"Fate is a cruel mistress, and if you choose to fight against her, you must never give up; you must never show weakness- because Fate is like a snake- she smells fear and lunges at you, biting you, curling around your very soul, choking your hope, until finally you give in and are swallowed whole."

-x-

There is a legend about a servant woman who fell in love with a powerful Prince. He was always the target of assassins, and each time he escaped he almost died. After years of her painful love, she made a deal with a witch who gave her powers to protect the Prince in exchange for her blood. The witch warned the girl that she must hide her identity, or else the spell would be broken, and she would die a violent, painful death. She also warned that every time the girl used her powers, more blood would fill the vial. And when the bottle was full, she would die.

The woman did not care about her circumstances, only that of her beloved. Every time her masked identity would save him, he would ask for her name, but she would disappear into the shadows: only to come again when he needed her most.

Finally, when the woman was close to death, she removed her mask and told the Prince of her identity. The Prince rejected her immediately for they were of different classes, and she threw herself off the castle wall: towards a violent, painful death.

But did the Woman even mean to die? Or did she just fall off the wall, surrendering to Fate's cruel irony?

-x-

A girl with orange hair and a long braid was packing a bag somewhat spastically, throwing in objects chaotically: dancing shoes, a leotard and tutu, a mask, underwear, bras, shorts, tees, shoes, a duck pillow… And suddenly, she slowed down, picking up a little box with vials inside, and slowly counted them. Once she reached the final number, twenty-six, she slowly closes the box, latching the front. She puts it in her suitcase, and she fingers her necklace- a white, crystal orb, with slight tinges of red at the bottom.

She tries to close the suitcase, but the load is too much.

She bangs it, once, twice- but no luck.

She opens it, and then slams it shut, and hurries to secure the latches of the suitcase. Before it can pop open, she sits on it; and when it gives the satisfying click, she sighs. She gets up from the suitcase, which was thrown unto the bed, a white double with plain sheets.

A figure looms in the doorway of the girl's room in the little one-story cottage. Tall, a poofy skirt, a blank face, so wise yet at the same time full of feeling…

"Ahiru," Not as cold as before, with Fakir, but it is a melodic murmur with her adoptive daughter.

Ahiru turns towards her adoptive mother, Edel, who is standing in the doorway.

"It comes." It is one simple sentence, one simple phrase, and yet… Ahiru cannot fight the shivers from her body. Today is the day the Ravens will invade, much like they did to her previous village. It will happen all over again; the shouts from the village, the fires... The one place she called home torched. Every time she gets comfortable, every time she finds something worth protecting, worth keeping- it was, no is, taken from her. But no more. With this, she thought, fingering her necklace, I have hope. I can do something. I can be useful.

A deep, exhausted sigh is heard leaving her lips. The cheer exhibited at the village is nowhere to be found, and there is a visible clump in her throat. Ahiru turns away, reaching for the knife at the bedside table- the knife with an eagle head on the hilt. Her fingers trace the eagle's eyes, and then go toward the forehead.

"You do not have to finish this quest." For a mere millisecond, Edel's eyes flash something between knowledge and guilt. It seemed that she had seen this happen before; but Ahiru doesn't stop as she slowly traces up towards the eagle's scalp.

Ahiru does not catch Edel's expression as she turns to face her again; her fingers stalling when she begs them to go forward, begs them to finish what they started; begs them to have courage. With a fairly forced smile, she says, "I have to."

"Tutu does not get her happy ending." Edel's eyes meet Ahiru's- Ahiru's gaze is the first to break, as she again looks down at the knife.

But her voice does not falter: in a feat of blind courage, she responds "I know."

"I admire you- how can you continue with it when you know it will not turn out well?" Edel was no master at human nature- she was tortured with the same role of every era, of every "Edel": to watch blindly, "unbiased" (who could REALLY watch and be totally unbiased), as the plot goes forward without her. She could not change it- no matter how much she wanted to. She could not stop it; she could not heed it; she could only urge it forward. That was her role- that was her destiny.

But just because it was, didn't mean she liked it. She never did- not the first, nor the second, and certainly not this time. The first time, she felt herself open her heart to Tutu, helped her and the writer towards their fight, to their fate; then guided the writer, Tutu, and the Prince back…. Edel blinked as she remembered the heat of the first pas-de-deux she had ever witnessed: the fortune of Tutu and the Prince, the beauty and grace of their dance, the pain of the future Writer… And then she remembered the second pas-de-deux: the cold flame of determination, of trust and actual true love, the true pas-de-deux that took place at the bottom of despair- the last time she would ever dance, Edel reminded herself, the last time she could profess her feelings, where she couldn't disappear; but she didn't trust herself- she trusted the Writer, but not herself. She choked on the words that mattered most… She and the Writer suffered the most. All they wanted was someone else's happiness, all they worked for was the happiness of the Prince, and neglected themselves. He never wrote her back into a human- he never succeeded in breaking Drosselmeyer's curse. The Prince and Princess got their happy ending, but Tutu and the writer did not. They never did.

That's why Edel told Fakir that time, and this time too: "May those who defy Fate find glory." It was what she wanted to do, yet never could: it was what she always craved, yet never could. She could never break the curse of her circumstances: she was just an onlooker, a passerby to the story. She could never change it, and never would.

"Because I want to help the Prince," The words had the most conviction. She was in love with him; she was in love with him again.

"Do you?" She couldn't watch another tragedy. She couldn't watch Tutu get hurt again. And this time… Oh, it had seemed so different, but it was still the same. She had gotten attached again, attached to Ahiru, and had gotten used to being around her sunshine. Would she cry this time, tell her she had feelings, that she was human? Would she even do that this time? She prayed to the gods it would be different this time.

"Someone always suffers," Drosselmeyer's words droned in her head. But she couldn't decide who was to suffer. Maybe that's why she was a puppet: maybe that's why she wasn't a writer- because she couldn't decide who should suffer.

"…Yes." Ahiru looked down at the knife again.

"Tutu does not win the Prince's heart. Every generation of Tutu is bound to fall to tragedy." This time, Edel would warn her: maybe it would change something, anything. "You read Princess Tutu: you read how she could never confess her love to the Prince, and though she loved the writer, she was a duck. She never changed back- never got her happy ending. And in the Prince and the Raven, she turned into specks of light…"

Ahiru looked at her, her eyes not ablaze with anger, but with courage. "He deserves to have his heart back, or whatever he has lost: it is his fate to defeat the Ravens-

Ahiru continued on, and Edel looked at her with pity. She is so much like her: so much like her predecessor. Always thinking, feeling, for someone else. When will you finally see that your happiness matters too?

She smiled at Edel, as she continued talking about the Prince. She was from that same kingdom as him, the same kingdom: she saw him get smuggled away, how his helpers got captured, how he fought until he was almost dead, how he broke something up, a treasure of the kingdom… Into little pieces. She fell in love with his courage, his looks… But had never met him.

She was in love with the Prince.

A scream was heard, and all hesitation was wiped away.

Ahiru didn't look at Edel as she sliced her braid off, and her choice was evident. She was going to play Tutu: there were no doubts about it.

She swiftly reattached her braid with some bobby pins- because Tutu was her secret identity.

Edel, if human, would have cried- she would have screamed herself. The fate that awaited her daughter was not a happy one: but she could do nothing now.

Ahiru had chosen.

Edel's eyes closed as a kiss was forced upon her cheek, and a cheery, "Good bye, Edel-san!" made its way into her ears. But her hug tightened, as if, for a second, she doubted. Edel returned the hug, a bit nervous herself. But she projected all the strength she could muster, and that seemed to have worked.

It was as if she was going back to the bread shop, to try again at her daily failure. It was as any other day, but instead of the front door slamming, instead of hearing cries of "I'm late!" she heard the horse whinny and a "Giddy Up!"from the back as trots quickly disappeared from her range.

As soon as she was gone, she heard a voice: deep tenor, with a sadistic air.

"Uzura-chan."

"I go by Edel now," she answered, almost to herself.

In front of her, a man with a lizard robe stood in front of her with a large nose poking at her; long, white hair and beard, and beady eyes with crinkles around his smile and eyes, and had a general creepy air to him. It was almost as if this was any other creepy man, except for the fact that this man had a history of being, well, dead. His hat was on the coat hanger, and he had the audacity of making himself at home.

"It's ridiculous that you rebuilt yourself to look exactly the same!" He exclaimed, examining her. "You had the choice to look completely different, yet you chose to hold onto your tragic past!" Here, he shook his head, but his smirk was placed on his face. "An author cannot ask for a better minor character, Edel, really. But it doesn't matter! All you do," his bony, pale fingers stabbed at her breast, "is meddle- really, Edel. You should learn by now…" His smirk was wiped away in annoyance at how she tried to meddle, again, with his story.

Edel licked her lips. As time went on, she got more and more expressive. "They aren't going to let you get away with this." Her statement was blunt as she pointed upward.

Time seemed to stop, and all the gears stopped- and then suddenly, a silhouetted shadow of a ballerina was shown, and with a clunk of the gear moving, the ballerina moved as if she were being controlled by stings: she lurched forward, her left hand palm downward, fingers almost brushing her face: her back limp, her right hand outstretched, and on Pointe.

And the light brightened again, back to its original shade.

Drosselmeyer looked up, and almost cursed. "Yes, yes, I know. That relative of mine… That damn Fakir… He had the talent to write so much tragedy, yet all he did was write happy endings! He had so much potential, really…"

"You can't blame him," Edel countered. "He had enough tragedy for a lifetime."

Drosselmeyer chuckled. "Oh yes, Edel… He wrote all these stories, yet he could never love whom he wanted! He could never dance with her again… And he died loving a duck!" Drosselmeyer started to laugh. "Oh yes, what a character! He never did disappoint me!"

Edel narrowed her eyes. "This time, there will be a happy ending…"

"Oh-ho! So you think! But time is not kind to a certain Tutu. She will complete the tragic story, just as she had time and time again. Her suffering will be beautiful, her tragedy show-stopping! Yet all she will do is suffer, and suffer, and she will never touch her beloved! The Prince will never know her identity! He will never love her! And the Knight… Just as before, he will come upon tragedy. They will not escape tragedy! The Prince will never return to his kingdom, the noble lady will never get her Prince… Everything, every tragedy will come into play in the best way possible! And from the last time I have learned to let everything fall into place by itself, with less meddling. Oh, how this story moves! How exciting!" He turned away from her, as if walking away.

Edel's eyes were not amused. "You can never be truly unbiased."

Drosselmeyer turned to face her again, and his face molded into a smirk. "Who says I was? I am always cheering for a certain Ahiru. She truly is the best character, you know. Always confusing admiration with love- no other character can compare to her foolishness or bravery- and her demeanor! Giving hope, so much hope, and then disappointing the others! There is no better tragedy then one always expected, but thought to be stopped, then occurring! Oh, a masterpiece of a character."

Edel was about to counter, but he was gone: even if his hat was still on the coat hanger.

"Damn you, Drosselmeyer."

With the gears beginning to clunk, to move, the shadow of the ballerina seemed to dance a pas-de-deux in slow motion: all by herself.

-x-

Ahiru felt the tent, her bag, and the supplies on her horse to make sure everything was still intact. The darkness was a cynical, savage black that was only lighted by her green lantern.

The forest was only highlighted by her light, and the wind was whipping at her and her horse: she was glad she draped something over herself before they had left. It was getting to be very, very cold outside. Her eyes were searching for a village light, a lantern light, anything, really… To give her clues to where she was or where she was going.

Her ears were pricked as she scanned for anything other than her horse, the adrenaline beating at her, putting her into hyper-alert.

If the Ravens caught her… If the Ravens were after them… They took no survivors. They burned buildings, pillaged, killed, and left.

Her hands squeezed around the reins and she was sure her knuckles were white- even if she couldn't see them.

She wanted a safe place to sleep, and until she got one, she would not sleep. She willed herself not to- however, usually, sleep brought a rest from her thoughts and surrendered her consciousness to good dreams. Now, all she could think of, while awake, was her shortcomings.

Klutz. Useless. Idiot. Klutz. Useless. Idiot.

She willed herself to think of something, anything else; but the break from her shortcomings and the dark left her to think about the Ravens catching her. Her demons circled around her, and the slight light threw shadows, making her peer around in paranoia, half expecting a Raven to jump out from the night and catch her, torture her, and kill her; and half wondering if something worse was behind a tree. She was thinking of what she would do if they caught up to her, even if her brain was screaming that they would not. Logic took a backseat to panic, and as she traveled farther and the night got later, her imagination started running ahead of her.

The forest was maniacal, laughing at her- do you think you can save him, little Ahiru? Do you think you can? How will this time be different? How will this time…?

She chided herself for giving the trees thoughts. Yes, there were ugly faces painted in the trees (a side-effect of darkness, she told herself) but they weren't laughing at her- it was only her stupid thoughts as she rode (hopefully) in the direction of the next village. She had to help the Prince.

But she also had to stay alive until she could do it.

She held onto Nachkomme, her beautiful horse: a cinnamon horse with white hair, a beauty, which not only shared her personality, but understood her.

Why do his eyes look so lonely? She asked herself. When he was trying to save his knights, he had conviction in his eyes: he was protecting them.

But now…

She had seen him around town, around town with his friend, Fakir. Fakir always was around where Mytho was, and they seemed to be the only inhabitants of their world. How she yearned to be part of any world, really; she was alone.

Sure, back in her hometown, she had Pike and Lillie, but she left that all behind when she hid from the Ravens and escaped in the dead of night, following the lantern of the Prince.

She had never spoken to him; not when they were at home or in her second home; but she heard the rumors. "He is a doll", they said. "No memories of his past."

"Poor boy."

But they hadn't seen- they hadn't seen him when he was fighting to protect his people! How emotional he was then, how courageous and convicted he was toward the cause.

But she saw him sometimes- how he would get that look on his face, even if it was just a second- and she found herself holding her breath to see if he would remember.

But then the look was gone again, and he would go back to those lonely eyes that no one else seemed to notice.

A stream of light caused her to break from her thoughts about Mytho.

Light.

It was slightly dim, and you couldn't see it if you weren't close: it was her guardian angel, her savior-

"Mytho," a voice whispered. It was incredibly masculine, yet somewhat nervous. Maybe a baritone, but certainly not a tenor. It couldn't have belonged to someone more than sixteen.

Mytho?

As she slowed Nachkomme, she remembered the voice as a silhouette of the light was thrown: a taller man, with a ponytail, and a lean build.

Fakir, she thought to herself.

As she hopped off Nachkomme, she landed on a stick. With a subtle snap, her position was known.

"Who goes there?" The nervousness was swept away, and was replaced with caution, and he spoke in a raspy almost-whisper. Yet in the quiet forest, where only the crickets chirped and the owl hooted, everything was quiet.

It took a minute for Ahiru to remember that he was talking to her. If she waited some more, she might get attacked. She'd have to make her position known.

"A friend." Mustering all her courage, she poised herself tall, and walked Nachkomme closer to the light.

She could see Fakir now, how he had on a button-down shirt and some jeans- while Mytho seemed to be in the next tent.

Fakir squinted to see her, as she was still cloaked in darkness.

"Okay, 'friend,'" Fakir began, "What brings you here?"

Ahiru opened her mouth to answer, "Well, I'm here to restore the Prince's heart… Or whatever." But soon realized Tutu was a secret. She didn't really have an answer as to why she came upon their camp.

And it seemed weird for her to fall upon the camp when running away from the Ravens.

He would think she had an ulterior motive.

But I do… she thought to herself.

What do I say? What do I do?!

All right, I am ending it here. Wasn't that a great chapter? Yes? No? Maybe?

Review, please!