And the epilogue(s). Thank you, and goodnight.
That means you, muses. Shoo.
Duke fon Fabre, as the Duke of Belkend and so on and so forth, really shouldn't love the princess of Kimlasca-Lanvaldear he had married in an alliance that they'd said would end up with his son on the throne and then he'd been told would end up with that son sacrificed at Akzeriuth.
Suzanne had always been sickly, and they'd had to try for a very long time to have the son the Score had promised them, had promised her, and by the end of it, as much as he'd loved her, he'd wanted to call the whole thing off. Except that she wanted a baby of her own, and if he had one by a mistress to carry on his own family line then it wouldn't be her son, and this was supposed to be about politics, not love.
The Score had promised that she would survive, but it had been an uphill battle, it had easily shortened her life by a decade, and then their one child was not going to be able to carry on the fon Fabre family line, he'd been cheated, she'd been cheated, and while he couldn't divorce her since she'd given him a son it was his duty to Belkend to either try to get her pregnant again, with the daughter she wanted, in essence killing her so he could remarry, or find a mistress to have that daughter and a son for the duchy and give them to Suzanne to raise.
Only that would have involved Suzanne finding out that she couldn't have other children, that her son was doomed to die, the son she had gone through months of hell for, and that was unacceptable. Not that anything about this was acceptable, but it was the Score.
And now the Score was gone, Suzanne seemed to have gotten that daughter, said daughter's real father was one of his sins come back to haunt him, and since Natalia was adopted his son Asch was the rightful monarch of Kimlasca by blood.
Not that, family duty or no, politics or no, he wanted it, and frankly he couldn't blame him.
Suzanne was more energetic than she'd been since the kidnapping, talking about the wedding and grandchildren, and entirely focused on the golden lining. It really did seem like the past several years had been one entirely chaotic nightmare that the world had woken up from, and he had come out of it with two living children and another heir for the fon Fabre family on the way.
And the geopolitical implications of having those children be the Light of the Sacred Flame and the Scion of Lorelei, although he was trying not to listen to that little voice.
Asch was speaking to him, was actually willing to come home, at least until after the wedding, and...
If he looked at the practical level all this was wonderful. If he thought about the fact that his son was marrying his daughter it reminded him of the insanity, and then he had to remember that said daughter was the Scion of Lorelei and therefore the rightful ruler of the Order of Lorelei, due to being a replica with Lorelei's fonon signature and therefore an avatar of the sentience and...
He really did envy Suzanne the ability to live in her own little world where the only things that mattered was that her babies were alive, and happy, and life was going on.
As it was, it was hard not to think that the room they'd put Luke in because it was isolated and easy to guard was now her and Asch's room because it was isolated and provided privacy for...
It was probably embarrassing enough for normal parents to find their children 'necking' as it was apparently called, but seeing two faces, identical and essentially daring him to comment had required a rapid retreat. He'd raised them both intending for them to die, and his presence in thier lives was entirely conditional on him remembering that having done that he had no right to tell them how to live anymore than he'd had to tell them how to die.
And if it was bad for him...
The citizenry were generally happy that their beloved Princess Natalia had gotten out of the insanity and was going to settle down with that sweet young nobleman with the handsome face, gallant manner, and tragic past.
Asch had been a god-general, however, one of those who had intended to kill them all, and Luke was not only a replica but was Lorelei. They had saved the world, and so on, but for everyone but him it seemed the fact they were siblings under the laws regarding replicas Princess Natalia had passed was lost in the general strangeness.
They were living legends, after all, almost gods, or literally so in Luke's case, and not human. Why judge them by human standards?
For him, they were human, and fallible, and the ones he had failed. He'd watched them struggle to learn how to walk, and now they were making Auldrant move with their powers.
He'd wanted Luke to treat Natalia that way, find happiness with her the way he'd found it with Suzanne despite everything. The halting courtesy Asch displayed, the mix of signals between former somewhat-opponent (Belkend had never been tamed by Baticul), knight to his lady, comrade in arms, lover, beloved...
They were happy, and Asch was learning to be human again, and Luke perhaps to be human, since she really hadn't been well taught.
He did his best to escape the gossip, but while these were his children they also... weren't. Were something outside his experience, outside his comprehension, outside the world's. This was no longer Asch's home and had never been Luke's, they'd either never fit into the world or had been spirited away from it by Van.
It seemed on many levels as though they would vanish, too strange and sacred, luminous and solemn to be real. His lost son, the scion of Lorelei he had sheltered unknowingly (he'd never known her, the change on the outside actually made realizing that and learning to understand her easier), the new life they were going to bring into a new world without the Score. The bed of ashes from which shone the light of the sacred flame, the light of Auldrant's hope.
They couldn't look away, but they couldn't touch either.
So Suzanne talked about how they could do anything they wanted for the wedding, it was Luke's cathedral after all, and they kept the curtains drawn because the fon belt was certain to be especially bright tonight and they all knew what that meant.
It was sacred, holy, beautiful, but it was also his children having sex, and he just really didn't want to think about that aspect.
So he focused on Suzanne, and her smile and the wedding nonsense that she found so fascinating. After all the excitement being bored to tears was something to be thankful for.
When I was your age.
She hated those words.
When Mother was her age she'd been running her own religion for three years. When Father was her age he'd gotten himself kidnapped by That Bastard Van. That was the plus side of it: even when she'd destroyed the wall of the hunting lodge practicing Mother had just been, "At least it wasn't a city." The downside was that Mother had an unrealistic idea of how much responsibility, workload, and fighting skill an almost-ten year old should have.
Luke admitted that her childhood had been messed up and that seven year olds shouldn't spend all day fighting and then be given a shopping list to take care of while everyone else rested in theory, but in practice? And Auldrant was able to live up to Mother's unrealistic expectations enough that it was hard to admit when she couldn't.
It felt like she was letting Mother down, and Mother feeling terribly guilty and worrying that she'd been forcing Auldrant the way Mother had been forced instead of inspiring her meant Mother had to be reassured and when Mother wasn't happy Father and Lorelei got dragged in through the link to calm Mother down.
Mother wasn't forcing her to try to get stronger, well, yes, she was, but that was necessary training for someone who wasn't an aspect of Lorelei with Lorelei's power like Father had and very reasonable.
Mother was her inspiration, and the fact that Mother was saying "When I was your age I had to kill people," and "When I was your age they expected impossible things of me and I don't want to do that to you" hurt because it made it seem as though Mother didn't want Auldrant to be like her, and Auldrant wanted to be like her.
Which is why she was training with Mary and Badaq when they were supposed to be having a picnic. Which they were, in between Mary shooting at Auldrant while Auldrant and Badaq went Sigmund vs. Albert style on each other. It was fair since Auldrant had Lorelei helping out, with healing and since Lorelei was up in the fon belt he could help with warnings, even though he wasn't looking at their thoughts to see what they were planning since that was cheating.
It was also cheating to have Lorelei give her translations and test answers, even if she was named after the planet and Lorelei, whose name meant murmuring rock, was the planet's memory. It was, according to Father, a nice try, however. Mother had been all, 'you're never going to learn that way' about it, but Father understood being sneaky.
"You are yourself, my perfect isofon, not any other, just as your mother, fragment of our soul or not, is herself."
Normally that didn't happen, stuff leaking along the link between them, but she'd been talking to Lorelei and was probably obsessing a bit. "It's just that I want to be like her, and that means being a hero as myself, not just because I'm like her or you. The way she saved you and proved she wasn't Father. And I can't think of anything I can do the three of you haven't done first and better. I mean, I guess I could marry Badaq and be Queen, since Father never actually ended up King, but that was what Luke fon Fabre was supposed to do in the first place." Unite Baticul and Belkend for real, not to mention restore the genetic royal line to the throne.
"Does that matter?"
"It does to me." That was what made the older three stop worrying, that line. That she wasn't doing it to prove herself (she had a self: she shouldn't think she needed to prove it to anyone unless they'd messed up somehow) or because she had to or anything. That she was doing it because she wanted to. "But you're right, I shouldn't do something just because I'm supposed to and I really shouldn't decide to not to something I want to do just because someone... never really was supposed to, huh. They just told everyone he was." Making Father think he had a duty to be king when his duty was to die.
...and wasn't that calculated to make Lorelei guilt trip. Father and Mother were really great and Uncle Lorelei was nice too, but they were all pretty messed up, as Aunt Anise put it. They were getting better about it, but they were so paranoid about messing her up that she had to waste a lot of time telling them that she was fine, really, and didn't need fixing, unlike the rest of them.
When Father was her age, when Mother was a little kid (Auldrant considered under 8 a little kid as a big kid of almost ten), it sucked to be them.
It very much did not suck to be Auldrant. She had lots of cool toys, and they traveled all over the world and saw cool stuff, and she got to annihilate things, and cool artes, and Uncle Guy was teaching her how to fly Albiores, and she hated hearing about her parents suffering and not being able to do anything about it, since Van had gotten annihilated by hyperresonance when they were freeing Lorelei and so his fonons couldn't get dragged out of the fon belt and stabbed a lot more for good measure.
But if they didn't stop worrying about her then one of these days she was going to get fed up and run away to join Noir's Circus.