Woo, it's been a while! A big hurggle to those who showed their support through review, favoriting, alerting, etc. You guys are great :)
Few things disappointed me more than Asch's unused voice data for his second Mystic Arte. I thought it was terribly unfair, so, of course, I just had to rectify it ;). Things are moving faster than ever.
Part IV: Asch's New Title--Isofon Buddy
Damn it, Dreck! Are you trying to make me lose every ounce of respect that I possess??
Asch the Bloody
Despite his grumblings, Asch couldn't keep himself from checking on Luke as often as he could. It was his duty and, admittedly, honor to look after the idiot. Really, if he didn't, Luke would probably waste her time rescuing drowning kittens or erecting crude gravestones of the monsters they killed or reading stories to children when they should be working on saving the world from a much larger threat. Asch had learned one thing being connected to a Fonon Sentience: omniscience and common sense didn't come standard. He didn't even think sanity came standard; surely not if he was starting to enjoy Luke's ramblings as she observed the world for the first time.
(Why would a thinking, rational mind come from such a phenomenon anyway? The only answer he could get was "Origin," but this wasn't exactly the time to be ruminating over their existential dilemma anyway).
What made a Sentience god-like was its raw power; Asch remembered (well, Luke/Lorelei remembered so he did as well) when people both feared and loved all the Sentiences of the world. They were, literally, forces of nature given shape. They weren't all-powerful, but they may as well have been in terms of life on Auldrant. Lorelei's nature made clairvoyance possible up to a certain point, but there were limitations--replicas being the most obvious. Human agency was all too clear and predictable, hence the Score, but fontech and fomicry were the sources of random elements in an already complicated situation.
Well, it wasn't anything to twist himself over.
They did know, however, what Van wanted to do--that was obvious--but how he specifically planned to go about it was up in the air. As it stood, Luke could calculate the path that had the highest probability of happening, all the while knowing that replicas wouldn't be included in the prediction (which was so dangerous they hardly bothered with it). The Passage Rings were critical to the plan, Asch was certain. Replicas would also be involved, most likely, but he wanted to be absolutely sure. Van was the sort of man to have multiple contingency plans, after all.
The Score itself was the main issue, here. Things would be a lot easier if it wasn't such a large, self-fulfilling prophecy two thousand years in the making. As Scion, Asch could approach it, step inside it without dying from overload, but that was really it. For the first time in his life, Asch saw it as it truly was: one ridiculously complicated and immense math equation, infinite in scope just like their fonon frequency.
Unfortunately, idiocy was an integral part of human condition.
If worse came to worse, they would have to go back to a certain point in time and try it again. Lorelei was time, was capable of it, but if the situation were that easy then Asch would have forced them to go back in time and drown Van as an infant first thing. It wasn't that easy, though, as energy cannot be created nor destroyed and time travel would take a hell of a lot of energy. On top of that, ripples would form from that event and equations would reset and whirl away. Van wasn't the only one who hated the Score--if not him, someone would have come along eventually and the whole problem would start over again.
The entire situation was exhausting--simply analyzing the Score was exhausting. Luke couldn't explain it to him very well, not in terms that he could understand anyway. It operated on a completely different plane. It was too large, too, well, infinite for him to be able to observe and grasp the entirety of the mathematical sequence. As Luke was right now, even she needed time and immense concentration to work with the Score, and she was Lorelei.
Still, while Luke held Lorelei itself, Asch wasn't totally unaffected. That was a good thing, of course, as it gave him the power needed to protect Luke and get things done. Luke could fight, did fight, and out of the two of them, contained more raw power. The problem being that Luke wasn't really meant to fight to the death. This was where Asch came in, and he didn't mind. Lorelei may have its blind spots, but at least it had the good sense to delegate tasks it couldn't stomach to perform. Asch thrived on battle and was damned good at killing; he was more than happy to be the Grim Reaper to Luke's Healer.
As if in reaction to his thoughts, the mug in his hands began to rot before his eyes. A few more seconds passed before it began to crumble at his fingertips. The clay cracked and weakened and soon it was nothing more than dust.
"Binding Doom, huh?..." Asch muttered as he swept away the bits of earth onto the floor. The ability came as a nasty surprise, more so as he ruined a very good pair of pants because of it. Potential embarrassment aside, he would have to be careful. Van was already keeping close tabs on him, even while absent, and his new-found power would send up a red flag.
That, and he would rather not accidentally kill someone he actually gave a damn about. Luke could bring them back, but it was the principle of the thing.
Asch had been left alone for the time being, but soon the time would come where he would have to go into action. They were heading to Baticul now to await Ion's arrival. The Tartarus was far quicker than the methods of travel Luke and her group were forced to use, giving them plenty of opportunity to set up and execute a trap. Asch debated on communicating their movements--on one hand, forewarned was forearmed, but...they had agreed to let Van move unmolested for the time being in hopes of discovering more of what he wanted to do.
He opened up their mental link once more and was immediately inundated with the warmth of Luke's feelings. Asch wasn't used to that level of adoration (or any adoration), although he liked it, certainly. He shouldn't encourage it, perhaps, but he enjoyed the devotion and the way Luke would call for him and it gave him an emotional high when Luke would want to kiss his feet and--actually, he ought to be disturbed.
Well, Asch was never all that mentally healthy anyway.
'You've had quite the trip, Dreck, how are you doing?' Asch idly unsheathed his sword and looked it over, trying to distract himself from sounding too concerned. When did "Dreck" become a pet name, anyway?
'I'm fine, it's been really interesting,' Luke answered. Asch rolled his eyes, very much aware that she was treating the whole thing like some kind of adventure.
'Amazing. Two thousand years and you insist on acting your physical age.'
'Why not look for enjoyment when one can? You are going to tire yourself out if you push yourself too hard.' Luke projected worry now, and Asch firmly brushed that aside.
'Tell that to Van. If he suddenly stops his mad quest to bring about destruction, I'd be more than happy to take a vacation.'
'I know. Oh, we're approaching port. I have to go.'
'I'll be watching.'
'They'll help me, just worry about yourself--oh, you're pretty close, actually.'
'Yes, you'll see why soon. Trust me.'
Asch carefully pushed the link to the back of his mind. Just in time, as Largo entered the command room, now healed from his run-in with The Necromancer. Sync had already commented that Asch got a stupid look on his face when he started thinking deeply, which pretty much coincided when he contacted Luke.
Asch didn't appreciate the observation.
"So this is where you got off to." Largo sat down in a chair with a short grunt. Out of all the God Generals, Asch had to say that Largo was the least offensive to him. He was level headed and quiet, and he didn't seem to mind when Asch talked his ear off. Asch didn't trust him any further than he could throw the man, but at least he wouldn't have to worry about sabotage from that quarter.
"I wanted to be alone, is that so hard to believe?" Asch cursed silently when he realized that he had destructed his favorite mug.
"I suppose not, however," Largo's eyes met his, "you've been acting strange lately, since that incident at Choral Castle."
Asch raised an eyebrow. "So what if I have? It just threw me off a bit, that's all."
"Yes, I suppose what happened would unsettle anyone. Ah, well, I suppose we should be thankful for the newfound silence."
"Hmph. Is that all? Prying into other's affairs simply isn't like you, Largo."
"Perhaps not, no." They sat in silence, neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. Asch took the conversation as a sign that he had to increase his vigilance. It was hard to act like he used to, though, as angry and, admittedly, as stupid as he was. He never realized just how tiring being so angry was until he let it go. He never realized just how much Van took up his life before then. No doubt it was the man's intention to make Asch so dependent on him. Maybe it was even the man's intention to drive him insane. If nothing else, Asch owed Lorelei for giving him something positive to focus on.
Asch had said he couldn't understand Luke's love for their former master, no matter what the man did. But, honestly, he felt some of that love still, deep down. It was impossible to just carve the man from his heart with ease. With that said, Asch was more than willing to toss the Van under the nearest carriage. If he concentrated, he could even imagine the sound of the wheels crushing his bones; it wasn't that difficult, he'd killed that way before.
'To have that man's blood on my hands...it would be glorious.'
Asch glanced at the nearby sensors. "We're close. I haven't been to Baticul in a long time."
"Mm," Largo answered.
Luke fon Fabre
Seeing the Capital of Light first hand was just as impressive as Luke thought it would be. It was both incredible and beautiful, well deserving of its nickname.
'To think I've never actually seen my home before. Not that it feels much like home.'
She followed the others onto the dock, eyes still locked on the massive city that loomed before her. It resembled a tower more than anything else, with each terrace becoming increasingly smaller as it reached the top. Luke was unable to make out the castle from where she stood; the cloud cover was too thick, but perhaps she would get the chance to see it once she left for Akzeriuth.
"So this is Master's home...where are the trees?" Mieu sat on her shoulder, paws firmly wrapped in her hair. Luke's lips twitched.
"Yes and no. You're right, though, there isn't much green here, is there? I think I prefer your woods over this."
Mieu nodded, unsurprised that the Cheagle Woods were superior.
"Luke, don't fall behind!" Guy called. The others were ahead and already speaking to two officers of the Kimlascan forces. It seemed to be going well, at least.
Luke held up a hand and quickly closed the distance between them.
"Ah, right, sorry!"
"Master Luke?? So Count Almandine's report was true!" Luke didn't recognize the man immediately, not that that was anything surprising. He was big, even taller than Jade and far more broad in the shoulder and chest. The man looked older than Almandine, but that was mostly due to his bald head and severe mustache. Beside him stood a lovely young woman with bright blonde hair. Both wore the uniforms and decorations of highly ranked military.
"Oh, he did send along word of my condition...and you are?" She came to a stop before them, looking at them expectantly. The man cleared his throat and straightened, pushing away his obvious surprise.
"Excuse me. I am Goldberg, commander of the 1st Division Kimlasca-Lanvaldear Royal Forces."
"Oh yeah...I think I've seen you once around the manor." She had only been "two" then, and he had been in a deep discussion with her father. "And your companion?"
"Brigadier General Cecille, sir," answered the woman.
"Commander, Brigadier General, it's a pleasure." Luke nodded and looked at Ion. "So we're good then? I take it that if they've received Count Almandine's report..."
"Yes, we have arranged for an audience with King Ingobert." Ion replied. His demeanor was very professional, but Luke heard a slight hint of excitement in his voice. He must have been pleased that things were going well, for once.
Goldberg nodded. "Indeed. I am also under personal orders from His Grace, Duke Fabre. My Baticul defense unit will escort you back to your home, Master Luke. He has called upon a variety of specialists and they are to see to you immediately."
Goldberg's stern expression slipped a moment in surprise, but he quickly regained his composure.
"I am sorry, Master Luke, but I am under strict orders--"
"I realize that, and I am disregarding my father's wishes for the time being. Ion asked me to speak to Uncle on his behalf--I'm taking him to the castle. I'll see whatever doctors he wants after that."
"Yes, but I can hardly tell His Grace that you've refused. He was most insistent."
"If he's so concerned for my health he can come to the castle; in fact," Luke paused, an idea forming in her mind, "please do so. Tell him to meet me at the castle."
Goldberg hesitated, and for good reason. Technically speaking, Luke outranked him, but he was under specific orders from the Duke himself, who wouldn't take kindly to Luke disobeying (and ordering!) him. Asch's short-temperedness was nothing compared to the Duke's when he was in the mood, and nothing got the Duke going faster than insubordinate behavior. Luke felt bad that she was putting him on the spot, but things were too important right now.
"Luke, I don't want you to get into trouble," Ion began, but Luke held up her hand.
"I've been fine so far, and the doctors can wait. If he's going to be sending soldiers down here instead of checking up on me himself then--" Luke took a deep breath, more upset than she thought. It wasn't new or anything, but still. "I told you I would. I need to see Uncle myself about some things. I apologize, Commander, Brigadier General, but I'm not going."
"I see. In that case, I shall send General Cecille to inform His Grace." Goldberg sighed, resigned to receiving the Duke's ire.
'I don't want to be her right now, that's for sure.'
"If you're sure...could you escort us to the castle, then, Luke?" requested Ion.
General Cecille bowed. "I had best go inform Duke Fabre of the new turn of events. Shall I have him meet you in the throne room?"
"Oh, yeah, that'd be perfect, actually." Luke smiled at her before taking Ion's hand. "Come on, I haven't seen the city from this side, so I'm pretty excited."
Ion's face turned a little pink. "That's right, you've been in your manor this whole time, haven't you?"
"Yup, pretty much. Hey, that's one of those trolley things, right?"
Baticul's unique construction meant they relied heavily on mechanical devices to move traffic to and from different areas with ease. Luke could barely sit still, wanting to take in everything. The sheer amount of frequencies here was amazing, although it got difficult for her to distinguish one from another. She'd need more practice with that.
They stepped off the cable car a few moments later. Guy was more than happy to explain the layout of the city and share a small piece of its history as they made their way up winding staircases. They traveled higher and higher, with the levels becoming progressively smaller as they took elevators up into the highest parts of the city. Before long, they were walking through the Nobles' Quarter, which was characterized by few, yet high end, stores and wide lawns. It was the first hint of green they have seen in Baticul so far, even if it was in the form of manicured grass and a few trees. Luke could see the clear difference in wealth between this level and the lower ones. The houses were impressive, not as large as hers but still large, with the people here being related to the royal family in some capacity. The relations were distant, however. Third and fourth cousins she had sort of heard about but never met after her lockdown. The only relative she did meet was--
Luke frowned deeply, slowing her pace as they took the last elevator and climbed the last row of stairs to reach the very pinnacle of Baticul. How could she not have thought of Natalia's feelings in all this? She should be ashamed of herself.
'Asch, why didn't you--'
'Because...I'm not sure how to handle it, either.' They both loved Natalia; she was their friend and cousin. Asch still took his promise that he made with her very seriously. Practically everything he had done up until now had been for her...his ideal of her, at least. He was a little uncertain, though, as it had been years since they last met. Would the real live up to the ideal? On top of that, sooner or later the secret would be out, that the Luke she had known since the kidnapping wasn't who she thought he was. How would she react then? Would she be angry at him for not even trying to see her? Would she believe that their oath hadn't been forgotten and he was trying hard to make it come true?
'Natalia will be fine. She's strong.'
'Yeah, you're right. She won't be happy with this. They'll probably break the engagement immediately.'
'What? Why? I mean, I never thought of her in that way, but...'
'...Why indeed. Pay attention now. I assume you know what you're doing with Father and Uncle.'
'I need for them to honestly accept the peace offering. They're good men, they'll do the right thing.'
'Hn, really?' Asch was far more cynical than she was. In some circumstances that was probably a good thing.
"Luke, is something wrong?" Guy had noticed she was dropping behind again. They were already in the castle and making their way up the stairs to the thrown room. It was every bit as extravagant as Luke imagined it would be. She shook her head and sighed.
"Natalia," was all that she said. Guy winced and rubbed the back of his head.
"She's had some time to absorb the information, so maybe..."
Ion gently squeezed Luke's hand. "Natalia? You mean the princess?"
"And Luke's betrothed. Well, that may not be the case anymore."
When they reached the top of the stairs, they were stopped by one of the guards.
"Grand Maestro Mohs is currently in an audience with His Majesty. Please wait."
'That's no good! That man is blindly following the Score. We better get in there before he causes anymore damage.' The others had stepped back to let her handle it, as she was the only one in the group with the authority.
"I'm sorry, we're going in anyway." Luke already placed her hands on the doors to push them open. "I am Luke, son...well, child, of Duke Fabre. I'm going to have to ask you to step aside."
The guard sputtered a bit before shaking his head.
"I'm sorry, but they are not to be disturbed for any reason."
'Will you hurry up and threaten him already??'
'Unless you want to force your way in. Or stand idly by while Uncle listens to the Grand Maestro's lies--'
Luke took a deep breath. "Oh, my mistake."
"You see, when I told you that I was going into the throne room, I assumed that you liked being gainfully employed. I assumed that you enjoyed earning a salary and feeding your family. Obviously, as you are disobeying my orders, that is not the case. This can be rectified."
The guard froze in horror and bowed.
"Forgive me, Master Luke. Please, enter." The other guard wisely didn't say anything.
'Not bad, Dreck.'
'I was thinking about how you might do it.' Luke couldn't help but preen a bit. Compliments from Asch were exceedingly rare.
'Even better--ah, damn,' Asch closed their connection for a moment. When he returned, his voice was harried. 'I have to go, you'll hear from me soon.'
Luke could tell that he was up to something, but there was nothing for it at the moment. She pushed open the doors.
"Let's go in, shall we?" The first thing she noticed was a portly man with ornate robes and hat standing before the throne, speaking with her uncle.
"Ugh, that's him. That's Mohs," Anise said, eyes narrowing.
"The Malkuth Empire is strengthening the defenses in their capital, Grand Chokamah." Mohs' report sounded more like a debriefing than consultation. "With Engeve as their supply base, even Saint Binah has been--"
Both her uncle and another man in uniform noticed their group approaching and started with surprise. Probably no one has ever dared to interrupt the king before. Mohs saw that they were staring and turned as well. Luke immediately didn't like the look on his face at all. The man in uniform was the first to speak.
"How dare you?? Who gave you permission to enter this hall??"
"I gave myself permission. I'm sorry, but it's important." Luke turned her gaze to her uncle, who was still staring at her. She hadn't seen the man much at all over seven years. She could count the occasions he had come over on one hand. He was incredibly busy, but Luke also got the feeling it was because he had a hard time looking them in the eye, knowing what was going to happen in the future. His sister, her mother, had always wanted children but her constitution meant she could only bring one to term, much less bear it. Knowing that, and sending her son off to his doom anyway must have been difficult for him. Luke could sympathize, really, even if she was the one that was going to be annihilated.
Ingobert leaned forward in his throne. "Is that you, Luke...? By Rem, what happened to you?"
"It's quite the story, Uncle. Not long but..." Luke shrugged helplessly. Mohs had the sense to move out of the way as she stepped closer. Ingobert rubbed his forehead, visibly perplexed.
"I had heard what happened, but...there wasn't nearly enough information! We didn't know what to think and almost believed it to be some trick. I believe your father still does, to some extent."
'That would be like him. He'd have to see it to believe it.'
"Speaking of whom, have you seen your father, yet?"
Luke shook her head, her grip on Mieu tightening slightly when she thought of how angry he was going to be.
"No, I came straight here. I asked him to come by as well. In any case, that's not important right now."
"I...yes, perhaps." He settled back onto his throne and cleared his throat. "I had also heard about the people you were bringing with you. They must be..."
"Fon Master Ion, from the Order of Lorelei, and Jade, from the Malkuth military."
Ion smiled politely and nodded his head. "It is an honor to see you again, Your Majesty. I am Ion."
Mohs was clearly tense, and his voice wavered slightly at their appearance.
"Fon Master...W-We've been looking for you..."
"We will speak later." That was the first time Luke heard Ion sound even remotely displeased. "Your Majesty, this is Colonel Jade Curtiss. He represents His Imperial Majesty, Peony the Ninth."
Jade knelt onto the ground and bowed his head. "I am honored to be in your presence. I bear an imperial letter from my lord for His Glorious Majesty, King Ingobert the Sixth."
"Uncle, what the Grand Maestro says is pure nonsense. I have seen Malkuth with my own eyes. We did not get near the capital, but Engeve and Saint Binah were completely peaceful and--" Luke was interrupted by Mohs, who was trying to reclaim lost ground.
"W-What did you say?? I'm merely trying to convey to His Majesty the threat that Malkuth--"
"Well, thank you for your concern, Grand Maestro, but we can take it from here." Luke glared at the man.
"Calm down, Luke, the letter made it here safely. I won't ignore it. Now, you all must be tired--"
Ingobert coughed slightly. "Ah, that must be your father."
Luke could feel herself cringing. "Oh man, I knew he'd be upset..." Duke Fabre was, indeed, upset, if the way the doors burst open was any indication. Everyone quietly stepped aside, leaving Luke exposed as her father marched forward, face set into a fierce scowl.
'Thanks a lot, guys! Why don't you just hang me out to dry while you're at it!'
Mieu was shaking slightly on her shoulder, but he was determined to stay with her here, too. Luke forced herself to meet the Duke's eyes.
"What is this??" He stopped a few feet ahead of her and looked her over. His shock was obvious, but it was greatly tempered by his ire. "I recall specifically ordering you to the mansion the moment you stepped into Baticul! Your mother has worried herself sick, not only with your disappearance, but with the news that you've--" He couldn't think of a word that would adequately describe what happened, so he left it at that. Luke flushed and valiantly resisted the urge to cover her face and find some hole in the floor to sink into.
"I know, Father, I'm--"
"This had better not be some trick." The Duke's voice had dipped dangerously then, which caused Guy to step forward and bow.
"My Lord, this is Luke, I'm sure of it."
"Hm? Is that so?? And where were you, pray tell, when this happened??" Duke sharply waved his hand in Luke's direction.
Guy kept his head bowed. "I apologize, my Lord. I was lax in my duty--"
"I should have you punished for this--!!"
Luke would have nothing of it. She stepped between them to keep her father from making good on his word.
"Father, that's enough! Guy has brought me back safe and sound. He has been nothing less than...than...Guy, what's that word that means excellent?"
"Ah...exemplary?" he suggested, quickly returning his gaze to the floor when the Duke glared at him.
"Yes, that's right. Father, I look different, but I'm me."
"Be that as it may, you are going to go straight home and let the doctors take a look at you. We will decide then on the best course to take."
"Perhaps this should be discussed in private?" Ingobert raised his eyebrow. "No need to air family grievances in court."
The Duke's jaw tightened. "You are right, of course. I lost my head for a moment. Luke, we are returning home. Now."
"Actually..." Luke glanced at her uncle. "I need to speak with you and uncle. Alone."
"You are trying my patience, Luke. I suppose your being transported into the outside world has something to do with this. Who do I have to 'thank' for making you so willful?"
Tear shifted uncomfortably.
"It's not about that, Father. It's very important. I need to speak to the two of you alone. No guards, either."
Ingobert's lips twitched. "I told you, Luke, that you don't have to worry. I'm going to take this bid for peace very seriously."
"It's...well, that's related, but..." Luke looked at her friends. They had kept their mouths shut so far and were watching the drama before them with interest. "I'm sorry, but I need everyone to leave. I mean it."
"What is the meaning of this? I'll not have you disobeying me any further." Duke Fabre began to reach forward to take her arm and march her back to the mansion whether she liked it or not.
"I refuse to leave until I've talked to you!"
"It's unorthodox, but I don't see the harm," Ingobert said quickly, more to break up an impending argument than anything else, "guards, escort our guests out of the hall. No one but the three of us is to remain. And this time, do not allow anyone to interrupt. Am I clear?"
The guards saluted in unison and began to usher everyone out of the throne room.
"You, too, Mieu. Go with Tear, okay?" Luke carefully placed him on the floor. Mieu looked disappointed, but he readily hopped into Tear's arms. Guy looked back at her, both worried and curious as to why she would request such an audience. Once the doors closed firmly behind them, the Duke whirled on his child, furious.
"Well?? I have never been so--"
"You want to kill me." Luke decided to cut straight to the point. Duke Fabre froze in mid-scold, while Ingobert nearly jumped from his throne. An uncomfortable silence passed before Ingobert cleared his throat.
"Luke...what do you mean--"
"Well, I shouldn't say that you want me to die, not in that way. But I have to die, don't I?"
Duke Fabre turned away, his hand rubbing his face. Luke placed a hand on his shoulder.
"I know about Akzeriuth. I know that the Score says that I must go to the city so that, one day, it would lead to the prosperity of Kimlasca." Well, technically, it didn't even say that, but everyone had pretty much decided that was the case, so...
Ingobert sank back into his throne, looking every bit his age. She could see the guilt in both of them; it was a little gratifying, to be honest, since that meant they did care, at least.
"How did you find out?" asked the Duke, still unable to look at her. His voice was gruff and his shoulders were shaking slightly. It didn't take much to expose the shame and grief just below the surface. As long as Luke had been ignorant, he could at least pretend nothing was wrong. Not so much anymore, and the Duke was clearly unsure how to proceed.
Luke tapped the grip of her rapier before she decided to simply go for it. She was trying to change things, right?
"That's difficult to say. I only found out recently, but at the same time, I have always known from the moment humanity has chosen to rigidly follow one set path of the Score."
The two men stared at her, neither sure how to take that statement.
"Luke?..." Ingobert slowly stood from his throne and moved closer to them. Luke closed her eyes and considered her next words. She should try for mystical, right?
"I am the Light of the Sacred Flame, yes. My shape isn't the only thing that has changed, Father, Uncle. I can see the Score, I can feel and move within it. If I concentrate hard enough, I can see the infinite possibilities of your futures." She was glowing now, although, honestly, that was more for effect than anything else. She couldn't afford to spend a lot of time trying to convince them that she spoke the truth.
'Why not grow a pair of wings while you're at it?'
'I just might give you a matching pair as well if you keep it up.'
Luke continued, "There are many things that you do not know, but can you trust what I say for now? Those seven years we've had together may not be much, but we've had them."
"I..." The King paused to gather to his wits. "Are you Lorelei?"
"Yes. When I turned into a woman, I became Lorelei. I am the Sentience itself, as well as Luke."
"My word..." Both the King and her father had to sit on the low steps that led to the dais. Luke had never seen them look so, well, undignified. Luke knelt in front of them, tucking her legs underneath her.
"If it helps, I am still the Luke of the past seven years." She wasn't going to tell them about Asch just yet. He wouldn't like that, for one thing, and she was shocking them enough.
Finally, the Duke spoke once more.
"Since you already know, we may as well tell you everything. We didn't know what to think, when we first learned of your fate. I...for a moment I thought it was because of my sins. I admit that I wished it was one of your distant cousins that would be sent off to die; I still wish it and I'm not sorry for it. But the Score is absolute, what could we do? Especially when we learned that your fonon frequency and Lorelei's were identical. Still, we couldn't tell your mother."
"She would have tried to stop it, right?"
Ingobert looked faintly amused. "She most certainly would have. But as King, I must think of all of my subjects. If that was what it took for the entire kingdom to know prosperity, then I would do it. But now..."
"We will break free from the Score."
Now they were looking at her as if she had lost her mind. Luke shook her head.
"I have spent two thousand years in the core of the planet, watching as humans spiraled toward destruction, as selfishness over what the Score said dictated their lives. I saw countless killed and others abandoned because of something written ages ago." Luke held out her hands. "Heed me: the Score is not truly set in stone. It represents countless possibilities. If humans didn't insist on being so predictable, then their potential is infinite. They are more than capable of accomplishing this."
"Abandon--" Ingobert began.
"Well, I'm not going to let myself die. I'll need your help. To free humanity of the Score would be breaking two thousand years worth of tradition. It would mean going through each day not knowing what will happen. People will need leadership more than ever."
"You are asking for quite a lot."
Duke Fabre raised his head. "You are Lorelei, truly?"
The Duke stroked his jaw for a moment, thoughtfully looking off to the side. When he faced her, he wore a grim smile on his face.
"Then we'll have to disobey the Score." He ran his hand through his hair. Luke had never seen that particular nervous gesture before. "What am I saying? But I want to believe that we can change the future. I don't want you to die, even when thought I had resigned myself to it. I have never been a proper father to you; this once, I want to do something worthy by you."
Ingobert, however, was having a great deal more trouble with simply tossing the Score away.
"Still, what Luke is proposing--"
"Our duty is to our people, you know this," Duke Fabre said to this brother-in-law, "if Luke...Lorelei...if following the Score as it is right now will lead to destruction, then we have a responsibility to our subjects to do what we can. It will be terrifying at first, even I admit this; however, if I understand correctly, humans will once again have a say in their own fate."
Ingobert sighed, steepling his fingers together as he leaned his elbows onto his knees.
"To know destruction is ahead and still rush blindly to it would be the height of stupidity. And, I must confess, if it was Natalia I would probably be more willing. However...how do we know what you say is true?"
"Ingobert--" Luke had never heard her father refer to her uncle so casually. King Ingobert shook his head.
"I'm sorry, but too many things have happened for me to simply agree with what Luke is saying. Are you sure you're agreeing with Luke because you truly believe? Or is it that you want to believe?"
'Do you see? It would have been better if we didn't say anything. The fewer people with their hands in this the better.'
'Then you know they will accept your terms?'
'You can't account for this in your calculations?'
'Statistically speaking, they might. The main problem is this is woven with my fate, which, well, I can't really see. Still, if this only affected us you would have a point, but...everyone in the world has a stake. It will be chaos once we break the Score.'
'Things have been stagnant for too long. People deserve to have their world shaken up a bit. They need the chaos; it is only then that we can reshape the world and build. Van is wrong, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let them off the hook.'
'That isn't our decision to make.'
'Considering what's happened, it damn well is. If it wasn't for a fluke, and I do mean fluke, your consciousness would still be down in the core and Van would be on his merry way to kill ten thousand people. Humans have been wrong for far too long. They need to be punished for this.'
'I will not be their judge. I want to help them, save them, but I'm not going to treat them like children.'
'Then they need to stop acting like children! They fought amongst themselves and altered the planet itself; they made a mess and the only way they got out of it was for you and Yulia to tell them what to do. They then spent the next two thousand years being told what to do. How is that not child-like? However, seeing as you've already told Father and Uncle, you'll just have to use some other way to convince them.'
'I don't want to use force.'
'It's that attitude that got you stuck in the core in the first place.'
Luke brushed off the slight. 'We can talk--'
'You know just as well as I do there are times when talking simply won't work.' Asch sighed. 'Dammit, I can do it for you if it's too difficult.'
'And after this, what will you do?'
'The world is at stake, don't make me do the difficult things alone...I've had more than enough of that.'
"I do not want my only child to die! Am I to be condemned for that?" Duke Fabre snapped. Ingobert frowned, not intimidated in the least.
"You were willing to let it happen before!"
Luke shifted uncomfortably. "Enough!"
"Luke? What is it?" Duke Fabre began to reach for her, but he couldn't quite bridge the gap just yet.
Luke rubbed her face, much like her father did moments ago.
"I don't want to have to do this."
"I...I am no longer asking for your assistance. I am now demanding it."
Fonon Sentience or not, King Ingobert did not take kindly to demands.
"Now see here--!"
"I don't want to resort to threats or violence, but if that's what I have to do, then I will. I won't let myself die quietly for your stupid war! You think I'm lying to save my own life?"
Ingobert sighed. "It is a possibility, and, I admit, I don't blame you if you're upset that we would--"
Luke suddenly stood and marched to the middle of the hall. She could sense the others right past the thick doors and hoped that no one would come in. Luke took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
The power didn't come immediately, but it has been so long since she could readily tap into it that she hardly noticed. Then the room began to melt and shift and fade away into a bright, golden glow. The Duke and King Ingobert looked around in shock as the throne room disappeared from sight.
"This is my mind, this is what I see." Luke rubbed her temple. "It's...hard to project it like this, in this physical body at least. Look Father, Uncle."
Duke Fabre reached out and carefully touched a stream of golden strands.
"What is this?"
"The Score--don't look too closely, be careful. You'll probably go insane from the overload."
"But...the Planetary Score was the size of seven mountains! How can this be?" Ingobert was peering at the golden strands, curious, but mindful of Luke's warning. She could tell even then that his chest was starting to ache, and her father was already suffering from a headache.
"I am Lorelei, I embody the Score itself. Written down in your language, It would span that long." Luke grasped one strand and pulled. "Humans have always fascinated me. To have so much potential...much more than what I am capable of. The Sentients are bound by what we are--not so with humanity. It is wonderful."
"What is that? Is that our Score reading?"
"Here is the path that you so desperately cling to. Akzeriuth falls like you wish, and war envelops Auldrant...yes, you are right--see how Grand Chokmah and its emperor falls!" Her voice changed and grew in scope, echoing painfully in Duke Fabre's and the King's heads. In order to properly read the strand she had to exert more of her power, and the humans trapped within her mind were made helpless. They cringed and Ingobert clutched his chest, but Luke was insistent. If he required proof so badly then he would get it.
"Yes, see how Kimlasca-Lanvaldear enters a new, prosperous age...but due to the plague that spreads through Malkuth because of the viciousness of the war. Look how the dead spread contagion--no, Uncle, do not turn away from your path! This is what you want, right? This is your desire! See how your people alone thrive while the rest of the world succumbs to disease and filth. Ah, but that is not your concern, is it? I suppose it is their fault for daring to be born in Malkuth, hm? However, look at what happens into Natalia's fifth year of reign--you've already passed on, but one man will bring the contagion into Baticul and her people will not stand a chance. It is a shame you neglected to consider that what you want so badly might not last that long! You do not look well, Uncle."
Ingobert was gasping for breath, his eyes were wild as he stared at the thread in Luke's hands.
The Duke steadied him, torn between anger and concern. "That is enough! He is having a heart attack!"
"Yes, Ingobert isn't so different from Mother. He's always had heart trouble."
"Luke!" Sweat began to bead on the Duke's forehead from strain.
"I'm sorry, I...I'll stop." Luke pulled her mind back into her body, bringing them back into the throne room. The Duke carefully lowered him to the floor.
"Get a doctor in here!"
"No, let me." Luke knelt beside her uncle and placed a hand over his heart. "I'm sorry, I really am! I don't like hurting anyone." She concentrated and began to push seventh fonons at his heart. The results were immediate, as his breath began to normalize and his color improved. Luke frowned. "Oh Uncle, there's a lot of scaring around your heart. Let me fix that, at least."
Ingobert closed his eyes as she worked.
"Luke...or...should I say Lorelei?"
"Luke is fine, Uncle. I am still that child. It's hard to say, but I have always been a fragment of Lorelei's soul. I now am that soul."
"...Was that horrible sight true?"
"It's one path of many, Uncle, never forget that. That is the path with the highest probability of occurring, given the actions of the people involved. There, I'm finished. How do you feel?"
"Better...ironically, much better than I have in years." Ingobert sat up with their assistance and sighed. "I asked for that, I admit it. Lorelei--Luke, what do you suggest? We have no time to waste."
'There, you see? I knew they would!'
'You do realize that's because you nearly killed him.'
'He was in no danger of dying. That wasn't all, Asch.'
"As for now, we continue the plan. Simply averting Akzeriuth will not be enough."
Duke Fabre agreed. "Yes, that would probably be too simple. It will be a massive undertaking that will require the cooperation of Malkuth and Daath. This offer for a formal truce presents us with a perfect opportunity."
"Indeed. Whatever happens, at the very least, war must not break out. For now, we will have to work in secrecy. We should also try to come up with a contingency plan if Malkuth and Daath aren't quite so willing to agree with us," Ingobert replied.
"Um, I'll leave you two to figure that out. Politics and stuff aren't really my strong point." Luke took a deep breath and heaved herself onto her feet.
"We will have to put it on hold for now." Ingobert also stood and cracked his back. He placed a hand on his chest, as if he felt phantom pains. "So, what shall be done about Akzeriuth? We have been keeping an eye on it for years, and recent reports have confirmed that it is in jeopardy. I assume Emperor Peony has included this in his missive."
"I've already started working on it. I know you won't like this, but I'll still need to go for a few reasons. Don't worry, I'm prepared."
Duke Fabre looked unhappy, but in the end he placed a hand on her shoulder. All that about breaking away from the Score and forging a future based on free will, and she was going down there anyway.
"We will have to trust you. I can scarcely believe it...Lorelei." Luke leaned into his touch, as the Duke wasn't one for physical gestures and he'd never done anything like it before. It was nice. Maybe, before she left, she'd even get a hug from him.
"I am still your kid, you know."
'Well, hopefully I still will be after he learns the whole truth.'
'Now who's being stupid? Weren't you going on about the past seven years?'
The Duke nodded. "I suppose you don't have to see the doctor, now."
"I'll still go, if only so Mother feels better. It won't hurt to get a check up, I guess. Besides, it would look odd if you suddenly said that I didn't have to see any specialists."
Ingobert turned grave. "Luke, you should also know that Susanne has fallen ill. I have sent Natalia to her side in my place. She has been anxious as well."
"I better go see Mother soon." Luke stuffed her hands into her pockets and tilted her head back. "And Natalia? Is she upset?"
"When she first learned about it, yes, she was. However, she might surprise you."
"Probably. Thank you, though, Father, Uncle. I know this must be difficult--"
Duke Fabre's eyebrows raised. "There's no need for that, especially considering we were knowingly going to send you to your death."
"We'll have to talk about it later, then. We'd better go."
"Yes." The Duke bowed slightly. "Your Highness. We shall take our leave...oh, yes. Luke, what do you know about Dorian General Grants?"
"You think he had something to do with my kidnapping."
"That was the thought, yes. You must know."
"I do. Actually, he really had nothing to do with it." This time. "However, it would also be odd if you simply dropped the charges as well. Go on and toss him into the dungeon. He'll need to go with us to Akzeriuth, however."
"Now I really am surprised! You make no secret of your fondness of Dorian General Grants. What else is there?" Neither of them were stupid, but Luke couldn't exactly have Van arrested for crimes he didn't do and had yet to do. Daath would have him out of custody in a heartbeat, anyway. Just a little more time to end this peacefully...
Luke shifted uncomfortably. "I know, but let's just do this for now."
Ingobert nodded and once again sat on his throne. Luke gave him a short wave as she followed her father out of the hall, elated that it went so well...considering. If only everything else could slip neatly into place, but she really doubted that it would.
"There you are!" Ion greeted as they passed through the door. Mohs was gone, but the military man from earlier was still present. He bowed when he saw her father.
"Your Grace, I trust everything is well?"
Duke Fabre gently grasped Luke's arm. "Yes, Alpine, it is. I will see Luke home myself. Susanne is ill and the specialists are waiting. If you and the guards could return to His Majesty until I return?"
"Of course. Please excuse us."
"If it's not too much trouble, I asked to stay in your manor for the night." Ion looked up at the Duke hopefully.
"We will be honored to have such an eminent guest." Now that he wasn't so angry, the Duke took the time to examine the group Luke traveled with. His gaze sharpened slightly when it landed on Jade, but once he noticed Tear it became totally unreadable.
"I hear," he began, "that it was thanks to you that my son was spirited halfway across the world. Which, in turn, led to his current condition."
To her credit, Tear faced him fully and spoke in a clear voice.
"I apologize for all the trouble I've caused." Tear sounded sincere, but the Duke didn't look very impressed.
"You are Van's sister?"
"I have also received a report that you intended to assassinate Van. I realize you are young; however, as someone who serves in the military your conduct was beyond unacceptable. You should thank your superiors. It is only by the grace of His Majesty and the Grand Maestro that you are walking freely. Am I clear?"
Tear bowed. "You have my deepest apologies."
"Hm. Come, Luke. I must return to the castle after I drop you off."
"Yeah, okay." Luke nudged her father and gave him a pointed look. The Duke sighed and turned to Guy.
"I suppose I was too hasty in my judgment. Thank you for bringing Luke home safely."
Guy gaped for a long moment before he quickly stood at attention.
"Thank you, your Grace."
"The Colonel has to stay here, but I'll be by in a bit," Anise told Luke as they passed, "you have fun!"
Luke grinned in response and followed Duke Fabre down the long flight of stairs and out into the sunlight. The mansion was only right next door, less than a minute away, but her father wished to speak with the specialists briefly before Luke saw them. Once they stepped into the entrance hall, he also informed them that General Cecille would be picking Van up at the harbor.
"What was that about?" Guy asked, seeing an opportunity to speak freely now that the small group was alone. The question could have referred to several things that happened recently, but Luke went for the most obvious one.
"They think Master Van conspired to have me kidnapped."
Guys eyes widened. "What? Really? But wasn't that--" He glanced at Tear, who didn't say anything in response. "Anyway, I'm sure it'll get cleared up. Tear, as long as you're here, you should probably apologize to the Lady as well. She probably fell ill because Luke went missing."
Tear winced slightly from guilt and quietly agreed.
"You're right. I'll do that."
"I hope your mother is okay, Luke." Ion said in concern as Luke lead them deeper into the manor.
"Mother's stronger than she looks; besides, Natalia is looking after her." Luke opened the door to the Drawing Room and was nearly bowled over.
"Oh, Luke, look at you!" Natalia examining her closely, pressing her hands gently on Luke's neck before moving to cup her face. "It's true, it's really..."
"Natalia..." Luke didn't know what to say. In everything that's happened she had forgotten about her (which was bad enough), but knowing Natalia's feelings for her, when she was...well, not even Luke to begin with, among other things...
It was awkward. Really, really awkward.
Natalia sighed and gave her a small smile.
"Silly, don't look at me like that. I'm just happy that you're alright."
Luke blinked. "Really?"
"Well, perhaps I am not completely happy about what happened. I'm still rather stunned, to be honest. To see you like this, I..." She took a deep breath and shook her head.
"I know things are weird now, and I know you want answers. Don't worry, alright?"
"I can hardly not worry, Luke! Have you seen the doctors, yet?" Natalia crossed her arms and raised her eyebrow expectantly.
"Oh, um, not yet. I was going to see Mother first. How is she?"
"She is resting right now. She has improved enormously when she heard you reached Baticul safely. After you see her, you will see the doctors, won't you." Her last remark didn't sound very much like a question. Natalia would probably escort Luke herself to make sure she behaved.
'Spend your entire life running from doctors and you're branded.'
"Yes, ma'am, I'll go straight to the specialists and let them poke and prod me."
Natalia sighed and gave her a small smile. "You had better. Oh! Luke, what a darling dress! Isn't that the latest spring fashion?"
"Yeah! We stopped by in Chesedonia to transfer ferries."
"I was thinking of getting one myself in a light blue. How is it?"
"Not bad at all. I was a little surprised. The material is very light, so it's very comfortable--"
Guy coughed. "Ah, perhaps we could have this discussion at some other time?"
"Don't think I've forgotten about you, Guy." Natalia crossed her arms and she looked at him with complete disapproval. "You have some explaining to do, too. I told you to come tell me before you went searching for Luke! Why did you leave without speaking to me?"
She took a step toward him, growing more annoyed when Guy leaped backward and hid behind a pillar.
"You know a servant like me can't get into the castle!" he protested, his arm raised as if to ward her off.
Natalia sighed in exasperation and put her hands on her hips.
"Why are you backing away?"
"You know why!"
"Get used to it. You're so strange. Look at how pathetic you are. I don't know what the maids see in you."
'She speaks the truth. I love her.' Asch was enjoying the scene a bit more than he should have.
"I thought it was because he's handsome," Luke said so Natalia could hear as well. "And he's nice. And he's good with a sword. I can see it." Luke was on the receiving end of another look from Guy and Tear, but Natalia only looked thoughtful.
"Well! I suppose as he's your friend you would think that."
"Oh, yes, I've always thought it. He's certainly nicer looking than the maids." Luke turned to Guy in concern when he began choking.
"Well, if you say so. Oh, and Luke, I'm sorry to hear about Master Van."
"Huh? Oh, yes, his arrest. Well, I'm okay."
Tear frowned. "Then they're going to arrest him?"
"Well, yeah...it's what my father meant earlier about the Brigadier General going down to meet Van. I've already taken care of it."
Natalia had overlooked her entirely earlier, but Tear caught her attention when she spoke.
"Who is this? One of your servant girls?"
"This is Tear, she's Master Van's sister. In any case, I'm going to go see my mother, Natalia. Thanks for looking after her for me. I guess Tear wants to come with me, so, Guy, could you show Ion around? I want to stay with Mother for a while."
"I will pray for her good health," Ion said.
"Thanks." Luke motioned for Tear to follow her out of the Drawing Room.
Luke lead Tear deeper into the manor, down the long hallway that lead to her parents' bedchambers. She knocked briefly on the door before opening it and slipping inside. Susanne was actually sitting up in bed. She had noticeable bags under her eyes, but there was a bit of color to her cheeks. Luke watched as her entire demeanor seemed to come to life the moment her eyes laid on her child. Luke smiled brightly, swearing that she'd never take her mother for granted ever again. Guy and her friends weren't the only ones who deserved better.
"Oh Luke! Is it really you? I was so worried about you!" Susanne didn't care what Luke came back as. Luke unbuckled her weapon and placed it on the nearby chair. She walked over to her mother and carefully wrapped her arms around her. Susanne stiffened briefly in surprise, but she was happily holding her close the next second. Luke grunted in surprise at the strength of her embrace.
'You should be here, you know.' Luke thought. Asch never answered her.
"Let me look at you...have you seen the doctors yet? Are you well?" Her mother smoothed her hair and brushed imaginary dust off her coat.
"I'm fine. I haven't been yet as I wanted to see you first. You look good, Mother."
"When I heard you were coming home safe and sound, I was so thrilled. It's been two months and I was certain you had been kidnapped again..." Susanne trailed off when Tear stepped forward and fell to her knees before her.
"Madame, I beg your forgiveness. I'm the one that involved your son. I tried to strike down my brother without thought to where I was."
"So you are Van's sister, Tear?"
"...I see. You say that what happened this time was not the work of villains pursuing my son?"
"By Lorelei and Yulia, I swear it was not." Luke's lips twitched from Tear's oath. Luckily, neither her mother nor Tear noticed, however. Susanne motioned for Tear to stand and nodded.
"Thank you." Susanne paused for a moment. "Tear, I don't know what's happened between you and Van. I know it's not my place, but please, never again think of striking your own brother. Family fighting family is entirely too sad."
As usual, Tear was difficult to read. If the words had struck a chord within her, it didn't show. Instead, Tear bowed respectfully.
"I am grateful for your kind words."
Susanne smiled warmly at her before she gently squeezed Luke's hands.
"Oh Luke, while I have wanted a daughter as well, I wasn't really expecting this. But, just know that no matter what happens I love you. I know you and your father don't really see eye to eye, but I know he feels the same way. You've come back to me; I'm fine now. Go let everyone see that you've returned."
Luke shook her head and slid to her knees as well. She leaned her head against her mother's lap and let herself relax.
"Let me stay for a while. Everyone can wait."
"I'll see myself out." Tear bowed to Susanne once more and tactfully retreated. Susanne looked delighted as she ran her fingers through Luke's hair. They hadn't done this in years, stopping when Luke deemed himself too big and grown up for it.
This sort of connection was what Lorelei sorely missed during his/her/its stay within the core. Her mother was warm and smelled a bit like the medicines she had to take daily, but they were nearly impossible to detect under her perfume. Her mother had always been weak, and when Ingobert told her about her illness Luke wasn't very surprised. She didn't see her mother dying for a long while yet, anyway.
"Oh, what a darling dress. That's the new spring style, isn't it?"
Luke chuckled and obligingly slipped off her coat so she could get a better look. She tossed it aside and laid her head back against her mother's thigh. Susanne examined it, talking about possibly owning such a dress in a wistful tone of voice (she was technically too old to wear it, although Luke disagreed).
"I've talked to Father, too. Don't worry. I think we'll get along better from now on."
"I'm so glad to hear that! He was very worried while you were gone. Of course, you know how he is. He doesn't like anyone knowing how he's feeling, so I'm afraid he was a bit of a terror the past several weeks."
Oh, Luke could believe it. Like father, like son.
Susanne ran her fingers through her hair once more.
"Now, go and see the doctors. I'll be here."
Luke grumbled a bit but Susanne was insistent. She reluctantly pulled away and stumbled to her feet. Maybe she should get it over with.
Luke had been expecting a lot more fuss and people when she finally got around to the room that was set aside for the examination. Instead, there was only one doctor present, the others having been dismissed by her father earlier. The remaining doctor was an older woman with short, blue hair and bifocals. She gave Luke a once over before ordering her to take her clothes off.
Asch dryly noted that she was attracting far more attention from women now than she ever did as a male.
Dr. Francesca Asholm specialized in women's health and was the best Baticul had to offer. Luke couldn't quite decide if she wanted to be mortified or, well, interested. On the one hand, it made perfect sense to have Dr. Asholm there to make sure everything was fine, but on the other, the woman was prodding places Luke hadn't even prodded yet. Well, it was certainly better than it was before the Dawn Age, where practically every symptom a woman exhibited was credited to hysteria by male doctors.
'Although, honestly, I wouldn't really mind being treated for hysteria--'
'Stop that, you're seven!'
"I was your mother's midwife, you know," Francesca said as she finished her ultrasound. It was one fon machine out of four present in the room, but it was the one that held most of Luke's interest. Well, more specifically, it was using acoustic energy to map surfaces that caught her interest. Perhaps...
"Oh, you were?"
"Yes. It was a difficult birth and you were such a tiny thing. Well, you're perfectly healthy now. Heart rate and blood pressure are normal. I see here...yes, there are no abnormal growths on your breasts or ovaries whatsoever. Would you like for me to speak with you about certain women's issues? You're at that age--"
"Oh, um, not right now." Luke hopped off the table to collect her clothing.
"Are you sure? I'm sure your mother and Princess Natalia would be more than happy to help if you find it uncomfortable to speak with me about it. But I must stress that you take care of it soon." Dr. Asholm began to dispose of her instruments and gave Luke a stern look over her glasses. "We don't know how long this will last, but for safety's sake I'm going to presume that the change is permanent. You do know what that means, don't you?"
"Well, I do..."
"Hm. Well, feel free to come to me for anything. It's getting late and you should get some rest. Try not to worry your mother too badly."
"I'll try, thanks." Luke shook her hand and saw her out the door, slightly worried about what she said. Luke had never really thought of it before, but Dr. Asholm did have a point about those biological issues. It hadn't been a problem before, but now that she had a definite female form...
'Better not think of that too much right about now. I should go ahead and go to bed. It's been an interesting day.'
As Luke headed to her room, she was practically accosted by a maid with a dinner tray. No amount of refusing could get her to go away, and once Luke found out it was from her mother she ended up taking it back to her room. It was nearly dark at this point. Luke spotted the light shining from the crack under her door and felt Guy's frequency a moment after she mentally reached out to check. It was just like him.
Luke opened the door and slipped inside.
He was leaning by her dresser, not daring to sit on her bed even though she had told him she didn't mind several times before. He wasn't supposed to be in her room anyway.
"Hey there. How'd it go?" He straightened when she entered the room and shut the door behind her.
"I'm fine. The doctor didn't see anything wrong. You want some of this?" Luke placed the tray on her bed and unfastened her sword and kicked off her boots. The jacket was next, tossed sloppily onto a chair before she plopped onto her comforter.
"I've already eaten, thanks." Guy rolled his eyes when she pointedly motioned for him to sit. He perched at the end of her bed and wouldn't move closer. He was so tense Luke was surprised his tendons didn't snap. Still, he was trying, and she was glad, so she didn't say anything. "Anyway, I was just checking up on you before I turned in myself. Ion's already settled, and Tear had to head back to the castle to report to Mohs."
"I don't trust that Mohs."
Guy shrugged. "Well, I'm reserving judgment for now. He might actually mean well, and Tear is a staunch defender of his."
"Yeah, I heard. What do you think's going to happen now?"
"I guess things'll go back to normal. Uh, I don't know if you'll be under tighter security now, though."
"Oh, yeah. Well, I won't worry about it." Luke finished off half of her filet mignon before pushing the tray at Guy. "Here, I know you're hungry."
"Haha, I have to admit, I don't mind parts of this new you. How'd you know?"
"Servants can't eat until everyone's been seen to. Even I know that. Go on, I'm full." She snickered when all but tore into what remained of a small loaf of bread.
"I wasn't going to refuse. I was just curious. But I really can't stay long since a maid'll be by soon."
"You said you'd never leave me, right?"
Guy paused in shoveling food down his throat.
"What's this about? I meant every word."
"I just...no matter what happens, right? No matter what I might do?"
"Luke, are you in trouble or something?"
Luke sighed and ran a hand over her face, not unlike the Duke earlier.
"Things are happening, Guy. And I won't be the same person you think I am." She couldn't say more without telling everything. "I just want to make sure."
"I--" Guy was cut off when there was a light knocking on the door.
"That's my cue." Guy gathered up the tray and was at the window in three long strides. "Luke, don't worry so much. It's not like you."
"Yeah, you're right. I'm being stupid. Good night."
The maid knocked again, more insistent this time.
"Master Luke? Are you alright? May I come in?"
"Y-Yeah, it's open." Luke glanced at the window where Guy was and sighed. She would be glad when there wasn't such a need for secrecy.
To be continued...