Scars on the Heart
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne

By Sarah Dove

Chapter Eleven

There was a sort of communal gasp from the crowd from the courtroom, and several screams. Celena saw Millerna throw her arms around Chid protectively; Allen saw too, and seemed further torn about whether to go to them or stay where he was. Van drew his sword, his armour clanking, and stood ready. Celena watched them all with a strange sense of detachment. I'm going out of their world again. Oh, it's bad this time. The sorcerors moved around their machinery like tall thin inkblots; she could hear steam, and liquid pouring. It must be a scaled-down version of the kind of devices they'd had in the capital; enough to work on one person, one who was already weakened.

'Our allies, the surviving sorcerors of Zaibach, will show you!' Eries cried. 'You can see her change!'

Celena felt popping inside her head; she suspected terrible things were happening to her inner ears, and a swirling loss of balance confirmed it. She grabbed Justice round the waist, but her grip was greased by sweat and she slid down the plinth, scrabbling and twitching. The worst pain she'd ever felt seized her; it was Dilandau's Alseides nightmare in reverse, it was as though she was the Alseides and someone too big was in the control chamber, growing out, ready to burst her. I'm gonna die. Gaddes, Allen… I'm alone. A moment of rupture came. She felt a physical bursting and tearing, but somehow it was not happening to her. Oh merciful mother, let it be quick.

The pain went away. It went so completely that it left a palpable physical absence, like the lightness you feel when you let go of something heavy. That's it. I'm dead. It's actually kind of nice. I'm just like the others…

'Biore,' she croaked. 'Chesta? Gatti? Migel? I'm coming. Wait for me, I'm coming.' There was air in her throat. There was stone under her cheek. Did stone and air exist in death as well? She found she still had eyes to open. Her lids felt sticky. She opened them and looked into her own eyes.

Shit. Death is going to be another freaky dream. But… they're not my eyes… my eyes are blue… She blinked hard and the eyes, the face came into focus. They were not hers, her memory was fooling her. Lying beside her, awkwardly sprawled at the base of the statue, was Dilandau Albatou. He was in full armour, all his deadly, gorgeous black and red. That came out of me? No wonder it hurt. They stared at each other, breathing hard.

'The Dragonslayers are dead,' Dilandau told her. He pushed himself up on his arms, rolled over, stared out at the crowd. They were staring back, white-faced and wide-eyed. Eries was looking uncertain.

'Is it supposed to go like that?' she asked.

'We were afraid of this,' said a sorceror. 'You left her too long. A new destiny has been established; full reversion is no longer possible. Since the new identity is fully viable but the old one is not fully purged, this doubling is the result.' He looked at Celena and Dilandau as though they were an unfortunate accident.

'B-but we've still got Dilandau,' Eries said. She said it as though she wanted it confirmed.

'This clears Celena!' Allen exclaimed. 'You can have Dilandau. Punish him. I'll take Celena home.' He started forward but Eries elbowed him back.

'Oh no,' she said. 'I'm not wasting him; he's perfect. Look at him.'

Celena grabbed Dilandau's wrist. 'These people will kill you,' she said. She wasn't sure if she was warning him; it was just that it seemed too cruel not to let him know. He didn't seem to listen; he was gazing at the crowd.

'Hey, there's Van,' he said. 'How about if I kill him for old times' sake?' He reached for his sword.

'Stop that! Leave him alone, you've hurt him enough.' Dilandau stared at her. God, he's got scary eyes. He was in me… was I ever really in there?

'Look at what he did to me!' He jabbed at the scar on his cheek. The corner of his eye jumped slightly.

'Stop!' said Eries. 'Dilandau, it's going to be all right. We want you; we need you. You're going to fight for Asturia. From the ashes of Zaibach, we've taken the brightest ember. Look. We have your melef here.' She waved a hand; one of the sorcerors did something with a device he was holding. It decloaked; an Oreades, or rather parts of two Oreades, scavenged from the battlefield and cannibalised together. About two thirds of it was indeed Dilandau's red one, scarred and dented. 'I know it doesn't look good now,' she said, 'but we're going to build you a new one, a better one. I thought golden, instead of red.' She was smiling very brightly now, holding out her hands to him, bending toward him like a gentle mother.

Dilandau looked at her suspiciously, at the crowd, at the sorcerors, at Celena. He began to grin.

'You're giving it back? You want me to fight again?' He didn't wait for an answer, but ran to the Oreades, swung up its leg, climbing like a monkey, and dropped into the control chamber.

'What do you think you're doing? Stop him!' Van cried. No-one seemed able to move, though; looking at the fate engine, Celena saw it was still bubbling and whirring. Probably that had something to do with it; a weak inhibitory field, the reverse of the Zone of Absolute Fortune. Dilandau was flexing the Oreades' limbs, settling in. Eries approached him, trembling, holding up her hands, eyes shining.

'You'll protect us,' she said. 'We'll have stability, power, control. And you'll have… well, what you want, what you've always lived for.'

'Yeah,' said Dilandau, his voice booming with echoes from inside the machine. 'Thanks for that.' The Oreades extended an arm. There was a single bright glint. Princess Eries flinched and fell, pierced through the heart by a shard of liquid metal. Millerna screamed; people began to move, but everything was too slow, everything except the Oreades. A twisted scimitar of liquid metal formed at the end of its right arm and Dilandau brought it down and through the fate engine like a scythe. Glass and metal flew through the air; fire burst out in clouds. Celena could hear him laughing joyously. People were falling, running. She saw a sorceror running in circles wrapped in flames. Another lay twitching on the ground with a broken glass pipe halfway through him.

The cloak swished closed; the Oreades lept in the air, its legs folding under it, switching to flight mode. It roared into the sky, going so high it was visible only by the sun gleaming off its metal carapace. Down below was hellish. The fire was almost burnt out; on a stone plaza, there was little for it to catch, but it was now producing choking black smoke. People were screaming; some were screaming words, others were just screaming, high and senseless. Celena crouched at the base of the statue. Well, when the real Dilandau turns up, it looks like everyone forgets about me. He killed her just like that. What was going on with her, anyway? What in the world is happening? I can't see anyone I know.

Allen ran out of the smoke and caught her arm. 'Are you all right? Can you walk?' He helped her get to her feet, brushing her hair back from her forehead where it had caught in sweaty tangles, looking anxiously into her face. 'You have a little scrape here on your cheek.'

'I think I'm fine.'

'Thank God.' He hugged her so tightly it hurt. 'What did she think she was doing? How could she think he'd ever be safe?'

'Was she always crazy?' Allen couldn't answer; now Van and Millerna rushed up.

'Has he come down yet?' Van asked.

'I can't tell. Did you bring Escaflowne?' Of course; if anyone could beat Dilandau it was Van in Escaflowne. If Van went after him there was no help for him.

'Of course not! I left it at home! I took the Energist out of it, I didn't expect to need it again.'

'Well, that was nice and symbolic, but at the same time really stupid!' Celena snapped.

'Don't even speak to me! This happened because of you!'

'Leave her alone,' Allen warned. 'I don't want to fight you again.'

'Shut up, shut up, shut up.' Millerna was crying, but not panicking. 'Someone has to stop him. Don't fight, think who.'

'No-one can fight him on foot, and the palace melefs are nowhere near capable of beating an Oreades,' Allen said.

'Are there even any left?' asked Van. 'How many came back from the battle intact?'

'He's going to come down sometime,' Celena said. 'He's still hovering up there. God, I wonder what he's thinking.'

'Wouldn't you know?'

'Shut up, Van,' Millerna sobbed. She sat down on the pavingstones with a bump, as though her legs had let her down. 'Eries…' Allen looked torn between protecting Celena and comforting Millerna, unsure of who needed him more.

'I wish everyone would shut up,' Celena moaned, holding her hands over her ears. 'This noise is bursting my eardrums. What's that buzzing?'

'I think it's…' Van murmured.

'…propellers!' Allen finished for him. Everyone looked up and around, wildly, and Van was the first to spot the Crusade coming in low over the rooftops. It buzzed in and hovered over the plaza, drifting a little, putting the port sail in danger from the buildings bordering the square on the east, the pilot probably confused by the clouds of smoke. Ropes were dropped and the crew swarmed down ... and Gaddes was with them. Celena was so glad to see him she could have burst. She didn't know why he was there, she had no idea what good he could do, but just the sight of him gave her the irrational certainty that things would somehow be all right.

Gaddes found himself swamped by smoke; the others were around him, fanning out, but it was impossible to really tell what had happened; if there had been a bomb or a fire or what. A gust of wind from Crusade's propellers cleared a patch in front of him, and he had just time to see Celena running towards him and brace himself to catch her. She was sooty and there was a red scrape down one side of her face but nothing was going to put him off kissing her.

'What's going on?' he asked as they parted.

'Don't you know? Why did you come? Come on, you've got to help us.' She dragged him on through the smoke towards the statue. 'Gaddes's here!' she yelled to the others.

'Why?' Allen bellowed. Millerna had run off to try to calm people down; he could see her sometimes waving her arms, giving instructions. It looked like Dryden was helping her. He knew he shouldn't be thinking about that now but it really didn't help.

'We just heard the trial was today,' Gaddes said. 'I ... well, we didn't know what we could do, but we just ... it didn't seem like ... we thought if you wanted to escape…' He gestured towards the smoking heap of the fate engine. 'And then we saw that go up and an Oreades shoot up in the air and we just thought shit and sped up and here we are.'

'Is Scherazade on board?' Allen demanded, seeing a sudden hope.

'Yes, ready to go.'

'Then don't stand there ... get her out!' He dashed off to give orders to the crew; Gaddes went to follow him but Celena hauled him back.

'He knows about us,' she said. 'At least he knows enough to figure it out. I haven't had time to find out what he thinks.'

'Oh, crap,' said Gaddes. 'And in the middle of all this? What happened anyway?'

'Princess Eries is crazy but she's dead now and there were some sorcerers and Dilandau is back and Allen has to fight him, has to stop him because Van didn't bring Escaflowne and we couldn't have done anything if you hadn't come. I'm so glad you came.' She kissed him again; it was wasting time but she couldn't help it. They realised Van was still there and staring at them.

'When do you people have time to sleep?' he said.

'Oh, like weird things never happen in Fanelia,' Celena was retorting, when a general shout went up and they turned to see Scherazade kneeling on the plaza. Allen leapt out of the control chamber and ran back to them; they went to him and met half-way.

'Celena,' he said, 'if I don't come back, I love you so very much. And Gaddes, if I don't come back ... well ... Van, whip him for me and make sure he does the right thing by Celena.' He kissed Celena on the cheek and ran back to Scherazade. When he was at its feet, Celena heard a strange high whine. As he began to vault up, some instinct saved her having to look round, saved her a precious instant.

'Allen, look out!'

The Oreades swooped in in a humming curve. Allen had heard Celena, he faltered, lurched to one side. The dart of liquid metal only went through his shoulder. Dilandau was already gone again as he grabbed at a fold of Scherazade's cloak and half swung, half fell to the ground.

Celena tripped on her skirt running to him; scrambled up with a loud rip, reached him and held him. 'Oh Allen ... no ... are you all right?' Not now, no, it was just going to be all right, they came in the nick of time, it was going to be all right!

'I think my arm may be broken,' he began, then had to stop talking and pant raggedly. His sleeve was rapidly turning red, getting soaked.

'I'll get Millerna,' Van said, and took off.

'He just picked me off,' Allen said. 'That wasn't his style… I thought he'd be waiting for a proper fight… now there's no-one who can take him. I'm the only Schezar… no-one else can pilot Scherazade.'

'There's me,' Celena said, at the same moment as Gaddes said 'There's her.'

Millerna arrived, out of breath, mopping at her face with her sleeve. She had started the day in her most formal dress and by now her clothes were a wreck, scorched and dirty, the headdress lost somewhere en route and a long strip of lace hanging out from under the skirt getting in her way. At least she had managed to get some first-aid supplies brought out. She set to work on Allen's shoulder, ripping the shirt to reach the wound, trying not to let her tears fall on it; the salt would sting. He looked close to fainting as it was.

'Go on, then,' he managed to say to Celena.

'Go on what?' Millerna asked.

'She's just going to pop out in Scherazade and try to save us all,' he told her.

'Stop trying to be brave,' she said, but she was smiling a little.

Celena really could not tell how she felt; there was a lot of fear there, but a little thrill of excitement. Do I want to fight again? There was only time to be practical, not to analyse her state of mind. 'I can't do anything in these skirts,' she said. 'Give us that?' She gestured to Gaddes's sword; he gave it to her and she began to saw through skirts and petticoats above the knee. 'Shame to do this to such nice material,' she said, and nearly jabbed herself in the thigh. I'm shaking. But ... twisting to reach the back, hacking through the dangling strip where the ends of the jagged cut didn't overlap ... her legs were free. She cast about for somewhere to hang the sword; Gaddes took off his belt too and gave it to her. She gazed up at Scherazade; glanced down at Allen. His colour was a little better; Millerna's attention must be helping.

'You're going to be all right,' she told him, 'and so am I.' I don't really know what I'm going to do, but… well, I'm going to do. Gaddes put his arms round her from behind, hugged her tight and kissed her on the ear.

'I'm with you,' he said. 'I love you.'

'Love you,' she said; it might be the last time she said it. She kissed his hands, clasped in front of her. 'Here I go.' He let her go.

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