Outlaw Star Fan Fiction ❯ Outlaw Star; The Ryunoken Sword(revised, rededited, and better than ever) ❯ A Vow of Love and The God of Death ( Chapter 16 )

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

CHAPTER 16:

A Vow of Love and

The God of Death

(Official disclaimer: This work is entirely a fan fic. I do not own the rights to Gene, Melfina, or any of the themes, concepts, planets, alien races, or any of the 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.)

When the early morning sun flowed in through the window, Gene groggily opened his eyes. Why the hell can't the sun have a snooze button or something? he wondered. As he gradually became more aware of his surroundings, Gene also became aware of the head of black hair that brushed against his right cheek. Looking down at the hair's owner, Gene smiled slightly. Sometime during the night, he and Mel had pulled apart from each other. She pressed tightly against his side; her head nestled on his shoulder. Taking his hand, Gene parted the hair that obscured her face as he tightened his hold on her, enjoying the feel of Melfina's skin against his own. And I thought she looked amazing in the moonlight, he thought. But it was nothing compared to the way Melfina looked in the dawn. Still, there was something different about Melfina that Gene couldn't put his finger on. Well, there was the obvious fact that she was no longer a virgin, but that wasn't it. It was almost as if she was glowing with a light all her own.

Smiling, that was it. Melfina was smiling in her sleep. No longer blank; her face was now absolutely radiant. I am good, he told himself. Looking down at her, Gene couldn't resist any more. He lifted her head slightly, lowered his, and kissed her. When he did, Melfina stirred slightly. Gene pulled away as Melfina sleepily opened her eyes, looked up to him, and smiled lovingly as she wrapped her arm around his neck.

"Morning," she whispered.

"Morning," Gene whispered back. The two pulled closer to each other until Melfina was lying back on top of Gene. Gene pulled the bed sheet up to her head as Melfina's warmth once more began to saturate his body, making Gene feel complete again. Gene found it amazing that such a small body could possibly generate so much heat. "So how do you feel?" he asked. Melfina gave a soft sigh as she leisurely stretched her slender frame across his.

"I feel wonderful," she answered. "My whole body feels like it's tingling. Oh Gene, does making love always feel this good?"

"Yeah it does," Gene said. "So is that why you were smiling?"

"In a way, but also because I think that I dreamt for the first time last night."

"Really?" Gene asked. "What was it about?"

"Well," Melfina told him, "I was floating on top of a cloud. But underneath the cloud, there were horrible creatures, monsters who were trying to reach up and pull me down to them."

"And this was a good dream?"

"It was good because you were there Gene. You were lying beside me and I could smell your cologne, and I knew that as long as you were there than the monsters wouldn't be able to reach me."

"My cologne huh?" Gene asked, a cocky grin forming on his face. "Well, what can I say? Mix that with my good looks and charm and no woman can resist me."

"Actually, you wear too much," Melfina commented. "But that's good Gene. Because whenever I smell it, I know that you're with me. And then I don't feel afraid of anything."

"Right," Gene laughed. The two of them snuggled in silence before a thought occurred to Gene. "Melfina?"

"Yes Gene?"

"Why didn't you go with Harry the second time he came for you? What stopped you?" When Melfina didn't answer, Gene wondered if he had said the wrong thing again. "If you don't want to answer than you don't have to."

"No Gene," Melfina said. "I should have told you about what happened on Heifong. You have a right to know why I didn't."

"If you really want." Melfina nestled her head on Gene's shoulder as she took a moment to gather her thoughts.

"I knew that he didn't really love me," she told him. "The only reason he became attracted in me in the first place was because I was a construct. He fell in love with me for what I was, not for who I was. But I couldn't do that. And even if I did, I knew that he'd want me to be what he wanted me to be. And if I couldn't, I was afraid that he'd…"

"That he'd hurt you again?" Gene interrupted. When Melfina didn't answer, Gene knew he was right. Tightening his hold on her, Gene pushed Melfina's head deeper into his shoulder. "I swear to God I'm gonna kill him!" he growled. "The next time I see him, I'm gonna put my hands around his throat and…"

"Gene, please don't talk like that."

"Why shouldn't I? Nobody does that to my friends, especially not to you!"

"I know that what Harry did was wrong," Melfina said. "But I don't think that he was bad himself."

"What do you mean?" Gene asked.

"He seemed so lonely," Melfina told him. "I think that he wanted so desperately for someone to love him and that he could love back. But he didn't think anyone would because he was a construct. So the only thing he could do was just take whatever he wanted. But in the end, even that wasn't really enough. I could have turned out the same as him if I hadn't met you Gene." Gene had to think about that for a second. Somehow, no matter what the circumstances, he just couldn't picture Melfina as being a psychotic asshole like Harry McDougal. Still, he had to admit that he was surprised with her insight. Gene had always thought of Melfina as kind and sweet, but naïve. But now he realized that Melfina was braver, wiser, and a hell of a lot stronger than even she gave herself credit for. In fact, that innocence was her strength. It gave her an insight into a person's heart that no one else had. "Besides," she continued, "at the Leyline, he gave his life trying to protect me from Hazonko. He died because he thought that he loved me." Gene could hear the guilt in her voice and began to rub his hand up and down her back.

"It wasn't your fault what happened to Harry Mel," he told her. "He was a sick, messed up guy. You tried to tell him that you didn't love him back, but he wouldn't listen. There was nothing more you could have done."

"Maybe," Melfina said. "But Gene, after a sacrifice like that, forgiving him is the least that I could do." Gene was even more surprised after hearing that. The mere fact that Melfina could have compassion for Harry after what he did was amazing to him. Gene remembered how Jubei told him that he had sensed no darkness in Melfina, but Gene wondered why that was so. Was Melfina so innocent that she didn't know she was supposed to hate? Or maybe because she was a bio-android, she saw just how stupid and petty concepts like that were. Or maybe, Gene thought, maybe she really is an angel. Yeah that's right. In fact, she's my angel.

"You know," he whispered, "maybe towards the end Harry wasn't a total asshole. By fighting Hazonko he bought me the time I needed to get to you. And if he hadn't helped me open the doors to the Leyline, I never would have been able to save you in the first place." Melfina buried her face in his throat and Gene planted a kiss on the top of her head, taking a deep whiff of its strawberry scent. I'll never get tired of this smell, he thought.

"I thought that maybe if I forgave Harry, and sung for him, than maybe his soul could have peace," Melfina said. "But I guess that wasn't enough after all." Gene knew that Melfina was talking about how the McDougal Brothers had attacked them all at Blue Heaven. It was then that an idea hit him. Hooking her chin with his finger, Gene lifted Melfina's gaze up to meet his.

"Melfina, when this is all over, would you sing that song of yours again?" he asked her. "But this time don't do it for Harry. Do it for me." Melfina looked to him in surprise, but then smiled slightly.

"I'll sing it now if you really want me to Gene."

"That's okay," he said. "Let's wait until after I've earned it."

"You already have Gene," Melfina said as she pulled herself up to his ear. Before Gene could say anything else, he felt Melfina's breath on his earlobe followed by her gentle singing.

I don't know, what words I can say,

The wind has a way, to talk to me.

Flowers sleep, a silent lullaby.

I pray for reply. I'm ready

Gene laid back and relaxed as Melfina's voice, soft and sweet, flowed into his ear and spread throughout his entire being. He had heard her song once before, when she had sung it for Harry. But now that she was singing it for him, it caused an alien feeling of tranquility to swell inside of him.

Quiet day calms me,

Oh serenity, someone, please, tell me.

Ohmmmm, what is it they say?

Maybe I'll know one day

To Gene, Melfina's song was like pure water. It flowed around and through him, soothing his mind and heart and carrying him away on a river of serenity. The last time he had ever felt this calm and good was when Melfina healed him in her chamber.

I don't know, what words I can say,

The wind has a way, to talk to me.

Flowers sleep, a silent lullaby.

I pray for reply. I'm ready.

When Melfina's song ended, Gene felt as though he had just been slammed into a brick wall. His mind felt numb and his vision blurred a little. He didn't want the song to be over. He wanted to stay floating forever in that peaceful world. "Gene, are you crying?" Melfina asked. Her question snapped Gene back to reality.

"I don't know." Reaching up to his eye, Gene rubbed it and was surprised to feel a slight drop of moisture at the edge. "Yeah I guess I am." I haven't cried since my dad died, he thought. Melfina reached up to wipe his other eye as she snuggled back against his chest.

"I'm glad that you like my song so much Gene," Melfina said.

"Harry was right," Gene told her. "It's not a bad tune. But Mel, that may not matter anymore. I don't know how Harry got brought back to life, but whatever good he had in him before he died is gone. And if he comes after you again, I can't promise that I won't kill him."

"I know," Melfina said. "But Gene, I don't think that's really Harry. I think it's actually the embodiment of everything in him that was bad; all the anger and loneliness that he felt."

"Could be," Gene said. They quietly snuggled again, until Gene noticed how Melfina's hand was tracing one of the scars on his chest.

"Gene, what is it about this scar and the two on your face that make them hurt?" Gene wasn't prepared for that. The only person who really knew was Jim, and Gene had only told his partner the bare facts of it all. Still, after Melfina had been honest about Harry, Gene guessed he owed it to her.

"It's a long story," he told her.

"I won't mind."

"All right then," Gene sighed. "First of all, do you remember when you healed me in your chamber?"

"Of course I do Gene."

"You said that you understood," Gene reminded her. "But what exactly did you mean by that?"

"I didn't see any of your memories if that's what you mean," Melfina answered. "What I felt was a dark spot on your heart. Something that felt so sad and filled with pain." Flattening her hand, Melfina laid it over Gene's heart as if she could still feel it. "I've always wondered what that dark spot was and if there was anything I could do to make it better."

"Well Melfina," Gene told her, "when I was a kid my mom died when I was three. My dad was a trader who would sometimes leave for weeks at a time on his cargo runs. Still, I never really felt alone or neglected. I knew that my dad's work was necessary to support us, and he always made sure to spend all his time with me whenever he came home. Do you follow so far?"

"Uh huh," Melfina answered.

"Good," Gene continued. "Now then, not long after I turned 14, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go up into space with him on one of his runs. And naturally I said yes without a second thought. Of course I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little scared when we first took off. But once we got into space and I saw all those stars, I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I got so into it, I learned all the controls on my first jump."

"I see," Melfina said. "So what happened next?"

"Well," Gene told her as he stared straight ahead, "we came out of sub-ether space at Sentinel III, and that's when it happened." For the next few minutes, Gene spoke in a trance, the image of that terrible day playing in his mind. "Three pirate ships appeared out of nowhere. Two attacked us outright, firing their guns and beating on the hull with their grappler arms. There was an explosion. My dad got hurt pretty bad. I pulled him from his seat, tried to help him walk to the escape pod. I was going to save my dad no matter what it took. But when we got to the pod, he shoved me into it. I begged him to stop, but he said that he wanted me to live. He then fired the pod and launched me from the ship." Gene paused for a second as he swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. "As I rocketed away, one of the pirate ships fired and blew up my dad's ship with him still on board. I crash-landed on Sentinel III. That's where I got the scars on my face and a few others as well. After that, I never got into a space ship again for almost seven years."

"Gene," Melfina said. "I'm so sorry…I…" but Melfina's voice failed her. Gene was snapped out of his trance as he felt tiny drops of water fall onto his shoulder. He looked down to Melfina and saw streams of tears were falling from her eyes.

"Melfina, why are you crying?"

"Because I hate that you had to experience something like that," she sobbed. "You didn't deserve to have something so horrible happen to you Gene. And you were only a little older than Jim." She's crying for me? Gene thought. He didn't know what to say, until he remembered that Melfina had such a huge capacity for empathy and compassion. Taking a piece of the bed sheet in his hand, Gene lightly dabbed at Melfina's eyes.

"Hey come on Mel," he said. "Don't cry. It's all right."

"But Gene, all that pain you felt."

"Yeah I know," Gene told her. "But Mel, ever since I found you it just doesn't really hurt as much as it used to."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yeah. But there's more to the story. And this is the part that I really need you to listen to."

"All right."

"When the pirates that attacked my dad's ship blew it up," Gene explained, "the light from the explosion revealed the third one. But the third one was different than the others. It was gold colored and diamond shaped."

"The Shangri La?" Melfina asked. "But why would the McDougal Brothers want to attack your father's ship?"

"Back then it was just Ron McDougal," Gene answered. "And as to why they did it, I wondered that myself. But when I fought Mako, I got my answer. He made me relive the memory, and when he did, I saw something that I had forgotten. The two pirate ships with McDougal had a manji symbol on their hull, meaning that they belonged to the Toku." As he spoke, Gene's hand rose to caress Melfina's cheek. "Mel, I was just a kid when the Toku killed my dad. But I'm not a kid anymore. I've got the sword and I'm gonna use it. As soon as I finish my training, I'm going to go take care of the McDougal brothers and the Toku once and for all. Melfina, do you remember when after Hilda died, and I promised that I would help find your past?"

"How could I ever forget?" Melfina asked back.

"Well I'm making a new promise right now," Gene told her. "Melfina, I promise that no matter what, I will never let anyone hurt you ever again."

"Gene," Melfina said as her eyes began to fill again with tears. Damn it there I go again, Gene thought. Leaning forward, Gene kissed the corner of Melfina's eye and caught the tear before it could fully escape.

"I have got to learn to be better at that."

"Better at what?"

"At talking to you," Gene answered. "Because every time I do I always make you cry." Melfina smiled sadly as she reached up with her own hand to caress his cheek. Leaning into her soft touch, Gene was snapped back to reality when Melfina lightly pinched him.

"But then you always say something that can make me stop." Gene looked at her in confusion before he smiled himself. The two laughed together before Gene pulled her up to his level and nuzzled his face against hers; Melfina's raven tresses falling down over him like a blanket. He ran his fingers through the mane and examined her beautiful features before frowning slightly. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"Melfina there's so many things that I want to tell you," he said. "But I'm just no good at saying them." Melfina wrapped her arms around Gene's neck and lowered her forehead to press against his.

"Tell me another way," she said. "You're always good at that." Gene thought about that for a second before he did. Cupping her face in his hands, Gene reeled her in and kissed her slow and deep. He then brushed away some of the bangs that hung over her eyes and lightly kissed her forehead before moving down over her nose, her eyes, and all over her face. He stopped to pay extra attention to the spot underneath her right eye. Gene guessed that Melfina probably associated that one spot with fear and pain. He would continue to kiss it until Melfina felt nothing but love and security.

"You see?" she sighed as her skin listened to everything Gene's lips told it. "That wasn't so hard." Pulling her head away, Melfina returned the gesture to the scars on Gene's left cheek.

Although it would have been nice to stay like that the entire day, Gene and Melfina knew that the others would come looking for them if they didn't get to breakfast. Besides, they were both getting hungry.

After a brief detour to her room for a fresh change of clothes, followed by a second to the showers down the hall, Melfina leisurely walked to the main hall. She and Gene had decided to walk separately to breakfast. They didn't want the others to know what had transpired last night between them just yet. For the time being, they wanted to keep it all to themselves. To the casual observer, the only thing that seemed different about Melfina was that she wasn't wearing her cloak. When she put it on, the garment seemed somehow restrictive. So she decided to just leave it behind.

As she walked, Melfina was amazed at how good she felt. There was a slight soreness between her legs, but she barely felt it. The memories of last night with Gene were still fresh in her mind. The warmth, the intimacy, the touching, and of being joined with Gene in one body. From the book Aisha loaned her, Melfina had deduced that sex was supposed to feel good. Still, what she had read didn't do it anywhere near justice. She felt fulfilled and totally at peace with herself. It almost felt as though she was walking in zero gravity. Stepping into a garden inside the second level, Melfina leaned against a wall where she stretched and sighed in contentment.

"Morning Mel," a voice called out. Melfina looked up and saw Aisha and Keibara standing at the edge of the garden.

"Oh hello you two," Melfina called back. As Aisha and Keibara came towards her, Melfina noticed two strange things. First of all, Keibara wasn't teasing Aisha about liking Jim. The second was that both of them were grinning at her in a strange way. "Um why are you looking at me like that?"

"So how did you sleep last night Mel?" Keibara asked.

"Uh, why do you ask?"

"Well judging by all the noise you were making," Aisha commented, "you were either having a nightmare or a really good time."

"I…wasn't making any noise," Melfina said, her face feeling noticeably warmer. Had she and Gene really been loud enough for Aisha and Keibara to hear them?

"You know Mel, you're a terrible liar," Aisha told her. "Especially since you weren't in your room at all last night." Melfina gave a tiny squeak as she shrank back against the wall. No matter how she tried to deny it, Aisha and Keibara had her fingered.

"So Mel was Skinny any good?" Keibara asked.

"Did Gene do any tricks?" Aisha asked.

"Did he use any props?"

"We're your friends Mel," Aisha said. "So you've got to give us ALL the perverted details."

"Oh, um, well, I," Melfina stammered.

"Both of you stop that!" someone scolded. They all turned and saw Suzuka who had just appeared at the far edge of the garden. "Whatever occurred last night between Melfina and Gene is none of our concern. So stop teasing her."

"Well," Aisha said as her grin darkened ever further into mischief, "at least Mel and Gene have the good sense to do it in the privacy of their room. Unlike a certain assassin and bounty hunter we know."

"What?" Melfina asked, not quite sure she had heard Aisha right.

"Nothing," Suzuka said with a blush. "It's nothing."

"Yeah it's nothing," Keibara laughed. "I just stumbled onto Suzuka and your brother last night out in the courtyard. And Suzuka was practically ra…"

"Keibara!" Suzuka yelled. But by then, Melfina had already deduced what had happened.

"So you do like my brother don't you Suzuka." Suzuka straightened herself up and tried to regain the air of cool dignity that she always carried.

"Your brother is…interesting," Susuka said. Melfina just smiled, remembering how Mazren had said the same thing about Suzuka.

"So what happened after you were interrupted?" Melfina asked, unable to resist.

"We went someplace else," Suzuka answered. "Someplace where there was more privacy. But enough about that; how are you and Gene?"

"I think you already know," Melfina replied

"Well that's great," Aisha said. "For a while, I was thinking that I'd have to lock you two naked in a broom closet or something."

"I really don't think that would have been necessary Aisha," Suzuka said. "I'm fairly sure that given time, Melfina and Gene would have found their way back to each other one way or another. However," as Suzuka turned back to Melfina, "I probably would have acted if things had taken a turn for the worse." Melfina smiled at that. She was glad to know that the others were happy for her and Gene.

"Thank you everyone," she said. "But, Mazren doesn't know about what happened. So please don't tell him about this yet?"

"That might be a good idea," Keibara said. "Otherwise, you and Skinny might just find yourselves in a shotgun wedding."

"Yeah," Aisha added. "And Maz'll be the one pointing the shotgun at Gene's head." Everyone-even Suzuka-laughed at the mental image of that. As she continued on her way to the main hall with the others, Melfina smiled brightly. Here on this lush planet, she was with her friends, her brother, and of course Gene. There really was nothing more that she could ask for. So then why do I feel so uneasy? Melfina wondered. It was then that Keibara pulled Melfina aside to ask her something.

"So Mel, IS Skinny a good kisser?"

"Yes he is," Melfina answered. "And he's good at a lot of other things as well." The two girls blushed and giggled before they ran to catch up to Aisha and Suzuka.

Whistling to himself, Gene strolled down a path that led to the main hall. He felt great. Last night was the best sex he ever had. He didn't know if it was because it had been so long since last, or just because it was with Mel. But whatever the reason, he was definitely looking forward to their next rendezvous. As he turned a corner, Gene stopped as he found himself face to face with Mazren, Slag, and Jim. Okay Gene, he told himself, keep it cool. Just act normal.

"Morning guys," he said. But neither Jim nor Mazren responded in kind. "Something wrong?"

"Lose something?" Mazren asked. With a flick of his arm, he tossed Gene the coat that he had left in the garden last night.

"Uh yeah," Gene said as he put it on. "Thanks I've been…"

"Save it Starwind," Mazren told him. "From what I've heard, half the fortress heard you and Melfina last night."

"Uh…yeah well," Gene tried to say. Before he could explain, Mazren had already walked up and begun to stare him down. Mazren stood three inches taller than Gene, and outweighed him by almost a hundred pounds. But that was nowhere near as intimidating as the look of burning steel in his eyes. The one person you do not want to run into the morning after having sex with your girlfriend, Gene thought, is her older brother who's bigger, tougher, and meaner than you.

"Listen Starwind," Mazren growled. "I don't like you, I don't trust you, and I don't respect you. And the thought of what you did with my sister last night is enough to make me want to do things to you that constitute as crimes against humanity." Glancing aside, Mazren's features softened a little. "But on the other hand, Melfina does. And if she sees something in you, than I guess you deserve the benefit of a doubt."

"I see," Gene said. "Well I really appreciate that. And so will Melfina."

"Perhaps," Mazren said as he looked back to Gene, his face re-hardening. "But I'm warning you right here and now. If you let anything happen to Melfina, or worse yet if you break her heart, then I will gladly break you." With his warning given, Mazren turned around and walked away. Over by Jim, Slag looked to Gene, almost as if he was no longer certain of whether to growl at Gene or not. He eventually decided not to before following after Mazren. Jim meanwhile, who had stood silent up to now, walked up to Gene.

"So…you and Mel…you know."

"What?" Gene asked. "Are you to going hit me over the head with the sauce pan again?"

"Well that depends," Jim replied. "Is this another one of your sleazy one night stands?"

"All right look," Gene said, "I know that I don't have the best record. But this is the real thing. I honestly love Melfina Jim. And I'm not going to do anything to hurt her." Jim nodded and then smiled slightly.

"Well, unlike our friend Mazren I believe you."

"Really?" Gene asked.

"Yeah," Jim said as the two of them began to walk towards breakfast. "I wouldn't have a year ago. But you've changed a lot since we've met Mel. I really think that you and her are good for each other."

"You think so?"

"Yeah I do. I'm just glad that you finally got up the nerve to get her back. It was really getting pathetic for a while." Gene smiled as he placed his hand on Jim's shoulder.

"Hey, thanks a lot partner," Gene said before his grin darkened noticeably. "Oh by the way, I told Mel that you think of her like a mother."

"That's nice," Jim said. And then the realization of what Gene said hit him. "YOU WHAT!"

"Yeah see if Mel and I can't have kids of our own then we're just going to adopt you."

"GENE STARWIND!" Jim yelled as he lunged for Gene. "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!"

"Now now son," Gene teased as he held him at bay. "It's not nice to threaten your father." Jim screamed wordlessly as he lunged at Gene again, but Gene laughed and ran as Jim gave pursuit.

Walking down the corridor, Ron and Harry McDougal made their way to the dropships docked at the bottom level of the Damocles Sword. The entire ship was in an uproar. Roughly half an hour ago, they had achieved stationary orbit above the planet where Gene Starwind had been holed up for the last few days.

"This is it Ron," Harry said. "It's finally time to show them what happens when you mess with the McDougal Brothers."

"Maybe," Ron said.

"What's wrong with you?" Harry asked. "You still aren't trying to figure out why Shidowkun's after Melfina are you?"

"Nah forget it," Ron said. "I guess I'm still a little surprised by what that disc told us about that other guy."

"Yeah I know," Harry commented. "Who would have thought that Melfina had a brother? I never saw that one coming. Oh well, at least we get to kill him."

"Yeah you're right," Ron grinned. After losing the Shangri La, Ron had been seething with barely restrained anger. Killing that Mazren the Wolf guy would be very therapeutic for him. After reaching the hatchway for the dorsal bay, Ron and Harry entered and took a quick look around. All throughout the bay, crewmen were busy making the final preparations for planetfall while a group of Toku assassins stood in the center of the bay. A truly motley bunch, there were twenty-nine in all. Each one was armed with a different weapon or master of a deadly technique. Ron and Harry had been given the honor of being acquainted with them all yesterday. Shidowkun had recruited for this raid some of the most feared killers in the entire Toku guild. Each one was as strong as one of the legendary Anten Seven. Hopefully, these guys would fare better against Gene Starwind and his friends than the Anten did. While they stood waiting for the go ahead, the woman who was in Shidowkun's quarters yesterday entered the bay, causing the assassins to stand to attention.

"All of you listen up," Shidowkun's whore, whom Ron had learned was named Aeslea, addressed them. "According to our estimates, the enemy is roughly two hundred in number and is massed in a single central location. With our army of drone troops we will have the advantage of superior numbers. We will land the drop ships in a perimeter around their base and surround them before moving in all at once. We will therefore cut off their means of escape and trap them in a small area. Because of the importance of this mission, the Emperor will be personally leading the ground assault. You all have been shown the pictures of both Gene Starwind and Melfina. All others are irrelevant, but these two must be taken alive at any and all costs. Now get to the dropships and prepare to attack."

"Hai!" the assassins answered. As they all dispersed among the eight dropships in the bay, Ron and Harry were about to get into the one nearest them when a scarlet sash flew in front of them to block their way.

"One second McDougal Brothers," the woman said as she retracted her cloth weapon. "Lord Shidowkun wishes that you both ride with him and me."

"What for?" Harry asked.

"Does the Emperor need a reason for his vassals to follow his orders?" the woman smirked as she walked towards a hatch at the far end of the bay.

"Come on Harry," Ron said. "Let's just go see what Shidowkun wants." The two of them followed the woman through the hatchway and down a narrow corridor before exiting into a much smaller bay, large enough for only a personal shuttle. Docked in the center, the ten meter ship took up most of the bay's already cramped space. Entering the vessel, the McDougal brothers were greeted to the sight of Shidowkun sitting in the shadows in the back of the passenger section.

"I trust that you both are ready to redeem yourselves," the Emperor inquired as his whore moved to his side.

"Yes Lord," Ron said with a bow. "My brother and I are yours to command."

"How reassuring," Shidowkun said. "Still, if your previous record against Gene Starwind is of any indication, I fear for the success of this raid." Behind closed lips, Ron clenched his teeth. Would the humiliation that Gene Starwind placed on himself and Harry never leave them? "Therefore, I have decided to be 'generous,' and bestow on you gifts that should be of some help." With a flick of his hand, the Toku Emperor gestured to a cabinet off to the side. The panel opened, and a bandoleer loaded with almost two-dozen Caster shells floated out. "For you Ron McDougal," Shidowkun said. Ron accepted the bandoleer and looked it over in awe.

"Thank you Lord," Ron said. "But how did you find these? Some of these shells are even rarer than dragonite."

"To the resources of the Toku," the Emperor explained, "nothing is impossible."

"Yeah but what about me though?" Harry asked. Once again, Shidowkun gestured with his hand, and a cyber support suit floated out of the cabinet to land in Harry's arms.

"Hey," Harry said. "This is the same kind of cyber suit that Gwen Khan built for me."

"More or less," Shidowkun replied. "My scientists retrieved the blueprints from the Shangri La's computer. But since you're now in much better shape than you were back then, they've removed most of that cumbersome life support equipment, thereby tripling its energy output."

"Oh wow!" Hary beamed. "I can hardly wait to try it out."

"I'm sure you do," Shidowkun said. "But for now, I suggest that you both take your seats. By my estimates, the enemy will be having their morning meal by now. If we move quickly, we can catch them unprepared."

"Of course Lord," Ron said with a nod. Taking the two seats behind the pilot, Ron and Harry strapped themselves in as the pilot sealed the shuttle for departure. The sound of an alarm signaled the depressurization of the bay as the doors beneath them opened up. The pilot maneuvered the shuttle out of the bay and led the dropships on to their way to the capture of Melfina and the defeat of Gene Starwind.

After chasing Gene most of the way around the first level, Jim made his way to the main hall. Looking left, then right, Jim checked to make sure the coast was clear. When he didn't see Mel, he decided to make a break for the entrance. If he hurried, he could get his breakfast and get back to his quarters before she saw him. After learning what Gene had told her, he was far to embarrassed to face her.

"Hey Jim," Aisha called out. Jim turned around and swallowed at the sight of her, Keibara, Suzuka, and Melfina walking toward him. Unlike usual, Jim noticed that Mel wasn't wearing her cloak.

"Oh uh, hey guys," he said, doing his best to sound calm. "Well, let's get to breakfast. Don't want it getting cold."

"Wait a minute Jim," Mel said as she turned to the others. "You all go on ahead. I need to ask Jim something."

"Sure Mel," Keibara answered. She and the others left her and Jim alone as they went in to get their breakfast.

"So um, what's up?" Jim asked, although he had a pretty good idea what was. Melfina looked around before pointing to a passageway between two structures.

"Let's go over there," she said. "I don't want to accidentally embarrass you."

"Uh okay sure," Jim said, doing his best not to break out into a cold sweat. He and Mel walked over to the passageway where they stood alone. "So what did you need to ask me?" Mel looked down to him and Jim saw that her eyes were a little frightened, almost as if she were afraid of what he would say.

"Jim, Gene told me something last night. And I need to know if it's true or not." The way she was looking at him, Jim realized that Melfina deserved an honest answer.

"Sure go ahead."

"Do you," she asked, "I mean, do you really think of me like a mother?"

"Um," Jim said as he looked down, then back up to her. "Yeah I guess I do." As soon as Jim gave his answer, Melfina's eyes sparkled and she smiled brighter than he had ever seen her do before. Before Jim could ask her if she was all right, Melfina dropped down to his level and hugged him hard.

"Um, Mel?" Jim asked.

"Oh Jim thank you," she gushed. "Thank you so very much." She held him for a little while longer before letting go, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, and making Jim turn five shades of red at once. Stunned, Jim watched as she walked away to the main hall. Subconsciously, he reached up to his cheek and rubbed the spot. I never expected that to happen, he thought. Taking a deep breath to calm down, Jim eventually followed after her. Entering the main hall, he looked around and saw Suzuka and Mazren sitting together, Aisha piling food on her plate, but no sign of either Mel or Gene.

"Hey Aisha?" he asked. "Where'd Mel go?"

"She got her breakfast and then left with Gene," Aisha answered as she plopped down and began to eat. "And since Suzu and Maz are sitting together, I guess it's just you and me Jim."

"Guess so," Jim said. Actually, the thought of that really wasn't too bad to Jim. Getting his own breakfast, he sat down beside Aisha just as Jubei and the other clan leaders entered. But no sooner had they than one of the Clan ninja scouts came running in. Rushing up to the main table, he took Tyr aside and said something to low for Jim to hear. "Hey Aisha, can you hear what he's saying?"

"Hmmmm?" Aisha asked through a mouthful. Trust those Ctarl ears to stop working while she's eating, Jim thought. Tyr meanwhile, rushed over to Jubei and said something else too low for Jim to hear before they both left to attend to whatever business was at hand. Damn it what the hell's going on here? Jim wondered. His instincts were screaming like a fire alarm. He could tell that something very bad was about to happen.

"Jim, Jim come in," Gillium broadcast over Jim's earring communicator.

"Gillium what's going on?" Jim asked.

"Dropships are landing all over the jungle," Gillium answered. "Ten in all. But furthermore, they're all adorned with a manji symbol." That was all Jim needed to know.

"Aisha!" he yelled as he jumped out of his seat. So much for having a nice quiet breakfast. "Get Suzuka and Mazren and meet me out front of Jubei's tower!"

"Hey wait a minute what's going on?" Aisha yelled back. But by that time, Jim had already run out the door in search of Gene and Mel. After a brief search he found them sitting on a bench. As he half expected Gene was trying to make out with Mel. One arm was snaked around Melfina's waist and he playfully nipped at her earlobe as she giggled and squirmed in his grasp.

"Oh hello Jim," Melfina called out as he saw him approach. "Would you like to eat with us?"

"Nice timing partner," Gene muttered. It was then that Gene saw the stressed look on Jim's face. "Hey what's wrong Jim?"

"The Toku!" Jim answered. "The Toku are here!"

When the shuttle landed, Harry couldn't get out fast enough. The cybersuit he wore fit him like a glove. But even better was the power he felt. Shidowkun was right. This new cybersuit was way better than the one Gwen Khan built for him. Not only was he faster and stronger than before, but without being dependant on all that life support equipment meant that he could now really go all out against that bastard Gene Starwind.

"Wait up Harry," Ron called out. "Remember, we've got them pinned down. There's nowhere they can run from us this time."

"Yeah I know," Harry said. "But why wait. I mean, after all this time, I'm finally going to dish out a little payback on that bitch."

"All in good time my young friend," Shidowkun told Harry. "All in good time." Harry and Ron stood aside as the cloaked form of the Toku Emperor floated past to survey the jungle around them. Although the undergrowth would have ensured a difficult landing, the pilot had dropped a flame carpet bomb that cleared a fourteen-meter wide area for them to touch down safely. Off in the distance was the giant fortress where Gene and his friends had taken up shelter. Behind them, Shidowkun's woman emerged from the shuttle.

"Lord Shidowkun," she informed the Emperor. "All other dropships have landed and have discharged their forces. All that is waiting is for your signal."

"Good," Shidowkun said. "But first, let's have a little psychological warfare." Curious as to what Shidowkun would do, Harry and Ron watched as the Emperor's body began to glow with a red light.

"So what can you see?" Gene asked. He and the others stood with Jubei, Tyr and Keibara atop the Wiseman's tower. At the moment, Mazren was searching the distance with his binoculars.

"Gilliam was right," Mazren answered. "I count ten drop ships in all. It looks like the Toku have sent out a full attack force."

"So just what are we looking at here?" Jim asked.

"The way I figure it," Suzuka answered, "the Toku are no longer taking the situation lightly. From this moment on, it's outright war."

"Most likely," Mazren answered. "Chances are they've brought assassins, Oni, and god knows what else. At the very least, we're expecting a full…" but Mazren was cut short by a disturbance in the distance. In a rush, a mass of birds erupted from the trees and took for the sky. In the branches, there was a loud rustling as hordes of monkeys ran screeching through the treetops.

"What the hell?" Gene asked. The animals in the jungle weren't the only ones acting strange. Down by Mazren's side, Slag began to growl and raise his fur. Something out in the jungle had the big wolf freaked.

"Gene!" Melfina whimpered. Gene turned around and saw that Melfina was on the verge of entering a catatonic state. Her eyes were wide, her arms were crossed tightly across her chest, and her face had drained even paler than Suzuka's.

"Mel what's wrong?" Jim asked.

"They're running from something," Melfina said as she began to shake. "There's something out there. Something bad. Gene I'm scared." Gene rushed over and held her tightly while Jubei moved over to the edge of the tower to search for whatever Melfina was talking about.

"Hey, hey," he said softly as he began to rub her arms up and down. "It's okay. No matter what's out there I won't let it get anywhere near you. Hey Jubei, any idea what's going on out there?" The Wiseman turned around and Gene saw that although his face was calm, Jubei's eyes held the same look of fear that Melfina had.

"Use the ki sensitivity skill Tyr and I taught you yesterday," Jubei told him. Gene didn't understand, but he did as he was told. Closing his eyes, he reached out with his feelings, trying to see what was wrong. And when he did, the shock of it caused him cry out in pain and his legs to fail.

"Gene!" Melfina called out as she caught him. Before he took them both down to the ground, Gene was able to regain himself and stood back up.

"Gene are you okay?" Jim asked.

"I don't know," Gene answered as a cold sweat began to form on his brow. Shit no wonder Mel was scared, he thought. When he tried to use ki sensitivity, the first thing he had sensed was the jungle. So rich and full of life, it was like a field of light. But then, he had sensed something else. In the middle of the field, there was something out of place, a presence so strong that it outshone the jungle around it. But what had really struck him wasn't the strength of the presence, but the way if felt. It was like black fire, something that was somehow cold and burning at the same time. "What the hell was that?"

"Do you remember when I told you that I sensed no darkness in your friend Melfina?" Jubei asked. "Out there is something that is nothing but."

"So what's that supposed to mean?" Aisha asked. Her question was answered by the sound of thunder in the sky above them. Looking up, they saw that a cluster of clouds in the sky was starting to group together and form into a shape.

"Dad what's going on?" Keibara asked as the wind began to pick up.

"Whatever it is," Tyr answered, "it does not bode well." The clouds meanwhile, continued to darken, shape, and color until they formed into a roughly humanoid silhouette. The figure the clouds formed was broad and imposing. A crimson cape hanging from bladed shoulder armor covered the body while a black war helmet covered the head. From the brow of the helmet, three crimson crests ran along the top and sides to the back. Over the face, a red death's head mask hid any discernable features save for eyes that glowed with a fearsome red light. All around the figure, the darkened sky erupted with black thunder that streaked and roared above them.

"What the hell?" Mazren asked.

"Melfina," the image said. The voice was deep and resonating, as if the looming figure was speaking from inside a tunnel. "I've come for you."

"No!" Melfina whimpered. Gene pressed her head deeper into his throat as he increased his hold on her.

"All right you!" he yelled. "Who the hell are you and what do you want?"

"You and your friends already know Gene Starwind," the towering image answered. "You have already bested three of my four Shoguns. But now you face me."

"Wait a minute," Aisha said. "Are you trying to say that you're Shidowkun?"

"Precisely. And I've come to offer you all a proposition."

"What kind of proposition?" Tyr asked.

"I demand that both Gene Starwind and Melfina turn themselves over to me," Shidowkun ordered. "If they do that, than I will spare their friends as well as the Dragon Clan. Are we in agreement?"

"Agree with this!" Gene yelled. Taking one arm from Melfina, Gene drew his caster, summoned the sword's power, and fired. The energy blast rose into the sky and ripped a gaping hole in Shidowkun's chest. But no sooner did the blast pass than the hole sealed up again. "Hey," Gene said as they all gave him looks questioning his sanity, "it was worth a shot."

"But ultimately futile," Shidowkun said. "Just as any attempt against me will prove."

"Really," Mazren said. "You know, this little show of yours might work on my sister, but not on me. Stop hiding behind these tricks and face me like a man! Than we'll see what's futile!" By Mazren's side, Slag growled and ruffled his fur as his eyes gleamed with anger.

"That goes for me too," Keibara said as she reached for her sais. "You seem to get off on picking on girls. Why don't you come down here and try that crap with me?"

"I'd be careful what you ask for if I were you my dear," Shidowkun answered.

"Oh real nice comeback," Aisha replied. "You know, I'm really starting to think that you're all talk pal."

"Oh really?" The front of the cape parted, revealing ornately crafted black and red trimmed armor. From out of the part came a hand encased in a clawed gauntlet. The hand flattened and glowed before several bolts of black lightning dropped out from the palm to the ground. Gene and the others covered their eyes from the flashes as whole trees were exploded by Shidowkun's attack. "Do you still think that I'm all talk?" Shidowkun asked. While the others stood paralyzed, it was Suzuka who answered.

"If your intention was to impress us, than you've succeeded," she told Shidowkun. "But that doesn't mean that we're about to surrender to you." But Shidowkun seemed neither amused nor irritated with Suzuka's show of courage.

"Have it your way," he said as his burning gaze switched to Gene and Melfina. "Gene Starwind, Melfina, I gave you a chance to surrender. Everyone who dies on this day, their blood will be on your hands." With nothing further to say, the figure shifted, blurred, and then disappeared.

"What will we do now Master Jubei?" Tyr asked.

"The only thing we can do," Jubei answered as she headed for the stairway that led to the bottom of his tower. "We rally the rest of the Clan and prepare ourselves for battle."

Standing aside, Aeslea watched in awe as Lord Shidowkun's display of power ended. She knew that performing it had only taken up a third of the Emperor's total concentration and power. If it weren't for the need to take the android girl alive, Shidowkun could have wiped the entire area clean of life in one massive blast. And yet, even after seeing what her master was capable of the pitiful fools still intended to fight. Did they really think that they could stand a chance of defeating Shidowkun, the living God of Death? Oh well, she thought as she loosened the sash around her right arm. That just means that I get to have some fun with them.

"So then what's the plan?" the elder McDougal asked. Obviously shaken, the mercenary famed for his rock hard nerve had paled to a slight gray.

"You Ron McDougal," the Emperor ordered, "shall send word to all our forces to begin closing in on the enemy stronghold. Once you do that, you are free to either move in or stay here at your own discretion."

"Yes sir." Turning around, Ron McDougal hurried back into the dropship to signal the start of the attack.

"Aeslea," Shidowkun ordered. "Join our forces and move toward the fortress."

"Of course lord," she purred.

"Hey what about me," the younger McDougal asked. The Emperor's response was to extend his armored arm from beneath his cloak and point it towards the mountain to the east of their location.

"Search around the base of the mountain," Shidowkun told him. "In all likelihood, Gene Starwind will try to take the android girl to higher ground and supposed safety. Intercept them before they do, and capture her. Remember though, she is to be taken alive and Gene Starwind is to be merely defeated, not killed."

"Got it," Harry said as the status light on his cyber suit began to light up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a date and I really can't keep her waiting." Bending his body forward, the youth took off running at a blinding speed, leaving a trail of shadow images behind him. After he left, Aeslea threw out her arm and launched one of her sashes onto a tree limb. With a slight tug, she pulled herself up to the limb and bounded off through the branches, moving with the grace and speed of the wind. Two hundred potential victims, Aeslea reminded herself. I hope the others won't mind if I take the lion's share of them all.

After their little chat with Shidowkun, Jubei summoned the entire Dragon Clan to meet in the main hall to discuss the situation. Over to the side, Gene stood quietly as he and the others listened as Jubei addressed the assembled warriors.

"You all have seen the image that appeared above our fortress," the Wiseman said. "A massive enemy force has invaded our planet. An enemy more powerful than any we've ever faced before. It is very likely that many of us shall die this day. I cannot force you to make such a sacrifice, I can only ask. Therefore, if any of you wish not to become involved, than choose to do so now. Head for the mountain where we have hidden the clan's ship and leave this world." Gene looked out over the Dragon Clan, but no one said that they wanted to leave. Their eyes all said that they were willing to fight. "Very well then," Jubei said. "One of our guests is an expert in the tactics of our enemy. He will speak now. I trust you will give him the same level of respect that you show me." Jubei stood aside as Mazren took his place to speak to the Clan.

"If this is a standard Toku assault force," Mel's brother said, "than they'll have brought an army of their drone troops, and most likely military grade armor suits for support. As you all know, the Toku's objective is to capture my sister Melfina and to take the sword. And it's a pretty safe bet that they know that Starwind has awakened it." Off to the side, Gene put his arms around Melfina's waist and held her tightly for comfort, as much for him as for her. "They're going to want to take them both alive. So this is most likely going to be entirely a ground assault. They won't risk accidentally killing either of them in full out air strike."

"What exactly are these drone troops?" one of the ninjas in the audience asked.

"Artificial constructs designed for combat and military usage," Mazren answered. "In all likelihood, they'll be using Cybers, Oni, and Tengus. Cybers are purely robotic so they'll be the easiest to take out. Oni and Tengus are a little more difficult. They can regenerate instantly and they can morph their hands into weapons. But even they have their weaknesses. Cut off the head, or attack the symbol in their breastplate and they die. The one weakness all three have though is a lack of sentience. So use their stupidity against them."

"Are they're any other threats that we should look out for?" a ctarl in the front asked.

"Most definitely," Mazren said. "The Toku will have brought armor suits with them. These will be piloted by human operators and armed with heavy weapons. They're big and tough, but they're fairly slow. Use that to your advantage. But the biggest threat will come from the Toku assassins. The Toku have at their disposal some of the most ruthless killers in the galaxy. If you encounter any of them, if possible take them out before all others. Any further questions?"

"What sort of strategy will the enemy be using and how shall we counter it?" someone in the back asked.

"Tyr will be discussing that," Mazren told them. "He and I have reviewed the situation and have come up with the appropriate tactics." Stepping back, Mazren made way for Tyr to take the stage.

"This is our battle plan," the bearded warrior said. "In all, ten dropships have landed in a circle formation around the fortress. The enemy is attempting to confine us in this area and then close in around us, thereby cutting off our means of escape. But they have made the critical mistake of underestimating our abilities. We have known that such an event like this would occur eventually and have therefore taken steps to prepare ourselves. Now then, for each dropship we will send out a squad of eighteen warriors. The rest shall stay here under Korde's command to protect the fortress. While we engage the enemy, Gene Starwind will take Melfina to the concealed hanger in the mountain behind us. Once there, he will signal us and we all shall retreat to join him there. The hanger can be used as an emergency base and has been outfitted with enough food and supplies to last us for a long time. From there, we can weather the enemy attack and coordinate appropriate counter strikes." Surveying the entire room, Tyr raised his tri-claw. "Now ready yourselves to fight. We move out in half an hour." The hall erupted into battle cries as the warriors of the Dragon Clan roared in compliance. As the hall began to empty, Tyr walked up and took Gene aside. "You and Melfina follow me," he said. "There's one final lesson I have to teach you."

"Yeah sure," Gene said, wondering what was about to happen. As he and Melfina followed after Tyr, Mazren called out to him.

"Hey." Gene turned around just as Mazren gave him the v-sign. "You take care of her."

"Right," Gene said as he returned the gesture. "And you take care of the others."

Jim stood by and listened as Mazren and Tyr laid out the battle plan. When Jubei stood aside to let them speak, Jim walked over to the wiseman and tapped on his arm.

"Hey Jubei?" Jim asked. The Dragon Clan's patriarch looked down to him. "I know that I'm not much use in something like this, but if there's anything I can do to help I'd like to."

"I think I know of a way," Korde answered. The big Saurian had appeared behind Jim and laid one clawed hand on his shoulder. "With your permission Master Jubei, I'd like to appoint Jim as team choreographer."

"I think that's an excellent idea Korde," Jubei replied.

"Team choreographer?" Jim asked.

"Just follow Korde," Jubei answered. "He'll explain everything to you." Jim nodded and left the others as Korde led him down into the center of the fortress. Stopping at a room underneath Jubei's tower, Korde opened the door and ushered Jim in.

"What's all this?" Jim asked. Against the back of the small room, four monitors and a communication system had been set up.

"In the clearing where we first captured you and the others," Korde told him, "there was a stone column with markings similar to this temple wasn't there?"

"Uh huh," Jim answered.

"Several other stone columns are positioned around the jungle," Korde explained. "They function like sensor posts, sending data back to this fortress. I've integrated some technology into the stone of this fortress so that we can access the data."

"I see," Jim said. Whoever built this place thought of everything, he thought. "So what am I supposed to do?" he asked as he sat down in front of the monitors.

"These monitors will display the location of the enemy forces as well as our own," Kord explained. "Use the radio to keep us appraised of all enemy movements as well as to coordinate our forces. The team leaders shall keep in touch with you by means of earring communicators."

"Gotcha," Jim said as he gave the thumbs up to Korde. "You can count on me."

"I wouldn't have assigned you this responsibility if I couldn't," the Saurian said as he left. "I must go to ready my team. We'll be in charge of defending the fortress."

"Good luck to you," Jim said as Korde left. "I've got a feeling we're going to need it," he added after the door closed. Reaching into his backpack, Jim pulled out Gillium's drone and set him on the desk in front of him. "Gillium, what do the Outlaw Star's sensors tell you about what's going on?"

"It's not good Jim," Gillium answered. "The Toku are already starting to move in on the fortress. By my estimates, the first group should reach us in about one hour."

"Hopefully that will give the Dragon Clan enough time to prepare and intercept them." Opening a panel on Gillium's side, Jim pulled out some wires and began to connect the pink maintenance drone to the computer system. "Gillium, access the Outlaw Star's censor grid and communication system. Maybe we can use it to enhance what Korde set up."

"Right away Jim," Gillium replied. Jim watched as the monitors came to life and began to display the Toku forces that were slowly closing in on them. He assessed them carefully, realizing that the slightest mistake could cost them all big time

After meeting with the rest of the clan, Gene and Melfina followed Tyr as he led them into the recesses of the fortress's base.

"Hey," he asked her, "are you okay?"

"Actually," she answered, "I'm scared." Gene took her hand in his and squeezed gently.

"Yeah I know," he said as she squeezed back. "So am I. But don't worry. Whatever the hell Shidowkun is, that was the closest he'll ever get to you." Melfina looked sideways to Gene and gave him a small smile.

"I know Gene." Gene smiled back, but then thought of something.

"Say Mel, how did you sense Shidowkun before even Jubei did?" Melfina frowned as she considered her answer.

"I really don't know Gene. I just felt as though there was something that didn't seem right." Gene nodded. If Jubei was right about Melfina being free of darkness, than maybe she would be sensitive to something like Shidowkun that was nothing but. "But Gene, that's not all."

"What do you mean?" he asked her.

"Do you remember those tablets we saw on Tenrei? The ones that showed the Dark Giant?"

"You mean the ones that you said reminded you of something bad right?"

"When I first sensed Shidowkun," Melfina further explained, "it gave me the same feeling I got when I saw those tablets. Almost as if I've met him before."

"I see," Gene said. "Well, looks like we're here." Tyr had just entered a doorway at the end of the hall they were walking down. Gene and Mel followed after and entered into some kind of massive dojo. "So Tyr what did you want to show me?"

"For today," Tyr answered, "I was going to try and teach you some of my own personal techniques."

"You mean like special attacks?"

"Something like that. But recent events have deemed that impossible. Therefore, I am going to go ahead and teach you my most powerful technique right now."

"Okay," Gene said. "So what do I have to do?"

"First things first," Tyr answered as he removed his tri-claw and attached his cyber-hand. Melfina girl, would you mind pulling that lever there?"

"You mean this one here?" Melfina asked as she pointed to a lever that stuck out of the wall to her left.

"Yes that's right," Tyr answered. "Pull it down all the way." Melfina did and a large stone slab and two rows of wooden posts rose up out of the floor. "Now then pay very close attention to what I do," he told Gene. Turning to face the stone slab and the wooden posts, Tyr clasped his hands together and held them in front of them. "Now then, it's a common fact that objects with greater densities are stronger and more durable than those with lesser." As he spoke, Tyr's hands began to glow and shake with the power he was building up. "I've discovered that the same rule applies to ki. When compacted, the potential and strength of ki is enhanced greatly. Do you understand so far?"

"Pretty much." Gene answered.

"Good, now pay very close attention from here on out," Tyr lectured. "To perform this technique, gather as much ki as you can summon, and then compact and push it together as tightly as you can." Unclasping his hand, Tyr extended his left hand forward and pulled his right fist down by his side. "The tighter you compact it, the stronger it becomes. You must then focus all of your senses on your target and nothing else. Once you have done that, you can then unleash this ultimate technique; the Starbreaker Fist." With a yell, Tyr retracted his extended hand and punched with his other. The air in front of him flashed as a roaring ball of fire and light that left a trail of shockwaves in its wake fired from Tyr's fist. The wooden posts caught the edge of Tyr's attack and shattered while the stone tablet Tyr aimed for exploded in a roaring, blinding flash. Turning away, Gene used his coat to shield Melfina from the shower of debris that pelted against them. When it stopped, Gene and Melfina stared in shock at the sight. The stone tablet and the two rows of posts had been shattered to nothing.

"Holy shit!" Gene exclaimed.

"Against such a sudden surge of immense destructive power," Tyr lectured, "there is no defense. Do you think that you can do it now that you've seen it?"

"Um," Gene answered, "yeah I guess so."

"That was amazing," Melfina said. "I wouldn't think that you would need any other techniques than that."

"True," Tyr agreed, "the Starbreaker fist is fast, powerful, and will never miss its mark. But like any technique, even it has its flaws. It takes complete concentration to perform. The slightest lapse of which can cause the compacted energy to destroy the one who performs it. A crafty opponent can take advantage of the lapse in your defense to divert your attention. Therefore, only use Starbreaker Fist when you are certain that you can do it without being distracted. Am I clear lad?"

"Crystal," Gene answered.

"Than you'd both better get out to the front of the fortress," Tyr said. "Master Jubei will be waiting for you."

"Right," Gene said. "You take care of yourself out there okay?"

"Same to you." Leaving Tyr, Gene and Melfina headed for the front of the fortress to meet Jubei. As they hurried on their way, Gene kept giving sideways glances to Mel. Why would Shidowkun and those stone tablets both give Melfina the same feeling? he wondered. And why would he feel familiar to her? Oh well, we can figure out that part later. It's going to be one hell of a day. For now, I'd better just concentrate on surviving through it.

Setting his weapons bag on the bed in his quarters, Mazren began to equip his full arsenal. The jacket he wore was more than just a fashion statement. Its multiple interior and exterior pockets allowed him to carry a huge amount of firepower. After loading his automatics into his belt holsters, his submachine gun went into the left interior holster of his jacket while a heavy blaster pistol went into the right. Picking up his assault rifle, Mazren briefly considered taking it as well, but decided not to. For all its stopping power, the heavy, boxy weapon would only slow him down in the crowded space of the jungle. Setting it back down on the bed, he instead pulled out a micro grenade launcher and hooked it onto his back, then attached a full number of throwing knives to his sleeves and filled the remaining pockets with as much spare knives and ammo that he could carry. The last weapon he equipped was his katana. Withdrawing it, he studied the razor sharp edge and the gleaming surface. This was his favorite weapon, forged for him by a great and reclusive weapons master in exchange for services rendered. Custom designed to be used by him alone, only Mazren's hands could bring out his sword's true potential.

"Hey Maz you ready?" Aisha called through the door.

"Yeah I'm coming," he called back. Well here we go, he thought. Stepping out off his quarters, he met Aisha, Suzuka, and Slag who were waiting outside. Suzuka was calm and serene, her concentration focused completely on the coming fight. Aisha however, was in an obvious state of impatience. Her tail twitched and her claws clenched and unclenched. In her hand, she clutched a wound up Ctarl whipping chain, most likely given to her from one of the Clan's Ctarl-Ctarl members.

"I'm going out to help the eastern defense," Suzuka said. "Aisha's going out to the west."

"I guess I'll help the north then," Mazren said. Slag barked and moved next to his side. "Sorry Slag, not this time. This isn't going to be a hunt. It's war. And I don't need you taking a bullet for me out there. So stay here and help protect the fortress. All right?" Slag whined and lowered his head. He obviously didn't like Mazren's decision, but he obeyed. "If there's nothing else," Mazren told the others, "than let's go to work." As he, Suzuka, and Aisha made their way to the outside of the fortress, Suzuka put her hand on his shoulder.

"Promise me you'll be careful out there," she told him. Mazren looked into her eyes, nodded, made sure Aisha had left them behind, and then kissed her for good luck.

"You too," he said. It would be a shame for either of them to die just when things were starting to get interesting.

Standing in the courtyard of the fortress, Tyr surveyed the warriors he had picked for his team. They numbered twenty in all; himself, eighteen ninjas, and his right hand Keibara. All of them were personal students of his, trained in his own techniques. They were all good fighters, and even better comrades. Tyr knew that a good deal of the Dragon clan would probably die today, but Tyr would do everything in his power to keep their casualties to a minimum.

"You ready Dad?" Tyr looked over to Keibara. His adoptive daughter had dressed in light armor, perfect for maneuvers requiring agility and acrobatics. He himself had dressed in full chinese armor that would slow down a weaker man. Where does the time go? Tyr wondered. He still remembered when he had first saved the starving little girl who was living on the streets. And now, she had grown up into a healthy, intelligent, and strong young woman. She was the only one in the entire clan who was able to hold her own against him.

"As much as I'll ever be," Tyr answered as he locked the strap of his helmet. "Let's move out." Taking point, Tyr and Keibara led their team down the steps of the fortress and towards the jungle beyond. Around them, other members of the Dragon Clan were herding the Tri-horns out of their pens to send them on their way. The Dragon Clan would most likely not be able to return to the fortress for quite a while. The Tri-horns would have to take care of themselves from now on. Hopefully, the released beats of burden might even slow down the invading forces. As they headed out to intercept the enemy, Tyr took a moment to look around. The sky was clear; the sun was shining. It was a perfect day for a battle. Reaching out, he grasped and gently squeezed Keibara's shoulder.

"Dad?" she asked.

"I want you to know that no matter what happens today," Tyr told her, "I'm very proud of you." Keibara looked at him in confusion before laughing nervously.

"Hey come on Dad," she said. "Don't talk like that. We're gonna make it through this thing. So let's stop worrying and go show these guys who they're messing with."

"Of course," Tyr answered. He wished that he could have told Keibara what he knew, but Tyr had spent far too much time and energy raising her to just let her throw it away.

After meeting Jubei outside of the fortress, the Wiseman escorted both Gene and Melfina along a path that led into the jungle.

"Here is where we must part," Jubei told them as they reached a fork in the path. "Take the northern route, it will lead you straight to one of the hidden doorways of the secret hanger in the mountain. You can open the hanger by inserting this key into the slit in the rock face." Reaching into his robe, Jubei handed to Gene what looked like a miniature version of his staff. "Once you reach it, alert your friend Jim to tell us to retreat. The hanger is protected by both thick walls of rock and protective charms. Once you enter, not even Shidowkun will be able to get to you."

"Gotcha," Gene said as he accepted the key.

"Um Jubei?" Melfina asked.

"Yes," the wiseman answered.

"I'm sorry that all this happened," she said. "We didn't have the right to bring you and the rest of the Dragon Clan into this." Underneath his broad hat, Jubei smiled softly at her.

"Melfina," he told her, "you needn't blame yourself for what has happened. As the protectors of the Sword, we knew that this day would come sooner or later."

"They clan's helping us because they chose to Mel," Gene added. "Just like me and the others are. Remember?"

"Besides," Jubei continued, "the Dragon Clan and the jungle we live in harmony with is far from helpless. Now then, I suggest that you both get going." Turning around, Jubei began to move down the eastern path.

"So where're you going?" Gene asked.

"We all must fight this day, even me," the Wiseman answered. "But my battle shall be far different than the rest of the clan. It is one that only I can fight."

"I see," Gene nodded. "Well good luck to you."

"You too," Jubei answered as he disappeared into the jungle. Gene and Melfina watched him go for a little while longer before Gene took her hand in his and hurried with Melfina to the hanger.

As he ran, Gene wondered how a day that had started out so perfectly could have gone straight to hell so fast.

Behind his mask, Shidowkun closed his eyes and reached out with his senses into the jungle. It didn't take him long to find what he was looking for. He could sense the power of the Sword, he could sense the power of what must have been the Dragon Clan's patriarch, he could sense all two hundred members of the Dragon Clan, and he could also sense her. Revulsion and desire filled his being as he determined her location. Out of them all, she was the most noticeable, even though her power was still undeveloped. It angered him that one such as he could be threatened by one so weak. And yet, just as the flame draws the moth to its death, Shidowkun couldn't help but be drawn to her as well.

"The word's gone out Lord," Ron McDougal said as he exited the shuttle. "There anything else?"

"None," The Toku emperor answered. "You are free to either stay here or join the attack force."

"I think that I'll move on. I've got some business to take care of with that other android." Shidowkun turned towards Ron McDougal and pointed to the North.

"Seek him over there then," Shidowkun instructed. Ron bowed and headed in the direction that Shidowkun had indicated. Returning his attention back to the jungle, Shidowkun evaluated the position and movement of both her and the Sword's power, and calculated just where they would be heading. As he expected, they were both moving to higher ground and supposed safety.

"And now Gene Starwind," Shidowkun said aloud. "It's time you and I talked face to face." Before that though, there was one thing that had to be taken care of. Walking to a shadow that stretched out from a nearby tree, Shidowkun sank and disappeared into the darkness. With the power of the Shadow Movement technique, the Toku Emperor advanced unseen through the jungle's shadows.

(The Toku have landed. And while Gene hurries to take Melfina to safety, the crew of the Outlaw Star and the Dragon Clan are moving out to buy them some time. Harry McDougal has been sent on his way to intercept them, while Shidowkun stalks his prey from the shadows. What is the battle that only Jubei can fight alone? And what is the secret that Tyr is keeping from Keibara? Not everyone is going to survive this day. Not only that, but the long awaited fight between Gene Starwind the Swordwielder, and Shidowkun the Toku Emperor is about to begin. Be here for our next exciting episode. Same Outlaw-time, same Outlaw-website.
Don't forget to review.)

Chapter 15
Chapter 17

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