Prologue – A Family in Flux

The world changed on the twelfth of September, 1998. Already, rumors of weapons and war in the Middle East had risen tensions across the world, but these all were silenced by the descent of a global darkness.

At 2343 GMT, a black mass arrived in orbit over Earth, specifically Manhattan Island. No one noticed its silent approach against the emptiness of the void, until the Hubble Space Telescope and other space-born cameras noted a "dark spot" against Mars an hour before. In that time, scientists across the world scrambled to assess this threat. However, despite their concerted efforts, the "dark anomaly" refused to be analyzed. It absorbed all incoming wavelengths of light and emitted none of its own. Only in the fact that it blocked starlight, and was growing in size, could they know it even existed.

Shortly after the anomaly's arrival over Manhattan, observatories turned their telescopes to the sky and witnessed a visual display directly from the cinema. A small armada of star-ships attacked the darkness with rays of emerald light, each far superior to the sluggish and out-dated shuttles from Florida. Two of them were identical designs with pronounced prows, sleek and clearly metallic. Another was saucer-shaped, surprisingly similar to those from old pulp fiction. The fourth was smaller and more streamlined than the other three with far lighter weaponry. Two were crystalline with fierce spines and sharp angles. The final pair, oddly enough, seemed wooden, even to the most powerful of lenses.

The anomaly retaliated angrily in bursts of crimson at each of the vessels. The sortie ended abruptly when a blast of pure white shot from the surface of Earth. Blinded, the observers lost track of the action and the vessels. From all walks of life, the human race turned to the sky to see a nova of brilliance tearing into the threat.

Alas, the light died, and the darkness remained to slowly envelop the sky. Panic and fear swept the planet just as the sun, moon, and stars were swept aside by this shadow. Emergency services were inundated with the terrified calls. Some fled to their beliefs, asking if this was the end of times. Governments demanded answers which could not be found. The black shell sparked red lightning at the world below, vicious like the hand of an angry god.

Then, a shining star emerged from the blackness above Manhattan. Observers watched the shell around Earth hemorrhage and disintegrate, falling away to reveal the true sky beyond. Cheers rose from around the world with each piece that burned in the atmosphere. The chaos soon calmed itself, save for one nagging question that rang across the airwaves, "What was it?"

The scientists carried through a sleepless night fruitlessly trying to answer this question, but there was no data to be had. Only those bursts of light emitted any known energy that could be detected. Philosophers and priests renewed their old debates, calling it a "natural occurrence" or a "divine warning". In truth, neither could be fully aware of the portents of this incident. The leaders of the world asked each other and their advisers, "Is it over?"

Within a day, their answer came. One of the wooden ships appeared over the streets of Manhattan, searchlights coasting over the cityscape. Soon, the saucer, the streamlined ship, and a crystalline craft joined it, and emerald light flew once again briefly. Yet, an unseen force thrust the saucer and the wooden vessel each into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. The superstructure of both buildings was immediately compromised, and the added weight of the extraterrestrial craft only aided the inevitable outcome, the collapse of the towers.

People screamed and ran hopelessly as the falling concrete and debris consumed the streets and buildings below. As dust choked the city, blasts of combat pounded the financial district. Those able fled, escaping the apparent war being waged downtown. Emergency workers valiantly helped evacuate the survivors, even as the sounds of battle suddenly ended. Witnesses reported seeing the same crimson light as the anomaly the previous night and a gorgeous azure fighting back. Some even claimed to have seen two figures at the heart of the disaster before they ran for their lives.

New York City's population emptied itself over the next several hours, federal agents in black suits claiming the danger far from finished. For a day, the refugees waited outside their city, seeing the bursts of red and blue, hearing the echoing sounds of conflict. Buildings toppled and collapsed. Asphalt was ripped from its foundation. The very ground shuddered, seemingly about to be torn asunder.

The world's attention turned to Manhattan, waiting to see the outcome. The United States military quickly mobilized, but was ordered to hold position on the shores opposite the island. The soldiers, though eager to remove this danger from their shores, took pause at the devastative power before them. Most had not seen destruction like this in their careers, let alone in places so familiar.

Then, one last shockwave rippled through the soil, shaking some people from their feet. A dead silence followed. The orders were given, and the soldiers advanced into the city. What they found shook several of them. Much of downtown Manhattan had been leveled. Lacerated foundations littered the once great cityscape, little left to tell the tale of what actually happened.

But, what remained was shocking enough. Jutting out of the remains of the twin towers were the saucer-shaped and wooden star-ships. The saucer was horribly crushed and twisted by the concrete and steel compressing around it while the wooden vessel only carried dents and scars from the debris. Many looked in awe at the latter craft, confused by both its design and materials.

After securing the city, emergency workers were allowed to enter and begin rescue operations. Unfortunately, after so much time, the casualties were enormous, and sorrow quickly turned to anger. Eyes turned next to the leaders of the world, demanding answers for this horrible tragedy. "What happened?" "What are these ships?" "Where do they come from?"

One particular organization from the United States came forward. To several world leaders, they explained that the anomaly was a great energy distortion, classified "non-normal variety of occurrence" or "NVO". From across the galaxy, this object had flown toward Earth, ripping across the domains of numerous civilizations.

Indeed, life existed off of Earth, and representatives of a few were the crews that tried time and again to stop the distortion. The two sleek ships were patrol vessels of the Galaxy Police (GP), a peace-keeping force for the Galactic Union (GU). The GU itself was a representative entity for several member worlds, many affected by the distortion's trajectory.

The GP had officers that patrolled Earth's solar system, the Sol System, but it was still considered remote and of little importance until this event. These two resident officers, Makibi Kiyone and Kuramitsu Mihoshi, joined the effort to stop the distortion with their ship, Yagami. Also, the GP had a direct liaison officer, Matsu Mitsuki, with the American agency. She and her vessel, Hayato, joined Officers Makibi and Kuramitsu, but she was unfortunately killed in the conflict.

The sleek fighter came from Pentinon, a GU member world known for maintaining a strong planetary militia apart from the GP. Its pilot was a young bounty hunter named William Pii.

The saucer found in the tower wreckage was a remnant of a terrestrial visitation some thirty years ago, spurring this American organization's founding. It had been purposely retrofitted to combat this distortion and be piloted by "Earthlings" or "Terrans", specifically two agents from America.

The two wooden craft originated from the Jurai Empire, an ancient civilization which has harnessed an organic technology through their flora. The Jurai themselves have a particular interest in this NVO energy type as it is detrimental to their devices. They have also developed weaponry to combat this kind of threat. Further, the two crystalline vessels were from the world Ryua within the Jurai Empire, known for its gemstone and lattice technology, as well as its problems with piracy.

The "tree-ship" that crashed into the World Trade Center was Ryu-Oh, the personal yacht of a Juraian noble, Jurai Ayeka. Lady Ayeka, one-time crown princess of the Jurai royal family, had volunteered to help with the effort to stop the distortion along with royal knights Juraiko Azaka and Juraiko Kamidake.

As the agency explained, the distortion was thought destroyed when it disintegrated in the atmosphere, but Lady Ayeka intercepted a remnant in downtown Manhattan. This piece reacted violently and caused her Ryu-Oh and the saucer to crash. The following damage was caused by successive attempts to render this last section of the distortion inert.

This story was repeated to the General Assembly of the United Nations, not only by agents of the American organization, but also by Officer Makibi herself. The Terran representatives were also given audience by Emperor Jurai Azusa II, who related his formal apologies for this most unfortunate "first contact" with Earth.

Though, as these initial interspecies talks began, Mihoshi glanced to the floor of the assembly hall. Her blue eyes rejected portions of this story, as necessary an evil as they were. She remembered clearly watching her colleague, her academy classmate and friend, Mitsuki, die before her. She clearly saw the face of Mitsuki's killer, and the black energies she could control.

The murderess was beautiful, milky smooth skin and an elegant demeanor as any royal lineage could ever produce. Her auburn hair spiked into a single pony-tail than fanned near her ankles. Her low-cut gown complemented her haunting visage. The red and black colors of the dress seemed to flame around her, blending into the shadows of that night, 13 September. Her sleeves ended in gloves of regal violet, taloned at their fingertips. A golden medallion rested on her forehead, extending four streamers back over her scalp.

But, it is the killer's eyes that Mihoshi remembered the most. She nervously fidgets with a strand of her own blond hair, recalling the bloody crimson irises and calm azure corneas. Mihoshi had heard the Terran expression "eyes are the windows to the soul" several times, but this gaze was a window to somewhere else.

Then, all eyes centered on her. She looked up from her thoughts to see Kiyone standing at the General Assembly podium. The teal-tressed officer wore a dress uniform very well. It suited her serious and sensible nature perfectly, and her many duties had earned her the lieutenant's bars on her shoulder. Her blue eyes spoke of a pride and self-confidence that Mihoshi often shared, in her own way.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Kiyone said, "my best friend and former partner, Kuramitsu Mihoshi."

Mihoshi smiled and waved to the audience of dignitaries. She stood and smoothed her formal dress, very fetching paired with her brown skin. However, eyes widened the moment she brushed her blond hair away from her elfin ears. Several dignitaries close to her leaned closer, looking for some makeup or latex. Mihoshi blushed at the attention while Kiyone just grinned to herself, humored.

"For the past three years, she and I have resided here on Earth and patrolled the vicinity around your solar system."

Mihoshi advanced to the podium as her friend stepped aside for her.

"As she can tell you, we both came to enjoy living on Earth, which is part of the reason we helped in the effort against the distortion."

Together, the duo stood before the assembled Terrans as the questions came at them. Mihoshi answered each question in her sweet way, contrasting the very matter-of-fact statements by her former partner.

Deep behind her own blue gaze, Kiyone remembered the killer just as well. She remembered the talons around her left shoulder, and the stunned look on Mitsuki's pale face. However, the lie she recited today was the better route.

Better for Sasami and Ayeka, she thought, as well as the others.

X X X

While the shape of the world was changing in New York, many observed from a distance across all forms of media: television, radio, the internet, newsprint. Japan's Okayama Prefecture was no different. Even at a local architectural office, most of the staff clamored around the television set in the lounge or had browser windows open on their workstations.

Masaki Nobuyuki was one of the few exceptions. The forty-six year old widower carefully drew his pencil along the drafting board, the precise lines gradually forming the floor plan of a house. His eyes narrowed as he leaned back and considered the design before him. After placing his pencil behind his ear, his fingers knitted together and cracked, releasing some of the tension he had gathered.

The architect placed his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair, his eyes still on the plan. He had always wanted to bring his art to life. In high school, he would steal off to a nearby hillside to find some inspiration. Of course, what the boy did not know was that a beautiful young lady sneaked after him.

Masaki Achika was her name, not that he ever had the fortitude to ask her himself. They were classmates in high school, trading blushing glances at each other as they passed one another. She was kind and sweet, and strong-minded, certainly her father's daughter. Nobuyuki had been interested in her for some time, and her coy waves definitely spoke of her own interest.

The raven-haired beauty also liked to admire his sketches. Several times, she had made a suggestion that brightened the décor of his original concept. Almost since the beginning, she supported his efforts to achieve his dreams, his partner and eventual wife.

Nobuyuki smiled distantly to himself, remembering her young and strong. He looked at the floor plan again.

What would she say? he thought.

it would let more light in and really brighten things up.

Her words lit up in his mind as he looked at the drafting board. Taking the pencil, he carefully erased a portion of the eastern wall, adding in a window. Knowing his angles, the sunlight would enter in the morning, filling the den with its rays. A family could eat their morning's breakfast warmed by a new day.

The architect smiled to himself, thanking his beloved with a quick, silent prayer. Achika always did have a sense of simple elegance about her.

Yet, looking at the window there on the page, a chill crept along his back.

"Where do I know this," he asked himself.

He idly tapped the page, trying to jog his memory. This addition was familiar, very familiar, as were Achika's words. A tickle in the back of his mind bothered him, an image just out of reach.

A knock at his door broke Nobuyuki from his thoughts. He spun around to meet his secretary, Reiko. In her late-twenties, she was a comely young woman and had worked for "Mr. Masaki" for several years now. Usually cheerful, the lady had become one of his friends at the office, swapping jokes and what not.

But, her cheery face seemed far more worried today.

"Mr. Masaki?"

Nobuyuki shook the weird feeling away as he answered, "Yes, Reiko?"

"Have you heard? The news, I mean?"

She motioned back toward the lounge where the other staffers were glued to the television, listening to the cleanup of New York. Nobuyuki caught a brief glimpse of the screen as some people milled away back toward their desks. There, he saw the torn concrete and asphalt, much he remembered it from two weeks ago.

He nodded, "Yeah, it's kinda crazy to think about."

Unfortunately, Nobuyuki was a horrible liar, and Reiko knew it. One of mankind's greatest questions had been answered very violently in New York, and most people were shocked or taken aback. Mr. Masaki was calm and collected, no denial or anger. He was already at acceptance.

"'Crazy' is a word for it," she said with a raised brow. "How's Tenchi taking all this?"

The architect thought of his son, Tenchi. For a nineteen-year-old, the young man had already made a name for himself, much like his grandfather, Achika's father. Ironically enough, the world may never know of what Tenchi and his friends did on Manhattan Island a fortnight past.

"He's coping pretty well." Nobuyuki grinned to himself. "I mean, he always liked those scifi movies about visitors from space. He really liked that show with the boy who met the cute alien girls…"

Reiko folded her arms and sighed. "But, this isn't anime. It's real life, Mr. Masaki! There are real aliens on Earth!"

Glancing at the television one more time, he commented, "They seem nice enough. That Makibi Kiyone seems pretty level-headed. I'm not so sure about her friend though…"

"That's not the point."

Then, Nobuyuki's eyes widen when he notices the clock in the corner of the television screen, reading "15:01". He spun around and grabbed his coat.

"I'm going to miss the bus!"

Confused, Reiko looked at her watch. "What? It's the middle of the afternoon."

As he slipped into his coat, the architect explained, "I have a house guest moving in today, and I need to get there to help." Wryly, he added, "I'll probably have to work late tomorrow."

When he slid past Reiko, she grabbed his shoulder, catching his attention again.

"Mr. Masaki," she said with a slight tremble to her hand, "it's alright to be scared, you know? Everything's different now."

Nobuyuki smiled warmly and patted her hand. "Not really. I'm still an architect. You're still my secretary. Aliens in New York don't change that." He slipped from her grasp. "I'll see you tomorrow morning."

The widower waved as he rushed down the hall, leaving Reiko to wonder, How can he be so calm about this?

Luckily for Nobuyuki, the bus was ten minutes behind schedule. As he burst from the front doors of his firm's building, he could see the vehicle arriving at the bench enclosure across the street. With a quick dash and a swipe of his pass, he was aboard and on his way home.

The middle-aged man sat back in his seat and caught his breath. Now, the long ride home, he thought. Ever since he married into the Masaki family, he had complained about the long commute. Achika's family were keepers of a Shinto shrine in the nearby mountains and had always lived within walking distance of the shrine. Her father, Masaki Katsuhito, was the current priest. He had also married into the Masaki family back before World War II, and lost his wife when Achika was young.

Katsuhito had often said that he and Nobuyuki were a lot a like. He had welcomed Nobuyuki into the family fairly genially, after the usual paternal severity. Even after Achika died, the architect still thought of Katsuhito as a second father. For several years, the house he had designed and built for Achika only held his son, his father-in-law, and himself. That was when the two men probably came to know one another the best as they raised Tenchi.

Nobuyuki did see some of himself in his son, but honestly, he saw a more of Achika and Katsuhito in the boy. When Tenchi was old enough, his grandfather started to teach him the sword. His father thought it would be a good structure and discipline for him. He was always a good student and kept out of trouble. His father only really worried about his shyness with girls.

However, that particular problem solved itself sometime in April 1995. The secret that Nobuyuki kept from Reiko was that he had known about extraterrestrial life for over three years now. Then, Detective First Class Kuramitsu Mihoshi was chasing the Class A1 space pirate Ryua Ryoko through the Sol system. In their exchange, the two crashed their ships into the mountains near the Masaki Shrine, where Tenchi was walking home.

From that moment forward, a breath of life flowed into the Masaki household. Soon afterward, Princess Jurai Ayeka arrived, following Mihoshi's distress beacon. Her sister Sasami came next, looking for her sibling. The exiled genius scientist Hakubi Washu was awoken from within the Masaki Shrine. Lastly, Detective Makibi Kiyone investigated Mihoshi's disappearance, and the two were assigned to the Sol system as resident officers by the GP.

For about three months, these six young women brought a craziness to the home that was nothing short of hilarious. Fiery Ryoko and proper Ayeka would bicker over Tenchi's affections, sometimes destroying parts of the yard with their innate powers. Cute little Sasami would play peacemaker between the two, as well as cook some dishes that were far better than any restaurant. Brilliant and manic Washu inevitably would invent a new miraculous device that, once one of the other girls got their hands on it, would spur some new wacky adventure in time and space. Dutiful Kiyone and bubble-headed Mihoshi would visit often from their apartment in town, eventually needing to rush off to handle some emergency elsewhere in the solar system.

Nobuyuki was shocked a little at first, but he soon accepted the girls' presence. Of course, he too had been alone since Achika's death, and having six pretty girls around the house was hardly unpleasant. Admittedly, he had become a bit lecherous, but all of the six shrugged off his advances. In retrospect, this was for the best. Soon enough, everyone seemed like a family, if a bit dysfunctional now and then.

But, that summer, the situation changed. A Juraian battleship arrived under orders to arrest Ayeka and Sasami on counts of treason against the Jurai crown. The throne had been vacant while Ayeka was being courted for marriage, thus seating a new emperor. However, while the princesses were on "holiday" on Earth, a man claiming to be "Jurai Yosho" took the throne for himself and branded them, and anyone connected to them, as criminals.

Three more months saw the Masaki household dodging the Galaxy Police and the Juraian navy to cross the galaxy and reach Planet Jurai itself. Almost from the start, Katsuhito knew the Yosho on the throne was a fake, and after crossing into Jurai's domain, he revealed his reason. Masaki Katushito was the true Jurai Yosho, self-exiled after a duel with his best friend, another Juraian noble named Jurai Kagato. To prove it, the old and wise Shinto priest channeled Jurai's power to resurrect two legendary knights from Jurai's first royal court, Juraiko Azaka and Juraiko Kamidake.

Nobuyuki was dumbfounded. His father-in-law, who helped raise his son and keep him sane after his wife's death, was an alien prince of untold power. Of course, that meant Achika was a princess, and Tenchi a prince. This seemed overwhelming at first, to both Nobuyuki and Tenchi, but Katsuhito's wit brushed the matter aside. "You mean I should have told you I was from outer space?" he had asked with a humored grin on his face. Prince or not, he was the same man as he was before this mess had started.

Soon enough, the architect could laugh about it himself, at least until he saw Kagato in person. It was a brief moment. Both Katsuhito and Ryoko were on the ground, beaten. Even Azaka and Kamidake, as strong and skilled as they were, fell easily. Victorious, Kagato took Ayeka, and with her, all the good humor anyone had about this situation.

Tenchi became a man then. He stood to challenge the tyrant, flanked by the knights and escorted by the lady pirate herself. He rescued the princess and saved the day, just like in all those old bedtime stories.

Nobuyuki was proud of his son, the hero. If nothing else, he knew that he helped raise this young man who had just saved an entire galactic empire from ruin. Tenchi was even asked by Ayeka herself to stay on Jurai and become king. He turned it down, just like Katsuhito did years ago. Royal blood or not, Tenchi was still just a normal young man at heart, and he went back home.

For a while, the Masaki house was boring again. Katsuhito, the great warrior prince of Jurai, went back to being a humble priest of a Shinto shrine. Tenchi returned to his studies, now having to catch up after all the time in space. Nobuyuki also resumed his job. The journey through space was a fun adventure, but like all things, it ended. Real life picked up where they had left it.

But, as people say, the carnival comes back in you wait. Ryoko returned first, seemingly reborn after her daring assault on Jurai. Ayeka forsook succession to the throne to pursue Tenchi to Earth, Sasami in tow. Washu, who had been reinstated to the Universal Science Academy (SA), was kicked out again for weapon development, just like before. Kiyone and Mihoshi both lost their promotions after an embarrassing fiasco involving a misfiled piece of evidence in a major case. The family was reunited once again.

The bus bounced, stirring Nobuyuki from his partial slumber. Yawning, the architect stretched and looked out the window at the passing trees. He knew this route well enough that it now put him to sleep. He took a quick glance at the few other people on the bus with him.

The Masaki estate was near the end of the route, which has helped keep the girls' residence there hidden. Of course, Kiyone and Mihoshi lived in town so they had to interact with people regularly. Luckily, they looked pretty much like Terrans. However, it was usually Tenchi or Nobuyuki who went to town for the others. Sometimes, Ayeka or Sasami would tag along, but never Ryoko or Washu. Ayeka's hair was a dark enough violet that she could pass for a Terran, and Sasami's cute expression always made people think she was a little cos-player.

Soon enough, the bus came to a stop near a long, stone stairway ascending the mountain overhead. Nobuyuki stepped off the bus, thanking the driver with a tip before he drove off. Looking up the path, he thought, Somethings never change, do they?

Achika grew up ascending this staircase day after day, as did Tenchi. Nobuyuki never really understood the reasoning as to why shrines are inevitably hard to reach. Katsuhito would always describe it as "purifying the soul" and "finding meaning in the search". The architect found them tedious for a daily commute.

Still, they did give him time to think. As he went up the stairs, he thought about the last three years since the coup d'etat on Jurai. Something happened in late April 1996. Tenchi was injured pretty badly and had a limp for about a year. Nobuyuki asked the girls, but they stayed quiet about it. Ayeka and Washu usually kept secrets, which is not that surprising. Ryoko, as Ayeka has mentioned off and on, had been convicted of fraud, but Sasami and Mihoshi also had nothing to say.

Kiyone did give at least a partial answer. "Washu had some trouble with an invention of hers. We all tried to help, but Tenchi…" He could still see the teal-tressed detective glance aside. "He got too close. Washu says he'll be just fine, and I trust her opinion on that." That hardly stopped Nobuyuki from worrying or wondering.

What could have hurt Tenchi that badly, considering he defeated a powerful alien dictator?

A chill rushed through Nobuyuki's spine, giving him pause. A vision appeared in his mind, a white porcelain mask. It had three obsidian eyes and was surrounded by black fire, almost alive as it writhed.

His heart pounded, his breath short. He rested a hand on a tree as he consciously breathed deeply, trying to calm down. He knew that mask, but the more he thought about the image, the more it slipped away from his reach. As he calmed himself down, Nobuyuki thought about that mask and the black fire around it.

"Non-normal variety of occurrence" … NVO …

That was what Washu had called it. Two summers ago, Tenchi and the girls went to Manhattan for the first time. There was an incident caused by a metal woman, Mecha-Nerti, who was powered by NVO type energy. Tenchi, Ryoko, and Ayeka took her down, but Ayeka and Sasami were both injured in the process. Luckily, they kept it pretty quiet, unlike later.

Then again, this past March, Tenchi and Katsuhito went with Ayeka and Sasami to Jurai for a reunion the royal family has every so often. Ryoko was their chauffeur, her warrants finally canceled after her good deeds with the coup and the first Manhattan incident. Nobuyuki heard later that a man named Liaens, an old enemy of Jurai, returned with a weapon manufactured from this NVO energy. He had waited until most of the royal family was in one place so he could strike. Again, Tenchi and the others took him down.

Then came two weeks ago. A massive distortion of NVO energy had ripped through Jurai's border with the GU, heading straight for Earth. Two agents from New York came and requested help from Washu, as well as anyone else who would offer it. Naturally, Tenchi and the girls stepped forward. Earth was their home now, and they were willing to protect it. For four days, they all planned to stop the distortion, but even then, it still enveloped Earth.

Nobuyuki remembered looking up at the black skies, watching the crimson lightning, just as many others did that day, 12 September 1998. Then, as a moment ago, he saw a vision of the white mask, heard Achika's voice demanding that it stop.

What are you? he asked his thoughts. Silence answered.

The widower straightened himself, a sigh relieving the remaining tension from the sudden vision. He had seen a mask like that one, but it was different. The visage did indeed look like white porcelain, but it had two elegantly decorated eyes, very feminine.

The eyes behind the mask also burned a deep crimson and azure, framed by scorched locks of hair. According to what everyone has said, the woman who wore the mask was the real cause of the distortion, behind possibly even Kagato, Mecha-Nerti, and Liaens as well.

Nobuyuki first saw it when Washu enabled a monitor to watch the battle waged in the streets of Manhattan. There, Tenchi, Ryoko, and Ayeka fought alongside two others and eventually won against this masked woman, Tokimi, who seemed absolutely made of raw power.

However, her facade was not the one drifting around in Nobuyuki's mind. He could not place where he had seen the three-eyed mask, but he did know well what he felt recalling it, fear.

The architect pushed that feeling aside and continued up the stairs, soon reaching the top. With the autumn leaves already turning, his home stood at the edge of the small lake on the property. At one time, the central tree of Ryu-Oh was rooted in the center of the lake, thanks to a skirmish between Ryoko and Ayeka shortly after their arrival. However, now, it was gone, one of many changes since the events in Manhattan.

As he approached the house, he grinned up toward the red roof and the window of the upstairs bedroom, Tenchi's. It was an excellent design decision, allowing so much light inside and brightening the whole room.

He paused.

"… it would let more light in and really brighten things up," Achika had said to him.

"… It was this window," he whispered to himself.

Nobuyuki could now see himself and Achika on that hillside nearby their high school. She had pointed to the roof and suggested the window. She even had suggested making the roof red, and…

"Listen, Nobuyuki. If you ever build this house…" she had said.

A sharp and angry woman's voice tore Nobuyuki from his realization.

"You're late."

Before him stood the cloaked huntress Jurai Nagi. Even beneath her black cowl, her crimson eyes seemed to glow, feline in shape and quite predatory when she was displeased. She rested a hand on her hip under her cape, partially revealing her saffron rapier and energy whip, two weapons she had a great deal of skill in wielding.

Nobuyuki scratched the back of his head nervously, not unlike his son. "Uh… Sorry. I lost track of time at the office."

Nagi pulled the cowl away from her purple spikes of hair, held away from her face by a hair-band. Her ears were pointed, hidden some by her hairstyle. She was a lovely woman, not unlike the others who had come to live here. Although, she usually marred that beauty with a callous scowl and her intimidating demeanor. There was also that black claw-shaped mark that crossed her right cheek, but from what Nobuyuki had heard, she had had it since birth.

The hair-band itself was of particular note as well. It seemed constructed of smooth vines and branches, all meeting in a violet crest, not unlike Ayeka's tiara or Tenchi's sword. However, it also had a scarlet gem, spherical in shape, embedded in a socket on the opposite side from the crest.

"Ken-Ohki already teleported my things to the third floor," she said coldly, "seeing as it was the only floor with a vacant room."

Nobuyuki rested his hand on his neck, a wry expression on his face. "Alright. That makes things easier. I can show you the room then."

"Good," she replied as she spun away. "Next time, try not to be an hour late."

While she walked toward the house, Nobuyuki's eyes widened as he looked to his watch. Indeed, his timepiece now read "5:30pm".

"Wha…? Five-thirty? But, I left the office right after three…!"

Usually, the bus ride from town to the closest bus stop was a solid ninety minutes. Nobuyuki did get off the bus at the right stop. There were a good many stairs, but on average, he could climb them in a few minutes at a steady walk.

How could it have taken an hour to go up the stairs? I didn't stop that long… he thought.

He sighed and followed Nagi to the house, setting the question aside until after she was settled. He opened the door and allowed her to enter first. She scoffed at the gesture.

As they scaled the stairs to the third floor, Nobuyuki asked, "Where is Ken-Ohki? I didn't see him with you."

"He's with Ryo-Ohki. I tend not to keep tabs on him when they're together."

Nobuyuki grimaced. "Oh, I see."

They soon arrived on the third floor, where several nondescript metallic boxes await in the hallway. The widower had seen some of these designs when he was in space, though he did not see a woman using such spartan luggage.

Then again, she isn't any ordinary woman, either, he thought.

"What about Tenchi, Ryoko, and Sasami? Aren't they around?"

Nagi's lip curled at Ryoko's name. "Ryoko is likely flirting with your son." She hefted a box into her arms. "No doubt, that's why he's not here either."

Nobuyuki also lifted a couple boxes. "And Sasami?"

Knowingly, her eyes met his. "Her sister just left her. Do you think she's worrying about someone else's baggage right now?"

He glanced to the floor. "… I suppose you're right."

The architect motioned to a nearby door, and the two began moving the boxes inside. The work progressed in silence, just as Nagi preferred. She had enough on her mind as it was.

Most knew her simply as "Nagi", the best bounty hunter in the galaxy, the lone wolf who never failed to eliminate her target. Although, there was one she never did finish, Ryua Ryoko. That vendetta had been deeply personal, for, as very few knew, the two shared a blood relation, their mother.

With her cowl drawn back, Nobuyuki could see the likeness between the two half-sisters. They had the same basic structure, though Nagi was more lean and athletic than the more full and voluptuous Ryoko. Their eyes were also similar, acute and predatory. Their ears were pointed in a very similar way.

Nobuyuki has not heard the whole story, but he did know that Nagi's father was Juraian. Having seen how Ayeka's life had been dictated by the royal house, he could only imagine the grief a half-breed like Nagi would have endured. Even though her hair was only a few shades lighter than Ayeka's and her eyes a shade or two darker, the traits she shared with her mother probably made her an outcast.

Officially, with Ryoko's warrants canceled, Nagi had no claim on her life anymore. Also, after the reunion incident, the two had a tenuous understanding and tolerated one another. The two even fought together alongside Tenchi and Ayeka against Tokimi.

After a few minutes of labor, Nobuyuki rested the last parcel in Nagi's room and wiped some perspiration from his brow. He cast an eye to the huntress, who gazed out the window toward the lake.

"Looks like that's it, Nagi. Is there anything else I can help with?"

Not looking toward him, she answered, "No."

He sighed and shook his head. "Well, I'll be downstairs if you need anything."

He turned to leave the room, but her voice caught his ear at the door.

"… Thanks…"

The widower glanced back and grinned before leaving her to her own devices.

X X X

Again and again, the same three scenes played on the monitor.

In the first, a black orb of flame hovered close to Earth surrounded by eight vessels of various types. From the planet below, a mighty ray of white pierced through successive layers of the obsidian blaze, wisps rippling away from the impact. However, the beam splashed off a barrier near the core of the sphere, masked by the brilliant light itself.

The second found a single woman floating over a heavily damaged Manhattan Island. She wore a fiery gown of scarlet and onyx, its material caressing her beautiful body. Green, leaf-like markings crossed her cheeks and neck, plunging down across her shoulders and beneath her clothing. A crown of four streamers passed over her spiked tail of fallow hair, attached to a medallion centered upon her forehead. Her eyes burned a piercing azure and crimson as she glanced aside, a single brow raised at the incoming event. Her hand rose, garbed in a violet glove with her fingers tipped with sharp talons. Here, a crack in reality emerged and widened, shining a pure and powerful white. Within a moment's time, a pulse of spiraling black and white slammed itself into this shield, splitting the pulse into two beams. Soon afterward, the shield shook, oscillating between existing and not.

The third and final depicted the same woman, wounded but no less grand. Her gown was replaced by a similarly colored bodysuit and scarlet bracers, cracked from recent combat. Her talons were jagged and broken, stressed from use. Each laceration of her skin and tatter of her clothing blended into the swirling flames around her. Her hair was scorched and the streamer crown torn, haphazardly framing a porcelain mask with intricately detailed eyes.

In one broken glove, she held a sword hilt composed of blackened and twisted branches of a great tree. From this, a dark blade glowed with a ruby edge, ionizing the very air around it. In her other palm, she carried a crystalline broadsword, sharp and angular with a red, spherical gem embedded in its crest. Yet, from the hilt, arcs of pure ivory current carved ashen grooves into her hand as she struggled to restrain the weapon. Around her, fifteen cracks in the fabric of existence opened, though eight flickered and closed back upon themselves.

Repeatedly, these three scenes were replayed before a pair of emerald, analytic eyes. Feline in shape, they consumed each quality and quantity, focusing primarily on these fissures in reality. Behind this piercing gaze resided an intellect who, more often than not, had described herself as "the greatest scientific genius in the universe". In truth, most of the galaxy could only agree with her.

Dr. Hakubi Washu folded her arms over her underdeveloped chest. Though her physical age resembled a child of at most twelve years, she had once been the top researcher for the Universal Science Academy for a couple decades. However, most knew her best as the "legendary mad scientist" for her exile over seven-hundred years ago due to weapon development. Encased in an α-L model prison unit, she drifted through empty space for a time before the crystalline cell found sanctuary on Earth.

Around a.D. 1295, the nation of Japan was in the Einin era and immediately assumed this fallen star to be an ill omen. As such, those in the region built a shrine around the crash point, becoming the Masaki shrine, to seal away this perceived evil.

For seven-hundred years, Washu remained in a temporal stasis while her mind continued to function. During this time, she concocted numerous inventions and proved a plethora of theorems that would easily dwarf her competitors in that span of time. The solitude facilitated her research far more than her peers could have realized, removing her from any and all external distraction. However, there were internal ones, memories and emotions she would much rather ignore. Her work usually helped set these aside, but it was difficult when she could not move. Though she was very brilliant and could develop plenty of ideas in her head, it was the work of her hands, the actual physical act of building, that gave her the most relief and enjoyment.

While the genius was considering a new method of automorphic induction, her capsule was shattered by the fight between two women, Ryua Ryoko and Jurai Ayeka. Freed, and annoyed, she gave chase in an orb of light generated by her own native power, and even transformed them into a pair of kappa for a brief time once she regained access to her technology.

But, it was Masaki Tenchi, the boy over whom they were fighting, that stole Washu's attention. Even then, she could tell something was unique about him. Since he was oblivious to any special gifts, the scientist shelved that investigation until later.

The Masaki household on Earth was a perfect isolated location to bury herself in her work again. She linked the door of a hall closet to her personal laboratory, located in a subspace reality she had created early in her tenure with the SA. With her equipment at hand once again, and no students to bother her, all her ideas from the past seven-hundred years were finally written down, and some implemented.

The only real distraction was the other girls that came to live in the house. Tenchi, Katsuhito, and Kiyone were sensible enough to leave Washu to her work. Nobuyuki tended to be more fun to taunt with some of the side effects of her inventions, particularly the subspace spa she installed for the ladies. Sasami had a genuine interest and excitement about her that came naturally from her age, which Washu could appreciate. The bubble-headed Mihoshi reflected much of Sasami's naivety, but as kind as she was, the blond GP officer was more of an irritation and, at times, a detriment. Then, there were Ryoko and Ayeka, and their petty rivalries and scuffles.

When the Jurai arrived charging Ayeka and Sasami with high treason, Washu was as surprised as anyone. Of course, the way the Jurai navy manhandled her and discourteously deposited her back on Earth was an insult. She immediately chose to aid in busting the coup on Jurai, if only for her own pride. Also, challenging, and crippling, Jurai's military network seemed like a task worthy of her talents.

During her professorship at the SA, Dr. Hakubi had done her own extensive research into both the powers of Jurai and Ryua, mostly under a grant from the Jurai Imperial Academy. Being a native of Ryua, she possessed its power innately, like Ryoko did as well. However, unlike the former space pirate, Washu harnessed and focused her energies into constructs like her phantom laptop and its ethereal data storage system. Using herself as a living power battery, she could directly access several of her inventions by thought, such as her dimensional storage unit. Still, much of her hardware was very hands-on, as she liked it.

While she had personally quantified and tested each facet of Ryoan energies, she was also given permission to study Jurai's power, discretely. As such, she knew the "Yosho" who took Jurai in 1995 must have been of noble lineage. Only Jurai's royal family wielded this power natively, and a demonstration of the power is necessary for succession to the throne.

The mystery intrigued her and encouraged her to stay with this dysfunctional family through the coup. Though she would hardly admit it, she grew to think of the Masaki household as her own home. She was pleasantly surprised when Katsuhito revealed himself as Yosho, impressed that he could mask his power and lineage from all her methods and intuition. This also affirmed her initial reaction to Tenchi's potential. When Yosho and Ryoko fell, it was Washu who encouraged the boy that he had the power to defeat his grandfather's nemesis, Kagato. Again, she was pleased to see her insight shown true when he emerged victorious.

In the aftermath, Washu went her own separate way for a few months, publishing her new discoveries and inventions from her exile and time on Earth. This quickly brought her back into the graces of the scientific community, but like the others, she found something missing. In trying to fill that void, she turned again to her old habits, weapon development. Before she could go to prototype, an SA investigator found her schematics and reported to the current chairwoman of the academy, Dr. Magma Airi. Washu was promptly booted out of the academy once again.

Soon enough, she found her way back to Earth, picking up her role as the reclusive scientist in the Masaki home. In time, all of the girls returned, and the house was reunited again.

Then, an unseen threat arrived, one wearing a white porcelain mask similar to the one in the final video clip. Codenamed "K.A.I.N." by the GP, he was a characteristic energy form of NVO type energy and classified a Super-A class threat. In 1896, he went on a rampage across the galaxy, destroying several planets, some perhaps inhabited. Most GP weaponry could not approach his power, which is why Jurai intervened. Emperor Jurai Takeru XXI personally joined the effort, using his own Jurai energy to help contain Kain so he could be imprisoned in the GP subspace network. Unfortunately, the effort cost the ruler his life.

Spring 1996, one hundred years later, saw Kain not only manipulate space-time to escape his subspace prison, but also travel back to autumn 1970. There, he targeted Masaki Achika, Tenchi's mother, when she was a teenager. Luckily, Washu was running some experiments and caught the initial incursion point in Earth's atmosphere. While she had not done much research into NVO energy, temporal physics was one of her areas of expertise. Shielding Tenchi's existence prohibited time from rewriting over the girls, including the scientist herself. This gave her time to send the others into history to stop Kain, as well as find out the details of this coming attack.

Time has a strange way about it. Some have said that history is immutable, but Dr. Hakubi has proven this to be quite false. With Tenchi and the others chasing Kain in 1970, history was in flux, causing instabilities in the reality around Washu's present. Pinning down the exact moment Kain would appear became horribly frustrating while events that have happened constantly realign themselves.

Eventually, the creature did show itself. In preparation, Washu followed the GP's original plan to capture Kain, use Jurai energy in tandem with the subspace network. However, Katsuhito, Tenchi, and Ayeka were far from having the power necessary to do what Takeru XXI did. As usual, she invented a solution, using her previous studies as a base. The Jurai's power has always been intimately tied to the trees of their world so she developed psy-linkage equipment to mimic Jurai's energy with Earth's trees, channeled through the Five Color Fudo temples. While this was not a perfect solution, it was expertly effective.

Actually, it was too effective. In the ensuing battle, the teenage versions of Nobuyuki and Achika were dragged into the subspace pocket along with Kain. Little choice was left save to send Tenchi, Ryoko, and Ayeka to rescue the two while Kiyone used a dimensional cannon to finish the job. Yet, in the struggle, Achika awoke to her innate power, something that allowed her to tap Tenchi's mind and see the future. Thus tainted, Achika's memory, and Nobuyuki's as well, were erased of the time the girls spent mucking in their era. Since then, continuity seemed to have righted itself, events following as history had previously dictated.

Still, a worry haunted Washu since Kain's destruction. Why target a girl who knew nothing of her Juraian lineage? What would be the benefit of murdering her?

Truthfully, the researcher had left probes in the altered present created from Kain's incursion. As she told Tenchi and the girls, the Masaki family ended there with Achika, her father soon dying alone as well. She did not tell them that without their interference, Kagato's coup d'etat succeeded, killing both Ayeka and Sasami. Ryoko eventually was gunned down in a shootout with the GP. Kiyone and Mihoshi vanished during an investigation into corruption at the GP headquarters. Of course, Washu herself merely remained imprisoned in the untended Masaki shrine.

Who benefits? Kagato and his co-conspirators on Jurai and in the GP did. Releasing Kain to alter history was a quick fix to a large failure, and it was not the last. In the two years following Kain's defeat, three other events connected with the NVO type energy occurred: Manhattan Island in July 1997, Jurai's royal family reunion in March 1998, and Manhattan again in September 1998. With each encounter, the picture became clearer. As Katsuhito said, "we've been foiling their efforts."

"… foiling her efforts," Washu said to herself.

She paused the videos and stood from her levitating cushion, her eyes glancing between the woman both with and without her mask.

"Tokimi, Matron of Ryua."

Washu had heard of the "Matron" briefly in her youth centuries ago. While the doctor was of Ryoan lineage, she was not born on Ryua itself and did not have much exposure to its culture. Also, she did not see much use for an archaic myth in her research.

Yet, two weeks ago, this "fictional" being demonstrated her power. As the heart of the NVO distortion, she tore through the border between the Galactic Union and the Jurai Empire, heading to Earth. Tenchi and Ryoko faced her in person within the distortion, Tenchi himself undergoing a miraculous transformation that ripped the construct apart. Over the following two days, Tokimi rained terror and destruction on all parties involved, as well as Manhattan Island. However, she not only wielded NVO type energy, but also something unprecedented in this universe.

"Her Wings of the Light Hawk," Washu said as she glanced to the white ruptures in reality around the images of Tokimi.

Dr. Hakubi had every probe and sensor at her disposal active during each encounter with Tokimi. In all of them, the gauges read ridiculous values from the ambient power being generated and exchanged.

But, the wings did not register. Where they appeared, the meters only read trails of zeros, like they were nothing but void. They refused to be quantified, but their qualities were unmistakable. Each could completely block all ethereal transference: Juraian, Ryoan, NVO, even the electromagnetic spectrum. Usually, they withstood bombardment by physical matter and kinetic energy, but Washu found a way around that. The unstable blend of the antipodal Jurai and NVO could send a wing into a phasing flux that allowed matter to pass through one, but nothing more.

The genius rested her chin on her knuckles. But, she thought, while the wings did not emit any signs of existence, the fact that they impeded other transfer events proves their existence.

Her arms opened and lowered her fingers before her. Under her fingertips, a translucent keyboard appeared along with its companion monitor. Like a well-practiced dance, Washu's digits entered strings of commands into her phantom terminal, spawning several gauges and data windows hanging in the air around her.

Four others demonstrated the wings.

In his transformation, Tenchi gained the ability to create three of these Light Hawk Wings. Later, Ryoko also manifested two in the final battle with Tokimi. One developed for the bounty hunter Will Pii, but that situation seemed very unique due to some melding with Nerti Ro's recently realized abilities.

Washu's monitor displayed an image of a beautiful, azure-haired woman. Dressed in the purest white of Jurai's regal finery, a gentle majesty was clear in her rosy gaze. The picture rose from the screen and rotated, showing a holographic depth as it demonstrated the detail of the lady's appearance. Behind her, two long tails of hair cascaded down her back, reaching her heels. On her forehead, two jade discs glowed softly, highlighting her bangs of hair and the features of her face.

"Tsunami, Matron of Jurai, sister of Tokimi," she commented as her lips curled into a grimace. "Or, Jurai Sasami, younger sister of Jurai Ayeka and princess of Jurai?"

Unbeknown to even Ayeka, her younger sister held within her the essence of Jurai's masterful power, Tsunami. During the recent event in Manhattan, she was forced to reveal this fact, aging young Sasami from a ten-year-old girl to a twenty-year-old woman in the span of a few hours. In this form, she detailed much of Jurai and Ryua's prehistory, some of it unknown even to Azaka and Kamidake. She also manifested ten wings, easily dwarfing any power displayed by anyone save Tokimi.

However, she added in thought, does she still retain that power after…

A knock came from behind Washu. Annoyed, her eyes rolled as she tapped a few keys on her keyboard. A new window opened above her monitor, showing the corridor outside the physical door into her laboratory.

"Who is it?" she asked, not at all masking the irritation in her voice.

There, an elderly man stood and answered, "I thought I'd check in on you."

Masaki Katsuhito, birth-name "Jurai Yosho", was always rather humble and stoic in how he portrayed himself. Few on Earth would look at his plain gi and hakama and think him more than a simple Shinto priest of a nearly forgotten shrine in the mountains. Off Earth, he was once crown prince of the Jurai Empire, one who threw away his regal responsibilities to hide amongst the distant stars. Only recently were the people of the galaxy reminded of why he left that seat of power.

He had watched his best friend, a cousin, fall into an obsession with his innate power and become twisted by its dominating simplicity. Indeed, power corrupted Jurai Kagato so much that Yosho had to "slay" him. However, as a young man, he could not kill his friend, but left him beaten, to crawl away in defeat. Having seen Kagato's fall, Yosho could not bring himself to sit upon Jurai's throne. Power like that could easily ruin him just like his friend.

Alone, the prince wandered the galaxy, looking for some solace before coming to Earth. There, he found the Japanese culture and their honor, which reminded him a great deal of Jurai's ideals. He threw away the name "Jurai Yosho" and took up "Masaki Katsuhito" through marriage to Masaki Itsuki, a shrine maiden in Okayama. It was this name he hoped to carry to his grave.

Of course, Kagato's reappearance in 1995 ruined this aspiration. After revealing his true identity, he faced his old friend one last time, but his foe had grown more powerful with the "Darkness of the Universe". Only in the following encounters with Tokimi and her emissaries did the meaning of his words become completely clear.

"You've been hiding away for the last few days," Katsuhito said to Washu.

"I'm a little busy right now," she answered. "I have experiments to run and…"

He grinned and lifted a tray. Upon it rested a bowl of noodles and a selection of nigiri and temaki. Flavored steam rose from the broth, nearly masking a few crab legs floating between the pieces of udon.

Washu's eyes widened when her stomach reminded her of the hour. Often, she would lock herself away to work and quickly forget the time.

"Sasami thought you might want some dinner to keep up your strength."

A wry grin crossed the genius's face as she nods. "That's thoughtful of her. I guess I could take a break."

Katsuhito bowed while Washu tapped a couple keys. Behind her, the door's opposite side appeared, allowing him to enter directly into her current research area. All around the old prince, the hum of machines could be heard, though they were distant in the darkly lit chamber. Washu spun toward him as he approached.

"Thanks," she said.

"Not a problem. This is hardly the first time you've forgotten a meal."

She laughed to herself as he offered the tray to her. She sat back on her seat, resting the meal across her lap. While Washu took her chopsticks and started to munch hungrily on the dinner, Katsuhito eyed her data windows.

"How goes your work?"

"Eh, could be better," she replied between bites. "Even with all the readings I took during the battles, I still have no sure way to detect the wings."

The displays were reflected in his spectacles as he scanned through the information. While he was not a scientific scholar, not all of this was foreign to him. His fame had always been his swordsmanship, though he had also been educated in Jurai's history and its power, which he wielded with a decided mastery. Ryoan and NVO energy proved not to be very dissimilar in their nature and behavior.

But, his attention quickly fell on the image of Tsunami.

"Have you detected any sign of Tsunami?"

Washu slurped up a noodle and shook her head. "Not yet. She's just as elusive as Tokimi is."

The prince nodded. "She is the 'Woman of Mystery', after all."

"Sasami does still have that triangular emblem on her forehead, and all members of the Jurai royal family still possess their powers. Thus, I doubt Tsunami was destroyed in that fight with Tokimi."

"That is true."

Washu lowered her chopsticks, a concern in her green eyes.

"How has she been acting?"

Katsuhito met her gaze, a similar worry found in his expression.

"Like a confused teenage girl."

With a sigh, Washu nodded. "That's to be expected. After Tsunami's defeat, she was found in a teenage body. Juraian hormones aren't any different than those of other species."

The old warrior grinned thoughtfully. "I expect not."

"Has she had any memory of her experiences as Tsunami?"

"Not that she's shared. She's been fairly private since her change."

Washu scoffed and munched a piece of temaki. "That's part of being a teenager."

"She also lost the person dearest to her."

The two exchanged a knowing glance. An old ache twinged within Washu's chest, a familiar emotion. She glanced down to her udon noodles, considering Sasami's solitary hands preparing this food before her. Habitually, she pushed that feeling deep into her heart and ignored it.

"I know that," the scientist added plainly. "We all do, but that was Ayeka's decision. And, I can't completely fault her for it either."

"Nor can I," he stoically agreed. "Ayeka's story isn't going to be here on Earth."

Still, a little feeling stirred in Washu's breast.

"Think she'll manage on her own?"

"Sasami or Ayeka?"

"Both."

With a slight grin, Katsuhito replied, "Neither is alone."

"You know what I meant," she huffed.

He took a breath and nodded. "It won't be easy for either of them, which is what we're here for."

Quietly, she accepted this.

The prince then nodded to her noodles with a soft smile.

"You'd better finish, or they'll get cold."

She looked down to the work of Sasami's hands, each bite deliciously woven together as a gift. Underneath her hermit facade, Washu understood and let a solemn smile slip through her lips. She took her chopsticks and resumed her dinner, pacing herself to enjoy the flavors, like she would enjoy her work to come.

X X X

The mountain breezes softly flew through the hair of Masaki Tenchi as he sat on the side of a particular foothill. His brown eyes looked out over the rolling hills that stood before the proud peaks a few miles farther back. His right hand gripped a pencil and set it against the sketchpad resting against his thighs. Glancing down, the young man traced the lines he had seen, each new stroke slowly recreating the landscape presented to him.

As Tenchi went through school, he sometimes wondered what he would do with this life. His grades were decent, but he was hardly a scholar. He had been trained from a young age by his grandfather to wield the sword, but he never wanted to hurt anyone.

It was a question that he pondered as he walked home in April 1995, when he saw a pair of stars fall from the sky. Curious, he investigated and found a beautiful, cyan-haired girl laying amongst some crystalline wreckage, her breath reeking of alcohol.

Tenchi had seen pretty girls before at school, as well as when his father would leave a manga or magazine laying on the table. However, this young woman had a different beauty about her. Her hair was not only a very strange color, but also spiked, reminiscent of a lion's mane. Her figure was full and voluptuous, but still quite strong and fit, considering her clothes left little to the imagination. Her ears also were elfin, pointed much more like a mythical sprite. In all honesty, if not for the falling "stars", Tenchi would have taken her for a gorgeous, drunk cos-player.

Luckily, he was more concerned for her safety and condition than her looks. He rushed to her side and gave her some water to wake her. He noted briefly her slightly lengthened canine teeth as he nudged his cupped hand to her lips. Quickly, she opened her eyes, those golden, feline eyes.

Contacts, Tenchi thought to himself.

At least, he thought that until she jumped up, grabbed him, and said she was being chased by a space pirate. His confusion only lasted until a rather large, blue mech-suit stomped out from the bushes and started firing at them. Needless to say, he ran, his wrist tight in this mysterious girl's grasp.

She very quickly said her name was "Ryoko", and this incident was just the start of the excitement that would follow. Though a turn of fate, namely a well-placed soda can, the mech-suit toppled, unable to right itself. Ryoko took the opportunity and kicked it over the edge of a cliff. In need of change of pants, Tenchi simply agreed to escort her back to his home.

There, she "explained" herself to Tenchi, as well as his father and grandfather. Tenchi, naturally, disregarded the story while Nobuyuki was more attentive to her figure. Katsuhito, secretly knowledgeable of the kind of woman she was, simply nodded, letting her story pass, not that he believed a word of it.

Later, the mech-suit returned, chasing Ryoko, and it was the Shinto priest who disabled the machine with a bokken. Forced to reveal herself, the pilot flopped out of the damaged machine, the blond Detective Kuramitsu Mihoshi. Her story was that Ryoko was an infamous space pirate, which the cyan-maned woman completely denied.

But, the wanted poster was something she could not deny. She was "Ryua Ryoko", GP case 80812029, sought for numerous daring robberies and malicious mischief, mostly done solo. Her cover blown, Ryoko dropped her "meek and mild" facade and demonstrated why she was the "devil caller", and why she had yet to be caught. Crimson light gathered at her hands as she levitated, phasing in and out of sight.

Tenchi and Mihoshi ran until she could go no farther. Ryoko hovered over them, ready to strike, but Tenchi grabbed a simple garden hoe and stood against her. Flabbergasted, Ryoko paused. His eyes were set and determined, even against all the power she wielded. As red lightning sparked between her palms, sweat beaded on Tenchi's brow.

Then, she just set her feet on the ground, let the fierce light vanish, and giggled playfully, like it was all a game. Tenchi was dumbfounded.

What just happened? he asked himself.

Shortly afterward, she and Mihoshi became the first female residents at the Masaki house since Achika's death some years ago. In a matter of weeks, that number would sharply increase with the arrival of Ayeka and Sasami. Washu made herself at home once Ayeka and Ryoko shattered her prison. Kiyone was offered a place in the Masaki home, but she was adamant that she, and Mihoshi, should make their own way. Of course, the duo frequently visited and were met with the warmest of hospitality.

Though Nobuyuki swore to the contrary for years, Tenchi was just as shy with women as his father was. However, this did not stymie the romantic interest in Ryoko or Ayeka. The two were polar opposites in many ways, including their attraction toward the young man. Ryoko was always highly aggressive and seductive, trying to tempt him with her body and her wiles at so many opportunities. Ayeka was more passive and demure, wanting him to choose her for her nobility and purity rather than base desire. Naturally, like fire and water, the two clashed at each turn, sometimes with explosive results.

Yet, Ryoko changed. One incident stood out in Tenchi's mind in particular, the affair with the dimension tuner. Washu had created the device to investigate parallel realities, but the girls each saw a chance to rewrite the world to their wants. Overloading the machine, they sent the entire household on a journey through every one of their "perfect" worlds. One by one, Washu systematically broke the ties to each alternate reality, gradually pulling them all back to their original universe.

But, it was the last that caused problems. Ryoko had been the first to tamper with Washu's machine and as such, was intimately tied to the existence of this parallel world. Unlike the others, she had to actively renounce this dream for everyone to go home.

"No" was her initial answer. She had the daring excitement that part of her so craved. Even without her native powers, she enjoyed every moment running from the law and doing whatever she chose, with Tenchi in tow.

What she did not consider was how the others, particularly Tenchi, felt. He wanted to go home, back to his life on Earth. Ryoko could not seem to understand why.

Didn't he love the excitement? she asked herself. Didn't he love…?

He was angry, called her "selfish". Truthfully, she was, and she knew it as well as he did. She was just as angry and flew away, determined that she would keep this world that she so desired.

Tenchi stayed with Washu where the dimension tuner was partially phased into this world.

She was the one being unreasonable, he thought, but he also felt guilty. Essentially, he was asking her to give up her heart's desire to go back to their reality. How unreasonable am I? he wondered.

Then, Ryoko came back, a smile on her face. She had decided to go back, but Tenchi could see that the smile was forced. Part of her really did not want to do this. He asked her what changed her mind, and she said, "This journey isn't real, and it's time I realized that." As Washu made ready to take them home, Ryoko gently took Tenchi's hand. When he looked over to her, she smiled softly to him. She never said the words, but her heart had changed, matured that night.

In the weeks that followed, Ryoko seemed different, more subdued. She still held fast to her claim on Tenchi's heart, but her scuffles with Ayeka became more verbal and less violent. Though the two never actually acknowledged it, they were friends, apart from their rivalry over Tenchi. Now and then, Tenchi and Ryoko would talk alone, usually ending in an awkward silence.

Not long after the dimension tuner affair, Jurai's navy came for Ayeka and Sasami. Since Ryoko had yet to learn tact, the soldiers quickly recognized her and took her into custody as well. In a daring rescue, Tenchi, Washu, Katsuhito, and Nobuyuki boarded the Juraian battleship and freed the girls, using Ryo-Ohki's mass-shifting capability. Thus, all of them, and later Kiyone and Mihoshi, were branded rebels against the Juraian crown.

In the trek from Earth to Jurai, Ryoko's unique expertise as a pirate became invaluable, but a liability. She knew how to live on the run, which gave them all the funds to pursue the journey and avoid capture. However, her own self-interest periodically drew undue attention to their location.

When Tenchi's Juraian lineage came to light, Ryoko grew distant. She could see a change in him, as well as in Ayeka. In truth, he was overwhelmed with everything he had just learned. Ayeka's insistence that he take the throne hardly helped his already spinning mind. Little did the princess know that Ryoko was listening to the entire exchange. Soon enough, Kagato defeated Katsuhito, and already frustrated and needing an outlet, Ryoko flew into combat alone. With a few waves of his hand, the dark emperor dealt a crippling blow, tossing her from the sky to the ground near the fallen Juraian warrior.

Kagato left with Ayeka in tow, leaving his navy to finish the job for him. Luckily, Tenchi and the others escaped with Nagi's opportune interference. Tenchi stayed by his grandfather's bedside, trying to come to grips with what had just transpired. Self-doubt clouded his mind looking at Katsuhito's motionless face.

He just took out Grandpa, he thought. I don't know anything about any "Jurai power". What can I do?

Washu snapped at him, reassuring him in her own blunt way that he actually had potential surpassing Katsuhito. Alone with Tenchiken, the sword key from which his name originated, he found how to summon the blue blade, and the courage to face his grandfather's nemesis.

Unbeknown to him, Ryoko was laying in her room, bleeding badly from her wound. Looking at the life ebbing from her side, the shock of the situation faded as she realized what was bound to happen.

Tenchi's going to fight him now, she reasoned. After what that bastard did to the old man, there's no other way. And, if he did this to me…

She cleaned and bandaged herself as best she could before she went looking for Tenchi. Soon enough, he came through Yagami's corridor, a determined expression on his face.

No, goddammit, she thought.

She stepped in front of him and confronted him, pleaded with him to run away with her, far away from all this. He just smiled sadly to himself. Part of him did want to flee. He was not completely sure he could even defeat Kagato.

Frustrated, she even threatened him with her powers.

"I'm a space pirate, and a powerful one," she reminded him. "I could steal you away if I wanted to!"

Yet, her arm shook and wrapped around him, pulling him close against her. He could feel her sobbing against his chest and shoulder. This was not the demand of some vicious criminal. It was a plead for his life, to stay with her.

He pushed her gently away, his eyes apologetic.

"But, I can't forsake Ayeka," he said. "I can't do that." His eyes hardened. "Besides, this is my fight too, now."

He just walked by her. That heart she kept buried beneath layers of attitude and selfishness cracked wide open as she cried his name.

I've lost him, she screamed in her head.

Then, he stopped and looked back at her. She dried her eyes, swallowed her sobs, and raised her eyes to meet his.

If he's going to die, she decided, he's not going alone.

She lived on Jurai for part of her life, and she knew the route. Aboard her partner Ryo-Ohki, Ryoko escorted Tenchi, Azaka, and Kamidake to Jurai. Alone, she challenged Jurai's planetary defense network while the navy was occupied with Yagami and Ken-Ohki. Like a valkyrie, she demolished every blockade in her way, even as turrets and artillery bombarded her ship, and her body. Bulkheads blew, knocking her to the ground, but she refused to remain on the floor.

He's going to do this, she swore. He's going to avenge his grandfather, and me.

Soon enough, she landed at the palace. Sweat was beading on her forehead, and blood starting to stain her clothes. Covering this, she bid her quiet farewells to Tenchi and the knights.

"I hope you know I wasn't planning on helping you rescue that 'other woman'," she defended. "After all, I am a pirate."

Tenchi just smiled at her. He watched her the entire flight and knew she was injured in her exchange with Kagato. Sadly, he just did not realize how badly.

However, Azaka and Kamidake did. They honored her respectfully before joining Tenchi in rushing toward Kagato. Once their backs were turned, she finally collapsed, no longer able to hide the excruciation consuming her. Her last vision before blacking out was Tenchi and the knights, her last word his name. Ryo-Ohki quickly sped away with her mistress aboard, where Ryoko succumbed to her wound, admitting to herself that for all her adventures and freedom, she was lonely.

Tenchi and the knights did overcome Kagato and his twisted followers, the young prince awakening to the power within himself. In this battle, he realized what his grandfather had two generations ago about the power to rule so when Ayeka asked him to assume the throne, he chose to return to Earth.

Just like Ryoko, he could see Ayeka's heart shatter, not that she showed more than a pair of tears. She could barely look at him, nor could she watch him leave. The entire trip home, he guiltily cursed himself for hurting them both.

After the coup d'etat fell, Ayeka and Sasami remained on Jurai, stabilizing their world again. Washu was welcomed back into the SA with all her well-earned accolades. Kiyone and Mihoshi were both promoted for their heroism against the corruption in the GP.

But, no one could find Ryoko, not even Nagi. The infamous lady pirate seemed to completely vanish following her daring raid on the Jurai throne-world.

Tenchi worried about her. He knew she was injured, but was she actually mortally wounded?

She's probably back to her old tricks, he reassured himself. Kiyone and Mihoshi will probably find her robbing a bank or something.

Months passed, and life grew monotonous. Nobuyuki and Katsuhito were able to convince Tenchi's high school principal that they had a "family emergency" to handle. His prolonged absence was excused, and he was allowed to resume school. Still, he missed everyone, the excitement of having all his friends there on Earth.

And, he worried about the one who was missing.

Then, in spring 1996, he was walking home when he heard Ryoko's voice whisper his name. He thought he had finally lost his mind, but in a moment, there she was, standing on a stone before him. She looked just like she did when they first met: strong, proud, and beautiful. The lady pirate embraced him strongly, a long-lost friend come home.

After her, all of the other girls returned to Earth, each resuming their former roles. Since then, Ryoko had stood by Tenchi's side, and Ayeka's as well: Tokyo 1970 against Kain, both Manhattan incidents, and the Jurai royal family reunion of 1998. Still, as close as the three were, a tenuous balance had existed between them, one Tenchi constantly avoided tipping. With a few words from his mouth, one of the two women could be crushed, though the other would be elated.

This scared him. He cared for them both, but as his father warned, he could not keep them at arm's length forever. Eventually, he had to embrace one of them, or lose them both. The choice hung around his heart like a leaden weight as they all struggled through the events of the last three years.

Here, on the foothill, Tenchi raised his eyes to the mountains, comparing them to his sketch. He had started drawing idly in his school notes his last semester, not unlike his father. Soon enough, he had taken to a sketchpad, stealing away into the hills around his home. There, the serene scenery gave him respite from the periodic insanity back at home. Admittedly, this was more of an escape from the tension between Ryoko and Ayeka.

However, while he came to avoid them, his mind always circled back to them. Looking down at today's pencil strokes, the young prince thought about how three words tore away that precious balance.

No, he corrected himself. It was more than just "I love you"…

A familiar whoosh of air caught his attention, spurring him to glance up at his side. Ryua Ryoko smiled warmly down to him, her cyan mane billowing in the winds. A red Chinese dress hugged her body closely, adding an elegance to her already fierce beauty. A silver bracelet wrapped around her left wrist, the metal molded into the shape of three vines intertwining and blossoming together. In their blooms, a perfectly spherical gem is held aloft, crimson in color.

Tenchi reciprocated her quiet greeting as she crouched next to him, their eyes meeting.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey, yourself," she answered playfully.

Gently, the two leaned together, letting their lips touch briefly. Ryoko glanced down at his sketch, bringing a rise to her brow.

"Wow," she said while her eyes slide to the landscape in the distance. "When'd this start?"

"Yesterday. I came up here to touch it up a bit."

She smirked, her feline eyes narrowed slyly.

"Really? I thought you were avoiding me."

Wryly, Tenchi grimaced and scratched the back of his head.

"Why would you think that, Ryoko?"

One of her arms snaked around his shoulders as she eased herself down to sit with him.

"Oh, probably because I distract you."

Her face neared his again, her breath against his lips.

"I always had a talent for that."

He nodded, his grimace shifting to a smile.

"You still do."

He set his sketchpad aside while one of his arms slipped around her waist.

"Is that a problem?" she asked.

He chuckled, "Not at the moment."

Again, their lips touched, though Ryoko's parted. Shortly, Tenchi mimicked her, deepening the kiss. Gradually, the two embraced closer, their arms wrapping around one another. Then, a soft rumble rose from her chest. The young prince broke the kiss with a wide smile.

"It still amazes me," he said. "You purr just like a cat."

She set her forehead to his, their gazes joining.

"Then, you must be doing something right, my dear artist."

They kissed again briefly before Tenchi's eyes glanced down to the bracelet on her wrist.

"How're you managing with the bracelet?"

She peered at the elegant piece of jewelry, an irritated curl to her lip.

"It works just fine."

The young woman extended her hand, the crimson gem glowing brightly. Over her upturned palm, rays of ruby light coalesced into a sphere, a skill she had demonstrated many times in her life.

"As long as I wear it, I have all the powers I've always had."

Then, she carefully removed the bracelet, and immediately, the scarlet illumination flickered and faded away.

"But, I lose them all when it comes off."

Tenchi furrowed his brows, considering this while Ryoko slipped the item back onto her wrist.

"Didn't Tsunami give back your powers?" Tenchi asked.

She rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh. "That was the idea. I couldn't really do much after that bitch Tokimi took my old Ryoan energies."

"So, your powers are tied to Jurai now, like me and Grandpa."

"Yeah, supposedly."

He grinned warmly. "Well, I guess it's like I was early on."

He reached into his shirt and produced Tenchiken, the Juraian key carrying his name. Resembling a katana's hilt, the device was composed of smooth branches intricately woven together. The violet guard seemed carved from a pure block of amethyst and nestled snugly into the design.

Thoughtfully, Ryoko eyed the sword hilt, as well as the bracelet on her wrist, while he spoke.

"When I first learned about my Juraian heritage, I didn't know how to do any of what I can do now. What I could do then, I could only do with the sword. It's taken the last couple years to figure it all out."

He set the sword down atop his sketchpad before he rested his hand on her cheek, guiding her gaze back to his. The earthen shade of his eyes met the golden of hers as the grin widened to a smile.

"But, I did with Grandpa, and you."

Her fingers slid up over his, holding his touch to her skin as she pressed her head into the caress.

"I know you will too."

She chuckled and closed her eyes.

"Yeah," she answered, "if you'll help me relearn it all again."

"Of course, I will."

Her eyes blinked open again, diving deeply into Tenchi.

"I love you, Tenchi," she whispered softly to him.

Gently, he drew her lips toward his while his breath warmed her mouth with the reply, "I love you too, Ryoko."

Their lips met, their kiss quickly becoming more passionate. In the distance, the sun descended against the mountains, casting an orange hue over the couple and closing this day in Okayama.