Cruelty of Fate

Chapter 03: Friends of the Past

A Nameless Planet:

For the past few days, a lone starship had drifted through the endless darkness of space, seeking something that could not be found, unless it wished to be located.  Aboard the scientific vessel, a lithe woman with golden eyes, and a man of silvery hair studies the view screens hopefully.    "Hinase," she said, her hair hiding her eyes as she quickly analyzed the information in her head. "Are we at the coordinates I specified earlier?"

"Yes, Min-… Ryoko," the ship's computer answered, its voice coming form the main floating crystal block at the control rooms center.  "However, I do not see any planet in the area, nor are any showing up on my scans.  Are you certain-"

"Just wait," the daughter of Washu snapped back, in no mood for a conversation with some hunk of metal and wires.  "We just have to be patient."  It was then, almost as if in response to her statement, a shimmer in space appeared and soon the lithe woman and her ship began to be drawn inside. 

"Miss Ryoko," Hinase shouted in a panic, worried as he had no desire to be torn to pieces by the massive shaking that filled his insides.

Ignoring his plight, Ryoko simply glared at the monitor before her, teeth grinding together as she gave her next order.  "Full speed ahead, and don't slow down until I tell you."


"Do it!" the golden-eyed warrior woman shouted angrily. 

If he had a throat, Hinase would have swallowed, but lacking such biological functions, he nervously complied.   Just when it seemed the starship would be torn into pieces, everything stopped.  The pulling ceased as did the rumbling, and the golden-eyed woman dared a smile, gazing at the approaching planet as they tore through the cloud barrier.  Taking a deep breath the silver-haired space pirate looked at the floating cybernetic unit that acted as Hinase's head.  "Stop," she said in a barely audible voice.  With what could be considered a robotic sigh of relief, the burrowed vessel came to a halt, hovering a meter 200 feet over the planet's surface. 

"Shall I send you to the surface," the robotic consciousness began, seconds before a hiss of dissipating matter filled the air, and it noticed that his current commander was missing.  "Okay then… I guess I'll just wait here," with a groan, it looked about at the essentials Ryoko had brought with her, namely dresses and Sake.  "This certainly hasn't been my day… I suppose I'd better get things neatened up…."

The Surface:

Upon the nigh barren surface, she stood like a statue as she studied the horizon, waiting.  Ryoko had been to this planet twice before, once as a slave to Kagato, and the last to recall a part of her lost memory. *1  However, this was a different trip, one where the failed seductress would find solace from not her past but her present.  She continued to stand, unmoving for long minutes, watching for signs of motion, her keen hearing detecting something faint in the distance, the sound of loose gravel sliding, and a rhythmic clunking sound drawing ever nearer.  Soon she saw the source, as a figure draped in a hooded robe loomed over the top of the hill. With her unbelievable vision, the golden-eyed woman could see he was trying to suppress a smile as he advanced on her position.  It was then she realized something, it was not the rhythm of this figure's staff clinking against the ground that she had heard but his heart, beating ever faster as he met her. 

Finally after too long a time, he reached her and pulled away the hood.  The figure before he was none other than Ibara, a young Jurain who looked almost exactly like Tenchi, save for his more muscular physique.  "It's been too long, Ryoko," he grinned, always happy to see her face.  Leaning to one side he peered beyond her, apparently looking for something.  "Where are Tenchi and the others?  Aren't they with you?"  Due to his current scan, the black-haired guardian missed the wincing in Ryoko's eyes and did not hear her sharp intake of breath when he mentioned her beloved's name. 

Saying nothing, she merely sat upon the ground slowly flicking a pebble away subconsciously while allowing her breath to escape loudly as she did.  "I didn't want to ever hear myself say this, but I lost Tenchi."

"I see," Ibara said with a hint of excitement in his voice as he rested his muscular frame on the long pole he carried. "What happened?  Was there a battle? "

"Yes," she answered still not meeting his eyes. 

"And he was the casualty?" the Tenchi look-alike responded with concern.

"No," Ryoko said, tears streaming down her silky cheeks.  "I was.  There was a fight, the one that always happened between Ayeka and me; everyday in everything we did.  But in the end she won.  Tenchi picked her and now they're on their way to Jurai.  I'd wager they're going to get married there."

"I see, well that is better news then," he responded, sighing as he thanked Tsunami mentally that Tenchi and the others were still alive and well.  "So why aren't you with him?  Surely he'll notice if you're not there for his wedding.  Slow though he seemed, I think even he would notice your absence. I could see it in his eyes when I spoke of you in our training battle; you are an important piece of his soul."

"Right…" Ryoko whimpered drawing her legs in close to her chest.  "Tenchi's not as dumb as I sometimes think he is.  But I have someone filling in for me, my sister, Minagi."

"Oh…" Ibara said, not understanding everything that was going on.  "So she's pretending to be you?"

Nodding, the golden-eyed woman wiped the tears from her eyes.  "We're nearly identical, at least looking.  Except she's got some cuts on her face, unlike me.  Of course, she is a little too kind hearted to really do the part of me justice, but as long as she doesn't get over excited, I think she'll be alright."

"So why did you come here?" He asked her, his heart pausing, as he hoped she had finally returned to him, as he had dreamed for countless years.

"I-"she stopped.  I've been wondering the same thing herself.  "I don't know, really.  You were the only one I could think of I guess.  I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn't be found, where I could relax for a while and get my head on straight.  I had to do some pretty big lying to get this much time off.  I tried to convince Tenchi that I hated him and only wanted to get my gems back, to top it all off I nearly vaporized Ayeka."

"I see, so you came here to find yourself again, as you did all those years ago? *1"  Saying nothing, Ryoko merely nodded her agreement.  "Well then stay as long as you like," Ibara offered standing up on legs weak from joy.  Turning from her he began to slowly walk away.  "I have to tend to some things, but it is good to see you again, Ryoko.  Please feel free to find me should you need anything; anything…."  With that he left her, tears streaming down her face as the golden-eyed woman focused on the thoughts of her mother and twin who had arrived on Jurai only as short time ago.

Planet Jurai:

Tenchi and the others had just arrived only a few minutes prior, yet already they were making life altering decisions, as Misaki and Funaho greeted them with open arms, hugging them deeply and painfully in a welcoming ceremony. 

Only Ryoko seemed unphased by the powerful embrace, indeed she even returned it with the same enthusiasm as Misaki.  

As the others were greeted and praised, Washu and 'Ryoko' stood apart, the little genius looking off into the stars.  For all her rough and tough show, Ryoko's still a little girl deep down, and now she lost her only friend. 

"It's like I told you on Ryo-Ohki, mom.  Ryoko-" Minagi began, before Washu grabbed her lips in a tight pinch, immediately ending her statement.

You are Ryoko remember?  If you have to talk to me about anything, I think we should do it telepathically.  Oh, even though Ryoko did call me mom, she never said it quiet as lovingly as you do.  You might want to work on that.  I don't like the idea of lying to Tenchi like this, but I see your sister has her reasons, so I'll allow you two to play your games.  But remember, if you get caught….

I know… I know… it's Ryoko and my fault….

"Well, I suppose we should retire for the evening," Funaho said with a warm smile, "we still have so much planning to do after all."

As everyone left, Misaki suddenly stopped, looking back at Ryoko and Washu who stood looking intensely at each other.  "You can all go.  I will catch up in a minute.  I want to talk to Washu and Ryoko about something important."

Smiling at her over compassionate sibling, the black haired queen spoke in hidden meanings as the two always did when they were up to something. "Is this about what I think it is?"

Merely grinning the blue-haired woman nodded.  Without another word, the first queen of Jurai led the others away, leaving the trio to discuss their business in peace.  When they had been gone for a few long moments, Misaki smiled at her companions knowingly. 

"Uh… hey Misaki," Washu said, fearing another hug.  "What's up?"

"Who is this young lady?" the Jurain queen asked.

"I'm Ryoko," Minagi proudly said, trying her best to look tough. 

"So you say, but that's not true is it?"

"What do you mean?"  The universe's greatest genius said in shock.  "Are you saying she's a liar?"

"No," Misaki replied. "But like you Little Washu, I am a mother, and I know my own daughter's very well.  Having had two children has given me the ability to know when something is bothering others I am close to.  Don't let my little Ayeka hear about this, but I personally do not think Lord Tenchi is the match for her, they just don't fit together as well as she hopes.  I knew that from the moment I first met, and realized who it was, Ryoko."

"Well…" the golden-eyed replica began, feeling the need to be truthful overpowering her innocent heart. 

"I'm afraid I don't follow," Washu blatantly said. 

"Fair enough." The passionate woman replied, "how about this then, Ryoko never hugged me back.  Even when she was drunk."  At that, the mother and daughter duo glared at each other with shock, realizing they were caught.  "Don't worry I won't tell anyone.  I just want to know who you are, so I can play along.  I assume this was too much for poor Ryoko." With that the powerful mother began to tear up, looking like she needed a hug, making both women take a step back, each preparing to sacrifice the other to her embrace.  "The poor dear…."

"I can't do it," Minagi cried. "My name is Minagi Hakubi, I'm Ryoko's sister.  She had to be somewhere, so I'm taking her place."

Before the fill in Ryoko could say another word, the teary-eyed queen hugged her tight, nearly snapping her in two. "You're so good to your sister.  I've never felt so moved.  It's so sad…."

"Yeah," Washu began skeptically, trying to pry her second daughter, who was turning blue in the face, free of the emotional queen's grasp, as she continued to speak. "But if you could keep this between us that would be the best.  Ryoko really doesn't want to upset Tenchi or Ayeka, besides I really don't think he'd understand what she's going through.  Tenchi's a nice kid and all, but… well to Ryoko it's Tenchi or nothing.  In her mind, there was no choice, not like Tenchi who was able to pick who he wanted."

"I understand," the blue-haired woman nodded, releasing Minagi to embrace Washu. "You two really love your daughter and sister.   That's so wonderful.  If there's anything I can do for you…."

Feeling consciousness leaving her body, the green-eyed genius barely managed to choke out a request. "You could let me go…." As she fell free, the red-haired woman felt something, a message from Ryo-Ohki, a sign of danger. Taking a moment to analyze the meaning she swallowed hard, and looked at Minagi.  This is not good….

Outside the room:

Running from the hall, with Ryo-Ohki in tow, Sasami was in tears.  She could not believe that Ryoko was not coming to the wedding, and that Minagi was filling in for her. Was that really what she heard, or was it some cruel joke.  Looking at Ryo-Ohki the pink-eyed girl couldn't be sure.  Stopping after a few feet, she picked up her furry friend.  "That can't be Minagi, she doesn't have the scars, and besides Ryoko was with us when we left Earth, right?  They were just lying to mother weren't they Ryo-Ohki?"

"Mya…?" the brown-furred cabbit declared optimistically.

"You're right, I'm being silly.  Of course it's Ryoko. She's just playing around. I'm sure of it." She declared. Hopping from her grasp, Ryo-Ohki rubbed her face against Sasami's.  "Hey that tickles," the blue-haired girl giggled. "Cut it out."  Letting her friend bounce back to the ground, the pink-eyed girl sighed, looking back at the hanger with mixed emotions.  Ayeka had been speaking about the wedding plans and endlessly declaring how perfect her and Tenchi were the whole time, and it was then that the youngest daughter noticed her mother was not among them.  Running back she knew her mother would be happy to see her and praise her with nearly endless compliments, as always.  Yet she had not expected to hear about Minagi.  Still unsure of what to make of everything, she sighed.  I guess I'll just have to make a test, she thought impishly, a test that only Ryoko could do….

 A Week Later:

The Wedding:

For an entire week the entire staff of the House of Jurai had labored, sending out invitations, and making dressed, now finally the time had come, and the shrine caretaker from Earth was about to wed the prestigious and proper princess of Jurai.   Tenchi Masaki stood, dressed nicely in his azure blue Jurain robes, which flowed off of him like a cool stream off a mountain, before the king of Jurai, who wore his customary regal robes, his beard trimmed neatly and his long hair braided tightly behind his head.  He stood like a statue; facing the future despite how much he wished it would not be they way fate had decreed it.   Taking a moment, the young Earthling looked around the room, seeing friends he met through out his journey scattered around the vast room, whose pews looked as if they had grown from the floor as if were only natural.  Indeed the entire place, even the great openings where stain glass windows of Tsunami were, appeared to be natural occurrences.

Just as Tenchi had turned his attention to the flowing banisters that hung about the room, depicting various times in Jurai's history, the music started and the doorway at the end swung open. 

The first pair to walk in was Minagi and Yosho.  The old priest wore a simple blue robe, while Ryoko stood in contrast in a vivid pink dress.  After they arrived, and took their place the others came, Noboyuki with Kiyone, Asashi, an old friend of Ayeka and Sasami from their childhood, with Gohgei, a monk he met long ago.*2  Then followed Mihoshi with one of the Jurain guards, and finally Washu with another guard.  After they had stopped, Sasami walked out, spreading cherry blossom petals upon the rosy red carpet daintily, with Ryo-Ohki in two, trying to maintain her balance as well as avoid the petals, while carrying a pillow bearing the two wedding rings. 

Yet what truly shocked the young man wasn't the glorious surroundings, but the fact that throughout the entire ordeal Ryoko did not cry even once.  She seemed to actually be happy for him, despite how much he knew she was probably hurting. 

Just then the great doors at the end of the colossal room burst open again, and a hush fell over the gathering of Jurains, humans, and other races as everyone shot up from their seats to see who could possibly make such a grandeur entrance.  Standing in the doorway was Ayeka, crown princess of Jurai.  She radiated gloriously like a beacon of holy light, her appearance that of perfection.  Her dress glistened warmly in the bright lights of the hall.  At first glance it seemed to be a typical wedding gown, smooth white and without the frills that one would expect from a first princess, yet as the light played off it's surface the true glory of the outfit could be seen.  The most obvious being that it bore a rosy tint, like that of quartz that made the purple-haired princess seem all the more meek and gentle.  The gloves had intricate silver stitching depicting a romantic scene between two youth's.  At her request, only the immediate family and friends would ever know that this was actually the scene between her and Tenchi as she remembered it.  Although her love for the Earthling farm boy was well known throughout the universe, keeping the secrets of her love life a secret was a guilty pleasure that she felt she could indulge herself in. 

As the music began, the purple haired princess stepped forward, her motions matching the time of the song perfectly and seemingly without effort.  Indeed this was a day she had waited for since her childhood, when she would spend hours listening to wedding songs and go through the motions making sure she would be perfect on the day she married her half-brother, Yosho.  In the end her practice paid off, as she glided down the red flowing carpet, all eyes on her.  Seeing her beloved at the end of the hall  dressed dashingly in Jurain attire, Ayeka felt a sudden urge to race forward and embrace him as her heart fluttered with joy.  However her years of practice and regal attitude kept her in time.  As she drew nearer, the joy was mixed with pain when she finally saw Ryoko and Yosho standing on opposite sides of Tenchi.  The glowing woman froze, and to her it felt like a lifetime, as she realized these two were the most important aspects of her past, yet only a millisecond passed before she took her next step.  She felt sorrow for Ryoko, knowing the extremity of the grief her former rival must have been going through, which made her reaction to the lithe space pirate's happy, indeed proud, smile all the more sincere.   Turning her eyes from the golden-eyed bridesmaid, she briefly saw her brother, who looked like a tired old man, yet he too bore a look of pride as he watched her moment of glory.  Everyone is here for me, and Lord Tenchi, she thought fighting hard to hold back the tears of joy. Even Ryoko is cheering me on… this is truly the greatest day of my life. 

Tenchi smiled nervously as he saw a renewed energy fill Ayeka's steps.  Not too long ago he had confessed his love to the woman who nearly stood beside him, and now he was about to be wed to her.  It amazed him how swiftly his life could change, yet all this thought did was remind him how everything in his life had been altered in one afternoon, when he decided to explore the old Masaki cave.  Pretending to shift nervously at his waist, the Jurian heir apparent was actually using the moment to cast a glimpse at Ryoko to see if any change had come over her.  His concern for her was genuine as she had always been there for him, and he knew that in her darkest hour he would soon be abandoning her.  Yet it was an inevitable cruelty of fate, people move on as time marches onward.  Seeing a tear roll down the golden-eyed woman's face, Tenchi had to restrain himself from brushing it away and giving her a comforting hug.  He hated to see anyone suffer, especially if it was because of him.  In that instant everything around him felt as if it faded away, and only he and Ryoko were there.  She looked away from Ayeka for a moment and caught him looking at her. 

Minagi panicked, not knowing what she should do, after all she was in the presence of every Jurian noble, Tenchi, and Ayeka on their wedding day.  Tilting her head to the side she nodded with a broad smile, as if giving her consent. 

It was then that the purple-haired princess took the final step and stood beside her beloved prince. They both looked at the surrogate Ryoko for a second, who continued to smile on their behalf, before turning to face the towering king, Azuha, who reluctantly prepared to marry his daughter to Tenchi.

Sighing he began the long ceremony.  Once he had gone through everything, he cleared his throat, and looked at the eager couple, "Should anyone have any reason these two should not be wed, let them speak now." Instantly a hush hit those gathered as all eyes turned to Ryoko, who merely grinned and gave them a thumbs up.  "Then I now pronounce you…" Azusa paused; regret gripping his heart to give his daughter away like this, "man and wife. You may now kiss the bride."  Smiling, Tenchi and Ayeka each made a slight bow in Minagi's direction, before experiencing their first kiss as man and wife.

A short time later: The Nameless Planet:

As Tenchi kissed Ayeka, and the marriage was sealed legally and for all time, Ryoko sat wincing on the rocky ground. "I object," she whispered.  Once again she spoke her objection this time in a roar, "I OBJECT!" Then rising to her feet she channeled a large amount of crimson power and fired it, instantly leveling a mountain range on the horizon.  "I object," she whimpered, sinking back to her sitting position as she mentally watched the whole event broadcast from her trio of recorder's at the wedding. 

Staring after it in awe, Ibara swallowed hard. "Well, I guess we never really needed those mountains…." Almost as if she hadn't heard him, the lithe woman continued to mutter he objection.  Feeling sorry for her, Ibara knelt behind her, rubbing the small of her back lightly almost as if touching her might break her. 

"I'm the one who loves you, Tenchi… no one else.  There's no one else…."

The Wedding Hall:

After all the guests had poured in and things began to settle, a horrible sound filled the air, the sound of crying.  All eyes turned towards the source, where a certain small pink-eyed princess held the wailing baby in her arms.  Standing beside the duo was Minagi who had just arose to get herself another helping of deserts.   

"I can't seem to get her to stop crying," Sasami said looking at Minagi with knowing eyes.  "Do you think you could…Ryoko?"  Handing over the pouting girl, the blue-haired princess seemed to have found the one thing that would destroy the façade that Minagi was creating. 

Swallowing hard, the surrogate Ryoko took the orange-eyed child into her arms, nervously looking down at her.  "I guess I can give it a try."  Pausing for a moment, she studied Mayuka for something obvious, a broken limb, a cut, or a foreign object protruding from her body.  Yet there were no blatant injuries to her charge, and so the silver-haired duplicate began to worry. What am I gonna do? She mentally panicked. I'm no good with kids.  I've never had a baby before.  Wait a minute… she paused, two unique mental horrors appearing in her thoughts.  Sniffing her keen senses detected that Mayuka did not need changing, which only left her with her worst fear.  Oh no…!  I'm not going to have to breast feed her, am I? Not with all these people around…!  What am I gonna do?  Oh!  Why me, why did I take this stupid job?  I don't wanna be Ryoko, this isn't who I am.  I want to go back home!  This isn't any fun anymore, and besides, she should be here, not me!

Will you shut up!  A surly voice commanded reaching into her head, a voice that suddenly steeled her will.

Sis?  Minagi thought with a glimmer of hope.

Who else?  Can't you go five minutes without making me look bad?  Seriously breast feeding! There's only one person I'd breast feed, and he's already married, so drop that notion right now.  Mayuka's not hurt, hungry or needing to be changed, she's tired. That dim bulb of a princess must have forgotten about how long the ceremony was… for a few moments Ryoko's voice suddenly faltered, and when it returned some of the power had faded away.  It's obvious she's tired.  But there's too much damn noise in a stupid Jurain party.  You'll need to sing a lullaby to her to calm her down.  Then take her to bed.  Make sure you leave the room when you put her to bed, then at least you won't embarrass me any more than you already have.

Okay, okay, Minagi responded with a scowl on her face.  Quit picking on me, I'm trying to help you, you know…!

Minagi's right, Washu interjected. Leave your little sister alone, little Ryoko.

Butt out Mom, Ryoko answered in her rudest mental tone. Who asked you?

Are you always going to be such a trouble maker, Washu asked.

Excuse me, Minagi timidly asked, getting both mother and rebellious daughter's attention.   But I don't know any lullabies….  For a moment, there was silence among the three, and the disguised Ryoko could feel all the eyes in the room glaring at her.  Ryoko…?

Hurry up and sit down, Minagi!  The golden-eyed woman shouted.  This is going to be the last time I get to sing to Mayuka.  So make sure you use your best voice.  Now rock her in your arms like this, she ordered sending an image of the proper handling technique to her young sibling.  And repeat after me…

Clearing her throat, the innocent Hakubi took a deep breath as she tried her best to sing the lullaby that Ryoko was sending her.  As soon as the first note left her mouth, a hush fell over the assembly and everyone seemed mesmerized by her song.   It was a heavenly ballad that seemed to carry the passion of two people, and it cut to the hearts of everyone instantly.  *3

Rest your head, seek peace in your bed, today has been shed, start dreaming…

And like a dove, fly with my love, into your dreams….  

When you wake, I'll be there always, for you whom I love, forever…

Dream now of, a time when you can play, where evils away, you're happy….

Sleep now dear, be of good cheer, pass me the beer, while I wait…

With this lullaby, I now say goodbye, I'll love you 'til I die, my darling….

Goodbye Mayuka… Ryoko's voice called out, before she shut off the link, blocking her mother and sister's temporarily as she once again had to deal with the anguish in her heart. 

"Goodbye, Mayuka," Minagi said without thinking, tears rolling down her own eyes as she felt the emotional backlash from her sister.  The gibberish she spoke next was what she felt her sister would say yet couldn't.  "You be a good girl for your new mommy, okay?"  Clearing her throat, the golden-eyed copy smiled weakly.  "She was just tired, that's all Sasami."  Holding out the slumbering angel, the sister of Ryoko felt a tug at her heart, and she quickly moved the unconscious infant back to her bosom.  "If you don't mind, I think I'll take her to her room.  Could you show me the way?"

Feeling low, and wondering if she had been tricked, Sasami nodded glumly for the trick she had tried to play on Ryoko.  "Sure.  This way Ryoko."

Minagi… Washu said, wiping a tear away from the emotionally surge she too felt from Ryoko, you did a great job.  Ryoko would be proud.    By the way, fix your makeup, it's starting to run.

Nodding, the silver-haired good space pirate headed away quickly trying not to wipe her own tears, lest she reveal her identity.  For a brief moment her spirits lifted when she saw a few nobles trying to hide their own tears at the beautiful song.  But still it didn't help her banish the pain in her heart for her sister.

As the trio left, conversation slowly picked up, yet there seemed to be trouble at the head table.  "Mother please," Ayeka said consoling her mom as best she could.  "You must control yourself, such behavior is not dignified."

Throwing etiquette aside as she often did when emotional, Misaki hugged her eldest daughter powerfully in her arms, crying from Ryoko's Lullaby.  "That was so beautiful.  I really felt like Ryoko was saying good-bye forever." 

"Yes," the red-eyed woman responded, feeling her joy fall from her heart as the intensity of the situation hit home.  Before this moment she had known that Mayuka would stay with Tenchi and her, and that Ryoko would more than likely leave, but the gravity of it all had escaped her until just now.  I promise you this Ryoko, Ayeka said with embarrassment while patting her mom, who wailed like an infant, on her back. I shall do everything in my power to see to it Mayuka has the best of everything on Jurai. 

At the same time, opposite Tenchi, Kiyone was having a problem of her own, as Mihoshi cried fountains from her eyes and clung to her partner like a drowning person to a life raft.  "Mihoshi!" she growled through clenched teeth.  "Your grandfather is here you know!  Do you want him to see you looking like this! You're a Galaxy Police officer, quit acting like a baby!"

"But Kiyone, that song was so sad…. I miss Ryoko already!  Why did she have to go?" She asked burying her face in her partner's lap as she wailed even louder.

"She just went to put Mayuka to bed you noodle head, and besides…." Seeing her words were having no effect, Kiyone sighed and gave up patting her fallen friends blonde hair to console her, realizing nothing would sedate Mihoshi's nerves but time.  "Moron," she said feeling a twinge of sadness hit her heart.  That really did sound like Ryoko's last words, but she's not going anywhere yet, is she…?

Mayuka's room:

Throwing open a large hall door, Sasami touched a stone nearby gently and soon light filled the room.  "Could you turn that off," Minagi said as she stepped in behind her. "I don't want it to wake up the baby."  Nodding, the blue-haired girl obediently dimmed the lights so they could see, but would not be disturbing the sleeping girl. 

"We can leave her here to rest," the youngest princess offered.  "She'll be safe here, I can have one of the guards come watch her."

Saying nothing, the golden-eyed woman looked around at the room.  It was huge.  "This room is so big…" she noted in awe, "it's bigger than Tenchi's house."

"It's not really that big," Sasami said with a laugh, "It was my room when I was a little kid." 

Smirking, Minagi turned to the young Jurain, "you're still a little girl, Sasami.  Don't ever change kid." She answered, somehow knowing in her heart that was exactly what Ryoko would have her say.  The response she received was not what she expected.  Almost instantly the pink-eyed girl lunged forward, and wrapped her slender arms around Minagi's ample legs. 

"I'm sorry Ryoko," she cried.  "I really am."

With the lightest touch, Mingai was able to make the young girl release her legs as she set her charge down softly on the bed.  "Sorry for what, kid?" she answered her voice crackling at Sasami's display. 

"Sorry you lost to my sister, that Ayeka married Tenchi.  I know how much you love him, and Mayuka, and I want you to know I love you too…"

"I know, I love you," Minagi echoed, feeling sorrow in her heart at the sight of Sasami in tears.

Quit making me out to be a cry baby, Ryoko suddenly answered.  Now look, tell Sasami exactly what I'm about to tell you.  Don't leave any thing out.

Why not?

Just do it, Minagi!

Okay, okay, quit yelling at me!  Looking down, Mingai smiled.  "Sasami, you remember to be a good girl and keep your sister in line for me?  Oh, and when you go back to the hall, could you bring me a bottle of sake?"  Sake!  Sis, I hate that stuff.  It's so gross, and-

Mingai… Ryoko growled in a mental warning. 

Sniffing the little princess wiped her eyes, "Aren't you going back with me?"

"Nah.  Too many boring Jurain types in there.  Just come back here and bring two glasses, okay?  I'll watch Mayuka tonight."

Confused, the pink-eyed girl stood, taking a few moments to calm her nerves before leaving.

Satisfied? Minagi asked as she watched her friend close the door.  What's going on?  You should be here, this is too hard for me.  I don't think I can keep this up much longer.  I'm not as strong as you are.

You're doing fine, sis.  Better than I could do, and I'm not stronger than you.  I'm scared, too scared to face Tenchi.  If I ever see him again all I'll do is cry.  But don't worry you won't have to be me much longer.  Just relax.  It's almost over, just one more big thing. For now, do me a favor and lay down by Mayuka.  I'd like to remember what it feels like to have her cheek on mine one more time.  

Midnight: Mayuka's Room:

Sleeping angelically Minagi was shocked when a sudden rapping at the door echoed in the room.  Panicking she glanced at Mayuka who had slept through battles between Ryoko and Ayeka, and thus was not affected by mere knocking.  Rushing to the door, lest her charge awaken and she had to sing another lullaby; the golden-eyed stand it, quickly checked to make sure she was descent.  Throwing open her door, she saw the last person she would have expected standing there.  "Oh… hello, Tenchi," she said bowing kindly. "Is something wrong?"

Right on time, Ryoko announced. It's show time kid.

"Just because I'm a prince now doesn't mean you have to bow," he chuckled thinking she was making fun of him.   "Nothing's wrong, I just came to see you.  Ayeka was pretty upset about Sasami drinking Saki. I can't believe you let her have so much.  Still I guess we lucked out, since Misaki didn't seem to notice, she just thought her little girl was tired."

Doing her best to laugh like her sister, Minagi placed one hand nervously behind her head. "Oh yeah… well I thought Sasami, I mean the kid, should celebrate too…"

"So you really are happy for me then," Tenchi asked with skepticism.  "Really, Ryoko?"

Look at him intensely, the golden-eyed woman nodded. "I can honestly say I've never been happier for you Tenchi." The statement was true, at least from Minagi's perspective, and the young man seemed pleased by her words.  "By the way, Tenchi…" she began trailing off mid-sentence. "Shouldn't you and Ayeka be…" as she spoke he pressed her pointer fingers together nervously. "You know…"

Turning red, he realized the concept of him and his new wife together probably tore up his personal demoness' soul, so he dismissed her timid nature.  "Ayeka's asleep already," he admitted with a cough.

I knew she had no stamina, Ryoko told her sister.  That little princess probably got tired during foreplay. 

Ryoko!  I don't want to think about that!  Ew, it's gross!  The surrogate Ryoko replied, holding her head as if it could block out the mental link. 

"It's not what you think," he offered, "she was just so tired from the wedding. Besides, I… I don't think I'm really ready yet," he admitted softly.

Not ready? Ryoko Hakubi laughed mentally.  That stupid princess she has no sense of how to please a man.  If I were there I'd-

Suddenly Minagi grabbed her mouth and shook her free hand at Tenchi, "talk about something else," she said to both him and Ryoko. 

Thinking she wanted to avoid the topic, the young man laughed weakly, as he looked down at his sleeping daughter. 

"I think she'll miss her more than anyone else," the imposter Ryoko declared when she managed to banish images of Tenchi and Ayeka sex from her mind.

"Who'll miss her more than anyone else?" Tenchi echoed, his voice beginning to show the weariness and loss that had come from the long days he had endured up until now.  

"Huh?" Minagi panicked, "Who… well you see what I meant was… not me, but that is I will…."

"Right," he laughed nervously, before falling silent.  The two emotionally young figures stood together in the dark unsure what to say.  Finally it was Tenchi who spoke. "Well, I guess I better be going back to my room now." 

"Before you go," the silver haired woman said causing him to stop and look over his shoulder at her. "Could you do me a favor," she timidly began folding her hands in front of her waist.   Pausing, he looked at her with confusion, unsure what to make of this sudden change. 

"Sure, Ryoko.  What is it I can-" yet the brown haired prince could not finish as she wrapped her arms around his neck loosely feeling as if she might fall away at any moment. 

"Promise me you'll never change.  Ryoko would hate that," she whimpered. Sighing, he stroked her spiky hair lightly wanting to be comforting, yet at the same time trying to keep his distance as he knew their relationship could go no further than merely friends.  Having been through an emotional gauntlet recently, the already slow to catch on youth missed the third person reference.  As he held her in his arms, all of reality seemed to fall away and peace filled his soul, but soon he remembered that the woman he held was not his wife, and after only a few seconds more, they released each other and stood apart.  To his surprise, the woman he called Ryoko showed no signs of tears or sorrow.  Taking another step back, she stood silhouetted at the window.  "That goes for Mayuka too.  Neither of you had better ever change."

Not understanding the depths of her words, Tenchi merely nodded.  "Sure, Ryoko.  I can make that promise, but why are you talking like this?  You can stay as long as you like.  I'm not trying to get rid of you.  No one wants that. You're welcome to stay as long as you want.  As far as I'm concerned we're family, I mean you've always been there for me after all."

Turning to face him, she smiled one last time, and a single tear rolled down her cheek as she shook her head in rejection of the offer to stay.  Wondering what was on her ever cunning mind, the brown-eyed youth prepared to speak, but was quickly brought to a halt when he heard a mighty meowing sound, and a large black starship with a red core appeared outside the tower.  "Good-bye," she whispered, kissing her fingertips and blowing it at him, before being beamed aboard the inter-space traveling vessel.    With that simple act, the former space pirate vanished, and Tenchi Masaki, now a full-fledged member of the house of Jurai, was left with only his sleeping daughter, Mayuka, in the massive room.

The Nameless Planet:

With a soulful sigh, Ryoko put her hands on her knees, and pushed herself up, a tender smile breaking the mask of pain she wore. "It's over," she said trying to look happy.  Good job Minagi, you really pulled through for me today.

I'm sorry; Minagi can't come to the phone right now, could you call back later. Washu replied with her usual humorous attitude. Little Ryoko, your sister seems to have fallen asleep. You really put her through a lot you know.

She's a good kid, and I hated to do it to her, but I had no choice.   I'll have to remember I owe her one.  So where are we meeting for the switch?  Ryoko asked, and her mother quickly sent the coordinates to her.  "Gotcha," she answered.  "See you there," standing after finding her emotional closure the golden-eyed space pirate shook her head approvingly at Ibara. "Well, it's been a blast.  See ya later."

"Wait, Ryoko," Ibara exclaimed loudly, grabbing her arm as she walked away. "Why don't you stay here with me?  You know I care for you as well."

"Maybe," she grinned, touching his powerful hand lightly to move it away.  "Some other time.  Right now I have to get Minagi's ship back to her, and figure out where I'll go from here.  But right now I'm too worn out to deal with falling for another guy.  Thanks though.  When I was down and out you were there for me."

"But I didn't do anything," he remarked, feeling the rejection sting his heart.  "I just stood around."

"You were here for me," the golden-eyed woman said finally. "That's plenty.  Well I can't stay any longer. I have to go.  Otherwise I'll be missed at home."

Ibara smiled as he saw her float upwards into the sky like the angel he always thought of her as.  In the past he had heard Lady Ayeka make a comment about her being a monster, or even a demon, and perhaps to be on Ryoko's bad side would show this transformation, yet Ibara would be hard pressed to even believe it.  Once again he watched her leave him, and sorrow filled his heart.  He doubted she would ever be coming back.  Anguish was not all he felt, as pity was also present.  Pity not for himself, or even Ryoko, but for Tenchi Masaki who he felt had missed a ticket to heaven because of his naïve love for a princess.  Putting one hand over his eyes he watched her floating off, and then suddenly pause, waving back at him.  Chuckling he returned her wave, before turning from his place and heading back to his post.  Ryoko said she was going home, he recalled solemnly, but I wonder where does an angel call home, once she's lost heaven?    Swallowing hard Ibara knew the answer, and it chilled his soul.  I have a felling that this is not the dawn of a new day for you Ryoko, but the twilight before lifetime of eternal night. 

The End?

We have come to the end of Cruelty of Fate.  This story has done all I wanted it to, namely set the stage for a more pressing tale, and a sequel.  I hope you enjoyed this one, or if you didn't that your reviewed it to remind me how much I suck.  In any case, this chapter of my tale is now over, but this tragic epic is far from finished.  After all what's next?  Only time, and I, will tell.

*1: No Need For Tenchi: Vol. 9

*2: No Need For Tenchi: Vol. 3- 7

*3: If you've seen Outlaw Star, and heard Melfina's song, then you know how the beat goes.