"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." ― Lao Tzu
Being abruptly awakened by the sound of his colleagues preparing themselves for the missions of today, Jude finds himself in a complete chaos of clothing and weapons scattered around the room. It never ceases to amaze him how, no matter what day it is, their room will always look as if a whirlwind of trousers, armour and further necessary equipment just went through it. The Shifters with whom he shares his room are busy getting ready for their missions, trying to get downstairs as fast as they can.
"Finally up, kid?" One of them asks after he sees the young boy has opened his eyes.
"Yes and thanks for holding a 'who can be the loudest' contest at six o'clock in the morning." He mumbles back, while rubbing his sleepy eyes. His comment triggers a few mumbled laughs from other Shifters around him but they, too, quickly continue with their own business.
"Why aren't you getting ready, anyway?" Asks another while searching for his weapon.
"Don't you know? The little guy has been assigned to another village."
"Oh, really? Which one?"
"Probably just a minor one."
"Well actually it's the Figera village." Jude interrupts the conversation. After the words leave his mouth a surprised silence surrounds the room.
"Figera village?" They ask with shocked faces.
"That's what I said." Jude calmly answers.
"Home of the legendary Captain Grant and his group of Shifters?"
In their astonishment the Shifters completely forget the fact that they have missions to attend to. Instead, they begin to exchange stories and rumours they've heard about the village and its townsfolk.
"Have you even heard the stories about their Captain? It is said he could easily defeat more than fifty shadow, on his own, after only a year of recruitment!"
"That's nothing compared to what I've heard."
"What about their elite team of Shifters? According to some travellers they've got someone on their team who can lift whole mountains."
However, after the short exchange, they quickly realise their current situation and hastily continue with preparing for the missions. Still curious about the subject they decide turn to Jude once more.
"You're joking, aren't you? Only the best Shifters reside there." One asks.
"Well, from what I was told, they are short on Shifters and I was assigned to help out."
"Well good luck then." Another says to him while laughing and giving him a few pats on the head.
"You all act like I can't do this." Jude says, a bit irritated, as he slaps the hand away. They liked to belittle him. But just because he was a few years younger and had never been on a search-and-destroy mission before, it didn't mean he wasn't a great Shifter, or so he told himself.
"Well, you've only been here for two years."
"Yes but he has the Gift, remember." A Shifter mockingly states.
"Oh yeah." They say as they begin laughing again.
"Shouldn't you get going now?" Jude asks with a sigh.
"Oh, we still have ti-" One of the Shifters begins until he is interrupted by a yell from the Captain downstairs.
"IF YOU ALL AREN'T DOWN HERE IN ONE SECOND, I WILL PERSONALLY COME UP THOSE STAIRS AND DRAG YOU BY YOUR EARS!"
"Still enough time, huh?" Jude says with a smug grin across his face.
Enjoying the horrified faces of his fellow Shifter colleagues and seeing them running into each other to reach the door in time, the boy can't contain his laughter anymore. He does understand why they would be so afraid of the Captain. A number of tales and rumours have been going around about the man, mostly about how he lost his right arm and ended up replacing it with a gun arm instead of a normal prosthesis. But Jude knows the man has a soft side and remembers how he took care of him these years. Saying goodbye to the man had actually been a lot harder than he initially thought it would be.
His Captain had also told him about the Captain of Figera village and how he wouldn't have to worry about the people there. They were nice, trustworthy and loyal. Everything would be totally different from the way things are here in Midgar. Apparently Captain Grant and Jude's old Captain had fought together during the Big Rift. They fought heroically with the other Shifters. They, and three other captains, were the ones who turned the tides during those last days of fighting. Sadly he, Grant and many others, suffered heavy injuries thanks to those demons. With their bodies injured, they were forced to retire from fighting. The current government, created to protect whatever remains of humanity from shadows, eventually elected some of them to become the new captains of the Shifter bases from various villages and cities. Their job became to provide shelter to any survivors, take on as many new recruits as possible and train and help them on their paths of becoming Shifters. And together with his fellow students Jude is part of the new wave of Shifters who are trained to deal with the land's never-ending demonic forces.
After a few more minutes of thinking about these past years and wondering about what the future might bring, Jude finally gets out of bed and prepares for his long trip to Figera.
Stepping outside the Shifter base, the young boy is greeted by the usual sight of his hometown, Midgar. Midgar is the biggest city of the land, sadly making it the most crowded as well. Midgar is widely known for its modern technology and usage of shadows' life essence to power the city's generators. It causes them to glow with a greenish-purple light, which can be seen from a great distance. Many travellers say it often helps them to stay on track during their journeys, as they'll always know which way is north. The city itself consists out of a large part on the ground, which is were the lower classes live and were Jude was born and raised himself, and larger part that is 'floating' above the other, dubbed 'On High' by him and his friends. This platform is home to the higher classes and the cities' Shifter base. People on ground level don't have it easy. The Floating City doesn't look that impressive when you're living right underneath it after all.
Blocking out most of the sunlight, always being looked down on by the higher classes, having to do the most exhausting labour and still being treated like you're nothing. The people from the earthbound part have a lot to endure. Making Jude's childhood not exactly easy to begin with. And, sadly, not much had changed when he became a Shifter. The wealthier citizens from up here treat the people on the lower levels like dirt, and they will always continue to do so, even if they manage to work their way to the top.
After taking the lift down to the earthbound part of the city, he decides to take a detour and visit some of the outer parts of Midgar. The outer parts are divided into twelve sectors and lay right next to the end of magic barriers. Jude was born in the outer parts, and yet he rarely visited ever since he moved to the Shifter base. Then again, deep down he knew why coming back here continues to hurts him.
Arriving at the city's gate, the young Shifter takes one last looks at his former home before focussing on the view ahead. He can spot one of the other big cities in the distance, Anaki. Though Midgar is famous for its technology, Anaki is known for their location next to the coastline of the land. With two massive bridges on the west side of the city, it is connected to one of the first manmade islands.
Even further south lays the last city, Jiro. Jiro is known for its outstanding defences. It doesn't have just one magic barrier but three. The first wall is the largest, spread around the city like a giant circle. Inside that one comes the next and further in comes the last and smallest wall, which protects the leaders of this land. But south is not the way Jude's headed. And after the first small step outside the magic barriers the young Shifter begins his journey.