AN: This is my first attempt at something tragic, so I'm really not sure at all how it turned out. Basically, I'm just attempting a one-shot fic in an genre I'm not comfortable writing in at all. If you do not like sad stories, this one is perhaps not for you. Because I mean it to be sad-- please do let me know how well I succeeded, or how miserably I failed. Thanks!
The celebration of Gaea's peace was in full swing, and the King of Fanelia did his best to look suitably cheerful. If anyone noticed his occasional glances towards the Mystic Moon, they made no sign of it.
It had been three years since the first black cloud shrouded the Blue Moon. Three years since Van's connection with Hitomi had been abruptly cut off. Three years of desperate wishing and terrified worry.
The once beautiful Moon was charred and dead now, always shrouded in the black and grey clouds. The people of Gaea had become used to the occasional flares on it's surface that made the night sky glow red. They would simply shake their heads and call it a bad omen.
The whole celebration felt like a farce to Van. What was the point in celebrating the end of the Gaean War, the five years of peace, when the one person who'd brought it about was not there? The people closest to him felt the same, or at least they sensed his mood. Millerna's smile was strained, and Dryden, though outwardly cheerful, made none of the jokes that always colored his conversations. Allen stared unseeingly at the celebrating crowds, the dark, unfathomable look in his clear blue eyes at odds with the bland, pleasant mask of his face. Even Chid sat silently through the spectacular displays and performances put on for their amusement.
Van just wanted it all to stop. Merle clung desperately on his arm, her tail drooping listlessly on the ground with the weight of her sadness and her worry for him. He wanted to fling her off. He wanted to let his wings explode out of the hidden confines of his skin and fly to the ruined Mystic Moon. He wouldn't stop until he'd found Hitomi and brought her safely back home.
But he knew it was useless. He'd tried to reach her, to call the blue pillar of light countless times, but nothing ever happened. Nothing but empty skies and dead silence.
Abruptly, he turned and sought the quiet solitude of the newly rebuilt castle. The others followed him silently into the cool rooms, blinking rapidly to adjust their eyes to the dim light.
Dryden poured several glasses of dark red Fanelian wine and passed them around. Van took a deep drink, fingering the small, pink pendant resting like a stone around his neck. There was a quick knock, and the heavy wooden door swung open.
"Ruhm to see you, my Lord," a servant murmured quietly before discreetly withdrawing.
Van sighed and forced a pleasant smile as the beastman strode into the room. "Ruhm. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Not for me, Van," he answered with a small smile, but his eyes were serious. "I've brought someone to meet you. Someone who's come a long way to find you."
Van's brow furrowed in confusion as the others exchanged uncertain looks. A young beast girl came slowly into the room then, carefully guiding a silent young women. She was dressed simply in the clothes of the beast people, and she moved hesitantly, as if afraid to come forward into the room.
The beast girl stopped her gently in front of the young king, and he gave an involuntary gasp as she lifted her face into the light. Once, she might have been pretty, beautiful even, but now she bore the scars of some unspeakable torture. The useless, milky white of her ruined eyes stared into his face, as if she still tried to force them to see, and her scarred hands reached out to flutter over his face.
"Describe him to me," she begged the beast girl in a hoarse, pained voice. Quietly, the girl complied, and the woman's hands touched each feature as it was mentioned. Her hands stopped over the pendant on his chest and her guide fell silent. Tears flowed thick and fast from her ruined eyes. She pulled her hands away and covered her face.
"It's really you," she murmured, her words muffled. "You're really..."
"Who are you?" Van finally asked when she said nothing further. The woman took a deep breath and pulled her hands away from her face.
"I come from Earth, the place you call the Mystic Moon. I've been searching for you a long time, Van Fanel."
"For me? Why?" Van questioned as his friends stared in surprise at the mysterious guest. Realization suddenly gripped him, and he took an eager step towards her.
"Do you know Hitomi? Where is she? What's happened to her?" he demanded, nearly reaching out and grabbing her arms in his urgency. She gave a shuddering sob, the tears flowing faster than ever, and her fingers fumbled in a pocket of her dress. Slowly, she held a tightly rolled scrap of paper towards Van.
"I'm sorry. I'm so very, very, sorry," she whispered in her hoarse voice as he took the flimsy paper from her. His breath caught in his throat, thick with fear, as she turned and began to stumble towards the door. The beast girl sprang to her side and guided her carefully across the threshold before Van could force himself to move from his frozen position. He stared with silent desperation at the little roll of paper.
"Lord Van," Merle murmured, and he shrank from her touch. Unwilling to meet anyone's gaze, he moved swiftly into a small study connected to their room and shut the door.
For long moments, no one moved. Merle pressed her ear to the wood, but she could hear only dead silence. After what felt like hours of pacing, of silent uncertainty and fear, Merle caught their attention by hastily backing away from the door. It was flung open, slamming back against the wall with a crash, as Van strode into the room.
His eyes looked wild in his white, strained face, and he stared unseeingly at them all for a silent moment. Merle took a hesitant step towards him.
"Lord Van, what-?"
Again he shrank from her touch, heading instead to the door the blind woman had exited, shoving the piece of paper into Dryden's hands as he went. No one stopped him. No one spoke.
Dryden unrolled the paper and scanned it's faded contents quickly in the dim light of the room.
"Oh, gods," he murmured, his face contorted with sickened despair.
"Read it," Allen ordered quietly, his voice thick with unasked questions. Dryden closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. The paper shook in his hands as he began to read.
"I don't know how I can convince you that this is real. I'm not asking anything of you other than that you read this. I'm going to die soon, and I needed to tell someone about who I am.
My name is Hitomi Kanzaki, and I was born in Japan 20 years ago. There's not much to tell about that, only that I was happy. I had a mother, and a father, and a brother. I loved them so much.
When I was very little, my grandmother gave me a pendant. She said it would give me the power of the stars. The power of wishes. I called it my good luck charm.
When I was fifteen, I had my first vision. I saw a boy. A boy with black hair named Van Fanel from a world called Gaea. My friends said I passed out while I was running. But I knew I saw him.
He came back for me. I went with him to Gaea until we could stop the war that destroyed his country. He had wings- beautiful white wings like an angel, and I loved him.
After the war, I gave him my pendant, and he gave me a feather from his perfect wings. I thought we'd never be apart, even though I came back home, to Earth.
But then the bombs came. My feather was burned, and I couldn't see him any more. I couldn't reach him, and he couldn't save me. I've never felt so empty in my life.
They took my father first, right off the train trying to get home. My brother was shot in the street. My mom and I tried to bury him so the dogs wouldn't eat him, but we couldn't dig deep enough. We did the best we could.
They started looking for me then. I think they forced my father to tell them about my pendant and Gaea. They were looking for the power of Atlantis. They found my mother first, and tortured her until she told them where I was.
Poor mom. They killed her after she told them what they wanted. They showed me her body. They used it to try to get me to talk.
They want my visions. They want my knowledge of Atlantis. They want my pendant. But I won't tell them. I won't give them what they want, no matter what they do. But I still have visions, and I know they are coming for me today. I don't have much longer to live.
I wish I could see your face. I wish I could have known who you are, and told you all this with my voice. Most of all, I wish that I could see Van again and tell him that I'm happy. I'm not afraid to die for him, for all of Gaea. As long as he is safe, as long as I know they can't touch him, then I will be at peace.
I hope that you believe me. I hope you escape and live for my sake. I hope you never give them what they want.
They are coming.
Dryden's voice broke and he carefully rolled up Hitomi's letter. The room was shrouded in a horrible silence, broken only by the faint sounds of the cheering crowd from the celebration outside.
Van found the blind girl seated cross-legged in the shade of leafy tree. Her faithful guide saw him approaching and whispered into her ear before getting up and moving a discreet distance away.
Van stared down at her as she lifted her ruined face to stare unseeingly at him. There were some many questions he had to ask, so many things he needed to know. He clenched and unclenched his fists, fighting for words.
"That letter- that letter. Is it true?" he finally ground out. She closed her dead eyes.
Van felt himself shatter from the inside out. He fell to his knees, gulping ragged gasps of air as the world around him spun. His stomach clenched; he felt like he was about to be violently sick on the grass. It couldn't be true. It couldn't be.
"How? Why? How did you get that letter?" he croaked out, desperate to know everything in his agonizing despair.
"She was in the cell next to me," the girl stated slowly after an eternity of hesitation. "I don't know how long she was there before they brought me. She tried to talk to me once, through the grate in the wall, but I was too afraid to answer her. I was too afraid to do anything but cry. I think she was trying to help me. She pushed the letter through the grate right before they came for her. I'll never forget that. I took the paper, and I saw her smile right before they opened her door. She had green eyes."
She paused, her voice cracking as the tears dripped from her scarred cheeks.
"They gave her a choice. One final chance to tell them what they wanted and go free. She said- she said, 'I'd rather die than betray myself.' And then she was gone."
Van couldn't see anymore. He couldn't feel. The girl's words echoed faintly through the loud buzzing in his ears.
"She saved me in that hell. I read that letter so often that I can still see it now, in my head. It kept me strong. I never knew her, but I wanted to live for her, to find out if what she wrote was true. To find out if you're worth her sacrifice."
"I'm not," Van whispered hoarsely, his voice barely able to find a way past the rock of pain lodged in his throat.
The girl gave a smile, faint and sad. "I was so afraid you wouldn't be. But you are. You are."
Van gave an imperceptible shake of his head. Nothing was worth her sacrifice. Not to him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to focus, tried to stop his shaking. He was King. He was expected to function, to smile and appear calm, no matter how badly he was destroyed within. But he couldn't do it. Not now, not yet.
"I am sorry, Van. Sorry that you had to see that letter, but I thought you deserved to know what happened to Hitomi. I think she wanted you to know. And I- I'm so sorry that I escaped that place and she didn't. I'm sorry that the light took me and not her. I'm...sorry for everything."
She stood then, her guide hastening to her side as she began to move hesitantly away from Van's crouched form. He lifted his head through a haze of pain.
"Wait- please, who are you? Your name-"
She halted, her hand gripping the beast girl's shoulder tightly. "My mother called me Beth. Back before the bombs fell."
Van struggled to his feet, unconsciously reaching towards her, trying to keep his one last link to Hitomi. "The letter...?"
"It's yours now, Van. I don't need it anymore," she replied softly. Her guide led her on again, and soon their forms disappeared through the thick palace gardens.
Van stared up at the ruined Moon through wild, red-rimmed eyes. He didn't feel his wings explode out from his back, shredding his thick, formal shirt with a flurry of white feathers. He didn't realize he was careening through the late afternoon sky, heading towards the black-shrouded planet until the thin air of the high skies made him gasp for breath. He knew then that no pillar of light was going to appear. No amount of wishing, no power of the stars, could bring Hitomi back again.
There, hanging in the space between their two worlds, Van unleashed his pain. The anguished howls that ripped from his dry throat died in the thin, cold wind as he cried tears of blood.
It was Merle who found him unknown hours later. Merle who put her arms around his frozen, hunched figure as he knelt in the shadow of the majestic Escaflowne. No one but Merle, his constant friend, his sister, could have coaxed him to his feet then. Only Merle could help him, because his pain was her pain.
She led him through empty passageways to his chambers, knowing he could not bear to see another person. She sat him down and made him eat some soup as she wrapped a blanket around his cold, bare shoulders. She stayed with him, a silent shadow, until he asked her to leave.
Merle gave him a long look before she left. His eyes were haunted, dark with pain, but they had a spark of life in them again. It was enough.
Someone had carefully placed Hitomi's letter on his desk. Van stared at it as it lay in a puddle of moonlight for many long minutes before his fingers gently smoothed it open.
The words were there, faded. Her handwriting. Her words saying that she loved him, that she was at peace to know he was safe.
The next morning, he addressed the people. They needed to know Hitomi's story. He needed them to know that she had sacrificed herself to save them, to save their world from the fate of hers. The letter was tucked safely into the pocket of his robes, the pendant hanging heavily from it's place around his neck, but he kept his composure. He asked them to remember her and her hope for lasting peace.
The celebration came to a quiet end, and Van watched the elaborate decorations being taken down with empty eyes. Merle stayed by his side, understanding his needs in a way Allen, Dryden, and Millerna never could. They grieved in their own way, ashen faces close together as they planned an elaborate memorial in hushed voices. Van couldn't bring himself to tell them that it was something Hitomi never would have wanted.
Van looked for the scarred, blind Beth everywhere. He wanted to thank her for finding him. He wanted to help her, like he could no longer help Hitomi. In desperation, he finally asked Ruhm to find her and bring her back to live at the palace.
"Well, I know where she is," Ruhm had replied, scratching his chin. "But I don't think she'll want to come back here. She found you to deliver the letter. Now she needs peace, and she's not going to find it here. And neither will you, Van. You'll just be reminded every time you see her, and it'll drive you both mad. No, better to let her go. She can find some rest with my people."
Ruhm was right. Van needed no further reminders than what he already carried around with him. He had read Hitomi's letter so many times the faded words were written indelibly on his brain. Gods, he would never escape the pain. But he was King, and he had to move forward. He might never put together the thousand shattered pieces of his soul, but he would try. His people needed him.
He lived for the darkness of the night. At night, he could let the mask drop. Alone in his chambers, he could read her letter again, fingers tracing over the faint, worn writing, and he could dream of her. It was all he had left.
It was never enough.