Summary: (Post-Game) After the events at Hod, Luke and Asch are taken under the wing of Lorelei to help protect the world they died to save. But humans were not meant to reign as gods, and the Scion-turned-Seraphim must learn to cooperate with one another if they're to keep order in the chaotic world.
Spoilers?: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU HAVE BEATEN THE GAME.
Anise shivered, attempting to quell her childish whimpers that echoed past her lips. She held her hands inside tightly together at her chin as she felt herself being shepherded by Jade's stern, but gentle, hand. Before turning, she looked back towards Luke as her eyes grew hot with tears and the metallic essence of blood trickled bitterly in her mouth, her lips pursed so forcefully. She then glanced up at Guy; his face bore a stern—almost angry—gaze as he stood a ways from his friend, hand placed at his hip where his sword, still fresh from battle, hung sheathed. He appeared steady, but Anise could detect a scarce hint of hesitancy keeping the swordsman on his toes. Finally, she turned away.
Jade watched with an even gaze as Natalia, Anise and eventually Guy somberly headed away from the unfolding scene, subconsciously shepherding them on their way. He knew without a doubt it wouldn't be easy for any one of them to leave their friend behind, his life now but a toy in the devilish hands of a juvenile fate; he could only imagine the pain on Luke's part to be ten times as worse. Though he would do nothing to dissuade the boy's unwavering determination, he would do what he could to ease his already troubled mind.
Even so, Jade remained quiet as Tear lingered behind, her gaze painfully longing as Luke stood with the Key of Lorelei clasped firmly in his left hand. He looked her directly in the eye.
He knew he could not utter the words he so desperately wished to say, but by the way she watched him as she, too, began to leave, he hoped she knew.
I'm so sorry.
Like a lost lamb, Tear glimpsed at Jade as she walked past, pleading for a ray of hope. Anything. She felt a warm, guiding hand placed on her shoulder, but his silence chilled the air around them. She lowered her eyes.
Luke gazed on in silence until the earth began to crumble at his feet. He knew he had to abandon the life he fought so hard to keep, and as he took the key in both hands, he prayed it might not have been for naught.
As he raised it, the sword began to resonate and glow a pale blue. He thrust it downward, blade descending into the ancient tile with ease. He rotated the blade into the ground, reaching half a revolution before it would no longer turn. An archaic design flowered out onto the ground from the key and, as he felt countless fonons rush past him, he felt himself become enveloped in a cage of tranquil light.
Suddenly, the blade pulsed and shattered into the air. Luke instinctively threw his arms in front of his face, abruptly inflicted with fear. He felt two fires erupt on each side of his back, but as the light grew ever more radiant, he pushed the pain to the back of his mind and focused on what was happening.
All around him, the ground crumbled and fell as he felt himself slowly lower, as if being carried by an unknown force, down into the core. He shielded his eyes from the light with his hand as he looked back up towards the surface. There was little of it left.
Broken white tile rained down, but he remained protected by the pale force field that encapsulated him. The silhouette of an oddly shaped formation caught his eye—and later his breath as it breached the confines of his barrier.
Arms outstretched, he caught the figure in his arms. Dark red hair spilled over his left arm and his blood ran cold as he looked at the face that had once been a mirror of his own. Emerald eyes closed, Asch's lifeless corpse was left icy from Death's frigid touch, while his once tan features paled to a marble white. His veins, like dozens of wretched navy webs crawled beneath his skin, unnaturally visible, unsightly.
Luke resisted the instinctive urge to shudder as the pains in his back flared strongly. As he could have sworn he felt a similar, weaker, heat upon his left arm, a sudden blaze of fonons swirled around him like a fiery gale with a soft howl resonating through the blanket of space. Before his eyes it bore the image of a man, the form flickering and contorting grotesquely. Finally, it spoke; unseen, lifeless eyes peered towards him. "So the world did not vanish…" it murmured. "To think… the future I saw would be rewritten. …You have done admirably."
Luke stood on in silence, dutifully still, partially awestruck. Steadily, the being's gaze fell to the weight in his arms. Never the more unshaken of its apathy, it encircled Luke in a soaring wind as it progressively rose in a dazzling column. Luke watched on, outwardly unchanged.
In a blinding display of light, it shot upward into the sky like a phoenix reborn from the ashes. As it climbed on ever higher into the heavens, it branched out its mighty wings like a burning bush.
Lowering his stare, Luke began to feel himself slipping away, stealing into the ray of light. His chest cramped coldly with apprehension; was this it, his final destination? A vortex of colors swirled around him and he closed his eyes, inhaling the stream of life as it rushed by, allowing it to engulf him entirely. Starting at his head, he became enwrapped in a golden glow and it spread down his body, seeping into the corpse of his original he held in his arms.
Asch's hand twitched with life as if caressed by another.
"My Scion, arise!"
A gloomy haze of silence had fallen over the group since their departure of the once glorious land of Hod. It was a difficult task to explain to Noelle why they had returned one man short, but Jade took it upon it himself to solve that conundrum.
Despite the solemn nature of the occasion, the necromancer could feel the words forming in his mouth like an instinctive response. He may have been cold at heart, possibly even a touch sadistic at times; but he wasn't unaware of the emotional states of the easily afflicted group of youth he traveled with. He did not ask Guy to explain, for once, and stayed behind to tell their pilot the grim reality. He returned to the main hall of the Albiore feeling as if he had delivered a eulogy.
Regardless of their predicament, his restless mind had been stirred: what occurred just after they left unnerved him. With his heavy background on fonology, and his knowledge of the causes and effects of the given situation, he had formulated a theory of what would happen once Luke used the Key to free Lorelei. In layman's words, he extrapolated that the replicated island would begin to slowly crumble into the core as Lorelei's energies would escape. Once enough time had elapsed, Hod would sever as Lorelei's power would shoot through, rising into the sky and acting as a Sephiroth. The island would then be halted in its descent, remaining crookedly affixed to the surface and Lorelei would return to the Fon Belt.
Jade had been correct in his calculations down to almost every mark. But in the depth of his theory, he left out the details of Lorelei's ascension. It would have been a pointless measure to calculate something as conventional, yet intricate, as the way in which a sentience—or perhaps in this case, a God—chose to physically manifest itself. Nevertheless, the rule of thumb had shown the ratio of a one-to-one spirit to physical incarnation. Except in the rare case of the Fourth Fonon spirit of the wind, Slyph, who in past times chose to represent itself as three young maidens of equal might and judgment, there were no other documented reports of similar findings.
Contrarily, Lorelei arose from the depths of the core in an ignited passion, not after long abruptly splitting the fiery ray into three clearly distinguishable limbs from which smaller protrusions branched out, giving it the illusion of a newly sprouted tree.
This left him with only irrelevant assumptions such as the idea that Lorelei was a being of three natures, or that it was just another special case like Slyph.
But what worried him more was the idea that seemed not so far-fetched. And it concerned Luke.
He awoke with a pounding headache, even though to say he had even been asleep in the first place was a misconception. He wasn't even sure, either, just what might have elapsed between the time he slipped away into the stream of fonons and when he next regained consciousness.
Moving to place a hand to his head, he nearly startled to find smooth petals brushing against his skin. He drowsily opened an eye, and then the other as he ran his fingers down the smooth, slender stem of the silently glowing selenia. Lying on his side, he picked his head up to look around his new settings. Multitudes of stars twinkled overhead, not the least bit intimidated by the navy darkness surrounding the area. Beneath him, the wondrous flowers seemed to mirror the skies. Distantly, he could hear the sound of cold water crashing over smooth stones.
He hurriedly sat up, his head throbbing in protest, but he paid it no mind. He was in Tataroo Valley, back on Auldrant; there was no denying it. His heart fluttered with this realization as he began to beam. He jumped to his feet with unmatched enthusiasm, running to the edge of the selenia filled field. He felt the warm summer night's breeze softly wafting past him while the coolness of the night embraced him gently. When he reached the edge of the field, he gazed out over the shimmering ocean, exhaling in exuberant laughter.
A delicate touch on his shoulder stifled his laughter as he turned inquisitively to meet a pair of softened azure eyes.
"Tear!" he exclaimed, immediately enveloping her in an embrace. "Tear! Oh, thank Lorelei… I'm back! I promised you I'd return; I told you I'd return! And I hea—"
She kindly slipped out his grasp, silent, but her eyes full of adoration. She continued to look at him, an almost sheepish smile gracing her. Luke, noticeably hurt, frowned slightly, placing one hand on her shoulder.
"…Tear?" he asked slowly, "Are you alright? What's wrong?"
She removed his hand from her shoulder, holding it in her own. Even through her stainless white gloves, he could feel the warmth of her hands on his. "Luke…" she spoke melodically, her eyes swollen with love, yet tinted with unease. "…Are you at peace?"
He gazed into her eyes with genuine concern. "Yes… but why—"
"I need you to close your eyes." She told him, lightly stroking his hand with her thumb. "Please, just trust me."
He weakly smiled at her. "Alright," he said, closing his eyes as he gingerly placed his hand on hers. "…I trust you."
"Thank you. Now, take a deep breath for me…"
Luke nodded, inhaling deeply. He noticed the smooth, milky scent of the selenias floating on the breeze; he caught the faint tinge of salt in the air from the ocean; the moisture from the nearby streams misting in the air; the crisp night air filled his lungs.
"Good." Came Tear's voice softly, distantly. "Now, open your eyes."
As he followed her words, slowly opening his emerald orbs, the warmth upon his hands disappeared; the gentle summer's breeze at his back ceased its caressing touch; the cool night evaporated from the air and Luke found himself alone in a desolate darkness.
Bewildered and a shade frightened, he stepped back, dejectedly replacing his hands at his sides. He looked around, having no trouble discerning himself from the surrounding dark shadows. He took another step back, opening his mouth to speak, but found himself unable to bring forth any words.
"Luke… Light of the Sacred Flame," spoke a smooth, commanding voice. "Forsake thine mortal family call, and renounce that which bonds you to the land, for in the name of Scion you shall be reborn."
He could not manage a sound. Luke rolled over the words countless times in his head, but still he could not produce a response. Noting the silence, the voice spoke on, "Banish the darkness that surrounds you, that clouds your mind with fear." It paused, and he felt himself being scrutinized; his head seared with pain. "…Your intentions are clear. Allow me to assist."
No sooner had the voice silenced than Luke's left hand began to glow dangerously with power. As if he was being guided, he activated the power within his right hand as well, bringing the two together. His eyes flashed; he brought his hands over his head of his own will, allowing the vicious might to swarm into his hands. He closed one eye as his headache became near unbearable, but he retained a firm grasp on the seventh fonons as long as he could before unleashing the wicked might unto the shadows in his wake.
His vision was filled with a dazzling, blinding light as he felt the deadly hyperresonance surge through the darkness, destroying it entirely. As he did so, he felt himself fall to the ground with his hands clutching his head tightly. The agonizing pain shot through him, echoing into his every fiber. An excruciatingly shrill ringing screamed in his mind. He could feel his abdomen twisting as burning waves of nausea began to rise in his throat. He gasped as the flaring points resurfaced in his back stronger than before; his skin felt singed beneath his jacket.
"…It seems the transformation from mortal to Scion is more difficult on the human body than I first imagined." The voice mused. "I apologize; please endure it a moment longer, if you can."
Nearing the limits of his own endurance, Luke cried out sharply as he felt two thick, yet soft, protrusions burst from the skin on his back, and then extend of their own accord behind him. The pain then slowly drained from him, and he slumped to the ground, groaning.
Another bright light appeared in front of him, but in his laxly conscious state, it was all a blur to him. "Now there," it said in a smooth, calming tone. "You're finished. It wasn't that bad now was it? …Well, stand up, come on; get a look about yourself, hm?"
Dazedly, Luke looked up to see a hand extended towards him. The partially gloved hand glowed a tranquil emerald, and, as Luke went to grab it, he noticed how it appeared to mirror his own. Still, he grasped it without further hesitation and used his other arm to slowly bring himself back onto his feet once more. He quickly became unbalanced, falling backward if not for the stranger's hand affirming him gently.
"Thanks," he started to mutter sheepishly before he looked up at his company. He paled. "Y-you're…!"
His doppelganger only blinked. "I am…?"
Luke turned. He did not need to identify the speaker, for their words alone provided a clue enough, but he could not believe what his hearing told him unless he saw it for himself. "Asch? What are you—"
"Shut up!" he roared, lunging at Luke with a bloodlust in his eyes. He held his replica by the collar of his jacket, despite their height differences. "Where's Van?! I told you to kill him! Don't you dare tell me you died fighting him!
A bit startled, Luke replied, "No, I didn't. I… we killed M—Van. He's dead."
"Then why!—" Asch suddenly dropped Luke back to the ground, turning on his heel. He growled. "I must be in Hell. Makes sense…"
"This is not Hell," their interloper articulated. Then chuckled, "The Core is true Hell; trust me."
"One stupid replica is one too many…" Asch grumbled. "And now two…"
"Yes, having two replicas can be rather annoying, can't it?" It said, casually strolling forward. "That being the case, imagine foreseeing a world full of them!" it laughed.
Luke, although perturbed and slightly offended, held his silence as he watched on, curious.
It ceased its laughter, though a small smile still hung on its familiar face. "Ah, but let's get down to business, shall we? I hadn't originally planned on having two Scions—although since you both had the audacity to give your lives, Asch, I'm afraid your attendance is now required." With one flick of his right hand, Asch reappeared in front of them, though clearly not by his own choice. "There now. Could I acquire your consent, then, to bestow you with the title and responsibility of my Scion? …Asch?"
"Okay, wait, wait." Luke interjected. "You keep saying Scion, so does that mean you're…?"
Its glowing emerald eyes flashed suddenly with realization. "Oh, yes! I apologize; human courtesies aren't my strong point." It extended its left hand to Luke. "I am Lorelei."
Tentatively, Luke took the hand in front of him and shook it. As he did, he looked over the mirror image of himself and Asch standing before him. His long, red hair swished behind him as he released Luke's hand to face both of them. He wore the gloves Luke wore, but his clothes reflected a more angelical idea. "As you've noticed, our appearances are the same. Because we share the same fonon frequency, by human logic this would be the most rational of physical manifestations I could choose." He explained before moving on. "Asch, could I receive your answer?"
He stiffly looked at Luke before replying sourly. "…If it means becoming a winged dreck, then I want nothing to do with this."
"Oh, yes, the wings…"
In his moment of realization, Luke looked over his shoulder. Behind him, a pair of wings had blossomed covered in a snowy down. He inwardly jolted when he found the extremities to be under his control, but before he could ask further, Lorelei continued, "If you do not like them, they are merely for convention's purpose. Earlier days proved the people perceived holy beings as ones with wings, or at least, would honor any mortal with wings as a holy figure, regardless of their true… status… Twisted…" he trailed off.
Asch had yet to be convinced. "I still don't see why you need the both of us."
Lorelei returned from his digression of thoughts. "Oh, for checks and balances, of course. Humans are imperfect creatures, needless to say. They are not infallible, they are not without their biases, they are not flawlessly intelligent, they are not physically the most robust or durable—plenty of reasons they are the perfect creatures to cultivate on a planet, and plenty of reasons they are not fit to reign as a supreme being."
"Then why do you need us?" Asch persisted; Luke found the same question on his mind, but was too doubtfully preoccupied with his new found wings to voice it.
"Ruo s'ineu, ruol kirn s'juyt j'lir…" he sighed in a low voice. Asch's mind twitched; he had been adequately versed in Ancient Ispanian for someone of his status but had never heard it spoken aloud so fluidly. Lorelei softly clapped his hands together just over his mouth, tapping his fingers together in thought. His eyes wandered around the area and a wry smile began to slip onto his features.
"…Well, boys…" he began slowly. "The answer to that is very simple, really. People are lost without something to guide them. Consider the case with Yulia and the Score."
"But the Score was your creation." Asch argued.
"And already the tales begin to diverge. I merely provided her with the information she sought. She asked, without specification, where the world was headed, and so I gave her, without specification, my foresight… based on the current situation with her vast amount of followers and under the assumption they would only accumulate if she were to announce this future to the world. Of course, the last part was a given, seeing as I gave them to her inscribed on mountainous stones. The human mind can only hold so much information…
"…The point is, without a deity to lead people, those that are weak turn to lesser idols in search of guidance. Those that are strong turn to the weak in search of followers and create blasphemy. Blasphemy leads the follower to a false truth, and false truths can lead to devastating realities. Because of this I would have not liked to have given Yulia the information in the first place, but I had to honor the pact—I'm a being of my word after all." His smirk flashed deviously; the glint vanished and he added, "But let's let bygones be bygones."
With a silence from his company, Lorelei strode between them with his hands behind his back. His left hand calmly clasped the wrist of his right, a tightly closed fist quivering with anticipation. "As my Scion, you will be granted nearly limitless abilities, but, of course, with that so comes the responsibility to use those powers to keep the people faithful in my power." He turned back to face them with his hands held out. "All I ask for in return is your trust of my word and my ideas."
Asch paused. "I'm not an idiot like my replica—"
"Hey, lay off the cheap shots—"
"—which is exactly why I would never feel safe in a world where he has any sort of real power." He finished, ignoring Luke's outburst.
Lorelei nodded in acceptance. "Then forsake thine mortal family call, and renounce that which bonds you to the land; banish the darkness that surrounds you, that clouds your mind with fear," Lorelei raised his right hand and is suddenly began to flare. Without a moment's delay Asch had mirrored him. "…for in the name of Scion you shall be reborn."
Luke watched on, startled at the sheer amount of power Asch had generated in his hyperresonance, yet fearful for his original as he could feel the strain he exerted. His wings instinctively clenched, huddling behind him.
Lorelei watched, unaffected in the least. He blinked, turning his head slightly to gaze at Luke through the corner of his eye. "I hope you take no offense to the whole replica deal, for I didn't mean a word of it." He whispered with a slight smile that held more than he let on. "…Sometimes you just have to tell a few lies here and there in order to get what you need, that's all."
Luke hesitated before nodding in response. They both looked back to Asch before their vision was flooded with light, his subdued, agonized groan echoing in the emptiness.