Vision of Escaflowne: Soulmates

Written by: Meghanna Starsong

"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 6/1/2017: I corrected some grammatical errors and condensed certain passages for better flow. If you notice any other issues, please feel free to let me know. I'll continue to work hard to improve this story.

"""""""

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 onto fenced lawns, Lego-block buildings, and tidy streets. 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 twilight breeze, which also tangled Hitomi's short, brown-blond hair. Cars honked at one another a few blocks over, and two kids walking a dog down the street let out peals of laughter.

Hitomi grabbed the tree's nearest branch with her left hand and braced her right on the windowsill. She hoisted herself onto the ledge of the roof and climbed its peak like a spider on a slanted web. The bottoms of her shoes scraped across the rough shingles as she crawled up. 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 and watched the sun's colorful farewell.

It was not until the first stars spangled the sky that Hitomi 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 had 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, Hitomi walked across the lawn to the old lady. Perhaps her ears were acting up, and she hadn't heard Hitomi. Grandma Yuri, a tiny bird of a woman, was seated in a wooden chair beneath the maple tree. Her gray hair was gathered together 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 Grandma Yuri's 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 Grandma Yuri 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 the waning sunlight. Together, they watched the heavens change from orange, to watermelon, to crimson. Grandma Yuri pulled her shawl closer to ward off the dying day.

The old woman's husky voice surprised Hitomi. "Can you see it?"

"See what, Grandma?" Hitomi folded her arms across her chest and scanned the sky. There was a ghostly moon and a 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?"

Grandma Yuri sighed and leaned back into the chair. "Do you remember the story I told you?"

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

"When I was about your age, I was coming home from a summer festival. I wore a beautiful yukata. I had begged and begged my father to buy it for me."

Hitomi recognized this story. "Yes, and you met a strange man. A foreigner, right? You told me he was older than you. With a fuzzy mustache and-"

"Eyes as blue as the ocean," Yuri mused quietly, almost to herself. "Such sad eyes."

"Wasn't there something like lightning?" Hitomi volunteered.

Grandma Yuri huffed at this description. "If it had been lightning, I wouldn't be here. No, it was like a river of light. It carried me to a mysterious place far, far away."

"What was the man's name, Grandma? I forgot it."

"Leon. Leon Schezar."

Hitomi never knew what to make of this story. 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. Grandma Yuri bringing it up now made Hitomi worry she might be going senile.

"So, what about that old story?" Hitomi asked.

Again, the heavy silence came. A lonely cricket chirruped nearby. Hitomi heard the "swoosh" of her grandmother's gnarled hand caressing down her cane. The chair complained as the old lady bent forward and painstakingly stood. She teetered, using the cane to balance herself. Hitomi put a steadying hand on her shoulder. Grandma Yuri patted Hitomi's hand and hobbled off in the direction of the house. Her granddaughter followed close behind.

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

Hitomi frowned. "Change?"

"Yes." They made it to the circle 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!"

"It's true, child."

"You're quite healthy according to Doctor Sakamoto."

"Bah. That quack. No, I know my own body." Grandma Yuri's right hand tightened around the cane. The knuckles sat atop it like an eagle perched on a branch. "I'm old. There's no shame in aging. I've lived a good life and been more fortunate than others."

"You have years left to live," Hitomi stubbornly insisted.

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 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, Hitomi squeezed the old woman's forearm. "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 Hitomi and herself. "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 gossamer chain cool, the ruby gem sparkling like fire.

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

Grandma Yuri stroked her cheek. She 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. Hitomi lost her grandmother, Yuri Hoshino, just weeks after having received 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 Hitomi 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, Hitomi wondered if it had all been real, the dragon, the pillar of light, 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 tale passed through the centuries and a prejudice against Draconians, the descendants of Atlantis's most powerful subjects.

For several months, Hitomi journeyed through Gaea. She admired its beautiful landscapes, met interesting people, and adjusted to its strange customs. However, she also encountered the horrors of war and a legendary guardian, Escaflowne. She witnessed the slaughter of innocents, the razing of countries, and warriors pitting themselves against each other. Her pendant, tarot cards, and visions both guided and hindered Hitomi and her friends. Among her allies were the zealous Van Fanel, boy-king of Fanelia; the dashing Asturian knight, Allen Schezar; the elegant princess of Asturia, Millerna Aston; the trickster Catgirl, Merle; and the cunning merchant-prince, Dryden Fassa. Together, they fought and defeated the tyrannical Zaibach Empire.

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

After everything they suffered through, all the fighting, lies, and politics, Van and Hitomi's hearts finally synchronized in Zaibach. Beneath the sickly light of Emperor Dornkirk's Fate Alteration Machine, they embraced, carried by his wings. While the last battle of the Gaean war raged, Van and Hitomi lost themselves to a single 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 had realized her feelings for Van, it was time to go home. They both yearned for her to stay, but each agreed that they had responsibilities and growing up to do. Hitomi had a life and family on Earth, and Van had duties to Fanelia. She entrusted him with her grandmother's pendant, the key to the power of Atlantis. With Escaflowne disabled and Fanelia in ruins, she hoped it might protect him. Van drew her close in response and held her in a farewell hug. They cleaved to one another, weighing oaths and obligations against their newfound love. Ultimately, Van pulled back, and the column of light returned Hitomi 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 moon in the sky and the stars twinkling wanly. 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 rustled 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. By using it as a medium, she had spanned the distance of worlds and bridged realities.

Freshman year, Hitomi and Van communicated through telepathy and dreams. Sometimes, standing at the train station, she caught a flash of his onyx hair and received a whisper of his feelings. When she slept, the messages were the strongest. Van and she could manipulate the dreamscape they shared and show images of what they spoke of. They kept each other updated on the events of their lives, the completion of a new district of Fanelia, a favorite class. The emotions between them endured despite time and space. The yearning never abated, only grew to a razor's edge with the passing of weeks, months.

But, 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. Purple smudges formed beneath her eyes, and the teen lost a considerable amount of weight. Her dreams and reality blended together. Each felt real in different ways, now the pain of a cut on a finger, now the brush of Van's feathers on her cheek. Her desire for the visions of Van threatened to consume her. She reached for him always, 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. Hitomi quit the track team, too tired to run, too weak to care. She also left chorus and declined a solo spot for an upcoming competition. Singing used to give her joy, but she could not summon her voice after Gaea. Her tarot cards lay abandoned in a desk drawer. When her fellow students inquired about a reading, Hitomi floated by as if in a trance and pretended not to hear them. People stopped talking to her and whispered 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 often declined. She stopped by Hitomi's house unannounced, school notes in hand, a worried expression on her face. She chatted away about Amano, who left for England, and the emails and letters they exchanged. Yukari never said it, but Hitomi suspected that something interesting was happening between the pair. She acted engrossed in her friend's conversations and hints of a blooming romance, but it all just exhausted Hitomi more.

When nothing penetrated haze, the school involved Hitomi's family in the meetings. Her alarmed parents had already noticed her strangeness. Her mother wondered why Hitomi ate so little when she used to wolf down whole meals and sweets. Now, eating a bowl of rice and a few slices of fruit sustained Hitomi for an entire day. Her father, during one of his home repair ventures, dropped a hammer near Hitomi. He asked why she cowered in a ball on the floor and screamed. Mamoru, Hitomi's brother, called her a lunatic and avoided her in public.

Even the tone of Hitomi's precious dreams changed. 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 fog stretched across a chasm, his posture grim. He was worried for her and frequently pointed out the thinness of her appearance and her moody behavior. She clutched at him during those latter dreams, unable to explain anything. To comfort her, Van manifested his wings and wrapped them around Hitomi like a guardian angel.

I'll be fine, she assured him through all the chaos. He gave her his lopsided grin and said 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 called and called for him, but he never came, never answered. She did not even hear the sound of a wingbeat. Her treasured feather ceased shining, the edges tearing. It appeared to age in a matter of days. The teen lost all sense of what was real and what was not.

"""""""

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. The pangs, though sharp, lasted only briefly. When they ceased, Hitomi raised back into a sitting position, her right hand clutching the feather to her chest. If she let herself think of Van, there was always physical discomfort, sweaty palms, heart palpitations. As the years had passed, it became easier to endure them.

A fuzzy cloud passed before 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, sweating from sword practice, the coarse red fabric of his tunic, his gruff honesty.

Hitomi steadied herself. She inhaled and exhaled deliberately, methodically. No, 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 was warm and balmy, so the girls were outside running relays. Hitomi, dizzy from a lack of food and distraught over Van's abandonment, asked the teacher to let her sit out. The burly teacher blew his whistle and assigned her to the first race in retaliation for her weakness. Hitomi was the second runner for her team. She took the baton from her classmate, 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 had she built. It felt cold and was as murky as a swamp. Hitomi 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 to her granddaughter, her countenance serene.

"Grandma!" Hitomi trilled and threw her arms around the newcomer. Unable to help herself, she teared up and sobbed into the old woman's bony shoulder.

"There, there, child. So many tears," Grandma Yuri soothed and patted the teenager's back.

"G-Grandma, I miss you," Hitomi hiccupped.

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

Embarrassed, Hitomi pulled away from her grandmother. She took a breath and met the other's gaze. She beheld not the elderly woman, but the girl she used to be. This was the image of Grandma Yuri's spirit on Gaea, the beauty Leon Schezar met a lifetime ago. She wore a sapphire yukata with its salmon-colored flowers. In her right hand, the cane was replaced by a pinwheel, its blades whirling in the ghost of a breeze. Grandma Yuri the girl was small and petite, her gestures refined and lady-like. Her once gray hair gleamed nut-brown in twin braids. Only her emerald eyes remained the same, bright, laughing.

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

Hitomi's brows drew together. "Believe in what?"

"Silly girl!" 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?"

Grandma Yuri's 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 and Hitomi. It grew increasingly difficult to pick out the spirit's slender form.

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

Grandma Yuri's words resounded liltingly through the dimming 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 believed 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 was a gentle smacking on her cheek that roused Hitomi from the dream. Back in the land of the living, three faces peered down at her, the nurse, her mother, and Yukari. The agitated nurse ordered Hitomi home, muttering about anemia. Her mother accepted Hitomi's duffel bag from Yukari, and they drove to the Kanzaki house, mute and introspective. Hitomi spent the remainder of the day sleeping and thinking. As her mother 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 Doctor Rika Ishigawa. She was a plump, middle-aged lady with a cheerful disposition. She diagnosed Hitomi with post-traumatic stress disorder. During their multitude of sessions, Hitomi never spoke of Gaea, although a part of her yearned to. On a couple of occasions, she mentioned having vivid dreams of another world to Doctor Ishigawa. These dreams the psychiatrist interpreted as an escapist fantasy and nothing more. No, Hitomi kept Gaea, the war, and Van locked away inside of her heart. She might touch on subjects related to them during her counseling sessions, but she dared not voice her story.

Somehow, Hitomi managed passing grades, just barely. She proceeded onto her next year of high school. Most of the summer break was spent in Doctor Ishigawa's office in private and group counseling with her parents. Progress was slow, but Hitomi overcame the PTSD, although symptoms occasionally resurfaced. With 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 Hitomi beat the thirteen-second record that had previously eluded her and carried her school to a victory. Rejoining chorus proved more challenging. The instructor warned Hitomi that missing a single practice would result in being kicked out permanently, and she would not receive a solo spot ever again. For two years, Hitomi attended practices religiously. The instructor, feigning nonchalance, assigned her to sing the lead in the spring festival before graduation.

Hitomi's classmates remained distant towards her. If not for the cheerful Yukari, she would not have interacted with anyone from school. They kept her isolated, as if her fight with PTSD were an infectious disease. Occasionally, Hitomi overheard her classmates gossiping about her, but she faked indifference. When a couple of brave souls asked her to read their futures, she merely smiled and announced having given up the hobby.

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

That brought her to the present.

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

Yukari would attend the same Tokyo university as Amano in the fall. She wanted to be a school teacher and already had a gig as a daycare assistant. Amano, an engineering major, lived in a cramped apartment with two roommates. He moved there before graduation in order to stay in Japan with Yukari. Mamoru was entering high school himself, and somehow, he had managed to snag himself a decent girlfriend. Hitomi's parents were discussing a second honeymoon somewhere in Europe.

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 get a part-time job. Mamoru kindly reminded her she could move out and give him the larger bedroom. Hitomi hadn't known what to say. Suddenly, the world seemed so big, and tomorrow was too soon. But, according to Doctor Ishigawa, it was time for her to move forward and to take charge of her life.

So, she would try.

Hitomi 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 Hitomi let go of the past. Van's silence all this time could be his way of telling her to do just that.

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

"""""""

To Be Continued