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

39. AKT "A Story That Never Ends"
~ Aus der Neuen Welt ~

- Part 2 -

In the Kinkan cathedral, Fakir frantically wracked his brain for a way to abate the people's belligerent wraths, when a dark figure appeared behind him. He turned around, and with shock saw it was Caras.

"You!" he said angrily. "How did you break free of my binds? The Raven can no longer reach this world on his will!"

"The Sisters of Fate allowed me through, for I am no longer who you know as the Raven," Caras said impassively. "I am now named as Odin, the King of Ravens."

Fakir immediately took on a defensive pose, but Caras shook his head. "I am not here to fight you. Rather, I have come to ask for your assistance in taking down Drosselmeyer once and for all."

Fakir looked bewildered. "What are you talking about?"

"To tear him away from the machine of the Loophole in Time where he resides, we must work together to trap him in this world without his powers," Caras said.

"Work together?!" Fakir exclaimed, livid. "With you? Never! How dare you even suggest such a thing, monster?!"

But outside, shouts from beyond the wall indicated that the fighting between the groups had restarted despite Rue's warnings.

Caras sighed curtly. "If we don't do something quickly, Drosselmeyer will have his way, and Kinkan shall be destroyed by the people themselves. I will be his instrument of chaos no longer."

Fakir glowered at him. "You expect me to trust you after everything you've done?"

Caras gritted his teeth, hesitating. As he tightened his lips with annoyance, to Fakir's utter shock, the former Raven got down on one knee and bowed his head subserviently. "In good faith, I will subject myself to your command, and I will follow your orders without protest, if you will agree to work together to stop Drosselmeyer."

Fakir was speechless for a moment. In that moment, however, the clangs of metal against metal rang outside, and he realized these were truly desperate times requiring all the aid on their side he could muster. "…Fine. You will be under my control, Raven."

A cog appeared behind Caras, and he stepped back into it, vanishing with the parting words, "I await my Spinner's command."

Fakir sat down, appalled at what he had just agreed to. He said the Raven would be under his control, but that meant he had to write about the Raven, when he could barely write about anyone other than Ahiru.

Autor, hearing the escalating chaos beyond the walls of the church, shouted at Beethoven, "Senpai! We have to do something to stop the fighting right now!"

Beethoven nodded, and raising his baton, he called out, "Unfinished Symphony, movement two!"

The calming music from the time the ravens attacked the school played in the air, reverberating at a deeper level throughout the town. With that song, all who heard it outside except for Eir, Mytho, and Rue began to drift off and fall asleep, stopping the fighting if only as a temporary measure. Even the musicians had to fight back sleepiness as they played onward.

Fakir nodded at Autor, thankful for the time he had just bought Fakir, before setting his mind back to figuring out how to write Drosselmeyer out of the Loophole in Time with the power of the Raven. He wondered about why he could write about Ahiru and no one else, and realized that it was because, of all the people he had pushed away and distanced himself from, he understood Ahiru, knew her feelings and desires, and could grasp her as a person.

However, this thought troubled him further, for he had no idea how he could relate to the Raven when he knew him only as a monster who created chaos and suffering in the world. How could he write about someone like that?

Desperate to solve this predicament, he thought about who he could ask about Spinning with such an unlikely candidate, and keeping in mind that Autor was preoccupied with his part, he realized that the one he had to ask was the Oak Tree.

As the cathedral itself was connected to the Tree, he walked up to one of the stone walls and placed a hand on it. Oak Tree, what can I do to write about the one called the Raven? How can I possibly understand him enough to utilize his power?

In response, vivid visions flooded his mind, that of a young raven and his encounter with the first heart he had ever eaten. He was there when the young raven, pitying the young soldier, removed his heart to ease his suffering. He was there when, taking the troubles onto himself, the young raven swallowed that heart. He was there as the young raven consumed more and more hearts until he was unrecognizable as who he had been when he had a name and loved ones to call his own.

Then the Oak Tree showed him the conversation Sagi and Caras had while they were in the cathedral, with Sagi trying to convince him one last time not to go through with shattering his heart. He listened as Caras confessed of how he had nothing left but his identity as the Raven, that he had nothing else to live for and how all paths would have led to this conclusion, one way or another. And finally, the moment when the Raven realized that what he had been seeking had been with him from the moment he thought he had been 'cursed' to be a human, and by giving up his pride and prison as the Raven, he would be more free than he ever had been in his long, tormented life.

Fakir's mind devoured every detail from these mystical yet crystal clear images of the past, absorbing them in the span of mere moments that yet beared the weight of entire lifetimes. The bitterness and loathing he harbored toward the Raven were etched deeply into his soul, and these visions by no means mitigated those long held feelings. But once he had processed these otherworldly memories, Fakir could at last view Caras in a different light.

From the beginning, he hadn't been that different from any other person, and yet he had found himself caught in a web of tragedy that had come not of cruelty, but of caring perhaps too much. He wondered whether the Raven may not have been their enemy, had his past gone differently. Indeed, if Fakir had taken his place, Fakir himself might have become a monster just the same as Caras had.

Armed with this newfound understanding, Fakir let his hand fall away from the stone wall. Turning around sharply, he went to sit down and put the tip of his quill to his parchment.

o-o-o-o-o

In the Loophole in Time, Caras stood with his arms folded beside Sagi, Takako, and Uzura. Sagi clasped her hands anxiously. "He said he agreed to help, but you haven't heard anything from him yet. Will he follow through?"

"We can do nothing to Drosselmeyer until he picks up his quill," Caras said, closing his eyes. "Only time will tell if he has the determination needed to accomplish this goal."

The King of Ravens stirred.

Then his eyes opened. "He has begun. It is time."

He turned toward Sagi. "You stay out of this. I don't want you to get hurt."

Sagi shook her head. "If I can help at all, I'll do it," she said earnestly. "I don't care if I get hurt if we can accomplish this goal."

He wanted to object, but then Fakir wrote onward:

An idea occurred to him, and it involved the ones that accompanied him. To take down the usurper of fate, they would all have a role to play.

Caras sighed, knowing what he had agreed to. "In order to trap Drosselmeyer, this is what we have to do."

o-o-o-o-o

Drosselmeyer sat, writing away with glee as the townspeople of Kinkan and Ginkan alike raged a heated battle on the streets of Kinkan Town. "Such chaos! Such malevolence! This is the true essence of humanity, and the essence of all great stories. This is the nature of the world!"

Then he saw a shadow cast across his wrists, and before Sagi could bring the raven hilted saber down upon them, Drosselmeyer wrote a few words and the tall blue-haired girl froze in place.

"Trying to stop me from writing, are you?" he said with an amused cackle as he stood up and looked at her. "That won't work anymore."

"Why do you do this?" Sagi asked, her brow furrowing in an effort to move her body. "Why do you make so many suffer?"

"That is what a storyteller does!" he exclaimed, spreading his hands. "Tales of suffering, of pain, of anguish; when I wrote what they wanted me to write, they became so angry and dissatisfied that they cut off my hands so I couldn't write again. But you know what I did? I wrote one final story with the blood from my wrists that I would live beyond this world and continue writing stories, and with that, no one could stop me."

Then the King of Ravens told hold of the old writer and threw him from his throne of fate.

And as Fakir wrote, Caras grabbed Drosselmeyer and jumped down to the lowest level of the Loophole in Time, where the doors to the real world lay.

"Hey! Stop that this instant!" Drosselmeyer exclaimed in protest as they landed on the ground.

Nearby, Uzura hopped up and opened one of the doors, ready for Caras to throw him out.

Takako stood by Drosselmeyer. "You have always said that tragedies create the greatest stories because of all the suffering they cause," she said. "But I have learned throughout all this that what is even greater than that suffering is how the characters overcome that tragedy."

Shuffling his shoulders, Drosselmeyer scoffed at her. "Hope is boring! It doesn't match up to the power of despair, which overcomes everything in the end."

Takako smiled. "Perhaps you should witness for yourself how interesting and formidable hope is by witnessing the people overcome these tragic stories with your very own eyes."

With that, Caras unceremoniously shoved Drosselmeyer through the doorway, and Uzura closed it shut behind him.

"The tussle-mayor's gone from here-zura!" Uzura said happily. "Now I can take you back to Kinkan-zura."

"Let us stay here for the moment," Takako said. "We can observe more easily what happens now from this vantage point."

o-o-o-o-o

"Autor! It's okay now," Fakir said, looking over at him. "Drosselmeyer has been exiled from the Loophole in Time. He can't control the machine anymore."

Autor nodded. "Right!"

Beethoven raised his baton again. "From the New World, fourth movement!"

The tune of the orchestra switched from the music of relaxation into a song of determination and decisive action.

Outside, the townspeople and soldiers blinked the sleep out of their eyes, and were surprised to find an old man in a red cloak standing there in the middle of the plaza, looking huffy and dusting himself off.

Then he grinned. "Heh, it's fine if I can't access the Loophole in Time or its machine anymore. I still can write! I still have the power of Spinning at my disposal!"

Fakir's eyes widened in horror. "What?!"

The people looked at each other in confusion. "The power of Spinning? What is he talking about?"

Autor looked as alarmed as Fakir, but then his eyes widened as he realized something. "It's all right, Fakir! Drosselmeyer's standing right outside, isn't he?"

"What do you mean?"

Autor grinned. "His zeal for the tragedies he loves will be his ultimate downfall."

o-o-o-o-o

"The people were overcome by hatred for their enemies, and fought and fought until they destroyed themselves."

And as he wrote it, indeed, the hatred welled up within the Kinkan townspeople and Ginkan nobles and soldiers alike. But then Duncan stopped.

"What is this?" he said, looking troubled. "I feel such hatred for the ones who have oppressed us, but why do I feel it so strongly? It's as if the words of that old man are coming true…"

"Coming true?" said one of the other nobles. "That's preposterous! The ramblings of an old man are not prophecies."

"But did you hear what he said?" Duncan said, looking back at him. "He said we would fight until we destroy ourselves. Even if it's not prophetic, isn't he right? Do we really want that to happen?"

"Oh, but that is what will happen, now that I've written it," Drosselmeyer exclaimed in his usual grandiose tone, grinning. "For I am the greatest Spinner, who holds fate in his very hands!"

Duncan frowned. "Who are you, old man?"

"I am Herr Drosselmeyer, a phantom of Kinkan," he said, bowing courteously.

"You're a ghost?" a Ginkan soldier said incredulously. "That's impossible!"

"I wouldn't be so sure!" Drosselmeyer said, appearing suddenly behind the soldier. In panic, he swung his sword at the old man, but the sword passed right through him, which shocked the people around him.

"Be careful, everyone!" Mytho said. "This man has the power to control reality itself. He has caused much pain and suffering to both the towns of Kinkan and Ginkan!"

Drosselmeyer cackled. "You see, it was I who spurred on your fighting and wars with one another, for that is the way to a greater tragedy. To this end, I have put Kinkan through peril many times to create tragedy in this happy town, for longer than many of you can recall. Surely you remember, people of Kinkan, when the Prince and the Raven appeared here in the town? That bright red light that lit up the blackened sky?"

The Kinkan townsfolk looked at each other, murmuring among themselves.

"Ever since then, I've been trying to create the ultimate tragedy here in Kinkan," Drosselmeyer said. "Thanks to the machine I built that kept the town locked inside its walls, you were all oblivious to my workings, oblivious to the little tragedies in your lives that I engineered, oblivious to the oddities in the town, and in the end, oblivious to my bringing the Raven back to torment all of you again."

The Kinkan townspeople recalled the strange events that happened in the time that everyone had previously forgotten.

"Remember? You were a giraffe!" one of the townspeople said to their neighbor. "And no one found it strange…"

"The ravens that attacked the town…"

"And the ghost of the Wili Maiden!"

"Make no mistake," another old man said, glaring at Drosselmeyer. It was William. "This specter is a danger to society. If we neglect his presence, he will cause calamity to us all."

"But what could you do about it, Bookman?" Drosselmeyer said with a smirk. "Your ancestors were the ones who cut off my hands to try to stop me, yet even that wasn't enough!"

Inside the cathedral, Fakir wrote on:

"However, the duck said to the people:"

"We don't have to do anything to you," Eir said. "If we knowingly avoid the paths that lead to tragedy, we may avoid such ends."

"That's not how the world works," Drosselmeyer said, spreading his arms wide. "It is human nature to head down the path of tragedy. All I'm doing is making it magnificent!"

He put his quill to his parchment and wrote:

"Regardless of the pleas of the helpless duck, the people would not stop their fighting. It turned into all-out war."

The townspeople, soldiers, and nobles alike gasped with alarm.

"War?!"

"We're going to fight to our doom?!"

"That can't be true!"

Fakir's brows furrowed, and then, not quite sure what he was doing, shifted his attention from Eir to someone else.

From a gear that appeared behind Drosselmeyer emerged Caras in his raven garb. All attention turned to him as he stepped forward. As he began to speak, Takako, Sagi, and Uzura snuck out from the gear behind him before it disappeared.

"You know me as the Raven who thrice terrorized the town of Kinkan," Caras said to the crowd. "I have done the same to countless others in the land from which I came. But, seeing what this Spinner has wrought, I have come to realize something. Not only was I causing the suffering of many, but I myself was suffering as a result of his stories, and I was destined to never find true happiness as long as I lived as his villain, following his written fate."

A determined look crossed his face. "Now, instead, I have taken fate into my own hands. The true weapons against fate are knowledge of possible futures and the will to change them. Use this knowledge of a terrible future and your will to defy it to take the power away from this usurper of fate!"

As the music that Autor's orchestra played swelled, these words from Fakir and Caras stirred the nobles and soldiers to throw down their weapons and cross their arms. "We will not destroy ourselves by fighting! We won't turn this into a war!"

Drosselmeyer, who had been writing furiously on his parchment, paused suddenly and looked at his quill, shaking it. "What? Why won't it work?!"

He ground his teeth, and then addressed the crowd. "It's not that easy to defy the past! Don't you have orders from the Archbishop Frollo to come here and force the nobles out? If not you, then surely others will come to do the job for you?"

The Ginkan soldiers looked at one another uneasily. "He's right, but…"

For a moment, a tenuous silence hung in the air as the nobles and the soldiers looked at one another, uncertain and conflicted.

Then, in a flurry of black feathers, a prince in black appeared before the crowd.

"Ginkan soldiers!" Trutho called out. "Frollo has been deposed from his position as leader of Ginkan. You no longer have any reason to follow his orders. Stop your fighting at once!"

The Ginkan soldiers looked at each other, eyes widening. Then they sighed with relief as they relaxed their stances, any remaining enmity evaporating away.

Drosselmeyer's head jerked up and down from his writing and the crowd, bewildered that what he had written wasn't matching up with what was happening. In fact, they were in complete conflict. "How is this possible?! My Spinning has never been contradicted before! Unless…" He looked over at the cathedral. "Not one, but two Spinners have interfered on behalf of the people?"

Fakir and Autor in their respective locations smirked in victory.

Drosselmeyer gnashed his teeth. "What an awful story! This is such a disappointment."

Then he turned away, grumbling bitterly, and disappeared into a puff of smoke.

The Kinkan and Ginkan townspeople alike cheered for the people who had protected their town and prevented all of them from destroying it.

"Hurrah for our heroes!"

"Three cheers for the prince and princess!"

"And the guardian in yellow!"

"Let us celebrate their valor!"

As the cheers continued, Sagi, Takako, and Uzura, who had hidden in the crowd, noticed that Caras had discreetly disappeared sometime after his speech. It was as if he felt he didn't really belong there…

"Ahiru! Ahiru!"

Eir turned to two familiar voices dashing toward her. "Pique! Lilie!"

Pique put her hands on her hips. "You were a duck all along, weren't you?"

"QUACK!"

Startled by the blunt statement, Eir couldn't hold back a quack, and in a flurry of magenta sparkles, she turned back into a duck in front of the entire crowd.

The crowd was silent for a moment, shocked at the sudden transformation.

"A duck?"

"Is that really her?"

"Did a duck really do all that?"

Ahiru was thoroughly embarrassed at the revelation, and she scrambled into the crowd, trying to hide. But the crowd separated around her, leaving her exposed to their astonished eyes.

But their reaction turned from surprise to delight.

"She's so powerful!"

"How lucky we are to have such a guardian creature in our midst!"

"What an amazing duck!"

They all broke into applause, looking at her with admiration and affection, with Mytho and Rue joining in.

Ahiru stood there in shock. They were applauding for… her? A mere duck?

In the cathedral, Fakir smiled down at his glistening parchment. "No, not a mere duck. An extraordinary duck."

o-o-o-o-o

"Ahhhhh! I'm laaaaaate!"

Some days later, Ahiru careened down the hallway, out of the women's dorms and down the street.

She passed by a crowd of people—or to be specific, animals that walked and talked. Ahiru couldn't help but overhear the animated group chatting amongst one another as she dashed past them.

"So tomorrow the Prince and Princess are returning home to our kingdom, is that right?" a fox said.

"Kinkan Town is where the Princess grew up, and where the Prince and Princess first met!" an elephant said. "Imagine, a world where animals don't talk, magic is rare, and life is told in stories—such a curious place this is indeed! Aren't you excited?"

Up ahead, she could see a familiar purple and blonde haired pair.

"Pique! Lilie! Wait for m—QUACK!"

Ahiru tripped over her feet so suddenly that she wasn't able to stifle her taboo phrase, and with a flurry of magenta sparkles she plopped face first onto the ground as a duck.

"Ahiru, not again!" Pique sighed, shaking her head as she reached into her book bag.

"Aww, look, Ahiru turned into a duck again!" Lilie said, grabbing the duck and squeezing her a little too tightly. "The poor thing! She's so embarrassed!"

After going somewhere discreet, Pique poured some water on Ahiru from a water bottle she had in her bag, and the two helped Ahiru get back into her clothes before they set off for Kinkan Academy.

When they got there, they headed for the ballet studio. Inside the studio was a crowd of students talking with each other, including Sagi who waved at Ahiru as they sat down next to her, as well as a male teacher with neatly groomed dull purple hair and a mustache, who wore a purple gem on a choker around his neck.

"Now, now, students, settle down, or else…"

The students looked irked as wedding music seemed to swell in the background.

"…I will have you marry my sons!"

The ensuing silence in the room caused him to twiddle with his mustache nervously.

o-o-o-o-o

After classes let out, Ahiru, Pique, Lilie, and Sagi headed out for town, with Uzura joining them soon after. Everywhere Ahiru went, there were warm greetings and happy faces.

"Hello, Ahiru-chan!"

"Good to see you!"

She smiled back at them. "Hello!"

"Thank you for everything that you've done," said an old woman, smiling at Ahiru as she passed by. "You're our savior."

"I… I'm not a savior or anything like that…!" Ahiru stammered.

"Look, she's embarrassed!" Lilie said, grinning.

"Even though you've got amazing powers, you're still in the beginner's class with us!" Pique said. "Couldn't you use magic to like, dance perfectly in class? Then you could be in the advanced class easily!"

"That wouldn't mean anything!" Ahiru said, looking determined. "I want to get better with dancing skills I've learned myself, not magical ones!"

"Oooh, look, it's Fakir-senpai!" Pique said.

Up ahead, Fakir and Autor were walking down the street, arguing.

"But don't you see? We could use these abilities to better society! If our Spinning can even dethrone Drosselmeyer, who knows what wonders we could achieve—"

"Absolutely not!" Fakir said, glowering at him. "You should know better than I do that we ought to leave well enough alone."

But they both stopped in their tracks when they saw someone in front of them walk past Ahiru.

"Good afternoon, Ahiru-chan," Drosselmeyer said with a pleasant grin, sipping a cup of tea.

"Oh, it's that evil ghost that wants to create tragedies, huh?" Pique said, making a face at him.

"How scary!" Lilie said, strangely delighted.

"The tussle-mayor likes to drink tea-zura?" Uzura asked with a finger to her chin.

Fakir's eyes narrowed. "You've been hanging around Kinkan ever since that day, even though you don't have any power over us anymore. Why are you still here?"

"Just because my Spinning doesn't work, doesn't mean I still can't write stories," he said pointedly, waving a quill in his other hand. "And besides, tragedies are the way of the world. Whether or not I control it, the stories of reality will keep on telling their sad tales over and over again. Either way, I'll be there to watch it unfold!"

"Drosselmeyer!"

A group of old men in cloaks spotted Drosselmeyer from down the street. They dashed towards him, but before they could reach him, he vanished from sight.

William glared at the empty space he had occupied. "We won't let you rest, Drosselmeyer, until we've driven your spirit out of Kinkan!"

"We can't let him get away. He won't bother the townsfolk any longer!"

And with that, they hustled away in a different direction down another street.

o-o-o-o-o

"So you decided to establish a parliament for the town of Ginkan?" Mytho asked Trutho over the telephone from a private room in the academy walls.

"I don't want the same thing to happen like with Macbeth and Frollo," Trutho said. "If everyone has a say in what happens, instead of someone calling all the shots, I'm hoping that Ginkan will become a more peaceful, prosperous town."

"Are you sure you don't want to come back to our kingdom with us?" Mytho asked. "It's been so long since you've seen our homeland, and we haven't spent much time together…"

"I'm glad that you invited me to come with," Trutho said gratefully, "but I feel that, especially now, my place is here, with the people of Ginkan. There is so much going on, many arguments and uncertainties, that I need to see through."

There was a pause on Trutho's side. "But… would it truly be all right for me to come, even in the future? As I am, I wear the black garb of your former enemy. Would the people in your kingdom even accept me? Would everyone be safe from me…?"

"I have no doubt they would," Mytho said without hesitation. "Even Rue and I bear some remnants of the Raven's blood, yet we are not controlled by it. Our worlds are connected now, and the doors to the kingdom will always remain open for you, little brother. It will always remain our kingdom."

Trutho smiled. "Then, one day, I shall come and visit you, brother."

o-o-o-o-o

In the main office of the Ginkan Council Hall, Trutho put down the receiver after talking with his brother. Across the room, another family member of his sitting on the side in a chair smiled at him.

"I'm glad that Kinkan is doing well," Emma said. "Such a resilient town, after all that's happened there recently. They do have you to thank for helping to keep it peaceful."

"I didn't do much," Trutho said. "I just told them that Frollo wasn't in charge anymore."

"Only you could have done so in such a timely manner," Emma noted. "You are just the person the town needs while it makes transitions in this tenuous time."

"I don't want to use my powers to be an enforcer or anything," Trutho said, frowning. "I don't want to be another Macbeth or Frollo…"

"And that is why I can rest easy," Emma said with a smile, gingerly standing up and hobbling toward Trutho, holding her hands out at him. "I really can't tell you enough how proud I am of how far you've come. Look at you now! All grown up and leading the town! If there's anyone I can trust to look after us people of Ginkan, it would be you."

"I… I'm not infallible," Trutho said, his gaze falling to the desk. "I anger easily, and I'm sure to act on my emotions rather than reason at times."

Emma reached out and put a hand on his cheek. Trutho's eyes lifted up to hers, and in them, he saw a glimmer of hope that Emma hadn't had since she was a little girl. "I have faith in you, as do many others. You'll get past any hurdles, from without or within. Because of you, I'm optimistic about the future again. Truly."

Trutho smiled. "If that's the case, I'm glad. I'll do my best."

o-o-o-o-o

In the late afternoon, the royal pair stood outside the gates of Kinkan Academy with their friends, Ahiru, Fakir, Autor, and Sagi, along with Komaro, who were seeing them off.

"I can't believe you'll both be leaving tomorrow morning. I'll really miss you guys," Ahiru said, giving Rue a hug.

"We'll be back soon," Rue said. "With our worlds being connected, we can come back at any time. You are welcome to visit us as well."

"I will oversee affairs on this side and keep everything in order until you return," Komaro said dutifully to Mytho. "You may return to your homeland at ease."

"I know that I have nothing to worry about if you are in charge of matters, Komaro," Mytho said, smiling. "We will be in touch."

"Take care of yourself, Mytho," Fakir said to Mytho.

"You too, Fakir," Mytho replied. "Be a little nicer to Ahiru, all right?" Fakir grimaced at the comment, but nonetheless gave a quick glance in Ahiru's direction.

"I… I hope you will come back soon," Autor said with a nervous blush to Rue.

"I want to see my friends, so it won't be long before we meet again," Rue said with a smile that made Autor melt all over again. "Were you the one who gave me that note this morning?"

He blinked. "Note?"

"Someone left a note for me asking to meet at the abandoned outdoor theater this evening at sunset," she said. "I thought it was you."

Autor shook his head slowly. "No, it wasn't…"

Rue's brow furrowed. "Then who was it…?"

After the farewells were said and Rue and Mytho had set off in their swan-drawn carriage, Ahiru sighed.

"It'll be lonely without them around," she said sadly, looking over at Sagi standing next to her.

"It'll be all right," Sagi said, smiling at her reassuringly. "They promised we'll see each other again soon."

Though, when Sagi said that, she couldn't help but think of someone who she hadn't seen since the day Drosselmeyer had been defeated, and wondered when she'd see him again.

o-o-o-o-o

Rue stepped onto the outdoor theater stage, looking around for the mysterious note writer. The area appeared to be empty.

She sighed. "If no one's here, then I suppose I ought to go—"

"I didn't expect you to come."

Rue was startled to hear a dreadfully familiar voice behind her. She turned around, immediately on guard, to see a dark-haired young man in a black cloak looking back at her. "Fath—! …Caras."

A small smile crossed his lips. "You would still call me Father after everything that's happened?"

Rue pouted. "A slip of the tongue."

"Of course," Caras said, the smile slipping off his face, looking a little sad.

"Why have you asked me here?" Rue asked.

"It is as said on the note, and nothing more," Caras answered. "You are leaving soon, and I wanted to talk with you before you left."

"About what?" Rue said, frowning suspiciously at the cloaked figure before her. "I don't believe there is anything left to say between us."

"Perhaps that is so," Caras said, the sad look remaining on his face.

Then he hesitated, as if what he had to say next was difficult. "There have been… many ways in which I have wronged you, and there is nothing I can do to undo that damage I have done. I only have explanations, reasons."

Rue blinked, unprepared for this admission.

"I stole you away soon after your birth because you reminded me of someone I had loved who was long gone. When I saw your black raven hair and pale skin, it was as if the daughter I might have had with her had come to life in the form of a human," he said. "That, combined with the loneliness of the prison that I dared not admit even to myself, was why I kidnapped you from your human parents and raised you as my own.

"But all I had to give you as a parent was my endless anger and hate, which had long infused what feelings of love I had left," he continued. "When you finally realized the truth of your birth, I acted as if it mattered not to me. I wouldn't be able to admit to myself if I did."

Rue was silent for a moment. "Why are you saying all of this?"

Caras looked down. "Despite everything that has happened, looking back on it, I wish that I could have had a real family, and been a real father. But at the time, I didn't have it in my heart to do that, and calling you my daughter only hurt you deeply. So… I'm sorry. For all the pain I've caused you."

Rue's eyes widened, speechless.

"But you needn't worry anymore," Caras said, looking back up. "I shall not continue to haunt your steps. I will be leaving Kinkan, and you can leave me behind forever."

Rue's brow furrowed, looking troubled.

Caras looked confused. "I thought you'd be happy to hear that I will be gone."

"I… I am relieved, yes," Rue said, looking away. "It doesn't make any sense, but… I can't deny I feel sad somehow."

"Sad? How so?"

Rue grimaced. "Even if you treated me terribly, I… when I thought of myself as your daughter, I truly wished for your happiness as my father. I had always yearned to please you and earn your praise. Yet none of my efforts ever sated your unhappiness, and in the end your greatest wish was to destroy who I loved the most in all the world."

Caras closed his eyes. "Indeed. There was nothing you could have done to save me from myself."

"But now…" Rue looked up at Caras, and when Caras looked into her eyes, with shock he found tenderness. "Things are different, aren't they? You're different. And I'm relieved… now, you're not a danger to the world, or to my loved ones. Yet I'm sad… because I still can't have the father in my life I wish I could have."

"You have a new family now, with the Prince and his people, along with your friends that I never thought you could have," Caras said. "There is no reason to be sad."

Then he turned around. "I have no place in such a family."

Rue stepped forward, her eyes pleading. "Will you return, someday?"

Caras stopped, and then turned back toward her, smiling. "When I find my true self, I will return, and be the father that you wish for."

Then, in a flurry of black feathers, he disappeared.

o-o-o-o-o

In the evening, after all the students had retired to the dorms, Sagi sat by the dorm fountains once again, reading a book titled Fischküchen der Welt (Seafood Cuisines of the World). She sensed a shadow cross her vision, and she looked up to see Caras standing before her.

She smiled. "It's been a little while, Caras-san. What have you been up to the past several days?"

"Seeing the sights of Kinkan, before I leave," Caras said. "Even though I had been imprisoned here for many years, it was the first I had taken the time to actually see it for myself."

Sagi blinked, her smile fading. "You're leaving?"

"Now, with all the time in the world, I want to see it all for myself," Caras said, looking off into the distance. "This world stretches far beyond the walls of Kinkan. There is much I do not know of this world, and I want to spend some of my eternity learning about its wonders."

He looked back at Sagi. "I believe that in such a vast world, I might find the self that has been so elusive to me all this time."

She nodded. "Will you come back here?" Her eyes fell. "Or is this… goodbye?"

Caras shook his head. "I want to see you again, Sagi-san. So, though it may be some time, I will return one day. I promise that to you, and to myself."

Sagi smiled again. "In this peaceful world that you helped to create, along with my other dear friends, I can wait however long."

o-o-o-o-o

At the fortuneteller's abode, Takako sat by her crystal ball, smiling as she gazed into it and saw Sagi and Caras meeting once again by the lake.

"Perhaps a story that never ends is not a tragedy after all."


Extra notes:

Odin has a legend of hanging upside down from the World Tree and gained ultimate wisdom; he died from the immensity of the knowledge but was immediately revived because of the depth of wisdom that he gained from it.

39. 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.

"The Planets - 5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age"
(begin 5:51)
This is played for the scene where Sagi is sitting with the dying Caras and then the Raven appears.
(composed by Holst) A peaceful, contemplative song full of grand dignity.

"'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.

"Symphony #9 in E Minor, 'From the New World', 4th movement: Allegro con fuoco"
This is played for the scene where Drosselmeyer is confronted by the townspeople.
(composed by Dvorak) An exciting, stirring song full of determination.