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

Chapter 5

by BeccaStareyes 0 reviews

Siblings unite and both Allen and Celena face their fears before facing the enemy.

Category: Escaflowne - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Allen,Van - Warnings: [!!!] [V] - Published: 2011-01-07 - Updated: 2011-01-07 - 5343 words - Complete

Someone had found a couple of planks of wood, with enough stains to make Allen wonder what they had been in a previous life, to drag in front of Allen's bed. Sir Dahlgren had dragged out one of his meticulous charts, but it didn't dismiss the impromptu feeling of the meeting, with a knight, a duke and a king sitting balanced on the flimsy stools surrounding Allen's bed and Celena hovering near Allen's injured side, in case he needed an extra pair of hands.

Allen tried to ignore the looks Veris was giving Van. As far as he knew, the duke had never been into Fanelia, but he must have some dealings, since his duchy was on the border. Perhaps poor ones, given the expression. Allen wondered if they could get away with kicking him out, as a civilian, but probably not, if they wanted Van to stay. Van for his part was ignoring him to focus on the charts, so Allen decided to wait until the duke did something besides scowl.

Sir Dahlgren placed a number of blue and red wooden blocks on the garrison, and one, dyed yellow-gold, out in the woods. "So, this is the situation. The Fanelian scouts reported that the Zaibach guymelef was damaged in the last fight, so he'll probably stay in the area."

"Are you sure about that?" Veris asked.

"We know what damage looks like," Van replied. "Unless you not only missed a guymelef but a floating fortress, it won't be able to do much until it's repaired. Which would mean finding at least a mining town with a blacksmith, for ore and a forge."

"We missed?" Veris replied. "Watch your tongue, Fanelian."

Allen sighed -- not even a minute into the conversation. "Gentlemen. We can all be certain that all mobile Zaibach bases of that caliber have been destroyed. And their static workshops are guarded by the occupying army." What survived of them. Between sabotage by the troops stationed there and looting by the occupying armies, most of them were in a sorry condition. Between here and Zaibach's capital, one could be lucky to find equipment enough to repair farm tools, let alone a guymelef.

Sir Dahlgren nodded. "Which means either the enemy pilot has to risk heading back along the border to an unguarded town, or he has to attack here." He pointed to the map, higher in the foothills. "Besides this garrison, Green Falls would be the only place he would be able to effect repairs, if he stays in the area."

"What if he doesn't?" Van said.

"It would be the only rational thing to do, if he doesn't abandon his guymelef," Sir Dahlgren replied. "And, should he abandon the guymelef, he becomes much less of a threat."

"Zaibach soldiers aren't always known for being rational," Van said. "He might hit here, just to get back at us for damaging his equipment."

"That would be suicide." Sir Dahlgren frowned.

Celena reached over to pick up a blue wooden disc. "Each of these represents a melef, right?"

"I told you, Sir Schezar, you shouldn't have this woman here," Duke Veris hissed.

"If I had both arms, she wouldn't be," Allen whispered back, "unless you want to fetch and carry for me."

"Yes, that's right," Sir Dahlgren didn't hear their conversation. "Red for Fanelia, blue for us. We have the two melefs His Majesty brought, the four remaining here, my own guymelef, and Scherezade, which should be repaired enough to be functional." He frowned. "As long as no one hits the right side again. The armor will be weak if we rush repairs."

Allen nodded. "Guymelefs repair quicker than men do. But we're still down a pilot."

"We lost two men on the enemy's retreat," Sir Dahlgren replied. "Even with the damage, he could still take out a melef and its pilot."

"And ours aren't that much better that yours in that respect," Van replied. "They're what we've recovered since the war."

"It explains their looks," Duke Veris muttered. Allen sighed. Could the man not go a minute without trying to make Van lose his temper?

Van stared at him. "I'd rather functional than pretty at this point."

"Van could borrow Scherezade from me," Allen said. "He's more than competent at guymelef piloting, and should be able to pick up the differences in Asturian design quickly."

Van nodded, and Allen saw Sir Dahlgren turn towards the Fanelian king, probably to make a note to bother him about Fanelian melef technology. Allen decided to not mention Escaflowne to Dahlgren, if the man had somehow come out of the war without knowing about Fanelia's secret weapon. If a guymelef aficionado like Dahlgren found the only living person who had flown an Ispano design, he might try to emigrate on the spot to follow Van home.

"Absolutely not," Duke Veris replied, crossing his arms. "I will take it as hostile intent if Fanelia even breathes on Asturian military technology."

The four of them stared at him. "You can't be serious," Allen was the first to speak, beating Van by mere seconds. "Fanelia is an ally of ours, and Van is a personal friend of mine. And it's not like he hasn't been a guest on the /Crusade/."

"He was also no friend of the old king," Veris countered. "And you all heard him state Fanelia's sorry military state."

"Wait, you think I'm going to steal Scherezade?" Van nearly burst out laughing. "Fanelia will never be that hard up for military might that she has to steal from her allies, and even if she were, I'd pick a different target than Allen Schezar. Besides," he met Allen's stare, "if things get bad and that thing moves towards the capital, I still have my own resources. If I have to kill another dragon myself, I won't see my city burn again."

Allen doubted Veris caught the reference, and it might even have gone over Dahlgren's head, but he knew what Van was saying. He would wake Escaflowne if things got bad, despite the fact it might set off Veris's faction like a landslide.

"If I'm not needed here," Van continued, "I'm turnign around and heading right back over the border. I'll be needed to lead my own defenses, if Asturia won't help." He gave Allen a small smile. "Sorry, Allen."

"What about Miss Schazar?" Sir Dahlgren asked.

"Surely you're joking, Dahlgren," Duke Veris replied. "Are we so desperate that we'll take a slip of a girl?"

Allen wasn't paying too much attention to him -- he saw Van's eyes stare at Celena like a horse that suddenly realized the tuft of grass it had been ignoring by the side of the trail hid a snake. Allen couldn't read Celena's expression himself.

"I could do it," she said, barely above a whisper.

"And she's an Asturian citizen," Dahlgren said. "Any man I have who can pilot is assigned a melef. We don't have the manpower to train more, and Miss Schezar seems to have a natural talent for it."

Was the man insane? Well, probably, but he hadn't figured out Celena's secret. "We are not putting my sister into danger. I'll do it myself, with my injuries before I let that happen."
"Then we're going to have to plan for one guymelef," Dahlgren said. "Unless His Grace knows anything about piloting, or knows a veteran living in the area."

The way this day was going, it wouldn't surprise Allen to find the man was a prodigy in his youth. "Certainly not," Duke Veris replied. Well, there went that idea.

They started planning for Dahlgren to take on the Alseides unit, with the remaining melefs acting as a perimeter. The same plan they had tried before, but with one guymelef down. It might have been that that left the lead weight in Allen's stomach. Or it could be the way Van was glaring at the top of his head when he bent over the map.

Afterward, when Van, Sir Dahlgren and the duke filed out, Allen waved Celena over with his good hand. She sat down on a vacated stool. "Do you need anything?" she asked.

"Celena, why did Sir Dahlgren volunteer you?" Allen asked.

Celena looked away. "He just remembered what happened. He said he thought I had natural talent. That's all."

Well, after the display she had put on yesterday, he couldn't blame Dahlgren for wondering. Which led to other questions. "What possessed you to do that anyway?"

Celena shied away. "Are you mad at me for it?"

Allen sighed. "I'm worried about you, Celena. I always have been. If..." and here he took a deep breath, which brought a bit of pain -- pain he ignored -- into his chest. "If you had been hurt in that fight, I would have been beside myself with guilt. But, even when you don't do as I expect you to, even when you steal my clothing for your excursions, and even when you do dangerous things, I won't stop loving you. You're my little sister." And even when you were an enemy to my country, and lacked the memories to not see me as your enemy, I didn't stop loving you.
Celena looked into his eyes. "I... I know. I love you too, Brother. Which was why... I thought I could help you."

Allen shook his head. "I have Gaddes and my other men, and the entire Asturian military to help me, Celena. I appreciate you wanting to do something, but everyone has their own roles to play. You can help me most by staying out of trouble."

Celena looked away. "Would you be saying the same thing if I was your little brother instead of your little sister?"

A flash of memory -- Dilandau standing in front of him in his old border outpost, looking for Van and Hitomi. Allen suspected the shocked expression showed on his face, since Celena followed up with, "Sir Dahlgren said if I was your little brother and not your little sister, it would be good to have another Allen Schezar on the field."

Well, it was good to know Sir Dahlgren hadn't taken complete leave of his senses when he had suggested Celena. Allen could... grudgingly... admit that maybe Millerna's medical training was something women could do. But for a woman to take the field of battle? "Celena, do you want to be my little brother?"

Celena paused, and Allen wondered what was she was thinking. "I want to be me. But..." she met Allen's eyes again, "that means being me. All of me."

A cold chill went down Allen's spine. He remembered the words that someone... the other Zaibach soldier, he thought, had shouted to Celena when she had made her final change back. Giving her permission to be Celena again, as if she had shed Dilandau like a butterfly sheds its chrysalis. "Celena..." he paused, and looked around.

She stood up, heading towards the door. At first he thought she was leaving, again, and he nearly called out to her, but the words died on his throat, when she looked both ways, then shut the door and returned to her stool. "No one is around."

Had she read his discomfort? "Celena, you know you were missing for years from me... from our family, from Asturia." She nodded. "How much do you remember about the time you were missing?"
She met his gaze unflinching, as if she had been waiting for him to ask this single question. "Everything." She paused "Except for some things near the end, where everything is fuzzy."

Allen felt the world drop out beneath the bed. He wasn't sure what to think. He had been so certain that Van had been wrong, had told the queen that there was nothing to her fears.

Celena was still talking. "I didn't want to tell you, because I was afraid you'd be mad. You were always trying to get me to act more like a lady."

"Celena. I meant what I said before. You're my sister, and I will always love you, no matter what has happened or will happen." It was the truth, and he just had to hold that that bedrock -- that here was his beloved younger sister, Celena Schezar, and that she would always be Celena Schezar. It felt like a shallow platitude, but it was all he had right now. That and her.

"I just didn't want to hurt you, Brother," Celena said. "I love you, too."

Allen gave her a smile. Not faked, though he was still feeling like she had knocked his feet from under him. But there was still one thing. "I told the queen you were no threat, because I thought you didn't remember anything of Dilandau. If you do remember-"

Celena shook her head. "I know I'm not in Dilandau's place. It's like a dream -- everything made so much sense in my memory, but now, it's like I can retrace the steps, but some of them were things I don't think I'd ever do. I don't know what I would do, though."

Allen cocked his head. "Pardon?"

"I feel like I don't really know who Celena is. I know who Dilandau was, but I'm not that person, any more. And I know who you think Celena should be, but I don't know what I am."

'You're my sister' was probably the wrong answer. Definitely the wrong answer.

She sighed. "I just want some time to figure out who I am without you telling me who I should be. Or anyone, really."

Allen considered this. "I'm... I was doing it for your own good. There's a lot of rules about how young ladies act that Mother and other women would have taught you if we had grown up as a family. I was trying to help you catch up, so you could fit back into adult society."

"Brother, did you always act like a young gentleman should?" Celena asked.

"People are willing to give a lot more latitude to a young gentleman with an absent father."

"Or any young man. I'll learn the rules, but you make me feel like breaking them makes me less of your sister. And, yes, I know it's not what you actually think." She held up a hand when Allen opened his mouth to protest. "I just... I want a chance to find out who I am, without anyone telling me who I should be."

Allen paused. "I don't know what I can give you to help."

"Just... give me space, Brother. And your confidence that I'll find myself."

"I'll try." Allen didn't know what else to say. He wanted what was best for Celena. He had to hope this was it, since it was what she wanted. He just wasn't sure if he could have faith in her.

She's my sister, Allen repeated to himself. I need to trust she can land on her feet and will come to me if something happens. But the feeling of being in the air, without anything beneath his feet lingered.

"Thank you, Brother."

Allen paused, letting the feeling linger, hoping it would settle. "Did you really mean that? About piloting Scherezade?"

Celena nodded. "I don't know how to fight in an Asturian guymelef, but walking was easy. And moving in combat. Not falling down."

It was something. A lot of recruits had to learn how to translate the natural balance they developed over a decade or more of walking to movement in a shell of metal. His only other options were Van and the diplomatic mess that would turn into, one of Dahlgren's men -- who Dahlgren said wouldn't be up to a full guymelef -- his own men, who would have the same problem, or having Dahlgren do it alone. "I don't believe I'm even thinking this," he said. "If you can learn how to drill in Scherezade, and follow orders, you and Dahlgren will be better than sending Dahlgren alone." He paused. "And, for the sake of Duke Veris's propriety, we might have to pass you off as a crew member of the /Crusade/."

Celena gave him a smile. "Cross-dressing is less scandalous than having a woman pilot a war machine?"

"Cross-dressing means that Duke Veris may not look to closely at one particular soldier. Training starts when I can get out of bed."

Celena nodded. "Brother?"


"I..." she shrugged. "I probably should have mentioned this when you asked, but..." she trailed off. As Allen was about to speak, she finally continued. "When you fell, I got... so angry. It was... it was like Dilandau came back, if only for the fight."

In his mind, Allen couldn't picture his Celena with the truly rageful expression of Dilandau Albatou. But she's not a marble statue, he reminded himself. Real people got angry. Even women, like the queen or Hitomi. Perhaps especially women who grew up as military officers. "Ah... we shall have to work on your temper, Celena, then. If you want. But most people get upset when they see their older brothers fall. A lot of a soldier's discipline is keeping calm enough to not get killed too, even with the world going to he- pieces around them. And most of us can't do it perfectly."

Allen could see Celena's shoulders straighten. "Really? We'll have to add that to my training, then."

"As long as you aren't having that medic poke me with a stick as a test of your resolve," Allen replied sternly, and Celena laughed, in that way she had that reminded him of when they were kids, without a care in the world.


Some days later, Celena was struck with a profound sense of deja vu as she sat in Scherezade's repaired cockpit.

She had been practicing with Brother in the garrison's yard. Someone had found a motley assortment of men's clothing that were small enough to fit her, and a quick trim had restored her hair to a more boyish cut. Brother had looked disapprovingly at the curls at the floor, despite it having been his idea.

Hence her regular practice began. Men of the Crusade had taken to watching her solo practices and later sparring matches with Sir Dahlgren, calling out enough advice of their own that Brother, seated in a chair with his arm bound in a sling, was forced to not go easy on her just because she was his little sister. She had even caught King Van out of the corner of her eyes during her practices, but he was never around when she disengaged and left her seat. Perhaps for the best.

And, again there had been smoke, and again they had assembled at the garrison's gate, though this time it was her and Sir Dahlgren that would be taking point, and Brother in the Crusade following up. Brother had told her, before they boarded their respective machines that she was as ready as she could be, and that he trusted her to come out on the other side. Still, his parting to her was 'stay safe', rather than any urging to complete the mission.

"Into the foothills this time," Sir Dahlgren yelled before they sealed themselves inside. "He's probably near one of the mining camps. Follow my lead -- I remember the quickest way for a guymelef to get there. "

Celena nodded. "An Alseides won't have that constraint," she commented. "They can levitate." She paused, remembering that she was supposed to be a natural prodigy. Hopefully Sir Dahlgren would mistake that for the enthusiasm of a melef fan with a knight older brother telling war stories.

"Depending on how badly he was hurt in the last fight, he might not be able to fight well and fly at the same time. Target any obvious weak points from last time." If she wasn't so nervous about her cover, she might have told him not to teach his grandmother to suck eggs.

It was easier to walk this time, since she had actually acclimated to Scherezade, and had some practice. Still, even with practice, the going was a bit difficult. Celena had to sit back, and let her piloting instincts, vision and inner ears help her keep the guymelef steady on its feet over the rough terrain. Between that and her nose seeking the burnt smell that had led them on last time, she was fully engaged, the distinction between her motions and what the machine turned them into blurred. She stepped with yards-long legs across the terrain, arms shifting to counterbalance.

Sir Dahlgren had dropped behind again and Celena paused to let him catch up. His guymelef's gait was slow and careful, and Celena could see the moments of hesitation and thought as he placed each step. Perhaps he didn't practice enough on rough terrain, or his balance was off. Either way, it would be dangerous in a fight.

After the fifth time, Celena started to hear the crackle of flames, above the sound of water rushing, and the smell of wood burning in her pauses, and the surge of... not excitement, but a sense of alertness and readiness made it hard to wait for Dahlgren. But, no, they were doing this together, or it would have been a waste for Brother to train her.

Sir Dahlgren opened the faceplate as he grew level. "The river is close. It's a fairly steep bank, so we'll have to be careful. Try not to get trapped against the cliff. I don't know if you can make it down in one piece."

Celena nodded. And as long as their opponent could fly, they couldn't say the same for him. They would have to hope Dahlgren's men, taking more circuitous routes, could hold the perimeter en masse, even if individually they would be no threat, and they could close the circle without being trapped themselves between a desperate pilot and the cliff.

She made a 'come on' gesture with Scherezade's arms, and Dahlgren closed up again and they started moving. Hopefully as fast as he could manage -- Celena thought she could squeeze some more speed out, but she let Dahlgren set the pace.

She could see the Alseides, in the ashes of what might have been a camp, as they climbed over the last rise, its unpainted metal form with more dents and dings than Celena remembered. Apparently the pilot hadn't found a place to repair his craft. It turned to face them, and Celena dashed left, drawing Scherezade's sword, and trusting Dahlgren to take the right. The enemy followed him, and Celena moved in for an attack. Blocked, as the pilot turned and brought up his Crima claws. Celena gritted her teeth and parried his counterattack, hoping Dahlgren could bring in his own guymelef to attack.

'Who is this pilot?' she wondered. Whoever it was, he was not having the problems that they hoped in fighting two opponents. In fact, Celena found herself having to constantly check where Sir Dahlgren was, lest she trip over him. The pilot had no little skill in getting two opponents to focus more on avoiding each other than attacking him.

They were getting closer to the river, Celena could tell, and she launched a strong offensive, hoping to drive the enemy back towards the relatively firm ground. Instead, the enemy guymelef twisted to the side, in a move Celena wasn't sure was possible unless the pilot was insane, lucky or very, very good. Dilandau might have done it without thinking, but he had been all three.

She noticed too late that Dahlgren had been about to try something. The enemy had sidestepped, heading right towards Dahlgren, who jumped back... and his back foot landed on the downslope. Celena could see him overbalance and knew that gravity would pull him down, and probably into the river. She felt her heart jump into her throat, but she gritted her teeth. It's not like before. Follow up, Celena.

Maybe it was because he wasn't Brother, but she felt her head clear. The Alseides unit, with little puffs of hot air that probably meant the levistones were malfunctioning, but still able to help offset the weight, did a more controlled descent down the slope. If she didn't want Dahlgren to end up burned or speared when he tried to avoid drowning, she'd have to follow.

She walked to the slope, carefully gaging the best way down. In the end, it was more a slide, with her energy left to keep Scherezade on its feet. She nearly lost it at the end, and she could hear the metal scream as she flailed the arms. "Over here!" she shouted, unsure how well her voice would carry over the stream and the roar of battle.

The Alseides had been engaged in wrecking the limbs of Sir Dahlgren's guymelef, much like a small child might do with a trapped insect, but it turned to face her when she yelled. Once she was certain she had its attention, Celena attacked.

She had to struggle to keep her footing on the stream bank. It really meant the two of them were facing off like duelists in the salle. Hard to dodge left or right, with treacherous footing, but no movement to distract her. Celena let herself flow into the rhythm of the thing, trying to get at the bent portions of the Alseides' armor with her sword, and keep her position. Ground like this could mean a waterfall was nearby, and the sound of the river covered it up.

One of them was going to eventually run out of energy. Celena could already feel her motions slowing, and see that the enemy was too. Both had scored some minor touches that would have mattered in a duel, but were just dings to be beaten out later in a real fight. She'd have to hope that the better airflow of an Asturian melef would give her the advantage, but a determined pilot could make up for that.

Above the roar of the river, she heard the sound of propellers. Was that the /Crusade/? The other pilot heard it too, and there was a moment of distraction.

It was enough. Celena yelled as she drove Scherezade's sword home into the joint of the guymelef, between arm and torso, and she watched the hull crumple, and the guymelef slowly topple over. It had cut through harder than she had expected, but it should have only been a disabling blow.

She saw the crumpled guymelef open up and someone in blood-stained, ill-fitting and warped leathers stagger out. Slowly. He nearly fell off the side climbing down, and collapsed by the side of the stream.

Celena paused. The uniform looked familiar. It wasn't a Dragonslayers uniform, but the design echoed things they had worn in training.

She was without a sword, so it was a dumb thing to do, but she opened up Scherezade and climbed out herself. She approached the enemy, as if he was a dangerous animal that was only playing at being hurt. She had taken a small dagger -- more useful as tableware than a weapon -- but she felt unarmed. Part of her wanted to ram that knife through the pilot's heart, but she held that in check by sheer force of will. He's defeated. If he lives or dies, let the kingdom deal with him. You are a civilized person.

The figure looked up as she approached. From the ground, close up, Celena looked at a face that was younger than her own, and sickly gray from shock. She could trace darker veins and arteries over the gray, in a way that couldn't be normal, even for the dying. She could see cuts where shrapnel had cut through leather and flesh alike, and burns surrounding them. But she also saw what she thought had been just bad tailoring was something else. "You're a woman, too."

Zaibach had used female pilots before, but the uniform was male, clearly stretched in places and baggy in others where a body would differ between man and woman. Was she another victim of Zaibach sorcery? But all the Dragonslayers -- if all the Dragonslayers had been like Dilandau in the first place, rather than just talented recruits -- all the Dragonslayers were dead. And Celena didn't remember anyone who looked at all like this.

She knelt down to get a closer look. The enemy's pulse was thready, and there was a lot of blood. The enemy pilot -- the woman -- looked up at her, her eyes unfocused. "Lord Dilandau?" she mumbled.

Celena started back, and put a booted foot into the stream. How had the woman recognized her? She wasn't even sure if she was still able to see clearly. Maybe she just assumed that any slight pilot with fair hair had to be Dilandau.

"Lord Dilandau? Was that good enough to be a Dragonslayer? They said... they said I wasn't stable enough." She could barely hear the woman. She's dying/, Celena thought and she wasn't sure what she could do about it. The /Crusade must be looking for a landing place, or letting some ground crew down, but Celena doubted they could do anything without getting her back to the garrison. Too much blood loss.

Celena stepped back to the Zaibach pilot's side, and knelt. Something half-forgotten, a sense of 'these are mine', maybe, said she should answer the woman. And she felt like there was some comfort she could give to the dying, even one who had caused so much havoc. Even one who had nearly taken her Brother from her. "Yeah, that was fine," she said. "You did fine."

Dilandau would have never done that. But Celena was Celena, and there was compassion warring with her anger. Maybe it would have been different if the woman hadn't been gravely wounded in the fight, she couldn't say, but this felt right.

"Can I rest then?"

Celena nodded. "Dismissed, soldier."

The woman smiled, and Celena saw the light leave her eyes. She felt for a pulse just to be sure, but she couldn't find even the faint one she had felt before.


When he finally been helped down to the streambed where the fight had ended up, Allen saw Celena looking for rocks along the shore. He watched her pick up several, then carry them back to a still form on the bank. He could see drag marks where she had moved it away from the stream itself, so as to not pollute the waters.

"Is that-?"

Celena nodded, and continued burying the body.

Allen took a closer look -- seeing Zaibach uniform and the shape of the face and body, and a sick suspicion dawned on him. Celena paused in her work to walk over to him and placed a hand on his good arm. "She's... whatever happened, she's..." but she didn't complete the sentence, merely looked away and returned to her self-appointed task.

Allen looked around, for those of his men who had followed him down. "Gaddes, go make sure Dahlgren is all right. The rest of you lumps, don't just stand there, help the lady!"

He walked with Gaddes to retrieve Dahlgren -- wet, bruised and disheveled, but otherwise well -- and then listened to his plans for getting his upturned guymelef out of the river. By the time they returned, a respectable cairn was built for the enemy pilot. The men were loitering around as Celena laid the final stone. She then fished some things from her pocket and knelt there.

Puzzled, Allen approached her silently. He wasn't sure if he was meant to see what she was doing, or the offerings she had left.

On the pile of rocks rested a couple of picked wildflowers and a butterfly charm that Celena had bought a couple of weeks ago in Palas. Before she rose and walked back to Allen's men, Celena whispered something Allen could barely hear:

"There, but for the grace of my brother, go I."

- END -
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