Gate of Bone
Theme 4: Mirage/Dreams
Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of the Abyss or Love Hina, from which part of the concept is shamelessly cribbed. Normally I can't stand fanservice, but I love this show and it's surreal magical realism mythology-referencing over-the-top WIN.
Asch doesn't know why he's surprised that it's dreaming. It's just like him, isn't it, his replacement, and he dreams so it must. He must.
The replica's dreams are nothing like Asch's, the sort of inanity one would expect from it. Oddly enough it dreams in color, which Asch doesn't: the colors are too-bright, the world saccharine and childlike.
Dream-Natalia is a shrew chasing the replica with a lasso, dream-Guy is wearing an apron while building a mini-albiore, and the 'story' of the dream, which is strangely easy for Asch to puzzle out, is that Luke is going to fly away to go join Master Van in Daath. All the doors and windows have prison bars.
It's, it's insulting that the dreck wants to exchange the life Asch longed for the life Asch had and craved escape from, only he couldn't because the damn replica had taken his place, was proof there was no home where people cared about him to go to. The replica is his damn replacement, it should stay in the damn manor and keep Natalia happy, keep Mother from worrying, that's what it's for (as well as dying in his place, which it amazingly failed to do, or perhaps frustratingly is a better word).
But the only things that make dream-Luke smile, that brighten this world to that hue when indeed, everything else is a washed-out grey that doesn't make Asch ache because he's not that weak, are escape and Master Van.
And when the mini-Albiore (piloted by Tear and powered by that pet cheagle, wings flapping earnestly) reaches Daath, Master Van is there, and practicing the same moves he was with Luke a few minutes of dream-time ago with Asch, and Asch starts to realize that to Luke he is the replica, the replacement, who took everything he ever wanted.
Luke has no right to feel that way. Natalia, his parents, his home, Van: they were all Asch's, Luke's from the beginning.
He tries to tell himself that as Master Van picks Luke up disdainfully, Asch's avatar in the dream jeering at him, and tosses him down through a hole that conveniently appears (it's a dream) into the Quiphoth after whispering 'foolish replica Luke,' the words laden with dark significance that breaks Asch's pretense of disdain, because Master Van would never have treated him like that but the replica is him, only it's dreck that deserves to be treated like that, only it's such a damn child, as devastated on that broken, sinking island in the muck after seeing Van happy with Asch as Asch was after seeing his family happy with it.
If all his family wanted was someone they could call Luke… It's just a replica! But it's all that's going to be left of him in this world after he dies, and so it needs to shape up and start acting more like him and marrying Natalia and making her happy the way Asch never could!
It's that cheagle that lifts Luke out of the abyss, and then they're walking through the forest to the cheagle's home, where Luke addresses the replica Ion as the cheagle elder (he's wearing the ears for it, replacing that weird traditional hairstyle) and the cheagle proceeds to accidently melt down that terrible excuse for a fon master guardian's gald. It was Anise's job to be incompetent and not notice all the discrepancies and let Van use up her principal right under her nose, sure, but that's no excuse. And then she was a traitor on top of that and let Mohs kill him.
Van surely knows how to pick them.
Luke a foolish enough replica to go to Akzeriuth even though Asch, his original, ordered him not to and Asch…
Has just been grabbed by the necromancer. It appears that Anise, being a cheapskate, has been stealing all the ingredients for her cooking from Engave, and the 'cheagles,' joined by a struggling Asch and another Ion replica, have been sold to the circus. "What a stupid dream."
"I quite agree." The necromancer, who still hasn't put Asch down, is in a Dark Wings outfit now and still manages to look good in it (the bastard). He rolls his eyes as the center ring is occupied by Peony doing a trained rappigs act. Actually, he could probably do that act in real life. Those pets of his may be allowed to wander all over the place but 'cute Aslan's' trampled more than one thief.
Anise's fontech doll uses her as a ventroloquist's doll next.
"You're stuck in his dream too?" Asch asks Jade, surprised. He and the replica have had that stupid link ever since he had Dist synchronize its fon slots with his at Choral Castle, but how could the necromancer be here?
"We all are, except for one of us who isn't aware he's dreaming. A fascinating phenomenon, probably related to Lorelei's status as the sentience of memory as well as time, sound, and so forth." Dist was booed off stage by Anise. "I believe the next act is you being fed to some ligers."
Asch tried to give him a glare. "You mean a liger-taming act."
"Well, I suppose you could change it around a bit. It's your act." Jade was unphased and Asch was hooked on the tip of his spear and lifted over the wall of the liger cage. "Although they've been rather testy since the actual liger tamer left us."
Oh no. The 'ligers' are Sync and what Asch at first prays is just the replica but seems to be the actual fon master. Sync avoided Arietta but he refrained from making trouble when she was there and Ion, well, Arietta had been the one thing he didn't want to tear apart behind that serenity. Asch only got reminded of his upcoming death occasionally, by Van, with the reassurance that the replica would be sacrificed and Asch would survive. Ion had it rubbed his face every time they demanded he read the Score.
There isn't much Asch can do. Sync's enough trouble but a Fon Master who can use his powers? Daathic Fonic Artes are the strongest in the world. Nothing left of some idiots who attacked him but splattered blood and bone fragments. "You're dead."
"Not dead enough," Ion growls, and Asch is reminded of the legend that the souls of seventh fonists go to the fon belt when they die.
"Why are you here? The replica never met you." Asch tried to keep him talking while he prayed that some opportunity for escape would appear.
The two of them laugh, and it's a psychotic laugh, all the worse for being in stereo. "The ashes of the sacred flame." Asch can tell Sync is grinning behind that mask, the liger's fangs bared.
"He never was all that bright." Asch can see Ion's smile, and the Fon Master always smiles, for he does indeed know something you don't, or rather a lot of things. "But yes, I have met Lorelei's replica."
"Lorelei's replica?" The dreck was Asch's replica, his replacement, his property, even if they were both Lorelei's isofons, but before he can gather himself, or perhaps override his survival instincts enough to protest Sync is lunging for him and Ion is casting and Asch falls through a trapdoor.
"This is getting ridiculous." Asch had to work at it to stand up. "Hey, replica! Wake up!"
"Asch?" Natalia, still wearing the cowgirl outfit with lasso from the manor. Asch only notices now that the lasso is a flower chain, a flower crown. "Have you seen Luke?"
"Not since Cheagle Woods."
"Oh dear. Let me know if you see him, will you? I've been trying to get him to hold still. There are things I need to say to him." Natalia left the way she had came, vanishing like a dream as Asch reached after her, calling her name.
"You can just say them to him in the morning!" Asch screams, frustrated, and then his eyes widen when he hears the ceiling above him start to break and starts running, because he knows it's Ion and Sync coming after him. He runs after Natalia, even though she abandoned him.
Instead he encounters the pair of wimpy Ion replicas, only they don't seem quite as wimpy when Ion unleashes an arte that sends the real Ion and Sync flying up through the roof all the way, Asch can see through the hole, to the fon belt. Asch grimaces, refusing to say thank you to a blasted replica, but Ion's just smiling at him, clearly reading his mind and since he just saved Asch and Asch is refusing to thank him that makes the replica the more noble one, the better man here, and Asch can't stand that. "Thank you, but I could have dealt with them myself," he manages to grit out.
"No need to thank me, it's part of my duty as fon master emeritus," and before Asch can ask what that means Ion has taken Flower-something's hand and left him behind saying something to it about Tear, and what sounds like 'cake after death' that Asch can't quite make out since Anise's doll is approaching fast.
Asch is run over, in fact, and lies there cursing the stupid replica and his stupid dreams as Anise screams for Ion to wait, but they're skipping up into the sky and, "I know you hear me, Ion! Ion!"
"My, I'm glad I mastered lucid dreaming all those decades ago." The necromancer is there again, with popcorn.
"Where's that blasted replica?" Asch asks after Jade hooks him with his spear again and pulls him out from under the crying girl's doll.
"A question with several possible answers. I think I need to give the matter further study." Jade isn't looking at Asch, but up at the fon belt, although he's able to jump out of the way when Peony approaches with rappigs and avoid being run over.
"Hey!" Asch protests, since Natalia is riding one of those rappigs as they run up into the sky.
Anise is crying now. "Ion…" And Jade is patting her shoulder awkwardly, having hung the popcorn bag on his spear.
"I'm afraid they've gone where we can't follow. Popcorn?" Anise glares at him but takes some of the popcorn, sadness turning to anger at the world in general and for some reason Asch in specific. He's not afraid of her but that glare makes him wonder if perhaps he should be.
"Want a lift?" It's Guy with that mini-albiore, only now it's more of a rocket and Tear is sitting where the cheagle-engine used to be.
"Hmm, no, I had my fill of trying to walk where only angels tread a long, long time ago. Do make sure that Peony gets home safely, however. There's still more of those tiresome celebrations in the morning."
"Celebrations? Celebrations of what?" Asch asked, confused. "What's there to celebrate?"
"My thoughts exactly," Jade concurs as Anise tries to scoop Asch up. "No, no, he needs to stay here." Jade's spear blocks Anise's arm.
"But," Anise motioned conspiratorily up at the sky, then at Asch.
"It doesn't work that way, Anise. Believe me, I hoped for a miracle too."
"You?" Anise and Asch both stared at him.
"Well, miracles are to be expected of higher beings, after all. Of course, the trouble there is that granting miracles is at the discretion of said being. We might not be satisfied with the outcome," and Asch knew that there was some meaning to those words that eluded him, although Jade's eyes didn't let him escape their gaze. "But all of us are just going to have to live with it. The only alternative I can think of is destroying the world."
"What are you talking about?" Anise didn't get it.
"Anise!" Arietta? "My Ion likes me more than your Ion likes you!" She was above them, on a hresvelgr, with the Fon Master on her arm and her tongue sticking out at Anise.
"I'll kill you, you bitch! Again!" Anise jumped up onto the Albiore. "Let me at her!"
"I find it hard to believe that that girl is older than Tear." The necromancer took another bite of the popcorn.
"And you didn't have to work with her." The world seemed to be getting smaller and smaller, falling apart around them. "Is Luke waking up?"
"A fascinating question. If Luke were to remain within his body then the answer would be yes, as you are waking up. However, as the Big Bang theory has been validated once again we must first ask ourselves if Lorelei ever sleeps."
"You mean this isn't the replica's dream?"
"Yes, although not the one you're thinking of." Jade's smirk remained etched in Asch's mind as the irritating man began to thankfully vanish away. "Lorelei had your fonon frequency first, after all." He looked up. "They are going to get home alright? Or should I drug him to keep him asleep a little longer?" No answer. "If you don't return them I'm going to be very put out." Jade's sigh lingered when he was gone.
And then Asch was left alone, the ground beneath his feet falling away in pieces until he stood on an odd glyph.
"Replica!" he called out, because he didn't want the thing to fall into the miasma.
"Asch?" And there he was, right behind him. Only he kept changing, child in a child's smock to enthusiastic boy with a wooden sword to weary hero, images flickering like the light of a sacred flame and Asch knew there was nothing there but images, but memories, nothing solid to touch when he reached out (but there was no sense of touch in a dream, not a normal dream, and why would he reach out to the replica?)…