Shulk brought his hammer down on yet another piece of armour. His eyelids drooped; he could feel himself nodding off. But he would not let himself fall into sleep. Too many times this past month he had been wrenched from his nightmares, screaming to match Fiora’s voice in his head. He had seen the faced Mechon, now dubbed Metal Face, as it ripped into the mobile artillery. Blood dripping from its long, silver claws; Dunban screaming; Reyn passed out against a house; the colonel clinging to life in the infirmary—
He jumped at the sound of a gentle knock on the lab door. He quickly moved to open it and was surprised to see Désirée. There were shadows under her blue eyes as she looked up at Shulk, the red beanie that normally kept her long golden-brown hair in place absent. Shulk stepped back to let her into the lab and then shut the door behind her.
Désirée glanced around Shulk’s lab; it wasn’t large, but it was piled high on all sides with pieces of scrap metal. Three gas tanks stood at the back of the lab, all of which looked as if they had recently been sliced open by something. In front of the gas tanks, laying across a pedestal, was a bright red sword. Désirée eyed it, awed. “So, this is the legendary Monado?”
Shulk nodded as he turned back to his workbench. “Don’t touch it.”
“I wasn’t planning to.” She gave Shulk a small smile, and then said, “You know, everyone’s been worried about you.” When Shulk didn’t reply, Désirée went on. “You’ve just locked yourself up in here. Hardly anyone’s seen you since…” she paused, and so did Shulk’s hammer, “…since the Mechon attacked.”
Shulk let his hammer fall and leaned forward on to his bench, head bowed and teeth gritted in pain. Fiora screamed in his head; Metal Face’s claw waggled in front of his face; Reyn’s shield broke and he flew across the Residential District; if only I had made it stronger…
He jumped when he felt a hand on his arm. Désirée was smiling softly at him. “We all know you’re grieving, Shulk, but it isn’t healthy to isolate yourself.” Noticing a gleam on his wrist, she gasped. “Shulk, have you been able to…?”
Shulk glanced at her and then followed her gaze. “Ah, yes.” He unclipped the watch and handed it to her.
Désirée took it from him, letting the cool metal run through her fingertips. I wonder how he would have gone in all of this… The clang of metal rang through the lab, smashing into her thoughts.
“This belonged to my father,” said Désirée unexpectedly. Shulk put down his hammer and turned to listen, desperate to escape his thoughts. “When the Mechon attacked a year ago…” her grip on the watch tightened, “he went to fight, and… and he never returned.” She bit her lip. “They never found his body.” She smiled weakly. “He used to work the blacksmith here in Colony 9. ‘Xord’s Hammer!’, it was called.” She laughed softly.
“I remember that place,” said Shulk. “I used to go in there sometimes as a kid, to watch him make weapons.” Shulk gestured at the armour cluttering his lab. “It’s thanks to him and Dickson that I’m able to make weapons and armour for the Defence Force.”
“Do you think… we’re going to have to go to war with the Mechon again?”
Shulk turned away, staring down at the piece of metal he was moulding into a shield. He closed his eyes as the feeling he had been trying to suppress since the Mechon attack came back to him in full force, and he abruptly rounded on his friend. “I want to go after the Mechon!” he burst out. “I want to find them, and I want to destroy them for what they did to the colony, and for what they did to Fiora, and to Xord, and to everyone else!!”
Désirée jumped, startled by his outburst. After she regathered her wits, she slowly began to nod, eyes shining. “Shulk… go. Get revenge for all of us. For what they’ve done to the colony, my father, Fiora, all the others… This has to stop. And it seems like only you can wield the Monado properly. So… So if you can’t do it, who can?” she joked.
A wave of relief washed over Shulk, and he laughed for the first time in many weeks. “Thank you, Désirée! I thought you’d tell me not to go.” He took a deep breath, his mind churning out the beginnings of various plans. “Don’t tell anyone just yet, not even Dunban or Dickson. I’m going to keep making weapons for the Defence Force. When Reyn starts to recover properly, I… I’ll talk to him.”
Désirée nodded. “I was glad to be of some help to you, Shulk.” She turned to leave. “Thank you for fixing my father’s watch.”
Shulk smiled. “Thank you for coming to speak with me today, Désirée.”
She smiled and then left. Shulk yawned and headed out the door of his lab. He then turned left, into the makeshift bed he had constructed for himself. He collapsed into it, and fell into a peaceful slumber.
The next few weeks saw Shulk recruiting a handful of able-bodied soldiers from the Defence Force and teaching them to mould metal. Swords, shields, rifles, bullets, armour; Shulk carefully instructed each of the men he had enlisted in the art of creating the tools of war.
Flat sheets of powerful Mechon armour had gone into reinforcing colony infrastructure. Shulk had assisted the colony’s architect in overseeing the ongoing reconstruction of the two anti-air batteries destroyed in the Mechon attack. The Residential and Commercial districts were in the process of being rebuilt, but they were at a loss as to how to go about fixing the spire which had once towered above the bridges connecting the three districts. For now, it was sitting in a corner of the Military District.
Shulk wandered into the Military District to check on the soldiers he had left in his lab. The quality of the work they had been producing was improving every day. After they had mastered the basics, there was little Shulk could do to instruct them; he checked back regularly to take a look at their work and give them constructive criticism before it was sent off for testing and use.
A large section in the north-western part of the Military District had been cordoned off and piled high with Mechon scrap, to be distributed between the districts as needed. Colonel Vangarre nodded to Shulk as he passed, leaning heavily on a large wooden stick he was using as a crutch. As soon as he had woken up, the colonel had reportedly insisted he be let out of his ward and back to work, but his doctor had refused. After a week of supposed rest, he finally got his wish, “accidentally” knocking his doctor with his crutch on his way out.
Glee filled Shulk when he entered his lab and noticed several good-looking rifles leaning against the wall. Upon closer inspection, they appeared to be just as capable as he had guessed. He turned to the soldiers, smiling. “Well done, all of you. These rifles are of excellent quality, just like everything else you’ve been making. You’ve all really improved.” The soldiers stared up at him, making no response. Shulk suddenly felt slightly uncomfortable. “Is… Is there something wrong?”
One of the soldiers stepped forward, flicking his bleach-blonde hair out of his eyes. Shulk recognised him as Raoul, a captain in the Defence Force. “Do you think we’ll have to fight the Mechon again?” He asked. “Maybe even go to war. It was bad enough a year ago; we lost a large number of good men. And I don’t even know how many Colony 6 lost.” His intense brown eyes bored into Shulk’s like the drill of an M63.
Shulk studied the expressions of the men gathered before him. Fear, anxiousness, worry; these were the emotions he saw etched into their faces.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But what I do know is that if they return, we need to be ready for them.” He met Raoul’s gaze. “We have to.”
Dusk saw Shulk sitting on his old bench at Outlook Park. He stared out into the colony, lost in his thoughts. “Fiora…” he murmured. Her voice echoed through his mind as he remembered the last conversation they had at this bench.
“The breeze feels so good,” she had murmured, sedate.
Shulk looked up at the sky. “Yeah.” Smiling, (he had been smiling, happy!) he had said, “I’d forgotten what it feels like. I never thought it could be so quiet here.”
“You’re spending too much time with Reyn,” she told him. “You’re getting used to all the noise he makes.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Shulk, starting to laugh.
Fiora had giggled then, and looked out across the colony. “It’s so peaceful. You know, Shulk,” she cocked her head to one side, “I hope every day can be like this, always.”
Shulk was jolted out of his memory by a quiet “Hey.” He looked up to see Reyn standing above him. When Reyn was still unconscious, Shulk had seen the pockmarked skin on his best friend’s left side, made by shield shrapnel and accompanied by three long, white scars caressing his rib cage. Reyn had been released from hospital the day after Désirée had come to visit Shulk. He claimed to be feeling normal again, and if this week’s performance in training was any indication, Shulk had to admit it was true.
He offered a hand to Shulk, who took it and got to his feet. They walked to the fence at the edge of Outlook Park together, looking out over the colony. “Have you been to see Dunban?” Reyn asked.
“I just can’t do it,” Reyn admitted. “You got more guts than me.”
“Not at all,” Shulk chuckled. “It was him that consoled me.”
“Oh.” Reyn was surprised. “I… guess that’s the type of guy he is.”
“Yeah.” Shulk stared at the broken pillar towering above the Central Plaza. “Even without the Monado, he’s the strongest person I know.” Shulk told Reyn about his visit with Dunban, shortly after he had emerged from his cocoon in the Lab a few weeks before.
Shulk had stood awkwardly in the corner of Dunban’s house upstairs, not quite sure how to begin. “Uh…”
“Shulk. How are you holding up?” Dunban did not turn; he remained facing his window. It was eerily silent.
“I’m fine,” Shulk had said, “But… you…”
“I will shed no tears,” said Dunban firmly.
“A year ago, I felt the same sense of deep loss that I do now.”
“The Battle of Sword Valley,” Shulk surmised.
Dunban nodded. “After that battle, many of my friends did not make it home. While I was being brought here on that stretcher, they were all I thought about.” Shulk stared, lost for words. Dunban raised his head, unmoving.
“But I decided I would not cry. Everyone who died in that war had something they wanted to protect. Family, friends, loved ones, their home… So they fought to protect them.” His tone turned to one of grim satisfaction. “And we won.” His voice grew stronger. “No matter how painful, no matter how hard, it’s nothing to be sad about…”
Dunban finally turned to face Shulk. “I decided that there and then.”
“Dunban.” Shulk curled his fists into balls, his eyes fixed on the ground. He wanted to tell Dunban of the journey he was planning to undertake with Reyn, to wipe out the Mechon. But Dunban cut across him.
“Shulk,” he said firmly, “Fiora would tell you the same thing.”
Shulk looked up sharply as Dunban continued, driving his point home. “She wanted to protect us. Or rather,” his tone turned soft, “she wanted to protect you. And you’re alive now. So, I will not cry.”
Shulk unfurled his fists and nodded. “Okay.”
Dunban turned to look out his window again. “Remember the gift of life that Fiora gave you, and treasure it.”
“I… I can’t say that I understand,” said Shulk. “But… I hope to, some day.”
“That is all I ask,” said Dunban simply. “Believe me, I am always just trying to understand.”
Now finished with his story, Shulk glanced at Reyn standing beside him.
“’Treasure the gift of life that Fiora gave you’,” Reyn echoed. He grunted. “He’s one of a kind, that Dunban.”
“I’ve made a decision,” said Shulk suddenly.
“Huh?” Reyn looked sideways at his friend.
She wanted to protect you. And you’re alive now. Shulk attempted to push his guilt aside, finding it a surprisingly easy task. “My purpose in life—I will pursue that faced Mechon.”
“They attacked our colony, killed Fiora,” said Shulk, his anger rising. “I will find that Mechon—find it and destroy it. Destroy them all.” The sound of his best friend’s laughter only infuriated him further. “What are you laughing at?” Shulk growled.
“Sorry, sorry!” said Reyn quickly. “It’s just a bit weird. I never thought you’d be the one to say it!”
“So you agree?” Shulk asked, cautious.
“’Course, man. I’m just surprised you came out with it first!” Reyn was grinning.
“You thought I’d try and talk you out of it?” Shulk was relieved. “’That’s not what Fiora would want!’ That sound right?”
“Yeah,” Reyn agreed. “Something like that. I thought you’d give me a hard time.”
Shulk thought it a good time to voice something that had been troubling him since the Mechon attack. “In my head, there are two versions of me. One of them is saying that. It’s telling me, ‘Listen to what Dunban said.’”
“What about the other one?”
Shulk stared at the ground, troubled. “It keeps shouting, ‘Make them pay!’ ‘Destroy every single one of them!’ And it won’t stop getting louder.”
“That doesn’t sound like you. Sure it ain’t my voice in there?” Reyn joked.
“Might be,” Shulk grinned. “It’s a bit of a loudmouth.”
“There you go then!” said Reyn happily. The two of them laughed.
Both Reyn and his best friend looked out across the districts. “So, when are we heading off?” He asked.
“Right now,” Shulk answered.
“Perfect,” Reyn said with satisfaction.
“First I need to get to stop by the Military District to get the Monado,” said Shulk thoughtfully. “Then we can pick up some supplies and go.”
Reyn nodded. “I’ll meet ya back at the entrance to the colony when I’ve got all my stuff.”
“All right, cool.” Shulk walked with Reyn back into the Commercial District and then left him at the Central Plaza. Few people roamed the Military District at this time of day, so Shulk had no difficulties getting into the lab. Inside, Shulk picked up the Monado. The sword seemed to shiver at his touch, and a single bolt of blue electricity coiled around his arm like a snake before it dissipated. Shulk slung the sword over his back and quietly left.
A short time later, Shulk and Reyn were crossing the bridge that was Colony 9’s main entrance, heading for Tephra Cave. They paused once they reached the end of it.
Reyn inhaled deeply. “Right then.”
“Yeah.” As Reyn went on ahead, Shulk chanced one final, wistful glance at his home. The broken pillar standing above the central plaza loomed over the rest of the colony, and Shulk felt a pang of guilt. They’ll all be fine. There’s nothing more we can do, he assured himself. He shook himself and followed Reyn.
Dunban watched from the window of his house as Shulk and Reyn walked out of the colony. “Look after yourselves, boys.” He looked down at his right arm; he held it tightly as stabs of pain raced through it. “As soon as this heals, I’ll be right behind you.” He gazed out the window once more. “And then we will seize our destiny. Together.”
Images taken using Scalz311 (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/user/scalz311)‘s YouTube channel.