It was easy for Mihoshi to get clearance to land. The difficulty was in disguising Ryoko until they got inside the palace.
Once inside, the three stood and waited for Aeka to greet them. Her smile fell as soon as Ryoko removed the cloth she was using to cover her head.
"Yeah, I'm thrilled to see you too, Aeka," she growled.
Aeka's husband raised a brow.
"Rikai-sama, this is the famous scientist, Washu, Mihoshi of the Galaxy Police and... Ryoko the Space Pirate. It's all right. She's... a friend of mine."
Once he had calmed down, they talked about Sasami.
"So what DO you know, Princess?" Washu asked.
"She's been gone for three and a half years. I have had no contact with her for that time. I know nothing."
"That's a long time..." Mihoshi worried.
"Not for Juraijin. They live to be thousands of years old, you know."
"However," Rikai leaned in and whispered. "We have learned today that Sasami's fiancee's body was found in the swamps just outside the castle."
"I'd like to perform the autopsy!" Washu declared.
Mihoshi made a face. "Like to... yuck!"
"You can be my assistant, come on!" She dragged the woman down the hall.
Aeka bit her lip, but said nothing.
"Feh," Ryoko folded her arms and watched Aeka's face. "I wouldn't be surprised if she ran away..."
Rikai barked at her. "You will watch your tongue!"
"Rikai-sama, it's all right." Aeka waved him off and asked to be left alone. "Ryoko. Let's say she did run away. Where do you think she'd go?"
"Where do YOU think?" she sneered.
"I'm asking YOU! Besides. I just saw Tenchi a few days ago. He said he hadn't seen her."
Ryoko turned away. 'What?' she thought. 'He's protecting her... how fuggin romantic.' She walked a few paces away. 'Wow it would really piss Miss Princess off if I told her the truth! But it would hurt Tenchi...' She sighed. "Then I guess we're clueless."
"I guess so..."
Washu scrutinized a blob of greenish tissue magnified 500 times on her monitor. The fiancee's heavily decomposed body lay on a slab to her left. Mihoshi stood with her back to the thing with her nose covered by a mask.
"Are you almost done, Washu-san? This totally stinks!"
"Almost!" she piped. Washu gnawed on her upper lip. "Hm, that's different."
Mihoshi leaned over and blinked at the blob. "What is it?"
"A sample of this guy's skin."
"Bleh!" she grimaced. "That doesn't look like skin!"
"No. It certainly does not, Mihoshi. Look at this." Washu pulled up another slide and placed it side by side with the tissue sample.
"It's the same stuff?" she asked
There was a beat of silence. Mihoshi waited for more information.
"It's not skin. It's vegetable matter. This slide on the left is a common plant form from Jurai. I've tested a bunch of random samples and they're all the same. This body is a fake."
"So, he was a plant guy?"
Washu sighed, but kept her cool. "No. He never WAS a guy. The real guy must be long gone and he left THIS in his place to cover his tracks. He never thought a genius like me would get a hold of the body."
Washu didn't sound as excited about her discovery as she ought to have. Her brows wrinkled in the middle and she continued to examine the body. 'It's good, real good. I wonder...'
"Mihoshi, go report these findings to Aeka. I'm sure she needs to know this."
*~Ten Minutes Later~*
"What?! A fake?!" Rikai clutched his hands into fists. "Then where's the real body?"
"We're going to go after him soon as Washu-san is done with her analysis, Sir."
"Very good. This new information is very disturbing. You are excused, Officer Mihoshi."
She bowed, smiled politely at Aeka and left.
"Rikai-sama, this is most distressing!" Aeka's eyes teared up. "What if some sinister intrigue has befallen her! Oh! If only I had gone after her sooner!"
Rikai wrapped his arms around his wife. "There, there. We cannot undo what has been done. And you musn't blame yourself. We will get to the bottom of this. With the Great Washu working on our side, we shall surely prevail!"
Aeka made a face. "As long as she doesn't blow up the planet while she's at it," she muttered.
"What was that?"
"Hm? Oh, nothing!"
Rikai stroked his chin. "This definitely accounts for the lack of background information we were able to obtain on this Kososhi. How was someone with no past allowed to be engaged to a Second Princess?"
"I don't know," Aeka frowned. "The people in charge of the selection process seem to not be able to remember even picking Kososhi! This is so unusual. I just wish there was something clear about any of this!"
"Shhh," Rikai took Aeka's hands. "We are Jurai. We will find Sasami."
The moon shone down brightly on the royal gardens that night. Ryoko flew out over them slowly and found a suitable perch high atop a statue of King Azusa. She looked out at the grounds and sighed. "Tenchi... It's been so long since I lost your heart. You must be a man by now. You're nearly a stranger." She extended her hand and tilted her head to the open air before her. "I'm Ryoko. How do you do."
"Pretty shitty," a voice from below answered. "And you?"
Ryoko growled. "Washu! Can't you ever leave me alone!"
"I'm sorry." She looked out at the moonlit garden. "I just needed someone to talk to."
Ryoko blinked. 'And she came to ME? She must be desperate.' She thought about Mihoshi and shuddered.
Washu was not surprised when Ryoko materialized at her side.
"What's up?" she asked nonchalantly.
"This fiancee. His name is Kososhi, what does that tell you?"
"That he's sketchy"
"He's also missing."
"I thought he was dead?"
Washu shook her head. "The body was a fake to throw anyone looking for him off the trail."
"So you think he has Sasami?"
"I know he does. Or whoever's in charge does. From what I heard about him, he was a weasel, but not the type to mastermind anything."
'Maybe I should tell her she can give it a rest. Sasami's on Earth... With Tenchi,' Ryoko thought.
Washu sighed. "I don't even know where to begin to look. He could be close by or light-years away. There's no telling." She turned to her daughter. "Get some rest, Ryoko. We're going to need it." With that, Washu turned and left her.
Ryoko blinked then scowled. 'First Tenchi lies about Sasami to Aeka, now there's this missing fiancee. What the hell's going on!?' She walked out on the lawn. 'Damn that Washu! She always acts like she doesn't know anything! But if I know her, and BOY do I! She's got a big old hunch that she's not letting us in on. And I'm just the sucker to go along for the ride!' She took three steps back in the direction of the palace and dematerialized.
*~Meanwhile on Earth~*
Tenchi tossed and turned in his sleep. He muttered as a vivid dream played with his subconscious.
"Where are you...?" he asked to the stillness of his apartment.
Ryo-ohki's ears perked up.
"But I can't..."
"Nyau?" The cabbit had returned to her animal form for bed and was nestled at his feet. She hopped up to Tenchi's pillow and licked his face. He continued to move restlessly.
"Tenchi, you must listen to me," Tsunami's voice echoed in the darkness. "Sasami's not what she seems. You know that."
"Then what's happened to her?" He turned around in his dream, looking for her. A faint, glowing figure appeared in front of him.
"A shadow has taken her appearance and memories, but Sasami is here with me and we are in desperate need of your help."
"Where are you!?"
Tsunami's image flickered. "Oh no! I don't have enough time!" She flew at the startled young man. She grabbed his face and touched her forehead to his. "There. Go. Once you get there, you'll know what to do." Tsunami stared to fade away.
"Wait! I don't understand!"
Ryo-ohki cheered when Tenchi finally woke. He sat bolt upright and started at the wall for a moment before leaping out of bed. Tenchi pulled on his pants and rummaged for a clean shirt quickly. "Ryo-ohki, can you take me to Jurai?"
"We're going to rescue Sasami!"
She blinked at him.
"You know how you sensed that she was weird. She IS. The girl you met the other night ISN'T Sasami..." Tenchi sat back down on his bed and held a shoe absently in his hand. "Oh my god," he thought out loud. "How long has she been not who I thought she was...?"
He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Sasami's in trouble. Let's go!"
"Where have you been, my dear?" Hiretsukani asked as he took hold of Sasami's chin. Her pink eyes stared back.
"What are you talking about?"
"You know what I mean. You've been unconscious for some time now."
Her confused look seemed to convince him and he let her go. Kososhi appeared in her line of sight next and undid the restraints which kept her in place. Sasami thrashed in his grip, trying desperately to free herself, but he was too strong and only seemed to enjoy her attempts. He picked her up effortlessly and put her into a large, ergonomic chair.
Restraints clamped down over her wrists, ankles and forehead. Sasami cried out in alarm.
"Shhh, there's no need for that now, my dear. In just a short while you won't have any need to worry."
"What are you going to do to me!?" she cried.
Kososhi manipulated controls on a large device to her right. Hiretsukani indicated to it. "When Tsunami awakens from her slumber, I will extract her essence using this terminal. Then I will distill her into a tangible form and use both Tsunami's and your hidden Jurai power to bring the Juraian Empire to its knees. The universe will belong to me," he said in a crystal clear and calm tone which terrified her.
"You can't do this!" she screamed.
Hiretsukani sneered and glared at her. "Oh, poor, silly girl. I certainly can. And when this is complete, you will be spent."
"Spent?" she asked, her voice shaking with dread.
Guards rushed into the hangar, armed to the teeth and ready to attack.
"Hold it! You can't park that thing here!!" one of them yelled.
They all backed off as the pilot leapt out and the ship distorted, becoming a short, fur-covered, young woman.
"Stand down!" their Princess shouted. Like water, the guards fell to one knee.
"First Prince, Tenchi Masaki, Jurai welcomes you!"
Everyone gathered in the throne room to hear what the Earthling had to say. Tenchi was greeted with a huge hug from Mihoshi, a hand shake from Washu and a simple wave from Ryoko who stood with her back against the wall and never took her eyes off of him. He was taller and had broader shoulders than she remembered. He was a man.
"Prince Tenchi, I have heard so much about you."
"Prince Rikai it's good to meet you, but please, just call me Tenchi. I'm an Earthling, nothing more."
"Very well," Rikai smiled and bid them all take seats. "Please, tell us what you know, Tenchi."
The room fell silent.
"Well. I know she's been kidnapped."
There was a collective gasp. Aeka held her hands to her chest.
"Who's done this, Tenchi!?" Mihoshi asked.
"I have no idea."
"How do you know this?!" Rikai demanded, hoping it wasn't true.
"Tsunami told me last night in my dream, but now I can't really remember. I just remember her saying I had to come here."
"Tsunami..." Rikai whispered. Aeka nodded to him. She had told him many stories about the Juraian Goddess. He knew that Tenchi was telling the truth.
"Maybe she's on Jurai!" Mihoshi chimed.
"You really need to know when to keep your mouth shut," Washu muttered.
"Oh this is all my fault!" Aeka burst out.
"Aeka-san, you don't have to..."
"No! Rikai-sama. I have to get this off my chest!"
"Aeka," Tenchi stood up. "I know what happened between you and Sasami." She gasped and stared at him. "I wasn't entirely honest with you when you visited. I know why Sasami left Jurai. She told me herself... when she came to Earth three years ago."
"What!?" everyone but Ryoko cried.
"Tenchi! You lied to me!?"
"No! Aeka it's not like that! I've been trying to convince Sasami to talk to you for a while, and when you came I wanted to tell you, but I figured it was her call. If I had only... But... Tsunami said that someone put a doppelganger in her place and Sasami is really..."
Everyone leaned in.
"...Somewhere else." Frustration furrowed Tenchi's brows. He pouted and tried desperately to think of what she had said. "Why can't I remember!?"
"It's all right, Tenchi. It's not your fault." Aeka put her hand on his shoulder. "It's been a tough week. We all need some rest."
Mihoshi, Rikai and Aeka left the
room. Washu approached Tenchi.
"It's good to hear she wasn't lost for all those years," she commented.
"But there was a shadow, a doppelganger in her place! I saw her!"
"But for how long, Tenchi? When did she start behaving strangely?"
"Well," he thought back. "Only since Aeka arrived, about a week ago."
Washu nodded but said nothing. She patted him on the arm, smiled and left the room.
The space pirate pushed herself off the wall and swaggered towards him.
"Hello, Tenchi. It's been a while."
"It has. How have you been?"
She shrugged. Tenchi smiled.
"Thanks for helping."
"Hmph. The way the Washu's been acting, I gotta feeling you guys are gonna need me."
"Huh?" he asked, puzzled.
"Oh you know her. She knows something, but she's not talking. Probly doesn't want to upset that bubble-headed Mihoshi or Her Royal Pain In The Ass."
Tenchi raised his brows in a disapproving look.
"What?" she asked. "Aeka's exactly the same as she ever was! Little Miss Princess."
"She'll be Little Miss Queen one day, I'd watch your tongue around here, Ryoko." He smiled.
Ryoko sighed and turned her back. "You haven't changed either, Tenchi." She looked out the window. "Your eyes," she whispered. "When you talk about Sasami. I remember that look."
Tenchi said nothing.
"Don't worry your pretty little head. We'll get her back," she said and dematerialized through the wall.
The royal garden was just the place to unwind. Tenchi wandered around aimlessly, taking in the scents of exotic flowers and the warmth of the alien sun. A wide path lead through the heart of the garden and he followed this and contemplated the message Tsunami had given him.
~ "Once you get there, you'll know what to do" ~
"Well, I'm here," he said to no one. "What do I do?"
Just ahead, the path ended in a cull de sac. In the center of this was a massive tree.
"Wow," Tenchi marveled. "It looks just like the one back in Okayama."
He approached it and looked up into its branches. The sun filtered through the leaves and made him feel safe and comforted. Tenchi reached out and touched it.
The bark seemed to twist and contort
before his eyes. It only took a moment for him to realize that he was having
It grew dark. Slowly, tiny lights popped upped. To his left, Tenchi saw Planet Jurai. As if he were flying through space, Tenchi saw a small satellite revolving in Jurai's outer orbit. It was an asteroid. His vision flew through a crater into a black space. In the center of this was a solitary light that fell on a figure in a chair. She was thrashing her shoulders and knees, trying futily to get out of it. Her light blue hair was mussed and tears stained her cheeks. She cried out for help.
*~On Board Ryo-Ohki~*
Tenchi stood with his hands on his hips and looked out at the stars. They were cruising slowly around Jurai, their eyes open wide looking for the asteroid he had told them about. Washu typed on her floating keyboard.
"Well?" Ryoko asked anxiously. "Do you see it?"
"I don't know..." he replied. His eyes were narrowed. "Damn it! It could be anywhere!"
"Ryoko." Washu looked up from her work. "It has come to my attention that the alignment of stars Tenchi saw in his vision correlate with the crab nebula's outer contingent."
Everyone turned and looked at her strangely.
"So... I suggest we go there..."
"Ryo-ohki! Do what she says!" Ryoko cried in response. The screen which had been showing them the outside changed suddenly. Rikai's face frowned down on them.
"Aeka-sama! This is far too dangerous! Come back here this instant! I shall send the Jurai forces out to do battle with the kidnapper!"
"No, Rikai-sama! We cannot do that. Besides, my friends and I are sufficiently strong enough to take on any foe. If Tenchi-sama could defeat Kagato, he can take on this coward!"
Washu pursed her lips. Ryoko saw this and stood in back of her mother.
"All right, Aeka. I trust your judgment. Just... be careful my love." His transmission ended when he saw his princess nod.
Mihoshi grabbed Aeka by the shoulders. "Awwww! How SWEET!!"
Washu looked over to Tenchi. "Well. Let's get going shall we?"
"Mom..." Ryoko hovered around in front of her. "When do you plan on telling us what's REALLY going on?"
"Hm?" she asked innocently. "Really going on? Sasami's been kidnapped."
"We KNOW that.... Tell us what we don't know!"
Everyone was silent, waiting for the scientist to spill the beans.
"Many hundreds of years ago, a Jurai nobleman in line to be betrothed to Princess Sasami disobeyed Jurai high law. He murdered a fellow contender. He was banished to the furthest reaches and orders were given to kill him on sight. It was rumored that he was also a great scientist, able to do miraculous things with botany."
Mihoshi jumped up. "Which explains the plant guy!"
"Yes," Washu nodded. "This same man who made the phony fiancee's body is responsible for Sasami's kidnapping, I'm now sure of it." She looked back to her screen and stared at the crab nebula.
"Washu-chan," Tenchi stepped forward. "Who is he?"
"His name is Hiretsukani."
"Hiretsukani-sama, a small ship approaches."
"Say what?" He looked up from his adjustments. "Whoever it is, they will be too late."
Sasami struggled under the restraints. "Tenchi! Save me!!"
"Do not fret, Princess. It will be over soon." He sneered and began the extraction process.
Even before he started his machine up, Sasami could feel that something was changing. Panicked, she tried to talk to the goddess inside her, but as usual, there was no answer. 'Come on, just stay inside for a little while longer! Tenchi will come and save us!' she thought.
Sasami clenched her teeth and tried not to scream as half of her soul began to be extracted from her body.
Ryo-ohki screamed as she landed on the asteroid. The party was transported inside a well-hidden airlock. They ran down the rough-hewn corridors. Ahead, there were two paths.
"Ah, crap! Ya just know one of these is fulla booby traps!" Ryoko complained.
"We'll have to split up..." Tenchi suggested. To his surprise, Aeka transformed into her fighting uniform and nodded.
"Mihoshi, Ryo-ohki and I will go left. The rest of you go right."
Tenchi nodded, glad to see that there was no longer any argument over who got to go with him. They raced towards their goal.
Only a few hundred feet in to the
left tunnel, Aeka, Mihoshi and Ryo-ohki hit a massive spider web. The women
stuck to it, but the cabbit was able to transform into a faceted stone and
fall through the web. She landed on the other side and changed back into her
girl form. She reached forward to try to help.
"No! Ryo-ohki you'll just get stuck again!" Mihoshi warned.
"'Yeka! 'M'oshi!" she whined.
"Think of Sasami, Ryo-ohki! Go help her. We'll find a way out or you'll save us on the way back. Just go, quickly!" Aeka could feel an impending sense of dread, not for herself, but for her only sister.
The cabbit nodded and flew down the passageway.
The tunnel began to widen. Another joined it at a set of double doors. Ryoko pushed the others back and put her hands together, palms facing out. She had to hit them with her energy attack four times before they gave.
Inside, there was an ante chamber of sorts which bent around a corner to a room they couldn't see. Kososhi stood in front of them with a sickly, evil grin on his face.
Tenchi didn't have to ask him where Sasami was, he could hear her screams just around the corner. He tried to run past him, but Kososhi's arm mutated into a thick, dark green vine and lashed out a Tenchi. He was hit and thrown up against a wall. Ryoko snarled and looked over her shoulder. Washu was gone. "Chicken." She generated her sword. "Ok, Veggieman. I'm in the mood for Itame. I wonder how good you'd taste sautéed."
Tenchi drew his sword from his jacket pocket and it blazed to life easily for having gone unused for years. "I hope I still remember how to do this!" he shouted.
"It's like riding a bicycle." Ryoko charged Kososhi. "You never forget!"
Sweat dripped down Sasami's face. Her eyes fluttered. The strain was too much. She lost consciousness and her will to fight the machine. Hiretsukani paid no attention to the noise in the hallway. He reached into the device he had created and withdrew a small, blue jewel.
"Thank you, my dear. I must say that this will be much better than having to be married."
"Men are all the same."
He turned slowly to face the woman.
"Love 'em and leave 'em. You're no different than your father."
"And who might you be that you knew my father?" he asked, amused and feeling invincible.
"I'm Washu." She folded her arms and frowned when this didn't get a reaction. "I see. He never told you. Tell me, why did you change your name, Tetsukani?"
His blond brows came together.
Ryoko was thrown against the wall as well. Kososhi was much stronger than he appeared. His arms and legs all burst open into the same vine-like structure and snapped out at them.
They nodded to each other and leapt up into the air. Ryoko leapt at his head, but phased out just before she would have struck him. Sufficiently distracted, Tenchi was able to sever his right arm. Ryoko phased back in and planted her weapon in Kososhi's back. When he wasn't showing any signs of dying, she yanked the sword up, splitting his spine and head in half. A thick, yellowish green substance oozed from the wounds and he slumped forward, crashing to the ground.
"Gross!" Ryoko wiped her hands on her legs. She chased after Tenchi who was already running into the chamber.
Ryo-ohki flew around the curving corridor, growing more and more nervous as the minutes went by. At last she felt energy up ahead and put on a greater burst of speed. To her dismay and confusion, just ahead was a spider web with two women stuck in it.
"Nyau!" she shouted.
"Oh no, the tunnel is a loop! We have to go back the other way and find Tenchi and the others!" Aeka struggled in the web. This time, Ryo-ohki took Aeka's hands and pulled. The web stretched and just before the cabbit lost her grip, Aeka was pulled free. The two of them then freed Mihoshi and ran in the direction the others had gone.
Tenchi glanced quickly at the scene. Up and to his right, Washu in her adult form was standing face to face with a tall Juraijin. To his left, Sasami lay unconscious, strapped to a rather sinister-looking chair. He didn't have to think twice about what to do first. Ryoko strode in behind him. Tenchi ran to Sasami, ripped the restraints off and picked her up.
Ryoko winced and leveled her gaze at the bad buy.
"You need not concern yourself with her," Hiretsukani soothed. "I have all her Jurai power, the power of Tsunami." He touched the jewel he now wore around his neck. "She's just a shell, if she's alive at all."
Tenchi snarled. "Why you!.."
"No!" Ryoko shouted. "Let me." She formed a ball of energy in her hand. "Step aside, Washu."
She looked into her daughter's eyes, then over to Hiretsukani, sadly. She stepped back.
Ryoko let the ball fly, testing his power. He batted it away with the wave of a hand.
"You got some way of showing your would-be fiancee a good time!"
"I never wanted marriage. I wanted this." He fondled the jewel again.
Tenchi held Sasami in his lap. He looked to Hiretsukani and Ryoko, unable to let her go and help in the fight.
Ryoko charged him. In a blinding
flash she was repelled. She rolled head over heels and landed in a heap by
the entry way just as Aeka, Mihoshi and Ryo-ohki entered.
"You guys," Ryoko hissed as she stood up, feigning injury. "Get over by Tenchi and stay there." She winked at them.
They nodded and did as they were told. Sasami groaned and stirred. Aeka held her sister's hand. "Sasami!"
Tenchi looked worried. There was something wrong. The marks on her forehead were a different shape. The usual triangular, green marks were now more like tear drops. He stroked her hair. He and Aeka made eye contact and he bit his lip.
Ryoko staggered toward Hiretsukani.
"Fool! Do you really think you can stop me now?"
"I can sure as hell try. You mess with my friends, you mess with me."
He grinned and reached down to touch the power again. The look of shock on his face made Ryoko laugh out loud.
"Lookin' fer this?" She grinned and tossed the jewel into the air and caught it again.
Hiretsukani rushed forward. Ryoko still grinned as she pushed the power-crystal into her own forehead. Instantly, she began to transform. 'Oh no,' she thought. 'The power... it's too much!' Her limbs became longer and more muscular. Her teeth became huge fangs and her hands and feet grew tremendous talons. She lashed out and struck Hiretsukani several times. He tried to escape, but Ryoko was unstoppable. Washu watched, horrified, unable to do anything.
The others were terrified for their friend and screamed out her name. She swung around and menaced them.
Washu jogged over to the villain and pulled him into her lap. "Ryoko, no!" she called out. "Those are your friends!"
She couldn't hear her. Sasami's eyes opened. Ryoko ran across the room taking huge leaps toward her next targets. Sasami stood up. Tenchi watched as if in a dream. Aeka stepped forward, planted her feet and held her arms out. A huge bubble of protection formed around them just as Sasami stepped outside its reach. Tenchi jumped up and slammed into the wall of it, trying to stop her. They all called her name.
The young woman held her right hand out. Energy spiraled around it and whipped across the room to Ryoko. It encircled her head. The demon screamed and fell to her knees. Sasami stepped forward. Slowly, the blue jewel was extracted from her head and floated toward its mistress. Ryoko returned to normal and slumped to the ground with exhaustion. When Sasami reached out and clutched the jewel, a bright flash blinded everyone in the room.
Tenchi squinted. Aeka let her sphere of protection fade and he walked towards her. She was crouching down to assist Ryoko who groaned and rubbed her face with her hands.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't think..." she stopped as she looked at the strange woman. Sasami was dressed in a traditional Juraian costume.
"Sasami?" Tenchi asked.
She turned around. "Not as such..."
Aeka gasped. "Tsunami!"
She smiled. "Also, not quite right. The time Tsunami spoke of all those years ago has come. We are one."
Tenchi remembered. By the lake
that weekend they spent repairing the hotel they had trashed, the Goddess
explained that Sasami had fallen to her death, but by merging with Tsunami,
her life was spared.
"So you're... Tsu.. sami?" Mihoshi suggested.
Tenchi's heart sank. He fell silent and stared at the woman.
"I suppose that's an appropriate title for now."
Washu held Hiretsukani's face in her hands. Her hair obscured her face from her friends. She let a single tear fall on his cheek.
"Why did you abandon me...?" he asked at a whisper.
"I didn't. Your father took you away from me. I'm not a Juraijin. Your future would have been ruined if the court knew..." She remembered the last time she saw him, reaching his tiny hands out for her, oblivious of what has happening, of his mother's tears. She stroked his face. "Tetsukani..."
The others stood close together and watched, bewildered. Wearing the same pleasant smile, Tsusami walked toward Washu. Again, she crouched down.
Washu looked up. "Can you do anything... to help him?"
"HELP HIM?!" Tenchi cried. "He tried to kill Sasami!"
Tsusami ignored him. She put her hand on the dying man's chest. "Tell me, Tetsukani. Do you want to live?"
"Mother..." he whispered as he looked up into Washu's eyes.
Tsusami nodded and did what she could. The man's body disappeared. The others all tried to see what was going on. Washu stood, picking up a tiny baby, wrapped in Hiretsukani's shirt.
"Thank you, Sister," Washu whispered.
Tsusami turned back to them. "Ryoko.
I would very much like to go back to Jurai. Will you take us?"
She shuffled her feet. "Don't ask me. Ask the ship."
The cabbit didn't need to be asked, she transformed into her animal form and jumped onto Tsusami's head.
"Thank you, Ryo-ohki!" she smiled.
Aeka smiled sadly. 'I SUPPOSE things are all right. I don't know HOW I'm going to explain this to Mother and Father...' she thought.
All hopes for a quiet arrival were dashed as well-meaning Rikai assembled a huge welcome wagon. The heroes walked down a red carpet, cheered on by thousands of Juraijin. Tsusami waved to the public. No one could tell the difference. Mihoshi blew kisses, Aeka waved regally just as Tsusami did. Tenchi waved sheepishly and Ryoko and Washu simply followed them, Washu carrying the baby and Ryoko with her arms folded.
"So, Mom. Why the hell did you save this jerk's life anyway?" she wondered as she saw Washu smiling a little to much at the baby.
"Ryoko, is that any way to talk about your brother?"
"Ugh, this is too weird."
Washu, still in her adult form, giggled.
Tenchi walked just behind Tsusami and had a million questions in mind. He asked none of them.
Per Tsusami's request, they were
all shown directly to the atrium. The huge room in the center of Jurai's royal
palace which housed the most powerful trees in the galaxy. At the very bottom
of this room was an ashen tree with withered leaves and flaking bark.
"Oh, poor tree. It's dead," Mihoshi commented.
"Not for long..." Tsusami remarked. She stepped forward. Rikai held Aeka's hands. No one had any idea what was about to happen; no one but Tenchi. He hoped against hope that this was just what he thought it was.
Tsusami reached her arms up toward the tree. "For many hundreds of years now Tsunami has lived in a symbiotic relationship with Sasami. This has served its purpose. Now that we have healed from the attack that happened all those years ago, the attack that killed Sasami and wounded Tsunami, we can part."
Starting with the hands, a mirror image of the woman began to form. When it had been completed all the way down the feet, each woman began to change. The one facing the tree took on Tsunami's appearance, and the one facing the others took on Sasami's. At last, they opened their eyes.
She smiled. "Sasami."
"Then, I didn't die?"
"No. We didn't. Thank you for helping me." Tsunami walked past her towards the tree. She walked into the trunk and the tree began to glow. Her power infused it again with life. The entire room seemed to glow and sing in welcome.
Sasami turned to face her friends. Tears rolled down her face. "Thanks you guys!!"
"Sasami..." Aeka stepped forward. "I'm sorry... for what I did."
"Oh, Aeka!" she wailed and ran past her. She hugged Tenchi, hard.
"Again..." Aeka grumbled, but softened as she saw the two embrace.
"Sasami! It's really you!?"
Ryoko turned and walked away. Her mother stopped her. "Aw, come on Ryoko. There's probably gonna be a party tonight. Why not stick around. Just think 'free food."
"Yeah Ryoko, don't go!" Mihoshi cried. "We'll have some sake and get loaded just like old times!"
Aeka agreed. "Yes, please stay, Ryoko. I must admit, the party just won't be the same without you."
She relaxed her shoulders. "Ah, what the hell..."
The next day, preparations were being made to send Tenchi back to Earth. What Sasami's parents didn't know was that she had been on Earth these last few years and planned to return. They were waiting till the last minute to tell them. Mihoshi ruined this, unfortunately, and the entire royal house came storming out onto the tarmac.
"What is the meaning of this!?" bellowed King Azusa. He glowered down on Tenchi who held his hand behind his head and laughed nervously. "Now YOU'RE abducting my daughter!?"
"Father, I WANT to go. When I ran away, I ran to Earth. I've been there for three years and I want to go back... to be with Tenchi."
Funao and her sister Misaki looked to each other and smiled.
"I cannot let you go. You have responsibilities, Sasami!"
Funao, Tenchi's great grandmother, cleared her throat. "Yes she does. I have an idea. If we made Planet Earth a protectorate of Jurai, Sasami could become Ambassador to Earth."
"Well I..." Azusa frowned.
"That sounds just fine to me!" Sasami and Aeka's mother, Misaki agreed.
"Really!?" She clapped her hands together.
"In title only, of course." Azusa looked to his wives. "We have nothing to gain from the Earth."
"Of course!" they chimed.
"Very well. First Prince Tenchi, Second Princess Sasami. I hearby annex Planet Earth. You will oversee its... uh... well-being. Or something. I give up." He opened his arms to his daughter. "Be happy, Sasami."
She hugged her father. "Thank you!"
Washu, Aeka, Rikai, Mihoshi, Ryo-ohki
and the royals waved good-bye as Tenchi and Sasami boarded their ship.
"Good-bye!" the called.
"Don't be strangers!" Tenchi hugged Sasami around the waist and waved.
"Yeah, drop by any time!" She whispered to Tenchi, "Boy, what are we asking for?"
They laughed, thinking of what adventures their friends would bring with them as the door closed and the ship broke through the atmosphere.