Epilogue: Two Worlds
It was a pleasantly sunny day in the city of Daath, home to the Order of Lorelei. The heat beat down on the city's residents and though it was still morning, there was no doubt of the temperatures to which it would climb once the sun was fully overhead. At the moment, however, Tear knew nothing of the weather as she wandered down yet another hallway in the cathedral's massive infrastructure. She found herself wishing that they start installing some windows. It would stand to make the place less dreary and at the very least it might separate one endless hallway from another.
Tear turned to her left, placing a hand on the doorknob she found, but caught herself before twisting the latch and interrupting whoever might have been within. She laughed to herself. It was the second time this morning she had almost made a wrong turn. Really, for a place she'd once called her home, she was quick to forget her way around. Then again, it had never really been a home for the melodist, at least nothing like the place she now considered home. It was simply a place she'd lived once, and certainly not one that she missed to any extent. Passing through the door to her right, Tear was satisfied when she found another corridor; she was still going the right way for now.
The melodist could have chastised herself for her feeble memory but she couldn't quite bring herself to be irritated. After all, she hadn't really lived here since she the day she had set out for Baticul to kill her brother, and been swept off onto a journey with Luke. Four years and counting; time went by so fast. Had it already been a year since the twins had come back? The thought was almost frightening. The years without them had stretched out like an eternity, now they flew by almost faster than she had the time to enjoy them.
Certain she had the correct door this time; Tear was rewarded when the sun momentarily blinded her vision. When the light finally cleared from her eyes, she found one of the cathedral's many courtyards laid out before her. The center had been cleared and a single row of targets lined the far wall. Before them a group of Oracle Knight trainees held their bows, carefully aiming while awaiting the command.
"Fire!" The voice rang through the silent air and a volley of arrows were loosed, though few hit their marks. Several landed in the grass beyond their targets and a handful collided with the boards. Only one student hit the bull's-eye.
Tear could have laughed at the familiar sigh that followed the class' pitiful success rate and the melodist watched bemused as her former instructor told them as much in no uncertain terms. "Now I expect all of you to practice!" The voice rang clearly across the yard. "Your practical exam is in a week and if this is any example of your skill many of you won't be advancing. That is all for today. Dismissed!" A groan echoed from the students and they begrudgingly retrieved their equipment.
"Being as hard on them as always, Major Legretta?" Tear asked, making her way through the students that were now filing back into the cathedral.
"Yes, well if they had half the ambition you did, they'd be alright," Legretta fired back, limping over to meet the melodist.
Legretta's injury from their last battle had never completely healed, and the former God-General had a permanent limp that had retired her from active duty. Tear sighed somewhat sadly but knew better than to let such feelings show on her face. Really, it was a miracle that Legretta had survived at all, and Tear knew she wouldn't take kindly to anything that remotely resembled pity. It wasn't pity... just regret that things had to turn out the way they had. Yet despite her impediment, Legretta was still one of Daath's most sought out instructors: the Oracle Knights she turned out were top notch and she was quick to remind anyone who thought her incapable that she could still best most of them.
"So," Legretta broke the silence between them with a comfortable smile. "What has you here in Daath?"
"Anise asked me to meet her here," Tear replied. "I'm out delivering a few things on Natalia's behalf."
"The princess must be quite busy these days."
"Yes, now more than ever with all the preparations that have to made. I'm starting to wonder when she finds the time to sleep."
Legretta chuckled. "So will you be attending Kimlasca's wedding?"
"Of course," Tear replied. "No matter how much fuss is going on about it, Luke would never miss Asch's wedding."
"I didn't ask if Luke was attending," Legretta stated slyly. "I didn't realize the two of you were quite that close. Might there be a wedding I'm invited to in the near future?"
"Major Legretta!" Tear protested, her cheeks flaring at the verbal misstep. As much as Legretta chuckled at her student's reaction, she couldn't say she was displeased. If anything it made her happy. While she still held fast to the memory of the one she once held dear, she wouldn't wish such tragedy on any other. Life was too short, but it seemed such concerns were wasted on Tear. Despite her protests it was clear that she actually hoped for such a thing someday.
"Of course Tear's going to the wedding!" A third chipper voice cut in, and the two women turned to see a head of dark hair bouncing across the courtyard. "She's the maid of honour!"
"W-W-What? Anise! How do you know that?" Tear stuttered. "Natalia hasn't said anything about the bridal party yet."
"Oh please," Anise replied mischievously. "It's the royal wedding! It's all the hottest gossip right now!"
"Since that's all that ever goes on in Daath anyway," Legretta added sourly.
"I hear you. I like gossip as much as the next person, but I don't think even I could handle listening to the trainees all day. You've got it rough. But anyways!" Anise quickly diverted the topic. "Sorry to keep you waiting Tear!"
"It's alright," Tear replied. "I haven't been here long, and I'm sure with your new job you've been quite busy."
"Tell me about it! It's way more work than I thought it would be!"
"You should be proud though," Tear commented. "You're the youngest Captain of the Fon Master Guard they've ever had."
"I can see why," Anise sighed. "I've got enough paperwork on my desk to age me ten years!"
"How is the new Fon Master doing?"
"Oh the old fogey is fine," Anise grumbled. "Man! Why didn't I get a shot at it?"
"Because they decided that no one who hasn't come of age should hold the position," Legretta replied.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Anise sighed. "They figured all the stress of the job was too much for a kid; that it's what ultimately did Ion in... so I guess it's fair. I'm not going to give up though! There's always next time. Besides, the older he is, the sooner I get another shot!"
Legretta sighed and shook her head. "The Fon Master isn't that old, the staff here is just getting younger."
"That's right, I heard Sync got promoted again," Tear commented.
"Yeah, he's the new Commandant now," Anise confirmed. "For all his demotions after the kerfuffle with Van, he's flown right back up the ranks. The kid might still be a snot, but he's pretty damn good at his job. He'd never say it, but I think he really enjoys it too. At least he enjoys tearing a strip out of his God-Generals. That kid is downright scary when he's on a mission."
"That somehow doesn't surprise me," Tear said.
"Me neither," Anise agreed. "Though I can't say much for the increase in staff turnover since he got the job. On that subject, do you know how many times we've tried to get Luke over here? We're still a few God-Generals short and I'm sure he'd fit right in."
"He knows," Tear answered. "But I don't think that's what he wants, at least not right now."
"Is he sure?" Anise asked, her voice bordering on pleading. "I admit, it would be kind of weird to take orders from Sync, but I swear he really isn't that bad. He might take some getting used to, but as long as you're not a complete moron he's actually pretty great to work for."
"I think the answer is still 'no'. At least for now."
"Oh alright," Anise conceded with a shrug. "Still, tell your future husband that there's a spot open for him if ever wants it."
"Anise, not you too!" Tear flushed while the Anise erupted into giggles.
"So what brings you all the way out here on such short notice?" Anise asked.
"Right!" Tear reached down into her bag and pulled out an ornate white envelope. "Natalia asked me to deliver these for her."
Anise took the envelope and flipped it over, examining the embossed silver lining before looking curiously back up at Tear. "An invitation? But I got mine in the mail weeks ago."
"It's probably for the private ceremony, right?" Legretta guessed.
"That's right," Tear replied. "With all the formalities that the royal wedding is going to entail, they wanted to do something smaller and more personal, with just friends and family."
"Natalia's planning two weddings? Man, that girl is out of her mind. She must be going crazy trying to organize all of that."
"It's a lot of work, but she also has a lot of help," Tear pointed out. "I don't know what the maids in the castle will ever do once the wedding is over."
"I am so glad I'm not Asch right now," Anise said with a chuckle.
"I don't know if he'd have room to give his input if he wanted to," Tear answered, her voice buoyant with laughter.
"Well, let Natalia know that I'll definitely be there!" Anise said. The young girl turned to head back into the cathedral before stopping with one last thought.
"And tell her to have really nice party favours!"
Tear laughed outright.
"I'll pass that along."
The afternoon sun streamed in through the window, bouncing off the crimson hair that stood centered in its frame and across the small room in which the future monarch stood. The room didn't have any particular purpose, but it was for that reason that Asch found comfort here. With no one coming or going, it gave him the opportunity to gather his thoughts before tending to important matters.
Asch absentmindedly adjusted one of the belts on his uniform, the formal dress becoming more common than his casual wear of late, though he found he missed the latter more and more, especially as the castle tailor got increasingly elaborate with each new piece he was given. At this rate it would take him all day just to get dressed for a meeting. Asch made a mental note to stop by and ask him to tone it down a bit later this afternoon. It seemed everyone was getting caught up in the excitement of the impending wedding.
Adjusting the last belt, Asch noted his sword was missing, and for a brief moment he debated running upstairs to fetch it from his room, but the idea was quickly discarded. It was an ornamental piece at best and he didn't care to return to the hustle of the castle just yet.
It was still strange for Asch to think of the castle as his home, even though it had been for several months now. He'd officially moved into the castle around the same time the wedding had been made public and it seemed everything had been chaotic ever since. Though Asch knew there would always be a place for him in the manor, it was still another change among the many that seemed to be taking place these days.
'Do you miss it?'
Luke's familiar voice broke through Asch's musings.
'Sometimes,' Asch replied simply. 'I think I miss it more because I miss the times when things were simpler.'
A mental chuckle came across their connection. 'I know what you mean.'
No, moving to the castle wasn't the only big change in Asch's life. Luke had also moved out of the manor shortly after their return, and even though it had been over a year now, he still wasn't completely used to not seeing his little brother on a day-to-day basis. They still had their connection, and they talked as much, if not more often than they would have were they both living in Baticul. Nothing at all had changed between the two for the distance between them, but there were still days he really missed Luke. Perhaps that too was because the time he spent with Luke was easy. Life became simple, even if just for a little while.
Things between Kimlasca and Malkuth weren't perfect, though they were improving and a far cry from the tensions that had once risked exploding into war at any day. His relationship with Peony was good; it was nice to be friends with the Malkuth Emperor, but at the same time it made it that much more difficult when they were at odds over a particular issue.
All the hard feelings between the countries hadn't vanished overnight, and now that all the chaos from the miasma and lowering of the Outer Lands had settled, many of the citizens on both sides had returned to their old ways. Asch was determined not to back down that road, and he knew Peony felt the same, so it was merely a matter of them getting there.
'You've got a lot on your mind,' Luke commented.
'Yeah, there's a big meeting today. One of the researchers is presenting the latest designs to come out of Jade's lab among other things. They think they've got a solid non-fonon based energy source for us this time.'
'Wait. I thought Jade went back into fomicry,' Luke answered, puzzled.
'He did,' Asch said with a chuckle. 'But it's Jade; the man does everything. He just got a medical facility for replicas on its feet and from what I hear, his lab is now working on replicating rare medicinal herbs. He has a branch that does energy research on the side though.'
'So what do you think of his latest idea?'
'I don't know yet, I've seen the design, but I wonder if we really could use steam on that large of a scale. I guess I'll find out later.'
'Steam, huh?' Luke pondered. 'That sounds a bit more reliable than Dist- sorry,' Luke cut himself off. 'Than Saphir's wind turbines. Man, he's going to be fuming that Jade has something out.'
Asch laughed at the thought. The former God-General had taken up his old name and had invested all his efforts into energy research, determined to beat Jade to the punch. No doubt he'd be in an uproar over the latest developments, but Asch didn't doubt that would only further spur his efforts. The competition between their respective research labs was enough to put Class M and Class I to shame.
'I like Saphir's wind turbines,' Asch admitted. 'But they're limited to places with reliable wind, which sadly isn't many.'
'Well, it's not like the level of fonons has dropped so low that people can't function.'
'True, though they have decreased.'
'You still have time to sort things out,' Luke said calmly. 'Don't invite trouble, you have enough of that on your plate as it is with the wedding coming up and all.'
'Don't remind me,' Asch teased.
'How is Natalia doing, anyway?'
'She's been keeping herself busy. Between all our meetings and planning the wedding, I'm starting to doubt she goes to bed at night. She's feeling the stress of everything, that's for sure.'
'She is loving every second of it, and you know it.'
'True,' Asch chuckled. 'But I'll be glad when she just settles on a centerpiece already!'
Luke laughed. 'Actually, on the subject of weddings, I heard that Nephry stepped down as Governor of Keterburg.'
'That doesn't surprise me; she'd been considering it for awhile now.'
'You just might have some competition for Royal Wedding of the Year,' Luke taunted slyly.
'I wonder if I'll get an invitation,' Asch asked jokingly.
'That depends entirely on how early you kick Peony out of your reception for stirring things up.'
'Who said I invited him?' Asch asked.
'I sent it for you.'
'That's what I'm here for,' Luke stated simply.
'I'm going to kill you.'
'Okay, but wait until after the wedding. I promised the cheagles all the leftover vegetables if they behaved for the entire party.'
'You didn't seriously...'
Before Asch could iterate exactly how badly we was going to murder his little brother if the entire mass of cheagles showed up at his wedding, the door behind him cracked open.
'Later,' Luke said with a lingering chuckle, sensing the visitor and bowing out.
Wondering just who knew to find him here, Asch turned to see his father enter the room.
"The meeting is about to begin," Duke Fabre announced. "They'll be awaiting your presence in a few moments."
"Thanks," Asch replied with a smile. "I'll head over in just a minute."
"Gathering your thoughts?" His father asked, coming to stand next to his son.
"More or less."
"And how is your brother doing?"
Asch almost chuckled. "Same as always."
"In that much trouble?"
"You seem more relaxed than earlier today," the duke commented. "Did you figure something out regarding the other issue at hand today?"
"Not really," Asch confessed, though he couldn't deny the stress that had been melted away by his conversation with Luke.
"What are your thoughts on the matter?"
"I'd like to continue to offer Kimlasca's support towards the efforts to rebuild Akzeriuth," Asch stated.
"It's a noble thought, but it is also become taxing on our own resources to continue offering the kind of support we have been giving until this point. Akzeriuth's economy has been improving; perhaps it is time that they rely on themselves and their own country."
"Kimlasca's efforts have been vital up until this point, particularly given we have better trade routes into the area. In addition the supplies coming from Akzeriuth have been of great benefit to Kimlasca. It is an effort worthy of our support."
"And by trading with Akzeriuth, Kimlasca is already helping them financially. Additional support may no longer be necessary."
"Remember you are biased towards the issue because it is a project Luke has been heavily involved in. You must not let that cloud your judgement. This is a decision you are making on behalf of your people, not yourself."
"Perhaps you're right," Asch pondered. He turned to face his father and found the man's unwavering gaze staring him down. Once he would have taken such words as criticism, as undue harshness over his desire to simply help out. He'd have seen that objectivity as distance and uncaring when really, all he wanted, all his father ever wanted, was to help him think things through properly. He could see that now.
"Thank you, Father. I think I'm ready."
"Then let's not keep Kimlasca waiting any longer."
Luke sighed, popping the last bite of his sandwich in his mouth while listening to the sound of water against the rocks. The midday sun was well overhead and the recent heat wave had put a bit of a damper on the workers. Not that Luke could complain, they'd increased their numbers exponentially since the project was first kicked off. The thought made the young noble smile; it didn't seem so long ago that the very first boards went up, now Akzeriuth had become a bustling community. Albeit still a small one, it was growing faster and faster as more people moved in to stake their claim in the growing town.
Once the Outer Lands had been lowered, the crater marking the old Akzeriuth had filled in with seawater and the lingering minerals in the stone has given rise to lush aquatic plant life, which in turn had drawn in vast numbers of fish and other marine life. With the steep rock walls from the crater's edge making for a natural port, it was one of the best fishing spots in Auldrant. Even with only a handful of buildings, the economy was steadily growing and they were starting to export product to other cities. If things kept up, it wouldn't be long before Akzeriuth could stand on its own, without the help they'd been receiving from the two capitals.
"Hey there Luke, what are you up to?" Luke looked up to see his best friend wander over.
"Just finished eating," Luke replied casually. "Seeing what's new with Asch."
"The usual then," Guy said with a chuckle.
"Well don't get too lazy, or the people are going to start following your lead."
"In this heat, that may not be a bad thing," Luke pointed out.
"It'll be worse if winter comes around before they've got roofs over their heads," Guy countered.
"I'll pass on the repeat of last year, thanks," Luke waved his hand casually, but the gesture only served to make him hotter and he quickly lowered it. "Tear has patience, but if we had to cram one more person into that house she just might have strangled someone."
"That reminds me, where is Tear? I haven't seen her around lately."
"She went to visit Natalia, and if I know that girl she has Tear running all over Auldrant right about now."
"That's our favourite princess for you," Guy chuckled. "How is the planning for the weddings coming along?"
"Oh the weddings are fine," Luke muttered in mock irritation. "Now if she'd just take a break to actually sleep, Tear might get to spend a few days at home."
"It's not easy being the maid of honour," the blond commented. "Though with you being the best man, shouldn't you be helping?"
"Yeah, yeah," Luke dismissed his best friend. "I'll keep that in mind, Governor."
"Come on, Luke. Stop that," Guy shot back with as much seriousness as he could muster through the grin on his face. Luke erupted into a spry smile.
Even though it had been a year, Guy still wasn't comfortable with his new title, no matter how good of a job he was doing. Peony had appointed him to the spot once Akzeriuth had gotten up off the ground, much to the dismay of several other Malkuth nobles who had wanted the position. Even from here Luke could see his manor that was still under construction on the eastern edge of town. Guy hadn't wanted anything elaborate, but it kept getting bigger as Peony got his say in the matter. Something about Jade needing a place to retire.
Not far behind the growing estate was a clearing that had become an almost permanent home for the second Albiore. Noelle was as common a sight on Akzeriuth's streets as any of them and her help in transporting supplies for the construction effort had become invaluable. Ginji offered a helping hand wherever he could too, but his transport and delivery service had really picked up as of late and their pilot was constantly on the move. He'd still drop everything on a dime if it meant helping his friends out, especially Asch.
Noelle on the other hand could easily be counted as Akzeriuth's most dedicated volunteer. If the chipper pilot wasn't ferrying supplies she could be found helping the townsfolk and she'd all but permanently set up residence in the growing town. Instead she chose to stay in Guy's manor, where the blond had offered her one of the steadily multiplying rooms. Luke chuckled and wondered how long it would be before there were little balls of blond hair running through the streets.
"What's so funny?" Guy asked.
Luke glanced back at the small building he called home before returning his gaze to the manor. "I don't know, it kind of pales in comparison, don't you think?" He asked light-heartedly.
"Please," Guy sighed with mock exasperation. "If you want it, just take it."
"I'll pass," Luke said with a laugh.
It was true that the house he and Tear shared was small, especially when cast against Guy's manor, but unlike his best friend, Luke didn't intend to stay in Akzeriuth forever. He and Tear had talked about their future, but had yet to decide what they would do once Akzeriuth was back on its feet. Luke knew his father hoped that he would return to Baticul. With Asch on the throne, there wasn't anyone to take over his territory as a Duke. Now that he'd been gone for awhile, Luke realized he actually did miss the city, and he missed being near his older brother, but Luke wasn't sure if becoming a Duke was something he wanted. He still didn't know where he wanted his future to take him.
And that... that was the most beautiful thing of all. There was no one and nothing to tell him what he supposed to do or who he was supposed to be. Luke embraced the uncertainty, the possibilities that the future held. He didn't need to have an answer yet. There was time to consider each path and to make that choice for himself... he had all the time in the world. He, Asch, everyone... they had discovered their future, and they would take it on with everything they had.
Luke debated opening his connection with Asch again but it didn't take a second for him to realize his sibling was busy. The pang of homesickness took a moment to pass, and when it did Luke felt lighter. It was hard being apart from his family, apart from Asch, but that too was just one of the challenges he had to overcome.
"Hey Luke!" Guy called. "If you're done being lazy, come help us get the south wall of the inn up!"
Besides... he still had his friends, he had Tear and he had his dreams. Luke smiled and he eagerly jogged off after his best friend. "Coming!"
No matter where life took him, he and Asch would always be connected. Though they may not always be at each other's side, they had each finally found their world; their place where they belonged. And once they did, they finally realized the truth.
That world was one and the same.
All characters and locations belong to Namco-Bandai.
Tales of the Abyss game script (typed by Ladynadiad) and other in-game information from Hidden-currents
Asch Gaiden (posted on LJ by Reeves -unnamed translator-)
Any and all cannon materials including manga spin-offs and the game itself.
Thank you so much to my betas! Trystle for putting up with me for the entire duration ( 5 very long years lol), Ladynadiad for helping me get this off the ground, and Iris Johanne Black for helping me most with the homestretch and for giving Reflections it's very own soundtrack!
Last but not least!
Thank you so much to each and every person who has taken the time to read this fanfiction. Hearing your thoughts and reading your reviews has been the most amazing experience and without you guys I don't think I'd have made it this far. As a thank you I'll be giving away Reflections-themed bookmarks to anyone who wants one! I'll be posting the details on my deviantArt page (darkangel6(dot)deviantart(dot)com) some time in the next couple days so check it out if you're interested. I'll also have a bunch of random facts and bloopers (amusing typos, etc...) Thanks again to everyone - I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had writing it!