"There are no strangers here; only friends you haven't yet met." ― William Butler Yeats
Once arrived in the village they head straight to the Shifter base to report the results of their mission. After climbing up the hill they find themselves in the middle of a conversation between Relm and Captain Grant. The conversation, however, comes to an abrupt end when they spot the two Shifters.
"I see you have returned. How did it go?" The Captain asks.
"It went well. City boy did great on his first mission," Aiden reports while giving Jude a pet on the head: "But you could have told me that this little guy has the Gift."
"The Gift? Well, who would have thought that?" Relm utters, clearly surprised.
"I'm sorry, I completely forgot… Aside from that, I sense something within him has changed."
"Well yeah, the kid got his first two Mitama already."
"That's amazing. I expect great things from you, Jude. And be aware of the fact that you're responsible for two precious souls now." He says, turning to new recruit.
"Yes, sir." Jude remarks, saluting.
"Good. It has been a long day, you should go home and rest."
"Are there no other missions or errands?" Jude asks.
"I like your enthusiasm. You're clearly a hard worker but go rest for now. You can meet the rest of the team on your next mission, tomorrow morning." The Captain says with a warm smile.
Listening to the Captain, Jude begins to head for the exit of the base until he suddenly hears his name. He stops and turns around. Apparently, Yuki had been the one who called out his name.
"If you're heading home I advise you to go and meet some residents in the village square."
"Good idea. Thank you, Yuki."
"I'll see you tomorrow, spiky." Aiden greets him as well. "Now as for you," he continues, turning to Relm after they also exit the base.
"Me? What about me?"
"What kind of welcome was that just now this afternoon?"
"What? With the new recruit? That was nothing."
"Don't lie to me, you know you can't tell a convincing lie."
"Whatever. Besides, you're the one who started with the whole idea about how Shifters from the cities are just a bunch of spoiled-
"Hey, don't shove this off on me. You were the one who told me I shouldn't judge people like that."
"Oh, and of course you immediately listened to me."
"Doesn't matter, this kid is all right. He's a fast learner and an overall really good fighter, don't tell him I said that though."
"An overall good fighter huh?"
"Yeah, who knows, maybe he will surpass you after just a few missions." Aiden laughs, earning him a punch to the shoulder from Relm.
A few sets of steps in front of them, Jude has finally reached the village square and is trying to catch his breath, having underestimated the length of the stairs. He then spots the town's shrine on his left. After a little talk he learns that the mysterious woman's name is Raven and that she's one the shrine maiden of this village. Raven has an overall calm and mysterious appearance. She has long black hair, with white highlights, that covers the right side of her face and wears a long white and red dress with some purple ribbons. However, her task is not to uphold the barriers around this village, but to communicate with the gods, help Shifters draw out their Mitama's true potential and take care of the offering box next to the shrine.
Next is the town's blacksmith, who he finds next to the notice board and merchant stand. The man looks a bit gruff with the large X-shaped scar over his face, his white moustache and beard and dirty blue apron. But he does seem to really love his work.
"Good evening," Jude greets the busy looking man.
"What do you want?" He snaps back.
"I-I came to greet you. I arrived today and…" Jude says, stunned from the man's response.
"Ah, so you're the new recruit! Nice to meet you, I'm Daidara, the town's blacksmith."
"Nice to meet you too." Jude says while shaking hands and looking at the sword he's forging.
"I guess I'll be making your armours from now on, so don't you die out there in my creations." Daidara jokes.
"I'll do my best, have a nice day." Jude greets him with a smile before walking to his house.
As he reaches his house a weird creature that looks like a crossbreed of a fox and a cat instantly greets him. The little thing has two thick fuzzy tails and black fur with a lot of specks that greatly resemble stars, making its fur look like a galaxy itself. Jude had already seen the creatures walking around town when he first arrived, so his first reaction is to look around and see if someone has lost their pet.
"It seems one of the Nyssa has taken a liking to you," a voice sounds from behind him.
While the Nyssa jumps in his arms, Jude turns around to see a friendly looking girl standing behind him. She has snowy white hair, is dressed in robes with various shades of gold and white and wears a golden crown on her head. Her eyes seem to be another shade of gold and sparkle like little diamonds in the sunlight.
"I guess so… What are these things?" He asks.
"We do not know. These mysterious creatures just started appearing one day and have been walking around the village ever since. They are really nice to people, sometimes they will even stay in your home as a pet, and they seem to understand our language. There are also rumours about how they can shift between the worlds to collect materials."
"All right then, it seems I'll have to cook for two from now on."
"That will actually be quite easy, the Nyssa take care of their own meals and needs."
"Even better! Thank you for the information."
"You're welcome and have fun you two." She greets them before walking away.
"Now you just need a name little… girl. How about Astra?" Jude asks, putting the Nyssa back on the ground and walking inside. Surprisingly his question is quickly answered by satisfied nods from Astra while she begins to calmly walk around the house.
"Good, you like the name. Now let's find out some things about that rumour. Could you go and collect some materials for me?"
A few seconds after hearing the command the Nyssa stops with walking and stands still in front of Jude. She then begins to jump and before he knows it, she disappears in a little Rift hole. Surprised by the fact that the rumour is actually true, Jude takes some time with processing all the things that happened today.
After cooking his meal and a bit of training in the courtyard behind his house he notices the time and decides to go to bed. Once asleep, grey spots begin to cloud his vision until he's abruptly awakened by a voice inside his dream: "Hello? Can you hear me?" The voice echoes through his mind.
"Who's there?" Jude asks, still a bit shocked.
"Well hello young Shifter, do not be alarmed I merely want to thank you for freeing me today."
"Am I dreaming?"
"You could call it that. You're still fast asleep in the real world after all."
"So you are one of my first Mitama?"
"I am indeed one of the two you freed today. That dreadful shadow devoured my soul many years ago. It feels good to finally be free from that distasteful body."
"That's good to hear. I think…"
"Younger Shifter, I need you to remember something. Seven years ago, you defeated all those shadows by yourself. That was when you freed your first Mitama and every other Mitama in the vicinity knew there was something special about you. I know those memories may hurt but to release your true power you must overcome them and accept them."
"Overcome them and accept them? I don't understand."
"You will, in time. But that is not the only reason why I wanted to talk to you. I sense a lot of my comrades close by, this means a big threat might be on its way."
"What kind of threat?"
"I do not know. But please know this, young Shifter. Even in the darkest night, when evil is near, you need not fear. For we will always be fighting alongside." The voice replies, slowly fading away.
The grey spots start to appear again and when Jude opens his eyes he's back in his own bed. When he looks out of the round shaped window in his living room he can see the sun is already beginning to rise, and since he probably won't fall asleep again, he decides to get up and get ready for today's missions. Just as he's about to leave the house, he notices a few letters on his little desk. The letter he decides to open first is from the Midgar Shifter base:
Jude, you are hereby officially assigned to Figera village and expected to join the defence force of the region. Figera is a key location in our country on the frontline in our war against the Shadows. We expect that you fulfil your duty with utmost dedication and wish you good luck.
"How nice of them to still think of me," he mumbles in a sarcastic tone. He decides to open the second letter from a girl named Nia. Jude had never met her, so he assumes she must be one of the Shifters he would meet today. He quickly reads her letter as well:
Hello, I heard you did a great job on completing your first mission yesterday. Well done. I'm Nia, one of the Shifters in the village, it seems we will be working together from now on. First I would like to apologize as you were forced into action so soon. Normally, we try to let the new recruits start a little more slowly but as the Captain already told you, we are a bit short-handed at the moment. Now that you are living here, we will have to go over the ground rules of the village so try to memorize them.
1. Do not leave the village at night.
2. Do not waste water.
3. Do not harm any of the Nyssa.
4. Some of the children like to prank Shifters, be careful.
5. Yuki is Grant's daughter; keep a safe distance if you value your life.
Anyway, thank you for your help and welcome aboard.
While Jude finishes the letter he can't help but smile at the last two rules. However, after noticing the time, he quickly sprints to the Shifter base.
Arriving at the base, Jude instantly spots the two other Shifters of the team. Aside from their heights, the two greatly resemble one another. The girl, who must be Nia, has long black hair, which she wears in a long braid, and she's approximately four inches shorter than the boy.
She also has brown eyes and wears a Shifter uniform that consists out of light pink robes with a green waistband, purple shorts, dark green boots that reach her thighs and are made of a very strong material and a long beige cardigan. The cardigan reaches her thighs, has the Shifters' emblem on its sleeves and a bunch of feathers on the left shoulder. Lastly, she keeps a large red bow and a case full of arrows on her back.
Judging by her conversation with the Captain and the letter from this morning Jude deduces her to, more or less, be the leader of the team. She seems fierce and righteous, two good qualities for a leader, but despite that she also has one of the friendliest smiles Jude has ever seen. Judging by her overall appearance the girl is probably around four years older than Jude.
The boy standing next to her seems to be the same age as the girl and almost has the exact same facial structure. His hair reaches his ears, with some strands covering his eyes. And, strangely, it isn't black but almost completely white. The boy wears thick black and dark green sleeveless armour with long black gloves that have the same green armour running along his arms. Furthermore, he has a black belt around his waist, wide black trousers with the Shifters' emblem on both sides and black knee-height combat boots. Both his trousers and boots seem to be made out of the same material as his armour and in a sheath at the back of his belt, he carries a set of twin knives while also carrying a pair of hook swords in a sheath on his back.
What's more interesting is how he seems to keep his eyes closed, has a little hawk sitting on his shoulder and has skin so pale it's almost scary. Unlike Relm, this man seems to be more of an introvert. From the way he speaks to his overall stance and closed eyes, the Shifter appears to have certain serenity around him.
"Hello, you must be Jude." The girl says after she spots him.
"Yes, nice to meet you…" Jude replies, hesitating with the name.
"Nia. I'm Nia and this is my brother Blake." She says as she gestures to the Shifter next to her.
"So you must be the one who-
"Send you the letter? Yes, indeed. Still remember some of the rules?"
"All memorized up here." He jokes, pointing to his head.
"Good." She remarks with a smile.
"New missions and errands have been added today, shall we go?" Blake asks after he ends his conversation with the Captain.
"Jude will accompany you today." Captain Grant adds.
"Fine with me. Come on Jude." Nia says, already walking towards the exit with Blake.
"Coming." Jude assures. But before running after them, he hastily signs in with Yuki and returns the glasses he had borrowed yesterday.
When they arrive at the open field on the other side of the hill, Nia quickly opens a Rift hole and she and Blake both jump in without hesitation. Jude, on the other hand, stays behind for a few more seconds. After running down the hill a certain had feeling crept upon him, the feeling of being watched.
He looks around, looking for signs that might point out they were being followed. Finding nothing suspicious about his nearby surroundings he eventually decides that Nia and Blake can't get a wrong impression of him. So he, too, jumps into the Rift hole.
When the rift spits them out Jude, now ready for the impact, gracefully lands on his legs and awaits his orders. They have, once again, landed in area 0 and, looking around, Jude spots a rather strange occurrence next to him. Blake's pet hawk is suddenly turning into a larger black hawk with fiery red eyes and razor sharp claws.
"Little groups of shadows have been spotted in both areas 2 and 8," Blake states, remaining completely calm despite the transforming hawk.
"What is happening to your hawk?" Jude asks, a slight hint of fear present in his voice.
"Don't worry, this happens to all animals who enter this world."
"They turn into demonic versions of themselves?"
"Yes, but he's not dangerous. When a bond is strong enough to withstand this transformation the animal in question will actually be a real good asset in fights against shadows."
"Okay... And your bond is?"
"Yes of course."
"All right, let's start in area 2. It's closest." Nia then proposes.
Agreeing with the idea, they start to walk towards the gate that will lead them to the next area.
"So, Jude, I heard you're from the Floating City." Blake starts a conversation with the younger Shifter as they walk.
"Yeah, that's right."
"I can only imagine Dyne's stream of questions when you entered the base for the first time. I hope it wasn't too overwhelming." Blake chuckles at the thought of his friend.
"Oh, that's okay. The Captain saved me after a few easy questions." Jude jokes, smiling as well.
"Good. I've known Dyne since we were only toddlers, so I know exactly how excited he can become about things like this."
"Oh please, little brother. Don't listen to him Jude, most of the time he's just as excited about 'things like this'." Nia interrupts, laughing.
"Pardon me? Little brother! We only differ by a few-
As Jude watches the siblings argue with each other he remembers how his two nieces often playfully mocked each other as well. Though a jolt of pain suddenly shoots through his heart, he has the feeling that the Figera village and its inhabitants might not be such a bad home after all.
When they arrive in the next area Jude notices that the group consists out of the same shadows from the day before. The battle begins within seconds of entering the area and while Jude is busy purifying one of the imps he just defeated, he takes some time to observe his new colleagues fighting styles.
Unlike Aiden, who's made for close combat and usually rushes into battle with his strong attacks, Nia stays a good distance away from the shadows. Launching multiple arrows at once she manages to precisely hit her targets with ease. Blake, too, has a different way of fighting. His calm and confidant demeanour are clearly visible in his combat skills. The Shifter will mostly listen to the shadows' movements or wait for signs his hawk (which is doing a great job at wounding some of the shadows by itself) will give him, before striking with such precision Jude has never seen before. The fight is won with ease but, just as they are about to head for the next area, the feeling Jude had earlier today returns.
"Could you go ahead? I still want to collect some materials here." He asks, trying to sound convincing.
"Leaving the new recruit alone on his second mission, I don't know…" Nia hesitatingly thinks out loud.
"I'll be fine. I'll finish this in a minute and be on my way in less."
"Fine, but I still don't like the idea. And we will come back if you take too long." She eventually gives in.
"You will follow as soon as you are done here, understood?" Blake urgently states.
"Please don't call me sir, I'm not that old." He says with a smile before they both continue.
The moment Nia and Blake leave through the gate, Jude spins around to look for the source that is making him feel so anxious.
"All right, you can come out now… whoever you are." He shouts, followed by a few rustling leaves behind him. Turning around again he spots a vague figure in the distance, but it's gone in the blink of an eye.
"I know you're hiding there." He comments, beginning to walk towards what he guesses to be the hiding spot.
"Not very convincing, new guy." Says a voice and, despite the shock of having received an answer, Jude immediately recognizes the competitive and childish spark behind the remark.
"Relm? What are you doing here? This isn't your mission! Have you even signed in with Yuki? You are going to get us all in so much trouble." Jude bombards her with questions.
"Calm down! Just let me explain." Relm begs, coming out of her hiding spot.
"Fine, go ahead."
"It might sound weird to you but I just had a feeling something was going to happen. Something bigger than just a few low level shadows… and my Mitama felt it too. This could be my chance to finally prove the Captain that I am a worthy Shifter and that I can slay bigger threats."
"But I haven't seen anything and I've already been through a few of the areas with Nia and Blake."
"Shadows can appear in all areas, doesn't matter if you've already checked them."
"I don't have a good feeling about this…"
"Of course the new guy would be afraid to break a few little rules."
"Yes because there are rules for a reason! Besides, this is only my second day so I wouldn't like to be kicked out already. And if you're such an experienced Shifter why do you want to prove yourself so badly? I know you've only been recruited for about two months so, though you might have had some better training than me, we're technically both new recruits!" Jude states, clearly frustrated.
"How do you know I've only been recruited as an official Shifter two months ago?" She eventually asks, still a bit stunned from the sudden outburst.
"I heard parts of the conversation between you and the Captain." He says, having calmed down as well.
"I see… Look I'm sorry I caused you trouble, I'll just go back so you can continue with…" She tries to apologize but is quickly interrupted by Jude.
"No I'm sorry, I shouldn't have yelled like that."
"Perhaps you are right. It's just the way everyone threats me around here. I was born and raised in Figera village and started training at a very young age. Though I wasn't even old enough to go on missions, I would sometimes be allowed to accompany some Shifters. But, since Yuki and I almost grew up together, Captain Grant has come to see me as his second daughter. I guess you could say he's just as protective over me as he his with her." She tells with a nervous laugh.
"So you just want to prove yourself to them. I get that. But really, you should be thankful for such a big family."
"I guess you're right about that as well. Maybe I was wrong about this big threat. I'll just head back and hope nobody noticed I was…" Relm begins before suddenly being interrupted again. This time, however, it wasn't Jude.
Hearing a loud screech from behind them, the duo quickly turns around to face a new threat. It appears Relm was right after all. Crawling out of a Rift hole on the ground appears a giant shadow in the form of a black spider with a lion-like face. The shadow has three sharp sickles on both sides of his body, two larger ones that stick out of its head, multiple piercing eyes and two little horns on its head. And, after releasing another roar, it spots the two young Shifters as well.