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Princess Tutu: Chapter of the Bird

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Once upon a time, there was a duck. One day, the duck met a prince whose heart had been shattered to bits by a terrible raven and scattered around the town. The duck felt sorry for the prince, and with the help of the prince's loyal knight, collected the shards of heart, and returned his heart to him. The prince returned to his former self, defeated the raven, found his princess, and held the duck dearly in his heart, forever grateful.

That is the end of the story.

But, when is the story truly finished? What happens after the story ends?

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

27. AKT "The Duck and the Pauper"
~ Dornröschen: Walzer ~

In the town of Kinkan, the morning was pleasant and sunny, with clouds like cotton balls adorning the orange sky. In one of the small houses lined up within the town, a boy lay asleep upon a bed with olive green covers. A thick lock of his straight black hair fell over the corner of his face, and a short ponytail hung on the back of his head.

His green eyes blinked open. He took a breath, and yawned as he covered his mouth. He rose from the bed and ambled sleepily over to the bathroom. He passed a desk on which an exquisite old-fashioned red lamp stood. It was the same lamp once abandoned by its previous owners that Ahiru had found in an attic a long time ago.

Fakir swept aside the bathtub curtains. A small yellow duck with a long plume sticking out the top of her head was slumbering in the bathtub.

"'Morning, Ahiru," Fakir murmured with a small smile.

Ahiru's eyes peeped open, then they widened with glee. "Quack!" she replied.

As they had been doing for the past few months, Fakir lifted Ahiru gently out of the tub, and she rode on his shoulder down to the kitchen. He collected the food he would need for the day before setting out for the lake, where he would write with the inspiration of its clear, sparkling water while Ahiru swam about alongside him. He used to attend the Kinkan art school for dance, but ever since Ahiru returned to being a duck and spent most of her time at the lake, Fakir found himself preferring to sit at the dock in her company, with a fishing rod, parchment, and a quill in his hand. As a duck could no longer attend the school, he found he had less desire to do so as well.

Karon greeted them from the dining room table, drinking his customary cup of tea. "Good morning, Fakir, Ahiru. It's a beautiful day to be outside, isn't it?"

Fakir gave a slight grumpy nod. Ahiru quacked in response.

"So then, will you be going out early to greet them?"

Fakir blinked. "Greet… them?"

It was Karon's turn to be surprised. "You didn't know? Do you not remember? Today is the day that the Prince and Princess return to Kinkan."

Ahiru's sapphire eyes and Fakir's green eyes both widened in astonishment. "The Prince and Princess? You mean… Mytho and Rue?"

Karon nodded slowly. "Yes… the news has been going around most of the town recently. It seems a little strange that you aren't aware of it by now." He thought a moment. "Then again, I suppose since you've been at the lake so often, that might explain it."

Blinking in bewilderment, Fakir muttered a brief farewell and marched outside, Ahiru looking just as confused on his shoulder beside him.

Mytho… and Rue-chan? Coming back to Kinkan? Ahiru glanced beside her at Fakir. I had heard here and there lately that they might be coming back, but today? Though I guess it makes sense that we wouldn't know… we don't spend much time in town, since we stay around the lake all the time, after all.

Ahiru grinned. And if it is true, and they are returning, then we can see Mytho, and Rue-chan again! I hope they're doing all right!

Fakir had more serious concerns. Why would Mytho and Rue be returning out of the blue like that? There has to be a reason for them coming back now, something urgent… what could it possibly be?

The question lingered in Fakir's mind. Swaying between doubt and confidence, he glanced at Ahiru sitting on his left shoulder. She beamed at him with hopeful eyes, shining with the same light that had shone on the night the Raven had been defeated. The only thing she was concerned with at that moment was getting to see her dear friends again.

Fakir let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding back. Even without words to speak with, Ahiru could still communicate with full sincerity, reasoning with him and reassuring him when he was troubled. Duck or not, she was the best companion he had ever known.

As they turned the corner, they spotted a large group of people gathered in the street a block ahead of them. Fakir approached the crowd and found a person he recognized to inquire the occasion. "Ebine-san? What's going on over here?"

The large woman replied, beaming, "Oh, didn't you know? Everyone's here to watch—the Prince and Princess will be arriving soon! The procession's sure to be spectacular!"

There was a small murmur of assent throughout the group of people standing around the three.

Fakir stood silently in the crowd, thinking. The whole town's acting as if there always were a Prince and Princess… was that how the town had been before the story had started?

The crowd stirred. Fakir had to practically almost stand en pointe to see what was going on, but he let Ahiru have a better view from the top of his head.

o-o-o-o-o

Outside the town's gates, a figure hooded in a frayed, faded beige cloak gazed up at the walls that stood around the boundaries of the town.

"So, this is the town of Kinkan," a boy's voice uttered curiously from within the cloak. His blue eyes glimmered with trepidation from under the mantle's hood. For a moment, his eyes fell, as if remembering something upsetting. Quickly though he raised them again and he shook his head, as if to shake off the recollection. Sure, it might look similar, but he knew that this was another town. A fresh start, he thought, nervously pulling the hood tighter over his head.

He started toward the gates when he noticed a sizable crowd gathered at the gates and all around the town wall. It looked as if it stretched down into the pathway inside too.

The boy sighed. Well, I suppose I'll find a way into the town from another direction.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir glanced up towards Ahiru flying above the crowd. "Do you see them yet?" he called up to the duck, causing a few of the people nearby to glance at him with puzzlement, wondering who he was addressing.

Ahiru looked back down at him and shook her head. Fakir lowered his head and sighed irritatedly again, pursing his lips. The crowd was growing excited, so they should be arriving at any moment now…

"Quack!"

Fakir's eyes shot back upward. Ahiru was quacking excitedly, taking a glance back down at Fakir, and pointing with her eyes and beak to their left, in the direction of Kinkan Town's main entrance. The clock tower began to chime, displaying the clockwork swan, knight, and prince with princess that spun steadily to the toll of the miniature bells.

The throng of spectators cheered as a flock of swans showered the path with dazzling white feathers. People standing within the upper stories of adjacent buildings flung rose petals into the air, creating a splendid rainfall of pink and white floating down towards the joyful crowd.

A pair of white swans led a sparkling pearlite coach that hovered through the air. Ahiru from above, and Fakir from below as he peered over the heads of the crowd, both recognized it as the same one in which the prince and princess had departed, almost as if they had never left.

Prince Mytho and Princess Rue waved gently to the crowds as they passed by. Mytho, in his regal indigo tunic with a feathery white collar resembling a pair of wings and matching white pants and cape, and Rue, in her majestic cream colored dress with layered puffed sleeves, truly looked like they had stepped straight out of a fairy tale. They remembered how distraught Rue had been before the Raven had been defeated. Compared to when she still had been teetering between Kraehe and Rue, she looked so much happier and content now with Mytho as his princess.

Ahiru quacked with glee. Mytho! Rue-chan! She flapped towards them with joy in her eyes.

Fakir had spotted them, too. Both of them seem to be doing all right, so far… Something seemed off with Mytho, though. Fakir studied his old friend a little closer and noted that his expression seemed preoccupied. Rue seemed less so, but he did notice her glance at Mytho worriedly every so often.

Suddenly, a yellow duck swooped down and landed on the bow of their carriage, quacking a chipper hello. Some of the crowd chuckled at the sight.

"A-Ahiru!" Fakir's eyes widened with alarm, and then he shook his head, frowning and crossing his arms. "Damn it, you'd better not get yourself run over…"

"Quack!" Ahiru greeted Mytho and Rue with a big duckling grin.

Mytho seemed taken aback, as if jolted out of his troubled thoughts, but softened his expression with a princely smile. "Hello, Tutu. We have not seen each other for some time."

Rue smiled also. "It's wonderful to know you are well, Ahiru."

Ahiru responded with further cheerful quacks.

"Is Fakir doing all right?"

"Quack!" Ahiru nodded.

"Hmm…" Rue thought for a moment. "Lead him to the gates of the palace. We'll meet in person there. Just follow the main street straight down."

Affirmative! Ahiru quacked again resolutely, and flew back to Fakir.

"That's one way to get a lot of attention, Ahiru…" he admonished her gently, shaking his head.

Fakir! Mytho and Rue-chan want us to follow them to the palace! Ahiru quacked impulsively. Remembering after a moment that she couldn't talk, she hastily glanced towards the direction of Mytho and Rue's carriage, dancing and gesturing frantically, first expressing a movement of following, and then stopping and spreading her wings up high to indicate a tall structure. Finally she indicated a meeting.

Fakir concentrated on her movements, and then attempted to decipher them. "So… follow… Mytho and Rue… to a tall building, of some sort… and meet there…?"

Ahiru nodded vehemently.

"Right," Fakir nodded back, "let's go from the side pathway following the main road; it'll take too long for me to follow you through the crowds as they are now."

Ahiru assented, and then took off higher in the skies as Fakir headed down the other road so Ahiru could keep an eye out for Mytho and Rue as he went around.

The two at last reached the gates of Kinkan Academy, which judging from the guards wearing the swan insignia posted around the bridge, was the rendezvous point. Ahiru, a little tired from all the flying, landed on Fakir's shoulder to rest.

As they approached, a soldier took a few steps forward. "Kinkan Academy is closed today due to Prince Mytho and Princess Rue's return. Classes will commence as usual tomorrow."

As Fakir had been neglecting to attend after Ahiru had returned to being a duck, this was news to him. "Why is the school closed right now?"

The soldier furrowed his brow at him slightly. "The students would surely get in the way if they were around while their Highnesses were getting settled back in."

Fakir blinked while Ahiru tilted her head puzzledly. "So… you're saying that they're going to be living over here?"

Another soldier nearby nodded. "While they were absent, these grounds were used full time as a school for the fine arts out of their great generosity, and will still be working as one even when they are present. In fact, the Prince and Princess will be giving demonstrations of dance in classes after they have moved in properly."

The guard who had first talked now spoke up again. "Anyhow, why are you here? What is your business with the Prince?" His eyes flitted to the duck on Fakir's shoulder.

"Don't worry about it. He and the duck are very good friends of mine."

"Quack!" Mytho!

Mytho and Rue had arrived, their golden carriage slowing gracefully to a stop in front of the gates.

"Haven't seen either of you two in a while," Fakir said, nodding toward them in a modest yet respectful greeting. "Sorry for the trouble."

"Think nothing of it, Fakir," Mytho waved the apology away. "I'm very happy to see you."

"…Was there something you wanted to talk about?" Fakir asked tentatively.

Mytho sighed heavily, his expression growing heavy, reminding Fakir of how the prince had looked while riding in the carriage. "I must admit, there is. Something has come to my attention as of late that is cause for a great deal of concern."

Fakir frowned. "What's wrong? What happened?"

Rue glanced around. "I think it would be best if we discussed this inside…"

o-o-o-o-o

The boy in the cloak strolled through a different gate of Kinkan where there was little to no other traffic. "Well, that wasn't too hard," he remarked aloud to himself, relieved.

He pulled off his hood and gazed up at the cloudless cerulean sky, revealing a head covered with short white locks of hair which resembled Mytho's to an astonishing degree. "Gosh, it's sure a nice day today…"

He wandered around the streets, glancing about at the shops and stores close by, searching for a place he could possibly find some kind of work. Or if worst came to absolute worst, then maybe he'd, umm… quietly take some tidbits from a loose cupboard here or there.

He came across a shop with delicious-looking white loaves of bread and magnificent cakes in the display window. On a sign in one corner of the window was stated in neat bold handwriting: Help Wanted.

Just what I was looking for, the boy thought, his expression brightening as he opened the door and walked inside, a bell attached to the door chiming at his entrance.

The aroma of baking bread made his mouth water as soon as he entered. As wonderful as the scent was, it caused his stomach to rumble, making him even hungrier than he already was. Reasoning to himself that he'd be able to eat if he got a job, and at a bakery no less, he went up to the counter and waited for the baker to come over.

He watched the baker in another room behind the counter finish his work with the dough and exit the kitchen to the counter where the boy was waiting.

"Hello, and what can I help you wi—"

The baker's eyes widened as he spotted the boy. "It… it couldn't be!"

The boy tensed, his teeth clenching.

The baker, looking positively overjoyed, bowed meekly.
"Y-Your Majesty! What an honor to find you in our humble bakery! What brings you here today, of all days?"

This outcome surprised the boy even more than he had expected. "Uh, did you say… 'Your Majesty'?" he said in complete bewilderment. "Wh-what…?"

"Oh, Highness, my sincerest apologies for not recognizing you at first! Why, with those simple clothes on, I had no idea at first!"

Blinking, the boy replied with a flabbergasted expression on his face, "But, I'm not any kind of royalty, I swear! I'm just someone that came into your shop, because I wanted to ask for a job—"

The baker chuckled. "Oh, I understand now. What a great way to make an entrance on your arrival, Mytho-sama—disguise yourself as a poor boy and slip into town so you could personally greet everyone. I have to say, you blend in so well that I doubt anyone will notice!"

The boy stood there with a baffled look on his face. "Uh… no, this isn't a joke. I'm serious! You've got to be mistaking me for someone else, because I don't have a clue who this 'Mytho' person is!"

The baker guffawed. "Hilarious! Ingenious! You've really thought this out!"

Trutho took a long, deep, trembling breath, and exhaled slowly. There was no use losing one's head just because someone else had misplaced his. If this baker really was that dense, then he might as well just play along. "All right, um… yeah, that's right, you've got me." Thinking quickly, Trutho added, "Well, I thought I might stop by and, well… sample some of your merchandise, if it wasn't too much trouble…"

"Oh, no, your Highness, it would be an honor!" he exclaimed, seizing a bunch of different kinds of breads and pieces of cakes and practically shoving them in Trutho's hands. "Please, try anything you want, even the entire store if you wish!"

Sometime later, when the sun was starting to take its leave, the Mytho lookalike exited the bakery, still munching on a last piece of baked wheat bread. That could have turned out a whole lot worse. I suppose I should feel guilty, taking food in some royal's name, but if that's the way I'll get my daily 'bread' so to say, then that's the way it's gotta be…

Absorbed in his thoughts and food, Trutho failed to notice the small crowd of people gathering around him for a while. When he did, he balked and impulsively took off at a run. Realizing how fishy this would look to everyone, he said to the people behind him, "I… um, suddenly felt like getting some exercise and so now I'm going to jog around town…"

And when he noticed some people were still following him, he added louder, "And I'd like some peace and quiet, so could you please leave me alone?"

He finally was able to escape from the most stubborn spectators, after stumbling numerous times in his haste, and found himself on a quieter street. He carefully peeked around the corner of the nearest block and found that the next street was calm as well. He sighed with relief, and slid down against the wall, slumping onto the ground. "Peace and quiet… for now, anyway."

He gazed up at the sky, which was now a bright orange fading to a navy blue overhead, casting elongated shadows across the streets. He couldn't think of what else to do, so he decided to stay and catch his breath for a little while. He closed his eyes.

o-o-o-o-o

The sound of creaking and clanking surrounded a man with white, curly hair and numerous multicolored feathers sticking out of his hat, as well as a tiny figure with light teal hair emitting a taptaptap from her small toy drum. The gears of stories turned endlessly, constantly, in a dark place where nothing else seemed to exist except for the people wandering around within it.

Drosselmeyer sighed dramatically. "It's odd, how long we've been searching for a story to write, and yet nothing seems worthy of writing!"

Uzura shrugged. "I dunno-zura."

Drosselmeyer shook his head reproachfully. "Many of these stories would be so boring I'd fall asleep before I finished them! No potential at all in the characters for any good tragedy!"

Uzura blinked and shrugged again. Some of them actually looked to her like they could've been pretty nice if she had stuck around to watch. But, so far she didn't see any reason to stop following the tussle-mayor yet.

"Oh! What is this?"

Uzura looked at the gear in front of them where Drosselmeyer was staring. It was a trio of feathers designed as if they could be used as quills: one was large and black, like a raven's; one was smaller and yellow, like a duck's; and the last was slightly larger than the yellow one, a white one.

"Hmm…" Drosselmeyer muttered, picking up the black feather and examining it while Uzura gazed up at him. "This looks familiar…"

Drosselmeyer grinned. "Well, what do you know? I think this is the Raven's feather!" He cackled. "This could come in handy… and what is this?"

He picked up the white feather. "This couldn't be… a swan's feather?"

He studied the feather closer, flicking his wrist, looking at it front and back. Finally, he shook his head. "It's not, of course… should've realized I wouldn't find the prince's feather now that his story runs on its own. It's only a goose feather. Easy mistake to make."

He paused for a moment, and then slowly looked back at the white feather. "Strange… this one seems to be related to the swan feather… could it be…?"

Without another word, he placed it along with the black feather in his other hand.

"And now… the yellow one."

He reached for it, but Uzura snatched it out of his grasp.

"Eh?" He glared at her. "Now, Uzura-chan, this is no time to be playing games. Hand me the little feather now…"

Uzura shook her head. "No-zura."

"What? Come now, come now, let me have it… I know just what to do with them—and I saw them first."

Uzura shook her head again stubbornly. She highly doubted that Drosselmeyer was just going to stick them in his hat. "No way-zura. It's Ahiru's feather-zura."

Drosselmeyer's face broke into a sly smile. "Ahiru's feather, ay? The more, the merrier! Let me have it!"

"No-zura!" Uzura held it out of harm's way.

"Uzura-chan!"

"No!"

"Please?"

"You can't have it-zura." She cuddled it in her arms right over the red tulip icon on her blouse.

Drosselmeyer sighed. "Oh well, I don't really have any more power over her, anyway. Let me see what I can do with these…" Chortling, he set off to find the stories that the feathers led to. Worried, Uzura followed, clutching the duck's feather in her hands, as if it was to be protected at all costs.

A hop, skip, and a jump across gears away, Drosselmeyer took a glance at his two feathers and stopped at his destination. "So, this is where the raven's feather leads to… and the goose's… and—"

He blinked and his eyes widened to a pair of white and orange marbles. "It can't be!"

Uzura glanced at Ahiru's feather and found that it lead to the same cluster of gears.

"This is where we started off at!" Drosselmeyer exclaimed. "The prince, the useless knight, the raven's false daughter, the duck—they're all here with them!"

Uzura gaped at the gears in awe. "Aaooohhhhh…"

She glanced down at the yellow feather she was holding, and looked back up at the unmoving gear that was linked to it. It was connected with another gear together, side by side.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir sat at the dock overlooking the lake, watching the duck Ahiru with her lake friend Sagi (a great blue heron) as he contemplated what Mytho and Rue had told them some time earlier.

"So, let me get this straight," Fakir took a breath, "Groups of ravens have started appearing in a neighboring town, and they've begun stalking people?"

"Yes," Mytho affirmed. "We've gotten several messages at this point that these birds have started congregating strangely, pursuing individuals, as well as some close calls of assault."

"This sounds just like something the Raven would do," Rue added.

Mytho's amber eyes narrowed uneasily. "If something's going to happen, I can't risk another victim of the ravens. We both know what the consequences could be." He glanced significantly at Rue. She returned the look.

"We had just gotten the first of the messages while we were on our way back to Kinkan," Rue said. "We couldn't just change plans right then and turn toward Ginkan, we had too many things with us that we were planning to drop off here. Now that we're here, though…"

Mytho sighed. "I know it might not be anything to worry about in the end, but there's a major risk that if anything isn't done right away, things will get out of hand. Another problem is that everyone's expecting us to stay for a while…" He trailed off.

"How could the Raven still be alive?" Fakir asked. "You did slay the raven before, didn't you, Mytho?"

"Rue and I did," Mytho answered, "and we pierced its heart straight right through. It was shattered to pieces; all of you saw it."

"So then… what's going on here?"

There was silence for some moments.

Fakir recalled that Mytho then proceeded to invite them both to the ball that was to be held for the prince and princess's arrival. So, that night they were to arrive at the school (or Mytho and Rue's castle, as it was) for the party.

Fakir shook his head, a little irritated. It seemed that today he couldn't concentrate on his writing. He hadn't written more than a few words since he had sat down here after the meeting. With resignation, he placed his parchment and quill to the side. Since he hadn't brought his fishing rod with him, he contented himself with watching Ahiru, whom was watching her tall blue acquaintance catch fish with a few swift jabs of her long pointed beak. Sagi, like Ahiru, had a distinctive little feather on her head, except that Sagi had a white squiggly plume on her head instead of Ahiru's upward-pointing yellow feather. Ahiru and Sagi had become fast friends when they had first met. From what Fakir had seen, Sagi apparently had been a new resident of the lake, and had been asking around for directions. Ahiru, of course, had been happy to help her out, and they had been seen together at the lake ever since.

After some time had passed, it was dusk, and the sky was filled with the orange and gold of a setting sun. It would soon be time for Ahiru and Fakir to attend Mytho's welcoming celebration.

"Ahiru! It's almost time to go," Fakir called out.

Ahiru quacked in response, quacked a farewell to Sagi, and flew over to Fakir. Together they set out for the royal residence while Sagi watched them with a parting gaze.

As they reached the town borders, they noticed there were more carriages arriving at the town than usual. They all were designed in the same sort of fashion: baroque, fancy, and expensive-looking.

Ahiru looked a little puzzled. She quacked at Fakir inquiringly.

"What?" Fakir gazed around at what she was looking at, and then replied, "Oh, those people. They're likely here for the gala that Mytho's holding that we're going to. With him being high ranking royalty, all sorts of nobility are going to be present at it. No big surprise."

Ahiru nodded, and appeared to have her question answered. They were silent as they entered the town amongst other stagecoaches.

"Oy, what are you doing on the road, pedestrian! Outta the waaaaaaaay!"

"What the—"

One carriage going particularly fast zoomed directly toward them. The woman driver, who looked like she should've been of nobility, was laughing maniacally while another man in the carriage, wearing what was something like a servant's uniform, desperately tried to calm her down (with no apparent success). It went so fast that Fakir had to dive aside in a panic. Ahiru, blown aside by the speed of the wagon, was knocked toward the other side of the road, high into the air, wheeling around as she went.

"Ahiru!" Fakir cried in horror.

She was knocked so far that she disappeared over a row of buildings as she started to fall back down.

Fakir swore, and dashed into the direction Ahiru had fallen. He was further delayed by his need to sidetrack around houses and buildings as well as the many other carriages barring his speedy passage. Ahiru, I hope you have enough sense to stay where you are… if you can still move…

o-o-o-o-o

As Ahiru fell, she flapped her wings frantically, hoping to get enough lift to lessen her fall. As luck would have it, she was able to land softly on the cobblestone street. After checking herself through, she found she didn't have as much as a scratch, though she was winded.

Oh no, now where am I? Ahiru thought anxiously. Where's Fakir?

She surveyed her surroundings. The street was one that she recognized as a few blocks away from where she was before. It was much calmer than the main road, with just about no one except one person wearing a tattered hood ambling about behind her.

She paused a moment. That person… looks kind of familiar…

Ahiru gazed behind her at the boy dressed in a frayed beige tunic. He had white hair, spread around his head in straight locks, just like…

"Quack!" That couldn't be… Mytho?!

Ahiru waddled swiftly towards him. What's he doing in clothes like that? Why isn't he with Rue-chan?

The boy's eyes caught on Ahiru. His eyebrows tilted in a puzzled manner. "Oh! …A duck?"

Ahiru gazed at his confused eyes. They weren't the same color; they weren't golden amber, like those of the real Mytho's, but instead a bright azure.

The boy blinked again. "Er… do I… know you?"

Ahiru's shoulders slumped. "Qua…" It couldn't be Mytho. Mytho would recognize her right away as "Tutu," for even though he still did not know that she was Ahiru the girl, he had realized soon before he had first left for his kingdom that Princess Tutu was really a duck.

He studied her for a moment. "'Thought I was someone you knew, huh?" He smiled somewhat apologetically. "Sorry to disappoint."

He sighed to himself, looking back up. "'Least you're not like the other obsessive folks around here…"

Ahiru looked back up as he set off on his way, a little puzzled. Why was he able to understand her so well?

As she gazed at him for several more moments, suddenly he exclaimed, "Whoa!" and fell flat on his face.

He lay still on the ground for a few moments. "Ouch."

Ahiru stared at him while he clambered back up and dusted himself off. Apparently he had tripped over a small jutting stone in the road.

Who was that boy? Ahiru thought, watching him disappear around a corner. Where did he come from? Why does he look so much like Mytho?

She sat there wondering for some moments.

"AHIRU!"

"Quack!" Ahiru glanced around before spotting Fakir racing towards her at top speed, looking as if he had been agonizing every moment before he had found her. Fakir scooped Ahiru right off of her webbed feet and gave her a hug so tight that it nearly squeezed the air out of her. "Are you all right? Are you injured!?"

Ahiru spread her wings in a demonstrating fashion, showing that she was unharmed, and then attempted to explain to him who she had just seen. She made an effort to indicate "someone," and then the best she could do was "see prince", although she wanted to say "I saw someone that looks like the prince".

Struggling to understand, Fakir muttered, "Wait… someone… saw the prince? You saw the prince? Mytho?" Fakir blinked. "You saw Mytho here?"

Ahiru shook her head frantically, and tried to clarify.

Fakir tried again. "Someone else… look at prince?" He shook his head irritably at himself. "Shoot, I don't understand…"

Ahiru sighed in frustration. Talking did have its advantages…

"Quack!" She had an idea. She implied for him to follow her, and set off flying towards the direction that the Mytho lookalike had gone. Fakir dashed after her.

Ahiru turned the corner. There was no one. Huh?

She flew up higher to get elevation to check around. In a moment, she found him, his frayed tunic and white hair instantly recognizable.

He was with someone else. Ahiru knew that person… her eyes widened.

o-o-o-o-o

Mytho sat on a thick velvet cushioned chair, his head leaning pensively on his elbow resting on the arm of his seat. The light shining through the window onto the wall to his left was almost turning orange, and the shadows were starting to grow taller. His eyes were misted over, not really looking at where his eyes were focused.

Ravens… why are they attacking? These letters that we had received… truth be told, there were relatively few of them… could these be isolated incidents, mere coincidences? Or is there something hiding within this situation that I can't see…?

He seemed too deep in thought to notice the hustling and bustling outside of the study room he sat in.

One young man with ruddy copper hair prowling around nearby was giving orders to all of the other servants and attendants. He wore a simple brown blouse with white cuffs and a white cravat, with white pants beneath a bright vermilion pullover. The Prince's insignia, a swan poised over a gold crown, was embroidered on the front of it. He looked none too happy at that particular moment.

"WHAT!? What do you mean he's fallen ill!?" he exclaimed hysterically at a boy who had just given him the news. "He can't just walk out after promising to do the flower arrangement, that's going to be the first thing the guests will see!"

"H-He's too ill to travel all the way here, and he comes from quite a distance…" the boy stammered.

"I don't care! Tell him that he can do the flower arrangement wherever he is and we'll get someone to pick it up if we have to…"

"It's too far away; it'd never make it back in time—"

"FINE! Then get the gardener to pick a selection, and hurry!"

The boy nodded timidly and hurried off down the corridor.

"I presume things are a bit hectic, Komaro?" Mytho asked his first assistant, who was nearly hyperventilating.

"It's been mayhem!" Komaro cried out. "Before, the cook forgot to bring the spices and didn't have enough flour to bake the second batch of biscuits. Then, I heard that one of the footmen got a twisted ankle, so we had to go find a replacement in a damn hurry! And not only that, just now the flower arranger—"

"—fell ill and you had to get the gardener to sort it up instead?" Mytho finished his sentence.

"Precisely!" Komaro spluttered. "My sincerest apologies for all these delays. Unfortunately, there's only so much that I am capable of on my own—"

"You aren't by yourself," Mytho pointed out, "You have the whole castle to help you out. Even I'd help you out if you'd let me…"

"But… well…" Komaro stammered. "…I-It's my duty to manage them all… to make sure everyone's doing what they're supposed to be…"

"By skulking around bellowing at working passersby?" Mytho shook his head. "Stop stressing out over all of this. These matters are all very trivial in the long run, after all… and besides," he joked, "if you die of anxiety, how will you ever manage anything else again?"

Komaro blinked with a start. "Th-that's right, that would be terrible… I must work extra hard to be more relaxed. Don't stress! Don't stress!" he told himself harshly.

Mytho smiled and shook his head again, and stepped out the doorway.

"Oh, your Majesty, are you going to take a walk?" Komaro asked. "There had to be some other reason you decided to get up besides talking to me…"

"Of course there wouldn't need to be another reason," Mytho replied. "But actually… a walk would be a splendid idea."

"Really?" Komaro said. "If you are, be careful around the main entrance hall, I believe they're sweeping up the floor, and in the ballroom, they're mopping, so…"

"No, not in the castle… outside, in town."

"Wh-what?!" Komaro stammered. "B-but, there's no one free to escort you, I'm afraid…"

"I won't need one," he replied. "I'm not going on a tour or anything, I just… need some time to think."

Komaro blinked for a couple of seconds, a little taken aback. "Well, if that's what will make you happy, your Highness, by all means, go," he answered. "…You're sure you will be fine by yourself?"

"Yes, Komaro, I can take care of myself," Mytho responded with a sigh. "Seriously, you fret about me almost more than Rue does…" He set off in the direction of the nearest exit.

Komaro stood there, his gray eyes still blinking. He didn't really know what to say to that, so he proceeded to prowl around the castle once more.

o-o-o-o-o

Mytho exited the castle unseen. He wandered around the town, sticking to calmer, less busy streets, so as not to attract attention. He didn't want all the noise.

Ravens in Ginkan… should I go? But the gathering tonight… everyone will know that I'm gone, and… I don't want anyone else involved. If I leave even at any other time, someone will know that I'm absent anyway… what should I do? Wait? But who knows what the ravens will do while time flutters by…

He turned a corner. This was a particularly deserted and quiet street, and the silence was almost like a thick cloud shrouding the air surrounding it. His footsteps echoed strangely as he stepped across.

"Ah…" a feminine velvety voice murmured. "The Prince… I was wondering when you would stop by."

Mytho paused and gazed around, searching for the source of the voice. "Who's there?"

"Something occupies your mind, Prince…" the voice continued. Mytho found a heavily curtained doorway to his left. The voice was coming from inside. "…something that threatens you of the dark aspects of your more recent past."

He approached the doorway. "Who are you?"

"No need to fear, Prince… I am only Takako, a mere fortune teller. Please, do enter."

"I've heard of that name before, among the Kinkan servants…" Mytho pushed aside the curtains veiling the entrance and peered inside. "The fortunes I've heard that you tell are very accurate…" It smelled old and musty, and the colors of the dusty furniture and fabric draped about inside were faded in the dim candlelight. No one was to be seen. "Uncannily accurate…"

Mytho looked all around, searching for a source of the voice when a woman in a dark mantle with white fur surrounding the shoulders quietly swept into the room. The woman with long dark coffee-colored hair and white bangs held a palm-sized jar with amber-hued dust in it.

"I know you will need this," she told him, giving Mytho the jar, "so I offer it to you ahead of time. It will make things easier."

Mytho glanced at the jar. "What is it?"

"If one takes this dust and sprinkles it onto their eyes—the eyelid will suffice—their eyes will modify into the color of the powder. In this case, of course, it is your exact match."

Mytho frowned, bewildered. "What will I need this for?"

Takako gazed at him intently with her golden eyes, a most enigmatic smile growing on her lips. "You will need it, Prince."

"Just to warn you, Prince," Takako added before he left, "it takes only water to wash off dust."

o-o-o-o-o

A young woman surrounded by mirrors and exercise bars stood in fifth position in a room of the academy. With her curly black hair tied back in a bun, dressed in her favorite claret ballet skirt, Rue danced gracefully and wordlessly around the room.

Komaro peeked into the room. "Oh, Princess… there you are. I was wondering where you had gone—"

"Quiet. I'm practicing for the presentation after the guests arrive. Don't break my concentration."

"I-I wasn't about to," Komaro replied quickly. "Just checking around… I'll go now…" Komaro's head disappeared from the open crack between the double doors.

A pause. "Wait."

Komaro's head poked back in. "Yes, your Highness?"

"Where's Mytho?" Rue inquired. "I thought he would be here to rehearse with me, but I haven't seen him since we arrived."

"Actually, he said he was going out for a walk a little while ago," Komaro replied. "I don't know why, but he looked distracted about something…"

"He's been like that ever since before we got here." Rue shook her head. "I need to talk to him. He can't keep brooding about like that."

Komaro nodded slowly. "I agree."

"Komaro?"

"Yes?" Komaro responded.

"Please continue to refer to me as 'your Highness' or 'Rue-sama'."

"Yes, your Highness." Komaro answered with a bow. He could never really tell whether she was joking or not when she said that, but with her, it was better to be safe than sorry.

Komaro once again disappeared from the doorway, and almost as an afterthought he closed the door quietly.

After Komaro left, a few moments later, Rue chuckled to herself over her servant's excessively cautious mannerisms and resumed her practice.

o-o-o-o-o

Mytho exited the fortuneteller's abode, placing the jar of eye-color-changing dust into a small satchel he was carrying. He had no idea what the fortuneteller was getting at, and she seemed to insist on being vague, but perhaps she knew something he didn't…

Either way, he was back out on his stroll. Soon he'd need to head back to the academy—somehow it still seemed more like a school than a castle to him—and greet his guests at the gala. His unease intensified with that thought. He knew it was the news of ravens that was on his mind; it kept bothering him, pestering for him to do something… but what? How?

He turned the corner. The whole street was still deserted and quiet, and only one person with his cloak hood down stood walking on the road. Mytho, occupied in his thoughts, didn't look at the person closely until he was just several feet in front of him.

Trutho stopped in his tracks and stared with bewildered blue eyes at the person in front of him. It seemed that the only real difference between himself and the stranger was the color of their eyes. There was anxiety in those amber-colored eyes, he noticed.

Mytho realized he was being watched, and his head came up and met the other boy's. He blinked a couple times, his eyes missing the tension they had before. They were just blank now. Trutho blinked a couple times back.

Mytho's mouth moved silently as if he didn't have any breath left for words. He soon gave up on trying to speak, and strode towards Trutho hurriedly, as if Mytho were afraid he would disappear if he didn't get there soon enough. Mytho stopped abruptly in front of Trutho, staring at him with intense, astounded eyes. Then, before Trutho knew what was happening, Mytho embraced him tightly, bursting into joyful tears.

Trutho was flabbergasted. "Huh? What… what the heck!?"

"Quack?!"

Ahiru swooped down from the sky, followed by Fakir from an adjacent street. They ran to the two identical-looking boys, one much more confused than the other.

"Mytho…" Fakir trailed off. "What's going on?"

"That's what I'd like to know!" the Mytho with blue eyes exclaimed.

Ahiru landed on Fakir's shoulder. Trutho stopped his hysterics when he spotted Ahiru. "Hey, that's the duck I saw earlier…" He pointed offhandedly at Fakir's shoulder.

Ahiru quacked and nodded vigorously toward Fakir. He realized that he was the one she was trying to tell him about.

"Mytho…" Fakir glanced at the real Mytho. "Do you… know this person?"

At this, Mytho looked very sad. "I… did." There was a strange weight on the last word.

Trutho's head drooped as he lowered his eyes to the ground. "Well, I… I just don't remember… I never could remember my past beyond a certain point."

Realization struck Fakir. "Wait… Mytho, he isn't… couldn't be… your younger brother… could he?"

Mytho gazed back into Trutho's azure eyes. He could sense unease behind them, as well as a shrouded sadness, but above all else, he still could recognize the curious little brother from so many years ago in his past. "…He is. There's no mistaking him. But something must have happened…"

Mytho grew quiet with unspoken rage. "Something must have happened… when he was…"

Fakir suddenly understood. "Mytho, it's all right. He's safe now; that's what matters."

Ahiru, thoroughly confused, blinked at Fakir, and quacked inquiringly.

"I'll explain later…" he whispered to Ahiru, glancing at Mytho.

After some moments, Mytho took a breath and seemed to recover himself. "We must return to the palace. Please follow me. I think it would be better off if we went unnoticed." Trutho instinctively pulled over his hood and huddled behind Mytho, as if hiding in his shadow.

Fakir followed quietly, and Ahiru, perceiving the collective silence between all of them, held her questions for later.

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

27. AKT "The Duck and the Pauper"
~ Dornröschen : Walzer ~

- Part 2 -

Throughout the way back to the academy, Mytho held an occupied silence, seeming to be considering something. Trutho seemed more at a loss for words rather than just trying to keep quiet. The sun was almost below the horizon, and the moon was starting to glow overhead.

When they reached a calm back entrance to the academy, Mytho whispered briefly that they should continue to follow him quietly, but not to act as if anything was wrong. They entered, and crossed the grounds. It was of course impossible to really sneak around, with all the servants and other royal staff members bustling about, but everyone was so busy no one really paid much mind.

Finally, Mytho found a quiet, unoccupied room, and led everyone into it. He seemed more apprehensive than ever. The natural light outside was starting to get dim, so he lit the lamp in the room.

As soon as Mytho closed the door, Trutho burst out, "You're Mytho, aren't you?" as Fakir sat down on a nearby chair.

Mytho blinked, unsure of what this meant. "Yes…"

Trutho's fist banged on his other palm with realization. "That explains it. You've got to be the one everyone kept mistaking me for. Then, you must be… some kind of royalty, I guess."

There was a fleeting look of disappointment in Mytho's eyes, but it was gone in moments and replaced with guarded concern. "Did they realize that you weren't me?"

Trutho shook his head. "…Why? Is that important?"

"Well, I have… something in mind… but…" Mytho trailed off, turning to the window.

Trutho slumped down into another chair and sighed with resignation as Mytho gazed outside. Fakir, remembering old tendencies, lightheartedly checked to be sure the window was too high for him to climb up and jump off of before settling himself back down into his chair.

"Quack?"

"Hm?" Fakir turned to the duck on his shoulder.

Ahiru glanced at Mytho, looked back at Fakir with an angry face, and then with a questioning one.

"Mytho, angry—" Fakir remembered Ahiru's earlier confusion. "Oh, that… it's kind of a long story, but… did you ever read the entire story of The Prince and the Raven?"

Ahiru shook her head. I don't think I ever got to read much of the actual book itself, actually… I only was going off what others had told me.

"It's been a while since I've read it myself… well, not too many people remember this part very well, since it was only a brief prologue, but before the start of the story, the prince had a little brother, and they lived quietly together in a castle within a peaceful town."

Although still looking the other direction, Trutho slid his chair closer towards them, his ears perked up.

"The prince and his little brother liked to play in the castle's courtyards. The prince's little brother would dash around in the grass, poking around at everything and exploring, while the prince himself would sit at a nearby distance, watching him play.

"Then, for some reason, ravens began appearing around the castle. Since ravens weren't known to live anywhere near that area, the prince became suspicious. For the next several days he wouldn't even let his little brother out of the castle. Eventually, with no incident, he let his little brother outside, but kept close by him, with his sword in hand. The ravens lingered around the castle, but they did nothing, barely stirring from their perches. Gradually, the prince's panic subsided, and as before his little brother amused himself around the castle grounds, with his older brother calmly minding him. The ravens remained at a distance, still scrutinizing them warily."

Trutho, listening intently, blinked with puzzlement.

"And then, one day, when the prince was watching his brother skip across stepping stones in the garden, a giant raven, bigger than all the rest and the leader of them all, swooped down and seized him clean off the rocks, carrying him off into the sky. The prince dashed to try to help his brother, but the other ravens blocked him, making it impossible to see where they were headed. The prince, having let his guard down, hadn't brought his sword, and so he ran inside the palace to grab it. But, when he had gotten back outside, the cloud of ravens had disappeared. There only remained a few on the towers, cackling at him. His brother was nowhere to be seen."

Ahiru's eyes wilted sadly. "Quack…"

"After that brief prologue, we're told that since the day it happened, the prince had conducted a kingdom-wide search for him, but no one was able to find any trace of his brother. Well intothe story, we see that the search remained fruitless, but by then, the prince was focused on one thing: defeating the Raven who had taken so much away from not just the people of his kingdom, but the prince himself. And so…"

Fakir glanced back at Mytho at the window. "…That's how the animosity between them had begun."

Trutho, who had been leaning backward in his chair towards them, slowly slid forward again, silently pensive.

Mytho took a deep breath from where he was standing, closed his eyes, and turned back around from the window. When his eyes opened again, he seemed decided.

"I have a plan," Mytho announced, almost to himself. Everyone in the room turned towards him, wondering exactly what he was talking about.

He paused, wondering where to start. "Do you know of the trouble in Ginkan?"

"You mean, the ravens…?" Fakir shook his head. "You've been thinking about that all along, haven't you?"

"This may sound absurd, but I think this is the best—nay, only—way it will work."

"Huh?" Trutho blinked. "How do you know about the ravens?"

"…How…? What do you mean?" Mytho asked in response, puzzled. "I got a message as I was returning to Kinkan about raven attacks in Ginkan…"

"I guess the problem didn't go away after I did," Trutho remarked bleakly.

"What do you mean by that?" Mytho inquired, almost confrontational.

"Um, er… I was in Ginkan before, and ravens kind of, I don't know, seemed to stalk me, or something like that…" He stumbled upon his words, as if the recollection had flustered him a bit.

Mytho's expression turned solemn. "That settles it."

Trutho's brows tilted nervously. "Wh-what…?"

"I must go there, immediately. The ravens will get out of hand if nothing is done. Yet, if I am absent, people will suspect something, and sooner or later will find out where I am. They'll implore me to return out of fear for my safety, or for a host of other reasons. And…" Mytho looked somewhat sheepish. "I don't know if I'll ever hear the end of it from Rue if she knew…"

"Then, what does this have to do with me?" Trutho inquired. "What did I say that made you so sure about something?"

"You'll be safe if you stay here in the academy, and within the town," Mytho replied. "If I'm gone, and you take my place, no one will be the wiser, and I will be able to take care of the ravens in the meanwhile. And… I can't risk losing you again."

Trutho blinked confusedly. "B-but… I…"

Fakir spoke up in Trutho's pause. "Mytho, you don't have to go through all this trouble. I could go to Ginkan just as easily and deal with the problems there. There's no need for you to be gone if you'd be missed here." Ahiru, on Fakir's shoulder, quacked heartily in agreement, indicating that she was up to such a trip as well.

Mytho's fist clenched involuntarily. "No!"

Fakir blinked, startled at Mytho's reaction.

Taken aback by his own harshness, Mytho composed himself and said more softly, "No… Fakir, Tutu, I appreciate what you're offering to do, but… this is my problem. My responsibility. I have to deal with the ravens personally."

"Then, we'll come with you," Fakir offered. "It'll be easier if there are more people with you."

Mytho shook his head. "I couldn't ask it of you…" Seeing Fakir's determined face, he added, "And if I have too many people with me, it may attract too much attention, thus giving me away."

"We can still help," Fakir insisted with a complementing quack from Ahiru.

Mytho sighed. "You two truly are the most caring companions one could have…" Mytho nodded at them. "I would be much relieved if you watched over my brother for me while I'm gone."

Fakir closed his eyes. "Of course we would be willing to do that, but…" His frown deepened. "If you're planning to go alone like this… think about it, Mytho. First of all things, how can he—" he indicated Trutho off to the side, "pass off for you? He might look like you, but he's not completely the same. His eyes, for example." He gestured to Trutho's azure eyes. "His resemblance might be enough for people who don't know you, like the people in the town, but others are bound to see the difference right away."

Mytho paused a moment. He knew Fakir had a point. Then, a woman's voice in his mind murmured from a memory, "…modify into the color of the powder. In this case, of course, it is your exact match." He took out the jar in his pocket. "So, that was what the purpose of this was…"

"What is that?"

Mytho told Fakir about what Takako had said about the jar.

"This dust stuff, if you rub it on your eyes, it makes them change color?" Trutho already had the jar in his hands, and was looking at it all over, examining it curiously like a small child. "Do you have to dust it into your eyes, or can you do it with your eyes closed?"

After realizing that the jar was gone from his hand, Mytho replied, "Well, you can just dust it on your eyelids… but…"

Trutho immediately took some of it into his forefingers and sprinkled some on his right eye. He blinked a couple times, and then turned to the mirror on the wall.

At first nothing seemed to happen. But abruptly, the color of Trutho's right eye faded from blue to amber, matching Mytho's own. He gaped at this, leaning forward and staring at his right eye.

Then, very unexpectedly, Komaro walked right into the room, looking around.

"Oh, your Majesty, there you are, I was wondering when you would get… back…" He spotted Trutho by the mirror.

Trutho realized someone had entered, and glanced back towards Komaro, startled.

Komaro blinked dumbly. "…Huh?"

Mytho put his hand over his face. "Oh no, not this…"

Komaro started to put up a finger, then realized it was rude to point, and his finger wilted as his eyes rolled from Trutho to Mytho and back several times. "Er… Prince Mytho… and Prince Mytho? Or, the Prince Mytho who is wearing a hood…?" Komaro looked back at Trutho. "Your Highness—no, is it you? Could one of you, umm…"

He erupted into a panic. "Could someone tell me what's going on?"

Mytho put a finger to his mouth nervously. "Shh, keep it down!"

Fakir quickly got up closed the door, checking that there was no one else in the hallway.

"I suppose there's nothing for it now," Mytho sighed, "I can't keep it a secret from you, at least."

"F-First off… who is this other person, who looks like you a little too much?"

"Umm," Trutho spoke up before Mytho, "he says that I'm his little brother. But otherwise… I don't remember him. But I could have… since I do remember having forgot a lot, if you know what I mean…"

Mytho glanced outside. The sun was completely set now, and the stars were beginning to appear. "Komaro, what time is it?" he asked with an air of urgency.

Komaro, still quite taken aback, calmed down as best as he could and replied, "A-Actually, I went around to tell you that the ball will soon commence, that the final preparations are being made… I had figured you'd be back by now…"

Mytho grimaced to himself. "There's very little time, then… I'll have to work swiftly." He turned to Trutho. "Could you dust some of that in your other eye?"

"O-okay," Trutho replied. "But, uh… does this stuff come off?"

"I believe that water will wash it off," Mytho answered, remembering Takako's parting words.

"What are you doing, your Highness…?" Komaro asked uneasily. "Why are you…?"

"I am going to Ginkan," Mytho replied, "I have to help the people there deal with the ravens. I can't delay any more than I have already."

"What? All of a sudden like this?" Komaro was flabbergasted. "I mean, surely you could wait until after the opening gala, and then it could be arranged more formally, so people will know you're coming—"

"Which is precisely what I don't want."

Komaro only blinked, but Mytho knew exactly what he wanted to ask.

"If I let everyone know I'm going, a big fuss would erupt amongst all the royal staff, I know it. There would be all sorts of interruptions and holdups, trying to prepare, and it would be weeks before I could leave Kinkan in earnest. That's saying nothing of how the town would react."

Mytho sighed exasperatedly. "Much can happen in that short time of 'preparation'. I must help those people! Any further tarrying would put them in greater danger, and ravens—I can't risk it. Never again."

Mytho took on a calm but just as fierce appearance as he had when he remembered what happened to his brother. He had made up his mind. Fakir knew that it was in his very nature to help those in need. There was no talking him out of this.

Finally snapping out of his shock, Komaro asked, "Does this mean that your brother will be replacing you in the castle?" At this, Trutho looked startled, as if it hadn't really occurred to him until now. "Who will be going with you?"

"That's the only possible way I can think of," Mytho replied. "I'll go alone. I wouldn't want one more person put in danger because of me."

"Your Majesty, pardon me," Komaro said with a respectful bow, "but above all else, if I cannot persuade you to delay your leave, I must come with you. Going alone on a mission like this is too dangerous; what if something happened to you? How would anyone be able to help?"

"Our offer still stands as well, Mytho," Fakir added while Ahiru nodded furiously. "We'll all go with you."

"Komaro… Fakir, Tutu… I couldn't put you all in danger…"

"If these ravens are as dangerous as you're treating them, then both you and I would be less in danger if there were more heads instead of one."

"Komaro…"

"Sire, with pure honesty, I don't know that I could stand it if I had to stay behind," Komaro went on. "I tell you, I'd go mad; I'd always be wondering, what's happening now? Are you hurt? Has anything gone wrong? What if you required aid and no one was around to provide it? I'd worry myself to death!"

I suppose he's got a point there, especially for him… "Still, Komaro—"

"Sir!" Komaro's expression grew resolute. Mytho noticed his gradual change in address and this meant he was growing more and more persistent. "Whatever my opinion of the matter is, it is my job to attend you in whatever tasks you may need to perform. If I stay here, I wouldn't be doing my job, would I?"

Komaro bowed low, a knee to the ground, a fist over his heart. "Please… let me be of assistance."

Mytho knew that at this point, if he absolutely didn't want to listen, the prince would remind Komaro of the respect he owed, and to remember the proper addresses that he had forgotten in his fervor. Then he, the prince, would be able to do as he wished and Komaro would back off despite his own personal judgment.

But did Mytho really want to do that?

"All right, Komaro," Mytho gave in. "I suppose it would do me well to have one accompanying me. How soon will you be prepared to leave?"

"Well… as soon as you are, Mytho-sama," Komaro replied.

"Good. We best leave as soon as possible, as fast as we can get—"

"Hold it, your Highness!" Komaro exclaimed. "Meaning no insult to your Majesty, I think the anxiety this matter causes you has prevented you from thinking this matter through clearly. Right now, the roads and gates are crowded with people. If we leave now, we'll be spotted for sure, and your hopes for a quiet exit are ruined. Let us wait a little; as soon as most of the guests have arrived and things have settled down, we can sneak out around the back and no one will be the wiser."

Mytho considered this. "Yes, that sounds more reasonable. That means, though, that I will need to spend the time during the beginning of the gala for covert preparations, and that means…" He turned to Trutho. "You will need to stand in my place at the gala banquet. Fakir, Tutu, if you would be so kind as to keep an eye on him—"

"What—now?" Trutho exclaimed.

"Please, little brother," Mytho pleaded, "I know this may be asking much of you after having just met again, but there's nothing else to be done. Please, dress in my formal garments and stand in for me until I return from my mission. I beg this of you."

Trutho looked at Mytho. Trutho didn't know that face very well, but he could tell that Mytho knew Trutho's like the back of his hand. It made him feel awkward, almost guilty that he couldn't remember what the other did. It reminded Trutho of his old frustrations whenever he had tried in vain to remember his past.

He had no idea what was going on right now, and he felt inclined to object to something, but maybe… just maybe, if he stuck around for a while, maybe he'd get a glimpse into that past that had been eluding him for so long.

"All right," Trutho answered, taking a breath. "What do I do?"

o-o-o-o-o

CLANK. Click clank click clank click clank… The cluster of gears had begun revolving once again.

A mouth with a curly white beard smirked as Drosselmeyer's characteristic chuckle escaped his lips. "Heh heh heh heh… so, this is how the story starts once more…"

"Tussle-mayor's coat is getting caught in the gears-zura!"

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir sat down at the long, large dining table where all of the nobles and others invited were to sit. It was a couple seats away from the two end seats, which were slightly more ornate and currently unoccupied. Ahiru took a special seat on Fakir's shoulder, admiring the intricate silverware.

Fakir knew he wouldn't be able to relax too much as a guest; he'd have to pay close attention to Trutho and be ready to clear things up if he slipped, as he had promised Mytho before the prince left to prepare. And as confident as Trutho looked, he'd need the help.

"Now presenting their royal Majesties, the Prince Siegfried and Princess Rue!"

Rue and "Mytho" entered the room through a large archway, servants on either side. Rue had her arm around Trutho's, whose agitation was barely constrained. His eyes, dyed to the color of his older brother's golden brown, held a potent mixture of confusion and apprehension. Ostensibly, it appeared as if Rue did not notice anything, except if one observed closely; she glanced at him periodically, scrutinizing his every move.

When they got to their seats, Trutho made as if to sit down, but when Rue looked at him with puzzlement, he slowly stood back up. All of the others stood up as well. Rue gazed at Trutho expectantly. Trutho stood there, blinking, as all the nobles along the row of chairs stared at him in the same way Rue was. He couldn't stand it. He fidgeted nervously, tongue-tied, driven beyond any verbal response with so many people staring at him.

"Oy, get started already!" A lady noble muttered loudly. Fakir glared at her, and then recognized her as the one who had nearly run over Ahiru before with a darkening expression. Ahiru glowered at the ginger-haired young lady, and then stuck her tail out at her. Some of the other nobles glanced derisively at the young woman as well.

Rue glared at Trutho in disbelief, and then turned to the politely waiting audience. "I would like to welcome you all to the homecoming gala we have gathered to celebrate tonight." This was followed by light applause.

As Rue went on with the speech, Fakir and Ahiru heard a servant of the offending ginger-haired lady whisper to her, "Kamome-sama, please, try to be polite… it's a formal occasion…" Lady Kamome snorted at this.

When Rue had finished her talk, she and Trutho sat down. Trutho had such a bad case of stage fright that it looked like he might be sick. Rue had those scrutinizing eyes again.

Fakir grimaced. This was not going well. At this rate, Trutho would be found out by dessert. Or sooner. Fakir wracked his brain, but he had no idea what he could do at this point to alleviate suspicions.

When Trutho began eating, he held the fork in such a way that he gripped the handle of it in his fist, instead of like gracefully holding a quill like Mytho usually did. Rue looked curiously at this, but said nothing. She thought a moment, and then asked him a question.

"Do you remember, Mytho, how we danced together when I was just a child?"

Trutho, of course, remembered no such thing. He tried to play along, hoping he'd be able to pass it off. "Er… yes, I remember now, um… you were just so cute, and I… enjoyed those times…"

Rue didn't look convinced, but she seemed to take it as partially adequate.

With Rue right beside Trutho, Fakir couldn't possibly get a chance to prod him in the right direction without her seeing. This wasn't working out at all. Fakir shook his head. In his haste, Mytho had made some serious errors in judgment, even with his more rational first assistant and Fakir himself giving the prince counsel. This could have been foreseen, but how could they have anticipated all the short ends with such short notice?

Rue asked Trutho, "Do you remember when we finally became Prince and Princess?"

Trutho answered shakily, "…Y-yes, I remember."

"Tell me about it again, won't you?"

Oh, great… "Well," Trutho began, "I remember when we first met…" Wait, she talked about Mytho dancing with her when she was a kid, right? "I remember, I thought that you were… charming."

Rue kept her gaze on him, expecting more.

"Um… and when we finally were together, I…" Cut me some slack, won't you? You're sure one tough cookie to fool…

Rue thought for a moment, and then asked another question. "I hope you remember recently… when we accidentally fell out of the window together?"

Fakir winced. Unless it had happened when they were away, nothing of that sort had happened to them…

Trutho feigned knowledge like he had been. "…I remember that now. It was lucky neither of us was hurt very badly…"

Fakir spotted the suspicious look on Rue's face and buried his face in his hand. Clearly, such had not been the case. Disaster was coming.

But as soon as it had appeared, Rue's expression became closed. Because of this, in Trutho's own relief, the fake prince did not notice the air of wariness about her. Fakir noticed her eyes dart around the room. She seemed to calm down and start eating, but the closed expression remained on her face.

"Quack…?" Ahiru whispered to Fakir worriedly.

"No, Ahiru, I don't think all is well now…" Fakir shook his head. "The only thing we can do is keep an eye out… if only it wasn't Rue, and someone else farther away from him…"

"Are you feeling all right?"

"Huh?" Fakir glanced to his left to see an old nobleman wearing a muted red coat and sporting a monocle over his left eye frown at him concernedly.

"You haven't eaten for ages," he noted aloud. "Is something upsetting you?"

"No… of course not," he answered halfheartedly. He had barely eaten anything, that was true, but he was too nervous then to feel much hunger.

His head pricked up when Rue finally spoke to Trutho again.

"Mytho, could you follow me? We have something to talk about…"

Trutho made a nervous half smile. "Oh, really? Wh-what about?"

As clueless as 'Mytho' was, Fakir realized the reality of the situation. He knew he had to follow. So, when Rue led Trutho away to a quieter area, Fakir quietly excused himself and he and Ahiru followed them loosely behind.

Fakir overheard two noblewomen talking as he left.

"Where are the Prince and Princess going?" one asked another.

"Oh, I know… they must be getting ready for their ballet performance after dinner. You know, this town is all about ballet… it's one of the main subjects at the fine arts school their residence hosts, besides painting and music and all…"

o-o-o-o-o

When Rue and Trutho arrived at a spare bedroom, they went in and Rue closed the door. She was calm. She took a breath.

Then, she went on attack. "You. Who are you, and what did you do with Mytho!"

Trutho held his hands up nervously. "Uh, um… er, hahahaha, Rue, that's um, very funny…"

"I am not joking." Rue scowled. "I will ask you again. Who are you, and where is Mytho?" She advanced on him. "I'm warning you, if you don't tell me right now this instant…!"

Trutho backed up against the door, terrified. Then, with an outcry, he exclaimed, "H-He made me do it, all right?!"

Rue's eyes widened. "What? What do you mean by—"

Fakir, standing just outside, burst in at that very moment, sending Trutho careening off onto the side of the wall face first, causing none too much discomfort to him.

"Ow!" Trutho got himself off of the wall, and glared at the person behind the door furiously. "Hey, what's the big…!"

Trutho noticed that Fakir was standing behind the door.
"—ide…a…?"

Rue accosted Fakir immediately. "What are you doing here? Do you have something to do with this?"

"Mytho left to fight the ravens," Fakir said simply, knowing what Mytho had told him to do if Rue found out.

Rue's mouth dropped in shock. After some moments, she shook her head with frustration. "I should have known. That was what had been bothering him the whole day, wasn't it? Mytho… that's just like you to fret so much about people who could possibly need your help. You had to act so rashly, Mytho… I hope he knows what he's doing…"

"Komaro went with him," Fakir added. "I think we'll be able to keep in contact if we use Komaro as an excuse for messages."

Rue shook her head again, sighing tersely. "I suppose Mytho would have left already, wouldn't he," she muttered jadedly. "Even if I did catch up to him… I doubt I'd get him to change his mind."

She turned to Trutho. "Who are you, anyway?"

Trutho scratched his head. "He's been telling me all along I'm his little brother, or something like that, but I lost my memory of when I was little, so…"

Rue's eyes widened again. "What, you're…?" She blinked a few times. "I had no idea that his little brother had still survived…"

She went from surprised to acquiescent. "All right, I don't really have any choice, then. We'll just have to play along with Mytho's charade and hope for the best. In the meantime, we have a pas de deux to perform."

Trutho blinked bewilderedly. "A poddy-what?"

Rue glared at Trutho. "Are you trying to be funny?"

"What?" Trutho replied sincerely. "I don't have any idea what that… phrase you said was."

"Don't you know anything about ballet?"

"Ballet? It's kinda hard to learn things like that on the streets, you know. And definitely not that… uh, padey-doo thing."

Fakir rolled his eyes. "A pas de deux is when usually a man and a woman dance a special ballet dance together. It's relatively advanced."

Trutho's eyes widened. "Wait, are you saying you want me to do ballet?" He shook his head vehemently. "No way, I am not going in front of an audience and dancing tippy-toe with a tutu on!"

Rue was so insulted she was speechless for several moments. Even Ahiru quacked loudly in protest.

"Men don't wear the tutus, you know," Fakir replied evenly.

"That's not the point!" Trutho exclaimed. "I don't know anything about ballet, and you're saying I need to go out there and pretend I do? Do some ballet dance that I have no idea what it is? I am not doing it!"

"I wouldn't ever, in any case, not with you," Rue replied scathingly. "But… as much as I would like to abandon the idea right this moment, it's just about impossible. I couldn't simply go up and tell everyone we were too ill to dance when we came to dinner just fine…"

"Though, it would be just as awkward to perform with this clown on stage," Fakir pointed out. Trutho glared at him.

"What should we do then?" Rue asked with exasperation.

Fakir sighed. "If it comes to it, I'll dance instead."

Rue looked at him with a doubtful frown.

"I'm doing it for Mytho. I don't like it any more than you do, but it's his plan, and somehow I let him persuade me to go through with it." He paused. "Mytho would have done it regardless of my approval, anyway."

Rue took a breath. "All right. That's the best we can do." She opened the door. "It's almost time. This way."

"See you later, Ahiru," Fakir said a goodbye to the duck on his shoulder as it flapped off onto the ground. Then Fakir followed Rue out of the room.

There was silence for some moments as Trutho stood there without a word, with Ahiru looking curiously up at him.

Finally, he turned around and walked towards the bed. He stood there for a moment, then flopped onto it dejectedly, arms splaying across the bedspread, as if he were some useless, insignificant rag doll. His eyes clenched shut. When he opened them, they were shimmering moistly, and his eyes faded back to his native color.

Ahiru waddled up to him. Her azure eyes held gentle concern, gazing up at the boy who resembled the prince.

Trutho sat up again slowly, discreetly wiping the wetness out between his eyelids, and glanced down at the yellow bird, blue eyes meeting another pair of blue eyes in return. "Hey, duck. It's good to know that someone in the world's still on my side."

Ahiru quacked cheerfully in reply.

"I mean…" Trutho hesitated, and then took a breath and started confessing all the thoughts crowding his mind. "You know, I didn't expect anything to happen when I came to Kinkan. I knew I'd have a fresh start and everything, but then when people started paying attention to me, kind of too much, I'm wondering what's going on. I don't like that many people staring at me, you know? And then I just come upon a guy who looks just like me and he tells me I'm his long lost brother? That's kind of a lot to swallow already.

"And then he has some issues with ravens in my old town too, and he leaves me to pretend to be him in all this royalty stuff I have no idea about. And then, after all that, I have to do a ballet performance with this professional performer lady when I barely know what ballet is beyond standing on your toes in a tutu? It's just too much for me to deal with on my lonesome."

Ahiru looked thoughtful. "Quack quack!" Ballet isn't all that hard if you know the basics!

"Yeah, but you see, that's the problem," Trutho replied. "I don't know the basics, or anything about it really. I've never danced ballet in my life, or as far as I can remember I guess…"

Ahiru blinked. "…Qua?"

It was just like the first time they met: Trutho could somehow understand what she was saying, despite being a duck. How else could he have known she was talking about ballet just now?

"Oh… that…" Trutho impulsively glanced left and right. "Well, I suppose it's all right to tell you…"

He made sure the door was closed, then sat back down on the bed and held up his hand in a whisper toward her. "I can understand you because, well, ever since I could remember I've had the ability to communicate with animals. You're a duck, so that would include you."

Ahiru's eyes widened with awe. "Qua…" Wow…

Trutho sat back up and smiled. "Actually, I think I can understand you even better than other animals, for some reason. It's like you're used to talking with humans!"

Ahiru sweatdropped. Indeed, she was used to talking with humans, especially since she had been a human for quite a while herself. But of course, he didn't know that. She smiled sort of awkwardly. "…Q-quack…" Eheh… wh-what do you know…

Trutho shrugged. "Well, it makes sense. You stick around with that other guy all the time, so that sorta thing would be natural, I suppose." He lay back down on the bed. "Yeah… anyway…" He sighed. "I guess I have a problem if I'm supposed to know ballet to pretend to be that prince, but I don't. I won't be able to put up this act for long."

Ahiru thought a moment, and then put her two webbed feet together, heel-to-heel so that her feet pointed opposite directions. Then, she made a horizontal circle with her wings level with her shoulders. Trutho watched curiously.

Ahiru quacked at him, asking him to do as she did. He might've felt kind of embarrassed to do some kind of odd pose, but he reasoned with himself, if a duck could do it, why couldn't he? Puzzled, but compliant, he copied her movements. She quacked again.

Trutho blinked. "So that's… 'first position?'"

Ahiru assented merrily. "Quack!"

Trutho looked thoughtful. "This is actually ballet?" A look of surprised ease crossed his face. "Not too bad, actually… what's 2nd position?"

Ahiru spread her legs apart, but kept her webbed toes still pointing outwards. She did the same with her wings.

"That's all?" He imitated her. "Second position, huh… what's third? And there's a fourth? How about a fifth? And a sixth? No, I guess not…"

The boy glanced briefly at the door. I wonder what Rue-san and that guy named Fakir are dancing now…

o-o-o-o-o

Rue balanced one foot on a stool, tying her other dark red pointe shoe. She wore her trademark claret ballet skirt from her prior days at the academy, along with her black hair elegantly tied back in a bun.

Fakir appeared, dressed in a simple but appropriate blue shirt tied in a knot at the bottom and black pants suitable for dancing.

Rue finished knotting her shoe ribbon and stood back up. She glanced towards the lighted stage beyond the stage curtains. "All right. Remember, first I go on by myself, and when I start the fouetté twirl, you come in. Ad-libbing is terribly unprofessional, but it will have to do." Her mouth was tight with resigned resolve.

"I'll do my best," Fakir replied.

The lights around the stage dimmed while the audience quieted in excitement, except for one ginger-haired lady who merely seemed to be conforming to the crowd's mood. A servant went in front of the curtain and spoke an introduction. "Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present… the Prince and Princess, dancing a pas de deux."

The audience applauded. Many barely knew what a pas de deux was, but had heard of Kinkan's skill in the arts, particularly ballet, so they were looking forward to a dazzling performance.

The curtain lifted. The lights were on, but no dancer was on stage. The audience waited only moments until Rue danced onto the stage, twirling slowly and gracefully as she went, as if she were dancing to a gentle waltz. Then she stopped and stood on the point of her toeshoe in an arabesque. From there she turned the other direction and leaped, finishing the move with a twirl.

The audience watched eagerly, wondering when the other dancer would appear on the stage.

Rue pirouetted around the stage, adding various elegant arm motions that made the stage seem like a separate, surreal world. After she reached the center of the stage again she started to spin swiftly around in place, waiting.

As she whirled around, Fakir strode gracefully onstage, came up next to Rue, and held a hand out to her. Rue stopped twirling and looked at Fakir.

This confused the audience, though they were silent about it. Who was this young man? Where was the prince? After some moments, they told themselves that perhaps the prince was to come later in the program. They kept watching.

Fakir and Rue took each other's hands and marched gracefully to the center of the stage. Then, they began the movements of the pas de deux. Their expressions were strictly professional, appropriate and with flair but no passion, particularly not toward each other. A ballet expert might have noticed this difference, but not the unknowing audience in front of them. The pair then promenaded around the stage. It was as if they were in a ballroom, the star virtuosos, while everything else—the scenery, the music, even the audience—simply faded into the background.

No one's eyes were looking away from the dancers. No one had any idea of who was leaving in the opposite direction while the former Knight and the Princess danced in front of the audience.

o-o-o-o-o

Two figures on horseback exited the gates of Kinkan. One was a cloaked figure on a dignified white horse. The other young man was not cloaked, but had on a high-ranked royal servant's uniform, riding on a sturdy brown steed.

The cloaked individual said to the other, "I think we may ride faster outside of the town gates. There will be no one to see us this late in the night."

After an acquiescing nod from the uncloaked young man, the one with the mantle on took off his hood. His pearly hair glowed in the moonlight like a soft lantern in the darkness. The true prince tugged his reigns and his mount broke from standing to a gallop, and the other young man echoed him.

In a small lake nearby, a great blue heron dozed in the reeds of the shallow shores. A noise roused her. Her eyes slid open groggily. At first, she closed her eyes again, but after the sounds grew louder, she raised her head and strode over to the banks to take a glance at what was happening.

The night brought in slight fog surrounding the pond, but in the bright moonlight, Sagi could make out the figures on horseback galloping by. One was on a brown horse, and he seemed to have servant's robes on. The other person on the white mount, however, had distinctive short white hair, on which a golden crown was placed. A prince, then, Sagi noted to herself.

By this time, the two young men had already passed by. Sagi chewed on this for a little while, wondering why a prince would be out this late at night on horseback. If what Ahiru had told her before was correct, hadn't he just returned from somewhere? Perhaps he had forgotten something back where he came from. But wouldn't he just send a servant instead of getting it himself? She saw that a person looking like his servant was with him, but…

Finding she was too sleepy to ponder this in entirety, she made a mental note to bring the matter up to Ahiru the next morning when she came. Perhaps she had some more information, and didn't she live in the town with her human friend? After some minutes had passed, Sagi had continued her nightly slumber, at peace in the reeds of the lake.

o-o-o-o-o

Meanwhile, Fakir and Rue finished their dance with flourishing strides from the back of the stage to the very front, jumping to the final pose, arms thrust up to the ceiling. They gazed toward each other solemnly.

The audience applauded cordially, many standing up in great approval. Quite a few were also wondering why the prince hadn't appeared, but many had already forgotten that matter, bedazzled by the performance.

Fakir and Rue bowed, receiving the applause generously. They walked stylishly offstage, the viewers still clapping.

When they were behind the curtains once more, a servant went up to them almost right away and asked, "Umm… what happened to the Prince? Why didn't he show up?"

Rue's eyes narrowed. "Why? Why didn't he show up, you ask?" she asked him with severe poise. "Are you saying that we didn't dance well?" Fakir rolled his eyes discreetly.

"Oh, no!" he exclaimed a little loudly. "No, of course not, Rue-sama… you danced marvelously… I was just, um…" He faltered a little under Rue's intense gaze. "…um, just wondering where Mytho-sama was…"

"He's not feeling so well. So he wasn't supposed to dance tonight anyway." Rue looked at him again. "Didn't you know that?"

"Umm… yeah, sure!"

Rue paused, and then added, "If anyone else asks about it, tell them that for me."

"Sure! Right away!" He scampered off, glad to be out of the range of who was secretly known in the servant's quarters as Rue the Ruthless.

Fakir took a breath after a moment. "We should probably go and check on Ahiru and the prince's little brother, make sure he hasn't done anything stupid while we were gone."

"You're probably right." She set off back for the waiting room. Fakir walked the same direction.

As they strolled along, Rue remarked, "This is a thin act. I might be able to cover up some of that boy's ballet ineptitude, but I won't be able to hide the fact that he doesn't know anything about dance at all for long."

Fakir sighed, silently agreeing.

They finally got to the door of their destination. Fakir was about to open the door when he heard quite a bit of floor movement, as if someone were stomping or moving their feet about a lot. He turned the door open a creak and peeked inside. His eyes blinked a couple of times in amazement.

"What is it?" Rue inquired uneasily. Fakir wordlessly opened the door a tiny crack more for her to see.

"So, this is the spinning move… what's it called again? Oh, yeah, a pirouette," Trutho responded to a quack from Ahiru. He attempted to do a spin on one foot, but lost his balance and fell over, dizzy. Ahiru waddled over to him, making sure he was okay, and Trutho gave the thumbs up.

"Hmm, let me review the positions again," he said. "Okay, first position is like… this, right?" he asked, putting his heels together and putting his arms round in front of him, clumsily but accurately. After a nod from Ahiru, he split his arms and legs apart, adding, "And this is second position, right? Oh, good… and then, third position…"

Rue's mouth dropped slightly. She blinked a couple of times in disbelief. In moments though she recovered herself gracefully. "Well… I suppose there is some hope for him, then," Rue muttered. "Mind you, that's the bare basics, and Mytho knew well beyond…"

As Rue went on about Mytho's ballet prowess, Fakir was pondering over something else. When Rue, a princess, tried to make him dance with her (even though she was against the idea) he flatly refused to have anything to do with it. Plus, he was nearly frightened out of his wits. But if Ahiru, a mere duck, taught him unobserved in a quiet room, he could learn in a short amount of time basic skills of ballet that he had perhaps no idea about.

For some reason this image intrigued him. He had been missing his muse for some days now, and the stories he had been iiworking on had withered in lack of nourishment. Still, one thing did not surprise him: that Ahiru was the one who would refresh his ideas in the end.

Rue grew impatient and finally swung open the door. Trutho started and tumbled back down on top of the bed in surprise. "Oh… you're back!"

"I thought you said you couldn't dance," Rue inquired doggedly.

"Well, I couldn't, especially at the time you asked me," Trutho replied rebelliously. "Besides, I still can't dance… not even close to competently, anyway…"

Fakir then asked, "What do you go by, anyway? We still haven't caught your name yet, to be honest…"

"No problem, I'm Trutho," the boy replied. "I don't want people to know my name before I even meet them. It would get kind of… annoying."

"Annoying?" Rue inquired. "How could your name being known be annoying?"

"Then you just feel like you're in the spotlight all the time, right? That's annoying to me."

"I'd rather be in the spotlight, if that's what you're talking about. I don't see anything wrong with being paid attention to."

Fakir sighed. It seemed impossible for these two to ever see eye to eye with each other.

o-o-o-o-o

Drosselmeyer swung on a pendulum, chuckling to himself. "Heheheheh… now, our plot is set up! And with such curiosities on hand! The Prince has set off for another town to fight the ravens, the Prince's little brother takes the Prince's place alongside the Princess, and even the former Knight and the duck are twisted up in matters!"

He smirked viciously, holding up the large black feather. "And we haven't even come to the matter of the Raven yet…"

All the meanwhile, Uzura tapped her drum with an incessant pling! pling! pling!

"Now, spin out a story! Tell a tale like no tale told before!" Drosselmeyer spread his arms wide to the cluster of gears.

Uzura paused and took out the precious yellow quill. "Don't worry, Ahiru-chan. I'll make sure to keep this safe for you-zura."

o-o-o-o-o

"…And so, the duck taught the clumsy prince how to dance. A simple little duck, whom no one would think of any use to a prince, being his mentor when all the most distinguished dance instructors failed to be able to teach him. For all those tutors failed to have something the duck had plenty of: patient, unrelenting dedication to teach a willing student."

Fakir sat back from his chair. The soft, warm light of Ahiru's red lamp lit up the desk. Ahiru was already asleep in the bathtub. He had stayed up a little to finish the story, but he was glad he did. He had been on a roll.

He glanced at the other stories that he had put aside for the time being. The one that he had been working on before his writer's block lay on top. The last part of it read:

The spirit of the lake told the duck, "You have been so good to me, and so kind to my inhabitants, that I will reward you with the thing you most desire. Tell me: what is it you want the most?" The duck replied…

That was as far as he was able to go before his writer's block set in. He wasn't really sure what she wanted most. What would a duck want? He did wish Ahiru was human again, at least for a short time, so he could talk to her, and she would be able to talk back. Was that what she sincerely wanted, though?

Sure, he doubted that she'd hate it, and sometimes she showed her frustration at her limitation in expression, but… well, it reminded him of writing. People couldn't write from the heart merely by feeling a duty to do so. And in the same way, he couldn't just say to himself that he knew Ahiru would love it if he wrote her back to being human again; she'd say she'd be happy, but that wouldn't say much about what she really felt. He never wanted to manipulate others in his writing, only to support them for what they truly wanted to accomplish.

Besides… whenever went over to ask her about it, for some reason he found himself at a loss for words. He couldn't seem to put it right. He'd always end up forfeiting the endeavor and covering it up with something irrelevant.

He yawned and glanced towards the direction of the bathtub. Maybe he was being stupid. After how hard it was to return things to normal, the way things were supposed to be, wouldn't it be "wrong" to bring such things back again?

But the Ahiru he had known during the story was no fairy tale, no fake personality that disappeared after the story concluded. Maybe she was never meant to be human. Yet would it be a lie or an indulgent fantasy for her to be human again? It couldn't be just a dream for her to be who she had always been, could it?

He put down the quill and turned down the light of the scarlet lamp on his desk. He'd continue writing the next morning, watching Ahiru dip her plumed head into the shallows. It was funny; so much had happened that day, and yet tomorrow Ahiru and he would go down to the lake like usual, yesterday but a memory to marvel at. How the days go by incessantly, stopping for nothing, regardless of what happens. It was encouraging, in a way.

Fakir pulled aside the covers of his bed and slid in. The moonlight cast a sharp, shadowy light across the room, outlining the windowpanes the rays came through.

He thought it could have been a full moon tonight, but he wasn't quite sure. Perhaps there was still a sliver to be filled in the next night. Or maybe it was past, and the next night would bring one less shard of moonlight. But that didn't really matter. His eyes closed.

Soon he was asleep. He didn't see the moonlight gradually ebb away as a small cloud drifted across the sky.


Next episode preview

Fakir and Autor sit on the dock by the lake outside the town.
"Drosselmeyer," Fakir mutters the name with utter contempt. "Does he have to define the way I live?"
(Autor's voice) "He is your direct ancestor, after all."
Rue knocks on the door next to her bedroom, where Trutho is dashing for the exit to the hall.
(Rue's voice) "Trutho, what do you think you're doing?!"
Ahiru and Sagi sit by the lake, and a watery being appears pirouetting in front of them.
(A sprightly feminine voice) "Have you ever thought about what you most wanted? Because whatever it is, if it's within my power, I'll grant it."
(Ahiru's voice) "Wish for…? I don't know… what to wish for…"
A young man with black curly hair and a young woman with long aqua hair curled at the ends sit at opposite ends of a fountain.
(A deep masculine voice) "Ravens… what do you think of them?"
"What are you doing here?" Autor and Fakir ask each other curtly in unison in a dorm's doorway.
Water swirls around the duck and the heron as Fakir and Autor rush towards them.
(A sprightly feminine voice) "Then, it shall be so."

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
28. AKT "Resurrection"
~ Mondschein Sonata : Adagio sostenuto ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

("sah-gi" heron in Japanese)
(Ginkan means 'silver crown' – a spin-off of Kinkan 'gold crown')
("komadori" means "robin" dori/tori means bird and "-ro" is a common Japanese ending for a boy's name)
("taka" in Takako means "hawk", "-ko" is a common suffix to a girl's name)
("kamome" means 'seagull')

27. AKT Music List
(the time ranges listed show what part of the track is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Ichinichi no Hajimari"
(start 0:23 until 1:34)
Played at the start of the story after the title; cut off when Charon asks Ahiru and Fakir if they will greet 'them'.
A bright, cheerful, morning-like version of Miniature Overture.

"Ichinichi no Hajimari"
(Clock Tower Bell) (until 0:22)
Played when the bell tolls right before the parade starts.
Sound clip of the clock tower bell heard in the series.

"March"
Played right after the bell rings, and stops when Fakir asks what happened.
from "The Nutcracker" The famous marching song also used in the PT series.

"Ahiru's Comical"
(until 1:02)
Played after Trutho puts down his hood and comments on the weather; stops after he asks for some peace and quiet.
A funny, quirky version of Miniature Overture.

"Mazurka Op.6-1 in F# Minor"
Played while Fakir is at the lake, thinking. Stops when the narration says it would soon be time for Ahiru and Fakir to leave.
(composed by Chopin) An ambivalent, introspective piano song changing from calm to restless back to calm again. Could be thought of as Fakir's piano theme (another one, probably his main theme is the Overture of 'Coriolan').

"Dance of the Reedpipes"
Played when Ahiru notices the person behind her; stops after Trutho trips.
(from "The Nutcracker") A playful, slightly humorous song with flutes as the main instrument used. Could be thought of as Trutho's theme.

"Humoresque (strings vrs.)"
Played when the narration starts describing Komaro; ends with the end of the scene.
(composed by Dvorak) A quaint song that has a tranquil, yet droll air. Could be thought of as Komaro's theme.

"Arabian Dance"
Played when Mytho turns the corner; fades away after the scene with Takako.
(from "The Nutcracker") A slow, enigmatic song. Could be thought of as Takako's theme.

"Ahiru, Sentimental"
Played when Trutho stops and looks at Mytho; stops at the end of the scene.
A sad, emotional version of Miniature Overture.

"Aquarium"
Played when Fakir starts telling the prologue; stops when Fakir concludes it.
(from "The Carnival of the Animals") A mysterious, watery-sounding song.

"Omen"
(until 1:31)
Played after Mytho looks away from the window and looks decided; stops at the end of the scene.
A grim, foreboding version of Miniature Overture.

"Drosselmeyer Resurrection"
(until 1:03)
Plays for the scene where the gears start turning again.
A menacing, apprehensive, yet eccentric, version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"The Story's Terminal Station Is…"
(Monogatari no Shuuchakueki) (until 0:56)
Played at the start of the scene with Rue and Trutho away from the dining hall; stops when the door suddenly comes open.
An ominous, dark song.

"Waltz"
Played when the lights dim on the stage; the pause in the music comes when the curtain lifts, and it continues through the stage scene and the lake scene (though during the lake scene it is slightly softer) until it stops at the end of the dance.
(from "Sleeping Beauty") The well-known theme from said ballet (also used in the Disney movie in a song with a line of "I've walked with you once upon a dream")

"Drosselmeyer's Shadow"
(start 0:52)
Plays for the scene with Drosselmeyer commenting on the situation.
A thunderous version of "March" with an organ, horns, and drums.

"On Wings of Song"
Plays for the whole scene with Fakir writing the story and stops at the end of the scene.
(composed by Mendelssohn) A piano song with a thoughtful and contented air. Also played at the end of episode 4 "Giselle" in the 1st season.

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Sonata no.14 in C-sharp minor Op.27 No.2 'Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia' a.k.a. 'Moonlight Sonata' (1st movement)"
Played during the preview.
(composed by Beethoven) A sustained, quiet song with low notes and many sharps that give the feeling of a dark but tranquil night.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, a man died. He had begun writing a book in which a prince, a raven, and a knight fought. After his death, the story continued on, watched over by the man from a place beyond this world. He tried to end the story the way he wanted to, but a duck he had introduced into the story had turned the whole story around, and it ended happily. The man thought that the story was finished and complete. But, he found that there were still characters in it whose stories had not yet concluded. Thus, the man's story still remained, and he stayed to watch it unfold.

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
-鳥の章-
(Chapter of the Bird)

28. AKT "Resurrection"
~ Mondschein Sonata : Adagio sostenuto ~
(Moonlight Sonata: 1st mvt.)

Two figures on horseback trotted through a town's lonesome boundary gates. The sky seemed to be perpetually filled with a thick layer of featureless dark-gray clouds, where no sun shone through. The town itself had a mood as heavy as the clouds above it. There were hardly any people out on the road, and those that were out went about their own business, nothing more, carefully avoiding their eyes to anyone else around them.

The young man with the brown mount let his horse amble to a stop and turned towards the cloaked person on the white steed. "Well, this is Ginkan, your Hi – er, my Lord."

The figure in the cloak drew back his hood, revealing his white curls and hazel eyes, which bore telltale shadows of fatigue under them. "Is it always this…gloomy here?"

"Well, this place is a little…traditionalist," Komaro said carefully. "Especially compared to Kinkan. It's true that it has gotten gloomier than from what I remember last time I was here, but otherwise, it's not too much different than the norm." His eyes were drooping slightly, but otherwise he was surprisingly awake, despite having ridden with Mytho for most of the night. He had experienced previous all-nighters that had been more tiring than this trip.

"Hmm…" Mytho blinked drowsily and covered a lengthy yawn before he shook his reigns slightly and started his horse back into a trot.

"Your…my Lord," Komaro muttered, lowering his voice, "it might be best if you kept your hood up. You are not yet out of the open, and we don't know who could be watching…"

Mytho sighed, pulling his hood over his head again. "You need not be that meticulous."

"I'm sorry," Komaro said quickly, his head instinctively dropping down. "It's just that…for some reason, this town is making me feel abnormally anxious…this time more than other times…"

Mytho gazed up at the sky. A crow soared overhead, cawing shrilly before disappearing behind a building. Mytho's eyes narrowed with contempt. "There's a reason, I'm sure."

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir sighed in frustration, slapping the quill pen in his hand down on the parchment. Why couldn't he think of anything to continue that line of that story? He reread the last lines again, for the hundredth time:

The spirit of the lake told the duck, "You have been so good to me, and so kind to my inhabitants, that I will reward you with the thing you most desire. Tell me: what is it you want most?" The duck replied…

"Damn. What does she want?" Fakir muttered aloud. He couldn't understand why this was so hard. He knew what he wanted to write…but at the same time, his instincts kept him from writing any further. And if he was having such a hard time, why was it so hard to just go and ask her?

Well, Ahiru was currently in the far left side of the shallows, so he supposed he'd have to call over to her to ask her, and maybe she was busy, or…

Fakir shook his head furiously. He was not going to use that excuse again. He had to ask her as soon as possible; otherwise, it was going to drive him crazy. It wasn't anything important, after all. He would just tell her he had an idea shortage, and just needed to ask her opinion. He'd just ask, since she was a duck, what she thought a duck would want. It was that simple. Nothing to worry about.

Fakir sighed. He sounded so pathetic.

"Here again?"

Fakir blinked, and turned around in his chair to see a young man of indigo hair gazing down at him through his glasses. "Oh…Autor." Fakir indifferently looked back down at his still-unfinished composition.

"That couldn't be the same story that you were working on before, could it?" Autor glanced incredulously over Fakir's shoulder.

"No, it isn't," Fakir answered tersely. Damn…how am I going to write withhim here?

"Either way, it looks like you're still having a hard time."

Fakir said nothing in reply, but his quill didn't stir from the parchment.

"Oh, don't mind me." Almost seeming to read his thoughts on what would irritate him the most, Autor sat down beside Fakir on the dock of the lake, dangling his legs over the edge. Although Fakir had no idea if he still attended Kinkan Academy of Fine Arts, Autor still wore the characteristic blue-and-white uniform. Not feeling like pretending to write, Fakir almost unconsciously grabbed his fishing rod hanging over the edge and reeled it in, even though no fish had bitten yet that morning.

"Those stories that you've written…none of them have come true, have they?"

"I don't think so," Fakir replied. "…How would I know, anyway?"

"Well…some things that have been happening around town are beginning to sound like some of your stories."

"Such as?"

"Remember that story you were writing before about a girl that recovers from an illness? I heard recently that this one girl miraculously got better from a terminal illness she was born with despite being pronounced a hopeless case by her doctors."

"The person I wrote about was a boy, and he only had a cold, and all he needed was a day of rest in bed." As unexciting as that story sounded, it was only story with any bit of suffering that he wrote. And he hoped to not ever make it any worse than that.

Autor's eyes widened. "So, that means that your stories even exaggerate themselves when they come to life? Perhaps your powers surpass those of Drosselmeyer's, after all!"

Fakir shook his head reproachfully. "I think you're just getting over-sensitive to any possible connections to my stories and reality. Soon you're going to be telling me that a story about a snowy day will cause the blizzard to freeze all of Kinkan to death."

"Well, anyhow, it's not certain that you can keep those stories of yours under control," Autor said. "It's not wise to flaunt your words so frivolously simply for the sake of your own pleasure."

"What else is a writer supposed to do?" Fakir retorted, standing back up out of his chair, glowering at Autor. "Even if what you say is true, the last time I've heard it was a good thing for a girl to recover from a deathly disease."

"What I mean is that you could be putting your abilities to better use," Autor implored. "If you started writing stories about those in high places – especially personal ones charged with emotion! – then, you could have immense influence over what usually goes right over our heads."

Fakir snorted. "And do what? Take over the world? That sounds like something you would do."

There followed a brief silence, interrupted by Autor's reply, "The point is, you have the power to make a difference in the world, and frankly, just about anything in it. Even Drosselmeyer ultimately never took the initiative to gain genuinely influential positions with his powers; you, on the other hand, could easily surpass him."

Fakir scowled. "Drosselmeyer," he muttered the name with utter contempt. "Does he have to define the way I live?"

"He is your direct ancestor, after all."

Fakir winced. "Damn, you had to remind me." He crossed his arms and exhaled briskly. "I don't want to have anything to do with Drosselmeyer. As far as I'm concerned, he's ancient tomb dust."

"Then what you're doing right now is following in his footsteps; just writing your days away, never actually taking the initiative in the world's workings. I'm sure those old anti-Drosselmeyer geezers would be grateful that you had their work cut out for them."

Fakir's fist clenched tight. Why do I ever let him near me in the first place?

o-o-o-o-o

Rue's eyes opened. At first she blinked nonchalantly, but after a moment of recalling the previous day's events, her eyes widened with bewilderment and then furrowed with irritation.

She rose out of bed and headed for her wardrobe, reaching for her white feathery dress when she stopped and instead grabbed the folded gray uniform that lay on the table at the foot of her bed.

After a few adjusting tugs here and there, she went to the full-sized mirror at the corner of her room. She gazed at the reflection thoughtfully, and then preened flourishingly. As an afterthought she reached for and placed a golden coronet on her head.

"Mytho! I mean, Trutho! I mean…"

She grimaced. "Mytho! Are you awake yet?"

Behind the door, Trutho mumbled something unintelligible from underneath his bed covers.

"Mytho!"

"Whaaaaaaaa!" Trutho thrashed in his bed, sending his pillow and blankets flying.

"All right, you're awake. Hurry and get dressed, we need to present ourselves to the dance classes soon."

He blinked incomprehensibly, his pillow hitting him on the head with a poof after it had tumbled back down.

After a moment of recollection, Trutho started, and in a panic, impulsively darted his eyes around for a means of escape. After his eyes paused at the window, he remembered that the room was on a higher floor and his eyes flitted and settled on the door to the hallway. He made a dash for it.

In the other room, Rue heard swift footsteps and the sound of a door swinging open. She hurriedly yanked open the room doors. "What? What's going on!?"

She glanced around the room. No one. The door to the hallway outside hit the wall and swung a lethargic rebound.

"Trutho, what do you think you're doing?!" She stepped outside, looking right and left. No sign of anyone; not even a servant.

How can he run so fast? Grumbling with irritation, she made a left and ran down the hall. "Mytho!"

Some moments passed. Then, after Rue's footsteps had died away, Trutho emerged from under the bed. He gingerly tiptoed towards the door. He hung on to the doorframe with his hands and carefully leaned his head out the doorway. After making a few surveying glances, he turned right and scampered away down the hall.

o-o-o-o-o

"You know, Ahiru…something peculiar happened last night."

"What happened? Was it…something scary?"

"No, not at all," Sagi replied. "You know about the Prince that arrived recently? I'm not sure if I was seeing things, but I swear last night I saw him riding the other direction, just him and one other person. No entourage, no carriage, nothing formal like that."

Ahiru started for a moment.

"I'm quite sure he was going off in secret," Sagi continued. "What else explains leaving in the middle of the night by himself? It's kind of strange. I wonder what it could be?"

"Er…hmm…" Well…it wouldn't hurt to tell Sagi about what happened last night, would it? "…Actually, Sagi-chan? I do kinda know what it's about."

"Really? What was it?"

"It's kind of a long story…remember when Fakir and I left yesterday evening? We were going to attend a party held for Mytho and Rue-chan. They're the Prince and Princess," Ahiru mentioned, since Sagi looked a little confused.

Ahiru told Sagi what had happened that night before, even about the little dance lesson that she had given Trutho. "Later this morning, we're going to go back there and check on him, make sure he's doing all right," Ahiru added.

"Wow." She paused a moment, wondering what to say. "You seem to have an exciting life, Ahiru," Sagi remarked. "I can't believe all those things happened to you in one day."

"I'm still really amazed about it all myself," Ahiru replied. "I mean, my life was pretty much as normal as yours before yesterday…" For the last few months, anyway…

"It's also remarkable that you knew ballet well enough to teach someone," Sagi added. "Where did you learn about dance? Birds don't usually learn that sort of thing…"

"Oh…um…" Ahiru had never told Sagi about her being human at one point. She wasn't sure Sagi would believe her, anyhow. "You know…there's a dance school in the town nearby, right? Well…Fakir used to go there, and I was there…and, I saw some people dancing, and…I guess I picked some things up like that." Ahiru sweatdropped. Hopefully that was a plausible enough answer…

"Oh, I see…" Sagi nodded slowly. "Hmm…a boy that can speak to and understand creatures like us; that is certainly unusual. And a prince's brother, besides…simply amazing."

"Yeah, I suppose it is," Ahiru gazed around the lake. "Boy, it's pretty foggy this morning."

"There was a little seeping in last night, so that makes sense."

Heehee…

Ahiru blinked. "Huh?"

Sagi looked at her with puzzled brown eyes. "What is it?"

"I hear…someone giggling…"

Heeheehee…

Sagi listened. "I hear it, too…"

Suddenly, the water in front of them started to swirl. Ribbons of water circled the air, scattering waterdrops around. A figure of water began to materialize from the depths. A girl pirouetted in the whirlpool, arms held out gleefully above her. Her hair was curly, almost like bubbles, and her waterfall-like dress swished with water droplets flinging around. She twirled to a stop, and giggled with the same voice that they had heard. "Why, good morning, Ahiru-chan, Sagi-chan."

Ahiru quacked sharply, completely astounded. "Wh-who are you?"

The watery being playfully pretended to be upset. "Oh, what? You've been swimming in my lake for months now, and you don't even recognize your lake's spirit? I'm crushed."

Ahiru blinked flusteredly. "You're…the lake spirit? I-I never knew there was a lake spirit here!"

Sagi tilted her head puzzledly. "I don't think either of us has ever seen you before…but somehow, you know us…? Were you hiding? And if you were, then why—"

"So many questions!" the Lake Spirit exclaimed amusedly with a sigh. "I can't answer them all at once. But, as to some of your questions, perhaps you might like to ask your very kind friend Fakir."

Ahiru and Sagi glanced towards where Fakir and Autor sat, deep in discussion (or argument) about something. They still didn't seem to notice anything unusual around them, especially from that distance, and with the fog.

"But…Fakir? Wait…was it a story that he wrote? What do you mean?" Ahiru asked perplexedly.

"It could be," the Lake Spirit replied ambiguously. "Well, after I'm done here you could ask him yourself if you wanted to, anyway…"

Ahiru's head spun in bafflement. "Quaaaaaa…I'm really confused now!"

Sagi sweatdropped anxiously. "Um, Lake Spirit-san? I agree with Ahiru; please tell us what you're getting at…"

The Lake Spirit sighed again. "I was just getting to it, no need to rush. So, Ahiru-chan," She looked lovingly at the little confused duck. "I'm so glad that it's you that I will grant this to…you're such a sweet and adorable little thing, you absolutely deserve such a blessing, and so…"

Still baffled, Ahiru was silent as the Lake Spirit went on.

"Have you ever thought about what you most wanted?" the Lake Spirit asked. "Because whatever it is, if it's within my power, I'll grant it."

Ahiru blinked. "What…I most wanted?"

"Yes. A wish. You can wish for anything you want – provided it's not peace for the world or eternal prosperity for everyone, or anything immense like that, I'm not all-powerful…and besides, I'd rather grant a wish you made for yourself. You've had so little of that."

Ahiru looked up thoughtfully.

"…But, the thing that I think you want to wish for, I can grant it." She grinned enigmatically.

Sagi looked at Ahiru, and Ahiru looked at the Lake Spirit. "Wish for…? I don't know…what to wish for…"

In Ahiru's mind, however, a vision of her human form surfaced from previously untouched depths. No…I don't think…the Lake Spirit wouldn't be able to do that…

Sagi studied Ahiru. Ahiru seemed to be more unsure than confused; she looked too troubled for the problem to simply be the inability to think of a wish. Perhaps she was uncertain about the wish she had in mind. "So…you have an idea, perhaps?"

"Eh? Well, I…" Ahiru's head shied away into the shoulders of her wings, but she appeared to be blushing. "…I just sometimes wish some things were like they were before. I mean…um…"

Ahiru took a deep breath. "It's just that it would be nice if I could talk with Fakir again, sometimes…like before…" Ahiru threw aside her wings in a nervous, exaggerated shrug. "But of course that's not possible, right? I guess I'll have to think of something else…"

"Well, let's see…" The Lake Spirit put on an air of thinking. "No, I don't suppose I could give a duck the ability to speak to humans…"

Ahiru's head started to droop down with resigned acquiescence.

"However…and I hope you won't mind this alternative," the Lake Spirit grinned, "I could turn you human again."

Ahiru was flabbergasted. What!? Is this for real? …Human!?

Sagi was puzzled. …Again? What is she talking about?

Relishing in their bewildered faces, she added teasingly, "Oh…is that…not suitable?"

"I-is it possible for you to do something like that?" Ahiru asked shakily.

"Oh, I can't perform such a feat," the Lake Spirit replied, "but this grand lake – you never suspected it? – has great magic hidden within it. In fact, if I remember correctly, it's done the same sort of thing before, except with a human…"

Sagi took a quick glance at Fakir and Autor at the dock, just barely visible through the mist. They had made no significant movements from when she last saw them.

Ahiru sneezed.

o-o-o-o-o

"And why, of all places, do you choose your writing location here, at a lake, with a duck?"

Fakir glared at him coldly. "The lake is Ahiru's home."

"Do you have some kind of fondness for birds? I personally can't stand them…they're so rowdy and shrill…"

Fakir glanced towards Ahiru's direction. That heron really is tall. She's way more than twice the height of… He noticed Sagi standing beside Ahiru. Wait…then, who's that other…?

"Are you listening to me, Fakir?" Autor scrutinized Fakir's face, and then turned his head the same direction. "What is that…?"

Fakir's eyes creased with alarmed confusion. "What was that voice?" Those aren't Ahiru's quacks… With mounting alarm, Fakir trotted anxiously around the shoreline to where Ahiru drifted in the distance.

o-o-o-o-o

"I-I'll really be able to become human again?" Ahiru asked almost tearfully.

"Oh, many things are possible with the magic of this lake," the Lake Spirit replied admiringly. "But I most love when it makes creatures like you so happy."

"…"

"Hmm?" The Lake Spirit turned towards Sagi, who had become somewhat quiet. "Sagi-chan, did you want to say something?"

Sagi twitched subtly, as if she hadn't realized that she had revealed any signs of a reaction. "Oh, it's nothing…"

The Lake Spirit floated patiently, silently waiting.

"…I suppose humans don't usually stay around lakes, do they?" Sagi replied vaguely. "Well, I suppose not…"

"You know what?" The Lake Spirit put a hand to her cheek, as if she had just thought of something. "I'm so rude. I haven't even offered you anything, Sagi-chan. Why don't I ask you what you want?"

"I? What it is that I want?" Sagi looked down at the water she was standing in. "I…well, I suppose I was fine with what I had here. It's just that…"

She hesitated. "If Ahiru becomes human, then the lake won't be her home anymore, and she won't be able to come and talk like we have been, will she?"

Ahiru blinked in realization, saddened. "Oh, no! I-I-I'm so sorry, Sagi-chan, I didn't think about what would happen to you if I became human!"

"But," Sagi glanced at Ahiru's dismayed face, "I want Ahiru to be happy. I want Ahiru's wish to come true, too. So…so…"

Sagi looked up at the Lake Spirit. "If it's in your power…if you are able…then, please make me human as well."

"Sagi-chan…"

"Turn both of you into humans?" The Lake Spirit briefly pondered. "Oh, yes, why not…the lake certainly has enough power to transform both of you, and of course both of you deserve to have your wishes granted. And, after all, I think it will be interesting…two water birds as humans…is that all right?" The Lake Spirit's eyes seemed to glaze over, gazing far into the distance.

The lake seemed to stir, its ripples resonating with anticipation.

"Then, it shall be so."

As she murmured those words, water started to swirl around the two birds.

o-o-o-o-o

"Who…or what…is that?" Autor asked, trotting behind Fakir.

"Am I supposed to know?" Fakir answered dryly. He squinted through the fog. He thought that the blue figure was a humanoid form, but he couldn't really tell for sure from this distance, and the fog was growing thicker. Why didn't Ahiru yell or make any noises when that thing appeared? Or maybe she did, and I didn't hear it… He winced at that thought.

Then, suddenly, the lake seemed to swallow the duck and the heron from view. Fakir's eyes widened alarmedly.

"What? What's going on!?" Autor's glasses had clouded up considerably from the thick mist, and he lagged behind, fumbling with his shirt, trying as quickly as possible to clear up his lenses.

Fakir was already dashing towards where he last saw Ahiru. Damn it! I should have never let my eyes off of her…I don't know what I'd do if something happened to her and I wasn't watchful enough to stop it… He grimaced with self-contempt.

o-o-o-o-o

As the water swirled, Ahiru's wings grew out, the wingtips growing thinner into fingertips. Her tail disappeared, and her orange legs with webbed toes lengthened and softened into human legs and feet. Her beak shrunk until it became a tiny freckle-spotted nose and soft, pink human lips. Long red plaited hair appeared on her head, turning the little defiant yellow feather into an equally rebellious crimson lock of hair. From the water spray came forth an oval-shaped dewdrop, with tiny droplets of water that surrounded Ahiru's neck and became a beaded necklace, with the transparent, sparkling jewel becoming a magenta-colored pendant.

Ahiru opened her eyes. They had not changed at all; they still were the same wide sapphire-blue eyes she had always worn. She held up her newly formed hands and gazed at them wistfully, touching her cheeks gently. She beamed.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir was almost at the bank when the swirls of water started to recede. He made a last sprint for the water, hoping it wasn't too late. "Ahiru!"

But, what stopped him stiff was what he saw when the last of the water splashed down into the lake. A familiar red braid he'd never thought he'd see again hung down from the back of a girl's head. She looked over her shoulder in reaction to his shout, revealing the same blue eyes with distinctive long eyelashes, along with the freckles and open mouth that he remembered from long ago. "F-Fakir…?"

"Ahiru…?"

Was it her? Couldit be her? That hair…that face…that voice…those eyes… They were the same…exactly the same…

And then he realized that she was also stark naked.

"…!" In a flash, Fakir whipped his face, now glowing bright red, away from the lake.

Ahiru glanced at herself, and with a similar exclamation, she quickly ducked as low as she could into the shallow water, blushing as red as Fakir.

"Ahiru?"

Ahiru creaked her head upwards to the voice addressing her, moving as minimally as possible. Ahiru's eyes widened. "Sagi-chan?"

Sagi, looking down at Ahiru from quite a height, had been tall as a great blue heron and was now even taller as a human. She was probably even taller than Fakir. Her hair, which fell down to her upper back and curled up at the ends, was aqua blue, the hue of her feathers when she was a heron. What remained the same was the little white swiggle-curl that crowned her plumed head when she was a bird and nestled amongst her other bangs as a young woman. Her brown eyes with eyelashes (which were not as long as Ahiru's, but still significantly long) were also unchanged. She, like Ahiru, wore a round pendant, and the gem was blue with the shape of a perfect circle, instead of the red oval Ahiru had.

"Ahiru, what's wrong?"

"Erm…Sagi-chan, you know, neither of us has any feathers right now…"

"What?" She glanced down at herself, also examining her arms, which were now devoid of wing feathers. "Oh…" She swiftly knelt down into the water, brushing her tresses around her to hide her top half, which didn't get covered by the water as much as Ahiru's because of Sagi's height.

"Fakir! Goddamn it, tell me what you saw—" Autor, just arriving at the scene, noticed the two unclothed girls kneeling in the water. Abruptly, his nose spurted out profuse amounts of bright red fluid. He turned away hastily and felt for a handkerchief in his coat, and upon finding it, promptly shoved it up his right nostril. "Ahhhgg! By dose iz bleading!" Autor exclaimed nasally.

"Oh, dear," the Lake Spirit said, putting her hands over her mouth, "It appears that I forgot about the matter of clothing. Silly me!" She tapped herself on the head feigning inanity, giggling.

Autor risked taking out his handkerchief for a moment in order to speak intelligibly. "Forgot…? You mean…you mean you just forgot to give them clothing? And now you…find that amusing?" Autor grimaced bitterly. "I cannot believe that we have a sadist for a lake spirit."

The Lake Spirit tittered mischievously in reply.

o-o-o-o-o

"I almost can't believe that we were able to get a room at this inn without a reservation," Mytho commented as he and Komaro walked down the candlelit hallway. "This is quite an elegant place. I thought the rooms would all be filled…"

"I suppose we were lucky," Komaro replied. "Although, most people here couldn't…" He trailed off.

"What, Komaro?"

He shook his head. "Just a thought."

After some moment, they reached their room. While Mytho stretched, Komaro gathered all of their bags, picked out his pack and began sifting through it.

"How did you come up with the name 'Lord White'?" Mytho asked as Komaro was going through his sack.

"Well, after I knew you'd need to go incognito, I was thinking about what might be a suitable alias that our foes would not recognize. While we were traveling, I thought about your royal insignia, a swan, and I thought if I used the color of its feathers…" He glanced over at Mytho nervously. "You don't think it's too obvious, do you? I keep thinking anyone would figure it out if they thought about it, but I couldn't think of any other ones, so…"

"No, it's fine," Mytho assured him. "I couldn't figure it out, either, not until you told me." He squinted at Komaro, who was taking out a bunch of clothing. "What are you looking for? What is that?"

"Your disguise, my Lord," Komaro answered, holding up a respectable lord's outfit, with a white blouse and a navy-blue coat and pants. "I didn't think it would be good to put it on while we were in Kinkan, in case we were caught, but if someone recognizes you here it's only a night's ride from Ginkan to Kinkan. I also found a wig that would work well," he added, holding up a brown wig.

"A wig?" Mytho asked incredulously.

"Your pale hair is very uncommon, your - my Lord, and anyone looking for you would recognize you a mile away," Komaro explained. "It was already risky going into town like that as you were, but it couldn't be helped, we would've been seen if you were to change nearby."

Mytho sighed. "You think of everything, as usual."

As Komaro was squaring that away, Mytho spotted on a small table by a small lamp was a strange little metal contraption that Mytho did not recognize. The object, which was connected by a wire to the wall, had a funnel suspended on a steel pronged, black stand, along with a metal plate on the base with holes cut out along the rim to reveal the wheel of numbers it encased. "Komaro…on the table, there…what is that?"

"What, what?" Komaro straightened and glanced towards Mytho's gaze. "Oh, that…that is called a telephone. It's a recent invention that allows one to vocally contact someone from afar. It requires some special set-up before one can be used in a building, though..."

Mytho pondered this. "Wait…does that mean that it would be possible for me to talk to someone in Kinkan from here?"

"Quite easily, Myth…White-sama," Komaro answered. "You would need a sequence of numbers that tells the telephone who you would want to contact, and then the other person would need yours to contact you, consequently."

"This is perfect," Mytho uttered, holding back excitement. "If I could use this to contact Rue and the others, then sending messages would take no time at all!" Before Komaro could reply, Mytho voiced what he already thought Komaro would say. "I know; we don't have Kinkan set up for these telephones yet. If you would kindly do so, order these devices to be organized as soon as possible."

"Actually, um…" Komaro slouched abashedly. "I know I didn't inform you of it at the time, but they're already being set up."

Mytho looked at him, blinking.

"I'm sorry about that, your Maje-my Lord," he corrected himself with difficulty. "I was extremely busy that day, and when it came up, I…thought it would be quite useful, and I didn't have time to consult you, since that was during the time you were away from Kinkan, so I approved it on my own."

Mytho gazed at him with mild surprise. "Wow, I…didn't expect that from you." He nodded. "It comes at an excellent time."

Komaro's eyes glanced back up with slight relief.

"If you would be so kind, prepare a letter to be sent to Kinkan about the matter of the telephone sequences as soon as you can."

Nodding dutifully, Komaro replied, "I'll do that now, sir!" before going for the telephone to jot down its number to send over.

Mytho curiously glanced sidelong at Komaro, and pointedly did not mention anything about Komaro's address change. Maybe after this he won't be so obsessed about formality like he always is…

o-o-o-o-o

"Wait…you're saying that duh duck was actually human before, and attended duh Kinkan academy, and den she was durned back indoo a duck, and now she's durned back indoo a human again?" Autor still sounded nasal, since his handkerchief was still hanging out of his nostril, but at least his speech was mostly intelligible.

"Yes, basically…" Fakir, gathering the rest of his belongings, wasn't much for words at this point, as he still seemed a little dazed.

Autor was bewilderedly incredulous. "…An' sombhow I neber figyad dis out befoe…"

After Fakir had collected his fishing rod and parchment, in an awkward stupor of disbelief, Ahiru, Sagi, Autor and he headed back towards Kinkan.

As he walked, Fakir found himself gazing at the newly human-form Ahiru, still adjusting her yellow duck-themed outfit, which had resulted from the Lake Spirit's eventual pang of mercy. He was still partially in bewildered denial; how could Ahiru be human? She was a duck, and the only reason she had been a human was because of the story…

And even if she were supposed to be human, wouldn't her finally becoming human again have been a more… He struggled for a word. …dignified event?

His brow furrowed bemusedly. Then again, Ahiru was never the one for dignity, anyway…

Ahiru realized Fakir was staring at her. "Fakir? What is it?"

Fakir started slightly. "Oh…nothing."

After a while of walking, Autor finally pulled his handkerchief out of his nose. "Oh, good, it looks like it stopped bleeding…"

He turned to Fakir, Ahiru and Sagi. "I should be going back to the school now. Not sure when or where I'll see you next, but…see you later." With that brief farewell, he turned right and headed down the road towards the academy.

"Um, Fakir—" Ahiru was about to say after Autor had left. Impulsively she stopped talking and was about to mime her words, and then a moment later stopped again. "…Oh, wait, I can talk now…"

Fakir shook his head wryly. "What did you want to say, then?"

"Ah! That was just, umm…" She scratched her head for a moment. "Oh yeah! I remembered! I just wanted to say that I…liked that new quill you got that other day! And that other time, the day before that rainstorm, I-I wanted to tell you that you were on your last inkbottle! Well, you found out the next day, anyway, but…" She shook her head doggedly and plodded on. "And recently, when you…"

Fakir continued silently while Ahiru babbled on. Ahiru was so concentrated on her confessions that, even if he hadn't been listening, she wouldn't have noticed.

"…And, ummm…Fa-Fakir?" Ahiru stuttered. "I know you'll be really upset when I tell you this, but…but…"

She switched her mind into hurricane defense mode. "…Your favorite quill is actually stuck between the space of your desk and the wall. I tried to get it, but even as a duck I couldn't fit in there…" Ahiru braced herself. "See…I-I was the one who knocked it in there."

Fakir's footsteps stopped.

In a flurry of muddled words, Ahiru tried to proclaim her innocence. "It-it was an accident! I didn't mean to – I was just flying around, and…"

Fakir turned and stared directly into Ahiru's eyes with a scowl of disapproval. "Does this mean that all this time you were letting such meaningless things worry you so much that now you think they're actually important?"

Ahiru froze rigid under his glare. "…Erm…"

Fakir's gaze lingered on Ahiru for several more moments. Then, finally he looked away and silently continued walking. Ahiru, slightly put off, sighed like a deflating balloon and toddled on.

After Ahiru had been sure Fakir had already forgotten the matter, he added, "…If it is bothering you that much, then help me get the quill out from under my desk when we get back and we'll call it even."

Ahiru pursed her lips nervously but nodded.

"…I'm glad that you liked the new quill." His pacing quickened to a brisk march.

Ahiru blinked at him quizzically.

Sagi hefted her arms clumsily, breaking the silence. "You know, walking isn't much trouble, since I've waded all the time to catch fish in the lake…but, these arms are what concern me." She held up a hand and flexed her fingers erratically. "I don't know if I'll ever get used to these hands…they're so much more complicated than wings…"

Ahiru sweatdropped and grinned nervously. "Well, um…don't worry. Hands do come in handy sometimes, after all. You get used to it."

Sagi studied Ahiru pensively. "At least you seem quite used to it."

Fakir, after a pause, finally spoke again. "So…Ahiru."

"Hm?" Ahiru looked up at Fakir.

Fakir was silent for a few moments, and then asked, "That lake spirit person…what did she say to you?"

"Hmm, now that you mention it…" Ahiru placed a hand on her chin, pondering. "She said something about her finally being able to appear even though she watched us for a long time. And then she said something about you knowing something of what was going on…"

For a moment, Fakir said nothing. Then he stopped, took out a few of his written pages of parchment, and handed them to Ahiru.

They were all silent as Ahiru read quietly.

"So, um…" Fakir mumbled after Ahiru had looked up from the story. "Now that you're how you want to be…what do you want to do?"

"Huh? What do I want to do?" Ahiru pursed her lips in thought. "Hmmm…umm…"

After some minutes of Ahiru's face scrunching up in numerous angles, her face straightened and she suddenly answered, "You know, Fakir? What I really want to do – what I guess I always wanted to do, really – was to dance. Fakir, I want to go back to learning dance at Kinkan Academy."

Fakir blinked, and his eyes widened subtly. "You do? You want to go back there?"

"Yep. I do," Ahiru affirmed. "Even when I was distracted with trying to get back all of Mytho's heart shards, I always practiced every day – or at least, I tried to – and I learned a lot from Neko-sensei and the exercises. I hoped that maybe one day, I'd be as good a dancer as Rue-chan!" Ahiru shrugged abashedly. "Even if I couldn't get that far, I loved trying. Ever since I returned to being a duck, I – well, a duck can't really go to practices can they – couldn't learn like I used to. Sure, I could dance by the lake sometimes, but…it's not the same. I'm not getting better. I might even be losing what little skills I got."

She looked back at Fakir and grinned. "I have to salvage what dancing technique I have left before it goes to the frogs!"

Fakir pondered. "Isn't it 'dogs'?"

Ahiru's fisted bunched up and she glared at him. "You know what I mean!"

Sagi chuckled and Fakir allowed himself a grin. After a moment, he turned back to the road in front of him. "I haven't been going there recently, to Kinkan Academy. But, maybe I'll start again, since you're going."

Ahiru glanced at him. She smiled.

"Besides, we should lend a hand in looking after Trutho, too. If we're there full-time, it'll be easier."

"Right." Ahiru nodded.

"This Kinkan Academy," Sagi said after several moments' silence, "where is it? Is it purely a dance school, or does it teach other subjects as well?"

"Oh, that's right, you've never been there!" Ahiru exclaimed. "It's a fine arts school, so it does teach dance, but it also has painting, sculpture, drama, music…all kinds of things!"

"Does one have to have experience in the subject, or can anyone enroll?"

"No, no, novices can join as well as professionals – I was still a beginner in my first year, after all," Ahiru said with a nervous laugh. "Say, Sagi-chan, do you want to enroll in dancing, too? It'll be really fun if we're in the same class!"

"I suppose I could," Sagi replied, "but I don't know if I'd be any good at it. I don't know anything about dancing."

"That's fine! You don't know unless you try!" Ahiru tugged on Sagi's arm. "Let's go together. I really want you to come."

Sagi looked at Ahiru, and then grinned gently. "All right…I don't see why not. I'll give dancing a try."

Ahiru beamed.

o-o-o-o-o

After they stopped by Fakir's house, finding a bewildered Karon at home at seeing Fakir minus a duck and plus two girls, they stepped back outside, ready for the academy.

Sagi glanced up at the buildings surrounding them. "Ahiru, do you know what those wooden poles with black ropes hanging off them are?"

Ahiru scrutinized them. "I saw them being put up a couple weeks ago, but…" She scratched her neck sheepishly. "…I have absolutely no idea what they're for!"

Fakir thought a moment. "I heard recently from Karon that they're part of some project that uses the latest technology that'll enable people to talk over long distances. All of the ropes must have something to do with it."

Sagi pondered. "Come to think of it, at one point, when I had first flown here, I thought I saw a long line of those tall, thick wooden posts running along all the way to the next town, it seemed like…"

"…What's that?" Ahiru pointed at a cart driving across the road they were crossing. As it passed by, the three noticed a giant red cage with walls of glassed windows on the back of the cart.

Fakir, Ahiru and Sagi watched the truck pass by with varying degrees of puzzlement on their faces.

o-o-o-o-o

"Wh-wha…what's going on!?"

All around campus, there were dense clumps of people clamoring around certain areas of campus. They were all excited and impatient, and some Kinkan Academy castle servants were trying to keep things in relative order.

"What on earth is happening?" Sagi asked in redundant confusion.

"I don't have a clue!" Ahiru exclaimed. "It was never like this before…"

"Just ignore them for now," Fakir replied. "Let's get to the enrollment office."

They went to the main building in front of the bridge and searched for the attendance department room.

Ahiru glanced around. "This must be where people enroll. There's a reception desk…" For some reason, I can't seem to remember the first time I enrolled in Kinkan…it's strange, but then again I can hardly remember what happened before that, anyway!

They went up to it. Ahiru glanced around the desk. There didn't seem to be anyone there.

Then, she glanced over the columns of paper blocking the inside and found a young woman with her arms folded under her head snoozing soundly on top of another pile of parchment. Her straight, shoulder-length yellow hair wound around the papers still on her desk. The girl, also sporting a Kinkan school uniform, still clutched a bedraggled, worn-out quill in her left hand.

"…Umm, excuse me?" Ahiru whispered. She glanced at the desk and noticed a name plaque. "Erm…Isabelle-san…we'd like to…register…"

She was still asleep.

Ahiru's arm crept gingerly over the piles, and she gently prodded Isabelle on the shoulder.

"H…huh?" Her light blue eyes blinked groggily. Suddenly comprehending, her eyes widened, and she sat up in attention, immediately professional, as if she had always been awake. "Ah, yes…um. How may I help you?"

"R-registration?" Ahiru repeated hesitantly.

"Ah, I see…" Isabelle turned and grabbed a stack of papers from the side and flipped through them readily, navigating through the seeming labyrinth of documents with apparent ease. "Are all of you new?"

"I'm returning." Fakir stepped forward.

"Returning? Oh, so you must be one of some of those who've gone on unofficial inspiration-retrieving leave. Let me get that pile." She reached and grabbed a stack of an also sizable mount of parchment.

"Unofficial inspiration-retrieving leave?" Sagi asked.

"Well, this is an art school, is it not?" she replied with a shrewd smile. "It happens all the time; someone loses their muse, they go off for a while, sometimes for months, and then come back and toil like the dickens at their work once again."

"Ermm…actually, I've been here before, too," Ahiru added.

"Have you, now?" she asked not unkindly. "Let's see, then…name?"

"Ahiru."

"Ahiru. Ahiru," She thumbed through a few papers on the top of the stack she was holding. "Funny, wasn't there…a file here…?" She scratched her head. "No, I don't remember any…but then, there's supposed to be…"

Finally, she turned back to Ahiru. "It's strange…it almost feels like there's a file missing, but I don't think it was misplaced or anything…" She shook her head. "I'm sorry, but without a previous record, I can't really enter you in as a returning student…"

Ahiru sighed. "Oh well. It's not like I'll have lost very much ground, anyway…" I still had been wobbling between the elementary and apprentice class before, after all.

"If I find it, I'll be sure to inform you and correct your placement accordingly," she replied earnestly.

Ahiru told Isabelle the rest of her information, and after that was finished, Isabelle reentered Fakir from dormant enrollment.

"Are you returning, too?" Isabelle asked Sagi after Ahiru was done.

She shook her head. "No, I'm completely new here."

"All right, let me get another form."

As she filed papers around, she remarked, "Have you heard of the new housing arrangement in the dorms? So many more people have signed up since the Prince and Princess returned that rooms are now shared, instead of individual rooms like it was before."

"What!?" Ahiru started a little. I used to only have my own room. If I roomed with someone else, and they found out that I'm a duck…!"Oh n-no, I can't…"

"Do you think that Ahiru and I could share a room?" Sagi asked promptly.

"Hmm? Oh, that's no problem," Isabelle replied. "It works out, there was this one empty room that I wanted to fill…"

Ahiru mouthed a thank you to Sagi. Sagi responded with a shrug and a vague smile as she completed the forms.

After a moment of shuffling papers, she handed each of them dorm room numbers. "You should probably take a look and make yourselves at home there before bothering to come to class. Everyone's still buzzing about their Majesties coming back. Plus, with the new telephone lines being turned on, no one's attending class, not today."

"T-telephone…?" Ahiru asked uncertainly.

"You know, those wires you saw hanging from those poles put up recently. They're bringing in the telephone booths as we speak, so anyone in town can go in one and try it out."

Fakir, Ahiru and Sagi glanced at each other, remembering the strange red boxes in the carts earlier.

"As for you two," she indicated the two girls, "You can find your school uniforms at the ladies' dorm common room. It'll be with a big pile where all the boxes are. The big pile being a product of all the recent enrollments," she remarked to herself. "I think the only reason this office isn't crowded with students right now is those new-fangled devices sitting around campus."

"Ahiru, do you know where the dorm rooms are?" Sagi asked after a few moments' pause.

"Oh, they're a couple blocks away. Here, I'll show you!" Ahiru took Sagi's hand and led her back outside.

Fakir glanced at his room number. "It's different than before…"

"Sorry, it couldn't be helped," Isabelle replied, turning back to her papers. "You were gone for a while, and since you were roomed by yourself, the empty room got filled up before you came back."

Fakir turned back towards her. "I was roomed by myself?"

Isabelle furrowed her eyebrows quizzically. "…Weren't you?"

After a pause, Fakir turned and left the office, loosely following Ahiru and Sagi to the dorms.

o-o-o-o-o

After they reached the dorm vicinity, Sagi went with Ahiru to the ladies' building on the left and Fakir headed for the men's building on the right. He managed to struggle through the line of people on the first floor of his dorm, assuring people that he wasn't cutting for whatever reason; he just had to get to his room somehow. Luckily, the room was somewhere way off on one side of the building, so he wouldn't need to wrestle through people to get through to his door, at least.

This room is in a completely different location than the one I was in before. Let's see…which one is it?

After crossing several halls and climbing a few staircases, Fakir finally came upon a door that he thought to be the one matching the room indicated on the slip of paper. He reached for the doorknob, twisted it and pushed it open.

Blinking on the other side was Autor. Fakir stared back.

"What are you doing here?" Autor and Fakir asked each other curtly in unison.

"Did you want something?" Autor asked Fakir stiffly.

"This is supposed to be my dorm room," Fakir grumbled incredulously.

"Let me see that," Autor snatched the slip of paper from Fakir's hand and read it over.

An uncomfortable silence pervaded the room.

"They must have it wrong," Autor declared.

"That must be it," Fakir agreed. He snatched the slip of paper back out of Autor's hand and promptly exited the room. "I won't be back," he added before closing the door with a resounding slam.

After several minutes had passed, Fakir opened the door to the room again, still clutching the now-ragged slip of paper. Autor looked back at him from his desk blankly.

Wordlessly Fakir swept in a silent fury into the room. He slapped the paper on top of the room's previously unoccupied bed, and then stormed back out.

Autor winced in dread.

o-o-o-o-o

"How lucky was it that I was able to get my old room back, the one at the end of the hall!" Ahiru exclaimed. "That might've been because of the fact, but…"

"I suppose they must have added another bed to that room so it could fit two in a room, like they had planned," Sagi commented.

"And I heard that they're going to put a telephone in each dorm room!" Ahiru exclaimed. "It certainly would cut back on all of these lines and crowds everywhere. And, guess what? The men's dorm is supposed to have the individual room ones all set up by this evening! Fakir's lucky…"

After they managed to fan back through the crowd of people in the hallways, the two girls reached the entrance to the ladies' dorm room and exited out to the fountain in the middle.

"Do you see Fakir anywhere?" Ahiru asked, looking around.

"Ah, there he is," Sagi replied, pointing momentarily.

Fakir approached to the dorm fountain in a huff. After he reached them, he took a couple of deep breaths.

"What's wrong, Fakir? Did something happen?" Ahiru asked him with puzzled concern.

"Nothing," he replied gruffly. "I'm fine."

Sagi and Ahiru looked at each other but said nothing.

As they headed for the gate leading out into the street adjacent to the academy, they heard a rustle in the bushes. A white-haired head abruptly appeared out of them.

"Qua–!" Ahiru, out of habit, narrowly managed to hold in her duck-like exclamation before it was complete.

"Ah, Fakir! Quick, behind here—" Trutho disappeared back into the bushes again.

Bewildered, they followed him behind the shrubs.

"Trutho, what in the world are you doing here?" Ahiru asked with bafflement. "Aren't you supposed to be back at the school, with Rue-chan?"

Trutho blinked confusedly. "Huh? How do you know my name?"

Fakir sighed grimly and quickly responded, "These two people found out about the secret recently. They won't tell anyone."

"Oh…well, I guess…" After a pause, he shook off most of his uncertainty and he proceeded. "Anyway, I don't know what to do! Rue-san's going to try and make me dance again! I thought she knew I couldn't dance! Yesterday was just a fluke! It was only because that duck –"

"She does know that," Fakir replied with irritation. "Do you think she's dumb? She probably was planning to fabricate another excuse so that she could dance alone instead, if it was even necessary. I'm pretty sure you just need to be there for people to be convinced, of which you aren't…"

"Hey, what's going on?" Someone from the walkway outside the bushes had noticed a trio's sudden trip past the bushes.

"Ack! Gotta go!" Trutho scurried along the row of bushes away from them.

"Is something the matter?" A brunette with an incredibly long nose and a small, puckered mouth peaked over the bushes.

"No, nothing…I just realized I dropped something in the grass," Fakir replied arbitrarily.

"Oh…"

"Arukuimi, what are you looking at?" a short, beady-eyed pigtailed girl asked the long-nosed brunette in question.

"Nothing, Waniko. Someone was looking for something all of a sudden." The brunette fell back and continued on her way.

Ahiru blinked in astonishment. "Th-that was Arukuimi!? And Waniko?"

"The story's over, remember?" Fakir told her. "That was the reason that all of those people became animals in the first place. They're back to normal, now."

"Is there something different about them?" Sagi asked with puzzlement.

"The last time I saw Arukuimi, she was, well, an anteater," Ahiru said awkwardly. "And Waniko – you know…"

"Ah…"

"Where did Trutho go?" Fakir asked in realization.

They glanced around, and sure enough, Trutho had already disappeared from sight.

Fakir grimaced. "I can only hope he's headed back for the academy…"

o-o-o-o-o

Rue stopped in her tracks and sighed sharply. "That's it. I've had enough. No more wild goose chases for some silly boy who can't get his act together."

She continued coolly down the hallways, gazing around the school. At least he chose the right day to be truant, with all of this distraction. I hardly see the need for even me to go around to classes.

"Oh, your Highness?" A golden-haired female servant came up to her.

"Hm?"

"I received notice about the new telephones that are being installed here," she told Rue. "I think they said you ordered a few personal ones in your quarters…?"

Rue looked at her. "I never heard about this."

"Apparently they were calibrated already, and I think they're going to set them up right now…"

Rue was about to object, but curiosity overcame her. "What are these telephones again?"

"They're machines that can be used to contact someone far away," the servant girl explained. "The reason why everyone's hyped up about them is that they're basically instantaneous; speak into them and the other person will hear your voice right away. And they can respond right back."

This caught Rue's attention. "Anywhere, you say?"

The servant girl nodded. "Yes. Well, anywhere that has it set up, that is…"

"Is Ginkan set up for these?" Rue asked almost urgently.

"I believe so. Most places that can afford it, anyway…"

Rue paused. "How quickly will these telephones be ready?"

"Quite soon, I imagine…oh, that's right," the girl realized suddenly, "Komaro-san just left recently for Ginkan! Is that why you're asking?"

"What? Oh, yes, yes, of course," Rue said dismissively. "How can I call him?"

"You'll need a number to enter into the machine in order for it to reach him. He left a message saying which inn he was planning to stay at, but there's no way to find out what the number would be from just that…"

"Ask him what the number is. Have a letter prepared about the matter and send it to him immediately."

"Right away, your Highness," the girl bowed. "Umm…I suppose that means I should include our number to be sent to him as well, right? You know, so he can call you…"

"Of course. Go now."

"Yes, milady."

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru walked alone through the hallways of the classrooms of Kinkan she had long ago passed through daily, and would now begin doing so again. Fakir had claimed he had something to straighten out about his room, and he refused to talk about what it was for some reason. Then, Ahiru had proposed that Sagi take a tour around, and Sagi opted to go around by herself for a while. So here she was, wandering around the school, gazing around and remembering.

She stepped outside the door at the end of the hallway to the arched outdoor corridor that led to the dance building. Taking a moment to glance around the campus, Ahiru noticed that most of the students were gathered about the distinctive red phone booths interspersed at convenient but out-of-the-way places around the school. Around other locations in the campus where no telephone booths stood, there were hardly any people except for some unobtrusive servants here and there walking about.

Ahiru turned back towards her destination and continued walking. There was one other person crossing the corridor in the opposite direction, a black-haired young man sporting the same blue uniform all male students normally wore at the school. It was strange; his curly hair, pale skin and crimson eyes reminded her of Rue. Maybe he was Rue's brother?

She mentally bonked herself on the head. After learning about Trutho, things like that seemed readily possible.

As Ahiru walked down the hall, for some unexplainable reason she was almost expecting the boy to do something. Stop and talk, maybe. Or even break a grimace and start hollering at her. Still, though, the boy just kept walking, barely glancing at her. I wonder who he is, anyway?

Their paths crossed. Suddenly, Ahiru sensed an intense gaze directed at her. Her footsteps slowed to a disconcerted pause. She gazed tentatively behind her at the person with raven-black hair. He hadn't even broken stride.

Ahiru's face scrunched in puzzlement. Now I reallywonder who he is…

"Ah!" Remembering herself, she dashed to the double doors of the dance building.

o-o-o-o-o

"Sorry for being late!" Ahiru exclaimed with a habitual bob of her head as she dashed into the upper story dance floor.

"If you're late, then so is just about everyone in the school," a woman with short, gray-brown hair clad in a lavender skirt replied exasperatedly. "Those telephone machines…why is everyone so worked up about them, anyway?"

Ahiru glanced up puzzledly. "Eh? Isn't Neko-sensei…?"

"Hmm? Who are you talking about?" the woman asked. "I've been the only full-time dance teacher since that expert left some months ago…I forget his name…"

I suppose Neko-sensei was really a cat, after all.Ahiru glanced at the woman. "Do I…know you from somewhere?"

The woman blinked. "I am Yagiko-sensei."

Ahiru started. The last time she had seen Yagiko-sensei, she definitely hadn't been human. "Wh-what!? You're…?"

"What? Do you recognize me somehow?" Yagiko-sensei asked, nonplussed. "I don't remember ever seeing you around school before…"

"Ehhh…um, I saw you sometimes, around town," Ahiru explained clumsily.

"Anyway, since you're here, go ahead and stretch out. The special class is here, at least, so you can watch them practice if you wish."

Ahiru glanced over at the girls on the other side of the room. There were four dancers in dark blue skirts stretching and practicing on the barre and the dance floor. They were the same four people in the advanced class that Ahiru had remembered from way back, minus the centerpiece dancer Rue.

Ahiru noticed that there was piano music playing, and she looked over at the piano to find a tuxedo-clad slender old man with spiffy shades, yet there was a quiet and gentle demeanor about him. He glanced up and smiled at Ahiru, and a grin spread on Ahiru's face in return. That must be Penguin-sensei… she thought, waving back to him.

"Ahiru?"

Ahiru's head turned in answer. "Yes? Oh, Sagi-chan! …You're here already?"

She nodded. "I tried to take a look around, but all of the crowds got in the way, so I thought I might as well come directly here."

While Ahiru wore a slightly different leotard from the other students, Sagi's was the same light-blue outfit as the others, except a translucent, ocean-blue chiffon skirt was tied over her right side. Her long, aqua-colored hair was swept up in a fishnet bun on the back of her head.

Sagi turned her head towards the special group dancers and continued to copy their stretching routines tentatively. Ahiru sat down and did the same. Spreading her legs and reaching for her left foot, she noticed three girls on the other barre across from her.

"Just think, Teresa," a girl with straight shiny black hair wrapped in two buns on the sides of her head. "If we stay here and wait out the hubbub, later we can have the telephones all to ourselves."

"But, a crowd has more leverage than a couple of people, Lin," replied the girl called Teresa, a brunette with her curly shoulder-length hair tied up in a ponytail. "Even the teacher's given up trying to start class with no one in it. There's power in numbers, you know."

"Are you saying we should brave that?" Lin countered, pointing towards Ahiru.

Ahiru impulsively looked behind her, and cluster of students in the school courtyard were still visible from the window even from that standpoint. A raven flying by flashed across the view for a moment.

"Maybe not. Still…"

Glancing outside, Yagiko-sensei apparently had had enough. "That's it. If they're not going to attend class, then they aren't going to be here. I'm kicking all of these loiterers out, out, out!" She stormed outside.

"Hey, what's Myra doing way over there? Myra!" Lin called out to the girl separated from the two by a good few yards. "You were the one who didn't want to go into that big crowd of people, that's why we're here right now! Right?"

The addressed dark-haired girl made no reply. She remained sitting on the floor, her arms wrapped defensively around her knees, her back towards them.

"Myra?" Teresa inquired, taking a step. "Are you all right?"

Lin walked over to Myra and knelt by her. "You know…" she took a breath, "You have been acting kind of…strange lately. There isn't anything bothering you, is there…?"

Myra stiffened restrainedly.

"You don't have to tell us if you don't want to," Teresa said gently, walking towards them. "But if it's anything we can help with…"

"Stop bothering me!" Myra stood up suddenly in exclamation, making a couple people in the room turn their heads. "Don't talk to me anymore. I don't want to see anyone. I don't want to be with anyone anymore. Just…leave me alone!" She marched toward the doors.

"Ahiru…? Your pendant…" Sagi pointed at Ahiru's chest with puzzlement. Ahiru looked down. The oval-shaped brooch had gone dark, as if a shadow had passed through it.

"Sagi-chan, yours too…" Sagi's circular pendant had the same dark tinge.

The door slammed shut. Other people in the room looked at each other confusedly.

Sagi blinked. "Oh, they're…back to normal now…" Ahiru glanced at their two pendants, and they had returned to their original respective blue and magenta.

"It's just been getting worse and worse," Teresa said worriedly.

"She never was like this before," Lin said anxiously. "I haven't any clue what's making her this upset."

"I think it's going to get really bad if we just let it be. Lin, we've got to go look for her."

"Definitely."

Teresa and Lin promptly left the dance room out the double doors.

Ahiru gazed through the doors after them pensively.

o-o-o-o-o

With a loud click, the image of Ahiru became suspended in the air, framed by a gear's toothed edges.

"Yes, yes! This couldn't be going more smoothly! Everything's being built up very nicely. And much of it was ultimately thanks to that young descendent of mine…"

He twirled the white quill that had been sitting idle in his hands as he had watched the scene. "So far, Pauper, you've been giving a nice dose of nuisance to the Princess…some comic relief amidst this tale. The readers will probably need it…"

The black quill lay on his desk nearby. Uzura, standing beside the table, considered snatching it away when Drosselmeyer picked it up and examined it admiringly.

"You're certainly a product of one of my better days as a living writer," Drosselmeyer remarked. "Dark, mysterious, cruel, despised – the perfect villain. So perfect I used you for several books, including my last as living…and current as not."

He smirked. "And things are just about to get exciting…"

Uzura's head tilted like a puzzled quail. "But Ahiru's human now-zura. Wouldn't the story be over after that-zura?"

Drosselmeyer looked at Uzura incredulously. "Whoever said that Ahiru becoming human was the only thing left to happen? I didn't facilitate that. I can't write her story, after all, since you still have her quill, by the way. That event happened without me doing anything. But it comes in handy, since it will make what happens next even more interesting.

"Still…" He looked at Uzura. "Are you sure you don't want to let me borrow it for a moment?"

Uzura shook her head. "Never-zura."

Drosselmeyer shrugged and shook his head nonchalantly. "No matter, no matter – momentous scenes are imminent! I must be prepared!"

He stretched out his hands with a luxurious crick, spread his arms out with a sweep and sprung onto his parchment once more.

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

28. AKT "Resurrection"
~ Mondschein Sonata : Adagio sostenuto ~
(Moonlight Sonata: 1st mvt.)

- Part 2 -

Fakir finally walked away with defeated frustration from the enrollment office. He noticed that most of the crowds had left for some reason, and many that were still leaving looked disgruntled. Across the grounds he could see some servants locking up the phone booths for the day. On the dance building, a few crows cawed irritably.

A crackle sounded from one of the bush trees nearby. Suspecting the noise was intentional, Fakir walked towards the shrub. After he reached it, another bush farther away next to the library rustled the same deliberate way. Fakir's brow furrowed wryly while he approached it, as he now thought he knew who the mysterious recluse was. "Trutho, there's no one around. You don't have to keep hiding."

After a moment's hesitation, the white-haired boy emerged.

"Fakir, I'm not sure what to do now. I've been waiting around school for a while and there were so many people around. I trailed Rue-san for a while, and she didn't seem to need me, so…" He looked guilty. "Even if she did, I'm not sure I could go up to her after leaving like that."

"You're the one that decided to leave, so you need to deal with the consequences of your absence."

Trutho's expression grew intense with compulsory fear. "I know, but…"

"It's not like she's going to kill you," Fakir replied with slight puzzlement.

"Yeah…I guess…" For some reason, this seemed to abate his anxiety somewhat.

Fakir sighed. "If you're worried about the dancing part, I can tutor you. I'll be here at the school often now, since I've started attending classes again, so if we can find an empty classroom, you can practice without interruption."

"…That would probably help. Thanks, Fakir." Trutho opened his mouth as if he was going to say more, but hesitated. "But, um…not that I mean to be ungrateful or anything, but what happened to the duck you were with? Why isn't she with you? …Something didn't happen to her, did it?"

"…Not really. She's doing fine, if that's what you mean."

"Oh." Trutho seemed halfway satisfied with the answer, but a little put out.

Fakir's lips leveled in consideration, and then he added, "If you really want to find out where she is, then Ahiru might know. Might."

"Ahiru?"

"The red-head I was with the other time."

"Oh. Okay. Ahiru, Ahiru," Trutho repeated it to himself. "Funny, her name is the same as the duck's…"

"That's…why she would know." Fakir crossed his arms. "You probably should be getting back, now."

"Well…"

"Do you want me to escort you?"

Trutho looked at him with disgruntlement. "All right, all right, I get the picture…" He straightened his cloak and slinked away, disappearing in a blink.

o-o-o-o-o

By the time the bells struck three, the campus was empty of the telephone fanatics and was calm once more. The teachers let the few people actually in class be, but even they soon dwindled away back to the dorms.

After a while, when the shadows were growing longer, Sagi and Ahiru finally left the dance studio to return to their dorm for the night.

"So, what did you think of it so far?" Ahiru asked Sagi.

"I couldn't really say," she replied, "we didn't really do much that time, did we?"

"Yeah, that was an off day, because of all of the ruckus about the new telephone things and all," Ahiru said with an apologetic smile. "Next time, I'm sure it'll be more exciting that it was today."

"I suspected as much," Sagi nodded. "Although, I think doing warm-ups is very relaxing. They help to ease the tension in one's body and mind…"

Ahiru suddenly started, and checked her arms and sides. Then, she cried out in alarm. "Ahhhh! I need to wash my ballet uniform, but I forgot to bring it back!" She turned tail and dashed back towards the academy gates.

"Wait, should I come with you?" Sagi called after her.

"No, go on ahead! It'll be just a second!"

Sagi blinked, but continued on the road to the dorms.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru huffed up past the gates and into the grounds, stopping for a breath. When she finally caught it, she realized something else. "Oh, wait, I don't need to wash them, I just got them…so they're already clean…"

Ahiru laughed nervously, and turned around to head back when she heard a shrill voice yell out. Perturbed, she located the source of the voice and then hid behind a bush, observing what was happening. When Ahiru saw it, her eyes widened and she gasped.

A young man was wrenching something out of the chest of a girl whom he held down. In a flash she recognized the young man as the dark-haired boy she had seen earlier that day, and the girl as none other than that girl she saw leave at the dance class before, Myra.

Horrified, Ahiru tore towards them. "What are you doing!?"

The dark-haired young man yanked away from Myra's chest a small, gleaming crimson shard. He checked it over and stepped back. He glanced fleetingly at Ahiru, smirked, and with a flurry of black feathers, jumped back and disappeared from sight.

Ahiru rushed over to Myra, who lay on the ground, wincing. "Are you all right? What did he do to you?"

Myra groaned, and her eyes opened with difficulty. She put a hand over her heart. "It hurts…deep inside. He said he wanted to help me, and then…" She sat up slowly. "Except now, I…"

"Myra!"

"There you are!"

Myra's two friends, Lin and Teresa, had arrived on the scene.

"We were looking for you for so long!" Teresa exclaimed between breaths.

"We tried the classrooms, the dorms, around town at the usual spots, but you weren't there! What's going on? Did something happen?"

"Huh?" she looked up at them. "Oh, Lin-chan, Teresa-chan – I'm so glad you're both here!"

She stood up and embraced them both in a threesome group hug. Lin and Teresa blinked bewilderedly. "Are you all right, Myra?"

"I'm…well, my heart aches, but…now, I feel…"

She trailed off, but her face was one of peace and relief.

Her two friends nodded in understanding. Then, Lin realized. "Oh, I get it now…you just needed a good cry by yourself, right, Myra?"

"Um, not exactly, but…" Myra's brow furrowed, then she shook her head and smiled. "But that doesn't matter. What's important is that I'm better now." She turned and looked at each of them. "Let's go back to the dorms together."

Lin and Teresa nodded. "Yeah!"

As they left, the girls turned to Ahiru.

"We owe you big time for helping Myra out with whatever it was that was troubling her," Lin said.

"Oh, um…no problem!" Ahiru rubbed the back of her neck abashedly. "Glad to help!"

After they were gone, Ahiru still stood there, deep in thought. What happened there? That boy took something from her chest…and then, after that, Myra says she was glad to see her friends and even hugs them, even though before she could hardly get close to them without getting upset. That has to be related…then, did he take out the thing that caused her to be upset?

Her eyes widened. Then, that would mean that he's done a good thing, and he's helped her out! Would that make him a good guy?

Ahiru's brows furrowed. But then, why did he cause her so much pain? Did he have to go about it like that in order to fix the problem? What was he trying to do?

She sighed and shook her head bewilderedly.

o-o-o-o-o

Sagi looked up from her seat on her bed at the sound of the door opening. "Ahiru, you're back so late…did you get your ballet outfit all right?"

"Actually, I didn't need to get it anyway…" Ahiru meandered into the room and climbed the ladder to her bed and plopped down on it face first.

"Oh…" Sagi didn't press for any answers, but her unspoken queries hung about her. "Fakir-san was looking for you before, and I said you'd be back soon, but I think he'd be in his room by now…"

I don't know if I can explain what happened today to Sagi-chan… Ahiru remained silent, and lay on her bed contemplatively.

o-o-o-o-o

The stars shone brightly outside of the dorm room's window as Ahiru lay in her nightdress under the covers of her bed. After a few minutes, she glanced at Sagi, who she saw was already sound asleep. Maybe I could tell Fakir about it. But then again, it's past bedtime, and he's in the other dorm, so I couldn't possibly reach him…

Then, she heard footsteps on the wooden floor in the hallway behind the walls. Ahiru jumped down from the bed and cracked open the door.

"—call a room's number by first pressing '0', then '1' for the boys' dorm, then their room number. All right, I've got it," a girl with short curly brown hair muttered to herself as she passed through the hall.

"It's Hermia…" Ahiru murmured.

"I feel glad now that Lysander told me what his room number is so we could arrange a time to talk over a distance like this…"

Ahiru's eyes widened in realization. "Ah, that's right, there are the telephones that are installed here now! And if she could call Lysander, then I could call Fakir!"

Hermia picked up the phone in the middle of the corridor and began carefully rotating the little number wheel, with little clicks and dings sounding as she completed each round. Then, she held the funnel-shaped object to her ear and waited. Ahiru crept out of her room and waited nearby.

Sometime later, Ahiru was growing weary, occasionally shivering where she stood. How long is Hermia going to talk? I've been waiting here for what seems like forever!

Then, Ahiru sneezed. Hermia started, and turned around, looking for the sudden noise. "Is someone there?" She glanced towards Ahiru.

"Quack!" Off her guard, Ahiru had let out her taboo exclamation.

In a twinkle of red light she vanished out of sight. Hermia glanced around her, but finding no one at eye level, she turned back to the telephone receiver, her hand cupped over her mouth.

On the floor, Ahiru the duck lay sprawled out on the floor, tangled in her nightdress. What's going on? I transformed back? But it's not the same pendant! Why did the same thing happen…?

She pondered. I suppose the Lake Spirit wasn't just being modest when she said that she wasn't all-powerful…maybe the same limitation of quacking still applies with this magic too.

"…Lysander, I probably should go now. It's getting late," Hermia whispered. She said a brief farewell and then hung the telephone back on the receiver. She quietly walked away down the hall, missing Ahiru because she was out of the way and the darkness concealed the small duck enough.

Ahiru scrambled up and hopped about in vain trying to reach the telephone. Oh, great…the telephone's free, but now I can't reach it!

She snatched up her nightclothes and, suspecting she knew exactly what would change her back into a person, hurried back into her room where she knew there was a bucket of water in the corner.

She dashed back out as human Ahiru, and picked up the cone-shaped device and put it to her ear, and was about to spin around the number reel when she realized something and stopped short. I have no idea what Fakir's room number is…

Ahiru wept in comical dismay. "After all that trouble…"

I guess I'll just have to tell him about it tomorrow…

o-o-o-o-o

Sagi awoke early in the morning, when the fog still hung around the ground. She glanced towards the bunk perpendicular from hers on the adjacent wall, and saw that Ahiru was still fast asleep. She therefore was careful to keep quiet as she pulled aside her covers and reached for the book that she had borrowed from the library during that short time she had to herself around the Kinkan school campus. On its cover read: Die Angewohnheiten und Tendenzen von Süßwasser Fisch (The Habits and Tendencies of Freshwater Fish). She thought of staying inside the comfy warm room to read it, but after glancing outside at the dorm fountain, she reconsidered. She was more comfortable around water, anyway.

Sagi, now in her new gray Kinkan uniform, exited the ladies' dorm out the main entrance. She sat on the rim of the fountain on which stood a statue of two stylized dancers, one holding the other. She took out her book and began to read quietly.

After a while, Sagi realized that she was not alone. Across from her side of the fountain sat another person, a male Kinkan student to be specific, judging from his uniform. She looked a little closer and noticed that he had black, curly hair. He clutched something in his hand, and although she couldn't be sure since he was facing the other direction, he seemed to be gazing intently at what he held.

Sagi turned back to her book. His presence did not bother her; he was quiet enough to not be a distraction.

Overhead, a lone raven cackled, its caws echoing in the misty silence. It alighted on the roof of the ladies' dorm and watched the fountain with a probing curiosity.

"Ravens," a male voice behind Sagi suddenly said. "What do you think of them?"

Sagi glanced behind her at the source of the voice. The young man still looked the other way, even though Sagi couldn't see anyone else he could be addressing. She wasn't even sure if he was expecting a response or not.

After a few moments, Sagi shifted her legs and answered, "They're solitary birds. They tend to be by themselves most of the time."

"Don't they seem…horrible to you? They're dark, grim harbingers of destruction and ruin. They flock towards death and thrive off it. It is no wonder that humans consider them evil."

"They're scavengers, aren't they?" Sagi replied. "That's how they have to survive. They don't have talons or sharp beaks, but they have wits and cunning. That's their tool for staying alive, so they use it."

The young man leaned his head back, gazing at her sidelong. "Is that a justification to you? You don't sound like you have much hatred for them, unlike most."

Sagi pondered for a moment. "Maybe one reason why I don't hate them is because I can relate to them, in a way."

"Oh?"

"They are solitary birds, by nature," Sagi reiterated, "They might not have others to rely on for help, but they don't really need it. They can get along in the world by themselves just fine. That's also how I work."

"Truly?" the young man said, almost with amusement.

The raven on the rooftop, seemingly bored at this point, turned its head and flapped away, cawing nonchalantly.

The raven-haired boy gazed back down at the object clutched in his hand once more. "Solitude…" he murmured. After a moment, the young man stood and turned his head around, finally looking at her directly. "How interesting."

He turned and strolled out towards the dormitory gate. "I, too, struggle alone."

o-o-o-o-o

Trutho tugged at the sleeve of the Kinkan uniform he was wearing and nodded approvingly. "This definitely works. Newest clothing I've worn for…well, I don't know when." He fiddled with the golden brooch on his collar. "It's more comfortable than that royal suit I wore yesterday, at least…"

"The uniform isn't all that special," Rue replied. "Surely you've gotten clothes better than this before?"

"Not often," Trutho answered faintly. "Ones I'm used to were usually somewhat worn when I got them, and there were times that they needed some cleaning before they were decent enough to wear in public. And they hardly ever fit this well. Custom tailored for size and length? Never before in my lifetime…or memory, anyway."

Rue looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Say, why are you wearing one?" Trutho asked curiously. "I thought you wouldn't deign to wear a simple uniform around your own palace."

Rue furrowed a brow at him. "Do you think wearing that elaborate and bulky white gown in a casual setting is appropriate?"

"…Um, well, I guess not…"

"Even without considering the matter of convenience, I'm wearing it mostly because it sets a good example for the other students here. If I'm wearing one, others will feel inspired to wear theirs as well."

"You're probably right about that…" Trutho remarked.

Rue looked at him.

"It's…true, isn't it?" Trutho said. "Everyone here admires you royal people so much you're celebrities. They'll do anything to be in any way connected to you."

Rue sighed. "Such is both the boon and bother of nobility."

She went over to the dresser and grabbed the jar of hazel-colored dust. She pushed it into Trutho's hands. "Make sure you remember to put this on. I don't want to have to remind you every day."

Trutho laughed feebly, and then opened the jar.

As he finished applying the powder, Rue headed for the door to the hallway. Before turning the doorknob, she glanced back at Trutho. "Don't go running off like you did yesterday."

Trutho tensed, becoming oddly rigid.

Rue blinked, and then opened the door and went out. With reluctance, Trutho trailed her stiffly.

After a few steps, Rue suddenly turned around. "Trutho, are you afraid of me?"

Trutho blinked, taken aback. "Eh? Wh-what do you mean? Why would I be afraid of you?"

Rue gazed at him for a few moments. Then, she chuckled and turned back around. "Let's go…Mytho."

With his unease replaced by tentative confusion, Trutho followed her.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru ran to class, hoping she'd be able to catch Fakir and talk to him about the previous afternoon before the bell rang. Unfortunately, just as she passed through the courtyards, the chiming began. At least I'll be just on time…

When Ahiru reached the classroom, she recognized Pike and Lilie talking together. Her eyes widening, she waved at them. "Pike! Lilie!"

They both looked towards Ahiru with surprise. Then, they blinked, and started whispering to each other.

"How does that girl know our names?" Lilie whispered to Pike.

"I don't know…do you know her?" Pike whispered back.

"No, I don't. Do you?"

Ahiru sighed dejectedly. I guess they didn't remember me after the story was over…

"I wonder who she is? Does she know us?"

"Maybe she's been following us! For some sinister and mysterious reason…" Lilie murmured with starry eyes.

"We should keep an eye on her," Pike nodded.

"That's right! We should!" Lilie agreed.

Ahiru sweatdropped, and took a seat next to Sagi as the teacher began class.

o-o-o-o-o

"Rue-san, are you sure this is a good idea?" Trutho whispered, sitting with Rue in the back of the rows of seats lined up in the Kinkan academy classroom. "What if the instructor asks me something that I don't know?"

"Why would she?" she whispered back. "Her goal while we're here would be to show us how much her students know, not for her to question us. In any case, I'll handle the talking."

"That's a relief," Trutho murmured with a relieved sigh.

"Just stay calm and pretend you know what people are talking about," Fakir muttered from his seat in front of Rue.

"Right, okay," Trutho nodded.

"You make sure you listen and learn everything you can while you're here," Rue told Trutho. "The sooner you learn the basics, the better."

"All right, all right…"

Across from them, Ahiru sighed. "If only I could have gotten here earlier, then I could have gotten a chance to talk to Fakir before class started…"

She glanced towards where Fakir was seated and noticed that the black-haired boy from the day before was sitting on Fakir's left. Her face fell. And even if I could tell him about it during class…

"I apologize for not waking you up," said Sagi, who was seated next to Ahiru. "I wanted to get here earlier, but I didn't want to disturb you, so…"

"No, it's okay," Ahiru excused it offhandedly. "I can talk to him after class, anyway."

Sagi was a little confused, as she had no context on what Ahiru was talking about, but naturally she let it pass.

"Students, today we are going to review everything that we've learned over this past semester," Yagiko-sensei stated. She noted with pride that the students didn't moan nearly as much as usual today, and she chalked it all up to the royal presence here at her class. I almost wish they'd come every day, just to have everyone act like this…

The lavender-clad gray-brown haired educator called on a few students and asked a few questions, and each of them answered quite proudly. She was about to call on the braided redhead in the back when she realized she didn't know her name. Considering that the girl was new and likely wouldn't know the answer, she changed her mind and searched around and her eyes fell on the black-haired boy sitting next to Fakir. "Caras-san, what is the barre and what is its purpose?"

No answer.

"Caras-san?"

The boy named Caras, leaning on his elbow on the desk, didn't respond.

Realizing too late that she had just called on the one student that would never answer to an instructor, or anyone else for that matter, she grimaced and tried in vain to finish what she started. "Caras-san, I'm talking to you!"

This time, Caras actually seemed to acknowledge that someone was indeed speaking, possibly to him. After glancing briefly at the instructor, he turned away and ignored her.

From the corner of her eye, Ahiru sensed a shadow flash across her vision outside the window. For the second time, Caras stirred from his seat and gazed out through the glass. Then, as if it were the most natural and normal thing for him to do, he got out of his seat and strolled towards the exit.

Yagiko-sensei blinked with annoyance, but not surprise. "Wh-what do you think you're doing?"

At this point, Ahiru noticed that quite a few female students were discreetly gaping at him, awash with adoration. One of these several female students was Lilie. Next to her, Pike paid little attention, but she peeked at Fakir periodically. Fakir, at a cursory glance, seemed to be unperturbed by his former seatmate, but Ahiru thought she sensed a wary tension tinting his expression.

Yagiko-sensei at this point sighed jadedly. "Fakir-san, you answer, please."

Fakir grimaced, and took a breath. "A barre is a wooden bar attached to the wall of a dance room to aid in exercising. The proper technique of stretching on this is…"

As Fakir continued his explanation, Trutho squirmed uncomfortably as Caras passed right by him.

"What's wrong?" Rue asked him with bafflement.

Trutho hesitated, and then, after Caras had reached the doorway, he leaned closer towards Rue's ear with his hand cupped over his mouth. "Did that guy that was sitting in front of me bother you at all? Because, well…something about him gives me the shivers…"

Rue looked towards the exit where Caras was leaving. "I don't feel anything strange about him," she said. However, her gaze lingered on the doorway. Had he been looking at Trutho when he had walked past?Her brows furrowed with veiled anxiety. Or me?

o-o-o-o-o

"Sire, we've received a letter from the Kinkan palace," Komaro said, bringing in the mail from the inn's lobby.

"What, a reply that quickly?" Mytho asked, puzzled but delighted.

"I don't think it would have been sent that fast, my Lord, even though I did send it express," Komaro replied. "This one must have been sent of its own accord, without a prompt from us." He scrutinized the writing on the envelope. "Ah, it must have been written by Meryl-san…"

"Let's see what it says. With luck, it may have information about the telephone number sequences."

They opened the envelope up, and sure enough, inside was a list including not only one, but just about all of the Kinkan castle's telephone numbers corresponding to the private royal quarters, and a few of the corridor phones as well, each location labeled with neat organization.

"My compliments to whoever wrote this up," Mytho murmured appreciatively.

Komaro nodded with agreement, almost proudly.

"I shall try this telephone out right away," Mytho said with eagerness. "Let's see, now…where would Rue most likely be now?"

"Hmmm…" Komaro pondered a moment. "It's hard to say, since there is the schedule of the classes that she would visit to consider, and noon is nearing, so she may even be walking around the campus, and so determining her exact location is tricky."

"I suppose I could always wait for her to call me, but…" Mytho sighed. "What if it was the other way around? Then both of us would be waiting, and neither would contact the other. I'll try out each of these and see if she answers any of them."

"Be careful, your Highness – er, my Lord," Komaro corrected himself, "Some of those numbers do correspond to telephones within public reach, so if someone other than Rue answers, be sure to not say anything and close the connection as soon as possible."

"Right, yes," Mytho said, picking up the funnel on the receiver.

o-o-o-o-o

As Rue passed through the corridor, the telephone down the hall began to ring. Puzzled, she approached it slowly, and tentatively reached a hand out to pick up the phone. Rue held the device in her hand, silent as she awaited a sound, or some kind of signal that would indicate what she was supposed to do.

On the other end, Mytho was listening carefully for a reply.

"Anything?" Komaro whispered. "Remember, don't give yourself away unless you know who it is…"

The previous other lines Mytho had dialed rang on for several moments without an answer, or else the answer came from someone quite arbitrary that made Mytho place the phone cautiously back on the receiver.

"Someone picked up the other end, but I'm not getting an answer…" Mytho murmured back.

"Hmm…" Komaro's brow furrowed warily. "Put it back down as quietly as you can, then…"

Rue's patience wavered, and she ventured a few words into an end of the phone. "…Is anyone there?"

"Hm?" Mytho put up the phone again. "Is that you, Rue?"

Komaro twitched at Mytho speaking, and a hand began to sprout out in silent protest.

Rue heard her name. "…Mytho?"

"Rue?"

Beside Mytho, Komaro's hand wilted tentatively, and then dropped back to his side.

"Mytho?" She paused. "Wait…you aren't Trutho, are you?"

"Who? Trutho?"

"You don't sound like him…the one you left behind in your place."

Trutho…that must be the name that he calls himself now… "So you have already found out, as I thought you would…"

"…You are Mytho, aren't you?" Rue said cautiously.

Even though Rue couldn't see it, Mytho smiled. "Yes. I am Prince Siegfried, and if I am not mistaken, you are my princess, Rue."

Rue smiled, unknowingly in return. "You must be Mytho, then."

On the other side, Rue heard Komaro heave a sigh of relief before gasping and suddenly cutting himself off into forced silence.

"Mytho?"

"Yes, Rue?"

Her voice hardened to a crisp. "Don't ever run off like this again."

Mytho swallowed. "I…I'm sorry, Rue."

"I don't know if you'll ever realize how I would feel if something had happened to you."

"Please, don't worry about me," Mytho replied. "I'll be fine. Komaro's here, so I'm not alone."

Then, some sounds of movement on Mytho's end, and Mytho's voice, sounding quieter from a distance, said, "Komaro, you look like you want to say something?"

"If I may…there is one matter I would like to discuss with her Majesty," Komaro replied in the same distant volume.

More sounds of movement, and then Komaro's voice came out through the telephone. "Your Highness? Are you there?"

"Komaro?"

"Yes, I would just like to inform you that I will be referring to his Highness as 'White-sama', so as to minimize the risk of being discovered," Komaro stated. "I would also recommend that you do the same."

"What for?" Rue glanced around her surroundings. "I'm quite sure no one is around right now to overhear us…"

"Besides eavesdroppers on the outside, I also know that these devices may be intercepted so that an individual could listen in on a talk without the two conversationalists knowing."

On the other side, Rue could manage to make out Mytho's voice, "Komaro, as far as I know, no one is actively looking for me. These kinds of precautions aren't really necessary."

"All the same, your High…my Lord," Komaro replied. "This is one of the ways we may be caught, and 'tis best to give as little chance for others to discover us as possible."

Then, the bells of Kinkan Academy began to chime. Rue's lips pursed. "Komaro, let me speak to Mytho…oh, all right, White-san, then. I must leave soon."

"Certainly, your Highness."

A pause, and then, "Rue?"

"Classes are starting. We shall talk more later," Rue told Mytho.

"All right. Farewell for now, then."

"Goodbye."

Rue stood there long after the line disconnected before, taking a breath, she hung it up swiftly and focused her attention on finding Trutho and getting to the next class.

o-o-o-o-o

As Trutho strolled through the campus of Kinkan Academy during the noontime recess, the periodic bows and formal salutations he received as he passed by did nothing to curb his anxiety.

"Hello…Hi…Good day…" Trutho grimaced. It would be really nice if I could just find a quiet place to sit down, without all of this attention!

He headed for the outskirts of the grounds, behind the buildings, where he found a small strip of land where the only things around were a bunch of trees that formed a miniature forest, some bushes and a water spigot on the wall of the adjacent building. He took a seat next to the faucet and glanced up at the pallid cloudy sky. "Sure looks like winter's coming…"

Then, he sensed he wasn't alone. He checked around, and noticed a group of girls slinking towards his direction, apparently hidden among the trees. His supposedly secluded spot wasn't so secluded anymore. And this spot was otherwise the only quiet spot he knew about on campus.

Can't these people just leave me alone for once?

He sighed. Maybe I can talk to them and say something about needing some time by myself. At least they'll probably listen, since I'm supposed to be a prince and all.

He reluctantly held his ground. They were whispering to each other, but the words were too quiet for him to catch.

"You know, it has been kind of weird, how the Prince and Princess have been acting these last few days."

"Yeah, I know! Did you hear? I've heard rumors that yesterday, the Prince disappeared when they were out walking and he didn't come back until later in the afternoon. I wonder what that was about…?"

"And I swear, I heard him call her 'Rue-san', instead of his usual 'Rue'…that's gotta mean something!"

"I swear, something happened during their leave. I think they had a fight, that's what I think happened. That would sure explain why he seems so agitated lately. And if that's the case, that means…he's all up for grabs!"

Another one giggled. "Let's be the first ones! Oooh, I can't wait!"

Back near the spigot, Trutho was getting nervous. The group of girls drawing near didn't seem so innocuous up close as they had a little distance away. He reconsidered retreating after all, but he was a few moments too late. The girls emerged from hiding and approached him furtively.

"Good morning, your Highness!" they all crooned in an eerie chorus.

Trutho frowned uneasily. "G-good morning…"

To his dismay, they surrounded him in a loose encirclement. "Such a fine day outside, isn't it, your Majesty?"

Trutho took a deep breath, and said nothing. Maybe if he ignored them, they'd go away.

One of them sat down next to him. "I suppose things must be going rough for you, haven't they?"

Trutho closed his eyes for a moment, pursing his lips.

Another one bent over him, her hand creeping towards his face. "You must be so tired, Mytho-sama. Here, we'll help you relax…"

Trutho shied away from the reaching fingers. "Excuse me, but um…would you all mind leaving me alone? I'd…I'd like some time by myself, to think…"

One girl leaned over the spigot, dangerously teetering over it and partially blocking the faucet with her sleeve. "Oh, come now, don't be like that, Prince…we aren't botheringyou now, are we?"

Trutho's brows furrowed, and after taking a breath, he suddenly stood up. "Actually, you all are. I really want you all to let me be."

The girl leaning on the faucet was a little taken aback from his abrupt movement, and she fell over slightly, shoving the faucet knob on. At the same time, her hand blocked the water flow almost entirely, so that instead of flowing out smoothly, it spurted out violently, directly into Trutho's face.

"Argh!" Trutho grasped his eye, which had taken some of the water in the splash.

"Oh, oops…" The girl leaning over the spigot scrambled up and went over to Trutho. "Are you all right?" She leaned in towards his face, looking carefully.

"No, I'm fine…" He leaned away. "Just a little water in my eye, that's all…" I'd actually feel better if you all just went away, right now…

The girl's brow furrowed as she stopped. "Oh…wait, your eyes…what's happening to them?"

Trutho froze in horror. He doubted that his eye was getting red from irritation. More like blue. Oh, shoot…not good. Not good at all. Umm…time for Plan B!

"Ahhhhhh!" Trutho grasped his eye dramatically with both of his hands, heaving in ostensible pain. "My eye…it burns!"

The girls blinked startledly. "Er…your Majesty?"

"I must…go and apply ointment to it immediately!" He pushed his way through the group of girls, who were luckily stunned enough that they weren't able to hold him back.

All right, that actually worked well…avoided being caught and got away from those devilettes-in-training, he thought, smiling slightly in relief.

He turned a corner. Just need to get to a mirror in a washroom somewhere, and then I'm as good as—

"Ooof!" Trutho, unable to see his right side, had run straight into someone and nearly knocked them both over.

Trutho blinked and straightened himself up. "Argh, I'm awfully sorry about that, it was hard for me to see –"

The dark-haired boy named Caras looked back at him.

A stupefied moment passed with both simply staring at one another. Then, as Caras took a step towards him, Trutho dashed away, at nearly twice the speed he had been going before.

Washroom, washroom, washroom…where's that stupid washroom?! C'mon, c'mon, c'mon…if only I knew this place better…!

After entering and running through an indoor hallway, stumbling a few more times in the process, he was all too soon out of breath. He leaned against a wall and panted for a bit, glancing around, quickly covering up his right eye in case someone was around.

"Where are you going to in such a hurry?" A dreadfully familiar voice behind Trutho inquired.

Trutho looked back at Caras with an acute mix of alarm and bewilderment. I didn't even hear anyone following me, and I was running at full speed! What's up with this guy? It's like he appeared out of nowhere…

What Trutho replied was, "Well…I'm trying to find the washroom, since I really need to…rinse off my eye. I got something in it, you see," he explained quickly.

"I see." Caras looked down the hall. "The nearest one is down this hallway and directly to your left."

"Oh. Okay," Trutho nodded tentatively.

"It's a little strange, though," Caras commented casually, turning back to Trutho and studying him, "that you wouldn't know the location of a washroom in your own residence?"

Trutho grimaced, flustered. "Well, I usually don't visit this area, and besides…" After a thought of confirmation, he resumed, "I've been away from here for a little while, so some things might have slipped my mind." Hopefully that was the case when he arrived back here the other day…

"Ah. I…suppose that would make sense." He turned towards the hall and looked back at him. "In that case, I am obliged to escort you there so you do not waste time wandering about aimlessly."

Trutho's brow furrowed. "No, I can find it for myself –"

"Oh, but I insist."

Trutho looked at him. Some unknown part of him, scattered in vague blurs around his mind, was tacitly screaming for him to get away immediately, but his logic questioned this ungrounded feeling. The more he tried to pinpoint the source of his uneasiness, the more his head ached with the effort. He hardly knew this person, so what would he know? And so far, he had been appropriately polite. Even if he meant harm, of which was highly unlikely, there were a few other people around to hear if something strange was going on. "All right, fine."

As they walked, Trutho pondered. What could there possibly be about him that I'm so spooked about? Do I know him from somewhere? I certainly don't recognize him from anywhere…that I can remember, anyway…

He glanced over at Caras, who he noticed had discreetly been scrutinizing him at a side-glance. Trutho clasped his eye tighter.

When they finally reached the washroom, Trutho quickly stumbled in, fumbled with the jar of infuriating-but-necessary dust and applied it as promptly as he could. It didn't help that his eyes were still adjusting to the light disparity from his covering up his eye for so long.

Next time, I'm not bothering to check in the mirror. I'm just going to swab a liberal amount on my face and hope that wherever Mytho-san got the dust from has refills…

When he was finished, he glanced towards the door and hesitated. Was that guy still hanging around out there? Peering outside, he at first didn't see anyone. Not trusting his first impressions, he gingerly stepped out and darted his head around. To his partial relief, no black-haired pale youth was to be seen. Still, even after he had stepped completely out and was on his way again, he was still wary. Maybe I'm getting paranoid…that might explain why I had that weird funk with Rue-san yesterday.

He shook his head with an irritated grimace. Look at this; I don't even seem to know myself anymore. How pathetic of me.

After the bells signaling the end of lunchtime rang, Trutho found himself back at the center campus grounds again, this time with students walking about in organized chaos back to whatever was their next class for the day. Thankfully, they only had time to spare a quick nod or smile before heading on ahead. He wished that was how they acted all other times.

Not quite sure what to do next, he stood on the walkway, watching as people filed past.

"Oh, your Highness!" A few terribly familiar female voices chimed in behind him. Turning behind him in muted dismay, Trutho froze in horror as they approached him yet again, appearing from behind the statues that lined the stone walkways.

Then, something they saw made them stop in their tracks and hurry along their own ways to class. Trutho blinked, and turned around once more to discover what could make the she-minions of menace disappear into thin air.

Rue strolled down the walkway towards him. "All right, there you are. The bells rang already, so we should be heading for the next classroom to visit."

Trutho glanced from the statues to Rue, back to the statues and then to Rue again. Then, with a flash of realization, he approached her, heaved a sigh of relief, and with all the deliberation in the world linked arms with her and said in a rush, "Thank goodness you're here, Rue-san. Let's go now, okay?"

Rue couldn't have been more bewildered than if Trutho had just blasted off to the moon riding on an albino orangutan. "Wh-what…?"

Speechless, she simply shook her head with stupefaction and led them to the next class.

o-o-o-o-o

Even as the distant bells chimed for students to return to class, Caras paid no heed. They meant nothing to him. Right now, there was nothing he wanted there.

Caras entered his dorm room, alone. The dorm room was of course empty. He had no roommate.

That was how it always had been. How it had to be. How he wanted it. He wanted to stay away from humans as much as possible. Otherwise, if he wasn't careful, he might become more and more like them, until one day, he might actually become one of them.

That must never happen.

He had left the window open, so a draft filtered through the curtains, ushering in the cries and cackles of the dark birds just out of sight nearby. The familiar sounds led him towards the window.

He gazed outside at the ravens gathered around the roof near him. Even as they glimpsed him, they simply glanced at him with a playful fondness and went about with whatever they were amusing themselves with. Such loyalty. Even though he would never admit it to anyone, hardly himself, he found it quite comforting that they would still recognize and respect him even in his repulsive human form. At the same time, he still felt ashamed…

He could still remember clearly the moment he had become aware of his new had been crouching in a dark corner of a street in Kinkan, the very same town the raven had met his downfall. It had been dark, and a drenching rainstorm had been pouring outside. It had been cold, so very cold. The last thing he had remembered before losing consciousness was an engulfing, all-consuming agony deep within his heart. Upon regaining his alertness, he clutched his chest impulsively. Then, he realized that it was no wing that he was grasping with. He brought it up to his eyes, and with a jolt, realized it was a human hand. His hand shot to his face, and he felt not a feathery head and beak, but a nose, lips, and human hair. That had been one of the worst moments he could ever recall in his life, as he slipped into utter despair and wished nothing but for his life to end, for fate to have pity on him and rid him of his disgrace. Mercifully, the chilliness swallowed him up rapidly, and he could barely remember a silhouette of a woman standing outside of the alley looking his direction before slipping into a warm, unfeeling darkness.

Afterwards he had woken up and found himself in thecare of the fortune-teller Takako, who had a somewhat irritating habit of enigmatic vagueness. However, from the way she regarded him, somehow, she knew what he really was. He had noticed that he had on a white loose shirt and casual pants over the skin-tight black, downy clothing he had found himself with, which werenow dry. She made no objections when he got up to leave, and only told him that Kinkan Academy was where "they" had attended school every day. He knew whom she was speaking of – the Prince, the Knight, and the duck, formerly known as Princess Tutu. How she knew, he could only guess, but he exited the hazy, enigmatic dwelling of the fortune-teller to a bright, sunlit morning, dewy from the previous night's downpour. Such a drastic contrast of scenery.

Before he'd know it, he was here, attending Kinkan Academy of Fine Arts, under the name of "Caras", an adaptation of his true identity – karasu. But, he was devoid of his full might as the Raven, so he had no power to even change himself back into a raven, much less turn the whole town into ravens with a single shower of raven blood, as he was able to do before his heart was sliced apart.

That will change, he thought as he leaned out the window, catching the wind in his dark curls. He still had all of his memories intact. The only thing that kept him from being the magnificent raven he was once was the fact that his former heart had been shattered to pieces by that fairy-tale prince. Prince Siegfried had once shattered his own to seal him, but of course then the prince became an empty, emotionless being, and ironically he had needed to be rescued. It ended up being a useless effort on his part.

But he did get his heart back eventually, Caras acknowledged. If someone could gather up the pieces of Mytho's heart and return all of them to him, then why wouldn't he be able to do the same thing?

Then there's that other fact, Caras pointed out to himself, his scarlet eyes gleaming darkly. If I didn't already have a heart, I would be emotionally comatose as well… He clasped his chest and felt his heartbeat. This heart…it is a human's heart. It is not my original, but it is still

His teeth clenched, stopping his thought before it was complete. That will all change, once I find my raven's heart…then, this heart is no use to me…unless I wanted to sacrifice it to myself… He smirked at the thought.

One raven suddenly took off from its perch and flew towards him. He held out an arm, and the raven alighted on it, cackling to him as soon as it settled down.

Caras paused for a moment, contemplating his answer, and replied, "The others may not see anything yet, but let them have patience. Have them keep a vigilant watch. If my suspicions are correct, then the prince has already left this town."

He smiled. "And I very much doubt that anyone suspects my true identity." He sent the bird on its way, and it flew off into the sky to deliver the message. "This just might work out perfectly…"


Next episode preview

(A girl's voice) "Sorry, I'm disrupting your class, aren't I? It's just that, I really had to talk to someone here…"
A brunette kneels by Ahiru in the dance studio.
(Ahiru's voice) "But what do would you want to talk about with an apprentice dancing student? And at that, me…"
The brunette talks spiritedly with Ahiru at the campus gazebo.
"I don't know if anyone likes what I write. I really want everyone to like them. I really do…so much."
A dark-haired young man approaches the girl standing in front of a library shelf.
"Tell me…what is it that is troubling you?"
In a dreary town, a horde of ravens swarms around a street corner. On a white horse, Mytho, dressed in a disguise with a brown wig, rushes towards them, unsheathing his swan-hilted blade. "Hurry, Komaro, we must help!"
A man with aristocratic clothing stands in the shadows of a room, where three old women sat in chairs in front of a window.
(A man's voice) "Perhaps it would be best if we had a look at this newcomer. So we can get a chance to understand his motives more closely."
Ahiru sees the girl and the dark-haired boy at the prodding bridge.
"If only I could do something! But I can't become Princess Tutu anymore…can I? But somehow, I've got to—"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
29. AKT "The Story of Rosamunde"
~ Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

'hakuchou' – swan in Japanese
'arukui' – anteater in Japanese; Arukuimi featured in ep. 2 of original series
'wani' – alligator in Japanese; Waniko featured in various episodes throughout series
'yagi' – goat in Japanese; Yagiko featured in ep. 9 of original series

28. AKT Music List
(the time ranges listed show what part of the song is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Bydlo"
(start 1:49)
Played at the start of the story after the title; fade off in middle of song (without the louder part) at the end of the scene.
(from "Pictures at an Exhibition") A rumbling, grim song that starts out low but grows louder towards the end before fading away, low and grim as before.

"Mysterious Kinkan Town"
Played when the mysterious voice is heard by Ahiru and Sagi; fades out after the Lake Spirit appears and speaks.
A mysterious, chiming remix of the Nutcracker "March" with ominous trumpets sounding in the background.

"Aquarium"
Played while the Lake Spirit talks to Sagi and Ahiru; ends before the Lake Spirit tells Ahiru she can turn Ahiru into a human.
(from "The Carnival of the Animals") A mysterious, watery-sounding song.

"Pas d'action – Rose Adagio"
Played when the Lake Spirit tells Ahiru she can turn Ahiru into a human; cuts off suddenly when Fakir notices Ahiru is unclothed.
(from "Sleeping Beauty") A dramatic, slow-starting song that gradually builds up more tension and anticipation, and ends with a strong, awe-inspiring trumpeting exclamation of triumph. That part gets cut off in the middle, in this case, though.

"Promenade - The Old Castle"
(until 0:58)
Played during the scene with Mytho and Komaro going to their hotel room.
(from "Pictures at an Exhibition") A composed, contemplative orchestral work with flutes and a calmly played horn.

"Nocturne in E flat major"
Played while Fakir, Ahiru and Sagi are on their way from the lake to Fakir's house.
(composed by Chopin) A tranquil, contented piano piece with a relaxed, sincere mood.

"Dance of the Reedpipes"
Played when Trutho pops out from the bushes; stops after the three notice that Trutho is gone.
(from "The Nutcracker") A playful, slightly humorous song with flutes as the main instrument used. Could be thought of as Trutho's theme.

"Etudes I"
(start 0:48, end 2:19)
Played by Penguin-sensei while Ahiru and Sagi are in class.
(composed by Kaoru Wada) A light-hearted, casual piano piece with a slow tempo suitable for ballet practice.

"Overture"
Plays briefly when Yagiko gets fed up with the truant loiterers outside.
(from "The Marriage of Figaro") A triumphant, happy song that also played during the first season whenever Yagiko appeared in "Black Shoes", episode 9. Yagiko's theme.

"Pas de Character"
Plays when Myra makes her exclamation; ends at the end of the scene.
(from "Sleeping Beauty") An ominous, at times biting, song with clarinet and strings to an erratic tempo. May also be recognized as Maleficent's theme from the Disney movie.

"Drosselmeyer's Shadow"
(start 0:52)
Plays for the scene with Drosselmeyer commenting on the situation, and glancing at the black feather.
A suspenseful version of "March" with eccentric xylophone notes intersecting throughout the piece.

"Introduction and Dance of the Lilac Fairy"
Played when Ahiru finds Caras; Dance of the Lilac Fairy begins when Myra's friends arrive; song ends at the end of the scene between Sagi and Ahiru in the dorms.
(from "Sleeping Beauty") At first an exciting piece, but then gets peaceful and pretty when the Lilac Fairy's theme starts.

"Fairy's March"
Played when Ahiru hears footsteps in the hallway; ends at the end of the scene.
(from "A Midsummer Night's Dream") A lighthearted, quiet, yet mysterious song with a march tempo played with chimes and flutes.

"Moonlight Sonata, 1st movement 'Adagio sostenuto"
Played during the scene where Sagi and Caras sit at the fountain.
(composed by Beethoven) A sustained, quiet song with low notes and many sharps that give the feeling of a dark but tranquil night. Could be thought of as Caras's 1st theme (three in all, including all three movements of the Moonlight Sonata).

"Songs without Words op. 85 no. 2 'Adieu' – Allegro agitato"
Played during the scene where Caras walks out of class; starts when Yagiko-sensei asks Caras the question, and ends at the end of the scene.
(composed by Mendelssohn) An apprehensive song that starts out quiet but anxious, with the music building, and gets very loud towards the end but then suddenly quiets down.

"Moonlight Sonata, 1st movement 'Adagio sostenuto"
Played for the scene with Caras reminiscing.
(composed by Beethoven) A sustained, quiet song with low notes and many sharps that give the feeling of a dark but tranquil night. Could be thought of as Caras's 1st theme (three in all, including all three movements of the Moonlight Sonata).

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Overture"
Played during the preview.
(from "Rosamunde") An alternately suspenseful and exciting orchestral piece.

Chapter Text

 

Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl loved to write stories, and was at her desk day and night, countless tales flowing from her pen.

One day, she decided to show them to everyone. But no one liked the stories. People said that they were strange and ridiculous. Even the one person whose opinion she believed in the most told her that her stories were foolish.

The young author was devastated. She never wanted to write again.

But then, she realized what she had to do. "I need to find out what people like about stories, and put them in mine," she said. So she asked around and within her stories placed everything that people said they wanted in a story. She hid away the peculiar stories that came from her pen before.

Far away, another writer chuckled with scorn.

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
-鳥の章-
(Chapter of the Bird)

29. AKT "The Story of Rosamunde"
~ Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern ~
(Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus)

A girl with impeccably sharp night-colored hair paced impatiently across the classroom floor, shaking her head. "When, oh when, will you slackers ever learn to stay on deadlines?"

The boy and girl she was addressing idly draped themselves over the benches of adjacent nearby desks. The hazel-haired young woman sighed, throwing her head back, her arms hung behind her seat back loosely. Her uniform's coat jacket lay casually on top of the desk behind her. "If only we'd've had a decent idea, Sameko, we could've written one up ourselves. But ideas don't come out of thin air. You've got to have inspiration…"

The black-haired girl marched up to her. "Well, excuse me, Maguromi-san, we have to turn in a script for the school's ballet apprentice class performance by, oh, let's see – eight o'clock!" She glanced outside, where the sun was already high above the horizon. "According to my calculations, we'll only need to write two hundred words a minute to make it on time! Got any quick ideas? Hmm?"

The third student in the room, the pale black-haired boy, slouching deeply into his chair, sighed impassively with his hands in his lap. His white blouse had sleeves so long that they hung out considerably from his blue coat sleeves, and only the top halves of his fingers were visible. "I suppose we'll have to borrow a script…should someone go to the library? Maybe we'll find one there…"

"We can't do that, Tarao," Maguromi retorted. "If we use one that's already written, they'll know right away we fudged the entire thing. It's supposed to be an original work, after all."

"What do you suggest we do, then?" Sameko snapped.

"Well…we might as well give up and admit we failed…" the pale boy mumbled jadedly.

"What?! Never! We're going to have a script if we have to bloody our hands doing it!" Sameko glanced around. "What are you all waiting for?"

Maguromi furrowed a brow. "What? Aren't you going to do anything?"

"What do you mean? I'm already doing my job! The question is, what are you"

Abruptly, there was a quiet knock on the door.

"Come in," Tarao answered, but Sameko grabbed the doorknob and swung the door open before the person on the other side had time to react. The girl on the other side flinched as her hand recoiled from where the doorknob used to be.

"What is it? This is the ballet exhibition planning committee, and we're very busy right now, so whatever it is you want, please make it quick."

"Oh! Well, um, it's nothing really important, it's just that…well, I…" The light-haired brunette bashfully fingered the sheets of wrinkled parchment she was holding.

"If it's nothing, we have our work to do—"

"Say…is that a…script that you're holding?" Tarao sat up and pointed at the papers in the girl's hand.

Surprised, Sameko blinked and turned back towards the visitor.

Taking a chance to say something, the girl stammered, "Um, yes, this is a script, and it's mine, that is to say, um, I wrote it, and I was wondering…wondering if you would like to…like to feature it for the exhibition. If…if—"

"Whoa, wait a minute! Are you saying that you'll actually give us your script?" Maguromi, previously lethargic, stood straight up out of her chair and strode over to the girl at the door. "You aren't asking for anything?"

The girl was taken aback, blinking her eyes behind her miniature oval spectacles. "Oh, no, well…I was hoping to see my play as part of the performance, but I understand if you already have plans…"

"No, it's perfect," Sameko replied. "I mean, we…we already had something interesting in mind, but…" She glanced briefly at the papers, not really reading them. "…This seems to be acceptable. Have you proofread it?"

"Yes, as much as I could…"

"Perfect." Sameko smiled, took the manuscript and smoothed the numerous folds engraved in the parchment out on her skirt. "If you don't mind, I think we will make use of this."

"Really?" The girl's eyes widened with joy. "Oh, thank you, thank you – you don't know how much this means to me!"

"You don't know what this means to us, either," Tarao murmured under his breath.

"Um…if you wouldn't mind, would it be all right if I stopped by the ballet classes to…have a look at how they're rehearsing?"

"You may do whatever you wish." Sameko was busy thumbing through the pages, counting lines silently.

"You're a real lifesaver, whoever you are!" Maguromi chimed cheerfully.

At this, Sameko glared at Maguromi for the implied admission of dilemma, and Maguromi, not so concerned with appearances, stared back at her incredulously.

"Do you know where the ballet dancers rehearse?" Tarao asked the girl at the door faintly.

"Oh, yes, I do know where they rehearse, but thank you. Oh, thank you so much!" After a quick bow, she turned around and exited skipping, delighted at her successful venture.

o-o-o-o-o

As he supervised Trutho's practice sessions, Fakir found himself ruminating what Ahiru had discussed with him as they had stood in the outdoor arched hallway the previous noontime.

Fakir pondered for a moment and murmured back, trying to understand, "So, you're saying that the guy who cut class the other day went and yanked something out of a girl who was acting funny?"

"Not just funny," Ahiru replied, frowning, "she was acting like she had to be alone, she couldn't stand being around people. And the thing that he pulled out – I couldn't see it clearly, but everything about it reminded me of the heart shards I collected for Mytho before."

"It definitely can't be Mytho's," Fakir grimaced. "It'dbetternot be."

"It didn't feel like it was Mytho's," Ahiru agreed. "But if they are heart shards, whose could they be, and how did that person's heart get shattered in the first place?"

"First and foremost, don't get mixed up in it unless we know what's going on," Fakir warned. "Obviously, this Caras doesn't announce himself. We don't know what his intentions are, so for all we know he wants to hurt you next."

Ahiru's brows furrowed with perplexity. "Then how are we going to find out what's going on?"

Fakir grimaced. It was just like Ahiru to be poking her nose – or beak – into what didn't concern her. He'd also like to find out more about the situation, but not at the risk of their safety, especially Ahiru's. If anyone should be investigating, it should be him. But, Fakir had no idea where to start. What was he going to do, stalk him? With that Caras's reclusiveness, it'd be more likely Caras would be spying on them.

"Hey! Fakir! Are you still with me?"

Fakir snapped out of his recollections with a blink. "…What?"

"Um, about that arab-esck thing…" He stretched his left arm and leg out in haphazard directions that looked like a freeze frame of him dodging poison darts. "I…think I'm doing it wrong."

Stunned, Fakir could only shake his head in disbelief.

He took a breath, pushing the other thoughts out of his mind and walked over to Trutho. "First off, your left arm should not be crossed over like that, that's where your right arm goes. Then, your foot shouldn't be flexed like…"

As Fakir was explaining and fixing Trutho's positions, suddenly the door opened loudly.

"Wha—!" Caught by surprise, Trutho lost what balance he had standing on one foot and teetered over like a leaning statue. Impulsively, Fakir's hand shot out, catching Trutho by his back. Unfortunately, Fakir's other hand that was adjusting Trutho's positions still was between Trutho's feet, so as Trutho's feet slipped, it pulled Fakir's other hand with them, causing Fakir's head to be shoved uncomfortably into Trutho's stomach.

"Relax, it's me." Rue walked quietly into the room and closed the door carefully. She froze in her tracks. "…What in the world are you two doing?"

"Gyaaarrgh! That was myfault! Don't blame him!" Trutho struggled in vain to release himself until Fakir simply let go, letting him drop onto the floor thereby freeing them both, after which Trutho got right back up and continued, "I was practicing, and he was fixing it, and then you came in, and I was surprised and…" He attempted to use his fingers to illustrate what had happened, but got mixed up in the middle and weaved his fingers into a tangle.

Fakir stood up and asked, "You're a little late. Did something happen?"

"I had been waiting for the script to come in for the apprentice class's little performance, but if I had waited any longer, I would've been even later. Besides, I'm pretty sure they have that all arranged already, so checking it with me is just supposed to be a formality. I can get to it after I'm done here."

"See, Rue-san?" Trutho pointed at his eyes proudly. "I remembered to put the powder on today. And you didn't even have to remind me!"

Rue raised her eyebrows and then accepted the statement calmly. "Oh, that's good."

Fakir put his hand to his forehead and shook his head. "Ahiru wanted to drop by, but since she has class right now, I suppose we'll just see her later."

Rue paused. "Class?" She looked at him. "So, Ahiru is back to being a human after all? Then, why did she come to the gala as a duck? Was there something going on…?"

"It's more like, um…" Fakir grimaced. "That's only happened…recently."

Trutho's eyes flitted from Rue to Fakir curiously.

"Recently?" Rue blinked at him. She opened her mouth, about to say something else, but then she changed her mind. "Well, then, I suppose we'll see what we can do while her class is going on."

The tone of Rue's voice annoyed Fakir, but he let it pass.

o-o-o-o-o

"Sorry that I'm late!" Ahiru said with a hasty bow. Behind her, Sagi walked in, and observing Ahiru's actions, mimicked them with a similar apology.

"Late, are you?" A young man with small eyes and light brown hair frowned at her. "You know, I could give you a detention for that!"

Ahiru started with a nervous sweatdrop. "E-eh?!" Is this person a new teacher?

A page entered the room with several sheets of frayed parchment. He approached the teacher and said, "You're the instructor of the apprentice class, right? These are for you."

"Is this the script? Well, well, well." He took them and thanked the page briefly before the page left. "They actually have an original script specially for the apprentice class? I wonder how much time they actually spend on it." He gazed at the parchment with interest, Ahiru and Sagi's tardiness apparently gone from his mind.

"Hey!" A familiar voice called.

Ahiru glanced up and saw Myra waving with her friends, beckoning Ahiru towards them. Ahiru waved cheerfully back, and scuttled over as Sagi followed behind, puzzled.

"Myra-chan!" Ahiru greeted. "I didn't know you were in the apprentice class!"

"I didn't know you were either," Myra replied. "You're new, huh? I can't thank you enough for the other day."

"Oh, uh, don't mention it!" Ahiru responded disconcertedly.

Sagi glanced from Myra to Ahiru, tilted her head as if puzzling out something, and then continued watching them.

They introduced themselves, and Ahiru introduced herself and Sagi, just as the teacher got back all of his senses and resumed class. With a sniff, he flipped the heavily folded leafs of parchment in his fingers and returned to the center of the dance floor to make his announcement.

"Okay, so…finally we're going to do that performance…exhibition…thing," he began with disgruntlement.

Lin leaned over and whispered to Ahiru, "Just so you know, this guy has no idea how to teach anything."

"Eh?" Ahiru blinked. "But isn't he the teach…?"

"Lester-senpai's just yet another substitute," Teresa explained. "Really, he's just an upperclassman they pulled from the advanced class to baby-sit us. He's barely been here a few weeks."

"It's an unofficial rule that this class has no permanent teacher. No, Yagiko-sensei doesn't exactly count," Myra added, seeing Ahiru about to say something.

"She seriously avoids teaching this class if she can help it," Lin remarked. "It might be because this is the boring and annoying apprentice class or something, but I think the real reason is…"

She indicated the expressive male student that was currently offering the less-than-thrilled instructor his extravagant comments.

Ahiru froze in recognition. "That isn't…F-Femio…?"

"The one and only," Myra sighed, shaking her head.

"If there is a part of a dashing knight, or perhaps a heroic prince, to play, then let me inform you that I am of exquisite appropriateness for the role!" Femio proclaimed, stepping forward with one hand on his chest and the other dramatically poised high in the air. His butler Montand sprinkled Femio's notorious red rose petals about the air indulgently.

"HEY! Get your flowery butler out of the practice room!" Lester shrieked. "This is not a beauty pageant, for crying out loud!"

The instructor huffed as the butler crept gingerly off the dance floor back outside. "Damn," he muttered under his breath, "I kicked this brat out of class the first day I was here and each time he keeps coming back." He massaged his sinuses anxiously. "He's like some kind of human boomerang…"

Ahiru looked upon the scene nonplussed. At least Montand does a good job of cleaning up the petals after Femio's done…

Lester cleared his throat. "All right. While I take a look at this script, you all just…oh, just stretch out." He looked down at the sheets. "Afterwards, we'll…see who's fit for which part. Or something."

The class groaned. Halfheartedly, they dispersed around the room and began stretching.

As Lester paced around, reading leisurely through the script, he scowled and grew irritated. "This script stinks like rotten fish," he mumbled, flipping the pages scornfully. "The characters are dumb, the plot is trite, and that dialogue!Horrors! Who in the world wrote this piece of garbage?"

Ahiru sighed glumly. I'm pretty sure I'll get the smallest part that's there…if I get a part at all… She looked up at the ceiling towards the observation balcony.

Ahiru then noticed that a girl had been leaning over the balcony rim, studying the class attentively. She wore small oval spectacles and had short, brown hair that curled towards both sides of her face.

The girl sensed Ahiru's gaze, and although shying away at first, returned with a tiny wave.

Ahiru waved back just as Femio thrust out another vociferous statement in front of the class. "Oh, you must know how much I adore the stage! It is my eternal lover, a blushing maiden to whom I am insuppressibly allured! Please, do not separate my love and me! For I—"

"For heaven's sake, just shut up so I can read this in peace!" Lester bellowed. "That's it! You, lover boy, get out of my sight! And stay out of it, for once!"

Ahiru, watching the girl on the balcony, suddenly noticed her put up a finger, as if to say wait a moment, and hasten away. "Huh?"

As Femio promenaded gaily out the door, the girl from the balcony hurried into the room, trying her best to keep unobtrusive as the other apprentice dancers glanced at the girl with puzzlement. Luckily, Lester didn't seem to notice; he was facing the other way, and was distracted and upset enough about the script that he was reading, not to mention Femio's garish antics.

She glanced at Ahiru and waved again as if in confirmation. Ahiru, taken aback, blinked in reply. The girl walked over to Ahiru surreptitiously, and then knelt next to her. Seeing Lester, she timidly angled herself out of his view before turning to Ahiru. "Umm…hi!"

"H-hello…" Ahiru answered.

"Sorry, I'm disrupting your class, aren't I?" the girl said nervously. "It's just that, I really had to talk to someone here…"

"Er, I guess it is in the middle of class, but…" Ahiru glanced over at the teacher, still muttering to himself about the script. "We're not really doing anything right now, so…"

Ahiru looked up at the girl with bafflement. "But what do would you want to talk about with an apprentice dancing student?" Ahiru blushed. "And at that, me…"

"Well, you see, um…" She paused a moment. "It's nothing really, it's just…I wanted to ask one of you performers what you thought, and you seemed…like a good person to ask."

"What I thought?" Ahiru blinked. "About what?"

"A…about the ballet," the girl replied. "Well, actually, the script, I suppose. You know, it's because, you see, I'm the one who wrote it, and…"

"Whoa, really?" Ahiru exclaimed, standing up. "You're the one who wrote it?"

"Hey, I said be quiet!" Lester yelled.

"Qua—" Ahiru muffled her outburst just in time.

"What, wait a second…what was that you said? Did you just say you know the person who wrote this or something?"

"No, of course not!" Ahiru said hastily. She was pretty certain that, with all of his grumbling about the script quality, he wouldn't exactly be thrilled to discover that the author was within his vicinity.

She scuttled the brunette out towards the door. "You know what? I need to go to the bathroom! Be right back…!" They disappeared out the door.

o-o-o-o-o

After managing to get them both outside, Ahiru and the brunette stood in the hallway of arched columns that connected the dance building to the other classrooms. "Boy, that was a close one!" Ahiru heaved a sigh.

The brunette sighed. "I suppose the dance instructor didn't really like it, did he?"

Ahiru winced. "So you heard him?" She grimaced reproachfully. "I don't think he has the right to go badmouthing your script so much. And even worse, that he thinks he can spend our class time griping about it."

"Oh well. I suppose…not everyone can like a story…even though I wish they would…so much…" she murmured faintly, her head drooping down. Her eyes went under shadow, making the tint of her eyes seem to change.

Ahiru gazed at her concernedly, and then realized, "Oh, wait, I never caught your name! What's your name? Um," Ahiru stuttered, trying to start things off, "I'm Ahiru. Yeah, and I suppose I'm sort of like a duck, too, in a lot of ways…"

The girl raised her head back up to look at Ahiru, a small hopeful shine now in her eyes. "Ahiru…huh…?" She smiled hesitantly. "I…I'm Helmina. Helmina von Chezy, that is. Um…would you…like to talk with me for a little bit?"

Ahiru blinked. "What? You want me to talk with you?" She scratched her head. "Sure, but I'm not sure why me…"

"Oh, it's just…" Helmina trailed off. You seemed like the nicest person there…

Helmina took a few steps then hesitated, and Ahiru, seeing that she was meaning to walk and talk, trotted a few steps to catch up to her and they started off together towards the campus sideyard.

o-o-o-o-o

"So, Helmina-chan," Ahiru began as they sat in the shade of the gazebo, "what did you want to talk about? Something in particular? Is it about the script?"

"Oh! Well, it was, you see…" She paused. "Um, I suppose I…just wanted an opinion. I mean…"

"Actually, I haven't read it yet," Ahiru replied with a bashful smile. "The first time I even knew there was a script was when the teacher was reading it…and he seemed pretty absorbed in it…"

"Oh! Well, if you just haven't looked at it, then…" Helmina's hands rummaged across her dress, and after several moments she drew out a few wrinkled, slightly torn pieces of parchment with smeared ink on it. "Oh, good, I have one of my spares with me…"

She unwrinkled the papers, rearranged their order, and then, holding them out to Ahiru, asked with imploring, reddish-brown eyes, "…Um…would you read it? And then tell me…what you think… please?"

Ahiru blinked. "Er…a-all right, then, sure…"

When Ahiru's eyes came to the bottom of the last page, Helmina leaned forward and asked quietly, "…What did you think of it?"

"What I thought of it? Well, it's good! …I, uh, guess," Ahiru grinned hesitantly.

Helmina blinked, a half-grin tentatively growing on her face before it slumped down into a neutral somberness.

"I mean – you know," Ahiru struggled to say something positive, "I thought that having the prince meet the hunters and shepherds in the forest was kinda interesting…and it was suspenseful, with the prince reaching the princess just before she was about to be married to that sorcerer…"

Helmina pursed her lips and her head drooped. "No, it's all right…I just…wanted to know if…well, it just means that I can't…but…"

Ahiru looked at her and thought hard for a moment. "So, uh…you like writing a lot, huh?" She winced to herself. Oh, that's obvious, she wrote the script for our class!

"Writing? Oh yes," Helmina replied, her head perking up and nodding earnestly, "I do. I love writing. You see," she raised her hands up to gesticulate whimsically, seeming to rejuvenate herself as she continued, "what I want the most is to be able to create stories that will make people feel…inspired, as if they've gone to another world," she uttered ardently. Helmina was standing now and extending her hands to invisible images that as of now only Helmina could see, but Ahiru could begin to perceive. "I want to show them people that they've never met before…places they've never been…things that have never happened before!" Her warm brown eyes sparkled.

Ahiru gazed up at Helmina with bright eyes. "Wow. It's really amazing that you want to create such wonderful stories for everyone!"

"Ah, well," Helmina looked down bashfully again, "it's also that…it's the most magnificent feeling that I know of. I love it when I get that feeling from the stories of others. I just hoped to make something that will give others what I've gotten from them, and the inspiration will keep going around, so hopefully…I'll see even more inspiring things from others, and I'll be a part of it."

"But that's still amazing!" Ahiru exclaimed, standing up with her fists to her chest. "I don't know if I could ever try to do something like that. I'm lucky enough if I can get somebody else's dance steps right, much less make up my own."

"I can't even dance, though. I'm sure you could do a lot better than me in that category," Helmina giggled. "Even if you're in the apprentice class!"

Her eyes fell again. "But you know, I don't know if anyone likes what I write. I really want everyone to like them. I really do…so much. I've been trying to write what everybody would like, but it doesn't seem to be working…"

Ahiru frowned worriedly. "Does that mean that what you've written was what other people—"

Helmina's brows furrowed and she shook her head, as if to shake something off. "Oh, never mind my babbling. I'm dreadfully sorry…I'm keeping you from class now, aren't I?"

Ahiru started. "Ahh! Yeah, I gotta get back to class! I hope he hasn't noticed I was gone!" Before she sped off, she yelled, "It was nice talking to you, sorry I couldn't stay!"

Helmina watched her go, and then sighed and turned towards the library. "I'll see if I can find some inspiration for my next piece, then…"

o-o-o-o-o

"Erm, I-I'm back!" Ahiru exclaimed with a hasty bob of her head. "I was, uh…escorting Helmina-chan off to…"

She trailed off as she noticed that Yagiko-sensei was arguing with Lester and were too occupied to notice her at the moment. She looked around the empty studio. Where is everybody?

"I really don't know where they disappeared off to," Lester grumbled with annoyance. "They should have stayed in class, anyway…kids these days have no discipline."

"Look," Yagiko-sensei said, her brows furrowing, "When I was out on campus, I noticed that there were several students walking about. It wasn't time for class to let out, so I asked one of them what they were doing out here. And they told me that you weren't teaching the class, that you were just sitting here reading something."

"It wasn't just anything, it was the script for the apprentice class's exhibition!" he replied. "I mean, read it! This isn't fit to perform."

"That isn't the point," Yagiko said. "Your focus should be on the students, and not on judging this script. That's no excuse for not teaching them—"

"Honestly, though, what do you expect me to do, Yagiko-sensei?" Lester retorted. "I kind of got dumped in this class just to look after them, or something. What am I supposed to do, make up some random moves for their performance?"

Yagiko blinked. "Wait…isn't that already taken care of?"

"Hardly! I'm telling you," Lester reiterated, holding the papers out to her, "I just found the script out today. Now, I don't know if there was somebody before me that had some generic choreography that would go with anything on paper, but I definitely didn't hear about it."

Yagiko blinked and took the papers in silence. She read them for a few moments. Her brows furrowing, she headed for the doors. "I'm going to go and see what's going on here. And as of tomorrow you will no longer be teaching this class."

"No need for that, I quit. I've been waiting for a chance to quit for quite some time." He stood up off his stool and walked towards the men's changing room. "I shouldn't be here anyway. This class needs a real teacher if it's going to be a class at all."

Before he left, he noticed Ahiru staring. He looked at her with puzzlement. "How ironic. One of the new girls is the last one here." He turned and went out the door. "Class is out for today, underclassman. Go back to your room. Dunno who'll be here the next class." He paused and looked back at her. "…But show up anyway, you never know. Miracles happen."

Ahiru blinked. Whoa…is the apprentice class really in this bad of a shape?

o-o-o-o-o

As Sagi wandered around campus after she and the others in the class had left while the substitute was busy with his evaluation, she found herself heading for the library, which even at this time of day had several crows loitering around the roof. She remembered she wanted to return the book on fish she had borrowed the other time – she had finished the parts she was interested in – and wanted to try another book. The wealth of collected knowledge humans had available to them was one thing she could appreciate. Perhaps she could find more books about fish, the shallows that they swam in, or any other handy techniques for catching them.

As she perused the bookshelves, she suddenly remembered the book that Ahiru had mentioned before regarding the Prince's brother's origins, and she wanted to take a look at it. She couldn't seem to remember the title, though – what was it? Something-Raven. Oh well.

After she had picked out a book about waterfowl (she was curious about humans' perspective of birds like her), she sat down at a table and opened the book to the title page.

However, before she could read on she noticed that the black haired boy from the fountain – Caras, wasn't he called? – was sitting a few tables down across from her, a book open on the table that he apparently was only pretending to read.

She traced his furtive glances towards a bespectacled brunette who was gazing up longingly at the leather-bound books on the shelf in front of her, which looked to be part of the fiction section. She recognized her as the same one that Ahiru had left with earlier that day.

She looked back at Caras and he ostensibly lost interest in the girl, as he no longer looked at her and was running his eyes along the lines of the book he held.

She glanced back down at her book and then noticed that her blue brooch had acquired a black tint similar to that she had observed the other day. She heard someone get out of his seat and saw Caras approaching the girl at the shelves.

"Is there something the matter?" Caras asked, stopping next to the brunette.

"No, it's nothing…" the girl mumbled. "I'm just…looking at these."

"Do you know what you're looking for?" He picked out a book and held it out to her. "Why not try this one, if you can't decide?"

"No, no, it's not like that. I was just thinking…never mind," she said, turning away from the shelf hastily. "I just wanted to…no, it's nothing."

"No, tell me," Caras walked over so his face was inches away from hers and he smiled. "What is it that is troubling you?"

Her eyes looked towards him hesitantly. A glance at them and Caras smiled again. It was confirmed. He found what he had been looking for.

As Caras and the girl stood talking quietly (enough so that their conversation was inaudible from Sagi's seat), Sagi put a few things together in her mind. The defensive girl in the studio; the pendant temporarily darkening; Ahiru's sudden departure and despondent return; Caras at the fountain the other morning. And now, this girl and Caras, and the pendant's shadowing again. Even compiled, it still didn't make much sense, but the connections were there. When she saw that the two were leaving together, she watched them leave and then followed them as inscrutably as she could manage.

She reached the doorway, walked out a few steps, and saw them walking towards the academy gates. At this point she realized that if she were to continue, she would risk being spotted, as the campus grounds was fairly empty.

Sagi took a breath, and was about to exhale when the air in her windpipe caught and came out a strange way, causing her to blurt out a hoarse 'frahnk'.

She covered her mouth with puzzlement and suddenly there was a gleam of blue light in which she vanished, reappearing as a great blue heron.

More perplexed than ever, she was about to try to figure out if there was a way to transform herself back when she realized an advantage of her current form and decided she could solve the human form problem later.

She glanced back at the gates where the pair was leaving, gathered her uniform and draped it over her neck, and took off into the air towards them.

o-o-o-o-o

"It's a bit unsettling," Mytho said with a frown, taking a sip from his mug, "this town."

"Yes," Komaro replied. "Although, nothing out of the ordinary has happened since we've gotten here."

"That's just it." Mytho glanced around the tavern, where the other patrons sat and drank in an eerie silence. He surreptitiously adjusted his brown wig by pretending to be fiddling with his feathered hat. "It's not that I want something bad to happen, but something feels wrong. It's as if too little is happening. It's as if…" He struggled to come up with words, but got caught on his thoughts for a moment. Mytho bit his lip. "It's a silence, strained and grim."

Komaro looked thoughtful. He glanced around the room and eyed an armored Ginkan knight, judging from his red-and-silver crest, settled in the corner. The way he slumped in his chair made him appear to be laid back, but Komaro saw his sharp, wary eyes scroll across the room periodically, and his ears positioned strategically to catch any suspect conversations.

Mytho's eyes followed Komaro's, and Mytho's brows furrowed puzzledly at the soldier. After a moment's consideration he lowered his voice. "I'm recalling back to the letters I received from Ginkan not too long ago. They weighed so heavily on my mind, although there were really not that many of them. I hadn't thought much of it at the time, but…I hadn't received one from the Ginkan City Council itself." He exhaled, glancing once more at the knight with the Ginkan crest on his armor. "However, I'm not sure what that means…"

"Well, either way the crows are what we're here to deal with," Komaro affirmed, attempting to focus their thoughts on their goal.

"We've been seeing plenty of them around, no doubt about that," Mytho murmured. "They've never actually done anything extreme, and although there were some tense moments, no actual attacks to speak of." He frowned. "Which should be good. Yet it feels…" His eyes narrowed.

They left the tavern to another dreary morning in Ginkan. One evident difference between the two towns was that Ginkan lacked the energy and cheer of Kinkan. He already had felt that lack upon arriving, but he had noticed these last few days that the only people that seemed happy to a reasonable extent were the nobility, the officials, the higher-status clergy and some innkeepers, and the richer ones at that. Even they didn't look entirely content; in fact, some of them had a sort of chronic anxious smile on their faces. Most of the common people weren't so much nervous, as resigned or wary.

"It always looks like it's about to rain here," Mytho grimaced, "if a storm isn't about to hit."

"Although storms cause messes sometimes, rain by itself doesn't bother me that much," Komaro replied. "I rather like rain. But not to worry, your Lordship, I've brought umbrellas should the occasion arise." He touched the small sack that was on the back of his steed.

As the prince and his chamberlain rode through the melancholy streets, they gazed upon the bare trees that lined the avenues.

"It's mid-autumn now," Mytho stated, "so it seems odd that already the leaves are nowhere to be seen."

"To tell you the truth, I haven't been here very often, and not so much recently, but you know…Ginkan was known for its spectacular autumn displays of its trees. I've seen them once, and…"

He looked up at the bare trees. "The symbol colors of this town are silver and red, a complement for Kinkan's gold and blue, one might notice. The red was symbolic of the trees and the town's pride in them. And I loved the reds I saw of them then." He sighed. "Shame they aren't here this year."

Mytho gazed thoughtfully at him.

Noticing him looking, Komaro shook his head impatiently. "You're right, we have more important things to think of. Since we don't have many leads yet, where do you think we should—?"

Abruptly, Mytho's horse whinnied. He looked ahead and gasped. A horde of crows was swarming around the corner ahead of them, cawing chaotically. They could hear someone crying out from its midst.

Mytho yanked his reins, and his stallion reared up, prepping for a gallop. "Hurry, Komaro, we must help!"

As the prince sped forward, he unsheathed his swan-hilted blade.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru wandered around town. She hadn't seen Sagi around school, so she decided to look around and see if she had gone out somewhere, and in the meanwhile take a break to organize her thoughts.

As she walked, a young man with black hair and a shorter cloaked figure walked by. The one with the ponytail blinked. "Ahiru? What are you doing here?"

Recognizing them, she started. "Ahh! Fakir! Trutho!" She lowered her voice. "What am I doing here? What about you two? Er, is it a good idea to be out? Is Rue with you?"

"Rue has to go straighten out something with the apprentice class," Fakir explained, "and she didn't want Trutho in the way."

Trutho shrugged with a resigned frown. "It's not as if I like being called a nuisance, but I guess that's just how it is, since I don't know what goes on here, so I wouldn't be of much help anyway." He stretched. "'Sides, I feel cooped up in that castle all of the time, I wanted to step out and take a walk in any case. A prince is supposed to be able to do that, isn't he?" He fingered his cloak hood that was over his head. "Nobody around will know, anyhow."

"Rue asked me to go along with him, thinking he'd need some supervision," Fakir added. "I agreed with that." Trutho glared at him.

"Ah, former students of mine! Except for one of them, perhaps…"

The trio's heads turned to the voice. Their eyes widened in surprise. "Neko-sensei?" Ahiru and Fakir said in disbelief.

The gray cat preened for a moment, rubbing a white paw against its face. "You may call me Neko-san now, as I am no longer your teacher."

Trutho turned to Ahiru. "You know this cat?"

Ahiru nodded. "From a long while ago…He was our ballet instructor once. No one seems to remember, though, after…"

Trutho's brows furrowed puzzledly. "And you can understand him?" He looked towards Fakir. "Can you understand him, too?"

Fakir grimaced and shook his head. "I only hear meows. I can't understand animal-speak." He remembered the days with a strictly duck-form Ahiru. "As much as I would like to."

Trutho glanced thoughtfully at Ahiru.

Some other mews sounded nearby, and Neko-san's head turned towards them. "Ah! Here they are!" A white cat and three kittens came into view.

"These are my darling kittens, sweeter and more lovable than any other creatures," Neko-san crooned, nuzzling each of the tiny young cats. "Here are Figaro, Susanna, Cherubino. And here are Bartolo, Marcellina, and Basilio. Say salutations, my little dears."

With varying degrees of enthusiasm, the kittens mewed greetings, with Bartolo, Basilio, Figaro and Cherubino bobbing their heads in bows, and Susanna and Marcellina daintily bending their front legs in curtsies.

Neko-san's eyes glimmered. "And…behold!"

A sleek, stately white feline stood and strode towards Neko-san's side. Her jade-hued eyes glanced at him coyly. Neko-san's head turned towards her, his yellow eyes rapturous. The three could almost hear wedding music begin to swell in the background.

"My beautiful, graceful, and exquisite wife; Rosina!" Neko-san exclaimed, brimming with pride as they struck a marvelous pose, their ambiance glittering and sparkling glamorously. "The epitome of perfection!"

"Er…wow," the three stood stunned.

"You there," Neko-san said suddenly, gazing upon Trutho, "you are not Mytho-san, are you?"

Trutho started. "Er…what do you mean? Of course I'm…"

Neko-san's eyes narrowed. "Mytho-san wouldn't be able to understand me, either."

"Ack…"

"Oh, that's okay, Trutho, we can let Neko-sensei know," Ahiru said. "But how could you tell, Neko-sensei? …Er, Neko-san?"

"His very demeanor gives it away," Neko-san replied. "His movements and way of holding himself are entirely opposite of the Mytho-san that I knew. Might I ask where Mytho-san has gone, and who this one is?"

"So, you see," Ahiru bent over in a whisper and explained.

"I see." He studied Trutho, and then Ahiru. He sat and twitched his tail. "Well then, I may be dropping by every so often to see how you students are doing."

"…What's he saying?" Fakir muttered to Ahiru.

"Er, he might be stopping by sometime later," she replied.

"…"

After the pleasantries were over and Neko-san and his family had bid them farewell, the three strolled around town and conversed.

"So, Ahiru, what are you doing out of class?" Fakir asked.

Ahiru frowned. "There isn't a class right now, since they just fired the teacher."

"They fired the teacher?" Fakir asked with bemusement. "Who was he?"

"His name was Lester-senpai," Ahiru thought. "I heard he was from the advanced class, but I'm not sure…apparently he had been our substitute for a little while."

"Hmm, so that's what he was mumbling about the other day," Fakir recalled. "He attends my class normally. No wonder he was upset."

Ahiru glowered. "Hey, are you trying to say something?"

"No, of course not. Why would I?"

"Hey, uh, Fakir…" Trutho reached into his cloak pocket, and pulled out a leather-bound book with a black-feathered creature on the cover. "I went and borrowed the book I remembered you talking about. The Prince and the Raven, wasn't it?"

"Remembered?" he inquired pointedly. "From something I told you?"

"Well, er, um," Trutho stumbled in his words at the revelation of his eavesdropping, but he continued, "anyway, it got me thinking – you say my back story comes from this book. But this sure looks like fiction to me. How can that be? Is it a true story, or a fairy tale?"

Trutho's eyes ran questioningly across the book he held out in front of him. "If Mytho's the prince from this story, then I'm from this book's backstory." His brows furrowed, and he looked towards Fakir with a frown. "Fakir…people just don't jump out of books whenever they feel like it. Stories are works of imagination, make-believe that doesn't exist. But people are real. I'm real. So is Mytho-san."

Fakir stopped for a moment. Trutho looked at him puzzledly.

Fakir replied reflectively, half to himself, "Once, there was a writer named Drosselmeyer whose stories came true in this world. When he died, the last book he had been working on was left unfinished. Locked in eternal combat, the raven grew tired of the fight and flew out of the story, with the prince chasing after it. The prince split apart his heart to seal it away. And then…" He paused.

"But wait, who's writing the story? Isn't the writer supposed to be dead?"

"He is dead. But, somehow, he was able to write, even then," he murmured darkly. "The line between fantasy and reality vanished. The Prince that everyone had read about had come to life. But so had the Raven. So story became reality. Reality turned into a story. No one could tell the difference between the two."

"I notice you're using past tense. What happened to stop it?"

"We managed to destroy the machine that Drosselmeyer used to control the town ever since he had died. So his story is over now. Who knows what happened to Drosselmeyer after that. He's probably gone, and if so, good riddance."

In the other dimension, Drosselmeyer chuckled uncontrollably. "Oh, the irony, the delightful dramatic irony!"

Fakir felt a strange shiver when he had said those last few words.

"But quite obviously, the characters didn't disappear with the story," Trutho pressed on. "Mytho-san's still here, and I am, too. If we're storybook characters, then where's the story? If there is no story, then we aren't characters anymore, are we? So then, we must be real," the last word came out staunchly from his lips. "I'm real."

Fakir glanced back at him severely. "Of course you're real," he said with a vehemence that startled even Fakir himself. He paused and said more softly, "Mytho is real." He grasped Trutho's left shoulder firmly as if to establish that Trutho was there. "You're both real. Where you two came from does nothing to change that."

Fakir continued walking, but Trutho's head was spinning with questions, and doubts. All the meanwhile a vague aching crept into his head every so often that made it somewhat difficult for him to contemplate what he had heard. But he managed to fish out a question from that inner muddle, and fearing it would slip away from him, blurted it out as soon as he could put the words together.

"Did the prince and the raven come out of the story when the writer told them to? Or did they escape on their own?"

Fakir said nothing. He looked back at Trutho. "I really don't know."

o-o-o-o-o

Drosselmeyer nodded with a grin as he swung back and forth in his rocking chair. "Yes, that's right, Pauper, you are from a story, even if you were only in it for a trifling part. But this kind of conversation could be dangerous, so why don't we steer this off towards more suitable thoughts of the past? More suitably tragic, of course," he chortled.

o-o-o-o-o

As Trutho caught up to Fakir, he was trying to recall anything he could in the farthest reaches of his memories that could give him clues about the time that he supposedly was in a story. Mostly, he would come up completely blank, but anytime he thought he might come up with something that familiar pain would return, and the grasp he possibly had would disappear once again. He found himself coming to the earliest memories that he was able to recall.

A face swam in and out of the erratic inner images: a young, troubled face, looking down at him. He vaguely remembered lying in bed for a long time.

The clearest memory that he could recall readily from the earliest realms of his memory was of a talk with his foster sister, or mother, or aunt—whatever she wanted to call herself at the time. She had looked barely older than he looked then. They had been sitting on the banks of an aqueduct near a band of decorated wagons that she and the other gypsies lived in.

"Emma-san?"

The girl with frizzy, shoulder-length black hair looked at him. "How many times do I need to tell you, call me Emma-neechan! I'm your big sister now, after all."

"Okay, okay. But 'Emma-neechan' is…a bit much. How about Emma-neesan?"

"All right, that's better," she grinned. "Okay, what is it, Trutho?"

He glanced out across the water. "Why don't I remember what happened to me?"

She sighed, gazing up at the sky. "…I don't know."

"You guys found me in the forest, right? I don't remember being out there. What was I doing? Was I okay, or hurt, or what happened?"

"You…weren't okay," she replied slowly. "You were really sick. We had to take you in, otherwise you would've…well, you wouldn't have been as well as you are now, that's for sure."

"I guess that makes sense, if I had been lost out there for a long time."

They sat silently for some moments.

"How…how much have I forgotten?" Trutho asked with some hesitation.

"How much?" Emma grinned awkwardly. "Well, we only know from when we found you, so nobody really knows just how much you've—"

"I mean…" He looked at her. "How long have I been around…with you guys?"

She blinked. "Er…not that long, I suppose…"

"So…so that means I haven't forgotten anything about this troupe?" he asked with trepidation. "About you?"

"No," she answered, shaking her head. "We've only known each other for a few weeks. And you were dazed out of your mind for about half that time, so I don't blame you for not remembering anything then."

Trutho sighed with relief. "Phew, that's good. I was afraid that I had forgotten so much, and then that would've made you and everyone feel horrible…"

She looked at him for a short while. Then, she gave him a big bear hug and said with a grin on her face, "I'm so glad that you're my little brother!"

Little brother, Trutho repeated the phrase to himself as he continued along. That was what she called me first. Later on she wanted to be my aunt or mother, but that changed every so often, he thought with a grin. She was always a pretty whimsical spirit, even as she grew older.

His eyes fell. I'm supposed to be Mytho-san's little brother. Yet I can't remember him at all, even if he can remember me. It's as if that was somebody else, but he can still recognize me as that person. He seemed like such a nice person, but…how can I be his little brother if I don't…?

Trutho's thoughts were interrupted by Fakir's abrupt exclamation. "Wait a second." He glanced around. "Where's Ahiru?"

"Er…I haven't seen her since she joined us and was talking to you about her class being broken up," Trutho replied sheepishly.

Fakir scowled. "Damn, did that idiot go wandering off again?" He sighed sharply. "We'd better go look for her, otherwise I know she'll get herself into trouble. You stay close and in sight, I don't want to have to find both of you."

"Aye aye, captain," Trutho replied sardonically, rolling his eyes.

Fakir glared at him. Trutho glowered back. Finally, Fakir turned around and started back down the street where he had last seen Ahiru.

Trutho stuck his tongue out at Fakir. "Hah, I win," he taunted before finally falling in step behind Fakir, grinning from ear to ear.

Fakir held a hand over his forehead. At least back then, Mytho did what I told him…

o-o-o-o-o

The Prince and the Raven? Ahiru glimpsed the book that Trutho had taken out with some surprise. I wonder why he got that particular book…

As she walked on, her hand went to her chin in concentrated thought. Wait, that time Fakir was telling me about the prologue, Trutho was probably listening, too. Absorbed in her thoughts, she turned a street corner and didn't notice that she was going farther and farther from the direction Trutho and Fakir were walking.

And then, we were saying it was about him…he's from the book, like Mytho was. He didn't remember who Mytho was, so what made him forget? I wonder what had happened to him since then?

Ahiru blinked, snapping out of her thoughts suddenly, and glanced around. "Er, wait a second…" She frowned, not recognizing her surroundings. "Where did Trutho and Fakir go? Oh, great…Let's see, I was walking this way from that direction…"

Ahiru glanced around to get her bearings. She glanced ahead and glimpsed a familiar gap in the buildings. "Hey, wait, that reminds me of…the prodding bridge! You know, I haven't been there in the longest time." Yeah…that was when I almost threw away being Princess Tutu altogether, unknowingly along with what ended up being a shard of Mytho's heart. I guess I would still be swimming around here if I hadn't seen Mytho fall in and found another heart shard. "Maybe I should go take a look over there for just a second."

Ahiru was walking towards the overpass when she realized that there were dozens of crows lurking around the area. She glimpsed a couple standing on the bridge, talking. Looking closer, she recognized both Helmina and Caras, looking out over the aqueduct.

Immediately a silent alarm went off in her head. She checked her pendant and perceived the darkness reflected in it; this time, it was strong, and deepening. Seeing that neither of the two had spotted her, she snuck over towards the edge of the bridge and hid in the foliage nearby.

Unbeknownst to Ahiru, Sagi had been watching the two as well, from within a willow tree close to the other side of the bridge, and had with puzzlement spotted Ahiru slink into the bushes.

"Lately, I've wanted more than anything for my stories to be loved by everyone," Helmina murmured pensively. "I've always wanted for them to be cherished by others, but ever since…" she winced, "…that, I've felt like I want that adoration, but desperately. Like if people wouldn't like what I wrote, it would…torment me to starvation. I want them to love the stories from deep within them! I have to have their approval – no, not just that, their passions!"

Her hands were clutched over her chest, and her eyes, cast downward, flared crimson. "I…must have their very hearts!"

Caras's eyes widened. It is emerging now.

Realizing herself, Helmina blinked, startled. "I-I really don't know what I meant by that, I just felt like…"

"No," Caras said, drawing her closer to him, "this feeling is real. It is, perhaps, too real…it is so crushing a pain as to be pure agony, isn't it?"

"…Yes, it is. It hurts, so much," Helmina murmured.

Ahiru was in a bind. She was certain that Caras was about to do to Helmina what he had done to Myra, and she wasn't about to sit and watch the benevolent, starry-eyed writer she had met just hours before writhe in pain like Myra had as Caras forcibly removed what foreign fragments were lodged in her heart. But what could she, Ahiru, do about it? Her first impulse was to run out and yell for them to stop, but what would that accomplish? It wouldn't help Helmina, and then she didn't know how Caras would react if she interrupted his efforts. Who was to say he wasn't doing the right thing? Fakir had told her to stay out of it. Yet here she was, in the midst of the situation; could she just walk away from it? What should I do?

o-o-o-o-o

Clank. A toothed gear framed Ahiru's distressed expression.

"Oh, this is absolutely delightful! Our little duck is torn between two equally futile actions – to watch as an innocent one suffers, or to senselessly involve herself in the conflict! Perhaps it is time for someone who may be able to alleviate the situation to appear once again…"

Drosselmeyer furtively peered towards his right side. Standing next to him was Uzura, who was straining to peer over the desk that Drosselmeyer was writing on. The duck feather she clutched was loose in her hand. Seizing his chance, Drosselmeyer snatched away the quill and began scribbling vigorously. In a sweeping cursive, he scrawled out two words:

Princess Tutu.

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

29. AKT "The Story of Rosamunde"
~ Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern ~
(Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus)

- Part 2 -

Princess Tutu? Ahiru thought suddenly. That's right, if I could become Princess Tutu, then I could do something about this, and help Helmina-chan!

Ahiru's face fell. But, I can't become Princess Tutu anymore…can I? The power to become Princess Tutu disappeared when I returned Mytho's last heart piece to him. There couldn't be a way somehow to borrow that power again…?

o-o-o-o-o

"If there's a will, there's a way, and there will be a way if I can help it." Drosselmeyer chuckled to himself. "Oh, I just couldn't resist. I suppose the persona of the beautiful but inevitably inconsequential princess has grown on me. But after reviving the villain, why not bring back the heroine? It will depend on the Prince of course to bring it about, but if I know my own characters, then he will indeed oblige, and readily at that."

Uzura was beside herself. Because she hadn't paid attention for one second, Drosselmeyer had stolen Ahiru's quill. But there was absolutely no way she was going to let him keep it and eventually make Ahiru, her good friend, go through something awful. Positively no way at all!

"You give that back-zura!" Uzura sprang into the air.

WHAM!

Uzura had tackled Drosselmeyer so fiercely the impact knocked him clean off his chair. The yellow feather flew out of his hand.

Drosselmeyer scrambled to get up and stretched out his hand to recover the quill, but it fluttered out of his reach. Uzura snatched it right out of the air and scampered off into the distance amongst the multitude of gears.

"Uzura-chan! Where are you going? Come back here!" Drosselmeyer bellowed. But Uzura was nowhere to be seen.

He sighed, dusted himself off, and returned to his seat, grinning. "Ah, that's quite all right. I was able to suggest Princess Tutu back into the story, which is quite good enough for the moment. Any moment now, we shall see how this twist will alter the course of events…" He chucked gleefully.

o-o-o-o-o

As the crows swarmed violently about them, Komaro hastened over to the noble to get him back on his feet as Mytho in disguise fended off the dark birds to allow their escape.

"Who…who are you? What are you doing?" the paled noble uttered, his eyes still dilated with fear.

"Does this not seem like a rescue?" Komaro responded with veiled impatience. "Come now, we have no time to waste!"

"But you…you aren't…" He paused, panting as if he was short of breath. "…Yes, yes, I must get away…must go…"

Komaro, armed with one of the umbrellas he had packed along, had to whack several ravens away as the aristocrat hesitated. Komaro dismounted his horse, grabbed hold of the man's arm, yanked him up and dragged him away from the center of the throng, with Komaro's brown steed dutifully defending the rear.

Mytho, seeing that the two had gotten moving, rode towards them to cover their exit. Glancing around, he spotted something down a distant avenue that surprised him, but watching it longer, the expression on his face progressed to shock.

Suddenly, from deep within him, he felt a tugging at his heart – and with it a desperate, yet familiar call for help. The view went dark around Mytho, as time itself seemed to pause.

"…Tutu? Is that you? I can feel your anguish…are you in need of my help?" As he held his hand over his chest, the tugging grew more fretful and urgent. Already feeling his consciousness beginning to fade, Mytho glanced towards Komaro, and seeing that the noble had managed to escape and Komaro was unharmed, he relinquished himself to the will that called for him.

Komaro fended off the crows that dove at him as he stood between the assailants and the nobleman. Seeing that the nobleman had ran off and departed, he mounted his horse again and headed for Mytho. But something seemed amiss; Komaro squinted to look closer.

To Komaro's horror, Mytho was slumped over dazedly in his saddle, his sword limp in his hand, and his head drooping stolidly.

"Mytho!" Komaro rushed to his side, grabbing on to Mytho with some difficulty as Mytho's white mount began fidgeting with bewilderment at his rider's abrupt unresponsiveness amidst the turmoil.

"Mytho-sama!" Komaro shook Mytho anxiously, frantically searching for signs of consciousness. "Answer me, please! What happened? Are you all right?"

Mytho's eyes opened faintly. "Koma…ro…?" he muttered softly before his eyes slid closed again.

Promptly Komaro lifted Mytho off the horse and placed him on the saddle towards the rear. Gazing warily around at the swooping dark birds, his lips tightened as he realized the situation gave him no choice. His expression grave, Komaro reached for the umbrella tucked behind him and began to draw out something hidden within it.

As he did so, however, he noticed something incredible: the crows, instead of closing in, seemed to be backing away, or at the very least lingering, hesitating; even contemplating?

In the uncanny pause, Komaro spotted a gap in the horde of dark birds, and seizing the opportunity he yanked the reigns of the two horses and, with Komaro grasping Mytho securely behind him, they sped out of the swarm of crows to safety.

o-o-o-o-o

"Something within you is causing you deep, unmitigated suffering," Caras uttered, his fingers poised over the left side of Helmina's chest, "something that does not belong there."

Helmina clenched her hands over her heart. "This engulfing emotion…this unbearable pain…"

"I can purge you of this agony," Caras whispered, "if you would open your heart to me and let me reach into its depths."

"Yes…I will let you look into my heart," Helmina murmured. She lay herself back onto a cradle of raven feathers that grew up from the ground, as if she had fallen asleep onto a dark, downy mattress. Caras approached her.

Ahiru winced. No! I can't stand and watch any longer! Somehow, right now, I've got to help Helmina-chan! Breaking out of her hiding place, Ahiru dashed towards the bridge.

At that instant, the pendant bestowed upon her by the lake gleamed a brilliant crimson light. Ahiru gaped down at it in disbelief. It couldn't be…!

The light enclosed her in a glittering golden egg, and she emerged once more as the white-garbed Princess Tutu.

Sighting the ethereal ballerina, Caras halted in his tracks, astounded. "…Princess Tutu? Impossible!"

The concealed Sagi took in the sight with bewilderment. From the direction of the bush Ahiru had hid in, a majestic white swan had flown onto the scene. She was close enough for her to make out the words spoken on the bridge, and being a bird, she could also understand, somehow, the wordless speech of the one Caras called Princess Tutu.

Tutu glanced at herself, as astonished as Caras. "I…I don't know how it happened, but…somehow…"

Taking a resolute breath, she glanced back up at Helmina. She raised her arms into the air, twirled her hands around each other and, smiling, held out a hand to the brunette. "Please come and dance with me, Helmina-san."

Helmina, through glazed eyes, sighted Tutu and rose slightly from the dark cradle she lay upon. "P…Princess Tutu…? The beautiful maiden who fell victim to the fate of a cruel, tragic story?"

She stood up as the black cradle beneath her dissipated. She gazed around at the scenery, which had turned dark like the wings of a stage, and at Princess Tutu, who glowed with an otherworldly luminescence. "It's a story come to life…" Helmina murmured in awe. "I'm inside of a story…and I'm talking to the story's beautiful princess…" She beheld Princess Tutu with a mix of exhilaration, and trepidation.

Caras, scrutinizing the resurrected princess, considered his options. He could attempt to stop Princess Tutu from interfering so that he could carry on with the retrieval of his heart shard. However, by blocking Princess Tutu he would be merely insisting that he do the job personally, and he had to acknowledge that Princess Tutu would be more adept at this task than he would. Thus he withdrew into the background and allowed Princess Tutu to continue her endeavor unimpeded, as he watched and waited.

"Helmina-san," Princess Tutu asked again, "will you dance with me?"

Helmina's eyes widened and she shook her head timidly, shying away. "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly…I'm not worthy to be in the presence of someone as magnificent as you are."

"I would be greatly honored to dance with you, Helmina-san," Tutu, still holding out her hand, stepped towards Helmina welcomingly with a gentle smile.

Helmina paused. Ever so nervously she stepped towards Tutu, and, after a moment's hesitation, took the princess's hand.

As they danced together, Helmina, with every ounce of effort she had, clung to Tutu and tried to mimic her every move. "I fear that I will disgrace you, so I beg of you, tell me what I should be dancing, so that what I dance may be suitable for you."

"I want to see your dance, Helmina-san. I cannot and should not tell or show you what your own special dance is, for that is something that only you can do."

Helmina's expression saddened. "But you would be appalled by my dancing! Just like the stories I tried to create by myself; they're much too strange and senseless for anyone to understand, or love!" She winced, her eyes shining with tears. "I discovered the truth, that day…"

"Gr-Grimm-san?" Helmina couldn't believe her eyes. The writer whose works that she had adored from childhood was standing in front of her! "It really is you! I am so deeply honored to meet you!"

The author looked upon her with indifferent eyes. He had met many such "passionate fans" before, and he had not been impressed with any of them. "Well, then – was it…"

"H-Helmina von Chezy," Helmina replied nervously with a smile.

"Helmina-san," he said, taking a breath, "what is it you want with me?"

Helmina reddened lightly, and began fidgeting. "Well, you see…I, um, I wanted to show you a…little thing that I wrote. It's a play called 'Euryanthe'. It's not too long," she added hastily, "and you don't have to read it carefully or anything…just, maybe could you skim it over and tell me…tell me what you think?"

The writer paused a moment. He wasn't in a particular rush anywhere, and he couldn't help but be curious. "All right, fine. I'll take a glance at your piece."

As Grimm read on, Helmina stood by, her hands clasped together at her chest as if in prayer. She didn't want to stare, but she couldn't help peeking at the author's expression every now and then, trying to catch some hint of his reaction. But he gave away no response.

Finally he glanced back up. Helmina looked at him hopefully.

He asked, "How much thought did you put into this?"

Blinking, Helmina replied with some puzzlement, "Er, a lot of thought, sir…I've thought about the characters a lot, you know, and tried to make the story exciting and touching, like good stories are supposed to be…"

He scowled with disdain. "Well, now it's evident you haven't put your own thought into it at all."

"Wh-what do you mean?" Helmina whispered in horror.

Studying her, he shook his head jadedly, and seeming not to have the energy to elaborate, he handed the sheets back to Helmina, adjusted his hat, and with a terse "Good day" he continued on his way.

Helmina walked back down the street feeling a raw, gaping emptiness. Her eyes were wilted in despair. She gazed up at the clear blue sky, which now seemed so gray. A crimson raven flashed across her view. She watched it vacantly as it circled above her. Suddenly, it dove straight towards her. She braced herself, covering her face with her arms. But she felt no strike. She glanced up cautiously, but the red bird was nowhere in sight.

It must be my silly imagination again, Helmina chided herself.I suppose now I know how truly foolish I was, to try to write something as bizarre as that play.

Stronger than ever before, a renewed desire to create stories that would take people's hearts away arose within her. So strong, she was desperate to learn what people wanted from stories, and to give it to them…

"Ever since then, beautiful princess, I've tried so hard to give everyone stories that they will love. I've even tried asking everyone what kinds of things they like in stories, and put those in as well. I know that what I think couldn't make a story everyone would enjoy, but even after gathering all the characters and plots, the stories still do not fill people's hearts with passion!" Her eyes filled with tears, and her head turned away. "I must be a horrible writer, if I can't even write a good story this way."

"No, Helmina-san. The reason that they cannot feel the inspiration you seek to give them is that you haven't shown them your true stories. You've tried so hard to give them that feeling, and so afraid that what you created would fail them, that you've hidden away the very imagination that would stir them. I'm certain there are countless wonderful stories that you could tell if you would let yourself tell them. What makes a story wonderful is not what kinds of people or events it has, but how much of your own thoughts and heart you put into it. Dance for me your own dance, Helmina-san. Tell everyone the stories of your own heart."

Helmina stopped. She stood in place, pondering what Tutu had told her. "The stories…of my heart…"

She let go of Tutu's hand, and, hesitantly, raised a hand into the air. "The story of Rosamunde, from my heart…I think it would be different."

She swayed her arms about in the air and pondered aloud, "The princess is kidnapped by the sorcerer, not because of his horrid wickedness, but because he was lonely, and had great hardships connecting with people. He wanted someone to talk to, someone to be a sister to him – but he didn't know how to go out into the world, and was afraid to, because he was always alone."

As Princess Tutu danced with Helmina, who this time was moving on her own, the ballerina noticed that Helmina's new dance was a sprightly, fanciful, yet gentle waltz, as original as it was beautiful to behold.

"And the prince…he went to rescue the princess, not because of his chivalry or of his hearing of her exquisite beauty, but because he was her childhood friend, and he was so worried about her safety. And that makes me think, even if other people have told me so, perhaps they need not be married in the end for them to be truly happy."

Helmina stood in place, her eyes closed, and her hands came together softly in front of her over her chest. "Yes…this is how the stories I loved to create felt like to imagine." A jubilant beam appeared on her face. "I feel like…I want to write again!"

Her chest began to glow. She stepped backwards into the scenery, and from her emerged the crimson raven from her recollections.

As the flapping red bird dissolved into Tutu's hands, Caras stepped back into view.

"So it is a heart shard," Princess Tutu murmured, gazing upon the scarlet stone in her hands.

"And you would recognize them well," Caras remarked. He held out his hand and the shard floated from Princess Tutu's hands to his.

"That shard…" Tutu's expression grew apprehensive. "Could it be…?"

"The feeling of Desire, of course," Caras replied, studying the shard as he held it up to his eyes. "That seemed quite evident from that girl's actions. Surely Solitude was apparent to you as well?"

"That isn't what bothers me…" With a troubled countenance, she asked, "That heart shard...does it belong to the Raven?"

Caras paused and glanced at her. "Well. I suppose you are rather perceptive after all," he said before he gestured with his other arm, and before Tutu could question him further, he disappeared with the shard into a flurry of darkness.

o-o-o-o-o

Mytho lay on his bed of the inn's room, barely awake or responsive. His clothes had been reduced to the white blouse and the pants of the lord's disguise he had been wearing, and the hat and wig lay on the table nearby. Komaro was sitting on a chair by the bedside, scrutinizing Mytho vigilantly.

Suddenly, his chest glowed faintly for a moment, the radiance disappearing before Komaro could observe it closely. Mytho began to stir. His eyes came back into focus, and after a moment he blinked somewhat confusedly but wide-awake.

When Komaro saw that Mytho's eyes had opened, his eyes widened with relief. "Mytho-sama! Thank goodness! You're awake! Are you feeling all right?"

"Y-yes," Mytho replied with some surprise, sitting up with a hand over his heart. "Somewhat disoriented, but quite fine."

"Are you sure about that?" Komaro questioned with concern. "I checked to see if you had any visible wounds to administer to, but I couldn't find anything more than minor scratches. Are you certain that you don't have any internal injuries? I'm no doctor, but if there's anything that feels out of the ordinary—"

"No, it's all right, Komaro," Mytho said, standing up out of bed, "I don't believe I fell unconscious because of an injury."

Komaro blinked bewilderedly. "Then might I ask, what could have caused it, if you know?"

Mytho's brows furrowed in thought. "It's…hard to explain." He glanced out the window, his hand at his chest again. "I suppose the best way to explain it would be…I was aiding a dear friend, but to help them, I had to temporarily lend them something important."

Komaro looked dubious. "That is a bit vague, if I may say so. Who is this dear friend?"

"…Tutu," Mytho murmured thoughtfully, half to himself. "She had to help someone…I wonder what was the matter?"

"Tutu?" Komaro asked, his brows furrowing skeptically. "You had to fall unconscious in the midst of peril to help that du—"

"There's something else more pressing on my mind," Mytho muttered, which made Komaro fall silent immediately.

Mytho turned to Komaro grimly. "When I was battling the ravens, I sighted a unit of Ginkan cavaliers down a distant street. They were a sizable group, enough to have been able to drive away the ravens swiftly with our help."

Komaro blinked. "That's peculiar…perhaps they hadn't seen us from the street they were on, if it was far away…I hadn't even seen them myself…"

"They saw us, all right," Mytho replied darkly. "They sighted the crows, I saw the captain react and give orders – they turned their horses around and trotted away."

Komaro twitched in shock. "What?!"

Mytho shook his head. "I have difficulty believing what I saw as well. But there was no mistake about it: after they had seen us, they left, and deliberately."

Komaro blinked with disconcerted bafflement. "I can't think of any reasonable cause for the knights to retreat," Komaro scowled. "Your Lordship said they were of a sufficient number, plus they were mounted, and the streets were clear so they had no need to double back…"

Mytho reflected for some moments. "But there's something about the way this happened…their pace was too leisurely for them to be running away out of fear…" His brows furrowed. "Rather, as if they were simply following orders?"

Komaro looked at him with unease. "You don't mean to say that…?"

"The corruption may go up further?" Mytho sighed deeply. "I don't know. I hesitate to point fingers at anyone with no proof, especially when it's regarding something this dire."

He glanced towards the capitol headquarters of Ginkan where the Ginkan Town Council convened, at the center of the town. "Again the thought occurs to me – of the letters we received regarding Ginkan's plight, we did not receive any notice from the council itself." His lips tightened. "Now I wonder even more – what do they make of all of this?"

o-o-o-o-o

When Helmina came to, Ahiru was sitting beside her, looking at Helmina with concern. "Are you okay, Helmina-chan?"

Her eyes blinked open. "Oh, Ahiru-san, it's you! How did you find me here?"

"Oh well, I was just, you know, walking around town and I wanted to visit the bridge, and…" Ahiru grinned nervously. "But anyhow, I noticed you were lying here, and I was worried, so I wanted to be sure you were okay…"

Helmina sat up. "Well, I suppose I'm…I'm quite fine. In fact," she stood up heartily, "I feel wonderful! I want to start writing something right away!"

"That's great!" Ahiru replied, smiling. So I was able to help her after all…I'm glad.

"Although…" Helmina looked thoughtful. "I'm not quite sure where to start…"

"Ahiru! There you are."

Ahiru turned around. "Oh, Fakir! And Tru-er, Mytho!"

"The…the Prince?" Helmina started, curtseying hastily. "Oh, pardon my intrusion, Siegfried-sama…"

Trutho held up his hands in protest. "No, it's okay, you don't have to be so formal… You can just call me 'Mytho'."

Fakir frowned. "Ahiru, next time it wouldn't hurt to at least tell me when you're going off on a detour, I had no idea what happened to you."

"Well, sorry," Ahiru rubbed the back of her neck abashedly. "I was thinking about stuff, and I spaced out, but I kept walking, and…"

"So…what was your name?" Trutho asked, glancing towards Helmina again.

"Oh, Fakir, Mytho, this is Helmina-chan!" Ahiru replied, turning around to introduce her. "I was talking with her earlier, about the script of the ballet that was for our…"

Ahiru trailed off, realizing something. "Hey, wait a second…Fakir, you're a writer!"

He furrowed a brow at her. "Oh, so you've noticed."

"No, no, it's that…Helmina-chan, you said that you needed some help for your writing? Well, this is Fakir, and he writes too, so maybe you can ask him something about it!"

Fakir frowned hesitantly. "I don't know about…"

He glanced at Ahiru, who stared back at him with such an adamant expression that he couldn't even consider declining the request. "All right. What kind of help do you need, Helmina-san?"

"Um…come to think of it," Helmina replied as she began rummaging through her skirt again, "I had asked someone, before, about another piece I wrote…they really found something wrong with it, but they never had told me what. I was wondering if, perhaps, you might be able to tell me what you think might be wrong with it." Helmina, finding the rumpled sheets, gazed at them for a moment, and nodded to herself with quiet resolve. "Then, perhaps I can learn what it is that I can improve for this story, and learn how to write better for other ones."

She held out the parchment to Fakir, and he took them and began to read, with her sitting close by, watching him.

As Ahiru watched Fakir go through the story, she heard a rustle in the willow tree nearby and glimpsed Sagi the heron, after glancing at Ahiru, fly towards the thick bushes on one bank of the river.

"Eh? Sagi-chan?" Ahiru ran over to her.

Trutho noticed Ahiru dash over towards the bird, although he didn't budge from his seat on the bridge's rim across from Fakir and Helmina. Remembering what Fakir and Rue had mentioned before in his earshot, he thought of asking Ahiru something, more for confirmation than anything, but seeing that Ahiru was busy talking to the heron she had called Sagi he decided to bring it up later.

"Hey there, Sagi-chan! What were you doing up in that tree?" Ahiru asked with some puzzlement. "Were you just, uh, deciding to take a little break, or…"

"Um…" Sagi thought for a moment, then shook her head and said, "Well, firstly, I somehow transformed back to being a bird recently, and I don't know how I'm supposed to fix the problem…"

"Oh, that! Well, that's pretty easy," Ahiru replied, glancing at the tributary flowing beside them. "Wait here for a moment and I'll show you how this is supposed to work…"

Trutho saw Ahiru run from the bushes, collect a handful of water from the river, and carefully tread over back towards the bushes again, trying not to spill it.

He turned and looked back at Fakir, who was now done reading the script, and was discussing parts of it with Helmina.

"…And this part, where the husband discovers that his wife hadn't lied to him after all," Fakir explained, handing her the script and pointing at the part, "I'd really question how she would so easily accept his apologies when he was about to take her out into the woods to kill her based only on circumstantial evidence." He crossed his arms. "If he was someone that was good to her, wouldn't he trust her more than that?"

"Hmm…" Helmina thought. "You have a point…Maybe instead of anger, he'd feel…sadness. An excruciating sorrow, disappointment…he flees into the woods, caught up in his feelings, and she chases after him, trying to assure him otherwise…does that sound better?"

"Probably."

With a sigh Trutho realized he was waiting around with nothing to do. He was tempted to sneak off and occupy himself while everyone finished what he or she were doing, but he realized that would put them in the same position as they had been when Ahiru had wandered off. Instead, he lay across the railing, took out The Prince and the Raven, and read pensively.

o-o-o-o-o

"…So yeah, if you accidentally change back, you need to get to water somewhere; it doesn't have to be much," Ahiru explained as Sagi adjusted her coat after she had put it on, "Even a drop of water is okay."

"All right," Sagi affirmed, "Thank you for telling me."

"No problem!"

Sagi paused. "Ahiru…have you seen…anything out of the ordinary happen today? I'd just like to know."

"Anything…out of the ordinary?"

Sagi thought a moment, and then asked carefully, "Do you…recognize the name Princess Tutu?"

"Qua–!" Ahiru hastily muffled her outburst. Sagi observed her impassively.

Ahiru blinked. "How…how do you…?" She thought, and then realized, "Wait, you…were in the tree that whole time, weren't you?"

Sagi nodded. "So, you were the white bird that appeared before that girl and Caras-san, then?"

"A white bird?" Ahiru's brows furrowed perplexedly. "Not like a girl, or a ballerina…?" Sagi shook her head.

Ahiru thought. Hmm…well, Pike called Princess Tutu the 'goddess of dance' flying down to save Mytho from falling. So that's what other people not part of the story see when Princess Tutu appears?

"How did it happen?"

Ahiru frowned. "That's the big question…"

She fingered her magenta pendant. "Before, I used a pendant to help Mytho, the prince, get his heart back. But that one's gone now: I had to give it up to finish that very mission. This pendant looks the same, but…why would it suddenly be able to do the same thing?"

"The Lake Spirit hadn't mentioned anything about it being able to transform animals beyond ordinary humanity," Sagi recalled.

"Yeah…" Ahiru sighed. "You know, I never had told you about Princess Tutu before…I'm sorry. For one thing, it's something pretty incredible, so I didn't think you'd believe it, anyway. And even if you would've…"

Ahiru grew pensive. "It was something that was there in the past, but it disappeared, as if it were a dream…somehow, I wanted to get away from thinking about things that aren't here anymore." Her expression shifted into one of troubled mystification. "But things are changing now…there's so much happening again, and so fast…"

Ahiru was lost in thought, recalling the recent incident and the ones before it that began with the day of Mytho and Rue's homecoming. Sagi, seeing her preoccupied apprehension, inquired no more, not wanting to trouble Ahiru any further.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir uncrossed his arms and exhaled. "…And yeah, that's about all I have to say about it." He handed it back to her. "I've told you everything I could think of to build on it. It does have some big flaws, but it could be improved."

"Hey, Fakir!" Ahiru waved, approaching him with Sagi following behind her. "How's the review coming along?"

Hearing Ahiru's voice, he glanced up and stood. "I'm done." Upon hearing this, Trutho turned his head, and after sitting up he hopped off the railing, rejoining them.

Helmina held the script to her chest hopefully. She stood up and smiled. "I can't thank you enough for taking the time to help me with this. I'll definitely consider your suggestions; they're very insightful."

She held out a hand. Somewhat awkwardly, Fakir extended his, and Helmina shook it heartily. "I'm very happy to have met a fellow writer like you, Fakir-san, and you two, Ahiru-san, Mytho-san. I hope that I will see you all again soon!"

She turned around to depart, and then realization struck her. "Wait, I almost forgot!" She went back up to Fakir. "I would be honored if you decided to stop by one of the writer's club meetings after class in the art classroom sometime. There are so few members now, we would be delighted with a guest or two…"

"I'll think about it," he replied.

As Helmina left, Ahiru turned to Fakir. "You know, you really should go," she encouraged him with a grin. "It'll be really good for you to get with people that like to do the same things you do."

Suddenly, Fakir spotted a man in a cloak lurking next to a structure nearby, watching them. Swiftly the man disappeared around the corner.

"Fakir? What's wrong?" Seeing Fakir distracted, Ahiru attempted to follow his gaze. "What were you looking at?"

"Nothing," Fakir said hastily. Glancing cautiously back at the corner, he muttered, "…Why don't you all go on ahead? There's something I need to straighten out before we leave. I'll catch up in a minute."

Ahiru looked at him dubiously. "Why? What's this all of a sudden?"

Trutho scrutinized the direction he had noticed Fakir gazing. Trutho's eyes narrowing with wariness, he studied Fakir, frowning. Fakir glared at him gravely, and Trutho, after looking back at him straight in the eyes for several moments, glanced at Sagi and Ahiru and nodded ever so slightly.

"Hey, why don't we go for now?" Trutho said to them. "Fakir can take care of himself for a couple minutes, can't he?"

Ahiru pursed her lips, hesitating. Finally she turned around. "Okay, but it'd better only be a minute, otherwise I'm coming back after you!"

She walked a few steps, and then, remembering something, hurried close to Fakir and whispered, "And I've got to tell you about something that happened, so…don't be gone for long."

Fakir nodded slowly. "I won't take long."

o-o-o-o-o

After the three had walked some distance away, after a moment's consideration, Trutho commented casually, "So…how did you two birds get to be human, anyhow?"

"Qua—!" Ahiru almost tripped in stride. After recovering she stammered, "H-how did you…?"

"You know," Trutho remarked, folding his arms, "sometimes I think, once people are used to me being around, they might forget that I'm there. I mean, honestly, Rue-san and Fakir just mentioned it right out there for me to hear."

"Why do you bring it up?" Sagi asked him.

He shrugged. " I guess…I figured it would be fair if I just let you two know I knew."

Ahiru turned towards him anxiously. "Please, please don't tell anyone…I don't know what people would say if they found out we're actually birds…"

Trutho observed Ahiru curiously, and he smiled. "Well, Ahiru, you know my secret. If you won't let anyone know mine, I promise I won't tell a soul about yours."

He paused. "Uh, you haven't already told someone about it, have you?"

"Well…only Sagi-chan," Ahiru replied tentatively, glancing over at her.

"Sagi…is it?" he repeated, looking up at the tall young woman with long, aqua tresses. "I guess that's fine, since both of you are actually birds, anyway."

Sagi glanced at Ahiru with puzzlement. "A secret?"

"Trutho said he could talk with animals, but for some reason he wants that kept quiet from everyone…"

Ahiru looked at him. "But why wouldn't you want people to know? It's not a bad thing to be able to communicate with animals. Actually, it's an amazing talent! People would think that you're really a—"

"Not necessarily." Trutho sighed, looking strangely forlorn. "I guess I'll just say that I want to keep something that happened before from coming back around to haunt me."

"Something that must be related to what the Prince is dealing with right now, in the place that you left behind," murmured a voice like velvet.

Trutho started. "Who said that?" he exclaimed anxiously, glancing about.

"I am called Takako. I am known by others as a fortune-teller."

The three turned towards the source of the voice, and they saw a coffee-haired woman with white bangs standing in a doorway, holding back the curtain that hung over the entrance, gazing at them.

"Takako?" Trutho recollected. "Wait…you're the one who gave Mytho-san the eye dust!" He furrowed a brow. "I suppose that would explain how you knew right off who I really was…"

"So you're a fortune-teller?" Ahiru said with awe. "Does that mean you can see the future?"

Takako smiled enigmatically, turning back into her abode. "If you would like to converse, then please do come in."

Looking at each other with puzzlement, the three followed her inside. She had already sat down at a table that was placed in the back of the small, musty room. On the table was a crystal ball that seemed curiously luminous in the dim lighting. There were three more chairs placed in front of it, and with a display of her hand she invited them to sit.

"What kinds of things do you know?" Ahiru asked as they came in and sat down. "Do you know…everything? Everything that's happened? Or what will happen?"

"I know what has been told," Takako replied. "I know what is being told. That is all."

"…But what does that mean?" Trutho questioned. "I notice that you didn't say what will be told, or whatever. So you don't know the future?"

She looked right at him with her strikingly golden eyes. "Do you believe the future is set?"

He blinked for a moment, startled somewhat by her arresting gaze. "No," Trutho replied affirmatively, gazing back into hers with his artificially amber eyes.

She nodded her head slowly. "It is not possible to ascertain what has not been written yet. Although…"

The enigmatic smile on her face widened. "I know what you know about what has happened since before and after the town's release," she said, her eyes turning to Ahiru, "Perhaps just a bit more."

"The town's…release?" Ahiru's eyes widened. "Wait, does that mean that you know about the story…?"

Takako chuckled softly but said nothing.

"You know," Ahiru murmured as the calm voice of a pale, green-haired marionette drifted through her memories. "You remind me a little of someone I used to know…"

"Someone whose remains still live on," Takako replied thoughtfully. "Within the heart of a mutual friend, who you will see again."

"Will?" Trutho queried. "Doesn't that sound a bit too certain for something that hasn't happened yet?"

Takako leaned over towards her crystal ball, gazing into it. "Hmm…it seems that your companion the writer is conversing with an old acquaintance." Takako directed her eyes back up at Ahiru. "Someone of the circle of men who keep watch over the stories of the chosen one."

"Companion writer? Wait, you mean Fakir!" Ahiru leaned quickly towards her. "And the circle of men…? But—"

Ahiru stood up in alarm. "Those couldn't be…the old guys who tried to cut off Fakir's hands!"

"Cut off his hands?" Sagi and Trutho looked at Ahiru apprehensively.

"We've got to get back to him, right away!" Ahiru dashed towards the exit. "Thanks for your help, Takako-san!"

After a similar expression of gratitude, Sagi followed after her.

Takako leaned on an arm pensively.

Trutho headed for the door behind them, and then paused. "Just…one quick question before I go," Trutho said. "Do you know…what happened, in the part of my past I don't remember?"

"Precisely? Any more than what you already know?" Takako sighed. "No," she replied. "Not yet."

He glanced perplexedly at her for a moment before slipping out the doorway.

Takako's eyes closed. She folded her hands. "I wonder…how much farther I want to go, before…"

She sighed. "The fourth wall had once been broken from the stage. Can it be opened from the other side as well?"

o-o-o-o-o

After the three had left, Fakir glowered and turned towards the hidden infiltrator. "All right, I know you're out there," Fakir barked. "What do you want?"

The cloaked man stepped out into view. "It has been a while, chosen descendant of Drosselmeyer."

Fakir's eyes narrowed. "I do not consider myself associated with that old fool."

"You have evidently continued to follow the path of an author, nevertheless," he replied, approaching Fakir on the bridge.

Fakir took on a defensive stance, his eyes darting around for something to use to protect himself, but the old man waved a hand dismissively. "I am not here to harm you. I carry no weapon." He held up his two hands as evidence. "I come alone."

Fakir frowned doubtfully. "Then what are you here for?"

"An exchange of words." The old bookstore owner looked at Fakir. "Is that too much to ask?"

"I still don't trust your word that you only wish to talk," Fakir said. "You know I still write, and you have no reason to risk allowing me to keep doing so. Am I to believe that after the town was set free you suddenly see no threat from me?"

"What had kept our circle together was not merely the dire warnings given to us by our ancestors of Drosselmeyer's power, but the perpetual reminders that no one else could even notice," the old man replied. "Men turned into beasts that walked and talked; gates that never opened but still let people in and out; places within the town that disappeared and reappeared with the passage of days. But that is no more. The town is as it should be. And many in our party believe now our duty was finally fulfilled."

"Many," Fakir reiterated. "Not all?"

The old man's eyes narrowed. "I don't believe for a moment that Drosselmeyer was finished along with the machine. He's clung to this town for too long to relinquish his power so hastily. And there are a few who agree with me that remain watchful, of you, and the tower."

Fakir furrowed a brow. "You aren't saying that the machine in the tower has begun working again…?"

"No. It has not stirred since the day you destroyed it."

Fakir took a long look at the balding man, who was barely half his height, yet somehow seemed tall. "When I could not stop your comrades from becoming ravens, you didn't think I deserved to live. Have you changed your judgment of me since then?"

The old man said nothing for a long time. Finally, he answered, "We allowed you to attempt to fight the writer of abominations, and you let the whole town, and my companions, fall victim to the Raven, a mechanism of misery orchestrated by Drosselmeyer." He looked straight into Fakir's eyes. "Yet you, with your inexperienced power, were the one to stop it all, and restore the town to its rightful state. When I think of that…"

He paused. "It comes down to this: you have shown yourself to be worthy of our trust, while the town is at peace. It is not our way to flout our influence when there is no immediate danger." He gave a somber nod. "If you give our town peace, then peace it shall be with us."

Fakir nodded solemnly in return. "I wish nothing but for this town to go on as contentedly as it has been."

"Fakir!"

Ahiru, with Sagi and Trutho following behind her, dashed towards Fakir frantically.

"Young Fakir," the old man said as he turned around to leave. "When we meet again, whether it be in peace or hostility, know me as William."

Fakir watched him disappear beyond the houses.

o-o-o-o-o

With a clank, a gear encircled Fakir's image, and in front it Drosselmeyer bristled with aggravation.

"Those story-stoppers! They're still around? They are persistent, I'll give them that." He paced back and forth across the gear he stood upon. "The question is, will they end up getting in the way of this story as well? They don't seem to be as on guard as last time, but if I'm not careful…where did that Uzura run off to, anyway?"

After several moments' contemplation, he shook his head and smirked. "Well, I think, the way things are going now, those old fools aren't going to notice much. After all, the very things that would set them off are the only things that I can't do anymore, with that part of the apparatus cut off. Really, I'm glad my young descendant put that old relic out of its misery. Quite glad indeed."

He gazed up at the gears with a gleeful mischievousness and chortled heartily. "Ah, if they knew what breaking that machine truly meant…for the town wasn't the only thing that had broken free from its tethers…"

o-o-o-o-o

"Fakir! Are you okay?" Ahiru inquired anxiously.

"I'm fine, don't worry," Fakir replied assuringly. "Why did you come back, and in a big rush like that? I told you I'd catch up later."

"A woman named Takako told us that you seemed to be in trouble," Sagi replied. "She claimed to be a fortune teller, and she said that you were talking to someone who tried to harm you in the past…"

Ahiru glared at him. "You sent us away on purpose. I thought something was up, but I didn't realize that it was one of those guys! Why did you try to face him alone when we could've been there to back you up?"

"They're only interested in me, so I'm the one that should deal with them," Fakir said. "You all shouldn't be involved."

"Fakir, just because I was a duck for a while, doesn't mean you can forget what I said before," Ahiru admonished. "I said that I'd help you however I could, with all I've got. But I can't do that if you push me away when you need help."

Fakir sighed. "All right. Next time I'll tell you." He glanced back towards the direction the used bookstore owner William had departed. "But, he really didn't intend to harm me this time. I think…he may trust me now, or at least he respects me enough to leave me alone."

He looked back at them. "But you said a fortune-teller named Takako tipped you off?"

"Claiming to be a fortune-teller, anyway," Trutho remarked.

"You don't think she knows things about the future?" Ahiru asked him. "She really seemed to know a lot…"

"Well, I've come across quite a few, so I've picked up how a few of their techniques work," he replied. "It's mostly clever talking and some ordinary perceptiveness on their part. And she said so herself, the future isn't something that can be told. Essentially, all fortune-tellers are frauds in that way." He looked thoughtful. "Yet, real fortune-teller or not, she does know more things than other people, somehow…"

"Like about the story," Ahiru said, looking at Fakir. Fakir's brow furrowed, and his lips pursed pensively as he mentally noted down that name for future reference.

o-o-o-o-o

After they had seen Trutho back to the castle grounds, and Sagi had returned to her and Ahiru's room (she felt a bit tired, for it had been an exciting day for her), Ahiru and Fakir lingered outside the dormitory gates as she told Fakir the events of that morning.

"You saw Caras doing something again?"

Ahiru nodded. "It was when I got separated from you guys that I saw him with Helmina-chan. He was about to yank out what was stuck in her heart, like he had to Myra-chan. I wasn't sure what to do, because I didn't want her to suffer like Myra-chan did, but what could I do about it? But then…"

She bit her lip. "Somehow, I became Princess Tutu again."

Fakir's eyes widened in astonishment. "You did? How?"

Ahiru shook her head. "I really don't know. I just felt like something came back to me, and then it happened."

He pondered a moment. "Are you able to transform now?"

"Umm…" Ahiru closed her eyes and bunched up her fists with effort, but after a few moments her arms fell and she shook her head. "I don't feel it this time. I think it had to be really desperate a situation for it to come…"

Ahiru sighed. "But that's not all. After I freed Helmina of what was bothering her, I got a good look at what it was."

"You found out that it was definitely a heart shard?"

"Not just that." Ahiru gazed up at Fakir with apprehensive eyes. "I felt whose heart shard it was – it belonged to the Raven."

Fakir jerked back in alarm. "The Raven!? He's trying to collect the heart shards of the Raven?"

Ahiru exhaled nervously. "I can't believe it, either. For one thing, how does he know that the Raven existed in the first place? And then, why is he doing something like this?"

Fakir grimaced, thinking hard. "There are two reasons I can imagine. One, he thinks he can gain something by putting them back together, for power or who knows what. And second…"

His eyes narrowed darkly. "He wants to bring back the Raven."

Ahiru covered her mouth with horror. "But why? Why would he want to do any of this, for either of those reasons?"

"My guess is as good as yours."

After some moments' silence, Fakir was about to retire to his dorms when Ahiru started and ran after him. "Wait, before I forget, Fakir, I've gotta ask you – what's your room number?"

Fakir halted in his tracks and looked incredulously back at Ahiru.

Ahiru blinked, and then waved her hands in protest. "…No, no, it-it's not that – I just wanted to get your number so we could talk over the telephones that they've installed, if something else comes up; you know that they go room-to-room now, right? Yours should be set up, too! Oh, wait, lemme tell you mine…"

Fakir sighed. "That should be fine, but…just to tell you, if I'm not there, Autor might be picking up."

"Autor?" Ahiru asked. "Oh! You mean, Autor's your roommate now? I see…well, that's okay, even if he does I can just say I wanted to talk to you and then—"

"Yes, that's fine," Fakir mumbled hastily, grimacing. Why does Autor somehow end up getting a foot into everything I'm doing?

o-o-o-o-o

In a darkened study, illuminated only by the light of the waning gibbous moon, a middle-aged man in aristocratic attire stood before three old women sitting upon leather chairs removed from the desks across the room. The moonlight rays of the open window falling upon them from behind obscured their faces, and the black, feathery cloaks they wore revealed only their hands, the fingernails of them sharp and painted darkly.

"So what mishap, precisely, did you mean to inform me of?" the lord inquired, gazing across towards the women from his position in the shadows.

"Not a mishap, so to speak…an interruption is a more appropriate explanation," the tallest one on the left responded evenly. "I'm quite sure the point was made, nevertheless."

"All that we're trying to say is that someone interfered while the reprimand was being carried out," the smaller one on the right said.

"A newcomer," the one in the center uttered. "Someone from the outside who I doubt was involved previously."

The man, stepping partly out of the shadows, revealing a brown-gray beard surrounding his pressed lips, crossed his arms over his crimson suit. "A new arrival? Someone uninvolved? Who might this stranger be?"

The small one took a breath, about to speak, when the center figure replied, "He remains a mystery. All we know is that he is not of this town. Likely he is a well-to-do landlord or perhaps a duke from nearby."

"Hmm," he muttered, stroking his beard. "Perhaps it would be best if we had a look at this newcomer. So we can get a chance to understand his motives more closely. Let the council ask him a few questions."

"That is a possibility," the tall one consented. "We shall see what we can do. I expect you may send your subordinates to collect them if they are found?"

"Of course, of course," he waved a hand dismissively. "I appreciate your kind's hard work. I shall enlighten you as to anything we find out." He glanced around at them, his arms placed behind his back. "Is there anything else?"

"No," the one in the center said after a pause. "That will be all. We bid you a most… tranquil night."

The three figures in feathery mantles stood and filed towards the open window. A gust of wind ruffled their cloaks, and they spread their arms. The old women morphed into three dark birds perched on the windowsill. The nobleman watched them take flight and disappear into the distance. After they had gone he remained at the window, gazing meditatively out at the town of Ginkan from high above.

The three ravens alighted on the top of a giant tree with bare, spidery branches.

"How his airs infuriate me at times," the smallest of the three muttered.

"Patience, dear Skuld," the leanest, tallest of them counseled. "You must remember that we are dealing with mere humans, and with some of the most wretched of the lot at that."

"His complacency is merely a cover for his fear, and his vulnerability," the one that perched on the branch above the other two stated. "As one of those with the most to lose, he is the easiest to manipulate."

"Although, Verdandi," the lean one said, "why did we avoid letting him know that the new arrival is none other than the Prince of Kinkan? Surely it would have captured his attention much more."

"What for?" the bird called Skuld replied lightly. "Why let him know something he'll find out sooner or later anyway? He'll only get more agitated, and surely he has enough on his mind as it is," she remarked with a chuckle.

"He seems to be interested enough about an outside presence alone, Urd," Verdandi responded. "And we were asked to draw out this damper for as long as possible, so why add more kindle to the flame than necessary? And at any rate," she added, glancing about the town, "things shall erupt at any time of our choosing."

"Ooooh," Skuld squirmed about on her perch. "Why can't it be sooner rather than later? I grow weary of this quiet tedium."

Verdandi and Urd cackled. "Impatient as always, youngest sister."

o-o-o-o-o

Deep within the clusters of cogs spinning and ticking away, Uzura finally stopped running, and she stood there, huffing and puffing, glancing behind her.

"Is the tussle-mayor still after me-zura?" Uzura pondered. "I don't see him anymore from here, but…if I'm not careful, after I go back he'll just sneak up and take Ahiru's quill again-zura."

Uzura plopped down where she had stood, frowning worriedly. "What should I do-zura?"

A moment passed. She blinked, and twirled her head around. "What? Me-zura, you know what to do?"

"A story has begun once again," a calm voice murmured from within her. "Yet no one is aware that it still exists. Facing even a familiar conflict without acknowledgement is a struggle in the dark."

"Aaaooooh…so then, I should go tell them that Drosselmeyer is writing the story again-zura?" Uzura stood and nodded. "Okay, then! I'll find Fakir and Ahiru so that I can warn them-zura."

She paused, and considered the bright yellow, almost golden plume that she grasped. "And while I'm doing that…maybe, since it might keep it away from the tussle-mayor, I think I'll go give them Ahiru's quill too-zura."

She glanced around, searching the whirling gears for the opening. After a moment, a large gear went transparent and Uzura could recognize the tall tower of Kinkan beyond it. Clenching her little hands with determination, she swung her arms back and forth, prepping for a jump, and almost as if it were a hoop, she leapt through the silhouette of the cog into the other side.


Next episode preview

Ahiru stands nervously before an austere-looking little old lady in the Kinkan Academy ballet dance studio.
(A stern old woman's voice) "What is your reason for dancing, Ahiru-san?"
In front of a captivated audience of ballet students, Caras dances an intense solo. Rue looks on with distraught eyes.
As Fakir and Ahiru stand outside the Kinkan Academy dorm rooms, Uzura runs up to them in an urgent manner, clutching a shining golden plume. "This is something very, very important that belongs to Ahiru-zura!"
Komaro and Mytho in disguise are surrounded by soldiers emblazoned with the Ginkan crest.
(A man's voice) "The Ginkan High Council wishes to speak with you. We are taking you to them."
Tutu stands, holding a heart shard away from Caras standing before her.
(Caras's voice) "All shall rue the day I bring every one of them together. That is the day I will finally regain what is rightfully mine. Now, return to me the shard!"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
30. AKT "Wall of Deceptions"
~ Für Elise ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

'same' from Sameko means 'shark' in Japanese; -ko is a common feminine name suffix
'tara' from Tarao means 'cod' in Japanese; -o is a common masculine name suffix
'maguro' from Maguromi means 'tuna' in Japanese; -mi is a common feminine name suffix
The names of Neko-san's wife and kittens are all from characters of the opera "The Marriage of Figaro".

Helmina von Chezy was a playwright that actually existed in the 19th century. She was the writer of a play that translates to "Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus", which had discontinued only after two performances due to its lack of popularity. The music, however, was written by Franz Schubert, and it was highly praised by the critics. The music he wrote plays all throughout this episode, and both Helmina and the play she wrote (even though it must be approximated, as no text of the actual play exists) are both referenced heavily from the historical figure and work. "Euryanthe" is also an opera that she had written, with a similar level of success.

Research on Helmina's background:

"Wilhelmena von Chézy arrived in Vienna from Dresden early in the 19th century with a fearsome reputation for being "industrious in the literary field and exceedingly good natured" but "a trifle ridiculous (cleanliness is not one of her principal virtues)". She had written a four act play Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus for which the young Franz Schubert (26 at the time) had written the music. This was nothing unusual for Schubert, he wrote more than 10 complete works for the stage as well as various incomplete ones.

But this particular project was not to be a success - the work was withdrawn after the second performance. The creaky, intricate plot, a hotchpotch of woolly romantics featuring knights, shepherds and huntsmen failed to capture the public. The Viennese critics praised the music but the whole thing disappeared into the archives - until the music was re-discovered in 1867 by George Grove and Arthur Sullivan."

29. AKT Music List
(the time ranges listed show what part of the song is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Ballet in B minor"
Played during the scene where the exhibition committee is debating and where Helmina presents her script to them; continues through the scene with Fakir, Trutho, and Rue's practice session and during Ahiru's dance class.
(from "Rosamunde") A piece that starts out forceful and solemn, then switches from calm to forceful and grows more optimistic towards the end.

"Intermezzo in B flat major"
(start 2:10, end 4:12)
Played during Helmina and Ahiru's conversation after Ahiru escapes from the dance class.
(from "Rosamunde") A moderately paced, gentle, introspective song with flute, clarinet, and oboe.

"March"
Played during Yagiko-sensei's talk with Lester-senpai.
(from "The Marriage of Figaro") An assertive, moderately volumed march with a steady rhythm.

"Intermezzo in D major"
Played when Sagi enters the library; ends when Sagi takes flight.
(from "Rosamunde") An ominous song that climaxes in the middle and then shifts to a still apprehensive, but somewhat whimsical tone.

"Overture"
Played when Ahiru sees Caras and Helmina at the bridge; ends when the shard leaves Helmina.
(from "Rosamunde") An alternately suspenseful and exciting orchestral piece, that starts out gently apprehensive, bursts into a stimulating chorus, then after a few repeats of the theme swells into a triumphant finish.

"Ballet in G major"
Played while Ahiru has Fakir read over Helmina's work, and while Ahiru meets up with Sagi.
(from "Rosamunde") A lighthearted, sprightly, optimistic song with some energetic moments.

"Arabian Dance"
Played from when Takako first speaks in the scene where Trutho, Ahiru and Sagi are walking.
(from "The Nutcracker") A slow, enigmatic song. Could be thought of as Takako's theme.

"Promenade – The Old Castle"
Played for the scene with Fakir talking with one of the Book Men.
(from "Pictures at an Exhibition") A composed, contemplative orchestral work with flutes and a calmly played horn; following that is a solemn song with mournful yet enigmatic horns and strings.

"Drosselmeyer Resurrection"
Plays for the scene where Drosselmeyer comments on the story-stoppers and the situation.
A menacing, apprehensive, yet eccentric, version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"The Story's Terminal Station Is…"
(Monogatari no Shuuchakueki) (until 0:56)
Played for the scene with the three old women and the man talking about the events in Ginkan.
An ominous, dark song.

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Für Elise"
Plays for the episode preview.
(composed by Beethoven) A whimsical yet pensive piano song.

Chapter Text

It's nothing short of shocking as to how long it's been since I've updated this story. Literally, seven years have passed since I last posted a new chapter to this thing: no exaggeration. (Geez, even the stated fact sounds like a fairy tale now orz ) Way, way too much has happened between then and now, so I'll keep it short - indeed, while I never officially quit on this fanfic, I pretty much came to a grinding halt on it for years while my life did stomach-lurching backflips and somersaults that left progress on fanfic writing the least of my worries.

Nonetheless, this is a story that I've been wanting to finish telling from the first time I seriously began writing it down, and in the more recent past few years, despite any difficulties I might've been having at the time, I've tried to get down the entire story in concept (aka outline) so that it would no longer be a nebulous destination and instead be something that I would be resolutely building toward all throughout the chapters. After that was done, I finally began cranking the fanfic back to life ever so excruciatingly. I have Mangaka-chan to deeply thank for aiding the development of this fanfic in its most sickly days, and a large part of the reason you're even seeing this revival now.

I'm a bit flabbergasted at this point, because besides what I have for you today, I have two more episodes (aka four chapter pairs) that I have waiting in the wings, just about ready to post. In other words, you're pretty much guaranteed to have updates coming soon after this one, because I've already written them. Quite a flip from what it was before, huh?

Finally, I'm hoping that having had so much time pass between the previous chapters and the following ones, that I've improved on my writing skills at least slightly. While I have a much clearer idea of what is going to happen in the future episodes than when I was writing the first three, it is all still supposed to be contiguous from the beginning, so if you remember what happened, you can continue right on from here, as no major changes were made. Though I would totally get it if you had to go back and refresh your memory, lol. XD

Okay, rambling over. It's (FINALLY) time for the story!


Once upon a time, there was a town surrounded by an impenetrable wall. The wall made the people of the town feel assured – they needed not to worry about anything that lay behind the wall, because the wall could not be broken. Nothing could disturb their blissful peace. Everything was always how they expected them to be.

What the people did not know was that the wall was made up of nothing but the illusions planted within their own minds…

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

30. AKT "Wall of Deceptions"
~ Für Elise ~

A little girl dressed in black stood timidly in the darkness. The stifling air was cold as ice, yet encompassing her was an eerie heat. "Father, I've come back."

A booming voice scolded, "You didn't bring me what I asked you."

"I-I'm sorry, Father…"

"You say that you're sorry?"

"I couldn't find it, Father…I didn't—"

A low grumble resounded from the darkness. "Do you realize how much I suffer here, trapped by the Prince's seal, while you run free in the town, in the open air? Are you not grateful that, despite my hardships, I would care for even a hideously human crow daughter like you?"

"No!" the little girl exclaimed with dismay. "You're so kind, Father, so kind! Please forgive me!"

"You'll have to do much better next time. Much, much better. Otherwise, you risk losing my love."

"No, don't, please! I will do much better! Please still love me, Father!"

The Raven paused. "You know… that no one could ever love you, other than me."

Rue looked back up at the eyes in the darkness. "Why… why is that?"

"…Because in the end, you are my daughter. My one and only beloved daughter."

You liar! I was never your daughter! You never loved me; all you ever wanted was the prince's heart!

"You always were a foolish girl to the end," he said before he swallowed her whole.

As she danced in the barren wasteland that was inside the Raven, she looked at herself. She was Kraehe again. But this time, it didn't hurt. In fact, she didn't feel anything at all.

Rue's eyes opened wide. Her right hand was clutched on her chest, over her heart. She brought it back over to her pillow, but the fretful tightness still remained.

It hadn't been just a dream. Partially it had been a memory, one that she hadn't recalled since she had gone with Mytho into his world. And Mytho's world, a fairy tale world, was like living a dream itself… yet, now here she was, back in the real world where she had grown up, where there was a line between dreams and reality, and where she had suffered. It was times like these that she wondered whether she had been crazy to want to leave that place to once again come here, the town she had first met her beloved…

Knock knock. "Rue-san? Are you awake? I was thinking we should go soon…"

Rue sighed. The waking world comes knocking quite swiftly in the morning, sweeping away any silly dreams that might distract her. She was quite grateful for it.

"Of course, Trutho. Are you ready yet?"

o-o-o-o-o

Traveling from the student dormitories, being some distance from the main campus, afforded Ahiru some time to speak with Fakir before they set off to their separate lessons for the day.

Fakir had raised his eyebrows when Ahiru appeared alone out of the girls' dormitories. He had gotten used to seeing Sagi and Ahiru together ever since Ahiru returned to human form. Wondering if something was going on, he asked after her absent roommate as they walked side by side in the light morning fog.

"I didn't see Sagi this morning, so I figured she went to school early again," Ahiru answered him. "She likes to do that a lot; I guess she's much more of an early bird than me…" She looked at Fakir. "Was Autor already gone too?"

"He was," Fakir said shortly. Which is perfectly fine with me.

They passed through the academy's front gates and past the archway entrance into campus when Ahiru looked off to the left.

"…Huh?"

"What?" Fakir followed Ahiru's glance, towards the music building, where he saw a young male student with dark curled hair slip inside.

"Caras…" Fakir scowled. Unless he had some other artistic talent they didn't know about, there was no good reason for him to be there, especially at this time of day.

The pair followed him inside. They heard footsteps up to the second floor, so Fakir and Ahiru waited until he was out of earshot before they went up the stairs as quietly as they could.

"Fakir? Ahiru?"

Ahiru blinked, somewhat startled at the person standing at the top of the stairs. "Autor? What are you doing here?"

Autor cocked a brow at them. "What am I doing here? I'm in the music department, aren't I? What are you two doing here is more of an appropriate question!"

"…Didn't you see someone coming up the stairs just now?" Fakir finally asked him, after getting over his irritation at coming across Autor again so soon.

"Other than you two? I can't say I have," he replied, somewhat tentatively. "…You're looking for someone, then?"

Fakir and Ahiru looked at each other dubiously. Had it been Autor all along…?

Seeing the troubled look on their faces, and curious about the matter, Autor added, "I'm going to meet someone, but I can help you look for him on the way; I know this floor much better than either of you two."

Fakir and Ahiru walked along with Autor in the front, as the three peeked into the empty rooms they passed. "Everybody around here is over at the orchestra rehearsal by now," Autor remarked. "Who exactly is it you're looking for? If they're in the music department, then it's probable I've at least heard of them and can tell you where they are."

"Umm…his name is Caras," Ahiru replied, "but I don't think he's in the music department…"

Autor frowned. "No, that name doesn't sound familiar…"

He stopped in front of a pair of doors to what seemed like a large room. "I wanted to stop by and talk with a friend of mine here. Perhaps this Caras you saw was coming here."

He knocked. No one answered. He knocked again louder for a moment before Autor sighed and remarked to himself, "Well, not that he'd really hear it anyway."

Fakir and Ahiru glanced at each other with puzzlement before Autor carefully opened the door a crack, enough to poke his head in. Behind Autor, Fakir and Ahiru peered into the room.

"Beethoven-senpai?" Autor ventured hesitantly.

Suddenly, four thunderous notes made Autor flinch and Ahiru nearly quack before she muffled it just in time.

The music had burst from an orchestra conducted by a wild-haired young man with an intense scowl of concentration on his face. Ahiru watched as his baton wove and whipped ahead of the ensemble's crescendos and fortes. It was as if he was etching the music alternately softly or fiercely into the air.

She happened to glance at Fakir and the amazement on his face was apparent. The music seemed to move him with a fervor that she rarely saw from him.

Then, just as suddenly, an infuriated grunt erupted from the conductor and he bellowed, "Stop! Stop!"

There was dead silence except for the sound of the young man in front hyperventilating anxiously. Then the storm struck.

"Violas, your melody is still too soft; put more power into it! Timpani, your entrance is too fast! And concertmistress," he glared at the musician on the far left, and the violinist balked. "You're not taking this piece with enough gravity at all! This isn't some kind of cheerful lark! This is a dire struggle! A battle against all odds!" His arms were waving madly with frustration.

"…Beethoven-senpai?" A contrabass waved his hand to get his conductor's attention. His voice was elevated to be sure that Beethoven could hear him properly. "You've… been up all night again looking over the piece, haven't you?" He frowned worriedly. "Are you sure you don't need to take a break sometime…?"

Beethoven looked insulted. "Our exhibition concert for the Autumn Arts Festival is coming in less than a week! Do you think we have time to just—"

"Also…" The second violin pointed behind Beethoven. "I think someone is waiting to talk to you."

"What?" Beethoven turned around and he looked shocked. "Autor! So you did decide to come meet me after all. When did you get in here? Why didn't you knock when you came in?"

Autor frowned. "But I did knock."

Beethoven blinked a moment. "Oh." He exhaled, scratching his head for a moment before turning to the orchestra. "Fine, if you want me to take a break, this'll be it. I must meet with someone now, so consider this your time to think over what I've told you."

Knowing better than to argue, the rest of the gathering stretched and looked over their music. In the meanwhile Beethoven walked over to Autor and greeted him. "It's been a very long time since I've talked with you last."

"You've been very busy with your concert I can see, so that's quite logical."

Fakir and Ahiru took the chance to look surreptitiously around the room for Caras, whether within the orchestra or in the room somewhere, but he was nowhere to be found.

Beethoven was avid. "Again, Autor, I still cannot understand why you quit the orchestra. At one point your presence made the symphonies we played sound as if… life itself was resonating in the hall; ech, I can't even explain it properly!"

Autor looked embarrassed. "I'm always flattered by your compliments, but really my technique isn't much compared to your—"

"I'm not talking about your technique," Beethoven sounded impatient, "That would be something entirely different. What it is…it's…" His hands grasped at the air, as if trying to find the right words. "Sometimes, when you were at your best, you… made your feelings real with the music." For some reason those words caught Fakir's attention. "I think that's the closest to it. Something in your playing; I couldn't quite pinpoint it, which is why I must hear it again, to uncover what it is!"

Autor sighed. "Why don't you come to my piano practice session later? I would be happy to play for you if that's what you wish."

"I shall, but I wish to hear your other instruments as well," Beethoven said. "I hope you still practice the cello? That one seemed to be your best."

"Y-yes, I still do, sometimes…"

An orchestra member's head perked up at a ringing in the distance. "Well, looks like school is officially starting. Not that it matters to us since we've been up all hours preparing anyhow…"

Ahiru started. "Wait…the school bell?!" She dashed for the exit. "Oh no, now I'm really, really—"

She slammed head-on into the doors, but that only delayed her a moment as she peeled herself off them and she went on, "—late! I'm sorry Fakir, I have to get to class!" She whipped the door open and veered around it towards the stairs.

With confusion, Fakir peered outside the door at Ahiru. But the general assembly for the other ballet classes is soon, so wouldn't the apprentice class not be meeting today because of the time conflict…?

Around the other corner, Caras leaned on the wall as Ahiru sped past him. He had been listening to the music that drifted from the room where Beethoven practiced. Glancing outside, he saw that the ravens didn't sense anything of interest here, even though this was the same human around which they had once sensed a shard when the conductor was rehearsing piano in the main ballet practice room. Still, Caras couldn't shake the feeling that there was something in that human's music that seemed familiar to him. He must have a heart shard. That has to be the reason I sense this connection…

Caras looked outside, where the crows were gathering toward the school's dance studio. Yet, they are finding one elsewhere, for certain… I suppose I must wait on this one for now.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru scrambled through the doors seconds after changing into her leotard. She looked around for a teacher, but she only saw students standing still at the barre. With a sigh of relief, she walked towards the barre to warm up.

Abruptly the doors behind her slammed shut. Ahiru jumped and turned around to see a wiry little old woman with her light gray hair pressed into a prim bun. Her lips pursed as tightly as her hair. "I see that you are late."

"Uh, umm…y-yes?" Ahiru stammered, not sure how to respond to that terse, authoritative statement.

"As tardiness is not acceptable, you will mop the entire practice floor after class," she commanded. "And there will not be a spot left afterward. Understood?"

"Wh-wh-wha?" Ahiru said with dismayed confusion.

Irritated at this student's ostensible inattentiveness, the teacher exclaimed, "Did you not hear me? I asked you, do you understand?"

Ahiru blanched. "Ahhh…yes! I mean, no! Umm, uh, no, yes!"

The old woman stared at her. "What is your name?"

"Ummmm…Ahiru! It's Ahiru!"

"Ahiru-san, get in line. Quickly now!"

Ahiru scampered to the barre straightaway. Behind her, Sagi smiled at her gently before turning immediately back to the teacher, who cleared her throat.

"Now, we may continue. As I have said, I am Mujiname-sensei, and as this school hasn't yet found fit to equip this class with consistent instruction, I will be leading the class from today."

Silently the class wondered how long that would be, seeing as how their class seemed to have a poor record on teacher retention.

"First, we shall stretch and limber up. Everyone into first position and relevé. Stand up straight so that you're balanced on your toes."

As the class complied and the teacher counted the time to hold the position, Ahiru's thoughts drifted to that morning's events. Beethoven-senpai's music was really incredible. Even Fakir… I hardly have ever seen him react so strongly to something like that. But we couldn't find Caras, even though we saw him going in… why would he go to the music department? We know he's after the Raven's heart shards… Her eyes widened. Wait! Maybe someone in the music department—

"You! The tardy student!"

"QUA—!" Hastily, Ahiru had to cover her mouth from the shock of the loud spank the instructor had brazenly administered.

"Your bottom is sticking out like an overripe carrot! What is this unsightly form you are displaying?"

"I'm… I'm sorry!" Ahiru stammered.

"Clearly you were not focusing on your stretching," Mujiname-sensei scowled. "Do you know how important it is to put your absolute best into your dancing? Or are you so sure of yourself that you don't think you need to even prepare yourself to be able to do that?"

Ahiru shook her head vehemently. "N-No! Umm… warm up is really, really important!"

"Then start behaving as such!" She looked around at the rest of the students. "Class, second position, now!"

Sagi slipped Ahiru another encouraging smile before turning her head back into position. I feel a little bad hearing Ahiru get told off repeatedly, but I'm not in the position of authority here, so this is the best I can do…

"Phew, with this teacher… the last thing we need is for Femio to show up," one of the girls told one of her friends, who nodded apprehensively.

"You two! Concentrate on your stretching!" Mujiname-sensei ordered as the two jumped nervously back into position. "What I said to Ahiru-san goes for everyone!"

Ahiru pursed her lips as she separated her feet and shakily raised herself on her toes again.

o-o-o-o-o

As Trutho and Rue walked to their next visit, the plain-clothed princess noticed that her companion was still intent on scrutinizing the storybook The Prince and the Raven that he hadn't put down for several days. She decided he could try thinking about something else for a change.

"Trutho, I have a question for you."

Distracted by the book, he glanced up after a few moments. "…Hmm?"

"What was all that about, that time after lunch when you were talking to those girls and you suddenly ran over to me?"

"That? Uh…" Trutho frowned uncomfortably. "How do I put this…? I think they were trying to, uh, get my attention…"

"No, I knew that they were trying to get their hands on you when I'm not around," she replied with a casualness that took Trutho a bit by surprise. "What I am still wondering about is why that would suddenly make you willingly stay around me when that was hardly the case before."

"You mean… besides me just getting used to you?"

Rue stared at him. "So suddenly?"

"Oh. Well…" Trutho said hesitantly, "If you really want to know, it seems simple enough to me… whose company would I rather keep? Those really iffy obsessive schoolgirls, or one young woman who's levelheaded and well-behaved?" He shrugged. "No question, don't you think?"

"That almost seems too straightforward," Rue remarked.

Trutho smiled. "But that's the way I'd rather think. And besides, Rue-san, I meant it when I said I'm getting used to you."

She sighed. Despite Trutho's rather blunt choice of words, his naïve honesty reminded Rue strongly of his brother. For that, Rue was willing to drop the matter and move onto something a little more pressing. "And that reminds me: at least when other people are around, try to address me as 'Rue'. It's improper, I know, but unless you want to create even more trouble by making people more suspicious than they already are, you'll have to put up with it. I've already adjusted to it, Mytho."

"Yeah, all right…Rue." After a pause, he relaxed. "It feels better just calling you Rue, anyway. I guess it makes you less scary, somehow."

Rue's head snapped back in his direction. "Why? How do I frighten you? Have I done anything bad to you?"

Trutho blinked, taken aback. "N-no, of course you haven't! What makes you think—?"

"Do I seem like some kind of monster?"

He shook his head vehemently. "No, definitely, absolutely not! You're…you're actually a really nice person, really! It's just been me, you know, acting weird because I'm weird like that…"

"Liar," Rue scowled. "You've always been afraid of me."

Trutho wilted. "I-I, well…" His eyes glanced back up at her worriedly for a moment before dropping back down. "…You seemed really upset about it this time, so I felt bad…"

Rue blinked. Strange that she hadn't been aware of herself until then. Maybe it had been that morning's dream messing with her sleep and her feelings. "You know what, don't mind me. Forget that I asked. I… wasn't really upset."

Trutho looked at her with a half-grin. "Now you're the one that's lying."

"I'll not talk about it anymore. Let's go." Rue sighed. "I'm sorry."

Trutho looked up at her curiously. She sure was acting strange… and honestly, Rue, apologizing to him like this? But she was looking resolutely ahead, so he figured he should do the same.

Still, on the way he glanced at her worriedly.

o-o-o-o-o

"All right, class. So far, not bad. Many improvements can still be made, but that is always the case. Now, we'll continue on with—"

The double doors to the big practice floor opened and in walked the beginner, advanced and special classes along with Yagiko-sensei. Ahiru glimpsed Fakir, Trutho, and Rue among them, along with Lilie and Pike in the beginner's class.

But practically everyone was whispering about the very shocking additional presence of the ever-absent Caras, who stood impassively at a distance from the rest.

Mujiname-sensei went over to Yagiko-sensei with considerable irritation. "Yagiko-sensei, what is the meaning of this?" she frowned. "Why are you intruding on my class time?"

"Your class—I hadn't expected you to be starting already!" Yagiko-sensei replied, still surprised to see her and the apprentice class.

"It seems the rest of the students still thought that there was class. Most of them showed up, whether early or late," she said. "Also, you told me that I was to start whenever I was ready."

"That was yesterday!" Yagiko-sensei exclaimed, flabbergasted.

"And I was ready today," the short elderly lady replied evenly. "If you weren't prepared, why didn't you simply tell me when you were ready to have me come?"

As the two teachers argued, Caras leaned on one of the barres in the corner and surveyed the group of student dancers. I sensed it. Someone that just walked in this room has the same heart shard that the others had discovered some days ago. Then why is the composer related to this? He scowled. Either way, it could be anywhere in this room… there's no way I'll find it unless I get a chance to examine these humans very carefully and draw it out.

"Well, then. Since it appears we both are teaching this session now, we'll have to coordinate. What were you planning to do first?" Mujiname-sensei asked authoritatively.

Yagiko-sensei sighed tersely. "I was going to pick someone to do a male solo demonstration. But since you like being in charge so much, why don't you pick?"

"Then I shall."

Yagiko-sensei fumed as Mujiname-sensei took seriously what she meant as a half-hearted pout.

"Hmmm…" That one in the corner almost looks like he's hiding himself away, despite his so intensely resolute expression. I wonder…? "You there, in the black shirt. Would you be willing to show the students an example of a danseur solo?"

Ahiru stood around with the others as Yagiko-sensei whispered into Mujiname's ear, while looking doubtfully towards Caras (who hadn't moved from his spot). Ahiru had seen firsthand that Yagiko-sensei was well acquainted with his utter disdain for authority or anyone that dared give him orders, much less those asking him to perform.

Then, Caras stood up from the wall and walked towards the front of the dance floor where the instructors stood watching him, and spoke only two words: "Very well."

The entire hall went dead quiet. Then, whispers around Ahiru erupted, all to the tune of how incredible his sudden enthusiasm seemed. She glanced toward Fakir and saw that his eyes were narrowed suspiciously.

Ahiru watched Caras get into position and stop to gaze carefully around at his stunned audience. Then, he began to dance.

Even though Ahiru had anything but a skilled eye, she could sense immediately that he danced very well (and from Yagiko-sensei's face, extremely well considering he was almost never seen in class). But there was something unsettling about it. His movements were harsh, threatening, yet eerily enticing. It seemed painfully restrained, like a chained beast, reminiscent of Mytho fighting a losing battle between himself and the Raven's blood, but reversed; it was not a fight against possession. Instead, it was the Raven himself struggling to triumph.

Suddenly his eyes seemed to catch on something, and in mid-dance his eyes flitted sharply towards someone in particular in the audience for just a fleeting moment – but the dance was so intense that no one failed to notice.

The audience looked towards where his attention had fallen, and there sat the special class. It wasn't clear from just the glance where it had landed, but from the distraught expression on Rue's face, the answer seemed evident.

Then she stood up and rushed out of the room, startling everyone for a second time. "Rue-chan!" Ahiru exclaimed.

"Rue!" Trutho stood up and hesitated for just an instant as everyone's attention focused on him before he anxiously tailed her out the doors.

While everyone else's attention was on Rue and Trutho's departures as the doors closed behind them, Fakir noticed that behind where Rue had been sitting was another girl who seemed equally disturbed, although instead of recognition on her face, there was confusion, suspicion, and pain.

Ahiru glimpsed a flash of darkness below her and saw that the pendant had blackened again, and looking back up she saw the special class girl who wore a bun clasp her chest nervously. That couldn't be…!

As all this was occurring, Caras smirked. Perfect. Now I know exactly where it is. I only need to get an opening to leave and wait for the class to let out to—

Suddenly the doors flew open again. Everyone looked back again, wondering if the royal pair had swiftly returned, but…

A flurry of petals fluttered from a butler's basket as a young man dressed like a spotted faun posed rapturously in the doorway. He gingerly placed one foot in front of the other. "Sweet young ladies, and gracious gentlemen, allow me to present… the blossoming flower of the dance field!"

The shocked silence in the hall was deafening. The new instructor was nonplussed, but dread was painted on Yagiko-sensei's face.

Caras had stopped dancing by this point and at first was among the rest staring at the costumed danseur in disbelief. Then, he chuckled derisively and strolled towards the doors.

The apprentice student Femio saw Caras coming towards him and blinked with puzzlement. As the dark-haired young man drew close, the one in faun garb glanced at him and in an unnerving moment, their gazes met.

The blood red eyes stabbed through the pair of oblivious lavender ones as Caras glared at the one who dared meet him eye-to-eye so thoughtlessly. Then, Caras smirked, and walked straight past him. "You're so hopelessly pitiful that it's rather amusing."

Femio stood twitchingly frozen in his pose for several moments after the dark-haired dancer had long left. At last, just after his butler's timely floor blanketing of red rose petals, he collapsed in place.

"Ohhhhh…! This sinful body… has done it again!" He grasped his cheeks grievingly. "This horrible, cursed, beauteous face—he has so strong of a love for me that his eyes sear into mine like scorching irons! Yet, even he realizes, that I am so pitiful, as to not have enough love for others as they have for me, not nearly enough!"

He kneeled on the (rose petal covered) ground and beckoned to the ceiling, "Oh, Heaven, pour judgment down upon this—"

"OH NO YOU DON'T!" Yagiko-sensei stormed over to Femio and literally kicked him through the doors, his petals sputtering behind him as he slid out. "You are NOT getting those bulls into this studio again!"

Montand hurriedly swept up the remaining petals and made his getaway following his master, and as Mujiname-sensei observed her colleague with somewhat amazed approval, Yagiko-sensei fumingly slammed the doors shut behind them.

The overwhelmed students were now absolutely speechless.

o-o-o-o-o

"Rue! Rue, wait up!"

Trutho, who had fumbled to get his school uniform back on before exiting, finally caught up to Rue, who had just exited after having changed into hers. She stopped at his voice, but didn't turn around to look at him at first.

He lowered his head uneasily. "You felt it too, huh?"

"What do you mean?!" Rue whipped her head around, with interrogative eyes.

More prepared this time for her defensiveness, he wavered for only a moment before continuing, "…That person. Something about him feels like trouble, real bad trouble, and you don't know exactly what it is but you feel it, somehow…"

"I wish it were that vague," Rue replied, flustered. "I know exactly what he reminded me of… even though it shouldn't bother me at all," she shook her head vehemently.

"Really?" Trutho looked at her inscrutably. Looking away for a moment, he said, "It's actually a lot more frustrating when you don't even know what you're dealing with. But you seem to know, and it's probably the same thing that I—"

"I highly doubt it," Rue replied hastily. "And, anyway, it-it's not…" She tried to think of a plausible excuse but found she was too upset to do so.

Trutho sighed. "Sorry, Rue. I was just thinking you could help me figure out something. But if it's that hard to say…then it's not worth hurting you more just to tell me about it."

"…" Rue thought a moment. "I want to take a walk around, alone. Is there somewhere you could stay for a while without needing me to be there?"

Trutho nodded. "If you think that'll make you calm down, I'll be in the library when you're done, okay?"

"…Fine," she assented. "I will look for you there, then. I won't be long."

As she left, Trutho had second thoughts if it was all right leaving her by herself like this. But she seems like the type to be able to take care of herself, and she doesn't like my company very much either.

Besides, aren't I supposed to be the one that needs supervision? He shook his head dryly. So, I'll try to keep myself out of trouble, for her sake, too.

o-o-o-o-o

It had taken some time for Uzura to get down from the tower and out onto the street. From there, she had to orient herself and remember where the school was from there. Then she had to get through the busy traffic at that time of day. Even for an energetic child like her, it was tiring.

Now she was wandering about the academy's courtyard, scouting around trying to locate two people that she concluded had to be on this campus. "Where are Fakir and Ahiru-zura? They've got to be around here somewhere-zura!"

As she tapped her drum, marching along the courtyard pathway, she noticed a dark-haired young man in a Kinkan school uniform walking away from the dance studio ahead. Thinking for a moment, she hurried over towards him. "Do you know where they might be-zura?"

Caras stopped and turned around. The tiny pale child blinked back up at him as he looked her over. "What? Are you asking me where someone is?"

Uzura nodded. "Fakir and Ahiru-zura?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "I have no idea who those people are. Why are you asking me?"

"Oh." Uzura tilted her head. "I kinda thought I knew you from somewhere. Guess not-zura."

With determination, she plodded onward out of sight. "Gotta find Fakir and Ahiru-zura, before Drosselmeyer-zura finds out where I am-zura…"

Caras stopped and surreptitiously watched the toddler veer around the corner. Did that little one say what I thought she said? Even though he supposedly left this town after my heart was shattered…

His eyes narrowed. Or maybe this in truth explains much of what's happened of late… The young man's crimson eyes gazed inscrutably beyond the sky.

Drosselmeyer.

o-o-o-o-o

In front of a gear framing the dark-haired young man, an old man sporting a multi-feathered hat and a big red cloak stood pouting. "Curse that troublesome Uzura, making a mess of my carefully crafted suspense! It would be quite troublesome if the characters were again made aware of their author's presence, and so soon! And they're already on their guard, so they're not about to be as dense as the rest of the town…"

He sighed theatrically. "I suppose I'll just have to take her back out when I can catch her. But I can't divert too much of my attention, otherwise I won't be able to maintain the tenuous hold I have on this situation. I must say, that despite being freed by it, losing that machine does make it much harder to control a story, now that I only have my remaining characters and sheer quill power to do the trick…"

o-o-o-o-o

That day, Mytho and Komaro had set off from their room a little more wary. For some reason, in the morning Mytho couldn't shake off a tense feeling that he just couldn't put a finger on. Komaro suggested that perhaps their heightened awareness of the dubious circumstances caused him to be on edge, which sounded plausible enough.

Still, they rode out that day prepared for any surprise attacks. Anytime the two saw a crow overhead, they tensed for a moment. Again, they also noticed that people were not generally out and about very much.

"Unlike back in my homeland, or in Kinkan Town, there are no children playing in the streets, nor merchants proclaiming their wares," Mytho noted forlornly. "One would almost wonder if a tragedy had occurred of late, if one didn't know anything about this town…"

"Come to think of it, that's right; your homeland isn't actually Kinkan, is it?" Komaro said. "It's somewhere else, a kingdom that's far away but somehow close by. Which direction might it be from here?"

"Y-yes, it's somewhat difficult to get to from where we are…" Mytho replied vaguely. "I… am unsure of the answer to your question," The prince smiled wanly.

"Oh…" Komaro said. "Then, I am glad it is indeed so peaceful and happy. It is well and good that you have grown up in such a place."

Mytho grew pensive. That's right; the people from this world don't know of my world as real. It's only a story to them, like the wise fairy I had visited said… even though, she also said the connection between my world and this one still remains …

Komaro glanced at the prince, who had fallen strangely silent all of a sudden. After a moment, Komaro looked ahead. "All right, then; we were considering how we might confer with the Ginkan Council without making them too suspicious."

Mytho was roused out of his thoughts, realizing that Komaro had changed the subject.

"We'll have to approach this very delicately, as in addition, you are undercover. If they find out who you are, then your presence here is sure to be discovered by both the people here and back in Kinkan."

"Perhaps it might be necessary to reveal my identity if I am to seek a timely audience," Mytho replied. "I'm already here; I doubt that anyone will send an entourage to fetch me even if there is much ado about my absence."

"That's not the point anymore, your Highn—my Lord," Komaro whispered. "Now it is a matter of your own safety that you do not get targeted for an attack. Even in disguise we are still in danger; I am loath to imagine how much that danger might increase if your presence was made public here, where you indeed have no other entourage to protect you."

Abruptly, a crow cawed loudly in the air, and Komaro and Mytho glanced up quickly to see a small flock of crows circling above them. The two immediately braced themselves for a conflict.

"My Lord, this way!" Komaro turned toward an empty intersection. "We might be able to escape!"

As they approached it, suddenly from around the corner a regiment of patrol knights came swiftly towards them. "You two there, halt!"

A bit taken aback, Mytho responded, "Knights! There are crows gathering here. We may have to fight them!"

"Don't mind them," the Ginkan knight who seemed the head of them said. "They will not be a problem right now. Instead, you shall come with us. We will escort you without force if you come willingly."

"Where will you be taking us?" Komaro asked them warily.

"The Ginkan High Council wishes to speak with you," the head knight replied. "We are taking you to them."

"We shall speak with them, then," Mytho replied, before Komaro could speak. "Please lead the way."

As the regiment shifted to an enclosing formation around them, Komaro glanced at Mytho uneasily. "Is this all right, my Lord…?"

"This… is the best way anyway, isn't it?" Mytho replied carefully.

Komaro frowned, but after thinking it over for a few moments, he bit his lips and looked ahead silently.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru waited nervously in the dance practice room with Mujiname-sensei after all the rest (including Yagiko-sensei) had left. The diminutive, aged instructor stood on the other side of the studio, facing the opposite window. Then, after what seemed like a long time, she cleared her throat.

"Ahiru-san, come here!"

Ahiru hesitated, and then waddled slowly up to the woman.

When she got there, the instructor turned around and looked her straight in the eyes. "What is your reason for dancing, Ahiru-san?"

Ahiru was startled. "Wh-what? Umm, umm, because… I really want to dance."

"You can dance anywhere if you wished," she replied. "Why do you come to this school to dance?"

"I-I…" Ahiru struggled to answer, "I… want to become better at dancing." Seeing the instructor looking at her, expecting more, she added, "I sometimes imagine I could become a prima donna one day, but I know I can't be as good as that. I like trying, though."

"Trying? Without succeeding? Just that is good enough?" her eyes narrowed. "You think that your abilities are so low you can't possibly improve much on what you are now?"

Ahiru started. "N-no, that's not what I meant to say…"

Mujiname-sensei shook her head briskly. "No, you didn't need to say anything. You have no confidence in your talents, so no wonder you haven't let them grow."

Ahiru was mystified now. "Talents?" She looked down. "I'm just a clumsy little duck, and I'm only myself in the end…" Ahiru said quietly to herself.

"You use that as an excuse?" Mujiname-sensei overheard her. "Or have people told you that so often you started to believe it and stop truly trying?"

Ahiru looked at her with confusion. "But…"

Mujiname pursed her lips with something that seemed like disappointment. "Let me tell you a story. There was once a young girl who wanted to dance like anything. But her instructors told her, she simply didn't have the talent or the physique to be a great ballet dancer. She kept training anyway, on her own. Then, after years of practice, she tried out for a renowned ballet company. Can you guess what happened?"

Ahiru scratched her head. "…She got in?"

"It was an outright rejection," the teacher said. "They told her, 'You seem to be well rehearsed, but we're afraid that you simply wouldn't fit with the rest of our dancers. Your body type doesn't match, and your style differs too much."

Ahiru's face fell. "So, then… she—"

"But here I am, nonetheless," Mujiname-sensei proclaimed, looking up at Ahiru straight in the eyes a second time. Even though the teacher was actually even shorter than her in height, in that moment, Ahiru felt as if both of them were much taller. "That girl was rejected for the same reasons, time and again. Those were the times she felt she was going to quit dancing for good. But then she realized she wanted to dance too much for anyone else to tell her what to do. So, she just kept going."

She stopped. "That's all there is to it. That's all I've done until this day. I have my own dance company now. I got to where I am with my own strength, even when others blocked my way. Now, when I thought I might try my hand at training upcoming talent elsewhere and I found an opening, one look at my qualifications and I was let here straightaway. Nothing about lacking 'talent' or 'physique' or any of that nonsense."

The lady narrowed her eyes resolutely at Ahiru. "If you truly must have something, no matter what, you must be willing to confront anyone that bars your ultimate goal. Because the only one you can truly rely on is yourself."

Ahiru hesitated. "I don't know if that's true."

"Really?" Mujiname stared at her, somewhat surprised. "Why do you say that?"

"What I mean is that, I know that you can't be discouraged by other people. But I think if we have the same dreams, we can help each other reach them."

The old lady scowled. "You can say that now, when no one sees you as a threat, but once you become competition, others would like nothing more than to have one less rival in their way."

"Maybe…" Ahiru frowned. "But, I think if they really wanted to be the best dancers, instead of just winning the best spot, they'd want to compete with the best, too. If not, then…then they're… they're just cheaters!" she blurted out fervently. "Cheating everyone else, and most of all, cheating themselves! And…and who cares about cheaters?"

Mujiname's eyebrows rose. "Oh, is that so?" Ahiru flinched nervously, but the teacher suddenly beamed zealously. "It looks like I had the right idea about you after all."

It wasn't the reaction Ahiru was expecting. The redhead stood there a little stunned as the lady clapped her on the shoulder and said, "On your journey to become a great dancer, I can see you'll end up taking different paths than I have." She looked into the distance. "I'm not the best one to help you get there, so you should seek guidance from another, if you should so find a suitable mentor.

"However!" Mujiname-sensei whipped her head back at Ahiru, who jumped. "Even I can tell you that you must not be late for your trainings! That's something that even the most inexperienced amateur knows is crucial for advancement! It is a horrible habit that must be nipped in the bud, so as I told you this morning, I demand that as a penalty, you mop this entire studio floor by yourself."

"Wh-what?!"

"You heard me," Mujiname-sensei said. "Even though I'm leaving after today, I will be back to check that you've done it."

"Wait a minute…" Ahiru thought a moment, "Does that mean… you're not going to teach us anymore?" she asked, saddened. "Why?"

The lady sighed. "I should have realized it from the beginning, but… I couldn't work with that overbearing woman if my life depended on it. Again, our styles were too different," she smirked. "It seems that my paths always lead me back to blazing my own, so that is what I'll continue to do."

As she was about to leave, she turned back around and smiled. "We'll just have to wait and see how you turn out before I consider you for my productions. Work hard!"

Ahiru blinked, and then smiled back. "I will!"

o-o-o-o-o

Caras lingered on campus, waiting for the ballet student to exit the studio, and alone. The rest of them already have left, so I don't understand why she hasn't come out yet.

As he passed by the culinary building, something flitted into his field of view. He grabbed the object and examined it. A piece of scratch paper, apparently, that had some kind of note written on it.

Taking a look at it, the message was almost unreadable and otherwise seemed inconsequential. Seeing no use in holding onto it, he released it back into the wind.

Then, he sensed someone else's presence. He peered over his shoulder and realized the failed-knight-turned-writer had snuck up some distance behind him.

Fakir noticed Caras just a moment before a small piece of paper glided toward him from Caras's direction. He snatched it out of the air and glanced between it and Caras dubiously. Is he…giving me this?

The note was scrawled messily in what presumably was still German, as the grammar was also considerably afflicted. Is Caras really this illiterate? Then again, I never see him write anything in class… Fakir studied it closer to decipher it.

"I have got it now! I assure you, it is indeed primzGet it quickly now, before it is gone."One word was particularly afflicted from the bad handwriting, making it nigh illegible.

What…? What the heck does this mean…? Presumably, "primz" meant "prinz". 'It's indeed the prince…?'

Fakir's eyes widened in horror. No, that Caras couldn't have—he hasn't kidnapped Trutho?!

But when Fakir had looked back up, Caras had already disappeared.

Fakir scowled. Damn it! He took off at a run.

o-o-o-o-o

As Sagi walked through the school's library after class to return the book she had borrowed previously, her thoughts began revolving back around the book she seemed to be hearing more about lately. Now she remembered the title: The Prince and the Raven. It was what Trutho had been reading the other day, hadn't it? If it was so important, maybe it might explain some of the strange things that were going on.

Unfortunately, she wasn't having much luck finding it. She tried all the obvious places, but she couldn't seem to find a copy of it around.

She approached the student librarian's help desk. "Batson-san? I'm looking for a book called The Prince and the Raven…"

"You as well?" he furrowed a brow. "That sure seems to be a popular book recently…"

Sagi blinked. "Popular?"

"Lots of people have been asking for it, ever since the Prince first asked for it and has been carrying it everywhere he goes," he explained. "And if he likes it, well, I guess that means that whatever extra copies we have are snatched up in an instant. My apologies."

Afterwards, Sagi gave to the librarian the book she had meant to return in the first place, and then she proceeded to meander a bit through the library. I suppose there's no helping it; I'll just have to wait until it's a bit less in demand if I want to take a look at it.

Attracted to the quiet side corners of the library, Sagi came across a row of study desks where only a few people sat in absorbed silence. Among them Sagi found, to her slight surprise, Trutho concentrating intently on the book he was reading.

Suddenly, the boy grimaced, exhaled sharply, and slammed the book shut with frustration. Trutho cradled his head in his hands as Sagi noticed that it was still that storybook he had had last time at the bridge.

Trutho looked up and saw Sagi sitting near him. "Oh… hi there. Name's Sagi, right?"

She nodded. "That book seems to trouble you very much. Is it such an upsetting story?"

"It's…sad, and kind of disturbing at times, but that's not really why I…" Trutho pursed his lips. "More like, is all this supposed to have actually happened to Mytho-san? This guy," he pointed to the line reading 'Drosselmeyer' on the front, "is supposed to have made this all up?

"And…this might sound kind of self-centered, but…" He thumbed through the book, frowning. "Another thing that bothers me is that after that beginning part—I mean, the prince's little brother, just disappears, like he died or no longer existed or something." He throws his hands out, studying himself with disbelief. "But obviously I'm not…"

"Hmm…" Sagi said pensively. "I suppose I can't really comment on it, as I haven't read it yet myself."

"You haven't?" he said. "Then here, have the copy I borrowed."

Sagi blinked. "You don't have to do that. If you're still reading it, then I'll wait—"

"Look, just—just take it from me," Trutho insisted, shoving it in her direction. "Please. I have to stop obsessing over it. I practically have the whole thing memorized now, I've read the book over so many times," he sighed, shaking his head. "But I'm not going to get any more answers from it."

Sagi hesitated for a moment before grasping the book. "If it's really all right with you, then I'll take it. Thank you for your generosity; it's apparently hard to find right now."

"Not a problem, I was looking for an excuse to let go of it." He stood up. "I think I'll wait at the entrance for Rue. I told her I'd be here, but it's been a little while. I hope I don't have to be the one looking for her this time," he remarked, grinning.

"All right. Goodbye for now, then."

After Trutho had left, Sagi sat for a while, holding the book. For some odd reason, she couldn't get herself to start reading it just yet. How strange, she thought, considering she had been pining for it only moments before. The thought of Trutho bent over the book in frustration kept lingering in Sagi's mind and she wondered if that was the source of her current hesitation.

Sighing quietly, and deciding maybe a change in setting would reignite her interest, she stood up and made her way back to the dorm.

o-o-o-o-o

Inside one of the music building practice rooms, as Beethoven sat listening nearby, Autor played the piano.

Music was, obviously, considered an art. But it was a discipline in which even the greatest aesthetic sense alone would not get you far. Music was, ultimately, all about numbers. One didn't play each note without knowing beforehand if it was a quarter note or an eighth; if it was B flat or G sharp; if the song was in 3 counts or 4. Those were the numbers that determined whether one played a waltz or an elegy. Making music was taking the inert symbols on paper and translating them into the flow of sounds that could be understood beyond words.

It was like all the research he had been doing thus far. Performing was much easier in that way since at least all the symbols were there on one page. For all that he knew about Drosselmeyer and his family, he had to bring together the numerous and ostensibly meaningless bits of fact, and synthesize them into an elegant, melodious equation that no one would have even imagined from the jumble. In comparison, music for him was a soothing interlude.

He finished playing the song and paused a moment.

"Autor?"

He looked up at his upperclassman, who had a pensive expression on his face. "What is it, Beethoven-senpai?"

"I don't have much time left before I must meet someone, so I should leave soon. Why don't you play some of your cello? You said you were still working on it."

"Yes, but not so much these days, mainly because it's not as fitting an instrument to play solo."

"Then I'll take the piano and you get on the cello. Let's play a duet, shall we?"

Autor was vaguely puzzled at Beethoven's eagerness. Honestly, what is he looking for? He doesn't seem to be impressed with my skill level anyway; even I don't detect anything particularly special in my performance either.

Still, if Beethoven wanted to hear him play, he didn't see any reason not to oblige. Besides, as his pragmatist side chimed in, getting on the good side of a senior classmate was always a plus. "All right."

Across the hall, Rue was walking through the corridor, her thoughts going around in a dead but upsetting loop.

That young man… how could he have danced in a way that was so utterly full of that creature's essence? Just thinking of it brought her back to the days when she called that now-dead monster "Father"…when she was Princess Kraehe…when she only caused pain to those she loved, just as the curse of that foul blood entailed, when she herself tainted her prince so that he danced almost the same as this…

She grimaced in anguish. Never would she admit it to Trutho or anyone, but what she feared was that Trutho's fright resulted from the taint of monstrosity that she dreaded still remained in her somewhere, and perhaps even Mytho as well…

A song began in one of the rooms she walked past. Thankful for the interruption, she paused and surreptitiously peeked in. Inside sat an older music student at the piano, and to her amazement, the bespectacled young man she had encountered not so long ago, sitting down with a cello.

Beethoven began the piano introduction. As Autor prepared to come in from his part, he realized how long it had actually been since he'd played the cello in earnest. It's really not an instrument meant to be played alone, and I can't be troubled to find other musicians all the time while having to follow someone else's lead. Sure, he'd done exercises and warm-ups to make sure he didn't forget how to play. Still, he was a little surprised when it came back to him fairly easily, just a few measures into the song. He supposed it probably was his best instrument next to the piano, if not better, considering how much more he'd practiced the piano.

Autor looked towards the doorway and was startled to notice Rue glancing inside. She seemed to sense his gaze and immediately she disappeared from view. Still, seeing that exquisite face again lifted his spirits, and he played just a little harder, if only for her.

In the hallway, Rue could still hear the music playing. This time, it brought her back to that time when she and Autor first met, face-to-face, eye-to-eye; his heart had been beating fast, and he was taken by her instantly, was willing to do anything for her sake…

Rue shook her head vehemently. Why was she recalling such things all of a sudden? It wasn't as if she had thought much about him before then…

Promptly she decided that she'd continue walking and find Trutho at the library, where hopefully he had kept his word. It seemed better than dwelling on painful memories.

o-o-o-o-o

Shades of warm pink and velvety purple appeared in the sky as evening approached. Outside the windowpanes, the moon was just visible above the horizon, and the golden orb shone down on Ahiru as she walked through the silent hallway to the ballet studio building.

After she had retrieved a mop and bucket and headed back to the main dance studio, she noticed that the door to the studio was still open. As she approached, voices drifted out from inside.

"So… how is the orchestra doing?" an older girl's voice asked.

"I'd have to say, not bad. We're still working out the many kinks, but they're catching on quickly," a voice familiar to Ahiru said. "But tell me about your dancing. How are the practices for the arts festival going on your end?"

Ahiru opened the door a little more and saw two upperclassmen standing next to the practice piano. One was Beethoven, the conductor she had heard that morning, and the other was to Ahiru's surprise the special class girl who wore her hair in a bun, the ballerina who had sat behind Rue that morning.

"It's going…fine," the girl said uneasily. "Everyone's been working hard. We all want to show our best routines and stand out among the rest…"

"That's how it always is, isn't it?" Beethoven said, waving a hand lightly. "Just with a little added risk, like a spice. Rather than be a burden, it can bring out some electrifying performances."

"Or it could destroy them," the girl muttered, her eyes narrowing as she looked away warily.

Beethoven frowned. "Elise…this atmosphere is really strange coming from you. I don't ever recall you ever being this uptight about a show before. What's all this about?"

Elise exhaled. "You're right that I haven't really felt like myself the past few weeks. It wasn't enough to keep me from practicing, though; I just…don't feel like anyone's on my side anymore."

"No one?" Beethoven cocked an eyebrow. "Surely your other colleagues are always there for you during practice?"

Elise's eyes narrowed again. "But we're really all competitors, anyway, so I…can't really trust…"

Ahiru, who had been leaning farther and farther through the doorway, lost her grip on the doorknob, and she wailed as she flapped her arms to keep her balance, finally failing with a loud thud.

"Wha—who's there?" Elise's head whipped towards the doorway. "Oh…"

"Hmm? What is it? What's going on?" Beethoven looked around, confused. When he saw Ahiru on the ground, he blinked, as if she had just appeared there out of nowhere.

Ahiru scrambled up in a flash and attempted to explain everything in a flurry. "Um, well, you see, I was sent up here to clean up the floor here, and I thought this room was empty, but then I heard people in here, and, well, I…"

Beethoven studied Ahiru for a moment. "Wait…you're that red-head from before. One of Autor's acquaintances, I believe?"

"Oh! Autor, um, sort of, but Fakir knows him, and I know Fakir, so…" Ahiru's face fell. "I-I'm really sorry to interrupt you like this, but if I don't clean the room, I'll get in evenbigger trouble…"

Elise shook her head. "That won't do. Just tend to your washing; we won't stay much longer. We'll keep out of the way."

"Is that all right with you?" Beethoven whispered to Elise.

"We're not supposed to be in here, anyway," Elise replied pointedly. "We've just been going in and borrowing it after class without asking anyone. We should get out of her way soon and leave."

Beethoven glanced over at Ahiru. She was already busy skidding across the room with her mop, stopping every so often to dunk it back into the bucket of moist foam before dashing off again.

"I suppose you're right. But just one song before we leave, please. I would hate to leave here without seeing you dance, especially today."

Elise blinked. "Why today?"

Beethoven smiled secretively. "You'll see."

With a bow, Beethoven wordlessly stepped over and sat at the piano to prepare his music as Elise stretched briefly before getting into position. Then, the melody began, and Elise danced along to it.

As Ahiru wiped away at the floor, she caught some glimpses of the special class girl's dancing. Even though she was clearly very skilled and adept at ballet, Ahiru sensed that Elise seemed very distracted, and was hesitant in her movements. In her eyes it looked as if she were fighting back something, even though she was acting as if nothing were wrong.

"…Ludwig, what is this song?"

Beethoven saw Elise's mouth moving but couldn't quite make out her words. "Sorry, what was that?"

"I don't recognize this song," Elise repeated loudly, moving her lips carefully as she looked up at him. "What is it? Is it a new song of yours?"

"Yes," Beethoven nodded, still smiling as he continued to play, looking at Elise. "It's one I've been working on for a little while."

"What's it called?"

"It doesn't really have a name, but a dedication," he said, looking back down at his notes. "It's simply called 'For Elise'."

At this, she lost her concentration entirely and in the middle of a turn, toppled to the floor.

Ahiru gasped. "Elise-chan!" She dropped the mop and ran over to her. "Are you all right?"

Elise grimaced. She quickly looked up at Beethoven. Upon seeing that his head was still lowered towards the piano, his music uninterrupted, Elise's eyes narrowed.

"Beethoven-senpai! Elise-chan fell!" Ahiru shouted.

He immediately looked up as his hands crashed discordantly onto the piano. Upon seeing Elise on the floor he almost fell off the seat in horror and hurried to her. "Wh-what happened?!"

Elise looked sidelong. "…I lost my focus. Sorry, I really can't dance today it seems…"

"It's all right," Beethoven said. "You know how much you've been practicing. Perhaps this was the wrong day to play you that song; I should have waited until you had more energy for such diversions."

"No," Elise's brows creased, "I…I really did want to hear it." It looked as if she meant it, yet was fighting against herself. Only when Ahiru looked for it did she notice the fluctuating crimson tinge in her eyes. For a moment those eyes met Beethoven's.

Somehow, Elise couldn't stand it and had to close her eyes, almost painfully. "I'm…I'm fine, really." She stood up quickly but stumbled again.

"You're not fine! Are you sure you didn't twist your ankle? You didn't injure anything, did you?"

"No, I'm fine, I'm just…I've just been tired recently. Practice must be getting to me; that must be it. We've been rehearsing even more for the next performance, after all."

She tried to stand up slowly. Beethoven stepped back, but kept his hands ready in case she wavered. She was able to stand, however, and she made her way for the door. "Sorry that I…couldn't hear the rest of your song. I'll just go back to my room and rest, now."

"Yes, do that." Beethoven walked after her. "I'll walk you to the dormitories—"

"No, it's all right. I'll manage. I'm…I apologize for the trouble." She looked back at him, smiled halfheartedly, and looked away, striding carefully towards the door. "I'll see you later."

"Elise…" Beethoven reached out a hand as if to follow her, then paused and let it drop back down. His expression became darkly inscrutable. He attempted to compose himself and said firmly, "Don't blame yourself. This is not your fault," and then tread determinedly out the door, with Ahiru gazing after him.

Now left alone in the room, Ahiru picked up the dropped mop, but instead of continuing to clean the floors, she looked at the piano, deep in thought.

The fleeting shadow she'd seen in Elise's eyes really worried her. Earlier, her pendant had responded to someone who possessed a heart shard, and after this incident, she was sure that the person had been Elise. Furthermore, Ahiru was certain that Caras knew about Elise at this point.

Touching her pendant, Ahiru couldn't comprehend why Caras would want to resurrect the Raven after they'd worked so hard to break free from the story's control. Ahiru knew she had to help Elise, and prevent Caras from gaining another shard.

Yet, she couldn't very well leave without having completed her assignment; after all, Mujiname-sensei had faith in Ahiru that she would do what she promised. Nodding resolutely, Ahiru rolled up her sleeves and dunked the mop with a loud splash into the bucket. "As soon as I have the floors clean, I'll go find Elise-chan!" Ahiru said to herself as she worked at double pace, hoping that if she mopped and cleaned as fast as she could, she could find Elise before Caras did.

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

30. AKT "Wall of Deceptions"
~ Für Elise ~

- Part 2 -

The servant led Komaro and Mytho to a waiting room. "Please wait here. The Council will meet with you shortly."

As the servant hastily left to inform his superiors (one might have thought from his apprehensive air that he was a misstep away from a death sentence), Komaro and Mytho sat quietly next to each other, both anxious but Komaro more visibly so.

"I…I have a bad feeling about this, my Lord," Komaro whispered. "I don't think I'm in the position to speak very much here. My status as a servant, even a highly ranked one, makes it inappropriate for me to actively participate in discussion between nobility. And even if it were…" He pursed his lips nervously. "I fear that my dismay in this dubious situation will make me a burden."

"I understand, Komaro," Mytho said to him. "You shall be with me as I speak with them, and that alone will be a great relief."

Komaro smiled faintly.

"The Council will see you now," the servant from before informed them. He brought them down the hall before a pair of double doors. He carefully opened one of them, and beckoned the two inside. He closed the door after they entered.

In the room sat three nobles at a meeting table that looked like it could have seated several more. On the right side of the table, closer to Komaro and Mytho was an elderly man wearing a monocle and an old but formal mahogany suit. On the left side sitting at the far side was a noblewoman wearing her hair up under a beaded headdress, from which hung a delicate, translucent veil. The bearded man sitting at the end of the table wore a firm, crisp crimson outfit that seemed military-like under his black caplet. He bore a markedly portentous air, even as he stood up and beckoned them to the table genially.

"Welcome, guests," he said. "Please, sir, sit." Mytho sat down in the nearest chair, while Komaro remained standing next to him.

"Go on and sit with us," the nobleman with the monocle entreated Komaro, and after a moment's hesitation, he sat down as well next to Mytho.

"Let us introduce ourselves, in case you are not already familiar. I am Lord Macbeth, the Council Head," he said. Indicating the woman sitting near him, he introduced the noblewoman as Lady Regan, before ending on the remaining nobleman. "And the man sitting near you is Lord Duncan."

"This is the entire council?" Mytho asked them.

"No, not exactly," Duncan replied. "Another of our number has but just returned from his commerce traveling and needs a day to recover, so he unfortunately cannot be present today. He certainly works quite hard at keeping his businesses running. It's wonderful for supporting Ginkan's prosperity."

He furrowed a brow. "As for the rest of us, some nasty disputes of late have caused some problems. In fact, one left quite recently…" The old nobleman looked at Macbeth. "You're sure we haven't gotten any more messages from him?"

"As I've told you, you need not concern yourself," Macbeth answered him dismissively. "He was quite in a fury when he stormed out of the meeting room that day, wasn't he? He'll need quite some time before he'll have composed himself enough to refrain from cursing us on sight, much less send us notice of the nature of his current affairs."

"There's no need to bother our guests with our petty quarrels, Duncan," the noblewoman Regan told him evenly. "Let us discuss matters that are of relevance to them."

"That is quite all right," Mytho said. "I am Lord White of Kinkan, and this is my travel companion, Komaro."

"Kinkan, you say?" Duncan noted while glancing at the insignia on Komaro's uniform. "Then you must be visiting from nearby. I was wondering why a Kinkan royal servant was accompanying you."

"The one I serve, Prince Siegfried, bid me to accompany his acquaintance to the nearest town," Komaro explained evenly. "It would have been quite additionally strenuous for Lord White otherwise."

"I see, I see." Macbeth stroked his beard. "How then have you found Ginkan, Lord White? The weather hasn't been favoring us recently, but nothing terribly unpleasant either, which is a relief."

"If the weather were the only thing to be concerned about," Mytho said grimly. "Rather than rain, a storm of crows constantly batters your townsfolk."

Komaro bit his lip. Mytho, must you be so forward?

"They're frightened, terribly so – and while I haven't been here all that long, it's clear that they need—"

"What exactly are you talking about?" Regan asked, furrowing a brow. "Attacks? By flocks of birds? How could this be occurring, and for what reason?"

Mytho's eyes widened in disbelief. "You can't possibly have heard nothing of these events? They have not only been persistent, but they've continued to occur recently. It is extremely difficult for me to imagine that you would not have been made aware of them all this time."

Duncan blinked as he adjusted his monocle, looking troubled. "I…I had heard rumors, but…those few incidents, they seemed so happenstance, and…well, what kind of significance could there be…?"

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru dashed out of the studio the moment she had finished wiping the floor, stopping only to throw on her uniform and shoes. Elise has got a heart shard, I'm sure of it. But, I'm worried about what'll happen if she goes off by herself, because then, Caras might…

She looked around the campus grounds. It had by now emptied out of the other ballet students leaving for the day, and she didn't see Elise anywhere either.

A dark shadow passed overhead. When Ahiru looked up, she saw crows gathering ominously towards the music building, and taking the hint, she took off after them.

When she got to the building, she was about to head inside when she noticed that the crows were concentrated on the side next to the school's entrance. Apprehensively she peeked around the corner, and the two were already there, conversing.

"Your name," Caras extended a hand out to her. "Elise, wasn't it?"

"You—you're the one that did the solo today, aren't you?" She backed away slightly, her head turned away. "Well…well done."

"But I noticed, as well as you did…" He took a step forward. "For some reason, it bothered you greatly. Why? What about a mere dance could frighten you so?"

"I wasn't frightened!" Elise snapped. "Not of the dance. It just…reminded me about how recently, everything…everyone…" She grimaced.

"Nothing seems certain anymore?" he said. "Nothing and no one can be trusted to be as you think they are. Am I right?"

"But you…" Elise paused, her frustration and confusion preoccupying her for a moment, before she exclaimed, eyes glittering crimson, "But who are you to talk? How can I trust you if I don't even know who you are? What does it have to do with you?"

"I know exactly who I am," he answered, his eyes narrowing. "And I am the one that knows that this wrenching feeling doesn't belong where it is." He raised an arm and pointed at her heart. "I must take it from you."

This again! Ahiru pursed her lips anxiously. It's the same thing. I have to turn back into Princess Tutu, to remove the heart shard without her going through all that pain. But, am I still even able to do that? She tried to picture becoming Tutu, along with her unyielding wish to alleviate the pain.

She began to feel that magic again, but just as it came, she felt the warm light draw away. What…? No, don't go! If I just stand here and do nothing, then…!

o-o-o-o-o

After Duncan had trailed off for a moment, Regan responded over the nobleman as if Duncan hadn't said anything. "We are kept well informed of the matters within our town, sufficient to know if there are any threats that need to be addressed. Indeed, it is difficult for me to imagine that we would not be made known of such things by our loyal guard patrols."

Mytho looked grave. "Are you certain that is the case?"

"What is this?" The head councilman narrowed his eyes, leaning forward toward him. "Are you questioning the reliability of my subordinates to my face? They have served us well all these years and protected the council, and this town, from harm and intrigue. I will not have a visitor, honored though he may be, defame them so brashly in my presence. Who are you, Lord White, to judge our security and lecture us about it?"

The incognito prince started to rise from his seat, but Komaro caught his eye, and shook his head subtly. Mytho blinked, thought for a moment, and with a silent breath he calmed himself and sat back down, replying simply, "…I apologize. That was out of line on my part. Please pardon my rudeness."

Finally Komaro spoke. "Pardon for interrupting, but…on behalf of my companion, I merely would like to remark that we were quite startled at our sudden invitation to the Ginkan council quarters, knowing how busy you are with your affairs. In addition, the behavior of the crows that we observed were quite unsettling – they really looked like they were going to attack, many times! I think, therefore, that small talk may not be in the best of times, and—"

He was cut off by Macbeth's curt sigh. "Young man, I entreat you to be brief. What are you trying to say?"

"Please let him speak as he wishes," Mytho said imploringly.

Komaro nodded hastily at Macbeth, growing a bit anxious under the superior's gaze, though Mytho's endorsement enabled him to promptly continue speaking. "Y-yes, Lord Macbeth, of course – what I'm trying to say is that, you requested us to be here for some purpose, right? I think our discussion would go much smoother if you might enlighten us with the original reason you have requested our presence. P-presumably, it isn't about the matter just under debate, so…"

Macbeth had been scrutinizing him nonchalantly. Upon the end of Komaro's speech, the councilman pursed his lips and replied, "…I see, all right. We called your master's companion down here, you know this, and you would like to know why. That appears to be a fair question. Then I shall simply be as frank as you have been: what is your pur—"

Then, Mytho's breath caught, and grasping his chest he winced and struggled to stay conscious.

"Myth—My lord!" Komaro barely managed to have the presence of mind to not let his prince's identity slip through that easily as he grasped Mytho by the shoulders, trying to help keep him up. "What's wrong? Do you feel ill?"

"I…I'm…" His eyes opening slightly, still flinching from whatever seemed to be pulling inside of him, he murmured softly, barely loud enough for Komaro to hear, "If only…if only it weren't so urgent; I'm needed here…" He grimaced, grasping his chest tighter. "—Ngh!"

Duncan frowned, standing up. "Are you all right?"

Mytho made as if to stand up. "I'm not…feeling so well at the moment, but if I just take a…"

Then, his eyes closed and his consciousness faded, but before he could fall, Komaro grabbed and held onto him. As this occurred, though, the brown wig fell from his head, revealing the tell-tale pure white locks that signified who he was.

Duncan's eyes widened, and on his way towards the guest he stopped in his tracks from amazement. "The…Kinkan prince…?"

"A disguise?" Regan scrutinized the young royal, narrowing her eyes.

Macbeth stood from his seat and walked over to Mytho and Komaro, the latter clutching the prince slightly tighter, as if protecting him.

"I see there's more to this circumstance than meets the eye," Macbeth said, kneeling down and looking over the young prince, noticing his vacant expression. "He doesn't seem well at all. I'll have a room ready for him to rest in while he recovers from whatever ails him, so worry not—servant of the prince."

Komaro's lips tightened slightly. "I will stay with him and assure his wellbeing," he stated.

"Yes, of course," Duncan nodded, and when a servant came in to escort the two guests to the room, the nobleman wearing the monocle asked the servant which room their guests were to stay in, so that he might check up on them later.

o-o-o-o-o

Just as she was about to run out to interfere, regardless of what form she was in, that familiar warm light with had returned. Immediately she grasped her pendant resolutely and with a twinkle of golden light, Princess Tutu twirled into the scene.

"So you've come once again," Caras said, his eyes narrowing sidelong at the mystical ballerina in white. "You're a little late."

"I am relieved that I was able to come in time," Tutu said soberly. "I feared what would have happened if you were to have removed the shard in my stead."

"What impertinence," Caras glared at her with mocking disdain. "I am only attempting to accomplish what you've come to do yourself. We both wish to remove that which does not belong, do we not?"

Before Tutu could respond, Elise broke in, "Who are you? Why did you come here?" she interrogated Tutu, uneasily stepping backward from both of them. "Are you teaming up with each other? Trying to overpower me so I can't fight back?" Her eyes widened with horror. "No…no, I won't let you!" And at that, she took off at a run out towards the open campus grounds.

"You won't escape me," Caras said, lunging forward and disappearing out of sight in a dark flurry.

"Elise, please wait!" Tutu leapt after her in graceful bounds. "I wish to help you!"

"How do I know that's true?" Elise shouted back at her. "You could be lying to me just to take advantage of me when I'm letting my guard down!"

"But I am not!" Tutu cried. "Please, trust me!"

"No! I'm—"

Then, when she neared the music building's entrance, Elise slowed to a walking pace, allowing Tutu to catch up with her as Elise strained to hear something.

"That music…" Elise murmured, her eyes widening. Tutu stopped a moment herself, and sure enough, snatches of a familiar piano melody drifted through the air from above them.

Tutu gasped softly. "It's the song that Beethoven had written, for Elise…"

Suddenly intent, Elise dashed inside the double doors into the building, unknowingly right past Caras lurking just beside the entrance within the shadows of the interior.

Elise hurried up the stairs, following the melody to the room in which Beethoven practiced day in and out, where she could invariably find him during daylight if he wasn't in the concert practice room with the school orchestra.

The door to that music practice room was open, and Elise stumbled in, panting from all the running she had just done. It wasn't until she had regained enough breath that she could holler, "Ludwig!"

With a start that might have given him a heart attack, the piano music stopped with a crashing dissonance as the composer shot up in his seat, glancing her way. "Elise?! What's going on?"

"That song," Elise said, between a few heavy breaths she was still taking. "You're playing it again. Why?"

Beethoven blinked, with a saddened expression on his face. "Do you not wish it to be played?"

"No! It's not that…" Elise said, furrowing her brows and glancing at the floor apprehensively.

"What do you mean, then?" Beethoven asked, perplexed.

"Elise, that feeling isn't truly yours," a gentle young woman's voice intoned, as Princess Tutu appeared in the room in her own otherworldly spotlight. "It is causing you to be suspicious of matters, and people, whom you wouldn't have questioned otherwise."

"How can something like that be possible?" Elise drew her hands to her chest, turning toward her. "What I feel is what's within my heart, and my heart is my own."

"Yes, it is," Tutu affirmed. The white-clad ballerina brought her hands up to her heart, cradling it. "It is your own heart that is being swayed from its true feelings. I ask you to dance with me," she said, making a revolving gesture above her head with her arms, "so I can help you to be your true self again."

"Stop trying to convince me to entrust my heart to you!" Elise cried, covering her ears with her hands as she stood between Tutu and Beethoven.

Tutu paused, and then smiled gently. "If you don't feel you can trust me, then do not. But, will you at least trust your dear friend instead?"

Elise started, realizing what she was doing, and glanced at Beethoven warily, involuntarily taking a step back away from him. At that, Beethoven glanced away with pain in his eyes. "Why…?" he asked helplessly.

"What keeps you from trusting Beethoven-san?" Tutu asked with concern, stretching her arms out, as if trying to find the answer while performing an arabesque. "You do not know me, but you have known him for a long time, and you have believed in him all this time, right? Why do you question him now?"

"I…" Elise stood in place, her eyes wavering, flashing between their native brown to a dark crimson. "What makes me feel suspicious of him is…"

Then, she turned to Beethoven. "I need to know! Please tell me, because I want to hear it from you," Elise cried, looking at him desperately with her own eyes. "Why did you make that song for me?"

"Because I wanted to make you happy!" Beethoven burst out. "And that was the only thing I knew how to do."

"Why this time?" Elise asked. "You've played for me all this time, and I've always looked forward to it each time we decided to meet. But that was all, and it was enough. So…why?"

Beethoven had no ready answer. He glanced askance, his lips tightened, as if he were trying to squeeze a response out of them. Finally, he spoke. "I…I don't know. I just wanted to make you even happier. Just because…I wanted to."

At that Elise glanced away.

"Then, I must know also know this," Beethoven asked, looking at her with just as much anguish. "What have I been doing wrong that has upset you? Even if you never trust me again, I want to know what I have done, so that I would be able to change. If you wished, I won't compose anything in your name again. I'll tear up the music I wrote for you if you said—"

"Don't!" Elise cried out, and then more softly, she said, "No…don't do that. I really loved the music you wrote. That's not what bothers me."

"Then, what is it?!" Beethoven burst out in exasperated despair. "Tell me, please!"

"I don't know!" Elise shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. "Even though I feel so much distrust, I want to trust you again. I remember the time we've spent together, and the cares and joys that we shared with one another. That has not changed since we first met, and ever since. I had never once doubted…"

Then, her eyes widened. "That's it. That's the answer. These feelings of doubt I have…aren't really about you, or anyone else. I was the one who doubted me."

Tutu blinked at that. It had been at herself? Even though it seemed as if she was the one who doubted others?

"One day during practice, I overheard one of the other special class members talk about me, saying that I seemed to be losing my touch. I hadn't thought much of it; I thought I had been doing just as fine as I always had been. But then…" Her brows narrowed and she wrapped her arms around herself. "Yagiko-sensei told me off the next day for not putting enough effort into the stretches. It's one thing for my classmates to say so, but another thing if my instructor tells me so, too! I realized I really had been slipping, and yet I never noticed it until it had been pointed out to me, twice. I started to wonder if perhaps my judgment had been distorted from reality, and I didn't know what was good or bad anymore. And soon after that…"

She closed her eyes. "I began doubting everything I had ever thought about anything. Even about things I believed I never had any reason to doubt. Because if I didn't know reality anymore, then everything I knew could have been wrong."

Beethoven looked at her worriedly. "Elise, you're one of the most prudent people I know, especially considering the various flakes I have to deal with every day in the music department," he remarked in a sarcastic aside. "And I've had much more chances to get to know you than anyone else in the school. As far as I'm concerned, if I think it is so, then that's all that matters to me."

"Elise, just because you found yourself wrong about one thing, doesn't mean you're wrong about everything," Tutu added gently, extending a demonstrating hand toward her. "What you see with your own eyes, hear with your own ears, touch with your own fingers, cannot be a lie. There simply may be more than what you initially perceive of it."

Elise raised a hand in the air, and stood en pointe. "I've always been an attentive person, trying to turn a calm, objective eye to what I see. As one of the top ballerinas of the school, I have needed this trait, to be able to improve on even the slightest of imperfections, even when I am so proud of my performances."

Side by side, the two ballerinas danced parallel to one another in synchrony, as Elise's movements became more self-assured, and at the same time, more graceful. "You're still the same person you ever were, Elise. You only need to trust that, even if difficulties arise, you will have the ability to rise above them."

"That's what I have always done," Elise said, the frown on her face finally melting away to reveal a small smile. "And that's what I will continue to do."

Elise knelt down and placed her hands in front of her and reached out above her, as if she were setting free a bird. And as she did so, her chest began to glow. Softly sweeping her arms together, she coaxed a translucent crimson bird into her hands that a moment later condensed into a jagged, sickle-shaped shard.

Beethoven knelt and caught Elise as she fell into a shallow sleep. "Whoever you are," he said, glancing up at the ballerina in white next to him, "thank you for mending Elise's heart."

Tutu shook her head, smiling. "If anyone should be thanked, it should be you who helped her speak her true feelings. And Elise, for she was the only one who could find the faith in herself." And with that, Princess Tutu turned around and left the room, the lighting in the room returning to its former state.

No sooner had she exited the music building, Tutu came face to face with Caras. He rushed towards her, trying to snatch the shard from her hands with a swift swipe of his arm. But Tutu managed to turn away in time, cupping the dark crimson shard into her hands. The dark haired young man's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing?"

Tutu's eyebrows creased, careful to hold the heart shard close to her, out of his reach. "I must ask you something. Why are you after these heart shards?"

"What use would you have for them?" Caras retorted. "I imagined you'd be relieved to have such troublesome things out of your hands."

"It's true that I would have no reason to gather them, other than to relieve suffering…" Tutu replied, pausing, "…but, you seem intent on the shards themselves. These shards once belonged to a monstrous Raven. Why are you after them? What good would come from gathering them?"

Caras sneered darkly. "Oh, no good would come of it, for certain. All shall rue the day I bring every one of them together. That is the day I will finally regain what is rightfully mine. Now," he approached Tutu ominously, "Return to me the shard!"

Tutu's eyes widened as she stepped back apprehensively. But Caras's advance was interrupted by another figure with dark hair who placed himself between them, brandishing a practice sword he had apparently picked up earlier toward Caras.

"Fakir!" Tutu exclaimed.

"You're not coming any closer," Fakir growled, the edge of his sword flashing in the faint dusk moonlight.

Caras's eyebrow tilted with amusement. "Where did you get that? Careful, it's not a toy; you could hurt yourself with it."

Fakir's eyes narrowed. "Don't screw with me! I know why you're here!"

"Good," Caras said as he reached out a hand, with crows gathering around him, "then you know that I won't leave until I've gotten what I've come for."

"Damn you, where is Mytho?!" Fakir screamed.

Caras paused. "Why do you ask this?"

"Stop playing stupid. You kidnapped him," Fakir said, eyes narrowing to slits, "You gave me the note yourself!"

Tutu blinked, staring at him in disbelief. "What?! Is this true?"

Caras's eyebrow tilted as he frowned, staring at the piece of paper in Fakir's hand. After a moment of thought, however, a sly smirk grew on Caras's face.

"So, you've finally realized what I've been up to," he said, narrowing his eyes, the smirk widening. "Give to me the shard and I will release your precious prince."

Fakir's fists clenched as Tutu glanced down at the shard in her hands. "Fakir, what do we do…?" she asked with unease.

"Fakir?!"

A familiar voice in the distance called Fakir and Tutu's attention behind them. "Rue-chan…?" Tutu said, turning toward a black haired young woman in the distance, with a white-haired boy trailing behind her hand-in-hand.

"Trutho?!" Fakir exclaimed.

At this moment, Caras took their moment of distraction to lunge forward, swipe the glowing red shard right out of Tutu's loosened hands; before the two could react, he immediately jumped away, disappearing into a flurry of black feathers.

"What's going on?!" Trutho asked, bewildered.

"The shard!" Tutu exclaimed.

"Damn it!"

The crown atop her head and her costume dissolving away into gold sparks, Tutu returned to being Ahiru and went over to Trutho. "How did you escape?"

"What are you talking about?" Trutho asked, a brow furrowing with confusion, with Rue mirroring the expression at Fakir.

"He kidnapped you!" Fakir said. "He had given me this note that said he had you captive!" He held out the note.

Trutho read it. Then his eyebrows furrowed. "Uh…wait, so Caras cooks?"

Silence.

"What does that say?" Ahiru took it from Trutho and read it herself. She blinked a few times. "…Fakir, are you sure he wrote this?"

Fakir grimaced, a bewildered expression on his face. "It…it talked about having captured the prince! What else could I—"

"Where did it say that?" Trutho's face screwed up, bewilderment mirroring right back at him.

"Right here—" Fakir snatched the note from Ahiru and pointed at the text.

Diesmal essen prima. Kommen Sie zu bekommen, bevor es weg ist.

Ahiru pursed her lips thoughtfully. "It says 'essen prima', as in 'great food'…"

"…What?"

"The handwriting is really bad, so maybe you thought 'prima' was 'prinz'? And I guess you misread 'essen' as 'erfassen', which is why you thought it was talking about the 'prince' being 'captured'…?" Ahiru pointed at the corresponding words. "You probably read it like this, right?"

Diesmal erfassen Prinz. Kommen Sie zu bekommen, bevor es weg ist.

"But…but then…" Fakir stared at the note, at a loss for words. "Why was he acting like…?"

"…He was playing you for a fool."

Everyone glanced at Rue, who had crossed her arms, frowning at Fakir.

"You were making such a big fuss over a note you hadn't read properly, so he just played along," she said flatly.

"You mean…" Trutho widened his eyes, and then pointed at Fakir. "Fakir accidentally thought I was kidnapped from a random note he picked up, and Caras basically made fun of it?"

"It wasn't random! He gave it to…" Fakir trailed off as he recalled that Caras had merely tossed the note aside, not particularly as if he were giving it to him on purpose.

"It looks all tattered and beat up," Ahiru said, looking it over. "Maybe someone threw it out and it was just lying around like trash?"

Fakir clenched his fists, looking incensed. "Caras…next time I see you, you're so dead!"

o-o-o-o-o

It wasn't until late in the evening that Mytho had recovered from his fainting spell and they were given leave to depart from the Ginkan Council Hall. Komaro easily had convinced Duncan that the prince was not feeling well and had best return to rest.

"It seems they don't have a problem with us being here," Mytho said as he and Komaro returned to their inn on horseback. "Though, we never did get them to admit to any mishap with the guards."

"I still worry about the fact that they know we're here," Komaro said, frowning. Since Mytho's identity had become known, they saw no point in continuing with the disguise. Komaro was just glad the nobles did not press them for an explanation before letting them go. "Just because they haven't taken action now, doesn't mean they won't later, when we're not expecting it."

"What reason would they have to wait, if they wanted to detain us?" Mytho asked. "They could have done so right there, and we would have been at their mercy."

Komaro didn't have a response, but bit his lips uneasily.

"It's all their fault."

"I think that's saying too much, Frollo."

Mytho and Komaro turned to the side, and saw two clergymen, one looking to be of high rank like an archbishop, and the other in a humble cloak like a friar, having a civil but heated argument.

"These morally decrepit gypsies are the reason for the attacks on the town, Friar Tuck," the clergyman named Frollo said, insistent. "Their sin draws these dark omens to us, and we all suffer for it."

"Don't assume something like that so lightly, Frollo," the friar named Tuck said. "They're people trying to get by, just like you or I or any of the other people, except they are less fortunate and life is more difficult for them."

"Certainly you haven't forgotten what happened some years ago?" Frollo asked pointedly.

Tuck hesitated. "Well…I have met with many of them, and they're full of good people."

Frollo scowled. "They prey upon the hardworking, law-abiding populace, and if they were let out of line, they would bring this town to ruin."

Listening to them, Mytho glanced at Komaro, frowning with puzzlement. "Could the gypsies of this town really be behind all of this?"

"Not likely," Komaro said, his eyebrows creasing. "Seems to me more like the ignorance of a well-off influential person, with little experience with the common folk around them." He blinked, glancing at Mytho for a moment before hastily adding, "I mean, so to speak. He seems to be pessimistic about what he doesn't know of in general."

"I see," Mytho said, looking back again at the two clergyman, who were turning a corner away from them. Despite saying so, he felt as if he didn't really understand at all.

o-o-o-o-o

"But what about the raven problem that the prince from Kinkan mentioned?" Duncan asked, taking off his monocle and wiping it with a handkerchief pensively. "He came all the way here to investigate something like that. And yet we haven't heard anything about it?"

"Then just think of what that means, Duncan," the head of the council Macbeth said. "If we haven't heard anything about it, then it must be just that: rumors. Can you think of any reason that we wouldn't have heard about it otherwise?"

Duncan sighed. "I know, I suppose you're right, but…" He replaced the monocle onto his right eye and rose from his seat. "I'm going to ask the town watch about it again, just to be sure."

The council member Regan opened her mouth to interrupt, but Macbeth held up a hand, cutting her off as Duncan made his way to the council meeting room's double doors.

It was only after the doors had closed shut with a click that Regan broke her silence and said with impatience, "You're not going to stop him, Macbeth? He's finally starting to suspect something's going on. It was only a matter of time, after all."

"Did that sound like suspicion coming out of him to you?" Macbeth said, waving a hand. "He was asking for reassurance, and just like every other time, when he asks the town guard about what has been happening, he'll get the same answer: nothing."

"I know full well you've been more than willing to off anyone who threatens the…order you've created," Regan said, biting her lips for a moment. "That's how we stand in such short number as we do now. Each of the others who have discovered and threatened to throw it all into disarray has been dealt with accordingly," she said, glancing out the window for a moment. "One such case very recently."

"Hopefully that should not be the case in the future with who we have left," Macbeth said almost pointedly.

"Precisely my reason for voicing my concern," Regan said, eyes flitting toward the doors through which Duncan had left.

There were the briefest of pauses before Macbeth answered, "I highly doubt I'll need to take further action."

The noblewoman looked at him inscrutably. "It's…encouraging that you have such faith in him."

Macbeth nodded stiffly, glancing out the window at some passing cawing crows, but made no reply.

o-o-o-o-o

Beethoven's solo piano playing thundered through the air from the second floor practice room. The forceful notes drifted down the hall to the ears of a silent listener with dark curls and pensively narrowed crimson eyes.

This has not been the first time I have lingered here, examining that young man's music, Caras thought, crossing his arms. I had sensed from the first time I heard it, something that bore an uncommon connection to me, in some way. That was how I knew that a shard was involved somehow, and why I had been following him these past times.

However… He frowned, his brows creasing. He lifted his right hand, in which was a dark crimson shard resembling a twisted piece of shrapnel. Now that I have that shard in my possession, such should no longer be the case. The shard wasn't even found in this human's heart, but in the heart of someone close to him. My senses don't seem to be as accurate as I had assumed.

He continued listening, closing his hands around the shard. Yet, I still feel a connection here, as if he still holds a shard to collect. The crows tell me nothing else can be found here, but then, why would I still feel it from this music…?

Caras closed his eyes for a moment. The forceful notes drew his ears into the thunderous music, as if it were a tempest that might gust around him, through him. The torrent of notes seemed to overwhelm the remnants of the Raven's dark power that had defined him, leaving nothing behind but a sense of wonder at the vastness of the world…

His eyes shot open, and he gritted his teeth. No. I can't let myself be distracted. I have a shard in my hand; that should take precedence over any that I seem to be imagining.

Clenching the crimson shard, he stepped away from the wall and disappeared in a flurry of raven feathers, reappearing within his dark, bare dorm room. He walked to the center of the room, and upon his approach, a black spiny pedestal rose from the floor, and revealed a display of other crimson shards, gleaming and glowing from their own luminescence.

Almost ceremoniously, Caras placed the shard in his hand among the others, and gazed upon them all.

This was what he had to focus on. This was what was most important above anything else.

o-o-o-o-o

"Will I ever be able to find them-zura?"

Uzura sighed, clasping the golden quill in her little hands. She'd been running about Kinkan all day, but hadn't been able to find her friends anywhere. Maybe she should have checked the school more carefully?

She glanced around the road she was on, and saw that many people in the Kinkan school uniforms were headed away from the school, toward the dorms. Could she find them there, then?

She toddled past the open gates of the Kinkan dormitory, where lo and behold she found Fakir and Ahiru walking together near the dormitory grounds fountain.

Fakir's expression was stolid, but his crossed arms and the staunch downward curve at the edge of his lips made Uzura wonder if he was upset about something, or if he had a stomachache. Next to him, Ahiru's eyes kept surreptitiously darting at Fakir with an awkwardly sheepish look on her face, as though she was trying to suppress an amused smile.

"Ahiru-chan!" Uzura called out, dashing towards the surprised redhead.

"Uzura-chan?!" Ahiru exclaimed as Uzura glomped the girl's legs affectionately. She smiled down at the little wooden girl, though still surprised by the arrival. "Hi there! It's been a while since we've last seen you. How've you been?"

Fakir's eyes furrowed as he noticed Uzura clutching something that shone golden, and more so than Uzura's unexpected return, it caught and held his attention for some reason. "Uzura, what's that you have there?"

"Oh!" Uzura blinked, glancing down at the golden plume in her hand. "This is something very, very important that belongs to Ahiru-zura!"

She raised it up for them to see, and Fakir and Ahiru saw that it was what appeared to be a golden quill.

"It's…mine?" Ahiru asked, looking puzzled. "But I don't remember having a golden quill."

Fakir, on the other hand, stared at it intensely. "There's something about that quill that feels different…"

Uzura held it out to him. "The tussle-mayor was going to use it-zura, but I snatched it and took it away, and I didn't want him to find it-zura, so I brought it here to you guys-zura."

Fakir's eyes widened. "Wait…do you mean, Drosselmeyer? He's still around?!"

Ahiru gasped. "Uzura-chan, you've seen Drosselmeyer?"

"I was walking around with him in that place full of gears-zura," Uzura said. "Then he found a bunch of quills, and one of them was Ahiru's quill-zura. He got the other ones but I grabbed Ahiru's before the tussle-mayor could-zura. Then he came back here and I followed him."

"So he is somehow involved in all of what's happened," Fakir said, scowling.

Among the gears, Drosselmeyer heard someone in the story uttering his name. Turning his attention toward the disturbance, he saw within the frames of a gear Uzura talking to Fakir and Ahiru, which he was none too happy about. "Uzura-chan! What do you think you're doing over there?!"

Behind Uzura, a gear appeared in midair. Hearing the sound of a clank, she glanced behind her and started. "Uh-oh! The tussle-mayor noticed-zura!"

Before Ahiru or Fakir could react, Uzura hurriedly pushed the quill into Fakir's hands. "Keep it safe-zura!" Uzura yelled before the gear behind her enclosed her within it and careened out of sight.

"Uzura!" Fakir and Ahiru cried out. Fakir reached for her, but she had already disappeared.

Fakir and Ahiru were left standing there with the quill in Fakir's hands. Uzura had been whisked away so quickly that no one else around them had noticed the supernatural way in which she had disappeared.

"'Keep it safe', she said," Ahiru murmured pensively, looking at it. "What do you suppose it is?"

"She said it was 'your' quill," Fakir said, frowning with mystification. "But I don't know what that's supposed to mean…"

As he held it, however, he slowly began to realize what it might be. It was no ordinary quill. There was something about it that seemed connected to Ahiru at a subtler, deeper level. Furthermore, when it was in his hand, he felt warmth from it, as if from something alive.

If he were to write with it, as opposed to any other quill, then what would happen?

"Ahiru…"

"Yes?"

"What do you want to do with it?"

"Er, I…I suppose we should keep it safe somewhere, like Uzura said," Ahiru said. "Somewhere Drosselmeyer can't find it."

"We have to make sure it's not accidentally lost somewhere," Fakir said, tucking the quill into his uniform jacket. "So, I'll hold onto it for now."

Realizing what he implied, Ahiru pouted her lips. But she knew Fakir had the best of intentions, and still feeling sheepish for pointing out he'd made a fool of himself earlier, she lowered her shoulders and sighed softly. "Yeah, you're right. But where should we keep it?"

Fakir frowned, considering this question. Where in a town do you hide something from the man who used to control everyone living in it? That was a tricky question, and when no answer presented itself, Fakir sighed and stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets.

"I don't know," he admitted, frowning reluctantly. "But for now, it will be safe with me."

Looking at Ahiru, who smiled at his reassuring words, he added silently, I promise you.

o-o-o-o-o

"Ooof!"

Uzura landed on the face of a gear roughly face-first, as if she had just tripped onto it. Standing above her, Drosselmeyer crossed his arms, scowling with displeasure.

"Uzura-chan, what do you think you're doing, running around in my story and messing with it however you please?" he asked, tapping his foot impatiently.

"It was Ahiru's quill-zura, and I was giving it back to them-zura," Uzura said defiantly, hopping up and looking up at him with a rebellious look on her face.

"Giving the story to the one it's about? Why let someone write their own story?" Drosselmeyer said with disapproval. "It's only when a true Spinner writes the story that a worthy story will emerge. Anything else is merely rubbish."

"I don't know about all these stories-zura, but I want Ahiru and her friends to be happy-zura," Uzura said.

"Then there's no story!" Drosselmeyer said, shaking his head. "Clearly, you're getting in my way of spinning a tale worth telling. There's only one way to fix this."

He pointed away to the side, like a parent telling a child to go to their room. "You're not allowed in the vicinity of my story writing in Kinkan! I won't allow you back here, so you'll just have to entertain yourself elsewhere."

As soon as he said it, he turned around, his red cloak swishing aside, and Uzura found herself a distance from him, several gears away. She tried to approach Drosselmeyer again, to where Kinkan was, but found herself repelled away, landing on her rump at the spot back from where she had come.

Uzura's face fell. "Oh no! Now I can't get to Ahiru or anyone else in the town-zura!"

Her shoulders slumped, her expression glum. What was she going to do now?

There is something you have to do, a gentle, familiar voice said. Something only you can do.

Uzura looked around for the source of the familiar voice. "Huh? Is that Me-zura?" She glanced to a gear nearby and saw in her reflection a tall, pale woman with the same color of hair as Uzura, folding her hands peaceably.

You are connected to a deeper part of the world that Drosselmeyer has control of, Edel's voice continued. It is built into your very being. So, if you want to help Ahiru and her friends, you must return to the source.

"Return to the source?" Uzura asked, tilting her head in confusion. "What does that mean? Where is that?"

As she asked the question, something lit up in the distance, among the gears that surrounded her. It was a pale glowing light, somehow familiar, like her inner self was.

"Aooooooh!" Uzura exclaimed. "Is that where it is? Then that's where I should go-zura!"

She scampered eagerly towards the glow in the distance.

o-o-o-o-o

Mytho had awoken early the next morning at dawn after their trip to the Ginkan Council Hall. He glanced over toward Komaro's bed, and seeing that he was still fast asleep, Mytho himself lay back down and closed his eyes again. Despite the effort, he found he was unable to fall back to sleep.

Outside the window, the streets were quiet, but even from the elevated vantage point of the inn room, Mytho could see black specks in the distance decorating the bare trees around the town. The prince's brows furrowed.

With the Council aware of his presence, he knew he would have to be extra careful in his activities from here on out, lest they take actions against him. But restlessly lying in bed would help no one. Mytho's inherent nature demanded that he continue to seek out what was wrong with this town, and aid those in need.

At this early hour, the town was still mostly asleep. So too were the ravens, for they had not yet begun to stir from their roosts. Thinking this might be a good time to explore the town without disruption, Mytho got dressed as silently as possible so as to not disturb Komaro's sleep.

He stepped outside the room and took a walk along the inn hallways, passing by windows where the early rays of soft light shined through in golden hues, casting long shadows across the wall.

After he passed by the inn lobby and after a brief greeting to the yawning innkeeper who had just gotten to his desk at the entrance, the Kinkan prince exited the inn and walked onto the early morning street.

As he started down the road, Mytho was surprised to see a second figure on the street. A weary tan-skinned woman with black frizzy hair and a frayed shawl over her shoulders limped in Mytho's direction, using the wall to support herself. Seeing that she was having trouble walking, Mytho approached her, intending to offer the woman a hand to wherever she might be headed.

As he came closer, hearing someone else in the street, she looked up at him. Then, her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open. "It…it couldn't be…"

Mytho paused, blinking, a concerned expression on his face. Did she recognize him as the prince?

The woman reached out a shaking hand towards him, as if unsure whether he was real. "Tr…Trutho…is that really you? It's me…Emma."


Next episode preview

Ahiru, Pique, and Lilie stand fearfully at the shores of a gloomy, ominous lake.
(Lilie's voice) "Oh, don't you know? This day each year, we celebrate the death of the maiden who threw herself into the lake when she fell into utter despair!"
Ahiru in duck form flaps about in a panic while Sagi as a heron looks on.
(Ahiru's voice) "Your pendant doesn't work either?"
A woman with brown skin and frizzy black hair sits across from Mytho and Komaro in their inn room.
(A sad woman's voice) "I… I was the one who looked after him, when he lived here in Ginkan… before the ravens began the attacks."
Ahiru swims down into a lake, and then is blasted away back toward the surface.
(A tortured girl's voice) "NO! DON'T COME CLOSER!"
Uzura and Edel stand hand-in-hand before the Oak Tree surrounded by a radiant meadow.
(Uzura's voice) "Are you Mama-zura?"
(Edel's voice) "Can what was once lost be found again?"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
31. AKT "Death and the Maiden"
~ Der Tod und das Mädchen ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes

'mujina' – badger in Japanese

The historical Beethoven indeed wrote Für Elise for someone he knew and likely cared for, but it isn't known exactly who Elise was or what her precise relationship was to Beethoven. In his later years, Beethoven began going deaf, and by the time he was composing his 9th and last symphony, he was completely bereft of hearing. This among other things was cause for great anguish for him, and contributed to his reputation as a fervent and somewhat intimidating man. Also, one meta reason that both Fakir and Caras are drawn to Beethoven's music is that their representative themes, the Coriolan Overture and the Moonlight Sonata respectively, both are composed by the historical Beethoven.

The names Regan and Duncan are both characters' names from Shakespearean tragedies; in the Macbeth play, Duncan is the king that Macbeth attempts to depose, and Regan is one of the deceitful daughters of the king in the play King Lear. Archbishop Frollo and Friar Tuck are more recognizable as from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Robin Hood, respectively.

30. AKT Music List

(the time ranges listed show what part of the song is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"The Gnome"
Played during Rue's dream with the Raven.
(from Pictures at an Exhibition) A turbulent, erratic music with a disquieting air of menace and malice.

"Symphony no. 5"
This is the symphony Beethoven is conducting during their rehearsal in the morning.
(composed by Beethoven) A thundering piece, with dramatic contrasts between its quiet, foreboding measures and its forceful, chaotic melodies.

"Dance of the Spinning Wheel"
This is played for the scenes where Mujiname-sensei begins teaching class.
(from Ravel's Mother Goose suite) A frenzied but persistent quivering of a chorus of strings, like a swarm of busy bees.

"A Night on Bald Mountain"
This music is played during Caras's solo dance in front of the class.
(by Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) A menacing, frightening song reminiscent of a threatening dark monster reigning supreme. Also was played during Mytho's solo dance in the second season episode "The Forgotten Story".

"Habanera"
This music is played when Femio shows up at the studio, and is cut off when Yagiko kicks him out of the studio.
(from "Carmen") The famous theme from Carmen with the violin played stridently in an almost flirtatious manner. Femio's theme.

"Dance of the Chicks in their Shells"
(start 0:46, end 2:01)
This is played when Uzura is scampering around the town and in Kinkan academy, trying to look for Ahiru and Fakir, and asking Caras if he knew where they were.
(from "Pictures at an Exhibition") A piece made of flutes scampering about haplessly, like chicks flapping about in a bewildered frolic.

"Song without Words op. post. 109"
This music is what Beethoven and Autor play as a piano-cello duet.
(composed by Mendelssohn) A piano and cello duet with a feeling of warmth and longing.

"Für Elise"
This is the piano music that the character Beethoven had composed for the character Elise that he plays for her on two separate scenes in the fanfic.
(composed by Beethoven) A piano piece with whimsical trills and a graceful poise.

"Sonata op. 31 no. 2 in D minor 'The Tempest', mvt 3: Allegretto"
Played by the character Beethoven on the piano as Caras listens to it.
(composed by Beethoven) A piano with forceful notes that come in a graceful yet somewhat chaotic cascade that resembles the raging of a storm.

"Mercury, the Winged Messenger"
Played when Uzura gets locked out of Drosselmeyer's vicinity, and then scampers off to find 'the source'.
(from "The Planets", composed by Holst) A quick, light tune to express the swiftness of the Roman god Mercury zipping about to deliver messages among the deities.

"La Traviata Overture"
(end 1:14)
This is played when Mytho meets Emma in the road.
(composed by Verdi) A quiet song filled with melancholy, nostalgic sentiment.

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Andante con moto"
This is played for the next episode preview.
(from "Death and the Maiden" quartet; originally composed by Schubert, chamber orchestra version arranged by Mahler) A solemn, grim song that sounds like a classical dirge.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there was a maiden. The maiden became stricken with an anguish that engulfed her entire being, making every moment of her life unbearable. Nothing that she or her loved ones did would cause the pain to abate, and gradually it took away her will to live. Finally, she could bear it no longer. In desperation, she gathered a vast bouquet of flowers in her hands, and with a final prayer, threw herself into the river, drowning herself and the pain, in hopes that death would be her final salvation.

However, the agony she felt was so strong, it lingered even beyond death. There was truly no escape from it. So, as her spirit fell into utter despair, she sank to the bottom of the river, screaming her undying anguish as she floated within the waters, shutting herself away from anyone else who might otherwise suffer along with her.

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

31. AKT "Death and the Maiden"
~ Der Tod und das Mädchen ~

Ahiru ran across the wet cobblestone road, holding up her arms against the drops of rain falling from the dark gray sky above. "Oh, why didn't I bring an umbrella today?"

She saw a lit flower shop with its doors open, so she headed in that direction, taking refuge under its roof.

As she stood brushing the water droplets off herself, she heard a few familiar voices.

"What do you think of these white lilies, Lilie?"

"Oh, they're perfect, Pike! White to show the purity of the maiden in absolute despair! And isn't it so appropriate, it's raining, as if they're the maiden's own tears! How beautifully tragic!"

"Then let's get them to bring to the lake. She'll probably like 'em, I bet!"

Curious, Ahiru walked over to them. "Are you two getting flowers for someone?"

The two girls turned toward Ahiru with surprise on their faces.

"Oh, Ahiru-chan!" Pike exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"I got caught in the rain and I didn't want to get myself too wet," Ahiru said, rubbing the back of her head bashfully. "How are you two doing?"

"Oh, isn't this just fateful!" Lilie said dramatically, grabbing onto Ahiru's hands with a starry-eyed expression. "The tears of the maiden make an excuse for a meeting with the mysterious and secretly sinister new student! What is to become of us?!"

"Er, I didn't plan this or anything…" Ahiru said with a sweatdrop.

"You were wondering what the flowers were for, right?" Pike said to Ahiru. "It's because it's the Day of the Despairing Maiden."

"The day of the despairing maiden?" Ahiru asked, confused. "What's that?"

"Oh, you don't know?" Lilie asked, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. "This day each year, we celebrate the death of the maiden who threw herself into the lake when she fell into utter despair, where her spirit still remains in agony to this day!"

"We, um…celebrate that?" Ahiru said with an apprehensive expression on her face.

"You see, it's why the lake is also known as the Lake of Despair," Pike explained.

Ahiru blinked, contemplative. So, there's a reason why it's called that, other than that time I fell in myself. Could that have been why I was drawn there then?

"The maiden is said to have loved flowers," Pike said. "So, in memory of that suffering maiden, on this day we bring flowers to the lake, to try to comfort the maiden's spirit, still at the bottom of the lake."

"Huh," Ahiru said thoughtfully.

Lilie glanced outside. "Oh, the rain's stopped!"

"I guess we should take the chance and get going," Pike said. "Do you want to come with us?"

"Me?" Ahiru blinked. She couldn't help but be curious about this tradition. Plus, that lake held many important memories of hers as well, and though they were bittersweet, Ahiru thought it would be nice to take a chance to visit it again, to see it with new eyes. "Umm, sure! If you don't mind having me randomly tag along…"

"That's the funniest thing." Pike placed her fingers on her chin. "I almost feel like you're not just some other classmate. Kinda like, we've met you before somewhere…"

"You thought so too, Pike?!" Lilie exclaimed excitedly. "It's like a twisted turn of fate! No, a conspiracy!"

Ahiru held up her hands and waved them dismissively. "Ehh, no, I'm sure that…"

She paused. They don't recall that they were my friends back when the story was still happening, but…do they still remember, somehow…?

"C'mon, let's just get going before it starts raining again!" Pike said energetically, wrapping her arm around Ahiru's shoulders.

o-o-o-o-o

When the three friends reached the lake, the sky was even darker and gloomier than it had back at the flower shop in town. A gray mist emitted from the lake, swallowing up any light that might have leaked out from town or the sky above, making it almost darker than dusk, even in the middle of the afternoon.

"The lake looks much scarier today…" Ahiru said nervously, clasping her hands together.

"You mean it usually isn't this scary-looking?" Pike asked Ahiru, her own voice a little shaky.

"Oh, look over there! What's that?!" Lilie exclaimed, pointing energetically into the mist. "Is that a ghost?!"

Ahiru and Pike jumped, letting out small yelps. They gazed out into the mist, but they couldn't make anything out.

"Lilie, don't scare us like that!" Pike said with a grimace.

"Th-there's nothing really out there, right?" Ahiru said, grabbing onto Pike's shoulder for comfort.

"Oh, are you scared of ghosts?" Lilie asked Ahiru with a creepy smile. "Can you handle the ghost maiden of the Lake of Despair…?"

Ahiru whimpered. "I-I don't wanna see any ghosts…!"

Lilie glomped her affectionately, almost smothering her. "Oh, don't you worry, Ahiru-chan! I'm here to comfort you from the horrors of the haunted lake!"

"W-wait, I see someone…" Pike said, pointing in the direction Lilie had. Someone was walking toward them out of the mist…

"I-is someone there?" another girl's voice asked tentatively.

Ahiru blinked. "Hey, that voice sounds familiar…"

The girl coming from the direction of the voice walked into view. Ahiru's eyes widened. "Helmina-chan? Is that you?"

Helmina sighed with relief, holding her chest. "Oh, good. I was worried for a moment there."

Pike and Lilie looked at Ahiru. "Do you know this girl?" Pike asked.

"Yeah, I met her a short time ago when she wrote the script for the apprentice class," Ahiru said. She noticed Helmina holding a small bouquet of flowers. "Are you here to give those to the Maiden of Despair too, Helmina-chan?"

"Yes…" Helmina looked around uneasily. "But I got a bad feeling coming here, somehow; chills went down my spine and I became afraid, like I wasn't supposed to come here…"

As she said that, vague moaning began to hum through the air, the sound dissipated as if coming from all around them, but sounding loudest from the lake. The gloom around the lake seemed to draw closer and grow darker around them.

The four girls drew together, looking around them with fear in their expressions. "I'm… kinda getting the same feeling," Pike said shakily.

Ahiru gulped. "M-maybe we should, um, carefully turn around and go back to Kin—"

An unearthly, agonized shriek pierced through the air like a knife.

More screams followed just after, this time emitted from the four girls that had been standing by the lake. They weren't standing there anymore though, as they all tore through the path back towards Kinkan Town.

What Ahiru didn't notice in the chaos was that her pendant had gone dark while at the lake, and as she ran away, it faded back to its original magenta, but still retained a shadowy tinge.

o-o-o-o-o

"Tr…Trutho…is that really you?" the frail woman asked, her shaking hand held out towards Mytho. "It's me…Emma."

It took Mytho a moment to realize what this meant. "Trutho…? You know him?"

The woman named Emma furrowed her brows. "Know him? Are you not him? Then, who…?"

Mytho placed his hand on his chest. "I am Prince Siegfried, the prince of Kinkan Town. Trutho is… my younger brother."

Emma's eyes widened. "You're his brother! Then, you must know…" Her face fell, sorrow and guilt permeating her expression, but after a moment, she looked back at him pleadingly. "But then, Trutho! Is he all right? Is he safe?"

Overwhelmed, Mytho gently held up his hands, as if to say to wait a moment. "Y-yes, he's fine, but…"

Emma sighed deeply with relief. "Oh, that's good. I was so worried all this time…"

"But, how… how do you know him, Emma-san?" Mytho asked. "Who are you, exactly?"

"I…" Emma paused, looking pensive. "I was the one who looked after him, when he lived here in Ginkan…before the ravens began the attacks."

Mytho's eyes widened as he recalled something. "My little brother had barely mentioned something about him and ravens, having lived here before. But he didn't say much more about it. Do you know what happened?"

Emma's eyes fell, filling with sorrow. "It's a long story. And not a happy one, either. I can only pray that you would forgive me for letting him go off alone…"

She glanced around the hallway. "I…shouldn't be seen out in the open by too many here. If I am to tell the story, it should be elsewhere."

"I wouldn't want to have you standing out here for long," Mytho said. "Would you mind visiting our room here at the inn, so you can sit down and take your time?"

"Yes, that sounds all right," Emma said with a nod.

Emma turned around and began to sidle along the wall again, and at this Mytho offered his arm to support her.

"Thank you," Emma said, smiling. "You're quite the gentleman, I see."

"You've injured your foot, right?" Mytho said with concern. "Would you like me to carry you?"

At the first statement Emma's face sobered, but at the latter sentence she laughed. "Oh, no, I couldn't! I'd be too embarrassed at that, I would."

Mytho couldn't help but smile in return.

o-o-o-o-o

"Really, there's no need for this much hospitality," Emma said with a little embarrassment as Komaro delicately poured her a cup of tea after serving Mytho, who was sitting across the table from her. "I'm just a simple gypsy, after all…"

"Any guest of the prince should be afforded as such," Komaro said with dignity. "And besides that, it seems you are acquainted with his Majesty's brother, am I correct?"

"It was some time ago that I last saw him, but yes," she replied.

"Then if I may," Komaro met his sovereign's eyes briefly and Mytho gave a small nod to continue, "I admit I am curious about your story, and would be interested in knowing what has happened from your viewpoint. If I have your permission, I would like to listen as well," he said, placing a hand on a third chair at the table.

"As a royal vassal, you're already much higher rank than I am," Emma said with a small smile. "I'm unaccustomed to being asked leave to have an audience with me, rather than the other way around."

"Nonetheless, I still ask," Komaro said with insistent politeness, hand still perched on the chair back, as if not daring to presume a seat without permission.

"Yes, yes, just please sit down already," Emma said with a good-natured smirk on her face as she gestured to the chair that Komaro was clutching.

"Thank you," Mytho said to Emma. "I appreciate how open you're being with what may not be an easy story to tell."

"I…suppose I owe it to you, with you as Trutho's brother," Emma said somberly, placing the teacup gingerly back onto the table. "The story… it will be a long one."

"It was years and years ago, when I had been but a girl, no older than Trutho, or you, look to be. It still strikes me so much now, the resemblance between you two," Emma said. "It really does take me back to those days…

"Ginkan has always been a conservative place, and there was a clear divide between those who had much and those who had little. Those of us who were too poor to own property in town, like us gypsies, were shunned by the higher classes, nobility and the like; often they fear us all as pickpockets or robbers, even when we did our best to earn our living like everyone else.

"It wasn't that bad though, before. Common people who were a little more well off like merchants and established artisans were more understanding, and we could get along well enough to get by, as long as nobility didn't get involved. That's when problems happened, and no matter who was really to blame, the nobility would always be pardoned, and the poor people would be blamed. Such was simply how things worked, and we had to make do if we wanted to stay in the town. Those of us who knew how hard things could be tried to help each other out, and offer shelter to those who needed help. So it was even with Trutho, but…"

Emma trailed off, a sorrowful, haunted expression on her face. Not sure whether to speak, Mytho blinked and folded his hands, waiting for her to continue. Before long, though, she took a breath, cleared her throat and went on.

"We knew from the beginning that it wasn't going to be easy when a group of us gypsies first moved into Ginkan. I was but a girl then, and we were preparing to enter the town the following morning, after spending the night outside the walls.

"That night, I couldn't sleep, so I was outside, getting some fresh air while everyone else was asleep in the covered wagons. Around where we camped, the night sky was clear, but in the distance, where the neighboring town to Ginkan was, dark unnatural clouds were gathered. I wondered if perhaps that might have been the reason for my difficulty sleeping that night, when I heard a horrible screech in the air."

"Emma, what on earth is going on out there?" one of the men in the caravan asked as he peered out from the covered wagon in which the rest of his family lived.

Emma shook her head, tendrils of loose hair waving about her face. "I don't know," she said with a frown, flinching as another loud screech tore through the dark night air.

Though the inhuman sounds terrified her, within those frightening yowls Emma heard the cries of someone in horrible pain. Someone is suffering; someone needs help, she thought, her brows knitting with unease.

Despite the protests of her people and her own fears, both of them telling her to stay away from whatever emitted the shrieks, Emma took off into the night toward their source.

Her bare feet carried her past rough bushes, their branches scrapping at her legs. The scattered moonlight from overhead illuminated her way as another wail filled the air, this time louder and closer.

Pushing a low branch aside, the young gypsy came across a clearing amongst the trees. In the middle of the dark grass huddled a small black figure letting out rasping moans and whimpers.

At the soft thumps of Emma's footsteps, the hunched figure glanced up, and what the young girl saw made her cover her mouth. It looked like a boy, but one who was covered head to toe in spines of gleaming black feathers, which quivered whenever he shuddered. Blue eyes peeked out from beneath arms that resembled wings more than limbs, and Emma felt her stomach turn when she saw a black beak protruding from his face where his mouth should have been.

Upon seeing Emma, the plumed creature cringed, letting out a fearful whine and burying himself under his feathery arms.

Momentarily frozen in place from the shock of what she saw before her, Emma clasped her hands together apprehensively. He's out here, all alone…

Though she had no idea what she could do for him, with every ounce of willpower she had, she stepped toward the creature and slowly knelt beside him.

"I'm here to help you," Emma said gently. "It'll be all right…"

She reached her hand out to touch the creature's feathered arm reassuringly. He flinched at the contact, but then he began to tremble a little less, seeming to understand that she did not mean to harm him.

"Emma!"

Other voices approached their location, and Emma looked up to see two waving lantern lights coming from several of the other gypsies in her band, standing at the edge of the clearing.

"What are you doing, girl?!" one of the women exclaimed in horror. "Get away from that dreadful thing!"

Emma remained where she was, looking over the feathered person worriedly. "I can't leave him here like this," she said with a voice that was shaking ever so slightly. "He's really scared, and he needs help…"

Then, from the direction of the ominous dark clouds in the distance, a blinding crimson radiance flashed in the sky, bright enough to shine through the trees and light up the entire clearing for an instant. Suddenly, the feathered creature screamed sharply, writhing for a moment, and then collapsing limply onto the ground.

Opening her eyes after the bright light vanished, Emma gasped with alarm, thinking that the light had somehow hurt him, and reached out a hand toward him anxiously.

But as she did so, she saw the black spines and feathers that had been covering his body shed off and vanish, revealing a completely human-looking boy with snow-white hair. The stark contrast of his now fair appearance took Emma by surprise only for a moment before she perceived how pale and weak this unconscious boy looked to be.

So she took him in her arms and turned toward the other gypsies from her caravan. "Please, he isn't well! We have to do something for him! He's all alone; we can't just abandon him here when he's helpless like this…"

Remembering all too well what that 'boy' had been but a moment ago, the gypsies looked at one another hesitantly.

Then, one of the women slowly approached the two in the clearing. With one having joined in, others followed suit, and soon a group of the gypsies along with Emma helped carry the boy back to the caravan wagons.

Emma paused for a time, folding her hands solemnly, before continuing. "He was unconscious for days, and bedridden for weeks afterward. By then, we had long since moved into town, and tried to settle in to make a living there. When he was awake enough to talk, we eventually learned that he had no memories prior to his recovery. I was relieved to know this, because I couldn't have imagined how horrible it would have been to remember whatever had happened to put him in such a state that I found him…

"As you're already aware, since he had no memories of his past, including his name, I gave him the name of 'Trutho'. Curious how it matches with your nickname of Mytho, isn't it?" Emma said, a small grin appearing on her face.

"A dear friend had given that name to me when I was unable to remember mine," Mytho said with a nod.

"Perhaps we thought similarly, as I also thought about how he seemed to have come out of nowhere, as if from a story. But, I thought that he seemed so honest and so… 'real', that I wanted his name to match. So, Trutho it was.

"In Ginkan, the way Trutho looked would have made him stand out very much, and being among us gypsies that wasn't the best of traits to have. It didn't help that he was naturally curious, so he would find himself in places where he could have easily gotten into trouble," Emma said, shaking her head with an exasperated smile. "Fortunately, though, he also turned out to be very good at hiding himself, so with a hooded cloak, he could make himself sparse enough that any trouble he might have found himself in, he could simply sneak out of it. So, all things considered, there shouldn't have been any problem with him living alongside us, even in this less-than-perfect town."

"There was one thing, though, that ended up disrupting all of that…" Emma looked up at Mytho. "Did you know of his special ability to communicate with animals?"

Mytho looked surprised, which was telling enough. "No, this is the first I've heard of such a thing from him…"

Emma sighed. "It makes sense that he'd have a habit of keeping it secret. While he never boasted about it, word did get around about his special ability, and as we would only learn later, the nobles learned about it too. The troubles began when, those number of years ago, the crows began to assail the town, for reasons unknown to anyone."

Mytho's expression darkened as he silently listened on.

"Without any known cause for this ongoing calamity, the nobility nonetheless wanted someone to take the blame. As superstitions flew around, the ones who had no power to argue against them, who were outsiders to the town, were blamed as witches, enchanters." Emma grimaced, as if a bitter taste had appeared in her mouth. "Any gypsy who was caught in the vicinity of an attack was accused as such, and as the attacks wore on, so did the accusations. Eventually, I suspect the nobility grew desperate, and they began to actively hunt us down, so we had to go into hiding."

Emma glanced up at Mytho somberly. "One day, though, it was I who found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Emma hurried along the cobblestone backstreets as long shadows of the buildings around her lapped over her figure. Cradling a precious loaf of bread that had been given to her by a sympathetic baker, she rushed to the cellar refuge where she and Trutho temporarily called home. With this loaf, the two of them would have food for a few days, and they wouldn't have to risk detection by venturing out.

But the shadow that drove them into this situation remained ever present. Flocks of crows hovered overhead, and Emma glanced up from time to time, nervously watching them, knowing they would be watching her from above. It was much easier to outrun humans, but crows were a different story altogether, with their keen vision and vast vantage point. To Emma's relief, after a stretch the crows peeled off and disappeared from the narrow skyline. She sighed, glad that the birds no longer had their menacing eyes set on her as she turned a corner into an adjacent street. Her mind still occupied by the crows, Emma almost didn't stop in time to prevent herself from running into a well-dressed woman.

Emma looked up timidly and was met by the disdainful glare of a noblewoman and her two attendant maids. The noblewoman had luxurious, waist-length wavy ginger hair and strident green eyes, with lips painted a deep maroon. She wore a rich, velvety crimson gown over a sheer beige ruffled blouse, and nestled in her thick locks were a pair of garnet earrings hanging from her ears that shimmered like crystallized drops of blood. The noble narrowed her eyes, and said condescendingly, "A gypsy waif? Don't you know rats should not venture out during the day? You had best watch your step, otherwise—"

But before the noblewoman could finish her sentence, a screech sent four pairs of eyes shooting up toward the sky. The flock of crows that had been following Emma reappeared out of nowhere. Sharp talons extended, they dove for the group of women. The two maids screamed and fled from their mistress, but the crows peeked at their faces, forcing them to the ground.

The noblewoman and Emma tried to shield their face from the crows, but to no avail. Suddenly, the crows called in unison and Emma opened her eyes enough to see the birds take flight as a group of armored guards rushed towards them.

"Lady Macbeth! Are you all right, my lady?" The captain of the guards knelt down and helped the woman back onto her feet.

"That gypsy girl, it was her!"

Emma barely had time to react before she was roughly hauled up by two guards and forced to kneel before the enraged noblewoman.

Lady Macbeth cast a scornful look at the poor young woman, "She brought the crows with her! Arrest her! Cast her into the dungeons and let her rot there!"

"But, I—!" Emma began to speak, but a small figure suddenly dashed from the shadows and stood protectively in front of her.

Emma blinked at the mop of white hair. "Trutho? What are you—!?"

"It's not Emma's fault!" he declared to the surprise of all present. "I…"

He hesitated momentarily, then continued, "I can understand their speech, that of the crows and other animals. I can help stop them from attacking people! So please, let Emma go! She had nothing to do with this!"

The menace in Lady Macbeth's eyes cooled, and she looked with interest at the strange boy who had made such a bold declaration. "I have heard rumors of a gypsy boy who spoke the tongues of wild beasts. Is that true, boy?"

"I-I can speak with them, yes," Trutho stuttered, "If I can stop them, then there's no need to lock up the gypsies anymore, right?"

"Yes…" Lady Macbeth touched her lips, her dark eyes deep in thought. "What is your name, child?" she asked, her tone softening.

Trutho cringed uncomfortably under the woman's disquieting gaze, and replied, "T-Trutho…"

"Trutho. If you wish for me to let this gypsy waif go, then you will come with me."

Trutho glanced behind him at Emma who shook her head vehemently. "No, don't do it, Trutho! I can take care of myself in prison, and I'll find a way out somehow. Don't listen to her!"

"Confident, aren't you?" Lady Macbeth sneered. "In that case, gypsy waif, I will have you locked up in a dark cell without any windows or another soul to speak with for the rest of your life. You will eventually beg for mercy before going mad. You wouldn't want that to happen to her, would you, Trutho?" Lady Macbeth cooed as she walked up to Trutho and gently laid her hand on his head. "My husband is a powerful man within the Ginkan Council. If you come with me, I will let her go and have the guards let the gypsies alone. What say you?"

"I…I'll come with you," Trutho said in a small voice, his head bowed.

"A wise choice," Lady Macbeth seized Trutho's hand and walked away with the guards bringing up the rear. With a wave of her other hand, the two guards unhanded Emma.

Tears running down her cheeks, Emma dashed towards the noblewoman as she led Trutho away, but was quickly held back by the guards.

"Trutho, no! Don't go!" she screamed.

Trutho glanced behind him, his usually bright eyes dimmed and resigned, before turning his back toward Emma. And that was the last Emma saw of him for a long time.

Emma gazed out the room's window, the somber look on her face still remaining. "For a time, it seemed as if somehow, he was able to stop them, as the attacks had waned. We dared to hope that the crows had been quelled, and that we would no longer be persecuted for their assaults."

She closed her eyes, shaking her head again. "But, one day, they began to attack again, and this time they seemed to target particular people, who seemed to all be nobility. The conclusion they had made turned things from bad to worse, as the nobles believed that the strange boy had set them on the nobility himself, to avenge us gypsies. So in retaliation, the gypsies began being hunted down with even more doggedness than in the past. Before, they would release us after a week or so, but now whole families would be thrown into prison together, from the youngest babe to ailing elders. Worst of all, Trutho was still nowhere to be seen. I could only assume that he had been held captive somewhere, and having no idea where he was I could do nothing for him. Though some of our people began to doubt him, that perhaps he had somehow betrayed us, I knew he would never do something like that. I could only worry in silence.

"Some of us tried to leave the town, but they would use the opportunity to catch us at the exits; essentially, we were trapped inside a town whose higher ranking members of society loathed us. It bewildered me to no end: if they didn't want us around, why not simply drive us out, rather than toil so much to vilify us? The common people and those who were sympathetic to our pleas did what they could for us, giving us places to hide and live in secret, but it would come at great risk to them, for they would be accused themselves of harboring gypsies and be punished themselves if caught in the act."

Emma placed a hand on her right leg, gripping it slightly. "It was only a matter of time before they would come for me as well. On that day, I was running from the guards, having accidentally let myself be seen, and I feared that I would not be able to outrun them this time."

Emma stumbled as she ran along the vacant cobblestone road, her chest heaving from exertion as her sore muscles ached from fatigue. She could hear the clanking of the guards' armor in the distance, their voices echoing barely a few blocks away. It was only a matter of time before they caught up with Emma, and an exhausted gypsy woman like her would be at their mercy.

Then, from around a corner, Emma suddenly felt herself get tugged off into a side alley by a hand that had reached out and grabbed her. She fumbled for the miniature dagger that she kept hidden within her dress for protection, trying to escape, when a familiar voice she hadn't heard for months whispered shakily, "Emma! Emma, it…it's me!"

Unable to believe her ears, she turned her head toward her captor and saw Trutho's timid face peering out from underneath his hood.

"Tr…Trutho!" Emma exclaimed joyfully as she wrapped her arms around him. "I thought you were—oh, how grateful I am to see you again!"

"Yes, I'm…" Torn between the happy reunion and the dire situation, he said nervously while glancing about them, "We need to be careful, they might hear you…"

"Oh…yes, you're right," Emma lowered her voice a bit sheepishly. "Trutho, all this time, what did you…?"

Emma trailed off as she examined Trutho more closely. His expression was haggard, and his eyes were fearful and dazed. His trembling hands were clasped together tightly, and he was hunched over, curling into himself like a frightened small animal, as if wanting to hide away from the entire world.

"I…I don't know what to do anymore," Trutho said, his voice so faint it was nearly lost in the wind. "I tried to help, but in the end I think I only caused more trouble for everyone. All the gypsies are being persecuted even more, and it's all because of me…"

"I know you would never betray us willingly," Emma said assuredly, her fingers grasping Truth's shoulders tightly. "Whatever happened, I'm sure that—"

"It doesn't matter," Trutho said with defeated eyes. "I have to find a way to fix it, somehow. And the only thing I can think of… is if I leave, and never came back. Then you can still blame everything on me; at least, then, our people won't be hunted down anymore."

Emma sighed somberly. "Trutho, we gypsies are going to be blamed for the troubles of the town, regardless of any excuses that could be made, justified or not. We are at the bottom of this society, and that fact is what is to blame for our suffering in the end. As much as I wish that someone, anyone could make things different… such is beyond any of our power to change."

"But then, what should I do now?" Trutho asked her, looking at Emma with lost eyes. "I'll do whatever you think is best for everyone else… just, please; I don't want to cause the others any more suffering."

Emma's brows furrowed as she glanced downward at the cup of tea in her hands, which had not moved for some time. "I must tell you now, why I told him what I said after that. In the time we were in Ginkan, I heard tales of a young man in the next town over who had lost his memories, and that he was rumored to be a prince from a story. Without Trutho knowing about it, I looked into these tales, and that was when I realized the truth of where Trutho had come from, and the one place where he might find a family to be with.

"So I told him to go. To leave for the town nearby, and there perhaps he might find someone he had lost. He was confused, but I didn't have the heart to explain further. I didn't want him to go, I wished from the bottom of my heart for him to stay. But I also wished that Ginkan was not the wretched place it was, and that wish was not granted. Without one, I couldn't have the other. Because for him to be safe, he had to leave this town behind."

Emma's eyes were still averted, but Mytho thought he could see them glistening with unshed tears.

"He wouldn't listen to me at first, but by then the guards caught up with us, and we both had to escape. So I said for us to head for the city wall; we would both escape together, I told him. That got him to move along."

Emma closed her eyes and sighed deeply. "In the end, though, it was a lie. We managed to slip past the city wall, through the drainage system. By then, night had fallen. Somehow the guards had detected us and we were chased us into the woods outside the town where we became separated. I was caught while he remained hidden somewhere; the soldiers still were looking for him even as they took me away.

"And that was the last I ever saw or heard of him, until I met you today," Emma said. "You can't imagine how relieved I am to know that he is well and safe."

Mytho smiled. "Then I'm sure that he would be so happy to hear that you are safe as well."

Emma's expression fell, and she folded her hands despondently in her lap. "I…I fear to let him see me as I am now. I am…not who I was when he knew me."

Mytho's brows furrowed. Looking up, he and Komaro exchanged mystified glances. "What do you mean?"

"You have already seen it," Emma said. "That I can barely walk on my own two feet, and it causes me pain to do so. This injury was one I received from my imprisonment, where I had been handled so roughly that my ankle was broken, and from the maltreatment I suffered there, it never properly healed. Eventually I was let out seemingly out of pity, but it seemed more as if I was no longer deemed a threat, and there were more dangerous criminals that needed the space."

Her eyebrows creased, as her eyes filled with humiliation. "I used to love dancing, you know. With the rest of the gypsies, and Trutho when he was here. But there's no way I'll ever be able to again, with these injuries."

A shadow passed over her, making Emma look up, blinking away the tears that had welled up at the corners of her eyes. Mytho stood before her, his eyebrows knitted with deep sorrow, as he opened his arms and gently embraced her. "That's so terrible. You didn't deserve this. None of you deserved to suffer like this."

He released her and with his hands on her shoulders, he said with a resolute expression, "I will stop the corruption in this town and set things right again, even if I must risk my life to do it."

Emma sighed, looking into Mytho's gallant eyes with her sad, cynical ones. "You have a noble heart, young prince. But, in all truth, what can a prince from a fairy tale world do against the ugliness of this earthly realm?"

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru swam deeper and deeper in the Lake of Despair. She could hear the agonized cries and sobs of a girl that drifted up from down below, bubbling up through the dark waters. The sounds sent a shudder through Ahiru's body. Yet as much as she was frightened by the wails, Ahiru felt that she had to help somehow—that girl was all alone at the bottom of the lake and seemed to be in such pain.

"Hey! Can you hear me?" Ahiru called out below. "I'm here to help you! Where are you? I want to find you so I can rescue you!"

A scream burst from the bottom.

"NO!" the voice shrieked. "DON'T COME CLOSER!"

As if the words were an underwater shockwave, Ahiru was blasted away from the voice, upward and out of the water—

"QUAAAAAACK!"

And Ahiru found herself toppling out of the ceiling bed, getting tangled in her sheets and rolling down onto the floor, now as a yellow duck.

After getting her bearings for a moment, she realized that she had transformed and sighed at the minor annoyance. I hate it when this happens…

Groggily, Ahiru waddled over to the bucket of water sitting in the corner of the room for whenever she quacked in her sleep. She grabbed the bucket with her wings and tipped it over, expecting to topple back to the ground as a girl again.

The water splashed over her, and she was dripping wet from head to toe. Yet, instead of cold water clinging to her skin, the drops simply beaded off and rolled off her still feathered form.

Huh?

Ahiru glanced down at her neck to see if she was still wearing her pendant. There it was, but instead of the usual magenta, the ovular jewel was a dull gray, as if it had been somehow dirtied.

What's going on? Is there something wrong with my pendant!?

"Ahiru? What's going on?"

Ahiru recognized Sagi's voice from the bed by the stairs, but it wasn't a human voice. Ahiru scuttled toward Sagi's bed and found a light blue heron brushing off the covers and stepping gingerly onto the floor. Her circular pendant, normally sea blue, was a similar smoky color as Ahiru's.

"That's strange; did I squawk in my sleep?" Sagi looked at her wings in confusion and mild embarrassment. She stepped over to the puddle of water Ahiru had created and placed a bird foot into it. Nothing happened.

"Your pendant doesn't work either?" Ahiru asked worriedly. "I tried using some water just now, but it didn't work!"

"But why?" Sagi said with concern. "Do you have any idea why this could be happening?"

"No, I don't!" Ahiru exclaimed, scurrying around the floor in a building panic. "This hasn't ever happened before! The pendants are a weird color, and we can't turn back even with water—I don't know what to do!"

Clueless herself as to what to do about the problem, Sagi could only stand there watching the duck flap her wings about, so she at least tried to calm Ahiru down. "I…I'm sure we can figure something out. Who might know about how to solve this problem?"

"Fakir! Maybe Fakir will know what to do!" Ahiru said, clambering up to the windowsill and opening the latch with her beak. "He's just across the dormitory grounds, so c'mon, let's go ask him for help!"

Ahiru leapt out of the window and into the air, and Sagi followed behind her.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir was awoken by a loud thump on his dorm room's window.

As he got up out of bed to open the curtain and see what it was, Autor roused from sleep as well. "What was that?" he asked blearily, rubbing his eyes before grabbing his glasses off his desk and putting them on.

Pulling the curtains aside, Fakir's eyes widened. "Ahiru!"

He opened the window, and in tumbled a yellow duck, which began flailing her wings and quacking frantically, trying to communicate to Fakir as a great blue heron from outside landed quietly beside her.

Immediately upon their entrance, Autor sneezed. "What the—oh, great, it's you two," Autor said nasally as he covered his nose, glaring at the two birds across the room who were the objects of his allergic reaction. "There'd better be a good reason for coming over like this!"

As Fakir closed the window, he tried to decipher Ahiru's frenetic motions. "Wait, slow down, Ahiru," he said. "What's wrong? Why are you two coming over here as birds?"

Thinking of what the easiest way could be to point out their dilemma, Ahiru cupped her pendant in her wings and held it up to Fakir.

Fakir knelt down to examine it. The dull smoky color made him furrow his brows. "Your pendant changed colors?" he asked. "When did this happen? This morning?"

Ahiru and Sagi both nodded their heads. Sagi bent her neck and grabbed her own pendant with her beak and showed it to Fakir as well.

"It's the same color," Fakir said, a hand thoughtfully at his chin. "So it's probably caused by the same thing, whatever it is."

"Both of their pendants are from the lake, where the pendants' magic comes from," Autor said through his hand, which was covering his nose and mouth with a handkerchief. "That magic is what makes them human, so…if the pendants are discolored like this, then that probably means that the magic is malfunctioning somehow."

"As for why, we have no idea…" Fakir said, glancing over at Ahiru and Sagi again. "But if what you're saying is right, Autor, then we have to go find out the reason."

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

31. AKT "Death and the Maiden"
~ Der Tod und das Mädchen ~

- Part 2 -

For some reason, Ahiru had seemed genuinely afraid of going to the lake when Fakir had suggested it. When asked for an explanation, all that Fakir could make out from Ahiru was that she had been at the lake and heard voices, and was really scared by them. Still, it was suspicious enough that Fakir was convinced that there they would find the answer, and when reminded of this, Ahiru seemed determined to conquer her fears and go with Fakir as well as Autor and Sagi to figure out this mystery.

When the four of them had finally reached the banks of the lake, Ahiru hopped out of Fakir's hand, and stood close to Fakir, her eyes watching the waters nervously. Even Sagi sidled up beside Ahiru despite herself, and Autor subtly peeked at the lake from behind Fakir.

The usually crystal clear lake was now a dark murky hue, as if within the lake's water no light could escape. Even the fog surrounding the lake had become the color of ash, oppressive and forbidding in its thickness. The chill around them made the four of them shiver, even when in town the weather had been relatively warm.

"D…do you hear that?" Autor asked between shivers.

A quiet, ominous moaning hung in the dank air. Ahiru recognized it as similar to that which she had heard the previous day, except this time it seemed even more unsettling and haunting.

"It's as if someone's…dying," Fakir said, frozen in place. "Painfully."

Then, a different, gentler voice whispered from somewhere nearby, "A…Ahiru-chan? Sagi-chan? You're here, aren't you?"

"That voice sounds familiar…" Autor said, stepping from behind Fakir towards where it was coming from.

A translucent cloudy figure appeared from the lake's waters. Her flowing watery dress was ripped and speckled with what looked like diluted black ink. The Lake Spirit's expression was bleak and haggard, and she looked very ill.

Ahiru was shocked to see the Lake Spirit in such a state. Though it only came out as quacks to Fakir and Autor, Sagi and the Lake Spirit heard her say, "Oh my gosh! What happened to you?"

"My magic is being sapped away by the one who's trapped in the bottom of the lake," the Lake Spirit said. "The Maiden of Despair who lingers there has become restless and disturbed, in a way she hasn't been before."

"So that's why their pendants aren't working, and why they can't turn human," Fakir said. "How can we fix this? Can we get rid of whatever's causing it?"

"You'll have to go to where she is, down there," the Lake Spirit said, looking weary. "You'll find her resting place, and whatever is haunting her needs to be removed."

With an exhausted sigh, she slipped back under the waves with these words: "I will show you the way; that's the most I can do for you now…"

Then, waves began lapping up against the lake shore, as an invisible hand traced a line of ripples to a point out at the lake center where a shallow whirlpool marked the spot.

o-o-o-o-o

The oars of the boat creaked as the small wooden boat carrying Autor, Fakir, Sagi, and Ahiru rowed towards the whirlpool. As Fakir stayed his hands, the whirlpool vanished, having served its purpose.

"Quack, quack," Ahiru said, pointing at herself and then at the water with one wing, indicating that she was going down to investigate.

Fakir nodded grimly. "Be careful, and come straight back up if you see anything," he said before Ahiru gave him an affirmative quack and dived beneath the surface.

While the group waited for Ahiru to resurface, Sagi, out of courtesy for Autor's bird allergies, perched herself on the other end of the boat from him, using her height to act as a sort of lookout for the lake's shores.

Fakir was anxious about Ahiru going alone to the bottom, having no idea what she would face down there, but as a duck Ahiru was most suited to check the premises, being the best diver of them. Still, Fakir could not help put stare at the water fretfully as time ticked by.

It was less than a minute, during which for Fakir it seemed much longer, before Ahiru resurfaced.

"Ahiru! Are you all right? How was it?" Fakir asked, bending toward the rim of the boat to look at her.

Though Ahiru appeared unharmed, the expression on her face was haunted and fearful. Upon seeing this, Fakir held out his arm and Ahiru flew out of the water and perched on it gratefully, seeming comforted by being close to him.

"Was it that bad?" Autor asked, frowning. "What did you see down there?"

After a pause, trying to compose herself, Ahiru first crossed her wings in front of her below her torso.

"The mime for 'death'…" Fakir said, his eyes narrowing.

Then Ahiru attempted to use her wings to make a box in the air, and gestured that something was in this box.

"Death…in a box?" Autor furrowed his brow, not familiar with Ahiru's mimes.

"A coffin?" Fakir said, his eyes widening as Ahiru nodded to confirm.

"A coffin, at the bottom of the lake?" Autor said. "At least we know what doesn't belong there. Is that supposed to be where the Maiden of Despair is?" he asked, crossing his arms and looking contemplative. "The story of the Maiden who was buried in the lake has been around for generations. But if she's been here all this time, why is her presence causing problems now?"

"If this coffin is what's causing the magic to be stifled, we'll have to get it out to restore the lake to normal," Fakir said, grabbing the rope off the hull of the boat. "I'll dive down with Ahiru and tie this around it, and when we come back up, we'll pull it out and row it to shore."

Autor pursed his lips, hesitating uncharacteristically. "I'm not one to be superstitious, but are you sure you're up for coming face to face with a ghost?"

Fakir nodded. "This is the only recourse we have." Turning around, he added more quietly, "…and this isn't the first ghost I've faced."

Autor sighed and acquiesced, "Just remember to keep your head. I'll be here holding onto the rope," he said, grabbing a hold of one end of the rope. Sagi made a short squawk-like sound from her perch on the boat's bow and waved one of her wings, as if to wish the two of them luck.

"Quack," Ahiru said, holding up a wing before Fakir could dive in.

"What is it?"

Ahiru hesitated, glancing off to the side, anxious. Then, she made the box mime again, touched one wing to the other and then recoiled, wincing, before looking back at him with worry.

"The coffin…it hurts? If you touch it?" Fakir asked, puzzled.

Ahiru nodded gravely, worry still in her blue eyes.

"It'll be fine," Fakir said. "I'm no stranger to pain, so whatever it might do, I can handle it."

Ahiru sighed, apparently not convinced. Still, she nodded solemnly and jumped into the water, glancing up and ready for Fakir to follow her.

After taking a breath, Fakir jumped over the rim of the boat and into the water with a splash.

o-o-o-o-o

Even though the lake wasn't all that deep, when he got within sight of the coffin, the water around him became as dark as if he were deep in the ocean, and the water felt as cold as ice. The only reason he could see anything around him was a faint yet menacing crimson glow emanating from the coffin sitting on the lake floor below him. Were it not for whatever magic that allowed him to breathe in this place, Fakir knew he would likely end up under the waves of the lake forever, just like the Maiden who was laid to rest here countless years ago.

Remembering Ahiru's warning about touching the coffin, he braced himself for whatever might come as he swam toward it, his hand gripping the rope reaching forward.

When Fakir's fingers brushed the dark wooden surface of the coffin, something slashed across his midsection, pain searing through him as he felt himself being torn in half.

He nearly swallowed water despite having mentally prepared himself for the reaction. The young man fumbled to keep a grip on the end of the rope in his hand, the shock having stopped him in his tracks and thrown off his focus.

Then, he felt a gentle feathery poke on his left shoulder. He turned to see Ahiru hovering at his side, her blue eyes alarmed and worried.

Heartened by seeing her at his side, Fakir looked back at the coffin and spotted a tarnished brass handle on which he could tie the rope around. He gathered his courage, and then threaded the rope around the handle, all the while ignoring the flashes of pain and mental images of being dismembered.

He yanked a tight square knot around the handle, and headed for the surface. Once Fakir surfaced, Autor helped him back into the boat. After Fakir caught his breath, he grabbed the rope and Autor began rowing back to shore. The rope was more than long enough to reach the bottom of the lake, so by the time they reached the shore and got out of the boat, they still had to pull the rope out a bit before the rope became taut.

When it did, the rope needed both Fakir and Autor pulling as hard as they could to get the coffin to move. It didn't seem stuck on anything, but rather it was as if someone was pulling against them, like an eerie tug-of-war.

Their efforts did not go unrewarded though; as the coffin was pulled out of the lake, the dank fog began to lift, and the sunlight began to shine through, warming the air around them.

Finally, with a final heave, the coffin was pulled onto the sandy shore. Gradually the weather around the lake cleared, and its water was cleansed of the shadowy taint.

"Quack!"

Ahiru and Sagi glanced at their pendants, and like the lake itself, the gems had returned to their respective magenta and blue hues.

However, the water that lapped the coffin's walls still was darkened. His clothes still damp from the dive, Fakir could feel the air around the coffin was significantly colder than the surrounding temperature. The crimson glow remained emanating from it.

"We still have to deal with this," Autor said, glancing at the coffin.

"Careful about touching it," Fakir said to Autor. "I had a hard enough time when I was getting the rope on it."

Ahiru and Sagi, having retrieved their clothes that they had brought over in anticipation of their success, had headed for the water to transform back. Once they had done so and changed in a patch of reeds, they went toward Autor and Fakir, and in doing so passed near the coffin. Upon approaching it, both their pendants suddenly turned pitch black.

"Ahiru, our pendants…" Sagi said, fingering hers and glancing at Ahiru's.

"They turned black!" Ahiru exclaimed, cupping her pendant in her hands, looking between it and the ominous coffin. "That's what's wrong. This coffin has a Raven's shard in it!"

Just as she said those words, a horrible shrieking voice erupted like a hurricane gale from within the coffin: "GO AWAY!"

It was enough to startle all of them there for a moment. But Ahiru, remembering the dream she had and realizing what she needed to do, steeled herself and gripped her pendant. This time when she called upon Tutu's power, there was no resistance. With a flash of warm golden light, Ahiru transformed into Princess Tutu.

As the white-garbed ballerina stepped gingerly toward the coffin, a maiden's translucent specter appeared and hovered above it. She was gray like the color of storm clouds, and her tattered dress had numerous unkempt rips along the sleeves and skirt, as if they had been torn by endlessly tormented hands. Her tortured crimson eyes glared out from the gray haze of her body as vividly as molten iron.

"Leave me be!" the ghostly Maiden of Despair exclaimed, cringing and clutching her head. The eerie crimson glow of the coffin pulsed and flashed brighter with her words. "Do not come near me! This torment is mine alone to suffer!"

"Why do you try to send me away?" Princess Tutu asked, holding out an upturned hand toward her. "You're in pain, and I want to help you be free of it. There is a shard in your heart that doesn't belong there, and I can remove it for you."

"No, no, no!" the Maiden of Despair said, lowering her head as she shook it desperately, her arms wrapped around her shoulders as she shuddered with anguish. "If you try to help me, all you'll do is take the suffering onto yourself! That's why you can't come close! I must keep it away from everyone, so no one else will be a victim to its curse!"

"But even hiding yourself here, others are affected by it, no matter how much you try to keep it to yourself," Tutu said, placing two hands over her chest, closing her eyes sorrowfully. "Your suffering causes others to suffer, like the spirit of this very lake where you rest. The pain that you feel isn't yours, so it isn't right for you to take it on all on your own like this."

The Maiden of Despair paused, shuddering again. "So…this means that even after trying for the past few moons, I'm not strong enough to keep this pain away from others…"

Princess Tutu touched her pendant and smiled with sympathetic eyes at the ghostly maiden. "The lake had been well for all this time up until now. You had hidden it so well that it was only this day, when it had already built up for so long, that anyone even noticed. That's more than enough for you to do." Tutu held out her hand welcomingly once again. "Please don't worry; I will remove it from you and keep it from making anyone else suffer."

Tears came to the ghostly maiden's eyes. "If you would do this, if I would let it go, then promise me…find a way to destroy it as soon as you can. Don't let what happened to me happen with anyone else."

"Yes," Princess Tutu nodded with a benevolent smile. "I promise I will."

The Maiden of Despair placed her hands over her heart and sighed with sad relief. She floated down onto the ground, and with soundless steps, walked toward the lake, leaving the coffin behind.

As the maiden's spirit disappeared beneath the waves, the coffin faded away, and in its place a dark crimson glowing shard remained. All four points on the shard looked as if it could prick a finger by mere touch, with one of its points being as long and thin as a stiletto.

Princess Tutu stepped gracefully forward and cupped her hands around it gently. When she did so, she started. Painful memories began to flood her mind—her, crying in the lake when she returned Fear to Mytho and caused him to suffer; her, sinking into the Lake of Despair, wanting to return the shard of Hope to Mytho, but being unable to because of her own selfishness. Wincing, her hands began to tremble, and she had difficulty grasping onto the shard.

Fakir, seeing Tutu's face, grimaced and walked up to her. "Let go of that!" he said, snatching the shard out of her hands before she could protest.

As soon as he did so, however, vivid unbidden images came to his mind of countless crows swarming the room around him, ripping his parents apart as he helplessly watched, before a searing pain slashed across his abdomen, as if he were being ripped in half himself. Fakir cried out, clutching the hidden scar across his chest, dropping the shard onto the dirt.

"Fakir!" Tutu exclaimed, placing a worried hand on his arm. Panting, Fakir found that the searing pain had disappeared after he had let go of the shard.

Autor's brows furrowed as he stared pensively down at the shard. The glowing crimson shard stood on the ground balanced up on its stiletto tip, as if held up by an invisible string. "It causes pain to whoever holds it…hmm. This'll be a problem if none of us can even grab onto it, much less carry it away elsewhere."

Fakir frowned, his voice still rough from the horrible memories he was forced to relive. "Remember what the Maiden of Despair said? We need to destroy it as soon as possible. There's no point in keeping it around."

"Unless I'm mistaken, that won't be possible without the Prince's sword," Autor replied, crossing his arms. "In the meanwhile, we have to keep it safe and away from the other person who's trying to collect them for a worse reason. I'd try to pick it up myself, but…"

Autor glanced down at the shard. He reached for it, and then cringed, taking a step back. "I doubt I'd be any more able to than either of you."

Then, someone else bent down and picked the shard off the ground.

The three glanced up with surprise at Sagi, who now cupped the shard in her hands. Her expression was belabored, but she held the shard without wincing.

"How…?" Autor looked at Sagi with amazement. "It doesn't affect you?"

"I think it does, but… not as strongly as the rest of you, it looks like," she said, biting her lips.

"Will you be all right?" Tutu asked Sagi, looking at her with concern.

"I… I think so," Sagi said. "In any case, we need to take it with us, don't we? If I'm the only one who can hold it, then I need to keep it until we know what to do with it, right?"

"I suppose so," Fakir said, crossing his arms. "We have to keep it out of Caras's hands, so we can't let it out of our sights." He frowned. "I hate to ask you to do this, but it seems we don't have any other choice right now."

"It's fine," Sagi said. "I would rather take it on myself than watch all of you suffer from it."

o-o-o-o-o

In Ginkan, a clammy breeze brushed against the bare branches of the tree outside the inn Mytho and Komaro were staying in.

In the next room, Emma rested on Mytho's bed. Her long tale had evidently worn Emma out, something that did not go unnoticed by the prince. Mytho had insisted that Emma rest for a while and dine with them, but the princely gesture was too much for a humble woman like Emma, who insisted she was just fine. After some gentle arguing, Komaro, who had been watching the exchange without comment, said politely, "If you will pardon me, Miss Emma, but if you and your people are indeed being wrongfully persecuted by the authorities in this town, going out again in daylight would be quite perilous. It would be better to stay here until dark before attempting an escape to safety. And if one is to set out on foot, it would be best to do so when one is well rested and with a full stomach."

Emma could not argue against Komaro's reasoning, and after a heavy sigh, she conceded to Mytho's original suggestion.

Now, with Emma resting and Komaro away arranging dinner with the innkeeper for the three of them, Mytho was left to himself in the small drawing room. He sat in the chair that Emma had occupied earlier, watching the sky through the dusty windows of the inn. In the west, the sun had started its daily descent towards the horizon, drawing Mytho's thoughts to the town where his princess and young brother currently resided.

Rue…Trutho…I hope they are both well…

But Mytho's reveries were cut short when suddenly he felt a strong tug within his chest.

"Tutu!" Knowing what must be happening, Mytho could do little but try to steady his hands on the table in front of him. Thankful that both Emma and Komaro were safe as his consciousness began to slip once again, Mytho wished fervently that regardless of the reason Tutu needed his power, that Tutu and his other friends would be safe, before everything went black.

When his eyes fluttered open again, the shadows in the room cast by the sun had grown longer, but otherwise nothing else in the room had changed.

Mytho slowly pushed himself up and touched his heart. "What is happening in Kinkan?" the prince asked, grimacing.

Looking out the window again, he frowned, golden eyes clouded with worry. "Rue, Trutho, everyone…please be safe…"

o-o-o-o-o

Rue and Trutho posed together in a pas de deux arabesque in Kinkan Academy's practice building, the former in her claret ballet practice dress and the latter in a loose white shirt and black dance pants, his eyes disguised in amber dye.

While Rue stood with her arms and legs lifted with calm dignity and an easy grace, Trutho's brows were knitted tensely, his hands grasping Rue's waist tightly, trembling a bit from the effort.

"You don't need to grip so hard," Rue said, glancing back at him. "You're not holding up my entire weight; you're just supporting it. Relax your muscles. It'll look more natural that way."

"R-really? Okay, then…" Trutho pursed his lips, and then with just a bit of hesitation, loosened his hands and arms. Immediately he looked less stiff, and his expression became calmer to match.

"There," Rue said, turning her head back into position. "That's better."

"It is? Great!" Trutho said, a small smile appearing on his face.

Above the studio floor in the balcony overhang, a mauve cat sat watching the pair of dancers with what seemed like a twinkle in his eyes, his tail twitching back and forth eagerly. It was as if the cat could sense the budding connection between the two and was relishing it.

"…And here is the academy's dance studio," a woman's voice said as the door behind the cat opened. The cat's tail paused in midair as he turned around toward the voice.

Yagiko-sensei, wearing her usual prim pink dress, and a stocky man in a brown suit and pants walked into the room, with the dance instructor leading the way in, a hand gesturing toward the studio floor. "As you can see, Inutoshi-san," Yagiko said, lowering her voice, "our resident royal highnesses are currently using it for their private practice session, so we'll avoid disturbing them and just take a look from the second floor here."

"Ah yes, I see," Inutoshi nodded, his hand at his chin. "It is indeed a nicely built studio. It would be a pleasure to teach the apprentice dancing class here."

"I'm happy to hear that," Yagiko-sensei smiled. "When would you be ready to start?"

"Would tomorrow be too soon?"

"No, not at all!"

"Then let's…"

Inutoshi broke off when he saw something behind Yagiko-sensei that put a shocked expression on his face. "Eh…? What in the world is that doing there?!"

Yagiko-sensei turned around as Inutoshi marched toward the balcony overhang. "Oh, why look," she said, her smile widening, "It's Neko-san—"

"Shoo, shoo! Get out of here, you stupid cat! GIT!" Inutoshi exclaimed, waving his arms and growling threateningly as Neko-san hissed with displeasure and darted towards the open doors.

"Now…I'm sure it was completely by accident that someone let some mangy stray into the studio," Inutoshi said, brushing off his hands. "So as we were saying, let's get started with—"

"How DARE you mistreat Neko-san like that?!" Yagiko-sensei cut him off, looking at him furiously. "Forget it! You're fired!"

Then, her expression changing to one of alarmed dismay, Yagiko-sensei left a baffled Inutoshi behind, chasing after the cat as she wailed, "Wait, wait! Neko-san, come baaaaaack!"

The commotion had not gone unheard, as Rue and Trutho glanced above with puzzlement.

"What was all that about?" Trutho asked, looking back at Rue with a tilt of his head.

"I've no idea," Rue replied, furrowing her brows. "But, no matter. Are you tired? Do you want to stop for now?"

"I guess so," Trutho said, wiping his forehead. "You don't look tired, though – should we go on still?"

"I'm an experienced dancer, so it's natural that I'd have more stamina than you," Rue said. "I don't want to risk any accidents from overexertion."

"Okay," Trutho said with a nod. "Thanks."

Rue blinked, a little taken aback. "It's nothing to thank me for."

"All right, you can take it or leave it, then," he replied with a grin as he headed for the men's changing room. "See you in a bit!"

o-o-o-o-o

After the two of them had each changed back into their Kinkan academy uniforms, with the only difference from the other students being the golden crowns on their heads, Trutho and Rue headed toward the classrooms for their daily visitations, arm-in-arm and at ease with one another.

"So, we're going to the beginners' sculpting class next, right?" Trutho asked, looking at Rue.

"Yes," Rue replied. "And after that should be the advanced orchestra. Both of them shouldn't involve us talking at all, so if you can just sit quietly, there shouldn't be any problems."

"I should be able to do that much," Trutho said with a small laugh. "I think I'm getting used to this, slowly."

"Getting used to what?"

Trutho and Rue turned toward the sudden third voice and saw Caras step out from around the corner, his eyes narrowed curiously at them.

"Huh? Uh, I…" Trutho blinked, taken aback by the sudden appearance, and was ill at ease upon realizing who it was. "I was getting used to, umm…"

Rue glanced at Trutho, seeing his unease, stepped in and said, "It was a private conversation. There's no need to answer him, Mytho."

"So it was a sensitive topic, was it?" Caras said, his attention shifting toward Rue. "You're having trouble with something? What a shame. And you two seemed to be getting along so well lately."

Caras's gaze put Rue on edge, and despite herself, she had to turn hers away from those all-too-familiar crimson eyes. "It's none of your business!" she exclaimed, trying to hide her fear.

Trutho noticed Rue's alarm, and not wanting Caras to threaten her, he stepped in front of her and broke in shakily, "Y-yeah, what she said. Stop bothering us!"

Caras cocked an eyebrow, a vague smirk on his lips. "I merely stopped to chat. Yet my presence bothers you so? Very well, then. I shall leave you."

It wasn't until Caras had disappeared behind another corner that Trutho let out a breath, relaxing his tense stance. "He…he's gone. Thank goodness."

Rue looked at him. "You didn't need to do that."

"But he really seems to intimidate you," Trutho said, frowning at her with concern. "So I couldn't just stand there and let him go at you."

"It seems like he intimidates you more than me," Rue retorted.

"But you were…" Trutho trailed off, not sure how to respond.

Rue sighed. "Never mind. Let's just get going and not be distracted by someone like him."

"Sounds good to me," Trutho said with a nod, linking his arms back with Rue. At this point, it was hard to tell who the one leading was.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru headed back to Kinkan Academy with Fakir, Autor, and Sagi. As Ahiru walked, she looked over at Sagi with slight worry. While her expression seemed tranquil and unbothered, Ahiru knew from having previously being around her that it was a little too stiff to be true. Like ripples in a pond, even if there were no visible waves, there was a disturbance beneath the surface of her otherwise usually calm demeanor.

Ahiru then realized that the relatively calm backstreet they had turned onto looked familiar. "Hey, isn't this where Takako-san lives?"

"Takako?" Autor said, his head perking up. "The fortune-teller? Oh, her," Autor said, his eyes rolling slightly.

"Do you know her?" Ahiru asked him.

"So to speak," Autor replied, pushing his glasses back. "I visited her once while I was investigating Drosselmeyer's bloodline. She's on the family tree on one of the side branches, and she seems to have some extrasensory powers of vision. But she doesn't have any Spinning powers, nor does she have any descendants, so I didn't look into her further." He sniffed. "She's still as phony a fortune-teller as the rest of them; she can't really tell the future."

"Yet the truth remains so, that I am closer to Drosselmeyer's bloodline than you are. I don't think that ever sat well with you," a velvety woman's voice said behind them.

The group turned toward the voice. "Oh, Takako-san!" Ahiru said as Takako stood there, a basket of various groceries poking out from beneath her fawn-colored cloak. "I guess you were out shopping just now?"

"That is true," Takako said with a nod. "Certainly nothing as exciting as what you and the Prince are going through in your respective sides of the story."

"That's right; you can see how Mytho is doing!" Ahiru said, smiling. "How is he? Has he solved the raven problem over there yet?"

Takako sighed. "Mytho's situation remains perilous. Ginkan still has much intrigue that has yet to be revealed. Furthermore, each time you borrow his power, he falls into a deep sleep, and sometimes it happens at most inopportune times for him."

Ahiru paused, her face falling. "Wait… 'borrow his power'… borrowing Mytho's power… you can't mean, Princess Tutu…?"

"Indeed," she replied soberly. "As it was a shard of his heart that allowed you to become the magical princess before, so still that shard of heart is needed for you to become her now."

"What do you mean, 'inopportune times'?" Fakir asked, frowning.

"Once, when the ravens were raiding the town, in the middle of fighting them off, he fell unconscious when you became Princess Tutu," Takako replied. "It was quite well that Komaro had been with him to get him out of there, or else I'm not sure how he could have escaped unscathed."

"Oh no," Ahiru said, covering her mouth as horror grew in her expression. "I… I had no idea that whenever I transformed, Mytho would be…!"

"Ahiru, it's not your fault," Fakir said quickly. "You had no idea that Mytho would be affected like he was. Mytho wouldn't let Caras do as he pleases if he was here, and there's no way otherwise to get the shards before he can."

"But, but still," Ahiru said, her head drooping. "I just did so without asking if it was okay, and it's because of me that he's having more trouble when he has so much to deal with already…"

"Couldn't you ask him with a letter, or maybe through one of those telephones around the town?" Autor asked. "If he just knew about it, then you could know when transforming would be convenient for him, and then—"

"He still doesn't know that I'm Princess Tutu," Ahiru whispered, looking at the ground.

Autor blinked. "Really? But doesn't he already know that you're a duck, and so he—"

"Drop it," Fakir said sharply. When Autor looked at him with bafflement, Fakir glanced back at Ahiru, who was looking more and more uncomfortable by the second.

Sagi too looked at Ahiru with concern, still gripping the shard through her sleeve but now with a softer expression, as if focusing on another's pain lessened her own.

o-o-o-o-o

When Uzura reached the source of the pale glowing light, she found the light was emitted from an iridescent green gear that stood out among the other metal gears.

"Aoooooooh!" Uzura exclaimed with interest. "Is this where the 'source' is-zura?"

Yes, the calm, wise voice echoed from the reflections of a green-haired woman on the gears around her. This is where you can meet the one we were born from.

"So it's our Mama-zura!" Uzura said. "Then let's go say hello-zura!"

The little puppet girl leapt into the air toward the gear, as if she were jumping into a swimming pool. As she fell down toward it, the center of the gear shone with a bright light, and Uzura disappeared into it.

She found herself in a vast sunlit meadow, at the center of which grew a giant oak tree. She realized that someone tall was standing next to her, and when she looked up, the green-haired woman from the gear reflections was there by her side.

"Me-zura is here, too!" Uzura said.

Edel nodded. "Shall we go and meet the Tree together?"

Uzura grinned, and held up her tiny hand to the tall, pale woman. Edel took her hand, and together they walked toward the great oak tree.

"Are you Mama-zura?" Uzura asked the tree as they stood before it.

A light breeze picked up, and as they rustled the leaves of the giant oak tree a voice reached their ears. Children of my earthly body, I am called Yggdrasil, the tree said. I am the heart of this world, the source of all its magic and the fabric of its existence.

"You're the heart of the world-zura?" Uzura said, tilting her head, not quite comprehending.

Yes, my child, Yggdrasil replied. And as such, you and your elder are connected to the core of the world, allowing you to travel freely between this dimension and the world itself.

"Both my young self and I were able to do so," Edel said, "but as I had no heart to call my own, my travels between this dimension and the world were dictated by the whims of the Spinner who lived beyond his own death. That we are able to travel freely without his hands is thanks to my younger self, who leads us both on our own path."

From the beginning of time, there have always been Spinners, Yggdrasil explained. They are the ones whose blood is connected with my lifeblood, allowing them to shape reality with their will. It had been a gift, a way to communicate between the heart of the world and its inhabitants.

However, when the Spinner called Drosselmeyer gained his power, instead of following in the footsteps of the Spinners before him, he went further. He wanted complete control over the stories of the world, so that they might tell only his stories alone. And so, he built the machine that you see in this dimension, with its countless interconnected gears. With this machine that he built connected to the town named Kinkan, where my earthly remnants remain, he was able to control the stories by locking everyone inside, without anyone even aware of it.

"But Fakir destroyed the machine-zura," Uzura said. "I showed them where the machine was, way at the top of the tower. That's why everyone can be happy now-zura. Ahiru, Fakir, and all their friends aren't having the tussle-mayor's sad stories being told for them anymore-zura."

"That indeed set Kinkan free," Edel said to Uzura. "But the machine itself remains, and when it is not locked within the walls of the town, it can still affect not only Kinkan, but places outside Kinkan as well."

The machine is still connected to reality itself, just as I still am the fabric of reality, Yggdrasil said. That is why he still exists and is able to control reality even now. This very dimension has taken the shape it has because of the machine he built with his own hands, and those same hands still create his stories without those that live in them knowing.

"And there are those people whose strings of fate were tied to the machine itself as well," Edel said. "Two of them were of his creation, and the third was tied to it by Drosselmeyer's design and the will of the heart. The two he created are now in his hands."

"The white goose feather and the black raven feather-zura…" Uzura said glumly. Then she remembered the third one she had found. "But I got the golden feather-zura! The one that belongs to Ahiru-zura. I gave it back to Ahiru and Fakir before the tussle-mayor kicked me out-zura."

Yes, and thanks to you, the potential that lies within that string is in the hands of a young Spinner who does not share the old Spinner's will to relive the tragedies of the world over and over again, Yggdrasil said.

"The golden feather has a 'potential'-zura?" Uzura asked curiously. "What's that-zura?"

The young Spinner had once been stifled when he was very small, and it took the efforts of the owner of the golden string, the duck, to set his heart free once again. Even now, his power remains stunted and neglected, and if he were to face the old Spinner again, his victory would be unlikely. However, what allowed him to prevail and free the town itself was the power of the duck, through which he could funnel his untrained power and tell a story of his own.

"So you say, as it had been before, Fakir and Ahiru are ultimately the ones who would be able to wrest the reins in Drosselmeyer's hands away," Edel said. "But how would they accomplish this? To continue battling Drosselmeyer would simply be an eternal tussle between them both, a battle that would still abide by Drosselmeyer's rules."

"Then, what can we do-zura?" Uzura asked, frowning. "The tussle-mayor kicked me out of Kinkan, so I can't go back to help Ahiru and her friends."

The little puppet girl thought for a moment. "Fakir broke the machine in the tower to make it stop working-zura. I played around with the machine here once – can I break that one too-zura?"

That would bring untold catastrophe, Yggdrasil warned. The machine is built around me, and therefore what happens to the machine is what happens to the world.

"Uh-oh, so breaking it here would break the world?" Uzura exclaimed, aghast. "That's no good-zura!"

"I wonder… what did this dimension look like before Drosselmeyer's machine was built?" Edel asked. "You existed here before then, had you not?"

Before the old Spinner grasped the strings himself and tied them to his vast machine, the world appeared here in the form of a great shining tapestry, with the strings of fate of each being interwoven every which way, an ever-changing pattern that had a life of its own.

"Where did the strings come from-zura?" Uzura asked. "Did you make them?"

Back in the beginning, the strings of fate grew from my celestial form, as the origin of all things, Yggdrasil replied. It became such a vast tapestry that quite soon, I alone could not manage them all. So, I created guardians of the strings of fate, who called themselves the Norns, to watch over the tapestry and ensure that it flowed and wove neatly.

"Where are these guardians?" Edel asked, her painted eyes looking around. "Neither my younger self nor I have ever seen them."

It was the work of that one fateful Spinner, the Spinner more powerful and daring than all the others that preceded him, Yggsdrasil said grimly. When he built the machine, his masterwork, he found that the guardians got in his way of taking control of the tapestry. He could not destroy them without rendering his machine useless, but he was so powerful and determined that, with a few merciless strokes of his quill, he pulled the guardians down from their perches in my branches, stripping them of their powers and their memories of the otherworld, becoming but lost souls at the mercy of the whims of the Spinner himself. The tapestry of fate was then his for the taking.

"If the tussle-mayor stole the tapestry-zura, then how can we take it back?" Uzura asked. "I've tried to do everything I can, but now I can't even get back to where my friends are-zura."

"Perhaps our power alone is not enough to oppose Drosselmeyer," Edel said.

Uzura looked up at her. "Then maybe, we need some help-zura!"

"But, from who?" Edel asked.

What was once lost might be found again, Yggdrasil said. Children of my body, you are no longer bound to the old Spinner's whims, and therefore are able to act on your own free will. If you are now able to defy him, perhaps the lost guardians too might find their way again with your help.

"So they're lost?" Uzura asked. "Where could they be?"

"If they are in Kinkan, then we would not be able to reach them," Edel said with concern.

They cannot be in the town where my remnants are. For the old Spinner to build his machine, he had to have gotten them out of its influence. Although he has cut off my connection to them, I can sense that the guardians remain nearby, in a dormant state.

"Nearby…" Edel looked thoughtful.

"Me-zura, do you know where they are?" Uzura asked her.

"The town of Ginkan, the neighboring city," Edel said. "They may be lingering there."

"Aoooooh!" Uzura exclaimed gleefully. "That's not Kinkan, so we can still go there-zura!"

The path is open, Yggdrasil said as the ground below Uzura and Edel began to glow. Go forth and find the guardians. To return fate to its original state, the Norns must be found and awakened to their true power.

After a flash of pale green light, Uzura stood by the iridescent green gear, seemingly alone. But she knew she wasn't really alone.

"Let's go find the guardians-zura!" she exclaimed to the reflections in the gears before scuttling off into the distance.

This is something only you can do, Edel said as she watched Uzura from the reflections. Can what was once lost be found again?


Next episode preview

The three Raven Sisters perch on a bare tree, cackling gleefully to themselves. "When we finally eat the heart of a human, then we will have power like that of the monstrous Raven… and we will be free to do as we please, fearing nothing and no one."
Rue, sitting on the bench in the changing room with Ahiru and Sagi, watches in terror as the red toe shoe she is putting on turns black and sprouts thorns, wrapping itself around her leg.
(Ahiru's voice) "Rue-chan! What's wrong?!"
A young ginger-haired noblewoman reaches for a necklace that Caras has in his hands, but he holds it out of reach.
(Caras's voice) "Do you truly wish to cling to that hurtful feeling? Wouldn't it be better if you were rid of it? Wouldn't you rather be free of your endless suffering?"
Takako sits, looking at Fakir and holding her hand out to a golden glowing quill lying on the table before him. "Is that what Ahiru wants? Does she want your protection, or does she want your aid?"
Above the town of Ginkan, a pair of glowing red eyes glowers down from within the giant shadow of a dark bird. Mytho looks upward in shock. "The Raven!"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
32. AKT "A Tale of Two Cities"
~ Macbeth ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes

'inu' – dog in Japanese; -toshi is the suffix for a male name
(if the name were to be translated, I intended for it to be 'Dogustus', haha)

Yggdrasil – the name of the "Tree of Life" in Nordic mythology. The Norns lived beneath its branches, spinning the threads of fate.

The "Death and the Maiden" quartet composed by Schubert, or specifically its second movement which is the main theme of the episode, drew inspiration from a "Death and the Maiden" song he wrote previously. The quartet was written after Schubert developed a serious illness, and realized that he was dying. In his own words, he described his state of mind at the time to a friend in a letter:
"Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better. Think, I say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship are but torture, and whose enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing; and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy."

The song's lyrics are based on a poem (same name) by Matthias Claudius. The following is an English translation:
The Maiden:
Away! Ah, away! Thou cruel man of bone!
I am still young. Go, instead.
And do not touch me!
Death:
Give me thy hand, you fair and tender creature,
I'm a friend, and do not come to punish.
Be of good courage; I am not cruel
You shall sleep gently in my arms.

(information based on article from Wikipedia)

31. AKT Music List

(the time ranges listed show what part of the song is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Death and the Maiden, 1st mvt: Allegro"
(end 1:30)
Played at the start when Ahiru is running to get out of the rain; ends when the four flee from the lake.
(from "Death and the Maiden" quartet; originally composed by Schubert, chamber orchestra version arranged by Mahler) An alternately thunderous, yet gentle and tender piece.

"La Traviata: Overture"
Played when Emma meets Mytho, and sits down at their inn room making small talk before she begins her story.
(from "La Traviata" opera, composed by Verdi) A quiet song filled with melancholy, nostalgic sentiment. The music transitions into a more lighthearted tone at 1:14.

"La Traviata: Prelude to Act 3"
Played while Emma recounts how she first met Trutho.
(from "La Traviata" opera, composed by Verdi) A quiet song filled with melancholy, nostalgic sentiment. The beginning sounds very similar to the Overture, but the latter part is more melancholy and sentimental.

"'Hungarian Rhapsody' No. 2"
(until 6:06)
Played while Emma recounts how Trutho went away with Lady Macbeth, and how she later meets him again briefly before he escapes from Ginkan.
(composed by Liszt) A passionate, yet solemn and sad anthem.

"La Traviata: Prelude to Act 3"
Plays again when Emma explains how she was injured.

"Death and the Maiden, 4th mvt: Presto"
Plays when Ahiru realizes that her pendant doesn't work; continues on as she wakes up Fakir and Autor, and they visit the lake and dive into it to retrieve the coffin.
A lively yet somewhat anxious and distressed piece as if for a frenetic dance.

"Death and the Maiden, 2nd mvt: Andante con moto"
(until 6:32)
Plays when Ahiru realizes that the coffin contains a shard, and transforms into Tutu; ends when Sagi agrees to hold onto the shard.
A solemn, grim song that sounds like a classical dirge.

"Death and the Maiden, 3rd mvt: Scherzo"
(start 1:34)
Plays while Rue and Trutho are having an instructional pas de deux; ends when Yagiko-sensei chases after Neko-san.
A pleasant, lighthearted melody that switches into faster, more vehement music.

"The Marriage of Figaro: Overture"
Plays while Yagiko-sensei chases after Neko-san.
A triumphant, happy song that also played during the first season whenever Yagiko appeared in "Black Shoes", episode 9. Yagiko's theme.

"Arabian Dance"
Played when the group meets Takako.
(from "The Nutcracker") A slow, enigmatic song. Could be thought of as Takako's theme.

"Largo"
Played when Uzura and Edel visit the Oak Tree.
(from Symphony no. 9 'From the New World', 2nd mvt) A slow, peaceful, nostalgic song. This was also played when Fakir encountered the Oak Tree for the first time during the canon series.

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Ballet Music from 'Macbeth'"
This is played for the next episode preview.
(from "Macbeth" opera, composed by Verdi) A lively, exciting song full of action and drama.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there was a prince and a pauper. These two looked exactly like one another, and so one day, as a joke, they switched places, the pauper donning the lavish clothes of the prince, and the prince taking the rags of the pauper. The prince, who had been used to luxury and indulgence, saw firsthand what it meant to live in poverty.

However, when the prince tried to return to his castle in pauper's rags, his own soldiers turned him away. Without his royal raiment, he was unrecognizable as the prince. The prince, now destitute, could only gaze at the comfortable home he had known. For without the lush velvet robes, and fine jewels, none bothered to look beyond the rags to see who he truly was.

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

31. AKT "A Tale of Two Cities"
~ Macbeth ~

After they had gotten ready that morning, Rue and Trutho set out for their daily rounds of the academy.

"We have another chance for private practice after the apprentice class today, so you can continue to improve," Rue said to Trutho. "While fortunately we don't have to perform for the Autumn Arts Festival, we don't know that we'll be able to avoid all future performances on our part, so you'll have to be ready whenever that time comes."

"Sure thing," Trutho nodded. "You've been teaching me all the while until now, and I don't want to have wasted your time. Hopefully I've been getting better and better."

A strident feminine voice interrupted the duo. "Prince and Princess of Kinkan! I demand to speak with you!"

From the source of the shrill voice, students separated in the wake of a small group of servants, with a ginger-haired young woman wearing a noblewoman's dress in their center. Unlike the ones scattered in the crowd with the blue and gold Kinkan crest, these servants instead bore the red and silver crest of Ginkan on their uniforms. They had to march swiftly to keep up with the young woman's tireless pace, lest she shove aside servants and students alike in her haste.

"We've no more time to waste!" the young noblewoman said, striding imperiously up to the royal pair. "I must find it at once!"

"Wh-what are you talking about?" Trutho stammered, thrown off by this sudden intrusion. "What's going on?"

"First of all, who are you?" Rue asked the ginger-haired girl as she stepped in front of Trutho.

The young woman sighed curtly. "I'm in a hurry, so let us just drop the formalities. You already know that I'm Lady Kamome Macbeth, the daughter of the Head of the Ginkan Council, don't you?"

At hearing the name Macbeth, Trutho started, cringing slightly.

"Kamome-san," Rue said, "then, what do you—"

"I am missing my locket," Kamome said, crossing her arms. "I know I last had it when I came here for that gala of yours. My servants were looking all over for it back home, but they didn't find it anywhere. I grew tired of waiting, so I brought some of them here with me to find it myself."

"Y-you traveled all the way over here to find a locket…?" Trutho asked quietly, but Rue spoke up over him, "If that's the reason for your visit, then what was the purpose of speaking with us?"

"To tell you and your own servants to search for it as well, of course!" Kamome exclaimed impatiently, tapping her foot like a petulant child. "It should be found more quickly with more eyes looking! And besides, I wouldn't have lost it in the first place if I hadn't come to your gala!"

Rue scowled at her. "What makes you think that you can just order our—"

But Kamome had already turned her attention elsewhere. "Ugh, there are too many people around! Servants!" she bellowed to the attendants surrounding her, "you three, search the grounds here for the locket! Scour every nook and cranny! Question everyone! The rest of us will be going into town to look for it."

"Where will you be waiting, Kamome-sama?" one of the servants asked.

"Waiting? I shall not be waiting anywhere!" Kamome snapped. "As I said, the more pairs of eyes looking, the quicker it shall be found! Or do I not have a working pair of eyes myself?"

"O-of course you do, milady!" he said, bowing his head quickly.

"The rest of you, follow me outside the grounds!" Kamome commanded, gathering her dress in her hands as she marched back through campus, her crimson eyes narrowed with bitter resolve.

o-o-o-o-o

While the Academy buzzed over the commotion Kamome's arrival had caused, Caras stood watching the students and servants from a shaded corner.

Someone in the school has a shard, he thought. I sensed it but a day ago that night when all the students went back to the dorms. If only there weren't so many humans crowded in one place, I could pinpoint the one that has it. As it is, the best way for me to find it is to wait among the school grounds, observing when the shard's carrier draws near…

Then, suddenly, he sensed a shard passing right by him. He looked around the corner and saw a young noblewoman with ginger hair stalking down the pathway, her entourage of servants struggling to keep up behind her. With one look at the crimson hue glittering from her eyes, he knew.

"Where is that locket? Where is that locket?!" she exclaimed, her scarlet eyes glowering at the students around her, as if any one of them could have stolen it from her out of malice. "I won't rest until I've found it!"

So the girl seeks a locket that she's lost, Caras thought, smirking. Well, then… why don't I see if I have better luck finding it?

o-o-o-o-o

A crow flew over Kinkan with something long and shiny dangling from its beak.

Caras stood up above the town, next to the Kinkan Academy clock, waiting for the crow's approach. As it flew overhead, Caras held out his hand, and the crow dropped it, falling toward the dark-haired young man below.

He caught it, and studied it. It was an oval-shaped silver locket. He opened it, and inside was a picture of that same ginger-haired young woman, but as a little girl, sitting haughtily below a proud, dignified couple with whom she shared quite the resemblance.

Caras smirked. Now, it should be easy.

o-o-o-o-o

After Kamome had gone into town, she sent each of her servants in a different direction and ordered each of them to comb through their assigned parts of the town.

With all of her servants gone to carry out her orders, she was left alone in the spot she left for herself. Kamome glared at the cobblestone street, tracing the contours of the ground with her eyes, as if accusing the road itself of hiding away her precious locket.

Nearby a crow cawed, and as it flew across the sky, Kamome spotted something familiar sparkling in the sunlight above. She glanced up as the crow alighted on top of a building in her line of sight. Lo and behold, clutched in the crow's beak was the very same silver locket that she had been searching so hard for.

"Hey!" Kamome shouted, pointing at it. "Stupid pest! Give that back this instant!"

Seeing that it had caught her attention, the crow took off from its perch and flew off in another direction.

Doggedly, Kamome pursued it, gripping her dress with both hands as she ran down the cobblestone streets.

"Why, you—come back! Get back here, you dumb bird!" Kamome said, her voice becoming almost a screech in her fury. "That's my locket! I won't let you have it!"

The crow, while always out of the young woman's reach, remained in Kamome's sights, and at points if Kamome was falling behind, it would even perch on a building and wait for her to catch up.

Finally, the flying crow hovered over a particular area, long enough for Kamome to turn the street corner to reach the place where it lingered.

It was a stone bridge over a small, quiet tributary. In the middle of the bridge, a young man with dark curled hair stood waiting. As Kamome approached, the crow dove toward the young man's outstretched hand and vanished in a burst of red sparks, leaving only the locket behind as it dropped into his hand.

Too intent on the locket to spare much attention to the strange magic of the vanishing crow, Kamome stormed toward the person on the bridge. "You there! Give that back to me, now!"

The young noblewoman reached for the locket, but Caras held it out of her reach.

"What are you doing?!" Kamome exclaimed, her eyes flashing red. "How dare you! That locket belongs to me! Return it to me right now, or I will call my servants to take it from you!"

"You will do no such thing," Caras said, holding his arm out beyond the bridge railing. The locket trickled out of his hand, and Kamome shrieked in alarm before Caras caught the chain with his fingers, the locket dangling precariously from his grip. "If you do, I will drop this necklace into the river, and you won't ever see it again."

"No! Don't drop it!" Kamome exclaimed desperately, her outstretched hand shaking. "I must have it back! What is it you want? Money? Take whatever gold or silver that I have—just give me back that locket!"

"I have no use for petty human riches," Caras remarked, sneering.

"What do you want, then, you devil?!" Kamome's eyes narrowed, flashing crimson again.

"What I require from you…" He pointed with his other hand at her chest. "…is the bitterness that festers within your heart. That emotion does not belong to you, but to me, and you must return to its rightful owner."

Kamome frowned bewilderedly. "Wh…what are you talking about? My bitterness? What nonsense! My feelings are my own! I couldn't give them to you even if I wanted!"

"Is that so?" Caras said, bringing in the locket from his hand and placing it into a spiny black pedestal beside him that sprouted from the ground. "Then, I shall have to take it from you by force."

"Stop with your ridiculous drivel!" Kamome said, her red eyes glowering at him. "If you're not going to talk sense, then give me back my locket!"

Kamome lunged toward him, stretching her hands out for the locket, but Caras clutched her shoulder and reached into her chest. The young noblewoman cried out, her chest glowing crimson. Caras tugged at her heart, but she thrashed about and squirmed, hitting him in the head with her flailing arms and causing him to lose his grip.

Scowling, Caras gestured with a sweep of his hand, and a row of crow soldiers arose from the ground behind Kamome, seizing her by the arms and muffling her shouts with claw-like hands. When she continued to struggle, one of them brandished a curved scimitar at her throat, and she finally stopped moving, her terrified eyes staring at the blade.

Now free to do with her as he pleased, Caras stepped forward and again reached for her heart. She winced and shuddered, stifled screams slipping out from under the crow soldier's hands, but no matter how hard he pulled, the shard that he knew was there would not come free.

Cursed girl, he thought with frustration. Her stubbornness knows no bounds! If only that Princess Tutu would arrive in the nick of time like she usually does and remove the shard, then I would—

He stopped, smirking at himself. Oh, listen to such gripes. Does the great monster Raven need a useless little princess to do his dirty work for him?

So, thinking for a moment about Tutu, he tried another tactic.

"Listen to me," he said softly, stepping close so she could hear him, "It matters not whose emotion it is—do you really want to keep it?" His finger rested on her chest, pointing at her heart. "Such a bitter resentment, spite for all those around you—does it not pain you from deep within?"

Kamome froze, struck speechless for a moment.

"Do you truly wish to cling to that hurtful feeling?" he asked as he bent toward her ear, speaking in almost a whisper. "Wouldn't it be better if you were rid of it? Wouldn't you rather be free of your endless suffering?"

The young noblewoman's lips trembled, and tears began to well from her eyes. This time, when Caras reached for the shard in her heart, it came out with just a light tug. As the shard loosened from her chest, Kamome began to doze off, her eyelids closing over her tears.

With a triumphant glance at the shard in his hand, he stepped back, vanishing along with the crow soldiers, and the young noblewoman collapsed onto the ground.

When she finally awoke, Kamome found the ground beneath her carpeted with black raven feathers. Blinking away tears that remained in her eyes, she felt her chest above her heart, which still ached vaguely, and felt a metal chain around her neck.

Grasping it and bringing it to her face, she saw that it was the very locket she had been seeking. Her eyes, now solidly their native green color, began to fill with tears again, but without the bitterness she had before.

o-o-o-o-o

Rue stood in the women's changing room, resting one of her feet on the bench as she tied one of her red toe shoes on it. As she finished one shoe and was about to switch feet to tie the other, Ahiru and Sagi came in from the practice room, apparently having stayed a little after the rest of the apprentice class chatting with one another.

"Ah! Rue-chan!" Ahiru said, smiling as she spotted the school princess. "Hello! Are you about to go practice with Trutho and Fakir?"

"Fakir said that he had something to attend to today, so he left me with Trutho," Rue replied. "Even though he hadn't shown up at all yesterday…"

"He left already?" the redhead asked, puzzled. "Where was he going?"

Ahiru and Sagi sat down on the benches and began taking their things out of their lockers as Rue responded, "I don't know. He didn't say, but he insisted that he had to go alone, so he didn't want to bring anyone with him."

"I see…" Ahiru said, looking thoughtful and curious. "Well, if you want some company, I could stay and practice with you two here, Rue-chan!"

"I would be happy to be of some company as well," Sagi said with a small nod, placing an object wrapped in a light blue handkerchief she had taken out of her locker down on the bench beside her, next to Rue.

With a stoic face, the pale princess blushed ever so slightly. "There's no need to do that," Rue said, stepping onto the bench with her other foot and grabbing her remaining red toeshoe, her hand brushing against Sagi's handkerchief. "But if you wish to stay with us, then you may do so, as long as…"

Rue stopped, blinking. On her foot, the toeshoe she had put on turned from red to black, and the shoe ribbons began to wrap around her legs like thorns, causing her an all too familiar horrid pain.

She shrieked, jumping back from the bench and cowering against the lockers, staring at her feet with horror.

"Rue-chan! What's wrong?!" Ahiru exclaimed, standing up and looking at Rue worriedly.

"I… I'm…" Rue looked back at her shoes, and they were now back to their original red. "I saw… thorns… and black shoes…"

Sagi glanced toward the handkerchief-wrapped object on the bench, and looked at Rue. "Rue-san, did you touch this, by any chance?" she asked, pointing at the handkerchief.

"What?" Rue said, looking bewildered. "Yes, I might have…" She stared at it, and then looked back at Sagi with a displeased frown. "What is it?"

"It's one of the Raven's shards," Sagi said, her brows creasing anxiously. She quickly picked up and gripped it in her hands with a wince. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have allowed it to be accidentally touched by someone."

"Are you all right, Rue-chan?" Ahiru asked with concern as she clasped her hands, walking over to Rue and looking her over.

"I… I'm fine," Rue said. But that wasn't really true. Upon having touched the shard, even simply brushing it with her hand, her mind had flooded with the memories and feelings of when she was Princess Kraehe—the times when she was in the most pain, and when she constantly wondered whether her cursed life was worth living.

Rue glared at the handkerchief-covered shard in Sagi's hands, a heart shard of the monster that had made Rue and her loved ones suffer so much. But that very same monster she had once called her own father, and the blood of whom she still carried in her veins. The more she thought about it, the more she wondered… did Kraehe still linger within her even now? Was being the daughter of the monster Raven something that she could never escape?

"Are you sure you're all right, Rue-chan?" Ahiru asked, tilting her head. "You don't look so good…"

Sagi glanced at the handkerchief in her hands, and then said to Rue, "Please get away from this thing. I'll stay here, so you can go elsewhere; then the effects of it should fade."

"Yeah, we'll teach Trutho for you today," Ahiru added, nodding. "Go and get some rest, okay?"

"But, I…" Rue bit her lips, hesitating. The princess felt as if she shouldn't let old memories get in her way, but despite that, the unbidden recollections of her as Princess Kraehe would not recede from her mind. It disturbed her enough that she could hardly focus on the task ahead of her.

So Rue swallowed her pride and said, "All right, then. Perhaps I could use a break for a little while. I'll leave Trutho to you two."

"You can count on us!" Ahiru said, grinning.

o-o-o-o-o

Autor sat in the Kinkan academy library, looking through some books that he was already well familiar with, searching for clues to the lore of Spinners that could possibly explain the events he had witnessed as of late.

That golden quill Fakir had gotten from Uzura… it was somehow so important that the little wooden girl came all this way just to give it to him. It's obviously because he's a Spinner, but he could use other ordinary quills to be able to use his powers. What's so special about this one? Uzura had called it "Ahiru's quill"… it has something to do with her, at least. Fakir had also written through Ahiru when he saved the town from the Raven, and Drosselmeyer. Is there something about her that is special, even if she's not a Spinner?

Autor sighed. The fact that Drosselmeyer seemed to still be present, despite the machine in the highest church tower having been silenced by Fakir himself, baffled Autor. If not through the machine, then what allowed him to still have influence over the town? He suspected that the golden quill was somehow related… but again, if the machine in the town was broken, what allowed reality to be still influenced, by a special quill or otherwise?

Leaning on his arm, he looked up, and to his surprise, saw Rue wandering about the shelves, seeming preoccupied and troubled.

Now that Rue was not just the prima donna of the school, but the princess of the town besides, Autor had good reason to be judicious about being in contact with her, if only for propriety's sake. Even then, as he watched her traverse the room, it was obvious to Autor that something was bothering Rue. When he had first met and talked with her in person, when she had eventually asked him if he would be willing to give his life for her, she had laughed bitterly at his affirmative response; but her conflicted expression afterward was all too familiar as the one he saw from her now.

Plucking up his courage, Autor stood up and approached the pale-faced girl. "Rue-sama?" he said carefully.

Rue blinked, and glanced up at the bespectacled young man as if she had just noticed him there. "Autor…?"

"You… you still remember me?" Autor asked, a small smile breaking onto his face.

Rue gazed at him for a few moments, and alarm grew in her expression. She quickly glanced away from him—the flutter of her crimson eyes seemed distressed at something she recalled.

"What's wrong?" Autor asked with sincere worry, looking her over. "Is something the matter?"

"Nothing," Rue said curtly, turning away. "It's nothing you need to concern yourself with."

Autor frowned. Just like last time, she was pushing him away, not wanting anyone to be burdened with her troubles. But unlike when they had met before, Autor was no longer clueless as to her dark secrets. He knew now about the Raven, and how she had been under his control for much of her life. This time, he wasn't going to let her suffer alone, not without someone to support her by her side.

"Is it… is it about the monster Raven?" Autor asked.

Rue started, her eyes widening. That was enough of an answer for him.

"You know about the shards that have been found, right?" Autor said. "Is it related to that? Or is it something else? Either way, if there's anything I can do to help, I—"

"Stop!" Rue exclaimed, pain in her narrowed eyes. "You can't help me with this. No one can."

"But I want to help you, somehow!" Autor exclaimed. "You don't have to be alone anymore. If there's anything I can do for you, I'd…"

"This has nothing to do with you," Rue said coldly. "Leave me. Don't involve yourself and suffer in vain." She turned away, her head drooping down despondently. "That would only hurt me more…"

Autor stood there as Rue left trapped in her own anguish, shaken by her rejection of his solicitude. So the best thing he could do for her was to stay out of her life, lest he simply cause her more pain…?

Even now, then, he was useless to do anything about the painful specters that haunted the one he loved, and could only watch as they ate away at her, preventing her from enjoying the happiness that he knew she deserved?

No, it wasn't just that—she didn't even want his help. As she had just said to him: "This has nothing to do with you." It wasn't even that Rue had forgotten all about him—no, she remembered him as someone she wanted to forget.

With this dark cloud of disappointment disturbing his thoughts, Autor soon realized he couldn't do any more studying or research that day. Grimacing, he went back to his place at the table, gathered up the books he had retrieved, and headed for the music building.

At times like these, the only solace he could find was solo piano practice, where he could express his frustrations wordlessly through his fingers, where he didn't need to find answers to the troubles of which he knew none.

o-o-o-o-o

"It looks like you've gotten a lot better since I last saw you," Ahiru said, smiling at Trutho as the two of them were stretching at the barre. "Remember, back at the gala? You're much smoother now."

"You really think so?" Trutho said, scratching his chin sheepishly. "I guess it wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. It seemed like something all fancy and high-class that I had no idea about, but when it comes down to it, ballet's not that different from the dances I already knew; it's just more formal."

Sagi was sitting on the floor, stretching her legs outward and leaning toward her right side. The handkerchief in which the shard was wrapped lay in front of her. Though she seemed calm, the blue-haired girl was distant and not as involved in the conversation as she otherwise might have been.

"Dances you already knew?" Ahiru asked, tilting her head. "Did you dance before you started practicing ballet, Trutho?"

"Yeah, sometimes…" Trutho looked thoughtful, lost in recollection. "Back in Ginkan, I used to dance with the gypsies who took care of me, whenever there was a bit of good cheer to celebrate. We'd gather in a circle around a fire, and we'd spin and prance about to the rattle of a tambourine or the whistle of a flute…"

He lifted his leg off the barre and raised his arms, as if he were reaching for the hands of invisible people, and began to step lithely in a circle, as if to the beat of an inaudible drum.

Ahiru watched in silent wonder. There wasn't an ounce of stage fright in his earnest, vivacious movements. Seemingly caught up in his own memories, he closed his eyes as a humble smile grew on his face.

Trutho went on like this for a surprisingly long time before he paused, rousing out of his thoughts, and realizing where he was. Immediately he balked, wobbling on his feet as he stopped himself awkwardly. He looked down at his hands, kneading them nervously. "Uh… sorry about that random moment, I was just…"

"That was really pretty," Ahiru said, her eyes shining. "Umm, the dance, I mean! Watching you, it was like I was there, next to the bonfire, with all the people you knew…"

"Oh, uh…" Trutho looked both happy and embarrassed. "Th-thank you. It's been a long time since I've danced like that. I haven't been back in Ginkan for a while, and I haven't seen any of them since then…"

Then his face fell. "I wonder how they're doing over there. If Mytho-san went there to deal with the ravens, then things must have gotten worse than before." His brows furrowed. "I wonder if Emma-neesan is still…"

Ahiru looked at him worriedly.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir swept aside the curtain and entered through the doorway to the fortuneteller Takako's abode. As if she had been waiting for him, the woman sat at a table with her hands folded before a crystal ball, gazing up at him.

"Hello, Fakir," Takako said. "What brings you here to my dwelling this day?"

"You're a fortuneteller, aren't you?" Fakir said. "Wouldn't you already know why I'm here?"

"You are here to ask me questions, are you not?" Takako replied. "But what questions will they be? That is still your future to decide."

Fakir crossed his arms, narrowing his lips. "Autor once investigated you as a relative of Drosselmeyer. He said you weren't a Spinner, but it still seems like you know about things that most people wouldn't."

"Then, you wonder why it is?" Takako asked. "Why do I know the things that I do?"

Fakir stared at her. "Are you a Spinner, or are you not? And if not, then what are you?"

"I am unlike you in that my own words will not stir the threads of fate," Takako replied. "In that way, I am no Spinner. However, it seems that I retain some of the power the Spinners share that allows one to be in tune with them, to sense these strands of reality. Thus, it is that I 'see' what stories unravel, as they occur."

She placed her head on her hand, leaning her elbow on the clothed table. "My name means 'hawk child', and like the hawk, I can see far and wide, overseeing stories as they happen. But I am a hawk without talons; I could do nothing with this power to change what I saw. My hands cannot grasp fate like those of true Spinners." Takako closed her eyes for a moment. "But it mattered not. For the longest time, I was content with watching these stories being written, 'reading over Drosselmeyer's shoulder', so to say."

"So you knew about Drosselmeyer all along," Fakir said.

"He was there from the first moment I saw the story," Takako said thoughtfully. "I saw how completely he held the town in his grasp, and how stories bent to his whim, no matter what strands of reality he had to knot to do so. I merely was a silent audience, a sole reader to a book of the enclosed world of Kinkan."

She looked back up at him, a small smile growing on her face. "Of course, it was all the more surprising to me when you broke the machine that locked the town within itself. It made me wonder if things would be different as a result, and so I watched all the more eagerly. I began to wonder if perhaps, I might find myself a part of the story, if I so wished it. That is why I have revealed myself to you now."

Grimacing impatiently at Takako's cryptic words, he moved on to question her further. "If you can see what's going on, then what do you know about Caras, the one who's trying to collect the Raven's shards? Who is he, and what is he after?"

Takako looked pensive. "In truth, I am uncertain as to who he is. He seems certain as to his identity, but at times I question as to whether he might be consoling himself with blind conviction."

Fakir sighed curtly. "Fine, a more direct question—why is he after the Raven's shards? What does he hope to gain from that?"

"That answer is clear," Takako said. "It is a personal quest for him, something that defines who he is. To restore the Raven to his former frightful glory: this is his one goal, his sole motive that prevails over all his actions. For, the Raven's sinister power he believes to be his own."

"All right, so basically he really does want to revive the Raven," Fakir said, translating to himself. "Because he thinks it will give him the Raven's power, somehow. Either way, he has to be stopped. What can we do to keep him from bringing the Raven back?"

"He requires the shards to regain the full powers of the Raven," Takako explained, "and so if he can be prevented from collecting them, then he won't be able to bring back his full power, and thus the Raven will remain shattered."

"Then, if we can actually get rid of at least one of them, it should keep the Raven from returning," Fakir said. Just as shattering one of the Prince's heart shards into irreparable pieces would have kept Mytho from regaining his full self, he thought before he could suppress the uneasy notion in his mind.

"So it seems," Takako said. "Though even I am unsure of precisely how his collection of these shards is possible."

"That doesn't tell me much more than I already know," Fakir said bluntly. "But we know for sure what he's after now, and what we have to do to stop him, instead of just assuming. Do you know anything else that might help us defeat him?"

"If you truly wish me to give you more aid…" Takako said, recalling for a moment, "then, I have a question for you. Why did you specifically come here alone? I do not think that it was simply to ask me about the Raven's shards, when already a number of your companions know of this quest and would have been not only willing, but eager to accompany you."

Fakir started for a moment. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he reached inside his uniform coat and brought out Ahiru's golden quill. In the dimly lit room, it glowed like a gentle lantern in his hand.

"Ahh," Takako said, recognizing it. "Ahiru's quill. You wonder about it, do you not?"

"Can you tell me more about it?" Fakir asked, holding it out to her carefully.

"I'm not entirely certain as to why it exists," Takako said, leaning toward and gazing at it, "but it is a direct link to Ahiru's thread of fate, and as such holds her inner power, and through which it could be released."

Fakir frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Hmm…" Takako paused. "Put the quill down for a moment. We might see something that explains it more…"

Warily, he slowly placed it on the table between them. As he did so, the quill's radiance faded into the haze of the room. Alarmed, Fakir swiftly picked it back up. Upon his touch, the quill regained its luminescence as before, which made Fakir stare at it with puzzlement.

"It's as I suspected," Takako said, nodding slowly. "It is a power that you alone have the ability to unlock."

"What power?" Fakir said, his brows creasing in his growing confusion. "What's so special about this quill? I feel like it is special somehow, but I can't figure out why…"

"You are a Spinner," Takako said, "and as such, the threads of fate may be spun with your hands. You could pluck the strings with your power by using a number of mundane tools, as you already have with an ordinary duck feather quill. But, with this particular unworldly quill, you hold the strand of fate directly. It is, in essence, Ahiru's strand of fate taken form as a quill."

"Her strand of fate?" Fakir's eyes widened. "Would that mean, whoever used it would have complete control over Ahiru?!"

"To some extent," Takako said. "But even when I had seen Drosselmeyer hold it ever so briefly, it did not shine like it does in your hands now. I think that it relates to why you were able to write the story against Drosselmeyer and the Raven, except in reverse: you were only able to write about Ahiru back then, and for the same reason, this quill entrusts its full power only to you."

"But I couldn't—" Fakir said, growing flustered. "No one should have that kind of power over Ahiru! Drosselmeyer almost got his hands on it, didn't he? This shouldn't exist; I need to get rid of it!"

Takako's brows furrowed. "Is that such a wise course of action? When you are up against a foe you don't know how to oppose?"

The fortuneteller held her hand out toward the quill demonstratively. "Within that quill is a power that only you can give her. Would you deny one of your companions the core of a power that no one else could wield?"

Holding the quill, Fakir's hand trembled, as if he wasn't sure whether to clench it or to let it lie there. "I don't want to risk her life, or freedom, over power."

Takako looked up at him, folding her hands. "Again, I ask: is that what Ahiru wants? Does she want your protection, or does she want your aid?"

Fakir tightened his lips with frustration, but did not answer.

o-o-o-o-o

Macbeth sat across from the all-too-familiar three cloaked dark figures in his darkened study. Though the window was open, the light from the waning crescent moon was pale and paltry, making the room seem full of menacing shadows.

"So the newcomer was the prince of Kinkan…" Verdandi said. "How unexpected."

"I wonder how none of your kind caught that certain detail," Macbeth said curtly. "Are they really as watchful as you have been assuring me?"

"He has been very cautious, as he did not wish to be noticed," Urd said. "Remember, we cannot simply go and question him directly, as you did."

"It only makes a difference if he gets in the way of our plans, right?" Skuld said. "If he causes no trouble, then why bother with him?"

"Does he not get in the way of your… reprimands?" Macbeth asked. "Should we not get him out of this town as soon as possible?"

"No need," Verdandi said. "Besides… I think you will find another matter more urgent to attend to that we have recently discovered."

"What would be more urgent?"

"The gypsies," Verdandi continued. "The place where they have hidden themselves has been found at long last."

"You've been looking for them all this time, have you not?" Skuld said. "Those decrepit vermin that plague your prosperous people?"

"I know, I know, but…" Macbeth frowned, stroking his beard. "They've been in hiding for a while now. They make themselves as invisible as they can, and I or the other nobles hardly see them around anymore. They're a nuisance, but they're not in the way at this point; why would they warrant more attention than a disguised foreign sovereign in our midst?"

"They scheme against you," Urd said in a warning tone. "We overheard their treacherous intentions as they crept away into the Ginkan church."

"The church?!" Macbeth exclaimed, sitting up out of his chair. "They're hiding them?! But the archbishop assured me that he held no pity for the gypsies! The last thing he would do is harbor them…"

"We know not your archbishop's intentions, nor the reason for their concealment somewhere within the Ginkan cathedral depths," Verdandi said. "We merely tell you what we see. It is your decision as to whether you will investigate further and discover the full truth for your own good, or leave matters to their own conclusion."

Macbeth growled to himself, crossing his arms and pursing his lips. "Is there anything else?"

"Surely that matter troubles you enough," Skuld remarked. "We won't bother you with relative trifles when you have enough to concern yourself with."

"Fine, then. You're dismissed," Macbeth said, looking away with a tense expression.

After a pause as they looked at one another, the three cloaked women filed out through the window and after a flurry of black feathers, disappeared into the night.

"Finally, something's going to happen!" Skuld exclaimed gleefully after the three of them had alighted on the bare branches of a tall tree in the town. "Things have been so boring ever since that pitiful excuse of a human became so worried about keeping his power in the town!"

"I suppose he has every motivation to keep the status quo, and have as little change as possible to keep his leadership position stable," Urd said.

"As it turns out, the fact that it was in the church upset him the most, rather than the mere location of the gypsies' hideout," Verdandi remarked. "The threat of the church opposing him is much greater than anything the gypsy humans might do, it seems."

"Remind me why we didn't tell him this earlier, sisters?" Skuld said, pouting a bit as she ruffled her feathers. "We've known their location for some time now, and I never really understood why you kept it a secret all this time."

"One, because the Raven desired his servants to keep the Prince occupied while he searched for the shards of his power," Urd replied. "Now that Macbeth is aware of his presence, his discomfort threatens to have the Prince driven out by the Council's guard, and the Raven would not be pleased if we sat back and did nothing to stop this."

"He's come here looking for the Raven, after all," Verdandi said. "What better way to mislead the prince than to give him what he's been expecting?"

Skuld's head tilted with puzzlement. "But, do you really hope to defeat him with a pale imitation of the Monstrous One? Most likely he will take it down without much effort, and then he will believe that he has triumphed over his archenemy once again. Following that, he would no longer have a reason to stay in this town, having accomplished what he set out to do. Isn't that right?"

"That is true," Verdandi said. "Does that fact really concern us in the end, though?"

"What do you mean?"

"What concerns us the most, in the end," Verdandi said, looking at Skuld, "is whether we will be able to obtain the heart of someone who has fallen into despair. That is the reason we have been leading the human Macbeth to depend on us ever more deeply as time passed to keep him in power, haven't we?"

"Thus far, Macbeth has become more and more desperate to keep his power," Urd explained. "He became convinced that we would always help him to remain in his position, and so became more fearful of the humans that are continuing to suffer under his leadership."

"To our good fortune, a human of the church has aligned themselves with the destitute gypsies, and such makes our pitiful Head Councilman believe that a passive entity like the church somehow is gathering an army against him!" Verdandi exclaimed with amusement. "So, it's only a matter of time before he simply must do something about it, and then…"

"…Then, he will start the events leading to the very people he fears clamoring for his demise," Skuld finished, realizing the implications with delight. "All while we watch them fall."

"You see?" Urd said. "What better way to make him lose all hope, than to have all that he's worked for crash down before him, leaving him in total disgrace?"

"Then his heart will be ours for the taking," Verdandi said. "Or if not his, then another's in the chaos that follows. And when we finally eat the heart of a human, then we will have power like that of the monstrous Raven… and we will be free to do as we please, fearing nothing and no one."

Verdandi looked out toward the Council Hall in the distance. "We need only wait for the inevitable to occur…"

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

31. AKT "A Tale of Two Cities"
~ Macbeth ~

- Part 2 -

Tuck the friar was roused from his solitary morning prayers at the pews by the violent knocking on the large wooden doors at the front face of the church. Bewildered, the elderly clergyman scrambled up and hobbled toward the entrance, wondering what sort of emergency warranted such fierce hammering.

When Tuck swung the doors open, a sizeable regiment of soldiers with the red and silver Ginkan crest on their armor extended forth from just outside the entranceway, many of which were well-armed and on horseback.

The captain of the guards stepped imperiously toward the friar, making him step back in alarm. "This is the Ginkan guard. We demand that you turn over the gypsies being harbored here immediately."

"What…?" Tuck looked at them bewilderedly. "What are you talking about? This is no hiding place for anyone. A church is but a sanctuary for anyone who seeks refuge from the brutalities of life."

"Save your pious prattling for the sermons, friar," the captain scoffed. "We know from reliable sources that gypsies were spotted sneaking in and out of the town through this place. Stand aside and show them to us now."

Tuck frowned. "Even if I knew where they were, I would not give them up to you," he scolded. "You should be ashamed of yourselves! Treating these unfortunate people like vermin to be exterminated, but who are just trying to find a way to live—have you not made them suffer enough?"

The soldiers behind the captain looked at each other uneasily upon being asked the question.

But the captain turned toward them and pointed at a few of his subordinates. "Take the friar into custody."

"Wh-what?" one of the ashen-faced soldiers stuttered. "Take him… into custody? What do you mean?"

"What do you think I mean?!" the captain snapped. "Arrest him! Get him out of our way so we can search the area!"

His eyes flitting between his commander and the old clergyman, the soldier hesitated for a long moment before he stepped timidly forward and said, "I'm sorry, friar…" Then he grabbed the old man by the arm.

o-o-o-o-o

The archbishop Frollo arrived at the Ginkan cathedral to a baffling sight.

Before his eyes, the sacred ground was being raked and scavenged by a dozen soldiers emblazoned with the Ginkan crest, except for a separate squadron of them marching as a group away into the distance.

Frollo stormed into the crowd, homing in on the leader of the soldiers on horseback looking over them. "Captain! What is the meaning of this? Why are your soldiers raiding my church?!"

"We have discovered that your church is being used to harbor thieves and criminals, your Grace," the captain replied solemnly. "I ordered the friar that takes care of the church to release them to us immediately, but he refused. So we have arrested him and taken the search upon ourselves."

"You have arrested the friar Tuck?" Frollo asked in bewilderment. "What is this madness? There are no depraved souls being hidden away in my own church! How dare you presume such a ridiculous thing?"

"It is no presumption, your Grace," the captain replied bluntly. "It was seen that gypsies were going in and out through this church to escape detection."

Frollo blinked. "That's impossible! I know of no such hiding place on these grounds."

"Whether or not you know about it, your Grace, the fact remains that they were spotted here," the captain said. "So, under orders from the Ginkan Council, you must allow us to investigate the area and ferret out the criminals."

"Have none of you any sense of piety?" Frollo asked him angrily. "These are holy grounds! I will not allow it to be disrespected with such shamelessness. By my decree as the archbishop of Ginkan, I demand that you remove your subordinates from here at once!"

The archbishop had said this last statement loudly enough that all the soldiers nearby heard him, and Frollo's righteous indignant tone unsettled them, causing them to hesitate where they were. Going against a friar was one thing, but would even the Ginkan guard dare to oppose the Ginkan archbishop himself, in person and to his face?

"Very well," the captain said stiffly. "If it is by your decree, then we have no choice but to vacate the premises, at least for the time being."

He looked over toward the squadron of soldiers leading Tuck away. "However, we have every reason and right to suspect the friar of obstructing justice, and we will proceed to take him into custody regardless, until we get some answers as to why the gypsies were seen sneaking in and out of the church grounds, either from him, or you, or perhaps the gypsies themselves."

After he recalled the soldiers searching the church back in line, the captain said simply, "I bid you good day, your Grace," before marching himself and the rest of his regiment away back toward the Council Hall.

Frollo watched the soldiers leave with shock. The Council, while it liked to throw its power around, had never before dared to interfere with the activities or associates of the church. Now, though, they had grown so desperate and shameless that they would violate the sanctity of the church just to investigate some far-fetched claim of fugitives being held in the church somewhere?

Or perhaps, it was simply an excuse.

o-o-o-o-o

As Mytho and Komaro were preparing to go out for the day, someone knocked frantically at their room door. Puzzled, Komaro went over to answer it. "I thought I asked the innkeeper to refrain from sending up housecleaning…"

He opened the door, and his eyes widened. "Emma-san?"

Emma sighed with relief. "Oh, good. You're still here…"

"What's wrong?" Mytho asked with concern, walking toward the door as Komaro let Emma in.

"I have come to beseech your help," Emma said. "I realize you may not be able to do anything, but you are one of the only people I can think of who might have any hope of saving us." Her voice was calm, but her folded, trembling hands betrayed her unease.

"What has happened?" Komaro asked, placing a gentle hand on Emma's back to guide her to a chair, where she took a seat. "Are you and the other gypsies in trouble?"

"This morning, our hideout was discovered," Emma said gravely, shaking her head in dismay. "I don't know how, but they were searching for the secret passage in the church that leads to the hideout, and there's no way they would have known to look there if someone hadn't been spotted."

"Have they all been taken prisoner now, then?" Komaro asked, frowning. "You were able to escape, somehow?"

"Fortunately, the archbishop Frollo had them leave the area before they could find the precise location of the passage," Emma explained. "But the one keeping our hideaway from being discovered, the friar named Tuck, was arrested in the process. So, it is likely only a matter of time before they find a way in somehow, and then we will have no place left to run."

Emma turned toward Mytho, her folded hands clenching a bit tighter as the morning sunlight streaming in the room's windows dimmed. "It is much to ask of you, but please, is there any way you would be able to ask the Council to stop their persecution? We could not hope that they would listen to our pleas, but you are a prince—even if you are not of Ginkan, they might listen to you, or at least show us more mercy than they would have otherwise."

Komaro grimaced. "I have doubts that we would be able to convince them on our own, to be frank. When we confronted them about the questionable events in town, they…"

As Komaro explained their failure to get answers out of the Ginkan Council, Mytho sensed something was amiss as the light outside dimmed further to a gloomy twilight.

When Mytho turned toward the window, Komaro stopped and looked at him. "What's wrong…?"

When Komaro listened, he could hear ominously familiar calls in the distance. "Crows?!"

"An attack, here?!" Mytho's eyes narrowed resolutely as he hastened outside. "Komaro, keep Emma-san safe!"

"Yes, sire!"

When Mytho stepped outside the inn, he was shocked at what he discovered.

The caws of crows seemed to be coming from every direction, filling the sky so that it was impossible to tell where they were coming from. The streets were almost empty, and the few people still outside were rushing away in fear to the nearest building that could shelter them.

Mytho was about to go and assist in the escapes of any left behind, when he glanced up to the sky and saw something that made him gasp in shock.

Above the town of Ginkan, a terrifyingly pair of familiar glowing red eyes leered down from the dark opaque sky. The looming silhouette of a bird several stories high obscured the town below in its vast shadow.

"The Raven!" With a flash of white light, Mytho's swan-hilted sword appeared in his hand. He began to twirl in place, and a pink floral storm swirled beneath him and lifted him into the air.

Below, the frightened townspeople looked above into the sky with amazement, watching such a miraculous being flying up to confront the monster that threatened to envelop Ginkan in its darkness.

The crows surrounding the prince transformed into black spikes and spines, and shot toward him. He fended them off with swift swings of his sword, scattering each impacting attack into crimson sparks.

"Raven!" Mytho shouted, facing his archenemy. "How are you still alive?! What do you want with this town?!"

The giant shadow made no response, except for an eerie laugh that sounded like a chorus of countless little voices in the air.

With a determined look, the prince advanced forward toward his foe, purging the air of the black barbs that were aimed at him.

As Mytho approached the giant shadow in the sky, he realized that though the silhouette of the Raven should have become sharper and clearer as he drew near, the shadow instead seemed more indistinct as he came closer to it, and as he did so, it seemed as if the shadow was not one being – rather, it looked to be a giant swarm of ordinary crows, moving like a school of menacing fish in the sky.

Then, by some undefined signal, the Raven-shaped murder of crows scattered before him, and encircled the prince to the point where he could no longer even see the town below.

Gritting his teeth, he gripped his sword tighter and tirelessly sliced the air around him, preparing to fight for his life.

Yet, unlike his previous battles with the Raven, he found that the power of these crows, while great in number, was paltry in comparison. It seemed that instead of fending off growing waves of darkness, he was swatting away clouds of pests that were driven away by his mere approach.

He realized then—no matter how much it looked like it was, he was not fighting against the real Raven.

Though Mytho had realized the façade of this attack, to the awed and frightened people below, the prince still seemed like nothing less than a miraculous savior. What had also not been lost on many of them was his clear resemblance to the boy who had received the ire of the town years ago. Could he have been the same one who had been accused of cursing the town with his ability to commune with the beasts?

As Mytho's attacks broke the great swarm of crows into smaller clusters, the birds began to break away. The opaque clouds that had gathered with the advent of the colossal raven attack began to clear, with sunlight breaking through to light up the sky once again.

Soon, the monster that had once loomed over the town vanished, as the remaining crows scattered, like smoke would in a swift breeze.

Mytho floated down from above to a Ginkan street, with a crowd of grateful townspeople there to greet him. Within the crowd were Komaro and Emma, and Mytho landed on the ground near them and approached them.

"Are you two all right?" Mytho asked them.

Komaro was speechless for a few moments, unable to find his words at the supernatural spectacle he had just seen his master perform. His stolid sense of duty soon overcame his shock though, as he composed himself as much as he possibly could and replied, "Y-yes, sire, we're fine, but… you are all right as well, I presume?"

Mytho nodded. "Thankfully, yes."

Emma said with amazement, "So it is true… you really are a magical prince from a fairy tale."

The rest of the crowd murmured among themselves in assenting wonderment.

"A savior has come to us…"

"He's a miracle worker..."

"Here is the one who can save us all!"

From within the crowd, the townspeople parted to let someone through. The archbishop Frollo stepped out into the opening, walking toward the prince with his hands folded together respectfully.

"You have saved us all, Prince Siegfried of Kinkan," Frollo said to Mytho, nodding his head deferentially as he stood beside the prince. "I cannot express my gratitude enough for what you have done for this town."

"I only wanted to protect everyone from harm," Mytho said. "If it is within my power to keep danger at bay, I would gladly lay my life down for all."

"Why did you not use such magic before?" one of the townsmen in the crowd asked. "You were able to talk with the creatures, but all they did was attack us more. It made us think you had set them off, scheming with the gypsies against us!"

"Before?" Mytho asked, creasing his eyebrows in confusion. "I have not been here for long, and I never claimed to be able to talk with them…"

"Sire, I believe they are referring to your younger brother," Komaro whispered in an aside. "He said he had come from this place, and it seemed that something troubling had happened while he was here."

"We never caused those calamities," Emma said, frowning, but without much fervor, as if she didn't expect to be listened to anyway.

Blinking, Mytho put these ideas together, and then turned toward the speaker in the crowd and replied, "He was a different person; a kin of mine. I have not seen him for a long time, and have only been made aware he still lives in recent days.

"But I do know that neither he nor the gypsies can possibly be involved in causing the attacks on the town," Mytho said decisively. "Because I know that ravens are inherently cruel and cunning, and would cause any sort of suffering to obtain their desires."

"So, all this is happening because the ravens want to attack us?" another townswoman asked bewilderedly. "Why would they only target certain people, though? What reason would they have to discriminate against their victims?"

"As for that…" Mytho glanced into the distance, toward the direction of the Council Hall. "I believe that it is the will of another faction that has likely been cavorting with them to guard their own selfish interests."

Frollo's eyes widened and his expression turned indignant. "You mean… the Ginkan Council? They are the orchestrators behind the demonic birds?!"

"There is no decisive proof for this theory," Komaro said, stepping into the center of the crowd, next to his master. "However, when we talked with the Council a short time ago, it seemed that they avoided the topic and even were hostile when we tried to get them to respond. Such behavior suggests that they have something to hide, and likely something to gain by doing so."

"I do have, in fact, evidence of such intentions," Frollo said declaratively. "Barely an hour or two ago, one of my Brothers, the friar Tuck, was brazenly taken into custody by the Ginkan guard under the Council's orders, for some outrageous reason that he was harboring gypsies in the church. Of course, I know of no such actions being taken by him or anyone in the church," he said defensively. "But, whether or not there even were gypsies being held inside, the Council would still have no right to ravage the holy sanctuary at their bidding, and furthermore arrest a clergyman simply for trying to preserve the sanctity of holy ground. I have every reason to be suspicious of them now, and what you say, young prince, only deepens my qualms."

"Are you saying… that you no longer blame us for the crow attacks?" Emma asked the archbishop warily. "All this time, we were the scapegoats, and we were forced into hiding to avoid living the rest of our lives in chains and behind bars."

"It seemed like a reasonable conclusion for a long time," Frollo said admittedly. "But now that I've seen dubious things happen that fall out of line with that notion, I wonder now if even the gypsies were victims to the Council's schemes. Perhaps they didn't want anyone getting in the way of their influence over the town, whether they are fellow noblemen or lowly vagabonds."

"We can't let them get away with this anymore!" a townsman exclaimed. "They've tyrannized Ginkan with their rule of fear enough!"

"Even our beloved friar, who has always cared for the people of this town, has been taken captive thanks to them!" another proclaimed. "Now they've gone too far!"

"I hear you, good citizens of Ginkan," Frollo said. "It is time that we unite as a people and confront the Council about their atrocities. Let all of us show them that we will no longer stand for their despotic reign!"

The townspeople gathered around the four of them shouted approval in response.

"We shall show them our resolve!"

"Let us march!"

"Now is the time for action!"

"I will lead the way for all of us," Frollo announced, stepping forward commandingly, and then turning to Mytho. "Prince of Kinkan, will you join us against the Council?"

"Yes, I shall rally by your side," Mytho replied with a solemn nod. "I will not sit by and watch idly while innocent townspeople are caught up in a power struggle of selfish noblemen."

o-o-o-o-o

Thus, through the formerly lifeless streets of Ginkan marched a determined crowd of people that grew with rich and poor alike as bystanders joined the cause, led by a man in a black archbishop's robes and a young man wearing on his head a golden crown, with royal indigo garments adorned with white feathers.

Sensing that something didn't feel quite right somehow, Mytho glanced up at the buildings around them. Lined up on the roofs along their path were rows and rows of crows, sitting there staring down at the steadfast procession to the Ginkan Council Hall in almost complete silence. Mytho frowned, gripping the handle of his sword cautiously, but they made no movements from their perches above, as if they were merely the patient audience of an opera about to begin its performance.

The prince's attention was drawn away when the crowd's movement of the crowd slowed, and their march came to a pause while the townspeople whispered uneasily amongst themselves. Frollo stopped for a moment, spotting something ahead.

Mytho looked forward as well, and just in front of the Council Hall, he saw a regiment of Ginkan guards barricading the entrance to the building, blocking their path. They were armed with swords, spears and shields, ready to strike any who came near.

"Let us pass!" someone in the crowd shouted.

"Or else let the Council come forward and explain why the crows have been attacking us! Prove to us they're not the ones behind it!" screamed another, and at this the crowd murmured angrily in agreement.

The soldiers bristled, both angered by and fearful of the mass of people in front of them.

Astride on horseback, the captain of the city guard rode to the front of the soldiers and with his hand on handle of his sword, he shouted, "Go back to your homes! Have all of you lost your minds? Do you all want to be arrested for instigating a rebellion?"

"A rebellion? We just want answers!" accused a young man from the crowd. "But instead of facing us like men, the Council has sent its dogs out to keep us from setting foot in the Town Hall!"

"Stand aside, dogs of the city council! Stand aside!" the rest of the crowd cried out, rallying and growing bolder by the minute as their righteous anger swelled in their voices.

Seeing the crowd's agitation mounting, the grim-faced soldiers tightened their grips on their weapons, and the captain's horse paced nervously in front of the clamoring mob.

Mytho stepped forward, readying his sword to defend the procession from the soldiers, but Frollo placed a calm hand on the prince's shoulder.

He looked up at the archbishop, and gazing down at the young man, Frollo declared faithfully to everyone around him, "Calm yourselves, everyone, and have no fear. For we must not forget this: 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'."

And in so saying, he continued marching forward directly toward the soldiers, unarmed and defenseless, but still unwavering in his path toward the Ginkan Hall.

Inspired by the archbishop's words, the townspeople's fear abated and they began to peacefully carry on with their march. Mytho followed the archbishop, allowing his sword to disappear from his hands, deciding he wouldn't need it.

The Ginkan guards looked taken aback at the actions of the crowd approaching them, led by the Ginkan archbishop alongside the miraculous savior, unsure of what to do next. The front soldiers turned to the captain on horseback in the center of them for guidance as to the proper course of action.

The captain grimaced, gripping his bridle tighter with apprehension. Then, one of his hands let go of his horse's reins and began to lift up, about to give an order to his men.

Seeing their captain shift his hand, the guards tensed and prepared to advance on their oncoming intruders. The captain's hand opened, and then he swung his arm backwards, away from the front.

"Hold your positions. Let them through."

The soldiers glanced at each other in bewilderment, but their orders were clear.

So when Frollo, Mytho and the crowd of people walked up to the line of soldiers, they went through it, past the front line and through and between the ranks of soldiers, like water flowing through a sieve, until they all had passed through the wall of guards onto the Council grounds beyond.

o-o-o-o-o

As the Council Hall doors creaked open, the procession spilled into the lobby, clamoring to finally be heard.

"Come out, you corrupt Council members!"

"Answer to your crimes!"

"You can't hide from the people of Ginkan anymore!"

Somewhere above the lobby, a door opened, and a person hurried down the staircase toward the crowd below. "What's going on? What has happened?!"

Mytho's eyes widened as he recognized the one coming down as Duncan, who was clutching his monocle over his eye, lest it be jostled off in his haste.

Frollo stepped forward authoritatively. "Councilman Duncan, you will pardon our sudden intrusion, but we have urgent grievances to discuss with the Council."

"Yes, I… can see that," Duncan said while glancing at the crowd, a little overwhelmed. "What may I do for you, Ginkan citizens?"

The townspeople erupted into a cacophony of accusations.

"—dare you pretend to serve us when—"

"—using the demon crows to terrorize—"

"—as if a gypsy and a clergyman were all the same—"

Grimacing at the verbal chaos behind him, Frollo lifted up his arm vehemently. "Silence!"

The crowd did as they were commanded and fell silent, looking to the archbishop for the next righteous course of action.

"There are many grievances of the people that should ultimately be addressed, but we should start with the incidents that have broken the camel's back," Frollo said, turning to face Duncan. "What, dare I say, no one could have ignored just now, was the dark monstrosity that this valiant young prince struck down with his magic and blade?"

"Heavens yes, I saw that," Duncan said, nodding with worry. "What a fright it had given me! At first I had wondered if a sudden storm had come in, but when I saw those giant blood-red eyes…" He looked at Mytho, a smile melting the worry off his face. "So you were the one who came to our rescue, Prince Siegfried? How lucky we are that you were here to save us in our time of need."

"I am happy to be of assistance to anyone in need," Mytho said. "However, you know that I have been here for a time before this occurrence. This was not an isolated incident, and I have had my suspicions as to its roots."

Duncan frowned soberly. "I have thought about what you had said when you had come to the Hall not too long ago. There indeed seem to be uncanny connections with the crow attacks on the town, and not only were they strangely targeted, but the fact that they were all done under my nose made me think that I was somehow not meant to know about them."

"There is another transgression that has occurred that has further led me to believe foul play is at hand," Frollo said, his eyes becoming severe. "Right before the attack by that monster raven, the friar Tuck was arrested by the Ginkan guard, by orders of the Council."

Duncan started, absolutely astounded. "What!? Friar Tuck was arrested, on our orders?! Why would we do such a thing? I can tell you for certain, I had no part in any such order!"

"Then would you know how to find out who did?" Frollo asked pointedly.

The old nobleman sighed. "Unfortunately, and this was also thanks to the doubts the young prince had voiced at our meeting the other day… I already have a good guess as to who it might be."

Duncan asked a servant to seek out Councilman Macbeth, and by leaving out the fact of who exactly was calling for his presence, it wasn't until Macbeth was at the head of the staircase accompanied by a few Ginkan guards that he realized that the hall's lobby was packed with protesters to his regime.

"What's the meaning of this?!" the bearded man exclaimed indignantly, storming down the stairs. "Why is this load of rabble crammed in here? I thought the guards in front—"

"Head Councilman Macbeth, this rabble questions the acts done on your watch," Frollo said crossly. "Just one of which is the very recent order to apprehend one of my clergymen, which Councilman Duncan says he was not involved with. Was it by your word, then, Macbeth?"

Though being stared down by the imposing, austere archbishop in black was by no means a comfortable position, Macbeth crossed his arms defiantly and replied with his head held high, "Yes, it was, your Grace."

"Then answer me this: why did you order such a thing?" Frollo said, glowering at him.

"The soldiers told you the reason when you were there, did they not?" Macbeth said, furrowing a brow. "It's because it was discovered that gypsies—"

"Since when did chasing down vermin take such priority for the Council that it would entail breaking and entering onto holy ground to do so?" Frollo said, his voice raising a little.

Behind Mytho, Emma stood next to Komaro at the front fringes of the crowd. Upon hearing Frollo speak of "vermin", the aged gypsy woman tensed up, but made no response.

"They… they were plotting against us!" Macbeth exclaimed nervously. "They were threatening to depose the Council! And look, the crows swarmed not too soon afterward, so that proves that the gypsies are the cause of the attacks—"

"We had nothing to do with the ravens," Emma finally broke in with as sharp a tone as her weary voice would allow. "Just as often, we gypsies were innocent bystanders in the attacks. Unlike the noblemen, however, we were forced into hiding because we were considered crooks and vagrants by the same people we lived among. We were hardly a threat to anyone; instead, the town was a threat to us!"

"That just goes to show that your people had a motive!" Macbeth said, pointing at her accusingly. "You felt threatened by us, so your people decided to plot to take us down! Why else were the crows always found to be targeting other noblemen, eh?"

"Surely there was a motive, Head Councilman," Frollo said, "but you place it on the wrong party. As this gypsy woman has said, their people have no power to exert on anyone, much less the noblemen taking charge of this town. No, the one who would have most to benefit from the attacks is none other than the Council itself!"

Whispers reverberated through the entry hall.

"H-how is that supposed to make sense?" Macbeth cried out, becoming anxious again. "Why would a nobleman order attacks on other noblemen? That would be… betraying his own kind!"

"Yes, that's exactly so," Frollo said crisply. "Macbeth, you are a nobleman, but you are supposedly a special nobleman, are you not? Not just any nobleman, but the Head member of the Council. And you wanted to keep it that way, didn't you?"

By now the rest of the council had made their ways down to the lobby to see what the commotion was about. Hearing this, the other nobles on the council looked at each other and whispered hushed words while Macbeth said nothing, but from his expression he was clearly furious at the accusation.

Duncan looked long at Macbeth, his graying brows furrowed together. Much as Duncan wanted to defend Macbeth from the anger of the crowd, he could not help but remember the times when Macbeth had pushed through decisions despite opposition from the rest of the council, how those who opposed him were in time conveniently removed from their posts. So it is true, then: Macbeth had been using us all as pawns in some great game of his.

The elderly nobleman let out a heavy sigh and said, "It shames me to say so, but I was oblivious to the machinations of our lead member, despite being on the Council myself. That the other members were slowly taken out of commission if they opposed Macbeth too strongly…" He shook his head. "I feel I must have been a fool to not have seen it all along."

"He fooled all of us, Duncan," another nobleman said from the crowd. "He convinced us all along that he was after our best interests, even as he was looking out only for himself."

"So now you're calling me a traitor?!" Macbeth yelled. "This kind of talk is treason!"

"I have heard enough!" Frollo said decisively. "It is clear now what must be done for the good of the people of Ginkan. I, Archbishop Frollo, deem the Council no longer fit to rule the city. Henceforth, it shall be disbanded and all its authority thereby dissolved."

The townspeople standing behind Frollo applauded heartily in turn.

Duncan nodded solemnly, stepping down from the stairs and onto the same floor the crowd stood on. "I respectfully relinquish my position. If I am not observant enough to be aware of when and by whom the town is in danger, then I am not currently suited to preside over this town."

"Always the wise, reasonable one Duncan has been," a noblewoman remarked upon Duncan's spoken resignation. Alongside the noblewoman, the pocket of other noblemen that had formed in one section of the crowd accepted Duncan back into their ranks without hesitation.

"What?! How can you just take away my authority like that?! Are you the one in charge of this town, archbishop?" Macbeth shouted, beside himself with fury.

Frollo crossed his arms. "As there are no longer appropriate figures of authority in power, I shall need to stand in charge while we rebuild the town into a brighter, more blessed place."

"So you're just taking ov—" Macbeth was about to say before he was cut off by enthusiastic cheers from the rest of the crowd.

"I think that would be a fair course of action," Duncan said with an approving nod, "seeing as his Grace was the one to bring us all together to combat the injustices that Ginkan has suffered."

"Well, unlike my feeble colleague, I on the other hand won't stand for this!" Macbeth exclaimed defiantly. "I'm not just going to take this farce sitting down. Guards!" he bellowed to the soldiers standing at his sides. "Escort these trespassers out of the premises immediately!"

The Ginkan soldiers looked at the crowd of people, then at the archbishop, and then at each other with puzzlement.

Frollo folded his hands calmly. "Soldiers, he no longer has authority to give you orders. I suggest that you escort him to his personal quarters, where he might take the time to ponder his lot before he retrieves his effects and returns to his private residence."

The soldiers glanced at Macbeth, who replied petulantly, "I most certainly will not be led away like some common criminal!"

Frollo sighed. "Take him by the arms if you must. It seems it will take him some time to get used to this new arrangement."

And with that, the soldiers took Macbeth by the arms and almost dragged him out of the room, as the irate nobleman shouted every step of the way as to the injustice of his circumstance.

"Three cheers for the new interim leader of Ginkan, his Grace Archbishop Frollo!" a townsman exclaimed jubilantly.

"Wait… is this all there will be to the matter?" Emma broke in, frowning. "Archbishop Frollo, with all the wrongs my people have endured, will you prioritize the welfare of all of the citizens of this town, regardless of their social standing?"

"Gypsy woman, you seem to be implying that I, as the head of the church, would differentiate our treatment of the people of Ginkan unfairly," Frollo said, looking at Emma disapprovingly. "All of us are God's children, and as the servants of God, we are duty-bound to watch over all as we would our own children. That would include the wealthiest of noblemen to the poorest of vagrants."

Mytho turned toward Emma with a reassuring smile on his face. "I believe he can be trusted, Emma-san. I think he truly wishes the best for everyone in this town, so there is no need to worry."

Emma pursed her lips, still uncertain, but had no ready response. Standing beside her, Komaro gazed at the woman, seeming also to harbor doubts, but like her also said nothing.

o-o-o-o-o

The revolution thus completed, the crowds began to dissipate and life in Ginkan slowly returned to normal. Frollo ordered the release of all prisoners of conscience, including Friar Tuck, who was shocked to see Frollo march into the dungeon and personally order the guards to release him.

While Frollo began making arrangements as the new leader of the city, Mytho finally was able to take the break in action to make a call to Kinkan and let Rue know that all was well. Though Rue wanted to know details of the dramatic events that had transpired that he would be calling directly from the Ginkan Council Hall, with his presence in the town now widely known in public, when Mytho asked Rue if she would rather he tell her in person, she immediately expressed her preference to ask more questions later, if he would only hurry home as fast as he was able.

After coordinating a rough estimate as to when he would arrive in Kinkan and at which gate (this part with Komaro's assistance), Mytho concluded the call and prepared to leave without delay.

As he approached the main doorway of the Council Hall, about to make his leave, Emma approached him, having apparently been waiting for him to exit the building.

"Good evening, Emma-san," Mytho greeted her as Komaro simultaneously nodded respectfully in the gypsy's direction.

"Are you returning home to Kinkan now?" Emma asked him. "I wanted to ask you a favor before you left, so I was waiting here…"

"We will be leaving soon, but I would be happy to do anything in my power for you before I return," Mytho said with a generous smile.

"Please, if there is any possible way…" Emma asked, clasping her hands together pleadingly. "Take me with you. If Trutho is there waiting in Kinkan, alive and well, then I…" Her expression grew wistful. "I have not seen him for many years. Even if I am not the same person he knew, I want to see him again, and let him know that I still care for him, even if I cannot do much for him anymore, crippled as I am."

"It would be very difficult for you to do so on your own, would it not, with your trouble walking?" Komaro said sympathetically. "Sire, what do you think…?"

"Of course you may come along with us," Mytho said without hesitation. "I think my brother would be delighted to see an old friend again."

A rare bright smile appeared on Emma's face. "Thank you very much, your Majesty! This means so much to me."

After they had returned to the inn and collected their remaining effects, the three of them finally set off for Kinkan.

As they left the gates of Ginkan behind them, the crows perched on the town wall watched them vigilantly.

o-o-o-o-o

Long after the school bells had rung, thereby liberating most students from classes for the day, Autor continued playing the piano in the music practice room, belting out his discontentment into the thundering, complicated melody.

Could he really do nothing for those he cared about? Did all of his work mean nothing in the face of indelible destiny? Was his fate to be merely a helpless bystander, regardless of his efforts to change the outcome?

Unable to find an answer these questions that he could either accept or believe, Autor danced his fingers fervidly onward onto the piano's keys, crowding out the feelings of frustration with the intensity of the music.

Having left the window open to let in fresh air, the music drifted outside, barely audible to any who passed by the front gates of Kinkan Academy…

Hardly taking note of the music from afar, Caras gazed intently upon the shard that he had obtained earlier that day as he walked by the front gates of the academy.

So this is Contempt, he thought as his eyes narrowed. I thought this had been the remaining shard, seeing as how it had come from the other town. But now I sense that there is at least one more, somewhere in Kinkan… then, where could it be? My crows have been ever watchful, but as dispersed as they are to avoid suspicion, I can only gain a vague sense of their presence, much less their exact locations.

He stopped in his path, gritting his teeth as he recalled the fact that had jostled him out of his prior complacency. The crows from Ginkan have told me that the Prince is now on his way back to this town, and he will arrive in less than a day. I had been able to seek the shards without disruption thus far by keeping a low profile and looking for them quietly. But if he returns, I doubt there is any way I could even show myself in public without him being made aware of my actions. And wretched hero that he is, once he knows of my intentions, the Prince would never let me continue my search unimpeded…

He gripped the shard tighter in his hand. The emotions that emanated from it resonated with his own, and drew out feelings of contempt… for himself.

You fight a hopeless battle, Caras heard his own words in his mind. Take but a glance in the mirror and you will witness your ultimate fate. You, who might have once been the mighty monster Raven, are now reduced to scrambling for the scattered pieces of your great power. Time is against you; surely you realize this. Inevitably, no matter how much you resist it, you will succumb to the pathetic nature of your own skin. You will lose all that defines you, and degenerate into one of the beings that you loathe most of all…

"…No," Caras muttered to himself, his eyes narrowing to crimson slits. "No!"

While I might be in a pitiful state, I am  not  powerless. Unlike the prince, I am able to do something about my circumstance, and not depend on another to gather the shards I need to restore myself fully. I retain some of my powers, even if it is but a fraction of its former glory. It even is strengthened somewhat by what shards I have managed to collect. Sooner or later, I will find the last one, and…

Then, as the crows congregated around him and cawed louder, he realized something, and he smirked. But, why must it be later? The only reason I have been so cautious with my search up until now is to keep from drawing undue attention to myself. However, if the Prince will come soon, and it matters not how carefully I tread that he will find me… then there is no more need for secrets.

I won't hold back anymore; I will find the last shard no matter where it is hidden. If I cannot conceal my presence from him, then instead, if he wants to stop me… he will have to fight me, just as before!

The crows that had gathered around him suddenly all took flight, and he was surrounded by a flurry of dark feathers. Before he vanished out of sight, the last sight of him was a pitch black shadow, lit only by a pair of sinister glowing red eyes.


Next episode preview

As Mytho, Fakir, Rue, and Ahiru look into the distance from the town's gate, crows swarm above Kinkan Academy.
(Fakir's voice) "What's going on?! The crows haven't acted this boldly before!"
On the Kinkan Academy campus, amidst a storm of crows, Caras and Sagi confront each other, with Sagi clutching something in a handkerchief.
(Caras's voice) "So—this time, it's you."
(Sagi's voice) "Why do you want something that could only make you suffer? What would you gain?"
Mytho, clad in his princely robe of midnight blue, clashes with Caras, who is clothed in a black feathery outfit that feigned the prince's garb. The clangs of their swords striking one another echoes through the square outside the Kinkan cathedral.
(Emma's voice) "Sometimes, the hardest thing for people to do is to realize they're fighting a battle that cannot be won."
As their swords crashed together, the two stand face to face, seeing their own reflections in the other's blade.
(Mytho's voice) "No… it couldn't be…!"
(Caras's voice) "It is I, Prince!"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
33. AKT "Faust"
~ Faust ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

The title "A Tale of Two Cities" is a reference to the Charles Dickens novel of the same name that takes place during the French Revolution, in which there are two characters, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, who look very similar to one another, and to free one from an unjust punishment, the other takes his place.

Much of the music used in this episode is composed by Giuseppe Verdi, an Italian composer well known for his opera music. Besides a few key pieces from the opera "Macbeth", which is named as this episode's music theme, the overture of "I vespri siciliani" was used in a crucial segment of the episode. "I vespri siciliani" is an opera based on a historical event called the Sicilian Vespers of 1282, in which a successful rebellion broke out on Easter against the rule of the French king Charles I, and the royal government lost control of the island as a result. Though not listed in this episode, "La Traviata" is an opera he also composed, and its overtures are used for many of Emma's scenes. In a way, Verdi's works comprise much of the musical inspiration for the Ginkan Town plotlines.

(based on information in articles on Wikipedia)

32. AKT Music List
(the time ranges listed show what part of the track is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Ballet Music from 'Macbeth'"
Played when Kamome confronts Caras over her locket.
(from "Macbeth" opera, composed by Verdi) A lively, exciting song full of action and drama.

"Songs without Words op. 19: no. 2 'Regrets' – Andante espressivo"
Played during the scene with Rue and Autor in the library.
(composed by Mendelssohn) A quiet yet conflicted and distressed piano song.

"Rondo alla Turca (Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major)"
Played when Trutho dances, reminiscing about the gypsy dances in Ginkan.
(composed by Mozart) An energetic, yet somewhat forlorn and lonely dancing piano melody.

"Arabian Dance"
Played when Fakir visits Takako.
(from "The Nutcracker") A slow, enigmatic song. Could be thought of as Takako's theme.

"I vespri siciliani: Overture"
Played at the start of when Macbeth converses with the Raven Sisters; continues when they converse among themselves, Tuck is arrested, and Emma visits Mytho and Komaro again (until 2:28); then, when the fake Raven attacks (until 3:28); then, when the Ginkan townspeople march upon the Ginkan Council Hall and face the line of soldiers (until end).
(from "I vespri siciliani" opera, composed by Verdi) A stirring, heroic piece that evokes patriotic imagery and resolve.

"Macbeth: Overture"
Played when Macbeth enters the Council Hall entranceway and his confrontation with Frollo ensues.
(from "Macbeth" opera, composed by Verdi) A song of deviousness and deceit, with an undertone of hostility and menace.

"Moonlight Sonata, 3rd movement 'Presto agitato'"
Played by Autor in the last scene with Caras ruminating over his situation.
(composed by Beethoven) An intense, powerful piano piece, full of desperate fortitude. Could be thought of as Caras's 3rd theme (three in all, including all three movements of the Moonlight Sonata).

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Faust Ballet: 'Danse de Phryné'"
This is played for the next episode preview.
(from "Faust" opera, composed by Gounod) A passionate, chaotic piece with a frenetic pace and unrelenting forcefulness.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there was a man who wished to gain ultimate knowledge. Though he was a scholar, he had grown weary of his meager pursuits, and so he made a deal with a demon to exchange his soul for what he desired. The magic of the demon gave him the ability to conquer the legendary battles of yore, seduce rare flowers of the ancient days the world was in his hands.

Once upon a time, there was a man who wished to live beyond his death. Though he had great power, he had grown weary of the cruelty and avarice of his fellow men who demanded his power for themselves, and discovering that their jealousy would soon end him. So, he locked away a part of the land all to himself, that he might create a world where the town, and the people in it, were what he desired them to be.

However, both those men, caught in their omnipotent dreams, did not expect to have them interrupted from their paths of damnation by the very people they imprisoned.

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

33. AKT "Faust"
~ Faust ~

On that overcast Kinkan morning, the gray clouds obscured the sun, as if it had been too afraid to rise at the start of the day.

Sagi walked alone silently on the road to school alongside other Kinkan students, who were chatting with one another about trivial matters. She gripped the light blue handkerchief in her hand that was wrapped around something pulsing with a dim crimson glow beneath the cloth.

Realizing that the morning seemed eerily quiet, without the usual chatter of birds in the air starting their day, Sagi glanced upward. On the roofs of the buildings she passed by, scores of crows sat perched on them, speckling the red and brown tiles with sheer, stark black. They sat quietly, barely stirring from their seats, the only movement being their heads occasionally glancing to and fro below them.

As Sagi watched them, one of the black birds caught her eyes and then began to stare at her intently. Nervously, she turned her head back downward to the ground.

Though this certainly wasn't the first time she had gone to school on her own, this was the first time she felt apprehensive about it. But as they had discussed over the telephone the night before, Ahiru and her friends were going to meet up with the prince, who was returning from his trip to the neighboring town, at a particular entrance gate of the town.

Fakir was the one who suggested that Sagi go on to school ahead of them, among the regular group of students heading for their first classes of the day. His reasoning had been that, with Sagi holding the one Raven's shard that they had in their custody, it would be safest for her to be among a large group of people in public, where Caras would have a lot of difficulty acting without being seen by someone else.

Sagi knew the reasoning was sound, and therefore she didn't have anything to worry about. Still, as long as she held the shard, she couldn't help but feel alone in a crowd, carrying a burden that only she could stand.

o-o-o-o-o

After arriving at the advanced orchestra practice session, as his senior classmate Beethoven had implored him the previous day, Autor retrieved his rarely-used cello case and headed for the stands.

As he passed Beethoven, he paused, thinking for a moment. Then, he turned toward him.

"I'm still wondering; are you sure this is a good idea, when it's just a few days till the Autumn Arts Festival?" Autor asked as he took out his cello to sit among the other orchestra students. "I know you've been practicing with the orchestra day in and day out to prepare for it, Beethoven-senpai, so wouldn't putting me in with your other members just weigh you down unnecessarily?"

The brown-haired senior music student crossed his arms with a curt sigh. "In all honesty, I've been distracted trying to figure out what I had heard in your music during our practice sessions, and I'd rather get it off my mind if I can. If I didn't put you in an orchestra myself, I doubt I'd hear you in one since you don't make a habit to practice your cello with others, after all," he said. "But as for why this particular morning, one of the cellists had an unavoidable schedule conflict with another of their classes, and so it was between this and having a missing cello part for this session." He stared at Autor. "I decided that this was Fate knocking at my door, and it was a good time to answer it."

"You don't need to make it sound so dramatic," Autor said with a little embarrassment, but when Beethoven continued to stare at him ever so intently, he relented and added, "But if you want me to be here, I'll oblige."

"It's not a very long or complicated piece we'll be practicing, anyway," Beethoven said. "Primarily, I want to hear how you sound within an orchestra setting. If I can hear that once, I should be satisfied, or at least I'll know what I was hearing."

Autor nodded compliantly. "I'll do my best."

o-o-o-o-o

While waiting at the rendezvous gate, Ahiru and Fakir stood alongside Rue, who this time went without her golden crown so as to minimize attention, and Trutho, who went with his nondescript brown hood over his head for a similar reason.

Rue glanced at Ahiru, looking slightly puzzled. "The last time Mytho's seen you, you were still a duck, and he knew you as Tutu. Won't it be a little confusing if he sees you instead? I've never had any reason to say anything about who you were, so he still doesn't know."

Ahiru pursed her lips, looking uncomfortable. "I, well… I'd like to be able to talk with him myself when we see him again. If he doesn't remember me, then I guess that's okay, we can just say that I had accidentally found out about Trutho switching with him, and I wanted to welcome him back."

Trutho glanced at Ahiru, wrestled with himself for a few moments, then said hesitantly, "Ahiru? Uh, about that…"

Ahiru looked at him. "Huh?"

"I mean, you know…" Trutho paused, then said, "if… if it's just about wanting to be able to talk with him, then umm, if you were a duck, then since I know how to talk with animals, then I could… you know, translate or something like that."

Ahiru furrowed her brows. "But, you don't like showing your ability to other people, so would that really be okay with you?"

"It's… it's all among friends, right?" Trutho said a little timidly, but with a smile. "And Mytho-san is supposed to be my brother, so that should be okay too, right?"

Ahiru gave him a small smile in return. "It's all right; I think I'll be fine going as I am. But I'm thankful that you offered."

Trutho glanced away with a bashful grin. "It's no problem; I'd like to help however I can."

Then, the four heard the sounds of horses galloping in the distance, and they anxiously looked to see who it was. Lo and behold, a white horse came carrying a young man with snow-white hair and a golden crown just barely visible from beneath his cloak hood, and behind him a brown horse with a young man sporting the Kinkan crest on his vermilion pullover.

Rue's breath caught in her throat with elation upon seeing her beloved again, and she was about to run over to him when she noticed that a woman with dark hair was sitting behind Mytho in his saddle.

Who is that supposed to be? The unbidden thought came to Rue's mind, as did a pang of unease that she couldn't shake. He's spent all this time away from me, and now he's…

Then, Mytho spotted them, and made eye contact with Rue. The joy in his expression was unmistakable, and it seemed that his horse could not reunite the two of them quickly enough as the prince swiftly got off his horse before it could amble to a stop and embraced his princess, not letting go until they had exchanged a brief yet tender kiss.

Ahiru watched their reunion with a gentle smile, though while glancing at her, Fakir could sense remnants of wistfulness in her expression.

Even after the kiss, Rue found herself still wondering about the woman sitting in Mytho's saddle, and was about to ask him when she glanced up at the woman and saw that she was staring intently at someone behind her and Mytho.

Without further prompting, Mytho turned around and began helping the woman off the saddle along with Komaro, as Rue looked behind her to where the woman's gaze had caught, and saw Trutho wearing an astounded expression.

As soon as Emma's feet touched the ground, she started towards Trutho, though as soon as she stepped on her right foot she stumbled with a wince. Mytho and Komaro reached for her with alarm, but Trutho had rushed forward and caught her before them, hugging her tightly.

"E…Emma-neesan…!" Trutho said with a quivering voice, his eyes welling over with tears, swiftly changing his dyed amber eyes into their native blue. "It's you! You're all right! I wondered, all this time, if… if anything had happened to you or if I… I'd never see you again, but… now, I…!"

Trutho found he was unable to put further words together as he began to sob unintelligibly, burying his face into Emma's shoulder.

"Trutho…" Emma said, tears running down her cheeks. "I'm… so sorry for everything that's happened. If only I could have…"

"You're here, Emma-neesan," Trutho said softly. "I've found you again, and that… that's all that matters right now."

Rue looked upon this scene with surprise. She could not begin to fathom the history between this elderly woman and the young man, except that they had not seen one another in a very long time, and that they were once very close. But from the happiness in Trutho's voice and the tears of joy in his eyes, this was the happiest Rue had ever seen him, and she couldn't help but smile warmly at their reunion.

Mytho went over to Fakir with a relieved smile. "I'm glad to see you're doing well," he said, before glancing at the red haired girl next to his friend with surprise. "Ahiru?" More calmly, he asked, "When did you…?"

Ahiru stammered, "Hello Mytho. Uhh, you see, I had found out about you having left, and I hadn't seen you for a while, and I, umm, wanted to see how you were doing…"

Mytho held up a hand and smiled. "It matters not how you knew. It's been some time, and I'm glad to see you again, Ahiru."

At that, Ahiru smiled back with relief.

o-o-o-o-o

In the gloomy gray of the morning fog, a figure stood perched on the rooftop of the Kinkan cathedral. Though there was a sea of crows surrounding him, all that could be heard were the sounds of their rustling feathers, punctuated by solitary caws. The young man wore a Kinkan school uniform, his dark curly hair catching in the sunless wind.

Then, in the distance, the usually cheerful chime of the clock in front of Kinkan Academy began to echo feebly in the fog.

Caras opened his eyes, which were glowing intensely crimson, and the far-off ringing was drowned out by the caws of dozens of crows that took flight all at once. He stepped toward the edge of his perch on the cathedral's roof and vanished in the dark flurry they created.

o-o-o-o-o

"To think that when Rue and I shattered the Raven's heart, I would end up passing the same fate I had given myself onto the Raven," Mytho said, grimacing. "I won't make the same mistake this time. I will stop this person named Caras from gathering the rest of the shards by destroying every trace of them."

"We have one shard in our hands now, at least," Fakir said. "If we can get rid of that one, it will prevent him from being able to fully assemble them."

"Then the Raven can't be completely whole again," Rue said, nodding.

"Where is the shard that's currently in our possession?" Mytho asked, turning to Fakir. "The sooner we take steps to foil Caras's plans, the better."

Ahiru pointed behind them. "Right now, over at the Academy, Sagi-chan is…"

When they looked in that direction, however, they saw a cloud of dark birds beginning to swarm in one particular place, and it was getting denser as crows from the outer reaches of the town converged on that location.

"What's going on!?" Fakir exclaimed, his voice rising in alarm. "The crows haven't acted this boldly before!"

"That's where Kinkan Academy is!" Ahiru said, her eyes widening with horror. "Sagi-chan's in danger! She has the shard!"

"We must go, quickly!" Mytho called out, his swan-hilted sword appearing in his hand with a beam of light. "Komaro, please take care of Emma-san and Trutho!"

"Yes, sire!" Komaro said, stepping toward the feeble gypsy woman and the cloaked boy, who were protectively holding the other's hands, looking on anxiously at the frightening spectacle.

"Everyone else, please gather around me!" Mytho yelled.

Fakir and Rue stepped in close proximity to Mytho, but he paused as Ahiru approached. "Ahiru, you need not accompany us on this dangerous mission. I fear you will be hurt by the crows if you are with us. Komaro will keep you safe here."

"Please let me come with you!" Ahiru pleaded. "Sagi-chan's in danger, and I…" Her brows furrowed anxiously. "It's our fault for leaving her alone with the Raven's shard, so I… I have to go help her!"

Though the concern did not leave his face, upon seeing Ahiru's determined expression, after a moment's hesitation he nodded. "Very well. Let us go together, then."

As the three stood by Mytho, with a graceful twirl, a magical pink petal flurry lifted all four of them into the air, and swiftly on towards the academy.

Mytho's lips pursed. I hope that we will get there in time…

o-o-o-o-o

Several moments after the school bell tolled, chaos erupted.

Black birds descended from the sky and assaulted all the students in their path, turning a routine bustle to the morning classes into frenetic pandemonium. The young men and women desperately attempted to shield themselves with whatever books or instrument cases they had on hand, while they tried to escape to safety inside the school buildings.

Sagi, standing in the middle of campus near the swan fountain, was but one of the students trying to get away from the attack. However, whatever way she turned, the crows blocked her path, sending her ducking her head, cringingly clutching the handkerchief in her hands close to her chest and running the other direction, before she was blocked by another swarm of crows. It wasn't long before she found that she was completely trapped.

"So—this time, it's you."

Sagi turned toward the familiar voice and saw a young man with dark curly hair appear before her from a dark flurry of black feathers. Her eyes widened. "Caras-san! This is…" she paused, glancing around at the crows hovering around them. "This is your doing, isn't it?"

"It's clear that you have a shard with you," Caras said, cocking an eyebrow, "but not within you? Even holding such a powerful shard, you haven't let it take hold of you. I'm impressed."

Caras approached her, but Sagi stepped away, gripping the handkerchief in her hands and wincing for a moment.

"Why do you cling to it?" Caras said, frowning. "Such a thing has nothing to do with you. Or are you simply acting on command of those other humans you call your friends?"

Sagi's brows furrowed. "It's not just that…" She paused, and then continued with a worried expression, "This shard… its name is Agony, for it causes pain and suffering to any who encounter it. Yet, you're seeking to obtain it for yourself—why do you want something that could only make you suffer? What would you gain?"

"To live is to suffer," Caras said with a dark expression, his crimson eyes gleaming. "All that lives must die, and they die when they are too weak to continue living. However, I will endure forever. I shall defy the one destiny that none other can escape. I will conquer everything and anything in this world that would oppose my power—even the timeless fate of death itself."

He continued walking toward Sagi, reaching out his hand. "Now, the shard will be mine."

"Come no closer!"

A gallant shout erupted from behind Sagi, and in an instant a young man with a gold crown on his snow white hair cut through the ranks of hovering crows to land in front of Sagi, blocking Caras's path with a flurry of pink flower petals.

"Sagi-chan!"

Sagi turned around toward the familiar voice, and from the gap that Prince Mytho had created with deft swings of his sword in the blockade of crows, came Ahiru calling out to her, alongside Fakir and Princess Rue.

"You must be Caras, then," Mytho said, his brows furrowing.

Caras smirked. "It seems my reputation precedes me. Hello, Prince," he said with a sarcastic bow of the head.

"Why do you seek Raven's shards?" Mytho demanded. "For what purpose could you possibly see fit to gather them together?"

"The same reason you gathered your shards together, Prince," Caras replied evenly. "To return the power that rightfully belongs to me."

"You would do this merely to gain power for yourself?" Mytho asked, frowning. "To collect these shards would ultimately bring back the Raven himself! Are you not aware of what a calamitous monster your actions would unleash?"

Caras's devious smirk widened into a fervent sneer. "Am I aware, you ask? Of what a monster I would unleash? Oh, I am more than aware, Prince. I remember, from the very beginning, when our battles began…"

Mytho frowned with unease. "What do you mean, 'our' battles…? Did you fight alongside the Raven against me, even back in my homeland?"

Caras burst out with a contemptuous laugh, as if he could no longer contain himself. "Prince, I am astounded! Can you not recognize your own archenemy, despite us having fought one another for many years?" His crimson eyes narrowed to slits with a sinister grin. "Do you not know an old monster when you see one?"

The prince's eyes, along with those of the four people behind him, widened in horror as realization dawned on them. "No… it couldn't be…!"

"It is I, Prince!" Caras exclaimed.

He swept away with a backward leap. With a wave of his arm in midair, a flurry of black feathers transformed Caras's school uniform into a black and purple costume adorned with raven feathers over the shoulders and the shadowy silhouette of a raven emblazoned on the front, a dark reflection of the prince's royal outfit. "I am that same monster Raven that you all believed to have destroyed, brought back to this world in a different form. But it will only be a matter of time before I will be restored to my true form, and once I do, this time you shall be powerless to stop me!"

"The Raven… Caras is actually the Raven himself…!?" Ahiru said, covering her mouth with shock, while Fakir gazed upon their old enemy with rekindled loathing. Beside them, frozen in place, Rue stared at the newly revealed Raven as she cowered in utter terror.

Sagi held the handkerchief containing Agony shard shakily. The Raven from the story of The Prince and the Raven is… Caras-san? He was the same one who did all those horrible things, who made many people suffer? She looked at the shard in her hands. This shard, which causes so much pain to everyone, belongs to him?

The five could hardly finish taking in this shocking fact before Caras swiftly conjured up a black-hilted saber and attempted to break past the people in his path to get to Sagi. Mytho barely had the presence of mind to react in time, blocking Caras's path with his own swan-hilted sword, their blades making a great clash as they hit.

"Leave this place!" Mytho shouted behind him, his hands gripping the handle of his sword, trembling from the force that Caras pushed against him, trying to break through. "Flee to safety!"

He had but a moment to let go of his sword to make a gesture with his left hand, commanding a flurry of flower petals to briefly open a way through the wall of ruthless crows surrounding them. His comrades didn't waste the chance, and so Fakir, Ahiru, Rue and Sagi ran out the front gate of campus out toward the town.

Gritting his teeth for letting his quarry slip through, Caras leapt back and immediately launched into an onslaught of sword thrusts, accompanied by several crows turning into airborne spires throwing themselves at the prince. It was all Mytho could do to merely parry the attacks, keeping Caras at bay while his companions made their escape. Even then, he couldn't stop the regiment of crows that Caras sent past Mytho to go after them in his stead.

o-o-o-o-o

With the crows right on their heels, Fakir, Ahiru, Sagi and Rue tore down the road, away from Kinkan Academy.

Then, as they were running, Fakir looked toward Ahiru. "The rest of you go on ahead! I'll distract them here!"

"What!?" Ahiru exclaimed in alarm. "You're not going to try to fight them, are you?"

"We can't keep going like this!" Fakir said, grimacing. "At this rate, they're going to catch up to us eventually, and then we'll all be too tired to fight back!"

"Let's split up!" Sagi called out between breaths. "They're chasing me, aren't they? You all can get away!"

"What good will that do!?" Rue asked her with a glare, the town passing behind her in a shaky blur as they continued to run. "You won't stand a chance against the crows on your own, either!"

"Even if I can't, that's how it's going to be in the end!" Sagi said with a hint of despair in her voice. "I'm the only one who can hold the shard, and that's what they're after!"

"Then I'll go with Sagi-chan!" Ahiru yelled, "And Fakir, you go with Rue-chan and get somewhere safe!"

"No! I'm not leaving you while you're in danger!" Fakir shouted.

Ahiru looked seriously at him. "Fakir, do you still have that quill with you?"

Fakir was taken aback for a moment. "That quill? Yes, I do…"

Ahiru nodded with a solemn smile. "I'm not worried—I won't be afraid if you're behind me."

Then, suddenly, Rue stumbled on the cobble stone path and tripped onto the road. In response, Sagi ran in front, glancing behind her to see that the crows were still following. "Rue-san, please be safe! I'll lead them away from you!"

Before Fakir could argue, Ahiru had gone on ahead with Sagi, shouting back at him, "Fakir, take care of Rue-chan!"

"Ahiru, wait!" Fakir yelled, his hand reaching out toward her. But Ahiru was already far ahead of them, out of reach.

With a grunt of frustration, Fakir grudgingly followed Ahiru's orders and stayed behind, quickly helping Rue up before setting off together hurriedly in another direction.

As Ahiru and Sagi had hoped, the vast majority of the crows stuck with the two girls, leaving Fakir and Rue barely attended in comparison.

"What do you intend to do now?" Rue asked Fakir with a grimace. "Are you really going to just let those two handle the ravens on their own?"

"No," Fakir said flatly, before hesitating on his next words. "I… I have an idea, but… it's probably going to be best that we get someone else's help with this."

"Who?"

Fakir looked ahead solemnly. "There's one person I can think of who would be most useful to have with us if I were to start Spinning again."

o-o-o-o-o

The advanced orchestra members, having noticed the chaotic din of crows outside, were huddling in the back of the practice room, as far from the windows as possible. A number of them were torn between shrinking back further into the corners of the room out of fear and peering outside the windows in morbid curiosity, wondering what on earth could cause the winged creatures to attack so fiercely.

"Orchestra!" Their conductor Beethoven suddenly bellowed from his place on top of the conductor's platform, where he had remained even as the attack had started. "Back in position! Quickly!"

"Wha…!?" One of the flute players stuttered. "Y-you can't be serious, Beethoven-senpai! We're being besieged by maddened birds, for heaven's sake, so we couldn't possibly…"

The musician's voice withered in his throat as Beethoven turned his head and glowered at them all with an expression that suggested absolute doom for anyone who dared to defy him. At that moment the orchestra students feared Beethoven more than the crows, and so they all rushed to get back to their seats and prepared to start playing.

On his way to his seat, Autor paused at Beethoven's side and asked quietly, "Is it really a good idea to continue on like this, Beethoven-senpai, when we could be in danger if the windows do not hold up against them…?"

Beethoven looked at him firmly. "There couldn't be a more crucial time to persist." He said nothing else, but flicked his head off to the side sharply, wordlessly urging Autor to get back to his seat.

Exhaling softly, Autor simply nodded and returned to his spot, picking back up his bow and cello.

Beethoven barely allowed them enough time to pick back up their instruments before he tapped his baton on the music stand. Then, as the orchestra's eyes gazed anxiously up at their conductor, he raised his baton…

o-o-o-o-o

Clashing of steel against steel resounded through the air as the Prince and the newly revealed Raven battled on, the crows that Caras summoned attacking Mytho relentlessly. Mytho swung his sword at the mass of crows that Caras had sent into his path, pushing them back. The distraction gave Caras an opening to pursue his true quarry: Sagi, and the heart shard that she carried.

However, when Mytho saw Caras turning to leave, he summoned a wave of petals from beneath his feet and quickly maneuvered in front of his adversary, blocking Caras's path. Strangely, while Caras was visibly frustrated by Mytho's constant barricade against him, a smirk briefly appeared on Caras's face whenever he made another attempt to breach those defenses, as if he were somehow enjoying himself.

He glanced at the buildings around him worriedly. The longer that they fought there on the Kinkan academy grounds, the more that the students would be at risk. But if Mytho let the Raven get away, then he would pursue his companions, and would go to any means to take the one shard they had in their possession. If I could only lure him away from here…

Mytho tried falling back toward the gateway of the campus grounds, hoping that Caras would follow him away from the school while trying to get past him. But Caras remained where he was in the middle of the grounds.

He sneered. "What's this? Are you growing bored of this fight? Perhaps I have not been compelling enough of an adversary for your attention. In that case, let me make things livelier!"

So saying, he threw his arm to the side, and the crows turned directly onto the academy grounds, launching an assault on the classrooms by attempting to break their windows.

o-o-o-o-o

Some distance away, Komaro kept Emma and Trutho out of the open, slipping into empty buildings and watching the movements of the crows from below. Seeing that Trutho looked uncomfortable and Emma looking worried about him, he decided that he'd leave them in their current hiding place and go outside by himself to keep a look out, instead of risking their safety.

After he stepped outside, a few frightened Kinkan Academy students stumbled past him. When he looked up into the sky, Komaro noted that a flock of crows had broken away from the academy grounds. He hoped that the crows' attacks had been led elsewhere, as he wanted to return to the academy and aid in damage control as soon as possible. However, upon closer inspection after creeping to a better vantage point, he frowned, realizing that the grounds were still in grave peril, occupied by scores of crows, despite being deprived of the group that had broken off into the town.

Komaro returned to Emma and Trutho's hiding place, wondering how long they would need to lie low there, when Trutho clutched his head and groaned, his knees buckling as he trembled violently where he stood.

"Trutho? Are you all right?" Emma asked the boy, growing more frantic as he failed to reply. "Trutho!"

Though Komaro put his arm around Trutho and brought him gently to the ground so he could sit down, the boy continued to cringe, unresponsive to the voices around him.

o-o-o-o-o

Horrified at the crows' onslaught, the prince leapt into the air to repel the winged assailants. Caras tried to use the distraction to finally escape from the prince's one-man blockade, but with a forceful wave of Mytho's hand, a torrent of pink petals barred his path away to the shard once again.

"That Raven's shard shall never be yours!" Mytho exclaimed. "I will destroy it, along with all the others that still remain! Stop this fighting, for it shall all be in vain!"

Caras's crimson eyes narrowed scornfully, and with a furious wave of both his arms, the crows' assault intensified. Glass shattered around them, and shouts of panic erupted from the broken windows. Mytho desperately tried to fend them off from the students, but did not know what could be done to impede the Raven from incurring further havoc onto the innocent bystanders.

Then, a mystical melody began to echo through the air. It was an orchestra playing music that seemed the essence of serenity and peace. The otherworldly sound affected whoever heard it with the tranquil emotions that were held within.

The crows surrounding the campus halted their paths of destruction, and began to disappear quietly. The two combatants stopped in their tracks, coming to a standstill right across from one another. In an uncanny moment, they looked on at each other with neither aggression nor resentment, their blades slack in their hands, almost as if they weren't really enemies at all.

Then, after a startled blink, Caras turned away, and the crows around the academy vanished. Before Mytho could react, Caras had disappeared in the direction away from the school. Though the prince was still bewildered at the strange music that had made this strange occurrence take place, Mytho saw a cloud of crows appear above the buildings not too far ahead, and not wanting the Raven to get too far ahead, with a swish of pink petals he headed after him.

o-o-o-o-o

It was as if the otherworldly music had entranced the musicians themselves as well as any listening to it, for they continued to play even as the nearby glass windows broke and drafts came gusting in, and even moments afterward when the din of caws outside suddenly faded away.

It was only when they came to the end of the section of music they were playing that Beethoven's baton paused in the air, and then lowered silently to his side.

When he did so, the orchestra finally stopped as well, some of them getting out of their seats and marveling at the disappearance of the crows, fretting about the broken windows, or both. In the room that was once filled with enchanting music, the air was now filled with the bewildered hubbub of students.

Autor was one of the few who stayed in their seats, stunned by what had just happened. He glanced up at their conductor, and he saw that Beethoven was pensively staring sidelong in Autor's direction.

Was this the reason that Beethoven-senpai had been so insistent all this time that I play for him? Autor thought with bewilderment, looking down at his own hands as if they were somehow responsible for withholding this knowledge from him all this time. Was this what he had sensed? That, somehow, something like this would happen?

Beethoven had said that Autor made his feelings real with his music. Was that literally true, and that playing this music full of tranquility turned it into reality? His eyes widened. Could it be that this was the true manifestation of his Spinning power, the power that he had been seeking in himself all along?

Autor frowned puzzledly. But, if that was so, then why hadn't it manifested itself all the countless other times that he had played music on his own? Or at least, to the degree it had just now?

He looked around at the many musicians around him, most of whom he recognized but he had never bothered to get personally acquainted with. The one difference between those times was the presence of people who performed with him, and it had been so long since he had actually performed as part of a group—could that really be the one thing that was needed to activate those dormant powers?

o-o-o-o-o

Trutho and Emma did their best to settle into a spare room on the Kinkan academy campus, as they could see how much trouble that Komaro had to deal with once the ravens had disappeared from sight. Trutho could almost swear that Komaro was this close to screaming out in utter frustration as he politely but stiffly excused himself after escorting them to the sitting room set aside from the rest of the campus and let the two make themselves at home while he dealt with the chaos that had been left behind in the wake of the winged beasts.

Trutho had carefully held Emma's arm and led her to set at the couch in the middle of the room, before he sat himself next to her, his head tilted downward, looking passively at his folded hands in his lap. Emma gazed at him for a short while before she spoke.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Emma asked him with concern. "While the crows were still attacking the school, you seemed to be in pain at one point. We had to watch out for danger when we were coming here, so I couldn't ask you about it at the time, but now that we're in a safe place…"

"Huh? Oh, that," Trutho said, shaking his head with a nervous smile, "it was nothing. I had a little headache, and that was probably because I was just stressed out from the situation, I bet. I mean, I felt a lot better after we heard that strange relaxing music, so it's not that big a deal."

Emma looked at him silently. Though she didn't really want to continue keeping things from him, she still didn't have the heart to start on the horrifying explanations of why she would be particularly concerned about anything with him to do with crows—as far as he knew, the only things he'd have to fear from crows was his history of what happened in Ginkan. He remembered nothing about the time that Emma had first found him in the woods outside the Ginkan walls, screeching in pain as a half-human, half-feathered beast. But, if she couldn't tell him about this, then why should she expect that he would tell her about his own secret troubles?

"I… I know that it's been so long since we last talked," Emma said a bit sadly, "but still, if there's anything that troubles you, and you would find it fit to tell me about it, I would always try to help you however I could."

"Don't worry, I'm fine! I'm just…" Trutho looked out the window, trailing off. "Though I guess… I can't help but be worried about everyone else, trying to deal with all those crows. During the time I've been here, they've never done that before. I know that I'd probably just get in the way, but…"

Trutho bit his lips pensively. "If I don't reveal myself, then I could stay out of trouble, even in dangerous situations. If I could just keep myself hidden until they really need my help, then maybe…"

Emma smiled faintly. "You sound as if you really want to go out and watch over them, Trutho. You wouldn't be thinking about it this much if you didn't."

Trutho looked at her with hesitant blue eyes. "But then, I'd just be in the way, right?"

"If you revealed yourself unnecessarily," Emma said, placing a hand on his arm. "However, if you're watchful, and take care to protect yourself, then you shouldn't be a burden on them."

Emma paused, and then reached into the folds of her dress. When she drew her hand back out, in it was a tiny dagger in a leathery sheath, the blade length barely the width of her palm.

"Take this," she said, gently placing it in Trutho's hand. "In case you find yourself threatened and you can't avoid it. But please remember: if you can find a way out, don't be afraid to run away from danger."

"Afraid? To run away from danger?" Trutho said, an amused grin breaking onto his face for a moment. "That sounds like a contradiction."

"Not as much as one may think," Emma said, her expression somber. "Sometimes, the hardest thing for people to do is to realize they're fighting a battle that cannot be won."

o-o-o-o-o

"Guardians, guardians-zura! Where are the guardians-zura?"

The little puppet girl haplessly plodded around the town of Ginkan, looking upward left and right while she tapped a cheerful rhythm on her drum, as if hoping to find who she was looking for perched on the roofs of the buildings. While the streets certainly weren't bustling with activity, there were enough people around that some of them noticed this strange little girl and wondered what she was up to.

A plump woman in a well-worn apron pursed her lips with puzzlement and decided to find out more. "What now, little one?" she asked, stepping up next to the tiny girl. "Why are you making all this fuss?"

"I'm looking for the guardians-zura!" the pale little girl said with a big grin on her face.

"Guardians?" the plump woman said, frowning. "Do you mean, the town guards? Are you in some kind of trouble?"

"I'm not in trouble-zura, but everyone else is-zura," the girl explained determinedly. "If I don't find the guardians, then the tussle-mayor will still be trying to make everyone sad-zura."

The plump woman sighed. Tussle-mayor? Making everyone sad? It sounded like the childish antics of an overactive imagination. She supposed that whatever this was about, it wasn't anything too serious. Either way, though, it wasn't right for such a young child to be out and about on the streets by herself, and so she asked, "Where are your parents, little one? Or are you an orphan? I can take you to the orphanage if you want a roof over your head and food to eat."

"Oh, I have a Mama-zura!" the girl said. "She's the one who said to go look for the guardians-zura. Then they can help us steal back the tapestry from the tussle-mayor!"

Having said that, the little girl suddenly looked up at the sky with an "Ohhh!" and ran off in another direction, seeming too intent on what she was doing to be further distracted from it. The plump woman could only shake her head, marveling at the powerful imagination of young children, and how lucky the child was to be free to chase such fantastic visions.

What the woman didn't know was that the little girl named Uzura was listening to her other self, who had just said to her: The dormant guardians are flying above you.

"How did you know-zura?" Uzura asked as she scampered along, looking up and following what cast the moving shadows down from above. "We've been looking all day but we hadn't found them until now-zura!"

Out of the many that dwell here, there are only a few whose strings of fate have been so forcefully rewoven from their original states. It is difficult to find them among so many, but when they came near enough, they were noticeable, and they could be detected more clearly.

"Guardians! Guardians-zura? We were looking for you-zura!" Uzura shouted up at the flitting silhouettes above her.

Then, suddenly, Uzura saw three black birds land on a tree branch in front of her, in a distinctly confrontational manner, on an empty street where there was no one else around.

"Why do you follow us, foolish child?" the one in the middle asked. "You prattle on about finding guardians and other nonsense, yet you chase after us ravens as if we had anything to do with it."

"Me-zura says that you're the guardians-zura!" Uzura exclaimed while tapping her drum excitedly. "We've come to ask your help-zura!"

"Not only do you shout at us with your silly babbling, but you demand us to do something for you?" the smallest one on the right bristled. "What impertinence!"

"What could you possibly want from us?" the tall one on the left asked.

"The tapestry-zura!" Uzura said, trying to explain all the things going on in her head at once, but was unsuccessful to say the least. "We need to take the tapestry back from the tussle-mayor, and then he can't make everyone sad-zura!"

"'Tussle-mayor'?" the raven in the middle asked, mystified. "Who is this you speak of?"

"Mama-zura said he was the one who pulled you down from her branches-zura! If you follow us, we can take you back there and you can try to be the guardians again-zura!"

The smallest one clicked her beak crossly. "We're not following you anywhere, you senseless child! Sisters, why are we sitting here listening to this folly? Let us go back to our business and leave her to her ramblings."

"Indeed," the one in the middle said. "There are much more important things for us to be paying attention to right now. Come, Urd, Skuld! We shall go."

"Gladly, Verdandi!"

With that, the middle one and the smaller one named Skuld took off from their perches and flew away. The tall one named Urd thoughtfully gazed back at Uzura for a moment before following her sisters.

The three ravens hadn't flown but a few buildings over when they heard some familiar shouts from below. Urd glanced down and said to their leading sister Verdandi, "Sisters, look, the child is still following us."

"Of all the—what the devil is that stupid little girl thinking!?" Skuld exclaimed, her temper flaring as her patience ran out. "Fine! That does it!"

Skuld turned around in midair, and with a heavy flap of her wings, a great wind swept through the street, carrying the lightweight little puppet girl away from them.

"Whoa-ohh-ohh-ooaaaaaaah!" Uzura exclaimed as she tumbled in the air, unable to see where she was going in the chaotic gusts.

When she finally landed with a "plop!" back onto the cobblestone road, she got up from the ground dizzily, wobbling to and fro in the street, disoriented at the world that seemed to be spinning in all directions. "Whaaaaa… I'm so dizzy-zura…"

After regaining enough of her balance, she looked around again for the three raven sisters, but they were nowhere to be seen.

"Oh no! I've lost them-zura!" Uzura said with dismay. "Me-zura, do you know where they went?"

I do not know, her other self replied. They have gone far enough away from us that I cannot sense them anymore.

"C'mon, we've got to find them again-zura!" Uzura exclaimed with determination.

She started to run off one more, when her other self spoke up and Uzura stopped in her tracks. Let us return to the Loophole in Time for now.

"But we haven't gotten the guardians to come with us yet!" Uzura said, frowning with disappointment at herself. "And we can't talk to them if we go back there-zura."

As things stand, we will not be able to convince them simply by informing them of our mission, her other self replied. Now that we know who they are, we may watch them at a distance from the gears of the other dimension. Then we shall await a time when they may be more inclined to hear our words.

"Oh…" Uzura looked uncertainly at the pale outline of Edel that only she could see. "But, how do we know when they're gonna listen to us?"

That I do not know for sure, her other self admitted. However, what I do know is that when others had questions, I did not need to find them; they came to find me. So, I think that we shall wait for the time when they question the path ahead of them; then, they might follow where we point the way.

"Okay then-zura!" Uzura nodded resolutely. "Let's go back now-zura!"

With that, an otherworldly gear opened up beside the little puppet girl, and after she hopped into it, the gear disappeared, as if it had never been there in the first place.

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

33. AKT "Faust"
~ Faust ~

- Part 2 -

After some while, Fakir and Rue finally found the quiet street where the fortuneteller's abode stood.

"Who is this Takako, exactly?" Rue asked Fakir. "You said that she would be able to help you, but I'm not clear on how that's the case."

"She knew from the beginning about the story, about Drosselmeyer, all the way until now," Fakir replied. "Takako was the one who gave Trutho the eye dyeing powder, before Mytho had even left Kinkan, and told us how he was doing in the meanwhile. So she'll be able to tell us what Drosselmeyer, and everyone else, is doing right now."

Fakir swept aside the curtain in Takako's doorway, and found her sitting ready at her table with her crystal ball, with two seats in front of her, one of which had a piece of parchment lying before it.

"I am aware of the present situation, so there is no need to explain it to me," Takako said briefly. "Have a seat, young Spinner."

"You knew about the Raven's identity all along, didn't you?" Fakir asked, accusation seeping into his voice. "You knew it was him, but you didn't tell me, or any of us."

"I did not know for certain, nor do I know now whether that is true," Takako said soberly.

"He told us himself!" Fakir exclaimed, his fists clenching. "Without any doubt! That's the whole reason he wants the Raven's shards—they belong to him!"

"That proves that he wants us to believe it is so, and he believes it as well," Takako said pensively. "As for whether that is the truth… that remains to be seen."

Fakir grunted with discontent, but then silently took the seat in front of the parchment.

"I… I believe it is true," Rue said, pushing back her fearful feelings to speak stoically, taking the seat next to Fakir. Lifting her eyes, she met Takako's hawk-like gaze. "Whenever I saw him, and when he revealed himself… he reminded me. I remember the feelings that I had back then… like the ghost of someone I never wanted to meet again."

Takako returned Rue's gaze gravely. "Even after all that I have seen thus far, I have no clear answers about him to give you. It seems that story has yet to be fully revealed."

Fakir sighed curtly, gingerly taking out the glowing golden quill from his uniform jacket. "I suppose that's not important right now. We need to stop Caras before he can get the shard that we have. If Mytho can find Ahiru and Sagi, he can destroy the shard with his enchanted sword."

He looked at the quill for a moment. "Do you know where they are right now?"

"Let me see…" Takako said, placing her hands around the crystal ball in front of her and leaning forward slightly, gazing into its depths.

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru and Sagi had reached the town cathedral in their chase around Kinkan. Because the area was surrounded by an empty plaza that made it stand out from above, Mytho, who had been floating in the air on his magical pink petal flurry, saw them and headed their direction, blowing aside any crows that got in his path.

"Ahiru, Sagi-san! Are you two all right?" Mytho asked, landing gracefully on the ground beside them.

"Yeah, I'm okay," Ahiru said between breaths. "Sagi-chan, are you doing okay?"

"Yes…" Sagi said also short of breath, though she looked at the scrunched-up handkerchief in her hand with her brows creased.

"The Raven's shard," Mytho said with a solemn frown. "We must destroy it at once. Sagi-san, please give me the shard."

Sagi clutched the shard, hesitating. "This shard… you'll be able to destroy it with your sword?"

"If anything is able to do that, it would be my sword," Mytho said with a nod. "With its power, my sword can shatter hearts. The very reason the Raven's heart exists in shards now is that I attempted to shatter it once. If I do so again, I should be able to destroy the shard completely, so that it cannot be reassembled."

"I see…" Sagi said, looking nervously at the wrapped shard in her hand. "But… if I gave you this shard, would you be able to hold it yourself, even if just for a moment…?"

"What do you mean?" Mytho asked, his brows furrowing in puzzlement. "I would be willing to hold it for however long a time necessary to be able to destroy it. But please, we must hurry. I don't know how long we have until—"

"I will destroy you before you can do that!"

A menacing voice threatened the three as crows descended upon them, obscuring the space between Mytho and Sagi. Mytho tried to fend off the shifting black barrier of crows before him so he could get to the shard in Sagi's hands, but the swarm was too thick and merciless to allow any attempt to reach the shard without risking it being taken by them.

"Sagi-san! Ahiru!" Mytho yelled. "I will stay and enable your escape! Go, now!"

Sagi nodded, and began running into the streets away from the plaza, stopping only when she realized that Ahiru was not in sight. "Where are you, Ahiru?"

"Go ahead without me!" Ahiru exclaimed from somewhere in the dark flurry of crows. "Get the shard away from here!"

"But what about you?" Sagi asked worriedly. "How will you escape?"

"It'll be okay," Ahiru said resolutely. "Fakir will give me the power to fight!"

Sagi blinked, unsure of what Ahiru meant, but she decided to trust what her friend was saying and ran on ahead.

Ahiru looked back at the flashes of white that were Mytho's white cape fluttering in the chaos, and saw a figure's black cape flitting alongside it. The swarm of crows cleared the view for a moment and she saw Caras spot Sagi running away into the distance. He threw his hand in that direction, trying to send a throng of crows after her, but the prince next to him lifted his arm into the air, and a vortex of pink petals engulfed both of them as well as the crows in their vicinity.

Caras grited his teeth, and tried to break through the floral barricade. But by the time it cleared, the crows that had gotten past circled above, bewildered and aimless. Mytho's distraction had enabled Sagi to vanish without a trace.

"Cursed prince!" Caras exclaimed angrily, turning his flaring rage onto Mytho, battering him even more mercilessly with rows of dark spikes spraying in his direction. "You never fail to get in my way!"

Ahiru, at a distance from the middle of the fray, looked on as she held her arms around her head, defending herself against the few crows that strayed in her direction while they harangued the prince.

Fakir, can you hear me? she thought anxiously. We need to do something! We've got to help Mytho!

o-o-o-o-o

"'We've got to help Mytho!' she thinks."

Takako paused, folding her hands gravely as she glanced to her right, toward Fakir.

Fakir bit his lips, his hand holding the golden quill still hovering over the blank parchment as Rue uneasily watched him from the neighboring chair. How do I help Ahiru fight the Raven? The last time this happened, the Raven nearly made her dance to death from exhaustion! What can I do differently this time?

"Remember what you now have in your hand," Takako said gently. "If you held Ahiru's string of fate in your hand… what would you do to give her strength?" She paused again. "Or rather, what could you do?"

What could I do? Fakir wondered. What did he do last time? He gently pushed reality along a path that would help Ahiru along her path, even as others would get in her way. Even though she couldn't become Tutu anymore, he tried to keep Ahiru going, to free the town from the Raven's wicked spell…

Would Ahiru be able to help Mytho if she could become Tutu? No, that wouldn't work; as Ahiru had learned not too long ago, she needed the physical manifestation of Mytho's feeling of hope to do so. If she transformed now, Mytho would be rendered helpless in the heat of battle, making things even worse. But without Tutu's powers, she was just a duck, or even with the lake's magic, just a human girl, with no powers of her own…

He stared at the golden quill he held again, watching its luminescence cast a soft, vague outline of his hand onto the parchment. Now that he thought about it, though, why was the choice between Ahiru being someone else with power and Ahiru being herself without it? If she was indeed a duck, need she be "just" a duck? As a duck, she managed to break the Raven's spell with her dance that was full of her essence. Could she not be powerful in that way, somehow?

Clutching the quill uncertainly, Fakir dipped its tip into the inkwell nearby. He poised the quill at the top of the parchment for a few moments before hesitantly beginning to write. After writing one letter he stopped, taken aback that instead of coming out as glistening black ink strokes, it flowed out in shining golden letters. Furrowing his brows, he continued with quiet resolution.

"Take care," Takako warned gently. "Drosselmeyer now writes…"

"What is he writing?" Fakir asked, his hand pausing uneasily.

o-o-o-o-o

"The Prince and the Raven fought furiously, attacking and parrying in turn as if in a deadly dance. At each moment that they crossed blades, they came face-to-face, close enough to see their own reflections in the other's blade," Drosselmeyer wrote fervently with his black raven's quill. "The Prince felt the familiarity of the Raven's movements, and seeing his reflection in his own blade, he almost thought he saw himself wearing the black garb of the Raven Prince, with the same callous countenance as his enemy. The Prince's eyes widened with fear: it was as if his enemy was merely a reflection of the other self he thought he had already defeated.

"The reflection in the Raven's blade was, instead of a great dark downy head with glowing crimson slits of eyes, that of a human face, the appearance of a dark-haired pale youth no older looking than the Prince himself. Witnessing his reflection directly alongside that of the Prince's reminded him all too potently that as he was now, he had the form of a being that he had loathed all this time. Would the same weakness that afflicted all of the Prince's kind infect himself, twisting his dark heart into something pathetic and powerless?"

o-o-o-o-o

Crimson eyes narrowing, Caras broke the uncanny moment in their battle and leaped back, landing on the cobblestone road brandishing his curved saber with a disdainful smirk.

"I see that my blood still runs strong in you," he said tauntingly. "It wouldn't take much to reawaken it, you know. With a bit more, you could easily become the Prince of Ravens once more. Come, why not don my feathers again and forsake the weaknesses that your kind is known for? Take whatever it is you want in this world by force!" he exclaimed. "Don't you want all the world's love for yourself? Don't you want all in the world to be willing to give up their hearts for you?"

"No!" Mytho exclaimed. "I would never become the Raven Prince willingly, and hurt all those I love!"

"Have you not already violated that pledge?" Caras asked casually, his crimson eyes casting a taunting look at the prince. "You made my daughter your princess; does that not make you a Raven Prince of sorts even now?"

"She was never your daughter in the first place," Mytho said, eyes narrowed. "It was all a lie, one that you told to make her obey you. She was but a victim to your wicked designs!"

"Designs that she put into action with her own hands," the human Raven replied evenly. "Think now, Prince—has she really changed since then? If she were afraid that you would stop loving her, can you be sure she wouldn't once again take any measures to prevent it?"

"But, she knows that I…" Mytho began, trailing off as he paused on his next words. "No, if she were to ever doubt my love for her, I would reassure her of it!"

"Have you thought of why that is?" Caras asked, growing more intent. "Is your love for my foolish daughter only possible because of my blood that you now both carry?

"You, the prince who is supposed to love all, would of course love even my loveless human princess of the ravens. And yet, now you will say that you love her above all others. This is, in fact, exactly what I told her that would result from infusing your heart shard of Love with my blood: that you would be hers alone. So again, I ask you: are you still that pure prince who loves all, if you are hers alone to love and be loved by? Or are you still that Raven Prince, wearing white to cover your corruption?"

"My love for Rue is not corruption!" Mytho burst out angrily. "I still love everyone as well as Rue!"

"What if she didn't want that, Prince?" Caras said, sneering with narrowed eyes. "If she wanted you to forsake all others for her, to prove your love to her alone, what would you do?"

"She… she wouldn't ask…" Mytho began, faltering as a strange hesitation overcame his composure.

His raven-haired assailant took the moment of hesitation to strike, and Mytho was barely able to parry the vicious slash before he was thrown to the ground from the impact. He tried to stand, but crows that hurled themselves at him prevented him from getting back on his feet.

Ahiru gasped with alarm. "Fakir! We need to do something, quick!"

In that moment, Ahiru heard a pained groan from behind her, though when she turned around she didn't see anyone.

Sneering triumphantly, Caras launched himself toward Mytho in a burst of darkness, saber raised and aiming for Mytho's chest. "Your heart is mine, foolish prince!"

Fakir grit his teeth and gripped the golden quill, finally moving its tip onto the parchment.

Drosselmeyer paused, studying his own parchment. "Oh, what's this? The young Spinner is attempting to write this story? I'll have to clean things up."

Takako, gazing into her crystal ball, glanced up at Fakir. "Drosselmeyer noticed you; be careful, he'll try to negate your influence."

"Damn it!" Fakir muttered.

On the page, the golden inked words on his parchment read:

The duck, seeing the Prince in grave danger, mustered up her inner strength and brought the Raven to oblivion.

At the same time, Drosselmeyer lifted the black raven feather quill triumphantly from the page in front of him. His parchment read:

Despite the duck's futile efforts, she could not defeat the Raven. The prince was left at the Raven's mercy, and his enemy went in for the kill.

o-o-o-o-o

At the scene of the fight, Ahiru rushed toward the combatants to Mytho's rescue, glowing with a golden light just like that of the quill Fakir had used, and as she did so, the shining light engulfed her, just like the first rays of sunlight flooding the earth at dawn.

When the brilliant flash of light had passed, Ahiru came back into view. She was adorned in a golden strapless tutu with a flower-like layer of chiffon over her tulle dress and white tights, and two yellow sheer sashes coming from her back attached to each of her wrists with yellow flower corsages. A wreath of yellow and orange flowers crowned her red hair, and sprouting out from the back of her bodice were two pairs of translucent yellow wings with rounded edges like those of a butterfly.

Instead of becoming Princess Tutu, she had reached inside herself and created a new magical form from within her heart her name was Eir.

With a determined look on her face, Eir leaped across the cathedral plaza in an otherworldly spotlight, each step bounding across several feet as if her body was as light as a wisp of a dream.

As she came between Mytho and Caras, she threw her arms in front of her, hands spread out, shouting, "Stoooooooop!"

This had happened so fast that Caras barely had a moment to register that she had come in his path when his momentum carried him to intersect Ahiru's, and as he did so, with a flash of golden light he was repelled back a short distance.

But Eir too was repelled in turn, blowing her out of range from both Mytho and Caras. She landed in a blanket of yellow flowers that sprouted up beneath her, and she scrambled to get back up. "Mytho!"

Alas, Caras had been all too quick to recover from the magical block, getting up casually as if nothing had happened. He glanced around, and upon spotting Mytho, he walked towards the prince.

However, the crows that had been haranguing the prince had vanished, taking the prince by surprise. Mytho looked toward Caras as the swan prince struggled to get up. The pale-haired prince gripped his sword and held it up toward his assailant with a shaky hand—hardly a threatening position.

Yet the raven-haired young man paused at this in seeming bewilderment. He glanced at his left hand holding the curved saber and stared at it. Mytho blinked at this reaction, not knowing what to make of it.

o-o-o-o-o

Drosselmeyer frowned. "What's this? Why won't you do your job, my villain? Hmm, something's not right here."

However, he deftly put down the raven quill and picked up the goose quill in one movement. "Well, that's why I have a spare."

Then, the raven's blood within the pauper, which had been forcibly infused and similarly suppressed, broke free of its bindings. Mad with rage, he attacked the prince, his own brother.

o-o-o-o-o

Then Eir, as she stood up from the flowered ground, heard a terrified scream, from the direction of the pained gasp from before, and she witnessed someone darting from the shadows of the building nearby toward Mytho and Caras, brandishing something small that gleamed in the otherworldly spotlight.

Her eyes widened as she recognized the pale hue of his hair that reflected the light. "Trutho!?"

But instead of attacking his own brother, Trutho's target lay with the other standing next to him.

Had Caras been in a fighting stance and on full alert, he might have been able to parry and counter the rush, but instead, he only narrowly managed to dodge the attack, and at the cost of losing his balance.

The dark garbed young man stumbled onto the ground. As he glanced above him, he saw his assailant use his free arm to pin one of his victim's arms down, and with his other arm, raise the dagger in his hand above them both, ready in a moment to stab downward in a deadly thrust.

o-o-o-o-o

Trutho had been following Ahiru and Sagi as soon as he had found them, first spotting them by the cloud of malicious crows tailing them from above. As he normally could, he kept out of sight and followed the pair through the town so as to keep out of detection of the crows and their presumed foe who had sent them. He was thinking desperately of how he was going to help his friends without simply making himself another target, but he was coming up empty. So instead he watched over his friends from a close but invisible distance, waiting for a timely opportunity to arise.

It was not long until they had reached the town's cathedral and its surrounding plaza, forcing Trutho to hide in the shadows of a nearby building and watching from afar. When Caras and the crows descended upon the two girls and the prince, he froze, feeling not only frightened but pained, wincing where he stood huddled, cold sweat beading on his brows. Still, he kept vigil, gripping the dagger that Emma had given him, waiting for his chance.

Then, Sagi came running from the plaza towards him, and as she did so, the pain seemed to get worse. However, he saw that Caras was trying to keep after her, and so as soon as she turned his direction, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her aside, out of view.

"Wha—!?" Sagi's breath caught, and she looked at Trutho with a bewildered expression. "Trutho-san? What are you doing here?"

"Y…you want to lose 'em, right?" Trutho asked with somewhat uneven breaths. "You want them to stop following you? Go this way," he said, pointing at the street behind him. "Follow the shadows of the buildings; it will be harder for the crows to track you from above along here."

He tried to step forward in that direction. "Here, I'll show you the—ugh…"

Trutho gripped his head and stumbled a bit, kneeling on the ground on one knee while Sagi stepped toward him, worried. He grimaced. "I… I don't know why all of a sudden, I'm…oww…"

Sagi's brows furrowed, and after glancing with apprehension at the handkerchief in her hand, she shook her head grimly and began running ahead. "It's all right; I'll take the direction myself. I thank you for your guidance. Please, just stay out of sight!"

Before Trutho could stop her, Sagi had continued onward. As she made herself more distant from him, he could feel the pain ebbing away.

He was torn as to whether to go after Sagi or stay where he was, but a yell drew his attention back to the crows' fray. He peered around the corner from his hiding spot and saw Ahiru looking on with worry. He couldn't be sure, as it was so faint, but was she glowing a slight golden color?

But then, as the two combatants stood talking about something that Trutho could not hear from his position, Mytho hesitated for a moment, and Caras took advantage of the opening and launched forward, knocking him back with a blast of darkness.

Trutho witnessed this with horror. He clenched his fist around the dagger that he had drawn from its sheath, about to step out in attempt to at least distract Mytho's assailant, when his head throbbed with a renewed surge of that strange memory-numbing pain, causing him to cry out in spite of himself. Fortunately this did not seem to be enough to reveal his position, but it was all he could do to stay upright, much less storm in to rescue his friends.

Gritting his teeth, he raised his head again, and he blinked at the bright golden light that had flashed for a moment. When the light receded, a golden figure that looked like Ahiru in a shining yellow tutu bounded toward Mytho at a dazzling speed. She intersected Caras's path with another flash of golden light, throwing him back as well as herself, though her own landing was softened by a small patch of yellow flowers that appeared beneath her.

Caras had gotten up seemingly unharmed however, and began walking toward Mytho with his saber in hand. Mytho, still attempting to recover from being downed earlier, held up his sword in a token gesture that he would not be defeated lying down. Yet his opponent reacted to this by stopping in his tracks, and it seemed as if both of them were bewildered by this reaction. Trutho blinked, confused himself. What was going on?

At that moment, something in his mind inexplicably cracked open. Nightmarish visions began flooding his consciousness.

The Raven; my captor, my tormentor, my corrupter as I lie in the bath of blood, perforated by spines of raven plumes slowly soaking in the taint the agony ever growing transforming into a monster like itself I cannot escape I cannot be saved I cannot !

The searing anguish of the memories hitting him all at once forced from him a maddened shriek, and unbidden his legs began rushing him out into the plaza, toward the white and black haired youths.

What am I doing? he thought in a cloud of bewilderment. Why am I running? I need to save my friends! I must attack him! The pain! It hurts!

He glanced ahead, and saw that his dagger was pointed at the prince. I must attack him! I am a monster! What!? No, that doesn't make sense! The pain has to stop! I must get rid of the pain! The one the pain came from was…!

Trutho turned his head toward the one in black feathers, directing all the crazed impulses that were flooding his mind onto him.

The Raven… The Raven…! It was because of him…! All because of Him!

He shoved the one in black onto the ground, held him down, and lifted his dagger. Caras's crimson eyes widened in terror, and Trutho could only spare the stray thought that it was so strange to see such an expression from him before his dagger went down.

o-o-o-o-o

"WHAT!?" Drosselmeyer bellowed in outrage at the white goose quill in his hand. "That's not what I told you to do, pauper! The prince! I told you to attack the prince!"

He bristled anxiously. "The Raven had better get out of this alive. I still need him to make so much more tragedy…"

o-o-o-o-o

Mytho was barely on his feet again when his brother's dagger stabbed downward. Just as the dagger went down, he saw Caras wave his free arm and vanish in a flurry of black feathers. The battle had finally ended, but at what cost?

The prince rushed over to his brother, and Ahiru joined him after her tutu faded like a gust of morning mist into the familiar gray Kinkan Academy uniform.

"Trutho!" Ahiru called out to him. "What happened!? Are you okay?"

The hand that gripped the dagger trembled, and the small unassuming blade clattered to the ground, its point dipped with blood. His legs collapsed beneath him, and he fell to a kneel on the ground, shivering.

"Brother!" Mytho cried out. "Trutho… are you all right?"

The redhead and the prince knelt down next to him worriedly. When he didn't look up at them, Mytho gently placed a hand on Trutho's shoulder.

After a moment, Trutho looked back up, and as his eyes faded from gleaming crimson back to a frightened blue, he whispered shakily, "I… I remember everything now… my brother."

o-o-o-o-o

When Caras reappeared, he felt the ground beneath him to be soft, lush soil, instead of the hard cobblestone he had just escaped from. After glancing around, seeing that he seemed to be out of danger for the moment, he sat up and surveyed the area.

His chest sent a surge of pain through him, reminding him of the stab wound he had received. While it certainly hurt, it wasn't enough to incapacitate his movement or impair his thinking. So he grit his teeth and, after pressing it with one hand in hopes to slow the bleeding, ignored it for the time being, offhandedly noting that for some reason he was now wearing a blue and white uniform instead of the black feathery outfit he had worn a moment ago. As he staggered forward, however, he didn't realize that blood seeped heavily from his wound, which was more serious than the pain he acknowledged.

He was in a wooded area surrounded by trees and other wetland flora, and in the distance he thought he could hear the splashing of a brook flowing through the area. He wondered if he had been whisked away to some strange other land when he saw that the woodland area was surrounded by buildings very similar to those he had been near not some moments ago. He supposed he was in the same general area, but far enough away so as to essentially have escaped from the scene.

Using an adjacent tree to steady himself with his free hand, he carefully got himself back on his feet and made his way slowly through the brush as he mulled over what had just happened.

The last thing he remembered before he found himself here was being attacked by that white-haired boy with gleaming crimson eyes, a dagger poised above his chest. Somehow, in that moment of desperation, he was able to transport himself to somewhere a fair distance away, though he knew not how he had this power.

His brows knitting with concentration, Caras tried to remember what led up to the incident. He found himself drawing a blank for much of what should have been obvious—what he was doing there near that cathedral; who that fair haired young man with a gold crown on his head was; why that royal youth held up a sword to him; and at the same time, why Caras wielded a saber himself before he escaped, as if Caras had been fighting the prince, and indeed had somehow gotten the upper hand.

With this information, he surmised that the royal youth and the one with the dagger were closely related, as he could have easily thought them to be the same person if he had not seen one of them directly defend the other. But why had they been fighting in the first place? No matter how hard Caras thought about it, he could not recall. There was no way he could have simply gotten into such a fight without knowing some sort of reason; he had to have been made to forget it somehow.

Then he wondered—how much had he forgotten? He tried to remember further back, simple things like who he was and what his purpose being in this place was, and he found himself drawing even more blanks. When he tried to remember a name for himself, all he could remember was "Caras" – which he had the vague impression that it was a pseudonym rather than his real name, but as to when he gave himself this name and why he needed it, he was again at a loss to recall.

Suddenly an alarmed gasp drew his attention. He turned and saw a tall girl with blue hair looking at him with surprise. She began to back away, her hands clutching something he couldn't see away from him.

Caras's eyebrows furrowed. Was she afraid of him?

"I do not intend to harm you," he said calmly, stepping toward her slowly.

She stopped, blinking. "You don't? But you intend to obtain the shard no matter what you must do, right? I… I won't simply give it up to you, Caras-san."

Having gotten close enough to see her more clearly in the dim light of the night forest, Caras realized that, somehow, he recognized her, and even remembered her name. However, though he recalled talking with her, he had no idea of what they had ever discussed, nor any details of their specific relationship.

"You know my name," Caras said, frowning pensively. "Or at least what I call myself. You know me, then?"

The girl he remembered as Sagi blinked at him with confusion. For her part, Sagi drew the bundled handkerchief closer to her chest despite the discomfort that it brought, wondering if this was some strange ruse by Caras to acquire the shard. "Know you? Umm…" She paused, wondering how to respond. "I… I suppose you could say that, though truthfully, I don't feel like I know you that well at all…"

She looked at him again, this time studying him. "Why do you ask? It's a strange question, coming from you…"

Caras sighed. Perhaps the direct approach was best now. "I ask because I don't appear to remember. Or more precisely, I don't remember anything about myself, or about anything that has happened farther back than the last ten minutes or so." He looked away sidelong. "Except for the fact that I recognize you, Sagi-san, but not very much other than that besides."

She stared at him with bewilderment. "Are… you joking around with me?"

He supposed he should have expected Sagi's reaction, given the odd nature of his current circumstance. Still, he was losing his patience. So he grimaced, glaring back at her. "If I were to play a joke on you, I'd come up with something better than that," he said dryly.

Sagi exhaled, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry; I don't really know how to respond to you like this. If you're… not after what I think you are, then I'm not sure what you're here for."

Caras paused. While technically he didn't know why he was here in the first place, he did know that he had narrowly escaped mortal peril, and yet didn't know why he had been in that situation. Might she know something about it?

"Let me ask you this then, Sagi-san," Caras said. "Would you have any idea of why someone would want to kill me?"

Sagi started. "Why they'd want to kill you? I… well…" She hesitated, looking as if she were thinking of what she could possibly reply to this dire question.

Caras took away from the response that she probably had some idea as to the answer, and furthermore, wasn't comfortable talking about whatever it was, at least not to him. Perhaps if he let slip some more about the circumstance, Sagi might give away more hints.

"Just before I found myself here, I was engaged in a battle with a boy wearing a crown—a prince, perhaps—yet I don't remember whatever it was about. Another boy wounded me prior to my escape, and I think I would not be standing here talking to you if I had left but a moment later."

Sagi furrowed her brows, clutching the thing in her hands. "A wound…?" It was only then that Sagi noticed the odd position of Caras' hand on his chest.

"He wielded a dagger, and managed to stab me," he said, glancing down at his chest where his hand blocked the injury. "Obviously the wound wasn't very serious, as…"

He stopped when his hand came away from his chest, and Sagi gasped upon seeing it, as his hand was dyed red with blood, as was his blue cardigan jacket beneath it. "Hmm, it's a bit worse than I realized…" he muttered, frowning.

Caras started off in another direction. "I should leave now; I would not be in a state to defend myself if my assailants should find me…"

Within a few steps, he realized too late just how much he had underestimated his injury, for as he turned to walk away his vision began to waver. His legs gave way, and he staggered, collapsing to the ground.

However, Sagi rushed to his side and caught him before he hit the ground. She looked at him worriedly. "I… I know of a place where you might tend to your wounds without being discovered," she said quietly. "Come with me; I'll walk you there."

Caras glanced sidelong at Sagi, doubt lingering in his expression, but he clutched his chest with an exhausted wince, his vision growing blurrier as the seconds went by. Whether he liked it or not, he didn't have much of a choice. "I'm in your hands now, Sagi-san."


Next episode preview

Sagi stands before Takako in her abode, her hands clasped over her chest as she pleads with the fortuneteller.
(Sagi's voice) "Please, Takako-san, don't tell the others that I'm hiding him."
Mytho and Komaro sit in a drawing room, the desk in front of them concealed beneath a pile of letters.
(Komaro's voice) "'Archbishop Frollo is a tyrant terrorizing the people of Ginkan'?"
Rue looks accusingly at Mytho in a room by themselves.
(Rue's voice) "If you're not with me, someone could take you from me at any time! Who cares about Ginkan and its petty troubles? I'm not going to let you be…!"
Caras stands on a roof in town, draped in a feathery black cloak, surrounded by a big flock of crows, which were growing more and more restless.
(Caras's voice) "Why was this, crows? Why did you attack? I ordered you to, you say?"
Autor plays on a piano in a darkened cathedral, madness growing deeper within his eyes with every measure.
(Autor's voice) "Oh, so now you believe me, don't you, Fakir? Now you know what kind of powers I really have!"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
34. AKT "Beauty and the Beast"
~ In der Halle des Berkönigs ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

As with the name of the episode and the pre-episode tale, the music is from two different composers of the same inspiration: the story of Faust. Wagner's overture was originally intended to be a full symphony, but when he found himself having difficulty doing so, he compiled the themes he used and turned it into a single overture. While most of the music from the Faust opera by Gounod is vocal, there is a segment of music that was added on later for ballerinas to dance to, portraying the many famous beauties of history that Faust met as a result of gaining his powers. The music used in the battle at the cathedral is the final one of the set, played in the background of the opera's portrayal of a beautiful courtesan of ancient Greece. As finding a connection between Phryne and the scene is a stretch, the music is used more for its passion and fiery nature, like that of a battle.

Another notable set of songs used is that of the Unfinished Symphony, one of the very few classical symphonies composed with less than three movements (considered the standard of the time), thus called 'unfinished'. They are used for scenes in this fanfic where Caras acts notably different than he usually does, relating to matters that he perhaps is leaving 'unfinished'.

33. AKT Music List

(the time ranges listed show what part of the track is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Faust: Overture"
Played starting from the beginning, where Sagi's walking to school; continues through the scenes to the climax of the battle between Mytho and Caras in the academy; at 4:00 is where Caras reveals his identity as the Raven.
(composed by Wagner) A foreboding, menacing music that builds to a few threatening climaxes.

"'Unfinished' Symphony (Symphony No. 8 in B minor), 2nd movement 'Andante con moto'"
Played as the song performed by the orchestra that calms the emotions of all who hear it.
(composed by Schubert) A tranquil, peaceful music piece full of poise and serenity.

"Faust Ballet: 'Danse de Phryné'"
This is played during the second battle of Mytho and Caras at the town cathedral plaza.
(from "Faust" opera, composed by Gounod) A passionate, chaotic piece with a frenetic pace and unrelenting forcefulness.

"'Unfinished' Symphony (Symphony No. 8 in B minor), 1st movement 'Allegro moderato'"
This is played during the scene where we first meet Caras after the battle at the cathedral.
(composed by Schubert) An uncertain, somewhat anxious, yet pensive song.

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Peer Gynt Suite No. 1: IV. In the Hall of the Mountain King"
This is played for the next episode preview.
(composed by Grieg) A frenzied, thundering song.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there was a beast. This beast lived deep inside a mountain and ruled a band of trolls as their king. One day, a young man came into the mountain and demanded that the Mountain King appear before him. The king came forth to greet him, and asked him the reason for his visit.

"You have kidnapped my fiancé," he answered, "and I will decimate your soldiers and have your head in penance so that I may take her back."

"I did not kidnap her; she came here and stayed of her own will," the Mountain King told him. "Would you reclaim her by force so that she might be your bride?"

The young man scoffed at the thought that his wife-to-be would ever want anything else. How could she possibly prefer the company of a horrid beast like him when she had the privilege of being his and his alone forever?

The Mountain King sneered. "Foolish human; tell me, which of us is the true monster?"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

34. AKT "Beauty and the Beast"
~ In der Halle des Berkönigs ~
(In the Hall of the Mountain King)

It was a quiet misty morning in Kinkan. Fakir, Ahiru, and Sagi walked down the street towards the academy, but were not surrounded by the usual crowd of other students going to school. Instead, they were accompanied by a small regiment of guards that Mytho had sent to the dorms (first suggested by Komaro) to escort them to the premises safely.

"I hope the school buildings aren't too badly damaged from all the fighting yesterday," Ahiru said worriedly. "They told everybody that classes were canceled today, after all…"

"We should be on alert," Fakir said with a frown, his eyes scanning the roof tops for crows, only turning back to Ahiru when he was satisfied by their absence. "Caras managed to escape yesterday and we haven't seen him since. He could even attack us here on our way to the academy, so we can't let our guard down at any moment."

"Though, he might be injured and trying to recover somewhere," Ahiru said thoughtfully. "Since Trutho… well, he…" She trailed off uneasily.

Sagi averted her gaze as she walked alongside them in a staid silence, recalling what had happened the previous night before she had returned to the dorms.

"Takako-san?"

Sagi's soft voice drifted into the fortuneteller's abode from the curtained doorway.

"How far into the night it is that you come here," Takako said musingly, the lamp in her hand casting soft shadows off the slender figure of her guest against the walls.

"I apologize for bothering you at such a late hour," she said, bowing her head meekly, "but I have a request that I had to ask of you as soon as I could."

Takako raised her eyebrows, replying with a curious silence.

"You… you probably already know… that I've taken Caras-san into hiding so that he can recover from his injuries," Sagi said with unease. "It's just that, somehow I think he's different now—I don't know how or why, but he doesn't remember anything, or at least anything about the shards, or even who he is…"

"I understand what you speak of," Takako said with a slight nod, "but then, what is it that you wish to ask of me?"

"Please, Takako-san," Sagi said with pleading eyes, clasping her hands together, "don't tell the others that I'm hiding him! I just… I don't think they would understand what's happened to him, and in his condition, he'd be helpless to fend off any attacks. He wouldn't even know why they're after him, and if they found out, I don't know if they would listen to me before they'd…"

Takako studied Sagi's conflicted countenance as she trailed off. "I see. If this is your wish, I will not tell your friends that I know of Caras's whereabouts, or that you are concealing it from them."

Sagi smiled with relief. "Oh, thank you, Takako-san. That takes a weight off my shoulders."

"I wonder if it truly does," Takako said softly, before speaking up again. "However, I shall not hinder the pursuit of other methods to uncover where Caras is hiding, so take heed: I do not guarantee that my silence will prevent your discovery for any significant length of time."

"I can't ask for anything more from you," Sagi said, shaking her head. "I… I understand that what I'm doing will have consequences in the end, but… well, I…"

Sagi sighed with anguish. "I can't… just let him be pulled back into that battle if he has no strength or desire to continue it. Not right now. Maybe sometime later, but… for now, I want to keep things as they are…"

Back in the present, Sagi sighed silently in relief when Ahiru turned her thoughts to the absent musician of their party.

"Autor isn't coming along with us this morning?" Ahiru asked Fakir. "Since there aren't any classes today, I kinda thought that he'd really want to come with…"

Fakir scowled, crossing his arms. "I don't know, I guess he had something else to do," he said curtly. "Not that I'm complaining."

Ahiru frowned puzzledy. While Fakir usually didn't look very pleased when talking about his roommate, today he seemed particularly irritated at him, though Ahiru had no idea what it could be, and Fakir seemed to be in no mood to elaborate.

Instead, the redheaded girl looked around at the Kinkan guards escorting them, then up at the Kinkan academy entrance building in the distance, and then back at Sagi, who clutched her handkerchief nervously. Her gaze lingered with concern on Sagi, reminding Ahiru that there were more urgent matters to think about.

o-o-o-o-o

"I am relieved that you've all made it here safely," Mytho said with a smile as Fakir, Ahiru, and Sagi came toward him through the gate where their escort guards made rendezvous with the guards at the Kinkan Academy entrance.

"Leave it to Komaro's usual good sense for that suggestion," Rue said, her hands folded primly over her gray school uniform dress as she stopped next to Mytho to greet their three friends.

As the five made their way through the campus, busy servants and school administrators politely paused to let the royals and their guests pass.

Walking past the remnants of the chaos left behind from the previous day, Ahiru glanced around, seeing if anyone else had come with Mytho and Rue. "Umm… how is Trutho doing?"

The princess glanced at Mytho, and his brows creased. "He… well, he has no injuries that need treatment, but…" The prince sighed. "I… think it will take some time for him to adjust to… regaining his memories."

Rue placed a hand gently on Mytho's arm. "It sounds like it was good to let him rest today," she said reassuringly. "Emma-san is with him, so he'll be looked after. We can leave him alone and deal with this matter ourselves."

"Yes, you're right," Mytho nodded to her. "We shall not tarry in our purpose today."

After they had reached the campus gazebo, the one structure in the school unmolested the day before and now free of people, Mytho turned toward Sagi. "Sagi-san, it must have been difficult for you, holding that shard all this time for us, and I thank you for all that you've done. You no longer need to suffer for it; let us destroy it now, once and for all."

The fair-haired prince held out his hand, and before him a pedestal made of green vines and adorned with pink flowers grew in place, with the top turning into a nest weaved with gentle pink roses, where a recess left room for a small shard to be placed. In his outstretched hand, his swan-hilted sword appeared in a flash of light. "Please place the shard on this stand, Sagi-san. I will handle the rest."

Sagi held up the handkerchief in her hand, and opened her hand, letting the delicate cloth fall from the shard as it stood up on its stiletto tip on the palm of her hand, gleaming dark crimson. Biting her lip, she looked at it for a moment, her brows furrowed. The uncertainty in her expression changed into one of determination as she looked up at the flower pedestal and stepped towards it.

She gingerly slid the shard onto the pedestal top, resting in the nest it created. As soon as the tip of the shard touched the pedestal, everything around the point of contact withered and shriveled up, creating an area of dead, dry foliage on top of the otherwise lush floral pedestal.

Mytho stepped toward the pedestal, readying his sword. "This cursed shard of the Raven shall be the first of all the rest of them to be shattered into dust, so that it and the others cannot be repaired," he declared, holding the sword over the shard. Even this mere proximity to the shard caused him pain. He grimaced and gripped the sword tighter so to hold his ground.

He grabbed the handle with his other hand, and with the heft of both his arms, he lifted the sword above the shard, poised like an executioner, and then swung it down.

Just as the edge of the blade began to touch the shard, it suddenly flashed with a dark crimson light, and the shard metamorphosed into a translucent scarlet raven. With one swift stroke of its wings it soared above them, out of reach.

Mytho leapt up after the crimson raven, but the lone raven split into a swarm of avians, filling the air above them with a writhing cloud of flapping wings.

The prince grit his teeth as he hovered above on a small platform of pink petals, swinging his sword left and right to try to hit the shard itself somewhere in the cloud, but it was in vain as if slicing through mist. Letting out a breath, Mytho landed back on the ground, sword still in hand as he gazed up warily at the ravens circling above.

Then, the five people on the ground began to hear a haggard chorus raining down from the storm of birds above: "No escape, no escape! There is no escape… The more you fight it, the more you suffer!"

Listening to these words as they repeated themselves over and over, Mytho and Rue's eyes widened, disturbed. Those voices could have very well been echoes of Mytho's struggle with the Raven's blood that Rue had caused—that agonizing, unrelenting degeneration of their souls into their worst fears and hates.

As the two realized this, the cloud of crimson ravens all dove down at once, merging together in a flash of red light into a jagged stake, its unmistakable stiletto point homing in on its target below.

Seeing the shard coming down upon her, Rue tried to run from it, but in her distress she stumbled and fell to the ground. Terrified, she gazed up and saw Mytho throw himself right between her and the shard's path, and the jagged stake embedded itself into the prince's chest.

Mytho screamed horrifically, collapsing onto the ground in front of Rue, clutching his chest as if his heart were being ripped apart from within. His eyes seared with blood red gleaming like molten iron, its pupils constricted to pinpricks. In moments, his body began sprouting black spines and feathers, turning into a human-sized monstrous raven, writhing in maddened agony.

In despairing horror, Rue threw herself onto Mytho, embracing him tightly as his transformation continued. Coming into such close contact with the Raven's shard, Rue also began to cry out from pain, as thorns entwined her body and black feathers also grew from her. Even then, she would not part from him.

Witnessing all of this, with Ahiru's desperate, all-enveloping will to remove the invasive shard, her pendant glowed, and as Mytho's chest glowed briefly, Ahiru emerged from an egg of golden light as Princess Tutu.

Wordlessly, with an expression of desperate alarm, Tutu knelt and beckoned to Mytho's heart, as if she were pleading for the aberrant shard to be released. She gingerly placed her hands over his chest. Crimson light shone beneath her hands, and as she lifted them away, the stiletto-pointed shard came away from Mytho.

No sooner had the shard of Agony been removed, the black feathers receded from Mytho's skin, and he fell silent, leaving him breathing heavily from the ordeal, though he looked eerily unscathed. Rue loosened her grip on him only enough to allow herself to check him over, her anxious hands gently placed on his head and chest.

Princess Tutu attempted to keep hold of the Agony shard, but even holding it for more than a few moments caused her to blanch where she stood, tears coming to her eyes. Seeing this, Sagi swiftly grabbed the shard from Tutu's hands, wincing as the blue-haired girl backed away, looking at her friends worriedly before taking off at a run.

"Sagi-san!" Fakir exclaimed, glancing between her and Mytho, torn as to who to attend to first.

However, his attention lingered on Mytho as Rue fretted over the still unconscious prince. "He's not waking!" Rue cried out.

"Maybe he needs what I've borrowed from him to become Tutu," Princess Tutu said soberly. "I will return his Hope to him right away."

Tutu approached Mytho and knelt down next to him and Rue, cupping her pendant in her hands. As she did so, as if in response, Mytho's eyes opened slightly, though a distant, blank expression still remained on his face. His eyes turned toward Rue, then at Tutu.

The white-garbed ballerina smiled, opening her hands and offering the pendant to him. The ornate pendant glowed warmly crimson, and the crimson light removed itself from the pendant and floated down into Mytho's chest.

Mytho watched as Tutu glowed and before his eyes, reverted back into a familiar redheaded girl.

"Are you all right, Mytho?" Ahiru asked with a concerned smile.

"Ahiru…" Mytho said, beginning to stir. He sat up, not taking his eyes off her. "Tutu… you were Tutu…"

Rue's lips tightened upon hearing that name again as she watched Mytho's intent gaze.

Ahiru's eyes widened anxiously. "I… I…"

"All along, you were Tutu," Mytho said, his own eyes widening in amazement. "Yet you never told me. Why?"

Ahiru blinked, standing up and stepping backward, stuttering. "It… it's because I couldn't… it wasn't that…"

Mytho paused pensively, before looking at her again. "Was there a reason you couldn't tell me who you were? Was it… the same reason that you vanished in my world?"

Ahiru looked between Mytho's imploring eyes and Rue's doubtful ones. Her lips trembling, she tried to respond to the prince's questions, but all that came out of her mouth was a strangled sob. With a pained expression, Ahiru turned away from them and ran for the academy gates, away into town.

"Tutu!" Mytho exclaimed, his hand reaching out for her. He immediately tried to stand to go after her, but he failed his initial attempt, still somewhat disoriented from his recent ordeal.

Rue grabbed onto his arms, pulling him back toward the ground. "Mytho, you've been hurt. Don't push yourself like this!"

"But I… I need to talk with Tutu," Mytho said, looking at Rue with worried eyes. "I need to know the truth, from her."

"You can talk to her later," Rue insisted, frowning.

However, Mytho would not be deterred, and he made a second attempt to get onto his feet, despite Rue still grasping him. This time he was successful, and wanting to catch up to Tutu before he could escape his eyesight, he dashed after her toward the gates.

"Mytho!" Rue yelled, standing and running after him, right after Fakir ran in the same direction after Ahiru.

o-o-o-o-o

A faster runner than Mytho had realized, Ahiru had managed to slip out of sight away into town, leaving Mytho bewildered as to where to find her. Determined not to leave things as they were, he lifted himself above the rooftops on a floating floral platform to get a higher vantage point and hopefully spot her current whereabouts.

When he did find her, he saw that the redhead sat in the audience wing of an abandoned outdoor stage that Mytho recognized as familiar to both of them.

He landed softly on the ground just outside the outdoors theater, and walked toward the girl's seat. He stopped a few rows behind her, wondering what he would say to her now that he had reached her location.

"Tutu?"

The redhead, who had been slouching in her seat forlornly, sat up for a moment, looking behind her at the voice. Her lips opened for a moment, as if she wanted to say something, but her eyes fell and she silently returned to her previous position.

"May… may we talk, Tutu?" Mytho asked. "There are… some things I've wished I could ask you."

"But I don't…" Ahiru began to say, her head drooping a little. "…I don't know if I have the answers you're looking for me to give you."

"If you don't have answers then that is all right," Mytho said, a hint of a plea in his voice as he walked slowly towards her. "If you would but hear my thoughts, then I would be relieved of many burdens."

Rue and Fakir had finally caught up to Mytho and Ahiru, and spotting Mytho sitting alongside Ahiru, on impulse she made as if to approach them, but Fakir grabbed her arm. Rue glared back at him, but the concerned expression he gave in Ahiru's direction made Rue hesitate, looking back at Ahiru, and then remaining where she was, leaving Mytho and Ahiru uninterrupted.

Ahiru let out a breath. "O…okay."

Mytho looked pensive, almost sad. "All this time, you were Tutu. Back then, you had always been nearby, and even told me you knew her. However, you kept it a secret. I wondered why that was—I wondered if it was because you were a duck, and you didn't want to draw attention to yourself, but…"

He sighed as he sat down at a seat near Ahiru, and her eyes turned in his direction, though not meeting his directly. "I wonder now, though… did I hurt you because of that? Always asking you about Tutu, when you were her all along? And when I asked you about what you felt about me… I was such a fool—did I not remember what happened when I first met you? You disappeared when you told me what you thought of me. Even though I barely knew you, I remembered you from that day onward."

"If it hadn't been clear to me then, it was clear to me when I read the book The Prince and the Raven for myself," Mytho said. "But I did not think of such things then, and if you were to ask me why I did not think about those important things, I…" Mytho frowned with disappointment. "I wouldn't be able to tell you; I can't fathom my foolishness even now."

"Please don't blame yourself like that, Mytho," Ahiru said suddenly, looking up at him with concerned eyes. "You were missing your heart because you gave it up to save all the people of Kinkan from the Raven. Even then, I…"

She trailed off, pausing. "I didn't even know about that at first. You just… looked so lonely and sad, and I wanted to bring your smile back somehow. And in the end, I was able to do that, so… that's all I wanted. I didn't need anything in return."

Mytho looked at her, frowning worriedly. "Yet, when you say that, your eyes seem so full of sadness."

Ahiru's brows creased, and her eyes grew moist. Before, she could say nothing of her feelings because she would vanish in a speck of light, preventing her from helping Mytho any further. But now, she could still say nothing of the feelings that lingered in her heart, because she didn't want to disturb the happiness that Mytho and Rue had found with one another.

He turned his head away, his expression sober. "Could it be… that ever since we've met, I've only brought you suffering, and I never realized it?"

"No, Mytho! I…" Ahiru exclaimed, her voice choking up before she paused again. "Tutu was… The Tutu you knew where you came from—she wasn't me. Your heart shard of Hope gave me the power to transform into Tutu, to return your heart shards to their rightful place. And now, when I am Tutu to remove the Raven's shards, I didn't know it before, but I had to take back your Hope from you, and because of that, it made things even harder for you when you were over in Ginkan." Ahiru's eyes fell. "If you're looking for the real Tutu, the one who existed on her own, without your Hope shard—I'm not her. I'm just a duck pretending to be her."

Mytho paused for some moments, thinking carefully, and then shook his head. "It was not the Tutu who vanished that I sought," he said, looking at Ahiru earnestly. "The Tutu I wish to know is the one who helped return my heart. It truly matters not to me what form she takes—as a mystical being, as a young girl, or as a little duck—you were the one who watched over me, always."

He looked up at the sky pensively. "Back then, Fakir, Karon, Raetsel—eventually you, too—all suffered much to take care of me, so helpless I was. For so long, I haven't been able to express myself properly, and I apologize for all the trouble I've caused because of it. I'm still learning how to be a full person again; but I would never have had the opportunity if you hadn't done all that you've done for me, Tutu. Ahiru."

Upon hearing her name, Ahiru looked back at Mytho, somewhat taken aback. He looked at her again and met her eyes. "You were there to give me my heart back, to the very end. You were my classmate, and you cared for me when I couldn't care for you back. And even as a duck, you were the one I could confide in when I didn't have anyone else to turn to."

He smiled gently, yet wistfully. "Ahiru, you mean a lot to me. So, if it were possible, I would like us to be dear friends, and I will try to make up for being so clueless all this time."

Ahiru shook her head. "You don't need to make up for anything, Mytho. I'll always care about you, no matter what happens."

Mytho placed a hand on her shoulder. "I want you to know that I care about you too, and even if I can't do anything for you, I wish dearly for your happiness."

Then to Ahiru's amazement, Mytho suddenly drew her into an affectionate embrace. "I'm so grateful that I finally could talk with you," he said with deep sincerity and a relieved smile. "I hope that we shall always be able to do so from now onward."

Ahiru smiled back as tears welled up in her eyes. "I'm… I'm so glad, Mytho."

o-o-o-o-o

Rue stood with Fakir, watching the two have a conversation that seemed a long time in coming. No matter how she would try to dismiss them, the feelings in her heart tore at her from within. The fear and anger that Tutu was stealing her prince away again would not abate, even when she remembered Mytho's earnest words that he would never leave her, that she was the one he loved most of all.

What made it even worse was that Ahiru, too, was a dear friend to her, and if that was true, should she scorn the happiness of a friend who had finally brought some heavy burdens in her heart to rest?

She was so troubled by this inner conflict that even Fakir could see Rue's anxiety plainly on her face and in her body language, though he said nothing of it.

o-o-o-o-o

With all classes for the day canceled, Autor had nothing else to do but wander the streets of Kinkan, brooding over the events and revelations that had taken place but a day ago.

Even Beethoven had said to him in a private aside that it was evident that something about his music had a significant influence on the emotions of the people who heard it, and he needed to be very careful with what he did with it. Autor understood what he meant; after all, changing what people did was one thing, but changing what they felt was something on a different level… or was it?

That morning, Autor had tried to tell Fakir about the incident with the orchestra. However, Fakir had dismissed Autor's 'wild theorizing' as something Autor had probably imagined. He always had wanted to believe he had Spinning powers, and now he's coming up with something like this? He had more important things to think about this morning, Fakir said moodily; he had to meet up with the others at the academy.

Infuriated, Autor said that Fakir could go right on ahead without him; he would find a way to prove that it was much more than 'wild theorizing'.

Autor found himself in the vicinity of the fortuneteller Takako's abode, and while he didn't much feel like talking with a 'fake' Spinner at the moment, with no other relevant acquaintances to ponder this matter with, he approached her curtained doorway.

"Autor," Takako said, waiting at her crystal ball as if she had planned to meet him. "It's been a long time since you last came here on your own accord."

"Did you know about it all along?" Autor asked, frowning as he took the chair in front of her table in a business-like fashion. "Even when I was investigating Drosselmeyer's descendants, did you know that I had the Spinner's power in my music, rather than in my words?"

"Back then, I had no idea," Takako replied frankly. "Not until your senior classmate recently suspected it, and even then I wasn't entirely sure until yesterday's events."

"So then, you believe me," Autor said, pushing for a solid affirmation.

"I don't need to take your word to believe it," Takako said. "I saw it for myself during the battle on the Kinkan Academy campus. Your music has the power to sway reality, like the words of Spinners; that is for certain."

A triumphant grin appeared on Autor's face. "Then Fakir's a fool! He denies what is obviously the truth! And all I have to do is to make him see it."

Takako leaned her head on her arm. "You've been searching for this power in yourself for so long, and yet it was always there in a form no one expected. It's unheard of for a Spinner to spin the threads of fate without words, so you never thought to look into a realm where words don't exist, even though you've lived with music from a young age, haven't you?"

"That's what confuses me," Autor said, his fingers touching his chin pensively. "I have been playing music for many years, including throughout the time I've been researching Drosselmeyer's power. Why haven't I noticed any such influence in all this time? If it's always been there, why would it manifest itself just now?"

"There is one difference between what you've been doing before and what has been done now," Takako said. "For a long time, you've practiced solo on the piano. This time, you rehearsed alongside an entire orchestra of others playing in sync with you. A single instrument, perhaps, is not very strong in of itself. I think then that your power, though it has great potential, only gains real strength when it is backed by others."

Autor grimaced, crossing his arms petulantly. "Why should I have to cooperate with others to influence the world?" His eyes narrowed as he turned his head away with disappointment. "All this time, all the things I've accomplished I have done on my own. In a world where I eventually learned was thoroughly controlled by Drosselmeyer, I was the only one who dared to think that there was anything wrong with this town, that there were things that didn't make sense and didn't fit together properly."

"Indeed so," Takako said, gazing at him with her golden eyes. "Yet in the end, you risked your life to protect Fakir from those who would have permanently disabled him from fighting Drosselmeyer. He could not have accomplished that without you; but you yourself would have been helpless to stop Drosselmeyer if he had not been with you."

Autor's lips tightened, his brows furrowing with inner conflict. "I… I wanted to make a difference, no matter what it took. Even if I had to hand the spotlight to someone else, someone like Fakir."

He sighed, letting his shoulders fall as the false confidence vanished from his posture. "It took me years of research and investigation to discover what I learned, and even when I tried to tell others about it, it was all so incredible to them that they wouldn't listen."

A defiant expression appeared on his face. "Finally, after a while of following him, Fakir came to me to learn how to control his powers. I knew much more about his own powers than he did! But I helped him anyway, because I knew that was how I could make progress, and in a way, I suppose, I finally had someone else who would make use of my knowledge.

"In the end, though… that's not enough for me. I don't want to leave the ultimate outcome to someone else. I want to implement my own ideas, with my own hands." He sighed again sharply. "And Fakir isn't going to help me do that; he won't even believe that I have the power to change things, much less listen to my ideals and goals."

He looked back up with a bitterly adamant expression. "That's why I have sought the Spinning power for myself, and no one else; I want to influence people on my own terms, and not need to answer to any of the unintelligent masses to change how the world works."

Takako's brows creased as she looked at him gravely. "I caution you against the path that you are stepping down—this is also how the tale of Doctor Faustus began."

"How so?" Autor asked rebelliously. "Fakir's a Spinner, too—wouldn't he warrant the same warning, Miss Takako? He doesn't even know what he'll use his power for, or for that matter, if he'll even use it or not! He hardly even wants his power," he scoffed.

"Doctor Faustus tired of his life of fruitlessly searching for knowledge that eluded him," Takako continued to warn him. "He became so desperate for change that he gave up his very soul to open the way to power beyond mortal reckoning."

"I won't be giving up my soul for my powers," Autor replied snobbishly, standing up from his chair. "Faustus only used his powers for what were ultimately his own trivial pleasures and whims. I, on the other hand, have greater plans. Even if Fakir doesn't believe I have any power, I don't need him anymore."

Takako frowned. "Don't need him to do what?"

Autor pushed back the chair, and turned to head for the exit, a fervent expression on his face. "To prove to the world that I can take matters into my own hands now."

He left behind him a worried-looking Takako, who sighed forlornly to herself. "A hawk without talons can make all the noise it wants; all it can truly do is watch from afar, and hope that it might be heeded."

She looked out at her curtained doorway. "I know not what deeds he might commit in his current line of thinking, but… if I were to interfere, would it merely result in my fate being the same as the one whose role I have taken on?"

o-o-o-o-o

Sagi ran far away from the Kinkan academy grounds, far from her friends, far from anyone else who might be affected by the curse that she held in her hands.

Though she and Ahiru had better physical endurance than most other girls their age, even Sagi's legs could no longer carry on without a rest by the time she had reached the edge of town. In the shadows of a grove of trees, the blue haired girl stopped to catch her breath. The edges of the raven's heart shard pricked at her hands, and though a part of her was tempted to abandon it in these woods, she knew that was not an option.

She had been so hopeful that the trip to meet the prince would be the last that she would have to carry this burden, that as he had said, he would truly be able to rid them of it—for all of them. She supposed she had been foolish to think that it would be so easy, that she would simply be able to hand it off and have someone else deal with it.

What could she do now?

Then, she remembered Caras, whom she had hidden away the past evening. He was injured, and more than that, he seemed to have lost most of his memories, to the point that he spoke nothing of the shards he had previously been hell-bent on retrieving. Naturally she still couldn't shake the suspicion that this was all some sort of bizarre ruse to obtain the shard from her when she was off her guard; yet, at the same time, he was acting too bizarrely for that to be the most obvious explanation.

She couldn't put her finger on it, but at the very least, she felt as if Caras really had lost his memories, and because of that, no longer remembered his desperate mission. The questions he had asked her were too… honest, somehow, to be like his usual self.

It occurred to Sagi that she ought to go check on him, but she feared what would happen if she approached with the Raven's shard of Agony. Would she not merely cause him even more pain like all the rest of her friends, perhaps greater still with the wound he sustained?

She realized that if she were to continue thinking this way, he would be left all alone, and she would fret about his state for as long as he remained out of her friends' knowledge, and at that point, she couldn't do anything for him either way. So with great hesitance in each step, she headed for the place she had led him to for him to rest.

Surrounded by crows keeping silent watch on the roofs of the surrounding buildings, Sagi quietly entered the decrepit studio that she had found long abandoned, and looked around the cluttered room for Caras.

But when she spotted him lying on the wood floor still as a corpse in a bed of black feathers, with his eyes closed and hands folded on his torso, she panicked. "Caras-san!" she cried out, rushing toward him.

His eyes opened, and as if he had been taking a nap, he turned his head toward her. "What is it?"

She stopped in her tracks, sighing in relief. "Oh, thank goodness…"

Caras cocked his eyebrows. "You're quite jumpy this morning. Did you believe I had died in the night?"

Sagi pursed her lips, pausing a little sheepishly, and he laughed, replying, "Perhaps I should have been more convincing in that regard, rather than just resting here casually; then I could have made an even bigger fool of you."

Sagi frowned with bewilderment. "You wish to make a fool of me? Is it that much fun to you?"

"Of course," Caras said nonchalantly, beginning to sit up to talk to her. "You're so wrapped up in whatever worries you, I could simply cough at you and you would—ngh…"

Grimacing, he gripped the wound on his chest that, although the stain on his uniform had magically disappeared, still seemed to be very much there. He lay back down impatiently. "Hmph. I feel fine otherwise, but I'm still not going anywhere very soon. What a nuisance this is."

Sagi folded her hands in silent contemplation. The two of them had spoken a handful of times before the events at the town square, but the Caras she had known in those brief encounters had been aloof and cryptic. Yet after what had transpired yesterday, Sagi was beginning to wonder if the loss of Caras's memory had revealed another side of him—or perhaps, who he really was.

She paused, clutching the handkerchief-wrapped shard in her hands. "So, you… you're not in great pain right now?"

"I can't say that much, no," Caras replied. "I suspect the wound is worse than it feels like—not that I'm complaining about that, but I'm still stuck here until it closes up a bit more. As I said, a temporary nuisance."

Sagi blinked, looking at him with slight amazement. Even with a wound like that, with the shard this close to him, he still…?

"I don't have anywhere else to be right now, so… I'll stay here a little while longer," Sagi said, sitting down and wrapping her arms around her legs a small distance from Caras.

"You must be very bored if that's what you'd prefer to do," Caras remarked. "Very well, then; entertain me with some talk."

Taken aback at how much more open Caras was in his current state, she paused for a moment before she realized something that she thought to ask about. "Where did those feathers come from? I found some canvas cloth that had been left here that you could lie on, but I suppose that wasn't very appropriate for sleeping on…"

"A bit strange, that," Caras said, studying Sagi as he spoke. "I thought that I wanted somewhere comfortable to rest, and after this desire crossed my mind, they appeared beneath me. And indeed, they felt more familiar to sleep on than anything else in this old building."

"Well, I'm… I'm glad that you were able to sleep well," Sagi said faintly.

"You don't find that strange?" Caras asked. "Black feathers that magically appear when I need them? Is that something common you find that people can do?"

"Ah, no, I mean…" Sagi became a bit flustered. "I mean, it is strange, yes, but… I mean, for you it's not… it's not something I've never seen before."

"Oh?" Caras said, his interest piqued. "Not unusual for me, perhaps? Tell me more about this. What other powers have you seen me manifest?"

Sagi's lips tightened, and her brows furrowed nervously. "I… I don't know… I don't know that much about you, Caras-san."

"Nothing other than that?" Caras asked persistently. "Surely you know something else? It's all a great mystery to me right now, I can assure you."

"I…" Sagi exhaled, a gloomy look in her eyes. "There's… nothing else I can tell you. I'm sorry."

Caras frowned. "I see."

The entailing silence pervaded the room for a long time as neither knew what to say to the other, but had many thoughts to mull over.

o-o-o-o-o

In a quiet guest room away from the bustle of the main hallways, Emma sat on a couch across from Trutho, who huddled on top of a chair, with his arms wrapped around his knees and his face buried between his arms.

Though she dared not break the silence, the furrowed brows and clenched hands that rested uneasily in Emma's lap gave voice to her concern for the boy.

He hadn't spoken since he had returned from the battle that his friends had been involved in, and having heard that he had regained his memories, she had feared the worst, and insisted on looking after him for the night, staying in his room and watching over him until he fell asleep. As it turned out, though, she had fallen asleep before he had, and she had awoken to find Trutho huddled in the same chair that he lingered in now. She suspected he hadn't been able to sleep at all…

Wondering if perhaps he could get some sleep if she remained quiet, she had hobbled over to the couch across from him and settled down onto it in silence, glancing up at Trutho every so often to see if he had finally fallen asleep after a sleepless night.

Instead, Trutho suddenly took a breath, and began speaking, his head lifting slightly from his knees. "Did you know… back then? When you said to come to Kinkan… did you know that my brother would be here?"

Sorrow filled Emma's eyes as she looked at him gravely. "…Yes, I did. I had hoped… that you might meet him if you came here."

Trutho's head lifted a little more, and a small smile crossed his face. "It's too bad I didn't come here sooner. I sure took my time."

Emma blinked with a mix of surprise and relief. "Sooner? When… when did you come here?"

"Not too long ago; it hasn't even been a month yet," Trutho said. "A lot happened since then, and I couldn't spend that much time with my brother, but he has a lot of friends, and they're really nice…"

He trailed off for a moment. "Before then, I… I was too afraid, I think. After I got out of Ginkan, I just… stayed in the woods between the towns. I didn't want to be around people, after all that… I mean, I came across a few people sometimes, but usually, I just stayed with the animals, since I can talk with them, you know? If they know you, they can be a lot nicer than people, and they can help you out a lot… at least, that's how they treated me."

His head rested on his knees again. "But I always remembered what you said about Kinkan, and I always felt like I ought to go there, at least for your sake. It's just that… for a long while, I felt there was this… I don't know, dark haze that surrounded the town that made it seem like, if you went in, you were going into a deep black storm cloud, that you would be swallowed by it somehow. I just… had a bad feeling.

"When that invisible cloud lifted, that was when I thought that maybe, I could try to pluck up my courage and finally go in there, where all the people were… although, even that took a few months."

A small smile crossed Emma's weathered face. "I'm glad you did, Trutho. It sounds as if since then, you were happy here."

Trutho nodded slightly with a smile. "I think so. Even if it was strange and nerve-wracking sometimes… I'm glad of it all."

Emma glanced sidelong with a sad smile. "Perhaps it had been a mistake that I had ever brought you into Ginkan. That town has been nothing but sorrow to all of us."

"N-no, it wasn't a mistake," Trutho said, his face falling as he saw Emma's expression. "If I never had been there, I wouldn't have met you, and… even if my brother is my family, you're… you're even more my family now, Emma-neesan."

Emma's eyes grew moist as her hand covered her lips. "Th…thank you, Trutho."

Trutho grew silent for a moment. "The last time we saw each other, in Ginkan… I had just escaped from…"

The joyful tears that had welled up in Emma's eyes had dried quickly upon this reminder. "I… I remember. I never knew what had happened to you; I was just so happy to see you again finally that, well…"

"It was… Lady Macbeth," Trutho said, his eyes becoming frightened and avoidant. "She scared me so much. Even though she seemed like she was being nice to me, I felt like… a pet. She wanted me to do tricks for her, so she gave me treats—that's what it felt like. She wanted me around her, all the time. Even her daughter got jealous because her mother would want me around all the time, but not her own daughter."

Trutho frowned, his brows furrowing anxiously. "Still, I was there to stop the ravens attacking, no matter how she wanted to treat me. So I waited there with her, until one day, they took me out to a big crowd of ravens and I yelled at them to stop attacking everyone. Then the ravens swarmed around us, cawing and cawing, and when Lady Macbeth asked me what they were saying, all that they were saying over and over was, 'Hearts! Hearts! Give us your hearts!'

"But Lady Macbeth, who was scared like everybody else around me, shouted at them, 'Don't take our hearts! If you spare ours, we'll let you have everyone else's!'

Emma sat in stunned silence, her hand over her mouth as Trutho went on. "That's when those three crows appeared, and they could even take the form of black-haired women—they kind of reminded me of Rue," Trutho said a little shakily. "Her husband went and talked with them, and after that, it seemed like they didn't need me to talk to the ravens anymore.

"Yet, she made me stay. Even though I said that there were people I cared about that I wanted to go see again, she said that I shouldn't care about anyone else but her, since she'd done so much for me and treated me as her own. I tried to escape one time, but… but…"

Trutho seized up, suddenly extremely tense. "The first time I tried, they caught me. Lady Macbeth ordered the guards to beat me as hard as they could, to 'punish me for disobeying her'."

An alarmed look that had been growing on Emma's face turned into an utterly horrified expression.

"A-after th-they… were done, she… came over, took me up to her room, and tried to comfort me, saying, 'It'll be fine, I'm here; there's no need for you to go anywhere anymore'."

"That's absolutely horrible!" Emma exclaimed. "I'm so sorry, Trutho, that I didn't do more to get you out of that situation; I had no idea—"

"It's not your fault, Emma-neesan!" Trutho said a bit loudly, before softening his voice and shrinking back into the chair. "Sorry… I meant, it's not any of the gypsies' fault that any of that happened. If anything, it's my fault, for letting that go when I was right there to see it…"

"But if I had gotten you out of there, you wouldn't be suffering like you are now!" Emma exclaimed. "You got your memories back, and now you…"

She grew silent, realizing what she was saying. "Everything you said… you already remembered all of that. But as for… the things that happened before you remembered… what you just remembered last night…"

"Yeah… I remember the time we really first met," Trutho said in a quiet voice, his eyes falling, not meeting hers. "Even when I was a monster, you were so nice to me. More than I ever realized, it's because of you that I was all right in the end. So… thank you. For all of that."

Emma was speechless for some moments, unable to think of what she could say to Trutho right then.

"If…" Trutho's voice broke upon this word, his eyes finally tearing up after all his talking. "If I were… to become a monster again, would you… would you still… care for me? You wouldn't leave me alone?"

"Never," Emma said with unhesitating finality, standing up shakily and taking careful steps toward him. "If you still need me, I will never leave you alone."

When she placed her arms around him, he tightly embraced her back, burying his tearful face in her frizzy hair. "Th…thank you, Emma-neesan. Thank you so much."

"Don't worry, my little brother," Emma said, a hand gently touching the back of his head. "I'll always stay by your side."

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

34. AKT "Beauty and the Beast"
~ In der Halle des Berkönigs ~

- Part 2 -

After a few days had passed, with the repairs on Kinkan Academy almost done, it was the last day that the grounds would be empty as they were, before the campus would be filled with students bustling about, and not servants and repair workers.

Mytho walked silently about the hallways in the pale sunlight, pondering the situation with a grim air. Caras had not been spotted since their battle at the church, and Sagi had been avoiding the academy since the incident the day after that. While Ahiru had seen her come back to their dorm each night, she seemed extremely quiet even for her, and she always insisted on going out into town alone if she wasn't sitting outside at the dorm fountain, reading The Prince and the Raven and not saying a word.

Clearly the Agony shard was a great burden on her, one that Mytho knew that he had no right to continue making her bear. But, as Rue would insist mercilessly, there was currently no reason to think that anything other than what had happened the last time would simply happen again if they were to attempt another shattering—and perhaps the second time, he might not be so lucky. They would have to think of better safeguards before they could try again; but no matter how long he would ponder this, he could not think of what could be done to enable it.

Then, a bustle roused him out of his thoughts, and Komaro came up swiftly towards him, an unusually urgent sense of anxiety in his air, carrying a sizable stack of letters in his hands.

Mytho frowned. "What's wrong, Komaro?"

"We've… received an unusual influx of letters today, your Highness," Komaro said. "What's strange though is that they're all from within or around Kinkan, yet all the ones with formal letterheads are from noble families of Ginkan."

"Influx of letters from Ginkan noble families?" Mytho asked grimly. "Are the ravens attacking there again?"

"Judging from the circumstances and formality of the letters, I don't think so," Komaro replied, his eyebrows creasing with solemn puzzlement. "However, I humbly suggest that we—or you, rather, unless you desire my assistance—read through them more carefully and ascertain the common issue here."

Mytho nodded. "Please read them with me, Komaro. I feel it is very likely the matter will be related to our recent journey into Ginkan, and I would greatly appreciate your insight."

Komaro bowed his head respectfully. "Very well, your Highness. I shall aid you to the best of my ability."

They went into a quiet drawing room, settled across from one another at a desk, and took turns reading through the pile of letters. It didn't take long to discern a pattern pervading through all of them.

"'Archbishop Frollo is a tyrant terrorizing the people of Ginkan'?" Komaro read out loud one sentence of a particularly theatrical letter in the stack. "That is perhaps being sensational, but all the others are similarly critical of his current leadership. More specifically, it seems that he has been heavily taxing the town's populace, and if they wouldn't or couldn't pay, their property was confiscated and they were subsequently exiled from Ginkan right then and there. That explains why almost all of these letters are from within or near Kinkan; they're essentially refugees here."

"He seems indiscriminate in this tyranny," Mytho said with a grimace, putting down another letter he had just finished reading. "Noblemen, merchants, even the poor it sounds, were all mercilessly hassled for money to pay a large tithe in order to rebuild the town from the Council's indiscretions. This seems excessive."

"Of course, it's the noblemen who are complaining the most, because they're the ones who would have had the most to lose," Komaro said matter-of-factly. "They want you to do something about it, since you're now the highest authority that they can appeal to who might listen to them. You're known as a hero over there now, after all," he added. "But, I'm not sure what you want to do about this. Even if you confronted Frollo about this, it's not really a situation that merits interference by an outside-"

They were interrupted by a small, timid knock at the door.

"Pardon me, your Highness; I'll get that," Komaro said, pushing back his chair and heading for the other end of the room.

When he opened the door, he started for a moment, his eyes widening. "Prince Sinfiotli? What is the matter?"

"Komaro, like I said, you don't have to call me Prince," Trutho said with a sigh. "And you don't have to use that name, either, even if it's the name that my parents gave me. Siegfried is one thing, but who can pronounce 'Sinfawt'… 'Sinfoat'… ergh, that weird name, anyway? Just Trutho is fine."

"Is everything all right, my brother?" Mytho asked, standing from his chair and heading toward the door, looking worried.

"Oh, umm…" Trutho said, looking a bit glum. "Actually, I wanted to ask if you would meet with some people I know. Emma-neesan and I were out in town, and we came across some of the gypsies that were in Ginkan who we knew really well. They wanted to talk with you, and we said that we could try to get them some time to meet with you, so…"

"Yes, that would be fine," Mytho said with a gracious nod. "When and where shall I meet them?"

"They're, uh… actually waiting down in the entryway," Trutho replied. "She's waiting with Emma-neesan, and they didn't know where you were, and Nee-san would have had a hard time searching for you in all the hallways, so they just stayed there outside."

"That won't do," Mytho said. "I will go out and meet them, and then we may talk somewhere more hospitable."

Trutho led Komaro and Mytho to where Emma and her gypsy friend stood waiting. The other gypsy woman, from what they could see of her head that wasn't covered under a mauve shawl, was older than Emma was judging from the wrinkles in her leathery skin of her face and hands, but who seemed full of vim and vigor besides, and was mobile enough to be the one supporting Emma rather than the other way around.

"I apologize for your wait," Mytho said, approaching them with a warm smile on his face. "I am here to meet with you, as you have requested."

"I'll introduce you," Emma said, gesturing to the old woman beside her. "This is Greta, a good friend of mine since I was a child. She insisted on coming here to talk with you, and we promised that we'd do our best to get her an audience."

"And I shall give you that," Mytho nodded. "Let us go to somewhere where we might take our time and be at ease as we talk."

"Eh, no, no, 'tis fine out here, thank ye," the old woman said, waving her hand. "I be takin' me time, talking ze day away if I put meself into a room. I'll make zis quick and not take much of yer time, yer Highness."

"Pardon me, Madam Greta," Komaro said, a slight frown tugging at his lips, "but I suspect that you may be talking about things of a sensitive nature, and it would be best if we went somewhere more private, so that we may not be overheard by wayward ears."

"I've got nothin' to hide, young sir," the old woman said tersely, shaking her head at the steward. "Ve talk out here, in ze sun, where nothin' can hide and all is shared. It no rainin' or snowin', so tis alright, yes?"

"We shouldn't be rude, Greta," Emma said a little admonishingly. "We shouldn't make him stand out here when he's taking his time to listen to us."

"Ve not stand, o'course," Greta said, clapping a hand on Emma's shoulder. "Ye vould have ze hard time, yes? Oh, look, grassy hills along ze path," she pointed at the grass areas beside the cemented path along the campus grounds. "Ve can sit zere, yes? Out in ze sun, on ze green!"

A little taken aback at her markedly earnest nature, Mytho nonetheless smiled warmly. "If you would like that, then let us do so."

After they had settled themselves on the grass, Greta sighed with contentment. "I've allway loved zis weather. Fresh air, outside… ye can almost feel the open hearts o' ze people here."

"Open hearts?" Mytho asked curiously, looking at her with puzzlement. Trutho looked at the two while they talked, and feeling that it wasn't his place to interrupt, he remained silently listening.

"Oh, zat's right, I talk o' such feelings, I forget I'm talking to ze higher thinking folk," Greta waved her hand dismissively. "I mean t'say, tis as lovely outside as tis with ze people who live here," she said, nodding. "Much more so zan in Ginkan."

"Do you think so?" Mytho asked her.

"Ze people here, zey are… at ease," Greta said. "Zey do not fear their neighbors, or even people zey do not know. I wonder, when zey kick us out of Ginkan, how much fear ve would receive from the ones who live here. Yet I feel none! 'Tis like a paradise in comparison!"

She nodded some more. "I know zat ve are but runaways, staying again as ze squatters just like in Ginkan, but ve now have nothin', so ve can only go as far as our feet can take us. Zey took it all from us, and yet tis not enough even, so zey still sweep us out like rats. A beauty-full embroidy'd cloak, an anzient scroll of drawing from past age, an old leather tome filled wiz intycate handwriting from years of monk's toiling—all taken, before we thrown out like trash."

Mytho's brows furrowed. "They confiscated all of your things? When the gypsies like you and other unfortunate people have so little already? And then exiled you even then?"

Greta sighed, gesturing at Emma. "Zey even took ze lovely carving box! Lovely carvings all over ze wooden casing. Ye gave it for me birthday few years past, and I hang onto it even after many runnings from ze crows and ze guards. But zey take, and I know not what zey do wiz. Tis jus' a box, but…" she trailed off, looking sad, "I just wish zey take care of, not throw about like some barrel."

"…I see, Madam Greta," Komaro said calmly and formally, though his pained sorrowful expression gave away his empathy. "We are so sorry for your troubles as of late. Is there… anything you suggest we might be able to do to help you and your people through these difficult times?"

"Zis place, as I say, tis so peaceful and happy, if we might stay while we regain our feet again, zat would be all we need," Greta said, resuming her meditative nodding.

"Of course," Mytho said emphatically. "You and all of your people can stay in Kinkan as long as you wish. No one shall scorn your presence here if I have a say in it."

"I… I haz worry, though it be none of your trouble," Greta said, frowning in an unusual moment of solemnity. "If zis Arch-Frollo continue like he go, ze Ginkan Town vill suffer more. Methinks he knows not how unhappy he haz made everyone. He strict and haz no pity, but he wants a orderly town, I believe zis."

"I doubt that, Greta," Emma said quietly. "One truly sees a man by how he treats his social inferiors, like us."

"That's what I think, too," Trutho said, his eyes narrowing darkly.

"You sound so fallen zese days, please stop," Greta said, rubbing Emma's back with a worried expression, before turning back to Mytho. "You see, he make himself leader, yet he so high up now, no one talk to him. If someone high up like him talk to him, maybes… maybes he can change."

"Then let that person be me," Mytho said, a determined expression on his face. "I will go talk to him and make him see sense."

The four pairs of eyes around him widened.

Greta blinked, exclaiming, "I no ask you to do zis! Such trouble when tis not your concern! Tis Ginkan matter, not for za prince of Kinkan!"

"At this point, it is my concern now," Mytho said grimly.

"What do you mean by that, Prince Mytho?" Emma said, her brows furrowing.

"I was there when he was put in power," Mytho said, looking into the distance soberly. "I approved of it and let it be, when I could have said something against it. So, this situation is currently in part my fault. Therefore, I feel I have a responsibility to do something about it, and talking to the one I helped place in power is the least I can do."

"You're planning to go now, when we just recently returned?" Komaro asked, his face falling. "This is not the best of times to be leaving, when the grounds of this castle and academy have barely been freshly repaired," he said as his lips tightened nervously. In a whisper, Komaro continued, "And—you know of the matter I speak of—you have not yet resolved the problem that caused the need for repairs in the first place…"

The worry on Mytho's face intensified. "I know all that you speak of, Komaro." The prince stood from the grass and turned to look at the people beside him. "And yet, while I have spent the past few days ever thinking on the matter, I have not yet come to a conclusion, or even an idea of how to continue. But now, a matter comes to me that I might do something about. Ginkan is but a day's ride away; it will not be like last time, where we needed to lurk about in hiding. We will go without pretense or disguise."

Komaro's lips tightened, his brows creasing anxiously. "I… I have much that I still have to handle here. I would go with you, but so much is left to be done that I… but, I would not let you go alone…"

"Then I'll go with him," Trutho suddenly spoke, pushing himself off the grass to stand next to his brother. "Even more so than my brother, Ginkan is my town. I might have cowered in the corner before, when I thought that all of their problems were my fault and I couldn't do anything about it, but now I know that I'm the brother of a prince. I have influence. And, I know a lot more about Ginkan and the history of its problems than you do, brother, so I will be of some help, at least."

"And if Trutho will go, then I shall as well," Emma said with an affirming nod, and with some help from Greta, pulled herself onto her feet to stand beside the two princes. "If we are going on horseback, then I should not be a burden in your traveling. I know as much, if not more, about Ginkan as Trutho does. We can both aid you in that way."

Komaro sighed. "As much as I would like to argue against excessive haste… if you are to leave in a prompt manner, then I would feel better if your brother and Miss Emma were to accompany you. Since your absence will be publicly known this time, there is no particular need for Trutho to remain here."

Greta shook her head in bewilderment. "Zis old one here not know what is ze talking 'bout, but if zis is yer decizion… zen I thank ye for carin' much 'bout ze poor gypsies like us, and ze town of Ginkan. Ye is very kindhearted prince."

Mytho shook his head humbly. "I desire not such praise; I only wish to alleviate the suffering of those around me."

o-o-o-o-o

"But you just got back a few days ago!" Rue stood yelling at Mytho in one of the rooms of the academy. "How can you be leaving now, again!?"

"I don't wish at all to leave you again," Mytho said, a sad look on his face. "If it weren't that important, I would stay. However… I'm responsible for what I've overseen, and if something has gone wrong because of it, I need to do something to help fix it."

Rue paced about the room with agitation. "It's not your problem, Mytho; it's theirs. You've already done more than enough for Ginkan, and you've even risked your life for them—they owe you much more than you owe them."

"I'm so sorry, Rue," Mytho bowed his head apologetically. "It will not be for long; I will return as soon as I see that matters are improving again."

She stopped, turning around and glancing sidelong at him with a betrayed expression. "You… you said that you would protect me from anything that might do me harm—what about the Raven? He still lives and is plotting our demise as we speak, for all we know; don't you need to stay here and make sure that I'm safe, in case he attacks again?"

"Komaro will be staying here this time," Mytho replied, "and I know that he will ensure your safety. There is nothing you need to worry about."

"There is plenty I have to worry about!" Rue exclaimed, stepping toward him and grabbing his arm. "If you're not with me, someone could take you from me at any time! Who cares about Ginkan and its petty troubles? I'm not going to let you be…!"

Rue trailed off as Mytho closed his eyes, and taking a breath with an excruciated expression, pulled away and left her with these words: "Please… trust me, my princess; no matter where I am, I will never leave you, Rue."

Rue stopped in her tracks, taken aback, but reached out one last time toward Mytho's retreating back before he turned out into the hallway and disappeared out the door.

The princess remained in the room silently, grimacing with tears welling up in her eyes. Was Ginkan really so important that he would leave her when she said she needed him? Was he, perhaps, staying away from her for other reasons that he would not dare tell her?

The Agony shard still existed unbroken, and since Mytho would not let someone else attempt what he had, lest they suffer the same fate, the situation had remained the same over the past few days. Was he trying to run away from it? Did that have anything to do with her? After all, it was the shard of her 'father', a shard of the monster Raven… who she had grown imbibing his blood since her infancy?

"You know… that no one would ever love you, other than the Prince and me."

Now that the prince had rejected his Raven blood and held its effects at bay… would he eventually be repulsed by her Raven's blood, to keep himself pure once more? Did she really have the right to be called his princess?

Another thought surfaced in her head, one that in horror she suppressed, but not before it was able to cross her conscious mind:

If my father hadn't lost his grip on the prince, would he still be mine and mine alone?

o-o-o-o-o

The morning after Mytho, Trutho, and Emma had left, students began filing back into the freshly repaired Kinkan Academy, chatting vociferously about the prince's journey to Ginkan in the wake of the recent attack on the school. Rumors flew around, ones such as that the two had to be related, that the ravens were somehow a conspiracy by the Ginkan elite that the prince had to go and straighten out, perhaps with a show of theatrical shouting matches and fighting. (Students like Lilie were all over that one.)

Fakir, however, was distracted thinking about something else. That morning, a near replay of their talk the morning after the attack happened between him and Autor—except this time by the end, and Fakir couldn't quite pinpoint why, Autor seemed much less agitated, and in fact seemed quite collected and decided. And it made Fakir nervous.

"Fakir, why won't you believe me when I say that I have Spinning powers?" Autor said suddenly as the two of them were getting ready that morning.

"Not this again," Fakir said after sighing through his teeth.

"'Oooh, not this again'," Autor imitated Fakir scornfully. "You don't want to listen to me! I've been trying to tell you, what happened the day the ravens attacked was real! When I played music with the orchestra, it had a significant effect on the emotions of the ravens. That's why they stopped when they did!"

"So just because you were playing music when they stopped, you think that it affected them?" Fakir frowned. "Autor, I know you've wanted to find Spinning powers in yourself for a long time, but like I said, this is not the time to be making wild theories to try to have them."

"I told you, they're not wild theories!" Autor exclaimed, his hands clenching into fists. "Look, I asked Takako the other day. She saw it herself to be true! If you won't believeher, then who will you believe?"

"I'll believe whatever I can see with my own eyes," Fakir said flatly, pulling the dorm room door ajar with more force than was necessary. "If you can prove it to me later that there is actually some effect, I'll believe what you say. But we have school right now, and more important things to think about."

"You think this is all about me?" Autor asked, frowning darkly.

"They're always what you cared about most, even after we defeated Drosselmeyer," Fakir replied bluntly. "Sometimes I think you just don't want to face that you don't have those powers you've searched for. Even if someone told you that you didn't and never would, you wouldn't believe them and keep searching for the rest of your life."

"You don't believe that I could ever have powers… do you?" Autor said with disappointment, but with a hint of desperate hope that perhaps Fakir might finally admit some consideration of his ideas.

"So what if you did?" Fakir replied, growing irritated at the repetitiveness of the exchange. "That wouldn't change anything."

That was when Autor's expression exploded with rage for a few seconds, before he calmed down in a chilling manner and pushing past Fakir, left the room without another word.

Despite all the doubts Fakir had voiced, it had already occurred to Fakir a while back, since Autor had first mentioned it, that what Autor had said could have been true all along. The problem was that it was simply hard for Fakir to believe from just Autor's words, or to believe in general. After all, when it came to discussions about Drosselmeyer and Spinner abilities, Autor perpetually exuded an air of condescension and arrogance in his manner. Combined with his almost fanatical obsession on the subject, any discussion from Autor about his own Spinner power was more likely grounded in wishful thinking than actual fact.

But now, Fakir wasn't sure if all of Autor's words could be chalked up to the musician's imagination. Could his music really affect reality like words from a Spinner?

Fakir tried to remember the times that he had heard Autor playing the piano, and whether he had felt that pulling of the strings of fate from them. If it was, it was too subtle for Fakir to have suspected it. When they had first met, he had played a piece of music he had later learned was called a "Spinning Song"; it could have merely been a coincidence that later they were endeavoring for him to be able to do just that… but was it?

It seemed all too circumstantial for him to take it at face value. However, in hindsight Fakir wondered if he should have stopped Autor before he had left the room, as he hadn't seen him on the Kinkan campus grounds, even though it was almost time for classes. He supposed Autor could have simply arrived earlier. But he couldn't shake a bad gut feeling that something was off about him that morning…

o-o-o-o-o

Even though she could hear the Kinkan Academy bell ringing in the distance, Sagi kept walking toward the place in which Caras was hiding, clutching a basket of bread and fruit, along with a bottle of water. It was unusual that she would get up late enough that she wouldn't be able to take a trip to his hideout and not be tardy, but it was better than leaving in the middle of class to check on him, and she wanted to get him some food for breakfast than leave him hungry the rest of the day.

When she got to the doorway, she noticed that Caras didn't seem to be in view. Puzzled, she poked her head in, glancing about, looking for him. "Caras-san? Are you there?" I hope he hasn't been sneaking about and getting himself into trouble…

She began getting worried when she couldn't see him anywhere, so she put down the water and basket and stepped inside further, her brows furrowing. "Caras-san? Are you all right? Has anything happened?"

Suddenly, she felt a pointed poke on the back of her head. It startled Sagi greatly, causing her to burst out with a hoarse squawk before in a flash of blue sparkles, the tall girl vanished and in her place, a great blue heron half her height appeared. Or, presumably a heron, if one could tell what was underneath the pile of clothes that had gotten tangled in the bird's broad wings.

"Surprise," Caras said drolly from behind Sagi as he watched her flail about, desperately trying to free herself from the fetters of her own clothes. "So you are actually a bird, then."

Though it came out only as a bunch of harried squawks, Sagi exclaimed, "Ah! Caras-san! What did you do that for!? You nearly gave me a heart attack!"

"If that frightened you so, you need to learn to calm down," Caras said, crossing his arms. "For someone who comes off as an otherwise calm person, you've been quite antsy the past few days. If it's about my safety, you're wasting your energy; I can handle myself just fine."

As Sagi struggled in her clothing, Caras noticed that something wrapped in a periwinkle handkerchief had fallen out from some pocket of hers. "Sagi-san, look here," he asked, reaching for it. "You dropped your handkerchief."

Hearing what he said, Sagi panicked. "No! Don't touch it!" she begged in squawks, diving in the direction of Caras's voice.

Alarmed, he drew back his hand before he dodged her. Having little to no visibility, she rolled right into the bottle of water she had brought, and it spilled onto the floor. Falling right into the resulting puddle, she transformed back into a girl, but sprawled out gracelessly on the ground, her arms pinned to her sides within her uniform, lying there wriggling like an earthworm in a rainstorm.

"This… this is really not my day," Sagi whined, an exasperated expression on her face.

Then to Sagi's amazement, Caras began to chuckle heartily. But it was not a laugh she had heard from him before; it was one without bitterness, without malice—it was purely of mirth.

"What a ridiculous sight you are right now!" Caras said between laughs. "You don't look like it, but you can be quite the clown when you don't mean to be."

Though he expected a moping or pouting response, he paused when he noticed Sagi looking at him in a strange sort of awe. "What's wrong?"

"Oh! No, nothing's wrong," Sagi replied, shifting her legs into kneeling so she could attempt to get her arms back through her sleeves. "It's just… I've never heard you laugh like that before. It's a bit strange, but… I liked hearing it."

After raising an eyebrow, Caras shrugged, smirking. "Well, whatever could I have been so concerned about that I couldn't have a good laugh every now and then?"

Sagi again trailed off, but this time soberly. She glanced at the wrapped handkerchief at her left knee, and she sidled over it, as if to block Caras from what it held.

Caras frowned for a moment, and then sighed. "Are you going to need help getting up, or are you able to get up on your own?"

"What? Oh, I… I think I'll be all right," Sagi said, trying to straighten her jacket so that it lined up with her shoulders, but clearly having difficulty.

"Fine, here," Caras said, walking toward her and grabbing the sleeve of her jacket, yanking it off and tossing it onto a nearby crate. "Put it back on afterward."

"Ah!" Sagi exclaimed, looking embarrassed, but finding it easier to put her arms through the lower layer of her dress by itself.

"Aside from giving a very entertaining performance, what did you come here for, anyway?" Caras asked, crossing his arms. "Didn't you say you had classes today?"

"I just wanted to drop off some food and water, since I think you had gone through all that I had brought the first time," Sagi said, straightening her half-soaked uniform dress before going over to get her outer jacket. "I spilled most of the water, unfortunately, but…"

"If that's the case, then shouldn't you get going?" Caras said, tilting his head. "The bell rang long ago, so you're already late."

"Well, one day isn't…" Sagi said, trailing off sheepishly as she put away the handkerchief into her coat with a wince. "If you're doing all right, then I suppose I should go now."

She turned to go out the door when Caras called out, "Sagi-san! Wait."

Sagi paused, looking back at him. "What is it?"

Caras's eyes narrowed. "Why won't you let me near that thing in the handkerchief you always carry with you?"

Sagi's face fell, before she gave him a pained smile. "It's… not something I want you to know about, Caras-san." Then she left the building.

Caras stood there pensively as she made her exit. After Sagi was gone, the black feathery cloak appeared on him again and he went out the door, leaping into the air among the crows that patiently waited for him.

o-o-o-o-o

Drosselmeyer sat at his desk in the Loophole of Time, frowning at the raven quill in his hand.

"Ever since that failure knight made another play at writing the story, I haven't been able to use this properly. It's almost as if he's disappeared, although I see him right there in Kinkan, with nothing more than a few scratches left to heal up. He even still has his powers. So then, why can't I make him remember his duty as a villain? Or for that matter, make him do anything?"

He put it back down on his desk and glanced at the white feather that sat next to it. "That goose quill is still a bother as well. I could use it, yes, but he's so unstable as a tool—if I try to use it to get the story going again, what if he tries again to kill my villain, and succeeds this time? I can't risk it right now."

Drosselmeyer ground his teeth. "What inane frustration this is! If worse comes to worst, I'm going to have another story-stopping incident on my hands, and the last time that happened, I went for years without being able to advance the story proper. I'm not having it this time!"

Not liking to use it as its control was much less complete, he grudgingly picked up his ordinary white quill, a swan's feather but not any different from one he might have used when he was alive. "I suppose general purpose will have to do for now."

Drosselmeyer poised his quill on the parchment in front of him when he noticed a small, inconsequential gear rolling along dejectedly nearby. He raised his head to take a look, and saw that quaint little bespectacled failed Spinner circling slowly, aimlessly—but in the eyes of a storyteller, conspicuously.

He grinned mischievously. Perhaps there was something he could amuse himself with, after all…

o-o-o-o-o

Autor again wandered the streets of Kinkan, but this time with a purpose that matched his frustration. So Fakir wouldn't believe him, no matter what Autor said, unless he proved it to him somehow, right? Well, why couldn't he do just that?

What puzzled him currently was how. What could he do to convince Fakir, or anyone that would question it, that his powers were real? Unlike Fakir's powers, which affected physical reality itself, his affected something less tangible—emotions.

He grimaced to himself, thinking about it; what good was that power, anyway? Even if someone's feelings changed, if they didn't do anything about it, then what difference did it make in the end? If Fakir ever would be daring enough, he probably could write someone's feelings into existence with his own powers anyway.

Autor sighed harshly. Besides, if patterns were upheld, he wouldn't even have a noticeable effect on his environment unless he had a whole orchestra of people playing with him. What kind of power would it be if he had to schedule an appointment with a whole ensemble of people just to make it work?

The bespectacled musician stopped for a moment after coming to the end of the street into a plaza, and noticed that he had happened to arrive at the town cathedral, along with its own little town square, filled with people shopping or selling their wares.

He felt himself drawn to the cathedral, wanting to go inside and have a look. While he wasn't a particularly pious individual admittedly, somehow he felt like he would feel better if he went in. So he headed for the entrance.

Stepping inside, the glow of candlelight, set in rows of candelabra beside the wooden pews, greeted Autor. The rows of candles formed a line down in central isle, ending in front of an organ and a piano on the altar, presumably for the usual odes and hymns during service.

Is there going to be a service soon? Autor asked himself as he wandered down the isle, half expecting a priest or a parishioner to step out of the shadows to greet him; but the only sound that greeted him was the sound of his own footsteps.

He supposed that with all the frightening events lately, it would make sense that they'd be holding extra services on days other than Sunday, but what didn't make sense to him was why no one else seemed to be around. No faithful attendees praying at the pews, no priests or monks walking about handling their daily business or up-keeping the grounds. It was eerie.

So he walked down the aisle, looking around and seeing if someone was perhaps hiding out of view.

"Hello? Is anyone in here?" Autor asked carefully and with a lowered voice, in case there was indeed someone he might be disturbing. But no one answered.

He found the whole church still empty even after coming up to the front, where the instruments and the reverend's podium stood. For a moment he imagined himself standing at the podium, preaching to an audience of believers, but he grimaced and shook his head at the mental image. That was the opposite of what he wanted to be. He wanted to be the one to create things that people would appreciate, rather than tell others of something else above them all for the people to believe in.

Autor found, logically, to be much more appealing the glossy black grand piano sitting in the corner, lit on either side and behind the bench in front of it by candles. Glancing to and fro once more to ensure that no one was around to scold him, he crept over beside the bench and slid into the seat, in front of the old but dignified ivory keys that enticed him.

With one finger, he gently pressed the middle C key. The pure sound resonated throughout the cathedral. He smiled. He had never heard the piano played inside this church before, so he wouldn't have known otherwise, but the cathedral had surprisingly good acoustics.

He lifted his other hand, and while he was surprised that he had memorized it this well, began to play a mischievous little piano tune that he had practiced with at some points. 'March of the Trolls', it was called. It was an exciting, lively song, one that he could have some fun with as he played while letting his mind wander.

Perhaps it wasn't so bad that his powers were based on his music, he thought as his fingers began to dance. Imagine, him playing the emotions of people as if they were each a key on a piano. Press one, and they become mad with rage. Press another, and they become peaceful and docile. And imagine how many people could be affected at once! He wouldn't have to direct people individually, or have to spell out their actions to make it work. Less precise, for certain, but perhaps not necessarily less powerful.

In fact, if it were true that he directly affected the emotions of others, he could easily and effortlessly cause social calamities, such as a maddened mob, with the ease that he had playing a simple song like he was now. What power that could be!

He continued playing, amusing himself with morbid thoughts of disasters and catastrophes caused by people's madness, while not noticing what was happening outside as he grew more and more engrossed in his own music.

o-o-o-o-o

With a fumble and a near tumble, Ahiru grabbed the doorknob to her classroom and quickly slipped inside. Once she was in the red haired girl let out a deep sigh of relief, just as the clock tower announced the beginning of class. I'm on time for once! Shuffling to her seat, Ahiru saw Fakir sitting in the back of the class in his usual spot.

As she approached her own seat, Ahiru opened her mouth to greet Sagi, but blinked when an empty chair greeted her instead. Ahiru was shocked to see that, for once, she had gotten to school before Sagi did—and Ahiru had almost been late, too. Nonetheless, she had gotten to her seat just as the bell finished ringing, and found herself staring at Sagi's empty seat as Yagiko-sensei took roll call.

Ahiru started when Yagiko-sensei announced after finishing that it was time for a pop quiz. Her face fell. What bad luck that Sagi had to be late today!

The redhead pursed her lips, thinking of what she could do, and when Yagiko-sensei came around to pass out an exam sheet to Ahiru, skipping Sagi's seat, she asked, "Umm, Yagiko-sensei? Maybe you should leave a quiz out for Sagi-chan? She's usually never late, so maybe she's just a little behind, and if you left one out for her, she could get started as soon as she came and—"

"I'm sorry, Ahiru-san," Yagiko-sensei said with an indignant sniff, walking onward to the next pair of desks, "but if a student comes late on the day of a pop quiz, they're not getting one."

As their teacher muttered something about how students shouldn't think that they could be late to class just because it had just been repaired, Ahiru sighed glumly, looking down at her quiz and picking up her quill, taking one last dejected look at Sagi's empty desk before getting started on her own.

As the quiz went on, a faint melody played in the air, one that was mischievous and duplicitous. It was as if the quiz had its own background music, as Ahiru realized that the problems on it all seemed to be 'trick questions', and even multiple choice answers seemed sneaky and dishonest.

The music began being more than a faint whisper, and became a more apparent sound. Ahiru became even more anxious about her quiz, wondering if she was going to get anyof the answers correct, but a cry out in the room quickly made her realize that she was not the only one feeling that way.

"Argh! I can't believe this quiz!" one of the boys exclaimed. "Sensei, what is this question asking? I think it could be any of these answers, the way it's worded!"

"Be quiet during class!" Yagiko-sensei snapped at him, also seeming short of temper. "The question speaks for itself. If you can't answer it, then skip it and go on to the next one like a reasonable student!"

"But… but that's what all the questions are like!" a girl said, who seemed to be sweating from the stress.

"Yeah, this quiz seems really weird," Pique remarked with an anxious frown. "Why are there so many essay questions on a pop quiz? Do we have all of class time to finish it?"

The class, now enabled by the few bold students willing to raise their concerns, erupted into a nervous chatter of complaints and questions.

"What's the matter with you all? I said, be quiet!" Yagiko-sensei said. But when they wouldn't listen to her, she became extremely agitated, her voice rising gradually into a shout. "I s-said…b-be quiet. Be quiet, class! I said… shut up!"

The final shout shocked the classroom into silence.

Yagiko-sensei slammed her binder shut. "I've had it. If you won't behave as proper students, then class is dismissed. You all fail the quiz! Go on, leave the classroom. All of you!"

Yagiko-sensei then stormed out the door and out of view.

The entire class of students stared at each other in even deeper shock.

Pique shrugged. "Well, at least we don't have to do the quiz anymore."

o-o-o-o-o

When the music began, Fakir realized that there was something strange about it immediately. It felt like Spinning, except with sound instead of words, though he only knew this intuitively from having had experience with his Spinning power.

He was silent throughout the whole incident with the quiz, even though he saw from his vantage point in the back of the room how baffled Ahiru was by it. After making sure that she wasn't being overly affected by it, he simply continued the quiz without complaining, though he was thinking instead about Autor.

If Autor was actually right, and his music had Spinning power, was this what was happening at the moment? Did he take the whole talk of proving what he said that seriously? If that was the case, then did that make this his fault…?

As the music became louder and more potent, Fakir was about to forfeit the pointless quiz and leave the class to investigate when his indecision was settled for him as Yagiko-sensei forcefully ended the class.

As the rest of the class chattered nervously and students milled about the room, unsure of what to do, Ahiru approached Fakir and said what was foremost on his own mind. "Fakir, do you hear that music? It's making me feel really uneasy, and I think it's making everyone else feel uneasy too, and Yagiko-sensei, I think it's affecting her too..."

Fakir grimaced. If Ahiru could feel it too, then it couldn't simply be his imagination.

Standing up, he briefly placed his hand on Ahiru's shoulder before moving past her, "There's something I need to do."

"But Fakir—!" Ahiru protested, but Fakir looked back at her, and the girl stopped in her tracks.

Fakir knew that Ahiru would insist on coming with him, but this was a matter between Spinners—and between him and Autor. This wasn't something that Ahiru could truly help with, and there was a real danger that she might be entangled in this if she became too involved.

With no time to explain himself, lest things spiral further out of control, Fakir was forced to speak tersely to her, "This is between Spinners. You have to stay out of this." He then turned and slipped out of the classroom.

As he left the Kinkan Academy campus, he noticed that all around him, people were letting anxiety and fear rule their actions—often to a ridiculous, almost humorous extent. Students other than them were marching out of class, furious for one reason or another, and a number of them began bickering over trivial matters in the middle of campus. Grimacing at this turn of events, his march toward the source of the music became even brisker.

o-o-o-o-o

Caras stood looking out over Kinkan from one of the roofs near the hideout, surrounded by crows looking at him eagerly for the next order from their master.

After that exchange with Sagi, he was conflicted. Now, even more than before, he was extremely curious as to what connections Kinkan Academy had to his past, or more specifically, which students had.

He had figured out pretty quickly from the start that the blue uniform he wore was from Kinkan Academy, so presumably he was a student there. Sagi was one too, and it was reasonable to think that this was how she knew him. He wondered, then, if the people he had been fighting just before he lost his memories might also be at the academy. They looked to be the same age as Sagi, after all, so they were the right age to be students there as well.

Another thing: when he had visited the academy the previous day, sneaking around unseen in a black feathery cloak that had materialized on him when he desired to go about unnoticed, he saw two things: one, that the place also seemed to be a royal residence of some sort, with servants bearing a royal insignia on their uniforms walking about, and two, that there had been a major accident in the grounds so that workers were going about for repairing the damage.

He didn't know what had caused the accident, but what he did figure out from that was where he'd find the prince who he had been fighting. In fact, he even saw the prince, and likely the one who had attacked him as well—the one with the crown was sitting outside in the grounds with two gypsy women, a highly-ranked servant, and his brother, who he recognized darkly as the one who had given him the injury he was recovering from. He was not sitting close enough to know what they were discussing, though, and he didn't dare go any closer lest he be discovered—and even his curiosity was not foolhardy enough to risk being seen by the ones who had caused his injury when it had barely healed up.

Now that he had an obvious lead, however, he realized he wasn't sure what to do with it. What exactly was he going to do, go up and ask this prince why they had been fighting? The mental image even made him chuckle a bit. No, it was less important of a lead than it seemed, unfortunately. But now he knew for certain that he would very likely find clues in, or in places related to, the academy.

A cawing sound drew his attention away for a moment and he turned toward the culprit. One of the crows, out of seeming boredom, had pecked at the tail of one of the other crows, causing the outcry by the other. Upon drawing the gaze of their master, however, both of them bowed their heads in nervous apology.

Caras chuckled. "No need to be so subservient. You were bored, weren't you? I would have done the same in your position. What harm was done?"

The crows looked at each other, and then murmurs rippled among them.

Listening to their chatter, his eyebrows creased. "You're restless, you say? About what? Something exciting happened recently?"

As he listened more, a frown crossed his face. "The recent attack? On…" He looked toward the academy. So that accident was their doing?

He looked back at them. "Why was this, crows? Why did you attack?"

A few of the crows blinked with puzzlement, and then responded.

Caras's eyes widened. "I ordered you to, you say?"

The crows nodded, and then they became more restless, rustling about on their perches and flapping their wings. Do it again, do it again, let's do it again! It is lots of fun to cause so much chaos!

Sensing a shift in the mood of the crows, his eyes narrowed as he gazed around at them, trying to figure out why it was happening.

It was then he noticed a faint melody drifting in the air: a playful, yet increasingly intimidating tune. As he focused on it more, it began to affect him as well—his thoughts turned to mischief and excitement, even danger. He felt as if he wanted to go wild and turn on the town to alleviate his restless energy, to break the boring peace that inflicted the town…

But then, Caras was drawn out of the trance when he heard the whole flock of crows, both nearby and in the distance, cawing and making a ruckus. They flitted about and dove toward the ground, harassing the people below in a threatening manner.

Caras scowled, his fists clenching. Whatever was going on, it wasn't something he approved of. If there was to be chaos by these crows, it would be by his will and his alone.

So reaching into the intuition that allowed him to communicate with them, and spoke in a thundering bellow, "Stop this foolishness, now!"

And stop the crows did. They all went silent, looking toward him, startled. He felt the music, growing louder and more distinct, still tugging at their urges to cause trouble and strife. But under his will, they remained calm, returning to their perches and looking to him once more to order their actions.

This music is dangerous, Caras thought, looking in the direction that it came from, and seeing the town cathedral in the same direction. I need to stop it, lest I lose control of the crows to its sway.

o-o-o-o-o

When Caras alighted on the rooftop of a building near where the music was coming from, he saw a town plaza in chaos. What should have been at most a bustling, organized market full of buyers and sellers of wares and groceries was instead a panicked mob of people, yelling about natural disasters occurring, birds of doom attacking, thieves and robbers raiding, or in one strange case, the sky falling.

No doubt thanks to this strange music we hear, Caras thought, watching the scene solemnly from his vantage point. If I can stop this music, then this farce will cease.

He was about to make a move jumping from the rooftop to the doors that led into the cathedral when he noticed that there was someone else in the mass of people who was struggling against the crowd, heading doggedly in the same direction. Caras followed him, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, his cloak giving him the outline of a large raven as he traveled across the town.

He stopped on the roof of a shop directly across from the cathedral, and watched this other black-haired young man head toward its entrance.

After the other young man disappeared into the building, Caras jumped onto the cathedral's sloped roof, and finding an unlocked window on the wall above the nave, crept inside unseen.

What neither of them saw was the group of men in brown hoods, holding axes and heading towards the church as well…

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir slammed open the doors to the church, and saw Autor belting out a frenzied tune on the piano next to the priest's podium, heedless of the chaos that he was causing in the outside world.

"Autor!"

The bespectacled musician didn't even seem to have heard the other young man call out his name, as Fakir marched directly toward him down the pew aisle, his pace increasing with each step, and when he approached the piano bench at a run, without hesitation he shoved Autor off the bench, cutting off the music in the air quite suddenly.

"What the hell are you thinking, Autor?!" Fakir shouted. "Don't tell me this was because of our conversation this morning!"

"Oh, so now you believe me, don't you, Fakir?" Autor said with an unhinged smile, a crazed look still behind his glasses. "Now you know what kind of powers I really have!"

"Do you see what you've done out there?" Fakir asked, pointing at the shut doors. "Kinkan is erupting into madness because of you! What's the point of going this far, Autor?!"

Autor's eyes widened and his smile became a disturbing grin. "Are you serious? It really had that strong of an effect? How wondrous! My powers are even greater than I imagined!"

Scowling, Fakir grabbed Autor by the collar and yanked the wiry teenager toward him, their faces inches apart, Fakir's eyes looking piercingly into Autor's. "Listen to yourself, Autor! Do I have to fight you like we did Drosselmeyer to make you understand what just happened? Do you want the town to be engulfed in tragedy like he does?! Did everything that you did to save me when we defeated the Raven mean nothing to you now?!"

Blinking, this made Autor stop to think of their battle together—when they fought Drosselmeyer, together. This was what he wanted to fight the most: the utter control Drosselmeyer had over people's minds, what he theorized had kept them from even considering the fruits of his research in the first place.

He had wanted the power of Spinners to be able to influence people, sure; but why did he want to influence people in that particular way so badly? When he thought about the core of it, that desire came from how alone he felt in his endeavors, and no matter what convincing arguments he presented, the other people would not join his cause. It felt sometimes as if Autor were more serving Fakir's purposes rather than his own, since Fakir cared not about Autor's ideals.

But when Fakir said that Autor had 'saved' Fakir… that in helping to fight Drosselmeyer, Autor had been following his own ultimate purpose, even if it wasn't alone. And now, they were colleagues in the true sense—Fakir and Autor, both Spinners, both possible influencers of the world.

And yet, without realizing it, Autor had almost become the purveyor of chaos that Drosselmeyer was, the one they had both been fighting against. So easily…

Autor went slack in Fakir's hand, and Fakir loosened his grip.

"I… I almost became like Drosselmeyer," Autor said quietly in horror, looking at his hands. "I was trying to prove myself, but all I did was prove myself to be like the one I had been fighting all this time…"

An echoing voice from the other end of the room yelled, "Then you understand what must be done!"

The doors to the cathedral slammed open again, and in stormed the Book Men, with William leading them, axes raised and gleaming.

"We knew that there could be Spinners with powers that we were yet unaware of, but we never suspected that you were actually among them," one of the other Book Men said in surprise. "We thought we had eliminated you as a possible Spinner long ago, no matter how long you tried to convince us otherwise."

"Ironic, isn't it?" Autor said, a little pent-up frustration seeping into his voice in the form of sarcasm. "I was right under your noses all this time, and not even I knew of the powers that I had. Not so dismissive of me now, are you?"

"It's clear to us now, however, that you are indeed a danger to the town, or at least its collective sanity," another of the Book Men said, "and so without further ado, we will take you to Drosselmeyer's grave and give you the same treatment that we once sentenced that other Spinner with you there."

"You're going to try and cut off my hands too, then?" Autor said, his voice both shaky and rebellious. "I won't give up without a fight, you know!"

"With that skinny build, scholar boy?" the largest Book Man scoffed. "I could wrestle you down and carry you there with one arm."

Autor held up his fists in a pitiful attempt to protect himself as the Book Men approached him, but was shocked when Fakir stepped in front of Autor and faced the Book Men, his arm held out to block him from them.

"Give him another chance!" Fakir exclaimed, "It was my fault that he did what he did today. He was trying to prove his powers to me. Now that he's done that, he won't cause trouble again. He's not like Drosselmeyer; we all have the same goals!"

William shook his head. "You say that he has proven himself now? What he has proven is that unlike you, Fakir, this boy has shown himself ready and willing to control the townspeople in malice for his own ends, and cannot be trusted with his powers."

"But if you're going to get in our way," the smallest Book Man said, pointing his axe at Fakir, "then you are his accomplice, and you will be treated accordingly."

Fakir grimaced, not moving from his spot in front of Autor. "I won't let you cut off his hands!"

Autor's eyes widened as he realized the familiarity of this scene.

o-o-o-o-o

Caras, who had been listening all the meanwhile, watched the scene curiously. So apparently, it was the boy with the glasses who was the source of the music. Stopping him had been easy enough, and it seemed as if he hadn't been aware of the chaos he had been causing, making it unlikely that he would do it again.

However, these older men seemed to see this as an unforgivable atrocity, and were determined to go so far as to cut off this boy's hands to prevent future mishaps, which made Caras frown. Seemed more to him that they were simply lazy cowards under the noble name of 'protectors'—just because they didn't have him under their complete control in one incident, they wanted to eliminate him as a possible threat altogether?

Plus, it looked like the two boys weren't going to make it out of this themselves; they were unarmed and outnumbered. The tan-skinned one named Fakir made an admirable effort to block the men from the boy with glasses named Autor, but it was futile; they overpowered Fakir, and the spindly Autor was grabbed by a single man smaller than he was. Caras sighed and shook his head.

Then he smirked. Perhaps then, it was time for a little mischief.

o-o-o-o-o

"Autor, get out of here!" Fakir yelled, blocking the way of the Book Men who rushed at them.

"I can't let you—!" Autor's hesitation caused him to be grabbed from behind by another of the Book Men who had sneaked around them, and though he struggled, he had no way of overpowering a man who was armed with a giant axe.

"Damn it!" Fakir exclaimed, barely having time to turn to look at him before he too was grabbed by the other Book Men.

Suddenly, the cathedral doors burst open, and in gusted forth a cawing flock of crows, swiftly filling the hall and zeroing in on the Book Men.

"Crows!?" one of the Book Men shouted, now needing to use his axe to block the onslaught of the winged creatures. "Did these Spinners set them on us?"

"Fakir has no quill or parchment, and we stopped Autor just now!" William yelled, swinging at the birds with his own axe. "That shouldn't be possible!"

At this moment, a dark blur swooped down from the flurry of crows, landed behind Fakir and Autor, and seized them by the back of their shirt collars.

"Ack—!" Autor yelped as he was almost strangled by the sudden yank backward.

"Autor, what—!?"

Before they could speak any further or see who had grabbed them, their mysterious captor jumped into air, and their surroundings faded into a flurry of black feathers.

o-o-o-o-o

By the time the Book Men had regained their bearings, the crows had disappeared, and so had Fakir and Autor.

"Curses, we lost them!" one of the Book Men shouted, his fist clenching.

"Not only that, comrade! Did you see?" another of the Book Men said with a livid expression. "The one who had rescued the pair of Spinners was none other than the Raven in human form! He aided their escape!"

"Then it is worse than we feared!" a third one exclaimed in alarm. "They're in league with the Raven! They both conspire to bring chaos onto the town again, like that which occurred when the Raven had been released before!"

William, however, remained silent. While it certainly looked as if they were allies, Fakir and Autor both looked as shocked as the Book Men had at the sudden, targeted attack. And from how Fakir had been when they had last talked, and from what he had witnessed back when Fakir had been fighting the Raven himself, that was not something that made sense from either of them.

That of course left no reasonable explanation as to why the crows had attacked seemingly to save the two boys, but even as his comrades fumed at the loss of their quarry, William held onto the distinct suspicion that something very strange had just occurred.

o-o-o-o-o

In front of the gates of Kinkan Academy, Caras reappeared with Fakir and Autor in hand, and unceremoniously he released them.

"Where are we?" Autor asked, extremely disoriented as he looked around.

"I think we're back at the academy," Fakir replied, frowning and glancing about. "But how?"

Caras smirked. "I brought you here, of course. Don't you two belong in school right now?"

Autor turned toward the voice and was startled to see who it was. "You!? Where have you been all this time? Heck, don't you belong in school, too?" he said sarcastically.

This remark stopped Caras for a moment as he realized that this boy knew that he went to this academy, when the other boy grabbed his arm with a belligerent expression.

"Why did you do that?!" Fakir shouted, his grip tightening. "Why did you save us from them? What are you plotting now!?"

Caras scowled, his brows furrowing as he realized that he had inadvertently run himself into a few other people who also knew him, but unfortunately not seeming to be friends.

"If you don't like it, then go back there and get your hands chopped off," he replied coldly, before pulling back his arm and attempting to turn away to leave.

But Fakir grabbed his arm again, this time with both hands and much more forcefully. "I'm not going to let you escape from us this time!" he exclaimed.

Caras's teeth clenched. "Unhand me, boy!"

As he said this, from the ground came forth a pair of crow heads and claws that clutched onto the feet of Fakir and Autor, rooting them to their spots as Caras yanked himself back out of Fakir's grasp and vanished in a flurry of black feathers.

The crow soldiers holding them to the ground disappeared as soon as Caras had, leaving a frustrated Fakir and a confused Autor behind.

o-o-o-o-o

Drosselmeyer was just as confused as Autor and Fakir at the events that had just taken place.

"What kind of ridiculousness is this now?" Drosselmeyer scoffed. "The villain is out rescuing his enemies? He's not even a proper villain anymore at this point! That won't do, that won't do! He was doing so well before!"

He glanced back at the gear to which the black quill connected. "But I can't do anything about it. Wherever he goes from here, he'll have to do on his own will…"

o-o-o-o-o

Caras reappeared back in the abandoned studio, pensive and solemn. The black feathery cloak he wore vanished, leaving behind the blue uniform that tied him without doubt to the school he had just been at.

The two students he had rescued were not only people who knew him as some sort of enemy, but also had the power of "Spinners", which was some magic that affected reality. That along with the prince and his lookalike brother made it undeniable: the school was where he would find out more about himself before he had lost his memory.

From what the crows had observed, the students had a dorm that they went back to every evening. If he had been a student there, it was more than likely he would have a room of his own. In such a room, might he find key clues to the answers he'd been searching for?

He tried hard to think of what room might have been his, and to his surprise found that he could recall walking down a darkened hallway, and a dorm room door that he walked through. When he thought about what could be in that room, though, all he could remember was that it was a bare room, cold and full of shadows—though he knew it was not empty, he could not recall what could have occupied such a room.

Caras glanced out the window, where the sunlight was waning outside. He supposed that he could even go now to investigate, but… well, now would be the time that students would be coming back from classes, and thus the dorm grounds would be well populated. It might be better if he went the next day during the late morning, when classes would still be in session.

He frowned at himself. That wasn't the entire reason for his hesitation. In truth, though it wasn't logically grounded, he felt as if once he went to investigate that dorm room, he wouldn't be able to go back to his current blissful ignorance. Like what Sagi seemed to be doing, perhaps it would be better for him to simply continue onward, oblivious to the darkness that hovered around him, continuing turning away from it for as long as he could.

But that was only delaying the inevitable. As much as he knew of it, his shadowy past would catch up to him sooner or later. And if that were the case, he would rather face it head on, with his own hands, than to wait for it to come to him.

Caras sat down, glancing out the window at the waning sun. Tomorrow, of course. Even then, there was still tomorrow.


Next episode preview

Mytho, Trutho, and Emma stand before Frollo in the Ginkan Council Hall, when Macbeth bursts into the building.
(Macbeth's voice) "The only entity benefiting from these ridiculous tithes is the church!"
Soldiers shove Macbeth unceremoniously out of the hall and into the street, and is immediately mobbed by a crowd that begins to throw refuse at him.
(Trutho's voice) "He should be thankful that all they did was throw him out."
Fakir confronts Caras in an abandoned studio, standing between him and Ahiru, with Sagi standing nearby.
(Fakir's voice) "Maybe so, but what difference does it make? You're still the same person you ever were—no, not a person. You are the Raven; a monster through and through!"
Caras, in a darkened dorm room, reaches for the heart shards sitting atop a black spiny pedestal.
(Caras's voice) "One day, you'll have to learn that if you don't fight for what you want, you'll be powerless to have it taken from you."
Sagi sits on the cobblestone ground, her head buried in her hands. She lifts her head, and her face is stained with tears.
(Sagi's voice) "Caras-san… were you right after all? Was I the stupid one all along?"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
35. AKT "Oblivion"
~ Pathétique ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

The story told before the episode mixes together two stories: one, the more well-known Beauty and the Beast, and a lesser known one from Peer Gynt that tells of a man that visited a goblin king in a mountain, who asked him the difference between a man and a monster. Music from Peer Gynt, as well as music from a Mother Goose suite that includes a song named after Beauty and the Beast, play during this episode. The piano song that Autor plays in this episode is associated with the music theme that plays as a result of that piano song being played.

34. AKT Music List

(the time ranges listed show what part of the track is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Anitra's Dance"
Played starting from the beginning, where Ahiru, Fakir, and Sagi are walking to school, during Sagi's flashback with Takako, and the beginning of the scene with Mytho and the shard.
(from "Peer Gynt" Suite No. 1, composed by Grieg) A capricious yet mysterious dancing music piece.

"Peer Gynt's Homecoming"
Played as the Agony shard swarms, and attacks Mytho.
(from "Peer Gynt" Suite No. 2, composed by Grieg) A turbulent, thundering song that sounds like a tempest.

"Solveig's Song"
This is played after Tutu removes the Agony shard from Mytho, and he discovers Ahiru's identity as Tutu.
(from "Peer Gynt" Suite No. 2, composed by Grieg) A gentle, sorrowful ballad.

"Sleeping Beauty's Pavane"
This is played when Mytho runs after Ahiru into town, finds her at the outdoor theatre and begins talking to her.
(from "Mother Goose" suite, composed by Ravel) A quiet song that evokes the image of Sleeping Beauty sadly dozing off to sleep.

"The Fairy Garden"
(start 0:38)
This is played during Mytho and Ahiru's conversation at the outdoor theatre.
(from "Mother Goose" suite, composed by Ravel) An affectionate, warm piece that grows in magnificence and splendor as the music continues.

"Arabian Dance"
Played when Autor visits Takako.
(from "The Nutcracker") A slow, enigmatic song. Could be thought of as Takako's theme.

"Conversations of Beauty and the Beast"
This is played during Sagi's first visit to Caras.
(from "Mother Goose" suite, composed by Ravel) An ambivalent, moody song that goes from gentle and caring to grumbling and temperamental.

"La Traviata: Prelude to Act 3"
Played while Trutho recounts to Emma his past since they parted.
(from "La Traviata" opera, composed by Verdi) A quiet song filled with melancholy, nostalgic sentiment.

"Danse antique"
Played during Mytho's meeting with Madam Greta.
(from "Faust" opera, composed by Gounod) A calm yet lively piece that sounds a bit foreign, even Egyptian.

"Moonlight Sonata, 2nd movement 'Allegretto'"
Played during the second meeting of Sagi and Caras.
(composed by Beethoven) A whimsical, almost playful song that is lively at parts and calmer in others, with the lively major key conveying a sort of personality. Could be thought of as Caras's 2nd theme (three in all, including all three movements of the Moonlight Sonata).

"Drosselmeyer Resurrection"
(start 1:03)
Played during Drosselmeyer's interlude.
A menacing yet muted organ version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Songs without Words op. 67 no. 2 'Lost Illusions' – Allegro leggiero"
Played during Autor's stroll that ends when he enters the cathedral.
(composed by Mendelssohn) An ambivalent, inconstant piano song that is full of indecision and anxiety.

"March of the Trolls"
This is the piano song that Autor mentions and plays in the cathedral.
(composed by Grieg) A lively, exciting song that sounds like little beasts thundering through the halls.

"In the Hall of the Mountain King"
This is the music that plays in the air that drives people into a frenzied state.
(from "Peer Gynt" Suite No. 1, composed by Grieg) A song that starts out sneaky and impish and gradually becomes thunderous and frenzied.

"Moonlight Sonata, 1st movement 'Adagio sostenuto"
Played for the scene with Caras contemplating the situation.
(composed by Beethoven) A sustained, quiet song with low notes and many sharps that give the feeling of a dark but tranquil night. Could be thought of as Caras's 1st theme (three in all, including all three movements of the Moonlight Sonata).

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Symphony #6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathetique' 4th movement: Finale (Adagio lamentoso)"
This is played for the next episode preview.
(composed by Tchaikovsky) A lamenting song full of passionate despair.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, a prophecy by three witches foretold the end of the world. The king was told of this prophecy, and decided to try to defy it. It told of a prince who would one day kill his father and marry his mother, so the king had the baby prince thrown into the river to drown.

Yet the prince was found by a peasant couple, growing up to become the man who would kill his father and marry the widowed queen, without ever knowing, until it was too late, that he had fulfilled the prophecies that would lead to the world's end.

Would the events have played out any differently if the king had not tried to defy the prophecies? Or was defying the prophecies only fighting the inevitable?

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

35. AKT "Oblivion"
~ Pathétique ~

The people of Ginkan gazed upon the sight with amazement as Prince Siegfried, the purveyor of miracles, rode in plain daylight with a small entourage of servants also on horseback through the streets, heading for the Ginkan Hall.

Trutho and Emma, the former wearing a Kinkan school uniform (as that was the most formal outfit Trutho was willing to wear) rode close behind his brother on a gray horse. But most, with their thoughts focused on Siegfried, did not notice the two when beholding the entourage behind the prince.

When they approached the hall, the guards at the gates immediately recognized him, and without further prompting opened the way to let the prince through.

After helping Emma off the horse, the three boldly entered the building, where Frollo received them with a startled expression.

"I'm… surprised to see you again so soon, Prince of Kinkan, though I welcome the meeting," Frollo said to Mytho. "To what may I attribute this opportunity today?"

He then saw Trutho and Emma behind him, and when his eyes fell upon the gypsy, his eyebrows creased. "And I see you have brought… guests with you."

"Honor these guests as you would me," Mytho said with a solemn expression. "They are knowledgeable people for a discussion that we must have about recent events here in Ginkan."

"You've been throwing people out of Ginkan after taking their treasures from them," Trutho declared accusingly, his expression full of rancor. "You taxed the gypsies until they had nothing else, and then exiled them!"

"You even dared to imply that something of value that a gypsy has would have been stolen," Emma said with a scowl.

"Who did you hear that from?" Frollo said with an indignant frown. "I never said such a thing."

"Don't you lie to us!" Trutho snapped. "You've always been against the gypsies, and you're just using excuses to make things even harder on them now that you're in power!"

"Brother, please allow him some patience," Mytho said, placing an imploring hand gently on his arm, before turning back to Frollo, whose lips were tightened with displeasure. "We have heard from many people who you have exiled on those terms mentioned. It has caused great hardship on many of your people, who are now taking refuge in Kinkan."

"I apologize for this deluge of miscreants into your town," Frollo said, doing his best to ignore the prince's two tagalongs. "It was not my intent to offload them so that they become your problem to deal with. With your leave, I shall have a group of Ginkan soldiers drive them out of your town so that they will not trouble either of us anymore."

"No, that is not what concerns me," Mytho replied, a frown growing on his face. "It is rather the hardships that you have caused on your people whom you have turned out, particularly for those who have little to begin with. As my brother and his companion have mentioned, we have talked with some of them personally, and they told us of how you would strip them of their valuable belongings in the name of taxation, and then exile them despite their confiscation. Do you need to go to such drastic and harmful measures to fund public works?"

"You underestimate the harm that Macbeth and his Council have done to the order and purity of Ginkan," Frollo said calmly, as if he were patiently explaining to a child. "The recent attack by the monster raven, though your efforts prevented major injury, caused much chaos and damage to the town. So that this may once again be a more blessed place, we must take every measure to ensure that the people live in a more pious manner, obeying the teachings of God and supporting the church so as to allow—"

Suddenly, the front doors of the Council Hall slammed open, and in stormed Macbeth, trailed by a few servants that struggled to keep up with him. "Prattling on and on again with your 'holier than thou' air, your Grace?"

"Macbeth!" Frollo exclaimed. "What are you doing here? How did the guards let you in?"

"Seems that when they let in the entourage of the Kinkan prince, it allowed some leeway for me to enter behind him," Macbeth said offhandedly. "But what of that? There are more important things to address!"

Macbeth turned toward Mytho, seemingly oblivious of the glares that shot in his direction from Emma and Trutho. "Listen not to his pretty words of justification for his tyranny. He uses his power only to enforce his will that the people serve the church's interests, not the other way around!"

"Such impudence," Frollo said, his eyes narrowing. "Guards! Throw this trespasser out into the street where he belongs!"

"The only entity benefiting from these ridiculous tithes is the church!" Macbeth said as the guards approached him. They were about to seize him, but Mytho put his hand up toward them.

"Stop! I would hear what he has to say," Mytho said, his brows furrowing. Emma and Trutho looked at him in disbelief.

"He now forbids any commerce or other activity other than worship on Sundays," Macbeth said matter-of-factly. "If any are found to be doing business on that day, they are arrested and their assets turned over to the church. If anyone even says a word of protest, he accuses them of treason against the church and excommunicates them! He's a tyrant, I tell you! A tyrant!"

"What cheek," Frollo said, scowling. "You were the tyrant around this town for a number of years, yet you dare to accuse me of your same crime? Prince Siegfried, I believe we have heard enough. Guards, take this buffoon outside!"

"I'm not finished!" Macbeth exclaimed.

"But I am," Frollo said coldly. "When will you get it into your head that you no longer have any power here? Now get back out there where you belong, or I'll have you thrown out of your residence onto the street—permanently."

With that, the guards grabbed Macbeth and dragged him out toward the doors, his servants nervously following behind, not daring to intercede on behalf of their master. The doors closed after them.

"How pitiful he is now," Emma remarked without sympathy.

Trutho muttered, "He should be thankful that all they did was throw him out."

Mytho looked at Trutho, frowning worriedly, but said nothing in response. Instead, he turned back toward Frollo. "I'm concerned that this authoritarian rule is having the opposite effect of what you intended…"

o-o-o-o-o

After roughly handling Macbeth out of the door, the guards tossed him onto the street and turned around, heading back into the hall.

"How dare you treat me like this!?" Macbeth shouted, scrambling to get up and shake his fist at them. "You served me and obeyed my orders all but a few days ago! Is that the depth of your loyalty?!"

The only reply he got was the doors to the hall slamming shut.

"That Archbishop Frollo," Macbeth grumbled. "At least I kept my nose out of what didn't concern me! He thinks he can tell everyone what to do and when they can do it. I never arrested people for doing normal business!"

"What are you still doing here, you cur? Get out of town and don't come back!"

The outburst made Macbeth turn around, and with the man who had shouted, he saw a group of people glaring at him, made up of individuals both finely dressed and those with frayed patchwork robes.

"You set the crows on us, villain!" a noblewoman cried out. "His Grace would never betray us by throwing in his lot with demons!"

"All of our troubles were because of your selfishness!" a male gypsy exclaimed. "Blaming all of your schemes on us because we were the most vulnerable, and now you have the nerve to accuse your replacement of the same—you're despicable!"

"Be silent, you rowdy mob!" Macbeth yelled. "Servants! Get these rabble rousers out of my way. I've had enough of this for today!"

Hearing no response, he glanced around with puzzlement. The servants had disappeared.

"Servants! Where are you!?" he shouted.

Then he spotted a few of them—they had broken away from his side and hid themselves in the crowd with guilty expressions.

"You… you traitors!" Macbeth's voice quivered in rage. "You would to side with my assailants, and to my face besides? Come back here this instant, or I'll have your heads!"

"They simply know sense," a nobleman said, sniffing impassively. "What point is there serving a dishonored, almost bankrupt former tyrant? They know that their loyalty deserves much better. We won't let you bully Ginkan citizens any longer!"

The crowd took up the chant as they began advancing slowly on Macbeth. "Get out! Get out!"

"What… what is this!?" Macbeth said, fear creeping into his voice. "The one oppressing you is that Archbishop! Though he may be a man of the cloth, such doesn't mean that—"

He was cut off when he barely dodged a small rock that had been hurled at his head. The first toss let forth an avalanche of others as the rest of the crowd began doing the same, with a barrage of pebbles, rotten fruit, and refuse flying toward Macbeth.

"No! Stop this at once—" he said before being cut off by a particularly mushy tomato that stained his shirt and doused his face in its juice.

"Get out! Get out, you tyrant!" the crowd chanted as Macbeth began backing away.

"You're disgusting," a wizened gypsy woman said in a sinister low tone beneath the yells of the crowd, just barely in Macbeth's earshot. "I hope you die a horrible death." She then spit in his direction.

The threats frightened Macbeth enough that he turned around and ran, trying to find his way back to the relative safety of his residence.

"Coward! Coward!" the mob yelled as they tailed him.

As he ran, he glanced around, looking for someone, anyone who would decry this travesty going on in front of them. But every person he saw on the streets looked back at him with similar eyes: full of either resentment or apathy. No one looked twice at him except to glare with disdain. Not one of them seemed to object to this treatment.

o-o-o-o-o

Finally, he lost the crowd coming after him after escaping through a narrow alleyway, though he was somewhat worse for the wear. He was not a young man anymore, and the extended running had exhausted him. Where he wasn't drenched in sweat, bruises and stains covered his body from the various items the heckling crowd had thrown his way.

How far I have fallen, Macbeth thought. I used to be the head of the Council of this town, respected by all. I had everything under control. But then, the church got involved, as well as that meddling prince. Now, I'm a laughingstock at best, and at worst, a villain that doesn't deserve to live.

Though he recognized the street that he now walked on as barely a block or two from his residence, Macbeth found himself too dejected to return home—if it could still be called as such. So he turned a corner and kept walking, with his only direction being any road that was unoccupied, empty, where he wasn't likely to be disturbed.

He didn't realize that following behind him from the rooftops were the Raven Sisters, who were watching his every move.

In this state, he found himself walking into an empty small courtyard of another nobleman's estate that had been freshly abandoned, and knowing that he was unlikely to be bothered here, he wandered around until he found a garden bench, surrounded by nothing but trees and flowers. Silently he sat down upon it.

What did I even accomplish in the end? I wanted to keep the Macbeth name held in esteem, so that I and my family might have no worries about our place in society, and no one would dare threaten it. But now, my wife and daughter fear to even step outside the house, worrying of their personal safety. And today, even our servants have betrayed me, in cold blood and in my presence! All of those years of struggle—and it all broke down within the span of a few days.

"What do I have left?" Macbeth asked aloud to the chill air. "Everything is going from bad to worse. I've failed my family. All I have left for them is suffering. Living on would only prolong this humiliation and—"

"So they'd be better off without you, is that what you're thinking?"

Macbeth was startled to hear a strangely familiar feminine voice. He stood up, glancing around. "Who goes there?"

"Perhaps you're right," another familiar female voice said from behind him. "You tried so hard, and yet it all comes to nothing in the end. Pitiable, isn't it?"

Macbeth turned toward the voices and saw three women in black feathery dresses walking toward him. "You… you're the three she-ravens, the ones we made the deal with."

"Indeed," the one in the middle, Verdandi, said. "The last time we came to you uncloaked was the first time we talked and made our deal, wasn't it?"

"What do you want?" Macbeth said, slumping back down on the bench. "I have no more need for your services. I'm a spent man. Take your gloating elsewhere."

"We only wish to alleviate your suffering, human," the tall one said. "How much pain must you be in to behave so despondently as you have? We've been watching you, and it's becoming worse and worse as time passes. Soon you may not even be able to keep up your arrogant act in front of others, and then how humiliated will you feel?"

"Alleviate my suffering? Hah!" Macbeth scoffed. "What are you going to do, peck me to death? Even I am not so addled as to think that there aren't better ways to die."

"Oh, no, we will not kill you," Skuld said, a sly smile on her face. "You see, there is a way for you to live on without the agony of humiliation and despair—we'll simply take away your heart."

"Take away what!?" Macbeth exclaimed. "That's a death even more bloody and cruel!"

"Not that kind of heart, fool," Verdandi said. "I talk of the one that holds your feelings—ones that normally no human can grasp. What contains your emotions, your will—everything that can be hurt on the inside, and what is surely hurting so much right now."

"Wouldn't that be better, Macbeth?" Urd asked, her arm extending, her hand facing up toward him. "You can live on, but you won't need to feel that pain anymore. No humiliation, no despair, no suffering. You'll simply… exist."

"No more humiliation, despair, or suffering…" Macbeth mumbled to himself as the three raven sisters slowly crept toward him, their hands held out, imploring him to give them what they sought.

"None of those feelings shall live in you any longer," Urd said, stroking his back gently, then taking his hand and leading him into the open courtyard where Verdandi stood waiting.

"We shall take it all away," Verdandi said, stretching her arms above her, the image of black wings appearing behind her. "Leave your burdens behind you, forever."

"Give us your heart, Lord Macbeth," Skuld said, pulling playfully at his other arm toward her sister. "You don't need that silly thing anymore."

Macbeth gazed at them with clouded eyes. "If my heart is causing all this pain… then what do I need it for?"

With that, he lay backward and a black pedestal pushed him up from the ground, drawing him closer and closer to Verdandi's waiting hands.

o-o-o-o-o

"Ah, very nice, very good!" Drosselmeyer said, watching the gears as the white quill in his hand etched ink onto the parchment. "Kinkan is such an innocent town that it's difficult to get them into the despair that wishes your own heart away. It took a corrupted prince and corrupted love to do that there. But here, all their hearts are so twisted and darkened that here we are, about to have one taken from him willingly!"

He sneered. "And there's no Princess Tutu around to make things all better, is there?"

Though Uzura was too far away to be able to interfere (as Drosselmeyer's exile had prevented her from getting close), she could hear him gloating to himself about the scene before them. "Uh-oh! The tussle-mayor is making more people sad-zura! And the guardians are there too!"

If they consume the heart of a human, then they shall be started on the path that the Raven himself took, Edel said. Then the guardians might never return from that dark abyss.

"Then I've gotta stop them-zura!"

She prepped herself to jump through the gear that led into Ginkan. But in her haste, Uzura misjudged the gap and plummeted down through the gears. She flapped her hands frantically, as if trying to fly her way out of this, and finally caught her hands on the edge of a cog within reach.

"Ahhh! I fell-zura!" she exclaimed, scrambling to get her feet on the gear, and then hopping about up onto the other gears, trying to get back up to the portal. "Guardians! I'm coming-zura!"

o-o-o-o-o

Verdandi reached down for Macbeth's chest, and as her hands touched together onto it, his chest emitted a crimson glow. She reached down and pulled up on it, causing Macbeth to briefly rouse from his stupor and gasp in pain, startling Verdandi for a moment.

"You've almost got it, sister!" Skuld exclaimed.

"We shall finally have a heart to consume, after all this time!" Urd said.

Spurred on by the encouragement of her sisters, she was not deterred as Macbeth began to scream. But after a fervent yank, the screaming abruptly stopped, replaced by an eerie silence.

"It is done," Verdandi said.

As the pedestal shrunk back into the ground, leaving Macbeth lying motionless on the grass, Skuld and Urd hurried over to their middle sister, their eyes fixed upon the crimson glow that hovered above her pale hands.

"Look at it, sisters," Verdandi said in gleeful awe. The heart, though its otherworldly crimson glow was mesmerizing, was full of cracks, and its shine seemed somehow dull and unstable, like a light bulb that would soon go out. "Once we eat this wondrous morsel, it shall make us powerful like the Monstrous One!"

Urd paused. "Who shall take the first bite?"

A silence pervaded their midst for some moments.

"Bite?" Verdandi asked, a frown tugging at her lips. "I thought it was supposed to be swallowed whole. And since I removed the heart, it should be me who shall taste the first heart."

"But you could not have done this without us," Skuld said, beginning to pout. "Without me! I was the one who led the invasion of our forces to begin that human's downfall! I should be the one to have it!"

"I still think we should share the bounty," Urd said, crossing her arms. "But if dividing the heart would reduce its power, then I am the eldest, and so I should be the first."

"Sisters, why are we arguing about this now?" Verdandi asked crossly. "I am the one who leads us, so it's obvious that I would be the first. We shall have many more hearts after this, and you all will taste their wonders after me."

"But… but…!" Skuld said, her red eyes reflecting the enticing crimson glow. "I want it! I must have it! Give it to me, sister!"

"We must stop this quibbling!" Urd exclaimed. "Just give it to me, and then we shall go in order of our years. That would make you next, Verdandi."

"And have me go last, is that it!?" Skuld snapped, her fists clenching. "You just want it for yourself! Verdandi, my sister, if you will not give it to me, then at least do not give it to Urd! She has grown greedy and is using her elder status against us, even though she merely follows our lead, rather than come up with schemes of her own."

"What cheek!" Urd said, turning toward Skuld angrily. "You're the one who's growing greedy! You took one look at it and now you can't resist its allure. Verdandi, remember that whoever takes the heart, they will become much more powerful than the other sisters, and so would dominate over them. There's a reason that our impetuous Skuld hasn't been made the leader!"

"Stop it, guardians, stop fighting! You've gotta stop-zura!"

A high-pitched yell interrupted their bickering. They turned toward the sudden voice, and the little wooden puppet girl had stumbled out of a floating clockwork gear onto the grass beside the raven sisters.

"You again!" Skuld exclaimed. "Where did you come from!?"

"You still call us 'guardians'," Urd asked, frowning. "What do you mean by that?"

"You're… supposed to be the guardians… of the tapestry-zura!" Uzura said, breathless from what sounded like a hasty climb.

"Tapestry? What tapestry?" Skuld asked, scowling at the little girl. "You've prattled on about this before, but it makes no more sense now than it did then!"

"The tapestry is the one Mama-zura makes!" Uzura said, her little fists held over her chest with desperation. "It's the tapestry that is made of the strings of fate-zura!"

"Strings of… fate?" Urd asked, her brows furrowing. "The one who makes them? Who is your mother, child?"

Uzura smiled. "Mama-zura is Mama-zura!"

Verdandi sighed curtly. "Let me rephrase that. What kind of mother can make the strings of fate?"

"Mama-zura is a giant tree-zura!" Uzura rambled, eager to find some kind of description that would mean something to her audience. "She lives in the Loophole in Time-zura! She's the heart of the world-zura!"

The three raven sisters stared at the tiny girl as Uzura caught her breath.

Skuld frowned pensively. "Can we believe the babbling of a human babe like her? Is she trying to take us for fools?"

"She is not an ordinary human herself," Urd said, kneeling down and tapping Uzura on the cheek, making a hollow knocking sound. "She's made out of wood. That a tree is her 'Mama' would therefore not be too far off…"

"Somehow, I don't think she is teasing us…" Verdandi said, tilting her head slowly.

Before they could think on this further, shouts came from the distance. A young woman shouted, "Father! Father! Where are you!?"

"A human comes," Urd said, glancing around anxiously. "We shall be in a bind if we are found with this human without his heart."

"Indeed," Verdandi said nervously. "As we are now, we are no match for a mob of humans if they were all determined to take us down."

"Let's go to Mama-zura!" Uzura exclaimed. "She can explain things better-zura!"

"Where is this 'Mama' you speak of?" Skuld said, her arms crossed.

"She's over here, in the Loophole-zura!" Uzura said, pointing behind her as a portal in the shape of a hovering gear appeared there.

"We shall talk with her, then," Verdandi said somewhat quickly, making her sisters look at her in surprise.

"So you believe her baffling story?" Skuld asked.

"It may or may not be true," Verdandi said, "but that portal is otherworldly magic, make no mistake. And we must swiftly leave this place before that human calling out finds us here. Let us escape, and think on this later. Consuming this heart can wait."

She stepped toward the portal as Uzura glanced behind her, saying, "Let's go, guardians-zura!" before jumping in herself.

Urd and Skuld glanced at each other uneasily. Then as Verdandi stepped inside, her sisters followed behind.

o-o-o-o-o

Lady Kamome stepped into the courtyard of the recently abandoned nobleman's estate. Pulling off the hood on her cloak that masked her identity from passersby, she glanced around, having sworn she heard voices in the area. Then she saw her father lying on the grassy ground.

"Father! Are you hurt!? What's wrong!?" Kamome exclaimed, running toward him.

"Daughter…" Macbeth mumbled, remaining on the ground and turning his head toward Kamome.

The nobleman's daughter knelt down and held out her hand, trying to help him get up. But instead of a proud smile or even an annoyed scowl, he simply lay there, looking at Kamome's hand with a blank expression.

"Father…?" Kamome said, the bewilderment in her eyes slowly turning to panic. "What happened to you? Do you feel ill?"

"I do not feel ill," Macbeth said evenly.

"You don't? Then why do you seem so…lifeless?" Kamome asked. "What happened?"

"I didn't want to feel pain anymore, so I gave it up," Macbeth said in an unnatural monotone.

Kamome's eyes widened. "What… what do you mean…!?"

o-o-o-o-o

Komaro looked around him as he rode slowly through Ginkan. The town had looked depressed the last time he and Mytho were here, but now the air of oppressive silence seemed even more acute. A bell could be heard tolling in the distance, and the townsfolk he came across scurried across the street, paying him no heed as he made his way to Ginkan Hall.

Dressed in a light travel cloak, Komaro looked around him, hoping to find his prince without having to venture into the dreaded town hall where a battalion of armed soldiers stood guard. But with no sign of Mytho, Komaro steadied himself and addressed the pair of soldiers who came to meet him.

"Who are you, and what business do you have here at Ginkan Hall?" one of the soldiers barked.

"I am Komaro, a servant of his highness, Prince Siegfried of Kinkan," Komaro replied calmly as he produced a gold insignia embossed with the swan crest of Kinkan. "Before his departure my liege informed me that he would be found here. There is some urgent news which I must convey to him, in person," he stressed.

At the sight of the insignia, the soldiers glanced at each other before wordlessly stepping aside to let Komaro pass.

Meanwhile, inside Ginkan Hall, the prince and the archbishop had exchanged many words, but after nearly a full day of discussion, Mytho had the unpleasant growing suspicion that Frollo refused to see the error of his ways, and indeed, seemed to treat him as a naive young man who needed to have something simple explained to him.

"Archbishop Frollo, you do them wrong to assume that the gypsies must have stolen their treasures and heirlooms," Mytho said, his frown deepening. "Rather, they are all the more precious, as they are not so well-off as to hoard such items without great significance to them as people."

"That was not the point, in any case," Frollo said with a curt sigh. "They were fined like any other people in this town in order to rebuild it, and make this a more pious place—"

"FROLLO!"

The brazen shout came after the doors to the Hall slammed open again. Komaro, who had just entered the hall, was nearly shoved aside as the ginger haired Kamome marched right past him, pulling her father along in one arm. In contrast to his prior entrance, Macbeth now seemed extremely impassive as his daughter's rapid footsteps came to a stop in front of the surprised archbishop.

"What did you do to him, Frollo!?" Kamome yelled.

His eyebrow twitched at the disrespectful address of his name. "What are you talking about, you silly girl? Your father burst in uninvited, like you just did, and I simply threw him out."

"Who cares about that!" Kamome said snippily. "There's something wrong with him! Something terrible! It's as if…" she paused, her voice quivering, "…as if someone stole his soul away."

The alarm on the four's faces was evident, but Mytho's was mixed with uneasy recognition. He glanced at Macbeth, and it was as if he was seeing a ghost. The previously fiery and defiant air was replaced with a blank stare. It was a look that the prince himself had previously, in this world, only seen in the mirror, but many times in his homeland, as a result of the brutality of his arch-nemesis.

"Kamome-san, please let me confirm something," Mytho said, walking toward Macbeth.

"What do you mean?"

Mytho's brows furrowed. "I truly hope this is not the case, but…"

The prince placed a hand on Macbeth's chest, over his heart. After a few moments, Mytho's eyes widened in horror, stepping back. "It's as I feared—his heart has been taken from him."

Shocked expressions appeared on Frollo, Trutho and Emma's faces.

"You mean that… his soul has indeed been stolen from him!?" Frollo asked, stepping away from Macbeth as if he held some horrid disease Frollo didn't want to catch. "What manner of unholy creature could do such a thing?"

"There is only one type of monster I know who would be responsible," Mytho said, grimacing. "But the leader of them all is not here."

"I… I thought I heard ravens where I had found Father," Kamome said, shuddering. "S-So, they took my father's heart…? What will they do with it?"

"The Raven wants to consume all the hearts he can obtain in order to prolong his life and power," Mytho said solemnly.

"What!?" Kamome exclaimed, clutching her father more tightly as her voice began dissolving into sobs. "No! His heart can't be gone! He won't be like this forever, will he!?"

"I don't believe he can do so yet," Mytho said in a gentle voice, trying to comfort her. "The Raven is in a weakened state, and cannot consume hearts. He would have no reason to destroy the hearts he collects before that." He glanced out the open doors. "And I will prevent him from rising again."

Then he turned toward Komaro. "I'm glad to see you, Komaro, though I hadn't expected you to follow us here. Has something happened?"

"Unfortunately, there has… been a frightening incident in Kinkan," Komaro said, his eyes glancing warily at the unhappy crowd standing all around him. "The crows went wild and caused chaos among the townspeople, in plain daylight. Their attack stopped soon afterward, so not much physical damage was done, but the incident frightened the townspeople greatly. I felt I had to let you know about it as soon as possible, considering the circumstances…"

"Raven attacks in Kinkan, now!?" Frollo exclaimed in outrage. "So those infernal beasts are spreading their evil out further?"

Mytho shook his head, his eyes despondent. "I should have known that as soon as I left, the Raven would make his move."

"Kinkan's in danger?" Trutho's eyes widened. "From the crows?"

"I would otherwise hurry straight back, but…" Mytho's brows furrowed. "Matters are still of concern here; I can't be in two places at once."

"We'll handle Ginkan in the meantime, then," Trutho said. "Emma-neesan, will you stay here with me?"

"Of course," Emma nodded. "Prince Mytho, we will talk to Frollo in your place. Don't worry about Ginkan; go and take care of matters in Kinkan."

"But…" Mytho hesitated, glancing at Trutho. "Will you be all right here, without me? Will they still suspect you of wrongdoing?"

"I'll be fine," Trutho insisted. "Nee-san is here with me, and now I remember that you're my brother, so they can't ignore what we say."

Still worried, Mytho turned toward Komaro and asked, "Would you stay with them, so that Emma-san and my brother would have your assistance when they need it?"

"If that is your wish, sire," Komaro nodded. "I would rather not weigh you down if you mean to return to Kinkan quickly."

"Yes, though…" Mytho hesitated again, looking at Trutho.

"You're worried that they won't believe your brother has your endorsement if I am not there to corroborate him, correct?" Komaro asked Mytho, who nodded with concern. "I have something that might help."

He took out the golden insignia of Kinkan he carried with him. "This is proof of my association with Prince Siegfried and his household. If you take this and show it to someone relevant, Prince Trutho, then I think that even the more suspicious audiences would acknowledge your relation to him."

Mytho smiled. "As always, Komaro, you find a good solution."

"Is it really all right for me to borrow this?" Trutho asked, stepping toward Komaro with his hand hovering near Komaro's with uncertainty.

"It is simply serving its purpose," Komaro said solemnly, placing the golden insignia in his hand. "You are his Majesty's brother, after all."

"Yeah," Trutho said, a small smile on his face. "You're right. Thank you."

o-o-o-o-o

The morning was overcast as Fakir, Ahiru, and Sagi walked from the dorms to the academy. While Fakir and Ahiru were busy catching up on the events of the prior day, Sagi walked alongside them silently, preoccupied with something else.

"So Autor has Spinning powers after all?" Ahiru asked, somewhat amazed. "But it's through his music?"

"That's what it seems like," Fakir said, his arms crossed. "We had a run-in with the Book Men after I found him, but then…" He trailed off with a dark look on his face.

"What happened!?" Ahiru exclaimed, growing alarmed. "Did they… did they cut off Autor's hands?"

"No, we were able to escape, but…" Fakir said, trailing off.

"So that's why he didn't sleep in your room last night? He stayed at the academy where it's safer?"

"Basically, yeah," Fakir replied. "And I've got no problem having the room to myself."

His eyes narrowed. "But… the one who rescued us was Caras."

Ahiru's mouth dropped open. "Caras saved you!? No way! Why would he do that? Are you sure it was Caras?"

"I have no idea," Fakir said, grimacing. "He looked like him, and sounded like him, but he didn't explain himself. I tried to capture him, but he slipped through."

"Maybe he doesn't like the Book Men either?" Ahiru said, crossing her arms with a baffled expression. "Sagi-chan, do you have any idea why he'd do something like that?"

When she didn't get a response, Ahiru glanced over at her. Sagi had a pained expression on her face that was more pronounced than it had been the past couple of days.

"Sagi-chan? Are you okay?" Ahiru asked.

"What?" Sagi was momentarily roused out of her brooding. "Oh, yes… I'm fine," she said, before withdrawing from the conversation again.

Ahiru's lips tightened, her eyes filling with worry, and was about to inquire further when Fakir suddenly held his hand in front of them. "Wait, stop."

Ahiru and Sagi looked ahead of them, and spotted a short old man in a brown cloak.

"It's one of the Book Men," Ahiru said uneasily. "Fakir, we should get out of here—"

"I mean none of you harm," a familiar voice said, as he lowered his hood and revealed himself to be William, the Book Men's leader. "I am alone and unarmed. I wish to speak with the young Spinner, Fakir."

"Speak then," Fakir said warily, keeping his distance while standing between William and Ahiru. "What do you want from me, after you and your friends attacked Autor and me?"

"While my comrades do not trust you two, I still remember both of your efforts to defeat the Raven and stop Drosselmeyer, even fighting me to do so," William said. "You have shown no other attempts to harm or control the town, and so I still trust your goodwill. Therefore I ask you: why did the Raven rescue you from us? Is he somehow your ally now? Or was he stealing you away for his own purposes?"

"I still don't know," Fakir said. "I'm guessing he had some motive for doing so, but he did nothing further to either of us, and after that all he did was disappear from our sights, so we're in the dark as to where to find him."

"So you know nothing of it, either," William said pensively. "Then, if you wish to find him as well, I suggest that we go to the Oak Tree field and ask for guidance. If any being would know, the Tree would."

"You said even Takako the fortuneteller couldn't tell where he was, right?" Ahiru asked Fakir. "Maybe we should go and ask the Oak Tree about it. Then we can find him and defeat him for good!"

Sagi blinked, looking alarmed at what had just been said, but continued to say nothing.

Fakir looked hesitant. "It's not that simple; the Tree usually gives vague answers at best. If I let my guard down, and things go like they did the first time, then…"

"Oh…" Ahiru's face fell upon remembering Fakir almost being swallowed up by the Tree. "Should we ask Takako-san again, then?"

"You should avoid visiting the fortuneteller Takako for the time being," William warned. "The other Book Men have gone to question her as we speak, and I can't guarantee your safety if they catch you there in person."

Fakir sighed. "It sounds like we don't have any other options right now. So even if there's a risk at the Oak Tree, I'll have to take it," he said.

"I will accompany you and keep a lookout," William said. "If they do come upon us, I will give you advance warning and you can make an escape. However, I believe this is unlikely enough that such would only be a precaution."

"That's good enough, I suppose," Fakir said with a small nod. "Ahiru, Sagi-san, you two go on ahead to the academy."

"What?! We can't let you go alone!" Ahiru exclaimed. "What if they come after you?"

"Then I'd rather not have to worry about your safety as well as my own," Fakir said frankly. "Plus… Sagi-san has the shard. She shouldn't be alone, either."

They both glanced toward Sagi, who had a forlorn look on her face. Ahiru nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I'll stay with her. You go find out where the Raven is and then hurry back to the school to meet us right after, okay?"

Fakir nodded.

o-o-o-o-o

Sagi and Ahiru were stretching at the barre, warming up before beginning practice on their own. By Sagi's feet was the Agony shard wrapped up in her periwinkle handkerchief. Though it was placed there inconspicuously, somehow it created a heavy, grim atmosphere in the studio, as was the fact that Sagi seemed to be avoiding standing too close to Ahiru.

"We still haven't been able to get out of the apprentice class since we entered dance classes again," Ahiru said glumly, before looking up beside her at Sagi. "Well, I mean, it's your first time, so I'm sure you'll be in the beginner's class in no time, but I keep on bouncing back and forth into the apprentice class…"

Ahiru trailed off as she studied Sagi more closely. The usual shine of her warm brown eyes was cold and dulled, and her head was lowered, gazing at the ground absently. Ahiru's eyes caught on her circular pendant and she saw that even the pendant was beginning to take on a smoky tinge, its luster dulled like her eyes.

"Sagi-chan?" Ahiru said, taking her leg off the barre and walking toward her. "It… it's gotta be so hard, taking the shard around you everywhere like that. Maybe I could hold it for you, just for a while? Maybe you should have a rest—"

"No," Sagi said in a cold, sharp voice. "This is not your burden."

Ahiru blinked, stopping in her tracks, and Sagi realized how harsh her voice had been. She looked apologetically at Ahiru. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean it like that. I just meant, all the people who have tried to hold this shard have recalled such painful memories or experiences that they can barely even touch it. I'm the only one among us for whom that doesn't happen, so we don't have any choice until we can destroy it."

"Yeah, but…" Ahiru stepped next to Sagi, and it was unclear whether her pained expression was from the proximity to the shard, or from her concern for Sagi's wellbeing. "That doesn't mean that letting you feel so awful for our sake is fair, either."

Sagi didn't respond, but simply turned her head back to the wall and continued stretching. The redhead looked dejected. If even Sagi can't hold the shard, then does that mean no one can?

"It seems you have been diligent in your efforts to return to the beginner's class," a feline voice meowed from above.

"Huh?"

Ahiru turned her head up toward the voice, and standing on the ledge of the observer's balcony was Neko-san, the tip of his tail swinging to and fro. "Ah! Neko-sensei! Er, Neko-san! You're here again today? There isn't any class to watch today, though…"

He leapt gracefully down onto the dance studio floor, landing on all fours with barely a sound. "I see that Trutho is not with you. Is he skipping practice, or has something happened?"

"He had to go with Mytho to handle problems in the neighboring town," Ahiru said. "Otherwise he'd be here with us."

"Well, no matter. Is it true that the apprentice class hasn't had a consistent instructor since I left?"

"Umm, well… I wasn't attending class for a few months after that because I couldn't turn into a human," Ahiru said, pursing her lips. "Then I could again, so I came back, but then they didn't have me on record, so I had to start from the apprentice class… and they keep on getting new teachers…"

Neko-san sighed. "How disappointing. I'd have hoped that Yagiko-sensei would have been more effective in finding replacements once I left. Perhaps I should have a talk with her about the matter, even though I've retired."

Then something occurred to Ahiru. "Neko-san, umm… why did you quit teaching? It kinda seems like the dance classes haven't been the same without you around…"

"Ah, t'was not the lack of desire that I stopped, but rather, so I could spend more time with my wife and kittens—after all, that is the proper way to uphold a m-m-m-marriage!" Neko-san said the last line with fervid passion.

"Oh, I see," Ahiru said, nodding. "You're such a good father, Neko-san—you always put your family first."

At that, Sagi made a sound, as if she wanted to say something, but the words died as soon as they reached her lips, and she remained silent.

"But then," Ahiru said, looking confused again, "it sounds like you know what's been going on in the academy even if you don't teach here anymore. How did you hear about all that?"

Neko-san was taken aback for a moment, as if he hadn't really thought about it. "I… well, I've been visiting every now and then recently. I'm not sure why, but… I suppose I've been feeling nostalgic. As well, the kittens are growing up nicely, and my wife Rosina is always willing to look after them if I want to go about town…"

His ears twitched thoughtfully. "Perhaps I should look into teaching here again sometime. They say after all that if you want something done properly, you ought to do it yourself."

Ahiru sweatdropped. But Neko-san's a cat… would Yagiko-sensei let a cat in as an instructor? She doesn't remember him teaching here either, right…?

o-o-o-o-o

"Are you sure you're okay?" Ahiru asked Sagi as they changed out of their ballet clothes.

"I'm fine," Sagi said with an exhausted expression as she placed the wrapped shard into a satchel she had brought before class. "I'm going to go take a walk off campus for a bit. I'll see you later, okay?"

"Maybe I should come with you," Ahiru said, walking toward her. "I'm worried that you're—"

"I'm going alone," Sagi said flatly.

Ahiru stopped in her tracks at the uncharacteristic edge in Sagi's voice.

"I'm sorry," Sagi said a little more softly. "Please… leave me be. I'll look after myself, all right?"

Having changed into her uniform, Sagi walked out of the changing room, leaving Ahiru behind.

After thinking for a moment, Ahiru hastened to change into her own uniform, and then hurrying toward the door, she skittered to a stop and peered around the frame, making sure that Sagi hadn't seen her. When she had just exited the building, Ahiru rushed after her.

o-o-o-o-o

When Fakir and William reached the field where the roots of the Oak Tree lay buried, William stood watch while Fakir approached the rock that hid the center of the Tree's connection point to this world.

Fakir knelt down toward the rock, closed his eyes, and gingerly placed his hand on its surface.

A torrent of visions swept through his mind's eye. A dark alley, where someone in black, downy clothing lay unconscious as a brown-haired woman with white bangs caught sight of him. An underground cave surrounded by trees, in which a deep, unnatural darkness lurked. The sound of sinister laughing, which at first sounded like the Raven, but Fakir realized after some moments that the voice belonged to Drosselmeyer.

Fakir frowned, shaking his head. He focused his will upon finding the current location of the Raven's human incarnation.

He saw a vision of Ahiru as Eir throwing back Caras from Mytho in a flash of golden light. But while Caras stood back up easily, a dark shadow had been driven away from him by Eir's light. The clarity of this image confused Fakir, as he didn't understand its significance, but he took the opportunity to impart his will to find out where that being could currently be located.

The image that stabilized in his mind was that of Caras, in an old, dusty studio that had been abandoned long ago.

He tried to mentally step back to see where the location was in relation to the town itself when he saw Sagi, of all people, walk up to the building and let herself in. She had known Caras would be there.

Fakir could scarcely take in this betrayal when he saw Ahiru tailing Sagi, flailing like she normally would when she tried to sneak around. Sagi hadn't seemed to notice her.

His sense of urgency renewed, Fakir read the location of the area, and once he had it clear enough in his mind to locate the building by memory, he pulled his hand away from the stone, stood up, and took off at a near run toward his destination. There was no point heading for the academy now.

Fakir didn't bother to stop to inform William of his success, but it seemed he didn't need to; the leader of the Book Men tailed Fakir without further questioning, knowing that Fakir had found their shared goal and that William only need follow him to get to it.

Chapter Text

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

35. AKT "Oblivion"
~ Pathétique ~

- Part 2 -

Ahiru surely would have been noticed, with her stealth skills being subpar at best, if Sagi had been more attentive. However, the heavy air around Sagi seemed to preoccupy her to the point where she seemed barely aware of her surroundings. Therefore, Ahiru managed to sneak behind Sagi undetected along the path that Sagi took to her destination.

When Sagi paused, looking up for a moment at a building, Ahiru was puzzled to see that it was a derelict studio in an empty part of town—the same one that Rue had used to hide Mytho when he had turned into a large crow.

After Sagi went into the building, Ahiru crept up to a nearby open window, too high for Ahiru to look into by herself, but fortunately had a pile of crates nearby that Ahiru climbed up onto so she could peek inside at whatever Sagi seemed to be hiding.

o-o-o-o-o

After Sagi stepped into the building, she didn't seem startled when, after looking around at an empty room, Caras jumped down from the rafters to greet her.

"So, you seem to be doing fine today," Sagi said with a forced smile.

"Yes, of course," Caras said, waving a hand as if to dismiss the possibility. "I should be the one asking you that."

Sagi's brows furrowed. "What do you mean?"

Before Sagi had opened the door, Caras had already been aware that a young redhead had followed Sagi, though he was amused at how poor her attempt at stealth was. The one thing he didn't know is if Sagi had meant for her to follow, or if she truly was so inattentive that she hadn't even noticed.

So he played along and ignored the redhead for the time being. "You're not doing so well. Anyone who's met you a few times would have noticed the difference."

"I… I suppose I've been tired lately," Sagi said, her eyes looking askance. "Maybe I need more rest."

Caras was about to respond, when Sagi interrupted him with a worried look on her face. "I'm worried that we may be discovered soon if we linger here," Sagi said, frowning. "Some people may be headed this way as we speak."

"How do you know this?" Caras said, crossing his arms. "What people are these?"

"One of my friends…" Sagi said hesitantly. "One of my friends along with a old man in a cloak. I'm not sure what happened, but I was told that the old men in cloaks tried to capture them a short time ago, and they were rescued by… by you, Caras-san."

Caras's eyes narrowed slightly. A confirmation as good as any that Sagi was friends with his enemies. However, it also implied that Sagi was going behind their backs to look out for him, which he already had been suspecting. The unanswered question: why?

"Why did you do that, Caras-san?"

Caras blinked. "Why? As in, why did I rescue them?"

Before he answered, Caras noticed that the redhead outside the window was teetering on her perch trying to listen to their conversation, leaning precariously so that she was close to toppling over.

So, deciding to tempt fate, he walked up toward Sagi, leaning toward her as if to whisper a secret, and almost playfully said, "Must I have a reason to cause some mischief?"

"Whoa-whoa-whoaaaaa!"

Almost like clockwork, Ahiru had strained just a bit too far trying to hear them. She fell off the windowsill into the studio, rolling down a pile of crates as if she were clattering down a staircase, landing ignominiously at its base.

Ker-plunk-plunk-plunk PLUNK! "Owwww…"

Sagi gasped, her hand covering her mouth, wincing as Ahiru fell down the crates. "A…Ahiru?! What are you doing here?!"

"You really ought to have noticed her much sooner, Sagi-san," Caras sighed, stepping in Ahiru's direction. "But no matter. I can deal with her easily."

Ahiru glanced up from the ground and saw Caras towering over her with an intimidating expression. The redhead sidled backward and her back hit the crates; she was cornered. "I… I…"

"No, wait!"

Sagi dashed over and stood between Caras and Ahiru. It was strangely hard to tell who she had been addressing. "He isn't our enemy anymore! I don't know how, but he's lost his memories. He isn't trying to get the shards back anymore!"

'Trying to get the shards back'? Caras thought. She's mentioned these shards before… Though he really wanted to get Sagi to say more about them, knowing her secretive attitude, he avoided asking her directly.

"You know this person, then?" Caras asked Sagi.

"Yes," Sagi nodded. "This is Ahiru, a dear friend of mine. I hadn't told her about this place before, but I… suppose she knows now."

She looked at Ahiru. "I trust you, Ahiru, so will you hear me out?"

Seeing the genuine look of concern on Sagi's face, Ahiru nodded. "I don't believe you would do anything like this without a good reason, Sagi-chan."

Sagi sighed with relief. "Thank you, my friend."

Ahiru paused. "I don't know what's going on, but… Fakir said that Caras-san had rescued him and Autor from the Book Men. We have no idea why he did that."

Ahiru looked nervously at Caras. "But if you lost your memory, then…"

"Indeed, much of my memory has been erased," Caras said. "Yet even so, I fail to see why my rescuing your friends from some ornery old men wielding axes is something so shocking. Is it simply because we had been enemies? What would make us such hated enemies in the first place?"

"It's because you were trying to bring back the Rav—" Ahiru was about to say, before Sagi cut her off nervously.

"Ahiru, wait!"

Ahiru looked at Sagi. "What's wrong?"

"I… I don't…" Sagi said, looking very conflicted. "Ahiru, I don't know if it's the best thing to do, to tell him about this."

"I'm quite tired of you keeping me in the dark, Sagi-san," Caras said, his eyes narrowed. "If you won't tell me, then I'll have your friend explain for you."

Ahiru looked at Sagi. "So, you never told him anything? About the monster Raven's shards?"

Sagi shook her head slowly.

"This 'Monster Raven' you speak of…" Caras said, frowning, "it seems he is extremely dangerous. Did I ever tell you why I was collecting his shards?"

Uneasy expressions appeared on both Sagi's and Ahiru's faces, and they looked at each other.

"It's because…" Ahiru said, trailing off when she realized she didn't know how to explain.

Sagi spoke in the redhead's silence. "It's because you wanted to become a monster."

Caras grimaced with bewilderment. "A…monster? You mean I wanted to become this Monster Raven you speak of? Yes, I am not an ordinary human; I've realized this by now, despite appearing like one. But a monster? Why would I desire such a thing?"

"I don't know," Sagi said quietly with a forlorn expression. "You never explained anything that you were thinking, even if we were alone together. But I felt like, somehow… you believed that the monster Raven was your real self. Yet, I don't think that's actually true…"

There was a sudden ruckus outside with the crows, and Caras glanced up, toward the door to the building. "Someone else is here."

He jumped back defensively just before Fakir slammed open the doors, rushing in like a one-man attack force. "Ahiru!"

Immediately he put himself between Ahiru and Caras, and in the process he found himself standing next to Sagi. Though he glanced at Sagi spitefully, he turned his attention toward the more pressing danger in the room.

"It's you," Caras said coolly. "So we meet again, ungrateful one."

"Explain yourself," Fakir said in a low growl. "Why did you keep yourself hidden? What kind of ruse were you planning with Sagi-san?"

Caras rolled his eyes. "We were deviously plotting a way to shave you bald."

Though Ahiru had to hold back a laugh, Fakir stood there unsmiling. "Enough with your diversions. You're too cunning for me to believe you were simply hiding here all this time."

"Fakir, he… he lost his memories!" Ahiru exclaimed. "I had wondered what had happened that day, when I stopped him from attacking Mytho—I think that's what I did! I must have erased his memories of the Raven and the shards!"

"His memories?" Fakir said, his brow furrowed. He recalled from the Oak Tree's visions the shadow that had been chased away by Eir's light in that battle, and wondered if that was what it had represented. "Maybe so, but what difference does it make? You're still the same person you ever were—no, not a person. You are the Raven; a monster through and through! You said so yourself to us!"

Caras's breath caught and immediately he stiffened. Though any other outside reaction he made inscrutable, it was clear to Sagi that this statement had a significant effect on him. "Maybe then you should ask these friends of yours over here," he said dryly. "You're much more likely to trust their words than mine. I'd rather not waste my time here."

Before any of them could respond, he stepped back and vanished in a flurry of black feathers.

"He keeps on escaping," Fakir said with a scowl. "How the hell are we supposed to stop him when he can vanish into thin air?"

He turned around, and his gaze fell upon Sagi, his scowl deepening. "Why did you betray us? You kept him from us when he was injured and vulnerable. We could have had him at our mercy!"

"But Fakir, if we did capture him, where would we have put him?" Ahiru asked, her lips pursed. "And right now, even after his injury healed, he's not trying to collect the shards anymore."

"What about the shard you have?" Fakir said, turning back to Sagi again, full of hostility. "Did you give the only shard in our possession to him as well?!"

Sagi shook her head silently, and as proof, Sagi wincingly reached into her satchel, drew out the wrapped handkerchief, and gingerly undid the wrapping to reveal a familiar shard that looked like a stiletto knife standing on its sharpest point. Further proof came when both Ahiru's and Sagi's pendants turned pitch black.

"What were you thinking, bringing the shard to the one who's hell-bent on collecting them all?"

"Fakir, listen to us!" Ahiru burst out. "Because I was Eir, somehow when he got hit by the magic light I used, he lost his memory! He wasn't looking for the shards or anything like before; it's like he forgot all about it."

Fakir listened to Ahiru's rambling explanation, not once looking at Sagi, who was standing there, the shard in her hands, eyes losing their shine.

o-o-o-o-o

Caras reappeared just inside the gates of the Kinkan Academy dorm building. In the flurry were scattered black feathers, and as the feathers floated down onto the ground, he caught one in his hand. He gazed upon it pensively.

As the feathers began to vanish, Caras continued on into the men's dorms. While he was vague on the details, somehow in the hallways he felt a familiar path under his feet.

When he followed it to its end, he stopped at what he was pretty sure supposed to be his own dorm room. The door was closed, but when Caras turned the doorknob, it creaked open.

The room he had just stepped into looked like nobody had been living in it; there was no extra furniture or furnishings, nothing pinned on the walls, and the few windows that it had were drawn, shutting out the sun.

Caras began examining through the bare room, but there was so little to search for that he quickly confirmed that nothing of interest was in plain sight, except for a dusty piece of cloth draped over a flat object on the wall.

When he took off the cloth covering the object, it revealed a mirror. While nothing seemed wrong with this mirror, every time he looked at his reflection, something within him cringed; from fear or loathing, he didn't know which.

He tried to simply walk away from it, but when it was behind him, it was as if a dangerous beast resembling himself was hiding in the mirror, waiting to strike. With a grimace, he turned back around and covered the mirror again.

Before he had much time to be embarrassed that he was scared of a simple mirror, the room darkened suddenly. In the middle of the room, a black, spiny pedestal grew up out of the floor, half the height of a normal human. On top of its column sat a claw-like structure, like the talons of a crow holding aloft the crimson shards glowing in it.

Caras stared at it, his casual strides freezing to a halt. As much as he enjoyed solitude, he couldn't simply live in hiding for the rest of his life, and certainly without even knowing what crime he had committed, or would commit. Whatever he had been planning, it caused this group of powerful people to prevent his gathering of those shards at all costs—yet he remembered none of it.

But somehow, despite all the uncertainty, he knew: If he were to touch those dark red shards, there would be no turning back.

With a dark, solemn expression, he approached the red glow from the pedestal and held his hand over it. The crimson lights made Caras's eyes seem to glow as well.

With a brief pause, his brows creased, and then his hand reached down. As his fingers touched the shards, his crimson eyes widened.

o-o-o-o-o

Fakir, Ahiru, and Sagi finally headed back for the academy. Fakir was still beside himself at Sagi for what she had done, and Ahiru for not being more cautious.

"I'm not letting either of you out of my sight from now on," Fakir said. "This time, I'm going to be the one taking the danger."

Sagi looked startled. "But—"

Before she could object, Fakir had snatched the loosely wrapped shard from her hands. Immediately, however, he dropped it, a look of sheer pain on his face as he gripped the birthmark scar on his torso. He nearly fell to his knees before Ahiru could stop and let him lean on her.

Sagi shook her head soberly. She bent down, with a look of anguish as she touched the handkerchief, but she picked it up without wavering. "It has to be me," Sagi said quietly, despair dulling her eyes even further. "Even if you want to take it instead, you can't—"

"How long are you going to tell everyone such lies?"

A familiar intimidating voice came from above. When the three looked up, they briefly saw Caras perched on the roof above them, his arms crossed on the blue and white uniform he wore.

As he jumped down toward, he became surrounded by black feathers, while at the same time a line of crow soldiers appeared from the ground that surrounded Fakir and Ahiru, trapping them away from Sagi.

As Caras landed on the ground quietly next to Sagi, his dark, grim expression the only thing that hinted as to his current state of mind.

"It's clear to me now," Caras said while Sagi gripped the handkerchief tighter. "That is what pained you the entire time, Sagi-san. I've seen these shards for myself, and I knew that they were mine, somehow. The shards remain in their safe-hold away from me, and I still don't have my memories back, but I know now that the shards are what is needed to resurrect the Raven, or rather... "

Caras paused. "Perhaps I am already resurrected, and the only thing that stops me from being him are the memories that I am currently missing, along with the parts of my true heart that gave me such frightening power." He chuckled darkly. "In which case, I am but an incomplete version of the monster Raven, simply an intermediate vessel that is there to serve my purpose as a shard gatherer, and nothing more."

"No, Caras-san, that can't be…" Sagi said sadly.

A shout erupted from nearby, and Sagi turned to see that Fakir had been attempting to break free of the crow soldiers' barricade, but only got a few of the crow soldiers brandishing scimitars at his throat. "Fakir-san!" Sagi exclaimed.

"No one shall interfere!" Caras commanded. "This is only between Sagi-san and me."

"Don't hurt my friends, Caras-san!" Sagi exclaimed in alarm.

"Worry not, they shall be unharmed if they stay where they are," Caras said to Sagi. "Now answer my question. What did you want by collecting them?"

"We were… planning to try to destroy them, so they can't hurt anyone else," Sagi said, looking uncertain. "But the first time we tried it with the one shard we have, it failed very badly. So destroying them is harder than it sounds. And until we find a way…."

"So your purpose is their destruction, which is shared by your friends," Caras said. "And the only reason you haven't yet is that it's more difficult than it sounds."

"More or less…"

"And you're stuck with it in the meanwhile," Caras said, his eyes narrowing again. "Yet I am certain that, even if it doesn't affect you as the others with some horrible trauma, you would have to have something that this shard coaxes from your memories, eating gradually away at your heart; otherwise, you wouldn't even be able to hold onto it as you have."

"It's…" Sagi paused, swallowing her guilt and sorrow before she spoke again. "Whenever I'm holding the shard, if I don't have something else to focus on, I recall the family I used to live with, and why one day I left them."

"Your family? Whom you left?" Caras tilted his head curiously. "Interesting. Go on; tell me more."

Sagi grimaced. "Why do you want to know?" she asked, her eyes avoiding his.

"Because I'm curious," Caras replied plainly. "It seems this shard draws out pain for whomever possesses it. Most cannot even touch it, and yet you've been carrying it all this time. What sort of memory do you have of them? Why did you leave your family?"

"It… it's not that bad of a memory, really," Sagi said faintly, "even if I don't like to recall it."

She sighed. "The other members of my family were… much more aggressive than I was, in general. I was the eldest of three, and so was the custom, as chicks, for us to compete for the food that Mother brought back each day. Since I was the eldest, I was assumed the strongest, and therefore I was expected to set an example.

"What this meant was that all my younger brothers and sisters were trying to show that they could outmatch me. I didn't much care about the competition—I would have been happy to just let them have whatever they wanted without fussing about it. But it wasn't about the prize; it was about showing that I was not the superior one, proving that they were better, even when I never thought of myself as 'better' in the first place.

"Mother and Father if anything encouraged the competition; as far as they were concerned, it made all of us stronger. And…" Sagi bit her lips, blinking, "…if I didn't like it, that meant I needed to be stirred from my comfortable place in life to know how to come out on top.

"That… that wasn't what I wanted though, I soon realized that. All I wanted was a quiet, peaceful existence, one where I could be happy without being expected to show anyone how strong I was. And I came to see that I couldn't obtain this way of living while I was with my family."

"So, one day, I left. I set out on my own and didn't look back, and that's how it's been to this day."

Sagi sighed wistfully, thinking back to the days when she would stand by herself at the lake's edge and look out across the water. "It's been lonely sometimes, being by myself, but I found that there's tranquility in solitude that I enjoy that makes the loneliness seem far away and gentle. I'd rather live a quiet life in hermitage than live with others surrounded by turmoil."

After some silence, Sagi asked Caras, "I've asked you this before, but… why did you want them back? They cause so much suffering, but you tried to preserve them. Why…?"

Caras sighed tersely. "If I could only know the answer myself; as I am, I can merely surmise about it. However, I'm convinced that the memories holding the answers will be anything but pleasant."

Looking at Sagi for a moment, he frowned. "One thing I know for sure; you've held that shard of mine for much too long. I've seen it; day by day your spirit is siphoned away. Now that I know the truth, I'm not going to watch you endure it for any longer."

"If not me, then who else could?" Sagi said, grimacing. "Fakir-san, Ahiru, and their friends all tried, and they could barely touch it, much less carry it around with them everywhere!"

Caras raised an eyebrow. "This is the first time I've ever seen you so passionate about something, Sagi-san."

"That shard is a curse," Sagi said, her usual composure beginning to fray. "No one should have to deal with it! If only we could destroy it, then…!"

"You've already spent yourself to the limit," Caras said, his eyes narrowing. "If you don't let go of it now, much worse things will happen to you. Drop it onto the ground if you must."

Cautiously, Sagi tilted her hands so that the shard slowly started sliding off her hand, seeming to cling to her hand in protest, before the stiletto tipped shard rolled off her hand and hit the ground without so much as a bounce, standing on its long tip.

"Step back," Caras said to Sagi as he approached the shard.

"No, Caras-san!" Sagi exclaimed. "If my friends could barely even grasp the shard, then who knows what would happen if you—"

"If I tried to hold it?" Caras said, chuckling darkly. "Indeed, what would happen?"

Sagi shook her head desperately. "You don't understand; you don't want to go back to this! I don't know all of your past, but from what I do know, it would hurt you the most of anyone."

"How should I not understand? Is this not my heart we speak of?" he asked with a frown, his hand over the heart in his chest. "Even if that were true… then it must be the fate that ultimately awaits me, one way or the other. I won't run away from the inevitable."

"Why can't you run away?" Sagi said, her folded hands clenching as her eyes became moist. "That's what I did, and from then on, things were all right. I had what I wanted out of my life. So you could—"

Her words were interrupted by a disdainful laugh, yet there was no malice in it. "It's strange that, though there is little left of my memories at present, I remember what few conversations we've had quite clearly. You're the type of person who likes to let life pass you by, never taking anything into your own hands. One day, you'll have to learn that if you don't fight for what you want, you'll be powerless to have it taken from you."

Caras narrowed his eyes at Sagi again. "There is one thing that confounds me even now, and I would have you address it. Why, if you were trying to stop me, did you defend me, even from your friends? That was very stupid of you."

Sagi shook her head with a thoughtful expression. "That you were my enemy was what I began to question… I felt, that when I saw you that time, when you had just lost your memories… somehow you were someone different. And that maybe, all along you were someone different, and only now was it coming to light… and I wanted to see if there was something to it."

"I don't know whether you're right or not," Caras replied. "But either way, I have your stupidity to thank for why I'm here as I am now. And that is why I'm not going to let you keep that shard with you, and will take it back by force if I must."

"But… but I…!" Sagi said, her voice faltering. "I don't want you to… disappear."

"Disappear?" Caras said, somewhat confused, before his eyes went askance. "Are you afraid the shard would take me over and turn me into a monster?"

Sagi's breath caught in her throat. "If that happened, I…"

He gazed into the distance pensively for a moment. Then, looking back at her, Caras smirked. "Don't fear," he said with a strangely gentle voice. "I'm made of a stronger substance than you think."

These words made Sagi hesitate, and in that time, Caras knelt down and reached his hand toward the shard.

When the tip of his finger touched the surface of the shard, he immediately seized up and collapsed onto the ground, a strangled sound coming from his throat, as if the pain was too much for him to even scream. He gripped his chest with a quivering hand, as if he wanted to tear his heart out.

Still trapped by the crow soldiers, Ahiru covered her mouth with her hands as she watched Caras react to the Agony shard, while Fakir tightly shut his eyes from the terrible scene.

Sagi gasped in horror and knelt on the ground near the prostrate young man. "Caras-san! Are… are you…?!" She glanced toward where the shard was, and it sat with silent foreboding in the same place.

Suddenly a hand shot out and clutched the shard. All eyes turned back toward Caras, and they saw him gritting his teeth, clearly in deep pain, and yet doggedly gripping the shard with every ounce of willpower he had.

Slowly he stood back up. Sagi looked up at him, and with shock she saw that he held the shard without faltering, his hand still trembling, but his grasp holding steady. A haggard but triumphant grin grew on his face.

Suddenly, a blast of pink petals blew the shard out of his hands and at Sagi's feet. Startled, Caras whipped his head around toward the source, and saw a white-haired youth wearing a crown leaping towards him in a flurry of the same pink petals.

"Stop, you fiend!" the prince exclaimed, brandishing his sword toward Caras. "Away from the shard, and let free my friends!"

Furrowing his brow, Caras glanced at Sagi. "I suppose I'm forced to leave it with you again for now while I deal with this."

Sagi looked down at it, winced, and left it on the ground, folding her hands together.

Caras turned toward the royal youth. "And what brings you here, prince?"

"You know well why I'm here, Raven," he replied. "I won't let you continue with the atrocities you have committed as of late."

"Tell me then, prince," Caras said, crossing his arms coolly, "what crimes do you charge me with?"

"Do you toy with me, Raven?" Siegfried asked, frowning. "You attacked this entire town yesterday, and now you've taken the heart of a nobleman in the town of Ginkan. I know not why you have done these things, but you have never needed a reason to terrorize the people."

Caras blinked. "Taken the heart of…?" He sighed. "No, I think I would need a very good reason to do these things," Caras said, holding his gaze steady at the prince. "I have done neither of the things you accuse me of. One I know nothing about, and the other I have personally witnessed the culprit."

Mytho grimaced with frustration, and some bewilderment. "I haven't known you to deny your transgressions, but it matters not. You told me yourself; you're none other than the monster Raven!"

The prince lunged into a thrust with his swan-hilted sword, and Caras calmly conjured up the raven-hilted saber in his left hand and silently parried the prince's attacks.

Finding something strange, Mytho jumped back into a defensive position. Caras stayed in place.

"Why do you not attack me?" Mytho asked with confusion.

"I have no reason to do so," Caras answered.

Mytho furrowed his brows. "Do you not aim to take away the Raven's shard with you? Has that not been your aim all along?"

"I know not of before, but it is my aim now," Caras said, glancing in Sagi's direction, where the shard still lay at her feet.

"Then I must stop you, like before," the prince said, his eyes narrowing as he gripped his sword tighter. "No matter what, I won't let you regain your full power!"

"That however is not my aim," Caras said, looking back at the youth. "The one who currently holds it is no longer fit for the charge. She refuses to let go of it, so I must take it away from her. It belongs to me, after all."

The tone with which Caras said this flew in the face of what Mytho knew of his archenemy. "That is why I can't let you have it," the prince said cautiously. "As you know, it belongs to the Raven—and if it belongs to you, to return it to you would be restoring the Raven to his former power. The shards need to be destroyed so that they will not endanger anyone ever again."

"I'm aware of that," Caras said. "The question remains, how is that to happen?"

Mytho looked at Caras as if he had never seen him before. "You behave so strangely. Are you really who you say you are…?"

"He lost his memories!" Fakir exclaimed from beyond the line of crow soldiers. "When he disappeared that day, when Ahiru leapt to your rescue, we somehow erased his memories. But, with or without his memories, he's still the Raven, Mytho! He can't be trusted!"

Caras looked back at Fakir, frowning.

o-o-o-o-o

"Talking, talking, this is getting boring," Drosselmeyer said with disapproval. "We all know that everyone wants to see the Prince and the Raven fight their epic battles! If not, then what's the point of the villain existing?"

He sighed, frowning with thought as he stared at the raven quill, lying ready in his hand, but unable to write with it.

He dipped the quill into his inkwell and scribbled on his parchment in frustration, when he realized that faint, unsteady streaks of ink still appeared in his strokes.

Quickly he pounced on this discovery and tried to write with it again, but finding that the ink flow was too inconsistent to write properly. So, he kept it concise but without leeway:

The prince and raven cross swords as enemies.

o-o-o-o-o

"If what you say is true," Mytho said, turning to Caras, "then give the shard to me, and I will destroy it with my sword."

"An ordinary sword would destroy a shard of heart?" Caras asked, looking doubtful.

Mytho shook his head. "It is no ordinary sword. It is enchanted with a forbidden magic that only my sword can wield."

"But the last time you tried, Mytho, it didn't turn out well at all…" Ahiru said, looking uneasy. "Will you be okay?"

Caras then felt a distinct compulsion to fight this prince. He tried to figure out where this urge came from, and he realized that, though this shard was dangerous and malevolent, it was the only connection to the memories that had been taken from him. Those memories were the only thing that held the answer to the question of why he wanted to collect these shards in the first place.

So, he said, "I won't let you destroy it!"

As if he were watching himself do so, the raven-hilted sword appeared in his hand again, but this time he lunged into an attack.

Taken off guard, Mytho barely managed to parry the thrust. After the failed initiative, Caras jumped back, a frustrated expression on his face.

Mytho frowned. "You said that you no longer wish to restore your power, but you want the shard preserved? What purpose is there to this?"

"My memories," Caras said, his teeth grit. "I still don't know why I wanted to… become a being like that again in the first place!"

After Caras said this, the shard at Sagi's feet seemed to react, lifting off the ground and glowing a dark crimson. Alarmed, she reached out and grabbed onto it, cringing upon contact.

At first, the raven-like movements that others had recognized as characteristic of him felt awkward and strange. But as the two fought on, they became more familiar to Caras.

Flashes of deja vu made this fight feel like it was a continuation of what had been broken off in that brief moment when Caras had lost his memory. Emotions came to him: anger, malice, pride, resolve. He couldn't make sense of them without context, but he felt what he had been—a being that was dark, wrathful, and ruthless.

A flurry of black feathers transformed his clothing into the raven outfit he wore during their last battle as their battle became fiercer. And yet, though it was tempting to be awash in these powerful feelings, his mind struggled against the flow to make sense of it all.

"Why am I fighting?" Caras muttered. "Because I want to know why I wanted the shards? Should I care that much? Do I really want to remember?"

The Agony shard in Sagi's hands was struggling against them, and it materialized into a scarlet raven. It soared out of her reach into the sky, and a haggard chorus whispered hoarsely into the air, "…never escape…you shall never escape…"

As Caras realized something, he stopped where he was, not budging as he parried Mytho's remaining attack before the prince realized that the other had lowered his sword.

"I won't get any answers here fighting you," Caras said, the raven-hilted saber disappearing from his hands and his raven outfit turning back into the blue Kinkan school uniform. "The battle has gone on for far too long. I'm getting sick of this."

The last words were echoed in Mytho's memory as the words that the Raven himself had declared before he had flown out of the story, ripping open the barrier between worlds as the prince followed behind him.

Elsewhere, Drosselmeyer fumed at his black quill's refusal to let him write any further words with it. Scribble and scratch he might, but the nub remained as dry as sand. Thanks to Caras's defiance, the writer could not make him fight anymore.

But the whispering chorus in the air had grown louder as the crimson crow had multiplied into a whole murder of them. "You shall never escape! You shall never escape the horrors in your soul! They shall follow you beyond death's door, and they will torture you forever more!"

"The shard!" Sagi exclaimed.

The crimson crows condensed into a long, sharp shard, and like a stiletto dagger thrown by an assassin, it shot down toward the one to whom it belonged.

"Caras!" Sagi shouted, running toward him.

The raven haired young man reached up above him, and with a look of dogged resolve, caught the Agony shard right out of the air.

Sagi stopped in her tracks, shocked at Caras's victory as Caras brought it in front of him, a worn-down expression on his face, but with a triumphant smirk.

Then, as if the shard were frustrated at being denied its prey, it shifted into a crimson mist and slipped out of Caras's hands before rematerializing as a sharp dagger and leaned toward Sagi. However, it seemed to change its mind in mid-flight, and instead shot toward Mytho.

Caras leapt toward the prince, holding out his hands. "Get out of the way!"

Not about to run away from danger to save himself, Mytho stayed where he was and held his sword in front of him.

As the shard nearly reached the pale-haired prince, Caras jumped between them, his hands outstretched. But, the shard slipped through his fingers and disappeared into his chest.

The scream of agony that resounded in the air brought horrified tears to Sagi's eyes as the crow soldiers that had been holding Fakir and Ahiru back dissipated. They ran towards Mytho and Caras, the latter collapsing onto the ground, unconscious.

Mytho approached Caras cautiously, still pointing his sword at him, but with a worried expression on his face.

"Mytho!" Ahiru looked at her friend desperately. "Please let me become Tutu one more time! If I can remove the shard, then maybe things will be okay!"

The prince nodded solemnly at her, and Fakir let Mytho lean on him in case the transformation caused him to lose his footing.

As the prince's chest glowed crimson, Ahiru transformed into Princess Tutu with a flash of golden light. Fortunately, Mytho seemed to be able to stay conscious and coherent, as if the proximity of his Hope allowed this to happen, like the light of a candle.

Sagi finally had the presence of mind to quietly approach the group as Tutu knelt by Caras and tried to remove the Agony shard, the same way she had with Mytho.

However, Tutu frowned, looking worried. "It's… not working. But why…?"

Then, her eyes widened with horror as the truth dawned on her. "No… I can't. Because I can remove shards from where they don't belong… but I can't remove heart shards from the one who owns them."

"It is, after all… a shard of the monster Raven," Mytho said, closing his eyes briefly as Tutu transformed back into Ahiru with a flash of golden sparks, returning his Hope to him. He stood back up straight with a grim look at Caras. "I am the only one who can grant my sword the power to break apart the heart itself. So I must be the one to handle this."

Then he realized something. "The shard is currently trapped in the heart of the incomplete Raven," Mytho said. "That means that if I try to destroy it now…"

"It won't escape and try to infect others while we do that," Fakir said, his eyes widening. "This is our chance to be rid of it once and for all; destroy his entire heart, and thus destroy the Agony shard!"

"No! Please don't!"

Mytho found his sword arm being held back by Sagi, with a desperate expression on her face.

"You know what just happened to him—it's the same thing that happened to you!" Sagi exclaimed. "But for him, he… he can't get rid of it…"

Upon hearing these words, the prince looked down at Caras, hesitating.

"You're one to talk, Sagi-san!" Fakir shouted, saying her name with unusual rancor. "You hid him from us for days! You don't have any right to say what happens here!"

Ahiru looked at Fakir with a grimace. "Fakir, you can't just say…!"

But she trailed off when she saw that Sagi already had shrunk back behind the rest, her desperation turning into guilty, tearful defeat.

Mytho sighed grimly. "What saved me from my plight was hope, and love. Neither of these the Raven has. He is a cursed beast whose only respite is his own destruction. And I shall finish the task I have taken upon myself."

So saying this, as Sagi sobbed, he lifted his sword up, gripped the handle, and aimed it down towards Caras's chest.

Mytho's hands trembled; his sword remained in the air above him. He tried to heave the sword downward again, but his arms wouldn't move.

In his mind, as he looked down at the unconscious Caras, an image flashed in his memory of Kraehe. When Mytho had come in through the door into the artist's studio, he had looked at her with sadness and disappointment, and she had collapsed into tears. He remembered the look in Kraehe's eyes when, their waltz in the cathedral interrupted, Kraehe had used him as a shield against her enemies. He had looked at her questioningly, and she disappeared before his eyes, unable to meet his gaze. And even later, Kraehe had come to him in the outdoor stage, begging him to stop torturing himself with the struggle against the Raven's blood.

All those times, her eyes had been full of pain. Kraehe, down on her knees, crying—Caras collapsing, screaming from the Agony shard—the two images were inextricably linked.

Mytho's eyes squeezed shut, and his teeth clenched. He lowered his sword, and it slid from his hands, clattering onto the ground.

Fakir, Ahiru, and Sagi looked at Mytho in shock as he said, "…I can't do it. I can't bring myself to do it. No matter how much I want to, no matter how much I know I must… I can't destroy him. Not like this."

He shook his head with shame. "I'm too kind, too merciful. I'll regret this dearly, I know it, but…"

Mytho looked back down at Caras, a conflicted expression on his face. "Rue, I'm sorry…"

The silence that followed was broken when Caras stirred from the ground. Fakir backed away and spread his arm in front of Ahiru protectively as Mytho watched Caras stagger up onto his feet, clutching his chest.

"Caras-san…?" Sagi asked quietly.

Then, his crimson eyes widening, he threw his arms outward, and the other four were thrown back from a blast of darkness.

As his consciousness awakened, memories poured like molten lava back into his mind. A monster… yes, he was the monster Raven. The Raven, brought down to a humiliating human form, but so close to collecting all the shards of his former self, and returning to his former glory…

Then it occurred to him. The past few days, he had lost his memories as the Raven—and what had happened? He had begun acting like a human. He was weak like one, foolish like one. In fact, save for the crows that followed him, there was no difference between himself and another one of them.

No, even worse… he had doubted that he was even the Raven himself. He didn't want to remember. He thought it would have been better if the monster Raven had never existed. A human… I became a human!

"No… no!" Caras exclaimed with a horrified countenance, clutching his face with a claw-like grip. "It mustn't be! It can't be! I am not a filthy, disgusting human!"

This last shout was so full of rancor that all four who heard it could not help but step back, startled.

As Caras staggered forward, a disturbing smile grew on his face. "But, it's all right… it doesn't matter what I or anyone else thinks. The fact will never change: I am the Raven. It is who I was before, who I am now, and who I always will be."

His school uniform became the black raven outfit once more, his eyes glowing red. His arms rose into the air, as if he were spreading his wings while the crows began to gather in the air around him. "For this Agony in my heart truly belonged to me all along. This barb of despair, that curses all others who touch it, is instead my power to wield! No one, not even the pitiful part of me that is fooled to believe I am human, can stop me for bringing back my true self."

He laughed bitterly, a laugh that sounded all too familiar to Fakir, Ahiru, and Mytho, that of a monster they thought they had defeated. "And once I am complete… I can finally obtain what I have been after all along. The prince's heart shall be mine at last!"

With that, he disappeared in a great torrent of raven feathers, the countless crows swarming with a storm of caws that echoed in the air even after Caras and the crows had vanished from sight.

Drosselmeyer cheered the events that had occurred by hoisting his hands into the air in celebration. "Yes! Yes! This scene couldn't have been better if I had written it myself. It shows how hopeless the situation truly is! No matter what happens, no matter if anyone wishes it were otherwise, the villain will always be the villain. It is a foregone conclusion, and the only question that remains is: can the prince and his friends defeat his crushing resolve to create the ultimate tragedy?"

Behind the others, Sagi collapsed onto the ground, burying her tear-stained face in her hands. She lifted her head slightly, and whispered to herself, "Caras-san… were you right after all? Was I the stupid one all along?"


Next episode preview

Ahiru, Fakir, Mytho, Rue, Autor, Sagi, and Takako travel through a dark cave, where they come across a fork in the path.
(Ahiru's voice) "What's... the Cave of Terrors?
The various lights that the characters are holding go out, and we see the characters individually with horrified expressions.
(Lilie's voice) "It's a cave where once you go in, you never come out! It eats you up, swallowing you whole while you scream in terror!"
Caras dives down toward the Book Men, who are guarding the entrance to a cave, with a vicious expression.
(A Book Man's voice) "This will be your final hour! Prepare yourself, Raven!"
(Caras's voice) "You dare come between me and my heart shard? No, this will be your final hour!"
Sagi, sitting on the ground of the cave, looks across a chasm where a heart shard lies beneath a waterfall.
(Mytho's voice) "Is this but one of the awful curses that lies within the Raven's heart?"

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
36. AKT "Prison of the Heart"
~ Die Hebriden Oüverture ~

All children who love stories, come gather round once more! Heheheheheh…


Extra notes:

The Pathetique symphony that is the theme of this episode was Tchaikovsky's final composition before his untimely death, long suspected to be a suicide. He was publicly shamed by an relationship he had with a high ranking nobleman that soured, and he likely fell into a depression during which he composed this haunting, despairing yet beautiful music.

The song that shares the name with the episode title itself, Oblivion, was actually discovered by my beta reader Mangaka-chan, so the reference kind of came after the episode was named, yet it ended up working quite well.

35. AKT Music List

(the time ranges listed show what part of the track is used in the scene, based either on the tracks of the original soundtrack or the source classical music; you can also listen to or download the music used in each episode at this link here: hidden-currents DOT org SLASH cotb_ost DOT htm)

"Avant Title"
Played after the first sentence during the prologue, and stops right before the title.
The mysterious music used in each episode's prologue during the series; a foreboding version of "March" from the Nutcracker.

"Morning Grace (TV vrs.)"
Played at the title screen; imagine opening sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The opening of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"Symphony #6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathetique' 3rd movement: Allegro molto vivace"
Played when Mytho comes riding into Ginkan.
(composed by Tchaikovsky) A heroic overture full of determination and resolve.

"Symphony #6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathetique' 2nd movement: Allegro con grazia"
Played when Fakir, Ahiru, and Sagi walk to class.
(composed by Tchaikovsky) A peaceful, pensive song.

"Symphony #6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathetique' 1st movement: Adagio, Allegro con troppo"
Played when Sagi visits Caras.
(composed by Tchaikovsky) A piece that alternates between thundering furor and passionate warmth.

"Moonlight Sonata, 1st movement 'Adagio sostenuto'"
Played when Caras visits his dorm room.
(composed by Beethoven) A sustained, quiet song with low notes and many sharps that give the feeling of a dark but tranquil night. Could be thought of as Caras's 1st theme (three in all, including all three movements of the Moonlight Sonata).

"Oblivion"
Played when Caras confronts Sagi.
(composed by Astor Piazzolla) A song played by cello and piano that is solemn and pensive. Meant as a tango dance piece.

"Symphony #6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathetique' 4th movement: Finale (Adagio lamentoso)"
Starts playing when Mytho interrupts the scene; plays through to the end of the episode.
(composed by Tchaikovsky) A lamenting song full of passionate despair.

"Though My Love is Small (TV vrs.)"
Played at the end of the episode; imagine ending sequence here.
(Artist: Ritsuko Okazaki) The ending of Princess Tutu; shortened version played in the show.

"The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26"
This is played for the next episode preview.
(composed by Mendelssohn) A gloomy yet exciting song full of mystery.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there was a man who was being chased by a terrible monster. This monster followed him wherever he went, and everyone fled from this frightening beast that devoured all in its path. The man, not wanting others to suffer this creature any longer, entered a deep cave to face the monster and get rid of it once and for all.

However, to his horror, he discovered that the monster was none other than himself. So, he never again left the cave that became his self-imposed prison, bound by the fear of others—and of himself.

Princess Tutu
~Kapitel des Vogel~
~鳥の章~
(Chapter of the Bird)

36. AKT "Prison of the Heart"
~ Die Hebriden Oüverture ~

After Mytho had left the Ginkan Town Hall, Trutho, Komaro, and Emma continued to argue with Frollo about the treatment of the townspeople, particularly the gypsies. However, he was no more cooperative than he had been with Mytho present.

"Young man, I am repeating myself at this point," Frollo said, his lips pressed together with impatience. "This is all for the benefit of God and his children. Nothing takes precedence over that; how can you not agree with this? Or are you a godless heathen?"

"Now you're calling us heathens!?" Trutho said, clenching his fists and stepping towards Frollo combatively.

"S-Surely, we all want what's best for all the people, am I right?" Komaro said, his hands raising for a moment as if to stop the two from fighting. "What we are discussing ishow that should be accomplished."

"Indeed," Frollo said evenly. "And all I have been hearing from you is complaint about how I am collecting tithes to support the rebuilding of Ginkan. As much as it is a root of sin, it is necessary to accomplish tasks in the real world, and we cannot allow any exemptions."

"Listen to what we're saying, your Grace," Emma said with a turn of disdain in her tone, "We're not irresponsible or lazy, or even willful. We simply do not have the resources that you demand of us. Nor do all of us share your beliefs as to what is best for society."

"This is not about my beliefs, gypsy woman," Frollo said crossly, still not in the habit of using Emma's name even after he had been told it a number of times. "This is about the practical matters of maintaining Ginkan. I ask for nothing that I would not be willing to part with myself."

Eventually, they grew weary of the circular reasoning that Frollo employed, and so with a brief farewell said by Komaro (as the other two were too fed up to feign politeness at this point), he and Trutho supported Emma by the arms before heading out of the town hall.

"What's the use of talking to him, anyway?" Trutho said with a frustrated scowl as they walked down the calm town street. "He's not listening to us at all. Figures, since all he cares about is himself and his church."

"I don't see him changing his mind either, but what can we do otherwise?" Emma said gloomily. "He's the one in charge, and he has the support of a good number of the townsfolk due to his position as a clergyman. We're only lowly gypsies, and…"

She trailed off with a faint smile. "…Though, Trutho, you're now considered a prince, even if the archbishop doesn't seem to think of you as one."

"I still don't think of myself as one," Trutho said sheepishly. "Even though I've accepted the title. I just…how I've grown up and who I've known for a long time have made more impression on me than any royal title I'm given."

He looked off into the distance. "But, someday, I hope that I'll be able to catch up on the lost time between my brother and me. I hope that one day… it won't feel strange to call him my brother."

"That day will come, Trutho," Emma said with a smile. "Be patient with him, and yourself."

Komaro nodded. "You will have ample opportunity to get to know his Highness again once all that is happening settles down. Now that he has found you again, you can"

Suddenly, somewhere in the distance, the Raven's Agony returned to its owner. The surge of power that ensued caused a door within Trutho that had been cracked open slightly to be thrown wide open.

Trutho's eyes widened and his pupils shrank to pinpricks as his irises glowed bright red. He cried out, his hands clutched over his heart, as black plumage began to sprout from his back.

"Trutho!" Emma and Komaro exclaimed in horror as the people around them screamed and fled from the developing monster before their eyes. The two stayed in place around Trutho and Emma grasped Trutho's trembling hands, trying to use her presence to reassure him.

"Wh-what's wrong!?" Komaro asked, his expression full of anxiety and panic, but his sense of loyalty prevented him from completely freezing up. "We're here to help…!"

"We won't leave you, Trutho!" Emma said, holding onto Trutho's arm even as black feathers began appearing on his arm as well. "You can overcome this!"

But Trutho didn't seem to be able to hear them. I'm a monster…! No, I'm not! I'm Trutho! A monster! A raven! I must destroy! No, I must get away from everyone! I'm…!

He tore away from Emma's grip, running forward only a few steps before he collapsed to his knees again, now covered in black feathers and with a black beak protruding from his face, resembling a human-sized raven.

However, when he fell to his knees, something small clacked onto the ground in front of him. As Komaro and Emma ran toward him, calling his name, he looked at the fallen object and saw that it was the Kinkan insignia that Komaro had given him.

The prince… of Kinkan… I'm his brother. Mytho's brother. I'm a prince. I'm a raven. I'm a prince…

The lucid thoughts and reminder of a warm reality allowed him to hear the calls of his friends behind him.

Trutho. I'm Trutho. I'm Prince Sinfiotli. I'm not a monster. I'm Trutho!

Holding onto that last thought like a talisman against the demons in his mind, Trutho pulled away from the dark urge to destroy and lash out, and by the sheer force of his will, Trutho stopped shuddering and the black feathers on his body dropped off and disappeared—or most of them. Some of them remained, framed around his neck as part of a black feather collar much like that of Mytho's. Instead of the blue school uniform, he now wore a gray-blue tunic with a silver starburst design on the front and black tights and shoes, with a black cape that had a periwinkle inside color, and wore a silver crown on his head.

"Trutho…?" Komaro and Emma witnessed this transformation with confused trepidation, unsure as to what had happened to him.

"Answer us, Trutho, please…" Emma said, placing a hand gently on his shoulder.

"Trutho? Are you… are you still…?" Komaro asked nervously, stepping next to Trutho and bending down to examine Trutho, whose eyes were closed.

Trutho's hand went to his shoulder and held Emma's hand softly. His eyes opened, and they were a pure blue. He stood up slowly and looked over at Komaro with a small gentle smile. "Don't worry; it's me."

o-o-o-o-o

As soon as school had let out, Ahiru began looking for Sagi. Sagi hadn't been in classes the entire day, and remembering how distraught she had been the previous day, Ahiru was extremely worried about her and wanted to make certain that she was all right.

As Ahiru marched determinedly around the campus, taking one last look around before she went out around town to search, she passed by the teacher's office where she caught snatches of a woman talking…and meows?

"Oh, you're so adorable, Neko-san," Yagiko-sensei said affectionately. "Come over here and—hey, wait, come back! Let me pet you!"

Ahiru stuck her head in the door and saw that Yagiko-sensei was seemingly trying to catch Neko-san in her hands just as Neko-san was pointedly avoiding them. However, he did not flee from her presence, and in fact seemed to be undeterred in whatever he was trying to accomplish by staying with her.

"Ahem! As I was saying, Yagiko-sensei, I believe you have been very short on competent instructors as of late. Therefore, I am volunteering to come out of retirement and teach again, at least until—"

"Neko-san, why do you spurn me? If not for my love, then why have you come to me?" Yagiko-sensei said with an offended blush.

Oh, wait… Yagiko-sensei can't understand Neko-san because she's a human, Ahiru thought.

So she stepped inside and said, "Oh, umm, Yagiko-sensei? I think that what Neko-san's trying to say is that he wants to teach again."

"He wants to teach again? Really!?" Yagiko-sensei exclaimed, looking ecstatic. "Why, that would be wonderful, I would—"

Then she stopped, blinking. "Wait a minute. Since when does a cat teach ballet classes?"

"It's been, uh, a few months now," Ahiru said, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly. "I remember him teaching, but maybe not everyone remembers, or maybe you don't, but you know, I think he does… I mean, umm…"

Ahiru twiddled her fingers nervously, not sure how to explain this conundrum, but Neko-san corroborated her story with a solemn nod and a dignified "meow".

Yagiko-sensei grimaced with bewilderment. "I… I suppose I… don't have any problem with that, but…" She scratched her head. "This is so strange. I don't remember a cat ever having taught a class, but somehow the idea that Neko-san is a teacher feels familiar to me. What's going on here…?"

Unable to give a plausible answer, Ahiru gave a quick bow and farewell before she stepped out of the office and continued her search for Sagi.

o-o-o-o-o

Caras stood on the steeple of the cathedral in the middle of town surrounded by scores of cawing crows, looking up into the sky with a displeased scowl on his face.

"Drosselmeyer!" he shouted into the air. "I know you're there. I have gathered all of my shards. Why do they not return to me? Why do they remain separate from my heart?" Caras demanded, his fist clenching. "Except for one…"

"Gathered? All of them?" Drosselmeyer said in an echoing voice that only Caras could hear. "You haven't gathered all of them; not yet, anyway."

"Nonsense," Caras said, his frown deepening. "I can sense them ever stronger now, and I do not sense a single shard within the walls of this town."

"Indeed that is so," Drosselmeyer said smugly, "but what about outside of the town, Raven?"

Caras stopped. He hadn't thought to search outside the town, just as he never knew about the world outside of Kinkan due to the seal of the story locking them all inside. There was no reason to think that shards may not all be inside the town; it simply hadn't occurred to him until now to look elsewhere, particularly now that there were none in the immediate vicinity to look for.

"Do you tell me, then, that I have many more that I do not sense to collect in addition?" Caras said, almost growling in frustration.

"If you think one is too many, then yes," Drosselmeyer said mischievously. "Just one more… so close, and yet so far. You'll need to find this one last shard before you can return to your wondrously powerful original form. Will you go that much further, Raven?"

"Hmph," Caras said, crossing his arms. "Nothing is too much for me if it will return me to my true form. Consider it found, Drosselmeyer."

"Look for a cave, Raven," Drosselmeyer said. "There's a reason that you cannot sense this shard, and that's because it's hiding from you. As for why… I'll let you figure that out for yourself!"

Caras immediately turned away from the sky as Drosselmeyer laughed, and began leaping from building to building, towards the outside of town, as the crows gathered about him followed suit.

I will find the last shard, Caras thought, focused on only this goal. I will find it and return to my true self.

"The rest of my heart shards," Caras said, his hand clutching his chest, "shall be joining this one soon."

o-o-o-o-o

Having not found Sagi even after searching all around town, Ahiru's worry grew more intense. What if something had happened to her?

"You look worried, Ahiru-chan. What's up?"

Ahiru was roused out of her thoughts by a familiar voice. She looked up and saw Pique and Lilie looking at her with puzzlement.

"Oh…" Ahiru said, her brows furrowing. "I'm worried about my friend, Sagi. She wasn't in class today, and I was looking all over town for her, but I haven't seen her. I hope she's all right…"

"She's missing? And she can't be found anywhere in town?" Lilie said, a hand perched quaintly on her chin. "Oh, maybe the Cave of Terrors swallowed her up!"

"The…the Cave of Terrors…?" Ahiru said, her anxiety turning into panic.

"Lilie, you're not helping!" Pique said, poking the blonde pigtailed girl with her elbow admonishingly. "Ahiru-chan, I'm sure that she hasn't gone into the cave. It's hard to find, and it's way outside of town besides."

As much as the name frightened her, her curiosity and concern for Sagi's safety prompted Ahiru to ask hesitantly, "What's… the Cave of Terrors?"

"Oooh, let me tell you," Lilie said gleefully with a spooky look on her face. "It's a cave where once you go in, you never come out! It eats you up, swallowing you whole while you scream in terror!" She giggled. "Isn't it a wonderful story?"

"It's a really scary story…" Ahiru said with a spooked-out look on her face.

"But it's true!" Pique said as Lilie nodded enthusiastically. "Whoever has gone in that cave has never come out! And the last person who had been with the person who went missing, said that they heard screams from the cave, as if they were being eaten alive!"

Ahiru whimpered. "I never want to go near this cave, ever…"

"Like I said, I don't think Sagi-san went into the cave," Pique said, patting Ahiru reassuringly on the shoulder. "Maybe if she's not in town, she's somewhere outside? Is there any place outside of town that you know she might go to?"

Ahiru blinked, her eyes widening. "Ah! The lake!"

She turned toward the way the lake was and headed that direction, turning around for a moment to say goodbye to her two friends. "Thanks, Pique, Lilie! See you later!"

The two waved goodbye as Ahiru left. Then they looked at each other.

"We should really hang out with her more often," Pique said, sighing. "I really like talking with her. Things are always exciting when she's around."

"I was thinking the same thing!" Lilie said, her hands on her cheeks. "It's too bad that she's not in the beginner's class anymore. We'd have a lot more chances to talk with her then."

"Yeah… maybe we should practice with her in probationary sessions like before…"

They stopped for a moment, and looked at each other again.

"Wait…'anymore'?"

"'Before'?"

"Was she ever in the beginner's class?"

o-o-o-o-o

When Ahiru reached the lake outside town, it didn't take long before she saw Sagi sitting at the familiar dock where Fakir had usually sat, her arms wrapped around her legs as she gazed out at the water. As Ahiru got closer, she saw that Sagi was holding in her hands the blue pendant that she normally always wore around her neck.

"Sagi-chan?"

Sagi blinked, and glanced up. "Ahiru… you're here."

Ahiru sat herself next to Sagi on the dock. "Are you doing okay, Sagi-chan?"

"Yes, I'm fine," Sagi said absentmindedly, looking out at the water again.

Ahiru shook her head, looking worried. "You weren't at classes at all today, and normally you're so punctual and diligent…"

Sagi sighed. "I… I don't know… if I should continue on with this," she said faintly. "With going to school, and helping you with all the trouble that's been happening…"

She gripped the pendant in her hands. "I'm not even helping, really. I hid Caras from everyone, even though I knew that everyone didn't want that. I don't have any idea what I'm doing. I'm… in way over my head…"

Sagi glanced at Ahiru with a sad smile. "I've been thinking; maybe I should come back to live at the lake like normal herons do. Just wading in the lake, catching fish, sleeping in the reeds… you know, ordinary life. Maybe that's what I'm supposed to be doing, instead of getting myself mixed up in things I'm not meant to interfere in."

Ahiru looked down at her hands, clutching them together pensively. "If you really feel that way, Sagi-chan… you should do what you feel is best. But…"

The redhead looked at Sagi with forlorn eyes. "I'd really miss you at school. Going to apprentice class is so much more fun with you around, and… and even if you protected Caras, I… I understand why you did that."

Sagi's eyes widened. "You do?"

Ahiru nodded gently. "He was somebody different; even I could tell after talking to him a little bit. I know that Fakir was really angry at you, but… you see, he's had… a really bad history with the crows. They… they killed his parents."

Sagi's hand went over her mouth. "That's horrible… I…I didn't know…"

"And you've read the book he came from, right? The Raven is a terrible monster that destroyed villages and consumed hearts. Fakir hates the crows for what they did, and the Raven for all that he's done to the people he cares about," Ahiru said. "He looks at Caras and thinks of the Raven; but when you look at Caras, you see someone else, right?"

Sagi glanced down. "Yet in the end, he's one and the same person, isn't he?"

"I… I don't know," Ahiru said uncertainly. "I think he's a mystery to all of us still. But, either way…"

Ahiru stood up, looking Sagi in the eyes. "I know that I can trust you, Sagi-chan. So whatever you want to do, I'm for it all the way. If you want to stay here at the lake, I'll come visit you whenever I can. Or if you want to keep being with us, then I'll stick with you, even if people are angry at what you think is right."

Sagi blinked, meeting Ahiru's gaze with awe. She glanced back at the round pendant in her hands, touching it softly with her fingers. She wanted to run away from the people who were angry at her, but what did she want more? To go back her quiet, obscure solitude at the lake, or to stay with the new friends she had made in the human world?

After some moments, she closed her fingers around the pendant and put it back around her neck. "I'm coming with you, Ahiru."

Ahiru smiled and nodded. "Let's go!"

o-o-o-o-o

Ahiru and Sagi headed back into town and towards Takako's abode, where Ahiru and her friends had arranged to meet after classes had ended for the day.

On the way there, the two girls turned a corner and came face to face with Fakir, Rue, Mytho, and Autor, the last wearing a cloak presumably to avoid easy detection by the Book Men.

From the sharp look in Fakir's and Rue's eyes, it was clear they were none too pleased about seeing Sagi with Ahiru. Fakir made that sentiment clear when he said to Ahiru, "What is she doing here?" he asked. "I thought you were on his side."

Ahiru opened her mouth, about to respond, when Sagi held up a hand to stop her. She stepped forward, holding her hands together. "I… I want to continue to be involved. I know that won't change what I've done, but I… I want to help stop the Raven from being revived, like all of you do. It's just that, when I saw Caras injured like that, and acting so strangely… I couldn't let him be hurt any further."

Sagi's brows furrowed. "And also… when I held the Agony shard, I realized that the pain I felt while I had it was something that he had to deal with all along, and he has it in his heart now. If I had to hold that shard indefinitely… I don't know how I would have ended up, but I know that I would not have come out intact."

Fakir and Rue looked away from Sagi hesitantly, unsure how to respond.

"I know what you speak of, Sagi-san." Five pairs of eyes turned to Mytho. "Last night, when I had the opportunity to strike the Raven down once and for all… I thought I saw someone else. Someone who was hurt deeply, and who was lead astray by forces beyond her control. Someone who was tricked to play the part she was given by using her weaknesses against her. I thought, when I saw him fall from the Agony shard, that I saw Kraehe."

Rue looked at Mytho suddenly with frightened eyes. But Mytho's eyes were filled with not fear or loathing, but regret and sorrow. "I wondered at the time if I were somehow letting my merciful nature get the best of me; however…" Mytho sighed. "If you felt the same, Sagi-san, then perhaps what I saw that night wasn't entirely my imagination."

The prince's words ignited conflicting feelings in Fakir's and Rue's hearts.

Rue had been alarmed when she learned that they had almost been able to rid the world of the Raven once and for all, and yet missed their chance. However, hearing this speech from Mytho, she couldn't bring herself to blame him for the kindness that characterized him manifesting itself even for his archenemy. The only thing that truly bothered her was the fact that her "father" was out there still, and on his way to returning himself to his original state.

Fakir was harder to convince. He had to hold himself back from questioning Mytho as to how he could feel sympathy for the Raven, even after hearing what he had to say. However, Rue was someone that Mytho cared deeply for. So, whether he liked it or not, if Mytho felt that way, there was nothing he could do about it.

"Fine," Fakir said curtly, crossing his arms, not looking Sagi in the eye. "If you want to come with us, I'll tolerate it. Just don't get in our way again."

"If Mytho says it's all right, then… I'll not argue further," Rue said, also avoiding Sagi's gaze.

Sagi sighed with relief as Ahiru smiled at her.

o-o-o-o-o

"You knew where Caras was all along, didn't you?" Fakir asked Takako interrogatively when they reached her abode as Autor took off his cloak. "You knew, but you didn't tell us."

"It was by Sagi-san's request," Takako said. "I would not personally tell anyone of Caras's whereabouts even if they asked. She had come to me soon after the deed and asked this of me."

Fakir, Rue, and Autor looked at Sagi, and she looked down nervously.

"Well, that's not really why we're here, is it?" Autor said matter-of-factly, adjusting his glasses. "We're here to make a plan of action of what to do now that Caras-san has all of the shards. What are our options at this point?"

"There is one last shard that remains to be collected," Takako replied. "He is searching for it as we speak."

The group started. "What!?"

"Why didn't you say that before!?" Fakir demanded.

"I have only recently learned of this development," Takako said to him. "The only thing I know is that it is in a cave outside of town somewhere, as Drosselmeyer told Caras himself."

"Drosselmeyer…" Rue said anxiously. "So now he's getting the old writer involved."

"A cave…? Outside of town?" Ahiru said quietly, fear growing in her voice.

"You know about this cave, Ahiru?" Fakir asked her.

"I heard about it from Pique and Lilie," she replied uneasily. "A cave that swallows up anyone who goes into it. It sounds really scary, and I don't want to go there if we can help it!"

"Unfortunately that may be our only recourse now," Autor said solemnly. "If this is the last shard of the Raven, then this is our last chance to prevent him from gathering all the shards. And I don't think there are too many caves outside of town that could hide a shard in it."

Ahiru grimaced. "I was afraid of that…"

"We'll go together," Fakir said, placing a hand on Ahiru's shoulder. "Whatever's in that cave, if we go in a group, we can beat it."

Mytho nodded. "I will protect everyone from any beasts the cave might send our way."

Takako frowned. "Exercise caution, youthful ones… there are more horrible things than monsters to fear in this world. I would wager that if the shard is indeed inside the cave, there will be many trials and tribulations to face in retrieving it. The Agony shard was difficult enough to handle. What would this last shard have in store for us?"

Sagi looked off into the distance. "Even if that's the case, if we want to stop Caras, then we have to face whatever the danger might be."

o-o-o-o-o

By Takako's directions, the large group of Ahiru, Fakir, Mytho, Rue, Autor, Sagi, and Takako herself headed away from town, toward where Caras was headed. Though he was several steps ahead of them and moving fast, it at least gave them a clear path to follow.

Caras leapt from tree to tree among a murder of crows, intent on his destination and nothing else. The shard hides from me, yes, but I am close enough that it cannot conceal itself from me completely. I know where to find it. It's just a matter of getting there as soon as possible…

When he alighted on the ground in front of the cave entrance however, a group of people appeared from the woods nearby and stood barring the entrance. It was the Book Men: armed to the teeth with a heavy axe in each of their hands.

"The Raven has come for his last shard, as anticipated," the Book Man named William said, gripping his axe in a battle ready stance as they surrounded Caras. "We were right in presuming that this location holds one."

"You won't get past us," another Book Man said, brandishing his axe in a show of strength. "This is the only entrance to the cave, and we have it completely surrounded."

"This will be your final hour!" a third Book Man exclaimed. "Prepare yourself, Raven!"

A malevolent sneer appeared on Caras's face as the crows gathered around him. "You dare come between me and my heart shard? No, this will be your final hour!"

In the distance, Ahiru and her friends heard a group of men's screams coming from their goal. Alarmed, they ran toward the sounds.

When they finally reached the location of the screams, all of them looked with horror at the scene before them.

The Book Men were strewn on the ground before the cave, their faces covered in blood and their clothes torn and slashes by sharp beaks and talons. Only one of them, whose injuries were minor in comparison, was still on his feet.

"William!" Fakir exclaimed, looking around at the Book Men lying on the ground, groaning in pain before looking back at the one Book Man yet standing. "Don't tell me that this was the work of…"

"The Raven has made it past us," William said bleakly, his brow bleeding from a cut left by a raven's beak after it had tried to go for his eye, looking toward the entrance to the cave. "We cannot impede him further. I will tend to my comrades; you're the only one who can stop him now."

"Do you need someone to get help?" Mytho asked, his expression full of alarm and concern. "You're all hurt so badly…"

"Go, Prince!" William exclaimed, waving him onward impatiently. "You're wasting valuable time. Don't let our sacrifice be in vain!"

Mytho nodded, and then headed onward to the cave entrance with Fakir, turning back to beckon to the rest of his companions. "Come, everyone! We have to stop the Raven, no matter what!"

Autor, Rue, and Sagi nodded as they followed suit. Takako stood behind them, hesitating for a moment, before entering the cave with the rest.

o-o-o-o-o

The dark, cold cave's only illumination came from the torch that Fakir held, as well as the otherworldly light that came from Mytho's sword.

"It's so dark in here; how are we going to find the shard before the Raven does?" Rue asked.

"And even worse…"

Autor pointed ahead of them, and there was a fork in the cave, with two passages in opposite directions. "Who knows how many more branches this cave has…"

Sagi fingered her pendant, which was a shady blue hue. "The pendants that Ahiru and I wear turn black in the presence of a Raven's shard. Maybe we can use them to figure out where the shard is."

"Hey, that's right!" Ahiru said, her eyes widening. "I have one too, so we can split up and look separately. It'll be faster with people looking in multiple directions!"

"If we're splitting up, I'm going with Ahiru," Fakir said, stepping towards her.

"Then I will go with Sagi-san," Mytho said, looking toward her.

Rue grabbed onto Mytho's arm. "I'm staying with Mytho."

"I-I'll go with you two, then," Autor said, stepping behind Rue with a little stutter in his voice.

Takako shrugged with a wry smile on her face. "Then it seems that I should follow you two, Fakir and Ahiru, if our groups are not to be uneven."

Once the groups were decided, Ahiru's group took the left branch, while Sagi's group took the right.

While Sagi's group walked on in silence, Ahiru approached Fakir while Takako walked silently behind them.

"Fakir, I have to talk to you about something," Ahiru said quietly.

"What is it?"

"It's about Sagi," she began, anticipating the downward turn on his lips at the mention of the name. "I know that you're angry at her for what she did, but please don't be too hard on her. It wasn't easy for her either, and I kind of understand what she was trying to do…"

"Protecting the Raven?" Fakir said with a disdainful grimace. "I thought she knew better than to do something so stupid."

"See, that's the thing, she wasn't trying to protect the Raven," Ahiru said, pursing her lips. "When I talked with Caras a little, when he lost his memories… he really did seem like a different person. He didn't seem mean, or scary, at least when he didn't think he was in danger. Actually, he was kind of funny."

Fakir scowled with an expression on his face that nearly made Ahiru giggle. "What are you talking about!? He's not funny at all. Especially not after that incident with the note!"

"See what I mean?" Ahiru said, covering a smile. "Maybe we've got him all wrong, and he just isn't the Raven we think he is. Even if he thinks so, maybe… maybe it's just about the Raven's memories. Maybe he's been fooled all along, like Rue was into thinking she was the Raven's daughter!"

Fakir sighed. "It doesn't change one thing, Ahiru… the Agony shard. You couldn't remove it, even as Princess Tutu. And the reason for that was…"

"…The Raven's shard belonged to him," Ahiru finished his sentence, looking down with sorrow. "I know, but… there has to be some—"

Suddenly, the cave shook with an invisible shockwave, and with a scream from Ahiru, the light from Fakir's torch flickered and died out.

o-o-o-o-o

Caras entered the cave without a second thought as to the danger. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing that could be thrown at him that would deter his path to the final shard.

"You can't hide from me, heart shard," he said into the echoes of the cave illuminated by the eerie purple glow of the Raven's dark magic from his left hand. "No one and nothing will stop me from regaining my true form once again."

Except you.

Caras glanced around with alarm. "Who goes there?!"

And then the cave reverberated with an invisible shockwave before the purple glow from Caras's hand went out.

o-o-o-o-o

When the shockwave hit, Mytho's sword lost its ethereal glow for some moments.

"Rue! Autor-san, Sagi-san! Are you all right?" he exclaimed into the darkness.

But he received no answer.

Then, after he called out their names a few more times, suddenly the darkness became bright, and he found himself in Kinkan Town, surrounded by a lively bustle of a crowd minding their daily business.

"Wh-what…?" Mytho murmured in bewilderment, glancing around at the otherwise ordinary scene before him.

Then, he felt himself overcome by a familiar terrible pain in his heart. Nearly collapsing, Mytho gripped his chest, and felt beneath the royal tunic plumage from that of a bird. He brought his hand to his face, and saw that it had become a black wing, and that his face had grown a large gray beak.

"No… no, this can't be happening!" he said with growing horror. "Have I not overcome the Raven's blood!? Have I become a monster like the Raven again!?"

The crowd of people had noticed his transformation and chaos ensued. Screams filled the air as the townspeople pushed each other out of the way to flee from the feathered beast in their midst.

"No! Please do not run from me!" Mytho said desperately, reaching out to them with a feathered arm. "I don't mean you any harm!"

But it was to no avail.

"Monster! It's a monster!"

"Mommy! I'm scared!"

"Get away from that thing!"

"Someone kill the beast!"

"It's going to eat us all!"

Each of these condemning words plunged into Mytho's heart like a knife. When what he wanted most was to be a source of comfort, one to love and be loved, now he was a beast who caused chaos and struck fear into all.

In the crowd, he saw that Ahiru, too, looked upon him with fear, and backed away at his approach—just like she had before.

Tears came to Mytho's eyes. Even after all that had happened, she wouldn't stay by his side…?

Wandering around the frenzied plaza, desperately looking for someone who would not run from him, he saw one figure standing still among the disordered crowd.

"Everyone, please calm down!" Komaro said, his hands held up to direct the people.

He glanced up and saw Mytho, and in response he held his arms out on each side, shielding the crowd from him. "P-Please leave us alone, creature!" Komaro said, his anxiety almost overcoming his composure. He didn't even recognize Mytho.

"Mytho!"

Mytho turned toward his name, toward someone who knew who he was, and saw Fakir and Rue looking at him with horror and fright. Fakir brandished a sword at him. "There's no going back anymore… we have to destroy the monster that the Prince has become, for the good of all!"

"How can this be Mytho!?" Rue said, backing away from him. "There's no way that this monster is my beloved prince!"

Those words set off a pang of suspicion in Mytho's heart. Something wasn't right. While he might fear that all the rest might abandon him if he became a monster again, Fakir and most of all Rue would never say such things. He remembered that when all others ran from him, Rue never left him. That she would do so now…

"This isn't Rue." Mytho's voice, shaky from holding back tears, became more bold and steady as he continued. "This isn't Fakir. This isn't Komaro, or Ahiru, or any of my other friends. This is all a lie!"

As Fakir was about to strike Mytho down, the prince waved his black wing commandingly and the illusion dissipated in a blurry red ripple of light, returning the walls of the cavern and the prince's human form back to normal, as if it had just been a nightmare—except for a crimson raven that flew onward into the cavern, its frightened caws growing more and more distant.

But the damage had been done. Mytho's glowing sword slipped out of his hand with a clatter onto the ground as he fell onto his knees and cried into his hands.

"Cruel… so cruel…" Mytho said between sobs. "Is this but one of the awful curses that lies within the Raven's heart?"

o-o-o-o-o

"Mytho!" Rue called out into the darkness when the light of his sword had suddenly disappeared. "Mytho, where are you?"

She became more frantic when she received no answer. "Mytho, my prince, please! Answer me! Are you all right? What's going on?!"

Then, in the distance she heard Mytho's voice, talking unintelligibly to someone. With great relief, she headed in that direction. "There you are! What happened to your—"

When she turned the corner, she stopped short. Mytho was talking with a gentle yet passionate tone with none other than Princess Tutu.

"We'll be together forever," Mytho said, placing his hands around her waist. "Come, let us dance a pas de deux—forever. I don't need anyone else."

Though she didn't notice, black feathers began falling around Rue as her brows furrowed and her lips tightened.

"Because I am a part of your heart, Mytho," Tutu said, embracing Mytho's neck. "So we can never live without one another."

Rue's teeth clenched, and she rushed forward, transforming into Princess Kraehe as she shoved the two apart. "How dare you, Tutu!? Mytho is mine!"

"Stop getting between us, Kraehe," Tutu said with a calmly admonishing tone. "I am Mytho's Hope, and without me, he cannot live on. But you want to keep him only for yourself, and so there's no way you can be with someone like the prince."

Mytho said, "I cannot have a girl with the Raven's blood as my princess. I could overcome the taint that you placed within me, but you cannot. It is a part of your very being; it is your true self."

As Kraehe's hands clenched, her ruby eyes widened when she felt the glowing red eyes of the Raven appear behind her.

In a booming voice that seemed to fill the air around her, he said, "You will always be my daughter, Kraehe, because you can never escape my blood that runs through your veins. Your crimson eyes will always show this to be true!"

"I'm not Kraehe!" she said desperately, shaking her head. "That was all a lie!"

"Just look at yourself," the Raven said, laughing. "Your black feathers and black shoes reveal yourself to be the crow that you really are!"

Kraehe's eyes widened, and she looked down at herself. With horror, she saw that without even noticing, she had transformed into Princess Kraehe again. She collapsed onto her knees, burying her face in her hands.

Not hearing Tutu or Mytho talking anymore, she looked up and saw them walking together in the opposite direction of the Raven's glowing red eyes.

She reached out to Mytho desperately. "No, Mytho, please! Don't leave me! I can't live without you! Even if I don't deserve to be with you, I… I don't have anyone but you! Please, don't go!"

But Mytho and Tutu would not listen, and with a last disdainful glance, continued onward without her. Seeing this, Kraehe's tears stopped, and her desperate yearning for Mytho turned into hatred for Tutu. Her crimson eyes narrowed and began to glisten with a vengeful purple sheen.

She stood up and rushed at them, screaming in rage and despair when she heard Mytho's voice again, but from a different direction.

"Rue!" Mytho's shouts echoed through the cavern chambers. "It's an illusion! It's not real! Whatever you're seeing, it's only a nightmare!"

As she heard these words, the Mytho and Tutu, as well as the looming Raven eyes, disappeared with a flickering crimson ripple, and a crimson raven flew onward out of sight.

Mytho finally reached where Rue stood, and she looked up at the approaching light from his sword, wondering whether or not it was the real Mytho.

But what Mytho saw was that Rue wore the black feathers and tutu of Kraehe. Thinking that she might still be seeing the illusion, he hurried toward her and said comfortingly, "Don't be fooled by the illusion. You aren't Kraehe; you're Rue, and you have been all along."

Kraehe's eyes widened in fear. "No… you… you can see this, too…?" she said, looking at herself and seeing that the black feathers had not disappeared along with the crimson raven. Backing away from Mytho, shaking her head, she said, "Mytho, I'm still Kraehe! I thought she was gone for good, but she isn't!" She wrapped her arms around herself, cringing. "She was coming back all along, ever since we came back to Kinkan… and now…!"

Undeterred, Mytho continued to approach her, his arms outstretched. "It matters not to me what you transform into. I will never leave you, Rue. Just as you never left me."

Kraehe knelt onto the ground softly and lowered her head into her hands, transforming back into Rue in the process. Mytho knelt down beside her and embraced her warmly, and she gripped his shoulders, burying her face in his chest.

Mytho placed a hand gently on the back of her head with a sorrowful expression. "Do you remember… when I had told you that we would be able to go back to Kinkan whenever we wished? I had gone to the wise fairy and she told me that we would be able to go back to Kinkan at any time. However…"

He looked up with regret in his eyes. "You were so happy to hear that, I didn't want to tell you what else she had said, because I didn't understand it either at the time: 'If you truly wish to revisit the place of your past, you should be prepared to face the remnants of that past lingering there to haunt you.' I realize what this meant now, in many ways."

Mytho looked at Rue, who looked back at him with confused crimson eyes. "I'm so sorry, Rue. All of this is my fault; I should have known that this world would be too painful for you to return to so soon. Remnants of the past… the Raven's shards are too horrible a curse for you to need to bear."

"No, Mytho!" Rue shook her head vehemently. "It was what I asked for, and regardless of how foolish I was, you wanted to make me happy. If anyone is at fault, it's me."

"It was I who brought you back here to this world, and it is I who must take responsibility for what's happened because of it," Mytho said solemnly. "So whatever horrid traces of the past remain, I shall get rid of them properly this time."

"It wasn't all horrid, was it?" Rue said, her eyes looking at him pleadingly. "There were times we had together that meant the world to me. Even if you didn't have your heart… you were all I had in the world. But that was all I needed."

Mytho looked at her with a sad smile. "You will always have me, Rue. Now and forever onward."

o-o-o-o-o

"Fakir, what are you doing here?" Autor asked when Fakir approached him after the light of Mytho's sword had gone out. "Did you run into a dead end already? Did you see Mytho or any of the others around? I can't seem to find them after the lights went out…"

"Go back home," Fakir said in that disdainful tone Autor was all too tired of. "You're not needed here. You don't have any power to change anything."

"Wh-what's this about all of a sudden?!" Autor said, clenching his fists. "Why are you bringing this up now?"

Then, Autor found himself lifted up and tossed about in the air like a puppet. Bewildered, he looked back at Fakir and instead saw Drosselmeyer, waving a quill around. As he swung it left, Autor swung left; as he swung it right, so did Autor.

"You see?" Drosselmeyer said with glee. "You are absolutely powerless in the hands of a true Spinner!"

"So this is your doing!" Autor said, clenching his teeth. "Well, unfortunately for you, I'm not the only one opposing you, Drosselmeyer!"

He looked around for Fakir and found him, but saw that the Book Men had seized him and were dragging him away.

"Fakir!" Autor called out, trying to struggle free of the invisible vice grip Drosselmeyer had on him, but to no avail.

Drosselmeyer laughed. "You were saying, Autor?"

"What are they doing!? Stop, you Book Men! Stop it!" Autor said, shouting in their direction. "Don't they see you standing here? They're playing right into your hands—"

Autor blinked. "Wait a second. What are the Book Men even doing here? They got hurt earlier! There's no way they could wrestle Fakir into submission in their condition!"

He looked around, eyes narrowed dubiously. "None of this makes sense. All of this must be an illusion! This is all fake! You're fake! You can't fool me!"

Autor smirked, basking in the intellectual victory that was his realization, but to his dismay, his feet remained hanging in the air.

"I know this isn't real!" Autor said, his face falling. "So why do I still see it!?"

"Even if it is an illusion, it's still real to you, Autor," Drosselmeyer said with a dark chuckle. "You still don't have any power over the world, no matter what you know and think."

"You're wrong!" Autor shouted. "I have a Spinning power—the power of music! My Spinning is without words, something that can affect people's emotions and thoughts! How can you call that powerless?"

"What good is a power like that?" Drosselmeyer said, shrugging. "Will making everyone feel happy change anything about the tragedy before their eyes? All you can do is delude them from the truth. Actually, that's an even greater tragedy! It's a lot better for me!" he said, chuckling heartily.

Autor shook his head. "That's not what I want! I want to…I want…"

Then he realized he didn't know how to answer to that. Was he really useless to everyone in the end? What good could he do with his powers when compared to Fakir's Spinning words? Or was he just a burden, or even worse, a harmful presence?

Then, he heard a familiar feminine voice screaming.

"Rue!" Autor exclaimed. "She's in trouble!"

"What's the point of worrying about it?" Drosselmeyer said. "You can't help her, anyway."

Autor gave pause to these words, wondering if he was right. But then he shook his head again. "I don't care if I can help her or not. The one thing I can do, even if I'm powerless, is be there for her," he said with conviction. "And no matter what you say, I'm going to do that!"

At these words, Drosselmeyer vanished into a flickering crimson ripple, and a scarlet raven flew away into the distance, toward where he heard Rue's voice. With the ground firmly underneath his feet again, Autor wasted no time following the crimson raven toward the sound of Rue's cries. But just as quickly as the illusion had appeared, the raven he had been following vanished into the darkness of the cave.

In place of the eerie glow of the raven, the glow of Mytho's sword entered Autor's eyes and he found Rue, kneeling on the ground alongside the prince.

"Rue! Are you all right!?" he exclaimed, running toward her.

"She is distraught, but she is not physically injured," Mytho said, looking up at him.

"Was it one of those illusions?" Autor asked, eyes widening.

Mytho nodded. "I fear for her safety," he said, looking back at Rue. "But if we turn back now, then the Raven…"

"…will get to the shard before us," Rue said, grimacing as she tried to stand. "We can't let him do that. We—"

She winced, clutching her heart, tears squeezed from her eyes. "We… we have to… get to it… before…"

"It affects you too strongly for that to be realistic," Autor said, deep concern behind his glasses. "I think you need to get out of here as soon as possible, or else the shard may do even worse things to you."

"I don't want my father to get his shard back on account of my weakness!" Rue exclaimed, burying her face in her hands.

"I'll take you, Rue," Autor said, a resolute expression on his face. "Prince Mytho, you go on ahead. We'll split up here."

"Are you sure?" Mytho asked, looking at him with furrowed brows.

"Yes," Autor said with a nod at Rue. "That will be best for everyone involved."

Rue looked like she wanted to argue, but she took one glance at the cave in front of them and turned away. "…All right."

"I'm counting on you, Autor-san," Mytho said, placing a hand on Autor's shoulder. "Please, take care of Rue for me until we get through this."

"I'll protect her with my life," Autor said with complete sincerity as Rue looked at him with a pensive expression.

o-o-o-o-o

"Why do you always do that?" Rue asked as they walked back out of the cave, their way lit by a magical glowing flower in Autor's hand that Mytho had conjured up for them. "Why are you always going out of your way for me?"

"You… you were in trouble, and I had to try to do something for you, even if I fail to help you at all," Autor said earnestly. "I can't just leave you to suffer on your own."

Rue glanced down at the ground. "I'm not worth your time."

"You're wrong!" Autor said intensely, causing Rue to look back up, a bit startled. "You're… you're really special, you know that? You've got so much for people to admire; your poise, your talents, your wit. There's so much for people to love about you, Rue."

Rue blinked bewilderedly. "To love…? About me?"

"I mean, you have a sharp tongue, but on the inside, a gentle heart," Autor said, his face turning red at his very frank assessment of her, but once started, his words would not stop flowing. "Maybe none of us know the troubles you've gone through all these years, but I know it's enough that I want to help shoulder whatever burden you might have left to carry."

"Bringing me out of the cave doesn't really change anything," Rue said forlornly, glancing up at the approaching light of the outside world. "All the pain will still remain."

Autor's brows furrowed worriedly. "I… I know I'm not your prince. But right now, there's something that I can do for you that your prince can't. If I can be here the one instant that you need me… that would be all I wanted."

Rue didn't reply, continuing to walk pensively, and remained silent even after they had exited the cave.

The Book Men were gone, and alone in the woods, there was little else for Rue and Autor to do except to find a place to sit near the entrance and wait for the rest of their friends to return.

Autor looked up at the sky and the puffs of clouds drifting by. Memories of the nightmare he had encountered in the cave gradually softened as he relaxed outside of it, as the mind often did with bad dreams over time.

Glancing to the silent figure next to him, Autor saw that Rue sat with her hands wrapped around her elbows, her troubled gaze looking unseeingly on the ground in front of her. Seeing that Rue was sitting there anxiously, Autor absentmindedly began to hum a small lullaby that his mother had always used to calm him down.

When Rue looked at him strangely, he immediately stopped. "S-sorry… strange habit."

The ensuing silence in the air made Rue feel uneasy, so she told Autor after a few moments, "It's all right. You can keep humming."

Autor's eyes widened, and turning a little red again self-consciously, he continued the melody.

Though Rue thought that nothing could calm her after an encounter of that nature, she found that listening to Autor's melody made her feel safe and warm. The quiver in her nerves lessened, and her breathing became deeper, and less agitated. She curled up on the rock she was leaning on and closed her eyes.

Autor saw this and presumed that Rue had fallen asleep. He shivered a bit from the drafty wind, but instead he took off his jacket.

When Rue felt something placed on her, she opened her eyes and realized that Autor had covered her with his blue uniform jacket, despite the fact that he was still shivering and even sneezed.

Rue almost had a mind to get up and give the jacket back to him, but she didn't want to disturb his little performance of the lullaby. So she continued to lie there under his jacket, feeling for the first time in her life, grateful for someone other than Mytho.

o-o-o-o-o

Nothingness.

That was all that Takako saw after the light of Fakir's torch vanished from sight. She immediately knew that something had occurred, and though she called out to the two children, they did not answer.

"Are they gone?" Takako asked the empty, dark air, which made no reply.

The inky nothingness remained, heavy and suffocating. Even the echoes from the cavern were gone.

"Is anyone there?"

The nothingness remained, heavy and suffocating.

"Can anyone hear me?"

The nothingness remained.

"Am I trapped in this void?" Takako asked the air again. "Will I not see the rest of the story?"

She remained silent, closing her eyes, trying to hear for some kind of reply, some kind of echo. But there was nothing to hear.

Takako grimaced. Never before had she been unable to conjure visions of the world if she tried to find it in the silence. "Is this my fate, to see nothing, hear nothing, from now on? Is there no other story that I might read? Is it truly over for me?"

Then she realized something. The one person she could still hear…

"Myself," Takako said with a small smile. "That's right… I still have one story, the story that is always with me. I have a story, just like all the others. And as long as I am there to see it, it will always exist. So I need not worry that I will not have a story to read."

She closed her eyes, and the visions she always saw had returned.

She saw that all the others were trapped in illusions, like she had just been. None of them were making progress toward the shard, though Caras was making slow progress himself. They were suffering greatly, and they might suffer even more if she didn't do something.

So she headed for the one nearest to her.

o-o-o-o-o

When Ahiru heard the shout of a familiar voice, she went running in that direction. "Mytho! What happened?!"

When she arrived at the scene, she gasped. Mytho was prostrate on the ground, clutching his chest, while Rue was kneeling next to him.

"Mytho!" Ahiru covered her mouth in horror, running over to him, when Rue stood up and shoved Ahiru away.

"It's all your fault!" she exclaimed with a scornful look in her eyes. "It's because you took his Hope shard to transform into Tutu. Now he's suffering like this, and it's all because of you!"

"What…?" Ahiru's eyes widened, filling with tears. "It's because of me…?"

"It hurts… it hurts!" Mytho moaned, wincing on the ground as Rue knelt down to comfort him.

"It's all right, Mytho," Rue said, putting a hand on his head. "Ahiru won't trouble you anymore. She was just leaving."

Rue glared at Ahiru, and the redhead, not sure what else to do, turned around and began to walk away.

As Ahiru turned her tearful eyes away from Rue and Mytho, she bumped into someone standing directly behind her. Startled, she staggered backwards and realized that it was Fakir.

"I can't forgive you for this," Fakir said, his eyes narrowing. "How could you hurt Mytho like that? Go away, Ahiru. I don't want to see you again!"

Ahiru blinked, dumbfounded as Fakir brushed her aside to go to Mytho's side. "Fakir… it wasn't… it wasn't what I was…"

Watching Fakir stride away from her, Ahiru shook her head vehemently and sobbed. "I-I was only trying to help, Fakir… I didn't mean to hurt Mytho! Please don't say something like that…"

"This is only an illusion, Ahiru."

The familiar voice gave Ahiru pause and she gasped. "T-Takako-san?"

"None of the ones who are condemning you are real," Takako went on as she appeared from around the corner. "They are simply a projection by the Fear shard to lead you astray."

"It's just an… illusion?" Ahiru said, looking over toward her three friends. "So Fakir… didn't really say that?"

Takako-san is right, Ahiru thought. Maybe at one time, long ago, Fakir might've said something like that, but that was the old Fakir. The Fakir she had come to know, the one who had saved her from the Lake of Despair and had helped her save Kinkan, would never condemn her like this.

"No! Fakir would never say that!" Ahiru said with certainty. "Now things make sense!"

As her resolve solidified, the image of her friends vanished into a wavering ripple, before a crimson raven flew away from them.

"Thanks, Takako-san," Ahiru said, smiling up at her as the woman walked to her side. "I almost believed what they said until you came."

"We don't have much time," Takako said soberly. "Fakir is trapped in an illusion of his own, and you are at the center of it. Will you help him see through the lies?"

"Fakir's in trouble?" Ahiru asked, her eyes widening. "Then I've gotta save him!"

o-o-o-o-o

When the lights came back on, Fakir found himself in the middle of the Kinkan plaza, among a happy, cheerful crowd going about their daily business. Lost and disoriented by the sudden change in scenery, a cheerful voice called out to him.

"Fakir!"

He turned to the familiar voice and saw Ahiru running toward him with the biggest smile on her face. "We did it, Fakir! We defeated the Raven once and for all!"

Fakir's eyes widened. "What? Are you serious?"

"Of course I'm serious!" Ahiru said, glomping him affectionately. "And it's all thanks to your writing, Fakir!"

Fakir turned red at Ahiru's bold gesture, almost looking as if he wanted to push her away, but refraining. "My… my writing? It was thanks to my Spinning that we defeated the Raven? When did this happen?"

"It happened just now!" Ahiru said, her grin never leaving her face as she continued to cling to Fakir. "You finally made a breakthrough with your Spinning, and you wrote a happy ending for everyone in the world."

Ahiru reached for Fakir's cheek and caressed it, blushing. "For us, too."

Fakir turned an even brighter shade of red, turning away from embarrassment. "What are you doing, Ahiru…? This isn't how you usually…"

"Because you wrote us a happy ending, too," Ahiru said, laying herself on Fakir's chest as if she never wanted to be apart from him. "We'll always be together like this, forever, no matter what."

Fakir trembled, still red, placing his hands on her shoulders and looking her in the eyes. "Ahiru, there are… a lot of things that could separate us in the future. But even then, I…"

He trailed off when he realized, looking into Ahiru's eyes, they were vapid and blank—like those of a puppet.

"Whatever you write is how it will be," Ahiru said, that cheerful smile now resembling a painted clown's mask. "You have the world in your hands, and all the people in it. Anyone can do what you want—if you want us to be together, all you have to do is write a story. Everything is under your control!"

Fakir's eyes widened in horror as he pushed Ahiru away. "No… no, this isn't what I wanted! I don't want to control everything!" He clutched his head