Fiora glanced back as the boys caught up to her. Before either of them could say a word, she dropped the transport cases into Reyn’s arms. “Since you were the one who brought us here, I think it’s only fair that you should be the one to carry them!”
Reyn struggled to keep a hold of the cases. “Hey, no one asked you to come!” He retorted. He got a firm grip on each of the cases and tossed them over his back.
“Are we ready to get moving yet?” Fiora asked, smirking.
Reyn grumbled and followed Shulk down the long, dark passageway leading deeper into the cave. When they came out to a more open area, Fiora noticed that the cave walls were mostly black and blue. She shivered, wishing she had brought warmer clothes.
“How far is it?” she asked as bunnits scampered out of their way.
“Not far,” said Shulk, pointing straight ahead. “There’s another passage down there, but it’s shorter than the last one. Then we just follow the cave until we get to the ether cylinders.”
Something glinted on Shulk’s wrist. Fiora frowned. “Hey Shulk… you don’t normally wear a watch, do you?”
“What are you… Oh.” Shulk held up his right arm. A golden watch shined there on his wrist. “This isn’t mine, it belongs to Désirée. She’s a friend of mine, and she asked me to repair it.” He laughed. “I’ve had it for almost a week now, I keep forgetting to return it to her.”
“Quiet!” Reyn hissed, and pointed. The passageway had opened up into a wide space, above which a bridge of blue stone ran from wall to wall. A giant caterpile was lying in some patches of weed (how the weed was growing inside the cave, Fiora didn’t know), surrounded by many smaller caterpiles.
“It’s a caterpile nest,” Reyn whispered. Shulk edged off to the left; there was a gap in the wall there. “The little ones are all right, but the big one will attack us as soon as we get anywhere near it.” Fiora followed Shulk and Reyn through the gap in the wall. The path took a slight uphill slant.
“This path will take us above the caterpile,” Shulk informed Fiora. “It can’t attack us up here.” They found themselves on the rock overhanging the nest. It followed through to the opposite wall and curved out of sight.
Reyn kicked a rock off their bridge, which bounced off the wall and hit the caterpile’s tail. The creature reared up and started wiggling towards them, the other, smaller caterpiles following suit.
“Reyn, what have you done!!” Fiora shouted, panicked.
“Calm down, it can’t get us all the way up here!” Reyn laughed.
He was right. Try as it might, the caterpile could not find any way to climb the wall to get to them. Eventually it gave up and went back to its resting spot.
“Should we do it again?” Reyn asked, grinning.
“NO!” said Fiora loudly. Her voice echoed down the cave. The three of them flinched.
“Oi, keep your voice down,” Reyn hissed. He drew his weapon, and so did Shulk. Fiora pulled out her knives, nervously twirling them in her fingers. They passed through the gap in the wall opposite them, taking them downhill and back on to the main path, past more bunnits, skeeters and brogs.
The rocky walls changed to metal as they came upon a large area filled with what looked like storage containers. Directly opposite their entrance was a flight of stairs leading upwards. “Are these the Mag Mell Ruins?” Fiora wondered.
“Haven’t you been here before?” Reyn asked with surprise.
Fiora shook her head. “Nope.”
“The Defence Force often uses it for training,” said Shulk, “But I often come here to do research. It’s… not really a place that people go.”
“Not surprising,” Reyn commented. “There are monsters around here that use Mechon parts as armour.”
“Was this built by the Mechon?” Fiora asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Shulk. “There’s a path for people to get in. It might have been a vehicle of some kind.”
“Like the Defence Force hover transports?” Reyn enquired.
“A vehicle?” Fiora repeated. “But it’s so big…”
“It’s amazing technology,” said Shulk fondly. “I wonder what kind of people made it.”
“I ain’t got a clue.” Reyn shrugged.
“Let’s keep moving.” Shulk looked towards the stairs. “The Ether Cylinders are up ahead.”
“Right!” Reyn led the way to the stairs, which they quickly climbed. The path branched at the top, and there was a soldier standing guard. To the right was a door with a green circle on it, and to the left, a door with a red circle.
“Huh, one of the doors is locked.” Shulk couldn’t think why. “It doesn’t matter, we’re not going that way anyway.” And he led them through the door on their right, which opened as they approached it.
They paused when they walked through the door; mell lizards were everywhere. “See,” Fiora whispered, “I told you there was a lizard nest here!”
Shulk placed a finger to his lips and started walking off to the left, his sword at the ready. Fiora and Reyn followed him. Reyn tripped and stumbled on to a lizard’s tail; the creature started and ran off in the opposite direction and around the corner. A low growl and shuffling of large feet was heard.
The three friends jumped and took off down the cold metal corridor. Fiora glanced back just as they rounded a corner and saw a huge, brown lizard pursuing them.
The walls surrounding changed from metal back to blue-black stone. They kept running until they reached a u-turn in the path and looked back. The lizard was not there, apparently satisfied that they would not be returning.
“Whew… now that was close!” Reyn laughed. He stopped when he realised Shulk and Fiora were glaring at him. “What?”
“That was your fault!” said Fiora angrily.
“What do you mean it was my fault?” Reyn demanded.
“You were the one who stepped on that lizard’s tail!” exclaimed Shulk.
“I…” Reyn stopped what he was going to say and swallowed hard. “All right, all right. I’m sorry, okay!?”
“Just be more careful, Reyn.” Shulk looked up the path ahead of them; he could see light. “Come on, we’re nearly there.” He led the way out of the cave.
They came out on to grass. To the east they could see the entire colony; Fiora was able to spot her house. To the right was the Cylinder Hangar, which contained all of the Ether cylinders.
“Right here!” said Reyn happily. “Thanks for the help, Shulk.”
Hey, what about me? thought Fiora.
“I’ll start collecting them up,” Reyn went on, “You two hold on a sec.” Reyn led them into the hangar and started placing cylinders into the transport cases. The walls were covered in circular holes, some of them empty, some of them with an Ether Cylinder sitting inside of them.
“It’s full of Ether Cylinders…” Fiora murmured in wonder. “Hey,” she said suddenly, “why do we have to come all the way out here to get them? Isn’t there an Ether Cylinder fuelling station in the colony?”
“Well… Refining the ether takes a long time down there, and sometimes cylinderisation fails.” Shulk shrugged. “And there are so many cylinders here for us already. It’s more reliable than making them ourselves.”
“Right,” Reyn butt in. “And Colony 9’s Anti-Air Batteries and mobile artillery are standardised for these cylinders, so they can be used straight away.” He went back to filling the transport cases.
“I see.” Fiora turned back to Shulk. “You know, this place is in good condition considering it’s ancient.”
“It might be… That there’s some form of technology being used to preserve it.” Shulk faced the wall again. “It’s just a shame we don’t understand its secret.”
“But I’ll solve it one day and show you,” Shulk said with confidence, almost to himself. “If it’s just technology that someone created in the past, it’s not incomprehensible. We’ll come to understand it one day.”
“Don’t go trying too hard,” said Reyn. “We can come and get Ether Cylinders whenever we need them. Besides,” he added, “it’s a good place for Defence Force training.”
“Yeah,” grinned Fiora, “so good that you didn’t even want to come here without Shulk to back you up! Anyway,” she looked up at Reyn, “did you collect the cylinders?”
“Yep. All done. Thanks.”
“Just come by yourself from now on.”
“Shh,” said Shulk suddenly, “be quiet…”
The three friends looked up sharply as a hole opened up in the roof and two white machines floated out of it. They had a central part which vaguely resembled a homs body, and little stubs at the bottom which could have been legs. Encircling this was what looked like arms, except they curved right around it and met up above the head. The centre of it was glowing red.
Fiora gasped. “Are they Mechon?”
Shulk felt dread creeping into him. “I don’t know. But it looks like we’ll have to destroy them!” He started edging forward, drawing his sword. The others followed suit.
“In that case,” growled Reyn, “just leave them to me!”
“Focus on one at a time!” called Shulk. “If we work together, we can do this!”
Reyn charged the machine closest to him and started to attack it. He cried out as he was blasted back. He growled and got back on to his feet as the ancient machines hovered towards him.
Shulk jumped behind one of them and spun to hit it with a Turn Strike. Reyn grinned.
“Wild Down!” The machine fell on to the ground, struggling to get up.
“Screw… Edge!” The machine on the ground stopped moving, seemingly dazed. Shulk and Fiora attacked it while Reyn distracted the other one. Shulk’s blade cut through one of the two places holding the outer limb to the inner body; with a wild cry, he sliced the other one cleanly through and the machine fell to pieces. Shulk and Fiora ran to help Reyn.
“Yeah! Now it’s Reyn time!!” Reyn was grinning fiercely as he hacked at the machine.
“You seem to be getting into this, Reyn,” grinned Shulk. Fiora rolled her eyes as they finished off the second machine, panting.
“Fiora, are you OK?!” asked Shulk.
“I’m fine.” Fiora nodded. “How about you?”
“I’m all right,” replied Shulk. “Thanks to you and Reyn.”
Satisfied that his friends were unharmed, Reyn turned to look at the dismantled machines. “What on Bionis were those!? I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“Could they have been Mechon?” Fiora wondered.
Shulk began walking forwards. “No.” He bent down beside one of the ancient machines. “I think they were something left by the civilisation that built this vehicle.”
“They didn’t seem like Mechon to me,” Reyn commented. “But why did they only show up now?”
“I don’t know,” Shulk muttered. “But they were probably built to protect this place. They might have been activated in response to something.” He straightened up. “But I don’t think that something could have been us.”
“Please, let’s go back,” Fiora begged. “I don’t wanna be here anymore.”
“Me neither,” Shulk agreed. “And we’ve already got the Ether Cylinders.” He paused, thinking he had heard something odd. He and the others turned to look outside as a high-pitched noise reached their ears.
“What’s going on?!” Reyn demanded.
“Listen!” exclaimed Fiora. “What is that?”
“That sound…” muttered Shulk, and ran outside, the others close behind him. Suddenly he looked up. “In the sky!”
A huge machine trailing blue light flew into sight, over the mountains surrounding the colony. It circled above the districts, far out of reach of any of their weapons.
They looked back to where it had come from, and saw hovercrafts invading the colony’s airspace.
“It’s a…” began Shulk.
“This can’t be!” gasped Fiora.
“No way!” Reyn was in shock. Attached to the bottom of the hovercraft, in their dozens, were…
“Mechon!” Shulk watched as the hovercrafts slowly made their way towards his home.
“How?” Fiora watched in horror as they launched from above on to the ground. “Didn’t my brother destroy them all a year ago?”
A thought struck Shulk, and he said slowly, “Could that defence mechanism have responded to the Mechon?”
“Let’s get back to the colony!” Reyn interrupted.
“Come on!” Shulk took off into Tephra Cave at a sprint. Fiora and Reyn were right behind him the whole time as he ran, ignoring the lizards, the brogs, the skeeters and the bunnits, all the while wondering why the Mechon were suddenly launching an attack on the colony, and how, how, how on Bionis they had managed to get their numbers back up.
Images taken from scalz311 (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/user/scalz311)‘s YouTube channel.