Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ The Swordwielder Revealed ( Chapter 11 )

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

CHAPTER 11:

The Swordwielder Revealed

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

(Author's Notes: In this chapter, beings called the Sith are mentioned. However, the Sith are not dark Jedi, but a race of insect people. They are mentioned in the prologue for episode 13 "Advance Guard From an Alien World." So if anyone from Lucas Arts reads this and has a problem, then talk to Bandai, Sunrise, or whoever the hell owns the right to "Outlaw Star." They're the ones who did it, not me.)

As Tyr and his subordinates escorted them to their "clan's" home, Mazren decided to pass the time by getting some information.

"So just who are you guys anyway?" he asked Tyr.

"We are the Dragon Clan," Tyr answered without turning around. "This planet is our home."

"But what are you doing here?" Suzuka asked.

"Many years ago," the bearded warrior said, " a great wise man came to this world. Occasionally, he would depart this planet and search the galaxy. He would seek out the lost, the unwanted, or simply those who were looking for a second chance at life. Those who would listen accompanied him back to this planet where he trained them to aid in his holy mission."

"What sort of holy mission?" Mazren asked.

"The wise man was the guardian of a sacred blade," Tyr answered. "He came to this world to keep the blade safe until its next wielder arrived to claim it." It was then that Tyr slightly turned to look at him. "And it seems that the Swordwielder has finally come." Mazren thought about that for a moment. A sacred blade? He must mean the Ryunoken Sword. It's the only logical explanation.

"So all of you were brought here by the wise man?" Suzuka asked.

"Not all of us," Tyr answered. "Some of us were voyagers who stumbled upon this world by accident. There have been Outlaws, Space Force scouts, and even pirates who were touched by the wise man's wisdom. I myself was once the captain of a Ban Pirate ship before my men and I first came here. I am known as Tyr, the first warrior of the Dragon clan. My role is to protect the sword, and our clan's home from all threats."

"What sort of threats?" asked Mazren.

"On occasion," Tyr continued, "evil men have come here, searching for the sword. We intercepted them, and ordered them to leave. When they did not heed our warnings, they paid with their lives." Turning his attention forward again, Tyr raised his good hand and pointed. "There it is now." Looking ahead, Mazren and Suzuka saw the fortress they had spotted from orbit appear. Towering above the tress, the massive structure was a mass of carved stone and living vegetation. In the back, the main tower loomed over the three levels of structures beneath it. "Come now," Tyr told them. "If your story is true, than Master Jubei will know." As he spoke, Tyr raised his tri-claw, the blades gleaming in the sunlight. "And if it is not…"

"Yeah yeah, we get the point," Mazren said. As they continued on their way to the fortress, Suzuka leaned across to speak to Mazren.

"This Master Jubei that Tyr mentioned," she whispered, "he must also be the wise man who brought all of these people here."

"Most likely," he replied. "I just hope that he isn't too old and senile to be of any help."

Atop his tower, the lone man sat and meditated. For the last few days, he had sensed that something was very wrong on his world. But though his followers had searched the entire jungle around the fortress, they had found no sign of any trouble. A dark force has invaded our home, he thought. But until we know where it is, we have no choice but to keep our guard up and wait for it to strike. As he continued his meditations, a panel opened up behind him. Rising above the opening, a gray-scaled Saurian climbed up from the spiral stairway beneath.

"Is something wrong Korde?"

"Our lookouts have spotted Tyr and his men returning," the Saurian said. "And he appears to have captured the remaining trespassers."

"Very well then," the man said as he rose to his feet. "I shall go and speak with them."

"Do you think that these people are the threat that you have been sensing?" Korde asked

"It is possible. But I will not know for sure until I speak with them myself." The Saurian nodded and stood aside as the man walked past. As he walked down the stairway that led to his tower's bottom, the man was suddenly overcome by a bizarre premonition. A great battle is about to begin. Whoever these people are, they will most likely play a critical role.

As they neared the fortress, Suzuka noticed a change in the jungle around them. For most of their trek, the vegetation had grown wild and natural. Now, though the vegetation was still natural, it appeared to be cultivated slightly. The most prominent of which were fruit trees of numerous kinds. Berry vines grew on the trunks while different types of vegetable stalks grew between the trees. Thin pipes ran the length of the mixed crop field, lightly watering the plants. As they moved closer to the fortress, Suzuka saw other members of the Dragon Clan appear. Working in the fields, men and women harvested the crops and deposited them in baskets carried on the backs of large reptiles that bore a striking similarity to the triceratops of prehistoric Earth. Most of the Dragon Clan were human; but Suzuka also saw Ctarl-Ctarl, Silgrians, and even a few Saurians. And then, Suzuka saw something that she never expected. Working together on a busted water pipe was a human and an insect creature with long, mantis like limbs. A Sith and a human working together? Suzuka never would have thought that she would see something like that. The Sith's hostility towards humanity was so intense, it was nothing short of outright bigotry.

Looking ahead, Suzuka suddenly saw that they were now approaching the fortress. The main base was the size of a large city block and was as high as a three-story building. Vines climbed up the base, bearing large leaves that were harvested by other clan members. In the center of the base was a stairway that led up to the top. On each side of the stairway, four large doorways had been cut into the wall. As they returned from the fields, clan members escorted the reptile beasts of burden through the doors and into stables where their loads were removed. Reaching the stairway, the two ninjas that carried her stretcher shifted their position so that they walked side by side instead of in a line. With Tyr in the lead, Mazren, Suzuka, and Tyr's warriors followed him up the steps. At the top, they passed through a red torii gate and onto the main base. All around them, members of the Dragon Clan trained and sparred with each other. Half of the base's top was flat, while the back half was piled high with three levels of structures. The structures were interlocked together to form a maze of buildings, stairways, and walkways. Like the base, the three levels of structures were covered in vines, but there were also several gardens growing between them. In the middle of the third level was the main tower, a stairway leading straight down from it. And standing in front of the stairs, guarded by another group of ninjas, stood Gene, Melfina, and the others.

"Gene Look!" Melfina cried out as she saw them approach. As Tyr brought them up to the others, Slag broke away from Melfina's side and ran over to his master. Mazren kneeled down and rubbed the excited wolf's head.

"Yeah I know," he said, "I missed you too boy." Suzuka smiled slightly as she watched Mazren and Slag. She was glad that the others were all right. But still, she would like to know what was going to happen next. As soon as the two ninjas that carried her had set her down, the leader of the group that had captured Gene walked over to Tyr. This one was a girl about Melfina's age and size, but with an athletic build similar to Aisha's. Her black hair was tied up in a ponytail, and she wore a thigh length green robe. From her belt hung a pair of sai daggers.

"Hey Dad," the girl said. "Looks like you caught your guys."

"Indeed I did," Tyr replied as he pointed at Mazren. "And this one here caused us no small amount of trouble."

"You're lucky," the girl said she motioned to the others. "I disarmed that red headed guy in one pass and then knocked the Ctarl out with one kick."

"Now wait just a damn minute here!" Aisha yelled. "You just got a lucky shot when I jumped up to the branch. The only reason that I didn't get back up was because your lackeys drew their arrows on the others."

"Just ignore her," Gene said, not wanting to miss an opportunity to tease Aisha. "She's a sore loser." Aisha just growled something in Ctarl and turned her nose up. Tyr's daughter ignored Gene and Aisha as she began to look Mazren over.

"Yeah it's just my luck," she continued. "Why couldn't I be the one to capture the really cute guy?" It was then that Suzuka saw how several of the ninjas in the girl's group, all young men her age, had begun to cast dirty looks at Mazren.

"If you can be serious Keibara," Tyr said, "look at what this man wears around his neck." Keibara did as her father instructed and noticed the medallion that Mazren wore around his neck.

"Dad!" she said in shock. "That's the..."

"Yes I know," Tyr said. "It is imperative that Master Jubei speak with him at once." As if on cue, the sound of chiming metal drew their attention to the top of the stairs. Coming down the stairs from the tower was a man Gene's height and dressed in the style of a Zen Monk. Over his white tunic and trousers, he wore a knee length green and gold robe. On his head he wore a saucer shaped straw hat while shoulder length silver hair framed his face. In his right hand, he carried a staff topped by a golden spearhead. Underneath the spearhead was a golden ring that ran through the staff's shaft. Hanging on each side of the ring were three smaller ones that clanged and chimed together. Beside him walked a gray-scaled Saurian man, his body covered with even more scars than Gene. When Tyr, Keibara, and the other warriors saw them coming, they placed their right fist in their right palms and lowered their heads in respect.

"Hey Jim?" Suzuka heard Gene ask. "What's the deal with the guy in the bath robe?" Tyr heard his comment and backhanded Gene with his good hand, sending him flying to the stone floor.

"Oh no Gene!" Melfina called out as she ran to his side.

"Watch your mouth boy!" Tyr snarled. "No one here speaks in disrespect of Master Jubei."

"That is enough Tyr," the man said. His voice was quiet, a mixture of a whisper and a rasp. It also carried the weight of a deep-rooted wisdom.

"But Master Jubei," Tyr protested.

"He and the others are our guests," the man told his subordinate. "They shall be treated with both respect and mercy."

"Better do as your boss says Tyr," Gene said with a victorious grin as Melfina helped him to his feet.

"Besides," Jubei continued, "he is merely a fool. And that is punishment enough." Gene tensed at what the man said.

"Now wait just a damn minute here you smug…" but Gene was cut short when one of the ninjas turned towards him, his tanto knife in raised in threat. Rather than instigate a fight, Gene wisely decided to drop it.

"Excuse me?" Jim asked. "But just who are you anyway?" The man lowered his gaze to Jim and shook his staff, the chimes on the ring clanging together.

"I am Jubei," he answered. "I am the patriarch of the Dragon Clan. This," he said as he gestured to the Saurian beside him, "is Korde, the weapons master and steward of our home. And you have already met Tyr and his daughter Keibara, our two greatest warriors."

"Unfortunately," Aisha growled. It was then that Jubei noticed Suzuka sitting on her stretcher. Pushing past Gene and the others, he walked over to her and focused his gaze on her ankle. Looking up to him, Suzuka saw that physically, Jubei couldn't be older than his mid-forties. And yet, his blue-green eyes held a look that spoke of years much older than that.

"What happened to your ankle?" Jubei asked her.

"I fell into one of your traps out in the jungle," Suzuka answered. Jubei nodded and handed his staff to Tyr. He then kneeled down to her and placed his hands on her sprain. As he did, Suzuka felt something move from his hands and concentrate in her ankle.

"Huoy guoy guoy, huoy guoy guoy," he chanted over and over again. Looking down to her ankle, Suzuka saw that Jubei's hands were encased in a green glow. The glow flowed from his hands to over her sprain, replacing the throbbing pain with a gentle warmth. "That should do it," he said as he removed his hands. Suzuka looked down and saw that her ankle had been completely healed.

"Need a hand?" Mazren asked as he offered his. She took it and he pulled Suzuka to her feet. Reaching into a pocket inside her kimono, Suzuka pulled out her shoe and slipped it back onto her foot.

"Are you going to be all right Suzuka?" Melfina asked as she watched her stand.

"I think that I will," Suzuka told her. Out of the corner of her eye, Suzuka watched as a relieved smile spread across Melfina's face. Now that her ankle had been healed, Suzuka hoped that Melfina wouldn't blame herself anymore for what had happened.

"Now that that has been taken care of," Jubei said, "tell me why you all have come here."

"Well," Mazren said as he took off his medallion and handed it to the Wiseman, "maybe this will explain everything." Jubei looked at the medallion before taking it from Mazren.

"You've come looking for the Sword haven't you?" he asked as he stared Mazren in the eye.

"Yes I have," Mazren answered.

"And for what reason?" asked Korde, who had remained silent so far. Mazren raised his hand and gestured towards Melfina.

"This is my sister Melfina," he told them. "Evil men are after her and the Sword."

"I can understand why they would be after the Sword," Keibara said. "But why would they be after your sister?"

"They want to use her to corrupt the Sword's power," Mazren answered. "To do that, they plan to sacrifice her to it." A shocked silence spread across the face of the clan members present as they exchanged glances with each other. After a while, Jubei moved away from Mazren and over to Melfina. Suzuka and the others watched as the wise man walked over to Melfina. Taking his pointer and middle finger, Jubei hooked them under Melfina's delicate chin and lifted her gaze to meet his own.

"Interesting," Jubei said as he studied her face. "Yes, very interesting indeed." Jubei's sudden behavior nerved Suzuka. Can Jubei somehow tell that Melfina's a bio-android? she asked herself.

"Master Jubei?" Tyr asked. Jubei removed his hand from Melfina's chin as he turned to face his followers.

"They speak the truth Tyr," the wise man answered as he began to walk away. Out of the corner of her eye, Suzuka watched as the ninja that had confiscated Mazren's guns and sword returned them to him.

"So then the Sword really is on this planet?" Gene asked. Jubei stopped and turned to face him.

"Indeed it is," Jubei answered. "Now all of you please follow me." With no other choice, Suzuka and the others left the ninja group and followed Jubei to the other side of the first level. Entering a doorway, Jubei led them through a hall and down a winding staircase. As she walked, Suzuka's eyes took stock of the corridor around them. The walls were decorated with hieroglyphics that were remarkably similar to the Grave of the Dragon. However, the fortress of the Dragon Clan had one slight difference. Installed into the walls were lights that appeared to glow with no trace of an energy supply. Taking a closer look, Suzuka saw that what could be the power lines had been fed directly into two triangular hieroglyphs. Did the fortress somehow provide power by itself? If it was built by the same beings that built the Leyline, than Suzuka guessed that it was certainly possible.

"Say Jubei," Aisha asked, "how come you guys call yourselves the Dragon Clan?"

"It is a homage to my fallen brethren," Jubei answered. Overhearing Jubei, Suzuka suddenly remembered something that her grandmother had told her a long time ago.

"Jubei?" she asked. "Are you one of the Celestial Dragons?" The wise man looked back to her and nodded.

"Yes I am."

"What are the Celestial Dragons?" Melfina asked.

"Many years ago," Jubei answered, "there existed a religious sect known as the Celestial Dragons that formed in the section of space known as the Tin Pa Empire. Their beliefs were based on the pursuit of enlightenment though a life of simplicity and harmony with the world around them."

"So how come I've never heard of them until now?" Gene asked.

"Because I am the last surviving priest," Jubei told them. "The Celestial Dragons taught those who would listen that enlightenment and power came from living in harmony with the ki lines and the elemental forces they manifest in. But the Tao masters, of whom the Tin Pa Emperor was a member, felt the ki lines were tools to be used for personal gain. As a result, the Celestial Dragons were hunted down and exterminated." Suzuka saw Jubei's shoulders slump as he spoke. It was obvious that he did not like talking about the death of his sect. Still, there was one thing that she needed to ask him.

"But according to what I've heard," she said, "the death of the Celestial Dragons occurred nearly a hundred years ago."

"Are you serious?" Jim asked as he looked to her.

"If what you're telling us true," Mazren said to Jubei, "then how could you possibly be alive today?" Jubei chuckled in amusement and turned to face Mazren.

"If you succeed in acquiring the Sword," he replied, "than I'll gladly explain that as well as many other things." Reaching the bottom of the staircase, Jubei led them down another hall at the base's bottom level. This new hall appeared to be dedicated to food storage. On both sides of them were refrigerated storage units, also hooked up to the stone of the fortress. Walking the corridor's length, they exited to the rear and strolled down a wooden platform that extended out over some kind of rice paddy. In the shallow waters, other members of the Dragon Clan used kama scythes to harvest the rice. Up ahead, the platform ended in the river they spotted from orbit. Several boats had been docked at the river's bank, tied to pilings at the platform's end. Further down the river, other clan members stood on a makeshift bridge, catching fish in fine mesh nets. Jubei walked up to one of the boats and gestured for them to board. "This boat will serve your purposes I hope."

"Serve us how?" Gene asked.

"This river flows from a temple to the northwest," Jubei answered. "The sword sleeps there. Take this boat to the temple and try to awaken the sword. If you succeed," he said as he fixed his gaze on Mazren, "then return immediately and I will instruct you in the use of the Sword's power. But if you fail, then leave this world or forfeit your lives." They were all silent as they considered what to do now.

"So what do you think Gene?" Jim asked.

"It's not like we have a choice here Jim," Gene replied. "Let's just go get Mazren's sword so that we can finally show the Toku just who they're dealing with." Suzuka couldn't help but notice how Gene grimaced slightly at what he had said. She could tell that Gene was jealous of Mazren's fighting prowess, but she felt there was more to it than that. She could only guess that Gene saw Mazren as some kind of threat to his relationship with Melfina. But still, that didn't explain the jealousy that she felt Mazren radiate towards Gene. It doesn't matter now anyway, Suzuka thought. At the moment, acquiring the Ryunoken Sword is our most urgent priority. Allowing the others to board first, Suzuka gingerly set foot onto the boat and sat in the back next to Slag. Gene sat at the bow, with Melfina and Jim behind him. Aisha and Mazren sat in the middle where they each took an oar.

"Say Jubei?" Gene asked. "Aren't you going to come with us?"

"This is your quest," the wise man answered. "Besides, I must stay to protect our clan's home. I have sensed a terrible darkness arrive here on this world. I must continue to search for it." Suzuka looked to the others and saw a look of concern spread across their faces, Melfina's in particular. Suzuka hoped that Jubei didn't mean that the Toku had somehow followed them here.

"Well then, good luck. I hope you find it," Gene said as he untied the boat from the dock.

"Same to you," Jubei replied. He then raised his hand, holding out the medallion that had guided them so far. "I will keep this if you don't mind. It has served its purpose in bringing you here and is no longer needed."

"Go ahead," Mazren said, "It looks better on you anyway." With their objective finally in sight, Mazren used his oar to push them away from the dock. As soon as they were clear, he and Aisha both rowed the boat up the river and towards the Sword's temple.

Standing a while longer on the dock, Jubei watched the six outsiders vanish up the river. Turning away, he walked back along the paddy's platform. He knew that one of them would return with the Sword. He already had a good idea as to whom, but he didn't dare risk revealing it. It might jeopardize his chances for awakening the Sword. One thing's for certain, he thought with a smile. If he succeeds, he will be the most challenging student that I have ever had. I might need Tyr's help with this one.

"Master Jubei," a distressed voice called out. The wise man looked up and saw Korde running toward him.

"What is wrong Korde?"

"One of our patrol parties has just returned," the scarred Saurian told his leader. "They report some kind of disturbance in the jungle."

"What sort of disturbance?"

"Undergrowth in the jungle has been disturbed. Judging by how it's been pressed down, it seems that some kind of hover vehicle had passed through. And as it was still warm, it was most likely in the last hour or so." Jubei rubbed his chin as he considered this latest information.

"They must have landed outside of our patrol perimeter," he said. "They then moved out when we intercepted our guests. Tell Tyr and Keibara to assemble a team of four ninjas. They will accompany me to the sight of the disturbance." Korde was caught off guard by his leader's orders.

"Master Jubei?" he asked. "Is it really necessary for you to involve yourself? It might be dangerous. Please allow me go in your place?" But Jubei merely shook his head.

"No Korde," he said. "You must stay here to help protect our clan's home. If the darkness that has infected our world is as strong as I fear it is, than I have no choice but to aid our warriors in fighting it."

Travelling up the river, Aisha felt a deep sense of contentment fill her. As a Ctarl-Ctarl, she had a natural affinity for nature. All of her people did. Their architecture was designed to be built around the environment, rather than taking its place. They even kept contained forests aboard their ships. Such an appreciation for the role of nature was obvious proof of the superiority of the Ctarl-Ctarl. Taking a deep breath, Aisha took a good long whiff of the jungle's scent.

"You know Mazren," Jim suddenly said, "I'm beginning to think that you were right."

"Right about what?" Maz asked back.

"About this being too easy," Jim answered. "I don't like this at all."

"Jubei did say something about sensing some kind of unknown threat," Suzu said. Looking behind her, Aisha saw that Suzu's dark eyes were flitting all over the jungle.

"It could very well be the Toku," Mazren said. "It's possible that they knew about the Dragon Clan and were able to avoid them." Behind Aisha, Slag picked up on his master's comment and began to whine. Aisha sympathized with the big wolf. The conversation was getting a little too serious for her.

"Come on everyone," she said. "Mazren beat Askared all by himself, and he was one of the Shoguns. Even if the next guy is stronger than him, there's no way he can be stronger than all six of us put together. So let's not worry about it. Besides, you're scaring Mel."

"Oh I'm all right Aisha," Mel said as she heard her name. "You don't have to worry about me." But Aisha knew that wasn't true. Mel had enough to worry about without the others making it worse.

"Let's just concentrate on getting Mazren's Sword for now," Gene said without turning around. "That way we really would have an edge against the Toku." Looking at Gene, Aisha was more than a little disappointed with him. She had hoped that maybe this whole mess would be the thing that brought him and Mel back together. But except for that one incident in the clearing, the two of them still seemed as distant as ever. I don't think I'll ever understand humans, she thought. If a Ctarl-Ctarl had a thing for someone, then they just acted on it. She couldn't see why Gene and Mel had to keep themselves in denial of their feelings.

"Hey Gene look," Jim cried out. Aisha and the others looked in the direction Jim had pointed. Rising above the trees, just three hundred meters away, was the pillar shaped mountain that they had spotted from orbit. And atop it, was the cone shaped temple where the Sword was hidden.

"All right then!" Aisha yelled. "Come on Maz! Full speed ahead!" Tightening the grip on her paddle, Aisha frantically began paddling in the direction of the temple.

"Aisha!" Suzuka yelled. "You're splashing water all over me!"

Squatting in the covers of the underbrush at the mountain's base, Yama was waiting. His plan had worked perfectly. Gene Starwind and his friends had distracted the warriors of the Dragon Clan long enough for him and his attack force to pass unnoticed. At the moment, he sat in anticipation of Gene Starwind's arrival. Beside him squat his attendant. Around them, the two companies of Oni lay hidden, their invisibility screens masking them from sight.

"How long has it been?" Yama asked his attendant. The servant moved aside the sleeve of his robe to check his watch.

"It's been slightly over three hours Lord Yama. Is it possible that they have been killed by the Dragon Clan?"

"Highly unlikely," the Shogun of Strength answered. "That patriarch of theirs is most likely taking his time examining each one of them."

"Maybe we should have posted an Oni scout along the river to watch for them," his servant suggested.

"No," Yama replied. "We can't even take the slightest chance that they would sense its presence. We shall continue to wait here, and then strike when the time is right." As Yama spoke, the sound of splashing water drew his attention towards the river. There he saw a boat carrying Gene Starwind, his friends, and the android girl float up to the dock in front of the mountain. His attendant raised his hand to signal the Oni to attack, but Yama stopped him in time.

"No!" he reprimanded his servant. "It's still too early. We will wait here until they have entered the Sword's temple. I will then move into position with the Oni and attack from all sides from once. While they distract Gene Starwind and the others, I will move in and capture the android girl. It is imperative to our plans that she is captured before the Sword is awakened."

"Of course Lord," his attendant said with a bow. "And what shall I do?"

"You will stay here to keep the engines running," Yama told his servant. "As soon as I return with the android, we must return to our ship as soon as possible."

The servant nodded his head to show he understood. Returning his gaze back to the river, Yama watched as his prey disembarked from their boat and began the long trek up to the Sword's temple.

As he helped Melfina out from the boat, Gene studied the mountain that loomed before them. Tall as a fifty-story building, the mountain was pillar shaped and roughly twenty meters wide. The mountain's stone surface was perfectly smooth and free of any blemishes. Climbing up its surface would prove to be a very difficult feat. But luckily, they wouldn't have to do that. Starting from the eastern side was a stone stairway that wrapped all the way around to the mountain's top. And at the top, was the cone shaped temple where the Ryunoken Sword was supposed to be hidden. So this is it, he thought. Once again we're finally at the treasure room.

"Is that it?" Aisha asked as she disembarked from the boat. "Compared to where the Leyline was hidden, it seems kind of lame don't you think?"

"It's not the temple we're interested in Aisha," Suzuka said as Mazren helped her out of the boat. "As long as the Sword is in there, the temple itself doesn't matter."

"Besides," Mazren added on, "an unassuming appearance is the best defense against unwanted attention." As always, Slag barked in agreement with his master. Gene ignored the four of them as he looked down to Jim.

"Hey Jim? Can you pick up anything out the ordinary?" Jim scanned with his P.A, but shook his head in response.

"Sorry Gene," he said. "But I still can't pick up anything that could help us."

"Well maybe the Sword is like the Leyline," Melfina suggested as she looked up to the temple. Gene looked over to her and raised his eyebrow in question.

"What do you mean Mel?" he asked her.

"When I was the Maiden," she answered, "the Leyline wouldn't grant any desires without me to activate it. Maybe the Sword needs Mazren in order for it to work as well." Gene rubbed his chin as he thought about what Melfina had said.

"Maybe," he said as he switched his attention back up to the temple. "But just like the Leyline, we really won't know for sure until we get there."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Melfina sighed.

"Well than what are we waiting for?" Mazren asked as he and Slag shoved past him and began to climb the stairs up to the temple. Grinding his teeth, Gene hurried after Mel's brother as she and the others ran after them. Catching up to him, Gene walked by Mazren's side, making sure to keep Slag on the opposite one.

"Do me a favor," Gene growled, being careful to keep his voice too low for Mel to hear. "Keep in mind that it's my ship that brought us all here. That makes me in charge."

"Leadership is a responsibility Starwind. Not a privilege; and definitely not a right!" Mazren growled back. "If you have a problem with that, than you obviously aren't fit to be one." The anger that welled up in Gene in response to Mazren's words was white-hot and blinding. If it were anyone else, he would have pounded their head straight into the ground. His slim and muscular frame wasn't as buffed up as Mazren, but he was no weakling. For each scar on his body, there was someone who had made the mistake of underestimating him. Unfortunately, as much as he would love to put his fist through Mazren's face, Gene knew how upset that would make Melfina. And I've already made her cry one time too many, he thought.

So to keep himself from doing something he knew that he'd regret later on, Gene quickened his pace so that he could put some distance between him and Mazren. Still, he kept his hand on his gun, just in case Slag decided to take a bite out of him from behind. After ten minutes of climbing the steps, they reached the mountain's halfway point and decided to take a five-minute break. Leaning against the stone, Gene looked out over the jungle. The mountain was a lot higher than the plateau where they had landed the Outlaw Star. Even at the halfway point, he could make out the fortress where the Dragon Clan had made its home. Hearing a sigh beside him, he looked down and saw Melfina staring off into nothing. Following her line of sight, Gene saw that she was actually looking at her brother and Suzuka, also looking out over the jungle.

"They make a cute couple don't they?" he asked. Melfina jumped slightly at his question.

"I wasn't watching them!" she exclaimed. "I was just…"

"You know Mel," he said, "there have been stranger couples than an assassin and a bounty hunter. Even if one of them is a bio-android." Too late, Gene realized what he had said. "Hey Mel, I'm sorry."

"It's all right Gene," she told him not looking up to meet his gaze. Gene wondered how he could be so stupid. Melfina was so human; he often forgot that she was a bio-android. And yet, it always seemed that he was saying or doing something to hurt her feelings, even when he didn't mean to. Like that night he was challenged to a duel. She tried to comfort him, he grabbed her, she pushed him off, and he took out his frustration on her. But even after what he did, she had followed after him the next morning when he went to fight. She tried to protect him and even offered her life in exchange for his. After he won, she had healed his wounds and nursed him back to health. He never apologized, but she never said anything so he guessed that everything was all right. Maybe that was the real reason why she broke up with him, not that he blamed her. Why would a girl like Melfina want to be with a guy who constantly made her feel like a piece of shit? It was a reminder that he would never deserve the love of someone like her.

"All right everyone," he said after a while. "That's enough of a break. Let's get to the top and get the Sword." As the others stood to attention, Aisha suddenly turned around, her ears twitching.

"What's wrong Aisha?" Jim asked.

"I thought that I heard something," the cat-girl answered. "But it was probably just a bird or something." Turning back to them, Aisha joined the rest as they continued their journey up to the mountain temple. After another ten minutes of walking, they finally reached the mountain's top. Looking over the structure before them, Gene and the others suddenly had a realization. The cone-shaped temple hadn't been built, but like the stairs had actually been carved out of the mountain stone. Near the top, a ring of windows had been cut into the stonewalls. At the end of the stairway lay a stone lined path that led around to the temple's side. Following the path, Gene and the others came across two heavy wooden doors that sealed the temple's entrance shut. On the doors was carved the same image that had adorned the medallion.

"Well," Jim said, "I guess this is the place."

"Yeah no kidding," Gene replied. Standing aside, Gene allowed Mazren and Aisha to walk up to the doors. Even though he hated the guy, Gene had to admit that having Mazren around did have some benefits. He and Aisha each took hold of one of the doors and pulled. Slowly, the heavy wooden doors creaked open on rusted hinges.

"Damn it!" Aisha cursed as she struggled with her load. "When the hell were these things last oiled?" But her and Mazren's persistence and strength paid off when the doors finally opened wide enough for them all to enter the temple. Passing through the entranceway, Gene and the others stood in amazement at what they saw.

"Wow!" Jim said.

"Gene it's amazing," whispered Melfina.

"You can say that again," he replied. Mazren and Suzuka simply stared in awe, too spell struck to say anything. Aisha just grunted.

"I was hoping that it would be a spear," she said in disappointment.

The interior of the temple was completely barren. The only decoration was a series of intricately carved columns that surrounded the temple's lower rim. Above them, the windows they had spotted from the outside shined beams of light into the temple. The beams of light shone down and came together at an altar in the floor's center. And plunged into the altar, was the Ryunoken Sword.

It was more beautiful than anything Gene could have imagined. In appearance, the Sword was a four-foot long broadsword. The blade was made of a bright blue crystal that shined with such clarity; it almost glowed. Wide in the bottom and top third sections, the blade narrowed slightly in the middle. The hand guard, hilt and pommel all seemed to be made of polished diamond. The hand guard itself was intricately carved and was composed of two halves. The first half grew out and up from the bottom of the hilt, running parallel to the blade. The second half grew out and down, ran parallel to the handle, but was much shorter than the other half. And in the hilt's center was a smooth cut blue gem that seemed to gleam with an intelligence all its own

"You've got to admit though Aisha," Jim said, "it is pretty cool."

"It's time Mazren," Gene heard Suzuka say. "Go claim your sword." Standing aside, Gene and the others allowed Mazren to pass. But as he walked up to the altar where the Sword was plunged, the blade suddenly began to glow brighter.

"Is that good or bad?" Jim asked. But Mazren didn't answer. He reached out and grasped the Sword's handle. As soon as he did, the hilt gem glowed angrily and the Sword sent an energy bolt straight into Mazren's hand. The big man stumbled back, rubbing his hand in surprise.

"Is something wrong?" Gene asked. True, he would have loved to see Mazren fail at something. But Gene knew that if they didn't get the Sword, their whole plan for protecting Melfina would pretty much be shot to hell.

"Give me a minute," Mazren replied. Relaxing his shoulders, Mazren slowly breathed in and out. It looked like he was entering into some kind of trance. After about ten seconds, he reached for the Sword again. As he grasped the handle, the Sword once again began to fight against him. But this time, Mazren retained his grip, even though he was obviously in pain. Mazren grit his teeth and pulled on the Sword, attempting to wrench it out of the altar. But despite his strength, the Sword remained locked in place. Mazren doubled his efforts, and the Sword's response was to increase the energy it sent against him. It crackled over his body, wreathing him in dancing electricity.

"Mazren stop!" Melfina yelled. "You're going to kill yourself!" Just then, the Sword's power became too much for Mazren to handle, and he was thrown off and sent him flying into the walls of the temple. "Mazren!" Melfina cried out as he slumped to the floor. She and Suzuka ran over to him and braced his back. Looking down, Gene saw that the big man's hands were covered in burns. Slag, knowing that his master had been hurt, rushed over and licked his face. "Mazren, say something," Melfina begged her brother.

"How about, Ow?" he asked as he pushed Slag off of him. "I'm all right Slag. I'm all right."

"You think that you'll be okay?" Jim asked. "Those are some really bad burns."

"They'll heal in a few minutes," Mazren replied as Melfina and Suzuka helped him to his feet.

"So what the hell just happened?" Aisha asked. "I thought that the Ryunoken Sword was supposed to be Mazren's?"

"We all thought that," Suzuka told her. "But something's wrong."

"My memories," Mazren said.

"What do you mean?" Gene asked as he and the others looked at Mel's brother.

"Khan didn't input the memories of my previous life," he reminded them. "One of them must have been the knowledge of how to use the Sword." His shoulders shaking, Mazren pounded his fist into the temple wall, knocking a hole in it the size of a softball. "God damn it! We came all this way for and for nothing!"

"Wait a minute," Jim suddenly said. "There's something that I don't understand. If Mazren can't use the Sword, then how are the Toku hoping to use it?"

"They must have the memories that Khan didn't program into Mazren," Gene said. "There must be a specific procedure that has to be used to unlock it."

"But if that's the case," Melfina asked, "then what are we going to do?" Gene eyed the Sword as he frantically racked his brain for an answer.

"The only thing we can do," he said after a while. "If Mazren can't use the Sword without his memory, than we'll just have to go get it."

"Wait a minute Gene," Jim said, his eyes wide. "You aren't thinking of doing what I think you are, are you?"

"We don't have a choice Jim," Gene replied. "If the Toku are the only ones who know how to activate the Sword, than we'll just have to go and ask them."

"You mean go and take the memories from them don't you?" Suzuka asked.

"Something like that," he answered.

"Suits me just fine," Aisha replied. "A Ctarl-Ctarl is always up for a good challenge."

"Now just wait a minute," Mazren said. "The Toku's territory covers as much as half of the frontier regions. We could search for years and never find the data. Besides, I'm not about to take Melfina right into the Lion's Den." Gene hated to admit it, but Mazren had a point. Taking Melfina straight into Toku Space wasn't an idea that he especially liked. But since this would directly affect her, Melfina should be the one to make the choice. Walking up to her, he stared long and hard into her large brown eyes.

"Melfina," he told her, "it's your call. If the Ryunoken Sword really is as strong as Urt, Ark, and Hadul said it was, than it could defeat the Toku no problem. But I don't want to take you someplace that would put you in even more danger. If you don't want to go, then we'll forget all about it and head out for the other side of the frontier; someplace far away from Toku space." Melfina looked down from his gaze as she considered her answer.

"Even if we run," she said, "the Toku would still follow after me wouldn't they?" Gene wanted to tell her no, but he couldn't lie to her about this.

"It's possible," he said. Melfina looked up to him, her eyes sad but accepting.

"Then we'll need to go find Mazren's memories," she said. "I guess fighting's better than always running." Gene was amazed at how brave Melfina could be. Even after all the time that he had spent with her, she could still surprise him. It reminded him of what a special girl she really was.

"All right then," he said as he looked to the others, "we know what we've got to do. Let's get back to the ship." They all nodded in agreement, but the sound of snarling drew Gene's attention downward. He saw Slag, his teeth bared and his fur standing on end. Gene had seen the wolf act that way only once before, right before they were attacked. Cocking his ear, Gene heard what sounded like someone, or something climbing the outside of the temple.

"Everyone," he said as he drew his pistol and shotgun, "we've got company." A half second later, the wall opposite them exploded from an impact on the other side. The shockwave ripped through the temple, knocking Gene and the others off their feet. Looking up, Gene saw a massive shadow appear in the hole, shrouded by a dust cloud. As soon as it cleared, the shadow revealed itself to be a giant of a man. Dressed in leather breeches and a steel breastplate, the man was nearly eight feet tall and was one giant mass of muscle. His head was shaven bald except for a braided topknot that hung from the back of his skull. Even though he had never seen the giant before, Gene instinctively knew that this man had to be none other than Yama, the Shogun of Strength. But unlike Askared, Yama didn't waste time on introductions. As Gene and the others struggled to their feet, Yama raised his hand and signaled to unseen forces.

"Attack!" he roared. At his command, six Oni swarmed through the hole while another eight dropped down from the windows. The creatures morphed their hands into weapons and attacked.

"Jim," Gene yelled as he opened fire on the creatures, "get Melfina out of here now!" Realizing that the Oni would retreat if Yama was killed; he, Aisha, Suzuka, and Mazren all charged for the giant. But the Oni intercepted them before they could reach him. They're trying to keep us occupied so that Yama can make off with Mel, he realized. All right, no more fooling around. Holstering his pistol and shotgun, Gene drew his brand new caster gun and loaded it with a number thirteen. It was time to see what it could do. Targeting a group of five Oni in front of him, Gene held his breath and pulled the trigger. The accelerator rings spun and charged the shell while the fins at the barrel's end glowed and created an electrical field between them. Gene released the trigger, and a pulsing yellow energy blast fired from the caster. The blast struck the Oni group dead on and the mute assassin drones were vaporized.

As Gene and the others fought off the Toku attack force, Jim ran for Mel and grabbed her hand.

"Come on!" he yelled. With Mel in tow, Jim ran straight for the temple doorway, just as an Oni dropped down in front of them. As the creature morphed its hand into a sword, Jim pulled out the gun from his jacket holster and aimed at the manji symbol in the creature's breastplate. But before he could fire, a spike fired from one of the other Oni struck the gun through, knocking it from his grasp. As two other Oni surrounded them, Jim pushed Melfina up against the wall. With his gun wrecked, Jim frantically searched the ground for any thing he could use, his eyes settling on a rusted iron bar that a previous visitor had left. Picking up the bar, Jim swung the makeshift club in desperation at the Oni. He never connected with a hit, but he was at least able to hold the creatures at bay. Luckily, help arrived in the form of a snarling mass of silver and gray fur. Slamming into the three Oni, Slag knocked them aside as he leapt on the one in front and used his powerful jaws to snap the drone's neck. With Slag taking care of the Oni, Jim led Melfina past them and towards the door. They were just about to escape when a massive figure dropped down in front and knocked them off their feet. Looking up, Jim saw that their path was now blocked by Yama. The giant man had jumped straight into the air and landed right in front of them. Looking down to them, the giant man spoke in a humorless tone.

"I can be merciful at times," the Shogun told him. "If you hand over the android girl, there is a good chance that you will escape unscathed." Even though Jim was scared out of his mind, he stood his ground and raised his club. He and the others had promised to protect Melfina no matter what. Even if it cost him his life, Jim would keep it.

"Save it!" Jim answered. Pulling back his iron bar, Jim swung the club with every once of strength that his 12-year old body had. To his surprise, Yama didn't even bother to block. He allowed Jim to connect with his club; and the rusted iron bar shattered on the giant's arm. Jim stared at the broken weapon in shock as Yama cracked his neck muscles.

"Don't say that I didn't give you fair warning," Yama snarled contemptuously. With no other options available, Jim threw aside the broken iron bar and balled his hand into a fist.

"Mel run!" he yelled as he lashed out at Yama. It was a brave move, but a futile one. Yama simply flicked his hand and sent Jim flying into the wall. As he slumped to the floor, the last sight before unconsciousness claimed him was Melfina running in desperation from Yama.

As she put her fist through the Oni's breastplate, Aisha suddenly heard Jim yell. She turned around just in time to see Jim smacked away by Yama. Jim hadn't even landed before Yama lunged for Mel. Mel ran, but was soon cut off by another three Oni that dropped from the ceiling. Slag, who had just finished off a group of Oni himself, pounced on this new group as he threw them right and left. Not wanting to miss his chance, Yama quickly caught up to Mel and reached for her.

"Get away from her you bastard!" Aisha yelled as she leaped straight for him. She was going to show this so-called "Shogun of Strength" what real strength was. With both the Oni group and Yama occupied, Mel ran to behind one of the columns. Hopefully, she'd be safe there until Aisha finished off Yama. Landing between him and Mel, Aisha extended her claws and raked them across his chest. In addition to their superior strength, Ctarl-Ctarl also had the best claws in the universe. Hers would slash straight through Yama's breastplate and the weak human flesh underneath. But as soon as she did, Aisha felt a searing pain rip through her hand. Stumbling back, Aisha saw that her claws had been broken all the way down to the root. Even more shocking was the fact that Yama had barely even been damaged. His armor had been cut, but his flesh wasn't even scratched.

"Is that supposed to be a love scratch or do you just not like me?" Yama asked in amusement. His smug attitude only increased the white-hot fury she felt. All right you stupid son of a bitch, she thought. I'm going to show you just why the Ctarl-Ctarl are so feared. Ignoring the pain in her hand, Aisha lashed out at the giant man with some of her flashiest moves. With a combination of punches, kicks, and palm strikes; Aisha successfully began to drive Yama away from Mel. All those training sessions with Maz had worked. He had helper her become faster and stronger than she had ever been before. After one particularly fast punch combo, she lashed out with a snap kick straight for Yama's gut. But she overestimated her reach, and Yama caught her leg.

"And you call yourself a fighter!" he snarled. Yanking on her leg, Yama threw her behind him. He then lashed out with a kick straight to her back; the impact driving the breath from her lungs as Yama grabbed her hair ring. Aisha felt the pain in her roots as Yama spun her over his head by her long white hair before slamming her face first into the wall. Crippled by pain, Aisha was left vulnerable when Yama slammed his fist into her head, causing her vision to explode in white hot flash. "I don't have time for this," he said. "So I'll just kill you right now." With her head still swimming in pain, Aisha was unable to prep herself for the coming blow. But luckily for her, help arrived just in time.

Flashing his sword, Mazren slashed the power sources for the Oni group that attacked him. Sheathing the gleaming katana, he frantically searched for any sign of Melfina. Spotting her hiding behind one of the stone columns, he then saw Yama just as he was about crush Aisha's skull, leaving his back completely unguarded. Mazren realized he had to capitalize on Yama's mistake before he killed Aisha. After all, good sparing partners were practically impossible to find.

Leaping into the air, he flipped, extended his leg, and brought his heel straight down onto Yama's shoulder. As Yama stood stunned by the action, Mazren spun in the air, and swung his other heel into Yama's head, knocking him away from Aisha. No sooner had Mazren landed; he charged into Yama and pounded him with a barrage of Thunder Fists. As soon as he was properly tenderized, Mazren then focused all his strength into one final massive Thunder Fist and knocked Yama flat on his back, the shockwave from the impact roaring through the temple, cracking the walls and showering those inside with dust. Looking down at Yama, Mazren breathed in and out with exhaustion. The Thunder Fist Storm, a charged version of Thunder Fist that spread the attack over a wide area, was one of his most powerful attacks. As with most of his techniques, it was created not by using more ki, but by accelerating the flow of ki through a part of his body. But though it enabled him to increase his energy output without using more ki, the strain it put on his body often left Mazren feeling physically exhausted. And as he attempted to use his ki to relieve his fatigue, Yama suddenly moved. No way, he thought. How could he possibly get back up again? Meanwhile, Yama leaned back on his hands and used them to spring back onto his feet. Cracking his neck, Yama flexed his shoulder muscles and smirked at Mazren.

"You skill is impressive," the giant told him. "But certainly not remarkable." Using what little physical strength he had left, Mazren charged his ki and lashed out with another Thunder Fist. But Yama easily caught Mazren's fist and squeezed, sending Mazren to his knees in pain. "I suppose that I'll just have to teach you the same lesson I gave you on Tenrei." Pulling back his leg, Yama drove his knee up and into Mazren's gut. Mazren rose into the air from the impact and Yama smashed his fist into the back of Mazren's neck. Mazren fell, and Yama delivered another swinging knee kick that sent Mazren flying into the wall. The cracks in the wall gave way and Mazren crashed through, landing outside in a pile of debris. How the hell can someone so big move so fast? he wondered. With his body exhausted and his mind still numb from the pain, Mazren was powerless to fight back when Yama reached through the hole. Pulling him back into the temple, Yama threw him against a column on the opposite side. As he slumped to the floor, Mazren looked up to see Yama take flight. The giant then dropped straight towards him, both legs extended out. Yama was only a yard away from impact when something knocked him aside.

After cutting down her Oni attackers, Suzuka turned her attention back towards Yama. She saw him, just as he was about to crush Mazren with a falling dropkick. Raising her sword, Suzuka used the Thunderous Shockwave to knock him out of the air and away from Mazren. No sooner had the giant landed than Suzuka charged him. Unlike Mazren and Aisha, her fighting style was based on speed rather than power. She slashed and cut with her bokuto, her motions a blur as she attacked. Yama was unable to keep up with her speed as he slowly retreated. Deciding to end the fight before any one else was hurt, Suzuka knocked Yama back with another Thunderous Shockwave. She then danced back and raised her bokuto. Snapping it forwards and down, she unleashed a crescent blast of focused air that towards the Shogun of Strength. But Yama flattened and pointed his hand before snapping it out as well. To Suzuka's surprise, the exact same technique was projected from Yama's hand and intercepted hers, blocking it and canceling it out. He can use the Razor Sharp Gust without a weapon? she thought in amazement.

"Very nice technique," Yama told her. "Now allow me to show you one of my favorites." Raising his hand, Yama focused his ki into the muscles in his left arm, causing it to bulge even larger. With a yell, Yama drove his palm into the ground, sending out a seismic wave that roared through the ground towards her. Waiting until the last possible moment, Suzuka jumped out of the way. The shockwave continued on its way and smashed into the wall, knocking down an entire section of the temple. As she landed, Suzuka realized that there was only one possible way for her to win.

"Earth Dragon Wave," she said coolly. "It's nothing special." Yama smirked and raised his ki again, the ground underneath him cracking from his radiated power.

"Than how about this then?" Pulling back his arms, he thrust them out and moved them in a circle, using the Secret Dragon to send a wave of concussive energy towards her. Focusing her senses on Yama's attack, Suzuka snapped her sword across the middle of Yama's wave, neutralizing it instantly. With an opening before her, she dashed towards Yama with blinding speed, ran past him, and unleashed the Crimson technique. Slashing her sword multiple times across Yama, she braked shortly behind him. Crimson was an attack that Suzuka herself had developed. Its whole premise was based on attacking during the brief moment that one's opponent was left open following his or her own attack. It was practically impossible to defend against. Naturally, she was shocked to hear Yama mocking her in laughter. "So that was the famous Crimson Technique of Twilight Suzuka," he said as he turned to face her. "I was expecting more from an Ultra-Class A assassin." Suzuka saw that even though she had easily sliced through his steel armor, the flesh underneath wasn't even damaged. It was then that Suzuka knew that she would never be able to win against the giant fighter. But, that certainly wouldn't stop her from trying. Bringing up her bokuto, she swung at Yama. But Yama punched and the wooden blade splintered on impact. Reaching out, Yama grabbed the stunned Suzuka by her wrists and raised her in front of him. Suzuka kicked at the giant's chest, but Yama didn't even feel it. He pulled Suzuka against him, pinning her against him. "It's a shame to waste a beautiful woman," he said. "But orders are orders." He then began to slowly tighten his grip, and Suzuka screamed as she began to feel her body crushed.

As the last Oni fell from his guns, Gene saw Yama giving Suzuka a bear hug. With only moments to spare, he reloaded his shotgun and fired at the Shogun's head. The cartridges struck home, and Yama let Suzuka go. Expecting him to keel over dead, Gene was surprised to see the giant still standing. He turned to Gene, his eyebrow raised in question of Gene's intelligence.

"Haven't you been watching?" he asked as he stared long and hard at him. With his shotgun useless, Gene drew his pistol and loaded it with a clip of armor pierces. Yama saw what he was doing but made no effort to stop him. All right you arrogant bastard, Gene thought. I'm going to show you what happens to people who screw around with me. Taking aim, Gene fired. But even though the bullets were capable of breaking through steel plating, they just bounced off the giant's skin. Keeping a cool head, Gene took careful aim and fired the last bullet at Yama's eye. But Yama raised his hand and caught it between his fingers. He then flicked it towards Gene and struck his gun, knocking it from his hand. "Lord Shidowkun ordered me not to kill you," Yama told Gene as he rubbed his wrist. "But even my patience has its limits." Gene was left confused by what Yama had said. What did he mean, 'I've been ordered not to kill you?' But that was a moot point at best. The only thing that mattered was making sure Yama didn't make off with Melfina. Pulling his revolver, Gene opened the chamber and loaded it with a single bullet.

"Haven't you been paying attention?" Yama asked. "Your bullets have no effect on me."

"Well," Gene said. "This is a special bullet." Spinning the chamber, Gene aimed and fired. The paint bullet flew out from the revolver's barrel and exploded all over Yama's face. Yama yelled in surprise as the paint flowed over his eyes and blinded him. He flailed about wildly as Gene ducked out of the way and retreated to where Melfina hid behind a column. With Melfina safely behind him and the others clear of harm, Gene reached underneath his coat and pulled out his collapsing rocket launcher. Raising it to his shoulder, Gene targeted Yama and fired. The missile screamed towards Yama and struck him dead in the chest. The temple rocked with the subsequent explosion and Yama was sent flying out of the massive hole that he had previously made. Dropping the rocket launcher, Gene redrew his shotgun and waited for the giant to reappear. When he didn't, Gene dared to hope that they had finally won.

"Gene?" Melfina asked as she peered out from her hiding place.

"Stay there," he told her as he walked over to the hole. Carefully peering out, Gene was greeted by a palm strike to the jaw that sent him to the floor. Looking up, Gene watched as Yama stepped through the hole and planted his foot on his chest. Looking up, Gene saw that Yama hadn't completely escaped the missile attack unscathed. His breastplate, already damaged from the other's attacks, had been completely destroyed. In the center of his chest, where the missile had struck, was a large circular red burn. His face was grimed, and his braided topknot had been blown clear off.

"Haven't you figured it out yet?" he asked. "I am Yama, the Shogun of Strength. My discipline has forged my body to be harder and stronger than diamond." As he taunted Gene, Yama didn't see how Gene had activated the lightshield in his glove.

"Well I'll bet there's one place on your body that you're not diamond hard," Gene said. Balling his fist, Gene then drove it with all of his strength into Yama's crotch. It was an old trick that he had learned a long time ago. By activating a lightshield glove when the fist was closed, one could greatly increase the damages of one's punches. Yama stood stunned for a second before stumbling back off of Gene, his hand clutching his crotch, whining and groaning in pain. As he raised himself back to his feet, Gene threw off the ruined glove. What he did was a great trick, but it completely destroyed the circuitry of the lightshield. With his hand free, he took his other one and rubbed the throbbing knuckles. God damn it that hurt! he silently cursed. It felt as though he had just punched a brick wall. As the others began to get back up to their feet, Gene realized that he had to exploit Yama's temporary weakened state before it was too late. But how? Every weapon he had used had failed except…it was then that Gene had an idea. Drawing his caster, Gene loaded it with another of his number thirteens. After charging it, he fired straight for the big red burn on Yama's chest. The pulsing energy blast struck home and slammed Yama up against the temple wall. When the shell expired its energy, Gene saw that though Yama wasn't dead, the burn on his chest had slightly darkened in color.

"Everyone!" he yelled. "Aim for the burn on his chest! If we keep hammering on it, than it's bound to break!" Hearing his orders, the others readied themselves to attack and charged. It was Mazren who made the first move. Drawing his guns from their holsters, he fired and emptied both clips at the burn. Next was Aisha, who decided to get up close and personal. She jumped in front of Yama and pounded onto his chest, her blows echoing throughout the temple.

"Suzuka," Mazren yelled as he tossed his katana to her. Suzuka accepted his blade and used it to send shockwave after shockwave into Yama. After suffering each of their successive attacks, the giant sank to his feet. It was then that Gene decided to end it right there and then.

"Pick him up and throw him over here!" he ordered as he loaded a number four into his caster. Aisha and Mazren ran up to Yama and grabbed him by his arms. They pulled the weakened Shogun to his feet and threw him towards Gene. Gene charged the number four as high as he could, and then fired straight at Yama. From out of the barrel, charged by Gene's new caster, was a black energy orb the size of a softball. Hopefully, Yama would be too weak to resist it. The black ball flew towards Yama and struck him dead on. Black lightning shot out from the ball and slowly started to pull Yama into its void. Yama struggled, but was obviously losing his fight. Go ahead and try to fight it, Gene thought amused. But we've got this thing won. But just then, Yama pulled off the impossible. With a mighty roar, he yanked himself free and shattered the black hole. Shocked beyond speaking, Gene didn't know what to think. So much for the unstoppable number four shells. But hopefully, the energy needed for something like that had completely exhausted Yama. The other decided to chance it. Leaping straight for Yama, Mazren drew two of his knives, Suzuka aimed the katana Mazren had loaned her, and Aisha extended her claws. They were inches from contact when the Shogun defended. Spinning like a cyclone, he kicked Suzuka in the stomach, palm struck Aisha in the chin, and then knocked back Mazren with a clothesline. They all fell to the ground and lay still. Reaching for his bullet belt, Gene tried to draw another of his number fours. But Yama saw what he was doing and leapt upon him in a flash. Grabbing Gene's left arm, he pulled it straight while his other arm wrapped around his throat in a headlock.

"I warned you not to interfere," Yama reminded him. "Though I can not kill you, I do think that a punishment is in order." He then squeezed Gene's arm and twisted until it popped out of the socket. The ligaments and muscle fibers were torn free, sending pain that seared like fire throughout his entire body. Gene screamed and convulsed, he could neither move nor feel his left arm. Yama then moved on to his other arm and prepared to dislocate that one as well when unexpected help arrived in the form of Slag. While the others had busied themselves with Yama, the big wolf had stayed by Melfina's side. He leapt onto the giant's back, his jaws hooked into Yama's neck. Yama stumbled and flailed as he attempted to throw the wolf off. But Slag dug in and maintained his footing. As Yama wrestled with his new attacker, Gene lay still on the ground. The pain that coursed from his arm and through his entire body paralyzed him. It was worse than anything that he had ever felt before. As he lay, he looked up to see a small figure standing above him.

"Gene," Melfina said. "Don't worry. I'll get you to safety." Even though she was in danger of being caught, she had come out from her hiding place to help him. He tried to tell her to forget about him, to run away and escape; but all that escaped his lips was an anguished hiss of breath. Melfina leaned down and pulled, attempting to drag him away and being careful not to touch his destroyed shoulder. They had almost made it back to behind the column when something yanked her away. Looking up, Gene saw that Yama had grabbed Melfina and tucked her underneath his massive arm. Melfina struggled and beat her fists against Yama's side, but the giant's grip remained unyielding. Slag, who had been thrown off of Yama, charged the giant; but was intercepted by another three Oni that dropped from the ceiling. With his only threat distracted, Yama began to make his escape with Melfina. Even though his body was wracked with pain, Gene struggled to his feet. The others were still down and out. He was the only one who had a chance to save Melfina before it was too late. He staggered toward Yama; his arm hanging twisted and limp.

"You bastard!" he wheezed. "Let her go!" But though his will was strong, his body wasn't. Halfway towards them, his legs failed him as he passed the altar. Gene's hand reached out for anything that he could use to catch himself, closing around the handle of the Ryunoken Sword.

And then, white fire seared his mind.

Sitting in the driver's seat of his transport, Yama's attendant waited for his master to return with the android girl. Most of the Oni had accompanied the Shogun of Strength up the mountain. Five had remained at the mountain's base with the attendant, scattered and invisible. Above him, the Sword's temple rocked and shook from the titanic battle being raged within it. Occasionally, some powerful attack would knock out an entire section of the cone shaped structure's wall. Though Yama was taking longer than had been expected, his attendant wasn't worried in the least. As the Shogun of Strength, Yama was the mightiest fighter in the entire Toku Pirate Guild. His strength was invincible, his skill surpassed only by Lord Shidowkun, the Toku Emperor. He would return any minute with the android girl, and then they would bring her directly to Shidowkun. And then, the attendant thought with a cold smile, all the years of waiting and planning will come to fruition. Gene Starwind has played his role perfectly, just as the Emperor expected.

As he sat in his musings, one of the Oni suddenly materialized. It leapt to the hood of the transport and, its soulless eyes locked on something in the jungle. Wondering what the problem was, the attendant received his answer when something flashed out of the trees. The object, which looked like some kind of tri-claw at the end of a chain, impaled the Oni and yanked him into the branches. The attendant, caught off guard by the attack, fell back into his chair and almost out of the transport. Fumbling to regain his balance, the attendant realized that the Dragon Clan was upon them.

"Oni, attack!" he yelled. At his command, the Oni deactivated their invisibility shields and began to morph their hands. As they did, four ninjas appeared out of the jungle undergrowth. The warriors drew their swords and quickly decapitated the mute creatures. With his protectors rendered useless, the attendant attempted to escape when something dropped down from the tree branches above him. To his surprise, he saw a powerfully built man with an auburn beard and the tri-claw hand that had dispatched the first Oni standing on the transport's hood. The one handed man pulled back his good hand and punched through the reinforced plastic of the windshield. Grabbing on to the attendant, the man pulled him through the windshield and threw him out of the transport. Landing on his back, the attendant attempted to pull out the small revolver that he carried in his robes, but was stopped when another attacker stepped down on his hand. Looking up, the attendant saw an athletic young girl standing above him. The girl looked down on him and smirked in triumph.

"I wouldn't if I were you," she told him. He normally wouldn't have surrendered to a woman, but most women didn't have two sharpened sai daggers pointing right at his head. When she saw that the attendant didn't plan to retaliate, the girl took her foot off his wrist and allowed two of the ninjas to pull him to his feet. The armored warriors threw him against the side of the transport and pinned his arms. As the others surrounded him, the bearded man and the girl stepped aside as a man wearing a robe and holding a golden staff walked up to him. Based on the briefing Yama had given him, the attendant knew that this had to be the often-mentioned patriarch of the Dragon Clan. The man carefully looked him over before addressing him.

"You are one of the invaders who previously came to this world are you not?" the wise man asked.

"You might say that?" the attendant smirked. The Dragon Clan were powerful warriors, but the Toku attack forces that had previously come to this world were merely tests of their strength. They would be no match for Lord Yama. He would have to keep them busy until the Shogun of Strength returned with the android girl. Then these primitives would learn why the Toku were so feared.

"Where is you leader?" the wise man demanded. "I highly doubt that a weakling like you could possibly be in charge here." The attendant shrugged his shoulder and feigned ignorance.

"Who can say," he replied. "But I doubt that you could possibly be a match for him. If I were you, I would leave before he returns. My lord does not look kindly on interference." The girl raised her eyebrow in question and leaned towards the bearded man beside her.

"Hey dad?" she asked. "What is it with these guys? Are they always this stupid?" The attendant was about to answer the girl's question when a sound like thunder drew their attention skyward. When they saw that there was no storm clouds overhead, they looked up to the temple.

"NO!" the attendant screamed. Pouring out of the crevices and holes in the temple were streams of roaring blue light. Something was happening, something that shouldn't.

"Master Jubei!" the bearded man yelled in shock. "What's happening? What's going on?" But the wise man didn't answer. He stood silently, transfixed by the sight. After a brief moment, he turned to his followers.

"Tyr!" he yelled. "You and two of the others come with me. Keibara, you and the rest stay here and keep him from escaping!"

"But wait a minute!" the girl yelled. "What's going on?" But the wise man didn't answer. Leading the way, he, the bearded warrior, and two of the ninjas ran up the steps that led up to the temple. The attendant though, knew exactly what was going on. He also realized that he had no choice in what he should do next. As the girl and the remaining ninjas watched their associates disappear up the steps, he grit his teeth and cracked the capsule implanted in his back tooth.

Melfina desperately struggled to free herself from Yama's iron grip. From her hiding place, she had watched helplessly as Gene and the others fought a losing battle against the giant fighter. But when Yama had broken Gene's shoulder, Melfina knew that she had to do something. When Slag attacked Yama, Melfina ran out and tried to drag Gene to safety. But Yama saw what she was doing, threw Slag off and grabbed her. No, please! her mind yelled. Let me go! Don't take me away from Gene!

But just as Yama was about to escape the temple, Melfina's prayers were answered. From behind her, something exploded in a flash of roaring blue light. Yama turned around and they both saw the source. Beside the altar in the temple's center was Gene, his hand grasping the Ryunoken Sword. His body hovered limp in the air while flaming blue light encased his body. As Melfina watched, Gene slowly rose higher into the air. The Sword rose with him, and eventually slipped free of the altar where it was impaled. Once it was out, the Sword began to glow with a white light and began to melt and flow over Gene, encasing his entire body with a shell of light.

"No!" Melfina heard Yama yell in fear. "This isn't supposed to happen yet." Oh Gene, Melfina thought, what's happening to you? Gradually, the glow began to disappear. It absorbed itself into Gene's body and healed all of his wounds. The arm that Yama had dislocated turned and reattached itself into the shoulder joint. As soon as the white glow had been completely absorbed, Gene lowered gently back down to the ground. But even though the white glow was gone, blue fire continued to radiate off of him. Gene opened his eyes, and Melfina saw that his eyes were no longer their usual warm and dark blue. Instead, they burned with an intense white light. On the other side of the temple, the others started to pick themselves up, only to be greeted by the awesome and terrifying sight.

"Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!" Aisha shrieked in terror. "What the hell's going on?" Mazren and Suzuka remained silent, their eyes wide in shock. It was then that the Oni group that had been fighting Slag decided to act. One of them extended its hands into claws and charged straight for Gene, but Gene didn't even bother to move. As the lone Oni raised its claws to strike him down, Gene pulled back his fist and backhanded the creature. The hit struck dead on and the Oni exploded in a shower of dust. As it did, the other Oni jumped straight for him. Gene raised his gaze to the Oni and fired crackling energy rays from his eyes. The power struck the Oni in the lead and then spread to the other two. They hung frozen in mid-air before they too disintegrated. With the Oni destroyed, Gene switched his attention to Yama. He opened his mouth, and spoke with a voice of pure thunder.

"LET HER GO!" Terrified, Yama released Melfina and she dropped to the ground. Pushing herself up, Melfina watched as Yama stood frozen in horror.

"This can't be happening!" he yelled as his hands grasped his had. "It's not time yet!" Melfina was confused by what the giant meant, until she remembered Yama saying that he had been ordered not to kill Gene. Was this part of the Toku's plan? Did the Toku intend for them to awaken the Ryunoken Sword? But if so, how did Gene manage to do it? But there was no time to for answers now. Gene was already leisurely walking towards them. In desperation, Yama launched himself straight for Gene. Gene met him head on, and the giant fighter launched into a fury of blows. His punches shook the temple to its foundation, but Gene didn't even seem to feel them. Seeing that his attacks weren't working, Yama pulled back his left fist and prepared to unleash all of his strength in one attack. He swung, but Gene raised his hand and caught it before it could make contact. And then, Gene pulled back his arm, pointed his hand, and drove it straight through the red circle on Yama's chest. Melfina watched in horror as Yama coughed up blood and looked down to where Gene had impaled him. As she and the others watched, Gene raised his arm and lifted the giant with ease. With a yell, Gene fired an energy blast from his hand right into Yama, lifting him off of Gene's hand and sending him screaming to the roof of the temple. Yama crashed through the roof and continued to soar off into the sky before the power that lifted him exploded. Melfina knew then that she and the others had seen the last of Yama, the invincible Shogun of Strength.

Out of the corner of her eye, Melfina saw that the blue fire that encased Gene was starting to disappear. As it did, Gene's eyes returned to normal, and his shoulders slumped in exhaustion. He fell to his knees, and then collapsed to the ground where he lay motionless.

"Gene!" Melfina yelled as she rose to her feet. Running over to him, Melfina kneeled down to Gene's side. She cradled his head in her lap and gently caressed his red hair with her small hands. "Gene! Gene please wake up!" she begged as tears filled her eyes. What did the Sword do to him? As she held him, Gene suddenly stirred. With a weakened groan, he opened his eyes and looked up to her.

"Melfina?"

"Oh Gene," she said as a wave of relief washed through her. "I'm so glad that you're all right." As she continued to hold him, the others slowly walked up to them. Mazren, Aisha, and Suzuka limped slightly, while Slag allowed Jim to lean on him for support. They were all battered and bruised, but luckily, no one was seriously hurt.

"Did anyone get the number of that truck?" Jim moaned as he limped over.

"Would someone please tell me just what the hell happened here?" Mazren asked as Gene leaned up.

"What the hell are you asking me for?" Gene asked back.

"Don't you remember Gene?" Melfina asked.

"No," he groaned as his hand went to his forehead. "I remember grabbing something, and then everything went white."

"Well since you don't remember," Suzuka said as Melfina helped him up, "I'll tell you. You touched the Sword, you absorbed it into yourself, and then killed Yama with only a minimal effort."

"What are you talking about?" Gene asked as Melfina supported his weight on her petite frame. "The Sword's right whe…" and Gene stopped as he saw that the Sword was no longer stuck in the altar. Melfina watched as Gene looked all over the temple, only to realize that the Sword was nowhere to be found. When he looked down to her, Melfina could only nod to say that what Suzuka said was the truth. "I think I need to sit down for a minute." Melfina nodded and helped Gene over to the altar. He sat down and wiped his brow with his right hand, and Melfina saw something that grabbed her attention.

"Gene," she said. "Your hand." Gene turned his hand over and his eyes widened at what he saw. On the back of his hand was the crest of a dragon coiled into an S shape, the symbol of the Leyline. Mazren and the others came for a closer look as the sound of footsteps drew their attention towards the temple's door. They all turned around and were greeted to the sight of Jubei, Tyr, and two of the Dragon Clan's ninjas. Entering the temple, they stood motionless as they surveyed the destruction around them.

"What happened here?" Tyr asked.

"We got attacked," Aisha answered. "That's what." It was then that Jubei noticed how the Sword was missing from the altar. Walking up to Gene, he shook the chimes on his staff and examined him.

"Did you awaken the Sword?" the wise man asked. Gene took a deep breath as he considered his answer.

"Well," he said after a brief pause, "I can't remember exactly, but according to what everyone else says, I guess I did." Melfina watched as Jubei reached out his hand, examined the crest that had appeared on Gene's hand, nodded; then he, Tyr, and the other two ninjas dropped to their knees in respect. "Um, what are you guys doing?" Gene asked. Jubei's answer was to clasp Gene's arm with his.

"For many years," the wise man said, "I have kept the Sword safe from the grasp of darkness. And finally, a new master has come to claim it. As patriarch of the Dragon Clan, I hereby pledge our loyalty to you. We are your servants…Swordwielder."

(Gene Starwind has been revealed as the Swordwielder. But is he capable of using the awesome power of the Ryunoken Sword? Or will it prove too much of a responsibility for him to handle? The Ronin certainly hopes that he will. Because next up to bat is Mako, the Shogun of Mind, whose deadly psychic powers enable him to strike down his prey from the other side of galaxy. So be here next time. Same Outlaw-time. Same Outlaw-website. Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 10
Chapter 12

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