catbox_fics: (esca; dryden's library)
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Title: Shadow of the Dragon
Fandom: Vision of Escaflowne
Rating: T for Teen
Spoilers?: Spoilers through end of series, some movie elements may also be spoiled
Notes: post-series, minor retconning of events in the last two episodes (doesn't substantially change the ending, sorry kids)

XVI: The Tower

Major Arcana. Sudden changes without choice, collapse, escape from prison or bondage, accident. Plans will fall, intentions will break down. "Finger of God". Bankruptcy. Sudden death.




"I think it's starting!" Duv heard the hissed whisper from somewhere ahead of him in the maintenance tunnels. Growling a little under his breath, he tried to hobble a little faster, slowed down by the low ceiling and narrow, slippery metal of the walls and floor. This close to the palace's throne room, space had given way to allow more room for machinery, especially the mammoth Fate Prognostication Engine that the Emperor was supposed to use to tell the future.

Duv just hoped that it wasn't working so well, because otherwise he was going to be so dead for letting his charge escape.

"Then shut up before we get caught!" Esther's voice drifted back, strident despite the low whispering. He finally caught sight of his twin crammed up against the grate separating the tunnel from the throne room with Arian, the Sorcerer apprentice they were supposed to be watching, sprawled over her lap.

"Too late," Duv said, making a grab for Esther's arm so that he could get them out of there before something weird happened. The lights in the throne room were down, everything lit eerily by the reddish glow coming from the Engine. At least, Duv hoped it was just the Engine. Esther snatched her arm away, leaning into the grate and causing it to creak alarmingly. It opened up at least four or five feet above the floor.. no way they'd go unnoticed if it went. How do these things always happen to me? Duv thought, backing off so Esther wasn't tempted to do anything.

"Don't be such a jerk, Duv. The Emperor is going to alter fate," Arian said, grinning back at him. "I'm supposed to watch this kind of stuff! Not that we're going to get caught. We're supposed to be here."

"Just be quiet and we can both drag Arian back," Esther said, rolling her eyes and adjusting her skirt so that Duv had room to crouch close enough to see too. "You know she's been insufferable since we stopped hearing from the Strategos, and I'd rather not have to deal with any more spontaneous frogs or fires when she loses her temper. Unless you want to start cleaning them up."

"No thanks," Duv said with a sigh, settling across from Esther. He could hear voices echoing oddly through the throne room, but the overwhelming noise of the Engine through the tunnel kept him from hearing anything distinct. "Though I'd like to see you explaining how we're supposed to be here when we get caught by the guards."

"We just are," Arian said stubbornly. "Shhh! I wanna hear!"

"Good luck," Duv muttered as the Engine shifted gear, the mechanical whine of it intensifying. There was a shout and a scream above as the world washed green, and something dark fell from the audience platform hard and heavy enough to rattle the throne above the growing noise of the Engine. The hell..?!

"What's going on?! It's never done this before!" Esther said, one hand over her ear and the other trying to grab the squirming Arian before she could slither through the bars of the grate.

"Folken! Folken! No!" Arian wailed, sharp as nails on slate. Duv grabbed for Arian too, but she was slippery and he overbalanced, hitting the grate and sending them both tumbling out to the floor. Stars burst across Duv's vision as he cracked his head on the metal. Arian squirmed loose immediately, Duv too muddled to do much more than snatch at her skirt ineffectually.

"Duv!" Esther called before shimmying out of the tunnel herself, landing catlike next to him and hauling him to his feet before the daze had a chance to completely wear off. "We have to get out of... oh god."

Shaking his head like a dog to clear it, Duv followed Esther's gaze and immediately wished he hadn't. There was blood everywhere, spreading in a pool around the still figure crumpled at the bottom of the throne. Arian had skidded on it and was wailing shrilly from her place on the floor just shy of the big black wings that were bent at an angle that couldn't possibly be natural.

"The last process of the Fate Redirector will change our fate. It will grant everyone's wishes, and create absolute happiness. The true potential of the Atlantis Machine will be tested." The Emperor's voice reverberated in Duv's head, and he clapped his free hand to his ear, mimicking his sister, as they stumbled to get Arian.

"Arian! We have to go," Duv said, trying to swallow the urge to throw up. It was the Strategos staring blankly into nothing, still as death at the foot of the throne. Arian had managed to rally enough to crawl closer, clinging to his flesh arm and babbling something that was mostly lost in her sobbing.

"There's nothing we can do for him now," Esther said, letting Duv go so that she could try and peel Arian loose. Phantom images flickered overhead, and Duv thought he saw ghostly guymelefs fighting out of the corners of his eyes as he crept forward, careful not to slip in the blood. I don't know if those images are my head or the Engine, and I don't want to find out.

"I can fix this. I have to fix this. It's not fair!" Arian said, shaking her head as Esther and Duv finally pulled her loose. "I don't wish for this!"

"It's too dangerous to stay here," Duv said. Arian kicked and shook her head, face settling into the stubborn pout that usually meant bizarre accidents in the near future.

"We're supposed to be here. Maybe we can use the Emperor's thingy and save Folken. We have to try," Arian said, rapping Duv hard enough in the shin that he let her go. Esther cursed and grabbed for Arian, but the little girl managed to slip loose and ran back to the Strategos's side.

"Arian!" Esther said, stomping back and nearly skidding on bloody feathers. Duv followed, hands itching for at least a knife or something with all the ghostly images of war floating around them. Every instinct was screaming for a retreat, but he couldn't leave the girls behind.

"Help me! Please!" Arian said, stubbornly wiping away tears. "We can do this!"

"War is expanding in the Zone of Absolute Fortune, where people's wishes are supposed to be granted. Can't people escape the fate of war? Are people willing to fight?"

Esther and Duv exchanged a look. We're not getting out of here until we at least try.

"Take a wing. Gently. I'll turn him over.. there's got to be another injury to account for the blood," Duv said, a little amazed that his voice managed to come out steady. Esther nodded, carefully picking up the wing that looked the least mangled. Bone showed white against the feathers in a couple of places, and Duv winced in sympathy as Esther carefully stepped over the Strategos's body, bringing the wing back out of the way so Duv could roll him over.

"We can do this," Arian muttered to herself, over and over. Duv took a deep breath and pulled, rolling the Strategos on his side. Embedded in his chest was a sliver of metal-- a broken sword tip. It looked like ribs had mostly stopped the blade, but the fall had pushed it deep into his chest, maybe hitting his heart.

"We need to take the shard out," Duv said, digging in his pants for the pliers he was pretty sure he still had stashed in his pockets and thankful, at least for a moment, that he'd been in the garage that morning helping service the melefs rather than in uniform training.

"Hurry," Arian said, tense and unhappy at his side. "I don't think we have much time."

Duv nodded and set the pliers, pulling as hard as he dared. "It's stuck!"

"Let me," Esther said, "It's probably stuck on bone. We'll need to rock it a little to get it out." Esther's hands closed over Duv's, and he pulled back while she wiggled the pliers. Slowly the bit of sword started to move, until suddenly the tension was gone and they both tumbled back, the sharp metal clattering to the floor. "Now what?"

"Um..." Arian kneeled next to them. "We have to wish. Really hard. Make it the only wish in your heart. With the thingy going.. we can alter fate. We have to."

Blood sluggishly seeped from the wound, and almost on reflex Duv covered it with his hands to stem the flow. Esther and Arian joined him, their warm hands on top of his own an odd contrast with the cooling skin underneath. With a gulp, Duv closed his eyes. Please let this work.

"It's the final phase. Just as gold can't be created, fate can't be controlled."

"Come back, Folken," Arian said, "You can't go. We need you. You promised to teach me."

"Our brother's already gone.. and the rest of the Dragonslayers. We can't lose you too," Esther said, her hands tightening on Duv's.

The green glow intensified, the sound of breaking glass above and calling voices loud as the Engine's noise began to wind down. Despite the fading light, Duv felt like lightning was playing across his skin, and he could have sworn his hair was standing on end.

"Take it back! Take it back! Take it back!" Arian yelled as the lightning built and crest and struck, something nameless and immense grounding through Duv's arms and hands into the broken body below. Folken's body jerked, and Duv could feel the prickly heat running through his fingers and bleeding out into the wound. The world behind his closed eyelids was blood red with brightness, and he thought he smelled ozone and, oddly, sandalwood. As quickly as the phantom sensation built, it was gone again, leaving the stench of blood and formaldehyde and the dark of the throne room.

"What just happened?" Duv said weakly, cautiously opening his eyes. Despite having closed them, stars were dancing in front of his vision. And he could feel movement, faint but real, under his hands. Folken was breathing.

"We did it," Arian said, looking stunned as she pulled her hands back and tugged at Esther's. Numbly, brother and sister uncovered the once-fatal wound to reveal a scar, pale and smooth as if it was years old rather than seconds.

"We need a doctor," Duv said finally, looking over at Esther and Arian. "You two get Dr. Abernathy. I'll wait here with Folken."

"Right," Esther said, grabbing Arian's hand. "C'mon, it looks like those wings aren't going to set themselves and the sooner we get the doctor, the sooner we get Folken out of the throne room." It didn't take much dragging to get Arian moving after that, though she kept peeking back at Duv until she was out of sight.

Duv just looked at Folken sideways, trying to swallow back a fresh wave of nausea.

"So.. what now?" he muttered, crossing his arms and settling in to wait.




Tile. There was tile. It was white, mostly, with pale robin-egg blue bits. Probably to give things a feminine air. Most decent bathhouses were feminine. Annoying. The air was cold, cold seeping from or to the tile and through the open window, sheer white drapes flirting with the chilly breeze. Hints of frost, coming or going. Glass in the window, expensive but warped, slightly bubbly, not like the clear thin panes in Zaibach. Somewhere else then. Maybe that frontier fort that Folken let them buzz sometimes when the solitude of the Vione got too much and they were all sick of each other.

It didn't matter much. Surroundings never mattered that much when buzzy thoughts were muffled in cotton, racing thoughts usually doused by wine and kept docile. Kept the Sorcerers far away when their super-soldier behaved nice and predictably.

There was a big brass tub dominating the room, hot steam smelling of roses curling against the chilly air. It seemed like a good idea to slide into the water, slipping the white-- why was everything white?-- robe the rest of the way off and settling with a sigh. The hot water seemed to ease something else that was aching, not quite a belly ache and not a muscle cramp either, but a little of both.

Still.. the roses are a bit much. I'll have to remember to punch Dallet because I'm sure he put someone up to it.

The thought froze, sliding just out of reach and cracking something deep.

"Dallet is dead," she whispered, hoarse, and then clapped her hands over her mouth. That's not my voice.

"What the hell?!" Her voice cracked against the tile, higher than the not-quite-tenor she was used to but still a mellow alto, burred at the edges from screaming or disuse or both.

Then she looked, really looked and had to fight to hold back screaming, cramming fingers in her mouth and biting hard. Pain helped banish the fog, not so pleasant now, over her mind.

The war. The experiments. The Dragonslayers dying, first Miguel to treachery and then the others, one by one, to the Dragon. More needles, more magic, drowning and choking on rage. A garden, like a hallucination among the memories of fire and blood, and a gentle voice telling her it was her sixteenth birthday and she should make a wish. The front. The gentle voice-- Jajuka, come to replace all the missing Slayers because the last wasn't ready yet, wasn't old enough, and they needed to push now. Jajuka screaming something as the world washed strange. Allen Schezar and Van Fanel fighting and her stumbling out of the cockpit of the Oreades, sick and weak with the twisted fire that was running through her. Schezar-- brother-- catching her as she fell, falling and falling...

Celena-- Dilandau?-- Celena sank below the surface of the water, holding her breath, trying to will down the dizzy nausea as everything rushed back. This was Asturia. The Schezar estate outside of Pallas.

How long have I been out of it? Months? Celena surfaced once she was sure her stomach wasn't going to rebel and twisted, looking out the window. Leaves were beginning to turn in the trees outside. The war had ended near the end of summer, the air hot and heavy and muggy at the front in Cesario.

A month, then. Maybe two. And since I was apparently left alone to take this bath, I'm not a prisoner. At the moment.

Celena sank back in the water, hiding the window and its vista from view. Part of her wanted to sink further and not come up again, yowling brokenly for the lost Slayers and for Zaibach, which she didn't doubt had broken and fallen when that thing of Basram's made the razing of Fanelia look like a child's tantrum. The memory was enough to make her shudder, suddenly cold in the steaming water.

I have to go back. As soon as I can. Winter will make the trip impossible.

It would be irritating enough waiting to gather the intelligence and supplies she'd need, and probably a bit of doing on top of that to slip her brother's watch. Since watch he had undoubtedly been assigned. Her rather dramatic battlefield transformation would have seen to that. But staying in Asturia was out of the question. Celena was no noble lady, and besides she had left a Slayer behind in the Capital. She wasn't going to abandon her last now.

Plan in place, no matter how vague, Celena climbed out of the tub. She probably had at least an hour of privacy before someone would come to check on the bather, after all, and there was no sense wasting time. As she began to dry off-- even the towels were white-- she felt something trickling down her legs. Frowning, she swiped at it with the towel and froze when the white came back stained with red.

Celena's shrieking was loud enough to rattle the faintly bubbly glass.




Distantly, Folken could hear wind chimes, like the delicate little bell chimes his mother used to hang in windows on hot summer days, and the high, clear singing of the little robins that had nested in the trees of the municipal gardens in Zaibach. The sun was warm overhead, the moons nothing but a faint silvery outline against the china blue of a perfect summer sky. The path he was walking wound through tall grass that was slowly yellowing in the heat, soon to be mown as hay for the giant yaks that were common beasts of burden in Arzas and Fanelia both. Stubborn little flowers occasionally poked their heads out into the footpath, perfuming the air and attracting the occasional lazy bumblebee.

He wasn't sure how long he had been walking. Occasionally he spotted figures that seemed familiar further up the path-- he knew those blue and black Dragonslayer uniforms, thought he'd seen the silver-gold flash of Naria and Eriya darting through the grass in one of their many play-fights. Folken was reasonably sure this meant he was dead.. but if this was death he couldn't complain. He had gone to Dornkirk knowing that it would be the last thing he did, hoping that by ending the Emperor he could bring the mad plan to control destiny to an end and atone for his own role in it.

"Fanelian to a fault. I'm sure your mother would be thrilled."

Folken froze at the familiar voice, one he hoped would be out of place in the afterlife. Turning, he could see the path shift dizzily into a crossroads, the old wooden sign in the middle faded into illegibility. Standing under the sign was a slight woman with green eyes that Folken knew were uncannily like those of the girl from the Mystic Moon. She was dressed as she always was, in the practical tunic and trews of a doctor, her graying ginger hair pulled in a bun, accentuating the golden hoops in her ears. She leaned on a walking stick, watching Folken as a cat might a bird.

"Hazel?"

"Do you see anyone else here? Wait, don't answer that," Hazel said, shaking her head.

"When did you die?"

"I didn't. And you're not dead either, though that could change," Hazel said, waving a hand dismissively. "You are an incredibly stubborn bastard when you have a mind to be, you know. I don't walk the paths between life and death for just anyone, you know."

"I died, Hazel. It's all right," Folken said gently.

"Technically. And technically that hellion of an apprentice of yours managed to shanghai enough power into a Fate Alteration to drag your body back to the land of the living. Leaving you caught between," Hazel said, shaking her head. "Under ordinary circumstances that doesn't work, but circumstances have never been ordinary with you involved."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning you have a serious destiny left to fulfill for that Fate Alteration to have worked, especially given the amount of Fate Alteration Dornkirk had anchored on you to make that Atlantis Machine of his work. But you're right.. you did die. Between your being Draconian and madoushi, that means you have to choose. And soon, because I can't keep your body going without you indefinitely," Hazel said, looking annoyed. "Life and an uncertain destiny, or the peace and certainty of death."

Folken hummed, turning away from the crossroads a moment and looking back along the path he had walked. "Which way is which?"

"Heck if I know. This plane is fueled by your mind, not mine," Hazel said.

"Then how do I know you aren't a figment of my imagination as well?"

"You don't. Though I'm not sure if I should be flattered that your mind thinks of me as your internal conscience or annoyed that you forgot enough of basic Fate Theory that I had to remind you."

"I'll think about it," Folken said, not turning to look back. He heard Hazel mutter something that was undoubtedly a curse in what was undoubtedly a language he didn't know. The grass waved in the breeze. He thought he saw a few swallows flash by in search of insects.

He knew what lay back in life. A world in tatters due to his own naive stupidity. A web of responsibilities and retributions. Almost certainly pain-- he had felt his wings shatter in the fall, which lay a thankfully distant memory on the edges of his mind. And he was tired, exhausted from living ten years already on borrowed time, snatched once before from death at the maw of the dragon. Tired of seeing all he touched turn to ash, all he loved die or twist with hatred.

With a sigh, Folken turned back to the crossroads. Hazel was gone.. or perhaps never was. The sign was hardly useful, and Folken spent long moments looking before shaking his head and turning back, up the path the way he had come. Maybe I am Fanelian to a fault. I'm sure I'll be back here. And when I am I suppose I'll find out if Mother is thrilled. The path was oddly distorted going back, graying and darkening as Folken got more and more lightheaded and walking grew difficult. It wasn't long before he stumbled, but there was no ground to catch him.

Falling and falling...

With a start Folken woke, a startled cry choking into a pained squeak as agony raced from his wings, splinted uncomfortably out to the sides. He was still lightheaded, hot and cold at once, and the sheer misery of it was enough to keep him too distracted to notice Hazel coming to his side with something sharp-smelling in a cup.

"Welcome back," Hazel said softly, "Drink this.. it'll help the pain and help you sleep. You need it."

Folken didn't argue, letting Hazel handle whatever medicine she'd concocted. Soon he felt the pain easing, letting him breathe without the feeling of a vice on his chest and back.

"What..?"

"Shhh. Rest. There's time for you to get some real sleep before people start bugging you. Just be careful of Arian.. she hasn't left your side," Hazel said, brushing rebellious bangs away from Folken's forehead. He frowned, but the medicine was strong and he could feel it dragging him under.

"Hazel?"

"Yes?"

"What would you have picked?" Folken said, blurred by sleep.

"What do you mean?" Hazel looked at him, expression torn between confusion and annoyance. So perhaps it had been a dream after all. Perhaps his choice hadn't been a choice at all.

Folken breathed a faint chuckle as he slipped into sleep.

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