After night fell, Shulk, Sharla, Reyn and Dunban met just outside the entrance to the refugee camp, bags about their shoulders.
“So,” Sharla began, “tonight, all we’ve got to do is collect five lots of glowing wisp fluid and defeat three leg volffs. Wisps are just north of the camp, and the volffs are north-east in Viliera Hill.”
As she spoke, Matryona bounded out of the refugee camp, looking ecstatic. “I just wanted to say thank you!” she gushed. “Ewan told me that you gave him the sour gooseberries he needed to make my paint! I’ve already started to paint the book! I’ve stopped for now though, because I need that colour he’s making.”
Shulk was startled by a sudden flash in his mind’s eye, and found himself visited by a vision.
He saw a young Nopon boy standing in the shallows of Raguel Lake, and was alarmed when he strayed too far into the water and began screaming for help.
Shulk, back in the present, let out a loud gasp.
Reyn glanced at Shulk. “Oi. You all right, Shulk?”
Shulk faced the confused artist. “Matryona! Does Raguel Lake have any part in your story?”
The artist looked startled. “Why yes, it does. How did you know?”
“Shulk can see visions of the future,” Reyn told her quickly. He turned to his friend. “You have one just now? What did you see?”
Shulk nodded. “After reading Matryona’s book, Pama went out to the lake to defeat the monster he had read about in the story,” he said. “He went too far into the lake, and… and he drowned.”
Matryona took a step back, eyes wide. “But how…”
“I didn’t believe it at first either,” Sharla told Matryona. “But trust me. If Shulk says he saw it, it’s going to happen. How far into the book are you? Can you change it?”
“Pretty far with the painting.” Matryona hesitated. “I could change it, though, if you managed to find something for me.” She looked to Sharla. “A special drop of liquid from the lake should do it. They can be found near the lake, but not in the lake. Find dry ground as close to the waterfall and to the ground as possible, and you should find one. Once I have that, I can alter the paintings I’ve already done.”
Sharla nodded, and turned to the boys. “Do you guys mind if we make a detour to Raguel Lake tonight?”
“I would quite like to see it at night,” Dunban commented. Shulk and Reyn agreed.
Sharla turned back to Matryona. “Okay! So we’ll go and get that lake drop for you. We’ll give it to you when we get back.”
Matryona beamed. “Thank you again! Good luck out there!” She hurried back into the cave.
Sharla looked to Shulk, Reyn and Dunban. “Are we ready to go, boys?”
“Ready when you are!” Reyn affirmed.
Sharla hesitated. “I spoke to Earnest again. He said the endless ether deposit was actually in the Tranquil Grotto.”
“He’s already lied to us once,” Reyn spat. “Why’d he be tellin’ us the truth this time?”
“I wasn’t sure if I should bring it up,” Sharla admitted, “but it’s in a corner in Raguel Lake. And since we’re going there for the lake drop, I thought we could check out the ether deposit while we were there.”
“Hmm…” Dunban looked to the boys. “We’ll be going out that way anyway. Why not take a look? It’ll be a small price to pay if it’s true.”
“I agree,” said Shulk.
“Pah! All right. But this time, Shulk and Dunban have to go,” said Reyn.
“That’s all right with me. Shulk?”
When Shulk nodded, Dunban smiled. “Well, that’s settled. Shall we get going, then?”
He, Shulk and Reyn followed Sharla out of the refugee camp and out on to the plain. Bright yellow lights flitted back and forth across the grass, shining a light on the insects they were attached to. “Those are the wisps, yeah?” Reyn asked Sharla.
Sharla nodded. “That they are. We need five lots of their fluid for Olga’s medicine. We’ll gather these first, and then head over to Viliera Hill.”
“All right!” exclaimed Reyn. “Let’s get to work!”
The boys quickly learned that the wisps were difficult to catch, and when they got close, would simply fly out of reach. Shulk laughed as Reyn kept trying to hit one with his lance, leaping through the air and waving it around.
Dunban sighed in frustration. “They’re simply too quick for us.”
The boys turned as they heard Sharla laughing behind them, and saw she was holding five flasks filled with a glowing yellow fluid. “I think my rifle is much better suited for this one,” she chuckled. She placed the flasks in her bag and turned to the north-east. “Let’s head over to the hill. We have three volffs we need to defeat there; maybe you guys can be more useful this time.” She started to lead the way, still grinning.
The party struck north-east towards Viliera Hill. A small pack of volffs stalked around beneath the rocky platforms that lay in the middle of the Bionis’ Leg. They were brown, four-legged creatures with sharp, deadly-looking fangs. There were three in all.
“We need to defeat the pack,” Sharla told the group. “It shouldn’t be too difficult.” She reloaded her rifle, looking out over the plain. “I’m ready when you guys are.”
“All right,” said Dunban. “Reyn, Shulk!”
“Ready,” Shulk confirmed.
“Then let’s go!” Reyn ran in first, shouting at the volffs to draw their attention. Dunban dashed in after him with Shulk in tow, Sharla hanging back with her rifle.
The beasts turned their attention to Reyn. One of them leapt at him, snarling. Reyn caught it on his shield and twisted, thrusting it upwards over his head so it landed behind him. It fell victim to Dunban’s blade with a pitiful welp.
The remaining two volffs roared and bounded towards Reyn. Reyn stopped and stood his ground, watching them approach. Dunban skidded to a stop beside him, on guard.
A loud bang rent the air as Sharla fired a round into the pair of beasts, and the volffs leapt apart, snarling.
“Now!” Dunban and Reyn dashed towards the volff closest to them, which tried to defend itself but ultimately ended up impaled by the boys.
Their remaining foe leapt towards Dunban, claws extended, fangs bared, ready to taste its prey.
Shulk spun on the spot; the Monado glowed yellow, and he cried, “Monado Shield!” A yellow pulse reverberated from across the ground, enveloping Dunban and stopping the volff mid-air with a sickening crunch.
Reyn leapt forward and stabbed the volff, which then ceased to move. Shulk finally caught up with Reyn and Dunban, and Sharla wandered over. “That’ll keep the residents happy for a little while,” said Sharla. “Shall we head over to the lake now?”
Reyn grunted. “So Sharla and I will look for the lake drop, yeah? And Dunban and Shulk will try to find the ether deposit.”
“Yes, that was what we agreed to,” smiled Dunban.
“You’ll see,” growled Reyn. “I’ll bet that fibber Earnest is up to more mischief.”
“Anyway,” said Sharla, “Let’s get going.” She and the boys headed south-east, quietly taking in the dark, quiet atmosphere of the area as they went. Sharla led them over a thin strip of land which took them over the corner of the lake and offered an unobstructed view of it as it spread out towards the east. The air was still, the moon reflected off what looked like a sheet of glass beneath it. A gentle breeze rippled across the lake, and the glass was shattered. The party continued their trek.
Eventually they hit upon Raguel Bridge, which they crossed. “Where are we going, exactly?” Shulk asked.
Sharla turned and pointed off to the right. “We’ll both be heading that way. Reyn and I will head south from the bridge. You and Dunban will need to get down to the lake’s edge and swim across to the grotto, which is behind that waterfall.”
“Swim?” Shulk exclaimed. Sharla nodded. “That’s where Earnest said the ether deposit is.”
“But we’ll catch a cold,” Dunban protested.
“You guys’ll be fine,” Reyn grinned, slapping Shulk on the back. He sighed.
At the end of the bridge, the party turned towards the south, following the cliff face to their left and noting that the sheer drop to their right crept closer and closer as they walked. At the end of the grassy path lay a shining droplet of water. “That must be it,” said Dunban.
Sharla pulled a vial from her bag and carefully scooped up the liquid. “So,” she looked up at Shulk and Dunban as she put it away, “what are you two going to do now?”
“How do we get down there?” Shulk asked.
“You can get down from the north side of the lake,” she told them. “You’d need to come back across the bridge and go all the way around.”
“Far too long,” Dunban declared. “I say we jump in, and then swim out!”
“What!?” Reyn was startled.
“You can’t be serious!” Shulk protested. Sharla laughed.
“Yes!” Dunban turned to Shulk. “If we want to be back by morning, it’s the only way.” He looked to Reyn and Sharla. “You two can head back and deliver everything we acquired. Shulk and I will be back later.”
“Sounds good to me,” grinned Reyn.
“Hold on a minute!” Shulk exclaimed. “Don’t I get a say in all this!?”
“Ah,” grinned Dunban, putting an arm about Shulk’s shoulders, “but you’ve already agreed to it!” He walked over to the cliff’s edge. “Come, Shulk!” He stripped off his shirt and sword and threw them aside. “Can you two take these back for us?”
“All right,” giggled Sharla.
Shulk looked out over the edge of the cliff. That actually isn’t as bad as the drop from the Cylinder Hangar back home. Shulk sighed and cast his own shirt aside, but hesitated with the Monado. I can’t let anyone else hold this. He replaced the sword and took a deep breath. “I’m ready when you are, Dunban.”
Sharla and Reyn bundled up the boys’ clothes and Dunban’s sword. “See you two later!” She and Reyn turned and began the trek back to the refugee camp.
Dunban backed up to the cliff face, before running to the edge of the path and leaping into the water below.
Here goes. Shulk took a few steps back, and then plunged headlong off the cliff and into the water below.
Water enveloped him. He surfaced for air and looked around for Dunban. He followed his friend south, passing through a waterfall and into a cave behind it. In there lay an ether deposit. “This must be it,” he commented.
He and Dunban approached the ether deposit, and together began to collect ether crystals. After a short time, the deposit ceased to glow and the boys could no longer harvest the crystals. Dunban sighed. “Looks like Reyn was right.”
“So now what?” Shulk asked.
“We head back and tell the others.” Dunban looked at the sword on his friend’s back. “Doesn’t that weigh you down, Shulk?”
Shulk shook his head. “Not at all. It’s… very strange.”
“Very interesting, I think.” Dunban looked out the cave entrance, his view obscured by the gushing waterfall. “We should probably start heading back.”
Shulk agreed, and the two headed out into the water and began swimming north. The lake was much, much bigger than either of them had realised; by the time they made it to the north shore, they were both exhausted.
Shulk shivered as the cool night air brushed his bare skin, where Dunban didn’t even seem to flinch. The two flopped on to the ground to rest, panting heavily.
“Aren’t you c-c-cold, Dunban?” Shulk stammered through clattering teeth.
Dunban ran his hands down his arms, brushing off the water. Shulk did the same. “We learn to deal with a lot of things in the army,” he replied. “Endurance was simply part of our training.”
After the boys caught their breath, they stood and began heading back to the refugee camp. They followed the cliff as it twisted and turned, leading back up to high ground, both too tired to make conversation. They then struck south-west, passing through Viliera Hill, past the wisps, and back into the refugee camp.
“It doesn’t look like anyone’s awake,” Shulk whispered.
Dunban nodded. “We might just head to sleep and report to the others in the morning.” He sounded exhausted.
Shulk agreed, and the two crept into their rooms, changed, and then lay down to sleep.