Disclaimer: I don't own Escaflowne - but I did write this story.
Author's Notes: Okay, so yeah, this is the third book in the series. The first book is called 'Dragon's Moon' and the second book is called 'Mystic Wings'. If you haven't read them, and you want to read this - I would recommend that you read them first. I'm not sure if you could pick up the story this late in the game without reading the earlier books. And here's where I'll put in my own personal plug - if you read them - please review at least once at the end of each book to let me know that you read them. PLEASE big begging eyes.
And there is one more thing - this started four or five days after 'Mystic Wings' left off, but I'm starting such a wildly different plot arch that I feel no shame in starting a new book.
A special thanks before I begin for everyone who reviews and encourages me. I'm writing this for you. Please enjoy.
Cold as Stone
"Dryden was right," Van exclaimed to Hitomi as he pushed his dark hair out of his eyes. They were walking up one of the massive staircases in Dryden's mansion. Van was almost finished his two-week healing period (since his wings had ripped his back to shreds), and now, like the time he had been shot, he was almost completely recovered. He wasn't exactly bouncing up the stairs, but there was definitely a spring in his step. "I know I thought he was a jerkwad when I first met him, but he's really grown on me."
"What did he say that you're agreeing with so emphatically?" Hitomi wondered.
"Oh, just that I should take a breather, spend time with you, enjoy life a little," Van said smiling his white dazzling smile. He opened the door to their suite for Hitomi. "Mostly that I should just spend time with you; I think that was the best advice he had for me," Van said, taking Hitomi in his arms and kissing her possessively before kicking the door shut. His hands were on her waist and traveling up her back to draw her close to him. The heat from him warmed her to her toes. When the door clicked shut, Hitomi's heart skipped a beat and something turned pleasantly in her stomach. At that exact moment, Van unexpectedly let go of her and headed towards the bathroom. "It's not that I like letting Folken off the hook, but mercy, I need to relax." He pulled his shirt over his head and disappeared into the other room.
Hitomi stood alone in the bedroom, the goose bumps on her arms quickly disappearing, and she wondered why she'd been so suddenly discarded. Where did he think he was going after a kiss like that? The jerk! She followed him and stood in the doorway while propping her arm up on the doorframe. She felt like tapping her fingers, but changed her mind … maybe the right look was all that was necessary to let him know that he seriously sucked – getting her all excited for nothing.
He was unrolling the bandages from his chest. He was completely absorbed in what he was doing. As soon as he was finished, he adjusted the mirrors over the vanity to see how his back was doing, but the idiot still wasn't getting the message! The marks were still there, but the wounds had completely closed now, and he chucked the used bandages into the garbage with an air of triumph. Hitomi had never seen someone go through as much gauze as Van, but at least he was okay.
"What do you think, Hitomi?" he asked her, beaming. He turned back to face the mirror so she could see between his shoulder blades. "The marks will probably be gone completely by the day after tomorrow. Are you impressed?"
"Very impressed," she said, coming up behind him and putting her arms around his torso. They were in front of the mirror and she could see his face. "Van, I have been meaning to ask you," Hitomi started. Another question had been on her mind; one she hadn't yet asked. "What were your wings like? You never described them to me."
He took her hand and kissed her palm. "They were like crow wings. They spanned wide and … well, they were enormous with black feathers. They were mostly spattered in my blood though, as even I couldn't stop bleeding. Besides, they weren't even my wings … they were Folken's. He's The Crow. If I were to ever grow dragon wings, they'd be nothing like my brother's."
"I see," Hitomi said quietly. So, he didn't like talking about it. She'd let it go.
"Anyway, the Zaibach Group wouldn't be interested in performing those kinds of experiments on you. You're symbol is not an animal, and after looking more carefully through Dryden's gallery, very few Tarot users have animals for their symbols. I keep thinking about Dornkirk. How could he be someone so powerful if he's just an inanimate object? I've thought about it and I think it's because he tricks people into believing that he's more than he is. Folken is probably more powerful than Dornkirk, but the guy blinds Folken and confuses him so that Folken doesn't realize that he really has the upper hand."
"That makes you sound as though you're on your way to forgiving your brother," Hitomi said, letting go of her 'other' feelings for a minute longer.
Van grabbed her hands and took them off of him. "You're wrong," he said sternly, moving away from the mirror and heading back into the bedroom. "I'm no closer to forgiving him than I was when I first heard what happened to my parents and the thing he tried to do with you has only compounded my feelings."
Hitomi turned quickly and followed him. "I don't know if Folken knew that we were married."
Van shook his head. "Doesn't matter – he shouldn't have pushed you into such an intimate situation, whether I had a prior claim with you or not. It's totally wrong to force things."
"Van, I have to tell you something, if you're thinking of taking revenge on him because of me, than you'd better not do it. I'm fine. I'm not hurt or anything."
"Are you saying you don't want me to go after him? You've got to be kidding me!"
Hitomi rushed to stop him from misunderstanding her. "No, it's just that when I first joined the Abaharaki, you stressed so hard that it wasn't okay to kill people and that you'd never killed anyone. Now, sometimes you say that you're going to kill Folken. Is that really okay? Did you really mean what you said back then about not killing people, or was it just … a lie?"
Van's jaw tightened and he suddenly turned and rushed Hitomi, pinning her under him on the bed. "Don't say things like that!" he whispered harshly into her ear. "You don't know what it was like to be a child, hardly in kindergarten, and being told that your parents were dead and that it was your brother's fault. You have no idea what I've been through. The little escapade with your family was obviously extremely painful for you, but you have no idea what it is to taste that kind of betrayal when you're that small and know so little about the world. You have NO CLUE!"
Hitomi put her hands up to Van and covering his cheeks she pulled him up so she could see into his eyes. "No Van," she said swiftly. "I have no idea, but that doesn't mean that I want you to become a murderer. Please think this through. Maybe there's another way."
"What 'other' way? If the police could get their hands on him then that would be one thing, but they can't. He's The Sorcerer and he can use his power to convince them that he's totally innocent. I finally figured out that that is how he's evaded the police all this time – he tricks them. Back when I was in the Abaharaki, I often wondered why he never got arrested or even suspected considering all the crap he'd got his finger into, and that's how. I never imagined someone's abilities could help them do something like that."
"So, you believe me now about what happened in his office?" Hitomi asked, thinking of the time Folken sang to her.
Van looked at Hitomi and smiled weakly. "You're too sincere to lie to me about something like that."
Hitomi was still thinking about that kiss Van had given her when they came in, and she was trying to steer the conversation to a point where it stopped, but Van didn't seem to be getting the hint, even though he was lying on top of her. She ran a hand down his bare back and reached up to kiss him when he suddenly started talking again.
"So, if the police can't punish him then who's going to? He just hurts people. He's too involved with criminal activity to …"
"Van!" Hitomi suddenly shouted. She was going to lose her mind.
"What?" he asked, looking around them to make sure he wasn't hurting her.
She took his face in her hand and brought his face close to hers. He was so dense. "Shut up!" she said, right before she kissed him. "You need to relax – so relax already."
When she kissed him again he didn't seem so dense. In fact, he seemed faster on the uptake and was quickly maneuvering her deeper onto the bed and resting her head down on the pillows like an experienced lover. He kissed her adoringly with such heat – it was like he left little hot marks on every part of her flesh that he touched.
Then suddenly, with no warning at all, there was a splitting pain through the top of Hitomi's skull. It felt like Van had hit her violently on the head. Why had he hit her? Hitomi screamed and moved to cover her head with her hands, but there was no strength in her arms. She tried to open her eyes, but when they finally came open her vision was black. She forced herself to keep her eyes open though and what she saw was amazing.
For some reason she was lying on the carpet in an air-conditioned room and she was looking at something clenched in her hand. It was a necklace with a massive yellow and black stone set in a heavy silver setting. There was shattered glass on the salmon coloured carpet, but Hitomi didn't care, she was shivering and she wasn't able to stop.
Then all of a sudden, everything went black again and Hitomi was aware of an intense pain in her head, except not where she'd been hurt – it was her forehead that hurt now. Her vision was coming into focus and now she saw that she was being pulled away from a cracked and broken display case, but her eyes couldn't focus on it somehow and instead she pulled whatever was in her hand to her eyes before she focused. It was a white sparkly stone and it was huge. But Hitomi was confused; she hadn't been holding anything like that in her fingers.
Her sight went black again and when she blinked her eyes the ceiling was that of her bedroom. What? She rubbed her head and sat up. Van wasn't even on the bed. Had he hit her and taken off? What the heck? She moved to get off the bed when she saw him. It looked like he had fallen off the end of the bed and hit his head on the desk chair that was there. He was rubbing his ear like he was just as hurt as Hitomi.
It was then that she really clued into what truly happened. The pain in her head had knocked the sense right out of her. She had a spasm and hit her head on the headboard. She had just witnessed a Tarot vision. Two people had just gotten their symbols – at least that's what she thought it was.
"Are you okay?" she asked Van.
He was rubbing his hands. "I can't believe I hit both of my hands on the bed posts as well as my head on this freaking chair. I have such bad luck. Are you okay? Were you safe on the bed?"
Hitomi pointed to her hurt spot. "I hit my head on the headboard. Do you think we'll have goose eggs?"
"I think we're lucky if we don't have concussions. My hands hurt like hell. I fell backwards off the bed."
"Do you think we should go to the hospital?" she asked, still holding her hand over the throbbing pain in her crown.
"If you can walk in a straight line, then it's probably not a good idea. Besides, if we went, they'd probably think I bashed you up."
Hitomi swallowed. That was what she first thought too. Well, she'd never make that mistake twice. Even with the pain in her head, she was happy that she had finally had a vision.
Van stood up and said, "I'm okay. Let's go talk to Dryden. I want to hear what he has to say about these visions." Van walked into the bathroom and put on his shirt back on. "And to make sure he's okay. I hope he wasn't with Selphie by the pool. That could be really dangerous."
Hitomi gave him a sad look when he came back into the room – her eyes were watering. "It hurts!"
Van came up to her and put his arms around her. "I know it hurts. I hurt my hand back when you got your symbol, too. It seems that being a Tarot user is never easy. Do you want to rest here while I go check on Dryden?"
"No," Hitomi whined, getting off the bed and going with him.
As soon as they came out of the bedroom, they heard Dryden and Selphie disagreeing heatedly in Italian. The sound was coming from Dryden's bedroom, but the door was wide open, so Hitomi and Van approached just to double check that Dryden hadn't seriously hurt himself.
They walked in on a sight they had not expected.
Dryden was standing at his dresser, furiously emptying the drawers into a massive suitcase. Selphie was coming out of the bathroom, her glowing hair falling behind her like a mermaid. She was carrying more hygiene products than Hitomi thought proper for a man to own. Selphie and Dryden didn't share a bedroom, so ALL those things had to be Dryden's. After Selphie dumped her load on Dryden's bed, he said something to her and she went out into the hallway, saying something very quickly in Italian. They didn't seem like they were mad at each other.
Once she was gone, Dryden turned to Van and Hitomi. "I'm sorry," he said breathlessly. "I have to go."
"Go where?" Van asked. "You didn't hurt yourself when you had the vision, did you?"
"No, I'm fine. I was reading on the couch when it happened. I fell on the floor – that was as serious as it was. How about you two?"
Van observed Dryden's bedroom and then made a couple sarcastic remarks. "Hey Dryden, I notice that your bed doesn't have bed posts. There wouldn't be a reason for that, now would there?"
"Oh dear," Dryden said. "You didn't …"
Van showed Dryden the red swollen backs of his hands. "Oh yes, I did."
But the only thing Dryden had to say was, "Those look bad. I'm really sorry, but I've got to go."
"Why are you rushing like a maniac?" Hitomi interjected, unconsciously organizing the clothes in Dryden's suitcase into piles.
"That vision we had just now. The Historian has just died and passed her power onto her twin daughters – Naria and Eriya. I told you a bit about them before, didn't I? Well, they're in love with me and they both want to marry me, and the only reason they don't live permanently around my neck is that my mother convinced them to leave me alone until they got their Tarot abilities. Well, now that they've got them, they'll waste no time in coming here and demanding that I choose between them."
"So, why don't you just tell them that you're not interested?" Van asked, leaning against the wall.
"Sure, that would be easy for you to do. It's not easy for me. They show up, look sexy, hang all over me and I'll promptly lose my mind. I have such a hard time telling them to back off as it is, but if I'm serious about Selphie then I've got to show her. And that means not being here when they show up. That way I won't even be tempted," Dryden said while he zipped the first bag shut.
"I think Selphie would be more impressed if they were around and you still showed preference to her," Hitomi said. "It would be like the ultimate expression of love."
Dryden shook his head. "It would be very nice if that sort of thing would work, but Naria and Eriya are Tarot users who know they have a limited choice in men, and to get a husband like me would be the best thing for them. They're even older than me by two years, but when they heard about me and my symbol from their mother, they both decided that I was the only one for them. One of the reasons my mother used to fob them off was the hope that only one of them would get a Tarot symbol and then the choice would be obvious, but now it seems that both of them got one. Crap! I've got to get out of here. They could be here any minute."
"Wait one second," Hitomi interrupted. "If their mother just died, then why aren't they off mourning her? Why would they show up on your front door when they are in the grieving process? What I mean is, shouldn't they be somewhere crying?"
"Sorry Hitomi. It's heartless, but most Tarot users don't really care about that sort of thing. The death of the older generation is viewed as a good thing. We don't exactly get choked up when our parents die. It's a really exciting thing to get your symbol. Now, if you'll excuse me."
"Don't rush like this! They won't be here right away and Van and I have so much we want to ask you. Please explain their symbols before you go!" Hitomi pleaded.
Here, Dryden stopped his packing rampage and looked at Hitomi. "Okay, you've got me there. I'll explain, but before I do that I want to say clearly that even though I plan to leave, you two may stay here as long as you like. I'll leave you in charge of my servants and you can read my books on Tarot users and practice in the training gym all you want."
"Training gym?" Van and Hitomi repeated together.
"Yeah, this is a mansion that was built by a Tarot user family – naturally there's a place to practice. You're my guests here, so please stay as long as you like. You'd be safer here than any other place. Anyway," Dryden said, sitting down in a nearby chair. "It looked to me that Naria and Eriya happened to be in a jewelry store when their mother died. So, both of them got jewels as their symbols."
"That isn't such a big deal, is it?" Van asked.
Dryden answered coolly, "You mean power-wise? Don't worry Ace of Serpents – if you're worried about anyone challenging you, just look to your wife. Once you're perfectly trained – you'll be unmatchable. But don't even think of underestimating them because of the whole inanimate object category – gem stones are powerful in their own way and guessed to be a subcategory higher than plants, because gems have a different kind of life in them. There haven't been any users thus far, so those two girls are probably celebrating their good fortune. That is, if they aren't on their way here."
"What were the gems? I didn't recognize either of them," Hitomi said. "They weren't diamonds or emeralds. They were weird. Are you sure they were real?"
"I'm pretty sure the first vision was Naria and that the stone she saw was amber, and I think it was Eriya who saw the opal. She's the one who cracked the display case with her head." Dryden touched his forehead with his fingers to express his exasperation, "Amber and opal? Who knows what mystical power they pulled off those? Oh man, I've got to get out of here."
"So, that's it? They're magical Tarot users?" Van asked, not letting Dryden's brain revert back to escaping.
"What elements are they going to have?" Van said, leaving his post on the wall and practically cornering Dryden for the information.
"How the hell should I know?" Dryden snapped, getting out of the chair and getting Van to back off a couple of steps. "Not everyone is your enemy, you know. There's no need to get all angsty. They're just young woman in their twenties who, apparently, think a lot about shopping. As long as you don't ask Hitomi to keep your contract with her a secret anymore, you won't have any trouble with them. I'm the one who's got to split," Dryden said. Then he zipped up his suitcase and called on the intercom for his chauffer to pick up his and Selphie's bags and to take them to a car. "I've got to go have a word with my housekeeper about you two and then Selphie and I are leaving immediately. Van, stop being an ass and come with me downstairs; I'll give you the codes so you and Hitomi can enter the west wing of the mansion."
Van frowned, but followed Dryden out of the room and down the massive stairs that led into the great hall. Hitomi got up and followed them, too.
"I'll give you a quick tour, so you'll know where to find everything that might be helpful. I know you …"
At this exact moment, the doorbell rang.
Dryden stopped on the stairs so suddenly that Hitomi bumped into him.
"Hey," she said, but Dryden wasn't looking at her, he was looking squarely at the front door.
Naria and Eriya couldn't be there already, could they? They had just had their vision. Were they even in the same city?
The maid bowed and opened the door.
Who could it be?
Author's Notes: Thanks to Kaytala who has very generously agreed to beta read 'Mark of a Goddess'. She has been with me since 'Dragon's Moon' and has been an absolute trooper. I'm such a demanding bag and she puts up with me and actually acts like she's enjoying herself - practically a saint. And thanks to everyone who reads and reviews - you guys rock my world! I've opened the forum for chapter one and also made it accessible through the Escaflowne forums page. Hope that helps everyone out. If you can't access the forums because you haven't got an account - get an account and come chat it up with us. Kay?
Next, actual author's notes - the name of the chapter is taken from an A-ha song called 'Cold as Stone'. If you're interested, the lyrics are interesting and oddly appropriate, maybe in a way that only I would understand, maybe not. Depends on your view of Naria and Eriya.