Author's Notes: Sorry for the extremely long wait; a great many changes happened in my life, which kept me busy. That said, I'm really glad people are enjoying this story! I hope you enjoy this chapter, too!
The first thing Shulk hears that morning is the wail of sirens.
His initial reaction is to burrow down further into his blankets, but a rough hand on his shoulder shakes him awake. "Get up, kid. We ain't got all day."
Sitting up, he sleepily rubs at his eyes. For once, Dickson's wearing his Defence Force armour. "What's going on?"
Dickson glances out the window, his weapon tapping against his shoulder. "A Mechon assault."
Shulk doesn't know what means, but he only has to see Dickson's narrowed eyes the serious look on Dickson's face to know it's not something good. He can hear a harsh, discordant metal screech, like metal blades being dragged over metal bright bursts of ether that make the unfamiliar shadows stalking past windows all the more prominent. His instinct is to curl up, make himself as small as possible, but Dickson grabs his arm and abruptly pulls him to his feet. Shulk stumbles, but he does manage to shakily stand. He's still dressed in his pyjamas, which are more like a loose shirt and pants, and the floor is cool under his bare feet.
"C'mon. Let's go." And Dickson's pulling him out the door, blasting something with his swordgun, Shulk stumbling after him as he tries to keep up.
Shulk has been out in the Commercial District at night before, but there's something terrifyingly wrong about it. Though he can't see smoke, he can definitely hear the sizzling of fires and the crunch of wood and concrete breaking. The Commercial District should have been dark, lit only by the ether lamp, the lights of the night owls living nearby, and the stars. But Shulk sees tiny red lights from machines unlike anything he's ever seen before. They're a harsh red, almost mesmerising in their gyration, menacing in their intensity. A mechanical whine, and Shulk sees the shadow of something spiked swing down at him. Flinching and covering his head with his hands, Shulk shuts his eyes and braces himself for the inevitable impact.
It never comes.
He opens his eyes. The metal of the Mechon's spiked arm screeches against Dickson's swordgun, sparks flying as it pushes him down. Shulk watches in fear, barely aware of the ground digging into his bare feet as he steps back.
"Damn Mechon!" Muscles straining, Dickson shoves hard, forcing the Mechon's arm aside before he fires a blast from his gun, the compressed ether striking the Mechon in the shoulder joint. The Mechon doesn't seem to react to the attack, no flinch, no vocalisation. It's just a machine, incapable of feeling pain, of feeling emotions. The Mechon's struck limb goes limp, but it swings with its other shorter arm. Firing another blast at the Mechon's feet, toppling it as its legs give out under it, Dickson turns back to face Shulk and holds out his free hand. "Hurry up! The Mechon ain't gonna wait for us to get away."
Shulk nods, and hurries over to Dickson, but gives a yelp of pain when he feels something sharp dig into the ball of his foot. He tries to keep going, but his movement is slowed significantly as he tries to avoid putting weight on that part of his foot. Frowning, Dickson crouches, gesturing with his free hand for Shulk to show him the injury. Balancing on one foot, Shulk lifts his other foot for Dickson to examine. There is a short metal spike is digging into it.
"This ain't gonna work." Dickson makes an irritated sound before he turns. "Climb on. Try not to put your weight on that foot." It's hard to avoid putting pressure that will drive the spike further into his foot, but Shulk manages to hop over and climb onto Dickson's back. He spares a glance back at Shulk before he says, "Hang on tight, kid."
Yelping when Dickson abruptly stands up, Shulk clings to him, squeezing shut his eyes and burying his face into Dickson's back. It's a bumpy ride filled with grunts from Dickson as he pushes through the attacking Mechon with blasts and swings from his weapon. Every time Shulk musters the courage to look, he sees those strange, mechanical beings swinging their deadly limbs - some sharp and curved, others blunt and spiked - at Dickson and himself, and quietly squeezes his eyes shut again, a tremble of fear running through his body. There's just so many of them and only one of Dickson.
What if Dickson gets hurt?
What if Dickson can't stop an attack because of him?
As hard as he tries not to, Shulk can't stop paying close attention to the sounds he can hear. He can't block out those terrifying whirrs of aggressive mechanical joints and scrapes of metal against heavy metal punctuated by Dickson's grunts of exertion. It's a whirlwind that quietly becomes a blur of sound Shulk can't make head or tail of. He just focuses on not letting go of DIckson.
It takes him a while to realise Dickson's breakneck pace has slowed and the sound of metal has given way to Homs shouting.
"Alright, Shulk. We're here."
Shulk opens his eyes.
It's the shelter, a steel and concrete building built directly into the cliffside, accessible only through the Military District. There are Defence Force soldiers forming a protective line, shields of their weapons activated while the snipers behind them fire at the Mechon, the Colonel shouting orders at them. Other Defence Force soldiers are herding other Colony 9 residents into the shelter.
"You can let go now." Dickson crouches so Shulk can slide off his back. Shulk makes a small noise, muffled by the fact his mouth is firmly shut, when he forgets about the spike in his foot and puts weight on it. He immediately sits down on the nearby wooden bench. Shulk bites his lip, before asking the question that's been hovering at the front his mind until now. "What were those?"
Rising to his feet, Dickson answers Shulk's question with, "Mechon. Cold, soulless machines from Mechonis. They've always been attacking us Homs from the beginning." Shulk shrinks back as the shadows beneath Dickson's brow seem to grow even darker as he frowns. But it's gone by the time Dickson turns to fully face Shulk. "You stay here, alright? You'll be nice and safe here." Dickson smiles, a crooked one, but it's one that reaches his eyes nonetheless. "I can't have anything happen to you now, can I?"
Shulk doesn't want to leave Dickson's side, but his injured foot hurts hurts hurts, cutting off any thoughts of insisting Dickson take him. And he knows he isn't strong enough to fight. Not yet. Maybe not ever. His gaze briefly drops to the ground, before he raises it again. "But... What about you? What about Dunban and Fiora?"
Dickson smirks, loading his weapon with a new ether cartridge. "I've got some metalheads to bust. As for those two... They'll be making their way here. So you just sit tight and wait for them." Easily swinging his swordgun to rest against his shoulder, Dickson continues, "I'll be back in no time with a nice pile of scrap." Abruptly, Shulk stands to give Dickson a tight hug around the leg, ignoring the pain in his foot. A long moment passes before Dickson gently pats Shulk on the head. "Don't you worry. I ain't gonna go down that easy."
Letting go, Shulk nods. "Okay."
Dickson gives him a half wave. "Alright, I'm off." Turning to leave, he calls out to a small, yellow Nopon. "Hey, Mefimefi! Can you take a look at Shulk? He hurt his foot on the way here."
Shulk doesn't hear the Nopon's answer, sitting back down on the wooden bench to take the weight off his hurt foot. It doesn't matter much, because Mefimefi's soon waddling over to him, the signature cute Nopon smile on her face.
She bounces in place once before saying, "Show Mefimefi where it hurt."
He silently lifts the injured foot for her to see, a trickle of blood running down from the wound. Gently holding his foot with a wing, Mefimefi examines it, simultaneously taking out a cloth from her pockets to wipe the blood with her tiny hands. Without warning, she yanks the spike out of his foot, eliciting a startled yelp from Shulk. Reflexively, he tries to pull his foot away from her, but Mefimefi's wing has a firm hold on him.
"No worry," Mefimefi reassures him with a gentle coo, "Pain be gone soon."
Shulk can't see what she does next - her wings block his view - but he feels something like cool, refreshing air breathed onto his foot. The earlier pain subsides into a dull ache as he feels the skin knit back together.
Abruptly, the thin material of his pyjamas don't feel like they are enough to protect him from the chill. Now that his thoughts are no longer occupied by fear and panic, Shulk shivers. Though the press of people have made the shelter much warmer than it normally would, the steel and concrete surroundings are still cold.
"Is Shulk cold?" When he nods, the Nopon exclaims, "Mefimefi has nice warm fur so Mefimefi no notice! Wait here."
While Mefimefi waddles off, Shulk raises his injured foot so he can look at the sole. Where the skin had once been broken, it's now healed. He even prods at it experimentally, to see if there's any pain, but there's none. When he looks up, Mefimefi is approaching, a rolled up blanket held in one wing. She unrolls it in one deft flick of the wing and drapes it over Shulk's shoulders. Immediately, he tugs at the ends and pulls it around himself, cheek rubbing against the fabric.
"Does Shulk feel better?" When he nods, she asks, "Is Shulk's foot feeling better?"
Shulk nods again and wriggles his foot to show her; the pain he'd felt is almost a distant memory already. The yellow Nopon makes a pleased sound before giving him a hug. She's so soft and fluffy, that Shulk can't help but hug her back, nuzzling against her face fur. "Thank you."
He feels a little better after he lets go, and she gives him a gentle pat on the head with a wing - "Mefimefi go now, okay?" - before she wanders off to see to the other mildly injured. Now that he's calmer, he's in a better state of mind to observe this new place. There are several faces Shulk recognises - though he can't remember the names of most - and it's even more crowded than the Commercial District during the day. It seems like half the colony is here. However, he doesn't see Fiora, so he gets up - gingerly testing his previously injured foot - and wanders, both in search of her and out of a need to be doing something to stop worrying about Dickson, Dunban and Fiora.
He sees families. Many are parents attempting to comfort upset children. Some are jittery from anxiousness. Others have just curled up in an attempt to sleep. A number of children like himself are wandering around, kept under the watchful eyes of other adults. Only the low hum of conversation and the muffled sounds of the fighting outside can be heard through the shelter's thick steel and concrete walls. It's almost difficult to imagine that those strange, green mechanical creatures - Mechon - are just outside, trying to hurt Homs. His hands tremble.
It's only when he hears a sudden ruckus nearby that Shulk's attention is dragged away from his recollection of the night's events. Curious, Shulk squeezes his way through the press of other people to get a better look at what's going on.
He sees a boy about his age with a shock of red hair being held back by one of the adults.
"Let me go! I have to go back! My mum and dad are still out there!" The boy struggles and kicks at the adult, to no avail. "I have to!"
"Don't be stupid! You stay here, where it's safe and-" The adult's words are cut off by an abrupt, "Argh!" when the boy bites him in the arm. The boy doesn't waste his chance at freedom and immediately takes off in the direction of the entrance to the shelter, the only exit there is. The adult yells, "Stop him!"
Shulk sees some of the other adults roused from their places, but the other boy is easily dodges around them.
"You'll be nice and safe here. I can't have anything happen to you now, can I?"
Wouldn't this boy's parents be happier knowing their son was safe, rather than have him running around outside, where there's Mechon out there to hurt him? Shulk's gaze goes to the exit before immediately running to it to beat the other boy to it. Shulk's fast enough on his feet to cut in front while the other boy is busy dodging adults.
What can he do to stop the other boy, though? Shulk doesn't know.
Nevertheless, as the boy approaches at a headlong rush, Shulk stretches out his arms - causing his blanket from Mefimefi to slide off his shoulders - and stands in the boy's path. The boy's bigger than him, but Shulk lifts his chin and faces him anyway. Fortunately, the boy slows down. Unfortunately, he just tries to shove Shulk aside. "Get outta my way!"
Even though Shulk had braced himself for the shove, he still stumbles, but stubbornly stays put. Shaking his head, he says, "It's safer here."
The other boy grabs Shulk's shirt and pulls, yelling, "I don't care! My mum and dad are out there! So, move!"
Out of reflex, Shulk grabs on to the other boy's shirt too, making them both stumble. "Don't be stupid!"
"What did you say!?"
He's barefoot and dressed in his pyjamas, not intimidating at all. Nevertheless, Shulk raises his head in determination to stop this other boy from leaving. "Stupid! You're being stupid! Your head's big and dumb like the rest of you!"
"Argh! I'll get you!" With a roar of anger, the other boy pulls Shulk sharply to the side, sending both of them tumbling. What follows is a whirl of fists and and kicks and rolling around as they try to get the upper hand over each other. Though the other boy is definitely bigger and stronger than him, Shulk isn't above poking eyes, jabbing ribs and biting, anything to even the odds against his sturdier opponent.
"Hey! Break it up, boys!"
Stronger hands pull the pair away from each other. While Shulk is immediately compliant - the aches and pains of his new bruises are a great deterrent - the other boy struggles in the grip of a man Shulk doesn't recognise, glaring at Shulk. He doesn't look any worse off despite a more disheveled appearance, save for the red welts on his arms where Shulk had bitten him.
The voice behind him is gruff, no-nonsense, "Now, are you two going to sit still, or will we need to lock you in a room?"
Shulk nods, and the firm grip on his arm is removed. But...
"No! I'm going back for mum and dad!" But no matter how hard the other boy pulls, kicks, and bites, there's no getting away, the opportunity for escape lost. Shulk watches mixed feelings play across the redhead's face - anger, desperation, before sullenness- before the other boy grinds out an angry 'tch', "Fine. Have it your way."
When the other boy is released, he immediately makes a break for the exit again. Unfortunately for him, this time he's quickly grabbed by the woman who had held Shulk - Shulk recognises her as one of the butchers - and hauled off, hollering every step of the way.
Shulk breathes a sigh of relief, before crouching to pick up his blanket and wrap it back around himself. He ends up watching the butcher drag the other boy into one of the many rooms in the shelter. Once the boy is inside, the butcher slams shut the reinforced metal door - "Once you're ready to behave yourself, we'll let you out" - and locks it, pocketing the key and walking away to talk with the other people who had tried to stop the other boy. Without anyone to stop him, Shulk sneaks up to the metal door. It looks solid to him, but there's a small open window near the top of it. But it's far too high for him to reach without assistance, and there are bars across it. Shulk quietly raps on the door instead. "Are you alright?"
There's a pause from the other side, before, sharply, "What do you want?"
Shulk momentarily shrinks back from the door, before he says, "I want to keep you company." There's silence from the other side, and Shulk takes it as an invitation to keep talking. He sits down, leaning against the cool metal of the door. "Sorry. About calling you stupid earlier." Considering how loud the other boy had been earlier, the silence is strange. But Shulk continues, not knowing what else to do. "I'm Shulk."
A long moment of silence passes between them before the other boy responds. "Reyn."
Shulk hears a heavy thunk as the door shudders under him, probably Reyn slumping against the door. Drawing his knees close to his chest, Shulk stays silent.
"My parents are soldiers," Reyn abruptly begins. "I get they have to fight to defend the colony 'n' all." The volume in his voice rises. "But I wanna be out there, fighting with 'em!"
Shulk can't say he understands wanting to fight with the adults; he's well aware he isn't strong enough to do so. If he's quite honest, he wishes he was back in bed, sleeping. He can empathise with Reyn's worry, though. "Dickson's fighting, too."
Good question. Though Dickson has been raising him ever since he got here, it just seems... weird to call him dad. He still has faint memories of his mother and father, though trying to remember what they were like is like trying to hold water in a sieve. Shulk settles for, "I live with him."
"Oh, so like family?"
Shulk nods, even though Reyn can't see it from the other side of the metal door. "Yeah, kinda."
Hearing the shuffling of Reyn getting to his feet, he blinks when Reyn's next words are lined with determination as he declares, "One day, I'll be strong enough to fight with 'em. I'll do my folks proud!"
"You're already pretty strong. I mean," Shulk rubs his arms, where there's a solid bruise, and says a little ruefully, "your punches really hurt." Smiling, he continues, "I'm sure you can do it!"
There's a long pause, before Reyn laughs. "You're alright."
As they wait, they continue to talk. Shulk hears Reyn almost constantly moving around on the other side of the door, to the point he thinks Reyn is allergic to staying still. Reyn alternates between tales of his parents - Shulk isn't sure if he believes they wrestled giant caterpiles into submission - and things he wants to do when he's older. In exchange, Shulk tells him about the things he's seen in the Defence Force once Reyn got over his surprise that Shulk practically lives in the Military District where the Defence Force operated. To Shulk's disappointment, like Fiora, Reyn didn't seem to have much interest in his mechanical discoveries; his talk about the mechanics behind ether guns was met with an exaggerated snore.
As the pair talk, their attention is drawn away from their worries. In their distraction, they forget that Colony 9 is under attack.
When the Mechon assault is over, Dickson, Dunban and Fiora come back alive.
Reyn's parents don't.
Canon Notes: In the pink Heart-to-Heart between Dunban and Sharla, Revisiting the Past, Dunban talks about a Mechon attack on Colony 9 twelve years ago, during which he and Fiora weren't able to make it to the shelter in time, so they fled to Rho Oasis on Guar Plains. Interestingly, the (fantranslated) official side story released in Monad: the Secret Files, seems to contradict the information given in this Heart-to-Heart; in the side story, Mechon never made it to Colony 9 (the furthest the Mechon got was Guar Plains) until the events of Xenoblade occur. There are also Defence Force soldiers in the game who say Colony 9 is generally untouched by the Mechon due to the anti-air batteries, which makes Colony 9 more defensible than Colony 6, but whether that's fact or Defence Force pride is unclear. There's some hints that the anti-air batteries and the spire over the Central Plaza aren't Homs made in NPC dialogues immediately after the Mechon attack on Colony 9.
However, game canon has some faults with regards to the Mechon attack 12 years ago; the door to Guar Plains (via the Bionis' Knee) from the Mag Mell Ruins in Tephra Cave seals itself in the presence of Mechon, which would have made it difficult for Dunban and Fiora to have made their escape to Rho Oasis. Unless there's some other way to Guar Plains not shown to us, the door would've been sealed, as the High Entia technology that powers the ruins is able to detect Mechon at quite a distance, as evidenced by how the door was sealed long before the Mechon's arrival, when Fiora, Reyn and Shulk were in Tephra cave.
In the pink Heart-to-Heart between Reyn and Riki, Journey's End, Reyn says he lost his mum and dad "ages ago."
I also found out there's an NPC in Colony 9 (on the bridge between the Commercial District and Main Plaza during the day before the Mechon attack) who says, "Shulk, Reyn, make sure you two take good care of Fiora. Don't forget, you only know Dunban because of Fiora." Given this, Fiora, Reyn and Shulk probably met in school first. But since I've kind of already written three chapters that directly contradict this bit of canon, for this story, let's just pretend this dialogue doesn't exist, okay? :)