Vision of Escaflowne: Soulmates

Written by: Meghanna Starsong

Part I: Earth

"Chapter One"

Standard Disclaimer: Escaflowne is copyright to its creator, Shoji Kawamori, owners, and distributors. I am not making any money off of this fanfiction. None of the Escaflowne characters are mine, although I have inserted my own creations into this universe as well. Please do not steal my original characters or use them without my permission. This is a continuation of Escaflowne the series after Episode 26.

Author's Notes: In Japan, the high school system is three years long. Students begin at the age of 15-16, and their last year is from the age of 17-18. The name of Van is pronounced "Ba-hahn" or "Vaughn" and not like the vehicle. While Hitomi's grandmother remains somewhat unknown, I chose to call her Yuri based off of the shoujo manga.

Edited 1/1/2021: If you notice any issues, please let me know.

"""""""

Hitomi opened her bedroom window on the second floor and paused to take in the scene below. The sun hovered low in the west and cast a golden sheen across fenced lawns, Lego-block buildings, and busy roads. Cars honked at one another a few blocks over, and two kids walking a dog down the street let out peals of laughter. The Kanzaki house, unlike the surrounding suburban neighborhood, was a simple two-story cottage. Its white paint and trellised greenery lent it the feel of something out of a fairy tale. The old maple tree in the front yard swayed in the breeze, which also rustled her short, brown-blond hair.

She braced herself on the tree's nearest branch with a hand and then hoisted herself onto the edge of the roof. The bottoms of her shoes scraped across the rough shingles as she scaled the slanted surface. At the roof's summit, she swung a leg onto the other side of the triangular crest and straddled it. Hitomi sat quietly atop the world, privately watching the sun's colorful farewell.

It was not until the first stars spangled the sky that she moved. She crammed her hand into her pocket and pulled out a tattered, grayed feather. It was long, at least thirteen centimeters in length, with a bristled tip. One might think it came from the wing of a great bird, perhaps a wild goose or an eagle. Only Hitomi knew this feather was not from Earth.

The eighteen-year-old closed her eyes and recalled another spring sunset four years earlier.

"""""""

"Grandma! Dinner's ready!" Hitomi, home from track practice, called from the front door. She'd just finished her bath, and her hair was still damp. She combed her fingers through it, thinking that she might cut it soon.

When Grandma Yuri didn't reply, she walked across the yard to the old lady. Perhaps her ears were acting up, and she hadn't heard her. Grandma Yuri, a tiny bird of a woman, was seated in a wooden chair beneath the maple tree. Her gray hair was gathered and pinned in place by an enamel flower ornament. The fine mass flowed to her waist like cobwebs. She wore a loose, blue dress with a long skirt. Tucked around her shoulders was a green shawl that she had crocheted herself. Her spiral cane was propped up next to the chair within easy reach.

Hitomi stopped next to the old woman and waited for her presence to be acknowledged. The silence between them stretched on. Grandma Yuri's aged face was turned up to the sky, the creases in it deepened by waning sunlight. Together, they watched the heavens change from orange, to watermelon, to crimson.

Grandma Yuri pulled her shawl closer around her to ward off the dying day. Her husky voice surprised Hitomi. "Can you see it?"

"See what, Grandma?" She folded her arms across her chest and scanned the sky. There was only the crescent moon and a hazy splattering of stars through the city's smog. "What're you looking at?"

"Next to the moon, Hitomi. A little to the right. Do you see it?" Grandma Yuri sounded impatient.

She shook her head. "A star? An airplane?"

"No, child." The old woman sighed and leaned back in the chair. "Do you remember the story I used to tell you?"

"Which one? There were so many." Hitomi smiled to herself. "You told me about Aunt Hiroko and Mom as girls, how my parents first met, and about when you were young."

"Yes, that story when I was close to your age. I was coming home from a summer festival, remember? I wore a beautiful yukata that I'd begged and begged my father to buy."

She recognized this particular tale. "And you met a strange man. A foreigner. You told me he was older than you. With a fuzzy mustache and—"

"Eyes as blue as the ocean," Grandma Yuri recollected quietly. "They were so sad."

"Wasn't there also some kind of a storm with lots of lightning?" Hitomi volunteered, reaching back in her memory for details.

Her grandmother snorted at the description. "If that'd been lightning, I wouldn't be here with you now. No, it was like a river of light. It carried me to a mysterious place far, far away."

"What was that man's name? I forgot it."

"Leon. Leon Schezar."

Hitomi never knew what to make of this particular tale. As a child, it had amused her imagination, yet as a teen it seemed outlandish. No one could travel to another world in an interstellar beam of light. She worried Grandma Yuri bringing it up now meant she was going senile. "Why are you thinking about that old story anyway?" she asked.

The heavy silence came again. A lonely cricket chirruped nearby. Hitomi heard the swoosh of her grandmother's gnarled hand caressing down her cane. The chair creaked as the old lady bent forward and painstakingly stood. She teetered, using the cane to balance herself. Hitomi put a steadying hand under her elbow, and Grandma Yuri patted it absently before hobbling off in the direction of the house. Her granddaughter followed close behind.

"Because tonight I see the place I went to in the sky," Grandma Yuri responded at last. "I only can during times of trouble and change."

Hitomi frowned. "Change?"

"Yes." They made it to the cone of light cast by the house's open door. Grandma Yuri paused here. Half of her face was in shadow, hidden like the dark side of the moon. "I believe that I will die soon."

"Don't say such things!" she scolded her grandmother.

"It's true, child."

"You're very healthy according to Dr. Sakamoto."

"Bah. I know my body better than anyone else." Grandma Yuri's right hand tightened around the cane. The knuckles sat atop it like a wizened eagle perched on a branch. "I'm old and tired. I'm wearing down, Hitomi, like a clock on its last hours."

"You have many more years left," she stubbornly insisted.

"Ah, willful girl." The old woman chuckled and leaned heavier on her cane, her eyes once more heavenward. "There's no shame in aging, nor is it something we should be afraid of. It is as natural as breathing, as when we are born. I've lived a good life and been more fortunate than others."

"I hate when you talk like this," Hitomi whispered, a tiny bud of fear stirring in her heart.

Grandma Yuri's left hand went to her sagging bosom. A delicate, gold chain sparkled across her chest. A pink glimmer from the small gem attached to it attracted Hitomi's attention. Her grandmother's fist closed around the stone, as if drawing strength from it. "I feel I will not see you enter high school."

"Grandma!" Exasperated, she gently squeezed the old woman's bony elbow. "Stop it!"

"I want you to have this." Grandma Yuri grasped the chain and raised its loop above her neck. She left it dangling in the air, swaying hypnotically back and forth between them. "I've been meaning to give this to you. I believe it's time now."

Hitomi felt a little panicked. As if controlled by an outside force, her own arm rose, hand cupped up. Grandma Yuri lightly dropped the pendant into her palm, the chain cool, the ruby gem sparkling briefly like a flame of dragon fire. It warmed her palm.

"I-I can't. It's your good luck charm. It means so much to you," she whispered.

Grandma Yuri tucked a flyaway tendril of Hitomi's hair behind her ear. "As do you, child."

"""""""

Tears swelled in Hitomi's blue-green eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She frowned at the still poignant emotions and rubbed the moisture away. She'd lost her grandmother, Yuri Hoshino, just weeks after receiving the pendant and, as predicted, before entering high school. Back then, she hadn't understood Grandma Yuri's pillar of light or how special her keepsake truly was.

Now she did.

What followed Grandma Yuri's death was an adventure beyond description or forgetting. It all began with Hitomi breaking the taboo of reading for herself and asking the tarot cards if Amano was her true love. When she selfishly pursued him, even after the cards warned her away, the pendant changed her fate, whisking her away to a world at war. Sometimes she wondered if it had all been real: the dragon, the terrible attack, and the young king of Fanelia.

Grandma Yuri's planet was called Gaea, the Earth's neighbor from a parallel universe. Thousands of years ago, the dying Atlantis civilization opened a wormhole in time and space. Through their combined psychic energy, the Atlanteans formed the planet in its infancy and settled there to live in peace. Over the generations, the destruction of Atlantis and the terrible technology behind it faded from the collective memories of the Gaeans. All that remained was a secret account passed through the centuries in Freid and a prejudice against Draconians, the descendants of Atlantis's most powerful subjects.

For several months, Hitomi journeyed through Gaea, admiring its beautiful landscapes, meeting its interesting people, and adjusting to its strange customs. Her fate became entangled with a legendary guardian, Escaflowne, and the remnants of Atlantis. As she was drawn further into chaos, she witnessed the slaughter of innocents, the razing of countries, and warriors pitting themselves against each other. Her pendant and visions guided Hitomi and her friends. Among her allies had been the staunch Van Fanel, boy-king of Fanelia; the dashing Asturian knight, Allen Schezar; the zealous princess of Asturia, Millerna Aston; the trickster Catgirl, Merle; and the cunning merchant-prince, Dryden Fassa. Together, they'd fought and defeated the tyrannical Zaibach Empire.

While on Gaea, Hitomi had longed for Earth and the safety of home. In the beginning, she clung to the image of her schoolmate, Amano, to help her cope, but she eventually turned to a more tangible comfort, Allen. Despite pining for Allen, Van and Hitomi bonded during their shared trials and travels. Theirs was a friendship forged from survival and mutual respect. For a while, she found herself torn between her fascination with Allen and her burgeoning attraction to Van. Her uncertainty proved to be a weakness that Zaibach could manipulate. Through several fate experiments, Zaibach pushed Hitomi and Allen together in an attempt to stifle the gravity between Van and herself.

After everything they'd suffered through, all the fighting, lies, and eerie occurrences, Van and Hitomi's hearts finally synchronized in Zaibach. Beneath the sickly light of Emperor Dornkirk's Fate Alteration Machine, they'd embraced, carried by his wings. As the last battle for Gaea had raged, Van and Hitomi lost themselves to a moment of love. It was this love that conquered the power of Zaibach's machine and mankind's wish for destruction. In the end, Gaea was spared, the machine dismantled, and the war concluded.

Just as Hitomi realized her feelings for Van, it was time to go home. They'd both yearned for her to stay, but there'd been too many responsibilities and too much growing up to do. Her life and family were on Earth, and Van had duties to Fanelia. Before leaving, she entrusted him with her grandmother's pendant, the key to the power of Atlantis. With Escaflowne disabled and Fanelia in ruins, she'd hoped it might protect him.

Van had drawn her close in response, his silent farewell in the tightness of his arms as he held her. They'd remained locked together for several heartbeats, weighing oaths and obligations against their newfound love. Ultimately, he'd pulled back, and the column of light returned her to Earth with one of his feathers, a parting gift.

"""""""

Hitomi roused from her reverie of Gaea when the wind blew strands of hair into her face. She brushed her bangs out of her eyes. It was truly night now, the ghostly moon in the sky and the stars twinkling dimly. Her legs complained from being in the same position and her backside was numb. How long had she sat on the roof in the solitude of her thoughts?

She returned to the feather in her hand when it fluttered with another gust of wind. It was a pale memory in her palm, an echo of lonely nights. Although now ashen and frail, the feather was not always so timeworn. During Hitomi's first year of high school, the feather had shown like a polished moonstone lit from within. By using it as a medium, she'd bridged realities, touching the soul of one far removed from her.

Freshman year, Hitomi and Van communicated through a kind of telepathy. Sometimes, standing at the train station, she glimpsed him and received a whisper of his feelings. Their link was the strongest when she slept. They caught up on events in shared dreams, the completion of a new district of Fanelia, a favorite class. The emotions between them had endured despite the distance of worlds, the yearning never abating but growing to a painful razor's edge.

There was a price for such potent dreams.

While Hitomi's body rested, her mind did not. She dozed off at meals and fell asleep during classes. Permanent purple smudges formed beneath her eyes, and she lost weight. Her dreams and reality blended together. Each felt real in different ways, now a bleeding cut on a finger, now the brush of Van's feathers. Her desire for the visions of Van threatened to consume her. She constantly reached for him, like a junkie needing a fix from a beloved drug.

Hitomi's grades, which had been good, dropped. Her teachers organized a series of meetings with her. Fingers wagged in her face. Papers with bright red marks were shuffled before her. Some teachers coerced, others shouted. In response, she further withdrew from their tirade and the outside world.

She quit the track team, too tired to run, too weak to care. She also left chorus and declined a solo for an upcoming competition. Singing had given her joy, but she couldn't summon her voice after Gaea. Her tarot cards lay abandoned in a desk drawer. When her fellow students inquired about a reading, she pretended not to hear them. Eventually, people stopped talking to her altogether and instead gossiped about her in groups when she was nearby.

Only Hitomi's oldest friend, Yukari, remained steadfast. Yukari invited her on outings to movies and dessert parlors, which were declined. She stopped by Hitomi's house unannounced, school notes in hand, a worried expression on her face. She chatted away about Amano, who'd left for England, and the emails and letters they exchanged. Hitomi acted engrossed in Yukari's conversations and the blooming romance between Amano and her, but it all only served to exhaust her more.

When nothing penetrated the haze, the school got in touch with Hitomi's parents, but her family had already noticed her strangeness. Her mother questioned why her daughter ate so little when she used to wolf down meals and sweets. Her father, during one of his home repair ventures, dropped a hammer near Hitomi and became alarmed when she'd cowered in a ball on the floor screaming. Mamoru, her brother, called her a lunatic and avoided her in public, a kid's way of dealing with the inexplicable change in her.

Even the tone of Hitomi's precious dreams altered. Vivid colors grew muted and sharp features blurred. She emerged into the dreams sooner than Van and often waited for him to arrive. He came through what appeared to be a foggy chasm, his posture grim. He worried about her and frequently pointed out the thinness of her appearance and her moody behavior. She clutched at him helplessly during those latter dreams, unable to explain anything. Not pressing matters further, Van had simply manifested his wings and wrapped them around Hitomi like a guardian angel.

I'll be fine, she assured him through all the turmoil, and he'd give her his lopsided grin and say no more.

Then Van vanished altogether.

Hitomi stopped seeing images of him during her waking hours. His thoughts no longer brushed tenderly against her own. When she slept and sought Van in dreams, she walked into an eternity of nothingness. Bereft, Hitomi had called and called to him, but he never came, never answered. She never even heard the sound of a wingbeat.

Her treasured feather ceased shining and appeared to age in a matter of days, the edges tearing.

"""""""

Yes, even three years later, the loss of Van hurt.

Hitomi braced herself on the roof, thighs tightening around the peak. Pain knifed through her heart, and she struggled to breathe. The pangs, though sharp, lasted only briefly. When they ceased, she raised back into a sitting position with sweat on her brow, her right hand clutching the feather to her chest.

If she let herself think of Van, there was always some sort of physical discomfort: wet palms, heart palpitations, difficulty catching her breath. As the years had passed, the panic attacks became less frequent and more bearable, until she no longer needed medication, just the will to endure until the episodes passed.

A fuzzy cloud passed in front of the moon, blanketing the land in darkness. Hitomi remembered Gaea, its unsullied oceans, deep forests, and jagged mountains. She remembered the war with its tangy smell of blood, the heat of fire blazing, and the clang of swords crossing. She remembered the faces of allies and enemies. Mostly, she remembered Van, perspiring from sword practice, the coarse red fabric of his tunic, his gruff honesty.

She steadied herself, inhaling and exhaling deliberately, methodically. Enough. She was here on the roof for a reason. Today was special. This was an important moment for her. She had to see this through and recall everything.

Her downward spiral concluded during a freshman physical education class. The spring weather had been pleasant and balmy, so the girls gathered outside to run relays. Hitomi, dizzy from a lack of food and distraught over Van's abandonment, asked the teacher to let her sit out. In retaliation for her weakness, he assigned her to the first race. No remorse.

Hitomi was the second runner for her team. She woozily watched the students tearing up the turf, heading towards her. Her ponytailed classmate handed her the baton. She took it, attempted a few shaky paces, and collapsed like a marionette with cut strings. In the distance, she heard shouts of alarm, but everything for her was black.

She found herself back in the landscape of her dreams, except this place was not the starlit paradise Van and she had built. It felt cold and was murky as a swamp. She was not alone this time. Someone waited for her with a knobby cane and bird like features. Grandma Yuri, as the old woman Hitomi was most familiar with, hobbled over to her, her countenance serene.

"Grandma!" She threw her arms around her grandmother, who welcomed her with an equally strong embrace. Then unable to help herself, Hitomi teared up and sobbed into the old woman's narrow shoulder.

"There, there, child. So many tears," Grandma Yuri soothed and patted her back.

"G-Grandma, I miss you," she hiccupped. "Everything is so w-wrong."

For a time, Grandma Yuri simply let her wail and cry self-pitying tears. A storm had raged within her, all hideous clouds, buffeting winds, and stinging rains. Its wrath was terrible when she released it. But when it ended, as all storms do, Hitomi felt cleansed of some negativity.

Embarrassed, she pulled away from her grandmother. She took a breath and met the other's gaze. She beheld not the elderly Yuri Hoshino, but the girl she used to be. This was the young woman Leon Schezar met a lifetime ago on Gaea. She wore a sapphire yukata with pink and yellow flowers. In her right hand, the cane had morphed into a plastic and paper pinwheel, its blades whirling. Yuri the girl was small and petite, her once gray hair gleaming nutbrown in twin braids. Only her emerald eyes remained the same as always, bright, compassionate, laughing.

"You must believe, Hitomi," Grandma Yuri said, her maiden's voice sweet.

Her eyebrows drew together. "Believe in what?"

"Silly child!" Grandma Yuri laughed. It tinkled through the gray haze. "In yourself!"

"I'm not sure I can. Something isn't right with me." Hitomi shook her head. "I can't tell what is real or a dream. Is it Earth? Is it Gaea?"

The pinwheel spun faster, faster. "It doesn't matter what is real or not real. Both are the same."

Hitomi sensed an outside force interfering with the vision. Some unseen current tugged at her, wanting her to awaken. In response to this insistent force, the fog thickened around Grandma Yuri. It grew increasingly difficult to pick out the spirit's slender form.

"I don't understand!" she called into the leaden clouds. She waved her hands through the vapors, hoping to catch hold once more of her grandmother.

Grandma Yuri's words resounded liltingly through the withering vision. "What is reality but a dream of a dream?"

"Grandma! What about Van?" Hitomi was fading, fading.

"Believe in yourself, Hitomi. Believe, and the stars will help you."

"""""""

Hitomi never saw her grandmother again after that vision. She liked to believe that the woman's spirit found peace. In return, Hitomi realized she must do the same. This night was about that. Her memories of the last three years had led her to this point, to this choice.

She pressed on with remembering.

It'd been someone tapping her cheek that roused Hitomi from the dream. Back in the land of the living, three faces had peered down at her: the school nurse, her mother, and Yukari. The agitated nurse ordered Hitomi home, muttering about anemia, and her mother drove her to the Kanzaki house, mute and introspective. Hitomi spent the remainder of the day sleeping and thinking. As her mother had prepared dinner, she tromped down the stairs and announced in the kitchen that she wanted to see a psychiatrist.

Upon the recommendation of a family friend, Hitomi began visiting Dr. Rika Ishigawa. She was a plump lady in her fifties with a cheerful disposition. She diagnosed Hitomi with post-traumatic stress disorder, mild depression, and panic attacks. They had many sessions together over the years, and Hitomi grew to trust and rely on Dr. Ishigawa's guidance.

She never spoke of Gaea during their sessions, although a part of her had yearned to. No, she'd kept Gaea, the war, and Van locked away inside of her heart. She might've touched on subjects related to them during counseling, but she never dared to voice the whole story.

Between those sessions and temporary rounds of medication, Hitomi got better. She managed passing grades and proceeded onto her next year of high school. Most of the summer break was spent in Dr. Ishigawa's office. Progress was slow, but she overcame the PTSD and depression, though symptoms occasionally resurfaced. She counted it as a victory when she got off the pills and controlled the rare panic attack with mindful breathing. Thanks to the support of her psychiatrist, family, and Yukari, she returned to a semblance of herself before Gaea.

For the remainder of high school, Hitomi immersed herself in her studies. Despite a disastrous freshman year, she raised her grades and claimed a spot in the top fifteen percent of her class. Yukari talked the track coach into reaccepting her onto the team. It paid off when she beat the thirteen-second barrier that had previously eluded her and carried her school to a victory.

Rejoining chorus proved more challenging. The instructor was reluctant to talk to her let alone give her a second chance. Hitomi had to show up at every practice fifteen minutes early for two weeks before Mrs. Yamaguchi grudgingly allowed her back into the group. She attended practices religiously afterwards, appreciating the comradery singing in a choir brought and the beauty of music. Senior year, Mrs. Yamaguchi, feigning nonchalance, assigned Hitomi to sing the lead solo during their spring concert, and she'd done so with pleasure.

Hitomi's classmates remained distant. If not for the cheerful Yukari, she wouldn't have interacted with anyone from school. They kept her isolated, as if her fight with PTSD were an infectious disease. She occasionally overheard her classmates chattering about her, usually nothing good, but she faked indifference. In the end, she became so accomplished at ignoring the rumors that they slowed to a trickle. When a couple of brave souls approached her to read their futures, she merely smiled and announced having given up the hobby.

The tarot cards proved too much of a burden. Shortly after starting sessions with Dr. Ishigawa, she folded a cloth around the cards and banished them to a metal lockbox. That box she'd buried beneath Grandma Yuri's maple tree.

That brought her to the present.

Yukari and Hitomi graduated from high school today. They'd ironed and starched their brown uniforms for the last time. As Hitomi sat through the outdoor ceremony, she'd tuned out faculty droning speeches, twitchy students, and creaking metal chairs. She'd breathed in the sweet scent of cherry blossom trees and stared up at a sky so blue it hurt. She'd looked out across a sea of faces in the audience to see her mother beaming proudly, her father scratching his balding head, and Mamoru dozing off. Once more, she'd realized life was changing.

Yukari would attend the same Tokyo university as Amano in the fall. She wanted to be a preschool teacher and already had a gig as a daycare assistant. Amano, an engineering major, lived in a cramped apartment with two roommates. He'd moved back to Japan shortly after his own high school graduation in England to be closer to Yukari. Her younger brother Mamoru, who wasn't so little anymore, was entering high school himself and somehow had scored himself a girlfriend. Hitomi's parents were discussing taking a second honeymoon to Europe. Her mother had recently taken up painting again, and her father's company had just promoted him to a senior position.

Everyone around her had something happening, something new they were involved in.

Except her.

Tonight, after the ceremony, Hitomi's family offhandedly inquired about her future plans. Her father wanted her to attend college and become an accountant, whereas her mother suggested she take a break from classes and get a part-time job. Mamoru kindly reminded her she could move out anytime and give him the larger bedroom.

She hadn't known how to respond to them. Suddenly, the world seemed so vast and daunting, and tomorrow was too soon.

A month ago during the final session with Dr. Ishigawa, she'd told Hitomi it was time to move forward and take charge of her life. Maybe it was scary, maybe there'd be scars, but she had to find her place out there, find out who she was.

So, Hitomi would try.

She looked down at the delicate feather. Perhaps the love between Van and herself had been meant for only one moment, for one world, for one purpose. Could she honestly say they might still care as deeply for each other three years later? They would be different people now with different experiences and different views.

Maybe it was best for her, and for Van, if she let go of the past. His silence all this time could be his way of telling her to do just that.

She kissed the top of the shabby feather and released it. The wind blew it out of the harbor of her hand. She squinted into the night and saw a glint of light as it disappeared. "Goodbye, Van," she murmured.

"""""""

To Be Continued

"""""""