Summary: "I'll check up on you from time to time," Jade had said. "but let me know immediately if you start to feel anything unusual." And as luck would have it, Luke soon finds himself showing the symptoms for an incurable disease.
Spoils?: DO NOT READ UNLESS LUKE HAS CUT HIS HAIR.
A/N: Again, thank you soo much to ShadowofUndine for helping me beta this. Goodness knows no one should have to bare through the original version of this before her help. :P
"Light Spear Cannon!"
With a dying cry, the monster vanished in a burst of light. Luke pulled his sword from the air and sheathed it, smiling as he wiped away a single bead of sweat. "We're done here."
He moved to place his hands behind his head, but cringed and uttered a small, "Ow…" as a sharp ripping sensation blazed near his shoulder. Tear picked up on his distress.
"Hold still, Luke." She said to him, approaching from behind. He did as he was told as she lightly pressed her fingers on his shoulder blades. "…Does that hurt?"
She placed her fingers a bit lower. "How about here?"
"Nothing." He replied, continuing to answer as such as she tried various other points. Suddenly, Luke felt his heart rate jump and as if a heat wave had just brushed over him. His stomach cramped and knotted painfully.
Tear hadn't found whatever had aggrieved him, and seemed oblivious to his unexpected inner turmoil. She frowned, placing her hands on her hips. "Well, you're obviously not bleeding anywhere, nor is anything out of place. You might just be a bit sore… This should tide you over until our next battle, at least."
As a rush of cooling green fonons swirled around him, his heart still beat as if he had just ran around Auldrant ten times, while the knots in his abdomen continued to tighten. He stayed silent, trying to make sense of this in his mind; he'd never felt like this, ever. He'd felt worse, but never quite this severe from an unknown and inexplicable reason.
Perplexed with his silence, Tear used one hand to partly turn him to face her. "Luke, are you alright?"
Now his throat felt as if it had shrunken and mouth filled with cotton as he tried to muster the breath to respond. He closed his eyes and managed a grin. "Y-yeah…" he lied. "Th-thanks."
"Of course," she replied, not fully convinced by his answer, but decided, for the moment being, to let it be. "Let's go, we're almost to Daath."
After trying desperately to regain his voice enough to respond, he acquiesced to simply nodding and trailing after her.
His strange batch of ailments seemed to lessen as they walked onwards to the religious capital, and by the time they entered the bustling city, only the feverish warmth and the cotton mouth remained. They thought to simply use Daath as a stop where they could replenish their waning supplies, but the pink-orange sky overhead reminded them all of the long day of traveling they endured with the soothing temptation of sleep creeping into their minds. Because of this, it was nearly a unanimous vote to stay the night at the inn before pressing onward.
Dinner passed uneventfully—Anise opted to whip something up as to keep either of the Kimlascan nobles from entering the kitchen—and evening quickly melted into night. The three girls occupied one room while the men, and Mieu, took residence in the other. Unsurprisingly, everyone found themselves able to retire to bed early on, except for Luke—his body and mind warred over whether or not to sleep. After the expansive distance the covered earlier on foot, the numerous battles along the way and the combined effect of his sudden peculiar ailments begged for sleep, but that which caused his exhaustion was the same reason that kept his mind buzzing. Jade had taken his pulse since Luke was the first perfect isofon he'd encountered; he wanted to run a few tests. "I'll check up on you from time to time," he had said. "but let me know immediately if you start to feel anything unusual."
This was definitely unusual.
Luke slowly sat up in the darkness of the night, He had thrown the sheets off his bed long ago—in a heart beat Mieu pounced on the opportunity and snuggled in the warm quilts—and he was still feeling feverishly hot. He felt a bit guilty, but Jade had said immediately… he had already missed that deadline.
"Jade," he whispered, as not to wake the snoring Guy. After a moment without getting a response, he called a little bit louder, "Jade."
He heard a sigh as the Necromancer rolled over and reached for his glasses resting on the bedside table. "…What is it, Luke?"
Luke hesitated, "…Remember when you told me to tell you immediately if I felt anything unusual?"
His bed groaned softly as Jade sat up in its side. He spoke in a tone that suppressed his intrigue and seriousness alike toward the subject. "I see… let's talk more outside. I'd rather not risk waking the others." Footsteps against the wooden floors, and his silhouette could be seen against the door as he softly cracked it open. "And for decency's sake, Luke, please put on some suitable clothes. In public areas, boxers are not considered pants."
"You're the one walking around in a bath robe!"
"A bath robe."
Once 'properly dressed', Luke snuck out of the Inn and found Jade absently cleaning his glasses on a nearby bench, wearing a pensive, alas solemn, look. Luke tentatively sat adjacent to him.
Jade immediately began, trying to keep a casual air to the subject. "So, Luke…what have you experienced?"
The young noble wasn't taken in by the faux informal air as he closed his eyes to hide the fear that had nestled in his emerald orbs. "After our last battle today, I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe, my heart rate sped up and pounded against my chest. My stomach was tied into knots that just kept tightening—I'm surprised I didn't hurl—and… I think I have some sort of fever or something still."
He nodded, "Though I'm sure Mieu appreciates your little fever at the moment…" he paused, deep in thought. "…During the course of any of our battles today, did you ever get stung by the large insects, perhaps?"
"…No, I don't think so. I got slashed by one of then once, though."
"That rules out poisoning…" Jade muttered. "And this is the first time you've ever felt these things?"
"Yeah…" Luke replied despondently before snapping to, a sense of urgency and fear deeply situated in his voice. "But it's nothing, right? It's just a one-time weird occurrence, right, Jade?"
The Colonel offered to him no response, and that was an answer enough for him, who lowered his eyes sullenly. "…Oh… g-guess not…"
Jade put a hand to his temple in exasperation: how he hated having to explain himself. "Luke, please understand that since you are the first successful isofon I've encountered, things like this are extremely difficult to pass of as a 'one-time deal'. At the same time, it very well may be something of that nature, but your status makes it greatly suspicious."
His clarification on the topic did nothing to improve Luke's now dismal frame of mind. "So it's because I'm a replica that something like this could end my life. If I weren't a replica, I would live past or even without this…"
"No," Jade corrected him. "If you weren't a replica, you wouldn't be living at all." He paused to adjust his glasses. "Always consider that before you curse your own existence.
"Furthermore, I'm not going to sugarcoat any of this. From what you've given me, I can't reference it to any symptoms or any diseases off the top of my head, so as far we're concerned, it has the potential to be an incurable, life-threatening defective product of your blood-fonons. That's all I can conclude at this moment."
Jade rose from his spot on the bench, hands placed aloofly in his pockets as always, however Luke noticed a striking difference in the red eyes of the Necromancer from most times. His words reflected all that lay beneath the crimson, "Luke, I honestly hope that you are one of those people who—when faced with the reality of death—respond with courage as they near their final hours. It would be a pitiful relapse if you merely curled up, slowly withering away as you wait for death to come and take you out of this world."
He watched him walk back to the Inn in complete disbelief, an icy hand gripping his racing heart and filling his being with dread. Jade had said that he wouldn't sugarcoat any of his conclusions, but the blunt edge of his words bruised Luke's resolve just as the sharp reality they carried sliced his future to shreds. His stomach sank unnervingly.
He had always heard that death often lurked in the shadows of the night, and so as he dejectedly trudged back to the cot awaiting him at the inn, he could help but sense how unnaturally close his own shadow lingered behind him.
Two hours had passed and still Jade could not will himself to sleep. Luke's condition still baffled him to no end, and like any 'mad scientist', when an unsolved case lay before him, there was no way he could let anything disturb his thinking.
Over and over he ran the list of peculiar symptoms the young noble exhibited through his mind, trying to find any sort of possible inter-relation between them. Shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate, and stomach knots and nausea were obviously tied together, but as for everything else, it all seemed totally sporadic. His most promising 'normal' condition was some sort of mutation of the flu virus. Other than that, his knowledge of any post-replication complications was severely limited to what little he managed before authorizing the ban on such experiments. To be frank, he felt almost as in the dark on this as Luke was.
Well, not quite, he chuckled to himself, that boy's a wickless candle in a dark cave. Jade, at least, had a scratch of flint and a pebble of granite, but just couldn't ignite a spark—metaphorically speaking.
He knew he was often very sinister with his words and actions—not that he regretted it; he rather enjoyed it, actually—but in this case, he did honestly hope for a non-lethal diagnosis.
After all, ripened replicas weren't easy to come by—much less cooperative ones who understood their own situation.
More to the point, and in short, all Jade could rely on were simple theories, limited imperative facts and his brief studies in human biology that were years—if not decades—behind him. Needless to say, he was unaccustomed to such a strange and perplexing conundrum coming to him at this time in the night after a long day on foot. He could felt the sweet temptation of sleep trickle into his mind and body alike. Sometimes, usually whenever his mind was abuzz with ideas, he often thought the need for sleep to be as an incurable disease to which every creature was susceptible. For, in spite of everything, there were obvious symptoms in everything, given the right…
Jade stopped. With good reason, he always thought weariness a hindrance to the mind, but as he had begun to carelessly let his ponderings unravel, so had they revealed the clear-cut answer to his problem. With that possibility in mind, everything made sense. Not only that, but it was just plain silly.
But he had to be sure.
"It's nothing more than a simple issue of trial and error…" he mumbled. "All he needs is the right incentive…"
Nothing had ever terrified Guy more in all of his life as when he awoke, in the dark of the night, to the cynical laughter of the Necromancer.
"One, two, three aand… now!"
A deafening shriek, and the wolfkin creature disappeared into the air, leaving a victorious Luke and Guy with their blades crossed in triumph. Guy laughed, sheathing his sword simultaneously with the Duke's son. "They didn't have a chance."
It had been a while since they had departed from Daath and Jade was becoming ever-so-slightly impatient that the opportunity to test his theory hadn't arisen yet. While he usually didn't like having to set things up, he decided it was high time that he test his speculation one way or another.
"…Tear," Jade called quietly, so the others wouldn't notice. She turned to make sure he was talking to her, and then lagged back a bit with a curious expression. He went on, "Yesterday, after the battle when Luke's shoulder acted up… Did he say he felt fine?"
"Yes…" she replied hesitantly.
He shook his head, smiling as always. "What a naughty boy, telling you lies like that."
Tear frowned, knowing Luke was never entirely truthful when it came to matter of his well-being, but it hadn't seemed to hinder him. Or rather, he hadn't shown any signs of discomfort. Although, it had to be something with impending risk if it was enough to attract the Colonel's attention. She decided to pursue this. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged absently, elongating his already exaggerated sigh in order to give himself enough time to correctly word the situation. He knew that Tear would approach Luke and blindly use the same words as he. Finally, he said, "Well, the poor boy was up most of the night, lying on his bed drenched in sweat, moaning and clutching his shoulder." He paused, taking into consideration the way a seventeen-year-old might interpret such. "And sure, he looks fine now, but that's after all his fruitless attempts to try and massage it before finally deciding tot simply grin and bare it."
Just as predicted, Tear stormed off ahead of everyone to confront Luke about this matter. Subtly, Jade moved closer to begin his observation.
Guy, who had been walking with Luke at the head of their group, quickly sprang ahead several hundred yards as he saw the angry female looming.
"LUKE!" she shouted in irritation.
He startled nearly two feet in the air in response before turning to face her with a blank, but inquisitive, look plastered on his face. As she came ever nearer, he began to look a tad flushed. "Wh-what did I—"
"Why did you lie to me?! Honestly, is your stupid pride really that important?"
He became notably more colored as mere inches separated their faces. "Wha… w-what are you t-talking about?"
Tear shook her head, amazed at his obliviousness. "Last night, you couldn't sleep at all after the battle—" Anise began to giggle. "—and you lay there in bed sweating and moaning—" Anise' giggles turned into stifled laughter. "—in pain all because your shoulder still hurt! And then you think you could make it better by trying to massage yourself?!"
She could contain it no longer; Anise fell to the ground, rolling in laughter as tears welled in her eyes. Guy tried to appear unaffected. Jade smiled in amusement; Natalia and Mieu were left out of the joke.
Now, Luke was totally and completely flustered. His face was a shade to match his hair as he found himself unable to form any words with which to defend himself. His mind, all the meanwhile, couldn't come off what she had said—or rather, what it sounded like she had said—and it didn't help that Anise was dying in a bout of laughter behind him.
Tear finally growled in exasperation. "Fine, here." She cast a quick First Aid. "But next time you're hurt, don't be so prideful. I won't condone this sort of behavior."
Anise erupted in yet another fit of screaming laughter, and Guy found his professional front broken as he cracked and let loose a small snigger.
Jade shook his head. "Oh, grow up, Guy."
The Malkuth noble opened his mouth to protest, but then soon after closed it, knowing he'd only be doing more harm than good. No one argued with the Colonel.
Later that day, Luke met privately with Jade to again discuss his condition. Upon beginning their talks, Luke became somber yet again. "Man, it's only after you realize you don't have much time left that you finally learn to treasure what little you do have."
"Yes, it does become like that when you're old…" Jade commented, going on before Luke had a chance to respond, "Now then, according to what I've been able to gather, this is my diagnosis…" he paused. "…I've found that what you have is, as I thought, incurable to the best of my knowledge."
He buried his face in his hands, running his fingers through his red hair. The Baticul noble groaned, "…Are you sure?"
"I'm afraid so."
All was silent. Luke couldn't seem to comprehend the truth of the matter, or instead, he didn't want to. He knew, however, the sooner he came to terms with the truth, the sooner he could see beyond it.
…That still didn't make it any easier.
After a while, he sputtered, "So… I'm… going to die. I'm really going to die."
Jade adjusted his glasses. ""Well, I never said that."
Instantly, the boy perked up. "Huh?"
"I merely said it was incurable. I never said it was lethal…" he clarified, and then added in a low voice, "However, given the way things are turning out, it very well could become lethal."
Luke was so confused. "Jade, what does all this mean? Tell me, please!" he pleaded.
The Colonel sighed. "As you wish. …It's a rare type of allergic reaction.
When he did not expand on the topic, Luke cursed loudly in anger and frustration, demanding, "Dammit, stop beating around the b—"
"You're allergic to Tear."
His heart stopped as his blood veins turned to icy rivers inside him. "Allergic… to Tear…?" he finally stammered.
Jade nodded solemnly. "Yes… as I've said before, your state as a replica can pose many dangers to you, but it seems as if this one is merely due to a flaw in the replication process—fortunately or not so. It's your choice.
"Anyway, as you should well know, all fonists have different, what they used to call 'Mana Signatures'—a fonon-based fingerprint, if you will. As evolution deemed, all people built tolerances against the fonons that exude from different Mana Signatures, but due to the flaw, it seems the pattern in which Tear's fonons radiate is one to which your body is not tolerant."
Silently, Luke slumped as he ran one hand through his hair again, muttering, "Dammit all, it just had to be her…"
Jade piqued at this. It was just the reaction he'd wanted. "Oh? Why the crestfallen gaze? Surely it could be worse…" he toyed with his words, grinning. "…Or, couldn't it be?"
"No…" he retorted dolefully. "Tear's the only… she… if it weren't…"
"You're not allergic to Tear. That was only a test."
It took a moment for Luke to grasp this. "Wha… agh! Stop pulling my leg!"
"I'm sorry, but it was only necessary to determine what you're actually afflicted with. …And one could say you're as sick as a dog…" Jade could not keep a knowing, yet menacing, smile from his features as he added, "…or to be more accurate, a puppy."
He bit back choice phrases, saying instead, "Oh my g—! Just what do you mean?!"
"For Lorelei's sake, Luke. Use your head." he spat, habitually removing and cleaning his glasses. "Think about your symptoms, and what caused them, or when they arose. Just think."
Minutes passed and the noble look no closer to reaching an answer than he did when he started.
The Necromancer sighed, putting on his glasses. "…You're not very bright." He said offhandedly. "You're a lovesick puppy troubled with an incurable case of puppy love."
Luke stood there for a moment; eyes alight as everything seemed to click. Not before long, his eyes glazed as he became engrossed within his own world. Jade sighed hopelessly and left the boy to his fantasies.
"Oh, to be young and in love…"