A Hero's Journey

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Chapter 4

"The beginning is the most important part of the work." ― Plato

While sprinting to the front door, Jude grabs his weapon and rushes outside where preparations for the attack have already begun. When he arrives at the base it appears two Shifters have just returned from their mission. He quickly notes how the male Shifter is clearly older than him, while the girl actually looks one or maybe even two years younger.
"There you are. Good to see your reactions to emergencies are fast." The Captain greets Jude for the second time today.

The girl walks with rather small and rapid steps. Causing Jude to wonder if she does this to keep up with her colleague, who clearly takes much larger steps than the girl, or if it's actually the way she walks. He used to have the same problem when walking next to his father. It didn't matter how much Jude tried, he would always end up running to keep up with him. Sometimes his father would begin to walk even faster and then laugh at the annoyed face his son would make. But after a few minutes he would always pick Jude up and place him on his shoulders. Back then sitting on his father's shoulders was the best feeling in the world. From up there, the young boy had the best view there was and it felt like he was flying.

"So this is the new recruit?" The male Shifter, now standing next to Grant, asks. The man is taller, and definitely more muscular, than Jude. His stance might not 'demand' as much respect as the Captain's but, due to his body language and is way of talking, he does emit a certain confidence, the kind of confidence one can only gain after a lot of experience in both winning and losing. After taking a closer look, the man even appears to be a good four inches taller than the Captain. He also has long visible scars on his face, arms and upper body and a boxer-like body posture. He wears wide auburn brown trousers made of a thick material that can most likely withstand any shadow attacks. The trousers are tucked into his shin guards at knee-height and he has a big belt around his hip with little hooks at the back to, most likely, place his weapons on. The gloves he wears appear to be made out of the same material as his trousers and, aside from his black and golden heavy looking gauntlets, he also wears a thick patch of armour on his left shoulder.

The girl next to him is actually a lot smaller but wears the weirdest looking heels Jude has ever seen to appear taller. Appearing to be just as jubilant as Yuki, she's constantly shifting her weight from her left leg to her right leg and has an overall childish appearance. She wears her brown hair in a high ponytail and has a Shifter uniform, which consists out of a long and wide sleeved top with a light brown waistband, white socks that reach her knees, small green kneepads and dark blue shorts with the Shifters' emblem on it.

"This is Jude. He will be aiding us in the battle against the shadows from now on."
"Nice to meet you, I'm Aiden and this is Relm," Aiden says while shaking Jude's hand. The girl, however, just looks at him with observing and narrowed eyes.
The look she gave him reminded him of one of the rich and snobby girls from On High. Whenever Jude and his friends would play outside this group of girls would come down to the earthbound part of the city, merely to belittle and make fun of him and his friends. He always hated them. Then again, the boys from On High were even worse. Sure the girls all thought they were 'above' them, but when those horrible bullies came down he would always end up beaten up or in some dumpster. Still, Jude decided to trust his old Captain. He was sure his new colleagues would never be as awful as the richer citizens from Midgar.
"Come on Relm, don't be rude and greet the new guy." Aiden says, giving her a nudge with his elbow.
"Welcome, I hope you will prove yourself on the battlefield." She eventually says.
"Thank you…" Jude replies before quickly turning to the Captain.
"I am sorry to send you on a mission so soon but it seems the shadows are restless today. Luckily it's a low level group and Aiden will accompany you on the mission. The-
"Wait, why is Aiden the only one going? What will I do?" Relm interrupts the Captain.
"I do not like to be interrupted, Relm. You should know that by know… But to answer your question, you will go home and let your grandparents take a look at your arm." Grant says with a stern look. While Relm is clearly irritated she does decide to listen and quietly exits the base.
"As I was saying, the fog in the Otherworld isn't this thick at the moment. Take care."
"Okay then. Just go sign in with Yuki and we're ready to go." Aiden explains.
"Sure," Jude says before walking towards the desk.
"Heard you're going on a mission already, good luck." Yuki smiles.
"Hey city boy, get over here." Aiden yells from a corner of the base while waving at Jude to come over.
"What is it?"
"I don't know how much you've learned at your old Shifter base but I do know that this will be your first search-and-destroy mission and I can sense you don't have your Mitama yet so you'll need these to see through the fog in the Otherworld." He says while handing him a pair of small black glasses.
"Okay, so when do we leave?" Jude asks, putting on the glasses.
"Right now." Aiden answers before running towards the other exit of the base.

And after Jude makes sure his sword sits steady in its case, he rushes after the older Shifter. He sees Aiden running towards a big open field at the other end of the hill but he stops in front of a Rift hole that just appeared. Jude knows that Shifters would create these rifts between space and time with their Mitama so they can shift between the Otherworld and this world to go on missions or even errands. But, since he doesn't have his own Mitama yet, the young Shifter has never been able to create one himself. And back in Midgar the only missions he was allowed to go on were errands or missions that involved fighting off shadows that had gathered around the magic barrier of the city.
"Amazing…" Jude says, staring in awe.
"You do know how these work, don't you?" Aiden asks him.
"Of course I do!"
"All right, no need to get offended. So you have no questions at all?"
"So we can just go on the mission?"
"Well, I do have one question." Jude admits after a short silence: "What exactly is a Mitama? All they ever told me was that it's a Shifter's source of power."
"Knew it." Aiden says with a grin before he begins to explain: "When a human's soul is devoured by shadows, there is a slight chance that their soul will remain conscious after their death. Chances increase if the devoured victim was a honourable figure or hero against the shadow threat during their mortal lives. These heroes retain memories of their past life and a fraction of their abilities. If the wishes of the living bind them to the mortal realm, a soul can be reborn as a bodiless Mitama to fight again. They, however, cannot be used until someone frees them from the shadow that ate them. So after you free one, it will help you fight by lending you its powers."
"But how do you know when a shadow contains a fallen hero's soul."
"You don't."
"Then how do you free them?"
"When you get lucky, I guess."
"And they are also the ones that create the Rift holes so you can shift between worlds and give you the power to see through the fog and fight shadows?"
"All true."
"Sure sounds like a lot."
"Well, no one has ever said that being a Shifter is easy, kid."
"What about the magic barriers?"
"Those are just a small part of their powers. We lend those small bits to the shrine maidens. They then, in turn, bare the burden of those barriers, keeping every city and village a little safer."
"And what if the barrier is destroyed?"
"I have never heard about an event like that."
"Well, in theory then."
"Uh, I'm not that good at theories when you compare me to Dyne or Blake but if I would have to guess I think that the strain on the shrine maiden's body would become too much and she would die. The Shifters would then have to take over the task until the maiden is replaced."
"All right, that's all I wanted to know."
"Good, then let's go." Aiden says before they both jump into the Rift hole.

Even though Aiden had answered Jude's questions, he did not tell him to prepare for the end of the Rift holes, as the shifting between worlds tends to be a little shaky at times. So when the Rift hole 'spits' them out into the Otherworld, it results with Jude landing right on his face and Aiden, who lands perfectly, bursting out in uncontrollable laughter.
"Very funny. You could have warned me for that." Jude mumbles while cleaning his clothes.
"Yes but it's always funny to see the new recruits fall on their faces when starting their first mission."
"Whatever, let's just go… Where exactly do we go?"
"The Captain said that our scouts have spotted the group of shadows close to the village."
"So we just have to search in the areas that are closest to the village."
"That's right. But the scouts have already searched and scanned the areas around the magic barriers. So if these shadows aren't in our own world what did they mean by 'closest to the village'."
"I think… Closest to this area?" Jude answers, thinking out loud.
"Exactly. And why?"
"As this is area 0, the field where the Rift hole ends and all Shifters begin their missions." Jude explains, recalling his lessons in Midgar.
"Correct. Now you have to promise me that if you ever get lost or critically injured and aren't able to heal yourself properly you do everything you can to make it to this area. Shadows will never appear here, so it's the safest place in this world."
"I promise. But if shadows can never appear here, they also shouldn't be able to reach our world through the Rift holes. Am I correct?"
"Maybe, in theory."
"Then why do we even worry about them when they're still here?"
"Because one can never be too prepared, for all we know an event similar to the 'Big Rift' could happen at any given time. And say there's an accident during one of the mission and a group of shadows is able to reach our world. Now of course we could all attack the group, but there would always be some shadow that could manage to escape. So instead, we divide into multiple teams. Some stay behind to protect the village and help the shrine maiden uphold the barriers if the burden does become too much. And the other groups of Shifters fight the shadows in this world. Quick and efficient."
"That does make sense."
"Of course that's only one reason. This so called accident could also happen in our own world. Say we look at your theory again and one of the magic barriers collapses. Then we should be prepared to eliminate the threat as quick as possible… Hey, are you okay?" Aiden stops his explanation when he sees the younger Shifter's face turn sickly pale.
"Yes, yes I'm fine."
"All right then… I only have to warn you about one more thing."
"And that would be?"
"The fog. Even the best annalists can't figure out what it's made off, where it comes from or what it does to people. But we do know that you can't stay in it for too long or it will kill you."
"What! How?"
"I think Dyne had a theory about that. This world is ruled by the shadows. He says they pollute the air in this world. And when we breathe it in, it slowly poisons us from the inside out."
"Great, that's reassuring."
"You'll be fine. Besides, we've got approximately an hour before that even happens."
"Well then we have to find them fast."
"Good, let's go."

As Aiden begins to walk towards one of the two gates in the area, Jude decides to look around on more time to make sure everything is save here. Aside from the few ruins in the area there doesn't seem to be anything else and he quickly follows suit.
Luckily it doesn't take them very long to find the group of shadows and the battle begins. Aiden is having no trouble with slaying the little creatures. Pounding on them like it's nothing, the group has become his personal training course; it's all a routine to him.
Jude on the other hand, begins to get a little distracted. As he fights he manages to take some time to observe his surroundings. It feels as if they've gone back in time. From the giant mountains and ancient temples surrounding him to the bamboo forests, waterfalls and flooded villages beneath them, it all looks so fascinating.

Next are the shadows themselves. They differ so much from each other. You have these giant purple balls with no eyes or noses but just very long tongues that are continuously sticking out of their mouth, next are some black jelly ones that slither across the ground with faces that looks like masks and lastly there are these little imp-like shadows that can't seem to stop jumping around.
"Are you okay over there, spiky?" He hears Aiden shout from another part of the area.
"I'm fine and what's with the stupid nickname?"
"Have you ever looked at your hair?" He answers with a laugh.
"There's nothing wrong with my hair!" Jude shouts as he impales another one of the shadows with his sword.
"Wow, calm down spiky. I still need to purify them."
"Purify?" Jude asks.
"What do they even teach kids these days…" Aiden mumbles to himself.
"I can still hear you!"
"When shadows are defeated or critically injured their life essence will be exposed. It is also one of our duties as Shifters to purify them or they will cause us even more trouble."
"All right, so I guess I can't do that without a Mitama?"
"Exactly. So slow down or I won't be able to keep up with this stream of dead enemies. Then again, you could also drag the bodies up here and I'll be able to purify multiple at once. Come on up here and I'll show you." Aiden says while placing himself in front of a shadow he just defeated. Suddenly a blue and white ring starts to appear around him and the creature. After a few more seconds the creature completely evaporates while Aiden calmly continues fighting.
"Pretty amazing, how does it work?"
"Just focus all your energy in one place and then let it circle around you and the shadow. It's easy."
"Okay… So are we almost done here?"
"Why? Getting tired already?"
"No, just… forget it." Jude says while continuing to slice through the shadows with his sword. Even though the imps continue to jump at him from all sides he begins to find quicker methods to get up and kill them before they can even react. But, completely fixated on fighting the imps, the young Shifter doesn't notice one of the jelly shadows is beginning to crawl faster and faster towards him.
"You know, I've been wondering about something. Why, after more than two years of training, have you never been on a search-and-destroy mission?" Aiden asks, turning to his companion. But in doing so, he quickly spots the shadow that had chosen Jude as its next target. "Hey, kid! Look out!" Aiden shouts, hoping Jude will notice in time, as he begins running towards the younger Shifter.

Hearing the warning of his older colleague, Jude finishes off the last imp and turns around. But, having spot the shadow as well, he hesitates for just a moment. The speed at which it is crawling towards him, the screams of Aiden ringing in his ears... In less than a second the scenery around him has changed, and in a flash of bright white light he's back in his hometown, during the infamous shadow attack on his neighbourhood.
The screams of Aiden turn into those of his friends and family, getting devoured by the never-ending stream of monsters. However, the situation between the shadow and him remains the same. Something snaps and, despite his state of shock, Jude moves swiftly and pierces his sword through the shadows body. But that isn't enough for him; in a rage he continues slaughtering every creature that that comes across his path until he sees the face of a Shifter appear before him. The man grabs him by his shoulders and tries shouting his name to snap Jude out of it.
With a last desperate cry the face of the man turns into Aiden's and after another flash of light he's back in the Otherworld on his first mission.
"Jude, are you okay?" Aiden asks, his face a mixture between shock and worry.
"I-I…" He tries to answer. In his state of panic, Jude rapidly looks around him, trying to process everything that just happened. But, taking short rapid breaths, he's having a lot of trouble to stop shaking.
"Yes. Yes, I'm sorry. I'm alright." Jude answers, having regained some posture.
"Well kid, I think you gave me the answer to my question from before."
"W-What question?"
"Why you've never been on a search-and-destroy mission before… What exactly happened just now?"
"I don't know. I guess that fight just triggered a certain memory."
"Some memories you have, kid. You need to learn how to control that." Aiden issues, having calmed down as well. "Come on, let's finish of the last of this group."

After searching the other areas for more threats Aiden and Jude decide to head back to area 0 and eliminate any other shadows that might appear on the way. Passing through a few areas without any groups, they can calmly clean their weapons and collect some materials. But just before they reach area 0 the two encounter another little group of low-level shadows.
As the two Shifters quickly finish off the group and prepare to continue, their curiosity forces them to stop when they suddenly see two bright blue lights emerge from an imp's carcase. The lights head straight to Jude who, too shocked to move, stays dead still as the lights flow into his body. He feels a familiar power rushing inside him, a power he only felt once a long time ago. The moment he turns to Aiden he sees his Shifter colleague is, for once, truly speechless.
"You… You have the Gift." He says with a face of pure disbelieve.
"They didn't tell you that?" Jude asks, eyes still widened and unable to move.
"No. No they did not. You sure are full of surprises, kid!"
"W-What just happened?"
"What do you think?"
"I just freed my first Mitama?" Jude guesses, regaining his posture.
"Not just one, but two!"
"But I thought Shifters could only free one Mitama?"
"Yes, but that rule clearly doesn't apply to you, does it now?" Aiden says as he begins walking towards Jude. "What do you even know about the Gift?"
"They never really told me about what it all meant… Guess they were waiting until I was older or something."
"Well, I don't know a lot about it either."
"Then what are the things you do know?"
"Let's see. I was always told that there are some people with a special gift. As far as I know there has only been one person in the world that is known to have had this gift. He started the Shifter organization in secret, and it continued to remain a secret until the 'Big Rift'. People with the gift have the power to not only free multiple souls of fallen heroes but they can communicate with them as well. Since a person with the gift holds multiple souls inside his or her body, it can sometimes become a great strain. But because of these multiple souls, their powers are usually greater than any normal Shifter's."
"So I just got my first two Mitama?"
"I guess so… Well done spiky. Guess you won't be needing those glasses anymore." Aiden says while giving him a nudge with his shoulder.
"It feels weirdly familiar." Jude mumbles to himself, letting the glasses slide into his pocket.
"Oh, nothing."
"Well this sure was a interesting first mission. I just might have misjudged your fighting skills, kid. Come, let's head back to the village."
"Wait, I would like to ask one more thing!"
"That one thing being what exactly?"
"Could you please not tell the Captain about my little outburst there?"
"Sure, it will be our secret, for now at least. But will we work on improving that, understood?"
"Yes, sir."

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