Title:  The Choice

Author:  Rowan Seven

Teaser:  Tokimi forces Ryoko to make a painful choice.

Disclaimer:  Tenchi Muyo belongs to Pioneer and AIC.  I'm not making any money off this fanfiction.

******

It had happened in less than a second. 

"Nighttime has come,

Gone is the sun,

Dream sky is spun,

Stars, one by one…"

Ryoko was alone in the Masaki house with only little Mayuka and Ryo-ohki for company.  The three of them were in Mayuka's bedroom with the aforementioned baby being softly rocked in the sitting Ryoko's arms as she sang a lullaby she'd learned.  Ryo-ohki was in her brown child-form and was curled up at Ryoko's feet, drifting off to the gentle and tranquil music.  The three of them truly looked like a family in that moment, with the moonlight coming in through a non-curtained window and providing pale but beautiful illumination.

"Oyasumi, hush my love,

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Hush, hush, hush.."

BOOM!!!

Before Ryoko could turn her head let alone teleport the room was flooded by black light.  However, before it reached the unprepared Ryoko it and everything else stopped, up to and including the earth and every other planets' rotation.  Ryoko didn't know about the latter, but she did know that the sudden absolute absence of every movement and sound except for the ones created by her, the now wailing Mayuka, and Ryo-ohki was disturbing. 

Ryoko stood up, still protectively holding Mayuka, and spun around to survey the room as a frightened Ryo-ohki returned to her cabbit form and hopped on the ex-space pirate's shoulder.  "What the heck is going on?" she wondered aloud, her language a little cleaner since she was in the presence of a baby.

I HAVE STOPPED TIME.

Ryoko winced at the loud and impossible to ignore voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.  Mayuka stopped crying.  "Yeah, and who are you?" Ryoko demanded, eyes narrowing.

What parts of the room that had not been engulfed by the frozen black light were suddenly filled with a brilliant white light as a tall female form took shape.  Ryoko had to close her eyes against the overwhelming brightness, and when she opened them again the white light was gone, and on the far side of the room stood a regal and unearthly woman.  She had long, spiky brunette hair, an aquiline face, and eyes that were a mixture of blue and red.  Light green feather-like markings ran up her cheeks and a pure white cape billowed behind her.  Her silhouette was semi-transparent.

I HAVE BEEN CALLED MANY THINGS OVER THE MILLENNIA, RYOKO, BUT YOU MAY REFER TO ME AS LADY TOKIMI.

Tokimi's form suddenly solidified.  "I have, for your benefit, assumed a form more…suitable for this plane of existence.  We must speak, Ryoko.  Time is fast disappearing."

Ryoko snorted.  "Didn't you just say that time was stopped?"  Despite her arrogant words, inwardly she was worried.  This Lady Tokimi, well, there was something disturbingly familiar about her, and if what she said about stopping time was true then she was definitely a force to be reckoned with. 

Tokimi's mouth curved slightly downwards, the only outward sign of her irritation.  "True, but I can only keep the future on hold for so long before being detected by my sister.  Though now a part of this realm, she still possesses some extradimensional senses."

"Now," Tokimi pronounced, moving on, "I have come to offer you a choice.  You must choose between two lives:  Tenchi or Mayuka."

Ryoko's eyes widened and she suddenly summoned an energy sword, pointing it straight at Tokimi's chest.  "Explain yourself!" she demanded angrily and just a tad worriedly, her mind refusing to accept what she'd just heard.

Tokimi seemed indifferent about the blade of energy in front of her.  "You heard me the first time, Ryoko," she replied coolly, her red and blue eyes watching Ryoko intently, "you must choose between Tenchi and Mayuka.  You can only continue to protect and love one.  Who will it be?"

"And just what do you mean by that?!" Ryoko demanded, her energy sword not wavering in the least.  "Is this some sort of threat?"

Tokimi chuckled lightly.  Her laughter was like music.  "Hardly," she replied, "more like a warning.  See this black light?" She gestured at the darkness surrounding them with her left hand.  "In less than a hundredth of a microsecond this entire room would've been flooded by this energy.  The result would be the complete and utter annihilation of every sub-atom of matter.  A most impressive bomb, if I do say so myself.  These mortals can be so very creative when it comes to thinking up new ways of killing each other."

Seeing the look on Ryoko's face, Tokimi added, "Oh, you probably would've survived, what with being part masu and with your incredible regenerative properties.  Still, your essence would've been discorporated, and restoring yourself would require many days of agonizing effort.  Mayuka, on the other hand…"  Tokimi trailed off.

"But now that you've stopped time, I can teleport with Mayuka and Ryo-ohki and be gone from here before that happens," Ryoko pointed out.

"Yes, but what about the next time?" Tokimi inquired.

Ryoko chuckled harshly.  "If I have anything to say about it, whoever's behind this attack won't have a 'next time'."

Tokimi smiled cruelly.  "And that is the problem.  You cannot punish those responsible for this attack."

Ryoko raised an eyebrow.  "Oh really?  I think you'd be surprised at what I can and cannot do, Tokimi."

Tokimi shook her head in the negative.  "I know you and your abilities quite well, Ryoko, and I tell you again that you cannot punish those responsible for this attack.  The reason for this is that Tsunami is the culprit, indirectly of course.  She appeared in a dream of a radical Jurai council member and inspired him to do this."

Ryoko froze, the only sound coming from her the humming of her energy sword.  Mayuka watched everything with round, wide eyes.  "I don't believe you," Ryoko declared at last.  "Sasami would _never_ harm Mayuka."

Tokimi sighed.  "I never said Sasami was responsible; rather, I said that Tsunami was." 

"And just why would Tsunami want to kill Mayuka?" Ryoko asked, her expression unreadable.

"Because Mayuka is a threat to her," Tokimi answered.  "Tsunami is an embodiment of order.  She does not like chaos.  Mayuka, being an offspring of the Tree of Darkness, is a creature of chaos.  Take into consideration the massive Jurai power she inherited from her father, and when she grows up she could very well be one of the strongest beings in the galaxy.  In Tsunami's mind, that makes her a danger to Jurai and her future plans."

"I consider Tsunami my friend, Tokimi, and you haven't supplied any proof to make me believe that she's guilty," Ryoko retorted, though doubt was beginning to appear in her voice.

"Then listen closely to what I say next, Ryoko.  As the goddess of Jurai and the progenitor of the space trees, Tsunami is practically omniscient within her own empire.  Inside of Jurain space there is no secret she does not know, no plot she is unaware of.  If what I say is true and a Jurain group has tried to murder Mayuka, then Tsunami knew about it.  You know I speak the truth about the former.  The only place you can doubt me is whether or not a Jurain group is responsible for this attempt on Mayuka's life, and who else would have a motive?  For that matter, who other than a member of Jurai's Holy Council even knows of Mayuka's heritage?  You know how Jurains feel about crossbreeds.  Imagine their reaction to a child of Masaki royal blood and darkness.  The only other possible target for this bomb is yourself, and once again only the Holy Council of Jurai knows where you are.  Either way you look at it, Tsunami has, at the very least, condemned you, Ryo-ohki, and Mayuka to die by not interfering."

Ryoko's eyes narrowed.  "And just how do you fit into this?  How do I know you're not the one who set this bomb in an attempt to turn me against Tsunami?"

Tokimi smiled emotionlessly.  "Because, dear child, a house divided against itself cannot stand.  _I_ am Tsunami's sister and opposite, a representation of chaos in direct opposition to her order.  Mayuka's continued existence benefits me far more than it does Tsunami, and risking her life in a scheme such as this would be equivalent to me shooting myself in my own foot."

"Tsunami has a sister?" Ryoko wondered out loud, her mind absorbing this theological revelation as best it could and silently thankful that she didn't place much stock in religion.  If she had, she'd probably be fainting right now.

"Two actually," Tokimi corrected, "but the third abdicated her godhood long ago and now lives as a mortal, her sphere of influence, logic, being awarded to both chaos and order.  Now, make your choice Ryoko:  Tenchi or Mayuka?"

"Wait!  Provided I do believe you about Tsunami, and I'm not sure I do," Ryoko began, fizzling out her energy blade and holding Mayuka protectively against her chest, "I still don't understand what you mean by making a choice.  Is Tenchi in danger too?  And if I chose Mayuka, how would that save her?"

Tokimi nodded.  "I can see where my ultimatum may have led to confusion.  Answering your questions, Tenchi's life is not in danger.  Tenchi is very important to Tsunami's future plans and is under her personal protection.  What I meant by having to choose between Tenchi and Mayuka is that you can only continue to live with and protect one.  Mayuka is no longer safe here and will only _be_ safe if everyone thinks her to be dead.  To do that, it must appear that she died in this explosion.  I am not allowed to directly intervene just yet, but by making you aware of the situation I'm giving you the chance to save her.  However, it will have to appear that you died in this explosion as well.  From there I can direct you to a system where the two of you plus Ryo-ohki will be safe from detection for many years.  To save Mayuka, though, you'll have to abandon Tenchi, but remaining with Tenchi has an even higher price:  Mayuka's life.  Choose well, Ryoko.  Time is running out."

Ryoko glared angrily at Tokimi.  "You expect me to choose between the two people I care about the most?" she asked, her calm voice belying the rage she was feeling.

"Yes," was Tokimi's simple reply.

Ryoko slowly looked back and forth from Tokimi to Mayuka, her mind torn with indecision.  ^Tenchi…Mayuka…how can I possibly choose?^ she wondered.  She thought of Tenchi:  his beautiful smile, his kind spirit, his generosity.  She remembered the first time she'd seen him, a baby being carried on his mother's shoulders.  She recalled watching him as he grew up, her feelings for him growing, him releasing her from her cave, and the adventures they'd had ever since.

She then thought of Mayuka:  her violent reaction to her first appearance as a teenager, her inability to hurt her despite the danger she sensed from her, caring for her as a baby, hearing her laugh for the very first time, and the feeling of warmth she experienced whenever baby Mayuka smiled at her.

Slowly, painfully, she came to a decision.  She loved both Tenchi and Mayuka more than she had ever loved anything else before.  Which love was stronger she did not know, but she knew that she could never face Tenchi again knowing that she'd sacrificed Mayuka's life to do so.  There was only one option for her to accept. 

"…Mayuka," Ryoko answered at last, eyeing the infant she was holding with sadness.

Tokimi nodded, as if she'd expected this outcome the entire time.  "Very well then.  Grab my hand."

Ryoko looked at Tokimi's outstretched talon with hesitation.  Firming up her resolve, she said, "If I find out you lied to me about this you'll regret this day Tokimi."  She accepted Tokimi's talon.

Tokimi smiled grimly.  "Perhaps the most powerful and devastating weapon in all of creation is truth, Ryoko.  It is one I know how to use well."  They disappeared only to reappear in Tenchi's room.

"What are we doing here?" Ryoko demanded.  Ryo-ohki meowed Ryoko's confusion. 

Tokimi let go of Ryoko's hand and pointed at the top drawer of Tenchi's desk.  It opened and out flew the Tenchi-ken.  Coming to a stop a few feet in front of Ryoko it hovered and slowly rotated.  "Before we leave I thought it would be best if you reclaimed your full power.  If you die, the gems would disappear anyway so this won't raise any undue suspicions.  You should also know that your link with Washu will be terminated during our next teleport.  She'll believe you to be dead as well."

Ryoko felt a momentary pang of sadness, realizing that she would never have the chance to fix her relationship with her mother.  Putting aside such thoughts and frowning, she gazed at the Tenchi-ken and concentrated.  The two gems on the sword's hilt and the one gem on her wrist pulsated with light in unison.  The sword shook vigorously as her two gems slowly detached themselves before becoming calm again.  Now free, Ryoko's two gems flew to her, one attaching itself to her other wrist and the other fastening against her neck.  She let out a brief sigh of contentment as she felt her full power return, a feeling that disappeared all too soon when she noticed Tokimi looking at her.

"Just out of curiosity, why did you never take the gems back before this?  It was always within your power," Tokimi asked.

Ryoko glared.  "I was waiting for the day Tenchi would give them to me of his own free will, showing that he trusted and loved me.  Now thanks to you that day will never come!"  She patted Mayuka to comfort her, not wanting her yelling to disturb her.

"…I see," Tokimi replied after a moment's pause.  Extending her talon again, she said, "Now take my hand.  This will be the final step of this journey."

Taking one last look around at the house, knowing that this could be the very last time she ever saw it, she grabbed Tokimi's talon.  She felt the mental connection to her mother shatter and break, and then they all disappeared.

****** 

The next thing Ryoko knew she was on Ryo-ohki's bridge and still protectively holding Mayuka.  Turning her head, she saw no signs of Tokimi.

"Ryo-ohki," she said at last, "initiate a scan and try to figure out where we are."

"Miya!" Ryo-ohki agreed, following orders.  Seconds later astronomical data scrolled down consoles.  Reading it, Ryoko blinked.  Even at full speed they were now about fifty years from Earth, and Ryoko herself had never been to this sector of space.  It was a total unknown to her.

"Ryo-ohki, are there any inhabitable planets nearby?" Ryoko asked, floating over to her command chair and rocking Mayuka gently.  Personally, she was extremely surprised by how quiet Mayuka had been through all this.  Perhaps she had sensed her mood and didn't want to trouble her…

"Miya!" Ryo-ohki answered, calling up a picture of a blue planet with a couple of large landmasses mostly covered by green.  A few ships and a spacestation could just barely be discerned.

GO THERE.

Ryoko chuckled softly.  "You heard the lady, Ryo-ohki.  Plot a course at half-speed and try to sneak onto the planet's surface.  No need to draw attention to ourselves yet, and I'd feel better if I knew a bit about the planet before moving in."

"Miya," Ryo-ohki agreed sadly, moving towards what would probably become their new home.

Looking down at Mayuka's peaceful, beautiful face, Ryoko smiled gently albeit a tad mournfully.  She had made her choice and would now have to live with it…without Tenchi.  Continuing to rock Mayuka gently, Ryoko finished the lullaby.

"Oyasumi, close your eyes,

Oyasumi, close your eyes,

Oyasumi, close your eyes,

Sleep, sleep, sleep.

Oyasumi, dream of me,

Oyasumi, dream of me,

Oyasumi, dream of me,

Dream, dream, dream.

Oyasami, hush my love,

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Hush, hush, hush.

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Oyasumi, hush my love,

Hush, hush, hush,

Hush, hush, hush,

Hush, hush, hushhhhhhh."

Only after Mayuka had fallen asleep did Ryoko allow herself to weep.

The end.