Categories > Anime/Manga > Escaflowne > In the Shadow of the Flames

Chapter 3

by BeccaStareyes 0 reviews

Allen arrives on the border in time for an attack by their rogue. But Celena has her own plans...

Category: Escaflowne - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Allen - Warnings: [!!!] [V] - Published: 2010-10-01 - Updated: 2010-10-01 - 3623 words - Complete

By the time Allen had reached the border, he had only wanted to drop Sir Dahlgren off the airship twice, which counted as remarkable patience on his part. The young man seemed to have some ability to tell when his long question-and-answer sessions were getting boring, and Allen found he could pass off in-air maintenance, under Gaddes’s supervision, as an excuse to learn in practice what the young man knew in theory. It was the age-old excuse of drill sergeants and knights to get the routine chores done in a timely fashion.

What was more frustrating was that he’d go to check on progress and find Celena working in borrowed clothing alongside his men. The Crusade was a bit shorthanded, and he had told Celena she could help with meal preparation in the air, since it was a safe, womanly thing that would keep her out from underfoot. And it wasn’t like Celena’s cooking was any worse than the men’s. Really air rations were designed to keep well and be nourishing enough to let a man fight on them, and taste was a distant third at best.

By the time they landed at Green River Garrison, Sir Dahlgren’s post, Allen would be happy to take a day grounded and free from the confines of an airship to plan his patrols. The queen had ordered him to coordinate over the entire border, and that couldn’t be done easily by the seat of his pants. Thankfully, Sir Dahlgren was happy to provide use of his charts.

Allen spread a map out onto the table in Sir Dahlgren’s quarters. He had to admit, it was a nice bit of cartography -- based on the standard grade one printed in Palas for military use, but someone had sketched in notes about air currents and elevations in colored ink over the terrain. Very handy for airships. “Hmm,” Allen said. “Did you do this?” He tapped at one of the denser spots, a tricky canyon passage where the river twisted down from the mountains.

“Yes. Modern warfare is a special interest of mine,” Sir Dahlgren said. “On my patrols, I’ve been updating the charts while I take my melef out.”

Allen frowned. “Not at the expense of your duties, I hope.”

“Of course not!” Sir Dahlgren said quickly. “Until this recent incursion, things have been mostly quiet. Most trouble can be dealt with by a small group of the men, or the village militias around here.”

“So you decided machinery-friendly cartography would make an interesting hobby.” Weird man, but Allen wasn’t going to argue with him since it would make his job easier when he was in range of Dahlgren’s maps.

“I really do think melefs and airships are the future of modern warfare,” Dahlgren started in on a speech that Allen had heard at least two times on the way here. It sounded more like something that should be given to the generals and the queen, and Allen was starting to be able to recite bits of it himself.

The good news was that he didn’t need to cut off Sir Dahlgren’s speech with a reminder that the young man was repeating himself again. The bad news was because both of them looked up to hear a thunderous voice coming down the hallway toward the room.

The door was thrown open. “What is the meaning of this?” Duke Veris stormed up to the table, and Allen quickly rolled up the map, lest it be damaged.

“What is the meaning of what?” Allen asked, before Sir Dahlgren could say anything. The younger man looked rather like a deer facing down a pack of wolves, so Allen figured he should step in. Maybe try the old Schezar charm, though that was less useful in calming irate nobles than it was in... well, charming them.

He saw one of Dahlgren’s soldiers slip in behind Veris. The soldier saluted. “Sorry, sir. I couldn’t stop him.”

“This... this goon refused to allow the Paradise to dock,” Veris pointed at the soldier, who had assumed a bland ‘standing at attention’ pose.

Allen glanced at Sir Dahlgren again. “The /Paradise/?”

“It’s His Grace’s airship,” Sir Dahlgren answered, before Veris could explain. “The garrison is the only place in the duchy where airship repairs can be done, so we’ve serviced it before.”

“I see...” Allen nodded. “There is only one dock in the garrison, Your Grace, and the /Crusade/, my own airship, is currently there until we arrange our patrols, as Her Majesty requested.”

“And how is that going, Sir Schezar?” Veris put his hand on the table, leaning on it. “You are serious about this new threat, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” Allen replied. “Which is why I am trusting that the fine men stationed on the border now to hold the line.” Truthfully, he was rushing though his preparations as quickly as possible, but something about Duke Veris made him want to dawdle. He quashed that thought quickly -- disrespect for lawful authority was unsuited to a knight, even when the authority was a pompous ass. “We are nearly done, and then I and the Crusade will be in the air. Barring a catastrophic accident or an attack, we will not be back for some time -- this is not a central location for the attacks.”

There was a loud clang, as if someone was banging a metal platter outside. “That’s the alarm,” Sir Dahlgren said. “The men on lookout or a patrol must have spotted something.”

Could it be their suspect already? “Sir Dahlgren, I hope you won’t mind if my men and I follow yours as you check this out.”

“Of course not,” Sir Dahlgren replied. “But, if you’ll excuse me, I need to ready the men and my own guymelef.”

“I’ll meet you in Scherezade, with the Crusade as support.” The airship itself wasn’t front-line combat capable, but would help in scouting from the air.

Sir Dahlgren saluted. “Right. Duke Veris, given the situation, you and your party should remain in the garrison. I’ll be leaving a force here to keep the base secure, so it will be safest to remain inside.”

“But-” Duke Veris was cut off and Sir Dahlgren and Allen hurried out, Allen’s head already converting maps to expectations of the terrain.


Celena didn’t remember much about Asturian garrisons, but there was some logic to many military posts. Unfortunately, there was always the problem that one of the pieces of logic was the trade-off to make garrisons easy to navigate by the locals, but hard by any would-be invaders. But, if she was careful, she could sneak out of the Crusade by offering to run errands to the mess for the crew, and then take some time to look around. If she was caught, and she was, sometimes, she could claim being lost.

She had learned something about the Green River Garrison from this -- at least where everything was, from the barracks to where the melef were kept. And something about the people, mostly from gossip. Sir Laurent Dahlgren was young, newly knighted, and only posted here after the war, and half of his men thought he was better suited to be a merchant or scholar than a knight. The other half had seen him in a guymelef, and had to admit that their wet-behind-the-ears knight had something going for him.

There was also political talk -- something about how much the local duke would cooperate with ‘the new queen’. From what Celena had heard, the duke had gotten along with the old king, but was disdainful of Queen Millerna's abilities and suspicious about King Dryden's motives and his absence at court. He also thought Zaibach and Fanelia and most of the rest of Asturia's neighbors were threats. Perhaps fair to worry about the unstable northern and western borders, but the war-ravaged countries themselves were less of a threat than the brigands and former soldiers using the chaos as an excuse to start trouble. She made a note to avoid the duke if she ever met him, unless she was prepared to deal with such an odious person.

And, of course, there was the standard gossip about drinking and wenching and petty arguments that the men of the Crusade also did when they thought she couldn’t hear, and Brother wasn’t around to insist they police their words around his sister.

Celena had been wandering near the melefs when she heard the alarm, a clanging noise made by beating a metal bell with a stick. Suddenly the slow but productive activity of soldiers doing routine duty changed as everyone snapped to attention. She felt her own body tense up, and was heading towards the parked melefs before she realized her feet were moving. Battle-trained reflexes were hard to break.

But not impossible. She moved back towards the shadows and considered. Stealing a melef would be an exceptionally dumb thing to do. She had never used an Asturian model, so would be far less useful than any of these soldiers. And there’d be trouble afterward.

A crowd of men passed her, and Celena paused in her motion to see if they were talking about anything interesting.

"Think it's a drill?" a man with a thick mustache said.

"Maybe," another replied, with a snort. "With this Zaibach guymelef pilot around, no one's taking chances."

"Or it could be for real," a third, with an impressive scar just missing his right eye said. "We're not that far from Greenford, and places near there were hit."

The second man shook his head. "Most of the attacks were to the east. Unless our mystery pilot wants to play in Fanelia now that Asturia's gotten boring."

"Good riddance," Mustache said. "Let Fanelia deal with him."

"He'd just come back," Scar replied. "There's nothing in Fanelia except tribes of beastmen and dragons. I heard from my cousin that most of the people packed up when Zaibach torched their capital and are squatting on our borders."

"Quit being such a pessimist," Nondescript replied. "Maybe Fanelia will take care of the problem. They like Zaibach even less than us."

"And maybe wings will sprout out of my ass and I'll fly to the Mystic Moon," Scar replied. They were walking away from her, and Celena could barely make out that last expression. She remembered it for later, when Brother was definitely not in earshot.

The queen had told her there was a free Alseides pilot. That must be what the men were talking about. Knowing him, Brother would be on his way back to the Crusade right now, to prep Scherezade. Gaddes would tell him that he had sent her to the mess, so he'd probably assume she would stay in the garrison if he didn't see her on the /Crusade/. He had said as much to her -- if there was trouble, she was to disembark and stay safe and surrounded by the garrison walls.

She moved close enough to see into the cockpit of one of the melefs. It looked different than what she was used to -- the controls deceptively simple, made like a clockwork suit of armor, instead of the damp, closed-in interior of an Alseides. But, she thought she could pilot it, even in a dress.

Her ears kept pricking, expecting a soldier to tell her to take shelter and get away from his guymelef. /I could take this as a sign/, Celena thought, but after a moment, she shook her head. /Be honest, Celena/. She wanted to be out there, to protect her brother and her home from this intrusion from her past. And she knew there was no way to do so legitimately. So, that left stealing Asturian military property, and hoping that the guymelef she picked was from some soldier on the sick list.

Celena was prepared to face the alternative, for Brother's safety. She slid into the pilot's chair, and hunted for the controls that would close the guymelef up and send it marching off to battle.

She managed to make it outside without running into a wall. A near miss with the door caused one of the ground men working the doors to the melef armory to call out a warning. Had it been the Dragonslayers, she would have raked the pilot over the coals for damaging military equipment in such a stupid matter. No, Dilandau would; Celena wasn't as angry any more.

A half-dozen melefs assembled outside. Was she late? It would suit her purposes just fine. No need to respond to extended orders. If they were already moving out, she could be sent out in reserve, or, in the worst case, she could just be sent back to the stable. If she was sent to catch up, she could easily slip away if she had to.

She recognized Scherezade easy, near the center. As she approached -- working the pedals in a sequence which was coming back to her like walking -- it turned towards her and the faceplate slid back, showing Brother's annoyed face. "You're going to have to be faster, Dahlgren, if you want to be a field commander. People are in danger, and we can't waste time."

Dahlgren? Shit, the guymelef she had picked out belonged to the outpost's knight-commander. She had to have picked a melef where everyone would know who should be in the chair, and would be expecting orders. In the right voice.

"Smoke was spotted, so I gave orders to your squad leaders to bring their men in from the left and right. We'll be forming a half circle, but the Crusade can then loop around to cut off the far side. Scherezade has gone up against Alseides units before, so I'll be taking point. Since you've decided to join us," and this was said with a tone of sarcasm that Brother would never take with her if he knew, "I trust you can lead me there post haste and watch my back?"

She nodded. There was a tiny thrill about being asked to fight alongside Brother, even if he wasn't asking her at all, really. There were a few signals she could do without speaking in a melef, so she signed 'yes' and started walking. She could fake expertise in melef woodsmanship, or trust that Brother thought Dahlgren was a bit green.

The air felt different when she started moving, like she had stepped outside of a stuffy room she hadn't even known she had been sitting in. Even above the machine-oil scent of the guymelefs as they strode, she could smell the scent of pine resin and mulch. The forest was full with the alarm calls of birds and Scherezade and her own guymelef's footsteps. It made Celena feel watchful. Without Zaibach's stealth cloaks and flight capabilities, it was hard to take an opponent by surprise, and Celena hoped that the experimental technology had been secured better than the melefs.

Brother didn't speak over the sound of their walking. There wasn't much to say. They were moving towards a possible fight, and any effort should be spent arriving in time to do something, even if it was only to prevent their enemy from fleeing again. He was gaining ground on her, as her muscles were already starting to ache a bit from the odd motion. Piloting an Asturian melef was more taxing than a Zaibach unit would be, and she hadn't been exercising properly. Celena made a note that when they got back, she would find a way, any way, to build up her endurance again. And learn to use one of these properly, rather than going by trial-and-error from a foreign design.

She had seen the plume of smoke from the garrison, but she started to smell it, too, the pure, sharp scent of woodsmoke, instead of the roasted-meat odor of burning corpses. She had developed the ability, from long exposure, to tell different 'burning smells' apart, something that distinctly reduced her appetite for roasts now.

She gave a 'hurry' sound and found a new burst of energy. She felt her gait alter as she shifted into a new rhythm. Brother was still leaving her behind, and she was going to take her job as his second seriously.


It was an Alseides unit, not that Allen had expected anything less. It was still unpainted gray, with no distinguishing insignia, though bright scratches showed it was hardly new. He caught the bright metal of the Crima claws as they caught a large tree and tore it, in several pieces, out of the ground. Allen couldn't see any survivors and hoped any had fled. From the smoldering ruins of what once was a logging camp, Allen couldn't tell if they had crossed into Fanelia yet. His own best guess at the distance put them a stone's throw from the border.

Dahlgren had fallen behind. The man wasn't as good in a guymelef as Allen might have hoped from their earlier conversations. Smart, though; he'd wait for any opening Allen could give him. Let the enemy think only one guymelef had approached them, then Dahlgren or his men could surprise the pilot.

He drew Scherezade's sword, and charged, hoping to catch the pilot before he turned around. Alseides had the advantage at range, and could easily turn the surrounding forest into even more of an inferno. If this stayed a one-on-one fight, Allen would need to keep his quarry in his grasp.

Whoever was piloting the thing, he was good. The enemy pilot quickly brought up his own weapon to parry Allen's blow, hard enough that Allen heard Scherezade's machinery grind. The corner of Allen's mouth twitched up a bit. The battle was joined.

He let himself sink into the rhythm of the fight, his vision collapsing just enough to give him awareness of the trees around him. The singular nice thing about a fight like this was that he didn't need to worry about the large scale. It was like a duel, if a duel had no rules.

"Finally, Asturia has gotten off their asses and sent someone competent?" Allen heard the pilot yell during combat. Whoever, he was, he didn't sound like much more than a boy. He shouldn't be surprised. Zaibach showed they would use conscripted children in their experiments, and on the battlefield. But he hesitated, just for a moment, and the pilot managed to trap Scherezade's blade between his guymelef's claws.

A flash of color, and he saw Dahlgren's guymelef deliver a blow that scraped across the Alseides' skin, not doing much more than scoring the hull. The enemy laughed. "Someone's cheating," he said. "But it looks like your second isn't any good."

The distraction had been enough for Allen to wrest his guymelef's sword free, and return to his old stance. "Good enough," he muttered, then raised his voice "Dahlgren! If you can't help, keep the hell out of the fight!"

"Are you sure about that?" the enemy pilot said. "If he can't be useful, then maybe he can be a human shield for you, Sir Knight." The Alseides stepped back, a surprisingly graceful maneuver assisted by the flight engines on board, and shoved Sir Dahlgren's guymelef forward. Allen caught the sound of strained metal, and, above that, a stifled yelp too high-pitched to be a man's.

His gut reacted before he quite registered what he had heard, sending a cold shiver up his spine and his muscles already moving to position to protect the stumbling guymelef. But his brain was only a breath behind. "Celena!?"

What the hell was she doing in there? She should be in the garrison's mess, where Gaddes had said he'd sent her. It didn't matter though. The point was what had been a simple fight with an enemy soldier with a green support unit had turned into something much more dangerous. No wonder 'Dahlgren' had been so clumsy and quiet. He was surprised Celena had figured out how to walk in a guymelef.

He wanted to interrogate her, and to demand that she leave the guymelef this instant. But to do so under fire would be suicide, for both of them. "Stay where you are. I have this."

He maneuvered between the Alseides and Celena, who was slowly righting the guymelef. He kept catching glances of motion out of the corner of his field of view, and had to hold back from guarding against every shift and step. The Alseides pilot was growing bolder, obviously seeing that he was keeping himself in between him and Celena.

"Where is that backup?" Allen muttered between gasps of breath. Surely it couldn't take that long to bring people around from the flanks. He was slowing, and he knew that one of the blows was going to land sooner or later.

Celena's borrowed guymelef was on its feet again, he saw move towards the Alseides. "Celena! Wrong way!" Allen nearly unbalanced Scherezade in his haste to bring the guymelef around between her and the enemy. He re-balanced first, then brought the arms up to parry an incoming blow.

Too slow. Allen heard the wrench of metal and felt a jab of pain in his side so hard he nearly blacked out. He could feel the guymelef tipping as he lost his balance, falling to the ground with a jolt that caused him to stifle a cry by biting his own tongue, and he wondered, in a detached sort of way, when the finishing blow would come.

He couldn't see outside but for glimpses, but he could hear Celena screaming.
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