Ahhh the sweet scent of lavender curtains as they open yet again for another act of the play. I salute you my dear readers and I thank you for your patience. I also deeply apologize for making you use said patience. This chapter was meant to be short but yet again I have fallen to the love of my wordcraft.
I intend to write a short chapter for the next one even if it will be the death of me within the next few days for at least 4 chapters. I must know if such a feat is possible for me so as to keep this relevant. I also have a new short fiction in the works of the same lore as for now and hope I may deliver it to you as well.
I see none have commented and I can not fault any of you for not doing so. With the long breaks in between this play I m not surprised that boredom drives you from the theater to find something else. The fault lies on me however as my uploads are few and long.
As for a correction: the retreat was in Onibus not in Oshibana.
With my incompetence and ramblings aside, I present to you the next act Fairy Tail the Imperium Encounter. Relax yourselves, eat whatever food you may have at hand, and prepare for the next act.
Morale is the most important component of any conflict. While some may argue that it is a sound strategy carried out through versatile tactics or the more obvious need of logistics to even do anything, without the morale to do any then all you have is mere intellectual play and stage props respectively.
Such was lacking in the Onibus deployment and even long after the battle none had returned. From the lowliest of soldiers to even Commander Lahar himself everyone was broken.
Even the mages were in low spirits. So low in fact that even Ichiya was too bummed out to be fabulous. Yes…. that bad.
So one can only imagine the rush of hope that flooded them all when they saw Erza among their midst again like a knight of old galloping down the streets as a shining beacon of divine protection manifest into human form against all evil. Even commander Lahar , stoic as he is, couldn't hide his joy when he heard the news and saw her come into his office.
"And then you escaped, just like that?" he was still elated at her return but after what Erza had told him he was now more of confused.
"Yes, just like that" she casually replied.
"Commander Lahar? Is something wrong?"
"No…well….yes. You make it sound like you were a valued guest and not a prisoner-of-war. Are you sure you weren't hallucinating? Torture does have varying psychological effects"
"My scars or more lack of them is proof enough of that. Believe me, I was just as confused as you are"
"*sigh* If we're not being beaten we're being stumped. Is there anything else you can tell me?"
"Other than the fact that they really know what they're doing, not much. They hide their secrets well"
"Too well. Okay, get some food and maybe some shut eye. We're going to need all the hands we can get. Oh and don't tell anyone what you just told me. Not yet at least. The men need to focus on recovering"
"Commander Lahar" with a bow of respect, she left him to think about what she told him and returned to her friends in a makeshift dining hall.
"What happened to her?" the first thing she noticed on the table was a swirly-eyed Wendy on the table not doing anything.
"The poor kid bit of more than she could chew with the healing magic" said Gajeel.
"Who's the next client? I could still go a few more rounds" said our ditsy, ever loveable Wendy.
"No you can not! Now open your mouth and eat something you poor thing" said Carla.
"Anyway red, good to have ya back. So, what's the story on your little incarceration?" asked Gajeel.
She told her friends all that had happened while carefully leaving out what she considered major details.
"That doesn't sound right" said Gajeel and basically everyone else at the table with their stares.
"But…but isn't torture like… painful and stuff?" asked Lissana.
"It is but I wasn't tortured" she casually replied.
"Ehhh? Mavbe I shouldub veen captured tuu so I couwed be treyedt like dat! " mumbled a clearly drunk Canna.
"I'm with Canna. They seem pretty nice" added Happy who was blissfully eating his fish.
"Have you already forgotten what they put us through? Honestly the memory of imbeciles is fleeting at best" commented Carla.
"It doesn't add up" replied the black exceed.
"Indeed. What military value is there for treating Erza, potentially one of their biggest threats, like she was a valued guest?" added Fried.
"Maybe they didn't know exactly who was in their hands?" replied Gray.
"Perhaps. Then again the battle last week should've proven Erza's value as a threat so the well treatment doesn't make much sense" the rune mage replied.
"Juvia thinks they were trying to make her join them" the water mage siuggested.
"That could be a possibility" replied Gray.
"Could be. I remember reading something like that in one of the guild books. Levy, does it ring a bell?"the ice mage asked.
"Sorry Gray. There isn't anything in the books about this. I've read them all at least a hundred times by now and nothing comes up" replied the bookworm mage.
"How about books outside of the guild?" asked Lucy.
"No book I know of Lucy-san, sorry"
"I don't know. It sounds almost chivalrous if you ask me and that's kinda hot" said Evergreen.
"Don't faun over the enemy!" Bickslow retorted.
"Hey at lest he knows how to treat a lady unlike SOME people"
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"It means that the way he treated you was how a man should treat a lady! That makes him manly!" shouted Elfman.
"Oh you're al just overthinking this. He obviously did it because he likes her! " said Mirajane.
"Only you could come to such a hasty no RIDICULOUS conclusion!" her outrage at the mere idea was enough to catch the attention of everyone at the table.
"What? You can't call it ridiculous if it was derived from ALL the evidence presented now can you?" her coy voice implying something else.
"What are you-" it was then Erza realized that Mirajane finally caught on.
"I'm saying that if what you said is ALL that happened then it's a sensible conclusion for his motives. Anyone as smart as you Erza would consider ALL possibilities including that but your reaction to a sensible conclusion from YOUR own story was so….. instant and emotional. Granted it could be simple repulsion to the idea and THAT would be a normal response or it could mean… "
"You're not telling us everything" even with a thousand watt smile she was still the cunning devil from years gone by.
"She does make a point Erza" said Gray.
"Indeed. I feel like your story is missing some vital components" added Fried.
'Tch! Using a ridiculous lure hidden beneath your usual behavior to catch everybody's attention all so you could put me under a pressuring spotlight while you deconstruct my bluff. Mirajane Strauss I commend you on your devilish intellect' said the Scarlet Knight in her mind.
Unfazed by the waiting stares however, she leisurely took a few bites of her rations before swallowing and finally answering the group.
"*sigh* Okay you got me. Commander Lahar asked me not to tell anybody the whole thing at least for now. There, happy?"
"You don't have to hide anything from us" said Lucy
"Yeah we're your friends Erza" said Mirajane.
"More than friends we're like a family here so you can man up and can tell us anything without fear" said Elfman
"Besides why should that matter? It's gonna stay with us anyway" asked Gajeel.
"It maters because I have a respect for people like commander Lahar and what they're going through. Besides he said the men need to focus on recovering not on the people that beat them and he said not to tell anybody 'At least for now' so I'll hold him to that. Until then, that's all I have to say about it"
"Well *chomp* if Erza doesn't want *slurp* to talk about it *munch**munch**munch* then she doesn't want *swallow* to talk about it. All I know is when I'm fully healed I'm going back in there and punching that smug four eyed freak in the face! " said the Dragonsalyer in her defense.
….. In Magnolia
"*sneeze* Oh dear I hope that doesn't form into a cold or worse" said Exyle while he was doing paperwork.
"You sneeze like a kitten!" shouted Gjorum from outside the door.
"And you need to watch you're soufflé"
"Watch my- Aw dammit not again! That was ONE SECOND! ONE SECOND!" was the reply accompanied by smoke.
… back in Onibus.
"Bleh! This food doesn't taste right but at least I'm full. Wendy I'm ready for another round, let's go "
"Sit tight big boy I've got the feel good magic to melt aaaaaalllllll your troubles away" she said still swirly eyed and ditsy.
"You won't me melting anything at the moment young lady! Natsu, she's clearly exhausted and needs rest. You will have to wait like everyone else until she fully recovers " said a stern Carla.
"But when she's not healing me I have nothing to do in this stupid city!" said the Dragonsalyer.
"You are a big boy Natsu and as such you can handle that on your own. For goodness sakes the child's completely delusional! She can't even speak right let alone effectively mend wounds."
"That's final Natsu!"
"She has a point" Erza conceded.
"Grraahhh!This is so frustrating! Just sitting here and doing nothing while our enemy is out there! I've got so much energy I feel like I could go back in there and take them on all by myself!"
"Well… since you have so much energy let's put that to use. We're sparring today!"
"Eh?..." words that would normally would be tinder to Natsu's fiery spirit instead became a tidal wave of terror mixed with a few debris of regret when it came from Erza.
"Nonsense, you look fine. Come, we'll do endurance first and then practice on your striking!" somehow understanding his incoherent babble, she grabbed him by the collar and dragged him away all the while spelling with his face.
"Don't be too hard on him Erza otherwise I'll have to spend a lot of time bandaging him up!" her voice was implying something else but only Erza noticed though this time she had no clue what it was.
The beauty of a wide open field is both timeless and without boundaries.
An open plain void of any obstruction save for a few trees that complement its loneliness with a unique song sung by the grass as the wind played the passing maestro magnified only if the vast blue ocean was within sight is an ingrained picture of beauty that till the end of time shall reside as a vital component of the human soul.
It's also a good place to fight a traditional battle and hunt for cool loot once it's over (if you survive).
Though practicing for one is good too.
I mean it can be just as intense without the death or the trauma and you get to work on your buns and thighs! I say that's a win-win!
And so it was in such a field that our two mages joined the other soldiers in combat training.
"*breathes in the calm air and the smell of clashing steel* Ahhhhh, nothing beats the smell of combat at high noon! Okay are you ready Natsu?" said Erza to a Natsu who was face first on the ground not responding.
She didn't get mad and only kicked him in the fanny and roll him over.
"YEEEOOUUCH!" the pinkete screamed in pain as he massaged his butt.
"Ahh good you're awake. Now for the warm-up. Run around this field at least 100 times!"
"Are you crazy?! Nobody can just run 100 laps!"
"What are you talking about? I do that all the time in the morning. It's easy and does well for your stamina"
"More like it would never return!"
"Stop whining Natsu! At least I'm not asking you to do my full warm-up!"
"What do you consider a full warm-up?!"
"100 laps, 100 pushups, and 100 squats. You know the usual"
"You do that every morning?"
"Of course! Being an S-class mage requires dedication, discipline, and focus!"
'I knew Erza was a monster but I think even monsters would be scared of her!' Natsu thought to himself.
"Whatever! I'm not doing it! I don't want my legs to fall off! And there's no way you cou-" uh-oh, he just brought down "the look" upon himself. Doom and death made manifest into a single pair of eyes. What's worse was she brought out what Natsu lovingly refers to as "the stick".
"What was that? I couldn't hear you. Please come closer so I can 'understand' you better"
"CouldyoutellmewherehtelinestartshereokayI'monit!" with the incoherent babble as his answer "the look" and "the stick" faded from view as he ran from the only hell he was scared of.
"Much better and remember to not waste your movement! It conserves energy!"
As the terrified, pink haired mage ran around the field, Erza couldn't help but feel a sense of pride seeing Natsu work to become better.
'Even when he's scared he still tries so hard' the thought made her smile.
"Hey Natsu, wait up!" she decided to join him in exercise since she hasn't really done anything for about 9 days.
And so the Dragon and the Knight toiled under the bright sun. Breaking their bodies and pushing their limits so they could taste the sweet fruit that was a better self.
When the last muscle had finally been stretched and the last bone finally survived from being broken, the Knight emerged beaten and triumphant yet again while the Dragon mighty as he was lay on the grass field unsure if the pain he felt was a sign that he still lives or if death decided to be cruel before claiming him.
"Ahhhhhhhhhh, that was a great workout! Don't you feel great Natsu? Natsu?"
The hot and sweaty pile she was talking do didn't answer or more of couldn't answer. Breathing was all she heard…correction…gasping was all she heard, loud and desperate gasping.
"Come on Natsu it wasn't THAT hard" the swirling unconscious eyes however told her another story.
"*sigh* Well at least you lasted longer than last time and I guess we could use a break" looking around the field, she found a tree that had ample shade and dragged the hot steaming pile of mess under it.
The tree was a good distance away from the nearby soldiers, not that far to be out of sight but far enough the Erza could hear the relaxing melody of the wind and the grass.
She sat down next to Natsu who was as good as unconscious at this point and took a break herself.
In her relaxation she noticed a petite figure running form soldier to soldier and thanks to her perfect vision noticed that it was none other than our ever loveable Wendy.
"Hoy, Wendy!" she called out to the Drgaonslayer who ran towards her after noticing.
"Hi Erza. How are you doing so far?"
"I'm a little tired but okay. How about you? I see you're feeling better"
"Yes I am. All I needed was a little nap and Carla said I was ready to go"
"What are you doing out here anyway?"
"Oh I'm handing out drinks and food to the soldiers. Turns out we have a surplus on supplies. I'm also giving some healing magic to anybody who might need it"
"You're a good girl Wendy. The world could use more people like you"
"Awww thank you so much Erza!"
"Say would you mind giving me and Natsu some?"
"Of course" she said as she handed them some food and rinks.
"Don't mention it. Hey, does Natsu need help? He doesn't look too good"
"Hm? Oh he's just tired is all"
"Well I think I can help both of you a little"
Calling upon her magical power, she released healing energy into their bodies that immediately made them feel better.
"There, that should help him though I'm not sure why he isn't waking up" the girl pondered.
"Don't worry Wendy I bet he's just dreaming" reassured Erza.
"I guess you're right. Well I have to go now. Take care!"
Wendy returned to helping others and Erza returned to her peaceful break but soon her mind wandered from the peaceful scenery to the invaders. Particularly, on the battle 9 days ago.
'No matter how many times I review that battle, I can help but be amazed. The level of planning, the skillful manipulation, and the clockwork execution. Never had I felt so….outplayed before. His strategy is without flaw'
'What's his goal? Why is he doing this? What's making him do this?'
'Whatever it is, I can't let him destroy this place. I can't let him destroy our home!'
'But….that means I'll have to fight him. Can I win? Can I even beat him? Can I…. can I even do it?'
The doubts started to creep in to every corner of her mind. Every detail of the battle led her to asking more questions, making assumptions, wondering if such assumptions were silly or a realization that she was way out of her leauge, and so on.
It would have weighed heavily on her if another weight didn't counter balance it.
The weight of Natsu's head falling on her lap.
It was enough to break her out as the sight of the sleeping Dragonsalyer brought out warm memories from the deepest place in her heart to counter the dark doubts.
Under the tree in an open field with the sun shining high, it reminded Erza of that memory in the forest when it was just her and Natsu. No people, no towns, no monsters (surprisingly), no duties, no quests, just the two of them locked in peaceful serenity and childlike bliss.
Out of all the things to happen to her in captivity, it was that specific memory that stuck with her throughout and now she was in a way reliving that same memory.
As if it was some grand orchestration by fate.
She gave a slight chuckle at the thought as she gently caressed the head of the sleeping Dragonslayer.
Her fingers ran through his pink locks in return for her motherly touch they rewarded her by feeling like silk. Erza knew that Natsu's hair was smooth but now that there wasn't soap or water in the way she was surprised as to how smooth it was and it was the kind that would make any girl jealous.
In response the Dragonslayer cuddled on her lap and let out a smile. Not his usual goofy smile but a smile that was usually reserved in the presence of good dreams.
Then right there, everything faded. The surroundings disappeared in a warm fuzzy haze until it was again nobody but her and Natsu under a tree with the wind gently blowing. It was their own little world, a world she had not been to in a long time, a blissful Eden that brought her the purest serenity and quenched her troubled soul.
In here she could be at peace and with Natsu at her side she felt safe, safer than any armor she had or would ever have.
Alas, such a peace cannot last forever in this cruel world as a spear landing to her side broke her from her trance.
"Oh my I am sooooooo sorry! My friend over there has two left hands!"
"Huh?" she was taken out of her bliss so quick that it took a while for the spear right next to her to register.
"Oh no it's okay. Keeping a grip on a spear is trickier than it looks. Just tell your friend to improve his technique or if he has the jewels to spend them on sturdy leather gloves "
"Will do!" the man dislodged the spear from the ground and ran back to his friend while complaining.
It was probably time she got back to training too. She grabbed the Drgaonslayers hair and swung his head to the tree since she knew all too well how hard it was to wake him up.
Was it harsh? Maybe. Was it effective? Definitely.
"Grryeahha!" he screamed.
"Rise and shine Natsu"
"Do you have to do that every time you wanna wake me up?"
"Do you have to be such a heavy sleeper everytime?"
"Heh, fair point"
"Well now that we're rested I say we can continue with training"
"Grk!" the Drgaonslayer started sweating beads and was deciding if he should knock himself out to save himself. I mean there was a tree nearby...
"Don't worry Natsu, it's your favorite part: sparring"
"Oh, why didn't you say so? Now I'm all fired up!"
"That's the spirit!"
They surveyed the field and found the perfect spot to fight. It was wide, open, and dead center of all the training troops.
"So Erza, what will it be this time or are we going for the usual?"
"The usual. I need to see your improvement after all"
"Huh, fine by me" the mage took a stance and set his hands ablaze.
"You're not equipping a weapon?" the Dragonsalyer asked.
"Not yet. After all you need every advantage you can get " she replied with a bit of a snarky tone
"Heh? You're sounding a bit arrogant Erza maybe the fame's finally got to your head"
"It's not arrogance when you know you can back it up"
"Well let's see if that arrogance gives me a blindspot"
"Another advantage you're going to need"
"Oh you're on!"
The two stood a good distance away from each other and none of them budged. Both were waiting on each other to break the stand-off and it was no surprise that it was Natsu.
He quickly hurled a Fire Dragon's Brilliant Flame at Erza who dodged it without effort and despite the distance quickly closed the gap and landed a solid blow that launched the Drgaonsalyer a good distance back.
Undeterred the Drgaonslayer recovers mid-air and launches another Fire Dragon's Brilliant Flame just before landing on his feet.
Natsu was quick but not quick enough to catch Erza off guard.
She ducked and felt the fire cinder a few of her hairs before she charged at him agian.
She grabs a shield that was just lying there and tosses it at the Drgaonsalyer who avoided the spinning projectile by jumping up high into the air and retaliating by launching multiple, tiny fireballs at once.
Though not as large as a full on Fire Dragon's Brilliant Flame they covered a very wide area that would be risky to run out of.
Impressed by the seemingly new spell she decided to test its power and block it head on.
The multiple explosions were enough to catch the attention of all the troops who stopped their traiing and gathered to watch the magical spectacle.
"Woah the two mages are fighting!"
"I gotta see this!"
"Wohoo! Go red haired one!"
"No way the pink guy is using magic! She doesn't have a chance!"
"I'm wagering jewels on the red haired one!"
"I'm doubling on the red one. She is THE Erza Scarlet, Queen of Fairy Tail, after all!"
And just like that their sparring match became a spectacle sport with cheers and bets going on between the soldiers.
Erza emerged from the smoke scratched but smiling. She didn't mind the crowd or the attention (she secretly loved it)but she would have to take their safety into account just in case Natsu goes too wild.
"Impressive but are you trying to tickle me?"
"If you think that was funny then you'll enjoy my next joke!" still in the air Natsu launched another barrage of which Erza actually tried to dodge this time.
Running quickly in between the spaces of the small fireballs, she charged towards where Natsu was landing and in a panic he launched a Fire Dragon's Brilliant Flame directly beneath him.
It was then Erza's turn to jump into the air to avoid the explosion and Natsu was hoping for it. He launched a second Fire Dragon's Brilliant Flame at her.
Slightly caught off guard she instinctively summons a sword and just as the fireball approached cut it in half all to the cheer of the soldiers.
However Natsu expected as much and with a Talons of the Fire Dragon launched himself at her and punched her hard down unto the ground.
Unlike Natsu ,who was clumsy in his landings, Erza displayed an elegance and flexibility as she summersaulted in the air and landed like a feather.
The Dragonsalyer pushed the attack and forced the match into a CQC one.
Erza obliged and threw her sword aside as she answered the Drgaonsalyers challenge in kind
Flaming hands and metal fists clashed in a blinding flurry as neither could get a blow in.
However somewhere along the foray Natsu was able to gradually land one after the other until finally Erza was on the defensive.
The Dragonslayer smeled blood and increased his attacks in both speed and ferocity as it looked like he was finally going to beat THE Erza Scarlet. The thought alone gave him a happy and somewhat psychotic face as he continued pounding her.
Take note though : thought
Erza knew him well, too well. She knew that like a true Dragon he would go for the first sign of weakness and attack it with a fury. Though a good strategy in general, it is easily exploitable for one with both the will and the experience both of which Erza had plenty of.
With a bit of acting on her part her body language goaded the Dragonsalyer into landing that final, epic blow and he took the bait hook, line, and sinker.
His greatest weapon: his tenacity was the perfect weapon for Erza to use as she rolled out of the finishing blow, grabbed his head faster than he could blink and smacked him hard back down into the cold ground of reality that was his defeat.
That would've been the end were it not for that same tenacity compelling Natsu to launch his signature breath move.
Erza released the head just as the stream was unleashed and Natsu capitalized on the distraction by doing a flare and tripping Erza.
Caught off guard she instinctively blocked as the Drgaonslayer quickly got to his feet and punched her a good distance away.
She did her own crazy move as well and windmilled herself easily into a standing position.
By the time she did though Natsu was already about to launch another Roar of the Fire Dragon.
Luckily her sword was nearby nearby.
The Drgaon unleashed his breath and having just enough time to grab it reverse style, she pulled of what could be the most amazing feat of the match: she split the breath with her sword as she ran towards Natsu to bring the sharp, tempered steel to the Drgaonslayers soft, fleshy neck .
As a coup de grace and one last show for the crowd she quickly tripped Natsu and pointed the sword to his throat.
The match was over and Erza had won…. again.
The crowd cheered and while some were collecting their bets Erza applauded Natsu.
"Not bad, Natsu. I can really see the improvement"
"Thanks ! I still didn't win though"
"What was that move you used earlier? The one with the many fireballs?"
"It's still not final but I'm calling it Fire Dragon Hornet Stings"
"Not as impressive as what you did to my Roar of the Fire Dragon with you sword! How did you do that?"
"Well it's simple: If you can't take it head on deflect it or in my case split it" she said as she offered her hand to help him up.
"Huh… Weird. That Exyle guy said something very similar" he grabbed her hand and got himself up.
"Yeah , during our fight except he did it with his hands"
"His hands? You didn't tell me that"
"Yeah I… didn't really want to talk about it"
"Hmmm... his hands huh? Interesting"
"More like annoying. I mean how in Igneels name did he do that?! His hands should be charcoal!"
"Well however he did it, you did great today Natsu. I'm very proud of you"
"Gehee! I'll beat you next time Erza!"
"I'll be looking forward to it"
With a good handshake it was a perfect way to end training and return to the city for some rest when from out of nowhere a large boom was heard in the sky. A few moments later a soldier came in screaming.
"Everybody, get back to the city! Something is happening!"
Thinking the town was under attack, they all got their gear and hurried back.
Natsu ran ahead but Erza took one last look before leaving the warm, idyllic scenery behind and archived the recent memory as she donned yet again her armor to face the cold and cruel world.
When it rains what comes to your mind?
Certainly to those who frequent the outside world it is irritation.
To the child it is a shower of joy.
For the everyday man toiling for a living it is at best a distraction.
To those that till life from the ground it is joy sent from the heavens.
For the inside creature it is a melancholic tune that lulls to sleep.
To the bookworm it is a welcome guest.
For the sad it is a veil to cover their sorrow from the world.
The rain means a vast number of things for just as vast number of people and all is in one way or another known.
But paper rain? Yeah , totally new
I'm being serious. As serious as can be.
As in when they all arrived in town it was seriously raining actual, stuff you draw and write on paper.
"Who's willing to bet the guy in charge of the origami department ran out of ideas because these are the blandest snowflakes I've ever seen" said one soldier.
"Summer began a month ago" replied another.
Despite the playful banter, everyone was genuinely baffled at the spectacle.
"Um….Erza?" asked Natsu.
"Yes?" she replied.
"Are you seeing-"
"Does it rain-"
"Of course not"
"Okay but then how-"
"I don't know"
"*sigh* Things are getting so coinsuring!"
"Let's all report back to the commander"
Making their way through the paper snow they arrived at Onibus theater where everybody was just as confounded as they were.
"Good, you're all here" said Lahar.
"We heard a noise and thought the city was being attacked" said Erza.
"You heard it too?"
"Levy?" asked Gray.
"No book says anything about paper rain" she replied.
"Maybe it's a weird from of large snow" suggested Happy.
"Happy, summer officially began not too long ago. Honestly to even suggest such a thing…" said Carla.
'Raining paper…..now why does this seem so familiar?' it was at the tip of his tongue but Pantherlilly just couldn't say exactly how.
Upon closer inspection they found the papers to be blank. Not just a few but all of them.
Yet the mystery only depend as something odd happened.
The papers began to write on their own.
The ink , bleeding from the paper, danced across its surface with clear intelligent intent and from the hand of its invisible author came out flowing shapes and strange but intricate letters.
Some feared it to be the work of ghosts, others thought mischievous demons were afoot, but all shared in the confusion and fear of this supernatural phenomenon.
When the ink had stopped one poor sod decided to pick up one of the papers.
Confused and slightly scared he handed it over to commander Lahar.
"Now what could this be?" he examined every inch the paper but couldn't make sense of it. The Fairy Tail crew all scooched over to take a peak.
Though the shapes and symbols were as foreign as can be, the closest guess they had was that it was a poster of sorts just from the general structure alone.
The problem was that it featured nothing other than a dull gray in the center.
Just as they thought things couldn't get weirder, they heard a noise. Footsteps to be precise. This wouldn't be strange if not for the fact that nobody was walking.
As it got louder they discovered that it was coming from the paper and thanks to the hundreds raining all around them it was really loud.
Finally the mystery was solved when from out of the side of the paper a figure emerged.
A figure they knew all too well.
"Denizens of Fiore hear my call,
War rides into your domain and we take the rein as its harbingers. Your outer cities have fallen with ease and your land drowns more from your blood than ours. The path to victory is seldom perfect but every victory is expected and every defeat Pyrrhic. Such shall continue until every last fiber of your will is broken and trampled beneath our boot. The fallen in your city of Magnolia testify to this truth.
Yet we are not a wandering horde bent on your utter annihilation when we don't have to be. We are warriors first and mages second. This war is still at its dawn and already you have displayed notable honor and valor. Thus I find it proper and fitting to offer you this: a challenge.
One of our many customs is to solve problems not just with tongue but by combat and as the Right Hand of the emperor and the leader of the Black Hand I invoke the highest form of the latter: Mak Tu Sei Ra: A trial of honor between our best.
Claim victory and by our traditions I shall retreat from your lands and not return for at least one year and by no means lay any harmful hand on you. A more than ample time to recover the devastating yet contained damage inflicted. We may also leave riches for you to use rebuilding. When the year comes to pass we may either return to continue or if the winds of war blow differently then we shall not. We may even return to seek your hand as allies. Fate is a fickle mistress after all so what she offers is never known.
I as the one who made this call shall do everything within my power to ensure that you shall be given your due in the trial. This I swear.
However, should you choose to engage in Mak Tu Sei Ra then you are bound by honor and know that should you claim defeat then you are all to surrender to the Imperium. Fail to do so and you shall be labeled as Ya Ta Jua : Trophies to be hunted. A still glorious but brutal end.
Come to our Ampa Collosia and fight for all citizens of the Imperium to see. This message will help guide your steps.
Rise Fiore! Call upon your most skilled of warriors! Hire your most devious of rouges! Summon your most powerful of magi! Deploy your most veteran of generals! Resurrect your greatest of legends! Send your most loyal of servants! Unleash your bravest of heroes!
Carry this message to every city, every town, every temple, every cave, every hamlet, every prison, and every home! Carry it to the four corners of this land so that all may hear! Prove you are worthy to keep your land! Seven days and seven nights we shall wait for you and then we fight!
The call has been made and the ravenous gods of war hunger for glory!
MAK TU SEI RA!"
With his speech over, Exyle burned from view and with his last words still ringing in all their ears his place was taken over by a map of Fiore with a glowing red dot in Magnolia. Most likely where this Collosia is.
"Say what you want about the guy he knows how to hype something up" said Gajeel.
He wasn't wrong. What they all just saw was something akin to a commercial for the GMG (Grand Magic Games) but better in every way and on literal, no-nonsense, actual paper! They were all amazed but no one was more amazed than Levy.
"How…." She yanked the paper from commander Lahars hands.
"How did he DO THAT?! That's only possible through runes or lacrima but I'm not seeing any! Is it integrated into the paper? No it feels normal. Runes? I'm not sensing any. Paper crystal? No don't be silly that's not possible…right? But maybe….?! "
"References! Where?! Now!" she was bit too close for comfort and Lahar, the veteran that he is, was slightly intimidated by the little girl's invasion of his personal space.
"Uhhhh…we don't have any in the base but there's a library down the-" before he could she ran off faster than he has seen anybody run.
"-street. Excuse me what was that?"
"Oh boy Levy is in her 'Don't bother me I'm curious' mode again. I'll make sure she doesn't forget to sleep or eat ….or both" Lucy ran off with her and with the strange scenario passed they foused back on the message.
"Well…that happened. Now back to this. Does anyone have an idea what this is about?" asked Lahar.
"I think I do. This is a propaganda drop. Used to do it a lot back in my Edolas days" replied Pantherlilly.
"What do you mean?"
"Ever heard the saying knowing is half the battle? Well sometimes in attempts to pacify far off villages or freak out enemy populations the king would order me to misinform the populace about things like 'fearsome hakabuns invading' or that the 'islands would collapse if you did not pay your tithes'. Most of it was a complete lie but most people didn't know that and the conflicting information did its job"
"So this is propaganda?"
"'I'm not sure. I've dropped flyers, started rumors, and even made fake broadcasts but this doesn't seem like any of that. I think this challenge is real"
"What if it's a trap?" Gray asked.
"It could be but I don't think it is" the Exceed replied.
"He didn't show any signs oy lying and I feel like he's telling the truth "
"And you would trust him? Just like that? Need I remind you he slaughtered our allies and was even proud of it in the message?"
"True but he did keep us alive and he kept his word to Erza when he could've easily finished both of us off. Besides I've had my fair share of challenges during in the army and in my conquests. I know when it's real "
"With all due respect I have to go with the ice mage. This sounds too good to be true….But if it is then this is our best chance to stop this invasion before it gets way out of hand. The problem is where do we get 'our best' in under week? Even the Grand Magic games takes months to prepare" said Lahar.
"I think we can help you with that" said a voice from out of nowhere
When they all turned to look there was Makarov approaching from down the street accompanied by Master Ooba Babasaama and Master Bob, the guild masters of Lamia Scale and Blue Pegasus respectively.
There weren't even words as the Fairy Tail crew rushed to meet their master and shower him with hugs.
"Ohhhh my children. It felt like an eternity since I last saw you. Are you all here? Are you all okay? " just like the grandfather figure that he was he couldn't stop but ask questions about the well being of his "children".
"There you guys are! I told you not to leave Lamia Scale territory until we had further information from the capital! Did you have a death wish?! Do you have any idea how worried to death I was?!" meanwhile Ooba was the cranky old grandma as she spun all her mages out of frustration and worry but she too was glad that they w ere okay.
"Ichiya darling! It's so glamorous to see you alive and with such poise! Did you fight hard and strong?" said Master Bob while doing a fabulous pose.
"Yes my fabulous Master! We fought with a grace and style fitting for Blue Pegasus! Alas we did not win but we were gracious even in defeat! Isn't that right my lovelies? MEN!" he said as he and his "lovelies" did fabulous poses in return.
"*ahem* Yes I'm happy to see you all alive as well masters but we can celebrate after we win the war"
The masters displayed their maturity well by immediately responding to the commander and returning to their serious mode.
"Yes and it's good to see you alive too Lahar. We came here as soon as you called us" said Makarov.
"Called you?" asked Erza.
"We were being deployed back here originally but when we got Lahars message we decided to pick up the pace"
"And I'm glad you did. Take a rest for an hour or so while I clear up some things with high command and then come to the theater, all of you"
After he left the mages and their masters had a lot of catching up to do. Lucy was even able to drag back Levy after she had run through every book in the library and found nothing. Each master told of their encounters with the invaders just like old veterans and when they were done our mages told them of their experience in the now infamous Battle of Magnolia. None was more surprised than Makarov when he heard about the Gildarts Shift and how it was basically perverted into something so twisted in order to win the battle. He was sickened but also a little impressed.
The hour passes and they are all enter the theater. Lahar orders all the guards inside to leave before activating the communications Lacrima and revealing Hyberion at the other end.
"Okay now that you're all here we can discuss this matter further. First, a debriefing. Erza tell them everything you told me "
She complied and thanks to her perfect memory (because of course she has perfect memory I mean why wouldn't she?) she recounted every last detail down to the exact contents of her meals and every casual conversation she had.
When she was done everybody, even her friends whom she told earlier, were speechless. They had many questions but two matters in particular stood out.
"Repeat that again Erza: he did what to your memories?" asked a concerned Makarov.
"Ripped them out but the more I say it the more I don't think ripped is the right word but it's something similar"
"Then how are you still able to remember anything?"
"I don't know. He said it wouldn't be painful and it wasn't but it was really exhausting. The more it happened though the more I got used to it and from what I observed I'm still able to remember things. So in a way he looked like he was ripping them out but I think he was maybe copying them? "
"Ohhhh Maky, this memory taking spell sounds sooooooooooooo scary. He could know your darkest secrets and I can't bare to be embarrassed!" added Bob (ironically).
"Makarov, I've never heard of this kind of magic before. I didn't even think it was possible especially when there are ghosts involved" said a worried Ooba.
"Neither did I. To reach into basically your soul and take every memory you have like a trinket. The prospect of what this could do especially if there are more ominous goals in mind… That alone without knowing anything else makes our enemy more dangerous than we could've feared"
"Indeed master. This ability puts all of us at risk and to be honest it put a slight chill down my spine when I first heard of it" said Lahar.
"In that case surrender no longer becomes an option for us. If things get worse we might have to kill our own troops just to hide our secrets" suggested Hiberion.
"I'll make sure it never comes to that. I said they were more dangerous not invincible" Makarov replied immediately and with conviction. He would not allow the slaughter of his fellow countrymen.
"For all our sakes, I really hope you do"
"Now then, speaking of slaughter, Erza how could you and a division of Fioren soldiers fall into such a trap? Surely someone must have noticed the illusion?"
"Which bring us to another concern I have. Fried I didn't think much of it back then but when we entered Magnolia I saw something strange with the runes. I got a closer look at the ones in my cell and saw the same thing" she said.
"What did you see?" he asked.
"The runes...they had like runes floating around them. They looks similar to the main one but were slightly different. Basically the runes had runes for themselves if that makes any sense"
The rune mage tried to make sense of what she was saying and after a while his eyes lit up as he finally knew what she was talking about.
"Could it be?... No that's impossible….But her definition fits a lot of the categories…..but still pulling that of…"
"Fried? What do you know?"
"I'm not so sure myself and until I see any of his runes again I can't be sure but….."
"What you're describing is something we rune mages call Verzweigung"
"Runes are basically symbols of magical power used to attain a certain effect. Imagine a rune as a tree trunk. The tree gathers the resources from the soil so when written right the rune gathers magic to achieve the intended effect almost all the time. It's solid and reliable. Now all tress have trunks and all trees have branches extending from those trunks. In rune magic, what the rune is intended to do is what the rune is intended to do. One effect per rune that's why there's so many runes. The trunk is the whole tree. Verzweigung attempts to extend that trunk by giving it more parts so it could 'catch more magic' and do more while still relying on the main rune just like branches do for a tree. Each branch may be different and may do different things but they still rely on the main trunk or rune for support"
"That sounds complex"
"And difficult, very difficult. Most rune mages don't even think it's possible and most can't come close to doing it. The few masters who could somewhat do it all say it's unstable and that you're better off casting another rune. Nobody has figured out how to connect two different runes without both of them competing for magic and eventually causing at best an explosive discharge hence the unstable or one rune overpowering the other and draining the magic thus making the other rune pointless. Not only that it effectively doubles the magic and focus needed for one rune the magic for one rune. There are a myriad of other problems but those are the most prominent ones and that's why at this point is highly theoretical"
"And yet there it was, real as day. Being casted from every step that he made"
"Yes and that's what makes it worrying. It implies that his people's magical knowledge is far beyond ours"
"Still, that doesn't explain why my eye couldn't see through the illusions. I was able to see through Midnight's illusions and they were powerful"
"Technically if the illusion magic is powerful enough your eye can't get past sheer volume of magic emanating from it. Though since you described Verzweigung I have to ask how many other runes did you see from the main one? "
"About three? Maybe four? And the illusion was different for both me and Natsu"
"Then in that case you're eye couldn't see through the illusion because there were too many layers of illusions on top of each other to see through. At best your eye could maybe get past one"
"Huh… a layered deception. Very clever"
"Very clever indeed but we have another matter at hand: this letter of challenge" interjected Hiberion.
"Indeed Master Hiberion. Though I am curious as to how this is done and to why it loops every hour or so, my bigger question is why this is only in our town" said Makarov.
"In truth this scenario also happened here in the capital not too long ago . We have reports from the other masters and our scouts that it's also happened in every major city in Fiore"
"It has? What's the king's response?" asked Ooba.
"He has already going through with it"
"With all due respect Master Hiberion, the king decided too quickly! I still hold that this could be a trap!" interjected Gray.
"And you are right for thinking so Gray Fullbuster but with the *ahem* setbacks concerning Operation Dragonlance our troops and our citizens are highly demoralized. This spectacle could, if true, give us the morale boost we require and the time to regroup our army to think of a more careful plan of attack. If not then a chance to end this war quickly "
"Despite how much I agree with Gray, if the king decided it then we can't do anything about it lest we commit treason. So Master Hiberion, how exactly will this play out?" said Makarov.
"We were discussing among the council and so far we're thinking about treating it like the Grand Magic Games"
"So only us mages go in then?"
"So far. There is also discussion in hiring the non-magical guild for participation and even…" he hesitated for a moment
"Sending out contracts and pardons to the not so legal guilds and organizations"
"So we're sending everybody?"
"Not quite. I've suggested the generals not go and maintain their positions"
"Why? Wasn't the challenge extended to them as well?" asked Erza.
"It was but if this remains to be a trap then the command structure could at least stay intact"
"While we the mages are sacrificed. That's cold" she replied slightly angry that they were being seen as pawns to be sacrificed
"You can think of it that way or you can think of it in this: should this be a trap then we can 'clean' some potential stains from our side and us being mages would have a higher survival and escape chance compared to if we just send normal people like our generals. Is it cruel? In a way but so is war , Erza Scarlet"
She didn't say anything even if the logic was sound.
"We are already beginning preparations to find our 'best'. Master Makarov, Master Ooba, Master Bob. Your guild is the closest and as such you will be the first to send your S-class mages to this Ampa Collosia. Take a Lacrima crystal there and inform us of what you see"
"Will do, Master Hiberion" they all replied.
"Be careful Masters, the fate of Fiore lies in your hands. Stay vigilant and take care "
With the vampire (he's obviously a vampire) mage gone, the masters went through the controversial process of selecting their best mages but instead of sending them off to glory it felt like they were sending them off to die .
Finally it was decided: Master Bob would take Ichiya, Master Ooba would take Lyon and Yuka, and Makarov had no other choice but to take Erza.
It was decided and even after a night of their friends begging them to reconsider and arguing out the dangers of it all by noon the next day the chosen were all ready to leave.
"Master please take me with you! I'm an S-class mage too!" begged Mirajane for the last time.
"It's for that fact that I'm leaving you here. You're still not fully recovered and should something happen to us then I'm leaving the guild in your hands as the new guild master"
"Don't say that master! You will come back! Nobody will ever replace you!"
"Don't worry, they won't. It's just a precautionary measure. I promise all of you that we will come back"
"Master Makarov, on behalf of the Onibus division and the Fioren military we thank you" Lahar gave him his most respectful salute and so did all the gathered soldiers who all responded with an ET UT VICERET!
So after the mages all said their goodbyes to their fellow guildmates they went on their way but not before Natsu called out Erza for one last message.
"Hey Erza!" he shouted to the top of his lungs.
The Scarlet looked back and as their eyes connected for just a second Natsu gave her his most confident and goofiest smile yet.
"Punch him real hard in the face for me!"
With a smile she gave him and all of the Fairy Tail salute and as they disappeared from the horizon that smile was the last thing she saw.
Home is where the heart is and it's a good thing that isn't practical advice since I can't for the life of me imagine what living inside a gooey, icky chest is like. It would be weird at best.
It was that kind of weird feeling that our chosen felt when they walked up the ramp (most likely an addition by the invaders) into Magnolia. Though the familiar territory gave a sense of home the eerie silence coupled with the ruined homes and abandoned streets that greeted them home was disheartening.
The piece that won the match still stood there as the city was still in its Gildarts Shift mode along with the poor unfortunate souls that became its gruesome décor.
Master Bob couldn't help but vomit, Master Ooba looked on the brink of a heart attack and though Makarov stood strong he was undoubtedly shaken to his core.
The layout was entirely different from the usual Gildarts Shift setup so they had to follow the map and after not encountering a single soul they finally reached their destination, the center of the city, where the entire invading force for Magnolia seemed to be.
"I wasn't expecting guests so early. Then again you are deployed in Onibus which isn't too far from here" said a familiar voice that Erza recognized.
With a swish of his cape he turned to face them and even if Erza had seen him up close she along with her companions who were seeing the masked interloper for the first time couldn't help but be immersed in his presence.
"Exyle Night, I presume?" asked Master Makarov, breaking the ice.
"And to you, Master Makarov, I presume the same?"
"How did you-?"
"My spies tell me of your reputation"
"You sure work fast"
"I must. This is a Blitzkrieg after all"
"And what is that?"
"All in due time but for now let's just call it the literal translation: Lightning War"
"That still doesn't explain much"
"That's rather the point"
"Blah, blah, blah! Fancy words and dramatic introduction but where's this Collos-whatever you said we had to go to or is this really a trap?" said an irritated Ooba.
"I assure you it is not"
"Then where is it?!"
"Well you're in luck. It should be arriving….right now"
"Preparing Magical index!" shouted one of the soldiers as they all mobilized with a rehearsed efficiency to their positions.
"Begin manna transfer!" he shouted again as some soldiers casted runes in mid-air in front of 6 lacrima crystals growing out of the ground.
"Synchronize magical transfer in 5….4…3….2…1…. Enchant!" they all did in unison and as the crystals glowed they released a beam from their apex that converged on one point on the ground. The beams then zipped around and drew a giant magical circle.
Before our chosen even realized what was happening a massive structure began to rise from the circle.
"Commence binding to earth!" he yelled as the soldiers began wrapping huge chains around the Centrions and as the structure continued to rise around anchor points on the structure.
Our chosen questioned this action but saw that the chains were to keep the structure on the ground as it began to rise up higher and higher, finally coming to a stop as the Centrions ran around the crystals and the chains were secured by the invaders and Dragoons.
When all the commotion was done what stood before our heroes was a true Wonder of the Magical world.
A structure in size and grandeur that they have never even dreamed off.
From the pillars gold and the angular shapes that made it look like a weapon to the devious to malicious giant masks adorning its sides and the many floating runes that seemed to fly around like flies it was both impressive and imposing.
"This way please" he said as one of the masks opened its mouth with mist and steps dropping out of it.
Exyle beckoned them to follow and without saying anything they did.
They entered the demonic mouth and came across a menacing looking doors (thanks to the ruby eyes and the ebony carving).
The masked man opened them with ease, unafraid to the angry visage looking at all of them and as the doors swung open they were greeted with an even grander sight.
"Welcome challengers of Mak tu Sei Ra to the Ampa Collosia!" from a main hall and ceiling that seemed to stretch on forever to the many doors, furniture, floors, and magical … everything around them it was a testament to Imperium power, wealth, and mystery.
"It's just like that time in that foreign magical festival where the tents were bigger inside than they looked outside" said Makarov to no one in particular.
"If you may, please follow me. You can enjoy the scenery once I escort you to your section"
Though still amazed at everything they followed and soon came upon statues that littered the very wide halls.
"Now what are these statues for?" said Erza aloud.
"These statues, Miss Erza, are the eternal testament to those who partook in Mak Tu Sei Ra and with them the foe who gave them their victory. Each statue is not only a work of stone that stands the test of time but also a work of art as with a simple twist of the crystal they come to life in color and sound for all to see without the need for imagination the moment of their triumph as it was at the time"
"I told you to just call me Erza and why are there so many of them?"
"Many have made the call in ages past Erza and many of them are ours. Yet there stand a few that tell of our enemies triumph. As I said in Mak Tu Sei Ra you are given your due . There is no shame in defeat to those with honor as both the winner and loser leave with heads held high in pride and eternal glory for them to tell of for generations….should death does not claim either or both"
They seemd to walk endlessly until finally the stopped at two grand and guilded doors.
When he opened it the room inside was wide enough to fit the entire guild. It was clean and very spacious. There was a balcony or more of balconies and the beds looked royally comfy and had curtains if you wished some privacy. In a way it was almost like a fancy hotel.
"These shall be your quarters for the remainder of the Mak Tu Sei Ra. Should you wish to train then the dojo will be at the first floor. Simply ask the attendant where and she shall direct you. Meals shall be held at 8 A.M – 10 A.M for the early birds, 11 A.M to 2 P.M and 6 P.M – 8 P.M in the main dining hall . Should you wish for extra food then simply take as much food as you can carry back to your quarters though I would advise against eating too much before a match or before bed. Please engrave all your names on that monolith with the sword provided and then you are free to wander the halls as much as you wish . Feel free to ask our attendants almost anything. They will be happy to entertain you"
"I have a question, are those lacrima just decoration or are they there to watch us?" said Erza as she pointed out many hidden lacrimas.
"A keen eye Erza. Those are there for us to monitor you and to ensure you do not destroy too much of the Collosia. This place is very expensive after all and the imperial coffers and taxpayers aren't unlimited"
"So you can study our every move then?"
"Watching and doing are two very completely different things Erza. We can make all the observations we wish yet it would do little if any to prepare us for the real match. Seeing a strong man punch doesn't prepare you for how hard his punch is until it lands on you "
"Now please do enjoy. Since you are the first to arrive then the dining area is all yours for the afternoon. Six more suns and six more moons we shall await for every challenger of the land and then the gods of war can get their show. Good day"
As he closed the door behind them , everybody explored the room and the wonders it held while Erza and Makarov wondered whether this palace of grandeur would become their gilded tomb.
Huzzah! It is done! I hope you found it entertaining and with any hope you will see another one shortly after!
Until then, please comment...anything! It would be appreciated!.
So with that I bring to you another end to this part of our play.
Feel free to praise, criticize, or mindlessly bash as you see fit and until our next performance farewell