This is the first chapter of one of those ToA fics that has been in my documents folder for years. Yes, I knew I said I wouldn't post any more ToA fics until I got some of my other incomplete fics done, but I do think that the beginning of this one works well enough as a 'what if' without me having to start posting the chapters that retell the game's plot. Hopefully, like Koheleth and unlike Garden, I won't start posting material for the larger plot before I've got it done despite this vow…
Given the whole thing about memory particles and how seventh fonons are related to people's minds? Especially since replica!Luke and Lorelei's seventh fonons are their minds, and Asch is something of a hybrid, that incorporates the other fonons but is akin enough to use a fonon sentience's power? This 'verse explores the mental effects of this more. There are ten chapters written: sadly, the plot gets kicked off next chapter, so I can't post more until it's done.
I can't post this as part of All For The Want since it's a pregame fic, not a bad ending.
Luke felt empty. Horribly, horribly empty.
"I wish the Commandant wasn't in such a hurry," Dist whined, and normally Luke would have snarled back, but not while he felt like this. "He's so much more tractable between extraction and the next failure. We need to wait a day between each extraction, but I do wish we could extract the data again right after the failure and keep him like this."
"He won't eat or take care of himself like this, and Van wants him alive." Sync was bored and irritated with how long this was taking. "So hurry up and make one that works!"
"This would be so much easier if you would just kidnap Jade for me."
"The emperor's friend? Dream on." Cantabile leaned back in her chair, disguising he weakness with the ease of long practice.. "We know all about your real project, and we'll help you get him when things are further along. If you want Nebilim back, then hurry up and keep your end of the bargain!"
"I'm trying, but this data simply refuses to cooperate."
Data. Calling what they'd taken from him just data? Everything seemed gray, his memories of his home and family washed out, like a painting that had muddy water poured over it. Calling this a replica, a copy? They had torn his heart out and were trying to keep him from getting it back. Without anything to care about, they thought he'd serve the one who did this to him?
He might. It was all gray, and it was hard to remember why he hated Van, even. Hard to hold on to hate and anger, or any emotion. Why wouldn't Dist hurry up!
"Well, here goes." Dist didn't think this would work either.
He could feel the seventh fonons pour out of the machine, others swirling around them, and after so long it had become a reflex more vital than breathing to use his own fonons to reach out, touch, and feel his missing piece, his soul, pour back into him. See the world flash into color, passion and anger and love for his family and relief and success that he'd prevented them from doing this to him again. Perhaps even joy, or as close as he'd come to it for so very long now.
"Son of a…" Cantabile. "He's doing it on purpose!" In a flash, the god-general had him by the throat.
"What do you mean?" Dist floated over in that chair that so needed smashing.
"I may not have a real fon master's powers, but I was watching his face this time and I felt him just reach out and grab all the fonons! Damn it! It's your fault this is taking so long!" Cantabile shook him. Not yet! She wouldn't die until this worked, miasma take it!
Luke grinned. On the one hand, he'd been caught and they'd know what they had to prevent now. On the other, there was so much satisfaction in seeing their faces as they realized their helpless victim had been sabotaging them all along. Now that he was complete he had the energy to spit on Sync's mask.
"What a naughty boy." Although Dist sounded somewhat impressed. Not that he wanted Dist's admiration. "Let's try knocking him out until the replica stabilizes tomorrow, hmm? And if that doesn't work, a fon slot seal should."
"No, the first few times he was unconscious after the extraction. I'll go requisition a seal right now, and report to Van." Cantabile hurried. Not much time left, and she wanted to die knowing that there was hope, that a new world could be made, that everything that happened to her and Hod had meant something. Damn that boy!
Damn it! With his fon slots sealed, he wouldn't be able to reach out. They'd returned to him in his sleep before, yes, but if they couldn't get into his body, then, then…
Then the world would stay grey, and all he'd have to cling to would be the embers of his anger, the remains of his love for his family and Natalia… "No!" He tried to go after Sync, but the chains stopped him short. "No!"
His protests, his begging, pleading, crying, hadn't stopped them before, and he knew when he woke up and the world had gone grey and colorless, neither his fonons nor the world's in his sealed sight, that Van had won. The man's self-satisfied expression was redundant. "You put up quite a fight."
"You would too, if someone kept ripping your heart out of your chest." So hard, to muster up even that show of anger.
"I saved your life. The replica will die in your place at Akzeriuth. Until then, your family and Natalia will have no idea that you're gone. You can stay here and train to fight the score until your death sentence is lifted and you can return, if you want to return to the people that deliberately sent what they thought was you to its death."
"You think I'd stay with you, after what you've done to me?" He could only glare. "You're insane."
"I did it for your sake, Luke. Your father and uncle made no effort to prevent your death, in fact they knowingly engaged Natalia to you so that when you died and they claimed Malkuth had done it she would mourn you and help rally the people. Your mother and Natalia were the only ones who cared for you, and they've been utterly taken in by that replica. They won't suspect a thing until it's all over, and if you return home before news reaches them about Akzeriuth then they won't have to mourn you."
"Liar." Although what part of it wasn't true?
"Since you're so worried, I'll let you go home and see for yourself that they're happy with your substitute and you aren't needed." Van's show of caring about Asch's love for his family was only a show, Asch could see that with the love he had once had for his teacher stripped away like everything else good in the world. That was why it was so hard to be angry. Without understanding what he'd lost it was hard to be angry at losing it. Without feeling the bond he'd thought he and Van had shared it was hard to feel betrayed.
He had to get home, he needed to feel, or else he'd cling to anything that created any emotion in all this gray, even his worst enemy, even the one who had done this to him.
Perhaps it was that grayness that let him realize what he would do to escape it. That made him realize the control that Van could claim over him. That made him able to see the person who had been far more a father to him than the one who had raised him to be sacrificed as nothing but enemy, target, something in the way.
Van had to die. And empty as he was, murderous rage, the sadness at the thought of losing him, the love turned to betrayal and hate? They were better than nothing. He'd been trapped for so long, almost helpless, he needed to fight back.
When Van unshackled him after Luke nodded his assent, he sprang at him.
He knew it wouldn't work, of course. He was unarmed, he'd lost almost all of his muscle, the gray had crept into his limbs as well as his mind, and he was under a fon slot seal.
But at least being slammed to the ground, at least the pain was something.
Van had clearly expected Luke's attack. When he bent over to help him up and give him another of those lying speeches he clearly didn't expect Luke to go for that neck with hands and teeth. He was knocked away again, but he'd made the bastard bleed, even if only a drop and it was quickly healed.
Vicious satisfaction was another emotion. He let himself smile at it, at feeling the gray drowned out by red, if only for a few precious instants. "I'm going to kill you, you bastard. I'm going to tear you apart." No exclamation now because he saw no need to waste the energy. Everything was focused on Van's body, memories of training and vulnerable points rushing back, everything focused on the taste of that blood and the hunger for it.
Van seemed thrown off balance: something he hadn't expected? How wonderful, and Luke found himself laughing. It had been so long since he'd laughed! He circled Van, searching hungrily for openings and thrilling at the look on his face. "You think I'm insane? Well, isn't that the pot calling the kettle black." He laughed again, because it felt so good and hearing it made Van flinch more than the wound had. "Didn't predict this, did you? You are Yulia's descendant, aren't you. So self-righteous, plotting out everyone's future to suit your own vision of how things should be no matter how many people suffer and die? I bet she'd be proud of you, Van. So," and he saw the cracks appear, "very," and Van was angry now, truly angry, oh yes, "proud."
The sword running through his side, oh. It was insane to enjoy it, but it was a feeling, one born from hurting the one that did this to him, and with his memories faded away he couldn't think of anything that had ever felt better.
He came to and stayed that way outside Baticul, and the fon slot seal seemed to have worn off a bit. He wondered how long it had taken them to get him here, since he had scattered memories of doing his best to kill anyone within sight or get them in sight if he was in a locked cell every time he'd woken up. He'd heard of berserkers, of course, but the idea made beautiful sense now.
His head was still fuzzy: they'd drugged him. It added to the gray, but at least being able to sense fonons again, if only dimly, made it bearable. Well, he was here. He could go home, take back what was his, and tell them what Van had done. What he was trying to do. Trying to overturn the score? The whole world would hunt him down for it.
But he wanted him dead now, and he would have gone looking if something hadn't… If he hadn't felt something.
He went home.
They'd cleaned him up and put him in suitable clothing, so he was able to get to the upper levels with the assistance of the air of 'stay out of my way or I'll have you executed, peons' that he wore like a cloak. He had a mission, he had the right to go where he was, and everything between him and it was dust beneath his feet.
Maybe he should have felt relief that he was home now, and safe, but even the sight of his home didn't really matter except that he was getting closer. He went right though the front door, the guards too startled to challenge him as he walked right past them.
His family, his best friend, even Natalia: they were just background, faded by the gray.
What he saw, the first thing in living color he'd seen since being thrown into the gray walls of that dungeon, the only thing that moved him since the final loss but Van's blood, was himself.
Not himself. His heart. Happy, loving the ones Luke had once loved, laughing. Carefree and bright. Luke's skin had paled and his hair had darkened after spending so long without sunlight, so long in the cold. The replica, although that was not what he was at all, his eyes sparkled, his skin had started to tan just a bit, his hair was golden at the tips, like Rem the sun itself come down to Auldrant.
And he smiled at Luke.
It was like waking up from a nightmare, and he clung to him the way he'd clung to his mother after nightmares what seemed like so long ago. He clung tight enough his heart made a small sound of unhappiness at the pain, but his heart wouldn't go back into his chest the way it had before. He would have cried at the rejection, he might even have started to, but his heart looked at him, so warm and concerned and caring and then he cried. Relief, joy, they overflowed as color flowed back into the world, as the night of his despair ended, as light dawned.
So bright, so precious… "No," he answered a question, one of the ones that had dimly registered. "He's the real Luke. The true Light of the Sacred Flame." They must have gotten through to this pure, innocent, infant that Luke was his name, since he grinned with delight to hear the one who clutched him like something so precious say it.
But who was he then, the once-Luke wondered. His heart had been pulled out of his chest, his light taken away. Nothing but ashes left, but he felt like he'd been brought back to life, rekindled, now that he held his heart. What was ancient Ispanian for hearth, the bed of ashes that held the sacred flame? Why bother with anything fancy? "Asch."
He wanted to just sit here and hold him, but Luke wanted to play and didn't like that the other nice people were being left out and feeling unhappy, especially since trying to leave them out of the game was also making Asch unhappy. He could feel Luke's unhappiness, and that dimming of the light was unbearable. So, fortified by the smiling warmth that leaned against his chest, he was able to look away from it and face the world he was once again part of.
The general premise of this thing has been done, but I like examining the slight differences, the deviations from the Score and from general clichés and tropes and such. Go read Reflections by Dark Angel Mya, if you haven't already, if you find yourself craving more of a 'verse like this. It's one of the best fics for this game there is, along with Nezach.
Apparently there's something in the manga or whatever that gave Cantabile some characterization. I have not gotten my hands on this thing. I needed a god-general that wasn't Van or Dist, and all the others were ruled out by age or when they actually joined the Order. I considered using Legretta, but trying to figure out what she would have been like in this situation (if this is even after her brother died at all) was difficult, so I basically wrote something vaguely like game!Legretta and stuck Cantabile's name on her.