“Oh,” Lilie said, “there’s nothing really down that road, Duck . . . I mean, except the mooooonster!”
Ahiru’s eyes darted nervously from Pique to Lilie. “M-monster?”
“It’s okay,” said Pique, helpfully. “I’m sure there probably isn’t really a giant clay demon that makes sure no one can go all the way down that road. It’s probably just a story.”
“You probably aren’t going to end up with every bone in your body broken,” agreed Lilie, a demonic light in her eyes. “And if you do, Ahiru, you know I’ll come visit you in the hospital . . . if you make it, of course. And if not, I’ll visit your graaaaaaave!”
Pique shoved Lilie with her shoulder. “Hey, that’s kinda going too far.”
Ahiru quaked. She didn’t want to go to down that old abandoned road, she really, really didn’t! But she could have sworn she saw her pendant spark as they passed that way just now, and –
“Anyway,” Pique said, “I gotta practice for the pointe exam tomorrow, so – are you coming? Or –”
“Um, n-no,” said Ahiru, stiffening her shoulders. It was for Mytho, she reminded herself. For Mytho! The only thing she could do for him now was to get his heartshards back, and so – “I, I think I’m gonna explore down that road a little. I think I maybe saw Mytho down there, so –”
“Ahiru!” gasped Lilie, delighted. “You’re so bold!”
“Be careful, okay?” said Pique. She hesitated, balanced on one foot, looking like she might want to follow Ahiru after all. Ahiru couldn’t say it wouldn’t be nice to have the company, but – if they came with, and it was a heartshard, they’d definitely see her transform, and she couldn’t let that happen.
“I’ll be fine!” she said, mustering up a big, bright smile. “You guys should go practice. I’ll catch up with you soon!”
And then they were gone, and she was alone.
She hopped her way more than walked down the old cobblestone street, moving ahead in short bursts of hesitant energy. The buildings were all crumbling down here, and every time a stone shifted in its place she found herself jumping to the side. Don’t quack, she told herself, don’t quack! Who knew where the nearest water was, around here? She didn’t even know where she was properly.
(And had that old road even been there before today . . .?)
Still, when she heard the heavy thump, she had to clap both hands over her mouth to keep from letting out the duck-like sound. It might just have been a stone falling, except then it came again, and again, in heavy rhythm –
And her pendant flared up bright on her collarbone, and, as the golem came round the corner, the aura of red light that signaled her transformation coruscated around her.
The golem paused for a moment in confusion, and then continued rumbling forward.
Princess Tutu leapt back as the golem reached for her, then spun to the side as its fist crashed into a building, shattering shards of stone all around. “Who are you?” she asked, no longer afraid. “What do you want?”
The golem had no voice. But the heartshard within it did, and it was the heartshard the answered, “I protect. I protect this place.” It swung around, searching for her, as she slipped to the other side.
“There is no one here,” she told it, and pirouetted, gesturing with her whirling arms – all around, nothing but old, hollow buildings, emptiness and shadow. “I only want to help send you back where you belong.”
“I protect this place,” said the golem stubbornly, and stepped forward, trapping her between itself and a building. “You’re the one who doesn’t belong here.” Its fist was raised –
“Ahiru!” shouted a voice, and a sword swung uselessly into the golem’s clay legs and bounced off. The golem half-turned, distracted, and Princess Tutu took advantage of the moment to grab the golem’s hand with both her own.
“Please,” she said, coaxingly. “You are the feeling of protectiveness, aren’t you? Please come back to the person who needs you.”
Red light flashed down the golem’s arm, into Princess Tutu’s hands. She sighed and stepped back – she would have to find Mytho – and the golem finished its turn and swung a heavy arm towards Fakir.
“Fakir!” shrieked Princess Tutu (sounding, for a moment, very unlike the serene princess) and dove in front of him, holding up her arms like a shield.
“Get out of the way!” Fakir shouted, and tried to move around her, but she shifted, keeping herself between him and the golem. He shoved her, but he couldn't shift her; she was strong.
The heartshard of protectiveness, she thought, and said, “No,” and waited for the blow that should have come already.
But the golem was hesitating. It had no eyes except clay, but she felt nonetheless that it was staring at her. It circled them, warily, moving first to one side and then to the other.
“Why is it still moving?” Fakir demanded. “You got the heartshard already, so why –”
“Because . . .” Princess Tutu looked up at the golem, at the unfamiliar word written on its forehead. It was silent now; if it had spoken, she thought, she might not have been able to understand it. “Because your story isn’t over yet . . . is it?”