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.
“…The battle raged for what seemed like days, though it was but hours in retrospect. Ryoko fought like a wild animal, all semblance of humanity long gone as she slashed at me with her razor-sharp talons. Her eyes bore a fixed feral stare, as if she felt no pain, no emotion save for the hunger to kill me.” Yosho closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I was beyond the limits of my strength and power. My clothes and skin were ragged and bloodstained. It was only through determination and skill that I was able to pierce Ryoko’s throat with my sword and through it withdraw her gems of power.”
“My goodness,” Ayeka said, looking a bit pale. “It must have been a horrible battle.” She was leaning slightly forward, breathlessly transfixed on her brother’s tale. Beside her, Sasami was similarly mesmerized. Tenchi leaned back and smiled as he watched them hear the old story. He’d lost count of the times he’d sat there in the same state, but he never tired of hearing about the legendary battle of Yosho and Ryoko. The fact that he now knew the combatants personally made it all the more fascinating from his point of view.
“Though my sword was raised, Ryoko continued to struggle, straining to strike me even though she dangled from the blade out of arm’s reach.” Yosho shook his head. “One by one the gems withdrew from her body, embedding themselves in the hilt of my sword. When at last the final gem had left her, Ryoko gasped. Her eyes rolled up into her head, and her body slumped over, hanging limply in mid-air. I recalled the blade into the hilt and watched her collapse onto the ground like a puppet whose strings had snapped. The battle was over, and I had at long last triumphed.”
“And then you and Funaho built the stasis prison?” Ayeka asked eagerly.
“That’s correct,” the old man nodded. “It took several days to construct, especially as my ship had been destroyed in the initial battle over Earth. Funaho was able to cobble a functional chamber together from the debris, and when it was finished, I lay Ryoko’s motionless body in the chamber and ordered Funaho to put her into a deep sleep. And there she lay for seven hundred years, until Tenchi awakened her.”
“Pity,” Ayeka murmured.
“And on that note,” Yosho said, rising to his feet with far more grace than an aged shrine priest should ever achieve, “I believe it’s time for Tenchi and I to resume today’s practice session, hmmm?”
“Okay, Grandpa.” Tenchi stood up and stretched. “Well, I guess I’ll see you both at dinner, then?”
“Indeed, Lord Tenchi,” Ayeka said happily. “I look forward to it. Practice well.” She sighed as she watched her beloved stride away, nimbly and narrowly avoiding a sudden bokken attack to the back of his knees. Yosho grunted and deftly parried a return shot at his head, and the two men were quickly lost in their sparring.
“’Practice well’,” came a sneering voice from above; Ayeka grimaced and glanced skyward. Ryoko grinned down at her. “Boy, you’re just too encouraging, little princess, you know?”
“I was merely wishing Tenchi well,” Ayeka snapped back. “Which is more than you can say, demon woman.”
“Oh, I was busy too, you know. Busy listening to Yosho’s little bedtime story about our big battle.” Ryoko snorted and rolled her eyes. “Boy, does he ever know how to lay it on thick.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, come on, Ayeka,” Ryoko chuckled. “You didn’t really believe that story, did you? The huge battle, how Big Brother triumphed over impossible odds and put the demon to sleep? Come on, little princess, even you aren’t that naïve.” Her amber eyes glittered. “Then again, you really did believe the whole bit about getting married to him, didn’t you?”
Ayeka’s teeth clenched and a low growl slipped past them, building in intensity. Sensing immanent danger, Sasami jumped in: “Wow, are you saying that it really -didn’t- happen that way, Ryoko?”
“Well,” Ryoko said modestly, “I didn’t say that, exactly. We did have quite a fight, let me tell you. It was pretty long, nasty and bloody, that much is true. And he did take my gems. But after that…” She floated down until she hovered just opposite the two princesses, then leaned forward and smiled conspiratorially.
“After that…it’s a whole new story.”
* * * * *
The battle was over.
Victor and vanquished stood on shuddering legs, arms dangling limply at their sides, battered, bloody, utterly exhausted but unwilling to fall. They stared at each other with a naked intensity that would have seared lesser beings, neither wanting to be the first to give in. The landscape around them had once been a lovely forest, lush with both flora and fauna. Now the muddy, pockmarked hillside was stripped bare, with only the occasional jagged stump or splintered tree limb to remind someone of what it had once been, never mind the huge gaping pit where two spaceships had crashed.
Ryoko smiled crookedly as she swayed back and forth, her fangs gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Blood dripped freely from her forehead wounds, but it only enhanced her demonic appearance. Opposite her, Prince Yosho of Jurai focused his remaining concentration on the sword in his hand and prayed that he could hang on just a few minutes more.
Then he passed out and hit the ground with a wet thud.
Ryoko stared at her fallen opponent. “Heh.” She reached out with her good hand and summoned…a marble-sized energy globe. To make matters worse, the effort involved used up all her remaining power. Her legs gave out and she joined the prince on the muddy ground, her face buried in a huge brown puddle.
Well, so much for finishing him off. Ryoko remained still, trying out the new concept of independent thought. It felt…strange…not having Kagato’s presence in her mental real estate. Strange, but actually rather good, when she got down to it. She would have savored the moment a bit more, but it slowly, painfully occurred to her that if Prince Charming woke up first, things would pretty much be ‘game over’ for her.
A second thought drifted into her mind and suggested that Ryoko try a bit of the old self-heal routine…at least enough to get back on her feet again and hightail it out of there before Warrior Prince revived. There were no objections, and the motion was carried. Unfortunately, the issue of ‘out of gas’ reared its ugly head again, and Ryoko found herself back to square one.
She sensed the gems. The power called to her, a siren song so sweet that despite everything Ryoko managed to lift her head and drag her body inch by inch toward them. Every motion sent waves of agony through her, but the gems would not be denied. They demanded to be reclaimed, and Ryoko would stop at nothing to do so. Once she had them back, she could heal herself, deal with Prince Nuisance, heal Ryo-ohki, and start making some long-term plans…plans that had nothing to do with returning to Kagato.
The thought of being free to do as she pleased fortified Ryoko and comforted her…right up to the point where her hand touched the sword hilt that held her gems. The subsequent agony that roared through her body drove those thoughts clean away.
Ryoko somehow managed to tear her hand away from the sword. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth; she’d bitten through her tongue during the ordeal. Gasping, tears pouring from her eyes, Ryoko staggered to her feet and stumbled away, never realizing that the brief contact with the gems, painful as it was, had nonetheless given her enough strength to flee.
* * * * *
Masaki Kasumi crept out of her hidey-hole (there were plenty of them around amid the carnage) and crawled over to where the fallen prince lay. She laid a trembling hand upon his chest and determined that he was still alive, though badly battered. He didn’t appear to have any broken bones, either - at least, nothing was sticking out so far as she could tell.
There was no telling when that demon might return to finish him off. Kasumi knew she had to leave, and quickly. On the other hand, her heart reminded her, this handsome young man had saved her life from that same demon not too long ago. She couldn’t just abandon him to his fate.
Kasumi bit her lip and considered the possibilities. Her home wasn’t too far away; if she hurried, she might be able to grab a horse, return, and haul this handsome warrior back there. Once safe, he could rest and she could attend to his many wounds. It was a long shot, but one her soul could live with. Stumbling to her feet, Kasumi turned to regard the young man one last time before hurrying away.
* * * * *
elders of the village were in the habit of holding some of their meetings at a
“So much light and thunder,” commented Muraki as he lowered himself into the springs. He sighed happily and accepted a cup of the good stuff. “The gods were truly unhappy that night.”
“Gods nothing,” Jujin laughed. “Kanaji’s wife caught him with that young girl, you ask me.” He was rewarded with a round of snickers and another serving of sake.
“Has anyone gone over there to investigate?” Fugari’s expression was more dour than usual; as the sole law enforcement official in town, he took his responsibilities very seriously and did his very best to make sure no one had fun on his watch.
“What’s there to see? Maybe it was an earthquake or something. Best be careful, Taro - your daughter Kasumi was asking everyone about it the other day, and you know how curious she gets. One of these days she’s going to up and vanish just like her aunt did awhile back.” Dasuken was Fugari’s counterpart; his job and hobby was to know everyone else’s business, and he excelled at the task.
“My daughter knows her place,” Masaki Taro, the local shrine priest, said with a smile. He stretched out and sighed as the waters eased the ache of his bones. They seemed to hurt more each year, and the only thing that ever relieved the pain was this spring.
“The old widow Kajiura claims that two demon clans were fighting,” Fugari said slowly. He was not a man who normally held beliefs like that, but it had been a rather raucous event, and a wise man always kept his options open. And the old woman did have some repute for sight beyond sight; she’d predicted the flood that, without her warning, would have devastated the town two springs ago, and there was rumors about how her intervention had enabled the young widow Kikuko to have a child.
“The old widow was nipping at her sake a bit too much,” replied Dasuken, who knew damn well how the widow Kikuko had conceived…after all, he’d been there at the time.
“Still…what if it was true? What if a demon still lurks about?” Fugari insisted. “We should take measures to…protect…ourselves…” His voice trailed off as Ryoko stumbled into view on the far side of the springs. She was still battered, bruised and bloodied, and her wild mane of cyan-colored hair alone would have marked her for a stranger in these parts. The yellow eyes, still startling though a bit dulled with pain and exhaustion, were another clue. The fact that she was hovering several inches above the ground was the clincher.
“I move we get the hell out of here,” murmured Jujin.
“Seconded,” noted Taro.
“We can take her,” argued Fugari.
“She’s all yours,” replied Dasuken, who was already out of the springs and lunging for his clothing. Taro waited a moment, perhaps two, certainly long enough for the others to note that his courage was far greater than theirs, then he, too, hightailed it out of the waters toward safety.
They never saw Ryoko sway to and fro for a moment or two before she plunged headfirst into the springs.
* * * * *
Panic kept clutching at Masaki Taro’s heart as he half-ran, half stumbled up the hill toward his shrine. He’d heard all the ancient tales of mystical demons that roamed the land in search of power in all its forms, but until today he’d dismissed the stories as rubbish. Today he’d learned first-hand that truth had a way of biting one’s backside when one was least expecting it.
“Kasumi,” he gasped as he lunged through the main gateway to his shrine. “Kasumi!” he called again, praying to his gods that the fool girl hadn’t gotten overly curious about the talk and gone out to see if it were true. Kasumi was too much like her great-aunt Funaho for her own good. Look where it had gotten Funaho; early one morning she was gone, having run off with that hairy young stranger she’d claimed she’d found in some wreckage.
“Kasumi!” he bellowed again. Please, please, please let her be safe…
“In here, Father!” Taro raced into the house, relieved beyond measure. His little girl, his pride and joy was safe and sound, smiling brightly up at him as she tended the wounds of a strangely-dressed young man with handsome features.
Taro blinked once, twice, three, maybe four times.
“Oh no,” he whimpered softly. “Not again…”
* * * * *
stretched out her limbs and savored the hot waters that surrounded her bruised
body. She had never felt anything so incredibly delicious in her life, and she
didn’t want to leave this place, not now, not ever. She was free…free from her
gems, free from Kagato, free from everything that had ever bound her. Ryoko
liked this sensation of freedom almost as much as she liked the
Looking up, she noticed something floating on the water’s surface, bobbing back and forth in an easy rhythm. Curiosity got the better of her and she surfaced to investigate. It was a small wooden tub, and inside it was a clay flask and small cup. Ryoko picked the little bottle up and noticed it was full of something. For lack of anything better to do, she downed the contents in an entire gulp.
Two minutes later, Ryoko knew that there were now three things she wanted and would never ever willingly surrender. She looked around for some more clay bottles and that wonderful stuff inside them.
* * * * *
Yosho groaned quietly as he struggled toward wakefulness. His body felt like a museum collection of aches, pains and bruises, and his head throbbed violently. He was deathly afraid to open his eyes, because visual confirmation of what he was feeling was most certainly going to make things even worse. Still, a prince of Jurai did have to swallow hard and take it sometimes, so with another groan and no small effort Yosho forced his eyelids back.
The darkness slowly gave way to a shadowy outline looming above him. Definitely feminine, it was somehow familiar in build and features, very comforting and maternal. Yosho sighed and closed his eyes again. “Mommy…”
“No,” came an unfamiliar voice. “Kasumi. My name is Kasumi.”
That name sounded familiar for some reason. Yosho concentrated as hard as he was able, and a minute later he recalled the name, the face, and the situation. “I’m sorry,” he whispered contritely. “You…remind me of someone.”
“It’s all right,” she said in a soothing tone, wiping the sweat from his brow. “You’ve had a rough few days, with the fever and all. I can understand why you woke up a bit disoriented.”
“A bad one, but we got you through it.” Yosho heard the slosh of moving water nearby, and seconds later the hand towel was pressed against his skin once more. He had to admit it felt very pleasant, all the more so because of Kasumi’s voice. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Better,” he sighed. “My name is Yosho.”
“That’s a very nice name,” Kasumi noted with a very sweet giggle. “It suits you.”
“Thank you.” Memories stirred, and Yosho gasped. “Ryoko,” he said urgently. “The demon. Where is Ryoko?”
Yosho nodded, and opened his eyes.
“Fine,” the newcomer, a priest from the look of it and most definitely Kasumi’s father, said curtly. “She’s your responsibility. You deal with her.”
“Deal with her?” Yosho echoed, struggling to sit up.
her, jail her, marry her…we really don’t care what you do, but we insist you
deal with it. We can’t go on like this. She’s commandeered the
Yosho froze in mid-movement. “Sake?” he said after a moment.
“You heard me. She’s downed our entire village’s supply, and we’re having to bring more in from the neighboring towns. They’re starting to run low too. So you’re going to have to take care of her one way or another, and soon. Understand?”
“Of course,” Yosho nodded as he rose to his feet. Much to his surprise, Kasumi did likewise. She was very pretty, he noticed, and bore a surprising resemblance to his own mother. Could it be…?
“I’ll take him to the springs,” Kasumi declared.
“You will do no such thing!” the priest roared.
“You will be an obedient daughter and heed your father’s words!” The tone in his voice made it clear he expected to be obeyed; Kasumi looked for just a heartbeat as if she’d rebel, then her body relaxed and she bowed low to her father. “Good,” he said, satisfied with the gesture. “I’ll take our guest to the springs myself. You prepare dinner.”
“As my father wishes,” Kasumi said, hoping that her bow hid her grimace of frustration.
* * * * *
“RYOKO!” Yosho’s eyes
darted all around the
Well, hopefully this wouldn’t take too long. He’d recapture Ryoko, place her in the prison that his tree was currently constructing, call home and be out of here within a week. Home…back to Airi…back to…mother…back…to…Ayeka…
He shoved those depressing thoughts away and glowered. “RYOKO!”
The voice startled Yosho. It didn’t sound like the feral monster he’d fought almost to the death a few days ago. It sounded more like…well, like a young woman, somewhat inebriated and having an extraordinarily good time. His peripheral vision detected movement over to the right, and when he turned to discover the source, Yosho finally spotted his foe.
stark naked, lounging happily in the
Yosho shook his head and stepped forward. “Ryoko, do you know who I am?”
She gave him the once over and grinned. “Nope.”
“But I just battled you,” Yosho stammered. “Surely you must recall our fight!”
Ryoko lifted the clay container high into the air. “Are you the sake boy? Good timing, buddy! I’m almost out and let me tell you, I have got a THIRST for this stuff!”
“I am Masaki Yosho Jurai, Crown Prince of the Jurai Empire, and you are my prisoner.”
Ryoko blinked several times. “You mean you don’t have any sake?”
“Oh.” Ryoko slipped a bit deeper into the water. The shimmering outline of her curvaceous body was stimul…attrac…never mind that. “Well,” she said brightly a moment later, “could you maybe go get me some more sake? Cause if you don’t, I’ll have to destroy your town and all that.” She giggled drunkenly as she sank under the water, blowing bubbles as she descended.
never felt so completely at a loss in his life. His first battle with the demon
had been everything he’d ever dreamed of: blood and fire, every fiber of his
being blazing with the sheer joy of combat. And now…he was standing in a
“Come forward, demon!” he screamed, storming forward into the waters, his sword poised to do battle with the beast that had devastated his home. Yosho ignored the heat’s sting as he willed the waters to move aside and cease impeding his progress toward his foe.
About halfway there, something grabbed his ankles from behind and gave them a sharp pull backwards. Yosho hit the water face first with a mighty slap. He arose a moment later, sputtering and squinting as he shoved his unruly hair out his eyes, only to find the demon hovering about forty yards away, her laughter dancing around the hot springs.
“Demon!” he bellowed, looking as fierce and defiant as a waterlogged warrior in sopping-wet priest robes could. “Come forward and do battle with me!”
“Why?” Ryoko replied.
“Because…because you are my prisoner, and you defy me! Because it’s time to put you in your prison for your crimes!”
“Prison?” Ryoko considered this for a moment. “That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, if you ask me,” she commented.
supposed to be fun! I defeated you in combat, you are
to submit to your punishment honorably!”
“BECAUSE I SAID SO!” Yosho launched himself forward; Ryoko
let him get a few feet away before teleporting out of harm’s way. His forward
motion sent him flying back into the
you’re really ruining my good time here,” Ryoko noted from her new position,
the far end of the
“YOU WON’T GET AWAY FROM ME, RYOKO!” Yosho bellowed as he trudged out of the waters, his clothing hanging limply from his body and leaving a sopping trail behind him. “I WILL RETURN!”
“Bring some sake when you do!” Ryoko called, waving good-bye to him.
* * * * *
Three weeks later, Yosho was still no closer to his goal than when he’d started. He stood at his bedroom window and stared off at the stars, wondering how things could have gone so terribly, terribly wrong.
again he’d walked into the
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He’d beaten her in battle, claimed her three gems of power. She should have been helpless and submissive, accepting her imprisonment. Funaho had finished the containment weeks ago and was awaiting delivery of the prisoner, but…
He’d sat down beside his tree one night and told her the entire tale. Funaho had been comforting, but Yosho could have sworn there was an underlying tone of amusement in her thoughts.
But that wasn’t the worst part of it. Now the townspeople were against him as well.
me to what?” Yosho had yelled when a delegation had met him outside the
“Please understand, my son,” Masaki Taro said. “We know she is a demon of terrible power, even after you vanquished her some time ago.”
“But she’s been good for our town,” Muraki interrupted.
“…what?” Yosho said, gaping.
the Hot Springs Demon has spread all over
“Mostly young men,” noted Dasuken.
“They come here, they require lodgings and meals,” continued Jujin. “To be quite honest, young man, your demon is the best thing that ever happened to our village. We have never been so prosperous!”
“The Emperor himself has inquired about the demon,” Taro said. “It is rumored that he might visit our humble township to see her with his own eyes and vanquish her with his holy powers.”
“She’ll either kill him outright or get him drunk with her,” Yosho sighed.
“We understand your plight,” Taro said with not a trace of sympathy in his voice. “But this… ‘Ryoko’ is not nearly so terrible as you made her out to be. We spoke to her a few days ago…”
to an arrangement with her,” the priest continued. “Three times a day she rises
“You’re selling peeping rights,” the prince of Jurai said, disbelieving.
said,” Jujin nodded, “a
“With the money we raise from these viewings,” Taro concluded, “we are able to pay for the sake she consumes. It’s worked out quite well. In fact, we’re now in negotiations for ‘bathing nights’ with the demon. Those who can afford it and are willing to risk their lives will be able to join the demon in the springs…”
“I don’t believe this,” Yosho moaned.
“…and will also receive this special commemorative charm, designed and constructed at the Masaki shrine, for a small additional fee.” Taro held up a small knick-knack on a string.
day several large, burly men had stood at the entrance to the
Yosho sighed and shook his head, turning his attention to the one good thing that had come his way since his arrival on this primitive planet. Kasumi was nestled snugly in the futon they shared, a slight smile on her lips as she dreamed. A similar smile formed on Yosho’s lips as he regarded her sweet, gentle expression.
probably a good thing that Masaki Taro spent most of his evenings down by the
Who would have thought such a meek, quiet girl could have so much passion and hunger burning within her? Yosho smiled again and lay down beside Kasumi, chuckling that the girl certainly deserved her deep slumber. If only he could get Ryoko to sleep like this…
It couldn’t work, not in a million years…
* * * * *
morning, Yosho armed himself for the final battle and strode purposefully to
Sure enough, Ryoko was in the hot waters, looking sleek and satisfied as could be. She grinned and waved at her adversary. “So, Great Prince Yosho! Come to try and get me out of here again?”
Yosho smiled and shook his head. “Actually, today I thought I’d take a break from our battle and enjoy the waters myself.” He deposited his weapons on a nearby rock and slowly removed his clothing, making sure that Ryoko had plenty of time to regard his young, lithe muscular body.
Once naked, Yosho yawned and stretched his arms out as far as they’d go. “So,” he said upon finishing. “Might I join you today, Ryoko?”
“This is a trick, isn’t it?” she asked with sheer delight.
“Not at all,” he assured her smoothly. “I think we’ve already established that you’re too fast and too powerful for me to defeat. I promise you that there will be no attempt to battle today.”
“What’s that in your hand, there?”
Yosho lifted the large glass bottle proudly. “Sake. From Jurai. My grandmother’s private label brand. This is an exceptional high-quality drink, let me assure you.” It was also near lethal to anyone who wasn’t used to it; at best, Yosho was able to get about three sips down before the magical Airi-pixies danced naked around his head. There was no telling what it would do to Ryoko, though Yosho had his hopes. “What do you say to a drink, hmm?”
“I still think you’re trying to trick me,” Ryoko said, smiling slyly.
“Ryoko, even if I were, you could teleport away before I attacked. I give you my word of honor, there shall not be battle between us.” He mentally crossed his fingers and prayed to Tsunami that this would work.
“Okay,” she finally agreed. Yosho entered the waters and joined the demon at her perch; she held out her cup expectantly. “Let’s see how good this stuff is.”
“Here you go.” Yosho poured out a reasonable libation and watched as Ryoko downed it in one smooth gulp.
Ryoko shuddered once, twice, three times.
Steam hissed from her ears.
Her eyes crossed, rolled around in neat little circles twice, then closed.
“Man, that is smoooooth sake,” she breathed, a small cloud of smoke drifting past her lips. Yosho nodded and thanked the Goddess that he’d been able to find the bottle, a long-ago gift from his grandmother, amid the subspace pockets of his ship that he’d been able to access. This might be the key to his final victory.
“Here, have a little more,” he suggested. Ryoko was more than willing to go along with the idea. Several “little mores” later, she was definitely feeling no pain and very content with life in general. Yosho smiled and scooted a bit closer. “You know,” he said very casually, “you look like you would enjoy a backrub.”
“You better not try anything,” Ryoko warned, then hiccupped. “I’m a nashty demon and I…I…something or other.” She hiccupped again and giggled as Yosho began to caress and knead her shoulder muscles. “Ooooooooh,” Ryoko sighed. “Y’know, that really feels good.”
“Just wait,” the prince promised. “It gets even better.” Yosho sent a silent prayer up to Tsunami and set to work, combining the massage with several techniques he had learned during a ‘special training’ course he’d taken on Seniwa (courtesy of his father and without his mother’s knowledge). His technique was flawless, his application beyond reproach, and before too long the lovely demon was succumbing to his advances.
A light touch here. A long, lingering brush with fingertips there. A nuzzle on the nape of the neck. A whisper of warm breath behind the ear. The occasional going too far with an advance, pushed away once, perhaps twice, but later welcomed with a deep husky sigh.
The weapons of love are much different than those of war.
They are, however, no less effective when used correctly.
* * * * *
It took every ounce of Yosho’s fading strength to carry the unconscious (and satisfied) Ryoko from the onsen to Funaho’s prison. Thankfully, once she had fallen asleep his tree had managed to keep her in that state, much to the exhausted prince’s relief. Getting her to that condition had been quite the marathon, and Yosho wasn’t sure he was up to a second round.
He stood at the edge of the demon’s prison for a few minutes, gazing down at the sleeping Ryoko and feeling just a little guilty and regretful. He had slowly come to view her differently these past weeks. The battle-crazed, bloodthirsty berserker he’d dueled to a standstill was also the playful, mischievous (yes, and lovely) onsen nymph who wanted nothing more than relax, soak, and drink to her heart’s content. Perhaps someday Funaho would suggest that enough time had passed and she could be free once more.
At any rate, Yosho thought to himself as he clambered out of the cave, he had more immediate concerns. Firstly, there was the issue of Funaho. His royal tree had had to dig her roots into this planet’s soil. This more or less left him stranded on a cultural backwater, though it did have a certain charm about it. If need be, he could contact Jurai for assistance; he was sure his family would come right away - his mothers, his father, his sister Ayeka….
On second thought, there wasn’t any immediate need to call home, now that he thought about it. But there was Airi to consider. Despite Kasumi’s comforting presence, he still missed Airi and wished for some way he could reach her at the Academy without his family finding out. And perhaps she could slip away from there and join him here. It was certainly possible, all he had to do was find a…
“Yosho.” Masaki Taro’s voice snapped the prince out of his reverie. The shrine priest was standing just outside the cave entrance, his daughter Kasumi by his side. And on either side of the priest were four of the village’s largest, strongest young men.
Yosho had a bad feeling about this.
“I take it you have subdued the demon?” Taro asked.
“Yes. She sleeps within the cave,” Yosho nodded. “I’ve placed several…spells around her to ensure that none can disturb her.”
“Well,” Taro sighed, “I suppose it can’t be helped. Pity, though. She was quite the tourist attraction.” A tight-lipped smile emerged. “Well, that’s done with. Time to move on, eh?” He nudged Kasumi, who hurried over to Yosho’s side. She looked equally nervous and excited as she took his arm and pulled him forward.
“What, may I ask…?” Yosho began.
Masaki Taro’s smile widened as he opened a small book and the village’s eight strongest and largest young men closed ranks around Yosho and Kasumi.
Taro cleared his throat. “We are gathered on this day of celebration to witness the marriage of my daughter Kasumi to my apprentice Yosho…”
* * * * *
Ryoko leaned back and smiled triumphantly. “And that’s what really happened. What do you think of that, Princess?”
Ayeka condescending smirk spoke volumes. “A very pretty tale, Ryoko, but obviously a fabrication of your sick and twisted imagination.”
“Oh yeah? What makes you say that?”
Ayeka shook her head. “There are far too many holes in your little story to go into, but the largest one is so easily pointed out. How could you possibly know what my brother was doing when the two of you were apart, to say nothing of what might have happened after you were placed in your prison?”
Ryoko shrugged. “Oh, that? Easy. Funaho told me.”
“I beg your pardon,” Ayeka snorted. “Whyever would a royal tree deign to speak to the likes of you?”
“Funaho talked to me a lot while I slept,” Ryoko replied. “She liked me. Said I was like a daughter to her. You wanna hear what she said about you and your puppy-dog obsession with your half-brother while I’m at it, Princess?”
The princess’s face turned eighteen shades of crimson as she sputtered furiously, utterly unable to spew any number of retorts Ryoko’s way. In the end she simply whirled around, grabbed Sasami’s arm and stormed off toward the stairway. Ryoko laughed and waved farewell to her erstwhile rival. She was still laughing when she heard a familiar voice clear his throat.
“I thought we had an agreement that certain aspects of our battle would remain private?” Yosho was standing behind her - how the hell did he manage to do that without her knowing? - looking rather stern and disapproving.
“Well, you know how it is,” Ryoko grinned. “She all but begs for it, and I just can’t resist sometimes.”
“Hmmm,” Yosho replied.
“At any rate, I’m heading to the onsen,” Ryoko said. She rose a few feet into the air, then turned around and smiled at Yosho. “Hey! Why don’t you join me?”
The priest chuckled. “I think not, though I appreciate the invitation.”
“Aww, c’mon! A nice hot soak, some sake, a few laughs about old times? It’d be fun! Come on, Yosho!”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. Thank you anyway.”
“Your loss!” Ryoko turned to leave, then abruptly swooped down and hovered beside Yosho’s right ear. “You were pretty good, by the way.” She laughed again and teleported away before he could say or do anything in reply.
Yosho stood there for a moment or two, lost in remembrance. The hint of a smile emerged from his usually neutral countenance. “Pretty good, hmmm?” he murmured to himself.
Five minutes later he was heading for the onsen, carrying a seven-hundred-year old bottle of sake and humming an old folk tune under his breath.