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 forever grateful in his heart.

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 ~
(Sleeping Beauty: Waltz)

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 was having somewhat different thoughts. 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 assurance, he glanced back at Ahiru on his left shoulder. She beamed at him cheerfully, with warm, golden hope shining from her eyes, like it had been when she had returned the entire town to normal with her simple, yet mystical dance. The only thing on her mind at that moment was the thought that she would get to see her dear friends again.

Fakir let out a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. It was at times like these he could swear Ahiru was still communicating with him somehow, reasoning with him and reassuring him of his doubts. Even without words to speak with, she was the best companion he had ever known.

As they turned the corner, they spotted a large crowd of people gathered in the street a block ahead of them. Fakir approached the gathering and found a person to interrogate. "Ebine-san? What's going on? What's everyone crowded around here for?"

The largish 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 ofwings 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 joyfully.

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 an eyebrow 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, blinking with a flabbergasted expression 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, but it sure isn't me!"

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 look-alike 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 noble'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 peoplebehind 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 and a tiny figure with light blue-green hair and a taptaptap emitting 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 threesome 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 one that 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 resignedly. "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 and her lake friend, the great blue heron, Sagi 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. Resignedly, 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 little distinctive feather on her head, except that Sagi had a sort of rightward-pointing blue squiggle instead of Ahiru's long upward pointing yellow feather. Ahiru and Sagi had become fast friends from 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 palace while Sagi watched them with a parting gaze.

As they reached the town borders, they noticed that there were more carriages arriving at the town than usual. They all had 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 and all, 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 headed for 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 towards the direction Ahiru fell. He was further delayed by his needing sidetrack around houses and buildings, and that the many other carriages barred 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 in a cloak 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 gray mantle. 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.

"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 look-alike 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 cloak 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 prowling around nearby was giving orders to all of the other servants and attendants. He wore a simple beige tunic with white cuffs and white pants with a bright vermilion pullover on which a swan over a gold crown, the prince's insignia, was embroidered. His hair was dark brown with flecks of red here and there. He looked much stressed.

"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. "I hope you don't mind me saying so, your Highness, but this is a very grueling taking this job to do on my own–"

"But 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, and everything…to make sure everyone's doing what they're supposed to…"

"But 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 that 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."

"W-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-colored 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.

"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 fortune-teller's abode, putting the jar of eye-color-changing dust into his cloak pocket. He had no idea what the fortune-teller 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 face fell. His head drooped, lowering 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 shuddered 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 to hide in his shadow.

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