Prequel/Side-story to my fic Princess Tutu OVA: Chapter of the Girl, best read after that fic.
A/N: It seems my coursework has a strong influence on my writing. After reading countless texts discussing Milton's Paradise Lost, free will, sin, and the Fall, my imagination seems to have darkened. I thought I had done with my OC's. I also thought I had done with Princess Tutu fanfic. I suppose I should stop making premature pronouncements. Please let me know what you think. Is it too dark? I also hadn't realized how hard it would be to write Uzura
Also, thanks to the amazing Mangaka-chan for beta-ing!
Ancestry: A Side-Story
Disclaimer: I own neither Princess Tutu nor other credited material.
Summary: Prequel/Side-story to my fic Princess Tutu OVA: Chapter of the Girl, best read after that fic.
Dark fic. If Drosselmeyer is Fakir's forefather, who is his foremother? Lede
fits together some seemingly unrelated pieces. Uzura taps her drum.
Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. It was not an expensive piece of wood. Far from it. Just a common block of firewood, one of those thick, solid logs that are put on the fire in winter to make cold rooms cozy and warm.
I do not know how this really happened, yet the fact remains that one fine day this piece of wood found itself in the shop of an old carpenter, named Mastro Cherry. When he set about fashioning the block of wood into a table leg, to his consternation he found that it wept and laughed like a child.
In that very instant the carpenter stepped back from the block of wood in fright, a loud knock sounded on the door. A dapper little old man named Geppetto had come to the carpenter for a block of wood so he could carve a marionette. The carpenter hated Gepetteo because he had a very bad temper and was glad to be rid of the cursed wood while getting a little revenge on the hateful little man.
As soon as he got home, Geppetto fashioned the Marionette and called it Pinocchio. But does the story really move this smoothly?
—excerpted and adapted from The Adventures of Pinocchio by C. Collodi pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini
Lede gazed dispassionately at the odd child walking towards her. Odd, for what child would walk so assuredly so near dusk so far from any town? Odd even more because the little girl looked like a doll. An eerie doll that if she were human could very well have been Lede's own granddaughter, the resemblance was so strong. But Lede was much too old for granddaughters; perhaps great-great-great-several-times-over-granddaughters. A puppet, no doubt, Lede decided after looking at the glossy shine of her mint-green hair, the smooth painted look to her white face and blushing cheeks. And a puppet that reflected her own features so uncannily meant that Drosselmeyer's hand was in this somewhere. Constructing a little puppet family, was he? Doubtless, they were far easier to control than their flesh and blood counterparts. The left side of Lede's mouth turned downward just the slightest, an indication of her deep disgust. Well, if he was fool enough to think he could approach her even after all these years, she would have to set his misconceptions aright. Lede waited for the little puppet girl to walk toward her, all the while caught up in memories she thought long buried.
Uzura was bored. Uzura was tired of staying with the old chameleon man. That was easier to say then his big long name. Kaaamilillilion…hmmm, maybe not. But he looked just like the big lizard on his cape!
But Old Lizard Man got boring. Always the same thing. Playing with his gears. He would set up cogs, and Uzura would move them, then he would set them up again and then she would move them again. Uzura was tired of playing the same games with cogs and gears. The old man never tried anything new. Uzura wanted new. Uzura wanted fun.
She decided to go home. Fakir was always fun. He could turn all shades of red. And sometimes blue. But never purple or yellow. She wondered why. She'd ask him next time. And Ahiru…the thought of the little duck brought Uzura close to tears. But even if Uzura was sad, Ahiru, even sad Ahiru would still smile.
Old chameleon man could wait. And maybe by the time she got back, he'd think of something new. Other than gears. Any more gears and she would break them.
Already things were getting interesting, fun. There was a weird shadow woman down the road. Uzura would go play her drum for her.
Watching the little girl approach her made Lede remember the life she'd tossed aside gratefully. The more she remembered, the less dispassionate Lede's gaze became, as if her entire being was becoming more and more infused with an old dark hatred.
When Drosselmeyer had first written Lede into his story, she had thought she'd fallen in love. He was a man in the periphery of her life, someone she had never noticed until one day her eyes seemed to open and she had thought it love at first sight. An infatuation so deep, she thought it could only be true love. Head over heals. It was just like a romance novel come to life. She saw him everywhere: even if he wasn't there, she saw him, wanted to see him. That period of her life was hazy, as if she had been under some kind of drug the entire time. As in dreams, time seemed to flow oddly in these memories, because the next thing she remembered after her sudden obsession with him was that they were married.
It all started to feel wrong somehow, though; but her thoughts weren't clear enough to figure out why. It was as if her thoughts were struggling underwater, somehow, frantically trying to break surface, but the distance was too great.
Clarity she had earned at a hard price. She had felt the wrongness of the wedding night, that somehow her body and even her mind were no longer her own. She had resisted, and all she had earned for her troubles was a little lucidity. The haze seemed to let up momentarily and for one desperate second as her entire mind wished she could disappear, she saw her situation with such precision it made her wish instead for death:
He was a spinner of tales, and her life had become the fabric of his stories.
When that first child died mysteriously at the age of three, Lede was grieved but not surprised. After that first horrific realization that her life was being written for her, nothing much could shake her. Yet her husband seemed even less surprised than she. Somehow, he knew too many details, was too familiar with the most likely causes of death. It made her shudder. But these types of thoughts could only grow in the very recesses of her mind, opening like terrible night-blooming flowers, secretly, unexpectedly. In her conscious mind, they merely drifted like wisps of unease in her heart, for the rest of her mind still did, still had to love him, adore him, offer herself to him without reservation. It became a strange dual existence. A deep hidden garden of hatred, malice, and death began to blossom in the bottom of her heart, but like something hidden in shadows too dark to penetrate, her conscious mind only knew that despite some unaccountable doubts, she loved Drosselmeyer, more than herself, more than life itself. Oh, but what dark dreams troubled her!
Those dreams, the darkness in her heart, her mind which grew idle as it was no longer allowed to pursue free thoughts, all these factors coalesced and she had another longer, starker moment of clarity. It came to her as she sat motionlessly gazing out a window—it was all she could think of to do when Drosselmeyer was not present, for how could her life possibly continue in his absence?—and the pain of the thought struck her more cruelly than a physical blow.
Logic, Lede thought ironically, was perhaps the greatest gift Drosselmeyer had granted her albeit unintentionally. He hadn't written her to be intelligent; her mental abilities were at about the same level as before. Had her life never been touched by his quill, she would never have become quite so unerringly logical. She would have been too occupied with living and enjoying her life to have time to think of it incessantly. But in those torturous years she spent with him the enforced idleness of her mind forced her to perfect her abilities of analysis, deduction, reasoning; there was nothing else for her, really. For in all the time he controlled her heart, mind, and body, with nothing to occupy themselves with, her mental faculties subconsciously worked out puzzles with infallible logic. And the enigma they had set themselves to was her daughter's death. And when that puzzle had worked itself out, the epiphany was so great, so horrific that it had pushed its way violently past dreams, past her vague subconscious unease into her consciousness.
Drosselmeyer knew too much, but why would he? Could he have been involved in the child's death? No, Lede could never even conceive of such a thing and neither could her coldly logical mind, but for entirely different reasons. The unflinchingly rational part of her knew that Drosselmeyer would never sully his own hands so. And that hidden, idle logic in her mind pursued the thought to the end. No, Drosselmeyer wouldn't kill the child directly; it must have been some writing experiment. But why use his own daughter as a test subject? There were plenty of other specimens for him in the town; he did not care to hide from Lede or even the townspeople that they were fodder for his stories. So, while a morbid writing experiment might have been his method, it certainly wasn't his purpose. Again the question arose, why his own daughter? Because she must have been a threat. How could a three-year-old possibly be a danger to full-grown man who had the power to change reality itself through his writing? If she had inherited her father's "gift," his "talent," she would be a rival perhaps even a threat. And so, he had snuffed her out like a candle that came too close to burning the hand that held it
The dark garden in the bottom of her heart broke past its borders, and in its vicious, excessive growth began devouring everything. Her soul, her mind, her heart, all but that useless continually compliant body of hers became consumed in the wild flowering of her hatred, her despair.
That night, when Drosselmeyer came to her, she lay like pliant flesh, meat on the cutting block and looked to him with soulless eyes. He did not even notice, until afterwards. He used to gaze at her for hours before, during that hazy time when she had thought herself in love, but now he could not seem to stand looking at her face—from the time you noticed that he wrote you into love, from the time your daughter was found dead, the coldly logical voice in the back of her head whispered. As he rolled off her, he looked briefly at her face, only then noticing and instantly recoiling from those empty eyes that still stared at the ceiling as if she were nothing more than a body, a corpse.
He fled the room.
Lede gave birth much in the same frame of mind she'd conceived the hapless child, who no doubt, would soon be killed anyway she thought. Boy or girl, what did it matter to her? It would be just another lump of flesh, like she was. As her body lay there on the bed, a midwife held the swaddled newborn, and lethargy worked into Lede's bones—it was the only sensation she was familiar with now. She hadn't felt anything in the longest time. Even physical sensations such as pain were so distant, as if felt through layers and layers of cotton, as if her senses, along with body, her mind, were not her own. But then, there it was a flash of something. A tingling in her chest. A heart attack? she mused with a wry bleakness. But wait, one needed a heart for that. She had tossed it away like so much offal to feed her ravenous hatred that day she had realized the truth about her daughter's death.
The tingling spread. Her limbs lightened. Her mind, for the first time in what felt like an age, broke through that murky endless sea it was drowning in and gasped on contact with air. Her heart, well, that was still the same shriveled dead thing it had become over her years with Drosselmeyer.
And as if the thought of him made him materialize, he stood at the foot of her bed as the midwife discreetly walked out into the hallway. He stood with his back to her, as if still afraid to look into her eyes because he feared to see his own face mirrored in their soulless and brutally honest depths. Lede lay there uncomprehending as he told her that he was tired of her, that he had set her free. She lay there, unable until much later to note that his every word was laced with shame, with guilt; a self-directed shame and guilt that he turned with ease and relief into a hatred of her because she made him feel those two unsavory emotions.
When she made no move to go, he turned to face her sharply, his long cape swirling behind him, "Why?" he shouted, "Why aren't you back to what you were? I've unwritten you, damn it!" He stared at her with wild eyes, continuing just as furiously, "Damn it all, I don't care. Just get the hell out before I change my mind.
"And take the boy. I know the signs now. I can tell he's not got a drop of talent in him. I don't care if he lives."
And with those words, something hardened in Lede. She sat up as straight as she could in the bed and answered, "No." It was a word she had not spoken in years. The ring of finality in it chilled even Drosselmeyer's rage. "No. You begot that child all on your own. What part did I play in any of it, except that of convenient flesh?"
Although still weak from giving birth, although her body still ached seemingly everywhere, although her limbs could only move in painfully slow motions, Lede forced herself off the bed out of a sheer force of will. She dressed, and slowly, so slowly made her way out the door, past the disbelieving midwife, and out the door of his house.
She took nothing with her.
That night, a newborn baby boy found himself on the doorstep of the Kinkan Town orphanage.
Lede was not given to pride—she saw it for what it was, worthless in the face of truth, and so she would not hesitate to admit to herself that despite all the determination that fueled her as she walked out the door, she collapsed promptly and gracelessly just down the street. She suspected it was the midwife who helped her that day, but Lede was still uncertain who took her in, cared for her until her fever broke, for she left again as soon as she was able. She had become adept at that, leaving. She refused to be at any one's mercy, to be anyone's burden but her own. And so on her own two feet, she walked out the gates of Kinkan Town soon after Drosselmeyer had "set her free." The sheer idiocy of that phrase still made her smile bitterly.
It wasn't until much later that she learned just how foolish that phrase of Drosselmeyer's had been. She found out, the horror welling up in her once again, that she wasn't quite human any more. She did not notice until several years had passed, but she wasn't aging anymore. Or rather, she wasn't aging at quite the normal rate anymore—it was much much slower. She worried that she might never be able to die. That thought, more than any other, scared her. But another thing she had learned with Drosselmeyer, the ability to live with despair as a constant companion, saw her through that too. And so she fought down despair and reasoned that her lifespan would merely be much longer than the normal human one. She found out the other changes he had unintentionally wrought in her in much the same way—with a jolt of dread and surprise.
Foolishly, she had thought that after leaving Kinkan Town and all the horror those town walls enclosed behind her, she could have the life she had once. She had thought to start her life all over again at the next town, and she tried. She was a penniless, friendless stranger, and yet she thought that if she merely tried hard enough, she could have that normal, mundane life she craved more than water, more than air. But it was like chasing a dream that only lived through a lost desire. She did not care for such things anymore. She did not want such things anymore. And the only reason, she realized, that she had even attempted to reclaim the dream was in an effort to resurrect the person she had once been. Yes, Drosselmeyer had set her free, but she wasn't herself any longer—she wasn't that happy carefree girl who danced until dawn at balls, who loved fine dresses, whose eyes had always been laughing. She despised that girl. She despised her for all her innocence, all her naiveté, all her blindness, all that had to be ripped away from her so she could see the world for what it was. It had been the necessary price for being set free.
Realizing her failure, Lede left, again. She began traveling, threading her way through towns, cities, villages but never spending more than a few weeks in any one place. At first she worked odd jobs where she could to earn a meal, a place to sleep, and occasionally, a little money. She never allowed herself to think of Drosselmeyer again. But every now and then, she did wonder what had become of that child, that baby she had abandoned just as she herself had been cast off as worthless. But inevitably, she would dismiss the thought: either he was long dead or living the life of a normal human—for he was that if Drosselmeyer allowed him to live—as best he could. In either case that child's life was too far removed from her own for him to welcome any inference from hers and neither was she willing or able to interfere.
For she came to understand in this gypsy life of hers that hers was as far removed from a normal existence as possible. One day, as she had been traveling through a forest, she stumbled onto a battle-scarred soldier's campfire. He offered her food and a place to rest, and so in return she offered him the key to his adventure. Tired of war, he was determined to risk his neck and solve the "mystery" of the dancing princesses in the hope of changing the kingdom's direction. Lede was grateful for his hospitality, and so she decided to help him; she did not care for his aim in the least. Lede had already reasoned it all out; for a mystery, it was rather simple to uncover. And so, she told him not to eat or drink anything the princesses offered him and to use his soldiering skills to track them soundlessly. She heard, later, that he had succeeded in inheriting the kingdom or some such (1).
She had a knack for logic and a thirst for knowledge. She also seemed to have a knack for magic—whether this was another side-effect of Drosselmeyer's meddling or her own innate talent, Lede would never be able to determine. There was no point in dwelling on the unanswerable. Lede did not care for wealth—what use had she for such useless things as money or even fame? But this constant traveling, this constant bargaining, kept her interested. And that, as she had learned after living with Drosselmeyer, was what mattered in life: that it was interesting, that each day was not merely the dull reflection of the one that preceded it, that she want to wake the next morning rather than desiring her existence be erased.
And so she wandered. She traded a boy magic beans for a cow, she gained and gave a way a golden goose, she offered a mermaid legs and lungs in place of tail and gills in exchange for her voice, but most often, Lede dealt in knowledge (2). Somehow, these young foolish princesses and princes never could see the tales unfolding around them. And knowledge, she'd found, was the most interesting thing to trade in of all. Through her travels, she'd encountered numerous witches and mages and books of enchantments, and learned through them tricks and potions, gathered odds and ends of knowledge. She had no real use for what she bargained for, and more often than not would end up trading it again for something else. And thus she went, collecting magical items, trading them, bargaining and bartering, never gaining, never losing. It was a life that suited her. At least for now.
Through it all, Lede retained the serrated edges she had developed, the sharp angles and cold armor that not only encased but composed her very being. She never cared what became of any of them. She would hear snippets of their fates in tales exchanged at inns and taverns, but what mattered their lives, their sorrows, their dreams to her?
It was at this point in Lede's reverie, while she was considering the latest philtre she'd learned of, that Uzura decided to introduce herself to the strange woman standing in front of her by banging her drum. Loudly.
Lede turned her steel gray eyes on the girl critically. Certainly not a human child, for any of them would cower at the clinically analytical look Lede was piercing the little girl with. Yet for all that she looked a puppet, her movements were a touch too smooth, a shade too natural for her to be dancing on marionette strings. As Lede considered the child squirming impatiently, Uzura unable to remain silent any longer, burst out, "Are you the Raven Princess zura? I thought she left. But you look like a big crow zura. All black."
Lede certainly did not know what to make of that, and seemingly without pause, the little girl continued, "Are you Other-Me zura? You look like her zura."
The child's attention span seemed to be as short as any five-year-old's. Her words, her actions were much too impulsive for a puppet's. Reasoning thus, Lede allowed herself to relax marginally; the almost undetectable frown on her face smoothed itself out.
"What is your name, child?"
"Uzura!" the little girl replied, banging her drum for emphasis.
"My name is Lede. While I usually deal in fairytale bargains, I think you have no need for such. But tell me, who is this Raven? This Other-Me?"
Uzura liked talking. And the shadow woman was interesting! She was listening to Uzura! So Uzura started speaking.
It was all a jumble—Uzura had no concept of beginning, middle and end. She told Lede about the story the Raven and the Prince, all that Fakir had told Uzura about Edel, all that she knew about Ahiru, all that she did with the Old Man (that name seemed easiest of all). While any normal person would quickly become frustrated with Uzura's incomprehensible chatter, Lede seemed to thrive on such riddles. Putting together the little drummer girl's story provided Lede more entertainment than she'd had in years.
It did not take long for Lede to realize that Drosselmeyer did have his hand in this. It also did not take her long to realize he did not necessarily have the upper hand. She was startled, somewhat, to hear of this puppet Edel, but Lede's coldly perfect logic untangled that mystery after some consideration—she worked out that Drosselmeyer had attempted to replace her with a puppet, perhaps even several. And wasn't that ironic, that a puppet of a woman should be replaced by a marionette, really what difference was there between the two, both equally deprived of free-will? Lede mused as she smiled darkly. Somehow, things had gone awry, or rather, not according to the plan Drosselmeyer had set out, and resulted in this odd little free-willed child. Such irony. The puppet too had chafed at her marionette strings and she too paid for it with her life. The puppet too had chosen to kill herself in order to be born anew. Lede felt a spark of kinship to that departed puppet-woman—for surely someone who chose her own fate in the end was more than a mere puppet—and allowed herself to wonder briefly if her daughter who had been killed at the age of three would have grown into someone as strong and kind as this Edel had apparently been. Such musings were pointless though, and Lede abandoned them, reinforcing her determination not to look back.
Talking to this child was like finding the shards of some beautiful ceramic. The shards themselves were fascinating but the whole they composed could not be imagined until it was somehow reassembled. Lede had painstakingly pieced Uzura's story all together. But having decided to leave behind her past, after piecing it together so carefully, Lede dismissed it. For what did any of this matter to her? Of course it would have been much easier to dismiss had not the little girl decided to trail after her.
Lede seemed to have gained a traveling companion. The child would chatter along happily regardless of where Lede was going or what she was doing. The child never seemed intimidated by Lede or any of her clients, even the most unsavory sort. The child even seemed to have Lede's thirst for knowledge. She approached everything with an innocent curiosity that eased the coldness of Lede's eyes slightly. No, not foolishly naïve. But not bitter either. She was what Lede might have been. And yet that was not true either. Had she never met Drosselmeyer, Lede would have led a mundane unexceptional life: courting, marriage, children, and not many thoughts in between. Her old self could never have been anything like this child. No, this child was someone else entirely. And Lede would help her become that someone else; someone with unflinching resolve, unquenchable curiosity, someone without bitterness.
Meanwhile, Uzura chattered. And tapped her drum. Really, Lede would have to find her a less irritating instrument. As days turned to weeks, Lede pieced together more stories. Most of Uzura's concern seemed to center around a little duck she cared for deeply, cared for and somehow mourned for. Somehow this unexceptional duck had become the center of some elaborate web of Drosselmeyer's. But it was a web populated with many others: a Prince who broke his own heart, a Raven bent on devouring that heart, a tortured Princess who did not know herself, a dark-haired Knight who wrote, and of course that little yellow Duck who gave hope at the heart of it. A Knight who wrote. It chilled Lede to the bone. What games are afoot here? she wondered. And then she set her resolutions firmly in place once more. This was not her story, it was merely part of a worthless past that she had tossed aside.
Yet such a stance was bordering on irrational and Lede knew it. She had long since cast away all irrationality, including revenge. Lede had deemed worthless any true aspirations of vengeance when she left to begin her own life, because she realized that holding onto such a wish would tie her inexorably to Drosselmeyer just as much as his writing once had. It was the same reason she refused to think of him, refused to consider her past, because dwelling on such things would leave her under his power. And yet she realized as she examined this latest riddle Uzura had handed her, the other extreme of avoiding her old life at every turn was falling into the same trap; for her actions to be so determined by an avoidance of Drosselmeyer and her contemptible past was also giving him power over her.
While Lede derided softness, she could not help but admit she was becoming attached to the odd little girl trailing her like a baby quail. Although Drosselmeyer's story had been dealt with, the child's obvious concern over her avian friend touched Lede. No, Lede would not be pulled one way or the other by her past. She would be her own woman. She would make her own decision for her own motives, her own reasons.
And so after much reflection, Lede decided that although she
would not break the vow she had made on the day she left to never to enter the
gates of Kinkan Town again, she would keep her eyes open for a little yellow
duck who is more than she seems.
Uzura often wandered away on her own, but always found her way back to Lede again after a few days. Sometimes she suspected Uzura went to see what Drosselmeyer was up to. As much as the thought sickened Lede, she supposed it was a good thing that someone was keeping an eye on him. Despite the senility that seemed to have overtaken him, he was far too dangerous to leave on his own. The child seemed more than capable of handling him, though. And she would be certain to train her to be so.
It was after one such excursion on Uzura's part that Lede greeted her return with "A shame you were not with me; I believe I met a friend of yours, child." For even after the months in her company, Lede addressed her simply as that, with perhaps an unspoken "my" preceding it.
"A friend zura? Ahiru zura!"
The girl's intuitive leaps always made Lede almost smile. Her mental acuity was stunning.
"Yes. It was a rather curious encounter." The duck's situation had touched Lede deeply. She could see now why Uzura seemed to love her so.
The encounter, moreover, had answered several questions for Lede. When Lede collected Ahiru's side of the bargain before completing the contract to turn her into a girl again, she had been surprised by what she had found. Lede pulled out the little blue jewel in which she'd collected her price and looked at it again; she smiled wryly. When she had told the duck "something he hates yet loves," she had never expected it to be this. To think…After all these years, her faint desire for vengeance had been laid peacefully to rest. Talking to the duck, Lede realized that Ahiru's beloved was none other than the Knight from Uzura's riddling chatter. When Lede had collected her price, it took Lede only an instant to reason out that he, he must be her descendant. Drosselmeyer's talent must skip generations, she reasoned; he let that infant live thinking him no threat and yet all the while the power was there, latent in the blood. It was enough to make Lede almost smile again.
Somehow, Fate had answered Lede's idle desire for revenge. When Lede took that ability to write stories into reality, to play with others' lives away from Drosselmeyer's descendant, her descendant, a wrong that had continued for generations was somehow redressed. She had removed the taint of him from her blood.
That a girl like Ahiru could love her nameless faceless descendant, well, it gave Lede the first touch of hope she'd felt. Even if the boy had been a spinner of tales, a descendant of Drosselmeyer, perhaps, perhaps, there was something worthwhile to him after all.
Lede snapped out of her musings at the impatient sound of Uzura's drum. The child was looking up at her expectantly. "Yes, I turned her human once more. Don't you care to know for what price?"
In response, Uzura looked up at Lede and smiled, as if to say she knew Lede would never take more from someone like Ahiru—someone who had already happily give away everything she possessed. Such trust worried and disarmed Lede. The child would inevitably get hurt if she trusted so easily.
To cover up the unease that such foolishly soft emotions always brought her, Lede asked "Would you not like to go home and see her again?"
"Not yet zura! Ahiru and Fakir love-love zura!"
At that, Lede finally smiled: the slightest upturning of her
lips. Yes, the child was a sharp one.
(1) Brothers' Grimm, The Twelve Dancing Princesses
(2) Jack and the Beanstalk, The Golden Goose, Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid