[Author's note: This story contains major, excruciating, heart-breaking spoilers for the end of "The Vision of Escaflowne." Don't read it if you haven't finished watching the anime. All name spellings are from The Vision of Escaflowne Compendium, an excellent encyclopedic resource for the series maintained by Egan Loo. (The only really unusual one is Celena's name, which is rendered as "Serena" by most people.) Please see the legal disclaimer for copyright information relating to this fanfic.
And finally, a tip of the hat to Nicholas Leifker, whose story "Second Nature," written a year before this one and available on the on his web site (http://www.thekeep.org/~nightelf/fanfic/), approaches this same idea in a similar and yet quite different way. I found his story just after I'd finished the first draft of mine, and it helped me to identify and correct one very large flaw. Thank you, Nicholas!]
By Natalie Baan
When you stand at the edge of the burying grounds, at the place where the mountain slope steepens into a tumult of stone, falling down, down, all the way down until it crashes to meet the ocean, you can really see everything. To the west, the sun on its way to the sea is hanging golden in midair. Nearby, never far away from each other, the two moons huddle together, and then below them, under the azure sky, the rocky arm of the headland which shelters the harbor lies black against the glittering water. There's a ship creeping slowly around that cape as it makes for dockside, the ocean wavering and flexing beneath it like a swimming dragon's scales.
To the right and far below me, very small against the sea, the tiled roofs of Paras are shining, and above them rears the slope-sided Palace, its blue and white triangular wave crest banding the highest floors. Masts sway gently in the city's harbor, and the tiny grey flecks of distant gulls crisscross in between them. More gulls dart across the white foam and knife-edged rocks at the base of this cliff, playing tag for a little piece of fish...one sweeps up nearly from below my feet, carried on rising air. It angles its head to look down at me, and then cries harshly. The gull banks, turning, its wings held at a graceful, almost impossible tilt--and then the seaward wind catches it, the same wind that stirs the long grasses hanging over the cliff lip in front of me and ruffles my skirts about my ankles, the same wind that the ship coming into dock tacks against, back and forth across the waves. The gull's wings sweep forward, carrying it out across the wide, wide open water as its fellows squabble dimly along the cliff face below. The wind from the Chatar range freshens gradually, picking unready seeds from the long grass and casting them outward. White silk and feathers, they float toward the sky. I watch them, watch them flying, trying to hold onto the moment when each one disappears into sunlight and the far too-brilliant sea...and as I watch, the clouds which have been mounding above the Chatar roll slowly across the sky until they leach all the light from the world.
Turning, I glance toward the cloud-capped arc of slopes, brushing a wind-caught strand of pale hair behind one ear. We bury our people here, in the high places, where their bodies won't be disturbed by a restless sea. The sea is our city's life but its death is here, on the perfect green carpet of a close-cropped lawn. The markers grow like strange plants from the bodies of the dead...innumerable white marble blossoms.
Among them, the wind tatters the petals of irises that I've laid upon my mother's grave. Such fragile things...I bring them because it's what I do when I feel myself escaping. I bring flowers to remind myself of who I am, and because it's my duty as a daughter. So my brother tells me....
Above the sea, the grey gulls disappear against the greyer sky.
* * * * *
The first rain catches me on the road just a little way outside of town, small, fitful patters to start with, and then more, stronger: gusting light sheets that roll past just like waves. The rain lays the dust, soaks gradually into the top layers of my clothing, pushes my hair down wet against my skin. I don't mind. Water blows into my face so I keep my head down, my eyes on the road in front of me, on the delicate slippers gaining a coating of almost-mud.
I don't care.
The rain is a touch I can't get away from. The rain is a memory that won't leave me alone. I'm not this person who walks demurely down the mountain road, passed by a carriage or two, passing in turn a dogman who's halted to shake the rain from his fur, her eyes cast down so that she can pretend that she doesn't see any of them...and yet, at the same time, I am.
What is it about the rain, grey water falling from the sky, that mirrors us back to ourselves?
That makes of our hearts small, soaked things, shrunken with all our regrets?
With all our lies....
When I reach the outskirts of the city, I draw my shawl up over my head--not to keep off the rain, but so that the passersby won't see me. The sister of a Heavenly Knight, a woman who lives in the royal Palace, shouldn't be walking down the graveyard road in the rain, all alone. It isn't proper. I should have a riding animal, or a carriage, a nice box to keep me warm and dry. I should be kept safe and protected.
But...I've never been protected.
Everything makes me angry these days. I don't know why...no, that's wrong. I do. I'm tired of lying to myself, even more than I am of lying to all the people around me. I smile and smile, and then when I look into my wine glass at dinner I see a tiny reflection far away inside a ring of gold, the image red and wavery as though reflected in blood.
As I cross an arched bridge over one of the the city's boundary canals, rain spatters onto wood and water. In the dampness, all the smells of the city intensify. Sea brine and the everpresent smell of fish, the odors of cooking and of animals; strange scents from faraway lands in the bazaar;...and when the wind shifts slightly, the scent of char and old ash from where the burnt-out harborside is still being rebuilt. It reminds me of guilt, old fascinations, things it would be better to let go of and leave behind if I could.
But something in the rain makes our worlds close in on us, so that we can't look away from ourselves.
I turn to the right. Then it's over the next bridge, through the bazaar itself--the canvas covers flapping and the merchants already closing up for the day, grumbling about the wet--and finally along the main processional way that leads toward the Palace. A few other people are walking there, stragglers coming in from the town and talking over their plans of what to wear this evening, some guardsmen making their rounds, but no one that I know well. As I reach the outer wall, the capricious wind shifts again, and the rain lightens further for an instant. Behind me, far to the west, the sun slips low enough to drizzle gold through a thin crack between cloud and water. Long beams slant between the buildings, light streaming almost parallel to the ground. They gild the heavy stones of the wall to near brilliance; they cast endless dark shadows from the walkers' slow feet; they strike the two melefs flanking the gateway--burnish them, a flare of gold-tinged metal that makes my heart stop and then soar as though startled by a triumphal music, familiar armor shapes a much smaller echo of the enormous guymelefs but still the same thing, lovely killing machines...I stand there and look at them, my pulse beating like hammers in my throat, until the ocean takes the sun the rest of the way into itself and the clouds flush briefly with red.
I go in through the open gate then, beneath the silent, watchful gaze of its two guardians.
* * * * *
In my own rooms at last, I loosen my shawl from my shoulders and let it fall across a chair. My mud-splattered slippers I've already left beside the door. As I go into my dressing chamber I strip away my jacket and the long tangle of my skirts, leaving them in a trail behind myself. Wearing just my shirt and thin, slightly damp leggings, I stop and stand in the middle of the room to listen. The rain has picked up once again, a steady drumming against the thick diamond-shaped panes of my window.
I go over, open the window, and let the air and the flickering rain fall against my face.
The guard on the small side door must have recognized me as I came in, but he said nothing. Word will pass soon enough, though...and Allen will be here in a little while, much sooner if he was worrying about me today.
/Where were you?...you should be more careful, Celena. I don't want to lose you again. The war may be over, but there are still plenty of rough types on the roads. Stay close to the Palace. I can't be with you every moment of the day./
My brother has always been very protective of the things he cares about.
/Millerna and Eries will take care of you whenever my duties call me away, so don't be afraid. Be a good girl and listen to them, all right?/
/Celena, don't touch that sword. You might hurt yourself./
I'm cold but also suddenly afire, my skin burning as though with fever. Turning, I go to my vanity table and lean forward onto it, looking at my reflection in its mirror. My hair has grown out a little, the rippling fair waves framing a pale face, sad eyes the color of the rain...those eyes, gazing back at me, sharpen, the jagged edges of a cracked shell, my pulse a slow thunder like waves pounding down onto the sand.
I'm not Celena Schezar, sister of the Heavenly Knight Allen Schezar, lost girl disappearing into a rosy haze of memory, china doll to be kept safe so that she won't be broken.
Nobody seems to understand.
/I'm already broken./
I look into the mirror and watch the image change in front of me: the angles and planes of the face shifting and becoming more pronounced, the eyes narrowing and darkening, the fall of hair altering shade and texture. The lips twist up into a smile, a thin curve like a blade. My shoulders and chest broaden slightly--searing stab of pain/pleasure as my body reshapes itself, tautening into lean wiriness--and my hands clench fiercely on the edge of the table.
Grinning, I lean closer to the glass.
Yes, I'm still the same. Steel and fire, nothing that you want to let inside your defenses, those shatteringly cold good looks...and this stupid, stupid, /shitty/ scar that almost spoils everything.
I still haven't forgiven you for that, Van Fanel.
And I really do look like a girl with all this hair.
Eyes half-lidded, I study myself thoughtfully, reaching up to run a finger down the pale slash on my cheek. As I let my hand fall, I hear a door click open. There are footsteps, the sound of a voice in the other room....
My reflection grins ferally back at me again.
Behind it, a familiar tall figure appears hastily in the doorway, trailing those damned blond ribbons of hair. I take in the blue Knight's coat, the impatient concern in his swift movements, the long sword as always by his side, all in one flash. "Celena, where--?" he starts, his voice abrupt and chiding.
He stops real fast.
"/Allen Schezar,/" I say into the silence. A good name, one you can roll around inside your mouth and then spit out, hissing like embers. The expression on his face is like a person who's swallowed a shard of glass, expecting good, rich wine instead...shit, why don't I keep a bottle of Ezgardian red on this table? Excitement is a hum vibrating in my body and blood. I need a drink.
Or a fight.
Allen, still obviously not grasping the situation, stops to think it over. After a moment, he forces himself to uncock his hand from his swordhilt. He holds out both arms instead, immaculate white gloves reaching toward me coaxingly. "Celena--" he begins.
"/Dilandau!/" Bastard calls me that one more time and I'm going to get upset. Can't he even /see/ what's in front of him? What do I have to do, what lengths do I have to go to before he realizes what a crock of shit all this is, all his expectations of his happy, well-behaved little sister?
/That person doesn't exist./
Allen's gorgeous face pales in further shock or anger, but he's trying very hard to keep control. I tilt my head insolently, still watching our two reflections together in the mirror's frame. I don't think I look like him at all. I lean back a little from the glass and glance at him over my shoulder.
"What are you going to do about it, Allen?" I taunt softly.
"That's enough." On anybody else his frown would look petulant. Allen has style, all right. He knows how to wear authority even for the pettiest things. But I'm not one of his girlfriends or his goons and I'm sick to damned death of his attitude. I want to stuff reality down his throat until he gags on it. My heart speeds, the familiar lurch inside me, a fire of readiness inside my muscles, inside my brain...fear, no, not fear, red hunger, the edge that the best pilot needs to survive, to win. "There's no more need for this," Allen is telling me patiently, his voice inane and soothing, "the war with Zaibach is over. Everything's different now...you don't have to be like this anymore. You can go back, Celena, don't you remember?" He smiles, taking a step toward me, as charming and as confident as a cat. "You can go back to being the person you always were, deep down inside...."
"/Don't patronize me!/" The raw scream hurts. I seize something from the vanity table and hurl it at him; he ducks and glass shatters on the doorframe. "/Nobody gave you the right to tell me who I am!/" Two quick strides and I'm on him: my fist catches Allen under the jaw and rocks him backward, dazed, defenseless because he's still decided that I should be a woman and his sister, and of course he'd rather die than fight a woman...and as he reels there for just one second, it would be so pathetically easy to reach across him and draw his sword.
Stupid hesitation, a fractional instant of something quiet inside my mind, and the man has a chance to recover. Really mad now, he lunges forward and grabs my wrists. "Stop it!" he snarls; I bare my teeth in reply as I struggle to wrench out of his hands...damn it, he's stronger than I am. I /hate/ that. He shoves me backward and we crash against the vanity table. Useless, breakable things tip over and smash. I drive my knee up but he twists aside, and I don't do more than graze him. "Idiot! What do you think you're doing? Now be still!" He shakes me like a child--I try to bite him and he pins me against the wall. "Listen to me! I want to help you and you persist in mocking and defying me--!" No matter what I do I can't break out of his swordsman's grip. Humiliation and sudden panicked rage claw at the back of my throat and I scream out, "I hate you!--
"/I hate you, Allen Schezar!/"
And as I look up into his eyes I see their sky-blueness struck wide with shock.
Everything slows to a halt. Allen's hands slacken on me; I could strike back and hurt him now, but I don't. I can't look away from his face instead: from the disbelief, the betrayal, the long pain...I can't breathe for a moment as the awfulness of this sinks in and something inside of me answers....
/I hate you./
/I love you./
The memories come back, memories of an empty room, of a achingly dark and echoing emptiness--
/I must have done something terribly wrong to make them leave me alone./
Scent of sun-warmed fur, a beautifully golden softness, my devoted protector....
And I can't, I can't turn away from him now. The pain inside of me blurs, the heat of a twisting flame. My eyes fill and flood, I can feel my bones reshaping themselves, drawing flesh and skin along behind, and as I crumple forward I can hear my brother's haunted, breathless whisper.
I fall against Allen's chest, into his strong arms. As he crushes me against himself in relief and in shame at his own anger, murmuring awkward reassurances, I begin to sob in earnest. Grief, grief and regrets, such bitter loneliness--but even more than that, exhaustion. No matter how desperately I batter against the cage, no matter how hard I scream, no one seems to hear. No one seems to understand that Dilandau is me just as much as Celena is.
And this part of me which is Alseides pilot and dragon slayer, warrior and intensely burning flame--
It's strangling to death by inches, day by day.
The wind slides in through the window, cold, and smelling of rain and of the sea...of everything that I am and everything I want to fly away from. But no matter what I do, I can't escape from this. I can't escape the dread and horror of things I've done and things I might yet do...or from the scared, small voice that whispers inside my heart: what price do I have to pay to be free?
And Allen holds me closely in silence now--sheltering me from harm, as he believes. He doesn't understand that by giving in to him like this I'm betraying myself no less than I betrayed him only moments before. He just can't /see/...blind to what he himself does to others, how can he understand what's inside of me?
How can he love the tortured, brooding animal, this beautiful and violent soldier with nothing else left to fight?
Allen...my brother...my dear brother.
You've always hated the rain.
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