• Outlaw Star The Flower of Fate (Fan Fiction)
  • Outlaw Star The Flower of Fate (Fan Fiction)

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  1. #11
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    Soon afterwards, they'd arrived at the Hot Spring Center at the foot of Mt. Nantai. Not even ten minutes later, Jim found himself shooting down a long spiral water slide. Within seconds, the blonde boy had splashed down in the pool below, not too far from where Melfina, Aisha, and Suzuka were lounging. Before he knew it, Hanmyo had deposited next to him.

    "Wow! That was fun!" cheered the indigo-haired girl.

    "Agreed! Should we go back up and do it again?" Jim enjoyed the water slide immensely, but more than anything, he was just happy Hanmyo was in good spirits, especially considering how uncomfortable she'd been around Gwen Kahn. It also didn't hurt that the water went up near their shoulders, so Jim was finding it much easier to not stare at his friend's swimming attire.

    Without warning, a couple of attractive young women approached the two youths.

    "Ooh, what have we here?" said one. "They're so adorable!"

    "What do you say we have some fun with them?" asked the other.

    All this flattery coming from complete strangers made Jim and Hanmyo chuckle bashfully. But to make matters even more awkward, three more women made their way over.

    "They're so cute!" complimented one of the newcomers.

    "Hey there, sweetie pie! Why don't you and your little cutie pie come and play with us?" offered another. But before either of the two kids could protest, they found themselves being smothered between the five women. While this made both of them feel rather uncomfortable, Jim was feeling especially awkward. With the adult women's assets being shoved against his face and shoulders and Hanmyo pressed against his back, the young boy felt as though his body and mind were locked in mortal combat with one another, each screaming conflicting messages at his conscience.

    As all this happened, Melfina, Aisha, and Suzuka were still attempting to enjoy themselves, to varying degrees of success.

    "This isn't hot…" Aisha grumbled, her voice sounding gargled through the pool water.

    "There is nothing that I find appealing about this," said Suzuka, the assassin still unimpressed with the resort so far.

    For her part, Melfina was just quietly lounging in the pool with a towel pressed against her head, enjoying the fact that she was experiencing something brand new.

    "By the way, where's Gene?" inquired Hanmyo, somewhat muffled due to the current situation.

    "We haven't seen him," answered Suzuka.

    "Huh?" commented Jim, his mind suddenly clear once again. "You can bet it's got to be awfully serious then if that pervert isn't here."

    'Though maybe that's for the best. If he saw what was happening to us right now, he'd never let me and Hanmyo live it down…' the blonde silently considered.

    At precisely that moment, someone with red hair near of the peak of the moment sneezed, while another red head was making their way up their up the mountain whistling a cheerful tune, likely in an attempt to lift their spirits.

    (Scene Change)

    After an hour of being coerced into playing water games with the horde of young women, Jim and Hanmyo were finally given a reprieve. Hanmyo breathed a sigh of relief, but Jim was still blushing.

    "At least one of us is feeling hot…" Aisha snickered at Jim's expression, which only made him turn even redder.

    "Actually, I think the water is already pretty warm…" Melfina chimed in.

    "That's not quite what she meant…" explained Suzuka.

    All this made Hanmyo giggle. "Well Jim, now that they're gone, do you still want to go down the slide again?" the indigo-haired girl said as she made her way to the exit stairs. Once she was out of the pool, she turned around and realized Jim had only followed her part way, stopping at the foot of the steps, his cheeks pink and mouth slightly agape.

    "I take it you like what you see?" Hanmyo teased. To this, Jim could only respond by submerging entirely into the pool. Melfina chuckled at the sight while Aisha and Hanmyo shared a knowing look. Suzuka, for her part, just closed her eyes and smiled.

    Meanwhile, about a kilometer north, a man in a strange mask and long claws extending from a bracelet on his right wrist was groaning in excruciating pain, having just tumbled over a cliff and into the valley below. As luck would have it, Gene happened to bear witness to this through a video camera.

    "What was that all about?" asked the baffled captain of the Outlaw Star.

    Not too long afterwards, he met back up with everyone, only to inform them that they were now heading to Mt. Nyotai. Fortunately, the gang had had their fill of the pool and were ready to switch to a different locale.

    "They say that Mt. Nyotai is an unspoiled hot spring in its natural setting, so I'm looking forward to this," said Suzuka after they had boarded the train.

    "I sure hope the water in this one is hot for a change," grumbled Aisha.

    "Whoopie," retorted a sarcastic Gene. "I'm thrilled that you guys can just kick back and relax, even though I don't have time for such luxury…" However, his attitude immediately brightened once the mountain in question came into view from the window.

    (Scene Change)

    After getting off the train, Gene spilt off from the group once again, heading for the temple at the summit. Everyone else, however, decided to head for the outdoor baths. Before going into the changing rooms, Jim decided to try asking around again about the wizards Gene seemed so hung up on, and he actually managed to get a few pieces of info this time around. Strangely, all the informants were surprisingly bitter male employees of the tourism bureau, and no two individuals told quite the same story. This made piecing things together quite difficult.

    'What could Gene have found out to make him so sure he was on the right track?' Jim wondered as he prepared to enter the men's bath. 'And what the hell was the deal with that video camera? I just hope he doesn't use it for some something lecherous.'

    On the woman's side of the outdoor baths, Suzuka had finally gotten what she was looking for. "Now this is what makes hot springs so appealing," the satisfied assassin confirmed, enjoying a plate with a small bowl of miso soup as well as a bottle of and cup for sake.

    "Oh, so this is what people find appealing about hot springs, huh?" Melfina asked, standing underneath a stream pouring from a bamboo shoot.

    "Most definitely," Suzuka assured her.

    Aisha's tastes, however, were definitely not being appealed to. "This isn't hot! This isn't hot at all!" The Ctarl-Ctarl roared in outrage. "Aren't there any springs around here that are hotter than this? I want a hot spring! A hot spring! A HOT SPRING!"

    "Hey Aisha?" Hanmyo interrupted her tirade, sitting not far from the changing room entrance. "I think there was a map of the area back by the lockers. Maybe it'll have information about facilities better suited for your temperature standards."

    "Really? If you're right, Hanmyo, I'll definitely owe ya," a slightly placated Aisha thanked the youngest female present before vacating the women's bath.

    "Jim? Hello! Can you hear me over there? How's the water temperature on your side?" Melfina asked cheerfully. Oddly enough, though, there wasn't a response.

    "…Jim? Is everything alright?" Hanmyo asked as well, a little louder, but definitely enough that Jim should be able to hear her. Even so, there was still no reply. This went on for about five minutes before the indigo-haired girl decided she'd had enough.

    "…I'm going to go check on him," Hanmyo informed her two remaining companions, standing back up and wrapping her towel around her. Even when Jim was deeply involved in something on his computer, he usually responded reasonably fast if someone tried to converse with him.

    "Hanmyo, I don't feel that would be a good idea," Suzuka warned, though her advice fell on deaf ears. Hanmyo was already in the changing room, making her way towards the hallway leading to the men's side.

    'I know I was teasing him earlier, but I don't think I upset him enough to make him ignore both me and Melfina. She had nothing to do with it, so why?' the young girl wondered. Fortunately for her, the men's changing room was completely void of people, and a quick glance around implied that Jim was the only person in the bath. Upon opening the door leading outside, she got the answers to all her questions and then some.

    "Jim, what's going on? Are you…?" Hanmyo trailed off as she was greeted by a rather unexpected sight. The blonde boy, with tears streaming from his eyes, was surrounded by a family of wild boars. How they got in, Hanmyo could only guess, but what she was certain of was that Jim was really, really scared.

    'No wonder he didn't answer us. He must have been afraid of setting that entire herd off,' Hanmyo realized. 'Where could Gene have run off to at a time like this? Jim needs him now!'

    It was at this moment that Jim and Hanmyo's eyes met, and the situation managed to find a way to get worse. Suddenly, Jim's face the deepest shade of red Hanmyo had ever seen on a person before he passed out, slowly sinking below the surface.

    The sight of Jim unconscious and submerged in the water flipped a switch inside of her. No longer caring about her own wellbeing, Hanmyo dove into the hot spring, knocking aside any large animal that dare obstruct her path. After grabbing ahold of the boy and bringing him back to the edge of the bath, Hanmyo immediately began performing CPR. Fortunately, some of Gene's good luck for dangerous situations must have rubbed off on him, for there wasn't much water to purge from his system, and she did so without having to crack his ribs. Even better, he was already starting to come to.

    "H-Hanmyo…?" Jim sputtered, his eyes slowly opening. But once more, without any warning, his irises filled with panic and he lost consciousness yet again. It was then that Hanmyo finally took her eyes off Jim's face and upper chest and realized that neither of them were clad in their towels anymore. Jim's towel was now resting on the bottom of the men's bath, and as for Hanmyo's, in her haste, she hadn't wrapped her towel properly around herself when leaving the women's bath and now it lay just inside the door between the men's bath and changing room.

    Her own face a dark crimson, Hanmyo still managed to compose herself enough to rewrap her towel around her body and carry Jim into the changing area. She was so preoccupied, however, that she missed seeing a giant snowball rolling down the mountain before falling into the women's bath. Due to her previous actions, however, the boars had fled in terror, so the sound of the resulting splash and some shouting that followed wouldn't have set the herd off, but by this point, the emotional state of the herd was the furthest thing from her mind.

    For Jim's own peace of mind, Hanmyo put her swimsuit back on and left Jim's lying next to him. Waiting outside the door, the indigo girl stood quietly for about 10 minutes before Jim emerged, fully clothed.

    "Hanmyo, I…" the blonde boy began. Sadly, it seemed the shame of what had just transpired was too much for him, for he shook his head rapidly before continuing. "I think I'm going to take a walk. I'll be back in a little while." However, instead of walking, he took off in a mad sprint, unable to look the girl he cherished dearly.

    "Hold on, Jim! You don't need to avoid me because of all this!" Hanmyo insisted, running after him. The ensuing chase continued for some time, but eventually she managed to catch up to him, quite a distance up the mountain.

    "Jim, please stop running away!" the young girl pleaded. Slowly, said boy turned around to face Hanmyo, his eyes staring straight at the ground. But as the snowfall around them slowed, he raised his head towards her.

    "I…I…" For a moment, Jim was unable to say anything more, the dam still held together, almost as though by the snow falling around them. Then the snowfall stopped, and the dam broke with it.

    "I'M SORRY!" Jim wailed, much to Hanmyo's confusion.

    "Jim, what are you talking about? You know none of this was your-"

    "I'm sorry…Despite all the times I admonish that pervert Gene…Despite repeatedly telling myself it's disrespectful…Despite how much I care about you…I…Those women…You…I…WHY CAN'T I STOP STARING?!" Jim fell to his knees, crying tears of shame.

    For a moment, Hanmyo said nothing. After all, while she'd seen Jim's more concerned and impetuous side on more than one occasion, this was not a reaction she ever expected. She had had no idea that he could feel such disgust with himself, and now that she was bearing witness to it, she wanted nothing more than to convince him otherwise.

    But before she had the chance to do so, what looked like a giant geyser erupted at the mountain's peak, startling the two. And while such a thing normally wouldn't cause them any problems as far down as they were, the stretch between them and the peak happened to be lined with numerous booby-traps meant to keep males from reaching the top. Unfortunately for the two youths, the geyser was powerful enough to cause light tremors in the mountain. Not enough to cause an outright avalanche, but definitely enough to activate every single trap.

    Within seconds, countless boulders made snow, enough to build an outright army of giant snowmen, rolled towards them. Without thinking, Jim grabbed Hanmyo's hand and began dashing down the mountainside as fast as he could. Sadly, they weren't quick enough, the snow boulders crashing into their backs with enough force to render them unconscious instantly. The enormous snowballs carried them all the way down the mountainside, past a man in a strange mask wearing a large sign around his neck. Said man had just managed to get out from beneath one such massive boulder not that long ago, only to be sent flying off a cliff for the second time that day.

    Deposited at the foot of Mt. Nyotai, Jim and Hanmyo were out cold in more ways than one, and might have stayed that way for a dangerous period of time had a familiar old woman not been passing by.

    (Outlaw Star The Flower of Fate)
    “So here’s the deal. Life doesn’t always wanna be your friend. Sometimes it’ll feel like life wants to hurt you. But you can’t just hide, ‘cause nobody likes a quitter. You’ve gotta take chances. They never said it was gonna be fun, or easy. Whether your totally ready, or when you least expect it, it doesn’t matter: life will punch you right in the face. And you can lie there for a second, cry a little if you need to, but get back on your feet, ‘cause it’s the gettin’ back up that counts. And that’s what shows that you’ve got heart, that’s what helps keep you going. Fall down seven times? Get up eight. And know, we’ll be right there with you.” - T.O.M. (Toonami)

  2. #12
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    (Outlaw Star The Flower of Fate)

    Some time later, Hanmyo's eyes fluttered opened to a small room covered in unfamiliar patterns. The indigo-haired girl found that she was lying down in a simple but comfortable bed, and realized that a still-unconscious Jim was lying in one parallel to hers.

    "Jim?" She asked, grabbing his shoulder and shaking it. "Wake up, Jim!"

    "Huh?" Jim croaked before opening his own eyes and sitting up in bed. "Where…Where are we?"

    "I don't know…" Hanmyo admitted, studying the walls more closely. "I think we're underground, though."

    "How'd that happen? Last thing I remember doing was running from those giant snowballs that were rolling down the mountain…" Jim pondered.

    "So that's where all those giant clumps of snow came from…" a third voice remarked. Surprised, the children turned towards the new sound, and found two people standing near a small door. One was a short young man about their height, wearing a long cloak the same shade and covered in similar patterns as the stone wall behind him. He had a mane of dark hair reaching all the way down to his waist, held back by a headband with sunflower patterns. But what really stood out about him were the giant rabbit ears poking out from his mane and the small furry feet beneath his cloak. However, he was not the source of the voice that had spoken to them. That belonged an even smaller elderly woman next to him, one both Jim and Hanmyo instantly recognized.

    "I remember you! You're that old woman from Hagone!" Jim couldn't stop himself from shouting.

    "So you recognize me, eh?" said old woman sighed. "I really must be losing my touch…"

    "Apologies, Elder," the man beside her finally spoke. His voice was incredibly deep, a stark contrast to his small stature. "But even with your ears hidden as they are, your appearance is rather striking."

    "I'll say…" agreed Jim, still struck by how suspicious the old woman looked.

    "That's not entirely true," said Hanmyo. "Had neither of you spoken up, I'm not sure we would have noticed you anytime soon.

    The old woman grinned at the young man besides her, as if to say 'I told you so', to which he could only groan in exasperation.

    "Not surprising," the man stated. "Our people learn at a very young age to conceal ourselves in plain sight, being seen by Terrans and other races only when we choose to."

    "Other…races?" said a confused Hanmyo. Jim, on the other hand, recalled some of what he heard after they got to Mt. Nyotai.

    'No way…there was some truth to those stories?' Jim thought incredulously. 'Then again, that guy right there is proof enough.'

    "I rarely interact with other species on the surface unless it is absolutely necessary, especially with Terrans," the elderly woman went on, reaching in to her mane of hair as she spoke. Without warning, two ears like those of the man beside her sprung out. "But your friend with the red hair intrigued me."

    "You mean Gene, don't you?" Jim confirmed.

    "So his name is Gene…Interesting…" the elderly woman pondered for a moment before resuming her speech. "At first glance, that man is nothing special. And yet even I can sense that he has such a strong, yet capricious keyline running through him, and I am long past my prime."

    "A keyline? Like the Galactic Leyline?" Jim said, his eyes wide with shock.

    "Now there's a phrase I haven't heard in a long, long time," the elder chuckled. "You're probably on the right track, if the legends are accurate…"

    "Probably?" Jim repeated.

    "Legends? What legends?" Hanmyo inquired, even more confused than before.

    "…As bright as you both are, it seems neither of you are well-versed in our planet's history," sighed the old woman before turning to the man beside. "This is going to take a while. Would you mind starting up a pot of tea for our guests?"

    "Very well, Elder," the man nodded before departing through the door. It seemed to the children that he was an attendant of some kind, and that the old woman before them was a person of some status.

    "Before I truly begin, tell me…just how much do you know about Tenrei?" the elder asked of the pair of youths.

    "Well, out of curiosity, I tried asking around about the origin of how this planet became such a popular tourist destination-" started Jim.

    "More like tourist trap," growled the elder.

    "…And the only explanation I received was from a handful of staff at the bathhouse at Mt. Nyotai, and even then, the story wasn't exactly consistent between them," Jim continued without missing a beat. "Supposedly, three wizards came here looking for a magic source called mana, but found hot springs instead. What none of them seem to agree on is whether or not the planet was actually inhabited or not prior to their arrival. I'm guessing that, based on your appearance here, there's merit to the notion that they weren't the first people here."

    "Correct, young man," the elder nodded, a deep look of sadness overtaking her features. "Still, to think we've been forgotten to such an extent after a mere century…"

    "A century?" said Hanmyo.

    "I'll get to that, child," the elder assured her. "To clarify, when we say 'keyline', we're referring to the paths of chi circulating through every sentient being," said the elder. "Children, do you know the difference between chi and mana?"

    "Sadly, for all the time I've spent fighting Kei pirates and tracking down caster shells for Gene, I can only guess," confessed Jim. "The best estimation I can come up with is that chi is what's utilized in the former's Tao Magic and mana is what powers the latter."

    "A bit of an oversimplification, but accurate enough for the sake of this discussion," the elder nodded. By this point, the attendant from before had returned, carrying a tray of four steaming cups. After everyone had received a mug of tea, the man took his spot beside the elder once more. Sipping the tea, Jim and Hanmyo shared a look, both thinking the same thing.

    'If Suzuka ever finds out about this tea, she'll fork over every last wong of hers to get some.'

    Noting the children's apparent satisfaction, the elder resumed her lecture. "For this example, chi comes from people such as Terrans, Ctarl-Ctarl, and ourselves. Mana, however, is usually associated with nature such as ancient trees, fresh water, and volcanic activity. But while our people were supposedly once gifted in harnessing both, according to legends, there was a tragic calamity which prompted our ancestors to swear off the knowledge and resources needed to utilize either source of magic."

    "What sort of calamity?" asked Hanmyo.

    "If legend is to be believed, our forefathers are actually descendants of a highly advanced civilization," answered the elder. "Said civilization came to a conclusion that everyone's chi emits an aura that can actually be traced to somewhere beyond the stars, and to test this theory, a living starship was built that could make such a journey, and a maiden gifted in both chi and mana based magic was selected to help guide and protect the ship's enormous crew. Their goal was to find out where all this chi appeared to be collecting."

    Something about this sounded eerily familiar to the two children, but they couldn't quite determine why.

    "What did they find?" asked Jim.

    The elder's expression turned somber. "That's just it," she said. "Those who returned from the journey claimed that the most powerful keylines led to something 'offering the ultimate power of the universe to those who seeks its glory', but the crew refused to elaborate on what that power was, fearing that said knowledge could only lead to ruin. They even went so far as to destroy the starship, and seal the maiden's soul as well as their own abilities to utilize chi and mana within a black box."

    Once again, all this reminded Jim and Hanmyo of something, and they had a sneaking suspicion they were about to remember an unpleasant fact.

    "Sadly, even that little bit of knowledge proved to be too dangerous," the elder continued, the sadness in her voice so great it was as though she'd been present during the events she was describing. "The civilization ended up destroying itself, with those who wished to claim that power as their own slaughtering one another as well as those who agreed with the crew's decision to protect that power. While the details of that horrid conflict have been lost to history, our people believe it is the reason that mana would eventually begin to disappear throughout the galaxy and that chi would become a weapon of war within the hands of a select few."

    Realization hit the two youths like a freight train. "The Tao priests of the Kei Pirates…" Jim confirmed, remembering their trip to the ruins and how the pirates had supposedly sabotaged any previous attempts to study the planet.

    "Indeed, should they be descendants of the more militant members of that long-lost culture, it would explain a great deal regarding their origins, hierarchy, and practices. But among the survivors of that culture were the remaining crew from the original voyage. Realizing that their greatest fears were already becoming reality, they fled their home world before the fighting grew too bloody, visiting several other worlds before finally settling on a planet they had passed during their original voyage."

    "You don't mean…!" Hanmyo gasped, fully comprehending just who it was that had saved them from the cold and were now speaking with them.

    The elder smiled, though it was tinged with sadness. "Once again, this all just based on a legend, a history that if true has long since been forgotten," she admitted. "Regardless of how our ancestors began to reside on Tenrei, be it from the planet itself or another world altogether, enough generations of peaceful solitude passed that we were horribly unprepared for the concept of hostile invaders."

    "Are you talking about the wizards from the stories?" Jim asked, once again recalling those weird stories he'd heard at Mt. Nyotai

    "Our people were initially intrigued by those explorers, strange beings who had long since stopped aging, searching for a power believed to be nothing more than myth," the elder confirmed "But we quickly grew to oppose them once they began colonizing and developing our lands without any concern for our wellbeing."

    "How rude!" Hanmyo couldn't help but comment.

    "Quite the understatement, child!" the elder agreed, her voice somewhere a bitter laugh and a growl of outrage. "We attempted to oppose the Terrans, but they had superior resources and tactics."

    "Such as nature-destroying machines, rigging elections, and bribing citizens," muttered the young attendant, who had otherwise remained silent throughout the recounting of their history.

    "Eventually, we had no choice but to surrender the surface to them and conceal our remaining people underground," the elder finished, her tale concluded. "We were completely and utterly humiliated."

    Jim and Hanmyo sat in silence, processing everything they'd just learned. It had occurred to both of them that they may very well have been to the ruined homeland of their hosts, but feared that stating such a theory would also mean revealing the destructive earthquake that forced them to leave. Besides, they had no concrete proof, and these people had clearly suffered too much already.

    Eventually, the quiet was broken by Hanmyo. "Still, the fact that you were all able to relocate and keep your culture alive despite the circumstances is incredibly impressive," she praised.

    "I wish we could take all the credit, but we did have some outside assistance," admitted the attendant.

    "Really? Who?" asked Jim

    "Two Terran wizards of the original trio who were the first to visit our world helped us establish shelter away from prying eyes," the elderly woman revealed.

    "So they aided you out of guilt?" theorized Hanmyo.

    "Highly unlikely," snorted the young man. "Apparently, they'd had a major falling out with their comrade, one that has lasted to this day, so I suspect that any of their 'kindness' to us over the years was more out of spite for their former colleague than anything."

    "But after everything that's happened, why keep tabs on the world above at all?" Jim brought up.

    "It was our own lack of awareness for the peoples and customs originating from beyond Tenrei that contributed to our sorry state, and we've sworn never to make the same mistakes again," the elder informed them. "And if we do not keep an eye on the surface, someone with malicious intent may discover this haven of ours and catch us unprepared once again."

    Something about this struck Jim as strange. "What about us?" he asked, his tone full of worry. "Why tell us any of this?"

    "Speaking of which, why'd you rescue us on the mountain, and why'd you even reach out to us back at Hagone?" added Hanmyo.

    "For a pair of Terrans so young, you are quite pragmatic, if a bit cynical," the elder shrugged. "In truth, your keylines have become inseparable from that of the man with red hair – I believe you called him Gene – and I cannot recall the last time I came across a keyline that instilled me with the urge to do whatever I could assist the person it belonged to, even if those goals were all too similar to those of the individuals responsible for our current state."

    "That's right, you said Gene caught your attention because of that," Jim recalled. "But hold on. I thought your people could no longer work with chi and mana."

    The attendant nodded. "Yes, we can no longer manipulate either as a source of power," he confirmed. "But our people continue to be born with the innate ability to observe the chi in others."

    "Wow!" said Jim in awe. "That's totally cool! I can't imagine what that's like…"

    "Perhaps this description will help you?" said the attendant. "I believe among Terrans, there is an expression along the lines of eyes being windows into one's soul?"

    "Something like that…" Hanmyo confirmed.

    "Well, observing a person's chi is akin to that," the attendant elaborated. "By focusing intently on a person, we can perceive the chi within and pick up on a variety of traits by doing so."

    "And in the case of you and your companions, we can pretty much read you all like open books," the elder added.

    "Wait, so…" Jim said, panic creeping into his voice.

    "Relax," the elderly woman chuckled, noting his reaction with amusement. "We are not true mind readers, so I cannot pretend to know specifics."

    "That's a relief," breathed Hanmyo.

    "However, I have observed certain aspects of your keylines that you may wish to know," the elder said, her tone suddenly quite serious.

    "Like what?" asked Jim.

    "The two of you, as well as the one you call Gene and the rest of your friends each possess varying amounts of darkness, sin, and sorrow that you are unwilling to confront," revealed the elder. "But you two especially possess a great deal practicality as well as sympathy, so no one here thinks you'd find reason to reveal our existence to others in a careless and selfish manner. Most of all, there is also strong amounts of light, discretion, and kindness among all of you. These qualities shine brightest when you are all together, and it is not our place to deny the universe a source of much needed light."

    "So that's why you told Gene about Mt. Nantai, and why you saved us, too," Hanmyo commented.

    "That, and for better or worse, our people all but incapable of turning our backs on someone in need," the attendant admitted.

    "Too true," the elder agreed. "And as for why I'd bother telling you our history, as much as we wish to protect our existence, we also do not wish for said existence to be disappear entirely from human memory. And after observing your keylines, we decided that the two of you were worthy of such knowledge."

    "That's…quite the honor," Jim said, not a trace of sarcasm in his voice. "Thank you."

    The elder and attendant didn't say anything in response, but a small smile appeared on both their faces.

    "Jim…I think we should head back," Hanmyo informed her friend.

    "Yeah, depending on how long we were out cold, Melfina and the others are probably worried about us," agreed Jim.

    "Well, our discussion is finished, and we would prefer to limit how many outsiders know of this location," the elderly woman stated. "It seems the two of you have sufficiently recovered from your ordeal, so we'll guide you back to the surface, near where we found you. After that, though, you will be on your own."

    "That's okay," said Hanmyo. "We should be able to find our way back from there."

    "Let's go, then," confirmed the young man. With that, the four left the room, and made their way through a long hallway-like tunnel. Along the way, they passed by a number of people much like the elder and attendant, with long manes of hair, rabbit ears and furry feet, and either vibrant headbands, a variety of flowers, or both. They were all a variety of ages, though none of them were taller than Hanmyo. Additionally, they as well as the elder and attendant seemed to hop around rather than walk. There was, however, one other very noticeable difference.

    "H-How come n-no one else is wearing clothes?" Jim stuttered. Indeed, none of the people they passed were wearing cloaks or shirts like their guides. Everyone around them showed no qualms about bearing it all in front of strangers. In fact, what had prompted his comment was that the last person they had passed happened to be a mother breastfeeding twins.

    Their guides both looked at each other and shrugged. "With the exception of those of us who venture above ground or for special occasions and ceremonies, we usually don't wear clothes," the elder explained.

    "It's not really our thing," added the attendant. "Hell, we only started wearing clothes regularly on the surface after those wizards first finished colonizing the planet."

    The conversation didn't resume until they appeared back aboveground, but Jim and Hanmyo couldn't stop thinking about the mother they had just passed. Because, for just an instant in their minds, instead of the bunny-eared woman, they had pictured an adult Terran with indigo hair doing the same thing for twins of her own.

    (Scene change)
    “So here’s the deal. Life doesn’t always wanna be your friend. Sometimes it’ll feel like life wants to hurt you. But you can’t just hide, ‘cause nobody likes a quitter. You’ve gotta take chances. They never said it was gonna be fun, or easy. Whether your totally ready, or when you least expect it, it doesn’t matter: life will punch you right in the face. And you can lie there for a second, cry a little if you need to, but get back on your feet, ‘cause it’s the gettin’ back up that counts. And that’s what shows that you’ve got heart, that’s what helps keep you going. Fall down seven times? Get up eight. And know, we’ll be right there with you.” - T.O.M. (Toonami)

  3. #13
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    As the quartet emerged, Jim and Hanmyo found they were within eyeshot of the bath houses. Based on the relative quiet, it seemed as though none of the others were looking for them.

    "Well, at the very least, nobody is a panic about our vanishing act yet," sighed Jim with relief.

    "Come to think of it, how long has it been since we first left, anyway?" asked Hanmyo.

    "That's right!" Jim said with a start. "How long were we unconscious?"

    "Surprisingly, not very long," revealed the elder. "The both of you came to not even a full hour after I found you amongst the snow. Perhaps it's due to proximity with your red-haired friend, but when it comes to your own keylines, there is some notable good fortune to be found."

    "Maybe so," Hanmyo confirmed. "After all, if memory serves, when you found me that night on Symka 5, I wasn't in the best condition, yet I made quite the quick recovery after you brought me to the hospital."

    "True, but that 'good fortune' didn't prevent me from overworking myself to the point of illness afterwards," Jim admitted.

    "A strong keyline can only do so much in the face of poor self-care," the attendant shrugged, his ears concealed within his mane, before turning back towards the camouflaged door. "This is where we must part. I believe you can find your way back from here?" The two youths nodded.

    "Yes, while we're quite skilled at concealing ourselves, standing out in the open in front of our secret entrance for an extended period of time is only asking for trouble," the elder agreed. Before they could disappear within the hidden doorway, Hanmyo called to them.

    "Thank you for everything you've done for us," the indigo-haired girl expressed, her genuine gratitude apparent on her face. "I hope someday we can repay all of your kindness."

    "Yeah," Jim said, sharing her sentiments. "If you ever need our help, Starwind and Hawking Enterprises will be at your service."

    "Hopefully, a day where we require such need won't come," the elder said before giving them a small smile. "But we'll be sure to remember your offer nonetheless."

    "Good luck in your journey, you two," the attendant added, he and the elder giving the pair a short bow before disappearing back into their tunnel. As their two new friends vanished, it occurred to Jim and Hanmyo that unless they truly focused on the hidden doorway, they would never have noticed it. Clearly, the indigenous people of Tenrei took their continued survival quite seriously.

    "Hey, Jim! Hanmyo!" the two heard a familiar energetic voice call out. Within seconds, they could see Aisha charging in their direction, with Melfina and Suzuka following not too far behind her, though at a much more leisurely pace.

    "Hi, Aisha!" Hanmyo greeted the Ctarl-Ctarl pleasantly. "Did you find a hot spring that was more to your liking?"

    "Sure did, Hanmyo! I'll be sure to get you something nice before we leave Tenrei," Aisha cheered, ruffling the younger girl's hair. "But once I was done, I came back to thank you, only for Mel and Suzu to tell me you disappeared checking on Jim. What happened, and how'd you end up out here?"

    Memories of earlier returned to Jim, but while he was too embarrassed to say anything, Hanmyo was quick to offer an explanation. "Well, the men's side of the bath house isn't as well maintained as the women's side," she said. "When I went to check on Jim, I found surrounded by a bunch of fierce looking wild-life. It wasn't easy getting them to leave him be, but after that, we both decided that we were done with the baths and went for a walk."

    "Oh dear," gasped Melfina. "I had no idea you had been in so much trouble."

    "I-It's alright, Melfina," Jim stuttered before completely regaining his composure. "But with what happened to you after we left the ruins, and with how much Suzuka had been looking forward to enjoying the hot springs, we figured it would be best to give you some space."

    "That's quite considerate of you Jim," Suzuka said, before a look of irritation appeared in her eyes as she looked past the two. "Admittedly, however, I would have preferred hearing about that instead of what actually interrupted our bath…"

    "Huh? What do you mean by that?" asked Jim.

    "Yo!" cheered yet another familiar. Coming into view was Gene, who seemed to be a much better mood than before.

    "Speak of the devil…" muttered Suzuka, while Aisha just snickered. It wasn't hard for Jim to piece together what had transpired.

    "Gene Starwind, are you kidding me? You really have no shame…" Jim grumbled.

    "Huh? Suzuka I can understand, but what's his problem?" asked Gene, before turning to address his crew. "Anyway, I managed to get some caster shells here, but I still have to pick up a few more back at Mt. Nantai. You all coming with me?"

    "It just so happens we've all had our fill of the hot springs, so we might as well," Suzuka said, her irritation somewhat lessening. It seemed that despite the apparent peeping, Gene's good mood still managed to be infectious.

    "Plus, there seemed to be a bunch of food stalls there to, so I'm going to get myself some grub!" Aisha announced with a grin.

    "Sounds like we have ourselves a plan, then!" Gene declared, before they all made their way back to the train station.

    (Scene change)

    "Hey mister, I'll have six bean jam buns, please," Jim asked a food vendor, feeling pretty ravenous after the events of the day. Standing next to him was Aisha, nodding in approval at her his good taste.

    Upon returning to Mt. Nantai, Gene once again made his way back up the summit. Meanwhile, everyone else split up to explore the various stalls near the station. Melfina and Hanmyo were admiring some of the trinkets on display, while Suzuka was looking for more tea to add to her already impressive collection.

    "Gotta say, this trip turned out to be not so bad," Aisha said to Jim as they walked among the stalls.

    "You may be right," Jim agreed, thinking back on what he learned underground.

    "Lighten up, Jim!" Aisha groaned. "Just admit that you had a great day for once!"

    "Huh?" the blonde boy responded in confusion.

    "For one thing, you got to act your age and enjoy yourself for a whole day while Gene actually had to work," the Ctarl-Ctarl pointed out.

    "That is true," Jim agreed, finally beginning to smile a bit.

    "And on top of all that…" Aisha continued, sporting quite the impish smirk. "You got to have plenty of alone time with your girlfriend, all while she was wearing-"

    "AISHA!" Jim shouted in embarrassment, chasing his friend through the crowd. Unsurprisingly, Ctarl-Ctarl are pretty nimble on their feet, and before long, he lost sight of her. Little did he know that had been her plan all along.

    Not that far away, Melfina and Hanmyo had been drawn to a stand selling hand-made clothes and jewelry. The bio-android was currently admiring a wooden necklace while Hanmyo held in her hands a headband stitched with roses of numerous colors.

    "I take it you found something you like?" asked the vendor. Now that Hanmyo got a better look at the merchant, they were just about her height and had long, thick hair…

    "Yes," Melfina said with a smile. "So how much-"

    "I'll cover it, Mel," Aisha said, appearing seemingly from out of nowhere.

    "Aisha?" said a startled Hanmyo.

    "Hers, too," Aisha said, gesturing towards the younger girl. "I promised I'd get her a gift before we left, after all. Speaking of which, why don't you go show it off to Jim while we settle the bill? He should be right around there."

    "Uh…okay," agreed Hanmyo as she left towards where Aisha was pointing, still somewhat confused. While she knew how kind Aisha could be, the Ctarl-Ctarl was usually reluctant to part with whatever meager savings she had unless absolutely necessary. 'Those hot springs I directed her to must have really good…'

    "Wow, Aisha," praised Melfina, noting that the price of their purchase, while not overtly expensive, wasn't as cheap as it could have been. "That's really sweet of you!"

    "Well, I like looking out for them, what can I say?" Aisha said, though her actual thoughts on the matter were a little different. 'It's a small price to pay if it means teasing Jim even more. Plus, I really do owe Hanmyo for pointing me in the right direction, and you really didn't deserve what that moron Kahn put you through, Mel.'

    As for Hanmyo, it didn't take her long to find Jim, who was currently standing in the middle of the crowd, somewhere between fuming and exasperated. Sneaking up behind the young boy, the indigo-haired girl covered his eyes with her hands, asking, "Guess who?"

    "Hanmyo…" said a happy Jim. As silly as it was, there was just something about this greeting that put a smile on his face.

    "Right again!" stated Hanmyo, removing her hands before giving him a small clap of applause. "One more correct answer, and I'll have to reward you!"

    "You don't…have to…" Jim trailed off, processing once again just how adorable Hanmyo looked in her current ensemble. It took him a moment to realize he was staring yet again, but before he could apologize, Hanmyo grabbed his hand and began walking towards the hill not far from the marketplace.

    "I saw a good spot from where we can watch the sunset," she explained. "Please, it seemed like it would be a good place to talk."

    (Scene change)
    “So here’s the deal. Life doesn’t always wanna be your friend. Sometimes it’ll feel like life wants to hurt you. But you can’t just hide, ‘cause nobody likes a quitter. You’ve gotta take chances. They never said it was gonna be fun, or easy. Whether your totally ready, or when you least expect it, it doesn’t matter: life will punch you right in the face. And you can lie there for a second, cry a little if you need to, but get back on your feet, ‘cause it’s the gettin’ back up that counts. And that’s what shows that you’ve got heart, that’s what helps keep you going. Fall down seven times? Get up eight. And know, we’ll be right there with you.” - T.O.M. (Toonami)

  4. #14
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    Hanmyo had been right about the spot. From where they sat on the grass, they had a great view of the sun beginning its descent behind the distant mountain range.

    As they lay down next to one another, Jim finally found the courage to speak. "Hanmyo?" the young boy started. "About before…in the bath house, I-" Before he could get any further, Hanmyo pressed a finger to his lips.

    "Jim, relax! I'm not mad at you. After all, none of that was your fault," reassured Hanmyo, looking him straight in the eyes while giggling. "But that's not the only thing you want to apologize for, right?" Jim nodded.

    "Hanmyo, I'm really sorry that I've been staring at you so much today," he said sadly. "I know it's not right, and that it makes me a hypocrite for all the times I get on Gene's case, and I feel awful every time I do it."

    "Jim, it's nothing to be ashamed of," Hanmyo assured him. "As young as we are, we're almost teenagers, so in a way, it's to expected. Besides, you're not the only one who's been caught up admiring someone's appearance today."

    "R-R-Really?" stammered Jim in disbelief.

    "Yes, and it's actually been incredibly flattering whenever I saw you looking at me," the young girl revealed.

    "I…I didn't know you felt that way," the blonde boy admitted.

    "It doesn't hurt that in all the time I've known you, I've never once seen you look at anyone else that way, even Melfina whenever she's linked up with the Outlaw Star," Hanmyo added.

    "Yeah, it did catch me off guard the first time I saw her connect to the ship," confessed Jim. "But I guess when the first time you ever see someone is when they're sleeping stark naked in a trunk, you tend to get used to seeing them in any state of dress really quickly."

    Hanmyo raised at an eyebrow at this explanation. "My point is…" she resumed. "Even with all those times you were staring…I understand that you would never harbor, let alone act on, such ill intentions towards me or any other girl. But even if it had upset me, I could never hate you. After all, whenever I look into your eyes…" At this, she made sure to meet his gaze. "All I can see is your gentle nature. I always see the same kindness you showed me earlier when I was startled on the train…No, the same compassion you showed me on Symka Five when we met, and when you comforted me in that hospital room. Your eyes are full of care and innocence. They always have been, and I'm confident they always will be."

    "Hanmyo…Thank you," Jim said, his voice indicated that a great weight had finally been lifted from him. "I've wanted to say this all day, but you look amazing."

    Now it was Hanmyo's turn to blush. "That is so…nice," she said with a smile and closed eyes. "Thank you, Jim."

    It was then that Jim noticed the new headband. "That headband looks really great on you, too," he complimented.

    "I'm glad you like it!" Hanmyo cheered. "I found it at a stall that was run by someone I'm pretty sure was related to our new friends, but Aisha insisted on paying for it."

    "Really?" said Jim with a little more shock then he meant to display. 'She's come a long way since the restaurant at Blue Heaven…'

    "All of you have treated me so nicely," Hanmyo said, reaching her hand across the grass towards Jim. Slowly, Jim placed his hand atop hers, with both of them now blushing. "I just wish Kemi and Mata could be here as well."

    "I bet they're watching out for you right now, and they can see how happy you are," encouraged Jim.

    "Hey, Jim?" Hanmyo said after a moment of silence.

    "Yeah, Hanmyo?" responded Jim.

    "I'm glad I met you," she answered.

    "Me too," he agreed. Together, the two children watched the sun slowly go down, hand in hand while lying down on the grass.

    'Aisha was right,' thought Jim. 'Today really was great.'

    (Scene change)

    As the sun almost completed its descent, Jim and Hanmyo finally made their way back towards the market, they could see Aisha waving in their direction. "Hey, you three! What the heck took you so long, huh?" the Ctarl-Ctarl shouted.

    "Huh?" two voices said in unison. Confused by the number Aisha used, Jim and Hanmyo looked at each other, only to realize Gene was almost right behind them.

    "Just take it easy, Aisha. I managed to get the caster shells, didn't I?" the red head said with a shrug. "Don't know where these two while I was gone, though."

    "We were just watching the sunset from the hill over there," Hanmyo cheerfully replied. This prompted a cheeky grin from Aisha.

    "Still, I'm actually impressed, Gene," admitted Jim. "Considering the bad start, I didn't think you'd get any shells here."

    "Yeah, well it sure as hell wasn't easy," the red head grumbled. As he passed Jim, the blonde could swear he heard Gene muttering about booby traps and exploding tapes. "Anyway, let's head back to the ship. Gilliam is probably wondering why we haven't returned yet."

    "Now that you mention it, I'd get him a souvenir, but even I'm not sure what a ship's computer would like from a resort planet…" Jim stated. Hanmyo couldn't help but giggle at this.

    "Knowing Gilliam, he'd probably just appreciate the thought," said Gene with a smile.

    Before long, the six companions had arrived at the train station. As they were boarding a relatively empty car, with Aisha and Hanmyo sitting down near the door while everyone else chose to stand, an announcement could be heard over the loud speakers.

    "The downhill train will be departing shortly on track 2. For your safety, please wait behind the white line," a professional sounding voice warned. But suddenly, as the doors to the car finished closing, they all heard a loud noise behind them. As those who had been standing turned back to face the door, they were greeted by the sight of a man in a red buttoned up shirt and a weird mask pressed painfully against the glass. Apparently, someone hadn't been listening.

    "Wow, what was that?" Gene and Jim said in perfect unison. As they said this, the train had begun moving, with the unfortunate man sliding down the door and out of sight.

    "Yeah, what was that noise?" Aisha inquired.

    "You couldn't see from there?" asked Melfina.

    "Not really," admitted Hanmyo.

    "Maybe if we had craned our necks or something, but I don't think either of us really felt like it," Aisha aded.

    "That…might have been for the best…" Jim said, still not quite able to make sense of the strange scene.

    (Scene change)

    "Well, it's about time!" Gilliam greeted the group as they took their seats in the cockpit. "You don't mind if I launch now, do you?"

    "Right, set a course for the Galactic Leyline!" Gene cheered, all fire up and raring to go.

    "I'm with Gilliam on this, we've taken way too long…" Jim stated, though even he couldn't keep his excitement hidden.

    "Look out, treasure! Here we come!" shouted Aisha, her voice full of glee.

    "I've set our course, and after one last space station, we'll be on the home stretch!" Melfina announced, her tone conveying a powerful yearning.

    "It'd be best if we fully stock up on supplies at that station," said Hanmyo, somewhat subdued. "We don't want to be caught unprepared once we reach the Leyline, so we need to make sure our ship is in peak condition."

    "Agreed," said Suzuka, equally serious. "As Jim and even Gwen Kahn mentioned before, the Kei Pirates likely already know the coordinates, so there's bound to be foes waiting for us there it."

    "Well, we've come this far on our journey, and if anyone tries to stop us now, they better get the hell outta our way!" finished Gene with a confidant yell.

    As they conducted their final preparations for takeoff, Jim thought about what everyone had just said. Not only had it been both somewhat practical and inspiring (though he'd never admit that out loud), certain words and phrases kept repeating in his head.

    'Journey…Gwen Kahn…Coordinates…Kei Pirates…Ship…Leyline…Home…Treasure…' Something about these terms were bugging the hell out of Jim, and he began to think back on the story he'd heard underground that day. Suddenly, certain pieces started to come together, and the boy genius was starting to become disturbed by the part of the image he could now see. 'No way…could Melfina be…For her sake…hell, for all our sakes, I really hope I'm wrong about this. But if I'm right, I'll do whatever I can to make sure things turn out better than before…'

    As the Outlaw Star took off from Tenrei, five different individuals in three different places were watching the red space ship depart. From atop Mount Nantai, two men in flowing robes stood among the ruins of a temple. One of the men appeared to be relatively young with long orange hair while the other resembled an elderly male with a long grey beard and bald head. However, both of them were far older and more powerful than anyone would have guessed.

    "A red-haired man armed with a caster gun…" said the orange haired man, whose name was Ark Manuf. He and his companion Hadul had tasked Gene with an errand in exchange for caster shells, but despite the immature nature of said task, his words and tone implied that he remembered all too well what had happened the last time he had been presented with these same signs.

    "One who looks just like Juji, to boot!" Hadul shouted cheerfully while waving at the ship. Like Ark, he had not forgotten what had happened ago, but these memories seemed to bring him more joy than pain.

    At the foot of Mt. Nyotai, two short-statured individuals were gazing at the horizon, looking not at the crimson starship and its crew as they entered the planet's atmosphere, but rather past it. The elder and attendant who had rescued Jim and Hanmyo looked on solemnly, thinking their people's legacy and how this motley group were unintentionally tracing the footsteps of their ancestors.

    "A child of Tao working together with one who wields their greatest weakness and the vessel housing the maiden's soul…" remarked the elder, both intrigued and troubled by everything she had observed during the day. In addition to Gene's keyline, she had taken special notice of the artificial Terran and the girl who had spent most of her young life in proximity to masters of chi, and despite her wealth of knowledge, she just did not know what to make of it all.

    "Can hope truly come from such a strange gathering of individuals? Are they doomed to repeat history, will they learn from our mistakes, or will nothing come of this whatsoever?" the attendant wondered, unable to hide his mixed emotions. The story of his people and its tragedy had been drilled into him since as far back as he could remember, but something about this bizarre collection of people from various walks of life and how they manage to come together despite their many differences invoked in him a tiny yet noticeable sense of optimism

    Near the peak of the snow-covered Mt. Nyotai, another observer took note of the departing space ship note from her own private open-air bath. This beautiful woman with long dark hair had also given Gene some caster shells, as well as a little "present" for her former compatriots on Mt. Nantai, and like them, she recognized what she had seen earlier that day.

    "Is this important? Will the universe be met with another disaster?" pondered the woman, whose name was Urt. Despite abandoning the pursuit of mana and embracing a lifestyle of luxury, the former pioneer recalled with perfect clarity the events that had brought her to this world of hot springs in the first place.

    All of these observers were waiting with varying degrees of eagerness and trepidation to see just what this red-haired young man wielding a forgotten weapon and his friends would accomplish at the end of this particular journey. But they were not the only ones present Tenrei keeping track of Gene Starwind.

    Around this time, another conversation pertaining to the outlaw was being conducted, away from prying eyes. It was the same man in the mask who'd been the victim of a variety of accidents throughout the day. Sadly, this urgent call was not going to make things much better for him.

    "So, Tobigera…Has Gene Starwind's life finally come to an end?" came a disembodied voice, yet it still carried such overwhelming presence that just hearing the booming words would bring legions to their knees in respect, terror, or in most cases both.

    "Sadly not, my lord," relayed the masked man, his name finally revealed to be Tobigera. "However, I have something more pressing to inform you of."

    "What could possibly be more important than the assignment I gave you as a member of the Anten Seven, especially now that he's so close to the Leyline?" roared the outraged voice.

    "Lord Hazanko, Hanmyo is still alive, and she appears to travelling with Gene Starwind of her own volition," said the unlucky assassin.

    "What?!"

    (To be continued)

    Preview: Our preparations are complete. The Galactic Leyline awaits, but so does numerous enemies. Loyalties will be tested, pasts will be confronted, and brutal truths will come to light. Who is friend? Who is foe? And…who am I? Kemi…Mata…Jim…I need your help!

    Next time on Outlaw Star The Flower of Fate: Divided at the Goal. You better get ready!

    (Outlaw Star The Flower of Fate)
    “So here’s the deal. Life doesn’t always wanna be your friend. Sometimes it’ll feel like life wants to hurt you. But you can’t just hide, ‘cause nobody likes a quitter. You’ve gotta take chances. They never said it was gonna be fun, or easy. Whether your totally ready, or when you least expect it, it doesn’t matter: life will punch you right in the face. And you can lie there for a second, cry a little if you need to, but get back on your feet, ‘cause it’s the gettin’ back up that counts. And that’s what shows that you’ve got heart, that’s what helps keep you going. Fall down seven times? Get up eight. And know, we’ll be right there with you.” - T.O.M. (Toonami)

  5. #15
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    I'm gonna make myself comfortable later today and read everything you've done thus far on my phone. I remember being impressed by the first chapter years ago. Good work.
    Gene: "Have faith in me guys, enjoy the ride—you're in good hands. I can handle this. I can do it!"
    Jim: "How do you know?"
    Gene: "I don't!"
    Jim: "I knew it."
    Gene: "That's okay. There's a first time for everything!"

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