Disclaimer: Tales of the Abyss and its characters are copyright Namco Bandai Games Inc. This work is not for profit.

Luke hated the number ten thousand.

It wasn't an intense kind of hatred – not the flaring, burning hatred that would gnaw constantly at the inside of his chest – but quieter. Quiet enough that he sometimes thought he had forgotten about it entirely, but then it would show up again unexpectedly, and it was hatred nonetheless.

It was the kind of hatred that made him flinch, if just a little, every time the number was mentioned. He didn't think the others noticed – other than Jade, anyway; he was pretty sure that Jade noticed because Jade noticed everything – and it was fine by him to keep it that way. They didn't need to know. They had enough to worry about already without adding his dislike of a stupid number to their plates.

Oddly enough, it had started in one of the more innocent places their journey had taken them: the royal library in Baticul. Natalia had been off talking with Uncle about something, he couldn't recall what, and he'd been browsing aimlessly through the bookshelves while he waited. Only half focused on what he was doing, he'd stumbled across a census record. He hadn't thought much of it, but had been mildly interested and pulled it off the shelf.

He only made it halfway down the first page – city populations – before he stopped.

The Mining Town, Akzeriuth: 10,000

He'd stood there, hands frozen to the book's covers as the number glared at him from the page. Ten thousand.

Over his seven years at the manor, he hadn't focused much on book knowledge. There'd been too many basics to relearn – to learn, really – for him to be overly concerned about academics. Consequently, he'd never known exactly how many people had died at Akzeriuth. How many lives he had taken.

Ten thousand.

He'd closed the book softly, but the sound of the front and back snapping together echoed in his ears as he pushed it back onto the shelf. Guy had made a comment later that day about Luke not being himself, but Luke had just brushed it off and eventually it blended into the other days of their journey until it was forgotten.

But Luke didn't forget. The number had haunted him ever since.

It haunted him whenever he caught sight of the place that had once been Akzeriuth from the glass-domed cockpit of the Albiore. It haunted him when they led the people of Engeve across the battlefield to safety and he met the woman whose husband and son had perished in Akzeriuth's destruction. It haunted him when he saw something as simple as a ten thousand Gald price tag on a bow in some shop along their way.

And it haunted him when he stopped Jade outside the Fon Machine Lab in Belkend and asked him about destroying the miasma with hyperresonance, and he'd found out that the cost would be the lives of ten thousand Seventh Fonists.

Jade had told him to forget it. Luke hadn't been able to. The entire conversation had left a bitter taste on his tongue that no amount of food or drink could wash away. He had to do something about the miasma. He didn't want to sacrifice anyone to do it. Let alone ten thousand.

And on top of that, it wasn't just ten thousand. Someone needed to cause the hyperresonance. And thanks to the recoil from the hyperresonance, that someone would have to die.

Ten thousand Seventh Fonists, and one who could use hyperresonance.

Not just ten thousand. Ten thousand and one.

Hating the number ten thousand was bad enough. He didn't want to think about the one, the one who would have to die and take the ten thousand with him. He didn't want to think about it because he knew – it had just been a shadow at first, lingering at the back of his mind, and as time went on it grew until he was left without a shadow of a doubt – that he was the one.

He'd already taken ten thousand lives once, and it was the biggest regret of his short-lived life. Choosing to do so again felt so wrong he couldn't put it into words. And that wasn't even all of it.

What disgusted him was that he found himself hating the number one almost as much as he hated ten thousand, if not more. He wasn't ready to die; he didn't want to die. He was asking ten thousand people to do something he didn't want to do himself. He was going to do it anyway. He did do it anyway.

The ten thousand disappeared, and the miasma along with them. But the one survived.

The one wasn't supposed to survive. The one wasn't supposed to survive at Akzeriuth, and the one wasn't supposed to survive at the Tower of Rem. But both times, the one survived.

Luke didn't want to die, but sometimes he hated himself for surviving.

Why did he survive? Why was he allowed to keep on living? The ten thousand were gone, just like that, at his hand. And he lived on.

He lived on, but he was going to die. He knew that now. It was just a matter of time. He wanted to keep on living. He didn't want to die. He deserved to die at least twice over – once for the ten thousand citizens of Akzeriuth, once for the ten thousand replicas at the Tower of Rem – but he didn't want to die. It repulsed him, in a way. But in those moments that he managed to push past hating himself for it, he knew that he wanted to live on not just for himself, but for them too. Those two ten thousands had given their lives, willingly or not, and he would honor their sacrifice with the rest of the life they'd left him.

And for the rest of that life, Luke knew he would never be able to hear the number ten thousand without it giving him pause. But he didn't want to keep on hating it. Instead of flinching with guilt and shame, he would stop and remember and rededicate himself to that goal. It had taken him a long time to realize it, but he knew now what he needed to do.

In order to stop hating the ten thousand, he first needed to stop hating the one.