Chapter thirty of my Xenoblade Novelisation sees the party enter Satorl Marsh, and witness one of the most beautiful sights on the Bionis.
Bags were tied, weapons secured and supplies given one final check. Shulk, Reyn, Dunban and Sharla were ready to resume their quest to chase the faced Mechon across the Bionis, accompanied by Dickson, Otharon and Juju.
Having said all their farewells the night before, Sharla turned to the boys. “I think we’re all set,” she said.
“Well then,” said Dickson, “we’d best get going then, hey?”
“Where will we be heading?” asked Shulk.
“We’ll be heading through Satorl Marsh,” Dickson replied. “As you may have gathered from the name, it’s basically a giant swamp. That will take us out to Makna Forest, where the Nopon live. From there we’ll head through the Bionis’ Left Shoulder, and then make it on to the Eryth Sea, where Prison Island is also located.”
“And the High Entia live in Eryth Sea?” Shulk confirmed.
“I thought you were just after Prison Island, Shulk,” Dickson said wryly.
“Well… It’s just…”
“It’s just that it’s not often we get a chance to see a living legend,” said Dunban. “Is that what you were getting at, Shulk?”
“Well, there is that,” Shulk admitted. “But given they’re such an ancient race, I thought maybe they’ll know something about the Monado.”
“Interesting thought, that one,” Dunban mused.
“Well, we won’t get any closer just standing here,” Dickson pointed out. “We can walk and talk. Come on.” And he turned on his heel and walked out of the camp.
The others were quick to follow, heading east towards Raguel Bridge and over the lake. They hit upon Maguel Road, which led them to the upper part of the Bionis’ Leg.
“Juju and I won’t go with you very far,” Otharon informed the group as they continued towards Bask Cave.
“Why’s that?” Reyn asked.
“We want to stay with the refugees and rebuild the colony,” piped up Juju.
Otharon nodded. “We need to recover. Juju and I will move the residents back into our old home, and we’ll all have to pull together to get everything back to the way it was.”
“What if the Mechon attack again?” asked Reyn.
“The colony will be much easier to defend than that tiny camp,” said Sharla. “There are more resources there as well. And the Mechon fortified it while they were there, so we can use their own upgrades against them.”
“Plus, it’ll do everyone good to be back home again!” Juju exclaimed excitedly. “They’ve all really wanted to get back home; they keep telling me so.”
“You’re gonna take care of everyone, ain’t ya kiddo?” Reyn ruffled the boy’s hair, who shook him off and jumped on Reyn’s back in protest. Sharla laughed.
The party came out of Bask Cave and on to the Supply Road, which they followed south. It took them past Colony 6, which they saw had indeed been fortified; formidable tall grey metal barriers had been erected around its perimeter, with only a small doorway allowing entry.
“It’s all dead brown dirt on the inside,” said Otharon. “But we’ll change that.”
The party continued south, passing a depot used to store and repair the colony’s transport pods. There were only a couple left in the bay; the rest had been lost in the Mechon attack, Otharon told them. They continued on their way, becoming engulfed in more and more mist as they went.
“Where’s all this mist coming from?” Reyn mused.
“Misty Path,” growled Dickson. “We must be close to Satorl Marsh; it’s always misty there.”
The mist thickened as they walked, the ground becoming softer beneath their feet. “I’ve never seen anything like this!” said Shulk in wonder.
“Y’see?” said Dickson triumphantly. “This is why I’ve been saying you need to get out of the lab every now and then.” He turned to address the group. “We’re aiming to get inside the Bionis. We can get to the upper regions from there.”
“Wow…” Sharla turned the thought over in her mind. “I’ve never thought about going inside the Bionis.”
“The closer we get to the top, the more monster trouble we’re gonna run into,” Dickson informed them. “The only things that venture this far in are the Nopon Merchants, and curious types like me.”
“You really know all the fun spots, eh, Dickson?” Dunban grinned.
“You wanna get to the top?” laughed Dickson. “Then this is the only way.”
“We’ll push on.” Shulk’s determined voice cut into the conversation. He stared across the marsh. “No matter what.”
“That’s the spirit, Shulk,” said Dickson approvingly. “So, shall we get going again then?”
The group struck south once more, the mist pressing in on them from all sides. They carefully avoided the pools of murky water strewn across the marsh. Upas scurried around in the water; small lizard-like creatures, this species light blue in colour. Fluffy grey birds which Dickson called Quadwings sat in the trees above their heads, watching them as they passed by. Trees were growing out of the water that had a faint, pale glow to their tips.
Sharla paused. “Everyone, look.” They turned their attention to the direction Sharla was facing. “It’s a group of Nopon.”
“Ah,” said Dickson. “Some Nopon Merchants.”
“What d’ya think they’re up to?” Reyn mused.
“They must be here for a reason,” said Sharla. “Let’s go and ask them.”
“Good idea,” Shulk agreed.
The party crossed an old wooden bridge that led to a mound of earth in the middle of a patch of water. There were three Nopon here, accompanied by an armu. When the Nopon saw them coming, one of them started jumping up and down anxiously.
“Is everything all right?” Dunban asked.
“No good, no good!” squeaked the blue Nopon who was jumping up and down. “Kacha has gone missing! Kacha has gone missing!” He was clearly beside himself.
“Please, calm down!” begged one of the other Nopon, this one yellow.
Dunban turned his attention to the yellow Nopon. “What’s going on here?”
“Our friend Kacha go walking in Marsh,” explained the yellow Nopon. “He researcher. But he been missing now, missing since yesterday.”
“Do you know where he was heading?”
“Exile Fortress,” said the yellow Nopon. “But even if you find him, we cannot return to village.”
“And why is that?”
“Too many monsters. They keep attacking us.”
“Well, we happen to be experts at exterminating nasty creatures,” Dunban told the Nopon. “Once we find your friend, we could defeat them for you.”
“Really?” The Nopon sounded amazed.
Dunban turned to his friends. “What say you? Do you think we could help these Nopon out?”
“Absolutely!” exclaimed Reyn. Almost everyone nodded in agreement, which didn’t escape Dunban’s notice.
“Dickson?” he called. “What about you?”
Dickson hesitated for a fraction of a second. If they take that mirror up to the fortress… He laughed. “Of course, Dunban. My head was just somewhere else.”
“Excellent!” Dunban turned back to the Nopon. “We’ll take care of them all for you.”
“Ooooh! In that case, I have list. You can have, if you like.”
“Sounds good,” said Dunban. He took the piece of paper the Nopon offered and looked it over. “So there are four creatures you’d like us to kill for you?”
The Nopon nodded. “Most creatures ignore you when you walk by. Some groups attack when see you.”
“So you want us to defeat these ones?” Dunban confirmed.
The Nopon nodded.
“Was there anything else?”
The Nopon shook his head. “Just help Kacha, please!”
“All right.” Dunban folded up the Nopon’s scrawls and tucked the paper into his pocket. “We’ll go find Kacha and bring him back here.”
“Thank you!” squeaked the yellow Nopon, joining his friend in the air.
“No problem.” He turned to the group. “Shall we move on?”
“Where is this fortress?” asked Reyn.
“It’s south-east of here,” Dickson drawled. “I’ve camped there before on my travels. Bit of a hike, but we’ll manage.”
“Can you lead the way, old man?” grinned Otharon.
“Don’t you go calling me that, grandpa,” Dickson growled. “But yes, I can. If you’ll all follow me.” He led the party across another small bridge and on to solid ground.
“There’s so much water here,” said Reyn in disgust. “And the ground is way more wet than it should be, even when it’s not near water.”
“That’s what a marsh is, Reyn,” Sharla teased.
“Have you never been here before, hotheaded one?” Otharon asked.
“‘Hotheaded one’? What’s that supposed to mean!?”
“I think you just proved his point, Reyn,” said Shulk, starting to laugh.
Reyn sighed. “Oh… Whatever. But no, me and Shulk have never been through Tephra cave before. And we don’t have a swamp in Colony 9!”
“Truly?” Otharon was surprised. “Not even to the Bionis’ Leg?”
“No,” said Shulk. “All of this is new to us.”
“I’ve never been through Tephra Cave either,” said Juju.
“Have you been here before?” Shulk asked him.
Juju nodded. “Yeah, but not very far.”
“Really?” said Sharla coolly. “Because I haven’t taken you, and I’ve told you not to go on your own.”
“I wasn’t alone!” Juju insisted. “I was with some friends from school.”
“And were there any adults with you?”
“Wow!” shouted Reyn. “Check that out!”
As they crossed another makeshift wooden bridge, the party turned to see water pouring over the side of a cliff on their left. “Zaldania Falls,” Dickson recalled.
“It’s so cool!” exclaimed Juju.
“We have something similar on the Bionis’ Leg, Juju,” Sharla pointed out.
“Yeah, but it’s still cool!”
“I agree,” said Shulk. “Nature’s beauty really is something else.”
Sharla smiled. “You haven’t seen the true beauty of the Marsh yet. Speaking of which,” she looked up at the sky, “it looks like it’s getting dark. I know a good place where we can rest.”
“But what about the Nopon at the fortress?” Reyn pointed out.
“It wouldn’t do us any good to march through the night and show up tired,” Dunban replied. “If he’s not back yet, he must have run into trouble. We’ll head out at first light.”
“Sounds good,” agreed Otharon. “Medic, can you take us to this place of yours?”
“Of course.” Sharla took the lead from Dickson and headed south from the falls. A huge body of water lay to their right at all times, unbreaking. The faintly glowing trees were scattered throughout it, and it almost seemed to Shulk that they slowly brightened as the sky darkened.
Sharla stopped next to a giant, gnarled old tree with vines growing all across its trunk. “This is the Crown Tree,” she told the group. “It’s away from the monsters, and it gives us a view of this entire swampy section of the marsh.”
The group quickly set up camp and began cooking dinner. “So, Dunban,” said Reyn. “What was on that list the Nopon gave you?”
Dunban pulled the note out of his jacket. “Let’s see… He wants us to hunt two detox brogs, three coppice quadwings, two mist rhoguls and one officer volff.”
“Dickson’s already told us about quadwings. But what are rhoguls?” Shulk asked.
“Big bloody brown flappers that lurk around the swamp,” growled Dickson. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we run into some on the way to the fortress tomorrow. Generally quite pleasant till you get near ‘em.”
“So the brogs and volffs must be species adapted to live in this area,” Shulk mused aloud.
“You would be correct.”
Sharla looked up at the sky again after they’d finished eating. It’s dark out now. She looked back down at the boys, smiling. “Come with me; I want to show you something.” She stood and walked towards the Crown Tree. The guys gave each other a baffled look before getting to their feet and following her up the tree.
There was a collective gasp as they reached the top.
The trees growing in the water were now glowing a light blue, bathing the entire area in a faint light. Everywhere before them, mist coloured every shade of blue and purple swirled from the tops of the trees, dissipating into the night sky. It was unlike anything Shulk and Reyn had ever seen.
“I saw the trees the last time we came through here, but…” Dunban was awed. “I haven’t seen them from above before. It’s… magnificent.” His throat tightened, and he ceased speaking. Fiora would have loved this.
“I never imagined… Anything could be this beautiful…” murmured Shulk.
“This place looks so different at night,” muttered Reyn. Sharla smiled.
The party sat atop the tree for what felt like hours, just watching the mist rise above the trees and admiring the shifting lights. Eventually, they began to grow tired, so they descended once more. Dunban offered to take the first watch.
Reyn tapped Sharla on the shoulder as they prepared for sleep. “How did you know about that?” he asked quietly.
Sharla flinched. “Gadolt took me here once,” she whispered back.
Sharla shrugged it off. “Don’t be. We’ll find him.”
Reyn grinned. “You bet we will! And me, Shulk and Dunban will be right there helping out.”
Sharla’s lips curled upwards briefly. “I know. And I appreciate it.” She lay down to rest, suddenly sad. “Sleep well, Reyn.”
“You too, Sharla.”