Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Namco or anyone who hold rights to Tales of the Abyss. It isn't mine, I'm just playing with it.
Spoiler Warning: Up to the search for Spinoza, with just the hint of a few smatterings of bits and pieces from later on to add flavor.
A soft, choked sob behind them prevented any possible reply from Jade as Natalia shakily sank to her knees amidst the group. Tears started to drip down her cheeks, though she didn't seem to notice them at all, her attention focused solely on the broken, silent pair before them. She hadn't been expecting... this. There had been the resigned concern that Luke had managed to get himself scraped up again from yet another disaster, but that was par for the course with him. But Asch, Asch had always seemed so strong and determined, and so confident, almost untouchable at times. He did not get into trouble unless he was going to be the one to finish it. But he was just one person, just one single person. He couldn't do everything, no one could. She remembered an old tutor telling her that once long ago. An apt enough lesson for the naive child she had been. It was funny how those old, foolish seeming childhood lessons could be confirmed so harshly by the world around them, and always at the worst of times. It just... wasn't right.
Guy grimaced painfully as he knelt down beside her. This was entirely his fault. He shouldn't have forced the issue with Ion, but he had been so desperate to prove to himself that Luke was all right, or would be all right after a stern talking to. He hadn't really considered the possibility that there might be more to his disappearance than some spur of the moment decision to go race off and save the world. Well, to be fair, he had apparently run off to go save someone, if this could be called "saving". Guy flicked his gaze over to the pair before averting it again. He didn't... like it. Shaking his head, he grasped Natalia's shoulder comfortingly and offered her his hand, for once not even realizing just what exactly it was that he was doing. "Come on, Princess," then shook his head again as he corrected himself, "No, I'm sorry, Natalia, please, let's go outside for a bit, all right?"
"No," Natalia said forcefully as she reached up and wiped harshly at her face, frowning darkly to herself at how quickly her gloves soaked through. She wouldn't give in to hysterics, not now, not ever, especially when those whom she loved so dearly were in need of aid. "Do not concern yourself with my state, there are far more pressing matters at hand."
Jade absently nodded his unspoken agreement at those words, heeding the others only in the vaguest of sense. His faculties were better suited to figuring out the mystery of the luminescent pair. The others were more than well equipped enough to deal with their own emotional fallout. Asch and Luke's intriguing problem was a much more suitable focus for his attention. He did not doubt Ion's pronouncement, though he had been sorely tempted to argue that if time had stopped for the two within this hyper resonance oddity then the blood would have remained as fresh as the moment it had been shed. But that would have been counterproductive to the task at hand, for he was quite certain that neither of them were dead. Yet. It did, however, appear as if time itself was the actual problem though, or to be more precise, the difference between his time and theirs.
Reaching forward tentatively, Jade blinked curiously as his hand ran into a solid seeming surface the instant it encountered the light. Frowning minutely, he rapped his knuckles against it and was rewarded by several rather discordant thunks. A barrier, and by all appearances it was made entirely out of seventh fonons. How interesting. "Tear, come here please," he requested, gesturing pointedly beside him to indicate where exactly he wanted her.
Tear gracefully folded her legs under her as she seated herself beside the colonel. She was rather glad that he had called for her, it meant that she could do something instead of standing around and trying her best to not visibly fret. "What do you need me to do?" she asked calmly, determined to help and not allow her emotions to become a hindrance. But on the inside, on the inside she felt like she was teetering on the precipice of a total breakdown.
Jade smiled tightly. He welcomed her willingness to do what he asked of her so readily, but he also recognized that even she was nearing her breaking point. But he did not doubt that she would do what was required of her before allowing herself to descend into any self-imposed emotional maelstrom. Out of them all and asides from himself, she had exhibited the most stable level headedness throughout their journey. Well, as long as something cute wasn't involved, and even then she could usually shake herself out of it. Still, regardless, she would never allow herself to fail in helping her friends, and he was counting on that. With his smile turning almost apologetic, Jade took ahold of her arms and swiftly stripped off her gloves before guiding her hands up to the light. "I want you reach in, carefully now, and tell me what you feel."
Tear nodded hesitantly, then leaned forward and pushed against the eerie golden glow. "It's soft... and warm," she murmured, "They're all seventh fonons, that's why you wanted my help," a gentle smile then at the realization, "it feels... fluffy," and cute, she added in her mind, "...safe." And then it stopped and she could almost say later that it felt like a door slammed shut in her mind, a barrier had formed -reformed- and it was forcibly pushing her back out. "Not welcome... get out... go away," she whispered, not even realizing that she was still speaking as she looked at Luke and realized that his eyes weren't closed anymore. They were open to slits, glaring dangerously at her, no longer a friendly, familiar green, but an otherworldly glimmering gold that promised dire consequences if she did not leave, and leave quickly. "Luke?"
"That will be enough I think," Jade said quickly as he grabbed her hands and yanked them away from the light's reach. "It appears as if we will have to try another tactic."
"But, I don't understand," Tear mumbled in pure confusion as she watched Luke's eyes slide shut once more now that the perceived threat had departed from close proximity. "Why would Luke-"
"Ah, therein lies the problem," Jade stated blandly as he reached up and rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "That was not Luke."
"Not Luke?" Guy demanded in growing exasperation. How could Jade act so calm when something or someone was obviously possessing Luke, doing Score knows what to him? "Was it Asch then?"
"Of course not," Jade replied as he looked up at Guy, just the slightest hint of irritation lingering at the corners of his mouth. "It's something else entirely." Tilting his head to the side in further deliberation, he gave voice to his train of thought so that the others might possibly be able to follow along with what he was getting at. "A built in survival mechanism buried in the seventh fonim? An instinct perhaps? Interesting. Is it just part and parcel with hyper resonance or is it more? And what purpose guides it? Hmm."
"I don't understand," Ion spoke up finally, his voice soft, but with a trace of puzzlement. "I can get through the light just fine, why can't the rest of you? What's the difference?"
"The difference, Fon Master," Jade explained readily enough, "Is that you are safe."
Jade smiled in mild amusement as the others blinked blankly at him. "It is really very simple," he clarified, "Ion is safe to it because Luke came here before it took control."
"But," Guy stammered as he looked down helplessly at the pair, "We're his friends."
"Of course we are, but we were not here," Jade rationalized as he reached up and adjusted his glasses out of habit, "It doesn't recognize us, most likely doesn't even realize who Ion is other than the fact that he was Luke's final destination. He is sanctuary, he is safe. We are not. It is that simple."
"Well, we can't let them stay like that," Anise burst out, finally having her fill of being silent and unobtrusive. She knew that it was best to just let Jade go when he got on one of his brainstorms, but even she got irritated after one too many cryptic responses. "I mean, come on, the living statue routine is going to get real old real fast. So what do we do to get them out?"
"Ah, I'm glad you asked," Jade remarked mischievously as he almost beamed up at the former Guardian who was now looming over him menacingly with her hands upon her hips. "The solution is also simple, but time consuming. We must lull them into a false sense of security so that we may extricate Asch from Luke, once the connection is broken the phenomenon should fade."
"It's hardly false," Natalia pointed out.
"My dear princess," Jade sighed in mock aggravation, "The return of pain would belie that."
"Oh," Natalia murmured as she realized what he was getting at and sadly dropped her gaze to her lap. Pain was certainly not synonymous with safe, not by any stretch of the word.
"So how are we going to be lulling it, them, whatever?" Anise wondered as she glared down at Jade skeptically.
"We will not be doing anything, other than gathering supplies, of course," Jade explained as he climbed to his feet, brushing off his knees absently before straightening up. "Tear will be doing most of the work."
"I will?" Tear asked in incredulous surprise. "No offense, colonel, but you did notice just how well he, it liked me a minute ago, didn't you?"
"Yes, Tear, I did," Jade grinned down at her, showing teeth and sending a little shiver of unease up her spine at the scheming glint in his eyes, "But that time you weren't singing."
"Singing?" Tear parroted, completely stupefied now as to where Jade was going with this.
"Yes, Tear, you will be singing a great deal in the next few hours." Jade's grin turned almost predatory as he added, "But I'm sure that you can handle it."
"The hymns?" Tear murmured as things started to connect together in her mind. Did he really want her to sing the hymns nonstop until they could pry Asch away from Luke? That would certainly rank up there as one of the oddest ways for her to use them, and would it even work? She didn't actually know all of them, though she hoped to one day.
"Exactly," Jade replied, pleased that she was quickly catching on to his plan, "These are seventh fonons, it stands to reason that something connected to them as intimately as the Hymns of Lorelei were would work best. Don't you agree?"
"I suppose..." Tear trailed off doubtfully as she touched her lips nervously and studied the glowing pair. That not-Luke had rattled her more than she cared to admit. She'd rather not risk another confrontation with him, or rather it, but if her singing of the hymns was the only way to get them free of it then she would just have to deal with it. Nodding determinedly to herself, she looked back up at the still disturbingly amused colonel. Did he always have to be so incredibly creepy at the most inappropriate of moments? "All right, but I'll need peace and quiet to concentrate properly for such an extended length of time. You'll all have to go... away for a bit." She waved her hand vaguely in the direction of the door.
"What shall we do then?" Natalia asked in weary resignation as she gratefully accepted Guy's help to get on her feet.
"Well, I suppose I could always go harass Grand Maestro Mohs," Jade mused for a moment, then shook his head, "No, for the most part we will be gathering supplies, bandages, needle and thread, no doubt, and a few other things," he frowned darkly down at Asch's telling state, "I'm afraid that it appears as if we will need to work fast once you are done separating them."
"Yes, it does," Tear said softly as she glanced sadly over the bloody God-General. Stopping the bleeding would be difficult enough on its own even with her abilities to heal, and there really was no telling what other wounds there were that were lurking just beneath the surface. What in the world had happened to him?
"Well," Anise piped up as she headed towards the door, "I guess I'll be the one to get the bandages and other medical junk you'll be needing. I'm much better at sneaking around places than the rest of you guys are and I actually know where to go without raising suspicions."
"I'm afraid suspicions are probably already raised," Ion muttered unhappily as he followed after Anise, "People will certainly be curious about why the Fon Master dragged so many people up to his private rooms, and once they find out who you all are, well, I don't think I need to tell you just how fast gossip can work its way through Daath."
"I'm more concerned about what Grand Maestro Mohs might be up to," Jade said pointedly, his eyes watching Ion's possible reactions with interest.
"He's... busy," Ion stammered, unsure of whether he should bring up the other unpleasant discovery from earlier in the day. They had enough to worry about as it was without having the entire results of the ordeal thrust upon them all at once.
"Busy doing what?" Jade prodded further.
Ion sighed unhappily at that question. Of course the colonel would insist on getting a complete answer when he was doing his level best to avoid it. "He's investigating the scene of an attempted murder."
"I see," Jade nodded, looking as if he had already known what Ion's reply would be. Then again, he was always like that so there really was no telling whether it was an act or whether he actually did, in fact, know everything. "So it happened here in Daath then?"
"Yes, it did," Ion murmured and hung his head. He could still see the bloody rope swinging in the breeze, the blood splattered all over the ground below. He didn't want to remember that, seeing Asch like this was more than enough.
"Ion, I know this might be hard for you, but I'd like you to try and recall every single little detail about this event, even the most inconsequential seeming," Jade demanded while laying a comforting hand on the diminutive Fon Master's shoulder, "And when you think you're ready, I want you to tell me everything that has happened between Luke's arrival and ours. Can you do that for me?"
"Yes," Ion nodded hesitantly, "I think so."
"Good." Jade smiled pleasantly as he began to herd them all out of the room. "For now, let's go get some lunch while Tear gets started. And don't fear, my dear," he shot back at the mildly harried looking Intelligence Officer, "We'll bring you something back."
"How charitable of you," Tear said sourly before turning her attention back to the daunting task at hand. As if she'd be able to eat anything anyway. Really. If she still had a voice by the time she was through with this, she would be thoroughly surprised. But if she could help them, even just a little, then it would be worth it.