Feeling absolutely wretched today, depressive spiral. I tried to break out of it by distracting myself with reading and so on but it didn't work. It may be the depression talking, but I doubt I'm up to actually writing anything good at the moment but, given that my mind is currently a dark and scary place, I'm going to attempt to get out of it for a bit.

Disclaimer: I own nothing of whatever it is I end up writing about. (Tales of the Abyss, as it turned out.)

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It was rather ironic that Asch the Bloody was the one god-general working to save Auldrant, since if the Oracle Knight training program had a yearbook he would have been voted Most Likely to Flip Out and Start Killing People.

The fact that he did this for a living might have been a factor that let him work out of his system – the title 'the Bloody' came from his habits of coming back from battlefields drenched in blood, mostly other people's but in the month of Lorelei Redecan especially he wasn't exactly choosy. The laundresses hated his guts, not that they were alone.

Normally the post of Special-Operations God-General went begging. After all, the job description was basically, 'murder people who had the misfortune to live when the score says they'll die in cold blood.' It wasn't just murders, though: since N.D. 2000 there had been a missive rise in the number of 'lucky' deviations. Sometimes these were inconvenient survivors (like the inhabitants of Nam Cobanda), and sometimes they were lives that didn't start because their mothers had not gone down the correct dark alley.

It was Asch's job to fix these inconvenient blessings, and ensure that people were retroactively drowned at sea or gang-raped so that the ripples of those deviations would not spread. People eating meals the Score said they wouldn't be alive to eat, for example, were forcing Engave to grow more food than it was meant to. The Order would have stopped the production, but it was the job of Special Operations to track those purchases to their prey.

Normally Special Operations god-generals were only appointed for brief, emergency periods, and tended to leave the post very quickly via guilt-induced suicide, either of the self-inflicted kind or snapping and telling the Fon Master where they could shove the order to poison the water supply of a campground that was threatening to turn into a new town. The Order liked its population small and controllable.

The job of Fon Master Guardian God-General, on the other hand, was a peaceful one, mostly concerned with keeping the Fon Master from having to deal with assassins wanting to avenge their families' scored deaths and so on. The one time Fon Master Ion had been forced to defend himself, for example, the blood and other fluids had soaked into not only the rugs, wallpaper and tapestries but the marble itself had been stained beyond repair and had to be replaced, and the custodians had kept finding splinters of bone in odd places for months.

Yet despite the fact Arietta had been raised by ligers, and Sync, as it turned out, had not been raised at all Asch was well-known as the craziest god-general. Yes, that even included Dist.

So when Asch was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged in absentia after the land was lowered this didn't actually relieve anyone.

Because if the plots of the other god-generals were so evil, so bloodthirsty that they even disgusted Asch… And Asch was still out there, up to who-knew-what.

As Emperor Peony's right-hand man Col. Curtiss knew quite a lot about Asch's assignments. The revelation that Malkuth had been intended to lose the war made certain of the assassinations make sense, for example, and there were quite a few that Jade found out about only after the fact. For instance, a certain glyph meant to call down monsters on Engave during a key point in the war and subsequent extermination of Malkuth's survivors.

If Asch hadn't kept his knowledge to himself, forcing Jade to follow along in the aftermath of Akzeriuth in order to discover Van Grants' plans, he would have ensured that Asch did not live to turn traitor a third time.

Well, that and when it came to people who had doomed Akzeriuth through inaction Jade's own head would have to be first on the chopping block. Knowledge that Luke was a replica had made that Score reading and the commandant's actions very, very damning. He had known that something had to be up and allowed compassion to keep him from speaking. How unlike him.

Still, it explained a lot when Asch revealed that his real reason for defecting wasn't that he had objected to the mass murder of a world Asch hated and had personally murdered hundreds of. No, it was that Van wanted to replace them with replicas, those disgusting creatures.

Asch really had no right to call anyone disgusting, although since Jade was a monster himself pointing this out would have been pot calling kettle.

Jade, on reflection, was actually rather glad that Luke had been able to have the heroic death he had wanted all along on Eldrant. Far kinder than to have his mind eaten away, piece by piece, memory by memory, by the worm that had crawled inside his fonons when Asch met his too-kind end. Kinder to let Natalia mourn her ideal instead of discover what he had become.

Although he hadn't been able to keep from snapping at Natalia when she had mourned Asch. She didn't know or care that it wasn't Asch that had died then, it was Luke, and thinking that she might have been happy if she had known had been another reason not to speak of it.

He'd considered telling Luke. After all, since Luke was dying anyway he wasn't taking care of himself. Jade, who detested playing nursemaid, had needed to tell him to get some rest. The thought that Luke might have taken care of himself so that Asch would have a healthy body to possess had made Jade reflect, yet again, that Van Grants had a point. Was this world worth saving?

Regardless of whether or not it was worth saving, the fact remained that Luke had saved it, and it was when they gathered to honor his memory that Asch appeared.

Jade knew it was Asch. Dist had tried to argue that the strength of personality Luke had acquired would mean his memories would remain. Yes, and only his memories. Jade had personally found that platitude rather insulting. The fact that Luke had become his own person after so much struggle only meant that a greater tragedy was about to occur.

This was the first place Luke had been outside the manor, a very important place to him: that was why Tear had come here. Yet, to Asch, it was only a place with a good view of Hod.

That dispelled any possible illusion it was Luke… except to Tear and the others, apparently.

Natalia was the first one to call him Luke. To ask if there was any chance Asch could come back.

There was a heartbeat, an instant's pause… and Asch's face contorted into rage.

To think that he had come to possess, to be a replica. To have that replica's memories in his head. To have Natalia mistake him for the replica as she had the replica for him.

The snap was almost audible… to Jade, at least. Perhaps even to Tear, who froze as well, jumped back when Asch drew his sword fast enough to avoid the first wild swing of the berserk Asch, laughing like the madman Asch the Bloody had been made by Van. Van's student, his protégée… A madman with hyperresonance, who could finish what Van had started.

Natalia didn't believe for a second that Jade knocking his body off the cliff, out of range of life bottles or Tear's artes, was accidental.

The princess wasn't that much of a fool, after all.