And the final chapter. If you thought there was going to be a last-minute reprieve, you've been reading/watching/playing too many works with unrealistic happy endings.
Ion, check; Sync, check, Jade semi-check.
"He's…" Ion searched for a word, "family? Like me, and I want him near me, but he's not me. I think that if we weren't replicas of the fon master we might not even notice it. I've been around Sync before, of course, but he's never wanted anything to do with me. At least now I know why we feel that way." Ion smiled, despite everything. "At least one of them survived."
Sync was supposedly on a mission to retrieve a mask for Asch from the person who made his. In fact, Van had ordered one ages ago and left it with Sync. Giving Asch an obviously theatrical blood-red dye job over a really good brown dye job would take care of the rest. He was here to observe the proceedings. Arietta had retreated in a huff, so Legretta was the one who was overtly here to act as Van's watchdog while Sync lurked in the shadows. He didn't know what Van was going to say about Asch sleeping with someone who had until so recently been the enemy. Sync was glad his 14-year-old body wasn't old enough yet to have serious hormones.
Any indications otherwise were blamed on Ion looking girly.
Ion? Was way, way too sweet. It was sickening how he let people use him. Were most replicas like that? He avoided the labs like crazy.
Ion and Luke were chatting like total damn innocents despite everything that they knew.
"It might just be that you're not perfect isofons." Luke sounded sorry for him. "It's… does it bother you? That Anise and Arietta... you know."
"Anise only knows me. Fon Master Ion usually kept to himself, so he wouldn't catch anything that could kill him since he was so weak already. And he didn't like people. Arietta… I can't replace my original, not for her, and replacing him is the only thing I'm for. If I couldn't do it they would have killed me like the others."
"Ion… that' s not the only thing you're for."
Ion still smiled when he told Luke that, "No, it's this or nothing. Mohs will have me killed if I start acting unlike Ion did when he was in public. It's probably inevitable, but I want to try to end this war and do the sort of things the Fon Master should be doing while I'm alive."
…Damn. At least Sync got to act however he wanted. Maybe Ion wasn't spineless after all. Maybe he wasn't dumb enough to think that he was going to live. Sync had decided that he if he was doomed he was going to take the Score with him or die trying. Ion was going against the Score by trying to stop a war. He didn't get that the Score was the problem, but… Maybe he wasn't what Sync had thought he was.
"Van said that according to the Closed Score the war is going to happen anyway." What? That idiot Luke had blabbed that?!
"I sort of guessed, because Mohs is insisting on bringing it about." Ion still sighed, that it had been confirmed. "But I should be trying to stop it, so as long as I don't knowingly go against it as far as he knows I'll be fine, probably. And at least I can try to make it end sooner, or… something." He smiled again. "And since I've met the colonel and Emperor Peony I'll be harder to replace. Jade doesn't know I'm a replica, but he would spot one trying to act like me."
"I don't know, Ion, you don't really act like yourself."
"I envy Sync sometimes. I can't let myself get angry and I've never cried. I think he might be stronger than me, but I learned to smile. So Mohs doesn't know what I'm thinking." Ion smiled again. "At least if I'm alive I can do something, even if it's not much."
"He has a mask, you smile." Luke clearly didn't like that they had to do that. "Asch is going to wear a mask when he comes with me to Baticul. I'm glad he'll come, but… I don't like that he has to hide who he is. He's the real Luke, even though he insists on Asch. But if people find out it's a lie now… I'll be glad when they think I'm dead and I can stay with him. He said he would help me get stronger and maybe I could fight beside him."
"At least Asch is a good person who cares about you. The original Ion wasn't very nice at all." Sync agreed with him there. "And Sync… If Mohs knew about him, he'd try to have him killed too. Mohs has other Ion replicas that… I can't do anything for them. Sync escaped, thanks to Van. Mohs won't like that. Sync won't talk to me but Luke, could you ask him to be careful? Well, I'm sure he's already being careful, so never mind. It's nice to know that he's been free for so long. It makes me think that maybe this escape will work, that I can do something too." Ion… Ion the success admired Sync? Sync the reject? Thought that Sync might be stronger, even? Hid behind a mask too?
He… they weren't the same person, but maybe they were more alike than he had thought. The thought was… both horrible, because if Ion was just an idiot than Sync didn't have to think about how it sucked to be him just as much as it did Sync, and… it strengthened him. Knowing that there was someone else like him. Someone else the Score had it in for. Another reason to kill Lorelei and survive.
Ion didn't think that Sync's life was useless and he'd gained nothing since he was born. Ion thought he was admirable. Ion wanted to be like him. Ion had been through so much that he had.
There wasn't freaky stuff with resonance and Lorelei, of all entities, involved here, thank whatever, but Sync though he understood how Asch felt, just a bit. No one else understood. Having someone that did was… was a good thing. You wanted to keep them around. Someone messing with them was like they were messing with you, and Sync didn't let people mess with him, not even Lorelei.
"You want to use this replica data they took from the inhabitants to restore Hod?" Jade looked first surprised, then thoughtful.
"According to the research Belkend has been doing it's possible."
"Well, there's nothing at the site Hod once was but uninhabited rubble. If these results are valid you could indeed use Asch and Luke's hyperresonances to convert that raw material into a replica of the island. It's a mammoth undertaking. I can't think of a project this vast in Auldrant's history." Except the sephiroth trees, but Jade didn't know about those. "Fomicry is a forbidden arte. I forbade it myself, as soon as Peony came to the throne and could enforce it. This wouldn't bring back the people killed by the research on Hod, but… The data exists. To let it go to waste, or worse, be used for nothing but to benefit those who killed for it…" Jade shook his head.
"I doubt Peony would possibly object. Van, Vandesdelca… I am a cold man, and although whatever suffering what I've done may have caused me is nothing compared to what fomicry has caused you to suffer, please believe me when I say that both I and Peony deeply regret that we could do nothing for Hod. In fact, it was our fault, because Peony showed my research to his father in order to justify my adoption into the Curtiss family so that I could have a position in Grand Chokmah. If the war can be averted then I am certain that he would do all in his power to assist you, and even if we can't prevent it then he can at least ensure that no one tries to interfere with it to gain replica soldiers or other such things for the war effort." Sending newborn children onto a battlefield…
"That would be greatly appreciated. I took over replica research as soon as I had the power because it would happen in any case and I wanted to do what I could. For one thing, I shudder to think what would have happened if Dist had been allowed to run around loose."
"I must agree with you there."
"Restoring Hod has always been a dream of mine. Do you think it actually could be made to work?"
"It will be made to." And that was a promise. "I'll look over all of these files with Count Gardios and try to get you some preliminary conclusions before we dock at Baticul Port."
"No. Thank you for giving me this opportunity."
"Dr. Balfour, replicas are mentioned nowhere in the Score. It's possible that as manifestation of the seventh fonon they are outside its reach, capable of doing things contrary to it. Mohs does not realize this, but Hod's restoration is written nowhere in the Score, so, like the peace effort, he is certain to oppose it."
"You're saying that the Score states war is inevitable."
"Hmm? Wherever did you get that idea? Even a Maestro who revealed such a thing, not that any Maestro ever would, would be executed for it."
"So then you're not saying it."
"And we never had this conversation."
"What conversation could you possibly not be talking about?" Returning to business, "Theoretically, I could understand why someone in your position would be interested in something that would strike back at what destroyed their home and family. Not that you haven't overcome your personal tragedies to be a true credit to the Order of Lorelei. How very admirable."
"Why thank you." Compliments from the necromancer were rare.
"On the matter of Luke and Asch… you said that their duality meant that they might not be doomed to die this year."
"Might. That you've verified the Big Bang theory worries me, as it means that one could die and yet still live. If only in memory, in Luke's case."
"The fact that they're Lorelei's isofons opens up another possibility. Lorelei's manifestation would be identical on the levels that matter to a replica of Asch. It could be possible to divert his consciousness to it instead of Luke in the event of his death. I'm sure that Lorelei can get itself another body." Not that Jade cared what happened to the mind of the Score.
"…Intriguing. Would you mind focusing on that instead of Hod? There is time to restore it: I've waited this long already. Asch might be doomed to die this year." Asch's time was running out, Eldrant's hadn't started yet.
"I'm already working on it." Jade looked to the side and Van turned to see what he was looking at. Luke and the masked Asch had come up on deck, soon followed by a laughing Gailardia and his little sister, who was smiling despite the sadness that had lingered in her eyes since she'd read that Score.
He hadn't wanted her to know, but for the first time in years they were a family again. He had a hard time regretting that.
"I almost have to thank whoever created him," Jade said out of the blue. "Or perhaps it is Yulia I should be thanking, for the first time in my life. The ability to make change. To atone, in whatever inadequate way… It was my creation that destroyed so many lives. But then, change is never easy. Mohs isn't the only one who would fight tooth and nail to keep the Score on track."
"He's merely the most vocal."
"Fon Master Ion's Reformist Faction already has his imperial majesty's support." And Jade's, not that those were separate matters.
"I am sure he appreciates it." The true Fon Master Ion wouldn't have approved of his replacement's efforts to save the lives of the trash that followed the Score. And yet, Sync was right. Ion had gone to Malkuth suspecting that the war was ordained by the Score. Just as his original had been both the Score's prophet and the one who hated it even more viciously than Van (a Fon Master was more deeply buried in it than Van ever would be), Ion had also been doing what he could to undermine it.
If he'd told Gailardia the truth, if he'd told Tear, if he'd told Ion… He'd been so certain they would oppose him. He'd created Luke to die, invested all his anger in him and yet when Luke found out the truth he loved him all the more for it. The distances that had sprung up between him, his lord, and his sister were gone now.
He couldn't relax yet, and his worst crimes were still ahead of him, but for the first time he had real hope that something could be salvaged from the wreckage of Auldrant, that he might be worthy to live on with those he loved in the promised land he had thrown away his honor to bring about.
Afterword: Tales of the Abyss is a story about doom. Playing thought it again and catching more of the dramatic irony makes me realize how very close it was.
If Van had let the truth come to light before Akzeriuth, Guy, Tear, and Luke could very likely have been made to, gradually, buy into Eldrant. After Akzeriuth, he'd lost their trust and they knew that he had been willing to throw them away. Van betrayed them, and that was the real reason they didn't join him. Before Akzeriuth, they loved him, and that could have been used to cover a magnitude of faults. Despite everything, he was their teacher/brother/childhood friend, even right up to the end. But he was also the one who betrayed the love they'd given him and used their trust in him to destroy thousands of lives.
Asch has this rant at one point about how he believed in Van, he would have done anything for him, and if only Van hadn't had this stupid idea about replacing everyone with replicas, of all things he would have been fine with it and gotten to be Van's right hand.
Asch's hatred of replicas in general, stemming from his hatred of Luke, is the ONLY reason Asch turned against Van. Asch sees Van as his one 'real' parental figure (as does Luke) and Asch also has Stockholm Syndrome like crazy. Even to the end, his big fight with Luke is all about who Van's real student is and hence who Van loves more: Asch, or the replicas Asch hates.
In other words, if Van had brought the vulnerable Luke over to his side and reconciled Luke and Asch, Asch would have worked for Van. And forget dealing with the Yulian seals and getting miasma poisoning, forget hacking the sephiroth to force them out of control. Asch can destroy a passage ring in seconds if Luke can. Having Asch on his side would have let Van drop the outer lands, oh, before the point in the timeline where Luke came up from Yulia City in the actual game. Grab Ion, fly from one to the next on those birds, and everything's dissolved into the miasma except the Absorption and Radiation Gates.
So… Van told the original Fon Master Ion, so why not Mystearica and Gailardia?
When you come down to it, the issues that made Van do all this (what happened to Hod) are the reason he doesn't win.
Of course, since I can't wave a magic wand and make those issues go away (I mean, if he got some therapy about it there goes the whole plot), and it would take something major for Asch to realize that Luke's not all that bad, I had to play around with the perfect isofon thing to cause this to happen.
The point is that if it did happen Auldrant is so, so utterly doomed.