One Year Later
"You know, Colonel," Anise said cutely as she strolled alongside the man in question, "for hating teaching, you really are good at it."
"I'm good at many things, Anise," he said with his usual joking tone of voice. "But what brings this talent to mind, now?"
"Luke," she replied, a calm flick of her head as she looked up at him. Time had rewarded Anise, for looking up to Jade no longer meant craning her neck into an almost uncomfortable bend, but rather just tilting her head smoothly. While she never did grow as big as Tear (take that in any way you wish), she did get the alluring figure she wanted, and enough height to make everyone stop cracking kid jokes about her.
Jade hadn't changed at all, of course. He was a little wiser and a little stronger—arguably in the prime of his career—but still as sarcastic as ever. "Teaching Luke is a little different than teaching most pupils would be," he admitted. "Whenever Luke did something wrong, I was allowed to hit him."
Anise giggled. "And did it work?"
They walked up the last few steps to Baticul Castle. The girl (woman?) smiled as she looked up at the towering structure, remembering their former adventures with a warm feeling. Their whole group still kept in touch, but she was happiest that Jade managed to stay closest of all. In order to keep good faith between Daath, Malkuth and Kimlasca, the three powers had decided that emissaries of goodwill should be stationed in Daath, one each from the two kingdoms, in order to maintain positive relations in a manner that was both direct and through another neutral channel. Of course, the two men had to be stationed in Daath and live there. The choice about who to name emissary for Malkuth was, for Peony, a no-brainer.
"I've forgotten," Anise said suddenly raising a single finger, gloved in white, up to her lips in thought. "Are you acting as an old friend to the princess or as the emissary of Malkuth, tonight?"
"Technically as an old friend, if I had to choose an option," Jade replied, his tone denying bonds with anyone as he so often did. "However, when one serves as an ambassador for his country, one must always appear under the impression that one is currently acting the role of the ambassador." His formal dress was a slightly varied form of his normal attire. The blue overcoat was longer, the fabric smoother. There was a place for military medals along the lapel (of which he pinned none because he found the attention they drew to be a nuisance). The neck of the outfit was more exposed, leaving a place for a tie to be seen. He had selected a dark blue one, which rested against a black shirt he wore under the coat. His pants and shoes were also different, being completely black as opposed to his normal blue. The shoes, particularly, had been shined expertly, making him look more than presentable. The gloves, of course, were the same, and there were pockets for his hands (it would not have been Jade for him to own clothing without pockets).
Anise, having long since outgrown her old clothes, was dressed in a more formal outfit. It was vaguely reminiscent of Ion's Fon Master robes, but folded differently and wore slightly tighter around her waist and torso, as though to remind the world that she was a female Fon Master and proud of it. Of course, the robe was also faintly pink along certain lines and trims, because, as Anise would say, "Anything worth wearing is worth owning in pink." Her gloves, though, were pure white and extended to her elbows. The biggest change was, perhaps, her hair, which she had taken out of its usual pigtail style and allowed to rest loosely around her neck and shoulders. It had originally been longer than her shoulders, but she had cut it back a little, claiming that a Fon Master shouldn't walk around sporting a child's haircut. She was right, though; she looked much older without the pigtails. In fact, the only element of her attire that played counteractive to her more grown-up look was the doll that clung to her shoulders, dangling on her back, grinning. Anise smiled as she mulled over Jade's ambassador comment. "Even for one night, you're ever the soldier, Colonel," she said with a slight shrug of her shoulders.
"Perhaps so," he admitted, chuckling. The guards didn't stop them as they entered, instead bowing curtly as they passed through the large front door. Jade took a moment to again familiarize himself with the interior, while Anise skipped ahead happily into the centre of the grand hall.
She waved back to him. "Come on! Natalia's letter said she was having the throne room converted into a dining room for tonight."
Jade sighed with a slightly exasperated smirk on his face. "Does she really believe we will require the entire hall just for the six of us?"
"Well, you know royalty," Anise replied, the sly grin on her face as she leaned slightly forward. "Everything must be overdone."
"I suppose so," Jade answered, walking toward the steps that led to the throne room with his hands placed in his pockets comfortably.
Anise groaned. "Oh, Colonel, we're supposed to look regal and presentable and fancy when going into a special dinner like this. Do you always have to have your hands in your pockets?"
"My gloves are dirty," he replied teasingly. "I didn't want to embarrass you by revealing their stain-covered filth to the worth."
"You're joking," she said quickly.
"Saying it faster won't make it any less true," he came back.
She knew he was joking. She had seen his gloves and couldn't remember seeing dirt on them. But she couldn't remember for certain! Though, really, it was just the kind of thing that he would tease her about. But what if he wasn't teasing? Her grand entrance could be ruined if her accompaniment wasn't clean to perfection! But, no, he must be joking. What to do, what to do? He had an uncanny ability to find the one thing that would worry her at any given time and exploit it.
"Colonel!" she whined, causing the man to again chuckle.
"Well, I suppose you'll find out sooner or later," he said, walking up the steps to the throne room-turned-dining room. "Oh, and please don't look so fretted about it. I'd hate for my entrance to be spoiled by a fidgeting teenager."
They reached the top of the stairs, finding the doors to be opened wide for them. A large, long table was set up in the dining room. It looked like it could have seated ten, if necessary. There were only six places set up at the table. Anise and Jade took two seats across from each other on the right side and waited.
"Natalia!" Guy called up the stairs to Natalia's bedroom. "Have you seen my formal suit?" The Hodsman had taken up residence in Castle Baticul again, and Natalia had this time made certain he was afforded better quarters than the small room he had shared with Pere for years. It wasn't a difficult adjustment to make. He already knew where everything was, except, apparently, for his suit.
A groan floated down the staircase. "Guy, you've had that suit for years. If you wear it again, you're going to put a hole in the seat of the pants. The colours are all faded in it! It is hardly a wearable suit, any longer."
"Did you throw out my formal suit?"
"No," she shouted back, "I had it sent to the tailor's to get it fixed."
He blanched. It was starting to get in slightly bad condition, it's true, but he didn't think it had gotten that noticeable. "So what am I supposed to wear?" he asked. He looked over himself, still wearing his traveling clothes, orange vest and all.
"Honestly," Natalia said with a shake of her head as she appeared at the top of the stairs. She was wearing a long, pale green dress similar in colour to many of the clothes she wore on their journeys. It went down to her ankles, forcing her to daintily pull the hemline up as she descended the steps. The dress had no sleeves, the garment instead clinging to her shoulders with no fabric on her arms. The neckline was not outrageously low (she would not be called a Star tonight), but it was definitely one of Natalia's dresses. "It takes me long enough to dress myself for an occasion like this, must I really dress you, as well?" She reached the bottom stair, leveling out their natural height difference so she could look him in the eye easily. He hadn't answered. "...Guy?"
He looked lost for a moment, eyes starting to glaze over. Then he gave his head a quick shake, snapping himself back into the present. "Oh! Sorry, Natalia. I..."
"You are such a guy," she teased him, giving him a gentle slap across the arm.
He sheepishly replied, "I think you would have been more offended if I hadn't reacted at all." He cleared his throat as she smiled, stepping down the last step. "You look very beautiful, tonight."
She lifted an eyebrow, blushing furiously but with a slight smile on her face. "Only tonight?"
"Hey, come on!" he cried. "Don't put me in situations like that. You know what I mean!"
She moved closer quickly and hugged him tightly, saying, "Yes, I do." He kissed the top of her head, very quickly, while she was nuzzled into him. When he had let her go, she asked, "So, what are we going to find for you to wear...?"
"You mean you got rid of my formal suit without thinking of a replacement?" he asked incredulously.
"Really, Guy," she answered, lost in thought, "your suit was so worn, it wasn't even useful, anymore."
"Natalia, a suit is only useful when it's worn," he answered quickly.
"Let us not quibble over the minor details," she said, glaring at him to stop any more clever replies. "How long will it take you to get ready?"
"Get ready with what?" he sighed. "I don't even have something to change into, yet."
"Well," she said slowly, thinking. "We do have some suits that Peony—"
"Oh, fine," she huffed, but she made it clear that she wasn't really angry. "There are some extra suits in the third bedroom down this hall, I believe." She pointed so he knew where to go.
"These extra suits had nothing to do with Peony, right?" he asked warily.
"Nothing at all," she assured him. "Now please go change quickly. I want to get there before our guests arrive." Guy walked down the hallway, entered the room and locked the door. He came out wearing a suit with orange pins on the cuffs five minutes later. He was wearing a dark orange tie against a black shirt. The pants were also black, but the jacket, itself was white. The shoes were black to match the pants, leaving him with a very professional look. Natalia sighed, a hand on her head as she shook it slowly.
"What's wrong?" Guy asked, a little concerned.
"It takes me at least four hours to get ready for something like this, and you can make preparations in five minutes," she pointed out, latching onto his arm and walking in step with him.
"Yeah, but you get what you pay for," he said wisely. "I don't look half as nice as you do." He swore he could feel the heat from her blush on his arm.
A guard bowed to them as they entered the main hall. "Two of your guests have already arrived, Your Highness," he said diligently.
"Already?" she gasped, a hand raised to her mouth. "Oh, my..."
Guy smiled. "It's all right, they won't mind." They started walking up the steps. "Any bets on who it will be?"
"Knowing Luke," she said thoughtfully, "I would assume Jade and Anise."
"You're probably right," Guy said, chuckling, "but I'll take Luke and Tear, just to make it sporting."
"Do we know they're coming together?" Natalia asked.
"I would be astonished if they weren't," Guy smiled back at her.
"Honestly, Luke, you're going to kill yourself one of these days," Tear said, holding her head in a single hand.
"Relax!" he said. "I've almost... got... it...!" He was stretched over one of Baticul's bridges, leaning so far over the edge that Tear was starting to worry he would overbalance and teeter off the edge.
Tear stood in the middle of the bridge, wearing a rather ornately designed silk dress. It was very unlike her to get so dressed up, but she supposed that, just this once for a particularly nice occasion, it wouldn't kill her to stop being a soldier for one night and dress truly girly. The dress was dark, as she couldn't bring herself to abandon her usual colours. The dress was strapless, however, and so to protect her own extreme modesty, she had purchased a silk shawl of the same colour to wear.
Then the wind took it.
So Luke was now leaning dangerously over a bridge, reaching out to a support cable with an outstretched arm, trying to grab her shawl which the wind had carried to that same cable. It was remaining just out of his reach. Luke snapped as he got an idea. With a sudden flash of light that hovered between gold and white, the Key of Lorelei appeared in his hand. He positioned it carefully under the shawl, then lifted the article of clothing off the support cable and back to the bridge. He took it quickly off the Key, returned the weapon to his arm with another golden-white flash of light, and handed Tear her shawl back.
"Thank you," Tear said warmly, wrapping it around her shoulders, this time with more care to make sure it wouldn't be taken away on the wind.
"Don't mention it," Luke smiled back. She took his hand and the two walked together toward the castle.
"Do you think we're going to be late?" Tear wondered with an eye to the sky. "The sun is starting to look low. It's almost evening."
"Ah, don't worry about it," Luke replied calmly. "They wouldn't start without us, anyway."
"If they're worried that you'll eat most of the food, yes, they will," Tear teased him, poking his stomach gently.
"Don't say things like that!" he whined. "That's too scary to even think about." He adjusted his cuff, as it was starting to bother him, while they stepped onto the lift that led to the castle.
Luke was wearing a modification of an outfit he had received from a man in the Colosseum one day. It was a long overcoat, but he had this one made up in white, instead of the red one he had received. He also had the collar reduced in the front so people could see his face, though he left it high in the back. The slacks that he wore with it were also white, and he had the logo from the back of his regular outfit sewn into the back of this one, as well. He didn't carry a sheath, anymore (well, he did, but he called it his arm), which left the outfit with a simplistic, though very noble, look.
Luke smiled as they walked into the castle. While he still lived here, he was making a second home of sorts in Yulia City with Tear. He was starting to enjoy helping her with her work (she traveled a lot, and he hated to be stuck in one place for too long) for the Order, and more often than not, she was sent to Daath, which let them catch up with Anise and Jade frequently. Stepping back into the castle square was like coming home and being on vacation at the same time. It was a strange feeling.
"We're almost there," Tear said, smiling. "Ready?"
"Almost," Luke replied. "Just a minute." He walked over to the water fountain in the centre of the square, stopping on the bridge that crossed over it. He drew a single gald out of his pocket and threw it into the water. Waiting for a moment, he smiled.
"Did you make a wish?" Tear asked. He nodded. "What did you wish for?"
He shrugged coyly. "I can't tell you. It won't come true, then, will it?"
She laughed. "Fair enough. But," she asked, taking his arm and looking up at him, "Did it come true?"
He turned slightly, drew her near, and gave her a long, loving kiss. When they parted, he whispered, "Yes."
Unbelievable. You know, when I started this fic, I was aiming for about five chapters. Sometimes stories have a life of their own, and we, as writers, can only express what our characters want to do. That's what happened in this case. For Phasis, the characters wanted to do their own thing, and I just obeyed. So, a few things to say (I'll try and keep this brief, but I'm concerned these notes are going to rival some chapters in length.
First, I'd like to address any leftover questions in the reviews. I like to respond to reviews in-chapter, and I used to do so, but the admins of the site have said that's a no-no, and all I can do is sit and obey (sigh). So, just a couple things that I feel need clearing up from the reviews.
On the issue of moves like Center and Guardian Field: Yes, it's true that Luke and Guy have their own healing artes, and didn't necessarily have to wait for Tear or Natalia to heal them at every instance. Moreover, did you know that with Grass Chambers equipped to the right move, any character except Jade can heal themselves with their stat-boosting artes? The reason I didn't use them, though, is that those artes make characters broken, to borrow a term (ie., they become too strong within the confines of the canon, "breaking" the rules of the canon). Imagine the scene where Guy shielded Natalia from Rem, gets stabbed and hits the ground. There would have been no drama at all if he had just used Center right away. By limiting the character's ability to heal themselves, a writer can increase the drama and suspense in their work.
On the issue of where the sentience's names came from: Efreet, Rem, Shadow, Sylph, Gnome and Undine are not randomly chosen names or picked at random from ToS, but are continual elements in Tales lore overall. They (in addition to Celcius and Volt) appear in multiple games, including Tales of Eternia and, I believe, Tales of Phantasia, as well. So, when deciding upon names, that was the pool I had to work from. The decision for Undine/Celcius and Sylph/Volt came down to just looking around in-game and seeing where names were referenced. The game's own canon supports that Undine and Sylph are the names of the water and wind sentiences.
The ending, about the Orb and the Key, was being hinted at throughout the whole story. I'm sure I missed some lines I could have used when I was revealing the secret in chapter 17. One of my favourite tricks was referencing the Key by name. If you go back and skim, you'll find that no weapon, other than the Key of Lorelei, is referenced by its name. That was one of the small clues that was my own personal favourite which I don't think anyone picked up on.
To share credit, many of the ideas touched upon in the sentience battles have their roots elsewhere, and many of them are more interesting than I managed to convey them. For instance, Mary's speech to Guy about humans naming things to make sense of them can be seen in a few other places. See Margaret Atwood's poem "Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer" as a starting point if you're interested. As well, Van's speech to Tear about what the mind can think of with its body gone and in a void alludes to Michel Foucault and some of his ideas about the body and the mind. There's more in, I believe, his text, The Order of Things, but don't hold me to that. I could say more about the ideas used, but I don't want to go on about it forever. These notes are getting long as it is.
I'd like to send out a few final thank yous before I wrap up this story once and for all. These groups and people have been instrumental in the continuing life and success of this story, and I am very grateful that they were here.
First, to you who reviewed. Rest assured that, though I could not place notes in each chapter as I'd like to, I did read and appreciate each review you people sent my way. Many of your ideas and hopes actually influenced the story in minor details in places (I'll let you try and figure out where!). Though I would never have stopped the story altogether (I was very determined to finish this one), the support from the ToA online community was key in rolling out these chapters at a fast clip, and I'll thank you for that.
Second, to the ToAIM group. I don't know if I could have kept my passion for the game up at the necessary level it had to be at in order to write this if it weren't for all of you, injecting my very being, as it were, with a constant influx of Tales essence. Talking with all of you has been not only a joy on numerous occasions, but a highlight of my night and something I look forward to. I am very glad to have met you! Thank you for your support and for putting up with me when I plug my own rather dismal work whenever I have something to show off.
No writer is able to just write flawlessly, and to claim that I've written this on a solo effort would be horribly myopic of me. I was blessed—and this is a carefully chosen word, but I believe it aptly fits—blessed with two of the finest betaers known to fanfiction, and it was only though their attention to detail that Phasis ended up being what it is (some of you may think I'm being humble; trust me when I say that the story would be a lot shorter and significantly lower quality without them). So, I go on:
Third, to Vil. How could I not thank you with all you did? I don't want to say you were a substitute beta, because I listened to your advice just as carefully as I did my regular; and not only did you poke at me before chapters when I showed you things, but also with dedicated (and usually first) reviews after chapters! Your help and dedication is not only appreciated, but warmly returned whenever you want it. Thank you for hearing out silly ideas and not berating me too much when you had to sit though them!
Lastly, to Griff. To say Phasis would be nothing without you would be an understatement. When I started this fic, I didn't want you to beta because the fic was really for you, and it didn't seem fair to make you work for it, nor did I want to ruin surprises for you by discussing things early. I wonder what happened to my stubbornness? At any rate, I'm glad you betaed for me. The amount of work you put into this piece rivals my own (I may be exaggerating, but only slightly). It's plainly obvious that you had intentions from the start of pushing me to make this fic be better than I was hoping it would be, and I'm glad you did. Thank you for everything. Even on the days we didn't agree on every detail, I'm glad I had you helping me.
I think that about wraps it up! Thank you to everyone for your continued support. I have no plans for a sequel; I wrote Phasis intending to serve as a fourth part of the original Tales of the Abyss (think of that black title card screen with the date appearing and rolling into another part of the game), and I think it's done that admirably (not necessarily well, but admirably!). Thank you again! After all this, I believe there's only one thing left to say.