A Past Long Forgotten

Chapter 1 – A Struggle In The Dark

By Crow Skywalker

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Disclaimer – Don't own Escaflowne or its characters. It all belongs to its wonderful creators.

Author's Notes – Yeah, so this is my first Escaflowne fic :P Don't kill me! Lol. Anyway, this idea suddenly came to me and I just had to write it. I don't know if I'll continue or not...depends on if you people actually like it. So review and tell me what you think. If it continues, it's going to be a very long fic, so don't count on Van showing up any time soon. And as for Merle/Dilandau...I like odd couples, so I'm going to go for that for a side pairing. But of course that'll be a while off too. Enjoy!

Pairings/Warnings – Later pairings of Hitomi/Van, and Merle/Dilandau. Rated R for bloodshed, cursing and whatnot. This story is also highly AU, and I mean highly. You've been warned.

Summary – Hitomi and Merle are the best of friends, traveling the lands in search of adventure, and meeting new friends along the way. Hitomi hates royalty, but what happens when she meets Van? Will love win over hate? And why is she having strange dreams? Is it buried memories of a past long forgotten?

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It was a beautiful day in the land just outside Asturia; the sun shone brightly in the sky, warming the rich land, and a cool breeze rustled the healthy green grass that grew as far as the eye could see. Not far off a small river flowed, its clear water lapping the shores as it ran on in the distance. The only sounds were the playful chirping of birds. However, this came to and end soon enough.

"Hitomi! Wait up!" Cried a voice, startling the birds. Hitomi, mounted on her favorite black stallion, shook her head and looked back at her friend.

Merle was trying to catch up with her, struggling to get her horse to move faster as it stopped to eat the blades of grass beneath its feet. Her tail twitched in anger at this, and she fumed. "Hey! Don't stop!" She yelled at the horse, "Keep going!"

Hitomi laughed as the horse ignored its rider, and continued to munch away on the grass. Merle glared at her in response.

"He always does this to me! This is it Hitomi, I want a new horse!" Said Merle, dismounting.

Hitomi dismounted as well, taking hold of her horse's reins as she walked towards Merle.

"There's nothing wrong with this horse," She pointed out with a smile, "Just its rider."

This earned her another glare, and Merle stuck out her tongue out in response.

Grinning, Hitomi reached out to pet Merle's horse, who nayed and nuzzled her hand in response, "See?"

Merle rolled her eyes, crossing her arms in the process, "Animals like you, Hitomi. They all seem to hate me."

"It might be because you're part cat," She poked her friend in the side playfully, earning a smile from her friend. "Anyway, let's ride down to the river, and there we can rest and let our horses have a drink. Then we have to decide where we're going from there." She continued, mounting her horse once again.

"I thought we were going to Cesario?" Asked Merle, struggling to climb up onto her horse, who whinnied and started trotting beside Hitomi even before she was seated, "Hey! Hold on!"

Hitomi laughed at her friend, slowing down. Merle horse followed, allowing her enough time to get a grip and climb on. "I don't know...Cesario doesn't sound all that interesting to me. I mean, they're a pretty depressing country if you ask me."

"Well, yeah...I guess they are kind of a depressing country. But losing their King and Queen, and their only daughter...it was enough tragedy to bring down the country."

"But they still have a King to rule the land," Hitomi pointed out, "Why isn't he helping his people?"

Merle shrugged in response, "I guess he's doing the best he can. King Dilandau is still convinced his little sister is still alive out there somewhere, and he's been searching for her ever since his parent's death."

Hitomi rolled her eyes, "It's been twelve years since the accident. If she was alive, she would have been found by now."

"Her body wasn't found after Zaibach attacked," Merle pointed out, "She still could be very alive somewhere."

"Don't tell me you believe that," Hitomi raised an eyebrow.

Merle shrugged again, keeping a good grip on the rein in case her horse decided to pull another stunt, "I don't know. I guess. But don't you think it would be cool if he finally found her?"

"Like I said, a depressing country with depressing history," Said Hitomi as they neared the river. Dismounting, she let her horse graze and watched as Merle followed suit. "We could always visit Basram, Daedalus, Egzardia, or Asturia. Asturia's closer, so I say we head in that direction. What do you think?"

"It's up to you Hitomi," Her friend replied, sitting on the warm ground and purring as she took in the warmth of the day, "I'll follow you wherever you go."

"Asturia it is then," Hitomi smiled, sitting beside her friend and relaxing. There was still a long journey ahead of them before nightfall.

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It was dark by the time they reached the kingdom of Asturia, and as they led their horses through the open gates, the sound of music and laughter filled their ears. Asturia was known for its great celebrations at night, and Hitomi smiled as she spotted the dancing people.

Merle, who stood next to her in the light of the blazing fires that lit up the surroundings, stared in amazement. "What's going on?"

One of the people who had been standing by and had heard her, looked at the two strangers funny. "You don't know what day it is?" He asked, and both girls shook their heads, "Why, it's Princess Millerna's eighteenth birthday!"

"Well, that explains it." Hitomi said as she led her horse off, suddenly not interested in the celebrations anymore. She highly disliked the royals. Especially Princesses. They did nothing but sit on their asses all day and look pretty, while poor people roamed the streets starving. It sickened Hitomi to know this.

Merle, who had been watching the dancers with fascination, finally noticed that her friend was gone.

"Now where did she go?" She mumbled to herself, scanning the crowds. She spotted her walking towards the stables. "Hitomi! Wait up!"

The man at the stables was a gruff looking one. He was short, and a little on the chubby side. A white beard covered most of his face, and he had thick white eyebrows to match. He had been asleep when Hitomi had arrived, and now she waited patiently as the half-asleep man cleared out a stable for her horse and Merle's.

Hitomi absently petted her horse as she waited, leaning against the frame of the big entrance to the stables. Merle, who was leaning against the outside of the barn, yawned. They had spent the whole day travelling, and she was growing weary.

A loud noise startled both girls, and they quickly looked up in time to see fireworks light up the sky, creating an aura around the Palace. Merle sighed at the sight, leaning back against the door frame with her hands behind her head, resting her head on her arms. "Isn't it beautiful?"

"It's only fireworks," Hitomi smiled at her friend. They didn't see them often, but they'd seen them many times before. It was nothing special to Hitomi.

Merle elbowed her friend in the side with a grin, "You're just saying that because they're in celebration of that Princess' birthday. I know you hate those snooty rich people."

Hitomi opened her mouth to reply, but a scream cut her off. Both girls looked at each other in the dim light, and nodded as they reached for their own respective weapons that they kept hidden. When one was travelling the land, they needed something to protect themselves with.

"It came from down that alley," Hitomi nodded her head, tying her horse quickly to a pole before heading off with Merle in that direction. Both girls moved swiftly and silently, and as they reached the alleyway, they could hear the sounds of a struggle.

Merle, breathing hard, stood behind Hitomi as they continued to listen to the harsh voices. Hitomi put her finger to her mouth to tell her to be quiet, before she slipped into the darkness of the alley. Merle watched her from where she hid, ready to come to Hitomi's aid if she needed it. With her cat-like senses, she could see Hitomi clearly as she silently made her way towards the struggle.

"Let me go!" Cried a female voice as she fought against strong arms. She soon found herself on the damp stone ground, and she struggled to see where the man who'd fought her was. His face suddenly appeared out of the darkness, so close to her face that she could smell the liquor on his breath.

"What's a pretty gal like you doing out here all alone?" He wheezed, taking hold of her wrist as she struggled against him, "Lookin' for sum action I 'spose?" He grinned, showing his rotten teeth. The girl scream again as he gripped her hair tightly so she couldn't move, and started to lean in to kiss her.

There was a crack, and the man fell over gripping his head tightly. Feeling warm blood trickling down, he roared with anger. "Who did that? Show yerself!"

Hitomi stepped out of the shadows, a smirk on her face, and a sword by her side.

"Ah," He said, standing, "'Nother pretty for me collection!"

"I don't think so," Was Hitomi's reply as she raised her sword in defense. "What kind of a man are you, picking on poor defenseless girls in alleyways. I should cut you down and do this kingdom a favor."

"Ye can't handle that sword," The man laughed, advancing, "Ye only ah girl. Come now, gimmie a kiss."

Hitomi gagged at the thought, but managed a smile at what he had just said. Couldn't handle a sword, huh? If she couldn't handle a sword, she would be long dead. Travelling the world wasn't easy, but she had learned to wield a sword along the way. She was no amateur, either. That was always her enemy's greatest mistakes. Underestimating her.

Lunging foreword, the man tried to grab her. Luckily she was fast enough to dodge. He tried again, and she easily moved out of the way.

"Will ye stop movin'?" He growled, trying once more. He missed again, but this time Hitomi stuck out her foot and tripped him. He landed with a thump.

"Ye are fast for a youngin'" He mumbled to himself before getting to his feet, "Bit ey ain't gonna let you out do me!"

Growing tired of this little display, Hitomi grabbed hold of the man as he tried once again to grab her, and swinging him around with amazing strength that surprised even him, she held him up against the wall, her sword at his throat.

"I grow tired of your feeble attempts," She told him, "You're wasting my time. You don't even put up a good fight. I don't even have to use my sword to beat you. But if you try to hurt me or this lady," She indicated to the girl who had been watching silently the whole time, "I will have cut your head off with one swing, got it?" She let him go, seeing that he was now afraid, "Now go home to your wife. I'm sure she's worried about your drunken ass."

He obliged, leaving the alley and only once looking behind him. Hitomi turned to the girl and helped her up, watching as she dusted her dress off.

"Are you okay?" Merle asked, running to join them. The girl nodded in response.

"A bit shaken, I suppose," Hitomi observed, "But okay all the same."

"T-thank you for saving me," The girl finally said, and as another burst of fireworks boomed over head lighting up the alley, Hitomi took in the girl's features.

The girl looked about Hitomi's age, maybe older, and had long flowing blonde hair that was held back with a red bow. She bore a pretty face, and her wide blue eyes were accompanied by long dark lashes. A long blue dress clung to her small figure, and Hitomi noticed that the young lady's shoes were missing.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Merle asked again, taking the girl's arm as they led her out of the alleyway.

"He didn't hurt me," She said, "Just gave me a fright. But I was lucky you can along."

Hitomi followed behind the two, keeping an eye on the blonde stranger. There was something odd about her...the way she was dressed...the way she spoke. And why was she walking around barefooted?

"Would you like us to help you home?" Merle asked, "I'm sure your parents are worried about you."

"That's very kind of you," The girl responded, "And I'd like to thank you personally once we arrive home."

"Where do you live?"

"The Palace," The girl said, keeping her eyes on the ground.

"The Palace?" Hitomi finally spoke up. Ah, so the girl was one of those rich stuck up people.

"Yes," Was the girl's reply.

"Wow!" Merle gasped in amazement, "Then you must know the Princess and her family!"

The girl nodded silently, smiling at the cat girl.

"What's it like to live there?" Merle went on, "I've always wondered what it would be like to live in a Palace...and have servants and everything. I bet it's really neat!"

"It is," The girl continued to smile as they entered the Palace gates. However, all conversation was halted as a man ran out the entrance, followed by several guards.

"Where have you been??" The man asked frantically as he hugged the girl close, and she returned the gesture. It seemed that Hitomi and Merle were invisible to him as he went on, "We were worried sick!"

"I'm sorry Father," The girl tried to explain, "I just needed some fresh air, so I took a walk. I...I was attacked," At this her Father looked angry, but then she gestured towards her two new friends, "These nice ladies saved me."

Her Father smiled, finally noticing the two. "Ah, you are..?"

"I'm Merle," The cat girl answered, then gestured to Hitomi, "And this is my friend Hitomi."

"Well Merle and Hitomi," He nodded towards them, "I have to thank you for bringing my daughter home. She tends to wander off into the city a lot, and doesn't understand that it's very dangerous. Please, come inside and stay the night," He said, leading them towards the Palace.

"Millerna, go and send the servants to tend to their rooms," He went on, and both Merle and Hitomi gasped, immediately looking at each other.

The girl they had saved in the alley was none other than Princess Millerna Sara Aston, third and youngest daughter of King Aston, who was now leading them into the Palace, and future Queen of Asturia.

To Be Continued...