This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.
Special note—thanks to Beloved Wife for helping me proof this monster and alternately encouraging/threatening me to get it finished, and to Dark Jetzer for doing the beta reading.
|Chapter One||Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Five||Some Time Later|
Spring had hit the Masaki estate with a vengeance. The trees and grass were bursting with life and color, and the skies were a breathtaking shade of blue. Animals scurried here and there for no particular reason other than it just seemed the best way to release all the pent up energy saved from the winter. Down by the old house, the cherry blossoms were flying all around, laying a thick blanket of petals against the ground. It was, in short, breathtaking to behold.
“I wanna go home.”
Princess Ayeka sighed, praying to Tsunami for strength in dealing with her daughter. “Ryoko, for the last time, we planned this vacation months ago. It means a great deal to your father to come back here, and while I’m sorry that your plans have been disrupted, we are here and that’s the way it’s going to be. Now come along. I want to visit the grave.”
“Oh joy.” Princess Ryoko, blessed with grace, beauty and stature when she wasn’t walking around slumped over (as she was at the moment), rolled her eyes and shuffled behind her mother and kid brother. Yoshi was trying to keep up with his mother’s pace and pick up everything he saw on the ground at the same time, with mixed success. Finally Ryoko shook her head and just picked the boy up, much to his delight. “Nobody asked me about what I thought,” she continued to grumble. “There was this dance I really wanted to go to, y’know.”
“There will be other dances, dear,” Ayeka said patiently.
“But there was this guy…” Ryoko shivered as the image of Buraen came to mind: tall, broad-shouldered, incredible eyes and hands, great butt, fantastic with a sword (among other things, or so the gossip went)… And he could have been hers. He would have been, she just knew it, had her stupid mother just listened and let her stay back on Jurai with her grandmothers. But oh no, Father wouldn’t hear of it, she was told. They were a Family, and…sigh…Families Did Things Together. So here they were on this backwater planet--again--while light years away Buraen was dancing with all her friends and letting them compete for his affections.
“Shit,” she muttered under her breath.
“Shit,” Yoshi declared happily.
“Yes, Mother.” Bad enough to be stuck here for a few weeks, Ryoko thought miserably to herself, but every time they came to Earth, they had to Visit The Grave. And along with Visiting The Grave came The Gospel Of Saint Ryoko, her namesake, The Brave Woman Whom We Loved. Gahhh. Princess Ryoko could probably quote it from memory, had she even the slightest interest in doing so.
“Here we are.” Ayeka paused in front of two stone markers. The grass around them had been neatly trimmed back, and someone had lit a pair of incense sticks earlier. It had probably been Dad, Ryoko thought to herself. Dad always came up here by himself. He seemed to prefer it that way.
Ryoko set Yoshi down; the young prince immediately toddled over to the rightmost stone and patted it. “Okay, we’re here,” she said to her mother. “Can I go now?”
Ayeka closed her eyes. “Can’t you find it in your busy schedule to give a moment of silence to the woman…”
“ ‘whose name I bear’?” Ryoko finished. “Okay, Mom. Sure thing.” She turned to the stone and bowed respectfully. “Thank you, honored one. Hope you’re having a great time, wherever you went. Has to be better than the time I’m having now.” She glanced over at a fuming Ayeka. “Satisfied? Can I go now?”
“All right,” Ayeka finally said, having reached that level of exasperation that only her daughter could make her reach. “Go on, then. Yoshi can stay here with me. Just don’t forget that your Aunt Sasami will have lunch ready in about an hour. You know how she gets when someone misses one of her meals.”
Ryoko waved an acknowledgement to her mother as she headed back to the shrine; Ayeka sighed and shook her head, wondering not for the first time if it had been such a good idea letting Tenchi give their firstborn a name with such a…heritage. At the time she’d laughed about it, looking down at her beautiful baby and imagining Jurai’s future reaction to ‘Empress Ryoko’. Since then, though, it seemed like her daughter was doing her best to live up to her namesake’s reputation.
Princess Ryoko was energetic, headstrong, mischievous, charismatic, too clever for her own good, and utterly delightful. She reveled in arguing with her mother. She adored her baby brother. She was utterly, completely convinced that her father was the most magnificent man in the universe and would do anything for his smile and praise. She was neither too good nor too bad, and despite their occasional battles, Ayeka loved her daughter dearly.
She knelt in front of the grave marker and sighed. “You must be laughing your head off, wherever you are. Most likely it’s somewhere with a huge onsen and all the sake you want, with dozens of handsome young men waiting on you hand and foot. Meanwhile I’m stuck here with a headstrong daughter and a father who keeps threatening to hand an empire over to me so he can go play pirate.” Her fingers touched the dark stone, drifting over the carved kanji. “I wish you were here, Ryoko. I still miss you, after all this time.”
“Mama,” Yoshi said, toddling to her side and snuggling into her lap. She gave him a big hug and smiled wistfully. “Yoshi,” she said, “let me tell you a story about a wonderful woman…”
* * * * *
No matter how she tried to avoid it, every visit to Earth led Ryoko to the cave. She peered through the bars on the gate, squinting to get a better look inside. It was a wasted effort; the shadows effectively shrouded everything within, and her great-grandfather…or half-uncle, depending on how you looked at it…kept the gate locked shut with a low-tech padlock to keep the curious out.
“Hmph.” Over the years she’d asked Uncle Yosho to let her go inside, and the answer had always been the same. Well, she was about to become officially of age, and she was a princess of Jurai, and most importantly, some of the palace security guards had taught her a thing or two about locks. Ryoko slid a hand under her belt and retrieved a small, slender sliver of metal. “Okay,” she told herself as she picked up the lock and started to work on it. “Just relax…feel, don’t force…be patient…”
The pick snapped in two at the base of the lock, leaving half of it within. “Shit.” Ryoko shook the lock from side to side, hoping to at least salvage the disaster by leaving it in its original state. She didn’t want to think about having to explain this to everyone and getting a lecture from her father. Unfortunately, the piece remained firmly lodged inside the mechanism.
“Oh, damn it!” Ryoko slammed the lock against the gate. Upon impact, the jammed piece of metal tumbled out of the keyhole, and the lock popped open. She stared at the thing for the longest time, unwilling to believe her good fortune. “Wow.”
“You’re welcome,” came a strange voice from behind.
Ryoko whirled around, fists clenched for possible battle, but relaxed the moment she saw who it was. “Oh, it’s you,” she said, half relieved that it wasn’t her mother or father and half embarrassed that it was anyone, period.
“Is that any way to talk to your fairy godmother?” asked the redheaded woman. She studied the young princess with her intense green eyes, her expression thoughtful but bordering on amusement. “You might try thanking me instead, you know.”
“Okay, okay. Thank you,” Ryoko said. “So why are you here this time…Washu?”
“Ah. Figured it out, did you?” Washu smiled.
“It wasn’t hard,” Ryoko said, shrugging. “I mean…God, it’s not like there aren’t a few hundred photos of you in Mom’s albums. So…why are you here?”
“I wanted to see you.” Washu drew closer to Ryoko, her black dress rippling as she moved. She raised a hand and caressed the princess’ cheek, smiling in satisfaction. “You’ve grown up quite nicely, Ryoko. Beauty and wisdom in equal measures. Stay away from the sake, though. You’re too young for the stuff.”
“What? How did you…?” Ryoko’s stash was very securely hidden away in her bedroom back in the palace. She’d tried a few sips once and really didn’t care for it, but it was the principle of the thing that mattered.
“I’m your fairy godmother, remember? I’m supposed to know these things.” Washu moved past her and nodded toward the gate. “Do you know the story about this cave?”
“Of course I do,” Ryoko snorted. “I’ve only heard it a few thousand times from Dad. Yosho, the demon who turned out to be Saint Ryoko…”
Washu burst out laughing. “Who?”
The princess blushed. “Well, that’s what I call her when Mom and Dad aren’t around. To hear them tell it, she was this great, noble woman who was so brave and loving, blah blah blah.”
“Oh, she was many things,” her ‘fairy godmother’ chuckled, “but a saint was most certainly not one of them.” Regaining her more somber demeanor, Washu made a casual gesture. In reply, the lock fell off its mooring and the gate swung open. “Want to take a look inside?”
Ryoko hesitated for a second before nodding. “Okay.” She took three steps inside, then turned around. “Aren’t you going to come too?”
“No, no. Been there, done that. You go on and satisfy your curiosity.”
“Well…okay.” Ryoko took a deep breath and plunged further into the cave. Washu waited outside, looking at the world around her as if seeing it for the very first time. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, savoring the sun’s warmth on her skin. She smelled the flora and fauna with razor-sharp clarity. She concentrated and heard Mihoshi’s children running around the shrine grounds. So much to remember, she thought, so much coming back so quickly…
“You okay?” Washu jumped and opened her eyes. Ryoko was standing beside her, looking a bit worried. “You were off in never-never land, Washu.”
“I…” Washu shook her head and smiled. “I was just remembering, my dear. That’s all. So, what did you think of the cave?”
The princess shrugged. “Whole lotta nothing, you ask me. It smells, too. I think something crawled in there and died last winter.” Ryoko wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“But your curiosity is satisfied, yes?”
“Yeah.” Ryoko yawned and stretched her arms and legs. “I guess. So now what?”
Washu smiled. “Now…I give you a very special present.” She clenched one hand tightly, then opened it again. A smell red gem rested in her palm. “Does this remind you of anything?”
Ryoko’s eyes were wide, almost mesmerized. “It’s beautiful.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes,” the princess breathed.
“Tell me,” Washu said softly. “What do you dream about, Ryoko?”
The girl could not take her eyes off the small red gem. “Flying,” she said slowly. “I dream I’m flying over the palace, up into the stars, and I never want to come back…”
Washu nodded. “Have you bonded with a tree?”
“No. I’ve tried twice. The trees don’t seem to call to me.” For a moment Ryoko’s attention broke away from the jewel. “It really pisses Mom off,” she added with a grin.
“Well, perhaps you’re just not meant for one,” Washu said. “Perhaps destiny has something better in mind. At any rate, here you go. This is yours, now and forever.” As she spoke, the gem rose from her palm and floated over to the princess. It hovered for just a moment, then glided down to her left wrist and settled in atop it. It flared for a moment, blazing bright crimson, then resumed its normal color.
Ryoko lifted her arm and stared at the now-embedded gem. “Wow…” she breathed. “Now what?”
“Close your eyes,” Washu ordered. The girl complied. “Now, imagine yourself floating. Your feet are leaving the ground. Gravity can’t hold you back. Up, up, up you go…Now then. Open your eyes.”
Ryoko obeyed and discovered herself seven feet above the ground. “Oh, wow!” she exclaimed. “This is…this is…”
“I know,” Washu smiled. “Now, one more thing. Close your eyes again. Reach out with your thoughts. Concentrate. Keep reaching…” She watched as the girl furrowed her brow and stretched an arm out. “You feel her, don’t you? You’re touching her mind. Call her, Ryoko. Tell her to come to you.”
“That’s…” Ryoko gasped. “That’s Ryo-oh-ki!”
Washu nodded. “The gem’s power binds her to you, Princess. She’ll do anything you ask of her. So tell her to come.”
“Okay…” Ryoko’s widened. “She’s coming!”
“Well done.” And sure enough, within minutes the cabbit came into view, running at top speed toward the two women. Ryo-oh-ki bounded into the air, landing in Ryoko’s arm with the happiest “Miya!” anyone had heard in years. The princess laughed and hugged her tightly, struggling to keep a secure grip. “Hey, hey now!” she giggled. “Slow down, will you? What do you mean, ‘Mama’s back’? I’m not your Mama!”
“You are now, dear.” Washu looked up at the odd pair and grinned. “You and Ryo-oh-ki are bonded for the rest of your lives. Which, if the two of you don’t settle down, isn’t going to be too much longer.”
Ryoko laughed and performed a mid-air somersault. “This is incredible! I don’t ever want to come down!” She ascended above the trees and made a beeline for the house, Ryo-oh-ki secure in her arms. Washu smiled as she watched them vanish from sight, then sighed. “Greetings, my sister.”
Sasami, tall and as graceful as her swollen belly allowed her to be, chuckled as she approached. “So, you’re finally acknowledging it,” she teased. “Greetings to you, Washu. I see you’ve been busy.”
“You could say much the same, my sister.” Washu nodded toward Sasami’s bulge. “They know what causes that, you know.”
“I’m a goddess of life and fertility; I can’t help it. Besides, it’s lots of fun getting to this point, and it’s only my third so far.”
Washu shook her head, exasperated. “How’d you know I was here? I thought I’d masked my presence.”
“Oh, you did. But when Ryo-oh-ki suddenly woke up, cried out and raced out the door like there’s no tomorrow, I had my suspicions.” She looked Washu over critically. “You look well, sister.”
“As do you. I assume the assimilation is complete?”
“Oh yes. We’re one. Most everybody calls me ‘Sasami’, though. I answer to both.” She motioned toward the sky with her head. “Gave her the gem, I see.”
“It’s a small fraction of my power, not a full gem. It will allow her to fly and control Ryo-oh-ki.”
“All those sneaky visits through the years, ‘just your fairy godmother checking up on you’,” Sasami said. “When you were really performing very subtle genetic alterations so that she’d be able to do this today. Quite a plan, Washu. You must be pleased with the results.”
“She’s happy. That’s all I really care about. Tenchi and Ayeka have done an excellent job raising her.”
“She loves them, especially Tenchi,” Sasami noted. “There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for him. And while she isn’t above pulling Ayeka’s chain, it’s never malicious or nasty.” The young woman laughed. “Just like before. The more things change…”
“It’s as it should be. The three of them, together.” Washu closed her eyes and sighed. “I must return, sister.”
“Why don’t you stay?” Sasami asked. She rested a hand on Washu’s arm. “They’d love to see you again. They’ve missed you. I’ve missed you.”
“I can’t. Humanity…hurts, even in this brief time. The memories…they close in on my heart, even after all these years. It’s more than I can bear.” Washu looked up at Sasami. “Tsunami, I do not know how -you- can bear it.”
“The bitter and the sweet,” she said softly. “It’s the way of things. I would not trade it for anything.”
“Nor would I ask you to.” Washu closed her eyes again. “Though Tokimi misses you.”
“Tokimi never really understood either of us.”
“I must go.” Washu opened her eyes and took Sasami’s hand. “Take care of her, sister. I will not be coming back.”
“Oh, of course you will,” Sasami laughed.
“Yes.” The young woman regarded Washu skeptically. “Sooner or later you’ll want to check up on her—just to make sure, for example, that the gem’s not doing any harm to her body. Someday she’s going to fall in love, and you’ll want to know that the man in question truly loves her and would never hurt her. There will be babies, and we both know your feelings on that subject.” Sasami smiled and nodded to herself. “You’ll be back, Washu.”
“Perhaps,” Washu conceded with a slight smile of her own. “Perhaps. But as for now…my blessings to you and your family, Tsunami. Farewell.” A bright halo enveloped her body as she spoke, and a moment later the redheaded woman was gone, leaving Sasami alone by the cave.
“So long, sister,” she said gaily. “See you soon!”
* * * * *
“MOM!” Ryoko screamed as she dove toward the house. “LOOK AT ME! I CAN FLY!” She came within a foot or two of the dock and released Ryo-oh-ki, then shot back up into the sky. “WHEEE!”
“Ryoko?” The color in Ayeka’s face drained as she watched her daughter soaring above her. “What on Earth are you doing up there? Come down here this instant!”
“Mommmmmmmm…” The princess performed a barrel roll and laughed. “I’m never coming down!” she yelled. “This is everything I’ve ever dreamed of!” She plunged again and skimmed the surface of the lake, laughing with sheer delight. Ayeka stood on the dock, shaking her head in disbelief.
“Huh.” The princess turned to find Tenchi standing beside her. His eyes followed his daughter’s flight with warm amusement. “Remind you of anyone we knew?”
“Far too much.” Ayeka sighed. “I told you that name was going to cause us nothing but trouble. Remember when she was teething and you had the bright idea of rubbing sake on her gums? Remember what happened? How she kept sucking on your finger and wouldn’t let it go?”
“Yeah.” Tenchi smiled at the memory. “That was cute.”
“I swear there are times I believe she’s the living, breathing reincarnation of Ryoko…”
“What if she is?” Tenchi shrugged. “Is that so bad?”
Ayeka gave her husband a sardonic look. “I was joking.”
“I know.” He looked up and waved at his daughter. “Hey! Come on down for a minute, will you?”
“DADDY!” Ryoko swooped down and made a neat two-point landing directly in front of him. “Isn’t it great?” she gasped, breathless. “That Washu woman showed up at the cave and let me go inside, and then she gave me this gem, and she said it would let me fly and it bonds me with Ryo-oh-ki and it’s just so COOL!”
“Washu?” Ayeka frowned. “You saw Washu here?”
“It’s all right, sis,” Sasami said as she walked up to join them. She was flushed and slightly out of breath. “Boy, they say walking is good for a pregnancy, but I think I overdid it!”
“You saw Washu as well?”
Sasami nodded. “But she’s gone now. She couldn’t stay.”
“A pity. I’ve missed her.” Ayeka turned toward her daughter. “Now, let’s get a few things straight, young lady. Flying is restricted to this immediate area while we’re on Earth. And when we get home, I expect you to use discretion. This is a very important gift, and you should use it wisely…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Ryoko said, rolling her eyes. “I’m outta here. Hey, Yoshi. Want a ride?” She reached out and gathered up her little brother, then took off for the clouds.
“GET BACK HERE THIS INSTANT!” Ayeka screamed. “DON’T YOU DARE LET HIM GO, YOUNG LADY, OR BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY YOU’LL BE GROUNDED FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! RYOKO…NO! NO BARREL ROLLS! STOP IT THIS INSTANT!”
Tenchi sidled over to Sasami’s side. “Just like old times,” he said, grinning.
“Sure looks like it,” she giggled.
He regarded his sister-in-law thoughtfully. “Sasami…is that Ryoko? Our old Ryoko?”
“Does it really matter, Tenchi?”
“I guess not…” Ryo-oh-ki suddenly perked up and leaped into the air. “Uh-oh,” he said. They watched as the cabbit transformed into a spaceship, the first time she’d done that since her mistress had died. Within seconds the sky was blotted out from view, and an ecstatic “MIYAAAH!” filled the air. Ryoko and Yoshi flew directly into the heart of the ship, and seconds later Ryo-oh-ki began to rise toward the stars.
“Oh no,” Ayeka said. “Oh no.”
“They’ll be fine,” Tenchi assured her with a smile.
“Oh yes, of course you’d say that,” Ayeka snapped. “She’s got you completely wrapped around her finger. YOUNG LADY, YOU LISTEN TO ME! ONCE AROUND THE SOLAR SYSTEM, AND THEN RIGHT BACK HOME! DO YOU HEAR ME? RYO-OH-KI, THAT GOES FOR YOU TOO!”
* * * * *
Princess Ryoko closed her eyes, reaching out with her mind and melding with Ryo-oh-ki. She had never felt so alive, so very right about the universe and her place in it, as she did at this moment. She opened her eyes. The stars shone all around the ship, seemingly beckoning to her to come out and play.
Ryoko laughed. With a quick command to Ryo-oh-ki, she set out to do just that.
|Chapter One||Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Five||Some Time Later|