(The Heart of a Child)
A Tenchi Muyo Fanfic

Here's the deal. Only this Achika and Irisan are mine. The rest of the characters belong to Pioneer and I claim no hold on them.
Bad enough they have a hold on me.
And by the way, this twists both the TV series and the movies together.

Your Not-So-Typical Day in the Masaki Household

        It wasn't that Tenchi didn't like Ayeka, really. To be honest, he loved her dearly, just as he loved all the girls who had, over time, managed to come crashing into his world. It was just, well, he was human. And as a human, he had certain... problems with her.
        For one, she was Ayeka, First Princess of Jurai. How could a fairly average (sword aside) college kid ever hope to be worthy enough to be hers?
        Secondly, he was just a backwards Japanese country boy. Never mind that damned sword! And he wasn't very good with girls.
        Third, she was his great-aunt. As far as relationships go, that one was about as far as he could stomach it. She was older than he was by... well, he didn't even want to contemplate it. Okay, Tenchi, maybe that's not a very good argument. After all, Ryoko's older than Ayeka and Washu has them all beat. But she’s related. By blood.
        So fourth would be.. what, Tenchi? Get a grip on yourself! Why are you sitting in the middle of Economics trying to justify why you can't pick Ayeka? Just admit that Ryoko's far more likely to be 'it' and get it over with, huh?
        Tenchi shook his head to clear it and sighed. He hated Economics.  Sasami was ever so much better at it than he was. Of course, she always fussed at him for not paying attention in class. _That_ he was used to.

        College was rougher now that Mayuka was two and almost everywhere all at once. She made his studies harder, turned dinnertime into a far more chaotic scene than Ayeka and Ryoko ever had the ability to with their arguments. He thought it over as he walked back up the steps to the house. "Why, hello, Tenchi."
        He turned to see Washu in her serious adult form, having just popped out of one of her various dimensional portals. "Oh, hello Washu." It was hard to call her 'Little Washu' when she was in that form.
        "Tenchi..." she began, looking off and fingering some of her bangs. "I know that you've been under a lot of stress from Ryoko and Ayeka to pick one over the other..."
        Tenchi braced himself for the inevitable glom of Washu's latest attempt to get him to pick her. But it didn't come. Instead, she stood there, gazing at a flower.
        "It's been six years, hasn't it? Since we all began this relative madness. Don't you think it's time that you picked someone? They love you in their own ways, and it's not truly fair to yourself to keep them fighting over you, is it?"
        Tenchi stared at her. This wasn't really Washu, was it? "Washu, cut it out!" He said, scratching his head and trying to laugh. "You just want me to pick you."
        Washu shook her head, setting her teaching satchel down. She’d recently taken on a position at the local Special Defense Force Academy teaching Quantum Physics. She had called it boring, but Tenchi knew better. "No, Tenchi, I don't."
        Tenchi dropped his hand, looking at her, realizing that she was being serious. "Oh. I-"
        She put up a hand, still not looking at him. "Hear me out, Tenchi. Both of those girls would do anything that you asked them. Maybe not happily, but they'd do it. It's up to you to decide which one will make you the happiest."
        Tenchi sighed. Hadn't he been thinking about this in Economics?
        "Washu... I don't think this is the best place to talk."
        Washu looked at him this time, eyes veiled, considering. "You're right." She reached over, opened a portal, and waved him through.

        Inside, or on the other side of, the portal was a small park, benches scattered around a fountain. It was quiet, and the sky was a soft hazy blue, fading into yellow at the horizon. He looked around before taking a seat on a bench and looking back at Washu.
        "I was thinking about this in class today. The trouble is... I don't want to hurt either one by choosing the other."
        "Tenchi, life hurts. Stop and think about it for a moment. Do you think, in all of their years, that they haven't been hurt? That Ryoko hasn't been hurt enough to get angry over it? That Ayeka hasn't cried herself to sleep for months?"
        He paused, thinking about it. Well, yes... He wasn't clear on all of Ryoko's past, but it probably had something to do with Washu. And Ayeka had cried over Yosho... his grandfather. He despised the thought of tears in either pair of eyes. But he thought he was beginning to figure out whose eyes he -couldn't- bear to see tears in. Which eyes would break his heart...
        "...so Sasami is largely excluded. And I don't think about mine much. Call it self-defense." He came back to the discussion in the middle of a sentence. "So do you understand, Tenchi? I only joke with you about it when I'm hurting. But they are hurting all the time. Hurting each other and themselves. You have to pick, if only out of the love you have for them both."
        He nodded slowly. "I know, Washu. Somewhere, deep within me, I know. I'm just afraid that I'll pick one, and the other will decide to roast me."
        Washu half-smiled. "No, Tenchi. Which ever girl you don't pick will let you go. They both love you that much."
        He considered this. Ever since Mayuka had been returned to them by Washu's science, he had turned to her more and more as the mother-figure that he didn't have nearby. She often gave good advice, even if it was usually punctuated by her silliness. Over time, he had begun to understand her silliness and her need to make a scene: she had needed reassurance that she was still needed around. So when he had started talking with her, she had been at first surprised, then pleased. And today, she had been waiting for him. "Do you really think that she will?" He already knew who he was talking about.
        "Yes, Tenchi. She'll be hurt, but she'll recover all the stronger for it. You may yet still be the most important man in her life, but you aren't her man." She knew who he would choose as well. She had known longer than he had.
        He sighed. "It makes you happy, doesn't it?"
        Washu tilted her head. "What makes me happy, Tenchi, is that you are happy. That's the most important thing to me. " She turned to look at the fountain. "Feel free to stay here as long as you'd like, Tenchi. If you leave through the portal by the fountain, you'll come out by my door. Just make sure you close it when you leave."
        Tenchi nodded quietly, then looked up at her retreating back. "Washu? Thanks."
        She waved a hand, dismissing it. "Don't worry about it."

        He closed the door to Washu's lab quietly, wondering if Mayuka were still napping. The house was quiet, so she very well might be. Rounding the base of the stairs, he almost ran directly into Ayeka.
        "Lord Tenchi, there you are. I-!" Caught off-balance, she swayed, and started to fall.
        Grabbing her arms to steady her, he apologized profusely, stammering that he should have been paying more attention. She stood there blushing at him until a familiar voice broke the unbalanced moment.
        "All right, you two. I can tell what's going on." It was Ryoko, and she didn't look very happy.
        Tenchi let go of Ayeka's arms and hung his head. Little wonder he was afraid to tell them when he botched the slightest little thing.
        "On the contrary, Ryoko. I was looking for Lord Tenchi when I fell, and he caught me," Ayeka replied, tugging her skirts back into place.
        Ryoko floated over, arms folded. "Fell right into him on purpose, you mean!"
        Before the inevitable battle could ensue, Tenchi put up a hand to each of them. "Stop it! Ayeka, I want a word with you." Ryoko opened her mouth, but his next comment cut her off. "You're next, Ryoko, so don't go anywhere."
        Scowling, Ryoko pushed upwards and phased through the ceiling.
        Wordless, Tenchi pointed upwards, and Ayeka turned to move back up the stairs, a perplexed look on her face.
        Unseen by the three, Washu stood in the doorway under the stairs and shook her head. Those girls.

        Upstairs, in the hallway by her room, Tenchi looked at Ayeka. They both began to speak at once, and finally Tenchi gave up. "Ayeka, you go first. Why were you looking for me?"
        Ayeka sighed. "I've been called back to Jurai, Tenchi. There is some matter that they want me to be involved in. I'll be leaving for two Earth-weeks."
        Tenchi sighed softly.
        "I'd like you to come with me, Tenchi."

        On the roof, Ryoko studied the treeline, concentrating on not crying. She hadn't been up here since Mayuka had first appeared, and she had been upset then, too. Tenchi had slapped her four long years ago, but she could still remember it as if it had been yesterday. Or just a few moments ago when he had fussed at her.
        Maybe she had outstayed her welcome, and it was time to return to her former life. Even that prison within the Shrine would be better than this. She stood in mid-air and gathered herself. Time to go visit that place, take stock of what was left. Then she'd get Ryo-Ohki and they'd head back out to adventures unknown.
        Gliding towards the Shrine, she wouldn't allow herself to look back.

        Tenchi shook his head. He couldn't go. Not now, when he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt. "Ayeka, I can't. I'm not Jurai. I'm even less Jurai than Yosho, and he left because of it. I wouldn't be accepted, I'd be out of place..." Now or never, Tenchi. "...and I don't belong at your side."
        "Nonsense. If I say you do, they will simply have to accept... I'm sorry, Tenchi, what did you say?" Ayeka's violet eyes searched Tenchi's. "Oh." There was a silence, then another. "Oh."
        He braced himself for the inevitable, but she turned, surprising him. "I see, Tenchi. In that case, a small ship will be fine. I should go call them now. I suppose you should better go tell Ryoko before she does something stupid. You know how she gets when she's angry."
        "Ayeka?" He hesitated. "You know I'm right. They'd use me to destroy you back on Jurai."
        "You're right, Lord Tenchi. Let me call them before it's too late to recall the ship. Go on and find her."
        He watched her enter her room and close the door, then turned and went down the stairs and out the front door.

        The Shrine was dark, but one touch of her hand to the wall gave enough energy to the power cells to bring the lights back on. That's what it was designed to do, after all. Drain the power from her. But that wasn't what she was here for this time.
        She moved towards a hidden door, catching the trip with her toe and passing through the opening as it closed again. It was designed so that she couldn't phase through it.
        Once in the room, she looked at her old belongings, things from her life before Yosho had caught her. They looked familiar, yet alien to her now. She gathered them quietly, unconsciously putting the belt around her waist, her clothing changing to something less loose and flowing than the clothing she had taken to wearing around Tenchi. Various things went in various pockets, her mind far away from here, remembering when she had first seen the baby strapped to his mother's back.
        Smiling wistfully, she stepped back out of the room and turned to close the door permanently, dismissing her memories along with the room. When she turned back, the smile was gone. Then she reached out with her mind and gave a certain cabbit a mental tug. /Time to go, Ryo-Ohki./

        "Ryoko?" Tenchi called. She hadn't been on the roof, and he feared that Ayeka might have been right. "Ryoko, where are you?"
        There was no answer, and he sighed, looking around. So where was she now?
        Suddenly, with a plaintive miyaa, Ryo-Ohki landed on him., eyes big and seeming to be filled with tears. "Miyaa! Miyaa, miyaa, miyaaaaaa!"
        It wasn't Sasami, that much, he could tell. So it had to be Ryoko. "Ryoko? Where is she, Ryo-Ohki?"
        The little gray cabbit leapt down and took off, Tenchi following close behind. At the door of the Shrine, he looked at the cabbit. "She's in here?"
        "Miyaa!" Ryo-Ohki didn't sound happy, and he was beginning to suspect why.
        He headed into the cave, coming across Ryoko as she was locking back the gate. "You're leaving."
        She turned, backing into the metal, then stepped forwards, remembering to be angry. "Of course I'm leaving. If you want the little hussy, then you can have her. It's obvious she wants you, the way she falls into your arms."
        It stung just as sharply as she had intended it to. "Ryoko, will you listen to me? It's not like that. It's not like that at all."
        She moved to pass him, but he blocked her, stepping into her way. "Let me go, Tenchi. You know I can't pass through this place, so just let me go. My life here is finished. It's time to move on." She watched him for a moment, the emotions unreadable as they flickered across his face.
        Alright, Tenchi. If she wants to go, let her go. But first do what you should have done a while ago. What you should have done back when she hurt herself so badly trying to get you where you needed to be in order to save Ayeka and Jurai.
        He stepped forwards, hand reaching up to catch the back of her head, and without warning, kissed her. She froze, making it easy for him to let go and turn away. There. If she wanted to leave now, he wouldn't stop her. It would break his heart, he knew now, but he wouldn't stop her.
        She didn't say anything, and he walked to the mouth of the cave, then stepped outside. He walked over to the steps and stood there for a moment when he heard her footfalls on the flagstone entrance.
        "Tenchi... did you mean that?" She asked, voice quiet.
        He lifted his head somewhat, looking up to the blue of the sky and the falling of evening. "Mean what, Ryoko?"
        "What you... what you just did. The kiss."
        A brilliant star shot across the sky, and somehow, Tenchi knew that it hadn't been a star, but Ayeka leaving ahead of schedule to rendezvous with the ship to take her back to Jurai. "Ryoko, I rarely do things that I don't mean. I've loved you for a long time, and it's taken me that entire time to realize it. But if you want to go, that's fine, I'll let you."
        She leaned up against him from behind, resting her head on his shoulder and hugging him close. "I don't want to go anywhere, if that's how you truly feel, Tenchi. But what about Ayeka? She'll be mad... and hurt..."
        "She's already left for Jurai, Ryoko. That's what she and I talked about. She wanted me to go with her and I had to tell her that I couldn't. I don't belong with her."
        He turned and looked at her, the words she had only dreamed of him saying finally being spoken. "I love you, Ryoko."

        That day on the roof of the building in Tokyo had been a particularly harsh day for Ayeka. It had been the day that she had realized with a flash of insight, that she was not the one for Tenchi. She didn't dare tell Ryoko again after that one time. Not at the risk of Ryoko seeing through her.
        It had passed for a little while, Ayeka easily falling back into the old banter between herself and Ryoko, but it felt hollow. Ryoko hadn't noticed, truly no-one save Yosho had. She had spent the better part of a week talking to her brother about it, and he had told her what she had known for far too long now: Tenchi wasn't for her. While he might have been the Crown Prince of Jurai, he was human. He didn't even carry the violet eyes of Juraian Nobility. The people wouldn't accept him, and sooner than later, one of Kagato's hidden allies would cause an uproar, just to defame the Royal Blood of Jurai.
        She looked out the window of the ship and sighed. She hadn't told Tenchi the whole truth, but he'd find out shortly. It would be hard to miss indeed.
        "You miss them, Ayeka?" Sasami's voice came over the speaker. "I miss them too." Sasami wasn't around when Tsunami was in Ship form, but she could still talk to her sister through the communications system.
        "Of course I miss them, Sasami. But this is necessary. We've discussed it. I have various reasons to return, and we cannot allow the planet of Jurai to be any longer without the protection of Tsunami." Ayeka said quietly.
        Tsunami's ethereal voice whispered through the channel. "Ayeka, You are noble to hide your feelings. But while we are en route to Jurai, you do not need to. It will be easier to hide them on Jurai when you have worked through some of them."
        Tears threatened the princesses' eyes. "Oh, Tsunami... you weren't in love with him."
        "On the contrary, Ayeka. I was. I still am. And that is why I accepted your offer to leave."
        She hadn't expected those words, hadn't even considered that possibility. A fresh wave of memories cascaded over her, and she crumpled in the seat.

        She was finally free of Mihoshi.
        The head of Galaxy Police had received a personal recommendation from a Juraian Noble in favor of Kiyone, and had immediately re-assigned her to the planet Jurai. Her task was to keep a tight watch over those known to have once been Kagato's allies. To protect the Princesses Ayeka and Sasami.
        Life was Good.
        Mihoshi had been given a desk job back at Headquarters, and there, the worst she was managing was a daily breaking coffee cup.
        Kiyone had laughed so wildly that a few of the Juraians had kept a more than respectable distance for a week. But now, one of them, a fairly cute one, was beginning to be friendly. Could it be that she'd actually finally get a date?
        Her shift was coming soon, and so were the princesses, so she stood and headed for the shower, leaving her letter to Washu unfinished. She'd get back to it later and tell them news of Ayeka and Sasami.

        It was eleven-thirty, and Mihoshi was starting to get hungry for lunch. All morning long, she'd been making a concerted effort not to break this coffee cup. She'd done well, so far, keeping it away from the edge, setting it down with both hands... she had a good feeling. It would last this time. It wouldn't break.
        Her com panel chirped, and she hit the button to acknowledge.
        "Mihoshi!" she said, bright and chipper.
        "Mihoshi, you wanted to be informed when Kiyone reported Princesses Ayeka and Sasami of Jurai as landing safely. She has reported in, and all are safe."
        Mihoshi giggled. "Great! I'll send her a message just as soon as I'm done here! Thanks so much, Aiko!"
        The cadet's voice sighed. "It's Eiko, not Aiko. You might want to write it down or something."
        "Okay!" Mihoshi chirped, grabbing for her pen and sending the coffee cup sliding across the desk and onto the floor. "Oh, damn!"
        "Eleven forty-three. A whole three hours longer than yesterday. I'll note it down." The com panel switched off and Mihoshi sat in the chair, tears pouring down her face.
        Another coffee cup broken.

        Somewhere in the Universe, Someone smiled. The little group had broken up, making it so much easier to destroy them. Move carefully now, a little shift here, a little turn there... set them up and they'll fall like children's toys.
        Neither Tsunami nor Washu would see it coming.
        She smiled a little darker. "Time to die, sisters."

Future, now Present Imperfect

        The Goddess sighed. The child had come of age, and it was time for her to learn the truth. Time had not progressed much farther past the moment when she had to shift the effects of time and space, so there was yet hope.
        But was the child ready?
        Sadly, there was only one way to find out.
        She turned to look at the frozen tableau, the battle between Tenchi and Irisan's toll all too clear: Washu, her eyes closed against a wall like a limp doll, Ayeka caught by a wall of power. Ryoko was, it appeared, flying backwards through the air, and Tenchi was looking to the side, sword held before him.
        It was time, but was it time enough to help them?
        Enough. "Achika!"
        The reply came quickly. "Yes, Aunt Tsunami?"
        "Come here, please?"
        Outside the room, the girl paused. Aunt Tsunami had never allowed her in her room before. But after a moment, she knocked lightly on the rice paper, then slid the door open. "Hai, obasan?"
        Tsunami was pleased to see she was trying to practice her Japanese. Ever the obedient child, Achika Masaki peered at her with her bright amber eyes. Smoothing some of her firey red hair, the wisp of a girl floated over to the Goddess.
        A soft smile settled on Tsunami's face as she reached out to embrace Achika. "You turned fifteen yesterday. Did you have a good party?"
        Switching to what her aunt called 'Galactic Standard', Achika replied. "Yes, I did. But I don't understand what this is..." She held up the bracelet that Tsunami had given her. It wasn't the same as Tenchi's... but it was far better than nothing.
        Achika Masaki, daughter of Tenchi and Ryoko... after a fashion... stood quietly examining the bracelet that she held in her hand. As Tsunami watched her contemplate the Juraian artifact, she remembered the day that began the hope for the child.

Flashback – Science and Nature

        "Remember, Tenchi. There's no guarantee that this will work. Ryoko's body isn't capable of providing on its own, so..."
        Tenchi nodded. That might be the sixth time Washu explained it. So they had to essentially do what Washu did to create Ryoko... but this time the child would be carried within Ryoko's body. It might work. Might.
        But it did, and when the baby was born, everyone was pleased to see little touches of Ryoko, Washu, and Tenchi in her face. Sasami was the one to point out the gems at the infant's wrists and collarbone, and everyone wondered over them. Washu in particular, as no effort on her part had managed to replicate the gems.
        But Ryoko was the one to amaze them all by announcing the baby's name: Achika.

Present Imperfect – Discovery

        "So what is it?" Achika asked, turning it over and over in her hands. It seemed to talk to her somehow, to look back at her.
        Tsunami watched her for a moment, then replied softly. "It is what you need it to be." In her mind, she saw Tenchi shape the sword with his mind's thought.
        Achika slipped it on, over her hand. The instant the bracelet touched the gem at her wrist, it glowed brightly, and Achika suddenly found herself holding a glowing replica of her practice blade.
        Both girl and Goddess gasped, the younger shocked, the older unprepared for the near-percussive shock of power that flung itself out from the girl.
        Stronger than her father...
        With a little cry, Achika pushed the bracelet off of the gem, and the sword simply vanished, the power fading as if it had never been. "What did I just do? What was that?"
        Tsunami herself wasn't sure, but she'd brave it out. "That was your Juraian heritage, Achika. The ability to form a sword of light. But you must use it wisely."
        The brilliant amber eyes turned to her hand, as if looking for the blade to still shine there. But it was gone. "Sword of Jurai..."
        Tsunami smiled faintly. It was time enough.

 Flashback  - What Children Do…

        Mayuka was three, and into everything as three-year-olds tend to be. So perhaps it wasn't all her fault that Ryo-Ohki didn't like her. Children simply thought Ryo-Ohki was cute and lovable enough to want to play with them. Ryo-Ohki thought children were worse than most of the enemies she and Ryoko had fought, so consequently ran in desperate panic whenever Mayuka turned her eyes in the direction that might lead to discovery.
        As a result, Ryo-Ohki ran a lot.
        To Washu's chagrin, Mayuka didn't seem to show any abilities whatsoever. So much for all her research.
        It was your typical morning at the Masaki residence, Mayuka on foot, toddling after Ryo-Ohki, who was miyaing in a desperate attempt to get Away. Each miya from the cabbit brought on loud laughter from Mayuka, and it was no great question as to where the toddler was. But suddenly, Ryo-Ohki saw an advantage, and took off over the living room floor, popping through the glass-paned windows and out of the house. Mayuka stopped on the inside of the glass poking the glass perplexed.
        After several minutes of poking the glass, then beating her little hands against it, she fell to crying so miserably that Sasami couldn't help but take pity on the girl and pick her up.
        "Aww, Mayuka... don't cry. Ryo-Ohki can do that, and we can't."
        Still dismayed, Mayuka whimpered and whined until Sasami put the little girl back down - to watch her promptly thump into the window and bawl even harder.
        Washu, who had arrived in time to see the youngling attempt to phase through the window, sighed. "No, Sasami... I just don't see any abilities in her at all."
        Sasami nodded, sensing much the same in Mayuka herself. "She's a sweet girl, all the same, and I'm glad that we got her back."
        Washu nodded, her brain working on a great many things - and mostly all at once.
        Her attentions were diverted when Tenchi wandered into the living room and frowned. "Why is Mayuka crying?"
        "She can't phase through the window, Tenchi... and she didn't want me to hold her. How is Ryoko?"
        Tenchi walked over and scooped up the still-crying little girl. "She's tired, but doing well. I think that... Achika will fall asleep soon, and maybe Ryoko can sleep."
        Sasami nodded cheerfully, brightened by the news. "It's a shame that Ayeka left so suddenly, Tenchi. I think she's upset to see Achika."
        Tenchi wrinkled his nose and hugged Mayuka closer, who cuddled in and resorted to simply sniffling. Daddies were good for sympathy. "Aww, Sasami, you're not going to bring that up, are you? I know she's upset, but she never could have married me. I'm more human than Juraian, and there are still those old prejudices that grandfather left over. They wouldn't have accepted me, and they'd have ostracized Ayeka over it."
        Sasami nodded slowly and sighed. "Of course, you're right, Tenchi. She had to go back to Jurai."
        Washu, who had fallen silent through it all, spoke up now. "She'll come back to visit when the double shock fades. She managed to forgive Lord Katsuhito; she'll forgive you. She's not a hateful girl... even though she is a bit spoiled."
        Tenchi turned and made a face at Washu over Mayuka's head. "A bit."
        A sock hit Tenchi behind the ear. He turned to see Sasami standing there with a frown on her face. "Be nice, Tenchi Masaki!"
        All at once, Tenchi felt as if he had fallen back a few years. "I didn't say it! Jeez, Sasami!"

        Over a thousand light-years away, it moved. The awareness was just the fragment of a mind, but the Lady had sent it to get rid of the mind before it became a problem. Time was a factor, but it was moving quickly, and the target wouldn't be aware quite when it got there. It had every chance of succeeding.

Flashback – The First Sign of Danger

         Mayuka was four, her birthday just having passed, and Achika was only still a baby, but already Mayuka was dragging her little sister around like a doll. Ryoko was up and around again, the overly-cautious mother haunting little Mayuka and Achika. True to her word, Ryoko did try her best not to hold the child Mayuka responsible for the previous adult's actions. But every once in a while, she'd look over at Mayuka with suspicion, then it would fade as the child would look at her with a sunny smile.
         Ryoko was beaten, and she knew it.
         She’d put the baby to bed first, little Mayuka helping by setting out the bedclothes and fluffing the pillow just so for her sister. But all too soon it would be Mayuka's turn to go to bed, and she'd try to turn it into a three-hour escapade. It rarely worked, but sometimes Ryoko was feeling playful enough to let the child have her way for a little while.
         But, eventually, sleep won out over the four-year-old, and Ryoko would tuck her into the bed in her room (her old room) and lean against the wall for a moment or two to watch the child sleep. Then she'd escape the room with her teleportation, and arrive in the room that she and Tenchi shared in time to fall into the bed, mostly asleep.
         It was on one of these nights that it came. Like a silent assassin, the darkness that the Lady had summoned slipped into the Masaki home, seeking the mind it had been sent to destroy. It was good. It didn't set Washu's alarms off, nor did it alert Yosho. It seeped through the house, searching the occupants until it found her: the infant. This seemed a weak target to the creature, but the Lady had assured him that the target would not be easily destroyed. So it began first, by seeping into her dreams.
        She shifted slightly, a small mew of distress escaping her. But it was such a small sound that none heard it.
        Or none of the adults, that is.
        Mayuka sat up in her bed, wide-eyed and terrified. Something was in the house, and it was after her sister. A moment of childish panic ensued, and then the buried memory-mind asserted itself. She couldn't let her sister die.
        She slid the door open and tiptoed into the loft where her sister lay, beads of sweat on her brow. She couldn't see anything, but that didn't mean that nothing was there. The memory-mind woke fully, the sixteen-year old within returning to consciousness in a body that was far too young to be much use. The presence was old, and vaguely tainted with something familiar to the sixteen-year-old memory.
        She was too sweet to swear. But it occurred to her.
        Almost unconsciously, she shifted into a tiny Juraian battle mode, and yet, she knew that physically, she'd be no use to her sister. So setting one tiny hand on her sister's heart, she felt the power-up of her Jurai powers surge forward and clash with something dark. It wasn't fully embedded in Achika's mind, and she managed to form a shield over her sister with her own Self.
        Only then did she holler. And she hollered loudly, a word that woke the entire Masaki household in terror: "Tokimi! Tokimi! Tokimi!"
        Ryoko was the first one in the room, Tenchi a close second and Washu third. All they could see was little Mayuka in absurdly tiny battle armor with her hand on a seemingly soundly sleeping Achika, screaming that name over and over.
        It wasn't until a graceful figure stepped into the room that the darkness was revealed. With a flick of her hand, Tsunami lit the room with Otherlight, revealing the dark enemy who was hovering over the infant and trying to break the contact that the children had. "I can't fight it..." Tsunami said, her ethereal voice saddened.
        She was, after all, still Sasami.
        "I can," Ryoko growled, red and black bodysuit rippling into place around her. With decisive force, she gathered a ball of force and threw it directly at the dark being. It collided with him just as Washu screamed out a name, the residual energy dissipating into the shield that Mayuka was projecting.
        The result was impressive. The dark entity was gone, and Mayuka staggered backwards from her sister, repelling the blast into Tsunami, who was waiting for it.
        Washu’s eyes narrowed as she considered. Irisan. Why had Tokimi sent her assassin after the baby? It didn’t make sense, and she turned abruptly, leaving the room.
        Then, all fell silent until Achika woke up and whimpered.
        Ryoko's battlesuit vanished into her yellow-and-blue striped dress, and she hurried over to scoop both girls up and attempt to smother them in hugs. Tenchi grabbed hold of them, and the four were engrossed in the hug, and did not see Washu slip out of the room, looking greatly disturbed.
        Tsunami stood there, looking at the group for a moment before sending a soft thought towards Mayuka. "You know what it is that you have done, Mayuka."
        The amber eyes looked over Ryoko's shoulder carrying age that they should not yet hold. "Yes, I know. I had to... she's different, Tsunami. She's like you. But she doesn't know it yet. Just like..." Mustn't say that.
        Tsunami nodded warily. "And you know what this means for you, Mayuka. You were safe, as long as you slept. But now... you have woken, and expended much energy. Without the Trees of Jurai, you will not be able to recover. Funaho is rooted, and Ryu-oh is no longer here."
        The amber eyes blinked over Ryoko's shoulder again. "I know. Explaining it to them will not be easy. But it must be done. For them."
        Tsunami nodded, and broke the connection as she moved away. Sasami was still young, and she needed sleep.
        Ryoko wouldn't hear of the girls sleeping alone that night, and in the end, Tenchi, Ryoko and both girls slept sprawled across the floor of Tenchi and Ryoko's room.

        The morning came brightly, and Achika was awake and cheerful as ever. Mayuka, on the other hand woke slowly, groggy with the drain of power and dragged. Breakfast came and went, Achika giggling and eating everything in sight - including some of the rice that Mayuka didn't want. The baby probably shouldn't have been eating it, but she took to it, and what Ryoko didn't see...
        "Mayuka! Are you feeding Achika your rice?" Washu said from across the table as she set her teacup down with her eyes closed.
        Mayuka turned red, caught with the rice grains leaving her fingers via Achika's lips. "Um. Not anymore?"
        Ryoko scooped the baby up out of her cushion by her sister and cradled her. For a moment, old suspicions flared in her eyes, and Mayuka's now-older mind cringed. She remembered too.
        "Mayuka, how long have you been feeding your sister rice?" Ryoko asked, voice quieting to what Mayuka knew was a potentially dangerous level.
        Mayuka sighed. The child within her would have lied, making it easier, but the sixteen-year-old mind remembered all that she had done, and knew that Ryoko deserved nothing but the truth. Even if it meant trouble for her. Better to be in trouble and true than to be loved for a lie. "About a week." It was still a four-year-old's voice, and still just as whispery and guilty as if she had been much older.
        It got Washu's attention all over again. Green eyes opened and studied the child.
        "Well, that would explain the sudden change in her eating habits. It hasn't made her sick, so I suppose you'll just have to keep it up, Mayuka," Ryoko said airily. "I was going to give her some next week, but you beat me to it."
        Mayuka looked at her hands. This meant Ryoko was upset but didn't want to admit to it. The elder aspect knew it.
        There was a light touch on her shoulder and Sasami's voice followed: "Mayuka, you're not eating your breakfast." A soft wash of power fell over her and Mayuka felt a little more energetic. Sasami understood.
        "I'm sorry, Sasami. The food is fine, I'm just not very hungry, I guess. May I be excused?"
        Washu closed her eyes again and picked up her teacup. "You're probably still tired from last night. Maybe you should rest."
        Mayuka looked around the table. It wasn't going to be easy to tell them. "Ok."
        Tenchi's voice was soft. "Go on, Mayuka. I'll bring you up something to eat later."
        The little girl nodded and stood up, slipping out from under Sasami's hand, and trudged up the stairs.
        After she left, Washu became immediately lost in thought, and the dining room was quietly punctuated with the sounds of eating and Achika's soft mews.

        Several hours later, Tenchi tiptoed into Mayuka's room and sat on the floor beside her. "Hi, sweetie."
        She wriggled over and put her head on his leg. "Hi, Daddy."
        He toyed with her soft blue hair, flipping a ponytail back and forth. "What's wrong?"
        Mayuka sighed. "Remember last night?"
        Tenchi nodded, the scene passing before his eyes again. "Yes."
        It became too much for her. Four-year-old body sat up, sixteen-year-old mind active and in charge. "I'm sorry, Daddy, but I couldn't just let him hurt her. She's special. I mean, more special than I was... she's important and that's why he wanted her dead. Tokimi sent him to get rid of her before Achika becomes a problem for her."
        Tenchi stopped, looking at her. "Mayuka?"
        The girl sighed. "I'm stuck, Daddy. I had to wake up in order to protect her, but this little body can't hold enough power to keep me alive. I remember it all. Startica, the fighting... all of it."
        "I thought so," came a voice from the doorway.
        Both father and child turned to see Washu leaning solemnly against the wood.
        "You were suddenly showing signs of powers, and Sasami can't lie." Washu entered the room and studied Mayuka. "She said that you had less than a year. I plan to lengthen that by sending you to Jurai."
        "How?" Mayuka asked, clinging to Tenchi. "I can't even power-up enough to make myself a decent size!"
        Tenchi held up a hand. "Now hold on, both of you! What's going on?"
        Washu looked at Tenchi. "When Mayuka was reborn, all her memories were locked inside, not to be released until she was old enough to come Aware of herself. But when little Achika was threatened,"
        "She sacrificed her Awareness so that Achika might be protected." Ryoko said from the shadow by the ceiling. She landed lightly and looked at Mayuka. "I don't know what to say."
        "How about a thank you," Washu interjected.
        "You stay out of this!" Ryoko shot back.
        "I don't know what more I can do. I've done everything in my power to make it up to you, Ryoko... yet I still feel that you don't like me very much. Maybe it's best that you don't do anything, Washu. It's not like I'm really wanted around here anyway." The childish voice with the aged harshness and the words seemed so incongruous.
        The three adults stopped and looked at the child. Tenchi was doing his best to mask an expression of angry shock, and Washu looked surprised. Ryoko stood, faltering, expression between anger from being rebuked by Mayuka, and pain that she knew Mayuka was right. "Mayuka, I-"
        "Just leave me alone! All of you! Go away!" the girl shrieked, throwing herself into the cushion on the floor.
        Washu was the first to leave. She got up quietly and walked out, nothing said and no looks thrown. She was already planning the trip to Jurai.
        Tenchi wasn't as kind. Shooting Ryoko a look that meant "Fix it," he walked out after Washu.
        Ryoko stood there. /What is your problem, Ryoko? She's not that Mayuka. She's not controlled by Yuzuha anymore. She's just given her life up a second time to protect someone you love./
        Mayuka lay there, aware that Ryoko was still there, and in part, longing to sit up and tell her that she loved her. But it wouldn't change the facts.
The hand on her hair startled her, and she held her breath. But Ryoko only brushed at it gently for a few moments before putting something in Mayuka's balled-up hand. "You're Tenchi's daughter, Mayuka. And that makes you my daughter too. Now I don't know what good this will do, but if these gems are half as powerful as Washu thinks they are..."
        The red gem that Ryoko had pressed into Mayuka's hand started to glow, the other one on Ryoko's wrist joining it. Power flowed back and forth, eventually catching Mayuka up in the forming circle.  "Washu's right, the Trees of Life on Jurai should be able to give you the power that you need until you can regain yourself. My power can only help you stay the way you are."
        The girl sighed. "I don't want to go away."
        Ryoko hugged Mayuka to her, the power circle fading, having done what it could for the time. "I don't want you to, either. But it would only be for a little while, and you'd be with Ayeka."
        "Would you want me back when I could come back?"
        "Of course, Mayuka. You're my daughter."

Present Imperfect - Preparations

        Achika stood by the grave markers and quietly sighed. At first, there had been only one, the woman she was named for. When she had been younger, she had often come out and sat by the marker, trying to fathom why she had been named after her.
        Big Sister Mayuka had returned from her years on Jurai, having been granted power from the Great Trees so that she might regain her sixteen-year-old appearance (and discovering that she had lost many abilities when protecting Achika.)
        A near-instant bond had formed between Mayuka and little Achika, such that Mayuka always knew where her little sister was, and she would come haul Achika back to the house and a terrible sisterly row would ensue, the two girls squabbling until Ryoko had to come play evil Mommy.
        But one day, while her parents were away on Jurai with Sasami, something came and attacked the house. Mayuka and Grandfather had done their best, but in the end, they were losing...

Flashback – Sister, Sister

        "Achika, I said you're staying right here!" Washu yelled, grabbing back the girl and parking her well out of the way of the fight.
        "But May and Grandfather...!" Achika protested. She was still only four, and not in command of her powers yet.
        "They'll be fine." Washu didn't voice her /I hope./
        The battle had extended into another dimension, Washu staring through the portal, waiting for the two fighters to return so that she could lock the enemy Within. It wasn't easy to watch and keep Achika seated at the same time. "Hold still!"
        They were coming, Washu could see them, allowing the creature to think it was backing them up, keeping them on the defensive. Mayuka came through first, followed by Yosho, and as Washu was closing the portal, the enemy managed to get an arm through. Extending its power to the breaking point, it aimed itself at a new target: Achika.
        Mayuka sensed it before anyone else did. In less than a heartbeat, she turned, caught the arm, and pushed back into the portal.
        The portal sealed behind her.
        "No!" Washu cried, unable to stop it, unable to stabilize it to get Mayuka out.
        "Mayuka!" Achika cried, running to the vanishing fissure. Yosho caught her in time to keep her from trying to push through it herself.
        The three green gems flared brilliantly for the first time. A moment passed, then Mayuka shimmered into existence on the ground. Wrenching herself out of Yosho's grasp, Achika ran to her sister, the two adults not too far behind.

         It still hadn't helped. The battle had been too fierce and the enemy too strong for Mayuka. With so much power drained, the energy crystal that was left couldn’t be regenerated. Yet, unknown to anyone, Achika had taken the crystal that Mayuka had left behind and replaced it with a stone from her collection. She had sensed a fragment of power left within the crystal, and vowed to return it to Jurai. Maybe the Trees would remember.
        So the vial with the stone from her collection was buried, and Mayuka’s crystal was kept close by. One day, on a shopping trip, Achika found a necklace that had a little silver bottle as the charm. She managed to convince Ryoko that she wanted it, and when she got it home, gently placed the crystal into the bottle with the solemn promise to get Mayuka to Jurai. After that, she never took the necklace off unless it was to replace the chain. She’d done it six times so far.
        Achika looked quietly at the markers and sighed, allowing her gaze to rest on her sister's. The months after that had been hard, Ryoko grieved for Mayuka far harder than anyone had thought she would. She had nearly destroyed the house in anger at the unknown enemy, shrieked curses and vile threats if he were to ever show himself around again, then promptly locked herself into a vicious cycle of sake and depression until Tenchi had threatened to throw her out.
        Those had not been good days.
        And now, she wouldn’t make it to Jurai.

Present Imperfect – Say Goodbye

        This was to be Achika's last day at school before Tsunami sent her through the window. Achika supposed that it was her chance to say goodbye to the life she had here, for she had very little idea of what life after the fight would be like, even if she were capable of winning.
        The first two of her classmates waved to her from across the entrance, and she ran over to join them.
        "Hey, Achika! Why the long face? Some upperclassman say something nasty about you being in the Competition today?" Megumi asked.
        "Competition? Competition! Of course! Now it makes sense why Aunt Tsunami wanted to send me tomorrow. The competition is my last practice!" Achika said.
        Aimi and Megumi looked at each other, then to Achika. "Achika, what are you talking about?" Aimi asked.
        Achika blushed. "Um... my Aunt... well, she entered me in this really big thing tomorrow, and this competition is my last chance to practice before the real thing."
        Megumi made a small 'o' with her lips. "So you've been so excited about this big competition that you forgot our -school- competition?? God, Achika! Did you remember your clothing?"
        Achika blinked, checked her bag, and then smiled. "Aunt Tsunami did."
        "Will we get to see her today? Will she come?" Aimi asked.
        Everyone loved Achika's Aunt Tsunami, the beautiful and reserved young woman who didn't look old enough to be anybody's aunt. Everyone knew that Tsunami and Achika Masaki were what was left of a once very powerful family, and that Achika's parents had died in a disastrous attack by some space pirate named Ryo-Ohki, who had also perished.
        (That single battle ten years ago had dragged the whole of Earth into the awareness of other worlds, and with that came the protection of the Galaxy Police. And once that had been accomplished, Earth Headquarters had been established – later completed with what Tsunami had called a 'touching yet totally inaccurate' statue of Kiyone and Mihoshi. Achika had been to the ceremony, and didn't seem to remember Mihoshi looking so serious, or Kiyone quite so happy. Tsunami had told her that there had been something called 'artistic license' involved.)
        And so, no-one had been too ultimately surprised when Achika picked up a sword at seven, and had promptly begun besting everyone in her class. Tsunami had always been there, and to see Achika practice or compete without Tsunami was a rare thing indeed.
        "I hope she's coming. Just so that she can see that I'm ready." The bell chimed high above the girls.
        "Come on, Achika! You have to get ready for the competition!"
        Megumi said, grabbing Achika by the wrist and heading sideways to the gymnasium doors. "Hey, is this a new bracelet?"
        Pushing through the doors, Achika managed to get her hand back and nodded. "Aunt Tsunami gave it to me. Maybe for luck." She didn't tell what she had seen happen when it touched her wrist.
        They slowed to a respectable walk as they approached the interior gymnasium doors. It would be disastrous for Achika to trip and hurt herself before the competition.

        Inside, the upperclassmen were gathered around the school favorite. Misuri Tomaho. They didn't have any doubts that Misuri would win - she'd been learning the art of the sword since she could walk. And that upstart Achika girl had started when she was seven.

        The gym fell silent as Achika and her friends walked in, and Misuri looked over with her dark brown eyes and half-smiled. Pushing two upperclassmen aside, she walked up to the approaching girls.
        "Hello, Achika. Come to practice and prepare?" The tone of voice was deliberate, intended to covey superiority.
        Achika, who normally would have cringed and shrunk under the upperclassman's gaze, simply smiled thinly at her. "Of course, upperclassman Tomaho. It would be ill-respectful of me not to present to you an opponent worthy of your time."
        Both Aimi and Megumi looked at each other. What had happened over the weekend to so change Achika? They had last seen her on Friday, at her birthday party. She had been fine then. But today she was somehow more intense… and not quite here. They supposed that it was the big competition that was occupying her mind. But to talk back to an upperclassman?
        "Worthy? Of my time?" Misuri looked back to make sure that her friends were laughing. "But you are neither. Perhaps you would do yourself better to simply go back to class."
        Megumi folded her arms. "Now listen here-" Ok, in some situations, talking back was necessary.
        Achika held her hand out to stay Megumi. "Meg, not now. This is my fight." Looking to Misuri, she tilted her head. "Misuri, what do you want? What are you looking for?"
        "I'm looking for a fight with you with no rules, and no pitiful school competition," came the answer.
        Aimi put her hand on Achika's shoulder. "Achika... be careful." She’d never seen her friend so… confident of herself.
        "Very well, Misuri Tomaho. I accept your challenge," Achika said, setting her bag down along the benches.
        Without turning, Misuri called back: "Reiko, bring the swords." The petite juniorclassman brought the swords, offering Misuri the case. The upperclassman opened the case and selected a sword. "I see that you don’t have your sword. Therefore, you may have the other."
        "Achika!" A voice came from behind Achika and her friends. "You forgot your sword."
        Tsunami approached sedately, unwrapping the blade in her hands and offering it to Achika.
        The girl hesitated for a moment, then took the blade respectfully from the cloth. "This is..."
        "Yosho wanted to give it to you."
        Golden eyes quirked at her Aunt, but she said nothing. Instead, she gave the blade a smile, then walked towards the area that had been cordoned off for the competition.
        Misuri didn't like that she had to follow.

        Yosho's sword was of Juraian origin, and therefore perfectly balanced and extremely powerful. Achika had very little difficulty adapting to it, and using it to the fullest that she could without giving anything away. And yet, Misuri was having very little trouble staying on the offensive.
        It just wasn't right. She had practiced with the upperclassman before, and her fighting style was never this based on critical multi-hit attacks. It was as if-!
        Using a talent only recently discovered, she sensed. And then she knew that she had a whole lot more to fear. It wasn't Misuri.
        Landing only a foot away from the most recent attack, Achika called out to her opponent. "Where's Misuri? What have you done with her?"
        "Misuri is alive, something you won't be for long, daughter of Tenchi Masaki," the copy-Misuri replied with a sharp thrust of her sword.
        From the benches, Tsunami had just caught on herself. Of course she would have been watched, and the girl followed through life. Their enemy was still trying to win. She rose, and entered the girl's locker room. When she returned, much to everyone's amazement, an unconscious Misuri was in her arms.  "Achika! That's not Misuri!" She called out, not having heard the previous exchange between the fighters.
        Achika backflipped to avoid her opponent's sword. "I think I've figured that out by now!" she called as she landed.
        For a moment both opponents were at a distance enough that each could absorb the other's entire stance and prepare the next move.
        "You will die today, Achika Masaki, and along with you shall die the hope that your family will be restored."
        Tsunami watched Achika carefully. She had been wrong to think the girl was ready for this, she knew that with a cold certainty. But before she could do anything, an expression settled on Achika's face that Tsunami hadn't seen in five years. It was the same grim expression that Ryoko had been known for when she had decided to even up the odds.
        As everyone watched, Achika's clothing shifted into a black bodysuit, brilliant green spheres coming to life at her wrists and throat. Green tendrils of power banded up her arms, meeting across her chest and forming what Tsunami alone recognized as Achika's Juraian battlesuit. Across her face, the black and green pattern crept up her cheeks, and even her hair seemed to change, taking on more of the appearance of Washu's.
        The copy-Misuri smiled darkly. Now it was to be a worthy battle, against a Juraian who wasn't yet in full control of her powers. She would be easily defeated. And yet, Achika wasn't finished.
        Her bracelet fell an inch, the percussive power washing over as Yosho's sword rippled, phasing together with Achika's sword, the blade taking on a brilliant green glow as it shifted from metal to energy. It was enough power to break the spell on Misuri and shatter the illusion around the copy.
        He looked annoyed, then glared at Achika. "Well, girl, now you know your opponent. Are you worthy of the sword you carry? We shall see."
        Achika said nothing, simply reseated her hands on the hilt of the sword and her golden eyes narrowed. Instincts she didn't know that she had took over as he fired off several spheres of energy at her. Just as her mother would have done, she formed a shield that absorbed the impact and the energy.
        Only Tsunami could keep her eyes open as the brilliance flared.

        Not all that far away, Tokimi was fuming. The brat shouldn't have known to do that. At this rate, the bungling fool would have the girl Aware before he could kill her.
        It was easier to allow Achika to defeat him. There was no avoiding it. Achika would have to go back to the moment Tsunami had interfered. Then, Tokimi herself could take care of her.

        The brilliance cleared, Achika's shield flickering and vanishing from normal sight as she eyed him. "I know you," she called out. "You're Irisan. You're the reason that my family is dead." Power played around Achika, crackling and shimmering as she moved towards him.
        On the benches, Tsunami stood, a look of terror crossing her eyes. Irisan! It was lost. All her work and hopes... he had defeated Tenchi and Ryoko so easily... merely picked Ayeka up and broke her in half... tore Washu's mind... she had only lived because she had grabbed up Achika and run. Like a coward. Like she had done so long ago... She'd always been running. But not anymore.
        A hand touched Tsunami's shoulder. She looked, familiar violet eyes looking back into hers. "Do not fear, Sasami. All will be well."
        Tsunami blinked, whispering. "Mayuka?"
        Megumi frowned, looking at Tsunami. "No... are you okay, Aunt Tsunami? I mean, I knew Achika wasn't human... but I never thought she'd be so powerful. She reminds me of those two we studied in Juraian History class... Azaka and Kamidake."
        Tsunami stared. She'd forgotten that Megumi was in those classes. Azaka and Kamidake... where were they now? They'd come back with Ayeka on that day...

Flashback – Where It All Went Wrong

        Sasami laughed with delight. She had turned seventeen last month, and school wasn't that hard. From what Tenchi had said, classes would be hard. But she breezed through them, becoming one of the most popular girls in the class. And now Ayeka was back, and she could share with her sister all the wonderful things that she had learned. The only ones missing were Tenchi’s father, as he was in Tokyo on business, and Katsuhito, who was tending the Shrine, as usual.
        At dinner, Ayeka remarked that Sasami's cooking had gotten even better.
        "That's because you haven't been around to eat it lately, Princess." Ryoko replied, the old habits breaking hard.
        "I have been otherwise occupied by matters of Jurai, Ryoko." Ayeka replied icily.
        "I'll bet!" Ryoko crowed. "You just got married a month ago, Princess."
        Ayeka glared daggers across the table. "I fail to see what business that is of yours, Ryoko."
        Tenchi swallowed his cucumber, debating on breaking in. The little one was sleeping, after all…
        Ryoko shrugged easily, picking up her rice bowl. "I have to keep track of Achika's Aunts."
        "-That-" Ayeka said, "Would imply that I was your sister. And as I have no intentions of associating myself with you in that fashion-"
        "Oh, stop it, both of you!" Sasami hollered from the kitchen. Ponytails streaming, she stepped out of the door and glared at her sister and Ryoko. In a lower voice, she said "Ayeka, I'm ashamed of you! You haven't been home a day, and already it's started! Don't you know how hard that makes it for me?" She turned, glaring at Ryoko. "And you! I thought you'd know better than to be so loud! Poor little Achika's upstairs sick and all you're doing is yelling!"
        Washu looked under her eyelids over at Tenchi. "Sounds like home, eh, Tenchi?"
        Everyone turned to look at Washu, then burst into laughter.

        But the laughter hadn’t lasted long, for the world darkened, reality changing into something different, something far more sinister than normal. In the distance, suspended in the air was a very frightened and mostly feverish Achika.
        “Achika!” Ryoko cried, instantly teleporting over to her daughter and collecting her into her arms.  “What’s going on?” She wasn’t asking the little girl.
        In the semi-darkness, a presence collected into a being. “I do wish that you hadn’t done that. I’m here to collect the girl. Nothing more.”
        Ryoko flew back towards the group and looked at Tenchi.
        Washu stepped forwards, tilting her head. “Tenchi, this is the same dimension as before, when Mayuka defended Achika.”
        The being turned, regarding Washu. “You are an inconvenience.”
        Washu frowned, as if she recognized something. “You’re-“
        Before she could finish, the being waved his hand and she fell backwards, landing with her eyes closed, and pushed against a wall that they hadn’t previously seen.
        “Washu!” Ryoko screamed, clutching Achika closer and flying over to the insensate scientist. Turning a furious golden gaze to the being, she growled. “Who are you? What have you done to Washu? Give her back to me, or I’ll-“
        “You’ll what, Ryoko? You aren’t nearly as powerful as she was.” He replied.
        “Was?” Ayeka said, Juraian power building around her. “Do you mean to say, whoever you are, that she’s dead?”
        Ryoko looked back to Washu with alarm.
        "Oh, she’s not dead, Princess of Jurai. But her mind is useless now. She’s blank, what you could call… a vegetable.” The answer came so easily from him.
        Ayeka launched herself at him, battlesuit forming as she did so.
        But it was only momentary. He caught her in a wall of power, holding her fast. “Now, now. It wouldn’t do to kill you just yet. You control Jurai. And if I control you…”
        “Let go of her!” Tenchi hollered, primary battlesuit shimmering, the sword in his hand and glowing.
        The being laughed. “Do you truly think that you could defeat me with that toy, boy? I am Irisan, servant to the Lady. Her power is endless, therefore so is my own.”
        Ryoko flew over to the quietly stunned Sasami, pressing Achika into unresisting arms. “Keep her safe and get out of here if you can,” she said, then turned to float to Tenchi’s side, her own battlesuit forming as Ryoko took her earring-gem and set it in her wrist.
        “How touching, mother and father giving the child to a child and preparing to defend them,” Irisan laughed.
        Ryoko wasted no time in staging her attack. “Tenchi – get the Wings ready!”
        He knew that she had meant the Wings of the Light Hawk. As he concentrated, he watched Irisan toss Ryoko backwards, as if she were nothing more than a feather.
        Ryoko landed, grunted, then rose into the air again. The black face-shield appeared, and Tenchi knew that she was pulling out all the stops. Flying forwards again, she called out. “Tsunami, get her out of here!”
        Somewhere, within Sasami, the aged mind awoke to the chaos, recognized the enemy and who was controlling him. Tokimi! What did she want? Never mind that, Ryoko said to get her out, so go!
        “Tsunami? Here?” Irisan growled, waving his hand to toss Ryoko out of the way again. Where was that arrogant bitch Tsunami?
        Sasami’s eyes narrowed, and she took a single step backwards, vanishing out of the dimension.
        Something else flickered at the corner of Tenchi’s sight and he looked-
        Time came to an almost-stop.

        She wasn’t old enough. Not yet. Just seventeen, she wasn’t supposed to –be- Tsunami yet. But she didn’t have a choice anymore. A quick thought of apology to Sasami was accepted, and they merged.

        The house was empty, save for Tsunami and her feverish bundle. The Jurai Guardians were gone. She took only the time needed to form the dimensional window, then ran for the Shrine.

        Yosho was devastated, but Tsunami would not let him enter the portal. “You’ll die, Lord Yosho. Irisan is too powerful. Without the Sword Tenchi, you would be defeated. Somehow, and I’m not sure how I know, somehow we have to get Achika there when she’s older. When I was merging with Sasami, I sensed, for a moment, a spark of resistance to the power from Achika.”
        Yosho looked quietly at the fevered child. “Then there is only one thing that we can do. We make certain that she survives until then.”

        And he did. Yosho had fended off the second attempt by Irisan to take the child. When Jurai discovered the reason of Ayeka’s disappearance, they sent Kiyone back to Earth. Mihoshi immediately put in for, and was granted the transfer.
        Both girls died protecting Tsunami and Achika.

        Tsunami was twenty-seven now, and Achika was fifteen. Ten years had passed, three battles come to a stalemate. There was no-one left to aid, would the fourth battle be the end before they could return to the moment where it had begun?

Present Imperfect – Survival Instinct

        Achika was acting on 90% instinct, the power racing through her, barely controlled. Yet she deflected each of his attacks. And as she did, she learned how to use it. Energy pulses went like so… and the shield could change to reflect physical blows too. She was learning fast. She had to.
        As Irisan pressed his attacks, Tsunami watched as Achika seemed to be barely defending herself. It was all she could do to keep monitoring the real Misuri for signs of life.
        Quite suddenly, the battle shifted, Achika turning the attacks back on Irisan, pressing her advantage wherever she could. She started to drive him back, then the sword glowed and she flew forwards, blade-point first.
        Caught by surprise, Irisan had only a moment to realize that she was attacking before the sword pierced his body. Achika landed, turned the blade, and drew the blade upwards.
        “Well, well, girl. You’ve managed to defeat me. Maybe Lady Tokimi has misjudged you after all…” Irisan managed to say before he turned into a cloud of darkness.
        Achika’s answer was to collect the darkness into a sphere of brilliance and destroy it.

        When the ethereal dust cleared, Achika hung in the air, scanning for any further signs of Irisan. Finding none, she landed and looked at Tsunami. “I think I’m ready, Aunt Tsunami.”

        In the morning, she woke, ate, and dressed as if nothing were different. She took a moment to apologize to the crystal in the bottle, then she walked out of her room, and up the stairs to knock on the rice-paper door. “Aunt Tsunami? It’s time.”
        The door slid open, Tsunami standing there in her white robes. “Yes, and remember what I told you. We don’t know what will happen if you win. Therefore, you must try to keep yourself as anonymous as possible. You can’t let your emotions-“
        “Get in the way of the fight. Yes, I know. It’s not going to be easy for either of us, Aunt Tsunami.” Achika said as she entered the room and looked at the tableau for the first time. Taking a deep breath, she stepped through and into the past.

Flashback – Present Becomes Past

        There was a schoolgirl with a sword standing beside him. A redheaded schoolgirl. Where the Hell had she come from, and was he going to have to protect her too?
        The girl cast a glance his way, smiled strangely, then turned back to watch Ryoko fire a volley of energy pulses at Irisan. Of course it didn’t work.

        Achika sighed inwardly. Irisan felt a lot more powerful. But then, she was in his realm, not he in hers. It would just make it a little more interesting. Stepping into the air, her battlesuit formed, spheres coming to brilliant life as the bracelet made contact.

        Tsunami hadn’t counted on one thing: as the creator of the gate, she was still a part of the future. When she had followed Achika through, the magic had pulled at her, separating Sasami from Tsunami. Sasami stepped into the past, leaving Tsunami alone to watch, crying desperately. The only way back would be to destroy the window completely. And then, if Achika defeated Irisan, they’d be stuck.

        The Wings of the Light Hawk washed over Tenchi, his final battlesuit finally holding. But Irisan seemed to simply ignore the attacks from both himself and Ryoko, instead, seeming to focus on the schoolgirl-turned-Juraian Warrior.
        Achika’s undoing was, of course, Ryoko. Irisan sent Ryoko flying backwards so fast that she couldn’t recover, and slammed into the wall, blood coming out of her mouth. It happened too fast for Tenchi to react before Achika gave it all away in a horrified scream: “Mother!!!!”
        Torn between Ryoko, Irisan, and the girl, he froze, not sure what to do next.

        Tsunami sighed. It was done. It was lost. Reaching out, she destroyed the window as she stepped through and found Sasami hiding in a shadow.

        Ryoko was so dazed by the landing that she thought that she had heard Achika. She half-opened her eyes to see Sasami peering anxiously at her. “Didn’t I tell you to get out of here?” She growled.
        “I’m sorry, Ryoko,” came Sasami’s voice. “But it didn’t work.”
        Ryoko frowned, then looked past Sasami’s shoulder to see a redheaded wisp of a girl preparing to blast Irisan. Turning her head, she checked. Nope, Washu was still out. It clicked three seconds later.
        Tenchi’s uncertainty cost him dearly, for he took a blow from Irisan that sent him sprawling across the floor, extinguishing the Sword. Sitting up, he shook his head, then tried to stand when a hand pushed him back down.
        “No. This is my fight. You stay out of it, Tenchi Masaki.”
        The voice was familiar, the golden eyes just so… “Achika?” He whispered.
        Her lips thinned, she didn’t answer. She let go of him and turned to face Irisan. “I’m who you want, come get me, Irisan.”

        He didn’t need a second invitation. Reaching out, he grabbed Achika up and off of her feet, the tendril of his magic preparing to destroy her.
 She closed her eyes, concentrating.

        “Achika!” Ryoko cried, trying to get to her feet. But she was too injured, and she looked over at Ayeka, still suspended and unconscious. Damn! She couldn’t just sit there and watch her daughter die! She tried to float up, but that too was too much strain, and she landed, defeated. All she could do was watch.

        The power buildup was subtle, so subtle that Irisan didn’t notice as he gloated over his catch. Completely enveloping Achika, he began to pulse with the energy that he would use to destroy her.

        Tsunami couldn’t breathe. What was Achika doing? Sasami wasn’t sure, but she thought Achika was trying to buy them time to escape. But without Washu to open the portal scientifically… how could they? Someone would get left behind. Tsunami assured Sasami that she would stay if it came to it. Sasami didn’t like that.

        From within Achika, a white light began to glimmer. It grew, shifting several times, twisting, forming, twisting again, then opening like a brilliant star in the darkness. She opened her eyes, tilting back her head, her own Light Hawk Wings shaping, forming, then cutting through Irisan. First one, then two, then three.
        But she didn’t stop there. When she was done, suspended in the ruins of what had been Irisan, twelve brilliant Light Hawk Wings shone, each as powerful as the other.

        Even Tsunami watched in amazement. She hadn’t thought Achika could have that much power. Certainly she in Ship form could attain ten Wings… but twelve? In that slip of a girl?

        “How… touching.” A female voice echoed. “But for all your efforts, little girl, I shall defeat you. My servant wasn’t as smart as he would have liked to think.”
 Tsunami could have cried. Tokimi, here. They were all dead.

        The errant Goddess appeared before Achika, studying her for a single moment before stretching forth her hand and pushing through the barrier of the Light Hawk Wings. A heartbeat, then Tokimi touched Achika’s face.
        Golden eyes locked with blue, and then blue eyes widened in surprise.
        The Light Hawk Wings collapsed over them both, then darkness fell.


        A touch on her forehead. Light, the soft puff of air. Lips? She opened her eyes to darkness so thick that she thought for a moment that her eyes were still closed. The wall was hard against her back and she didn’t remember how she got there.

        The hand paused briefly on his shoulder, a gentle and soft touch, easing his aches and clearing his head. But it was so dark that he couldn’t see who it was.

        She could breathe again, the ground hard beneath her feet. It had been a gentle lowering, a drifting back down to the floor, the darkness concealing the battle area to the point that she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face.

        A hand at her cheek. A light touch at her temple. A kiss? Her back didn’t hurt anymore, but from experience, she knew that pain faded at the worst of injuries. It was too dark to see anything. What was going on?

        There was nothing but the darkness and silence. It felt like it had that time she had fallen so far down. She didn’t know why, but it scared her deeply.

        The first voice in the darkness was one that they hadn’t thought to hear anytime soon. “Okay, what’s going on and where did the lights go?”
        “Washu!” Tenchi’s voice came from the darkness. “Where are you?”
        “Keep talking, Lord Tenchi. We’ll come to you,” Ayeka replied from a short distance away.
        “Ayeka, I’ve told you before, Tenchi’s mine.” Ryoko half-grumbled, relieved to hear their voices.

        Hands touched other hands, joining and identifying each other. But someone was missing.
        “Sasami? Sasami!” Ayeka’s voice called out, panicked.
        “I can’t move, Ayeka!” Sasami cried out. She alone was stuck, unable to move away from the horror that gripped her.
        “Then we’ll come to you!” Tenchi called out. “Everyone, join hands and follow her voice!”
        Sasami kept calling out to them and shrieked when a hand touched her arm.
        “Easy, it’s only me. How are you stuck?” Washu asked quietly.
        “Damn, I can’t get any reaction from the gems. Where are we?” Ryoko muttered.
        “I don’t know, but I think I’m alone. I don’t know where Tsunami went…” Sasami said quietly.

        Across a distance, something- someone moved.

        She wasn’t supposed to exist separately. She couldn’t. The two each depended on the other, didn’t they?
        Tsunami picked up her head, looking through the blackness. She was so tired… it would be so much easier just to put her head down and rest. Just for a few more minutes…
        “Not yet, Tsunami. Sasami needs you.” Mayuka’s voice whispered.
        “Mayuka…?” Tsunami whispered before feeling herself lifted and then came the familiar touch of Sasami.
        “She’s back,” she head Sasami whisper, then she fell asleep, sagging limply against a startled Washu.

        By now the little group had re-grouped and was beginning to wonder what was going on. Ryoko still hadn’t managed to get any light to issue from her gems, and no amount of effort could induce light.
        Washu sat down with Sasami curled beside her and leaned onto her elbows. “May as well make the best of it. So what happened?”
        Tenchi sat and began to explain what he had seen, for Ayeka hadn’t known either. When he mentioned how many wings that Achika had demonstrated, Washu sat up.
        “Twelve? Impossible. The most I’ve heard of is ten, and that’s Tsunami.”
        Sasami nodded, having woken in the discussion, even though no-one could see her. “Maybe they weren’t Light Hawk Wings.”
        Before anyone could comment, a soft glow of light in the distance caught their attention.
        Achika stood, one arm extended, palm up, over which hovered a ball of green light that was growing in intensity. Tokimi faced her, arms at her sides, a look of disbelief on her face.
        The little group held their breath. What was going on? Achika was casting something.. but was it with the intent to kill Tokimi?

        Tsunami felt a surge of power, a brilliant green flare within her mind, and suddenly a whole lot of things made sense. Of course. Mayuka had told her a long time ago, and she had forgotten. Just like her. It was indeed now the time to merge. Sasami even welcomed it.
        Washu saw the markings on Sasami’s forehead shift, watched the girl’s eyes wizen, and wondered to herself.

        Achika allowed the ball of light to leave her hand and move upward until it dissipated, and the area was light once more. Tokimi didn’t move.
        For the first time, she looked over at them, then smiled faintly. A thought, and she was floating over to land beside the group.
        No-one said a thing. They only looked at her for  any signs of anything. That is, until Ryoko moved. Smothering Achika in a fierce hug, she growled softly at her. “Damnit girl, you went and grew up on me.”
        It broke the tension, Achika hugging Ryoko with tears in her eyes. Everyone but Tsunami was surprised. But everyone was surprised when Achika pulled away from Ryoko and moved over to Washu.
        “A grave injustice has been done to you, Washu. It’s time that it be undone. Tokimi!”

        No-one had noticed Tokimi approach distantly.

Flashback – The Eve of the Goddesses

        They’d been lost in this dimension for so long… so very long, and the oldest sister was tired of the endless searching for a way back. She had found a planet and a people that she could grow to care for, and so she had left her two younger sisters to continue the search. She was happy there.
        She hadn’t known that they had been attacked.

        Kain had taken offense to the two beings with abilities that could rival his own. This was –his- universe, not theirs, and he was going to get rid of them.
        But the older of the two had opened a dimensional portal, shoving her younger sister through it, then closing it against the protests.
        He attacked her, the battle long and impressive until he eventually won, beating her back. He couldn’t kill her, but he could break her.
        Washu woke alone on the steps of the Science Academy, all memories, including memory of her sister gone.

        It had taken Tokimi centuries to figure out how to control dimensions. Somewhere along the way, she forgot home, and focused on her sister. What she was going to do to her sister when she found her. And her bratty older sister too, for leaving them in the first place.
        Crossing the dimensions, she set out searching for Tsunami and Washu.

        They had been alarmingly normal children for their race, all three of them. Their parents couldn’t understand why they vanished, nor could they isolate what dimension that they had fallen into. And so, the infant was raised with more care, protected to the point of smothering until one day she decided to set out and find her lost siblings. She hadn’t counted on getting born along the way.

Present Past becomes the Future

        “You see? There weren’t just three. There were four. And Washu didn’t leave you, Tokimi. She just couldn’t remember.”
        Washu stood with a stricken look on her face. How could she have forgotten? Tokimi, her sister. And why hadn’t she remembered when Tenchi’s mother killed Kain? She hadn’t wanted to, had she?  She’d had a daughter, she didn’t want to lose that. But now Ryoko made more sense. And Achika…
        Tsunami looked away. She’d been so wrong to leave them. None of this would have happened if she had stayed, had been strong…
        It was all enough to depress a Goddess.
        Tokimi frowned, everything she had lived for dissolving before her. They weren’t her enemy. They were her family. Something she had desperately wanted for such a long time. It was right there… and all she had to do was take her sisters’ hands.
        Hesitantly, she reached out.

        So what was one more person in the house?
        Never mind that there were now four Goddesses (who happened to be sisters to boot) all under the same roof, bickering and squabbling and carrying on?     Granted, there was a new rule in effect: no Goddess-abilities in the house. If you wanted to play Goddess, you’d better do it in another dimension. And clean up when you were done.
        But it still wasn’t right, and Achika knew it. Sure, fussing with Tokimi and Tsunami was fun, and Washu tended to leap right on in when she overheard, often ending up in another dimension with a mock battle… but it only made her more keenly aware that something was missing.
        She found herself flying to the ledge, the place where Tenchi’s mother- her Grandmother was buried, as she used to do so often. Used to do so often. That past was gone now, wasn’t it? Or was it? Not everything had changed. Grandfather was as ever-present at dinner, and Nobiyuki kept chasing girls. Mihoshi had broken two more coffee-cups that day, and Kiyone was trying to figure out how Ayeka and Sasami had managed to get to Earth overnight.
        Something nearby caught her eye.
        A grave marker was buried under leaves, having broken at the base. She reached over and picked it up, looking at it. It was weathered, moreso than Grandmother Achika’s marker. After she cleared some of the leaves, she set the marker uneasily into place and read the name.
        Masaki Mayuka.
        She very nearly dropped the marker, pulling out the necklace and staring at the bottle. Her promise. She had promised to Mayuka and she had forgotten. Closing her hand around the bottle, she closed her eyes and cried.
         The tears of the Goddess fell on the bottle and broken grave marker, shimmering.

        “Achika! What are you doing out here? You’ve got everyone worried and while they’re all really glad to see me, you ought to come home this very minute!”
        Her eyes opened widely. She hadn’t. She had been warned about her imagination by Tsunami many times.
        The broken marker was gone, as if it never had been. Only Grandmother Achika’s was there.
        Lifting her head and turning slightly, she saw Mayuka standing there with her hands on her hips. “Did you hear me, Achika Masaki? You may be a Goddess, but you’re still my little sister, and I can still beat you up!”
        She couldn’t help it. She stood quickly, flying headlong into her sister, laughing.
        Now, it was right.

The End.