"I'll be back later! I'm going out to work on my book project!" Chibiusa waved, slipping her feet into her favorite pair of red shoes and practically leaping out the door with Diana following close behind.
Everything had settled down with the defeat of Chaos once again. Chibiusa hadn't expected to be returning to 20th Century Tokyo, but here she was once again. She had arrived only last weekend with a letter from Neo Queen Serenity in hand. The queen wanted Chibiusa to attend school in the present and have some time as a normal girl. Chibiusa wasn't one to turn down such an offer as she could be in school with her friends again and spend some time without sailor guardian responsibilities.
She had normal responsibilities now. Like this book project on foreign legends. Sure, she could recall a dozen different Japanese legends, but the foreign ones were more of a mystery. She knew of ones that had been made into movies then localized here, but everyone was probably doing those. She wanted something unique.
And that was how she ended up at the library. She stared at the entrance. She wasn't exactly the studious sort, definitely taking after her mother, but Chibiusa was at the library nonetheless, trying to actually get a good grade on her book project. Her future as a sailor guardian depended on it, she'd convinced herself as she scaled the stairs and marched straight into the fairy tale section. There were so many books on the shelves, it was almost dizzying. She really didn't know where to start. Ami had said to do some research online, but Chibiusa didn't really know how to use a computer.
"You seem lost, little one."
Chibiusa nearly leapt at the rather melodic voice suddenly speaking to her. And she nearly leapt again when she looked up to see the woman standing before her. The woman almost didn't seem real with her elongated head and turnip-shaped seafoam green hair and strange accents on the side of her head that almost looked like carved wood, but hair. Her attire looked as if she'd walked out of Hansel and Gretel and seemed to have her feet permanently fixed into a ballet position.
"D-do you work here?" Chibiusa stammered.
"I work many places," the woman replied. "Please call me Edel."
Chibiusa wrinkled her nose. That was a confusing answer, but at least the woman had a name. The one thing she was certain of is this Edel lady seemed to want to help her, and Chibiusa was rather lost in the legends section.
"I think I do need some help, Miss Edel," Chibiusa spoke politely. "I have a book report on western legends, but I don't want to use the big ones. Everyone knows about Hansel and Gretel or Sleeping Beauty, and I'm sure all my classmates will do their reports on those books. Do you know of any lesser-known legends that I could use?"
"I think I know just the one," Edel replied, turning around and leading Chibiusa deeper into the library, far into the collection of shelves where few people seemed to be. "It is a bit of a tragedy, but it is definitely a good story."
Chibiusa frowned. She wasn't sure she wanted to read a tragedy, but it was just a fairy tale right? There were plenty of Japanese legends that ended in sorrow, just as there were many legends that didn't. She'd met a few legends in her adventures as Sailor Chibi Moon, even recorded many of them in her picture diaries as she helped try to keep the legends from becoming too tragic.
She stared at Edel's back for a moment. "What's it about?"
"There was a prince who fought a crafty raven," Edel replied. "He meets many interesting characters including a dashing knight, a mysterious storyteller, and a lovely princess."
Chibiusa perked up at the mention of princesses and knights. "I do like stories about princesses," she admitted. "Is the princess the heroine?"
"I surely wouldn't want to spoil the ending," Edel evaded the question, turning to pull a book off the shelf. It was a thick book, leather bound, looking like it was part of the fairy tale itself. On the front was engraved several words in some foreign language Chibiusa couldn't recognize.
Chibiusa wrinkled her nose. "That's... that's written in Japanese, right?"
"But of course," Edel offered the book to Chibiusa. "It even has the small furigana so you can read the complex kanji you do not know."
Chibiusa lit up. Kanji were hard. It was all memorization of complex characters that all looked the same in the end. But the little furigana characters told her how to pronounce the words, which made it easier to understand what was written. She stared down at the book. It certainly looked like a story no one would read for a book project. And even if it did end in tragedy, perhaps she could draw out the characters for her report and make it more vibrant.
She looked up from the book with a smile. "Thanks, Miss Edel----- Huh? Where'd she go?" She was now strangely alone in the far recesses of the library with the only exit behind her. Surely Edel hadn't slipped past her unnoticed.
Perhaps she had. Chibiusa shrugged, staring down at the book. She'd find Edel later and thank her. For now, perhaps she'd start reading a bit of the book while she had the quiet of the library. Her house could be so noisy when Usagi was whining and wailing. Here, everything was peaceful and hushed.
She set her backpack down on the ground, Diana peeking out from opening. Chibiusa settled down next to her, leaning against the bookshelf with the book in her lap. "I found an interesting book, Diana. It's a tragedy, but I'd like to give it a read anyway. There's a knight and a princess in this one, even a prince."
"That sounds interesting, Small Lady," Diana agreed, peering out of the bag and at the book. "It looks old."
"It does, but maybe that'll make it interesting," Chibiusa agreed, staring at the cover. "Drosselmeyer...." she stumbled over the name. The book was foreign, so she honestly didn't expect an easy name, but this one was well beyond anything she could reasonably pronounce.
She opened the book. On the front page was a rough ink sketch of a handsome prince with feathers up his sleeves and a long cape. "Prince Siegfried," she read the inscription. She flipped the page, finding a few more drawings, one of the knight Lohengrin and of the Raven.
But the next page caught her attention. There was a princess in a white dress with ballet shoes and orange hair in a perfect arabesque. "Princess Tutu.... She's so pretty. I'd like to meet someone like her." Her thoughts were quickly interrupted as her Chibi Moon Compact attached to her school uniform began to glow. "H-huh?!"
"Small Lady!" Diana gasped. "What's happening?!"
"I don't know!" Chibiusa dropped the book in surprise. "Is there a new enemy?! But I thought Mama said that there wouldn't be anymore!" The book on the floor rose up as if pulled by strings and began to glow brighter and brighter. It flooded the darker recesses of the library in light then suddenly flickered out, the book falling to the floor, Chibiusa and Diana nowhere in sight.
"Miss Duck? Miss Duck!!!"
The words jarred her from her thoughts as Mr. Cat stared at her intently. "M-m-m-m-mister Cat!" she stammered, skittering backwards into the practice bars at the edge of the room. She paused. Everything was as just as she remembered, but that wasn't possible. The story ended and she returned to her true self to be with Fakir at the pond. Mytho and Rue had returned to the story, Gold Crown Town was no longer controlled by stories, and Drosselmeyer was nowhere to be seen.
Yet there she was in her white ballet outfit, a gem on her leotard, and her long hair pulled up by a headband. "I'm a girl again?" She glanced around the class. Mytho and Rue were both noticeably absent, but she could see Fakir across the room looking about as surprised as she was.
"Of course you're a girl, one that needs to pay attention in class! If you don't, Miss Duck, or I may force you to MARRY MEEEEEEEE!" Mr. Cat threatened.
"I promise she'll pay attention, isn't that right?" Lilie grabbed Duck, wrapping one arm around Duck's shoulders and pulling Duck's face with her other hand.
"That's right, Mr. Cat!" Pike protested. "I'll make sure of it."
"Mrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr," Mr. Cat growled. "Very well, then. Pay attention. The next ballet we'll focus on is based on an ancient legend called Princess Kaguya. The tale begins with a Bamboo Cutter who has no children. But one day when he's out harvesting bamboo, he finds a small child the size of his thumb within one of the stalks. He takes her back and raises her as his own."
"Was that Kaguya in the stalk?" Anteaterina marveled.
"How perceptive, Miss Anteaterina," Mr. Cat nodded. "That small child grew to be a normal sized and extraordinarily beautiful woman. She was courted by ordinary men and even the emperor, but she turned each one down as she wasn't from this land."
"Oh my, what a scandal!" Lilie gushed.
"What isn't a scandal with you?" Pike frowned.
"It wasn't quite a scandal exactly," Mr. Cat corrected her. "Kaguya was a princess from another kingdom. And soon she did return to the Capital of the Moon, unfortunately leaving her beloved adopted family behind."
"That's so tragic," Duck frowned.
"There's much more to the tale, so be sure to read it before next class," Mr. Cat instructed. "Because if you don't, I'll have you M-M-M-M-MARRRY MEEEEEE!" He huffed a sigh as he noticed the class had all fled.
Duck had scampered out of the classroom as fast as she could. She had more on her mind than the tale of Princess Kaguya. The confusion right now was how she was back here, in class, with Mr. Cat threatening to marry her as he retold the story of a legend she'd never heard. She'd never heard of the ballet related to the legend either.
She stopped on the walkway suddenly, shaking her head vigorously. "Pay attention, Duck!"
"Oh yes, pay attention, Duck!" Lilie chided, pulling at Duck's face. "Or were you daydreaming about Fakir again? How scandalous!"
"I bet she was all day," Pike agreed.
"Of course she was!" Lilie answered, smushing her face against Duck's. "Oh look!" she grasped Duck's jaw, turning her face. "There's your boyfriend now!" With a giggle, she shoved Duck hard, pushing the girl over and onto her face as she skidded up the sidewalk and stopping right before Fakir's feet. "Ohoho, have a good lover's chat, you two!"
And with that, Lilie and Pike scrambled off.
"Owww," Duck fussed before flipping herself back up. "I've been wanting to find you, Fakir. I don't know what's going on."
"I've been trying to figure that out too," Fakir frowned a bit.
"Did the stories come back to life?" Duck worried. "What about Mytho and Rue? Is the story continuing?"
"They're still in the book," Fakir shook his head. "It's still on my desk in my room, and I haven't seen them since this all started. Perhaps there's another Spinner or something entirely different."
"I don't feel any different," Duck noted, staring down at her shirt. "But I do have a different pendant. It's pink instead of red. I don't think it's a heart shard this time."
"It does look different," Fakir agreed. "Have you tried taking it off?"
Duck shook her head. "I've been afraid to. It might just all be a dream."
He couldn't blame her. He knew that Duck still wanted to dance ballet, and that was something she couldn't do as a duck. He'd convinced her that she should become her true self, but there was a part of him that worried she wasn't happy with the decision. Yet as she floated along the lake as he wrote, she seemed pretty happy.
But that still left the situation at hand. It was as if little had changed. No one seemed to remember the Dance of the Crows or the giant foreboding raven in the sky. People really had returned as if the story hadn't ended, even though it had. "No need to take it off. We can focus on what's happening here and now. There's something strange on the edge of the town I think you need to see."
"QUAAAAAA------" Duck cut herself off quickly, clamping her hands over her mouth. With whatever was going on, she wasn't sure if saying quack would turn her back into a duck just yet. She had a gem around her neck that she didn't recognize, making her into a girl again. She wasn't even sure if she could become Princess Tutu again.
But right now, her mind was focused on the massive bamboo forest that was now growing in the northern end of Gold Crown Town. There was never a bamboo forest there before, not that she could ever recall, but much of Gold Crown Town was turned upside down in the battle against the raven. "It's like the story Mr. Cat told, the one about the moon princess in the bamboo."
"Can't be coincidence," Fakir agreed, staring at the forest. He'd never seen bamboo here. It wasn't local, just these strange trees he'd seen in picture books and legends in the library. "I'm going in."
Duck didn't bother to stop him. Instead, she'd practically stuck to the back of him like glue. In a way, it was nice to have someone with her to try to understand what was going on instead of trying to go at it alone with only Drosselmeyer to egg her on. "F-fakir!" she shouted. "The new pendant! It's glowing!"
Fakir whipped around to see the light from the pendant, but the light in the forest quickly caught his attention. One of the stalks of bamboo began to grow brighter and brighter, bathing the forest in a bright light. The light began to reach forward more and more.
"Stay behind me!" Fakir instructed as the light reached forward.
The light began to take shape, first like rabbit ears then transforming into a young girl and a tiny gray kitten. The pair toppled forward, Fakir catching them quickly, making sure to not even drop the kitten. The girl was unconscious, leaning into him helplessly. She was dressed strangely with brilliant pink hair and an unfamiliar outfit. A crescent moon faintly glowed on her forehead before disappearing. "What in the world?"
"A girl from bamboo?" Duck peered around Fakir. "Could it be? Kaguya?"