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 autumn 1994, 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 1995, 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.”
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.