"Tenchi Muyô!" and all characters herein are the property of Pioneer and AIC, save those created by the author.  This is a fanfic, is not for profit, and does not express the views of Pioneer or AIC.

-Carnival-

By William Nichols

            The crisp autumn breeze rustled through the trees around the Masaki Shrine.  The vibrant red and yellow leaves swirled around like an artist's pallet while the sea of people enjoyed the annual fall carnival.  They wandered about the different stalls, seeing the sights, buying ceremonial masks, and other trinkets.  But one person at this festival was not interested in such trivialities.  He had seen it all countless time before.   Instead this person was in search of something, no, someone else that star filled night.

Tenchi looked around the sea of endless faces looking for one in particular.  As he milled around he caught up with rest of his family.  Mihoshi was running a dunking booth and his father was her unfortunate victim in the tank.  Ayeka was selling masks and enjoying herself.  Sasami and Ryo-Ohki were running a food booth to which the line wrapped around the corner.  Tenchi stopped for a second to breathe in the savory smells of her cooking before he continued on.  Washu was running "Little Washu's House of a Thousand Screams".  The mere thought of what lay inside sent a shiver down Tenchi's spine. 

Everyone was accounted for, save Ryoko.  A brown cloth was draped over the front of her empty little booth and there was no sign of the former pirate anywhere.  Where could she be? Tenchi thought.  It's not like her to miss a good time. 

While he milled about the crowd, Tenchi thought back to earlier in the day, when everyone was preparing for the nights festivities.  He distinctly remembered that Ryoko had not been her usual self.  In fact, she had not been her usual self for the past several days.  Oh well, he mused as his search proved futile again.   

            Slightly downhearted, Tenchi went back to searching through the mass of people.   Finally he came across his grandfather.  Maybe he's seen her…  Dressed in his priestly finery, Katsuhito had just finished the annual purification rite and had taken it upon himself to enjoy the rest of the evening.  As stealthily Tenchi walked approached him, Katsuhito handed his grandson a piece of the pastry that he was eating.

            Tenchi nodded in thanks.  "Grandpa," he began between bites, "have you seen Ryoko tonight?" 

Katsuhito licked the last bit of icing from his fingers and stared up at the golden harvest moon.  "The last I saw of her she heading towards the shrine cave," he replied studying the features of the moon like it was the face of an old friend.  "That was about two hours ago or so and I haven't seen her since."

            "I was just getting worried about her," continued Tenchi with a sigh.  "She acted like something was bothering her earlier."  Tenchi gazed up at the moon and inhaled deeply.  "I worry about her at times."

            "Why worry about that demon?" came the condescending voice of Ayeka from behind them.  Tenchi could tell from the rosy glow of her cheeks that she was slightly inebriated.  "Come on Lord Tenchi, walk with me."  She began to pull at his arm before he stopped her.

            "You know that I don't like you two talking that way about each other," said Tenchi trying to evade her blatant come on.  "Ryoko is my friend too and I am worried about her."

            "Shouldn't you be running your booth?" inquired Katsuhito.

            "I would be but I ran out of masks twenty minutes ago," she explained as she knocked back what was left of her cup of plum wine.  "So I decided to enjoy the rest of the night with you Lord Tenchi.  A princess deserves a holiday with her future husband, does she not?"  In her tipsy state Ayeka had not noticed that Tenchi had slipped away into the crowd.  "Tenchi?  Tenchi?" she asked into the starry night.  With a frown she looked at Katsuhito who just shrugged. 

            "What does he see in that demon when there's a princess standing in front of him?" asked Ayeka.  She was beginning to feel the effects of the plum wine and stumbled back towards Katsuhito.

            "Tenchi does not see a demon," he replied steadying Ayeka.  "He sees more than any of us."  With that he faded into the crowd.  Ayeka just stood there thinking about Katsuhito's cryptic response.  The one thing she knew for certain was that she would find Tenchi again.  She took a step forward and nearly fell on her face.

            "I'll find him in a bit," she said to no one in particular as she tried to regain her balance.

___

            Ryoko was sitting on the stone outside her cave when Tenchi found her.  He had tried to approach as quietly as he could, and it looked like she had not heard him.  Tenchi peeked out from behind an old oak tree and noticed that Ryoko was not moving.  He saw the bottle of sake sitting at the foot of the rock and gulped.

            "Not her too," he whispered remembering the last time Ryoko was drinking at a carnival.  His head had hurt for a week after he had fallen off that rock.  Gathering up all his courage Tenchi decided that if he had come this far, he might as well go on.  He quietly walked and sat down beside her.  Ryoko jumped a little when he sat down but she quickly smiled at him.

            "Hello Tenchi," she said with a slight blush.  Tenchi thought that she was drunk at first but he noticed that the cork was still in the bottle.  "How's the carnival?"

            "Same as last year," he answered looking up at the stars.  "What brought you out here tonight?  You should be back at the shrine having fun with everyone else."

            "I just wasn't into partying tonight," Ryoko confessed.  "I just needed to think."

            "Penny for your thoughts," offered Tenchi.

            "What?" asked a very confused Ryoko.

            "Its just an old saying," Tenchi said rubbing the back of his head.  "I just was curious about what you were thinking about."

            "If I told you," she said softly, "you might not like me very much anymore."

            "What ever do you mean by that?" asked Tenchi.  Now it was his turn to be confused.  He hated to see anyone hurting, especially a friend like Ryoko.   

            "I mean I was thinking about things that happened a long time ago."  Tears were beginning to trickle from the corners of her eyes.  "I just need to be alone."  With that Ryoko began to float away from Tenchi, but she only made it a few feet. 

            "Don't go," pleaded Tenchi as he held onto the tail of her blue and yellow striped dress.

            "Its not nice to grab a ladies tail," said Ryoko sarcastically.

            "It's also not nice run out on a friend who cares about you either," replied Tenchi.  Ryoko smiled at him and floated back down to the rock.

            "I will tell you what I was thinking about, if you make me two promises," she said seriously.  Tenchi nodded for her to go on.  "First, please do not repeat any of this.  Second, don't think any less of me."

            "Why would I think less of you?" asked Tenchi. 

            "Because I am not proud of what I have done."  Tenchi nodded and Ryoko threw her head back and stared at the moon.

___

            "What is that she-demon up to?" asked Ayeka as she peered around an old oak tree.  Obviously this depressed demeanor Ryoko was wearing was just another ploy to capture her Tenchi.  Surely Ryoko would try something naughty after she suckered Tenchi into believing she was depressed.  And that is when Ayeka would pounce on her.  "I better keep my eye on that demon." Tenchi is a kind and caring soul, but he is too naive for his own good, she thought, keeping a watching eye on Ryoko.

___

            After sighing deeply, Ryoko looked up to the heavens for strength. This was going to be the most difficult thing that she had ever done before. "It all started a very long time ago…"

___

            In the cold darkness a child sits crying.  She has just been taken from her mother and is afraid to be by herself.  Her sobs ease a little when she hears footsteps coming down the hall.  She looks up when the door hisses open.  At first she feels happiness in hope that it was her mother coming to save her.   Hope that her mother coming to wake her from this terrible nightmare.  But the person who steps through the door was someone she once thought was friend, but now she saw him as the monster of her nightmare.  All she wanted was for her mother to wake her up from this bad dream.

            "I told you to stop that sniveling," he said in a voice one would use to speak to an animal. The little girl wiped her eyes and looked up at the monster.

            "I want my mommy!" she exclaimed as she had a hundred times before.

            "Listen," began the monster, "Your mother is gone.  She does not want you any more.  That's why you're with me now.  I'll take care of you, I promise."

            "Liar! I want my mommy!"  The man walked over and sat down next to her.

            "Listen Ryoko," he began, trying to calm her while hiding the contempt in his voice.  "You have nothing to be afraid of here.  I love you like you are my own daughter.  I will not hurt you."  Ryoko wiped her nose and looked up at the evil grin on Kagato's face.

            "Do you mean it?" she asked.

            "Of course I do," he lied, offering her a hug.  Ryoko looked up at Kagato again and smiled at him.  In a flash his demeanor changed.  The sight of the little child's affection repulsed him; one who hated all affection.  He turned his head from her and began to walk out of the room.

            "Don't leave me!" screamed Ryoko in tears.  "I'm afraid to be all alone!"  She gabbed onto his leg and buried her face into the fabric of his pants leg.  "Please," she begged.  The next thing she felt was Kagato slapping her down.  Through tear filled eyes she looked up at him as he looked down upon her in disgust.

            "Soon you will have more to be afraid of than being alone," Kagato said coldly.  "Go to sleep.  Or I will give you something to be afraid of right now."  Ryoko slowly crawled over to the bed and buried her tiny face into the pillow.  Kagato watched her cry for a minute before he turned and left.

            "What a useless piece of excrement," he commented to himself.  "Too emotional to be of much good, but she will do."  He chuckled slightly to himself as he walked down the corridor to his inner sanctum.  With a wave of his hand a portal opened in the floor and his astral body slipped into the reverse world of the Souja.  He walked down the marbled path and up the stairs.  He ran his hand along one of the hooded cobras guarding his prisoner.  The icy cold of the rock delighted him. 

            "I will unlock all of your secrets, Professor," he said to the figure encased in crystal.  "And I will discover the power of the gems you gave your precious brat."  As he finished his astral body faded back into the real world.  If someone had been watching back in the reverse dimension they would have noticed a tear slide down the cheek of the prisoner in the crystal.   

___

            "The next day Kagato kept his promise to me.  He gave me something new to be afraid of."           

"Run little Ryoko, run!" boomed Kagato.  Ryoko was running through what was literally hell on earth. 

Earlier that day Kagato had left her in a room with multi-faceted walls.  After a few minutes the walls began to glow and Ryoko found herself transported to a green meadow.  The sun was shining and the breeze was cool.  A spotted butterfly lighted on a flower near by.  Just as Ryoko went to look at the butterfly, her ordeal began.

            In the distance a mournful howl echoed across the meadow.  Alarmed Ryoko backed away from the butterfly as it fluttered off.  At the edge of the nearby woods a dark figure appeared.  It stood at least eight feet tall and was covered in a dense gray fur.  Its features were a strange mix of wolf and human.  It sniffed the air and looked in the direction of the terrified Ryoko.   With a bounding leap the creature began to run towards her.

            "You must either fight or die," explained Kagato.  His voice echoed as the werebeast raced forward.  Its fearsome howls grew louder as its paws thumped across the ground.

            "If you will not fight, then run," ordered Kagato.  The frightened Ryoko was more than happy to comply.  Her little feet carried her as fast as they possibly could, but it was not fast enough.  The werebeast leapt across the remaining gap and tackled Ryoko.  She screamed as the stench of its hot breath washed over her little face.  The creature turned her over and prepared to deliver the killing blow.

            "Fight or die," ordered Kagato again.  Terrified and crying for her life Ryoko screamed.  Subconsciously she unleashed the hidden power held within her.  The werebeast looked down at the ball of orange energy forming between it and its prey.  In an instant the energy ball was unleashed upon the beast.  A beam of raw energy burned through its chest and knocked it off Ryoko.  Still terrified, Ryoko sat up and looked at the dying creature.  Its face looked so sad as it whimpered.  She looked at the gaping wound in its chest and wondered if she had done that.

            "Very good little Ryoko," said Kagato.  "That is just the beginning of your powers, and of your first lesson."  Another howl echoed across the meadow.  Ryoko looked back towards the forest edge to see at least a dozen glowing yellow eyes coming from the depths.  Soon the outline of the werebeast's frightening form came into the light.  Ryoko stepped back and continued to cry.

            "They will be coming after you," said Kagato nonchalantly.  "You killed a member of the pack, and now they will hunt you down."

            "I didn't mean to," cried the terrified child.

            "It doesn't matter.  All they know is that you did, and now they want you.  So you can either fight, run or die."  Ryoko backpedaled as the pack of creature began to charge across the field.  After nearly stumbling she turned and ran.

            She ran as fast as she could.  The cold laugh of Kagato overlapped the growls of the beasts and their own mournful howls. Ryoko did not dare to look back.  She knew what she would see if she did.  The thump of the werebeast's paws grew louder and louder as they closed the ground between them and her.

            "Leave me alone!" she cried.  A tingling sensation started at her fingertips and soon it turned into a burning feeling.  Terrified Ryoko stopped and looked at her hands.  When she did one of the creatures jumped towards her. 

            Once again an orange flash jumped from her hands.  It caught the beast in the leg, tearing the limb from its body.  Its momentum sent it tumbling towards Ryoko, who jumped out of the way just in time.  The snarling creature tried to limp towards her before she took off running again.  Two of the other werebeasts stopped pursuing her to dine on their fallen brethren.  Ryoko saw this and nearly threw up.

            "That is what they will do to you if they catch you," laughed Kagato  "Run faster little one!"  The remaining three creatures pursued the fleeing Ryoko.  She could hear the guttural growls of the other two as they ripped the flesh from the fallen creature.  Soon its pathetic whimpers died as it did.  The thumps of the other three grew louder and louder as they closed in on Ryoko.

            The thick underbrush of the forest slowed Ryoko down as she trudged through it.  When the creatures reached the forest they split up and now only one followed her directly.  The other two were surely laying in wait for her.  She looked behind her and saw the beast closing.  Ryoko was now out of breath and her legs were hurting her.

            "Ouch," she whimpered as a briar scratched her leg.  The howl of the beast behind her startled her causing her loose her footing.  Ryoko screamed as she slid down the small ditch in front of her.  Briars and thorns scratched her arms and legs along with tearing the hem of her dress.  Battered and bruised she opened her eyes to see the werebeast standing on the bank above her.  Its massive frame blocked the light and cast a dark shadow across her tiny form.  It snarled in delight as its meal whimpered below it.  The stench of the monstrosities breath made Ryoko sick to her stomach as the creature growled.  In the distance the howls of its companions could be heard.  They were coming too. Ryoko tried to crawl away as the beast jumped at her.

            This time she consciously formed the ball of energy in front of her.  She didn't know how she could do this; she just knew that she could.  As she screamed the energy bolt shot through the flying beast.  It landed on top of Ryoko, dead.  Screaming for her life she pulled herself out from under the beast.  Its blood was all over her and the smell of burnt flesh made her sick again.  As she wiped her mouth she heard the howls of the other two.  They were closer than before, and they sounded angry.

            "You are learning," boomed Kagato.  "Too bad they're still two out there, and with all that blood on you they will have an easy time tracking you."  Ryoko sat and cried for a second as Kagato's voice faded away.  All she wanted was her mother back.  There were these scary monsters chasing her, and she was doing things she didn't know that she could do.  It was just about too much for her to handle.  Ryoko was brought out of her crying by the howl of one of the creatures.  She turned around and saw it standing behind her.  It all but grinned at it prey before resumed the chase.

            Ryoko pushed her way through the thick brush as she raced deeper into the forest.  Her cries of fear had dried up and now all she cared about was staying alive.  The two monsters had joined back up and were getting closer to her.  The ground was moving faster and faster beneath her feet.  Soon she realized that her feet were not touching the ground.  She was flying to her amazement.  She stopped and looked at the ground several feet below her.          But her amazement soon returned to fear as the two creatures drew closer.  She turned her back to them and flew as fast as she could.  She thought she was going to escape when one of the other two creatures knocked her from the sky.

            Ryoko landed in a pile of leaves as the creature circled back around.  Its maw was stained deep red from the feast it enjoyed off the first creature.  His companion was at the top of the ridge looking down at her.  The other two had come to a stop and were inching closer.  She was surrounded. 

            "It seems that they have you," commented Kagato.  "It should be a good fight." 

            At every step there was a werebeast.  They were toying with her, playing with their food so to speak.  Simultaneously they jumped at her.  Ryoko screamed and a sphere of energy began to encompass her.  It irradiated out and in a flash enveloped the leaping beasts.  Two of them fell dead, burned alive.  The other two were knocked down.  Ryoko stood there in amazement as the first creature began to stir.

            "Very good," complimented Kagato.  "Now channel your energy, your rage, your fear."  Almost instinctively Ryoko formed a small energy blade.  As one of the remaining creatures lunged for her she lashed out at it.  What she did seemed distant to her, like someone else was controlling her.  The blade sliced through the beast spilling its viscera.  Ryoko stepped back and was appalled at what she had just done.  The dying beast just whimpered pitifully.  Unencumbered by its comrades death the last beast ran towards Ryoko.  Once again she acted with out thinking and killed the beast.  Its lifeless form fell to the ground as its head bounced a few feet away.  The blade dissipated and Ryoko just stood there, looking at what she had done.

            "Very well done for a first lesson," said Kagato as the forest faded away and the dull gray facets of the room returned.

            "What have you done to me?" cried Ryoko.  The monsters may have been gone but she was still cut and bruised.  Not to mention terrified. 

            "What have I done?" asked Kagato feigning ignorance.  "I have done nothing to you.  You have always been a monster, my Little Ryoko.  All I did was unleash it."

___

            "That was the first time someone called me a monster," confessed Ryoko.  The moon was now high and illuminated her and Tenchi.  "Kagato made me realize my powers by forcing me through ordeals.  That was just the first.  Day after day they grew harder, and I learned the true extent of my powers.  My only companion during this time was Ryo-Ohki, who I found caged up on the Souja."

            "I understand why you got so mad when I called you a monster at the school now," said Tenchi.  "If I had known-."

            "But how could you have known," continued Ryoko.  "I was a monster in my own eyes for so long."  She paused to wipe a tear from her eye.  Tenchi placed an arm around her arm to console her.  "After I had grown enough Kagato decided that it was time for him to train me personally."

___

            "That's good," said Kagato as he dodged an energy bolt.  In turn he sent his green energy blade flying towards Ryoko.  Dressed in her familiar red and black training togs she skillfully evaded the shot only to be grabbed from behind.

            "Be mindful of my shadow," admonished Kagato.  "It is just as powerful as I am."  Ryoko struggled against the shadow to no avail.  It had her in a full nelson and she could barely breathe.  Her mind played back over the years that she had been training.  She knew that centuries had passed since she was taken from her mother, although she had aged to the point of a pre-teen.  Her mother: that was such a distant memory.  She could hardly remember what she looked like any more.  All she knew now was that she had to stay alive.

            Channeling all of her strength she managed to break the hold.  She formed her energy blade and impaled the shadow.  It disappeared in a swirl of smoke.  Another blast caught her square in the back.

            "Don't let your guard down!" howled Kagato.  "The next time I will not hold back."  Kagato held up his hand and three doppelgangers appeared.  "Maybe three shadows will give you a worthy challenge."  The three Kagato's flew towards Ryoko with blinding speed.  The first caught her with a solid backhand.  The next kneed her in the stomach doubling her over.  As she held her stomach in pain the third delivered an elbow shot to the back of her head.  With a sickening thud she hit the floor.  As the dust cleared she could see all three of the doppelgangers floating above her, laughing unmercifully.

            "Get up," they said in unison.  Ryoko began to get up but collapsed back to one knee.  The first traces of bright red blood appeared as she coughed violently.  "Pathetic," they added. 

            Ryoko could feel the darkness grab hold of her.  Going to sleep would have been so easy if she had not heard the taunting of her tormentors above. 

            "I…am…not…pathetic!" she screamed as she managed to stand back up.  Holding her ribs with her left hand she reformed her sword in the other.  She knew that this lesson would not end until she defeated the doppelgangers or they proceeded to beat her to a bloody pulp.  Either way a headlong attack would be the quickest way out.

            "We shall see," replied the Kagato's as they launched another attack.  Ryoko dodged the first wave and managed to catch one of the clones in return.  It dissolved into smoke as the other two regrouped.       

            "One down."  Ryoko braced herself as a sharp pain shot through her side.  She winced as she tried to bury it.  This was just the opening her attackers needed.  Dual energy beams slammed into her knocking her from the air.  She impacted the column behind her as more bolts hit around her.  Under this force the spire gave way and she found herself falling.  As she did one of the Kagato's caught her, not to save her, but to punish her.  It delivered a stiff punch into her sore back.  Ryoko spat blood as she screamed in pain.  The other Kagato appeared before her and grabbed her face.

            "You are mine, body and soul," it remarked.

            "Never," defied Ryoko.  Infuriated the Kagato landed a punch to her midsection.  Ryoko gasped for air as it all rushed out of her.  Once again the shadow held her face up so that he could look her in the eyes.

            "You are pathetic," he spat.  All of the years of torment welled up inside Ryoko.  All of the degradation, humiliation, and pain poured forth.

            "I am not pathetic!" she reiterated forming her energy blade.  In a flash she disemboweled the doppelganger, wishing that it were the real Kagato.  The shadow behind her tried to regain his grip when she flipped him over her shoulder.  It landed feet first and resumed its attack.

            Their swords met mid-swing.  It took all of Ryoko's rage and strength to combat the shadow.  She had defeated two of them already.  When the third died she could rest, or at least she hoped.  The shadow pulled his blade free and ducked hers.  It swept its foot around and knocked her off balance.  Stumbling backwards Ryoko could not block the roundhouse kick that followed the sweep.  She began to fall back when the shadow leapt at her, sword drawn.  Forced to defend herself she managed to bring her blade up to block the attack, but only briefly. 

            Exhausted, Ryoko could not keep up her defense.  Her vision blurred as the world faded to black.  The last thing she saw was the shadow bringing his sword down.  When she awoke her entire body hurt like hell.  Ryoko managed to sit up only to see Kagato standing over her, or was it the shadow.  She was to beaten to tell for sure.

            "Your skill is improving," commented Kagato.  "But you still have much to learn.  Pick yourself up and return to your quarters."  Ryoko staggered to her feet and watched Kagato leave the training hall.  All of her contempt and rage returned.  What little emotion she had left she had to push back.  It took all of her self-control to keep from attacking him as he left.  The last time she did so the punishment had been severe.  With a sigh she returned to her quarters.

            As she lay back on her bed the world began to spin around her.  Dizzily she sat up and held her head between her legs.  Her equilibrium was off from the last blow she took the head.  A wave of nausea swept over her as Ryo-Ohki hopped towards her.

            "Miya?" asked the little cabbit.  Ryoko wiped her mouth and smiled at her only friend.  She was sure that she had friends before, but that was so long ago.  Now she only knew the torment and abuse from Kagato, and that he was preparing her for something.

            "Hello there," said Ryoko softly.  The little cabbit hopped into her lap and lay down.  Ryoko stroked Ryo-Ohki's head and smiled.  "One day Ryo-Ohki we will be free from this hell."  The cabbit just purred.  Ryoko looked across the room towards the vanity mirror.  Why Kagato had given her such niceties as a vanity and a large bed eluded her.  In the mirror she saw her battered form.  Her healing abilities had healed most of the scratches and cuts, but the deep bruises remained.  This was another of her "abilities" unlocked by Kagato.  He had beaten her senseless time and again until the power manifested. 

            "Why," she cried to herself.   Each day Ryoko saw herself becoming more of the monster that Kagato insisted that she was.  She kept wondering how much longer this torment would last.  Ryoko Just shook her head and lay back down.  Her equilibrium was back and she was exhausted.  Soon she drifted off to sleep.  It was not a peaceful sleep though: she knew the lesson would be repeated tomorrow, the day after, and so forth.  She had even stopped dreaming of her mother coming back to save her.  Now she only dreamed of killing Kagato.

___

            "I don't know how long this went on," said Ryoko.  "I lost track after the first hundred years or so."  She could not believe she was telling her troubles to Tenchi.  'God knows he has enough of his own,' she thought.

            "Did you ever try to escape?" asked Tenchi.  He had known that Ryoko's experiences with Kagato had not been pleasant, but what she was revealing to him tonight was horrifying.  Tenchi was amazed that any shred of her humanity had survived.

            "Once," answered Ryoko, "But the consequences were not pleasant to put it mildly.  It took me a week to recover from the 'punishment' that Kagato gave me."  She paused again and looked into Tenchi's deep brown eyes.  They looked so peaceful, and she felt so comfortable with him holding her. 

"I came to learn that the bedroom furnishings was also one of Kagato's cruelties," continued Ryoko.

"How so?" asked Tenchi as he stroked the back of her cyan hair.

"Just another reminder that I was not a normal little girl.  I was his 'monster'."  After regaining her composure for a moment Ryoko continued.  "When Kagato decided that I had become strong enough he began to send me on 'missions' for him.  At first it was simple piracy: rob a shrine here; raid a ruin there.  He was always looking for ancient artifacts dealing with Tsunami.  He was convinced that the goddess of Jurai held the key to the greatest power in the universe.  After a millennia or so of piracy he gave me a task that he said would prove my worth.  He sent me to assassinate the crowned princess of Jurai."

            "He sent you to kill Ayeka?" asked Tenchi, thinking this might explain some of the hostility between her and Ryoko.

            "No silly," said Ryoko with a slight laugh, "but that would have made both of our lives easier.  He sent me after princess Taiko, the daughter of Ayeka's great uncle.  By this time I was almost completely under Kagato's control.  The constant abuse had broken my will and I kept all of my emotions buried as deep as I could.  All I knew was that if I kept Kagato happy he would not punish me.  That's all that mattered to me."

            It was a time of peace in the Jurai system.  The early reports of the space pirates Ryoko and Ryo-Ohki had just began to filter in and no one was terribly alarmed.  Even though their assaults were usually after relics dealing with Tsunami they had all taken place on the other side of the galaxy.  Jurai was safe. Emperor Hiro XXIV was on the throne and his direct lineage seemed assured through his young daughter, Taiko, keeper of the Talisman of Light.  The Talisman of Light was one of the holiest relics on Jurai, blessed by Tsunami herself, or so the ancient mythology proclaimed.

            Softly illuminated by the ambient starlight Ryo-Ohki soared towards the Jurai system.  Onboard its sole occupant reclined in the only chair available.  Ryoko had come to enjoy the solitude of traveling in Ryo-Ohki.  The little cabbit managed to keep her more company than she ever imagined on missions like these.  Besides Ryo-Ohki's crystals floating around gave the austere surroundings some life.  Ryoko reluctantly touched one of the crystals to watch the instructions from Kagato again.  His face appeared in the crystal, looking condescending as ever.

            "Ryoko," the image began, "it is your task to kill the first crowned princess of Jurai, Taiko, and return to me the Talisman of Light.  Enclosed herein are the layouts of the imperial palace and the route of least notice.  Do not fail me, Ryoko."  Ryoko shuddered at those last words.  She knew the price of failure all to well. 

            "Lets go Ryo-Ohki," she said coldly.  "Lets get this over with."  The cabbit craft responded with its usual enthusiastic meow and followed the route outlined by Kagato.

            I wonder just what this talisman is, thought Ryoko.  And why does Kagato want the princess dead.  No matter, it should prove easy.

___

            "Boy was I ever wrong about that," commented Ryoko.

___

            Kagato may have provided the route of least notice for getting to the Jurai system, but that's where it ended.  Ryo-Ohki managed to slip past the first couple patrol ships without notice.  But as they moved closer towards Jurai the patrols became more frequent and heavier armed.  They seemed to be looking for something, or someone, thought Ryoko.  Then it dawned on her, they were looking for her.  Kagato had set her up, or had he?  Either way she knew that the price of failure would be severe, but from whom would it come?

            "That bastard," said Ryoko aloud.  Jurai lay just a few AU's away and she would be damned if she had come all this way for nothing.  Using an ion storm as a shield they slinked their way towards the inner line of Jurai's defenses.  Then all hell broke loose.

            "Evade, Ryo-Ohki!" commanded Ryoko as the Juraian cruiser gave chase.  The cabbit craft rocked as beam weaponry ricocheted off its hull.  The nimble little ship dodged another burst before returning one of its own.  The shot caught the cruiser square in the bridge.  It drifted away as the fires slowly consumed the entire ship.

            "Take us down," said Ryoko as she watched the Juraian ship enter its death throws before exploding.  Tiny fragments rained down on Jurai, fizzling out in the planets atmosphere like a thousand dying embers. 

            Ryo-Ohki slowed as she descended through the atmosphere.  As he broke through the perpetual layer of clouds that blanked the planet Ryoko got her first glimpse of the lush greenery of Jurai.  She had heard of the majesty of its forests, and that the trees were alive, but she had never seen it for herself.

            "Set down here," said Ryoko pointing towards a clearing.  They would be a few kilometers from the capitol city, but she could cover the ground in no time.  Stealth some times worked better than a headlong charge.  Night descended upon the planet and the brilliant stars above peaked through the swirling clouds.  The twin moons of Jurai cast an eerie shadow as Ryoko neared the imperial palace.

            "Too easy," she muttered as she began to phase through the wall, or so she thought.  She made it about half way before the palace shields gave her a nasty jolt.

            "Damn," she said shaking off the effects of the shock.  She looked around to see if she caused any alarm.  She could hear two guards talking, but they hadn't noticed her.  Carefully she edged around the corner and saw the two guards talking over a thermos of coffee.  One male, one female, she thought.  Good.  Ryoko picked up a small pebble and tossed it away from her.  Its bounces echoed slightly, alarming the guards.

            "What's that," asked the male guard.

            "I'll check it out," said the female guard as she picked up her force staff.  Slowly she edged around the corner.  A faint shadow caught her eye and she moved closer to investigate.

            "Who goes?" she inquired.  Right then Ryoko phased in behind her and grabbed her.  She tried to scream but Ryoko was too quick.  Instantly she snapped the woman's neck.  Ryoko eased her lifeless body to the ground and checked to see if she had been heard.  Satisfied that they hadn't she phased into the guards uniform.  Relieving the corpse of its helmet, she slipped it over her spiked hair. 

            "Thanks," she motioned to the dead guard, whom she left in the shadows.

            "What was it?" asked the deceased's compatriot as Ryoko rounded the corner.

            "Oh, it was just an animal scurrying about."

            "That's good.  Our watch is up so lets get back inside."  Ryoko nodded and followed him back into the palace.  They meandered through a few corridors before Ryoko relieved him of his life.  Hiding the body in an alcove, she carried on.  Once she had traversed a few floors she took of the guards uniform.  The palace was quiet and what Kagato had told her seemed to be holding true for once.

            "These things are stuffy," she commented as she pulled off the helmet.  Ryoko ran a hand through her hair to keep it from being plastered to her head.  "Helmet hair," she mused almost playfully into one of the palaces gilded mirrors.  Hair in place now, Ryoko continued her quest.  She knew that the Princess' chambers would be two floors above her.  At first she started to float towards the ceiling, but stopped.  For all she knew the insides were shielded as well.  Better not take the chance she concluded. 

The palace corridors were dimly lit at night, but this was not a hindrance to Ryoko.  She had learned a long while back that her golden feline eyes allowed to see nocturnally.  Her night vision was as good as anybodies during the day.  Ryoko rounded a corner only to quickly duck back.  The palace knights were obviously on duty to night.  She recognized the one with purple hair and the goatee as Azaka, Captain of the Guards.  The younger one with the short red hair must have been his apprentice, Kamidake.

"Great," she breathed.  "All I need is to run into the legendary Azaka."  She inhaled and melded into the shadows while they passed by.  Ryoko waited a minute before she dared to exhale.  Once the knights had passed she continued.  Ryoko took little time to marvel at the intricate carvings or the gilded statues in the palace.  Her focus was on the job at hand as she ascended the ornate spiral staircase.  She floated a few inches above each stair making her way to the antechamber at the top.  Ahead of her lay the Princess' chambers.  The massive doors leading to them were intricately carved and decorated.  The tree of Tsunami was the central design along with a tri-foil design that she was not familiar with but resembled the "bright bird wings", or something she had overheard Kagato talking about.  She reached out to the door and gave it a soft push.  It eased open giving her first glimpse of the chamber within.

It took her vision a moment to adjust to the pitch black of the room.  Before her lay the Princess' bed, but it was empty.  Fearing an ambush Ryoko jumped back into a defensive stance before she realized that the covers had been thrown back.  Taiko had obviously just gotten out of bed for something or the other.  Sighing Ryoko walked over to examine the bed.  She had hoped that Kagato's precious talisman would be in plain sight, but to her dismay it was not.  As she began to riffle through the princess' armoire, the door creaked open again.  Instinctively Ryoko ducked inside the armoire.

Peering through the slightly ajar doors she noticed what had to be the talisman hanging from around the young princess' neck.  It was the same tri-foil design that was on the doors.  But that is not what surprised Ryoko the most.  Princess Taiko was no older than she was when Kagato had taken her from her mother.

"What the hell," she whispered while she watched the little princess hop back into bed.  She placed a half empty water glass onto her nightstand and grabbed a stuffed animal before she pulled the covers back on top of herself.

'I'll just get the talisman,' thought Ryoko.  But as she did the mental image of Kagato punishing her played across her mind.  She had felt his wrath too many times to count.  'No, I must complete my mission,' she concluded subconsciously.  Determined now, Ryoko phased through the armoire doors.  Floating as quietly as possible she worked her way over to the little princess' bedside.  Just as she reached for the talisman the bedroom door creaked open.

"Are you alright Taiko?" came the voice of her concerned mother.  To her horror she saw the dreaded Ryoko hovering over her daughters bed.  What came next was what any mother would do.  She screamed for dear life.

"Listen lady," pleaded Ryoko as the queen was going into hysterics.  Half of Jurai had to know what was going on by now.

"Mommy?" asked a confused little Aiko.  When she saw Ryoko standing above her she began to cry as well.

"Damn," cursed Ryoko.  What was proving to be a fairly easy task had just become inexplicably more difficult.  To make matters worse the Emperor barged into the chamber along with Azaka and his protégée.  The purple blade of his master key jumped to life and cast an ominous glow across the room.

"Unhand my daughter demon!" he spat.  The two knights took an offensive stance behind the king and prepared to launch the attack.  Looking for any option Ryoko grabbed the terrified Aiko and used her as a shield.  She formed her energy blade and held it to the child's neck.   

"Listen," she reiterated, "I only want the talisman."

"The talisman?" barked the infuriated king.  "It holds no power.  Whomever sent you was a fool, and now you die!"  Time seemed to stand still for Ryoko as the king and his knights charged forward.  Deep inside she could feel her rage building rage against, Kagato, against the king and his brat, and against life itself.

___

            "So what happened next?" asked Tenchi. Ryoko had stopped to fight the choking lump in her throat.  Tenchi had been so captivated by her story that he just now noticed her blouse was soaked from tears.  Ryoko hugged herself to fight off the shiver that was shaking her.  Tenchi scooted over so that she could lay her head on his shoulder.  When he did Ryoko collapsed into his arms, sobbing violently.

            "If you don't want to finish I understand," consoled Tenchi as Ryoko cried into his shoulder.

            "No, I need to finish," she said with a choke. 

            Across the way Ayeka had scarcely moved an inch from behind her oaken hideout.  Things were beginning to make sense to her now.  She turned her back to the tree and slid to the ground.  "What a fool I have been," she whispered as Ryoko continued her tale. 

___

            The first swipe of the king's sword brought Ryoko out of her daze.  She cursed herself for being lost in her rage.  She flew back out her attackers reach, gripping the child firmly.  She hugged the walls of the room trying to make it to the door.  If need be she would take the brat to Kagato.  But the quick moves of Azaka cut her off.  She was now surrounded on three sides.  Thinking quickly she tore the talisman from Taiko's neck and tossed the child at her stunned father.  He caught her off balanced and crumpled to the floor.  Azaka and Kamidake saw an opportunity and made an attack.  All of her training against multiple shadows had prepared Ryoko for such attacks.  She dodged their staffs with the grace of a ballerina.  The two knights staff met in midair and caught hold.  As their momentum swung them around Ryoko unleashed an energy burst.  The ball caught them square and knocked them against the wall. 

            In the corner of her eye she saw the royal family huddled together.  Obviously the king had injured himself when he caught his daughter.  Seizing the moment Ryoko completed her mission.

___

            "I killed all three of them," she confessed.  "One blow from my sword and the entire royal family were dead.  Azaka and Kamidake were to appalled to give chase after me.  They just tried to revive the royal family.  I saw Azaka holding the lifeless body of that little princess.  I felt as cold inside as she had to feel to him.  I made it out of the palace and called Ryo-Ohki.  We fought our way out of the Jurai system and rendezvous with Kagato and the Souja."  Ryoko paused for another second to collect her thoughts.  "I had a long time to reflect on what I did on the way back.  What scared me was that I felt no remorse.  No one had shown me remorse, so why should I care?  What finally broke me happened when I got back to the Souja."

___

            "Very good Ryoko," complimented Kagato wryly.  "You completed your mission for once."

            "Thank you sir," replied Ryoko, studying the floor.  Kagato laughed as he threw the talisman across the room.  Confused, Ryoko looked up at her master.

            "The Talisman of Light is a worthless piece of Junk," he gloated, "but you retrieved it marvelously."  His dry laugh echoed through out the ship as Ryoko tried to understand what he was saying.

            "But…but…" Ryoko stammered, trying to comprehend this horrid revelation.  Suddenly the dead kings words echoed across her mind: "It holds no power.  Whomever sent you was a fool…"

            "But what?" laughed Kagato.  "The talisman is useless.  A trinket.  A silly pieceof jetsam.  And as for killing the little princess," his laughter made him stop and wipe a cruel tear from his eyes.  "That was just perfect.  Absolutely perfect."

            "What was this then?" asked Ryoko as tears began to well in the corners of her eyes.  A cold feeling permeated every fiber of her being as the weight of her sins bore down upon her.  She has killed in cold blood.  Innocent lives had been extinguished by her hand.  And this time it was not one of Kagato's machinations or shadows. "What was the point of all this?"

            "It was a test, my dear, and you passed.  Flawlessly."  Kagato walked over to her and patted her on the shoulder.  "Congratulations Ryoko my dear," he said evilly, "you are now completely mine! Body, mind, and soul.  My monster."  Ryoko felt as if her very soul had been wrenched from her body as Kagato's evil laughter echoed through the great hall of the Souja…   

            "For the next thousand years or so I did Kagato's bidding, relentlessly. He had complete control over every aspect of my psyche and life. I thought what little humanity I had left died that night on Jurai.  I thought that way until I was imprisoned in this cave and you freed me.  You saved me, Tenchi."  Her tears came freely for once.  A slight smile crept onto Ryoko's face as she felt Tenchi hold her closer.

            "Why didn't you tell me this sooner Ryoko?" asked Tenchi.  He could tell that a burden had been lifted from Ryoko.  Her tears were at a trickle now, and she had quit shivering.  Tenchi smiled as he rubbed the back of her neck.  He was enjoying holding her as much as she was enjoying being held.

            "I was afraid," answered Ryoko honestly.

            "Afraid of what?" inquired Tenchi.  "That I would be horrified of you?  That I would ask you to leave?"        

"That's not what I was afraid of…"

            "Then what?"

"I was afraid that if I told you about my past…my real past…and what I've been through…" she paused to gather up her courage.  "I was afraid that you could not love me for what I've done!"  Ryoko blurted out as her tears fell freely.  She had just bore the darkest reaches of her soul and now it was up to Tenchi to redeem or damn that soul.

Tenchi was slightly shocked by her response, but figured that it would be something along those lines.  He had debated amongst himself countless times whether or not anyone could love him. He had lost his mother when he was so young and blamed himself for the longest.  This led to him being so painfully shy, which in turn led to the unusual amount of bullying he took in school.  His pain was not as deep as Ryoko's, but it was as real none-the-less.  In Ryoko he saw a kindred spirit, someone who he could confide in, as she had just done with him.

And, in that moment, the final barrier keeping him from following his heart collapsed.

Tenchi wrestled for the right words to say, but he could think of none.  No words of his could take away the millennia of torment and pain Ryoko had suffered.  If he could have taken her burden right then, he would have with out question.  The moment of silence that past between them seemed to last forever.  Tenchi replayed her last words in his head.

"I was afraid that you could not love me…"

Right then he knew his answer, the answer to all of her fears and questions.  An answer that he hoped would give her peace for the first time in her life.  Tenchi placed his hands on her shoulders and gently separated them so that he could look Ryoko in the eyes.  The look in her eyes begged for an answer.  Tenchi gave her a small smile that lifted her spirits.  She instantly knew the answer to her fears. 

Tenchi's hand found hers as they met in a passionate kiss.  Not a vulgar kiss, but one for the ages to remember.  Soft, tender, loving, all of these can be used to describe the kissed they shared under that harvest moon.

___

            From behind her oaken hiding place Ayeka sighed.  She could have run out and made a fuss, but after hearing Ryoko's story she understood what Lord Katsuhito had meant earlier.  She now saw a glimpse of what Tenchi saw. 

            "Be happy Lord Tenchi, Ryoko," she whispered as she headed back towards the carnival.  Strange, she mused to herself, I thought I would be infuriated when this day came, but I'm not.  In fact Ayeka was happy for both Tenchi and Ryoko.  Soon rejoined the carnival just in time for the closing fireworks.

The brilliant reds, blues, and greens of the fireworks illuminated the couple sitting on that old gray stone at the mouth of the cave.  They paused for a second to admire the celestial display, but other things were more important that night.  For one a burden had been lifted, the weights of her soul poured upon a willing altar.  The other had freely been that altar, and found within himself the answer to his own questions.  She could be loved and he could give love.  Peace came to the both of them for the first time that night as they sat on that old gray stone under the harvest moon.

-THE END-

Authors Notes:

            This is a different approach from my usual fanfic's.  I began to wonder while walking home from class one day about what Kagato put Ryoko through to make her act the way she did.  The idea turned into this fanfic.  It also gave the opportunity to do a Ryoko gets Tenchi story.  So I hope you enjoyed this, and please let me know what you think.  My email is: vette1701@earthlink.net.   Thank you for reading.

William R. Nichols Jr.  11/11/01

By the way for those who are wondering what an A.U. is:  An A.U. is an Astronomical Unit, or the distant between the earth and the sun, roughly ninety-three (93) million miles.

Reworked beginning 07/25/02

Finished:

I always loved this fic, and decided to fix the typos and clear up some spots that seemed vague.