Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ Master the Sword ( Chapter 13 )

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


Master the Sword

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

Pushing the door open, Jim stood aside as Gene entered Melfina's quarters. In his arms, Gene carried Melfina, bundled up in his coat and her cloak thrown over his shoulder. After Gene had saved her, Mel had cried in his arms for almost an hour. But eventually, Gene was able to calm her down and she collapsed exhausted in his arms. Afterwards, Gene picked her up and carried her to the quarters that the Dragon Clan had provided for her. Along with Jim and the others, Mel's quarters were located on the third level of the fortress's top, set on opposite sides of Jubei's tower. Gene, Jim and Aisha's rooms were in the western building, while Mazren, Suzuka, and Mel slept in the east. Much to Jim's surprise, the quarters were pretty nicely furnished. In each one was a bed, a desk with a chair, a nightstand, electric lamps on the desk and nightstand, wooden storage cabinets, and a sink that looked like it had been salvaged from a starship. Toilets and showers were both located in separate rooms down the hall.

As Gene laid Melfina down on her bed, he slipped off her heels before pulling the covers up to her chin. Gene then kneeled down by her side and gently brushed Melfina's head, running his fingers through her black hair. Though he hadn't said anything, Jim could tell from the look of hurt and exhaustion on his face that something was wrong with Gene. What the hell happened in there? Jim asked. What did Mako do to you Gene? Feeling a hand on his shoulder, Jim looked up to see Aisha standing behind him.

"So how's Gene doing?" Aisha asked. Like Jim, she too had seen the look on Gene's face as he carried Melfina to her quarters.

"Same as before," he answered. Aisha nodded as she switched his attention back over to Gene.

"Hey Gene," Aisha called out. "Suzu says that she wants to talk to all of us outside." Gene didn't bother to reply. He stood up and slowly dragged himself towards the door, his eyes locked on the floor. Jim and Aisha let him pass and the three of them walked down the hall, veering left at a corridor and exiting into the main garden of the third level. Situated directly behind Jubei's tower, the garden was framed in on three sides while the fourth opened up to a staircase that led down to the second level. Man-sized trees and bushes bearing red flowers dominated the garden, interrupted by walkways that led from each door in the surrounding buildings. In the center was an artificial pond with a fountain in its center from which erupted a steady stream of water. Around the pond were three stone benches where the others were waiting. On one of the benches, Mazren sat and scratched Slag's head. Over by some of the flower bushes, Suzuka stood and looked out over the blossoms. As soon as she heard the three of them approach, Suzuka turned around and walked over to join them.

"All right everyone," Suzuka said. "The situation is clear. The Toku know where we are and they know how to get here. What we need to do now is make a decision about what we're going to do. Should we stay here, or should we leave?"

"Good question," Mazren replied as he looked up. "The way I see it, Mako's subordinates have probably figured out what Starwind has done to their boss by now. My guess is that they'll send the word on to the Toku Emperor, and he'll send in the next and last Shogun."

"Well you're our resident expert on the Toku Maz," Aisha said. "Who's the next guy?"

"His name is Naga," Mel's brother answered. "And he's the Shogun of Magic. From what I've heard he's a Tao Master, and an extremely powerful one at that. They say he's mastered every known Tao technique, and even invented a few himself."

"Well that shouldn't be too hard right?" Jim asked. "I mean, we defeated Hazonko, and he was a powerful Tao Master, even before the Leyline powered him up."

"That is true Jim," Suzuka told him. "But keep in mind that the Shoguns are in a separate class than Hazonko ever was. For all we know, Naga may the most powerful of them all. And even if we do defeat him, there's still the matter of the Toku Emperor."

"You're right," Mazren said as he stood up and walked over to the edge of the garden, Slag following after him. "We don't know anything about him or the extent of his powers."

"Yeah but we've got something in our favor," Aisha replied as she gestured towards Gene. "We've got the Sword, so I say that we use it. Right Gene?"

"Huh?" Gene asked as he looked up. "Yeah, right, sure." About that time, Jim decided that he couldn't take any more of Gene's secrecy.

"All right Gene," Jim said as he walked up to his aniki. "Just what is wrong with you?"

"Nothing's wrong Jim," Gene answered as he sat down on one of the benches. "I'm just a little burned out. That's all." Naturally, Jim didn't believe him. And neither did the others.

"Well if nothing's wrong, than why are you acting so funny?" Aisha asked. Gene didn't answer. He simply lowered his head and fixed his gaze on the ground.

"Gene what happened with your fight against Mako?" Suzuka asked. Once again, Gene didn't answer. He just buried his face in his hands and shook his head.

"Gene?" Jim asked as Gene began to babble incessantly.

"He hit her. He hit her. Oh god, I let him hit her."

"Who hit who?" Mazren asked. It was then that Gene opened up the floodgates and told them how Mako had showed him how Harry McDougal first tried to kidnap Melfina. When he had finished, Jim felt himself go numb with shock.

"I just don't believe it," Jim said. He knew that Harry had become obsessed with Melfina after he learned about her, but he had never thought it was as bad as that.

"That lousy stinking bastard!" Aisha growled. Jim saw that Aisha's fangs were bared and her tail had fluffed out to twice its width. "If I ever get my hands on him I'm gonna rip his throat out!" Suzuka didn't say anything. She just closed her eyes and sadly shook her head.

"Now wait a minute," Mazren said as he walked over to Gene, his face a mixture of anger and disbelief. "Are you saying that you didn't know about what he did to her?"

"How the heck do you know about what happened?" Aisha asked.

"Back when I first followed after you all to Heifong," Mazren answered, "I asked around at a lot of places where you guys hung out, like the Heifong City Space Port. A dockhand there told me that during one of his shifts, he had seen a guy with long aqua hair carrying an unconscious girl over his shoulder. The guy said that he thought he saw a bruise on her cheek, but he didn't report it because he didn't want to get involved. Everything else I pieced together later with the help of some of my contacts." After he finished explaining, Mazren turned back over to Gene. "You didn't even see the bruise on her face?"

"Hey come on Mazren," Jim said as he put himself between Gene and Mazren. "Just take it easy. When we got to the Outlaw Star, there was no bruise."

"It must have been the fluid in that chamber of hers," Suzuka said. "Melfina said that she had to get inside in order to keep Harry from hacking into Gillium and unlocking the hatch. The fluid must have some kind of regenerative properties. After all, she did use it to heal Gene after he was poisoned."

"But you didn't even ask about what had happened?" Mazren asked, not taking his gaze off of Gene. From the look in his eye, it was almost as if Mazren was blaming Gene for what happened to Mel. "Didn't you at least try to check her out to see if she was okay?"

"Now just take it easy Maz," Aisha said. "That was a really crazy day for all of us." But Mazren ignored her as he continued to chew Gene out.

"You know, I'm so glad that my sister travels with a guy who cares so much about her." Although Gene had sat silently through all of Mazren's berating, that last one was the final straw. Leaping out of his seat, he shoved Jim aside and slammed his fist straight across Mazren's jaw. Mazren was caught off guard by Gene's punch and sent stumbling back, a line of blood trailing from his lip. Jim and the others went silent as the sound of the impact echoed throughout the garden. Slag, seeing what Gene had done, leapt straight for Gene's throat. But Aisha caught him in mid jump and was able to hold him back.

"YOU GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH!" Gene screamed. "I'D GIVE MY LIFE FOR MELFINA! I'D KILL ANYONE WHO TRIED TO HURT HER!" Wiping off the blood from his jaw, Mazren's lip curled back in a snarl. His dark green eyes were as hard as burning steel, and his face long scar twitched in anger.

"You know Starwind," Mazren growled, "I'm really starting to get tired of your ugly face!"

"Bring it on then!" Gene growled back as he gestured with his hand. Mazren accepted and the two lunged for each other as Suzuka and Jim intervened. Suzuka and Aishia, still holding on to Slag by his collar, grabbed a hold of Mazren while Jim grabbed onto Gene's waist. They all struggled to hold on to them as Gene and Mazren continued to charge for each other like a pair of rabid dogs.

"Come on Gene calm down!" Jim pleaded.

"Mazren, this won't do us any good!" Suzuka told him. But neither Gene nor Mazren paid them any heed.

"What's the matter huh?" Gene yelled. "Come on Mr. big bad bounty hunter! Or are you just talk?"

"You're nothing but a punk Starwind!" Mazren yelled back. "I don't know why my sister trusts you so much because you haven't done anything to deserve it!" With a scream of rage, Gene shoved Jim aside as Mazren broke free of Suzuka and Aisha's grasp. The two of them were only inches from clashing when a blur of green and gold intervened. The blur spun and sent Gene and Mazren flying. As soon as the blur stilled, Jim saw that it was actually Jubei, a look of anger on his face as he looked down to the two hotheads.

"Enough!" the Wiseman roared. "Don't you fools understand? This is exactly what your enemies want! Unless you two learn to work together, than your hopes for protecting your friend are all in vain." As Gene and Mazren got back up to their feet, Jubei's face softened slightly. "Now I understand that you both have been through a very hard day, so I am willing to say your behavior is due to stress. I therefore suggest that you all retire to your quarters for the night. Hopefully, a good night's sleep will be able to restore an ounce of sanity to your heads."

"I think that would be a good idea Jubei," Suzuka said. She walked over to Mazren and placed her hands on his shoulders, turning him away from Gene. "Just let it go for now, all right?"

"Come on Gene," Jim said. "Let's do what Jubei said and go get some rest. Things will look better in the morning."

"I doubt it," Gene answered, his eyes locked on Mazren.

"One more thing," Suzuka said as her vision shifted to them all in turn. "Melfina probably had her reasons for not telling us what happened. Therefore, it might be best if we just forgot about it for now." Jim and the others agreed and they all headed for their designated rooms. Just as Gene and Jim were about to enter their building, Mazren suddenly called out to Gene.

"Hey Starwind!" Gene and Jim turned around and watched as Mazren pointed first at Gene, then to himself. "You and me Starwind. One of these days, you and me."

"Whatever," Gene said. As he and Jim entered their building, Gene suddenly turned around and headed back outside.

"Where you going Gene?" Jim asked.

"I'm just going to go check on Melfina again," Gene replied without turning around. Jim nodded in understanding.

"Well than I guess I'll see you in the morning. Just try not to get into another fight with Mazren okay?"

"Yeah sure," Gene replied. As Gene and Jim went their separate ways, Jim went into his room and flopped down on the bed. As he looked out the window, Jim sighed at feeling so helpless. Sometimes, he wished that he were older, or at least a little stronger. Every time that there was a fight, he always had to sit by helpless on the sidelines. He could fire a gun, but that was just about it. He may have been the brains of the team, but his technical expertise wouldn't amount to squat against people who seemed to be almost superhuman. Even so, he thought, it's the only thing I can do. I just hope that I can find that transmitter when I go check out Yama's ship. It could be just the thing to give us the edge we need against the Toku.

As he walked back towards Melfina's room, Gene tried his best to ignore the throbbing in his hand. Jesus Christ! he thought. What the hell is that guy's jaw made of anyway? Reaching Melfina's door, he opened it and went inside, grateful that he hadn't run into Mazren again. Heading for the bed, he again kneeled down by Melfina's side and reached for her. As he ran his fingers through her voluminous raven strands, Gene felt himself torn by several emotions at once. He was angry, he was tired, but most of all; Gene felt betrayed. At the very least, Gene thought that he was Melfina's friend. Why didn't she tell him about what Harry did to her? Did she really think that he wouldn't care? Or was there another reason?

As he continued to stroke her hair, Melfina suddenly stirred. Fearing that he had awakened her, Gene retracted his hand. However, Melfina didn't awaken; she merely turned her head so that she now faced Gene, her head lying on its left side. Looking down at her, Gene was awestruck at how beautiful Melfina looked in her sleep. Her black hair was spread all across her face and pillow while the night had tainted her alabaster skin a light blue. Her face was peaceful, devoid of happiness or fear, the same way it looked when he had first found her. Gene guessed that Melfina's peaceful expression was a result of her not being able to dream which was probably a good thing. If she did, what just happened to her would have kept her awake all night crying.

When he saw that she wasn't going to wake up, Gene once more reached out with his hand. Brushing away some of the loose strands, he eventually uncovered the spot under her right eye, the same place where he had seen Harry punch her. Gene closed his eyes as he felt the burning rage once more rise inside him. What Harry did to her was unforgivable. Melfina didn't deserve to be treated like that. But as kind and as innocent as she was, it always seemed as though there was someone out there trying to hurt her.

Opening his eyes, Gene looked back down to Melfina's sleeping form and felt the anger slowly subside. As he focused on where Harry had struck her, he suddenly began to see the bruise appear. Without realizing what he was doing, Gene lowered his head and-being careful not to wake her up-gently kissed the spot. He allowed his lips to stay against her warm, soft skin for just a second longer, but withdrew them before he woke her up. Gene then realized that he couldn't leave Melfina's side. He was too afraid that someone would try to hurt her again if he did. Pushing himself off the floor, Gene walked over to the desk and took its chair over to Melfina's bed. After sitting down beside her, his hand once again wandered over to Melfina's face and rested against her forehead. "Sweet dreams Melfina," he softly whispered. "No matter what happens, I promise that I'll protect you." Of course, Gene really had no idea as to how he was going to keep his promise. But then, Gene remembered his battle against Mako's illusions. Retracting his right hand, he studied it and the dragon crest on its back. To help defeat those illusions, the Sword manifested its power into a blade of pure light that Gene had somehow created himself. Could he do it again?

Positioning his hand so that it pointed away from his face, Gene closed his eyes and tried to remember just how he had pulled it off. Concentrating as hard as he could, he tried to bring the power out. When he didn't feel anything, he tried again. But after five attempts and one skull-cracking headache, he realized that he wasn't going to succeed. I guess that I'll just call it a night, Gene decided. As he leaned back in his chair, another thought struck his mind. The Toku were the ones who killed his father. That wasn't any illusion, that part had really happened. The combination of trauma and passing time had simply made Gene forget. But why, that was what Gene wanted to know. As far as Gene knew, the only enemies his dad had was the traffic commission for some outstanding parking tickets. And Gene knew that his dad never would have taken him into space if there really were a legitimate threat to their safety. All these years, he had thought that the pirate attack that had killed his father was nothing more than a random circumstance; that he and his dad had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But after everything that had happened today; Gene wasn't so sure anymore. If the Toku really were the ones who had attacked his dad's ship, that could only mean one thing; that the Toku had attacked them because of him. The Toku knew that I was going to become the Swordwielder, Gene realized. But were they trying to capture me or kill me? And what about Melfina? Are the Toku really after her to sacrifice her to the Sword? Or is it because of me? As he finally gave in to his exhaustion, Gene knew that there was only one course of action he could take.

Standing at the command station on the bridge of the Damocles Sword, Xanax silently observed the activity around him. Beneath him, the bridge crew quickly but efficiently made the final preparations for departure. Their orders had arrived only an hour ago. Lord Mako had failed in his attempt to secure the android girl Melfina, and now Lord Shidowkun had decided to handle the matter personally. Walking over to observation window, Xanax gazed out over the view from the bridge. The Damocles Sword was the personal battleship of Lord Shidowkun, and the flagship of the Toku's paramilitary forces. Roughly a kilometer long, it was the largest non-government owned ship in the galaxy. Roughly T-shaped in design, a pair of wing-like extensions sprouted from the rear third section and ran all the way back to the aft. An Armageddon-class Dreadnaught, it had originally been commissioned by the Einhorn Empire as an assault carrier and destroyer. Unfortunately, there were irreparable design flaws in its experimental sub-ether drive and no other type was strong enough to power it. As a result, it was decommissioned and sentenced to rust away in a ship's graveyard. The Toku had rescued it, replacing the faulty drive with one of their own design and outfitting it to Lord Shidowkun's specifications. In addition to its imposing size, the Damocles Sword was also feared for its vast array of bristling weaponry. Positioned all over the hull were dozens of heavy beam cannons, missile tubes, and machine gun turrets. Inside the wings were two fighter bays large enough for twelve full squadrons of the Toku's Shadowblade fighters, ten planetary dropships, and four squadrons of Cub fighters with magnetic anchors. But the most powerful weapon was in the ship's pronged bow. When activated, the prongs would open, spread apart, and-after two minutes of charging-the Mega-Particle cannon concealed therein would fire and destroy nearly anything in its path. Though not quite as strong as the much-glorified "Links Canon," of the Angel Links Security Force's flagship, the Mega-Particle cannon's much faster recharge time more than made up for it. And just for additional protection, a squadron of eight Grappler ships accompanied the Damocles Sword as escorts whenever it left port. Of course, most of these armaments wouldn't see any action on this mission. Lord Shidowkun had previously said that this would be a ground campaign.

"Captain Xanax," the communication officer suddenly called out.

"What is it?"

"I've just received word from Lord Shidowkun," the officer answered. "He, Lady Aeslea and their warriors have just lifted off planetside."

"I see," Xanax replied. Because of the sheer size of the Damocles Sword, landing it on a planet was impossible. All resupply work had to be done in orbit from a specially constructed port made from a hollowed out asteroid. Peering out to starboard, Xanax looked down towards the ringed planet where Shidowkun had placed his fortress. To protect his base from attack, Shidowkun himself had designed a unique shielding system that created a blanket of perpetual darkness around the globe. And should that not be enough, several automated defense satellites equipped with pulse cannons and missiles had been placed in orbit, ready to target any ship that had been deemed a threat. As Xanax continued to watch, a small personal shuttle followed by a larger dropship exited the darkness field and made it's way to the port. "Continue your work," he told the bridge crew. "I am going to greet the Emperor upon his arrival." Exiting the bridge, Xanax walked down the corridor towards a lift and rode it down to the lower levels of the ship. Walking down another corridor, the sound of repressurization signaled that the shuttle had docked inside of its private bay. The dropship that had followed it would be going straight to its designated docking bay in the bottom of the ship. Continuing on his way, Xanax entered through the hatchway that led into the small hanger. He walked up to the shuttle and stood to attention as the shuttle's hatch opened, revealing the Emperor and Lady Aeslea inside.

"My Lord," Xanax said as he bowed in respect.

"What is the condition of the Damocles Sword?" Shidowkun asked.

"We are making the final preparations for departure now my Lord," Xanax said. "I estimate that we will be able to depart for Minos in less than thirty minutes." Despite the fact they were actually ahead of schedule, Shidowkun's blazing eyes narrowed in anger.

"I ordered this ship to be ready upon my immediate arrival Xanax," the Emperor reminded him. "It shouldn't take you more than an hour to prepare it. Maybe I should consider replacing you with someone more competent." It was then that Xanax began to feel deathly afraid for his life.

"Come now my lord," Aeslea said as her voluptuous arms entwined around Shidowkun's powerful one. "Xanax is merely a man, not a god like yourself. Surely you can see fit to grant him forgiveness this one time." The Emperor gazed down at his concubine and appeared to relax slightly.

"I suppose that another thirty minutes won't matter," Shidowkun said as he returned his fiery gaze to Xanax. "But if it is one minute over, you know what will happen." Xanax nodded as Shidowkun looked back down to Aeslea. Raising his clawed gauntlet, he roughly cupped her chin in his hand. "You however, spoke out of turn. Escort my assassins to their quarters and then report back to mine for your punishment. Understood?" Aeslea nodded, her eyes filled with both fear and excitement of what her "punishment" was to be. With a whirl of his cape, Shidowkun pushed past Xanax and made his way into the ship. Aeslea herself left to meet and organize Shidowkun's fighters, turning her head to shoot Xanax a glance that clearly said that he was now in her debt. "Remember Xanax," Shidowkun ordered as he vanished from sight, "not a minute over." With a sigh of relief, Xanax followed after the Emperor, grateful that he had been forgiven for the delay. He had seen what Shidowkun did to those who failed him. It was a fate that he sincerely hoped to avoid.

When the sunlight played across her face, Melfina quietly woke up. Her first sensation was of feeling something against her head. Opening her eyes, she found that she was in her quarters. The thing that she had felt against her head was a hand, and Melfina smiled when she saw whom it belonged to. Gene, she thought. Rising to a sitting position, she found that Gene's coat had been wrapped around her. Pulling it up to her head, she smelled the lining and smiled slightly. Gene's coat was heavy with the scent of that musky cologne of his. He always seemed to wear too much. Melfina could never understand why, but it was one of the things that endeared him so much to her. She had first smelled it back when she was awakened. She was so confused, but when Gene put his coat on her and told her that he was going to help her, she had forgotten all about her fear. Ever since then, she had always associated the smell of his cologne with a feeling of safety.

Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she studied Gene for what seemed like a long time. The memory from last night was mostly a blur. She remembered fainting, and then feeling a paralyzing sense of fear, as if she was reliving when Harry tried to take her away. And then, she woke up and saw Gene kneeling above her. Although she couldn't accurately remember what happened, a feeling of terror had remained and she flung herself against Gene. Melfina cried on his shoulder as Gene held and comforted her until she finally gave in to her exhaustion and against him. Did I dream it? she wondered. But then why don't I remember dreaming after that? No it must have been a hallucination caused by something I ate at the feast last night. But even if it was a hallucination, Gene had stayed by her side all night to watch over her. Melfina thought back to everything that Gene had done for her. How he had protected her from the Pirates and the McDougal brothers, how he had promised to find her past, and then freed her from being the Maiden of the Leyline. He even risked his life for her by going into Gehenna Prison when Gwen Khan locked her in stasis mode. But still, that was in the past. After their breakup, Gene had gotten on with his life by going back to the "dating scene," as he called it. I'll just have to bury my feelings deep down, she decided. Otherwise I'll just be hurting myself even more. With a sigh, Melfina rose off the bed. Laying Gene's coat across his sleeping form, Melfina leaned down and parted some loose strands of his fiery red hair before gently pressing her lips to Gene's forehead.

"Thank you Gene," she whispered as a tear fell from her eye. Turning around, she changed into some fresh clothes, being careful not to wake Gene up. After washing her face at the sink, Melfina put on her heels and cloak and silently crept towards the door, leaving Gene to his rest. Shutting the door as quietly as she could, Melfina walked down the hall and exited into the morning sunlight. She walked down a series of stairs and entered a doorway that led into the main hall of the fortress. Most of the Dragon Clan was there eating breakfast. Looking to the main table, she saw Jim, Mazren and the others eating as well. As she walked over to join them, Jim saw her and leapt off his seat.

"Mel!" he called out. He ran over to her and threw his arms around her waist. Melfina smiled and hugged him back. "I'm so glad to see you're all right."

"So am I," she said as the others reached them.

"Melfina are you all right?" Mazren asked as he gently placed his hands on her shoulders.

"I'm a little tired," she told her brother. "But I'm all right now." Feeling something press against her hip, Melfina looked down and saw Slag nuzzling his head against her.

"It's good to see you up and about Melfina," Suzuka said. "You certainly gave us all a scare last night."

"I know," Melfina said as she looked to each of her friends. "I'm sorry to have put you all through it."

"Don't worry about it Mel," Aisha told her. "Now come on. I saved you a plate and it's getting cold."

"Thanks," Melfina said as she and the others went back to the main table.

"By the way Mel," Aisha suddenly asked, "What was that move you used on me last night anyway?"

"What?" Melfina asked as she stopped. All around her, the others suddenly grew mixed looks of shock and frustration.

"Oops!" Aisha said as her hand went to her mouth. Her and the other's actions suddenly started to get Melfina nervous.

"What's going on?" she asked. When no one answered, the fear inside only increased. It was then that Suzuka told her everything that had happened last night, how the Shogun of Mind had taken control of her and made her attack them all, and how Gene had to go inside her mind to save her. When Suzuka was finished, Melfina felt sick with horror.

"Everyone," her voice cracked as she buried her face in her hands, "I'm so sorry."

"It wasn't your fault Mel," Jim told her as his hand touched her arm.

"But Jim I hit you!" she wailed. How could she have done something so cruel to Jim, especially after he risked his life earlier that same day to protect her.

"You didn't hit me," Jim said. "Mako did. He was the one who was controlling you. I know you'd never do something like that. So don't worry about it okay?"

"Are you sure?" she asked as she looked down to him.

"Of course I do," he answered. He then rubbed his cheek with his other hand. "But let's just hope that I never do get on your bad side." Melfina looked at him in confusion before she realized that he was teasing her.

"Yeah sure," she said as a smile appeared on her face. As Melfina and the others sat down to eat, she suddenly saw Gene walk through the doorway. As he walked over to join them, Melfina noticed that he was walking funny. He moved slowly and his eyes were downcast. It looked as if he hadn't gotten any rest at all.

"Hey Gene over here," Jim called out. Mazren looked up and glared angrily at Gene as he approached them, but Gene didn't even seem to notice. Melfina hoped that they hadn't gotten into another fight last night.

"Good morning Gene," Melfina said as he sat down beside her.

"Huh?" he replied as he suddenly raised his head. "Oh yeah, morning." Melfina noticed that Gene's attitude was a little more curt than usual. Not in a rude way, more as if he had something on his mind.

"Is something wrong Gene?" she asked.

"Nah," he said. "It's nothing Mel."

"All right," she said as she returned to eating. Melfina could tell that something was bothering Gene, but she realized that she shouldn't try to make him tell her. She could only hope that he would tell her when he was ready. After breakfast, they all left the main hall together and walked out to the courtyard that lay in front of the three levels of structures.

"I hope you all can excuse me," Suzuka said after they exited into the sunlight. "But I have business that I need to attend to."

"Don't tell me that someone here hired you for a job Suzu," Aisha said.

"Not exactly," Suzuka answered. "Yama broke my bokuto remember? I need to go talk to Korde and see if he has any that he can spare. Oh and Aisha?"

"Yeah Suzu," Aisha answered.

"Stop calling me…oh never mind." Suzuka then veered left and entered a doorway that led down into the base of the fortress.

"Well," Aisha said as she started to walk away herself. "I guess I'll be going for a stroll. I could use the exercise."

"I've got to be going too," Jim said as he adjusted the weight of his backpack. "A party's been organized to go out to Yama's ship and I've got to go with them." As he and Aisha walked away, Jim looked back towards Melfina. "Do you want to come too Mel?"

"That's all right Jim," she answered. "I think that I'll stay here."

"All right if you say so," Jim replied as he left them. It was then that Mazren spoke.

"I've got to leave myself Melfina," her brother told her. "If I can't become the Swordwielder, than I'll just have to get stronger. But I'll leave Slag behind to help protect you."

"I know," she said as Slag walked over and sat down by her side. Melfina reached down and patted the wolf's head.

"If you do need me for any reason though, just hit the red button on this," he said as he fished into one of the many pockets in his jacket. When he retracted his hand, he pulled out a tracer the size of a penny. On one side was a small red switch while the other had a tape of sticky adhesive. "The signal is tuned to my brain's nanoclusters. I'll home in on your signal and come as fast as I can. Okay?"

"All right," she said as she took the tracer from him. Melfina stared at the tracer for a second before sticking the adhesive side to the inside of a pocket in her skirt. She then put her slender arms around Mazren's powerful body and held him. Mazren hugged his sister back and Melfina wished that he didn't have to go. But she understood it was necessary for him to protect her. As they pulled apart, Mazren turned to Gene and shot him a menacing glare before leaving himself.

"Um Melfina," Gene said after Mazren left.

"You have to go somewhere else too don't you?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"I really don't want to leave you alone," he told her. "But I've got to go talk to Jubei about something that's really important."

"I understand," she said. "But you don't have to worry about me Gene. I have Slag so I won't be lonely."

"All right then," Gene said as he turned around. "I guess I'll see you later." Without another word, Gene turned and headed for the main steps that led up to Jubei's tower.

"Gene," Melfina suddenly called out. Gene stopped in his tracks and turned to look at her.

"Yeah?" She wanted so badly to ask him, but the words became stuck in her throat.

"Thank you for saving me last night," she said after a brief silence. Gene rubbed the back of his head as he smiled slightly.

"Hey, what are friends for?" he asked as he resumed his trek up the stairs. A friend, Melfina sadly thought. That's all I can ever hope to be to Gene. Walking over to a stone bench up against the wall, Melfina sat down and watched Gene disappear into the main tower. Looking away, Melfina saw Slag padding over to lay his head on her lap. As Melfina stroked his head, she wished that she had to courage to ask Gene what she really wanted to. Did it really happen or was it just my imagination? Subconsciously, Melfina's other hand went up to her right cheek, right below her eye. It was the same spot where Harry had hit her. But last night, she thought that she felt someone gently stroking her hair followed by what felt like a kiss on that same spot. Though she was almost positive that she wasn't able to dream yet, Melfina did have some limited sense of what was happening around her when she slept. And when she saw Gene asleep in his chair beside her, she had wondered if it was him. No, she decided as she shook her head. It was just my imagination and nothing more.

"So they left you all alone huh?" Melfina looked up and saw Keibara leaning against the wall across from her. The ninja girl was wearing a green and gold tunic with leather breeches that clung tightly around her athletic legs. "I was about to go out into the jungle to get some things that the clan needed. You wanna come with?" Melfina blinked in surprise at Keibara's question.

"Um, sure," she answered after a while.

As Gene walked away from Melfina, he felt the guilt eating away at him. He knew that Melfina could probably use a friend after what happened last night, but he wasn't ready to face her yet. When she spoke to him at breakfast, he couldn't even look at her. It wasn't because he was mad at her for not telling him what Harry did, but because he was mad at himself. No matter what her reason was, it never would have happened in the first place if he had done a better job of protecting her. Well that's going to change right now, Gene vowed. By the time he was through, he would have enough power to keep her safe from everyone who tried to hurt her. And maybe get a little payback for himself as well.

When he finally reached the door that led into the main tower, Gene opened it and stepped inside. Taking a look around, Gene whistled in awe. The entire interior of the tower was hollow with walls lined with separate levels of decks. On each level were bookcases that wrapped all around the walls. Ladders led up to each level from the one below, allowing access to each one. All around him, members of the Dragon Clan climbed between levels as they returned books to their shelves and got out new ones. In the tower's center, a stone column with a door carved into it ran up from the floor to the ceiling. "Melfina would love this place," he said aloud. With all the reading she did, she could probably clear this place out in one day.

"Really? Well as our guest she is certainly welcome to come here." Gene turned to look at the speaker. In front of the doorway of the column stood Jubei and Tyr, their faces saying that they were expecting him. "But something tells me that you are not here to catch up on your reading," the Wiseman said. Not bothering to deny it, Gene walked up to the two of them.

"Can I be perfectly honest with you two?" he asked.

"Of course," Tyr answered. Taking a deep breath, Gene readied himself to say what he needed to.

"I don't want the Sword," he told them. "I don't want to lead your clan into battle, and I definitely don't want to be the protector of the universe. But the fact of the matter is that the Toku are trying to kill my friend and the Sword is the only thing that can stop them. So I need to know right now." Gene paused as he looked over both of them. "Can you teach me how to use the Sword's power?" Jubei and Tyr both looked to each other as they considered their answer.

"Well," Tyr said with a shrug, "at least he's honest."

"Indeed Tyr," Jubei commented.

"He certainly won't be an easy student though."

"True," Jubei said with a smile, "but it's the challenging ones that are the most satisfying." It was then that Gene began to run out of patience.

"Look can I just have a straightforward answer?" he asked. Jubei and Tyr both looked to him and nodded.

"Very well then," Jubei said. "Tyr, go prepare the training grounds. It's a nice day. I think that we'll hold class outside."

"At once Master Jubei," the bearded warrior said as he walked past Gene and out the door. After Tyr had left, Jubei turned his attention to Gene.

"Come with me Gene Starwind," Jubei told him as he vanished into the column. Gene followed after and found himself at the bottom of a narrow, winding stairway that led up to the top of the tower. Following the sound of Jubei's footsteps, Gene climbed up the stairway and eventually reached the top level. Gasping from exhaustion, Gene looked around and surveyed what must have been Jubei's quarters. Rather Spartan in design, the only real furniture was a mattress set up against the wall. The only decorations were a row of Banzai trees set up against the far side and two paintings on the walls. On the wall above the Banzai row was a picture of a human surrounded by a sphere surrounded by a dragon. On the dragon's scales were five circles that each contained a Japanese character. On the wall in front of him, a massive yin-yang symbol had been painted all over the surface. And in front of the symbol, was a straw mat where Jubei sat cross-legged with his staff straight up in his hand.

"So when does the training start?" Gene asked. The Wiseman tilted his head up to stare at him.

"Right now." That was just the sort of thing that Gene wanted to hear.

"Great," he said. "What I'd like to learn first is how to create a sword of light. I did it when I fought against Mako, but I haven't been able to do it yet so…" but Gene stopped when he heard Jubei chuckle. "Hey what the hell's so funny?"

"I'm sorry," the Wiseman said as he raised his hand. "But what you just suggested; it's like trying to learn to ride a bike before you can walk."

"All right then," Gene said as he walked up to Jubei, "what do you suggest we do first then?" Reaching behind him, Jubei pulled out a second straw mat and tossed it in front of him.

"Sit down," he ordered. Gene did and Jubei looked up to meet his gaze.

"Before we can begin what you suggested, there are certain things that you must learn first."

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

"First of all," Jubei said as he rattled the chimes on his staff, "what is the force behind everything?" Gene had no time to play riddle games so he just shrugged. "The answer is ki."

"Really," Gene replied, doing his best to sound sincere.

"Ki is the force behind everything," Jubei said. "From the crackle of fire to the rolling sea waves; from the beating of the heart to the flaming core of the sun, ki is the force behind it all."

"But I thought ki was just life force?" Gene asked.

"Not exactly," Jubei replied. "Life force is the bio-electric energy that living beings generate to sustain their biological functions. Ki however, is the energy of the internal, of the soul."

"So the soul generates ki?"

"Everything that generates ki has a soul. Simply put, Ki is the essence of what we are. It is the personification of our will and is the source of our ability to choose our destiny."

"Uh huh," Gene nodded. "So does that mean that every living thing has a soul?"

"Not exactly. A soul can only exist and grow if its host possesses free will. Humans and animals have free will, but plants don't. They are a symbol of Wood, the element of life and it's cycle of birth and death."

"Then where do plants get their ki from then?"

"The ki of wood," Jubei replied, "like the other five elements of earth, air, water, and fire are extensions of the ki of a living planet. They aid a planet in the control of its ecosystems. But the ki of living organisms and planets is not the only type of ki. There is a third type that surpasses them all, yet also serves to link them together. This third ki is the ki of the universe, which controls the concept of fate."

"So what generates the universe's ki?" Gene asked.

"That depends on your point of view. Some call it god. Others call it the Tao. I and the slain brethren of my former order called it the Dragon."

"Any particular reason why?"

"There are a great many reasons," Jubei answered. "To the eastern mystics of Old Earth, the Dragon was the most venerated of animals. In the Chinese Zodiac, it held the highest rank of celestial power. From the Dragon's breath originated the ki lines that were the great cosmic forces. And in its mouth, it held an orb which contained both the knowledge and operating principle of the universe." Gene thought for a second on what Jubei had said. If what he said was true, than the Galactic Leyline was most likely the Dragon's orb.

"That's all well and interesting," he said. "But don't expect me to believe it."

"Why not?" Jubei asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No offense, but I've never been a believer in a loving creator god. Not after the life I've lived."

"I never said that the Dragon was a loving creator god," Jubei said. "What I said was that it was in essence the soul of the Universe itself. The Dragon concerns itself not with the suffering or happiness of individuals, but with maintaining the overall balance of the universe. It exists beyond our definitions of good and evil, but is the bringer of them both through the ki lines. "

"Okay now I'm lost," Gene said. "Let me see if I can follow. The Dragon is neither good nor evil, but he brings them both?"

"The Dragon is responsible for maintaining the balance of the universe," the Wiseman continued. "To do so, the Dragon uses the ki lines it generates to create the forces of chi and sha."

"But isn't chi the same as ki?" Gene asked.

"Chi is an expression of ki. It is the force of creation, light, and life while Sha is the force of destruction, darkness, and death."

"So does that mean that there is some kind of divine plan?" Gene asked. Jubei was silent for a long time as he considered his answer.

"Every organism, every planet, and the Dragon that is the source of all ki," he said, "is in itself a separate entity. Therefore, each soul is capable of generating its own individual will as well as its own forces of chi and sha. For humans, these two forces are represented by the emotions that we call love and hate. But regardless of its source, ki is ki and is therefore all connected. In the case of the universe, the ki lines record and send to the dragon everything that occurs. If light or darkness gains too much of a leeway over the other, the Dragon examines all factors, and then decides the proper action to take to ensure that the universe is kept in balance. Sometimes it uses random events, other times it uses people. This is what makes up the equation of probability that we call fate. Of course, this doesn't mean that we have to blindly accept fate. As humans are capable of generating their own ki, they have free will, and are able to decide what actions they take in regard to what fate hands them." As Jubei finished with his speech, Gene rubbed his throbbing temples.

"Look," he said. "I'm not a scholar, I'm just an outlaw. Could I just have it in layman's terms please?"

"Then how about this?" Jubei asked. "Humans can't choose everything that happens to them, but they can choose how they react to it. This is the key to what we call destiny. Does that make it easier?"

"Yeah I guess," Gene answered. "But what about the Sword? What's the secret of its power?"

"That's an easy one," Jubei told him. "The Sword is a bridge between the ki of its master and that of the universe. Your soul and the Dragon are now linked. When you summon the Sword's power, you are actually drawing on the power of the universe itself. But because you have free will, you are able to use the power as you see fit."

"So does that mean that I could rid the universe of all evil if I chose to?" Gene asked.

"Or maybe even destroy it all if you so desire," Jubei answered.

"You know," Gene said with a cringe, "that doesn't exactly make me feel any better."

"It's not supposed to," Jubei said bluntly. "But you needn't worry about it. The only limits to your power are your imagination. And humans lack the mental capacity for such a massive accomplishment."

"If you say so," Gene said, only slightly relieved. "So is everything that generates its own ki both good and evil?"

"That is the operating principle of the universe," Jubei said as he gestured towards the yin-yang symbol behind him. "Everything is balanced. Light cannot exist without darkness, just as life cannot exist without death. In every human soul there lies the potential for both good and evil. At least, that's what I've always thought."

"What do you mean?" Gene asked.

"Your friend Melfina," Jubei answered. "When I first met her, I could tell that there was something different about her. But it wasn't until I actually examined her ki that I found out what it was."

"And what exactly did you find?" Gene asked, ready and willing to shoot Jubei dead on the spot if he said that Melfina didn't have a soul.

"I found no evil," the Wiseman said. "It's very strange, but it seems that her soul is free of all darkness. I've never encountered someone like her before. She can obviously tell the difference between good and evil, she has free will, and she feels emotions, but there is no darkness motivating her actions, only light. She looks human, but it's impossible for a human to be born without the potential for evil. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that I could that she isn't human."

"So if she's not human than what do you think she is?" he asked, curious to hear Jubei's answer.

"The only thing that I can think of is that she is a being higher than human," Jubei said. "Or maybe just possesses a higher soul. But that is beside the point. No matter what she is, it is none of my concern so I'll leave it alone if you wish me to." Gene was relieved that Jubei didn't press the matter. He really didn't want to have to reveal that Melfina was a bio-android. He was always afraid of someone using that knowledge to hurt her in some way. It was then that I thought suddenly occurred to Gene.

"What about her brother Mazren?" he asked. "Did you sense no evil in him as well?"

"No," the Wiseman answered. "In him, I could sense a very strong darkness. Luckily, he has chosen not to be ruled by it. However, I did sense very strong ki in him, far stronger than in any human I've ever met before. If he had been chosen as the Swordwielder, there is a very good chance that he could have been the most powerful one yet. Now then; are there any more questions that you would like me to answer?"

"No," Gene answered, "not really."

"Then the first lesson is over," Jubei said as he rose to his feet. "We will now move on to your next lesson. Tyr should have prepared the training grounds by now." As Jubei walked over to the door, Gene stood up and followed. Following Jubei back down the stairs, a new question suddenly formed in Gene's mind.

"Hey Jubei?" Gene asked.


"Last night when you said that I was the only one who could save Melfina; was it because you knew that I'd have to call the Sword?" Jubei stopped in his tracks and turned around to face him. From under the rim of his broad rimmed hat, Jubei's eyes shone with an honest wisdom.

"I hoped that you would call it," he answered truthfully. "But that wasn't the main reason as to why I said only you could do it."

"And that was what exactly?" Gene asked

"Your bond with her was the strongest," Jubei replied. When it became clear that Gene didn't understand, Jubei explained even further. "When souls open up to each other, they exchange ki between them, forming a bond. Melfina had formed very strong bonds with you and the rest of your friends, but the one that you share with her was by far the strongest. Therefore, you had the best chance to save her."

"One more thing," Gene said. "Was the sword the only reason that I won?" Jubei went silent once more as he searched for an answer Gene hoped would satisfy him.

"The Sword did give you access to awesome power," he told Gene. "But it was your choice to use it and it was your desire to protect Melfina that enabled you to use it. You may now have more power than anyone else in the entire universe Gene Starwind, but unless you have both the knowledge and the will to use it, than it is all meaningless." Without another word, Jubei turned around and continued back down the stairway. Gene stood still for a second longer before following after. Jubei's answer didn't fully satisfy him, but he realized it would have to do.

As she walked through the jungle, Aisha did her best to try to relax. She had hoped that a little nature walk would help her, but her newfound uncertainty still hadn't left her. I just don't get it, she thought. I'm one of the invincible Ctarl-Ctarl. I come from a long line of great warriors. I attended the most prestigious military academy in the empire. I would have graduated with honors if I hadn't gotten that C- in grammar. But Askared, Yama, and even Mel when Mako possessed her knocked me around like I was nothing. How could I have been beaten so badly by a bunch of humans? It just doesn't make any sense! Stopping at an old tree with a thick trunk, Aisha looked down at the claws on her right hand. She had broken them on Yama's flesh, but thanks to the big feast last night, they had healed back up. Gazing over to the tree, Aisha extended her claws and drove them into the bark, easily raking deep gashes into the wood. That still works, she thought. Spotting a rock the size of a medicine ball half buried in the ground, Aisha strolled over and grasped it. Tensing her muscles, she easily tore it out. She tossed it into the air like a beach ball before setting it down on the ground. Clenching her fist, she swelled the muscles in her right arm and slammed her fist down onto the rock. The rock's hardness was no match for her Ctarl strength and she easily crushed it into powder.

"That works too. So why the hell do I keep getting my ass kicked by these guys!" she yelled, as she collapsed to the ground. Lying on her back, Aisha stared up to the leaf canopy and searched for the answer. If she couldn't come up with a way to increase her strength, than there'd be no way for her to protect the others. They weren't just friends or even crewmates; they were practically a second family. Suzu and Mel were like sisters and Gene was like a brother; albeit the obnoxious kind that you'd like to break the neck of sometimes. Even Maz was starting to feel like family. And then there was Jim, the closest thing that Aisha had to a boyfriend. "GAAAH!" Aisha yelled as she bolted straight up. "WHAT THE HELL AM I THINKING?" Although she tried to tell herself that it was just that pervert Keibara screwing with her head, Aisha had to admit that Jim was perhaps her favorite out of the others. She liked spending time with him. He was so uptight and serious; he needed someone fun around him to get him to lighten up. And of course, he wouldn't always be younger than her. Ctarl-Ctarl aged at least five-eighths the rate of humans. It was then that Aisha began to wonder what Jim would look like at her age.

As she sat on the ground, Aisha's ears suddenly began to pick up what sounded like a fight. Pushing herself up, Aisha cocked her ears as she tried to find the source. It sounds like it's coming from over there, she thought as she looked behind her. Rising to her feet, Aisha followed the source of the sound to an overhang that looked out over a small clearing. Peering over,
Aisha saw a silver feathered Silgrian man surrounded by a group of three humans and a pair of Ctarl-Ctarl. Curious, Aisha sat down on the ledge and watched.

"Whenever you're ready," the Silgrian man said. At his signal, the two Ctarl charged straight for him while the humans circled around to the left. When the first Ctarl reached him, it lashed out with claw swipes. The Silgrian easily dodged the attacks, not making any attempts to attack himself. But when the second Ctarl reached him, he drove the points of his middle and pointer finger into the shoulder joint of the first. The arm went limp, causing the Ctarl to lash out with his other one. The Silgrian caught the Ctarl's claw and pulled, using the inertia of the Ctarl's attack to send him flying into his comrade. It was then that the humans attacked from behind. Attacking as one, they spread out to three sides, forming a triangle that closed in around the Silgrian. They were inches from him when he suddenly moved. Raising his right arm, he delivered an underhand chop to the first one, then caught a thrust kick from a second and twisted, sending the human spinning to the ground. For the third one, he waited until the last minute before dodging. He then brought his hand around to the attackers neck and pushed, bringing his leg across the human's stomach for leverage and flipping him onto his back. The way that Silgrian fights, Aisha thought. It's just like Mel when she got possessed by Mako. As she continued to watch, the five warriors picked themselves off the ground and stood to attention.

"Thank will be all for today," the Silgrian said. "I'll meet you all here tomorrow at the same time."

"Hai!" the five warriors said as they bowed. With the session over, the three humans and the two Ctarl-Ctarl left the clearing. As soon as they had, Aisha couldn't help but start clapping. The Silgrian heard her applause and looked up towards her.

"Did you enjoy my little performance?" he asked.

"You bet I did," Aisha answered as she jumped down from the rock ledge.

"You're one of our guests if I'm not mistaken," the Silgrian inquired as Aisha landed on her feet and walked towards him.

"Yeah that's right," Aisha replied. "I was just wandering if you could tell me the secret of your strength."

"I appreciate the compliment," the bird man said, "but I'm not really strong."

"Sure you are," Aisha told him. "You just beat three humans and two Ctarl-Ctarl without breaking a sweat."

"True, but I didn't beat them because I'm stronger than them. I just fight in a more efficient way."

"What do you mean?" Aisha asked.

"Attack me," the Silgrian said. "And you'll see what I mean." Aisha was surprised by what the Silgrian had told her to do. Was he really serious?

"I beg you pardon?"

"Attack me," he repeated. "Don't worry. I promise that you won't be hurt." Although Aisha was reluctant to honor the Silgrian's request, what he had said just now had fully changed her mind.

"All right then," Aisha said as she flexed her muscles and assumed a Po-HedaHeda stance. "Just keep in mind that you asked for it." The Silgrian however, didn't say anything. He stood silently, leaving a gaping hole in his defense. Aisha attacked him head on, charging straight for him. She lashed out with a straight palm strike, but the Silgrian bent backwards at the last minute and avoided. Aisha then followed up with some punches, mixed in with some kicks. But even with her flashiest moves, Aisha still couldn't land a hit. Getting more and more frustrated, Aisha attacked with a downward claw strike that would have eviscerated an opponent at full strength. As her hand came down, the Silgrian grabbed it, twisted his body, tripped her with his leg, and sent Aisha rolling. Aisha landed on the ground where she laid face up, panting from exhaustion.

"See what I mean?" he asked her.

"I don't get it," she wheezed. "Those were my best moves, but I couldn't even touch you."

"That's because you waste too much energy on excessive movement and unfocused anger," he told her. "You're obviously a very skilled fighter, but you focus only on physical strength. Sometimes, it's not only how well you fight, but the way you fight that determines victory." Aisha thought for a second about what the birdman had said. If he was right, than it would explain how she lost so easily to the Shoguns. Askared had let her expend her energy until he was ready to strike while Yama had far outclassed her in strength.

"So what do you think that I should do?" she asked as she rose to a sitting position.

"If you'd like I'll give you some pointers on how to fight without wasting energy," the Silgrian suggested.

"Really?" Aisha asked as she jumped to her feet. "You'd really do that."

"Of course I would," he replied. Aisha could barely contain her happiness. With the help of this fighting master, maybe now she's be able to protect Mel and the others from the Toku. Clasping her hands in front of her face, she bowed her head in respect.

"I am Aisha Clan-Clan of the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire," she said.

"You may call me Ortho," the Silgrian said. "Now let us begin, we have much to do before the day is over."

"So how much farther is it anyway?" Gene asked.

"Not much further," Jubei answered. "Remember, patience is part of your training as well." Yeah right whatever, Gene thought. He and Jubei had been walking for almost half an hour. The Wiseman had led him through the jungle, across the river, and was now taking him to the other side of the mountain. Just where was this training ground anyway? To pass the time, Gene decided to ask Jubei some things that had been bothering him since he had first met the Wiseman.

"Hey Jubei?"


"You said that you'd tell us as to how you could be over one hundred years old after we awakened the Sword," Gene reminded him.

"That's right I did," the Wiseman answered without turning around.

"Well than?" Jubei looked over his shoulder to Gene.

"Tell me," he said, "do you know the difference between a Tao master and a Celestial Dragon?"

"Not really," Gene answered.

"To a Tao master," Jubei explained, "the ki lines, the energy of the universe, are nothing but tools to be used and abused for personal gain. But to a Celestial Dragon, the ki lines are a power to be respected and revered. And he who lives in harmony with the ki lines is empowered by them, nurtured by them, protected by them." Gene thought about what Jubei said and nodded. If what he said was true, than that would explain why most of the Tao masters he met-like the old man and little girl who attacked him, Jim, and Hilda on Sentinel-all looked like death warmed over. Even Hazonko, despite all his power, had something of a mummified look to him.

"So does that mean you're immortal?" Gene asked.

"Not exactly," Jubei answered. "I can be killed if I face an enemy stronger than myself, but my aging has been greatly slowed down."

"Okay I think I understand," he said. "One other thing, how did you ever become the Sword's guardian?"

"Two hundred years ago," Jubei answered, "a group of priests on a pilgrimage through space stumbled upon a lone planet much like this one. There, embedded in rock, asleep for centuries, was the sword. By studying its power, the priests came to understand its nature, its history, and the role that it could play in future events. Deciding to protect the sword from those who would abuse its power, they created an order known as the Celestial Dragons. The leader of the Celestial Dragons, the 1st Heaven's Dragon, was the one charged with protecting the Sword as well as the training of the swordwielder when and if he should finally appear."

"And since you're the sword's guardian," Gene assumed, "than I'm guessing that you were also the 1st Heaven's Dragon." Jubei didn't answer, he just looked to the side as a monkey scattered up a nearby tree. "So does that mean you can use its power?"

"I can hold the Sword," Jubei answered. "And I can use it to a limited degree, but it did not merge with me as it did with you. Therefore, you will have access to greater depths of power than I ever could."

"But if you could hold it and even use it," Gene said, "than why didn't you?"

"The Sword was not mine to use," the Wiseman said. "I was merely meant to be its protector until you finally arrived." Stopping in his tracks, Jubei turned around to face him. "The Dragon does not allow things to happen if they threaten the balance of the universe. To do so would mean destroying itself. It wants you to have the Sword. Rather encouraging don't you think?"

"Well that's where we're different," Gene remarked as he looked to the dragon crest on his hand. "I still don't know why I was chosen and I still think that it was a big mistake."

"You'll change your opinion in time," Jubei assured him as they continued on their way.

"I hope your right," Gene sighed. Out of the corner of his eye, Gene watched as a brightly plumed bird flew above his head. "What about that medallion though? What's the story behind it?"

"The medallion is a creation of my own making. I charted this planet's location, and then implanted a minute sample of the Sword's power into it. I then sent it out to circulate through the Galaxy. By doing so, I knew that sooner or later the medallion would find its way to the Swordwielder and then lead him here."

"So then how come it found its way to Mazren instead of me?" Gene asked.

"Obviously," Jubei answered, "the Dragon knew that sooner or later he would find his way to you. Ah look, we're here." Looking ahead, Gene saw that he and the Wiseman were standing at the edge of a large stone quarry. Sunk into the ground, the quarry was filled with broken rocks and jagged stone slabs that jutted out of the surface. Surrounded by the jungle on all sides, the lifeless rock pit seemed to be a blemish on the surface of the planet.

"This is the training grounds?" Gene asked.

"By practicing here," Jubei explained, "we can avoid unnecessary damage to the jungle. Besides, the rough terrain ensures a challenging workout."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Gene asked.

"Because while I am instructing you in the Sword's power, Tyr will be teaching you how to increase your fighting skills." As if on cue, Tyr appeared from behind one of the rock slabs.

"Master Jubei," the bearded warrior said. "Everything is ready."

"Excellent," Jubei replied. "Let's begin then." With a leap, Jubei slid down the side to the bottom of the quarry. Gene followed after, trailing a line of dust as he skidded down the surface. "Are you ready Gene Starwind?" Jubei asked as he joined the two of them.

"As much as I'll ever be," he answered. "What do we do first?"

"First," Tyr answered, "you must learn to find balance in your mind."

"What do you mean?" Gene asked.

"Everyone has the ability to summon and control their ki," Jubei replied. "But because of the conflict inside them between their forces of light and darkness, they are unable to focus it."

"So then how does someone find balance in their mind then?" Gene asked.

"To find balance," Tyr answered, "you must unite your light and darkness to a point where they work together. To do that, you must find alignment with your element."

"Alignment with my what?" Gene asked, not quite sure what to make of what he was hearing.

"There are five types of essence," Jubei replied, "and each one is in tune with one of the five primal elements of earth, air, wood, water, and fire. By placing one's mind in tune with one's element, one finds the balance that enables one to access and use their ki. For instance, if your element were earth, than your essence would be of an iron will and a determination as immovable as the mountain stone. But if your element were wood, than your essence would be of a love for life and all of its experiences. Likewise, the essence of water is peace and serenity while air is thought and contemplation."

"So then what's my element then?" Gene answered. Jubei instead raised his hand, and Gene watched as it began to glow, then burst into writhing flames.

"You element is fire," Jubei answered. "Fire is the symbol of passions and desire. It is the essence of the most tender love and the most murderous of rages." Gene didn't respond at first. His entire attention was locked in hypnotized fascination at the flames that danced across Jubei's hand.

"So is fire a strong element?"

"It is perhaps the most powerful of the five," Tyr answered. "Its power can turn a forest to ash or a mountain to a cinder. It can burn the air, or boil away a lake. But it is also the most dangerous of the five elements."

"Why's that?" Gene asked.

"If properly focused and controlled," Jubei answered, "than fire becomes the purifier. It cleanses a place of filth and decay, giving life a chance to start anew. But if not properly focused, than fire rages out of control, destroying itself and everything around it in the process. Do you understand?" As he spoke, Jubei flicked his hands and extinguished the flames.

"I think so. What you're saying is that I have to activate the Sword's power with my feelings. Well I tried that last night and nothing happened."

"That's because your mind wasn't in balance," Jubei replied. "Because your power is fueled by your emotions, it responds to a need and not a desire. So far, you've only been able to use it by instinct, in situations where your back is against the wall. You have to create a mindset where you can use it whenever you want."

"Well you're the teacher Jubei," Gene said. "How am I supposed to do that?"

"In the case of fire," Jubei explained, "go to a time in your life when you had nothing to lose and everything to gain. A time when your objective was clear and you knew that failure was not an option. A time when you had nothing but a drive from deep from inside you, urging you on."

"I see," Gene replied as he closed his eyes. "All right then just give me a minute." Gene searched his mind for any memory like the one Jubei described and quickly found it. He saw himself at the Leyline. He was running down a corridor. Melfina was up ahead somewhere, taken by Hazonko. Gene was sore and tired. He had already used up most of his shells, including two of the four special ones that he had gotten on Tenrei. He had only two shells left. If he used them, than his remaining life force would be used up and he would die. But he wouldn't stop. Melfina was just ahead, and he wasn't going to let Hazonko hurt her. He wasn't going to lose her like he lost his dad. As he focused on the memory, Gene suddenly felt something build up from somewhere inside him.

"Whoa!" he said. "I think I feel something happening."

"Good," Jubei replied. "Now grasp on to it, intensify it and raise it higher." Gene did as he was instructed and concentrated harder on the memory. The power began to build even higher, and Gene began to feel what felt like pure electricity crackling through his muscles. When it felt as though the power were leaking out of his pores, he opened his eyes to see what was happening.

"What the hell?" To his amazement, his entire body was glowing with a flaming blue light. On his hand, the dragon crest had changed from its dark green color to a brilliant white.

"Don't lose it," Tyr ordered. "Stay with it. Take it as far as you can go." Gene increased the power even further and felt it swell larger, filling his entire body and setting his mind on fire.

"I can't hold it," Gene yelled. "I feel like I'm going to explode!"

"Let it go than," Jubei told him. Gene did and screamed as he suddenly felt as though steam was escaping from his skin, swirling around his body and exploding out from him. When the pressure inside him was gone, Gene collapsed to his hands and knees. Looking up, he couldn't believe what he saw. All around him, rocks the size of his head had rolled away from him, pushed around by an unseen force. On the ground beneath him, lines in the dust at his feet showed evidence of being blown by a miniature whirlwind that appeared to have centered around him. As he rose back to his feet, he saw that Jubei and Tyr had a look of stunned amazement on their face.

"Congratulations lad," Tyr praised him.

"What for?"

"You just did something that takes most people years of intense training to accomplish," Jubei said. "You apparently have an extremely high awareness of your own ki. Higher than anyone I've ever met before."

"Really," Gene replied, not bothering to hide his obvious pleasure with himself. "Well, I'm really not surprised. After all, I'm awesome at whatever I set my mind to." Though Gene hoped to crack a smile from the normally solid faces of Tyr and Jubei, the two remained as serious as ever.

"I wouldn't get so cocky," Tyr told him. "You've still got quite a bit to learn."

"That's right," Jubei added on. "Rest yourself for a few minutes and then try it again."

Walking down the corridor, Suzuka made her way to what she had been told was the armory for the Dragon Clan. All around her, the hieroglyphs of the fortress adorned the walls and ceilings. Occasionally, Suzuka would see what looked like a shimmer form around them. Curious, she brushed her fingers against the wall and felt a slight tingle come from it, almost as if the wall was conducting electricity though it's carvings. What wondrous secrets this place must have, she thought. Turning left at an intersection, Suzuka went down another hall and came to a large heavy wooden door. From the other side, she heard what sounded like the clanging of metal being pounded. This must be it, she decided. Grasping the ring in the door's center, she heaved it open and entered the armory, her dark eyes taking notice of the activity inside. All around her, powerfully muscled men and women worked and pounded at various forges, filling the air with the sounds of clanging metal and the occasional hiss of a hot blade being cooled in water. Over against the far left wall, other forgers placed finished weapons on the racks. Among the many tools of war were katana swords, testubo war clubs, naginata blades, and shurikens. As she stood watching, Suzuka noticed that the armory was rather clean aired and cool for a room with such activities going on inside. And then she saw why. Set into the far wall was a series of air circulation fans for starships, most likely salvaged by the Dragon Clan from invaders.

"Can I help you miss?" a voice asked. Suzuka turned around and saw Korde standing to her left. The huge saurian was shirtless, which only seemed to emphasize his powerful body and massive number of scars. In his hands, he held a hammer and an unfinished katana blade.

"I was told that this was the armory for the fortress," Suzuka answered. "I came here because I needed to know if you had any spare bokutos that I could have. My last one broke in my fight with Yama yesterday. I would be most grateful if you could spare one." Korde's left eye squinted in question at her request.

"Why would you want a wooden sword?" he asked as he gestured to the weapons rack behind him. "If you really need a weapon than you're more than welcome to take one of these. I'm sure that a steel blade would be more useful than one of wood."

"You're very kind," Suzuka said. "But I'm afraid that I must have a bokuto. I prefer a weapon that can be switched from non-lethal to deadly at a moment's notice." Korde nodded in understanding, his widened eyes clearly showing that he was impressed with her answer.

"As you wish," he said as he handed his unfinished blade and hammer to one of his assistants. "I must say that your skill must be exceptionally strong it you can make a bokuto into a lethal weapon." He beckoned for Suzuka to follow him and he led her to a door set on the opposite side of the room. Opening the door, he and Suzuka entered into another section of the armory. In this one, warriors carved pieces of wood to form jo shortstaffs, bows, and arrows. When a wooden piece was finished, it was past on to another worker who added the necessary attachments of a spearblade, arrowhead, or notchstring. Over against the far wall, large clay pots had been set up side by side.

"Here you are," Korde said. Suzuka looked over and saw that he was handing a standard bokuto to her. "I don't have any that I can give you today, but I will tomorrow. In the meantime though, I will lend you this one so that you may continue to train your skills."

"I greatly appreciate it," she replied. "Tell me what's in those pots over by the far wall?" With a toothy grin, Korde walked over to one, opened it, and reached inside. Walking back over to Suzuka, he gestured her to follow and led her back into the blacksmith section of the armory.

"You see this?" he asked as he held his hand out to her. Suzuka leaned over and saw a pinch of green-black powder in his hands. As soon as she did, Korde called out to his workers. "Everyone stand clear!" The workers stood aside as Korde moved over to the closest forge and tossed the powder into the fire, leaping back as a violent puff of flame erupted from the forge.

"Gunpowder?" Suzuka asked as her surprise died down.

"In a way," Korde replied. "We've discovered a unique chemical compound on this planet that acts as an explosive enhancement. We mix it with standard gunpowder and use it to make explosive shurikens and arrows. Just two grams of the stuff is sufficient enough to blow a standard size car into shrapnel."

"I see," Suzuka said, grateful that the Dragon Clan weren't their enemies. "Well thank you for the bokuto."

"Your welcome," the scarred Saurian replied. "Just remember that it's just a loaner. Come back tomorrow and you'll get one that you can keep."

"I look forward to it," Suzuka said as she left Korde and his workers to get back to work. As she walked back down the hallway, Suzuka wondered as to why she had to wait until tomorrow for a new bokuto. From what she had seen, it wouldn't have taken very long to carve one. Oh well it doesn't really matter, Suzuka thought as she gazed down to the one Korde had loaned to her. This one will suffice for the time being. For now, I think that I'll go work on my techniques in one of the fortress's dojos.

Jubei watched as Gene Starwind continued in his attempts to master the Sword. Though the strain of summoning the Sword's power had completely overwhelmed him at first, Gene now seemed to be gaining a conscientious control of the amazing energies.

"Master Jubei?" Tyr whispered. "Did you sense that he had such an amazingly high awareness when you met him?"

"No I didn't" the Wiseman answered. "It was most likely dormant his entire life. It must have happened when he grasped the Sword. I imagine the shock of such an awesome power must have jarred it awake." As he spoke, Gene finished with his latest summoning of the Sword's power. Only this time, he didn't collapse to the ground. He stood steady, his body radiating with energy.

"Tell me Gene," Jubei said. "How do you feel?"

"I feel great!" he answered. "It's incredible. My whole body feels like its pure electricity."

"That's because you've subconsciously learned to channel your power into your life force instead of just letting flow uncontrolled through your body," Jubei answered. "By doing so, you've been able to increase you stamina, strength, and also gained some limited regeneration."

"But it will take more than that it you're going to defeat your enemies lad," Tyr said. "I think it might be time to move on to the next lesson."

"I'm up for it," Gene said as he stood to attention. Jubei was amazed at how focused and willing Gene was. Maybe it's not a latent ability at all, he thought. Perhaps his desire to protect that girl is so strong, that it's actually enhancing his awareness.

"So what's next?" Gene asked.

"You've learned how to summon your power," Jubei lectured. "And you've also learned how to harness it to a limited degree. But in order to use it, you must learn how to concentrate it. Once you do that, you will be able to do things that go beyond mere abilities of the physical."

"Uh huh," Gene nodded. "Like what?" Jubei drove his staff into the ground, summoned his ki, and then concentrated it into his muscles, causing his slim physique to swell up to the size of Tyr's.

"For example," he said as he picked up a rock at his feet. "If you concentrated your ki in your muscles, you could drastically increase your strength." To drive the point home, Jubei squeezed on the rock and crushed it in his grasp. He smiled in amusement, as Gene's eyes seemed to almost pop out of his face. "The Ctarl-Ctarl are masters of that particular technique," he further explained as his body shrank back down to its normal size.

"Of course ki doesn't have to be used internally," Tyr added. "You can also project it like this." Selecting a large boulder that lay a good ten meters away, Tyr pulled back his arm, and began to concentrate his ki in his hand. His hand glowed with a green light before Tyr snapped his open palm forward, tossing an energy blast straight from his hand. The blast struck home and the boulder shattered into pebbles.

"Holy shit!" Gene yelled.

"That is the ki firing technique," Tyr explained. "It's one of the more simpler versions of ki projection, but effective nonetheless."

"You won't get any argument from me there," Gene replied. "So when can I do something like that?"

"You already can," Jubei answered. "You already know how to harness the power, you just need to focus it to where you need it." Gene hummed in thought as he looked down to his fist.

"So like, if I concentrated my ki into my fist than I could break…" and Gene paused as he search the ground, "that rock over there." Jubei looked to where Gene pointed and saw a rock on the ground the size of his head.

"I suppose," the Wiseman answered. Raising his hand, he gestured with his finger and the rock rose from the ground and set itself on a slab that lay horizontal with Gene's chest. "Give it a try." Gene walked over to the slab and looked down to the rock. Closing his eyes, he summoned the Sword's power and sheathed his body in blue light. As Jubei and Tyr watched, the glow began to move down to his right fist where it quickly intensified. When he was ready, Gene opened his eyes and with a yell, drove his fist down, shattering the rock and breaking the slab in two.

"Well done lad!" Tyr applauded.

"I don't believe it," Gene said. "I actually did it." Jubei simply chuckled to himself. He had never doubted it for a moment.

"You certainly did lad," Tyr said. "Would you like to try something a bit more advanced?"

"Why not. After all, that's what I'm here for." Standing aside, Jubei moved over to a rock slab where he sat down. Tyr could take over for now.

"Now this is the ki firing technique," Tyr instructed. "It's basically the same thing as what you've just done, only you're going to be projecting it out from your body. It's not an easy technique to do, but it's effective if done properly."

"Is this the only way that someone can project their ki?" Gene asked.

"Not especially," Tyr answered. "Because ki is the force behind all things, it can be converted into synthetic energy. What I did just a moment ago was a simple blast of explosive force. Ki can be used to create fire, electricity, or even control the air, water, and earth around you. But you needn't worry about that now. We're only going to be covering the basics today."

"Right," Gene said. "So are there any special tips that can help me pull it off?"

"Just do as you did a moment ago. But instead of pounding with your fist, act like you are tossing something." Gene nodded and began. His body once more glowed, and he moved it down to his fist. As soon as he was ready, he pulled back his hand and launched it out. But unlike Tyr's blast, Gene's fizzled and dispersed as soon as it leaved his hand.

"Damn it!" Gene cursed. "All right, what did I do wrong?"

"You did nothing wrong," Tyr told him. "You were able to successfully project it, you just need help focusing it." Tyr rubbed his beard as he thought of what to do next. "Perhaps a weapon would help."

"A weapon?" Gene asked.

"Based on what Master Jubei has told me," Tyr said, "all of the previous Swordwielders used a weapon to help them focus their control and increase the span of their powers. For instance, do you have a sword or something of that nature that you use in battle?"

"I've got a knife."

"That will do," Tyr said. Jubei continued to watch as Gene reached into his boot sheath and pulled out a large bowie knife with a hand guard.

"Now point it towards the rock," Tyr instructed. "The knife will aid in your concentration and allow you to better focus your ki projection."

"Got it," Gene replied. Summoning the power, Gene moved it down to his hand and into the knife. But as Jubei watched, something appeared to be wrong. The energy didn't discharge, but continued to concentrate in the knife blade, causing the blade to glow and shake.

"Is something wrong?" Jubei asked as he got up from his seat and walked over.

"I don't know," Gene answered. "I feel as though something's about…" but before he could finish, a shaft of light erupted out from the knife blade. The shaft extended out and flattened into an edge, forming into a blade of blue light.

"What the hell?" Gene asked, his eyes wide with disbelief. Tyr seemed to be in a similar stare of shock. Jubei meanwhile, calmly walked over and analyzed the glowing blade.

"The procedure worked," Jubei said. "But not in the same way as we planned."

"Meaning what?" Gene asked.

"The knife enabled you to better focus your concentration Gene Starwind," the Wiseman answered. "But because your mind subconsciously could not associate a weapon like this with a ranged attack, you could not fire a ki blast from it. Therefore, you instead used it as a basis for creating a sword made of pure ki." Wide eyed, Gene looked down to the blade he held, waved it around, and then twirled it in his hand.

"It's amazing," he said in awe. "But I still can't believe that I'm actually doing this."

"Well believe it or not, you did," Tyr said as he gestured to a boulder behind him. "Go ahead, try it out." Gene nodded and walked over, allowing Tyr to stand clear. Raising the weapon he had created, Gene snapped it forward, cleaving the boulder cleanly in two.

"All right!" he exclaimed. "Now this is what I'm talking about." Behind him, Jubei marveled at the amazing progress Gene Starwind had made in just the short span of a few hours. I take back everything that I originally said, Jubei thought. If I'm right about this young man, than he could take the Sword's power to levels never before imagined. As Jubei continued to watch, Gene began to repress the power, and the glowing sword of light vanished from sight. "Hey Jubei?" He suddenly asked. "I was just wondering. Does the weapon have to be a melee one?"

Alone in the jungle, Mazren stood and breathed deep the air around him. He was shirtless and barefoot. In his hand he clutched his katana, the unsheathed blade gleaming in the noontime sunlight. Around his forearms, he had tied on some makeshift weights made from rocks. Above him, a gust of wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves with a sound like crinkling paper. The true essence of a warrior is honor, he thought. Honor is what separates me from those who kill indiscriminately. It is the source of my power and will be the key to my victory. Raising his katana in both hands, Mazren braced it in front of his face. Angling it across his body, he snapped it forward and down. Leveling it off at ground level, he reversed his grip and spun, swinging his katana up and around his body, stopping its flight as it came down on his other side. Switching his hold to a forward orientation, he raised it over is head, spun the blade, and brought it down in a backward stabbing movement. Reversing the motion, he slashed upward and then down, the gust from the blade parting the grass that lay at his feet. If the Ryunoken Sword doesn't want me to be its master, than that's just fine with me, he decided. Starwind can have the damn thing! I don't need it anyway. I'm still one of the most feared fighters in the galaxy even without it.

Unfortunately, as he had learned in recent days, there were people out there who were stronger than him. And a particular group of them had the intention of hurting Melfina. If Mazren honestly hoped to protect his sister, than he would have to kick his power up a few notches and learn to accelerate his ki even further. It would mean putting himself through hell that would kill a normal person, but Mazren had motivation. He had someone who was counting on him to protect her. After all, it had become painfully clear that Starwind was unable to handle a responsibility like that.

After finishing with his sword katas, Mazren resheathed his katana and walked over to a nearby tree. He had inspected it earlier and had found no animals living in it, which made it perfect for his training. Tensing his muscles, he pulled back his right fist and then pounded it straight into the trunk, shaking the tree to its core. He followed up with a left, and then another right. He begun with low strength but slowly began to increase the power, filling the sound of the jungle with the thundering impacts of his fists. After a brief moment, a crack began to appear in the wood. Mazren continued to pound away, increasing his power with each blow, until the wood finally gave and it shattered, sending the tree plummeting to the ground. Stepping back, Mazren wiped the sweat that adorned his brow and trickled down his face scar. His knuckles were bloody, but he hardly felt the pain. They would heal up soon enough anyway.

"That was good for a warm up," he said aloud. "But it won't give me the strength I need to protect Melfina though. I need to find something stronger." Walking over to where his gear lay, Mazren picked up his things and began to go in search of a large boulder. Maybe that would give him the challenge he needed. I won't let it happen, Mazren vowed. Melfina's my only family. She's the only thing I have worth fighting for. And I won't let either the Toku, or that idiot Starwind take her away from me.

Over the course of the next hour, Gene continued to learn new ways to master the Sword's power in combat. By using his guns as a focusing aid, Gene was able to create three different types of attacks. If he used his pistol, then he was able to fire a standard energy bolt. If he used his shotgun, he was able to create an energy bullet that exploded violently on impact. But it was his caster that was by far the most impressive. To be safe, Master Jubei had him point the caster straight up into the air when he fired. He didn't want to risk the jungle becoming irreparably damaged. Gene concentrated his power into the magic gun, and when he pulled the trigger, a blazing beam of energy fired out of the gun and roared into the sky, shaking the ground beneath his feet.

"Awesome!" Gene exclaimed as he finished. "I don't even need bullets or shells."

"That's because you are using ki to power your attacks instead of a physical object," Tyr explained. "You have made excellent progress in such a short span of time lad, but even the greatest warriors need to rest and eat." Having said that, he walked over to a boulder and pulled out the provisions bag he had stowed there previously. "Therefore, I suggest that we break for lunch."

"Good idea," Gene said as he felt his stomach growl. After the strain of training all morning, he could do with a snack. Walking over to join Jubei and Tyr, Gene watched as Tyr opened the provisions bag and began to pull out the contents. It wasn't a complicated meal, but Tyr had brought enough. From out of the bag he pulled some jerked meat, some fruit, bread made from rice flour, and a water jug.

"So what's next on the agenda?" Gene asked through a mouthful of food.

"We have covered everything today that I desired to teach you about the Sword's power," Master Jubei said. "Now, Tyr will train you in how to increase your fighting skills."

"But isn't what I've learned enough?" Gene asked.

"You've gotten more powerful lad," Tyr said. "But your abilities are limited. As of right now, the only special attacks you can accomplish involve the use of weapons. If something happened and you were disarmed, you would find yourself at the mercy of those who lack such a handicap. Therefore, for the rest of the day, we will concentrate not so much as using the Sword's power, but on increasing your own abilities."

"If you say so," Gene said. Though he didn't say it out loud, Gene didn't see the point in something like that. Fighting was something that had become second nature to Gene. After his dad was killed, Gene was forced to fend for himself on the mean streets of Locus. Needless to say, he learned the rules of fighting pretty quick. He wasn't a master of the martial arts, but a lifetime of growing up fighting with guys who'd knife you for whatever little bit of food you had had taught him the essentials.

After lunch was over, he, Tyr and Jubei spread out among the quarry to let their food digest. "We will rest ourselves for the next hour," Jubei instructed. "But after the hour is up, be prepared to continue with your training Gene Starwind."

"Yeah sure," he said. Lying back on one of the slabs, Gene looked up to the sky and watched the clouds roll by. One of them caught his attention and he stared at it for a long time. It was fairly round and had two tails on both of its side. That cloud looks like Melfina, he thought. It was then that Gene began to wish that Melfina were here with him now. At least then he would have a friendly face to talk to. I wonder what she's doing now.

Bracing her hands on both sides of the saddle, Keibara easily maintained her balance on the lumbering tri-horn. Used by the Dragon clan as beasts of burden, the tri-horns also made pretty good rides as long as you didn't mind all the rocking and swaying. Behind Keibara rode Melfina, her legs locked on the sides of the saddle and both hands grasping firmly onto the hand rope. On the ground beneath them, the wolf Slag ran to keep up with the tri-horn's hulking steps. On each side of the saddle, three baskets held the various goods that the two of them had harvested in the jungle. Among the things they had gotten were vines for rope, some vegetable stalks, and a few leaves that the clan healers used to make medicine. Keibara was grateful for the help Melfina gave her. Gathering all these things by herself would have taken all day. On occasion, Keibara would look over her shoulder to check on Melfina and smile. When they had first mounted the tri-horn, Melfina had clung desperately to the saddle, terrified that she would be thrown off at a moment's notice. But after a while, she relaxed and even seemed to be having fun. Her head moved like an excited bird, trying to see everything on the jungle path they traveled down.

"Enjoying the scenery?" Keibara asked.

"Yes I am," Melfina answered as she watched a swarm of butterflies with iridescent wings rest on a passing tree trunk. "You're home is so beautiful. You really are lucky to live in a place like this Keibara."

"Yeah," she said as she looked back to the path ahead. "I guess that it does have its own charm."

"Don't you like living here?" she asked.

"Oh no," Keibara answered. "It's nothing like that. I love it. I guess that I've just sort of gotten used to it after a while. That's all.

"Oh, I see." Melfina's voice was apologetic, as if afraid that she had said something wrong. Rather than let her think that, Keibara decided to restart the conversation.

"Say Melfina?" she asked as she turned around. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Melfina replied as she looked up.

"I was just wondering," she asked as she restrained the urge to giggle. "Does that brother of yours have a girlfriend?"

"Why do you ask?" she asked back

"I'm just curious," Keibara replied. "That's all."

"Well," Melfina answered, "technically no but…"

"But what?" Keibara interrupted.

"Well," Melfina continued, "I think that my friend Suzuka has a crush on him. And I think that Mazren feels the same way."

"I see." Well so much for that, she thought.

"Why do you ask?" Melfina inquired.

"Oh, no reason," Keibara replied as she began to look around for the last item on her shopping list. Since that Suzuka woman was a friend of Melfina's, Keibara could guess that Melfina probably wanted her and her brother to get together. I'll let it go for now, Keibara decided. But she'd better make her move before I run out of patience. Letting a total hunk like Mazren go to waste is unforgivable. Looking ahead, Keibara finally saw what she was looking for. Coming up on their right was tree with thick spiral shaped vines climbing up the trunk. The vines reached up to the canopy and spread out among the branches where they bore clusters of hand sized elliptical fruits.

"Whoa," she said as her foot tapped the tri-horn underneath its bony neck guard, bringing it to a halt underneath the tree. "Here we are."

"Is this what you were telling me about earlier?" Melfina asked.

"Uh huh," Keibara answered. "Those are the Creepvine fruits. The clan uses them to make antiseptic ointments." Standing up on the tri-horn's back, Keibara tucked a knife into the belt of her breeches. Tensing her leg muscles, she leaped into the air and grabbed a hold of a loose vine. Bracing her feet against the trunk for traction, she began to scale up the tree to the fruit cluster.

"Keibara please be careful," Melfina called out.

"Don't worry," she called back. "I've been doing this since I was twelve." As she reached the top, Keibara pulled out her knife and began to cut away at the nearest fruit cluster.

"Get ready down there," she called to Melfina. Beneath her, Melfina pulled free the last empty basket from the side of the tri-horn.


"Bombs away!" Keibara signaled before she dropped three of the fruit that she had cut free. They free fell through the air before landing in the basket that Melfina held. Her aim was right on and Melfina's hold on the basket was steady. They hardly missed a single hit. It wasn't long before the basket was filled to capacity and Keibara climbed back down to the ground. She walked over to the tri-horn's side and tapped its stomach with her hand, causing it to lower to the ground.

"I'm ready over here," she told Melfina. With a slight amount of difficulty, Melfina pushed the basket to the edge of the saddle and Keibara caught the bottom. With its load of Creepvine fruit, the basket proved to be excessively heavy. But with Keibara supporting most of the weight and Melfina guiding it, they easily pushed it into position and secured it alongside the others.

"That did it," Keibara exhaled as she rubbed the sweat off of her brow. "You know Melfina, we make a pretty good team."

"I guess we do," Melfina replied. "Oh, and Keibara?"


"If you'd like, you could call me Mel."

"Mel huh? Is that your nickname?"

"Yes it is," Melfina replied. "Gene gave it to me." Keibara smiled slightly at that. She could tell that there was something between Melfina and Skinny. She had sensed it ever since she had seen them in the clearing yesterday. Just then, the sound of a low growl caught Keibara's attention. Walking over to the other side of the tri-horn, Keibara saw that Slag had locked onto something in the bushes and was moving in to investigate.

"What's up with him?" she asked.

"Something must be wrong," Melfina said. Swinging her legs over to the side, Melfina slid down off the tri-horn and began to follow after Slag.

"Hey now wait a minute Melfina!" Keibara called out as she chased after them. The jungle was no place to just wander off by yourself. And Keibara knew that if anything happened to Melfina, than Skinny would never forgive her. Luckily, Keibara caught up to her and Slag before they got to far ahead.

"Keibara look!" Melfina told her. At the foot of a bush with a thick trunk was an auburn furred cat with a strip of dry, scaly skin running down it's back and both sides, a Scale Leopard cub. The cub's legs and neck had become tangled in vines that grew out of the bush's trunk. Desperately trying to free itself, the cub's struggles only seemed to get it even more tangled. "We have to do something!"

"Yeah I guess you're right," Keibara replied. "Here's the plan. You draw its attention while I sneak around to its back. I'll grab it and hold it down while you pull the vines off."

"Don't you think that's a little excessive though?" Melfina asked. Before Keibara could answer, Melfina kneeled down and started to reach for the cub.

"Hey wait a minute Melfina?" she called out. Even as cubs, Scale Leopards were highly aggressive; especially if they were in pain like this one. Sure enough, as soon as Melfina's hand got too close, the cub began to hiss and growl at her. But despite the cub's aggression, Melfina showed no sign of fear.

"Don't be afraid," she softly told it. "I'm here to help you." As Melfina extended her hand even further, Keibara watched as the cub slowly stopped growling. It sniffed her hand, and then-to Keibara's surprise-began to lick it. "See I won't hurt you. Now just sit tight and I'll get those vines off of you." Gently lifting the cub's front, Melfina slowly began to unwrap the vines from around the cub's body. She moved slowly and gently, doing her best not to frighten the cub. After a brief second, the last vine came off and the cub was free. "There you are," Melfina said as the cub walked over and nuzzled in her lap. Keibara could only watch in amazement at the entire episode before her.

"Wow," she said after a while. "I'm impressed. You really do have a way with animals Mel."

"Not really," Melfina explained as she petted the cub's head. "Animals only attack if they think that they're threatened. You just have to show them that you mean no harm." Suddenly, the sound of rustling leaves drew Keibara's attention away. She looked up just in time to see a blur of auburn fur leap out of the bushes to land right in front of them. The mass rose up on four legs and revealed itself to be a full grown Scale Leopard, it's fur and scaly strips rippling with the toned feline muscles underneath. As big as Slag, the Scale Leopard snarled angrily as it bared its fangs at the three of them and prepared to attack.

"Melfina!" Keibara yelled as she drew her knife. "Get behind me now!" Beside her, Slag ruffled his fur and began to growl as well. Keibara didn't know how well a simple knife would fare against an angry Scale Leopard, but maybe Slag would give her the edge she needed. The two of them were ready to face the beast dead on when Keibara suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Keibara don't!" Melfina pleaded. Before Keibara could ask why, Melfina pushed past both her and Slag and kneeled down to the ground, holding the cub in her hands.

"Melfina what are you doing!" she yelled. "Are you crazy? Scale Leopards don't bluff!" But Melfina ignored her as she set the cub on the ground in front of her.

"Go on," she told it. With a yowl, the cub bounded up to the adult and rubbed against its forelegs. The adult looked down to the cub and then up to them. It's eyes narrowed as if trying to decide whether or not to attack them before it leaned down to pickup the cub in it's jaws. It then turned around and vanished back into the jungle. "Good bye," Melfina said as the two animals left. Keibara was now even more surprised. Did she miss something?

"How did you know that would happen?" she asked. Melfina turned around to explain.

"If the adult Scale Leopard wanted to attack us, than it wouldn't have charged head on like that. That was the cub's mother. She didn't really want to hurt us. She just wanted her baby back. If it was my child, I'd imagine that I'd act the same way." Keibara thought for a second on what Melfina told her and shook her head in amazement. No way, she thought. This girl is too nice to be real. Looking down to Melfina's hand, Keibara noticed a thin line of blood go down one of her fingers.

"What happened here?" she asked as she lifted the hand for a better look.

"There were some thorns on the vine," Melfina said. "I think that I must have accidentally scratched myself when I freed the cub." Keibara nodded and let the hand go.

"Come on Mel," she said with a smile. "It's getting late and the clan will be expecting those things we got."

"Right," Melfina said as she smiled back. With their errands completed, the two girls and Slag forged their way back through the jungle to where the tri-horn was waiting.

With a twist, Tyr removed his tri-claw and set it down on the rock slab beside him. Reaching to his belt, he removed his standard cybernetic hand and attached it to his stump. After a brief moment of flexing, he turned to face Gene Starwind who stood waiting. On the sidelines sat Master Jubei, his staff straight up beside him. Gene Starwind had learned everything and more that Jubei wanted to teach him, but now it was Tyr's turn.

"So are you ready?" Tyr asked.

"As I'm ever going to be," Gene answered.

"It's only fair to tell you now lad," Tyr informed him. "You've done well so far, but I am no easy teacher. I expect nothing less than the best from all that I train. It is my mission to increase your strength so do not expect me to go easy on you."

"Fair enough," Gene replied. "But don't make the mistake of underestimating me. I may not be a muscle freak, but I'm tough."

"If you say so," Tyr said as he gestured for Gene to attack. "Whenever you're ready." Tyr analyzed Gene as he shed his coat and assumed a fighting stance, arms raised and with closed fists. Standard street brawling, Tyr observed. Just as I expected. He holds his arms firmly, indicating tough muscles, but he's leaving his left side wide open. It was then that Gene attacked. As Tyr expected, Gene lunged out with his fists. Gene jabbed and hooked, but Tyr avoided and blocked the hits with ease. Seeing that his punches weren't doing any good, Gene then tried a roundhouse and Tyr raised his leg to block. Gene punched again, his moves incredibly fast, but never scoring a hit. When he overreached on one attack, Tyr grabbed his hand and prepared to flip him. But before he could, Gene lashed out with a knee to Tyr's stomach. Tyr was caught stunned as Gene snapped his head forward and head butted him. Tyr stumbled back and felt a small bump form on his forehead.

"Well?" Gene asked.

"Not bad. Not bad at all," Tyr consented. "But now it's my turn." With a lunge, Tyr launched himself against Gene. He lashed out with a blinding flurry of punches. With Gene dazzled, Tyr brought his knee up and into Gene's stomach. Gene made a gurgling whine, but maintained his footing. Flattening his hands, Tyr spun like a tornado, catching the underside of Gene's jaw with one hand and sending him into the air before knocking him to the ground with the other. Gene landed face first but immediately pushed himself back up.

"I'm impressed lad," Tyr said. "Most people can't retain active conscious after being hit with the rising cyclone fist."

"Yeah well I'm no stranger to physical punishment," Gene bragged as he raised his arms, showing off the multiple scars that adorned each one. "After all, how do you think I got all these souvenirs?"

"True," Tyr said. "You do have some assets. You're fast, you have remarkable stamina, you take punishment well, and you're much stronger than you look."

"What can I say? When you grow up on the streets, you learn to be tough."

"Perhaps," Tyr said. "But your fighting style is sloppy. You fight recklessly, charging in blindly without bothering to analyze your opponents for weaknesses. You waste too much energy on excessive movement. Your mind is not focused and your attacks are limited. You don't use your kicks anywhere near enough as you should. And furthermore…"and Tyr paused as he gathered his ki. In a flash of movement, he leaped for a large boulder to his right, bounded off towards Gene, and then thrust out his elbow, sending Gene sprawling to the ground. "You leave your left side wide open to attack." With a groan, Gene struggled to his feet, rubbing on to his shoulder.

"Well than what do you suggest that I do than?" he asked

"We're going to train," Tyr answered. "That's what. We still have a good six more hours of sunlight. If you were able to make as much progress as you did today with the Sword's power, than you should be able to accomplish the same with your own fighting skills."

"What!" Gene yelled. "Six hours! You've got to be shitting me!"

"I assure you I am not," Tyr replied. With a sigh of frustration, Gene walked over to a rock and sat down.

"All right, all right," he groaned. "Just give me a moment to rest up."

"I'm afraid that there's no time for that," Tyr said. "Master Jubei would you mind?"

"Of course not Tyr," Jubei answered. Rising to his feet, the Wiseman brought up his staff and began to chant.

"Hey wait a minute what's going on here?" Gene asked. On Jubei's staff, the chimes on the ringed headpiece began to move and clang together. The headpiece began to glow with a golden light, which then discharged itself as a radiant beam, shooting into Gene's body and healing his wounds.

"What the hell?" Gene asked as he looked himself over.

"It's a technique I developed by studying the Sword's power" Jubei told Gene as he sat back down. "I trigger it to combine with your life force and heal your wounds. This way, you can continue to train without having physical exhaustion slow you down."

"Gee isn't that great," Gene said sarcastically.

"Enough talk," Tyr ordered. "We continue now."

"Hey now wait a minute Tyr," Gene said. But Tyr didn't wait. With a battle cry, he lunged himself straight for Gene. He lashed out again with a furry of punches, pushing Gene back against the wall of the quarry.

"You can't just dodge!" Tyr yelled. "Attack!" He raised his leg to deliver a high roundhouse kick aimed straight for Gene's head. But just before it connected, Gene caught Tyr's leg, twisted his body, and threw him over. Tyr crashed into the quarry wall and slumped down to the ground. Looking up, he saw Gene standing ready for the next round, a triumphant grin on his face.

"I was only waiting for an opening," he explained. As he rose to his feet, Tyr couldn't help but grin himself.

"You know what lad?" he asked. "There may be hope for you yet!"

With a groan, Jim made his way up the stairs toward his quarters. After spending almost the entire day with the salvage party at Yama's ship, he had finally been able to return to the fortress. It hadn't taken him that long to find the technology that he had been looking for, but the rest of the party wasn't ready to leave until they had stripped the Toku ship of everything that they could use.

"Hey Jim!" a voice called out. Jim looked behind him and saw Aisha bounding up towards him. "Where've you been all day?" she asked.

"I was with the Salvage party at Yama's ship," he answered.

"Oh yeah," she said. "I've just been so busy today that I forgot about that."

"Busy doing what?"

"I met this really cool fighting master named Ortho today," Aisha said. "And he taught me a new fighting style called Dragon's Claw that emphasizes things like grappling, pressure points, and turning your enemies' strengths against them. For instance, if you drive the points of your pointer and middle finger into the shoulder joint, you could paralyze someone's arms. Or better yet, it you drive them into the aorta, you can shut down the heart and cause instant death."

"That's really nice Aisha," Jim grimaced. This conversation was getting a little too morbid for his tastes.

"Yeah I know," Aisha said. "And Ortho's gonna teach me even more tomorrow." It was then that Aisha noticed the massive bag that Jim bore on his back. "Say what's in there Jim?"

"You mean this?" Jim said as he pointed to the bag.

"Yeah! Let me see! Let me see!" With a groan, Jim set the bag down on the ground. He knew that Aisha would never leave him alone until her curiosity was satisfied. Pulling the edges down, Jim revealed a black metallic box the size of a large computer monitor. On top of the box, were four hooks set perpendicular to each other that locked in place a green synthetic Dragonite crystal, similar to the ones used to power the Oni. "What the heck is that?" Aisha asked as she kneeled down for a better look.

"This is what I went to go get at Yama's ship," Jim answered. "It's the transmitter for an etherwave radio. If I can hook it up to my computer and get it to work, than I'll be able to access the Toku's computer network and wreak a little espionage and sabotage."

"Good idea Jim," Aisha said. "Maybe we can even hack into their bank accounts and help ourselves to some of their money."

"How did I know that you were going to say that?" Jim asked as he pulled the bag back over the transmitter. Grasping it, he hefted and struggled to get it back over his shoulder.

"Here Jim let me get that for you," Aisha said. Pushing Jim aside, Aisha grabbed hold of the bag with one hand and easily slung it over her shoulder.

"Hey be careful with that will you Aisha!"

"Don't be such a worrywart Jim." But that was the only thing Jim could do with a hyperactive Ctarl like Aisha handling a piece of delicate equipment. Just then, the sound of talking voices drew their attention to the top of the stairs where they saw Melfina, Slag, and Keibara appear.

"Jim, Aisha, hello," Melfina called out. Jim noticed that Melfina was smiling brightly. It was a nice change from the sad and worried look that she had been carrying around since this whole affair with the Toku had started.

"Hey Mel," Jim called back as he and Aisha climbed up the stairs to greet her. "Um, are you feeling all right?" He didn't want to push it, but after the incident from last night, he had been worried about her all day.

"Sure I am," Melfina said. "I spent the entire day helping Keibara gather some things the Dragon Clan needed out in the jungle."

"And now we're going to the kitchen to help prepare the Clan dinner," Keibara said. "I just hope that Melfina can help me out. I'm not much of a cook."

"Are you kidding?" Aisha asked. "Mel's the best cook in the galaxy."

"Oh I'm not really that good," Melfina said. "I do all right."

"Well you certainly couldn't be any worse than me," Keibara said. "Come on Mel, let's leave these two lovebirds alone."

"LOVEBIRDS!" Aisha yelled, almost dropping the bag that held the transmitter.

"Just remember," Keibara sang as she grabbed Mel's wrist and retreated. "Stone walls don't necessarily mean that you're soundproofed."

"Why you…come back here!" Aisha yelled as she started to give chase. But Keibara had already disappeared down one of the doors with Mel in tow and Slag following behind them. As Aisha stood growling, Jim just smiled. He was glad that Mel had found a new friend to help her deal with their situation. "Melfina shouldn't be hanging around with that girl," Aisha growled through clenched teeth. "She's a bad influence."

"You know Aisha," Jim said. "She's only doing that to get a reaction out of you."

"Well if she doesn't cut it out she's going to get a hell of a lot more than that!" With nothing more to do there, Jim and Aisha continued on their way to his quarters. After Aisha set the transmitter down on the desk, she promptly left saying that she had to go make sure Keibara didn't get Mel into trouble. With a snicker, Jim walked over to the nightstand where Gillium's pink maintenance bot sat.

"Wake up Gillium," he said as he picked it up.

"Oh hello Jim," Gillium's genteel voice said as his eyes lit up. "Welcome back. Was your journey a successful one?"

"Yeah it was," Jim said as he walked back over to the desk. "But we can't talk about it now. We've got work to do."

"Understood," Gillium replied as Jim placed him down on the desk. "Is that the etherwave transmitter?"

"Yeah it is." While he spoke, Jim busied himself with connecting Gillium and the transmitter to his computer. "I believe that the synthetic Dragonite is the power source. Since etherdrive engines use Dragonite to power themselves, I imagine that the transmitter works on a similar principle."

"That would be the most logical assumption," Gillium said as Jim finished. "Shall I fire it up?"

"Yeah go ahead." Gillium did, but nothing happened.

"Damn it don't do this to me now," Jim groaned. After all the trouble he went to get through to get this piece of crap, he really didn't need grief like this. "Gillium do you know what's wrong with this thing?"

"One moment please?" Gillium hummed as he began to do a scan of the transmitter. "I'm afraid that I can find no abnormalities or damage in the transmitter's structure or workings. However, I must admit that this type of technology is unknown to me so I'm afraid that I can't give a truly accurate analysis. I'm very sorry Jim."

"It's all right Gillium," Jim said. Reaching to his backpack that lay behind him, Jim reached in and pulled out a case of tools. "It looks like we're just going to have to do a little exploratory surgery." Taking a screwdriver, Jim began to remove the casing. If he couldn't get the transmitter to work, than his plans for helping to protect Mel would be shot to hell.

Gene flew through the air and landed face first in the dirt. Not that it made any difference to him though. Over the course of the last six hours, he had grown used to the taste.

"Get up Gene Starwind," Tyr ordered. Gene struggled back up to his feet and faced the bearded warrior. "We're not done yet."

"Give me a break!" Gene said. "Can't we just call it a night? It's already starting to get dark."

"We still have a good thirty minutes of light left," Tyr replied. "And you have made hardly any progress. After all you've accomplished with the Sword's power today, you have no excuse for your shoddy performance."

"Listen damn it!" Gene yelled. "I'm tired, I'm sore and I can't go on anymore!"

"If you're hurt than just ask Master Jubei to heal you again," Tyr said.

"Don't you get it Tyr! It doesn't matter how many times Jubei heals me because I don't have anything left to fight with! I'm hungry, I'm tired, my mind feels like lead, and I can't even think straight anymore!"

"Will you quit your whining!" Tyr scolded. "Your friend Mazren wouldn't be complaining like a weakling. You would do well to follow his example. Or maybe I should be training him instead." Gene grit his teeth and charged. Weakened as he was, he was going to make Tyr pay for that.

"You damn son of a bitch!" he yelled. He lunged for Tyr and lashed out with a straight right. But with a fatigued mind and body, his timing was sluggish and off. Tyr caught it and threw him before Gene had a chance to score a hit with another thrust kick. Gene landed and rolled, getting back to his feet as Tyr slammed into him, his fists pounding Gene like a sack of meat.

"Come on boy, fight me!" Tyr taunted as he continued to pummel Gene, stopping his flurry to deliver a right uppercut. Gene saw an opening and dodged at the last minute. Tyr's punch missed his jaw by a matter of millimeters and he grabbed it, pulling it straight out and locking Tyr in an armbar.

"Now you listen here!" he growled. "You either settle down now or I'll snap you arm." There'd be no way for Tyr to free himself now. This particular move had won Gene more than his fair share of street fights.

"Oh really?" Tyr asked. To Gene's surprise, Tyr jumped and flipped himself over Gene's back, tearing himself loose from Gene's hold. Gene was so caught off guard, that he was unable to avoid Tyr grabbing his arm as he jumped. Tyr landed behind Gene and pinned his arm behind him while his other arm wrapped around Gene's neck and slowly began to squeeze his carotid.

"All right I give!" Gene gagged. But rather than release him, Tyr instead only increased the pressure.

"You just don't get it do you boy?" he asked.

"Get what? I told you five minutes ago that I couldn't go on. I don't have anything left to fight with."

"And that is why you are losing," Tyr added. "You asked me for mercy, but that is something I will not give and neither will your enemies. It doesn't matter how tired physically or mentally you become; sometimes you have no choice but to keep on going. Only when you have nothing left can you find true strength." But Gene hardly registered what Tyr said; his entire brain was shutting down from Tyr's sleeper hold. "Or would you rather just give up now and let Melfina die?" Although Gene was on the verge of going down for the count, what Tyr said snapped him back to reality. He's right, Gene thought. I can't stop. I have to get it together. Melfina's counting on me to protect her. I can't let her down again. Gene's mind became flooded with a thousand images at once. Images of Melfina being beaten on by Harry McDougal, Gwen Khan shutting her off like she was some kind of appliance, Hazonko telling her she was nothing but a puppet, and of Melfina being attacked by the Oni as Askared, Yama, and Mako watched on and laughed. And with the images came a powerful anger that surged though his body. I can't! Gene screamed in his mind. I WON'T LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN! From deep inside of Gene's soul, something awakened. Gene recognized it as the Sword and grasped onto it, the dragon crest on his hand shining as the power surged through him, strengthening his body and guiding him in what he needed to do. With a yell, he kicked behind him at Tyr's legs, throwing the warrior off balance and allowing Gene to toss him forward and over his head. Tyr flipped and landed on his feet just as Gene charged him. Gene jumped and delivered a spinning heel kick, but missed as Tyr bent backward at the last minute. As Tyr righted himself up, Gene sent out a snap kick aimed right for Tyr's face. But Tyr countered with a palm strike, striking Gene's foot and sending him flying into a rock slab. Just before he impacted, Gene twisted his body and landed feet first, bounding off and dashing straight for Tyr. Tyr met Gene's assault head on and the two clashed together, their fists becoming a blur of motion as they met and countered punch for punch. And then, with a roar from them both, Gene slammed his fist against Tyr's, the power from the impact shaking the quarry like an earthquake and causing a massive upheaval in the ground. They stood against each other a few seconds longer before the sudden rush of power ebbed. Gene slumped and fell to the ground where he lay panting with exhaustion.

"Nicely done lad," Tyr praised as he smiled down upon Gene. "I knew that you would do it sooner or later."

"What the hell was that?" Gene gasped. "I couldn't go anymore and then I felt like I was invincible."

"You tell us," Jubei said as he walked over from where he had sat for the last six hours, as patient and unmoving as the rocks around him. Raising his staff, Jubei shone the golden light on Gene and Gene felt his tired and sore muscles healed. "Tell me Gene Starwind?" the Wiseman asked as Gene rose to his feet. "What was it that you felt just now?"

"I saw Melfina," he answered. "She was being attacked by the Toku and I had to save her. But I don't know how I just did what I did. I just wished to be stronger and then I was." Both Jubei and Tyr nodded.

"So it's just as I thought," Jubei said.

"What was?" Gene asked.

"You have made exceptional progress this day Gene Starwind," the Wiseman said. "Most people take years of training to accomplish what you have done. And it is all because you desire so strongly to protect your friend."

"However," Tyr interrupted. "Up to this point, you wasted too much time and mental energy trying to summon your ki. Using your selected memory as a base enabled you to find balance with your light and darkness, but it could only take you so far. In order to truly unlock the depths of your power, you needed to create a mindset that could bring it out at a moment's notice. By doing so, you would be able to go beyond what your body and mind could normally accomplish by themselves."

"So you just kept pushing me until I did," Gene said. "When I thought of Melfina being hurt again, I just didn't care about my fatigue. I just knew that I had to protect her."

"Exactly," Jubei replied. "Remember Gene Starwind, as your element is fire, you must draw on your feelings to generate your power. And always remember what it is that you are fighting for." Whirling himself around, Jubei began to walk towards the edge of the quarry pit. "I think that we have done enough for today. We will continue your training tomorrow morning."

"For now though," Tyr said as he followed after Jubei, "let's return to the fortress. It will be time for dinner soon and I've worked up a healthy appetite." Gene meanwhile, remained standing where he was. Looking down at the dragon crest on his hand, Gene still found it hard to believe that he was now capable of wielding such awesome power. It was exciting, but also frightening. My feelings are what generate the power, he thought. Did that mean that he had to get angry to use it? When he imagined Melfina being attacked, it was certainly what he felt. "Aren't you coming lad?" Try's voice asked from the edge of the quarry.

"Yeah sure just hold on a minute," he called back. Out of the corner of his eye, Gene spotted a fairly man sized and shaped rock slab sticking straight up out of the ground. Walking over, he imagined Harry's face on it. The slab was as tall as Harry, it also seemed to be the same width. You hit Melfina you gutless bastard! The image of Harry hitting Melfina filled his mind and he grabbed on to it. He felt the power awaken, and with a yell, he clenched his fist and drove it straight into the rock. The hard stone didn't even offer any resistance. It simply shattered into dust and was scattered by a passing breeze. "Next time Harry," Gene vowed. "That will be you!" Filled with a new sense of determination, Gene gathered up his coat and hurried after Jubei and Tyr.

(As Gene continues his training to master the power of the Ryunoken Sword, the others are also doing their part to prepare for the coming battle. But as they do, Shidowkun is on the move, gathering his forces for an all out attack. Will Jim be able to get the transmitter to work? Will Mazren be able to take his strength to the next level? And is anger the key to using the Sword's power, or is it a recipe for disaster. Tune in next time. Same Outlaw-Time, Same Outlaw-Website. Don't forget to review.)