The narrow hallways of Ose Tower echoed with each footstep– with the party of seven walking all in a file, it sounded almost like an entire army was marching, the way their footfalls compounded and grew in the otherwise silent air. Shulk could still see his breath, even with the thick walls between him and the icy cliffs. It must have been centuries since the walls or floor had last tasted sunlight, and they were every bit as dark and cold to show for it. Only dim outlets of soft blue ether lining the walls and ceiling served as a source of light, as the doorway Dunban had led them through closed off behind them, at least barring the wind from entry inside.
Fortunately, the tower itself was not very wide, and almost immediately the hallway opened into a large chamber, with several narrow stone pillars arching up to the high ceiling, and a pedestal in the centre of the room, highlighted by even more ether lights on the floor, almost pointing towards it–– but despite all the attention drawn to it, it was nothing but an empty holding place. As everyone filed in, eyes gazing up and around the bizarre room, Shulk found himself looking downwards. Echoes continued to ring in his ears, and a strange scent filled his nostrils– cold and brisk, but not wholly unfamiliar.
“Something up, Shulk?” asked Reyn.
Shulk paused before he answered. “No. It’s just… I feel like I know this place.”
Dunban frowned at that. “Déja vù?”
That wasn’t entirely wrong, but not quite right either. There was undoubtedly something about the place that he remembered, but it didn’t feel like a normal memory. It was like trying to recall a dream he had forgotten– was it from years ago? Or just the past night? “I’m not sure, but…”
The more he thought about it, the more he swore he could remember something– a feeling of cold, an odd loneliness. He was scared, but above all tired. He must have been sleeping. It must have been a dream…
Shulk blinked. “I thought I had it. I can’t seem to recall…”
A faint hum began to grow in his ears, but Shulk was too lost in his thoughts to recognize the Monado reacting on his back.
“Are you all right?”
Melia’s voice shook him from his train of thought, suddenly remembering that he was not alone in the tower. “What? Must be tired. Don’t worry.”
Before anyone else could continue in their usual barrage of well-intended questions about his pensive withdrawal, Alvis took it upon himself to begin explaining. “This is Ose Tower. Built by the High Entia to house and protect the Monado. The ceremony of seers was conducted here. It is also where the Homs found the Monado.”
It was as if he had just been struck in the stomach with one of Sharla’s rounds, but this time it was a shockwave of cold that shattered through him. “Wait, you mean…”
Shulk fell silent, and once again the room was still. The others looked among themselves worriedly, but at least spared him difficulty of having to look any of them in the eyes.
So this is where my parents died.
Reyn, Riki and Sharla had elected to gather nearby supplies for the night’s meal, while Melia and Dunban helped kindle a fire to warm up the ever-chilled halls of the Harict Chapel. After the fact, Melia lingered behind for a brief moment, even going so far as to make a noise of worry towards Shulk, preparing to ask something, but Dunban placed a hand on her shoulder before she could begin. After sharing a silent look, she seemed to think better of it, taking him up on an offer to see how the others were managing outside.
And so, Shulk was left alone in the tower to consider the empty pedestal.
“So this is where the Monado was kept? My dad took it from here…”
But, no, that was not quite true. He was not alone. Alvis was still there, standing by the fire, watching him with unreadable eyes, hands resting casually on his hips. So many questions Shulk wanted to ask and have answered, and Alvis never offered them freely to him. Was it his desire to be such a mysterious figure? Or perhaps it was that he was sworn to secrecy, unable to share by ancient vows.
Nonetheless, the questions spilled from Shulk without his permission. “Have you always been able to see the future? You told me you are from a long line of seers. Did you have the ability from birth?”
An abrupt change in subject, but it did not seem to bother Alvis. Instead, he simply walked up to the empty pedestal, gazing upon it almost fondly. “Once, I too came into contact with the Monado.”
A noise of surprise betrayed Shulk’s thoughts. Alvis did know an awful lot about the Monado to have never been around it before.
“Those that are to be seers much touch the Monado. And a chosen few receive our power. That is the ceremony of my family.”
“And the ceremony was held right here.” But that would mean… Alvis was here before my parents...
Alvis did not deny the fact. He walked away, as if aware of Shulk’s sudden suspicions about Alvis’ story, and what it implied about his own age. When he next spoke, it was with a question of his own.
“Shulk why do you think we can see the future?”
“I... hadn’t really thought about it. After I grabbed the Monado, I just saw things.” That much was true. He never really had the time to really consider the logistics of how his Visions worked. Between tracking down Fiora’s murderer, to helping new allies in Sharla, Riki, and Melia, to now finding that Fiora was still alive… things had gotten far too complicated to ponder on the fundamental workings of future-sight.
“Your visions are the flow of ether itself. Ether is the very source of our world’s existence. Where and how much ether there exists now, and in the future, can be predicted. Therefore in principle, the future of living beings such as us can be predicted. And there is one thing that makes possible the visualization of those predictions.”
“You mean the Monado.” Shulk should have suspected such a thing, but to hear it explained by another was almost overwhelming. Even after years of studying the Monado, its capabilities and secrets still amazed him.
“The Monado can disrupt the ether, allowing you to release certain powers. Which means…?”
“My visions, under the same principle, are there to disrupt the future.” He was the missing link between the flow and ether and the world it controlled. Himself, and the Monado. Without a sentient being, one capable of action and thoughts and decisions, the Monado could not do anything. The visions were there to prompt him into action.
“With no one to control the outcome, the future will never change. But what if someone were to disrupt the future? What then?”
“The Future would be changed.” Shulk thought back to the Emperor, dying in front of the wounded giant. His Vision had not proven enough to save him. But with the Monado in its new state, unshackled… “Is that how Zanza planned to defeat the Mechonis?”
Alvis nodded, but offered nothing more.
“But why go to such lengths?” Shulk found himself shaking his head in confusion. He was close to figuring out the truth behind Zanza and the High Entia. Why was someone capable of such great power imprisoned? And why did the Mechon want him dead? “What happened all those years ago?”
“Did you think it was just a myth?”
Shulk sighed. Alvis never answered his questions directly. “I used to only believe in what I could see. My home, my friends, the Monado itself! I knew those things were real.”
“But when you took the Monado in your hand, you gained the ability to see that what which was not meant to be seen.” Alvis’ voice was almost accusatory in tone. Shulk had not considered that perhaps what he was doing was unethical-- who was he to play with the strings of the future, after all? Was it not the same as playing God?
“Are you saying I should stop?”
“You are a… fluctuation.” Alvis kneeled by the fire, staring into the burning embers, not at Shulk’s worried face. “As a fluctuation, you exist outside the results of your predictions. The more you accept this existence, the more malleable the world becomes. In fact, you have no choice but to accept it.”
Perhaps that was why Shulk felt so distant from his friends. As he sat down next to Alvis by the fire, pulling the Monado from his back to examine it, he could not help but consider the truth of his words. Some days, it felt as though he was living in a different world-- existing outside the results of my predictions . Everyone else only saw that which happened, never had the burden of witnessing that which may still come to pass, never had to carry the weight of the consequences if they failed to change it.
“Alvis, have—“ Shulk caught himself before he could finish the sentence. An absurd sense of dread choked the words in his throat, embarrassment tugging at his nerves.
Alvis might have been the only person who truly understood what Shulk was going through, but it did not change the fact that he was a relative stranger to him. Would he find such a question odd to ask to a mere guide? Or, at least, who was supposedly a mere guide, for Alvis still remained much an enigma to Shulk— the man who could use the Monado in ways even Shulk didn’t understand yet, and who seemed to know more about it and its origins than anyone else. He was seer to the royal family of Alcamoth… but what did his visions show him? He seemed to know a lot about Shulk and his efforts. Was it possible that he knew more than he was saying? Would he even tell Shulk if he were to ask?
‘Have you ever seen visions about my future?’ was the question he should have almost said, the question he had considered back when he first learned of Alvis’ powers of foresight. But it wasn’t thoughts of the future that itched in his mind now. Not in the tower, not when the air itself seemed to be heavy with the breath of the past. It was an uneasy feeling, like the soreness of carrying a weight for too long.
A part of him knew Reyn would be upset at him for not talking to him about it, and that made him feel guilty. After all, he knew Shulk well enough, and usually knew how to comfort him. Shulk knew he’d offer to help with anything— but offer to help and actually help were two different matters. Reyn would try to help even if there was nothing he could do but give him his sympathy. It wasn't sympathy that Shulk needed. It was empathy.
Alvis looked neither worried nor curious about Shulk’s sudden silence. “Yes?”
No use in backing down now. “In the visions you have… you often see bad things happening, right? Things like… people being attacked. People being hurt, or…”
Shulk heard an echo of Fiora’s dying scream, so vivid he could have mistaken the memory for a vision. He swallowed hard.
“More frequently than I see good things, I'm afraid,” said Alvis. “Such is my task as seer. What use is seeing the future, if not for us to try to change it? Seeing a future of peace and happiness prompts no action. What purpose would that serve?”
“I suppose you are right…” Shulk managed a half-smile, but it disappeared quickly. “But that doesn’t make them any easier to see.”
Half-mindlessly, Shulk started to examine the Monado in his lap, passing one hand gently along the surface of the blade. Some days the sword almost felt like it was glowing in his hands, warm to the touch even in the dampest caves or black of midnight, like a gentle ether torch pouring right onto his skin. Now, its surface was cold on his fingertips, unresponsive to his presence and unwilling to give any such comfort.
“Alvis… how did the Monado feel when you first touched it, during your ceremony of seers?”
Alvis chuckled. “Out of all the questions you could ask about the ceremony, that certainly is an odd one. I can’t say I remember.”
“Did it feel warm at all? Or cold?”
He pondered at that, taking the question far more seriously than Shulk expected him to after his remark. “It was cold, of course. Valak Mountain was still unforgivingly cold back then, and the Tower as cold as it is today.”
“That’s not… really what I meant.” Shulk felt embarrassed now, like a child struggling to understand his own experiences and feelings. Talking about the Monado often made him feel that way. “Other people, when they hold or touch it-- at best, nothing happens to them. It’s just a piece of metal. At worst, it becomes uncontrollable, taking hold of their body for their own means. Even Dunban. But you and I… something different happened with us.”
Alvis only nodded.
“You said you come from a long line of seers, right? But me… did my parents have visions too, when they first touched it? Is it something you pass on from parent to child?”
“Possibly. It is not fully understood, in truth. Some call the Soothsayers the Bionis’ Chosen , for it is a gift that not all are bestowed.”
“You know, Reyn said something like that once.” Shulk remembered. “He said the Monado… it must have chosen me. Why else would I survive the expedition to here when nobody else did? I never really liked the idea of being special but…”
Alvis craned his head to one side, a ghost of a smile on his face. “But…?”
“It might sound crazy, but I think he might be right. The Monado made a choice-- a conscious choice. Sometimes I can’t help but think that the Monado is almost alive, with everything it can do. It has to make some sort of choice, to decide what to show me, what future needs changing. And it can control other people, reject them, cause them to move against their own will.”
Of course it sounded insane to say. The Monado was a sword, a tool. Maybe ethereal and divine in nature, but what did that mean? What if “divine” was just another way of saying “not yet understood”? Alvis seemed to not be completely taken aback, considering Shulk’s words with that same soft smile. The smile that betrayed nothing.
“It’s like… a symbiotic creature, maybe. One that needs another living being in order to properly exist. But it is still alive on its own, too. Just in a different way.”
“And you wonder if I, too, thought Monado was alive in some way, when I first came into contact with it?”
“You spoke before about how the Monado emits a specific wavelength of ether in its base state. I think I’ve felt it before, too. It’s… perhaps I am imagining it. But I can’t help but think of it like… like it has a heartbeat.” Shulk laughed at himself when saying it. But Alvis again did not challenge the statement. “It feels warm to the touch, sometimes, because of that ether. Ether is the lifeforce of the world. Something that emits and controls ether in a rationalized way… that has to constitute life of some kind, does it not? It communicates with me. Through visions, it shows me what I need to see. There has to be a conscious behind it.”
“Does consciousness imply life?” Alvis finally asked. “There is life without conscious-- trees, flowers, grass. If there is life without consciousness, could there perhaps not be consciousness without life?”
For once, Shulk knew how to reply to Alvis’ question. “How do you know trees have no conscious thoughts? Perhaps they think and communicate, but just in a way that we cannot yet understand.”
“A valid point.” Alvis conceded. “I have not met many people who have been able to think of the world in such a way as you, Shulk.”
It was an odd compliment, but it might have very well been the most meaningful one Shulk had ever received.
“It helps to have someone that asks the right questions.” Shulk gave a wry smile. “You know, you often avoid my questions. Instead of answering me directly, you ask me a question in return. You know more about many things than what you tell us.”
“Yet you do not sound upset.” Alvis pointed out. “Perhaps it is that you prefer to figure things out on your own? I could tell you a great many truths, but what good is it if you cannot confirm their truth yourself? You prefer to understand things with your own logic. Through your own understanding and experiences.”
It was jarring almost, how easily Alvis could pin down his thoughts and motivations. Not wholly unpleasant, either, to feel as though someone understood him. Perhaps someone who shared his way of looking at the world, or at the very least did not mind his way of thinking so much.
“I still would like to know how it is that you could use the Monado so well, if you only ever touched it once.” Shulk asked the question half-heartedly, not expecting an answer.
“I think one day you will find the truth behind that yourself.”
Shulk set the Monado down and stretched out onto his back, smiling to himself. “I guess I will have to.” With the Monado to one side, and Alvis to the other, the tower did not feel so cold anymore.