one massive computer system. Reaching into his desk draw, Jim pulled out a data disk. Good thing that I saved this. "By the way Mel," Jim said as he drank his coffee. "Are you feeling all right?" Melfina blinked in confusion.

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well, if it was me, I'd probably be a nervous wreck." Melfina frowned slightly as she realized what he was talking about. Watching her, Jim began to wonder if he had said the wrong thing.

"I was at first," Melfina said as she sat down on his bunk. "I felt as if I was facing something too big and terrible to even think about. But then, Aisha helped me remember that I wasn't alone." As she spoke, Mel looked up to smile at him. "And now, I realize that I don't have to face it by myself. I believe in you, Gene, and the others. No matter what, I know that you all will protect me." Jim remembered how Mel comforted him when that robber CrackerJack had taken him, her, and Gene hostage and threatened to blow them all up. It looked like he was going to return the favor. He reached over to take her hand in his.

"We will Mel," he said as he looked into her eyes. Mel's eyes were the warmest that he had ever seen. "You're important to all of us. We'd never want you to leave."

"Why would I want to leave?" Melfina asked. Jim mentally kicked himself for that. Smooth move dumbass, just let her on to what you're thinking.

"Um," he said, "I mean, we'd never let anyone take you away from us."

"Oh, I see," she said. "Say Jim, have you showed what you've learned to Mazren yet?"

"Why do you ask? I'm sure that he knows already." Mel's face grew a sad expression and Jim mentally kicked himself again. He could tell that Mel wanted everyone to befriend her brother, but Jim just couldn't find much in common with Mazren. Still, he would if it meant making Mel feel better.

"Well," he said as he rubbed the back of his head, "I guess I could ask him if he knows anything about the Toku computer system." Mel smiled in gratitude at him.

"Thank you Jim." Despite his best efforts, Jim felt his face grow noticeably warmer. Mel's smile always had that effect on him. With his promise that he would talk to her brother, Melfina gathered up the tray and walked out of Jim's quarters in search of the others. After saving the data he had downloaded to a disk, Jim shut down his computer. He then left his quarters and walked down the main deck towards the elevator. Getting on, he rode down to the bottom level and got out at the cargo hold. In the center of the hold, Mazren was once again working on that antique bike of his. Slag was nowhere to be seen. Wondering where the big wolf was, Jim received an answer when the front door of Mazren's cargo module opened and Slag stepped out, kicking the sand behind him with his back legs. As he stepped out, the wolf saw Jim and flattened his ears back. Slag's actions immediately caused Jim to tense up. He knew that Slag didn't like Gene. Jim just hoped that the wolf didn't transfer those feelings over to him.

"Can I help you with something kid?" Mazren asked without looking up. Jim was startled by the question. Mazren seemed so lost in his work that Jim had assumed he hadn't noticed him come in.

"Well," Jim said as he regained himself, "I found out some interesting facts about the Toku. I thought maybe we could compare our data and come up with something that we could use against them."

"There's nothing that you could've found out about the Toku that I don't already know kid," he said flatly. Jim bit his tongue as he resisted the desire to tell Mazren exactly what he thought of him. He had never liked guys like Mazren, big ugly bruisers whose attitudes were as big their muscles.

"Well if that's the case," Jim said, "then how about I help you with that bike of yours?"

"I don't think so," Mazren said coldly. "No one touches this machine without showing it the respect it deserves." Although Jim had kept his anger in check so far, Mazren's last comment was the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Look," Jim said angrily, "I'm trying to be nice. Would it kill you to try and return the favor?"

"I would if you actually wanted to be my friend," Mazren answered. "But you're only here because Melfina asked you to. Am I right?"

"Um," Jim stammered," well…"

"Look kid," Mazren told him. "If you want to be my friend, than do it because it's what you want and not because my sister asked you to. I have no respect for people who are dishonest with themselves."

All right, Jim thought. That's it.

"You want honest?" Jim asked. "All right, how about this; I think that you're biggest asshole I've ever met! I didn't want to let you come on board, but Melfina begged me to. And you're right; I am here because Melfina asked me. I thought that since you were her brother, than you couldn't be all bad. But you know what, I was wrong. You are nothing like Melfina. And you can bet that I'll be celebrating the moment you leave so that things can get back to normal around here." Finished with his outburst, Jim turned around and began to storm out of the cargo hold. But just before he reached the elevator doors, Mazren called out to him.

"Hey Jim?" Jim turned around in surprise. It was the first time that Mazren had spoken to him using his name instead of kid. Looking at him, Jim saw that the big man was smiling slightly. In his hand, he held what looked like a standard electric engine. "This type of bike originally used an internal combustion engine to power the drive system. But the hover units and drive systems of today use electrical energy to power themselves. Got any ideas as to how I can adapt it to work for this bike?"

"Hey Jim?" Gene called as he knocked on the hatch for Jim's quarters. "You in there?" When he didn't get an answer, Gene opened the hatch and looked in. When he saw that Jim wasn't there, he closed the hatch and leaned against the bulkhead. Where the hell is he? he asked himself. I thought that he was going to try and find out some information on the Toku. As Gene pondered the meaning of Jim's absence, Gillium's pink maintenance robot rode past him on the maintenance railing.

"Hey Gillium?" Gene asked. "Where'd Jim go to?" The pink robot stopped in its tracks and turned to him.

"One moment please," Gillium said as he searched the Outlaw Star's interior sensors. "He is currently working in the cargo hold with Mazren." That's odd, Gene thought. What could he be doing with Mazren? "Would you like me to tell Jim that you're looking for him?" Gillium asked.

"Nah," he answered, "don't worry about it. I'll go get him myself." Straightening himself up, Gene walked down the deck towards the elevator and rode down to the cargo hold. As he reached the Outlaw Star's lower deck, Gene could have sworn he heard what sounded like a lawn mower coming from inside the hold. What the hell is that? Gene asked as the doors opened up. He got his answer as soon as he stepped out. Looking to the left, Gene was greeted by the sight of Mazren riding towards him on his bike. "Shit!" Gene yelled as he jumped back into the elevator. As soon as he passed, Gene peered out and watched as Mazren rode the full length of the hold before turning around, using his foot to balance. He then rode back, popping a wheelie before stopping right in front of Jim and Slag.

"All right!" Jim cheered. Getting off his bike, Mazren and Jim high-fived each other while Slag yelped and jumped around in excitement.

"Couldn't have done it without you Jim," Mazren said. Not to pleased with the scene before him, Gene stepped out of the elevator.

"Oh hi Gene," Jim said as he saw him. "What's up?"

"My heart rate. That's what," Gene growled. "Just what in the hell are you two doing down here?"

"I was helping Mazren with his bike," Jim said. "We finally got it to work. It's pretty cool huh?"

"Yeah," Gene said. "It's even cooler when it's bearing down on you like a bat out of hell!"

"What the hell are you talking about Starwind?" Mazren asked. "I was a good five feet away from you."

"Not from where I was standing!" Gene snarled. As always, Slag ruffled his fur and growled at him, not that Gene cared. Mazren and Jim however began to laugh at him, infuriating Gene even more.

"Ah you're just too jittery," Jim grinned. "I told you to cut back on the coffee."

"Say Jim," Mazren asked as he climbed off of his bike, "just what did you find out about the Toku anyway?"

"Just hold on a second," Jim replied. Reaching into his jacket, Jim pulled out his P.A. and a data disk. Gene however, had had enough. He angrily turned around and walked back into the elevator.

"Hey Gene," Jim called out. "Don't you want to be a part of this?"

"No," he said coldly. "I think that you and your new best friend can handle it."

"Hey now wait a minute Gene," Jim said. But the doors closed before he could finish. Getting out back on the main deck, Gene pounded his fist into the bulkhead. God damn that son of a bitch! he cursed. No matter how hard he tried, it always seemed that Mazren would be one notch above him. He had taken over his ship, he was stealing his friends, and he had saved Melfina while Gene just stood by helpless. Mazren may have been her brother, but Melfina was supposed to be his responsibility. After Hilda died, he had promised Melfina that he would take care of her. He was supposed to be the hero, but when push came to shove, he always failed her. Shaking his head, he reached into his inner coat pocket and pulled out his whiskey flask. When he and Mel first started dating, Gene had tried to cut back on his drinking. But sometimes, he still needed a quick hit. After a quick swig, he pocketed his flask and walked up to the bridge, hoping to find some privacy. Unfortunately, he had forgotten that Melfina was there in her chamber.

"Gene?" she asked. "Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing at all," he said without looking at her. Gene was amazed at how focused Melfina was. The only time that she had ever spent this much time in her chamber was when they had finally found the Leyline's coordinates. Melfina had wanted to get there as soon as possible because she thought that the answer to her past were there. Gene guessed that having her life in danger was having a similar effect. "Melfina, don't you think that you should take a break or something?" he asked. Though he never admitted it, Gene hated seeing Melfina this way. It always made him feel as though he was using her like a piece of equipment. Maybe I should sink some funds into having Jim update Gillium so that he can pilot the Outlaw Star full time, he thought. Yeah, good idea Gene, then she'll really think that you don't want her around.

"I just took one a moment ago Gene, " she answered. "You don't have to worry. I'm all right. Really I am."

"If you say so," he said as he turned around. "Just wanted to check on you." He was about to leave when Melfina called out to him again.

"Gene, you never told me why you asked me that question." Gene stood motionless as he felt Melfina's eyes on the back of his head.

"Maybe we should wait until a better time Mel," he told her.

"All right," she said as she resumed her navigation duties. Leaving Melfina to her work, Gene left the bridge and headed for the galley for a snack. As he walked away, Gene wished that he could have given her an answer. But the truth was that he didn't know himself anymore.

After another day of travel, they finally arrived at their destination. Melfina, who had spent almost all of her time in her chamber, had just brought them out of sub-ether space at a point roughly 1,000 kilometers above the system's orbital horizon. Standing beside Suzuka, Mazren held on to the maintenance rail of the Outlaw Star's bridge for balance. By his side lay Slag, his head raised as he quietly watched the view screen. Looking over the system before them, it didn't take them long to realize where the Sword would be hidden. That is, if it really was there at all.

"Gillium, are your sensors working right?" Starwind asked.

"My sensors are functioning perfectly," the computer responded. "The star of that system has only one planetary satellite." Even though Mazren saw it, he still didn't believe it. According to the laws of planetary formation, a mono-satellite system was supposed to be impossible. And yet, there it was right in front of them.

"That's certainly a first," Jim said.

"I don't like it," Mazren said. "It's way too easy."

"What's not to like about easy?" Aisha asked. "All we have to do is go down there, find the Sword, and get out."

"And that's why I don't like it," Mazren told her. "One of bounty hunting's prime rules: if something is to good to be true, than it is." Despite the seriousness of his words, Aisha grinned in amusement.

"You know what Maz? I can see why you and Suzu make such a good couple. You're both perpetual worrywarts."

"What does she mean by that?" Mazren asked as he leaned towards Suzuka.

"Nothing," Suzuka answered. "Just ignore her."

"If you say so," Mazren replied as he grinned slightly, "Suzu." Aisha overheard him and snickered. Suzuka however shot him a look that said, 'call me that again, and you die.'

"Melfina," Starwind called out, "let's go in for a closer look."

"Right Gene," Melfina answered. Closing her eyes, Melfina plotted a course before firing the engines. The Outlaw Star dipped down to starboard and descended to orbit the single planet. As the ship moved into an orbit, Mazren looked sideways to his little sister. Seeing her like this bothered him greatly, and not just because she was naked. Suspended in her chamber, connected to the ship, the sight infuriated him. Of course, he had asked her if it ever made her feel uncomfortable, and Melfina's response was simply, 'Of course not. It's part of my duties.' So either Melfina honestly didn't feel violated or used, or she was only putting up with it just so she could stay with Starwind. Thinking that, Mazren was sick to his stomach. Melfina, he thought, trust me. This isn't the kind of life you deserve. And Starwind isn't the kind of man that you deserve. I sincerely hope I can make you see that after this is all over.

Looking back to the view screen, Mazren saw that the Outlaw Star had achieved planetary orbit. At this distance, he and the others were able to better assess the planet. It appeared to be a standard, Earth-type world. The hemisphere they faced had three roughly Australian sized continents surrounded by a blue ocean. The continents above and below the equator both had temperate climates while the equatorial one was tropical with several mountains scattered across its surface. The planet also had two moons. One was setting over the planet's western twilight zone, while a second one was just appearing over the east.

"What's the status on this place Gillium?" Starwind asked.

"Sensors show that it is a class-A world," Gillium answered. "The atmosphere is quite breathable and the gravity is exactly one-gee. Tectonic plates are stable. No harmful viruses or bacteria are detected. The only anomaly that I can detect is the planet's axis. It is without any tilt whatsoever, resulting in an absence of yearly seasons."

"What about civilization?" Jim asked. "Is anyone down there?"

"Highly unlikely," Gillium replied. "I detect no signs of civilization or technology. However, life form readings are off the scale. This planet is most likely in its primordial stage."

"Wait a minute everyone!" Melfina suddenly said. They all turned to look at her.

'What's wrong Mel?" Starwind asked. Mazren's first impulse was to twist Starwind's gaze away from his sister. Luckily for him, Mazren saw that there was so sign of lust in his eyes. If there were, Mazren would have used his fist to shove Starwind's scarred mug right down his throat.

"I'm picking up some kind of structure on the equatorial continent," Melfina told them. "And I think that you all should see it." Looking ahead again, Mazren and the others watched as a window appeared in the view screen's front section. To call what Melfina had found a structure wasn't quite right. Situated at the foot of one of the larger mountains was what could have only been called a massive fortress. Set on a raised rectangular base, the structure was a mixture of carved stone and thin jungle growth. Fairly flat in the first half, the rear half was composed of three different levels. Each level was a maze of connected buildings, walkways, and steps; and decreased in size slightly with each level. In the center of the third level was an elaborately constructed tower, framed on both sides by a pair of diamond shaped wings. Between the ruins and the mountain ran a river. Following the river downstream, they came across a separate structure roughly two kilometers to the southwest. Tall and cone shaped, it was situated atop a smaller, column shaped mountain. In contrast to the ruins, the separate structure was devoid of any and all jungle growth.

"Those ruins," Suzuka said. "Their markings are similar to the Grave of the Dragon."

"And if the Grave of the Dragon was the key to the Leyline," Aisha said, "than I bet that the Sword is somewhere in those ruins."

"Makes sense to me," Starwind said. "Jim, how about a landing point."

"One second," Jim said as he typed at his console. "There's a plateau 3.5 kilometers to the southeast. The ground there seems to be pretty level."

"What!" Aisha yelled. "You've got to be kidding us!"

"Aisha's right Jim," Starwind said. "Can't we can touch down somewhere in the jungle?"

"If you think that you can manage a safe landing in the midst of trees, vines, and all that undergrowth," Jim answered, "then be my guest." Starwind looked up to the screen and his eyebrow twitched as he realized that the kid was right.

"All right then," he said. "Melfina, display approach vector to the plateau Jim mentioned. Gillium, ready for landing." As the ship lowered itself down to the planet, Mazren suddenly began to worry again. I don't like this, he thought. It's way too easy.

Using his binoculars, Yama looked up to the sky. At maximum magnification, he was able to make out the Outlaw Star as it landed. Arriving a day earlier, Yama had landed his ship on an island just off the coast of the continent where the ruins were located. He didn't risk landing on the continent itself. That would have compromised the secrecy of his mission. It was bad enough that Gene Starwind knew that he was on his trail; he didn't need the guardians aware of his presence as well.

"Lord Yama," his attendant said. "The transports are ready, and the Oni have boarded. Shall we depart?" The Shogun of Strength turned towards his servant. Unlike Askared, he had bought two full companies of Oni with him, twenty-eight in all. The mute assassin drones had loaded themselves onto two troop transporters, purchased by Yama through the Toku's black market contacts. The hover units for the transports would enable them to travel smoothly over the water and through the rough jungle terrain effortlessly. He would pilot the first one while his attendant followed in the second one.

"No," Yama replied. "If we could spot them at this distance, than so can the Sword's guardians. We shall wait here before moving out. If our past experiences are of any indication, then it will take them roughly one hour to intercept Gene Starwind and his group. With the guardians distracted, we will be able to proceed safely to the Sword's Temple with no interference."

"Of course Lord Yama," the attendant bowed. Turning away, Yama brought his binoculars back up to the sight of the Outlaw Star. As he watched, the bright red grappler ship righted itself to a vertical position and landed on a distant plateau. Yama knew that with the aid of Mazren the Wolf, Gene Starwind would prove to be a difficult adversary. And unlike Askared, Yama had no intention of allowing his battle lust to endanger his mission. The Oni would distract Starwind and his friends while he captured the android girl. And if they got in his way, he wouldn't waste valuable energy and time by toying with them. For though Shidowkun had forbidden him to kill Gene Starwind, he hadn't said anything about the others.

Hanging on to the moving ladder, Melfina lowered down from the Outlaw Star onto the planet's surface. Gene, Jim, and Aisha had already disembarked and stood by the plateau's ledge. Hoisting Slag over his shoulder, Mazren and Suzuka followed after her. Letting go of the ladder, Melfina walked up to Gene's side and looked out with him over the jungle before them. Jim stood beside her, wearing a backpack laden with preserved food and emergency medical supplies, just in case something happened in the jungle.

"Wow," Jim said. "This place is really something else." Melfina silently agreed. Despite everything that she had seen and learned with Gene and the others over the last year, she still felt a sense of awe at discovering new things. And that was exactly what lay before her now. Stretching off all around them, the trees continued in an endless sea of green, interrupted only by an occasional mountain peak. And off in the distance, the tallest of the mountains loomed before them, towering over the trees and the ruins beneath it.

"Now this is a nice planet," Gene said. "We should think about laying a claim and selling it as real estate." It was then that Mazren, Slag, and Suzuka joined them. Around his neck, Mazren wore the medallion that had guided them all to this planet.

"In case you've forgotten Starwind," her brother said, "we're not here to make money. We're here to find the Sword so that I can use it to protect Melfina from the Toku. Try and stay on task if possible." Gene looked back to Mazren and glared angrily at him.

"I know that," Gene growled. "So get off my case already!" Mazren returned the gaze as he balled his fists. Likewise, Slag ruffled his fur and bared his teeth at Gene.

"Mazren, Gene," Melfina said as she raised her hands to separate them. "Stop it please! I hate it when you two fight." Gene and Mazren both looked down to her, a slight look of guilt in their eyes before looking away. Though she was glad that they stopped fighting, Melfina would have been even gladder if they didn't fight at all. Gene and Mazren, her best friend and her brother, they were the two most important men in her entire life. She desperately wanted them to be friends; and it hurt her to see them constantly at each other's throats. Of course, in her heart, Melfina wished that Gene could be even more than her friend. But he can't, Melfina told herself. It's just not meant to be.

"So where to you think the Ryunoken Sword is?" Aisha asked.

"Good question," Jim replied as he scanned with his P.A. "I'm not picking up anything that can be used as a clue."

"That's not surprising," Suzuka said as her eyes searched the jungle. "But judging by the view from orbit, the Sword would most likely be in either the tower or the separate temple to the southwest."

"I agree," Mazren said. "Let's go check out that one tower first. Even if the sword isn't there, we can use it as a home base to check out rest of the ruins."

"Well let's get going then," Gene said as he turned to face the rest of them. "One more thing. We don't know what we're going to find here, so everyone stay together. And no going off by ourselves."

"Right," everyone said. Melfina just nodded. She knew that Gene was specifically talking about how Harry McDougal came after her again at the Grave of the Dragon.

"See you later Gillium," Jim called over his shoulder. "You take care of yourself now."

"I will," Gillium called back. "Please be careful everyone." With Gene in the lead, Melfina and the others followed him down the plateau and into the jungle. As she walked, Melfina's eyes drank in the imagery around her. The view of the jungle from above was breathtaking, but it couldn't compare with being in it. Above her, the tree canopy shaded them from the sun, yet still allowed enough light through to guide their path. Vines hung down from the trees, some clinging to the trunks, others swaying in the breeze. Up in the branches, different species of monkeys and birds jumped and flew from one tree to another. Around them, flowers of various shades of yellow, red, and blue adorned the underbrush, clashing with the dominant green. Among the blossoms flew insects of all shapes and colors, some feeding on nectar, others on their fellow insects. Melfina had never seen anyplace look so pristine and full of life. The only thing that she could think of to call it was paradise. After an hour of walking, they came across a clearing in the jungle. Framed by the trees, most of the clearing was taken up by a pool fed from a waterfall that fell from a rock ledge at the other end.

"Okay everyone," Gene said. "Let's rest here for a few minutes." Spreading out amongst the clearing, Jim and Aisha lay down on the grass while Suzuka and Mazren sat down on some rocks at the water's edge. Slag jumped into the pool and began to dog paddle while Gene remained standing, watching one of the tree monkeys as it picked nuts from off of a branch. Melfina herself walked over to the water's edge where she kneeled down to catch some of the water in her hands. Bringing it up to her lips, Melfina savored the sweet taste of the water as it flowed into her mouth and down her throat. Setting her hands down to balance herself, Melfina leaned back and stretched leisurely. Feeling something across her fingers, Melfina at first thought that the breeze was blowing some of the grass across her hand. But when she realized that there was no breeze, Melfina looked down to see a large black and red spider crawling across her hand. Reflexively, Melfina shrieked and jumped to her feet, colliding into Gene's chest.

"Mel what happened?" Jim yelled as he and the others ran to her. Melfina felt Gene's hands grab her shoulders as she shakily pointed at what had frightened her. The spider had been flipped onto its back when she jumped, but had now righted itself up and was frantically scurrying away. Slag, who had gotten out of the water, growled and barked at the spider, herding it away from her. As soon as the spider had vanished into the jungle, Slag trotted back over to them, obviously pleased with himself.

"Yeah so it's a spider," Aisha said. Melfina began to blush as she realized how foolish she must have looked.

"Well," she said, "it startled me."

"It's all right Mel," Gene told her as he rubbed Melfina's arms up and down. "It didn't bite you did it?"

"No I'm fine," she said as she relaxed. Gene's movements were soothing, calming away the sudden fear. But then, Melfina realized where she was. "I'm okay now Gene," Melfina said as she moved away from him. She would have loved to just stay there for a while longer in his protective embrace, but she didn't dare risk giving him the wrong idea. She knew how easy it was to mistake someone's actions for something they weren't.

"If you say so," Gene said as he sat down on a rock. For a second, Melfina could have sworn that she had heard a slight disappointment in his voice. But she quickly dismissed it as her imagination.

"Say Mazren," Jim said as he sat back down, "I was wondering something."

"Yeah and what's that?" Mazren asked.

"Just what the heck is the Ryunoken Sword anyway?" Looking to her brother, Melfina saw that Jim's question had taken Mazren by surprise.

"What are you asking me for?"

"Well," Jim said, "technically, you are the Guardian of the Leyline. And those tablets clearly said that the Sword was built to be used by the Guardian."

"Maybe," Mazren said. "However, Khan didn't bother to give me any of the memories of my former life. So don't ask me anything about it because I don't know."

"Well I do," Aisha said. "It's probably a great big lance just like So' Ja Ja."

"And what makes you so sure it's not really a sword like Excalibur?" Gene asked.

"Because," Aisha said, "if it really is more powerful than the Leyline, than that's the only thing that it could be. There's no way that it could be some puny sword."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that Aisha," Suzuka said. "Remember, the Sword has assumed numerous shapes in each of its legends. It could very well be something that has never been…" but Suzuka stopped as she suddenly looked towards the tree nearest to her. Vines clung to its trunk, making it dual colors of green and brown.

"What's wrong Suzu?" Aisha asked. Rather than tell Aisha not to call her Suzu, Suzuka instead walked over to the tree she was staring at.

"I at first thought that this was a tree," she said as she used her bokuto to clear away the vines, revealing what was actually a stone column. "Look at this everyone." Melfina and the others walked over to the column and saw that Suzuka was pointing to the same design that was on the medallion.

"Well one thing's for sure," Gene said as he eyed the carving. "We're definitely on the right track."

"Are there any more?" Melfina asked as she walked around to the column's other side. As she did, Suzuka suddenly lunged for her.

"Melfina look out!" Suzuka yelled as she pushed Melfina out of the way. As she did, Suzuka stepped down on where Melfina was about to place her foot, causing a pair of blunt steel jaws popped out of the ground and catch Suzuka's ankle. She tripped and sprawled to the ground, breaking the fall with her arms, but still giving a small cry of pain.

"Suzuka!" Melfina cried out as she ran to her side. She braced Suzuka's back while Mazren and Aisha rushed to her trapped ankle and took hold of each of the trap's jaws in their hands.

"One, two, three, GO!" Mazren said. At his signal, he and Aisha pulled the jaws apart as Gene and Jim pulled Suzuka out of the trap. As soon as she was clear, Aisha and Mazren let go and the trap snapped shut. Jim pulled out a rag from his backpack and left Suzuka's side to go soak it in the pool's water.

"What the hell is that?" Gene asked as he leaned forward.

"It's some kind of booby trap," Mazren answered as he studied the steel jaws. "And it looks like it's fairly brand new as well." Mazren looked up from the trap to face the rest of them. "We're not alone on this planet."

"I know," Suzuka said as she winced in pain. "I saw that the ground around the column was raised in a strange way."

"You think that the Toku are here?" Aisha asked as she frantically searched the clearing, looking for any sign of trouble.

"I doubt it," Mazren said. "Guerilla warfare isn't the Toku's style. They prefer less subtle tactics. They also tend to use more high-tech toys." As Mazren spoke, Jim came back over with his water soaked rag.

"Here," Jim said. "Better put this on." Suzuka nodded as she pulled up the edge of her kimono slightly, exposing her milky calf.

"This might hurt a little," Mazren said as his hand went to Suzuka's slipper. Suzuka nodded and braced herself. Melfina offered her hand and Suzuka accepted, her grip tightening as Mazren did his best to gently remove her shoe. Looking down, Melfina saw that Suzuka's ankle was darkly bruised and had swollen to twice its size. Jim kneeled down and gently placed the rag around the sprain.

"Suzuka," Melfina said as her vision blurred from tears, "I'm so sorry." Feeling a hand on hers, Melfina looked up to see Suzuka smiling gently at her.

"Melfina, it's all right," Suzuka assured her.

"But you're hurt," Melfina sobbed, "and its all my fault."

"It was nobody's fault," Suzuka said. "You're alright and so will I be after a while. That's all that matters." Hearing Suzuka's words, Melfina stopped crying. She was glad that Suzuka wasn't mad at her, but she still felt responsible for what had happened.

"That's a pretty bad sprain," Jim said. "Do you think that you can walk?"

"I don't know," she answered. Reaching up to Gene, Suzuka leaned on him to raise herself up. But once she put weight on the bad ankle, she lost her balance. Luckily, Gene caught her before she fell. "No, I don't think that I can."

"This isn't good," Jim said. "The medical equipment I brought is only good for things like cuts and infections. I don't have anything for something like this."

"The med-bay of the Outlaw Star does," Gene said. "Someone will have to take her back to the ship."

"So who's going to take her then?" Aisha asked.

"I'll take her," Mazren said. "I can get her to the ship, treat her sprain, and be back in as little as two hours."

"Sounds like a plan," Gene said. Standing aside, Gene allowed Suzuka to lean on Mazren's shoulder as he walked over. Once she did, Mazren braced her back with one hand while his other went to behind her knees. To their surprise, Mazren then lifted Suzuka off her feet and into his muscular arms.

"If I carry you, than we'll get there faster."

"Fine," Suzuka said as her face flushed beet red. "But don't get any ideas."

"Wouldn't dream of it," he told her with a straight face. As he prepared to walk away, Slag walked up to his hip and whined. "Sorry Slag," he told the wolf. "Not this time. I need you to stay here and protect Melfina." Slag whined again, but he obeyed his master's command. He left Mazren's side and went over to sit by Melfina. "You guys wait here," Mazren told them. "We'll be back as soon as we can." Without another word, Mazren turned and left the clearing, taking Suzuka with him.

"Now Suzu," Aisha called out, "you behave yourself." Suzuka ignored Aisha's teasing as she and Mazren disappeared into the jungle. After they left, Melfina sat down at a rock near the water's edge and looked at her reflection in the pool's surface. Is this always the way that it's going to be? she asked herself. Am I always going to need the others to protect me? Maybe I am a burden to them all.

"Is something wrong?" Gene asked as he sat down beside her.

"No," she answered. "Not really." At first, she didn't look up to meet his gaze. But she did when she felt his hand on her shoulder.

"Suzuka will be all right Mel," he told her. "Unless there's some unknown vital organ in the ankle, I think that she'll recover just fine."

"But it was my fault that it happened."

"It was an accident Mel."

"But it never would have happened if I was more careful," she said. "Gene why is it I'm always the one who needs to be rescued? Just once, I'd like to be as strong as everyone else." Gene was silent for a long time as he stared at her. Eventually, he reached up with his hand and lightly caressed her cheek. Surprised by the sudden gesture, Melfina's mind told her to pull away, but she couldn't help but lose herself in his touch. As a result, Melfina was caught off guard when Gene lightly pinched her cheek. "Oww!" she cried out as she pulled away. She wasn't hurt as much as she was surprised.

"Melfina," he told her with a gentle voice, "you ARE strong. You may not be a fighter, but you have something that's even better: kindness. There are plenty of people who can fight, but someone who has a genuinely kind heart is even harder to find than caster shells. After me and the others get in a fight, we can always count on you to patch us up. And I'm pretty sure that I speak for everyone when I say that there's nothing about you that we'd change." Melfina knew that Gene wasn't the most sensitive man in the galaxy, but he did have his moments. After a while, she allowed herself to smile up at him.

"Thank you Gene," she said before letting herself go and leaning against his shoulder. Even though she knew that she shouldn't, Melfina needed to feel his comforting warmth, warmth that always made her feel so safe and protected. Maybe I misunderstood what Gene said, she thought. She decided to just let it go and forget about what she had overheard. Gene, who had tensed when she leaned against him, slowly relaxed and even brought up his arm to give her shoulders a gentle squeeze. With the feel of her head against his shoulder and his arm around hers, Melfina slowly began to drift off. But Slag's sudden growl drove her out of it.

"God damn it!" she heard Gene curse. "I don't know who's worse. Mazren or that mongrel of his."

"Wait a minute Gene," Jim suddenly said. "Something's wrong." Looking at the big wolf, Melfina saw that Jim could be right. Slag's fur was standing straight up and his ears were horizontal with his head.

"Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!" Aisha yelled. Just like Slag, Aisha's hair was standing straight up and her tail twitched in excitement. "I can hear them all around us! We're surrounded!"

"Everyone," Gene yelled as he leaped off the rock, "get back to back. Looks like the Toku are here after all." Pulling Melfina to her feet, Gene pushed her behind him as Aisha, Jim and Slag ran up and surrounded her. Turning their backs to Melfina, they formed a protective shield around her as they searched the trees. Gene drew his pistol and shotgun while Aisha bulged her muscles and extended her claws. Jim meanwhile pulled out his P.A. and began scanning the trees.

"Well?" Gene asked.

"Aisha's right Gene," Jim said. "I'm picking up at least nine heat signatures in the trees around us."

"Well then where are they?" Gene asked. His question was answered when something jumped out of the trees. It moved too fast for the others to see, but Melfina had excellent eyesight, one of the few benefits of being a bio-android. Though it still appeared as partially a blur, Melfina picked out the outline of what looked like a human girl about her size and age with black hair tied back into a ponytail. The girl held in her hands what looked like two three pronged daggers. She dashed toward them and flashed the daggers across Gene's guns, knocking them out of his hands.

"HOLY SHIT!" Gene yelled as the strange girl seemed to fly past them in an instant, heading back into the trees.

"Hey you, come back here!" Aisha yelled as she gave chase.

And then, the arrows came flying from out of the treetops.

Looking up to Mazren as he carried her, Suzuka felt more than a little embarrassed. She wasn't used to being treated like some damsel in distress. Long ago, she had made a vow that she would never allow herself to be dependant on another. Still, she couldn't ignore that it did feel somewhat nice. Noticing how she was watching him, Mazren looked down to her.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"No," she answered. "It's nothing." Looking away, Suzuka reflected on what Melfina had told her in the hot spring on Tenrei. Was Mazren really attracted to her? The thought made her dizzy, although she had no idea as to why. Suzuka wasn't vain, but she knew that men seemed to be easily attracted to her. Over time, she had learned to ignore it. So why did it feel so much different with Mazren? Maybe it's because HE'S different, Suzuka thought. Of course, she didn't think that just because he was a bio-android. Mazren was brave, intelligent, and possessed a strong sense of honor. She didn't care much about how a person looked, but she did have a preference for strong men. Although, Mazren certainly didn't suffer from a lack of attractive features either. In a corner of her mind, Suzuka thought back to when she first met Gene. Though she had at first pegged him for nothing but a lecherous fool, when Gene defeated her in their duel, she was curious about him and why he had spared her. And after she got to know him better, Suzuka saw that his cocky exterior was merely a shell he erected to protect a man who was kinder and more vulnerable than he cared to admit. But after the Leyline, she realized that the affection she had for Gene was more like that for a brother than a lover. Besides, Suzuka knew that his heart belonged to another.

But what about Mazren? Was he really attracted to her? Was she attracted to him? Suzuka didn't really know, but it might prove interesting to find out.

"Can I ask you something?" she asked Mazren.

"What about?"

"What was Hilda like?" Mazren stopped in his tracks and looked down to her in surprise.

"Why do you ask?"

"I'm just curious," she answered. "She died before I met Gene and the others. And technically, she is the reason we all ended up together." Mazren was silent as he considered his answer. Of course, that wasn't the only reason she asked him. Suzuka wanted to know what kind of woman Mazren was attracted to.

"Well," he told her as he continued on their way. "Hilda was hot as fire, and cold as ice. She was tough as nails and didn't take crap from anyone."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah," Mazren sighed. "I've always liked strong women." Despite her usual cool demeanor, Suzuka suddenly felt her heart beginning to beat a little faster. "And best of all," he continued, "she had one kick ass body." Suzuka felt her excitement cool off after that. I suppose that some things are universal to all men, she mused. But just then, Mazren stopped in his tracks.

'What's wrong?" Suzuka asked. Mazren's dark green eyes were flitting all over the jungle.

"Do you hear that?" Suzuka cocked her ear and heard nothing. The buzzing of insects, the chirping of birds, the screeching of the tree monkeys; they were all gone. The only sound was the wind as it rustled the leaves above them. And that was exactly what set her alarms off.

"No I don't," she replied.

"Exactly," Mazren said. Slowly moving over to a nearby tree, he set her down at its base as he turned his back to her. Reaching to his hips, Mazren unlocked his guns and calmly drew them from their holsters. "We're surrounded," he told her. "I count one in the tree above us, two to each side, and four in front of us."

"Are they Oni?"

"No," he answered. "I can hear a heartbeat for each one. I don't smell any gunpowder though. I'm guessing that they're all armed with melee weapons."

"So then what are we going to do?" Suzuka asked. Though she tried to get back to her feet, her sprained ankle made the act impossible. Mazren would have to fight them off all by himself.

"The only thing we can do," he told her. Raising his arms, Mazren pointed his guns straight up, and then angled his left gun slightly, aiming for the one above them. But just before he could pull the trigger, a hail of shurikens came flying from out of the treetops to the left. Mazren spun and fired, using the bullets to deflect the star-shaped projectiles from their paths. Emptying the clips, Mazren attempted to reload, but was stopped when two weighted chains launched out from the trees. The chains wrapped around Mazren's wrists, pulling tight and stretching his arms out. The action caused Mazren to lose his grip on his guns, but Suzuka knew that he was far from defeated. Grasping the links in his hands, Mazren yanked on the chains with all of his android strength. From out of the treetops, two men dressed in green ninja garb fell out of the trees and flew toward him. Mazren snapped out his left foot in a sidekick to one before lashing out with a right backhand strike to the other. After shaking off the chains, a third ninja dropped out of the trees to the left. Armed with two ninja-to swords, the attacker dashed towards Mazren with blinding speed, and Mazren's hand went back to his katana. When the ninja was only two feet away from him, Mazren drew his sword and flashed it across the breaking points of his attacker's swords, cleanly shattering the blade into pieces. With the ninja stunned by the action, Mazren took his free hand and whipped his palm across the attacker's face, sending the man flying. With three of the nine attackers down, Mazren turned his attention to a fourth. Pulling out one of his knives, Mazren threw it into the branches of the right side trees. As the knife disappeared into the leaves, another of the green-garbed ninjas leaped out. But rather than landing to face Mazren, the ninja instead bounded off another branch and headed for another tree cluster. On the ground, Mazren in one motion spun, pulled his katana sheath from the back of his jacket, twirled it in his hands, and threw it. The makeshift projectile flew through the air and caught the ninja in mid-flight, knocking him out of the air and to the ground. Suddenly, Suzuka heard a creak in the branches above her.

"Look out!" she yelled. Hearing her warning Mazren jumped out of the way as another attacker leaped out of the branches and landed feet first, creating a slight crater at the impact. Suzuka saw that this fifth attacker was far different than the previous four. The others were lean and muscular, while this one was as tall and as broad as Mazren. He lacked the hood and mask of his associates, and in their place had auburn hair with a chin length beard. Lacking a left hand, Suzuka saw that the bearded man had instead a curved tri-claw. As soon as he had landed, the one handed man lunged for Mazren. Mazren raised his sword to block, but the new attacker caught it between two of his claws. Flicking his wrist, the attacker successfully twisted the sword out of Mazren's grasp and flung it away. With Mazren disarmed, the attacker lashed out again with his claw. Mazren dodged and hand sprung away, landing where he had dropped one of the chains the first two ninjas had used. Rolling back to his feet, Mazren raised the chain and twirled it over his head. He and the bearded man circled each other for a few seconds before they charged each other. The bearded man lashed out once again with his claw, but Mazren dodged to the left and wrapped the chain around the attacker's right wrist. Twisting his body, Mazren pulled on the chain and yanked the man around, throwing him into a nearby tree. Moving in for the finish, Mazren pulled back his fist, energized it with electric energy, but stopped when an arrow flew out of the trees and landed at his feet. As he stopped in his tracks, Suzuka watched as the four remaining ninjas dropped from the trees. All four were armed with longbows, and loaded with an arrow pointed straight at the two of them.

Looking around, Suzuka realized that though Mazren could dodge this attack, he would automatically leave her in the line of fire. Lowering his power, Mazren raised his hands in surrender as the four archers continued to target them. Meanwhile, the five ninjas that Mazren had defeated, including the bearded man with the claw stood to their feet. Moving towards them, the one who Mazren had knocked out of the air suddenly stopped. Pulling his mask down, the ninja stared in shock as he pointed at the medallion Mazren wore.

"Master Tyr!" he exclaimed. "Look." The bearded man saw what his underling was pointing at and walked over. Reaching out with his good hand, he raised the medallion slightly so that he could get a better look.

"Where did you find this?" Tyr the bearded warrior asked.

"Why do you want to know?" Mazren asked back.

"Because it may determine whether or not you leave this planet alive," Tyr answered. Suzuka watched as Mazren once again scanned the warriors that surrounded them.

"I've come searching for the Ryunoken Sword," Mazren said. "I took this medallion off an evil man when I killed him."

"And why is that you seek the Sword?" Tyr asked.

"The associates of the man I killed want to use it to kill my sister." Mazren replied. "But I want to use it to protect her." Tyr considered what Mazren said before looking over to Suzuka.

"Is she your sister?" he asked.

"No," Mazren answered. "My sister is in a separate group." Tyr nodded as he waved his hand. The archers behind him lowered their bows and placed the arrows back in their quivers. Stepping past Mazren, Suzuka watched as Tyr walked over and stood above her. After examining her sprained ankle, Tyr looked back up to his subordinates. With a whistle and a wave from his hand, the four who had attacked Mazren disappeared back into the trees. They returned a second later, carrying two six-foot long straight branches and a bundle of wide leaves. As they set down the branches, Tyr walked over to a plant with an oval shaped trunk and a crown of spiky leaves. Stabbing the plant's trunk with his tri-claw, Suzuka and Mazren watched as a thick and syrupy sap flowed out from the holes he made. The two ninjas holding the leaf bundle walked over and applied the sap to the leaves' ends, then walked back over to the sticks on the ground and laid the leaves across them.

"Lay your friend here on this," Tyr told them. Mazren raised an eyebrow in question, but he obeyed. Leaning down to Suzuka, Mazren lifted her up and carried her over to the makeshift stretcher. As soon as he had laid her down, two of the ninjas went to each end and lifted it up. To Suzuka's surprise, the stuck together leaves and branches proved to be both comfortable and strong. As she adjusted herself to a comfortable position, two of Tyr's ninjas collected Mazren's sword and guns.

"So what now?" Mazren asked.

"We're going to take you to our clan's home," Tyr answered. "Master Jubei will want to verify your story."

"And what if we don't want to?" Mazren asked. His question was answered by the hiss of a sword being drawn. "Oh yeah that." With their point made clear, the nine warriors began to lead them through the jungle to wherever this "clan" of theirs made its home.

"So what do you think we should do?" Suzuka asked as she leaned towards Mazren.

"What else can we do?" Mazren replied. "I have an idea where they might be taking us, so let's just play along for now."

"You mean those ruins that we saw from orbit don't you?" Mazren nodded slightly as he continued to survey the jungle around them, looking for any further signs of the strange warriors. "But what about the others?"

"If these people could find us," he answered, "then they've probably found the others as well. Let's go meet this Master Jubei that Tyr mentioned. Who knows, he just might be the one who can tell us where the Sword is." Suzuka nodded in agreement as she looked ahead. If there were any answers on this strange and exotic world, than they would definitely be in those ancient ruins. And whoever these strange warriors were, they obviously knew something about the Sword. But as to whether they were friend or foe, Suzuka had no idea.

(Arriving on the Sword's planet, Mazren and Suzuka have been taken prisoner. Who are these mysterious warriors? What has happened to Gene and the others? Who is this Master Jubei that Tyr mentioned? And what about Yama? When will the Shogun of Strength make his move to take Melfina? Make an effort to be here next time; same outlaw-time, same outlaw-website. The wielder of the Ryunoken Sword is about to be revealed. Don't forget to review.)