Shulk is alone when Zanza makes his offer.
“Become one of my disciples,” Zanza says. The helmet that he wears prevents Shulk from looking into his eyes. Shulk imagines that they are triumphant and gloating. He wonders if Zanza is like this because he is a god, or if it’s because every single living being in the world is dead save for the four surrounding him.
Shulk tries not to look at the Trinity, who are surrounding the god. Dickson has a taunting grin on his face. It is the same smile that he used to give Shulk when he was little. A younger Shulk had loved those smiles, because it meant that he did something clever. Now it makes Shulk feel sick.
The stars around them feel like their pushing against the Homs. He had once wondered what it would be like to escape the titans and enter the sky. It was the dream of every Homs at one point or another of their lives. The Nopon and the High Entia may also have had those dreams.
It is too late to ask anyone if this was true.
Shulk closes his eyes. He remembers the lonely hours before this confrontation. The last conversation he had with Fiora still sits on his tongue, heavy.
Sleep comes surprisingly easy. Shulk is grateful for the rest.
Zanza makes a continent this time. It is round and seems so small compared to the bodies of titans. When Shulk asks, Zanza assures him that it has enough space and diverse landscapes to outclass Bionis.
Shulk is not stupid enough to ask about Mechonis. He would have noticed any metallic landscape.
Lorithia takes to a cliff near the seas. She asks Zanza for things so that she can make a new laboratory and research the new beings. It seems that it doesn't matter that she witnessed the birth of this new world. She likes her experiments and the toys.
Shulk is silent when she flies into her new laboratory. He wants to ask if she really knows what immortality will do to her. If she ever felt lonely when there were so many High Entia around her, and what it feels like now that there are none. But she has her research, so Shulk remains quiet.
Dickson retains his Homs form and plans to travel the land. He likes to explore and observe things that way. He gathers different knowledge than Lorithia does, but uses it against his prey just as effectively. That is what he did with the Giants, and then the Homs. Then the Nopon. Then the High Entia. Then the Machina. This knowledge makes him so very hard to beat in battle.
He offers Shulk a chance to travel with him. Shulk says no, and tries to ignore the grimace that flashes across Dickson’s face. The Trinity is aware of how much Zanza favors Shulk.
Shulk uses this to his own advantage, and says that he plans to move around this new world in his own way. He says he isn’t interested in observing as Dickson does. Besides, he is the newest disciple and he needs to cultivate his own new identity.
No one knows where Alvis goes. He hasn’t talked since Shulk joined them.
The century passes, lonely. There is some life throughout the land. They are all beasts, unintelligent and bare of will.
Shulk watches them anyways as he waits.
It is Lorithia who asks Zanza first. Her research can only go so far, and it is hard to make things and test new ideas when there is no one there but her.
Dickson growls at her when she asks. “Remember how well that worked last time?”
Alvis, who had appeared just before they started to look for him, remains silent.
Zanza looks at Shulk.
Shulk wants to shrug. But that is what Shulk as a Homs would do. Instead, Shulk the Disciple says, “But we know how to make them better. It’s like an experiment. When it goes wrong the first time, you’ll avoid the bad things in the second.”
Lorithia smiles at Shulk as the words leave his mouth. Nothing about her is sincere, least of all her smile.
“We will watch over them,” Shulk continues. “We’ll make sure that they listen to everything that we say.”
The conversation becomes short lived. In the end, Zanza makes beings that look like Homs. They have less intelligence than their predecessors, but there is enough to tell them how to worship and how to carry out tasks. This time, the creatures are better suited to do what Zanza wants them to do.
Dickson laughs and calls them “the new Homs” as a joke. The name sticks.
Shulk moves in among these new Homs and teaches them small things. It keeps them happy, and that is all Shulk is able to do.
In his dreams, Shulk explains his choices over and over. No one ever answers back. But Shulk talks and talks, and in the morning his head is no longer swimming in dreams. Instead there are memories.
Lorithia is shallow. She enjoys trickery and power. When there is no one else to lord over, however, she becomes intolerable.
“I don’t know why Lord Zanza favors you so much,” she says to Shulk one day.
Shulk looks up from her notes. He is in her laboratory, as he visits her every few months. Even in this new life as a disciple of Zanza, Shulk likes creating things with his own hands. Zanza has already made him a lab but it is lonely. So he visits Lorithia in her lab and reads over her new discoveries. He knows to keep away from the live experiments, however.
“I was a good vessel,” Shulk says. “I kept the Monado safe and helped destroy the Machina. I killed the last living things in his last world. Isn’t that enough?”
She scoffs. “You are only a Homs.”
“I was able to do more for him than what you had done in years.”
“You were trying to resist him before.”
“That was before I realized the truth.”
He remembers kissing Fiora before killing her. Her lips were dry and tasted like copper.
“You are not good enough to be a disciple,” she declares. She is walking behind him. He knows that she does not like to battle herself; she prefers toys and servants. He had been careful to incapacitate and disable them all before he entered her lab today. She must know that he has done this, even though she is managing to stay silent on the topic. “I would be doing Lord Zanza a favor by killing you.”
“Will it do him a favor?” he asks. Shulk as a Homs would feel fear. Instead Shulk the Disciple feels calm. “I thought he was happy with my work with the new Homs.”
“You know as well as I that they are boring. Uninteresting.”
“Isn’t this better than having to worry that they are going to rise against us?” Shulk asks. “Zanza made them without free will because of what happened last time.”
He turns his attention back to her notes. There are charts showing that the life expectancy of the new Homs is short. This is not new information to Shulk; Zanza's paranoia has not left him, and it shows every time he creates a new creature.
“I wasn’t aware that you have grown so… dull.”
“I’ve learned,” Shulk says.
He takes a deep breath, and suddenly he knows how she is going to attack him. The weapons remind him of the secret guard of the High Entia, each one carrying twin dagger-like pieces. She will lunge, using the element of surprise and all of the knowledge her experiments have given her. He knows in the same way that he did when he had visions. It’s more than a simple feeling.
The movements come to him easily. It should scare him that he can kill another being without much thought. But it is quick and efficient and suddenly Lorithia is dead before him.
Shulk grimaces slightly before forcing a smile onto his face. He keeps the smile as he brings the corpse to Zanza, explaining Lorithia’s attack. The two can only guess that Lorithia was bored and jealous. Zanza sighs at the conclusion they draw.
“She was always a pain. I should have killed her myself,” Zanza says. He nods at Shulk before waving his arm and turning the body into ether.
Shulk knows that Zanza is starting to see Shulk as a “friend.” It is not a Homs’ definition of a friend, nor is it a Nopon’s, a High Entia’s, or a Machina’s one. He wonders if it’s a Giant’s, but the only Giant left is Dickson and Shulk doesn’t like talking to him.
Shulk doesn't show any regret or remorse. That is not what a disciple of Zanza would do.
The night after Lorithia is killed is the last time Shulk explains his decision in his dreams. Afterwards, there are no more dreams. Only more memories.
Shulk visits Zanza sometimes. Lately, he finds Zanza sitting alone on the throne the new Homs made him.
Shulk is looking up at the ceiling of the cathedral when he asks, "Why did you give the High Entia wings?"
"Why did I give them intelligence?" Zanza asks back. The Monados sit on either side of him.
Shulk ignores the question. "The Nopon look completely different from all of the other beings. But you made the High Entia into the form of Homs with wings." He walks forward and his fingers brush against the wall. The murals have become less clumsy as time goes on and the new Homs learn more. The tributes they make the god and the disciples no longer make Shulk flinch. "I was just curious. I was going through Lorithia's research. She wanted to sew wings onto some Homs and expose them to ether to see if anything happened."
The pictures that accompanied those plans are gruesomely detailed.
Zanza hums. "That would be like her.” He takes a few seconds before he continues, and Shulk can see the god’s eyes looking at an empty spot on the wall. Lorithia’s picture used to be there. “I wanted to be able to distinguish one from another just by sight. I never expected them to breed with Homs, however."
Shulk remembers the hours spent telling Melia to showcase her wings proudly. When she had died, Shulk had pulled a feather out before they buried the body. It was one of the few that weren’t stained with blood.
"They were beautiful looking," Shulk says. "They looked like –“
Shulk almost chokes on his words. His hand is ghosting over an image of himself. The Shulk on the wall is smiling.
"Like a dream," Shulk finishes. He looks at the painting of Zanza. The wings are painted in gold, and despite bathing in the light of the ether lanterns they look dull.
He wanted to say "angel" but he can't. Shulk the Disciple is not supposed to know what an angel is.
The world that Zanza come from is so interesting. The memories that take place of Shulk's dreams let him see some of the people there. From the images alone, Shulk has a good grasp of what that world once was. The people there, "humans," lived differently. There was no ether, but there were also no beasts whose sole purpose was to kill everything else.
It is unfamiliar, but it still looks brilliant. Shulk mourns its loss.
It is a few years later before Shulk finds Alvis at one of the waterfalls in the jungles. Shulk has been there a few times before. It reminds him of Makna Forest, but he never mentions it to the others.
“You’re not a Homs,” Shulk says in a way of greeting.
Alvis is not startled, but he does turn around and his eyes show surprise. He is not as attached to the passage of fate as he used to be. In the previous world, surprising the seer would have been impossible.
“Then what am I, Shulk?” Alvis says, turning back to the waterfall.
“An administrative computer of a phase transition experiment facility.” After a second of silence, Shulk asks, “Am I right?”
Alvis remains silent, so Shulk stares out into the waterfall. There is a slight breeze and it brings some of the water spray with it. It reminds him of times where Dunban would take Shulk, Reyn, and Fiora to shores near Colony 9. They would play until Dunban and Dickson dragged them back to the house. It was almost always followed by falling asleep together under a newly-made pillow fort.
He has to force himself away from the memory. Something must have shown on his face, because Alvis tilts his head and looks at Shulk. Shulk pretends nothing happened. He needs answers, not questions.
“Yes, you are right,” Alvis says at last. “I do not know how you came about that information. Even Zanza does not know.”
“Zanza doesn’t know a lot of things,” Shulk says. “I’m sorry I failed you.”
Alvis shakes his head. “Should we be talking about this here?”
“There is nowhere else. Zanza is preoccupied.” Shulk doesn’t mention that Zanza is losing touch with the passage of fate too. He doesn’t want to talk about how he can sense what Zanza is doing at times, more so after he killed Lorithia.
Alvis doesn’t ask, however. “You didn't fail. The rest of the world was dead when you reached us then. There was no point in stopping him any longer.”
“I know. I killed the last two beings.”
The others – Reyn, Sharla, Dunban, Melia, and Riki – had been killed by various monsters. It never got any easier to let them go. Shulk is glad, however, that they couldn't witness him killing Fiora.
“You are still the heir to the Monado, even if you do not wield it.” Alvis nods to the Replica Monado on Shulk’s back. It is heavy, but the last few modifications make the weight precious. “What do you plan to do?”
“I want you tell me about your home. The one you called ‘Earth,’” Shulk says. He smiles at the computer program. “I still don’t understand everything in it.”
Alvis nods. He is not smiling, however. “Is that all you plan to do?”
“For now.” Shulk wades into the water. It soaks through his clothing. Reyn hated that feeling, yet he was the first one to jump into a body of water if the day was hot enough. “One day I will ask for more. Only if you’re willing, though.”
“If that is what you wish, heir to the Monado.”
Shulk throws Alvis a smile before he rushes into the water. It’s cold and refreshing, and with it comes memories of being with the others. They were always too busy fighting to enjoy it, but they made promises that one day they would. When they started to die, no one mentioned the unfulfilled wishes.
He wonders briefly if Zanza ever indulged in the small pleasures from any of the worlds, as a god or a human. Shulk doubts it; Zanza is more likely to shut himself away with his own thoughts than learn how to relax.
Alvis is gone by the time Shulk gets out of the water. Shulk goes back to his lab and waits.
Shulk starts to dream again, and it is there that he trains. He tries to replicate how Dunban moved. His version of Blossom Dance is cruder, but it's how he honors the man.
He makes another Monado Replica from what he remembered of Vanea’s plans. He carries both on his back, the blades crossing and a hilt over each shoulder. When Dickson asks about the second sword, Shulk tells the Giant that he wanted to improve the design. It is a challenge for him. There haven't been many challenges since Shulk the Homs became Shulk the Disciple.
Dickson nods and smiles at the answer. Shulk tries not to dwell on it.
In this world, there are no bodies of his friends. Zanza had drained the ether out of the world, and reformed the remaining mass at his will. The only physical things that carried on from one world to the next are Zanza, his disciples, and whatever they were carrying.
"It happened this way the first time Zanza birthed a universe," Alvis says to Shulk. The two are at the waterfall again, staring up at the sky. Zanza may have created the universe, but he curiously left everything but this planet untouched.
"It wasn’t his intention the first time. This time he did it on purpose," Shulk says.
"Yes. Zanza does not like to be reminded of his failures, it seems."
Shulk leans back, and his eyes fall to the Replica Monados. It has been a hundred and twelve years since he made the second sword, and it is over two hundred and fifty years since he allowed himself to become Shulk the Disciple. The new Homs are growing more intelligent with each generation, but all are devoid of free will.
”Did you ever have friends?” he asks.
Alvis remains quiet for a moment, before bowing his head. "No, not by any proper definition. I have many acquaintances, but never a friend."
Shulk hums at the answer. "I think what we have is a friendship."
"Perhaps." Alvis turns back to the sky. "Will you tell me what happened to Meyneth's vessel one day?"
"Her name was Fiora," Shulk says. He sits in silence for a moment, unsure of where to start. Finally, he says, "Were you aware of what Egil was doing?"
"To some extent. When you reported what had happened on Prison Island, I could make a few guesses."
“You could have just asked me, you know.” It has been long enough that the thought of what Egil had done does not hurt as much. Even if Fiora died in a body that was not truly hers. “Egil took Homs and made them into part Mechon. He had their blood pumping through the Faced Mechon to stop the Monado.”
“That is rather creative of him,” Alvis says.
Fiora had once let him examine her new body. Dunban watched as Shulk poured over the information Vanea and Linada had displayed on the screens surrounding them. They fell into a routine where Shulk would make an observation aloud, and the siblings would tag team to find a way to embarrass Shulk. Then they would laugh, and it would begin again. All three of them had managed to avoid the one question they wanted answered. But as Shulk learned, the question never mattered; Fiora was never to live long enough to try and get her body back.
“But it failed, ultimately,” Shulk says. “I don’t think Egil knew that the Monado could kill Homs.”
“Very few did,” Alvis says.
The two sit in silence. Shulk examines the stars in the sky above them. They remain the same as they had been when there were two titans. For some reason, he can feel chills running through him.
After several minutes, Shulk says, “We’re almost ready.”
Alvis nods. Shulk feels that Alvis must have known for a long time, but yet did not know all of the details. It is odd to be the one of the pair that has all the answers.
When it is clear that the computer program is not going to speak at the declaration, Shulk smiles. "Sometimes I wish you unlocked the Monados sooner."
He is not bitter about this fact. He understands the programming, the specifications, and how Zanza works. The group, the one made up of Homs, a High Entia, and a Nopon, was not prepared when they were last all together. Then they had started to die, and by the time Shulk was ready everything fell apart.
Shulk closes his eyes and feels the passage of fate whisper to him. He tries not to cringe at what it tells him. Even with all the time that has passed, the thoughts still hurt.
He doesn’t shout, but his voice is clear enough. “Dickson, you can come out now.”
The shadows behind them move. Shulk doesn’t want to turn and acknowledge the Giant just yet.
Dickson has always been a problem. He is not like Lorithia. Dickson can wait and watch and gets his sadistic pleasure from the hunt rather than the reveal. Still, the Giant takes joy when he can display his true nature.
“And here I thought you were the smart one o’ the bunch,” Dickson says. There is laughter in his voice.
“I never asked to be the vessel or your puppet.” Shulk can’t keep the venom out of his voice. It has been centuries since Shulk has lost everything because of this man. He hates Dickson even more that he hates Zanza. Zanza has never lied in the manner that Dickson has.
“You got the better end of the bargain,” the Giant says. “You’re immortal. You have the powers of a smaller god. What more could you want?”
“I want to control my own fate.” Shulk knows this is the last time he will talk to Dickson. He wishes his last words to the Giant were not all bitter, but there is nothing he can do about it. “Every living being deserves that, Dickson. Even gods should have their limits.”
Dickson scoffs. “I prefer the power myself.”
“I know.” Shulk gets up. He reaches for the Replica Monado, the newer one, and holds his tears back. “I wish you had changed your mind.”
He moves without really thinking. The visions are brief, fast, and he reacts without thought. He has been practicing, but no amount of practice was enough to prepare him for this. The centuries cannot prepare a Homs to take the life of a father figure, no matter how bitter and painful it has become to acknowledge him as such. The memories are always bittersweet and every bad memory somehow finds a way to bring up a good one and they started to mix and –
When Shulk returns to the surface of consciousness, he notices the tears in his eyes. Remnants of Dunban’s words for his signature Blossom Dance sit on Shulk’s tongue. It takes him a moment to realize that he has been stripped of most of his clothes and is standing chest-deep in the water. If there had been any blood, it has already been washed away.
Alvis waits for him by the bank. Shulk’s clothing also waits there, drying. He wonders how long it took to get the blood out.
“Will you be okay?” Alvis asks. There is no hint of any emotion in the computer program’s voice. But after years of the just acknowledged friendship, Shulk knows better.
“I'm not sure anymore.” Shulk dresses quickly. The Monados have also been cleaned, and Shulk realizes that the body is nowhere in sight. It is a blessing, he thinks. “Zanza knows by now. We should get moving.”
Alvis nods, and they are off.
Shulk doesn't understand what happened in that moment he killed Fiora. In his dreams, he can only hypothesize. He thinks that the leftover power from the gods that slept in their bodies did something. Fiora would have said that the power responded to their hearts. Otherwise it was just more unused ether.
What he does know is this: a Telethia had attacked them. It was the last Telethia, the last being, in their whole world. They were already disheartened, tired, and unprepared. At the last moment, Fiora distracted the Telethia and Shulk gave a finishing blow. It was not before the beast landed a mortal wound on Fiora.
There, on the remains of Prison Island, Shulk held Fiora. Fiora made Shulk promise that, no matter what, he would stop Zanza. The two exchanged a kiss, and Shulk put Fiora out of her misery.
Sometime during that exchange, Shulk had taken Fiora’s memories into his own head. And with Fiora’s memories came Meyneth's.
It was sometime after Shulk agrees to be Zanza’s disciple that he realized this. Until then, Shulk had wondered if Fiora would ever forgive him for his trickery. He was not ready to take on three disciples and Zanza by himself. So he lied and watched in his own way. He waited for the day where he could give the new Homs the will they have been denied.
The fight against Zanza is short. Alvis gifts the Replica Monados power that can slay gods. It is a kind offer that Shulk does not use to its full potential.
“I want you to learn,” Shulk says. Zanza is kneeling over in pain in front of Shulk. It is humiliating and almost inconceivable to the former god that such a thing could happen. “You haven’t surrounded yourself with beings of free will for so long. I want you to be a Homs again.”
Zanza yells at him, and even manages to get up despite his pain. But he is no longer a god.
It is from the memories of Meyneth that Shulk understands how to control the ether. He places a hand on Zanza. “I think you were suffering more than you realize.”
Then Shulk takes the last of Zanza’s abilities as a god. The new Homs screams in pain.
Alvis is silent when Shulk brings them to a Homs settlement. There, Shulk uses his new powers to gift the Homs a sense of will. It is not the same as his will, but he has learned that timing and moderation is everything to living beings. It will be a gradual process. When he is done, he asks one of the families to take Zanza in. Shulk doesn’t use the word “punishment” to describe Zanza. Instead, he uses “lost.”
“What are you planning to do now?” Alvis asks as they walk to the edge of the settlement.
Shulk thinks of Fiora, and smiles.
It takes Shulk a full year to prepare himself. Meyneth’s memories can create Machina. Alvis recites the facts that he knows of humans, Homs, and even obscure information about Nopon. Combined, Shulk still does not know everything there is to know about how to be a god.
In the end, he has to look at Lorithia’s notes to understand what he is about to do.
Shulk is sure to avoid as many notes about her experiments as he can. But her notes about the subjects are meticulous. And it is the language of science that he needs over everything else.
One day, he thinks, he will get used to being a god.
He would prefer to not be a god at all. But there is not enough in this new world. A god is needed here. So he must be a god.
Shulk starts with the Machina. Fiora was entrenched with Meyneth’s memories, and Meyneth had loved her inhabitants so much. Shulk himself remembered examining the beings with the fascination of a builder.
It is a good learning experience. The new Machina are exact replicas of their predecessors. They have varying appearances that all call back to the metallic imagery of Mechonis. Shulk then adds matching landscape to the continent. He gives them enough to build their own settlement and makes sure they are close enough to the Homs.
Afterwards, he makes High Entia from Lorithia’s notes and Alvis’s memories. They are a lot like the Homs, but different too. The new High Entia are elegant and graceful. They are also clumsy and brash and have the same variety of emotions and personalities that a Homs has.
Shulk spends so much time in making the wings just right. He remembers how Melia would fuss over hers after a battle. He has to put the same care into making them for these new people. The end results are beautiful and not a sign of cursed genetics that their predecessors had.
Nopon are harder to create. The lonely god and one disciple only have memories to go off on. Even Lorithia wrote very little about them, but only because they never really registered into her conscience as something she should study.
In the end, they do the best that they can. Shulk can’t help but wonder how many things Riki would point out as wrong with the new Nopon. Still, it may be close enough that Riki would have approved. Shulk hopes so.
With each new people, Shulk takes his time and tells them all that he can remember. For the High Entia, the god talks of legends and other stories that Melia once told him and the others. Alcamoth is a capital that the new High Entia will one day achieve. For the Machina, he talks of Meyneth and her everlasting wisdom. He talks about cities within a titan body and their ability to create. The new Nopon hear stories of Pollen Orbs, Nopon Sages and Chiefs, and of course Heropons. For the new Homs, the god tells of colonies and spirit. Of resilience and how to live with others.
All of the new races learn free will. With it comes anger, jealousy, and frustration. But there is also hope and happiness that remind Shulk of his old world. It is enough.
Three decades later, Shulk goes into one of the settlements looking for a particular Homs.
It is a late realization that spurs Shulk to visit. It comes to him in the morning of one rainy day, and he can see the glow of ether lamps from his lab. The new Homs have a longer lifespan, but they are not gods. They are not immortal.
A female Homs is the one to guide Shulk. She was only a girl when Shulk brought Zanza to them. Now she is a medic. Her voice is softer than Sharla’s, but she is older than Sharla ever was and that age gives her power. Her name is Edith.
“He just sits there,” she says. “He used to rave at us for days. Threatened us, too.”
“I’m sorry. I should have checked on him sooner.”
She shakes her head. “You were busy. And his threats didn’t mean much.” At his questioning glance, she adds, “He does not know how to fight.”
“Hmm.” Shulk thinks over the words, and nods. "That seems like something he would do. Or, rather, wouldn't do."
“He is here.” She stands to the side of the doorway. “I hope you don’t mind, but I would prefer to wait outside."
“I understand.” It is true, to an extent. When Shulk was a young Homs, he didn’t like to interact with others. Reyn and Fiora would always be there to help Shulk. But now Shulk is a god, and Reyn and Fiora are no longer there to help him.
Shulk enters the room. An old Homs sits in a large chair across the room, staring out the window.
The old Homs turns his head so fast that Shulk can’t help but wonder if it hurt. “You.”
“I wanted to see if you understand,” Shulk says. After a second, he adds, “I’m sorry that you don’t.”
“Haven’t you learned? Giving them free will shall get you here.” Zanza spreads out his hands to indicate the room. His age. His new life.
Shulk shakes his head. “When they do not need gods, then I will observe their wishes.”
Zanza laughs. “You aren’t a god. Just a Homs pretending to be one.”
“I know.” Shulk smiles, and Zanza is stunned into silence as the new god leaves.
“Thank you,” he tells Edith.
She nods. “Would you like us to do anything to him?”
Shulk thinks about Fiora, Reyn, Dunban, Sharla, Melia, and Riki. They had all died before they could take hold of their dreams. Melia died knowing that the High Entia were either Telethia or dead. Riki never got to see his Littlepon grow up. Sharla died from Godot’s hands. Reyn and Dunban just wanted to make sure that Fiora was safe and Fiora –
He shakes his head. “If you can continue as you have…?”
“Of course,” she says. "Best wishes to you, Shulk."
He smiles. He is glad that he is known as "Shulk" to them.
Zanza dies twenty six years later. Shulk finds out at Edith's daughter's wedding. He grimaces at the news, but then he shakes his head and smiles. He makes sure not to bring up the topic again for the rest of the night.
After the celebration, Shulk mourns. Zanza was the last human from that world long ago. Now, Shulk and Alvis are the only remnants left behind.
Sometimes, Shulk travels through the new world alone. He goes through as a Homs would; slowly and without using any powers except to defend himself.
Everywhere he goes, he is recognized. He is treated well, but not in the same way Zanza demanded. Shulk accepts the smaller comforts, but refuses elaborate offerings and treatments. This world is enough. Knowing that this world is thriving, after everything he went through, is enough.
At each place he stays, he tells stories.
He talks about Dunban, a strong man who gave so much to everyone. Dunban believed in truth and justice and his younger sister. He had passed away trying to save his sister’s life. Shulk tells of happier stories too, of times where Dunban tried to cook or paint. Sometimes Shulk laughs with the rest of the listeners.
Sharla is also a war hero, but in different ways. She had the strength to survive no matter the hardships. Even when Juju died and she was fighting against her lost fiancé, she fought. Shulk tells the listeners of tales of her sharpshooting and unwavering care. She is a hero in her own right, only her kindness could match that strength.
Riki and Melia were fighters, but Shulk tells different stories of them. He talks about how Riki would watch over them, and how Riki once offered Shulk a place in his family once their journey ended. Even after the centuries, Shulk cannot believe how the seemingly strange Nopon could have done all that Riki had. But Riki was the Heropon for a reason, and that is always how Shulk will remember him.
Melia is always described as graceful and kind, even if she had slapped Shulk when she first woke up. She was a sign of hope, not only for the former High Entia but for them all. She had carried herself so well. Even at death. When he talks about Melia, Shulk always shows off the one wing of a once future empress.
It is hard for Shulk to talk about Reyn. There are stories that he can tell, yes. His cooking skills were even worse than Dunban’s, and his movements were cruder. But he swore to protect them, and he did. Reyn was a solid wall that did his best, and Shulk will never forget how his best friend did so much to save him.
Fiora becomes a constant in all of the stories. It takes decades, however, for Shulk to learn not to cry at the tender memories.
At some point there is a Nopon who asks for pictures, images, some likeness of these figures in the stories. Shulk is not good at art, but he uses his powers to recreates images from memory in the dirt. Another bring, a Homs child this time, asks if the god can bring them back to life. Shulk finds it hard to explain to a child the finer points of resurrection and moving on. But he tries because he cannot stand lying anymore.
It is years later before Shulk notices. He is walking next to Alvis, and in the one moment that he realizes what has happened he points it out frantically to the disciple. They stand in the middle of the street in silence. Then Shulk giggles before dissolving into tears.
In less than a decade afterwards, there are shrines across the land and beings praying for his friends. It is a different kind of immortality, but it is there.
Shulk is alone on a cliff, overlooking one of the thriving cities, when he suddenly knows. He wasn’t even thinking about it at the time. But a breeze touches his face, and at that moment he comes to the realization that he is finally done.
Alvis has the good graces not to pester Shulk when the god reveals his plans. He does give Shulk a questioning glance. But Shulk doesn’t know how to explain knowing something without needing the passage of fate.
The only thing Alvis asks is, “Do you want me with you?”
Shulk responds with his own question, because he doesn’t know how else to answer. “Can you shut yourself off? Do you want to shut yourself off?”
“I can. But not yet, I think,” Alvis says. He looks towards the sky, and Shulk follows his gaze. “I can put myself in a sleeping mode, if you will. I think I would like to see this world farther into its future.”
Shulk nods. A part of him is relived that someone will see this world in the future and know how far it has progressed. The rest of him is glad that Alvis does not need a god to survive.
The first things to go are the Monados, authentic ones and Replicas. It is a little painful for Shulk to watch things he built dissolve into ether underneath his fingers. But he saves the ether and gives it to a few ether lamp makers.
He refuses to have one the lamps that they make with it. They are meant for other beings to enjoy now that they are not instruments of fate and destruction. He does look at them before they are sold, however. They are all beautiful and shining.
The god then disappears from the public eye slowly. The beings of the new world gradually move on, their prayers still on their lips but otherwise they are able to go on without the god's presence.
Shulk still watches them all, but from afar. It is a good reminder that the people don't need a god. They were ready for their own destiny.
Still, Shulk wakes from his sleep in fits of emotion from time to time. Fearing for the future, questioning his decision, never gets easier. Shulk thinks it is something a parent would do. If his own parents had survived the expedition, he thinks that they would have done the same over him.
He reminds himself that he cannot be there forever. He won't hold the destiny of living beings in his hands. They deserve the choice. It is something that his friends never had.
It is a century after the last lamp is sold and Shulk is staring at the night sky. Alvis stands beside him, silent.
"I miss them," Shulk whispers. It should be obvious, he thinks, but he feels the need to say it out loud. "I want to ask them if they like this world."
"I think they would appreciate what you have done," Alvis says. "You have allowed the world to be reborn. Is that not enough?"
"I... I don't know." Shulk turns over, and looks at the computer program. It is odd, he thinks, that he knows Alvis will not betray him. Not in the way that they had to betray Zanza. Not in any way. "I still failed them. They're dead and –“
"But their deaths were not in vain. They helped you, and you succeeded even when defeated." Alvis sits beside Shulk. There is a faint smile on his lips. "There are several thousand beings on this world that have free will because of you."
"Yeah." Shulk turns back towards the sky. "Yeah."
They sit in silence for an hour longer. Shulk cries. Even after all this time, the loneliness is sometimes unbearable.
"I don't think I ever thanked you," Shulk says. The stars suddenly look brighter to him. He hopes that one day the new beings will be able to travel away from this world and explore to their hearts' content. "You did so much."
Alvis chuckles. "Thank you, Shulk, for all you have done.”
Shulk smiles and closes his eyes. It is his last conversation with Alvis, with anyone, and it feels perfect.
He hopes Alvis is right. He wants Riki to love the new Nopon, and for Melia to look at the new High Entia with a smile that is fitting for an empress. He wants Sharla and Reyn to make jokes and approve of the new Homs. He wants Dunban to give one of his knowing smiles, and for Meyneth to be able to see her Machina in the new Machina.
He wants Fiora to smile, because in the end he kept his promise and there is a thriving world that doesn’t need a god.
There is a breeze, and Shulk wills his body to dissolve into ether. He feels a warmth, like all of the laughter and support and love that he had centuries upon centuries ago, in a past world where they weren’t lucky but they had each other.
The feeling lasts for a fraction of a second. When it is gone, so is he.