Shulk and Dunban packed up their lunch at the base of Jabos Rock and got to their feet. Dunban consulted their list of items. “We need to defeat a few hoxes, and gather some of their spurs. Sharla’s made a note that they’re common directly north of this landmark.” He tapped the rock he had just been leaning against.
“All right,” said Shulk, eager to get going. “Are you ready, Dunban?”
“Of course.” He faced Shulk. “Are you?”
When Shulk nodded, Dunban began to lead the way north. They passed some peaceful arduns and armus, who eyed the boys warily as they passed. Shulk glanced back at Jabos Rock. To think that just a few days ago, we found a broken buggy lying there… He turned his eyes back to the north, and thought he could make out some movements in the grass up ahead. “I think I can see them.”
“I believe I can as well.” Dunban drew his katana as Shulk pulled out the Monado. “We need totake a single bunnit sapling from a slugger bunnit and slay three make bunnits.” He looked up at the beasts ahead of them, making note of their targets.
“Anything else?” Shulk asked.
“Not from this lot,” Dunban replied. “Let’s go, Shulk!” He lured out a group of bunnits, which consisted of one slugger and two maker bunnits. The difference between the two was, as noted by Sharla, that the former held a wooden club in its tail, while the latter grasped a piece of Mechon scrap. The boys quickly took out the slugger bunnit, as it lunged at them ahead of the other two, who were soon to follow. Shulk and Dunban found another, stray maker bunnit wandering around nearby. As if sensing their intention, it attacked them as they approached, and was quickly defeated.
Dunban consulted their list once more. “All that’s left is the torn piece of paper and three moth crawlers.”
Shulk scratched his head. “How do we know the paper hasn’t blown off one of the cliffs around here? Or into the water.”
Dunban sighed. “We don’t, unfortunately. It’s as simple as that. We can take a look around, but if we don’t find it, we’ll just have to the man it’s disappeared.”
“I hope we find it.”
Shulk and Dunban headed south, enjoying the sunshine on the Gaur Plain. “This place is beautiful,” Shulk remarked.
“It is,” Dunban agreed. The two passed Jabos Rock again as they continued their search for the torn paper. They passed over the bridge under which ran the river that cut the Gaur Plain in half. On the other side of the bridge, Dunban paused. He turned to Shulk. “How about we split up?” he suggested. “You keep heading this way, while I’ll head off to the left. Then we could search the Gaur Plain. If we still haven’t found it, we’ll head back to the refugee camp.”
Shulk nodded. “Sounds good.”
“All right then.” Dunban turned to leave. “And keep an eye out for moth crawlers!” He headed off towards the east. Shulk continued south, towards the edge of the plain.
The cliffs on either side of Shulk slowly closed the gap that lay between them as he walked. Shulk took a deep breath, relishing the fresh air filling his lungs. I wonder what it’s like living out here. He slowed as he reached the very edge of the Gaur Plain; to his left and to his right rose steep cliffs, while before him they fell away into oblivion.
Shulk spotted something bright moving out of the corner of his eye. To his surprise, it was a small piece of paper, stuck against a rock and lightly fluttering in the wind. He hurried over to it and picked it up, looking it over. This must be it. Pleased with himself, Shulk folded and pocketed the paper before heading off to find Dunban. He headed north and then east, hoping to catch up with Dunban before he made it back to the plain proper.
As Shulk walked, he saw there a waterfall gushing out of the cliff face ahead. In front of it stood two people. Shulk frowned. Two? Did Dunban meet up with someone? As he approached, Shulk was startled to see four fresh volff corpses. He hurried over to Dunban, who Shulk saw was talking to a young girl holding a bag made of ponio hide. “What’s happened?” Shulk asked. T
he girl jumped when she saw him. “This young lady here was swimming under the waterfall when she was attacked by these creatures,” Dunban informed Shulk, gesturing at the volffs scattered across the ground. Shulk counted four of them. “I killed them all before she came to any harm.”
“Oh. Good work, Dunban.”
Dunban nodded, and Shulk could see he was distracted by something. Better not to ask. Shulk broke the sudden silence by pulling the paper out of his pocket. “I found it, Dunban!”
“Ah, excellent!” said Dunban happily. “Where was it?”
“Right on the edge of the plain. If I had’ve been a little bit later, we might have lost it.”
“I must confess, I didn’t think we’d be able to accomplish that one,” Dunban admitted. “Very good, Shulk.” He turned to the girl. “My friend and I were about to head back to the refugee camp,” he said gently. “Are you ready to leave?”
The girl clutched her bag tightly and nodded.
“All right. Let’s get going then.” He, Shulk and the girl trekked back to the refugee camp. Her name was Ophelia, she said, and had been bathing underneath the waterfall when the volffs surrounded her.
“I just wanted to get away from everyone,” she mumbled as they walked alongside the cliff face. “There’s so many people in such a little place. I just wanted to have some peace and quiet and be alone for a little while.” Ophelia looked up at the sky. “But then those monsters attacked me…”
“You shouldn’t have been out on your own,” Dunban told her. “It’s dangerous to be out here by yourself. There are monsters, and there are even some Mechon are still walking around the place.”
Ophelia sighed as they continued their walk. The trio managed to find three moth crawlers by the time they made it back to the refugee camp. Ophelia faced faced the boys, hugging her bag to her chest. “Thank you for saving me!” And with that, she ran off into the cave.
Shulk and Dunban wandered around the refugee camp, seeking out those who had given them requests. They handed over the piece of torn paper and the bunnit sapling, reporting the monsters they had managed to slay. Finally, they reached Matryona, her cloak pulled over her head to hide her face. She was talking with Ewan, and broke off the conversation as they approached.
Dunban held out his bloody bag. “Ponio neck meat, as requested.”
Matryona, delighted, glanced at Ewan, who looked surprised. “I’ll take these,” he muttered, glancing at Matryona. “Thanks.” He sauntered off, leaving the boys with the ecstatic artist.
“What did he need these for, anyway?” Dunban asked.
Matryona shrugged off the question. “I don’t know, to be honest. All I know is, thanks to you, we can start that picture book.”
Matryona took a moment to calm herself down. “There’s a young Nopon boy called Pama who lost both of his parents when the Mechon attacked,” she told the boys. “He doesn’t socialise with the other kids, and doesn’t even talk to us adults. He just wanders the refugee camp alone, and he says things…” Matryona faltered, and for a moment she lost her gusto. Then her face brightened again. “So I thought I’d make him a picture book! I can do the art myself, but… I’m terrible at writing. Ewan has such beautiful penmanship, I thought I’d ask him for help.”
“And he wanted the neck meat before he’d agree to help you?” Dunban confirmed.
Matryona nodded. “Yes! So thanks to you two, it looks like we’re finally going to start that picture book.”
Shulk smiled. “That’s excellent to hear!” Matryona beamed. “I think I’ll go start working on it right now!” She bid the boys farewell and hurried off to begin her story.
Shulk and Dunban turned to see Ewan standing nearby, watching them.
“You were Ewan, correct?” when the man nodded, Dunban held out his hand. “I’m Dunban, he’s Shulk,” he nodded at his friend. “Did you need something of us?”
Ewan flicked his blonde hair out of his eyes as he stared up at the roof. “I do. I have a favour to ask.” He took a deep breath, and then met Dunban’s gaze through his glasses. “Matryona and I were talking earlier, and she told me that she was missing a paint she needed to create this book. This is really important to her, and I… she…” Ewan trailed off, looking flustered.
Dunban cut in. “So how can we help?”
Ewan snapped back to attention and refocused. “I can make the paint she needs, but I’ll need sour gooseberries. I’ll require four to make enough for the book.”
“And where can we find them?”
Shulk, Dunban and Ewan were startled to see Reyn, who wandered over carefully so as not to drop the basket he was struggling to hold.
“What on Bionis is that, Reyn?” Shulk asked.
Reyn placed the basket on the ground and opened it up; dozens of red fruits sat inside it. “We passed a tree full of ‘em, and Sharla made me pick ‘em all,” Reyn informed the group.
“Why?” Shulk asked blankly.
Reyn shrugged his massive shoulders. “She just loves ‘em, as far as I can tell.”
“Hey!” Sharla’s indignant voice preceded her appearance in the camp. “They’re for the colony!”
“But you were chuggin’ ‘em down an’ all.”
Sharla’s face turned a shade of red deeper than the berries. “I was not!”
“Regardless,” Dunban interrupted. “Sharla, do you mind if Ewan takes four of these?”
“No, go for it.” She looked at Ewan. “What are they for, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“They’re a gift for a lady,” Dunban told her, smiling.
Ewan’s face turned the colour Sharla’s had been moments ago. “It’s not like that!” He snapped. With that, he took four of the berries and stalked off.
Reyn scratched his head. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing.” Dunban turned to Sharla. “How did you two go?”
“We were able to complete everything we were asked to do,” Sharla replied. “How did you two go?”
“Everything went well.” Dunban glanced back at his friend. “Wouldn’t you say, Shulk?”
Shulk nodded. “Yeah, it went really well. I learned a lot from Dunban, too.”
“We were going out tonight again, yeah?” Reyn asked.
Sharla nodded. “We just need to defeat a few leg volff and collect some wisp fluid. It shouldn’t be too difficult. The wisp fluid is the most important part; Olga needs it for his medicine.”
“How did your search for the ultimate ether deposit go?” Shulk asked.
Reyn and Sharla looked at each other. Sharla spoke. “We were told there was an everlasting ether deposit in Kisk Cave, which is pretty close to here,” she said slowly.
She’s talking strangely. “Was there something wrong with it?” Shulk pressed.
Reyn scowled. “He lied! Earnest, the guy who told us, he fibbed! After we gathered a bit of ether, it ran out. Like normal. We even waited around for a while, but nothing happened.”
Sharla sighed. “I’m going to go talk to him before we go out tonight. The rest of you, relax. Someone will fetch you for dinner. We at least got the moth crawlers out of it.”
Shulk and Dunban jumped guiltily. “We, uh, kind of… Forgot about those.”
“It’s all good man,” grinned Reyn. “We found a whole bunch in the cave.”
“Are you sure you don’t want one of us to accompany you to see Earnest, Sharla?” Dunban asked.
Sharla shook her head. “I’ll be fine,” she assured them. “I’ll catch up with you all later. Don’t let Reyn do anything stupid.”
“Hey!” Reyn protested. Shulk, Sharla and Dunban laughed.
“All right, see you guys later!” Sharla exited the camp to go find Earnest.