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Author: Elbo

"He's mine."

The words festered like poison in Kallian's ears. His body tensed. He took a step backwards, his outstretched right arm pushing Alvis back, away from the monster in front of them, while his left hand gripped his sword.

The monster simply smiled wider.

"He's my close friend, you know. Someone that will always stand by my side. Right, Alvis?"

"Friend?" Kallian spat. "No one would consider you a--" He felt a hand push his arm down gently before he saw Alvis walk out from behind him. The violent thoughts drowning his head fell into silence as he watched Alvis walk away, towards Zanza's side. His throat caught. When Alvis was near Zanza's side, he turned to face the same way as Zanza, but refused to look at Kallian - his eyes seemed glued to the ground.

Zanza laughed, wrapping one arm around Alvis' shoulders and resting his fingers against Alvis' jawline, caressing it. He kissed Alvis' forehead and Kallian felt disgust rise in his throat.

"See? The closest of friends!"

"Friends?! I doubt you see him as anything more than a pet!"

"A pet, huh?" A malicious grin spread on Zanza's face - Kallian immediately regretted his choice of words. Zanza gripped Alvis' jaw harder, forcing his head up slightly. Alvis closed his eyes, his face slightly contorted in pain. "And what a wonderful pet!"

Kallian was at a loss for words. "Give him back," he hissed.

"Give him back? You're mistaken, bird prince. He was never yours to begin with. But if you insist..." He shoved Alvis forward with a sharp movement. "Go on, Alvis! Give him everything you have!"

Zanza sneered. "And don't stop until he's dead."

Kallian watched as Alvis caught himself. He watched as Alvis opened his eyes and stared at the ground. Then Alvis met his eyes - Alvis' eyes sharp with attention and void of emotion - before grabbing his sword and lunging at Kallian.

---

Author: Elbo

Kallian leaned back in the grass, watching the shooting stars in the sky above. One, two... He grasped the grass near him, resisting the urge to hold the hand only centimeters away from him.
They both remained silent, counting the stars. Alvis had once said the falling stars were made of ether - of course, everything was made of ether. Kallian wondered what made the ether of the stars special, should Alvis have felt the need to tell him.

Perhaps they were the ether from fallen allies and friends, watching over Alcamoth.

Alvis pushed himself up and started walking towards the transporter which lead to Reef One. Kallian did not look away from the sky.

"Alvis..."

"It is late, Your Highness. We go to war tomorrow. It'd be best to get some rest."

Kallian did not look over. He watched the stars fall, no longer counting them.

"When I turn into a Telethia, promise me you won't be the one leading me. I... I don't want to hurt Melia."

Alvis caught the unspoken words, that Kallian could not hurt him even if it meant putting Melia in harm's way. Alvis shifted his weight, not looking back to Kallian - he knew him well enough to know he was not looking at Alvis - before resuming his journey to Reef One, offering no more words to the prince.

---

Author: Elbo

It was dark. Were his eyes even open? He could not move, not even blink. He tried to make a sound, but his lips would not budge.

It felt familiar, this situation, and Alvis felt panic creep up on him. No, this should not be happening. Monado was still in him, protecting him -- right?

His hand jerked and his throat caught, shooting a wave of panic through him. His body still was not his - it never was his with that illness eating at him. His arms tensed and he felt himself drew his legs up, violent shivers beginning to wrack his body. He gasped for breath - was his body moving with him now? No, it shouldn't be - and choked on a wad of spit. It was painful, painful, painful, as if every muscle in his body was trying to contract at once, all pulling each other apart.

Alvis tried to think about hands that would rub his back, voices that would tell him he'd be fine. He strained to hear, anything at all would do, but nothing but his own harsh gasps reached his ear.

Over time, his breathing began weakening. He should have felt panic, but his mind was clouded. His shuddering stopped - did it? He could not tell anymore.

He felt himself shake again, but it felt different. The shaking started at his shoulder. It felt like someone was...

Alvis forced his eyes open, drawing in harsh breaths. He stared up, letting his eyes adjust as a face sharpened into focus. He found he had no words, no sarcastic comment whatsoever when he noticed how worried the prince looked. He was not sure he would have had words regardless, after such a dream. It felt as though he had swallowed a brick.

Alvis covered his face with both of his hands as he tried to calm down, his gasps the only sound in the room.

---

Author: Elbo

Alvis held Kallian close, nuzzling his head against the back of Kallian's neck and breathing in his scent contentedly. He was warm - very warm after Alvis' trek through snowy mountains. Having anyone's company after a long and lonely journey through the cold could warm him up inside as is, but having Kallian to cuddle with helped. The prince was always warm, both his body and his personality, and Alvis often found himself tangled up with him.

Kallian kissed Alvis' forehead and Alvis let out a breathy laugh. He moved his lips down and met Alvis', his hands playing with Alvis' hair. Alvis moved to kiss him back, but the next thing he knew, Kallian was to his back. He could feel Kallian's gaze, but he could not move.

They were visions, he realized. He tried to mentally detach himself as familiar scenes played before him - waking up to Kallian sneaking in his room, the look of disbelief on Kallian's face as Alvis brought back a Feris, the look of fear as Kallian caught him mid-fall, all gray-scale. He watched each familiar scene play out, leading to their favorite ending.

He waited to see the prince - or rather, what the prince had become - in a heart, facing off against his own brother. It never came. Alvis heard his heart beat faster in his chest as confusion gripped him. He found himself in a field, watching falling stars with Kallian, before the colors of the world jerked and blurred before him. He shut his eyes - he could move - but his head spun painfully regardless, bright colors bleeding across his vision.

He opened his eyes in time to watch the world form around him unnaturally, as if each blade of grass was being forced into place by sheer force of will. He took in the sharpness of everything before his body turned around, mouthing something he could not understand. Alvis' mind stopped when he caught sight of Kallian, sitting bloodied and clutching at his chest. Alvis felt himself bring his bow up and start chanting something, a flame growing and burning around his wrist. Alvis snapped out of his shock and tried to scream Kallian's name, tried to scream at him to run, tried to move his bow away or get the spirit to leave or anything, anything at all to stop what was happening, but his body did not respond. He felt himself pull the bowstring to his shoulder, the flame on his arm traveling along his hand to position itself as an arrow, and Alvis felt all the warmth leave him.

His fingers let go of the string.

Alvis' eyes shot open, tears stinging as they rolled down his cheeks. He stared forward, not registering anything he saw.

"Alvis," a voice whispered harshly. He felt someone shake his shoulder. He let his eyes focus and he saw Kallian's eyes staring back, full of worry.

Harsh breathing, blood covering his body, clutching his chest. Alvis reacted immediately to the invasive image in his head, pushing Kallian away with a sudden force. Kallian lost his breath in surprise, but he grabbed Alvis' hands when the shock passed and held him in place.

A moment passed as the two of them caught their breath again. After he calmed down slightly, Alvis pushed Kallian away gently, refusing to look at him.

Kallian tried to rub Alvis' back reassuringly, but Alvis pushed the hand away.

"Don't touch me."

The voice was raspy. "I can help," Kallian said.

Alvis did not respond.

"Don't you always tell me to open up and talk about my issues? How if I kept them bottled up, everything will end up worse?"

"I'm not usually the cause of your issues," Alvis responded coldly. Kallian thought about the words.

"If I did something wrong, you should tell me."

Alvis did not respond. Kallian felt his worry melt into annoyance.

"Healthy relationships require us to be open, right? Didn't you say that?"

Alvis did not move. Kallian scoffed - did he fall back asleep? He was starting not to doubt it. He turned his back to Alvis, moving as far away on the bed as he could. He closed his eyes, trying to find some sleep, but his position was too uncomfortable and his mind was on hyperdrive. The man was just screaming his name - how can he act so cold now?

It was only hours later, when the sun was about to rise and he heard Alvis whisper "If you don't want to do something wrong, promise me you won't let me kill you so easily" that Kallian realized it was not him Alvis was mad at.

---

Author: Elbo

Alvis' eyes were closed in concentration. He breathed in slowly, then back out. His hands were clenched against his chest, a prickling sensation starting to gnaw at them. He breathed in the warm forest air again, only partly aware of his surroundings.

"Summon wind."

The fairy clawed at his fingers before he finished his words. Alvis opened his eyes in surprise, razor winds leaving small cuts on his hand. The spirit jumped a safe distance from him - it was not its intention to hurt him.

It bowed to him playfully before skidding around the flowers and trees. Alvis watched it for a while before turning his gaze to his companions. Kallian and Sunny were both enraptured by its movements.

"The wind spirits tend to be playful, similar to the fire spirits," he said. Kallian only nodded in response. Alvis knew he was paying attention - summoning spirits was the entire reason the two were out in Makna Forest. "Unlike the fire spirits, however, they are quick and free. The wind may not be as destructive as fire, but it is far harder to contain."

Kallian smiled, watching the spirit enjoy itself. "Not very much unlike yourself, huh?"

Alvis laughed. He leaned back against the tree he had claimed and watched the other two. Sunny seemed as though he was intrigued by the spirit, but he did not pounce. If Alvis had taught him one thing, it was to not attack spirits unless they attack him.

The spirit skidded along the ground before dispersing into ether particles. Sunny watched the place it was last before leaning its head against Kallian's knees and closing its eyes.

Kallian looked back to Alvis. "Well then, I've seen fire, wind, and earth spirits. Any others?"

Alvis grinned in response. He closed his eyes again, clearing his mind. His hands instinctually clenched once more and moved to his chest. He took a deep breath.

"Summon aqua."

He felt a chilly presence in his hands. He sighed in relief as he felt the cuts close. His hands opened and the spirit bowed from his palm, a professional bow. It took to flying around the area peacefully, sprinkling water on the plants.

This time, only Kallian was intrigued. Alvis watched him, a smile pulling at his lips. The prince could act like such a kitten sometimes - one would not guess it from his normally professional air. Alvis liked to think that he did not act this way often.

He must have zoned out because he suddenly felt cold water spray against his face. He squeaked and wiped the water off of his eyelids, opening his eyes again to see the water spirit smiling knowingly at him.

The smile felt painfully familiar and Alvis felt his heart skip a beat. Within the next second, the spirit dispersed into the area, but Alvis continued staring where it was.

"Alvis? Are you all right?"

He snapped back into reality and tried smiling reassuringly at Kallian, but he must have failed. Both Kallian and Sunny's attention were on him.

Kallian seemed worried.

"It's nothing! Ah, right," Alvis wiped his wet bangs from his face, "water spirits tend to be more mature and nourishing, like a... mother..." Alvis trailed off, looking back to the spirit's last area.

With that, Kallian seemed very concerned. "Should we go back for now? I think you need some rest."

Alvis nodded, accepting Kallian's help with pulling him to his feet. Sunny got up as well, arching in a yawn before following after them.

---

Author: Elbo

Dark. Dark, dark, dark. And silent, a stark contrast to the pulsating room he was just in. Kallian opened his eyes, staring up into space.

He mindlessly counted the stars above him, around him, before sitting up and watching the stars float beneath him, a sinking feeling forming in his gut. His wings tensed immediately, ready to catch him, but he did not fall. He did not know what held him in the vastness of space which extended all around him. He gripped at the solid footing beneath him - it felt like dirt.

He watched a shooting star pass beneath him. One, then two. More and more fell around him. Kallian fell down onto his back, reaching his hand up and grasping at the stars.

"They are the souls of the departed, streaking brightly one last time before they are to return to the Bionis."

Kallian tilted his head back to see Alvis standing, looking at him. Alvis sat down, looking up.

"So this place is meant for the souls of the departed?"

Alvis nodded. Kallian closed his eyes.

"It is called the Passage of Fate. Only the departed and the divine are allowed in here. It's a wonderful place, is it not?"

"You seem familiar with it. This isn't your first time here, is it?"

Kallian opened his eyes and looked back to Alvis. Alvis did not move. He continued to stare up.

Then, he smiled and leaned back.

"This place is like a home to me. I am more familiar with it than I am Alcamoth's castle."

Kallian did not respond. Instead, he sat up and turned to face Alvis. He felt sorrow at the man's words.

"Is this why you worked for us, then? To collect our souls?"

Alvis closed his eyes.

"It is my job," he whispered. He opened his eyes and leaned forward, placing a hand on Kallian's cheek. "But it was not my reason for becoming your seer. Living with the dead is lonely, and I wanted to experience being with the living for once."

Kallian put his hand over Alvis'. He leaned forward, resting his head on Alvis' shoulder.

"... I don't want to die."

There was no response. Kallian did not move. Alvis put his free hand on Kallian's back, rubbing it reassuringly.

Kallian's breath hitched. Before he could stop himself, he started sobbing, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. He hugged Alvis close, crying uncontrollably as the man rubbed his back.

"I don't... want to die..."

---

Author: Elbo

It took minutes, but Kallian's crying slowed. Alvis looked past him, at the streaking stars in the sky. He looked at the idle stars - while most were stars, some were spirits, waiting for their turn to rest.

Kallian pushed himself off of Alvis and they met eyes. Alvis grabbed the blue blade next to him.

"Are you ready?"

Kallian looked confused. Alvis gestured to the sword in his hand.

Kallian's eyes widened. He shook his head.

"I don't..."

"Want to die? That isn't an issue anymore - the time of your death has already passed."

Kallian looked down, his eyes red and sore from crying. He covered his mouth with his hand.

"But Melia..."

"She will be fine."

"Are you sure?"

"I am certain."

Alvis gripped the sword, waiting for his cue. Kallian looked lost in thought.

"Please take care of her."

Alvis did not respond. He picked up his blade and stood up.

Kallian remained sitting for the next few minutes before standing up as well. He held his arms out in defeat, closing his eyes. Alvis pointed his blade at Kallian's heart.

In one smooth movement, his blade went through.

His chin rested on Kallian's shoulders and he felt the man's breath brush by his ear. Arms wrapped around him and he felt a warm pair of lips press against his ear before the pressure faded, dust scattering off into space.

---

Author: Elbo

The flowers in the Imperial Villa seemed to tremble in the cold air. It was a shame, how the power went out after Alcamoth was abandoned, but Alvis supposed it was only natural. There were no longer any High Entia to maintain the power plants.

Alvis brushed his fingers against a flower. Rain pounded on the glass surrounding the city. He stood up and closed his eyes, reciting a spell. A water spirit manifested and the two met eyes before the spirit went to work, providing the flowers with the water they needed.

Alvis started for the door, but the spirit called his name. He looked at it. It waved him over. Curious, Alvis walked to where it was and looked down.

A paper.

He picked it up, trying to wave some water off of it before giving up. It had been in the villa for a while, evidently - it was worn from water. He stared at the smudges before looking around. Zanza did not need him anytime soon. He had time.

Alvis waved at the spirit and it went back to work as Alvis walked out of the villa, focused on making sense of the smudges on the slip of paper.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The paper crumbled as Alvis picked it up from its position near the fountain. How it had remained unseen until then, Alvis was not sure. He read the paper - "Reef 5" - before sighing and shoving it in his pocket with the mesh of other notes. He headed to Alcamoth's entrance, ignoring the looks the Telethia gave him.

They were concerned for him, but they knew not to bother him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alvis looked around the reef, rain still pouring. He ignored it, looking around the reef for any sign of the note. The monsters ignored him, instead huddling together to best the cold.

Having someone near him to share heat with would be nice. Alvis rubbed his arm, the distinct memory of warm feathers bothering him.

Alvis found the note nestled under a rock. He grabbed it and it sagged against his skin. It was so weather battered, similar to the first note but in far worse condition. Alvis could barely make out a smudge on it.

He sat down, staring at the wet and tearing piece of paper. He did not budge, not even when the skies cleared around him and the monsters went back to policing the area.

---

Author: Carrot

That blade, the target, a physical vessel of the Bionis' soul.
That boy wielding it.
Searching data.
Ancient dialect. Continue running data. Translation. Expendable.
Yes. That was the fate of those wielding that blade.
...
Running data. Examination.
Ex-pen-da-ble. Replaceable. Nonessential.
...
Running data.
Expendable. Meaning. Not worth salvaging or reusing. Open to sacrifice in the interests of gaining an objective.
Accurate term for all life of Bionis.
...
Something more.
Sh... Shu...
Shul--
[REDACTED]
Data unavailable. Enter code.
Incorrect input. Focus on target, all others are merely casualties of operation.
Gather-- information, resources, means to make things go smoothly.
How much does the boy know. How much has he found ou--
[REDACTED]
Mission: studying and gathering. Return to base.

---

Author: Elbo

Feet trampled grass in a flurry, chasing after a fleeing figure. Shulk ran after Metal Face, tears of stress burning in his eyes. No, not again, he couldn't lose Metal Face again, he needed to get vengeance for Fiora...

"Shulk!" Reyn's yell snapped Shulk out of his thoughts. Before he could look over, Reyn tackled him.

A scratch bled on Shulk's cheek. He rubbed it in shock, staring at the blood before looking back to Reyn. Reyn was defensively in front of Shulk, glaring at the sky.
Shulk followed Reyn's gaze, Sharla and Dunban's footsteps in the distance barely registering in his mind. He tensed as he saw the faced Mechon floating in the sky, aiming at them with its gun.

Its head twitched unnaturally, but its gaze remained locked. It put away its gun in favor of a sword, launching itself at the two boys. Reyn blocked its blow, the force from the strike forcing him back and tripping him over Shulk. Shulk yelped in pain.

It would have been over in a second in normal circumstances, Shulk realized. Dunban always told him and Reyn to stay focused, but they had not this time and a Mechon had caught them off guard. Shulk tried to push Reyn off of him in an attempt to salvage some chance in the fight, but the Mechon was already back above them, sword ready.

Shulk closed his eyes, but no pain came. He opened them slowly, finding that the Mechon was in the same position as before.

Its gaze was locked squarely on Shulk.

"In-Input failure, target not located. Alternate data found, deleting. Mission complete, returning to base?"

Shulk felt his blood freeze. The voice sounded as if it were put through a heavy filter, but there was no mistaking it. It was a painfully familiar voice, one that had told him to toughen up, to get out and explore the world, that would read him stories if nightmares kept him up.

"Dickson...?" His voice was quivering. He watched the Mechon twitch, its head bending ninety degrees sideways in a manner that looked painful. Its gaze never left Shulk.

---

Author: Carrot

He was suddenly aware of one thing.

Cramped. Solid against all his sides. And a silence that was unnatural.

The pain on his back was growing and threatening to make his legs buckle. Was he even standing?

Cold and cramped, like a trip to Valak Mountain gone far worse than intended.

Mind whirled with thoughts and questions, muddled and intermingling. They raced, desperate to finding clarity, to surface and distract from the blackness of his surroundings.

Where he was lacked the urgency of how he got there--it would come with that answer, it should.

Like rising from a feverish and exhausted dream, muffled sounds and disconnected images tried to piece themselves together.

Tall silhouettes and whirring entwined. Drowned shots and quick steps flitting and kicking up dust and small debris in a place of low ceilings and closing-in walls. Like a maze. The idea of losing the silhouettes there was plausible. Flashes of color lingering at the edges of his vision--green, blue, red spots on the dull, dark gray.

Thoughts interrupted as his chest burned. The air suddenly sucked out of the small space-- container? Was this --a sharp jab on his spine and had he any breath left he would have screamed.

Muddy realization and confusion overshadowed by the basic instinct that screeched struggle, react.

Pain. Aching and burning and horrifically cold and each movement was a herculean effort that gave no release and only made the agony unholy.

Red covered his mind for barely a second, moves weakening and body no longer able to follow the hysterical signal his mind sent, and then tar-like darkness claimed his consciousness.

If it isn't you.

The Disciple.

Let us see what I can do with you.

Pawn to F5, takes Knight.

---

Author: Elbo

Their harsh gasps were the only sound in the room. The two men stared at the ground, refusing to look at one another. Neither had wanted this.

"Kallian..." Alvis did not know what else to say. He was not sure if he could say anything. His throat felt heavy, like it was constricting on itself, and if his thoughts were not on Kallian they would all be on trying to breathe properly.

Kallian simply laughed, a hollow laugh that made Alvis shiver. "I know, this isn't what you wanted. There wasn't anything you could do, though."

His voice was harsh and grating from underuse - Alvis was almost certain his sounded the same. But his words were not right - Alvis was a seer, protecting Kallian was his job.

He opened his mouth to speak again, but Kallian put his hand on Alvis' shoulder. Alvis flinched - when had he gotten so close?

"It's alright, I know you. You wouldn't have let this happen if you knew. And, well, even if you're a seer, you don't see everything. It's not your fault, don't worry."

Alvis looked up, up at Kallian's face. Of all things, the man was smiling, and Alvis felt his breath catch even more. His eyes moved to the burnt gashes on Kallian's head, unable to stop himself from imagining how painful that must have been.

Maybe Kallian was unconscious for that. Alvis hoped so.

Kallian did not fail to notice Alvis' gaze. He forced another laugh.

"It isn't too bad. I'll get used to it! And hey, I look more like you this way!"

Alvis felt his whole body seize. He thought about all of the nights he awoke in cold sweats from nightmares, all of the sneers he got from guards, all of the suffering Kallian had helped him through and all of the tears he had to fight back on his own when Kallian was not there. He did not want Kallian to be like him.

He never wanted Kallian to feel pain akin to his own.

Alvis leaned against Kallian's shoulder, shaking as sobs ripped through his throat. He should not be the one crying - Kallian was the one who went through hell and back - but he could not stop himself. Kallian held Alvis, rubbing his back soothingly as Alvis cried.

---

Author: Carrot

They were silent. Moments shared between them had a tendency of being that way, relaxing and lulling from all the stress and appearances they had to keep, either a mask or a learned trait. At least, that's how moments used to be between them before...

Before the prince had been captured.

The hush was now tense, tight around them like strings. And unlike before, neither knew how exactly to break it-- the prince had never been most tactful at starting conversations, at having the first word to crack the ice, at least not if he didn't have a plan in mind. The seer was much better at the art, the most spontaneous and least shy of the two.

But he remained silent, silver eyes looking and not seeing, and this not part of any ritual for his vision. He was struggling, Kallian knew. Alvis was struggling to... to what exactly? Find the words to what? Apologize profusely or lighten the air or hint for a possible path?

Or perhaps he was simply struggling to remember breathing, to not descend into a path of denial, mingled sentences of "No, this was not supposed to happen" and "What had they done to you". Not even a question, just a breathed sentence that hurt more than a whisper had any right to.

They stood close to each other, Alvis' eyes trailing the lines of the metal staining the prince's body, eyes bright with stubborn disbelief and horror that Egil had gone this far, and one hand rose almost automatically, stopping short on its way and resting on his shoulder. And Kallian felt his throat close and his core hurt more than a machine should, but he gave a slight smile--one that read a clear I am sorry and reassurance--and carefully moving his hand, gears whirring softly as he moved and gently closed his hand on the one the seer had placed on his shoulder, moving slowly to not startle him and in fear of breaking the silence in the air too roughly.

He brought Alvis' hand to his lips, pressing it against them gently and then brushing them to rest on his cheek, the place he had known Alvis had wanted to reach for. He saw the flashes of something behind the silver color, but he could not read the expression the seer had adopted. He could, however, feel the warm hand now cupping his cheek, feel it shake the slightest bit as the fingers brushed the metal in front of the device that now worked for hearing.

The silence was still thick around them, but the abyss had been closed ever slightly between them, and now they were aware. Aware that this was no longer a dark dream, it was reality.

Dark fingers brushed through shortened silver locks than they remembered, than they had been scarce weeks--or had it been months?-- ago. Kallian had closed his eyes, focusing on feeling the familiar and craved warmth of gentle touches from another being, and his eyes opened to meet Alvis' when he felt the twinge of hesitation before gentle, nearly fearful, fingers touched the scar where his headwing had once sprout from, a shiver running down his spine at the fluttering feeling of the once sensitive location, almost like an itch for half a second.

And Alvis closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his chest, hugging him as tightly as he could, and Kallian could only return the gesture, his tired eyes unable to see the expression of the seer who had buried his face against his chest. In all honesty, between a dream of yearning and fear and dwindling blind hope, and a reality of horror and truth and actual touch, which was worse?

---

Author: Carrot

The crouching Mechon's blank stare remained focused on the small blond who refused to step back down, staring at him with begging blue eyes, whatever his words lost to the howling and icy breeze and the whirring taking its sweet, dragged out time in the air. Whirring that haunted... haunted him?

One of the enormous metal limbs, one that resembles a gun more than anything, moves slowly and predictably, threatening and dangerous in its size and weight but somehow careful, so careful, hovering over the boy's head and coming down with an unintentionally hard bonk that rattled his thoughts and dizzies him, throwing the others into alert. His voice struggles against the hollow, metallic sound that had long-- how long? too long --taken over his throat.

Clicking and scratching because he is not going to give up without getting the sound out at least one more time. Shhh... it comes as a hiss, unintentional and somehow keeping from being threatening. Shhh... Shu... Shulk. The name clicks into place with painful clarity just as a slight jolt jabs at his spine. He repeats it, testing it, the word that he had been unable to pronounce, watching the boy's expression grow awed and terrified and heartbroken.

He says it once, twice, three times, lucid and yet hollow and rasped from damage and the jolt from before worsens with each breathe he uses to say it. And he can't say it more than three times, it is a miracle the third jab one did not force him to shut down with its swift and agonizing electrical impulse trailing his spine to the point sparks could be seen for a second on the back of the metallic, yellow-tinted behemoth he was controlling--controlled by?

"It is you..." Shulk's voice barely registers past the crackling and static in his head, and he knows the part of the sentence that is not voiced, because he knows this child. It can't be you. Said, and yet not voiced, with a desperation that borders on pleading.

And part of him wants to bark with laughter because this is unfair and has all gone wrong in all the ways that it should not have, and he's all too aware of things he had not been before--things he had been blind to or that he refused, was unable to, acknowledge. He knows he's the last Face Unit that should be there, with how close a watch Egil had on him, a chew toy and test subject for the self-proclaimed leader of Mechonis.

Things didn't go as they should, eh kid?

---

Author: Elbo

Shulk held his ground, Monado in hand. Cuts and bruises covered him, with the occasional drop of blood dripping to the grass beneath him. Sharla tried her best to heal their team, but she was tired. All of them were tired. Reyn had tried to stand up, tried to be next to Shulk, but he had fallen back to his knees. Shulk had heard him curse, but he paid Reyn no mind. Shulk was the only one still standing, though even he did not know how - he was just as tired and battered as the rest of the people there.

The faced Mechon in front of Shulk sparked and jolted, parts of it cut and battered, other small parts torn off completely by sheer force of the Monado. Shulk watched the Mechon - the Mechon watched Shulk. For well over a minute, neither moved.

Shulk's eyes were pleading - please, please remember. He watched the Mechon lean close to him, watching Shulk's every move with an intense gaze. Shulk did not budge. He knew the Mechon would hurt him, he knew that his position was unsafe, he knew that what he was doing was stupid, especially considering Sharla's position, but he did not budge.

Shulk readied the Monado. If the Mechon attacked him again, he would cut it down. There was no point in protecting that which was no longer itself.

Tears stung Shulk's eyes, but he ignored them. There was always a point in protecting those he loved. He forced that thought down, pretending he could not hear his own voice nagging at him.

Another drop of blood fell from his cheek.

The Mechon watched Shulk, not seeming to notice the way the Monado dangled weakly in Shulk's hands.

"Sh--" The Mechon's voice caught Shulk off guard. Shulk tensed.

"Shh-Shul--" It jolted in pain, a spark flying through it. Shulk jolted as well, from a different kind of pain.

"Ssshh-Shulk," it managed, jolting more intensely than before. Shulk wanted to reach out, but his body was too heavy from fatigue.

Instead, he watched in awe and pain as the Mechon repeated his name for a third time, its body sparking more than Shulk had seen any machine spark as it jolted in agony.

Shulk watched Dickson.

"It is you..." he uttered. It can't be you. The tears escaped Shulk's eyes, but he did not budge. He watched Dickson squirm in pain in front of him, unable to do anything to help.

This isn't how... it was supposed to be...

---

Author: Elbo

Dickson flipped through the book, letting out an annoyed sigh. Dunban had lent him the book to pass time, since Dickson moaned to him about having too much of it, but he did not know the extent Dickson had meant. He had already read the book before - a story on winged angels that lived up in heaven. The Homs were certainly wrong about that - the closest people who matched that description were the High Entia, and that lot consisted of a bunch of cowards who would pay no mind to the Homs' suffering.

Dickson scoffed. He had no idea how the High Entia managed to lock themselves away from battle for so long. He himself felt as though he was rotting away simply from taking care of a kid for so long.

"Dickson?"

Speak of the devil.

"Hunh? What is it, kid?"

He leaned backwards, sloppily hanging his arm and the book over the armrest. He looked at Shulk.

The scrawny kid was holding his blanket close to his chest and eyeing Dickson cautiously. He looked down.

"Can you tell me a story?"

Dickson eyed the kid. If he had to guess, Shulk just woke up from a nightmare, a painfully common experience. Dickson knew better than to ask, though.

Instead, he sat up straight and petted his knee. Shulk jogged over and climbed up onto it, situating himself with his blanket.

"What sort of story?"

Shulk looked up thoughtfully, his shyness from before gone. He was comfortable in this position.

"Well... How about a story of your travels?"

Dickson barked out a laugh. "You always ask for those!"

"Well, they're interesting!" Shulk pouted.

"Well, if they get you to go outside more often, I'll tell as many as it takes!"

Dickson leaned back again, thinking of a story. Shulk waited patiently.

"Have you heard the stories about the angels?"

"Angels?" Shulk frowned. "Angels don't exist."

"Oh, but they do! I've seen them myself!"

Dickson nearly laughed at the look of disbelief in Shulk's eyes.

"Winged humans, living at the top of the Bionis in a secret and advanced society! They hide themselves away from Homs."

"But why would they do that? Aren't angels supposed to follow God's orders and protect us?"

"Not these angels!" Dickson responded, grinning at the child. He showed no signs of his heart clutching at Shulk's words - the angels that served Zanza were not there to protect Homs.

Instead, he kept telling fanciful tales of the High Entia, reveling in the amazement with which Shulk responded.