The mechon quickly comes into view. It transforms and then lands. It's a faced mechon, but different from Metal Face; it's shorter, and stockier, sporting heavier armour and armed with a huge hammer. Fiora and Reyn notice another very clear difference from Metal Face; its mouth isn't wired shut.
"I think that's the one from colony 6."
"What do we have here? It's my lucky day after all; four tasty morsels and the Monado."
"Who are you?"
"They call me Xord…don't really know why, but you've got more pressing things to worry about."
Xord looks directly at Fiora.
"So you've got the Monado now eh…hehehe…that coward Metal Face ain't to happy with you; think you might've hit a nerve when you took out his eye."
"Well Xord; let me tell you something. That eye was just the start of things; I'm gonna take him apart next time we meet."
"Getting a bit presumptuous there girlie; you might end up in my belly before they day's out. Still, I like that temper of yours; I can see why you sent him packing."
Fiora activates the Monado.
"Well, well, well; looks like you're gonna make today really interesting. Metal Face was convinced that kid he cut up was the heir to the Monado; so I guess if you survive this I'm gonna have to break it to him that little number you did on him wasn't a fluke."
Xord readies his hammer for the fight.
"Reyn, Sharla, be careful. I don't know how tough this guy is, but if he's anything like Metal Face was we've got our work cut out."
"I hear you Fiora…and you be careful too."
"…we can win…we did drive Metal Face off; so we are gonna make it through this!"
The party engage Xord. They quickly discover he's much less agile than Metal Face was, much to the relief of Reyn and Fiora, but he seems to be nigh on imperious to everything they throw at him. The Monado can't even mark him, and the enchant function seems to make precious little difference. A few of Sharla's ether rounds do leave marks on his armour, but they're little more than shallow cosmetic scars.
"Oh, please stop, you've no idea how much that tickles…hahahahaha!"
"I don't believe this…he's even tougher than Metal Face!"
"Don't panic Reyn, he's still slower so we've still got one advantage."
"What's the matter; you pipsqueaks getting tired? I can send you off for a nice long nap if it gets too much for you!"
The party continue to fight bravely, but Xord shows no signs of any real damage or exhaustion. They find themselves getting increasing fatigued, although Fiora notices that the Monado seems to be providing visions more reliably and with greater warning.
"Dammit, this is just like Metal face all over again!"
"No…it's not Reyn. It's not going to happen to again, you have my word. Just a bit longer and I think the Monado's going to…"
"Fiora, Sharla, Juju…you all make a break for it, I'll keep him tied up."
"That's suicide Reyn! You know there's no way in hell…"
"I made Shulk a promise. I'm not gonna let him down…"
"And you know he wouldn't want you die for the sake of that! Dammit, you're not going to die here, you hear me!"
"You think you're gonna get a choice in the matter? From where I'm standing you're looking like lunch, dinner, breakfast and a light snack. Just a nice bit of tenderising with this here hammer and you'll be good enough to eat."
"You only things you're going to eat are your words Xord!"
A red aura starts to surround Fiora and the symbol on the monado starts to corrupt.
"If ya think a little light show is gonna stop me…"
Fiora charges at Xord. He raises his hammer but then she suddenly accelerates and hits him with a thrust into spinning rising slash, with the light of the Monado having taken on a red hue. The attack breaks apart Xord's outer armour where it connects. As she descends she strikes him again, this time breaking his hammer.
"Fiora, what is that?"
"Something I've been hoping for…butterfly spiral!"
Fiora adds a horizontal charge with a corkscrew motion adding another series of powerful strikes to the combination, and knocking Xord to the ground. Suddenly the light of the monado flickers between its normal shade and the red hue, and the symbol starts to switch back forth. As it does it sends energy coursing through Fiora, and she collapses. Xord slowly gets back to his feet, the light from his body now noticeably different than before.
"Oooo…Bloody hell…Guess that's my cue to leave the stage. Looks like the monado isn't gonna let you have it all your own way but credit where it's due, that was pretty impressive. I'm gonna have to get serious with you next time…and I'm gonna need a new hammer."
Xord activates his flight systems and leaves. Fiora slowly gets back up.
"Fiora! Are you hurt?"
"I…I'm okay…I think."
Fiora clutches her shoulder.
"Yeah, it's nothing, I think I must've just strained that shoulder I did back at colony 9 again."
Reyn turns a little pale.
("It was the other shoulder Fiora!")
"Don't take any chances. Get checked over once we get back to the camp."
Juju notices the look on Reyn and decides to get Fiora's attention.
"Hey Fiora, thanks! I don't know what you did back there but I think we've got you to thank for still being here. So, where did you learn to fight like that?..."
As Juju chats with Fiora, Sharla has a quick word with Reyn.
"So what's going on?"
"Dunban told me to keep a close eye on her in case the monado started to turn. I reckon that was the first sign. Keep an eye out for any sort of unexplained pains, but don't bring it to her attention when you examine her or try to explain it away as something else. If she realises what's going on she'll start to hide the symptoms, so we won't know if it's progressing until it's too late."
"Why would she do that?"
"She doesn't want anyone to worry about her. One thing her and Dunban have in common is they'll think nothing of the cost to themselves when it comes to protecting those important to them, and she'd think we'd end up dropping our guards trying to keep an eye out for her."
"Are you sure you're not exaggerating a bit Reyn?"
"Back at colony 9 she nearly died saving me and Dunban by charging metal face without a single thought for her own safety. She would've if hadn't been for Shulk. I'm not sure but I think she still feels some sort of sense of failure as well, and I don't think she'll rest until we bring Metal Face down."
Sharla notices Reyn's crestfallen expression.
"Are you sure it's not you that feels that way?"
"I guess I'll have to be honest with you Sharla; yes, I do feel like that. I know she doesn't blame me for it, just as I know I can't possibly blame her in any way, but we both feel we somehow failed him that day."
Sharla dwells on this for a moment.
"Do you want me to have a word with her? I have some experience with counselling so I think I might be able to help a little; at least perhaps convince her it's okay to ask for help."
"I'd really appreciate that Sharla. I've tried my best but I'm rubbish with the sensitive stuff; it ended up more like it was her comforting me."
"Actually, can I have a talk with you as well?"
"Sure…but why with me?"
"Well…no offence, but you don't seem to be handling this whole situation very well yourself. I know things were looking pretty bad back there but I could tell from Fiora's reaction you're not the sort of guy who'd normally consider something that'd basically amount to suicide."
"It hadn't really crossed my mind. I just didn't even consider that I'd have died back there if we'd done that."
"Are you sure that's all there is to it?"
"…I suppose there is something else. I failed her. I promised her I'd look after Shulk, but he died trying to save her. He wasn't even supposed to end up on the battlefield. He was an engineer for Bionis sake! Fighting mechon; that's supposed to me my job. He shouldn't have had to do that."
"You can't blame yourself for that; it was out of your hands."
"No, there's more to it than that. I can't throw this doubt in my mind that if I could've just found the will to do what he did, I might've been able to survive. I'm trained for this sort of thing…but I just couldn't."
Reyn's composure starts to falter and his voice breaks somewhat.
"When I was a kid I wanted to join the defence force to be like my heroes; just like Vangarre and Dunban…but things happened…and by the time I was old enough to join it was more so I could protect my friends. I'll be honest with you; out of all of us I think I'm probably the most afraid of dying…but I'll face that fear rather than suffer the pain of loss. I've already lost Shulk…and I'm not gonna lose Fiora as well…or you…or anyone else…"
Reyn raises his head a little.
"…strange sort of cowardice when you think about it. When the attack on colony 9 started I was terrified, but I did a good job of hiding it. I let my training take over at first, but once we got into the thick of it…well, I stopped worrying. There was one point, just before Dunban showed up when a mechon had me pinned down, and I was just to say jamming its jaws open with my gunlance. I was hairs breadth from being eaten and you know what was running through my mind? I just wanted Shulk and Fiora to be safe."
"…Survivor guilt isn't an easy thing to deal with Reyn, but from what I've seen from you so far I'm in no doubt whatsoever you went well above and beyond the call of duty as a member of the defence force…and as their friend."
"You know Reyn…that was actually pretty helpful for me as well. To be completely honest with you I couldn't shake the feeling that there was a lot of truth in Juju's words. I felt like I was abandoning Gadolt when we evacuated but given what Xord turned out to be capable of I'd have been a liability if I'd stayed; on his own Gadolt would at least be able to fight on his own terms and not have to worry about protecting me…but…I just wish he could've come with me…"
"…Responsibility. That's why. One of the things about being part of the defence force is you don't leave anyone behind; especially if you're an officer…"
"Then why did he ask me to?..."
"To save what was left of the colony. He trusted you with that Sharla; he gave you the most important task of all. The people back at the camp; those kids; they're the future of the colony. Someone had to make sure they're safe. He had to make an awful decision Sharla; but I think he made the right one…and you deserve a lot of credit for sticking by him on that."
"I guess I just couldn't see it that way before…but I think I know what I need to do now."
Fiora interrupts the conversation.
"I had a little chat with Juju and I don't think he's going to do that again Sharla…but he did make me promise him that I'd get you to give me a check over."
"Sounds like he's learnt his lesson…I'm sorry you got hurt…"
"I can't really blame him for that; I was spoiling for a fight with the mechon so it'd probably have happened sooner or later anyway. I'm not that bad either; I doubt it's anything more than a few strained muscles."
The party get back to the camp.
"Right, do you want to come to the back of the caves Fiora? I've got a cubicle of sorts set up there."
Fiora makes her way into the cave with Sharla.
"Well…I'll get us all some hot drinks; it's not been easy going."
"Thanks Juju; are you okay?"
"I'm alright Reyn; just wish I could've had a reality check that didn't involve making trouble for everyone."
"Well I don't think we did too badly all things considered; and we managed to get a better idea of what to expect from face mechon without losing anyone…and don't worry about anyone being angry with you; to be honest I'm just relived we all made it, and I'm sure Sharla's the same."
"I…I'm worried about Fiora though. I don't know what she did back there but I've never even heard of anything like it; and seemed like it was more than she could handle."
"There's a lot we don't know about the Monado. I guess it kind of saved us again but…it's always been a risk Juju. I saw what it did to Dunban in the end…Fiora looked after him for the whole of last year so she's under no illusions of the risks either; but it's the only thing that truly works against the mechon at the moment."
"…You…want to try and take some of the burden from her don't you?"
"I do what I can Juju; but I know where I can and can't help. The best way I can help her now is just to make sure she doesn't have to use it like that."
"Is she the only person who can use it?"
"Right now, yes I'm afraid. I've tried my luck with it; it fought me so hard it nearly threw across the lab; and if the records of previous attempts are anything to go by I got off lightly."
Meanwhile Fiora's treatment gets underway.
"Is collecting bruises a hobby of yours?"
"I know they hadn't faded completely but; they'd stopped troubling me so I figured it'd be fine to head out."
"You should've given it a few more days Fiora; I'm not completely sure what the Monado did to you but it seems to have aggravated just about every old injury you were carrying."
"It's just bruising Sharla; it's nothing serious."
"Bruising doesn't normally get worse spontaneously though."
At that moment Fiora sneezes; as she wipes her nose she realises it's bleeding pretty heavily.
"Urgh! That's never happened before."
"…I think the Monado might've messed up your body chemistry a little. If all your bruising just got worse and you've no history of spontaneous nosebleeds…your blood might not be clotting properly right now."
"I feel fine Sharla."
"You wouldn't necessarily feel anything Fiora. One big problem you'll have right now though is if you do get hurt I don't think you'll heal very well if at all."
"So what are we going to do?"
"I'm going to try an old field medic's trick involving a blue ether transfusion. Blue ether crystals normally stimulate the healing process; there are certain illnesses that can cause the symptoms you're experiencing and I know these can be alleviated this way."
"Are there any risks?"
"If the treatment's too aggressive you'll end up with a minor blue ether imbalance; which is pretty trivial compared to the risks of leaving you untreated."
"Okay then, fire away."
"Funny you should say that Fiora; the treatment does require ether rifle rounds."
Sharla breaks open some of her ether shells and empties the contents, which look like a fine blue powder into a flask. She then adds some distilled water and weak saline solution and dissolves them before adding some other ingredients."
"Right then, crystals…a little bit of vitamins…touch of glucose…okay, I've got the mix sorted."
"So do I drink this?"
"Afraid not; it won't do you much good unless you take it intravenously."
"…let's get this over with…"
"I wasn't expecting you to have an issue with needles."
"It's not such much that; more to do with all the time Dunban spent in and out of the hospital wing all last year. Medical paraphernalia doesn't have many good memories associated with it for me."
Sharla gets a drip set up for Fiora.
"Okay then; now that we've got that sorted we're going to have to wait a while for it to take effect. If you don't mind me asking Fiora; how are you really doing?"
"…I'm not okay Sharla; and I won't be until I've avenged Shulk."
"I don't think that's going to be the solution Fiora."
"True; but I can't move on until it's done. Metal Face took Shulk from me…and as long he's still out there I know he'll come back…and who'll it be next time? Reyn? Dunban? You? He's not like the other Mechon; he isn't just some machine, he enjoyed what he was doing. He beat me down until I was helpless…and then instead of finishing me he killed Shulk right in front of me. It's not going to happen again Sharla, and I don't care what it takes. As soon as I'm stable we're mounting a rescue mission to colony 6."
"…You can't help anyone if you're dead Fiora. I still don't know how much damage you've sustained and I need to make sure you're not going to deteriorate. Once that transfusion kicks in your body should, and I quote 'should', start to heal itself properly again. Once that's done I'll be able to assess your existing injuries with a greater degree of clarity, and then we'll able to determine if you're in any fit state to be fighting your way through what's likely to be an entire fortress worth of mechon."
"Why do we have to resort to this transfusion business? Healing ether techniques work through simple exposure and they're usually instantaneous as well."
"Ever noticed how healing ether doesn't work for illnesses and infections? What you're suffering from would be better described as a form of illness rather than an actual injury; simple healing ether would alleviate your immediate superficial injuries, but it would do nothing for the underlying cause of the more serious problems. Taking the blue ether as a transfusion allows it to persistently treat your injuries, as well as providing a degree of deeper healing to your body."
"How's Reyn doing? He…wasn't really himself during that fight."
"He's got his head back together for now but; he's terrified of losing you Fiora. Do him a favour and look after yourself; because I don't think he'll be able to cope if anything happens to you."
"He needs to watch out for himself as well; he's fighting more recklessly now that…Shulk's gone."
"It's not that; he wants to keep you safe. Deep down he still feels responsible for what happened to Shulk."
"…and he wants to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to me…no matter what it takes…"
"Between you and me; I think there's a lot more to this than a case of misplaced guilt."
"I think I understand what you're saying Sharla…right now…I'm pretty sure I feel the same way he does. He's…already a lot more than just a friend…but…I…I don't think either of us can be completely honest with our feelings until we've laid Shulk to rest."
"So you do have feelings for him?"
"I guess there's no point trying to deny it; I've always liked him but…I'd had my heart set on Shulk…and I've no doubt whatsoever Shulk felt the same way about me...but just being with Reyn now brings me a lot of comfort. I want to be with him Sharla…but I want to be sure of why. If I'm just using him as crutch or a replacement for Shulk…he deserves better…he deserves someone who'll want to be with him for being himself."
"…I haven't known him long but he strikes me as a pretty honest and decent guy, and I don't think he's trying to be anything he isn't. When you were with Shulk…how was he?"
"He was never anything other than supportive. My…relationship with Shulk didn't seem to interfere with his relationship with either Shulk or myself."
"I think the reason he's doing his best to look after you isn't some promise he made to Shulk. I don't think his true motives have ever changed Fiora; I think he just wants you to be happy."
"Do you think he wants us to be…you know…more than friends?"
"…the only way you'll get an answer to that question is by talking to each other; although I'm pretty sure he's very fond of you to say the least."
"…hehehe…this is really strange. We haven't known each other long but I'm spilling my guts to you already."
"We're…in a pretty similar situation Fiora so I guess I can relate. You really needed to talk to someone outside of what happened at colony 9 as well."
"How much longer until the treatment takes hold?"
"We should be seeing results in the next few minutes."
"Good…and Sharla; don't give up hope."
"Hope for the best…but prepare for the worst."
Meanwhile somewhere on mechonis…
"I still fail to see why you continue to invest time and energy into him sister."
"His ether circuit is perfect; it's on the same level as the optimum projections for Face Nemesis, and he's not even complete."
"His core won't accept an imprint no matter what we try. How are we supposed to make him useable?"
"If nothing else he's extremely valuable for research purposes, and he makes for surprisingly good company."
"Sigh…he's supposed to be a weapon. Have you come up with a name yet?"
"On account of his odd duality I've considered Janus, after the two faced mythical figure."
"That does seem appropriate. His normal aversion to violence contrasts stunningly with his savagery when you hit the right switches."
"It isn't nice doing that you know. I don't think he'll ever be useable as an actual combat unit, but he might function well as a mobile maintenance unit; he could conceivably work wonders providing repairs and upgrades in the field."
"Interesting idea, but how are you going to use him if he won't accept imprints? That fact alone is somewhat disturbing; makes me wonder if we've misidentified his species."
"I'll accompany him personally. He seems to have formed some sort of a bond with me, and given his non-violent nature I highly doubt he'd pose a threat in the event of a malfunction."
"Are you sure this is wise? I don't want you putting yourself in danger for the sake of a bit of research."
"I'll be piloting the Nemesis prototype so I'll be equipped to deal with trouble."
"Very well, but stay away from the colonies."
There's a short pause.
"Okay then Janus, I've got permission."
"So that's my name, can't say I care for it."
"Best I could come up with I'm afraid."
"Are we alone now?"
"We should be able to talk in private."
"We need to move soon, probably in the next few days."
"I'm not confident you'll be stable by then."
"As long as I can survive the journey that's all that matters."
"You'd go this far for her?"
"She'd do the same without a second thought. You do realise if something goes wrong in all this you'll end up in the firing line? "
"I'm willing to take that risk. I don't know what you are but I know you're one of the most decent people I've met."
"You give me too much credit. I simply followed the examples set for me."
"Aw come here!"
"I…I'm sorry. I'm not sure about my feelings right now. I just know I need to make sure she's safe."
"I understand. I can't help but think I'd have followed a different path if I'd met you earlier in my life."
"Thank you, and not just for this. If you've got any doubts I don't mind going back to the original plan."
"No, you need to succeed, and if I can actively assist you it'll improve your chances."
"It's just such a big risk for you, after you've done so much for me already."
"I owe you far more; we'd taken everything and the pain we put you through..."
"It's okay…you're….warmer than I was expecting."
"I guess this is the first time we've actually touched. I'm not too sure of my own feelings yet either, but I know you're a dear friend now."
"I'll guess we'll both have to figure out where our hearts are as this unfolds. It's unfortunate we have to balance so many conflicting factors; my completion against my need to take action; your desire to help me against your love for your brother…and the desire for a future for Mechonis against the need to protect the people of Bionis. One certainty I have right now though is a promise I made…a promise to my very soul that no matter what I'd see to it that she'd get to live and find happiness."
"If that's the way you feel then surely…"
"I've got a feeling now there's someone else who feels the same way. Someone I know I can trust…even more than myself; someone who'll succeed where I failed."
"The path to the future isn't set in stone. That someone may yet be you…and if she decides it is don't turn her down for the sake of your own lack of confidence."
"…You're right. I'm much stronger now…but no matter what I'll respect her wishes."
"You get some sleep now. You're still incomplete and work will be faster if you're not conscious."
"I understand…I'll awaken when it's time."
"…Rest well now…You hide your pain well, but it's only too clear to me. I can alleviate your physical suffering, but I hope she can be the one to ease your emotional torment…and if not, I will try to bring you comfort."
A new female voice can be heard.
"You shouldn't feel guilt for what's happened. It was not by your choice or hand…"
"I had a part in it. I can't deny that. We should have tried to stop this sooner."
"We didn't know there was another way until now. He defied fate, just as she continues to do, and that has changed everything. Protect him if you can, but she must live, no matter what."
"I understand my Lady."
"Is there something on your mind?"
"I need to apologise to him for intruding."
"I guess you couldn't help yourself, but it is wrong to pry in that manner. That facility was designed for the purpose of recovering the lost memories of the deceased, not invading the minds of the living."
"Tell that to my brother. I worry he's slipping now."
"There's still hope for him. He won't listen to words anymore, but they might be able to show him a path to new future…as for her, we need to move, fast."
"Janus, he's still not finished…"
"Trust him on this, if he thinks he can make it it's time to go."
"…I don't want him to sacrifice himself…not after everything he's been through…"
"You heard his words; if we fail to save her all his suffering will have been for nothing. I don't know how much longer she has."
"You've developed feelings for him haven't you?"
"I won't try to deny it; I'm still a little unsure but…he's a friend now, at the very least, and there's no way in hell I'm going to let this cost him his future. They're both going to make it…"
"If I didn't know you better I'd suspect you were developing a self-destructive streak."
"Think of it more as a new found willingness to gamble with very high stakes."
"It's a fine line. Don't forget that."
"Didn't you once tell me thanks to way fate works in this world it's perfectly possible to make your own luck?"
"The dice have always been loaded, it's a simple case of knowing how they work."
"Take a little look at my side projects."
"…Now I am impressed."
"I can replicate it. I might only be able to get the most basic of functions but it should be enough to shift the odds in my favour."
Meanwhile somewhere on Bionis…
"It would seem her resistance to our influence has deeper roots than we suspected. She's become a liability we need to remove without delay."
"I disagree. She's the only viable substitute for now; without her our plans have no means of moving forward."
"You know as well as I do homs are not supposed to be capable of that."
"And you are no doubt aware homs have evolved somewhat; she's certainly not the only one."
"Accepted, but the evolution was always considered to be due to genetic contamination, and what she displayed is outside of the boundaries of capability of any of the races of the Bionis."
"…the Monado could be adjusted to compensate."
"Absolutely not; its present state is attuned to me; altering it significantly will hamper my ability to influence events in its presence."
"Her own ether signature is opposed; releasing her latent abilities results in forced rejection."
"That may be so, but it may yet prove useful regarding the later stages of the scenario."
"That is if we get that far; and you said it yourself, you can't influence her."
"Then it would appear we have found ourselves at contrary opinions; what do the projections indicate?"
"They are still unclear; but they indicate to me that leaving the Monado as it is will likely result in her being unable to complete the journey."
"…this is one dilemma I could have done without. She was supposed to be eliminated; not him…all our problems stem from that one deviation."
"We do have some time before a critical event is likely to occur. Given the inherent instability of the situation waiting may allow a new course of action not indicated by the projections to present itself."
"Then we wait and see; but I will say this; altering the Monado is an absolute last resort. Use absolutely any other viable course of action available."
"Very well; I'll keep a close eye on the projections. One way or another I'll assure the meeting."