Hello. Hope everyone is well. Been working on this chapter off and on for a while. It's a long one. With a lot going on. I will warn you that I self-edited about half-way through. Then I got a little stir crazy. I would promise to go back and fix the chapter later, but that would be a lie. This is why I preferred having a Beta. The longer I go through a chapter the more I second guess and get annoyed with grammar or my lack off. Sorry.

Blades and Bellflowers

Chapter 6- Fight or Flight

Dragons. I know they aren't made up for children's stories, but real monsters of flesh, blood, and fire. Truthfully, I never thought that to see one in real life. Who really goes looking for the kind of danger a dragon holds? Not me. Van once said that my eyes reminded him of looking into a dragons' gaze. I could see what he meant now unlike before. The large yellow orbs watching from the dark cave's mouth held a power I couldn't put into words.

It wasn't really fear, but an instinct that pulls from deep inside the soul. Something made of massive muscular reptilian bodies with nearly impenetrable hides. Sharp snapping teeth set in powerful jaws that can cleave bone clean in two. Add in the quick hunter's instincts and no human could hope to win against the sheer killing power. I know Van slayed one, he told me so himself, but I never thought of the technicalities before now. How such a seemingly thin boy my age could win in such a fight where he was obviously out matched in every way.

I wanted to scream at Van to watch out, not that my warning was needed. Before I could even open my mouth, he moved. Spinning around to face the new threat, sword smoothly pulled from its sheath in one fluid motion. He stood between me and the monster and my mind failed to see how we'd get out of this mess alive.

From the top for the cliff this ledge was nearly invisible, but the wall of rock curved like a bowl turned on it's side. Worn smooth from years of weather and the rub of large scaled bodies. There was room to move without falling to our deaths, but not much. Especially not with someone like me taking up much needed space. I was virtually useless in a fight. The only thing I could do at this point was get in the way.

Honestly, I felt like I was about to be sick, something about the sulfuric smell coming from the beast and the strange power that rolled over me. Van stood centered, ready to attack or defend as needed. His face was turned away from me, but I could see the determined set to his shoulders. How was he not terrified right now? He wore no armor and didn't even carry a shield, just the crested sword against a monster of magic and myth.

Moving from the solid blackness the dragon's ugly reptilian head emerged first. Opening its mouth with a noise unlike any roar I'd ever heard that made my skin crawl. Teeth like a row of deadly daggers almost distracted me from how its forked tongue the length of my arm tasted the air, sensing its dinner so close.

"Hey ugly over here." Van shouted boldly, his slender arms splayed to attract as much of the beast's attention as possible. At the yell its head turned sideways on a long flexible neck, so one eye could focus on the taunting boy. The squat body moved then not darting forward as I'd expected, but arching back, its chest glowing and expanding with a strong inhalation.

"Down!" The fighter commanded and I obeyed without thinking. I dropped to the ash coated ground as two things happened at once. Van leapt across the space guiding the jet of flame away from where I lay. He used the rock wall to take the scorching breath, still the heat rolled through the air for an instant it felt like being inside an oven.

I saw the column of fire with my eyes, but my mind could see the moments after where the powerful tail would arch through the air like a whip impacting with Van's center dropping the boy onto the stone in a painful roll.

"To your left." I called out quickly. Without question he tucked into a roll just in time for the deadly swing to miss, which it wouldn't have without my warning. Taking the moment where the beast had anticipated to connect with its prey to go on the offensive Van charged. Unfortunately, the vulnerable belly shifted away from his attack instead it's armored hide deflected the strike.

As if realizing that I was the one that posed the greater threat the dragon's head tilted so that the bright eyes focused on the spot where I lay. The space we were trapped in didn't allow for much room to maneuver or hide. The boy reading intention the way I interpreted visions, reached down yanking me off the ground to put his body between me and the large head which snapped out. His blade met the dangerous teeth which would have ripped me apart in a second. The strength of the attack pushing Van back though he held his ground. Protecting me he was at a disadvantage and another blast of fire would fry us both.

"Grab the rope when I say so," My friend grit between his clenched teeth, blade ricocheting off the massive head once again. It was then I realized we'd ended up back at the ledge, I didn't see what good it would do, but I trusted Van.

"Okay." I agreed softly knowing he'd hear me.

With a quick charge right into danger he shouted, "Now!" I jumped toward the rope, my hands still raw from our earlier climb protested painfully, but I clung tightly and swung away from the cave. Torn between defending it's-self and following the sudden movement the dragon froze for only a breath, but it was enough. Van darted under the massive head he'd been fighting. Before it could react, he sunk the sharp tip of his sword into the soft ridge of flesh directly in the center of the monster's breast. The dragon reared back in unexpected pain, only helping widen the gash opening its chest. Thick blue blood sprayed out, but Van twisted aside narrowly avoiding being showered with the gunk.

The noises made by the dyeing beast were almost as terrible as the grisly sight. It collapsed to one side with a shudder. Without hesitating Van cut another slice across exposing the creature's still glowing heart, removing the still beating stone from its core. The moment the energist was removed smoke began to curl off the dragon. The giant corpse crumbed to ash right in front of us.

My feet touched the stone ledge again and this time I was steady. Van's shoulders sagged in relief. He'd defeated a second dragon. Not many alive could claim that. I was about to congratulate him when the fine hair on the back of my neck stood on end. All the noise we'd made with the mate of the young king's first kill had attracted unwanted attention.

I believed in the ability to fight one of the beasts but not three, and that was what we'd drawn to us. I had two arrows and really would just make the monsters angry. We couldn't stand against these odds. Blinking back to reality I grabbed Van's wrist, the one holding the heart stone and not his sword.

"We have to go," I insisted swallowing around the hard knot of fear in my throat.

"Why?" He questioned face puzzled, because as far as he could tell the danger had passed. "We are so close,"

Before I could explain what I'd seen, a horrible roar echoed from the cliff above us, another answered the call off to one side, then another. Van's eyes widened in realization.

"Put your sword away." I insisted quickly, the argument was there on the edge of being spoken when another roar sounded, closer this time. "Trust me." I added hoping that the pleading reached my eyes. Van nodded sheathing his weapon.

Leading him to the edge I refused to look down at the river below us. "We have to jump." Instead I kept my gaze locked on his mahogany eyes and somehow didn't feel as afraid as I should.

At the next roar a reptilian head appeared on the cliff above us and we jumped. Before it could lock onto the new targets, or it's friends could show up. Air rushed past as we dropped together my hand still anchored to Van. He reached for me with his free hand, fighting the wind that seemed ready to separate us. Pulling me to his chest, my head tucked under Van's chin. Plummeting down I never expected to feel safe, but I did. Letting go of his wrist I felt that arm wrap securely around me too. The solid stone pressed firmly into the small of my back.

"Deep breath." Van's voice was barely audible over the whistling in my ears, but I followed his instruction inhaling deeply, and holding it.

Then our feet broke the surface of the river and we shot down through the water like a single arrow. Fighting the current we kicked upward together. Returning to a connection of only one set of hands holding onto each other, so swimming upward was a little easier. This time our fingers were intertwined, and I knew everything would be just fine. I had Van and he had me.

The river churned with bubbles at our sudden intrusion to the point where I wasn't quite sure which way was up. Still the boy at my side seemed certain, and that was enough for me. Just as my lungs began to burn for new air our heads broke the surface. Gulping in the large gasps I looked over at Van, and forgot how to breathe for a second. It was the silly grin spanning his tanned face, like the sun bursting from behind clouds. In all my time at his side it was the first where he seemed truly happy. It felt like my stomach was full of little fish swimming around.

"What?" He asked at my puzzled expression, guiding us towards the nearest riverbank.

"I can't figure you out." I responded slowly, still stunned.

"In what way?" Van glanced away as our feet found the solid riverbed. Now able to walk instead of swim.

There was something to his new evasiveness that I couldn't read, like maybe he didn't want me to. "I've never met someone that likes jumping off cliffs before."

That startled a laugh out of the boy still holding onto my hand even though we where only ankle deep in the water. For a moment I couldn't decide what I liked more; the sound of his laughter or the open smile he'd shown before. Then I realized it didn't matter, these little moments were great. Then again so were his small acts of kindness, silent contemplation, protective nature, and even quick actions. Van was stubborn to a fault, still I couldn't imagine him any other way.

"It's the way you always seem to be the one to get us out of danger." He said smoothly. That certainty in my abilities he held onto. In me being the one to save the day. It was both strange and empowering.

I could see now why he'd seemed so happy. Then again who wouldn't be relieved to escape from three horrible dragons and a massive drop into a river far below. I wish I had the kind of faith in myself that Van had in me.

Somehow when we were together, I forgot about everything else. Danger, Family, society, really any reality that didn't have me at the young king's side. I could do and say things that poor sheltered Hitomi wouldn't have believed. I just survived a dragon fight for the gods' sake. Forget jumping into a river, from a cliff. That thought brought me swiftly back to here and now.

Soaking wet, bow still strapped to my back, holding hands with the king of Fanelia. In a sudden bout of nerves, I turned away dropping Van's hand to cross arms over my chest. Praying that he hadn't noticed the way my clothes clung to every inch of me, showing curves I didn't think I had. Part of me wondered at how he'd looked standing there. Raven hair dripping fat drops onto his face, the red tunic plastered to hard lean muscles, and my mind refused to go any farther. Cheeks burning so hotly I was surprised steam wasn't pouring off me.

"Are you cold?" Van's voice was close, too close. For a moment I hoped and feared he'd turn me around. Pull me into his arms again. Instead he seemed to faulter moving away instead. "I'll get a fire started."

I wanted to say something but couldn't. So, I focused on what we had and what we didn't. All of our supplies were on top of the cliff with my yorkel, I had to hope hadn't been eaten by dragons when we were taken off the menu. Van had the wet clothes he was wearing, his sword, a dagger tucked into one boot, and the energist. I was similarly lacking in fresh clothing and supplies, except for my bow and one remaining arrow.

The fletching was damaged on one side but might fly with a small repair. Van moved purposefully around the bank gathering dry kindling to start a fire. It felt odd not to do anything, so I decided to take my last arrow and attempt to find something to eat, and hopefully not anything that would want to eat me. I'd hunted with Van a few times. My archery had gotten rather good, but I was still a little squeamish about killing animals. I understood where food came from and had caught a few things for our dinner in the past. Thankfully Van always cleaned and cooked the meat for the both of us.

Moving into the thin trees just past the river, not far, but enough to hopefully find something we hadn't scared away with our splashing. I could still hear the river rushing past, as I moved as quietly as possible. Wet clothes becoming more uncomfortable then embarrassing on my own. There was a close call with a thin rabbit, but with the messed-up feather the arrow took a sharp turn into the ground a few inches short. Changing tactics, I returned to the water's edge further upstream from where Van was building a fire, and we'd splashed down.

In a small inlet were a few fish circling the shallower water. I notched the last arrow, accounting for the curve in its flight as I sighted down the shaft, and released with a slow practiced breath. The arrow shot into the water and for a moment I feared I'd lost that one too, but after a few long seconds it bobbed back to the surface sticking out of the side of a silvery green fish. I repeated the motions three more times, moving up the bank a few times to find targets less agitated by the shooting of their fishy friends. With enough caught for a meal I turned back towards where I'd left Van. Feeling like I'd accomplished something.

Before I'd gone too far, he found me. Eyes scanning me for injury as hands free of gloves for once caught me right above my elbows. The skin contact was almost as startling as the fear etched in his set expression.

"Where have you been?" He demanded, shaking me slightly and almost causing me to drop my catch. The scaly bodies thumping against my leg.

Stunned all I could do was respond lamely, holding up the arrow. "Fishing," I'd strung each of the four fish through one gill and out its mouth, so they all fit on the shaft securely, the damaged fletching keeping them from sliding off the end.

Blankly Van glanced from my trophies to the newly soaked legs of my pants. Where most of my clothes were closer to the damp range, wading out into the river after my fish didn't keep me entirely dry. It had to be done though, before the current stole my catch. It was then I realized he wasn't wearing his normal red shirt. I'd seen Van bare chested before, but in daylight something made me want to reach out and to touch him. Instead I gripped the arrow of fish tighter until I felt the pointed head dig sharply into my palm.

I must have made a noise because the hands lingering on my arms dropped to take the makeshift fish holder. He held the awkward thing easily in one hand while the other gently prodded the narrow line beading slowly with fresh blood.

"Come on we need to take care of this," Van sighed still holding my wrist and leading me down river where I'd originally left him.

We walked in silence for a long moment. I couldn't help watching his smooth tanned back as he strode slightly ahead, leading me.

"Where is your shirt?" My voice seemed small and strange to my ears, but I hoped he hadn't noticed.

"I hung it to dry before I realized you'd disappeared." There was a stern note that made me think Van was angrier at himself than me. It seemed odd to think that the King of Fanelia would take the safety of an Austurian lord's daughter so personally. Then again to me he was just Van and we relied on each other far more than normal.

Part of me wanted to argue that I hadn't been gone that long. That I could protect myself with my bow just as he'd taught me. Mostly how I wanted to be useful. Or why I couldn't stand around him wet and distracted by strange thoughts. Instead I did the only thing that made sense.

"I'm sorry for worrying you," I apologized, and truly meant it.

He sighed but with a small nod I could tell my apology was accepted. "Warn me next time," I blinked at that half expecting him to tell me not to wander the woods alone. Allen would have, hell most guys would tell me to sit at camp and be nothing more than an ornament. Van knew me better than that, and my chest felt warm and tight. He didn't mind me being independent as long as I was safe.

"Well it was kind of a silly thing to do, since you know these woods better than I do." It was true, logically Van would be the one hunting and I'd be stuck building the fire. I just liked that he was understanding of my need to be useful.

"Together next time." The simple agreement made me happier than any amount of flowery words. It was then that we arrived back at the camp, a fire burning low and steady. Van's red tunic hung on a low branch a safe way from the flames, but close enough to be visibly dry by now. I was suddenly a little jealous, my own clothes stuck and chafed uncomfortably.

The camp was thoughtfully set up on the bank which was mostly smooth worn rock. Large flat stones circled the cheerful fire, with a fallen tree nearby. After checking my small cut and determining that it wasn't even bleeding anymore, I was ordered to wash it in the river and come right back. When I returned Van sat me down on the trunk next to him to inspect it again before wrapping a long fibrous leaf around the minor wound. Honestly, I'd gotten worse papercuts from books in the library at home, but it was easier to let the boy tend to it than argue.

"Thank you," I said once he released my hand, content that I was alright, or at least not going to attract more dragons.

"You should change out of those wet clothes before you catch cold." He responded pointedly not looking at me just then. Hands deftly using a small dagger to clean the fish I'd caught earlier.

"Into what?" I questioned my tone almost mocking. It wasn't like we had anything more now than when we'd gone into the river.

Wordlessly Van jerked his head in the direction of his dry shirt, eyes still focused on the task at hand. For a moment I looked between the boy tossing fish guts into the river and the shirt that wouldn't cover much past my hips. Finally comfort or lack of it won out and I took the fabric behind a tree. I'd been right that the amount of skin exposed had gone past indecent somewhere along the way; it was also soft, dry, and smelled like a spring breeze somehow. I almost left my pants on. Unfortunately chasing fish had made them the wettest thing I had, aside from my boots.

With a shrug I hung my shirt and pants on the branch Van had used. Then I walked over to the rock near the fire where a pair of boots and set of worn leather gloves already sat drying, my own boots looked so small compared to his. As I moved carefully around the camp trying to tug the hem down unsuccessfully my friend seemed completely engrossed in his task, even though he'd soon run out of fish to prepare.

My legs were bare, and any movement would show my undergarments. Still I was far more comfortable than before. The feeling of changing out of damp fabric almost impossible to describe. Knowing that the best way to hide my body was to keep it out of Van's line of sight I walked only past is his back. Choosing instead to sit next to him, but with my back to the fire. We faced opposite directions, yet I could feel him tense at my nearness.

The air between us seemed full of questions or maybe possibilities. After a while I spoke up. "Thanks for the shirt." It might have been the firelight, but it seemed as though his neck and ears grew red. Pushing past the awkwardness I asked, "You won't catch cold, will you?"

"No," Van shook his head, wild hair looking no worse for our swim. "I've never been sick."

His statement caught me a little off guard. "Never?" I blinked stunned. "Everyone gets sick some time."

Bare tan shoulders shrugged empathically. "Not me," It seemed so natural for him, yet I knew this was anything but normal. Then it hit me. He wasn't fully human. I'd almost forgotten, again.

Van bled the same red as I did. He could be cut or bruised just like everyone else, I'd seen it a few times during his training and our trip. Still his reflexes were very fast, and injuries seemed to heal at a quicker pace than anyone else I knew. He was a Draconian, but I didn't know exactly what that meant. Legend and rumor only.

He must have known I wanted to ask about it. Leaning forward he placed the fish now skewered on sticks over the fire to cook.

"My mother was Draconian," He'd told me of his family before, but never this detail. It hadn't felt right to ask. I turned my body slightly so I could watch Van as he talked, but his gaze was fixed on the dancing flames. With a deep breath he tossed another log to feed the blaze roasting our food. "I've never met others outside my family, so what is normal and what isn't is hard to determine."

I knew what he meant. As a seer from a family where only a few people inherited the trait; what was normal to me wasn't for most people. Even my mother and I weren't the same when it came to our abilities. For Van who was only half he might be more like one parent than the other. If regular illnesses didn't affect him, were there other things he shared only with his mother's people. I thought to how he always felt warm to me and wondered if that was a Draconian trait, or purely Van.

We talked a little more until the fish was ready, then ate in silence. Every now and then I'd swear Van was glancing over his shoulder at me, but it could have just been my imagination.

There hadn't been a single dragon sighting, so we decided to wait until near sunset to return to the cave. If the mated pair that lived within the cave were both dead; then the others wouldn't stick around. At least not without dinner, in this case us. Neither Van nor I seemed keen to spend the night on the rocky riverbank without supplies.

The other reason not to wait was how close we were to the Escaflowne. I could feel my friend's agitation at the thought of another delay. Once enough time had passed to dry my clothes, I went back behind the tree to change. Glad to be fully covered again, but in a way, I missed the comfort of the red shirt. It might be because I felt closer to Van with it on.

I attempted to hand the fabric back to its owner, but Van asked that I hold onto it for a little longer. Avoiding my question, he turned away to bank the remains of our fire. It was then I realized we didn't have a way up the cliff, which was nearly straight up from the river. The rope we used to climb to the cave didn't reach this far and there wasn't a clear path. If we had to walk through the forest back to the top it could add days if not longer to our journey.

"Van," I started, but didn't get any further. His back was towards me and something strange was happening. The skin there moved, or more so something below, growing rapidly the smooth tan flesh split. Giving way so fast there wasn't a drop of blood spilt, yet Van made a small pained noise. The only sign that whatever was happening hurt. Expanding from each shoulder blade was a mass of white. Then just as suddenly as it began the whole thing was over. The boy stood in the same spot, but now wings arched outward and it was both strange and impossibly right at the same time. Bright feathers drifted through the air like the purest snow.

I don't know what drove me to do it. Instinct maybe, or that strange pull I'd grown so used to. My fingers made contact, brushing the soft feathers gently. The winged boy shuddered at my touch, more a twitch of skin, but not an unpleasant one. Still he didn't look at me, as if afraid of my reaction to his transformation.

"So beautiful," I breathed, in awe of the magic that lived just under the skin of my friend. Van turned to me then, the brush of feathers like a gentle breeze.

Something passed over his face, unshielded and vulnerable. Almost as though he expected a negative reaction. Feared that I would turn away from him, just as I always thought people would when they found out what I was. Van and I were far more alike than I ever would have guessed. In that kinship we both found it easier to fully accept each other.

This moment grew between us, warm and somehow intimate. It should have been embarrassing to see another person so vulnerable, exposed, but it wasn't. Seeming to only draw us closer together. It wasn't a lie when I said his wings were beautiful, then that was an understatement. Van was the one beautiful. How could anyone think he was cursed instead of blessed?

Maybe Van saw some of how I felt on my face, because his expression turned soft and my chest felt like lose feathers danced inside my very soul. Was he half as in awe of me as I was of him?

He didn't need to say anything. My arms going to his neck, and his wrapped around my waist. We'd embraced a few times now, still this was different, comfortable. It wasn't to express gratitude, or protect each other, but this feeling of understanding was so very powerful. Following his lead I bent my knees and jumped. In the same breath those long graceful wings first arched upward then beat down in an immense surge of air and motion, propelling us upward. We were flying.

It wasn't like before, wild and scary, plummeting downward with the wind screaming in our ears. This was controlled, and my heart almost seemed to soar upward with us. Where the fall seemed to take forever this trip into the sky was over far too soon. Our feet touching down on the ledge. Then just as suddenly as they appeared Van's wings began to dissolve away, feathers scattering on the wind in one last huge blizzard of white.

It was magic pure and simple. I've seen more unexplainable things in my life than most people could ever claim, but this was one I didn't feel the need to find any answers for. Draconian and Seer, or just Van and Hitomi.

Then the moment seemed to break and I took a step backwards, putting space between us. His hands left my waist almost reluctantly. The lingering touch leaving a memory of warmth and safety like a ghost against my skin.

"Thank you," I said forcing myself to look away. There was suddenly too much going on in my head and heart that I couldn't deal with right then. Remembering I still had his shirt I pulled it from the arrowless quiver strung across my back, where I'd put it for safekeeping.

"Don't mention it," He mumbled taking the tunic and quickly pulling it over his mess of black hair.

I couldn't tell if Van meant it in an offhanded 'you're welcome' or a 'don't talk about this to anyone' sort of way. Choosing the first option I looked around the cliffside cave finding only a few new scorch marks as testament to this morning's dragon fight.

"How can there be products made from dragons when their flesh turns to ash after dying?" My question seemed to break the last of the spell between Van and I. As if reminding us to act normal, like nothing had changed from before.

"It's the energist," He stated almost offhandedly, and I handed him my quiver so he could remove the stone from the bottom himself. The pink color was more vibrant than any I'd seen sold in the market. "If it is removed first the magic that makes up the beast is trapped inside, all that is left of the creature is ash and memory. But if you wait until the heart stops then the magic dissipates naturally making it so the dragon remains flesh and blood, but the energist is far less powerful."

I could see what he meant and understood the other things not said out loud. People didn't normally do it the way he did. In a way it was a waste to kill a creature like a dragon only for the heart stone, even a more potent one. Also it was far more dangerous. A test of courage and skill, not a goal for most dragon hunters. Even those took their own lives for granted when trying to slay such a monster with weapons and numbers far greater than Van had. The fact that he'd now done it alone, twice was either suicidal or brave, possibly both.

It was why dragon products were incredibly expensive. The risk it took often showed on the price tag. He'd told me once about the rite of dragon slaying that Fanelia used as the last test to become King. I knew his brother had failed where he succeeded, but the large pink stone full of caged magic was beyond priceless in many ways.

He offered to go into the cave and retrieve the Escaflowne alone, but it didn't feel right. We'd come so far together it seemed better to stick to what we knew worked. Each step taken made the darkness thicker. We didn't have a torch and neither of us were willing to sacrifice the clothing we wore to make one. Instead we moved carefully each with our right hand pressed to the curved stone wall worn smooth by years and massive scaled bodies scraping past.

Something crunched underfoot and in my mind I liked to believe it was a stick, not unknown bones. I wished for light. It was a simple offhand thought, but I never expected it to work. The stone pendent resting on my chest flared with a soft pink glow, followed by the larger brighter energist in Van's hand.

We froze not sure what to expect from the unexpected magic, but the two spots of light just glowed lessening the darkness around us. "How?" Van's question was one word, but I knew what he meant. It wasn't supposed to work like this; without a machine to convert that magic into energy, power, or heat.

"I don't know," Was all I could say. Carefully lifting the necklace between two fingers. It wasn't hot, and didn't dim or grow in strength. "I wished for light and this happened."

In the rose colored glow I could see Van's puzzled expression which probably mirrored my own. "Hitomi, are you sure you're a seer?" The awed note in his voice seemed almost as strange to me as the miracle of sight.

"Sure, the visions and dreams are part of everyday life for anyone." I scoffed starting to walk forward now that I could see and avoid the small animal bones strewn across the ground.

"That's not what I meant," my friend sighed heavily, as if I should already know without explanation what he was trying to say. "Ever think that maybe you could be something more powerful than a seer?"

"No," I responded quickly, "I have quite enough problems with the abilities I already know I have." The thought that I might something I didn't even have a name for was awful. If it came with more skills to isolate me even farther from normal people, I'd rather not know.

If my tone didn't end the conversation a rustling sound off to one side did. Van moved in front of me protectively the energist in his grasp held outward like a pink beacon while he prepared to draw his sword at any sign of trouble. The strange light swept from side to side slowly, searching for the source of the unknown noise. A glimmer of reflection caught my attention and I touching my companion's arm to direct him towards what I'd seen without alerting whatever it was to our progress.

He nodded understaning my wordless signal and moved silently forward. I kept close behind and watched for anything underfoot that would give us away. The light caught again and I realized the glimmer was off yellow eyes, three sets of them blinked in that unnerving bottom lidded way of all dragons. About the size of herd animals the beasts had to be young though I had never heard of anyone even seeing dragon calves before. Small compared to their mother whose heart stone lit the area, never less they thrashed tails thicker than my leg threateningly.

With a slow metallic sound Van unsheathed his sword, but before he could advance on the young monsters I grabbed the back of his shirt.

"Hitomi, what are you doing?" He hissed back at me, voice low and confused.

"Don't kill them," I said with a pleading note.

He gaped at me for a moment like I'd gone totally off the deep end. "Are they old enough to survive without an adult to feed them?"

"I think so," Van glanced at the three beasts again then back at me. "Looks like they are just around two months old, maybe started to learn how to hunt already. Why, they are pests?"

"That doesn't mean we have a right to just kill them." I argued quickly, "This morning was self-defense, but killing these babies would just be murder."

"They aren't human, you can't judge it the same way." Even in the low light I could tell Van's expression was a mixture of exasperation and mild amusement.

"So, anything not human has no right to live, just because we say so?" I know anyone else would have ignored me or called my opinion naïve, and it might very well be a childish notion. Still it was how I truly felt.

With a sigh Van sheathed his blade. "Fine," He agreed almost reluctantly. "But if they attack I will not hesitate to defend us."

"Okay," I nodded gratefully. This was why I felt so comfortable around him. My opinion mattered, even if it was the complete, and total opposite of his. I wanted to thank him, but it felt odd to say anything else. Instead I moved a little closer to the wall, as far from the small dragons as possible. We started walking again, slowly, carefully, they watched us yet didn't move towards us. As they were more afraid of us than we were of them, and I guess it was true.

The young beasts shied away from us and the pink glow that illuminated us. That awkward yet eerie reptilian movement of these creatures. I was glad they didn't attack. To Van they might have been pests, but to me they were living and deserved to stay that way. Not only that but our world relied on the existence of dragons in so many ways. What would happen to half our technology if people just went around killing these things when they were young and vulnerable.

After what might have been minutes but felt infinitely longer, the glow illuminated something else in the depths of the cave. Much bigger than even the adult dragon, and I knew it was what we'd come all this way for. The metal suit was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Even kneeling and unmanned there was something almost lifelike about this guymelif. White articulated armor plating, large green stoned pauldrons, and a dark sweeping cape. Most of all its energist seemed to beat in time with a regular rhythm like the heart thudding loudly in my own chest.

Van strode forward confidently. This was his key to saving the people of Fanelia. Maybe it was how small he suddenly seemed compared to the Escaflowne. Or it could have been the way the boy and the suit seemed to call to each other. Mostly it was the distance I could see growing between me and the young king, because that was what he was. We might have shared a lot, in a short amount of time, but this was who he really was. It all scared me.

A hot wind seemed to blow as though dragon breath curled around me, then I realized that neither my nor Van's hair were stirred by this suffocating gust. It's wasn't natural. The magic in my blood calling out franticly. The black shadow around Van reached out greedily in dark tendrils, swallowing the engergist light. Cruel laughter rang in my ears and my breath came in short panic breaths. Danger was coming, one even I couldn't see clearly. Before I could call out to Van with a warning, he'd leapt up from foot to bent knee of the white giant. Placing his right hand against the faceted gem housing its thrumming heart inside, with a momentary glow that seemed to brighten the stone in his grip.

As if nothing happened, I could breathe again, but still the uneasy feeling remained. Whatever we faced now would cause a rift, the tower card from my last failed reading came to mind. What if it didn't mean the separation of Van and I from Allen's crew, but from each other? Now that he had the melef back, was this where our story ended? What would I do if he didn't need me anymore?

The chest plate slid down with a small burst of air as the helm opened bearing a pilot chamber unlike any I'd seen before. Not that I was an expert, but the gleaming brass seemed to glow in the sparse light. Van took his position, arms taking control, gears beginning to whirl smoothly, it was as though he was born to control the massive armor. In a way I guess he was.

Standing in the dark cave the top of it's helm scraped the ceiling I couldn't even see, just like the boy piloting inside, I knew it was there but out of sight. Just like I also knew I wasn't in any danger as it stepped forward bending at the waist one huge metal hand reaching for me. The grip around my waist was almost gentle, afraid to squeeze me too tight. Van would never hurt me, and I felt safe as my feet lifted off the stone floor.

The walk to the end of the tunnel seemed like only a couple of the giant's long strides. When we pasted the nest, I could hear the young dragons scrambling back away from the much larger predator. In the short time we were in the blackness of the tunnel the sun had begun to set. Pink and orange tinging the mountains in colored light in the darkening sky.

With a click of sliding metal the visor opened showing Van's face clearly for the first time since we walking into the cave together. It hadn't been long, but seemed to have been a lifetime ago.

"Okay Hitomi, I'm going to set you down here." His voice was steady, confident so I didn't question the statement. My feet touched down lightly. Before I could ask what, he intended the white armor moved past striding towards the ledge, wide cape billowing behind it. Then with another step he went right over the edge.

"Van!" I shouted his name running forward to the very edge, heart in my throat.

What I saw was a different kind of magic from earlier. Escaflowne's legs combined and lengthened. It's chest plate moved out shooting upward becoming a head. The cape pulled inward stretching into wings. I'd heard of flying guymelefs before, but nothing like this. An armor that shifted into a dragon.

Van stood on it's back controlling the flight upward then he was back level with the ledge where I stood. One hand held out to me. I didn't hesitate, taking a few steps backward before running directly for the drop off, my own hand reaching forward. We connected, fingers lacing together, his strength pulling me to safety. On instinct I let go of his hand and wrapped my own arms around his neck. The hug sudden, and in his shock at the embrace we dropped for a few heart-racing moments.

He regained control and I moved to stand behind him, holding his narrow waist as we flew upward. All the way to the top of the cliff where we'd begun this morning. My yorkel wasn't tied to the tree where we left her, and for a moment I feared she's been eaten by the dragons we'd fled from. Van flew a little farther towards the path we originally followed. He was also the one that spotted her off to the side, reins torn where they had been tied off to the tree.

It was a relief to know that she was fine, probably sensed the dragons and ran off before they could find her. We landed a little way away not wanting to spook the poor creature. The Escaflowne transitioned back to normal. It was strange to be back on solid ground. Van decided to stay with the giant white melef which seemed even more unique in the fading daylight.

Before I left in the direction, we last saw the yorkle I had another surprise. "Wait," my friend called, just as turned something round and pink sailed out of the open cockpit. I caught it barely. The energist Van had taken sat in my palm. "Can you put that with our supplies?"

"Sure," I agreed quickly. Dropping the stone back into the bottom of my empty quiver. "I'll see you soon." I promised and set off through the trees.

It didn't take long to find where she grazed on the leaves of a bush. After checking her over and throwing a quick knot in the torn reins I decided to walk alongside the short distance back to Van and the Escaflowne. As I neared my heart seemed to speed up for no reason. Something was wrong.

Van was standing outside, the white melef stood awkwardly ropes of metal pinning the arms outward, immobilized and defenseless. His head didn't move, but his eyes shot to me. The warning look there was clear. Don't move. Don't attract attention. The ground in front of Van cracked in the form of a large footprint

"Show yourselves already." He demanded angrily, but I knew he wasn't talking to me. Instead a manic laughter filled the clearing. It made my skin crawl.

"We meet at last Van Fanel." A voice drawled from behind a visor. I recognized it, but I wished I hadn't.

As though appearing from thin air another melef materialized. I recognized it's large rounded paldrons and bright red armor. The silver haired Zaibach commander from my dream of Fanelia the one who's presence made Allen turn the entire troupe around. Dilandau Albotu, had the upper hand, because he now had Van and the Escaflowne.

We were warned this would happen if we continued towards the capital. Oh, why hadn't we listened?

To Be Continued…

A/N- Sorry. About the delay in chapters. Also, where I left it. I'll try to get the next bit written soon because otherwise someone might hunt me down. If you have a question you can write it in your review or PM me and I will do my best to respond. This is a nice sized chapter with a ton of events. Dragon fight. A Dangerous jump into the river. Nearly naked Hitomi and Van spending personal time together. A little more time see him get protective of her. We also see her view on protecting life with the baby dragons.

The Escaflowne, wow I don't think I've ever wrote a story where it was active. In my continuations I normally honor Van's wish that it remain sleeping for a peaceful. There was once where there was an accident and the Escaflowne fell on Van, but he wasn't using it. Other AUs the Escaflowne might show up as something else like one story it's a motorcycle. This is the first time it is seen moving, functioning, transforming.

I've combined a few different things from the series. Like the scene at the end is from episode 5 when Van drew the Dragonslayers away and was captured (though he stayed in the melef that time and Dilandau beat the crap out of him), I needed him outside the Escaflowne for this scenario. If he was behind the visor he wouldn't have been able to warn Hitomi with a look. I also had a mix of other Escaflowne events like how he retrieved her from earth so she hugged him and the time he held his hand out to him from a roof top in Zaibach.

We also see his wings. If you can't tell I re-watched a ton of episodes for this chapter. I wanted the descriptions to be as accurate as possible without over describing things. Also I wanted you to see things from Hitomi's view, so many firsts for her. Also her feelings for Van have grown, but she still doesn't know quite what to do with them. She puts them in with her fear that Van and her will be separated soon.

Oh, I originally had them fighting in the river. Van yelling at her that he could have kept fighting and her calling him an idiot and telling him that he needs to learn when to stop fighting for once. That was angry hurt Van. This Van is slightly more optimistic, he was lost and confused but now sees what he thinks that things have neared the end. Sorry Van. I had more fun with a surprised amazed reaction. Imagine wet clothes dripping hair and laughing Van.

Please stay tuned for the next chapter. I promise it will be worth it.