The sound of clunking metal filled the air of the Mechon wreckage site as a skinny young man sifted through the piles of machine scrap.
“A Mechon M71!” He exclaimed. “I bet I can use its optical system to align one of the Anti-Air Batteries.” He let out a disappointed groan. “No good. It’s broken.” He examined it more closely. “The joint section… It’s buckled.” With a grunt, he tossed it aside, almost hitting the hilt of the weapon slung over his back. “It’s completely… useless!” And he flopped back on to the grass, staring up at the sky, past the leaves obstructing his view.
A dragonfly flitted above him. He turned his head to watch it land on the stalk of a flower. Hang on… He raised his head, having spotted another, almost perfectly intact, piece of Mechon armour.
“An M69!” Excited, he scrambled to his feet and dashed towards it, blonde hair waving as he ran.
He slowed as he approached it, placing his hands atop it to feel for any unseen damage. “Its armour would be perfect for making a shield.” He gripped it and attempted to move it. “If I can just get it off, I should be able to…” The metal shook and he staggered backwards, fear creeping into his blue eyes. It’s alive!?
“Shulk!” A youth with vivid auburn hair appeared out of nowhere, ramming into the Mechon which then flew through the air and bounced off another piece of metal. He watched warily as it righted itself.
“Reyn!” Shulk hadn’t expected to see his friend out here. They watched as the creature turned itself around. “It’s not a Mechon!” Shulk drew his sword, relieved. “It’s just a Krabble! It was using the Mechon armour as a shell!”
“I’ll lure it away and Topple it!” Reyn’s brown eyes were focused on the Krabble. He stepped back when it tried to attack him. His tightly knotted arms were tense as he kept a firm grip on his shield-gunlance. “When it’s down, use your Arts to finish it off!”
Shulk jumped back as Reyn drew the creature’s attention. He snuck behind it, using Turn Strike to do some extra damage. The Krabble turned on him, ready to attack. It’s only a Krabble, he reminded himself. I’ve defeated plenty of these before, even without Reyn’s help. Shulk watched as his best friend swiped at the creature’s feet, causing it to fall on its side and lose its shell. They quickly finished it off.
“Ha,” Reyn laughed, “not even a challenge.” They had no time to talk, as a Caterpile emerged from the ground where the Krabble had been. They looked at each other, rolling their eyes, and quickly dispatched the oversized bug.
“Thanks Reyn. That was a close one.” Shulk looked up at his friend, glad to see him.
“Man, what were you doing wandering off by yourself?” Reyn was annoyed. “Stay where I can keep an eye on ya. It’s pretty dangerous outside of the colony. There are all kinds of monsters.”
“Yeah.” Shulk nodded, abashed. He quickly turned to look at his prize. “But thanks to you, we got its shell. Everyone in the colony’s gonna be really happy.”
Reyn scratched his head, exasperated. “I’m more worried about you than the shell. Ah… whatever.” He relaxed a little as Shulk faced him again. “Knowing what you’re like, at least you’ll make a decent weapon out of it.” He glanced at the huge lance on his back. “This Scrap Driver’s excellent.”
Shulk was pleased. “I just learned by watching Dickson make weapons.”
“‘Course, Dunban’s weapon still beats them all.”
“The Monado…” Shulk suddenly turned thoughtful. “I hope I can figure out the secret of its power one day.”
“You will, Shulk.” Reyn was sure of it. “Anyway, we’d better get back to the colony. If I’m late for drills again, old Square-tache is gonna kill me.” Reyn repressed a shudder when he remembered what had happened the last time he was late.
“Square-tache?” Shulk repeated, confused. “Oh, the Defence Force colonel. He’s pretty scary.”
“Tell me about it…”
“Sorry.” Shulk stared at the ground. “I didn’t mean for you to come all the way out here during your break.”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s get back.” Reyn led the way out of the clearing.
They made their way back home, passing lively bunnits, buzzing skeeters and lazy caterpiles as they jogged back through the gorge.
They slowed and Reyn turned to Shulk as the two crossed the bridge leading to the Commercial District. “Here we are. I’d better stop in at HQ. You off to the Weapon Development Lab?”
“Yeah,” Shulk nodded, “when I’ve sold any parts I can’t use.”
“All right.” Reyn dipped his head. “See you later.” He left for the Military District, hoping his break wasn’t over just yet.
Shulk followed at a slower pace, glancing at Fiora’s house as he passed. I wonder how Dunban’s doing. He continued into the Commercial District; he could see Reyn disappearing around a corner up ahead.
Shulk stopped by a man near the entrance to the district. After a quick conversation, Shulk was able to get some coin in return for his spare parts. He looked up at the Ether Light as he passed; at night, its brilliance would light up the entire district. He put his hands in his pockets and kept walking, humming to himself.
“Hey you! Listen here a bit.”
Shulk glanced around, and was surprised when he saw that he was the one being addressed. He walked towards the old man; he was standing next to a furnace glowing bright orange, whose shape reminded him vaguely of the Monado. I don’t think I’ve seen this guy around before…
He began to speak. “Hello there, young’un. I got somethin’ that might interest ya. Rather, somethin’ to tell ya. It’s about this here furnace.” He gestured at the structure beside him.
“All right…” Shulk wondered what it was; the furnace looked rather unremarkable.
“When creatures die, they leave ether crystals behind. Everyone knows that, don’t they?” Shulk nodded, and he continued. “Ether particles in the body are… Oops, that stuff’s too complicated. Just remember that creatures drop ether crystals when they die.”
“Okay.” He wanted to learn more about the ether particles in the body, but refrained from asking.
“But I haven’t got to the best part yet. Ready? Don’t be shocked.”
I’ll try, Shulk thought, trying not to smile.
Puffing up his chest with evident pride, he boasted, “This furnace compresses ether crystals and removes impurities. You can use it to make ether gems!” He was astonished to find that his client was completely indifferent to this. “What? No reaction?” When Shulk shrugged, he muttered, “Hmph, kids these days… You don’t know how amazing this thing is.”
The Gem Man, as Shulk decided to dub him, took a deep breath before launching into an explanation. “You can use the furnace to make ether gems. They’ve got the powers of ether crystals but highly condensed. Those ether gems can give you all sorts of powers!” The claim piqued Shulk’s interest. “They’re great for use in the home or by the Defence Force!”
Shulk was about to ask about the powers, but the Gem Man kept talking. “Just put ‘em in weapons or armour with slots.” Shulk was quiet as he tried to process the information, and the Gem Man frowned. “What? That’s not much of a reaction.”
Shulk tried to speak, but again the Gem Man talked over the top of him. “Never mind… It’d probably be quicker for you to try it. If ya wanna give it a try, just put gems in your weapon slots. That weapon of yours’ll do fine.” Shulk glanced at the sword on his back as the Gem Man held out his hand. In it were two gems.
“This one,” he placed a red gem in Shulk’s hand, “will increase your strength. And this,” he handed Shulk a blue gem, “will increase the number of hits you can take before ya pass out.”
“Thank you!” Shulk inspected the gems in his hand. They were very shiny.
The Gem Man nodded. “Don’t waste your ether crystals by selling ‘em! Those things are useful!” He watched Shulk as turned the gems over in his hand. “The look on your face…” he smiled. “Looks like you’ve realised how great ether gems are. I suppose you wanna try makin’ a gem yourself?”
Shulk looked up eagerly, but found himself disappointed when the man said, “You’re outta luck. I know how ya feel but ya can’t. The ether furnace’s broken down. Oh…” he frowned at Shulk, “You don’t look too bothered.”
How can I not look bothered? Shulk wondered.
“Never mind. Just try coming back later.”
Shulk left the Gem Man, putting his hands back into his pockets as he made his way to the lab in the Military District. He took out one of the gems; it was a beautiful deep blue, the same colour as the water surrounding the colony. He gazed into it, trying to see past his reflection.
“You idiots! What the hell are you playing at?!”
Shulk jumped and turned to see what the cause of the commotion was. Uh-oh! The colonel’s gonna explode.
“Crashing the mobile artillery into a house?!” Colonel Vangarre was livid, his bright red moustache positively quivering with anger as he glared at the two soldiers standing in front of him. “How long have you been in the force?!”
“Sorry, Sir.” One of them began. “I- It’s just that we were trying to go as fast as we could, like you ordered…”
“But it’s impossible to get back to the Military District in only 40 seconds.” The other soldier finished.
“I don’t want any excuses!” yelled the colonel. “Champions don’t whine, they win!”
Colonel Vangarre continued with his rant. “You’re a disgrace to the uniform! Are you forgetting the shame you brought on this force during joint manoeuvres with Colony 6?!” He scowled at them. “Stick your back into it, maggots! Move it!”
“Yes, sir.” The soldiers straightened up.
“Get the artillery back to the Military District, double time!” Vangarre ordered. “Then I want a million press-ups from both of you! And you better not stop until your biceps explode!”
Exchanging a grim expression with his companion, one of the soldiers said, “Colonel. We can’t move the artillery.”
“What?” the colonel growled. “You’d better give a damn good reason why!”
“Sir! The impact of the crash damaged the ether conduction cable!” The soldier explained. “The ether fuel proceeded to leak out, and now the cylinder is empty!”
“Well, change the cylinder then!” Colonel Vangarre couldn’t believe what he was hearing; they were like children! “Can’t you even do something as simple as that?!”
“The auxiliary cylinders have all been used up.” The soldier replied. “It’ll be three days until more come in, Sir.”
“I told you to keep a stock of fuel in reserve!” The colonel was becoming more and more infuriated.
“You’re nothing but slackers!” He raised his fist and Shulk looked away so he wouldn’t have to see the man get hit.
“Same old colonel,” Shulk muttered to himself. “At this rate, the men will all be dead before they see any action.” He discreetly left the colonel and his men and headed into the Weapon Development Lab. He slowly approached the red blade mounted on a machine in the centre of the room.
“All right, Shulk. How are you?”
Shulk gasped when he recognised the voice. “Dickson!” He turned to face the smiling man. “When did you get back to Colony 9?”
Dickson grunted. “Just now. I see you’ve been busy.” He raised the papers in his hand. “Looks like your Monado research has been going well.” He got off the table he was sitting on, shaking his hair out of his face as he walked towards Shulk. “I made the right choice leaving you in charge.”
Shulk raised a hand to his head, embarrassed. “Your research notes really helped.”
Dickson bent down to examine the weapon, his sharp eyes scanning it with care. “So, you can activate it now then?” He cast Shulk a sideways glance.
“Well,” Shulk paused, and then said slowly, “anyone can activate it.” He leaned forward, staring at the sword. “The problem is controlling it.”
Dickson straightened up. “Yeah. For everyone except him.”
“Yes.” Shulk was only half-listening. “If anyone other than Dunban were able to control the Monado, we could surpass any military force in the world.”
“You think so?” Dickson looked back down at the papers he was holding. “What are these hidden functions you mention?”
“It’s still only conjecture,” Shulk rubbed his chin thoughtfully, “but it’s starting to look like the Monado might be something far more significant than just a weapon for defeating Mechon.”
“I see.” Dickson sounded intrigued. “And the evidence to support your theory?”
“It’s the symbol that appears in the centre when it’s activated.” Shulk paused to gather his thoughts before expounding his ideas. “What I know is, the central piece is made from multilayered glass. The symbol appears on the top layer. And each layer is constructed differently.”
“So it’s possible that other symbols could appear on different layers?” Dickson guessed.
“The Monado might conceal even more power. Am I right?” Shulk nodded.
“If we could just unlock the Monado’s power…” Shulk thought back to that day a year ago, after the Battle of Sword Valley…
“Dunban! Dunban!” Shulk and Fiora were hunched over his battered body, lying on a stretcher carried by two soldiers.
Colonel Vangarre could be heard yelling in the background. “Prioritise the most severely injured! Come on! Get a move on!”
“Dunban!” Shulk tried to get through to his friend.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he mumbled, “I haven’t gone yet.” He turned his head. “Shulk…” When Shulk bent down, Dunban began to whisper in his ear. Shulk’s eyes widened, and he backed away from Dunban in shock, watching as he and his sister continued on their way. He looked behind him into the airship Dunban had returned in, at the sword leaning on the wall in the corner, his mind lingering on the man’s words.
“It was the Monado. It was… controlling me… Even so… It saved us… saved our future… Next… it will be up to you…”
Back in the lab, Shulk murmured, “Dunban…”
“Well, I’d better get the supplies delivered to the Defence Force.” Dickson turned to leave. “I’ll drop round the HQ and see how they’re getting on.”
“OK then. I’ll see you later.”
Dickson sighed, and then faced the young man. “Shulk. You’re spending too much time in the lab. Either that or rummaging for junk in the scrap yard. It ain’t healthy for a kid your age. That’s why you’re always looking so pasty. You should get out, get some fresh air once in a while.” Dickson turned to leave again. “All right, I’m off.” He laughed to himself as he left.