Shulk sat on the floor of Whitewing Palace, looking out over the city below. The rain against the huge window panes blurred the view, but despite this he knew the streets were deserted. The citizens had been instructed to stay inside during the Mechon attack, but now they stayed in to mourn.
The events on Prison Island still turned in his mind—the rain, the Mechon, the Monado... Fiora and the Emperor. It was a lot to process.
The image of Fiora inside of the silver faced Mechon haunted him. She hadn't recognized them at all, or even reacted to their calls. Remembering her blank stare sent chills down Shulk's spine, but knowing she was still alive had renewed his determination, changing his goal from revenge to rescue.
But what troubled him more was the Emperor. The scene played over and over in his head, making him feel powerless though the moment had long passed. He saw it happen in a vision, he knew exactly how the event would play out, so why wasn't he able to change it? He'd saved people from death before—once he'd learned he could, he'd prevented every death shown to him. But not this time. It was frustrating, what had he done wrong this time? There was no possibility that the Emperor had survived, either. While Fiora had ultimately been found alive, the Emperor's lifeless body was set to be entombed along with his ancestors in Eryth Sea.
Shulk let out a deep sigh, rubbing his hand over his face. His ability to see and change the future had made him unwilling to accept what others may deem inevitable.
Sitting in the room stuck in his own head was getting him nowhere, he needed to talk to someone about this. But it wasn't something so easily understood. His friends would mean well, but he knew they wouldn't really know what to say. And he doubted Melia would appreciate having to comfort him over her own father's death.
Standing up, he decided that the best course of action would be to take a walk. He wasn't keen on going out in the rain, but he was free to explore the royal palace; wandering around inside sounded preferable anyways.
Back in the main entrance hall of the palace, he took a random transporter that led him to an empty hallway. It looked the same as any other hallway, wide with high ceilings, ornate carved arches with glowing orange inlays. He followed the hallway down, at times taking random turns or other transporters which would bring him to other hallways that looked identical. The uniform and maze-like nature of the palace allowed Shulk to wander without needing to pay much attention to where he was going. Even if he got lost, he knew it wouldn't be for long.
Though he tried to keep from thinking of the same things that had forced him on this walk in the first place, they still crept up on him. They wouldn't go away until he could reconcile with them, but how could he do that? The frustration of being unable to change a foreseen future isn't something anyone else could relate to, unfortunately. Unless...
Shulk wasn't the only person with this gift, he remembered. Alvis was the royal seer, surely he'd have experience with what Shulk was feeling. But could he just go see him out of the blue? He didn't want to bother him, but no one else had a chance of understanding.
First, he had to find him. Now thoroughly lost, his best bet was to find a guard. Continuing to roam the halls, he came upon one soon enough.
"Excuse me, can you help me?" He waved his hand a bit to get the guards attention. Honestly, he wasn't sure how well they could see in those helmets.
"You are not permitted to be here, civilian."
He probably should've expected that. "No, I'm not, uh, I'm a guest of Melia's!" Shulk inwardly winced, stuttering surely didn't make him seem very credible. "My name is Shulk."
"My apologies, sir. You were on prison island with the Emperor and Lady Melia."
"Yeah... I'm uh, wondering if you could tell me where I could find Alvis?" He quickly got to the point, not too inclined to discuss recent events with a stranger.
"The Divine Seer should be in his quarters. I will escort you to the transporter."
Shulk was grateful that the guard didn't press him on why he was looking for Alvis, but wished he would have just given directions instead of insisting on bringing him there personally. But the walk ended up being somewhat long, winding through different hallways and transporters, so it was probably for the best the guard accompanied him.
The two stopped in front of another transporter, and the guard explained it would take him to the seers quarters. Shulk thanked him and was on his way.
The transporter brought him to a long hallway, with only windows on either side. At the end was a single ornate door. It reminded him of Melia's villa, except the transporter to hers wasn't covered. Shulk was grateful for the indoor path though, the water from the downpour cascading over the glass in an endless stream. Through the windows he could hear the crash of thunder outside, paired with occasional flashes of lightning.
As he got closer to the door, he was suddenly overcome by the feeling that he was out of line, showing up to Alvis' room like this. They hardly knew each other; what was he expecting Alvis to do?
He steeled himself and knocked anyway.
From behind the door, the sound of a desk chair scraping across the floor could be heard. A few seconds later, the door opened and Shulk was met with the Seer's silver eyes.
"Hello, Shulk," A warm voice greeted Shulk. The way he spoke made it seem like he had been expecting the visit. Which, Shulk reminded himself, was not out of the realm of possibility. Lacking the heavy jacket that he'd come to associate with Alvis, the man was instead only wearing the blue sweater and cream vest he always wore under it. Alvis stepped to the side to allow the other to enter the room. "Please come in."
The room was different from any other he'd seen in the palace. The architecture was unmistakably that of the High Entia, but the furniture and decor made him almost feel like he was back home in the Colony.
The wooden furniture that filled the room was undeniably of a higher quality than what would be found in an average Homs' house, but the style was similar—though noticeably antiquated. A small number of potted plants were tucked away wherever they'd fit, with one in particular trailing thin, intertwined white vines down the shelf it was kept on. Bookshelves packed with thick tomes lined the wall to his right, and a desk with even more piles of books and a few stacks of paperwork sat next to them against a small adjacent wall, which was perfectly sized to the desk. Around the corner from where the short wall ended was a small area, with a back wall made entirely of windows. It was only broken up by the paneling that the panes were set into, and a door leading to an outdoor area. The windows themselves were curved, allowing for the rainwater to flow down them with a cool effect, as though Shulk was looking up from under a river. Beyond the windows he could vaguely make out what looked like a garden in the yard.
To his left was a small armoire, next to which was a bed. It was also small, Shulk remarked, suited only for a single person to lay. The sheets looked expensive, but less regal than what was fitted to the bed in his own guestroom of the palace. They too had the unusually rustic feel of the rest of Alvis' room. The floor was wooden—unlike the carved stone of the rest of the palace—with a rug that was adorned with High Entia designs; however, its construction gave Shulk the impression that it was Nopon-made. The entire space was bathed in a low warm light, coming from an ether lamp on the desk. It was a surprisingly cozy room, especially compared to the other rooms he had seen. Not big or grand, like he would expect from a room built for royalty. It reminded Shulk more of a library—one that just happened to have a bed in it.
Realizing he'd been standing in the doorway this whole time, he quickly shuffled further into the room next to the bed, hoping Alvis didn't notice his awkwardness.
"Alvis, I... I'm sorry to bother you in your room so suddenly..."
"It's quite alright, Shulk. You are welcome anytime." A gentle smile spread across his face. "Have a seat." The man gestured towards the bed, while he pulled the chair out from his desk and sat facing Shulk. "Now, what is it you would like to ask me?"
Taking a seat on the plush bed, he almost missed what Alvis had said. "Wh...? How did you—"
"Why else would you be here?" Alvis answered before he could even finish his question.
Shulk's face flushed, mildly embarrassed. Of course he was here to ask a question, and of course Alvis would be able to deduce that. "A-ah... I guess so." He wasn't sure how to phrase what he actually wanted to ask. Somehow he didn't think this far ahead. "I was just thinking about the Emperor." As good a place to start as any.
Alvis crossed his legs and sat back in his chair, looking thoughtful. He didn't speak for a while, but the quiet of the room was comfortable; only the sound of rain on the back window and distant thunder filling it.
"You are upset that you were unable to prevent the Emperor's death, am I correct?"
Shulk looked to the ground. Once again, Alvis was spot on. He wondered if the Seer really was as perceptive as he seemed, or if he himself was just too easy to read.
"It is nothing to be ashamed of, Shulk. The burden bestowed upon those able to glimpse the future is a heavy one, indeed." Alvis' voice was steady, the knowing tone giving Shulk the impression that he was in the right company. "I would know."
"But I knew what would happen! I saw it, but I—"
"You were not the only one aware of His Majesty's fate. Despite our gift, we cannot alter the future of someone who has already accepted it. As I told you before, he did not go to prison island unprepared."
Despite Alvis' words ringing true, Shulk's frustration didn't subside. "But I've prevented every death I'd seen before! What use are these visions if I can't save people?"
"So you doubt your ability to save people, despite your visions."
The bluntness of the statement caught Shulk off guard.
Alvis stared at Shulk with a neutral expression that he couldn't place. All the same, Shulk felt as though he was being scrutinized, like Alvis was waiting to see how he'd react. But truthfully, Shulk didn't know how to react. It could be that Alvis was right; while he and his companions had had some close calls, his visions always got everyone out alive. Perhaps the Emperor's death served as a harsh reminder that even with the power to see the future, he wasn't invincible.
"Shulk," Alvis called his attention once more, pulling him from his thoughts. "As unpleasant of a thought that it is, something you must accept is that certain things are inevitable. While you have the ability to influence fate, you are not omnipotent. You will not always have all the answers, and that is not your fault."
Hearing Alvis explain it like this, it seemed so obvious. He was still constrained to his limits as a Homs. Looking up to meet Alvis' eyes with a slight smile, he saw the seer smiling back. "You make it sound so simple."
Alvis stood up and walked across the room, stopping at a small panel near the door. "It is not easy to come to terms with, but it is something you cannot escape. You will only suffer more if you refuse to acknowledge it."
Once again, Shulk felt a little silly for not figuring this out himself. "I'm sorry I bothered you in your room, Alvis. But talking to you really helped."
"It is my pleasure, Shulk. Would you like to stay for tea? I realize your invitation to dinner was cut short."
'Cut short' was certainly one way to put it. "I couldn't do that... I've already troubled you enough."
Alvis turned to face Shulk, giving him another smile. "Think nothing of it. And besides, I've already called for it to be delivered."
Again, Shulk's face flushed a light red, still feeling as though he was imposing on Alvis. But at the same time he was grateful for the man's invite, preferring his quiet company in the small room over the open yet isolated feeling of Whitewing palace. He looked around the room again; it really was a contrast to the rest of the rest of Alcamoth.
"Admiring the room?" Alvis watched as Shulk's eyes wandered the surroundings. He followed where the boy looked, taking note at how he lingered on the bookshelf. "I'm sure you've noticed it's quite... different from the traditional Alcamoth décor."
Shulk only responded with a hum, looking intently at Alvis now, waiting for him to continue.
Walking back across the room, he stopped in front of his desk and ran his hand along the surface of it. "It was built long ago, when the first Divine Seer was appointed. The first... of my lineage." He chuckled lowly to himself, as though recalling a fond memory. "The furniture is constructed in the typical Homs style of the time."
"It looks a lot like the furniture back home in the Colony."
"I suppose tastes haven't changed much, have they."
A light knock interrupted them.
"Come in," Alvis called out, not bothering to turn towards the door.
The door opened, and a High Entia servant carrying a silver tray entered. An intricately patterned teapot and matching cups were on the tray, along with a plate of delicate looking sandwiches. "Sir," They addressed Alvis.
"Thank you," He took the tray from the servant, who responded with a slight bow. "You are dismissed." The two were alone once more.
Alvis placed the tray on his desk, before pouring tea into one of the cups and offering it to Shulk, who was still on the bed. "Forgive me for not having a more convenient seating arrangement. I don't often have guests."
Shulk smiled as he accepted the cup from Alvis. "Don't worry about it, the bed's comfortable."
"Were it not raining, there is a small table in the garden." He looked towards the windowed wall, rain still streaming down the panes. "Perhaps another time."
Shulk choked a little on his tea. "Another time?"
"Is there a problem?" Alvis quirked his brow. "I would have thought you might like to come to chat again, forgive my assumption."
"No! That's not what I meant at all!" Shulk blushed sheepishly. "I just wasn't expecting an invite. I'd love to come over again sometime." He took another sip of his tea, hoping Alvis wouldn't dwell on his odd behaviour. Thinking quick, he tried to change the subject. "That's your garden out there, yeah?"
Ignoring Shulk's little outburst, perhaps out of politeness, Alvis looked back at the windows. "Yes, I tend to it most days. Occasionally I am away from the Capital for business, so in that case one of the palace gardeners cares for it."
"You take care of it? I didn't take you for the gardening type." Shulk said with a laugh. It was hard to picture the Seer digging around in the dirt, always looking so elegant and proper. In the back of his mind he tried to imagine him in an outfit more suited for labour. He couldn't.
Shulk's laughter was returned. "I do enjoy it, yes. My role as Seer is quite demanding, the garden provides a much appreciated distraction from it." He set his teacup on the desk to his side. "I would love to show it to you one day."
The pair sat in a comfortable silence once more, rain and thunder forming a soft ambience to surround them. Shulk couldn't help but feel relaxed, the combination of the familiar feel of the room and Alvis' reassurance making him feel at home for the first time since he'd left Colony 9. He almost wished he could just stay in this moment, peaceful and calm, free from all the troubles that his journey brought.
Looking down at his teacup, he inspected the intricate details closer. Delicately painted flowers adorned it, which he thought he recognized as looking similar to some he'd seen growing on the floating reefs of Eryth Sea. The rim was plated with silver, along with the elegantly curved handle. It was likely one of the most expensive pieces of drinkware he'd ever held, and it was only one of a set.
When he looked up, he found Alvis had been watching him.
"Is there something else on your mind?"
The Seer sure could read him like a book.
"Ah... not really."
Apparently, he could read him even better than a book.
"You're incredible, Alvis. What gave me away?"
"Nothing in particular. Here," Alvis picked up the plate of sandwiches off the tray and held it towards Shulk. "You haven't eaten yet."
Shulk accepted one of the sandwiches, thinking absentmindedly that it seemed like a pretty plain meal. He didn't mind, however, since he preferred simple things anyways. The luxury of a more elaborate dish would probably be lost on him.
He still wondered how Alvis could pick up on his thoughts like he did. As per usual, the Seer seemed reluctant to divulge any of his secrets, leaving Shulk to try and figure it out himself. Just how much did Alvis know about him? From the moment they'd met, it had seemed as though they'd known each other for years. Strangers as they were, there was an inherent connection that Shulk couldn't place. Perhaps it was that they were both capable of wielding the Monado, of seeing the future? Somehow that didn't strike Shulk as the actual reason, but it was the only logical one he could come up with.
Alvis' remark about him being homesick remained in his mind. "Alvis, you said you travel sometimes. Do you ever get homesick?"
"Me?" Seemingly surprised at the question, Alvis thought for a moment. "I can't say I am too familiar with the feeling, no."
Shulk only responded with a disappointed hum. Maybe this is something Alvis wouldn't have wisdom about.
"However, it is no mystery why you are feeling it. You spent your entire life in Colony 9, am I correct? It is only natural to miss it, being so far from home. And you will only go further from here as you continue forward. The familiarity of this room would understandably amplify the feeling."
"I guess you're right..." The way Alvis spoke was so matter of fact, Shulk couldn't help but agree. And what he said made sense, he really was farther from Colony 9 than he ever thought he'd be. The countless new things he'd discovered and witnessed was something he wouldn't trade, but the discomfort and pain that followed him across the Bionis wasn't something he was happy to get used to.
"Here, I would like to show you something. I believe you will enjoy it," Getting up from his chair, Alvis scanned one of the many bookshelves along the wall, before pulling out a thick worn book bound in red cloth. He brushed a few papers on his desk out of the way before placing the book down, gesturing for Shulk to come see.
Getting up from the bed, Shulk stepped around the chair Alvis had been sitting in to stand beside him. He placed his teacup back on the tray, not wanting to risk spilling on the book—which looked very old. Alvis kept his hands away from the desk, instead looking to Shulk expectantly; waiting for him to open it.
Carefully, Shulk ran his hand along the cover, lifting the book on its side to check the spine for a title. Like the cover, it too was bare, giving no indication of what could be inside. How Alvis knew this was the specific book he'd been looking for, Shulk had no clue. Gently opening it revealed yellowed pages, obvious signs of wear in the form of many dogeared pages and small tears. Flipping forward a few pages he was met with the first indications of the book's contents.
"This is..." He was breathless, astonished at what Alvis had brought before him.
"It is a history of Colony 9. Quite incomplete, mind you, records have not been updated in several generations."
"Where did you get this? It goes back centuries!" Amazement was evident in his voice. "Maybe even longer?"
Alvis let out a small laugh, enjoying Shulk's fascination with the old tome. "The High Entia have been documenting Bionis history for millennia. It is only natural that there would be accounts of Homs history as well." He slipped his fingers between a few of the pages. "Many records of High Entian history has been lost, but a large portion of Homs history has been preserved, including this chronicle of Colony 9."
"There's so much here..." Shulk's eyes darted across the pages, trying to read as much as he could like he was afraid the book would disappear right out from under him. "But why do you have it? Shouldn't something like this be in a more... secure place?"
"The Ministry of Research and Records holds the majority of the books. However I keep a selection here as per my needs."
Alvis removed his hand from the book and left Shulk's side to walk towards the back area of the room. Shulk, reluctant to look away from the handwritten account of his home Colony's history, finally tore his gaze to trail the Seer across the small space. "Shulk, my job is not only to 'see'. As the Divine Seer, yes, I am tasked with foreseeing the future. However it is also my duty to study the past, in hopes of applying it to prophesied events. Through this, I am able to discern a clear path forward."
"Your visions sure sound a lot different than mine," Leaving the desk, Shulk followed to stand next to Alvis, both of them looking out the window. The rain obstructed any clear view of the garden beyond, but the pattern of the raindrops flowing down the curved surface was view enough.
"Perhaps. But though our abilities are similar, we use them in different ways. While yours are mainly used for immediate threats, the job of the Divine Seer is to identify far-off ones. It hinges on predicting and understanding an approaching event, to gauge the best course of action. It is no coincidence that the Symbol of the Divine Seer is a key, Shulk."
Turning to look at Alvis, his eyes traced down the man's neck and settled on the brass key that rested on perfect tan skin. He'd never paid it much mind, thinking it was simply an accessory, rather than a symbol of office. Alvis' visions were the key to the future... fitting, he thought.
"Hm?" He was brought back to attention by Alvis—his gaze lingering on the way the man's silver hair fell over his shoulders—only to realize he'd been staring this whole time. "O-oh! I, uh— Sorry," He stammered, quickly looking away, hiding his face as it turned a light shade of red. "I was only... admiring your necklace."
Alvis, chuckling lightly at Shulk's flustered state, reached up to softly touch the key he donned. "It is a very important artifact, having been passed down through the generations of Seers. Much like the Imperial Staff, it has been owned by countless historically significant figures through the years."
Embarrassment subsiding, Shulk looked back at the key, taking care not to stare too long this time.
It was hard to believe it was as old as Alvis said, as it didn't seem to have any scratches or dings in it like he'd expect from something worn everyday for years; millenia even. Shining and pristine, it looked like it had been made only yesterday.
Looking away from Alvis' hands, he instead focused his attention on his face. He was looking down at the key he held, with a pensive, almost solemn expression.
The pair stood in silence once more, Alvis' hand eventually leaving the key to rest at his side. While Alvis looked ahead at the rain on the window panes, Shulk instead was more interested in watching the Seer himself. He'd never really just looked at him before, and though he was sure Alvis could see him in periphery, Shulk couldn't help but stare. His delicate features in profile, his flowing silver hair that reached down to his shoulders; illuminated by the lighting from outside. A serene moment, one he hadn't expected when he first knocked on the carved wooden door.
Again, he almost wished he could stay here forever.
The moment was broken by the chime of a clock from somewhere behind them. Shulk suddenly realized that hours had passed without him even noticing.
Alvis cleared his throat. "Ah, it's getting quite late, wouldn't you say?" He looked to Shulk. "I'm sure your friends are worrying about you."
"Mm... yeah probably. I didn't tell anyone where I went," Probably not his best idea. But in his defence, he didn't know where he would end up himself.
Alvis turned around, gently placing his hand on Shulk's arm to guide him along. "Well then, we should make sure that they did not send out a search party for you." He laughed. "As for the history books," He noticed as Shulk looked longingly as the bookshelves, clearly wishing he could stay and read them. "You are welcome to peruse them anytime, provided I am here, of course. Unfortunately, I cannot loan them out. But if you like, I could copy down a few chapters for you."
"I couldn't ask you to do that... It's a very kind offer though. I'll be sure to come by again." Shulk said with a smile. Allowing Alvis to walk him to the door, he quietly savoured the feeling of the Seer's slender fingers resting on his arm.
"I look forward to it. The palace hallways are quite intricate, would you like me to escort you back?" Another kind offer. One that Shulk, remembering the long walk here, couldn't refuse.
"That would be great! Thank you, Alvis."