Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Tenchi or Love Hina they belong to their respective creators. I do however claim rights over all original characters herein and expressly ask anyone wishing to use them to obtain my permission first.
Foreword; This story takes place after Midnight on the Last Perfect Day and assumes that you have read said story.
There was no escape. Trees rushed past in a blur of green and brown as her long toned legs pumped as fast as she could will them. Lungs expanded through years of dedicated training pulled in one ragged breath after another. Adrenaline flowed through every vain in an effort to stay ahead of her pursuer. Every fiber of her body screamed at her to stop and rest, every fiber except one, fear. Fear kept her running when time seemed to have lost all meaning and remembering anything prior to the hunt impossible. There was only the now, the fear, and the knowledge of what would happen at the end. Death.
Never before had her fate seemed to inevitable and final. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Her whole life she had trained to avoid being this helpless. But now something came for her that she couldn't defeat, a nameless monster the sought only to kill. She had witnessed others try and face this menace, all had fallen before the soulless beast. The scent of blood and death still filled her flared nostrils as she ran for her life knowing all the while escape impossible and victory even more so. Death had fixed it's flat eyes on her and so the hunt had began. But now the hunt was coming to an end. Ahead the trees began to thin and soon there would be nowhere to hide, nothing to offer cover, and no hope to be had when the end came.
Failing sun light lit the clearing as she stumbled through the brush her sandaled feet kicking a small cloud of dust. Try though she might her muscles gave out and she feel to the dirt hands first. Gasping for breath it was long moments before she looked up. She knew she was doomed, why bother trying anymore to escaper her fate. She bowed her head in acceptance, her long black hair forming a veil around her slumped form. She was tired, tired of it all, it was time to give in and accept. At that moment she decided to if she was going to die it was going to be on her feet with blade in hand.
She put one foot under herself and was starting to rise when she saw the figure. He stood across the clearing from her watching her with soulful, knowing eyes. The man was dressed in regal garb of indiscernible origin mostly white with the pattern of a tree at the breast rising towards the shoulder where it met a high neck guard of dark metal. In his right hand he clasped a bladeless sword. He stood straight and proud, his bearing humble but regal all at the same time. She knew then why he was here, he was the opposing force of death. He was life. Motoko Ayoama knew then who she was looking at. Before her stood Tenchi Masaki. Behind her death faded away into the shadows daunted when faced with those resolute eyes.
Motoko's eyes snapped open. Before her the sun was setting into the west setting the sky ablaze with orange and red. The archways of the shrine cast long shadows across the courtyard casting the small roofed building she sat under into gloom. Shaking away the unpleasant images of her meditation she walked out into the waning light of the day needing to feel the warmth of the sun on her face. Motoko stood there in the evening light sorting her thoughts. Rarely had her meditation ever given her such vivid images and never had she experienced anything approaching that level of terror.
"Tenchi," she whispered to the fading light.
Why would I see him in my meditation, Motoko thought trying to sort out the meaning of the strange vision. The fact that he had left a strong impression on her after the earlier events that afternoon was a given, but why there were still disturbing questions about the dream. What was it that had been chasing her in the dream that would inspire such fear in her normal ironclad courage? Why would she feel such relief on finding her normally depressed student? Where did the odd garments he wore come from? Motoko wanted answers and so she set her formidable mind to the task.
She had had nightmares before that left her shaken and awakening in a cold sweat, but in those dreams the threat was always the same, the turtle demon that had haunted her through most of her life. In this dream she had seen no such creature only a faceless threat. Of course there were a countless other number of enemies her school had earned over the long course of it's history. There was a good chance one of those may be the source of the threat, she would have to go through the schools history and see if she could identify anything. It would be as good a start as anything.
But what to do about Tenchi's appearance in the dream? After his display of anger and skill a few hours ago Motoko didn't quite know what to think of him anymore. Before he had been a withdrawn young man who merely joined the club at the insistence of their mutual friends. Now though Motko had to readdress her opinion of him. He not only possessed considerable skills but a powerful temper when pushed too far. He had also accomplished the near impossible, Tenchi Masaki had defeated her in an honest duel. Pride aside it that spoke volumes about his normally detached attitude. There was a mystery there that Motoko would like to see unraveled. The mystery deepened when she remembered how he had been dressed, the garb was unlike anything she had ever seen and yet looked right and fitting on Tenchi. Somehow it brought out a royal bearing that his normal clothes and indifferent slouch hid.
"I will speak to him at the next club practice," Motoko stated firmly to the empty shrine. Hopefully by then Tenchi would have calmed down and the two of them could speak on peaceful terms. Still though she was determined to discover more about his sword style and where it came from. With any luck she could at least get a worthy sparing partner out of all this. Keitaro was improving but in no way a test for her true skills.
"A club," the low voice startled Motoko as it came out of the shadows near the steps, "And here I was hoping you would be the shrine maiden. You aura speaks of more than a simple dabbler in a club. What a waste of your skills."
Motoko's eyes narrowed as she regained her composure and focused on the figure emerging from the shadow of one of the columns lining the temple pathway. As he stepped into the light Motoko almost laughed, the flinty look in his flat eyes however left the laughter caught in her throat. He couldn't have been much more than five feet tall with a bald pate. His clothes were loose and shabby over a wiry frame. His hands were nothing more than bone, tendons and large veins covered by wrinkled stretched skin. His cheeks were sagging but there was a hard look to him that said there was more to this little old man than meets the eye.
"Who are you," Motoko demanded, "What are you doing here."
"My name is of little importance," the old man's voice sounded like a whip cracking across brittle ice, "And though my business is my own I was here to see if this temple was still being well cared for. I saw you meditating and thought you might be the shrine maiden. I did not wish to disturb you and so I waited. However now knowing whatever skill you possess is completely wasted I am done here."
Motoko could only stare dumb founded as the little man turned on his heel and headed towards the stair. The rudeness of the whole encounter daunted her. How dare some little old man mock me, she thought face reddening with anger. She was the heir to one of the most prestigious Kendo schools in all of Japan. Her family had fought and defeated invaders and demons alike. Motoko herself was a national champion who had never lost a sanctioned match. Gripping the scabbard of the Hina blade tightly Motoko marched off after the old man her mood as black as her swords blade.
She caught up to him as he reached the bottom of the stair. Just as she reached out to grab the smaller man by the shoulder a shiver ran down her spine. And a calloused hand clamped over her wrist. She caught a brief look in his flat eyes and saw nothing beyond but anger. Suddenly she felt the impact of his left foot hitting her right ankle as his stance widened and he pulled her into a shoulder through. Reflex and years of training allowed Motoko to roll as she hit the ground. She came to on knee, hand on her sword hilt. The two sudden opponents locked stares, and in that moment Motoko knew she was outmatched. The Ki radiating off this harmless looking old man was as powerful as it was dark. Whoever her was this man had used his skills to kill, countless victims must have fallen in his wake.
Still she could not leave the challenge unmatched. She charged the old man drawing her sword as she took the last few steps towards him. He looked unconcerned as she released a powerful wave of condensed energy towards him. At this range Motoko knew there was no chance for him to dodge out of the way. She expected to here the sound of his crumpled body hitting the pavement several yards away. Instead the old man merely turned side stance into the blast and his left arm whipped up. Motoko thought she saw a glint of steel but he moved so fast there was no way to be sure. Suddenly she felt the impact of something hitting her sword and in her surprise saw the man held a sai in his left hand. A sword breaker, Motoko panicked thinking she was about to lose another sword. The three prongs of the small weapon were intertwined with her blade and when Motoko felt her opponent twist she let go of her sword rather than see a dear gift destroyed.
The next thing Motoko knew she was sitting on the ground her inner thigh throbbing in pain from a swiftly delivered kick. Her sword was laying on the ground several meters away. Now towering above her the old man was studying her with intense interest and the flat steel of his eyes was cracked showing her the sorrow beneath. In shame Motoko looked away, twice in a single day she had been defeated. First by Tenchi and his unexpected skill and know by another she had underestimated. Pride and arrogance had left her blinded to the strength of others.
"Have no fear child," the old said his voice quiet having lost it's previous sharp edge, "I will not harm you. I am sworn to the defense of my people and would never harm them."
He left her then in the darkening shadows of the early night to retrieve her sword. Motoko merely sat on the ground feeling nothing and numb to the world. When he returned inspecting her sword she looked up at him wondering how he could handle the dangerous artifact so easily. It had taken her weeks of careful meditation before she was able to draw the cursed sword unharmed. Who was this strange man?
"This is a very special sword child," the old man said presenting the sword to her hilt first, "Never in my life have I seen a cursed blade restored. There is a history there I would like to know one day. To place such a powerful spirit at rest takes considerable will power and something else, something rare for a warrior to find. It is good to see the Shinmae school still maintains it's compassion."
"You know about Shinmairyuu," Motoko asked in wonder, "Who are you sir?"
"I do dear child, although it has been fifty years since I last witnessed it's power first hand," the old man smiled, "My name is Ryu Tsutargi, and I must apologize for my earlier actions. My day has been unpleasant and I overreacted at hearing you were part of kendo club. I did not wish to witness another waste of talent this day. You are skilled beyond your years girl, I wish you luck in your training. I must depart now, however I would speak with you again. I will be here at the shrine the day after tomorrow if it pleases you. Farewell daughter of Shinmeiryuu."
"Wait," Motoko called but the old man had disappeared into the shadows like a wraith.
Finally, after many long minutes Motoko climbed to her feet and slid her sword into it's scabbard. She continued to stare off in the direction of the old man. Ryu Tstargi, why did that name sound familiar to her. Whoever he was he knew about her school and it's history which meant he had had contact with her clan before. Motoko would have to get into contact with her sister at the school and find out if there was any information on Ryu Tsutargi.
Motoko made her way home to Hintata-sou by train lost in thought the entire way. Her arrival home went unnoticed by her dorm mates who might have taken notice of her unusual far away look. She ate dinner not really paying attention to what it was or to the others at the table. Su's antics failed to provoke a response from her and even a transgression by Keitaro went unpunished when he ended up in a heap on the ground along with Shinobu and Naru. The resident chef had slipped and was about to take a nasty fall when Keitaro had reached out to save her, unfortunately his free hand counter balancing him grabbed onto Naru's blouse and all three ended up in a rather undignified position. Of course things sorted themselves out quickly thanks to Naru's rapid and violent response. Keitaro ended up airborne on trajectory for the moon while Shinobu moaned in disbelief and Naru panted with laden rage. Motoko merely excused herself and left the room.
She spent an hour soaking in the hot spring before working up the courage to call home. She used that time to wrack her brain for any information she could remember about the name Tsutargi. She had heard the name before but the source of it eluded her. Finally she gave up and mustered the nerve to call he dojo and get the information she wanted. It was never easy calling home, no one a there seemed to understand why she didn't feel ready to take over as head master. Of course she wouldn't let on that she had been defeated twice today.
"Hello," came a bright voice on the other end of the line.
"Hello Sister," Motoko began apprehensive, "How are you doing?"
"Motoko," came the surprised voice of her sister.
"Yes, Tsuroko," Motoko smiled in spite of herself, "It's me."
"Motoko, you never call home," her sister continued in teasing disbelief, "This is either an imposter or you called to tell you're getting married."
"Neither Sister," Motoko said her smile widening, "I was calling because I needed to talk to you about something concerning the school."
"So you've finally decided to come home," Tsuroko's voice was still teasing but there was a hint of hope in her tone.
"No Sister, I haven't," Motoko sighed, her sister would never change, "I encountered a man today."
"So you are calling to tell you got married," Tsuroko cut in chuckling.
"I am not," Motoko snapped, :"This is serious Tsuroko. I met a man named Ryu Tsutargi this afternoon. He was very skilled and powerful despite his age. He also knew about Shinmeiryuu. I know I have heard that name before but I just can't place it."
Silence. There was nothing from the other end of the phone for a few long moments before her sister's voice exploded out of the receiver.
"You met Ryu Tsutargi and let him walk away," Tsuroko's voice held and edge to it Motoko had never heard before, anger mixed with fear.
"I did not merely let him walk away sister," Motoko bristled, "He challenged my honor and we fought."
"You challenged Ryu Tsutargi and he walked away," disbelief evident in her sister's voice.
"I wouldn't say that," Motoko said red with chagrin, "He defeated me soundly and then disappeared."
"Listen to me Motoko," her sister said voice lowering to a vert serious tone, "If you see this man again you are to turn and walk the other direction. You have no idea how lucky you are."
"But Sister," Motoko said appaled that Tsuroko would sound so afraid, "Who is this old man."
"Ryu Tsutargi is a weapons master Motoko," Tsuroko answered.
Then it hit her, Motoko remembered where she had heard the name before. Fifty years ago at the end of World War II the last of weapons masters had been hunted down and banished or killed. They deemed too dangerous to be allowed to stay in Japan and pass on their teachings. A style so deadly a single weapons master could kill a hundred armed soldiers. Ryu Tsutargi had been the best, a killer unmatched in all of Japan's history. Of course the man had been banished and subsequently forgotten. Except for those who had helped to track them down and dispose of them one way or the other. The Shinmai school had been one of these. Along with the help of the descendant of an ancient samurai her great grandparents had captured Ryu Tsutargi, the last of the weapons masters to be found. The details of what Ryu Tsutargi had done during the hunt did not make for pleasant reading.
"Motoko, are you listening to me," Tsuroko interrupted Motoko's train of thought.
"Yes sister," Motoko answered, "I'm listening."
"Good," the voice said worried, "No matter what anyone tells you Ryu Tsutargi is a danger to us all. He must be found immediately."
"He told me to meet him at a shrine in two days if I wanted to talk to him again," Motoko said hoping something could be done.
"Don't you dare show up for that meeting Motoko," her sister warned, "I'll contact those who can deal with him."
"But sister," Motoko had to ask, "If he really is a weapons master who can defeat him. I have faced an aura like his. Even the whole school might nto be enough."
"I know Motoko," she answered, "The last time we had help. There is a hermit and shrine care taker in the mountains of Okiyama that can help us if he's still alive."
"The desendant of the Samurai who helped capture him before," Motoko asked.
"Yes, the caretaker of the Masaki shrine," her sister said, "A lord Katsuhito by name."
"Masaki," Motoko mumbled wondering why the named sounder familiar to her. Then it hit her.
"Sister, this Masaki person was the cause of Ryu Tsutargi's capture," Motoko asked suddenly very worried.
"Yes, It was Katsuhito who at last defeated Tsutargi."
"Thank you Tsuroko," Motoko said rapidly, "I have to go now."
"Wait, Motoko wait!"
But Motoko didn't hear, she was already on her feet and out the door Hina blade in hand.
She ran out of Hinata-sou so fast she left poor Shinobu spinning. She ran like the devils of the underworld were at her heels. She could only pray she made it in time. It made sense now, defeated twice in one day by two styles that had been at odds for generations. Tenchi was the heir of that style that had defeated Ryu Tsutargi. Motoko could only hope she could get to him in time to warn him.
She made the train station is record time and could only fume in frustration as it rode through the night towards Tokyo. When she found her stop she began her mad dash again. People who didn't get of her way were merely shoved aside rudely. More than once she heard muttered curses at her back. Motoko didn't care. She had to get to Tenchi's apartment. She knew where he lived from his registration papers at the club. She found his apartment building not far from Tokyo University and bounded up the stairs to his third story room.
She stopped dead at the end of the hall leading towards his room. The door was open and standing in it bathed in the light from within was a girl. Long purple hair streamed down her back nearly to her ankles. Motoko stopped to ponder who this might be and what connection this woman had to all of this. The purple haired woman was dressed a regal form of robes that Motoko found disturbingly familiar yet unable to place. The woman was acting a formal manner but her voice cracked several times as she asked to come in. For some unknown reason Motoko held her breath as Tenchi ushered the noble looking girl into his apartment.
"Now what do I do," Motoko whispered to the empty hallway.
Hey the chapters are getting longer. I consider this a good sign as I'm starting to feel like writing more again. Anyways, I recently thought about combining this story and Dream Forgotten into one and going from there but I started writing on this chapter and an epiphany hit me. I had been ignoring poor Ayeka since Midnight on the Last Perfect Day. Not sure what to do with her yet but I'll come up with something. Thanks to all the people who read and review, you make my day, keep 'em coming. Till next chapter.