Van's head is a scary place.
Consider Hod. Yes, Van is not sane. It is not possible to get out of something like that alive without a few screws being loosened to void the pressure at minimum. Not to mention that in the society we see in Hod's traditions suicide would have very likely been the right thing to do, either in the Asian tradition of self-execution or the European tradition of going on a Crusade or some such thing and getting oneself killed in a noble cause (what Van is doing). Combat training always contains some form of moral instruction, so Van is probably where Luke and Asch got their own suicidal tendencies when it comes to atonement.
Lorelei in-game gets way too little screen time, but there are some key things. One is that his voice sounds quite old and weary, the tendency to use old-style language reinforcing that. Another is that while he asks Luke and Asch to rescue him from Van he still goes to heal Van even though he knows what Van will do, and he sounds… struggling, yet hopelessly, in that conversation. There's also the final conversation with Luke, in which we find out that Lorelei really didn't believe that overturning the Score without Eldrant was possible.
And, of course, Lorelei is responsible for the Score, which has led to so many unhappy memories and Lorelei is a being composed of memory, among other aspects. If he hasn't spent the past two thousand years guilt-tripping like crazy… There's also that Van was able to 'suppress' Lorelei without singing the hymn that time, and given their power differentials?
The most powerful being in the gameverse, and he's playing the role of helpless victim, essentially. This fic explores some of that.
Disclaimer: I don't own Tales of the Abyss, Namco-Bandai and other rightful owners do. No infringement intended or money made.
Edit: Oh, for crying out loud… I looked over the rest of the fic, but somehow the horrible prose in the first scene in this chapter escaped me. That's how my writing gets when my condition acts up and my brain does not have enough oxygen. Ugh, that was terrible! I fixed the worst of it.
To think he would die here, and at the hands of the replica! Van staggered backwards, entranced by the irony. Deviations were as nothing before the Score, he knew that, but there had been no mention of this! No, surely the other god-generals would be able to complete Eldrant without him, they had to or the Score would survive and humanity would die. In the end, this wouldn't change anything.
If he died here he would no longer have to bear that guilt. Yet, to die without having accomplished his purpose! He couldn't bear that.
The replica was so much like him at this age, hopelessly naïve and wanting to believe that it was possible to save lives. Luke clung to life hopelessly in defiance of the score. He even wanted Van to live. Luke was leaning forward, wanting to take that final step to reach out and pull him back from the abyss… That was it. That was one final blow he could strike against the Score's addicts, against this corrupt and dying world. With Luke gone Asch might still be swayed to his side, help destroy the Score in his memory, or at least raise Eldrant so that some would survive, because without the replica they wouldn't be able to lower the lands safely.
With what remained of his strength Van steadied his footing and lunged forward, just far enough to grab the foolish replica's wrist. Then, laughing, he threw himself down into the core.
"Luke!" Mystearica and Gailardia ran to the edge, reaching for Luke as Luke had come too close to reaching for Van, but it was too late. Luke reflexively tried to strike, but Van knocked the boy's sword away, sending it flying and leaving both of them unarmed. They could do nothing but look over the edge as their friend and their enemy fell away.
"Damn him!" The necromancer had realized why Van had done that, but it was too late for him to do anything either.
"Guy, Tear!" Luke called, but there was nothing anyone could do.
Soon they were out of sight, and Luke's hand fell back to his side, clenched into a fist. "Master Van, why?" He didn't look at his (former) teacher or try to strike a blow, eyes closed and shoulders hunched in misery, determinedly not crying.
"Because the Score must be destroyed, even if the cost is all of Auldrant, as the Score itself tells us." The fight seemed to have gone out of Luke. After all, they were both falling to inevitable doom, adrift in the core's fonons until they died. Luke had never wanted to fight him. Van doubted the replica had enough control to use his hyperresonance to get them both out of here, and if he did then he would take Van with him: there was no point in trying to speed up their deaths.
They were both doomed, and Luke was trying so hard not to cry. "You wanted to save them," Van knew. "Luke, do not blame yourself. The Score made their deaths inevitable. You could not have prevented Akzeriuth, and you could not have prevented Auldrant sinking into the miasma."
His shoulders untensed a little, the pain lessening a bit. Van had raised Mystearica, and this one as well. He'd created Luke, and Luke had accomplished his purpose in destroying Akzeriuth, at least. If they were both doomed, then the least he could do was comfort a dying child. There was no point in being angry with the replica. Van tugged the arm he held until Luke's shoulder was in range and managed to pull Luke against his chest.
"Master Van?" Luke asked quietly, hesitantly.
"I hadn't expected you to defeat me. You exceeded my expectations."
Luke pressed his face against Van's robes, hiding it. His shoulders shook a little, losing the battle to hold back his tears. "I'm sorry…" What did he think he was apologizing for?
"Don't apologize for winning a battle, Luke. We both fought for what we believe in. It… it took resolve for you to fight me. Do not lose it now." He stroked the replica's hair as he had Mystearica's when she missed their mother.
"I didn't want to fight you, I didn't, but I couldn't let you…" The tears were flowing now, although the sobbing was barely audible. Luke had always had a high pain tolerance even before they'd begun training. He'd said that it hurt less than his headaches did when Van had broken one of the boy's fingers disarming him. It hadn't entirely been an accident, but he'd been shamed into not taking out the anger he had at the fon Fabre family on the child. He'd had to pretend approval to win Asch's loyalty and then regain it after the kidnapping.
It had worked: Asch had stayed with him until he'd found out about Eldrant. Van had used Luke's nature to manipulate Asch for too long: he should have known better than to think that Asch could accept the idea of replacing everyone with a replica.
How long would they drift here? Sync was still alive, if barely, and it had been some time. The seventh fonons here (in Lorelei's cage) would keep the two of them alive indefinitely. Perhaps he could train Luke in how to use his hyperresonance and use that to escape this place. Or… Once the world sunk surely the god-generals could finish his work. He pet Luke's hair soothingly and debated snapping his neck to put the child out of his misery quickly and painlessly. Weak as he was Luke could kill him far more easily. It was such an effort to stay awake, he'd run himself ragged getting to this point and then he'd lost the fight. Van had waited here for Asch, planning to use him to adjust the planet storm and speed up the fall of Auldrant, but instead it had been the replica and his followers. Where was Asch, he wondered.
Well, at least he could put Luke to sleep as he had Mystearica. "Shush, Luke. The battle is over, there is no reason for us to have to fight anymore." If they did get out of here, then perhaps he would have Luke's loyalty when it was over. If Asch couldn't be salvaged, his replacement would just have to do. He began to sing the first fonic hymn.
Then he smiled, realizing something. The Grand Fonic Hymn! Symbol of Yulia's pact with Lorelei. Lorelei was supposed to answer it and aid Yulia's descendants, if they could sing it correctly. Their mother hadn't been willing to, her death had been Scored.
Luke quieted before the second verse was finished, choking breaths evening off into peaceful slumber as fonons gathered around them.
It wasn't until he finished the fifth that Van realized that Luke was starting to glow, the fonons entering his body. At the end of the sixth wings burst from Luke's back, six of them. When the hymn itself was complete red-gold eyes opened and looked up at Van. Of course: a perfect isofon of Lorelei must make a perfect host.
Wordlessly, Luke's tentative grip turned into a sure hold as Lorelei spread those wings and flew upwards against the current of the planet storm. Then it paused.
Hey, replica! Why haven't you started yet!
Of course it's me! What the hell are you doing! Get to work, you dreck, I can't do all of this myself and it's your job!
Master Van… Oh, yes, Luke had to lower the lands. That was urgent, There…
What the? Asch stared as the commands Van had given and the brute-force overrides Luke had engraved were swept away and the system began to function normally, registering and obeying commands appearing seemingly from nowhere. That's not…Not the commands the replica's group had given the sephiroth but it looked like they would actually work better. How did you do that? How could the replica work the sephiroth better than Van, even?
…that's how you do it. That was how the trees were supposed to work. Thank you for… reminding me. Oh. Master Van pulled me down into the core after we defeated him. He sang hymns and now I feel strange. Please, tell the others! I'm, I'm slipping again. The gold he'd woken up from was subsuming everything again. It was warm, and pretty, and right. He wanted to help Master Van, it was his duty as his student to, and also as…Here! He threw something to Asch, knowing that for some reason he had to.
There was no answer except a warp to the Absorption Gate appearing on his right.
"Luke?" The gold had drained away there for a few seconds, as though Luke was waking up from a dream and regaining control of his body back from Lorelei. When he heard Van's voice the gold returned, but instead of the entire eye being solid gold there were now whites and pupils.
"Yes?" The tone was dreamlike, more sung than spoken.
"Are you Luke, or Lorelei?"
"I am both, and I am neither."
"Long ago, the seventh fonon was discovered and a war began over who would control it. That war was won by your ancestress, Yulia Jue. She created a history, a memory of the planet's past and future, born of her hopes and fears. That is Lorelei, Memory of Auldrant. Eight years ago, as Yulia bade you, you set out to create a new scion of the seventh fonon, a blank slate upon which new memories could be written and new paths chosen, a future that could not be foretold. That is Luke, Hope of Eldrant." As Van digested this, the creature continued. "Both are manifestations of the sentience of the seventh fonon, but both have been shaped into very different people."
"And you are?"
"Currently, both exist. Your hymn drew the bound spirit Lorelei into the vessel of the free spirit Luke. Lorelei must obey your commands, bound by the Score. Luke has free will. As Luke wishes for your happiness, your Hymn and intent were able to lull him into sleep. Lorelei must obey your commands as Yulia bound him, but Luke must follow his heart as you created him. I am the… compromise between them."
"Will you help me bring about Eldrant?"
"Lorelei must assist you. Luke cannot let you bear the burden of any more deaths. Choose the things you ask of me wisely, Vandesdelca. Only the fact that Luke wishes to be at your right hand, to help you as much as he can lets Lorelei keep him asleep. Order him to do something he will not, and he will not follow that order any more than Eldrant would follow the Score."
"Luke truly has free will?"
"That was what you intended, was it not? Of course a replica world composed of the seventh fonon must contain a sentience of the fonon. Of course a isofon of the pure seventh fonon itself, a scion of Lorelei, would be such a sentience. Or did you simply do as Yulia foretold without asking why?"
"I had a reason, but it was a different reason." Distance was hard to tell here, but it looked like they weren't moving. "Can you use hyperresonance to bring me to the Island of Feres?"
"In a moment," Lorelei answered. "It is not safe right now. We must stay here until the land has finished lowering."
"What? They lowered the land without Luke?" Damn! "Asch must have succeeded."
"Asch was not the one to lower it. He used hyperresonance to ask Luke why he was not doing his duty, and awoke him long enough that Luke was able to access Lorelei's knowledge of the sephiroth to accomplish that task before he was lulled back into sleep."
Short red hair framing golden eyes, wings coming out the sides of a torn coat so that Luke's coattails almost looked like a fourth pair: both Luke and not. Van needed to remember that.
"Luke would rather the hope of Eldrant's creation die, and him with it, than see your hands stained with any more blood," Lorelei warned him again. "If he is awakened he will fight you again."
"If Eldrant becomes impossible Luke will die?" That might provide leverage.
"Luke is the avatar of the infinite possibilities of Eldrant. If Eldrant becomes impossible and they no longer exist then Luke's existence will also become impossible. He is the future, Vandesdelca, not a relic of the past, unlike Lorelei."
"If Luke dies will Eldrant fail?"
"Luke will not die unless Eldrant fails." That was some comfort. "No matter how dire the situation there will always be hope for survival, and he is that hope." A warning, now. "But you wished Eldrant to be free of the sins of the past, a world where there would never be another Hod, another Akzeriuth. Be careful, Vandesdelca, not to stain the innocence you wish for more than you already have. At least he will always have the power to destroy his old self and break free of his past… but he might not always wish to."
"What does that mean?"
"You are his father, Vandesdelca. You are a part of his past he may not wish to break free of. That is both to your advantage and not." Lorelei's eyes closed. "But speaking of you interests him, and he might wake to see if you are alright. The island of Feres, is that what you desire? The land is lowered now."
"Yes, right away."