A Hero's Journey

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Chapter 8

"I have to try and change the landscape, whatever it is." ― Robert Plant

Opening his eyes, Jude finds himself lying on the ground in a little grey room. There are two beds, a sofa and two little round windows behind him. The walls seem to be completely made out of steel. His friends are lying on the ground around him, still vast asleep, and he spots their weapons in the corner of the strange room. Trying to remember what had occurred before, memories of the fight against the shadow and the giant Rift hole that had pulled them in suddenly appear before his eyes. This, however, doesn't explain their current situation. Jude decides to look around a bit more. He tries to open the door but it appears to be locked from the outside. Walking over to the other side of the room, while being careful to avoid stepping on his friends, he tries looking for clues outside. But the landscape couldn't have been more different. A heavy snowstorm is raging outside and in contrast to the many flowers, hills and trees in Figera village this landscape lacks any form of natural flora.
There are no signs of active form of live either. Except for the houses, or rather, little steel buildings, which are slowly rusting in the cold and wet climate. The storm is making it rather difficult to spot anything else so Jude decides to turn away from the windows for now. Hearing a soft moaning from the others, he notices that they are beginning to wake up as well.
"Where are we?" Aiden asks, slowly trying to observe his surroundings.
"What is this place?" Nia adds as she rubs her sore head.
"I don't know." Jude admits, staring out of the window again. He begins to turn, wanting to say something else, but before a single word can leave his mouth a panicked Blake interrupts him.
"W-Where is Ace! I can't sense him! Where is he?" He shouts. The blind Shifter is desperately trying to stand up, grasping anything that might help support him. Completely unfamiliar with his new surroundings it's even more difficult to navigate around without sight.
"Calm down, Blake." Nia tries to get her brother to hear her. Sadly, this doesn't help the desperate Shifter.
He continues to walk around the room in a somewhat odd pace, while screaming the bird's name. Finally being able to get a hold of him, Nia grabs his shoulders until he calms down.
"Where is he, Nia?" Blake asks, his voice nothing but a whisper.
"I don't know, but we'll find him. Don't worry." She comforts the broken Shifter as he rests his head on her shoulder. Jude had never seen the always so calm Blake in this state. Recovering from the shock, he and Relm exchange a worried look before she walks over to him.
"This is not the Otherworld nor the village." Relm observes, looking through the window as well.
"Got our weapons." Aiden mentions, taking a good look at the team. While Nia is comforting a broken Blake and Jude and Relm stare out of the windows with worried faces, he quickly thinks of a plan.
Throwing Jude's sword and Relm's chain and sickle on one of the two beds in the room he lays Nia's bow and Blake's weapons on the other.
"All right. We don't know where we are or how we got here. But we can't just sit around here doing nothing. Let's find a way out of here, get Blake's hawk back and return to Figera." He declares, clearly determined. "First of all, what exactly happened?"
"We got sucked in by the giant Rift hole that suddenly appeared after our fight with the shadow." Jude answers.
"That's right, I remember now. Good memory, spiky."
"We must have blacked out on our way." Relm notes.
"But then how did we end up here? I don't think that this is where the Rift hole ended." Nia ponders after telling Blake to sit down on the sofa.
"I brought you here." A happy voice unexpectedly sounds from the other side of the door.

After only a second it is swiftly swung open, revealing a vague figure standing in the doorway. All surprised from the sudden appearance of the figure, the group of Shifters lets out a surprised scream while readying themselves for another battle. However, the creature itself seems to be surprised as well and screams back while cowering in fear.
"Please don't hurt me with those scary weapons." It begs, trembling on the ground.
"Who or what are you?" Nia asks.
"Show yourself." Aiden adds.
Stepping into the light of the room the figure is revealed to be a human sized android, whose form greatly resembles that of a stuffed animal or an anthropomorphic bear. It has a beige face with a golden lining around it, blue 'fur', big pleading eyes and red and white jumpsuit-like clothing.
"Hello, I'm R-66Y but you can call me Teddie!" He says with the same cheerful tone from before.

"Look at him, he's so adorable," Relm exclaims as they all lower their weapons.
"I can assure you, madam, that I am not adorable." Teddie responds in his high-pitched voice. The android seems to walk around on its toes, but the group can quickly make out that he's about an inch shorter than Relm, that is, without her heels on.
"Enough talking. All right Ted, what is this place?" Aiden interrupts.
"What do you mean? We're still on earth, you know." Teddie asks, tilting his head.
"Still on earth? Then what has happened to the land?" Jude asks, walking towards the android.
"You don't know?" He asks back with big questioning eyes.
"Know what? All we remember is being sucked into a Rift hole and waking up here."
"Your vital signs show that you are rather stressed. I would like to help with that, so I will explain the situation. I found you outside and decided to take you home with me. You were all passed out, looked rather tired and you were injured pretty badly. You even slept for three whole days."
"We would like to thank you for that, Teddie." Nia says with a warm smile. Shifting his gaze to face the siblings, Jude notices how Blake slowly seems to return to the world of the living.
"You're welcome. As for your other question… This is what's left of the Narsh village in 3528."
"The year 3528! So this is the future?" Relm exclaims.
"What do you mean?" Teddie asks again, not understanding the shock on the strangers' faces.
"Dyne was right…" Blake mumbles to himself.
"What did you say, Blake?" Nia asks.
"N-Nothing…"
"But if this is the future, where is everyone? What happened to this village?"
"Well, it took place around 300 years ago…" Teddie begins to explain.
"What took place?" Aiden interrupts him.
"The second 'Big Rift'." Teddie answers, instantly causing an eerie silence in the room.
"Another… Big Rift?" Aiden repeats, his voice full of terror and disbelieve.
"You aren't from here, are you?" Teddie asks after another long silence. "It would be impossible to not know about the second Big Rift if you haven't lived through it yet."
"What happened during the second Rift?" Jude asks the bear.
"The same thing that happened in the first. I might not have lived through it, but I've read numerous of history books about it. During the first Big Rift the shadows invaded the north and the Shifters did everything they could to stop them. Because of all the huge losses in the first one, we prepared ourselves for hundreds of years. Sadly, our efforts were in vain and we were defeated yet again. The world was doomed from the beginning. The second Big Rift hit this world a lot harder than the first one and much was lost those seven days. There are only a few humans remaining on earth, but as you can already see, living in these harsh conditions isn't easy.
"How horrible…" Relm whispers, staring at the ground.
"But Teddie… you aren't human?" Jude comments.
"Yes, I know that! The humans build us as combat-equipped assistants about 400 years ago. We would often restore the lands or look after cities when Shifters went on their missions. But when the Big Rift took place something went wrong and all the androids were somehow shut down. When the event was over the system was, without warning, turned on again and they turned against humans. The last survivors tried to reboot the systems but when it didn't work, they were forced to shut down the R-series androids." Teddie explains with a sad look.
"The R-Series?"
"The humans had to build a lot of androids if they were to help mankind. After a lot of failed attempts the R-series was born. As I told you earlier I'm R-66Y, the only one left of all my brothers and sisters…"
"But if all the androids turned against mankind, why aren't you shut down Teddie?" Nia asks.
"Even though the R-series was a success there remained a little flaw in the system. That flaw was I. Somehow I turned out different, as you can see. I had a different external layer, developed human emotions and wasn't affected by the appearance of the shadows. Now, to make up for the mistakes of my series, I will do anything to help humans and restore the lands with one step at a time." He replies with a tired smile.
"And we would love to help you, Ted." Aiden says, leaning on the bear's head.
"Help me?"
"How do you want to help him Aiden?" Nia asks.
"We will stop that second Big Rift, no matter what."
"Stop the second Rift?" Relm repeats widening her eyes in shock.
"How do you want to accomplish that?" Blake asks, just as shocked as the others.
"Well, we know you can travel through time with the Rift holes, so we'll just go 300 years back in time and stop it from ever happening."
"I don't know about that. Travelling through time can be really dangerous, the smallest changes in the past can have devastating results in the future."
"More devastating than he second Big Rift?"

That response forced the blind Shifter to think about it once more.
"Come on Blake, we can't just do nothing…"
"Fine. Perhaps time will not be altered too much."
"You really want to help me?" Teddie asks, eyes gleaming like a child with a new toy.
"Of course we will! Besides, we're Shifters, it's our duty to protect this world."
"Aiden is right." Relm responds with a smile.
"We'll do everything we can." Jude, too, joins the idea.
"Thank you, thank you so much!" Teddie exclaims, clearly grateful.
"Don't start crying. Could you just tell us more about how the world looks in 3528?" Aiden asks, pointing at the world map on the wall.
"Sure, oh wait. I don't know any of your names."
"I'm Aiden and they are Relm, Jude, Nia and Blake." Aiden replies, pointing at the Shifters.
"All right." The android replies, memorizing the names. "Ever since the second Rift there are only a few villages remaining. Though we had managed to rebuild the northern villages they were hit just as hard as the others. Because the invasion started in the east this time, it was completely erased from existence." Teddie begins to explain but stops to look around at the horrified faces of the Shifters: "You guys are from the east, aren't you?" He then asks, receiving a few nods as response.
"Please continue Teddie." Nia says, noticing the android's doubt.
"Well, the east put up quite a fight. But, much like the north in the first Big Rift, it was quickly abandoned to defend the cities in the middle. After Figera fell, the shadows started devouring the remaining lands. Two destroyed villages remain in the north, three remain in the west, one remains in the south and the only city left standing is Midgar. The large groups of shadows that suddenly entered this world have heavily affected the environment. Now, plagued by an ever-lasting storm, people have been trying to restore the lands but with little success so far."
"You really live in a horrible future, don't you?" Relm asks.
"Yes, and that's why we'll stop this from happening." Jude remarks before Teddie can answer.
"So how do you want to find a Rift hole that takes us back to that day? We can't exactly control them anymore as you may have noticed." Blake comments.

Having closed his eyes again, any signs of the panicked behaviour from before have completely disappeared and the blind Shifter is once again his rational self. Jude's actually rather fascinated by how fast they have all adapted to this strange situation.
"Blake is right. It might be dangerous to just go jumping into Rift holes. Now that they have become more and more unstable, we'll never know where they might bring us." Nia adds.
"I know that but we don't have much choice, do we?" Jude says as he turns to Teddie. "You said there are still survivors in this world?"
"Yes, indeed. But you don't mean you want to go outside, do you?"
"Why can't we go outside?"
"The shadows have invaded this world remember? It's dangerous out there!"
"Teddie, you're an android build for combat. How could you possible be scared because of a few little shadows?" Aiden mocks the little bear.
"I-I'm not scared of shadows!"
"Yes, I can see it by the way you're trembling."
"Aiden, stop it." Nia warns, poking the Shifter with her bow. "Teddie, we're all going to need your help if we want to change this horrible future. So could you lead us to the nearest building with survivors?" She continues.
"A-All right, follow me." Teddie responds, beginning to walk towards the door.

As they exit the little grey building the cold of the heavy storm raging outside instantly hits them. Slowed down by all the wind and snow, the group can barely walk or see. But by completely relying on Teddie to be their guide, as he is the only one that has clear vision in this storm, they slowly manage make their way across the deserted land. They can occasionally hear low grunts or growls from shadows passing by, but the creatures are too far away to even notice them.
"How much longer, Ted?" Jude shouts, trying to hear his voice over the sounds of the wind.
"According to my navigation the village is nearby. Just hang on a little longer." Teddie answers.
"That's pretty hard in these conditions, I'm freezing!"
"I know, I know but…" Teddie suddenly cuts himself off.
"What is it?" Jude asks, only to receive silence as an answer: "Teddie, what is it!"
"S-S-S-Shadows!"
"Everyone get ready!" Aiden shouts as they grab their weapons.

It shouldn't have been a difficult fight, they are lucky this group are just low-level shadows, but due to the harsh weather conditions they are all experiencing some difficulties while fighting. Nia's arrows are blown away by the wind as soon as she releases them, both Blake's own vision and his Mitama's are completely useless and without Ace he doesn't have the slightest bit of guidance. Lastly there's Aiden, who's almost frozen in place. Realising they cannot fight like this, Teddie decides to help out his strange new comrades. Releasing tons of little missiles from his hands he evaporates every single one of the shadows.
"Thank you, Teddie. I can't believe we were doing this bad," Jude comments with a laugh.
"We should hurry or we'll freeze out here." Nia worryingly states.
"Oh, I have an idea!" Relm suddenly shouts as she pulls a new pencil out of her sleeve. The girl then starts to draw five big and warm looking cloaks and when she activates her powers the cloaks become real, each perfectly fitting for the Shifter it belongs to.
"So much better, you're a lifesaver Relm!" Jude shouts, feeling warmth returning to his body.

After a long hike they, finally, reach the other village. This one is actually a lot bigger than Narsh. It has a lot more houses (which can only indicate that there are indeed survivors living here), a few big buildings that look like old factories and they even have an abandoned looking Shifter base.
"Hello! Is anyone there?" Aiden shouts.
"Everybody is inside. No one is crazy enough to go outside in these conditions."
"Aren't there any Shifters left to protect these people?" Relm asks with sadness in her voice.
"I'm afraid there aren't. All the Shifters in the villages were either killed or fled to the big cities. But I don't know what happened to them when those fell as well." Teddie replies, knocking on one of the doors. After a few seconds the group then hears a voice.
"Who wishes to enter?" The voice asks, but it is almost impossible to hear. Not only because of the storm raging in their ears but also because of the thick metal door separating them.
"R-66Y from Narsh village and some guests." Teddie shouts.
After another few seconds the doors is opened, revealing an elderly man covered in blankets standing in the doorway. As they follow him into the building he reveals his name is Fritz and how the people of Ioka village have been able to survive for these years. Sadly, even they are experiencing trouble with finding food and keeping contact with other villages. Shocked to see actual Shifters after all these years, the people of the village have gathered in the main hall to catch a glimpse of the group when they pass by. Dressed in tons of blankets and clearly starving they still welcome the group with warm smiles. Walking behind the group, Jude can hear a few mumbled whispers of the villagers.
"Mommy, who are those people?"
"I have no idea, sweetie. But if I trust the history books I've read, those people are Shifters."
"What are Shifters?"
"You'll learn about them when you're older."
"They look funny, but aren't they freezing?"
"I'm sure they are just fine."
"They are the good people, aren't they?"
"Yes. Yes they are."

After telling Fritz how they got here and their plan to stop the second Big Rift, a spark of hope seems to return in his tired eyes. Promising to help them with their plan he sends them to the old Shifter base. Even though they're still not sure where they will end up if they use a Rift hole in this place, they've got no choice but to hope for the best. Creating another tear in space and time with their Mitama, the Shifters, now accompanied by Teddie, enter the Rift hole.


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