Hidden behind the wall of Dunban’s home, Dickson watched as Reyn and Shulk turned the corner and out of sight. He could see that they were heading for Tephra Cave. He recalled that day fourteen years past, on the snowy hills of Valak Mountain…
Dickson had seen a line of bright blue light coming from the area and decided to investigate. It had led him to the icy Harict Chapel, and the tragedy contained therein. “No!” His gaze followed the path before him, which sloped upwards before levelling out and continuing where he could not see.
Dickson walked through the freezing, hard grey corridor of the chapel, staring at the research party littering its floor. There were six in all, laying unnaturally still. Dickson knelt beside one of them, placing a hand in front of the man’s face, feeling for hot breath on his fingers.
A chill ran through Dickson; he raised his head, looked sharply to his left. “Huh?” He raised himself and slowly made his way towards the end of the corridor. He found himself in a circular room with a raised pedestal in its centre; hovering above the pedestal, a black ring around its hilt and coated in an aura of a blue-purple hue, was the Monado.
Dickson’s focus shifted to the bottom of the pedestal. A young boy with blonde hair lay curled up at its base, his chest heaving with life. Dickson smiled and bundled up the boy in his arms. He then left the Harict Chapel to take the boy back to Colony 9…
Shulk paused as he left the colony with Reyn. He turned to his best friend, concerned. “It’s all very well going after that metal-faced Mechon.” He felt silly; he should have thought of this before. “But shouldn’t we have some kind of plan?”
“How about checking out Colony 6?” Reyn suggested.
“Colony 6… The only other Homs colony left,” said Shulk bitterly. He felt a surge of anger towards the Mechon; something he had grown accustomed to in the past few weeks.
“Colony 6 is on the way to Sword Valley, where there’s supposed to be a Mechon base,” Reyn continued. “If that’s where they came from, maybe the people in Colony 6 saw something.”
“Good point,” said Shulk eagerly. “They might even know something about that metal-faced Mechon. So…” Shulk had to think for a second, “we go past the Mag Mell Ruins and up through Tephra Cave. Then we should arrive at the Bionis’ knee.”
“Yeah,” Reyn agreed. “And if we can get to the knee, it ain’t far to Colony 6, right?”
“Sounds like a plan!” Shulk turned, eager to resume their journey. “Let’s head to Colony 6!” The boys ascended Tephra Hill to get into the cave, following the road as it took them south. It doubled back on itself, so they were walking towards the north when they truly exited colony grounds. They stayed quiet as they walked through the dark stone corridor.
Shulk glanced around as they climbed the stairs leading to the Mag Mell Ruins. He nodded to the soldiers stationed in the ruins as he and Reyn continued on their way.
They found themselves in the room with two doors they had passed through so long ago, on the day of the Mechon attack. The door before them at the end of the corridor would take them back to the Cylinder Hangar, where the ether cylinders were found. The door to the right would take them through to the Bionis’ knee and Colony 6, or so Reyn told him. Shulk paused in front of it.”This door… It was closed when we came past before, but it’s open now.”
“Maybe it was programmed to open up in case of Mechon emergency,” Reyn suggested. He faced Shulk. “The way to the Bionis’ knee is just ahead. You ready?”
“Yeah,” said Shulk firmly, “let’s go.” The boys strolled through the door and then down a short corridor. Directly ahead of them, metal walls turned to stone, and a soldier waved at them as they passed through.
“Are you boys headed through to Colony 6?” The soldier asked.
Before Shulk could reply, Reyn shook his head and said, “We’re running some errands for one of the captains. She wants us to take out some of the vangs in here, since there’s been a whole bunch appearing in Tephra Cave recently.”
The soldier scratched his chin. Then he shrugged. “Well, watch yourselves, then. The Arachno nest is up ahead. If you make even the slightest sound, they’ll hear it and come to attack.” As he waved them through, he added, “Make sure you be careful.”
“We will.” Shulk walked with Reyn beyond the metal portion of the cave. They paused next to a crystal-shaped object sitting in a four-legged stand, glowing a bright yellow. “An ether lamp,” Shulk observed.
“Don’t traders use these things as guideposts?” Reyn asked.
“Yeah,” Shulk confirmed. “We can follow them to the Bionis’ knee.”
Reyn turned to face Shulk. “OK. But if armed traders need guideposts, it must be pretty dangerous in here.” Shulk felt his heart sink. “Let’s keep our wits about us.”
Shulk nodded, thinking of Fiora. “Definitely.”
Reyn nodded. “C’mon, let’s keep going. We’ve got a while to go yet.” He and Shulk turned right, heading down a stone corridor the curved slightly before opening up into a huge cavern. The path twisted down and around the edges of the cavern, leading down to the ground where vangs and krabbles could be seen milling around the spring at the centre.
“This is Tephra Cavern,” Reyn told Shulk as they followed the path downwards. “And that –“ he pointed at the body of water “- is the Spring of Grief.”
Shulk watched the vangs as they flitted around the water, batting their leathery wings. “So… Are we going to kill some of these vangs, then?” he asked, smirking.
Reyn looked abashed. “I may have been asked to wipe out some of the vangs in Tephra Cave a while ago… And then forgotten.” Reyn scowled when Shulk chuckled. “Hey, I had a lot on my mind, man!”
“Like what?” grinned Shulk.
“Like… oh, whatever.” They reached the bottom of the path; a pale blue ice ether deposit jutted out of the wall to their right. “I’ll throw you into the spring.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” Shulk backed away as Reyn smirked, striding towards him. “Um, Reyn… The, uh… The soldier said we should keep the noise down.”
Reyn stopped what he was doing and sighed. “You’re right.” Relieved, Shulk followed Reyn around the spring and into another stone corridor, which twisted around on itself, sloping slightly upwards. The boys slowed when they entered another cavern; lying next to a pillar of stone, lifeless, were three men, clad in armour.
“What the…?” Shulk took in the scene before him.
Reyn pointed. “Look at the emblem. They’re traders from Colony 6. No wonder it’s been so long since the last delivery.”
Shulk was staring at the men, feeling ill. “Reyn, their injuries…”
Reyn’s face darkened. “They weren’t made by no Mechon.” He examined them more closely; it appeared as though the traders had been gnawed at by some unknown creature. “It was probably the monsters that live here. Man, that’s grim. I don’t wanna go like this. Not even killed by Mechon, just some monsters in a cave.”
“They probably had families…” muttered Shulk, “children…” Fiora’s scream ripped through his mind, and he gritted his teeth.
“Maybe,” said Reyn. “It wouldn’t surprise me.” He turned to face Shulk. “But why d’you say that?”
“Oh…” Shulk pulled himself together. “No reason.” He stared at the ground for a moment. Then he faced his friend. “Reyn, shouldn’t we return them to the Bionis?”
“Huh…? Oh, right.” Reyn looked down at the bodies, then back at Shulk. “What’s born from the Bionis is returned to the Bionis. That’s the way of the Homs.”
Shulk glanced around; there was a pool of ether a few metres away. Together, he and Reyn dragged the bodies into it so they might become one with the Bionis. Reyn half-heartedly suggested they take their weapons for their own safety, but a single glare from Shulk put a plug in that idea.
“That was way harder than I thought it’d be,” exclaimed Reyn. “I’m just about ready to collapse!”
“Let’s take a rest,” Shulk suggested. “If the monsters in here killed all these traders, we need to be at our best. I’m wide awake, so I’ll take first watch.”
“Thanks, man,” Reyn said gratefully. “The nap’ll do me good.”
Shulk stared into the camp fire he and Reyn had constructed, and lost himself in his thoughts.
Images taken using Scalz311 (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/user/scalz311)‘s YouTube channel.