Chapter 46: Oracion Seis
Last time on Ultimate Fairy ...
As the bomb's timer winded down to its final seconds, Lyon closed his eyes.
'Ur... is this how you felt?'
The timer hit zero and, in a blinding flash, another explosion enveloped the area and echoed throughout the forest. Nearby trees at the base of the cliff were blown apart by the shockwave and burst into flames.
Natsu ran to the edge and looked down in horror.
"Lyon... w-what did you do..." He stammered.
He scanned the area for any signs of Lyon or Racer. His nose failed him as the smoke blocked out any other scents.
"Lyon... hey, Lyon! Are you okay down there? Answer me!" He shouted.
Only the sounds of the crackling fire and few trees falling.
Natsu trembled as he could only look at the devastation.
"LYYYYOOOONNN!" Natsu cried out.
The Worth Woodsea. A large forest residing in the northeastern area of Fiore. It was easy for someone to lose their way in these woods; not that many people traversed to it. However, its tranquility was interrupted as a lone man walked deep into its heart.
The blue hair and intricate red face tattoo easily gave away the identity of the man: Jellal Fernandez. After being healed and revived in the Oracion Seis's hideout, Jellal somehow knew what he needed to do.
His target resided in the center of the forest... or at least that's what the voice inside told him.
'Nirvana... I must have Nirvana...' the voice eerily said.
Jellal continued on his path, not questioning the voice.
Along the way, he had encountered several of Brain's Dark Guild lackeys, who he easily defeated – despite his less-than-optimal condition. He took that opportunity to exchange his former tattered apparel for one of the mage's that was close enough to his size.
His new attire consisted of a pair of loose grey pants with a brown belt, a green undershirt, and a long black trench coat.
'Green...' He wistfully thought.
Somehow, the color itself invoked an uneasy feeling within the former Wizard Saint. He wasn't exactly sure why, but he had a gut feeling that it was related to his scars. Speaking of scars, Jellal had initially grimaced at the skin blotches that marred his body.
The blue-haired girl's magic had helped to heal them and reduce the physical pain. Strangely enough, the scars themselves didn't unease Jellal… it was the memories they invoked.
A woman with long, scarlet hair...
A large metal-man of white armor coursing with emerald energy.
Finally, a brilliant flash of green light full of heat and agonizing pain.
Jellal ensured that his new clothing covered the blotches completely. He could feel the burned skin mildly flare up occasionally but throughout his journey, he had learned to cope. He wasn't sure where he got these injuries, but that was something he could look into later. At the moment, he needed to do something far more important.
At the back of his mind, however, he couldn't help but ponder on the scarlet-haired woman and the white metal-man.
Who were they? Why did they seem so familiar?
"Erza…" He uttered aloud. 'Who is that?'
He shook his head. No! It doesn't matter right now. He had a mission… and he couldn't allow his mind to get distracted, or at least what was left of it.
Meanwhile, in another area in the forest, a blue blur zipped down a trail with a wake of dust and wind in its wake. Fasttrack was racing through the woods at amazing speeds. He cradled an unconscious Wendy in his arms with Happy clinging tightly to his left shoulder.
Fasttrack suddenly came to a stop at a split in the trail, branching off to three separate paths. He looked down both paths, trying to determine which was the fastest route to Hibiki and Lucy's location.
'Wish Hibiki's magic could work on me. Could really use a map of the area right now.' He inwardly bemoaned.
"Hey, Ben… where are we?" Happy asked dizzily.
"I… I'm not sure. I believe Hibiki and Lucy are in that direction if I recall correctly." Fasttrack pointed down the left path. "But this forest sure has a way of blending stuff together."
"Maybe if we fly, we can spot them from the air?" Happy suggested.
Fasttrack nodded in agreement. "Yeah, good thinking. I'll just change into-"
The Omnitrix suddenly began to beep and flash red. In a brilliant red flash, Fasttrack transformed back to human.
"...me. I guess I'll turn into me." Ben sighed. "Of course the Omnitrix had to pull yet ANOTHER fast one on me. Guess some things just never change, huh?"
Happy released his grip from Ben's shoulder and hopped to the ground. "So, what do we do now? We're pretty much lost at this point. Sounds silly to just drag our heels in circles."
"Yeah, good point. Guess we might as well catch our breath while we're waiting, huh..." Ben turned his head about and looked in various directions. When he spotted a tree with amicable shading, he walked over towards its trunk.
'This should do.' He gently sat the unconscious Wendy down against the tree and kneeled by her to check for any injuries.
'I'm not seeing anything too serious on her. I'm not sure if they did anything to her physically.' He looked over to Happy.
"Happy, did these guys do anything to you both?"
"Huh?" Turning towards Ben, Happy caught on and shook his head. "No. We were lucky they didn't resort to hurting us..." His ears then drooped.
He thought about what happened with Wendy using her healing powers for Jellal's sake. He hesitated and Ben was quick to catch on.
"What's wrong, Happy?"
"Ben...I don't think you'll like this, but...Jellal...he's..."
Ben frowned. He knew where Happy was going with this. He turned back towards Wendy and lowered his head.
"I know. I saw. But we can't focus on that right now...no matter how important that might be for some of us." He shook his head, trying to keep himself from overthinking what the blue-haired wizard had done.
Memories of the Tower of Heaven incident flashed in his mind with Jellal threatening their lives, almost sacrificing Erza, and worse of all killing off one of Erza's childhood friends, Simon. If that wasn't bad enough, the Entrapment Spell ordeal added another layer of heartache and pain to the list. Not only was he almost killed, but his friends had to go through hell trying to save him.
It was heartbreaking but rethinking all of that was enough to make him clench his fists in earnest anger.
'Why now of all times?!'
He shook his head again. "Right, sorry Happy." He looked at Wendy's unconscious frame and took a seat by her. "Anyways, Jellal will have to wait. We need to regroup and then focus our attention on the Oracion Seis. That's our priority right now."
"But Ben, Jellal..."
"Happy," Happy froze at the tone Ben gave him. "Please, just don't. Remember why you're here."
The feline frowned heavily. In all honesty, he didn't like at all how this was going, but to an extent, Ben was right. Besides, his best friend was fighting one of the Oracion Seis right now. He turned back to the direction they came from, looking on despondently for reassurance.
'Natsu...' He paused before he looked back towards Ben.
Ben frowned as he pondered on the pyro mage. In hindsight, having someone like Natsu face off against Racer alone might not have been the best call, but he'd already made some tough calls as it is.
"You're reckless, irresponsible, and you never even bother to consider the consequences of your actions… You don't take anything seriously enough and just think everything will work out your way… You'll never learn. You can forget about training with me, Natsu."
Memories of when he berated Natsu played through Ben's mind. He looked back in the direction they had come from, wondering about the pyro mage.
'Hope he's at least slowing him down. But knowing him, he's just going to get brash and act impulsively again.' He shook his head in disappointment. 'If I didn't show up when I did... the Coalition would have been finished. And Erza would have...'
Ben stopped himself before he delved any further on that topic. He didn't need to go down that rabbit hole. There was still a mission he needed to focus on, after all.
'That's another matter… the logic behind this whole mission is completely faulty.' Ben mused. 'What's the Magic Council's deal?'
It still baffled him that the new Magic Council sent wizards who had no prior joint-guild training out to defeat a powerful Dark Guild that had much grander tactics and coordination than any of the Coalition. To make matters worse, many of the Coalition members had egos and didn't exactly mesh well with others outside of their respective guilds.
He knew very well from experience that coordination was key. With Erza temporarily out of commission and Jura's lacking leadership skills, Ben needed to run the show and give an example of how a proper coordination front should act; even if it meant hurting some feelings.
First and foremost, it all started with trust. As the leader, he had to remain true to the concept of reliance.
'I can't worry about Natsu. For now, I have to trust him. Otherwise, going back now would only show how much I DON'T rely on him.' He turned away. 'That's the last thing Natsu needs right now.'
"The Omnitrix should be charged up soon. We should be ready to get moving then."
"Okay, but... I'm worried." Happy admitted. "I'm worried about Natsu. Is it okay to leave him behind like that?"
Ben shot Happy a serious expression. "Look, I'm not a fan of this either, but Natsu had a point. Fasttrack was the fastest one who could get you and Wendy to safety. We set out to rescue you both. That was the mission." He frowned harder. "But, to be honest...I'm not sure myself."
Happy's eyes widened as shock rippled across his fur. "What?! You're not sure?! Then we have to go back and help him!"
"You honestly think that? Think about it. You've known Natsu for your whole life, haven't you? He's stubborn. Do you think he'd accept help that easily? Hell, I had to practically twist his arm to convince him we needed to work as a team against Laxus."
"Well, I..." Happy was trying to make a counterpoint, but his head drooped. "Well... no, I guess he wouldn't."
"My point exactly. Natsu trusted me to get you and Wendy to safety, so I'm going to follow through. And, despite my better judgment, I have to trust he'll find a way to beat Racer... even though it seems unlikely."
"You really don't think Natsu can pull it off?" There was a hint of dejection in Happy's voice.
Ben sighed in exasperation. "Look, I'm just speaking from experience here… that cocky, headstrong attitude of his will come back to bite him."
"But Natsu is really strong! I... I know he can beat Racer if he tries hard enough!" Happy insisted.
Ben frowned at that statement.
The Omnitrix hero had been in Fairy Tail for a while now and everyone had a strong concept of believing in each other for strength. It was a nice sentiment and belief, yes. Ben could agree with putting trust in allies and friends. There were many times throughout his hero career where he would've been a goner without his friends' help.
Nevertheless, Ben was no fool. Strategy and common sense couldn't just be thrown to the wind. He was genuinely worried for his guildmates and their way of thinking so straightforwardly.
'Elfman is just starting to get the idea, so I can rely on him. But if Natsu and the others don't learn...what's the point?'
He sighed. "Might isn't always right, Happy. For now, we'll just have to wait and see."
Without warning, the sounds of motorcycle engines and blaring horns interrupted them. Ben and Happy immediately stood up and spotted the source of the noises.
A group of at least two-dozen or more was riding down one of the trails in front of them on various colored Magic-Cycles. Oddly enough, they were wearing various colored jumpsuits and biker helmets while carrying long metal pipes. They looked like a strange combination of a racing pit crew and motorcycle gang.
Ben glanced at the Omnitrix and frowned to see it was still recharging. 'We don't need this now…'
"Hey! Look what's on the side of the road, fellas!"
"Some Light Guild hitchhikers!"
The dark guild dismounted their bikes and lined up in front of them, quickly cutting off their escape routes.
"Oh no! This is bad!" Happy eyes widened.
"Happy, can you use your wings yet?" Ben swiftly asked.
Happy closed his eyes, trying to summon his wings. After a brief moment of concentration, he slumped his shoulders and shook his head disappointingly. "No. I haven't recovered enough magic yet..."
'Looks like I'll need to hold the line till I'm back in the green.'
"Alright... I want you to guard Wendy." Ben ordered. "I'll handle this."
"W-what?" Happy said dumbly. "But your watch is still recharging..."
"Don't worry. I just have to hold these guys off long enough until I can transform. Try to stay out of harm's way."
"But there's too many of them and-"
"Happy!" The teen hero looked back reassuringly. "I got this."
Happy was speechless from the overall confidence in Ben's voice and demeanor despite the situation. It reminded him of how determined Natsu was before fighting.
"Who the heck is this guy?"
"What? Does he want to fight us or something?"
"Ha! Doesn't looks so tough to me!"
Motorcycle engines and sirens blared from the group, making it hard to hear anything else.
The biker group all began to approach Ben as Happy stood back to guard Wendy. The feline looked on anxiously while Ben stood against magic users equipped with chains and metal pipes unfazed.
"Lemme guess... judging from your uniforms, you guys must be affiliated with that slowpoke, Racer, right?" Ben raised his voice to speak over the obnoxious noise.
"What'd he say?!"
"How dare you call our master slow!"
"We're members of Racer's Harpuia guild! If you're trying to start something with us, you're just a dumb as you look!"
"If you're his personal guild then why aren't you with him? Oh, wait! I know! He doesn't want losers like you anywhere near the real action, right?" Ben mocked.
"Uh, Ben...what are you doing...?" Happy fretted, but Ben was quick to dismiss his anxiety.
One of the wizards stepped up, an engine in the background revving louder. "You better watch your mouth before we run over it for yah, punk! You're one red light away from something you wished you stopped earlier from!"
Ben smirked. "That so? And you think you guys can keep up? I was able to outrun Racer of all people."
Some of the wizards flinched, a sight that brought an even bigger smirk to Ben's face.
"That's right. If you think Racer's fast, then you might need to find some glasses to see how blind all of you are. None of you could keep up with me even on your best day."
Many of the wizards growled angrily, though the biker helmets shielded their eyes from being seen, they could have seen red. Their pride was flatlined. Nobody was going to make a fool out of them and get away with it. They gathered around Ben with pipes and chains in hand.
"Alright buddy...you asked for this!" A guy snarled, holding up a machete. "Take this guy out! For Racer! For the Oracion Seis!"
Ben narrowed his eyes. Just what he wanted. He had a feeling these guys wouldn't be smart, if Erigor was any indication to the lack of common sense the villains in this world possessed. Definitely an advantage Ben was more than willing to exploit.
They all charged at him at the same time. Ben made sure to keep an eye on their feet to make sure that they weren't changing pace, and they didn't. He then took a quick glance around to see anything that he could use. Off to the side he saw a rock ledge, roots sticking out of the ground, and a low tree branch.
His eyes narrowed. 'That'll work.'
"HRAH!" Ben turned when a guy jumped in midair with a pipe. "You're mine!"
Ben sidestepped to let the guy fall forward. The momentum carrying him to where Ben grabbed hold of him, pivoted, and threw him face-first into the dirt. Two more guys went to flank him on either side while a third rushed straight ahead. Ben had seen such a tactic before, and knew immediately what was going to happen.
The two guys flanking jumped for him and raised pipes overhead. As they went for the side blows, the third one followed. Ben took a simple backstep, watching as the two guys slammed the pipes on the other's head, immediately knocking them out. The third guy with the pipe was roadblocked by the bodies and tripped over them, falling right into Ben's knee. The force behind the impact was enough to knock him out.
"Woah!" Happy blinked in surprise. "How'd he do that?!"
Another guy charged and swung at Ben's left, but he easily ducked and dealt a punch to his gut. He bent over in pain long enough for Ben to finish him off with a kick to the pancreas. As he went down, the teen hero spotted another gang member charging at him with a pipe.
This time, however, he grabbed the pipe with his left hand while using his right to deliver a side-chop straight into the man's throat, leaving the biker to gag and fall over. Ben took the pipe for himself and saw three more bikers charging at him.
'Let's see just how clueless these guys really are.' He turned and darted for the rock ledge.
"Heh! Running away?!"
"I knew he was all talk!"
"We'll get the jump on him this time!"
The trio charged for Ben as he made a jump over the small ledge. They followed and hoped to perform a surprise attack on him. However, what they didn't expect was Ben to disappear when they landed a few feet over the ledge.
"Huh? Hey! It's not a long jump at all!" one complained.
"Yeah, he looked like he fell straight down. Was that his magic...?" Another guy glanced around, unknowing that from behind, a shadow loomed with a pipe. "Huh-?!"
All three guys fell at the same time when Ben swung the pipe and hit the back of their knees, causing them to fall face-first into mud.
Ben smirked. "Maybe next time you should look before you leap."
He turned around and saw a few more coming his way. This time they were very much aware of Ben not immediately ducking and went straight for him. He looked over and swiftly darted around a tree, where the two closed in. They both turned the corner of the tree, sneering loudly.
However, the instant they turned, a thick but flexible tree branch was pulled back and smashed into their faces. Stumbling backwards with cracked helmets, they tripped over the downed bikers in the mud and doubled over.
Ben knew there were still more, but many looked hesitant this time around. The way that he looked at them was demeaning to say the least.
One of the guys backpedaled. "How is he faster than us?!"
The biker next to him threw caution to the wind and darted at the Omnitrix hero. "Who cares! Just nail him already so we can get our cut of this pay! HRAH!" He swung his pipe for Ben, who read the attack with ease.
At the last second, he sidestepped once more where the guy tripped on a tree root sticking out of the ground. His ankle gave out with a loud crack and he faceplanted into the dirt. Ben made a precaution to hammer the guy's spine with an axe kick, stunning him in the grass.
Ben turned and gave all the remaining Harpuia guild wizards a serious look. Seeing their hesitation and frustration brought him just a little satisfaction. "What's the matter? Thought you were gonna show me up."
'It shouldn't be much longer until the Omnitrix is recharged. Just need to stall a little more is all...'
Happy was left at a loss for words. He hasn't seen anything like this before. 'Did Ben seriously just take out half of these guys without turning into an alien? I had no idea Ben knew how to fight this well...'
He kept watching as Ben maneuvered around the callous wizards. One of the bikers received a swiping kick from Ben in the legs and fell down in front of two comrades, tripping them in the process. 'This doesn't even look like a fight. It's like they're hurting themselves instead.'
Happy then noticed something odd. The ground behind Ben was beginning to shift and crack apart. His eyes widened as he called out to warn his comrade. "Ben, look out!"
Unfortunately, it was too late as a medium-sized rock golem suddenly burst from the ground behind Ben.
"Huh?" Ben swiveled around, but he was instantly tackled by the rock golem. The impact knocked the wind out of him as he fell to the ground. The golem snarled in victory.
The remaining Harpuia members sneered. "Look guys, the reinforcements are here!"
"Alright! Now we can take this bastard down! Bust his legs up so he doesn't run again!" Another bolstered, holding up his pipe eagerly.
Ben painfully grunted as he opened an eye. His back hurt but not as much as his stomach. He strained to sit up, looking at who his attacker was. "Is that...?"
The rock golem snarled as it ambled closer. Ignoring the pain, Ben was quick to rebound from his initial shock and returned to his feet. Suddenly, the ground vibrated once more as a mound of earth popped up behind him. When he looked over his shoulder, he was instantly grabbed and pulled into a bearhug by a second golem.
"Oh no! Ben!" Happy cried out.
Ben found himself struggling inside the golem's literal solid rock embrace. It pinned him against its own body as he kicked around for any attempt to get loose. Thankfully, he could still use his arms as he hooked them around the golem's arm in effort to loosen their hold. It was in vain, however, as the golem's arms were locked in position.
Ahead of him, the other golem trotted over while clenching its fists.
The Harpuia wizards decided to stay back and watch the show. They snickered in sick enjoyment that Ben was about to get clobbered by stone monsters. Even they were smart enough to know they were no match against these things. So, it was best to sit back and let the mindless brutes handle the rest.
"Things are about to get nasty here."
"Hope the boss doesn't mind us bringing back enemies in bodybags!"
"That's what you get for insulting our guild!"
The golem snarled as it raised a fist. Ben gritted his teeth as he knew he couldn't overpower these things. 'This doesn't look good...'
Suddenly, a beep was heard from the Omnitrix. The screen coloring changed from red to green, signaling a complete recharge.
In haste, Ben moved his right hand to activate the Omnitrix. He quickly selected an alien and didn't hesitate to slam down the dial, basking his body in a brilliant green light.
The rock golem wasn't fazed by the green light and went to punch Ben. A loud rumble was heard when rock met the objective and echoed throughout the area. Everyone was blinded by the light and couldn't see what had happened until it cleared away.
When it did, dark wizards paled when they saw the rock golem's fist had made contact...but it wasn't Ben.
Happy uncovered his eyes and lightly gaped in shock.
The golem's fist was stopped by a large talon foot.
Said foot belonged to a humanoid that was a combination of a rooster and hawk. It had sharp claws on its toes, talons on its fingers, and two larger talons protruding from its forearms. It had a short beak, brown feathers across its body, and a white feathered Mohawk. The bird-like humanoid wore a green mask, a green belt, black briefs, and a green strap marked with the Omnitrix on the vest hooker.
The being's beak curved into a satisfied smirk.
"Big mistake, rocky." The chickenhawk-alien sent a powerful kick into the golem's face. Cracks spread across its face as it backpedaled from the hit. With his increased height, the alien was able to get to his own feet and flip the other golem restraining him overhead, slamming it harshly into the other one. "Because Kickin Hawk doesn't take being caught between a rock and a hard place too kindly!"
"Alright! The Omnitrix recharged!" Happy exclaimed, smiling in relief.
"That's right, Happy."
The two golems were stacked on top of one another, their heads close. Acting swiftly, Kickin Hawk jumped into the air and swung his right leg down in a sharp ax kick that went straight through the golems' heads. Instantly, the pink lines on their bodies faded away as they crumbled into pebbles.
"Now, with the appetizers out of the way..." He turned back towards the remaining dozen Harpuia members with a sneer. "... that just leaves the main course."
The wizards took a step back, completely scared out of their minds. "W-what kind of freak is this guy?!"
"I-I had no idea the Allied Forces had a m-monster on their side!" Another shouted.
Kickin Hawk palmed his talons together and cracked the knuckles. He tilted his neck to each side and cracked it loudly enough for everyone to hear, giving them all a serious glare.
"Trust me, pal..." He took a fighting stance. "You have no idea."
Kickin Hawk squatted low before leaping high into the air. Before the Harpuia members could react, Kickin Hawk landed in front of them and sent a guy hurtling back with a powerful kick. He crashed into a tree trunk and comically collapsed to the ground, unconscious. Kickin Hawk made sure to hold back his full strength as he didn't want to accidentally kill any of these lowlives.
"C'mon! That all you speed freaks got?" Kickin Hawk challenged.
"HRAH!" One thug shouted angrily, charging at the humanoid hawk with a pipe raised above his head. "You'll pay for that, freak!"
Kickin Hawk lifted his clawed foot to pull the pipe out of the wizard's grasp with surprising dexterity. Using his muscular arms, he wrapped the pipe around the man, pinning his arms to his sides, and a swift kick to the stomach sent his opponent hurtling across the clearing.
Seeing two more comrades fall snapped the remaining ten dark guild members out of their stupor.
"C'mon! We can't let this overgrown turkey get away with mocking our guild's pride! For Racer! For the Oracion Seis!"
"YEAH!" The group exclaimed.
Splitting into two groups, one charged straight for Kickin Hawk while the other mounted their bikes. Armed with pipes and chains, the five thugs encircled Kickin Hawk and charged simultaneously – attempting to overwhelm him with their numbers.
However, the alien chickenhawk wasn't impressed. Just as the group was about to close in, Kickin Hawk dropped to the dirt and used his right leg to spin his body around. Gaining enough speed, he kicked out his left leg and made solid contact with all five wizards. The group were blasted across the clearing, painfully yelling before crashing into trees or slamming into the dirt unconscious.
Kickin Hawk stopped his impressive acrobatic attack and hopped back to his feet. "You losers didn't need me to mock your guild's pride. Looks like you already got that handled."
The remaining Harpuia members mounting their Magic-Cycles didn't have time to start the engines before Kickin Hawk had already defeated their comrades.
"DAMMIT! Just who does this freak think he is?!" One thug exclaimed.
"Wait, look over there!" Turning his attention across the clearing, they spotted Happy and Wendy (who was still unconscious) underneath a tree. "Those two are defenseless! One of 'em still sleeping!"
"Yeah... I bet if we capture them the bird-guy will no choice but to stand down!" a third commented.
With options low, the bikers agreed with the suggestion while the ringleader of the group hastily determined a new plan of attack. "Alright then... two of you keep that overgrown chicken busy. The rest of you ride with me!"
"RIGHT!" Starting their engines, the group blasted forward with a cloud of dust behind them.
An obnoxious symphony of revving engines and blaring horns caught Kickin Hawk's attention. The last five wizards were now riding Magic-Cycles and coming straight for him. One bike upfront with the other four evenly riding to his left and right in an arrow-shaped formation.
Kickin Hawk narrowed his eyes. "These guys just never learn..."
Just as the bikes closed in, three of the bikers broke off and diverted around the chickenhawk-alien while the remaining two encircled him, much to his surprise. Why didn't they try to gang up on him together? Kickin Hawk turned his head around and his eyes widened in shock upon seeing the three bikers on a direct course for Happy and Wendy.
"Oh no!" Happy backed up fearfully. "Not good!"
"Happy!" Kickin Hawk's eyes narrowed.
The biker duo around him laughed crazily as their motorcycles churned up a cloud of dirt around Kickin Hawk, effectively obscuring his vision.
"Hey! Let's play tug-a-war with this overgrown chicken!" He pulled out a long chain from his side pouch.
"My thoughts exactly!" the second member agreed, pulling out a chain as well.
Attaching one end to their bikes' frame, they both began to swing the other end above their heads to gain momentum.
Kickin Hawk, meanwhile, didn't have time to waste on these morons. They were just meant to keep him busy while the other three aimed to take Happy and Wendy hostage. No way he would allow that to happen on his watch!
Seeing that his vision was limited, Kickin Hawk trusted his instincts to guide him. Amid the dust cloud and revving engines, Kickin Hawk was able to identify the distinct sounds of rattling chains.
'So, that's what they're planning...' Kickin Hawk thought.
He was reminded of a biker group from his youth led by a brash and arrogant biker woman he had defeated on a couple of occasions. They had used chains to immobilize their targets while on their bikes. He figured these guys were attempting the same maneuver.
Kickin Hawk retreated a couple of steps before his foot hit something. He turned around and upon identifying the object, smirked as an idea came to mind.
Meanwhile, the two bikers tossed their chains into the center of the dust cloud and felt resistance. Thinking they had entangled the bird-man, the duo grinned maliciously as they steered their bikes in separate directions – intending on tearing their foe apart.
Suddenly, their bikes jerked to a complete stop and the forward momentum sent the duo flying. Crying out in surprise, the duo went tumbling across the ground before slamming into tree trunks, falling into the dirt battered and unconscious.
As the dust cleared away, Kickin Hawk was leaning backward with his back almost touching the ground. An expert limbo player would be jealous of the chickenhawk-like alien's insane flexibility. He had dodged the thugs' chains at the last moment and let them wrap around a sizable tree stump instead.
Kickin Hawk returned to his full height and grabbed hold of both chains, ripping them off the bike frames. He turned his gaze to the three bikers quickly encroaching on Happy and Wendy; the former trying to wake up the latter but having no success. It would only be moments before the lowlives reached their position.
He needed to act fast!
With the chains in hand, he launched himself high into the air with an incredible jump. Leaping high above the bikers, he landed only a few meters in front of Happy and Wendy.
"HRAH! Those idiots couldn't even keep this freak busy for a minute longer?!" The head of the trio shouted indignantly.
Kickin Hawk smirked. "Were you seriously expecting anything different? By the way, these belong to you!"
With the chains attached to both arms, Kickin Hawk swung them forward in a wide arc. The chain collided with the left and right Magic-Cycles, jamming the front wheels and causing both bikes to flip over and crash to the side. Both bikers tumbled across the ground before rolling to a stop, unconscious.
That left only one biker. With all of his guildmates defeated, Kickin Hawk could see his eyes burning red through the visor in his helmet.
"HRAH! I'm gonna turn you into roadkill, freak!" He raged, revving his engine to its maximum.
"Ben... he's still coming right at us!" Happy fretted.
"Don't worry, Happy. Remember what I said earlier?"
"You got this?" the feline repeated.
A smirk beaming with confidence adorned Kickin Hawk's beak. "Bingo."
Tossing the chains aside, Kickin Hawk narrowed his gaze on the lone biker coming straight for him. He knew what he had to do, but he needed to time his maneuver correctly; otherwise, Happy and Wendy might get hurt.
Kickin Hawk momentarily relaxed his muscles to take a steady breath. 'Alright... this has to be one fluid motion. No slip-ups...'
With the Magic-Cycle closing the gap, Kickin Hawk widened his stance and relaxed his arms.
Just when it appeared the bike was about to slam into him, Kickin Hawk, seemingly in slow motion, jumped over the bike at the last second. He suddenly reached out with both feet and grabbed the mage by the shoulder and the bike's handlebars. Performing an insane mid-air backflip, Kickin Hawk used his momentum to throw the bike back while keeping his grip on the biker.
Time seemed to return to normal as he landed with the mage pinned to the ground beneath his feet while the bike crashed and tumbled across the field. The entire spectacle had happened in one fluid motion from Kickin Hawk.
"W-what?!" the thug sputtered in disbelief.
"Whoa!" Happy gushed.
Kickin Hawk looked down at the shocked lowlife with a frown. "Hey...why'd the Harpuia guild cross the road?"
"H-huh... I don't-"
Using his foot, Kickin Hawk lifted the dark wizard off the ground and kicked into a nearby boulder at just the right angle for him to bounce back. The chickenhawk-alien continued kicking the unfortunate guy back-and-forth between his foot and the road several times. He painfully grunted from each hit, his uniform receiving more damage.
"Because Kickin Hawk kicked them all the way across it!"
As the criminal bounced back, Kickin Hawk jumped up and used both feet to send him crashing into the boulder. Web-like cracks grew from the impact as the man comically peeled off the rock and collapsed to the ground, stars and chickens swirling above his head.
With that, Racer's guild was defeated.
Kickin Hawk turned his attention back to Happy and Wendy, the former specifically. "You guys okay?"
"Are you kidding? That was SO COOL!" Happy yelled excitedly.
"Ugh... please try not to repeat those words." Kickin Hawk sweat-dropped as he was instantly reminded of an obnoxious reporter. "Too soon."
Kickin Hawk tapped the Omnitrix dial on his vest and, in a flash of green, Ben transformed back to human. He quickly examined the area to ensure that all of the dark mages were down before walking back to Happy and Wendy's position.
The Omnitrix bearer was mildly surprised to see Wendy still asleep. He figured that the healing spell she used on Jellal must've drained her. Before he could dwell further on the azure-haired wizard, Happy flew up to him with a beaming smile.
"That was amazing, Ben!" Happy exclaimed. "I had no idea Kickin Hawk was so cool!"
Ben smiled lightly. "Well, he is my best foot-to-hand fighter, after all."
"I'll say. Even before you went Kickin Hawk, you still beat half of those guys on your own without any magic. How'd you do that?"
Ben shrugged. "Gwen and Kevin taught me. Figured there'd be times I'd need to defend myself if the Omnitrix wasn't working."
"Still, I had no idea you could do that." Happy continued. "You always use your watch, so I guess I just never knew you could fight without using it."
"C'mon, Happy. You should know me better." Ben lightly smirked. "I am a hero even I can't go hero. Aren't I?"
"Aye, sir!" Happy nodded.
'Although, I'll admit having the ability to change into super-powered aliens does come in handy,' Ben inwardly noted.
Ben blinked twice when he realized something. "Happy... your wings?"
Happy paused when he noticed that he was floating in the air at Ben's height. In his excitement, he had unintentionally summoned his wings. His magical power had finally recharged.
"Oh cool! My magic's back!"
"That's good." Ben's face became serious. "We should get moving now before any more Oracion Seis lackeys arrive... or more golems, for that matter."
"Aye!" the blue cat agreed.
Ben ambled to Wendy's position while Happy levitated behind him.
"Happy... can... read..." A faint voice echoed in Happy's head.
"Hmm?" the blue cat paused.
He looked around and didn't see anyone else, aside from the unconscious dark mages that Ben had defeated.
"Did you hear something?" Happy asked suspiciously.
"No. Why?" Ben knelt by Wendy, preparing to pick her up.
"Happy ... you read me?"
He scanned the area in every direction, trying to identify the source of the voice. His gaze then fell on the large tree that he and Ben were currently standing under.
"Can you hear me, Happy?" The voice came through more clearly.
Happy's eyes widened slightly at the possibility that entered his mind. Could it really be?
"Happy, what's wrong?" Ben stopped to look at Happy in concern. "Why do you have that look on your face?"
"I... I think this tree is talking to me." Happy replied, dumbfounded.
Ben blinked twice. "... what?"
"Happy... can you hear me?" the voice inquired again.
"Yes, Great Tree." Happy answered reverently, lifting both arms to the towering oak.
Ben was speechless as a question mark popped over his head. 'Did he hit his head or something?'
"Great... what? No, this is Hibiki from Blue Pegasus." The voice, now identified as Hibiki, clarified.
"Hibiki?" Happy said in confusion. "Wait, how're you speaking to me right now? I don't see you anywhere."
This was strange. It didn't feel like Hibiki's voice was traversing through his ears; more like it was originating inside of his head.
"Hold on... is Hibiki speaking to you, Happy?" Ben asked curiously.
"Yeah... it's weird though. It's like he's speaking in my brain." Happy explained before adopting a worried look. "I don't need professional help, do I?"
"I'm using my Archive Magic to create a telepathic link with your mind," Hibiki explained quickly. "Are you okay, Happy? Is Wendy with you? Or anyone else for that matter?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Ben and Wendy are here with me, but Wendy's unconscious." Happy replied.
"That's wonderful!" Hibiki sounded relieved. "Wait... what about Natsu? The last update I received from the others was that he and Ben went to rescue you and Wendy."
An anxious expression crossed the feline's face at the mention of his best friend. "No. Natsu stayed behind to hold off Racer, so Ben could get me and Wendy out of there."
As Happy telepathically communicated with Hibiki, Ben held his chin thoughtfully. He didn't like being unable to communicate with his team. Not that he didn't trust Happy to relay his responses, but he honestly preferred to do it himself. Too bad he didn't have any sort of magical power inside of him that Hibiki could lock onto.
AsBen pondered his predicament, a solution struck him like lightning. "Wait... if I need magic then I know just the guy!"
Ben activated the Omnitrix and selected the desired head-icon before he lightly slapped down the core. In a flash of emerald, he was replaced with his demon form.
"Maybe Beelzebash can get a signal," Beelzebash said hopefully.
"Wait..." Happy stopped his conversation with Hibiki and looked at Ben, confused. "Why'd you change into your demon form, Ben?"
"Demon form?" Hibiki repeated, sounding confused. "Hold on...another magical signature just appeared right by you, Happy."
"Hey, Hibiki. You there?" Beelzebash asked out loud.
"Ben... is that you?" The Blue Pegasus playboy's voice echoed in his mind. "I'm confused... how am I able to communicate with you? I thought you said-"
"Now's not the time for that." Beelzebash interrupted. "I need you to upload a map of the Woodsea into mine and Happy's head. We're kinda lost at the moment."
"Right. Hang on a second..."
"Upload? In our heads? I dunno if I like the sound of that," Happy said unsurely.
A blue loading bar suddenly materialized over Beelzebash and Happy's heads. A yellow bar moved across as data regarding the layout of the Worth Woodsea was downloaded into their heads. Within a few seconds, the download was complete and the bars disappeared.
'Wow... that's pretty convenient.' Beelzebash inwardly commented.
Just seconds ago, the teen hero couldn't make heads-or-tails of how to navigate the Worth Woodsea. Now, he had a full understanding of the forest's terrain and layout; in addition, he could even see the temporary basecamp not too far away.
"Oh wow!" Happy lightly gasped. "I can see a map inside my head!"
Beelzebash turned back to Wendy, who was still lying under the tree asleep. He knelt to gently scoop the girl up in both arms, carefully retracting his claws as to not hurt her.
"C'mon! We've wasted enough time here as it is."
"Aye, sir!" Happy agreed.
With that, the two flyers took to the air and flew high above the forest canopy.
At the Coalition's temporary basecamp, Hibiki was busy typing on his holographic keyboard while the screen above displayed a map of the Worth Woodsea. Moving across the screen were two chibi head-icons for Ben and Happy, indicating that the pair were flying toward their location.
He was thankful he finally managed to get through to someone, even more so to confirm that the rescue mission had been successful.
"Ben and Happy are on their way with Wendy," Hibiki said aloud.
"That's a relief." Lucy smiled. "It's good to know that they made it out okay."
She was currently kneeling by Erza who was lying upright against a tree trunk, unconscious.
"Yes, it is. Now... if only I could regain contact with the others." Hibiki remarked, sounding annoyed. "We've been in the dark for too long."
For the last half-hour, Hibiki had been attempting to reestablish communication with the others but to no avail. Even now, he still couldn't get through to anyone aside from Ben and Happy. It was both irritating and bewildering.
She looked at the Blue Pegasus member in concern. "What do you think could've happened?"
"It's hard to say. Could be interference from the magic in the Woodsea, or... worst-case scenario, it could be our enemy blocking our transmissions somehow." the dirty blonde suggested.
"If they're able to block it, does that mean they could listen in?" Lucy asked worriedly.
"Possibly, but I doubt that's the case. More likely, it's-"
Without warning, the ground started to rumble from deep underground. Lucy and Hibiki stopped and stared at the ground anxiously. They could feel the shaking reverberate through their bodies as a disturbing air set in. A chill ran down their spines, making the hairs on their necks stand up.
A mysterious, ominous force was starting to awake.
Then, the shaking stopped and the atmosphere returned to normal as if it had never happened.
"W-what was that?" Lucy stammered.
An uneasy look crossed Hibiki's face. "Nirvana..."
"What?!" Lucy exclaimed fearfully. "Y-you don't think the Oracion Seis found it already, do you?"
"I can't say for certain. But at least we know that it's not completely dormant anymore." Hibiki held his chin thoughtfully. "Actually, that could explain why I've only sparingly been able to establish a connection with the others. Perhaps its magic is interfering with my telepathy somehow?"
"Maybe..." Lucy turned to Erza.
Her chest gently rose and fell as she continued to sleep peacefully. The sudden tremor seemingly having no outward effect on her. The Celestial wizard was honestly surprised that the scarlet knight hadn't woken up yet. Did Clockwork's power drain her stamina that much? Could it have hurt her in some way?
She shook that stray thought from her head, knowing Erza would be fine.
Hibiki shifted his focus to Erza, a hint of concern in his eyes. "I wonder if Erza will be okay. She's been out for a while now..."
Keeping her gaze on Erza, Lucy responded, "She'll be all right. Ben said she would be and I trust him."
Hibiki frowned and turned back to his screen. "Wish I could say the same..."
"Hmm?" Lucy turned to Hibiki, confused. "Why do you say that?"
The Archive wizard closed his eyes, trying to collect his thoughts. Reopening his eyes, he glanced at the screen to take note of Happy and Ben's location. Their ETA was roughly five minutes. Hibiki supposed that would be enough time to air his grievances.
"I'll be fully transparent, Lucy... how can I trust someone who's such an unknown?" Hibiki turned to look at the blonde pensively. "Someone with as much power as Ben coming out of nowhere? Not to mention the way he berated everyone earlier was really off-putting."
Lucy glanced over to the side sullenly. "I guess I can see where you're coming from. Honestly, if I was in your shoes and that was my first impression of Ben... I'd be pretty skeptical too." She paused for a moment while grasping the end of her tan skirt. "But... none of that is who he is!
"I've been around Ben long enough to know he's a kind, strong, and brave person. He's a hero through and through! What happened earlier... that's not him." Lucy shook her head in denial.
"The way he talked down Natsu and the others could've fooled me," Hibiki replied coolly.
Lucy flinched. "Well, that's..."
She tried to speak of a valid reason to defend Ben's case, but even she had to admit that he had perhaps taken things a little too far. What Ben did was all based on his own experiences during his hero tenure in his universe. Needless to say, his own experiences were on another level compared to her own and the guild's.
The reality and perils in Ben's universe were sadly far more drastic than their own. She still remembered how Ghostfreak had taken over Gwen's body and dared to hold her over a cliff to fall to her death. The Highbreed intending to destroy all life in the universe and ending their own lives out of their obsession over impurity. Needless to say, there were also monsters like Vilgax, Aggregor, and Dagon that Ben had to face.
She was certain there wasn't an evil power like those beings in the world... at least she hoped so.
Hibiki waited for a response but when Lucy fell short, he turned back towards his archive screen. "If you have something to say, then say it. Doesn't change my opinion of him either way."
"Well..." She rubbed her right arm as she looked down at her legs. "How should I put this? Ben just had a different experience from all of us. I'm not saying that he's in the right for what he did to Natsu and the rest of us..." Her hold tightened. "... but, if we had denied it, wouldn't that have proved his points were right?"
Hibiki paused and glanced back. "What are you saying?"
"What I'm saying is, well...Ben takes things seriously is all," Lucy explained. "I... I think by the way he pointed out the flaws in our plan and the state we were all in... that he wanted to make sure nobody else got hurt."
"Same can't be said for Erigor," Hibiki mentioned. "Even if the guy was trash, should a Light Guild wizard really behave like that?"
"No, but..." She looked back at Erza, staring at her unconscious expression.
If Ben hadn't intervened when he did, Lucy feared what could have happened to her friend. She believed after what happened to Julie, Ben was willing to go to any lengths to keep Erza safe.
"But what?" Hibiki probed.
Lucy looked back at him more resolute. "But he's a leader. Everyone in the group was focused on themselves and someone needed to bring us together. We needed someone responsible and pragmatic... whether we liked it or not."
His eyes narrowed on her. "So, what? You're saying that we're helpless without him?"
"No, but he does have experience with situations like this." Lucy elaborated. "He just has his way of doing things to get the job done."
He lifted a brow, genuinely intrigued. "You don't say? Then tell me, what kind of experiences are we talking about?"
Lucy paused and carefully weighed her options. She didn't want to reveal too much about Ben's true origins. It wasn't her place to divulge sensitive information regarding her guildmates to a wizard from another guild. However, she couldn't brush Hibiki off either as that would only raise his and, consequently, the other non-Fairy Tail members' suspicions of Ben even further.
The Celestial wizard sighed deeply. "Listen, Hibiki... it's not my place to talk about my friend's past. I'm sure you can understand. All I can say is that Ben's power is unique. It isn't like any normal Take-Over magic. There's nothing like it in the whole world."
"You don't say?" Hibiki stopped to take note of Lucy's response.
'Unique, huh? Could that be why Archive couldn't establish a connection with him before?' Hibiki pondered. 'But if that's the case, why did it all of a sudden decide to work earlier? Something to do with a demon-form, as Happy mentioned?'
Before the Archive mage could ruminate on the matter further, a familiar voice cried out. "There you are!"
Lucy and Hibiki stopped to identify the source of the voice as Carla, flying towards them from an opening in the canopy.
"I've been looking all over for you!" Carla cried with a flustered expression.
"Carla?" Lucy said.
"What do you mean?" Hibiki lifted a brow, confused. "I thought I uploaded a map into everyone's mind earlier ..."
"No!" She shook her head. "I didn't receive such a thing!"
Hibiki blinked and double-checked his archive screen and, much to his surprised chagrin, Carla's chibi head-icon was not on the list of Coalition members he had used Information Transfer on recently.
"What? I – I'm sorry. I must've forgotten to include you..." Groaning in exasperation, Hibiki placed his hand over his face.
'Dammit! How could I have made such a careless error!' Hibiki inwardly cursed.
"Regardless, it doesn't matter now!" Carla exclaimed before murmuring, "Although, it would've been helpful."
"Carla, what's going on?" Lucy questioned, trying to stay on topic.
"You have to come quickly! The others are in trouble!"
"Who's in trouble?" Another voice called out from the sky.
Hibiki, Lucy, and Carla looked up to see Happy and Beelzebash flying into view with the latter holding Wendy. The duo landed in the small clearing the temporary basecamp was set up in.
"Wendy!" Carla flew over to her charge; unnerved upon seeing her unconscious and in the arms of a large, intimidating demon, nonetheless. "Is Wendy alright?"
Beelzebash nodded. "Yeah, she's fine. I checked."
"I'll believe it when I see it." Carla harshly replied. "She'd better not have been harmed by you on the way back, or else!"
Beelzebash's eyes narrowed as he retorted, "I'm the one who saved her, cat. You're welcome."
"Hmph!" Carla turned away, ungrateful.
Beelzebash merely rolled his eyes and proceeded to the same tree Erza was lying under. He gently placed Wendy's unconscious form against the trunk, perpendicular to Erza. He tapped the Omnitrix dial and transformed back to human before turning back to the group.
Hibiki glanced at his archive screen and noted how Ben's icon immediately disappeared when he changed back. 'The magical signature he had while in that demon Take-Over completely vanished. Interesting...'
"What's going on? Where are the others?" Ben asked while looking around the site.
Carla approached Wendy and stood by her side, looking her over. "Why is she unconscious? What happened to her?"
Ben shot the white cat an annoyed look. "I said she was fine, didn't I? She just tired herself out using her healing magic."
"It's okay, Carla," Happy stepped between the two, attempting to placate the female feline. "Like he said, Wendy used a healing spell and tuckered herself out. Ben and I kept her safe. Promise."
Carla gave Happy a pointed look as if she were scanning for any signs of deception. Finding none, she finally sighed and relented, "Fine. I'll take your word for it, tomcat."
"Thanks," Happy smiled.
"Anyways," Ben tried to steer the conversation back on topic, "I heard a mention of trouble. What's going on?"
"R-Right," Carla quickly composed herself, remembering her objective. "You have to come at once! The others were ambushed by more of those rock monsters and that Midnight character!"
Ben's eyes widened. 'They sent Midnight out already? And more of Charmcaster's rock monsters are out there too...'
Shaking his head from those musings, Ben refocused on the urgent task at hand. "Do you know where they are?"
"We were in a clearing a few miles or so that way..." Carla pointed in the westward direction. "Of course, I can't guarantee if they're still-"
"HEY! Is anyone there!?" A familiar male voice shouted.
"...there?" Carla trailed off.
"That sounded like..." Lucy said as some bushes in front of the group began rustling.
Gray and Sherry suddenly stepped into view with the former's left arm wrapped around the latter's shoulders for support.
"Gray! Sherry!" Lucy rushed over in concern. "Are you okay?"
Gray's facial features contorted as he accidentally applied pressure on his left foot, being met with sharp piercing agony.
"I've been better..." the ice mage grumbled.
"My injuries are mild; although, your love is much appreciated." Sherry smiled lightly.
Sherry guided Gray to a nearby tree and gently helped him take a seat against the trunk, keeping his left leg extended. "Here... sit here and take some pressure off that ankle." The pink-haired girl advised.
"Yeah... thanks," Gray grunted painfully.
"Where's everyone else?" Lucy asked, baffled.
Gray lifted his head and spotted Carla in the back. He lifted a brow, shooting her a questioning look.
Recognizing the ice wizard's stare, the white cat immediately spoke up. "Don't jump to conclusions! I just got here like you and informed them about what happened. Unlike the rest of you, I didn't have the luxury of having a map in my head to guide me."
"Right... again, I'm sorry about that..." Hibiki lowered his head shamefully. "It's my fault she wasn't able to get here sooner."
"Whatever. It doesn't matter now." Gray grimaced from his throbbing ankle.
The ice wizard then noticed Wendy asleep under the same tree as Erza while Happy stood close to Carla. His face adopted a small smirk. "Looks like the rescue mission was a success."
"Yeah. Just got back with them both earlier. Would've done it sooner but I got held up along the way." Ben donned a serious expression. "I know you both just got here, but could you fill us in on what's happened?"
"Yeah... are the others alright?" Hibiki added.
From there, Gray and Sherry both took turns explaining the sequence of events after Ben and Natsu split off from the rescue group to save Wendy and Happy. Following their victory over the low-tier dark guilds, they had sensed an incredible spike in magical power nearby and deduced it to be one of the Oracion Seis. Jura insisted on staying behind to face the threat with Ichiya as backup, ordering the others to head back to basecamp. On their way back the party had stopped to take a breather before being ambushed by many rock golems and finally Midnight.
"We were no match against him. He deflected every single attack like it was nothing." Gray pointed at his left ankle. "And, as luck would have it, one of those attacks hit my ankle..."
"Gray created a barrier to allow us to escape. Sadly though... we were separated from Eve and Ren in the process." Sherry added.
Ben remained silent as he listened to Gray and Sherry's accounts, processing the information regarding Midnight and the rock monsters.
'I'm surprised Midnight was sent out so early. Seems unnecessary with all the rock golems and dark guilds scattered across the forest.' Ben inwardly noted. 'What's Brain playing at?'
"And you haven't seen them since?" Hibiki asked, sounding concerned.
Gray shook his head. "No, we haven't. By the way, what's the deal with your telepathy? We couldn't contact you earlier during the ambush."
Hibiki frowned. "I'm sorry. Something's been interfering with my ability to connect with everyone. I think it may have to do with Nirvana."
'Yet he was able to connect with Happy and Beelzebash just fine... weird. Wait a sec...' Ben glanced around and took note of one particular member's absence.
"Hold up... everyone else's absence is accounted for, but where's Lyon?" the brunet questioned.
Sherry adopted a mildly apprehensive look and glanced away while Gray frowned and tightened his fists.
"After we got separated, we spotted Racer riding on a Magic-Cycle with several more behind him. Natsu was strapped to one of them." Gray revealed.
"Of course..." Ben placed his hand over his face in frustration.
'I should've figured someone would eventually use that motion sickness against him.' The Omnitrix bearer thought.
"I wanted to go help him, but with my leg..." Gray trailed off.
"Lyon went instead," Ben said, understanding the circumstances. "That ought to make for an interesting team-up. Assuming, of course, Natsu accepts Lyon's help or not."
"How did you and Salamander get separated anyway?" Sherry curiously inquired. "Was your love not strong enough?"
Ben deadpanned at her last remark. "He convinced me that he could hold Racer off while I got Wendy and Happy to safety. Didn't have time to argue so I had to make a tough call."
The sound of an explosion in the distance caused the group to pause. They even felt the shockwaves beneath their feet before it subsided. If it weren't for the trees blocking their view, they'd have seen a mushroom cloud in the distance.
"W-what was that?" Lucy said, perplexed.
"If I had to put money on it... I'd say that's Natsu," Gray replied. "He can't ever do anything subtly."
"Like you're one to talk," Lucy sweat-dropped.
Happy stared off into the trees uneasily. "Natsu..."
A groan escaped from Wendy's mouth as her eyes began to flutter open. As her eyes adjusted, she realized that she was underneath the shade of a tree as sunbeams leaked through the openings in the forest canopy.
Wait, where was she? Wasn't she in the Oracion Seis hideout earlier?
"Wendy!" Carla immediately flew to the girl's side, alarmed.
"Carla?" Wendy was perplexed yet relieved to see her friend.
"You had me scared half-to-death, child!" Carla remarked.
"I – I'm sorry." Wendy sheepishly apologized. "I didn't mean to worry you."
Lucy smiled as she walked up to the girl. "It's good to see you back, Wendy."
"Lucy?" Wendy looked forward, noticing Happy and a few other Coalition members present. "Wait, how'd Happy and I get here?"
"You can thank Ben for that," Lucy responded. "He helped rescue you both."
"Ben?" The blue-haired girl looked forward and spotted the Omnitrix bearer ambling over to her.
Wendy's eyes then widened in recollection. Ben was the Take-Over wizard that Erza had talked about at the Allied Force's meeting location earlier. The one who was unable to join the mission.
'How... how did he get here so fast? Was I out for a while?' Wendy wondered.
Ben kneeled in front of the girl to put himself closer to her eye-level. Wendy was slightly taken aback by the intensity in Ben's emerald eyes. He had the look of someone who had been in many battles, despite his youthful appearance. Erza had mentioned how he had started his wizarding career at ten-years-old, so she figured it made sense.
"Are you okay, Wendy?" Ben calmly asked.
Wendy blinked. Despite Ben's serious demeanor, he sounded genuinely concerned for her.
She nodded before she replied, "I'm well. I just pushed myself a little too much when I...I..."
The young girl trailed off, recalling the last thing she remembered before blacking out.
'Jellal...' She thought wistfully. 'I... I did heal him. Despite what Happy, and even Brain, told me... I had to do it.'
"When you healed Jellal," Ben finished point-blank.
Lucy and Gray both gasped in shock, hearing that Jellal of all people was here.
"J-Jellal...?" the blonde stuttered.
"Are you serious?!" Gray yelled, dumbfounded. "I thought that dude was history!"
"But... how's Jellal here?" Lucy was baffled. "I thought he perished in the tower."
Happy stepped forward. "The Oracion Seis kidnapped Wendy so they could use her to heal him."
Unbeknownst to anyone, Erza's facial features slightly contorted at the mention of Jellal's name. 'Jellal...?' She thought subconsciously.
Sherry titled her head in confusion. "Um...who're you all talking about?"
Hibiki looked to his archive screen and typed on his keyboard, arching his brows in surprise when the results appeared... or lack thereof. "I don't have any data on the name Jellal."
Ben glanced back. "Long story short... he's an evil psychopath." He didn't notice Wendy subtly flinch at his response. "Can't take time to explain any further right now."
The teen hero looked back to Wendy with a stone-faced expression, a brief yet tense moment of silence passing between them. Finally, Ben let out a heavy exhale while running his hand through his hair. "Listen... I'm willing to overlook that right now, but Gray is hurt."
He stopped to point to the ice-wizard, sitting at the base of another tree several meters away. Wendy immediately noticed that his left ankle was bright red and swollen to twice its normal size. She grimaced from how painful it appeared to be, immediately empathizing with the Ice-Make wizard.
"I would try to heal him myself but..." He pointed to Erza lying close to her, "... he'd be out for a while like Erza if I did, and we need all the help we can get right now. Please, Wendy, he could really use a healing spell."
Wendy was amazed when Ben mentioned that he could heal, not knowing anyone else possessed the ability to use Healing Magic. However, she stopped those musings and refocused on the situation at hand.
The Sky Dragon Slayer sat up straight. "Yes! I'll try to help him. No! I will!" She said determinedly.
Ben smiled lightly as he moved aside to allow Wendy to walk over to Gray, kneeling by his outstretched leg. She briefly examined the extent of Gray's injury, believing it to be a Grade 2 ankle sprain at least. Wendy inhaled deeply before letting out a long exhale to calm herself, focusing on her magic.
Placing both hands over his ankle, a bright blue light emanated from her palms. Gray's eyes widened when he felt the sharp pain swiftly fade away. The swelling in his ankle was reduced and, within moments, disappeared along with the bruises he had sustained from his fights earlier.
As Wendy utilized her healing spell, her thoughts drifted to what Happy had said regarding the man who had previously helped her all those years ago. "He's the one who tried to kill all of us back when he kidnapped Erza and me. What's worse... He put a spell on Ben that almost killed him. He's the worst of them all!"
'He... he couldn't have done those things. There has to be a mistake... right?' Wendy thought, uncertain.
Meanwhile, deep within the Worth Woodsea, the air was much staler than it was farther out with the Allied Forces. It was enough to make any normal person wheeze. Yet beyond the darkest groves that the forest had there was a ravine where a certain someone was calmly walking down a path.
Jellal continued without bothering to look back. Something about what he was feeling ate at him, and it wasn't the blotched skin marks on his body. As much as he wanted to answer that question, he needed to follow what his gut told him and drag his heels further into the meshed ravine. He didn't even bother to look around at the gray rocks and the marsh-like jungle. It wasn't anything like the forest above.
This place felt more like an abyss. An abyss that glared right back at him. As if it were angry the stranger had disturbed its serenity.
As Jellal marched onwards, he was completely oblivious to a shady figment hiding behind a rock. With whatever light was available from their surroundings, Cobra looked past the border at Jellal's back.
'Something's up with this guy. Why can't I hear his thoughts?' His eyes narrowed. 'If I could, Cubellios and I wouldn't have to drag ourselves out here to spy on him. What's he thinking?'
He watched Jellal continue several more meters...until he came to a sudden stop.
'He stopped moving.' He looked ahead at what impeded Jellal's path, and his eyes slightly widened. 'What the-?!'
Jellal looked up, staring at the large structure before him.
Standing at nearly a hundred feet tall, there was a very old tree. Said tree had thick vine-like tread that had attached itself to the nearby surroundings, and on those vines was aged, luminescent moss. The bark and leaves growing on the tree were notable a much darker shade than what a lot of wildlife greenery was supposed to be. This, ironically enough, highlighted the moss that grew all along the branches to light up the tree.
Cobra looked on with genuine shock. 'The hell is this place? This wasn't on any maps that Brain told us...' He blinked. '... and this Jellal guy came all the way out here to get to Nirvana, huh? He was quick to put two and two together and come to a conclusion. 'Wait! Don't tell me...!'
He watched as Jellal gave the tree a blank look. Oh, how he wished he knew what went on inside that head right now. He kept himself concealed as he looked on with anticipation.
Meanwhile, Jellal was another story altogether. Something about this tree was calling out to him. He didn't know why. He truly didn't...but he felt like he needed to do this. He looked at his palm, seeing the pale skin blotches on the palm. Again, he got another odd sense of déjà vu, but he chose to ignore it as he pressed it against the tree's trunk.
The entire tree began reacting, giving off a bright glow. The light slightly shook the earth beneath as energy traveled through the ground. This new development made Cobra's shock transform into a brooding smile.
"This is it...OUR FUTURE!"
All of a sudden, everything erupted in a bright flash that blinded the surrounding area before a pillar of light beamed skywards.
Wendy deactivated her magic and wiped away a bit of sweat that had accumulated on her forehead. "There you go! Good as new."
The others looked on in awe at the immediate effects of Wendy's magic as even Ben couldn't help but feel impressed by its effectiveness.
"Whoa..." Gray moved his ankle in circles and was astonished to feel no pain. "... it's like the injury never happened." He paused to give the girl a grateful smile. "Thanks, Wendy."
"N-no problem," Wendy cutely smiled. "I'm glad I could help."
"That's incredible," Hibiki stated in awe. "Who knew Sky Magic could be so strong..."
"Excuse me," Carla spoke up, "now that Gray is healed, please don't ask Wendy to use her Sky Magic again. She'll insist that she's fine, but I can tell she's exhausted by the look on her face."
"No, you got it all wrong!" Wendy protested, slumping her shoulders. "I'm just worried is all."
"In any case," Ben stepped over to offer Gray a hand, which he accepted, and pulled him to his feet. "Thanks for the help. Now, we just need to regroup with the others, wake Erza up, and we'll be ready to strike back."
Gray smirked. "The Oracion Seis won't know what hit 'em."
Lucy pumped a fist confidently. "Yeah, watch out, Oracion Seis! We're coming to get you!"
"We'll crush them with tough love!" Sherry dramatically commented.
"Aye! We won't let you get Nirvana!" Happy shouted.
A sudden bright glow in the forest ahead caught the group's attention. Startled by the appearance of the light, they were unsure of what it was.
"What is that?!" Lucy cried out.
Ben's mouth was agape as an unsettling possibility came to mind. 'No... don't tell me they already...'
Suddenly, the light shot up into the sky like a giant pillar. The pillar itself was primarily white with fragments of black coursing through it and had tendrils of mysterious black energy dancing around it chaotically. It was an incredible yet fearful sight to behold.
Wendy looked on in distress. "A giant pillar of black light."
"No way," Carla gasped.
"Nirvana has been unsealed!" Hibiki shouted, shocking everyone.
The black light continued skyward as the earth itself trembled. A strong wind blew out from the epicenter of the light across the Woodsea. It was almost akin to a meteor crashing without the fiery devastation; however, considering Nirvana was classified as Destruction Magic, that part had yet to occur.
"Yeah, that's got to be it!" Hibiki reaffirmed.
"No freaking way!" Gray shouted in alarm. "How'd the Oracion Seis find it already?"
Ben glowered at the light, putting the puzzle pieces together. "Jellal..." His voice dripping with contempt. It was no coincidence that Nirvana was suddenly found soon after the evil wizard's return. "He's... he's the one responsible."
The temptation to run ahead towards the light to take Jellal down was burning up inside of Ben, but he couldn't allow his personal feelings to cloud his judgment. He couldn't just leave his comrades behind without any guidance.
'Great. As if our mission wasn't already dangerous... it's just gotten ten times worse.' Ben inwardly grumbled.
Wendy trembled while holding her hands close to her mouth, looking very distraught. "N-n-no... what have I done? This is all because of me."
Lucy, Gray, Sherry, and Happy looked at Wendy in concern as Hibiki glanced back with a scrutinizing eye.
"Wendy..." Lucy uttered softly, wanting to try to console the girl.
The group paused as Carla suddenly yelped. They turned and were shocked to see that Erza had disappeared. "Oh no! Erza's gone!"
Ben audibly gasped as his eyes widened in realization. 'Erza, no! Don't tell me that you...'
"What?" Gray exclaimed in surprise. "How did she sneak off without us noticing?"
"Of all the nerve!" Carla huffed, mildly indignant. "Where are her manners?! She didn't even warn us!"
Ben unconsciously clenched his fists to the point that his knuckles turned white. "She must've heard us mention Jellal's name and rushed off." He bared his teeth in anger. "Dammit, Erza! I swear you're just as headstrong as Natsu."
Wendy held her head as she began to break down further. "How could I have been so stupid! I never should have healed him..." She uttered in dismay. "Erza wouldn't have taken off. Nirvana wouldn't have been found. T-This is all my fault!"
Without warning, Hibiki turned back and extended a hand toward her. Using his Archive Magic, he made three magical screens appear and explode in front of Wendy. The sudden force caused Wendy to fly back and land on her back, unconscious.
Everyone looked on at the scene in confused shock.
"Wendy!" Lucy shouted worriedly.
"What do you think you're doing striking a girl?!" Carla exclaimed.
"T-That was uncalled for," Sherry added.
"Dude!" Gray shouted at Hibiki. "What'd you do that for?!"
Ben stepped over to the dirty blonde with a sharp glare. "What's the meaning of this, Hibiki?"
"I'm sorry." Hibiki walked to Wendy and picked her off the ground, sliding her onto his back so he could carry her. "I just knocked her out. She's gonna be fine."
"You haven't answered my question." Ben reiterated, sounding more forceful.
Hibiki arose to his knees, keeping his back turned from the other members. "It was a necessary precaution. I'll explain later. Right now, don't we have to find Erza?"
Ben briefly stared hard at Hibiki and not seeing any signs of deception, he nodded in agreement. "Fine. Erza's gotta be heading towards the light. Let's start heading towards it and you can explain along the way."
With that, the group rushed off into the forest with Ben and Hibiki leading the way and the others following behind.
"Alright, pretty boy," Gray spoke up. "Start talking. What's the deal?"
"I know Wendy can be a whiner, but that's no reason to strike her!" Carla exclaimed.
Ben looked over at the playboy, mirroring the other's questioning expressions. "Well?"
Hibiki paused as he looked down. "I'm sorry... but I did it for her safety." Everyone was confused at what the Blue Pegasus mage was getting at. Safety from what exactly?
He then eventually came to stop. After a longer pause, Hibiki started to explain. "I haven't been completely truthful with you guys. I know more about Nirvana than I originally let on."
Everyone jerked in surprise.
Ben quickly recovered, furrowing his brows. "Why didn't you tell us?"
"I couldn't," Hibiki stated, his head still lowered. "Because of the very nature of the magic itself, I couldn't have said a word. Just mentioning it now is risky and might endanger us all. That's why Guild Master Bob only told me about it. Mister Ichiya, Eve, and Ren have no clue."
"What did he tell you?" Lucy asked.
Hibiki turned towards the others. "Nirvana is a terrifying magic like none other. It alone has the power... to turn light into darkness."
Everyone, save for Ben, gasped at the revelation.
"Are you for real?" Gray muttered, feeling a little unnerved.
"I... don't think I follow," Ben admitted. "What do you mean by that?"
"Nirvana can switch people's alignments. Of course, that doesn't happen till it's final stage." Hibiki elaborated. "The first stage is that black light that's ahead of us. It then goes in search of those who are mentally weak and will switch anyone wavering between light and darkness to the opposite alignment. In other words, a good guy who's feeling down and out... will fall to the dark side."
Ben's eyes widened in shock. 'I'm no stranger to mind control or brainwashing... but this sounds way more intense.'
"So that's why you knocked Wendy out." Carla realized. "You were trying to protect her."
Hibiki nodded. "She was a target because of her guilt. If I didn't step in, she would've fallen to the dark side. Such negative and self-doubting thoughts attract Nirvana."
"I feel like such a dummy!" Happy clenched his head in frustration. "Nothing you're saying makes sense to me."
"That's because you are a dummy!" Carla remarked. "Allow me to spell it out for you, now that Nirvana's seal is broken it has the power to turn those with good hearts evil and those with evil hearts good. Do you get it now, blockhead?"
"This all sounds frightening..." Sherry shuddered. "Changing people to the opposite of their nature."
"Still don't understand why you kept information this critical hidden?" Ben sounded miffed. "I mean, couldn't everyone in the Allied Forces be at risk?"
"I did it to keep everyone safe!" Hibiki replied, raising his voice slightly. "Thinking in terms of good and evil can bring negative emotions to the surface. Before you know, they've taken hold of you. Whose fault is it that I'm in pain? Why does this always happen to me? These pessimistic thoughts are how Nirvana gains control over you."
Ben nodded, having a better understanding of what Hibiki was saying. "Okay, I think I get it. So, negative thoughts, in general, put you at risk." Another thought occurred to him. "What about anger? Isn't that classified as a negative emotion?"
"Normally, yes; however, I would say it depends on the context," Hibiki explained. "Anger directed at yourself for whatever reason, yes. But say, in the instance, it's for someone else's sake... not likely."
"Okay... so going forward we need to keep our emotions under control. Got it." Ben turned his attention to the ominous sky-beam. "We should keep heading towards the light and try to find the others along the way, including Erza."
"Hold on!" Happy quickly interjected.
"What is it, Happy?" Ben and the others looked back to the blue cat.
Worry was written all over Happy's expression. Something was continuing to bother him from earlier. "What about Natsu... and Lyon too? There was an explosion in the distance earlier... shouldn't one of us at least go check on them?" He inquired.
Ben stopped to consider Happy's suggestion. His eyes slightly widened upon recalling the last thing he had told Natsu before rushing off with Wendy and Happy. 'That's right. I did say I'd come back for him.'
He lowered his head while ruminating on the matter. On one hand, there was a powerful magical source up ahead with Jellal at the center and Erza was presumably heading straight for it. On the other hand, no one had heard from Natsu and Lyon for a while now. The fact that there was an explosion in the distance earlier didn't provide much comfort either.
What should he do?
"I'm sure Natsu and Lyon are fine, Happy," Gray replied confidently. "Those two can handle whatever's thrown at them."
"My darling Lyon is too stubborn to fail," Sherry commented. "I'm sure they found a way to handle Racer."
"Right," Gray nodded in agreement, trying to ease the blue cat of his worries. "They're probably heading towards the light now as we speak."
"Um... guys," Lucy sheepishly interjected, "we're falling pretty behind. Shouldn't we keep running to try and catch up to Erza?"
Hibiki nodded in agreement. "Right. We should keep moving."
Just as the group was about to start running, Ben finally came to a decision. "You guys keep heading toward the light. I'll join back up with you soon."
Everyone stopped and looked back to the Omnitrix wielder in bafflement.
"Wait, you're not coming?" Gray said, surprised.
"But why?" Lucy added, equally perplexed.
"What could be so important to justify abandoning your team, especially at a time like this?" Hibiki harshly demanded.
Ben glared at the playboy, causing him to reel back. "I'm not abandoning anyone. But... because your telepathy is on the fritz, we have no clue what the state the others are in. Like Happy said, there was an explosion earlier. One of us should check to make sure they're okay, right?"
Hibiki remained silent, unable to argue with Ben's reasoning. He had a fair argument, after all.
Gray stepped in. "If you want, I can go find Lyon and flame-brain?" He offered. "That way you can stay here."
Ben shook his head. "I appreciate the offer, but I can track them down much faster than you can. Every second counts right now." He turned back and rolled up his sleeve, activating the Omnitrix. "As soon as I find those two and verify they're okay, we'll meet back up with you. Hibiki, keep trying to contact the others. Tell them to head towards the light if they're not already."
Hibiki nodded. "Right. I will."
"You guys watch out for each other. Gray, you're in charge until I get back." Ben pronounced.
Gray nodded. "Right. You can count on me."
"Please just bring my love back safely!" Sherry requested.
"Aye, and Natsu too!" Happy exclaimed
"Stay safe out there!" Lucy added.
Ben nodded in understanding.
After quickly selecting the head-icon he wanted, he pressed it and then slapped down the core.
The group of wizards was forced to shield their eyes from the usual emerald light show. When the light died away, standing in Ben's place was a giant, car-sized dog creature covered in orange fur. The Omnitrix dial was positioned on the creature's chest and a black Fairy Tail mark was on its front left shoulder.
Wildmutt let out a series of howls and snarls, exclaiming his name in the Vulpimancer language.
"What's that form?" Sherry asked curiously.
"That's Wildmutt," Lucy answered. "Ben can't talk in this Take-Over, but his sense of smell is really good."
"That's one way to track 'em down," Gray commented.
Hibiki, meanwhile, had watched the scene play out with a keen eye. 'Why was he messing with that watch on his wrist? Is it somehow related to his magic?' Another thing for him to note in his database.
Wildmutt lifted his head as his gills sifted through the plethora of smells around him. It was faint, but he recognized a familiar campfire-type scent in the distance. Wildmutt immediately knew who that particular smell belonged to.
The Vulpimancer raced off in the forest, going in a perpendicular direction. He smoothly navigated around and between the trees, swiftly vanishing from the group's view.
"Looks like he's got Natsu's scent." Happy observed, sounding hopeful.
"Obviously," Carla remarked. "That or he's off to hunt down an animal of some kind."
"Alright, knock it off." Gray chided. "He's got his mission, we got ours! Let's get going so we can catch up to Erza!"
"Right!" With that, the group continued rushing down the path heading towards the pillar of ominous light.
Jura and Ichiya stood a short distance apart, both panting hard, especially in the latter's case. He didn't have the strong build as the Wizard Saint did. During the battle, their enemy had concealed himself within the forest – trying to perform a surprise attack.
Jura turned his head, narrowing his vision. "Do you truly believe that hiding from me will do you any good?" He questioned. "Show yourself at once!"
Ichiya turned once more and noticed the ground around him was beginning to get wavy. "Men! He's attacking again!"
Jura's eyes widened. Moving two fingers, he solidified the earth around them once more. The solid earth left the land formation around them to pave a path towards the trees.
"I wasn't hiding... merely regrouping." Hoteye's voice called out from the forest.
Jura and Ichiya saw someone step out of the forest into their field of vision. The shrubs and low branches shifted as Hoteye returned to the light of day, that same smile still on his face.
"You have proven to be quite formidable opponents indeed. Oh yeah!"
"Men! Get a whiff of this!" Ichiya opened another vial, this one containing a greenish-blue liquid. Once the cork came undone, a very strong and sharp aroma made its way towards Hoteye.
Hoteye kept a calm composure as he saw the aroma drift in his direction. "Attacking me with air, I see. That would be troublesome. So..." He put two fingers to his eyes, the irises and sclera outlining in a heated red. "Let's fix that, shall we?"
Underneath Ichiya, the ground immediately liquefied when Hoteye's gaze was focused on it. The pool of ground immediately softened, and poor Ichiya felt his footing turn to mush. He yelped in shock before he dropped into the goop, along with the vial in his hand. The substance was churned in with the mud, cutting off the aroma's advance towards Hoteye.
"M-MEN!" Ichiya cried out, feeling himself being engulfed in heated, liquefied earth.
"Sir Ichiya!" Jura exclaimed. He looked back at Hoteye, scowling angrily. "You fiend!"
Hoteye chuckled at Jura's scowl. "Now, it's just you and I, Jura. I wonder... to whom the stronger of us here is, hmm?"
Jura kept two fingers up, ready to strike. "I do not need to know the obvious! As I've said before the stronger ideology always wins. Money will not bring you victory!"
"I'm afraid you're mistaken," Hoteye smiled widely. "It doesn't matter how you try, the ones who always win... are the rich! Oh yeah!"
Just as Jura was about to go for a counterattack, they felt the earth shake. Both sides were able to keep their balance, but they were taken back when they saw a pillar of white and black light shoot skywards miles in the distance.
"What the-?!" Jura's mouth hung open with no words to describe what he was seeing. Hoteye said nothing as his hair flattened a bit in the small shockwave produced by the beam's force.
"Meeeeen..." Ichiya muffled, still stuck in the mud...literally. "A little help please..."
Hoteye was quick to recomposed himself. "It's Nirvana! Oh yeah!"
Jura turned back towards Hoteye in horrid shock that Nirvana had activated. "Nirvana?!"
"There's no reason for you to get all worked up. Its main operation hasn't been activated yet!" He assured the Wizard Saint with sincerity. "The light simply means that the seal has been broken. It's also... a sign that we'll soon be rolling in money! Oh yeah!" He chuckled at the satisfaction he would have.
Jura glared at Hoteye with astonishment and anxiousness. This was troublesome, now that Nirvana was unsealed who knew what would happen? His fists gradually tightened at the worries piling on.
'This is bad. The longer we drag this on, the less time we'll have at stopping Nirvana's final activation.' He thought. 'But defeating the Oracion Seis is our primary purpose.' His brain racked with an uneasy decision to make. 'What do I do from here?'
Hoteye couldn't help but chuckle in delight. "Ah, yes! The world will be poor, and we'll be loaded with riches! Yes! Money. Money! The world will be incredibly wealthy!"
Just then, he froze and went wide-eyed. He gasped as he felt everything inside his head go numb all of a sudden.
Jura flinched when he saw Hoteye screaming and clutching at his face. The Wizard Saint took a step back as his opponent's behavior suddenly flipped.
"W-What has gotten into him?"
"AAAHHHH!" Hoteye cried in agony. "Money! Money! Money!" He wrung his head back and forth as if he had the biggest headache in the world right now.
"It's like he's been possessed!" Jura exclaimed, completely perplexed.
"MONEY~!" Hoteye yelled. Then, all of a sudden, his expression shifted into one of bliss. His eyes had sparkles in them as he looked at Jura with a joyous smile. "…is the root of all evil. Oh yeah."
Jura's surprise was quick to spread across his face. "That's not what you said a second ago!" He exclaimed in disbelief.
Joyful tears streamed down Hoteye's cheeks as he felt as if he'd been anew. He'd never felt so alive in such a long time. "You see, I have been desperately searching for my long-lost younger brother for a very long time. And I thought if I accumulated enough wealth, I'd be able to find him. Oh yeah!" He joyfully explained.
He began clenching his fists as he shuddered. "However, I have finally realized how foolhardy it was of me to think that way! I was wrong! Oh, so very wrong!"
Jura was still beyond baffled. "W-whaaa?!"
"Jura! What do you say we bury the hatchet and become allies? Oh yeah!" He tearfully shouted, his arms spread out. "The world is overflowing with love! All to burst with sweetness and compassion! ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE WITH THE POWER OF LOVE ON YOUR SIDE! Oh YEAH!"
Unable to hold such grudges, Hoteye hugged Jura and streamed tears on his bald head. Jura was still processing what was happening, so the only response he had was a stunned gaze.
"What do you say we work together to end my former comrades' plans? We must show them peace and love. Are you with me?"
Jura blinked as the river of tears continued. "Uh...s-sure..."
Off to the side, Ichiya's leg twitched as he was still half-buried in the liquid mud. They were so wrapped up in their own matters that they had completely forgotten about him. "Meeen...a little help would be appreciated right about now..."
In another part of the Worth Woodsea, a smoke cloud near a cliffside was billowing into the sky, visible from miles away. The smoke made it unbearable to breathe, let alone see. The atmosphere below the cliffs where Lyon and Racer had previously fallen had been nothing short of a disaster. A large perimeter of the forest had been taken out in a span of a few seconds.
Yet, within this smoky terrain, footsteps were heard along with heavy breathing. Natsu coughed as his eyes winced from the smoke getting into them.
"BLECK! Man!" He coughed. "Why's everything gotta be...so smokey!" He shook his head and refocused on scoping out his ally. "Hey! Lyon! Are you there?! Hey!"
He waited for a response. His anxiousness was getting the better of him.
"Maybe he didn't hear me!" He took a deep breath, disregarding the omnipresent smoke, and hollered at the top of his lungs. "LYON! WHERE ARE YOU?! COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER YOU ARE!"
He waited for anything in return from the disheveled land. Nothing.
His teeth gnashed together, his ire growing larger by the second. "No...no! What happened didn't happen! Lyon would never-!"
The incident that happened a short while ago flashed in his mind. Every time he pictured Lyon disappearing and erupting into oblivion was an image that shook his resolve. His fists balled tighter. The recollection was on a loop...and no matter what he couldn't rid himself of it.
"HEY! GET YOUR BUTT OUT HERE! I'M TIRED OF YELLIN' FOR YA! STOP HIDING AND COME OUT, YA ICY JERK!" He screamed loudly.
The effort left him a little breathless. Unfortunately, all he got still was even more silence.
He couldn't believe it. He shouldn't. The more he tried to deny it, the tighter his teeth clenched. His head hung low in grief. Maybe what he saw wasn't an illusion. Maybe Lyon really did just sacrifice himself. People did die every day, after all.
He shook his head to dismiss that thought. "Stop it...why are you thinking like that?" He raised his head, his face contorted with disbelief and potential reasoning. One could say that it was a look of desperation. "Gray would never forgive me if I told him that this happened...right?"
Gray and Lyon did indeed share history with each other that much he was aware of. They had the same Master and trained together as children. The incident on Galuna Island was evidence alone that Gray and Lyon had something akin to a sibling rivalry. Granted, the Dragon Slayer wouldn't know since he didn't have siblings, but even if he did he wouldn't want to see them die, even after having scuffles with them.
But now, Gray's first rival... and perhaps even surrogate brother... was now gone.
Finally unable to contain his grief, Natsu fell to his knees and hunched over. He slammed his fists into the ground and gritted his teeth heavily. "GRHHH...why? Why did this have to happen?! Seriously, why?!" He whimpered out loud, repeatedly banging his fist against the earth. "Dammit! Dammit! Damnit!"
"You. Are. Weak."
Natsu's eyes widened as his pupils shrank to the size of grains. The memories of his time in Ben's mind, under the influence of the Entrapment Spell, suddenly came to mind. Though it was nothing but imagery born from the evil spell's doing, for some reason, he remembered the words that the fake Igneel told him.
"You are nothing more than a weakling and disappointment. That is why I abandoned you. You are simply not worth my time...just like now."
The heartbreaking words were like stabs to the chest that he cringed at. "N-no! That can't be...right?"
Even though he wasn't that great of a thinker, he was starting to come to some realizations. If he was strong, wouldn't he have been able to stop Racer all by himself? Then maybe Lyon wouldn't have had to intervene as he did. Maybe then he wouldn't have been killed off.
Trying to bring his head back to reality, he got to his feet to sniff out Lyon's scent again. Unfortunately, much like the last few dozen times, he couldn't pick up any trace of the ice mage. The smell of smoke and burning trees flooded his nostrils. His enhanced hearing wasn't doing him any good either. All he could hear was his own anxious, broken breathing. Not only had his strength and magic failed him, but his senses were doing him no good either.
"I don't know why I thought you would behave any different with a mission this important...I must be insane. I should have known better. Your history speaks for itself!"
He nearly lost all his breath in one hitch. He thought back to when Ben utterly berated him after arriving to aid them against the Oracion Seis. He could still feel where Ben punched him so hard that he bled. It had healed since then, but the mental wounds were being pried open.
'My history...speaks for itself?'
Thinking about it now, he's always charged head-on into fights. Being straightforward was the most proactive approach applicable. It was the first thing that occurred to him. His way of thinking was very simple: "Hit first, ask later." It hadn't failed him before, so why now did someone come along to tell him of a fault that was practically his way of life?
Then again, there were times when he jumped in head-first and it cost him a good chunk of his pride. The time he was swallowed by Fukuro in the Tower of Heaven was one instance. He was so dazed by the time he was regurgitated that he could have sworn Gray would have hung it over him for the next month. He would've demanded a rematch against the humanoid owl if there hadn't been more important matters like saving Erza.
Then, there were the battles against Vilgax and Aggregor. Those two were insanely powerful, and mere manifestations of the Entrapment Spell. He wouldn't dare admit it outwardly, but he recognized that he wouldn't last long in a fight against the real ones.
Recently, there was the mission that Vanessa had commissioned for him and Ben. Though they both were able to work together and ultimately win, he remembered Ben chewing him out for falling asleep on night-watch and not taking the job seriously. He was willing to admit that his blunder wasn't his finest moment.
"I don't know why your father left you Natsu... but I know why your friends are going to leave you. It's because you'll get them all killed with that reckless attitude of yours." Ben's voice echoed in his subconscious.
"No! That won't happen! I'll make sure of it!" He was desperate, his hands and knees shaking from his weakening resolve. "I'll get strong! I can do this! Watch me! I'll challenge everyone if it means bringing him back! You'll see!"
However, if that were the case, then a certain someone could have been saved a long time ago.
The voice of another person rung in his head, this one leaving him frozen in shock. '...Lisanna...'
If he had all the strength he needed, then how come Lisanna still ended up dying? If he had known what would happen, he surely could have stopped it, couldn't he? He never wanted his peers to leave him. Without them...he was nothing.
There was nothing wrong with how he could prove that everything was possible if you tackled it head-on.
Yet, someone, who had a much harsher experience than he did apparently, had come along and told him otherwise. Someone whose memories against powerful foes had played out before his eyes. Someone who used his wits instead of muscle supposedly. Someone who he had to borrow power from to defeat Laxus, despite insisting he could beat him solo.
That same person embarrassed him by calling out his supposed flaws in front of the Allied Forces earlier. Challenging his fighting philosophy. Claiming he needed to change before his friends got hurt.
That couldn't be right. His methods had served him well over the last several years. Sure, he had slip-ups here and there, but he typically always found a way to come out victorious. Collateral damage be damned! Buildings could always be rebuilt. The new Guild Hall was a prime example of that.
Lives, however, were a different story. Images of Lisanna and now Lyon came to the forefront of his mind.
"No... this can't be my fault. It's..." Natsu trailed off. Unbeknownst to him, a sinister, dark power started to make its presence known.
Meanwhile, not too far away, Wildmutt was running through the forest like a wolf on the hunt. He was still locked onto Natsu's scent; however, the smell of smoldering wood was starting to steadily flood his senses. But the Vulpimancer knew he was getting closer to the pyro mage as his unique scent was getting steadily stronger.
As his olfactory senses led him into a clearing, Wildmutt came to a stop. He paused to take in what he could see. Burned grass and ash were predominant, but he could make out other smells as well. He ambled forward and noticed the outline of something on the ground. He stretched out his front left paw to touch the object.
Ice. Partially melted.
Lifting his head higher, Wildmutt opened his gills wider to take in more air. He picked up two new scents. One was similar to leather while the other was akin to mint. The Vulpimancer put two-and-two together and identified the smells as belonging to Racer and Lyon, respectively. This discovery confirmed that Natsu and Lyon fought Racer in this area at some point.
Following the scents of Natsu, Lyon, and Racer guided him to a cliffside nearby where the trail came to an end.
The Vulpimancer looked over the edge; his vision partially obscured by the billowing smoke. He could identify the outline of the cliffside beneath him. Seeing no other options, Wildmutt effortlessly made his way down the decline, jumping from any ledge or outcropping he could identify until finally making it to the bottom.
Upon reaching the ground, Wildmutt noticed that both Lyon and Racer's scents suddenly vanished. That was odd. Perhaps all the smoldering debris was blocking out their scents? It was possible, but he could still make out Natsu's scent, albeit hazily.
Jumping over a few fallen logs, Wildmutt stepped out of the thick smokey haze and into clearer air.
Turning around, Wildmutt finally spotted Natsu! Through his body outline, he made out that his ally was hunched over on the ground on his hands and knees.
Wildmutt reached up to tap the Omnitrix dial and, in a bright flash, transformed back to Ben.
"Natsu, there you are!" Ben exclaimed, sounding relieved. "You had me worried for a second there."
Natsu didn't respond.
Ben took a quick moment to survey the area. The area around the cliffs behind them looked like a bomb had gone off if the crater and smoke cloud were any indicators. "Looks like you guys had your work cut out for you against Racer, huh?" He commented.
Still no response.
Ben arched a brow. 'Strange... why isn't he answering?'
"Uh, I got Wendy and Happy to safety." Ben continued. "We managed to regroup with Lucy, Gray, Sherry, and Hibiki. Gray said Lyon went to help you fight Racer." He paused to scan the area again and couldn't pick out the Lamia Scale mage anywhere. "By the way, where is Lyon?"
Natsu dug his fingers into the soil as his body started to shake. His breathing became more erratic while his heart rate increased.
'Ben! He's the one!' He inwardly yelled.
Everything became crystal clear for the fire wizard. In Natsu's mind, Lyon had died sacrificing himself for his sake. It wouldn't have reached that point had he fought him alone as he initially wanted. It was only because of Ben's influence that he reconsidered.
Lyon would still be alive if it weren't for him.
Suddenly, a faint blackish-purple aura shined off of his body.
This omen did not go unnoticed by the Omnitrix bearer. "Natsu? Hey! Are you alright?!" Ben shouted in concern.
The tone of Natsu's voice caused Ben to flinch. It wasn't loud or brash as it usually was but rather it was firm and dripping with venom. The pyro mage stood up with his back still turned to the shape-shifter.
"It's all your fault." Natsu clenched his fists tightly as the throbbing veins in his arms and neck area became noticeable. "It wouldn't have happened... had you not come along."
Ben's eyes widened in apprehension as a disturbing possibility entered his mind. 'No. Please... don't tell me he's been-'
He was unable to finish his thought as Natsu finally turned around to face Ben with an absolute fierce expression. His teeth were bared, revealing his sharper than average canines. The shrunken pupils in his bloodshot eyes were burning with primal rage, and the veins on his temple and neck throbbed madly
Ben reeled back. Even he couldn't help but feel unsettled from the unadulterated fury Natsu was emitting.
"I'll make you pay..." Natsu snarled viciously.
With that, the Fire Dragon Slayer had succumbed to the effects of Nirvana... and his target was none other than Fairy Tail's otherworldly hero.
A/N: In case you haven't seen the note on the story summary or my profile page, I'll say it here: I have given the reigns for this story to "pyrohelixdrago". This is on account of my busy work schedule and the fact I am not confident in my abilities to continue this story to the point I envisioned it going. There's so much to write and I simply don't have the time to write it all without giving up my other hobbies.
Chapter 47 and onward will be uploaded from pyrohelixdrago's page for now on. Note, that I will be around to advise him and edit his work though. If you're still interested in reading further, go follow him and the story on his page! As of now, chapters 47 and 48 have already been posted on his end. I had a big hand in the outline and writing for those chapters, so you won't notice much of a difference.
Please give "pyrohelixdrago" your full support! Provide constructive criticism when necessary and praise when deserved. I'm honored to have taken this story as far as I did. Had no idea it would reach this level of success when I first adopted it from The Incredible Muffin years ago. I've certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way. If I had the opportunity to rewrite the story, I would just to change up things more than I initially did. But you live and learn!
Perhaps I will return one day to write a different story. I will not rule that possibility out. But I'll plan it out first and ensure that its an obtainable goal before putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard - in this case.
Thank all of you so much for the love, support, and criticism over the years! Until next time, Ultimate out!