"Kyaaa! Ezra, you're amazing!" Lucy yelled excitedly as she felt her exhaustion from the past few weeks melt away bit by bit.
From their S-class mission on Galuna island, to the guild war against Phantom lord, to helping Loke return back to the Celestial Spirit World... Whoo! She just needed some down time to relax, and thanks to Loke, she got to do it in the world-famous Akane resort!
Currently, Lucy and Erza were gambling in the resort's fancy casino, and Lucy could feel the crowd's eyes on them as Erza won every single hand.
"Fufu," Erza chuckled smugly, "Luck is on my side today."
A dark-skinned, blonde haired man with a small tattoo on the side of his chin and a long earring with an ornamented cross hanging off his left ear, came up to the current dealer and smoothly pulled him away, "Time for a dealer change."
"Right now I feel like I can't lose no matter who I'm up against," Erza confidently announced.
"Hell yeah!" Lucy cheered.
"If that's the case, why don't we enjoy a special game?" The new dealer asked, "Except we won't be betting money..."
He skillfully shuffled the deck of cards and fluidly distributed five cards to Erza.
Erza looked down and blinked. The cards each had a stylized letter on them and together they spelt:
Erza looked up confusedly and her eyes widened as she suddenly started trembling. Lucy raised an eyebrow at her strange behavior.
The dealer grinned sinisterly, "Let's bet with our lives, Erza-neesan."
Erza's voice quavered, "Shô..."
Naruto frustratedly rubbed his hair as his gaze washed over the peaceful forest surrounding him, "Another bust..."
It had been a month and half already and he still hadn't even made it to Magnolia- a trip which should have taken a week at most. This was because many people along the way had claimed that they'd felt strange power spikes in the areas close by, and each time Naruto had gone to check out these places in case he could find any hints on Kurama's whereabouts.
But each time, he'd found nothing.
He rubbed his head to stave off the incoming headache. All that time lost for nothing.
'Maybe I should just stop looking for strange power spikes?'
He considered the thought for few moments before he shook his head. No, the fact that he couldn't sense Kurama meant that either Kurama was somewhere really, really far away, or that Kurama was hidden from his senses through some kind of method like sealing techniques.
But Kurama was powerful, incredibly so. Whenever someone would try to use Kurama's power in any way, some sort of strange power spike would most definitely occur. He would just have to tough it out and look at every lead he could find.
And if Kurama was somewhere really, really far away... well, then he was screwed. Wandering countries without any idea of where he was going was a pretty stupid move though, so searching for leads like this would have to do.
The soft rustle of trees snapped him out of his thoughts. A man garbed in elaborate dark blue clothes and bandages on his limbs stepped out of the foliage. His hair was covered by a bandana with a silver forehead protector and his face was covered by a large green scarf. There were multiple unique looking staves attached to his back.
"Do you have business here?" He asked softly, oddly sounding a bit tired.
Naruto shrugged, "Kinda. I heard that there was a strange power spike here and came to check it out."
The mysterious man nodded curtly, "You do not have to worry about that anymore. I have already dealt with the situation."
The man moved to walk away but Naruto stepped in front of him, "Wait, what was that strange power spike anyway?"
"You do not need to know."
Naruto's eye twitched in annoyance, "I do! Please, just tell me!"
The mysterious man raised an eyebrow, "...Why must you know so badly?"
Naruto pursed his lips as he internally debated wether he should tell this mysterious man the truth or not. On one hand, telling this person the truth might end up with him spreading this information, which might end up with Naruto facing severe consequences.
Severe consequences such as multiple COUNTRIES searching for Kurama to use his power for themselves. Although, a scenario like that was highly unlikely since Fiore's royal family clearly had no records about any kind of nine-tailed fox, and it was very unlikely that people would even spread rumors about something no one had ever even seen.
On the other hand, this man didn't seem the type to blab anyway, and telling this man the truth would probably be the best way to get across the gravity of the situation he was currently in.
...But maybe a lie could do the same?
He mulled over the thought for a few seconds before internally shaking his head. No, this man had given him no reason to lie... for now.
He came to a decision and sighed, "My friend, a giant nine-tailed fox is missing. It should've been pretty easy to find him since he's as large as Crocus and has the power to destroy entire cities in one attack, but I've been searching for a long time now, and still haven't found even a trace."
"As large as Crocus and able to destroy entire cities in one attack..." The mysterious man's eyes widened as he whispered in awe, before, in a few short seconds, he recovered his posture, "I see, and I assume you are asking me about the power spike here because you are trying to find any evidence of unsealing and the like?"
Naruto grinned, "Exactly! You're pretty smart!"
The mysterious man shook his head, "Unfortunately, the power spike you heard about occurring here had nothing to do with your... 'friend'. It was simply a personal matter of mine."
Naruto visibly deflated, "Oh."
The mysterious man nodded, "Good day," and walked away.
Naruto watched his back grow smaller despondently for a few seconds before he rubbed his eyes tiredly, "I guess I should get going too..."
Ezra sluggishly opened her eyes, "Ugh..."
Suddenly, her brain jumped to life and the usual sharpness returned to her brown eyes. She looked around, she was in a wooden storeroom of some kind, filled with boxes, barrels, and different kinds of supplies.
She tried moving her hands, but found them bound to a wooden pillar behind her.
"Ungh!" She struggled, "Where is this?"
"We're on a ship, Nee-san."
Erza looked up at the flight of stairs left to her and recognized the tan skin and blonde hair, "Shô."
Shô descended the stairs and walked up to her.
"A ship?" She asked.
Shô nodded, "That's right, a ship headed for the Tower of Paradise."
Ezra felt a terrible unease grow in her heart and looked down at the ground. She tried to smile, "Is that right..." She looked up at Shô, "Can you release me? I won't fight anymore."
Shô shook his head, "No can do, because, Nee-san, you're a traitor."
Ezra struggled futilely against her restraints, "Ungh!"
"It's no use," Shô said, "Millianna's ropes have the power to seal magic. Not even you can free yourself, Nee-san."
"I understand..." Erza trembled, "at least let me put on my armor. I'm afraid... to go back to that tower." Erza started sweating, "If I don't put the armor on... I'll never feel secure."
Shô smiled, "Those clothes suit you too, Nee-san."
He abruptly hugged her and her eyes widened, "Shô..."
Tears poured out of Shô's eyes, "I didn't want to do this to you," he rambled, "I wanted to see you so bad, I heard even Naruto died... Really, Nee-san, why did you... betray us?"
He pulled back and glared at her as his face twisted with anger, "WHY DID YOU BETRAY JELLAL!?"
Erza closed her eyes, 'Jellal...'
Five small and dirty children in ragged clothes and manacles gathered around a small hole in a wall. A sixth dirty and manacled child with scarlet hair trailed behind the group hesitantly.
"Nee-san!" Shô, a blonde haired and tan kid, called to the sixth child, "Over here! Hurry!"
"Shô! Don't talk so loud!" Wally, a black haired kid with a large pointed nose, yelled.
"I wish we could take Naru-chan with us..." Milliana, a small child with cat-like eyes and brown-colored hair formed in a bobcut, said sadly.
"It can't be helped, Millianna," Wally said, "He's still recovering from the punishment they gave him for trying to break out again. We'll just get some help from the outside to free Naruto and the others."
"Erza, hurry up or we'll be found by those guys," Simon, a kid with a wide jaw and black hair split in a middle-parting, urged worriedly.
Ezra trembled in fear, "I... If they find us... I-I know how they treat kids who get found-"
"It's okay, don't be afraid," A blue haired child with an intricate tattoo on the right side of his face, said, walking up to Erza.
Ezra looked at him with wide eyes, "Jellal..."
He gave her a radiant smile, "We almost have our freedom and futures and dreams. Let's go, Erza."
Ezra blushed and smiled back, her fear evaporating away "Ok!"
Night had fallen by now and Naruto sleepily rubbed his eyes as he walked through a thicket of trees and shrubbery. He was here because further along the main road, he had come across another village who's residents had also claimed to sense a strange power spike from somewhere nearby in the forest.
Naturally Naruto had gone to look.
He walked through the undergrowth and entered into a narrow clearing from where a shallow river flowed through. To his surprise, he caught sight of the mysterious man he'd met earlier, resting with his back against a particularly wide tree on the other side of the river.
"You again," Naruto said by way of greeting as he easily hopped over the river.
The mysterious man looked up. "Greetings." He said. He sounded oddly haggard.
"So... Are you the one who's been causing all these weird power spikes?" Naruto asked. He'd found this guy near two rumored power spikes now, surely that wasn't all a coincidence.
The mysterious man shook his head,
"Really?" Naruto asked suspiciously.
Naruto squinted at the Mysterious man before he sighed and plopped down beside him, his angle faced away from the Mysterious man since the trunk he was leaning on was not wide enough for two people to lean on one side,
"So? What's your name?" He asked, looking over at the mysterious man.
The Mysterious man took a few seconds to answer.
"Mystogan..." Naruto repeated, testing the name on his tongue, "My name's... Sasuke. Nice to meet you."
"Sasuke is not your real name, correct?" Mystogan asked.
Naruto sheepishly rubbed the back of his head, "You found out, huh..."
"You were too obvious," Mystogan said, "It is clear that you are inexperienced at this."
Naruto's eye twitched, "It's not like you're any better at this! I can easily tell that Mystogan's a fake name too!"
"It is not a fake name," Mystogan said, "It is my title."
Naruto pouted stubbornly, "I asked for your name though."
"I deemed my title good enough."
"You're an asshole, you know that?"
"I was not aware," Mystogan said flatly.
"We'll always be here for you, Erza," Lucy said with a gentle smile.
Erza had already escaped imprisonment hand had been ready to deal with Jellal herself, but these people, Lucy, Gray, Natsu, and Juvia were all insisting on helping her out. Well, to be more precise, Natsu had already run off to find Happy, and she wasn't why this Juvia girl was here, but other than that they were all trying to convince her to let them help her out.
Erza could feel herself trembling as her tears built up, "G... go..." She said feebly.
"Erza..." Lucy said.
"This isn't like you, Erza," Gray said, "Why can't you just stop saying all this useless stuff and tell us 'follow me' like you always do? We'll help you out, even you're allowed be scared sometimes, you know."
Erza turned to look at the group and could feel her inner defenses crumbling as her left eye became watery.
"In this fight..." Erza said, wiping the infant tears away, "Whether I win or lose... I will disappear from this world no matter what."
Gray and Lucy's eyes widened.
"WHAT!?" Lucy exclaimed.
"Wh-what do you mean by that!?" Gray asked.
Erza clenched her fists, "This is an unavoidable future, so... so while I'm still here, I'll tell you everything I know."
Lucy and Gray waited with bated breaths.
"The name of this tower is the 'Tower of Paradise', otherwise known as the 'R-system'," Erza explained, "More than a decade ago, a cult believing in black magic tried to build a tower whose magic could bring the dead back to life."
"Bring the dead back to life!?" Lucy gasped.
Erza nodded, "This project wasn't sanctioned by the government or the Magic Council, so they rounded people up from all countries and forced them to work as slaves on the construction." She looked down at her armored hand, "When we were young, Naruto and I were some of the many people forced to work here."
"Naruto?" Lucy asked, unaware of who Erza was talking about.
"Ah, I forgot," Erza said, looking at Lucy, "You just recently joined. Have you heard of the Orange Demon?"
Lucy closed her eyes in thought, "Hmmm, the Orange Demon..." Her eyes snapped open, "Ah! I remember now! He was the mage who left Fairy Tail five years ago and became a criminal, right? If I remember correctly, he became an S-rank some time after that..."
Erza sadly nodded, "Yes, he was also my brother."
Lucy's eyes widened, "You have a brother!?"
Erza nodded again, "Had. He died three years ago. We weren't blood related, but we became family here. Not just Naruto and me, but also Millianna, Shô, Wally, Simon, and Jellal too." She chucked melancholically, "I can still remember the time when Naruto was first brought here..."
Erza listened curiously as angry voices reached her ears from the darkness beyond her cell.
"Let me go, you bastard!" A child's voice yelled.
A rough voice answered, "O-oi, just shut up and stop squirmi- hey! What are you-"
A dull 'thwack' greeted her ears. They were getting closer.
"That hurt, you brat!" The rough voice yelled, "Settle the hell down!"
Two figures emerged from the darkness, A gruff looking old warden and a struggling blonde child in his arms. The warden brutally slammed the blonde boy against the bars of Erza's cell and she yelped and took a surprised step back.
"Ugh!" The blonde boy grunted in pain as blood flew from his mouth.
The warden unlocked the cell, threw the blonde boy boy inside, and locked the cell back up.
"Don't go around making any trouble now," The warden said to the blonde boy with sadistic grin, "Or actually, do; I hear they take entire limbs and eyes from people who have the guts to rebel."
The blonde boy struggled to his feet and wiped away the blood dripping from his mouth, "Bring it on, I'll beat you all to a pulp!"
The warden laughed sinisterly, "We'll see how long you can keep up that attitude." He turned and left.
The blonde haired boy, seeing that the coast was clear now, sunk to his knees.
He reached his hands behind his back and tenderly pressed on it before visibly flinching , "Ow... what an ass..." he muttered with a wince.
Erza took this moment to examine him more thoroughly. He was dressed in rags, just like her, and had spiky blonde hair. His eyes were a cerulean, defiant blue, and strangely enough, he had whisker-marks on his cheeks.
"Um, are you okay?" Erza asked the boy.
The boy waved her concern away, "Don't worry, I heal really fast."
"O-oh," Erza said. She hesitated for a second, unsure wether he was just acting tough or actually telling the truth, before she decided to just believe him and let her worry go, "So, what's your name?"
The boy looked at her with evaluating eyes, "...Naruto. Just Naruto."
Erza smiled and reached out for a handshake, "I'm Erza. Just Erza. Nice to meet you!"
Naruto warily took her hand and shook it , "Nice to meet you too, I guess."
"...He always rebelled against the gaurds and tried to fight back," Erza continued, "But Naruto was weirdly smart. He did five times more work than anyone else, so the torturers weren't allowed to break any of his bones or remove any of his limbs or eyes. They still hurt and wounded him, but he healed fast, so in a few days, he would always rebel again."
"So you and Naruto started off from here..." Gray said, looking around at the tower with more scrutiny now.
Erza nodded, "Yes, we even got our surname, 'Scarlet', here." She sadly gazed at the ceiling above her, "It was actually Jellal's idea..."
Four children dressed in ragged clothes were sitting in a circle inside a cell. Three of the children were talking, while the last - the blonde one with whisker marks - was sleeping hunched over.
"Jellal Fernandes?" Wally repeated, "That's going to be a pain to remember!"
Jellal laughed good-naturedly, "Coming from a boy named Wally Buchanan? I just know I'm going to forget that one."
Wally laughed and turned to Erza and Naruto, "What about you both, Erza?"
Erza raised an eyebrow as she absentmindedly flicked Naruto beside her in the cheek to wake him up, "Us both? What makes you think I know Naruto's last name?"
Wally blinked, "Well, siblings usually share the same last name, right?"
Naruto slowly cracked his eyes open and tiredly rubbed them as Erza shook her head, "We're not siblings though. Naruto and I didn't even know each other before we met in this tower."
"Oh," Wally said, "Its just that you guys act so much like siblings, I thought you guys were actually related."
Naruto yawned, seemingly unaware of anything that was going around him. Erza gave him a fond look, "Yeah, I guess even though we weren't born as family, we still managed to become one. Whatever the case, neither Naruto nor I knew our real families so we don't actually have any last names."
"That's kind of... sad..." Jellal said.
Erza tilted her head, "What, the fact we didn't know our families?"
Jellal nodded, "That too, but also the fact that you guys don't even have any last names."
He looked pensive as he leaned over and examined a few tufts of her hair.
"H-hey!" Erza said, feeling a bit of heat rise up to her cheeks.
"Such beautiful scarlet hair..." Jellal mused before his eyes widened, "That's it! Why don't we call you 'Erza Scarlet'?"
Wally gave the blue-haired boy an incredulous look, "'Why don't we...'? Just like that?"
Erza smiled to herself as she ran a hand through her hair, "Erza... Scarlet..."
Jellal grinned, "It's the colour of your hair. That way I'll never forget it!"
Naruto raised a hand, the sleep still visible in his posture and eyes, "Does that mean my name is going to be 'Naruto Yellow' now?"
Jellal shook his head, "Nope, you're last name is going to be 'Scarlet' too."
Naruto looked bewildered, fully awake now, "Huh? But my hair isn't scarlet."
Jellal's grin widened, "Like Wally said, siblings should share the same last name."
Naruto flopped to the ground on his back and turned away, "'Naruto Scarlet'... How lame."
Erza laughed. He was smiling.
Erza smiled a sad sort of smile, "Then one day, Shô found an escape route. Jellal, Milliana, Shô, Wally, Simon, and I tried to escape from there. Naruto was still injured so we had to leave him behind, but we promised to get help and come back for everyone, including him."
"It didn't work out, did it?" Gray asked grimly.
Erza shook her head, "No, we all got caught."
Lucy gasped, "What did they do?"
"They tried to search for the person who'd come up with the entire plan," Erza said, "Shô was scared out of his mind, so I was about to step in and say that it was me, but Jellal was faster. I'd barely said anything before Jellal confidently said that he was the one who'd planned the escape. Maybe it was because I still said something before Jellal, but the wardens thought that I was the one to plan the escape."
Erza smiled deprecatingly, "I tried to act brave, but I still remember how I was shivering in fear back then. They tortured me for a few days and took my right eye before Jellal came barging in. Turns out that Naruto had played the distraction while Jellal came to rescue me. But, there were still a few wardens keeping a watch on the torture room. They captured Jellal and threw me back into my cell."
She paused for a moment to organize her thoughts, "...Shô started crying, and my eye was hurting, and I could still hear the sounds of Naruto fighting, and... I finally couldn't take it anymore. A guard tried to enter the cell to shut Shô up, but I took his weapon and knocked him out. That was when I rallied everyone to rebel."
"But the rebellion failed?" Lucy ventured.
Erza shook her head and gazed at her fist as she clenched it tightly, "No, it took a lot of sacrifices, but we finally managed to win back our freedom. But..."
"Out of the way," Erza said coldly, slashing through the trembling Black Magic priests who had tortured her and cut out her right eye not so long ago. She did not spare them a second glance.
She ran into the torture room and caught sight of Jellal's battered body hanging limply by his bound hands.
"Jellal!" She yelled happily as she cut his binds and manacles, "It's okay, it's all over! Just like you said, we all stood up and fought!" Jellal remained silent as Erza continued speaking, "Simon is hurt badly, Rob-ojii-san protected me and... many others sacrificed themselves..." Erza gave him a brilliant smile, "But we won! We're all free!"
She helped Jellal up, "Let's go!" She said, "Wally and the others have taken those guys' private ships. We can leave this island!"
"Er...za" Jellal said slowly, abruptly hugging her, "We don't have to run anymore."
Erza blushed a bit at his close contact, but still blinked at his strange words, "Eh?"
Jellal's hug tightened and a malicious grin sprouted on his face, "True freedom is right here."
He let go of her and unsteadily trudged towards the Black Magic priests, his form becoming steadier with each step he took.
"Jellal," Erza called out confusedly, "What are you saying? Let's escape this island together!"
"Erza, true freedom does not exist in this world."
Erza's eyes widened.
"I've finally realized," Jellal said ominously, "What we need is not fleeting freedom." He looked back at Erza, a crazed look in his eyes, "True freedom lies in Zeref's world."
Erza took a fearful step back.
"I'm beginning to appreciate their feeling, their desire to revive Zeref," Jellal said, "But those guys could never feel Zeref's presence, they were only a bunch of pitiful believers." He put a foot on a fallen priests face, "Isn't that right?"
"Eeep!" The priest tried struggling but couldn't even move his body.
"This tower is mine," Jellal said, a twisted grin on his face, "I will be the one to complete the R System and revive Zeref."
Erza trembled, "What's wrong with you, Jellal? I don't understand what you're saying-!"
With a crazed laugh, Jellal swung his downwards, causing some sort of invisible force to pierce through the priest's skull. Blood splattered everywhere.
Erza put her hands over her mouth and screamed silently.
Another priest tried to crawl away, "Please... please stop..." he moaned piteously.
Jellal swung his hand towards the priest, and the priest was sent flying. He crashed into the wall and the invisible force pressed against his head, causing it to crush horribly like a grape.
Amidst the fog of fear, Erza's brain still had enough presence of mind to notice something,
"Magic?" She whispered.
Jellal's hand sliced through the air two more times, and the last two out of the three priests left alive found their bodies completely mangled, their blood gushing out like a geyser. They screamed in pain as the life drained from ttheir eyes.
Just like that. Jellal had killed them just like that, without feeling any guilt or hesitance. He was even smiling!
Erza couldn't take it anymore.
"Stop, Jellal!" She yelled desperately.
Jellal froze and looked back at her, "Stop? Don't you hate these guys, Erza?"
The final priest took this chance to try and run away.
"Yes, but... this is..." Erza trailed off, unable to put her thoughts into words.
"That won't do," Jellal said chidingly, "You'll never feel Zeref's presence like that."
A demented grin broke split his face and he thrust his arm towards the fleeing priest. Erza turned her head away as the sound of impact and screaming hit her ears.
Jellal laughed a cold, deranged laugh, which boomed throughout the room and and sent cold sweat down Erza's spine.
"Jellal, get a hold of yourself..." Erza pleaded desperately, "It must be because you've been tortured for days..."
"I'm just fine," Jellal said, a crazed smirk nestled on his face, "Erza, let's complete the R System... No! The 'Tower of Paradise', together!"
Erza mustered up her courage and took a quivering step forward, "Stop talking such nonsense! We're going to leave this island!"
Jellal's eyes widened angrily. He thrust his palm out and an invisible attack sent Erza flying.
"Kyahh!" She yelled as tried to regain her balance.
Jellal was having none of it though. Every time it seemed like she would be able to land on he feet, Jellal would swing his arm again, striking her with another invisible blow. Until finally, she skidded along the ground and collapsed.
"Fine," Jellal said, "If you want to leave so badly, then go by yourself."
Erza weakly tried to bring herself up, "B-by myself?"
"The others all belong to me," Jellal explained, "I'll need sufficient manpower to complete the Tower of Paradise." He advanced menacingly, "You don't have to worry, I won't be like those cultists. I'll give everybody clothes, food, and let them rest. Because laboring under fear and brutality is much too inefficient."
"What are you talking about?" Erza asked frustratedly, tears leaking out of her lone eye, "Everyone is already on the ship! They're all waiting for us! They'll never come back to this island to work!"
"Those cultists never told us the purpose of their labour," Jellal said, "I will tell everyone that the true purpose of their work is to revive a great magician known as 'Zeref'."
"Jellal, please..." Erza said miserably, "Open your eyes."
Jellal squeezed his index finger and thumb together, like he was pinching something something, and Erza felt an invisible set of hands squeezing her neck.
"It... it hurts," Erza gasped as she felt her windpipe start to crush under the pressure.
"I don't need you anymore," Jellal said, "But I won't kill you, because I'm thankful that you took care of those guys who were in the way. Go and pursue your fleeting, insignificant 'freedom' if you want."
Erza felt her body slackening despite her command for it to move, and her vision blurred as blissful darkness started encroaching from the edges.
Jellal pinched his fingers closer together, increasing the pressure, "I think you understand that what happened here is not to be spoken of to anyone. If the government gets wind of the Tower of Paradise, this rare opportunity will be ruined. If we are found out, then I will have to erase the evidence by destroying this tower and everyone in it. Also, I forbid you to come near this place. If you are seen here, I will start killing everyone immediately." Jellal grinned maliciously, "And I'll start with Shô and the others."
Everything had turned into a blurry mess of black and white for Erza by now, and she could feel the last of her willpower and consciousness fading away into the darkness. Only a single thought remained, and even that she could feel slipping away,
Jellal laughed a deranged laughter, "THAT'S YOUR PRECIOUS 'FREEDOM'! GO ON AND LIVE WHILE CARRYING THE LIVES OF YOUR FRIENDS UPON YOUR BACK, ERZA!"
"Oi, shut up and calm down," a voice said from behind Jellal, before a kick came flying at his face and sent him crashing against a wall. Instantly, the invisible set of hands choking Erza disappeared and she collapsed on the ground, coughing and gasping for vital air. The colour and clarity of her vision rushed back and beat back the invading darkness.
She looked up at her savior and recognized the messy blonde hair, cerulean eyes, and whisker-marked face.
"Yo, Nee-san, you alright?" Naruto asked as he walked up to her and helped her up.
"Naruto..." Jellal's voice interrupted them. He loosened himself from the wall and advanced menacingly towards the duo, "How dare you..."
Naruto turned to the blue-haired boy and gave him a steely glare, "I don't know how much these guys tortured you, Jellal, but we can finally escape this island and be free now. If you get in the way of our freedom with your little temper tantrums, then I'll take you down just like every other enemy who kept us trapped in this place."
Jellal grinned nastily, "Do you really think you can?"
Without waiting for an answer, he thrust his hand towards Naruto violently. Naruto instantly leaped sideways, avoiding the invisible attack.
"I already saw how your power works back when you used it against Nee-san!" He growled as he shot off towards Jellal. Jellal tried to swing his arm again but Naruto reached him first and swiftly kneed him in the face.
"Ugh!" Jellal yelled in pain and rocketed backwards before he skidded along the ground and lay there. Naruto leaped forwards and was about to land a punch on the downed Jellal, before Jellal swung his arm upwards. Naruto's eyes widened as something invisible slammed against his chin and sent him flying upwards.
"Naruto!" Erza yelled in concern as he landed on the ground on his back with a heavy 'THUMP'.
Erza's eyes sharpened at the sight of her downed adopted sibling. She swung her arm and telekinetically sent her two swords flying straight at Jellal. Jellal jumped to his feet and batted the swords away from the air with a wave of his hands.
"Don't you care about Shô and the others, Erza!?" He yelled furiously.
Naruto clambered to his feet, "As long as we take you down now, we won't have to worry about that!"
"YOU..." Jellal's magical energy suddenly flared. He pulled his hands back and PUSHED.
Naruto's eyes widened, "Wait-!"
A powerful force rushed towards them, as evidenced by the ceiling and floor being sent flying away in front of them. Erza instinctually leaped at Naruto and wrapped him protectively in her arms, her back facing Jellal. A split-second later, a massive amount of energy crashed against them, sending them airborne at the wall at an insane speed.
Before Erza lost consciousness from the impact, she caught a glimpse of some sort of red, bubbling energy escape from Naruto's body and wrap around them.
The first thing Erza noticed was the soft sound of footsteps plodding along the hard ground underneath her. A rush of dull pain greeted her entire body next. She slowly opened her eyes and noticed that she was being carried on the back of a small blonde boy.
"N-Naruto?" She whispered weakly.
He did not look back, nor did he answer. He simply continued trudging forward on the lone road, his back hunched with the weight of her slightly taller frame.
She looked up, the moon was out in all its glory tonight and the ocean of stars were providing a divine accompaniment for it.
The day's memories slowly trickled back in to her mind, Rob-jiichan's death, Jellal's deranged laughter...
Their loss against Jellal...
Warm tears started leaking out of her lone eye and she buried her face into Naruto's back. She cried openly as she clutched Naruto around the chest and screamed. She screamed as if she could just expel all the sorrow and grief in her heart if she just screamed loud enough.
It didn't work.
Finally, she could scream no longer.
"Why...?" She whispered in a cracked voice.
"...We'll definitely save them," Naruto declared softly, his resolution ringing into the night, "One day... we'll definitely defeat Jellal and save them."
Erza brought up her teary face and looked down at the blonde boy in something akin to a trance.
Naruto still didn't look back. His cerulean eyes, blazing with a powerful resolve, were fixed on the path in front of them,
"...Naruto is dead, but I will still fulfill that promise he once made," Erza said, her voice an echo of her adoptive brother's determination, "And to do that, I must defeat Jellal."
Gray and Lucy both looked too stunned to say anything. Juvia was the first one to speak,
"How did you both even escape this island, if Juvia may ask?"
Erza shook her head, "I don't know. When I asked Naruto at a later date, he told me that all he remembered from that time was a strange vision of a giant nine-tailed fox."
"A nine-tailed fox?" Gray asked before shaking his head, "No, more importantly, Erza, that 'Zeref' you just mentioned is..."
Erza nodded, "Yes, the most brutal and cruel dark mage of the Magic world. The Black Mage Zeref."
Naruto was awoken from his rest when a large wave of Magical energy washed over him. His eyes snapped open and caught sight of a beam of brilliant light descending from the sky and striking the earth somewhere far away.
"Satellite Square: Etherion," Mystogan informed, also awakened by the powerful Magical energy.
'So that's the Etherion that Hisui was talking about...' Naruto thought to himself.
"Do you think that maybe Kurama's there?" Naruto asked.
"I assume by 'Kurama' you mean that nine-tailed fox you were talking about earlier?" Mystogan asked.
Mystogan thought about it for a second, "...No, I do not believe that 'Kurama' can be found there. If this nine-tailed fox was truly as powerful as you suggested, then we would have sensed its power- especially if the council sensed it too, which must be true for this scenario to work as only the council has the authorization to fire the Etherion. Although, I suppose the Council could have caught wind of where of where it was sealed and decided to use the Etherion on it, which seems very unlikely and foolish to me."
"Yeah, plus they would've filed some sort of report for something like that, and I couldn't find any kind of report like that in Crocus," Naruto said.
Mystogan looked at Naruto with questioning eyes, "You were allowed to look at such reports?"
Naruto shrugged noncommitally, "Kinda."
"You do realize, if you only search for strange power spikes then you will never find your friend." Mystogan said.
Naruto nodded, "I know, and to make matters worse, I'm on a time limit of a few months."
"Do you not have any other leads?" Mystogan asked.
Naruto rubbed his chin, "Hmmm..." His eyes widened as he remembered the Susan-oba-san's words,
"There are multiple rumors that claim that an airship was spotted right on top of that huge forest fire two years ago. I don't know if that has anything to do with your search, but I for one think that a forest fire suddenly occurring in Daffodil forest, where the air is always quite humid, and you being brought to the edge of death at the exact same time is too coincidental to ignore. And, if I'm right and that's the case, then that means that that airship might have some connection to whatever happened two years ago."
"Oh, I'm also searching for airships!" Naruto said.
"Airships..." Mystogan mused, "I can only think of two guilds at the moment who have an airship: Blue Pegasus and Grimoire Heart."
"Blue Pegasus and Grimoire Heart," Naruto repeated, "I'll have to check these guilds out after Magnolia."
"It is very unlikely that Blue Pegasus is the guild which stole your friend," Mystogan said, "They are an extremely light guild on par with Lamia Scale and Fairy Tail. They have shown no signs of evil at all."
"I'll have to check Grimoire Heart first then," Naruto said.
Mystogan shook his head, "It is true that they are a dark guild, so they are likelier suspects, but I'm afraid you will not be able to find them. They are a very secretive guild- even this information about them having an airship, I got because of a fluke."
Mystogan nodded and explained, "I am an S-class mage, so I am tasked with destroying many Dark guilds. One of them happened to serve under Grimoire Heart and just happened to know that they have an airship."
Naruto rubbed his chin, "Could you track down Grimoire Heart if you wanted to?"
Mystogan looked at Naruto warily, "Perhaps... I do have access to the council's most sensitive information on Dark guilds..."
Naruto looked at Mystogan hopefully, "Can you please track down Grimoire Heart for me?"
"No," Mystogan instantly rejected, "I am busy with my own work."
"Please!" Naruto begged, "I'll owe you a favor - or - or anything! Just tell me what you want in return. Money maybe?"
"I do not care for money," Mystogan said "But... your offer for a favor intrigues. A powerful Mage like you owing me a favor might turn out to be very useful..."
Naruto raised eyebrow, "How do you know I'm powerful?"
"I can sense your energy. It is strange and unlike any magic I have ever felt, but I can tell that you hold tremendous power."
Naruto frowned and clicked his tongue, "Tch, I forgot." He immediately clamped down in his chakra.
"Oh? You can suppress it too? Impressive."
Naruto sighed, "Guess you found me out... again." He looked up at Mystogan and the hopeful eyes returned, "So? Do we have a deal?"
Mystogan took a few moments to respond, "...Very well."
He stuck out his open hand, and Naruto shook it, grinning wildly.
Erza opened her eyes. She swiveled her head as she floated through a large expanse of white.
'Where am I? Inside the Etherion?'
She felt around for a bit,
'No... this is different... warmer...'
She looked down and her eyes widened. She was now floating above a graveyard bombarded by heavy rainfall. There was a crowd of people there, all dressed in black clothes of mourning.
She moved closer. a good look told her that almost every single person attending the funeral was a member of her guild, and they were all standing in front of a grave decorated with a statue of a heroic female knight on a horse.
The grave proudly displayed:
Here lies Erza Scarlet
X765 - X784
Erza looked away and closed her eyes painfully, 'So... I'm actually dead... Guess I'll meet you sooner than I expected, Simon, Rob-jiichan, Naruto...'
She could hear the sounds of her guild members' sobs and her chest tightened.
"She..." She heard Master Makarov speak, "Erza Scarlet... loved all of us, her dear friends... her heart was larger than the endless sky... and her sword gleamed brilliantly for the sake of those she loved. Her figure, dancing like a fairy, was more beautiful than any of nature's greatest vistas."
Ezra forced herself to look back down at the funeral.
"Love makes people strong," Makarov continued, "But it is love, too, that can make people weak. I..." His voice died away and he sniffed as his fresh tears mingled with the rain.
Erza's eyes stung.
"I... loved her like my own daughter..." Makarov grit his teeth, clearly struggling to voice the words he absolutely had to say next, almost as if him not saying them would somehow change reality, "I pray... that she may rest in peace..."
With that, all energy visbly left Makarov's body and he sank to his knees.
Naruto slowly cracked his eyes open to the beaming sun. Unwilling to move his currently lethargic body, he simply stared at the cloudless blue sky.
Dew sat upon the tree's leaves above him, and the dirt beneath had become mud overnight.
'Last night... was really stormy...'
Last night, a few hours after Etherion had struck, the skies had been filled with rumbling black clouds, and before they knew it, Mystogan and Naruto had been drenched in heavy rain. The storm had continued for some time after that, lightning striking here and there every now and then. Mystogan had left but Naruto didn't really have any other place to take shelter so he brought his body closer to his chest, used his cloak to blanket his body, and went back to sleep under the flimsy cover of the tree.
The sun's bright rays of yellow brought Naruto back to the present and, having felt that he'd rested enough (especially when time was such a precious resource), Naruto brought himself up. His rain-soaked clothes weighed him down as he rummaged through his bag and pulled out a damp set of the clothes identical to the ones he was wearing. Wet though they were, they still hadn't been directly exposed to the rain, which meant they were certainly drier than the clothes he was currently wearing.
He frowned as he put on the clothes and stuffed the previous garments into his bag. The bag too had been thoroughly drenched now, and he would have to carry it by hand rather than on his shoulders if he didn't want a giant wet spot on his back.
'I'm really having bad luck with rain these days...' Naruto thought to himself as he applied toothpaste to his toothbrush and dipped it into the river.
He methodically rubbed the toothbrush against his teeth and closed his eyes, focusing all his senses outwards in an effort to catch an accidental spike of Kurama's chakra. He had been doing this every morning since leaving leaving Crocus, but unfortunately, hadn't had any luck. This wasn't an overly surprising development for Naruto- he wasn't using Sage mode, so his sensing radius was actually quite small. It'd be a miracle if he caught some trace of Kurama like this.
But even so, he couldn't help but try.
A few minutes later, Naruto released a sigh as he spit out the toothpaste in his mouth and opened his eyes. Once again, no luck.
He glared at the surrounding trees as he gargled. The sight which had always cheered him up, now seemed to reach out to him threateningly like wooden, gnarled, claws.
He was running out of time.
Author's Note: Yes, Yes, I know... another late chapter. I honestly thought that my work load would decrease, only for it to end up increasing. But no one wants to hear about my personal problems, the main point is, for the next chapter, I'm reasonably sure I'll be able to have it out in under a month. I'm still busy until next week, but after that, I am a HUNDRED PERCENT sure I'll have more free time. Sorry, and thank you for all of you who suffered through such a long wait time but still continued to read this story.
Just putting it out there though, I have no intention of maintaining such a slow pace.
Now, onto other stuff. So this chapter isn't meant to advance the plot as much as it is to expand on Fairy Tail's and Naruto's backstory, connection, and relationship with each other(Especially Erza and Naruto's relationship with each other). But that doesn't mean this is just filler. From how I see it, Fairy Tail's relationship with Naruto ABSOLUTELY has to be further expanded, because otherwise, the emotion or empathy of their side of the story will be lost.
I suppose that statement will make more sense in the coming chapters.
Also, the plot has not been forgotten in this chapter. In fact, a very important event has occurred in this chapter which will turn out to play a crucial part in the plot.
Maybe I shouldn't write that (since it might give part of the plot away)... But this is story that is released by chapters, not a book, so I didn't want you guys to think I just added this chapter in for padding or something.