“Look at us.”

Duffy’s words lingered in the air like scars on skin. The troupe shuffled nervously in their seats, wary of introspection.

“Look at what we’ve become.”

The bard pointed to each of his siblings in turn, a slow accusation that ended with a gesture to himself.

“This is not who we are.”

“Who we are,” Ruby sighed. “Are broken people.”


“You disagree?” The spell singer raised an eyebrow.

“Sure. We’ve been waylaid. We’ve been beaten, battered, and bruised. But in case you’ve forgotten, we survived much worse.”

“It’s not about survival, Duffy.” She drank from her wine glass. “It’s about measuring wherever or not it’s worth fighting on.”

“The world needs us.”

“No. It doesn’t.” She pointed to the maps spread out on the rickety table that divided them. “Everywhere we’ve been to offer help, the people have come together to start to rebuild.”

Duffy looked at the maps, the long-abandoned battle plan he had tried to get the others to agree to. They had tried, for a time. Everywhere they went people either turned them away or blamed them for what happened. He had fought the idea at first, but now he saw how the world viewed those who drew upon the Tap. They were the enemy.

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“I have an idea.” Leopold leant forwards, top hat and goggles glinting in the dying candlelight. Despite the beleaguered expression on his face, the merchant had dressed in his finest. The smirk that emerged from behind the fatigue suggested to Duffy this was an idea long brewed.

“Go on?”

“We do what we have always done.”

“Be tediously vague?” Ruby drained her glass.

“No dear, though keep up the sarcasm.” Without looking his wife in the eye he expertly disarmed her and continued with his point. “We each of us have a home. That home needs us, even if they don’t realise it. We have lives to live, and those lives are all in the service of the people we have not once abandoned.”

“My home is gone.”

“So find another!”

“Just like that?” Duffy pursed his lips. “You forget we were made because of that home.”

“Yes, yes, Scara Brae was destroyed. Sunk beneath the wave’s eternal throng. But you always thought your immortality was tied to it.” Leopold stood to refill his wife’s drink and gave in to temptation to pour one for himself. “You’re still here, for better or worse.”

There was no arguing with that. Duffy had spent months in solitude, trying to find the energy to grieve. Had they not seen Scara Brae’s end in the sein of the Orrery, the death toll would have crushed him. But all that was lost were the crumbling buildings and granary stores of its capital. Scara Brae, as Queen Valeena had said in her first address in Radasanth, was a people, not a place.


“I’m sorry…did Leopold of all people just shut you up?” Ruby looked genuinely surprised.

“Hey, it’s not the first time.”

“It’ll be the last.” Duffy stuck out his tongue playfully.

“Are we in agreement, then?” Ruby thanked Leopold for the wine and made to stand.

“Hang on.”

The trio turned to the shadowy figures leant against the bookcase lining the northern wall. For a moment they had forgotten they were there.

“You’ve something to add, Lilith?”

The assassin emerged from the twilight, clad in a simple black kimono with a sky grey obi. She folded her arms across her chest.

“It’s all well and good us going our respective ways, but Duffy’s right. We’re the Tantalum Troupe.”

“We were. They’re long dead and buried.” Ruby wrinkled her nose.

“And now so is the Restless Fugitive.” She let the name of their successors linger, before she approached the table and leant against it with a menacing glare.

“I don’t follow.” Ruby shrugged.

“The people of this now broken world don’t want heroes. They’ve made that much clear.” She pointed to the map depicting Corone. “But perhaps what they need is something to distract them from a seemingly endless nightmare.”

The troupe looked at the outline of Corone intently.

“So…you’re saying we don’t try to save the world. We entertain it?”

“Exactly. The senate can wait for it’s minister for a few months, session does not start till late fall. I daresay Arden won’t be missed from the Radasanthian guard.” Lilith turned to Leopold. “Mr Sylvers can mind your affairs in Salvar, no?”

Leopold nodded. Jeren had gone from his right-hand man to his corporate manager. He only had to appear at a handful of negotiations in person now. He made silent thanks to be rescued from the tedium of his home life.

“What about me?” Ruby looked hurt.

Lilith turned to her with a soft smile.

“Give me one example of what you’ve done in the last year that’d stop you picking up your violin?”

Ruby thought long and hard but sank into her chair.

“You’re right. It’s all I think about.”

“I believe we’re in agreement, then?”

Everyone nodded in unison. Leopold made to pour them all a drink, but Lilith gestured to the door. He frowned but put the empty glass down and shuffled towards the exit.

“Where are we going?” He clucked.

“I didn’t drag this blasted castle out of the Tap for us to use it as a drinking parlour.”

“I don’t follow…” Leopold trailed after her, stopping only to check that the others were following.

“Years ago, we all gathered on the precipice and sang together.”

“Which of the umpteen times do you mean?”

“You wouldn’t need Jeren if you didn’t drink so much…”

Leopold chuckled. “I’m just as sharp as ever.”


They broke out into the moonlight and wove in a line through the privet fenced gardens that surrounded the broken turrets and crumbing buttresses of Castle Brandybuck. Now, instead of being on an island in a sea of the Aria, it was nestled in a valley of trees and ferns on the eastern edge of the Comb Mountains.

“When Duffy disappeared during the fight with Oblivion, we came here and sang a requiem for him.”

“I’m right here, you know?” The bard rolled his eyes.

“What song, Leopold?”

The merchant rifled through the long repertoire Ruby had forced him to learn over the years and gasped.

“Oh, silly me. Of course.”

“Enlighten us dear?” Ruby doubled her pace to catch up and wrapped her shawl around her shoulders to fight off the chill.

“The same song we always sing to start over. The song that Will End All, a final ode to life itself.”

“Wait.” Ruby stopped. She looked at the moon. “You can’t mean…”

“Keep walking,” Lilith said, striding on to the edge of the gardens where a circle of cherry blossoms gnarled and ancient welcomed them.


Leopold hesitated, torn between tending to his wife or following orders.

“What’s wrong dear?”

“We’re not doing it.”

“Speak for yourself.” Duffy scratched his head but leant against the nearest of the trees to watch the drama unfold. “It’s a beautiful idea.”

“You do realise what it means?” Ruby’s hair began to dance.


“Shut up Leopold.”

The merchant pouted.
“All we’ve ever wanted, for the better part of six hundred years is to perform. To live. To laugh. To love.” Duffy grit his teeth.

“To die.” Lilith concluded.

“Thoughts compounded by having the choice taken from us.” Ruby flicked her fringe from her eyes, which were sparkling with growing embers.

“Now we’re free to have our hearts contended.”

“I’m not ready!”

“Since when was Ruby La Roux such a coward?”

The sisters stared at one another with growing hatred. Lilith’s hands slowly moved to the kunai tucked into the bow of her obi. Ruby’s moved to the violin bow strapped to her belt.

“Since when was the Akuma Sureiya so selfish?”

The kunai and bow emerged in unison, blades spiralling in palms and bow raised to play an unseen instrument. The moon shone on oblivious to the furore brewing below.

“Ladies, please. We are not here to fight.” Leopold took a furtive step back.

“Is it cowardice to not want to die when there’s so much left for us to feel? So much left for us to see?”

“Maybe it is…” Leopold grumbled.

“The Last Song will set us free from everything we’ve loathed. It will give us a life.”

“We have lives!” Flames erupted along the bow string.

“Are you willing to give up that pretty face for it?” Lilith snarled; her composure broken as the spirits of the Greater Oni bound to her heart stirred from their slumber.

“Wait.” Duffy stepped forwards. “Is that what this is all about, Ruby?” The bard realised something he would have kicked himself for given the chance. “You don’t want to give up your looks?”

“I am finally the woman I have always dreamed of being.” A violin materialised on her shoulder, ready to play. “I can’t go through the uncertainty of becoming again. Not now. Not ever.” She rested the bowstring against the instrument and everyone in the clearing tensed as a half note vibrated through them.

“Why the hell are we fighting over this?” Duffy flexed his fingers and drew on the vestiges of power swarming around them.

“It’s too much to ask of me. Even for a return to the old ways.” She shook her head and played an opening volley. The notes congealed from air to force and knocked several branches from the tree behind Duffy clean away. The blossoms danced around him.

“Fighting us now won’t change how you feel.”

“So don’t.” She waved the bow sideways, and the energy built up in the violin knocked Duffy clean off his feet into the hawthorns on the northern edge of the clearing. Arms and legs in a sprawl vanished with a rustle and a thud.

“I swear to the gods if I have to waste a bullet on this I’m done.”

A second wave knocked Leopold flying back into the gardens, the impact tempered by the sprouting of umbral wings to soften the descent.

“If you’re certain…” Lilith moved slowly into a lowered position, kunai held in reverse, feet parsed.

“Oh I’ll sing, sweet sister. Just not the song you were hoping for.”

The assassin sprinted forwards, hoping to close the gap before another volley could be brought to bear. The long months spent idling in the senate took their toll, as Ruby broke into a song from Scara Brae’s folk songbook that conjured a sphere of unseen energy around her. It erupted just as Lilith reached her, knocking her backwards with a crack of breaking air. The turf beneath her sundered, clods flying back in a shower of dirt. Righting herself mid-air, Lilith landed on both feet in a crouching stance one fist buried into the dew laden grass.

“I have sat silently and watched you all make a life for yourselves.” She snarled, her emotions no match for the focus with which she played. She started to walk forwards, descending on Lilith with tumultuous wrath.

“Is it our fault you wasted centuries on your ego?” She blinked, and in the space of that motion sprinted across the clearing and leapt.

Ruby tried to channel her rising energy into a second blast, but the wind seemed to fail her, sucked into Lilith’s limbs and driving her down atop the spell singer with the force of a hurricane. The earth sank beneath her descent. The two energies intermingled for a moment, before rebelling and sending fire and kanji scattering into the night sky.

“Is it our fault.” Lilith ducked a bow swing and spiralled on one foot, driving her kunai into Ruby’s thigh.

“What else do I have?”

Lilith snarled when the kunai clinked against a white glimmer that surrounded her sister. Failing to throw her spell song outward, she had drawn it inward and formed a barrier around herself. Lilith rolled out of arm’s reach and drew a series of symbols in the air. The purple kanji merged into a flaming red epitaph to her self-control.

“Us.” She cupped her hands together and prayed.

Ruby’s eyes widened when she realised what was happening. She stopped playing and drained the last of the energy into a pure white sphere around her that shone as bright as the moon. Duffy and Leopold stumbled out of the dark with murderous expressions, the bard armed with his namesake blade and the merchant pushing golden bullets into the chamber of his firearm.

“Always.” Lilith released her grip on the kanji and a flurry of spectral shuriken erupted forwards. They swarmed the sphere in a maelstrom of power and stopped. The sound of a shamisen playing filled the night air, drowning out the remnants of Ruby’s violin. “Never forget that.”

All at once, the shuriken flew outwards, span, then rained down on Ruby’s sanctuary.

“Leopold, get down!” Duffy roared over the ruckus. He spiralled his blade full circle and tensed, preparing to blink out of the impending explosion’s ways.

Lilith stood slowly, calm amidst the storm, and shook her head. The sphere cracked, scattering bolts of light skyward and boring into the treeline. Concealed by her shield, they could not see Ruby riling and clutching at invisible tendrils as the shadow magic seeped inwards and tore at her. Then, with a single peal of thunder, the sphere erupted.

“For the love of Thayne.” Leopold raised his hands and pushed outwards, repelling the shockwave with a whorl of shadow. Despite his defences, he trundled back, nearly falling and being swept away along with the turf beneath his feet.

Duffy blinked out of existence in a well-timed gambit, re-appearing on the opposite side of the wake with blade raised and eyes focussed.

“Pitiful.” Lilith felt nothing as her sister’s magic washed over her, until Ruby appeared at the heart of the maelstrom ablaze.

The shockwave carried for miles, scattering birds and beasts into the undergrowth and rousing the hibernating from their winter vigil. For what seemed like an age, Duffy, Leopold, and Lilith watched in silence as their sister slumped to the ground at the heart of a crater.

“Was there any need for that?” Leopold marched forwards, hobnail boots scrambling over the furrowed earth until he reached the crater’s edge. The force of the blast had sunken the spell singer into a deep ravine, upending half of the circle of trees like a moon eclipsing a sun. “She’s hurt.”

“She would have done much worse.”

“Just…stop it, the lot of you.” Leopold holstered his gun and began his descent to his wife’s aid. When he reached her, he was out of breath and sodden with swear.

“Is she okay?” Duffy teetered on the edge, reluctant to wade into a bittersweet moment.

“I’m…fine.” Ruby croaked.

Stirring from her momentary faint, the spell singer rolled onto her side and reached for her bowstring. The moment her fingers touched the lacquered wood a spiral gust rose up from the crater’s depths. Leopold, about to stoop to rouse her, took a tentative step back.

“Ruby it’s over.” He bit his lip. “Please don’t.”

Extinguished by Lilith’s magic, the fire in her hair reignited. She stood, unabashed by her sleight and twice as angry. Her finely tailored dress be specked with dirt, she rose to the challenge and conjured a new, unabashed violin to her side. The look she gave her husband was unforgettable.

“You’re really going to make me do this?” He unholstered his gun and cocked the hammer.

“If wars were ended with a single bullet, dear, we’d have peace.”

“If they were started with a woman scorned, they’d be nothing left to fight for.” He snarled.

“If she wants to fight let her.”

Lilith appeared at the crater’s edge, kunai held loosely in her hands and smile taunting her sibling. Though it was a great exertion to draw on the oni, they had given her a new type of strength the long months in politics’ thrall had taken from her – revenge.

“It’ll take more than parlour tricks and gunpowder to stop me. I will not, cannot go back to the way I was.” Ruby raised her bowstring to the violin.

The single shot coincided with Lilith’s well-aimed kunai. Both darted towards the spell singer with sonic speed, but both met equivalent force as the first note of Ruby’s encore rushed outwards. Leopold swore loudly, the thunder drowning out his curse as it knocked bullet and blade flying. Lilith backflipped away from the crater in time to avoid behind cut in two by the air blade as it rolled up the incline and shot upwards.

“The way you were?” Leopold loosened another round but missed. Something in his gut skewed his aim. “You are perfect no matter which life you live!”

“For love I sing a second song, undying in it’s melody.” The music which accompanied Ruby’s lyrics struck a chord with all the troupe. It was one of the songs they had performed long before the rise of the Forgotten Ones. It was a perfect choice to add insult to injury.

“You stop. You stop right now Ruby Winchester!” Leopold tossed the pistol to the ground and reached into the shadows to produce a sabred spear. “Don’t make me do this.”

“A tale of lovers long ago, and friends who sought a remedy.”

Already, fuelled by the emotions coursing through her, the spell song conjured a matrix of musical notes and bars which burnt bright in the air around her. She focussed all her power into giving literal life to her song, and she soon was veiled behind a whorl of fiery score.

“Duffy, do something!” Leopold advanced, spear held tightly, heart pounding in his chest.

“What the fuck do you want me to do with that?” The bard shrugged. He looked at his blade and then to his sister.

“You’re supposed to be a leader.” Lilith reminded him glibly, retreating to the safety of the nearest cherry blossom. “Lead!”

Duffy took a deep breath, the old familiar feeling of fear swirling in his stomach as Ruby continued to sing and play and boil away in her own rage. He thought about the last time he had seen her so resplendent in her art. That day, whilst she was stricken with the worse grief she had ever known, she had torn apart the gods themselves in the cold wastes of Salvar. He did not want that to happen again. The flame within had to be quenched.

“Lilith summon a flood. Throw it into the crater!” Duffy found his stride as quickly as Ruby had found perfect pitch. “Leopold, get out of there and put on something useful!”

“A top hat?”

“No you dolt, stop holding back. Can’t you see who’s really driving this?” He pointed at the inferno surrounding Ruby several times to emphasise his point. “You killed all the Old Gods bar three. It’s time to drop that to two!”

“…Phoenix.” Leopold gasped. How had he been so blind?

“I sing a song of flames died low, kindling them to blazes.”

“Do you really think that’s who you are, Ruby?” Leopold sent the spear into the aether and adjusted his waistcoat. He stood as tall as he could and dropped the goggles resting on his topcoat over his eyes. The night sky lit by crystal and enchantment gave him a better view.

“Listen to the chorus bright, of Phoenix and the Bard!”

The song had bound the troupe together in cruel immortality centuries ago, its lyrics given story in a book to which they owed all their troubles. Since they had first began to break free of its curse, they had struggled so desperately to find a way to escape it’s ending. On its final page, they were sketched amidst an inferno they had long thought to mean a cruel foe would finally best them. Leopold, after decades searching for an answer, found it.

“It’s not our end…” He smirked. “It’s the death of the troupe, but a beginning of our story.”

“Never again will I die for another’s amusement.” Ruby stopped playing, the magic in her violin carrying on her music long after she finished. “If you want to throw away everything we’ve built, fine! But we face it as we are.”

“You really don’t see what you’re doing, do you…”

“I know exactly what I’m doing Leopold. This power has always been there, but I’ve held back, scared of what people might think of us. But why?” She lowered the bowstring to her side and sent the violin away. Still, the song raged manifest around her, it’s many layers sounding out the music and the lyrics for all to see.

“Because we’re not like our forebears.”


“You disagree?” Ruby gathered the notes together and arranged them neatly in order along the bars. The air began to hum in harmony.

“The Tap isn’t a curse. It took me a long time to see that but look at us now!” Leopold unfurled the shadow within into long, spectral wings rising into the night.

“Leopold…” Duffy shouted down into the crater. “You’re playing right into this!”

“If she wants to fight, to let all that rage so festered beneath out, let her.”

“There’s a good husband.” Ruby smirked as she finished her spell. She raised the bowstring skyward and with self-applause, struck it against the start of the stored spell. As she did, Leopold leapt forwards and roared.

Nothing happened. No fireworks. No eruption. No time torn asunder by selfish desire. Leopold cut his leap shot and landed arm’s length from his wife with a confused expression. Ruby’s eyes wide as dinner plates, told him something had gone wrong.

“For once in your miserable existence, will you not make this all about the Winchesters?”

Arden appeared at the brim of the crater, hair dancing with his own power, naked torso gleaming in the light of the flaming song. He held a hand outstretched towards Ruby, fingers picking at unseen strings and erasing the notes from the world one by one.

“What are you doing?” Ruby roared.

“Where the fuck has you been?” Leopold added.

“Watching. Waiting. Doing the things I’ve always done despite the world nearly ending.” He quickened his work until only the spiralling bars remained, no notes to strike, a blank page circling a voiceless master.

“I didn’t know you could do that.” Ruby shrugged, finally ready to admit defeat. She sent the bowstring into nothingness and let the tension drain away. Without notes to sustain them, the glowing bars fizzled and sputtered into nothingness, leaving nothing behind save for a dull ringing in the air.

“You know next to nothing about me, sister. Something I’ve strived to maintain so that I can continue in my work.” Satisfied, Arden folded his arms across his chest and extended his cloak around him as the heat of battle gave way to the night’s chill. “Not everyone needs to go through life proclaiming their heart’s desire to anyone foolish enough to listen.”

“That’s hardly fair.” Ruby pouted.

“But entirely true.” Lilith said softly, appearing at Arden’s side now that she was out of harm’s way. “You may not want to set things in motion, to stray from your path, but there’s five of us, and one voice does not a song make.”

Ruby struggled to understand. “Unless it’s a solo.”

“You still need a chorus. You still need harmony. You still need instruments. It doesn’t matter who plays the leading part, we’re a troupe.”

“A family”. Arden gestured to the half-circle of cherry trees. “Something we’ve pledged time and time again on this very spot. Which your ego has now destroyed.”

“I don’t remember it being a solo act,” Ruby glared at Lilith, but turned around and climbed out of the crater to inspect the damage. When she saw what they had done, it took her breath away. “Oh no…”

They gathered together and shared a tentative embrace, Ruby’s tears counterpoint to her rage.

“If not that song…which?” Duffy pushed away and tried to rise to the occasion. “How to mark the occasion, the return of the Tantalum?”

“The Last Song makes us mortal; the First Song makes us anew. Either way, we must make a choice. Do we fight on as we are and risk everything, despite the world being tired and hateful of our kind…?” Arden posed a thunderous question then left it to them to decide, as ever he did.

They looked at one another in silence. Inspecting every stitch in time that had forged them into who they were. Duffy’s ginger hair and portly gait belied the grace and strength with which he fought. Arden, who had remained the Hound from their formative years due to what the rest assumed to be devilry. Lilith, forever Akashima’s daughter, the oni bound to her soul revealing her identify no matter which face she wore. Leopold, whose progeny as an Old God, the last of his kind gave him some matter of protection against their spell songs, and Ruby, sometimes a matriarch, others a debutante, eternally torn between youth and responsibility and happy with neither.

“I don’t know what I want.” Ruby took a deep breath, as though she was scared to speak her mind.

“We never have.” Arden smiled. “We always do what we think the people want. Some selfish drive to be heroes when really we’re anything but.”

“Speak for yourself.” Duffy folded his arms across his chest.

“We’re not heroes.” Lilith sighed. “Heroes are not what Althanas needs now.”

“So what?”

“What they need is something to look forward to. Hope. If you’ll forgive the piety.”

“The world just exploded, literally, and ash has only just stopped raining down. What hope could we give them?”

“Oh I’m such a fool.” Ruby gasped.


“Arden. You’re a genius. I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner.”

“Enlighten us?” The swordsman encouraged softly.

“If the people don’t want us to help, then we don’t. We use the power given to us to make them forget all we’ve done. Make them oblivious to the fact they fear us.”

“…like the Forgotten Ones?”

“Oh, don’t start. I’m tired of trying to hold the moral high ground. We can keep ourselves, the way we look, the way we feel, and yet still give people something to look forward to.”

“That’s a level of interference I’m not comfortable with.” Leopold shuffled his boots nervously.

“We erase the troupe from existence. People will think we’re just another group of thespians in the city streets living out their lives through song and dance. We can be hope, and we can still help behind the scenes. Fight the same secret war we’ve always fought.”

Free of magic, the woodlands began to teem with life again. Birds returned to their nests. Boars returned to the forage. A breeze rolled through the landscape with a biting belligerence. The troupe dwelt on Ruby’s proposal for a while until it made sense.

“A bold move.” Duffy said.

“We’d need a new name.” Ruby furrowed her brow. “We know this type of magic can be broken if even the slightest seed of remembrance is planted. No Tantalum, no Restless Fugitive. It must be something so far removed from ‘us’ as to never tear down the veil.”

“How about,” Lilith began with a coy smile, “Anything to Keep My Breasts.”

Ruby snorted.

“It’s so much more about how I look, Lilith. No matter what form I take, the hair’s still red and the heart’s still heavy. It’s about owning what we have become and not running from our mistakes.”

“But that’s precisely what you’re proposing. Nobody will know our part to play in all the world’s calamities.”

“Do they know that now? They shun our help because we remind them of all the people who have wronged them. They are quick to forget every time our sacrifices have saved them. They forget all the people we’ve lost in that fight.”

“Do they blame us for still standing strong despite that?” Duffy had always felt responsible for Jensen, Sei, Otto…there were too many names to remember. “Emotions aside, we never look defeated.”

“Endless exuberance and strength can be a weakness for those who don’t have the same advantages we do.” Leopold added. He removed his goggles and top hat and undid the top buttons of his waistcoat. “It’s the same when a rich man tries to help the poor. People don’t see the act, just the gold threaded waistcoat.”

“Let’s not throw stones. There’s been enough of that for one evening.” Arden looked at Lilith and Ruby in turn then unsheathed his blade. “If we’re decided, let us begin.” He buried the tip not the dirt, so it stood upright.

The others did the same, adding their own monikered weapons to a crossing mass of emblems. Duffy’s blade. Ruby’s rapier. Lilith’s kunai. Leopold’s spear. Arden’s sword. At the heart of all their troubles, these weapons had fought harder than any other. They teemed with energy and stories, practically singing their praises with every swing.

“If Oblivion were alive, he’d be mocking us now.” Duffy looed wistfully skyward.

“Be thankful he gave us some of his power when he tried to use us.” Leopold dwelt on the memories resurfacing and felt heavier for it. “To use it now for good only goes to show we’re ready to begin life again.”

“We need to let go of everything we’ve built. Give our all to this new endeavour.” Ruby would be the first to admit she hated the thought of being a simple thespian again, but she couldn’t deny years of living amongst the noble houses had made her complacent and dull. “I renounce my namesake, and all the trappings that go with it. No noble house shall ever tame me, no king or queen will ever own me. I am Ruby De La Croix again.” She nodded.

They continued clockwise. Leopold next.

“I renounce the empire that has given too much to the rich and little to the poor. Every coin earned will go to those who need it, after the troupe born here tonight is fed and costumes made. I take back the name Rook, to be Leopold Rook.” He took off his waistcoat and tossed it into the array of hilts. It flapped limply in the breeze.

Arden spoke next.

“I send the shadows fleeing, no more the Hound. No more a Maester. No more a puppet master in the darkness trying to make evil men turn a new leaf. Henceforth, I shall reclaim my birth name – Arden Janelle. Swordsman. Actor. Stunt man.”

“Then I too shall renounce the title of senator. May my homeland thrive without my guiding hand. I return to the days of my youth, a meiko to the greatest of okiyas, bringing the fables of my home to distant shores. Lilith Kazumi once again.”

Duffy hesitated when it was his turn to speak.

“I…I have never known who I was. I’ve spent an eternity playing the part I was told. But there’s strength in that, to be who is needed whenever it is needed. I renounce the title of Bladesinger. I return to the heady days of summer as Ruby’s right-hand man. A bard, eternally plucky, and forever bringing the past to life with passion.”

“And your name?” Ruby erred.

“You know, I don’t know…”

“You’ve been so many people. Which felt natural?”

Duffy smiled.

“Wainwright. It was who I looked up to, and it was he, for all his later misgivings, that made me pick up a quill and learn the classics.”

“I like it. Wainwright whom?”

“Wainwright Lysander Jones.”

The breeze stopped.

“And we together are known by what title?”

“I think we all know what we need to become.”

“The Queen’s Men doesn’t work when we don’t have a queen…” Lilith smirked.

“How about ‘A Bard’s Tale?’” Leopold offered.

“Ugh, too obvious,” Ruby spat disgust.

“The Singing Canaries?”

“We’re not an all-female power group.” Leopold rolled his eyes.

“The Phoenix?” Duffy offered.

“No. Too simple. Also the name of a terrorist group in Fallien.” Ruby wanted to avoid starting off on the wrong foot if possible.

“What was the name of the first play we wrote?” Duffy scratched his head.

“Lux Aeterna?”

“No, that’s the first play you wrote, Duffy. We didn’t get a word in edgeways.”

“True Lilith…”

“The play we wrote that was collaborative was Fated Circle.”

“Oh!” Duffy mouthed his surprise. “Oh, yes. Yes, that’s perfect.”

“Are we all in agreement?” Ruby puffed out her chest as though readying herself to sing.

“Aye,” they all said in chorus.

“Then let us sing.”

And they did. Together. Pure. For the first time in over a century they sang without lines, music, or hatred. This time, the song did not turn back time or sunder gods – it simply gave them the one thing they had fought to get back. A life. Together. As a theatre troupe of ill repute.