A Hero's Journey

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Chapter 7

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." ― Oscar Wilde

Waking up to the usual sounds of people walking around in the village square, the rushing water of the waterfall behind his house and a sleeping Astra next to the fireplace, Jude begins to get ready for the missions of today. He still remembers the dream from last night and, while trying not to worry about it, a certain feeling still creeps upon him.
"I guess this is the same feeling Relm had about the spider." He mumbles to himself.
When he arrives at the Shifter base Yuki informs him about his new mission: "Nia and Blake are already on a mission so you will be accompanying Aiden and Relm. Both missions, however, are in the same area so you should be able to meet up and go home together."
"All right. Thank you, Yuki." Jude replies after he signs in and runs after Aiden and Relm, who are already waiting in the open field to begin the mission.
"There you are spiky." Aiden shouts after he spots Jude running towards them.
"Ready for today?" Relm asks.
"Absolutely." Jude tries his best to sound convincing.
"Everything okay, Jude?" Relm asks again, instantly suspecting her friend is hiding something from them.
"Of course." He says but fails to sound convincing when he sees she's staring at him.
"You both worry too much, come on." Aiden interrupts them as he opens a Rift hole and jumps into it. Jude, seeing his chance, quickly jumps after him and after a moment of suspicion Relm, too, disappears in the tear between space and time.

Once arrived in the area Jude is met by a new unnatural heat. When he looks around he's surprised by how different this landscape is. There are no forests, temples or mountains. Only giant active volcanoes and lava flowing through the destroyed and burned villages, all while the area is completely covered in a red glow. The heat is growing more intense with every second they stand still and Jude's more than careful to not touch the boiling hot steam from they geysers around him. The ground is constantly shaking due to the active volcanoes around them and, judging by the many broken pieces of armour, helmets, swords and other weapons this place used to be a rather popular battlefield. The shadows aren't that different, he can only spot two new kinds at the moment. A shadow with the lower body of a snake, upper body of a mantis and head of a scorpion and a few shadows that look like floating eyeballs surrounded by fire.
"Where are we?" Jude asks staring at the landscape.
"What do you mean?" Aiden asks, not understanding Jude's confusion.
"This is nothing like the other area."
"Oh, that's what you mean... The Otherworld exists out of what we call 'Rift Planes'; it's pretty much the same concept as eras. Due to the appearance of shadows during the Big Rift, time got distorted and a parallel world was created. Rift Planes are just distortions of time frozen in this parallel world." Relm explains.
"And the shadows use the dimensional rift that was created to continue to invade our world and disrupt the balance of time."
"Exactly. With each Rift plane, or era, they devoured during the Big Rift their power to manifest different time eras grew stronger."
"And this is?"
"This is the Rift Plane called War, the one from before was the Rift Plane named Grace."
"All right, now that we've cleared that up. Let's finish this mission and find Nia and Blake." Aiden comments when he sees Jude nod. After he leaves through one of the gates, Jude and Relm quickly follow.

The mission itself isn't extremely difficult; the group of shadows is small and easily defeated by them. Finding Nia and Blake is a whole other story, though.
"Where are those two?" Aiden shouts, clearly annoyed, after ten minutes of searching.
"If we don't find them in a few minutes we'll just assume they've already gone back." Relm says.
"Fine with me." Jude adds. But as they're walking through area 6, he suddenly spots the two slayers a little further away.
"There you are!" He shouts when he sees they've spotted them too.
"We've been searching everywhere!" Both groups exclaim at the same time. After sharing a laugh about the coincidence they begin walking towards area 0. Unfortunately, the shaking ground underneath them interrupts their conversations and when they turn around another giant shadow has appeared.
"Again? This is starting to get really weird." Relm comments.
"This is rather unusual. And after the time it took to find each other, we will have to defeat this shadow within forty minutes or the fog will get to us." Blake states while taking his knives of his belt.
"Then let's hurry." Nia adds, shooting her first arrow at the shadow.
It hits the shadow's left wing in a matter of seconds and even though it is shocked from the sudden pain, the demon quickly spots the source. Now, ready to attack, the bird jumps into the air with a ring of fire around him and begins to attack by shooting little balls of fire at the group. Thanks to the wind created by its wings, the fog seems to fade away for a moment.
"This thing has the power over fire?" Jude yells, jumping aside to avoid the shadow's attacks.
"Nothing big, come on!" Aiden shouts after the bird lands and he activates his attack specialty.
The bird itself has four big wings, a tail, a long sharp looking beak and two claws. It might not run fast but the moment it's in the air they have to be very careful to dodge both the fire and its claws. Still, while slicing, cutting, firing arrows and hitting the shadow from all sides it is weakened with every blow. Blake even manages to jump high enough to pull himself up with one of the remaining wings so he can attack the shadow in midair. With one last strike he knocks the bird back to the ground where the rest of the team continues without mercy. Already having knocked off three of its wings and one leg, they are getting closer to defeating it.

As Jude runs off to purify the severed body parts it's as if the shadow itself knows what they are trying to accomplish and does everything to get in his way. But Jude won't give up that easy. With every attack he manages to avoid he continues running. The others are trying to help as well, both with the purifying itself or keeping the shadow busy. When Jude and Relm, who rushed in to help him, are finally done with the task they both take a moment to rest. Since purifying, fighting and actually this whole world can put a great strain on your body, the two younger Shifters are experiencing some changes on their missions. Sadly this moment of recovering is enough time for the angry shadow to unleash one of its fireballs at them.
"Jude, Relm watch out!" Nia warns them. Hearing the older Shifter shout the duo turns around to already feel the heat of the fire coming towards them. Jude, knowing they will react too late, jumps in front of Relm, shielding her with his body as the fire hits them.
Lying on the ground, screaming in pain, they see Nia rushing towards them. Checking the damage she sees Jude has gotten the worst of the impact as both his legs, lower body and a small part of his upper body have been heavily burned. Relm's left leg doesn't look too well either and while both are lying on the ground in shock, she can hear worried shouts from the two remaining Shifters.
"Are they okay?" Aiden shouts with worry in his voice, his jokingly attitude completely gone.
"How bad is it, Nia?" Blake asks as well.
"Continue with the fight, the shadow must be defeated." She orders the two men.
"But-
"Continue!"
"Yes madam."

While Aiden and Blake continue fighting, Nia turns to the two younger Shifters. Creating a small barrier around them with her Mitama's powers for protection against further attacks from the shadow, she also tries to calm them down before it really is too late.
"All right guys, I know it hurts more than anything right now but I need you to slow down your breathing and try to stand up. Come on, I'll help you." She gently instructs.
"You are doing amazing but you have to listen to me. Your Mitama have healing powers. You need to use them on your injuries now, or the burns cannot be healed when we get back." Nia explains.
Following her advice, Jude and Relm slowly concentrate on their sources of power and soon feel the pain is beginning to soften. They look down to see they are both covered in a cloud or green smoke and how the heavy burns are starting to fade. In a matter of seconds they are both fully healed, the pain is completely gone and the only thing remaining is the shock from before.
"You did great," Nia compliments them with a big sigh of relieve.
"Are you all right, Relm?" Jude asks, still looking down at his fully healed lower body.
"Yes. You?" She asks back.
"Yeah."
"Thank you."
"For what?"
"You jumped in front of me." She says, looking at her friend, as realisation seems to have hit him as well.
"It was nothing, right Nia?" He grins.
"I think it was very brave but yes, you are both all right. So are you ready to continue?" Nia asks them while looking at the two fighting Shifters in the distance.
"Yes!" They shout with enthusiastic smiles. Now, fully aware of the power of their Mitama, Jude and Relm rush into battle once more.
"You two never do that again, you hear me!" Aiden shouts, his usual demeanour somewhat returned.
"You had us all worried," Blake adds.
"Sorry, it will be all right from now on." Relm apologizes. Smiling, the young girl suddenly pulls out a pencil out of her sleeve.
"Aiden! I need your help with something."
"What is it Relm?"
"Throw me!"
"You want me to do what now?"
"Just like I said. Throw me!"

Though Aiden hesitates for a few seconds he eventually accepts the request and waits for the younger Shifter to jump towards him and grab his arms before he launches her into the air. Once in the air, she quickly starts to paint the picture of a huge boulder just above the bird. Then, in a matter of seconds, Relm activates her power and the boulder becomes real. Falling down at a surprisingly fast speed, it instantly crushes the remaining body parts after impact. After Aiden catches Relm again, they all rush towards the carcase to purify the parts. Except Jude who, still staring in awe, takes a little more time to realise what just took place. While Blake, Relm and Aiden are busy purifying, Nia releases another one of her finishing arrows, killing the shadow with the impact.
"We did it!" Relm happily exclaims.
"Well done everyone." Blake comments when they finish with purifying the shadow.
"Yeah! That was a nice move Relm." Aiden phrases the girl.
Looking around for any other shadows, the group is relieved to see the only things nearby are the ruins of some village, completely burned by the lava and Nia, who was still a good distance away, running towards them. But even though everything appears to be normal, Jude continues to have an unsettling feeling about the area.
"Guys, I still don't feel so good about this." Jude admits.
"What's wrong?" Relm asks.
"I just… have a feeling."

All too familiar with this feeling Shifters tend to get, they look around counting on another shadow attack. But what happens next was something none of them could have ever expected to happen. Before Nia can even reach them, a giant Rift hole appears behind her. Feeling the power of the tear between space and time behind her, she turns around with pure horror written on her face. No one had ever experienced a Rift hole that just appeared out of nowhere, let alone one this big. Running appears to only be in vain as Nia is continuously being pulled back. The others, having recovered from their own shock rush to help her. They eventually manage to successfully take a few steps away from the hole. However, their hopes are quickly shattered as the Rift hole appears to get bigger and bigger every second. The pattern seems to continue for a minute or so until a sudden even stronger force pulls them all in.


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