Scars on the
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
Oh, look at my
My name is might-have-been
My name is never-was
My name's forgotten
- Courtney Love, 'Celebrity Skin'
Celena was in a dark place, sitting on rough ground. This was not the usual nightmare, but it felt bad nevertheless. She was cold and could not move properly. She tried to call for help, and her voice would not work. She became aware of a strong, unpleasant smell. It took her a moment to place it.
'That's right.' The voice was right behind her, and although she wanted desperately to turn around fast, her neck and back were stiff and immobile, her limbs heavy and limp, like damp sandbags, and she had to remain sitting while the Deceptant walked around her, and crouched in front of her, bringing his face close to hers. His rank smell seemed to roll off him in waves and she felt an old, familiar revulsion. Her face was reflected in the dark centres of his eyes, and it was not Celena's face. Although she felt like Celena, the face was Dilandau's, red eyes, long scar and all. She watched, and it metamorphosed into her face as a child then a younger, more cocky Dilandau, still whole and beautiful then, oddly, her mother's, pale and tense. Celena's field of vision pulled back from its tight focus on the dark mirror of the pupil and she found that the Deceptant's face had taken on the form she now thought of as hers.
'Stop that,' she said hoarsely. 'You can't take my face.'
'It's been taken from you before,' said the Deceptant. 'Do you know my name?'
Celena thought about it. 'If I do, I can't remember it. What do you people want with names, anyway?'
'The same thing everyone wants. To know who they are. To know who people think they are. I'll tell you my name. I was called Zongi.'
'Dilandau killed you.'
'Don't speak in that childish way. Say "I".'
'It's not the same person,' Celena said.
'She warned me I was going to die soon. The girl from the Phantom Moon, I mean. Some warnings are not the kind you can do anything about.'
'Kanzaki Hitomi?' Celena asked. 'Perhaps it was her fault.'
'We all make choices,' Zongi said. 'We shape the world two ways, with what we believe and what we choose. Hitomi did not choose what would happen to me, and she did not know then that she could choose to believe.'
'This is much too metaphysical for me,' Celena said. 'Are you telling me that I've got a choice? Or that I should believe in myself, or something trite like that?'
'No,' said Zongi, and smiled. 'I'm telling you that you are just like me. You always were. A changing thing that others could use, a tool of war. And that was why you feared and despised me, because you saw yourself in my eyes.'
'Also,' Celena said, with difficulty because her throat would not open fully, 'because you're a cowardly murderer, and you killed Migel Labariel, and you stink.'
'To be despised, to be alone. That's what it's like for people like us.'
'I'm not like you! Allen loves me! Jajuka loved me. Gaddes might still love me. I have a real life. I'm a real person.'
'You're changing again,' Zongi said, and the world of the dream shifted, and Celena found she was up to her chin in her own red blood. The smell, strong and rusty, sickened her more than Zongi's odour. She was going to drown soon. The level was rising. She stood on tip-toe, tilted her head back to keep her nose and mouth above the surface, but it lapped higher. She tried to scream and her throat clamped shut, producing no sound. A strand of red worsted dangled before her eyes and she reached up one gory arm and grabbed at it desperately.
'Wake up! You're having a nightmare. Can you hear me, Celena? Wake up!'
Celena's eyes opened and she knew she was in bed, on her back, sheets twisted around her legs and her night-gown plastered to her with sweat. Aruetta was leaning over her, invisible because in this room at night the darkness was total. Celena reached out a hand and touched soft fur, bumping against bone, perhaps a nose.
'Watch it there,' said Aruetta, and pulled away. 'What were you dreaming about? You were sort of grunting and making little panicky whimper sounds. And then you said, no, you groaned "Blood, blood, my blood." It was really scary.'
'I I don't know blood? I can't remember.'
'I mean, at first you were just breathing hard, and I thought "o-ho, wicked Gaddes dream," but I could tell pretty quickly that you weren't enjoying it.'
'I was I think I was talking to someone, and they were saying things I didn't want to hear, and wouldn't listen to me when I tried to explain.'
'Definitely not Gaddes. I've never dreamed about him.'
'I thought you said you don't remember your dreams? You seem pretty vague about this one.'
'I just I just know I haven't. He's only in the real world. I like it that way.'
'I always enjoy Allen dreams.' You could hear the smile in her voice.
'Well, I think it's a bit different,' Celena said irritably. Her throat was still sticky and tight.
'My God, you can sweat,' said Aruetta. Celena felt her hand on her forehead. 'Maybe you're really not well. I'm going to ask someone to have a look at you in the morning.'
'I need a drink of water,' Celena said, and started to sit up, but Aruetta pushed her down again.
'I'll get it,' she said, and crawled over the end of the bed and padded off into the blackness.
'How can you find your way?' Celena asked.
'I'm a cat,' Aruetta replied, over the sound of pouring water. 'I don't always need to be able to see.' She came back, carefully, carrying a cup that usually stood on the shelf over the basin. Reaching out, she found Celena's hand and put the cup into it.
'Thanks very much.' Celena took a gulp of water; since she was still half-lying and it was so dark, she misjudged it a little and spilled some down her chin. The coldness was refreshing. Really, she wished she could get into a cold bath and stay there until she was numb. She took another gulp and held it in her mouth, letting the coolness seep out of the water and into her head. That was all she wanted for the moment; she put the cup down on the bedside table, and Aruetta climbed back into bed.
'Now,' the cat girl said, 'just think of things you like until you go back to sleep. Concentrate on them. It'll take your mind off whatever you were dreaming, and stop you going back into the same dream.'
'I suppose you're going to tell me to think about Gaddes.'
'I wasn't, actually, but if you want to that's fine.'
The dark, stuffy room was silent for a few moments. Then Celena said, 'I keep thinking about him even when I don't mean to.'
'That's how it goes,' Aruetta said, rolling over and making herself comfortable. 'When completely unrelated things start reminding you of him you know you've got it really bad. Do you wonder things like what he looks like when he first wakes up in the morning?'
'I don't need to wonder, I know. All rumpled up, and his face looks softer than usual, and he yawns enormously.'
There was another little silence. 'Exactly how far have things gotten with you two?' Aruetta spoke carefully, as though afraid to give offence, and Celena suddenly became afraid that she was somehow saying too much, that it was foolish to think of this girl as a friend even if she behaved like one, and that even if her interest in Gaddes seemed like a harmless, agreeable subject for conversation, answering this question could somehow incriminate her.
'It's private, really,' she said, a little stiffly, and turned away from the other girl.
Why have I talked so much to her, anyway? Was I that desperate for 'girl talk'? I suppose it's nice to be with someone who doesn't seem to mind what I say. Good grief, if Allen could hear the way she goes on he'd I'm not sure what he'd do. Actually, he'd probably just ignore her.
I wish he'd come and rescue me. It's not very heroic or chivalrous to just sit back and take this. Suddenly, it occurred to Celena that this was what she was doing. All day, she had not once thought seriously and practically about ways of escaping. Both the room and her companion made her feel simultaneously, contradictorily, lulled and worried, and somehow she could not think straight. The scope of her thoughts seemed to have narrowed with the dimensions of her world. Knowing this didn't seem to help, because she still could not think what to do about it. Some warnings are not the kind that you can do anything about. Where did she know that from? She felt it was true. Sometimes all a warning let you do was brace yourself for the inevitable.
But I'm not powerless. Allen will come to see me and we'll work something out. And if I do have to die well, I won't think about that. Just that if I have to, I'll die well. With that resolution, she tried to follow Aruetta's advice for going back to sleep, and fixed on thinking about the beach she had discovered. I should have gone swimming. Just didn't think of it. And I might not get the chance again.
Allen followed Lady Erima down the corridors with a growing sense of indignation. The woman's manner was positively insulting. Allen naturally thought of all women as deserving of his courtesy, but still, there were some for whom he had to make an effort. Celena's odd, stilted-sounding letter had been passed to him yesterday evening when, tired and desolate, he finally got home. So it was back and forth again, making a constant, conscious effort to be polite, to be pleasant, to deal with the situation sensibly when he could cheerfully have hit someone. Or alternately, sat down and cried.
The letter worried him; its baldness suggested it had been written under close supervision, but then what was the meaning of the joke about the girl with a crush on him? Was Celena trying to convey some sort of coded message? If she was, it was too obscure. He had gone over the letter several times, trying to think if 'cat girl' or 'virtue' could be any kind of reference, but drew a blank every time. The only cat girls he could think of offhand were Meruru from Fanelia and those two Enhanced Luck soldiers from Zaibach ... even supposing Celena was referring to them, which seemed unlikely, what could that mean?
The other, more disturbing, possibility was that Celena's letter did not make sense because she was losing her senses. How fragile was she? Could she cope with this situation? Notwithstanding what Dryden had said, was she being decently treated? He would have to speak to Millerna or Eries about this; if he could do nothing, surely they had some influence over their father. Even if the trial could not be called off, perhaps he could get back custody of his sister for the meantime.
Lady Erima stopped in front of a blue door, and Allen almost walked into her, but checked his steps and managed to make his halt look natural. The woman knocked on the door. After a moment it was opened slightly, and a tousled golden head appeared in the crack. It was indeed a cat girl, the Aruetta of the letter. So perhaps that was not symbolic at all, just real and strange. She looked flustered, and when she saw Allen standing behind Lady Erima, she blushed furiously and tried to shut the door again.
'What on earth is going on?' asked Lady Erima sharply. 'Let us in. Sir Allen has come to visit his sister.'
'You can't come in,' the girl said. 'I'm sorry, you just can't.'
'Is something wrong?' Allen asked, immediately fearing the worst. Come on now, he told himself, don't panic. 'Or is she not up yet? She won't mind if it's just me.' It was still early in the morning, after all. Lady Erima had looked thoroughly put out about that, but he had insisted, as nicely but firmly as he could.
'I, I'm sorry, sir, you can't right now,' Aruetta stammered. 'In a minute, maybe, but '
The door opened wider, not because Aruetta had opened it, but because someone had come up behind her and jerked it away from her. It was Millerna, looking as though she too had only just got up. She was not made up, her hair was in a loose braid and she was wearing a dressing-gown. Her manner, though, was alert and brisk. Allen was struck again by how much more confident and self-possessed she had become. He sometimes wondered if that was Dryden's influence on her, which was a very discomfiting thought. He did not want to think Dryden had that much of an effect on her.
'Just wait outside,' she said. 'We'll let you in as soon as possible.'
'Princess, what are you doing here?' Allen asked, bewildered. 'What's happening?'
'She's not very well, but everything's under control,' Millerna said. 'Really. Give us a minute, all right? Aruetta, go and tell my father I want to speak to him immediately I'm finished here.'
'Tell the King?' Aruetta squeaked. 'Tell him?' She looked as though she doubted that such a thing were possible.
'Go on,' Millerna said. 'I can deal with things here.' Aruetta turned sideways and came out of the door, forcing Allen and Lady Erima to step back. She curtsied awkwardly to them; she was still in her nightshirt. She looked up shyly, found Allen was looking at her, reddened again and took off running. Allen tried to look over Millerna's shoulder into the room, but she was already closing the door again and all he could see was the wallpaper. Then the door shut in his face.
'Well!' said Lady Erima. 'I don't know what's going on here, but it would appear that your precious sister sows discord wherever she goes.'
Allen stared at her. 'Someone is sick, and that's all you can say? Show some consideration!'
She drew herself up and sniffed at him. 'You can wait here,' she said brusquely, and walked away.
Allen raised his hands, then let them fall to his sides. He felt completely helpless; everyone knew more than him, and what he did know was useless.
Celena had been woken up by Aruetta lighting a candle. The soft scratch of the match was enough to bring her out of the light, unrestful doze she had been in.
'Good morning,' Aruetta said, standing by the bed, candlestick in hand. 'No more bad dreams, I hope?'
'No more dreams,' Celena replied. 'So it's morning?'
'I said so, didn't I? Come on. Up's a daisy.' Aruetta turned away to start lighting the lamps. She heard the heavy rustle of Celena pushing back the eiderdown. There was a silence, then a broken gasp from Celena.
'I ... I've bled again.'
'You do sometimes get little leaks at night,' Aruetta said calmly. 'Don't worry. We'll just get clean sheets. It washes out in cold water.' But even as she was speaking, she thought there had been a note of panic in Celena's voice, and she turned around. 'Oh my goodness.'
There was far too much blood. It stained the sheet around Celena dark red, and there were blotches all over her night-gown from the waist down. It looked as though someone had stabbed her in the night. Celena stared at it in dull horror. She was so pale that her skin looked yellowish, and there were grey shadows under her eyes. 'I am dying,' she said softly.
'Oh my goodness,' Aruetta repeated blankly. 'That's really not normal. That's, that's awful. Oh Celena, does it hurt?' She didn't reply, but lay back down, pulling the eiderdown over herself, pulling it up to her chin and clutching it tightly. She stared fixedly at the ceiling and thought, This is disgusting. I'm disgusting.
'I could smell blood but I didn't realise how much ... I'm calling a doctor,' Aruetta said, making up her mind and heading for the speaking tube.
'Don't! Please, don't.' Celena's voice was pleading.
'Well, what do you want? I can't not do anything. I'm responsible for you. You've got to see a doctor.'
Something Gaddes had said came back to Celena. It almost pained her to think about him here and now, and it was frightening how distant the memory was, but it was there and she could use it.
'I'll see Princess Millerna. She's a doctor, isn't she? I know she saved Allen's life once.'
'I don't know if she's fully qualified,' Aruetta said fretfully. 'But I'll see if she'll come.'
This meant writing a long, polite note to the princess, calling a page via the speaking tube, waiting for him to arrive, and waiting for him to deliver the note.
'I'm not leaving you alone,' Aruetta said. She had lit all the lamps now, and was fidgeting about. She did not quite dare to touch Celena in case she made her worse somehow, or disturbed things that would tell Millerna what was wrong, so she really had nothing to do but worry. 'Do you want a drink of water? Is there anything I can do?'
Quite soon after the page left, there was a brisk knock at the door. Aruetta ran to open it, and Millerna walked straight in, still in her night-clothes, carrying a blue medical bag.
'I came as soon as I heard,' she said. 'Don't worry, Celena, you're going to be all right. Let me see the problem.' She pulled back the covers with a professional air, and blenched slightly at the mess. But she went on to examine Celena in an entirely competent way. Celena followed instructions and answered gentle, clinical questions with a feeling of dull misery. Nothing could be more different from the dinner party, when she thought she had made a good impression, when Allen had looked proud of her, when, despite curious looks from a few of the guests, she had not attracted unusual or hostile attention. The golden-haired princess had smiled at her and treated her like a welcome guest.
And now she has to see me like this. Like I really am. I'm such a mess! It's not normal. It must be repulsive. She might pity me after this but she'll never like me. How can I expect Gaddes to love a person like this? There's only Allen left, and he has to love me because he's my brother! He probably wishes he could get rid of me again. I'm nothing but trouble. He's been so kind to me and I've just gotten him into more trouble and nothing's going to work out right.
A sob escaped her, a stupid, embarrassing sob. Millerna looked up; she was giving her a careful sponge bath while Aruetta held a bowl of warm water.
'Does it hurt? You said before it wasn't painful.'
'No, it doesn't hurt at all.' Celena sniffed fiercely, but now the tears had started they seemed to be another uncontrollable leak.
'It's extremely strange,' said Millerna, putting the sponge back in the bowl. 'I can't find anything wrong, certainly no physical injuries. You don't have a fever or rash, your glands are fine, you say you don't have any pains and as far as I can tell, you're not bleeding any more. It isn't at all like a haemmhorage. It's as though you had one very heavy flux, all in a few hours, rather than over a few days. This is a remarkable amount of blood in any case, which would explain why you look so washed-out. But I really can't tell what's caused this. Ideally, I'd like to keep you under observation see what happens next month, I suppose. It could be just a settling-in thing, although, again, I don't understand why it would take this form. I'm afraid that, given your rather unique circumstances, it's hard to predict how things will go.'
'You mean this could happen every month?' Celena asked, horrified.
'I just don't know. You could take the view that it's convenient to get it out of the way so quickly, I suppose.'
'I probably won't live to see it happen again anyway,' Celena said.
'Don't talk like that. I'm on your side.' Millerna spoke sternly, but she was smiling.
'How can you be? I mean, really. You're a princess of Asturia. You know what I was.'
'The important word in that is was,' Millerna said. 'I admit I wasn't sure about you at first, but I trust Allen, and he trusts you. And I can't see someone in as much trouble as you are without feeling I should try to help. Why do you think I studied medicine? So I could do something practical to help. You didn't get to talk much to my sister at the dinner party, did you? She doesn't talk much anyway. But she sees things very differently to me; she has ideas about helping people indirectly, through status somehow. I'm not sure how that's supposed to work because as I see it the only way to help people is to do things.'
'Yes, but then why are you helping me? Aren't there lots of people who need it more? When we were coming into the city I saw refugee camps and so many ruined houses '
'I do do things to help them,' Millerna said. 'Listen, if you feel badly about what happened ... and I get the impression that you do, although to my mind it wasn't your fault ... you could too. They always want volunteers at the camps. You can't rebuild the city, but you could help the people who are doing it.'
'Could I really?' Celena said. It seemed outside the bounds of possibility. 'But they wouldn't let me out.' She hated herself for sounding so weak but it was how she felt. Am I even the same person who borrowed Allen's clothes and challenged Gaddes? Haven't I got any gumption left?
'They will,' Millerna said, and smiled again. It was a sweet smile but there was steel behind it. 'I'm going to make the most terrible fuss. For one thing, I'm going to get you moved to my rooms where I can keep an eye on you. I want you to rest for a while before you attempt anything energetic. When you're feeling strong we can start on new projects.'
'What about the trial?' Aruetta asked. 'They told me it was going to be quite soon.'
'It'll be a little while yet,' Millerna said. 'They want to really publicise it. They're hoping for people to come from all over the country, and Fanelia and Freid too, so they need to allow for travelling time. Father wants to be seen as a really prominent leader in the brave new post-war world. That's the phrase his councillors use. And a show trial like this, as far as he's concerned, is a wonderful opportunity to show off how wise and leaderly he is.' She made a little face as though she tasted something nasty.
'I thought it was about me,' Celena said, feeling insulted somehow. There was a knock at the door then, and Aruetta went to answer it. She did not seem to be dealing well with whoever it was, so Millerna went to join her at the door. Celena pulled the quilt up again and lay still, watching their backs. She gathered from what she could hear that Allen had come to see her, which gave her mixed feelings of utter gladness and odd shame. She was clean now, but she was still in a blood-stained night-gown, and she did not want to meet Allen like this. She found herself thinking of how white his gloves always were. That did not fit with someone as disgracefully messy as she felt herself to be.
Aruetta went out and Millerna shut the door.
'Up you get,' she said cheerfully, turning to Celena. 'When you're dressed we'll walk along to my room, and you and Allen can have a nice long talk while I go and cajole my father. I'll start with cajolery and if that doesn't work I'll make dire threats.' She picked up Celena's underclothes, which Aruetta had hung over the back of the chair, and tossed them to her.
'We'll get you fresh things too,' she promised.
A few minutes later, Celena Schezar emerged from the small room where she had been kept, and threw her arms around her brother, who was waiting for her.
That evening, another anonymous room was quietly filled by people who were really, or at least officially, elsewhere. No-one looked directly at anyone else; they somehow felt that eye contact did not fit the situation. No-one, and this was important, said 'I' or 'me.' This was not a time or place for individuality.
'This is a disturbing new development,' said one figure, standing by the curtained window. 'Has everyone read the reports?'
There was a blurred chorus of yesses.
'We were not warned that there might be physical disruptions of this kind,' someone else said, and there were several murmurs of agreement, with a tinge of indignation.
'It was not possible to predict,' another voice said, smoothly. 'This is the first reversion it has been possible to observe for this period of time. It is not surprising, however, that it should become unstable. There were other reversions during the early trials, none of which survived.'
'You should have said,' the second speaker muttered. 'Now the younger Princess has taken up her cause. This is very inconvenient.'
'Given the subject's apparent stability, we did not wish to give alarmist warnings when continued stability was quite probable. Doubt would not help the situation. In any case, the manner of failure would not be predictable. Each reversion failed in a different way. There was one case of internal bleeding, but the biological processes concerned are quite different.' The smooth voice was confident and inexpressive.
'Well, what do we do now? Your "subject" is now sitting down to dinner in the Princess' apartments. So much for environmental controls.'
'Given the circumstances, we recommend that you abandon the period of psychological preparation and proceed to the trial. The trial date should be brought forward in accordance with this. Too long a delay would permit the establishment of a dangerously firm network of liaisons. This would be harmful from any perspective.'
'The trial date will not be changed,' said a quiet, firm voice which had not spoken before. Unlike the other voices, it might have been female, but no-one present was prepared to speculate about that. Everyone waited for it to say something more, but it did not. Apparently, it felt that this refusal was enough in itself.
'This is our strongest recommendation,' said the smooth voice.
'All your recommendations are taken into consideration. The trial date will not be changed. King Aston is very firm on this point.' The quiet voice was implacable.
'Perhaps King Aston does not fully understand how a matter like this works,' said the smooth voice. It sounded very slightly patronising now, but an acute observer might have detected an undertone of tension. 'In addition, we wish to register our concern at His Majesty's choice of attendant. This introduces an unwelcome random factor. We ourselves have learned from experience in this field. Particularly with this subject, the choice could be problematic.'
'His Majesty's decisions are final,' replied the quiet one. 'He is King here.'
There was a short pause. Though the room was too dark for any of the speakers to see one another clearly, one might have gotten the impression that the two were staring one another out. The smooth speaker broke first.
'We do not question the King's judgement. We operate merely in an expert advisory capacity.'
'So,' said the one by the curtains, 'we proceed and hope for the best?'
'We do not hope. We believe.'
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