Melia's scream was Shulk's first warning that something was behind them.
He caught her before she could hit the floor and then pulled her to one side as Reyn stepped in front of them both. His driver whirred and clicked, then the shield on the front of the weapon sprang up the shaft of the blade. The gargantuan wolf's claws scraped across the shield, leaving deep gouts in the solid metal that had been reconstructed from a Mechon's chest plate. Screeching in frustration as it realised its prey would no longer be an easy prize, it pounced on Reyn's driver and gripped it in its powerful jaws, attempting to tug it out of Reyn's hands while driving him backwards with its forelegs.
"I can't hold it for long!" he yelled to Shulk.
"I'm trying to heal her, but she's not responding! " replied Shulk between intakes of breath, wincing as his life energy was drawn out of him and into his patient. His healing arts, never meant for anything except basic first aid, were having no effect on such grievous injuries. The already slight young woman, not built for combat herself, was horribly still, her face pale. The rents down her back where the claws raked her were healing up but the blood that trickled out of her mouth told him that there were internal injuries, "Reyn, she's stopped breathing!"
He started calling out for Sharla and Riki, praying to the Bionis that they would arrive on time. They did not answer his call, and out of the periphery of his vision, he saw more shapes moving in the gathering darkness, heard low growling and keening howls. He was surrounded, and if the rest of his friends weren't already engaged in combat of their own, they would have to break through the enemy line to reach him.
Just as he thought things couldn't get any worse, he heard a sickening metallic snap. Reyn had already been swearing at the top of his voice but now his bellowing had a frantic quality about it. Shulk realised what the sound was; Reyn's driver shield snapping off. The Monado was in his hand in a fraction of a second but he was forced to jump out of the way as Reyn was thrown backwards across the field by the enormous wolf that was snapping at his visor plate with its razor-sharp fangs.
"Get off him!" screamed Shulk, swinging the Monado around at its neck, an angle that would have cut its head straight off if it was a normal wolf. The Feris darted away with unnatural reflexes and the blade bit into its flank, drawing a deep well of blood. Its head turned to regard Shulk, its yellow predator's eyes marking him for death with a cold single-mindedness, then it bared its teeth and growled. Swiping Reyn aside with a force that knocked him flying again, it advanced slowly and menacingly upon Shulk. He hadn't realised quite how big it was before he was looking straight up at it. He had to crane his neck to look it in the eye. Feris weren't meant to get even half that big. It was blotting out the sun, or maybe it had already gotten dark while he hadn't noticed. The dangerous things came out at night. And now he had its full attention.
"Shulk, you IDIOT!" bellowed Reyn, grabbing a tree to help him stand up. He was clutching his chest. Shulk saw that his armour plating was crumpled and that blood was welling up underneath his gauntleted fist, despite Reyn's poor attempt to hide his injuries. He winced when he moved and he was having difficulties standing up at all. And Melia still wasn't moving.
"Sharla!" screamed Shulk, backing away with the Monado in front of him, "Riki! Anyone!"
"RUN!" yelled Reyn, his face intense. He had been staring, puzzled, at his ruined visor, but then decided to throw it at the monster and charge at it, driver extended, roaring a battle cry. Shulk shook his head, his face transfixed in a horror that bordered upon macabre fascination, as the Feris leapt at him...
He gasped for breath as though he had emerged, almost drowned, from a deep, dark, icy lake. He stared at Reyn with wild eyes, barely recognising him at first or even comprehending his existence until he saw the worry on his best friend's open, honest face. Reyn had grabbed him just as he was about to collapse to the floor, and was guiding him to the waypoint so that he could sit down on the dais of the ancient obelisk. The cold smoothness of the stone and the reassuring solidity of Reyn's armour, even though his grip was digging into Shulk's shoulders a little too hard and it was a little painful, was all that told him he was still alive and that Reyn was, too. As soon as he was sat down, he began to let out a racking cough. His chest hurt as though it was on fire – or, more accurately, as though the huge claws and teeth that tore apart his chest had been real.
"Shulk, you look like death!" said Sharla, shoving Reyn out of the way so that she could scan him with a medical device. From what little he knew about medical technology, his heart rate was far too fast but the rest of his vital signs were normal and he was unhurt. Still, the thought of death threatened to push forwards the memories that he was fighting to push back.
"No death. Riki no see ghost," said Riki, his tone as sincere and serious as a child's, "But Shulk's eyes glow blue, and bad feeling go up Riki spine!"
"It was a vision, wasn't it? Riki's right, you've got that spaced-out I'm-having-another-vision look on your face again!" said Reyn, "Was it a vision of something important? I'm not gonna let you be all secretive about it!"
"Where are we?" asked Shulk, his voice shaking.
"Glowing Obelisk, same as we've been for the last two hours," said Reyn.
"Always here," gasped Shulk, "We're always back here..."
"Why, where did you think we were?"
"Don't head out into the marsh," he told them.
"Huh? But that's the way to get where we're..."
"Keep your head down, be quiet, go around the marsh, watch out when it gets dark!"
"Why, what's gonna happen in the..." said Reyn, immediately standing up and wandering over to get a closer look before Sharla could grab him. Then he stopped and stared, whistling, "Bloody hell, look at the size of that Feris!"
Idly resting with his back against the obelisk, Dunban glanced up at where Reyn was pointing, a dark figure half-hidden in the mist, prowling back and forth in a circle like a wraith patrolling its haunting grounds, "Well spotted, Reyn, that's Veteran Yozel! You don't often catch sight of that monster and live to tell the tale!"
"It eat Riki in one gulp!" observed the Nopon cheerfully, "It would take Riki all day to eat! Or... Riki know! We could salt and dry, and give to Colony 6 friends as present!"
"Um... let's not..." said Shulk, then he shook his head in exasperation. The movement made his head hurt. Why did a vision of things that hadn't happened yet have to hurt so much? He glared at the Monado. The intricate glass mechanisms inside its handle whirred and spun back and forth, its incomprehensible mechanism adjusting itself to some minor change in the ether levels of the Bionis. Blue lights played up and down the handle and it went 'beep' every time a circle lit up. If a sword could look or sound guilty, the Monado would have done so. What are you doing, Monado?
"Shulk, you need some rest," Sharla told him in that voice of hers that meant 'I am a medic and you are a patient and if you argue with me when I am trying to treat you, I will do it anyway and make your life a living hell while I'm at it'.
"Well, okay, but I'm really not all that tired," Shulk sighed, addressing the Monado. He didn't feel fatigue, exactly, more confusion and a deep mental weariness.
"Yes you are," said Sharla, "Mental fatigue kills just as many soldiers as physical fatigue. And stop activating that thing when you don't need to."
"She's right, you know, you're always this bad when you have one of those visions, and we already know from experience how badly it can affect someone to overuse the Monado," Dunban told him, "Anyway, that beast is nocturnal. We should wait until day breaks before making our move. This place is dangerous to walk through at night anyway."
"Trees pretty at night!" piped up Riki.
"We can go and watch the pretty trees from on top of the Obelisk, where it's safe!" suggested Melia.
"Yay, Riki and Melly go tree-watching!" said Riki, jumping up and down and dancing from side to side, "Dun-Dun go too! Come on, Dun-Dun! No sit there like old man!"
"Who is older than who now?" asked Dunban, looking more amused than offended.
"I guess I'll go stand guard, then, just in case that thing decides to come too close!" declared Reyn, stretching his shoulders.
"We're always at this place when I wake up like that," Shulk noted to himself, "Either here, or the obelisk, or another waypoint."
And I always feel this bad, he finished his thought, groaning. He couldn't think straight enough to work out a puzzle like this, and he didn't want to rest, not with that thing prowling around, the thing he knew that even Reyn wouldn't be able to protect them from, "I wish it was day again," he sighed.
The Monado immediately whirred into action. He drew his hand away from it as though it was red hot. He hadn't even realised he had reached for it. He had no idea what the hell he had been thinking to wake it up. He only had half an idea how it worked at all. Sharla was glaring at him, so he settled down on his bedroll, hid his face in his arms and pretended to sleep while pointedly ignoring the weird ticking noise that the Monado was making. It always made the noises when he woke up from one of the more lucid visions, or when he tried to think too hard about how much time had passed or why, despite the number of times they completely back-tracked in order to check up on the reconstruction at Colony 6 or sell off their junk or bust a Nopon drugs ring, they never, ever ran out of time or arrived too late for anything.
He could have sworn only five seconds went by until Riki landed on his head and yelled, "Shulk wakey-wakey time!". He hid under the blanket from the bright sunlight and glared at the hyperactive Nopon. At least the Monado was being quiet.
((A/N: The idea behind this was: what if some game mechanics, such as resurrection and changing the in-game time at will, are real, and the Monado is messing around with time so that Shulk doesn't die or run out of time? I haven't thought of an explanation for fast travel yet - I imagine they wouldn't really travel instantaneously, they would walk the distance it would normally take them, but the Monado would edit the amount of time it took them so that, again, Shulk can't run out of time. Also, this isn't the actual Satorl Marsh part of the quest, they are back-tracking.))