This is an amateur, non-commercial story, which is not produced, approved of, or in any way sponsored by the holders of the trademarks/copyrights from which this work is derived, nor is it intended to infringe on the rights of these holders. And so it goes.

Writers note—a lot of the background behind this story comes from the True Tenchi novels by Masaki Kajishima and Yosuke Kuroda. My thanks go especially to the translations found on “Tatsumingo’s Room” (, which were a big help in this undertaking. Oni-Shin also gets my thanks for help and information when needed. Most of all, this story is dedicated to the love of my life and my best friend all in one, my very own Redhead.


a Tenchi Muyo tale by Jeff Morris

Lady Kamiki Seto Jurai loved receptions. It was always so much fun to walk around, mingling here and there, letting everyone know she was there and savoring their reactions to her presence. And when she'd finished with that, she could simply retire to a convenient table and sit down and watch the other attendees, observing their activities and making mental notes on anything that might be of use later. She only rarely bothered to find out why the party was being held; it wasn't why she'd shown up.

Today, however, was different. Usio, the head of the Kamiki family, had called this gathering in honor of young Utsutsumi, who had just returned to Jurai upon completing his apprenticeship on Ryuten. The family was quite proud of his considerable accomplishments and had insisted on a huge party to celebrate. Seto, never one to miss an opportunity to catch up on gossip and innuendo, had readily agreed to make an appearance.

She had glided in, made polite greetings to all and sundry, then retreated to a strategic outpost to watch the festivities and enjoy the glass of wine she'd plucked from a waiter's tray. So absorbed was she in the various goings-on taking place around her that she didn't quite realize someone was standing beside her until he cleared his throat.

"Hmmm?" Seto turned to find none other than the guest of honor standing there. She had to admit he'd grown up nicely. A bit on the hairy side, though it looked like a receding hairline was in his near future. "Ah, Utsutsumi. So nice to see you again."

"Lady Seto." He bowed slightly, his face very serious and solemn. Come to think of it, Seto had never seen him as anything other than serious and solemn...with one exception. The young man needed loosening up, she decided, and she knew just how to do it.

"My," she said in a coquettish tone, "so you're going to talk to me now? I'm flattered. The last conversation we had was over 130 years ago, and it was terribly brief."

"I remember," he nodded. "I have never forgotten it."

"I would hope so," she said archly. "After all, you did ravish me. A terrible thing, when a pretty young lady can't take a nap in the bushes without a young man sneaking up on her and grasping her breast with his sweaty hands!"

Utsutsumi scowled...or at least she thought he did. It was hard to tell what was going on under that bushy moustache. "It was an accident. I apologized."

"For all the good that it did," Seto sighed dramatically. "You soiled my virtue with your lustful act. And then you ran off and did not deign to speak to me for over a century...and now, here you are." She flicked her fan open and peered over its edge at him. "Yes, here you are."

"It's interesting that you bring that incident up," Utsutsumi noted. "It's what I came over to discuss with you."

"Really?" Seto fanned herself rapidly, enjoying herself thoroughly. "I don't know what you could possibly say after all this time that would even begin to make amends..."

"I'm ready."

Seto blinked, confused. "I beg your pardon?"

Utsutsumi drew himself up and took a deep breath. "I have spent these years preparing myself, making myself worthy of you. I'm now ready to take care of you for the rest of our lives together."

"What?" Seto said, utterly lost.

"I mean," Utsutsumi said loudly enough for the room to hear, "that I will now marry you, Lady Seto. Whenever you're ready."

For the first time in her forty-six hundred years, Kamiki Seto Jurai was at a loss for words.


* * * * *



The main Jurai Space Port had an observation room adjacent to the docks reserved for the Royal Family’s use. It served mostly as a location for meeting dignitaries and other formal occasions. From it, one could stare out at the vast desolation of the stars and watch as ships approached and departed in a complicated, never-ending dance. On this particular occasion Lord Utsutsumi, head of the renowned Kamiki clan, had the room all to himself, and he was making full use of it as he paced back and forth through its plush confines. From time to time, he would glance out the viewing windows and scowl, his bushy mustache twitching with the gesture.

One particular star in the distance flickered and flashed in ever-changing hues. As the minutes passed, the colors grew brighter, seemingly broader. Utsutsumi paused in his impatient meanderings and squinted, as though he could make out every detail of the approaching object from his vantage point. And as the minutes ticked away, slowly but surely colors became outlines, outlines filled out, and before too long the magnificent ship Mikagami came into full view as it soared gracefully toward home.

Utsutsumi grunted. Buried deep within his mustache was a special smile, one that he saved for a single person in the entire universe. But then he remembered the hour, and decided that he wasn’t going to let her off too easily, especially not on this day. He waited until the huge vessel had finished docking maneuvers before heading down to the bay.

Moments after his arrival, a subspace portal hummed into life and Lady Seto Kamiki emerged. She was neither particularly tall nor particularly large, but her very presence seemed to fill the bay, striking all who saw her with an inexplicable sense of awe. She looked around casually as she strolled out of the portal, her eyes finally finding the man she’d been seeking. “Utsutsumi,” she said softly, her voice deep and resonant.

“You’re late.”

“Oh dear.” Seto flicked her fan open and sighed. “I am so terribly sorry, my husband. We were on schedule and heading straight home as I’d promised, when what should happen but we were accosted by a most uncouth and savage band of pirates, and what could we do but exchange pleasantries and open fire upon them?”

Utsutsumi nodded. “Survivors?”

“A few. We left them in a pod and notified the Galaxy Police. They promised to tell everyone they knew about my beauty and mercy.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll do that.” Utsutsumi nodded to a pretty, younger woman with features similar to those of Jurai’s first queen. “Minaho.”

The young woman smiled and bowed. “Lord Utsutsumi.”

“Your mother arrived a few hours ago. She’s looking forward to visiting with you.”

Minaho blinked. “You got Mother away from the Academy? I don’t believe it. How?”

Seto laughed. “I might have mentioned that Yosho would be making an appearance tonight…”

“FATHER?” The young woman paled. “But…Father never leaves Earth. His tree and all…”

“A few days will not harm him,” Utsutsumi said with a shake of his head. His beard and ponytail shuddered with the motion. “Also,” he continued, “Ayeka, Sasami and that boy will be arriving shortly.”

“Ah, Tenchi.” Seto’s smile brightened. “But Ryoko did not come?”

“I think she’s got more sense than to come to Jurai for a party,” Utsutsumi replied with a roll of his eyes.

“Oh, that was seven hundred years ago. I’m sure no one cares any more,” Seto said dismissively. “All right. Let’s head home so I can greet my guests and prepare for this little party Azusa-chan is having on our behalf.”

“Very well,” Utusumi nodded. As he walked beside his wife toward the shuttle that would take them home, he cleared his throat. “By the way,” he said quietly. “Happy anniversary.”

“And to you, my husband.”


* * * * *


“Seto!” Usio rose to his feet and quickly embraced the uneasy woman who’d just entered his office. A long row of windows behind his desk displayed the never-ending chaos of the Jurai shipyards. “So glad to see you, my daughter…and so unusual, too! You rarely venture down here, which is probably a good thing.” The head of the Kamiki family smiled as he poured her a cup of tea; his smile widened slightly as he noticed how the contents shook as she accepted it. “It’s a very coarse and vulgar crowd that works here…certainly no fit place for a lady, wouldn’t you say?”

“While the people who work here might not be as refined as others, their work certainly reflects a great deal of pride and craftsmanship,” Seto replied as she took a sip of her tea. “Father, I need to speak to you on a most important matter.”

“Of course.” Usio sat down in the chair beside his adopted daughter and leaned forward, hands clasped. “What troubles you, dear Seto?”

“Well…” She stared at the contents of her cup for moment. “You…may be aware…that your son Utsutsumi has been…courting me of late.”

“Indeed I am.” The old man’s face beamed. “He’s a fine young fellow, Seto. He’s very talented as well. Some of his ship designs are making quite a stir around the yards, I can tell you.”

“Really.” Seto sipped at her tea again. “As you say, Father, he is quite a gentleman. His manners are impeccable. He’s very well rounded in the arts and in politics, and is an excellent conversationalist. I’ve also discovered,” she added with a shy smile, “that after a few drinks, he possesses an excellent baritone as well as a…unique…repertoire.”

Usio nodded happily. “As you say. Now, what troubles you that you’d come to me?”

“I want you to order him to break it off with me.”

“Ah.” The old man sat back in his chair, nodding. “And why should I do that, my daughter?”

“Well,” Seto replied, “For one thing, he has this outlandish notion that he’s obligated to marry me over a silly little accident that occurred over one hundred and thirty years ago. He did not realize at the time that I was joking, and even now he will not accept the fact that I did not seriously wish to obligate him to marry me. There is also the difference in our ages…over four thousand years. Lord Utsutsumi will want heirs, and I do not know if I will be able to provide him with any due to my age.” She lifted the cup to her lips, only to find that it was empty. “Besides that, I am a woman of ill repute…”

“I beg your pardon?” Usio said; Seto blushed furiously and shook her head.

“Forgive me, Father. That came out very wrong. I…have a reputation,” she said slowly and distinctly. “They call me the ‘Oni Hime’, and it’s a term I have enjoyed living up to time and again. I am not a fit wife for a noble young man such as your son, Father. He would be far better off with another, younger, more worthy woman.” She looked down at her hands. “For these reasons I would ask that you tell him to stop courting me.”

Usio nodded thoughtfully, his eyes drifting over to the windows and the crews working on the various ships in dock. From here,  they almost looked like tiny ants skittering here and there across the wide wooden surfaces. “You have been…meeting…for about two weeks now, am I correct?” he asked Seto.

“That is correct,” she replied.

“And during that time,” he continued, “you invited him to join you for dinner at least twice…and on those two occasions, you prepared the meals yourself, did you not?”

“That is again correct, Father. But I still…”

Usio chuckled. “Don’t you know that once you start feeding them, they’ll never leave?”

“I beg your pardon?” Seto said, confused.

Usio rose to his feet, still chuckling. “My dear daughter, in my opinion Utsutsumi is just what you need in your life, and vice versa. If you really wanted him to stop courting you, my dear, you would have told him, and said it in such a way that it would have left no doubt or hope in his mind.”

“That’s not true,” Seto stammered. “I mean, I’ve tried to tell him, but he doesn’t listen…”

“Seto, I will not intervene in this matter,” Usio noted. “Either drop him yourself once and for all, or stop fighting your heart and accept his companionship. Frankly, I hope you’ll choose the latter. You’ve been lonely far too long.”

“But, Father…”

“I have to get back to work, Seto. Rest assured, I will be watching and listening with keen interest, though.”


* * * * *


“Sasami! Ayeka!” Utsutsumi’s arms spread wide, the better to enfold his granddaughters as they hurried up the steps to hug him. “Look at how lovely you’ve both become!” he added, his smile almost as bright as the late afternoon sun. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. Why, your grandmother will be thrilled that you came for this.”

“We wouldn’t have missed it for anything, Grandfather,” Ayeka said graciously.

“Yeah. Grandma would have killed us if we had,” Sasami snickered.

“And…Yosho!” The burly nobleman’s brows narrowed at the sight of the bespectacled, gray-haired priest. “This is truly an auspicious occasion, that the long-lost Crown Prince of Jurai would return home.”

“I am glad to be back, Grandfather.”

“Ditch the disguise.”

“Very well.” Yosho sighed and concentrated; energy flickered around his body for a brief instant. When the glow had faded, a much younger man now stood in place of the priest. “Much better,” Utsutsumi nodded. “However, we’ll have to get you some appropriate clothing. Those robes are far too drab for a celebration such as this.”

“Told you,” Ayeka hissed at her brother with an elbow jab in the ribs for emphasis. Yosho winced but said nothing, hoping his sister hadn’t caught him rolling his eyes to the heavens.

Utsutsumi had now come to the last member of the party. “And this must be your grandson.” Tenchi smiled and bowed before his host. “Tenchi, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.” Tenchi bowed again. “I’m very honored to make your acquaintance.”

“Heard a lot about you, my boy. The honor is mine.” Utsutsumi gave Tenchi a very intense scrutiny. “Looks like we’ll have to outfit you as well. Shouldn’t be a problem. God knows Seto’s brought home so many strays over the years, something’s bound to fit.” He clapped his hands, and four very lovely and eager-looking young women appeared.

“Get this boy out of these clothes and into something presentable,” Utsutsumi ordered. “Also see if you can’t find something for…” Utsutsumi suddenly realized one of his guests had vanished. “Yosho?”

The prodigal prince’s attention was completely focused upon the green-haired woman who’d just come through the main doors. “Airi.”

Her eyes locked onto his. “Yosho.”

“Airi.” Yosho reluctantly turned toward Minaho and smiled. “You look well, Minaho. I’m glad to see you again.”

“It’s nice to see you as well.” She smiled and waved. “I’m heading to the reception. I’ll see you both later.” Though Minaho doubted it, privately. The way those two were looking at one another, a private reunion, to take place in the nearest convenient bedroom, was clearly inevitable. She smiled and shook her head as she ascended the staircase toward the main door; if either of her parents noticed her departure, neither acknowledged it.

Minaho bowed to Utsutsumi. “My lord.”

“Minaho. Why don’t you take Ayeka and Sasami to Seto’s chambers? I’m sure she’d like to see her granddaughters.”

“Certainly.” Minaho smiled at Tenchi, who was wincing and attempting to retreat from the four young women encircling him. “What about him?”

“I’ll take him to the men’s reception when they’re done with him.”

“Very well. Princess Ayeka? Princess Sasami? If you’ll come with me…”

“But…but…” Ayeka’s eyes were on the lovely quartet. “Tenchi…”

“Oh, he’ll be fine. Come with me…”

Tenchi smiled at the hungry-eyed beauties. “Uh…hello.”

“Hello,” said the doe-eyed girl with blue hair. “I’m Hakuren.”

“I’m Surien,” said the girl with green hair, glasses, and shy smile.

“I’m Karen,” said the redhead, licking her lips.

“And I’m Gyokuren,” finished a silver-haired siren that had somehow snuck behind him without his noticing. “And you, Prince Tenchi, are ours. Come along now.”

“I think he needs a bath,” Hakuren commented as they dragged him inside.

“Dibs on his back,” Karen called.

“Fine. I’ll take the front,” Gyokuren replied.

“You wish!” Surien argued.

“Help…” cried Tenchi.

* * * * *


"It's been six weeks," Utsutsumi said.

"Has it? I hadn't noticed." Seto and her would-be suitor were strolling down one of the main walkways of the Jurai royal complex. They'd just finished an incredible four-course dinner that she'd prepared herself and were currently enjoying the evening air and each other's company.  Strangely enough, Seto was growing pleasantly accustomed to Utsutsumi's presence...a notion that disturbed her for some odd reason.

"Yes, it has." Utsutsumi had proven to be quite determined. After recovering from the shock of his abrupt proposal, Seto had demurred, protesting that neither of them truly knew the other that well and such marriages never came to any good. There was also the taint of scandal about such a sudden rush to the altar; of course, given that Seto lived to be scandalous, it was a pretty weak argument, but Utsutsumi had nodded and suggested that they have dinner that evening. One dinner had become a long series of engagements...Seto mentally kicked herself for even thinking of the word...and all through it, Utsutsumi had taken everything she'd thrown at him and kept coming back for more.

Most frightening of all, Seto found herself hoping that he wouldn't stop coming back. He did have a way of growing on a girl.

"So," Utsutsumi said, his gruff voice breaking into her reverie, "what do you think now of our marriage, Lady Seto? Do you find the notion any more attractive?" He deftly guided her over to another path, this one leading to the famed Jurai shipyards. Utsutsumi had only been there a short time but his work was already garnering a great deal of praise.

Seto found herself in the awkward position of hesitating. "I must confess that...the idea does have a certain appeal," she conceded after a moment. "But do realize that I had been joking when you touched me? I certainly did not intend for you to take that so seriously, and I apologize for having been so troubling."

He chuckled quietly, his moustache bouncing in time. "Lady Seto, do you really think that was the sole reason I came to you and asked for your hand in marriage?"

"I'm not sure," she confessed. "After all, it was the first time you'd said anything to me in over a hundred years."

"I have been watching you for a very long time," he said, motioning for her to ascend the staircase leading to the main construction building. "I have found, much to my pleasant surprise, that the more a man truly observes a woman, the more reasons he finds to fall in love with her."

Seto quickly flicked her fan open and fanned herself dramatically, hoping that it covered her blushing cheeks. "Utsutsumi, I am over four thousand years old. You're barely one hundred and thirty. I'm a bit old for you, wouldn't you say?"

"Age means nothing to me. It's the age of the heart that concerns me."

"Utsutsumi, I believe my heart is also four thousand years old."

He chuckled again. It was a very pleasant sound, and Seto liked hearing it. "You're very young at heart, Lady Seto. But you're also very lonely. You touch so many lives, and yet allow no one to touch your own. I would be the first and only to do so."

"I see." Seto's face was burning. "You must have developed exceptional observational and deductive skills over the years, Utsutsumi, to reach such conclusions."

"You don't need to wear that guise," he said abruptly. "I know better."

"I beg your pardon?" Seto said archly.

"You are a very lonely woman. You stay busy meddling in the lives of others because it keeps you from seeing the emptiness in your own. And again," he continued as he unlocked a double set of doors and opened them for her, "I would be honored to be the one you chose to share your life with." He guided her into one of the largest construction bays; the cavernous chamber was dark save for the lighting around the main console.

"If you marry me, Seto, I will devote myself to making you happy. I will always be there to help and support you. I will stand beside you when no one else will dare. I cannot see the future, but I promise: you will always know you are loved, and regardless of whether or not you agree to marry me, I swear that no woman will ever replace you in my heart. That is what I offer you, Seto...all that, and this beside."  Utsutsumi reached down and activated the lights.

Seto gasped as she drank in the breathtaking scene above her. It was a ship unlike anything Jurai had ever seen, blessed with long, slender segments and huge, graceful arcs. A pair of rings, made of Ryuten wood but glittering like golden bands, rested in the back center of the craft. It was sleek. It was powerful. It was distinctly feminine.

"It is yours," said Utsutsumi.

Seto found herself unable to speak.

"My gift to you, my Oni Hime." He knelt down before her and took her hand. "Marry me."

And she found it utterly impossible to say anything but "Yes."


* * * * *


“Tenchi will be fine,” Sasami said as she and her big sister followed Minaho down the hallway. “He’s a big boy, Ayeka. He can take care of himself.”

“You didn’t see the way those…those harridans…were eyeing him,” Ayeka fretted. “He’s trapped in their clutches, and by the time they’re through there’ll be nothing left of him, mark my words.”

“Geez, I thought you’d be a lot more fun this trip, especially since Ryoko wasn’t around for you to fight with,” Sasami said, rolling her eyes. “I guess I was…Mommy!” The threesome had just entered Seto’s dressing room, and Queen Misaki was charging toward them at full speed. “Mother!”

“SASAMI! LITTLE AYEKA!” The girls were in her arms before they could move a muscle. “OH, HOW I’VE MISSED YOU, MY DARLING DAUGHTERS!”

“We’ve…urk…missed you too, Mother,” Ayeka gasped.

Minaho stood nearby, a smile on her lips as she watched the touching and potentially lethal reunion. Seto paused in her jewelry examination and walked over to her aide’s side. “Thank you for bringing them here, dear.”

“My pleasure, Lady Seto.”

“It touches my heart to see such a grand scene of affection,” Seto commented as Misaki continued to hug the daylights out of her children. “Though I believe Ayeka’s ribs are making rather ominous noises. Misaki, my dear?”

The embrace ended quite abruptly. “Yes, Mommy.”

Seto gazed down at her two lovely grandchildren. “Ayeka. Sasami. I’m so pleased you were able to come. I’ve missed you both terribly.”

“We’ve missed you too, Grandmother,” Ayeka said, bowing in respect. Sasami giggled and hugged Seto tightly.

“It is indeed to good to see you both,” Queen Funaho said as she joined the party. “I was wondering, however, where your elder brother might be? I was hoping to speak to Yosho.”

“Well…” Ayeka began, stammering slightly.

“He’s with my mother at the moment, Queen Funaho,” Minaho interjected. “They were quite pleased to see one another after so long a time apart, I felt it only right to give them their privacy.”

“I see,” Funaho nodded. She sighed dramatically. “Always the same, as I told you, Misaki. Sons forget all about their mothers once they find a girl. It’s just the way of things, I suppose. Ah well.”

“You must be very excited about tonight, Mommy!” Misaki exclaimed, hurrying back over to Seto’s side. “I mean, such memories this day must bring back to you! I mean, I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories, but my…”

“Yes,” Seto replied, a hint of a smile on her lips. “It was quite a day.”

“Oh, I know! The huge wedding, the incredible reception, and then you up and fainted on your wedding night…” Misaki’s eyes widened and a hand went up to her mouth instantly, but it was far too late. The forbidden words had been uttered, and Seto’s spine stiffened visibly as she slowly turned toward her daughter.

“What…was…that…little Misaki?”

“Uhh, nothing, Mommy, nothing! My tongue slipped, how silly of me, I don’t know how I got such a silly idea, please pardon me…”

“Wait,” Ayeka said. “You fainted on your wedding night, Grandmother?”

“I did no such thing,” Seto declared a bit too quickly. “I was very tired from the day’s activities and retired a bit early, that is all. Obviously little Misaki heard a rather vicious bit of gossip from some unsavory source, didn’t you?”

“Uhhh…” Misaki’s eyes were growing even wider and her body trembled violently.

“Who told you that vicious, terrible lie, little Misaki?” Seto demanded.

“Well…that is…you see…Daddy did…”


* * * * *


"All right. Why don't you tell me exactly what happened?"

Utsutsumi cleared his throat and tugged at the sash of his robe to make sure it was secure. Considering that the honeymoon suite was currently occupied by himself, the Royal Physician, three of Seto's handmaids and one unconscious bride, he was uncomfortably aware that he wasn't wearing anything underneath. "I don't know," he said a bit more gruffly than he meant to. "I was in the bathroom, getting ready to go to bed. Seto was in her dressing chamber, doing the same. I heard her come into the room and I opened the door to join her. She took one look at me and her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell to the floor!"

"I see." The Physician lowered his head, ostensibly to continue his examination of the fallen Seto, but more to keep Lord Utsutsumi from seeing him smirk. "And you three. What went on before she came into the room?"

"Well," said Aiko, the eldest of the three, "it had been a long day for her. She was rather tired, so we got her out of her reception robes and gave her a brief massage."

"She was very tense," Raisa, the youngest, commented. "I brought her a cup of sake to help steady her nerves."

"After we finished the massage," Aiko continued, "we brought out her nightgown and dressed her."

"It's Denebian silk," Bayna said, excitement in her voice. "It was a gift from the Emperor himself, you know."

"Go on," the Physician said as he worked.

"Well," Aiko said. "She was standing there, shaking a bit to be honest, but I figured it was excitement. I mean, it was her wedding night, and that's something every woman looks forward to. And then we heard Lord Utsutsumi singing a song about Tsunami's staff..."

Utsutsumi was beginning to wonder if a honeymoon on Elysia wouldn't have been such a bad idea.

"...and she asked for another cup of sake. So we gave it to her, did her hair up so it...wouldn't be in the way, you know...and then we escorted her in here and left. A minute later we heard her fall." Aiko hesitated for a moment, then gestured the other two girls out of the room. She learned over conspiratorially toward the doctor and Utsutsumi. "Forgive my saying this," she whispered, "and believe me when I say that I have nothing but the greatest love and respect for my lady, but....well...I think Lady Seto has never been with a man before. Like this, I mean. You know."

Utsutsumi froze. "You're kidding." Aiko shook her head. "But...but she's over four thousand years old! To think she'd gone so long without....I's just preposterous! Not one man in all that time?"

Aiko gazed solemnly at her mistress. "What man would dare touch the Oni Hime in such a way?" she asked quietly.

"Well, I think she'll be all right," the doctor said, breaking the mood. "Let's put her to bed and she should be fine come morning."

"Morning?" Utsutsumi gasped. "You mean...let her...sleep?"

"In all fairness, Lord Utsutsumi, it has been a long, stressful day for her, and a good night's sleep will do wonders for her nerves." The Royal Physician carefully picked Seto up and carried her over to the king-sized bed. "And cheer up. You're far from the first bridegroom who had to wait because his woman wasn't up to the big night. There's always the morning....and many, many nights to come. A bit of patience and understanding will go a long way tomorrow morning, trust me."

"Morning," Utsutsumi echoed, utterly deflated.

"Call me if you want me to examine her again. Good night, and congratulations." The doctor had the good taste and sense to wait until he'd left the room and gone down a few flights before bursting into laughter. This was going to be a tale for all time.


* * * * *


"Ah. That's far better," Utsutsumi said, giving Tenchi and his Juraian robes a quick visual inspection. "Now you look like a member of the royal family. What do you think, Azusa?" The Emperor of Jurai, standing out on a balcony just beyond the huge room with a group of worried-looking men beside him, turned to give the young man the briefest of glances before grunting something unintelligible and returning his attention to the private discussion.

"Oh, don't mind him. Affairs of state," Utsutsumi chuckled, wrapping a paternal arm around Tenchi's shoulders and guiding him to the opposite side of the room. "I could use a drink. How about you? Sake?"

"I, uhh, don't drink, sir."

"Really?" Utsutsumi blinked a few times in surprise, then shrugged before pouring himself a small cup and downing it. "I really don't care for this, personally, but Seto's mad for it, so there you are." He motioned a servant over and requested a glass of p’tan juice for Tenchi. "You'll love p’tan, son. One sip and nothing on your home planet will ever compare again."

"Thank you, sir.'ve been married to Lady Seto for a long time," Tenchi began.

"A very long time," Utsutsumi agreed, a gentle smile on his face. "And I haven't regretted a single moment of it."

"If I might ask..."

"You may ask."

Tenchi swallowed, his mouth dry. " have you managed to stay together that long?"

Utsutsumi's eyes twinkled. "A good question, son, and the answer is simple."

"It is?"

The older man nodded solemnly. "I never get my way." He laughed at Tenchi's pale, shocked expression. "I was joking, boy! Joking!"

"Oh!" Tenchi wiped his forehead. "I...I'm sorry. I wasn't sure if you were being serious or not. I mean, with Lady Seto and all..."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Utsutsumi asked.

Tenchi blushed bright crimson. "Well...I mean...Lady Seto is much older than you...and she's very powerful, from everything I've heard...and she's...kind of...well, she tends to do what she wants and doesn't really care what anyone else thinks, that's all." Tenchi paused for a minute or two, lost in a momentary reverie. "I just do you keep her in line?"

"Keep her in line?" Utsutsumi echoed, looking a bit shocked. "Tenchi, do you think for one minute I could ever hope to keep Seto 'in line'? Do you think that stern remonstrations, finger-pointing and the like would really accomplish anything, besides create hurt feelings and resentment?"

Tenchi started to reply, then hesitated. "I don't know," he finally said.

"You know, most people see Seto as an insane, powerful, interfering witch who doesn't give a damn about what she does or who it affects," Utsutsumi continued. "And frankly, she prefers it that way. She has a saying that 'it's hard to get a refund when the salesman is baying at your crotch'. But beneath that surface, Tenchi, Seto is a very tender and sensitive woman. And up until I proposed to her, she was also a very lonely woman. She'd gone for thousands of years without a partner's love and support, all because no one bothered to look behind the facade of the 'oni hime' and see the woman waiting there. But I did look...and I fell in love with her.

"I could not ever hope to 'keep Seto in line'. Instead, I embrace her, all of her. I give her my complete love and trust and support. It's not hard to do...she's an incredible woman, Tenchi, an incredible woman. I wake up every morning and spend a minute or two just watching her sleep, amazed that I was given the privilege of spending my lifetime with her. Yes, she does get a bit out of hand from time to time." Utsutsumi smiled. "It happens. But she knows that I will still be there for her no matter what...and that love and trust, that faith I have in her...makes her want to be worthy of my love. And it makes me want to be worthy of hers."

Tenchi blinked. "That's incredible, sir."

Thank you. Just don't look too bored tonight when I repeat that to the audience during the toast." He slapped Tenchi on the back and laughed. "By the way, boy, you wouldn't be asking this because of anyone you're attracted to, would you?"

No, no..."


* * * * *


The bedroom was sparsely furnished. It had a bed, a dresser, a small desk and a wardrobe, but the walls were bare and the floor was utterly devoid of any signs of youthful inhabitation. Truth to tell, it was a pretty overwhelming environment for a ten-year-old boy on his first trip away from his family to be in, so it probably wasn't too surprising to find his pillow somewhat tearstained.

Seto's fingers caressed the boy's hair with a tenderness she rarely showed him during the day. He mumbled something under his breath, sniffled and sank back into his exhausted slumber. Utsutsumi stood at the foot of the bed and stared at the far-too-young boy, shaking his head. "So this is the future of the Masaki family?" he asked quietly. "This scrawny excuse for a pup?"

"Yes, it is," Seto replied. "And he will be magnificent. He'll rule Jurai someday."

Utsutsumi snorted. "Well, they say great trees come from small seeds," he rumbled. "We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose. When does his training start?"

"Oh, it's already started. And don't be too hard on the boy, Utsutsumi. Azusa will thrive. I have faith in him. He has a very fierce heart and drive."

"If you say so." He nodded toward the door, and Seto reluctantly followed him out. She gave the young boy one last glance before closing the door, then turned toward Utsutsumi. "My husband."

He looked over his shoulder at her. "Hmmm?"

Seto took a deep breath, and let the words she'd been harboring in her heart for far too long tumble out: "I want a baby."

"But you had dinner just a few hours ago," Utsutsumi pointed out.

"I'm serious!" Seto snapped. Utsutsumi blinked in surprise, then turned to face her. She recovered most of her composure and spoke again. "I want a baby, Utsutsumi. A child of our own."

He stared into her tearing eyes, choosing his words carefully. "Seto, the doctors warned us that this might not be possible..."

"I've talked to Tsunami." That was the one thing about her that Utsutsumi had difficulty grasping; her ability to summon the goddess at will was somehow disturbing. "She promised me a child, Utsutsumi. She promised." She pressed her body against his, hugging him tightly. "Please."

Utsutsumi thought of all the doctors they'd seen over the years, all their words of caution. He recalled all the prayers during the Festival of Tsunami. He saw the disappointment in Seto's heart growing a bit sharper year after every year. He knew that this attempt would probably end the way all the others had.

"All right," he said quietly, stroking his beloved's long green hair. "All right."


* * * * *


“What do you think of this necklace, little Misaki?” The string of pearls dangling in Seto’s fingers would have fetched a king’s ransom anywhere in the galaxy. They caught the late afternoon light streaming through the window and sent it flying in soft pink-white hues against the other walls, almost glowing with a soft halo around her fingers.

“It’s very nice, Mother.” Misaki quickly glanced over at her daughters and signaled them to give additional approval. “What do you think, Ayeka?”

“They’ve gorgeous. I wish I had a strand just like them,” the princess replied.

“Hmm. Perhaps.” Seto casually tossed them in the ‘I might wear this’ pile. “So, tell me, Ayeka. Where do you stand with this young man, Tenchi?”

“Well, you see…” Ayeka stammered. Her cheeks were turning bright red and her wits were leaving as quickly as she attempted to gather them. “Lord Tenchi and I are…very close, you might say…we share a sort of agreement, I suppose…”

“She and Ryoko are still fighting over him,” Sasami pointed out helpfully.

“I see.” Seto considered a strand of crimson bloodstones, then set them back in the case. “ And has Tenchi made any sort of preference known?”

Sasami laughed. “He’s not that stupid, Grandmother.”

“Wise for his years,” the grand dame nodded thoughtfully. “I like that.”

“It’s not what you think, Grandmother,” Ayeka blurted out. “Lord Tenchi will choose me, I’m sure of it. After all, I am a princess and have many highly desirable traits that a young Japanese man would want in a wife. I’m certain that as soon as he finds the words to get rid of that terrible demon woman…”

“You mean Ryoko of course,” Seto interrupted, far too casually.

“Why…yes. Ryoko,” Ayeka nodded, suddenly uneasy.

Seto smiled. “Ah, Misaki. This truly takes me back to when young Azusa-chan brought Funaho back from Earth. My, how the two of you fought like wildcats for his attentions.”

Misaki frowned. “Mother…?”

“Oh, the harsh words, the battles you fought. So much anger and resentment between you…all for the love of Azusa. I remember it well.”

“But Mother, we never fought like that. I loved Funaho from the moment I met her. She was and will ever be my sister and best friend. I would sooner die than hurt her!” Misaki clutched a handkerchief, knotting it up in her hands as she spoke. “If I was impatient, it was because I wanted so very much to become a part of their marriage!”

“Ah. That’s right. My apologies, little Misaki,” Seto smiled. “My memories deceive me from time to time.” Her fingers brushed the soft wooden surface of her fan, caressing it tenderly. “You know, little Ayeka, you would do well to learn from the example your mother set.”

“What are you saying?” the princess yelped. “That I…share…Lord Tenchi with the likes of Ryoko? Never! I’d sooner marry Seiryo!”

“Oh, he’s no longer available,” Misaki said quickly.

“That’s not the point!” Ayeka declared.

“No. The point,” Seto said, turning around to face her granddaughter, “is that if you continue your current course, Tenchi will be forced to choose one over the other, and the results will be painful for all involved. On the other hand, if you were to cultivate a friendship with Ryoko…much as your mother did with Funaho, Tenchi might not have to choose between you, and everyone might win. But of course,” she concluded with a sigh, “you must do that which you feel is best, little Ayeka.”

“That’s Grandma,” Sasami whispered to her big sister. “Never use subtlety when a sledgehammer will do.”

“Tell me about it,” Ayeka grumbled.

“Well then. It’s time I got dressed.” Seto clapped her hands, and her green-haired handmaiden came in, bearing a long white box under her arm. “Ah, thank you Suiren. I trust it arrived with no problems?”

“None at all, my lady,” the young woman replied, a slight crimson blush to her cheeks showing as she bowed.

“Excellent.” Seto snapped the binding string off with a flick of her fingers and opened the box. “I ordered this dress from Elysia earlier this month just for the occasion. It’s the finest Gursisian silk.” She held it up for viewing; the fabric poured forth like an ebony waterfall, rippling and hissing softly as it fell into place. “So, what do you think, dears?”

“ooooooh,” whispered five voices.


* * * * *         


"Well, let's turn now to the piracy issue." The Emperor of Jurai leaned back in his chair and regarded the heads of the four families thoughtfully. Utsutsumi of Kamiki House was stroking his moustache, obviously trying to figure out what his wife (seated next to him) was going to say or do during the discussion. Seto herself was smiling, serene as could be. The boy...Azusa, the Emperor corrected himself, was trying to comport himself as regally as a twelve-year-old thrust into the job as chief of the Masaki House could possibly be, but the terror in his eyes was very easy to spot. Needless to say Shuusan of Amaki House had seen it right away, and had been taking great delight in calling upon the boy to comment on this and that, following up each remark with scathing criticism until the Emperor himself had stepped in. And finally, there was Kotono of Tatsuki House, silent and brooding as ever.

"We've seen an increase in unauthorized raids the past six months," the Emperor continued. "There's been a great deal of damage to our colony worlds and loss of life as well. We've asked the Galaxy Police to assist us in locating and stopping these rogue pirates..." He heard the derisive snort from Shuusan and chose to ignore it, "...but thus far our efforts have been barely effective in minimizing the damage." He looked around the table. "Comments?"

"It's no wonder they've run rampant," Shuusan chuckled. "Our very own 'oni hime' has been grounded. You chose a very inopportune time to sire an heir, Utsutsumi."

"The goddess chooses the time and means, Shuusan," Utsutsumi replied calmly. No one saw his tightly clenched fist under the table.

"And besides," Seto said with a viper-like smile, "my staff has noted that your battalions have been within an hour's flight of several of the more vicious attacks, my lord. And yet they claim they heard no distress signal nor call for backup. How very odd, don't you think?" She turned to her husband. "Utsutsumi, my love, perhaps Amaki's ships should all be recalled to the yards and inspected. them."

"A lovely suggestion, Seto, one in keeping with your penchant for flamboyance. Yes, let's ground an entire clan's forces and make our defenses even weaker," Shuusan sneered. "Let's try to be a bit more practical. Boy," he said to Azusa, who to his credit looked his tormentor straight in the eye without flinching, "what does Masaki House have to say about this, hmmm? Share with us your keen insights and enlighten us. Perhaps a boy can see where men have gone wrong."

"All right," Azusa said with a curt nod. "To start with, you're a pompous ass." Through the resulting uproar the Emperor's gaze met Seto's, and he graced her with a wink. The boy had spirit, to be sure, but that short fuse was going to have to be lengthened, and soon. He let the grousing and yelling continue for a minute, then cleared his throat and raised a hand for silence.

"Young Azusa," the Emperor said with just a hint of reproof in his voice, "We have more important work to do here. Save petty insults and challenges for the playground."

"My apologies, Your Majesty," the boy said, bowing. "As I was going to say," he continued, sparing a venomous glare at Shuusan, "Masaki has been in the forefront of defense. Our ships have protected the colony worlds as best we can, though our numbers are small and our ships not as powerful as I'd like. We've been working with Kamiki to coordinate our efforts, and would work with Amaki as well."

"Except the words 'Amaki' and 'work' are never used in the same sentence," Seto pointed out. Shuusan's face turned purple as he rose out of his chair to lambaste the impertinent woman, but one glare from the Emperor stopped him cold. Seto smiled sweetly again, and then hesitated as a look of momentary puzzlement crossed her face. "Oh dear. Where does the time ago? Azusa-chan, would you please go get the baby from the nanny?"

"Yes, Lady Seto," Azusa replied, his cheeks blazing.

"Baby?" Shuusan declared. "We're in the middle of a council meeting? Why do you need a baby?"

"Oh, you know how it is," Utsutsumi said with a smile. "Eat one, and two hours later you're hungry again." Seto smacked his arm gently, then smiled as Azusa returned from the other room, holding a baby girl securely wrapped in bright pink blankets. One could just barely see a bright blue shock of hair above her forehead as the boy came over to the table.

Still smiling, Seto loosened her robes and retrieved one of her magnificent breasts from within. "Here we are, Misaki-chan," she cooed, taking the baby from Azusa and moving her into position. "Oh, my. We are hungry, aren't we?"

Every man in the room--save two--was struggling with the urge to nosebleed. "Can't...can't you do that in another room?" Shuusan stammered, averting his gaze. "This is not the time or place for such an activity!"

"It's not?" Seto asked, surprised. "I didn't realize it was a problem. Utsutsumi, do you have a problem with my feeding little Misaki during the council meeting?"

"No, not at all," the proud father beamed.

"Azusa-chan, get your finger out of your nose, dear, and get a tissue. Do you have a problem with my nursing your betrothed during a council meeting?"

"Ummm.... no, no, of course not."

"My Lord?" Seto turned toward the Emperor, who was transfixed by that magnificent breast himself. "Do you wish me to go elsewhere?"

"I don't see why you should," he said with a smile. "We should all be grateful to witness such an act of love and life. Let us continue. Azusa," he said, he gaze now falling on the brightly-blushing youth sinking back into his chair, "I will make you the commander of a defense squadron of combined forces. Your first-generation tree will enable us to keep everyone together and coordinate our efforts."

"Yes, sir."

There was a long pause, then Shuusan nodded. "I understand, my Lord."

"Good. Is there any other business pressing?"

"Oops!" Seto declared happily. "Time to switch!"


* * * * *


Azusa and his advisors had moved to a more private setting. Tenchi and Utsutsumi were now standing in the balcony the Emperor had vacated. "Sir…why does the Emperor hate me so much?" Tenchi asked.

"Hate?" Utsutsumi shook his head, his bushy mustache moving like leaves in a breeze with the motion. "Tenchi, he doesn't hate you, trust me on that. Azusa is one of the fairest men I know. But you haven't given him much reason to show you any degree of warmth. When are you going to declare your loyalty to him, boy?"

"What?" The servant returned with a glass of something lime-green in color. Utsutsumi took the glass from her and offered it to Tenchi, who glanced at it tentatively before taking a sip. His face brightened almost immediately. "Hey! This is pretty good!"

"I'm sure if you ask Seto, she'll arrange a shipment to you every now and then. I'm surprised Ayeka and Sasami haven't already asked for some."

"Thank you. That's very kind of you." Tenchi took another sip of the delicious beverage, then returned to the original topic of conversation. "Uhh, so what did you mean by ‘pledging my loyalty to the throne, sir? I’m not Juraian or anything.”

“No, you’re just the grandson of the Crown Prince, possessor of a master key, and you can generate three light hawk wings without the aid of tree.” Utsutsumi smiled grimly. “Fact is, you’re a threat to his throne until you prove otherwise, Son. So we’ll talk to Seto and have a nice little public ceremony where you can be presented and let everyone know that you stand with Azusa.”

“And that’ll get him to like me, sir?”

Utsutsumi laughed. “Hell no, boy. You’re also a potential suitor for his firstborn daughter, and that, I’m afraid, is going to forever kill your chances in his book. Trust me on that.”


* * * * *


“I’LL KILL HIM!” Lord Utsutsumi was normally the most patient and even-tempered of men, which made his rare outbursts all the more terrifying. He strode from one end of his private study to the other, his fury and his footsteps making the paintings and trophies mounted on the walls tremble in his wake. “I WILL TAKE THAT YOUNG WHELP OVER MY KNEE AND SNAP HIM IN TWO, THEN FEED HIM TO THE WILD ANIMALS AND WATCH THEM DEVOUR HIM BITE BY BITE!”

Lady Seto stood nearby, placid and at ease as she waited for her husband’s tantrum to subside. Privately she was glad she’d had the foresight to advise Azusa-chan to remain in the Ruler’s Chambers  rather than coming back here and attempting to placate Utsutsumi. She was also relieved that Funaho had agreed to accompany little Misaki and her nanny on a trip to the Royal Academy Botanical Gardens. She really didn’t want any of them to see this side of her man.

At long last Utsutsumi stopped his  pacing and bellowing. “Feel better?” she asked dryly.

“I do not understand how you can take this insult so calmly,” Utsutsumi snapped. “If he wants to marry that girl from Earth, fine! She’s very sweet if a bit backwards. But…but to announce that she is to be First Wife instead of my little Misaki…” His hands clenched into tight fists, unclenched, clenched again. “Has he no concept of how he’s insulted our family? We took him in, raised him, taught him everything he needed to know…and this is how he repays us? And you just stand there and do nothing?”

“What do you want me to do?” Seto asked. “He’s made up his mind, my love. If he isn’t fully aware of the consequences this act will bring, he’ll certainly become aware very quickly once Jurai hears about it. We’ve done all we can with him, Utsutsumi. He’s a man now, and not only that, he’s going to be Emperor.”

Utsutsumi’s finger stabbed at the air. “Not yet, he’s not,” he growled. “He needs Kamiki’s approval to take the throne, and by Tsunami, I’ll be damned if I give it to him after this! Ungrateful whelp…”

Seto tilted her head, regarding her fuming husband with detached curiosity. “Are you truly that eager to see Shuusan on the throne?”

“No, but I will not sit still and see that young pup insult our family…my little Misaki…”

“Misaki adores Funaho,” Seto quietly pointed out. “She already calls her ‘sister’ and loves to talk about when they’ll be Azusa’s wives. She doesn’t care who is first or second, Utsutsumi. She simply wants to be a part of the equation.”

“She’s a child! She doesn’t understand…” Utsutsumi protested.

“I think she understands that a bit of concession will go a long way. She’s not ignorant by any means. After all,” Seto added with a slight smile, “she is my daughter. Utsutsumi, let us be blunt. Kamiki is not being insulted. You and I are not being insulted. Misaki is not being insulted. You are angry because someone has dared to not put your daughter first before others. That’s not an insult. He’s still going to marry her when she’s of age. Everything will be fine. Give it up, my love. This is not a battle worth fighting.”

Utsutsumi stared out the window; his study afforded a magnificent view of the main garden, made even more beautiful by the late afternoon sun. “It’s still an insult,” he grumbled. “My little Misaki is the finest young woman on all Jurai.”

“Yes, she is,” Seto nodded. “And no girl could ask for a more loving, proud father than you.”

Utsutsumi bowed his head in defeat. “Very well,” he finally conceded. “Kamiki will give its support to Azusa. But,” he added suddenly, “it will be a very long time before I forgive him for this impertinent act.”

“Yes, yes,” Seto nodded, thinking to herself that it would probably end when Utsutsumi held his first grandchild.


* * * * *


The family reunited just outside the main door of the estate. “My goodness, Lord Tenchi, you certainly look every bit the prince!” Ayeka declared. “You look as though you were born to wear those robes, don’t you think so, Sasami?”

“He sure does! You’re a prince now, Tenchi!” Sasami giggled at Tenchi’s resulting blush, but it was clear he was pleased with their evaluation. Nearby, Yosho and Airi, having returned from their brief rendezvous and looking all the happier for it, were enduring the latest ‘a son forgets all about his mother once he finds a girl’ lecture from Funaho. Azusa, Utsutsumi and Misaki stood by the front door, two of them impatiently awaiting Seto’s arrival.

“Where is she?” Azusa growled, tapping his foot against the stone flooring. “I thought you said she was ready, Misaki.”

“Oh, you know Mother,” his second wife replied with a giggle. “She’s never ready until she’s ready. Isn’t that right, Father?”

“Yes,” Utsutsumi said with a sigh, “but if she doesn’t finish soon, we’re going to be late. She knows how I hate to be late to anything…”

“Seto has never been on time for anything in her life,” Azusa retorted. “She has to be the last one there so that everyone will pay…attention…” His voice trailed off as the doors opened and Lady Kamiki Seto Jurai stepped outside. Her long green hair was perfectly coiffed, her bracelets, earrings and necklace glittered in the late afternoon sunlight, and her dress…black as midnight it was and strapless, revealing perfectly sculpted shoulders and a great deal of cleavage in front. It plunged to daring depths in back, and the slit on the right side revealed an incredibly graceful, slender leg. The Royal Family turned as one to regard this incredible vision and momentarily forgot to breathe in the wake of its sheer magnificence.

At long last Utsutsumi cleared his throat. “Aren’t you dressed yet?” he demanded.

Seto’s gaze could have frozen supernovas. “What is that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“Good lord, woman. You shouldn’t come out here in your undergarments. If you need some more time to slip into your formal robes, then just have one of the servants tell us. You don’t have to parade yourself in front of the world…what would people say?”

“Utsutsumi…my husband…this…IS…my…dress.” He blinked several times, regarding her carefully as if trying to determine whether his beloved wife was joking or not. Seto put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath, an action that had an incredible effect on every man in the group. “Do you have any idea how much this…” She hesitated before continuing, though, because if she told him now, Utsutsumi would have a coronary and that wouldn’t do on this night. “My husband,” she said after a moment, “I wanted to look especially beautiful tonight…for you. That every man would gaze upon me and wish that he had been so fortunate as the one who captured my heart and kept it for all these years. This, my husband, is all for you.” As a final selling point, she stretched out her arms and arched her back slightly. It was a practiced move, one that never failed to settle arguments…in her favor.

“Well…” Utsutsumi drank in the sight of her beauty. “You do look even more magnificent than usual, my wife.”

Seto bowed her head. “My husband flatters me.”

Utsutsumi finally sighed and shrugged his massive shoulders. “Very well. It’s far too late to go changing, at any rate. Let’s get moving. I don’t want to be too late for the banquet.”

“Very well.” Seto lifted a hand, and in immediate response Surien hurried forward with a soft, very sheer and gauzy stole. She handed it not to her mistress, but to Utsutsumi, who sighed again but placed it gently around his wife’s shoulders. “Thank you, my love,” she said, rewarding him with a smile.

Utsutsumi moved to her side and offered his arm. Seto accepted it and allowed him to escort her to the lead vehicle.

As they piled into the remaining conveyances, Tenchi turned to Ayeka. “Is she always like that?” he asked, a bit incredulous.

“Oh yes,” the princess said, smiling.

“And you know what? He wouldn’t have her any other way!” Sasami declared.


* * * * *


Mikagami ignored the distress signals wailing from the mortally wounded ships floating helplessly in space. The ship swept past the remains of the early-warning sentry stations, the auto-weapon systems disintegrating the debris that would not be easily pushed away. It left such minor concerns to the smaller escort ships that had barely kept up with the proud, magnificent craft once word of Ryoko’s attack had reached it. Mikagami had one destination in mind: the Jurai Space Port. And nothing and no one would keep it from reaching that goal, not even the relatively intact battalion of Amaki ships that had mysteriously held back from the battle.

The signs of the demon’s rampage were all around Seto as she materialized planetside. Chaos reigned supreme with fires raging, sirens wailing and people screaming as they raced madly about. The Oni Hime ignored the insanity, her pace steady and her gaze locked on the ruins of the Space Port. One would have to know Seto intimately to understand the significance of her trembling, tightly clenched right fist and know that the emotion stirring within her was not rage. It was fear.

Whatever blocked her path was pushed aside. Onlookers gasped as she took hold of impossibly heavy chunks of debris and almost casually tossed them elsewhere. Those pinned beneath the rubble were instantly attended to, but she wasted no time in accepting thanks, or responding to the angry inquiries as to where she’d been when the demon had attacked. She had already moved on, deeper into the inferno.

Ships in the process of being repaired or refitted hung at awkward angles or lay in crumpled, smoking piles on the floor. The cries of those trapped within or beneath were frantic and fainter by the minute as their rescuers struggled to beat back the flames or noxious fumes from the damaged equipment. Yet Seto saw nothing, heard nothing as she continued to stride purposefully to her destination.

When she reached it, however, she discovered that it was no longer there. Utsutsumi’s grand office, situated where he could look out at any time and behold the grand work of his men as they created and maintained the finest ships of Jurai’s mighty fleet…was gone. Only a tangled, hissing and sparking nest of damaged electrical cables and a huge pile of debris lay before her.

Seto simply stood there for several minutes and stared at the wreckage. The slightest hint of a tremor started in her hands and slowly worked its way up her arms, then to her chest, down to her legs…but her face remained impassive as she simply…stared.

“LADY SETO!” She didn’t turn toward the voice frantically calling to her. She didn’t acknowledge the arrival of a battered, bloody Verstani, her husband’s second in command. “Lady Seto, you must leave at once!” he informed her, breathless from the effort it had taken to reach her. “It’s not safe here! The support beams were damaged in Ryoko’s attack, and we’re not sure how much longer the walls and ceiling are going to stay up!”

Seto blinked once, twice, as if slowly waking from a deep sleep. She slowly turned toward the young man and studied his bedraggled appearance carefully. “You’re injured,” she noted casually.

“I’m all right,” he said, dismissing the notion. “We’ve sustained a lot of casualties, and we’re trying to get as many out of here as possible before it all comes down. Lady Seto, you’ve got to get out of here. It’s not safe.”

She nodded absently, as though trying to process the information. “Where is…where is my husband?”

Verstani shook his head. “He wasn’t here, if that’s what you’re asking.” He pointed toward the wreckage of a Jurai battle cruiser on the other side of the port. “We think he was over there when that…that monster attacked. It was terrible, Lady Seto, just terrible. She and that damned ship of hers just kept attacking, even after it was evident we were helpless. And her laughter…it was so cold, so empty…” He opened his eyes, only to find his audience missing. “Lady Seto?”

She was already heading over to the fallen battle cruiser; Verstani stumbled to her side. “Lady Seto, please. Let me get you out of here. Lord Utsutsumi would be furious if he knew you were around the docks at a time like this. He’d kill me. Please, let me take you to safety.”

“There is no safety anywhere on Jurai,” she replied too calmly. “And I am the Oni Hime. Nothing will stop me, Verstani. Be a good boy and go get those injuries seen to.”

“I can’t do that, Lady Seto,” he replied stubbornly. “I can’t let you go wandering around this mess alone. I’ll accompany you.”

“So be it.” Along the way Seto cleared several huge columns of debris holding victims captive. Occasionally she would shove them to one side; more often she would simply raise her fan and point it at the target in question. A blinding volley of energy would flash, and when it faded, the rubble was gone. In this manner the odd couple quickly navigated the disaster area until they had reached the remains of the battle cruiser.

Seto reached out and grabbed a rescue worker. “Lord Utsutsumi,” she said, almost as a command more than a question.

“I don’t know, Lady Seto. Please. I’ve got people to help.” She let him go and started to work her way around the wreckage, every so often repeating her inquiry to anyone she could grab hold of. Verstani struggled to keep up, unwilling to leave his charge even though his injuries were nagging at him more by the minute. By the time they’d reached the remains of the engine assembly, though, he could go no further and fell to the floor in an aching, exhausted heap.

Seto paused in her quest and regarded him for a moment or two. “I told you to go receive care,” she informed him, and to Verstani’s amazement she picked him up as easily as she would a baby and carried him over to the nearest aid station, some two hundred yards away. The medics received him immediately and set to work on his injuries; Seto waited a minute or two to make sure the young man would be all right, then started back to the wreckage.

“Seto?” called a familiar voice that made her freeze in mid-step. She whirled around to find Utsutsumi standing there, his right arm in a makeshift sling but otherwise in perfect health. “Seto, what in the nine hells are you doing here? It’s too dangerous for you to be strolling around in here!”

Seto stared at him, the rest of the universe falling away from her concern but that was all right because the center of hers was right there in front of her. “Utsutsumi…” she whispered, feeling the tears welling up in her eyes and they burned but she didn’t care because they didn’t matter, nothing really mattered except the man in front of her who was now wrapping his good arm around her and holding her tightly because she was shaking and weeping and repeating his name over and over and it was all right, everything was going to be all right because he was there and he was alive and he was there.

“Seto,” he whispered in her ear, cradling her tenderly against him. “Seto.”

“My Utsutsumi,” she sobbed over and over, no longer the Oni Hime but a woman who had come far too close to losing something very precious to her. “Utsutsumi…”


* * * * *


“…and so, it is with great pleasure and honor that I toast the long and happy marriage of Kamiki Utsutsumi and Seto.” Azusa lifted his wine glass high into the air; hundreds of similar glasses joined it. The couple in question smiled and nodded their thanks, and over the din of well wishes no one could hear Seto whisper to her husband, “And it is with great pleasure and relief that I toast the end of a long and boring speech by Azusa-chan, hmm?”

“He meant well,” Utsutsumi replied softly. “It was a very nice tribute, considering you made him what he is today.”

“True. I only wish I’d made sure he was taught the art of brevity.” Seto flicked her fan open and fluttered it by her face. “I believe it is time for you to give the final toast, my husband.”

“So it is.” Utsutsumi rose to his feet, and the well-wishers quieted down. “I would thank the Emperor for his kind words,” he began, nodding to a smug, self-satisfied Azusa. “However, I’m reminded of all the times his rash behavior brought all sorts of trouble down upon my family while he lived with us, so I’ll refrain.” The crowd chuckled, both at the joke and at the target’s sudden discomfort. “Instead, I will speak to you about the power of love. How it can strike the heart of a man even in his childhood. How it can drive a young man to make something of himself, the better to catch the attention of the target of his affections. How it can force him to step forward and risk rejection time and time again, because the pain of being without her is so great and relentless that it far outstrips the fear of ridicule.

“Love is so powerful that it can sustain two souls through days of great joy and delight and nights of dark sorrow and despair. Love brings two people, in many ways opposite, and binds them in such a way that each compliments the other, making the sum of their lives far greater than the individuals. Love is the confidence of knowing that despite differences and disagreements your partner is still there, will always be there to the very end…and beyond.

“My friends, my family, I ask you to join me in a toast to my beloved, my Oni Hime…my wife, the Lady Kamiki Seto.” The roar accompanying the lifting of glasses was even louder than before, and Utsutsumi could almost swear that Seto was blushing. He smiled back at her, knowing that although his bushy mustache completely enveloped his mouth she would know. She always knew. It was just one of the million little things he cherished about her.

The toast complete, the audience sat back down, only to gasp as they noticed that Seto was still standing. “My friends,” she announced in a clear, melodious voice, “I know that it is not traditional for the wife to give a toast, much less the final one, but as you all know, I’ve always held that traditions are meant to be broken.” Nervous laughter danced about the huge hall. “I look about,” Seto continued, her eyes making a slow sweep around the room, “and I see the faces of dear friends and family. I have so many riches in my life, and there is but one reason for that: the greatest treasure of all, my beloved husband, Utsutsumi. And it is to him that I raise this toast.”

Again the audience rose and cheered. Utsutsumi’s eyes were shining as he stood up and let his glass clink against hers. “Not bad,” he conceded.

“I do try,” Seto replied with a sly smile.

Utsutsumi’s arm slowly snaked around her waist, a gesture invisible to the crowd. “My wife,” he said with a tenderness he rarely showed in public.

Seto bowed her head slightly, her own eyes bright. “My husband.”