Disclaimer: I don't own anything anyone else owns referenced here, including Namco's Tales of the Abyss & related things.
A/N: Two thousand years divided by, oh, say fifty years to be conservative forty lifetimes (or more: we don't know how available healing fonic artes are to the general populace, but given that seventh fonists are rare and a lot just read the Score…). Auldrant's current population is circa three million, and it was probably one hell of a lot lower right after the Dawn Age when the miasma was killing everyone and they needed the sephiroth put up ASAP. Take a person with a high level of intelligence and ambition (usually), in a population with that small a pool of talent over that amount of time and they're going to, oh, go rather far in the Order of Lorelei at some point, be a good enough fontech researcher to be involved in top secret stuff at some point, be drafted for sephiroth construction prettymuch at the start…
Actually, I'm deliberately underestimating his probable database under those circumstances, not to mention erring on the side of caution because Auldrant has nobles & family-exclusive information. Merit alone wouldn't permit, oh, knowing the Yulian fonic hymns, which are exclusive to her descendants. Two divided by three million multiplied by 40 very little chance even a non-random person would have learned them in a past life. Not everyone would have been a pharaoh, obviously. But the fact that this class society additionally limits the possible careers for those of high intelligence without family connections means that the odds of the lives/knowledge base I do give him are higher.
His hyperresonance was going out of control, and if it did the city would be destroyed and everyone with it, Guy, Natalia, Tear, everyone! And Van had caused it, why? Why? But there wasn't time to ask why, there wasn't time to cry (and he wasn't a little baby!), but there was time…
He didn't want to die. But he pulled his hands to his chest and focused all that power inward anyway. He was so afraid, he didn't want to die alone, but Van was here and wanted this to happen and that was worse than being alone.
The person that looked like him and shouted in his head hated him, but at least they were someone. He clung to them, reaching out in his mind, crying out in terror and mourning inside and out.
Asch stopped, clutching his chest. "What was that?" He would have been caught by the monsters chasing him, trying to carry him off, but they were cut down by Guy Cecil, his childhood best friend and now the false Luke's manservant. Luke's friends had been far behind him, but Guy was running so fast now that he was already out of sight. The others were only catching up to him now.
"That was Luke! That had to be Luke! Oh Guy, hurry!" Natalia ran past him without a backward glance. So that cry hadn't only been in his head?
"You're coming with us." The Necromancer grabbed him, tugging him along, and although Asch shook away his arm quickly at least it got him moving again.
"Ion!" The fon master guardian's doll, the one Dist had made for her, was letting even a child speed past him. Him, Asch the Bloody, god-general. He sped up, but unlike those in a panic he wasn't able to put his heart into it. Whatever had happened, he knew, was all over already.
"Van! What did you do? Where's Luke!" Guy was demanding at the top of his lungs when the came within earshot.
"Luke came here with Ion and I to destroy the miasma, and then his hyperresonance turned back on himself! It's all my fault." Van's shock was real. The sadness for Luke's sake wasn't.
"Liar! You planned to use him to destroy Akzeriuth! That idiot trusted you! Now, tell me!" Asch vaulted down. "What happened!"
"Destroy Akzeriuth?" Natalia gasped. "What happened to Luke?"
All around Van, Ion, Asch, and soon Guy was a cloud of the seventh fonon thick enough to be visible, a golden red-tinged mist. Replicas were made up of seventh fonons. Asch, mesmerized, trailed his fingers through it, watching the patterns his touch made. Some of them clung to his skin even though he wasn't trying to use a fonic arte. "The replica disintegrated." There wasn't any of the normal anger in his voice then, not even the contempt for a weak thing that would do this. "He turned his hyperresonance on himself so it wouldn't destroy the city." The stupid thing sort of deserved it for not listening to Asch, but he couldn't think of it that way. Not after hearing that cry, that heartbroken cry, and yet it was so brave, so brave to do this… What right did it have to come to him for comfort? He'd tried to warn it! But he hadn't explained, or… he'd known it wouldn't believe him, that was why he hadn't given it any details, it would have gone straight to the person it foolishly trusted.
But knowing it wouldn't believe his warnings made those warnings nothing but tokens, attempts to stop him from feeling guilty. He could have taken actual action to stop the replica from being here, it wasn't like there hadn't been opportunities on the way. He'd known the replica wouldn't believe him from the start, so he hadn't really done anything to stop this. And now it was dead, in his place, and the city was still here.
Unless he destroyed it himself.
"Luke…" Guy also was reaching out to touch the hovering fonons, seeing them respond to his voice for a few moments. Then his eyes hardened.. "Vandesdelca, you monster!"
"I won't forgive you!" Tear's knives appeared in her hand.
"If God-general Asch is telling the truth, you attempted to murder ten thousand citizens of Malkuth." The necromancer's spear appeared, red eyes hard.
"How dare you try to use my cousin like that! I, Princess Natalia of Kimlasca, will execute you the way you should have been! Luke saved you, and this is how you repay him!"
Anise got Ion out of the way, tugging him over towards Asch. As Asch, mesmerized, watched the fonons and Anise watched the battle Ion gathered his power. There was a Daathic Fonic Arte that allowed communication with the memory particles of the very recently departed, provided they were strong enough. Luke's were strong enough to be visible. He should have done something to stop this, he had to at least say goodbye! "Lost Wake!"
Gold shimmered into a face, a form, in front of Asch. "I'm sorry, Ion. I shouldn't have…" Shouldn't have what? Believed his teacher? Could Asch blame his replica for replicating his own faults?
Seeing him, it retreated an insubstantial step, eyes wide and childlike. Hurt. As it had been when it killed, only this time… It wasn't afraid of killing, it just hated it. It hated that it was dead and Master Van had wanted it dead. It wanted to curl up and die, no, rest in peace. Asch wouldn't let it.
It was truly frightened when he reached for it, but the untrained replica couldn't stop a seventh fonist, particularily the ashes of the sacred flame, especially one with its same fonon frequency, from absorbing it.
First its form and then all the gold fonons that flooded the battlefield drained into Asch, who smiled as he felt his power increase. Dual order hyperresonance was his.
No, Master Van could wait, he wanted… the replica's memories of the past seven years, the time it had served as his replacement. He wanted those memories of the time he'd missed with his family so that he could train under and serve Master Van. They were his!
But they weren't.
The replica… It… Wasn't him. These weren't his memories, this wasn't its family. He'd thought they were happy with his replacement, but they'd missed him dreadfully and tried to break away the replica's 'shell' to reveal him inside, but he wasn't there to find, and the only one who had truly seen it was Master Van, but he'd only seen 'foolish replica Luke…'
It had begged him, it had begged him to let it rest in peace. Asch cried out now, at these memories. Van had betrayed both of them by doing this. Asch had thought his family was happy and Luke had thought he was loved. Neither of them had been.
He wasn't sure whether he was screaming or laughing.
Stop! You're going to do what he tried to get me to!
That was right, he was calling on his hyperresonance and he couldn't control it. He couldn't do anything. Destroy the city and himself… so he was the light of the sacred flame after all, not the replica. "I am… I really am Luke fon Fabre…"
And the power he summoned was pulled out of his control, bound to the replica's desire to get away from this place, just like he'd wanted to force Master Van's attacker away from him and his home on the day this all began (or so the replica had thought).
Asch, no, Luke fon Fabre woke up in that same field of selenias.
"Are you awake?" He felt a strange warm sensation. Opening his eyes, he saw that it was the replica's insubstantial hand. "Finally! Let me go!"
"Let you go?" Luke managed to sit up, still groggy.
"I died, so let me rest! I don't know what you did, but if anything happens to Ion because you messed with his arte…" The replica was trying to look strong, threatening, and angry. It wasn't working, and that was only partially because Luke could feel the devastation that underlay the surface. Van had tried to use him, use him as a weapon and use him up. He'd nearly been used to kill an entire city. Now Ion could be hurt because of him!
"You want to just lie down and die?"
"I'm dead! That's what dead people do! I'm not going to haunt someone who, who doesn't even care about his family!"
That stung, and stung hard because it was true, wasn't it? He should have said 'Fine!' and have done with it. After all, the replica had done what it had been made for. In fact, no, it hadn't, since it had been meant to replace him and destroy Akzeriuth and hadn't done either, not really. But Luke was unhappy, and angry. "Coward! And you're supposed to be me?"
"I was, but I'm not! I don't even have a name, I can't do anything right, and I'm dead! Just, just let me rest!" It would be crying if it had tears to shed, even without out them it was still fighting not to sob, that wild defiance in that plea for…
"I'm not doing anything to keep you here, not on purpose anyway."
"So why can't I leave!"
"…It might be because you're my replica, or I had our fon slots synced…"
"I'm stuck here?" No… Its shoulders hunched in despair and it looked down at where insubstantial hands clenched selenias that only looked healthier for it (the plant drew energy from fonons, not light).
Luke felt like an utter bastard again. His anger at it had mostly been so he didn't have to feel that way, now that he understood it, but seeing it try to be brave and look so young brought back memories of when he'd had his own life and name taken away. They'd been given to the replica but they had never truly been the replica's. What Luke had starved for had starved it. He reached out to it. "Hey…"
It looked up, masking pain with anger. Perhaps they were alike after all. Luke drew it in, the way it had run to him before. Not a theft of power but an embrace. It was drawn into him quickly, and then he gasped. It felt right. As there had been some void and the replica's fonons filled it. Sure, it was a little bit of a tight squeeze, perhaps because the replica had grown since the data had been extracted, but that felt better than it otherwise would have. It meant that he was aware that it was there, he felt full instead of empty.
The replica clearly felt snug. Luke lay back again and got comfy in among the flowers, somehow knowing that no monster would bother them. He was content, his replica was content, resting in peace, and he could feel fonons drifting up around them (they must be near a sephiroth). He'd been running and fighting like a madman trying to get to Akzeriuth and it would be safer to leave at night, when the monsters were weaker.
He needed to get to Belkend to find out more about what Van was up to, but that would be a long walk. The replica's experiences with hyperresonance had both ended up here, and it wasn't much good to try it and just end up right where they started.
…he should probably think of a name for him. It wasn't right to keep calling him 'the replica.' Dying nameless… Luke'd think of one in the morning. Or evening.
"What?" Luke opened an eye just enough to see the golden glow that enveloped him had taken the form of a cuddling replica. He noted absently that it was strange that he wasn't kicking it away, but it wasn't like there were any other blankets just lying around here.
"Asch. I'm dead, I'm ashes. I'm not Luke anymore, and you used that name when you weren't Luke anymore."
"Won't that be confusing?"
"Like having two of us isn't already confusing the hell out of everyone. Except you and Van, because you knew about it. And if I move on then it won't be a problem anymore."
First the replica had taken Luke, now it wanted Asch? But then, he'd thrown them both away. The replica should have a name of its own, one that wasn't a cast-off, but Luke was too tired and mellow to argue. "Fine, fine."
This time it was quiet and let him go to sleep after saying, "Thanks."
Why was it so happy? This was the first thing Luke had ever actually given him, the only name that he had been given instead of being wrongly labeled with. Luke supposed he could keep it if it meant that much. Luke had once thought he'd die nameless himself.