Spoilers ahead for the game in its entirety. Don't say you were unwarned! Tales of the Abyss and all characters, events, places and objects are not owned by me, but rather the geniuses at Namco-Bandai. I just enjoy taking their characters and placing them in tormented, painful situations and watching them escape.

This first chapter (and... consequently, story, I suppose) is dedicated to the Griffinkhan, that awesome person whom we all love, beta-er extraordinaire and fellow Tales junkie. Merry Christmas, my friend!

"...well, now."

Luke visibly flinched. "I don't like it when you say that while looking at me," he commented dryly. Jade just smiled. "And was the doctor costume really necessary?"

Jade was dressed up, head-to-toe, in his doctor uniform, and was giving Luke a thorough inspection. It had been a year and two months since Luke's attempted self-sacrifice at the Tower of Rem, or, if one would prefer, a little over a year since his disappearance when using the Key of Lorelei, or a month since he'd come back. Back then, they had all believed he was going to fade away, that the seventh fonons that comprised him were destabilising, somehow.

But he'd come back, somewhat miraculously, trudging across Tataroo Valley as though he knew exactly where to find Tear, like she was a beacon he could lock on to. He'd come back, tired, weary... but solid, yet, to Jade's acutely-trained senses, there still seemed to be a faint trace of seventh fonon dissipation. For some reason, Luke had survived for a year while his body was still releasing precious seventh fonons. There was, as the saying went, something very strange in Malkuth.

And so they found themselves in an examination room (which bore a startling resemblance to a fomicry laboratory, likely because it was), behind closed door, Luke stripped down to his boxers and Jade dressed up in the doctor's garb, poking him with any manner of instruments, the likes of which Luke knew neither their purpose nor their name.

"When one must think a certain way, one must dress the part," Jade answered slyly. "This, of course, explains Dist."

"Well, there's one explanation," Luke muttered lowly. Jade chose not to reply, instead focussed on suppressing an involuntary shudder.

"I'd advise you to be careful of what you remind me of while I perform these tests. If my hand gets too shaky, I'll have to send word to Daath for Anise to come and finish them," he said, the edge of his mouth pulling up ever so slightly.

Luke jerked and lifted a sheet over his torso. "I don't trust her alone in a room with a half-naked me!"

"Well, that's all right. I think she's given up on marrying rich, anyway," Jade commented, picking up an instrument that looked too much like a cattle prod for Luke's liking.

"She doesn't need to marry rich," Luke said, to distract himself from Jade's tinkering. "She's a Fon Master, now, she's making plenty as it is."

"Oh, I think she'd still want to marry rich, really," Jade said, pointing out that, "Knowing her, as a Fon Master, she'd not want to marry anyone below her status."

"Yeah, well, whatever..." Luke trailed off, obviously wanting to leave thoughts of the girl behind until he had some decent clothes on. "Anyway, what's the prognosis, doc?"

"Well, it's an interesting situation," Jade conceded, "but I'm not quite sure how to fix it, yet."

"What do you mean, 'fix it,' Jade?" Luke asked, narrowed eyes inquisitive. "I feel fine... what's wrong with me?"

Jade sighed. "Well, if you'll recall before your little disappearing act a year ago, you were suffering from duplicosis phasis."

Luke whistled lowly. "Wow. You even gave my condition a fancy name in my absence. I'm almost flattered, Jade."

"Don't be. It's not a pleasant condition," he said gravely. "If you'll recall, the seventh fonons in your body which make up your being were slowly separating and dissipating."

"Right," Luke confirmed. "The end result was that I was fading out of being, right? My body was going to just... dissipate into nothing."

"Correct," the Colonel-Doc said. "As we progressed toward the final showdown with Van, you were no doubt already feeling less solid."

Luke held a hand against his stomach. He remembered the almost... liquidy feeling his body had in those lead-up days. "And so?"

"Well, with your body losing seventh fonons, and us having no time to stop it, the only way to keep you alive indefinitely was to somehow find a way to inject your body with more seventh fonons," Jade said, in the tone of voice that said I-really-don't-want-to-be-explaining-this-right-now.

"But..." Luke said slowly. "The seventh fonons that I was injected with weren't mine..." Jade sighed and opened his mouth, but Luke interrupted him with a realization. "...but... fonons of a similar type are attracted to each other... and so by injecting me with seventh fonons, it restored the make-up of my body... and even drew some of my own, original fonons back to me?"

"Correct again," Jade said, obviously pleased he had less explaining to do. "You were given a gift, of sorts. Your contact with Lorelei as you released it into the fon belt was like being given a massive influx of seventh fonons. Basically, you were granted time."

"I see..." Luke muttered. "I did feel a lot better after that..."

"But that's not the end of the duplicosis phasis, I'm afraid," Jade sighed. "All that did was increase your reserve seventh fonon supply. It has done nothing to cure your condition."

"So you mean–"

"Exactly," Jade said, in a rare display of cutting someone off to explain something. "Your condition still exists, and you are still fading out of existence. We just have more time to find an answer."

"We?" Luke asked through furrowed brow. "You're going to help me, Jade?"

"Well, I suppose I at least owe you that much," he muttered. "After all, if I let you die, now, Anise would have my head... or perhaps I should say, 'Tear,'" he ribbed with a knowing smile. Luke blushed furiously, but hid it as he turned around to being getting dressed again.

"Oh, don't get dressed, yet," Jade said, and Luke paused to look at him. "I'd still like to outfit you with a fonon monitor."

"Oh," Luke replied. "Is it like the armband you gave Tear when you were watching for miasma at the passage rings?"

"Well, kind of," Jade said. "Instead of watching for an addition of miasma, this watches for a decrease of seventh fonons."

"That doesn't sound too bad," Luke said. "Here," he offered, holding his left arm out for Jade.

"Oh, not like that," Jade said smoothly. "The other difference is that this one is a suppositor–" Luke was out the door and down the hall before the word was out of Jade's mouth. Jade smirked. "They just make it so easy sometimes..."

Luke miraculously managed to dress himself fully by the time he'd gotten away from the fomicry wing, despite his lack of attention and ridiculous pace. Jade had persuaded Peony to add a wing to the Malkuth military headquarters for the development of fomicry, this time with more noble intentions than Jade had previously lent himself to. For now, the noble intentions seemed to start leaning away from "noble development" and more toward "helping Luke." Luke didn't have as much of a problem with this as he thought he would.

He wandered from the headquarters through the streets of Grand Chokmah. Noelle had graciously agreed to fly him there from Sheridan in the Albiore, and Luke wasn't foolish enough to decline. Sailing by ship from Baticul to the capital of Malkuth took a week; Noelle could get him there in half a day.

Since he was in the neighbourhood, he decided it would be a good opportunity to make an unannounced visit to Guy. The swordsman had taken up a nobleman's residence in Grand Chokmah as the last of the noble family of Hod, and, due to his efforts in stopping Van, was granted a high social status by Peony. Nobleman Guy Cecil (or perhaps Gailardia Galan Gardios): official walker and groomer of the Emperor's rappigs.

Well, someone had to do it.

Luke toyed with the idea of knocking as he walked up the path to Guy's mansion. On the one hand, he didn't want to just show up and then announce his presence... he wanted to surprise Guy! On the other hand, he might accidentally walk into something he'd rather not that might completely bowl him over. But then... if he could sneak in, he'd really bowl Guy over by just showing up!

While he was deliberating in the front yard, he was bowled over by five rappigs and a trailing Guy. "Sorry...!" Luke hit the ground, torso and head buried in shrubbery. Guy handed the running rappigs to a servant and came back to Luke. "Sorry, sir, I didn't see you there at all. The rappigs are crazy when they–" (and here he stopped for a moment because Luke had an arm held outward behind him, inviting Guy to help him out of the bush) "Oh, yes, of course! I didn't... Luke!" he exclaimed at finally seeing his old friend's face.

"Guy!" he cried back. "What was that?"

"Those were Peony's rappigs," Guy explained. "You remember, the ones we searched for in the castle?"

"You're watching Peony's rappigs? He's let them out of his sight?!" Luke asked incredulously.

"Yeah. I thought the mansion was going to be for me, but I think it's for them and I get the guest room," Guy quipped. "Come on, I'll show you around."

Luke and Guy killed off the afternoon, talking and exploring the mansion. They even managed to sneak in a practice swordfight in the backyard late afternoon. It ended up as a draw: the practice swords broke when Luke's Swallow Fury ran into Guy's Moonlight Tempest. Guy showed Luke around his basement, and Luke was lost about half a minute after Guy launched into an explanation of all the fontech he had strewn about.

Dinner was interrupted by Jade's arrival at the mansion. He strode into the dining hall with not the posture of a soldier addressing a noble, but with the hands-in-pockets casual stance of a friend meeting another.

"Jade!" Guy greeted him. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to find Luke, actually," the colonel replied, dressed in his normal military attire, looking over the redhead as though scanning him. Luke was halfway to a standing position to greet him, but chose to sit down quickly.

"What did you want to see me for?" he asked warily, as though prepared for Jade to make some sudden movement toward him.

"Oh, nothing in particular," he replied. "I just wanted to let you know that I've gotten a leave of absence from Peony so you and I can more focus on your condition."

Guy's eyebrow shot up. "Condition?"

"Nothing too serious!" Luke said hastily. "You don't have to worr–"

"Shut up, Luke," Guy said, winking to let him know he wasn't serious. "If it's got Jade interested enough that he wants to take time off to deal with it, something must be happening. What's going on, Jade?"

"I don't suppose I could ask you to explain, could I, Guy?" the colonel quipped.

"...how the hell would I do that?"

"Luke's duplicosis phasis– that is, the condition whereby his seventh fonons have been fading from his body– never went away. It's still slowly deteriorating his body, even with the Key of Lorelei on his back," Jade said.

"What does the Key have to do with anything?" Luke wondered aloud.

"Well, the Key is made from the Sword and Jewel of Lorelei," Guy reasoned. "Each of those is made heavily from seventh fonons, themselves. In that case, the Key must be a massive concentration of seventh fonons."

Jade smiled, "That's correct. In such a case, having such a concentration nearby should serve to keep the seventh fonons near Luke and hold him together."

"But no such luck, huh?" Luke sighed, leaning back in his chair and running his hands back through his hair. "Man, it's just one thing after another... but at least nothing catastrophically bad happens if we mess up this time."

"Don't say that!" Guy admonished him. "If we mess up, you die. Don't you think that's 'catastrophically bad' for Tear?" Luke stayed silent, but gave him a warm smile as a response.

"Speaking of which, where is Tear? I wouldn't have thought she'd leave you alone since you finally returned," Jade smirked.

Luke narrowed his eyes at him, wondering if it was a jab or not, but finally decided to answer with a simple, "She's in Yulia City. Teodoro needed her for some reason or another. I forgot."

Guy rubbed his temples. "I'm starting to think your being a replica had nothing to do with your not knowing parts of Asch's parts."

Jade nodded assent. "Indeed. Perhaps a perfect-isofon replica just has reduced capabilities to store new information."

"...you can stop making fun of me, now..." Luke muttered.

"Well, regardless," Jade went on, "we'll have to determine our first step into curing Luke of this duplicosis phasis once and for all. I think our best bet might be to contact Spinoza."

"Is that really our best option?" Guy asked.

"I know he's not our favourite person, but he is a peerless physicist," Jade pointed out.

"...only because he let his peers die," Guy muttered darkly.

"We've already decided to trust him, once," Luke sighed. "We may as well give him the benefit of the doubt again."

"If you say so," Guy relented. "You do know I'm coming with you, right?"

"Guy... are you sure?" Luke asked.

"Of course I am, you idiot," he smiled. "I don't even want to think what you would let Jade get up to without me around."

Jade feigned surprise. "Why, Guy. Surely you don't think such a fragile, elderly man such as myself could cause anyone any trouble?"

"I'm not even going to answer that..."

Guy became visibly more excited as they neared the port. He seemed bored while he was leaving instructions to his servants as to how to care for the rappigs, but now that he was getting away from the mansion, there was an almost palpable excitement that began to overtake him. Luke noticed, but said nothing. Jade, of course, used the opportunity to poke fun at him.

"Guy, if you don't calm down, I'm going to have to drag you to the women's bath to freeze you into submission," he said calmly.

"How can I help it?! The closer we get to the port, the more hopeful I get that Luke brought the Albiore here!"

"Oh, is that all?" Luke asked. "I did bring the Albiore here. Noelle's inside."

Jade raised an eyebrow. "My, my, Luke. Did you leave her inside the Albiore all day?"

"No, I think she went shopping for most of the day, actually," Luke replied. "She should be back by now, though."

Jade made a disapproving sound, though they both knew he was joking. "Shameful. It seems like Tear hasn't taught you how to treat a lady, yet."

Luke looked confused. "Should she have?"

Guy sighed. "Let's stop the conversation there before you get yourself into any irreparable trouble."

"No, I'm rather enjoying this!" Jade smiled.

Luke trembled. "Why does it always scare me when you smile?" Jade opened his mouth to reply, but Luke cut him off, saying, "Rhetorical."

The three of them boarded the Albiore, and Noelle greeted them with her usual smile. "Welcome back, Luke. Nice to see you, Colonel. ...hello, Guy!"

"Good evening, Noelle," Jade greeted her. "I hope we're not too much trouble for you, again," he said.

"That's a switch," Guy muttered under his breath to Luke. "Isn't he usually the one who causes trouble in the first place?"

"I heard that, Guy," Jade said sweetly. They shivered.

The Albiore sped across the night sky, soaring in the direction of Belkend. Spinoza was there, Jade had told them. He was doing research into new power sources. With the end of the Planet Storm, Belkend researchers had worked toward providing new power sources, and their results were quite promising. Nothing truly global was finalized, yet, but many cities were already working on advanced steam power. Spinoza, as a leading physicist, was working there.

Guy had asked Luke if he'd wanted to stop in Yulia City and pick up Tear, first, but Luke replied that there was "no need to worry her, again."

"But don't you want to see her?" Guy asked. Luke didn't answer, and instead turned to look out at the sea through the Albiore's window, pensive.

Noelle got them to Belkend swiftly, but it was still close to midnight by the time they'd arrived. Jade directed them to the inn, saying it would be better to search for Spinoza in the morning.

"I doubt he'd be awake at this time of night, anyway," Jade offered. "We elderly scientist types rarely stay up until all hours of the night."

"You mean elderly scientist types like him," Luke grinned. "You're more the crazy scientist type."

"Perhaps," Jade said, a mysterious glare flaring over his glasses. "But then again, the difference between elderly and eccentricity is often just craziness."

"And money," Guy shrugged.

"Speaking of which, I think it's your turn to pay for the inn, Jade," Luke said as it came into sight.

"Why, Luke," Jade said, pretending to look astonished. "You have all that money of the fon Fabre family at your command, and you're going to make a lowly, poor soldier pay for your luxurious stay?"

"Oh, shut up," Luke grimaced. "Fine, I'll pay." He walked inside and started speaking to the attendant.

"How do you do that so easily?" Guy asked while he and Jade were still at the door.

"It's kind of frightening, really," Noelle added.

"Why, thank you," Jade replied before walking in. "That's the nicest compliment I've gotten all day."

Luke finished paying and gave Noelle a separate key, then walked into the room to be shared by he, Guy and Jade. The two followed him, locking the door behind them.

"Man..." Luke sighed, dropping his shirt on the dresser. "It somehow feels like the days are getting longer."

"Actually, now that we've lowered the Outer Lands, the relative rotational speed of the planet would be faster, so the days should feel shorter," Jade commented, his pure logic seeping out again.

"Okay, okay, I didn't need that much information this late at night," Luke withdrew, detaching his sword from his belt and slipping something out from his pocket.

"What's that you've got there, Luke?" Guy asked, staring at it intently.

"Oh, this?" he blinked. "I'm not totally sure. When I was done at Eldrant and descending with Lorelei floating around me, some of the ambient fonons kinds of... merged into this." He held out the item for Guy to examine, a round, pocket-sized sphere, shining a deep hue between gold and white. The colours swirled and coalesced, twisted and broke apart within the sphere, and Guy was nearly mesmerized just watching it. "Since I haven't got a better name for it, I called it the Orb of Lorelei."

"You know, we attribute way too many things to Lorelei," Guy joked. "Sooner or later we're going to lose track." Luke closed his fist around the Orb, then took it and the Key of Lorelei and placed them on the dresser beside his shirt, dropping his item bag right beside it.

As he moved nearer to the bed, Jade began to feel something. It was slight, but he was gifted enough with sensing ambient fonons through his fon slots to tell: something had just changed. Something about Luke had just changed.

...it felt like...