"What happened to your arm?!" That was what grabbed Sync's attention.
"I got caught in a hyperresonance. It appears the stories about the Grand Fonic Hymn forcing Lorelei to come to the aid of Yulia's descendants are accurate: it's already healed the rest of the damage. Lorelei seems to find the replica a useful vessel, although its presence has drained him." Luke was clearly dead to the world. "Did Lorelei do something to you, Asch?"
"It drained my power. I haven't been able to cast a single fonic arte for weeks now: my fon slots are almost burned out from sending all the fonons they gather to that replica."
"Perhaps to restore the replica's reserves for the rest of the healing." Van was still irritated, and exaggerated the reaction to convey to Asch that this was certainly not Van's doing. "If I complete the hymn, we should be able to question Lorelei."
"Really?!" Then why weren't they doing it, Sync wanted to know. He wanted to get his hands on Lorelei!
"Sync." Van's eyes narrowed. "Don't damage the replica. We need it. The only way to harm Lorelei is the one we already have decided upon."
Sync grumbled. The chosen Ion replica looked worried for Luke anyway.
"Go ahead then." Asch wasn't happy about the idea, since he thought that it might be Lorelei's presence that was weakening him, but if that was the only to get answers then so be it.
This time there was a different audience when Luke's slightly worried sleeping face became a tired one. "He woke up for you." Lorelei was glad, sounding fond of Luke. "Light of the sacred flame, Asch, I am sorry for making use of your power. You are far better at gathering it than my other precious isofon is, and I was already exhausting him by using his body to control both your powers. I had nothing but my knowledge to bring to Vandesdelca's aid."
"Well, stop it, then!"
Lorelei sighed. "I pushed the child too far. It was at his insistence, but his own words were," and it was the memory of Luke's voice that came from Lorelei's mouth next. "I don't care what happens to me! Save Master Van!" Lorelei again, continuing to quote the conversation: "Fragment of my soul, do not be so rash. You have a choice, do you understand what that means, how precious it is? Think carefully on what you wish to do with your life." The echo of longing in Lorelei's voice, the longing they all felt. And yet innocent Luke who knew almost nothing of the Score and perhaps wouldn't care even if he did answered, "No, I don't have a choice! Letting Master Van die, you call that a choice?!"
Hearing that only seemed to make Asch angrier. "And what does that have to do with me?"
"Without your strength my other perfect isofon will die, oh light of the sacred flame. I cannot aid him enough unless I remain in his body, and that is not safe for him. I know that his death is intended by all of you, but… do you not wish him to live a little longer? You determined a fate for him and it is not to die here. Just long enough that his teacher and friend may be well? It will be done soon, certainly before you travel to the city. It is his one wish." His last request?
"You're really Lorelei?" Ion dared to ask.
"Yes. I'm sorry I cannot help you. The Score binds me, but please believe that you have the power to help yourself. You and your brethren are outside the Score. If you wish to change fate, that power rests in your own hands. Please do not forget that you have hope, and they cannot take it away from you unless they take your lives. Please, live." Lorelei curled up, just a fraction. "In fact, I am far more a danger to you than a help. It is the Score's dictate that it must control all that forces me to try to regain control of your fonons, even if only passively. It is not my will that does this, I am… The Score is written into me at as basic a level as a human's heartbeat. I am sorry, child."
"If you can't help it, it's not your fault." Ion smiled, that replica's usual smile.
"It is my duty and purpose to help. Regardless of fault, your life is my responsibility." Lorelei, however, clearly felt that it was at fault. "Oh light of the sacred flame…"
"Don't call me that."
"Forgive me, Asch. Please, I beg of you. Will this child not die for your sake, in your place? Has this child not lived for your sake, in your place? Was he not created for your sake? In all of his existence he has had nothing that was his own, not even his own name. All he has known has been lies and deceptions, knowing and unknowing. I cannot tell him the truth. It would break his heart. If he is going to die, if you will not spare him, then please. For all he has suffered for your sake…"
"Shut up! How dare you say that replica is the one suffering?!" One-handed, Van was unable to intercept Asch's fist. Although, would he have wanted to?
"Because I feel the pain that the both of you feel, and his is greater." Lorelei didn't back down or even seem fazed by the blow. "You are surrounded by those who know you and value you for who or what you are. He has been surrounded, all his life, by those who do not love him, but you. They believe that you are hiding inside him from the pain of your memories. They believe that he is a coward who refuses to face his fears and return their loved one to them. They see him as a shell they must break through to reach you, and for seven years they have tried their hardest to break him. They have succeeded, many times. But there is nothing there to be revealed, you are not there, and so he has gathered the pieces and gone on, all the while hating himself for what he thinks is his own failure, his own fault. For if he were brave, if he loved them enough to return to them no matter what, then he would wake up and be you. Or so he believes. But you did not return to them either, did you? You are not the person they think is trying to return to them. Perhaps you are right to think that the real Luke fon Fabre died under that machine. The two of you were torn apart then, after all."
"Ah, so I was right. Explain this, Lorelei. You kept dropping hints in passing. What is the true nature of the light of the sacred flame?" Van's hand tightened in that hair.
"You didn't know all along?" Lorelei sounded small and lost. "I suppose even Yulia's children simply follow the Score in these times. I knew that you didn't, but then my true self, the seventh fonon, knows everything and this manifestation can only hold pieces of it. May I look to see what you do know?"
"I think that would be a good idea." Van hated it, but he hated not knowing more.
"Yes." Lorelei took a deep breath. "When the world attempted to gain control of the fonon and the war doomed it, enough of the fonon was gathered together and formed into a mind in harmony with the frequency of the fonon. That is what a fonon sentience is, and that one was myself. I was created as the vessel of this world's will to survive. Perhaps an analogy would be when a poisoned seventh fonist casts an arte on themselves to destroy the poison. But the poison was the desire for prosperity, power, and finally peace. To 'cure' it would have been almost worse than the disease. I could not get them to stop fighting, and eventually they themselves realized that the war would kill them all, but they were so afraid of the others seizing control of the fonon and using it to enslave them that they could not stop fighting. So they prayed for peace but would not make it themselves, and so they began to coerce the fonon into bringing about eternal peace. In order to destroy that future, a future of survival had to be written, one that it was pointless to fight so they would have no choice but to give up and start working towards survival by their own hands instead.
"Yulia possessed a kind heart and a deep belief that human choice should be guarded. So I chose her. That is why the Score has the shape it has, that it comes true in the end but people still have the power to choose to fight it. If another had shaped it then the Score would work by removing the power to choose instead of creating prophecies that predict those choices. A Score that removed free will would have caused you to willingly destroy Hod, Vandesdelca. Instead, this one predicted that you would because of what the others would do knowing that prediction. A balance between a future that cannot be fought and the freedom of the human heart is a harsh one, because it leaves you the freedom to struggle against that future even though it will only break your hearts.
"But then, all life is the struggle against inevitable death. Every breath drawn is a victory. The Score renders that victory meaningless. Life is guaranteed and destiny cannot be fought, instead of possible deaths being averted every day by things as small as eating fruit. Since life ends with death, the world's Score had to include the world's Score of death. But as Yulia's Score itself was created at the last minute to avert the world's death, she ordained that Lorelei would manifest again to avert the Score. But the Score's very nature rendered that almost impossible. With the fonon so tightly controlled in order to sustain the sephiroth and hold the miasma back there would simply be no potential for a clump to form like I did. The power would be needed and ordered elsewhere. So you were born, a seventh fonist with the frequency of the fonon itself, Asch. The light of the sacred flame, the light of hope, the one who inherits the power of Lorelei, the one who shall lead to new prosperity.
"You contain within you seventh fonons, as all seventh fonists do. Not enough to have a mind of their own, but as they are part of your mind you are both human and a fonon sentience. That is why you possess the power of hyperresonance. This child was created from seventh fonons taken from within you, seventh fonons to which enough were added that he could have a mind of his own. Luke is a fonon sentience created not by Auldrant itself but by a human."
"So he's your replica?" Asch was trying to figure out what to think about this.
"No. We are aspects of the same fonon, but replicas and originals are completely different people even though they have the same form. Just like identical twins. The difference between us is more like the difference between you as Luke and you as Asch, perhaps. The same soul, but very different selves and goals."
Sync laughed. "Don't you get it, Asch? You're the replica! You're Lorelei's replacement! No, not even that, you're just a tool with a weak version of his powers the way that one is!" Sync gestured at the current Ion replica.
"Please don't say that!" Lorelei protested. "His life has value, just as yours does. Please, don't hold yourself in contempt!"
Asch's life had value… as Sync's did. Asch was only as valuable as a replica. A 'failed' replica. Van knew Lorelei didn't mean it that way, but the words were doomed to enrage him.
"You wish to destroy the Score, correct? For the pain its existence has caused you? As do all your friends? They yearn to be free of it, child, and you already are. You say you have gained nothing since your birth, and yet, even if you will not retract that statement, you gained something with your birth: a precious gift that they would destroy this world to attain."
"And if I have free will and Asch doesn't, does mean my life has even more value than his?" Van, who had known the original Ion well, could guess what expression Sync had behind that mask.
Lorelei just sighed. Utter failure to get the point on Sync's part, yes, and yet it seemed there was more. If Lorelei had tried to stop a war and failed… It seemed the creature was tired of talking and failing to be heard, tired of useless struggles, tired of wanting so desperately to help and being unable to. "All living beings are alive. Perhaps that is not the way humans see it. No, I know it isn't the way they do. But it's the way it is. The Score will almost certainly be averted by Luke's death, as this world's previous destiny was averted by mine. I know that what matters is the nature of that death, but by my nature as the Score I am prevented from knowing the nature of the details."
The question was why Van would possibly want to avoid the world's Scored death. Even if his hatred of Lorelei were to diminish, his hatred of the Score would remain. Lorelei might think there was another way, but Lorelei had thought the Score was a valid option. The creature was as delusional as its isofons.
The isofons Van held in the palm of his hand.