Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Inner Demon ( Chapter 12 )

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

CHAPTER 12:
Inner Demon
(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.)
Looking down at Jubei, Gene didn't know what to think. All this was happening way too fast for him. "Now just wait a minute," he said as he pulled his hand away. "I think that you've got the wrong guy Jubei."
"I assure you that I do not," the Wiseman told him. "You are the Swordwielder. I could sense the potential in you at our first meeting. And now, it has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt." Gene wasn't sure that he was getting through.
"Look," he said, "I don't even remember what happened. I just grabbed the Sword and when I woke up, Yama was gone, I had a splitting headache, and there was this weird tattoo on my hand."
"That's not surprising," Tyr said. "From what Jubei has told me, all the previous Swordwielders suffered similar conditions when they first used the Sword."
"Don't you get it?" Gene asked. "I'm not supposed to be the Swordwielder. That's Mazren's job. This is supposed to be HIS sword!"
"If it was," Jubei told him, "than the Sword would have chosen him as its master. But it didn't, so he is not."
"All right," Mazren said as he walked over. "What the hell is going on here? I'm one of the strongest fighters in the galaxy. If I couldn't use the Sword, then how the hell did Starwind pull it off?" But Jubei ignored his question as he and his clansmen rose to their feet.
"I will gladly tell you later as to why you could never hope to master the Sword," Jubei answered. "But for now, let us leave this place and return to our clan's home. You have all been through a most grievous battle. We will heal your wounds and restore your strength. And when night comes, we will have a feast in your honor where the Dragon Clan will officially pledge their loyalty to your banner."
"Um," Gene said, "thanks but I really don't think something like that's necessary."
"You needn't think it an inconvenience," Tyr told him. "Our clan serves the Sword, and now we will serve its master."
"That would be preferable given the circumstances," Suzuka said. "We may have the Ryunoken Sword now, but one can never have too many allies."
"Especially if the next guy turns out to be even stronger than Yama," Jim said as he walked over, bracing himself on Slag's back. Gene looked to his young friend and saw that his eye was swollen shut from a bruise that covered over half his face. Leaving Gene's side, Melfina walked over to Jim and kneeled down to him.
"Are you in any pain Jim?" she asked. "That was a really nasty hit that you took."
"I'll be all right," he assured her. "I'm sorry that I lost so easily to that big jerk." Melfina smiled at Jim and gently caressed his bruise with her slender fingers.
"You did great Jim," she told him. "Thank you for protecting me." Jim just blushed and laughed nervously.
"Well, now that it's over," Aisha said. "Let's go have that feast. I'm so hungry, I could eat two of those dinosaur things we saw."
"I can assure you that we'll have all that and more when it's ready," Jubei told her. Gene watched as Aisha began salivating at the thought of what she had been promised. "But for now, let us take you home. You've all fought valiantly, and you deserve a rest." As Jubei, Tyr and the two ninjas exited the temple, the others followed after them. Gene however remained sitting on the altar, still trying to make sense of what had just happened.
"Gene?" he heard Melfina ask. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he answered, not looking up to meet her gaze. "You go join the others. I'll catch up later."
"All right," she said sadly. Gene listened to her footsteps as she left. Melfina could obviously tell that he was upset and wanted to comfort him, but he needed to be alone for now. Raising his right hand, he studied the dragon crest on it's back. None of this makes any sense, he thought. I can't be the Swordwielder. It's impossible. It's got to be some kind of fluke. Yeah, that's it. The Sword made a mistake. I'll just ask Jubei to take it out of me, and then I'll give it to Mazren. With his spirits raised by his conclusion, Gene stood up and walked out of the temple. If he didn't hurry, the others would leave without him.
"You wished to see me Lord Shidowkun?" Mako asked. Standing in the throne room of the Emperor's fortress, the Shogun of Mind awaited his master's orders. As with his previous meeting, the Emperor didn't turn to face him, but remained staring out the enormous observation window. behind his throne. However, this time it seemed that the meeting wasn't going to be private. In addition to Karg who stood behind Mako, there were several other members of Shidowkun's court present. To Mako's right stood Xanax, captain of Shidowkun's personal cruiser, The Damocles Sword. Although short and a fairly weak fighter, Xanax was well respected throughout the entire Toku guild as a master tactician. To his left was Hisho, the Emperor's personal attendant and majordomo. An extremely important individual, Hisho handled the day-to-day operations of the Toku's workings while Shidowkun handled more pressing issues. On the platform in front of Mako, her back leaning against the Emperor's throne, stood Aeslea, leader of the Emperor's assassins and Shidowkun's personal concubine. Tall and voluptuous, her short, white-streaked black hair and fierce violet eyes gave her a hungry and feral look. A master of both killing and seduction, she was perhaps the most dangerous person in the entire Toku guild. Her role as Shidowkun's lapdoll gave her favors and influence with the Emperor that exceeded even that of the Shoguns. Around her arms and seductive curves was wrapped a scarlet sash that was Aeslea's weapon of choice in combat. Although made of the most priceless silk, in Aeslea's hands it could become as hard as steel or as sharp as a razor.
"Indeed I did," Shidowkun answered as he gestured for Hisho to speak.
"Ten minutes ago," the majordomo said, "Lord Shidowkun sensed the death of Yama, the Shogun of Strength." The news took Mako by surprise. The death of Askared at the hands of Mazren the Wolf was most distressing. The scenario that Shidowkun had planned had no mention of that. Luckily, Shidowkun had sent Yama after the android girl. Where Haykon, the McDougal brothers, and even Askared had failed, Yama was certain to succeed. But if he had truly failed, than that could only mean one thing.
"My lord," Mako asked, "has Gene Starwind awakened the Sword?"
"Very good Mako," Aeslea replied. "As always, you are able to figure out the pathetically obvious." Though his face remained calm and emotionless, Mako's blood boiled at Aeslea's smug attitude.
"That is enough Aeslea," Shidowkun said from his throne. "Though this situation is not what I hoped for, I have allowed for the possibility that this would occur. Mako, it is now your turn. You are free to use any methods you deem necessary, but do not kill either Gene Starwind or the android girl." The Shogun of Mind bowed in accordance.
"As you wish my lord," he replied. With his orders clear, Mako turned and left. Much would have to be done before he could begin.
Leaning on to Slag, Jim slowly limped down the stairs to the base of the mountain. His face was throbbing from his bruise, his left eye was swollen shut, and his ears were ringing so loud that he couldn't hear a single thing. Yama had only used a fraction of his strength, but Jim felt as though he had been run over by a bulldozer. Guess I should be lucky that he didn't use all of his strength, he thought as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw Aisha with a worried look on his face. She was bruised and bloodstained from a small gash on her head, but her Ctarl-Ctarl strength allowed her to walk without any help.
"Hold on a minute Jim," she said. "Hey Jubei, come back here a minute." Tyr, who walked behind Jubei, turned around and glared angrily at her.
"Master Jubei is not a house servant," he told her. "When you speak to him, address him as Master Jubei." But Jubei, who was a little more patient than Tyr, pushed past him and walked up to Aisha.
"Yes?" he asked.
"That healing thing that you did to Suzu's ankle," Aisha said as she pointed at Jim, "you think that you could do that to Jim as well." Jubei smiled gently and kneeled down so that he was eye level with Jim.
"Of course," he answered.
"Hey Aisha," Jim said, "don't worry about me. You should ask Jubei to heal you instead."
"Don't be ridiculous Jim," she told him. "We Ctarl-Ctarl do fine by ourselves. Besides, I can still walk without help." Jim started to say something else, but a glance from Aisha shut him up. He knew that arguing with Aisha when she had made up her mind was pointless; so he gave it up and allowed Jubei to heal him. Jim watched as the Wiseman laid his hand on his bruise and began to chant, a sudden warmth beginning to accumulate in his cheek. The warmth seemed to permeate through his entire face, banishing the throbbing to oblivion.
"There you are," Jubei said as he removed his hand. With the pain gone, Jim blinked his eye open and took his hand off of Slag's back.
"Wow thanks," Jim said. He felt great, as if he hadn't just been knocked around by an eight-foot tall monster.
"You're quite welcome my young friend," Jubei said as he stood up.
"That's quite an interesting technique," Suzuka said as she and Mazren walked over. "Do you think that you could teach it to me?"
"It depends," the wise man told her as he continued his way down the mountain.
"Depends on what?" Suzuka asked.
"On whether or not you're willing to spend three years of your life learning it," he answered as he disappeared around the corner.
"Well so much for that," Jim heard Suzuka sigh as they all hurried to catch up to Jubei and his followers. As he descended the mountain, Jim found his gaze going up to Mazren. The big man's shoulders were tensed, and his face was even angrier than usual. Jim could only guess that Mazren had really wanted to be the swordwielder. But since Gene had beaten him to the punch, it really must have disappointed him. Jim just hoped that Mazren wouldn't let his jealousy distract him from their objective to protect Melfina.
"Say Tyr," Aisha suddenly called out. "Just how did you guys know to come here anyway?" Jim switched his attention over from Mazren to Tyr. He wanted to know the answer himself.
"One of our patrol parties discovered tracks caused by a hover vehicle in the jungle," the bearded warrior said. "We followed them, and they led us here. When we arrived, we took the servant of the one who attacked you captive. At the moment, Keibara and two of our other warriors are standing guard over him. Tomorrow, we will interrogate him, and then have him take us to his ship. We will then strip it of anything that we can use before sending him on his way."
"You mean that you're just going to let him go?" Jim asked.
"The Dragon Clan does not kill indiscriminately," Tyr replied. "Only when it is necessary."
"But don't you think that maybe he would return with even more of the Toku?" Suzuka asked.
"It is possible," Tyr said. "If he chooses to return, despite our warnings not to, then we will kill him. But for now, we will show him mercy." Jim thought about what Tyr had said before he understood. The Dragon Clan lived by an iron code of conduct and battle. It may have left them at a disadvantage against those who didn't, but it was the thing that separated them from guys like the Toku. As they walked, Jim heard the sound of footsteps approach from behind them. He turned and saw Melfina walking towards them.
"Where's Gene Mel?" Aisha asked.
"He said that he needed to be by himself," Melfina told them.
"Guess I can't blame him," Jim said. "This whole thing is a little much too swallow at once." As they neared the bottom of the steps, Jim saw how the Toku had followed them to the temple. Parked on the side of the mountainside opposite the river was what looked like two large troop carriers; the kind that the Federal Space Forces used for ground campaigns. The Toku had managed to keep them from being spotted by using a camouflage mesh net. By the side of one, Jim saw Keibara and two other of the Dragon Clans' ninjas standing around something. As soon as they reached the mountain's base, Jubei and Tyr slightly increased their pace and walked towards Keibara's group.
"Keibara!" Tyr called out to his daughter. "What happened? Where is the prisoner?"
"See for yourselves," Keibara said as she stepped aside. Jim and the others walked over, and saw a man lying on the ground. He was dressed in a fine robe ordained with a manji symbol on the chest. His eyes were glazed over, and his face was twisted into a look of frozen anguish. Jim could tell right away that the man was dead.
"What happened Keibara?" Jubei asked as he looked over the corpse.
"When you, Dad, and the others went up the mountain," Keibara said, "this guy cracked a capsule implanted in his back tooth. It must have been full of some kind of really strong poison. His whole body suddenly spasmed and then fell over dead." Jubei nodded as he hummed in thought.
"He chose to commit suicide rather than to return in failure," the Wiseman said. "But obviously more out of fear than shame."
"This is a fine situation," Tyr said. "Those tracks will have disappeared by now. How are we going to find their ship now?"
"Allow me," Jim said as he stepped past them. Opening the door of one of the transports, Jim climbed into the driver seat and began typing at the control console.
"What are you doing Jim?" Melfina asked.
"The onboard computer for this kind of transport has an autopilot program," Jim said. "If I can unlock its memory files, then I can trace it back to its point of origin."
"Jim you're a genius!" Aisha exclaimed. It was then that Keibara leaned over to her.
"Must be pretty cool to have a genius for a boyfriend," she said with a grin.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Aisha asked. "Jim and I are just friends. Besides, I'm nineteen and he's twelve."
"That so?" Keibara teased. "You two seem pretty close for just friends." Aisha's eyes widened and her thin facial fur began to stand on end.
"Do you really like Jim Aisha?" Melfina asked.
"NOOOO!" Aisha screamed, causing Melfina to jump back slightly. Jim just ignored their little scene as he continued to work at the transport's computer. After almost a year of travelling with a ship of possibly the weirdest crew ever assembled, he was used to it.
"Got it!" he finally said. "According to this, their ship landed on an island just off the continent's coast, roughly 100 kilometers to the east."
"Well done lad," Tyr praised, slapping Jim on the back hard enough to send him flying to the dashboard. "Tomorrow, we will depart for the ship on these transports. And it's all thanks to you."
"No problem." Jim said as he pushed himself back up. "Say Tyr, when you go, do you think that I could come along. There's a specific piece of Toku technology that I'd like to get my hands on."
"Of course," the bearded warrior replied. "We could certainly use your help in stripping it."
"Say Dad?" Keibara suddenly asked. "Just what the heck happened up there anyway?"
"It was the Sword," Jubei answered. "It has been awakened."
"No kidding?" she asked. She then strolled over to Mazren and punched him in the arm. "Way to go. I knew that you could do it big guy." Mazren didn't bother to answer. He stood silent as his face twisted even deeper with anger.
"Um, is something wrong?" Keibara asked.
"Mazren isn't the one who awakened the Sword," Suzuka told her.
"Really?" Keibara asked. But just then, Tyr's daughter noticed that there was one person missing. "No way!" she said as the realization hit her. "Are you trying to say that skinny guy with the red hair did it?"
"I'm not skinny. I'm slim," a voice said behind them. Jim and the others turned and saw Gene walking towards them.
"Whatever," the warrior girl said. "In any case, I guess that you aren't so much of a weakling after all."
"Now Keibara, leave him alone," Tyr told his daughter. "He may not be much now, but he will learn to use his full powers in time."
"Um about those powers," Gene said. But Jubei raised his hand and interrupted him.
"Yes I know Swordwielder," the Wiseman said. "You needn't worry. You have my promise to help you in learning to master your new abilities."
"And I will instruct you in how to use them in battle," Tyr said.
"All of the Dragon Clan will aid you," Jubei said. "But all that can wait until later. For now, you will rest. And then we shall celebrate your coming." Gene looked like he wanted to say something else, but his shoulders just slumped and he stood quiet. Jim had seen his aniki look that way before, whenever they had to do one of those so-called chump-jobs that Gene hated so much. "Come now," Jubei said as he and the other clansmen boarded into the other transport. "These will enable us to return to our clan's home quickly. We must inform the others of this news immediately." Jim watched as Gene, Suzuka, Mel, and Aisha joined them. He however, decided to stay in his transport.
"Aren't you coming Jim?" Melfina asked.
"I'm going back to the ship," he answered. "If we're going to be staying here for a while, than I'm going to need to get some things from the Outlaw Star."
"Wait up Jim," Aisha said as she jumped out of the transport. "I'll go with you."
"Trying to get him alone in the jungle are you," Keibara accused.
"NO I'M NOT!" Aisha screamed as her long white hair stood completely on end. Jim just sat motionless, hoping that the others wouldn't see him blushing. The most that he thought of Aisha was a really good friend. Still, the thought of her putting the moves on him wasn't an idea that he found completely unpleasant. "I just thought that he might like some help!"
"If you say so Aisha," Suzuka said with a slight smile.
"Suzu!" Aisha gasped. "I can't believe that someone like you would say that!"
"They say that those who love to dish it out can never take it," the lady assassin coolly replied. Aisha just stuck her nose in the air as she walked over and climbed into the passenger seat beside Jim.
"Aren't you coming Mazren?" Jim heard Melfina ask. Jim turned around in his seat and saw that both Mel's brother and Slag still hadn't gotten onto the transport with the rest of them.
"Someone needs to bring the boat back," he said as he turned around. He walked back towards the river with Slag padding behind him.
"There's no need for you to do that," Jubei called out to him. "I could ask one of our warriors to do it instead." But Mazren ignored him as he and Slag boarded on to the boat and pushed off from the dock.
"Mazren," Melfina called out.
"Just leave him alone for now Melfina," Suzuka told her. "I think that he needs some time to himself." Jim saw Melfina's face sadden as she watched her brother disappear down the river and towards the fortress of the Dragon Clan.
"Now then," Tyr said as he started up the engines for his transport, "let's go home." To Jim's surprise, Tyr guided the hover vehicle off the ground and drove it expertly over the jungle terrain. After he watched the others depart, Jim turned on the engines of his own vehicle and aimed it in the direction of the plateau where they had landed the Outlaw Star.
"The nerve of that girl," he heard Aisha huff in indignation. "Suggesting that I would take advantage of a kid." Jim ignored Aisha as he piloted the transport back towards the ship. As they traveled, Jim's mind kept showing him that look of reluctance he had seen on Gene's face. Ever since Jim had met him, Gene had a habit of shirking responsibility. Jim just hoped that Gene wouldn't do it again with the Ryunoken Sword.
Standing outside of Mako's quarters, Naga was waiting. His sunken eyes flitted over the hall, analyzing its design. With the former Toku Emperors, their strongholds had been done in the style of traditional Japanese architecture. But after Shidowkun ascended to power, he had contracted the building of a new, much more secure central base. Built out of a combination of advanced poly-alloys and ceramic composites, its functions were completely automated and were connected to the Toku's personal computer system. Still, despite its emphasis on efficiency, Shidowkun's fortress wasn't entirely without aesthetics. The ceilings were high and buttressed, and the hallway walls were decorated with silken tapestries. Some depicted historic battles; others showed samurai fighting a variety of different monsters. Between each tapestry was an ornately carved and painted dragon statue. Beside him, a sliding paper door sealed the entrance to Mako's quarters. The guest quarters of the fortress were the most distinct remembrance of the Toku's Japanese origins. As Naga studied the contours of a statue across from him, the sound of footsteps drew his attention towards a hall intersection to his left. To his delight, he saw none other than Mako come around the corner. But Mako did not share the pleasure of seeing Naga. As soon as he saw him, Mako's face contorted into loathing disgust.
"So Mako, you are the next one to challenge Gene Starwind," Naga said in his hissing rasp. "I must admit. I do feel a sense of jealousy."
"Stand aside Tao Master," Mako growled. "And do not bother me with your pleasantries." Under his hood, Naga smiled in pleasure. He always enjoyed the hatred that his fellow Shoguns displayed towards him. It was a clear indication of the fear that he sowed among them.
"Now, now Mako," the Shogun of Magic said. "Lord Shidowkun does not condone fighting among us." Mako set his jaw as his eyes flamed. Playing on the insecurities of these poor fools is a pleasure that I never tire of, Naga thought in amusement. As he delighted in the fury he caused in Mako, the Shogun of Mind moved closer to him; close enough for Naga to count the hairs in his Manchurian mustache and beard.
"I am not fooled by your empty flattery Tao Master," Mako said. "And neither is Lord Shidowkun. The Emperor gives rewards to those whose victories bring him honor, not to boot-lickers who constantly scheme for their own benefit. I do not know what it is that you plan, but once Lord Shidowkun has obtained the Sword, I vow to dedicate all my energies to uncovering your schemes and exposing them to the Emperor." With a wave of his hand, Mako shoved Naga aside as he opened the sliding paper door and disappeared into his quarters.
Staring at the doorway a while longer, the Shogun of Magic broke out into hissing laughter. If only Mako and the recently departed Askared and Yama knew what Naga was really planning.
The rest of the day pretty much went without incident. Which was probably a good thing, since Mazren's anger at what had happened hadn't diminished in the least. What the hell happened out there? His mind screamed. That was supposed to be MY sword! I'm the Guardian of the Leyline! That makes me Melfina's guardian as well! The Ryunoken Sword was supposed to be used by me! How the hell did Starwind pull it off?
By the time he and Slag returned with the Dragon Clan's boat, Jubei and the clan's healers had already attended to the wounds of the others. As they were going to stay until Starwind learned to master the Sword's abilities, living quarters had been provided. Jim and Aisha arrived shortly after Mazren, bringing the supplies they had taken from the Outlaw Star. Among them were spare clothes for them all, Mazren's weapons bag, Jim's computer, a personal generator, Gillium's pink maintenance robot, and Aisha's love simulation game. And as night fell, the feast to celebrate the coming of the Swordwielder began.
The Dragon Clan certainly put a lot of effort into this feast, Melfina thought as she returned to her seat with her plate of food. Beside her lay her cloak, neatly folded and placed on a pillow. Melfina always removed her cloak when she ate; it made the act less difficult. As she ate, she studied the main hall of the Dragon Clan's fortress. Situated in the center of the first level, the large room had been converted by the Dragon Clan into a meeting and dining room. Running through the center of the hall was a wide table that ran almost the full length of the large room. Piled high on the table were a variety of exotic dishes that the Dragon Clan had prepared in celebration of the Sword's awakening. Among the food present were bowls of steamed rice and vegetables, buns made from local grain, sliced fruit, and what looked like whole roasted crocodiles. On each side of the table were ten smaller tables where all two hundred members of the Dragon Clan sat on leather pillows and ate. Along the walls, lanterns cast their torchlight across the hieroglyphics. To Melfina, the flickering light seemed to make the intricate carvings dance in the shadows.
After she finished looking over the hall, Melfina then turned her attention to the others. She, Gene, and Jim sat at the far left end while Suzuka, Aisha, and Mazren sat at the far right end. As usual, Aisha was inhaling anything that was placed in front of her. As soon as she finished off one course, she would leave for the buffet table and return with four more servings. Melfina had at first worried that Aisha would eat the Dragon Clan out of house and home. But since the Dragon Clan included both Saurian and Ctarl-Ctarl members in their ranks, they had prepared an extra large feast. Aisha's monstrous appetite hardly even put a dent in the overall food supply. Behind Mazren lay Slag, gnawing on a hunk of meat that had been given to him. In the table's center sat Jubei, his staff standing straight up in a notch in the floor. To his right sat Tyr and Keibara while Korde sat to his left. Unlike the rest of the Dragon Clan, their table was separate from the rest. It was situated on a raised platform that looked out over the other members.
As she continued to watch the others, Melfina's vision kept switching between Gene and her brother. Mazren looked like he was on the verge of exploding, while Gene looked like he wanted to escape. Neither one of them had said much since they got back to the temple. In fact, it seemed like they were avoiding each other even more than usual. It was just then that Jubei rose from his seat. Grasping his staff, he tapped the floor, causing the chimes on the main ring to clang together. The sound echoed through the main hall, causing the Dragon Clan to cease in their eating.
"Attention warriors of the Dragon Clan," the Wiseman proclaimed. "As I'm sure you've all heard, the Sword has been awakened by one of the visitors to this planet." With a wave of his hand, Melfina watched as Jubei gestured to Gene. The hall exploded in an uproar of cheers, which quieted when Jubei gestured for silence. "Yes, this is purpose for celebration," he continued. "But it is also reason for caution. For this is a sign of a coming battle. Evil men are after both him and his friend." Jubei gestured towards her, and Melfina felt the eyes of the entire Dragon Clan fall upon her. "But nevertheless, this is the destiny that we have chosen. And just as we swore to serve the Sword, so do we now swear to serve the Swordwielder in his mission. If there is anyone who does not agree, than let him speak now or forever hold his tongue." The room went quiet as no one argued against Jubei. "Than it is settled," the Wiseman said as he gestured towards Gene. "Swordwielder, we are your willing servants. When you have fully mastered the Sword, call on us, and we will follow you into battle." At the conclusion of his speech, the warriors of the Dragon Clan once more filled the hall with their cheers.
"I'm very sorry," Melfina heard Mazren say. "But I must excuse myself. I'm not feeling very well." Turning to her brother, Melfina watched as Mazren pushed himself up and then left the main hall. Slag, seeing Mazren depart, gathered up his dinner in his jaws and trotted after him. Melfina was confused by her brother's actions, but it wasn't until after Mazren had departed that a reason why occurred to her. Is Mazren jealous of Gene? she asked herself. It was the only logical explanation, even though she didn't know why. Mazren may not have been able to awaken the Sword, but that didn't mean that he was any less of a fighter. Looking back to Gene, Melfina saw that the uncomfortable look on his face had intensified. Unfortunely, it appeared that she was the only one who noticed his plight.
"Speech!" Keibara suddenly said as she raised her wine goblet.
"Yeah!" Aisha yelled though a mouthful of food. "Give us a speech Gene!" With a sigh of frustration, Gene stood up from his place at the table. The hall went silent as the Dragon Clan anxiously awaited Gene's words.
"Look everyone," he said after a brief while, "it's not that I'm ungrateful, but you've got the wrong guy." Melfina watched as confused looks spread across the face of the warriors present. Eventually, it was Tyr who first spoke up.
"I assure you that we do not," the bearded man said. "If the Sword saw fit to allow you to awaken it, then you are the right one." But Tyr's words did little to convince Gene.
"Try to understand," Gene said with a stressed voice. "I'm not some great leader. I'm just an outlaw. I can't even keep my bank account balanced. The Sword made a mistake. There's no way that I could possibly be the one you people are looking for."
"All those who were chosen by the Sword felt the same way," Jubei told Gene. "But they eventually came to understand. So will you in time."
"God damn it are you deaf or something!" Gene suddenly yelled. "Get it through your heads! I don't want the Sword! I don't want your pledges of loyalty! I don't want any of this period!" Melfina sat in shocked silence. The only time she had seen Gene this upset was that awful night before he went to fight his duel with Shimi. Rising up, she reached out and lightly touched his arm.
"Gene," she trying to calm him, but Gene just jerked away from her.
"Melfina just leave me alone for now all right!" Melfina stepped back in fear as Gene turned and half fled out the same door that Mazren had previously left through only moments ago. As she watched him disappear, Melfina felt a slight sense of fear rising up inside her. Gene had said that he didn't want any of what was happening. Did that mean that he didn't want anything to do with her either? No, he couldn't mean that. At least, Melfina hoped that he didn't.
"He didn't mean it Mel," Jim told her.
"Are you sure Jim?"
"Yeah," he said. "He's just having a bad day. Just give him some space and he'll be fine."
"I guess that you're right," Melfina said. Just then, a strange sense of dizziness overtook her. Her hand went to her brow as she stumbled slightly.
"Are you okay Mel?" Jim said as he watched her. Just then, the dizziness disappeared just as sudden as it appeared.
"Yes," she told him. "I'm all right. Don't worry about it." Jim had a look that said he didn't quite believe her, but he didn't pursue it any further. As she sat back down, Melfina wondered what had caused the strange feeling. The way it felt was similar to when she and the others encountered that mutant cactus on Heifong.
Alone in his darkened quarters, Mako sat and meditated. In front of him, two candles laced with milliara burned in their holders. Milliara was a drug that the Toku had developed themselves. When injected directly into the bloodstream, it sent the mind and body into remission for as long as three or four days. But when inhaled, it temporary paralyzed the nerves that delivered sensory input to the brain. With his mind free from any outside distractions, Mako was now able to use his abilities to their utmost level. In the realm of the Astral Plane, he thought, where all minds are connected, thought is the ultimate power. With a strong will, even the weakest of men can become gods in this place where thought is reality.
As his mind reached its ultimate level of awareness, his mind left his body and flew through the Astral Plane. For a brief second, he was disoriented. The thoughts of every sentient creature in the galaxy were like the roar of a frenzied crowd. But as he began to find the center of his being, he began to slowly filter out the excess thought. Mako continued to filter until he at last found the one he was looking for.
Ah yes! There she is. His next sensation was of flying through the Astral Plane toward his target. As he reached her, Mako opened his mind's eye to what she saw. So this is the Dragon Clan that has protected the Sword for the last one hundred years. Rather a motley bunch of rabble if you ask me. Though he was already capable of taking control of her, Mako knew that he must wait. Nearby was a strong mind, one that would certainly detect his presence and stop him if he tried to dig his claws in any deeper. He would have to wait until the presence was gone.
"If you will excuse me," a voice said just out of her field of vision. Mako watched as she turned to watch a man dressed in a green and gold robe depart the hall. There was no doubt about it. This man was definitely the strong presence that he had felt. Shortly after the Wiseman left, a second man with a powerful build and a tri-claw hand followed after him. As soon as they had left, Mako began to increase the hold on his hostage. Once he was dug in, not even that Wiseman would be able to free her from his grasp.
As he escaped the main hall of the fortress, Gene felt a cold sweat bead on his brow. The feast, the cheers, the pledges of loyalty; it all had been too much for him to handle. And when Melfina tried to comfort him, he had blown up at her. What the hell were you thinking stupid! Gene's conscious yelled at him. Melfina didn't deserve to be yelled at like that. He would apologize to her later, but right now, he needed some air. Leaning onto the wall for support, his breath caught in his throat as he half-walked, half-fled down the corridor towards the exit up ahead. As soon as he was outside, he turned left and hurried up a flight of stairs to the second level. Veering right, he passed through one of the gardens, and then through a passageway between two house-sized buildings. Coming out at the other end, he finally stopped to rest. Kneeling down, Gene rested his hands on his knees and looked out over the view. He had come out at the back of the fortress. Beneath him, the river they had traveled down earlier that day reflected the light of the new moon in its waters. In front of him, the towering mountain that oversaw the fortress loomed tall and omnipotent. In the distance, the song of nocturnal insects mixed with the occasional howl of a jungle predator.
"Is a little privacy too much to ask for?" a voice asked behind him. Gene turned and saw Mazren reclining on an extension that jutted out of the side of a building. Slag lay at his feet, still gnawing at his diner, but with ears flattened back and one eye on Gene. Neither one of them were people that he needed to see at the moment.
"Don't push me all right," Gene growled. "I'm not in the mood."
"Don't flatter yourself Starwind," Mazren told him. "Even if you did manage to awaken the Sword, you're still my inferior as a fighter."
"Wanna put that to the test?" Gene asked.
"There is nothing I'd like more," Mazren said as he hopped off his seat. "But I promised my sister that I wouldn't hurt you."
"That is enough," a second voice said. Both Gene and Mazren looked forward and saw Jubei and Tyr come out of the passageway Gene had just come out of. "In the walls of our home," Jubei told them, "violence is forbidden." Mazren grunted at Jubei's words and pointed at Gene.
"Now you listen here," Mazren said. "He stole something that is rightfully mine. I'm feared throughout known space as the most ruthless bounty hunter in the galaxy. I've mastered some of the most difficult fighting styles known. And I've faced fighters who were worshipped as being invincible and won. The Sword is my right. Starwind has done NOTHING to deserve it!"
"And we have already told you," Tyr said. "You are not the Swordwielder. The Sword has chosen its master, now except it."
"That's not good enough for me!" Mazren snarled. "I demand a better reason. And if you two know what's good for you, you'll give it to me NOW!" Tyr tensed his muscles and brought up his claw.
"You dare to threaten Master Jubei!" he growled. Mazren's hand went back to his own katana. But just before he could draw it, Jubei raised his hand and sent out a force wave that knocked the both of them to the floor.
"Enough!" Jubei roared. After Mazren and Tyr got back to their feet, Tyr bowed in apology.
"Forgive me Master Jubei," the bearded warrior said. "I have no excuse for breaking your laws."
"It is all right Tyr," the Wiseman told his subordinate before turning to Mazren. "I suggest that you keep your temper in check. Otherwise, I will have you confined to your quarters for as long as you stay here." Mazren didn't respond. He just glared angrily before walking back over to where he sat with Slag and sulked.
"Look Jubei," Gene said. "Just tell me straight out. Why does it have to be me?" Jubei turned to him and clanged the chimes on his staff.
"Quite simply because you are special," he said to Gene. "The Sword does not choose its masters based on their fighting skills and their strength. It chooses them based on the potential they have inside of them."
"But I don't understand," he said. "Why does it have to be me?"
"Whenever the Sword is awakened," Tyr replied, "it is a sign of a coming battle that will have far reaching consequences. If you were chosen to be the Swordwielder, than that means you will play a decisive role." Gene just rubbed his temples. He still didn't believe what they said. It was a mistake; it just had to be.
"I'm sorry," he said after a while. "But I can't do this. There's nothing special about me. I'm just a greasy Outlaw." Gene took a deep breath and looked up to the stars. "There's a million of me out there."
"You still don't get it do you lad?" Tyr asked. "It doesn't matter who you are. This is your fate. You don't have a choice in the matter." It was just then that Gene began to feel his blood boil.
"Listen you," he told Tyr, "I don't believe in fate. So don't tell me that I don't have a choice because I don't have to accept any of this."
"Whether or not you believe in destiny is irrelevant," Tyr replied. But just then, Jubei gestured for Tyr to stop.
"No Tyr," he said. "It is not the place of the Dragon Clan to force anything on others. You are right Swordwielder," Jubei said to Gene. "You do have a choice. As it is your destiny, you have the right to either refuse or embrace it. Do you truly wish to not be the Swordwielder?" Gene stared long and hard at the Wiseman.
"I've been trying to tell you that all day?" he answered. Jubei sighed in defeat and shook his head.
"As you wish," he replied. "Hold your right hand out to me. I will do the rest." Gene did as he was told and waited. He watched as Jubei raised his staff and slowly shook it over Gene's arm. The chimes on the ring clinked together and the ring suddenly began to glow with a golden light. "Huoy guoy guoy, huoy guoy guoy," Jubei chanted. Gene looked down at his hand as he felt something move from the center of his soul and concentrate there. The S-shaped dragon crest that had appeared when he grabbed the sword glowed, and then transformed into blue light that moved along and extended out from his hand. As it did, the light changed and solidified into the Ryunoken Sword. The Sword floated in the air for a brief second before altering its position so that it's handle was pointed straight at Jubei. Jubei reached up and grasped the Sword. But instead of absorbing itself into him, the Sword's light vanished and lay still in Jubei's grasp. "It is done," he said as he slipped the Sword into his belt. "I am truly deeply sorry Gene Starwind. I could sense that you were the one when I first met you, but didn't tell you because I feared that it would lessen your chances of awakening the Sword. Now I see that it was a mistake. I should have told you straight out. Maybe then things would have turned out different."
"Well, we'll never know now will we," Gene said as he turned away. Walking up to the ledge of the fourth level, he exhaled in relief. Now that the Sword was out of him, he felt like a heavy burden had been taken off of his shoulders.
"You know lad," Tyr said. "From what Master Jubei has told me, all of the Swordwielders doubted their ability and their worth. But the difference between you and them is that they had the courage to undertake the task that was given to them, regardless of their fear and uncertainty."
"Yeah so what's your point?" Gene asked.
"That no matter what choice you make," Tyr answered, "you will have to face the consequences thereof."
"Yeah whatever," Gene replied. As he continued to look out over the jungle that surrounded the fortress, the sound of approaching footsteps drew his attention away. Gene looked over his shoulder and saw Tyr's daughter Keibara frantically running towards them.
"Dad! Master Jubei!" the girl panted as she ran towards them. "Come quick! We've got trouble!" Keibara's agitated state set off Gene's alarm. Did more Toku arrive already?
"Wait a minute?" Mazren asked. "What's going on here?" Keibara looked wide-eyed with fear to both him and Gene.
"It's your friend Melfina!" she answered. "Something's wrong with her!"
So this is the android's most traumatic memory, Mako thought. Around him, stairs and columns were positioned everywhere. Some appeared to be placed with a specific function, others were placed at bizarre angles. The prominent color was black, and the entire surface had been sectioned off into grids. In the center of the area, the android girl Melfina stood tinted slightly with red. Around her body, she wore some kind of form hugging ceremonial body suit. Based on what Mako knew about the Toku's computer network, this had to be cyberspace itself. And now it is time to secure her. He activated the memory, and the image of a man with flowing aqua hair loomed over Melfina. Harry McDougal? Of course, this must have been when he tried to kidnap her on Heifong. Fascinated, Mako moved out of his hiding place for a better look. He didn't fear being observed. The android girl would only see him if he willed it.
"I've been looking forward to meeting you like this," the looming figure taunted. "Now do you believe me Melfina?"
"Stop it!" the android pleaded. "Stay away from me!" Whimpering in fear, she ran and McDougal followed after, always nearby but never quite overtaking her.
"Why are you running away?" he asked. "Why don't you come away with me? There's no need to turn me down right? I'm the only one who can see you like this you know it's true Melfina." But Melfina didn't stop. She continued to flee, heading for what looked like a castle. As he watched, Mako wondered if she would reach it or would the memory of what transpired grab her in time.
"Stay away! Stay away!" Melfina cried out. Reaching the castle, the door opened and allowed her in, slamming shut just as McDougal reached it. That will do for now, Mako thought. He then froze the memory so that Harry continued to stalk outside of where Melfina had taken shelter. With him outside, she wouldn't dare try to escape. He could now deal with the others without having to worry about her.
"MEL!" Aisha yelled as she shook Mel's narrow shoulders. "Come on snap out of it!"
"Aisha that isn't helping!" Suzu said as she pulled her back. All around them, the warriors of the Dragon Clan had gathered to see what was the cause of all the commotion. Leaning against the main table, Melfina lay unconscious, occasionally moaning out in distress.
"Well what the hell am I supposed to do then?" Aisha yelled.
"How about letting us handle it instead?" Jim suggested. Looking down to him, Aisha watched as Jim kneeled down to Mel's side. In his left hand, Jim held his P.A. while his right held Gillium's pink maintenance robot. Sitting down beside Melfina, Jim connected his P.A. to the pink robot and began to scan Mel's body.
"Well?" Aisha asked.
"I don't know," Jim answered. "What about you Gillium?" The robot spun around to face him and flailed its arms in confusion.
"I'm sorry Jim," Gillium replied, "but I can't find anything wrong with Melfina. Viral scans, injuries, all turn out to be negative. Physically, my scans show that Melfina is in perfect health."
"Well obviously she's not!" Aisha quipped. Just then, the sea of people around them parted. Aisha looked up and saw that perverted ninja girl Keibara returning with Jubei, Tyr, Maz, Slag, and Gene.
"One side," Keibara ordered. "Let us through. Give my dad and Master Jubei some space." The Dragon Clan parted and spread out, allowing Jubei and the others to gather around Mel.
"Jim what the hell's going on here?" Gene asked in a panicked voice.
"I don't know!" Jim yelled. "After Jubei and Tyr went to look for you, Melfina suddenly just fainted." Mazren leaned forward and placed his hand over Melfina's pale forehead.
"It must be some kind of jungle flu," he said. "But I don't fell any kind of fever."
"That's because there is no disease," Gillium said. "Whatever is happening to Melfina must be mental in origin."
"That makes sense," Aisha said. "Way to go Gene! When you yelled at her it must have caused Mel to have a nervous breakdown."
"Shut up you animal!" Gene told her. Aisha was about to make Gene pay for what he said, but Maz beat her to it. Leaping to his feet, he grabbed Gene by the collar of his coat.
"What the hell does she mean, 'you yelled at her'?" Maz growled.
"Both of you stop it," Tyr said as he pulled them apart. "Master Jubei, what is happening to her?" Aisha watched as the Wiseman kneeled down to Mel and gently grasped her face in his hand.
"This is neither a virus or a mental disorder," he told them all as he rose up. "It is some kind of attack." As Jubei spoke, the sound of laughter drew their attention down to Melfina. To their surprise, Mel slowly rose to her feet. But something was wrong with her face. The look of innocence that so perfectly characterized Mel was gone. In its place was a hard cruelty. When she opened her eyes, Aisha saw that the same cruelty was there as well.
"Mel?" Jim asked. Just then, Aisha heard a growling sound coming from beside Mazren. Looking down, Aisha saw Slag with his fangs bared and his fur standing completely on end. I thought that Slag liked Mel, Aisha wondered. Something must be very wrong.
"I'm terribly sorry," Mel replied. Her voice had become cold and emotionless. "But Ms. Melfina isn't here at the moment."
"Um, Mel are you feeling all right?" Aisha asked as she reached for her. As she did, Melfina grasped her hand and with one swift motion, twisted Aisha's arm underneath and caused her to double over in pain. Although Aisha was far stronger than Mel, the way that Mel grasped her made it impossible to free herself. As she squealed on agony, Mel raised her leg and brought the back of her heel between Aisha's shoulder blades, knocking her face first to the floor.
"Mel stop, what are you doing?" Jim yelled in fear. From her spot on the floor, Aisha watched as Jim grasped Mel's wrists and begged her to stop. But Mel easily pulled herself free and swatted him away with a sweeping palm strike. Jim fell to the floor and looked up to Mel in shock, rubbing the spot where she had smacked him.
"All right Melfina that's enough," Suzu said as she dashed over. Suzu tried to grab her, but Mel pointed her hands and bent her wrists at right angles. As Suzu reached for her, Mel blocked easily with her pointed hands before pulling back her right arm and slamming the back of her wrist into Suzu's chest. Suzu was knocked stunned, and Mel followed out by reversing her hand and slamming her palm into Suzu's sternum, knocking her down to join Aisha on the floor. Mel looked like she was about to stomp her shoe's heel down on them both, but Slag intervened. The big wolf placed himself between Mel and the two of them and slowly advanced, causing Melfina to back away in caution.
"Okay I've had enough of this," Aisha heard Gene yell. She looked up and saw Gene holding a stun knuckler in his hand, the prods crackling with electricity. "Who the hell are you and what have you done to Melfina?" Melfina turned to him and smirked coldly.
"Perceptive aren't you?" she asked. "Very well, allow me to introduce myself. I am Mako, the Shogun of Mind." Another Shogun? Aisha asked. We just killed the last one. Don't we get a break for a few days?
"Mako?" Maz repeated. "Well that certainly explains it."
"Explains what?" Jim asked as he got back up.
"They say that Mako is a powerful telepath who can gain control of someone's mind even if they're on the other side of the galaxy," Maz answered. "He's also a practitioner of the Shaolin school of Kung Fu. What Melfina just did was a mixture of Eagle's Claw, Crane, and Tiger techniques."
"Actually," Mel-or actually Mako-commented, "in order to do accomplish a feat like this, I required some milliara to boost my mind's psychic abilities."
"So then what is it that you want?" Suzu asked as she stood up, gesturing to Aisha with her hand. Aisha looked up and saw that Maz was slowly moving around to behind Mel. Aisha nodded and readied herself. She would have to be ready to strike as soon as Maz was in position.
"This is my offer," Mako said. "You will hand over both the Sword and the android to us. If you agree, than a ship will come to pick them up in five days time."
"What the hell kind of offer is that?" Gene snapped.
"A far better one than what is happening now," Mako answered. "I have locked Melfina's personality inside her most traumatic memory. She is in quite a lot of mental and emotional anguish right now. The Toku are not cruel. She would not suffer exceptionally. Her death would be rather quick and painless. Besides," he said as he pointed at Jubei, "it seems that you have already made your decision." Looking in the direction that Mel's finger pointed, Aisha's eyes widened at the sight of the Ryunoken Sword hanging from the belt of Jubei's robe. Gene you chickenshit! Why am I not surprised? You can't even muster the guts to tell Melfina how you really feel.
"Gene!" Jim whispered in shock, his eyes holding a look of disappointment and hurt. "How could you?"
"Not now Jim," Gene whispered aside. "You can forget it," he told Mako. "I'll never hand over Melfina to you psychotic bastards." Mel's face just smirked at Gene's defiance.
"As you wish," Mako mocked. "Either way, I win."
"Not yet you haven't," Gene snarled.
"Oh really," Mako replied. "And just what do you think that you can do to save her? From what we've uncovered on your past, you couldn't even save the life of your own father." Gene's eyes widened in shock, and then tightened in rage at what Mako had said. His whole body shook with anger as he struggled to control his urge to lash out. He knew that he wouldn't be hitting Mako, but Mel. But just then, Maz lunged out from his hiding place. Wrapping his powerful arms around Melfina's arms and torso, he leaned back and lifted her off of her feet while Aisha leapt up and secured both of Mel's ankles underneath her arm. Mel's body, controlled by Mako, struggled and screamed in their grasp. As they held on to her, Suzuka rushed over and pinched Mel's carotid artery between her thumb and middle finger. Mel's body stiffened, then went limp as she fell unconscious.
"Pressure points," Suzuka explained. "Mako may be in control, but Melfina's body still reacts to what it feels." With Mel now calmed down, Mazren switched his grasp so that she rested in his arms.
"Here," Tyr called out. "Lay her down here." With a wave of his hand, Tyr cleared off the table, scattering dishes and sending food straight to the floor. Maz lifted up his sister and carried her over to the table where he laid her down. He then stood clear as Jubei kneeled down and laid his hand on her temple.
"Well what are you waiting for?" Aisha yelled at Jubei. "Isn't there something that you can do?"
"I suppose that I could severe the connection," he answered as he looked up to her. "But if her personality is still trapped in one of her memories, than she would be trapped forever in a coma with no way out."
"There's gotta be something that you can do," Jim said. "Jubei please?" Aisha couldn't bear to see Jim so upset. She crossed over to him and wrapped her arms around him, trying her best to comfort him.
"As it stands I can do nothing," he answered. He then rose up and turned his head to each one of them in turn. "Someone must go in to her mind and bring her out." Aisha's eyes widened in surprise at what Jubei had said. Was something like that really possible?
"I'll do it," Mazren said.
"Like hell you will," Gene snapped as he advanced. "I'll do it."
"Forget it Starwind," Mazren snapped back. "She's my sister so I'll do it."
"Yeah well she's my friend so I'll do it," Gene said as he shoved at Maz's shoulder. Maz shoved Gene back and almost knocked him down. Gene looked like he was about to throw a punch when Suzu stepped between them and slapped them both.
"Both of you stop it now!" she yelled. "I don't know why you two continue to bicker like spoiled children, but this neither the time nor the place!" With Maz and Gene under control, Suzu turned to Jubei. "What do you think? Who here is best suited for the task?"
"That's easy," Jubei said as he pointed his staff at Gene. "He is."
"Than it's settled," Suzu said. "Gene will do it." Maz looked like he was going to say something else, but a glance from Suzu shut him up.
"Are you up to this task Gene Starwind," the Wiseman asked. Gene looked down to Melfina's unconscious body and nodded.
"After Yama broke my shoulder today, Melfina risked her own safety to try and help me." Grabbing a pillow, he pulled it over and sat down beside Melfina. "What do I have to do?"
"First take you hand in yours," Jubei instructed. Gene did. "Now close your eyes and clear your mind. I will take care of the rest."
"Okay then," Gene said as he closed his eyes. "Let's do it."
"Remember though," Jubei said. "You will be facing a force that will assault your very sense of reality. If you are to succeed, you must keep in mind that what you are experiencing isn't real. It's merely an illusion." Gene nodded and Jubei began. Placing his palms over both Gene and Melfina's brow, the Wiseman slowly began to chant as he linked their minds together. "It is done," he said as he removed his hands.
"What do we do now?" Aisha heard Jim ask her. Aisha looked down to see Jim looking up to her, his eyes filled with fear. She tightened her grip on him and pulled him even deeper against her body.
"We pray," she told him. "It's the only thing that we can do."
At first, Gene couldn't see anything. But then, something began to materialize in front of him. As his eyes adjusted, he saw what looked like a hallway form in front of him. The hall was lined on both sides with doors that stretched off into oblivion. The only colors were black and lines of white that defined shape. There was no light source, but he somehow saw without light. So this is the mind huh? Gene thought. Doesn't look so complicated.
"I suppose it would to someone of such limited intelligence." Gene whirled at the sound of the voice. He looked all over, but found no sign of its source.
"All right," he said. "Who are the hell are you and where are you?"
"I already told you. I am Mako, the Shogun of Mind. And I am everywhere."
"What do you mean everywhere?" Gene asked.
"You're not very bright are you?" Mako asked. "Very well then; this is the mind of Melfina. Or at least it is when her personality has been trapped inside her memories." Curious, Gene moved over to one of the white lined doors.
"Are these her memories?" he asked.
"Very good," Mako answered with mock praise. "Behind each doorway is a memory. She's here somewhere, try and find her if you can." Undaunted, Gene reached out for the doorknob of the door he stood in front of. He turned, but found that it was locked.
"I forgot to mention something," Mako's voice replied. "Nothing happens here without my approval." Is that so? Gene thought. Taking his hand off of the door, he reached for his gun belt and unlocked his automatic. Well than approve this! He then drew his gun and pointed at the doorknob. But just as he attempted to pull the trigger, Gene found that there was none. Looking down, he saw that he wasn't holding a gun, but a banana. "Bang," Mako's voice laughed through the hall. But Gene didn't find anything humorous. In a rage, he threw the banana off into the distance.
"You gutless bastard! Show your face so I can break it you chickenshit!"
"If that's what you really want," Mako said as Gene felt a presence materialize behind him. He turned to face it, only to be sent flying to the floor by a kick to the stomach. As he looked up, he saw a man dressed in a Shoalin Monk's robe with a Manchurian style mustache and goatee. The Toku manji was tattooed on his forehead and a rosary of prayer beads was wrapped around his wrist.
"Now then," Mako asked. "What were you going to do to my face?"
"This!" Gene yelled. Leaping to his feet, he charged the monk and swung out with a right hook, followed by an uppercut and then a straight right. But his punches never connected. Mako dodged them, twisting and bending his waist and hips with uncanny limberness. As he moved aside of Gene's straight right, he brought up his palm and knocked it away. Gene turned sideways from the blow and received four palm whips across his jaw. Mako finished by spinning around to behind Gene and delivering a horizontal chop straight to the base of Gene's neck. Gene felt the impact travel all the way to his jaw and was sent face first to the floor.
"My fighting style is the sacred school of Shaolin," Mako mocked as Gene pushed himself up. "You're undisciplined brawling is no match for me."
"Wanna bet?" Gene growled as he charged again. Mako didn't move this time, which was just fine with Gene. Gene's punch connected, but went straight through. Gene fell forward as the punch pulled him through Mako as if the monk was no more than air. As he landed, Gene turned himself over and stared in shock at what had just happened. "What the hell?"
"You just don't get it do you?" Mako asked. "It doesn't matter how strong you are in the material plane. Here, thought is the only thing that matters. If your will is strong enough, anything is possible. And I am master of this realm. You have no hope of victory. I suggest you leave now while you still can."
"Well that's the problem," Gene smirked. "I don't make it a habit to listen to warnings, especially not when it comes to Melfina's life." His attitude caused Mako to raise his eyebrow in amusement.
"And just what makes you think that you can even find her?" he asked. "Much less even rescue her?"
"That's easy," Gene replied as he stood up. "I saved her from Hazonko and the Galactic Leyline. I'll save her from this as well." Just then, Mako's eye gleamed with inspiration.
"Really?" he asked. "Well you certainly didn't save her from this." Raising his hand, he snapped his fingers and one of the doors suddenly opened. With a sudden rush of air, Gene was sucked through the doorway and into one of Melfina's memories. Landing with a thud, he looked around and saw that he was in the Starwind and Hawking office that he and Jim had rented when they first came to Heifong. Hearing a pounding sound, Gene turned towards the source and saw Melfina standing back against the doorway. The pounding came from the other side as someone repeatedly banged on the door.
"Come on!" a voice yelled through the door. "Open up Melfina. Come with me please? It's for you own good! Do you hear me?" Gene instantly recognized the voice as Harry McDougal. This is when the McDougal brothers led me away so that they could try and take Melfina, he realized. Of course! Mako said that he had locked her personality inside her most traumatic memory. This has to be it.
"Melfina!" he called out to her. But Melfina didn't answer. She just kept standing against the door, her frightened eyes locked on the floor.
"I'm sorry," Mako's voice said. "But Melfina isn't here either. But keep watching. This show is about to get good."
"What do you mean it's about to get good?" Just then, Gene remembered the hole that had been punched through the door. He shouted for Melfina to move, but was too late. Harry's cyber arm punched through the metal and wrapped itself across Melfina's neck, making her scream and gag as he chocked her.
"NO!" Gene yelled. He lunged for Melfina and desperately tried to pull Harry's arm off of her. But his hands just passed right through it. It was then that Harry let go and threw Melfina to the floor. Melfina landed in a heap where she coughed and struggled to get air into her lungs as Harry's arm undid the locks and opened the door. Melfina looked up with terrified eyes as Harry stood in the doorway with roses in his hand and insanity in his eyes.
"Why didn't you open the damn door?" he asked. "I came here for you; couldn't you show a little gratitude?" But Gene had had enough. As Harry closed the door, he placed himself between him and Melfina. It's all about will huh? He thought.Fine then! I will you not to get past me you son of a bitch! But Harry just passed right through him. Feeling Mako's presence reappear, Gene looked over to see him sitting on the office's couch.
"You idiot," the Shogun of Mind mocked. "This is Melfina's memory. You can't change it without her consent. Now just watch and see just how you failed her." Wanting to see what the Shogun of Mind meant, Gene returned his gaze to the memory just as Harry began to stand over Melfina.
"Tell me what's the matter little red riding hood," Harry said as he moved towards her. "I'm not going to eat you."
"No don't," Melfina cried out as she scooted back. "Stay away!" Her reaction caused Harry to explode in a rage.
"Why are you running away?" he yelled as he raised the roses he was carrying. Melfina brought up her arms to protect herself as Harry smashed the bouquet over her head. As the rose petals scattered all over Melfina and the floor, Gene felt his blood turn to ice. She told me that he tried to coax her out with them. And when she didn't fall for it, he threw it aside and grabbed her. "I didn't mean to do that Melfina," Harry said as he calmed down. "I'm sorry. I promise that I'm not going to hurt you. After all, what it really comes down to is that we're one and the same."
"You liar!" Gene yelled. "Melfina would never do to anyone what you just did to her!"
"What do you mean the same?" asked a terrified Melfina.
"Yeah, you and me Melfina," Harry answered, "we're really constructs."
"Constructs?" Melfina asked in amazement. "You're one too?"
"Yes that's right," Harry told her. "I was born in a test tube a human organism made from synthetic protoplasm." Gene listened in anger as Harry babbled on and on about how he was a construct and then asked if Melfina was the same way. And you think that gives you the right to do what you did you sorry piece of shit? his mind growled.
"I don't know," Melfina said after Harry had finished with his little speech. "I can't remember anything like that."
"You've got to remember," Harry told her as he kneeled down and caressed her cheek.
"Get your filthy hands off of her you son of a bitch!" Gene yelled.
"Listen to me," Harry continued. "The two of us, we're exactly the same. We're constructs with greater abilities than any mere humans. Nothing good can ever come from staying with normal people. Come on, come with me. We'll look out for each other." But by then, Melfina was too frightened to do anything except tremble. "Hey come on," Harry smiled. "You can trust me." It was then that Melfina found the courage to look away.
"No," she told him. Gene felt relief surge through his whole body. For a second, he was afraid that Melfina might have actually agreed to go along with Harry, out of fear or her own naiveté. But nothing could have prepared him for what Mako showed him next. Harry's eyes once more flamed with madness before pulling back his cyber arm and backhanding Melfina with his fist. Melfina cried out in pain before falling to the floor where she lay limp, her hair splayed around her delicate face, a face whose slender beauty was now marred by an ugly bruise.
"WHY CAN'T I MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND?" Harry yelled. Gene stood paralyzed with horror and shock, unable to move or even think. As Harry calmed down again, he leaned over to Melfina's limp body and slung her over his shoulder. "I'm sorry that I had to do that Melfina, but it was for your own good."
"Her own good?" Gene repeated as the rage started to build. "Her own good!" Gene's vision melted into a red blur as he lunged straight for Harry's throat. Memory of not, he was going to tear his head clear off his shoulders. "YOU GOD DAMN SON OF A BITCH I'LL SHOW YOU WHAT'S FOR MELFINA'S OWN GOOD!" But just as before, Gene passed clear through Harry and collided head first into the stairs. Gene slumped to the floor, his head throbbing and bleeding from a gash he received on impact. As he lay paralyzed by pain, he once again heard Mako's footsteps as he walked up and stood over him.
"You truly did fail her, didn't you?"
As he watched for any sign of his sister waking up, Mazren cast his gaze across Starwind. None of this made any sense to him. What was it that made Starwind so special? Why did the Sword choose him? Why did Jubei say that he was the one to go bring Melfina out? Mazren was the Guardian of the Leyline. Over twenty different fighting styles had been programmed into his brain. He was as strong as a Ctarl-Ctarl, and his healing nanites made him practically immortal. Why was he supposed to just stand by on the sidelines and depend of this inexperienced kid to pull off a job only he could accomplish? Well, whatever the reason, he realized, it doesn't matter now. It's all up to you Starwind. You'd better pull off some kind of miracle here. 'Cause if you fail, than I'm going to polish my boot with your ass! All of a sudden, Mazren felt someone grab his hand. Looking down, he saw that Suzuka had walked over and taken her hand in his. Mazren was amazed at how soft and gentle her hand felt, not the sort of thing you'd expect from an assassin.
"Don't worry," she told him. "Gene is a lot stronger than you're giving him credit for."
"It should be me down there," he said. "I'm the one who's best suited for this. Starwind's in over his head."
"And Jubei said that Gene was the only one who could accomplish it. Just watch. You'd never guess it, but Gene always comes through when his back is against the wall."
"I hope that you're right," he said as he tightened his grip on her hand, being careful not to tighten too much lest his enhanced strength crush it. Mazren was glad that Suzuka was attempting to comfort him. The helplessness that he was feeling was driving him crazy. It was just then that he heard a sudden ruckus come from the table. He and everyone else in the room focused on Starwind and saw him thrashing about. Judging by the way he moved, it looked like something was beating on him.
"What's happening now?" Aisha said as she held on to Jim.
"It looks like he's fighting something," Tyr said as he examined Starwind.
"And getting his ass kicked by the looks of it," Keibara commented.
"Hey you watch it lady!" Jim yelled. Mazren looked over and saw that the kid's eyes were red-rimmed with tears. "Gene'll get out of this and make you eat those words!"
"Easy there kid," Keibara told him. "I was just…"it was then that Starwind suddenly lunged forward, roaring in mindless rage. But halfway through his leap, his head banged off of something in mid-air and he slumped back down in his seat. As Mazren and the others watched, a line of blood began to trickle down the side of Starwind's head; followed by Starwind rocking his head and moaning in anguish.
"Now what's happening?" Aisha asked as she hugged Jim tighter.
"He's lost his grip on reality," Jubei answered as he looked down at Starwind. "Right now, everything that he's seeing is so real to his mind, that his body and his ki are acting in accordance."
"Isn't there anything that you can do?" Suzuka asked.
"He has to do it himself," the Wiseman replied. "Right now, he's so deep inside that any external stimuli would cause permanent mental damage." Frustrated at feeling so powerless, Mazren looked back down to Starwind. What the hell is going on in there? he wondered.As he and the others were so busy watching Starwind, nobody bothered to notice that the Ryunoken Sword was starting to glow again.
Lying on the floor, Gene pounded his fist again and again into the cold surface until his hand was throbbing as much as his head. But the physical wounds didn't hurt near as much as the one on his heart.
"Melfina why?" he asked. "Why didn't you tell me what he did to you? Why Melfina why?"
"It should be obvious even to you," Mako said. "She knows that you don't care." Gene raised his head and glared angrily at the monk.
"You bastard," he snarled. "That's a god damn lie and you know it. Of course I care about Melfina."
"Oh really?" Mako asked. "Well your actions prove otherwise." Even through the pain, Gene struggled back to his feet and readied to attack again.
"What actions?" he asked.
"You truly don't remember do you? Very well, I'll show you then." Snapping his fingers, the door behind Gene opened up and sucked him out of the memory and into a new one. He landed headfirst again and felt pain shoot through his skull.
"Are you okay Gene?" Gene snapped his eyes open at the voice. Melfina, I found you! Pushing himself up, his excitement turned to horror as he saw that he was in another memory, one that he recognized personally. It was nighttime. He saw himself lying on the cot that he used as a bed. And standing at the foot of the cot in her nightgown was Melfina. Melfina sat down on the side of the cot and turned to him. After a brief second, she reached out with her hand and cautiously, experimentally, touched the two scars that ran along his left cheek. And then, it happened. Gene watched as he grabbed Melfina's slender wrist and pulled her against him. Melfina struggled, and then pushed him off so hard that he fell back against the cot. Melfina stood up and retreated backwards, her arms over her breasts, her face a mixture of shock and horror.
"What the hell is your problem huh?" he asked. "Is that nice girl routine just somebody's program?" He then leaned forward and increased his volume so loud that it was a wonder no one else in the house was woken up. "What were you made for? Why are you here?"
"I don't know! I don't know!" Melfina cried out as she shook her head in despair, tears falling from her eyes. "Don't you remember? You said that we would find that out together Gene." Melfina then buried her face in her hands and began crying softly. But Gene didn't even try to apologize. He just laid back down and covered his ears so that he wouldn't have to listen to her. Over in the corner, Gene watched the entire episode take place in front of him, and for the first time fully realized what he had done on that one night. Falling to his knees, he buried his face in his hands so he wouldn't have to watch anymore.
"No," he moaned. "I didn't mean it. Melfina please believe me I didn't mean it."
"Oh yes you did," Mako's voice replied. "And she knows it."
"No!" he yelled. "It's not true! She came after me the next day! She tried to protect me! She…"
"But not because she cared," Mako interrupted. Gene looked up and saw Mako's face in the glass of the window. "She only did it because she had no choice. She was dependant on you. She knew that if you died than she would never uncover her past."
"You're lying!" Gene yelled, even though deep down he was starting to believe it.
"Am I?" he asked. "The only reason you agreed to help her was so that you could make her another notch on your bedpost."
"It's not true."
"And now that you served your purpose, she doesn't want to be around you anymore." Screaming in rage, Gene charged straight for Mako's image. He broke through the glass, only to plummet to the street below. I'm dead, he thought.But just before he impacted, an invisible force grabbed him and held him inches above the pavement.
"I'm not entirely done with you yet," Mako told him. Gene was then let go and fell the remaining few inches. But instead of the street, he landed on what felt like forest soil. As he rose to his feet, Gene looked around and saw that he was in the jungle that surrounded the fortress. Hearing what sounded like running water, Gene made his way through the trees and into the clearing where they had rested earlier that day. As soon as he stepped through the trees, he saw none other than Melfina swimming in the clearing's pool. This didn't happen, Gene realized. I must have found her.
"Melfina!" he called out. Melfina turned at the sound of his voice and smiled in surprise.
"Gene," she called back. Melfina stood up in the water, and Gene's eyes widened at the sight of her naked body. She walked towards him; droplets of water trickling down her slender and nubile body. Her black hair, soaked by the water, lay flat against her head and neck. Although Gene liked to think that he was used to the sight of seeing Melfina naked, especially after all the times he saw her in her chamber, he had never seen her quite like this. Melfina moved slowly, almost as if trying to seduce him. Her eyes were no longer innocent but had a far-off, dreamy look to them. Something's wrong, he thought.Melfina wouldn't act like this. That bastard must have brainwashed her.
"Melfina," he told her as she reached him, "listen to me we have…" but Melfina completely ignored him. She rose up on the balls of her feet and pressed her mouth against his. Gene felt the blood escape from his head as he felt Melfina's kiss, followed by her soft tongue caressing his upper lip. When she finally broke away, Melfina pressed herself against him, the heat from her pert breasts burning through his shirt.
"Melfina, what are you doing?" he asked as his heart began pounding.
"Didn't you like it?" she asked as she began rubbing her body up and down his. Gene kept telling himself to stay in control. Melfina wasn't herself. If he gave in to what he was currently feeling; than he would essentially be raping her. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed Melfina's shoulders and pushed her away from him.
"Melfina listen to me," he told her in ragged breaths. "We have to get out of here."
"Why?" she asked. "Don't you want to stay here with me forever?"
"Um, well," Gene stammered. Melfina laughed as she once more pressed her body against him, one arm wrapping around his neck, the other caressing the muscles of his stomach as it moved teasingly close to his already throbbing member.
"Why are you fighting it Gene?" she asked. "I know that you like seeing me this way. I can tell whenever I'm in my chamber and you look over from the Outlaw Star's pilot seat." Melfina's voice lowered to a whisper as she moved closer, her breath tickling his ear. "I can see it in your eyes. Every time you see me you want to hold me, to kiss me, to make love to me." Though he had held himself in check so far, Melfina's seductive whisper destroyed what little restraint Gene had left. Grabbing Melfina, he kissed her fiercely and Melfina went limp in his arms. He then moved down her neck and began to blaze a trail to her breasts. "And whenever I see you Gene," she moaned as Gene struggled with the belt of his pants, "I think of how sick you make me feel."
"What?" he asked, only to be answered with a stinging slap that knocked him to the ground. He looked up and saw Melfina's face contorted into pure hatred.
"You make me sick!" she screamed as she slowly backed away. Above them, the sky began to darken with storm clouds. "Every chance you get, you try to take advantage of me. You did it that night when I tried to comfort you, and you did it again just now when you were supposed to save me!" Gene's eyes widened as he realized that Melfina was right. Oh god what have I done? he thought.
"Melfina wait!" he yelled. "I'm sorry!" Gene tried to get back to his feet but found that his legs were caught. He looked down and saw that his ankles had become tangled in some kind of vine. He reached down and tried to force them off. But for each one that he removed, another one wrapped around his foot.
"Don't you lie to me!" she yelled. "You don't really mean it! You're just like all the others! Everyone wants to use me, even you! It's just like Hazonko said at the Leyline! I'm nothing but a puppet to be used and then thrown aside!"
"No!" Gene yelled as he struggled with his bindings. "It's not true! Melfina please listen to me?" As he spoke, the ground underneath Melfina's feet turned to mud and she began to sink, her face turning from a look of hatred to betrayal.
"I thought you were my friend Gene," she said sadly. "I trusted you. I even fell in love with you. But in the end you were no different than Hazonko or Harry. All you wanted was to use me." In desperation, Gene leaped forward. With his legs still bound by the vines, he crawled towards Melfina.
"Melfina, hold on I'm coming!"
"That was the only reason why you wanted me to come back with you at the Leyline wasn't it? You couldn't stand the fact that I was the only girl you met that you failed to seduce. And when I wouldn't give you my body, you decided to give up and throw me aside. It's true isn't it? When we broke up, you weren't sad. You were relieved." Each word cut Gene's heart like a knife, mostly because he feared that everything Melfina said was true.
"Melfina please?" he begged as he thrust out his hand. But Melfina didn't reach for him. She continued to sink until only her head remained above the surface.
"Why should I bother?" she asked. "I'm just a puppet. It's time to be thrown aside." And then, her head disappeared into the mud.
"NO!" Gene screamed. With a mighty lunge, he tore himself free of the vines and launched himself over to where Melfina had sunk. "MELFINA! MELFINA!" He frantically clawed out the mud, which had now hardened into chunks of dirt. When he tore out one large section, a hand shot out and latched itself onto Gene's throat. As the hand strangled him, a head on a long serpentine neck rose out of the ground, a head with Mako's face on it.
"As you can plainly see," he taunted, "she knows that you are a failure. But maybe her point wasn't enough. Why don't we let the others talk to you?" With a lunge, Mako retreated back into the ground, pulling Gene in after him. Gene plunged through the earth and fell down a darkened hole that seemed to go on forever before landing with a thud. His head swimming from pain, Gene opened his eyes and couldn't believe where he was now. This looks like the interior of Horus, he observed.
"You really are pathetic," a familiar voice said behind him. Turning around, he saw none other than Hilda standing in the hatchway of Horus's pilot station, her one yellow eye burning with contempt at him. Without saying another word, she strolled over and kicked him to the ground.
"This isn't real," he said. "You're not Hilda. Hilda's dead." As he lay panting, Hilda leaned down and yanked him up by the collar of his shirt.
"Yeah, I'm dead!" she shouted in Gene's face. "And it's all thanks to you. And now, Melfina's going to die because you were too weak to protect her."
"NO!" Gene yelled as he struggled to free himself. "I won't let that happen. After you died, I promised her that I'd take care of her."
"And you've really done a fine job of it," Hilda sneered as she began to back him up to the hatchway for the gunnery chair. "You let that slime Harry McDougal knock her around like a punching bag. Melfina had to save herself from that one. You didn't even check her out to see if she had been hurt."
"But she never told me," Gene shouted. "When I asked, she told us that she was feeling fine. How could I have known?"
"You weren't the one who asked, Jim was. You just stood there and didn't even try to comfort her. Didn't you ever think that after going through something like that she might have wanted an arm to hold her, a shoulder to cry on, a voice to tell her that everything would be all right? No, you didn't. And why, because you were too busy thinking of how to get her into your bed."
"No," he said. "That's not it. Because of what I had learned from Ron McDougal I was too ashamed to even talk to her."
"Is that so?" Hilda asked as they stood at the entrance to the gunner's station. "But what about Haykon? You let him kidnap her too. And afterwards, you decided that you should just walk out on her. The reason, because you were too chickenshit scared to protect her. What the hell was I thinking, leaving her with you? Why did I even let her meet you? After I saved her from the Kei, I should have taken her straight to Mazren! At least he wouldn't abandon her!" With a shove from her arm, Hilda threw him into the gunnery station. Gene crashed into the chair and realized that he was now in what looked like a spherical escape pod. From outside, Gene could hear what sounded like booming impacts; impacts made by a starship's grappler arms. Oh god no! he silently pleaded. Not this one. Anything but this! Leaping forward and out of the chair, Gene peered out the small observation window and saw the image of his father staring back at him, his chest and face stained with blood.
"Dad!" Gene yelled.
"Give it up Gene," his father yelled. "You can't save Melfina, just like you couldn't save me."
"No Dad don't do it!" he yelled. But his father ignored him as he pushed the buttons that launched the escape pod.
"You're a failure Gene," his father yelled. "Just give up and run away. It's what you do best." With a lurch that knocked him back into the chair, Gene's escape pod rocketed away from the ship. Pressing himself against the window, Gene watched as the two black pirate grappler ships and their leader, a diamond shaped gold ship, continued the attack on his father's ship. Terrified, Gene huddled into a fetal position. His breath caught in his throat and his hand covered his mouth, holding back the urge to vomit.
"Now do you finally understand?" the voice of Mako resonated throughout the escape pod. It was then that the escape pod began to shrink, slowly closing around Gene. "You can't save her. You're a failure, a weakling. Why don't you just leave and then hand over both the Sword and Melfina to us. It would save so much time. It would also be so much less painful." He's right, Gene thought. I can't save Melfina. I can't protect her. I'm nothing but a failure. Melfina please forgive me? But just then, one of the pirate ships fired a blast that blew up his father's ship. The flash reflected off of something on the ship's bow and promptly caught Gene's attention. Gene forgot his fear for a second as he suddenly remembered something. Pushing himself against the clear plastic of the pod's window, Gene squinted his eyes to get a better look. What he saw banished the fear, and replaced it with frozen shock.
When the pirates that had attacked his father's ship blew it up, Gene had been too horrified to remember every exact detail. In fact, he didn't even remember that McDougal had aided them until he attacked them all at Farfallas. But somehow, his mind had made a subconscious record of everything that he saw. And now, he saw one crucial thing that he had forgotten. On the starboard and port bow was what looked like some kind of eye, the symbol of the pirate's individual group. And right on the front bow, just underneath the main sensor antennae, was a second symbol. A symbol composed of four right angle arms radiating out from a central eye. A manji.The Toku. The Toku were the ones who killed my father, he realized. McDougal led the attack, but they were the ones who paid him to do it. The Toku took my father from me. And now they're trying to take Mel away too. With this realization, his shock was changed into anger. This wasn't the same type of anger he felt when he saw how Harry had punched Melfina. That anger was an explosion, a blinding surge of fire. This new anger was white hot, and was as focused as a knife blade. It surged through his body, giving him new strength. Bracing his hands against the side of the still shrinking escape pod, Gene began to push back. The pod stopped shrinking, and gradually began to expand.
"And just what do you think that you're doing now?" Mako asked.
"I'm not playing this damn game of yours anymore!" Gene yelled as he continued to push at the sides of the pod. "I'm going to find Melfina and then I'm going to rip you apart with my bare hands!"
"Oh really? I doubt that. Melfina doesn't even want to go with you. Haven't you learned that yet? She doesn't even like you. She hates you."
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" Gene screamed. "What you showed me wasn't real! Melfina would never hate anyone! Hilda and my father wouldn't say those things. It was all just an illusion cooked up by you wasn't it?"
"Maybe it was," he replied. "But you still will never find her. I've hidden her too deep. She will forever be a prisoner of her own nightmares."
"No! I'll find her! I'll save her and there's nothing that you can do to stop me!" Taking a deep breath, Gene then yelled as loud as he could. "MELFINA! WHERE ARE YOU?"
"Gene," a quiet voice whimpered off in the distance. "Help me." Knowing what he had to do, Gene backed against the rear of the pod and braced his arms in front of him. With a yell, he launched himself forward and broke through the window of the escape pod. He floated motionless, and aimed for the direction of the voice. His next sensation was of falling, followed by another head slamming landing. I've really got to work on these landings, he thought. I'm going to give myself a concussion. As he peeled himself off of the floor, Gene found himself in the most surreal place he had ever seen. Physically, it looked like the bedroom of a typical teenage girl. There were stuffed animals on the bed and large windows with lacy curtains. But the whole thing was done over with glowing pastel colors. Hearing a whimper, Gene looked down and saw Melfina huddled in a fetal position in one of the corners. She looked like she did when the two of them were taken inside of the Leyline. She was wearing that body suit that had been put on her when the Leyline had taken her, and her whole body had been tinted red.
"Melfina?" he asked.
"Stay away," she whimpered in fear as she pulled herself even tighter into the corner. "Stay away."
"Melfina what's wrong?" he asked. As he moved closer to her, Gene passed by a mirror that had been set up on the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the face of Harry McDougal looking back at him. Gene spun around; ready to fight, but saw that he was the only other person in the room. As he shifted his attention back over to the mirror, he realized that it was his own reflection that he was seeing. Shit! he thought. This must be when she escaped and Harry tried to hack into the Outlaw Star's systems. Melfina's so caught up in this; she's seeing me as Harry. Okay Gene, think. There's got to be a way to show her who I am. Gene racked his brain and idea hit him. Closing his eyes, he focused on one memory in particular; then reopened them.
His plan worked. From his point of view, the scenery had changed. He and Melfina were now in a rundown old barn. In front of him, Melfina was on her knees crying, her hands buried in her face. She was naked, and the cryogenic storage box she had been asleep in for god knew how long lay open behind her. Gene stood in front of her, wearing the coat that he had lost at the Leyline. Around them, bales of hay lay stacked to the ceiling. It was the moment when he had found Melfina, the moment that had changed his life forever. Well, here goes nothing. I just hope that this works. Taking off his coat, he kneeled down to Melfina and laid it over her shoulders.
"No!" she cried out in distress. "Stay away from me!" She squirmed in an attempt to free herself, but Gene held her firm.
"Now look," he said as he repeated the exact same thing he had said on that fateful night all those months ago, "I know that you're scared and you're confused, but we can't stay here. There are some really bad people outside that want to kill us. So I need you to pull yourself together and come with me. Understand?" Melfina stopped struggling and looked up to him, a look of shock and hope in her eyes.
"Gene?" she asked. Gene nodded, and Melfina's eyes filled with tears of joy and relief. She flung herself against his chest and buried her face into his neck. Gene could feel the wetness from her eyes fall upon his shoulder and he tightened his hold on her. There was no doubt about it now. This was HIS Melfina, not some illusion.
"You came," she whimpered. "I called, and you came."
"Of course I came," he whispered softly as he stroked her thick black hair. "No matter what, I'll always come for you." But though he would have loved to just stay this way, Gene knew that they had to get out of here before Mako found them. With a great amount of reluctance, he pushed Melfina away from him and locked his gaze with hers. "Melfina listen to me. None of this is real. It's just an illusion. But we're getting out of here right now. All we have to so is just walk outside that door. Can you do that?" Melfina nodded and Gene helped her to her feet. "Come on, we're going home."
"I don't think so," a resonating voice replied. With a gust of wind, the doors flung open and a shadowy figure emerged in the doorway, blocking their exit. The figure then stepped into the light, his face covered by an angular mask, a wide hat over his head, and thick robes over his body that gave him an imposing appearance.
"Hazonko," Melfina whimpered as she retreated behind Gene. Although Gene knew that she was most likely scared out of her mind, he grabbed her arm and held her in position.
"Melfina listen to me," he told her as she trembled in his grasp. "That's not Hazonko. You, me, and the others; we killed him at the Leyline remember? It's not real. It's just another illusion. Don't be afraid of it." But just then, something burst through the stack of hay bales, snatching Melfina away from Gene and knocking him down. As he regained himself, Gene saw that it was Harry, the way he had been at the Leyline. His limbs lay twisted in bizarre angles, blood stained his face, and a huge gaping hole had been torn in his cyber-support suit. He grabbed Melfina in a full nelson body hold and clasped her against his mutilated body.
"Mel!" Gene yelled as he ran for the illusion. But halfway there, an invisible rope latched around his neck and hoisted him choking into the air. Looking down, he saw Hazonko with one skeletal hand raised in a pinching gesture.
"You will leave now," Hazonko ordered. "But Melfina will stay here. She belongs to us now."
"You're not real," Gene gagged as he felt the invisible noose tighten. "This isn't happening. It's not real."
"Don't you remember?" Mako's voice asked. "I am the Shogun of Mind. My will is indomitable. Here, everything happens as I command. You have been a most enjoyable opponent, but now it is time for you to leave."
"No!" Gene yelled. "I'm not leaving without Melfina."
"Well then we'll just have to make you leave than," Hazonko replied. Raising his other hand, Hazonko made a slight squeezing motion. Immediately, Gene began to feel a pressure building up in his right arm. The pressure continued until his arm twisted, and then broke in two different places. Gene felt the pain sear through his entire body and he screamed in agony.
"Gene!" Melfina screamed. She struggled to free herself, but Harry held on to her with an iron grip.
"Tell him to leave you behind Melfina," Gene heard Harry whisper to her. "Tell him to go or else he'll die."
"Stop it!" she begged. "Leave him alone!"
"Go on Hazonko," Harry yelled. "Let's show her we mean business!"
"Gladly," Hazonko replied. Raising his hand, Hazonko cast the same spell, but this time on Gene's leg. Gene's right leg twisted and then snapped like his arm. Melfina closed her eyes and felt hot tears squeeze through as she felt Gene's agonized scream rip straight to her heart. That was it. She couldn't take it anymore.
"Gene!" she half yelled-half sobbed. "Leave me! They're going to kill you!"
"NO," Gene choked out. "I don't care what they do. I'm not going to leave you."
"All right then," Harry laughed. "Hazonko, do to Gene what you did to me at the Leyline."
"With pleasure," Hazonko answered. Hazonko flexed his hand, and Gene's torso suddenly began to be squeezed by an unseen force.
"No!"Melfina cried out. "I'll do whatever you want! Just don't hurt Gene anymore!"
"Face it Gene," Harry mocked. "You lost. All your efforts weren't enough to save Melfina. Why you couldn't even save yourself." But as his body was slowly being crushed by Hazonko's Tao magic, Harry's words only increased Gene's determination
"I won't let you win," he yelled. "I won't let you hurt Melfina ANYMORE!"
Things had turned bad, and now they had gotten worse.
Jim buried his face deeper into Aisha's body. That way, he wouldn't have to look at Gene or hear his aniki'sscreams of pain. Something had caused Gene's arm and leg to snap like dry twigs, twisting them into bizarre angles.
"God dammit!" he heard Aisha yell. "Somebody do something. He's getting killed in there!"
"We can't do anything," Jubei yelled back. "He has to break the connection himself."
"Can he do that?" Suzuka asked.
"If he chooses to," the wise man answered. "Right now, this Mako person is attempting to force him out so that Melfina will remain his prisoner. And Gene is refusing to leave without her."
"So what can we do then?" Mazren asked.
"Absolutely nothing," Jubei answered. Jim shut his eyes and felt the tears flow down his face. Come on Gene! You can do it! You've got to! Just then, Jim heard Gene scream in a mixture of agony and defiance.
"Dad," Keibara gasped. "Look!" Although terrified, Jim looked out from Aisha's arms, and saw that a light was coming from Jubei's hip. Wiping the tears from his eyes, Jim focused his gaze on the light and saw that it was coming from the Ryunoken Sword.
"What the hell?" Mazren asked as the Sword melted and transformed into pure light. In its new form, the Sword broke free from Jubei's belt and flew towards the ceiling of the main hall before arcing back down towards Earth and slamming straight into Gene, bathing his entire body with blue fire.
Gene could feel it coming, a powerful force that was flying straight towards him. And when it reached Gene, it slammed into him, flowing and filling his entire presence, healing his wounds and setting his entire body on fire. A light shined from his hand, and Gene saw the Dragon crest reappear. The Sword, he realized. Even though he had refused it, the Sword didn't refuse him. It had chosen him as its master, and it would do whatever he desired. And what Gene desired was to save Melfina. With a yell, he used the power to break Hazonko's invisible noose and he dropped to the ground, ready and willing to fight.
"No!" Hazonko yelled. Placing his hands in front of him, he extended his right pointer and middle finger straight up. The air around him shimmered and a purple glow surrounded his hand. A weapon, Gene thought. I need a weapon. The crest on his hand glowed, and Gene felt the power move down his arm and then explode from his hand where it shaped and coalesced into a blade of solid blue light. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Gene brought up the shining sword he held, and readied himself for Hazonko's attack. From the Tao Master's hands, a pulsing energy blast rose and launched itself straight for Gene. Gene raised the blade in front, and successfully deflected Hazonko's attack before charging straight for him. Hazonko raised his hands to block, but was too late. Gene swung the blade and cleaved him in two, causing the illusion of Hazonko to disintegrate in an explosion of fragmented shadows. With Hazonko down, Gene then turned his attention towards Harry, who had now released Melfina and was retreating in fear. With a yell that echoed throughout the barn, Gene reversed his grip on the blade before throwing it straight at Harry. The sword of light impaled Harry through the back, lifting him off his feet and sending him flying into a haystack where it held him pinned. Harry shrieked and wriggled like a stuck pig before he too disintegrated into shadow fragments. It's too bad that wasn't the real Harry! Gene thought as the sound of clapping caught his attention. Turning around, he saw Mako leaning against the wall of the barn, his hands clapping together in applause.
"Well done!" the Shogun of Mind praised. "You passed excellently!"
"What do you mean passed?" Gene growled.
"Unlike my associates Askared and Yama," Mako replied, "My mission was not to acquire the android girl. Lord Shidowkun merely ordered me to test your abilities."
"A test?" Gene shouted in anger. "This was nothing but a test?"
"Exactly," Mako replied. "We didn't plan on your awakening the Sword so soon. In fact, it wasn't supposed to happen until after we captured Melfina." Gene felt his anger build with each word the monk spoke. "We needed to see just how strong your grip on the Sword's power was. And now, I feel that I have learned enough to make quite a detailed report to my Emperor. So, I think I'll be letting the both of you go now. Maybe we'll play again someday."
"Like hell!" Gene yelled. Focusing both his mind and the power, Gene willed four chains to pop out of the ground. The links rose into the air and wrapped themselves around Mako, who seemed to be less than impressed.
"Very impressive," he smirked. "But these can't hold me if I'm not here." Mako then closed his eyes and appeared to concentrate. When he realized that he wasn't going anywhere, a look of surprise and fear grew on his formerly emotionless face.
"Something wrong?" Gene asked.
"This can't be happening!" Mako yelled as his worry changed to panic. "I'm the Shogun of Mind. My will is indomitable. You, you can't break the rules of the mind!"
"Yeah?" Gene asked. "Well guess what? I'm an outlaw. And outlaws make their own rules." As he watched the bastard who had captured and tortured Melfina, Gene remembered his own torture. He remembered all the years of nightmares, loneliness, and pain that he had lived with; all because the Toku killed his father, of whom Mako was one of their leaders. As the anger in him grew and intensified, Gene felt the power surge and collect into his right hand, encasing it with blue fire.
"NO!" Mako screamed in fear as he began to realize what was about to happen.
"This is for my father!" Gene yelled as he lunged towards Mako. Gene's flaming hand grasped onto Mako's skull and used the power of the Sword to rip Mako's mind apart. Bolts of energy flew off Gene's hand as the air and walls of the barn began to crack. And then, everything shattered with the sound of breaking glass leaving nothing but a black void.
"Gene?" a familiar voice asked. Jim, Gene thought. A crack of light appeared in the void, and then widened as Gene opened his eyes. Looking up, Gene saw that everyone; Jim, Suzuka, Aisha, Mazren, even Jubei, Tyr and, and Keibara were all standing around him in a circle. His vision was slightly blurry and his head was throbbing. He must have hit his head when he fell back.
"Hey look," Aisha said as she pointed to him. "He's waking up!"
"Are you going to be okay Gene?" Jim asked. Gene just grinned in gratitude at the sight of finally seeing some friendly faces.
"Yeah I'll be fine."
"You should consider yourself lucky," a voice said just out of his field of vision. "You sustained several injuries during your little battle, but you seem to have recovered rather nicely." Gene peered left and saw Gillium's pink maintenance bot sitting on the table.
"I never thought I'd ever be glad to hear your nagging voice," Gene joked.
"Well I never," Gillium huffed. "And after I spent so much time monitoring you vital signs." But just then, Gene realized that there was one person missing.
"Melfina!" he exclaimed as he lurched back up. His hand accidentally collided with Gillium and sent the robot flying off the table and onto the floor.
"It's a good thing that I'm still under warranty!" Gillium moaned. But Gene ignored him as he rose up to his knees. Looking down to the table, Gene saw that Melfina still hadn't woken up yet. Grabbing her shoulders, Gene lifted her partway off the table and shook her lightly.
"Mel!" he frantically yelled. "Come on wake up!" Around him, the warriors of the Dragon Clan began to move in closer for a better look.
"Oh no you don't!" he heard Keibara yell. "Give these two some room huh?" It was just then that Gene felt Melfina stir in his arms. Her eyes slowly opened and she tilted her head up to meet his.
"Gene?" she weakly asked, and Gene exhaled in relief.
"Melfina, are you okay?" As soon as he had asked, Melfina's eyes filled with tears before overflowing down her beautiful face.
"GENE!" she cried out as she flung her arms around his neck and pulled herself against him. Gene felt her entire body shake as she hysterically cried onto his shoulder.
"Shhh!" he whispered as he tightened his grip on her. "It's okay. It's over. I've got you now and I won't let anything happen to you!" But Melfina didn't stop. She desperately clung to him as if Gene were her only lifeline, her small body shaking with racking sobs. Gene rose and sat along the table's edge so he could pull the hysterical girl across his lap, stroking her trembling body as she buried her face into his throat.
"Jubei," Gene heard Suzuka say, "I think it might be best if we left them alone for the time being."
"I agree," the Wiseman said. He then tapped his staff, ringing the chimes and capturing the attention of all present. "Everyone, let's leave them be. We'll worry about cleaning up later." At the Wiseman's words, Suzuka and the others herded them all out of the main hall, leaving Gene alone to comfort Melfina. After they had all left, Gene began rocking Melfina back and forth across his lap. Damn them! Gene cursed. Damn the Toku! Damn the McDougal brothers! Damn them all to hell! As he continued to hold her, Melfina gradually calmed down and began to quietly sniffle into his neck. I'll kill them, Gene silently vowed as he stroked her head. I swear I'll kill them all for what they've done.
With three of his guards following after him, Karg entered into Shidowkun's throne room and unslung Mako from his shoulder onto the floor, his eyes glazed over and a line of drool falling from his lips.
"What has happened Karg?" the Emperor demanded. Standing in front of the stairway that led up to Shidowkun's throne were Naga, Aeslea, and Hisho. Apparently, when Karg had requested an emergency meeting with the Emperor, Shidowkun had seen fit to summon his other subordinates as well.
"Lord Shidowkun," he said as he and his guards bowed their heads in respect. "Five minutes ago, one of my men heard a scream come from Lord Mako's quarters. He investigated, and found the Shogun of Mind lying as you see here."
"I see," the Emperor answered. "It would appear that Gene Starwind is starting to gain a slight level of mastery over the Sword's power." Standing up from his throne, Shidowkun raised his hand and extended his arm all the way towards Mako, his clawed gauntlet grasping onto Mako's face and shining with a red light. Karg and the others watched as the fallen Shogun's body began to glow bright red as well before Shidowkun removed his hand, ripping out Mako's soul and absorbing it into his own body. Karg knew that Shidowkun had been forced to sacrifice both Askared's and Yama's souls and the power they would have given him for the sake of the plan. He sincerely hoped that Mako's would make up for it. "Have the body removed before it starts to smell," Shidowkun ordered as he retracted his hand. Karg nodded and gestured for one of his guards to take the body away.
"Most noble lord," Naga hissed. "Would you like me to handle this from now on? I'm quite sure that I can cast a Tao Spell to bring the android straight to us."
"No," the Emperor replied. "You would most likely fail and Gene Starwind would only gain even more control over the Sword. As it stands, we can afford no further delays. Nor can we afford to underestimate Gene Starwind any more. Therefore, it is time for me to become fully involved. I will leave for the Sword's planet and take Melfina myself. Hisho, contact Xanax and tell him to prepare the Damocles Sword for immediate departure. Then contact our manufacturing base on Minos. I want a full contingent of Oni, Cybers, Tengus, and Mongol-class armor suits ready upon my arrival. And while you're at it, relay a message to the McDougal brothers. Tell them that I have mercifully decided to give them a chance to redeem themselves."
"Yes great Emperor," the majordomo replied with a bow.
"Aeslea," he said to his consort. "You will accompany me on this mission as my lieutenant. You will also select twenty-nine of our finest assassins. If they are not here, than tell them to meet us at Minos."
"Your wish is my command my Lord," Aeslea purred seductively.
"Naga," he told the last surviving Shogun. "While I am gone, you will see over my duties as acting Emperor until I return."
"Of course my Lord," Naga hissed. "I am flattered by your trust in my abilities." With their assignments clear, the four of them each went their separate ways to attend to their duties. However, Karg remained behind to await his personal instructions.
"While I am gone," the Emperor told him, "make sure that Naga does not stray too far from the path that I have set for him." Karg nodded in understanding as the Emperor returned to his throne and turned away from him.
(Gene Starwind has chosen to accept his destiny. By doing so, he was able to save Melfina and defeat the third of the Shoguns. Will he be able to fully master the power of the Ryunoken Sword? One certainly hopes so. Because the next challenger will not be a Shogun. The next opponent he and his crew will have to face will be none other than Shidowkun, the Toku Emperor himself. And he's going to be pulling out all the stops to capture Melfina. So be here for our next exciting episode, same outlaw-time, same-outlaw website.  Don't forget to review.)
 
Chapter 11
Chapter 13

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